Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dreams (Writing Update 3.20.14)

Over the past week I've put a number of stories back out. A few trying to find homes on the reprint market. Several looking for homes for the first time. It was exciting. (I even pulled out my lone literary short and sent it back it out after having shelved it for a while.)

Last year I was arse-deep in querying the Steampunk novel and working two different sets of revisions as a result of that querying. I did work on some shorter projects as well, and tried to keep them out on submission as much as possible, but I didn't have the time or energy to do so with any long term dedication. This week I started getting that machine rolling again.

I also continued to work on the current novella (the continuation of the Spider-thief's story). There's a lot of outside stress which limits the number of words that get on the paper each day. In fact, some days no words get on the paper. But it feels good even to get a paragraph or two down.

I have also noticed that the stress sharpens the way I deal with my characters. Or maybe this story is just deeper than the last, but Nicola is facing big challenges - both internal and external. Which is fantastic. I like complexity and depth. It's also more than a little terrifying since I tend to worry that it's not nearly as cool as I think it is when I'm writing it.

But I'm working hard because I have a dream about this writing thing. A dream that some day it won't just be the thing I do in the evenings when the stuff on TV sucks butt. (Technically, it's already more than that, but then there are weeks where the writing is the last thing that happens and it reminds me that I'm not where I want to be yet.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Heart (Writing Update 3.12.14)

A while back I blogged about just wanting to write stories. (I was going to link to it, but now I don't remember where I mentioned it. So, we'll just leave it at "I talked about this before.")

That's still true. Deep down, all I want to do is write stories. I'm not interested in pushing any sort of agenda or commenting on political structures or belief systems. I just want to write stories.

That being said, lately I've been more and more invested in writing stories that are true to human nature. Not so much because I have some great insight into the way humans deal with each other, but because I think there is a universality to human experience. No matter what our gender or sexual orientation, no matter what we believe (or don't), no matter how we choose to align ourselves politically (or not), there are certain things that speak to everyone on a very basic level.

That's where I've been trying to write lately, in that gut-level humanity that makes experiences outside our own still seem familiar. It's challenging, but rewarding too.

I mentioned last time that my would-be-short-story was morphing into a novella. So far I'm just over 11k words and still working hard. My characters have a complex relationship that is playing out over a wild quest to try and save the MC's brother from the knives of the Assassin's Guild. (It's a kind of renaissance fantasy with a light touch of humor and lots of spiders and magic.) I'll need to go back through with the Mighty Bat of Revision in one hand and the Editing Machete in the other, but overall I really like the story and the way the characters are growing.

Once I'm done, I have plans to work on the super-secret side project some more, and finish writing up the sequel to BRASS STARS. Because a writer's work is never done. At least, not until she runs out of ideas. (And that's not happening any time soon.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Spoon is Too Big! (Writing Update 3.5.14)

If you get that reference, congratulations. You are already a nerd. If you don't, CLICK HERE. (And, you're welcome. (Also, those cartoons get very weird after the first 60 seconds or so. And kind of violent. But they won an Oscar.))

Today, I broke the 7k mark on the new Spider-thief story. I had planned, in the vague way that I plot things out ahead of time and guess how many words it will take me to tell a particular story based on how much stuff happens in it, to be almost done at this point. I planned this for a couple of reasons.
1. The first Spider-thief story (which is forthcoming from Crowded Magazine in a couple of months) is about 5.5k words. I thought it would be cool to keep them all (there is a third one in the works) about the same length.
2. This one has a little more plot than the first, but I didn't really see why it would go more than 8k. It seemed like a good length.

And then I started writing and things got more detailed and intense because that's what happens when I let my subconscious really chew on something for a while. And before I knew it, I was only a little way through the story and already over 5k. I immediately realized my story is too big. (Which is why I am linking to a bizarre bit of animation that won an Oscar over ten years ago, but was a HUGE hit with me and my film student friends. Because once you see "My spoon is too big!" it stays with you forever.)

I also realized if I left my story/plot the way it was, it would probably top out right at 11-12k. Which is one thing I try to avoid. At. All. Costs. Actually, I don't. I write the story to the length that works best for the story. But if I can help it, I try not to write to that range because there are significantly fewer markets that take work over 10k. (The sweet spot for short stories is always 3-5k, but I almost never hit that range.) And once you get over 10k then you have to climb pretty hard to reach novella length.

There wasn't enough plot to make a novella. But there also wasn't much complication to the story. My MC is trying to do a thing, she travels from one place to another, does the thing, everybody goes home happy. So, what if she wasn't able to just travel from one place to the other? What if there were obstacles?

