A Fresh Set of Eyes

I never appreciated the value of a fresh set of eyes until now.
I’m making some needed repairs on Prodigies right now after not looking at it for a while, and — wow. I am finding ways to make good enough into great (I hope). 

It seems overwhelming at this point, but I know this latest edit is only making my work better. This is one of the reasons I am glad I haven’t decided to self-publish — because I’m impatient and I think my stuff is good coming out of the first draft (it’s not; I just get excited about things) and I would publish before things were “right”.

I love the process of learning my craft. I get so frustrated sometimes when I don’t get an agent or publisher, but then I learn something new (like Save the Cat plotting) and improve my work.

I hope it’s worth it. That’s always the fear, that I’m spending too much time polishing something that may not get published. On the other hand, it’s gratifying seeing something improve even more.

The Incomplete Dev Edit

Right now I’m adding for chapters to the beginning of Prodigies, in order to reveal the character better and capture more of the spirit of Save the Cat (in other words, placing the character in her before life, setting a theme, introducing a debate).

What frustrates me is that this book went through a dev editor, and I in good faith thought that I had done what I needed to in the book, only to be tipped off by a thoughtful agent who rejected me: “I loved the beautiful description you started with, but I lost interest in the characters.” I had to figure out for myself, given what I recently learned about plotting from Save the Cat, what I needed to do. This is something I couldn’t have figured out myself, given my familiarity with the characters, and something I needed the dev editor to pick out for me.

I’m ashamed that I sent this out to query with this kind of flaw in it. I have found similar flaws in other books of mine — I start right into the action, and apparently this is bad. 

I wish someone had told me.

That feeling that something’s going to happen

The feeling like something is about to happen.

It feels like an itch between the shoulderblades, so deep that no amount of itching could get rid of it. Like a target is painted there and I can feel where the arrow is going to land, but it hasn’t landed yet. 

Most of the time I feel like this, nothing happens. 

If anything prompts this feeling, it’s the belief something should be happening and frustration that it’s not. I’ve just got off for break, I don’t go back in until the second or so week of January, and I don’t know what to do with myself.

I could work (I have a poster to do) but my brain is still tired from finishing up the semester and it’s Saturday.

I could rest, but that’s the sort of thing that brings up this feeling something should be happening.

I could write — I probably should write. That would likely get me out of the house, because I write better at the cafe. A short story awaits. 

This Too

Every now and then I get to a point where I’m convinced I’ve reached the end of my writing career, that I’m ready to put the whole thing down. 

This is one of those times.

I just don’t feel as much like a writer when I’m writing short stories. I’m not as focused (obsessed?), I have to come up with many, many more ideas rapidly (which I don’t know if I’m good at), and I don’t have the attachment to my characters.

Years ago, you wouldn’t have caught me writing a novel, and I never imagined I’d prefer novels to short stories.

Yet now is the time for short stories and sending them off to magazines and waiting. I’ve gotten a lot of rejections, but I keep trying.

I feel like quitting sometimes. I’ve felt like quitting many times before.

This too shall pass.

Bits and Pieces

Having a relaxing weekend in Kansas City celebrating my birthday, just as I needed. Now in a coffeehouse on the south Plaza, typing this and drinking coffee and trying to come up with good ideas for writing. 

The computer issue was a ID-10-T error (look at what that spells carefully); it was my dongle for the mouse rather than the USB port itself. But what the heck, it got me down here for a birthday celebration.

I’m feeling really frustrated with ideas of what to write, however. I just finished a short story called “God’s Broken Promise” which was based on an experience I had. Richard keeps suggesting characters — a guitar-shredding Buddhist monk, a woman with a pack of cats — but I can’t find the stories there. I guess I don’t start with characters like I thought I did. I start with plot, run with theme, and then the characters make themselves known. 

So what do I want to write about? I want to write short stories with twist endings — shocking or satisfying or dramatic or silly. (I haven’t written enough silly stuff lately). I want to write novels again (although I’m about to embark in another dev edit). 

I need ideas that grab me.

