Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year!

Wishing you a Happy New Year.

I believe in New Year's Resolutions.  I'm into the whole self-improvement thing.

I hope your Resolutions involve reading of some kind.  Read more?  Read different types of books?  More of some, less of others?  Reading for education?  Pleasure? Support your writerly friends (hint)?

My Grace got an ebook reader for Christmas.  This is good, because I have ebooks I've been reading on a computer. I can only stand so much reading on a computer before my eyes go strange (or my laptop runs out of batteries and I must plug in).

We writers read lots.  It's how we keep up with what everyone else is writing. Also, it refreshes our batteries, makes us happy and reminds us why we started writing in the first place.

I always have some sort of resolution that involves reading somehow.

What are your New Year's Resolutions?

Her Grace resolves not only to read more (yay!) but to make sure she gets more books out on sub.  The more on sub, the more will sell, the more there will be to read.  Oh yeah. And resolves to lose weight, clean the house more, and all the other usual fol-de-rol.

Monday, 30 December 2013

M'amusant: gentle hint of irony

Last week I read an article in Publisher's Weekly about a grown-up Scratch'n'Sniff book about the elements of wine.  (Frex, when someone describes a wine as having 'woody' tones, do you know what that means?  This book shows you, er smells you, er... you know what I mean.)

While the topic itself fascinates me, I found one line to be rather humorous. Thus they say:

"[the publisher] has not attempted a digital edition of the book."

I guess Smell-o-vision is out of fashion on the Internet.

Friday, 27 December 2013


Miss Smith does look lovely in her Attitude.
In Real LifeTM us humans have lots of hobbies to keep us occupied.

But until recently, I never gave much thought to the hobbies of characters in books.  I don't know why, because several of my characters have hobbies.

The only reason I noticed it was because I recently read an Historical Romance where a character had a hobby.

And it was poorly written.  It was like it was thrown in there at the last minute.  (Essentially, Our Hero, who had a hard life growing up and had to make his way in the world through *gasp* Trade, suddenly could play the violin Very Well.)  

BUT... this detail did not add anything to the plot, only happened in one scene for an improbable reason and boy, did it stick out like a sore thumb.  I simply could not believe this character played the violin.  It just did not suit his background, his upbringing, his lifestyle or anything.  If he'd played the penny whistle, that I could believe (after all, they were aboard a ship when the little violin recital took place).

But the violin?  I don't think so.  Sorry, sweetie.

However, it did get me thinking.  How often do we come across characters who have hobbies or interests?

In Jane Austin's Emma, (P.S.  Happy Birthday, Jane!), Emma paints.  It suits her character.

I also remember some other book I read (and can't recall, isn't that terrible), where one of the characters kept chickens.  Yeah, lots of people keep chickens, but this character, oh, how she loved her 'girls'.  She'd feed them every morning, and talk to them, and lovingly gather their eggs.  It was a hobby that well-suited her and added to her characterisation.   It was so well done, that was the only detail I remembered of the book.

That and I love chickens myself.  Wish I could keep a couple of girls for their eggs and their lawn-fertilising properties.

Can a character's hobby add or detract to a character?

Her Grace has a few hobbies of her own.  They keep her sane and occupied.  They're very good for her brain and her soul.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

If you wish to children to believe, tell them the truth.  In all likelihood, they've figured it out anyway.

Thus, I told this to my daughters:

St Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra.  He lived in the 4th Century. ("So, he lived when Jesus lived?"  "Almost," I replied.)

Anyhow, he loved to give people things, not because they wanted the things, but because they needed them.  ("So, not like televisions or PS3s or stuff like that?"  "Nope." *thinks*  "Dad needs a television."  "So he says.")

Nevertheless, he had a knack for knowing what people needed.  One day, he found a family with three daughters who were too poor to get married.  ("Does it cost much to get married?"  "If you're clever, no."  *thinks*  "Dad says Uncle Andy's wedding was too expensive."  "He's right."  *thinks some more* "Is it expensive to get divorced?"  "Very much so. I don't recommend it."  *thinks even more*.  "Uncle Andy should have stayed single. He would have saved a lot of money."  "So your Dad says.")

Well, these three maidens wanted to marry very much, but not without dowry. As these were very good young women, St Nicholas thought they deserved a better life.

So one night St Nicholas dropped some gold coins down the chimney where they fell into the shoes of the maidens.  ("Why didn't he just give it to them?"  "He wanted it to be a surprise."  "Why?"  "Sometimes it's not about the giver."  "But we know who leaves the presents now. That's not a secret."  "You're too clever, kid. Shaddup.")

And so it came to pass that when the maidens woke up the next morning, they discovered the gold in their shoes, but had no idea who'd left it for them.  Thus they were able to get married.  ("And live happily ever after?"  "That's the hope, anyway."  "Did St Nicholas give any money to the husbands?"  "Nope."  *thinks*.  "You're right.  They wouldn't have gotten married. They would have bought televisions instead."  "Maybe you should tell your Uncle Andy that.")

And so since then, many, many people will dress up as St Nicholas and give gifts to good little children who deserve them. ("Like us?"  *considers*  "Talk to your father.")

("So, what are we getting for Christmas?"   "How about you ask St Nicholas?"  "Moooom!")
Because I told them that, my children will always believe in Santa Claus, and the magic will never go away.  If I wish to bore them to sleep on Christmas Eve, I read them this.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Bah! Humbug!

Love dramatisations* of audio books? (I do!)  Love Christmas? (Mee too!)  Tolerate Dickens? (Even that.)

Have a listen to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, a full dramatized version of the novel.

Listen to it on the website, or download the mp3 for three-and-a-half hours of Christmassy fun, with sound-track as well.

Happy TASE Day, and Merry Christmas.  What's your favourite Christmas book/movie/story?

*Love my British spelling of that word?  My spelczecher doesn't.

