Monday, October 31, 2011

Last bite before NaNo starts...

Happy Halloween! You get one last nibble of this story before all my words start counting towards NaNo. Last bite was here, I repeated the final crumbs from that to transition/lead you back in.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday 19

Happy Halloween-eve and welcome back all you SSSers! Thank you for all your well-wishings and condolences regarding my grandmother's passing...

Last time, just as he was about to get hit again, Simon reminded the madam that she bought him from the dredge-line to solve the problem she couldn't.

The madam’s hand dropped to her side. “If I could have kept this within my own house, I would have.” She glanced at a couple girls who dropped their heads as though guilty or afraid. “I’ve headed off most of the gossip by keeping her shut up inside, but folks can smell a rumor like a dead fish in the sun, and I’m running out of time and ideas.” The madam drew a thin roll of dried black seaweed from her skirt pocket and stuck it between her teeth. “Since that girl is always staring out the window, I supposed she was watching you kids drag muck outta the river since there’s nothing else to look at, but maybe I was wrong.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stalking on NaNo

...just in case anyone who stalks me here wants to stalk me on NaNo, here I am.'ll notice a familiar *author* picture, but red instead of black :)

So drop by, give me a nudge, a poke or a slap :)

Come to me if you want spin*

You can tell the same truth a hundred different ways, it all depends on how you spin it.

As someone who claims to be an honest person, would you think differently of me if I told you that's my personal motto?**

Actually, my dad told me some version of that when I went for my very first job interview.

So here's the thought process behind it: There's never one single reason behind any decision, action, or inaction, (I wrote a very nerdy post about this before) but usually it gets boiled down to one when you're explaining yourself to another person.

So, here's a hypothetical situation:

I quit my job because...

I was being verbally abused by my manager
I hate getting up early and driving in rush hour traffic
I don't like talking to people on the phone, but that's 80% of the job
The cafeteria lady is creepy
The work they assign me is boring
My co-worker has this really annoying laugh and smells like BO

Let's pretend all of those things contributed to the final decision to quit, but I bet (if it were you), you'd tell different people a separate reason for quitting. You wouldn't tell the HR director you're quitting 'cause the cafeteria lady's lazy eye creeps you out... nor, when you're interviewing for a new job, would you tell them you quit your last job 'cause the work was boring or you hated getting up early. In a professional setting, you would never think to badmouth your previous manager... for a whole slew of legitimate reasons, but you might tell your best friend, spouse or significant other.

And out of all the potential people asking, 'why?' you probably wouldn't unload every reason you quit on a single person... 'cause then it'd just sound like you're excessively negative and they might not take you seriously or want to hear about your problems in the future.

Spin is important. It's something we learn to do in our society, just like we learn to smile and be patient and polite instead of throwing a temper tantrum when the line at the grocery store is a mile long and the person at the counter just whipped out a ziplock baggie filled with spare change to pay for their $87.42 purchase.***

We learn to read people's body language (even though most of us aren't aware we're doing it) and change what we say and how we act based on our audience.

So, is it possible to spin the truth yet still be honest?

I believe so. But then I'm a hopeless optimist. Every time something bad happens, I look for what good may come of it. That's a form of spin, too, but for my own sake.

But what about our characters? In our heads (as writers), our character may have a dozen reasons for cheating on his wife, but does the reader really want slug through all of them? Where is the line between building a complex, realistic character and boring the reader to death with extraneous details?

One of the reasons I like unreliable narrators so much is the fact that, as a reader, we can see the spin... as an objective outsider, we can recognize that what's happening around the character doesn't mesh with what the character thinks is happening, or says is happening.

Right now, the newest story I'm working on (Project #4) has an unreliable narrator. I'm finding it difficult to walk that thin line of showing a disconnect between reality and what's in the MC's head, yet not confusing the reader by making them *believe* the MC and thinking I've messed up as a writer.

Have you thought much about your characters? How do they spin their reality for the people around them, and for the reader? Has anyone else worked on an unreliable narrator? Was it hard? Any suggestions for me?

* I have re-written many a resume for friends and family...
** Okay, my REAL personal motto is, "Try new things at least twice" because you might hate something the first time, but love it the second time.
*** Based on an actual story, but I was the cashier at a garden centre. Seriously... a baggie full of pennies, nickels and dimes. Not even quarters. That's one of many reasons I quit working retail.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Protecting what you love

No, this isn't a campaign against the (brilliant) advice to kill your darlings...

I think, especially for writers who have never had their work torn apart by CP's or beta-readers, this topic is important.

There's a difference between killing your darlings and killing what you love about your story. A 'darling' is when you love a specific string of words on the page. What 'you love about your story' is the heart of it, why you wrote it, the *idea* behind it, the parts that get your excited/passionate about the story and the characters.

I've written about my thoughts on beta-reading before.

The key point of that post was to suggest that beta-readers keep three things in mind:

1) what they, as a reader, want
2) what the author wants
3) what the story wants

...and this is especially true if you, as a beta-reader, are suggesting significant changes, or, as a writer, your CP or beta-reader has suggested big changes.

Let's use my own writing as an example. Project #1, which no one (other than my writing group) is familiar with.

