Tag Archives: Eager Volunteers

Pots

Just a bit of a progress report-y entry this week. As I’ve mentioned a couple times recently, I (relatively) recently finished a complete draft of Heretic Blood, which I hope will become my next book, and have been working away on revisions and edits. It’s going ok, as I continue to get invaluable feedback from the Eager Volunteers, but it’s also true to say that I find editing to be less fun than creating something new (I think most people do) so my brain keeps straying away to what the next project should be.

I have several ideas, which is another kind of challenge. First, I need to keep as on-task as I can editing Heretic Blood so that it’s good enough to try to find a home for. Second, if I’m going to do anything useful on new work, I need to pick one new project and focus on that. Having multiple ideas is certainly not the worst problem to have, but I’ve already learned that trying to write more than one thing at once doesn’t really work for me. So, I’m somewhat waiting to see which idea I end up having some real sustained interest in; that can then become the next new piece of work while I continue making Heretic Blood presentable to the world at large.

I am also in the midst of rereading (after many, many years) the Prydain stories by Lloyd Alexander, and enjoying them a great deal. I had forgotten just how charming they were and I may write about that some other week. However, I’ve also just gotten to the part (in Taran Wanderer) where Taran discovers that a) he really likes making pottery but b) he’s not skilled enough to make a living at it.

From time to time I wonder, as I imagine a lot of creatives might, if I’m in the same sort of position with my writing. I really enjoy but, but maybe I’m not quite good enough for it to ever be more than a hobby. I suppose that a) the jury may still be out but also b) at some point you have to decide how much that matters – is it worth creating the art because you love it, even if it never really becomes much beyond that?

I have my moments of doubt about it all, but I know that when I’m able to get some stillness and put the world away for a while that I decided this long ago. I’m gonna keep making pots.

Thanks for reading.

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Plan?

Revisions are underway for the first draft of Heretic Blood, which I hope will become my third novel. I had one set of notes from an Eager Volunteer already, and have done one editing pass/rewrite based on those, and I’m waiting a bit for others to come in. I will do my own revision as well at some stage but I’m giving myself a little distance from the the thing before I do. Given the mistakes I missed in composing the first draft, I think this is for the best.

While Heretic Blood is on temporary pause, I’ve started the groundwork for what will be the next WIP. Unusually for me, I’ve spent reasonable chunk of time planning without really beginning to write. (Ok, yes, fine, I’ve already written the first and last paragraphs, leaving only all that tricky stuff in between to do.) With the other books, I largely just started writing the bits of the story I had clear in my mind, and worked out how it was all going to fit together, and what the other bits needed to be, as I went along.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m approaching it differently this time. Partly it’s because the story (as I imagine it now) will have a more complex structure than the ones I’ve written before, with flashbacks interwoven with the main narrative. I feel like I need to figure out what all of those are going to be before I start my work.

And that’s really the key thing – I feel like I need to spend some time planning this one. I can’t clearly say why, but it has been very clear to me that I need to hammer some stuff out before I’m ready to write. Perhaps this is because the WIP is a story I began once before, and ditched – I need to understand what I’m changing, and what I’m keeping, and get it relatively straight in my head before I start writing.

The reason I mention it is that, whatever the reason may be why I feel like I need to plan this time before I write, it serves as a really good example of how there is no One True Way to writing a story. I’m doing this one very differently than the last time. I can’t say for sure that it’s going to work equally well (for me), but there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to try it and see. Maybe it’ll be fantastic and I’ll plan from now on. Maybe it somehow is particular to this idea and I’ll never plan again.

The point is you gotta try and see what works for your process. Stuff that works, keep doing. Stuff that doesn’t help you, don’t worry about.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for reading.

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In Praise of Readers

Late last week I sent out another (by which I really mean ‘the second’) chunk of the current WIP to some Eager Volunteers to see what they thought. I’ve been finding the writing hard going of late and I hoped this might help.

It did.

The Volunteers emailed back almost right away, one having read the piece while plagued by insomnia (which is a decision that’s possible to read in a couple ways, but never mind) and sent back their usual thoughtful response, which included some useful criticism, some questions, and some compliments.

On some level the praise is most obviously useful to me in my current situation. Everyone likes a pat on the head and having someone whose opinion I respect say that they’re enjoying what I’m working on will probably always feel good. So that’s a nice shot of positivity to encourage me to keep working away. It also helps to hear that someone wants to learn more about a particular character, or to know what’s going to happen; I guess obviously a writer is always hoping to generate interest and it’s both pleasing and a relief to know that in at least a couple of cases, I’m setting the hook okay.

The criticism is very nearly as useful, though, because concrete areas where the story needs work are better than a sense of generalized unease where I know there are things that aren’t right but not exactly what they are, much less how to fix them. It’s always easier to have something like a bullet list (har) of things that need to be taken care of than a vague idea that Stuff needs to be Fixed. Having people where there’s a strong enough trust that they tell me what they really think, and they know that I really do want to know what they really think, and not just get a pat on the head, is (as I am discovering) both rare and incredibly valuable.