Despite last week's grinchiness, Her Grace really does enjoy Christmas. She's even singing in a Christmas Cantata this week.  Wish y'all could come.  She also loves humbugs, licorice, cherry and peppermint.  She'll pass on the cinnamon ones, though.

Best kind of humbugs at Christmas

Friday, 20 December 2013

Character-based vs Plot-based

A simple comparison between a character-based book and a plot-based book:

Character-based:  Hi, I’m your best friend.  Or not.  Maybe I’m the guy who lives down the street.  And I got issues.  But hey, I’m interesting.  Life sucks, but we’ll get over it.  Or not.  Relate to who I am, if you can. Elements of me are echoing in you.
Plot-based:  Let’s go on an adventure!  Stuff’s gonna happen.  Oh no!  I didn’t expect that.  How are we going to solve that issue?  Whoa!  Plot-twist.  Hey, is it loud in here?  Is that a herring? It looks red. Ohmigosh! Will we survive? (Well, duh, yeah.  But how?)  How will we get through this?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Behind the Scenes: a Glossary of Writerly Terms

It makes sense to us.
Of course we writers have our own language and vocab.  Doesn’t everyone?  Sometimes these terms slip into my conversations without me noticing—until my fellow conversationalists give me funny looks.  So you’ll know of what I (or many other writers) am speaking, here’s a partial list:

WIP – Work In Progress.  Whatever it is we’re currently working on, or any of our projects pre-Final Draft.  This especially describes a first draft under edit.  (pronounced Wip, not double-yew-eye-pee.)

MS (MSS) – Manuscript(s).  Sometimes refers to various drafts, but usually used to describe a Final Draft ready to submit.

Sub – (noun) Submission.  A manuscript that has been submitted to an agent/editor for consideration.

On Sub – On Submission, or currently waiting to hear back what the agent/editor thinks of the manuscript. This time period can last from one day to one year.  The author’s emotional state during this time can be one of either extreme nervousness or total forgetfulness.  I’ve had stories on sub that I’ve completely forgotten about until editors got back to me a year or so later.  Whilst on sub, the best thing a writer can do is work on their next project.

R&R – Revise and Resubmit.  Agents use this term whenever they find a project they really love that’s Almost There.  They’ll ask the writer to revise the manuscript (preferably offering suggestions) and to resubmit the manuscript for another consideration.

CP – Critique Partner.  This is a fellow writer who reads your work in various stages and offers detailed feedback for the improvement of your work.  A good CP will give you honest, detailed feedback and pull no punches.  No, it doesn’t hurt as bad as you think, because a good CP does it with love and a mutual desire for your mss’ success.  This is a long-term relationship spanning books and years.

Critter – Critique giver.  Like a Critique Partner, but more casual or informal.  If you sub your MS to a workshop, you will get feedback from critters.  I spent a good ten years on the most excellent http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.org.  There’s also www.critters.org and a few others.  They’re not hard to find.  You can also find local workshops.

Critic – someone who reviews your published work but doesn’t like it, or pans it unprofessionally.

Reviewer – someone who reviews your published work and either is professional in pointing out its perceived flaws, or who loves it and gives it a good, quotable review.

Beta-reader  –   a reader (not necessarily a writer) who reads a beta-draft (ie, the penultimate draft before the Final Draft) and gives reader-based feedback. 

#@&%$%!! – Your WIP when you’re stuck, when you’ve been editing it too long, when you read someone else’s published book and it’s waaay better than yours, when you read a critic’s review, when your R&R’ed MS is declined, whenever anything goes wrong.  These days happen.

BIC – Butt in Chair.  Essentially, sitting down and getting some work done.  Cranking out draft, editing draft, prepping Final MS to go on sub.

When not completely forgetting what she's sent out, Her Grace uses Sonar to keep track of subs.


Monday, 16 December 2013

Playing Whist

In my NaNovel, my characters play a game of Whist. Gaming is important to the plot of this novel, so I couldn't just make a reference, "And so they sat down to a game of Whist."  I had to describe a game in detail.  (Hope I wasn't too tedious. It fascinated me.)

Games and gambling were rife in the Regency era.  Even an innocuous game of Whist could be played for "penny points".  (And there goes all your pin money for the month.)

I've played Bridge (aka Contract Bridge) for many years (well, me and Dave my Bridge Partner. We once came Fifth Place in a state tournament).  But Whist?  I had the vague idea of how it worked.  And that was it.

Cue the Google Fu:

I learned enough to be confident to write about the game.

Then the Dashing Duchesses post the Whipster's Guide to Whist.  How timely is that?

Similarities between Whist and Contract Bridge:

  • Trick-based play (ie one person leads a card, everyone follows suit. Highest card wins the trick).
  • Tricks played in teams (ie if you're sitting West, your partner is East. Any tricks either one of you takes counts towards your team total).
  • Trumps will beat whatever suit is led.

Whist and Contract Bridge have their differences:

always has a trump suitcan be played No Trump
trump is determined by last card drawnbidding determines the trump
whoever wins more than six tricks ("book"), wins the gamebidders state how many tricks over the "book" they can take. If they can't make contract, they lose.
for every trick taken over the "book", score one pointThe higher the contract, the higher the possible points. This can range from 20pts up to over 1500pts per hand!

Compared to Contract Bridge, Whist is a simple game.  But it's so much fun!  It's a great way to learn Trick-based games.  So if you've tried Bridge and it freaks you out, consider giving a few hands of Whist a try.

Her Grace loves a good game of cards.  She tried teaching a few people to play Bridge, but they found it a bit hard to wrap their heads around.  Maybe they could try Whist.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Unmotivation: like a leg chain.

I am having a hard time getting back into my usual writerly working routine after NaNo.

It’s simply the switching of the tracks.  For the past month I’ve spent my time in Felicity Abbot’s headspace. Now I’ve got to get back into Merrybelle Hales’, and I’m not having a good time of it.   This is a consequence of swapping projects half-way.  (NaNo lesson: do not jump off a perfectly good boat simply because it’s 1 Nov.)

