Monthly Archives: June 2012

“This Could Only Happen To Me”

A few months back I went through a phase of rediscovering the Beatles. I was basically listening to them nonstop at work for about a month. As I heard certain songs for the first time in years (or in some cases ever), I would find myself thinking of one of my heroes and how the song could be his theme song.  Some were love songs, some were jealous songs, some were pieces like “I’m So Tired.” Eventually I found that pretty much all my heroes have a Beatles theme song.

Strangely, the one exception was the hero of the work in progress, whose relationship dynamic with the heroine seemed like the one angle of romance not explored by the Fab Four. Which is basically impossible since the entire front half of their catalog is nothing but love songs. So I kept listening and thinking.

I tossed around some of the more generic love songs in my head as being okay for him, but I have finally come to the conclusion that they actually DID write the perfect song for him: “I Should Have Known Better.”  Because the whole point of how his relationship with the heroine develops is that it blindsides him. He should have expected it with someone like her, only he didn’t, and by the time he realized he should have, it was too late.

“I…should have known better with a girl like you, that I would love everything that you do, and I do”

“I…never realized what a kiss could be; this could only happen to me”

“I never realized a lot of things before; if this is love you gotta give me more”

Yes. That encapsulates his experience pretty perfectly.

 

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Though I’m Past One Hundred Thousand Miles, I’m Feeling Very Still…

Realized last night that I had crossed the 100K word mark without noting or memorializing the occasion. Probably because, kind of like Major Tom, I can no longer feel the momentum of my journey.

And today in Lily’s Random and Sometimes Disturbing Aalogies to Novel Writing: “I think my spaceship knows which way to go” clearly makes reference to my subconscious/muse/creative id.

So…my brain is named the starship Apollo?

I think my spaceship knows which way to go, indeed.

(And here is where ADD-synthesis brain took this: “The captain never traveled at high speeds in unsafe vehicles, unless you considered his mind an unsafe vehicle.” –Cosmic Banditos by A.C. Weisbecker- It’s…been a long week.)

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Competing Theories of World-Building

Because I am currently writing in a historical setting, I am offering this discussion with that in mind, but I think it applies to fantasy or contemporary world-building as well.

World-building. It’s one of the buzz-words in critical book blogging theory right now, and has been for several years. Does the author build us a reality entirely her own? Can we see it and taste it and smell it?  Do we feel like we could walk around in that world in our own imaginations and get it more or less right?

Whether good world-building requires a yes to each of those questions is a matter of taste. Some readers love to be immersed in a world and live the nitty-gritty details with their characters; others just want the story and skip descriptions or “idle” sections. Some readers like to have mysteries and backstories and histories hinted at but not directly addressed, while others can’t stand to have things brought up that are never explained.

I have been each of these types of readers at different times and with different books, so, looking at this issue as a writer, I can’t just pick my own aesthetic and write to that. I think, in general, my preference is the Jane Austen style–that is, very little time spent on descriptions and details of life, and the ones that are included there for reasons of character illumination or plot furtherance. But is this a satisfying feel for modern readers reading a historical romance (versus a contemporary romance in a setting they are familiar with)?  Does my not bothering to explain what was on the table set to “satisfy the appetite of Mr. Bingley and the pride of a man who had 10,000 a year” matter to readers?

My conundrum is this: should the details of life that have changed for modern readers be included to satisfy their interest or ignored because to the characters those details would not be worth noticing?

Hence my competing theories of worldbuilding–do I build from the reader’s perspective, or the characters’?

Building for the readers would mean including either directly or by reference details of life (and maybe explanations) that characters simply would not notice or think about. This approach lets readers feel like they are visiting a different world, because to them those details wouldbe noticed and would be interesting enough to stop and marvel over. Some people read historical fiction (or fantasy…or contemporary books about places they do not know well) for the sake of being able to feel like they went there.  This profusion of details also adds a bulk to the word count that has little to do with the story and risks dragging the story to a halt amidst a sea of descriptions and ancillary observations. Not to mention the fact that after a while eyes glass over and new knowledge stops being comprehended or retained.

