Friday, 30 July 2010

FIVE THINGS ON A FRIDAY

I have no idea who came up with Five Things on a Friday, but I see it all over the place, so I thought I would join in.

  1. Awesometastic competition to win all kinds of drool-worthy books which haven't been released yet. I've already entered!
  2. I've written and delivered the synopsis for the two book series (currently just titled FrostFire One and FrostFire Two, but hopefully something less lame in the near future) to my editor. Now we cross our fingers for a positive response.
  3. And since I've already finished the first rough draft of Book One - YES! FINISHED! - I'm now giving myself my traditional week off before I start on Book Two, which means I get to read all the amazing books in my TBR pile! Whoohoo! I've already started Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. I'm struggling with it a little at the moment, mostly with Grace's POV, but am pressing onward.
  4. There is a farmer's market in town today, and I'm about to head out to sample local cheeses and breads and other yummy stuff. For my dinner tonight, I intend to make grilled portobello mushrooms with goat's cheese and a poached egg, followed by homemade leak and blue cheese soup. Yes, that's right - I am a cooking goddess.
  5. Have a book trailer for The Swan Kingdom! Pretty, pretty...

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

MYSTERIOUS HINTS (Oooh!)

Hi Everyone! A late post today, because I have been taken up with publishing matters of an engimatical, unconfirmed kind.

I can't really explain anything in great detail yet. However, faithful blog readers may find a hint in my recent post about The Scary Place - the point in a work in progress where a writer realises that their plot won't fit into their book, and they're going to over-run their word target. By *a lot*.

Very faithful blog readers may even remember the post I made a while ago when I hit what I thought was the 50% mark (ha ha ha) of this book, and talked about my problems with my published novel Daughter of the Flames, and how I had ended up removing a vital plot arc and a lot of character development because I was scared of just such over-running. And how I was determined not to make that mistake again.

If any of you are now remembering the little remark that I made along the lines of 'why didn't I just turn Daughter of the Flames into two books?' and are now putting two and two together to make, well, two... give yourself a gold star for extreme observation skills.

Nothing is exactly settled yet. I have to write some synopses for my editor. She'll probably want to take them to the boss lady and see what the reaction is there. But I'm excited because if I can convince everyone, it means that I get to write this story the way I really want to, without worrying about word targets anymore. And, when I say excited? I mean ecstatic.

I have so many ideas for scenes that will enrich the characters and deepen the story, so many thoughts about how relationships can develop in interesting and complex ways - so much COOL STUFF in my head. And I'd resigned myself to leaving most of it on the cutting room floor of my brain, or 'telling' it in narrative rather than letting the readers see for themselves. As soon as I realised there was a chance I don't have to do that, I started scribbling lists of new scenes in my notebook, giggling with insane glee. 'Cos that's how I roll.

As a really satisfying side effect, getting my own way on this would mean that I've already technically finished the first draft of the first part. This would pave the way for me to possibly break my (not very impressive) record of one book a year, and manage to write two (the first drafts of them, anyway) for the first time. Go, newly professional writer! Go!

Anyway, more details about this as I get them. Stay tuned to this bat-channel.

Monday, 26 July 2010

SOME THOUGHTS ON TWILIGHT

Firstly, I must admit that, yes, I *ought* to be writing right now. However, I've just realised that I have once again wandered down the forbidden Cul-De-Sac of Plot Digressions and found myself at the Dead End of Doom. Which means that in a few moments I am going to have to go back, find the point at which I began work today, highlight and delete. And that stings us, my precious, it stings us. So I'm going to delay the stinging just for a little while - just long enough to get these thoughts out.

I'm not going to summarise Twilight here. Chances are that even if you haven't read it, you know enough about the story to keep up. If not, and you still want to read on, go here first. But not if you're at work. Your boss may find your uncontrollable hoots of laughter suspicious.

I'm also not going to make any comments like 'lots of people loved it anyway' or 'these are just my opinions' because that's blindingly obvious. If you want to try and flame me because you're convinced Twilight is perfect, go ahead, although you should be aware that working in the publishing industry has made me pretty much flame retardant.

Romance is a tricky thing to write. I know - all my novels so far have a romantic element, and I find it one of the hardest things to get right because what you're trying to capture on the page is something that has been talked about, sung about, acted about since the beginning of time. Every description has already been used. Every phrase is already a cliche. When you're trying to convey a great, immortal love in paper, it's like trying to paint on a canvass that has already been painted by every other painter that ever lived. No matter how good you are, all those layers of old paint are going to effect your colours and composition. They're going to shape what you paint. They're going to show through.

Even worse than that is the fact that in real life, love has a massive physical component. On film when Gwyneth Paltrow walks into the room and the hero stares at her, drumstruck, we GET it. In writing, you can spend ten pages describing the beauty of your love interest without conveying the smallest part of that vital, obvious human connection.

Stephenie Meyer runs up against both these problems in Twilight. She spends on average one paragraph on every page of Twilight describing Edward's physical beauty. She's trying to create that impact - that blinding moment when you look at someone and fall a little in love with them instantly, just because of their eyes or the way they smile. Unfortunately, she does not succeed. To me, what happens instead is that I find her writing - and her main character's internal monologue - so incredibly tedious that I wish Edward had died of the influenza rather than inflict these endless lines about his butterscotch-ochre eyes, flawless sparkly skin, tousled bronze hair and perfect crooked smile on the world. What's more, Bella does not find one single way of thinking or talking about Edward that is not already a cliche. Perhaps aware of this, the author tries to pretend that the colours showing through her work are there on purpose, by flinging literary references at us. Unfortunately, once again, it does not work. Instead, comparing her own prose to that of Austen, Bronte and Shakespeare only makes it all the more clear how remarkably and painfully average her writing is.

