Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 274)

Interrupting Depression: But being numb feels better than taking care of myself…

I’m struggling with an anxiety/depression cycle (again).  Part of the problem is that when I take care of myself, I feel my anxiety or depression more acutely than I did before I started taking care of myself.

Numbness.  It’s comforting.

I try to tell myself that it takes energy to feel numb, not the deadness of full-blown depression, but just pleasantly numb.  Functional.  And I can’t burn that energy on numbness if I want to interrupt the cycle.

But wouldn’t it be better to just wait the cycle out?  

I never do, though.  I just turn numbness up to eleven and stop taking care of myself.

I see you, depression and anxiety.  My eyes are on you.  And I’m going to take care of myself, whether you like it or not.  I took a shower this morning, bitches…

Like this post?  Then do me a favor and check out Alice’s Adventures in Underland, a short historical fantasy novel about Alice Liddel and Charles Dodgson, gentleman zombie.

Current Book Study Process: Scraping the meat off fictional bones

I’m running a study project for a writing group; I thought I’d note down my current study process here, too:

  • Pick the right book, by a long-term pro in the field.  15+ years of writing a book a year, a book that’s less than 10 years old (and push back the 15+ years if the book is older than this year), and a current bestseller.
  • Type in the book description from Amazon.  Look at the sales categories (horror, sf, romance, etc.), the bio, and the author sales categories.  Look at the reviews, including editorial, top, most recent, and one-star reviews.  Look at the cover–look at the author’s other covers, the other series covers, the author’s other covers in that genre.  Look at the other covers in the author’s sales categories.  Do all the things line up, providing a clear, appealing, consistent message?
  • Type in the first section, at least 1000 words, to get a feel for the author’s style.
  • For each section, identify:
    • POV character
    • Setting
    • Opening (before the main action of the story) and length
    • What does the main character try to accomplish, a.k.a. the “try”? (And is the main character the same as the POV character?)
    • Does the character fail? Does the character succeed?  If they succeed, how does this make things worse?
    • Closing (how the chapter wraps up).
    • How long is the whole section?
  • If you get stuck, type the section in.
  • Watch for scene transitions inside of sections; you might need to break down each scene or each beat in a section in order to answer all the questions in depth.
  • As you realize that you have an issue with any one element of a story, go back and type that element in across the book.  Have trouble pacing action scenes?  Type them in.  Dialog clunky?  Type some in.  Not sure how to handle dialog tags?  Type them in.  But don’t just type in the isolated element–type in that entire section, because stuff that doesn’t look relevant always is.  (Secret:  long-term professional writers don’t waste words.)
  • If any element of the book is tricky, you can go back to your notes and put them in a grid–a grid showing POVs is often useful in multiple-POV fantasy novels, for example.  Timelines in a multiple-timeline novel.  Clues vs. red herrings in a mystery.  Characters’ emotional states in a romance.  But first do the study:  it’s easy, when making grids like this, to impose your theories on another author’s book.  The more you type things in, the more likely you are to get at what the author said, rather than your theory.
  • Do at least one modern book that fits the rules above.  Then spread out with other writers who maybe aren’t as experienced, or books from the past.  You should be able to identify some of the differences, which might not be what you’d expect.

It’s harder than you’d think, but more rewarding, too.

If you liked this post, well, you’re a nerd, and I’m glad to have you.  Please check out the rest of this blog, which is where most of my truly nerdy stuff goes…and maybe take a look at this fabulous book bundle that I’m in, The SF/F Binge Reader’s Bundle.  I’m in The Faerie Summer Bundle.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Binge Reader Bundle

Curated by Kris Rusch, the Science Fiction and Fantasy binge reader bundle provides 19 novels and umpteen short stories by the likes of Kris, Anthea Sharp, Thomas K. Carpenter, Dayle Dermatis, and more. I have a novella in there–By Dawn’s Bloody Light: A Fairy’s Tale.  

As Kris says:

What kind of fiction will you find here? Science fiction and fantasy only, but written in such a way as to blur the lines of genre. You’ll find books in which high-tech gaming meets the world of faerie, books which hack reality (and involve crime lords!), time travel to the Old West, wreck diving in space, space pirates (!), librarian witches (complete with feline familiars), and the Fates—who just got fired.

