Thursday, September 22, 2011

Blocked? Try Fiber

Hi Leaguers!

I know that we generally don't talk too much about writing craft here, but I also know we have a lot of aspiring writers in the audience. I've been running a series of craft posts at my blog every Thursday, and I wanted to share one here in case you're needing a little inspiration. This post is from a couple of weeks ago. If you want to see more, be sure to check out my blog.

Cross-posted from


The other day a new product came to my attention: The Writer's Block.

The product description is as follows:
Feeling boxed in by your current writing assignment? Unpack some inspiration with this beautiful, hand-glazed, stoneware cube that features six thought-provoking cues; Poetry, Mother, Quietly, Hairy, House, Lust. With every roll you'll hear the ever-so-light jingle of bells, stimulating your ears and eyes to find your muse through the cube's understated imagery and melodiousness.
Couple things.

First, this product sells for $45. For a ceramic dice. For a ceramic dice that claims to cure your writer's block.

Second, my favorite part of the description is "you'll hear the ever-so-light jingle of bells, stimulating your ears and eyes to find your muse." No, my friends, the sound you're hearing isn't a melodic muse summoner, it's the sound of the makers of this product laughing as they deposit your $45 into the bank.

I'm just saying that $45 buys a lot of pens and paper. Or you can send me $10 and I'll call your voice mail and scream, "WRITE, DAMN YOU, WRITE!"

Look, I'm not trying to pick on the makers of this product. Okay, yes, I am actually. But my point isn't about this product specifically. It's about writer's block.

A lot of writers steadfastly maintain that writer's block doesn't exist. I don't know whether this refusal to believe is a result of lack of experience with it themselves or a denial borne of self-preservation. Either way, I do believe it exists, but I also think we should call it by its real name: FEAR.

Did your gut just tighten?

Mine did. It tightened because I've been there. What's worse? I've been there under deadline. Just remembering that period my chest feels like cold hands are pressing down on my ribs. For me, it wasn't that I couldn't put words down on paper. It was that I couldn't put good ones there. Everything I wrote came out forced and phoney.

Know why? I was forcing it because I felt like a phoney.

Writing is a mental game. Yes, you've got to sit in the chair and pound on the keys, but you've also got to be in a good head space. If you're approaching your desk every day thinking, "I'm a talentless pretender. No one will want to read this. I have to do this X way because that Real Writer on X blog told me I had to. If I don't write something brilliant I'll die alone and penniless clutching sheeves of unpublished purple prose."

Try writing something brilliant now. Go on. DO IT NOW! BE BRILLIANT NOW!


All right, everyone simmer down. The sad truth is that no one and nothing stands in the way of our success more than we do. All these perfectionistic messages we feed ourselves, all this impatience we have with our budding talent, all the false expectations of instant fame and success--it all blends together into a cold, bitter slurry of shame that makes creativity impossible.

Yeah, that's great and all but how to do I get over it, Jaye?

Shh, my pet. Shh. You know how to get over it. You know.

Stand up right now. Go on. No one's looking.Except me. (waves from the window)

Now do something ridiculous. Shut up. I don't want to hear it your excuses. Do something crazy. Jump up and down. Do the hokey pokey. Break out into the Running Man.

I don't care what it is. The point of this exercise is for you to remember two things. 1. Stop taking yourself so freaking seriously. 2. Writing is fun!

Ostensibly, that's why you started writing to begin with, right? You thought it was a gas to write crazy little stories about interesting characters. Back then, you didn't worry about sales or your fucking brand. You didn't care about getting famous. You just wanted to do something that made you happy.

But somewhere along the way that happy fun time turned into frowny-faced frustration time. Maybe the rejections got to you. Maybe you got a few too many one-star reviews on Goodreads. Or maybe you're just tired of feeling like no one's ever going to recognize your genius.

Dudes, if you don't even want to be around you, why would your imaginary friends? Interesting characters don't want to spend time with Mr. Grumpy Pen, much less tell him their stories. And, you know what? Readers won't enjoy reading anything you write, either. Hell, chances are good even your real friends are avoiding you. Why? Because you're no fun any more.

I'm an author. Writing is how I earn my living, and,like any business, it can be frustrating and stressful. But I refuse to spend my life devoting myself to a career that makes me feel shitty. So I refuse to let the bad reviews, the vagaries of fate or the god damned lack of respect people have for female writers or urban fantasy writers or writers in Texas, or any other stupid belittling criticism or headache of the publishing business get in the way of enjoying the hell out of this ride.

So now, when I sit down to write, I try to remember that my first goal is to amuse, amaze or intrigue myself. It's not possible to feel amused, intrigued or amazed by my writing every day, but my goal is to feel that way MOST of the time. And if that's not possible, I just try to remember that I'm not trying to cure cancer or figure out the debt crisis. Yes, I take my work seriously, but in the end, my job is to entertain people. And frowny Jaye is not entertaining.

So, my pets, now you have the secrets to avoiding writer's block. Get out of your own damned way and try to have more fun.* Yes, it really is that simple.

Or, you know, you could spend $45 for a jingling ceramic dice.

*If you've forgotten how to have fun, then your biggest problem probably isn't writer's block. Figure that out before you try to write the great American novel, okay? Therapy is awesome.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Blinking Cursor of Doom

I sit here and I stare at it, and I swear, it's mocking me.