Because of this, I’m having a hard time getting going again. I’ve lost a week of productivity because of it. 

The fabric I'm quilting with.
I'll show you the blocks later, when I am done.
I don’t completely regret this lost week.  I did burn out the last week of November due to NaNo and several other major events, and I needed recovery time.  So I started piecing a quilt (One Block Wonder Hexagonal Kaleidoscope from a beautiful Georgia O’Keefe lemon(mango?)-patterned fabric) to give my brain a rest.   Bold yellows, dark greens, sky blues.  It’s good for the soul.

But I am a professional author. I really need to get back to my books.  I no longer have the luxury of writing “whenever I feel like it”.  That sort of attitude kept me from being published for ten years.  (If you don’t have the stock, you can’t submit.  If you don’t submit, you can’t sell.)

I keep telling myself, “Today I’m going to write.”  Then other projects (things that need to get done) get in the way.  Yes, it’s stuff that needs to get done, but why am I giving it a higher priority than my writing?

I’ve bookmark’d great swathes of January to write. It’ll be glorious! 

But what about December?  I haven’t completely given over my schedule to the Silly Season, deliberately keeping things low-key this year… so I have room to write.

Yet why am I so unmotivated? 

Her Grace hereby swears on the life of her main characters that she will devote the time between 5pm and 6pm today solely toward Miss Merribelle Hales and her adventures.  After that hour, she shall report back her findings and what it means for the finishing of this novel.
Her Grace also owes a fellow writer a Beta-read report.  Sorry, fellow Vicious Circler. She’s been slack.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Someone's Gotta Do It

A co-worker recently resigned from her Day Job to become a full-time writer.  This news absolutely thrills
me!  Being able to see a fellow writer transition to the Dream Career makes me believe it is entirely possible.

We’d spoken about our desires to be full-time writers. We knew it was only a matter of time and diligence.  It’s nice to see hers pay off this soon.

My day will come.  Just need a bit more BIC.

Her Grace loves to see other authors succeed. It only proves that it can be done.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Likes and Dislikes

'Tis First Summertime (Birak, Season of the Young, as the Nyoongar call it.)  The sun rises early and sets late.  Whilst most of the English-speaking world is huddling down for a Long Winter's Nap, I'm taking my ease in the garden courtyard, surrounded by parsley and oregano.

I love summer.  I really, really do.  However, it rarely, if ever, rains, and I do miss warm summer rain.  Just don't get it here.
I love characters who know what they want and set out to get it.
I love characters who make a mark on the world and not just let the world make a mark on them.

I am most firmly decided: I love Fantasy as a genre.  Quick list:

  • Escapism
  • High Stakes
  • Otherworldliness
  • Different Sets of Rules
  • Smerps and McGuffins

I am also decided that I do not like Contemporary fiction.

Granted, much of what I have read recently is well-written. I cannot fault the mastery of the craft.

It's the subject matter that I cannot stomach.  Must Contemporary authors write about divorce, abuse, directionless lives, ordinary circumstances, tepid jobs, dysfunctional families, All The Time?  It is like everything and everyone is broken in Contemporary fiction and they don't get fixed.  Essentially, it all seem to be about them accepting their miserable lot in life.

The characters are weaker than the world that's beating them down. They are where they are because they have not been fighting against the world, but letting the world run roughshod over them.  As the plot progresses, it's not so much that the characters are doing something to improve their lot, but rather enduring all the crap thrown at them in hopes that something better--without much effort on their part--comes along.

Maybe I'm reading the wrong novels.   Where are the [Hello] Dolly Levis?  Where are the Auntie Mames?  The "Thoroughly Modern" Millies?  I want a contemporary novel where the characters might have been handed a few lemons, but by gum, not only are they going to make lemonade, but a really good lemon custard pie.  And lemon bars. And lemon chicken as well.

I get a lot of that in Fantasy.  Characters DO stuff. They're pro-active, possibly because if they're not, the Whole Universe will Collapse on Them.  These are High Stakes.  I like High Stakes, especially if the character fails at the High Stakes, others may suffer, possibly entire nations, if not worlds.

I want outside-the-box thinkers. I want characters whose actions and choices would make a fascinating Wikipedia entry.  Contemporary fiction just ain't doing that for me.

Running away to a small town to start a bakery because your jerk-fiance left you at the altar is not an interesting Wikipedia entry.  Running away to a small town to start a bakery that's really a cover for smuggling engagement diamonds in cupcakes. Not only did your jerk-fiance leave you at the altar, but it turns out this is a modus operandi of a whole lotta jerk-fiances, who want the rings returned. So jilted women turn to the new baker to get their rings to a jeweler who'll Ask No Questions to provide them with enough money to start a new life. (Hey, it could happen.)

Surely someone's written that novel, or its sister.  Kindly point it out to me in the comments, si t'il plait.

Meanwhile, I'm gonna go find a nice fantasy full of literal Let's Save the World.

When not bemoaning unmotivated characters, Her Grace enjoys art by Kathrin "Kitty" Polikeit [GPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.  She offers her thanks to Kitty for sharing her art with the world.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

TBR Pile this week

On my TBR pile is:
Yes, I am up to the wee hours.
Why do you ask?

Three Sisters (Blackberry Island #2) - Susan Mallery.  Contemporary Women's fiction 
Leviathan (book 1) - Scott Westerfeld.  YA Fantasy Steampunk
Slave of Sondelle (book 1 of The Eleven Kingdoms) - Bevan McGuiness.  Fantasy
The Outcast Prince - Shona Husk.  Fantasy Romance
Financial Distraction - Dr Steven J Enticott.  finance non-fiction
The Complete Illustrated History of the Inca Empire - Dr David M Jones. historical non-fiction
Is Your Grandmother a Goanna? - Pamela Allen. Children's picturebook fiction

Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think?  Have you read other work by these authors?

