Saturday, April 30, 2011

Where were YOU 11 years ago?

Okay, so Will and Kate are married. Can we talk about something else? This girl had the right idea:
Forever infamous Grace Van Cutsem. She was "over it" before "over it" was cool.
No, I'm not knocking everyone's favorite couple. I'm half Brit, myself (my dad has the accent to prove it), so I'm genetically inclined to be impressed by the royal family. Plus, I can't help myself: Will and Kate are COOL. Wasn't her dress gorgeous? What a sweet couple of kisses, huh? :)

But enough about them. Let's talk about me. The day before the Wedding of the Century, I celebrated my 11th Wedding Anniversary. (Yes, I got married in the year 2000 so that I would never need math to figure out how long I'd been married. Don't you wish you'd been that smart?)

Anyway, this was me and my hubby way back then:
We did this so much, his uncle gave us some lip balm at the luncheon.
Absolutely no little girls made faces in our pictures.
Isn't he handsome? His hair has never been long enough to part, since.

In honor of my anniversary, I thought I'd share with everyone the secrets of a long and happy 11-year (and counting) marriage. If your name is Will or Kate, feel free to emulate our example in your own marriage. The rest of you, just keep muddling along on your own. Nothing else to see here....

  1. Our Rule #1 has always been "No Sleeping on the Couch." While the spirit of this law (don't go to sleep angry) has been kept, there have been many nights when I've had to wander out of the bedroom to rouse my sleeping husband at 3:00 am, so he can join me in bed. More, "sleeping apart" has happened a lot more than we'd like, with hunting season and various professional conferences taking their toll on our nights together. Still, this is a very good guideline to have. You should never be just roommates with the one you love.
  2. No veto power. Jerry has lots of friends who call him lucky because I "let" him do so many things. He's on ski patrol, he goes hunting and fishing, he goes out shooting guns and playing lumberjack. Remarkable freedom for an old married man, yes? For my part, I got to drag an Idaho boy out of Idaho for FOUR LONG YEARS so I could finish my education in the BIG CITY of Provo, Utah (poor thing barely survived) and I still regularly ignore him to read, to write, to blog, and to travel to conferences where I sometimes forget to call home (oops). Why do we let each other do these things? Because we have no choice. (Oh, yeah, and because it makes the other one happy, blah, blah, blah.) I don't get to dictate to Jerry what he's allowed to do. He doesn't get to dictate to me what I'm allowed to do. We take care of our family duties as a team, but we accommodate each other when outside interests take us away. We aren't jealous of each other's time.
  3. Be the Grown-Up. The first two won't work unless you act older than two. Have a little confidence in the one you married. Don't get your feel-bads all in a twist over the little things that go wrong. Take your love for granted--by which I mean accept it as a constant, and not to stop nurturing it--and don't keep checking to make sure it's still there. Paranoia is not attractive. Do the things that make your spouse happy without keeping score (except on the super-secret scoreboard you've hidden under the bed and will never EVER bring up in conversation).
  4. Forgive, forgive, forgive, and APOLOGIZE FIRST. After every fight, remember this rule: the winner of the fight is the one who apologizes first. The one who can calm down the fastest. The one who can figure out what the heck the other one was saying and realize that he/she had a good point. (A wrong point, perhaps, but certainly understandable.) Once you pull your head out, it's a race to see who can ferret out all the things you personally said that might possibly have been exaggerations, euphemisms, or outright excrement. Once you've figured that out, apologize for your part in the mess. Realize that it would never have become a mess if you'd been just a bit more #3. Then forgive your spouse (and yourself) for not being more #3. Winner gets make-up... um... you know.
  5. Nothing separates you. Kids don't sleep in your bed. They don't sit between you at church (yes, it's possible to keep them quiet if you have long enough arms). Mom and dad's places at the table are right next to each other, and damn the location of the head and foot. Watching a family movie? Mom and dad sit together. Don't underestimate the value of physical proximity to help your bodies and minds remember who your other half is. Support each other in everything--especially against children, in-laws, and random catty neighbors. Even if you agree with whoever is saying bad things about your spouse, you FIGHT FOR THEM. You defend them against all comers. The only one allowed to put your spouse down is you. In the privacy of your own home. Right before you do #4. If you're ever tempted to complain about your spouse, don't. Not to your mom or to your best friend. As supportive as they can be, those third partiers could hold a grudge against your spouse for the awful, awful things s/he did long after you've done #3 and #4, gotten back to #1, and remembered that you're in love. And that you have very good reasons to be so.
I'm sure there's a lot more, but my big bully of a husband is forcing me to bed (this blog will post automatically at 8 am, but my kids will wake up automatically at 7 am. In seven hours.) before he goes out on a walk to try to get his hip to settle for the night. Hopefully, he'll find his way to bed eventually....