The questions never cease to fascinate me, because the things readers are intrigued by and want to know more about seem always to include things that I never anticipated. I wrote a while ago about how a character in The King in Darkness that I didn’t think anyone would have any particular interest in ended up getting a scene added to the final draft to finish their story, because readers kept asking about it. So it already is with this piece, and what it mostly does is make me happy that what I’m writing can be interpreted and understood in a variety of ways (because if a reader understood it exactly the same way as I do, writing it, they wouldn’t have some of these questions), which is something I always enjoy when I’m reading and very much want to create when I’m writing. It also gives me ideas for things to do next, which is also very valuable.

All of which to say that the responses I get from my Eager Volunteers is a treasure to me as a writer, and makes my task in creating the story so much easier and the final project immeasurably better. I have had a good number of genuinely well-meaning people offer to take on the task and had it not work out (which I completely understand – if nothing else, it’s not easy to devote some of one’s precious store of free time to reading something they may not even like), so that makes the people who are willing to put in the time struggling through a rough-hewn story and then also take the time to share their responses and reactions to it with me a very special breed.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank them once again, because I appreciate what they do more than I can say. Perhaps I’ll pay my debt some day. Thank you very much indeed.

I am also aware that I owe a similar debt to each and every one of my readers, without whom my stories would be silent words on the page and none of my characters, who I love very much, would ever have a chance to live. If you’ve read one of my stories, and thereby given some of my made-up people a home in your imagination, at least for a while, I thank you as well.

It is, of course, a truism that without readers there are really no writers in a meaningful sense, but sometimes it’s the obviously true facts that need to be acknowledged. I’m grateful to everyone who has ever taken the time to read one of my stories; I can think of few better compliments for a writer than ‘I would like to spend some time with your imagination’. I am especially grateful to the readers who let me know what they thought about what they read. A lot of it makes me better, and all of it helps me want to write more. Without writers, people have nothing to read, and without readers, it would be the next thing to impossible to call oneself a writer.

So once again, I thank my readers.

Now to try to do some more of my half of the bargain.

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Spooky Action at a Distance

More feedback continues to come in for Bonhomme Sept-Heures and I’m incredibly grateful to the Eager Volunteers for that – having people willing to read my stuff and help me make it better is a tremendous resource and I’m very fortunate to have them on my side. There’s a lot to think about as always, but some comments in particular kind of stick out.

One Volunteer said that there were a couple of scenes that creeped them out. This reminded me of hearing that a friend of the family read King in Darkness and it gave them nightmares. I know the proper response to this would probably be to say ‘oh I’m sorry’, but somewhere deep inside I always do a little fist pump and thing ‘yesssssss’.

I don’t think this means I’m a sociopath.

What I think it is is that it’s satisfying to know that something I wrote caused a real reaction in someone. Both King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures inhabit a space that’s close to the borders of horror, if they’re not actually inside, so it is a kind of success if people who read them find them scary or disturbing. It’s also neat to know that something I wrote is capable of having an effect on someone who reads it.

I think this is one of the satisfactions of writing, and probably art, in general – you get to express something from inside yourself and have an impact on other people with that. Being able to reach out and touch a reader – wherever they may be – through the words I put together is powerful, in a way, and its also very cool. It’s a kind of connection being formed between my imagination and the imagination of the reader and when I hear that that worked effectively it’s very cool. If I can lead you into creating a scene in your mind well enough that it becomes scary or creepy, that’s pretty fun and it’s cool to think that you and I were, at least for a little, on the same mental wavelength.

I’ve had people tell me that they found something I wrote inspirational, or that it made them laugh, and that feels amazing too. I suppose everyone likes validation, and the it’s extremely validating as a writer to hear that what you wrote had an effect on your reader, even if it’s something as simple as ‘hey, I really enjoyed reading that’. In a lot of ways I don’t think there’s a greater compliment than someone saying they read what I wrote and that it entertained or amused them for a while.

So I don’t think I just like making it hard for people to sleep at night.

Thanks for reading, this blog and other things I write.

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I had a good time at Ottawa Geek Market this past weekend – it was lovely to meet new people and to have some of you who read King in Darkness come by to tell me what you thought of it! There are lots more Renaissance Press events to come through the spring, summer and fall and I’m excited to both return to some venues we did last year and hit up some new ones.

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Getting to Know Them

So: non-goose entry this week I promise.

I am starting to get comments back from the Eager Volunteers on the first chunk of this summer’s project, and one of them sort of stuck out to me. “I can tell you’re still getting to know these characters.” This an example of why my Eager Volunteers are second to none, because that was 100% on the money. I’m not sure I had ever thought about it in exactly that way before, but still, on the money.