And by the time I got up this morning (along with Cthulu's slightly less destructive nephew, who appears to have taken up residence in my throat where it has spent the last 24 hours spewing green crud) I had an idea of what those obstacles might be.

And once I started writing, more details came to light. Things the characters were struggling with. Layers of tension that would have been hinted at, but never brought fully to light if I left this as a short story.

My point? Well, there may not be one. I'm a little fuzzy due to the snot in my cranial space, a mostly liquid diet because of a dire cough, and the by-the-label administration of cough meds. But I think, if there were to be a point, it would be this.

A spoon may be too big, but a story will inevitably be just the right size whether it's 100k words or just 100 words. You'll know it when you write it, that it's the length it should be. You'll feel it in your bones that it's done.

And then you can start trying to find a home for the beast, whatever size it is. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Protect Yourself - A Few Thoughts on the Tragic Death of Sarah Jones

I don't normally talk about much other than writing, but today is a little different so please bear with me.

In 2004 I graduated from The College of Santa Fe with a B.A. in Moving Image Arts, but due to one thing and another, I have not yet turned my full attention to a career path in the film and television industry. Writing fiction, believe it or not, was a more lucrative opportunity to make a living. However, I still have a number of friends who are working in the industry as actors, camera assistants, editors and so on. And it was because I them that I really became aware of the tragic death of Sarah Jones last week. (There is building news coverage of the accident and the efforts to add her to the Oscar night In Memoriam segment, but, quite frankly, I might never have seen any of it if not for friends bringing it to my attention.)

When I was in college it was very clear that some folks get that much the industry has a high level of risk on a daily basis. And some don't. The first time I helped my production class set up lights with power running off the grid in the studio, the first time I touched a main power cable and felt it buzzing in my hand because the voltage running through it was so much hotter than anything you will ever find in your home, I knew that there was a lot of risk in the job we were doing.

Let me be clear, that does not mean there has to be a lot of danger in the industry. But handling 50,000 volts of electricity is inherently risky. You do it wrong and people get hurt. Or die.
You hang a light wrong or fail to tighten something down properly and people get hurt. Or die.
You go out to a location without the proper prep work, without permission, without the appropriate equipment or without medics and people get hurt. Or die.

Some folks instinctively get this. Some folks don't.
I knew, almost from the very beginning, that I did not have the balls to be an electrician or gaffer. (Nor, probably, the kind of natural math skills necessary to distribute power and remember which gauge cable can handle what kind of load for what distance.) There was an element of risk there I could not handle on a daily basis.

But I have friends who work on camera crews, who do deal with those risks on a daily basis, who know that the difference between having a job that is risky and a job that is dangerous is dependent on doing things right. Every time.

But some folks don't get that. Some folks think it's okay to cut corners. That having permission to be near the tracks is the same as having permission to be on the tracks. That if a train comes when you don't expect it, everyone can just jump out of the way. And that changes a risky environment into a dangerous one.

Add into that the naturally competitive nature of the industry and you have smart, talented folks who understand the difference between "risky" and "dangerous" still putting themselves into the latter environment because they want to work and they are afraid that saying "No." or "Let's double-check this." will mean they no longer have a job. But it is painfully clear that these smart, talented folks have to protect themselves from the corner-cutters. Because sometimes you're working with (or for) someone who is looking out for you, and sometimes you're not. 

Sarah Jones friends and co-workers and union mates (as well as folks like myself who are not in the industry but have friends who are) are fighting to bring something positive and productive in the aftermath of her horrible, senseless death and calling for better working conditions and stricter enforcement of safety standards. Because there is no excuse for "good enough" when someones life is on the line.

You're probably wondering why I'm talking about this at all. So, here's the deal.

As a fiction writer, I can pretty much guarantee I will never ever EVER be in the same kind of risky situations on a daily basis that my friends in the film and television industry are. Short of a freak power surge or a lightning strike it is highly unlikely that I will do something wrong while sitting at my laptop and accidentally electrocute myself. Or anyone around me.
A freight train will not come hurtling through my living room at 58 miles an hour.
There is not, and never will be, the same kind of physical danger. EVER.

But there is still a small lesson to take away and apply to our own efforts.

The desire to be successful, to make money or gain recognition, is not any different between the film industry and the publishing industry. Too many authors jumping in bed with small presses who burn first publication rights and then fade into the night without the author ever seeing a penny. Too many "editors" offering to do us the favor of publishing our story for free but giving us a shot at "exposure". Too many folks willing to pay someone to publish their book instead of looking for a publisher who will pay them.

Protect yourself. Protect your friends. Do not sacrifice your hard work on the assumption that everyone you work with will have your best interests in mind. Do not get into business with corner-cutters. Do not get into business with those who will exploit you.

Protect yourself. Protect your friends. Protect your industry.