Notebook with 2018 Review written on it

2018 Year in Review

I’m probably the last to the “Year in Review” party, but I have a good excuse! The mountain behind my house was on fire. Literally.

See, where we live is very dry and fireworks are banned in the entire municipality. But, someone decided to celebrate the new year with a flare. It landed on the mountain. And spread.

11,000 hectares of burned land, 31 houses gone and 28 damaged, 5 helicopters and hundreds of firefighters and volunteer support teams later the fire is out. Sixteen days of uncertainty and fear.

Thankfully our house was never in direct danger, but the wind was whipping the fires and they can travel quickly. We did pack in case we had to evacuate.

But that’s 2019, and the danger is past. I’m here to talk about 2018. I’m going to look at two areas, writing and reading.

Writing in 2018

I had three big projects last year: IN HER OWN SKIN the YA I was revising and then querying, THE MONSTER NOVEL STRUCTURE WORKBOOK which I revised and published(!!!!), and UNCHURCHED which I outlined and then drafted during NaNoWriMo and December.

IN HER OWN SKIN (YA book)

In 2017 I and this book were selected by author Sophie Cameron for mentorship via Author Mentor Match (Round 6 starts soon!). Incredibly exciting and validating. Sophie gave me excellent, really helpful feedback and I dug in with serious revisions. The bulk of the work was done in 2018.

In addition to Sophie’s feedback I used Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course to guide me in making changes. Between these two factors I did more in-depth revision than I’ve ever done before. It was empowering and I’m so grateful for this experience.

Then it was back into the query trenches in June. Overall I had a 6% request rate, which isn’t terrible but isn’t great either. Having learned a lot about my book, and about the industry through AMM, I came to the conclusion by the end of the year that this isn’t a grabbing enough book to be a debut. I’m really proud of it, I’m immensely pleased with all I learned and the opportunities I got through this book, but it’s time to let it rest. I’d rather have a strong ace in my back pocket than not.

THE MONSTER NOVEL STRUCTURE WORKBOOK (nonfiction)

The Monster Novel Structure Workbook: How to Plot Without Getting StuckI began working on the theory behind this book in 2016. It came from my frustration with what I hadn’t found in researching novel structure. There was conflicting information from different sources and I needed to use my graphic design skills to make it all cohesive. And then the obvious next question was, “Wouldn’t this help other people, too?” So I wrote a book and prepared downloads to go with it.

Writing this book was so much faster than writing fiction. Fiction requires lots of layering and subtlety and cause-and-effect planning. This nonfiction poured out of me (I wrote 5k in one day without sweating). I have a lot of experience writing documentation for work, and those skills came to bear here.

To launch the book I recruited a beta reader team who gave me invaluable feedback, and went on to leave stellar reviews. Highly recommend this method.

I sold what I consider a good number of copies between the launch on Sept 15 and the end of the year, and I’m going to continue promoting it in a low-key but consistent way.

(I’ve got the next Monster book lined up, too—THE MONSTER GUIDE TO WRITING GROUPS! You can sign up to hear more here.)

UNCHURCHED (YA contemporary)

Oh, this book. I’ve taken so many cracks at it and learned so much along the way. The last time I looked at it seriously was in 2015, when I determined that that wasn’t the draft I needed. I put it aside to work on IN HER OWN SKIN. In 2018 I picked it up again, made some mega changes, and wrote an absolutely massive outline. It was 13,000 words by the time I was ready to draft.

Why so big? First of all, I’ve been working with these characters and this story for years and years. There’s a lot of nuance and subtlety I wanted to make sure I included. Secondly, I’ve learned that the more thorough my outline is the easier it is to draft. If I outline what I want to happen then turning it into a scene is much easier. Of course, I didn’t pull this off flawlessly. I still had places where I’d basically said, “And then the character says something witty with major implications,” but hadn’t put in any legwork to figure out what the actual words would be. So that slowed me down in places.

Still, giant outlines are definitely a plus for me. Will do again.

I got a bunch of beta readers for the outline, and then drafted in November and December. There were some really difficult points where I was itching to revise already. I’d revised effectively with IN HER OWN SKIN and I wanted to be back in that place, with a draft already down and able to make it pretty and perfect. But that’s not how drafting works. So I put my head down and cranked out words, painful as it was. By the end I was making a bunch of notes for planned changes, which is the best case scenario.

Quick shout-out to Pacemaker which helped keep me on track after November. It helps you calculate and track word goals (and page goals and more) over a given period. Really cool.

