Archive for May, 2014

Oh thanks gods…

I just hit publish on the afterword of Goddess in Waiting on Wattpad.

Yes, I suck. I finished updating it on WP instead on my own blog. In my self-defense, I think all of one person was reading it on my blog. It’s easier to read there, readers don’t need to hunt through my rambling not-story posts and I get beautiful stats on how many people are actually reading the damn thing from start to finish.

I’m a geek and I love numbers with an undying passion. It’s simply how it is.

I started that on Jan 30th 2014 and I’ve just finished it on May 25th 2014. To be fair, I think I stalled out around March 4th and didn’t pick it back up until yesterday. It’s 23,303 words and I think it took me about a 45 days, give or take, to write.

It’s a zero draft, but it’s done. Editing will probably expand it quite a bit because there was definitely a lot of talking heads going on, along with not-enough-character-motivation-showing and etc etc etc. Also, it’s filed under romance, but the main romance really isn’t very prevalent for most of the story, so that needs to get fixed.

However, now that this load is off my brain, I’m going to worry about Conflagration edits and the boxset story first. I can’t worry about editing that at the moment because I simply don’t have enough brain power even if I had enough time in the day.

*falls into a heap on the floor*

Notes to self:

- never, ever, ever commission artwork for an unfinished book again

- never, ever, ever start posting a story that you haven’t finished the ending to lest you feel like a heel for quitting

- the idea of writing something “just for fun” while editing is completely laughable and you should smack yourself if you catch yourself thinking it again

 

The trek through Hell — entering the valley of Death …also, edits.

My friend was discussing edits with me and I realized that it might be helpful to lay out my process, both in an effort to give myself something to refer to, but also to share it so others can add to it as needed.

So, without further ado, let’s plunge into Hell.

 

1. I read back over the entire piece, referring back to my outline. This accomplishes a couple of goals: I make sure that my plot hasn’t deviated from the outline in a detrimental way. Since I’m often a pantser, I will sometimes write an outline after I finish the book, noting the major events as inciting event, pinch point, plot twists as necessary. Then I go back and make sure I hit all the major points and delete all the darlings. A darling would be a scene that doesn’t carry its weight by moving the plot forward, revealing world building or developing character.

2. I compose a character sketch for all of my main characters and any important supporting characters. The goal here is to know them inside and out, to be able to have a good idea of how they would react in any given moment. I then read through the entire piece again to make sure that every single line and interaction makes sense with the character at that point in their development in the novel.

At this point I’m pretty sick and tired of reading what I’m convinced is the worst story in the history of stories, so I set it aside and go do something for a while. Like drink an entire bottle of Scotch on my own.

If you’re doing edits, you should feel free to go do that. I’ll wait.

Once the above has been done, I usually send the novel off to beta readers who will read the entire thing from a macro level and tell me where I need to layer in more emotion, where character motivation is unclear, where the character does something unbelievable, where there’s a plot hole the size of Europa…etc. Often beta readers will come back with more scenes I should have cut out but mistakenly thought were absolutely crucial to the plot. Pro-tip — often they’re not. Readers are, oddly enough, often much more intelligent than you give them credit for.

When I get the chapters back, I usually shut myself up in my room with another bottle of Scotch and sob a bit more.

When I feel up to it again, I go through the manuscript, fixing all the instances where my beta readers had problems. Not gonna lie, this might end up being a full re-write. One beta reader said that the romance angle in Conflagration came out of nowhere, so I’m now in the middle of massive renovations so it’s made clear that there’s this romance waiting to happen.

After that’s done, it’s time for detail and polishing. I would suggest looking up editing checklists at this point and picking out things to focus on. My editing checklist includes the following:

1. Anchor your scenes. Where when what how why.

2. Use at least 2, preferably 3 out of 5 senses.

3. Weave in setting descriptions.

4. Trim as needed. 3 details about one thing is overkill.

5. Weed out non-specific words like beautiful, dark, light, etc unless we’ve already covered it.

6. Be more explicit with sarcasm. Be more clear of when she is uncomprehending. Things the author might know needs to be on the page. Author-brain on the page.

7. Character — revealing emotion, motivation, reaction.

8. Don’t over internalize thoughts. Use reactions. Thought reactions. Like instead of her thinking and explaining her thoughts, have her do a gesture or something so the reader can infer her emotions.

9. Using bodily reactions to describe something is fine, but the character needs to react to the reactions. If she’s hyperventilating, then she’s going to do something about it, not just sit there and hyperventilate.

10. Mix the physical with the internal. Don’t either be completely in her thoughts, oblivious to what is going on around her, or just writing what’s happening with her body likes she’s a passenger in her body.