It's on hold for the moment because my group suggested I re-write the entire first 1/3 of the story. Well, they were more detailed than that... essentially, there were a number of problems:

- I was *telling* them at the beginning that Jess behaves like 'A', but on the page, she was behaving like 'B' the entire time (so, no transition)
- Because of this, it made no logical sense for Jess to bring Roan into the group
- Jess also had little-to-no power within the group dynamic (which contradicted some plot points)
- So it made much more sense for a different character, Ray, to bring Roan in
- But Ray's backstory/etc would then need to change, and that would change later plot points as well as other character dynamics... which then snowballed...

...and that's why it's been set aside for now :)

When you actually get down to it, probably about 1/2 the story will have to be re-written. But that's what the story wants. I, the writer, didn't necessarily want it... and my writing group disagreed strongly (with each other) how to handle the problems they uncovered... one suggested I keep the plot as-is, but re-write/re-imagine Jess so she was 'B' the entire time. That was what she, as a reader, wanted. And though that would have worked and could have been what the story wanted, it wasn't what I, the writer, wanted.

Jess's transformation from 'A' to 'B' was one of the major things I loved about the story, and I was (am?) willing to re-write half the book to make that happen.

Jess's character arc through the story is not a 'darling'. It's at the heart of what's important. I may love a lot of the scenes with her in them, but I'm willing to dump/delete/re-write them without a second-thought. Even huge parts of the plot can be discarded/changed because staying true to the characters is far more important to me.

As a writer, and as a beta-reader, you must be aware of the story's *heart*.

As a beta-reader, you may uncover a huge problem, but be careful how to point it out and suggest solutions. If you don't understand the *heart* of the story, ask questions. Don't assume you know the writer's intention because, without meaning to, you might destroy what they love about their story or make them feel it is not worth pursuing/re-writing. That's not your judgement to make.

As a writer, think about what you are willing to change, but more importantly, think about what you're not willing to change. Usually the *heart* of the story is emotional and has to do with how you perceive a character, or a certain relationship between two (or more) characters. If your CP or beta-reader tells you it's not working, don't shut them down, and don't just rewrite it like they suggest. Talk to them. Tell them your intention and find out what actually worked and what didn't.

As a writer, the entire story is in your head, but a lot of it may not have made it onto the page. Often, it's what you didn't write that's the problem.

Don't get attached to your words and dig your heels in. It's far more important to get attached to the *heart* of the story, for that is what readers will remember, not a clever turn-of-phrase on page 187.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Another nibble

Well, it's Monday morning and I'm home again. Hope everyone's weekend went well :) a welcome back, here's another taste (continued from last time) which is the start of a new scene.

...and you might be able to tell, my *fall-back-names* always end up starting with a 'J'.  It's just one of those weird things where I throw in a placeholder name and figure it out later, so they'll definitely be changed the next time I run through and edit/continue writing. At least I changed 'Mercy', which was originally 'Jamie' and specifically forced myself not to use 'James and Jessica' (Spence & Fay fell into place).

Yeah, weird, I know. If anyone wants to name one of these throw-away characters, call dibs and tell me in the comments.


Weapons of mass destruction, that’s what Jackson called us. Well, he really only meant Triss, but since I’m like her shadow, I get included too. Maybe I’m the protective casing, the parts that don’t explode and make it safe to carry around.

Like the beast, which is barreling down the road at 50 mph with no power steering and mushy brakes, Triss is unstoppable when she gets going. No one steps in her way, not even me. Like the pulled pin of a grenade, you know the moment when there’s no going back and all you can do is duck, cover and pray your ass doesn’t get blown off when everything goes boom.
It started with shots of Jose, flipping quarters and casual bets. 
How long ‘till Jordan tried to feel up Mercy? Would he wait ‘till she was trashed, or go in while she was still loose and laughing hard? Triss called it when he got greedy and Mercy kicked him in the nuts. 
Could Jace make it through a mickey of Silent Sam, or would he be hurling half-way through? Money changed hands when he got three quarters of it down. Another crumpled twenty went in Triss’ pocket when Jace didn’t make it to the sink and yakked in an ugly potted fern.
Jackson cracked Triss’ jaw when she called the long-shot hook-up of Spence ‘n Fay, and they wound up doing it on Jackson’s bed, which really pissed him off. He didn’t hit her ‘cause his sheets got soiled or ‘cause she won. Triss had swiped the key to his bedroom and handed it over to Spence, thus making the hook-up a hell of a lot closer to a sure-thing. 
Jackson was mad as hell that she’d cheated.
After his gut got stitched up, Jackson handed over five crisp hundred dollar bills and the butter-knife. Said he wouldn’t be able to enjoy his morning toast if it got mixed in with the other cutlery. Her war trophy, he called it, with a strange look in his eye. It wasn’t anger, it wasn’t lust, it wasn’t fear. I know those looks. This was something savage. Hunger, maybe.
Every party after that, the bets came a little faster and the stakes got a little higher. Triss wanted money, Jackson wanted Triss. She won too much for it to be called luck, but he got her a few times. A kiss, a touch, but nothing big and he never pushed for more than was on the table. It didn’t bother me. Like I said, we aren’t like that. Sure, she stuck her tongue in his mouth, but she did that to me the first time we met. I know it didn’t mean anything, not with him, and not with me. Things didn’t get to her, not the good stuff and not the bad. She was too cold, too solid, too relentless. It’s just the way Triss is. Was.
Maybe I don’t know anymore.
But Jackson kept touching his side long after the cut had healed and the stitches had melted away. And he looked at her. Always her.

And what are you guys writing? Anything fun/new? Working your way through revisions? Polishing? What stories and characters are running amuck through your brains right now? Anyone thinking of doing NaNo?

