Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year!

Wishing you a Happy New Year.

I believe in New Year's Resolutions.  I'm into the whole self-improvement thing.

I hope your Resolutions involve reading of some kind.  Read more?  Read different types of books?  More of some, less of others?  Reading for education?  Pleasure? Support your writerly friends (hint)?

My Grace got an ebook reader for Christmas.  This is good, because I have ebooks I've been reading on a computer. I can only stand so much reading on a computer before my eyes go strange (or my laptop runs out of batteries and I must plug in).

We writers read lots.  It's how we keep up with what everyone else is writing. Also, it refreshes our batteries, makes us happy and reminds us why we started writing in the first place.

I always have some sort of resolution that involves reading somehow.

What are your New Year's Resolutions?

Her Grace resolves not only to read more (yay!) but to make sure she gets more books out on sub.  The more on sub, the more will sell, the more there will be to read.  Oh yeah. And resolves to lose weight, clean the house more, and all the other usual fol-de-rol.

Monday, 30 December 2013

M'amusant: gentle hint of irony

Last week I read an article in Publisher's Weekly about a grown-up Scratch'n'Sniff book about the elements of wine.  (Frex, when someone describes a wine as having 'woody' tones, do you know what that means?  This book shows you, er smells you, er... you know what I mean.)

While the topic itself fascinates me, I found one line to be rather humorous. Thus they say:

"[the publisher] has not attempted a digital edition of the book."

I guess Smell-o-vision is out of fashion on the Internet.

Friday, 27 December 2013


Miss Smith does look lovely in her Attitude.
In Real LifeTM us humans have lots of hobbies to keep us occupied.

But until recently, I never gave much thought to the hobbies of characters in books.  I don't know why, because several of my characters have hobbies.

The only reason I noticed it was because I recently read an Historical Romance where a character had a hobby.

And it was poorly written.  It was like it was thrown in there at the last minute.  (Essentially, Our Hero, who had a hard life growing up and had to make his way in the world through *gasp* Trade, suddenly could play the violin Very Well.)  

BUT... this detail did not add anything to the plot, only happened in one scene for an improbable reason and boy, did it stick out like a sore thumb.  I simply could not believe this character played the violin.  It just did not suit his background, his upbringing, his lifestyle or anything.  If he'd played the penny whistle, that I could believe (after all, they were aboard a ship when the little violin recital took place).

But the violin?  I don't think so.  Sorry, sweetie.

However, it did get me thinking.  How often do we come across characters who have hobbies or interests?

In Jane Austin's Emma, (P.S.  Happy Birthday, Jane!), Emma paints.  It suits her character.

I also remember some other book I read (and can't recall, isn't that terrible), where one of the characters kept chickens.  Yeah, lots of people keep chickens, but this character, oh, how she loved her 'girls'.  She'd feed them every morning, and talk to them, and lovingly gather their eggs.  It was a hobby that well-suited her and added to her characterisation.   It was so well done, that was the only detail I remembered of the book.

That and I love chickens myself.  Wish I could keep a couple of girls for their eggs and their lawn-fertilising properties.

Can a character's hobby add or detract to a character?

Her Grace has a few hobbies of her own.  They keep her sane and occupied.  They're very good for her brain and her soul.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

If you wish to children to believe, tell them the truth.  In all likelihood, they've figured it out anyway.

Thus, I told this to my daughters:

St Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra.  He lived in the 4th Century. ("So, he lived when Jesus lived?"  "Almost," I replied.)

Anyhow, he loved to give people things, not because they wanted the things, but because they needed them.  ("So, not like televisions or PS3s or stuff like that?"  "Nope." *thinks*  "Dad needs a television."  "So he says.")

Nevertheless, he had a knack for knowing what people needed.  One day, he found a family with three daughters who were too poor to get married.  ("Does it cost much to get married?"  "If you're clever, no."  *thinks*  "Dad says Uncle Andy's wedding was too expensive."  "He's right."  *thinks some more* "Is it expensive to get divorced?"  "Very much so. I don't recommend it."  *thinks even more*.  "Uncle Andy should have stayed single. He would have saved a lot of money."  "So your Dad says.")

Well, these three maidens wanted to marry very much, but not without dowry. As these were very good young women, St Nicholas thought they deserved a better life.

So one night St Nicholas dropped some gold coins down the chimney where they fell into the shoes of the maidens.  ("Why didn't he just give it to them?"  "He wanted it to be a surprise."  "Why?"  "Sometimes it's not about the giver."  "But we know who leaves the presents now. That's not a secret."  "You're too clever, kid. Shaddup.")