11. Don’t overuse dialog tags. Especially when there is only two people.

12. Make sure every bit of info is accounted for. If she knows something, it needs to have been mentioned at some point or the other.

… there’s more, of course. Like killing run-ons, weeding out adverbs, etc, but this is my editing checklist because it reflects what I need most. If you read through an editing checklist or five, you’ll be able to compile one that works for you. After having a couple of beta readers, you should have a clear idea of where your weaknesses and strengths are.

Of course, if you’re feeling like an over-achiever, you can immediately hurl yourself into the special hell that is “this word or that word?” and “how can I make this more concise?” and “how do I make every line out of this character’s mouth comedic gold?”.

Btw? The answer to that last is you can’t, so I’ll save you the effort right now.

 

Writing Process Blog Relay 2014

Many thanks to Anoosha at My Heart’s Blab for bringing this blog relay to my attention since I can be a bit oblivious about what’s going on around the web. It’s been fascinating to trace the posts backward through various blogs and I’ve been introduced to many authors I would not have otherwise met.

 

What am you working on?

Currently, I’m working on Conflagration of Phoenixes, theta draft. I was doing a serial, but I’m a bit stalled out because it’s hard to write a scene to top killing the MC and bringing them back to life.

 

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I write romantic fantasy, so there’s quite a lot going there. *laughs* I’m pretty sure most things have been done at this point.

It’s set in alternate universe imperial China with magic, so that’s a bit unusual. I also try to balance the epic fantasy elements of politics and adventuring with a strong romance angle involving four entities — so it’s a bit of a mutt. I expect people will tell me if I’ve succeeded or not when I’m done.

I suspect people won’t know how to properly characterize it. Certainly I’m having a hard time really giving people a good idea of what to expect. Too much romance for it to be just epic fantasy; possibly too heavy on the political/adventure aspects for the romance crowd and it involves multi-partner romance but I don’t intend to make it explicit so I’ve scared away the usual m/f crowd but left the erotica crowd cold.

I’ve had CPs throw up their hands a bit. *laughs*

 

Why do you write what you do?

That is how the stories come to me. I’ll have a plot bunny and then I’ll have characters show up to populate the story. As the story unwinds, they tell me things and for me including them as they isn’t a choice.

Goddess in Waiting, for example, started out with a reluctant goddess who’s dragged back into the living world. I had the outline planned out. But somewhere in the story, this conversation happens:

Thanatos: “What are you doing with my wife?”

Me: “Uh? Since when? I haven’t seen you in each other’s company for what, a few thousand years?”

Thanatos: “None of your business.”

Amarantha: “Don’t wanna talk about it. Painful memories.”

So the entire plot shifted.

I serve Story, that’s all.

 

How does your writing process work?

A better question might honestly be “how does it not fail”? *laughs*

I used be a complete pantser, but now I outline. I follow the 5 key turning points of scripts when I’m laying out the initial outline, but it’s really fluid. As opposed to say, “turn right at Cross St and then go straight for a mile before turning left onto Pearl St”, it’s really more like “Start with car accident, turn left at emotional trauma and go until you’re halfway there then make a slight right onto emo drama and straight on til morning”.

The first draft is usually fast for me. I tend to edit as I go, going over the previous chapter before starting on the new one. I tend to produce fairly clean copy, so I’ll read over it when it’s done, tweak whatever needs doing and send it on to my CPs. They’ll let me know what works and doesn’t work. Then, well, then Hell happens. I haven’t finished edits on my first novel yet, so I’ll have to update after I’ve finished a polished copy that’s ready for publication.

I do writing challenges with friends at writechat.net almost every day. I also keep Google Hangouts up all day so my friends and I can spur each other on, help each other with brainstorming and shoot the breeze. That and my number spreadsheets keep me going when I otherwise might not.

 

Next up:

(I’m linking more than three because these ladies are just that awesome and when they all responded to my call to action I didn’t want anyone to miss out on meeting them.)

Zoë Sumra was born in London, and decided to become a novelist when she was three years old. She subsequently moved to Lancashire and, bored with countryside living, finally started writing novels at the age of twelve. She wrote most of an epic fantasy trilogy before moving to space opera and staying there, because making spaceships blow up is entertaining.  Away from writing she works as a print controller in the advertising industry and is a UK-ranked foil and sabre fencer.

Jess Mahler is a kinky, crazy, and somewhat confused woman trying to get by in the modern world. She was introduced to fantasy in 7th grade English class when the teacher assigned “The Littlest Dragon Boy,” by Anne McCaffery, and never looked back. Today she writes specfic of all kinds, incorporating her own experience with alternative sexualities, alternative lifestyles, and chronic illness.

Elise Hepner writes smutty goodness. Her latest book is about Megaera,a Fury who functions as Hades’ right hand.

