Thoughts from a tree

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

10 Question Writer Blog Hop

Beth Salmon tagged me to answer a 10-question blog hop.

1) What genre(s) do you write, and why?
Adult Fantasy. It’s my favorite genre to read. It has magic, unicorns, and mermaids – what more could you want? I read all shades of it, but I prefer the “traditional fantasy” according to Goodreads categorizations. Stories related to fairy tales are my favorites. There’s some argument over whether my current manuscript is NA (New Adult) or not, but it’s not filled with sexy stuff, so as far as I can tell, that means it can’t be NA, at this time.

2) Do you mostly read within your own genre, or do you read others as well?
I read fantasy the most often, but I also like historical fiction, mystery, sci-fi, and paranormal romance. I’ll try almost anything, but I have very definite preferences. In particular, I will stop reading books where very bad and/or graphic things are done to animals. I also get bored with strong military themes and most romance.

3) What have you learned as a writer that you wish you knew when you first started?
There are so many things… If we go all the way back to when I was a kid, I wish that I hadn’t stopped pursuing it as a career. I was talked out of this by my well-meaning father who threatened that I would become a “ditch digger” if I tried to become a writer. And that I wouldn’t be able to afford ponies 😦 . I’m not sure that qualifies as something I’ve “learned” however. I suppose learning to not write in omniscient earlier would have been helpful. Since that’s what most fantasy novels used to be, it was how I started out.

4) What author or book speaks to you the most and why?
Anne Bishop – she writes dark fantasy filled with amazing female characters, talking animals, and a dash of romance. Although horrible things may happen in her books, the bad guys always end up equally punished by the end. As someone who believes in eye-for-an-eye, I especially enjoy that sense of justice being delivered.
Kristen Britain – Her Green Rider series (yes, with a title tailor-made to appeal to me) is an epic fantasy told from the point-of-view of a female messenger, who also happens to have a bit of magical power. This started out as a fairly standard good vs. evil fantasy series, but has since evolved to be much more, and the characters turned out to have a lot more gray in them than originally suspected. Her last book even centered on time travel. The only problem is that it takes her YEARS to write each book, partly because they are each very large.

5) Do you have word/page count goals?
Sometimes. Not at the moment. I’ve completed Nanowrimo a few times, so I know I can crank out a lot of words in a short period of time if needed.

6) Where do you do most of your writing?
At home, in my recliner, with an airdesk to hold my laptop. If I’m writing a first draft though, I use pen and paper, which means I can curl up and write anywhere that is quiet (I do not handle noise well).

7) If you could disappear somewhere for a few weeks to completely immerse yourself in writing, where would you choose?
Somewhere quiet and with few distractions. Maybe a cabin in the woods, as long as it had working plumbing and temperature control.

8) Pick one of your main characters. If his/her house were on fire, what would he/she choose to save and why?
Lisa would save her books. There’s not much else she cares about. Depending on the point in the story, this might mean trying to save her bookbag (holds unlimited numbers of books), which would be a pointless gesture, since it is indestructible. She might also try to simply put out the fire, once she’s learned some control of her powers (early enough in the story and she might have caused it instead)

9) What’s your bad writing habit?
Oh, you mean something specific to writing?
I probably over-edit. I can always think of more things I want to change or fix. I was at a conference recently, where a story was told about an author who would go into bookstores and correct copies of his books after they were published. I can totally understand that desire.

10)What is your writing goal for 2015?
I still need to think about this some, but at least one goal is to finish the book I just started. To query more agents. To make more friends at writing conventions. I’ll be more specific later. Oh, haha, and to blog more 😉


I have a confession to make

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but kept procrastinating writing it. Partly due to fear, I’m sure, of what the reaction of others might be. Will they treat me differently? Think of me as somehow “less”? Argue with me about the validity of my statement, as has already happened once? Then, this weekend, without really meaning to, I told a room full of mostly strangers. It was in the middle of something else, just a line that’s in my query letter, which I was reading out loud. The reaction was thankfully minimal, at least to that, but my *secret* was still out there.

