Crowded

I woke up this morning and my brain was full of people.  Not even all my own people, which would make sense since I’m in the middle of writing a theft and a murder.  No, mostly my mind is filled with other people’s people, and it’s feeling a bit crowded.

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There’s the character from a book I read a while back who I really liked but disappointed me badly.  He was a young man who for several reasons had nothing much to do besides hang out and train at his local dojo, and thus grew up to be a very skilled martial artist.  His story in the book was one of trying to find a real place for himself, a path besides just hanging out and now teaching classes in his master’s school.  By the end of the book, while he does find a path that fits nicely with both his skills and his lack of patience with bullies, he winds up meekly following along with whatever his partner decides, flat out saying ‘he tells me what to do and I do it.’  For a character that started out fiery and passionate, it was a serious letdown, and it’s bothering me like it was a close friend in a bad relationship.

Then there are the characters who are abrasive and awful.  I read a book recently that I really, thoroughly enjoyed, and went on to grab another of the author’s books set in the same universe.  Within three pages, however, the main character showed off her violent anger problem and her complete refusal to take responsibility for said issues.  Then over the next chapter or so, it was made clear that her family was aiding and abetting with the excuses. “You’ll find a job that won’t fire you, I’m sure!” and “Just keep trying, someone will see you for the gem you are!” are not appropriate responses to “I got fired again for assaulting a customer.  Again.”  And it’s definitely not a trait that should be rewarded with jobs, adventures, and powerful friends.

And then, of course, lurking in the corners are my own characters.  The clever one that I can’t seem to write out of a hole.  The persistent one who is feeling like giving up.  The annoying, bubbly one who is sliding into seriousness and, well, not despair.  That’s a bit melodramatic, but definitely a melancholic mood..

Sigh.  It’s frustrating that the only people in my head lately are the ones that frustrate, irritate, or disappoint me.  I suppose it’s human nature— the bad sticks so much more easily than the good, after all.  So I’m going to go back and sit down with a few books full of characters I know I like (I strongly recommend The Wood Wife by Terri Windling) and hang out with a cup of coffee and some old friends.

What’s your favorite character?  Who should I meet?

Political escape

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I have something to confess.  I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately.  Except, not really.

See, I read as an escape.  I grew up inside the Beltway near Washington DC and even the local news was national and international.  My family loves little more than arguing politics and current events and I, being the weird one, can’t stand it.  Then there’s the world around us.  No matter what your stance on something, you have to admit that it’s a pretty volatile place to live these days.

So, I read.  But, (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming,) so much fantasy of all sub-genres these days is about political posturing and the intricate dance of maneuvering through power structures.  It’s exhausting for me to read through how a character is trapped into an action they hate via political blackmail or the threat of a misstep.  It’s way too much like watching the news.

But, there’s an easy way to get around that.  Read a romance novel.  It does take a little looking, but once you find your way down the genre pathways to the paranormal romance or the fantasy romance novels, you’ve struck a rich vein of decent adventures that are often, dare I say usually, written without the angsty political whinging that seems to be so prevalent pretty much everywhere else.

The characters are carefully developed and usually the sort of people I don’t want to hide from.  The situations are often just as tense and exciting as any thriller.  And the world-building is usually done as the story goes along rather than in page after page of lengthy explanation of the political climate and why our hero is so completely trapped by it.  And, more often than not, there’s a happy ending where everyone can rest easy knowing that the Great Evil has been defeated and nobody’s future is miserable and uncertain.  I wish that could be the case in real life, for sure.  (I’ve really enjoyed Playing With Fire and pretty much anything set in the Cold Case Psychic world.)

Not everything I read is romance these days— I’ve currently got Junkyard Druid up next on my Kindle, and I just read Enter The Saint not long ago.  Still, I am leaning right now towards Stories that can help me relax without worrying about how close to an actual news story it’s getting.  Who has a favorite book that’s pure escape?