Building for the characters means referencing superficially the elements of their world that the characters interact with but leaving unsaid and unreferenced everything they do not encounter “on screen” in the course of the story. This approach can sometimes leave characters floating in a gray cloud bank instead of inhabiting smoky political clubs and gauze-curtained parlors.

I think much of the approach an author takes has to do with how the writer him- or herself interacts with their own world. I have said before that I am introverted, in the sense that my focus is internal, into my own mind rather than outward toward the world around me. I am, in fact, one of the most introverted people you could ever meet. I hide it well, but at any given time I am more likely to pay more attention to what’s in my head than I am to what I’m doing, saying, listening to, looking at, etc. I do take moments where I notice the world around me; I don’t drift blind and dumb and deaf through the world. But my noticing is more “everything is in place”/”that is out of place” or a momentary “wow, this is a beautiful day/view/house/etc.” than it is is dwelling on what is being input into my five senses. If you asked me to write a scene from my own life as if I were a character in a novel, there would be almost no descriptions because I don’t think about the world around me. That is not to say I can’t marvel at a sunrise or stop to inhale the heavy sweetness of Confederate jasmine in bloom on my fence, but those moments are the exceptions, the extraordinary moments that shake me from my rut. I do not consciously catalog the details of my life.

So for me, it is absolutely realistic for my characters to live in a solipsistic universe–that is, they only need to mention or think about something in the world as they interact with it.  The interaction makes it real; otherwise it is out of sight, out of mind as far as the physical world goes.

But…is this how other people react to the world? I am the first to admit I’m weird. I have been told by many friends over the years that I am “weird, in a good way”–in fact, I think the more you get to know me, and the more honest I become with you, the weirder I get. In a good way. Comments like that never make sense to me. I cannot experience anyone else’s view of the world. I cannot know their mind or how they see or think or process what happens to them and around them. All I have is the reality I inhabit, and the shades of other writers’ realities I have read. Is my experience of the world enough to base characters on? Or do readers need more?

I am obviously drawn to the minimalist approach to world-building…the one that ignores describing what the characters ate for dinner unless there is a scene that takes place over dinner and in the course of that scene the character has particular reason to notice what they are eating–it’s especially delicious, it’s terrible, it’s their favorite, it’s what they hate most in the world, etc..  But if it’s, you know, plain boring food they’ve had twenty times that year, what they will notice in the scene is not what they eat but what happens.  Because that scene isn’t being shown for the sake of exposing what a 19th century family ate for dinner, it’s being shown to advance the plot or epose something about one of the characters. That is the part of the meal that they will notice, because that’s the part where something is different.  In the same way that stories are not made up of all the moments of someone’s life but rather of the moments in which something happens that is relevant to the story being told about them, I naturally gravitate to limiting the world-building to what is relevant to the characters because it is different, creates a problem or a solution for them, or forces them to react to it in some way. If the world is a passive stage for action to be played out upon…why would they notice it?

But is that good enough? That’s the million-dollar question.

What do you want as readers? What do my fellow writers out there think about world-building and how do you approach it in your own work?

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15 Minutes: Better Or Worse Than Nothing?

This is where I take 5 minutes to whinge about my perfect life that leaves little time for writing.

Husband did not go see Prometheus with his old friends last weekend, so I got time with him instead. Good, because we needed it. Drawback was, no writing time because we were making up for not seeing one another for a week. Same thing this weekend. Next his work schedule will have shifted him from being off over my weekend again, but that was basically 90% of my usual writing time for the past two weeks given to something else.

For the next 2-3 weeks I am also going to be watching a lot of films, because we are down to the end of screening season for the festival and we have to get them watched. So that means basically no attempts to write in the evenings (other than a Write Night my friend and I are instituting this week for this very reason–she also has a full and happy life and struggles to force in writing time when our city is so lovely and distracting and so are our partners) until July.

Also the next two Saturdays I am going to be working for my day job at moving our offices, so buh-bye to half my writing time again. The flip side is, unexpected overtime = means to finance publication. Yay? If I can ever effing finish….

So all of this is me being grumpy about having an existence that makes me happy with or without novel-writing, because it makes my number 1 challenge finding the time to put words down.

