Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'm Moving!

I'm migrating my blog from blospot (where you're reading this), to wordpress. I've been thinking about it for some time, and I've decided to take the plunge. Wordpress will give me more control over the presentation of my blog. More formats, more themes, more pages. It will require learning more about the software than blogspot does, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.

The new blog can be found here, at

I hope you'll join me there!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Excerpt Monday - October

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This month I'm excerpting from a work in progress, an as-yet unnamed paranormal romance. Our hero, Duncan, an agent of the vampire community, has tracked down and slain a rogue vampire--and only then discovers that he'd only just sired a child, Claire. His duty is clear....

His duty was clear. Instead of wasting time washing her feet, he should kill her. A wooden stake through the heart to immobilize her, then remove her head. Once she was dead, he could call Oscar to send a clean-up crew and be done with her.

That's what he ought to do. In fact, he didn't actually need to stake her; it stopped a conscious opponent from struggling, but in her current state, he could simply remove her head and be done with it.

He rose and finished dressing. The last item was the kukri in its leather and wood sheath. It fit inside the waistband of his slacks, behind his back. He reached back to wrap his fingers around the hilt. Draw and strike. One quick, practiced motion was all it required.

He sat and watched her as the bedside clock tracked the minutes and hours of his indecision. She woke once, briefly, at midnight. Her previous foray had nearly exhausted her reserves; she was barely able to move. He watched, his own body immobile. His muscles knotted as he struggled with the desire to feed her again. It was all he could do not to act.

She relaxed into immobility again. The clock continued to display the passing minutes and hours. She struggled up to consciousness again near dawn, weaker still. She gasped for breath she didn't need, driven by lifelong habit. Her fangs descended, as unconscious a reaction as a human's stomach growling when hungry.

Duncan slashed his left wrist and held it over her mouth. He watched himself do it as if in a dream, or a movie. He wasn't conscious of his intent until it was happening.

As before, she sealed her mouth over the wound, sucking at it, throat working as she swallowed the blood. He felt his own hunger begin to stir. This was twice now that he'd fed her; he would have to feed again soon.

She drank more this time. Her hands rose to grasp his forearm, holding it in place as she fed. Her eyes opened, only half-lidded at first. Before she'd finished drinking, he saw the light of awareness fill them. She looked down, eyes almost crossing as she focused on the arm she held to her mouth.

She stopped moving. She stopped sucking. She lowered her head and stared at the bleeding cut on his arm. Her gaze traveled up his arm to his shoulder then to his face. He felt her grip on his arm tighten.

She released him, still staring at the bleeding wound. He sat up straight, pulling his arm away. She watched impassively as he licked his wrist to close the wound. She reached up to wipe her lips, then examined the red smear on her fingertips. She sniffed at them, then licked them clean.

Her gaze shifted, meeting his. "I drank your blood."


She frowned, frustrated. "I drank your blood."


"Does that mean I'm a..." She couldn't face it. "What am I?"

"I think you know."

"A monster." Her answer shook him.

"No, not a monster."

"A vampire?"


"Like the...vampire who attacked me?" Her voice was very small now.

How to answer that question? Yes, like the vampire who attacked her, but not like him. She didn't wait for him to work out a response.

"A monster," she said. Her eyes widened slightly as she looked at him. "Like you."

Her eyes narrowed as her anger rose. "I remember. You gave me orders. Made me do things."

"It was necessary."

Her anger faded as her gaze dropped to his torso. "I shot you. Didn't I?"


Her emotions shifted again. She teared up. "Why would you do this to me?"

"I didn't--" But she wasn't listening.

"I had plans. A boyfriend...." She sounded on the verge of tears.

"I didn't do th--"

"I had life, goddamn you!" She covered her eyes with her hands. "I had a life."

"Listen to me, Claire," Duncan said. He needed to quiet her before she fell into complete hysteria. She was a strong personality, yes, but there were limits--and she was rapidly approaching them. He laid a hand on her wrist. "Claire--"

"No!" She flung herself off the far side of the bed, crouched and ready to fight, or flee. He was between her and the door but he already knew she was a fierce and determined foe. He wouldn't underestimate her again.

He rose from his chair and took a step back to his left, giving her a little more space--and more effectively blocking the doorway. The last thing he needed was another footrace through the neighborhood. She remained crouched, arms raised to fend him off. Her breasts rose and fell as she breathed heavily, still in the grip of lifelong habit.

He tried to meet her eyes but she once again avoided eye contact. "Don't!" Her voice was shrill, and loud enough to wake anyone who might have been in the rest of the house. "Don't try to put the fucking mind whammy on me again!"

He patted the air between them, hoping to calm her a little. "I won't. I promise. I won't try to put the mind whammy on you again, but Claire--you have to listen to me."

She didn't reply, but she didn't refuse either. Progress, he hoped. "I'm naked."

He blinked, confused by this sudden change in topic.

"Why am I naked?"

"The other man--the one who attacked you--must have done it." He might have done more. Probably had, in fact. He didn't mention that to her. No point to it.

She frowned, eyes darting in every direction as she concentrated. "He's--did you tell me he was dead?"

"Yes, I did."

"You're sure?"

"Killed him myself."

"Good." A beat. "Why?"

"Because he'd attacked you, among others. He was a rogue and had to be dispatched."

She'd relaxed her posture a little as they talked. Now she covered herself as best she could with her arms. "I want some clothes."

Duncan nodded. "All right." He backed toward her closet, keeping an eye on her. He spared a glance at it, then resumed watching her. He reached into the side of the closet that held dresses and pulled one hanger out at random, a simple but brightly patterned sun dress. He tossed it onto the bed in front of her. "There."

She leaned over and picked it up. Discarded the hanger and pulled the dress on over her head, gathering the material and popping her head through as fast as possible, apparently fearing he would attack her while she wasn't watching.

The dress slid over her curves and fell into place with only a couple of tugs. It fit her closely and it drew the eye somehow better than her nudity had done. Her lack of a bra was also obvious. Duncan enjoyed the look. He didn't mention it.


She nodded. "Yeah, thanks." The moue of annoyance told him she'd thanked him automatically and didn't like having done so. Ingrained habits were hard to break.

Her posture changed. She wasn't standing so erect now, and her eyes looked sleepy. Just as before, her brief awakening wasn't going to last, especially this close to dawn. She shook her head and forced her eyes open wide. She looked around the room, as if searching for threats.

"It'll be dawn very soon," he told her. He could feel it himself, looming like an execution. Young as she was, she would feel it even more intensely.

"That's what I'm feeling?"

He nodded. "I feel it too."

She looked at the window, where the blinds and curtain were drawn. A faint glow was visible around the edges. She sidestepped away from it, her gaze flicking to him--and then down before he could mind whammy her.

"We'll be safe enough down here," he said.

"I know," she said--and punched him in the jaw with all the considerable power in her body.

She was faster and stronger than she'd been as a human. As was Duncan, but she caught him by surprise--and he weighed no more than he ever had. The blow did minimal damage, but it knocked him across the room. She took the opportunity to flash through the living room with all the speed she could muster, flinging open the door and launching herself out into the pre-dawn gray.

He leaped to his feet filled with a killing fury. Twice now she'd sucker punched him. Twice now, he'd let her get away with it. He'd underestimated her, and it had cost him. Men and women much older and more powerful than she had tried and failed, and paid for their mistakes.

As she would pay. He passed through the doorway and up to ground level in an instant--then stopped, just as quickly. The glowing sky to the east was blinding. He stopped and turned away, blinking away tears. Purple afterimages obscured his vision. The sun would be peeking over the horizon in moments.

It wouldn't kill either of them, but she didn't know that. She was exposing herself to what she believed was certain death. When she'd called her attacker--and by extension, herself--a monster, she had been deadly serious. Despite his anger with her, he had to admire her courage and her decisiveness. With only moments to act, she'd sacrificed her life to avoid becoming a predator like the man who'd turned her.

He turned and stumbled back down into the apartment, half blinded by the bright sky, limbs leaden. Anxiety pounded in his temples, that sense of approaching doom that signaled the arrival of the sun. Slamming the door shut didn't help. He groped his way toward the bedroom. He was nearly there--

* * *

Claire staggered to a halt in the middle of the street against all her instincts. They screamed at her to flee, to find cover. She could feel the sun's imminent appearance pressing down on her. The awful dread was unbearable, as painful as the eastern sky. Tears streaked her face, squeezed out of eyes shut tight against the searing brilliance. It wasn't enough.

