Things I Tell Myself So I Can Keep Writing

I’m not going to lie. Writing is hard. For a long time last year, I thought I’d given it up forever. I knew, deep down, that I probably hadn’t, but sometimes you have to quit for a little while so you can keep going in the long run.

I’m drafting a new book now. It’s not easy. I just started, so every day, I have to give myself a little pep talk to get started. If you’re like me, it’s difficult every single time. It doesn’t exactly get easier: people say we never learn to write books—we learn to write this book. Every time we begin, we really are starting at the beginning. It would be so much easier not to try than to start all over again every single time.

But we writers are masochists, and sometimes not trying isn’t an option. Instead, we torture ourselves with our own perceived inadequacy, the book’s general suckiness, the difficulty that is this art. We don’t write, but we spend our time agonizing over the not writing, and the end result is a miserable writer with no words on the page.

Luckily, we can conquer those feelings. I’ve learned few things that help me get going. I’ve been known to write these on Post-Its and put them on my bulletin board. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

  1. It’s just a first (or second or third) draft. If it sucks, you can rewrite it later. But you have to write something now if you’re ever going to rewrite it and make it better.
  2. No one will write this book but you. You, right now, sitting there at your computer. The you who will write it ten months from now isn’t the you who is compelled to tell this story as it is in your head right now. If you want it to exist, you have to do it. Now.
  3. When you’re putting words on a page, there’s only so much that can go wrong. Typo? Big deal. Comma splice? Who cares. Saggy midpoint? Fuck it. Yes, it’s your dream, but the truth is, you’re moving pixels on a screen. If it’s bad, you can fix it.
  4. You WILL fix it… later.

Now go get to work.

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Nine Fun Facts about SHAKEN

ShakenCoverSince SHAKEN came out yesterday (and a HUGE thank you to those of you who pre-ordered and ordered yesterday — you guys made my day!), I thought I’d share a few fun facts about its inception and creation. Wheeee!

  1. The San Francisco where Mitzy lives is pretty significantly different than the San Francisco in this world. I won’t go into too much detail about this here, since I wrote about it on Spellbound Scribes last week, but Mitzy’s San Francisco includes some fictional locations and some cemeteries that are no longer in use. Because magic is a part of the physical landscape of Mitzy’s world, I needed to restructure San Francisco to reflect how that might have shaped history.
  2. I worked as a reporter in Berkeley, covering Oakland and a little bit of San Francisco, too, and the Bay Area is one of my favorite places in the world. My very first job out of graduate school was working as a reporter, first as an intern and than as a police-beat reporter, in Berkeley. That job was difficult and fun and exciting and terrifying, and I think it shaped the trajectory of my entire career. I’m not a newspaper reporter anymore, but working as a reporter in Berkeley and elsewhere made me a significantly better writer than I could have been without that time of strict word limits, careful research, and tight deadlines. It also instilled in me a love of that area and its residents that I’ll never get over.
  3. When I first thought of SHAKEN, it wasn’t an urban fantasy: it was a straight-up detective novel. And it didn’t involve a serial killer. Actually, it had almost no resemblance to the book that you can now read. I thought I’d try writing mysteries to get the hang of plot and structure, but I kept getting stuck on the lack of magic and fantasy elements. I didn’t want to be a mystery writer. I wanted to write fantasy. I’ve always wanted to write fantasy, and I don’t think I’ll ever not write fantasy.Somewhere along the way of writing SHAKEN, I got the idea of a world where everyone has magic. Urban fantasy was peaking right around then, and, well, put those elements together and you get the odd little book that is SHAKEN. I’ve since gone on to write a cozy mystery (no magic! really!) and thoroughly enjoyed it, but fantasy will always be where I live.
  4. I set out wanting to write about a female addict. This was a part of my vision for the character of Mitzy from the beginning, pre-magic, pre-urban fantasy. I knew she would be from a privileged background and be forced to deal with letting go of the advantages given to her by birth. The addict-detective trope is actually pretty familiar to anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes, but that character is usually a man, not a woman. Women are addicts, too, and have to face the consequences of the choices they make while under the influence. Mitzy is my exploration of these issues.
  5. I have a Pinterest board where you can see a bit of my vision of the novel. I used it to collect faces and items and locations, and sometimes I like to peek at it and remember back when I was a baby writer and hunting for the perfect pictures of Eva Green and Nestor Carbonell. I never found my Li, sadly, but I’ll bet she’s out there somewhere.
  6. There’s also a Spotify playlist of music I listen to while writing in Mitzy’s world. This list has evolved since I wrote SHAKEN and includes some of the tracks I listened to (on a loop!) while writing DIRTY, book two of the series.
  7. I finished SHAKEN as a NaNoWriMo project. I distinctly remember starting the book in the summer–this was in (gulp) 2011?–and then it languished for a couple of months around the midpoint. I decided to buckle down in November and get it wrapped up. I’m pretty sure it took me a month or so into December, but “cheating” at NaNo and writing 50,000 words on a project I’d already started gave me a HUGE boost. You absolutely can’t beat NaNoWriMo for giving yourself an exciting, encouraging environment in which to write, and I try to at least dip my toe in every year. I suspect I’ll be NaNo-ing again this year with my current work in progress.
  8. SHAKEN isn’t my first novel. Or even, technically, my second. But it is the first book I wrote to completion and recognized as worth editing for readers. The first book I really completed is a 250,000 word monstrosity that takes place in a pseuo-steampunk fantasy world. It’s about a pair of thieves who get mixed up in a political conspiracy. Someday I’d like to rewrite it, but I have too many new projects I want to pursue.
  9. You can get SHAKEN now from Amazon!

