Soccer Practice

Coming at “this whole writing thing” with a more professional attitude means that I have more on my plate than ever. I’m working on the rough draft of Partners in Crime, I have edits yet to do on Land of Sky and Blood, and the brainstorming/prewriting/outlining phase for Altered Egos (Tentatively titled Basalt City Series) book 3. That’s a lot of back and forth. And while the idea of working on so many projects just gets me all twitterpated, its exhausting.

I was listening to a Creative Penn podcast a while ago — I don’t remember who the guest was, I know, what a great start to a story — but they were talking about juggling tasks. The guest had this great metaphor about how to handle that work load in your head. Think of everything you have to do like soccer balls. You ultimately want to get them in the goal. Yeah, you can give little taps to each of them but you’re not going to make a lot of progress any time soon. You can’t kick all of them either, there just isn’t the time. So with five soccer balls, say, you get only two kicks. Which ones are you going to kick? How are you going to spend your energy?

I want to work on more, but I find myself coming back to this analogy. Never one to give in and a stickler who’ll do anything for spite, I’m going to kick three soccer balls, darn it! But just like writing, I need to build up my multitasking muscles.

There isn’t a lot of time either. NaNoWriMo is a week and a half away. Already? I feel like I was just talking about using NaNo as an excuse to take a chunk out of Land of Sky and Blood. A year has passed already? But I can feel like lurking out there. Waiting. Ready to gobble me up like a hungry dragon.

Whenever I participate, I don’t ever write filler just for the sake of word count. I follow an outline with every book I write so I always know what comes next. Writing for NaNoWriMo just gives me an excuse to go hog wild for a month and crank out fifty thousand words at a go. I wouldn’t even say I write any faster either. At least I haven’t noticed a quality dip during those portions of the book. Instead, I just adjust my usual markers a couple thousand words higher up and when I feel like I’ve done enough for the day, remind myself to keep going.

I still hope to tackle edits and brainstorming for the other books, but man I’m gonna kick the crap out of Partners in Crime. I’m gonna drill it from my own half straight into the opposing net. Soccer metaphor! At least, that’s the plan. I’m hitting fifty thousand words regardless and I refuse to let the other books suffer in the mean time. I’m either going to get better at this or go crazy trying. Let’s find out.

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Avoiding Writing is Making Me More Productive

I’m a firm believer that writer’s block isn’t necessarily someone’s inability to write, it’s more about an extenuating circumstance. For me, when I find that I just can’t move forward, it’s usually a sign that there’s something wrong with my story. My subconscious picks up that something is wrong (usually a worldbuilding or plot element), and only once the issue is ironed out, can I then proceed as normal.

The only other time I get blocked is if faced with a mental distraction that impedes my ability to focus. Good news or bad news. Stress. Whatever. But even so, I’m usually really good at just powering through. Even when I’m sick as a dog, I can usually suck it up enough to at least write a couple hundred words. Even if that’s the only work I do all day, I can then my reward myself by being taking the rest of the day off.

But then you get a day like to day …

I was up a lot last night with another sick kid and I just can’t do it. I’m exhausted and can barely focus on anything. What makes matters worse is that I’m currently writing a scene where my protagonist is exiting a storm drain, but I can’t picture what a a pump station looks like. The only two things that can hold me up are working in tandem and doing a heck of a job. During my drive to work this morning, I went through all of my usual prewriting steps but all I ended up doing was staring blankly at the road.

All morning I kept thinking I’d come back to writing. First I’ll just answer some emails or do some work on a project. Lunch has now rolled around and I’m no closer to starting. For every time I could sit down and start writing, I instead wind up working on something else. I may not be doing a lot of writing today, but I’m sure getting a lot of work done. Just like my subconscious brain knows when something is wrong with a story, it also knows that if I fill my day with useless stuff then I have no excuse not to write. But if I’m busy doing actual things of importance, well then I’m just busy.

Yeah, it’s a flimsy blanket, but it’s keep me warm all right?

In fact, I’m going to wrap up this post and then go edit a manuscript. Oh not the one I’m writing right now, a completely different one. Who knows? After that, maybe I’ll look up what a pumping station looks like.

