Things I’m learning from my first foray into serial fiction.

I posted a little while ago about DinoLand, my sci-fi novel which will be serialized, starting this Sunday, over at Geek Eccentric.

photo credit: Scott Kinmartin via photopin cc

photo credit: Scott Kinmartin via photopin cc

Well, it’s almost dinosaur time and I’m as nervous as an attorney staring down a T-Rex in the rain. Since this is a brand new  process for me, I thought I’d write a little bit about what I’ve been learning so far.  Here are some of my first take-aways:

 Starting out with a lot of material doesn’t necessarily mean you have less work to do.

I started this project with more than 200 pages of DinoLand, written over a period of two or three National Novel Writing Months, including a ridiculous amount of backstory. When I started importing all that into Scrivener, I realized that unless I write a prequel, I’m not going to use all of this material. Also, the work that I am using needed several rounds of edits. So while I have six months of DinoLand written and outlined, months 3 through 6 still need edits and work. (Chapter 2, for April, is already edited and turned in to the artist.) Speaking of which…

Working with an artist is an incredible experience. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by that.

Working with Max Farinato has been my favorite part of the DinoLand project so far. It’s amazing to watch his sketches develop, and even more amazing is the way I’ve seen the world I invented taking shape in his art. Every time Max sends me a sketch, I gush uncontrollably about how much I love his work, which is true, but maybe not helpful to him.
There should be some sort of guideline for working with an illustrator, because I suspect that I haven’t been easy to work with. For example, I probably should have sent him rough ideas of what my principal characters look like so that the art and my prose will match. I forget that I haven’t described everyone on page one of chapter one. I should probably also ask more often what he needs from me to make his job easier.

Oh my god. The comment section. Oh my god, the comment section.

Despite the fact that I’ve been blogging for a long time, it has somehow just occurred to me that people will be able to comment directly after reading my chapter. It’s not like I haven’t gotten comments on fiction before — short pieces of mine have been published in journals with comment sections — but I think of novels as something that are put out to the public as a whole. If a novel receives criticism, it’s in the form of a review on another site, not in a comment section. So despite the fact that I consider myself a Big Damn Progressive Child of the Internet, I’ve still been thinking about fiction and novels in a very old-fashioned way.

And lastly, Does serial fiction work differently from a novel? I’m not sure.

While comment sections are relatively new, serial fiction is not. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two years reading novels that were originally published as serial fiction: Anna Karenina, The Count of Montecristo, Bleak House, Great Expectations. I don’t know if anything was changed before they were compiled into novels, but it seems to me that there has to be some repetition if a novel is released serially. If you’re releasing a chapter every week or month, you need to remind your readers of certain things that they can’t just flip back and check if they’re holding the book in their hands. Of course, now we have links – I can just link chapter two to chapter one – it’s the one thing I can do that Dickens could not, Still, every chapter should be able to stand alone, right? That way, if someone stumbles on chapter three before reading one and two, the reader won’t be totally lost. How do comic writers do this? How do television writers do this? Am I overthinking this? I might be overthinking this.

Those are my thoughts so far, at least until Sunday, when the fictional dinosaurs stampede out of the gate at Geek Eccentric. I’m sure I’ll have more to say then.

Writing while pregnant

pregnancy, writing

That’s no moon.

At eight months pregnant, I’m a little nervous about my writing career. Mostly because writing while pregnant has not been easy for me. In fact, it’s been really difficult.

I’ve held off on writing this post because of the inevitable comments of those who will say things like “You think <insert activity> is hard now. What until you have <an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager, etc.>” but then I realized that those one-uppers will always rear their heads, no matter how old my child is or what stage of life I’m in.

So screw it. I’m writing this now, because I wish I’d known it earlier and maybe someone else needs to read it: writing while pregnant has been a struggle for me. I truly hope that other writers don’t have as rough a time with it as I have, but just in case another pregnant writer is out there, reading this and beating herself up for her lack of productivity, let me say this to you: You’re not alone, lady.

I’ve always assumed I could write no matter what. In fact, I figured that if I ever did get pregnant, I’d go into literary nesting mode, write daily and finish churning out my novel and probably other projects as well. I thought I’d be super-creative.

