Friday, November 25, 2011

Five Days Left in NaNo....

So how's everybody doing with that?  I'm just checking in, because well.....remember that Critique Partner Auction Blogfest thingie I tried to do last year?  Didn't really work out and I said I'd try again after NaNo....

Yeah, so...I'm not gonna do that.  Got an epic workload in December and that's just asking for trouble.  What I AM going to do however is host a Critique Partner Blogfest for everyone who wants another set of eyes to sign up.  On the day/week of the Blogfest just post a logline and first 250 words of your MS and then click through other blogs in the blogfest in search of new Critique Partners to swap with.  Easy peasy.  So what I'm just curious about is when you think would be the best time for this?  Is December 1st too soon?  I know that even if people finished 50K in November that doesn't mean they'll be done with their book yet.  So would people be interested in going ahead and starting with a Blogfest like this first week of December or would you guys prefer to wait a week or two and give people a little more time to finish their whole books first?

Feel free to chime in with thoughts, comments and suggestions and I'll post next week with an actual date and sign up sheet for the Blogfest once people have had time to weigh in.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend all and good luck on the last few days of NaNo!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tough Topic Tuesday: Where's the Responsibility?

Hello, lovely peoples!  It is a beauteous Tuesday here in Southern California, and I have been PONDERING.

Also, whichever one of you got me hooked on alliteration (points up at post title), I suggest you start running, for I am mightily vexed.  You don't even want to know what my manuscripts look like these days.  It's like Old English Poetry decided to just take a dump all over them.


So I've been thinking a lot lately about the responsibility of an author, especially a YA author, in regards to difficult or morally gray subject matter.  A lot of YA (particularly contemporaries) tackle some pretty heavy stuff these days.  I mean, we all remember the Wall Street Journal kerfluffle, right?  But it's not subject matter that's got me thinking, but how we approach those subject matters.

Sometimes you have the Voice of Moral Authority, that heavy-handed author who ordains from her writing desk that CERTAIN THINGS ARE BAD AND YOU SHOULD NEVER DO THEM.  'Mary Ellen caved to peer pressure and smoked a joint one day and it ruined her life and broke up her family and she flunked out of school and never went to college and worked at a gas station the rest of her life and died miserable and alone, DO YOU WANT TO BE LIKE MARY ELLEN?'

Fortunately, most of us keep our Voices of Moral Authority tucked far, far away from our writing desks.

But then we have Buddy-Buddy/I'm Just Like You Kids Syndrome, that lackadaisical approach wherein we're all just good friends and its just a story anyways and kids'll make the right choice on their own.  'Mary Ellen got high every single day and it was totally awesome and she never had to be sober once all through high school and yet she still graduated with honors and had a totally cool boyfriend and they both went to law school and had two point five kids, a golden retriever and a house with a white picket fence and lived happily ever after while still occasionally getting high with their now teenage kids, DON'T YOU WISH YOU WERE JUST LIKE MARY ELLEN?'

Fortunately, this particular syndrome is rare amongst capable writers as well.

Obviously, these are two very extreme ends of the spectrum, and most of us, and most published works, fall somewhere in the middle.  The question is, where do you fall in this spectrum?  What do you see as your responsibility to teen readers?

I think most of us would like to be as true to life as possible and let readers draw their own conclusions, and decide for themselves.  But drugs are a fairly easy example.  There's not a lot of gray area when it comes to strictly illegal substances and breaking the law, so you don't HAVE to be heavy-handed as an author to still feel comfortable that kids aren't going to put down your book and immediately go in search of a crack pipe, no matter what tack you take with it.  It takes some of the pressure off.

But what about something where there isn't as clear a right or wrong?  A lot of YA deals with complex social issues like eating disorders, abusive relationships, let's extrapolate from one of those.

This is a purely hypothetical writing exercise, not based on a real book:

Say you're writing a story that involves a boy with a history of being abusive to his girlfriend - but he's not with her anymore, he's done his best to make amends, he's been through therapy, he's doing his best to be a different person, a better person...and he meets a new girl.  What does this new girl in your story and in his life do?  Does she trust herself with him, even knowing he has a violent past, believing in second chances and that he's a different person now?