And so it came to pass that when the maidens woke up the next morning, they discovered the gold in their shoes, but had no idea who'd left it for them.  Thus they were able to get married.  ("And live happily ever after?"  "That's the hope, anyway."  "Did St Nicholas give any money to the husbands?"  "Nope."  *thinks*.  "You're right.  They wouldn't have gotten married. They would have bought televisions instead."  "Maybe you should tell your Uncle Andy that.")

And so since then, many, many people will dress up as St Nicholas and give gifts to good little children who deserve them. ("Like us?"  *considers*  "Talk to your father.")

("So, what are we getting for Christmas?"   "How about you ask St Nicholas?"  "Moooom!")
Because I told them that, my children will always believe in Santa Claus, and the magic will never go away.  If I wish to bore them to sleep on Christmas Eve, I read them this.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Bah! Humbug!

Love dramatisations* of audio books? (I do!)  Love Christmas? (Mee too!)  Tolerate Dickens? (Even that.)

Have a listen to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, a full dramatized version of the novel.

Listen to it on the website, or download the mp3 for three-and-a-half hours of Christmassy fun, with sound-track as well.

Happy TASE Day, and Merry Christmas.  What's your favourite Christmas book/movie/story?

*Love my British spelling of that word?  My spelczecher doesn't.

Despite last week's grinchiness, Her Grace really does enjoy Christmas. She's even singing in a Christmas Cantata this week.  Wish y'all could come.  She also loves humbugs, licorice, cherry and peppermint.  She'll pass on the cinnamon ones, though.

Best kind of humbugs at Christmas

Friday, 20 December 2013

Character-based vs Plot-based

A simple comparison between a character-based book and a plot-based book:

Character-based:  Hi, I’m your best friend.  Or not.  Maybe I’m the guy who lives down the street.  And I got issues.  But hey, I’m interesting.  Life sucks, but we’ll get over it.  Or not.  Relate to who I am, if you can. Elements of me are echoing in you.
Plot-based:  Let’s go on an adventure!  Stuff’s gonna happen.  Oh no!  I didn’t expect that.  How are we going to solve that issue?  Whoa!  Plot-twist.  Hey, is it loud in here?  Is that a herring? It looks red. Ohmigosh! Will we survive? (Well, duh, yeah.  But how?)  How will we get through this?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Behind the Scenes: a Glossary of Writerly Terms

It makes sense to us.
Of course we writers have our own language and vocab.  Doesn’t everyone?  Sometimes these terms slip into my conversations without me noticing—until my fellow conversationalists give me funny looks.  So you’ll know of what I (or many other writers) am speaking, here’s a partial list:

WIP – Work In Progress.  Whatever it is we’re currently working on, or any of our projects pre-Final Draft.  This especially describes a first draft under edit.  (pronounced Wip, not double-yew-eye-pee.)

MS (MSS) – Manuscript(s).  Sometimes refers to various drafts, but usually used to describe a Final Draft ready to submit.

Sub – (noun) Submission.  A manuscript that has been submitted to an agent/editor for consideration.

On Sub – On Submission, or currently waiting to hear back what the agent/editor thinks of the manuscript. This time period can last from one day to one year.  The author’s emotional state during this time can be one of either extreme nervousness or total forgetfulness.  I’ve had stories on sub that I’ve completely forgotten about until editors got back to me a year or so later.  Whilst on sub, the best thing a writer can do is work on their next project.

R&R – Revise and Resubmit.  Agents use this term whenever they find a project they really love that’s Almost There.  They’ll ask the writer to revise the manuscript (preferably offering suggestions) and to resubmit the manuscript for another consideration.

CP – Critique Partner.  This is a fellow writer who reads your work in various stages and offers detailed feedback for the improvement of your work.  A good CP will give you honest, detailed feedback and pull no punches.  No, it doesn’t hurt as bad as you think, because a good CP does it with love and a mutual desire for your mss’ success.  This is a long-term relationship spanning books and years.

Critter – Critique giver.  Like a Critique Partner, but more casual or informal.  If you sub your MS to a workshop, you will get feedback from critters.  I spent a good ten years on the most excellent http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.org.  There’s also www.critters.org and a few others.  They’re not hard to find.  You can also find local workshops.

Critic – someone who reviews your published work but doesn’t like it, or pans it unprofessionally.

Reviewer – someone who reviews your published work and either is professional in pointing out its perceived flaws, or who loves it and gives it a good, quotable review.

Beta-reader  –   a reader (not necessarily a writer) who reads a beta-draft (ie, the penultimate draft before the Final Draft) and gives reader-based feedback. 