Kristin’s Big Announcement

There’s a big announcement and a dancing Ewok at the end of this post, but first I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while.

Most of the books I’ve written have been, somehow or another, about hope.

The stories I’ve told have been about learning to believe in ourselves and our power to shape the world around us—sometimes literally. My characters find themselves or land themselves in dark places, and then claw themselves back up, because that’s what stories do: stories take us apart, with a character as our stand-in, and then they put us back together, brick by brick, until we can stand up again, even if what’s inside of us has changed a little.

Fiction shows us what we are and what we can be.

tatooine

When I set out to write SHAKEN, the very first book I queried, the book that got me my first offers of representation, I wanted to write a dark-but-funny urban fantasy about a wealthy addict, a woman named Mitzy Maddox, who has to learn that privilege and luck only get us so far. In the end, our hard work and our friends and our passions are what drive us toward our goals, and Mitzy has to discover, through fire and tears, that expecting things to happen and making them happen are two very different ways of living.

Maybe that’s not quite what I set out to write, but that’s what ended up on the page. Over the last two months, I’ve been rereading SHAKEN for the first time in more than a year, and it’s spoken to me in ways I never expected.

Most of us, over the course of our lives, will reach a point at least once when we no longer believe in ourselves. When our dreams seem like they’ll never come true and hope is fled and the Dark Side has won forever. And it doesn’t always take the extermination of a lawful good monastic cult to cause our personal universes to crumble into chaos. Sometimes the Dark Side wins because of the small, insidious voices inside of us that say, “You’re not good enough. You don’t deserve this.”

saw dark side

Mitzy faces that. I’ve faced it, too.

Luckily for both of us, we have people in our lives who pick us back up and tell us that we are good enough and we do deserve good things. Sometimes getting through the day requires a conscious choice, every second, to believe those people. When we can’t believe in ourselves, we can trust people we respect to do the believing for us.

Traditional publishing (with an agent and an editor at a big house) is good that way. Ideally, your agent is the person who believes in you every step of the way—and most successful agent/author relationships work that way. I don’t have an agent right now, but that’s a result of circumstance and not because of an unsuccessful relationship. I’ve been flying on my own for awhile now, and it’s been damned scary, like flying an X-Wing down a trench with my eyes closed. (Somehow, this post about Serious Business became an extended Star Wars metaphor, but I’m pretty okay with that.)

luke-leia-star-warsLuckily, I have people in my life who have held my hand and kept me going, and, when things got really bad, bundled me up in a warm blanket, gave me a cup of tea, and told me that they had never stopped believing in me, not even for a second.