I now have a 72k word draft waiting for me.The 20th will be a month since I finished it and then I can reread and make a plan for revision.

Reading in 2018

I use Goodreads to track my reading habits. All the below stats are from running my eyes over and over the list, so I might’ve screwed up somewhere.

  • I read 55 books last year.
  • 12 were writing craft books, 43 were fiction.6 were graphic novels.
    20 were fiction books aimed at adults. 15 were aimed at young adults.
    19 could be defined as Own Voices—books by and about marginalized identities.

Books I really enjoyed in 2018:

So that was my year. A lot accomplished, a lot learned, a lot of enjoyable books. How was your year?

nano2018

NaNo Prep 2018: What I’ve Learned in 10 Straight Years of Participation

It’s nearly that time again: National Novel Writing Month. Every November I and thousands of other writers challenge ourselves to write 50,000 words in just 30 days. It’s a big goal, and it’s really hard, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s also the way I draft best.

I first learned about NaNo in 2004, which I failed miserably at. In 2005 I succeeded, but I also started college where I was studying creative writing and didn’t have the bandwidth to NaNo. I tried again in 2009, and I haven’t stopped since. Every year I try, quite literally come hell or high water.

There was the year I was in a car accident and spent the month spacey on pain pills. There was the year Hurricane Sandy stranded me on vacation in the Caribbean and I couldn’t get home because home was a dystopian landscape with no power. There was the year we moved to South Africa, which was actually really productive because I didn’t have anything else to do in this new country yet.

Then there was last year, when I got my 50k spread across the starts of three different projects. This is not how I like to work. But it helped clarify how I do like to work, and that’s worth knowing.

I need to prepare. A lot.

I always do NaNo prep. I thought I had prepared enough last year. I thought I had enough notes and plotting done to be able to write Masque, a book inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” I rapidly discovered that I hadn’t. I had characters and a good bit of worldbuilding and a plot but I didn’t have layers. Layers are subplots, connections, and nuances–the stuff that makes the back of your book and your front of your book look like a clever mirror of one another. I had my main throughline but none of the extras that would make the book a rich experience.

So I wrote 10,000 words and stalled out.

I’m not good at pantsing

I picked up another project that I felt had quite a lot of work still be done on it, but that I also thought I could just let myself have fun with it. Silk, a story about a cat thief who takes over an empire twice, has layers. But they aren’t anchored yet. And without anchors I don’t feel like I can keep going.

Basically, there are two functions in writing and my brain is only good for one of them at a time. I can invent a story, or I can craft prose. I can’t do both. Which means I need to do lots of prep work and outlining so I know the story and can concentrate on the prose.

15,000 words on that one.

I need to trust the process

Systems work for me. So, feeling quite morose by this point, I decided to just grab a new project and outline it, counting the outline toward my word count. It would still be writing, still be storytelling. I picked a concept that I hadn’t developed very much yet, Corset Queen, a romance between a cosplayer and a swordswoman who works Ren fairs. I opened up Gwen Hayes’s ROMANCING THE BEAT and let her lead me. I wrote a rich outline, a paragraph or two per chapter.

It worked. I told the story, inventing lots of new things, and I had fun. So I started in on the prose and altogether I just topped 50k. By three words. It was enough.

Three attempts, one mishmash

I’m sad that I didn’t come out of last year with a complete draft that I could throw myself into revising. That’s been my pattern for years: I draft in a mad rush in November. It happened to be not such a bad thing, though, because it allowed me to keep focusing on IN HER OWN SKIN and the MONSTER NOVEL STRUCTURE WORKBOOK.

And I did learn a lot about my writing process. I learned that I mustn’t try to rush it. If I’m not ready for a full-on draft come November them I’m not ready. And that’s fine! The important thing is that I tried.

So what’s next?

This year I am as over-prepared as I can get. UNCHURCHED began life back when I was in high school, and I’ve been working on it on and off since then. I’m determined that whatever I draft this year is going to be The Draft that I then polish up to the best of my ability.

The outline is over 12,000 words long. Am I insane? Only a little. There’s method here.

The first reason it’s so huge is because I knew I’d be sharing it with my Author Mentor Match mentor, and she’d never seen any of this before. I needed to give enough information that a new person would understand what was going on. Context.

Secondly, I wanted to get all the layers in. Having worked on this story for SO long, there are a lot of layers I’ve built up. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss any. And I pulled out Aeon Timeline’s matrix feature to track how frequently a given thread was mentioned. Basically, I did all the plot-proofing I was able to.

