Friday, May 25, 2007

When Your Characters Form a Union

Someday I'm going to be hauled away to the loony bin and this is going to be one of the documents they use to keep me there, but what the heck.

In my head, the section devoted to "stories" is actually quite organized. I read somewhere how people compare it to having this attic full of stuff that you keep accidentally running into and forgot you have and yadda yadda. My creative story space is a very, very long hall chock full of board rooms. I can open any door at any time, and end up wandering into something.

Usually, all my characters stay in their little room and don't bother me unless I wander into that particular room (a la The Boss) and ask them what they've got. Unfortunately, since my ill-conceived threat not to finish Thieves, my quiet little board rooms of characters have suddenly started forming unions and lobbying me. Just yesterday, I got a bid from a story I haven't worked on since 5th grade. 5TH GRADE! It's the second ever "real" story ("real" meaning I'd finally managed to grasp the concept of beginning, middle, and end, as well as dialogue and plot) I ever wrote. And I do mean EVER. I wasn't ever expecting to hear from that quarter again, and yet, there they are, insidiously whispering to me that this might be a nifty young-adult series, sort of like a younger, psychic Nancy Drew. I'm almost tempted to try it! And I shouldn't, I just shouldn't, not when I've got TWO novels to finish! I've already derailed once for Thieves. Whatever happened to professionalism?

Except, Once Bitten hasn't been picked up yet, I have no agent, no editor, no deadline. Is it so wrong to let my mind wander where it will?

Oof!

-Mel

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Decisions

In spite of the deep insanity of the decision, I am still working on Thieves instead of Two Evils. I'm doing it without a working laptop, too, which is even crazier because I can't consult what I already have just too often. Or maybe that's a godsend, because I'd only get discouraged if I had to see the amount of working facing me.



*aside* Tate's book is on the bestsellers' lists again, kudos! *aside*



Now, I have this deep, deep doubt that I think comes from being an English Literature major. Something that got planted when I was taking Creative Writing (I'd still like someone to tell me where the creativity came in) classes at the U. Every once in a while, I get this feeling that what I'm writing isn't "important" because it isn't "literary." It causes me to stop writing for a while and once again ponder writing my memoirs or something equally stupid. I enjoy writing great big adventure stories with demons and heroes and easy moral lessons and sometimes darker moral ambiguity. I hate writing about my life. In comparison, my life seems pretty boring, and then there's always the whole "Creative Nonfiction" problem, which is that for the most part, you have to embellish your real life for a memoir anyway, otherwise it's going to come out... pretty boring. And I've never liked talking or writing dishonestly about real things. I'd rather play pretend and act out the tough questions and situations using characters and exotic settings, examine it from multiple angles.



Still, I hate feeling, I hate ever having been made to feel, or ever having the idea planted, that what I'm writing lacks importance because it's for the "masses" to enjoy and will likely never appear in the "canon" along with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Flannery O'Connor and the rest. How did Tolkien do it? Honestly? I would argue that science fiction and fantasy and people who read and write it are far more knowledgable than any of the so-called "scholars" I've met at my university, yet academics for the most part scoff at anything so plebian as a science fiction or fantasy novel. It boggles my freaking mind. I mean, who tells a student who brings a fantasy story to class that a "university level creative writing class" is not the place for this? What, exactly, do university level "creative" writers write about? As near as I can tell, the de jour "literary" writing style is to learn how to artfully talk your way around a problem without ever acknowledging its existance, a la Hemmingway. No wonder flash fiction has become so popular. Who wants to read more than five pages of that kind of ambiguous crap?



I'd argue that what we do is harder. We tackle the big questions, and we do it in space!

-Mel

Friday, May 11, 2007

One Scene at a Time

I started filling in the blanks on Thieves last night, trying very hard to keep my fingers from deleting unnecessary adjectives and adverbs that I seemed to like to sprinkle all over creation at one time in my writing life. The really difficult thing about working on Thieves is that I haven't written a story the way I wrote this one before or since. I was experimenting with a writing technique that would get me to "The End," and I was getting a little desperate, because I couldn't remember typing "The End" on anything in about three years.

So, I made a deal with myself. I would write all the scenes I "liked" and fill in the blanks in between later, essentially writing the pearls without the string. Well, now it's down to the string, this being the less exciting scenes of connective tissue, and what on God's green earth made me think leaving the most boring parts for last was going to get me closer to writing "The End" on anything, I'll never know. Now I make myself write a story step by step by sentence by paragraph all the way through no matter what I might be seeing "happen" in the "future."