She pressed her palms into her eyes, shielding them. She crouched in the street, tensed against the unbearable pain she anticipated. It would be hideously painful, burning to death. How could it not be? She hoped it would at least be quick.

She trembled with terror and grief and fury. She didn't want to die, she was too young. Please god, don't let me die. But if she didn't, she'd become a monster like the one who'd attacked her, who'd bitten her, raped her, forced her to drink his blood. He had done this to her, making her a monster like him. But she wouldn't let him win.

She'd burn first. She'd burn because she was a monster. A thing of legend, something that didn't exist, couldn't exist. Only it did. She did. She'd drunk that man's blood. Her memory of doing so was distant and fragmented, like a memory of a dream. But she remembered how desperately she'd wanted his blood, and how gratifying it was to have it. And even now, god help her, she wanted more. Much more. She couldn't imagine not wanting more.

Only moments now. She steeled herself to remain where she was. Cowardice clawed at her resolve, undermining her determination, throwing rationalizations around, plausible excuses to change her mind. Claire crouched lower, certain she could feel the heat of the sun on her skin, sobbing with the effort to hold herself in place, stoicism abandoned in this last moment of life.

She sensed the sun's arrival. Please, god, make it quick--

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's the Twenty-first Century!

I know. I have an eReader. It's no flying car, or jet pack, or lunar vacation destination. But it's pretty damn nifty all the same. It's a Nook, from Barnes & Noble.

I bought one for Spouse in June as an early birthday present. After seeing how much use--and enjoyment--Spouse got out of it, I decided it was time to get one of my own. So this Labor Day we hied ourselves down to the local mall, to the local B&N outlet, and picked one up.

I'm still learning all the ins and outs, and all the features. But I know I'm going to like using it. I've already downloaded a considerable quantity of free content. Nothing pirated, mind you. Barnes & Noble offer a number of free ebooks on their website, ranging from self-published (mostly via Smashwords) works--none of which interested me--to classics to sample works from current authors. I downloaded a couple of Harlequin romances, one in the Intrigue and one in the American line, to see what they're like. I also downloaded H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines because, well, it's a classic of SF that I've never read, so it's past time I did.

I also downloaded a dozen or more books from the Baen Free Library, another excellent source of free literature. I'm sure there are other sources (Google Books and Project Gutenberg, to name two) that I haven't yet taken advantage of. And, of course, I'll be buying ebooks from any number of publishers in the months and years to come.

I also downloaded to my computer a piece of free software called Calibre. It can convert any number of file formats into epub format (the open standard for epublications, and one that my Nook can read). The Nook doesn't read HTML except in its browser, but with Calibre I can convert and sideload some of my favorite web-based fanfic (in HTML and other formats) for reading while not tied to my computer.

Last but not least, I can also load images into my Nook to use as wallpaper or screensavers. So I just loaded the cover art for all my published works into it to serve as my screensavers. Now anyone who picks up my Nook will see a cover for one of my Cobblestone Press stories on the screen. (And it will help to distinguish MY Nook from Spouse's Nook too....)

This ain't exactly a food pill, or an anti-aging drug, but it's a pretty nifty piece of future tech all the same.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How I Write: Rest and Recreation

Welcome to another weekly post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's topic is open--we all can write about whatever topic we choose.

I choose: burnout. Or, the necessity for time off.

Regular readers of my contributions to this series know I'm a big proponent of Heinlein's Rules For Writers. Because they're invaluable, I'll post them. One. More. Time.

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must not rewrite except to editorial order.
  4. You must send your story to an editor who will buy it.
  5. You must keep your story in the mail until someone buys it.
I've also run the numbers, showing that a reasonble word count each day (or each working day), produced consistently, can result in several novels over the course of a year. If you doubt your ability to produce enough fiction to fill a 90,000 word book, this exercise is invaluable. It convinced me that I could do it, and I've written two novels this year.

Something else that needs discussion, though, is time off.

When you're self-employed, you have to be your own boss. Kristine Katheryn Rusch (whose website I linked to last week) is doing a series of posts about the freelance life. She makes that point--you have to be your own boss, and you have to be a strict taskmaster. Freelancers have nobody standing over them, demanding that they do a job in return for a regular paycheck. That means you have to motivate yourself.

You also need to treat yourself like an employee in another fashion: giving yourself permission to be ill, or to take a vacation. It can be stressful, knowing that the onus is on you to bring home the bacon, or when you're just starting out, to try to break into the writing field so you can begin to bring home the bacon. It takes time. Most "overnight sensations" in any field are people who worked for years, laboring away in obscurity, mastering their craft, before they found themselves in the right place at the right time with the right product (be it a novel, a screenplay, an invention, a service) to become an "instant" success.

In one way, writing is like any other sales job: you have to be prepared to hear "no" far more often than you'll hear "yes" from prospective clients (editors). If you produce enough stories or novels, and you work at improving your craft every day, and you keep them out there (Heinlein's Rules, again), eventually you'll start hearing "yes" occasionally, and then more often. But you're going to hear "no" a lot too. Even the greatest salesman can't sell to everyone, even with the greatest product in the world. To turn Lincoln's phrase on its head, "You can sell to all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't sell to all of the people all of the time."

It can be wearying. Depressing, even. Even when you're selling everything you write, you're still going to need to take time off sometimes. You're only human. But when you're still trying to get your foot in the door, it can be more difficult to justify taking time off. Cashing a royalty check makes it a lot easier to tell yourself that you deserve a rest. If you're still trying to make that first big sale, when you have nothing to show yet for all your hard work, it's a lot more difficult.

But you still need it. Burning yourself out helps no one. It won't improve your craft. It won't sell your work any faster. It won't give you the wherewithal to support your spouse in the manner to which he or she would like to become accustomed. But it can drain all the joy out of what should be a great job. You're getting paid (or hope to get paid eventually) to sit alone in a room and make shit up. If you're not enjoying it anymore, you're doing something wrong.

That's not to say that there won't be days when it feels like work, because it is work. It's a job. But if you feel like you might as well be punching a clock in an office, well, it's like the old vaudeville joke:

Patient: "Doctor, doctor--it hurts when I do that!"
Doctor: "Then don't do that!" (rimshot)

Don't do that. Sometimes you need to step away from the keyboard, put all the stories and story ideas and possible markets and calls for anthologies out of your mind. You need to rest. You need to take a vacation. And you're entitled to one, like everyone else. Rest your mind. Rest your spirit. Let your mental garden lie fallow for a time. In the long run it will help.

I've been spinning my wheels for the last month or more. According to my original plan for the year, I should be most of the way through a third novel. I haven't even started it yet. And yes, four novels is an ambitious goal for someone who never wrote even one before this past year. If I get three done, it'll still be a hell of an accomplishment. I still want to manage four, if possible. But right now, it's time for me to step back. I'm going to take a few days off from my writing. I'll write if I feel like it, if it's something I want to write. But otherwise, not. Not for the next few days.

I'll see you all again then.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How I Write: Recommended Reading/Classes You've Taken

Welcome to another weekly post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's topic is Recommendations--Readings or Classes I've Taken.

Years (and years...yikes!) ago, I was a member of a critique group. Soley by good luck, I fell into a group with published writers involved in it. Mary Rosenblum (who writes SF and mysteries) was one. Mike Moscoe (or Mike Shepherd) was another member, though he was still a wannabe when I joined the group, but he sold his first novel not long after I joined the group. I wrote and got critiques and learned how to listen quietly while my darlings were put through a blender in front of me. I even sent a few stories out, but I didn't either write or submit consistently, and soon fell back into my old ways. That group eventually dissolved, as groups tend to do.

I continued to write fanfic, and some original fic, and participate in online games (that were really more like collaborative writing projects). I attended the local SF convention every year, attended all the panels aimed at writers and wannabes, and every year I got fired up to want to write again...and then after the con the desire would fade away and I'd go back to my old habits.

Two of the writers who sometimes presented panels were Kristine Katherine Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith. Separately and together, they've been editors and publishers, and they've both published scores of novels and short stories. They both have websites and blogs, and it was they who introduced me to Heinlein's Rules For Writers and who taught me to run the numbers. I would strongly recommend that you check out both blogs.

Dean is currently doing a multi-part series on his blog called Killing The Sacred Cows of Publishing, about the many and destructive myths around writing fiction for a living. Kris is writing The Freelancer's Guide on her blog, about the ins and outs of working as a freelancer--of any kind, not just writing. They both have extensive experience and know whereof they speak, so it's good advice--and it's free. They're both also posting frequently about how the advent of electronic publishing is changing and will change the world of publishing. Short answer: nobody knows yet, but you need to pay attention to this stuff because nobody will care more about your career than you will. (P.S. the comments to their blogs are often as useful as the blog posts themselves, as other professional writers chime in with their experiences, opinions, and beliefs.)

