Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween! it redundant to dress a black cat up in a costume on Halloween...?

Normally, at the husband's office, some people bring their costumed pets in at the end of the day and have a mini party. Unfortunately, the husband is in Vancouver for meetings today, but since I had already purchased costumes to participate, I'm going to dress them up for when he gets home as a surprise.
Berkeley, taking it all in good stride like the little philosopher that he is... I figured, a cat is pointy on 5 of its 6 ends... so a bee costume (with the stinger) would be perfect! Now he is fully armed to take on the world.

Eva, the beagle, is less tolerant and hangs her head and tail like she's been scolded... but, since she frog-legs on the floor (y'know, when dogs lay on their stomachs with their legs splayed out) a froggie costume seemed appropriate. If she was less of a baby about this, I would be able to take her to the dog park on rainy days... but as soon as I put her rain-coat on, she acts like this again... hang-dog expression and won't walk/move/etc, just sulks. BUT, if she doesn't have a coat to protect her sensitive ears, she shakes her head whenever a raindrop hits her head... and with the west-coast rain, she just stands in one place and shakes, and shakes, and shakes... and refuses to walk.

Either way, walking with her in the rain just doesn't happen. It's too bad since it's been absolutely pouring rain here the last 2 weeks and I've only been able to take her out once.

If anyone else is posting costumed pictures of yourself, your kids, your pets... post the links in the comments! I'd love to see them :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Voice comes out strongest in the way the characters view the world around them.

My nameless, genderless MC was already pretty strange in my first-draft, but I'd have to say that in this stage of edits, I find the weirdness keeps creeping higher every time I make a change.

...and I think all my favourite lines are the ones where the MC is hyper-sensitive about some things, and dumbbell-dense about other things, 'cause I love how lopsided/uneven this character is mentally.

Here's a couple of new/re-written lines from today:

She gives me a wicked grin, but it’s not quite right. She sounds normal, looks normal, but something’s off. I can’t put my finger on it, but the tension in my muscles cranks up another notch, the urge to fight or flee at a rolling, simmering boil. 

And my teeth clench, and my lungs clench, and I start to sweat and shiver at the same time. I want to bolt, and hide, and hug her all at the same time, but I can’t, so I slip a twenty out of her wallet and dash inside.

As the dirt falls away, I’m relieved to see that the wounds aren’t as bad as I thought they were, and I feel stupid for panicking, ‘cause it’s not like she was walking and running for hours on frozen asphalt and hobbling over gravel and broken glass. It was only bark-mulch, grass, and the width of one street. It was maybe ten seconds, not four hours. It’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside, not below 40, and she was fully clothed. Everything about this is different.
The one thing that’s the same is the shaking.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

My brain is tired

Out of 11 beta-readers/CP's, I received feedback on the full story from 9 people, and one partial.

Pretty good, eh?

As of a couple minutes ago, I've completed all the changes brought up by everyone except the two members of my local writing group, and I've finished about half the things they commented on.

I've added 2,000 words to my file, and I'll probably add about another 1,000 before I'm done.

It's 4:17pm now and I've been working, on-and-off, since 9:30am.

Now I have to shower, change, and go hang out with a bunch of friends while trying not to sound/look like my brain has turned into a gooey, sticky, icky, oozy, melty mush. Which it has. I now have grey pudding between my ears.

Tomorrow I'm going to be exactly where I am right now: flat on the sofa, a fire blazing in the hearth, the dog sleeping on the other sofa, the cat on his cat-tree.

I am hoping to finish the brunt of my edits tomorrow, then rest my eyes for a day, then go back and pick over the entire story for small, annoying things like comma usage, repeated words, varying the way sentences/paragraphs start, etc.

How is everyone else spending their weekend? Hopefully with a lot more pre-Halloween fun than I am.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Clean draft, clean attitude

'Brake Fluid' was the cleanest first draft I've ever written, which is strange, since it's also the most complicated story I've ever written.

And I admit I have conflicted feelings about that.

Go ahead and roll your eyes... 'cause you know what I'm going to talk about, right?

Well, you're only partially correct.

Yeah, I've talked before about how, since I'm dyslexic, I expect there to be problems with my writing. I expect things not to make sense, for description to be convoluted, for not enough of what's in my head to end up on the page.

