Posted in Writing

My Plans for NaNoWriMo 2018

On November 1st for the past 11 years, I’ve opened a new Word document on my computer, named it NaNoWriMo and the year, and set out to write 50,000 of a novel over the next 30 days. And I’ve failed every year except for one. I usually manage 5,000 or 10,000 words before school or work takes over the hours earmarked for writing.

(The only time I won NaNoWriMo was my senior year of high school. I remember only two things about that novel: it was 5,000 words short of 50,000, so I included a couple short stories at the end; and I modeled a character after Jesse James from West Coast Choppers.)

NaNoWriMo sparks anxiety in me and makes me set expectations really, really, really high.

I convince myself that this November is when I’ll finally write the story that’s been loitering in the periphery forever. And I’ll make the time to write, carving out a couple hours before bed and scribbling during my lunch. And eventually, I convince myself that this is my ONE CHANCE to write this particular story. If I don’t, then it’ll never get written.

Here’s the thing, though: that’s not true. There are still 24-hours in a day during November, and some of those hours are earmarked for things like working and homework and sleeping and showering and doing laundry. NaNoWriMo doesn’t magically add an extra hour for writing to my day (no matter how much I wish it did). I’m working with the same number of hours that I have the other eleven months of the year.

And that whole thing about having ONE CHANCE to write THIS story? Also crap. Stories don’t have expiration dates. My zombie apocalypse novella is still waiting patiently; the treasure hunt/ghost story I’m trying to work on now will be there next week and next year; even the trilogy of paranormal romance novellas is still going to be there when I get around to writing it.

So rather than stressing out about not joining the millions of other writers across the world as they draft their stories, I’ve decided that I’m going to focus on the long-term this November. That means figuring out a writing routine that works, whether that means sitting down at my laptop for an hour Saturday and Sunday mornings or taking a half hour after dinner to get words written.

Getting that routine down and consistently turning out words will be far more beneficial for me than trying to slam out 50,000 words in November. NaNo works for some writers, and that’s great. But it doesn’t work for all writers, and that’s okay.

Posted in Writing

Baking & Writing

I’ve mentioned that baking has become my newest hobby, and I recently decided to venture from cupcakes and cookies to full-on cakes thanks to a Pinterest recipe. (It’s this cake for those wondering.) The experience was… an experience. Full of I’m just going to wing it and well shit, that didn’t work.

Turning out a freaking tasty lemon cake and too sweet frosting gave me surprising insight into another process: my writing process.

It sounds like a leap—I know, I know—but let me unpack it.

The cake on Pinterest is called a Raspberry Lemon Cake. Mine was a Strawberry Lemon Cake because the grocery store didn’t have fresh raspberries. The recipe is supposed to produce enough batter for three 6-inch cakes. I barely fit all my batter in a single 9 ½ inch cakepan. The cake should’ve had a meringue frosting. I said f-it because it was 8pm and there was no way I was going to make f-ing meringue at that time of the night, so I bought a tub of frosting from Food Lion.

Whenever I start a new piece of writing, I always have a plan in my head. It may not be complete or very detailed, but I have a rough outline. A has to happen before B happens and B has to happen before C happens.

But stories and characters like to go awry. Maybe A needs to be cut entirely and E should really happen between B and C rather than after D. Or maybe a certain character decides that he or she would rather go chasing a story on zombies than finding their best friend at the hospital. (No… I’m not talking from personal experience here. What would give you that idea?)

Baking and writing require flexibility. The ability to say well that’s not going to happen and then finding a way to make the bigger picture still work. Odds are that it’s not going to look exactly how I expected or planned. It may be better. Or it may need some tweaking in the next go-around.

I’m okay with either outcome. Especially when it means I get to eat cake.

Posted in 5 Things, Making It Up As I Go, Writing

Five Things I Learned Writing “Scales”

I issued myself a challenge at the beginning of May: turn out a polished final draft of a short story by June 1st for an anthology call for submissions. And because I’m an overachiever when it comes to making things difficult for myself, I decided to write a cozy-type story, meaning limited blood and violence. So no car chases, no shootouts, and no zombies. (Note to self, figure out how to write a cozy mystery with zombies.)

The challenge taught me a lot about writing, and I wanted to share the five biggest lessons that I learned from trying to write and submit a short story in a month.