Then I got beta reads on the outline. This is important for my process as well, because at a certain point I’m too in the weeds to see everything. I need the external feedback to guide my next changes. I’ve already gotten comments on plot, character, motivations, logic, and weaknesses. Which I get to fix NOW instead of when I’ve written thousands of words that will have to be cut.

This is my process.

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Mid-NaNoWriMo Check-in 2017

Things haven’t exactly gone as predicted this year.

My habit, in years past, has been to spend the whole summer before NaNo preparing. I outline the hell out of it, which frees my mind up from worrying about plot to concentrate on prose. This year I couldn’t settle on a project to do it justice. I came closest with UNCHURCHED, writing a massive 9k word outline, but the latest feedback I got required a lot of thought to implement and so I put it aside for after November.

That left me with a few half-baked projects to choose from. I started with MASQUE, a YA dystopian that might wind up as hard sci fi. In October I joined the Pro Writing Aid/Beemgee Plot Of Gold Challenge, which was to use Beemgee’s software to plan your novel. That was actually really helpful, and by the end I had an outline of the main plot thread. But even before NaNo started, I realized that this story needs three narrators, not one. Which means each needs their own arc. I still don’t have arcs hammered out for the extra two narrators. But I plunged in on Nov 1 anyway, vowing to attempt to pants what hadn’t yet been plotted.

I ran into trouble almost immediately, not being in the mood to write the kind of atmosphere the book required. I started skipping whole chapters, and using placeholders instead of scenes, conversations, etc. (My placeholders [look like this] because I never use square brackets for anything else and they’re easy to find.) I was able to build a 3-day buffer and wrote 10k words… then I ran out of motivation completely.

This was a weird feeling. It came down to me realizing that I simply wasn’t prepared enough to write this book at that time. And getting it prepped to the point where I could would eat all of NaNo and I’d never make 50k.

So I switched projects, this time to THE SILK THAT CUTS, a fantasy epic. This was also not fully outlined, but I had done some really solid work on it previously and I figured I would write until I felt I couldn’t anymore. That got me another 14k.

Now I’m on the third project of the month, an otherwise untitled adult romance I’ve nicknamed CORSET QUEEN. This one has no planning done beyond the premise. Which means it’s free and open and I can let the characters lead the plot, which they’re supposed to do anyway.

I started with 1000 words of rambling about backstory, though, so that’s not good. Tangential rambling is my unplotted downfall. Whatever. Drew a line under it and started over.

I’m running a little ahead still, going into Day 15 with over 27k. Even if all I get is rambling for the rest of the month it’ll still count toward getting to know these characters.

And if this project doesn’t work, I’ll try a fourth and even a fifth if I need to.  It may not be one novel, but it is more prose than I’ve generated in a long time.

Photo Credit: Mike Licht Be Prepared

motorcycle

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2017

I’m impatient to get going this year. I mean, there’s always some impatience going in, but this year feels stronger than in the past. It’s a mixture of excitement and anxiety. And just plain, “But I wanna!”

I realize that I didn’t actually blog about NaNo at all last year. 2016 was, as I’ve said before, a very weird year. It was our second month in a new country, and there wasn’t much to do but write. I finished early and went over the requirement. It was a good year, if a strange one. IN HER OWN SKIN is now out in the query trenches.

This year I feel much more like myself. Being in a house that is ours helps. Having my own room helps. Having my study back helps.

I’ve got an utterly massive outline (9300 words!) that I’m reviewing for holes. It’s so big because I have new critique partners this year (Thank you, Query Kombat for putting me in touch with such awesome people!) and I wanted to make sure I got them totally oriented in my world.

That’s right, we’re going back to the Cranbrooks this year.

UNCHURCHED is the book of my heart, or as close to that as I’ve yet come. I am determined to make this book work. This is going to be the fifth time I attempt to write this story for NaNo. I mean, I’ve done it before. I’ve written drafts that won. I’ve also failed mightily on this book. (There was the year I got in a car accident and was put on a muscle relaxant, and there was the year of Hurricane Sandy when I was stranded in the Caribbean… At least my excuses are interesting.)

The thing about this book is, it’s the book I’ve done the most learning on. Like, it’s as if I got a DIY bicycle kit and spent ten years messing around with it and on it and now it’s a beaten up mess but it has an engine so technically it’s a motorcycle now not just a bike. I’ve tried experimental parts shipped from odd corners of the globe. I’ve ridden it through all sorts of weather and had it break down on me over and over again.