Reading as an Author

For the most part, being an author has only enhanced my ability to enjoy a good book. It also lets me know pretty quickly when I won’t enjoy a story either. I can usually tell how far I am into a book based on what’s happening, guessing what the hook, plot points, midpoint, and climax are as they happen. Sometimes I get so held up on understanding the narrative structure that when the book diverts from that path, it really bothers me. I get too focused on what the story is doing “wrong”, I no longer see what it’s doing right.

I used to review movies back in college. My internal critic got to be so powerful that I eventually had to willingly turn it off. I made the conscious choice before a film that I was just going to sit back and relax. I try and do the same with my reading as well, I mean if you’re into stage magic and you’re at another magician’s show, can you still enjoy it if you know all the tricks?

The answer, apparently, is yes!

I’ve been reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell and I’m just continuously blown away both as a fan and an author.

As a fan, I find the story fascinating. I’m intrigued with the plights of the primary protagonists and it’s scratching the itch Shogun left behind that so far no other book has been able to salve and believe me, I’ve tried a lot!

As an author, I think I appreciate it more!

The descriptions are sparse, but exact while the dialogue is rich and verbose. It’s like reading a play at times. So much worldbuilding comes out through the dialogue its insane. There could be five or six individual references in someone’s speech — so it reads accurate to the time period the novel takes place in (this is historical fiction after all) — but each of those references is easily its own area of research. I haven’t dug into the behind the scenes stuff yet because I don’t want to spoil the ending of the novel for myself by accident, but I’m interested in Mitchell’s research process. I’m surprised something was written at all and he’s not stuck down what has to be many, many rabbit holes.

This play-like style is further reinforced by the narration. The characters speak for themselves, but the exposition is very straightforward for the most part. My favorite, I think was when a nervous Jacob was going to talk to someone about the woman he’s infatuated with. It reads something like:

“Jacob lost his nerve. Jacob regained his nerve.”

Just like that. Back to back. It pulled a chuckle from me as I understand what Mitchell is conveying. In anyone else’s hands, that would have been some internal strife as Jacob came back around to the idea. But it works here in two sentences that definitely tell and don’t show.

Another interesting point is that while the novel is divided into parts, it doesn’t follow a typical seven point structure. That would normally bother me, but Mitchell’s words are enchanting. He presents this world so thoroughly that while my fan-brain is just wide-eyed in wonder at what’s going to happen, my author-brain is taking notes. Except instead of “oh I see how he did that,” it’s  more like “I can’t believe he got away with that!” And he does. Every time.

I’m only halfway through and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is wonderful. Even if it stays on the same emotional plateau and doesn’t escalate in any way, he’s got me to the end.

So I suppose my big takeaways are this: Sometimes you just need to shut it off and let yourself be entertained. Other times, the artist in you is looking for new experiences like a jazz musician soloing with notes that are more difficult than aurally pleasing. And if you find a work that combines the two, then well, you’ve got something special indeed!

Delirium

Today’s post is going to be short. I was up all last night with a sick kiddo. That’s not hyperbole. I was literally awake from 11pm-5:20am. I slept for a whopping total of two hours. Not even two consecutive hours. So I’m a little out of sorts stringing words together today.

I usually write first thing in the morning as a way of starting my day. I’m most productive in the morning and there’s just something great about getting the writing out of the way so I already feel accomplished well before lunch. Even in my sickest, I can usually power through, but today was one of those rare exceptions. I haven’t been this tired since the twins were born. Even then, I don’t think I ever had an all nighter this bad.

I used to keep a daily total. I’d jot my numbers down along the margins of my outline to record a positive or deficit to my average word count so I always hit my target. The only time I keep such figures anymore is during NaNoWriMo as I’ve become pretty good at averaging out. As you can imagine, writing was skipped today. I’m okay with that. I’ll just hit double the words tomorrow to make up for it.

In case you missed it, I was interviewed on Authors Interviews last week. I’ve been interviewed a couple times before for different things, but this was the first time I’d ever been interviewed as an author so I thought it was pretty cool! Hopefully you will too!

