Words Are Hard

Writer, Messenger, and Professional Weirdo

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Picture time!

Yay!  Pictures!  Pop Quiz!  What do all these pictures have in common:

If you said:

  • They are all examples of awesome books.
  • They are six of yours truly’s favorites.
  • Every single character on each of these covers is white.
  • All of the above.

The answer is D: All of the above, but before breaking out the pitchforks, I’d like to point out it’s the covers I’m on about, not the content of the books.  Mercedes Lackey is pretty in your face about sexuality, Jim Butcher has characters from all over.  Ditto for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Pratchett (and I picked that book in particular for a reason) is pretty vocal about deconstructing racism in many of his books and he’s funny when he does it.  Double win.  So content is not an issue here.

What is an issue is that you can walk down the fantasy/sci-fi section in any book store and be hard pressed to find a cover that doesn’t feature that lovely Caucasian look.  We default to it.  Granted, you might find one or two and, as time goes on, you’ll find more and more and that is a good thing.  Having a white person on the cover of a book isn’t bad.  Having nothing but white people sorta is yeah – especially when other people exist in the world.  Hello!

Like I said: we default to white.  Especially if we are white (hi!).  My leading lady, Sam?  Her looks were based off of a mix of this lovely lady and this one – because I am no less susceptible to falling into the default rut than anyone else.

Then something weird and totally unintentional happened.  I sat down to write the second draft.  Joseph stopped being a priest and Sam’s hair got curly.  A person whose intentions I’m sure were pure [sarcasm tag] pointed out that an urban fantasy novel with an obviously African American lead (that’s right: curly black hair = obvious African American) wouldn’t sell easily.

Thank you Mister Fillion.

So what did I do?

Nothing, actually.  It became a quirky side-story to tell and make people laugh or roll their eyes.   I didn’t change her personality, her description, nada.  She’s pure nut-bar pixie dream girl who will mess you up if you look at her boyfriend funny.  She’s been that way since her initial makeover during that fateful November.  If people wanted to see Sam as black I was totally okay with that.  I couldn’t (and still can’t) think of a good reason why it would be a bad thing.  Then the time came to describe her to my cover artist, because yeah, Sam’s going on the cover.

And while I realized that it didn’t matter to me what color her skin was, I could do one of two things:  I could “correct” the assumption that curly black hair = dark skin, because that’s just a dumb assumption to make no matter what.  Or I could jump in with both feet and go, “Yes, this creative, spacy, smartass hyperactive half angel superhero who is her boyfriend’s knight in shining armor is, in fact, a black girl.”

And if it really didn’t matter to me, then why couldn’t she be?  We’ve got plenty of pretty pale girls in the genre and Sam is not herself if she isn’t standing out from the crowd.  She usually does this by wearing Rainbow Brite arm warmers, mind you, but y’know: whatever.

And if having a black girl on the cover of my self-published e-book means I don’t sell a copy to someone, then gosh I …I just don’t know what I’d do!  /sob

That may have been a lie.

This happened unintentionally.  At first, Joseph didn’t have a last name.  When I actually needed to give him a last name it took me a very long time before (and writers will understand what I mean when I say this) he just sort of sat down in my head, exasperated, and said: Singh.

Oh.

Well okay then.

I didn’t start out to make a statement with my characters.  It sorta happened and I’m good with going with the flow.  My first goal is to tell an entertaining story.  If I manage that and just one person who hasn’t had much in the way of heroes to look up to finds one in Sam or Joseph (or Ben, or Gretchen, or Theo, or Simon – have I mentioned that the majority of the cast is not white?) then awesome.

I hold no illusions.  This will never ever be my day job.  My book isn’t going to end up in the fantasy/sci-fi aisle at your local bookstore so putting characters with darker skin on my cover isn’t going to make the slightest dent there.  It makes my job more interesting because what does a white girl know about this sort of thing?  How do you write a character of color?

