Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

There is Now a Level Zero...

For those who don't recognize the title of this post, it's from Kung Fu Panda. Po wants to start on level zero with his training, and Master Shifu says there is no level zero. Then, Po gets his panda tail kicked by the practice equipment and Master Shifu says, "There is now a level zero."

So, I finished my rough draft of Sentinel's Run last night... uhhh... this morning after a five hour writing jag that went until three in the morning. (It was crazy and Mt. Dew-fueled and my husband caught me typing the last sentence at 3 a.m. and said, "You're still up??? You're not supposed to be up!!!" Yeah, it was crazy, but I was on a roll.)

Normally, and my betas can back me up on this, I don't write rough drafts really. My first drafts are typically fully-realized and clean. (I do revise as I write so that's part of it. Also, my OCD keeps my brain at attention constantly for typos.) They're not final drafts by any means, but they're typically not that rough.

The world in Sentinel's Run is more complex, though, and I've stumbled across a bunch of continuity errors I need to work through. So, while it's done... it's not really done. I'm looking at a genuine rough draft. It's killing me. *shakes manuscript* It's a level zero! Okay, maybe not that bad.... I am a little surprised at how many more traps there are for continuity or contradiction issues when you're dealing with a dystopian world. As my world fleshed out throughout the story I noticed that I'd need to explain things and really establish the rules of my world and make sure I don't stray from them.

A lot of it revolves around non-human characters that I've established. I played fast and loose with some of the rules that I set down for the machines, and I need to go fix that. If you have non-human characters... you know... they have their own motivations and responses and you have to stick to that or give a good reason why you're not. I got a bit sketchy at points. Oy. Bad Wendy.

So, yay... I finished... but I didn't. I also need to work on Mori's voice and decide on some of the intricacies in Coby's speech patterns too, but that might be a further down revision. Then, I'll send it to the three betas I promised it to, and I'll shelve it for six months. (I always have shelved my manuscripts for this long... so that I can get perspective before doing a serious revision on them. I "have" done this anyway, but it's something that might change I suppose with Sarah's involvement in my career.)

It's a weird sort of anticlimactic feeling to finish a level zero manuscript. I don't like it. There's not the adrenalin rush of other manuscripts where I can immediately send it off to betas or read a "finished" product and give myself mental high-fives. On the other hand, I really, really, really like this story. I think once I work out some of these kinks it'll be my best manuscript yet, but we'll see.

*eyes level zero*

I hope.

I also got my revision notes from Sarah for the SECRETS version for the film agent from my agency, so that goes onto the calendar for me to complete this summer. It should have plenty more cowbell... even some violent cowbell... by the time I'm done with it. *punches sky* Violent cowbell!

In non-writing news, my kids' summer schedule is filling up. This morning we went to a reptile display and then to the beach. Tomorrow is yoga, a picnic, and the zoo. Thursday is... something... and so it goes. We'll have to take days off every so often so my son can decompress. Unfortunately, my kids tend to fill my life with noise--happy noise--bickering noise--tv--the computer--their DSs--noise, noise, noise, and I have a hard time writing during the day with background noise. So, I see many Mt. Dew-fueled writing sessions at night in my future. My tolerance of noise is so low right now that even my phone's alerts are making me snarl.

Summer is fun. Loads of fun. Really.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Weird Research is All in Day's Work

So, research for Sentinel's Run means that I've had tabs up in google all the time on heavy machinery, and I've been watching videos on equipment too. (Right now, I've got a Wikipedia article on backhoe loaders up.) I also spent quite some time today trying to figure out whether I wanted to spell it "plow" vs. "plough."

Being a writer is all about exciting research like this.

I spent an hour yesterday calculating the possibly velocities of all heavy machinery Mori and Coby might come across in a future world where technology might have improved, but also while relying primarily on solar power. (There's an unladen swallow joke in there somewhere.)

I can't imagine writing during a time when I'd have to go to the library for all this research--the librarians would have thought I was a total freak. Really.

Wendy: "I'd like a book on mean heavy machinery."

Librarian: "You mean ON heavy machinery."

W: "No, my heavy machinery has to attack people. I'll need something with grabbing capability... Oh! Oh! Maybe something that stabs... can you think of something that might stab a person? That'd be awesome!"

L: "Uhh. Are you the person who was asking about sleeping chickens a few months back? And whether you could kill a large amount of chickens without being caught?"

W: "Err... possibly."

L: "That's what I thought."

Writers are such freaks.

On the other hand, I'm really on the home-stretch for Sentinel's Run. I'm to 57K out of the projected 60K... but I think it'll be closer to 65K in the end... maybe. So, I should finish it sometime this weekend. Then, I'll do a revision run-through of it. I've got some squirrelly little continuity errors that I need to fix, but I don't want to ruin my momentum by dealing with them on this draft. After a revision run-through where I also work on the voice a little more... I'll do a Kindle read-through. So, I should have it to betas by next weekend... I think. I hope.

I'm not sure what to do with it after that. That's one thing about having an agent. We're focusing on Secrets of Skin and Stone and Curse Me A Story, so all my other little projects... I don't know why I'm working on them... other than my brain won't hush up AND it is good practice. I don't know.