For a limited time only 🙂

Big rocks, little rocks: When metaphor becomes a waste of time

Here’s the deal.  I’m overwhelmed with stuff.  Part of me wants to just charge in:  the sooner I get started on the mountain of tasks that I (always) have in front of me, the better.

…But the problem isn’t that I have “a mountain of tasks,” it’s that I think of them as a literal mountain of physical objects–rocks, dirt, something–that have to be dealt with as if they have literal, solid existence.  The big rocks, little rocks metaphor is the least efficient way to deal with a mountain of tasks–not least of which because it leaves out the amount of work it takes to a) sort out the rocks, and b) put them in the damn container.  To be able to schedule a day, a real day, the way that’s suggested by that model would take more than the amount of time during a real day–even if you only schedule two or three things and “let the rest fall into place.”

Because that’s not how it works.  Things don’t fall into place.  You get done with one project, look around, and have to change gears.  And deal with anything new that comes up.  And adapt to changes.  And reprioritize based on information you didn’t have earlier, including your own personal exhaustion level.

The mountain of tasks are not literal rocks.  The most efficient way to get rid of them is to decide not to do them.

Buh bye.

And that takes thought.  Which is why rushing in and working my hardest never does any long-term good.

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Denver Botanic Gardens

dragonflies, spider silk
green ripples on black water
below the mirror–goldfish
the undersides of branches
shimmer. a bird calls desperately
–across the pond, a woman
plays a mating call off her phone.
dragonfly plays copyeditor
over the shadows dancing
on my page

…It was a good day.  I also saw a bonsai tree shaped like a dragon’s claw (it was a pine tree, so not having some kind of main stem was odd and rather ugly).  I watched it for a while and decided it was flipping the world off and rather resentful of being stuck in the pot.



Cookie Butter Cookies

The last time I went to Trader Joe’s, I found myself standing in front of a display of cookie butter cookies.  These are like recursive cookies. I wonder if they’re any good.

A woman reached past my shoulder to grab a box, as you do at Trader Joe’s, because Trader Joe’s is all about catering to people who just want that one thing, whatever it is, that they want and can’t really get anywhere else.  I go to Trader Joe’s for the palak paneer frozen dinners; they’re cheaper, spicier, and taste better than you can get anywhere else.  I get like five at a time.

“Are those any good?” I asked the woman.

“Yes, they’re wonderful! I just got a box here last week because I was curious and,” she laughed kind of giddily, “I’m back already!”

“Thanks, I was wondering.  The fates must have brought you here,” I joked.

“Oh, good!” she said, with disturbing sincerity, and walked off, teenaged son in tow.  He was looking at me strangely.  I couldn’t blame him.

Got ’em home, opened up the box and bag inside, and…

The filling shouldn’t have surprised me but it did.

It didn’t taste like anything.  It wasn’t sweeter than the surrounding cookie or anything, either.  Just the same, only greasier.

I sat down this morning and ate some while I was journaling, trying to work out how I wanted to approach a story that’s going to come due soon, and ate like four of them.  Damned recursive cookies, the most useless things ever.  Why not just buy a cookie with no filling?  I wish I’d picked the ones with Nutella instead.  Why would anyone want to eat this stuff? Go out of their way to get this, and no other thing?  There were entire jars of just cookie butter for sale.  An entire display of it.  Voila…cookie butter!

I bet Trader Joe’s knows more about more people’s secret dreams and desires than any of us would like to admit.



Writing: Do It For Your Inner Two-Year-Old

You know how for some people, it’s easier to do something if it’s for someone else’s sake, not your own?  I’m that way about writer stuff.  If I weren’t doing it in order to accomplish the writing dream, I wouldn’t do it because:

  • I don’t deserve it (I may have mentioned I have self-confidence issues),
  • and I hate moving out of my comfort zone.

It’s almost like my dream to be a writer belongs to an entirely different person.  I want to say it’s the writer I am becoming–but it’s probably really for my inner two-year-old.