-Mel

Thursday, May 10, 2007

75,000+

It should be rather telling that I haven't looked at Thieves in a long time, seeing as I was off on the word count by 6,000 words. As it is, without having all its pieces yet in place, it is just over 75,000 words in its newest version. My e-mail back-dating suggests the last time I worked on this piece was July of 2005.

It's not even finished, probably just barely approaching 2/3rds of the way done, and it is already longer than "Once Bitten" by 500 words.

I really hope I'm not making a mistake by giving it another look-see. I'm hoping, in equal parts, that it'll overwhelm me again and I can put it to bed, and that I've matured enough and the characters have matured enough to at least try to finish the beast.

Oh, God, I don't even want to begin to think what hell it will be to edit this thing if this run does pan out.

-Mel

Attack!

I don't generally write *about* my writing process, even to myself, because it, like my faith, is something I don't like to question too much. Sufficing to say I had a woman I go to occasionally for spiritual/life guidance tell me once that I don't write so much as channel, like she does, and I couldn't exactly argue the point. I don't generally feel writing comes from me so much as it comes through me. Ever since I first set fingers to keys and felt this great electricity almost literally spilling from me into our new elementary school computers, I haven't ever felt like I was ever creating anything. I felt like I was opening a door and setting it free.

There's a few age-old questions that are put to writers, one of which is "where do you get your ideas" another, asked among writers, "do you start with a problem, a setting, or a character." I can't remember many instances in which a story didn't leap out of my head, very nearly fully formed, like Athena. Question 1 is easy to deflect, because mostly people just want to hear "oh, here and there" or something else that's fluffy and easy to absorb. I hate question 2, especially when I'm in the company of other writers. I feel like answering it puts me in the position of the woman who has the one-day period without cramps at a girl-gab session. I often hear writers say they have characters running around their heads without a setting; neat, interesting people they'd just like to be able to put somewhere. I've never met a character who didn't already belong somewhere, and I write character-driven stories (the other kind being problem-driven stories). When I begin to explore a story idea, when it arrives from the great beyond or the big long hall of board rooms in my head, or wherever from whence it hails, the first thing I get is a scene. A fully-formed, often more-than-one-character-present, set in some modern or fantastic or science fiction locale, scene. Like someone just decided now would be a good time to hold a screening for some new movie in my head. Usuallly the scene's happening from a certain character's perspective, who is usually the one who ends up being the main character. After that scene, I ask "what's next" and "what came before" and I almost always get answers in the form of more scenes. Inevitably, I have to find a way to string the scenes together, but I always get a beginning, middle, and end, and generally a whole lot more. I might be mumbling the long scenes of dialogue out loud like a crazy person for a week or so, but one these people come upon me, they come ready to tell their version of events. I flounder in writing more often than not because I can't see what happened between scenes, or I'm just plain bored listening to this character.

This has led to me having some rather... pushy characters. In my head, I can walk in on stories that have been replaying themselves over and over again, just waiting for the right time to grab my attention. I've never said I won't write, or finish a story. I just say, not now.

Except the other day when I said I wouldn't finish Thieves. This caused quite a stir in that pot, and now it's boiled over and I have some very feisty people trying to have their say (while I'm trying to finish the second book of the Evelyn Blomquist series, no less). The really hard thing is that I'm a little bored with Evie, and the Thieves characters have begun assailing this crack. I don't want to be distracted, but then again, I haven't "heard" anything from the Thieves camp in two years. Is this an opportunity or a derailing?

-Mel

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Holy Tai Wan, Batman!

It should tell you how well and truly bored I was today that I actually went on WorldCAT just to see how many of my books were out there in the worldwide library system, and where. I was thinking maybe twenty-five books, a handful in California, New York, and here, because that's where I knew ABDO had markets.

Well, there are books there. And in 20 other states, including the Library of Congress. But most startling was that there's one copy in Saskatchewan (I'm sorry, my Canadian friends, I don't know if I spelled it right), a copy in Heidelburg (Germany, on a US military base, no less), and a copy in TAI WAN. There are 85 copies of my book out there in the world, or so WorldCAT tells me. This doesn't include the private school libraries that ABDO also sells to, but, I mean... uh... WOW. AND my book as two editions. ABDO's made it an electronic/CD-ROM type thing. Now, I wish they'd tell me these things. That's another thing that's kind of annoying. Since they aren't paying you after the inicial, they're kind of done with you, so you don't get nifty info like this.