So what I'm saying is, Smeyer (as I like to abbreviate her name, just for efficiency's sake) isn't that great a writer. She falls into the two big romance traps. However, I could forgive her that. I've read many, many books with worse writing, and Smeyer's universe, descriptions and plot are at least internally consistent. My main problem with the Twilight books is that, once you've read them all and begin to compare them to other romantic books, a single fact begins to dawn on you.

The Twilight Saga is NOT ROMANCE.

Deep breaths now, people. Stay with me.

To illustrate my point, I'm going to talk to you about one of my favourite YA romance fantasies, which is called 'Howl's Moving Castle' by Diana Wynne Jones. Here, we have two characters who are (like the lovers in Twilight) separated by many factors. The main character, Sophie, is a shy, dutiful and self-effacing young woman who, through a misunderstanding, falls under a curse which turns her into an eighty year old woman. Following this, she becomes part of the household of the Wicked Wizard Howl, famed for eating young woman's hearts. Actually, Howl isn't a cannibal. He's a vain, arrogant and cowardly young wizard who (unbeknownst to Sophie) is under a curse of his own. He seduces and abandons young women without a qualm, slithers out of any real work and, on one memorable occasion, fills his entire castle with green slime because he's having a bad hair day. Sophie (finally freed from the need to be 'respectable' by the fact that she's become a crone) meddles, argues, bickers and fights with Howl constantly, messing up all his plans, forcing him to do things he doesn't want to do. Her interference sets Howl's world upside down, but he does the same to her, turning out to be an entirely different person than his first appearance would suggest.

This doesn't sound romantic, does it?

BUT IT IS. By the end of the book, when these two finally risk their lives to save each other and declare their love, the reader is totally and utterly convinced that their love is a real, breathing thing between them. That they are perfect for each other, not because their relationship is or ever will be perfect, but because it isn't.

The reason why this romance is convincing is that Sophie and Howl are both fully realised people in their own right. They come together despite or even because of their differences, make a choice to be the most important thing to each other, to mesh their lives despite possibly having to sacrifice other things which are are important to them. This holds true of every good romance any of us have ever read, from Pride and Prejudice through to The Sharing Knife books by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The problem comes where an author tries to write this kind of romance by creating a hero and heroine who have no real interests in life or attachment to anyone BUT EACH OTHER.

Let's look at Bella. I mean, really look at her. What do we know about her? She's clumsy - but that's not a personality trait, anymore than having a mole on your cheek is a personality trait. She likes reading. Not much - she's not passionate about it or anything, but it's something she does. She doesn't like rain or cold. She is mildly fond of her parents, but has no respect for either of them, and no apparent need for or reliance on them. She cooks, but not out of any sense of enjoyment - just because she thinks she should. Aaand... that's it. Those are literally her only traits. She has no ambitions. No dreams. No hopes or fears. She doesn't worry about college, plan to travel, intend to become a writer or an actress or a bank manager. She doesn't think puppies are cute or disgusting. She doesn't sing in the shower. She is completely self-reliant and has no true bond to any human being or human experience.

She comes to Forks not because she wants to but because (once again) she thinks she should. Despite what appears to be a borderline disassociative disorder on Bella's part, young people at her school try to get to know her, but she has no interest in or empathy for any of them. They bore her. She doesn't think any of them are attractive or worth her attention. Her only emotion when any boy approaches her is 'Eugh'.

Then Edward appears. By her own account, he is utterly, breathtakingly beautiful. And he's the only person in Forks who apparently doesn't like her and want to be friends with her immediately (apart from one girl, called Lauren, who is so minor a character that she doesn't count).

Considering all this, it's hardly surprising that Bella is willing to risk her life to be with Edward within a week of knowing him. That she can say to him, straight-faced, that she would rather die than have him leave her alone. It's because he's a) the only person who she has ever found attractive or interesting b) SHE HAS NOTHING ELSE IN HER LIFE. In sacrificing her humanity she's called on to give up nothing significant to her, nothing that she needs or cares about. She's not human in any real sense anyway.

The same things are all true of Edward. He has spent his entire undead life believing he is damned and soulless, moping about being the only singleton in a 'family' made up of passionately devoted couples. He says he loves his family, but they seem to inspire more exasperation than affection in him. He plays the piano. Other than that, his only occupation seems to have been going to High School over and over and over and over, feeling superior to every person he meets because he can read their minds. Except for a brief stint at medical school. But he's never attempted to be a practising doctor. To do that he'd need to take an interest in something other than his own misery, which he cannot apparently bring himself to do. He's never had a relationship, even of the hand-holding variety, with anyone. What kind of a life is that? He might as well have died!

So of course *he's* willing to sacrifice his being for Bella. She is literally the only interesting thing that's happened to him since he turned into a vampire. He can't read her mind and she smells good enough that he actually wants to kill her, unlike every other girl he's ever met, who all put him off with their stinky perfume and bore him with their pointless internal monologue.

And even when these two link up, there's still not enough human life in the pair of them to make one real human being.

Bella and Edward never think of anything but each other, discuss anything but their feelings for each other, or have any thoughts about their future except for being together. They're perfect for each other because no one else could possibly establish or maintain a relationship with either of them. When you think of it like that, you realise what you're looking at in this book isn't a romance at all. It's about a co-dependent relationship of socially retarded loners who are both so isolated that they have no choice but to cling to each other and call it love.