Anyone want to help add to the list?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Entangled Plots (or why I'm not a pantser, either)

There are two basic schools of writing: outliners and pantsers. Outliners strategize, plan out every move like an elaborate game of chess, and finally, when everything is perfect, write the book. Whenever I think about writing an outline, I hit the same block the Oracle did in The Matrix: I can't see past the decisions I don't understand. If I don't know why my MC would choose the boy I want her to choose, I can't make her do it--and I certainly don't know what she might do next! And I can't know why she'd choose him until I know what he says to her. And I don't know what he says to her until I see what else is happening in the scene! (And around we go.)

But then, when I try "discovery writing" or "pantsing," I run into dead-ends.

Ever play Entanglement? It's a very fun game with all sorts of parallels to writing. Parallels I've been dwelling on lately, instead of, you know, writing.

The object of the game is to lay out tiles so that the little red path gets as tangled as possible... without running into any walls. Sounds familiar, right? When I first started, I would spin each tile, examining carefully all the best options for maximum entanglement, make my choice, and move on to the next one. I wasn't very good at it. Then, one day I decided to stop thinking about it and randomly selected the path I would choose. Best. Score. Ever. Ever since, I do that a lot--just let the tiles fall as they may. It's a lot faster and, really, it's rather amusing to see the developing pattern lay itself out.

But then we get this problem:

There is literally nowhere to go from here. There is no way to get back to all those lovely blank tiles on the other side of the board. My score is excellent for the first half (as excellent as I get, anyway), but suddenly my game is over. Whatever I choose next will end it for me.

This is exactly what happens when I try to pants a novel. I'm writing along, enjoying the story, watching as my clever characters become more and more real... then BAM. Wall. There is no way forward without backtracking, deleting several recalcitrant character traits, and trying things another way (sadly, there is no UNDO option in Entanglement).

So I combine the two. I set benchmarks. I drive my characters toward those benchmarks, but I let them take their own way. If they like to wander too far off the path, they get a partial lobotomy, we backtrack, and we try it again. I don't let my characters take over, but if I don't understand them, I can't write them. Frustrating but true.

So what's your process?


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Winner! Winners! and Tag

I'm an impatient person, so I'm cutting right to the chase: the winner of Tuesday's cross-blog contest with Michelle Davidson Argyle... and the random.org-generated winner of her e-book CINDERS... is...

Donna Weaver!!

Congrats, Donna! I have already given your email address to Michelle, so expect to get that soon. (Seriously, when  random.org gave me a #1 for the random number, I stared at it for a while. You call #1 random? Guess the system works, huh?)


What's even better (for me, anyway) is that Donna gave me The Versatile Blogger Award waaay back on January 31st. Since I'd just accepted an award from her, I figured I'd put off accepting this one for a little bit, so I didn't have to repeat the same list of bloggers (and facts about me) I'd just posted. Then, well, you know what happened. I forgot.



Then, this week, Laura Josephsen gave me a similar award, The Versatile Blogger. Pretty cool, huh?

Both of these awards require a list of 7 things about me. And for me to identify 15 bloggers who also deserve the award.  And to contact the people I give them to and let them know I gave them the award. And for me to link back to the people who gave them to me.

I'm going to address each in the reverse order.


Links to Donna and Laura are above. :)

As for contacting the winners: Hey! Winners! Come get your award! (Pick whichever one you like best.)

For the list of winners, if you will direct your attention to the list of blogs on the left side of your screen, you will see the blogs I frequent the most. If you're a frequent commenter on my blog, chances are that your blog is over there. (I follow people with excellent taste in blogs, and put them in my blogroll so I know when you post. All the stalkers are doing it.) If it isn't, comment again. Frequently. :) (Isn't that a fun word to say? Frequent: a great combination of Free, Freak, and Quaint. Depending on your accent.) Those blogs are all winners. I haven't counted them, but I suspect there are fewer than 30. In that case, if you want to win both awards... congrats!

