Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

And now that the holiday is over, my family is descending on me. So, don't expect much in terms of writing.

In fact, since I'm moving to Australia in about three weeks, I'm just going to accept that writing is very much a secondary concern right now. I'd love to have a few hours when I'm not exhausted from taking care of my kids to reconnect with my writing, but I'm not going to count on them.

So, instead, I'm going to relax, enjoy the last few weeks I have here in the winter of San Diego with friends and a known place, and not worry about anything else.

If you see anything from me here for the next couple of months, it'll be a gift.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Covert Affairs

My husband loves TV. I love TV. The problem I have with TV is that if one is on in the same room with me, I get sucked in to the point that I can't get anything else done. That, or I read/blog/infotain myself. Being productive, not so much an option.

Fortunately, there's a lot of really good TV out there. One of my favorites lately is Covert Affairs. It's a spy show, and I liked it from the beginning, but the characters and their interactions are getting to be so rich and feel so real lately. I almost wonder if they've brought in new writers, or if the writers are simply trying to really push themselves.

As is typical of first seasons, the main character, Annie, doesn't have any real, serious consequences to deal with in the first season. She's also a newbie and it's clear that, while she's doing a good job, she's not really being given the tough jobs just yet. When she ends up with a tough job (sorry, no details--it's been too long since I watched season 1!) it's because she happened into it, not because she was assigned the difficult job.

Last season (which I think is season 2) Annie told her sister she worked for the CIA (which always makes the character who is being told this "big secret" distrust the operative--I'm never sure why, other than it's expected for the plot); she fell in love with another spy, which had serious consequences for her emotionally and led to her nearly leaving the CIA until she and boyfriend were shot; and then went after and killed the woman who killed Annie's lover, who also happened to be Annie's former boss. It was an eventful season.

This season's working up to being even darker and more consequence-plagued. Annie has to regain the respect and trust of her former boss, all while she's having a hard time toeing the line. It's fun watching Annie grow into a very powerful woman, watching her make mistakes and work through them, and poignant seeing her dealing with the drama of the almost parental relationship she has with Joan, her first boss. There's a lot going on, and a lot to learn about making consequences that feel real. So, to make myself feel better for what otherwise would simply be goofing off, here's a goal for my own writing: give my main character an believable emotional consequence for a mistake she makes that doesn't go away immediately, and in fact has some longer-term consequences relevant to the plot.

There, now I can feel good about my TV time!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Finishing threads

My life has a lot of dangling threads in it--little unresolved conflicts or projects. We all have them in our lives, cluttering things up. I'm sure you know the ones I'm talking about: the cross stitch you picked up from Mt. Rushmore 15 years ago and haven't even finished Washington; the painting that's almost ready to hang if you can just get the foreground right; the collection of pictures of your second (or third) child's first year that's sitting in a photo album, just waiting for you to label and stick the pictures in.

In our lives they're just clutter, and in our books they're just clutter. Except, of course, when it's not just clutter, when it's texture or a red herring meant to set the reader off on the wrong track for a little while. When done right they do add to a story, but when done wrong they detract and make the writing sound amateurish.

Why am I thinking about this? I just finished a book, "The Chocolatier's wife" by Cindy Lynn Speer. I liked the book, especially the voice. The world she's created isn't a completely standard western European-based world (though it is western European in flavor). The direction she took her world-building was one I quite enjoyed.

The problem for me with the book was in the plot. While there are no specifically unresolved plot threads, there are a lot of plot threads that don't go anywhere. There are spoilers ahead, so if you're going to read the book and that'll bother you, stop reading now.

To give one example (which, to be fair, is probably the most egregious in the book) Tasmin at one point plots to help William escape from his jail cell. It's a nice little side plot that gets resolved within pages by another woman confessing to the crime for which William has been jailed. There are no consequences for Tasmin or William since they don't actually do anything. There are no consequences at all for Tasmin for she doesn't even explain to William what she's planning. It's one of those plot points that feels like it should go somewhere, and when it doesn't it's somewhat disappointing. I was happy William was freed, and the manner of it is pretty much required by the remainder of the plot, but the promise made to me when Tasmin conspired to break the law to help her betrothed escape felt unfulfilled.

