Write One and Revise One By The End Of July

So, I’m a crazy person.

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been making plans for Book Five, while Book One, Manifestation is on the path to publication. I’ve also got to start on revisions for Book Two, Contamination in order to start getting that ready. That’s in addition to working on getting a few short stories prepped.

In the midst of all this, I’ve recently quit my day job (the manager was a crude, abusive, sexually harassing such-and-such who responded to my requests of “Don’t curse at me” by cursing at me more). This has given me a sudden surplus of free time. I’m currently semi-employed: I have two part-time jobs, one as a graduate research assistant, one as a professional blogger for the Rowan University admissions blog. I’m also doing freelance work. And, of course, I’m sending out resumes looking for a full-time professional job in some kind of copywriting or editing position. Until I find something, however, I’ve decided that now is the time to get the rest of these books moving.

Did I mention I’m also in a summer graduate course at Rowan? I think I mentioned that when I said I was a crazy person.

So in between 20 hours a week blogging for Rowan, 10 hours a week doing research, however many more doing freelance assignments, and attending a grad class, I’ve decided I’m going to revise Book Two and write Book Five during the next ten weeks.

Why am I doing it this way? (Aside from being a crazy person.) Well, there’s a few reasons:

1. Manifestation is currently mostly out of my direct day-to-day hands. I’m currently waiting to get it back from my editor, after which point I’ll be sending it to be professionally formatted, and hiring the cover artist. All of those things require very little direct supervision from me, leaving me with nothing to do but wait and chew on my nails. Manifestation will, of course, be the top priority over all other projects (after all, I should get Book One out before worrying so much about Book Five), but there’s a limit on how much I can do with it right now. So focusing on other projects makes sense.

2. Contamination is the next highest priority after Manifestation. Book Two is sitting as a first draft right now, untouched since I finished it in the middle of NaNoWriMo last year. I delayed working on revisions for awhile because I wanted to finished up revisions on Manifestation first. I therefore began writing Book Four, Mutation, simply because it was the best option. I could write Book Four while waiting for Book One to be ready, with plans to start revisions on Book Two after the rest was all done. Except I ended up finishing Mutation about a week ago, after a sudden and unexpected surge of productivity. I had planned on working on it all through the summer before things suddenly came to a head and I wrapped it all up. So with Book Four written and complete, and Book One out of my hands, it makes sense to revise Book Two, right?

3. So then why am I writing Book Five now? Why not wait until NaNoWriMo this November, like I originally planned? Well, that grad class I’m in is a class called, wait for it, “Writing the Novel.” I was planning to write Book Four as part of the class, but that plan is out the tubes now, so it’s time to start Book Five. Now, the class doesn’t expect students to write an entire draft during the course of the summer semester. Our classwork will involve exploring ideas, outlining (blegh), developing characters and settings, and so on. We’ll also be expected to write 6000 words which will be workshopped in class, giving us feedback. I’m sure all of the other students in class don’t plan to write much more than that 6000 during the 10 weeks the class is being held. But I’m the crazy one who decided that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it NaNoWriMo style and crank out the full novel (expected to be 120,000 words) before class is done.

So there it is. I’ve updated the wordmeter status bars over there —-> to show the new progress I’ll be making. While all five novels are up there, Manifestation, Collapse, and Mutation won’t be changing any time soon. However, expect to see the revision bar for Contamination and the writing bar for Book Five both building steadily over the next two months or so. I plan to have Book Five written by July 31st, and have at least a second (probably a third) draft of Contamination done by the same time. While also getting Manifestation and the short story Belladonna published somewhere in there.

Also, if you’d like to support my craziness, please check out the short story ebook I have out, Radiance. It’ll give you a glimpse into these worlds that I’m creating, and it’s a story I’m rather proud of. The Amazon reviews have called it “hauntingly beautiful,” “well-written, intriguing,” and “totally great.” And if you like it, I promise, I’ll have much more coming in the near future!

Planning the Next Book

If you’ve read other posts about my writing processes, you’ll know that I’m a Pantser, not a Plotter. If you’re not familiar with the distinction, Plotters are writers who plot out their scenes and the structure of their novels in advance, while Pantsers “write by the seat of their pants” and figure things out as they go along. So as a Pantser, I tend to not have much clue what is going to happen in a novel until I get to it.

That’s not to say I don’t have certain “goals” in mind. I tend to write with a certain number of goals planned out for where I want a character to end up, or what I want to happen in the world. I just don’t know how to get there. For example, I might start writing a story with the goals of “A disaster will strike this city,” “the main character needs to survive,” and “along the way, the character will being growing into a leader as they take charge of the other survivors.” I might not know WHAT the disaster will be, HOW the character will survive, or WHY the other survivors agree to follow the MC’s lead, but those are the goals I have set. I figure out the details as I go along.

So far, my plans for Book Five are just basic goals like this. I can’t go into detail because spoilers, but suffice to say I have some interesting ideas developing. Most of which center around a new character who will be introduced for the first time in this book, and who will be playing a major role in things to come. I’m spending a lot of time developing her, more than I usually do on other characters before the first time they hit the page.

Meanwhile, plans to get Book One, Manifestation on the shelves (virtually speaking) are moving forward. My plans are to have the novel and another short story, Belladonna ready to be released by the end of August. There’s a lot of variables to figure out along the way, such as ebook formatting and cover art, but I’m hoping not to hit any unexpected snags. We’ll find out soon enough.

So during the next few months, expect to see me talking a lot about writing Book Five, revising Book Two, Contamination, and getting the other works ready for release.

On Staring at the Wall

You’ve been there. You know that feeling. When you have no energy. No focus. You just sit there. Your eyes zone in on something in the distance. You’re not really seeing it, though. You’re not really seeing anything. You’re just sitting there, staring at the wall.