1. Find Conflict Outside Your (Writing) Comfort Zone

Because I decided early on that I didn’t want to write my typical A-team/Jack Reacher-type story where lives are on the line. I wanted something with a different kind of drama, the kind that could be happening next door and you’d be none the wiser until news crews show up on the front lawn. That isn’t the kind of drama I’m used to manufacturing for my characters and weaving into the plot.

I had to take a step back and ask myself what kind of conflict would compel the main character to act? She’s an expert in reptiles. What if she found and had to protect a reptile that’d been thought extinct for centuries? It took a bit longer to figure out how to make the tension and conflict something that would keep me on the edge of my seat. But I did it. And honestly, I liked how it turned out.

2. Pinterest is Worse than Quicksand, and You’re Better off Avoiding It while Writing

Hi there. I’m S.E., and I’m mildly addicted to Pinterest. It’s my go-to for recipes that may or may not work, the place where I can see hundreds of cute puppy pictures, and a knitting resource if I’m looking for a how-to or a knitting pattern. Occasionally, I’ll use it to give myself a visual reference for whatever character or place I’m creating.

I’ve yet to break myself of the habit of popping onto Pinterest while I’m working, and I usually justify the trip over to the website by telling myself that I need to know what something looks like. That’s exactly what happened when I was working on “Scales.” I was working on the scene where the formerly-extinct reptile shows up and decided that I need a visual. Simple enough, right? Well, I ended up knee-deep in knitting patterns for cryptozoological creatures like the Loch Ness Monster and dragons for a couple hours. It was time that should’ve been spent writing.

3. Worldbuilding is Tough; Stopping is Tougher

Most of my stories take place in the present day or in a world that’s pretty darn close to it. That’s because worldbuilding is not my strong suite. It’s a process that requires knowing things like how magic works, how the culture looks, and the general history of the civilization. You know. little things.

Building the universe in Scales was rough, and it still challenges me when I dive back into the story. The world itself is based upon a modern-day United States but with the addition of magic and cryptids. That didn’t strike me as being too difficult when I first started. Make the gargoyle doorknocker an enchanted sentry? Cute and great show of what’s normal. Have the roommate be a psychic? Hello opportunity for foreshadowing. But the problem arose with another question: where do I stop? Or better yet, how much magic is too much magic? Maybe there are Pegasuses and people carry umbrellas to avoid droppings. Or maybe witches and wizards run supermarkets and there’s been a rash of scandals involving magicked fruit. My head still spins thinking about the possibilities.

4. You May Fail (and that’s Okay)

Deadlines are my best friends as a writer. They compel me to sit down and write until the thing is done. Otherwise I’m likely to write a hundred words here and there, stretching what should be a month-long first draft process into three months (for short stories). Like I said before, I knew that turning out a finished story in a month was a tall order. But I felt confident.

A series of unexpected–but not unwelcome–circumstances meant that I’d finished the first draft and had gotten about 25% of the way through the first revision by the time June 1st rolled around. A small part of me was disappointed. But a far larger part understood that life has a habit of happening, and writing sometimes has to take a backseat. Like when I have to put in extra time at work because I’m taking time off for a convention. And when I meet and start dating my now significant other. I failed, yes. But sometimes such is life.

5. At the End of the Day, Keep Plugging

I’ve hit a point with Scales where I’m spinning my tires, not getting any traction with revisions. The biggest reason is that I don’t know what the story needs. Does it need to start somewhere different? Do I need to weave in a subplot that’ll ratchet up the tension? Or do I need to find a way to amplify the tension in the existing story arc?

I’m not sending Scales to the folder on my desktop that I’ve named “Graveyard.” There’s something about it and its main character that keep me circling back to it. The story just isn’t ready to be told yet. So I’m going to be patient and let the kinks work themselves out in the back of my mind until everything falls into place.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Writing

On Refilling the Creative Well

Life is a hectic right now. Not absurdly hectic where I don’t have time for breakfast or get home well past my bedtime. But it’s hit the criteria for a little hectic: going to class and doing associated homework; working full-time; navigating relationship with a significant other; keeping my garden alive; and writing. There’s also the routine things like cooking meals and grocery shopping and doing laundry that need to get done.

All of that combined was enough to short-circuit the creative part of my brain. It showed signs of sluggishness for a couple weeks. It balked when I tried to revise a short story, and it dug in its heels when I started a new blog post even though I have an idea ready to go. Then it finally decided that it’d had enough.

I’ve been through this situation before. Short-circuiting. Burning out.

The solution? Picking up a book.

