That Last Little Bit of Vaguery

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According to the book’s outline, I’m at the final…well, I wouldn’t call it a hurdle, per say. More like, the final point of vaguery. See, past me had left it as a problem for future me, entirely certain that interim me would figure it out, but interim me forgot to even think about it and was far more interested in the stuff that was happening right now. And when none of the versions of me were looking, the problem’s answers…grew, and now I have slightly too many options, but none of them feel quite right. I know what I need, I know the end result, but so far, every version either feels pointlessly complicated or far too simple, and both ways lack satisfaction. I need that elegant “OH” moment, and I haven’t quite worked it out.

So, instead, I’m editing a novella while things are left to marinate.

However, once that final point of vagueness is finally laid to rest, the rest of this book should move smoothly along to end, since I’ve had the end mapped out and outlined and pre-written for months and months and months.

Note to self: next book, do not write in the outline “and then the characters figure things out [make it epic]” and leave it at that. It’s almost as bad as “and then the characters escape from certain death [tbd later].”

A Month of Books: August

Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold: Reread! Because, for some reason, this time around, I’m reading the whole of the Vorkosigan Saga backward? The series is one of my comfort reads and, when I have no idea what to read next, I pick one up and start reading ’cause I know I’ll enjoy it. Every time through, I come away with new things to analyze. This time, it was plot structure.

The Writer’s Book of Doubt by Aidan Doyle: A bit of a cheat, I suppose, seeing that I haven’t finished it yet, so this semi-review will be truncated, but it’s so far been worth taking the extra time with. Most of the essays are based on blog posts, so tend to be short, but at the same time, since they’re based on concise blog posts, also have a lot of thoughts and information to unpack. And it’s a broad swathe of different topics relating to writing, self-doubt, and the parts (pleasant, unpleasant, and everything in between) of being a creative in a field that depends so much on audience interaction and how to make your way, ranging from hobbyist to professional. Though mostly geared toward writers, quite a bit of it, I think, is applicable to other art forms, so it might be worth a look for non-writers too. Highly recommended (and I haven’t even finished it yet!).

The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold: *squeeeee* More Penric and Des! I had no idea this released last month (I was a bit distracted) but it makes a wonderful surprise gift in the middle of August. As usual, the new installment of Penric and Desdemona is a joyful delight. Interestingly Pen swears a great deal in this one (true, he is having a very bad day) and he and Des get to go full-chaos-demon/sorcerer on a bunch of pirates–which is definitely the most chaos they’ve indulged in on-screen (I think), and it is glorious. On a writing-craft note, this is an excellent example of ramping-up complications. Every single time Pen has a plan, everything goes completely wrong and he ends up having to come up with another plan…which also goes wrong.

Heart of Fire by Bec McMaster: I’m on a romance-roll, it appears. Also, people with the name “McMaster”? Anyway, romance! And dragons! A combination I haven’t had much experience reading, but now I wonder…why have I not? This was a recommendation from a friend (whose reading tastes and my own often align) and I was not steered wrong! Honestly, a delight to read, Freyja and Rurik’s dialogue/banter is a blast, but most of all, they seem to be having so much fun. There’s an element here of play. Their banter is, often, funny to read, but they’re clearly enjoying themselves, and when the joke is at the other’s expense, it’s consensually at the other’s expense. I like my romances sweet or funny, and this one is both sweet and funny. Also, dragons. It’s interesting though that while the characters get their HEA, the end leaves much unresolved; the pair seem set up for another adventure together, and it’s heavily hinted that even though they have their HEA, they’re going to meet with conflict for their choice later…but the series is constructed as a romance series, meaning the next book will focus on a different couple. But I have downloaded the next so…

Firefly: The Unification War, Part One by Greg Pak, Dan McDaid, Marcelo Costa: Oh, hey, comic! I usually read comics/graphic novels in mass binges when the series is complete (or near completion), but in this case, it was sitting on the New Books shelf at my library and caught my eye. Amusing and entertaining, though I think, if I read any of these in future, I’ll watch the show just before so I can have the character/actor voices in my head. I think it’ll add another dimension.