Claudia Long is the author of Josefina’s Sin and The Duel for Consuelo, two novels of 1700 colonial Mexico. She also wrote The Harlot’s Pen which is about women in the Labor Movement in San Francisco in 1920. She writes about Colonial Mexico, Mexican historical fiction, and in The Duel for Consuelo, the Conversos, the secret Jews who converted at the point of a sword. .

 

 

 

 

POC characters and foodstuff descriptions

So, it has recently come to my attention that some POCs really hate the use of foodstuff in the use of descriptions of POCs. I didn’t know this before and to be honest, it kind of surprised me.

Eunice has this incredible post about troubling tropes regarding Asians and Asian-Americans in YA. I’d suggest reading it in its entirety, but the main thing that caught my eyes was this part on food stuffs and almond eyes:

Another general role of thumb if that you’re describing POC characters, particularly in terms of skin color and eyes and they sound like a tasty Starbucks beverage or cafe pastry (caramel, mocha, coffee, etc.) yeah….no. Food-related metaphors tend to be terribly overused and overdone. Likewise, even more so when the foods used to describe skin color were also the same food items that were PART OF THE SLAVE TRADE, such as coffee, cocoa, and chocolate. Likewise, this is also in conjuction when POC characters’ skin tones are the only ones described but never white characters – thus contributing to the not so common trend of inadvertently establishing ‘white as the default’ narrative, particularly when it comes to racially ambiguous characters.

And there’s Clairelight’s debunking of the whole almond eye thing.

Aside: the whole concept of “olive” skin has baffled me for the longest time also.

I don’t disagree that it’s a lazy way of description. I don’t disagree that the whole slave trade food stuff thing is disturbing.

Where I ran into a bit of a block was Clairelight’s vehement statement that if you describe an East Asian character with almond eyes, you’re showing yourself to be the fraud you are. Then the statement that white people don’t get the same treatment.

*blinks*

Well…

Purely from a “just the facts, ma’am” standpoint…

White people get described with food items all the time. I will agree that the food items in question are not as loaded with negativity as ones like coffee, brown sugar, tea, molasses and so forth. But…

Creamy skin? Skin the color of milk? Honeyed skin for a tanned white woman… Sloe-eyed beauty? Sloe being another name for blackthorn and its bluish-purplish-black fruit.

Before people object, I’ll point out the first time I saw someone described with sloe eyes, it was used on a white character in a historical regency novel set in England.

Nipples are invariably described using some berry or the other. So’s the clit. Hair the color of honey and molasses? Chocolate eyes? Whiskey eyes? Brandy eyes? Bitter chocolate hair? Olive green eyes? Chestnut hair and eyes?

Now I have a mental image of pickled eyeballs in various boozes… olive eyeballs in a martini…

And that’s just what springs to mind without even trying. I’m not saying don’t stop doing it. I’m saying — saying white characters don’t get that treatment just isn’t true.

Then there’s the East Asian almond eye thing.

*sigh*

Okay, I grew up reading a *lot* of Chinese romance and classic novels. I’m just going to point out that “almond eyes” or 杏眼 is so commonly used that it’s the first suggestion that pops up when you type in “xing yan”. Granted, not much else pops up, but the fact is that it’s the first auto-correct. Also, almond eyes are a type of eye shape in the Chinese tradition of divination according to facial features. We also have phoenix eyes, wolf eyes, eyes big as brass bells, yes that’s an E not an A, willow-leaf eyes, etc.

Also, we love food, all right? Eating is as important as the emperor is how I think the saying goes. That’s pretty damn important for a country who believed that their emperor was literally the Son of Heaven, all right?

So we have descriptors along the lines of food: Skin like “congealed lard” (凝脂), teeth like “gourd seeds” (瓠犀), cherry mouth (樱桃小口), fingers like scallion whites (青葱), arms like lotus roots (edible and 藕臂) and peach blossom cheeks (桃花). Yes. We eat peach blossoms.

For the record? Most of these descriptions are in poems that are old. The Book of Songs is over two millennia years old, with the bulk of the poems in it written around 1046-771 BC.

And while I’m at it — if I hear someone get mad about how Westernization has influenced the Chinese love for white skin one more time, I might not be able to keep from laughing.

For one, congealed pork lard is a creamy white. For two, the majority of poetry written in China well before we were exposed to the barbarian influences praise pale and clear skin as the height of beauty. There is a saying that if you’re pale, then it makes up for 30% of ugliness. 一白遮三丑。

*shrug* I already got yelled at by my friend about how almond-eyes is a tired, tired phrase and so I won’t be using it anymore, but it’s certainly not offensive to me.

