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Post-NaNo Failure Funk, Revisions Funkadelic?

It’s been 25 days since I last wrote a blog post, 41 days since I worked on revisions for Arcana Revived, and 16 days since I last did any writing for my #NaNoWriMo project. I ended NaNo with only about 35,000 words, my worst performance yet. To say I’m in a funk is, frankly, an understatement.

There’s plenty of reasons for it. Compared to this time last year I’m at a new job, in a new relationship, and no longer in college. Things have been rather topsy-turvy for awhile now, and it’s taken awhile to get settled into a new routine. One where I’m no longer fretting about whether the rent will be paid next month, and where I know for sure that there will be food on the table. That sort of thing makes a big difference.

I’ve missed a number of self-imposed deadlines. I do a lot better when someone else is imposing a deadline on me, like when I was in college. Part of the reason that I’ve written six first drafts of Arcana Revived books already is because I was writing a lot of them as class projects, such as my master’s thesis project. After I lost that structure and got out of the academic routine, it became a lot harder to keep focused.

Hopefully I can make some changes soon and get back into a groove again. I was doing a good job writing almost every day during NaNoWriMo. I earned a lot of stickers (one for every 1000 words). I haven’t earned any stickers all month so far, though this blog post counts as one (one blog post = 1 sticker). So hopefully I can fill my calendar with stickery goodness and get back into the groove. We’ll see how it goes.

If it goes well, expect more regular blog posts again. I enjoy blogging about my writing and revision progress, and the feedback I get on these posts tends to help keep me in the zone.


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Distance and Objectivity

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently working on two different revision projects. One is Contamination, the sequel to Manifestation. I’m currently about 80% of the way through Draft 2 (and I need to update that progress bar on the right to show that). I’m mostly working on line edits, making sure everything reads well and is clear, adding descriptive details where needed, and looking for plot holes that need filling or scenes that need cutting.

The second project is my Rowan University Master’s in Writing Thesis Project, a.k.a. Arcana Revived Volume Six (currently untitled). I’m pretty much doing the same thing there that I am on Contamination: basic edits and cleaning up the prose. I’m not to the point yet where I can make major changes since I need more time analyzing what is already there. I already have a few ideas on chapters that need to be cut, but I’m not to the point yet of making those decisions.

Normally, I wouldn’t be working on both of these projects at once. After all, Contamination is book two, so why be working on book six? Well, because I need to for school. Book six obviously won’t be published for quite some time, and I’m only doing the amount of work on it now that I need to for it to be “complete” in terms of what the thesis project requires. Mostly this means focusing on polishing up the first 30,000 words, and leaving the rest for later.

However, I’m running into a slight issue on Book Six that I’m not running into on Contamination, and I think I’ve figured out why. I don’t have enough distance from the first draft yet.

See, I wrote the first draft of Contamination for NaNoWriMo 2013. I’ve had close to a year and a half to get some objectivity about what I’ve written, so I can look at it and decide what needs to be changed, what needs to be cut, what’s working, and what isn’t. It’s a lot easier to say “Okay this is crap, it needs to go” on a scene or chapter that I wrote so long ago. It’s not so easy to do that with Book Six, which I just wrote a few months ago, for NaNoWriMo 2014.

The result is that I feel like I’m slogging through each chapter on Book Six, but I have no trouble with Contamination. The revisions on Book Six feel too “big.” I’m having trouble looking at individual issues instead of seeing the whole novel as, from the point of view of my critical side, one big steaming pile of crap. I’m still too connected to the rush and joy I felt writing the first draft and all the fragile emotions that go along with it.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says that when you finish a draft, you should put it in a drawer for six weeks or more. This is so that you can come at it with a fresh perspective. I feel like I need a little more than six weeks. Maybe six months? Which means that if I didn’t have a deadline, I’d be shelving everything to do with Book Six for a long time, until I’m more ready to deal with it. Which is besides the fact that I’ve got four other novels to revise before I touch that one.