MFA dithering:  As I attempt to read widely in fiction (and non-fic) genres, I am consciously noting my reactions to the fiction.  Language use is most interesting.  If I find the writing becoming "invisible" and I'm getting immersed in the story, I see that as a good thing. Then I have to go back and see what the author did right.  (I wanna do more of what they did.)

Sometimes I'd much rather immerse myself in the story and forget about analysis, but these MFAs don't earn themselves.

I'm also affirming my taste in particular genres.  I've always known I prefer X, but now I'm analysing why.

When not reading fiction, Her Grace can be found reading non-fiction, as this nourishes the writerly reservoirs.  Rumour has it she's got a novella coming out soon.

Monday, 2 December 2013

What I learned from NaNoWriMo

Every year I learn something new about myself from NaNoWriMo.  This is what I've learned.
  1. I am no longer an amateur.  Okay, I kind of knew this before.  But this year, NaNoWriMo really nailed that point to the post.  My NaNo experience pointed out a few things in my writing habits and process.  Frex, for me it’s really not that hard to crank out 50K rough draft in a month.  And I did it with a Day Job, a Religious Calling and a Family.  I have a pace, a rhythm and a methodology when it comes to writing.  That’s good to know.
  2.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to participate in NaNoWriMo the same ever again.  I’ve moved beyond the main benefits of NaNo.  When I do participate again (because it is a fun tradition and they do fundraising for some really worthy projects), I’ll be approaching it from an entirely different perspective. NaNo has proven its points to me.
  3.  I am not a pantser.  No way, no how.  I confess when I did this year’s NaNo project, I did have a vague sort of outline, but nothing as detailed as what I usually work from.     You know what?  Pantsing was hard. Really hard.  I found myself stuck at times, wondering what happens next.  When that happened, I inevitably missed my word count target for the day. Instead of typing, my writing time was spent brainstorming. Writing and brainstorming at the same time is not the most efficient use of time for me.I work best with an outline. Yes, I knew this, but now I know why.  From now on I will never pants a novel again.  I simply don’t have the time.
  4. Because I write more than one novel a year, the 1 November came at a less-than-convenient time for me.  I put another project aside prematurely so I  could get into the true spirit of NaNo.  (The project had less than 50K words to go, so I didn’t want to finish this one off, then have to find something else to add 20K words to.)  I won’t be doing that again.
  5.  I work best when I can devote myself  wholly to one stage of a project.   I can get the most done in the most efficient manner.  I’ll work a schedule into my 12-month plan for 2014 so I can start Nov with a fully-fledged outline and smash NaNo to the envy of all my friends.  (aside: I got to enjoy a good envying of a friend of mine who cranked out a full 80K+ novel this year.  I loved turning green because of her. She’s a legend.)
  6.   How do I handle deadlines?  Fine. I like working to deadlines. It provides a reliable motivator for me.  How do I handle intrusive deadlines?  Not as well as I’d like.  It’s a good thing to know this now.  I’ll let my agent know, should I ever find myself in a position where I might get multiple deadlines that might interfere with each other and also with my 20-year Plan.  Nothing interferes with the 20-year Plan if I can help it.
  7. I missed the social activities connected with NaNo. Last year I went to a Night of Writing Dangerously.  I loved it.  The social connections spawned by NaNo are quite inspiring and great networking activities.  Also went to a few Write-Ins. 
This year I went to nothing.  Didn’t even participate on the forums (fora?).  I did sporadic word count checks with two of my Critique Partners, but that’s about it. 

Socially isolating myself was not a good idea.  Most of the year I work in quiet isolation and quite prefer it.  But NaNo’s all about makin’ the connection with fellow writers.  Next year I will increase my sociality and go to more Nights of Writing Dangerously.  I may even host one, or a Write-In.  Not once did I go to a Dome or a Library and say, ‘Hi, I’m your writer-in-residence for the day. Can I have a hot chocolate and a plate of wedges? I’ll be here a while.”
  1.   I need to use an ergonomic keyboard.  Last year I carried my ergo with me.  This year I was straight on the tiny little notebook’s inbuilt. My wrists considered this a Very Bad Idea.  (My wireless ergo was having communication issues with its receiver.  Might be a batteries issue, or it might be something wrong with the electronics. Must investigate further.)
  2.   I need to say No to things more often.  I found myself pressed for time during November, because I had accepted responsibility for a few things.  After having just spent a few months de-cluttering my life only to accept more stuff into it, I really need to say No.
  3.  When you train the Fam&Friends to expect NaNo, they will respect your writing more. Just because the financial payoff hasn't happened yet (and won't happen for another couple of years) doesn't mean that this job is any less important than the Day Job with its fortnightly paycheck and 9-to-5-edness.  Get them into the habit now, when you don't have a Deadline or risk offending a Contract or Editor or Agent.
And that's what I learned.  Just because I can now crank out 50K of rough draft per month without breaking a sweat doesn't mean that I can't continue to change and grow as a writer.  I'm surprised at how much I learned from this November.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

What You Can Learn from NaNoWriMo

It's 30 November.  That marks the end of the month of madness known as NaNoWriMo.  Yay!  I won.

I've spoken with a few other writers regarding their views on NaNoWriMo.  Some aren't terribly in favour of the idea, the methodology or some other cosmic reason.  That's okay. I understand what NaNoWriMo's about.

I think it's a good thing.  And this is why:


See this pretty illustration I just made?

These are the three phases of writing.

DREAMER:  First we dream of a story, or a character, or a plot, or something.  This is what stirs our soul.  This excites us and makes us want to be a writer.  But until we write it down, we're only daydreaming. Alas.

WRITER:  To qualify as a writer, you need to write your story down.  This is the hardest part, this transition from Dreamer to Writer.  Lots of people feel they have a novel in them (and they're pretty much correct).  But until they write it down, they're not a writer.