Gosh!  Turns out it’s not a whole lot different from writing a white character.  You give them flaws and strengths and personality quirks, just like any other character.  You make them as rounded and real as you possibly can while avoiding the landmine field that is offensive stereotypes which really isn’t that hard.  And then you hope you did it right and if you didn’t, you listen to critique and then you apologize and change what needs to be changed.  Chances are if you treated your characters like people you did mostly okay.  At least, I hope so.

I also trust that if I hit on something offensive by accident, my friends would graciously beat the ever loving snot out of me until the stupid went away.

Here, have a bunny:

BUNNY!

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Alas, Poor Yorick

Nope, I didn’t see Hamlet.  It’s not playing this year.

I did have a ball in Canada though!  I love Stratford and every time I go I always forget how much that particular area of Canada loves it’s brick houses.  Aluminum siding was really rare.  I’m actually very curious as to why that is because the difference was striking enough that it stood out to me.

For the record, I am all about brick houses, but I accept that I may be in the minority there.

If you’re wondering about a deluge of pictures, unfortunately I don’t have that.  My paranoia made sure I left my cell phone in the hotel room pretty much full time.  Not because I thought it would get stolen, but because I didn’t want to be that person.  If you’re a theater goer, you know what I mean.  It’s the person whose phone goes off during the performance.  I spent the first show with my purse between my legs, my cell phone not only set to vibrate but turned off completely and my mind just would not shut up.  I was convinced that it would turn itself on and start bawling.  After that, I left it in the room and just let myself enjoy the shows.

(I never said it was rational.)

As for what we saw and what I thought: Waiting for Godot was my least favorite.  It was plagued with pauses and silences that, I think, were aiming to be Pinter Pauses but actually came across as though the actors forgot their lines.  Combine that with the fact that it was the first show we saw and therefore the one I spent agonizing over the magic cell phone turning itself on.  That definitely didn’t help.  It wasn’t all bad though.  The actor playing Lucky was brilliant and I don’t use that term lightly.

The rest of the round up made up for it.  Blythe Spirit was good, Othello was spectacular, Measure for Measure was awesome, and Merchant of Venice was effing amazing.  Setting MoV in 1930s Italy was about as subtle as a brick to the face, and the only likeable characters in the entire play (for me) were Portia and her groupies, but I loved it.

I’m sort of torn between Othello and MoV as my favorite.  Both casts were amazing but I think Othello’s set design (including the lighting design) wins out.  What they were able to do with a plain (but mobile) square stage and moving flats was breathtaking.  Also the performances.  I was actually able to forget my paralyzing fear of heights (we had nosebleeds) while the actors were on stage.

If you ever have the chance to head up north to Canada and see some Shakespeare, I would highly recommend it.  Have I mentioned that they’ve already announced next year’s season?  Between King Lear, Midsummer Night’s Dream (two different versions!), Alice Through the Looking Glass, and Man of La Mancha, I pretty much put my foot down.  We are going.

Things I would recommend for any long car ride:

The First Act of Star Wars (Episode 4) as performed by Famous Voice Actors.

Welcome to Nightvale.

The latter has the benefit of being voiced by someone with a Phone Book Voice.  Anyone possessing a Phone Book Voice is immediately my favorite.

It’s been awhile since I got back.  In my defense …I have no defense.  After throwing an epic tantrum way back when over Final Fantasy going online when FFXI came out, I’ve been sucked in by Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.  To clarify: I am an old school Final Fantasy nerd.  I played the first one on the Nintendo when I was nine.   I’m a bit strange in that I don’t like FF7 (I mean to say that I really don’t like it and I wish they would stop trying to get blood from that stone) and FF8 (one that is pretty much panned as terrible) was my favorite, followed closely by FF6.  They’re up to 13 (and it’s sequel) now.