I'm guessing my books will have a lot of those in the beginning as well. In fact, I know my WIP has some dangling threads right now that I'm probably not even going to resolve. They don't add anything other than texture (maybe) and confusion for my readers (definitely). Fortunately, I have good critique partners who point out the places they feel like a promise is going unfulfilled and that helps me decide if I want to flesh out the plot thread or cut it entirely.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Sunday Philosophy Club

I've never read "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," by Alexander McCall Smith, though I have watched a few episodes and was quite entertained by them. I imagine they're wonderful reads, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed "The Sunday Philosophy Club," another book by AMS (as I will refer to him in the future). Isabel Dalhousie is a wonderful character who was easy to fall in love with, from her musings on human nature and her philosophizing to her penchant for meddling in affairs she really aught to stay out of. What I loved most is the way her character really examines all of her actions. I know most of us don't really think that deeply (or that honestly) about our behavior, but watching Isabel go through the thought process behind her actions made them feel terribly realistic and reasonable, even when they weren't. It's not an action-packed book by any stretch of the imagination; instead it's a (for me) intense character study.

Not that I think most authors could pull off the navel-gazing half so entertainingly, but I almost wished for more of that kind of intense thoughtfulness in the books I read. I'm also inspired to throw more navel-gazing into my own work. Hey, if it's boring, I can always cut it or streamline it, and if it's interesting my characters will be lifted off the page like Isabel Dalhousie was for me.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Holidays are wonderful time-sinks, especially these ones at the end of the year, with all of the delicious but intricate food, the shopping, the decorating, and the parties. Why did I pretty much abandon my NaNoWriMo? Right, because of all the partying we did in Alabama with the family.

It was fun, and worth it, especially since it's been several years since we last visited and will definitely be several more before we make it back down there. Still, the stress, the time change, and the social requirements left little time for anything productive.

Oh yeah, and I spent a lot of time taking pictures. Apparently, if I do one thing creative (like photography) it steals all my mental energy and focus for anything else. So, I have a bunch (A BUNCH) of lovely pictures of family that we will no doubt treasure for years to come. I can't feel bad enough about that to really even be remotely sad that I didn't do any significant writing. I do look forward to getting back into writing, since my two writing projects (dissertation and novel) seem to reinforce one another.

I do feel bad that since we got back I haven't done much, though again, it's been tough amidst the physical fatigue and the illnesses plaguing us all. I've been unable to focus since we got back, and the last couple of days Paul's been seriously under the weather.

I need a vacation from my vacations so I can get  back to blessed productivity!

Friday, November 30, 2012

22 rules

Since blogging about how bad I am about blogging isn't a recipe for a terribly interesting blog, here's something useful:

The folks at Writing excuses did a podcast where they talk about the first eleven of them. (as you might guess, that's where I came across this). It's a mix of things to remember about story telling and things to remember about the process of writing.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Has it really been so long?

Why yes, it has. It has indeed been just about two weeks since I last posted anything on this blog. It's also been about a week and a half since I've written anything other than a single blog post. From yesterday.

In my defense, it's been busy. We've had rotating illnesses and we traveled most of the way across the country, and there was a house fire (see the above blog post). So it's not like I don't  have excuses.

It does mean, though, that I have to go through the process of reacquainting myself with my stories and my characters. Again. Le sigh. I can still finish November with 15,000 words if I write, oh, about 2,000 words a day. Totally doable, right?


Sunday, November 18, 2012

On Red shirts

I just watched Fringe. I'm a week behind because we refuse to pay for Hulu plus, and that means we're a week behind. Anyway, in this week's episode Walter and the gang travel to a pocket universe, where they meet Cecil, a pretty obvious red shirt. The guy barely talks, he's effectively dead in the real universe, and he has no plot purpose other than conveniently being between the Fringe team and an Observer so none of the main characters has to die/be seriously wounded.

I am totally okay with characters dying, but it is so much cooler when they have a purpose and when that death is meaningful in some way. Otherwise it really just feels like either the writers stuck in someone they didn't know what to do with so they killed off the character, or they wanted to implant some drama/suspense and so wanted someone to kill off in close proximity to the main characters, all while not actually threatening them.