Meanwhile, I have several other posts that I want to write, that require this post to come before them.

So the confession is this: I have Asperger’s.

This won’t be a surprise to those who both know me very well, and understand what Asperger’s is/means. I don’t want to call it a disease, or a syndrome, because I don’t think that’s accurate. It’s just a “difference.” A different way of seeing and processing the world, with both pros and cons.

I had pondered the possibility for a while, first given to me in 2010 at an ex-AOLers party. When discussing my lack of tact in certain matters, someone said to me “We probably all have a little Aspy in us.”

I researched it, of course, and took some online tests (all of which were positive), but was still reluctant to admit it definitively. We all know how unreliable self-diagnosing over the Internet is, after all. But I kept thinking about it, and considering…

A bit later, I was working on a book (the one I’m currently querying), and some of the main character’s personality traits are modeled after my own. One thing I really wanted was a main character who wasn’t witty in conversation, who didn’t immediately make friends with everyone, and who had problems understanding things like body language. They say you should write the books you want to read, and I wanted a character I could relate to.

Then I saw the episode in Glee with the girl who uses Asperger’s as an excuse for everything and it made me really angry. When I think of character’s on TV who portray Asperger’s, I think of Bones, and Sheldon. But not that girl. She’s just a caricature (as everyone on Glee is, I’ll admit). But because of her, I decided that I wanted to put it out in the open why the character in my book is different. I wanted people who read it to know that that girl on Glee isn’t a good representation. I wanted children who have been diagnosed with it to *know* that my character was like them (not counting her magic powers and personal baggage). I wanted parents to see more in their kids than the problems. And I didn’t want to deal with people telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, though I’m sure some still will.

So, I got tested. It was a somewhat lengthy and expensive process, more so than I expected. I could only find one place in the Orlando area that would see me as an adult. I’m not sure what they think happens to kids when they grow up, since this isn’t something you grow out of. You just learn to cope, with varying degrees of success. Asperger’s basically means people with a form of autism that are still able to function in normal society. So there are lots of people, particularly in the generations before it was well-known, who have it and were never diagnosed. Lots of people I know, since I work in a field where the Aspy tendencies are both accepted and beneficial, as my former coworker pointed out. Many of my friends. Many of my family.

I stumbled across this post over the weekend, and it was the final push that made me decide it was time to write about it. I think it’s important that Asperger’s in adults is discussed more. I think it’s important to recognize that women have it too.

After I got the diagnosis, the therapist asked what I wanted to do now. Did I want therapy? Did I need anything for anxiety or depression? No. I just wanted to know. I wanted a word to use to describe the differences in myself. A word that others might understand. An easier way to explain why I don’t like big parties and can’t lie when someone asks me if the picture of their baby is cute (sorry, but it never is). I don’t want to change who I am. I want to be understood and accepted.

Now you know.

“And knowing is half the battle.”

Fairy Tale Fridays – Intro

I’ve struggled with what to write about on my blog. Although there are many things I’ve considered, when it comes down to sitting down and typing up a post, they rarely seem worth it. At one of the panels at the Florida Writer’s Conference I attended, a discussion about blogging occurred (it was not the main intended topic of the panel) and someone made a comment that struck me. I wish I could remember the exact words, or who said it, but it boiled down to this: write about the things you like, rather than the things you don’t, and try to make it something that relates to your book(s) in some way.

Some examples included things like, if you write books for middle-grade boys, you could talk about fun activities to do with your son(s) (since it’s usually going to be the parents reading the blog/buying the books, rather than the child). If you have a main character that likes to rock-climb on occasion, you could talk about rock-climbing.

I had an epiphany. I *love* fairy tales, and their relatives of mythology and legend. Most of my stories are at least tangentially based on a fairy tale, and are meant for that particular vein of fantasy. As soon as I made that connection, the theme presented itself “Fairy Tale Fridays.”

So that’s what I’ll do. I don’t promise to update *every* Friday, but I think I will be more successful than I have been in the past. Sometimes I will just discuss a particular fairy tale, the cliff-notes if you will, and its current adaptions. Other times I might talk about a mythological creature, or a particular adaptation of a fairy tale.