Here is my interview with Dan Melnick — authorsinterviews

Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie. Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age? Hey everyone, I’m Dan Melnick and I’m 35. Fiona: Where are you from? I’m originally from Pennsylvania right outside of Hershey – where all the chocolate […]

via Here is my interview with Dan Melnick — authorsinterviews

The Process

I typically experience some growing pains when I start a new project. I need to ease into it. “It” being both the habit of contributing daily words to a document and the ability to hold a new world and all its complexities in my head. I give myself a couple of weeks to get back into the swing of things, but with Partners in Crime, I was off to the races from day one. Getting back into the head and world of Elias, The Architect, supervillain extraordinaire of Altered Egos was like riding a bike. That’s saying something because I never learned how to ride a bike. Don’t look at me like that. I grew up on this steep hill with lots of woods all around. It was a whole thing.

Anyway, I guess this means I really “get” this character which is good, I suppose, since I fully intend on him leading a series. This is the first time in like eight years to have shifted my writing time table so much. I typically start a manuscript around June or July and take about four months to finish a book. Then I spend the rest of the year revising and polishing that book. By the time I’m happy with it, it’s next June or July and while I’m pitching the old one, I’m starting a new one. There was no real rhyme or reason as to why the summer was my go to start date. That just tended to be my writing habit and schedule time after time, creating a cycle. That all changed thanks to the size of Land of Blood and Sky.

Starting later in the year than usual means that I’m actively looking forward to NaNoWriMo this year. I relish the excuse to crank out 50k words in a month and put a sizable dent in the book. Now, I suppose, I could just do that now. I mean if you remember, I didn’t get a chance to really participate last year thanks to family obligations so I held my own NaNoWriMo in February. I could make my own again, starting today even, voluntarily sitting out NaNo, or do two back to back, but the idea of cranking out 100K words in sixty days … well, it doesn’t quite scare me, it’s more like just thinking about it is making me tired and I’m already exhausted thanks to little kid with the sniffles who didn’t sleep last night. I’d hate to burn out so quickly.

Besides, my brother wants to participate this year. He’s a writing appreciator and has dabbled with some stories over the year but doesn’t have the time to spare. A big part of NaNoWriMo is the community aspect, so it would be fun to have a writing buddy again.

So yeah, while the timing of Partners in Crime throws me, it’s actually a refreshing change of pace. I’m excited to be back in Basalt City and I’m eager to get into the manuscript so I can try this whole full time novel writing thing I’m attempting to do. My beta readers should have their notes of Land of Sky and Blood back to me by October and the goal is to not drop the ball on Partners in Crime while I edit LoSaB at the same time.

Normally I don’t ping pong back and forth like that between projects, I’m too eager to get one finished for pitching, but this time around I’m eager for the work. Change can be good.

MMMMM …. Is Good Yes?… Pleeaase.

Did you hear a metaphorical shovel striking earth this morning? I certainly did. Partners in Crime, the sequel to Altered Egos is officially started. I realize that doesn’t mean a whole lot to you all as you can’t read either of them right now, though. My goal is to finish the first three novels of the series before the first one, Altered Egos, comes out to help with rollout momentum.

Speaking of momentum, I also decided to do something different this time. Because writing isn’t a full time job for me, I’ve only ever worked on one project at a time with something akin to metaphysical horse blinders on pretty much all the time. Things get a little more muddled when I’m waiting or editing one work – I’ll usually get started on some aspect of another, but I still try to keep them all compartmentalized. That means there are some lulls for me throughout the year and definite times when I’m not writing.

This just won’t do anymore. So while I’m writing PIC, I’m also doing prewriting for Altered Egos 3. Usually, I would wait until PIC is all wrapped up to hit the prewriting phase for the next project, but I’m trying to flow from one to the next as seamlessly as possible now. It should definitely speed up my output – so hopefully you won’t be waiting too long to read these books I keep talking about – and it’ll also make the material more related to each other as I’ll be better positioned to make changes along multiple points in the series.

In other news, my wife and I have been watching The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance on Netflix and I gotta say, I’m just blown away every episode! I remember when they announced the series and the internet was pretty excited about it and then it was released and … nothing. As far as I know, we are the only two people on the planet watching this show! Okay, that’s not true obviously. A simple Google search will tell me otherwise, but I don’t want to do that in fear of spoiling something for myself.

But seriously, the care and detail in this show is staggering. I used to say “It’s like a fantasy movie that just happens to be filmed with puppets” but it’s more than that. It’s a cinematic fantasy movie that just happens to be filmed with puppets! I’m sure the script just has characters doing things as if they were actors and to the benefit of the show, if they can achieve the desired action practically, they’re going to do it it! There’s some CGI to smooth things over that often enhances the visuals. Except when it doesn’t – looking at you Skeksis tongues. But usually, it’s pretty good. Great even! Even though its a Netflix show, I want physical DVDs with the hope that said DVDs would come with behind the scenes making of featurettes like the Lord of the Rings.