For future reference, adding someone in just to kill them is an obvious plot device, and not one I enjoy. Give me someone to care about, or don't add them at all. If you need to give a friend a cameo there have to be better ways of going about it, too!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why I love YA

I'm pretty indiscriminate in my reading habits, as long as it has some speculative aspect. As my last book post shows, even that's not necessary for me to read a book and get something out of it. Still, books that are fun, quick, and have compelling characters, plots, and focus on intriguing issues are the ones that I seem to like best and stick with me the longest. Frequently, those books are YA.

I don't think I could list all my favorite books without a hefty dose of YA. "The Giver" is one of those books that stuck with me for years as I'd think about what defines evil and good and who has a right to life. More recently, "The Hunger Games" and the rest of the trilogy did a fantastic job of showing the horrors of war. Dan Well's John Cleaver trilogy was an awesome exploration of what it means to be human or less than human. The ending is still one of my favorites--Wells puts you through an emotional wringer and still manages to pull off an amazingly hopeful ending.

If you love YA you should head over to Beth Revis' blog and check out her ***50 BOOK*** giveaway. It's colossal. Also, fantastic selection of books.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Not so good about blogging

But I'm right on track with writing. I had a cold this week and Tuesday was a wash, but other than that I've managed at least 500 words every day, most days more. To date I'm up to 5441 words (I haven't written today yet), averaging 544 words per day. Last year at this time I was doing a little better (5964 words) but I fell off the bandwagon on the 11th and didn't get back to writing for about half a week. I remember getting discouraged about this point because I was so far behind and realized I couldn't make it. This year I'm not feeling that at all.

Which just goes to show that if I make small, reasonable goals for myself I can make them and then I feel good enough to push beyond them, getting me further than if I make a big goal and then miss. I know some people are "aim for the stars" types, figuring if they go big but work hard and miss, they've still achieved a lot. I'm not like that--I have to feel some success or I just get demoralized and feel like I suck at whatever I'm trying to accomplish.

Again, not that anyone is reading this except me, but if someone else does happen across this, how about you? What motivates you better? Fantastically high goals that you miss or small goals you achieve?

**update** I wrote 1056 words tonight, which takes me up to a grand total of 6497 words this month. I didn't get there until day 17 last year. Slow and steady...

Friday, November 9, 2012


Yep, I've got one. Fortunately, I'm getting over it, in large part because I haven't had to take serious care of my kids during the day (thank you daycare!). Sadly, sickness eats into my productivity, though it's a great excuse for reading!

So, I checked out three books from the library, oh, last month sometime. One was "The House of Discarded Dreams," which was suggested by a guest on Writing Excuses; one was "The Stone Gods," which just looked interesting; the last was "Map of Ireland," which Paul picked up off a shelf somewhere and sounded like it would be a good character study.

Never in my imaginings did I guess all three would feature lesbian protagonists.

The "House of Discarded Dreams" is pretty tame, and I did like it mostly. My main complaint about that book is there's no system to the magic, it's just random magic that does whatever stuff is necessary for the plot. Reading it was kind of like sitting in the back seat of a bus, simply watching scenery pass. As advertised, the book did a great job of writing "the other"--a couple of black women written by a white author, who genuinely (to me) sound like black women. It's not the kind of fantasy I'd seek out, but I enjoyed it and I'd probably pick up another of Ekaterina Sedia's books if I came across one.

"The Stone Gods" on the other hand I didn't enjoy. It's heavy handed, overly literary, really just a retread of ideas other people have done better. The first third of it reads like Aldus Huxley's "A Brave New World," except less sympathetic. The second part is told from the POV of an unbelievably eco-conscious white man stranded on Easter Island, who watches the islanders destroy the very last of their palm trees. It's like Jeanette Winterson (the author) decided to fictionalize a chapter from Jared Diamond's "Collapse," but didn't bother to investigate the mindset of people from that era. The last two sections aren't any better. To top it all off, there are a grand total of two sympathetic heterosexual male characters in the entire book; everyone else is conquest hungry, a pedophile, or in cahoots with "the man," or some combination of the three. Women are just there as decoration or for use sexually. It's as if Winterson thinks the only thing heterosexual men and women worry about is sex; nothing else drove them. The author did a lousy job of depicting believable people or relationships period, but the only even sort of positively rendered people and relationships were homosexual. It just did not appeal.