Antagonizing

Okay, let me back up slightly and preface this by saying that I am by no means a Cardcaptor Sakura expert.  I’ve seen a number of episodes, some when they first kicked around in the U.S. and now again that my son has discovered it, but I haven’t read the manga, nor have I seen every episode of the show.  So, bearing that in mind…

One of the things that I started thinking hard about after the Cardcaptor Sakura exhibit a few weeks back is the difference between a villain and an antagonist.  See, when I think of conflict in an adventure, I think of a bad guy.  Sauron in Lord of the Rings, and each of his lesser henchdudes.  Harry Potter has Voldemort,  his minions, and all the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers.  Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Sailor Moon all have their respective Evil Queens… Basically, pick an adventure story at about any level of telling and there’s a villain actively taking steps to keep Our Hero down.  It’s one of the things we all look for: the Thanoses and Poison Ivys what have yous to defeat to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

Except… villains turn out to be entirely unnecessary.  Sakura ends up having to save the world— well, her part of it at least— every week.  There’s nobody sending monsters against her, no master force behind this week’s problem.  Each card she comes across is simply causing problems thanks to their nature, not because they’ve been sent to eliminate those pesky heroes.  Nope.  They’re just unruly magical sprites causing trouble, and Sakura needs to clean up.

They’re antagonists, not villains.  They provide a challenge to work against, and butt heads on occasion, but without any grander plan or deliberate malice.  Simply conflicting goals. The realization was one where I had to yell at myself for a little while.  Of course, you don’t need to have a grand villain orchestrating everything, every time.

Sometimes, you just need a good puzzle or a magical force that doesn’t understand that they’re wrecking house just by playing tag.  So.  What’s your favorite fictional obstacle?

 

I’m terrible

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So I forgot what day it is.  I’m sorry.  I should have had a post up already, but it honestly just occurred to me that it’s Monday now, and not Friday or something.  You’d think having a regular show schedule to adhere to would help me remember what day of the week it is, but apparently not so much.

I’m hard at work doing edits for Finding Insight, the next Spirits of Los Gatos book.  The pre-order should be up very soon, and I’ll have the cover to show off hopefully by the next post.  I’m also sitting down to plan out the next few projects.  The fourth os Gatos book, and some short stories that I hope you will all enjoy, and a few other fun things.

I’m trying to get myself much better at being organized.  You have, no doubt, noticed over the past few weeks that I’ve been horribly scattered.  I hate feeling like this, like I’m sort of adrift, and I’m taking some steps to get myself back on some kind of track.  Writing out goals for the next few months, and using an actual calendar and so on, and I’m starting to feel a bit more grounded in reality.  I’ve realized that I need to do a better job of managing myself, honestly, it’s not a skill I excel at.  Do you all have any suggestions?

My new plants…

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So I finished the next Spirits of Los Gatos novel last Friday!  Well, okay.  I finished the first draft of the next Los Gatos novel last Friday.  There’s a LOT left to work on, and I’m starting that this week.  The main character in this one is Sebastian, and he’s got a few things he needs to work out, and there’s plenty of areas that need smoothing out or alternately roughing up a little.  Also, Granny’s mad at me because Seb doesn’t go out for Pho at any point in this one, and clearly that’s just not cool.

But here’s the exciting part about it: I got stuck about halfway.  This seems to be a Thing for me at this point.  I mean, no matter what I’ve done to prepare, I seem to get stuck right in the middle of the story and have no idea how to write myself out of it.  So while I was wallowing in my misery just a bit, I went back to my notes.

See, I started this one by going through and working out about half a snowflake.  By this, I mean that I wrote out a sentence to describe the book, then a paragraph, then a page description of my story, and I did a few paragraphs for each of the important characters.  But… I didn’t go all the way through the whole process.  (Partly because the way his book is written makes me want to strangle him and I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading it.)

But even with all this handy guiding information about where my story was going andStockSnap_LTY3TGLE73 how the characters were going to get it there, I still couldn’t quite figure out what happened next.  Amazon, confused as I have made the ‘Zon’s algorithms, still recommends to me writing books at a pretty consistent rate. One of them was written by a woman who started to pay attention to her word count and her writing speed.  One of the things she suggested doing was noting down the beats you want to hit in each scene or chapter.  So… I started scribbling a few things for each of the next couple of chapters since beyond that I wasn’t as confident about where I was going, despite the snowflake.

And it worked.  I wrote the last half of the book in about a week, and it felt smooth, not forced!  I didn’t plot out the whole book, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, but I did manage to work out a lot of stuff ahead of when I wrote it, so I wasn’t fully pantsing my way through it either.

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Photo credit: theilr on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Now, I’m moving on to editing the book so you might be getting a preview of the work sometime over the next few weeks.  But I’m also re-reading Take Off Your Pants, and I’m thinking of the next thing I’m going to sit down and work on from scratch, and maybe going back over Brian’s next book and starting almost from scratch on it. We’ll see how it goes.  What are your thoughts?  Do you write?  are you a planner or a pantser, or in between , like me?