This morning? I found 15 minutes. I wrote 41 words.

It took me about 10 of them to get re-oriented to the story and another two to figure out what conclusion the hero was drawing from the scene. Sigh. Writing the words isn’t really the slow part…it’s thinking them up that is.

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609 Teeth Extracted

Words did not come easily this morning. And of course just as I am finding my groove, 45 minutes into my writing time, the alarm that means “it’s time to dress for work” went off.

609 words. I worked for them. It was like pulling teeth.

…dragon teeth?  I mean, what else has that many to pull in one sitting?

And now every time I sit down to write for the next week I’m going to be picturing myself as a dentist yanking things out of a dragon’s jaw.  Awesome. Way to go, Lily.

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Indie Author Treason

Or, Empathizing with the Other Side

I had a moment the other day where I kind of actually understood writers who are still willing to sign everything over to a publisher even with the plethora of other options available now.  Let me state up front that I have not gone to the dark side and changed my mind about self-publishing, simply that I understand a little bit where those who have made a different choice might be coming from.

A lot of this comes down to finances. Right now, I am looking at about $400-450 in expenses for my novel.  I have arranged a license for a fabulous piece of cover art, found a swoopy and romance-y font for titling to purchase, and will have to pay for a proofreading medium (currently debating printing the final rough draft at a shop ($50+ per book) or buying a Kindle ($79 one time) since I have recently heard good things about editing on eink devices).  Editing and proofreading will, thank God, not be a financial expense for me, only a time expenditure.

I thought I was nearing completion of the book back in March, so that was when I priced my cover and font. Since then I have been saving all the piecemeal income I get from ghost-writing web articles ($20-40 a month) and tackling a couple sewing projects for friends. I have just over $200 in my PayPal account right now that is waiting to go out to my cover artist, plus one more sewing commission worth $50 I plan to finish before I’m ready to publish. That leaves roughly $150-200 out of pocket. That’s not…inconsiderable to me right now. In fact it’s a lot of damn money to me, because my current paycheck leaves no room for errors. Even if I get a raise at my day job in the future, it’s not going to be enough to give me $400 in “pin money” without spending little to nothing on myself for six months in advance of a book launch.  That’s basically how I’ve made this one happen. 

If I am being honest, this upcoming novel is the only time I’m going to be able to afford to do this self-publishing thing “right” if the results do not pay for themselves.  I can’t drop $400, from “nonstandard income” or otherwise, on a venture that does not earn the money back plus at least enough profit to pay for the next one.  I am looking at this as a business, but the truth is I can’t be in business if I’m only spending money and not making money. If this story flops, I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep blogging. I’ll keep publishing the best damn stories I can. But what I won’t do is put a red cent into the process of publishing. I will treat writing like a hobby, and if it makes me money, great, if not, whatever, it was time I spent for my own pleasure to create something and would have done it even without the means to transmit the story to any interested others.  Yes, I know, long-tail game. I am stating my financial reality, and that is that I cannot afford to lose money for the first two years I am “in business” before the investment pays off. I can’t. Not with a $50 personal spending allowance every month and kids looming on the horizon in a year or two.

But say the results do pay for themselves, and then some. At that point I am going to be expanding my plans…and all of them involve either more time or more money or both.  One of my goals would be to streamline this blog into my only website and set up different pages (including different looks) for different worlds I write in. Right now it’s just one world, but later I plan to add others (both as LWL and my erotica side-name, whatever that ends up being).  That means either learning custom CSS or paying someone to do it. Time, or money.  If I keep publishing I will continue using awesome covers, which will mean time to find them and money to pay for them, or money to pay someone to create it specifically for me. 

None of these things would, strictly speaking, be necessary for me to keep writing stories and publishing them. But they would be necessary for me to look as professional as possible, and that matters to me. I don’t do things by half-measures.