For me as a writer, I work best when I strike a balance between the number of stories and books that I read and the number of ones that I right. A perfect situation mean spending an hour or so reading during the morning and then writing for a few hours between 9PM and midnight. However that routine doesn’t jive right now with the need to pay rent and buy food.

I need to achieve a semblance of balance between refilling the creative well and drawing from it. That means leaning more heavily on one than the other for a while. Forgoing reading for a few weeks while I use my spare time to write. Or letting my stories sit dormant while I spend three or four days plowing through a book. (My well is far easier to fill than deplete.)

So I picked up a book: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I barreled through it in and around the rest of my life over the course of four days. Now–not only am I itching to write a serial killer story–I can feel the creative part of my brain coming back online. It’s still in a fickle stage, more than happy to slip back into short-circuit mode if I push it too hard or work on projects that I’m not excited about.

But I’m back at it for now. Slowly working forward with the intention of pouring a book into my brain once a week to stave off burnout. It may happen, or it may not. Either way, I’m glad to be back in the saddle.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Writing

I Bought a Koala, or ConCarolinas 2018 Recap

So. ConCarolinas happened.

I took the Friday and Saturday of the convention off of work (I’m off on Sundays anyway) to take full advantage of the programming on all three days. I also stole a half hour here and there to wander about the dealers’ room and author’s alley. Here’s a brief-ish recap.

Dealer’s Room

The dealer’s room isn’t necessarily where I blow my budget thanks to the iota of self-control that I’ve developed over the past couple years. (Note: this self-control DOES NOT apply to books.) I wasn’t planning on spending much–if anything–in the dealer’s room in the days leading up to ConCarolinas.

But then I was scrolling through Twitter and happened upon Seanan McGuire’s life-tweeting of her adventures with fellow authors Ursula Vernon and K.B. Spangler. It involved finding turtles, salamanders, and K.B. Spangler getting hit in the face by a hawk named Monty.

So when I saw that K.B. Spangler was going to be in the dealer’s room selling maniacal-looking stuffed koalas among other things, I knew that I had to find her table. And that I did on the Saturday of the Con. She was amazingly energetic for being halfway through the Con and was thrilled when I said that I wanted to buy a koala and a copy of her book. Then she showed me the video on her phone of Monty the hawk flying into her face and said that she’d never seen a hawk embarrassed.

I walked away with a book from an author that I hadn’t heard of before the convention and a creepy koala named Speedy. It was without a doubt, a great buy.

Author’s Alley

I managed to come in below my budget in Author’s Alley. How? That’s a very good question that I don’t have the answer to. I picked up two books at the Falstaff Books table: Tooth & Nail by Michael G. Williams and Lawless Lands. Williams’s book is the second book in The Winthrow Chronicles; I picked up the first one, Perishables, at the Con last year. Lawless Lands is an anthology of speculative fiction/western short stories. I grabbed it primarily because of the buzz surrounding a contest to win a copy before the Con. Though honestly, the stories look like they’re right up my alley.

Panels

The biggest reason I bought tickets at last year’s ConCarolina’s for this year’s convention was due to the Guest of Honor: Seanan McGuire. She wrote my favorite zombie book to date (Feed) under the pen-name Mira Grant, and I’ve been following her on Twitter for the better part of six months. She’s exactly my kind of weird, so I was looking forward to seeing her in-person on a panel.

She didn’t disappoint. And while I could go on and on about how she made me laugh my ass off and how she scared the shit out of me in her alter-ego, Mira Grant, she made a point that another author and panelist brought up on Twitter the other day. It was something that’s stuck with me in the weeks since.

During a panel on deep work (something which sounded to me like tuning out EVERYTHING and focusing only on the creative project in front of you), Seanan stated writers and other creatives don’t necessarily need long stretches of time in order to perform deep work by comparing them to pearl divers.

Pearl divers go underwater for five minutes at a time before coming up for air. During those five minutes, they’re 100% focused on their task. And then when that time is up and they come up for air, their mind can wander to other things. Then the process repeats until the diver is done collecting pearls for the day.

For a writer, that means diving deep into their work. Maybe for five minutes or ten or fifteen. And then taking a break, whether voluntarily or because life interrupts. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, guaranteed routine that’ll work for every writer. But it’s an option to try and see if it works. I’m certainly going to try it.

There were other panels that left me itching to write. I wrote down a couple of the points from the ones that really resonated with me.