Finally, 7 things about me. (I'm also combining this with Anita Howard's game of Tag, because listing personal facts should always have more than 2 rewards):

  1. My middle name is Michelle, and my maiden name is Ambrose. When I got married (like my big sister before me), I kept both, but I don't hyphenate. I just have two middle names, now, which creates endless confusion when filling out forms that only want one middle initial. I usually go with Robin M. Weeks. Sorry, maiden name.
  2. I have three sons, aged (currently) 10, 7, and 5. Their names start with D, C, and B, respectively, and are all two-syllable names. If we were to ever have another boy, we would give him a two-syllable A name.
  3. I want a girl. Actually, I've ordered twin girls next, since I want two daughters and only really want to be pregnant one more time. For many, many reasons, I am insanely jealous of Shannon Hale. My husband is against having any more kids, but if I ever get my wish, the little darlings will be named after my two grandmothers and my mother and mother-in-law. Since my mom and MIL have very similar names, they'll have to be the middle names: Letha Lynette and Kathleen Yvette. Now aren't those the best twin names ever?
  4. I swore I would never marry a cowboy. (What is WITH the belt buckles, anyway?) My husband stopped riding bulls because his shoulders wouldn't take it anymore. He's now the SAH parent, which is the job I want. If I sell my book for a bunch of money, I'm buying him a ranch, then he can work and I can take care of the kids and write. *Sigh* At least we'll have cute baby animals one season a year.
  5. I am the second-oldest of six children. I have one older sister, two younger sisters, and, right at the end, two brothers. My brothers got really interesting after I left for college.
  6. Other than myself, my whole family lives within an hour drive of each other. Only two of my siblings have been to my house, which is a 4-hour drive from my family. My parents have been here three times in the almost seven years I've lived here, all for major life events. The Ambrose family has no gypsy blood AT ALL. (No, I'm not bitter.)
  7. My husband's siblings all live 3-5 hours away from their parents, who still manage to see them all once a month or more. Oh, yeah. The Weeks family likes to DRIVE. I'm an Ambrose, so I don't like to drive. I read or write, while my husband drives. If I'm driving by myself (and I'll be on the road longer than the 5 minutes it takes to get to work), I get a book-on-tape, er, -CD.
Okay, now it's your turn! Either you just won an award or you've been tagged (though playing is optional, sadly). Go list seven things about you on your blog and leave a comment telling me you've done it, so I can come learn about you! If you don't want to play, you can still comment. :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Selfless Self-Interest: The Benefits of Mutual Support

In the interest of Mutual Support, today is my very first guest blog! Also, my very first blog exchange! ALSO, my very first blog give-away. A red-letter day, fer sure.

Blogging for me today is Michelle Davidson Argyle, who is the author of the e-book CINDERS and the upcoming MONARCH, which will be released on September 15, 2011.

I will be blogging over at Michelle's blog today--after you read her post, head on over and read me there!

In honor of our topic, Michelle will be giving away one free copy of her ebook CINDERS. Instructions for entering our awesome contest are at the bottom of the post.

Heeeere's Michelle!

You Give, I Give!

When I first started writing, I didn’t blog. I didn’t connect with people online, and I certainly didn’t know many other writers. I thought writers were all hermits, holed away in their houses typing away so they could ship off big envelopes stuffed with their manuscripts to their publisher. I had no idea that a few years later I would be asking other writers for advice and handing them my novels to read. Little did I know that conversing with authors would become a daily activity.

When I self-published Cinders, I was shocked by how many other authors stepped forward to help me promote the book. Many read the book and did reviews and passed on the news to other friends who weren’t online. The book would not have been such a success without everyone’s help. Now that’s all happening again with my novel, Monarch. I have lists of readers willing to help out. I’m floored. I’m honored, and I want to give back.

Get that?

I want to give back.

See, that’s what happens when you help other writers. They’ll help you when your turn comes around.

I’m already giving back where I can. Starting next month I’ll be offering one free manuscript, short story, or query (your preference) critique every two months to those who enter the drawing. All you have to do is subscribe to my mailing list. If you’re subscribed, details about that will go out soon. I don’t believe in helping only those you’re good friends with because, honestly, lots of people who helped me out with Cinders are people I don’t know very well. Writers in general are nice and open and willing to give back wherever they can.

Here's a few things I've learned...

Writing does not have to be lonely. It shouldn’t be. Good writers live. They interact. So make sure you’re interacting in real life, online, wherever.

Good writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Every single writer I’ve ever met shares their stuff with someone, even if it’s only one other person. We seem to have a need to share, to get feedback. Don’t ignore that. Let others help you. Just keep it in perspective and realize that YOU are the one that makes the final decisions. Be in charge, but let others help you.

