A Work In Progress

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog since I published Tatter and Shine, which was one part me trying to figure out how to wrangle the convention circuit, and one part me getting over the marathon that was Urban Dragon.

I’ve got some new projects in the works, and while I hammer away at that, I’ll be sharing some of my process for creating this new world and the people who live in it, along with some thoughts and insights I’ve picked up along the way.

Improve what works; ditch what doesn’t

For those who don’t know, the Urban Dragon was originally written with the intention of being exclusive to the Kindle Unlimited program (thus the short, serialized format).

According to the tin, KU is supposed to work like Netflix for books: you pay for a subscription and then you’re free to read as many books as you want. Authors aren’t paid by book, but by the number of pages read. The big catch? The book has to be Amazon exclusive.

Once the job of actually publishing fell on me, I thought I’d make it more inclusive by extending my spheres to other digital storefronts, like B&N, Kobo, iTunes, etc. But that hasn’t panned out. To date, around 95% of my sales have been through Amazon, so it no longer makes sense to keep publishing the individual stories through all those channels.

If you’re depending on those channels for your Urban Dragon fix, have no fear: I’ll still be publishing the compilation volumes through iTunes, Kobo, Scribd, et al. You’ll also be able to request the print volumes at your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore starting October 15th.

When to say no

Antigone by Frederic Leighton; file from Wikimedia Commons

Creon: My dear, I woke up one morning and found myself King of Thebes. God knows, there were other things I loved in life more than power.

Antigone: Then you should have said no.

Creon: Yes, I could have done that. Only, I felt that it would have been cowardly. I should have been like a workman who turns down a job that has to be done. So I said yes. 

–From Antigone by Jean Anouilh, translated by Lewis Galantiere

If you’ve never read or watched Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, I recommend it.

The above passage is between Antigone and her uncle Creon– and in this moment, they’re both tragic heroes. Antigone took a stand and refused to be part of a system that was unjust and immoral. Creon saw the same system and took charge in an effort to salvage it, because nobody else would try. In this moment they argue, furious and fiercely at odds, but neither of them are entirely wrong.

Choose your battles

There are some responsibilities we can’t shirk. Some deadlines that absolutely, positively cannot be fudged. And yes, there is a lot of honor in being reliable and faithful and strong.

But there are also times when what’s expected of us is beyond our capabilities. We can certainly try– and we might even succeed– but at the cost of physical and mental health, of family and relationships, and of the moments that we cherish. Often these things are asked of us by people who don’t fully understand our situation, or it’s meant with an unspoken ‘if you get around to it’. But they can be an endless source of stress and anxiety for someone who’s never been taught to say no.

The first step is learning to discern between what absolutely, positively, irrefutably cannot be ignored– and, in contrast, what tasks and responsibilities you can afford to push to the wayside. Because I can promise you, as overwhelming as they seem, they aren’t all do-or-die.

There’s no shame in refusing

Not being able to get through something doesn’t make you stupid, or lazy, or cowardly, or weak– but often we can feel like failures if we refuse a task that’s offered to us.

I know women especially fall victim to this a lot: we feel like we must be rising stars on our chosen career path, we must be perfect wives and perfect mothers, we must keep our homes clean enough to double as the set for a sitcom and decorated with an interior designer’s flair, we must have exciting and vibrant social lives– and we must, of course, do all of that while working out regularly, dressing fashionably, and having perfect hair and makeup no matter what the occasion.  And that’s just talking from my experience as a woman– it’s no picnic to be a guy, either!

And we wonder why anxiety and depression are so common these days.

With all of this weighing on our shoulders, it can be incredibly difficult to refuse anyone anything. But it can also be incredibly liberating– and empowering– to take a step back and reclaim a part of our lives for just ourselves. To do the thing you want to do because you want to do it, and not because somebody else expects it of you. And sometimes, it can be necessary for your mental health.

 

The Editor’s Scalpel

Brief Housekeeping:

Some of you may have noticed a lack of updates this month. Due to school being school, I’ll be changing my schedule to post every other week instead of weekly. 

English: Diamond scalpel
I was seriously considering a photo of a scalpel leaning on a pig’s heart, with a caption about ‘yeah, that’s what it feels like’. Because I love you, here’s a diamond scalpel instead. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my experience editing, I’ve noticed I use two words more than any other: “comma” and “cut”. The former, being one of the most absurdly complicated elements of English grammar, already has a blog post dedicated to it. And then there’s the latter.

A double-edged sword

It’s a writer’s job to explain, to take that vivid picture in your head and use words to paint it in mine. That takes a lot of effort, a lot of detail, and a lot of words. Sometimes, though, those words can clutter the sentences, bog down prose, or otherwise get in the way of the image. We’re left walking a razor’s edge: too many words, and you risk overwriting. Too few, and you risk not being understood.

(That’s the last blade-pun, I promise).

You might notice the problem: it’s very difficult to identify that line in your own writing. After all, you already know what you’re trying to convey. For a matter like this, which is dependent on clarity and reader understanding, I recommend getting a beta editor to look over your manuscript and point out which sections are unclear or overwritten.