The third one I picked up because the character was supposedly spunky and lovable, and I thought, hey, I want to write spunky, lovable female characters, so I'll read this. Within just a few pages it's clear this "spunky, lovable" girl is a lesbian and, having grown up white in South Boston in the early 70's, kind of a bigot. After finishing "The Stone Gods" I wasn't sure I wanted to read another "homosexuals are saintly and heterosexuals are evil" tirade, so I almost put down the book. I'm glad I didn't. It's by far the most explicit of the three books, but it was also much more believable and much more nuanced. The main character, Ann, is lesbian and horny as hell. "Horny" is pretty much what the average teenager is like, no matter what their sexuality and that reality came through. People were people and had flaws and strengths and very believable reactions to their situations and to one another. I didn't like the decisions Ann made, but I understood why she made them, which is a sign of good writing in my book. Ann became more of an anti-hero than a hero because of the values she chose to uphold, but it was clear why she had those values, how she could justify seeing herself in a heroic light even if I don't. Her sexuality influenced her experience, yes, but it was not the characteristic that defined her, nor was it something that made her inherently good or bad, or really even changed many of her decisions. Stephanie Grant wrote a good book.

I don't think I'll be writing any homosexual characters any time soon, but if I do, I'm going to take a page from Grant's "Map of Ireland" and let many values define my characters, not just their sexuality.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

NaNo Write Mo' days 2 & 3

I didn't post yesterday, mostly because I don't feel quite right about filling my entire blog with posts about how much I've written during NaNoWriMo. Something tells me thirty posts of, "this is how much I wrote today" would get tiresome quickly. I'll keep my tally going, but I'm probably going to limit the number of posts where I just say how many words I've written.

Instead, I'm going to blog a bit about what I'm observing about my writing style. Yes, I'm a pantser. Even though I have an outline and I'm trying to stick with it, I'm having a hard time sticking to the plan. I finished two chapters that I'm pretty happy with and then went back and looked at my outline. Guess what--I made a huge mistake. I'm supposed to have someone escape in the second chapter. Instead, the person helps my protagonist and then runs away, and not to the place I intended for him to escape to initially. Oops.

On the plus side, that mistake makes it easier for me to leave my protagonist where she is and develop a secondary plot in the other setting with a character I love but didn't quite know what to do with.

My story is also turning into a conspiracy book, with tons of mysteries I really hope I'm not telegraphing to my readers.

On the minus side, I've had to scrap my outline pretty much from this point forward. Not that I mind--this is also, I suspect, a simpler story to tell, and that's going to be an advantage when it comes to actually finishing the darn thing. So, I'm going to spend this evening plotting again, at least the first few chapters, hoping this time I stay on the path I've plotted.


Day 2: 804 words
Day 3: 580 words

Friday, November 2, 2012

NaNo Write Mo' day 1

Success! Okay, I gave myself a pretty low bar to jump (500 words per day), but still, I wrote that much and more, so I'm calling it a good day.

Words written: 803

Tomorrow, tackling a conspiracy and a making a new home.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Last day before NaNoWriMo

Last year I attempted NaNoWriMo. I didn't make it, but I did write 12,000 new words and I'm still working on the project and still loving it. The fact that I'm still working on it and still loving it is pretty much the reason I'm not doing NaNo. I don't want to abandon this story to work on another. I really do believe that finishing this (&*@$) thing will make me a better writer, and I do want to be a better writer. Thus, this blog :)

So, instead of NaNo-ing on a new book, I'm going to work on the old one and just post daily word counts. I'm aiming for 500 words a day, which will work out to 15,000 new words in Library Creatures (the kind of holdover title of my WIP). That's more than I managed last year and will just about double what I have so far.

Not that I have any readers (ha!) but I'll be posting my word counts daily here for some "public" accountability.

Friday, October 26, 2012

No such thing as monsters

Derrick bought Men in Black for Sylvia to watch. You know, Sylvia, my four-year-old, with the newly active imagination and lack of understanding of fiction?

So, of course, she's having trouble getting to sleep.

My daughter loves watching TV, so I may be reading too much into this, but even though she was scared by the aliens, Sylvia wouldn't stop watching the show. She was worried about the people, worried about who was good and who was bad, worried that people and aliens were going to die.