Now, if you want to write a story about the suffocating and unhealthy relationship between a pair of sociopathic teens who are both unable to form any meaningful relationship with anyone other than each other...fine. But please don't gussy it up and pretend that it's the next Romeo and Juliet. Please don't pretend that the 'love' these two have for each is the 'love' that the rest of us experience in our lives. It isn't. Neither of them know what love is.

Love is accepting (as Bella and Edward never do) that the other person in the relationship is a PERSON. Flawed. Conflicted and contradictory. Stuffed with insecurities and anger and shame and sadness. And laughter and life and joy. Love is looking at another person, knowing that they are not and never will be your 'dream lover' and choosing to be with them anyway. Choosing to give up every fantasy you ever had about Mr Perfect swooping in and fixing your life, because that fantasy doesn't mean as much to you as the guy with the head-cold snoring on the sofa in front of Match of the Day.

Love is being with someone not because they're imprinted on you or destined for you, or the only person in the whole world whose mind you can't read, but because they're them. Joe, or Sally or Pilar or Hasif. Just that. Only that. That's what love is.

Twilight a love story? Not in a million years. And that's why I despise these books. Because they're supposed to be about love, but there's no heart in them. What they're really about is desperation and loneliness.

Oh, and sparkly stalker boys. Mustn't forget that.

Friday, 23 July 2010

THE SCARY PLACE

I'm getting to a certain point in my current book now. It's a point I like to call The Scary Place.

It gets its name because this is where, by my (and my word-o-metre's) calculations, I should be nearly at the end. I'm only supposed to have around 10% (in this case, between 10,000 and 15,000 words) to go. And yet, and yet, and yet...

MY PLOT IS STILL GROWING.

It doesn't fit! Oh, no, what do I do? Holy Heck, this book is going to be way. Too. Long. Waaaah!

Yeah, basically it's like that. I don't know why this happens to me. Am I the only one? When I'm plotting out a book, deciding what should happen to who when, I'm always plagued with a vague feeling that not enough is going to happen and that it's all a bit thin. But by the time I hit The Scary Place the plot has started bulging out in all directions like an athlete on anabolic steroids. New scenes have somehow inserted themselves into the story. Characters have developed in unexpected ways. Parts of the story that I thought would only need one scene turn out to need three and a half. And even though this happens to me every single time, I'm never prepared for it.

If you could see me now, you would see that I have a harried, frazzled look, that my hair is sticking out in all directions from me running my hands through it, that my pupils are just a bit too dilated from rampant coffee-consumption. This is the look of an author on the edge.

I may have mentioned that my last manuscript, which I had originally forecast at a length of 65,000 words, ending up weighing in at a whopping 130,000? I do not want that to happen again, friends. Especially not since I ended up cutting nearly 30,000 of those words in revisions with my editor (it burned, I tell you! BURNED!). I want this book to be a reasonable length. I want to be between 90-95,000 words long and no more.

But I haven't even finished the bit where...well, that would be a spoiler but, looking at my four act diagram, I have nineteen 'Crisis Points' in the story, places where something major happens which flips the plot. And I've only written thirteen and a half of them. That means there are five major crises to write and I'm supposed to do that in 15,000 words? No way that's gonna happen.

So what do I do? Plough on - because it's all I can do - and admit that my visions of a first draft completion date of the end of this month are nothing more than a beautiful dream. Yes, I'm going to run over my word target AGAIN. Yes, I will probably have to cut thousands of words in revision AGAIN. Yes, I will miss my dream target (although not the actual target, which is early September) AGAIN.

The real question is, why do I persist in making up these word targets and pretending they're accurate even though I always exceed them? I suppose they're a safety blanket for a writer, giving us a sense that we know where we're going. Which is why letting go of that target is so scary. Like a kid venturing out without a security blanket for the first time, a writer without a word target feels cold, vulnerable and likely to burst into tears at any moment...

Frankly, I need a hug. Any takers?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

ON MY BOOKSHELF

I have a rule. When I pass the 50% mark of a manuscript that I'm working on, I am no longer allowed to read any new books until I finish. I can re-read old favourites - that's fine - magazines - yep - non-fiction reference books - okay. But no new novels.

I'm not entirely sure when or how this rule came into being. I think it goes as far back as The Swan Kingdom, because I'm pretty sure I remember a friend sending me a stack of books as a celebratory present when I announced that it was finished. But whenever or however the rule came into being, it works. I happen to be one of those people that finish most books they read in one sitting, which means I read non-stop for about six hours at a time. You can't write from 9am to 5pm every day, cook, clean, take the dog for three walks, bathe, wash and blow-dry your hair, do internet grocery shopping and banking, reply to your emails AND read for six hours. So what always drops out of the equation is writing. When I'm reading new books, usually, I'm not writing.

BAD WRITER! NO COOKIE!

What this normally means is that while I'm writing that last 50% of my work-in-progress, I build up this stack of exciting books I'm *desperate* to read, but can't. I usually stack them up in my writing cave; there are days when looking at them is the only motivation I can scrape together to get some words down. Today, I thought I would share with you my 'I Get To Read These When I'm Finished' Bookshelf.

First of all: SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater.

I'm such a fan of Maggie's that even though I've never read any of her books yet, I can still spell her name right without even checking. Yeah I know. Anyway, I follow this lady's blog and listen to her awesome music for inspiration and despite some uncomplimentary reviews from friends of mine, I'm really interested to read this book.

