Facing Your Fears

It’s time to fundraise for my daughter’s trip, again.  I HATE asking for money!

My daughter wants to sell art for a living. We’ve explained to her that artists often have to work day jobs to pay the bills. Her Occupational Credential Program at school has worked hard to make sure she has marketable skills, but they can’t really teach her to be an independent artist.

I want to write novels and make comic books.  I’ve been reading comic books all my life. I think in pictures.  (My stories have to be translated into words.) Some of my favorite authors also have graphic novels. I did Inktober last year, and I want more art in my life, but giving myself permission to draw has been a constant battle.

What if I hadn’t given up on writing and art once I left high school? What if I encourage my budding artist to get busy creating?  What if I made sure she got her feet wet before she has to work the daily grind? What if? What if?  WHAT IF?

I have decided to pool our abilities and resources, and put together a comic book as a fundraiser.  Independent publishing is bigger than it’s ever been, and lots of other artists have paved the way and have ALSO passed along the information you need to get started.

I have no idea what I’m doing, and it may completely blow up in my face, but I’m excited, and it also terrifies me, but I’m a-gonna DO IT!

This mother/daughter collaboration will either work, and be the first step on both of our art careers, OR…

I’m NOT giving up on my novel revisions (and there are some personal things that are sucking a lot of my energy away) and I’ll find a way to keep going there, too.  The next few months are going to be a rough ride.  But LIFE has presented a time-sensitive teaching moment, and I have to grab it by the bridle.

But I’m going to nudge that horse in the dang ribs, cinch up the belly strap, jump on, and hold on for dear life.

YEE-HAW!

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Hey, at least I’m drawing, again.

 

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Warning: Superfluous Blog Post Ahead!

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Watch out!  The Writer’s Road isn’t smooth.

Warning: Just ahead is another writer-whining-about-writing blog post.  Hang a hard right to avoid this road hazard if you aren’t interested!

Ok, I’m having trouble producing ACTUAL helpful content for this blog, and I’m sorry for that, but I feel I am really getting a grasp on what is needed for revisions and self-editing.  I am, ALSO, really grasping that there are SOOOOO many writers in the world, producing a shit-ton of work, and almost none of them are making any money.  Some are even losing money.

And it’s not that I’m writing for the money and fame and money and groupies and money.  I’m writing because I have to write.  But writing is not the same as publishing, or trying to get published.  You publish to make money, get your voice out in the world, and put good stories in front of people. And if you don’t have enough money for your needs, writing for a little extra money becomes a very important reason to publish.

It’s the artist’s eternal dilemma.  Do you try to make money from your art, the thing you actually feel good producing, until it sucks you dry, OR try to work some soul-sucking job that pays (and creates) the bills.

I feel I’m getting close to producing the absolute best manuscript I CAN produce, and it will be up to an editor/agent/publisher to take it any further, unless I do decide to join the ranks of the self-published. But, keeping a watchful eye on publishing and marketing and readers has really opened my eyes to how very superfluous my work is.  Completely unnecessary.  Won’t likely be noticed or acknowledged.

Part of that reason for my self-doubt is that the tone is erotica, and it has been made VERY CLEAR to me what other writers think of erotica. I can’t ignore that I have written romance in a visceral style, and I like writing that way, so I have to label it erotica or risk misleading potential readers.  BUT, now, I get to cringe when other writers go on a rant about erotica, and how it’s the downfall of the written word, and erotica writers are stealing more than their fair share of the market, and surely they are tricking all those readers into reading such filth, and, and, and…  I mean, I quickly learned to not bring up erotica in face-to-face discussions, because the usual expression of disgust, even if it’s a micro-emotion, is such a kick in the head.

I want to tell you, and myself, that the writing is important.  The story is important. Getting your voice, your work, out in the world is important.  People need your story, and my story, but, lately, I’m just not so sure…

I think the problem is that I may not have enough of an ego to publish. You don’t have to be a raving egomaniac to publish–plenty of authors can pass for normal folk–but you do have to have that absolute certainty that you wrote a Very Important Story the RIGHT WAY. Better than any one else could have! And it’s rather fitting that after so many years of hard work, THAT will be the thing that stops me.

I’ve sat on this post for week, and written and re-written some version of it many, many, MANY times over the past seven months.  That’s why I haven’t been posting very often.  I guess coming to realize the sheer depth of my own mediocrity is a little too eye-opening for this poor, fragile, sensitive artist.