I expect my first drafts (and even second or third drafts) will get shredded up by my CP's.

...and that's why my writing is getting better. 'Cause my CP's don't cut me any slack. Which is why they are good CP's.

A while back, someone who knows me well sent me a link about compliments. And along with trying to write a cleaner first-draft, I've also been trying to change my attitude, to take a compliment without assuming there's another shoe waiting to drop.

I've always loved writing, but there was always that voice in the back of my head saying, "not enough..."

While I've never explicitly stated it before, I've put a huge concentrated effort into not only becoming a better story teller, but becoming a better first-drafter. I pay very close attention to the things I'm bad at, the things I constantly err in (like, in BF, mixing up 'truck' and 'trunk' about 85% of the time, or in the case of writing this blog post, 'except' and 'expect').

...and this is the first time I feel that my efforts have paid off.

As I work through my edits on 'BF', I keep asking myself, why is this so easy? Why aren't there any huge problems that need to be re-written? Why do I feel like I'm being lazy or have been let off the hook in some way...?

And strangely enough... I'm trusting that my CP's caught everything major. That I won't be blindsided with something later on.

What is this strange feeling... is this confidence?

Honestly, I have no idea, but it feels damn good.

When I wrote that previous post (about the compliments link), I said I was searching for some kind of solid validation that my hard work is moving me forward, that it's getting results and my effort is not being wasted. And while I still haven't received any outward validation, somehow, I'm not worried, I'm not beating myself up, I'm not desperately analyzing every comment a CP sent me, looking for the hidden criticism.

I think I deserve to laugh at myself.

Did it really take me this long to figure out that validation has to start in my own brain?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

First 250 = done

After a nights sleep and another pass, I'm pretty happy with my new 250 word beginning. Well, 251 to be exact. I think I stripped away everything unnecessary and clarified the important stuff.

Comments/criticisms welcome :)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What my edits look like

I'm a sparse writer when it comes to first-drafts. There's a couple reasons for this. First, I'm a pantser, so I'm just writing whatever I know in the moment. Second, I really like subtlety/layering. More than anything, I don't want to write a book that shakes the reader by the shoulder and screams, "Look, Jane, see Spot run!" I'd rather the reader get knocked over when Spot makes a flying leap at their throat and takes them down.

...and yeah, I'm aware that it's frustrating and annoying for my CP's.

Usually my edits consist of adding in more history/explanations, or clearing up the confusing ones that are already there. For 'Simon's Oath', my MS bulked up by 10,000 words between the first and second drafts.

One thing I knew had to change about 'Brake Fluid' was the unclear, choppy, awful, awkward beginning. Before I sent 'BF' out to my CP's, I tinkered with it a little (making it noticeably worse than the original) as I was trying to figure out what was wrong with it, but I had a sense that it was the right place to start.

Why? Hell if I know... I think I rely on my instincts most of the time and rationalize it later.

With no idea of where it was going, the very first words I wrote of this story were these:

I always forget that crazy is relative. That is, until someone new hitches a ride in the back of Triss’s car. 

Yesterday she offered to drop Dave and Sam at the mall, and when Triss spun the wheel and yanked up on the e-brake, Sam swore and clocked me in the head by mistake as he fought to stay upright. Maybe it knocked some sense into me, ‘cause at that moment I remembered it’s not normal to have to brace your elbow against the door of a car. My feet were automatically spread as far apart as they could go to keep me balanced, and then I noticed a slice of pain in my left hand. Turns out I’ve gripped the seat in the same spot through so many car rides that I’ve worn a hole clear through the seat-cover. My fingers had shoved through the stuffing and were clamped around a sharp piece of the metal frame as though it was the most natural thing in the world. I was surprised, but I still had enough sense not to let go until Triss stomped down on the brakes, hopped the curb, and the car lurched to a stop six inches from an old guy with a shopping cart. Hopefully he’d just stocked up on Depends.
Like I said, crazy is relative, but I always drive shotgun with Triss. Always have, always will. 
Even when there’s a dead body in the truck and Triss has slugged back enough vodka that she can’t shift properly and keeps grinding the gears of her old, yellow Volvo sedan.

There's a lot wrong with this beginning, but what's right about it?

These lines right here:

Like I said, crazy is relative, but I always drive shotgun with Triss. Always have, always will.