Kris and Dean also do workshops for writers in Lincoln City, Oregon. I attended one last September which helped spur me to buckle down and work at writing instead of playing around at it. That's why I now, around a year later, have seven erotic romance shorts published and two novels circulating. Their workshops are well worth the cost.

In a less interactive vein, I also recommend a number of books that I've found helpful over the years:

Orson Scott Card's Character and Viewpoint (Writers Digest Books) - An in-depth look at how to construct and animate convincing characters, and--my personal favorite part--an analysis of the differences between first, second, third and omniscient points of view, pointing out the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Jack Bickham's Scene and Structure (Writers Digest Books) - I've never read a book that gave me a clearer understanding of the structure of scenes, from the smallest to the grandest levels. It all boils down to cause and effect, stimulus and response. Bickham goes into great detail about the many ways you can screw this up, and how to do it right.

Dwight V. Swain's Techniques of the $elling Writer (University of Oklahoma Press) - This is an older book, but well worth reading. It covers some of the same ground as the previous book (and did it first, really, but it wasn't the first one I read), and is another excellent manual on how to create dramatic tension scene by scene.

Robert McKee's Story (Harper Collins) - Subtitled "Substance, Structure, Style, and The Principles of Screenwriting", it's obviously a book about writing movie screenplays rather than novels. Nonetheless, it is full of excellent advice on how to pare a story down to the essentials and find the "skeleton" of your story, or (going in the other direction) start with bare bones and work your way up to a fully-fleshed dramatic story.

I recommend all of these books, and I welcome comments suggesting others you think I might profit from reading!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How I Write: Knowing When You're Done/Ready to Sub or Query

Welcome to another weekly post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's topic is Knowing When You're Done, or Am I Ready to Submit or Query?

How do you know when you're done? When can your manuscript benefit from another editing pass, and when are you simply gilding the lily? I can't give you any hard and fast rules. I can only tell you how I look at it.

I'm a believer in writing fast, in writing as much as possible from the subconscious, creative side of the brain. Your subconscious knows everything your conscious mind knows, and plenty more besides--as anyone who has ever been blindsided by a long -forgotten memory coming to the fore can tell you. It remembers everything. So it knows everything you know about the art and craft of storytelling. Trust it.

Once I'm done with a story--a novel, especially--I put it away for a few days, or for a couple of weeks if it's a novel. Then I reread it from the beginning, looking for anything that leaps out at me. Typos and wordos and other artifacts of writing quickly; rough bits of description that can be improved quickly; and deeper issues. Sometimes I'll rearrange scenes, add or delete scenes, or add transitions to smooth the flow of the story. Once I've done that, I give it to my trusted first reader, my spouse.

Once my spouse has read it and given me a critique, I go over the story once more, making any changes I think advisable, give it a final polish--spellchecking (by eye, on printed paper with a red pen), fixing any other last-minute errors I find, and then I call it finished.

Is it perfect? No, but nobody writes a perfect novel. Nobody ever has, and nobody ever will. Is it the best I can do at the moment? Yes. Will I someday look back at it and cringe? Almost certainly; if I'm still learning and still improving my craft years from now, I certainly hope I'll be able to see things I could have done better in my earlier work.

Would it benefit from another editing pass? I don't think so, and I'll tell you why. Barring an obvious flaw that I somehow managed to miss every time I've looked at it so far, I've already given it the best effort of which I'm capable. Continuing to try to polish it is likely to do more harm than good. Whatever creativity I possess, whatever distinctive "voice" I may demonstrate in my writing, will only be diluted if I continue to fiddle with the manuscript. My voice--anyone's voice, really--is freshest with as little editing as possible.

I believe I'd be better advised to send the current manuscript out into the world to sink or swim on its merits than to continue polishing it to a mirror finish. Any lessons I learned from writing that story, or from the critique I got, or from editorial replies, are best applied to all my future work. I will learn more from applying those lessons to new tales than I will by trying to retrofit them to an earlier story.

So...I know I'm done when I've had at least one other person read the story and give me a reaction, and I've revised the story once based on that critique. I never, ever ask someone to re-read the story after I've made the changes (or some of them) that they suggested. After all, if I didn't make the changes they think are necessary, why should I expect them to have changed their minds? And if I did make the suggested changes, how can they complain?

As for submissions...if you're sending out a short story, it goes to one market at a time. The cardinal rule is, send it to the top markets first, however you define a "top" market. Maybe you want to be read by as many people as possible, or you want desperately to be published in a particular magazine. Maybe you just want as much money as possible for your work. Whatever the criteria you use, don't sell yourself short. Don't assume they'll reject it. Let the editor(s) decide whether they want your story.

That doesn't mean you should ignore their guidelines. Don't send flash fiction to a market that wants novellas. Don't send "sweet" romance to a publisher who only prints scorching erotica. But if there's any doubt in your mind about whether your story suits their market? Send it to them. Let THEM decide. They may just like it enough to make an exception. And the worst thing that will happen if they don't like it, is they'll send you a rejection letter. Eh. You're going to get lots of those over the course of your career. Get used to it.

If you're sending out a novel, send out multiple submissions. I send my novels to five publishers at a time, and as rejections come back, I send it out again so that it's always out at five publishers. I also ignore "no unsolicited manuscripts" rules. Not everyone will agree with that stance, but it works. I know--because I received a rejection on a novel from a publisher who "doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts". The rejection letter came from a second editor, who had looked at the manuscript at the request of the editor to whom I'd sent it. Yes, they then rejected the novel--but they considered it. They did, in fact, read it despite the alleged rule against unsolicited manuscripts.

No editor wants to be known in the industry as the one who rejected the next J. K. Rowling sight unseen so that some other publisher makes a fortune on the book. They're going to look at everything that comes in the door, even if only briefly. But unless you're a name author already, everyone gets only a brief look--unless you grab the editor by the throat and make him miss his subway stop because he's caught up in your story. In which case, rules or no rules, he's going to want to buy your novel. And again, the worst thing to happen to you if they don't like it is, they send you a boilerplate rejection letter that says "we don't accept unsolicited manuscripts". But it's just that: boilerplate.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How I Write: Revisions--First Pass, Resources, Critique Groups

Welcome to another weekly post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's topic is Revisions--First Pass, Resources, Critique Groups

Well...I'm not sure that I have a lot to say this week, to be honest. I said most of it last week. Revision is my least favorite, least time-consuming part of writing. Based on how some of the other participants described their writing technique, I suppose one might say I do a lot of my revisions while I hammer out the first draft.

I don't think of it as revision, though. It's all part of the mysterious, mostly subconsciously-driven, seat-of-my-pants approach to writing that I employ. I begin at the beginning, and write until I reach the end, then stop. Of course, along the way I may add or delete scenes, cut and paste scenes so the arrangement works better, or go back and modify scenes to suit changes I've wrought since I first put it down on "paper". I suppose one might call that revising, but I've always thought of it as simply part of the process of writing.

Thus, when I'm done with my first draft, it's relatively clean. The revisions are minimal at that point, and involve much cleaning up of typos, dropped or extraneous words, and smoothing out the rough edges of text being composed on the fly. And spell-checking, of course. I run the computer's spellchecker--but only after I'm done with the writing. I never, ever, ever allow the computer to spellcheck (or worse, grammar check) me when I'm writing.

And I never rely solely on the spellcheck. Software guys can't spell for beans. Many a spellchecker is as likely to introduce errors as eliminate them. Besides, there are too many errors a spellcheck program won't catch: homynyms, of course, and words that aren't the word you meant to write but which are at least spelled correctly. I'm never done revising until I've printed the story out and read it through line by line with red pen in hand. It's amazing--and a little alarming--how many errors I always catch that way.

I briefly mentioned critique groups last time. I'm in one, but they've met maybe twice since joined them. And even if we met regularly, I wouldn't depend on them to critique my work. I never show anyone--not my critique group, not my spouse--a work in progress. Nobody sees it until it's finished because it's my story; it'll be the best story I can produce at the time. I will only show my work to them after it's finished (and in the mail to an editor who can buy it--Heinlein's Rules again). Then they serve as another audience. I'm interested to hear what they have to say, but any valid criticisms I get will be applied to the next story. Once a story is done, it's done.