But something made me write out this whole mess of insecurities and doubts, AGAIN, and show it to you.  Because anything less would be inauthentic to the writing process, which I have promised to show in this blog, unfiltered, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel.  Even when it feels self-indulgent and whiney.  (And, this post feels really, REALLY self-indulgent.)

Strangely enough, a firm conviction to be as authentic as possible may be the most important habit I’ve developed in the weird grab-bag of writer’s skills that I’ve picked up.

But, can resolute authenticity pass for ego?  I guess we’ll find out…

 

Writers, Love Your Beta Readers!

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One of the ways for writers to get their name out there, in the BIG WORLD OF FICTION, is to write short stories and then get them published in anthologies and magazines.  This has been the way of writers for a long time, even with diminished printing opportunities and the rise of e-books.  But, writers still have to find venues. You can search them out yourself, join a mailing list for writers, or you can follow around other writers.

I’ve been on one of those writer’s mailing lists for a while, but I always seem to be working on something other that the promoted style/genre.  The only time I had used one of the suggested publishers, I didn’t even get a response to my submission.  But, still, I always browse it, to see if anything jumps out at me.  Toward the end of June, something did…

A call for noble-bright fairy tales for a short story anthology came up, and best of all IT PAID FOR THE STORY!  I had the time and a story in mind, so I decided to finish up an old, neglected project.  But, since I only had a month, I had to figure out a way to get a critical eye on it, and not my own.  Ten revisions, a couple of months apart, was not going to work. So, I contacted five people I have beta read for, and asked for a huge favor.

It was a crunched together Franken-story, made of former blog posts with pictures removed and a long part that had only ever been written in longhand, and not even in the correct order, yet.  It was messy, and not even proofread with in the meager skills I do have. Sending it was uncomfortable.  Like wearing-your-underwear-on-the-outside-while-in-public uncomfortable, and not in a cool or sexy superhero way.

So my beta-friends read for me, and sent back notes with a superhero-like quickness, giving me extra time to mull over their thoughts.  I was able to spackle up some plot holes, give a few explanations and descriptions that were missing, and rewrite some awkward passages that I knew were awkward (but, still, needed to be told).

BUT, there came a point that I realized the rest of the suggestions really were opinions.  Their questions and observations, while good, were from the point of view of themselves as writers. Things they would have addressed if they were the one writing the story.  And it was MY story.  So, I sent a mental hug for their time and effort, promised myself to send more “thank you” emails, and got to work with final edits and proofreading.  I was able to submit two days before the deadline.

And I realize that once again, here on my blog, I’m not just preaching to the choir (by talking about writing to writers), I’m preaching to the preachers, rabbis, ministers, and priestesses.  If you are an experienced writer, and have already gone through all this, I hope I gave you a moment of nostalgia.  If you are going through this now, know that you are not alone, and I hope you will find and keep some good readers.  If you have yet to go through finding and synching with other writers, for better or worse, then you are forewarned.  It’s a stressful experience, even when it’s a good one.

For now, I keep writing and working on other projects, and try to ignore the waiting period for acceptance/rejection clicking along…

Urg.

 

 

Please, Excuse the Mess…

Whatever it takes.

That’s the writer’s motto.  The artist’s motto.  WHATEVER IT TAKES!

Whatever it takes to put the words on the paper.  What ever it takes to finish the rough draft.  Whatever it takes to pick it back up and wrestle with the characters, plot, descriptions, style, genera expectations, voice, and readability until you have a finished product.  Whatever it takes to get it published and into the hands of readers.

My stories are movies playing inside my head.  They morph and change as I delve deeper, but it’s still just a movie playing in my head.  I have to find the words to explain the story to you.  Have you ever had someone tell you ABOUT a movie IN DETAIL?  It’s usually terrible.  Have you ever listened to a good/professional storyteller?  There is a huge difference between those two experiences.

I think I’m getting a better grasp of the words, and how to make them go.  How to hold back what the reader wants, make them work for it, give just enough to keep them hooked.  And I can see the big picture hidden in the words.  Themes and morals, sometimes hidden even from me until the full rough draft is done.  But meshing the two, good-enough words and a big story, escapes me.

I’ve got a lot of rough drafts lying around.  I’ve chosen one to learn how to tell a story on.  It’s a robust story, with everything I love about the universe in it.   The Main Character is a side of me I can easily access, so she frequently tells me to pull my shit together and finish the fuckin’ book!  She’s a strong motivator.

