Writing research, or this week’s list of reasons the NSA is watching me.

SN290019

Behold, the dreaded spife!

Last week I posted a list of the items I researched while working on my latest thriller for The Resistance Cycle. This week, I continued to make slow progress on the manuscript, but once again, I needed to know certain … things. For example, can those lettuce knives you see on late night infomercials kill or maim someone?

Here’s this week’s list of questionable internet searches:

So, about those lettuce knives.
According to wisegeek, lettuce knives can deliver “deliver a nasty nick, although it certainly can’t cause mortal damage.” Boo to that.  And there are some hilarious five-star reviews of a plastic knife on Amazon, billing it as a great first knife for a child. Good-bye, possible plot device!

Okay, but can you really hurt someone with a plastic knife? And don’t give me “you can hurt anyone with anything if you really apply yourself.” I’m looking for a lethal plastic knife.
Yes. After reading many pages of Google results, I now know that apparently you can, if you file a plastic knife down. Or if you 3-D print a dangerous knife. But you really need to a) be up a creek and need protection of any kind to do this, b) really want a plastic knife, c) be a destructive, yet crafty sociopath. (Just imagine the Pinterest board.)

Fine. I need this to be easy for my protagonist. What are some dangerous office supplies?
And that’s when I ended up on the Bloomberg’s How to Weaponize Office Supplies infographic and lost 10 minutes of writing time laughing.

Okay, but seriously, guys.
Scissors, idiot, says the Internet. But this is not really what my character needs, so I’m not satisfied with this. Looks like it’s time for a field trip. If you need me this weekend I will wandering around Staples, taking notes.

The spife photo is by XenoL-Type at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

I’m cheating on my novel with another novel.

cheatingonnovelI started a brand new novel.
Why did I start a brand new novel?

It’s not like I don’t have anything to write. I have three serious fiction projects going on right now. One is my webserial. One is the novel I wrote two drafts of in grad school. And one is the third Beware the Hawk book. People are waiting for all of these. I’m committed to all of them.

Fiction-writing time is precious these days, because I’m working as a freelancer at home, and when I’m not freelancing, I’m taking care of my young son or helping my husband figure out this puzzlebox of an old house we just moved into. (“Why is it 80 degrees in some rooms and 50 degrees in others?” “What does this random knob on the wall do?” “Can you bring the baby monitor into the basement and help me figure out a thing?”)
Despite all of these things that have a claim on my time, I opened up a new document, and started writing a brand new novel last month.

Guess what I’m spending all my fiction-writing time on. I don’t want to do anything but write it. It’s the thing that gets me into my office in the morning and it’s the thing that keeps me from leaving for lunch. I think about the plot and the characters constantly. I write it in my head when I’m shoveling snow and when I’m going to sleep at night. I’m basically having a writing affair with it.

And of course, because it’s an affair, I feel guilt. Guilt, because I have a trilogy to finish, two thirds of which have been published and have actual, honest-to-god readers who occasionally message me on Twitter and ask after my protagonist. (Guys, I love you for that. Just saying.)
Guilt, because the people I went to school with keep asking me when I’m going to finish my drag queen/Shakespeare literary fiction novel and send it out to agents.
Guilt, because I am spending my time writing this manuscript that makes me so, so happy, and it’s a full-fledged swords-and-sorcery fantasy novel, and sci-fi/fantasy has always been my first love, no matter how much Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene charmed me later in life.

But this book I’m working on makes me feel like a kid again. It reminds me of my first glorious unfinished novel, which I wrote when I was fifteen years old. I’d finish my homework and sit in my father’s office, writing this crazy fantasy epic with talking horses and hell-tunnels and not really a coherent plot, on one computer while my dad worked on the other. I’d write until my parents loudly announced that I had to go to bed. I had not developed an inner editor yet, and I never planned to show anyone what I was writing, so I didn’t even care if it was good. It was just for me, and that time I spent writing was my favorite time of the day.

Writing that behemoth was just pure joy, and I never thought I’d feel that again. And maybe I won’t, but this new novel comes close. Maybe it’s because I’m writing fantasy, and I just love fantasy. Or maybe it’s because at this point, this book is just for me. There’s no writing group or editor waiting for this one. I have no grand rewrite plans. I have no commercial plans for it. My ideal reader for this book is me.

I’ve spent my adult life writing things for other people: newspapers, editors, writing groups, teachers, mentors, whoever. It feels like a gift to be able to write something for myself. I just wish it weren’t taking away from the time and energy I should be spending on other projects.

My novel was my baby, but now my baby’s my baby, so how exactly do you write with a baby?

There are two things I’ve heard/read about writing with a baby.

The first is from Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird: “I used to not be able to work if there were dishes in the sink. Then I had a child and now I can work if there is a corpse in the sink.”

The second is a column in the Guardian by Maggie O’Farrell, author of The Hand That First Held Mine. I will not pretend that I’ve managed to nail down O’Farrell’s writing-with-the-baby-sling approach (he squirms!), but I can now understand Lamott’s point about the corpse in the sink. The thing is, I can’t make that work yet. Let’s be honest: the novel might howl for my attention figuratively, but the howls of my son are literal. When he needs me, he needs me. The novel can always wait. His naps are still unpredictable enough that I can’t concentrate on what I’m writing. I’m only writing with part of my attention. The rest of my attention is on him, listening for that next cry.

So sometimes, if it’s me and him at home alone, I don’t write. Sometimes I choose to unload the dishwasher, or throw in laundry. The laundry is less complicated, and demands less of me than the latest chapter of my novel.

But I still have to write.

I have to produce a chapter a month for DinoLand. (Although I wrote a backlog of material for the serial, I am getting to the end of that now.) I have a freelance career. I have to write the final novella in the Resistance series. I have to finish the second draft of my drag queen novel.