I suppose all of that might sound arrogant, but that's not my intention. It's just that I work best when I simply write the best story I can produce all on my own. I don't want to write by committee, or to please a committee, or for the approval of a handful of individuals--all of which can happen all too easily with critique groups. Plus, even if your critique group is full of established, published writers, they are still giving you their personal opinions, based on (among other things) their personal tastes. And if I'm going to ask someone's opinion of the story, why not an editor? If he likes it, he'll not only tell me so, he'll give me money! Does your critique group do that? Mine doesn't.

So my stories go to editors first, then to other people, whose opinions I respect. I'll listen to their criticisms, and heed their advice (if I think it's valid). But I won't revise a story once it's finished. That ship has sailed. I will, instead, apply the advice to my future stories, which--given both my greater experience as a writer (by a minimum of one additional tale) and informed criticism, is likely to be better overall than a story I might revise after the fact.

In fact, I may soon redraft (i.e., rewrite from scratch--not revise) a story I've had in circulation for over a year now. I've gotten some good and useful feedback on it, and I can see the validity of the comments I've received from some editors who rejected it. It won't be a revision of the original story. It will be a new story based on the same premise, with some of the same characters, but told anew--with (I sincerely hope) more skill and better craft than the one I wrote a year ago. (I won't pull the old story from circulation, mind you. Heinlein's Rule # 5--keep the story in the mail until someone buys it. It may yet find a home someday. But there's no reason I can't take another bite at the apple.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How I Write: Revisions--How To Begin

Welcome to another weekly post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's topic is Revisions--How to Begin.

I think it should be obvious, but just in case, let me spell it out: This is how I do it. Every writer has to discover his or her own process. You have to try different approaches to plotting, writing, editing, all the stages of producing fiction--and then settle on the ones that work for you. I think you're well advised to keep trying new things--you should never stop learning--but ultimately you have to use the techniques that work best for you.

I don't do a lot of revision. I make notes as I write, keeping a list of every character's name, and a short (one line) description of who/what they are, their purpose in the story. I do the same for places--named businesses, ships (star- or otherwise), cities, nations, worlds (I most recently wrote a spacefaring science fiction novel, so that was an issue). Why?

So I have crib notes when I revise the novel. I'm a seat-of-my-pants writer, not a plotter. Most of my plotting goes on in my subconscious or as I'm writing. If I introduce a new character as I'm writing, I generally don't spend a lot of time thinking about just the right name. I pick one and run with it. (And put it in the notes.)

When the time comes to revise the novel, I first look to see if I've given the same name (or names that look or sound too similar) to more than one character. Sometimes I have. Then I have to change them. Or if the names are too joke-y, the sort of think I do to amuse myself while composing. (I had an "Al Mondroca" in the first draft of my most recent novel. Al Mondroca. Almond Roca. Get it? My spouse objected, and rightly so. So he became Al Martinez in the final manuscript.)

Once the novel is complete, I put it aside for about two weeks and work on other things. Then I pull it out and read it through from beginning to end. I fix any missing words, homynyms (too/two/to, etc), and other obvious faults. I may add little text here and there to smooth out rough transitions, but not a lot. Then I give it a computer-aided spelling check (and add new genre-oriented words to the computer's dictionary...).

Then I give it to my spouse, who reads it and makes notes. My spouse is not a writer. My spouse does not want to be a writer. My spouse is, however, a voracious reader. Which makes Spouse a great beta reader because I'm not looking for a writerly critique. I want to know if Spouse, coming at the novel with no preconceptions, simply as a member of the target audience, likes the novel. Is it engaging? Does it hold his attention? What, if anything, throws him out of the story? What did he especially like?

Once I have that information, I can go in and make whatever changes he's suggested--if I agree with them. This is where craft comes into it. No reader is going to "get" or like everything you do. (Some won't like anything you do.) So you have to find a beta reader whose tastes are close enough to yours that you can trust that they're looking for the same things in your work that you want your readers to take from it. My spouse's tastes in novels don't parallel mine in some things, but we both know that, so the things Spouse bothers to mention are things I generally can agree are problems. Even so, you must take criticism with a pinch of salt. Is this a valid point--or is it a matter of taste?

I make whatever revisions are needed. Then I print the whole thing out and read it slowly, line by line. This can take several days. At this point, I'm looking for typos, dropped words, extra words, awkward constructions--all the things the spellcheck or grammar check didn't catch. I mark up the manuscript with a red pen. Once I'm done, I go into the electronic file and fix them all, along with any final changes (more smoothing of transitions, adding details that need emphasis, etc.)

At that point, it's ready to send out. Notice that I don't submit the novel to a critique group. I'm a member of one, though we meet seldom and irregularly. But that group serves a different function for me. Once my Spouse has given input, and I've made the changes I think are valid, I'm done. At that point, the only critiques I'm interested in are those that come from editors, in either the form of a rejection letter or a contract offer. (Heinlein's Rule # 4: You must send your story to someone who will buy it.)

Which is not to say that I won't show the manuscript to other writers and get their input--but that comes after I've begun sending it out to editors. I'll go into this in more detail next week, perhaps, but I believe in looking forward rather than backward. If my rejection letters show me a weakness in my work, I'll work on improving that aspect of my craft. But I'll apply that learning to the next novel. I won't be revising the finished ones. What's done is done, and the best I could do at the time. I believe I'll learn more by applying my lessons to new novels rather than trying to revise and improve old one. (Heinlein's Rule # 3: You must not rewrite except to editorial order. If an editor offers to buy my novel if I make some changes, that's when I'm prepared to revise a finished work.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How I Write: Motivation/ Getting Through the Dreaded Middle Pages

Welcome to another weekly post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's topic is Motivation, or Getting Through the Dreaded Middle Pages.

I've mentioned Robert Heinlein's Rules For Writers before. Heinlein, for those of you may not who he is (I find it incredible that anyone doesn't know, but the world is a big place...), he was one of the Grandmasters of science fiction. He began his writing career in the fifties, and his rules are as valid today as they were then:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must not rewrite except to editorial order.
  4. You must mail your story to someone who will buy it.
  5. You must keep your story in the mail until someone buys it.
This week's topic clearly falls under rule number two. You must finish what you write.

I'm afraid there's no magic bullet for this. As with so many things worth doing, there's no quick and easy route to success. It require commitment and discipline. If you can't finish what you start, you're never going to be successful as a writer. But how?

I can only tell you how I do it. I've finished two novels now, and the experience has been consistent so I expect it will continue to be so. For me, it goes like this:

I begin a new project with excitement. Or maybe with fear and trepidation. Or both. After all, it's not easy to write somewhere in the range of 90,000 words of story. It's a monumental task. But so is building a monument, or a skyscraper. Or eating an elephant. And in all those cases, you do it one small task at a time.

So the first step is to recognize that this will not be quick or easy. It's going to take time. Anywhere from days* to weeks to months to years, depending on how much time you can afford to devote to the project, and how fast you write. But if you can consistently apply yourself, whatever your time constraints and writing speed, eventually you'll get to the end. If you need something to reassure you on that point, reread my post from last week, Running The Numbers.

But having started, how do you get through the dreaded middle pages? Give yourself permission to be bad.

One of the most paralyzing things a writer can do is allow his (or her) internal editor to get involved in the writing process. Writing is creative; editing is not. Editing can improve the final product--but there must be raw material to work with before editing becomes useful. So give yourself permission to write something awful. It doesn't matter how awful; it only matters that you write the story. When it's done, you can go back and decide what works and what didn't, what to keep, what to throw out, what to modify. More on this in a moment.

As I mentioned, I've completed two novels now, and in both cases I seesawed between the conviction that they were pretty damn good--and the suspicion that they were awful. But part of the permission to be bad trick is that you must commit to continuing the project no matter how bad you think it is. Whether you think you're the next Shakespeare or you fear that your manuscript's best use is as fuel for a fire, you must keep writing. It can be tough to do, I know.

But here's another secret: You are the worst judge of your own work.

Really. You're simply too close to it. This is especially true when you're in the dreaded middle of it, after the excitement of starting something new has faded, and before you feel the thrill of reaching the end. Then it's just the slog of getting from one to the other. You can't trust your own judgment. This is a common reaction of many (if not all) writers. In fact, two writers I know, a married couple who have each sold scores of novels, tell me it's so common that they've made a joke of it. When one or the other comes storming out of his (or her) office to confess that the new novel isn't working and may have to be scrapped, the other asks, "How far along are you?" At which point, the complaining partner remembers what I'm telling you (and they told me), curses, turns around, and goes back into the office to keep writing.

