Friday, April 10, 2015

Post-Hiatus Hello

Welcome back! No, not to you, to me!

It’s been a little bit since I’ve blogged. I make no apology, since it was an entirely planned absence on my part. My boyfriend returned from his extended deployment two months ago, and I wanted to spend time focusing on reintegrating him into my life and processing the general change and upheaval that accompanies such a time period. I enjoy blogging, but it’s not my number one priority. Oh, and we went to Guatemala for a couple weeks, which throws one’s schedule quite off kilter!

It was awesome.

But now that things have settled into more of a routine, I have some time to start looking back at my Todoist list of “Blog Post Ideas”. I’m not sure what is coming next—probably a (belated) fun-with-numbers look at the books I read in 2014. What can I say, I crave making graphs.

Anyway, besides blogging, I have a lot going on right now. I still want to spend basically every moment possible with my boyfriend. Turns out I kind of love the guy. Unfortunately/fortunately, he works a lot more than I do and has to stay on his boat for duty every few days, so I still have time to chase after my own pursuits. And oh boy am I chasing!

Right now I am getting up at 6 AM every day to write for ~45 minutes before I go to work. A small change, in some ways, but also a HUGE one. My productivity has gone way up, and I’m already 18,000 words (!) into my newest manuscript, novel 8. That’s just since March 23! I am still researching agents and querying novel 7, which takes a fair bit of time and mental energy (oh the rejections). I am training for a half-marathon, so when I get home from work (around 4:30 PM generally), I work out, plus a long run on Sundays. I just started taking a night class in accounting one night a week (contemplating changing day jobs), which means 3.5 hours on Tuesdays and then doing homework sometime during the rest of the week. And that’s just the basics—on top of that I have all the usual stuff of tending my home and my bunny, cooking, reading, running errands, etc.

But it feels great! Productivity breeds productivity, or so they say. Or if they don’t, they should. I definitely say it! I can’t promise I’ll be able to fit in a weekly blog post, but I do enjoy blogging and so it will stay on my to-do list. Unfortunately, I can’t say when I’ll be able to bring back #FlashFridayFootage. It’s something I have a lot of fun doing, but it takes a lot of time and there isn’t something else I’m willing to take off my plate right now in its place.

I hope everyone else’s spring has been going well! May the flowers be blooming or whatever happens in places that have seasons. =)

I waited 7 months for that kiss...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Critique Blog Hop!

So as I recently finished up novel 7, I've been getting into the exciting/nerve-wracking stage of submitting it! Oh, the joys of querying. Anyway, I've had zero success in two contests now and so far no positive responses from the first batch of queries. It's enough to make a writer want to crawl into a hole and say "Sorry for bothering." But that's not me! So instead I am joining the Critique Blog Hop hosted as a follow-on to the Sun vs. Snow contest. If you would like to participate, follow the link--you submit your entry and crit 10 other entries. Or if you would just like to offer any feedback to me here, I am always looking for ways to improve! And with no further ado, I present to you my novel 7!
 
Short pitch:
 
A jaded god has to beat his ennui in order to save his family, his people, and his home from a roving gang of displaced gods.
 
Query:
 
Being a god is a decent gig, but Vassyr can only spend so many centuries seducing mortal women and antagonizing his older sister. So when he discovers a way off their world, he doesn't stop for half a second to listen to her objections. Sure, she says he owes the mortals something and should be doing more, but Vassyr knows she loves doing it all herself. He simply can't listen to one more prayer from some farmer's son dying to become a hero.

In the face of an alluring array of new worlds to explore, it's easy to forget about the tedious responsibilities and family he abandoned. But although Vassyr is four thousand years old, he's no better than a naïve mortal out in the wider universe. When he carelessly insults a roving gang of displaced gods, he becomes a casualty of their desperate search for a new home. Worse, he reveals the location of his world.

Vassyr's home may have seemed stifling to him, but to these gods, it is a target ripe for annexation—and they don't care who is killed in the process. As his world is ravaged in the battle between his family and the interlopers, Vassyr realizes that being a god comes with some real responsibilities after all. He has to find a way to protect the mortals, convince his sister to trust him again, and send the trespassers packing while there is still a home left to save.
 
First 250 words:
 
Vassyr hit the mortal with a thick chunk of air. Not hard—he was just after a bit of fun, not punishment. The mortal rubbed the back of his head and looked around the common room, frowning. Vassyr had to bite on the knuckles of his left hand to stifle a giggle. He could almost hear his sister's scolding that giggles weren't godlike, but he didn't give a shit about that. But if the mortals heard laughter from an apparently empty chair, they'd probably declare the place haunted and take to their heels. Idiots. Not that it wouldn't be amusing, but that wasn't his plan. He used his free hand to send another swat of air sailing through the tavern.

"Who was that?" roared a big beast of a man. He pushed his chair back, spilling his ale in an amber pool.