You’d be surprised what you can get if you JUST ASK. I’ve had writers ask me how to find beta readers or critique partners or blurbs for their books or reviewers. You ask. Simple as that. Some people might ignore you and not even answer your email - the really busy ones. They’re the ones you don’t want to be talking to anyway. There is always time to answer an email, even if it’s a polite no.

Connect to those like you, but don’t turn your back to everyone else. That’s self-explanatory. I don’t write straight YA fiction, but I certainly interact with a lot of YA writers because they rock. It’s amazing how many of them help me out, too, no matter what genre I’m writing.

Be genuine in everything. Period. People can tell, and when you honestly want to help out, it will come back two-fold right when you need it.

Thank you to Robin for hosting me here today!


Isn't she great? Don't you want to read her book? Watch this trailer, and you'll REALLY want to:



You want to read it, right?

Okay, to win a copy of CINDERS, here's what you do:

  • Comment below AND on my post at Michelle's blog to qualify (one point for commenting on both)
  • You get extra points for tweeting, blogging, or Facebooking about the contest--one for each mention, and you must include what you did in one of your comments
  • Contest ends midnight on Thursday
  • Check back on one of our blogs on Saturday for the winner

And that's it! Obviously, we'd love for you to follow both blogs, as well, but Michelle didn't want it to be a requirement. She wants people to follow because they want to! :)

So what do you do to contribute to the writing community?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Anticlimax (or why dodge ball is more fun when you get HIT)

So I've finally started pulling out of my romance reading binge. (Thank you, thank you, hold your applause.) One thing that helped? At the bottom of the stack were two books that, well, just didn't measure up. One was by an author I'd never read. One was by an author I've loved in the past (not Robyn Carr or Susan Elizabeth Phillips or Jennifer Crusie--those ladies would never do this). The woman can write... but this one fell flat for me.

No, I'm not telling you the names of the books or of the authors. I'm not writing a book blog--and even if I were, it's my blog, so I get to censor myself as much as I like. :)

The new author's book isn't really worth critiquing. It was full of so many newbie mistakes it can stand as a primer on what not to do. Yes, I took notes. No, I didn't finish it. Let's move on.

The more mystifying mistake was from the experienced author. I read one of her books once, loved it, forgot I'd read it, picked it up again, and, even after I recognized it, could not put it down. It was amazingly good. I recommend it to any romance lover. (Or, I would, if I was going to tell you who the author is. Which I'm not.) I've read a lot of her books, in fact, and loved them, too. This one, not so much. The beginning and middle were fine, but the ending.... Oh, the ending.

The problem was a series of anticlimaxes. None of the set-up conflicts ever actually exploded. Every one of them fizzled upon detonation:
  1. The heroine of the story had a doozy of a secret. The kind of secret that would make any normal prospective husband turn tail and run. When she told the hero about the secret, I braced myself for... something. Maybe he would take some time to think about it, while she felt horrible and wondered if she'd lost him forever. Maybe he would renounce her, expose her secret and then have to make it up to her later (of course there'd be a later: this is romance). Maybe he'd just quietly turn away, apologize, and wish her a happy life before realizing later that he couldn't live without her. What happened was, well, none of the above. He immediately embraced her, asked a few clarifying questions, then promptly declared his undying devotion. Whew. Dodged that one. That's a... relief.
  2. The hero had a rival who, through a bit of detective work, discovered the heroine's secret. When he proposed and she turned him down (already in love with the hero), I braced myself for his revenge, which would, of course, be terrible. He'd been set up as a bit of a controlling boor, who dreamed of possessing her (secret and all) and restricting her freedom. He took her rejection philosophically, then calmly told her that he knew her secret and detailed the steps he'd be willing to take to protect his wife from such a horrible past. Again, I braced myself for the heroine to make a horrible mistake. Will she accept his proposal to keep him quiet? Turns out, no, she turned him down again and went directly to the hero to enlist his help. Smart girl. Good dodge.
  3. Hero and Heroine then promptly went to confess her secret to her father. Heroine is worried that he'll be angry with her for keeping it from him for so long or that he'll be angry with her stepmother for helping her conceal such a thing from him. He's upset. He's sad that she didn't trust him. He takes some time to himself to go throw things around, just to vent his frustration. Then he forgives her without reservation. Yay. Happy, happy day. So glad everything is turning out so well.
  4. Of course, I'm still worried about the rival, who knows her secret and can ruin her with it. In the next scene with him, we find him on the road, traveling away from her house, contemplating the perplexing result of his proposal. Upon reflection, he decides that he was awfully rude, and turns around to return... and apologize. Yanno, just in case she took offense. Her stepmother stops him on the road, asks him his intentions, and he's shocked that she'd ever suspect that he'd even think of taking revenge. He reveals that some of his plans to protect the heroine are already, disastrously, in motion, and that, even if she doesn't marry him, he'd never violate her trust. Sigh.
  5. Worried about his plans? Don't be. Turn the page, and you find Heroine's father discovering that the plans actually weren't accomplished. All is well. Yippee.
  6. Then, of course, Hero must tell his family--including his overbearing, demanding father--that he's marrying such a tainted woman. That goes surprisingly well. Hero is actually a bit shocked. Personally, I'm beyond surprise.
  7. Hero must then ascend to his grandmother, whose approval is essential to preserving Heroine's popularity. He's nervous. (He obviously hasn't been paying attention.) Grandma already knows the secret (of course) and, after about 30 seconds, gives her wholehearted blessing. Aren't we happy? Why aren't we happy?
If you stopped reading halfway through the list, you're wiser than I am. I kept waiting for some conflict to mess things up for them, just as everything was going so well. It never happened.