Writing Small

Stories have several aspects to them that make things interesting:

  1. The plot — what’s actually happening; the action. In a novel, there may be more than one plot (designated as A plot, B plot, etc.)
  2. The themes — these are the wider messages of the piece. They have big implications: man vs. nature, greed doesn’t pay, etc.
  3. The characters — these are the people in the story. Generally you will have one or two main characters and maybe up to 8 point of view characters in a third-person ensemble piece.
  4. The setting — people want to know where something happens and what it looks like.
When I write novels, I seem to start with character and plot first. Like “who is this person and what have they gotten themselves into?” Inspiration comes from that kernel of the story and spreads out from there as I’m writing.

Writing short stories, on the other hand, feels strange — all the parts of the story are there, but they’re a lot smaller, with one sentence often carrying the seed to all the parts: For example, “A woman hallucinates about the end of the world — or does she see visions?” With that idea/character/plot, I proceed with the story. 

Short stories are harder for me because of motivation. I can’t dwell in a short story for months at a time like I can novels, so it doesn’t tempt me as much. I’m with the characters and the plot only for a short time, and I have to make the best of my time. 

Need New Ideas for Stories

I’m writing short stories, as advised by some people at the Gateway Con who thought I’d written enough novels for now. The three short stories I have written (as opposed to the flash fiction or short essays) are from the Prodigies/Archetype universe*: “Tanabata”, “Hands”, and “Runesansu”. You can find them in these pages if you want a read. 

I want to branch out on my writing — stay within the science fiction/fantasy, I think, except that there are certain topics I would like to stay away from:
  • Vampires
  • Werewolves
  • Alpha-freaking-male ANYTHING
  • Unbridled gore
  • Gratuitous sex
  • In-jokes **
  • The Adventures of Gary Stu
  • Fan Fic ***
This either means that I have to do new world-building or write short stories that don’t require world-building. I’ve been tempted to do new world-building because I haven’t done that for a while. I miss that immersive experience of creativity.

So if you have any inspirations …


* One character connects the two sets of stories
**(see Ready Player One if you don’t know what I’m talking about)
*** I have nothing against fanfic; I just don’t write it.

The Flow Is Not Happening

So I made my summer schedule nice and neat — only to have to revise it already.

Rain, of course. A visit to the acute care clinic. Best intentions gone to hell. 

I wonder if my schedule’s too strict. I wonder if it’s just me being reluctant to follow a schedule. At any rate, the flow is not happening.

I’m second-guessing my schedule just like I’m second-guessing my editing.

I’m editing the bulk of Apocalypse, trying to cut out what isn’t necessary, and I’m struggling between “burn it to the ground” and “I can’t kill my darlings!” Some good quality time writing should solve that quickly — or perhaps slowly. If I get the hang of what should stay and what should go, I should be done by June 1 because the story has good bones. 

I guess the motto is to try for excellence and not perfection. Perfection has me chasing my tail and getting nothing done.  

Flow doesn’t happen when I’m nitpicking details. 

Sunday morning at Mozingo and my lack of inspiration

Sunday morning at Mozingo Lake. I’m sitting on the couch swathed in blankets in front of the fire, recovering from my decision to turn the heater down for the night. The main room temperature was 57 degrees this morning; the bedroom, without its own heat, probably hit the low fifties. So I’m now pampered on the couch while Richard makes hot chocolate.

I’ve decided to do one more editing pass of Whose Hearts are Mountains, suspecting that I concentrated too much on the “was is where have had has” and not enough on other aspects that need smoothing out. And I have one more novel that needs editing after that.

I’m postponing writing another novel, and I know it.

Like I said, I have an idea for a new novel that I’ve been sitting on for a while. The name of the novel is (tentatively) God’s Seeds; I’ve talked about it in these pages. It might help me to do what I usually do when I write — pay attention to the relationships between characters. The themes come first, the plot I create in the outline, but in my books, the relationships between characters create the dialog and the unfolding of the story. The main relationship in this novel is between Baird Wilkens, a half-human Nephilim and Leah Inhofer, a young adult with a startling gift. The story is in the Archetype universe, taking place a year or so after the Apocalypse. (Note to readers — the Apocalypse doesn’t turn out like you think. Look up the origin of the word)

It’s just hard to write right now because of my failure to get something accepted. I’ve already fulfilled my goal of writing a novel several times over, so another novel isn’t a tantalizing new goal. I haven’t gotten published or even found an agent yet, and so that goal seems daunting enough that I’m becoming avoidant.