What is overwriting?

There’s different varieties, but these are the ones I see most often:

Purple prose — When the writing calls attention to the author instead of the story or characters. Often it comes in the form of waxing poetic at length about… anything, and it typically comes across as the author trying too hard to be fancy. That’s not to say good writing can’t be poetic, but you’ll often get a stronger effect with a single significant detail than with a paragraph-long abstract description.

Needless repetition — Sometimes it’s as subtle as using both a dialogue tag and an action beat for the same section of dialogue. Sometimes it’s characters repeating the same information to one another. Sometimes it’s a word or phrase being reused too frequently in a short space, when one or more of them could be replaced by a synonym. And sometimes it’s the same detail being given in two different ways.

Understood — “He reached down to his belt level, wrapped his hand around the hilt of his sword, tightened his grip, contracted the muscles in his arm and shoulder, pulled the weapon from his scabbard, and raised it into the air in front of him.” Or, once my scalpel has had its say: “He drew his sword.” There are a lot of secondary and tertiary details that readers will assume to be true when they’re given a little bit of context. The biggest offender: “he said, looking at her.” If two people are in a conversation, unless it’s explicitly stated they’re avoiding eye contact, we will always assume they’re looking at one another, because that’s the way people hold conversations (outside of movies and television, of course).

Unnecessary words –– Descriptors can often be trimmed if they’re understood. For example, “He sat down in the chair” can usually be slimmed into “He sat in the chair” (unlike “he sat up in the chair”, which indicates an entirely different action). Similar examples include “stood up” and “woke up“.

These are all things to give you ideas, but like all writing, it’s subjective. In the end it all comes down to whether that word or phrase helps to create a vivid image or emotion in the reader’s mind, or whether it’s just clutter. .

Feeling the strain

“It does not do to dwell in dreams and forget to live.”

–Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

It’s been a rough summer for me. I recently started grad school, and between that, blogging, and the annual Spec Fic Marathon, I’ve ended up getting cloistered inside my office. I’ve gone weeks without seeing anybody besides my husband, and rarely left the house for anything but food and grocery shopping. Sometimes, Boxy got hit hard by work assignments, I’d go a couple of days without seeing him for more than a few minutes, too.

This isn’t healthy.

No matter what your venture, be it writing, school, starting a small business, what have you, isolation isn’t good for it. No matter how much you study theories and abstractions, there is so much to be learned and gained from simply going out and living life. Every time we interact with another human being, we’re picking up new variables, new insights, new perspectives.

And over the last month and a half, I’ve been neglecting to pick those up.

I’ll still be blogging daily until the end of July, but after that point I’ll be slowing down.

Been a bit busy

Pterodactyl got fat. Too many fishies.
Pterodactyl got fat.
Too many fishies.

Hey guys,

This is just a bit of housekeeping to let you know I’m okay and all is well.

This past weekend I went to Starkid’s Twisted (It’s very good, and I highly recommend you watch it once it becomes available). Between wrestling my health and the mountain of homework that’s been steadily piling up, blogging dropped down on my list of priorities. However, I’m still taking part in the 31 Day Blogging Challenge. I’ll try to make up for the days I’ve missed, in true WriMo fashion, and I’ll make an effort to continue blogging daily for the rest of July.

To make up for my absence, here’s an old doodle of an overweight pterodactyl.

31 Day Blogging Challenge

Laptop: check. Snack: check. Dragon: check.
Laptop: check.
Snack: check.
Dragon: check.

In lieu of participating in Camp Nanowrimo this year, I’ll be honing my blogging skills by partaking in Lesa Townsend’s 31 Day Blogging Challenge.

I’ve got a notebook of ideas for blog posts on hand, but I fully expect my posts to get rather eclectic by the end of the month.

But before then, I have a request for all of you, dear readers: Let me know what’s on your mind, what you want to hear about, what’s been bugging you. And if you have a post of your own that could relate (or you saw one on another writing blog), please include a link to let us know about it.

Because you can only learn so much by reading the opinions of a single person, no matter how awesome their hats may be.

Moving to a new host

For the last few years, I’ve been having some trouble with Blogger, which used to host my blog. For the most part it’s been standard stuff– foibles that arose when I tried to change the layout, awkward deviations from the old WYSIWYG format, etc– and I’d been assuming that it had more to do with my own unfamiliarity with coding and web design.

In the past week, however, Blogspot had a bug which prevented me from posting at all, or editing the posts that I had already made. My investigations turned up that  Blogspot’s bug reporting and troubleshooting features weren’t up to the task of reporting the issue, and that not a lot of people had my problem… which meant it was low on the to-do list of issues that needed to be fixed.

Upon further investigation, I found people talking about why they’d chosen not to use Blogspot for their professional blogs. Their logic made sense to me, and their testimonials sounded pretty strong. So I’m relocating to the host they recommended.

My old posts will still be there, and I’ll link to them when relevant, but my new posts will all be here.

In the meantime, please excuse the mess while I get acquainted with the new software.