Every single day of my life, I am grateful to those people.

But ultimately, it’s belief in ourselves that gets us from Point A to Point B on the road called life. Sitting on the sidelines of our own lives, waiting for things to happen—well, that’s the road to madness. I am the only one who can actually change my life. Han and Leia can tell Luke he rocks all day long, but Luke’s the only one who can master his anger and fight Darth Vader and… Yeah, okay, the Star Wars metaphor fell apart a little.

The point is, sometimes we have to take a chance… on ourselves.

And that’s what I’m doing. dancing

On October 13, SHAKEN will be available to the world. Yep, I’m joining the wonderful world of indie authors! In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to see the cover, find out where you can read a snippet or two of the book, and even get a chance to receive an eARC! Wooo! But for now, if you want, you can hop on over to Amazon and pre-order the ebook.

So what’s it all about?

Inspector Mitzy Maddox is one of the lucky few: she can see other people’s magic, use her trust fund to buy any shoes she wants, and drink her way through a fifth of vodka in the time it takes a fairy to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

But when a serial killer surfaces in the Bay Area who drowns wealthy women in the bathtub and drains them of their magic, Mitzy discovers she can’t use any of her gifts to track the murderer. With a tight-ass half-fairy for a partner and the less-than-legal help of a sizzling reporter, Mitzy sets out to find the murderer—and to discover how he’s stealing his victims’ magic.

Now Mitzy must learn to stay afloat without her magic and her flask long enough to catch the killer—or she’ll be the next to drown.

Available October 13, 2015: preorder now!

 

 

The Power of Partnership: Guest Post by Emmie Mears

Greetings, dear readers! Today we have a guest post from the awesome Emmie Mears, whose debut novel, The Masked Songbird, will be released from Harlequin on July 1. Check out what she has to say, and then be sure to run on over to Amazon and pre-order your digital copy today! 

The Masked Songbird_FC (2)The Power of Partnership

Many parts of life require partnership. We all know the saying about how no one’s an island, yadda yadda, but when you’re in a creative profession, you can often feel like one. In my early days of writing, I wrote like an island. I didn’t seek out critique. I didn’t read craft books. I worked in an extreme version of “write what you know.”

It wasn’t until I started really reaching out to other writers that I was able to kick my writing into the next gear. My lovely host and bosom friend, Kristin, was one of those writers.

When I started querying my first novel, I had high hopes. I thought it was ready. I’d written two and a half books and had been over my first one about fifteen times in four years. I loved my characters and my story, and I was sure I was going to get an agent.

“If you’d brought this to me four years ago, I could have sold it in a hot second.”

Those were the words I heard from a powerhouse agent at my first writing conference in New York. I was shocked, but not crushed. I got a few requests from other agents that day, all of which petered into rejections. A couple months later, a bestselling author contacted me and said she liked my blog so much that she wanted to read my fiction. I sent her the first couple chapters of this book, and crossed my fingers. When she called me to talk about it, I heard the best words I think I’d heard to that point in my career:

“I don’t think this is submission ready.”

Deep down, I’d known that I hadn’t really been editing it; I’d been tinkering. I’d been on my writing island for so long that I’d been writing around in circles without realizing it.

I put that book aside to think. Two months later, I started another book. I finished it six weeks later. That was two years ago. By then, I had a team of fantastic betas and Kristin for a critique partner. In two months, I had it polished up and ready to query.

Kristin graciously agreed to host me today. I couldn’t think of a better place to start this blog tour, because that little book I scribbled out in six weeks was THE MASKED SONGBIRD, which is coming out two weeks from today from Harlequin.

Without partners, I don’t think I would be here right now. Without the feedback of people (some of it hard to hear), my debut wouldn’t yet be happening.

We really aren’t islands; even in creative professions, we need the community of peers who can offer insight and encouragement. While people can go it alone sometimes, having partners who are with you on the same path can help you get to your destination faster.

You can preorder THE MASKED SONGBIRD here (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JD7TWZK)! Released in a box set, you get four great paranormal and urban fantasy books for less than $4!