Little kids are an easy audience (which is obvious if you ever watch a kid's show or, even worse, go back and watch a kid's show from your childhood. Ugh). Even so, that's the reaction I want from my readers. I want them to care about the people in the story, to worry that they're going to get hurt or die. I want them to wonder who is evil and who is good. Those things are harder to accomplish with adults than with kids, but the basic principle is still the same.

Sylvia cared most about the characters who looked most human to her.

The aliens, especially the more monstrous looking, were much less sympathetic to her. Likewise, I care most about characters who feel real, who have realistic attitudes and reactions, rather than about caricatures or people who react in an alien way. As an adult the physical form of my character is less important than the way they're reacting to their situation or to the other characters around them. David Brin writes all kinds of aliens who are very human in their emotions and interactions, and that makes them effective, sympathetic characters. The people who I see as good are going to be those who make good choices, who build up the people around them, who stick to their principles in the face of difficultly. The stories that I find most interesting, though, are the ones were those same sources of good and of strength get twisted in a way that takes a good character into bad territory, or where the bad character is bad because of an extreme adherence to a good trait.

As an example from history, in Nazi Germany most members of the LDS church used the 12th article of faith as an excuse to not stand up against Hitler. Helmuth Huebener, Rudi Wobbe, and Karl Heinz were three teen-age boys who dared to criticize the Nazi regime and they were not supported by their local church authorities. Huebener and his friends recognized there were more important freedoms and rights (like, say, life) that were being infringed upon and they chose to take action, even though it cost them dearly. We now see the actions of the other people in their congregation as at best apathetic, and at worst monstrous. It's that kind of decision--to hold to a good principle in the wrong situation--that I think makes the most interesting, and the most terrible monsters. 

The kind of monster all of us can imagine becoming.

After way too much discussion of why aliens wouldn't really come to Earth, I finally told Sylvia aliens were made up. That, finally, was the explanation she needed to hear to go to sleep. I don't think it's time yet for a discussion of what makes a person into a monster.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Paying attention

For those who don't know, my husband and I and our two kids are moving to Australia soon. Joy. Part of preparing for our departure is going through all of our stuff, including the boxes and boxes of papers I've accumulated through, oh, 10-ish years of grad school and getting rid of as much as we can.

This time around it's easier than ever to throw out the paper copies of articles I've had gathering dust since we moved to San Diego. Or earlier, to be honest. I have most of them digitally, and if I need them in the future I will almost certainly be able to get them digitally, so there really isn't a good reason to hang on to the carbon. Except maybe for the carbon credits.

Interspersed among the articles, though, are snippets of stories I penned between class notes and on the backs of scratch paper. Those I'm keeping. Some of them are really surprisingly good. Like, "I can't believe I wrote that" kind of good. Some of it is crap, too, but there are little nuggets of goodness in there that are the kind of fiction I would love to read myself (if I'd ever finished it).

Perhaps I'll post some of it here, or maybe I'll finish one or two off and actually attempt to publish something.

I made a comment about all my fragments to Derrick. Apparently he's paid more attention to them than I have. I haven't thought of myself as a writer, but he's seen me write enough stories in my spare time he thinks of me as a writer already.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Writing is hard for me. I'm a pantser, but not in a good way. While I like to write and see where things go, I really do need to know where I'm going. There are all kinds of great tools out there to help with plotting, like this, this, and this.

Which I'm mostly putting here so I can find them later when I need them :)

So far the most successful strategy I've found for myself is having a list of things I want to accomplish in the chapter and then writing with those ends in mind. It's not quite plotting (though having a plot structure in mind does help) but it's not so much freedom that what I end up with in the end is a pile of wretchedness wrapped in metaphor.

Friday, October 19, 2012


I'm good at beginning things. Not so good at endings (just ask my PhD advisor). Not such a bad thing for blogging, since blogging isn't about endings, it's about documenting the journey and sharing adventures and lessons learned along the way.

As is writing.

This is my writing blog. I have another blog where I pursue other things, where I put down my musings on my family life, on politics, on my science, and where I display my photography. This blog is going to be about writing.

'Cause I'm gonna be serious about this :)

And what kind of writer would I be if I didn't have a writing blog?

So here it is: my inaugural post for my inaugural writing blog. Here's to a fabulous journey, many adventures, hard slogs, and pearls of wisdom gleaned from the muck.