You'll note, by the way, that this is the beautiful, shiny, blue and silver American hardback cover I've posted. That's because the UK paperback cover is so vile that I couldn't bring myself to read it. Seriously, what is up with the drooling letters, dude? Eugh. Anyway, I decided to order a copy of the US hardback and wait a few weeks for it to arrive, since I wasn't going to read the book straight away, and it's even more lovely in the flesh. In the paper? Whatever.

Next, SISTERS RED by Jackson Pearce.

Whoa nelly, that is an awesome cover.

I love fairytale retellings - that's why I write them - but most people go for the Anderson ones because they're longer and more complex and leave more room for reinterpretation. There's not all that much meat in the Brothers Grimm Little Red Riding Hood, and I'm told that this story does have a few glaring plot holes.

However, it's about two girls who carve up werewolves with knives and a hachet so...yeah. I'm totally reading this.

Next on the list is CITY OF BONES by Cassandra Clare.

Yes, yes, I know everyone but me has already read this. And it's kind of shameful that I haven't, since me and Cassie Clare have the same publisher. I've been meaning to get to it for ages, and the other day I was browsing on Amazon and thought, Ooh, I should get that while I'm online! So I did.

I really hope it's as good as everyone says, because if so I have two more books in the trilogy to look forward to, and the companion book. Woohoo!

PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL by Jessica George Day.

Another one I've been meaning to get to for a while, but I hesitated because Robin McKinley, the Ruling Empress of Fairytale Retellings has already done a version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, which I LOVE. I'm not sure anyone else can live up to that version, but the reviews on this one are good, so I'm willing to give it a go.

MAGIC UNDER GLASS by Jaclyn Dolomore.

I'm intrigued by this one for several reasons. The idea of a fairy trapped in an automoton is so original - and I've also been told that this author writes a little like Diana Wynne Jones which is about the highest tribute anyone could ever bestow, as far as I'm concerned. Really looking forward to it, but hoping the ending is not as much of a cliff-hanger as some reviews imply (boy, I hate cliff-hangers. Ngghg).

THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan.

I would have bought and read this one ages ago, despite the Twilight-Alike cover, just because that title is fantastic (so jealous! Why can't *I* think of titles like that? Waah!). However, the only copy in my local bookshop was all ripped up and torn, and I wasn't willing to shell out full price for a hardback with a ruined cover. When I returned to the shop the next time, there were no copies. It seemed like an omen, so I decided to make an offering to the writing gods and buy a notebook with the money instead. No, not really: I just forgot.

So these are the books I can't wait to read at the moment. What's on your To Be Read pile right now, and why?

Monday, 19 July 2010

WHY I HATE INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS

They deactivate your broadband accounts for no reason.

They delete the email addresses which you've been using for nine years without warning.

When you phone them up to complain about this, they say it will take seven days to fix, and in the meantime anyone who tries to email you will get their message bounced back to them.

When you tell them this is unacceptable, they tell you 'you need to be patient'.

When you ask why you should be patient when this was not your error, and ask to speak to a manager, they tell you there are no managers available.

When you persist, they say a manager will call you back in ten to fifteen minutes.

No manager ever calls.

When you call back, they will keep you on the phone for about a hour trying various things to fix your problem, then give up and tell you that, although they can 'reinstate' your broadband, the email will probably take another few days to sort out. And there are still no managers available to speak to. They offer to set you up a temporary email address so you can email your friends to warn them.

After you have hung up, the temp email address is found not to work.

Finally, during this entire process? The knowledge of the words that you were meant to write today will be itching at you like fire-ants, and the realisation that you've wasted a day trying to fix something that wasn't your fault, and that you are now behind on your word target will feel like acid poured on fire-ant burns.

And this - this, my pretties - is why Richard Branson will burn in Hell. BURN I TELL YOU.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to set up a gmail account.

Friday, 16 July 2010

SQUEEE! (Continued)

Today I received my confirmation letter, so it's probably safe to post about the amazing thing that just happened to me. Safe in terms of...well, it's not likely to turn out that I hallucinated the whole thing, or had a really vivid dream. So I shall share.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I was interviewing for a new part-time job. What I didn't mention was that I lost my previous job in really unhappy circumstances. We'll say no more about that, except that my job was my only steady income, and that it left me in a fairly desperate financial situation. I didn't have any savings, and once I went through my pay in lieu of notice I wasn't going to be able to pay my rent, let alone my debts. Signing on for benefits (a humiliating first for me) barely touched that problem.

I told my editor about this, and because my publisher is a fairly small (though mighty) independent publisher, who actually really care about their authors, my editor's boss got on the phone to me. She said lots of lovely things, reassured me that one day I would look back on my redundancy and laugh and think it was the best thing that ever happened to me ('Yeah, right...' I said, humouring her) and then gave me a really fabulous piece of advice. She told me to apply to the Royal Literary Fund for assistance.

I'd never even heard of the Royal Literary Fund before. Once I did some online research I found that they were a really amazing charity, set up nearly three hundred years ago - and funded by successful authors - that have made it their business to help writers out of financial difficulties. They've given grants to some of the most distinguished British authors in history, when those authors hit low ebb. Reading about their history made it seem even less likely that they would want to help me - but there was nothing on their website that specifically prohibited me from applying. So I phoned up and asked for an application form, got together some letters of reference, wrote down all my income (practically none) and expenditures (rather too much) and sent them two copies of both my published books. That last bit is important because the Royal Literary Fund only award grants once the literary merit of the author has been established. Committee members read the applicant's books and, basically, if your work is no good, they can't award you any money.

After all this, I frankly wasn't feeling too hopeful - and when a very nice lady from the RLF came to see me at home to check my application and all my facts, and told me that I was way, way younger than their normal applicants (I'm not close to thirty yet) and that normally grants were made to people who were 'mid-career' rather than just starting out, I pretty much resigned myself to being told there was nothing they could do for me.