No one answered, or even dared to meet the man's eye. Trying to save their skins, no doubt—cowards, the lot of them. What else could one expect of mortals? Vassyr bit his lip and made another flick. A man sitting two tables away sprang to his feet, one hand clasping the back of his neck. A dagger was already unsheathed in his other hand.

"What do you mean by that?"

Vassyr flicked again, and now he was able to let his laughter loose. There was more than enough noise to mask it. The big man had picked up an entire bench and was waving it around rather indiscriminately, and the brawl was inevitable from there.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Life-Cycle of a Nora Novel

Okay, maybe a Nora novel isn't an officially recognized category—yet!

In any case, I have a pretty methodical way that I go about writing a novel, refined over several manuscripts. So I thought I would share that method in case it is helpful and/or interesting for anyone else!


The video describes it pretty well, but I thought I would also include a short summary here, in case you don't want to watch me blabber for 11 minutes. Or are at work, not that any of us would be thinking about writing at our day jobs!

The ideas for my novels usually get entered into my ideas notebook long before I start writing or even planning them. It's an outlet for all those plot monkeys that demand to be written while I'm trying to finish something else. There are all kind of random things in my notebook, ranging from snippets of dialogues to character sketches and title ideas. For example:
A long stretch of moonlit road. Dry grasslands as far as the eye can see. A lone horse rider, the clop of hooves a slow staccato, the rider slumped in the saddle. A faint wind stirs dust along the road.
This is written in my notebook with zero context. Just an image I had one day a few years ago. Anyway, I take one of these ideas that I want to work on, and I start to brainstorm. I like to do the one sentence premise -> paragraph -> plot summary progression. Then I write an outline. An honest-to-goodness, I.A.i.a. outline. From that outline, I create an Excel spreadsheet scene list. Here is where I plan out the details of the timeline, the POV, who is where, and what happens.

Then I write!

For the most part, I stick to that scene list. I guess that may seem boring to some, but for me, I like the structure it provides. It's like a checklist—butt in chair, write this scene. If I get wild inspiration, I'll pause to work it in, but that just isn't the way I normally work. Eventually, voila! A draft!

The revision process is pretty simple. Read through it, take notes. Create a new Excel sheet and, from those notes, come up with a revision plan checklist. Copy the scene list and modify it as needed to accommodate the changes. Then go back and make all the edits! X them off as I go, so I get to see my Excel percentage go up. Rinse and repeat until it feels done. Somewhere in there, try to get feedback from beta readers to incorporate into the revision notes.

Once I'm happy with it, write a query and a synopsis, and begin sending it out! At this point, the novel is basically done. If I get a partial or full request (very rarely...), I don't go back and re-read or edit, I just send what I have. Only if I am having a really bad response do I then go back and maybe do another edit.

So that's it! That's as far as it goes for me, for now. Someday I hope I will have to worry about agent edits and editor edits and all that fun stuff, but that's a future!Nora problem. Right-now-Nora needs to worry about writing that damn synopsis for Novel 7 and picking out an idea to flesh out for Novel 8...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Writing Tool Review: WikidPad

I want to take a break from navel-gazing (an occupational hazard, I swear) to offer something a little more concrete and useful.
 
There are a million tools for writers out there. For the most part, I ignore them. People chatter about Scrivener, but I plug away at my drafts in Word, crafting Excel spreadsheets that lay out detailed plans for scenes and stricter (and yes, that’s before writing—I’m very far on the “outlining” side of the spectrum!). I sign up for Novlr and then don’t even use it (I do plan to, for my next novel). I once had a brief flirtation with yWriter that lasted about one chapter of a now-defunct manuscript (novel 2). I read posts about the Hemingway app or distraction-free writing apps, but then I click the X and continue in my ways.
 
It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with the use of these tools. Writing can be painful as hell and whatever helps that process is a good thing. I am not a Luddite who insists that truly great novels must be written by quill via the light of a kerosene lamp, because seriously, fuck those people. Just someone who is loath to mess with their own system—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you might say.
 
But as much as I love my Word/Excel setup, I haven’t enjoyed the way I keep track of relevant information for my novels. I do some world-building before writing, sketching out details that are important to the plot and characters, usually in my catch-all writing notebook. But once I start writing, I constantly have to expand that, and I don’t usually have that notebook with me. My system for that was a notepad text document, adding random details as they come up. Inefficient and definitely open for improvement!
 
I cannot remember who originally brought this to my attention, only that it was mentioned in passing on some thread or another on Absolute Write. And it stuck with me, that mention, because it sounded like a potential solution for my world-building problem. I wrote down the name on my to-do list and eventually got around to checking it out: WikidPad.
 
WikidPad is a free, open source wiki software. Basically it is a digital notebook where I can jot down ideas and—very importantly—link those ideas together with merely a keystroke. It is easy to install and use, at least on a basic level. I am sure there is functionality that I’m not using, but it works for what I use it for. Every character gets a page, linked to the other characters they are related to, linked to their homes or groups, linked to whatever ideas I want. I can store facts about world-building locations or weird quirks about monetary systems. It’s searchable and sortable. And it’s not an online tool, so once you download and install it, you can work offline.
 