GenCon 2019!

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Back from GenCon!

It was good! Though next time, I think I’ll find a hotel rather than a truck-stop motel. The motel was good for a motel, but, erm, seemed designed for one-night stop-overs rather than four consecutive nights. Next time, hotel. With breakfast. Breakfast would be lovely.

ANYWAY! Volunteered at the Writer’s Symposium, which was exhausting but in a good way. Kept me busy and I was still able to go to pretty much all the panels and presentations that I’d wanted (and ended up going to a couple unexpected ones, and missing a few that I realized weren’t quite what I thought they were when I registered). Oh! And got all the books I’d brought for signing signed by some of my favorite authors, which was awesome.

Take-aways:

  • This very clever revision/editing trick I’m going to use from now on for multi-viewpoint novels. Break the novel down into the individual character arcs and read those sections chronologically. It had been suggested as a way to maintain character voice, but I know the current book has a problem with redundancy and repeating character goals when I’m shifting to a viewpoint that I’ve been out of for awhile. This might help me weed through that.
  • I have been doing my query letters wrong. Kind of. See, I’ve been so damn focused on the concern of making my last book look marketable. Finding comps. Making it less threatening. But then, during a panel that, oddly, had little to do with querying, both an author and an agent pointed out that the thing agents and editors want is the opposite. Yeah, making sure your book isn’t totally out there is good, but more important is highlighting why it’s different. Thus, I’m doing another query revision before I send out my next batch, though this is going to take some work. Switching my focus from similarity to difference has, so far, been difficult, but I’m trying to be a little looser/free-er with my comps and let more of me, the writer, into my exceedingly business-like query. Seriously, looking at it, I realize I sound so, so terrified with my extreme professionalism—no, I’m not going to be unprofessional now, but it’s okay, I realize, to pitch the book the same way I pitch the book in person, i.e. with a bit of humor.
  • That said, more and more, I’m thinking I might need to re-title “In Blood.” As is, it works, but at the same time, it’s not really… *makes hand gestures* …y’know. It doesn’t stand out.
  • What to do when that horrible question comes up, when you tell people you’re a writer, and they say, “Oh? Anything I might’ve heard of?” The ANSWER: pull a copy of your book out of you bag and leave them to read the back cover copy while you keep doing whatever it was you were doing before they interrupted. That is genius.
  • Authors can be accused of a sort of distributor favoritism. If they post on their site a link to purchase their book but from only one distributor, though their book is available from multiple, the other distributors can call foul. The advice had been to just remove everything and leave if up to your publisher to put links to distributors on their page, but I figure I’m pretty small potatoes at this point—and everything I have published so far are short stories—so I’ve instead updated my publications list to include links to anywhere and everywhere you could possibly purchase my work. The distributors (when there are multiple) are now listed alphabetically, not in any order of preference. In future, though, I plan to follow the advice of no links whatsoever, but that’s not for awhile yet.
  • Confirmation of a level-up moment. I’d gone to one of the read & critique workshops, where you read three minutes of your work and a panel of authors/editors/agents give feedback. While I was listening to everyone read, editor-brain was critting and doing its thing (’cause it seems I can’t frickin’ turn it off when in a critique circle), and then the panel gave their feedback and probably about two out of three times, they critiqued the same thing I would’ve critiqued. They also caught a whole lot else I didn’t, but it was good to realize that I leveled up.
  • One (super important) reason why that whole book length and word count thing is so popular as a reason why your book is rejected. It’s actually not that much of a concern—if someone loves your long book, so long as it’s not 600,000 words, it’s workable—BUT it’s quantifiable. If someone is looking for a way to say “no” because it’s not their taste, they can cite the word count as a reason and it can’t be argued with. And suddenly I’m like, OH. So…it’s not a personal failing? I haven’t failed as a writer?
  • Some valuable reminders about how to write a fight scene.
  • Those bookmarks were far more popular than I thought they’d be. Instead of a handful, next time, I need to bring, like, 100, maybe more. They were all gone overnight. We’ll see if there’s an uptick in website traffic…

If I think of more, I’ll add to this post.