You could be cynical and propose this was all a cash grab praying on our collective nostalgia. And maybe it is, but that doesn’t take away from the tremendous amount of work they put into it. I watched The Dark Crystal as a kid, but I wouldn’t show Age of Resistance to my kids until they were older. (Not that they could follow the current plot anyway. Even I have a hard time telling the Gelfling characters apart sometimes.) It’s a little violent. Somebody gets their eye eaten away while they’re still alive and I now know the color of Gelfling blood. I suppose Netflix knows their audience and target demographic well. We liked the movie when we were kids, but we’re all grown up now.

When my wife and I started watching the show, I couldn’t stop grinning. Nostalgia is just that strong. But at some point, it stopped being about my love of what was and became a love for what is. I am thoroughly invested in this show now. If my desk could support any more tchotchkes, it would probably have a line of all ten Skeksis right now, but alas.

I was going to be on board with this thing no matter what, but I knew they had something special when my wife turned to me at the midpoint of the season and said “Okay. They got me.”

Presentation Does Matter

I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim on my Switch lately in those rare instances when I’m allowed to turn my brain off for a while. Skyrim is an odd choice for me, not because it’s a huge RPG — I love those — but because I’ve already played it when it first came out over seven years ago and decided that I didn’t like it.

The urge to pick it back up again came to me on a whim and boy am I glad I listened. Aside from the inclusion of the DLC material, there’s nothing new about the game on Switch. It’s still the game I played seven years ago and put down. So what changed?

I think its the portability aspect. I love having this entire world in my hands. Usually, I hate open world games. Its part choice paralysis and part narrative pacing problems — I’m looking at you Final Fantasy XV. See, in open world games, you’re given the main quest line to follow and then as you go through it, you’re constantly running into peripheral things to do. With the fate of the world or empire or whatever at stake, it kind of breaks all narrative immersion when you stop to help someone find their chickens. Find your own dammed chickens! But I digress …

This time, I knew what I was getting myself into. I decided just to play the quests I wanted as long as they were relevant to the plot in some way. Each decision, I massaged out in my brain so it was all part of a single narrative experience. And the fact that I could take this entire world with me in the palm of my hands was what sealed the deal. Even if I only have ten minutes to spare, I can just dive in and lose myself in Pict, the Dragonborn for a bit.

It reminds me when I tried reading Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind for the second time. I’d heard all the usually things when it first came out, read about fifty pages, and just couldn’t get into it. I figured I’d never read it. Who has the time to read books they don’t enjoy anymore? Then fast forward a couple of years. My wife is pregnant with the twins and going to sleep at 8pm every night. Good thing the Switch doesn’t exist yet, so instead, every night when she’d fall asleep I’d read. I read A LOT!

That Christmas my mom had joined the Rothfuss train and bought both The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear for me as presents. I’d finished whatever I was reading and needed something new and figured why not. I owned them now and if I didn’t like them, I’d donate them. I’d been working through a stack of free books and a trip to our library to offload them was on the horizon anyway.

Now the copy of tNofW I’d tried before was the big, honkin’ tome you’re probably familiar with. The version I’d been gifted was this little thing (I’ll find the exact edition when I get the chance), still a hard back, with the thinnest, softest pages. It kind of forced you to hunch your shoulders a little to hold it. And the nature of the narrative being told in the first person made it feel like I was reading someone else’s journal. Like Skyrim on the Switch, something just clicked and it just pulled me right in. I thoroughly enjoyed it and even read the next two.

As writers, the goal is to pull a reader into your world through the power of your words alone. But it certainly helps to present those words in an appealing format. I have a definite appreciation for layout that I never had before which was why when I was working with the cover artist for Fairfax Cleaners, it was really important for me not to display the main character on the cover. So many urban fantasy covers feature some photo realistic – or real realistic – protagonist just kind of standing there and looking badass, I guess?