Ever watch a game of dodge ball? Can you imagine a game of dodge ball where every ball that is thrown is dodged? Both teams throw and throw and throw, then skillfully jump, duck, and dodge every last ball. Nothing is caught, no one gets "out," and the score is deadlocked at zero.

Can you imagine anything more boring? How much of that do you think you'd sit through? Five minutes? For five minutes, you'd probably just be impressed, right? What skill! Ten minutes? Might start getting a bit boring. You'd start looking for the magnets and wondering if it was actually a holograph. After fifteen minutes, you'd be wanting to tie every last player to a pole so you could pelt them yourself, right?

In dodge ball, as in fiction, the entertainment value is found in the balls that hit home. The more painful it is, the more we like watching it. Player takes one in the face? We groan... smiling. Player's feet are knocked out from under him, causing a spectacular mid-air cartwheel before he goes crashing to the floor? We grimace as we cheer. Tension isn't found in a full set of invincible teams, but in the winnowing of them, as one team dwindles, its players nursing bruises on the sidelines.

Fiction is no different. No one wants to read a book where everything goes right. We want the conflict to be so strong, we wonder how the characters will ever get out of the mess they're in. We want the hits coming so hard and fast we wince while we frantically turn the pages, ignoring children, husbands, and burning dinners on the stove as we wait to see how it all turns out. Until the very, very end, we want to be kept on our toes, heart pounding, sure that, this time, good won't win. The underdog won't triumph. The couple won't get their happily ever after.

Until, miraculously, it does. They do. The team with one person left standing manages to beat the score of uber-athletes on the other team. The hero launches a Herculean, adrenaline-fueled effort, just as all is lost, and triumphs. Just as her love is about to marry someone else, the heroine bursts into the chapel. Evil is slain, just as it seemed at its strongest.

Victory must be snatched from the jaws of defeat. (Some cliches are true--just don't use them in your novel.) If it is handed over on a silver platter, we won't value it: we care very little for easy victories. We want easy in real life--fiction is for hard fantasies.

Sadly, even though I know this, it's hard to actually do it. If the awesome author mentioned above can slip up like that, I think I need to go over my ending a few more times, just to make sure my MC actually has to fight for her victories.

What do you do to make sure your climax isn't anti-?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Process (or, why I suck at outlines)

Once upon a time I decided to write a book. I'd taken some creative writing classes in college, and I'd read thousands of books, so I had the basic idea down. I got out my computer, opened to a fresh document, and started typing.

That project was a bust. I stopped, thought of a new idea and started writing again.

That project was only marginally better. It got trunked, too.

Then I got this GREAT idea. SOO much better than the others. I devised a magic system. I built characters, backstory, and genealogies. I started right at the beginning of the conflict and off I went. My MC cried 5 times in the first three chapters. She was a total wimp. Still, the basic idea still seemed workable, so I did some tinkering and kept writing. It was amusing. It was fun to write.

At the end of chapter 4, I had no idea where to go from there. I'd written myself into a corner and couldn't get out. Just what did I want this book to be about, anyway?

So I tried outlining. Epic. Fail. How the heck was I supposed to know what happened next before I saw what my characters did with the last disaster I threw their way? Fuggedabout the WHOLE PLOT. Outlining was clearly not for me.