I’d argue nor should it be, if you have an entire country of people who use that term happily to describe themselves, but hey. The argument can be made that it’s got negative connotations, so I guess each to their own?

 

 

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

All right. *deep breath* I’m going to try and tackle this because I feel like this is something I have to say. I feel a bit like stepping off into the abyss of privilege and ignorant obliviousness, but…

I’m not disputing that Eleanor & Park has certain aspects of it that are troubling. I do not dispute this at all. Wendy Xu has a great summation of just what was wrong about the handling of the subject matter. Laura’s take on it is also brilliant and brings up much needed historical background about that time period that sheds some light on the portrayal of Park’s life. 

I agree with 100% of what they’re decrying about the execution of the book.

What I disagree with and what I expect will get me tarred and feathered, is that I disagree with the opinion of some that this book should never have happened.

The self-hatred, the obsession with height and looks and all of that — that is something my brother went through and still deals with now. It doesn’t matter how much we tell him that he’ll find someone who will love him the way he is and that how he carries himself is more important than his height — it’s something that has made him voice thoughts like “I wish I could hit reset on my life and start over with a new body”.  It’s been a month or so since I read E&P, so I can’t recall if Park just wants to be taller and have more masculine features or if he actively wants to be white. The two I feel are different and it’s important which. One is a basic rejection of what he is and another is a very teenage “I wish I were skinnier, had tits, have a lower voice, bigger eyes” thing that I see as a phase that many go through while figuring out how to be comfortable in their own skin.

As Mike Jung says:

I love Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. It moved me tremendously, and there were moments when I was flabbergasted by the existence of a character whose inner life so closely resembled mine, in ways I’d never found in a book before. I’m not mixed-race (although both my children are), but I spent my middle school and high school years as one of the very few Asian kids in an overwhelmingly white community. I was, and in many ways remain, deeply alienated from my Korean ancestry, and I became as thoroughly assimilated into the privileged culture of white suburban America as I probably could have been.I was confused, and I grew more psychologically distanced from my extended family by the day.

My feelings of self-loathing weren’t rooted solely in my disengagement from my racial and ethnic heritage, but they weren’t separate from it either. I think Park is a character with more than a little self-hatred, a deep sense of alienation from his own racial and ethnic roots, and a very compartmentalized, incomplete understanding of himself. And some part of me fell back and sang out in relief that a book had captured those old feelings of mine so truly and so well.

Of course, he also goes on to discuss how his feelings have since become more complex once the racism was pointed out.

I feel, for some, it might be comforting to know that they are not alone in their complicated feelings about themselves. I feel that for some, it might give them some hope that somewhere out there is a person who will love them as much as Eleanor loves Park and find them attractive for what they are, not despite what they are.

I feel that the measure of comfort that might be derived from that is worth the existence of the book. Barring that, I believe that if we say white authors aren’t allowed to write POC characters unless they get it completely right will just continue the trend of having too few books with POC characters rather than helping it. It’s like every author’s debut novel — you do the best you can and after a certain point you need to put it out into the world, learn from it, and then do better next time. And I’m not saying the first ever book you write as an author. I mean the one that’s actually worth publishing and has had more than just your friends and family’s approval.

I’d rather more people tackle POC issues than not. I just would. I believe that slightly damaging perceptions are still better than nothing, especially in this case where I believe the intent is good. Art and the improvement of it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Some might argue that Park’s self-hatred and Eleanor’s exoticising of him reinforces racial stereotypes and feelings of self-inadequacy and might be harmful to kids’s psyches.

I would say, yes, maybe. But then maybe we shouldn’t write novels involving the thought of suicide, depression, anorexia and a whole slew of other things.

No, maybe not entirely the same, but on the other hand, isn’t it?

They’re teenagers. The question of whether we infantalize our children for too long is not something I want to address here. I’m saying that it’s not impossible to imagine teens being that oblivious, that ignorant of the historical context of things (I especially bet most teens now won’t know the historical facts that Laura laid out), to consider their blinding Romeo and Juliet passion as something understandable if not laudable.

I do wish that Park had worked through more of his problems, but to be honest, I believe that Eleanor’s love for him helped. She let him see that he was attractive to her and that was important. Yes, she was othering him the entire time, but I saw that othering as part of the fact that he’s essentially the fairytale prince from another land come to bring light into her life. Which is not great, but if we’re going to allow Prince Charming stories from Disney…

Which, yes, I’ve heard arguments against that too.

But I believe that if our children read broadly and deeply, this isn’t going to damage them. At worst it’s going to be some of the same bullshit we see in media, but then we can’t keep them in a bubble of perfectly rendered input forever.

The only way to work toward perfection is to try and fail and try again.

*throws up a shield against rotten tomatoes*