Sunday, October 23, 2011


It sure is hard being a sports fan of a west coast team...

Take, for example, today's Seahawks game against the Cleveland Browns... final score: Seahawks 3 Browns 6. During the game, when it would switch to commentary, they would talk more about other games going on than the game they were actually covering.

Consistently refs (in almost any sport) will favour east coast teams over west coast ones.

So why am I still excited to go down for the game on the 30th when Seattle sitting at 2 wins 4 loses?

Well, because I love watching sporting events, I love living on the west coast, I'm proud of the west coast culture, where Vancouver is more similar to San Diego than it is to Toronto, and...

...and I don't mind rooting for the underdog.

As north america was being settled, the civilized world was in the east who were desperate to hold up their newly growing culture to the established European old-world culture. The north american 'wild west' was settled by those willing to fight the odds, work hard, scrape by and take every chance that came their way. Underdogs? Sure. Survivors? Definitely. A little mad? Wouldn't have it any other way.

Yes, that's an extremely simplistic way of looking at it. Arguably, everyone who took a chance on coming to north america were a little crazy, but you don't win big without big risks.

...and isn't that why we love rooting for the underdog? The fact that the odds are stacked against them yet they still keep fighting?

Two words: 'Hunger Games'

I think the love of the underdog is pretty entrenched in our culture. Most of the commonly known fairy tales or folklore have the poor, third son coming from behind to overtake his older/smarter brothers. Cinderella married the prince. Jack beat the giant. Snow White triumphed over the evil stepmother.

We don't like victim who lays down after the beating, we like the guy who gets back up again and throws a punch of his own.

Perhaps because we, as humans, have the drive to survive just like any other creature even if we do live in houses with central heating and buy our hygienically packaged food at the local grocery store. Somewhere coded deep in our DNA we still have that instinct. Fight or flight. And there's the knowledge that it's not always the biggest, strongest that prevails. Often it's the smartest. The one who can read the odds, but isn't daunted. Instead, he or she bets on that one chance in a million and wins big.

Like I'll be in Seattle next weekend cheering for the Seahawks to beat the Bengals.

'Cause it's such a great rush when the underdog wins :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

First drafts, in transition

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, I've been thinking a bit about my writing process.

I don't plot. In fact, I don't think at all when I'm writing. My mind just blanks out and sometimes words come out, sometimes they don't.

(yes, yes, I know I've basically set myself up for a whole slew of blonde jokes*)

It's a little like automatic writing or drawing exercises. Or, if you're never done those, then it's like doodling while you're talking on the phone. Your hand is moving, but there's little or no intention behind what's coming out on the page.

That's not to say I never think about what I'm writing, I just don't think while writing new words.

So, new words come out. When I stop writing for the day, it's usually when my brain clicks back on and I go, 'I wonder what happens next?' At that point, I re-read what I've just written and correct any small mistakes I've made like grammar, duplicate words, repeated words within the same paragraph, etc. Then I close the file. Usually I stop mid-scene.

Since I always end with that, 'I wonder what happens next...' feeling, I think about it. The story, the characters. I don't plan, I don't plot. I don't even really concentrate on it, or try to guess what might happen next. The awareness of the story existing just sits in the back of my brain and...

...I just wonder.

The next time I start writing, I go back and re-read the previous work. And things I didn't understand before suddenly make sense. I make bigger changes. Re-write/re-order sentences and paragraphs. Add and take away. See where I've left something important only half-explained/explored and fill it in (if I can). Like darkening the good lines of a rough sketch.

Then I keep writing. Because I normally end mid-scene, it feels easier to merge back into the flow of the characters and their story. If I stop writing at the end of a scene, often it will be days or weeks before I continue.

Here's an example of how/where/when I darken those good lines. Original can be found here. You'll notice there isn't a huge difference. The scene doesn't play out differently, but there are some significant wording changes. Like, I removed any mention of the word 'friends' when talking about the group the MC hangs out with. How the MC looks at Triss for the first time has been noted (like a mark, nothing more, nothing less -> observant, but unemotional) and I hinted how Triss probably was looking at the MC (she waited UNTIL the guys disappeared -> so, she also sees the MC as a mark). I think this change in particular is really important considering the current nature of their relationship.

I deliberately took out the stolen perfume reference, as that's more suggestive of a female MC and I'm still not sure of the MC's gender. I also repeated the phrase 'quick and purposeful' from an earlier description of Triss to reinforce the impression the MC has of her. Some other small issues of clarity have also been cleaned up, but I still consider this first-draft material. Nothing here is polished. There are still some jerky moments in the flow of words.

I wouldn't yet hand this over to my writing group, but it's closer to that stage.

Pawn shops and car sound systems are how Triss and I actually met. I was thirteen and ran with a crowd whose idea of a good time was lifting stuff from the local Walmart, jacking cds and stereo parts from parked cars and selling it all for cash. They were older than me, but we hung out together ‘cause each had what the other wanted. I had small hands that could squeeze into tight places and a face innocent enough to fool cashiers and security guards. They had smokes, booze and drivers licenses.

