Month: May 2014

What to write next?

Writer housekeeping post!

I’ve been looking at some big-picture stuff over the last few days. This involved sorting through my Goodreads books and tallying up what I read. Because it did.  Because what I think is my sweet spot for reading/writing probably isn’t what I think it is.

This came up in a discussion with Annie MacFarlane, sort of.  She was (as usual) hounding me for not being commerical enough.  She is unabashedly commercial, so she’s kind of biased.  But then she said something that stuck with me.

“De, I want you to be like Susanne Collins.  She wrote some other stuff before she got popular.”

She said it better and more earnestly than I can report here.  It cracked me up.  But then I got to thinking about it:  Scott Westerfield?  Wrote some really weird stuff for adults before he hit on the Uglies series.  JK Rowling?  Didn’t start out writing Harry Potter.  (When you think of all the classic crime writers who started out writing lurid dime novels, it’s kind of funny.)  And so on.

Maybe what I think as my niche isn’t really my niche, you know?  Thus Goodreads, because I’ve been tracking all my books there for several years now.

Here’s what I got

1) I read a LOT of freakin’ graphic novels. But I’ve never written one. My drawing skills just aren’t up to that level, but clearly I should at least try writing one. SO! If you are an artist and wants someone to write you a graphic novel on the dirt cheap, contact me. Will work with your idea or provide one, short length preferred at this point.

2) I also read a LOT of historical romance novels. I have one where I wrote myself into a corner…I may just need to abandon that one and try something else. I have a contemporary comedic romance that needs editing but is merry and sweet and fun. I should get that done.

3) Clearly I am being pulled toward crime (as a genre). I’ve read a lot of Hard Case Crimes lately, and a ton of Westlake/Stark. I’ve been writing some, too, but for a middle-grade ghostwriting project–very nearly thrillerish stuff, 25K and more plot than anyone but Patterson could shake a stick at. I really like doing it, too.  Caper, caper, caper.

4) If I don’t include graphic novels, I haven’t read a lot of SF/F/H lately. If I do include graphic novels, I’ve read a lot of SF/F/H lately. The fiction runs to: epic fantasy (including grimdark), YA fantasy (both high and contemporary), and horror (and more weird fiction than I expected).  My trend of not reading a lot of SF really is there.

5) I snarf up good swashbuckling whenever I can get it, and when I reread something, it’s either Terry Pratchett or swash.  This includes middle grade, YA, and adult swash.

6) I want to write pulp with a fantasy adventure flavor.  I don’t really read it, though, and my pulp novel has officially kicked my ass.  Maybe I get to try something else instead of beating my head in over it.

Which leads me to think:

a) Leaving out the whole graphic novel business, I should write a fast-paced swashbuckling romantic historic fantasy novel centered around a crime or caper, instead of short horror/dark fantasy stories.  Scott Lynch and Stephen Brust have already done that.  I have met the Buddha.  Now I must kill the Buddha.  En garde!  Sure would help if I could fence.

b) I have a SF serial that was over my head that I started and should look at again.

c) I need to get that romantic comedy out.  As well as a bunch of other things.  Le sigh…

d) I think I like horror more than I do?  Horror and noir stand out beautifully in my mind, but they aren’t my day-to-day reading.  I think of horror as my “literary treasure” genre, I think.  Maybe it’s just what I’ve been reading, though, which is a lot of short stories that are these perfect little gems…

e) To me, swashbuckling isn’t just pirates and swords: it’s a devil-may-care attitude with a headlong adventure, and a political antagonist that can only be defeated by trickery and sharp objects.  Could be western swash, could be crime swash.  All good.

e’) I think that’s why I’m currently stalled out on Arrow.  I like it, I love the characters and the writing, but I’m still in Season 1, and…I was hoping for more swash.  The devil-may-care, where is it?  Even the playboy son of the bad guy is trying to settle down.  I’ll get back to it, but I really hope someone tells me that increased levels of swash will be provided sooner rather than later.

f) As Ray gets older…I wonder if I’ll lose middle grade as a genre.  I hope not.

At any rate, I need to let it gel for a while before I start brainstorming ideas.  There has been a viewing of The Princess Bride lately, and that could be skewing things.  Also, I have a ton of current projects that need to get OUT THE DOOR before I should start something new.

Let’s see how long that lasts…

Subconscious: “But I could be skewering people.”

Me: “True…”

 

 

The Subconscious & Writers’ Block

So lately I’ve been rambling a lot about my subconscious.  A lot of the time, I feel like my inner life is stronger than my outer, self-aware one.  If you’ve read Sandman, it’s like Delirium driving the car while Matthew the Raven screams “Drive on the right!  Drive on the riiiiiight!”