I knew the date when my application was to be put forward was 14th of July. I forced myself to sit down and get to work as normal on my current book. I forced myself not to look at the phone. I rehearsed, in my head, how I was going to react when I was told 'Unfortunately on this occasion...' and told myself to remember to thank them for all their trouble anyway.

It was early evening before the phone rang. By then, despite my best efforts, I was feeling sick and jumpy, just wanting to get the disappointment over with so that I could get on and try to figure out how to bail myself out this mess. I answered the phone.

The very nice lady was on the other end. And she said she had good news.

Even then, I was expecting her to follow this with '...and bad news'. That's the format my life has taught me to expect so far. But no. She didn't say anything about bad news. She said, 'The Committee have decided to award you...'

I sucked in a deep breath, thinking she might say, perhaps, a thousand pounds. I would have been incredibly grateful for that much.

But the lady didn't say that. She named a figure. Then she said the RLF would award me that figure per annum for the next two years. The figure (because grants from the RLF are tax-free) was effectively the same as my annual earnings in my old job. She was telling me that I was going to have enough money to be able to write, full-time, for the next TWO YEARS.

I burst into tears and started thanking her so frantically that she barely able to get out her next sentence, which was to tell me that the Committee had also decided they would pay off my debts. All of them.

Even typing this now - even having seen this information in writing - even after three days - I still can't believe it. Things like this just don't happen to me. The Royal Literary Fund not only read my books and liked them - found them worthy beside the work of all the other amazing authors they've given grants to in their time - but they decided to make me a grant that will change my life. Forever.

I can write. Every. Single. Day. Yes, I still have to look after my family, do dishes and housework, walk the dog and the rest. But I get to write every single day for the next two years, without worrying about money, without desperately trying to find any job that will take me, without having to drag myself out and into an office where they treat their workers like a piece of hardware that plugs into a phone. This? This sounds to me like an opportunity to write a heck of a lot of books, peeps. Like a chance to make a huge difference to my career. Actually, it sounds like heaven, only without the unpleasant dying part first.

So when my editor's boss said to me that day I would look back on losing my job and laugh, and think it was the best thing that ever happened to me...she was right.

Holy Marked Up Manuscripts, Batman! I'd better get back to work!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

SQUEEE!

Late yesterday I had some amazing news. In fact, calling it amazing is an understatement. To be really accurate, I should probably say it's the best news I've ever had. In my entire life.

You heard me right, my lovelies.

More on this later, when I've finished squeeeing and hugging people and doing happy dances around my living room. In the meantime, here's a book trailer for Daughter of the Flames, complete with awesometastic music, because this particular tune - electric guitar and all - conveys how I feel perfectly right now.




Who loves you, baby? Oooh, yeah.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

HAVE ANOTHER VIDEO

Hi All! I hope you've had enough of intense, looong writing related posts lately, because I'm kind of buried at the moment. To wit:

  1. I've realised my last Wrenching Scene of Emotional Devastation is not Wrenching enough, and I've decided to re-write it before moving on, because this scene and the way it effects all the characters is the emotional heart of the story. I've been through various options on how to make it stronger, which ranged from killing the dog (my writing peeps did not like this idea) to changing the conclusion of the scene so that it's much longer, and more difficult for the heroine. In order to find out what I decided, you will have to read the book (mwaa-haa-haaa!)
  2. I'm trying to find a part-time job and I've had interviews. *Nerve-Wracking* I am not at my best in a pair of sensible pumps and a navy suit.
  3. I'm hoping to find out this week about some financial stuff involving The Royal Literary Fund, which is also mundo nerve-wracking, as it could make a huge difference to me.
So, I offer you a Tips for Young Writers vid, to fill up the empty gap which would otherwise be left in your day by my inability to post anything coherent. That's just how much I love you, my pretties.



P.S. I'm thinking the blog might be a good place for me to answer questions, which I've previously been doing on my website. So if I get comments or emails with interesting questions about writing or the publishing industry, I'll try to put together a post or two to answer them. Pass it on - I can't answer questions if no one asks any.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

WHY THEY SAY WRITERS ARE MAD

ME, GETTING READY TO GO SHOPPING

Writer: Eggs. Pot Noodles. Fish fingers? Hmmm.

Character: Oi!

Writer: (mumbles) wait a minute...just got to finish this shopping list...

Character: never mind the shopping list! This is far more important than bread and potatoes!

Writer: (mutters) Oh, that's right, we are running low on bread.

Character: PAY ATTENTION TO ME!

Writer: (startled) What! What?!

Character: I've just been reading your day's work, and you've not shown everyone how good a swimmer I am yet! They're not going to believe the next scene unless you do, and I don't intend to be scoffed at. Go back and fix it.

Writer: (muttering again) Show how good this character is as a swimmer...maybe with some sort of competition...

Character: No, you imbecile! I'm not that type of person at all! It'll need to be something casual, like if everyone's bathing at the river!

Writer: Ooh! Yes, right, right, I've got that. (Swiftly turns shopping list into scribbled notes about swimming scene). Oh, while you're at it, would you like to tell me a bit more about how you're going to react when you find this secret out about the other character? (Pauses). Hello? Are you there? Damn. (Pauses) Oh, no, my shopping list!

Character: Heh heh heh.

MY FRIEND'S VERSION

Character : I'm not getting a chance to show what I can do - no I don't mean a sex scene - show me winning a fight!

Writer: Oh, but unless it advances the plot then I don't...