When you fence stuff, you gotta know what has serial numbers on it, ‘cause it changes when you sell it and how. No numbers means anyone with a legit photo ID with the right age on it can sell anywhere. Serial numbers mean ya gotta get rid of it fast at a store you don’t usually go to, and ya gotta lift a new ID, ‘cause they make a copy of that anytime you make a sale. Not that I was ever the one to actually stand at the counter and make a deal. I was too young, and I looked it. My innocent face may have been great for disarming a suspicious store employee, but no matter how closely matched the picture on a stolen ID was, there was no way I looked old enough to be believable.
That was the reason I was squatting outside a shop when Tris walked up with a ziplock baggie full of her mom’s jewelry.
She must have been watching when I handed over the pair of twelve-inch sub woofers I had stuffed under my shirt, but she didn’t come over until the guys went inside to get rid of our latest score.
In a worn leather jacket, ripped jeans and expensive sneakers, Triss waited a few feet away, close enough to keep under the overhang, ‘cause the rain was cold and cutting, but far enough enough away to not actually touch the grimy, cement wall. I wondered how much we could sell those sneakers and jacket for.
When the guys came out, I stood to go, but she stepped in front of me. Like it was totally normal, she grabbed the back of my head, leaned in, and stuck her tongue down my throat. Quick and purposeful.
She pulled away and said to them, “so, I’ve been having trouble selling something and my friend here says you’ll help me out.”
And I was too dumbstruck to breathe.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d touched another person, and never in that way. The guys and I talked in looks, shrugs and nods. We slapped shoulders and accidentally brushed fingers while passing a butt or bottle around. Likeminded people who had somehow gathered together, but we were not friends. 
When she gripped my hair and pressed her body against mine, it was like my muscles shuddered and screamed. The intimacy was unnatural, terrifying and fiercely addictive.

Triss had me and she knew it.

From the driver’s seat, she gives me a funny look. “Well?”

And I scramble to put the music on.

*Yes, I'm actually blonde, but despite that, I love blonde jokes :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

You know it's time for a break when... type 'whos' instead of 'show', 'purple' instead of 'people' and 'cannibal' instead of 'can't' read the same line multiple times and can't make heads nor tails of it. And that line is only 4 words long suddenly have no idea what the main character's name is or even which letter of the alphabet it starts with takes you 6 tries to type the word 'situation', so you give in and accept the automatic spelling suggestion, which you later realize was 'simplification' because your spelling was so horrendously wrong, even after 6 tries make the following insightful comment: "when the word he swithed here, the charater should think the think the chnegesslnaet, 'cause otherwise tt doesn't make sense." have to open spellcheck to make sure you spelled the word 'uses' correctly look to the corner of your screen to check the time and find you can't read/understand the numbers and whether or not that means you've forgotten/skipped lunch again

If you're dyslexic, this is when you know it's time to take a break from beta-reading :)

btw, the purpose of this post was to give you a laugh :)
I'm in Vancouver right now for my grandmother's funeral. It's in a couple hours and I really needed a laugh today, so I thought instead I'd try to make you all laugh ;)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A little visitor

'The witch's hut' borders a nature reserve on two side, so we get a variety of wildlife wandering through our front lawn and dining on the new flowers I planted. The autumn bulbs didn't have a chance...

So this morning I was outside doing a little bit of fall cleanup in the garden when I heard a noisy clatter and crash through the underbrush, and down the hill, roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble* came a baby raccoon, too young to care how much noise he/she was making. It was about the size of a house cat. It ended up trying to scamper up a tree (less than 20 feet from where I was standing), but fell off after it reached about four feet. You could actually see its little arms flailing as it tried to grab hold of the trunk again, then it flipped over backward, hit the ground, rolled over, shook itself and finally caught sight of me.

Here's a picture I managed to snap with my phone just before the little guy took off into the underbrush... much quieter this time, as if suddenly aware he/she had a captive audience (me). It may be 'the witch's hut', but I love living here :)

*From 'The Poky Little Puppy' by Janette Sebring Lowry, one of my nephew's favourite books.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Stupid raisins...

...stay out of my cookies

Okay, not only do I want this t-shirt, (from Threadless) but it reminds me of a sentiment I get every time I receive beta-reader feedback* on my work...

I hate raisins. Not only do they taste awful, they're depressing. Grapes that have wasted, shrivelled and dried up. I can't even appreciate a good port or sherry 'cause of the unpleasant-raisin-like-flavor, or the homemade bread pudding my British grandmother makes every Christmas.

There's nothing like biting into a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, shuddering and going, 'blargh', and wanting to spit it out 'cause you realize too late that it's full of raisins. And the worst part is, I know if I'd spent a moment longer looking at it, I probably wouldn't have taken that first disgusting bite.

It's the same sort of feeling I get when my beloved writing group or beta-readers hand back a chapter of new writing and the comments are things where I go, 'Blargh, I should have caught that!'

I feel like I've not only wasted their time, but mine as well... 'cause if I'd held onto it just a little longer, read through it maybe once or twice more, I would have fixed those suspiciously ugly shrivelled, taste-bud-wrenching little bits. Then they would have concentrated more on the aspects I couldn't have found on my own.

Truly, I believe having other writers (and later when it's more polished, readers) look at my work is invaluable.

But be careful of sending work off too soon... If you haven't done at least one edit on your own and cleaned up all those small, annoying errors like obvious grammar/wording problems, awkward sentences, disappearing characters, talking heads and white rooms, then not only are you making the job much more difficult for your readers, you're not going to get very effective comments. Little stuff like that you can clean up on your own with a little hard work and a willingness to search them out.

Writing partners and beta-readers are critical in finding the big things you don't see 'cause you're just way too close to the story.