  • The territory of the “West” has always existed and was comprised of more than cowboys.
    The West that Never Was
  • Writers make the mistake of focusing on changes to big historical events rather than the character’s stories.
    Playing with History
  • Writing novellas makes it easier to be more prolific and to keep up with reader demand.
    The Novella Strikes Back
  • Regular posting is required when writing a web serial, and you should have a significant buffer of chapters lined up to be posted.
    Serials–They’re Not Just Captain Crunch Anymore

ConCarolinas was pretty successful for me: panel-wise, in the dealer’s room, and in the author’s alley. It has left me wanting to post on here more regularly and itching to write. I’ve already picked up tickets for next year’s Con.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

On Writer’s Block

The act of writing is simple enough: it’s creating a couple lines on a page with a pen or tapping on a keyboard until words show up on a screen. I can do those things no problem; hell, I do them on a daily basis at work and around the apartment (my grocery list doesn’t write itself, unfortunately).

But there’s a creative aspect involved in crafting characters and setting and plot that isn’t needed when writing emails, and it can’t be forced.

I’ve mashed the keys on my keyboard in an attempt to write a story that didn’t want to be written, only to drag the file into the “Graveyard” folder on my desktop. Or on the worst days, I delete everything I write and leave the page as blank as it was when I started.

Those days of clawing my way through a single paragraph are demoralizing. And when writing day after writing day is like that, when weeks pass with nothing to show, when it’s been a month and I’m still not falling in love with a story, that’s when doubt starts to whisper into my ear.

It says: You’ve had a good run of this writing thing. Wrote for newspapers; had a few hundred thousand hits on an article; even got a short story published. But that’s over now. You might as well find another hobby that’ll fill the hours you’re not at work, like painting or balloon animals. 

I know–logically–that I shouldn’t believe doubt and all I need is to find the story that wants to be written. But logic isn’t all that comforting when I’m staring at a blank page, unable to live up to the writer label that I’ve carried like a badge of honor since I was eleven.

Fear is the seed of doubt; fear that I’ll never be able to write again and that I’m not actually a writer. So when a story isn’t ready or when my brain isn’t ready to work, I try to force it. The failure that inevitably follows leads to more fear and more doubt and more panic. Stepping away from the computer, going on a Netflix binge, and letting the story peculate in the back of my mind is the best way to get back in the saddle.

It feels counter-productive when it’s actually the opposite; my brain works out the kinks in stories even while I’m busying myself with other things. And then the time comes where I read a book or watch a movie, and I’m itching to write.

Words flow from my fingertips like there was never anything keeping them stopped up inside me. Everything is right again because writer’s block is temporary, even if it may seem otherwise.

Posted in Writing

My Medium-Sized Secret: The Monsters of Bear Mountain

I’ve been keeping a secret for about a month now. It’s not a universe-changing secret, like SURPRISE, I came home with a Great Dane puppy or SURPRISE, I ran off to Las Vegas last week and got married.

No, it’s a slightly smaller than that. Maybe more of a medium. That’s what it is: a medium-sized secret.

So what exactly is this medium-sized secret? I sold a short story.

“The Monsters of Bear Mountain” is being published in Franklin/Kerr Press’s post-apocalyptic horror anthology, Down with the Fallen. It’s going to be available as an eBook and as a paperback on November 7th. Pre-orders are now up on Amazon for the eBook, and it’ll eventually be available through Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million as well in eBook and paperback form.

I’m beyond excited. This is an awesome, creepy story that plays on some of my fears for life after the apocalypse.

Just a quick trigger warning: this story contains domestic abuse.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

Gift Ideas for Writers

The holiday season is upon us. Christmas carols play on just about every radio station and buffet shoppers at stores in malls and shopping plazas. Lots of shoppers are missing out on the songs all together as they pop online for a bit of shopping there. Or all of it.

No matter where you shop, writers can be hard friends or family members to buy gifts for. So here are a few suggestions that might help find something for the writer in your life.

Gift Cards
I’m partial to Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million, but any gift card will do. One to a coffee shop will get them a drink and an excuse to claim one of the tables for a couple hours. Or a gift card to an office supply store since printer ink can be pretty expensive. Even a gift card for archery lessons or a dance classes can help fuel their muse.

Signed Books
Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to find an autographed book. Small bookstores–like the Poisoned Pen and FoxTale Book–typically carry them after authors visit for signings and offer them for sale online. Barnes & Noble also carries autographed copies for Black Friday, and Target has begun carrying them intermittently. Some authors even offer signed copies on their websites.

