Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Continuing Education for Writers Part 1

After the first wave of rejection letters started coming in for Novel #1, I knew I needed to find a way to become a better author. In case you’re wondering, my formal education was pretty limited. Traditional school up until 8th grade, then haphazard homeschooling, with a final year and a half of college before it petered out. This isn’t something I’m particularly proud of but I can’t change it. Instead I knew that I needed to get an education in writing and genre in the only way I knew how- by teaching myself.

One of the biggest helps has been following the general advice of reading book in my genre published in the last two years. Me being me I didn’t leave it at that. I started reading publication announcements. Every month I would get sixteen books from the library, eight original novels and eight sequels, that had been published six months previously. What was interesting is that I never read the cover blurb- I went at these books completely cold. Okay, that’s a lie. By the last six months or so I checked Goodreads star ratings and kicked out anything that was shelved under dystopian*. Over the course of three years I read hundreds of books. In the end it was too many books a month and I ended up overloading myself, but it was valuable while it lasted.

I learned way more from doing this then I ever would have thought. First off I was reading widely for the first time. Almost all of these books were speculative YA, but there’s a huge amount of diversity under that banner. Like anyone I have a list of preferences a mile long that I use to choose a book. Without those I was reading vampire books, paranormal romance, adventure books, and others. Books I would normally steer clear of. It gave me an appreciation for these subgenres even if they aren’t my favorite thing.

The most important thing I learned what made all books the same. After reading so many varied stories I started to see the construction underneath. It was like going to the theater and watching a play from behind. I could see the where the set pieces were glued together. I could tell when a performer was early of late. I might not have had a professor to guide me, but I had an army of my peers to show me how writing a book is done.

This has allowed me to experience a significant jump in my writing skills. I can clearly see a difference in the books I wrote before I started my reading program and after. I approach my projects with the ability to think critically about them. That clarity is an excellent tool that I wouldn’t have gotten any other way and I can’t speak highly enough of it.

Well, that’s all for the first part of my whitefly education. Part two is coming soon!

*It’s not that I hate the genre, it was just that some of the tropes are problematic for me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The End Goal

I love to write but writing for publication can be soul-sucking. These days I’m not just writing what I love, I’m writing to sell. Most of the time I focus on how much better I’m getting as a writer. The down side is constantly worrying about hot markets. What are the type of books that will sell? What's the right  ‘hook’? I’m trying to make something appealingly familiar while also making it different enough that it grabs attention.

While I understand the necessity of treating writing like a business I can’t want to be published just for publications sake. Recently I had to sit down and decide why I’m doing this. I started because I wanted a chance to tell my stories to a wider audience. After a few years I came to realize that I would never be happy in a job where I wasn’t writing. But when times get tough it’s not the idea of finally getting a paycheck for doing what I love that makes me truly happy. It’s the idea of having freedom to write what I want, while also getting paid:).

For those of us trying to break in there’s not a lot of latitude. But more experienced authors aren’t faced with the same restrictions. They have an audience and have proven their ability to sell their work. Recently Jim Butcher announced that he sold the first three books of his Cinder Spires trilogy. Steam punk is a notoriously difficult genre to make money in, but the publishers were willing to take a risk when it came to someone with Butcher’s success. The same goes for Ilona Andrews whose new book Burn For Me is very difficult to categorize. They’re just two of many successful authors who go in unusual directions after they’ve made a name for themselves. 

I want that. My end goal is a place where I not only do what I love, but have the freedom to experiment AND get my books to readers. I know that this kind of freedom is earned, not taken. So for now I work hard, hoping that the career I get to is the one I’m dreaming of.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jennavier Recommends: The Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs


One of the best things about this blog is the chance to spotlight great books. My desire to be a writer came from all the great books I’ve read. So far I’ve been recommending new that I find. That’s cool, since most of us are looking to find something new and great. But I realized I was leaving one category behind in a big way- the tried and true books.

The Mercy Thompson series (and Alpha and Omega, the companion series) is one I've read over and over again. They’re my bad day reads, the books I grab when I’m done with the world. While reading is usually an act of exploration for me, sometimes I just need to go home. Metaphorically, at least. For me, that’s what these books are.