I’ve been diagnosed with depression. According to the therapist I spoke to (disclaimer: several people have told me he offered the worst advice they’ve ever heard), I have episodic bouts of depression. It comes and goes; I’ll be weighed down and listless for a few days or weeks, then come back with huge bursts of energy. Staring at the wall is one of the things I do when I’m having an episode of depression.

(Side note: the outbursts of anger bordering on volatile rage lead me to believe I may also be bipolar, but the therapist said otherwise.)

I do some of my best staring at the wall at home, between the hours of 6:00-10:00 pm. This is when I’m usually at my least productive, usually because I’ve spent the previous five hours working, writing, or running errands. I’ll always end up with a surge of energy later at night, because that’s just how I am. I especially find that I get more energy when the sun goes down. Sunlight saps my strength, and I prefer to avoid it whenever possible. It leaves me irritable, exhausted, and drained. Also, I burn easily.

I’m not quite sure what the cure for staring is. Sometimes I try caffeine. Other times I go on Twitter and tell people about how I’m staring, and they try to snap me out of it. Today, I’m writing this blog post while in the middle of a bout of staring. I’m actually spending a good length of the time I’m writing staring off at a point in space, not looking at either the screen or the keyboard. This is actually a pretty common thing. It’s almost refreshing; it’s a state of mind where everything is blank. It’s a way to avoid being self-critical, judgmental, or worried about how I sound. This is the type of frame of mind many writers suggest getting into during a first draft, where you need to “turn off the internal editor.” While I doubt they recommend getting into a staring contest with inanimate objects as part of the process, it still seems like it works.

Hopefully, after finishing this post, I’ll stop staring. Then I can focus more, concentrate, and get back to work. I have a lot of work to do–a novel to publish, a sequel to revise, some short stories to polish up (I have one short story currently being read by about 6 different people, so hopefully they’ll provide some good feedback soon). I’ve also got to find a job. Speaking of which, if you know of any freelance and/or long term writing or editing work, I’d appreciate you sending it my way. I’ll try not to stare too much during the interview.

And in honor of staring, I decided it would be fitting for this post to include a poem by my main protagonist, Gabriella Palladino. Of course, in her case, she’s worried about a different kind of staring…

Staring”

I’m staring
But why do we stare?
If she catches my eye
Then why do they care?
It’s not like it means
There’s anything there
It’s no more than a glance
To judge it’s not fair
Yet staring
Snags me in a snare
As I look at a girl
With golden blonde hair
I don’t mean to look
I just shouldn’t care
But I just want to cry
When caught in a stare . . .

Book 4, “Mutation,” Complete!

So as you can see by the shiny red word count meter over there —-> I’ve completed the first draft of Arcana Revived Book Four, Mutation. It topped just over 100,000 words, making it the shortest of the novels so far, though there’s a lot of damn good action-packed adventure in those words. And hopefully an ending that just might make you cry.

In celebration I decided to make another Wordle. I did a few before for the other books. They’re fun, and give a good idea of what words/themes/characters are most used in your story.

Wordle: Mutation Draft 1

I’m not sure what’s next for me right this minute. I’ve got plenty of work left to do getting Manifestation ready, but some of that is currently out of my hands since I have to rely on others for editing, formatting, and cover art. I’ve got Book Two, Contamination to revise. I’ve also got a bunch of short stories to work on. Then there’ll be a Book Five starting at some point. I have absolutely no idea what it’ll be about. Well, that’s a lie. I have a list of “goals” already written up for things I still want to accomplish. But those goals are just the path; the central conflict probably won’t appear until I start writing, as it has in the past.

We’ll see how things go. For now, I’m going to sit back for a bit and revel in my accomplishment.

The Midnight Disease

I’m currently reading Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, a (so far) excellent book that was the basis for a movie starring Spiderman, Iron Man, and The American President. As a writer, I find the book rather interesting, since it’s all about writers and our various intricacies, phobias, and struggles. The narrator, for example, has been struggling with a manuscript for years and is lost in a meandering plot that he doesn’t know what to do with, while one of his students meanwhile struggles with depression and feelings of inadequacy in his own writing. Also, Robert Downey Jr. dates a transvestite.

Of particular interest in the novel is what the narrator calls “The Midnight Disease”:

“The midnight disease is a kind of emotional insomnia; at ever conscious moment its victim—even if he or she writes at dawn, or in the middle of the afternoon—feels like a person lying in a sweltering bedroom, with the window thrown open, looking up at a sky filled with stars and airplanes, listening to the narrative of a rattling blind, an ambulance, a fly trapped in a Coke bottle, while all around him the neighbours soundly sleep.”

― Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

It was interesting to read about this “disease” (which the writer mentions multiple times throughout the book when he notices the symptoms in others) considering my own current issues. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m afflicted with this disease, but I do show signs of some similar issues. Yesterday, for example, I spent a good part of the day in a bit of a daze (a symptom of my diagnosed episodic depression), struggling with feelings of inadequacy and the desire to write. I went to bed sometime around 3:00 in the morning, only to be forced back out of bed by a scene in my mind that wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down. I ended up being up another hour and a half after that, just trying to get the images out of my mind.

There’s this strange focus, or perhaps lack of focus that comes with being obsessed with a piece of writing. It’s hard to get it out of your mind, and you become so focused on it that you can’t concentrate on anything else. Sometimes it makes it hard to get other work done, or to find time to socialize or take care of your errands or other “important” things in your life. You look everywhere and see a possible scene to be described. You listen to the rain, thinking about what words you would use to describe the particular pattern of drizzle and downpour it shifts between every few minutes. You feel an ache in your back and you search for the descriptive prose to describe that certain spot over your right shoulder blade that tightens as if being pierced by an iron spike. Everything becomes a potential thing to be described, absorbed, and written about.

