The Hardest Part of Writing…

A few years ago I would have said that editing was the hardest part of writing. Today, however, editing is one of my favorite parts of the process because I’ve learned how to accept that a rough draft is crappy no matter what.

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So much red ink…

Accepting that fact has freed me to laugh at myself when I find typo’s in a work, and to scratch out passages that aren’t fitting right.

So, editing is not the hardest part of writing anymore. (At least for me, other writers may feel differently.)

Writing the synopsis is and always will be a freak show that makes me hide under my desk. Crunching down a novel into its bare essentials and trying to make it sound interesting at the same time feels a bit like taking a potato peeler to raw skin.

But, the synopsis only comes toward the end of the writing process. I’ve heard of people who write them first, but my endings are always up in the air when I start so that doesn’t work for me.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that my “muse” has to be present in order for me to get work done, so catering to her (I’ve always imagined her as a glittery wood sprite hiding in my plants, don’t ask me why) isn’t a part of my daily writing regime either. I put my batoosh in a chair and I start working. Sometimes she shows up. Most of the time I’m just arranging words on the page and praying they make sense.

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The Pest who probably ate my muse.

Finding ideas isn’t hard either. Ideas are everywhere, I just have to pay attention.

So what is the hardest part of writing?

Today I’m going to say… beginnings.

Beginnings have to engage the reader and convince them to keep reading. They have to set the tone of the story, introduce the main character, hint at the main conflict – or at least a starting conflict – and avoid backstory like the plague.

Endings are hard too but beginnings are what make or break you.

And nobody can agree on how to successfully begin a story, either.

“Start in the middle of the action!”

“No! Don’t start in the middle of the action! Give us some set up so we care about who the action is happening to!”

“Do both at the same time!”

“Start where the story begins.” – AKA – No prologues, please.

Now, if you’re an author, please don’t feel discouraged. Beginnings are hard, but they are also editable. So if you begin your story and it’s not doing what you want it to, revise it on the next round.

Sedition went through five beginnings. FIVE.

Persona had three.

And right now I’m dealing with a new novel that has managed to go through two beginnings already and I only started working on it this month. (Hence the blog post about beginnings.)

So if you’re struggling with your beginning today, rest assured that you’re not the only one. We all go through it. The difference between a writer and a hobbyist is whether or not they’re willing to scratch it all and rewrite.

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Book Release Mayhem!

UC front cover-sample-2Usurper has made its way to virtual shelves! You can find it on Amazon in both eBook and paperback.

This is the third installment in the Sedition series that follows Trenna Dyngannon and her husband Nelek as they struggle to find peace between humankind and the Eldur nation.

Fans of the novels – who may or may not have threatened to hunt me down if I didn’t stop writing other things and finish this book – will be pleased to find Nelek and Trenna in fighting shape. The quirky pair were left in exile in the second book (Saboteur) so I know a lot of you were left hanging.

In my defense, the reason this book took so long was because I discovered that I was Saboteur-WEBtrying to fit two books into one.

Why yes, this means there is a fourth book.

And yes, that book is already underway. It is in the outlining phase and I’ll be rolling up my sleeves to work on it later this year.

Sedition was my first published work so it holds a special place in my heart. I remember floundering with that first draft, trying to piece together things on 3×5 cards and make a sensible plot out of the personalities on the page.

Sedition-WEBWell, I remember coming to terms with what a plot was in general. When I started it was just a bunch of characters doing different things that occasionally intersected. It wasn’t until I joined a writers group (The Dreamers from the Forward Motion for Writers website) that I was able to see the work as a bigger picture.

At the time I had no idea there would be more books coming. Now, as I begin the process of ending this series, there is a part of me that dreads coming to the last page. Trenna and Nelek, and now their children, have become a part of my daily life.

As strange as it sounds, it will be difficult to say goodbye, no matter how the story ends.

 

Naked Characters – January Round Robin (2018)

Among the very first decisions I have to make when I come to the blank page is what point of view to use. Some people come up with a cool idea for the world their building or a new technological advancement they want to display, but for me it is always the character.