I guess if Sarah wants to see anything else of mine... she can just ask.

Anyway, back to writing... it's time to kill a few more machines.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Finding the Story in the Music

So, I mentioned on Twitter that I was eating breakfast this last Saturday and the song "Crash into me" came on in the diner, and it seemed to fit the relationship and feel for Sentinel's Run so completely. The following day I was still singing it as I was getting ready for church and the husband asked, "Do you need a different song stuck in your head?" I said, "Are you kidding... I love this song. There are worse songs to have stuck in your head." He laughed. "Yeah, but at church? That's a dirty song... the line just before "show your world to me?" I had to think about it and listen to it again to figure out what he was talking about.

So, this morning, I finally looked up the words to this song on lyrics freak and then I went to song meanings to see what other people thought of the words. (I find that site fascinating, btw... even when I think they're all crazy for what they think.)

I don't know if other people do this, but when I listen to a song... a storyboard plays in my head like the old videos from the early nineties where there was a story behind all songs. (If you don't believe me, check out Meatloaf's I Would do Anything for Love but Taylor Swift's Love Story is a classic for storytelling in a video in my opinion.) (On the other hand, anything by Lady Gaga just makes her songs make less sense. LOL.)

So, I've been thinking about the storyboard that plays in my head to Crash Into Me... and it's not the least bit dirty (though, I'll admit it depends on your definition of dirty--and I could see where my husband was going with that.) So, for fun, I thought I'd narrate the storyboard in my head for the song Crash Into Me by Dave Matthews Band. It looks nothing like the song's actual video which you can see here. I swiped the lyrics from lyrics freak and, of course, they're not mine at all... just the pictures in my head.

You've got your ball. You've got your chain--tied to me tight--tie me up again.

A man is coming home from a long day working. He is walking up the front walkway and he sees a light coming from the side of his house where they've got a big willow planted. With a smile, he goes around the side and stands underneath the willow and sees his wife is getting ready for bed after having waited up for him. They've been married a long time... but she still makes him hot.

Who's got their claws in you my friend into your heart I'll beat again.

His wife turns and sees him through the picture window of their bedroom. He's been coming home later and later because his job is demanding. His wife smiles... and instead of motioning him in... she gets closer to the window.

Sweet like candy to my soul. Sweet you rock and sweet you roll. Lost for you. I'm so lost for you.

His wife presses her hand against the window and tips her head and then she leans forward and kisses the window.... he smiles and then laughs outright when she does a big, nasty blowfish on the window.

You come crash into me and I come into you. I come into you. In a boy's dream. In a boy's dream.

He thinks back to the first time he saw her... he was only a boy compared to what the world has made him now. He was a teenager and he thought he knew of passion and happiness. She was a comet that smacked into him and turned everything upside down. He fell in love as a boy and that stayed with him as he became a man. Sometimes, the boy inside... well, he still loves the way she laughs... and the way she teases. Over a decade later... the man inside thinks they still feel like liquid heat when they make love.

Touch your lips just so I know. In your eyes, love, it glows so I'm bare-boned and crazy for you.

He can see in her eyes that she's remembering too. She touches her lips, kisses them, and presses her fingers against the glass. In some ways, he misses the days when their love was simpler, but it's grown and gotten into him, so not having her in his life makes him feel crazy. He should tell her that... he should, but it terrifies him at the same time. She has so much power over him. Even while he's at work, he's thinking of how things will affect her. If you stripped him down to the essence... down to the bones... she'd be there. Even when she makes him crazy and mad... she's his and he's hers.

When you come crash into me, baby. And I come into you. In a boy's dream. In a boy's dream.

She smiles slyly and undoes the first few buttons on her shirt. Matching her daring, he takes off his... shoes... which makes her laugh. Suddenly, they both feel like teenagers again, swept up in the rush of hormones and heat... and it's crazy... and giddy.

If I've gone overboard then I'm begging you to forgive me in my haste. When I'm holding you so, girl, close to me.

He has laugh lines now... perhaps they're also from frowning--he's been doing his fair share of that too. Once upon a time they only laughed together, and now they fight. They fight over money--over the fact that she wants him home more. He yells that he's trying to give her the world--like he always promised her he would. Somehow, he hopes that the times he's holding her make up for the times when he's trying to prove something that she already knows--that he's a man--that he can be what he thinks she wants. Of course... all she wants is him.

Oh and you come crash into me, baby. And I come into you.

One of her buttons gets stuck. She scowls at it for a moment and then just pulls harder. The button pings off the window in between them a moment later.

Hike up your skirt a little more and show your world to me. Hike up your skirt a little more and show your world to me--in a boy's dream--in a boy's dream.

Their bodies have both changed with marriage but the way he feels about her--hasn't. She still makes him crazy with want. He loves how female she is... that she sometimes puts on skirts at home when she gets home... just before sitting on the couch with him and a bowl of popcorn and late-night TV. He's pretty sure she does it just to tease him, but he likes that too. He likes it a lot. It makes him feel like a hot teenager again, making out on the couch. She's wearing a skirt now... and now she isn't.

Oh I watch you there through the window and I stare at you. You wear nothing but you wear it so well.

