Saturday, November 30, 2013

Life is a Trail Race Everyone Says "Don't Run!"

Yesterday I was delirious with fever. I was posting to Facebook ridiculous things all day. Now, I know, I post ridiculous things all the time, but these were ridiculous even for ME! As in out of my MIND ridiculous. I had a fever, I couldn't concentrate, I was supposed to be at my family's Thanksgiving celebration but couldn't for fear of infecting those with impaired immune systems. We have several people in that state at the moment. I was also supposed to be working on two newsletters and/or my novels. But what was I doing all day? Posting ridiculous posts on FB that made little to no sense because my brain wasn't firing on all thrusters. Funny, but sad. And unproductive.

So this morning I decide I feel good enough to go run a race I'd signed up for months ago. Not just a race, mind you, but a trail race. The difference between a road race and a trail race is the difference between Six Flags and Jurassic Park. Well, maybe not quite that stark, but seriously, trail runs are a whole different bird. (Haha! Bird. Turkey. Sorry.) The terrain doesn't give you the rebound on your shoes that the road does so you have to push harder with your legs to move faster. You have to focus on watching for roots, holes, stumps, wildlife, mud, rocks, etc. while speeding up and slowing down to adjust for the ruts and slants and hills and valleys of the terrain. Not to mention the random tree branch IN YOUR FACE! It's a lot of fun but a lot more tiring than just pounding the pavement for the same amount of distance.

None of my family wanted me to do it, for obvious reasonable reasons. I was too sick. I needed rest. It was too hard. It was pushing myself too far. I should be a good girl and stay home because I could make myself worse.

I went anyway, had a great time, and feel better. I didn't win anything, but, hey, I run like a turtle on pavement. What did I expect running on mud?

What's the lesson?

Just because someone tells you that you shouldn't do something for your own good doesn't mean they're right. Now, don't go using my blog as research to argue with your mothers and fathers because they're giving you GOOD advice you dont want to follow. I'm an adult and I made an adult decision. I WAS feeling better and I DIDN'T push myself beyond my limits on the race. But sometimes--sometimes--you have to listen to that voice inside you that says, "I can do this!" despite all the negative voices around you.

I watched this video and felt guilty on many levels for not being as successful as I could be because I haven't fully embraced my potential. I haven't let go of the safety nets and taken a dive into my passion. I'm not ready, yet. But every time I watch it, I'm convinced this guy is onto something:

So consider: are you letting the negative voices around you keep you from your passion? Are the negative voices from yourself or from others? Is it time to step out of your comfort zone and try something new? You know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I guess that means I'm not insane, then, because I keep posting different craziness on Facebook, even when I'm delirious with a fever.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thirty Days, Two Novels, One Crazy Writer

Leaping small buildings with a single bound is easy compared to writing one (quality) novel in thirty days. Writing two? That's...that's...just insane, Cannon. Just insane. What do you think you're doing?

There is a method. Yes, I am crazy, but this world needs a little more of my kind of crazy, in my opinion. Let me 'splain. Well, this is a blog post, so let me sum up.

My initial plan for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was to finish Shadow of Redemption, the story of 16 year-old Emily who is afraid of everything but shouldn't be. She's been beaten down by the world and tries her best to remain unnoticed and alone. It's safe that way. Then she meets Daniel, the charismatic, lovable detective who tries to convince her she's worth more than living in rat holes and taking dead-end jobs and that people can not only be wonderful but make your life better. Throw in a bit of magic, some folk lore twisted in my crazy "there IS no box" sort of way and BOOM: urban fantasy YA is born.

However, life as a writer is never that easy.

You see, Daniel did this thing to me. (This is going to sound weird to you non-writers out there, but stay with me. I'll explain) Daniel decided HE needed to tell HIS story, too. So while I was writing Emily's story on the computer, I would dream (yes, quite literally) of Daniel's story and his adventures behind the scenes. And his story had such an influence on what Emily was doing (she was actually reacting to what he was doing without knowing it) that I HAD to start writing down his story. Thus, Shifting Perspectives was born. So, I figured, why not write them at the same time?

This seems a little over the top, but it actually works well in a revisionary sense. You see, when I get stuck on one story, I start writing on the other and figure out where to pick up on the first. The two characters play off each other in the most marvelous way. Where I thought Daniel was simply the foil for Emily, they actually foil each other. Not as in "curses, foiled again" but as in a reflection that makes the other shine brighter. And the more I learn about Daniel, the more I fall in love with him.

So back to the, "Daniel did this thing to me." If you're not a writer, you don't really understand. Characters have this way of surprising writers. It may seem to an outsider that a writer has full and complete control of their worlds (and some may. I don't know.) However, for me, it's like a chemistry experiment: I write the rules for the world, for the characters, for the plot and the setting, then throw everything into a box and shake well. Then like the good scientist I am, I sit back and observe and record what happens. Everything from that point on is (mostly) out of my control unless I change the rules (which is sometimes necessary). It's a little frightening, but also a little fun because I often don't know where my characters are going to take me.