Getting angry

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Photo credit: @lattefarsan on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

Characters have feelings, just like anyone else.  Sometimes those feelings get hurt, and characters get angry, and the interesting part for me is always how they come back from that particular ledge.  Often the person or situation they’re angry at is the bad guy or the Great Crisis of the book, and the way our heroes get past their anger is to defeat the bad guy, solve the Crisis, and go home victorious to have cake and fancy drinks and maybe flirt with that cutie over at the corner of the bar.  Or something.

But other times— and this is where I get really hung up— our heroes get angry at their friends, family, or love interest, and we all know that they’re going to have to work that out to get through the Great Crisis or else the whole story is a mess of people falling apart and nothing getting fixed.  So, often someone will talk to our hero and explain, either logically or not, that they’re wrong for being mad, and the hero sighs ponderously and agrees, either silently or out loud, and then they go and apologize to whoever they were mad at. And the story moves cheerfully along to its grand finale.

Fuck.  That.  People are allowed to be angry.  People are allowed to be hurt when they are wronged, or even think they’ve been wronged, and it’s not their job to apologize for having feelings.  This post was inspired by a book I was reading the other day, and yes I’ll admit it was a romance because I love me a happy ending, and no I’m not going to author-shame by naming it.

Our young hero agrees, after a long conversation discussing it, to date their love interest.  When the love interest is seen out with another, our hero gets upset and makes a small scene in public before being hauled off by his friend.  Now, in the story the whole thing hinged on a misunderstanding of exclusivity, and I can easily see how it could be resolved quickly, but instead of a reconciliation scene where two adults admit faulty assumptions, what I got was a “well we never talked about that, we just said we’re dating, now come on we’re going to do what I want now,” statement and within about 3 short sentences the couple was all over each other.  No further discussion was necessary, apparently, and all was forgiven even though the actual problem was barely even addressed let alone solved.  And they lived, I assume, happily ever after, but I wouldn’t know because I had to put the damn thing down and walk away.  I had no respect left for either of the characters involved.  And the love interest showed that they were uninterested in our hero’s emotional health to the point of being actually harmful.

Our young hero had every right to be upset since he was under the impression that they had talked about that, thank you very much, and discounting that fact is dismissive in the extreme.  It’s also maybe hurtful in bigger ways since in all honesty humans learn from fiction, and that scene taught that anger and hurt in a relationship should be buried and ignored.

That’s only one example of perfectly justifiable anger being ignored or pushed aside that I’ve come across, but it’s a pretty clear one.  I don’t mind anger in a story, because like I said, characters are just like everyone else, and they’re allowed to get mad when the situation calls for it.  It’s how they come back from being angry that can be hit or miss for me.  I would hope that there would be some sort of acknowledgment that a character’s feelings are acceptable, if only because they’re part of that character.

Now acting on that rage…. Well.  That’s another blog post altogether.

 

Ghost light

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Signature Theatre, waiting between performances of Light Years

There is something special about an empty theatre.  It’s a space that is designed specifically to hold a crowd of people in order to tell a story, but when it’s empty, it seems to me that it’s a space holding its breath.  A place that is waiting and silence.  Of quiet,  but not necessarily a place of peace.  For me, an empty theatre is often more sacred than a church or a temple.

I’m sitting here, typing this, between shows— I am filling in for a friend this weekend as he fulfills a family obligation, and I’m proud to be able to be a part of this show.  It’s a story of a father and a son, and their journey through life, and it’s a little bit character sketch and a little rock and roll.  The script is compelling in a strange way, and the music is beautiful and, well, also a little bit rock and roll.

During the performance the theatre is full of life, even during the few silent moments of the show where everyone in the room seems to be holding their breath (myself included,) and any sound at all seems almost offensive, the space is still a living thing and you can feel that energy even with your eyes shut.

But not right now.  Right now the silence is heavy, but it’s a patient heaviness.  It’s strangely full of the echoes of all the stories told in this room in the past.  Not just the shows performed, but the injuries sustained— of which there have been several I’ve witnessed myself— and of the celebrations held.  (There is just about nothing that can top one cast member proposing to another during curtain call.)  I find both versions of a theatre to be inspiring, but it is this one, the silent, empty one that somehow brings me peace every time.

In theatre everywhere there is a thing called a ghost light.  It’s a simple thing, a night light really— often just a plain light bulb on a stick— to put the stage to sleep at the end of the day.  If you ask around, most theatre people will tell you it’s a safety device.  A light on stage when all the other lights are turned off so that anyone coming in isn’t at risk of tripping over something or falling into a hole.  Some folks will grin and tell you it’s there to keep the ghosts company because every theatre has at least one ghost.