She finishes undressing, pretending he isn't there, and even turns off the light in their room before lying down in the white sheets on their bed. Normally... she wears one of his over-sized t-shirts to bed and steals a pair of his boxer shorts maybe. Tonight, she doesn't bother... she knows he'll be in soon.

Tied up and twisted the way I'd like to be--for you--for me....

She turns in the sheets and the white sheets twist around her as she does, twining around her body as she stares through the window into his eyes. She crooks her finger for him. With a smile she's always loved, he grabs his shoes and runs to the back door... tripping in his haste... She hears the back door slam and she grins at the ceiling. Their bedroom door opens--and he's managed to toss off most of his clothes throughout the house... and she sees the boy smile within the man she loves. They crash into each other in a mix of hungry mouths and arms and legs... and love.

Come crash into me.

So, what do you think? Is it dirty? Maybe, a little. Is my story anything like yours? Probably not. Maybe you don't even do that. I won't pretend that there aren't a few double entendres thrown into there. "Come into me" could be quite dirty... which I sort of like.

The story I just made around the lyrics actually has nothing, but nothing to do with the story surrounding Sentinel's Run--if anything--it's more like my own relationship with my husband (and, yes, we have a willow tree shielding our bedroom window from the world, but I promise this scenario has never played out.) But the idea of two people crashing into each other's lives with an explosion does have a lot to do with Sentinel's Run. I was venting on Twitter that I can't seem to stop my characters in Sentinel's Run from kissing--even though there are a lot of reasons they shouldn't be kissing... it doesn't matter... my characters keep kissing. That's why the song reminds me of them--that fiery hot explosion of emotions between people that seems to be obvious in young love.

Anyway, this is probably one of those posts that maybe I write just for myself and perhaps I've ruined this song for some of you. *Wendy sticks her tongue out* Yesterday was the kids' last day of school. I'm hoping to get some writing down today, but I might not... but I might... who knows. I'm making good progress, but I'm tired and my allergies are acting up. (I know... I talk about the sexiest things. Pollen is technically the reproductive matter of trees, so there's that.) Annnnnd now I've ruined pollen for you too. ; ) You're welcome.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sample Sunday- Sentinel's Run

So, I worked into the wee hours last night on Sentinel's Run, and I'm about to start off another stretch of writing tonight. (My kids get out of school on Wednesday so I'm running out of time.)

This book is all written from a 17 year old boy's perspective, Coby's. It's a Dystopian about a world where the machines have taken over and all boys aged 17 are sent off to fight on the front lines of defense against the robots for five years. Most never come home. Coby meets Mori and he's trying to save both their lives and right now they're on the wrong side of the line--they're on the machines' side of the line. He's managed to "rip out the brain" on an excavator and they're driving that around when this scene takes place--they've just run from a large drill, and it's chasing them.

This is what I wrote last night... it's rough... straight out of the tips of my fingers as it were.

The rotating cab meant that I gave Mori one last shot at the drill. When we were a good distance away, I gave into her shouts and pummeling on my arm and swung us sideways so she had a clear shot.

“Don’t act like you’re doing me this huge favor,” she said, scooting to the edge of the cab and putting both hands in front of her.

I wanted to shake her, just shake her. How could anyone be so aggravating and charming at the same time? It seemed impossible. I’d just saved both our lives! We’d nearly died a dozen times—some of which were her fault. I was doing her a favor.

“Don’t take the shot if you’re not sure,” I said.

“Oh, and now you’re telling me how to bolt?” She tossed me a look over her shoulder that seemed like it was meant to make me wither up and die on the seat.

I leaned forward and rested my arm on the steering wheel while shaking my head. Mori was something else. She was a piece of work. When I was leaning forward, I could see even more crows circling above us. I’d never seen this many near the line.

The drill was coming hard and fast toward us, but it had been damaged by some of the trees it had torn through. I was less worried now that we were off the ground. If worst came to worst, I could always swing my bucket and maybe knock the nasty tunneler onto its side. It was a possibility anyway.

Mori was grumbling “wait… wait… wait…” under her breath.

“Don’t wait too long,” I said, just to annoy her.

She snarled without looking at me. It made me smile. Something might be wrong with me that I was starting to enjoy fighting with her. It was most likely too much adrenalin and maybe the radiation even. Still, she looked beautiful when she was angry. Blessed earth, she looked beautiful all the time.

She groaned a sigh. “I can’t get a clear shot, Coby. That stupid drill is in the way.”

“Are you giving up?”

She gasped… which was answer enough even before she said, “Of course I’m not, you silly trencher.”

“You’re a silly trencher,” I murmured, smiling.

She glanced over her shoulder at this, and I didn’t drop my grin in time.

“You’re enjoying this.” I thought I could hear a smile in her voice, but she’d refocused on the drill which was now listing slightly to the side and clunky in its movements. She bolted a few crows while waiting for my reply.

I sat back against the seat. “It’s probably madness setting in from being in your company too long. Every time you start to make sense… I should just punch myself in the head.”

“I’ll punch you,” she offered and finally took the shot when the drill tipped just a bit. The bolt hit like a brick to the digitals inside, and it thunked to a stop only a hundred yards from us. She leaned back with a very satisfied smile.