Character: You can work it in somehow. Otherwise it's not faiiiiiiir.

Writer: (Weakening slightly) What sort of fight?

Character: Swords! The gentleman's weapon!

Writer: Swords. Yes, that could be cool. I'll see.

Character: And - and -

Writer: No 'ands'. Shut up.

Character: It's not faiiiiiiir....

Friday, 9 July 2010

ANOTHER ANGELFIRE GIVEAWAY

I just have to link to this. I'm desperate to read this book but it's not out for aaages. The author is running a giveaway of just one precious arc on her blog, and after seeing over two hundred people enter I felt a bit despairing. But! Now there's another chance to win! So I'm sharing it with you. You can enter here. Good luck!

NEVER ENDING STORIES

I had an email from a young (extremely young) lady called Regan the other day. She's a very enthusiastic writer and reeled off a list of about six or seven story titles that she's working on, some of which were up to seventy-five pages long. She was mainly writing to me for advice on how to handle it when her family, teachers etc. dismiss her writing, so referred her to my TOP TIPS post and my website, where I talk about that a lot.

However, she made a throwaway comment which caused my Writer Senses (like spider senses, but with less webbing) to tingle. She said that before she could finish any of her stories she always ended up getting an idea for another one. Her stories weren't getting finished.

Well, this is an issue which is close to my heart - and probably to the hearts of many reading this blog. For a lot of young and not-so-young writers, the problem of actually managing to complete a story/novel crops up again and again. If you want to learn more, read on. I warn you - this post is long. Very long. It may have developed its own gravitational field by now...

The thing is, it doesn't sound difficult to finish a story. In fact, you'd think it would be the most natural and easy thing in the world. You start it, then you do some noodley bits in the middle, then you write The End and you've finished. Yeah?

Nooooo.

For many years, whenever I told family and friends that I was starting a new novel their response would be a long-suffering sigh and mutters of 'If only you could FINISH one...' At first this didn't bother me much. Because, of course, the story that I'd just abandoned at three chapters was lame and pointless, but this new story, well, this was the perfect story, it was awesome and of course I was going to finish it, right? Oh, Young Zolah, how very wrong you were. Because three chapters into that awesome new story, somehow all the new and awesome had always drained out of it, and there would be MUCH better idea lurking in the back of your mind waiting to pounce.

I loved writing. I always have. I'm a writing geek. I play with words constantly, steal parts of overheard conversations, note down news stories, and have new stories, characters and worlds constantly crowding into my head. Which is supposed to be a good thing, isn't it? Having so much love for writing should have made it easy for me to finish lots and lots of stories. But it didn't. By the time I'd hit my teens I'd gotten to the point where I couldn't even finish a three page story for an English class. That was okay at school, because I usually ended up writing twelve pages instead of three, and the teacher would be so impressed they'd overlook the lack of ending. I wasn't overlooking it, though. I'd started to get this creeping, icy sense of anxiety. Maybe there was something wrong with me. Maybe I couldn't finish stories.

Maybe I never would.

When I was sixteen I decided I wanted to write category romance (Mills and Boon for those of you in the UK, something like Harlequin Romance for those in the US). I was reading these non-stop at the time, mostly because they sold ten for a quid in the local charity shops, and were available by the thousand in the library. They were so plentiful that I could read about ten in a weekend and still have twenty left to keep me going throughout the week. No other genre in the publishing industry could keep up with me. I did some research. I found out that the ladies who wrote these books could make a really good living from it. I did some more research and wrote to the publisher for a set of their guidelines. This set out exactly how many words each book could have and what sort of storylines you could use. It was almost like an essay assignment at school. Armed with all my facts and figures, I set out to write one of these books.

AND I DID IT.

Somehow, the fact that I had been given a word target and a fairly narrow list of requirements, combined with my in-depth knowledge of the genre made it possible for me, in between school and homework and TV and the rest, to bash out a 50,000 word romance novel in about four months.

You can probably imagine my triumph. I'd beaten the jinx. I'd proven I could really be a proper writer. I don't think my feet even touched the ground for about a week after typing The End.

On a roll (so I thought) I submitted the novel to Mills and Boon. And the inevitable happened. I was summarily rejected. Looking back, I can only thank the God of Writers for his unexpected kindness there, because that book STANK. At the time, though, it was a huge blow.

I carried on trying to get published with category romances for a couple more years, but my old problem had returned. I couldn't finish them. Instead I would write three chapters and a synopsis, send it to the romance publishing company, get rejected and move onto a new story.

Then when I was eighteen, through various coincidences, I found the genre which was to become my perfect home. YA Fantasy. Just like always, I began to read voraciously in my chosen field, digging out old favourites and discovering new ones, until I had, once again, become an expert in my genre. Once again, I did my research, found out what sort of word target I needed to aim at. Once again, I checked out submission guidelines (on publisher's websites this time). Then the idea for Blood Magic came to me.

By this time I was working full-time in an office, but that didn't stop me *living* inside that story for months. I remember putting customers on hold for a minute so I could scribble ideas on odd bits of paper. I remember leaning on the concrete wall of the tea-room, jotting down dialogue while colleagues stared. And I can remember thinking: I WILL COMPLETE THIS BOOK. I loved it - the story, the characters, the fictional world - so much that I just had to. I had to find out how it finished!

I drew up a little chart of how many words I should write a day, and gave myself a target, about nine months away, for completion. Unlike with previous stories I didn't go back and revise previous chapters, because I was always too busy writing the next one. I smashed my target, completing the book about six months early, because I just couldn't stop writing.