Then I read this great book by Evan Marshall called The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. I made it my bible, developed an elaborate spreadsheet (yay spreadsheets!) and was finally moving forward. If you haven't read it, I recommend it. Now, I didn't follow the whole Plan in detail (sorry Evan). I filled out the section sheets in my spreadsheet, but I didn't go through the whole book before writing the first word. My favorite part about the Plan was the system of benchmarks--you set several benchmarks and drive your characters toward them. It totally worked. Still, even with the major plot benchmarks, I could never actually plan more than 2-3 sections ahead of where I was. If I tried, I ended up changing most of them when my characters refused to do the ridiculous things I was requiring of them (you would, too).

So that's how I got through the first draft of my very first WIP, but I keep hearing about these outline things. So many people swear by them. I do love organization....

In steps Aprilynne Pike, #1 NYT Bestselling author of WINGS, SPELLS, and the upcoming ILLUSIONS. I first met Aprilynne at LDStorymakers 2010, where she served as my bootcamp instructor. (Oh, yeah. I'm cool.) She absolutely murdered my chapters with her red pen, gave me tons of great advice on how to tighten everything, and was generally invaluable. Also completely funny, down-to-earth, with a dry wit and wonderful imagination--which shows in her books.

Aprilynne will be joining me on David Farland's Authors' Advisory tomorrow night, Wednesday, April 13, 2011, at 9:00 PM EDT. She will be telling us how to Outline. (Also, we might try to pry some details on ILLUSIONS out of her....) Please bring your outlining questions (I know you have them) and join the call. See the Authors' Advisory blog for call-in details. Talk to you then!

I have 50 Followers!!

Just thought I'd mention. I know 50 isn't much, but I had to celebrate anyway. Thanks to you all for your support! I'll have to think up a cool contest or give-away. Ideas?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Embracing My Obsession

I do not write romances. I write urban fantasy with a romantic subplot. A small sub-plot. Life is about more than love, folks, and I want to write about things that are more important than two teenagers finding their soul-mates in high school, dang it. Like, um, teenagers solving crime. That's more important than love, right? And discovering themselves. I'm sure THAT's more important than love. Self-identity is very important. How can you be true to yourself if you don't know who you are? Right?

Right?

So here's the thing. During my recent reading famine, while I worked very hard on my editing, I finally learned to read books in snippets. No more did I need to devour the whole book--no matter the genre--with single-minded obsession, turning pages as if the turning itself was the accomplishment of an important life goal. Instead, I was living my own life. Writing my own book. I learned to be more selective--if a book hadn't gut-hooked me by page 50, and I found myself able to put it down for days at a time, I no longer force myself to finish it. I simply stop reading.

And then, as inevitably happens after any period of self-deprivation, came the binge. I simply cannot get by without books. It's time I accept that. So, for the last week, while I try to get over my lingering cold, I've been reading like a starving woman in a grocery store. I went to the library, got the books that sounded the absolute best, took them home, and have been reading, reading, reading. It has been very nice. Very cathartic.

Only, I have not been reading urban fantasy. I have not been reading stories of people finding themselves or of solving crime, though those have often been subplots.

I have been reading (don't judge) ROMANCES.

I can't get enough. I am obsessed. I can't put them down long enough to even think of editing my own little urban fantasy. I eat less at dinner (which is good for my weight) so I can leave the table and get back to reading. I stay up late (which is NOT good for my health) trying to get to the next chapter before my husband flips the breaker on my light. (And when he does, I'll just read by the light of my cell phone.) I surf the net less and Twitter less because, let's face it, the books I'm reading are not streaming on Twitter.

Here's the thing about romances: there are no surprises. Not really. By the end of the second chapter, you know how the book will end. Which guy will fall in love with which girl. The genre demands the HEA (Happily Ever After) and the authors (wonderful, wonderful authors) deliver. Over and over again. Browse your library's romance section, pick up a book at random, read the first paragraph of the first chapter, then the first paragraph of the second chapter, and most often, you'll know who is going to marry whom.

And. I. Love it.

I love the feeling of happy inevitability. The joy of being right (even on such a simple question).  The sweet pain of watching a couple who absolutely have to get together suffer as they deny their feelings, or wonder about the other one's feelings, or miscommunicate and make wrong assumptions that drive them apart even as they both pine away for each other. *Swoon*

And here I am, NOT writing romances. Relegating my romantic subplot to the smallest portion of the text I can shoe-horn it into. I'm so dumb.

I'm not saying that I'm going to start writing romances. Not ROMANCE romances. I'm not sure I'd be able to focus a whole plot on boy-meets-girl right now. I need more plot elements to play with, and I really do enjoy the other aspects of the urban fantasy genre. But I'm going try to honor my obsession. I'm going to edit my WIP to insert more romantic pain. I want my readers to know that my MC should be with that boy and be waiting with baited breath for his next scene. To swoon when they kiss. To feel strangely complete when she is with him and discontented when she is not. To feel personally betrayed during that scene where everything she thinks she knows about him turns out to be wrong. (Duh.)