Follow Emmie on Twitter @EmmieMears or come join her on Facebook!

IMG_7239Emmie Mears was born in Austin, Texas, where the Lone Star state promptly spat her out at the tender age of three months. After a childhood spent mostly in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana, she became a proper vagabond and spent most of her time at university devising ways to leave the country.

Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She now scribbles her way through the fantasy genre, most loving to pen stories about flawed characters and gritty situations lightened with the occasional quirky humor.

Emmie now lives in her eighth US state, still yearning for a return to Scotland. She inhabits a cozy domicile outside DC with two felines who think they’re lions and tigers.

 

How Far Does Author Loyalty Carry Us?

Warning: this post will contain spoilers for no fewer than two book series and three TV series, and will make reference to sexual violence in fiction.

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Last week, George R. R. Martin released a new excerpt from The Winds of Winter, simultaneously breaking the internet and all of our minds. The excerpt called, simply, “Mercy,” contains sentences like: “Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped and murdered,” and “It would be just like Mercy to sleep through her own rape.”

The language of rape continues through the chapter: Mercy, the main character, has to hurry or she’ll miss her own rape, and there are repeated allusions to sexual acts with the character who seems to be her boss.

There are two twists. One (and this may be the biggest) is that Mercy is in fact Arya, our child-heroine. An intrepid (okay, frustrated) reader  who is upset by the first paragraphs will scan to the end and see this fact, compounding the upset: not only is this character an unwilling prostitute, but she’s also one of the few non-sexualized female characters in the series. When I saw this, I was devastated, and almost didn’t read the whole chapter.

Of course, you could argue that the other twist is more important: Mercy is an actress, and the rape she’s referring to is on-stage.

When I realized this, and realized that Martin knew that he was deliberately using inflammatory language, teasing us with a fictional act he’s constantly criticized for, I felt hurt. Relieved, but hurt.

He was trolling us, you see. Upsetting us deliberately, and then he took it away. He’s aware of the criticisms about his books, the accusations of constant rape and sexual violence, and he used our sensitivity against us to achieve a shocking reveal.

WTF?

I was almost more upset by that use of a real problem with his work than I was by the apparent sexualization of Arya. I’ve been reading Martin’s books since I was 14, since before I even really fully understood just how violent against women the books are and just how twisted this world’s view of sex is. I’ve struggled with my love for the books, feeling like I shouldn’t be able to read them, like I shouldn’t love them, because I now recognize just how troubling Martin’s treatment of women (and sex generally — this isn’t just about women) is.

The same thing happened in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, when main character Claire is raped (in a fair amount of realistic detail). I’d come to terms with the rape of Brianna, Claire’s daughter, but when it happened to Claire I was stunned. And hurt. And I felt almost as brutalized as our protagonist.

Why did this have to happen? In what way did Claire’s rape further her character development? We’ve been in Claire’s head for something like 20 years. I read Outlander when I was in SIXTH GRADE. What if I had read these later books then, and seen the two female main characters dealing with this problem? Would it have normalized sexual violence for me?

I realize that neither of these series are really intended for 12- and 14-year-olds, but adults become immune to the things they see in fiction as well. And it’s worse in some ways, because we have the capability of drawing our own lines and seeing where society has failed to draw lines for us. When we continue to read these books, to purchase them and enjoy them in spite of the sexual violence, are we becoming part of the problem?

When I watch a TV show, I will turn it off if there is any sort of sexual violence in the first few episodes. The new season of American Horror Story? Gone. Never finished. The Americans? Dead to me. But Buffy? Or Battlestar Galactica? I kept watching, because the sexual violence didn’t happen until I was already in love with the characters and invested in their stories, which in some ways makes it so much worse.

So how far does our loyalty take us? Should I give up on books I’ve been reading for most of my life? Should I wave away fictional characters I love, because their creators crossed a line? I really don’t know.

I do know that someday, when I’m published, I don’t want to put my readers in this position. I don’t want to create a dilemma for a woman who grew up on my books or normalize rape for a preteen girl. I may have undeserved loyalty for certain authors and series, but I also have loyalty to myself, my someday-readers, my characters, and, above all, my principles.