And also, I don’t feel quite like myself if I’m not writing fiction. Some people go for a walk to clear their heads. I write stories.

So the writing has to happen. But sometimes it just doesn’t. And that can be pretty frustrating.

Right now, I’m dividing my time into Stay-At-Home-Mom Days, Work Days and Writing Days. On days when my husband is away, I just concentrate on being a mom. On days when he’s home, I work on my freelance career and what writing I can, and once a week, I pack up the child and my laptop and head to my parents’ house where my wonderful mother watches the baby while I go to my dad’s office and write.

It’s not a perfect arrangement, but for now, it works. I do worry that I’ll have to come up with something else when my son is walking and talking, but possibly by then I’ll be used to being a mother and able to write fiction more frequently again.

Parents who write, how do you make time for your work? Does it get easier or harder?

 

Chapter 4 of DinoLand is up this morning at Geek Eccentric.

It’s aliiiiive. Or rather, it’s liiiive.

Chapter 4 of DinoLand is posted at Geek Eccentric as of half an hour ago.

In this month’s installment, the zoology team attempts to help a sick brachiosaurus. How do you do that? With armored vehicles, a team of acrobats and tranquilizers fired from a cannon. While praying. With a few ambulances on standby.

How does it go? That would be a spoiler. Click over to Geek Eccentric and check it out.

Chapter Two of DinoLand is live at Geek Eccentric today!

Picture 1It’s the first Sunday of April and that means that DinoLand’s second chapter is online today at Geek Eccentric.

This month’s chapter features a new point of view character, a brachiosaurus with a problem and a possible business deal that could cause even more problems for the people at the park who love the dinosaurs. Oh, and a child disappears.

Head on over and check it out, sci-fi and dinosaur lovers.

 

Calling all readers! What are you reading and why: a survey

Recently, a piece was written on AVClub.com about the bleak state of American fiction. This generated some discussion online among writers about whether, in fact, things are bleak for American fiction.

It’s not a new argument. A debate constantly rages in the writers’ community about the state of reading among adults in our society. Is the future of books dim or do we have to wear shades? What are people reading, and how much, and how often?

But here’s the thing: talking to other writers about writing isn’t always the most productive conversation to have when you’re trying to understand the state of American fiction. You know who we should talk to instead? Readers.

Below is a link to an 8-question survey I put together aimed at book-lovers. I’m not the only person to have put together a survey for readers, but I am curious about certain specifics. So please take this survey, share it and encourage others to do the same. It’s anonymous, so there’s no judgment at all. Be as honest as you can, and thank you. I want to know what you’re reading and why. In fact, every writer on the planet does.

Bring me to the survey.

Chapter 1 of DinoLand debuts today!

Chapter 1 of DinoLand is live over at Geek Eccentric right now. DinoLand, Ch. 1I’ve just run around the house yelling “Ahhhhh, it’s alive” and now that I’m settled down, I’m posting here while I can sit still.

If you like dinosaurs, sci-fi, or thrillers head over to Geek Eccentric and check out Chapter 1. If you really like it, return on the first Sunday of each month for a new chapter.

(FYI: I’m going to be changing this page today so that you’ll be able to access the latest DinoLand chapters right from the menu at the top.)

I really, really, hope you enjoy this. Rawr.

 

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.

I could get used to radio.

WNPR, Colin McEnroe

Just after we got off the air.

Wow. That was fun. I’m just back from Hartford, and wanted to update the blog quickly and let you know how the show went.

First of all, the Colin McEnroe Show was a lot of fun. Colin, Lucy, Brian and Chandra had a lot to say about the state of the novel. The hour went by more quickly than I thought it would.

I really enjoyed the discussion. We heard “crap” used as an adverb in a clip, someone called in from Rwanda to talk about why e-books are such a gift to her, Lucy told us that the novel is called a novel, because it was a new art form and novel means “new” (which I guess I knew but never thought much about) and Game of Thrones was discussed. Repeatedly.

If you missed it, you can hear it online and see photos: click here for the show’s web page.

Oh, and I didn’t use my index cards at all. I had them out and I shuffled them on the desk in front of me, but I didn’t use them.

But then, I knew I wouldn’t.

 

Headed up to Hartford for Colin McEnroe’s radio show.

It’s almost time to depart Bridgeport for Hartford, Conn. in order to appear on Colin McEnroe’s radio show at 1 p.m.

index cards, author appearance, Colin McEnroe

Honestly, I can barely read these.

As I wrote Friday, I will be appearing with three other authors to talk about the future of the novel. (Is it dying? Is it being cheapened by popular fiction?)

If you want to listen and you’re in CT, the radio station is 90.5 FM. If you don’t live in CT, you can listen to the live show here. The live show is a call-in ((860) 275-7266) and starts at 1 p.m. A rerun of the show airs at 8 p.m. or you can listen to the podcast here.

I will publish all these links to all my social media shortly.

At the moment, I’m sitting here with my second coffee. The mad dash to finish up my index cards is upon me. I’m scrawling the names of authors, works they’ve published and years of publication. I’ve got a couple of quotes, the name of a series, and for some reason, the definition of “bowdlerize.” I can’t read half the cards I’ve written. There are arrows from one random word to another. Items are circled for reasons that now escape me.

All this is pretty standard, actually. I write up index cards like this for almost every appearance I do, but I never use them. I read from the top one sometimes, but then I completely forget about them. It doesn’t matter. It’s like taking notes in class; the act of writing down the notes helps me remember what I wrote. And anyway, I always feel better having them with me.

Anyhow I have to get moving. Come, listen to me, Brian Slattery, Chandra Prasad and Lucy Ferriss talk to McEnroe at 1 p.m. Call in. Tweet to me. Join our chat about the novel.