Disney is bound to get mentioned a lot, since not only do most other people know the movies, but also because I really like them (that’s a large part of the reason I work there, after all).

So that’s my plan, we’ll see how it goes.

Starting … now 🙂


Problems with finding a document saved in word opened from email

On Thursday I tried to help someone recover a document that she was sure she had saved, but could not find. I checked all the usual things (recent documents, unsaved files, etc.) but couldn’t find it. I knew she had gotten the original document in email, so I checked in there, but still no luck, and then we were out of time for me to look.

Today, I ran into the same problem myself. In this instance I knew exactly what I had done. I KNEW I had saved it, I knew what I had saved it as, but I couldn’t find it. I tried re-opening the original file, making a change, and saving it, but it only gave me the expected default save directory. Google failed me. Windows Search F-ing sucks (did a search for *.doc on a directory that has hundreds of .doc files and it found none) and I was extra handicapped by retarded Windows 8. Finally, it occurred to me, the document was originally from email, same as the other person, even though I had saved it locally at some point before, I couldn’t remember if I had opened it from email or from disk (I hadn’t done any editing the first time I read the file). So I opened it in email, edited, and went to save, and voila, found the location. I had to copy the file location from the save prompt since I couldn’t easily find how to show hidden files in the root folder (every day I hate Windows 8 more). Gary suggested I should post the solution so maybe Google can find it for the next poor soul, so here we are.

The answer is: C:\Users\$your_user_name\AppData\Local\Temp
AppData and everything under it are hidden.


Thoughts On Traditional Publishing

I bit the bullet and started querying agents. This completes my goal to “have at least submitted a book to agents by next DragonCon” (DragonCon is labor day weekend). Hitting the “send” button for the queries is oh-my-god-stressful, followed by more stress as you wait for the inevitable rejections and hope for something positive (and continue to send out queries).

As E-publishing/self-publishing is all the rage these days, I feel like I am constantly explaining why I am still pursuing the traditional publishing routes. Coupled with this are the people who self-publish and then brag about all their published books (unless they are making significant money at it, this is not an accomplishment. Anyone with a credit card can get their book published).
There are a lot of pros and cons to traditional vs. indie publishing vs. self-publishing, but for me the bottom line is this – I have yet to see a non-traditionally published book that was great. I’ve read plenty that are okay, some that I might rank as high as good, and there are huge amounts that are awful, but I have yet to see any (from a previously not-established author) that are great. There is no self-published Hunger Games, or Harry Potter, or Terry Pratchett, or Anne Bishop, etc. And the reason for this is simple: the bar is lower.

At one of the writer panels at DragonCon last year, one of the authors likened it to learning to pick locks: if the only locks you ever try to pick are the easy ones, you aren’t going to become good at picking the harder locks.

I don’t want to write mediocre books. I want to write great ones. I want to write books that people will read over and over again because they enjoyed them so much. Books that someone will decide are their “favorite”. I’m not talking “The Great American Novel” here; I just want to write really good, really entertaining books. It may take me a while to get there. Most of the “big hits” are by authors who have been writing for a long time already (J.K. Rowling being an exception). They have been writing for the traditional publishing market. They have been learning and improving with each book that they write.

I’m not saying you can’t make a living with self-publishing, because you can. John Locke and his 99 cent awful novels and paid-for-reviews prove it. But if all I cared about was making money, I wouldn’t write books at all. I make pretty good money in my current career and even if I become relatively successful I will still probably take a pay hit when/if I switch to writing full-time. Writing is not lucrative. The percentage of authors who become wealthy from writing is miniscule. Anyone who thinks this is an easy way to make money is very disillusioned. Scam/vanity publishers prey on this misconception, convincing authors to pay them to publish their books.