And then once it’s all written, you sit there and wonder, will they really see it the way I want them to?

I’m looking forward to finishing this WIP in the next few weeks. After it’s done, I’ll either start being able to sleep again, or else I’ll dive into the next book. I think we both know which of those it’ll be.

Short Stories, Revisions, and Advertising

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I’m currently working on a series of short stories that go along with my novels in the Arcana Revived series. I currently have about fourteen short stories written and in various stages of revision. One of them, Radiance, is already published as an ebook that you can download for Amazon Kindle. My plan for this summer, in between getting my first novel ready for publication, is to make some progress revising these stories.

Publishing short stories, however, is a relatively new and uncertain process. A few years ago, the idea of self-publishing a short story was one most people probably wouldn’t have considered. After all, before the ebook revolution, there wouldn’t have been much of a market for individual short stories. You can get short stories published in various literary journals and magazines, or as part of a collection with works from other authors, but that used to be it. A lot of this probably has to do with how impractical it would be to publish and print a hard copy of a 3000-10000 word story. Ebooks make this a whole different game, however, since an electronic copy of a short piece is more practical when it comes to publishing and distribution. You cut out the costs of the physical printing and mailing, which would otherwise make distribution of just a single story impractical and unprofitable.

A lot of authors I know have short works out as ebooks right now. My friend Elisa Knuckle has several short stories available for sale, including a sci fi story about virtual reality and death, and a fantasy story about the dangers of following magical wisps into the woods. I just downloaded these today and recommend checking them out. Drew Chial also has an ebook and audiobook called Terms and Conditions about the dangers of clicking “I agree” without checking first to make sure the fine print doesn’t say anything about losing your soul in the bargain.

Thinking about short stories like this makes me stop to think about what will happen to my current works after revisions are complete. At least one of my current shorts, Belladonna, is just about ready to be released into the world. But getting ready to send it out there makes me wonder how it will be received, and what I can do to try to make some money off my writing. I already have a bunch of free stories available on my blog, but publishing one as an ebook is an entirely different process.

First off, a published short story demands a lot more from me, as the writer. The short stories posted here on the blog don’t go through as rigorous of a revision process. I wrote them and revised them until I was satisfied, then put them online. The short stories I’m publishing for sale, however, go through critiques from my peers so that I can address any issues they might raise. A published story also needs more than just the story itself; the book needs to be formatted properly, including front matter, a title page, and cover art. All in all, it’s a longer and more complex process.

Then there’s marketing and advertising to consider. I mentioned awhile ago that I was experimenting with online advertisements for my short stories. At the time, I estimated that for my advertisements on Project Wonderful, in order to sell 1 ebook I needed to get about 80 “clicks” by people considering it, which took about 24,000 visitors to the advertising sites, and about 120,000 views from all of those visitors. This breakdown is an example of the sales funnel, which is a marketing concept that basically says you need to spread awareness of your product to a wide audience in order to get a smaller percentage of those people interested, then a percentage of those to give actual consideration to a purchase, then a percentage of those to actually make the purchase. In my case, this funnel represents online views leading to clicks leading to sales.

I recently started a new surge of online advertising. In the past two weeks, ads for Radiance have been displayed on hundreds of websites through Project Wonderful. The sites the ads have run on have garnered about 1.5 million views during that time (of course, there’s no guarantee that all 1.5 million of those views included someone looking at the ad on the sidebar instead of just at the website’s contents, but it’s a good number to start with). Those views have led to 171 clicks, which in turn have led to 2 sales. This is fairly consistent with my earlier results; about 1 out of every 80 people who take a look at the sales page decide to make a purchase.

In the future, I hope to continue with more extensive advertising campaigns, especially when my novel is released later this year. When the novel is out, I’ll most likely begin looking into some form of paid advertisements, instead of the free ads available through Project Wonderful. If free ads can lead to a couple hundred people seeing my short story for sale, I’ve got a pretty good idea what to expect in order to get the novel out there to be seen by thousands.

Things You Don’t Know About Me (And How They Influenced My Writing)

I’m a very open person, but there’s a lot of things I don’t bring up very often. Some of them are because I’m embarrassed about things from my childhood, others because they just don’t fit smoothly into an average day’s conversation. A lot of them, however, had big influences on my development both as a person and as a writer. At the suggestion of one of my Twitter friends, I’d like to discuss some of these fragments of my past and talk about how they relate to my current work.

Divorce

Image Credit: The Telegraph
Image Credit: The Telegraph

My parents are divorced. For most people, this is a traumatic experience, as a family is torn apart by tensions that leave the children wondering what will become of them and whether their parents still love them. Everyone talks about how half of all marriages end in divorce, and it’s generally a topic surrounded by little hope and a lot of heartache.

I was glad my parents got divorced.

My parents never should have been married (setting aside the fact that had they not married, I never would have been born). They got married when my mom was pregnant with my older sister. As my mom tells it, when she found out she was pregnant, the first thing she did was go to my grandmother and ask for help. Mom-mom’s answer was, “Well, you’re going to get married.” It was to be expected considering my Irish family’s traditional Catholic ideals.

My parents were incompatible. They cheated on each other several times (and in the years since the divorce both of them have told me stories about all the wrongs the other committed). I remember coming home more than once to find my father’s clothes in garbage bags on the front lawn. What I didn’t know at the time was that the reason was because my mom found out about some affair or another. When they were screaming and fighting at each other in the kitchen at night, I never knew why. I just knew I was scared, and I wanted the fighting to stop.