Project #1? Yup it was a mess. Still a mess. But my writing group nailed me on a few giant problems I couldn't even see...

If they were battling with tons of little problems, they probably wouldn't have found those big problems, or would have given up and written me off**. Most likely they would not have agreed to read more of my work in the future.

So, be kind to your writing partners and beta-readers. Seriously go through your work before sending it off and try to catch every last problem you can. You will be rewarded, not only with a higher level of feedback, but they will usually be willing to help you out in the future as well.

So seek to build lasting relationships. Do all you can to make the job as easy as possible, 'cause then it wouldn't seem like work to them... they'll have fun. 

And ultimately, don't you want readers to enjoy your story?

*By the way, this has nothing to do with a particular beta-reader or even feedback I received on a specific story, this is just a generalized sort of comment...

** yes, pun intended.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday 18

Good morning and welcome back all you SSS participants (and everyone else who drops by). Last week I was on the mainland for Canadian Thanksgiving and my parents' 40th anniversary. I was supposed to be gone this weekend as well for my cousin's baby shower (she's due at the end of the month), but it has been cancelled due to my grandmother's recent passing. So I'm home and won't be participating in SSS next Sunday because of the funeral/etc.

Last time, sorry, you got a heavy load of setting/world-stuff. This week is lighter, I swear:

Two girls, freshly purchased from the factories or dredge-line, still had the sun-blackened skin and shorn hair of the laborer class. Now their ragged tufts were adorned with tiny silver clips and bits of ribbon and their faces had been coated with a fine golden powder.
“It was my fault.”
Simon’s calm voice jolted Hector’s attention away from the girls. The madam’s hand was raised, but had paused in its downward arc, waiting for the rest of Simon’s words before choosing whether to strike again.
Simon raised his eyes, “but no one before us has had much success, otherwise you would not have bought us from the dredge-line.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

Be nice

I've been thinking a lot since a certain anonymous person tagged my SSS 17 post with a... not entirely friendly comment. I wanted to address it and say that I will not be changing my blog settings to prevent anonymous commenters.

So let's be clear, I completely respect that person for their own reading/writing tastes. There's no witch-hunt going on here. I'm not angry, upset or even necessarily bothered by what they said.

In fact, this post is going to rag on me a little, not them, 'cause I don't like spreading negativity.

 I know the style of 'Simon's Oath' (my SSS story) is not universally loved. I'm well used to getting a love/hate reaction to it and, just so you know, I am planning to cut/trim some of the description from what you SSS readers have read. Right now it's out with beta-readers and I'm waiting on their feedback before returning to the story with my blow-torch and machete.

I recently linked back to an older post of mine on voice/honesty, and I'm not going to pretend that honesty doesn't have its downsides. I have never done so intentionally, but I know I've hurt people in the past by being too blunt. Understanding where that line is... well, let's just say it's a lesson that seems to be taking my entire life to pin down, but luckily enough, an upside of being an honest person is that I'll always admit when I'm wrong.

Everyone had a different idea of what 'being honest' means, just as I'm sure not everyone would answer the same way if your spouse/partner/kid/best friend asked if an outfit is flattering on them or not.*

In my mind, if someone takes the time and effort to ask my opinion, I will try to show the same respect in return by being honest, while still maintaining a healthy coating of 'tact'.

When I put my writing up online, I'm asking a question. I'm hoping you readers show me respect by being honest and telling me what you really think, good or bad.

...and I try to do the same in return.

I think I might be one of the few SSS members who actually visits every single site** every week***. Except for the (clearly) naughty ones, I read every person's sentences. I think about them, I usually re-read them, sometimes re-vist previous weeks to refresh my memory, and then I comment with the most honest reaction possible. And part of the reason is because I love getting comments myself, especially when I can tell that someone is paying attention to my words. If you drop by, I like to know who you are, even if all you do is say, 'hi'.

I think one of the greatest things about SSS is the chance to get many different eyes looking at the same, small bite of writing. The chance for others to weigh in and say, 'I got confused here...' or, 'this sentence could be re-written to be clearer/smoother/more effective.' If I see something wrong, I always try to say someone constructive. At least, that's my intention.

I think not everyone takes this as seriously as I do... but I'm dyslexic. Reading/writing has always been serious work for me, so I can't NOT take it seriously. I get tripped up easier than most people, quickly confused, I often miss important details or nuance. You've heard the term "idiot-proof" before, right? Well, if I can get through a piece of your writing without stopping, having to back-track, re-read or becoming otherwise stuck, then your writing is just about the best it can possibly be. Congratulations, I'm your free idiot-proof-tester (or monkey), so use me.

I once was in the difficult position where I wasn't sure whether to tell a friend of mine she was using the term 'knocked-up' incorrectly. She thought it meant fooling around or messing around.

I told her (after taking her aside) because I have been embarrassed many times by my own mistakes, especially in writing.

Personally, I'm thankful every-time someone tells me I'm wrong and points out how I can do better. I want to be a writer, therefore I want to push my boundaries and improve until the quality of my work is good enough to get published.

So, for all your SSS submitters, if the way I read/comment on your work upsets you, let me know (my email address is on the 'Contact' page) and I won't comment on your posts anymore. And yes, I'm specifically talking to the SSS people because the anonymous person most likely wouldn't have commented on my own SSS post unless they were also a participant. It just seems logical...