The great thing about this? About ignoring your own feelings of inadequacy this way? When the novel is finished, if you go back to look for the places where you were sure it was crap, you won't be able to tell by reading which parts you thought rocked, and which you thought sucked. The quality of the writing has little or nothing to do with how you felt about the writing. It's all about your craft, your skill. THAT doesn't vary with your moods, or it won't if you're a professional about it. Just like any other professional--doctors, lawyers, cops, teachers--you put your feelings aside and do the job.

Which is basically how I get through the dreaded middle.
On the days when everything's going well and I'm pleased with my work, I write.
On the days when I think the novel is unsalvageable and I hate it, I write.
There's no other way.

*Joyce Carrol Oates wrote about 9,000 words a day! That's a novel every ten days! But even a few hundred words a day adds up.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How I Write: Getting the First Draft Completed/ Setting A Writing Schedule

Welcome to another weekly post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's topic is Getting the First Draft Completed, or Setting A Writing Schedule.

I've already mentioned this in previous posts, but my technique is pretty simple. I keep a kitchen timer on my desk. On writing days, I set it for sixty minutes. Once I've opened up a new file, or reopened a work in progress, I start the timer--and I start writing.

For the next sixty minutes I write. I am not allowed to delete anything I write, or edit it (other than to back up and fix a immediate typo or missing word). I am not allowed to stop and think. I must simply write for an hour. When the timer rings, I take a brief break, then do it again. And again. As many times as I can in a day. The object is, as much as possible, to get out of my own way and let my creativity flow.

The less I allow my conscious mind (filled with rules gleaned from grade school, high school and college literature courses, books on writing, and so forth) to interfere, the better.My subconscious knows everything my conscious mind knows--and plenty more besides. It's also less constrained by rules and regulations. Once the first draft is done, I can go back and consciously apply the rules of fiction to improve the work.

But what I really want to talk about is numbers. I plan to write four novels in 2010. I've written two, and I have two more to go. (In fact, I just sent the second novel out to five publishers yesterday.) That's an ambitious goal, but not nearly as ambitious as it may sound. Your average novel tends to run between 70,000 and 120,000 words. There are exceptions. Some category romance novels clock in at 60,000 words, maybe less for some epublishers. But to the best of my knowledge, something much less than 70,000 words or longer 120,000 words is going to have trouble finding a home in New York, while 90,000 words is right in the sweet spot.

So. A manuscript page is roughly 250-300 words (double-spaced with one inch margins). Let's go with 250 words as the baseline. If you can write--not type, mind you, but write--reasonably fast, you can produce a manuscript page (250 words) every fifteen minutes. If you're slow, it might take you an hour.

If you write 250 words a day, every day, for a year, that's [250 x 365] = 91,250 words--or an average novel. That's a novel a year for between fifteen minutes and an hour a day. (That doesn't include any revisions you'll do, but bear with me.*) Think you can squeeze out fifteen minutes of writing time every day? You could write a novel in a year.

Say you can produce 1,000 words a day (in an hour if you're fast, four hours if you're not). That's 365,000 words in a year--or four 90,000 words novels. But that's too much work, you say. You want to take weekends off. And have a two week vacation after laboring over a hot word processor for between one and four hours a day. There are 52 weeks in a year. Strike two for vacations. That leaves fifty weeks. Five days a week x 50 weeks is 250 working days per year. At 1,000 words a day, that's still 250,000 words. That's 2.7 novels. Bump your writing up to 1200 words a day and you're producing three 90,000 word novels a year.

Let's say you can afford to spend the time to write an average of 3,000 words a day, (either because you're being supported by a spouse** or you're spending your evenings writing after a day at the office). If you write five days a week, that's [250 days x 3,000 words] = 780,000 words in a year***, or eight and a half 90,000 words novels. And you're still getting weekends off. (Now do you see how Nora Roberts, for instance, can publish so many books so fast? If she considers writing her day job--and she does--and spends hours writing every day, the words pile up very quickly.)

I'm only trying to write four novels this year. I'm an absolute slacker compared to Nora Roberts. She's not just a better, far more experienced writer, she's also a demon when it comes to productivity. Practice makes perfect, and boy does she get a lot of practice. We could all learn from her example.

As you can see, setting a writing schedule is mostly a matter of discipline. The numbers don't lie. If you can apply yourself, there's no reason why you can't produce a novel in a reasonable length of time--by which I mean, a year at most. The faster you can write and the more time you can devote to your writing, the shorter the time needed to finish a novel. So I'll be writing two more novels this year and getting them all out to publishers. And then four more next year, and the year after that. Maybe they'll sell, maybe they won't. But all that practice will be teaching me to write more effectively, and eventually they will start to sell.

Next week: Motivation--how to keep slogging away when your enthusiasm/confidence/muse deserts you.

*If you're spending only fifteen minutes to an hour a day on producing new words, I think you can find time to edit during the day as well.

**Who no doubt expects (or at least hopes) to be kept in the manner to which he intends to become accustomed once you become a rich and famous novelist, as in my case.

***If, as John D. MacDonald famously said, you have to write a million words of crap to get to the good stuff, that puts you three-quarters of the way there in ONE YEAR. Two if you dawdle.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How I Write: Starting A New Work - How Do You Begin and Tools You Use

Welcome to another weekly post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's topic is wide open: Starting A New Work--How Do You Begin, What Tools Do You Use?

This is a difficult topic for me. I have two novels and a number of short stories under my belt (published already or written with intent to be published), in addition to hundreds of thousands--if not millions--of words of fiction (including fanfic) written for my own amusement before I Got Serious about writing professionally. And most of it was written off-the-cuff.

I'm a seat-of-my-pants writer, or "pantser" as some folks put it. I don't work out plots and then write to an outline. I don't even create an outline and then find the story diverging from the outline when actually sit down to write. I've tried that and it has never worked for me. I start with the seed of a story and find out the shape of the story as I write it down. That sometimes involves cutting and pasting, and tossing away parts of a story that lead to a dead-end. The end result is a workable story--but the plotting and planning occur, for the most part, down in my subconscious, where I have little access and less insight.

I have a notebook full of story ideas, or story concepts. One-line pitches that I hope to turn into a completed story someday. (And it's nice to leaf through the notebook occasionally and see the ones I've actually written--and sold--crossed out. It helps, on the days when I feel uninspired, to remind myself of my successes. I also have plenty of incomplete stories on my hard drive, anything from a few pages to ten thousand words. I open them up occasionally and look at them, and from time to time I find inspiration in one and finish it.

But on a purely technical level: I sit (or stand, as the mood takes me, my writing desk being at a height where I can stand or sit on a stool) in front the computer, open a blank file, and start writing. Sometimes I have a killer opening line. Sometimes I have a scene I want to start with, or a scene I want to get to. Sometimes I have only a vague idea of what kind of story I want to tell.

Flying High began with a visual of my (super)heroine seizing the hero by his shirt and flying high into the sky, where she proceeds to have her way with him. Writing the story consisted of figuring out to get to that scene, which involved deciding who the characters were, and what would motivate her to do that.

Fast Friends began with the notion of making the hero's pursuit of the heroine a literal pursuit. The characters changed considerably over the course of writing that story. It began as another superhero story, but along the way I abandoned that as an unnecessary complication. In the end, hero and heroine are runners--but completely human.

The science fiction novel I just finished (not a romance) came about when I read an article about a man who makes his living repossessing airliners when the owners default on their payments to the bank. It occurred to me that there'd be a need for a similar service in a universe where starships are common. I started with a list of tricks deadbeat starship owners might use to hang onto their vessels, and tricks my hero might use to retrieve them. I had an image of my hero in mind, but very little more when I started the novel.

My hero's personality changed and deepened as I wrote my way through the novel. He acquired a love interest along the way (which I had not intended when I began). One of his targets early on became an ally and eventually his best friend--another unexpected twist. I worked out the geography (astrography?) of the universe, the details of FTL starship travel, and the legal systems of several worlds on the fly.

Not all of it hung together, of course. I had to cycle through the novel a few times, cleaning up inconsistencies. I had to cut most of a very steamy sex scene that ultimately didn't fit the rest of the story, but which I had fun writing at the time. I had to go back and tweak the names of people, places, and starships to get rid of the sorts of amusing, self-referential or joke names I tend to throw in as placeholders when I'm writing on the fly. "Al Mondroca", for instance, became Al Martinez. It scans the same, but it's no longer a joke.