In essence: I always played Final Fantasy because the games were RPGs with a story.  Probably not the best stories, but at the time they were addicting.  It was a rag-tag group of heroes thrown together by fate to defeat whatever evil baddy happened to be threatening the world this week.  You had your sword guy, your brawler, your gun guy, your lancer, your white mage, your black mage, your cranky/emotionally stunted or gloriously sarcastic and cheerful hero (pick one), your designated love interest, or any combination thereof.  Pretty standard.  Throwing that into an MMO made me do this:

This is not to say that MMOs can’t have stories – I go back and forth on whether or not I like WoW’s story but it’s there and it drives the game.  It’s just that the first “M” in MMO stands for Massively and that is like the exact opposite of “small rag-tag group of underdog heroes saving world.”

So I said NO! to Final Fantasy at that point (and haven’t finished an FF game since then, though I’ve tried both 12 and 13 – and will probably finish 13 eventually).  I got the schadenfreude bug when Final Fantasy XIV first came out.  It was called a $50 beta for a reason.  It was awful.

And then they fired everybody and brought in a new team and there was a free beta weekend so I said Oh why not and then suddenly:

So if you need me I’ll be leveling my Conjurer.

Ack!

Since I started this blog last month I had a good buffer of posts ready to go, but it appears time has finally decided to get down and truly be a terrible, fleeting thing so that buffer has run out. You may have noticed that Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are post days generally. Oh noes! It’s Thursday already and I have nothing for Friday!

So here, because the proverbial black eyes I asked for are starting to roll in: a rant on feedback, inspired by one too many writers going off the way wrong way after getting constructive criticism. Also notes to self because I’m going to need it in the coming weeks here. I cannot swear enough, people.

After reading the feedback our “friends” gave us: I HATE EVERYTHING

Getting feedback – real, very critical feedback – is a lot like working out (I imagine – I’m sort of allergic to working out). It can leave you feeling like you’ve just taken a good crowbar to the gut. You get the wind knocked out of you because you find out you’re not half as clever as you thought you were and all those funny little moments that you thought were genius actually weren’t. You want to curl up into a ball and cry and never, ever let anyone read anything you write ever again. In fact, you don’t even want to write anymore because OBVIOUSLY WE’RE JUST NOT ANY GOOD AT IT.

The reality is more complicated. Stick with me here. The beta readers are on your side. Unless they’re total asshats in which case they’re not going to be helpful and need to be ditched ASAP. I wish I had an easy to spot solution for finding out who is trying to help and who is just worthless, but I don’t.

And after the workout you’re sore. Your ego hurts. It hurts because this is your baby. You have spent days, months, years, a lifetime of anguish to get these words onto the page(screen). We suffer for our art. Even comedians are drawing the funny from a very dark well. These words are a part of who you are. The story is, in some primal way, your life and to have someone point out that maybe it’s not quite as solid as you thought hurts in an almost physical way.

But hey, we’re all adults here. We’ve been hurt before – it’s what led us to do what we do. I hate being told that, as a writer, I need to have a thick skin. I know this get off my case and let me sob into my beer gawd!

Ahem. Let’s assume that people are generally good. This is difficult for me so you’ll have to bear with me. I’m sort of a misanthrope. So somehow I have to convince myself that getting critical feedback is a lot less like getting beaten to a bloody pulp by a gang of forty and more like this:

After the sore, if you keep at it, you start seeing results. You’re story starts toning up. It starts building muscle. And it starts lookin’ good. Your beta readers are the gym baby and after awhile you start to feel like dancing because you have all the energy and there’s a healthy glow about you and you’re ready to face the WORLD!

HERE IS MY BOOK WORLD! READ IT! READ! ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

And it all comes crashing down after one stupid review on Amazon, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet, so my delusions, let me keep them.

Anyway! Coming up on Sunday I actually do have a post, in honor of Father’s Day. I’m not a fan of this day, generally speaking, but I do have a minor character who is a dad and the idea for the drabble was a cute one (shut up it is) so two plus two equals special post!

Note to self: go through said post and remove spoilers from said drabble, dummy.