Which leads me to the flash of understanding that I had.  With self-publishing, the more success you find, the more time (or money) you need to invest in aspects of the business which have nothing to do with writing. And, y’all, I can barely find time to write in the margins of my life right now. I don’t know when I’m supposed to have time to learn how to write wordpress code and find a gothy romantic artist and a fantasy romantic artist and a science fiction romantic artist to complement the romance novel romantic artist I’m using on this upcoming book (luckily she is prolific and possibly a multi-use artist, but still!)…much less try to hit up book blogs for review requests or do any interviews or any other kind of marketing, etc., etc.  When?  When is that supposed to happen?  And when am I supposed to write, then?  If my time is more valuable to me spent writing, then that means more money I am paying out of pocket (or out of book profits) for someone else to do those other things for me to give me back my writing time.

Thus, the insight I reached: maybe it would be worth it to some writers to have to spend that time on nothing but the writing, and get a guaranteed chunk of money for their time. Maybe it’s not a lot, but you know what? $5000 a year tops out IRA contributions…or pays for one hell of a vacation…or takes a year off your house loan if you give it all to the mortgage bank as additional principle. And there is no money coming out of your pocket.

I can see the appeal of that. I can see where, for someone who is going to write anyway, the guarantee of a bit of extra income and their words reaching any interested reader with no extra effort on their part, would seem like a better deal than the time and money and risk involved in self-publishing.

So I’m going to try to be less hard on what still seems to me a nonsensical choice to sign away a lifetime’s worth of rights and potential profits for what seems a very small up-front gain. I know that for me, this year, $5000 coming in would have been a thousand times more useful to me than $500 going out…but I’m just hard-headed enough to get more annoyed at the thought of being exploited than I am by not getting to buy a new pair of shoes for five months.

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Confessions of a Romance Writer: I Don’t Like Supra-Quotidian Stories

In direct violation of the edict in Lucky Number Slevin that “Two people should only fall in love if there is a good story behind it, seeing as you have to tell it so many times,” I actually find romance novels that take place over the course of some grand adventure to be problematic.  Especially if the grand adventure is something completely outside the bounds of normal life, that real life could not possibly encompass even as a special event (such as suddenly discovering the world is full of magical beings or having to go rescue your sister from drug smugglers in South America–that kind of outside of life, not a “trip of a lifetime” expedition that you planned and saved for for three years). 

 The issue I have with romances that take place under extraordinary circumstances is…what happens to the relationship when it hits the mundane wall of reality? If every interaction between hero and heroine took place when they were full of adrenaline and high emotion, how does the dynamic between them work when the only excitement is what kind of tea to brew that morning?

I think this dynamic actually becomes more clear when characters who had some big adventure together in their book show up as minor characters in someone else’s book. They always just seem so boring, settled into their normal lives, even if they spend the entire span of the adventure longing for their normal lives.

As well, I think more often than not falling in love on an adventure relies more on coincidence than falling in love via the course of everyday life. What are the odds that you meet your soul mate on that crazy adventure that takes you out of your normal sphere versus the sum of all the places you spend the rest of your life?  I guess it depends on this: are you the sort of person whose soul mate is likely to be found in the same place you spend your life?  So in that sense, if your romance novel heroine is a Princess Leia type who is bored by princes, it might make sense to have her fall in love with the Han Solo-ish rogue escorting her on her adventure. If she is escorted by a man of her own class and background…why didn’t they fall in love normally? There has to be a reason they wouldn’t have fallen in love, otherwise them sharing the adventure and falling in love during it is just one big coincidence.  And storytelling that relies on coincidences is weak storytelling.

As a reader, picking books for myself (versus, say, having a friend put something in my hands and say “read this”), I tend to be drawn to stories that seem realistic.  Events and circumstances that could happen without serious suspension of disbelief, that do not raise doubts about whether the characters really find each other exciting or if they just find the situation exciting. As a writer, I am not inspired to write grand adventures and interludes that take place in a time out of life.

I know romance readers tend to split on this issue. Some readers love the wild stories, because they want not just a fantasy romance but an escape from the doldrums of reality. And if I sat here and pondered long enough, I could come up with examples of romances I absolutely love which take place against a backdrop of adventure. I certainly am not writing this to condemn that half of the genre! It just hit me the other day, talking about romance with a friend at the local bookstore, and how we have maybe a 2% overlap in books and authors we have both read, that I have a definite and decided preference for romances that are…more plausible than not.

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