But it still rides.

So I’m going to write this book again. It’s changed a lot from even the last major draft, so it’s gonna be a wild ride.

Wish me bon voyage!

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Bridget Jones and Chick Lit

Or rather, an ode to Bridget.

BRIDGET JONES helped keep my sanity intact on a very long flight. (Johannesburg to JFK is about 17+ hours.) I had bought it and THE EDGE OF REASON at the airport and I’m so glad I did. Every minute accounting of fat cells lost and gained reflected the tedious hours in the air. I fell in love with this woman who was simultaneously determined to be strong and yet was utterly gormless. Later the movies delighted me, from the very first moments where Bridget lip synchs to All By Myself.

It’s such a perfect sequence. It’s every girl’s loneliest moments, then defiance, heartbreak, determination, resignation, everything. I love it.

I like to think that the launch of the big chick lit movement in the late 90s and early 00s, which is often credited to BRIDGET,  was a moment when publishers realized that women could be profitable and successful. Women characters, women’s lives, women’s struggles.

Yes, it was often couched in the ‘safety’ of humor. Look at those silly girls and their silly worries about men and weight and wine. How silly. How not-serious. No need to consider any of those books for serious reviews or acclaim, they’re just twaddle.

But the books got written, published, and read. Which by itself is a victory.

Now the chick lit genre is dying off, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because a stereotyped genre was unlikely to lead to serious acknowledgement. Bad because it strips women of another venue. I think a lot of chick lit gets shoved into romance now, which is disheartening. Must a woman’s story revolve around a romance in order to be readable? Chick lit often had romance but it didn’t have to.

I used to read a lot of chick lit. I liked that it was often lighter and funny. I liked that it was about women. Now I like that it focused on aspects of women’s lives that often get short shrift, like the difficulties of making a career in a male-dominated field.

Some of these issues have moved to New Adult, where chick lit’s ‘I’m just trying to find my place in the world’ angle went. But again, it’s limiting. To shunt it off on New Adult says that women in their 30s, 40s, or even later can’t have these worries about where they belong, what their purpose is, or who they want to be.

Maybe we’ll see a rise in women’s stories thanks to the upcoming Bridget Jones’ Baby, which is not based on a book but takes place in between books. (The third BJ book is… kind of a downer.) This movie is going to be about very women-specific topics, and hopefully it will do very well at the box office. The last year or so has had several movies with non-white-male-heroes and they’ve done well. Would be nice if Hollywood would get on board.

Anyway.

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seven

Seven Seven Seven (2015)

I’ve been tagged for the 7/7/7/ #PitchWars Challenge by Verna Austen.

Here are the rules:

  1. Go to page 7 of your WIP.
  2. Scroll down to Line 7.
  3. Share the next 7 sentences in a blog post.
  4. After the excerpt, tag 7 other writers to continue the challenge.

Here we see Janine facing off against Constance, leader of the Youth Group. I’m cheating and going for 9 sentences, because I think it’s more representative that way.

She recoiled as if I’d slapped her and her knuckles tightened on the door handle. “That is not the kind of language we use here,” Constance said, her cheeks starting to pink. “You have to understand, this isn’t simply about–about–“

What, was she trying not to use the s-word? If ‘virginity’ was bad she’d probably have a hernia if anyone in the room said ‘sex.’

“–Boys. This is about your relationship with God. And right now your relationship is in peril.”

Judgey!

Alright, your turn!

  1. Amy Laura Jackson
  2. Kelsey Simon
  3. Kelly Arnold
  4. Alana Saltz
  5. K Orion Fray
  6. Meredith Crosbie
  7. Lana Wood Johnson
critique

Seeking Critique Partners

This post is inspired by the #PitchWars mentors, who have said time and again that this contest is about community. Finding friends, CPs, commiserators, etc. And it occurred to me, “Why am I not talking DIRECTLY to the other wannabe mentees? We’re hopping to each other’s blogs, we want to get to know each other!”

So, this is me talking to you, my brothers and sisters in arms. This is about what I’m like as a critique partner and what I’m looking for in a partner. Please do not be shy about reaching out! I’m the shy one here. There can’t be two of us. (Actually, another shy introvert would be awesome.)

What I Write

Fiction about women, usually strong ones. That’s always my starting point. Lately I’ve been focused on contemporary YA. I’ve got some fantasy and historical sitting on my hard drive that I want to get back to.