 I’m pretty sure that should be enough to tell you these are good books, but you might want to know why I’m saying this stuff. Mercy Thompson is one heck of a heroine. She’s smart and resourceful, and always willing to fight for the people she cares about. One of the things I like is that while she has a love story, it doesn’t dominate her life. In later books it’s just as much about finding balance with her love interest as being romanced by him. She’s also significantly overpowered by the other supernatural beings in her life. She consciously chooses to rely on herself instead of delegating her choices to someone more powerful.

It’s also fun that the series doesn’t have one overall arc. Normally I like a specific series direction, but this setup gives Briggs amazing freedom when it comes to Mercy’s and each books development. Every book surprises me. They’re all so different that I never know when I’m going to find a new favorite.

So there you have it. In my ever so humble opinion this series is definitely one worth reading. And in that moment you do I will envy you, because you will have the joy of discovering it for the first time. Happy reading!

P.S. Don't be too weirder out by the covers. The amount of steam in the book is significantly lower then they imply.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Quick and The Dead

The Quick and the Dead is probably one of my favorite phrases ever. Growing up in a National Park gave me a skewed perspective on a lot of things. One of the major ones is that the literal version of that phrase was right up my ally. If you aren’t quick, you’re dead. I know what it actually means- it’s an almost literal translation of Living and Dead. But I think my kid mind might have been onto something that my adult self has taken so long to learn.

Some days I feel like I’m running ahead of a giant bolder of required tasks that will mow me down if I stop for too long. My own version of natural selection. If I can’t do it right the first time or fix it quickly a project gets abandoned. I’ve done that with big life things and small daily tasks. But it’s a really bad way to write a novel.

Sure life can move quickly, but never slowing down means that a lot of things are good enough, not good. By giving up and moving on a little too often I have a dozen started life goals, and hardly a single finished one. Luckily I’ve had people to point out to me how important it is to let go of denial. To stop believing that bad choices don’t have consequences. But that’s all deep dark personal stuff. The important fact for this blog is that I have a tendency at a certain point in the middle of a novel to throw up my hands and walk away. The novel gets hard, something comes up that makes me mad, or I just get bored. Then I go back to old project or some side thing. I tool around on something I can’t change and use it as an excuse to find something else to do with my time.

Here’s the thing. Slow and steady does sometimes when the race. I’ve been at this writing gig for a long time and I don’t have a lot to show for it. But I’m a better writer today then I was ten years ago. Or a year ago. Or even last week. I might not be quick about this whole getting published thing, but I am doing it. One step at a time. I finally feel ready to dig deep into a story. To not be overwhelmed by the work it takes to turn a flawed 1st draft into a readably MS.

That doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the old ways completely. Adaptability can be a great trait in the right place. It just shouldn’t be the only one I use. I’m learning that everything is a tool in my toolbox, and it’s my choice which one I use.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

New Car


Has anything ever happened to you in your life that made you sit back and wonder how you got so lucky? For me that moment came three weeks ago.

When we were visiting my other set of in-laws in Ohio on our way to our various vacations Patti posed a question to us. Would it be okay if they gave us a car?

Yes, she really asked that. The answer was pretty easy. Of course! It’s they’re kids teenager car, and since the teenagers are long since grown into moms and dads the car is at loose ends. It’s a little older, but it’s been well maintained and is an amazing gift. I think I’m still a little pole axed by the whole thing.

Like most miracles, there’s been a little assembly required. The new-to-us car is a stick which neither Jonathon nor I knew how to drive. He got a crash course at scout camp and last week drove that sucker across the country. I wish I could say that all our problems are solved, but since he’s still struggling getting into first gear it’s more like they’re ongoing.

Having cars spontaneously gifted to you would always be awesome, but for us it’s been a special blessing. As many of you know my husband got a job recently (hooray!), and it means he’s away from home a lot. Since we only have one car that means I’m often stranded. That’s not something I wasn’t willing to deal with but not having to stress about schedules or be glued to our apartment from 9-5 is awesome.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen to it in the long run. We’re planning on moving to a place that will struggle keeping one car, let alone two. But somehow the Lord knew what we needed this time. I’ll trust that he’ll do the same for us with the next step.