And I offer out a blanket apology to anyone I've unintentionally hurt by speaking my opinion on your writing. Sometimes I can be too blunt/harsh, and that certainly can be the case after reading 100+ SSS entries in a row.

It may not be a problem much longer 'cause I've got to admit, all this extra thinking about negativity is wearing me out, especially today. This is why I wanted to address this subject and move on. 'Cause I've got more important things occupying my brain and energy right now.

See you Sunday.

*My husband will not beat around the bush and tells me to go get changed... and it's one of the reasons I love and trust him.
** except last week when I caught a horrible cold and barely got out of bed for days, and once in September when Safari kept crashing over and over again until I nearly threw my laptop out the window.
*** Often it takes me a couple days because I easily get migraines from repeatedly trying to prove I'm human

What time we have...

I got the call at 5:38am this morning that my grandmother has passed away.

It wasn't sudden, in fact it's been one of the reasons I've been pretty... absent and distracted lately. I was able to say my final goodbye to her last weekend (Thanksgiving weekend) even though she was unconscious at the time. The last time I truly saw *her* was when we celebrated my birthday at my parents house last month.

My grandmother was an artist. Among other things, she was a regional president of PAC (Porcelain Artists of Canada) for a while, won prizes for the antique replica dolls* that she made, and she taught for many years, only retiring a couple years ago when her eyesight had deteriorated too far.

She also taught me, my older sister, and our younger cousins how to paint, draw, sculpt and use other art mediums when we were little kids.

She was an amazing woman and I doubt I'd be writing if she hadn't first introduced me to art, beauty, attention to detail and hard work.

I have many of her works, currently wrapped in packing paper and carefully stored in the basement of 'the witch's hut'.

I am thankful that she has left so many reminders of her life and her passion, not only the physical works themselves, but the skills that she instilled within her students and grandchildren.

Porcelain painting is one of those dying arts, but this makes me want to unwrap the kiln in my basement and dig through boxes to find my paints and brushes.

I wonder if, in remembering her, I can remember the proper brushstroke for a leaf or rose petal.

*just a further note, you probably wouldn't believe what kind of work goes into these at a professional level. Every single eyelash and eyebrow hair has to be accounted for and in a precise location, the blend of paint is examined with a magnifying glass, and the raw porcelain has to be hand filed/sanded before you can even begin. All the clothes also have to be hand-made according to very specific guidelines.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another bite

...and just so ya know, I'm still not sure of the MC's gender (or name)

Continuing off from last time:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Voice, in music

Do you look for influences on your own writing voice? I wrote a previous post on this, so here's something new.

When I hear the word, voice, I think audio first.

Music, especially. I listen to all kinds of music, but my favourites always have two things in common: an awesome baseline and a distinctive voice.

Main reason is, I love driving (stick, not automatic) and something about a thumping baseline and a car with enough guts under the hood really gets me all hyped up. I love the Dropkick Murphys, Deadmau5, Rihanna, Emma Shapplin (oh my goodness, NOT her English songs...) and I even swing over to country music or slow stuff (with little base) like Esthero, Shivaree, or Ceu.

...though if the cat is in the car, he fiercely protests if I'm listening to any male singer... no idea why, but I can't get the little guy to shut up, and his yowls are pretty ear-splitting. He prefers lower female voices (possibly 'cause I have a lower female voice), and he is the quietest when I listen to:

Bif Naked*. (if you don't want to listen to the whole song, skip to the 0.45 mark and listen until the 1.24 mark. I've been listening to her since I was in high-school, from her very first (self-titled) album. I have a lot of memories tired to her music, especially the song, 'I Died' from her album, 'Another 5 Songs and a Poem' which I used as the music for one of my animation demo tapes. The linked song isn't my favourite of hers (I usually go for the faster rock stuff), but it's a good showcase of her voice which is rough, raw, strong and has a very distinctive nasal-sound to it.

Pink has a similar voice... Like she goes through three packs of smokes a day...

That rough, raw voice is something I love, like the singer for Dropkick Murphys 'Echoes on "A" Street' or 'Flannigan's Ball'. And apparently Emma Shapplin (before the French singer turned to Italian opera) actually sang with a French heavy metal band and DID smoke a ton of cigarettes to purposefully rough-up her voice...

Another singer whose voice I like is Bob Schneider. 'C'mon Baby' is one of my all time favourite songs... though you can't really get the full baseline on laptop speakers... in fact it's pretty dismal compared to the full quality song...

But then I grew up with Nirvana, Counting Crows, Aerosmith, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Live, Metallica, Megadeath, The Offspring, Bad Religion, Pearl Jam, The Wallflowers, Snuff and all the old-school rap/r&b... Can't even tell you how many times I've listened to The Fugees album... oh, and Wyclef Jean and DMX were totally my first voice-crushes.

Some artists have interesting voice quirks, like Avril Lavigne** had the awesomest lisp (0.19 -> 0.26) which has since been nearly trained out of her voice.

Since I really don't care much about the lyrics or style of music (hey, I've got J-pop, Italian opera and Bollywood music on my laptop!) and, 'cause I'm dyslexic, I have the absolute worst time remembering names (unless I see them written down), but I can usually recognize a lead singer's voice if nothing else. Like, there are two male country singers I really like whose voices break when they sing... but for the life of me, I can't remember their names or ever the name of their songs.