#@&%$%!! – Your WIP when you’re stuck, when you’ve been editing it too long, when you read someone else’s published book and it’s waaay better than yours, when you read a critic’s review, when your R&R’ed MS is declined, whenever anything goes wrong.  These days happen.

BIC – Butt in Chair.  Essentially, sitting down and getting some work done.  Cranking out draft, editing draft, prepping Final MS to go on sub.

When not completely forgetting what she's sent out, Her Grace uses Sonar to keep track of subs.


Monday, 16 December 2013

Playing Whist

In my NaNovel, my characters play a game of Whist. Gaming is important to the plot of this novel, so I couldn't just make a reference, "And so they sat down to a game of Whist."  I had to describe a game in detail.  (Hope I wasn't too tedious. It fascinated me.)

Games and gambling were rife in the Regency era.  Even an innocuous game of Whist could be played for "penny points".  (And there goes all your pin money for the month.)

I've played Bridge (aka Contract Bridge) for many years (well, me and Dave my Bridge Partner. We once came Fifth Place in a state tournament).  But Whist?  I had the vague idea of how it worked.  And that was it.

Cue the Google Fu:

I learned enough to be confident to write about the game.

Then the Dashing Duchesses post the Whipster's Guide to Whist.  How timely is that?

Similarities between Whist and Contract Bridge:

  • Trick-based play (ie one person leads a card, everyone follows suit. Highest card wins the trick).
  • Tricks played in teams (ie if you're sitting West, your partner is East. Any tricks either one of you takes counts towards your team total).
  • Trumps will beat whatever suit is led.

Whist and Contract Bridge have their differences:

always has a trump suitcan be played No Trump
trump is determined by last card drawnbidding determines the trump
whoever wins more than six tricks ("book"), wins the gamebidders state how many tricks over the "book" they can take. If they can't make contract, they lose.
for every trick taken over the "book", score one pointThe higher the contract, the higher the possible points. This can range from 20pts up to over 1500pts per hand!

Compared to Contract Bridge, Whist is a simple game.  But it's so much fun!  It's a great way to learn Trick-based games.  So if you've tried Bridge and it freaks you out, consider giving a few hands of Whist a try.

Her Grace loves a good game of cards.  She tried teaching a few people to play Bridge, but they found it a bit hard to wrap their heads around.  Maybe they could try Whist.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Unmotivation: like a leg chain.

I am having a hard time getting back into my usual writerly working routine after NaNo.

It’s simply the switching of the tracks.  For the past month I’ve spent my time in Felicity Abbot’s headspace. Now I’ve got to get back into Merrybelle Hales’, and I’m not having a good time of it.   This is a consequence of swapping projects half-way.  (NaNo lesson: do not jump off a perfectly good boat simply because it’s 1 Nov.)

Because of this, I’m having a hard time getting going again. I’ve lost a week of productivity because of it. 

The fabric I'm quilting with.
I'll show you the blocks later, when I am done.
I don’t completely regret this lost week.  I did burn out the last week of November due to NaNo and several other major events, and I needed recovery time.  So I started piecing a quilt (One Block Wonder Hexagonal Kaleidoscope from a beautiful Georgia O’Keefe lemon(mango?)-patterned fabric) to give my brain a rest.   Bold yellows, dark greens, sky blues.  It’s good for the soul.

But I am a professional author. I really need to get back to my books.  I no longer have the luxury of writing “whenever I feel like it”.  That sort of attitude kept me from being published for ten years.  (If you don’t have the stock, you can’t submit.  If you don’t submit, you can’t sell.)

I keep telling myself, “Today I’m going to write.”  Then other projects (things that need to get done) get in the way.  Yes, it’s stuff that needs to get done, but why am I giving it a higher priority than my writing?

I’ve bookmark’d great swathes of January to write. It’ll be glorious! 

But what about December?  I haven’t completely given over my schedule to the Silly Season, deliberately keeping things low-key this year… so I have room to write.

Yet why am I so unmotivated? 

Her Grace hereby swears on the life of her main characters that she will devote the time between 5pm and 6pm today solely toward Miss Merribelle Hales and her adventures.  After that hour, she shall report back her findings and what it means for the finishing of this novel.
Her Grace also owes a fellow writer a Beta-read report.  Sorry, fellow Vicious Circler. She’s been slack.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Someone's Gotta Do It

A co-worker recently resigned from her Day Job to become a full-time writer.  This news absolutely thrills
me!  Being able to see a fellow writer transition to the Dream Career makes me believe it is entirely possible.