People on both sides like to quote how many rejections particular authors had. Laurell K. Hamilton had over 200, J. K. Rowling had dozens, Stephen King lined his walls with his. Traditional publishing opponents like to use these as examples of how agents and publishers “don’t really know what they’re doing.” On the opposite side of the table, people use the stories to bolster their self-confidence and overcome the pain of rejection. However, I think there is an alternate possibility. I suspect that as these authors were going through their cycles of rejection, they probably continued to edit their stories and improve their craft. Maybe the real reason Hamilton did not succeed in the beginning is because her writing had not gotten good enough yet. Maybe the first submitted version of Harry Potter had plot holes in it. I know that I will continue to work on my current submission. If agents offer suggestions or reasons they don’t like it, I will consider them. I will read about writing and go to writing workshops and be in critique groups. My writing will continue to get better. My next book will probably be better than my current one. I can already see the difference in my writing from before compared to now. And, hopefully, one day, I’ll write awesome novels and I’ll have a shelf of hardcovers with my name on them, from a publisher like Tor, and I’ll be proud of them. If I take the easy route and self-publish, I don’t think I’ll ever get there.

(Note that this is only for ME. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to self-publish, particularly for non-fiction or niche markets, I just don’t feel it is a good idea for me specifically).


Terry Pratchett and romance

I didn’t want to post just about depression, which is in itself depressing, so I thought I would follow it up with something more cheerful.

Terry Pratchett is an amazing author. If you haven’t read his books yet, go get them, read them, and then come back. It might take a while, but I’ll wait. Particularly the discworld series (including Tiffany Aching) and the gnome series, since those are the ones I will be discussing (this is your spoiler alert).

When we started listening to the discworld series (we started listening to them on audible on a lark), it was his humor, his stories, and his bizarre metaphors that caught our attention. Starting around book 3, the characters start to grow and have significantly more depth and the story arcs become even more compelling. Surprisingly deep ideas are often contained within them. Since a lot of the characters repeat throughout the books, they grow and change. Some of them get married and have kids, because that is what people do, but romance is never a central theme in any of the books. There is very little intimacy shown on the pages, even for the characters that are together. So, when he occasionally throws romance in, it catches me somewhat off-guard (or at least it did at first).

“What is the sound of love?”

By itself, those two sentences don’t seem that impressive. However, every time I think about them, it makes me cry (a good cry). I think it might be the most romantic thing I’ve ever read. It doesn’t make any sense of course, unless you’ve read the book (“I Shall Wear Midnight”, the last Tiffany Aching book). Pratchett does such a phenomenal job of building things up and showing you little details that you don’t even know are important at the time, that when he gets to the end, to that crucial last little bit, that his few simple words are able to convey everything else. He doesn’t have to talk about how the characters feel about one another, have them kissing (or more), or tell us that they live ‘happily ever after.’ He manages to convey everything by focusing on one or two little details about the characters, which tell us all we need to know. In this particular example, both of the characters enjoy words/knowledge and have previously had discussions regarding what sound should be associated with particular words. Also, Tiffany had tried to ask her future-self if she/they would ever fall in love (although she didn’t actually say ‘love’, even that was alluded to); her future-self smiled, faded away, and said ‘Listen’. At the time, we thought that meant something like ‘listen to your heart’, or simply puzzled over it. Only at the end do we realize what it meant. There are a lot of other things that build up to that moment, to make it significant and make you care, but those are the details that directly relate to the sentences spoken.

In another book (“Thief of Time”), we learn two things: 1) Susan likes gourmet chocolates, but not the nougat ones. 2) Susan doesn’t believe in ‘perfect moments’. So at the end, when the boy shows up right after she’s eaten a chocolate, which turns out to be nougat, and she learns “even with nougat, you can have a perfect moment”, we know what that means. There are no romantic speeches or declarations of love; they aren’t needed.
In “Diggers” (from the Bromeliard/gnome trilogy) the romantic moment is conveyed with the delivery of a particular flower. In “The Fifth Elephant” Captain Carrot shows his love when he, without fanfare, resigns his job to follow Angua, who has disappeared. Simple things, yet, in context, they mean so much.