I’ve tried to take it farther than just a rough draft, but I can’t seem to get my head around the seventeen pages…  Wait.  THIRTY-ONE PAGES of notes on changes, OR to apply the advice of the books I’ve read about storytelling.  Like everybody else, I have commitments, work, family, and anxieties to deal with.  And I deal with them, but then not a lot of energy for writing is left over.  So, another year has slipped away from me, unpublished.  Part of me wants to give up, and just write something new, something exciting, always rough drafts, and never bother to publish.

But, I’m a stubborn person.  I WILL create a finished product.  I just need the right tools.

I think I’ve found a couple more tools in the last few months.  With ways to tinker, and lay out, and get more story off the page and into my hands.  I’m good with my hands.  I think with my hands, and I’m a visual person.  I didn’t realize there were tools for that kind of brain.  It’s kinda like outlining, kinda like story board, kinda like art.  Lets see if it will help my get a handle on my revisions.  Then I can begin the rewrite, choosing the right words to tell a story, instead of telling you about a story.

I’ll share the tools with you, once I have a firmer grip on them.  I can’t be the only writer with these kinds of problems.  For now, my writing is “Construction Zone! Please, Excuse the Mess!”  (Hint: The tools are more books, but that really shouldn’t surprise you at this point.)

Happy Writing, y’all!

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Genre in Fiction: A Writer’s Search for Clarity

Genre is on my mind a lot lately.  I have to make some hard decisions about my manuscript, and decide what path to take in the revision.  The decisions I make now will directly affect the promotion of the book when it is ready to self-publish.  I have to choose carefully so my  future readers will be able to find me, and so I don’t give potential readers the wrong impression about my book.  Lets take a walk through my mind…

Some genres have to do with the setting, like Science Fiction, Fantasy, Modern, and Historical.  Add the more recent sub-genres like Alternative History, Dystopian Future, Paranormal, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, & and you end up with a place for the story to take place.

Other genres have to do with the plot, like Mystery, Romance, Horror, and Adventure.  These can be subdivided into other genres like Crime or Epic, although Epic could have more to do with length than plot. This is the path the story takes, and each genre has certain expectations placed on it by the readers.

Still other genres seem to be about the voice or tone of the story, like Literary, Young Adult, or Erotica.  There are also descriptors that are less of a genre and more of a flavor, like Gritty, Hard, Military, Sport, Steamy, Cozy, or Warm Hearted.

These lists are by no means complete, just off the top of my head and hopefully enough for you to get my point.  Humans like to slot things into categories, but the single word genre is often woefully inadequate to describe most books.  So we play mix and match, and get things like Cozy Mystery, Paranormal Romance, and Young Adult Fantasy.  But we also get Gritty Fantasy, Steampunk Romance, and Literary Adventure; which could work, or be a total disaster, depending on the writer, and the reader.  (Has anyone tried Cozy Horror?)

My opinion of my own manuscript’s genre has shifted as I’ve written it, from Science Fiction Romance to Erotic Science Fiction Romance, simply because I can’t seem to ‘look’ away from the sex scenes.  It interests me, how the two characters navigate a new relationship, including the time they spend in bed, whether it’s talking, making love, exploring some aspect of their sexuality, or contrasting the way that their cultures and species are different.  They spend time outside of bed, of course.  They both have friends, family, and jobs.

To get a better handle on the expectations of the readers of Erotica, so I could mesh it with the other genres I’m using, I did research.  What I found was a lot of people equating Erotica with porn. I keep hearing “Erotica doesn’t need a plot,” or “Erotica is just sex,” or “I don’t read Erotica, it’s trash.”  And a lot of handcuffs, but not enough feathers.  I’ve been very confused, since I didn’t realize there was such a negative perception to the word Erotic.

Maybe it’s just me, but I thought erotic meant engaging the senses related to romantic desire and sexual love.  That’s what the dictionary says. I read things in most books that I consider erotic.  The description of a first kiss, depending on the author, could be erotic, along with the feeling of lying on a blanket with your love interest while stargazing.

So I look down at my 179,194 word manuscript, trying to figure out if I can cut the sex scenes, and revise the character arcs into less racy words, but that…

Makes me want to chunk the whole thing in the trash and go back into fiber arts.

I haven’t yet, but I’ve come close.  Then I look over at the notebooks full of my other stories, waiting their turn to be developed.  They have themes and words in common with my current project.  If I take out the intimacy, I lose interest in telling the story.  This issue isn’t going to go away for me, unless I give up on crafting stories out of words.  I don’t want to give up.  Writing has become my choice of hobby, vice, and meditation.