I’m not really sure how to address this issue right now, since I need at least one revision of the first 30,000 words before March 1st. Which is totally doable for me in terms of the amount of work that I need to get done in that time frame, but less doable from an emotional point of view.

For the time being, my solution is to focus on Contamination. I’ve got a self-imposed deadline to finish that one by March 1st as well, and I’m more confident in my ability to do that. And maybe, by working on a different project for awhile, I’ll remove myself from Book Six a bit and be able to come back in during crunch time and get it done.


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Sexist, yet Sympathetic?

CheersLogoI’ve been marathoning Cheers on Netflix lately. It’s one of the greatest sitcoms of all times. The bar where everyone knows your name. Filled with loveable characters (who never drive home drunk; the show was praised for frequent portrayals of Designated Drivers). It’s also a show that was full of all kinds of sexism and negative gender stereotypes.

And yet, we still love it?

I’ve been paying close attention to the way Cheers depicts the main character, Sam Malone, played by Ted Danson. He portrayed as the stereotypical “hunk,” a trope you may know I really get annoyed with. Yet I don’t get annoyed with Sam, even with his incessant flirting, the way he treats women like sex object, and the way all the men in the bar treat him like he’s a role model because of the number of women he’s “conquered.” By every measurable trait, Sam Malone should come off as a sleazeball, a character I’d hate, and someone you would never tune in to watch week after week. So how can be be so sexist, yet still remain sympathetic?

CheersThe theory I’ve come up with has a few key points. I’ll list them one by one.

First, Sam Malone gets shot down constantly.

It’s true. Watch a few episodes of Cheers, and you’ll see Sam in usually one of three situations: pursuing girls who are better than him, pursuing girls who are equal to him, and pursuing another main character (such as Diane Chambers in the first five seasons). When he’s pursuing girls who are better than him, his advances almost always fail. These are usually educated women, those with careers, strong morals, and other positive personality traits. They reject Sam because his advances are always childish and crude, usually involving a lot of innuendos and excessive bravado. When confronted by such a woman, Sam gets shot down again and again, which shows us that a strong, confident woman won’t fall for Sam’s ploys. In a way, it almost makes Sam a sort of clown; he makes a fool of himself for our amusement. It’s just that instead of taking a pie to the face, he ends up scurrying away with his tail between his legs. He’s not seen as “threatening.” He’s more like a pathetic puppy who keeps begging, seeming all the more sad the more he is denied.

Other times, he’s dating some random girl who usually isn’t too bright and who is usually portrayed as being fairly dumb, unsophisticated, and “easy.” When he’s dating this sort of girl, the girl is always portrayed as wanting Sam as much as he wants her. It seems to me that we don’t lose sympathy for Sam as a “skirt chaser” in this context mostly because he’s pursuing only the girls who want to be pursued. Sam himself is always portrayed as dumb, unsophisticated, and willing to sleep with anyone, so a girl who is portrayed in the same fashion is seen as his equal. And because the girl desires it as much as Sam does, it seems to make it okay.

There’s a quote from The Wheel of Time that explains this quite well. One of the characters in that series, Mat Cauthon, is also a “skirt chaser.” But at one point one of the other characters notes that Mat only ever seems to pursue women who want to be pursued. That, in many ways, is the difference between a man who is seen as a sexist pig, versus a man who is seen as charming.

Here’s an example: say some random man in the street calls a woman “sexy” as she walks by. He’ll be seen as a pig for “cat-calling,” and most women won’t give him the time of day. On the other hand, if a man in a relationship calls his girlfriend sexy (and if she likes that sort of compliment), it could be seen as acceptable, even desirable. The fact that it’s desired makes all the difference. Similarly, other behavior like physical contact is only acceptable if it’s desired and consensual. A total stranger who slaps a woman on the ass is a pig who deserves to be smacked himself, but some girls may enjoy a flirty spank as part of foreplay from someone they’re in a relationship with.