When I began the novel, I had no idea what the final shape of it would be. If that sounds nerve-wracking, well--it is. I've written two novels to date, and both of them involved ping-ponging between confidence in my writing and a conviction that I was kidding myself, that I'd do better to scrap what I'd written and start over on something else. But my toolkit helps with that. I have two very important tools I use whenever I write.

First, a kitchen timer. I set it for sixty-minute intervals. Once I start it, I must write for an hour, without pausing more than momentarily, and without editing or deleting anything. That discipline prevents me from making repeated false starts, or dithering about how best to write scene (and thereby giving my internal editor a chance to interfere). I must simply write. Once I've written, then I can edit. But not before.

My second tool is my copy of Robert Heinlein's Rules For Writers, about which I've written before, both here and elsewhere. Following them won't guarantee success, but failing to follow them will almost certainly assure failure. The rules are:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must not rewrite except to editorial order.
4. You must mail your story to an editor who will buy it.
5. You must keep your story in the mail until it sells.

Each and every one of them a pearl of wisdom, and I'll have plenty to say about them as this series progresses. But for now, that's a glimpse into how at least one "pantser" starts new works.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How I Write: Research - How To Research & Knowing When To Stop

Welcome to the third installment in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's episode: How I Research, and Knowing When To Stop.

Let's start with the latter question first. How do you know when to stop? Ultimately, when it's time to sit down and write, the time for research is over. Research, like endlessly revising a manuscript or trying to create the "perfect" opening sentence, paragraph, or chapter is really just procrastination dressed up as perfectionism. Research, like creating character bios, timelines, plotting, and so forth, exists to help you write a better, more entertaining story. It is not an end in itself. When and if it starts cutting into your writing time, you've done enough.

When I stand in front of my computer to start my dailing writing session, I put aside research. If there are questions that need answering, I either fake it (and plan to come back and put the real facts in later) or I just make a note to myself to "insert researched data here"...and keep writing. Letting myself get sidetracked by chasing down information during my writing time is a great way to waste a day. If I really need to do more research, it will get done some other time. In the evening, when I'm done with my writing for the day.

If by "knowing when to stop" you mean how do you know when you've accumulated enough data about the topic at hand...that's when the rule of diminishing returns comes into play. While a few well-chosen nuggets of historical/technical/cultural data can be just the thing to make your story real, too much of it bogs your story down. You'll invariably dig up a lot more information than you'll be able to use in a given story, though you can always use it later, in other stories. If you're collecting trivia? You've gone too far.

Ah, but how do I research?

I start with Wikipedia and Google. Wikipedia (a user-edited online encyclopedia, if you've been living in a cave for the last few years) is a great starting point. It's almost useless for politics and any other hotly-contested subject, but otherwise it's fairly helpful in getting an overview of a non-controversial topic, but its primarily useful for the citations to original sources. You needn't take anything for gospel--you can follow the links, or search out the sources with Google to confirm them. And in many cases, a quick overview, maybe some descriptions or pictures of the plants, animals, architecture, weapons, tools, or whatever are all I need.

If I need more, though, Google is a godsend. I remember sitting at home as a child (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) thumbing through our encyclopedia (which got more out of date with every passing year), or trolling through the local public library or school library. It was a crapshoot whether I'd find much of anything about whatever topic I was obsessed with at the time. Now I type search terms into a computer in the privacy of my own home and can find out as much as I want to know on any conceivable subject. If it exists at all and it's online, I can find it quickly and easily, more often than not. If it's not online, well, that's what Amazon and other sites are for. I can find an actual book on the subject, buy it, and have it delivered to my door.

Once I've found my sources, it's simply a matter of determining how deeply I really need to delve, and then making notes of the salient points. As I said, less is often more. A smattering of details for flavor, backed up by research to assure that I don't make any egregious errors, is what my research is all about.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How I Write: Plotting and World Building

Welcome to the second weekly post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's topic is wide open: Plot, character arcs, and world-building--whatever we want to tackle.

I'll start with plotting. Mostly, I don't. That is, I am a seat-of-my-pants writer. I've tried plotting out my stories beforehand and it never works for me. I haven't given up on trying--I think it would be a useful tool for my toolbox, but so far it's never worked. I get an idea and try to flesh it out, but I keep spotting holes in the plot, so I tinker and tinker with the plot until it dissolves like wet tissue paper and I give up on it.

What does work for me is making up the story as I go along. I start with a scene conflict--usually the opening scene, but not always--and just start writing. As events unfold I discover what the plot is. This often involves going back and adding scenes earlier in the story to lay the groundwork for a later conflict. Sometimes it means reworking a scene or throwing one out entirely. Such scenes go into my "cut scenes" file, where they may eventually be recycled, in whole or in part, in another story.

*I should point out that I'm not really 'discovering' anything. I'm making it up, but it often feels like a discovery because a lot of the work goes on in my subconscious. I don't like it when people disown their agency, when they speak of having a muse, or of muses speaking to them--or deserting them. Own your creativity, people!

As for world building--I repeat, I'm a seat-of-my-pants writer. I've written superheroes, fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary fiction. Just like when I start a story with minimal plot, I start with a basic idea of what sort of world the characters inhabit. Often those details are dictated by the story I want to tell; some particular details of government or culture or geography are required to make the story work. The other details often don't get fleshed out until they come up in the course of writing the story. This would happen anyhow--no writer can anticipate all the details she'll have to provide to make the world real to her readers. But it can be exciting--and sometimes a little scary--to discover, as your characters do, that some facet of the world around them is going to materially influence the plot.

The most recent example of that is in the recently-completed manuscript for my SF novel about the man who repossesses starships. The starships take off and land like jet aircraft. When they get high enough--in air too thin for the air-breathing jets to function any longer--they switch to onboard rocket fuel and the jet engines function like rockets to take them out of the atmosphere. (Such engines don't actually exist yet, but they've been contemplated and they're feasible.) Only then, in vacuum, can they fire up the FTL drives that take them from one system to another.

I decided all this the first time I wrote about my hero making off with a starship. It was just color--until later in the manuscript, when the fact that starships need long, long runways to land on when they de-orbit affected the plot. It sent my hero on a cross-continental journey he hadn't anticipated, and meant that many more obstacles to achieving his goals. I fleshed out a great many other details about the world in which he lives, some of which I will have to go back and add to earlier scenes as I work on the first revision of the novel.

Plotting and world-building are both very organic processes, at least for those of us who don't plot it all out ahead of time. And for me, at least, that's part of the fun. I'm never quite sure what I'm going to write, so it's often as much of an adventure fore me as it is for the characters. And, I hope, the readers.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Excerpt: Flying High (paranormal erotica, NC-17)

Welcome to Excerpt Monday! A number of authors are linking to and from the Excerpt Monday home page, and you can read excerpts from all of them. Follow the links and enjoy!
FLYING HIGH by Gail Roarke

A paranormal/urban fantasy erotic romance short, is available from Cobblestone Press.

It's another Excerpt Monday and that means--an excerpt! In this case, as if you couldn't tell from the image above, an excerpt from Flying High, the first of several erotic shorts in the very unofficial "Sex and the Single Superheroine" series.


Iron Maiden can fly through the air and bend steel in her bare hands. But finding a man to satisfy her may be the one feat she cannot manage. Not only is her first attempt rudely interrupted by bad guys, but mere mortals find her strength intimidating--and none of her fellow crime fighters is up to the challenge. She's beginning to think she's doomed to a life of celibacy--until she meets the enigmatic Black Knight and discovers that the sky's the limit!


Leah was trembling on the verge of an orgasm.

For the last half hour, a man she knew only as Steve had been giving her incredible oral sex. His mouth had worked wonders, reducing her to babbling incoherence as she writhed with pleasure. After he'd eaten and fingered her to one orgasm after another, he'd climbed up to loom over her with a smug grin as he slid his gloriously hard cock inside her.

Strangers shared the bed with Leah and Steve, another couple named Suzanne and Bill. Suzanne was on her elbows and knees facing the headboard, head resting on her crossed arms, Bill kneeling behind her. Suzanne's heavy breasts swayed with every thrust of Bill's hips. Leah occasionally met Bill's eyes as he watched her with Steve, sharing a knowing grin. It was daring enough that she was having sex with a man she'd only met an hour ago—to be doing so in public only added to the thrill.

Leah was very glad she'd worked up the nerve to contact their host, Ron, by instant message. She'd chatted with him for hours, asking questions, flirting and allowing herself to be cajoled into coming to this party. Actually showing up tonight had been scarier than facing any armed criminal or supervillain.