See my Projects page for a sense of what I’m working on.

What I Read

Almost everything? I’ve never been into horror, sorry. And I don’t read much middle grade, but I do read a lot of YA and adult. I love fantasy and historical, and really enjoy science fiction and diverse contemporary. (Please share your diverse stuff. It needs to be seen.) I’m a politics junkie, and love tackling controversial issues from religion to international relations (I skew progressive but I’m open to reading about more than that–if you’re doing it right, I’ll love your characters anyway).  I love funny stuff. I love irreverence. I love being surprised by twists and turns. I don’t shy away from hard stuff that may trigger others, but I don’t delve into really dark things very often. I do like sexy times, so erotica is totally ok.

Some faves:

  • Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  • Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
  • The Heartland Trilogy by Chuck Wendig
  • The Black Dagger Brotherhood books by JR Ward
  • The Temeraire books by Naomi Novik
  • The Confessions of Georgia Nicholson by Louise Rennison
  • Various books by Tamora Pierce
  • Black Jewels and Tir Alainn books by Anne Bishop

How I Critique

I like to comment as I do my first read, catching typos (I can’t help it, they stand out and I just can’t leave them) and giving first reactions. I tend to ask questions rather than make suggestions. I trust you to know what you intended, and I’m just here to confirm that the way you depicted it worked or not. I’m a member of Scribophile and I can give you the link to check out my review work there.

I’ve been likened to movie slashers because I can turn a page red. I’ve also been told that I have a great combo of encouraging and relevant comments. I bring my sense of humor to the table, so if you use the same word four times I may tease you a little because I’m genuinely and affectionately amused. You will get squeals and gushing over things I love. I’m happy to reread portions or the whole thing.

If you’re looking for diversity research, I can help you out with: atheism, depression, and immigration.

My best communication methods are text-based (email, instant messaging) but I’ll suck it up and talk on the phone or meet in person, too.

What I’m Looking For in a Partner

Please, please, please hack and slash my stuff to bits. For years I’ve been plagued by comments that just kind of say it’s good but not why or how or what’s slipping or augh. Vagueness. Get in there and get messy, please. Demand high standards. Ask a million questions.

I love brainstorming. My best friend and I are constantly poking and prodding each other’s worlds to expand them. Again, I ask a lot of questions, and I love getting them back.

I can’t keep, say, a weekly schedule. Too much pressure. I’m happy to swap a chapter at a time, or a whole book. I don’t mind sharing as soon as a chunk is drafted to get a first read. Tell me how polished it is and I’ll read accordingly.

Reach Out

Send me an email! I would lovelovelove to hear from you, especially if something in this profile sparked for you. There’s no such thing as too many eyes.

Cover Art

A few weeks ago I stumbled across the blog of Derek Murphy, a book cover artist. He was running a special promotion in honor of NaNoWriMo. 30 Covers in one day. Now that’s a challenge! He was soliciting novels so I threw my hat into the ring.

He made not just one but two covers for Statutory State!

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How utterly beautiful are they? I love the juxtaposition of the ‘innocent’ girls who are nevertheless showing off a fair bit of sultry skin, and the church in the background.

See all of Derek’s beautiful art here.

In other news, Stat’s first draft is finished and I’m making additions before I begin cutting.

A draft, a draft!

I have, technically, finished my first draft. It runs all the way from the beginning to the end, minus some [square bracketed] missing scenes. The story still known as Statutory State (because I have yet to come up with something better) stands at about 72k. That leaves plenty of room for adding in those missing scenes.

What got me to this point? Sheer doggedness and NaNoWriMo. I got about halfway through by the end of October and spent the first 16 days of November still on Stat.

But now what do I do? It’s over. I skipped those other scenes for good reason–they were taking too long to write. Many of them require research. They must be crafted with thought and care. This is not the NaNo way.

So instead I’m diving into another novel in the Cranbrook universe: Rewind. This book takes place a few years before Stat, when the kids are in eighth grade.  Rashid Khan and Aditi Hariharan are the primary focus, and I’m writing Khan’s sections. Vijay will write Adi (and he’s champing at the bit to get started, but he has another project to finish first).

I’m enjoying writing from Khan’s POV, and about his crazy, wonderful family. It’s a nice two week vacation from The Big That Took Forever, a.k.a. Stat.

In December I’ll return to Stat. The process will begin with a complete read-through and note-taking. Then I’ll start doing surgery. It’s going to be a lot of work. All that preparation and I’m still making major decisions about what to include and what to leave out.