We’d spoken about our desires to be full-time writers. We knew it was only a matter of time and diligence.  It’s nice to see hers pay off this soon.

My day will come.  Just need a bit more BIC.

Her Grace loves to see other authors succeed. It only proves that it can be done.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Likes and Dislikes

'Tis First Summertime (Birak, Season of the Young, as the Nyoongar call it.)  The sun rises early and sets late.  Whilst most of the English-speaking world is huddling down for a Long Winter's Nap, I'm taking my ease in the garden courtyard, surrounded by parsley and oregano.

I love summer.  I really, really do.  However, it rarely, if ever, rains, and I do miss warm summer rain.  Just don't get it here.
I love characters who know what they want and set out to get it.
I love characters who make a mark on the world and not just let the world make a mark on them.

I am most firmly decided: I love Fantasy as a genre.  Quick list:

  • Escapism
  • High Stakes
  • Otherworldliness
  • Different Sets of Rules
  • Smerps and McGuffins

I am also decided that I do not like Contemporary fiction.

Granted, much of what I have read recently is well-written. I cannot fault the mastery of the craft.

It's the subject matter that I cannot stomach.  Must Contemporary authors write about divorce, abuse, directionless lives, ordinary circumstances, tepid jobs, dysfunctional families, All The Time?  It is like everything and everyone is broken in Contemporary fiction and they don't get fixed.  Essentially, it all seem to be about them accepting their miserable lot in life.

The characters are weaker than the world that's beating them down. They are where they are because they have not been fighting against the world, but letting the world run roughshod over them.  As the plot progresses, it's not so much that the characters are doing something to improve their lot, but rather enduring all the crap thrown at them in hopes that something better--without much effort on their part--comes along.

Maybe I'm reading the wrong novels.   Where are the [Hello] Dolly Levis?  Where are the Auntie Mames?  The "Thoroughly Modern" Millies?  I want a contemporary novel where the characters might have been handed a few lemons, but by gum, not only are they going to make lemonade, but a really good lemon custard pie.  And lemon bars. And lemon chicken as well.

I get a lot of that in Fantasy.  Characters DO stuff. They're pro-active, possibly because if they're not, the Whole Universe will Collapse on Them.  These are High Stakes.  I like High Stakes, especially if the character fails at the High Stakes, others may suffer, possibly entire nations, if not worlds.

I want outside-the-box thinkers. I want characters whose actions and choices would make a fascinating Wikipedia entry.  Contemporary fiction just ain't doing that for me.

Running away to a small town to start a bakery because your jerk-fiance left you at the altar is not an interesting Wikipedia entry.  Running away to a small town to start a bakery that's really a cover for smuggling engagement diamonds in cupcakes. Not only did your jerk-fiance leave you at the altar, but it turns out this is a modus operandi of a whole lotta jerk-fiances, who want the rings returned. So jilted women turn to the new baker to get their rings to a jeweler who'll Ask No Questions to provide them with enough money to start a new life. (Hey, it could happen.)

Surely someone's written that novel, or its sister.  Kindly point it out to me in the comments, si t'il plait.

Meanwhile, I'm gonna go find a nice fantasy full of literal Let's Save the World.

When not bemoaning unmotivated characters, Her Grace enjoys art by Kathrin "Kitty" Polikeit [GPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.  She offers her thanks to Kitty for sharing her art with the world.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

TBR Pile this week

On my TBR pile is:
Yes, I am up to the wee hours.
Why do you ask?

Three Sisters (Blackberry Island #2) - Susan Mallery.  Contemporary Women's fiction 
Leviathan (book 1) - Scott Westerfeld.  YA Fantasy Steampunk
Slave of Sondelle (book 1 of The Eleven Kingdoms) - Bevan McGuiness.  Fantasy
The Outcast Prince - Shona Husk.  Fantasy Romance
Financial Distraction - Dr Steven J Enticott.  finance non-fiction
The Complete Illustrated History of the Inca Empire - Dr David M Jones. historical non-fiction
Is Your Grandmother a Goanna? - Pamela Allen. Children's picturebook fiction

Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think?  Have you read other work by these authors?

MFA dithering:  As I attempt to read widely in fiction (and non-fic) genres, I am consciously noting my reactions to the fiction.  Language use is most interesting.  If I find the writing becoming "invisible" and I'm getting immersed in the story, I see that as a good thing. Then I have to go back and see what the author did right.  (I wanna do more of what they did.)

Sometimes I'd much rather immerse myself in the story and forget about analysis, but these MFAs don't earn themselves.