“Nice shot,” I said.

“Yeah, it was.” Nice. Real humble.

O’course I sort of liked that about her.

Yeah, I should just let her punch me in the head for that.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Putting on the Plotting Pants Post

*snickers* If you didn't notice the alliteration in that title... and giggle... I can't help you. *washes hands of you*

So, a while back, Sarah conned me into doing something that might just rewrite all my rules. Seriously. She asked me for a plot summary for a book I hadn't written. A BOOK... I HADN'T written. Naturally, my brain exploded, my world shrunk, and somewhere a fairy died, but I decided to give it a shot. What I came up with... was not at all pretty. I couldn't write a book summary. I could write a chapter-by-chapter summary, but not a book summary. I sent it off, with my apologies for its Frankenstein presentation, and Sarah was good with it... and didn't hunt me down and shake it in my face while shouting, "What the crap is this?" (I sometimes have paranoid and implausible fantasies about what might happen in a worst case scenario.) That was then... and I immediately turned around and did heavy revisions on two books right after, but the fact that I could summarize a book I hadn't written... hung with me... and it got into my brain.

Now, I'm trying to work on Sentinel's Run. (Sarah is distracted with other projects temporarily, so I'm working feverishly while she is.) It's been a year since I worked on Sentinel's Run. It fell casualty to other projects taking precedence and it's gone mostly untouched for a year now. I started it last June, wrote 25K, received a request from Sarah for a full and then copies of my other stuff... and then buried myself in other projects.

Ideally, I want to finish Sentinel's Run while still working on other revisions if requested. Moving from a YA paranormal to a Dystopian sounds like a nightmare, though. So, I decided to try a chapter-by-chapter plot summary. I've been working on that this week and I did it... I actually plotted out the remainder of the book. I can't believe I can do that. Then, yesterday, using my chapter summary, I added a full chapter to Sentinel's Run. I created a cheat sheet for voice while I was creating the summary, so I'm all plotty-plot-plotterton this time even.

In some ways, it's still pantsing because I can only write as far as the next chapter... and then the next chapter. It turns out looking like a fairly boring short story. I can't summarize the whole book--my mind doesn't work that way. I can build on each chapter, though.

So, how does this change all the rules?

I know this won't be the same book I would have written without the plot summary. My mind rambles down random paths in novels much like I do in these blog posts. With the plot summary in place, I won't do that. I really think this might tighten up my writing in a way I'm not managing in revisions. I'm wondering if I should do chapter summaries on some books after the fact... I'm thinking, seriously, that I might force myself to do this for all my books in the future... though possibly not until after the first few chapters are written.

For the record, I hated writing the chapter summaries. I let myself have a cupcake after I was finished and patted myself on the head and said, "You did it, Wendy! You're not a hack." It was seriously pulling teeth and my muse kept screaming, "We don't write this way! This sucks! I hate you! I'm going to go stick a dead rat on your pillow!"

So, when I finished writing the chapter last night... my first shiny new chapter on this WIP in a year... I wanted to find someone and shake them and shout, "I did it! I can plot! I can use a plotted out summary! I'm not a hack." Sadly, it was one a.m. and I was insane for still being awake, but it's the thought that counts.

Anyway, so my posts over the next few weeks will probably be all about Sentinel's Run and how much I love it and how I want to hug it and squeeze it and call it George. (Seriously, I love this story... I've tried to marry it, but our love will have to be a thing of dreams, but that didn't work out so well.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Deriving Miss Daisy--Embracing the Derivative

So, I first started thinking on this subject long ago, but it was brought to mind when I read several reviews on City of Bones and reviewers compared its themes to Star Wars and the writing style to work she'd done on Harry Potter fanfic. This isn't the first time I've heard of a book being compared to Harry Potter or Star Wars. I want to argue that the themes in both books were hardly invented by their creators but, on the other hand, what does it matter?

As a writer, you live with two big fears. The first being that someone will beat you to telling your story. Yes, that's right. If you're a writer and you're reading this, other writers have that same fear... the ticking clock of a great idea that you're afraid has already been brought to life. Maybe they'll do it better than you... maybe they'll do it worse... but they'll get there first, and that's terrifying. At least, it is to me. I worry that I'm too late to the game... every day.

The second fear is that people will see what you've written and think you stole your ideas or themes from someone else. I mean the reality is that there are no new ideas. There aren't. I once saw someone claim on Twitter that their idea had NEVER been done before. NEVER. EVER. Some folks laughed outright and some laughed inside our head and mentally patted this writer on the head and thought, "That's cute that you actually believe that."

Wow... I sound jaded, but I don't care.

The truth is: It's all been done before. IT ALL HAS.

I've been thinking this week that I'd go a step further and say, "YOU WILL STEAL IDEAS." We're not set in the middle of the ocean of nothingness to write our stories. Our stories are the product of so many different sources. Sometimes, it's as simple as a theme from a story you read and you think, "I could do that differently/better/with jazz hands and a hip wiggle." Sometimes, it's because you stayed up late watching Big Bang Theory, had some Chinese food which made your stomach grumble, and your dreams were out of control whacked... and, well, doable. Pop culture, a story your mom once told you, a book, a sign outside the women's restroom... we are all derivative. Your stories are not unique thoughts born of nothingness and ether and magic.