Also incoming is a review (!!!). While I’ve definitely done some heavy-handed critique (my snark can get pretty epic, but I only break that out for people I know very well because generally speaking, they ask for it and give as good as they get *see above creys*), I’ve never done, like, a review before. I finished The Pull by Rob White last night at work, enjoyed it, and I’ve got some digesting to do before I get some thoughts together about it but really quickly: if you’re looking for something fun to read in your down time, definitely check it out.

I think that’s your lot.

Wait no. Have a Sassy Dancing Ood:

Now we’re done.

Catharsis

ca·thar·sis

[kuh-thahr-sis]

noun, plural ca·thar·ses [kuh-thahr-seez]

1. the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.
2. Medicine/Medical , purgation.

3. Psychiatry.

a. psychotherapy that encourages or permits the discharge of pent-up, socially unacceptable affects.
b. discharge of pent-up emotions so as to result in the alleviation of symptoms or the permanent relief of the condition.

From here.  In relation to where I’m going with this, what I’m talking about is FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS EVER FELT IN THE ENTIRE WORLD AT ONCE.

Which is pretty much how my whole week has been going.  How’s your week been?

Essentially it’s started out like this:  Hi!  It’s June, which puts me in the interesting and uncomfortable position of going to my beta readers and poking them on the shoulder asking them to maybe give me a little bit of feedback.  In other words, to reword my post into something more polite and send it off in an email to the list of like eleven who asked to read the currently raw manuscript.

And I have to do this because while I’d love to be able to, I really can’t afford to have a professional structural edit done.  Especially since a copy edit is not really optional (it is but it isn’t) and I’m looking to get some cash to my cover designer by the end of this month.

So that’s fun.

But every time I open up my email program this happens:

I think we’ve already gone over how easy it is for me to use reaction gifs.

It is literally exactly that.  I stare at it for about thirty seconds and close the window with a “NOPE!” face to rival NOPE faces.  I don’t want to bother people, even though the rational part of me knows better.  I have been told as much by the very people I’m terrified of bothering.  That doesn’t change the visceral reaction.

So I guess this post is more me working through how to get over myself and, y’know, bug the people who put themselves into a position to be bothered.  And I’m sure that, by the end of June (which was my deadline for myself because if I haven’t gotten something by then…) I’ll have finished feeling feelings and have a few less cares to give.  Hopefully that promised relief will come.

But.

Five times now I’ve sat down to do this necessary thing and five times I’ve immediately turned into Nathan Lane in The Birdcage.

Now did I say that just so I could link this .gif? The world may never know.

So it could go either way, really.

I fully accept that I am a complete and total pansy.  You guys should see the posts that don’t get published.  I have many many opinions, and many of them expressed with more four letter words than can be found on the Jolly Roger.  Blessing in disguise for you guys, really.

Of course, that could change once I get comfortable with the idea of saying things that might be wrong holy crap.

You keep using that word…

An Open Letter to the Brave Men and Women On Call:

To the heroic doctors, nurses, funeral directors, plumbers, HVAC techs, and other emergency sort of workers whose lines it is my duty, honor, and privilege to answer:

Love,
Me

How Not To Write A Book

A view from my living room.  This is also what my cat, Audi, thinks of what mom does.

I have read a lot of books on writing.  In fact, for awhile I was one of those people that got so caught up on reading about writing that I didn’t get much writing done.  I’ve heard it said that you need to write anywhere from ten thousand to a million or so words, burn them, and then you’re almost ready to start writing a story that doesn’t suck.

That’s pretty much true.  My only problem is I didn’t keep track of how much I’d written before I decided this was it and lo, the holy grail of my efforts had borne fruit and it was good.  Or at least slightly more palpable than its forebears.

When I say I’ve been working on this story for three to four years, what I mean is that I’ve been working on this particular incarnation of this story for that long.  In all honesty, the “world” the current characters reside in has been in the works for about a decade, slowly being tempered and refined into what exists now.  The original main characters have moved into supporting roles, one of the former supporting characters got a makeover and is now in the spotlight and several more didn’t even exist and only walked into my head when I sat down to bang out the first draft during the NaNo of 2010.