So with one week to go, it's highly unlikely I'll finish both, but I'm a good ways into them and proud of the work I've done so far. Unlike some of the characters I've written about in the past, Emily and Daniel feel REAL. Which is huge. And I hope that translates to other readers as well.

Do I recommend writing two novels at the same time for everyone? Not necessarily. But sometimes it's good to have another project to help keep you fresh. Besides, if you don't try to leap smaller buildings, you'll never leap that skyscraper!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sick of Being Sick and End of the Tunnel Lights

Yep. I gots it. The head/throat nastiness that's going around. I sound like a chain smoker headed for a double lungostomy. Is that a word? I don't care. The fever is getting to me, I think, but that's all part of the fun. There's always light at the end of the tunnel, one way or another.

Just started (and finished) what my sisters and I call a "popcorn" book: a novel that can be read in one day (paperback 250-350 pp). I'm not a speed reader, but you put me in a chair and give me something I love to read with characters I love to read about and I can plow through it like an ox in a New York china store. I even shouted a couple of times. It was pretty awesome. Swordfights. Plot twists. (Man, she put the HAMMER down in this one!) Angst. Ancient legends. True love. Miracles...wait, that's another story, but anyway. It had EVERYTHING.

I want to write like that. I want my characters and plots to suck people in like a black hole and never let them go and leave them at the end breathless and lustful for more. I SO want the next book in the series and I know it won't be out for another few years. ARGACK! (This is my new frustration word. I made it up. I like it. It even sounds good aloud!)

One of the best pieces of advice I keep forgetting is that to write good stuff, you have to read good stuff. I have so little free time these days, my stack of "wanna read this" has reached taller-than-me proportions. That's pretty tall. And I have this terrible addiction to books in the sense that when I start one, that's all I want to do. It's like eating the first piece of chocolate cake and not being able to quit eating until it's ALL GONE even if it makes you sick. In this case, it makes me unable to keep a full-time job, get laundry done, live my life, etc. I've never been able to find a balance. So far. I'm still alive, right? I still have time to revise that nasty little quirk.

Speaking of revision, since this is NaNoWriMo, I've dedicated my free time to finishing Emily's story, Shadow of Redemption. In the process, though, I've decided I also need to work on Daniel's story, Shifting Perspectives so I can better flesh out what's happening behind Emily's back. If I do this right, at the end of the month I'll have TWO books, one of them (mostly) finished, the other as a first draft ready for edits. Pretty cool.

So as I close, I realize I'm starting to get cold and hungry. A good sign the fever is breaking and I'm probably going to have to go to work tomorrow. :-( Well, at least I have my lesson already prepared. And maybe I can slip in a few chapters of some book without interfering TOO much with my job. Maybe. (maybe). *grin*

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Crossroads, Foggy Swamps, and Cliffs of Insanity

In my first novel, the one that will probably be published AFTER my current work, (if at all) the main character, Brahms, tells his young protege, Eriq, "Choices make the man." In the context, Eriq is struggling with the fact that his background predisposes him to a life of using his magical abilities to hurt other people. Brahms, the eternal optimist, is trying to convince Eriq that the boy still has the ability to turn his life around through his own free will, even though he's made mistakes in the past.

Sometimes in life we feel we don't have choices. We always have choices. The problem is, we don't want to accept the consequences. Our choices define who we are and how we are perceived by others. It's an awful responsibility when you think about it. As much as we want to say, "I don't care what anyone thinks!" deep down we still want the love and approval of others. If our choices hurt them, even if those choices are "for their own good," then someone is going to be disappointed.

In writing, we have to choose carefully for our characters. What do they look like? What do they sound like? What are their quirks? What are their strengths? Weaknesses?

And beyond those bits of trivia are the choices THEY must make. Do we send them to the crossroads where they have clear choices and clear consequences (presumably!) ahead? Do we send them to the foggy swamps where they have no idea what they will face but they know they have to slog through and tackle whatever pops up out of the mire? Or do we plop them at the bottom of a huge cliff and insist they try to climb to the top before the evil mastermind cuts the rope?

What is the BEST choice?

Sometimes as a writer, that question haunts me. I write and re-write a scene and I can't figure out what is the BEST choice. Then I realize...remember, actually...that sometimes there ISN'T a best choice. Sometimes you just have to MAKE a choice and stick with it. That, my friends, is so hard to do at times. You doubt yourself. You doubt your writing. You doubt your choice. But you can't let the choice keep you from the writing.

Wow. Am I preaching to myself today or what?

So, a little teary-eyed from a self-revelation, I'm going to post, go back to my poor story that's been hanging in the cybercloud for some time and make some choices.

Go make your own. But remember, there are always consequences. ;-)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Living on the Edge: She Didn't Fall? Inconceivable!