Then one day they sat us down and told us they were getting a divorce. And my one and only thought was, Thank God, this means there won’t be any more fighting.

After the divorce, the only downside I remember was that I felt a bit isolated. In particular, when I was in fifth grade, I started having trouble with being home alone. I was old enough that I was no longer being sent to a babysitter, but I wasn’t quite old enough to be brave enough to be home by myself.

Around this time, my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Aloi, assigned our class a creative writing assignment. It began with the first page of a story done that was already written to set the scene. Old man Jenkins had died years ago, and his house was abandoned. Yet on this dark night, you see lights coming from the basement of his old, weather beaten home. A slip of yellow paper was hanging out of the mailbox. The shutters were creaking in the wind. And then…

Each student continued the story from that point. I had a blast writing mine. At this time, I was also staying late after school each day. I’d started lingering after class each day because I didn’t like being in the house all alone. Mrs. Aloi, likely sensing my hesitation to go home, let me stay after class to help her with various bits of work. Because of this, I had the unique opportunity to read every single one of my classmates’ Halloween stories. To keep me busy after school that day, Mrs. Aloi had me take every student’s paper and type them all in to her word processor.

It was 1990, and home computers were still a new thing. Few people had word processing programs at home, and my own parents still owned two old fashioned typewriters. This was my first experience using a word processor, which was built like a laptop but could only be used for writing, nothing else. I typed the other students’ papers for no other reason than that Mrs. Aloi wanted to give me something to do, and I quickly realized that I was the best writer in the class. Most of the students had only written about a page or two, without much happening in the course of their story. A few had only written a couple of paragraphs. I had written seven pages.

It was the first story I ever wrote, and I still have it to this day. I wrote an elaborate tale where Mr. Jenkins had faked his own death, and had now mysteriously returned from beyond the grave. I bravely entered the lonely, empty house to find a murder victim with a knife in her back. I had to single handedly bring Jenkins to justice for this crime, Action Hero Kid to the rescue. I confronted Jenkins alone, and knocked him out cold with a baseball bat, only to become trapped in the abandoned home. He awoke and came after me with lethal intent, and I had to find a way to escape. There was a secret passage under the house, and I fled to safety, trying to find the police. Unable to find help, I was forced to return and confront him again, even after being driven off the last time. I confronted him with no fear this time. There was a climactic final showdown that left Mr. Jenkins in jail.

I had so much fun writing it that I asked Mrs. Aloi for another assignment. She gave me two similar ones, a ghost story and a monster story. While neither of them became as memorable of an experience as The Mystery of Jenkin Mansion, I was still already addicted. It was my birth as a writer.

I began writing short stories at home, for fun. My early attempts always fell short of the standards I set for myself when I compared my writing to popular modern authors like Robert Jordan. When I was fifteen years old, I threw a fifty page story in the garbage because I foolishly compared myself to Jordan’s writing, and knew that my own work fell short. I constantly strove to get better, thinking that if I wasn’t as good as the published authors I loved, then it wasn’t worth doing. The more I read, the more I worked to improve my own writing. Even as a teenager, I was already studying writing as a process, and working towards constant improvement.

Encouragement?

encouragement002

 

I received no encouragement after Mrs. Aloi. My high school teachers never gave out fiction assignments, and I was always bored and disengaged when they assigned research papers and the like. I often didn’t bother to write boring school papers, instead opting to continue working on my own writing. I would write stories in class instead of paying attention to the lecture. One teacher confiscated a story of mine once, thinking I was writing notes to pass in class. He returned it when he realized his mistake. I returned to writing the story, even after being scolded for it. I wouldn’t let the story end without reaching it’s climax.

My mother never saw any future in my writing. On dozens of different occasions, she said to me, “If you spent half as much time on your schoolwork as you did on that stuff, you’d get straight A’s.” Yet I didn’t care. Writing was far more important to me than math, history, or even English. Fiction was more important to me than reports and composition. I first took a creative writing class “just for fun.” I never stopped writing, and even stopped paying attention in some of my other classes and instead spent class writing stories in my notebook. One semester I had a science class where I took only ten pages of notes, while I filled two spiral notepads with a story I was working on.

I never really received any praise or encouragement for my writing until I started studying as a Writing Arts major at Rowan University in 2007. Up until that point, my writing had mostly been something I kept secret. I’ve got probably dozens of stories I’ve never shown anyone (though some of the better ones I’ve posted here on the blog). Sometimes I’ve wondered how much further I might have gotten if I’d ever had any encouragement growing up. Instead I guess I’ll have to keep pushing forward from where I am now.

Final Fantasy

Image Credit: Square Enix
Image Credit: Square Enix

I’m a bit of a Final Fantasy addict. My first and true love in the series is Final Fantasy VI (which is really III, just like IV is really II, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not a real Final Fantasy fan). Final Fantasy VI follows the story of a mysterious young woman in a world where magic is returning for the first time in a thousand years. If you’ve ever read anything about my writing process, you’ll immediately see the similarities between this and my upcoming novel, Manifestation.

My actual plot and characters are vastly different from anything that happens in Final Fantasy VI, but I definitely drew from it in several key points. One is the theme about the return of magic. Another is the idea of Magitek–machines that draw on magical energies to mix magic and technology. And another is the lovely lady depicted above, Shiva, the Ice Goddess.

In the game, Shiva is a creature you summon with magic to rain down an ice storm on your enemies. She appears in many different Final Fantasy games, and is probably one of the most commonly seem summoned monsters in the series. She’s also usually depicted as the most graceful and beautiful of them all.