There are likely dozens of equivalent tools out there. I haven’t really looked into it, to be honest. I stumbled across this one, and it works for me. So I thought I would share this little gem, just in case it fills a niche for you too!
 
Screenshot of my wiki for novel 7.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Wrap-Up: Another Year In Review

Well, well, well, 2015. Here we are. Together at last--or already? It's hard to say for sure, because on the one hand, holy shit it's 2015. But on the other, 2014 was eons long!
 
It was definitely a big year for me, both in terms of my personal life and my writing.
 
In February, I applied for the Clarion Workshop. I didn't get in, but even trying was a big step towards being more serious about my writing. In May, I put on my Navy uniform for the last time, closing out a very big chapter of my life. I also finished novel 6 that month. I participated in my first Twitter contest in June. In July, I launched my #FlashFridayFootage series, which has had 10 entries so far. I tried my hand at #PitchWars in August, which was a ton of fun even though I didn't make it. And I started, finished, and did one edit of novel 7 in less than 6 months, an accomplishment I would have thought unbelievable before.
 
Not to mention that my boyfriend went on his first deployment in July (which he is still on, omg kill me), moving to a new apartment by myself, acquiring first one pet rabbit and then another, I got a new job as a civilian, lost 12 pounds, got braces--yeah, 2014 was a kind of crazy year!!
 
Here is what I wrote in January:
Looking forward into 2014, I hope to average at least 100 words every day, with 40k as my goal for the year. I hope to write at least 129 days this year (a 50% increase over last year's goal). And, most importantly, I want to sell or be close to selling novel 6 by the end of year. I plan to be done with my re-writing and editing by the end of April, and I think that gives me some time to get some serious eyes on it and some offers. Is 2014 going to be the year? We shall see...
So how did that all turn out? Really not too bad, actually! I wrote 73,526 new words last year (not to mention editing 2 manuscripts). I only had 93 writing days, but a lot of that was due to breaks between major revisions, so I won't castigate myself too much. And no, I'm not anywhere near selling novel 6. In fact, I'm close to giving up on novel 6. But I did give it my best shot. I sent out over 50 queries last year, participated in writing contests, and am still persevering through what is a very long and painful process. So maybe 2014 wasn't "the year", but it was a year, and a damn good one in terms of writing.

Now--2015. What have we got here? Well, I don't want to plan to write too much, as my focus will probably be on editing and refining novels 6 and 7. But I'll probably get cooking on novel 8 at some point (or revisit any of novels 1-5), so I'll aim for 60k words. I also want to write a bit more consistently, including more short fiction, so I'll stick with the 129 writing days goal and hopefully land it this year. And I can't say that this will be the Year of The Call, so I'll just say that I hope to continue querying novel 6 (up to at least 100) and begin querying novel 7 (up to 50).

So cheers and good riddance to 2014--bring it on, 2015!

Friday, December 19, 2014

#FlashFridayFootage: "A New Planet"

Happy Friday, folks! Hopefully many of you will get a chance to take a little break in the upcoming weeks. (I am using all of my PTO to take two days off so I can go back to Iowa! I think I must be crazy.) In any case, #FFF will be on a little break, but will be back in 2015 for more flashes of SFF for your weekend enjoyment.

Happy holidays!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Wanna Be A Novelist! (Throwback Thursday)

Okay, I'm not saying that this is going to be a regular thing, but I kinda had fun doing Throwback Thursday last week. So I decided to dig back into my archives for a prose sample. I like to see how far I've come over the past 14 years! Because, yes, this excerpt is from my very first novel that I ever wrote, when I was 13 years old. I don't think I knew the term "infodump" yet...
Richare and his wife, Gracia, lived together not far from where Rialana and Fred lived. Renla, Rialana’s sister, lived by Richare and Gracia. All of them were telepaths, and very nice people besides. Neither Fred nor Gracia were telekinetics, but that wasn’t unusual. Very few telkins (The common word for telekinetics. All of the Touched abilities had shortened names like that, which confused me for a while at first.) lived at Land’s Point. Of the two hundred Touched that lived at Land’s Points, there were 50 telkins, 42 telehealers, 26 telelemens (fire, earth, or ice), 18 telemeteors, 16 teleblocks, 4 telempaths, and 4 teleseers, and the other 40 were telpats only. It was rumored that once teleherins had existed, a twisted Touched ability that gave the power to completely control the bodies of others. Although it was just a rumor, it sent shivers down everyone’s spine to think of what a terrible power that would be.
This is from the second chapter of Novel 1, and I think this is actually a product of an edit/partial re-write I did in high school. So I somehow read this at least twice and thought it was okay!

After a brutal writing sample like that, I think I'll play it safe with the photo. Throwing it all the way back to Baby!Nora, who was totes adorbs. This is, appropriately, a December picture. The kitten's name was Russia, and she grew up alongside me for many happy years.

I don't think she was stealing my soul, here...