Diane ChambersWhich brings me to the third type of relationship Sam Malone is seen in: long-term, complicated relationships like the one he had with Diane Chambers. With Diane, Sam’s childish behavior and advances never succeed. On more than one occasion, she rejects his advances until he stops acting like a horny teenager and finally confesses his true feelings for her. Only when we see some deeper sign of maturity and affection from him does Diane allow things to proceed to the next level.

These variables are interesting to consider when looking at them from the point of view of a romance novel. It should be possible, in theory, to create a “Sam Malone” type character as the male lead of such a novel. Someone who constantly pursues all the wrong women, never finding satisfaction in any relationship and constantly being rejected by the women with deep personalities, intelligence, and strength. Until one day he cleans up his act and stops acting like sex is all that matters. Then, perhaps, he would find a deeper connection with someone (the female lead, naturally). He could grow past his juvenile ways and become more mature, while still retaining the charm and flirtation that (once he finds someone he respects and only flirts in the way she desires) will still help him be portrayed as a sexy and desirable man.

There’s sure to be a lot of flaws to such a character, but then again, flaws are what make a novel’s character’s fun. There would definitely be a lot of growth potential. Sam definitely grows over time, gradually becoming less of a womanizer. Mat Cauthon also develops into a more mature person when he meets the woman he ends up marrying. I think that growth is necessary, otherwise the audience would lose sympathy for the character and grow tired of his childish antics.

And, of course, there’s no reason why these roles I’m describing have to be stuck in a male/female binary. You could take any character, male/female/trans/etc, and have them start off as immature, pursuing relationships with all the wrong people and constantly getting rejected. Until they find the right person, someone they respect, someone they’re willing to grow and change for, and they take the steps necessary to make themselves a better person.

I think it would be challenging to write such a character, since you’d always be walking the line between portraying the “Sam Malone” of your story as either a charming scoundrel or a chauvinistic pig. But it might make for some interesting storytelling, since, if nothing else, a character like this would be a prime source of conflict. And conflict would keep the story moving forward, up until the final moment when “Sam” either wins the girl/boy/etc, or gets the final rejection and slinks away in defeat (hopefully having learned some valuable lesson along the way).

Either that, or Ted Danson is just a damn good actor.


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All I Want For Christmas is a Revised Manuscript

Christmas and I don’t get along.

Christmas-Lights-11Okay, so Christmas doesn’t kidnap me, tie me up with sparkling lights, and lock me in the bathroom (though it could!). However, I do tend to have bad experiences with Christmas, and I don’t expect this one to be any better. I’m not on speaking terms with most of my family, my Dad is living on a tight budget so Christmas these days has no thrills, and I don’t expect anyone else in the world to get me anything. Beyond that, I can’t even get on board with the whole “Christmas should be about love and hope and etc etc, not presents!” thing because I’m not religious and I don’t really have the kind of hopeful, positive influences in my life that would make Christmas worthwhile. I have casual friends who I’m sure will text or tweet me some Christmas wishes, but I don’t really have the kind of deep personal relationships where you expect to bond with people over hot chocolate in front of the fireplace Christmas day.

All I want for Christmas is to finish this draft.

I think I’ve been suffering from #NaNoWriMo Burn Out, coupled with a touch of seasonal depression. Which happens every year. After writing 160,000 words on my NaNo novel, I’ve written . . . five blog posts in two weeks, and revised one chapter of Contamination. That’s not much. And I have no excuse. I just sit home all day anyway. It’s not like there’s a reason I can’t get the work done.

All I want for Christmas is some motivation.

I think that Author Fragile Ego Syndrome is keeping me from working on my novel because I’m afraid that it sucks. That no one is going to read it or buy it or like it. That people who praise my writing are just doing so to be nice. That one day soon I’m going to be back to working at a crappy restaurant for a sexist boss, Master’s Degree from Rowan University notwithstanding.

All I want for Christmas is some self-esteem.