Right, I massively screwed up some promotions stuff for this book, so I’m gonna keep harping on it for a bit:  My new cheesy ’80s horror novelette is out!  The start of a series.  The next book is written already even!  Three woman go after a supernatural serial killer, looking for bloody, vicious revenge… By Dawn’s Bloody Light.  

Pantsing: Reading from the Book of Books

So “plotting” is the current writer term for “I write a plot outline before I write a book.”  “Pantsing” is the current writer term for “I write a book without writing a plot outline beforehand (in other words, by the seat of my pants.)”

Plotters seem to feel that pantsers are cheating somehow.  “Just admit it!  You’re really plotting! You’re using a mental template and just filling in the blanks as you write!”

But no.  Pantsers aren’t filling in blanks on a Madlib template.

They’re using a book inside their head, but…it’s not just one book or one template. It’s a book of books, a fuzzy sum total of every book they’ve ever read (and especially every book they’ve ever studied).  Every book outline that they’ve ever personally encountered plus every possible book outline that could be worked out using the book outlines that they’ve ever encountered is there, at least in potential.  Some writers have bigger books of books than others; some writers have clearer known pathways (and essentially writing the same book over and over).  One’s skill in using the book of books varies.

The process isn’t about filling in the blanks, but calling back to the book of books in their heads and saying, “What’s the most fun thing that could possibly happen next?”

My new cheesy ’80s horror novelette is out!  The start of a series.  The next book is written already even!  Three woman go after a supernatural serial killer, looking for bloody, vicious revenge… By Dawn’s Bloody Light.  


Don’t Wanna: Dealing with Editorial Changes

Here’s the thing about editorial changes:

If you could have done it right the first time, you would have.

This is hard for editors to understand; I know, because I’ve taken the same attitude toward my editorial clients that my ghostwriting clients have taken toward me:

But it’s not that big of a change…just try it before you get all melodramatic, FFS!

But if the writer could have done it right the first time, they would have.  Edits require changing your mind.  Not just “oh, I suppose I’ll have the club sandwich instead of the hamburger.”  But going in, hacking how you think, and coming back as someone slightly different.

In a lot of cases, that’s a good thing.  But a) it’s a big deal, and b) how do we know when the edits that people are asking for aren’t just complete b.s. until it’s too late? When it comes to writing, what is “right,” anyway?

What kind of information does the writer need in order to be convinced to change their mind?

I have a new novella out!  The first entry in the cheesy ’80s horror-fae series is up:  By Dawn’s Bloody Light.  Three women go on a hunt for a supernatural serial killer, assisted by a supernatural presence that may have been haunting the town for generations…

You’re Only One Bad Assumption away from an Elegant Plot Twist

Some plots are simple.  Plots based on a Joseph Campbell structure are simple.  Each step follows directly from the last.  “Once upon a time, there was a dude who was wrong about something.  He went on an epic journey to teach him humility, which made him right—and being right made him strong.”  There is one bad assumption (the one that made the main character wrong in the first place and that started the story off).  Most romances are based on this structure.  “Once upon a time, there was a chick who was wrong above love, who loved a guy who was also wrong about love.  After they ate their pride about each other, they were also able to resolve the other problems in their lives, and they lived happily ever after, the end.”

Other plots are complex.  The ones that are too complex die a lonely, unread death; there are too many bad assumptions on the characters’ part for the readers’ minds to sort through.  The ones that survive have something to tie them together—theme, a single family across generations, a single war, a single setting.  In the case of Ulysses, a single day (which is structured as if it were Homer’s Odyssey, both of which serve to ground us).

Others have twists that reverse the characters’ fortunes with one or even multiple bad assumptions, usually one right after the other,30 so we’re on the edges of our seats.  (Dean Koontz’s Intensity.)

A few plots are elegant.  They produce the illusion of complexity while using one, and only one, bad assumption, which is carried out in multiple ways, on multiple levels.  Not only are the characters misled—but we are caught in the same types of traps as the characters, often because of our assumptions about stories themselves.  (Les Diaboliques—The Sixth Sense—Fight Club—Murder on the Orient Express.)

I’m going to be at Denver ComicCon today, talking about The Best Plot Twists Ever!  WHEEEEEE!!!!

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