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The tower of signed books!
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And free books!

Two Months of Books: June & July

An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass: *Inarticulate squealing noise* READ IT. Read it now. Okay, so this is by one of my all-time favorite writers, though under her pen name, and I have been waiting for a new book from her for years. And it was definitely worth the wait and then some! As a caveat, I do note that it starts off slowly, building the characters and showing them gaining the skills they’ll need later for the heist, but it means I got to enjoy Romy’s voice and narration that much longer. The world is richly detailed and a joy to submerge myself into, the characters are a fascinating delight to get to know and magnificently flawed, and there’s a lining of hope trimming this magic-heist adventure fantasy. Also, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to read. Counting down the months to the release of book two, A Conjuring of Assassins! (As a side-note, the cover art for book two was just released and it’s as gorgeous as the art on book one.)

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: The more I read this, the more I came to the realization that this book wasn’t for current-me. Teenager-me would’ve not only have devoured this book in days, but it would’ve gone down as one of my ultimate favorites that I’d carry with me well into adulthood. Adult-me is, unfortunately, too genre-savvy: I called too many of the twists, the conventions, the setups, and I was very rarely surprised, but because of the natural distance of an epic narration, I wasn’t emotionally invested enough that I didn’t care. It’s a very long book to feel ‘meh’ over. Perhaps this is a side-effect of being a writer and a student of story structure, perhaps epic fantasy of a traditional, Tolkien-esque style no longer interests me the way it once did. I would, however, recommend this to readers who love the epic fantasy structure, who adore the genre and its tropes, and want something different (because this book with it’s many female characters subverts that worn, tired “men on a quest to save the world, the only women are servants and walk-ons and maybe that princess” story that is so, so common) OR readers who are just coming to epic fantasy, and aren’t well-versed in the expectations and characterizations of the genre.

A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell: This is a fascinating re-imagining of Holmes and Watson that takes the original source material and (brilliantly) turns it on its head. In A Study in Honor, civil war has broken out in a near-future USA, and Captain Janet Watson, after losing her left arm (a problem if you’re a surgeon), has been discharged and sent, unmoored, into civilian life in Washington D.C. with a fritzy robotic arm that doesn’t fit and few prospects. One thing leads to another, and she encounters Sara Holmes, who is brilliant, baffling, and has an air of secrets and danger. I usually don’t read near-future sci-fi, preferring mine space-faring and operatic in scope, but as disturbingly possible a future as O’Dell paints, it’s also not entirely dystopic (though, erm, leans more heavily in that direction). It’s fantastic, and I look forward to reading book two (The Hound of Justice). Highly recommended.

Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmyer: Pirates! Swashbuckling! Romance! Adventure! Also, I find it fascinating to look at how romances differ for their marketing demographic. In a straight HEA romance, it’s usually marriage that’s the end goal. In this M/M HEA romance, it’s not just marriage. It’s also acceptance, discovering others who are like yourself, and finding a safe space to be. That’s what makes this a HEA end. Similarly to the contemporary romance a few months ago, historical romance is usually not my jam, BUT I appreciated how much diversity there is in this. It’s a pleasant change to most romances, especially historical romances that are usually viewed through a straight, white (almost always female) lens. My one minor quibble (and seriously, it’s minor) is how much the two characters who look like brothers remark on this similarity, and I quibble this only because (I want to say) most people do not have an accurate mental picture of what they themselves look like, particularly facial features and maybe hair. I can see comparing skin color just ’cause you can hold your arm up next to the other person, but not faces. It’s an observation I would’ve personally preferred be something only other characters remarked on, but this is a quibble.