What I said a moment ago, about Christmas not being about presents? It’s true. Christmas isn’t about presents. I don’t want material goods. I just want a Christmas where I can get out of this rut and get some work done. I want to be able to send my revised novel to my CPs as their Christmas present. I want to stop feeling like crap. I want to get through a Christmas without crying.

All I want for Christmas is to be successful with my writing. But that’s a gift no one else can give me. So I’ll have to do it myself.


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Superman and Vanity

superman-evolution2Look at the picture above, and tell me what you see.

Okay, yes, nine versions of Superman. Look closer.

Okay, they’ve all got variations of the same classic costume, except the one dressed all in black. They’ve all got a tall, muscular build. But look closer.

What do I see? Confidence. Shoulders set back. Chins held high. A few of them even have an almost cocky smirk. And why not? They’re Superman. Generally considered (by an average person, not necessarily a comic book buff) to be the most powerful superhero of all. And not only does he have more powers than you can shake your, err, kryptonite at, he’s also suave, charming, heroic, honest, and basically all around perfect.

And maybe that perfection will go to his head.

There’s a line in the original Christopher Reeve Superman movie, when Superman is talking to his father, Jor-El. Jor-El warns Superman not to succumb to his vanity:

Lastly, do not punish yourself for your feelings of vanity. Simply learn to control them. It is an affliction common to all, even on Krypton…Our destruction could have been avoided but for the vanity of some who considered us indestructible. Were it not for vanity, why, at this very moment… I could embrace you in my arms…my son…

Superman’s vanity, and through it, his overconfidence, are almost his undoing. He thinks he’s indestructible, so he doesn’t bother to take precautions. This is how Lex Luthor is able to trick him and expose him to kryptonite, which nearly kills him. (In turn, Luthor’s own vanity and overconfidence leads to him walking away and not watching Superman die, allowing Miss Teschmacher to save him.) I’ve seen this issue be Superman’s undoing in a number of different versions of the movies and TV shows. He underestimates his foes, he doesn’t consider the consequences of his actions, and he may even sometimes consider himself to be above the law.

Superman is just one example. Many other superheroes can have similar vanity issues; just look at all the ego being thrown around in The Avengers and you can see how each character’s pride is affecting their behavior. It’s been addressed in some comics from time to time, when people ask whether these heroes should be held accountable for their reckless behavior when they cause massive destruction while “saving” people.

One of the reasons I started thinking about the vanity of superheroes is because of a conversation I had with my academic adviser at Rowan University about my own writing projects. We were discussing one of the main characters from my novel, Manifestation, and I was describing some of the powers she has and the scale on which she’s able to affect the world in the later novels in the series (which gets bigger and stronger as the series goes on). After describing one particular scene at the end of the second book, Contamination, my adviser asked, “Would you describe her as godlike?”

Godlike characters can be a problem in a variety of ways. For one, there’s what I’ve called the Superman Dilemma, where a character is so powerful that it’s hard for there to be any suspense. But pride and vanity are definitely another issue. Vanity can be something that can actually add conflict, however, if it proves to be the character’s downfall. Vanity can lead to mistakes, it can make a character easy to manipulate, and it can alienate a character’s friends who think the character has gotten too big for their britches.

No wonder it’s the Devil’s favorite sin.

So if you find that your characters are too powerful, too unstoppable, too perfect, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As long as their power and perfection becomes a foil for them in the story. One way to address this is to put the character up against something that all their power isn’t enough to defeat. This is something I try to do later in my books. A character who has gotten used to solving every problem by throwing her unstoppable, godlike powers at it full force suddenly finds herself faces with an obstacle that can’t be beaten this way. She has to step back from the situation and consider other angles. She has to think. She has to realize that, just maybe, all of her powers don’t amount to all that much sometimes. It’s a hard lesson to learn. But once she learns she has to think outside the box instead of trying to overpower her foes, she ends up being that much stronger.

And hopefully, not too many cities will get destroyed in the meantime.