Maybe, if I have more romance in my WIP, I'll finally be able to wrench my attention away from other people's romances and focus on my own. #headdesk #headdesk #headdesk

What about you? Are you writing the books you most like to read? Do you have a secret reading habit you try to deny? Which elements should you be using more in your own WIP?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dreary Deneoument (or, how to stop Falling Action from falling flat)

When I was finishing the first draft of my WIP, I was on a deadline (self-imposed)--I wanted to finish it by the end of the month. Thus, predictably, the ending got a bit... scrunched.

The second draft, I was trying to finish it by the end of that month so I could submit it to my writer's group for March. Thus (oh! a pattern!) the ending remained scrunched.

It wasn't horrible (well, it was: not burn-the-book horrible--just throw-it-across-the-room horrible), but it sure wasn't GOOD.

For draft #3, I'm starting at the end (yay! watch me learn!). I'm paying attention to what my group was confused by, what they thought made no sense, and I'm inserting a whole scene that explains a few things my characters were too busy running around to explain before.

And now I'm wondering if it's a bit anticlimactic.

I'm sending it to my group in a day or so to get their semi-professional opinions (one of my group members --Jenn Johansson--just got an agent, so now we're all semi-professional), but in the meantime, I'm looking at published books I love to see if they have any "let's talk about this" stuff--and how much--after the main conflict is over. Join me?

**Spoiler Warnings--I'm talking about the endings, here, folks. If you haven't read these books (and you want to!) stop reading now.***

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
 By page 364, the sword fight is over, the main bad guys are dead, Ani has her identity back, and most of the good guys are triumphant. Yay! They discuss the carnage.

By the end of page 369, Conrad has appeared with the treacherous lady-in-waiting in tow and she has been dispatched. Now we just have to wrap up the romance and the war.

On page 372, Ani attends the "war" counsel and has an animated discussion with the prime minister, who really, REALLY wants to go kill something already. No one dies, but this probably counts as conflict. Plus, I love her speech: "It would be suicide for Kildenree to war on Bayern and butchery for Bayern to attack Kildenree."

Between page 375 and 380, Ani and Geric work things out between them, sitting on the stairs in the kitchen. Love this part, too, because I love romance. Wrapping up the romantic subplot is a Good Thing.

Page 380-383 are probably the true denoument. The forest-born get their own 100-band, javelins, and shields; Ani meets some of her subjects as their future queen; and everything wraps up nicely.

Stats:
Action falls for 19 pages
Lots of non-conflict stuff (sleeping, getting dressed, chatting casually)
In my opinion: I never got bored. Love it all.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
By the end of 295, the conflict is over, Quirrell/Voldemort is gone, and Harry has been saved. He wakes up in the hospital and has a chat with Dumbledore. Their chat continues while Dumbledore explains many of the perplexing mysteries of the book (through page 301).

301-304: Harry recaps things with his friends, still in the hospital.

304-307: End of term feast, with house championship announced--the conflict with the Slytherins wraps up nicely.

307-309: (The denoument) exam marks come in, they travel home.

Stats:
Action falls for 14 pages.
Lots of chatting, resting, and eating of earwax-flavored jelly beans
In my opinion, even the conversation with Dumbledore didn't feel like an infodump because, let's face it, Dumbledore is an awesome character. I could listen to him talk all day.

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
(My copy of Twilight went home with a teenie bopper and never came back.)

The violence ends and the Volturi leave on page 579--but this book is really about Bella's choice between Edward and Jacob (such as it was--Jacob never had a chance) and that is finally settled when she figures out she loves them both, still chooses Edward, and leaves Jacob's broken self behind on page 604.

605-620: Bella cries in Edward's arms, they tell Alice she can plan the wedding, Bella decides not to sleep with Edward before the wedding. Depending on where you count the loose ends as tied up, all of this could be denouement--or only the last page, after Bella gets out the bucket of cold water

621-629: Jacob's epilogue. I'm not counting epilogues--this one is clearly a set-up for Breaking Dawn.