When you look up "motivational posters" in Google images you get a lot of quotes including phrases like, "push yourself to the edge," and, "you don't know where the edge is until you get there," and such. This can be good advice for those who take advice as it should be taken: in moderation and in consideration of one's (honest) limitations. However, if you have a death wish, step right on out there to the mossy, wet, sloped surface and plummet to your death if you want to. Be my guest.

But we readers have this habit of losing interest in characters if they aren't pushed to the edge. (And honestly, writers lose interest in writing about them, too!) We want them right up there with the nose of danger breathing in their face. Why? Only trouble is interesting.

Perhaps that's why so many of us step out on limbs of our own. We want our lives to be interesting. Sometimes it gets too interesting. For example, I said "yes" to too many projects this year and had mental and physical repercussions because of my desire to please people. (Yeah, yeah. I know. Those of you who know me know I was mental already. I'm just more so now. ;-)

The trick to good writing is to take your characters TO the edge, but not beyond. Not unless you're doing parody or farce. This is a tricky balance. We've all read books, seen movies and TV shows that tried to be serious about all the horrible things that were happening to the characters when, instead, the readers/viewers were rolling in their chairs, laughing at all the ridiculousness. Taking yourself seriously when your audience thinks your material is funny is bad. Really bad. As in you've just lost readers/viewers and may not get them back for your next project.

Critique groups are a great way to gauge this phenomenon. It's difficult to see what others see in your writing, so why not take advantage of your literate friends and family who are willing to suffer through your stories and give you honest and helpful feedback?

So get your characters into trouble, but just enough. Take them right to the edge, but not over. And for goodness sake, never trust a Sicilian when death is on the line!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Social Contracts...Why I Now Hate Giraffes

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't been hit by the Giraffe Riddle, it will be spoiled in this post, so you've been warned!

Different people have different ideas of what a social contract is. A lot of people don't know what I mean. Every day of our sentient lives, we've lived with them. Most of us cave into them. Abide by them. Propagate them. Enforce them to the nth degree. Even change our Facebook profile picture to a giraffe for three days because of a stupid riddle. Why? Because.

That's a stupid reason!

Oh, but we HAVE to. That's what keeps a society together: our social contracts. I won't bore you by quoting Socrates, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, or any of the other great philosophers on the subject, but there are several quite interesting theories on the subject:

One is that when you become an adult, if you wish to remain part of a society and if you wish society to continue its orderly peace, you must tacitly agree to abide by the rules, any rules, even if you don't agree with them. This is why Socrates suffered at the hands of the state rather than escape when he very well could have and possibly should have. Noble sacrifice!

One theory is that humans are, at heart, only self-interested and focused on advancing their own agendas. The best way to get that accomplished is to work together with other humans, therefore, we should make and keep social contracts with others. Honor among thieves as they say.

Yet another is that if the people are united under social contracts, they can take control of a governing body if that governing body isn't doing its job. Well...ahem...leaving that one alone. This blog is about revision and writing, not current day politics.

So, what does this have to do with giraffes? Well, there's a riddle going around that goes something like this: “It’s 3 a.m., the doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors! It’s your parents and they are here for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread, and cheese. What is the first thing you open?”

Okay, so, the deal is if you answer correctly, great for you. You're a genius If you're wrong, for three days you change your profile picture to a giraffe. Why a giraffe? I don't know. Whoever started this thing must have a love (or hate) for giraffes.

There are actually TWO answers to this riddle: the RIGHT one and the one that's in the social contract being (wrongly) enforced on Facebook.

The correct answer is: the door. You let them in.

"No!" Your FB friend will tell you and throw in a few LOLs and winking smilies just to make you even angrier. "You open your EYES. Change your profile pic to a giraffe! Now!"

And without question, you do so. BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO for two reasons: One, "eyes" is the wrong answer and two, it's a social contract being wrongly enforced.

You see, in the riddle, it says, "...and you wake up." Your eyes are already open!

This is a really cool quirk of human nature that, if you can include it in your writing, will really make your characters "pop" off the page. Social contracts, wrong or otherwise, bind us into doing things we don't want to do but "should" do all the time: go visit our parents (well, I want to do this but I have exceptional parents), use breath fresheners, sit one to a table if we don't know people in a restaurant, don't look when people are putting on makeup or when children are misbehaving, make the bed (WHY? Please, someone explain that one to me!), not reveal the answer to stupid Facebook riddles in public (which I just did so HA!), etc. etc. The more you think about it, the more social contracts really do rule our lives.

Now I'm not saying you should go out and act like a crazy person breaking every custom and convention you've been raised with. That would be a little distressing. But sometimes your characters need to have a serious kick in the pants or talking-to about what they believe should be true in their little happy world of their minds. This could be the beginning of a great romantic relationship. Or novel. ;-)

Happy anti-contracting! (And no more giraffes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)