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Scavengers

I just finished #NaNoWriMo last week. My currently untitled novel is sitting at 160,484 words of magic, mystery, sex, love, telepathy, golems, lesbians, teddy bears, and maybe a giant mutated monster or two. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, though I know it’ll need plenty of revisions and work just like all the others. That work is for later, however, and now it’s time to turn my mind to other things.

On the writing front, there’s two main projects on my mind right now. Both of them have something in common: scavengers (did the title of the post give that away?). I’d like to talk a bit about the concept of scavengers first, then discuss how it relates to my upcoming projects.

A scavenger-based society can develop in a variety of ways. In real life, it can happen when some groups of people live in the slums or run-down neighborhoods of otherwise wealthy cities. I read a book earlier this year, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which told the real-life story of people living in such conditions in Mumbai, India. The people in the story live in tin shacks in a muddy, rancid slum, where they deal with crime, pollution from the city, poverty, poor education, and the struggle to survive and feed their families each day. One of the main characters is a boy who collects scrap. Plastic bottles, wire coat hangers, tin foil . . . anything he can haul down to the recycling center to sell in order to earn what he can to help feed his family. Parts of the story follow this boy and others like him as they scrounge in the dumpsters behind hotels, gathering plastic straws and lids to be sold as scrap to the recycling center. Sometimes they have to fight off gangs of larger boys who will beat them up to steal their garbage and sell it themselves. And no one in the city cares, except when it comes to shooing them away so the rich tourists at the hotels don’t have to see the street urchins digging through the trash.

More extreme examples can be seen in some post-apocalyptic stories, where society has collapsed and industry no longer exists. I’m reading a fiction novel right now called The Drowned Cities, set in a post-apocalyptic future where global warming has flooded the coasts, war has torn the country apart, and people struggle to survive amidst ongoing fighting between rival factions that try to claim their own piece of the broken world. People use whatever they can get their hands on, and the author describes things like plastic antifreeze bottles now being used as water bottles, ruined buildings being torn apart for scrap to rebuild elsewhere, and old medicine that is “only a year past its expiration date.” These details do a good job setting the scene and showing the reader just how desperate people are for whatever resources they can get their hands on.

The idea of a society with limited resources will be helpful research for my current and future projects. One of those project, my seventh novel, is currently only in the planning stages. I’ve got about ten pages of notes so far on what I plan to do with it, though I don’t intend to start writing this one until next year, maybe during #JuNoWriMo. Some of these notes are based on ideas I got from books like The Drowned Cities, relating to the idea of where people get the resources they need to survive. Food and other resources can be scarce. People might be having to improvise items to use them for something other than their original purpose. Gabby Palladino, my main character (who is also a poet) may have trouble finding simple things like pens and paper to write her journals and poems. Though I’ve already written things in the past that involve looting old, abandoned stores, so I’m sure she could find an abandoned office supply store with plenty of useful goods.

My more immediate project right now is continuing revisions on my second book, Contamination, which is the sequel to Manifestation. I won’t go into too much detail so as not to spoil some of the events of Manifestation, but suffice to say, some of the characters in Contamination can end up in some difficult situations where food and supplies are scarce. The scene I’m currently revising involves a gang of thugs with magic powers fighting for control over a grocery store, since controlling the store means controlling the food supplies left inside. When you’re desperate and hungry, that’s a higher priority than anything else. There are also other scenes of people doing things like smashing open an old vending machine to steal the stale snack foods inside. People will do what it takes when it comes to staying fed.

I plan to read some more books in war-ravaged post-apocalyptic settings in the near future in order to see how other authors have addressed the scavenger lifestyle. I find it an interesting one, and I think there’s a lot of potential character development to be found in writing a character who has to dig through the rubble to find the things they need to survive.


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Words I Shouldn’t Use in my Books

wordnerdAfter my last post about how some holidays don’t exist in the world of my books, I started exploring another aspect of writing in a fictional setting. Namely, language. Language is a constantly changing and evolving thing, and many words today don’t have the same meaning they had just twenty years ago. New words are being invented all the time. Depending on the origin of the word, this can lead to some complications in some kinds of writing.