Normally I go with third person limited, because that is what I enjoy reading. I like knowing exactly whose head I’m in and learning more about that particular character in the scene. To me this just seems orderly and natural.

I have great respect for people who can write in the Third Person Omniscient (aka – they can be in any character’s head at any time, even in the same scene) but my brain simply can’t focus when there’s all that head jumping. Sadly, this includes reading.

With the exception of Dune, I haven’t been able to read anything Third Person Omniscient. It confuses me.

Third Person Limited gives me the freedom to explore multiple personalities in a given story and allows me to “zoom in” with the narrative, which I really enjoy.

This idea of “zoom in” with the narrative is relatively new to me, in my early works I was… Well, I was winging it, to be honest.

But to give a running definition of how “zoom” works in a narrative, anything that the character is doing (running, kicking a computer, glaring at their partner) would have the “zoom out” and anything that deals with the internal aspects (why they are kicking said computer, imagining themselves strangling said partner, and all the reasons why they have to run because they absolutely must not be late… Character B will be dead if they are late… Character B, who knows exactly how much honey to drizzle on their oatmeal and labels their socks for each day of the week and life would be sucked dry of all meaning and hope if they are dead…)

OK, I got carried away there, but I think you get it.

Zoom Out = Physical world

Zoom In = Internal world.

If you read any work of fiction you will see a dance between this “zoom in” and “zoom out.” For me, I’m still learning how to balance this out. It’s something I end up layering during the editing process, but I try to have fun with it.

How much of my characters do I expose?

I strip them bare. I want their naked thoughts on the page as much as possible. I want everything that makes them uncomfortable and why.

Because that’s when I know I’ve got a real character. That’s when I know I have touched on something true. If I’m not digging into their guts then they will always be a two-dimensional bit part in a shallow story.

Check out what my fellow authors have to say about how they reveal their characters on the page in this month’s Round Robin…

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ag
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/  (YOU ARE HERE)
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Let’s Talk About Fantasy

My writing career started with Sedition, a fantasy novel about a pair of brothers trying to Sedition-WEBrescue their mother. The book went through several revisions – and so many titles it hurts my head to think about  – but in January of 2011 its story line was set in stone.

(Mostly because the publishing house would have smacked me if I tried altering anything after the Galley Proofs were done.) 

When I first started writing it, I was doing it for fun. I enjoyed stories and wanted to tell one, so I started writing snippets on 3×5 cards that I carried with me wherever I went.

Fans of the novel might be surprised to learn that Trenna Croften was not the original hero. In fact, the book began with Brigetta Isleen Chridhe – the woman magically abducted from home and dropped in the middle of a political war between a King and his sons.

I learned about Kiavana – the kingdom where the first book takes place – through Brigetta because she was just as new to the stage as I was. At the time I knew very little about writing, so I stumbled through the countryside right along with Brigetta, encountering senile knights who continually “squired” whoever happened to be the most helpful, and a prince who hid his motivations under a veneer of disinterest and materialism.

As I began to uncover the secrets of the world I was creating, Trenna Croften emerged. In fact, her first appearance was the scene where she interrupted an assassination attempt on the eldest prince. When she asked if assassins were paid well, she made me laugh, and essentially stole the book from there.

Saboteur-WEBOr… well… a whole series, as it turns out.

Saboteur, the sequel to Sedition, was released in January of 2012 and in February we will see Usurper make its way onto virtual shelves.

While Brigetta may have been reduced to a minor character in the original novel, I’m happy to report that she has a much larger role in Usurper. I had thought that writing her would be easy since I knew so much about her origins, but as it turns out I was wrong.

For the timeline of the novels, it has been over 20 years since we last saw Brigetta and she has undergone quite a few changes. She’s a Blood Mage, for one, and for another… she married an assassin. (Because apparently I can’t get away from assassins in these novels.) Her voice is different because she has changed as a character, so I had to re-learn who she was in order to portray her correctly.