Shiva ended up being the direct inspiration for the character Maria Vasquez, star of the short story Radiance, and one of the main supporting characters in the third and fourth books in the Arcana Revived series. Maria isn’t a “summoned monster,” but she is something quite a bit more than human. Radiance shows her transformation from a normal teenage girl into one of the Manifested individuals that wield the newly revived power of arcana.

Collaborative Writing and Roleplaying

Image Credit: kqed.org
Image Credit: kqed.org

In more recent years, I started writing on various collaborative writing and roleplaying sites. If you’re not familiar with them, these sites usually involve post-by-post story writing on message boards, where each writer adds to the story and carries the scene forward. The newly launched writing game, Storium, is based on these same concepts. However, while Storium is designed as a game using virtual playing cards, the other sites I’ve written on are based around writing, plain and simple.

Several of the characters I’m currently writing in the Arcana Revived series were originally developed on these roleplaying sites. Gabby Palladino, Tock Zipporah, and Minori Tsujino were first written in collaborative stories alongside other writers. Not only did I develop their characters and personalities there, I also came up with a number of plot ideas that ended up making their way into my current novels. While I’m no longer writing on these sites, their influence is directly responsible for everything I’m doing today.

Time Travel

Image Credit: Mashable
Image Credit: Mashable

What does time travel have to do with any of this? Well, I suppose a better question is, what does my writing have to do with time travel. The answer is my unfinished and unpublished novel, Rogue Traveler.

Rogue Traveler was the first “complete” novel draft I ever wrote. As I mentioned above, I once started a novel at age 15 that I ended up throwing in the trash. In the years after that, I started (and stalled out on) several more novels that would get anywhere from 20 to 100 pages before I lost my focus or got writer’s block. They were all learning experiences, however, and I’ve corrected a lot of the mistakes in my writing process that previously led to all of those dead ends.

Rogue Traveler never hit a dead end in the story, but I had a hard time sticking with it. I started it in 2001, and continued writing it over the next five or six years, barely finding time for it here and there. I never got as immersed into it as I did with Manifestation, my upcoming novel. I think that Rogue Traveler has a strong and interesting story, telling the tale of a teenage girl from the future who gets lost in the past. However, I didn’t give Trish Kerring, the main protagonist, the amount of background development that I gave to Gabby Palladino. As a result, I often struggled during the writing process, and the novel tended to stall out.

I wrote a few short stories and expansions to the Rogue Traveler story in 2007-2008. One of them is posted here on my blog, depicting a bit of Trish’s background life long before her time travel adventures begin. In the long run, though, I didn’t develop the passion and obsession that I currently have for Arcana Revived. To give an example of the difference: it took me 6 years to write Draft One of Rogue Traveler, and I spent another four years or so after that trying to get it revised but never quite finishing it; by comparison, I wrote the first draft of Manifestation in three months, and now here I am, nearly two years after I started it, about to release the soon-to-be-completed novel. The main reason I did so much better with Manifestation is simply because I’m obsessed with it and can’t put it down.

So there’s the five Things You Didn’t Know About Me. I hope you found them interesting. They’ve certainly all had a huge impact on who I am today.

Scrivener, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs

A few months back, I bought Scrivener writing software, and wrote a blog post with superfluous 1’s and !’s in the title expressing my great love for it. I’ve been using it ever since, but not exclusively. While Scrivener has a lot more options available, I found that for simple things like a school paper less than 10 pages long, MS Word still sufficed. The simplicity of Word was actually preferable for a few specific reasons, though I’ve recently made some changes that are making me rethink it entirely. Then there’s Google Docs, which is a whole different monster. In order to go over my current thoughts on all three programs, I’m going to give a basic summary of each, along with the pros and cons.

Let’s start with MS Word. The pros of using Word are mostly simplicity and standardization. If I want to create a document in Word, write it, then print it, I can do so quickly without any extra steps needed. The Scrivener default settings aren’t really optimized for standard printing. Without going in and changing the settings, Scrivener gives me a very different print format:

Left: Scrivener, Right: MS Word. The most noticeable difference is in the margins.
Left: Scrivener, Right: MS Word. The most noticeable difference is in the margins.

MS Word also allows for easy insertion of page numbers, and the default view is divided by the normal size of a printed page. While Scrivener surely has those functions if you know where to look, I haven’t yet seen anything in it for dividing a document up page by page. When working on my novel, this is irrelevant, since the page count isn’t at all important. When working on a school paper, however, that is supposed to be no more than one page, it helps to be able to see the page size on the screen and know when I’m almost done.

Most importantly of all, MS Word is the standard format most people can open. If I plan to email a document to someone, it pretty much needs to be in either Word or RTF format if I want them to be able to open it. I can’t be emailing people Scrivener projects.

Now for Scrivener, first off it can convert an existing document into Word format pretty easily. It is, however, an extra step. Likewise, it can import a Word document you already have and make a Scrivener project around it, but that document then needs to be converted back into a Word doc to be sent back to someone else. These extra steps simply aren’t usually worth the effort for small, simple projects.

Scrivener’s main appeals so far instead apply to large, complex projects. A Scrivener project can be divided into multiple documents, and I normally divide each novel up by chapter. This makes for MUCH easier rearrangement of chapters compared to Word, which requires a lot of copying and pasting to move things around. With Scrivener, “cut” scenes can also be saved in the project in a separate section, allowing me to remove an unwanted chapter while still keeping the material on hand in case I change my mind later. You can also save backup copies of each individual section. These features are great when working on a novel, but not that useful for shorter pieces.

Now for Google Docs. For all intents and purposes, Google Docs is basically MS Word in your web browser. For individual use, the basic functions of each program seem to work the same. The main appeal of Google Docs is that it saves everything online to your Google Drive Cloud. This allows you to a) access it from anywhere you have internet access and b) share it with others, who can view and modify the document at the same time you’re working on it. This makes it GREAT for group projects. However, if you’re not concerned about being able to access a document online, Word still works just fine.