She'd been shaking when she knocked on the front door. A bearded man in his forties had opened the door. Leah had introduced herself with the pseudonym she'd given him online. He'd introduced himself as Ron and invited her in. There were a dozen people in his living room in various states of undress. Two large mattresses took up most of the floor space. Ron had introduced her to them all, but she'd been too nervous for the names to stick in her memory.

The next two hours were surreal. Leah watched with fascination as men and women made love right in front of her, mostly couples, but occasionally threesomes. Leah didn't participate. She was still too nervous—and frankly too caught up in watching at first. She'd seen porn videos before but had never witnessed other people having sex in front of her. It was startling and a little shocking.

It was also arousing. She found herself squirming in her seat, feeling flushed with excitement. Her nipples were erect, and she could feel the moisture between her legs. By the time another man named Steve had arrived, her arousal had trumped her nervousness.

Steve had wasted no time before inviting her to play with him. She'd agreed but wasn't ready to do so quite so publicly. He had smiled, taken her hand and led her upstairs to one of the bedrooms, where he'd taken her in his arms and kissed her, beginning the slow seduction that had led to this moment.

And then, of course, it all went wrong....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How I Write: Ideas--Where Do You Get Them?

Welcome to the inaugural post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

So, today's topic is ideas. Specifically, where do I get them.Or more broadly, where does any writer get them. SF writer Harlan Ellison once famously replied, "Poughkeepsie." But he's infamous for not suffering fools gladly, and many a writer tires of being asked just that question.

The answer is that ideas are everywhere. They're thick on the ground, a glut on the market. It's not getting an idea that's difficult, it's turning an idea into a completed story. Most professional writers will tell you that they have more ideas for stories than they'll ever have the time and energy to write--something many non-writers don't seem to understand. More than one famous writer has been offered an idea in return for his doing the work of turning it into a story, after which the idea man and the writer will share in the bounty sure to flow from this partnership. That's rather like handing a sculptor a block of wood or marble and saying, "You make a sculpture of a dolphin, and we'll share the profits when it sells." Not a very enticing offer.

I have files full of ideas on my computer, and partial stories. I have notebooks scattered around the house with notes, story synopses, and short character bios, all of which could be turned into stories eventually. Some I've had in my mind for years but have never found the right way to spin into fiction. Others come to me and get turned into stories almost immediately.

But the question is: where do I get them.

I get them by looking at the world around me and asking questions. You can look at your family, your friends, your co-workers, strangers; you can look at the neighborhood, your home town, your nation, or the world. You can look at the news, or other works of fiction. You ask, "What if?" And then you consider the possibilities. What if things were different, in small ways or large? What if people behaved different, individually or collectively? What if two very different people were attracted to one another?--leads to any number of romance stories. What if you received an invitation to a magic school?--J. K. Rowling created Harry Potter. What if some new technology made it impossible to conceal your thoughts from those you loved? What happens then?

Another good question is, "Why?" When you notice someone doing something eye-catching, unusual or odd, ask yourself why. Why did that happen? What would motivate someone to do what you observed? What was his purpose? What was his goal? Discard the mundane answers, the easy, off-the-top-of-your-head answers. Dig deeeper. Look for something more intriguing.

What if? Why?

I'm partial to speculative fiction (i.e., science fiction, fantasy, comics and superhero stories). What if a young woman with superhuman strength wanted to try bondage? Who could bind her? How? Bound by Convention was the story I wrote to answer that question for myself. What if someone defaults on the payments for his multi-million dollar starship? Well, someone would have to repossess that starship for the bank, wouldn't they? I just finished the first draft of a novel about that someone. A dozen other writers could tackle the same idea and produce a dozen other stories--better or worse or just different.

The idea is just the starting point. What you do with it is what matters.

Next Week: Character/World-Building

Below is the current list of contributing writers to the HOW I WRITE blog series.
Click a link and find out HOW I WRITE!  (in alphabetical order, check us all out!)
Kendall Ashby Corbit- Rated R
Kristine Asselin – Rated PG
Tatiana Caldwell – Rated R
Jennifer Carson - Rated PG
Isabelle Flynn - Rated PG
Ansha Kotyk – Rated PG
Laura Pauling – Rated PG
Alexia Reed – Rated R
P.M. Rousseau – Rated R

Sunday, June 6, 2010

It's June Already?

Wow. Time flies when you're up to your elbows in a novel. I began my second novel, a science fiction story, at the beginning of April. By the end of April I had 60,000 words done. May went rather slower--about half as fast, in fact. By the end of May I finished the novel with 98,000 words. It's not done, of course. Not by any means. That was just the first draft.

I'm letting it sit for a couple of weeks. I'll spend the next two weeks* working on short stories. Then I'll print the novel out, and go over it, rearranging a few scenes, maybe tightening some and lengthening others, and cleaning up typos. That'll be the second draft.

Then I'll let my spouse--and my first reader--have a look at it. Assuming Spouse doesn't point out any major problems, I'll give it another quick polish and send it out into the cold, hard world in search of a home. That should take me until the end of June.

At which point, it will be time to start a third novel. My goal for 2010 is to get four novels written and circulating. The longer-term goal is to do the same every year for the next four years. That should result in 20 novels in the hands of publishers, which means a) I'll have that much more practice** at plotting and writing novels, and b) with practice and persistence, the odds should be pretty good that I'll have sold at least one. And to a major New York publisher, mind you. That doesn't count shorter novels I may or may not write and submit to smaller, possibly online epublishers.

In the mean time, I intend to start posting to this blog more regularly. Beginning on the 16th of this month, I'll be posting every Wednesday on the topic of How I Write. I'll be participating in a multi-blog effort, wherein all the bloggers will be posting on the same topic each week. It should be fun, and with any luck, educational for everyone involved. Stay tuned for that!

*I spent most of the last week suffering from a summer cold and doing very little writing.

**Assuming I'm starting from scratch (which isn't true), and assuming that, as it is often said, a writer has to produce a million words of crap before writing anything good, twenty 100,000 word novels is TWO MILLION words. Given that I've already sold a number of shorts, I like to think that I'm closer to breaking in than that. But the only way to find out is to keep writing and pitching, so that's the plan.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

April Summation

April is over. We're into May now. I started my second novel at the beginning of April, and now I'm just shy of the 60K mark, or about two thirds of the way through it. That's an average of pretty close to 2,000 words a day every day (though I didn't actually write every day). Not bad. If I maintain that pace, that would leave me the latter half of May to clean up the novel, get my first reader (aka my lovely and talented spouse) to read it and tell me what she thinks, and then make any fixes Spouse suggests that I think are sound.

This hasn't been the blazing pace of my NaNoWriMo effort, when I had 50,000 words done in eighteen days. But that was motivated by a) the lurking fear that if I didn't pound it out as soon as humanly possible, I wouldn't finish it at all, and b) wanting to have it done by the time Orycon started (again, fearing that if I stopped work on it during Orycon I wouldn't finish). If nothing else, that effort taught me that I can, in fact, finish a novel. As a result, this effort has been more measured. I still prefer to get as much done as I can as quickly as I can, but I'm not so worried about being able to produce enough words. Quality is still an issue, mind you, but I'm pretty sure now that I can achieve quantity.

As usual, I seesaw between thinking I'm writing something pretty good and the fear that I'm kidding myself, and that when I let Spouse read it, I'll learn that it's awful. Or worse, boring. And realistically, that is a possibility. The only way to assure that it doesn't happen is not to finish, which is not an option--the only way to get positive feedback is to finish it. So I write it as best I can, then let the chips fall where they may. Absolute worst case? I shelve this novel as unsalvageable nd start the next one (which might be a redraft* of this one). But as I plan to write another one anyhow....

I'm definitely trending toward higher word counts these days. What used to be a high (3,000-3,500 words) is more like a typical day's production now, with about 5,000 words as a new high. Which puts a 3,000-3,500 word story within range of a single day's work. I've heard it said that if you can't write a story in a day, it's not something you can really hope to make a living at. I don't know about that, but if I can produce 3.5K story in a day, it certainly won't hurt my chances. Writing is a skill like any other, and it requires practice. The faster you can write, the more practice you can get in a given period of time. I've gotten enough "close but no cigar" rejections over the last year that I think I'm close to figuring out what I'm doing that's not quite working**. So the more practice I can get, the sooner I hope I'll iron out some wrinkles.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I think I may try to do some one-day stories when I don't/can't make any headway on the novel for one reason or another. That's a very salable word count in a lot of markets, so if I can produce something readable, I can get that many more stories circulating.