NaNoWriMo transitions the Dreamer to the Writer.  Never underestimate how powerful that transition is.

Writing is hard.  Ideas are nebulous, vague things. Writing demands specifics.  A lot of people get stuck on this.  Some might start, and get about 2000 words in.  Some will persist, but hit the wall at 20 or 30K.  NaNoWriMo forces you to push on, to get the words down.  Fifty Thousand of them.

Some people can do it, some can't.  Can you write 50K in a month?  Did you find it easy, or difficult?  If difficult, what were some of the things that stopped you? (Time, lack of routine, lack of outline/plot structure, slow typist, etc.)  You will learn a lot about yourself as a writer--not necessarily whether or not you can be one, but whether or not you're ready to be a writer. If you can't crank out 50K of draft in a month, figure out why not.  Professional authors crank out that much draft all the time. And they have the additional pressure of being under deadline (Upon Pain of Death and other nasty contractual clauses).

Can it be done?  Absolutely.  Are you up to the challenge?  You won't know that until you try.

Get the words down. That's the Most Important Part.  Once you've written the words down, congratulations. You're a Writer.  They don't have to be good words.  Just get 'em down. You can fix 'em later.

Some people get bogged down because they want the words to be the Right Words.  They think that unless the words are the Right Words, they aren't worth writing.  So they write nothing, because they don't know what the Right Words are.

Bunkum.  Who cares if they are the right words or not?  Just get them down.  You can fix them later.

So.  Anyone who has written down words (Right Words or the roughest of rough drafts, or vomit on a page) can call themselves a Writer. I'll call you a writer. You've done the hardest part, which is getting started.

You can stop here, if you wish.   Most don't.  Some have the dream of seeing their story in print. (I don't blame you. It is a most potent dream.)

If that's you, then you move on to the Author stage.

AUTHOR:  someone who takes the words they've written and edits them, polishes them, subjects them to cruelty critique, rewrites, redo-overs, subs to editors, subs to agents, is rejected by editors, is ignored by agents, signs with Dream Agent, spends a few years On Sub, gets a Nice Deal, gets a Very Nice multi-book deal, sells foreign rights, audio rights, movie rights, earns out their advance, fails to earn out their advance... writes another book.  Writes another book.  Writes an 80K book in a month.  Revises & Resubmits. Rewrites a book. Cries over bad reviews, smiles at good reviews, goes on book tour, blog tour, convention tour...   You get the idea.

You can't do this unless you've written something down. NaNoWriMo makes you do that.

Writers write.  NaNoWriMo makes you write and not quit until you hit a goal with a deadline.  This skill will be invaluable if you choose to pursue a professional writing career.

For that reason alone, NaNoWriMo is worth it.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again next year?  Probably.  You gonna join me?

Monday, 18 November 2013

Details? What Details?

Jules Pascan can't remember either.
The other day a reader asked me a question about a short story I'd once published.  Conversation went like this:

Reader: "You remember your story "Title"?

Me: (Do I?)  "Yeah."  (Oh. Did I get that one published?)

Reader:  "Well, where M and N happen, what was O thinking?"

Me:  (complete and total blank)  "Uhh..."  (Think.Think.Think.)

Reader: (prompting)  "You know, when M and N happen because of P went to Q then D came out and..."

Me:  (DING! Lightbulb)  "Oh yeah. O was wondering why R hadn't gone to M in the first place..."  (Whew!)

Yeah. I'd been caught out.  It's not unusual. In fact, it's commonplace, not just for me, but for many authors. The thing is, we simply can't remember everything about every story we've written.

Here's why:

1. We write lots. You would not believe how much writing we do.  Many professional writers, by the time they get to the pro level, have written at least half a million words, possibly more. I know I've written nearly a million.  Yes, that's a lot.

2.  We don't dwell in the past. We write our stories. We edit them. We live very intimately with them.  We sell them.  And then we let them go.  They're big kids by that time, ready to go out in the world.  Once we release them to the wild, we forget about them because...

3.  We've given our brain over to our Current Work-in-Progress (WIP).  Our present is your future. The stories we're working on today are the ones you will read in the future.  Likewise, the stories you are reading today are from our past, those ones we've already let go.  Every details about those stories has already been put into cold storage so we can make room for the new projects.

4.  We live on a different ethereal plane than other people (except maybe Composers. We often hot-bunk).  You'd think we'd remember something as important as getting something published (!). At the time, we're quite excited.  But you're only as good as your latest publication. If that last pub was 1997, well... We need to get cracking.

5.  That's what our fans are for.  We love you guys!  We love how you lose yourselves in our stories and only come up out of them for air. We love how your lives are enriched or changed because of what we wrote, even if only for ten minutes. We love how you take it all in and revel in our rich world with lush characters.  If you want to know every single detail about a story, go right ahead. We write these stories to make a difference in your lives.  Fan response is wonderful.

I think about the Harry Potter universe, where fans have created encyclopedias, databases and more.  JK Rowling has mentioned from time to time how she's found them very useful when writing her last HP books. She might not be able to remember, but boy, those fans do!  If I ever find myself writing a multiple-book series, you betcha I'm gonna tap into the wisdom of the fans.

So yeah. Don't worry if an author appears not to be familiar with their own work. It's not that we don't care. It's simply that we can't remember.

Her Grace has forgotten just how many things she's sold, much less written. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Word Count

22050 words and counting.

Here you go.  I did promise a sporadic word count.  Currently, I'm just under par.  I was hoping to breach 30K by now, but that didn't happen.

On the Life front, I had a few End-of-Year things (concerts, etc) going on that took up more time than I planned.

On the Writing front, I sold a novella and cleared up my Sonar list, sending a handful of short stories out on sub.

Will I win NaNo this year?  Entirely possible.