Oh, that’s right.  I NaNoed this baby.

I went on to NaNo (this is a verb right?  I can verb this?) two sequels.  So yeah, this thing is a series.

I first attempted NaNo in 2003, got about halfway, and gave up.  I went for it again and “won” in 2004.  The experience was so soul wrenching and stressful because I did it for the wrong reasons that I pretty much left it at that forgot about it.

Prior to 2006 I was writing pretty much daily.  If it wasn’t for myself it was online roleplaying (shush, that’s a thing and don’t you judge me).  Livejournal was huge in my world back then.  Words were everywhere.  I loved reading and I loved writing.

Then life happened and they sort of took a back seat to other things.  I went back to school, got married and then moving and job hunting happened.  Also I discovered WoW at that time and that’ll kill any creative desires you might harbor if you’re not careful.  I still loved reading, but I wrote a lot less.

Then this “nephilim” idea that had been bouncing around came back with a vengeance.  The idea of half-angels (or demons), half-humans as superheroes was not going to go away.  I had a friend that was an artist and the idea manifested as a potential web-comic (minus spandex).  I got character outlines, a basic plot, a ten page treatment and the first chapter’s script written.  The comic never went anywhere and that’s probably for the best.  The story was still in its infancy and while it’s still got a ways to go, it’s not nearly as far as it had to go back then.

I continued to poke at it like a sore tooth.  The artist friend disappeared into the ether and attempts to find a back up went nowhere because I had no idea how to sell this particular snake oil.  I brainstormed and outlined and wrote a few exploratory things.  Then October 2010 rolled around and I remembered NaNo.  Having completely forgotten the gut wrenching hell I’d put myself through six years earlier, I tossed the nephilim into the wringer and, thirty days later, I had something of a beginning, middle, and end.

My main character, Joseph, also started existing, as did a few others.  Joseph’s not what he started out as.  It’s especially funny when you realize that Joseph in the first draft was actually a priest.  My villain wasn’t my villain yet.  Mal, Joseph’s best friend, was definitely not Mal as he exists now.  Sam is pretty much the same.  The three inch high book imp didn’t exist until rough draft round two.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is that the rough draft that existed in 2010 resembles the current incarnation about as much as a porcupine resembles a butterfly.  And that’s okay.  If you’re using NaNo for anything other than throwing ideas at the dartboard to see what sticks and what doesn’t, you might be doing it the hard way.  I took what stuck, tossed what didn’t, and forged ahead trying to temper draft two into something workable.  This is the part that actually took the longest because I did everything All Wrong.

Yeah, I did this a lot.

I decided on the re-write that rough draft #2 would be The One.  I set up a blog for it and started over from scratch, changing things as I went.  I ended up with changes I didn’t like, an ending that didn’t get posted because it didn’t match the beginning, and a bunch of fluff in the middle that didn’t need to be there.  Clearly, I was wrong about The One.

Back to the drawing board then.

I knew a lot about writing, but I knew nothing about structuring those words.  Oh I knew beginning, middle, end was a Thing.  I knew falling action came after the climax and I knew rising action came before that.  The problem was that before all I’d ever really done, prose wise, was write short scenes that I figured would eventually magically squish into that story structure formula.  Some of them did, but a lot of them didn’t and I while I don’t think I wasted my time in writing them because I got things like character development and ideas from them, I could have probably gone about it a lot better.

I’m still learning, but I’m better these days, I think.  At least, it shouldn’t take me three…ish years to write a novel again.

(You can quote me on that when it’s time to have a joke at my expense.)

So books got bought, outlines got written, note cards got posted to cork boards and moved around and omg!  That last bit was way more fun than should have been possible.  The end result was something close to a novel.  So while it’s far from done, I can look over the horizon and see the finish line.

I realize there has to be an easier way to do things.  I’m all ears!

How to tell when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing.