But if I look back on all the artists I love to listen to, I find a striking similarity... their sound is usually often dark or gritty, which tends to be the writing voice I naturally fall into when crafting characters and stories. Could that possibly be a product of going through my formative years listening to depressed and disillusioned musicians***? Perhaps it's an influence, but then again I also read a lot of dark books when I was little, way before getting into that kind of music.

I always write in silence, but I know many writers have a different playlist for every story they work on. Despite that, I can clearly feel certain songs when I re-read certain scenes or short stories, or a character in particular always gives me the same feel as a singer's voice does, or even a certain rift, solo or transition (who doesn't love the guitar solo in 'November Rain' by Guns 'n Roses?).

What do you listen to (if anything) while you write? Do you make playlists or have theme songs for your characters? Do you put on different music to change your mood before writing sad/fast-paced/love-filled/melancholic scenes? Are there similarities in the other entertainment media you enjoy, whether it be video games, cartoons, movies, comics, tv, etc?

*Oh come on, I grew up in Vancouver... of course I love Bif Naked!!
**One of her songs was on the soundtrack of a video game I worked on, that's where I first heard of her.
*** The 'Grunge-era', baby! ...don't make me scare you with old pictures of me in flannel shirts and torn jeans...

Monday, October 10, 2011

I'm feeding you a little more...

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving Monday!!

Since writeidea asked to be fed more of this new story, this is for you, Angela, Sarah and everyone else who seemed interested in this oddity ;)

I still don't know the name or gender of the narrator... but I guess that really isn't important yet.

Though it is Thanksgiving, there's not much of a meal here, but it should be enough get your taste-buds screaming... uhm, crying? ...shrivelling up in terror? ...and I swear, I've only eaten ONE of the things Triss does (guess which one) though I've seen other people eat the rest.

I'm tossing in the last few lines of what I wrote previously 'cause I'm sure it's jarring to be thrown into the middle of a scene. For new readers, original snippet is here. If you don't want to go back, the only real pertinent detail is there's a dead body in the truck of Triss' car.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday 17

Well, another Sunday, another round of SSS, and yet again, I'm not actually at home. Do you know that in the last 10 weekends, I've only been home for one of them? I'll start my SSS rounds tomorrow morning, as usual :)

This weekend is not only the long weekend for Canadian Thanksgiving, but today is actually my parents' 40th wedding anniversary! So I'll be on the mainland eating turkey and spending the day being thankful, especially for my wonderful family.

For all you awesome people who drop by today... what are you thankful for?

Last time the brothers were scolded by the madam 'cause Faith was throwing a fit, and then...

There was a smattering of giggles and Hector shyly glanced at the half-dozen ladies perched on red couches in their lace and satin, uniforms of their station like the brown trousers and white shirts that the brothers wore. Most of them were around Simon’s age, but the small serving girls, bleary eyed from carrying trays of food and drinks all night, were ten, or maybe a little younger. With their half-starved bodies stuffed into layers of cloth and their eyes and lips painted with coal and rouge, they could appear to be years older or younger than their true age. The only clear indicator was the hair. Only girls who had reached the age of eight could tie up their hair and enter the red district. Though not a dignified position in society, it guaranteed they would not starve on the streets, die in the mines, or drown in the river or sea. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pizza-popsicles and other sticking points

I'm doing another guest post for Wicked & Tricksy, this time on the subject of beta-reading, and boy am I glad I wrote this out last week before I was kicked down by illness.

EDIT: Since the Wicked & Tricksy site is no longer up, here's the complete post:

...yes, I'm going to explain that post title...

When beta-reading, I think my strengths lie in finding the logic problems in the story, from character development, to how a curtain rack would be secured to a wall. Seriously, I get obsessed with weird things and tend to over-think myself into a corner when I'm reading someone else's work.

So, the pizza-popsicle thing?

This term started in my writing group when one member included a time-traveling character obsessed with popsicles. At one point, the character wrapped a piece of pizza around a popsicle and fused it together somehow.

...and as I was reading that line, I got stuck.

...and I couldn't get past it 'cause my mind was churning in circles looking for a logical loop-hole in which it could believe that a frozen popsicle can be fused with a hot piece of pizza while each maintain their hot/cold states.

...and my tiny little brain spun and spun like a hyperactive hamster on a wheel that is somehow beyond the confines/rules of physics...

So a 'pizza-popsicle' refers to anything in a story that yanks you out of the suspension-of-disbelief state. It’s whenever you stop and have to think too much to understand something. It could be anything from wondering how long it takes a grenade to explode after the pin is pulled, to a word used in a line of dialogue that just doesn't feel *right* for the character speaking, so you stop and go back to double-check the dialogue tag. Sometimes you think a character is standing on one side of the room, then in the very next line he/she is suddenly coming through a door on the opposite side. It could be that moment of thinking, 'there's absolutely no reason for that guy to suddenly fall in love with her!'

It doesn't matter how large or small, it just has to disturb the flow of the story and remind you it is a story.

First-draft manuscripts are usually ripe with pizza-popsicles, but that's totally normal. Most of them will be pretty easy to resolve, either by cutting a small piece of information, or giving a bit more information somewhere else to clarify. Sometimes switching a few lines around so 'B' comes before 'A' will fix the problem. Other times it's not as easy to pinpoint or fix... like, if you had to read the same line several times for it to make sense, but you can’t explain why.