What message would you, the author writing that narrative, want teenage girls to take away from reading that book?  And how much, and in what ways, would your writing of that book be shaped by the choice you'd hope your readers would make if they found themselves in that situation?


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tales from the Set

So I have officially beaten NaNo with the completion of SUNSET SONATA at 85K....and I'm off and running again with my next novel GHOST FOX GIRLS (sample and synopsis are up on the site under my KalenO profile - feel free to add me to your buddy list if you haven't already).

But I thought I'd take a break from all that for a second and revive a short-lived series from earlier in the weekly Tales from the which I give a nitty gritty view of some of the shenanigans that take place on the sets of some of the most popular TV shows and movies.

Be forewarned.  This week's installment is SCANDALOUS.

Now, aside from being SCANDALOUS, this week's tale is also from my early days as an extra, and takes place on the set of a popular medical drama...but do not bother speculating as to which show precisely it is, as I CAN NEITHER CONFIRM NOR DENY!

Unless you bribe me with books, of course.  I'm the literary equivalent of a cheap date.

ANYWAYS.  So there we were, on location at a real, actual hospital for filming.  This show had its set on one of the major lots of course, but it also used big, sweeping shots of the outside of a hospital, people going in and out of the entrance and scenes that took actors down long, hospital hallways that simply couldn't be replicated on a small soundstage.  So for shots like those, they used a VA hospital that allowed them free reign of one wing of it after 4 pm one day a week.

Now, most of the extras on this show were regulars...they liked to establish us as background doctors, nurses and orderlies so there was a familiar feel to the hospital rather than the sense that it was a Magic Hospital that contained thousands more doctors, nurses and orderlies than the Rules of Physics would seem to allow.

So we were all friendly, we knew each other well, joked around all the time, knew the cast, the fact, to the new, virginal extras who came on the show every week to be patients and visitors and never return, we seemed an impenetrable clique.

As such, in accordance with the Laws of Cool Kids Everywhere, we didn't really associate with the new extras much.  And for that, I blame society and accept no responsibility.

ANYWAYS.  So on the day in question, we were pretty much being left to our own devices while the cast and crew shot scenes on the far end of the hospital wing opposite where we were positioned.  There was a grand, Very Dramatic scene wherein a mob of doctors swept through the halls of the hospital following the lead of one doctor, and we were all positioned in that last hallway they were to walk through so they'd have people to Dramatically Sweep Aside as they passed.

However, they were taking a very long time with the scenes at the other end of the hospital, and they hadn't gotten to us for hours.  Needless to say, we were very bored.

So a group of us 'regulars' were sitting on the floor in the hallway we were supposed to be waiting in.  Playing on our phones, chatting, being silly, and rolling a tennis ball back and forth to each other.  Oh yeah.  Hollywood, baby.  You know you're jealous.

All of a sudden, one of the new extras came running up to us.  She'd been stationed in a small alcove further down the hall, and I guess due to our Unapproachable Cliquey-ness had remained there rather than come closer and join us in our highly fulfilling game of 'Roll the Tennis Ball'.  So imagine our surprise when this petite little blonde girl in nurse scrubs comes running up to us, all wide-eyed and out of breath.

"What is it, Lassie?  Did Timmy fall down the well again?"  One of us (possibly me, I admit to nothing) inquired somewhat asininely.

"So I was waiting in that alcove like they told me," she huffed, still out of breath.  We nodded along, hoping this was going somewhere good.  As I said, we were very bored.  "And I had to sneeze, but I didn't want to make any noise, you know, cuz they're filming over there!"

We nodded somewhat less enthusiastically, no longer convinced the punch line was going to be worth our attention.  She clearly had no idea how to get to the point.  It was very different from how I tell a story like this, for instance.

"So I opened the door behind me and stuck my head in to cough - " Here she paused dramatically, so I will do the same....

"And there were two people in there HAVING SEX!"

"Just to clarify, when you say having sex, you mean..." 

I received a few dirty looks at my effort to seek clarification, and shrugged.  "What?  We don't know what she considers to be having sex.  I feel its a valid question.  She could be Amish and referring to heavy petting, for all we know!"

"Well, there was a guy laying on a bed and a woman on top of him and she had no shirt on and when they saw me the woman said 'Can I help you, sweetie?'"

"Yup, that counts," I said.  I was mostly ignored.

Instead everyone exchanged wide-eyed looks and started down the hallway.  This was by far the most exciting thing that had happened since lunch, and we were all a bunch of pervs anyways.  It wasn't like we were going to look in the room or anything.  It was just that it was after 4 pm, so the only people still in this part of the hospital were members of the production like us and we were very, very curious to see who would come out of that room.

Now, since we were regulars and had been to this part of this hospital many times before, we were familiar with the layout.  And like veritable Nancy Drews we staked out all exits to the Room Behind the Alcove...and sure enough, we spied with our little eyes, Let's Call Her Helen (one of the make-up artists) and Let's Call Him Drew (one of the key grips) sneaking out of the room not long after.  Looking miiiiiiightily disheveled.

This would have been pure titillation, were it not for one thing.

Being 'regulars' on the show, we were familiar with most of the members of the crew.  Including Let's Call Him Drew.

And Let's Call Him Drew's wife.  A very lovely, very sweet woman.

Who was definitely NOT Let's Call Her Helen.

In that empty, echo-ey hallway, you could actually hear the sound of a dozen eyes narrowing militantly.

Now, here's the thing about Hollywood.

Gossip is kind of its lifeblood.  Doesn't matter how much you moan about it, or whether or not you abstain from partaking personally.  Everyone knows everything about everyone....or in the absence of actual knowledge, makes stuff up to fill in any gaps.

Even sequestered away from the rest of production in our little hallway at the end of the hospital, somehow, within ten minutes, every other member of cast and crew knew what was going on.  Except for the first AD who was growing increasingly frustrated at his inability to locate Let's Call Her Helen anywhere (she was hiding in one of the trailers)...and the smirks he was getting whenever he asked.

And for the record, there's nothing quite like watching an A-list actress and major star of a show royally ream out one of the grips for being 'a dick-weaseled ass monkey', to paraphrase loosely.

Now, the moral of today's tale is you never know who might be watching - or just sticking their head in to sneeze, so be careful what you do and say and where you do it and with whom.  That shit'll always come back to bite you in the ass.  ESPECIALLY if you're doing something interesting and observed by people who are bored.

And further for the record, that describes 99% of the internet.  Just something to keep in mind when social networking.

Oh, and just don't do the dirty at work.  It's never worth it, kids.

Unless you're getting paid for it.

(Which incidentally ties into next week's tale.....but that's a story for another time.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Productivity: Magic or Timing?

So a gchat with one of my best buds and a twitter conversation with some of my favorite tweety birds has me thinking....

I know, I know, that's never a good thing.  You can all stop groaning now.

But real talk, peeps.  So we were talking about productivity and writing speeds, and how I can be a little cray cray at times.  And my good gal-pal Linsey who has known me nigh for a decade now, allllll the way back when we were wee Roswell fanfic writers (gasp, I know, I wrote FANFIC!) was testimony to the fact that like, yo.....I used to be completely incapable of finishing a single project.  True story.  Oh, I've always written fast, I can pound out a few thousand words in a sitting, but we all know that's only half of writing.  It doesn't matter how quickly you can type, because if the words ain't coming, they ain't coming.  And that was my problem.  I'd launch into these big, sweeping epics, get 15K or so into them in just a couple days....and then I'd flounder and flounce off to a new shiny.  I'd come back to the initial project after awhile (or after I'd floundered midway through others) and add more....another massive update or two of 15-20K in a matter of days....but it might be weeks or even months between those updates.

My writing was a study in evolutionary leaps.  Stories would crawl through the mud aimlessly, and every few thousand years a sudden LEAP to give them legs....and then it'd be another few thousand years before I came back to teach that little story fire, and like, give it a plot or something.

Yeah, not the best analogy, I know.  This is my brain on NaNo, remember kids?  I warned you it wasn't going to be pretty.

But basically, I had a lot of fish in the sea, but all of them were deformed little mutant tadpoles who were never gonna grow up to be Adult Bullfrog Stories or whatever.  (Man I am just BEATING this metaphor to death.)

And to this day, most of them remain floundering around in the back of my brain, malnourished and unloved.  This is why I don't have pets.

But overtime, once I moved on to being a 'real writer' - which means you have to legitimately write THE END on a project without using the 'rocks fall, people die' shortcut - I got better at the whole finishing thing.  But it took time.

My first novel, ROANOKE, took nine months to finish.  And I wrote for it every day.  But I wrote a couple hundred words a day at times, completely uninspired.  It was like pulling teeth, but I did it.  But what I wound up with wasn't very good.

My second novel, SHADES OF ADRIAN GRAY, took two years to finish, technically speaking.  But in reality the break down went:  Wrote the first chapter in a sat for seven months....wrote the next six chapters in six days, one a day....then it sat for a year and a half....then wrote the last fourteen chapters in three days.

Later books were somewhere in between.  ESCAPE ART took around five months, with long periods of not writing at all, GEMINI took three and I managed to be fairly consistent, but with low daily word counts.

But then, with more recent books, my stats jumped again.  DUST TO DUST was finished in three weeks.  MOST LIKELY TO SURVIVE took a month.  And I'm 25K into my NaNo novel, SUNSET SONATA, with another 50K projected until the end.  And my first drafts weren't...aren't terrible.  They're not just words on a page.  Oh, they're first drafts, with desperate need of revision, but they're still workable first drafts.

So Linsey and I were talking, and I attributed my speed with SUNSET SONATA to the book just coming to me easily, the story well within reach.  I picked the right story to write, I said.  And she laughed, and was like, oh yeah, because this was one of your contenders all along.  As of October 31st...four days ago, I was still debating which of three story ideas I was going to write this month.  SUNSET SONATA was not on the list.  The basic grain of the story idea was one I had over a year ago, for a short story I was going to write, an adult sci-fi short, but I hadn't even thought of it in months.  It was nowhere in the reckoning at all.  Then several hours before NaNo started, I got up from my computer, started pacing, annoyed with all three of my story ideas and my inability to choose between them....and I randomly thought of that short story idea again.  It grew and grew, I hopped on gchat and threw it out there as a possible story idea to Genn, weighed pro's and con's, the story growing all the while, and after an hour of chatting I decided, this was going to be my NaNo.  It was around 10 pm on October 31st, and I was still brainstorming titles, trying to make a cover to inspire me....

And then midnight hit, it was the start of NaNoWriMo, I tossed the words SUNSET SONATA on the top of my first page and started to write.  Three days later, I'm a third of the way done with the book at 25K.

So no, this story wasn't one of my contenders long before NaNo started.  It wasn't even a speck in my brain.  But I was still right, in what I told Linsey.  I'd picked the right story, that's why it's coming so quickly and easily.  It doesn't matter when I came up with it, or how much thought I'd put into it beforehand....I had other story possibilities, all of them viable, most that I'll still likely write at some just happened to be the right time for THIS story.

And that, I think, is my personal secret to my productivity.  I've always written quickly.  But in terms of writing full novels just boils down to this....somewhere along the line, I got better at picking what story to write at what time.  That's it.  Call it luck, call it instinct, but I firmly believe that FOR ME at least, and my personal writing process, knowing full well it's different for everyone....I can write any story at any time.  But the difference between it being a long and arduous process and a lightning fast sprint is finding that magical sweet spot where I'm writing the RIGHT story at the RIGHT time.  If I had gone with ALL HIS LITTLE MONSTERS instead of this one, would I be 25K into it?  Probably not.  Hell in fact, I can guarantee it.  Oh, I'd probably have 8K or so, still completely respectable, but it would be a struggle.  I wouldn't still be as inspired when I got up from writing as I was when I sat down.  I'd be exhausted at the end of an eight hour block of solid writing rather than exhilarated.

But when its the right story, when its the right time....10K a sitting doesn't wear me down.  Doesn't burn me  out.  Not til all's said and done, anyways, and I put THE END after that final period.   

I guess what I'm saying is....writing's kinda my crack, yo, and I'm a hopeless addict.

Somebody pass me a lighter, willya?

And just so its not all about me.....(though really, its my blog and I'll be egocentric if I want to, dagnabbit, ME ME ME, there, I feel better)....

So what about you guys?  What's your average pace like, if you have one, and does it vary from project to project?  If so, what, if anything, do you think was special about the projects that came to you quicker or easier?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

WIP Wednesday

So its Day Two of NaNo and I am off and running and a little bit insane.  Just topped off at 15K for two days....definitely time for a break, but I think I can get another couple thousand words later tonight.  Not gonna aim for 5K more, as tempting as it is though.  Pace yourself, self.

Anyways, a little about my NaNo project....its a YA sci-fi space opera called SUNSET SONATA.  In it, there's a race of supremely powerful bodiless entities known as the patrons...they don't communicate with humanity or interact with them, save for when they can be persuaded to through art, the only thing humans create that they're at all interested or intrigued by.  And so in the galactic civilization of the distant future, artists wield great power - they attend rulers and command armies, as with the backing of a patron, they can manipulate the weather, destroy cities, even confer immortality.  But first they must train at the Academy, in the hopes of attracting a patron of their own....and learning, sometimes at a terrible cost, that the favors of their patrons are unpredictable and sometimes dangerous....and can vanish as quickly as they're granted.

In this excerpt, the main character Teela (a Musician) gets her first glimpse of the Academy, along with three of her future classmates, an Architect, a Painter and a Dancer.

The sky-ferry rounded the cliffs and I leaned forward over the railing, eager for my first glimpse of the Academy.  I failed to realize doing so would put me partially outside the comfort of the ferry’s artificial atmosphere.  Chill winter winds tore at my face, chapping my lips and numbing my cheeks.  I gasped and shivered and most likely caught pneumonia, but then the towering spires of the Academy loomed up ahead of us and I forgot how to be anything but awed.

It crowned the red rocks of the mountaintop like a glittering, multi-faceted jewel, walls curving and climbing at dizzying angles that defied everything I thought I knew about geometry.  Buildings shimmered like pearls beneath the haze of the Academy’s perpetual twilight, the grounds blanketed by lush, sprawling gardens said to bloom year round in an eternal spring.  A spinning crystal orb balanced atop the tallest tower.  Riotous displays of color boiled and shifted within it and splashed across the sky above, rainbow auroras crashing against banks of clouds like waves upon a shore.

“The Painter’s Moon,” Alars said.  He leaned forward besides me, eyes following the same path as mine.  His fingers twitched against the railing.  “Imagine painting with the sky itself as your canvas.”

I was no painter, but I understood the hunger in his voice all the same.  Then the temperature jumped in a span of seconds as we crossed whatever border kept the Academy in its own space and time, untouched by the outside world.  The sky-ferry picked up speed and we skimmed along the sides of the mountain.  We darted past hanging tropical gardens, the air thick and heavy with their perfumes.  Winds from our passage set delicate trees to swaying and howled through gaps in the rocks, somehow turning into haunting melodies that I recognized: Ardakoff’s Requiem at Midnight, the Dosvai Dirges, Mariroja’s Pasionada ad Infinatum….great.

Even the rocks at this place played them better than I did.

We drew level with a waterfall thundering down the cliff-face.  It drowned out whatever Mera was saying next to me.  Spray misted our faces as the ferry rose to the Academy proper. 

It was impossible to gauge just how big it was, but then, a good many things about it were impossible in general.  Like the buildings that looked as though sculpted from ice and hovering above with no support whatsoever.  Or the sweeping silver staircase that climbed so high in the air it seemed to end in the clouds.  Or the bridge of water growing out of a fountain and supporting a handful of people as sturdily as one made from stone…but then, I supposed that’s why it was called the Impossible Academy.  What do you expect from a place crafted from imagination, unfettered by physics?

“Wait, hold that pose!”  Ezra shouted behind me.  I spun to see him viewing me through framed hands.  He pursed his lips in mock concentration.  “I have my first masterpiece.  Open-Mouthed Peasant Feasting Upon Flies.”

“Ezra, move away from the railing,” Mera said with an imperious eye roll I vowed to later practice in the mirror.  She held a perfectly manicured hand between them and studied it, as though gauging its effectiveness as an instrument of fratricide.  “I’m feeling dangerously justified in shoving you overboard.”

He scowled and sulked off.

“How are you related to him?”  I wondered out loud.

“Some kind of cosmic joke, I suppose.”  She sighed.  “I don’t get it.”