Of course, none of this means I can’t use these words in my book. There’s no reason to get too nitpicky about them. But as an etymology hobbyist, I enjoy studying words and finding out their origins and history. I sometimes even write about those etymologies. But even if the words listed below might be found in my book, there’s that little voice in the back of my head telling me that they don’t belong.

Jeez (Variants: Jeeze, Geez)

“Jeez” is a common type of non-profane exclamation. It can be used in place of any number of curse words, such as when saying “Oh, jeez” instead of “Oh shit,” or “Jeez, what the heck!” instead of “Damn, what the hell!”

More specifically, according to the origin of the word jeez, it’s a shorted form of “Jesus Christ.” It first appeared in the 1920s. It’s easy to imagine how this word came into existence if you’ve ever had to censor yourself in front of a child. “What did you just do? Jee–…ze. I can’t believe you just fu–…dge. You’re a pain in my … neck.” And so on.

In my books, everything takes place on a fictional world. Since that world isn’t Earth, there was no Jesus Christ. I always replace any instances of a character shouting “Jesus Christ!” with “Oh my God!” or something similar. I try to avoid jeez as well, though I doubt anyone would notice if it slipped in here and there. Similarly, anyone writing a historical novel set before the 1920s should avoid using jeez, since it probably wasn’t in use yet (though with all words, it was probably in common verbal use for some time before the first written account of its use, and written accounts is all we can base etymological studies on). Though I doubt many people are writing Victorian romance novels where the characters use slang words like jeez.

 Guy

“Guy” is an informal word for a man or boy. Originally, the word only meant an effigy of Guy Fawkes (yes, that Guy Fawkes). After Guy tried to blow up parliament on November 5, 1605, people in England started making and burning these effigies. According to Wikipedia:

In Britain, 5 November has variously been called Guy Fawkes Night, Guy Fawkes Day, Plot Night and Bonfire Night … it became the custom to burn an effigy … of Fawkes. The “guy” is normally created by children, from old clothes, newspapers, and a mask. During the 19th century, “guy” came to mean an oddly dressed person, but in American English it lost any pejorative connotation, and was used to refer to any male person.

As you can see, “guy” basically referred to the doll that would be burned, which was oddly dressed because it was made from scraps of whatever clothes the kids could find. Eventually instead of an “oddly dressed man,” it just became any man. But in a world that never had Guy Fawkes, the word wouldn’t exist. And in a story set place before the 1600s, it wouldn’t have been made yet.

I’ll probably add a few more “Words I Shouldn’t Use in my Books” as I do more research and come up with them. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t use them. But it’s good to know where your words come from.


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When Thanksgiving Doesn’t Exist in your Books

turkeyI write in a fictional world. This is a common trope seen in fantasy writing, where a writer wants to create a fictional history, geography, government, and so on for their world. It allows for a lot more freedom to do things that couldn’t happen in the real world. This is especially true if you want to add some detail to the geography that would otherwise be impossible, like floating continents, the ruins of a super-advanced ancient civilization, or magical physics that show the world functions in a very different way. It can also be used in science fiction with alien civilizations (such as how Star Wars takes place in a galaxy far, far away, as opposed to Star Trek which still has the real Earth, just far in the future).

A few complications arise when writing in an entirely fictional world. Even though Manifestation is set in a modern-day setting that is very similar to the real world, there are some key differences. One key example is holidays. There’s no “America” in the fictional world I created; the people live in a country called the Northern Union, which is loosely modeled after America but very different in some ways. Since there’s no America, there’s no Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, or any other national holiday that is specific to real life. Likewise, there’s no Christmas, because there’s no Christianity. Religion plays a heavy role in the books, and the religion is loosely modeled after Christianity (I make references to the seven deadly sins, for example). But in these books, there was no Jesus Christ, so therefore there’s no Christmas or Easter or anything like that.