And although Blood Magic never got published, writing it was actually the best thing I ever did. It was when I submitted it to (and was rejected by) Walker Books, that I came into contact with the gentleman who was later to become my first editor. After the book was rejected he called me up to tell me how much he liked my 'voice' and to ask me to send him anything else I wrote. A year almost to the day after submitting Blood Magic, I sent him The Swan Kingdom. Within a couple of months I had a publishing contract - and an agent too.

So, what is the point of this rambling story? Well, let's have a look at the facts here. Just like many of you, I couldn't finish stories. Except that I COULD - with the right conditions. I proved that with my romance novel and later with Blood Magic and the books that came after. So, what are the right conditions? How do you go about writing a story in such a way that you will be able to finish it?
  • RESEARCH. Read widely in your chosen field! Glory in it! Devour everything you can get your hands on. Read books you love and books you hate. Re-read both kinds and learn from them. In short, become an expert. Because that way you will be filled with a sense of confidence that you know exactly where your book fits in - that your ideas are original and interesting, and worthy of their own book - and this confidence will propel you forward to complete it.
  • TARGETS. Decide how long you want your book to be (look at other books in your genre and look at publisher's guidelines if you can find them). Decide what date you want to complete it by and how many words you should write a day or a week (be reasonable, though. Even if you only write 500 words a day - two typed pages - that would be 182500 words by the end of the year! Enough for two or three books at least). Then do everything you can to stick to those targets. You won't always be able to manage it. The original word target for Shadows on the Moon was 65,000 words and the original completion target was April 2009. Instead, the first draft was 130,000 words long and I didn't complete until October 2009. But having targets will give you a sense that you're working on something that can and will be finished one day.
  • PASSION. Don't write the first idea that pops into your head. Don't be distracted by fleeting, glamorous images and launch into writing without really thinking them through. Don't read someone else's book, get 'inspired' and end up writing fanfic disguised as something else, telling yourself no one will notice. You need to be in LOVE with your story. Cherish it, think about it deeply, live inside the characters and love or hate them. Give all your imagination to one idea and let it grow and mature within you. Let it become something so special and unique, filled with so many of your own deepest values and feelings, that no one else on the planet could write it but you. Then when you come to put it down on paper, nothing will be able to put you off, because nothing in the whole world will be as exciting to you as the story you're working on RIGHT NOW.
  • MOMENTUM. Just write. Keep your eye on the target and keep pushing forward. Don't give into the temptation to keep going back and revising those first pages or chapters. Maybe they suck, but so what? You can fix anything in revision - once you've finished the book. You can't fix it right now, though. In fact, it's pointless trying to revise an unfinished story, and you know why - because you get caught in the death spiral of doubting yourself and the story and never finish it. So just think about that glorious, heart-rending, funny, sad, change-your-life forever ending that you're going to create. Believe in that ending. Reach for it. And somehow, before you know it, you really will be writing it.
Wow, this post has gone on far too long. Time to get back to my own story. Which I promise I will *definitely* finish. But before I go, here, have a video. This song is really inspiring me at the moment:

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

LETTER TO MY CHARACTERS

Dear Pair of Characters (You Know Who You Are)

I'm...sorry. Really, really sorry.

You've just had such a wonderful moment between you. A moment of human connection and warmth that I'm convinced has changed you both forever, and released one of you from a burden of isolation and loneliness you've carried for a very long time.

I'm so happy for you. So happy that after all the snarling and suppressed misery and stupid fights, you've been able to reach out to each other in this way. I know you're both feeling a strange sense of lightness right now and you're cautiously hopeful that things are going to change. For the better.

But you're wrong. Oh, so wrong.

Things are not going to get better. In fact, it is at this exact moment, just as you are about to find peace and perhaps - maybe - even the beginnings of love, that all Hell is going to break loose. By the end of this chapter I will have ripped both your guts out. It's going to be awful. I know it's going to hurt me a lot: but I don't want to minimise your suffering. I'm ready to admit that however much it hurts me, it'll hurt you more. MUCH MORE.

I try to be a good person, Pair of Characters. I do. But being a good writer has a rather different set of requirements, and that includes the willingness and ability to be an utter b*tch when both plot and character development require it. You're about to discover this.

My deepest sympathies go out to both of you. Really. I feel terrible.

Love,
Zoë x

P.S. I hope you won't hold it against me that I'm not actually going to send you this letter until after I've finished the eviscerating? You see, if you're forewarned you might manage to wriggle away, and I just can't have that. Sorry again.

Your loving author xx

........................................................................................................................................................................

On a different note: Today I'm mailing out the prizes from the Goodie Giveaway. Unfortunately one item is missing from the Grand Prize and that's the playlist CD. My CD/DVD re-writer is, apparently, broken. I haven't used it in about three months, and sometime during that period it's stopped working. I'm really sorry, but the other goodies will hopefully make up for it.

Also, one of my prize winners has not contacted me yet. Ryuuoh-Elf, if you're reading this, please email me. A friend of yours has seen your winner status and has passed on your name and address, but I'm not really comfy sending anything anywhere until I have spoken to you myself. So please get in touch!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

AND THE WINNERS ARE....



Hopefully the video says it all. Some spills, some thrills, some over-the-top special effects, some chic 1940's hats and some hi-lol-rious tomfoolery. All in a day's work for this author.

My only problem is that winner number 3, Ryuuoh Elf, did not leave an email address. Now, she does have an LJ, but it's Friends only and has anonymous comments disabled, and I DON'T have an LJ. So if you're reading this, my Elfy friend, please email me so that we can get your prize sent out, okay?