Now, I recognize that it has been many years since Saboteur was released and I do UC front cover-sample-2apologize for that. Usurper was a joy to write, it truly was. But between school and being a full-time single-parent and working full-time and… ahem… my other novels (Is it weird I feel like I cheated by writing all that science fiction in the interim?)… I just didn’t have enough time to do it all.

I should take this moment to mention that there is at least one other book – Warpath – that I am constructing. It isn’t on the list for this year, but will be next year. The good news is that much of Warpath is already done because part of my problem with Usurper was that I was trying to pack two books into one.

 

 

Year in Review – 2017

img_0444Can you believe we’re almost into the year 2018? It’s like I blinked and suddenly my year was gone!

2017 was a flurry of activity for me, both in my writing life and in my personal life. However, as this is my writing blog, I will concentrate on my writing victories. My friend L.J. Cohen, author of some awesome YA Science fiction (Derelict is my favorite), got me started on this annual assessment of my writing time.

For those who don’t know the rules, this is where I look at what I projected to have done in 2017 and see what flopped and what managed to get finished. So! What did I say I wanted done in 2017?

1)  Final edits on Usurper – Not only was this done, I got it in to the publisher and it

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Cover Art by Richard Stroud

went through 2 more edits with in-house editors and is scheduled for release on February 1st.

 

2)  2nd Edit of Dead Weight – A big green check mark here.

3)  Begin Song of Swans – I am slowly making my way through this novel. It has been started and I am looking at a longer timeframe to get it completed in because the story is so big.

4) 1st Edit of Ashwood – Currently I am neck-deep in revisions for this novel. A lot is changing so this is the more intensive edit and I believe I will be working on it well into 2018.

5) Outline Inmate 87101 – Nope. Not a jot. Double Red XX Marks on this one. I didn’t even think about this novel.

OK… So 4 out of 5 of my goals were met. I’m going to call that a win.

What’s in store for 2018?

Well, in the Spring I am looking at a big move and once that happens I will be looking at a lot more writing time. With that in mind, I have big plans for 2018.

Big, intimidating plans.

Plans that might bite me in the batoosh before the year is over, but I will do my best to get them done.

1) Complete Ashwood edits 1-3 and begin shopping it around. This is my paranormal romance ghost story… thing. I wrote it for NaNoWriMo 2016 and enjoyed telling a love story amidst all that weird ghosty-mayhem.

Scorned2) Complete Dead Weight and release it the Fall. This is the sequel to Tapped. It follows our hodge-podge family of military deserters and religious refugees introduced in the first book.

Also, there will be a 2nd Edition of the original Tapped novel released sometime in the summer. My intention is to give a Fact vs. Fiction version that has some of the research for Pluto/Europa and our solar system in the back. This is purely for fun. Nothing major will change in the story.

3) First Draft – Song of Swans. I am calling this my long project because it is so big, but I hope to have it finished by the end of April.

4) First Draft – The 13th Month. I cannot wait to get my hands on this book. It has been simmering in the back of my head for a while now and I will begin it June.

5) First Draft – Inmate. This is the third installment of the Tapped Series. I will begin work on it in October and finish out the year with it.

Also! In relation to the Tapped Series, I have begun outlining and exploring books/novellas that will span the Galactic Wars and show our intrepid Tango Five in action. I’ll know more about these as I work.

Essentially, I’m looking at 3 first drafts and 3 completed novels, giving me a total of 6 projects done by the end of the year.

Bring it on, 2018.

 

Memorable Characters – December Round Robin

I knew this girl once who used to smell her soda whenever it got to the table. Pepsi, Coke, Root Beer, whatever it was, once it hit the table her nose was dipping down to get a whiff.

When I finally couldn’t stand it anymore, I asked her why she did that and she turned an interesting shade of pink. Her answer?

“I’m trying to smell if the server spit in it.”

Aside from the fact that you can’t really smell spit in a Pepsi – which I pointed out – this quirk was bizarre enough that I have never forgotten it. However, a quirk does not make a memorable character – or person – because I cannot for the life of me remember her name.

So what does make a character memorable?

In thinking about the characters that I remember the most – Jem Carstairs and Will Harindale from Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices trilogy, or Nathaniel and Elizabeth Bonner from Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness, or Laurence and Temeraire from Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon – I realized that all these characters come in pairs.