Anyway, I just had to get that off my chest.

BTW, Sentinel's Run... is based on Terminator, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, X-men, Running Man, a documentary on Kuwait, this boy I once knew, these pictures I once saw, this knife I researched for my Honor books, a fascination with farm equipment, and a sleepless night where I thought, "That could be a novel... really." But mostly Terminator. Well... about 17-18%. Of what I remember from when I watched Terminator when I was a teenager... and hated the ending so I never watched it again. It's completely derivative. We all are.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Dream of Other Men

Of course in my dreams, I'm another woman, so it's probably not cheating... and sometimes I kill them or put them in books so that's probably less worrisome.

So, naturally, since I opened up Sentinel's Run and started working on it last night, my muse tried to sabotage my efforts by throwing a different idea at me in a dream.

Here's the plot:

Seventeen year old girl (we'll call her Amy) with photographic memory is a night stocker at a retail store... one of her fellow stockers is an undercover cop, and she knows that because she broke into his car and went through his glovebox, and he has his real name on his car insurance. (Amy does stuff like this... because she just likes to know everything, and he wasn't quite making sense.) Something about him just gets into her head and she memorizes everything about him... everything. One night, she corners him and kisses him. He's into her too, but they get caught, and he gets fired because she is underage, and he's not--and the night shift manager has been looking for an excuse to fire the one male who isn't on the take for whatever scam they're running. The guy... err... we'll call him Derek... blows up the investigation but then leaves town because he feels weird because he let a seventeen year old get into his head and screw with his brain. (It's actually because he has feelings for her against his will, but that's what he tells himself.)

Five years later, Amy works at her sister's motel, and they have a guest that her sister wants to set her up with, but Amy thinks he's hiding something. (Plus, Amy knows someone is after her because she saw something she shouldn't have... but that's a minor detail in her mind. She always knew her memory would get her killed.) Her sister keeps trying to set them up, but both are proving resistant to the idea in spite of the fact that the guy admits he finds Amy attractive. Amy goes into his room and goes through his papers, and he walks in and catches her... and this is the scene I woke up with stuck in my head:

Amy held up the papers with a smile. She knew it... she knew he wasn't who he said he was.

"What are you doing?" a voice asked from behind her.

Hearing his voice without seeing him snapped everything into place and Amy winced. Was she destined to always fall for the same guy only to have him never be who he said he was. This was reaching cliche status. She only hopes he wasn't sent to kill her... because that would suck.

"What are you doing?" he asked again.

She turned and held up the documents. "Who are you really?"

Derek, who claimed not to be Derek, blinked. "I'm a pharmaceutical salesman from Detroit who is looking to relocate to the area."

Amy grinned and set the papers down. "I love how you say it like you're reading it from a paper. Of course, they all do--all the people I've known over the years who've been lying about who they are. You know why that is, don't you? It goes into a part of their brain that strips out the extras."

She could see the thought as it entered his head... she'd always been that good at reading people, especially him. It's time to distract her before she finds out too much; the thought hit his head and face at the same time. It was in the twitch of his eyelid, and the way his eyes went to her mouth. If he flushed a moment later, she'd know he was thinking of all the things she could do with her mouth--this happened about half the time she met a guy. It was the problem with having such a big mouth--guys were constantly trying to think of ways to keep it shut.

"So, you've changed your mind about me? Only you'd like to skip dinner and head straight back to my place?" he asked, approaching her. His skin hadn't flushed... he was probably too busy trying to figure out how to recover from this.

"It won't work, you know? Distracting me won't work."

He frowned as he slid his arms around her. "I could always have you arrested for breaking into my room."

So, he wasn't here to kill her. That was good. She'd wondered for a moment when he'd gotten close.

"My sister owns this place. I have the key. Besides, I might have been coming to bring you extra towels."

He looked down at the papers spread across the bed, the papers that she'd clearly been rifling through. "I could use extra towels."

"Too bad. You've already used your quota," she said, sliding her fingers through his hair and dragging his mouth down to hers.

He kissed like he did before--like he was putting it all on the line and holding nothing back. She'd never met another guy who kissed like he did. It was as if she was dancing through his thoughts and he was letting her. No one ever kissed like that... especially not with her.

A moment later, she pulled back and looked into his eyes--half in wonder--half in horror. She was doing it again... she was falling for a guy who was going to disappear and leave behind nothing more than his fake name and a whole lot of memories about how he liked black licorice or what songs he'd be too embarrassed to put on a mix tape even if he hummed them under his breath.

"A girl never forgets her first kiss," she murmured.

His eyes dilated a minuscule amount more, and he blinked again... that moment of recognition of what she was saying. Then, he opened his mouth to lie, but she headed it off. "Don't bother lying. I know it's you. By the way, your car insurance gave you away again. I mean, not that you're Derek... but that you're not who you say you are. The insurance policy is clearly for a government-owned vehicle. I've seen enough over the years to recognize one. So you work undercover for the government these days?"

Derek scowled, though she could tell he was secretly impressed. "It's been five years. I've changed my face."