The hardest kind of pizza-popsicles are when the pizza-popsicle influences a large plot-point because, each time it's repeated, it'll pull you further and further out of the story and impact your ability to pay attention to things like pacing/etc. Like, one of my biggest sticking points is the *best friend* character who only exists in the story to show the reader that the MC isn’t a friendless-loser... and only pops up to cheer up the MC or be a sounding board when MC + love interest are having problems. After that they conveniently disapear. Whenever this kind of character shows up, I’m constantly asking myself why they are friends, especially if the MC never seems to seek out/help the best friend with anything. Usually the best friend has no plot arc of their own, so that is the actual problem that needs to be solved.

For these big/repetitive pizza-popsicles, I find it's always best to try to address them as soon as they first appear and clearly outline the implications throughout the story.

If you don't know if you have pizza-popsicles in your story, listen when a beta-reader says, 'Why didn't they just...' or 'I didn't understand how...' or asks a direct questions like, 'how long is the timer on a grenade?' That's your clue that they've tripped over a pizza-popsicle.

Even though they seem like small comments, pay close attention. Remember, anytime your reader stops to think, it means they have been jarred out of the flow of your story, which is not what you want to happen. I know it sounds wrong to say it, but you really don’t want your readers thinking while they read... you want them to be so engrossed that they keep turning the pages until the reach the end... and then pester you constantly until they can read your next work.

Have you come across problems like this when beta-reading for someone else? Or, if you’ve received comments back from your beta-reader, do some questions/comments seem unimportant in the great-scheme-of-things? Have you ever considered the larger implication of those kinds of picky questions?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Argument on *art*

...despite being fuelled for the past three days on cold-pills, hot water with lemon & honey and copious amounts of homemade chicken soup, I did crawl off my sofa long enough to read a few blogs and ended up jumping into this discussion on the idea of writing as art.

Sure, my opinion of art is a little cynical, but hey, you try sitting through several Philosophy classes on the nature of beauty/art, then hop into a few classes analyzing the greatest masterpieces and reading the art critic reviews written at the time of their creation (yup, art critics existed way back in Caravaggio's day), and let me know if you'd be any less cynical...

Anyways, it's an interesting discussion and I'd love to hear all your opinions, either here or on the original discussion as I'm very interested in it and will be popping back to see how it progresses.

I will probably also write a post on this subject sometime in the near future as it is a subject near-and-dear to my heart.

<cough, cough> time for more soup. Thankfully I have my voice back today, though it sounds like I've got a frog lodged in my throat, so my voice keep alternating between croaky and cracking like that of a 13 year old boy.

Sexy image, I know...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fantastic article

Sometimes (okay, more like often) you find you just can't say the same thing better than someone else already has.

Go read this. Seriously. Then bookmark it and read it again. I know I will :)

...and now I'm off to see the doctor. Think I've got a throat infection. Fuuuuuuuuun stuff. Thanks for all the well-wishing, you guys. I'm notorious for getting sick. It's like my immune system hibernates from the beginning of October until the end of February, so I'm usually fighting off colds and flus for five straight months.

hmmm... funny how I started feeling bad the morning of October 1st... guess my immune system is really serious about keeping it its schedule.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sick and reading

Well, my cold is much worse today, making typing a Sisyphus-like exercise of writing one word, seeing the *red idiot squiggles* under it, then re-attempting to correctly spell that word...

But, today's the release day for Darkfall, the final? book in The Healing Wars series by Janice Hardy. I recently read the first 2 books (and really enjoyed them), so whilst I fade in an out of a drugged-Nyquil-state, I may attempt to read a few pages of Darkfall on my Kindle.

wow, almost 20 minutes to type that short post. time to sleep.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Slow Monday

Well, last night's near-loss for the Seattle Seahawks was a little disappointing, but the game was so close that it was still fun to be there in person. Unfortunately, the slight sore throats and crackling ears my husband and I had on Friday, developed into full-blown colds for the both of us on the drive/ferry trip home last night.

I'm thankful that my *stress-reliever* is cooking, so we have a freezer full of homemade soups, chili, etc.

I'd have to say, I'm not one of those people who loves cooking. When I'm tired, it's just about the last thing I want to do, yet whenever I've got big problems milling around in my head, my first instinct is to cook something... often several things at a time which is nice, but leaves the kitchen as a war-zone.

When you're battling stress, whether from family illness, deadlines, friends, work, unemployment, naughty kids, etc, what do you do to get rid of your stress? ...and what do your characters do when you throw a whole pack of hurdles and troubles their way?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday 16

Six Sentence Sunday, try and say that five time fast...

Well, it's the first SSS of October, the air is crisp and the brightly coloured maple leaves are crackling and crunching under my feet whenever I take the dog for a walk. This truly is my favourite month of the year :)

So last time, Hector was cowering at Simon's back, afraid yet mesmerized by the madam...

She moved closer and Simon bent his knees until his head was lower than the madam’s and his eyes were politely lowered despite the handprint on his cheek. Hector could only stare at the mark on Simon’s face, his own body refusing to bend, to submit under the madam’s stare, but she didn’t look at him. Instead, her chin lifted and Simon’s back rounded into a hunch, his shoulders curling inward as though trying to fold away the swiftly growing limbs of his fifteen year old body.
The madam’s gaze clawed over Simon, pausing at his downcast eyes and crouched posture, then she sneered and stepped away. “You’ve been here almost a week and she’s still roaring away up there like some kinda animal. You’re lucky there’s no customers at this time of day. Business is already falling ‘cause of her fits.”