When do you get to see this novel?  Not for some time.  NaNoWriMo's all about the first draft.  Some haters may hate NaNo for exactly this reason, but I see it as valuable.  Putting down this first draft is the passing through the door from Idea to Novel.  Even if it's an SFD (which is the norm), it's still got value.

Then I take that SFD and polish it up to the fiction you all know and love.

In a few years I'll spend a day the local library as the Author in Residence as part of their NaNoWriMo celebrations.  Then y'all can come and watch me crank out a draft and ask questions.  More details later as details are finalised.

When Her Grace isn't writing, she's dreaming about writing. Or music. A lot of that goes on as well. This song has been going through her head for the past few days:
The Soft Furry Purry Thing

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Why I Love to Read

Lilla Cabot Perry understood.
I love to read. Always have. Ever since I got my first library card at the age of 3, books have been an important part of my life.

This is why I love to read:

Escape.  I'll read pretty much anything, but escapist fiction is the top love of my life. Reality can be harsh and cruel, especially to the Shortest Girl in Class.  But when you lose yourself in a book, that reality goes far, far away.  A good book is a holiday away from life.  As a child, I fled to Narnia, to Terabithia, to Middle Earth, to Hawaii, to Pern, to Riva, to anywhere but Here.

Alas, books were always too short. Eventually I had to return.

Healing.  When the Black Dogs get you down, being able to leave the pain behind and put yourself in a book allows your heart to heal.  A healed heart makes it easier to deal with the crap in Real Life.

Sense of Belonging.  I didn't really fit in with the surrounds in which I grew up. My schools were far too homogenous for my comfort.  But in a book, I found people who had the same drive as me, who shared similar goals: "I am better than I appear and can accomplish mighty things."

Education.  I learned a lot about humanity from fiction. I learned successful human interaction, I learned how to deal with weaknesses, plot twists, bad guys, I learned that thinking outside of the box brings greater success than sticking with the ordinary.  I learned that a lot of what happens in Real Life isn't as dire or important as it wants to be, compared to fighting dark, brooding gods, battling dragons, rebelling against Evil Alien Overlords or the perils of time travel.

Books Understood.   When nobody else got you, books did. How could some stranger (as authors were in those days) possibly understand what you were going through or what you needed most? But they did.  Very few people understood me when I was young. But when I opened a book, it was like coming home.

Adventure.  Until I could grow up and have adventures of my own, books were the next best thing.  Even now, when I spend much of my adult life in one adventure after another, there are times when I simply wish to sit quietly and let the adventure come to me.  Unlike real life, books can take me to another world.

Why do you love to read?
Her Grace is an avid reader who, by the age of fourteen, had read every single book in the house. She is a frequenter of libraries and the occasional bookstore.  She encourages you to read her stuff.  But if you don't, she encourages you to read something else, as there's lots of lovely stories out there.

Monday, 11 November 2013

What NaNoWriMo teaches me

On Books & Such, Rachel Kent gives advice for plotting a publishable book.

She asks, "What advice do you have for others who are trying NaNoWriMo for the first time?"

Pretty much, "Just Do It.  You will not regret it, even if you don't win."

I've done NaNo twelve times since 1999.  Only once did I not win.  This is my thirteenth go.

Things I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo:

  1. The biggest obstacle to writing a novel is getting the words down. The most brilliant ideas and plot are useless if nothing is written down.
  2. I can write lots. And fast.
  3. The more I write, the better my mastery of the craft. I compare it to practicing scales on the piano. Sheer practice will improve me.
  4. One does not have to start with perfection. Let go of that idea and the words flow. Words can be tweaked later.
  5. The more novels I write, the better I get at writing them.
  6. NaNo is good practice for that time when I will be a multi-book contracted author with a deadline.
  7. Clean draft can happen, but only after lots and lots of practice and intimate mastery of the craft.
  8. Pushing myself will reveal what I am capable of as a writer.
  9. For thirty days, I am not alone as a writer.
  10. If I can do this, perhaps I can do anything.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Postbox in New Jersey

When I was young, I devoured books like candy corn on Halloween. No book was safe. I had my own library card from age three (it was yellow). By the age of twelve, I'd read every single book in the house.

As I grew older, I developed a sense of taste. Sure, I read every chance I got, but I noticed that sometimes authors took stories in directions other than where I wanted them to go.

"No, no," I said. "That isn't right." (Who kills Humperdinck?)

But these authors weren't listening to me. Sigh.

I got started writing my own stories by writing the tales other authors didn't.

As a teen, I read the Belgariad by David Eddings.  Good stuff for me at that time and that place.

Later I wondered, why is it the farmboys are always secretly hidden princes who must save the world? What if the farmboy was really a farmboy. And what if he didn't want to go off on adventures?

Thus a story was born.

Later, I read Dave Duncan's "A Man of His Word" series.  Also enjoyed it. Satisfying world-building, understandable characters, quests for intangible stuff.

Then I got to the end.  I wholly expected the ending to go one way. Duncan took it the other way. When I read that, my little Mormon heart went, "WHAT?!?  You've got to be kidding me!"

It was like reading a hot and steamy romance (extra spicy) and getting to the sex scene. Our Hero and Our Heroine are about to Get It On. They've torn off their clothes, exchanged Meaningful Glances, then leap into bed...

...to spend the rest of the night doing nothing more than holding hands. Maybe not even that. Maybe only linking pinkies.

AND THEY PLAN ON DOING THAT FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.  For them, a condom is another name for a townhouse.

By gum, I vowed, I would not do that to my readers.  If I give my characters a vision of the future, we're gonna go all the way. Eucatastrophe!  Or Death! All or Nothing!
Man, I LOVE this stuff!


And another book was born.

Many of my stories take that road someone else could have taken, but didn't.

Sometimes I understand why an author chose the path they took. Other times, I am left to my bafflement.

I'm not unique in this; I've had readers tell me that they expected my story to go one way and I took it another.