As I said earlier, though, I’ve recently encountered a situation that has made me have to reevaluate all three of these programs. Here’s what happened:

I recently upgraded my computer, and if you follow me on Twitter you may have seen me live tweeting the entire process. I bought a new system with Windows 8 installed (and despite how much everyone seems to hate Windows 8, I’m rather enjoying a lot of the new features), but I also kept my old hard drive and installed it as a secondary storage (giving me an ungodly 4 terabytes that I doubt I’ll ever fill up). Programs on the old hard drive, however, aren’t configured to run on the new operating system. I can still access all the documents, pictures, videos, etc on the hard drive, but programs need to be reinstalled. For the most part this was pretty simple; Scrivener, for example, allows me to reinstall their program on a new system and all I have to do is enter my registration code to activate it, without needing to purchase it again.

Word, however, is not on the new system. When I try to open a Word document, I’m told that I need to purchase a new version. I can use WordPad to open some documents, but WordPad is woefully inadequate for even my simplest needs. This left me with a few options.

1. I could buy MS Office (including Word) for $70 or more from Microsoft. Considering my old computers have always come with Word for FREE (either the full version preloaded, or the “Word 2010 Starter” stripped-down version), I’m not much inclined to pay for a program that I technically already own. It’s on the old hard drive, after all. I just can’t reinstall it on the new one because I’d need one that is Windows 8 compatible.

2. I can use a free word processing program like OpenOffice. As far as I can tell, it’s as good as the Microsoft products, but free.

3. I can use Google Docs, which are also free, AND include all the online accessibility I’ve already described.

4. I can just use Scrivener for everything and deal with the slight inconvenience of converting documents to and from Word all the time.

#1 was not happening. Forget #1. I don’t pay for computer programs when I can avoid it, because a) why pay for something I can get for free? and b) how do I know the version I pay for now won’t need to be replaced when I upgrade to Windows 9?

#2 seemed pointless when I already have access to both Google Docs and Scrivener. So I didn’t want to bother downloading another program for no real reason. I’ll keep it open as an option if I decide I need it, but until then, I’m not bothering.

So that left me with Google Docs and Scrivener. I decided to try using Google Docs for my simple and quick work while sticking with Scrivener for my major projects. Then, something else happened: Google Docs suffered from server downtime while I was trying to finish up some homework. The result was I couldn’t use it at all, because the program won’t let you type in the window and make changes when it’s disconnected from the server. It froze up and locked me out until it could get reconnected. Then when it disconnected again, it locked me out again. This continued until I gave up and said “Fuck you, Google.”

As a result, I’m now using Scrivener for everything. I still use Google Drive just as a cloud storage service, allowing me to access my novels and short stories from anywhere I want. The main writing, however, will all be done in Scrivener. And while I love Scrivener’s many useful functions for working on my novels, I’m hoping to find some ways to streamline some of the simpler functions so that I’m not constantly wrestling with the basic tasks of printing and creating Word doc files I can email to others.

 

My Arcane Apocalyptic Writing Process

So a crazy lady with unique ideological views, aka Charlotte Ashlock, the “Crazy Idealist,” has asked me to discuss my writing process, my reasons behind my work, and the various things that make my writing unique. She wrote a similar post about her own work, or as she put it, “Her Crazy Idealism at Work.” It was an interesting read, so I definitely recommend checking it out.

(I was also apparently tagged for this by The Great and Terrible Evey about two months ago, and she never actually, y’know, TOLD me she tagged me.)

Those of you who regularly visit my blog may already know some of these details, but others may not. So I’m going to mix things up a bit and try to keep things interesting.

What am I working on?

Arcana Revived is an urban fantasy series set in a fictional modern day world. The story follows two main characters (and a diverse supporting cast) on different paths as they experience the return of magic to the world after it’s been gone for centuries and is now considered nothing more than myth and legend.

Gabby Palladino begins the story as an ordinary teenage girl, struggling with the usual issues of her place in life, her troubles in school, her sexual orientation, and an unwed pregnant older sister. Before the world begins to change, she is a poet and aspiring actress, living a relatively normal suburban life. Minerva “Tock” Zipporah, on the other hand, has recently recovered from an illness that left her in a coma for months. Her life is filled with chaos even before the world changes as she deals with poverty, an abusive father, and a volatile temper that causes her a lot of trouble. Both girls find their paths cross on a day when the entire world begins undergoing irrevocable changes that see the return of the fabled arcana, which grants magical abilities to some, while others are left trying to cope with things no one understands, and no one can control.

The in-progress series currently consists of five novels (one complete and soon to be released later this year, two that are finished first drafts awaiting revision, one in-progress draft, and one being outlined). There are also fourteen short stories set in the same world and timeline as the novels, but each telling its own standalone tale. You can read two of the short fiction pieces online: Crying and There’s No Such Thing As Monsters, hosted on Ravenheart Press, run by my friend Eve Jacob. I’ve also published one short story ebook, Radiance, and the others are planned for release in similar format after the first novel, Manifestation, comes out this year. In addition to the novels and short stories, I’m also working on a multigenre musical novella, Giapelli, written in the theme of a mix between a prose piece and a Broadway-style musical set aboard an 1850s steam-powered riverboat that is hijacked by bandits. It’s set in the same world as Arcana Revived and thus there are supernatural elements, but let’s just say the story doesn’t follow the expected format. The novella probably won’t be released until after some of the other pieces in the series, due to the complexity of putting together such a unique piece.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