Personally, I find the covers boring. And unless you have some quality art production behind you, that style is so easy to screw up and look cheap. It may be just me, but I think it’s kind of a trope at this point and I wanted nothing to do with it. So instead, I opted for a severed foot, a bloodied hacksaw, and some rubber gloves. Let the words paint the picture of what my protagonist looks like. I wanted the art to prime that stage. The right presentation can prepare the reader for the journey, but it’s up to the writer then, to make sure that journey is one worth taking.

Life Update

Has it really been three weeks since my last post? Wow, well I guess I was being lazy that first week after Land of Sky and Blood edits.

Update: My mom liked it. Honestly, I’d be weirded out if she didn’t. She’s an avid reader and always wants whatever I’m working on and the dutiful son I am, I send them her way. It’s like the adult version of putting my artwork on the fridge I guess.

Then the week after, we had some illness in my house so I was taking care of everyone for a while which meant no post.

Now here we are. So what’s up with you?

I’ve been slowly working on my outline for the Altered Egos sequel Partners in Crime. This step is always exciting and daunting because anything can happen. The rails aren’t there yet and I’m still creating from whole cloth. I’m still nailing down good story beats as I take my pages and pages of brainstorming notes and massage them  into something coherent that someone besides my mother would want to read.

When not doing that, I’m avoiding working on that short story that needs finishing, but I’m reading more. I used to read all the time, but being busy at work and at home has unfortunately slowed me down. I know. A writer who doesn’t read. But I do! I promise!

I’m actually reading Dark Hollow the second Charlie Parker book by John Connolly right now. I didn’t really care for the first one – my writer brain couldn’t get past the Matrix code – but my uncle swears by this series and he’s a pretty great guy so what the heck, I’ll give it another shot. I’m glad I did because this second one is much better than the first in my opinion.

My main gripe with the first book, Every Dead Thing, is that after the setup, its basically divided into two acts except Act 1 has nothing to do with the setup promised. It’s kind of a big waste of time. I get now that for the character, that first act is more meaningful but it feels like I was forced to read a backstory before we got to the novel itself. I just couldn’t get past the structure.

Dark Hollow, though, is much more streamlined and personal (which is a weird way to describe it if you’re familiar with the premise) than the first book so I like it a lot more. Also for whatever plot or pacing problems I think Connolly has, my lord, can that man write some metaphors. His stark yet vivid descriptions are awesome. So at the very least, I feel like I’m in writing class once again looking at that Matrix code, but this time I’m studying it to see how its done.

I don’t know what it is about his writing that does this to me so I can’t just fall in and enjoy the narrative – maybe he jumps around too much – but whether I like ’em or hate ’em, I’m finding Connolly’s books to be educational.

So that’s me, what’s going on with you?

And Done

Well, I did it! I hit my August deadline and Land of Sky and Blood is currently off with beta readers. I’m always looking for more readers so if Asian-inspired epic fantasy is your thing, I’d love to have you on board.

Wow! What a weight off my shoulders. This was my longest book yet, but it also required the most worldbuilding and character details. I have four main POV characters, so there was a lot to wade through at the end and it’s cleaned up as much as it’s going to be for the time being. It’s time to let it fly.

So what’s next?

There’s a short story I really want to finish. I wrote the first six pages which is essentially the setup and absolutely fell in love with it right before I was getting to the good part. Then I had to put it on hold to finish these edits, so coming back is weirdly intimidating. I have to make sure that lightning didn’t escape the bottle.

After that, it’s beginning work on the Altered Egos sequel. A couple weeks ago I decided that instead of starting a new IP I was going to pour my energies into Altered Egos and subsequent books pretty much going against everything I’ve always said about my writing career. I didn’t want to waste time writing books that no one will read. But that’s because I was thinking of only the traditional model. I’ve really come around to the idea of publishing my own series and so far the world I think best fits this model for me is Altered Egos. That and I’ve been dying to get back to those characters 🙂

I’ve had a lot of fun with Fairfax Cleaners, but before I expand that universe — and I totally plan to, I already know what the next couple of books are going to be — I’d much rather play with my supheroes and villains first. Altered Egos is nearer and dearer to my heart, so my new plan is to write those sequels and then self-publish that series.

The real trick is to fill this time with work.  I don’t do waiting so well, especially when it comes to waiting for beta readers to get back to me. But like a fish or a cat, I guess, I’m putting the shiniest of shiny things in front of me to distract myself as I wait around. If I’m really lucky, I’ll turn those time-killing exercises into some real progress.