He had too. He'd had some plastic surgery done at some point. In some ways, it was an improvement. In some ways, she missed his old face.

"Yes, but you kiss the same." She slid out of his arms.

(Scene/wrap/Wendy goes back to work on Sentinel's Run and leaves muse hanging)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Clark Kenting Characters

Last night, I finished a revision of Mutants and came to a realization. Sometimes, I give my characters these amazing powers and then I either don't provide them the opportunities to use them or I brush over the scenes when they do.

I write Clark Kent's story rather than Superman's.

In some ways, this might appeal to my audience depending on who they are and how far I go with this. The average YA might find more to like and understand in a character with downplayed "exceptional" characteristics. I mean, that's the appeal of Smallville for the most part, in my opinion. It's first and foremost the story of Clark Kent. On the other hand, Clark Kent is such a fascinating person because he's Superman... isn't he? Or is it because he's both?

I think there is a balance there that sometimes I find and sometimes I don't.

For example, I've mentioned I'll be doing a "revision" of Secrets of Skin and Stone for the film agent at my agency. This is going to probably be something I address. My husband, when he read this book, had two primary comments.

First, he suggested that one of the flying scenes be shifted to be from Piper's POV rather than my gargoyle Gris's. Flying is nothing new to Gris... or Superman, so telling it from his POV will downplay the excitement of it. In the first Superman movie, when Superman takes Lois Lane flying the narration briefly slips into Lois's head while the song "Can You Read My Mind" plays in the background. You hear what Lois is thinking while you're seeing what she is experiencing.

It seems like a natural choice in narration to go with the most exciting voice in play in a scene.

Apparently, it wasn't, and I suspect it's because I'm a girl, I focused on Gris's emotions and his worries that Piper would think he was a freak. Piper is flying for the first time in her life! In her life! And I slipped into Gris's head instead. I chose emotion over excitement.

The second thing my husband suggested was the ending where I had the opportunity for Gris to use his powers as a "gargoyle" and I didn't; I went a different way and went for a more human approach to an endgame. I'm not sure if I want to change that, but it's a possibility in a major revision.

In the book I just finished revising, Mutants, Lucas has super-human powers. He's faster, stronger, can hear better, can see farther... but he doesn't use those powers as often you'd think he would. Why? Because his writer is telling the Clark Kent story. I've added a scene at the end to address that, but I suspect, the more I think on it, I need to punch that scene up and focus on Superman.

With both Gris and Lucas, I had the opportunity to go with Superman, and I focused on Clark Kent. As I said, I think this is honestly because I'm a girl. My first instinct as a writer is to still analyze the emotions.

Another reason I think I sometimes go with the Clark Kent persona is because I write "pantsing.' I think a plotter would know ahead of time where to place the focus in a scene. It's something I can work on in revision of course... or I might do some plotting in the future.

My writing style seems to evolve with practice, and this is just another one of those things I'm learning: the balance between telling the right story and Clark Kenting a character.

This week in writing I'll be taking revision notes from betas and doing a final revision on Curse Me A Story and sending it to Sarah. It'll be strange to have that off my "to do" list.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Those Extra Syllables

So, late last night, some folks on Twitter may have seen a slight... we'll call it a writer's crisis. I couldn't figure out how to bring out the voice in Mutants, and it was killing me. I'd fixed the major plotpoints that I'd previously had issues with and which had come up with a few agents when I'd been querying. I'd added a rather beautifully violent scene that I just want to hug. But the voice was flat.


Really flat.

Pancake flat.

I was discussing this on Twitter and toying with the idea of switching the viewpoint to third from first, but one of my Twitter friends suggested perhaps I needed to go deeper rather than push myself away through third person.

A little after midnight, I was going through the first chapter while listening to a youtube discussion on the southern accent when it hit me... syllables... I needed to steal syllables from Hallie and make a ton of her dialogue into contractions, something that is common in the South. (There is no "I would have" but it's "I would've.") Then, I needed to add syllables to Lucas's inner dialogue because he wasn't raised there, and he'd self-educated through textbooks. Not only will he say "I would have" but he'd add in adverbs like "logically" or "optimally."

So, this section of the manuscript:

I brushed by my mother. Her perfume wound around me like a snake. It wasn’t subtle. She wasn’t subtle. No boy wants to know that his mother uses her body to get what she wants, but there wasn’t room for doubt on that.


I brushed by my mother. Her perfume wound around me like a snake. It wasn’t understated. It was cloying and obvious. She smelled lethal and menacing to me. Perhaps that was why I was drawn to Hallie’s simple scent of strawberries. There were no musky sensual undertones which spoke to me of the reality: my mother lured men to their deaths with the perfume. No boy wants to know his mother uses her body to get what she wants, but there wasn’t room for doubt on that. That, of course, wasn’t the only reason I liked Hallie’s scent but, from a clinically objective viewpoint, I couldn’t refute it might be a part.

It's still rough, but it's changed quite a bit. I'm toying with it anyway, and I think I know where I'm going. It's all about the syllables. Lucas will get more and Hallie is losing hers. BAWAHAHAHA! This might end up adding to the length of the manuscript, some of which I just worked hard to delete, but I'll work that out on my next revision possibly or maybe Mutants will end up being 90K instead of 75K like I want.