Sometimes this makes me stumble in my writing. For example, there’s a scene near the end of Manifestation when I refer to “holiday decorations” on the house. I never say which holiday, since real-life holidays don’t exist in that world. But the scene takes place in winter, around the time of what would have been Christmas in real life, so holiday decorations become part of the setting. Some books I’ve read address such topics by having a “Winter Festival” as the winter holiday celebration. If the holiday were of specific relevance to the plot, I could even develop a fictional set of customs and traditions around it, in order to flesh it out more. But in my case, it’s more of a minor background detail.

Another related thing that pops up from time to time is brand names, and this becomes more complicated. I can’t, for example, have my characters eat Jell-O or Cheetos. Those brands don’t exist in the fictional world, so I have to say gelatin or cheesy puffs. My characters have to use tissues, not Kleenex, and take aspirin, not Tylenol.

Some brand names become harder to avoid. There’s a lot of fighting in some of my books, so naturally there’s guns. In some action-oriented books I’ve read, people will refer to a specific model of gun, like a Glock or a Luger. I can only say “pistol.” Though I fudge some of these rules when people drive a jeep or wear a kevlar vest, because really, there aren’t a lot of better names to use for that. Kevlar is technically a brand name but it’s in many ways seen as a name for the material itself. A jeep is technically a vehicle produced by Jeep, but it also brings to mind a very specific type of vehicle that the phrase “off-road vehicle” doesn’t quite capture.

This can be difficult, and sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just write in the real world. But on the other hand, I’m sometimes able to create fictional brands and companies that become a part of the personality of the world. For example, on multiple occasions I refer to places like the Donovan Grant Hotel, Donovan Financial Trust, and buildings sponsored by that company like the Donovan Financial Field where the local sports team plays. The Donovan family that owns these businesses remains mostly in the background (though there’s an easter egg in there for people who pay attention), but this remains a personalized detail that is part of the structure of this world.

Maybe in the future books, some new holidays will be formed commemorating the disasters that strike. Perhaps the people will start holding barbecues and/or memorials on Arcana Day. And they could hang decorations and hold services in remembrance of the people who lost their lives when magic was reborn.


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What I Learned From #NaNoWriMo

Winner-2014-Web-BannerAs I mentioned, I recently won #NaNoWriMo 2014. It was a long haul. I had quite a few nights where I was up until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. My back is killing me. I spent several days in a daze, barely able to focus on anything else.

The novel is complete. At 160,484 words, it’s both the biggest NaNoWriMo victory I’ve ever had and the longest novel I’ve written in the series. As you can see by the progress meters on the sidebar to the right, it’s 28,000 words more than the previous novel. This was more-or-less what I expected, and the reason why is the first “thing I learned” from NaNoWriMo:

I learned to better estimate word counts

When I first wrote Manifestation, I had no idea how long it would be. I also didn’t know how the story would shift away from any original plans I had. These shifts can lead to longer word counts on some drafts, since the story expands in places I didn’t expect, then shorter word counts in revisions, when I cut scenes that end up not fitting the new direction the story went in. One of the consequences of these unexpected turns is that the structure of the novel can change.

For example, when I first started the series, I already knew where the third volume, Collapse, would end. I had a scene in mind for the climax and what consequences it would bring. I started writing with that goal in mind from early on, always trying to move Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, the two main characters, in that direction. But at the time that I started writing, I thought that would be the end of volume two, not volume three.

I had originally planned Manifestation to stop in a place that is now somewhere around the middle of the second book, Contamination. I had a story arc planned out for Gabby that would take her through various family dramas, build on her romantic relationship with her main love interest, Callia Gainsborough, and help her grow from the introverted teenage girl we see at the beginning into, well, you’ll have to wait and see what she becomes. But when I was moving past the 100,000 word mark on Manifestation, I realized I needed a lot more time to get Gabby to the point I wanted to take her in. So I devised a new climax for Manifestation, finished the first book, and started the second one.