But anyway, I just needed to say I was rather floored by this new info.

-Mel

Royalties Screwed

This here is the book. There she is. All 55 pages of her.

Want to know how much I make on this book, which retails for $25.65 on Amazon.com?

Not. One. Red. Cent.

That my name is on a cover of a book, no matter how many changes I still want to make on it, is still kind of gratifying. But don't let anyone lie to you and tell you non-fiction is more "stable" or you can make more money at it. Just because the books cost more doesn't mean the author gets paid more. In my field, a book will be contracted for somewhere around $1,000, $2,500 if you're going for middling to top talent, or, as in my case, it may just be authored in-house by the editors. That amount doesn't have royalties attached - it's a one-shot deal. Seeing as I was an unknown author, all of 21 years old, and not even out of college yet, AND that I worked for the company, I'm not even going to tell you how much I got paid to write this baby. What was kind of nice is that I did get to do a lot of things an outside author doesn't get to do. I had a lot of influence over the images in the book - because I was our company's photo researcher. That ultimately most of the images were pulled from the same Civil Rights event still grates on me, but hey, I did find some cool photos. I got to write my own captions and sidebars and timeline and index, which usually the editor would do. I got to request my own maps and graphs. I got to touch it hot off the proofing press.

Still, I get awfully frustrated when I see it on Amazon.com, retailing for $26.00. It's in schools and libraries in California and New York, and probably other places that buy educational books from ABDO. I get frustrated because I have to hesitate every time I want to buy a copy of my own book, because in real life, I don't make enough money that $26.00 isn't something to think about, and I got one gratis copy. There is no author discount for me if I tried to buy it through ABDO. I get it from Amazon.com, just like everybody else.

I call this book my life lessons book. Never sell yourself short.

-Mel

A Real Writer has a Real Blog

Technically speaking, I have been a "professional" writer (read: PAID) since I was seventeen years old. That I am turning twenty-five in four weeks should tell you I'm a little behind on hopping on the professional blog bus. I thought I'd wait until I got one of my pet projects published (fiction) instead of my bread-and-butter (non-fiction/inspirational), but heck, why wait? Personally, I'd love to flip back through a favorite writers' blog and read about the struggle as well as the successes. Also, I was getting a little tired of not having a space where I could wax on about writing (somehow, the Guatemala and Spain travel logs didn't quite do the trick), and, mother of many creative moments, I was bored. So, here's me writing my first post for my first professional blog.

For posterity, I have one *actual* book in circulation called The Civil Rights Marches (and between you, me, and the wall, I'm still trying not to cringe at the idea of it being out there) one children's inspirational historical novella online at a small press, and one short story that Guideposts owns, but to my knowledge has never seen print. I have two rejection letters from agents on my Evelyn Blomquist vampire chick-lit series, a rejection on "Casserole Martian Invaders" from Realms, and a very early rejection from Merlin's Pen on two short stories I wrote when I was about fourteen. Currently, Once Bitten (Evie Blomquist) is off in query form at the JABberwocky Literary Agency. Here's to hoping Charlaine Harris' agent is looking for more chick-lit. "Casserole Martian Invaders" has been tabled at least until I can figure out what genre to call it (if it's young adult, then it can't happen at a college. If it's science fiction, it's "too fluffy"), and the two stories to Merlin's Pen are in my filing cabinet in my office at my grandparents' house, which is currently undergoing renovation while I'm in Guatemala. I'm trying very hard not to think what might have happened/is happening to my books and papers there.

I'm currently working on the second book in the Evie Blomquist series. Two Evils has hit a bit of a speedbump. It seems to be nearing its ending, but it's grossly under wordcount. It needs to percolate for a while.

The other novel/series I'd been working on, a high fantasy story with the working title of Thieves has been removed from my agenda indefinitely. After eight years, a person's way of writing changes so dramatically that it starts sounding like the story's being written by two different people. The amount of work it would take just to shape up the writing there is, much less finish the beast, seems insurmountable. I'll call it my transition novel, and probably leave it in a drawer. Which is something darned painful to do with over 69,000 words, but that's the breaks. Hopefully the characters won't seek vengeance while I'm sleeping and give me an aneurism or something.

Keep your fingers crossed that I snag me an agent soon!

-Mel