One of the other interesting things about romance in his books, is that it is never a given. Female protagonists can exist quite contently without constantly worrying about who they will hook up. Granny Weatherwax, one of the main witches, never even has sex (you only know this because of a unicorn she rescues). Nanny Ogg has had several husbands, but we never see any of them. Susan starred in several books before she found her love, as did Tiffany; in fact, neither of them had even MET their future soulmate until the book in which they get together at the end, and had rarely thought about or discussed their single status prior to that.

Physical attractiveness is never what brings the characters together either. It is always something else; pieces that are important to both of them, ways in which their personalities click together like a well-made jigsaw puzzle, which makes it more real, and compelling. There are no lengthy descriptions of his or her physical attributes, which is pretty rare for a book written by a man.

I find Terry Pratchett’s ability to use words fascinating. I can only hope that one day I’ll have a tenth of that ability to use in my own stories.


Hard Goals, For Motivation

Another year (or two), another catch-up post. I *am* going to try to post regularly however. I have found that I follow-through more often if I commit to specific goals and if I tell other people what they are. So my goal for this blog is going to be to post *at least* once a week, even if it is sometimes short.

Let’s start with the general stuff: I still work at Disney (after having my contract extended several times, I was eventually converted to a full-time or “Cast” position). The downside of this was a nasty commute, so we ended up moving (yes, again). Luckily, we were able to get a nice house at a really good price. Unluckily, immediately after we closed the people who had been renting our VA house moved out (owing us a bit of money), and oh, by the way, the septic is no good. Due to the type of soil the house was in, we would have had to put in a fairly expensive alternative system to replace the failed septic. This was the last straw for us, so we ended up short selling the house. And we still owe the second lender a lot of money, yay, since they were jerks (stay away from PNC). Gary went back to work for Comcast; they are letting him work remotely, which is awesome! He is on a team with a bunch of our ex-AOL friends, so that is also nice. I finally found a Doctor that actually fixes problems long-term, so I’m very happy about that. I’m healthier, I’m sleeping better, and I have more energy to do the things that I want.

So, going back to goals. Previously I tried things like “lose weight” or “write more,” but these did not work. I think I am too much a procrastinator for that method. I went to DragonCon in 2011 and I attended a bunch of writing panels. It made me want to write even more, and I told myself I would. But, well, first we had to move, right? There were also games to play, shows to watch, and books to read, and somehow I never got around to it. I went to DragonCon in 2012 and I had accomplished practically nothing. OK, time to get serious. I made two goals to complete before the next DragonCon 1) To be at a normal weight (so, you know, if I get a picture taken with Felicia Day I won’t be embarrassed about how I look) and 2) I would have my novel SUBMITTED.

I actually thought this second goal would be easier than it turned out to be. I already had a book that was written most of the way that I thought had a good enough storyline. It was at ~80K words and just needed to be finished and edited. It was a fantasy novel that starts out in a world similar but different to our medieval age. However, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that it would be better if it started in our world (there are two worlds in the story), and in the modern time. I thought it would be simple and that I would just have to change a few references, here and there. However, shortly after I started I realized that I was going to end up re-writing the entire thing. Once I made this discovery, I felt a bit of a panic: how was I going to completely re-do it in that amount of time? I had been working on this book for several YEARS! Was this even the right choice or would it be better to work on the original version? But, I had a deadline, so I buckled down and got to work.

I started going to some local writer’s groups and I learned about an annual contest for writers. The deadline is 5/31 (DragonCon is 8/30). Can I finish in time to enter the contest? At just under 50K words, on 3/3, I created a schedule, just to see if it was possible (and it was). I wasn’t sure how many words I could do, particularly on a weekday, so I kept the daily goals low at first (500 for a weekday and 2000 for a weekend day). I blacked out all the days I was on oncall or had some other obligation. By the end of the first week I knew my goals were too easy, so I changed them to 1000 and 3000. So far so good, and I should have over 100K before before the end of April. That will only give me a month to edit officially, however, some of the writing I’m doing now includes editing, so I think it will be OK. I guess time will tell… meanwhile, I’m still going to try to write here, and since I’m committing to it publicly, you can hold me to it.