What do I need right now? A clear path — an idea of what to do next. Give up? (I don’t feel like I’d have closure if I did this.) Self-publish? (I’m still scared of landing into obscurity, and it wouldn’t feel like closure.) Keep plugging away? (Insanity is doing the same thing over and over with the same results). Pray? (I’ve been doing this. No answer, my friends. No answer.)

At this moment, I guess it doesn’t matter, because I’m parked in front of a warm fire in a pine-paneled cabin, Outside lies a snowy landscape and iced-over lake. All is fine.

What I’m working on

Rewrites are harder than I thought:

Lilly Doe thought she’d have a nice quiet evening at home.

 She sat in her sanctum, the soothing living room of her Chicago bungalow. After looking through a research paper on modern Archetypes and the female psyche, Lilly strolled over to her bookcase to find a mystery novel to read — and dissolved into a sparkling mist.

When the molecules that made up her body realigned themselves, Lilly found herself in an eerily perfect coffeehouse.  Black walls, dark interior. Scattered shelves with bric-a-brac — a stuffed armadillo, a badly tarnished coffee urn. A small stage, enough for three musicians, but perhaps not enough for four. A dusty upright piano, which she suspected was in perfect tune. Lilly felt as if her insides were still sparkly mist and her legs about to dematerialize once more. But stubbornness would not allow her to shrink from the emergent situation.

The coffeehouse, however, stood silent, and nobody sat at the tables. If Heaven had a coffeehouse, Lilly reasoned, this would be it. Who knew Heaven would be so empty?

Lilly felt goosebumps form on her arms. Her knees buckled, and she collapsed into a chair. She pinched herself and felt pain.

Just then, a man glided up to the chair across from her and sat down. The man had fine, straight, black hair pulled into a loose ponytail, wide Asian eyes, and a graceful nose. He wore unrelieved black, which almost blended into the darkness of the walls.

The man looked at her expectantly.

“Am I dead?” she queried.

“No,” he replied, in a silky tenor. “I suppose you could be dreaming, Lilly.” He  rested his chin on his elbows, watching the emotions play on the woman’s face.

“I don’t dream,” she snapped. “Do we know each other?”

The man raised his eyebrows. “I know of you.  You have touched me.” He studied her again: a short, curvy woman with sunny curls, a button nose, and at the moment a scowl on her face.

“How could I have touched you? I don’t know you!” Lilly shivered.

“I heard a story about you once. It touched my heart,” he murmured. A long-fingered hand gestured toward his heart.

“I don’t know you,” Lilly snapped, standing up.

The man gestured her back down gracefully. “Think of me as an Archetype,” he said. “An Archetype who holds a cultural pattern for humans – thousands, even millions of people at once. Without their cultural DNA, their anchoring in the world, humans will die.”

“Millions of humans? ” Fear replaced skepticism, as though the words resonated with a buried part of Lilly’s memory.

“Pretty much. Archetypes generally live in spaces between worlds, a bleak place called InterSpace, so they can be called to be the template for a human in this world. Archetypes seldom visit Earthside, except in our case.”

“If this is a dream, why are you in it?” She held her breath to keep from screaming. “People can’t dream of what they haven’t seen before.”

“Did I say it was a dream? I called you here, to the ideal coffeehouse, a space that would reassure you, so I could talk to you.” His hand touched hers, and she jolted.

“This isn’t reassuring me,” Lilly sighed.

At that moment, two large lattes appeared on the table.  Lilly took a sip; a perfect latte. “Are these real?” she asked.

“Is this not the best latte you have ever tasted?” He smiled as if he’d made the lattes himself.

Lilly remembered the setting finally, a Chicago fixture whose eclectic shabbiness had earned it renown. It had been years since she had been — Lilly shivered. This compelling man – Archetype – spoke in riddles. “So why are we here?”