In other news, we went to a gun show in Vancouver on Saturday. It was rather disappointing. Usually we attend the shows at the Portland Expo Center. Those gun shows are huge, filling the cavernous space to capacity. It's hard to really see the whole show; you get tired and overwhelmed before you've traversed all the aisles. The Vancouver show was tiny by comparison, and we wandered through the whole thing pretty quickly. But we'd wanted to see a show soon and discovered that one was happening this weekend, so we went. There'll be one of the big shows in June, and we'll go that.

I cut the grass this afternoon. Didn't really feel like it, but today was the first really dry day all week around here, and the forecast is more rain all week, so...I cut the grass. I don't dare let it get too long for the reel mower or I have to use the weedwacker to hack it into submission, which is a pain in the butt.

Tomorrow: Laundry. A donut run. (My lovely and talented spouse has a yen for donuts from Helen Bernhardt's Bakery, and Spouse's whim is my command.) Back to work on the novel.

*Not a rewrite, where I try to "fix" this one. A redraft: I round file this manuscript and start over from scratch, hopefully having learned something from the first attempt.

**Well, except on those days when I think I'm wasting my time.

Stories in Circulation: 11
Rejections: 36
Stories Accepted: SEVEN
Stories to Resubmit: 0

Novel Queries: 1 Novel, 5 queries out
Novel Rejections: 5

Project 1: Space Opera (Title TBD)
Words Written: 58,555

Project 2: Urban Fantasy (Title TBD)
Words Written: 0

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Excerpt Monday - April

Once a month, a bunch of authors get together and post excerpts from published books, contracted work or works in progress, and link to each other. You don’t have to be published to participate–just a writer with an excerpt you’d like to share. For more info on how to participate, head over to the Excerpt Monday site! or click on the banner above.

My excerpt is from Queen Bee, one of my Wicked shorts at Cobblestone Press.

"Got big plans for the weekend, Daisy?"

Daisy Cooper glanced up from her computer. Her co-worker, Constance, was leaning over the cubicle wall. The wall clock behind Constance told Daisy it was nearly five. Almost quitting time.

"Oh, you know," Daisy said with a smile. She had plans all right—sex, sex, and more sex. Daisy was a regular at Soixante-Neuf, a local sex club. "Same old, same old."

Constance shook her head in exasperation. "You need to get out more, Daisy. Go on a date occasionally." She glanced around and then said softly, "Maybe even get laid!"

Daisy looked down at her work again, hiding her smile. Constance liked to think of herself as a bad girl, but she'd be shocked to discover the truth about Daisy's pastime. As would Daisy's employers, which was why she kept it under wraps. They wouldn’t understand or approve of her lifestyle—and they weren’t alone.

She'd dated men outside the swinging community. It hadn't gone well. She couldn't have a real relationship with anyone she couldn’t be honest with, but none of her relationships had survived her confession. Most of them broke up with her over her interest in casual sex with other people. Two men had tried joining her in her hobby, but while they'd been extremely enthusiastic about the chance to sleep with other women, they'd been jealous of Daisy’s time with other men, and she’d broken up with them.

The relationships she'd attempted with men from the swinging community hadn't gone much better. The single men she'd gotten close to saw anything more than purely recreational sex as reason to demand monogamy. Once they began thinking of Daisy as “their” girl, they didn't want anyone else to touch her, and she'd written them off—as boyfriends, friends with benefits, or anything else.

After two years of such fiascos, Daisy had sworn off drama. She became a regular at the club, making friends and enjoying the benefits thereof, but she steadfastly refused to dabble in romantic liaisons. It had worked well for her. Or so she told herself when she was feeling lonely. And, if she were honest with herself, she got a secret little kick out of playing the mild-mannered office worker by day, man-eating siren by night. Or on weekends, at any rate.

"I mean it, girl," Constance said. "You're a lovely young woman. I don't know why you insist on hiding your light under a bushel."

Daisy closed the file she'd been updating. "It's always cold in here," she said truthfully. The office was always chilly enough to justify the sweaters and long skirts she wore.

Constance sighed theatrically. "You don't know what you're missing, Daisy." She checked that her computer was shut down and retrieved her purse from a drawer. "Goodnight, dear. See you Monday."

"Goodnight, Constance. Have a nice weekend." I certainly intend to.

* * * * *

Daisy strutted into Soixante-Neuf as if she owned it. Blonde, beautiful, sexy…and alone. She'd exchanged her drab work attire for a midnight blue cheongsam—a form-fitting Chinese dress—and matching heels. She nodded at the man behind the front desk. He knew her well and no longer even asked for her membership card.

The club was moderately crowded, though nowhere near as packed as it would be by midnight. Daisy wasn't the only regular. She waved or called out greetings to men and women across the room. Others approached to give her a hug, a kiss, or a grope. Often all three.

Still others simply watched her, heads turning as she passed. They were newbies or return visitors who knew her only as the gorgeous blonde who showed up every weekend. Maybe one or two of those men would work up the nerve to approach her on any given night. If they did, and if she found them attractive, she might play with them. If not...well, they had only themselves to blame.

"Daisy!" A naked woman with long, curly red hair approached. She was short and busty, with pierced nipples. She was also flushed and sweating, clearly just done fucking someone.

"Emily!" Daisy leaned over to kiss Emily on the cheek, both of them careful to avoid mussing Daisy's dress. "Having fun, I see."

Emily grinned. "You know it!"

Daisy did know. Emily had been one of the first people to befriend her when she'd first braved the club. She'd taken Daisy by the hand and led her around, introducing her to everyone. She'd also spent a lot of time talking to Daisy and answering her questions. She was the only person Daisy knew who was more enthusiastic about swinging than Daisy herself.

They conversed for only a minute before Emily excused herself to shower. Daisy moved on, drifting through the facility to see who was there and what was happening. As usual, not a lot yet—people were socializing, snacking, dancing, playing pool. Maybe indulging in a little grab-ass. The only real action she discovered was in the public play area.

She joined the crowd clustered around a large group bed, their attention focused on a single couple. The crowd around the bed was composed of about equal numbers of men and women. None of them seemed inclined to do more than watch, which they did in an almost eerie silence.

Daisy worked her way into a position to see the couple on the bed. To her utter lack of surprise, she recognized a woman named Lisa crouching over a dark-haired man Daisy didn't know, engaged in sixty-nine. She knew Lisa well. They'd often shared a bed, usually with several other people, but occasionally just the two of them.

Daisy wasn't yet so jaded that watching other people have sex had lost its fascination. She watched along with the rest of the crowd for a few minutes. Individuals and couples drifted away and were replaced by other spectators. Someone slid into position at her side, a tall blond man—six two at least—shirtless but wearing a pair of slacks and shoes. He sensed her attention and smiled at her before he turned his attention back to the show.

Lisa and her playmate continued pleasing one another, seeming oblivious to their audience. Lisa began breathing more loudly and erratically, her attention to her blow job flagging. Daisy wasn't surprised when Lisa raised her head, halting her blow job to shudder all over and make the delighted little noises Daisy had come to know so well. Then, her orgasm over, Lisa resumed her efforts.

The blond man next to her leaned in a little. "They sure seem to be having fun, don't they?"

"They do," she agreed. She waved a hand to indicate the crowd around them. "They seem to be the only ones, though."

He nodded slowly and moved closer. "I've noticed that. It seems to happen a lot. People pay good money to come to these clubs, and then they just sit around and watch. I don't get it."

"We're watching," she pointed out, though she hoped it wouldn't be for much longer.
He acknowledged her point with a minute shrug. "Yeah, but I just got here. What's your excuse?" He grinned. 
"I'm Paul, by the way."

She looked up into his eyes and said, very seriously, "Nobody's asked me yet. I'm Daisy."

Paul leaned in again, close enough that Daisy could feel his breath on her ear. She shivered, desperately horny and eager to join Lisa on that huge bed. "Sometimes," Paul said, "I'm tempted to just announce, 'Everyone who'd rather have sex than watch sex, raise your hand!' Maybe that would get people moving."

She laughed. She knew exactly what he meant. "It might at that."

"What about you?" He stood behind her now, not quite touching her but close enough that she could feel his breath on her ear when he spoke.

"What about me what?" she asked, deliberately drawing him out.

"Wouldn't you rather have sex than watch someone else have it?" Now he did touch her, placing his hands lightly on her hips.

She felt a rush of excitement. She glanced at him over her shoulder, biting her lip as she considered it. He was a good looking man, and his proposition was nicely done.

"Yes," she said. She turned to face him. "I think I would."