So I ask you: How far is too far? How do you react when sexual violence bubbles up in your favorite series? What’s the right answer here?

Hard Lines and Social Media

Image by Michael Gil

It’s time for Kristin to take off her whimsical hat and put on serious hat, because we need to talk about something real today kids. *waits for you all to put on very serious hats*

I, and many of you, dear readers, are on social media a lot. Between Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and all the rest, we all put ourselves and our words out in public—for the whole wide world to see—on a daily basis. While in theory you can lock down your privacy settings, it may take a NASA engineer to figure out how to do it: posts and photos sneak through to the wider internet regularly, even from my fairly-private Facebook page.

Between my writing-self, my ADF-self, and my SDF-self, I’m in public almost nonstop. Whole areas of my life are shared with folks who look to me as a colleague or even a leader, and I take that responsibility seriously. Because I serve as lay-clergy, I try to make myself accessible to folks who might need me—but because I also use social media for personal communication, I have to take care what I say, when, and to whom.

As always, there’s a flip side to rules of personal conduct. Just as people can see me pretty much any time their little hearts desire, I’m seeing them, too. And in the past few months, I’ve discovered that I have some hard lines about what I will and won’t accept in my social media feeds.

That’s right, readers. Let’s talk etiquette.

I’ll preface this post with the following warnings:

Yes, these lines reflect my personal politics. But these lines aren’t about those politics: they’re about how we all express our personal beliefs, and how we interact with those who don’t share those beliefs. Please keep that in mind.

This post will contain some unpleasant language. I’m making a point about how people behave in public, and it’s difficult to do that without being specific. Get your smelling salts or avert your eyes if you’re not comfortable with R-rated language. Like I said, I’m serious about this stuff, readers, and it’s time to get real.

Kristin’s Hard Lines of Social Media

The following behavior will earn you an automatic unfriend, unfollow, unpin, or even block: no saving throw, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

1. Calling someone—anyone—a faggot, for any reason. See also: nigger, cunt or any others you can think of. Nope. No way. Don’t do this. No need to elaborate. However, this goes right into…

2. Using someone’s race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or anything that makes them unique as a shorthand insult. If you and I are arguing and you call me an ignorant, judgmental know-it-all, that’s not great, rhetoric-wise, but it’s still fine. It may even be accurate. But if you call me a dumb cunt, that’s unacceptable. Telling me to check my privilege would be more effective, particularly if you’re trying to say that I’m letting my unconscious race/class/whatever biases unjustly influence my thinking. Telling me I’m a woman (or reducing me to my sexual parts) and therefore stupid and uninformed, well, that’s not okay.

This rule extends as a soft line out to using gay/queer/retarded/whatever as bigoted shorthand for pointless, stupid, laughable, or whatever you’re trying to express. If you’re a teenager or other young adult and you’re using these words as slang, please—oh please—stop and think about what you’re saying. And then, as my parent-friends are always telling their two-year-old, use your words. There are clearer, more accurate ways of expressing your displeasure with something

3. Describing a politician or other public figure as a Nazi, Hitler, or any variation on this theme. I see this applied to President Obama pretty regularly, but this extends across the board from left to right. Once again, use your words. If you think the President’s policies are unfair and overpriced, and extend beyond the bounds of what you believe the government should be able to do, SAY THAT. If you think Michele Bachmann is an atavism of a sexist time when women were treated like chattel, say THAT. Hitler is not an appropriate synonym for oppressive or “does not share my beliefs.”

4. Using language of rape as a scare tactic to make a point about any other issue. Rape as rhetoric is just another exhibition of rape culture. Do NOT do this.

5. Forcing violent or bloody imagery on me as a way to further your cause. Even if you’re advocating for something that should be a basic human right, don’t take away my right to CHOOSE what media I consume. I know that people are suffering in nations far from here. I know that abortion is bloody. I know that abuse of children and animals occurs right around the corner from me. But language is a buffer between the individual and the world at large, especially in the text-heavy universe of the Internet. If you want to share these images, please use your words to draw me in. Make me care before showing me images I would never pull up in a public place.