Me?  I think those are both perfectly fine explanations.  But I think mostly a ghost light is there to make sure that the stories of the place can keep echoing.  After all, stories are the breath of a theatre, and when they’re gone, the space truly does go silent.  I think, in that way, a theatre and I are very similar.  We both need stories.

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End of the night for Light Years, and the ghost light shines just before lights out.

End as I mean to go on

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I think I’ve solved (part of) my problem with Brian’s next story.  You see, I was starting at the beginning and clearly, that was the wrong way to go about it.

Let me back up a little.  The story as it was presented to me my by convoluted subconscious is a bit of a mystery.  There’s a bad guy doing Nefarious Things and Brian doesn’t know who he is, and just a little about what’s going on when he starts looking into it.  The wall I kept hitting was that I wasn’t sure what Brian needed to see and figure out to get him to the bad guy, let alone emerge victorious somehow.  And the problem, it turned out, was that I didn’t know enough about the ending of the story.

So I’m going to spend the next few days writing the end, then I’m going to go back to the beginning and start over.  I’m actually doing the same thing with one of my new stories, going through and writing some of the end of it, so I can go back and plant the seeds for that conclusion back through the beginning and the middle.

I will be the first to admit that I’m no Agatha Christie here.  Even if someone ends up murdered, there will be no dapper little detective neatly tying it all up, but still.  I think I might be on to something here.  I’m feeling much more confident about sorting out the story, which, I hope, will make for a more fun book to read.  And if a book isn’t fun to read, then really, what’s the point?

The seat of my plants, again

StockSnap_3BWN7KIF4TI’m giving Plantsing another go, folks.  I’ve been lurking through some indie author forums and a book kept popping up as fairly well recommended— The Fantasy Fiction Formula— so I went ahead and picked it up.  One of the first things I realized is that it’s a book about planning.  As we have discussed here, I am not so good at that.

One of the first things she talks about is the most basic part of the structure of a story.  She calls it a ‘story plan’ but really it’s the nucleus of the plot.  It’s the trunk of the tree from which all the branches of sub-plots and character interactions grow.  And she suggests that the best way to make sure that yours is solid is to write two sentences that cover all the important facets of the story, like protagonist and conflict and so forth.  For example, here’s how I’d probably have written my sentences for A Demon’s Duty:  When he enters a pact to protect a priestess, exiled demon Michael Gilbert must track down the origin of the monsters that threatened her.  But can he keep his end of the bargain when Belit, the demoness who bred the monsters offers him a way home to the Demon Realm?

See, that’s nice and concise, and really does kind of sum up the story, I think.  And it would have been handy to have this sort of direction to stare at when I got stuck a few times— and I really did get stuck.  I could even have written one for May, for her own struggle with grief over her friends’ deaths and her struggle to accept Michael in the first place.  In fact, I probably should have, but then it was my first story longer than a handful of pages, so it was a learning experience.

So… for my next few projects, I’m going to try to pull the plot together in some sort of coherent statement like that, at the very least.  The book coming up for January has already been written, but the sequel to it is having some trouble and could probably use the guidance.  And the rest of them…  well.

You’ll have to wait and see.

Panic

 

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This method is so much more reliable.

 

I had a really decent post for today.  It was actually about writing and what I’m reading right now, and a little bit about what I’ve been working on.

You guys, my computer ate my blog post.

Actually, it ate all my blog posts- published and unpublished- all the way back to mid-July.  You see, I write these posts in Scrivener before putting them up on the blog here, so that I have an easy way to remember what I’ve written about, and can go back to refer to things and basically it’s made my life a ton easier.  Until today, when I sat down to finish writing my post and the whole damned program froze, forcing me to close it all out and restart Scrivener.

Now I know god damned well that I’ve saved many times since July.  Mostly to prevent this exact thing from happening, so I’m not really sure what’s going on here.  I’m hoping that I have everything in my backup files and that all is really okay and all, but I don’t have time to sort it out right this moment.  I’ve got to head out the door to my ‘day job’ in a minute.

So instead of a thrilling and riveting look at how bad I am at planning out my books and so forth (I’m working on it!) you get this lame excuse instead.  I apologize and throw myself at your feet to beg your kind patience while I force my computer to do its job.  On the schedule?  Some percussive maintenance.

P.S.  If you want something more amusing to read, check out this blog!  Not only was my book reviewed over there but so are a bunch of others, and there is some travel blogging and a few cute kid pics for good measure. Personally, I can never get enough book recommendations.