That didn’t exactly happen. Every pregnancy is different, but a host of physical symptoms kept me from my desk: fatigue, nausea, pain, and now, in the last weeks of my pregnancy, an inability to get myself or my laptop comfortably positioned long enough to write a meaningful sentence. Seriously. I need a floaty Minority Report keyboard and maybe some anti-gravity for an hour or so a day.

The strangest side-effect for me as a writer was probably this: my brain hasn’t worked in quite the same way for the past 30-something weeks.

Let me try to explain what I mean by this: I can do my paid job without a problem. I can edit and revise, and I can outline and organize my projects, and I can even write articles. The problem is creativity:  sitting down to make art became all of a sudden, extremely difficult. (They don’t list that under symptoms in What to Expect When You’re Expecting.)

This is new to me, because I’ve never had trouble being creative. I was the kid who spent second grade staring outside the window daydreaming, and I’ve been the writer who can’t always knuckle down because she’s always distracted by new ideas. My new lack of creativity was a big, unpleasant surprise. Creativity became work, and I started to beat myself up about it: What’s wrong with me that I can’t produce 500 words a day? Why is everything I write awful?

Now that I’ve been living with this change for a while, I do wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself about it — I imagine that any person who undergoes any major physical shift, like injury or illness or chronic pain or a huge lifestyle shift — must go through similar issues. Our brain chemistry is delicate; any change can cause a shift in how we experience life.

It took me months to figure out how to work around the issue effectively, but eventually, (and later in my pregnancy than I like) I started to repeat something I’d heard from Nalini Jones, an MFA teacher I once had a workshop with: “If you can’t create, you can work.”

So now I’m editing a backlog of old work, both for my novel and for my new serial fiction project. I’m also forcing myself to write a little bit of a flash-fiction every week, because I’ve discovered that I can still be creative — it’s just hard now, the way that math was hard for me in grade school. I need to build that muscle just in case things don’t immediately improve when the baby is born.

And I take naps when my schedule allows. I still feel guilty about it, but I do it anyhow.

One of my novels is being published as serial fiction! (And there are dinosaurs.)

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

I have some pretty awesome publishing news. Are you ready? Get ready.

Geek Eccentric, a site I’ve been working with for a year now, will be serializing a novel of mine, DinoLand, starting on Sunday, March 2, and running the first Sunday of each month.

I’ve been working with an artist, the fabulous Max Farinato, on this project, and I am excited to be able to finally share this news with you all.

DinoLand is a book I started working on several years ago, as a National Novel Writing Month project. I’d planned it as a novel, but after Margaret Atwood’s success with the webserial Positron, I’ve been interested in trying that route myself.

What’s DinoLand about?
DinoLand is set in a sprawling, Disney World-like amusement park which has introduced live dinosaurs as an attraction. The park saved a dying mill town and its leader is revered as a genius and a hero for his work. However, a new attraction is being planned, one that may not be as beloved as the herd of Brachiosaurs.

We need to talk about Jurassic Park.
Let’s address the pink Tricerotops in the room. This theme park hasn’t got much to do with Michael Crichton’s Costa Rican Island, or even with Velociraptors. The park in this book is very different from the one in Jurassic Park. Let me put it this way: the real monsters in this book aren’t the big lizards.

Rawr.
Have I mentioned that I’m excited about this? Because I am. So. Excited. I’m a little nervous about starting a webserial around the same time that I have a baby, but this is a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I hope you’ll be interested too. So stay tuned for more announcements, links and posts. Let’s get prehistoric!

Time to come clean: last year’s resolutions.

punctuality new years goal.

I had to dig this jar out of a drift of papers in my office.

I don’t think I can put this off any longer. I’m going to have to face up.

Last year (and the year before) I posted my New Years resolutions online and checked in with them monthly to hold myself accountable. This worked pretty well in 2012, so last year I got ambitious and included many goals.

Weeeell, things didn’t go as planned and I stopped checking in last May, and without monthly accountability, my goals of deteriorated from there, and in fact, I stopped publishing on this blog so much because – though many things were going on in my life – I didn’t feel comfortable sharing many of them online.

But, because part of the deal was holding myself accountable, I need to close the book on 2013 by reporting my progress and lack of progress with last year’s goals. So here we go.