Convention Admission
Writing is typically a solitary endeavor. But when conventions come to town, it’s a  networking opportunity for writers in their own backyard. Plus writers get the  opportunity to listen to experts on panels and ask questions of industry professionals.

Time to Write
Everybody needs more time. Writers are no different and struggle to carve even thirty minutes out of their schedule to sit at the keyboard and write. So cook dinner on Thursdays or take the dog out for his nightly walk or entertain the kids at an arcade on Saturday morning. Anything that takes an item off the writer’s to-do list and frees up time for writing.

Posted in Life in General

Life as it is… an update

Next week marks the end of my third month in Charlotte. It’s been quite a ride so far. I’m working full-time at an insurance company and sit in traffic far too long during my commute twice a day. I’ve been spending that time in the car listening to old episodes of DitchDiggers along with soundtracks for Broadway shows like The Addams FamilyYoung FrankensteinInto the Woods, and Legally Blonde. I often wonder what other drivers think of my singing. Not that they hear it. I hope.

My writing plugged along at a pretty steady pace before I got my current job. Part-time work is great for creativity (but not so much for the bank account) while full-time work leaves me drained at the end of my day. It’s just under eleven hours from the time I lock up my apartment in the morning until I get back in the evening. All I want to do then is binge on Netflix until bedtime. Not write. Not at all.

I’d like to carve myself a routine where I write on weekends and a couple nights a week. Maybe do a Monday-Wednesday-Saturday-Sunday kind of deal. It’d be nice to do NaNoWriMo next month, but I’m not confident I’d be able to achieve the word count every night. Or even come close.

I am happy with the writing I’ve done. There’s a short story I just finished that needs some serious work, but it’s got a solid enough skeleton that I feel could translate into multiple stories with the main character. Like the Sherlock Holmes stories, though she’s more of a nice-Jack Reacher at the moment. I’ve already got plenty of ideas to play with during the editing process.

What else? I’ve kept myself busy decorating my apartment with finds from antique and consignment shops. And Ikea, of course. Because what’s a home without Ikea furniture? Or Ikea decking. Speaking of decking, the patio is going to be a cozy little area when it’s finally done. I’ll be building a couple free-standing shelves over the next few weeks and putting plants and lawn ornaments on them. My neighbors are going to think I’m weird, but oh well.

That’s pretty much the big update on my life. I’m plugging along day by day as weeks slip through my fingers. But I like it.

How’s your fall going?

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

Reinventing “Beauty & the Beast” on the CW

Reinvention is the name of the game in storytelling. It’s how writers stand out when they work with familiar stories. Like all things with fiction, it can go really well. Or it can fail spectacularly.

Take Beauty & the Beast from the CW, for example.

Obviously it’s a re-imagining of the classic fairy-tale where the fearsome best is tamed by a beautiful woman.  There are the hallmarks of the often-told story: a man who’s really a beast, a beautiful “Belle”, and a romance where they save each other. But there are twist on each of those aspects.

Vincent, aka “The Beast”

The Beast–Vincent–is very much a monster. He’s a super-soldier created by a secret government organization, possessing heightened senses and strength. And those abilities are only enhanced when he gets stressed. Like the traditional Beast, Vincent has been looking for a cure to his beast-ness. Whether that cure is going to come about because of his Belle has yet to be seen.

Catherine facing down “the Beast”

Belle is Catherine. Her mother was killed in front of her, and Vincent stepping-in was the only reason she wasn’t killed too. Catherine becomes a successful police detective who can hold her own, both in fights and intellectually. She stumbles upon Vincent and actively pursues him. There’s no kidnapping or imprisonment like a lot of Beauty & the Beast stories.

As for the romance, there’s two sides of Vincent and Catherine saving each other. Vincent saves Catherine physically–from a train, from multiple attackers, etc–as well as emotionally. Though the emotional angle is a bit hokey. She’s into bad boys, he’s the ultimate bad boy, but he’s a “good” bad boy who tries his hardest to do the right thing.

On the other hand, Catherine saves Vincent by showing him that he’s worthy of being loved. But it’s not a blind kind of love. She’s well-aware of his flaws, and she won’t let him walk all over her. Catherine has a backbone when it comes to their relationship.

Beauty & the Beast succeeds in reinventing the story of Belle and her Beast. It’s perhaps one of my favorite re-tellings, and I’ll be watching the rest of the series on Netflix.

Do you have a favorite reinvention of a familiar story or genre? What do you like about it?