So, I’m back to figuring out my genre.  Steamy would be misleading about the graphic words I use.  Is there such a thing as Cozy Erotica, or Spiritual Erotica? Am I really going to try to market under “Warm Hearted Hard Core Erotica Science Fiction Romance”?  Shall I add “Strong Female Lead”? How about “Don’t Read This Because It’s Confusing and Mislabled”.

That Damn trash can is laughing at me.

Climbing the Next Step

I handed off my first manuscript to my first round of beta readers.  It was a leap of faith in myself, that I could someday tell a story well enough to publish it.  I’m not saying it was exactly like leaving the house without my infant for the first time, putting her care totally in hands other than mine, but it was.  I’m trying to not worry.  I worry.

I simply can’t afford an editor, and the time and money to find the right one (who will actually improve my work) aren’t resources I have at this point in my writing career.  So I educate myself as much as possible, learn the tools in the word program, and rely on a circle of close friends who also read/write.  They will guide me up the next step toward self-publishing.

Self-editing had become a round of avoiding the manuscript, not writing other projects because I was using my limited writing time to edit, and editing grammar in scenes I wasn’t sure should BE in the manuscript.  To re use the over used metaphor; I could see the forest, loved the trees, but suspected some of those trees need the axe.  I called in the beta-lumberjacks, because they’re ok.  Even if they wear suspenders and a bra.

I could see the non-vicious circle of self-editing becoming a comfortable home, and how so many writers live there.  Endlessly picking and adjusting, never showing their work to another person because “It’s not ready.”  I have new respect for the writers who have overcome that fear, and more empathy for those who haven’t (yet) taken that step.

To help distract myself from the counterproductive editing, I managed to pick up one of my other projects, and I’m trying to get it into the shape of a rough draft.  The feel of applying pen to paper, gliding across in loops and squiggles, is a productive effort and hugely creative.  Daily word count is so much more self-affirming. I remember this joy.

It’s crap.  But it’s glorious, visceral, and colorful crap.  Crap that can be useable, once refined.  This time, the estimated word count is manageable, something that could make the rounds for small publishers.  It’s also vampires.  Simultaneously popular AND overdone, but the story wants what it wants.  <shrug>  So, we make it fun, sexy vampire romance crap, rolling in modern cultural jokes and stereotypes, while picking apart the legends and applying science like a halogen lamp.

And my search history gets weirder…

 

The Editing Pit

 

I think unpublished manuscripts are like the Home of Dreams from the movie “The Money Pit.”  I can picture Tom Hanks laughing like a maniac as more and more time, money and work get funneled into the manuscript.

But, as he was told, again and again, “If the foundation is good, everything else can be fixed.”

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is proving to be a daunting task, despite it’s deceptively thin appearance.  I’ve made it through the first three sections on sheer goat-headedness.  The elements seem to come in three Flavors for me:

First, rules I understand and already try to use.  (“Yes,” she whispers, as she pumps the air with her fist.)

Second, rules that I am unfamiliar with, but understand and will try to apply to my writing.  (“Hmmm.”  The writer scratches her head thoughtfully, brows crunched together, and tries to appear dignified.)

Third, rules that… can’t… brain.  more examples, plz…  halp…  (The room echoes with the sound of a head hitting a desk, while the soft pat, pat, pat of brain tissue, slowly leaking out of an ear, marks the passage of time.)

I think it’s going to take more than a single read through to get a good grasp of it all, although my worst offences seem to be related to #18.  My style seems to favor two clause sentences, giving my paragraphs a singsong sound.  I’m trying to control the urge, but it just seems to happen before I realize it.  I’m not doing it on purpose, because it can get really tedious. My brain just seems to organize thoughts this way, and sometimes I….   DAMMIT!!

My favorite section so far, Misused Words and Expressions, is full of fun, archaic words.  I feel at home, among these words, and easily grasp his points.  If I was being tested, I would expect a good passing grade, although most of what I would get wrong may be simply outdated.  I’m sure I have never applied the word ‘clever’ to a horse, incorrectly or otherwise.

However, I think the section would be better titled Pet Peeves and Things That Really Piss Me OffI swear I have felt the sting of a ruler on the back of my hand from his tone of writing.  Despite only being in the ‘F’ words, I am already flinching from a smack on the back of the head.  I know it’s coming…

For now, I keep shoveling grammar and style into the manuscript, hoping to turn it into the Dream Novel.  (Don’t laugh!)

My last post referred to a bunch of writing books by author, but not the titles.  It was a presumption on my part that everybody else has read them all, and I was last to the party.  In an effort to help those who haven’t gotten around to them, I will post an extra blog with an annotated bibliography of the books I have found helpful to date.  Look for it in the next week or two.