Lately, my subconscious has been jerking me around with what I can and cannot read.  Can read:  All the Donald Westlake.  And Hard Case Crime novels.  Can’t read:  Charles Dickens.  And a lot of other writers whom I won’t mention, in case someone tries to patiently explain to me how wonderful they are.  Okay, one example.  Liz Williams.  She writes Asian-themed SF.  I can’t read her.  I recognize that the opening of Snake Agent is a thing to be appreciated.  But right now?  I don’t get to read it.  I have dozens of authors like that, I start to read, and every paragraph I find myself mysteriously doing something else, like the dishes.

Another example:  I have a music box on my desk.  It’s a cheesy unicorn statuette that play Camelot or something.  I usually don’t even notice it’s there.  Every time I see it, I think, “That’s is so cheesy.  I should think about taking that to Goodwill someday.”  And then I don’t see it for a couple of weeks.  My subconscious, that is, my inner two-year-old, likes that cheesy statuette.  It doesn’t want me, my conscious, to do anything to it.  So it edits it out of my reality.  I can still see it, especially if I glance at it out of the corner of my eye, but the thing has a Somebody Else’s Problem* field on it, and most of the time it’s just gone.

But the relevant item here is that, through writing morning pages/journaling and other techniques, I’ve realized that it’s pretty pointless to fight my subconscious.  It is going to accomplish what it sets out to do.  All I can do is get it to drive on the right, so to speak. Mostly.

The benefit is that the more power I invest in listening to my subconscious, the more I’m surprised by what I write.  Maybe not surprised by the general outline of the stories, because I’ve observed patterns on how subconscious likes to see stories go, but in the fine details.

Also?  I don’t get writers’ block.  I just don’t.

I have days where I don’t write because I am doing something else, or that I write something completely different, or that I’m not supposed to be writing, and that’s what I do anyway, is write.  But mostly I just sit down and write.

Because I don’t screw with the inner two-year-old.

I don’t tell it that it can’t do what it wants to do.  If it is bound and determined to try something, I let it.  If it wants to abandon a project, I may or may not let it – but I don’t force it forward.  I go exploring and journal about why I don’t want to finish something, and I find out what I, Mamma Consciousness, can do to take care of that reason.  Sometimes it’s because I need a writing technique I don’t have yet – I’ll go study that technique.  Sometimes it’s because I’m afraid of people’s reactions – I’ll walk myself through the worst-case scenario and how to handle it.  Sometimes it’s because it feels wrong – I’ll back up a couple of paragraphs or a page or two, delete, and ramp up at it from a different direction.  But sometimes it’s because I’m forcing myself to do something to make someone else happy.  And then I’ll just let it go.

I don’t yell at myself not to write fan fiction.

I don’t yell at myself to write something saleable.

I don’t have a hissy fit at myself over grammar and spelling–the underliney things on Word are turned off.

I listen to music, or I don’t, or I listen to the same song over and over again.

I change the routine to fit what the day needs.

When I’m depressed or anxious, I take care of that.

I monitor my physical needs and take care of those.

If I make plans and then get bored with them, buh-bye plans.

Now, if I were the kind of writer who didn’t crank out a ton of words, this wouldn’t work.  And of course YMMV.  For example, some people are motivated by deadlines.  I am both motivated and undermined by deadlines–so I try not to get close to them, because when they hit, I’m so anxious that it’s hard to write at the top of my game.  And usually avoiding work means that I’ve put myself in a situation where my conscious self says I must do something, and my subconscious self says I can’t, and I have to stop and think about that anyway.

My subconscious is the boss.  I don’t like it.  I actually tried to not write that sentence several times before I let myself write it. But that’s what needed to be written, and I wasn’t going to get to write anything else until it was done.  I’m like the secretary.  I can try to keep the boss on schedule, but sometimes it’s a struggle.

So.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re suffering from some serious writers’ block–you might want to stop forcing yourself to do things, and instead do what it is that you want to do, whether it makes sense or not.  It’s taken me a while to sort this out, but as I stopped forcing and started letting, writing started to get easier.  I still have to provide some structure–and I still have to put Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard–but I don’t dread sitting down to write.

Because I know, I mean, I really know, that it’s going to be fun.

 

*Douglas Adams, from the Hitchhiker’s series.  The SEP field doesn’t make things invisible; it just makes it highly unlikely that anyone would ever want to look at them.

Clothing Manifesto

I just turned forty.

It’s freeing.

As in, “I don’t have to put up with ______, I’m forty now.”