While there are plenty of things that I think make my work unique, there are two main areas that I think are worth pointing out here. One is the way most modern fantasy stories address magic. Almost every story I see incorporating magic into a modern day world uses one of the following techniques: 1) Magic exists but is kept hidden away by a secret society or conspiracy (Harry Potter, Heroes, most vampire stories), 2) Magic is unique to certain individuals or “superheroes” but doesn’t exist elsewhere (think of most superhero movies where other than the main hero and the main villain, the rest of the world is normal), or 3) Magic exists everywhere and everyone knows about it (such as with the X-Men, where mutants are commonly known to exist in the world). While there are surely some exceptions, almost every book or movie I can think of with modern day magic falls into one of these categories. There can be crossovers, such as in the series True Blood where there WAS a conspiracy to keep it all hidden and THEN the conspiracy ended and the whole world knew vampires exist, but that still follows the basic formula.

My series doesn’t follow any of these formulas. There is no conspiracy, because I’ve always found it hard to believe that anyone could keep such things hidden and secret for so long (unless you have something like the flashy thing from Men in Black). There is no unique incident, lab accident, radioactive spider, mutation, or other effect that grants powers to just one or a small group of people while leaving everyone else untouched. The entire world is being changed, and figuring out how and why arcana is returning is an ongoing mystery throughout the novels.

The second main area I feel is different is that instead of avoiding the difficult questions of what happened to the world, I’m exploring them. “Post-Apocalyptic” is a common genre, but in almost every story I see in that genre, the apocalypse is merely a part of history. The Wheel of Time series had “the breaking of the world,” but it took place 3000 years ago. Similar ancient catastrophes are part of the back story of the Sword of Truth series of books, several Final Fantasy games, and movies like the Matrix and Wall-E, where (for very different reasons) civilization as we once knew it has collapsed. There are some movies where we see the disaster that brings about the collapse (Independence Day, Deep Impact), but we don’t see what happens after except to see that humanity survives and there’s hope for the future. Otherwise we enter the story years later after humanity has struggled for a long time to recover. Or then there’s the Resident Evil films, which skip over the main period of the zombie apocalypse between the second movie (where only one city was contaminated) and the third (where the whole world has collapsed).

What’s missing from all of these stories is what happens during the collapse. Humanity’s struggle to survive. The way the new governments and societies form. Instead of skipping from “before” to “after,” my goal is to show what happens “during” this period of struggle. I think that makes for a deeper and more unique story.

Why do I write what I do?

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King described how he came up for the idea for his first novel, Carrie. Pieces of it came from different bits of inspiration he’d had floating around in his head for awhile. One was based on his experience working as a high school janitor cleaning the girl’s locker room where he came up with an idea of teenage girls harassing one girl who’d just gotten her period. The other was based on an article about telekinesis developing in a girl during puberty. Then, as he put it, “POW! Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea …”

My own ideas came from multiple different sources. Gabby, Tock, and some of the other major characters came from online collaborative writing and roleplaying groups I once wrote with. I developed them in separate, unconnected story arcs, then eventually decided it would interesting to put them together in a new setting and see what happened.

Gabby was partially inspired by Susan Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia, along with ideas I first developed for a couple of my old Dungeons and Dragons characters. Tock was partially inspired by the trio of nerd supervillains, Warren, Johnathan, and Andrew, from Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, along with the MagiTek enemies in Final Fantasy 6, and Agatha Heterodyne from the webcomic Girl Genius. Much of the chaos that develops in the course of my books comes from taking these drastically different characters from diverse sources of inspiration, setting them loose, and watching the consequences of their actions unfold.

It’s also fair to say that I’ve been heavily influenced by many fantasy and sci fi books and movies. I’d say my series is far more fantasy than sci fi, but there are sci fi elements when I get into some of the magitech stuff that Tock gets up to.

How does my writing process work?

I’m a Pantser, not a Plotter. My process goes something like this:

Each “point of view character” in my series (characters who have parts of the story told from their perspective rather than being on the sidelines of another character’s story) has certain goals they want to accomplish, and I have goals in how I want to develop them. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into some of them, but the goals can vary from simple to complex. There may be an immediate goal like “survive the current catastrophe,” a developmental goal like “learn how to control their arcana” or “teach Gabby how to use a bow and arrow,” or relationship goals like “get to their first kiss.” Once I set a certain goal, I then put obstacles in the way (dangers that lower the chances of survival, complications in the arcana that need to be puzzled out, Gabby’s clumsiness with an unfamiliar weapon, or awkward interruptions that prevent the kiss). I then write until the complications are (eventually) overcome and the goal is accomplished. There are also overall plot goals for each book, and the book isn’t done until the complications are overcome and the goals are accomplished.

Sometimes, because I don’t do detailed outlines and plot out each scene, I find myself uncertain how to proceed towards a given goal. I usually address this in one of a few ways. Once simple technique is to assume that if I’m not sure what to do, the characters aren’t sure either, so I write them puzzling through their uncertainty until they decide what to do. This saves me from having to think of a solution because the characters do it for me. Other times I’ll have issues like “this event can’t happen until I get Gabby and Tock in the same city together,” so I focus on events that will lead them to the same place at the same time. In any case, I always have those goals in mind, and each scene is written to move the plot towards them.

So that’s all for now. I hope my writing process proved interesting. Next, you should go check out a few other people who have been instructed to write about their own processes. You can peruse their blogs for now, and if they comply with the instructions, they should have posts about their processes up soon.

Emmy Shine Emily Toynton, also known as Emmy Shine. She blogs. She’s deaf. And I want to kiss her face.

 

 

 

A K Anderson A. K. Anderson. I never remember what the A or the K stand for. She writes books and stuff, and also wrote this comic. But she didn’t draw the comic, the guy who drew this comic did. They’re both pretty cool.