Anyway, that's my Wednesday writing plan. Today, I'm going to be very busy, so I won't get as much writing time as I'd like. Le sigh. Maybe I'll manage it tonight. I'm feeling the drive to fix this, the rush of the step beyond creation. Sometimes, manipulation of something you've created is just as satisfying as the original success. This feels this way.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

So, the other weird thing about Mutants.... (see previous post) is that it's got epistolary sections in between chapters. For those not familiar with that word it's things like letters, diary entries, IM conversations instead of narrative prose. Mutant has everything from IM conversations to recipes to horoscopes to newspaper articles to excerpts from Hallie's school reports to emails in between each chapter. It's great fun that way. I think that's one of the things that Mutants currently has "going" for it in originality.

(BTW, one of my favorite books of all time that does this is Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot... and the whole book is written in that method, but other books do it and do it well. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is another one. In YA books, I have a book called Sorcery and Cecilia in my TBR pile that is laid out in epistolary fashion, and my BFF loved that book.)

So, anyway, I figured I'd throw one of these in-between sections from Mutants here so you can see what I'm working on.

Lucas’s Notes (five months previously):

April 5

Couldn’t sleep last night, I kept waking up. I felt slightly fevery—though testing my temperature didn’t seem to bear out that hypothesis. After the third time, I got up and drew blood. It’s useful being ambidextrous. It makes it much easier to draw blood. I can’t imagine what it’s like for those that aren’t. My blood levels are normal. Everything seems to be normal. My temperature is 99.8 which is normal for us. I might try to increase my E-coli levels. Perhaps it’s something to do with puberty. The male body does go through changes of all kinds and reaches its sexual prime in one’s late teens.

Earlier today, I read an article about the copulation of Australian redback spiders. Male spiders will go without food or drink while in search of a female to mate with. Eventually, they’ll die of starvation or desiccation if they don’t find one. Of course, most females eat their partner after mating anyway, though. I’m speaking of these specific arachnids, of course. Though, sadly, the same seems to be true of my mother.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Stories Behind the Voices

This might be one of those posts that is just my internal dialogue spilling out onto the screen, but on the off-chance other people find the writing/revision process interesting...

I'm working on this other manuscript which I hadn't intended to work on at all. (Yes, I'm not working on my dystopian.) I've called it many names since I wrote it two years ago. Re: Straint and Good Girls Don't Date Mutants are the most memorable. We'll title it Mutants for right now and call it good.

So, Mutants is an odd little YA I wrote which doesn't fit in the genres I want it to. Most appropriately, it's probably a YA Science Fiction... which is yikes-worthy because Science Fiction isn't something that all agents and probably editors are begging for. This is even a Science Fiction Romance. A Contemporary Science Fiction Romance. I know, go figure... it's a mutant in itself really. It is one of the main reasons I originally queried Sarah... because her agency represents Science Fiction so I knew that I might eventually find a home for Mutants.

Anyway, so Mutants is the tale of a boy named Lucas who is one of 200 souls on the planet who has evolved to need bacteria to survive. Well, he does more than survive; he and the others of his kind are fast, stronger, can hear and see better, and are all around better. Unfortunately, he falls in love with a regular, average, every-day girl named Hallie. Some of his group, the Strain, don't agree with this and the more violent decide to kill them off. So, that's the story... a love story ... an infectious love story.

Unfortunately, Mutants has/had a little stalking problem. It glamorized stalking... which I didn't know how to get around it, but I've figured it out recently. Yay, no more stalking.

Now, Mutants has a little voice problem. It falls flat. It's set in Florida on the panhandle in a city. Setting, of course, we'll lead into voice. I set it where I used to live so that the accent wouldn't be a problem for me but then I just sort of forgot to add it in. Doh! No wonder it falls flat, huh? Well, I learned a ton about voice from revising SECRETS, and it's time to put it to work.

First, of course, there is character to take into account:

Lucas is a genius who has lived all over, so he most likely won't have a southern accent and his vocabulary will be higher. He's nineteen but he's led an anti-social life and buried himself in books so he'll stumble in conversations with Hallie. I need to work on establishing his voice quirks in my brain.

Hallie, on the other hand, is a senior in high school and she's lived in that city her whole life. She'll have an access and probably some colloquialisms. She's smart, but not as interested in science or learning as Lucas. She's more social than he is with more experience in dealing with others. She also is fearless when it comes to him and has no filter on what she'll say to him.

A few things I establish upfront with voice:

What are their word tics? What words do they say frequently that fill in gaps and create voice? (well, uhh, fine, rather, probably, yeah, cool, awesome, then, really, suddenly, hmm, just, maybe, anyway, still) I try not to overdo it so their vocabulary gets sloppy with the words, but they'll have those words.

What slang/profanity do they use? Piper always said "Frak!" but Gris more commonly said "Holy hell!" What will Lucas and Hallie and everyone else say?

How much will their upbringing and environment impact their speech? Is it mother or mama? Folks or people? Guys or boys? I just finished a revision on Curse Me A Story which is set in medieval times... and that was a whole different ball of wax, but their voices had really settled in by the end of the revision. I already know Lucas will call his mother "mother" both because he isn't originally from the South, but also because their relationship is distant. (She's a psychopath.) Hallie was raised there and has a really loving relationship with her mother. So, it's "mama" for her.