So here it is, my no-guilt, I’m-forty-now clothing manifesto:

  • Clothing that looks crappy on me is crappy clothing.
  • There is nothing wrong with my body.  There is something wrong with deliberately making clothes that do not flatter.
  • Any clothing that prevents, restricts, or discourges functionality is crappy clothing.
  • Clothing that hampers my functionality does not “look good.”  It looks like sexism.
  • I do not need to look “feminine” to look good.  “Feminine” means lacking muscle tone, lacking freedom of movement, providing easy access to stuff we generally don’t want handled in public, and often providing lots of floppy cloth/jewelry bits that are easy to grab on to in case I need to get the hell out of a situation in a hurry.
  • I don’t need to be uncomfortable in order to look good.
  • Clothing is a language, and I don’t have to censor myself if I don’t feel like it.
  • Mirrors at clothing stores are warped and have the crappiest of all possible lighting.  They are not there to make you feel good about yourself.  They are there to keep you addicted to chasing the shopping experience, which will somehow “fix” you, even though it’s deliberately designed to make you feel bad about yourself.
  • It is not a point of pride to be able to run/fight in high heels, tight skirts, corsets, etc.; it is Stockholm syndrome.  And my ass looks mighty fine without five-inch stilettos, thank you very much.
  • That being said:  if you want to wear heels and corsets and whatnot, that’s your lookout.  Because I will back your choices up.  Unless you start giving me crap about mine.
  • I will not, conversely, hassle other people to back up my clothing choices.  There is no need for me to get anyone’s approval but my own, whether or not it makes my ass look fat.  Compliment me if you like, but I didn’t dress this way to make anyone but yours truly happy.

Pants that automatically give anyone who isn’t a stick a muffin top.  Pants and boots that don’t leave enough room for our calves.  Fake pockets.  Skintight pants that don’t stretch, so we can’t bend over.  Dresses that constrict freedom of movement.  Heels that require immaculate balance and posture while screwing up our tendons and giving us corns.  Thin “dress” clothing in winter.  Purses designed to give us health problems as well as carry around solutions to every other person’s possible problems.  Sleeves that bind if we have any arm muscles.   I mean, any.  Shirts so short that they automatically bare our midriffs if we do anything other than walk or sit.  Shoes that pinch our feet to make them look more narrow and pointed at the end.  Shoes that pinch our heels so the shoes don’t fall off.  Shoes with no traction on the soles.  Shirts cut so that we can’t have shoulders, arm muscles, or bosoms.  “Large” sizes that are smaller than “women’s” sizes.  Models with no muscle tone.  Itchy fabric, especially lace edging on bras to make them look more “feminine.”  Bras that have no appreciable relationship with the size stated on the band.  And so on.  Take a look at any given piece of women’s clothing.  Does it say, “Looking good for other people is more important than your comfort.  Be weaker.  Be smaller.  Be slower and easier to catch/beat up/rape/steal shit from”?

More than likely, yes.  Which is why I’m forty and and have to make a manifesto saying, “I get to wear clothes that don’t put me at a physical disadvantage in any given situation.”  Because the default is otherwise.

 —

Oy!  It’s exhausting writing good content all the time.  Subsidize my nap and chocolate addiction by checking out my latest release, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts.  It’s a story about Alice and the gentleman zombie who tries to help her overcome the Victorian mores she’s surrounded and trapped by.  You can read the first episode for free.

Writer Process Blog Tour

Thank you to Lana Williams for inviting me to join this blog tour on writing process.  HER blog post or this tour is here, at LoveHistoricals.com.  Lana is a consummate historical romance writer, and her blog posts are always a crackup of weird historical facts.  Her latest is a Victorian romance called Unraveling Secrets.

As for me…

1.  What am I working on?

I have a couple of ghostwriting projects I can’t say much about, other than that one’s a middle-grade and another’s a YA.

But because I have to write my own fiction from time to time, I’m also working on a pulp dystopian novel called The Sirens of Titan about a man who suspects he may have destroyed the world before he lost his memories…and who may have to do it again.  There are Nazis, alternate dimensions, trees out to destroy what little remains of civilization, weird paranormal powers, and extraterrestial nanotechnology that threatens to invade the Amazon jungle.  Because I said so.

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I feel like a lot of SF/F/H has become fairly rigid, with SF in one box and F in another, and H in a more gelatinous third (horror seems to cross genres more easily than either of the other two).  I wanted to write something just for the pure fun of it:  recklessly over the top.  Ironically, it turns out that writing recklessly over the top pulp fiction is much, much harder than writing within a box, and this is probably my sixth major restart of trying to write Sirens.