Stats:
Action falls for 15 pages (from the breaking of Jacob's heart through the end of Bella's POV)
Bella mourns, sleeps, chats with her dad, Edward, etc, makes decisions about her established relationship with Edward.
I enjoy everything Stephenie writes, so I'm biased, but I think this went well for the story. I would have been upset if the sex issue was left hanging, so it was nice to have it resolved like that. Ditto on letting Alice plan the wedding. Bella needed time to mourn, too, so that time wasn't wasted, and she needed time to reassure Edward that he was really better for her. Not bored.

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
The last bad guy dies on page 608. The good guys get healed, Sarene and Raoden get married (during which the groom ponders on the various magical systems in the world). The romantic subplot is all done by 612.

613-615: they bury those who died in the final battle. Love the final line: "Let it be said that after all else, Hrathen, gyorn of Shu-Dereth, was not our enemy. He was our savior." Lovely circular reference. This is the denoument.

Stats:
Action falls for 7 pages (but the text is awfully tight--I have the small paperback version)
Enough doesn't happen that Raoden has time to get bored and ponder on things. There's a lot of getting dressed, assembling, and climbing out of carriages.
My opinion: well, of course I love it. This is Brandon Sanderson. He can make a grocery list interesting. Still, the business wasn't horrible, and helped wrap up the book very nicely. Sarene and Raoden had to get married--and what else is he supposed to think about? Also, nice set up for what will hopefully be another few books in this world.

Now let's compare my own:
Draft 1: (don't ask)
Draft 2: Action fell for 2.2 pages. Romance got resolved with a snap of my fingers, and the loose ends were largely ignored.
Draft 3: Action is now falling for 13 pages. During that time, my characters get in an argument about whether important information will be shared, and the love interest is able to demonstrate his, um, interest. Maybe I'll take another two pages and let the two talk to each other.

Conclusions:

  • Endings don't have to end immediately--they can take a chapter or two after the last hurrah to wrap up loose ends and provide a sense of closure.
  • Falling action is a good place to resolve some of the more minor subplots (like romance, provided you're not writing a Romance)
  • Falling action doesn't mean no conflict--just that the conflict isn't going to get bigger than the climax. Ani stopped a war during falling action, Harry triumphed over Slytherine, and Bella made lots of tough life choices.
Have I missed anything? What do you do to make sure your falling action doesn't fall flat?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I'm a Writer (but don't tell anyone)

A week or so ago, I realized it was probably time to get a more professional email address. It's not like my old email address was embarrassing--it just wasn't my name. And it included my birthyear. And made reference to my day-job. None of which seemed to scream "serious writer here."

So, I decided to get a new gmail account. But robinweeks was taken. As was rweeks, weeks.robin, and a host of others. I didn't want a numbered email account, like robinweeks8757: I'm an original, dangit! I also didn’t want to include my middle initials (Weeks is my married name—I kept my middle name and my maiden name, but I don’t hyphenate), because I’m not including them in my pen name, and figured it would be confusing.

Fortunately, robinweekswriter was available! Yay! Perfect! Professional, screams "serious writer here," includes my name, and has no numbers. I'm set. I snapped it up, retrieved all the email from my old account, and started loving the tags and filters of gmail (seriously--so cool!). I changed my email address on Twitter and Facebook and all the other various organizations that email me. I considered keeping my old email address for non-writerly friends and family... but my old email won't forward mail unless I pay them money. Snag.

I considered just maintaining and checking two separate email accounts... but I’m really loving those tags and filters. How can I live without being able to see all the emails my mother sent me with just a click of a button?

So, with a sigh, I decided to just send everyone to the gmail address… and hit another snag. I don’t want to tell everyone to start emailing me at robinweekswriter. My high school friends? My siblings? My cousins? Extended family galore? They know I’m not a writer. Not a real, published one, anyway. To them, I’m a lawyer. And I am—and I’m not at all ashamed of that. Or of my quest to be a published novelist. But…to tell them to start calling me a writer right now seems… presumptuous.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m happy to call myself a writer. Plenty of actual published author-writers have proclaimed that anyone who writes is a writer, and I write, so I’m happy to own the title. Among writer friends. Who know what I’m talking about. Who understand that I’m not putting on airs or trying to predict the future (in the same way robinweekslotterywinner would do) or making a very premature announcement.

Anyway, I'm a bit ashamed to confess that I went and got another gmail account that makes no reference to any occupation and plan to start handing out that one to my friends and family. The neutral account will then obligingly forward all my mail to my secret identity account. Which I just announced to the score of people who read my blog, and to untold hundreds who may someday stumble upon it. No spam, please: I know how to filter you out!

Anyone else have this paranoia? Do you maintain separate email accounts for your non-writer friends? Feel like your writer life is your little secret? Should I find a support group somewhere?