For those of you that didn't win - I'm sorry! I really wished I could have given a prize to everyone. Especially for the ones who were so excited over the draw they nearly peed themselves (you know who you are). Tell you what: when I hit the NYT Bestseller's List, all my blog followers will get a prize! Make it happen, people!

And in the meantime, keep checking back. There will be further contests and giveaways, especially as we approach the release of my next book in July next year. There will also be further posts on writing, inspiration, getting published, books and all that good, good stuff. It's win-win!

BLOGIVERSARY GOODIE GIVEAWAY...CLOSED.

Saturday is upon us, and the Blogiversary Goodie Giveaway is now CLOSED. No more entries will be accepted. Sorry to anyone who left it too late, but you did have a whole week. Maybe you'll know better next time.

Despair not: there may be future giveaways and competitions. But not right now. Right now, I have to go and write out nearly *300* entries to go in the hat. Way to go gathering those points, people!

The draw will be held later on today. I will film it and upload it here and on YouTube. I will also email the winner.

Good luck everyone!

Friday, 2 July 2010

HALF WAY! WOOHOO!

First: Only the remainder of today left to enter the Goodie Giveaway. If you haven't already, get your butt in gear and do it now.


Okay, with that out of the way - direct your eyes, Dear Readers, to the Work in Progress metre on the left of this blog, beneath the pretty pictures of book covers.

What's that you see? 51%? Yes, that's right. I've now reached and passed (just) the halfway mark on my newest book, tentatively entitled FrostFire. Wheee!

Having reached this milestone, it seems appropriate to talk a little bit about FrostFire and the fun (aha ha ha) I've been having writing it so far. Firstly, you need to know that FrostFire is the sequel to Daughter of the Flames. For those of you who haven't read DotF (as I like to call it), you can find a handy dandy synopsis with a simple clickety-click on either of the sort of swirly reddish covers to the left, each of which has a badass babe with a sword on the front.

Suffice it to say that Daughter of the Flames was a book about an ass-kicking female in the middle of a conflict between two nations with very different cultural values and religions. One race was occupying another's country. The heroine had to make some tough choices on how to keep the people she was responsible for safe, and on what to do when she fell in love with someone she really shouldn't have. Also: kissing!

So, I do love DotF, but something not many people realise is that originally the story was going to be very different. Basically, the whole second half of the story was going to be this massive arc about betrayal and secret histories and um...other stuff. And I never wrote any of that, because I realised that if I DID, DotF was going to end up being about 120,000 words long. Yeah. So I panicked. The story you read if you buy DotF now is basically the first half of the story that I originally planned, with the middle cut out and the original ending I had planned sewn into place.

And I know many of you may be saying 'Hell, why not just turn it into two books?' but my publisher had made some really pointed comments to me on how glad they were that I wasn't one of those cliched fantasy writers, always coming up with series and trilogies. Wasn't it nice to see an author brave enough to write a standalone book? And so on. Frankly, having just managed to talk the nice people into giving me a contract, I was not going to risk p*ssing them off. So DotF became something I had never originally planned on. Looking back now, I really kind of want to kick myself, because I can see how truly awesome that book I planned could have been. I wish I'd had the courage to just do it and see how it turned out. But I didn't.

Thus, the idea for a sequel was born. And luckily for me at this point, my publisher has observed the sales of YA fantasy trilogies and series soar (Twilight, Mortal Instruments, Hunger Games, Graceling etc.) and is willing to give the idea the time of day.

FrostFire is NOT a direct sequel to DotF. The two main characters from DotF, Zira and Sorin, are important secondary characters who make a pivotal difference to the storyline, but this book is not about them. Their story is told, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not dragging them out of retirement and putting them through Hell again. Instead, I'm putting a whole NEW lot of characters through Hell. Mwaaah-haaa-haaaa!

FrostFire deals with all the complex issues that I never had a chance to explore as deeply as I wanted to in DotF. Betrayal on a fundamental level, betrayal by someone that you love. How, in the middle of a war, bad guys and good guys sometimes merge into the same thing. The idea of Gods influencing people's lives. Being in love with someone that you CANNOT have and how that feels. Having reached the middle of the story, I'm about to reach into many of these characters and rip out their guts, and I don't know whether to be thrilled or terrified. I've really fallen for a couple of them, and my notebook is now covered in sad faces, because I've got to do BAD THINGS to them and it's going to hurt. And I mean really hurt. I fully expect to spend the next week mostly in tears over this stuff. My only consolation is the hope that the readers will be crying too, when they get their hands on it.

So, in closing, some things that might interest you about this book.

  1. The heroine...used to be a hero. I changed her sex after three chapters and started again.
  2. There's a seriously angsty love triangle in this story. Be warned. The path to true love is really more of a chasm lined with spikes.
  3. My main character fights with her father's double-headed war axe.
  4. The dominating metaphor and much of the imagery in Daughter of the Flames was fire (duh). In FrostFire, many of the images and metaphors come from ice, snow and...you, know, frost (d'ya see what I did there?).
  5. I finally get to write about one of my favourite animals: wolves!
P.S. I've disabled the word verification thingy on the comments function, as I'm told it was a pain. So, if you've been put off commenting because of that, now you don't have any excuses anymore!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

MAGGIE STIEFVATER KICKS SOME BUTT

Feeling a bit grim today? Looking at your stack of rejection letters and thinking, 'Waily, waily, waily'? Wandering if anyone can possibly find a publisher in today's crazy world, or if your genius will go forever undiscovered?

Just pop here for a minute.

I guarantee you'll feel much before for it.
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