 

Quip Slinger Quip Slinger. She may or may not also be known as “Cairn Rodriguez” (or not . . . possibly “Cairn Rodrigues”; the world may never know). She is a flower. She may or may not also have a face. Don’t ask.

 

 

April Deann April. She scrawls and scribbles. She is not, to the best of my knowledge, associated with any mutant turtles, ninja or otherwise.

Something at Stake

I mentioned in my last post that I would be working on some of my short stories for Arcana Revived in the near future. I’ve also mentioned that I was getting a couple of those short stories critiqued and workshopped by my classmates in my Rowan University graduate fiction workshop. I noticed a common theme during the class workshops, both of my own story and of others from the class, which seems to come up often enough to be worth discussing. It’s the issue of making sure your characters have something at stake.

This seems to be an issue that mostly relates to first drafts and works that are in their early stages of development. The idea is that no matter how interesting the individual events in the story are, the characters involved (most especially the main character) need to have something at stake. If they don’t have anything at stake, anything to lose, anything to gain, or any chance to grow, then their story may end up being pointless.

There’s a few different ways that this issue seemed to come up in the stories we workshopped, so I’ll go over each one individually.

The Stakes Aren’t Apparent at the Beginning

This seems to mostly be an issue with the stories that were actually the early chapters of a novel. The problem occurs when there are interesting characters in an interesting situation but with no apparent reason for them to be there. For example, one of my classmates was writing a story about a character who was being dragged along as a guide/sidekick/partner to the Spirit of Vengeance while they went on a quest to do . . . something.

That “something” part was what was missing. The section we workshopped (which was basically the first chapter of the draft) didn’t give us any reason for the characters to be on this “quest.” The characters were interesting (think Jay from Men in Black meets a ghost who has the same creepy powerful vibe as Agent Smith from The Matrix). The idea of traveling with the Spirit of Vengeance on some kind of quest was interesting. But in the opening we read, we didn’t know what the quest was or why it was important for the main character to be on it.

This mostly seemed to stem from the fact that this was an early opening draft where the author was still exploring the characters and learning what they were all about. It’s a common thing in early drafts. Sometimes it takes a while to explore the characters and learn about them. However, once you’ve done so, it may prove necessary to cut the early “exploratory” sections of the piece before final publication.

The Point of View Character Isn’t the One with Something at Stake

This is a different issue than the one mentioned above, where the “main” character of a story is just along for the ride. Some of the stories we reviewed had characters who were reporting on a lot of interesting things happening around them (happening to friends, family, or others), but who had no personal stake in the events.

As an example, consider what would happen if you took a story like The Hunger Games and told it from the perspective of someone watching the Games from home. You could have them watch every event that Katniss goes through, tell the exact same story . . . except the person watching wouldn’t be the one with something really at stake. Even if it were Katniss’s mother or sister, they don’t have as much at stake in the story as Katniss herself.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that a character has to be the most directly involved in order to be the point of view character. Dr. Watson was Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick, yet he was also the one telling the story. But he was directly involved in events and had a personal stake in their outcome.

The Stakes Aren’t Personal Enough

While my story, Next Spring, was being workshopped, some of the reviewers raised the point that the main character, Callia Gainsborough, didn’t have enough of a personal stake in the conflict as it was being presented. This is something that will be easy enough to fix during revisions, and the central cause was that the story focused a little too much on the supporting character, Ethan. Ethan’s role was meant to be minor, and his interactions with Callia in the story were meant to show how Callia would react to certain events. Yet since most of the story involved Callia merely reacting to Ethan’s actions and behavior, the result was that she didn’t seem to have much at stake for herself, her own needs, and her own character development.

The solution is simply to revise the story with a greater focus on Callia’s thoughts and emotions. There are issues that Callia is struggling with: the changes in her life, her loneliness, her need to find her place, and her as-yet-unexpressed feelings for someone she’s only previously been friends with. Focusing on these issues will give Callia more of a personal conflict to overcome (even if the conflict is mostly an internal one). Then, her interactions with Ethan simply become a catalyst for how she decides to look within herself.

The good news is that the basic structure of the story–the events that laid out from Point A to B to C–are already there. This will allow me to go back and add more depth to the character without having to alter the overall course of the story.

The Character Doesn’t Demonstrate Change

An important part of any story is having a character grow and change during the course of it. During a short story, this can be difficult, since you don’t have a lot of time to work with. However, a character can undergo a significant change in a short amount of time.

Sometimes the change is merely an internal one. For example, as I mentioned when discussing New Spring above, the conflict in the story is mostly centered around Callia’s thoughts and emotions. Simply coming to a decision, revelation, or other emotional triumph can be enough of a change in such a case. In other stories, the change might be more drastic, such as with my short story Radiance, where the main character Maria Vasquez undergoes an actual supernatural physical transformation. Then there are cases where a character grows up in some way by making an important decision that shows an embarkment into maturity. Or a character might make a significant life decision, and in a short story, the reader doesn’t always need to see what happens after that decision. Just knowing that a character is going to quit their job, or move to another state, or try to reconnect with their girlfriend might be enough of an ending (think of the ending to the movie Clerks, where Dante ends with the decision to fix things up with Veronica, but we don’t actually see him do so).

If a character didn’t change throughout the course of the story, it was probably because they had nothing at stake. The stakes of the story should be the catalyst for change. And if you see someone else besides the main character experience growth and change, that’s a good sign that the main character wasn’t the one with something at stake.

There’s likely other issues centered around a character having something at stake. Let me know if you can think of any. Because what’s at stake for me is becoming the best writer I can be.