If we all liked the same pathway, all our stories would be rather monochrome and predictable.  And where's the fun in that?
Her Grace believes that disappointment in a novel isn't an all-bad thing, if it inspires her to write something better.  Currently, she is doing just that.

Monday, 4 November 2013

A Real Job, Really.

So here it is, November, and I'm deeply into NaNoWriMo.  (I'll post sporadic updates as I go along.)

I've prepared for this by drafting an outline, dreaming about scenarios and developing characters.  BIC, and away I go!

I've also prepared the people around me: family, friends, Relief Society...  I've told them what NaNoWriMo is, and what it means.  They understand, the way a dog understands when you explain mathematics to them--accepting, if not completely sure what it means.

But come December, I don't plan on slowing down.  I intent to continue my writing pace. (Here's a secret: it's the same pace I've been using for several months prior to November.  Nothing's changed, except I get public accolades for work done during November.)

For the past few months, while I've been training myself as a professional writer with a Day Job, said Day Job has had me working full/school time.  Yep. All my weekdays have been spent working the Day Job (and getting paid for it, but that's irrelevant. it's the TIME that matters).   People have asked me, "Can you do this at such-and-such a time?"

"No, I'm working."

"Are you available for that other thing?"

"Nope, sorry.  Working."

But come the end of November, I go back to my part-time hours at the Day Job.  What I'm not working at the Day Job becomes Writing Time. And in my career plans, that qualifies as Working.  Within the next five years, I plan on acquiring an income because of that Writing Time.  In a lot of people's books, that qualifies as Working.

So what if my current writing income is minimal (but present)?  One's job is not necessarily measured by one's hourly wage.

I need to train up the people around me to know that when I am writing, I am working.  This isn't some hobby, or some cute little creative outlet because Mommy Doesn't Want to Forget Herself.  It's not something I'll cheerfully put aside the moment someone or something wants my attention.  You wouldn't bother an accountant when they're auditing.  You wouldn't bother a librarian when she's shelving.  You wouldn't bother the Helpdesk guy when he's troubleshooting (well, actually, you do, and it drives me nuts!) You don't bother the author when she's tapping way at a keyboard.

This is an actual job.  I have a schedule. I have project planning days. I have deadlines. I have external people expecting my work. I have to produce a certain amount of quality product at a certain rate.

So what if I'm doing all that work from home?  Doesn't make it any less a job than if I went to an office.

But if it bothers you so much, I'll head out to an office.  That's what Dome is for.  That's what the University Library is for.  Ain't nobbut gonna bother me there.
Her Grace has a plan.  You will respect the plan. All glory to the hypnotoad.

Friday, 1 November 2013

NaNoWriMo: "Currently Unsupervised"

My book cover
to inspire me.
My NaNoWriMo project is a Regency Romance with Magic entitled "CURRENTLY UNSUPERVISED".  I've got most of the plot arc in place. There's one plot element I need to flesh out, then I'll start outlining scenes.  I don't need them all outlined before I start, but the more I get done, the quicker I'll go.

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, come be my buddy on the nanowrimo.org web site.  I'm user hkneale.

NaNoWriMo supports worldwide literacy and education programs.  That's a cause very near and dear to my heart.

Not NaNovelling?  You can still support this worthy cause through donations or awesome merchandise, like the USB Bracelet, which sold out last year and I didn't get one! Wah!

Remember to back up your novel regularly!

I'll post semi-regular updates of my novel's progress throughout the month.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Go away and let me write!

You always hear the stories of writers who sit down to write and don’t, because they let themselves be distracted.

I’m not one of those.

Instead, when I sit down to write, by gum, I write! 


(There’s always a however…)

I still get distracted. Unwillingly so.  No, I don’t want to be distracted. No, I don’t want to stop writing. Go away.

My distractions usually begin with, “Moooom…”  or “Honey..?”  or “Meow.”  And occasionally fire alarms.  Sometimes phone calls.  Other times, with “Zzzz….”  (usually when I can’t help it).

If the distraction is ignorable, I’ll ignore it.  But if I can’t, I grumble and acquiesce to whatever the distraction wants.  (Really?  Laundry? Now?)

Last November I took the whole month off the Day Job so I could be a professional author.  I sent the offspring to school, the co-parent to work and me and my laptop sat down and we wrote.  Sometimes for as long as six hours.  Oh, it was glorious!  I got so much wordage done.

But the Earth still turns and kids come home from school and the circadian rhythms ebb.  Sooner or later, I’ve got to stop what I’m doing, save my WIP and go make dinner.

You’d think by now the loinfruit would have figured out how to fend for themselves.

Alas, this year, no November off. I've gotta squeeze NaNoWriMo in between everything else, just like everyone else. 

So, y'all?  Go away and let me write!
Her Grace dreams of the day she can write full-time without being interrupted.  She's done it before and thoroughly relished it.

Monday, 28 October 2013

How to Stalk an Agent

You may start stalking agents at any time in your career, even before you've started a novel. Research is good.  DO NOT QUERY an agent until you have a complete, polished manuscript!  Here's a step-by-step guide to help you properly stalk an agent or fifty.