I understood Will because of Jem, and I loved reading about their trials together. They’re closer than brothers and their friendship was what made them who they were as individuals. I remember them not only because of their quirks – and they both had several – but because of the things they did for each other.

As authors, we tend to hunt for that one special ingredient that will help pop the character off the page. Some illusive trait that might endear – or estrange – our created people to our readers. We’re told that faults and quirks and pitting them up against challenges they aren’t prepared for will all humanize these characters for us.

While all those things certainly make a character interesting and could keep a reader turning pages, they don’t necessarily make them memorable.

I think it’s the relationships that define them. Just like in life, how our relationships help shape and define who we are as people, the relationships on the page are what can make our characters really shine.

We remember Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities because he made a deep and noble sacrifice, but that sacrifice was born from his relationship with Lucie.

Or, to go the movie route, we know Luke Skywalker because of his relationships with Han and Leia. Sure, the force is neat and we get to see lightsabers whoosh through the air, but the heart of it isn’t so much what he can do as why he does it.

We all have complex relationships built on history and experience, and all the tragedies and triumphs we have endured together help make us who we are. It’s no different for the characters on the page.

Thanks for visiting! Check out what some of my fellow authors have to say about what makes a character memorable in this month’s Round Robin…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-18Y
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

October Round Robin – Time Periods and Why We Pick Them

Topic: In what time period do you prefer to set your stories – past, present, or future? What are the problems and advantages of that choice? 

 

For me, the time period is often dictated by the characters on the page. I see a character first, and discover when and where they are second. There is one notable exception to the rule here and that’s Deviation, my first science fiction novel.

Deviation was originally planned to be another medieval-era fantasy novel, but a friend challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone and try it in the future instead. Since the novel was based around time-travel, it was easy to make this swap and I discovered that the story made a lot more sense as science fiction.

There were some challenges, of course.

Medieval-Fantasy could have explained the time-travel as magic (within limited rules, of course) whereas the science fiction required a deeper look into… well, science. This brought me through many hours of research, which I found an unexpected love for, and while the medieval-fantasy might have worked, it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

But in reference to what time period I prefer to work with, I have to admit that I love the future. I love the warnings we can give in our writing and the hope that we can instill through it. I enjoy exploring worlds we haven’t set foot on yet, and highlighting those aspects of humanity that have stood the test of time.

Thousands of years from now, we may be living on Mars. That’s science.

Thousands of years from now, people will still be searching for the love of their lives while terraforming Mars. That’s humanity in science. And that’s the stuff I just can’t get enough of.

That being said, Trenna would not be Trenna if she was in space. She requires the sword and the grit of her surroundings, which would not feel right outside of the medieval time-frame. Likewise, Elsie Delgora from Witch-Born wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without the trains and dirigibles of her steampunk society.

I suppose Megan could have been dropped into any war zone and forced to lie, but her story was told best in the middle of WWII for many reasons. We all know the stakes from WWII, we’re intimately familiar with the atrocities that happened there, and we automatically know the danger to this American woman hiding inside Nazi borders. I didn’t have to spell it out, I could concentrate on Megan’s personal journey, which was what I wanted.

Advantages and Disadvantages?

Well, in science fiction you really do have to pay attention to science. You can only expect your reader to suspend disbelief so far, so you need to give plausible explanations for certain things. (Though if you ask me, that’s half the fun of it.)

In historical fiction, you have to adhere to the known timeline. People know when Hitler died. And people have their favored personalities from history, which you need to handle with care. For a great example of someone who handles history and historical persons with creativity and respect, I suggest looking into any of Diana Gabaldon’s work. She’s wonderful.

As to modern/present times… I do have one book I’ve written in the here and now, which is currently being edited/rewritten. This was difficult for me to write in spite of the paranormal aspects to it, but I will undoubtedly write in this time period again. The only way we get better at a thing is if we practice, right?

Check out what my fellow authors have to say about writing in select time periods…

Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-14G
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Heidi M. Thomas http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com