Otherwise, most of what I write is set apart by my focus on issues of bullying (in my kids’ middle-grade fiction, under my pen name De Kenyon) and on disparities of power (in my adult fiction, under my own name, DeAnna Knippling).  Lately I’ve been dwelling on the issue of how we invest our belief, and what happens when we hand over our personal strengths in the name of the greater good.

3.  Why do I write what I do?

The simple answer is that I was bullied as a kid, and was able to save myself from even worse damage by finding answers in books:  I want to write books that help people find answers to the same kinds of questions I had.  We don’t have to be corralled into the same boxes that our parents and families were.  We do have to accept personal responsibility for our strengths–we can’t just live as victims, even though taking on agency for our own lives makes things far more complicated.  We can forgive; we can fight to keep a cycle of violence from recurring, for example, by observing how calling ourselves weak makes us act in horrible ways toward others.  We can choose not to get caught up in other people’s cycles of hatred and violence.

Of course, a lot of the time I do this by throwing the reader right into the middle of those cycles.  I’m not a gentle writer.

4.  How does your writing process work?

Usually I sit down and figure out what’s been on my mind a lot lately, then start brainstorming.  I try not to go with the first thing that crosses my mind, which is difficult sometimes.  Then I start writing.  Lately I’ve been drifting away from my long-standing outlining fetish.  I find it pretty interesting to see where my imagination takes me.  I’ve overanalyzed pretty much any given aspect of stories for a long time, so it’s refreshing to just let go of all that.  Sometimes it means I end up making extra work for myself, but I’ve accepted that risk.

5.  Who’s next?

Please join Becky Clark:  She writes funny novels.  Her new cozy mystery is BANANA BAMBOOZLE, in which drunken Cassidy Dunne sees a girl she’s convinced is her niece.  Problem is, her niece has been dead for fourteen years.  Sit back, relax, and drink in this cocktail of fun!

My latest release is Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts, a serial set in a Victorian London in which the zombies have been civilized…mostly.  It’s a historical dark fantasy about a little girl trapped in her society, and the man who tried to give her the key for getting the better of it.

Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts #4

Now available at Amazon, Barnes & NobleSmashwords, and Kobo, with Apple not yet up.

Ep #1: blogAmazonB&NKoboSmashwordsGumroadApple, and more.  Free at the blog, Kobo, and Smashwords links; the others will follow.

Ep #2: AmazonB&NSmashwordsGumroadAppleKobo, and more.

Ep #3: AmazonSmashwordsGumroad, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and more. AliceBook1Part4_Cover_mini

But Mr. Dodgson did not answer; perhaps, Alice thought, because some feelings were too scattered to be packed neatly together into a single word, and ought to be left as a kind of shambles.

With the invention of a serum that prevents most people infected with the zombie sickness from becoming raving cannibals, Victorian society finds itself in need of more standards:  to separate the infected from the whole, to  control when and how the infected can come into contact with the pure, to establish legal contracts, precedence, employment, and more, with regards to the walking dead.

The very backbone of the British Empire is its standards.

The middle daughter of the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford, Alice Liddell, finds a certain lack of charm in the standards she must follow, with increasing strictness, day after day.  Wild and rebellious, she battles her father’s cold discipline, her mother’s striving to hide her middle-class origins, and the hollow madness of the world around her, in which the teetering Empire desperately pretends that nothing is, in fact, the matter.

Enter Mr. Charles Dodgson:  one of the chaste Dons of Oxford, married to his mathematics.  He charms Alice and her sisters, often taking them on walks and boat rides (chaperoned, of course), and telling them jokes and stories.  He is twenty-four when he first meets them.

And he is dead.

Turned in a tragic accident at Rugby, Charles uses the serum to keep him from the ordinary sort of madness that affects zombies.

But it doesn’t affect the elegant madness of his brain.

And one day, as he sees Alice struggle against the chains that constrict her, chains so similar to his own…

…one of his playful stories becomes something more.

Episode #4:

The story continues.  Mr. Dodgson, under the watchful yet ignorant eye of his friend, Mr. Duckworth, shreds society as a kind of madhouse.  Alice begins to suspect that this Underland lies all around her…

I ask you to kindly take a look at Episode 1 if you’re interested (it’s free, except on Amazon and B&N, because that would be too easy.  [Glares at her distributors]).

Update:  Ah!  In case you’re curious, the picture shows Edith, Lorina (Ina), and Alice, as taken by Charles Dodgson in 1859.

Coming soon…

AliceBook1Part4_Cover_mini

But Mr. Dodgson did not answer; perhaps, Alice thought, because some feelings were too scattered to be packed neatly together into a single word,
and ought to be left as a kind of shambles.

Yep.  Finally getting back on track.

 

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