My novel: This year I’m resolving to spend the first hour of every weekday working on my novel until it’s done, no matter what other projects come along.
Ouch. Okay, this one is mixed. The first hour of every weekday didn’t exactly happen for me, however, I did rewrite more than half of my novel in 2013 and I am still working on it, even though it feels like it will never be done.

Marketing: My goal is to spend an hour of each weekday working on marketing projects, including the upkeep of this blog, my social networks, reading up on marketing and emails to bookstores and libraries and reviewers.
I marketed throughout the summer for my second book, and then when school started in September, fell off pretty badly.

Making a marketing plan for my new book: See my above status.

Publishing: My goal is to publish three things that aren’t my upcoming book this year.
I sent out some essays and wrote for Geek Eccentric, but as far as stories? FAIL.

Reading: My goal is to read 33 books in 2013, including one by Jane Austin and one by Charles Dickens.
I read 26 books in 2013. One was Pride and Prejudice by Austin. I did start Bleak House, by Dickens, in December, but finished it in 2014, so I don’t know if that counts.

Conferences: Attend at least one new conference or retreat.
I went to AWP. So this resolution was a fail.

Grants: Apply for at least three fellowships or grants.
I applied for an NEA grant, and the State of Connecticut’s arts endowment program. As the great philosopher Meatloaf once sang, two out of three ain’t bad.

Weight: I feel most comfortable when I weigh within a certain five-pound range, and I am always two pounds away from that five pound range. For 2013, I would like to get within that range and stay there.
This is why I felt weird about posting these resolutions after June. (Read: this was my excuse for not following through with the whole posting progress thing.) I became pregnant in June, so this resolution went out the window.

Punctuality: I’ve been a late for everything since childhood. In an effort to put a stop to this, I’ve decided to put a dollar into a mason jar whenever I’m late for anything, and donate it to charity in a year.
I was better than usual with punctuality, despite the fact that I lost the mason jar half way through the year under a drift of papers and had to uncover it during a massive cleaning of my office. That said, I was better about being punctual this year, maybe because I spent five months of 2013 agonizing about being on time. As of now, I’ve got $12 bucks in the jar, which is an awkwardly small amount to donate, so I am trying to figure out what to do with that.

My big-picture goal: I’ve planned to look into all political issues I can, and make up my mind about how I really feel about them.
This goal was too sweeping to be effective.

As you can see, this list didn’t work very well for me last year. So for 2014 I think I will concentrate on one goal, which is a big one and which will also be a challenge when our son arrives in March. My goal this year is simple: write.

I am not the Buddha.

This is NOT me.  photo credit: priyaswtc via photopin cc

This is NOT me.
photo credit: priyaswtc via photopin cc

I wasn’t going to post about this. In fact, I was going to try to keep silent on this entire topic. However, something really does need to be said. So here goes.

I’m pregnant. (Yeah, yeah. I know.)

My pregnancy is not the reason I’m angry. The reason I’m angry? My “delicate condition” has provoked an unwelcome response among people I hardly know.

In the past month, since I’ve started showing, I have been poked, prodded, rubbed, inappropriately questioned and, in one case, interrogated in front of a roomful of my students by a co-worker.

I am not a person who invites personal contact. I never have. My personal bubble is large and – I thought – difficult to penetrate. I was lucky to have been born tall and I’ve always been a little aloof, and that was always more than enough to keep unwanted physical contact at bay. I’ve also been able to dance around personal questions I don’t want to answer. I’m good at it, or at least, I was.

But now, it seems that my pregnancy has made me and my body public property. People dart in for a quick bellyrub on the sly, like X-wings attacking the Death Star. It’s like they know I don’t want to be touched, but they can’t help themselves. The excuse I hear most? That touching my belly is “lucky.”

It’s not. I am not the Buddha. (If you can’t tell the difference, I’ll give you some hints: the Buddha is bald, laughing and nonviolent.) Your superstitions are no reason for you to touch me uninvited. You are not ever entitled to touch another person’s body, even if that person is pregnant.