  1. Do not get weird and creepy. Be professional at all times.
  2. Make various contacts in the Industry. This is good for your career overall, and not just purely for the stalking of agents.
  3. Look up agents. Writer's Marketplace, Agent Query, Agent Tracker, word-of-mouth, Googling (unless you're a Bing girl, then Bing away).
  4. Make a list of agent names. Make a long list. The longer the better.  This shall hereafter be known as "The List".
  5. Organise The List. This is a preliminary organisation, as these agents will be moving up and down The List at a later date.  At the top should be those agents who are open to subs and who rep your genres.
  6. Time to stalk, author-style! Pick a couple of names and look up everything you can find about that agent. Pretty much all of them have web sites of varying sizes and qualities. Many of them have blogs, many of them Tweet. Stalk every single agent on your list who reps your genres. Get a sense of their personality, their professionalism, read their tips and suggestions.
  7. Stalk Janet Reid aka Miss Snark aka The Query Shark, even if she doesn't rep your genres, simply because she is full of wisdom. Now go glean.
  8. Find out what the agents like (SF, high-concept, YA, etc), what they're reading, what they want. Agents often advertise what they're currently looking for, often in interviews on various people's blogs. If you happen to come across an agent who is actively looking for something that sounds like your manuscript, move 'em up the list.
  9. Network. Ask appropriate questions about the craft/submitting to those agents who answer such questions. Several of them will. Browse through their blogs first to make sure they haven't already answered your question.  This is a good way of narrowing down particulars. (Frex, "As you rep Paranormal, do you find it a hard sell in today's market?" or "Is it better to query agents in batches of twenty or fifty?" "Should I include X in a query letter?")
  10. As you learn more about these agents, adjust their position on your list. Those who seem to be a better match for your CAREER (and not just this one project), move them towards the top.  Make copious notes explaining why they are where they are.
  11. Write practice queries with these agents in mind. You can get your queries critiqued in all sorts of places.  I recommend this, especially if you have no experience writing queries. At the very least, read those blogs that crit queries.  Queries are your agent pick-up lines.  You want the suave ones, not the cheesy ones.
  12. Come up with a list of Phone questions. These are the questions to ask an agent, should they call/email you to offer representation. This list can be tailored to each agent, if you wish. 
  13. If you've done your stalking correctly, you should find you will have trouble sorting the top ten agents into an order, because they are all just so good.  Just lump 'em all into "Top Ten".  When you are ready to query (with a complete and polished ms), send it out to all ten.

And that's how you stalk an agent.

Everyone's methods vary. Feel free to add or amend in the comments.
Her Grace has been developing agent stalking methods, as modern technology makes it real easy. Just remember, do not get weird or creepy.

Friday, 25 October 2013


Debbie Ridpath Ohi knows all about it.
I won't be blogging as much during November due to NaNoWriMo.  I'll be spending lots of time loving and hating a novel.

If you're not NaNo-ing, what are you doing for November?  Comment and let me know.

There is one day I will be eating turkey.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Falling in Love: Bad Idea

Requited?  I wish.
When I was gloriously young, I fell in love with a boy, as many a fluttery young things does.  He was sweet, he was kind, he was gorgeous, we shared similar interests, he would talk to me.  I set my heart on him; someday we’d get married.

Alas, he did not feel the same way about me.   I simply didn’t make his heart sing, the way he made mine sing.   Also broke my heart when he got a high-school sweetheart (not me).

Still, we were good friends, because all those qualities of his for which I fell in love, also meant he’d be an excellent friend.  Thirty years on, we’re still friends.  Would he have made a wonderful husband and father?  Absolutely.  I see evidence of that all the time in how he treats the wife he met at university and their beautiful children.

I am comforted that I had chosen well.  He turned out to be a good husband for someone.  But would I have been the wife for him?  That is also an important question.  He had his chance.  He said no.  Le sigh.

So here I am again, vastly, deeply in love.

With an agent. 

I fell in love when researching agents in general.  She repped my genres, she had a strong worth ethic, she had a genuine interest in the improvement of all writers, her current clients spoke well of her, I liked how she did business, and I loved her long-term outlook. Got to meet her a couple of times at conventions and I liked her vibe.

Could she be the agent for me?  Quite likely.  But am I the client for her?  That’s the important question.

Pitched to her once.  She liked the sound of my novel, so she requested pages.  In the end, she said no to my project.   Later, I revisited the project and saw several reasons why she said no.  Oh, it was sooo not ready!  What was I thinking?  

That no of hers was a big favour for me. I have significantly revised that project and fixed everything I discovered wrong.  I have become a better writer because of it.  I wasn’t publishable then.  Maybe I am now.  (A few short story editors think so.)

When she turned down my previous project, she asked to see my next one.  I must have done something right the first time.  So I’m polishing my WIP and doing my best to make sure it’s sub-ready.  Then it’s off to see if she’ll love my work as much as I love hers.

While I daydream of a yes, I haven’t forgotten that the most likely answer is no.  She is queried widely and has to turn down lots of projects that go on to find other agents, publishers, success.   I might be imminently publishable, but I might not be the client for her.

So what’s a girl to do?  Prepare herself for a No.

I have committed a grievous sin by falling in love with a dream agent. Serious no-no in the industry.  Such dreams always end in tears.  

So I’m of playing the field and stalking other agents.  I see who my peeps sign with.  I peruse various blogs and occasionally lurk on Twitter.  I do my research. I ask other writers what they think of their agents.  (I don’t ask for a recommendation or anything like that. That’s just obnoxious.  However, I am open to someone volunteering that sort of thing.  At least, read my stuff first.)

Will I sub to Agent “I See Potential In You”?  Sure.  She wouldn’t have asked to see my next project if she didn’t think I had something. 

Shall I cry if she says no?  Yep. Big fat tears.

Then I shall wipe my eyes, put on my big girl panties and send queries out to Dream Agents #2, #3, #4, #5…

Even if she says no, this agent will always hold a special place in my heart professional network.  Not only was her original no a clandestine favour, her asking to see my next project may also have served me well. After her no, I could have turned around and sent my ms out to a whole bunch o’ agents before it was ready.  Her request to see my next project motivated me to work on that next project and not dwell on the current one.  I moved on.  I honed my craft. I dug in and worked hard.

So yeah. I’ll query her and I’ll dream of a yes.  Then again, with every agent I plan on querying, I will dream of a yes.

Time to go fall in love, oh, a hundred times. QueryTracker and AgentQuery are my PlentyofFish and OKCupid.
Her Grace falls in love far too easily.  Such a quality is good in a Romance author. Her heart will always belong to That Boy, That Agent and Richard Armitage.
Gorgeous inside and out.