Once again, I'll be switching from feminine to masculine POV in first person in Mutant so there are also gender differences to account for. My husband's speech pattern is nothing like mine. One of my non-writing friends first drew my attention to this. She'd beta read my books and highlight words and say, "Guys don't say this, Wendy." Sometimes it was entire sentences, but sometimes it was individual words. In her opinion, guys don't use the word "so" like women do. I started listening to the differences between the speech of men and women after that. I mean, obviously, there are no finite rules with speech, but I can decide which words MY male character will not be saying, but my female character will.

There is also a distinction between what a person will say out loud and what they'll think in their heads that I try to factor in when I'm writing in first person, but that's a final draft sort of fix.

I was talking with Sarah about how what I learned from SECRETS is helping me revise MUTANTS. I'm also beginning to realize that this deep revision I'm doing on MUTANTS may help me with the revision I'll need to do on SECRETS for the film agent. Writing has always been like that for me... I learn through burying myself in manuscripts and then finding my way out. Once again, I'm glad that it's taken me as long as it has. I couldn't have improved CURSE ME or MUTANTS without the lessons I learned from SECRETS on voice.

Anyway, that's what I'm working on right now. Well, I'm still trying to work on removing the stalkery aspects and then I'll focus on voice idiosyncrasies, but that's my plans for this week. By the end of revising to focus on voice, I'll hear their voices in my head and it will be so thoroughly lovely that I might write about it again. I'm weird like that.

Have a good week, everyone!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rare and Wonderful Unicorn Books

Once upon a time, Diana and I were talking and she said something that stuck with me. She'd been gushing love for the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy and she said, "You know how you're always looking for that perfect book? That book that doesn't disappoint you? That book you enjoy from beginning to end and your inner editor turns off? THIS is that book!" I honestly thought the first in the trilogy ended up being even closer, but she wasn't wrong. And it stuck with me because I realized other people are searching for THOSE books too.

When you become a writer, it sometimes spoils reading for you. It's hard to turn off the voice inside that notices little things... the voice that wishes the author had tilted just a bit and gone a different way. Then there is the shouting during the truly awful books that make you wish you could bleach your brain or poke out your eyes.

Then, there are the unicorns... the mythical creatures so rare that when you find them you want to point them out to everyone--those books... THE BOOKS. You know which ones I'm talking about. The ones that don't require you to say, "It's really good other than...." when you recommend them. The ones that you just want to run and buy more copies to stick under your pillow and hopefully osmosify into your brain. (I can make up words like that--I'm a writer.)

These rare creatures make your heart sing... they make you believe that it's not just the trends being published... they make you shiver and dream of someday writing something even half as good. They make you wish that books never ended and a new page would show up tomorrow in the story. Or maybe you feel so satisfied with the ending you reread it again and again. They are the unicorn books.

When you become a writer, these books become even more rare. You know there is a man behind the curtain, and it's sometimes hard to lose yourself in a book like you once did. It's hard to not see the hand of the writer when you're reading.

I'm almost afraid to pick up a book that someone else has recommended because I know it'll disappoint me. The books won't keep their promise clear to the end... or maybe they will... and I'll regret that too because it wasn't a promise worth keeping. I hate when low expectations are met almost more than when high expectations aren't.

Don't get me wrong, I read commercial fiction and romance books where the sole promise is that they'll entertain. They don't let me down, but they're not unicorn books for the most part. My expectation is that they'll make me happy for a few hours but I'll ultimately forget them and reread them in a year or so. Sometimes, they rise above that expectation. Mostly they don't, and that's okay because I've lost myself in an entertaining book for a few hours and I'm grateful.

The other beautiful thing about unicorn books when you find them as a writer is that you can talk about them. You can TALK about them. You don't have to watch what you say and worry that an author, their editor, their agent, or their fans are going to take issue with what you say. You can say exactly what you think.

So, what is this all leading up to?

I loved the book Coraline. (We read it for our book club read this last month.) I loved it to scary, creepy, weird little pieces. I'm sure it's not a unicorn for everyone, but it was for me. I just wanted to hug it and say, "YES! This is what writing should be about! This is a good book!" Some of the lines were so perfect. SO PERFECT!

I've read a few books recently that let me down--drastically--and I just thought, "How was this published?" It was good to read a book that lived up to its promise.

That's not the beginning or end of my unicorn list, of course, but it got me thinking about the topic of living up to the promise to your reader that you present on the first page or the expectations they have when they look at the cover.

Also, it would be cool one day to have someone think my book was a unicorn book... but anyway.

On the subject of writing, Sarah is still working on notes, so I'm off the hook for a bit. I opened up my Dystopian WIP and I'm thinking of... *gasp* plotting out the book, so I can pop in and out of it a bit more in the coming months. (I know. This sounds like crazy talk to me too.) I also figured out a way to address an issue in my book Re:Straint/the mutant thing. I hope I have anyway. So, it's revision and plotting for me this week... and hopefully I'll hear back from my betas on Curse Me A Story soon. Have a good day everyone!