I’m still in the opening stages of this project, and so yes, I am still getting to know the characters. Even though there is still editting to be done on The King in Darkness before it comes out, I know all those characters very well, now. I know lots of things about them that will never make it into the story, or (I feel pretty sure) into the further tales I have planned for them. (Already teasing the sequels, ayup) I know their favorite foods, I know their private frustrations, I know how they would vote and I know what they would do in basically any situation now. Alarming as it may look written out, they’re very real people to me at this point, or at least fully-realized.

However, this is a whole new cast of characters and my Eager Volunteer is right, I don’t know them as well yet. I’m still trying to nail down their unique voices and keep them consistent. I have to stop and think about how each of them is likely to react in a situation I’m about to stick them in. Will they be steady as a rock, or flip out? Will they make jokes, or look for a place to hide? Whatever they feel, are they likely to express it or try to hide it? Until all this stuff gets nailed down, things tend to be a bit erratic, and I’m sure not very easy to read. The thing is that I tend to get them nailed down by writing a bunch of stuff and seeing what the characters do. Getting to know them, in other words.

I imagine some authors get these things all worked out before they start writing anything. My characters sort of introduce themselves to me as we go along; I start out basically knowing what the character is about and then the meat gets put on the bones as we take each other through different parts of the story. Having determined one thing about a character often guides me into the next thing. For example, if I’ve figured out that a character has a problem with authority figures, then when it comes time to write a scene where they witness a crime, and the police arrive, I already know that character is probably not going to dash right up to the cop and tell everything they know. They’re probably going to try to get the heck out of there. That scene almost writes itself, based on what I already know about the character. And, if they’re really that suspicious of police (we have decided), maybe they’re more likely to sympathise with the criminal than anything – to look for a reason why they did what they did, rather than condemning the action. That leads me to something maybe I didn’t know about the character before.

It’s probably a very sloppy way to write that necessitates a lot of going back and patching over things to fit later decisions about the character, and I’m sure it is probably frustrating for people reading the manuscript at this stage. I guess I’m always impatient to start writing when I have a story that is exciting me. Probably the Statler and Waldorf thing is a factor as well – I want to start writing before I start convincing myself that the idea is no good. Perhaps that’s a different kind of efficiency, even if I do rework and rewrite maybe more than I would if I did more pre-planning.

Sometimes, letting the characters introduce themselves like this causes me additional problems. The project I’m working on right now is an example of that. I already know that my main character is absolutely not going to want to do what is about to be asked of him. Even in these early stages, with the personality I’ve established for him, there is absolutely no chance that he would freely choose to do the things that he’s going to need to do for the rest of the book. Trying to find a way out of it seems much more likely.

But of course were he to do that, I don’t have a story, or at least not the story that I set out to write. I like to let my characters do their own thing to an extent, but not quite that much of an extent. So the problem (or, more accurately, one of the problems) that I’m trying to unknot right now is how to get him to do these things anyway. (I’m painfully aware that the Reluctant Protagonist is by no means a new thing, by the way, and I am approximately the 1 billionth author to think through this process.)

I don’t immediately have the answer, but I expect it will come. I may cheat by going ahead and writing some scenes with him in the thick of things and letting the character at that later stage explain to me how he got there. I am a big proponent of writing out of order, doing the stuff you feel ready to do and filling in the other bits later. A lot of times what seems like a tough part of the story to write gets greatly simplified by having the later portions already there, in my experience. (It does make things rather more frustrating for Eager Volunteers, though) However I fix it, at the moment, this is a bit of a tough part of the story.

So why not change his character? I mean, I could. Especially at this early stage, it would be relatively easy to tweak him a bit and change him into the sort of guy who would seize the challenge with both hands. It would certainly make my job easier and might work better, narratively.

However, again even at this very early stage, that seems like a kind of betrayal. I don’t know him real well yet, but this is a character with a personality and (for want of a better way of putting it) a way that he is, and changing that just to make my life easier doesn’t seem quite right. For one thing it is kind of admitting a little defeat as a writer – can’t write myself out of this corner – and it does also seem, to me, to be using brute force on a character who was kind enough to emerge out of my imagination and take part in a story I want to tell.

It’s probably very easy to get way too far up my own nether regions with this kind of thing, perhaps I have already. I honestly do know that these characters are not actual real people and that ultimately I am doing all the creating, even though the process may not feel that way all the time. (That may be one of those signs of mental illness that a thing went around on Twitter about a while back. Oh well, not to worry, right?) I’m not really sure what it says about me as a writer or my process of writing that I work through this stuff, but it was interesting to me to think about and so I thought I’d share it.

It all works out in the end, I think, and I do hope that the reality that these characters end up having to me comes across in the finished product. I will look forward to hearing what you all think about that (along with lots of other things) later this year.

Whoa that got long. Enough blog. Time to nail some stuff down.

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