They reflect the core of this MC.

Being with Triss (and all that implies) is crazy, but the MC has chosen it. Why? Well, that's for the story to explain.

The point is, it's a choice. The ground-zero-choice, if you will.

I know there's so much advice online about beginnings, about first lines, and about the first 250 words. I'm not naive enough to think I've got it all figured out, but I can tell you why I chose to keep this particular starting-point as the beginning, and how I chose to edit it.

My re-worked beginning now looks like this:

It’s easy to forget that crazy is relative. Sometimes you need a punch-in-the-gut, other times a few thoughtless words can shake you straight and grind in how human and breakable you really are.
After a year of riding shotgun with Triss, it takes a pretty big hit to realize how weird it is to brace my elbow against the door and jam my knees into the dash. When she guns the engine, I shouldn’t notice how my hand instinctively burrows through a hole in the seat and clamps around a sharp piece of metal frame. My voice shouldn’t stall-out mid-sentence when she spins the wheel, hops the curb, and nearly takes out some old guy with a shopping cart full of Depends. 
I shouldn’t be thinking how easily we could crash, burn, and die, but today I am ‘cause something big hit me in the head. One-hundred-seventy-five-pounds-big.
Crazy really is relative.
Most of the time, I think we just don’t know better, but other times we make the choice to believe. Like Triss’ driving. No matter how fast and furious it gets, I’ll always ride shotgun. Always have, always will.
Even when things are more crazy than normal. When there’s a dead body stashed in the trunk. When Triss has slugged back so much vodka that she can’t shift properly and keeps grinding the gears of her old Volvo sedan.

It's different, but not a whole heck-of-a-lot different, right? Same actions, same thought process, same bad driving, and same (humorous) almost-hitting of a pedestrian.

What I said earlier was true. The line about choosing to ride shotgun with Triss is the core of the MC, but while I was on the right track with my undignified, messy vomiting-out-of-words, I wasn't focused in. I was talking around the point I wanted to get to.

I wasn't being clear.

The reason the MC is freaking out about Triss' driving isn't because s/he was literally clonked on the head by a screaming passenger. S/he is freaking out because of the situation, because of the corpse in the trunk, because Triss isn't acting normal, because there are bigger things at stake that are weighing on their minds, yet through it all, the MC is willingly riding shotgun.

Sure, it's multiple-layers-of-crazy all stacked on top of another, but it's one choice, and every choice we make that seems perfectly normal to us, can look totally crazy to someone else looking in.

And everyone knows that crazy is relative*.

For me, a beginning isn't about the setting, or even necessarily about the plot. What I want (as a reader, and a writer) is the taste of a complex character I can relate to, even if it's only a tiny bit, so that's what I put into my beginnings, and I strip away everything else.

With this MC, the way s/he lies to him/herself is something that runs all the way through the story. Call it a broken character, one with an extreme inferiority complex, or be blunt and say it's deliberate/willful ignorance. It really doesn't matter what exactly it is, but I wanted it to be clear on the first page. I wanted the abnormal-moral-compass to be apparent and the reader to know that self-preservation isn't the MC's top priority. I wanted a touch of dark humour, but most of all, I wanted the reader to connect, at least a little, with the MC and wonder why s/he is going along on this crazy ride.

Greedy**, aren't I? I want it all...

A few lines are still pretty clunky...but I did manage to trim a good chunk from what I had before.

Personally, I think the new beginning is better, but as always, I love to hear your opinions.

What do you think of the new opening?

Are there are 'rules' you keep clear in your head when starting a story? Have you ever written a beginning and though, "Nailed it!", or do you usually fumble around, unsure of where everything should start?

* Or that relatives are crazy. Yes I do have a lame sense of humour ...and yes, that's a bit of a sub-theme in the story. The relative thing, not my sense of humour.

** Or just hyper-over-analytical...

...and yes, I use a heck-of-a-lot of hyphenated words/phrases when I'm stuck in this character's head.

An interesting interview on writing

...the husband told me to search up the video of Jon Stewart interviewing writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson from October 11, 2012.

Sorry, I wasn't able to find it on youtube, but if you're American, you can watch it here.