Then, when I was near the end of Contamination, the same thing happened again. I had a point where Gabby’s relationship with Callia was really just getting off the ground, where Gabby’s understanding of the supernatural changes to the world around her are finally coming together, and where Gabby’s growth as a character was reaching a major turning point. But a turning point isn’t a climax, and I realized I needed another 50,000 words or more to get Gabby the rest of the way down that path. Like with the first book, had I not come up with a different ending, the total length of the book would have been over 170,000 words. Instead, I started the third book, and about halfway through Gabby reached the point of character development I’d originally planned. It was mostly smooth sailing after that to finish the third book, reaching the climax that had originally been planned for book two.

This year, I went into my writing expecting and planning for a length of 150,000. I came up with this number by considering the various story arcs of the previous books, how many main characters had leading roles in each, and how much world building had to be done. When I crossed the 130,000 word mark, I reanalyzed based on the number of scenes left, and adjusted my word count estimate to 160,000. The final total word count was only a few hundred off of that second estimate.

I plan to consider these variables when working on future books as well, so that I’ll have a better idea of how much will “fit” in one book. That way I’ll be able to avoid major restructuring like I went through in the early books.

I learned the difference between a “romance” and a “love story”

As you may have seen by recent blog posts, I’ve been studying romance novels lately. I have a few serious problems with the common romance tropes I’ve seen. Examples include characters who seem to constantly profess their love in the narration without me seeing love in their actions, characters who are too perfect (perfect bodies, perfect hair, flawless morals, etc), characters who fall in love too quickly without enough development of their relationships, and the unrealistic nature of the “happily ever after” ending. I’ve been trying to avoid abusing these tropes in my own writing, by either breaking them entirely, or at least approaching them from different angles in order to avoid being cliche.

However, a new variable was recently brought to my attention. I recently wrote a post about exploring infidelity in romance stories, where I considered the possible roles cheating might play in the development of a story. In particular, I cited novels like The Notebook, where the female lead started off in a relationship then cheated on her fiance with the male lead, who she eventually ended up with. After writing this post, however, one of my romance writer friends directed me to the rules of the Romance Writers of America, and I learned there are some things you can’t do if you want the story to be considered an official “romance.”

According to the RWA, a story is only a “romance” if it has A Central Love Story and An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending. That is, the love story can’t be a subplot, and it can’t have an ending that isn’t in the “happily ever after” category.

A happy ending, according to my friend, means things like no cheating. You can’t do anything to betray the relationship or make the reader stop rooting for the characters to get together. If the reader reaches a point where they wish the characters would break up, it’s not a “romance.”

An interview with Nicholas Sparks has another quote that I found interesting in relation to this idea. He responds to the question:

Q: You once said the difference between a love story and a romance is that “love stories must use universal characters and settings.” What did you mean by that?

“Universal” means you feel as if they are real. You feel like you can know them. I don’t write stories about astronauts or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or millionaires or movie stars. These are stories of everyday people put into extraordinary events that are also very real in ordinary people’s lives: accidents, a past you want to get away from, a husband that got violent.

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with his entire view here, but what he’s basically saying sounds like “romance novels have unrealistic characters but love stories have ordinary people.” I wouldn’t call this a 100% accurate statement, but it touches on what I mentioned above. Most romance novels I read have people who are too perfect. They’re rich, famous, gorgeous, and flawless. Now, I think you can have a traditional romance novel that has believable, down-to-earth characters (just many of the ones I’ve recently read don’t). But if you go by Sparks’s views, romances are fantasies, while love stories are more realistic.

Even if you disagree with how sparks describes this difference, I do think that the distinction is related to the “no cheating” rule I already mentioned. Characters who cheat on each other would spoil the perfect fantasy of the ideal relationship. But characters who have to struggle to heal and forgive after an affair might better represent the kinds of people we see in real life.

I’ll probably follow up with some more things I learned in a future post. It was definitely a long and educational experience.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook