Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Word Count Wednesday!

Untitled Post-Apocalyptic YA Novel
Goal: 60,000 words (at least)

04-01-11: 0
04-27-11: 2774
05-04-11: 5528
05-11-11: 7757
05-18-11: 10020
05-25-11: 10560
06-01-11: 12107
06-07-11: 15082
06-15-11: 18120
06-22-11: 20762
06-29-11: 22677
07-06-11: 26073
07-13-11: 26748
07-20-11: uh...
07-27-11: 29196
08-03-11: 34137
08-11-11: 35239
08-18-11: 38805
08-24-11: whoops...
08-31-11: 40495

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Starting On Page 1 (what a concept!)

Several years ago, I got to hear one of my favorite authors, Robert B. Parker, speak at the Pasadena Public Library. Among other things, he described his writing process, which was:

• Get up.
• Write pages 1-5.
• The next day, get up and write pages 6-10.
• Next day, pages 11-15.
• So, in about 60 days, he'd write a 300 page novel.

This intrigued me, because Mr. Parker was a hugely successful (and by that I mean RICH!) mystery writer and also a prolific one. Obviously, that process worked for him.

At the time, I was struggling to write my first novel. I didn't know it, but there were 3 big problems holding me back. One was my inability to write new pages without first reviewing the pages I had already written. This inevitably led to rewriting. Often, I'd get sucked into a lengthy rewriting session and never get around to writing any new pages. I must have rewritten those first 25, 50, 100 pages a hundred times. I got SOOOOO sick of them.

Plus, the problem with constantly rewriting a mystery-in-progress is that one small change on page 37 can cause many other dominoes to fall. If you alter one clue or plot point in a mystery, before long, you don't have a mystery - you have a mess.

Argh. I definitely had a big mess. A mess-tery.

So, the disciplined approach Mr. Parker described (to an avid audience of hundreds, by the way) was inspiring, but seemed impossible to me at the time. I didn't have the skills as a novice writer to sit down and write the first five pages on Day 1, next five pages on Day 2, etc. I was all over the place. Driving myself crazy with all the rewrites. Writing lots of stuff that got tossed. Writing scenes out of chronological order. Messy!

It took years, but I did finally finish that first novel. (HEAVENLY MOVES) (And I love it!)

Now I'm working on my 4th novel. I think my mechanics and my process have improved as I've learned over the years. I'm still not able to write 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, etc., but I'm a lot closer to that than I used to be. With this 4th book (THE BOOK OF KELL), it kind of feels like sitting around a campfire, spontaneously spinning a tale... Not going back and re-reading/re-writing previous pages feels weird, but kind of good. It's keeping me from reading and writing those pages over and over again, which eventually leads to those pages being nothing but gibberish to me. You know? Like if you say a word or phrase over and over, it starts to lose all meaning. Lamp. Lamp. Lamplamplamplamplamp.

...Lamp?

I am working from an outline and I try hard to stick to that, since that works best for me. I will occasionally jump out of chronological order and write a scene from some other part of the book if (a) I'm ablaze with inspiration, or (b) the opposite - if I'm stuck, glum, in The Swamp, just can't get started, I'll sit down and write ANYTHING. Anything to get me started. Even in the murky depths of The Swamp, I'll trick myself by saying, "Oh, just sit down and write for 5 minutes. Just 5 minutes and then you can do whatever you want." Usually, an hour later, I'm still writing and happy with what I've produced. (apparently I am both gullible AND persuasive!)

My writing process has changed with every book I've written. I think it will continue to evolve until I figure out what works best for me. I may never get to that Parker level of 1-5, 6-10, etc., but hearing him speak and describe his process that long ago night was certainly a milestone event for me as a novice novelist. Writing is a solitary practice. It's good, once in awhile, to get out there and hear what other writers have to say. Sometimes all you learn is what NOT to do, but that's important, too.

Looking back, that trap of rewriting ad nauseum was one of the worst habits I had as a beginning writer. On a daily basis, a little bit of rereading and rewriting is both good and necessary - anything more than that is A TRAP, Dear Reader. Don't fall in!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Research (And How To Avoid It)

I am a bit of a nomad. I just moved for like the 27th time in my life. I'd like to settle down for good one day and NOT HAVE TO UNPACK ANY MORE BOXES, but the timing's never been quite right.
Some day...

From the Department of Silver Linings, the good thing - from a writer's perspective - about all this moving and living in different places, is that you get to see things, learn things, maybe even pick up a little bit o' Life Wisdom. Which you can then use in your writing! Score.

Some writers, I hear, do a ton of research. Blechhh. Is it just me, or are those people DEADLY to sit next to at dinner parties? No, seriously, if that's what needs to be done to write a good story, then go to it. I have been fortunate, I guess, in that Life On This Planet has provided me with 99% of what I've needed so far to write 3 1/2 novels. SHADOW POINT was set in the place where I grew up. ROMEO FAILS draws on time I've spent in two small Midwestern towns and some personal experiences. HEAVENLY MOVES is perhaps the most autobiographical of the three. (of course I threw in a fictional murder to give it some pizzazz, since my real life is hell of boring)

But... it turns out I don't know everything. The protagonist in ROMEO FAILS is an accomplished carpenter and woodworker, two things I know zilch about. (I had to use a power tool this weekend while moving in and just about blew up the the whole dang building! Luckily, Scotch tape saved the day. And my security deposit.) But I read a book, watched a TV show, surfed the net and voila (well hopefully voila), I think I pulled it off.

HEAVENLY MOVES is a murder mystery. A friend's father who is a retired police officer kindly answered some of my procedural questions for that story. Another big part of that story is '80's rock'n'roll - I looked in the mirror and found my expert right there for that topic. I'd just gotten up, so even my hair was contributing by looking somewhat Flock of Seagulls-ish. (I know it's time for an intervention when it starts resembling Gary Oldman's 'do in "The Fifth Element.") Even the protagonist's new apartment in that novel is one of my old apartments, crazy trap doors and all.

You call it normal everyday life. I call it research.

I was going to say something about Truman Capote here, but I keep getting sidetracked by thoughts of "Murder By Death." (two two twain)

Getting back to research, though - you'll be amazed how much knowledge is available to you out there if you use your six degrees of separation. Even if you don't personally know the expert you're in need of, your friend's brother's cousin's neighbor no doubt does. Or one of your Facebook friends does. Many people are thrilled (believe it or not) to answer questions from a novelist. Even if you cold call an organization or person, you might just get what you need. That "Hi, I'm a writer working on a book about ___ and I'm hoping you can answer a question for me about ___" works like a charm an awful lot of the time.

Imagine how grueling research must have been pre-internet. (I love you, Wikipedia! I don't completely trust you, and you never call, but I love you!)

Is it possible to fake stuff when you're writing fiction? Of course it is! FICTION IS FAKE STUFF, PEOPLE.

Of course, this can lead to public ridicule. If you have no idea what real police officers (or chemists or tow truck drivers) say and do, it's probably best to not create a major character who is a police officer if you're not willing to do the research.

So, in conclusion (and inconsistence), I say: research shmesearch. Make it up. You're a writer, for crying out loud.

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"I'm looking forward to the future - but my eyesight is going bad."

Fallout Boy

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"This is the last worthless evening that you'll have to spend."

Don Henley

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pay No Attention To That Novelist Behind The Curtain

I knew I wanted to write a novel long before I knew what novel I wanted to write. How could I possibly come up with a story that could be sustained over 200 pages or more? And be cool and keep the reader's interest and frequently make sense? It seemed impossible for a long time.

But I knew I wanted to do it. I started to actively think about plots. I began to mentally collect bits and pieces of real life that I knew I wanted to include in a book. But the Big Idea didn't hit me until somewhere around 30, when I had moved into a ramshackle apartment two blocks from the beach in LA. Like every new tenant, I kept getting mail for the previous tenant. And wow, his mail was WAY cooler than mine.

SHAZAM! The main idea for HEAVENLY MOVES was born.

Yay. But the point is: the first idea was terribly hard for me to come up with. I struggled and yearned and failed and kept trying and eventually got it together. These days, ideas for novels come easily to me. My brain bombards me with them. My fingers can't keep up.

Wait - that's not the point. The point is: sure, it's easy to come up with an idea for a novel, but it's tremendously difficult to actually write a whole book. Really, really difficult, at least for me it is.

But the point is (ah, now we've arrived): if you find that you CAN achieve something tremendously difficult, it makes you feel good. Makes you feel like maybe you can do other stuff, too!

Writing Novels: Good For Your Self-Esteem.

Until some a-hole writes a bad review. But let's just ignore those, shall we? :-) More on that later...

There is one wee downside to writing novels, though. The more you write, the better you get at it. (in theory) You start to see how the process works, how things hang together, what will get your blimp off the landing pad, what mistakes to avoid...

And then you start to see those things in OTHER people's books. And movies. Even HGTV, for crying out loud. You find you suddenly have a deeper understanding of structure than you did before. You're all like "Arc!" You see things coming. You guess who the murderer is in the first seven minutes. You know who the victims are going to be and in what order they're going to go. (dude, he's IN the house)

But THEN, you realize that's kinda fun, too. Perhaps you appreciate things on a whole 'nother level now.

You - and Toto, too.


Word Count Wednesday!

Untitled Post-Apocalyptic YA Novel
Goal: 60,000 words (at least)

04-01-11: 0
04-27-11: 2774
05-04-11: 5528
05-11-11: 7757
05-18-11: 10020
05-25-11: 10560
06-01-11: 12107
06-07-11: 15082
06-15-11: 18120
06-22-11: 20762
06-29-11: 22677
07-06-11: 26073
07-13-11: 26748
07-20-11: uh...
07-27-11: 29196
08-03-11: 34137
08-11-11: 35239
08-18-11: 38805

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"And if you find she helps your mind, better take her home."

Kenny Loggins

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dear Magic 8 Ball

Dear Magic 8 Ball,

Is it too early to start plugging my next book, ROMEO FAILS, which comes out in February of next year?

Sincerely yours,

Amy









Excellent! I shall plug away. But first -

Man, I hope no one concludes from the title ROMEO FAILS that the book involves man-bashing.

The title comes from the name of the imaginary town where the story is set - Romeo Falls. (Falls, not Fails) A baffling series of malicious crimes have beset the small Midwestern town, starting with the defacement of the highway sign just outside the city limits. Somebody spray paints ROMEO FAILS on the ROMEO FALLS sign - thus the title.

Behind The Scenes Trivia Alert: The draft name for the town was Chopin Falls. Once a music major, always a music major... After a while, I realized that name made zero sense, plot-wise, plus many otherwise lovely people would pronounce it Choppin'. Eventually, my brain suggested...Shakespeare Falls? Eh. Then: Romeo Falls! Aha.

Anyhoo, no man bashing. I must admit most of the male characters in SHADOW POINT had a rather rough time of it (sorry, guys!), but hey - [fictional] shit happens. The protagonist in ROMEO FAILS, however, is blessed with two great brothers who play important roles in her life and in the novel. They all work together at the family business, Larue's Swingtime Hardware. Protagonist also had a wonderful dad she adored. Oh, and the chief of police is also a strong and important male character - and also a good guy.

Or is he???!!! I did mention those baffling crimes...

Mystery! Romance!! HARDWARE!!!

What more could you want? How about the great tag line Bella (the publisher, Bella Books) came up with:


The story of a lonely heart,
a red Volkswagen bug,
and a love affair that is anything but simple.

ROMEO FAILS
COMING FROM BELLA BOOKS
VALENTINE'S DAY 2012
(awwwwwwww)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Word Count Wednesday!

Untitled Post-Apocalyptic YA Novel
Goal: 60,000 words (at least)

04-01-11: 0
04-27-11: 2774
05-04-11: 5528
05-11-11: 7757
05-18-11: 10020
05-25-11: 10560
06-01-11: 12107
06-07-11: 15082
06-15-11: 18120
06-22-11: 20762
06-29-11: 22677
07-06-11: 26073
07-13-11: 26748
07-20-11: uh...
07-27-11: 29196
08-03-11: 34137
08-11-11: 35239


That's funny... it felt like I wrote a LOT this week. But only 1,102 more words! Oh, well. 1,102 AWESOME WORDS. That's right, "the" and "and" and "of" - I'm looking at you! :-)

I've been trying to get my characters across a fictional version of one of the bridges that span San Francisco Bay. It's a bridge I don't drive very often, but as luck would have it, I had the opportunity to drive it 3 times this week. Perfect! I got some great notes (which I jotted down after I had safely reached my destination and parked). Notes which include key words like guano and cormorants. Actually, I guess the cormorants come first before the guano, both in real life and fiction. OK, no more blogging about guano tonight - I'm pooped. Good night, blog. Good night, cormorants.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Brand A(my): You're A Fine Girl

I do think about my "brand" as a writer. Perhaps I shouldn't, but I do. "Brand" means that je ne sais quois that makes it an Amy Briant book. Is it the genre? Well, if so, I already screwed that up because I see myself as a mystery writer - and the first book I got published is a paranormal thriller. With an element of mystery! (Hopefully, the mystery is not "What is that smell?", though my protagonist does wonder that a lot in SHADOW POINT. No, the mystery is "Who [or what] is doing all these terrible things?!")

So, fine, I am a self-declared mystery writer. MYSTERY WRITER. We're all clear on that now. Which is why my second book is a love story. What? D'oh!!! OK, fine, love story but with an element of mystery!

Really. I swear.

Well, my third book is totally a mystery. Totally totally totally. Whew.

But now I'm working on my fourth novel and it appears to be a Post Apocalyptic YA story.

I am loving the opportunity to explore these different genres. Book #2, ROMEO FAILS (the love story) was an experiment for me. A successful one, in my opinion, because I'm proud of the book and I really like it.

Why do I consider it an experiment? First, it was an experiment in writing in 3rd person. That part turned out OK, but I'm really more of a 1st person kind of gal. (she said endearingly)


Second: Frankly, it was an experiment to see if I could (a) write a traditional romance and (b) crank it out in six months or less. Clearly, it was Commercial Amy (my only semi-evil alter ego) (one of many), not Artiste Amy, who came up with THAT one. Well, I gave it my best shot to write a traditional romance, but I couldn't have done it without the mystery element. Traditional romance is just not my thing. (in more ways than one :-)) I didn't crank it out in six months, either. Do I want to be the writer who cranks out traditional romances every six months for the money? Post-experiment, I have to say no, I guess I don't. Which is good, because I'm not capable of doing that. I'm just not built that way. There are very popular authors who do this - good for them, I say. Just not my thing. But I'm proud of ROMEO FAILS, glad I wrote this "one-off" and excited for people to read it! It's so different from SHADOW POINT - I wonder how folks will react. Hmmm...

Getting back to my "brand" theme for this rambling post of rambility: Genre alone has not yet defined what makes an Amy Briant book.

It's the voice, right?

Well... ROMEO FAILS deviates from my usual voice as well. 3rd person helped me to do that. Again, it was something I did on purpose - to see if I could. And I can... but I'm out of my comfort zone.

The voice is back big-time in #3. (HEAVENLY MOVES, the 1982 rock'n'roll murder mystery set in a Northern California beach town not unlike Santa Cruz, CA) It makes me smile just to think of that voice... well, after all, it is my voice.

Moving on to book #4, the post-apocalyptic YA story: this was an experiment, too, to find out if I can successfully write YA. I read YA. I read children's books, too. And cereal boxes. The classics. And lots of mysteries. So as a reader, yay YA. But YA is tricky as a writer... I have not been a Young Adult for a long, long time. You don't want to be preachy. You don't want to come off as some old bag who's trying to sound like a teenager. If you're writing about 17 years olds, you don't want to miss the mark and have them sounding like 14 year olds. Unless you're specifically trying to capture a particular time period, you don't want to get caught up in using too much YA slang because that will be out of fashion in six months. You don't want to curse too much. And sex in a YA book is a whole 'nother minefield.


Tricky.

So - I read books for adults, YA books, children's books. Always have (well, since I was about 12) and always will. And you know who writes the best YA books? Not YAs, for the most part. So being a grouchy old lady is not necessarily a drawback when it comes to writing YA.

Along with the trickiness comes a feeling of responsibility I do not experience when writing for adults. (you're on your own, grown-ups!) When I was a teenager, there was zero LGBT fiction available to me. Zero. Partly due to the marketplace, partly due to my circumstances. There is much more now and it's much easier to get your hands on it. I am keenly aware as an adult and a lesbian and an author, that if I write a YA book, the possibility exists that I could perhaps positively impact some young LGBT reader out there. Maybe in a small way. Maybe in a big way. Maybe change a life. Maybe save a life. Some books have this power.

Whew, that's way too heavy (not to mention pompous) for me to worry about!

I'm just a writer. So, what I need to focus on is writing a rip roaringly great story. That's all. That's my job as a writer.

Although if I end up writing a crappy book that somehow still manages to get published, I could still change lives. Some young lesbian aspiring writer out there might read it and think, "What a pile! I could totally write a better book than this one!"

Go to it, kiddo. :-) And you are WELCOME.

Inspiration, after all, comes in many forms.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"Every night as I go to sleep, I tell myself a story."

Edna Scafe

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Word Count Wednesday!

Untitled Post-Apocalyptic YA Novel
Goal: 60,000 words (at least)

04-01-11: 0
04-27-11: 2774
05-04-11: 5528
05-11-11: 7757
05-18-11: 10020
05-25-11: 10560
06-01-11: 12107
06-07-11: 15082
06-15-11: 18120
06-22-11: 20762
06-29-11: 22677
07-06-11: 26073
07-13-11: 26748
07-20-11: uh...
07-27-11: 29196
08-03-11: 34137


Coming right along, if I do say so myself... take that, Wall! :-)