I don’t think I could have picked a worse time to start blogging. This has been me all day:

Whyyyyyyyyyyyy

Don’t worry. I’m medicated.

That probably isn’t reassuring to you, but is to me.  There really is no good reason for the waterworks either.  Confidence issues being what they are, I had a moment of “What am I doing?!” this morning and it just sorta snowballed.  Getting up early and wasting an hour and a half smashing my face into the pixelated brick wall that is the WoW Raid Boss of the Month (I have nothing good to say about you Horridon, nothing) didn’t help things.  Oh, and then there was work.

Which, oddly enough, made things better.

I actually like my job.  I know that sounds weird, but the job itself is pretty straight forward: I talk to people.  For ten hours a night I sit there with a headset on talking to people – but – I know what I’m doing.  The people I talk to fall into one of several categories:

  1. The heat is out (winter).
  2. The air conditioning isn’t working (summer).
  3. The basement (or similar room) is flooding.
  4. Their pet is sick.
  5. They are sick.
  6. They need directions (I really, really hate this one).
  7. Somebody is almost dead.
  8. Somebody is dead.

During the day there’s maybe one or two other categories (I forgot my sunglasses at the funeral home is there anyone there? – though I get this one at midnight too…) but for the most part they’re easy to deal with.  Even when the caller is screaming and/or crying I know what to say.  I know what tone of voice to use.  Outside of work my social interactions contain a lot of uncomfortable silences because being able to form words at other people I barely know is a skill I never actually mastered.

I’m a writer because I’m not a speaker.

So imagine my dismay upon finding out that I need to actually force myself to talk to people I don’t know online.  I don’t consider tweeting or facebooking or commenting on blog posts writing in the traditional sense, by the way.  I’m interacting with people in mostly real time and I don’t know them and there is no way to make me explode into tears faster than trying to make words happen at strangers.

Obviously, success is a thing I would like.  I have no delusions or even intentions of quitting my job (because again, paradoxically, I like my job) but money isn’t what’s important here.  Producing a book worth reading is and in order to do that I have to talk to other people.  I have to let people know that I am, in fact, doing things.  I have to pretend that I can make people care.  I have to find a copy editor and a cover designer (latter is taken care of and she is wonderful hooray!).  The stage I’m at right now is the dreaded “Hurry up and wait” beta stage which is both awesome and terrible.

I find expressing myself in animated .gif form to be easier than having to exercise my vocabulary.

Awesome because I know every single one of the readers and therefore asking them wasn’t difficult.  Also awesome because just mentioning that I had an unpolished finished project brought people out of the woodwork that I never expected and it was overwhelming in a good way.  For the next two days I pretty much just loved everybody.

Terrible because now that they’re reading I want to know what they think without hovering over their shoulder going: “So so so so?!”  And going back over the manuscript didn’t help because once I’d done that I had another nervous breakdown because oh my god this isn’t ready I actually let people read this drek!?

So you may be noticing a theme here.

Thing is – and this is what my paranoid side doesn’t quite understand – you can’t do things like this by yourself.  You need the people who will read what you’ve written and tell you what’s right and what’s wrong with it so you know what needs to be fixed.  And as the loving spousal unit tactfully (har) pointed out, sometimes they don’t know what to tell you because they don’t know what you’re worried about.  General questions don’t work.

So okay.  Asking them specific questions isn’t difficult, really.  Of course, not knowing what works and doesn’t because you’re too close to the work gets in the way, but the question really is when do you ask them?  How long do you give your friends who, remember, are doing you a huge favor, before you start gently nudging?  And how do you do it without annoying them into never picking the book up ever again?  I’m terrified of alienating people to be honest, but I’ve been working on this dumb thing for over four years now and I want to get this done and out the door sometime this year.

I decided on mid-late June, which should give me plenty of time to craft a request for specific feedback (I did give them things to watch out for, but now I gotta get even more specific).  Also I’ll have enough time to scrap and rewrite until it doesn’t read like nails on a chalkboard.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Author, ranter, dad

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