If you're Canadian, you can probably find it on

It was pretty interesting... especially the comment about how you can write something 50 times, and sometimes you're still not sure whether the first draft or the fiftieth was the right one.

Anyways, it's worth a watch.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

1:57am + insomnia = sloppy BF edits

Since I can't sleep, I'm editing.

No, I'm not tackling anything hard, like condensing one timeline from 6 months to 6 weeks, and the other timeline(s) from 5 days to 2 or 3 (still haven't decided if I can pull off 2 days yet...), and I'm not touching the awful, choppy first page.

I'm starting on a few of the little things... like a couple specific scenes that nearly every CP/reader has gotten the wrong impression from, so clearly these are places where I completely and utterly failed to properly project my thoughts into words.

No big deal, right? the kiss scene (near the beginning), which had multiple small issues Triss' explanation in the car, the *why* of their first meeting fixing the horrible transition in the first scene of Chapter 3 where the timeline was super confusing and clearing up when everything started (for real), and settling the whole age/grade thing

...and once very specific moment where it shouldn't have been the hum of ready-violence in the air...

Little, easy things that somehow keep spinning around in my brain and keeping me from sleep.

I think I just know that I won't be able to start NaNo/November fresh if I've still got 'Brake Fluid' on my mind.

Yup, I totally suck at multi-tasking.

How about you guys? Can you work on multiple stories at once, or do you stick with one from first-draft to final polish before moving on to something new?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Those punch-in-the-gut critiques

I am a bit of a masochist when it comes to handing my work out and begging for it to get shredded, but here's a great article anyways about giving feedback time to sink in.

...I know, more than once, I've certainly thunked my head a few months later after re-reading notes from a writing partner...

I thought it would be timely to post this link since I met my writing group last night and got 'Brake Fluid' handed back to me, nicely minced and seasoned with a couple sarcastic jokes about how best to include merwolves* into the story.

Seriously guys, you're awesome :D

Thank you for indulging my love of writing creepy-relationships.

...and thanks again to all my online CP's who waded (or are still wading) through the miry abomination that is 'Brake Fluid'. I swear I'll put all your comments to good use :)

*Don't ask. Really, don't ask. Unless you've also read a certain published book and have already experienced the 'WTF??!?! I swear that was a NaNo-dare!' reaction. Then you don't need to ask.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

November can't come soon enough...

Right now, I'm waiting on the last few 'Brake Fluid' readers to send comments back. I hope to finish this next round of changes before November hits and I'm swept up in writing Project #5, the northern fairytale I started last year.

Maybe 'swept up' is downplaying it a bit...

I was actually laughing about this with my husband a few weeks ago when we had our loooooong week of driving.

Writing is something I've always done, on-and-off, since I quit playing the piano and needed a creative outlet, but it's only recently that it feels more like an obsession, a drive, an addiction. I just want more of it all the time.

No matter what else I'm doing, my brain keeps circling back, like a scavenger seeking carrion.

Pleasant description, I know*, but something about it feels dirty... this single-minded-focus that isn't waning with time. 'Cause I can feel it... this itchy, gnawing desire to throw myself into the next story.

...I won't lie, it freaks me out. But I'm a total commitment-phobe, so the sensation of sinking into something so deeply I'm not sure I can breathe... well, 'claustrophobic' might be a good descriptor.

Yeah, there's a reason I've always been scared of writing 1st person POV.

...for those of you who've read 'Brake Fluid' in its entirety...

"There's a point when something too far gone to clean up or save."

And I fear that line could be referring to my sanity...

Selka, the Lady of Crows, is clawing her way out of my head, so November better hurry up and come fast, 'cause I'm not sure how much longer I can last without my next fix.

I want to write her soooooooo bad...

...and does that 'carrion' simile make more sense now?

Please tell me I'm not the only crazy one out there...

*Hey, at least it wasn't another vomit reference!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The inevitable encroachment of NaNo...

I'm excited about NaNo this year, for a couple of reasons.

The first being, I really want to finish the northern fairytale I started last year, then quickly abandoned in order to finish 'Brake Fluid'.

Second reason?

Long-time followers (and writing group members) know I have been struggling with some pretty major health issues going on... 9+ years now. Yeah, I pretty much keep all that stuff off my blog 'cause I find myself annoying when I talk/write about it, but I did touch on it briefly before taking a couple weeks off from blogging earlier this year.