Worse than those who feel like they can touch my abdomen are those who feel like they can now question me about every life choice I’ve ever made. “You don’t smoke, do you?” “You have a pediatrician, right?” “You’re not coming back to work?” “You are coming back to work?” “Is your husband good with X, Y or Z?” “Is he good, period?”

While I don’t mind answering questions when they’re asked by a friend, I do mind when I’m being asked by someone who barely knows me. And I’ve been asked a lot. I don’t even mind answering a few questions or having a conversation about my pregnancy, but some strangers have been downright confrontational with me about what choices I’m making when I’m not in their lines of sight. (I’m tempted to answer that yes, I smoke, drink a six-pack a day, and use recreational drugs in the parking lot at work before driving home without a seatbelt on, but I’m actually a little worried that someone might call social services on me if I gave them that answer.) I’ve tried to defuse these encounters with evasive maneuvers and humor, but my interrogators have been dogged.

And weirdly, most of the people who have been invasive, both physically and verbally, have been male. I didn’t expect that. I figured that women  – who have been through pregnancy and childbirth and might feel they had some right to touch and question – would be the offenders. But they haven’t, by a long shot. It’s been mostly men who question my choices, and men who grab at my belly.

This may be a matter of being blinded by privilege. Are these the same people who feel entitled to touch people of color or question people because of their age? I have no way of knowing, but now I suspect.

Saying ‘No’ to NaNoWriMo

photo credit: thorinside via photopin cc

photo credit: thorinside via photopin cc

I’m not getting involved in National Novel Writing Month (that’s “NaNoWriMo” or “NaNo” to the initiated) this year.

While other writers are chugging their eighth cup of coffee, sitting down after a long day of work and trying to pound out 1,666.666 words a day, I will be reading someone else’s work, putting together a lesson plan, or I will be at rehearsal, baking a pie for Thanksgiving, or sleeping.

I just can’t bring myself to get involved in the massive peer-pressure-fueled write-a-thon that is NaNoWriMo.

Nothing against NaNo. I used to be involved in NaNo, and I loved it. For years, friends and I NaNoed as a group, pounding back coffee and slamming out words, sending our best and worst sentences of each day to each other via email and meeting on Friday evenings to celebrate our progress with drinks and more writing.

It’s just that —  for me, for the time being —  NaNoWriMo has served its purpose. There were times when I needed it to break through a wall of writers’ block and there were times when I needed it to make me make time for the writing I was constantly putting off in my 20s. Now, my best work now is done a little at a time, slowly, over the course of months.

For me, NaNo now does more harm than good. A couple of years ago, I proved this by entering NaNo with the same group of friends – now older and living in different parts of the country. We were going to duplicate our wild writing youth by using a message board to check in with one another.

Not only did I not make 50,000 words that year, but I didn’t produce anything of value. Even worse, I managed to burn out on all my writing projects; the work I was trying to do on another, paying project suffered because of my NaNoWriMo attempt. I had to finally admit to myself that National Novel Writing Month is more of a hindrance to my writing than a help to me right now.

It’s a helpful tool for writers who are trying to break habits, or make time for a novel that’s been eating them up inside, or who want to make new writing habits or forge new relationships, but despite the frantic peer pressure that often surrounds November, NaNo is not for everyone.

In fact, for every NaNo project that’s ended up published – for every Water for Elephants or Night Circus – I’m willing to bet that there are several people like me, who have produced meaningless masses of unintelligible words just to participate in a massive group writing activity and end the month with 50,000 words.

And that’s okay. But it’s not a great reason – for me, at least – to get involved with National Novel Writing Month. I might be back someday, but you know what? Sometimes it’s better and more productive to stick to your own writing schedule.

That’s okay, too.

This interview made me feel like a real, live author again.

I want to thank Jason Harris of Jason Harris Promotions, who interviewed me about The Eagle & The Arrow via email this week and posted the interview tonight on his website. Check it out.

This interview made my week. Why?

Well, I’m going to be honest: for a few months I haven’t been feeling like much of an author and certainly not like much of a writer. I haven’t posted here in a while, and since the school year started in September, I haven’t done much writing. (I will blog about that later — I’ve been struggling with how to present my dilemma here.)

Being asked to talk about my work in an interview made me feel a lot better about my writing and about my career as an author in general. So check it out, and thank you, Jason, for interviewing me.