This one is going to be a squidgy for many people, and I did hesitate when putting it here. I know we need to care about bloody and horrific causes, and I know it’s a form of whitewashing to ask people to erect an artificial barrier between social media and real-world issues. But we can’t always know what will trigger those we’re forcing to look at these images. We don’t know the story of everyone who follows us on Twitter or Facebook. When we share an image publicly, we are forcing every individual within range to not just acknowledge but also to WITNESS what is portrayed. Think very, very carefully when putting these things up for the world to see, and do not use this privilege to promote a personal agenda.

6. Behaving like a bot. This goes for self-promotion, politics, jokes, horoscopes, or any other automated content. If all I see from you is pre-scheduled or third party, even if it’s wise or funny, I’m going to unfollow you. Act like a human person if you want me to treat you like one.

Kristin’s Soft Lines of Social Media

These will earn you a reduction in following: an unsubscribe or a shift to a list I don’t often read. 

1. Daily promotion of your beliefs. Religion, politics, or your own awesomeness: if you’re posting daily Bible verses or politic rants or self-congratulations, you’re starting to act like a bot. Lighten up, shake it up. Share a cat meme or a photo of your lunch or something.

2. Too-frequent sexy, fish-lipped selfies or reflections of your awesome muscles in the mirror. If I wanted you to pout at me every day or if I wanted to fondle your man-boobs, I’d be married to you. This rule may just be one of my own, but it annoys the crap out of me to see close-up photos of someone I don’t know very well first thing every morning.

3. Using social media as a bridge into my personal or private life in a combative or inappropriate way. This one would (and probably should!) be a hard line for many, but since I’m acting as lay-clergy, I don’t draw as bright of a line as many of my friends. Emailing me at my SDF account for clarification on a subtle point of druid belief is fine. Emailing me when you have a fight with a friend is also good. Texting or calling me when you feel like you just can’t carry on is GOOD. DO THAT. Texting me at two a.m. to discuss ogham is not okay. Initiating arguments with me or challenging me at my personal accounts is also not okay.

Respect my boundaries, please.

What do you think of these lines? What are YOUR rules for social media?

A Writerly Proposal: Collectives

This opinion piece from The New York Times, called, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader,” has sparked a small Twitter revolution this evening (one of many, I’m sure), and got my husband and I chatting once again about publishing.

Writers and readers like Colin Robinson, author of that post and—dare I say it—elitist reader, likely detached from “average” readers like myself, the voracious consumers of genre and commercial fiction, argues that the digital ADD of contemporary readers has led to the death of the midlist and the popularization of writing and reading generally, the so-called “displacement of literary culture’s traditional elite.” He says that current publishing models are leading to the death of the midlist author and a general decline in quality, both of written works and engagement of readers with books and each other.

That’s quite a mouthful.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of the “article,” and I’m quite sick of seeing opinion pieces bemoaning the sad state of readership and fiction.

Yes, yes, anyone can self publish on Amazon, and yes, yes, cheap prices may be cheapening content. Yawn. I’m sick of the bitching and ready to start seeing some positive action to make things better.

I’ve gotten myself away from the point I wanted to make—you see, this is the drivel written by easily distracted, untrained female writers like myself!

*grin*

Anyway, husband and I were talking, and my recent infatuation with the marvelous and magical anthology Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells made me think that I’d love to see collectives of writers in similar genres and with similar styles producing serialized novels and/or collections of short stories in digital format.

Writers like, say, the Spellbound Scribes, could work together and release a monthly e-zine of fiction that readers could subscribe to for a low fee, and we split the revenue among contributors. Readers get to read writers they love and meet new authors, follow novel-length stories month by month, and read shorts from writers who aren’t contributing a long work at the moment. If an author I knew I loved joined in on such a project, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat.

Voilà. A new model, right there, one that benefits readers and indie writers. Yes, it’s a commitment. Yes, we would have to police our own quality, and yes, we would need to recruit an artist or two to contribute. But that’s why it’s a collective: authors work together to write, market, and publish their own work.

Easier said than done, but I’m nothing if not a dreamer.