Good news on that front: the last couple weeks I've been feeling better than I have in years. Yes, I wrote that correctly. Years.

...and the bad-health-stuff is why I haven't *officially* participated in NaNo since 2006. Sure, every year in November I'm writing, but my depleted energy-stores pretty much guaranteed a big, fat failure if I attempted the entire 50,000 word goal. Usually, I've stuck to a goal of 20-25,000 for the month.

Since I'm nowhere near *all-better*, I'm still not going to pressure myself into completing a full NaNo, but I'm looking forward to not having to worry so much about limits, about not having to weigh and measure my options every day based on how I feel when I wake up. To not having to sleep away half-the-day if I want to be alert enough to get in the car and drive somewhere in the evening. To know I can walk the dog, and do other things in the same day without being exhausted.

It isn't just NaNo I'm excited about... it's the hope of being *me* again.

So if I've been quiet the last few weeks, and probably will be in the coming weeks as well... it's just me testing these new boundaries.

Oh, and if you're also a NaNo participant, feel free to stalk me here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

...we're being the typical-friendly-Canadians today and inviting our new neighbour (a professor visiting from Montana) over for dinner.

...and as not-so-typical-Canadians, we have already planned out American Thanksgiving next month.

My husband has American relatives, so since we've been together, it's become natural to celebrate both Thanksgivings. When we lived in Calgary, Alberta, we even drove all the way to Birch Bay, WA for American Thanksgiving... a 14 hour drive through mountains, snow, ice, with our cat in the car (who escaped at a gas station around midnight. Thankfully he is fully trained to stop/come back when I call him).

So, Happy Thanksgiving to all those celebrating today, and for those who aren't, I hope you'll take a few minutes today to reflect on everything you're thankful for in your lives.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I suck... forgive me?

I've been a terrible online-friend the past couple of weeks, double-y so since I have a full MS and a partial one on my desktop which I promised to read/critique for two of the wonderful people who read/critiqued 'Brake Fluid'... and I've barely touched them.

I just got home yesterday from being away a week, and I didn't take my laptop with me.

What was I doing?

Not touring ancient ruins, navigating bustling, modern cities, or lounging on a beach somewhere warm.

I was in Seattle for the Seahawks game on Monday (7 hour trip from Victoria to Seattle for that), then the husband and I drove up to the Okanagan (an 8 hour driving trip) Tuesday morning. The purpose was twofold.

The husband had a conference, and I tagged along because my paternal grandmother lives about 20 minutes from where the conference was going to be held.

She's my last living grandparent and I only see her once a year (at Christmas), so I thought this would be a good opportunity to spend time with her and help out with any chores she had that were beyond her physical means.

I also spent a lot of time just sitting and listening to stories.

My grandfather was a gunman in the Canadian airforce (where the estimated live-span for a gunman was 3 weeks) and completed a 3 year tour in India and Burma during the second world war. Due to his papers getting lost in London, he coincidentally met my grandmother. They knew each other 6 weeks, he proposed on a Monday, and they married (big church wedding and all) 3 days later on a Thursday, then moved to the Okanagan where his family was from.

As I was leaving, my grandmother gave me a gift. A khukuri knife given to my grandfather by a member of the ghurka regiment he fought with in India, which, if you're familiar with ghurkas, is quite the honour.

Apparently it was well used by its original owner... as my grandmother aptly put it, "I'm sure it took a lot of ears during the war."

And it seems like it was. The handle is worn smooth and it looks like the blade was repaired at some point near the hilt.

For anyone who thinks this is an odd gift... well, I've got a couple of machetes from Africa (Kenya), and a couple of small knives from the Philippines along with a small hunting bow/arrow set that's only about two feet long... supposedly to shoot with when you're lying on your stomach in the underbrush.

I'm not overly crazy about weapons, but I like pieces that I know the history of and have some kind of personal connection. The machetes were gifts from my sister and a friend when they went to Africa, and the bow/arrow set was a gift from an old woman I met while in the Philippines. She was part of a non-profit organization in Manila that translated English books into Tagalog.

So, yes, I've been a bad online-friend and critique partner by going MIA this past week or so, but I'm back now and plan to catch up as quickly as I can.

Hope you all are well.