I'm also affirming my taste in particular genres.  I've always known I prefer X, but now I'm analysing why.

When not reading fiction, Her Grace can be found reading non-fiction, as this nourishes the writerly reservoirs.  Rumour has it she's got a novella coming out soon.

Monday, 2 December 2013

What I learned from NaNoWriMo

Every year I learn something new about myself from NaNoWriMo.  This is what I've learned.
  1. I am no longer an amateur.  Okay, I kind of knew this before.  But this year, NaNoWriMo really nailed that point to the post.  My NaNo experience pointed out a few things in my writing habits and process.  Frex, for me it’s really not that hard to crank out 50K rough draft in a month.  And I did it with a Day Job, a Religious Calling and a Family.  I have a pace, a rhythm and a methodology when it comes to writing.  That’s good to know.
  2.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to participate in NaNoWriMo the same ever again.  I’ve moved beyond the main benefits of NaNo.  When I do participate again (because it is a fun tradition and they do fundraising for some really worthy projects), I’ll be approaching it from an entirely different perspective. NaNo has proven its points to me.
  3.  I am not a pantser.  No way, no how.  I confess when I did this year’s NaNo project, I did have a vague sort of outline, but nothing as detailed as what I usually work from.     You know what?  Pantsing was hard. Really hard.  I found myself stuck at times, wondering what happens next.  When that happened, I inevitably missed my word count target for the day. Instead of typing, my writing time was spent brainstorming. Writing and brainstorming at the same time is not the most efficient use of time for me.I work best with an outline. Yes, I knew this, but now I know why.  From now on I will never pants a novel again.  I simply don’t have the time.
  4. Because I write more than one novel a year, the 1 November came at a less-than-convenient time for me.  I put another project aside prematurely so I  could get into the true spirit of NaNo.  (The project had less than 50K words to go, so I didn’t want to finish this one off, then have to find something else to add 20K words to.)  I won’t be doing that again.
  5.  I work best when I can devote myself  wholly to one stage of a project.   I can get the most done in the most efficient manner.  I’ll work a schedule into my 12-month plan for 2014 so I can start Nov with a fully-fledged outline and smash NaNo to the envy of all my friends.  (aside: I got to enjoy a good envying of a friend of mine who cranked out a full 80K+ novel this year.  I loved turning green because of her. She’s a legend.)
  6.   How do I handle deadlines?  Fine. I like working to deadlines. It provides a reliable motivator for me.  How do I handle intrusive deadlines?  Not as well as I’d like.  It’s a good thing to know this now.  I’ll let my agent know, should I ever find myself in a position where I might get multiple deadlines that might interfere with each other and also with my 20-year Plan.  Nothing interferes with the 20-year Plan if I can help it.
  7. I missed the social activities connected with NaNo. Last year I went to a Night of Writing Dangerously.  I loved it.  The social connections spawned by NaNo are quite inspiring and great networking activities.  Also went to a few Write-Ins. 
This year I went to nothing.  Didn’t even participate on the forums (fora?).  I did sporadic word count checks with two of my Critique Partners, but that’s about it. 

Socially isolating myself was not a good idea.  Most of the year I work in quiet isolation and quite prefer it.  But NaNo’s all about makin’ the connection with fellow writers.  Next year I will increase my sociality and go to more Nights of Writing Dangerously.  I may even host one, or a Write-In.  Not once did I go to a Dome or a Library and say, ‘Hi, I’m your writer-in-residence for the day. Can I have a hot chocolate and a plate of wedges? I’ll be here a while.”
  1.   I need to use an ergonomic keyboard.  Last year I carried my ergo with me.  This year I was straight on the tiny little notebook’s inbuilt. My wrists considered this a Very Bad Idea.  (My wireless ergo was having communication issues with its receiver.  Might be a batteries issue, or it might be something wrong with the electronics. Must investigate further.)
  2.   I need to say No to things more often.  I found myself pressed for time during November, because I had accepted responsibility for a few things.  After having just spent a few months de-cluttering my life only to accept more stuff into it, I really need to say No.
  3.  When you train the Fam&Friends to expect NaNo, they will respect your writing more. Just because the financial payoff hasn't happened yet (and won't happen for another couple of years) doesn't mean that this job is any less important than the Day Job with its fortnightly paycheck and 9-to-5-edness.  Get them into the habit now, when you don't have a Deadline or risk offending a Contract or Editor or Agent.
And that's what I learned.  Just because I can now crank out 50K of rough draft per month without breaking a sweat doesn't mean that I can't continue to change and grow as a writer.  I'm surprised at how much I learned from this November.