It's strange how I have faced extensive rewrites (book 2 was scrapped at 68,000 words and started fresh), major copy edits, NaNoWriMo on multiple occasions, and yet nothing is quite so daunting as a blank page, and that one little lonely black line. Sitting there. Blinking at me.

I think it's the unknown. The sheer overwhelming possibility of it all. Will it be a poem? A witty blog post? A dissertation on the feminist imagery on boxes of athlete's foot ointment? It could be anything!

What if it wants to be a novella, and I force it to be a dirty limerick? Or what do I do if my iambic pentameter novel-length epic poem turns into commercial jingle parodies? There are just so many ways this could go wrong.

It's not so bad, once you get the first line down. Even the first word. Then the page isn't blank anymore, and it's not staring at you all expectant like. You get the first few marks on the page, and it's tamed, ready to be molded into whatever shape you have.

But right now, what I have is a blank page, and a blinking cursor of doom. So I sit, and the cursor blinks at me, and buried under the sheer enormity of what might be, nothing is.

Wow, that sounded really deep.

I feel like I should find a video of college guys lighting farts on fire or something, just to counter it all.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sometimes you just need a boat....

Life's been hectic and miserable at Chez Richardson lately and it's times like these--when everything explodes on you like an outhouse that's been rigged with cherry bombs--that you really need a boat.

So last Tuesday, this showed up at our marina just as the sun was going down:

Her name is Lady Washington. She was built in 1989, but she's a reproduction of an earlier boat also called the Lady Washington which was built in Massachusetts in the 1750s.

And in the morning, she was still there.

Take a nice, slow breath and say "isn't she pretty."

Because that's what I'm doing instead of killing the dog.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

If I Can't Write a Thriller, I'll Star in One...

This weekend, I'm going to Bouchercon. I'm going for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I'd like to write a mystery some day.

But in the meantime, if I can't write a thriller, I'll star in one. This would make the awesomest movie EVER, right?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

El Pacto

So it turns out I managed to sell Spanish rights for A Brush of Darkness a few months ago...and here's the cover! :)  (And yes, it's already been pointed out that the girl on the cover and my author picture seem very much alike - i.e. head angle and expression. Total surprise on my part, but kinda cool.)

Looks like it's been renamed to "The Pact," but if you click on the pic, you'll see they put Phin on the cover. This delights me to no end.


It will be available for sale in October. :)

(And sorry for the utter lameness of this post, but it's my daughter's birthday today so things are bit crazy.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Another TRANCE Snippet

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I haven't posted to the League since June. I had a very good excuse in July, as the 13th was the day I woke up in serious tendonitis-related wrist pain, so blogging was just not on my mind. August...well, I remember spending the day away from the computer, so we'll leave it at that.

I wasn't sure what to post today, though, until I realized that it's TEASER TUESDAY out in the Blog-O-sphere. And since I have a new release next month, I thought I'd post a snippet for y'all.


TRANCE is the first is a new series with Pocket about a group of twenty-something adults who lost their superpowers when they were children, only to get back suddenly fifteen years later. They live in a world that was brought to the brink of disaster due to superpowered battles, and citizens aren't exactly excited to see them back.

In the snippet I've chosen from Chapter 4, our heroine Trance has just met up with hero Gage at a truck stop in California. They're on their way south to the old HQ to find the rest of their teammates, and have stopped at a motel for the night.


I nearly fell out of bed at a sudden, thunderous pounding of fists against the motel door and a female shriek for help. I lurched to my feet and stumbled toward the door to the beat of the erratic knocking, adrenaline warming my hands and urging me to use my newfound power to help this terrified person. I peered through the peep hole and saw the blond woman from next door, her hair askew and matted red. Blood streamed down the side of her face. "Oh, God." I wrapped my hand around the knob and twisted.

"Trance, don't!" Gage said.

I turned my head to ask why not, as the center of the door exploded. The blast tossed me to the floor, peppering my neck and hair with shards of wood and glass. I rolled to the side, instinct propelling me out of the line of fire, and I came up in a crouch next to the table.

The rest of the door blasted in with the second shotgun report. I screamed, startled by the sheer volume of sound it created, and brought both hands up to my sides, creating twin orbs, each the size of a grapefruit. A quick glance to my right found Gage on his feet by the corner of the bed.

The blonde entered, her eyes radiating a garish, sickly shade of yellow. She eyed me, then Gage as she reloaded the shotgun. The odor of burned wood filled the room. Fresh blood continued to run down the side of her face, and with chilling certainty, I understood. I had seen this before. In training videos. That day in Central Park. In my nightmares.

The possessed woman snapped the barrel back into place.

"Gage, duck!" I shouted.

He dove behind the bed just as she fired. The shot struck the wall, blasting through the thin plaster to create a hole two feet wide.

I threw the twin orbs at the woman. She moved faster than she should have been able to. One missed and blasted a hole through the wall, straight into her adjoining room. The second clipped her shoulder and spun her around. The gun belched an erratic shot that took out the room's front window in a shower of glass and wood.

"Trance?" Gage said.

"I'm fine, stay down!"

I called up two more orbs, smaller this time, and released them both straight at the convulsing woman's midsection. She screamed and the yellow light faded from her eyes. Her body jerked once, twice, and then lay still. I stood on shaky feet, ignoring the screaming cuts on my face and arms.

"Tell me that wasn't who I thought it was," Gage said.

I wished I could. "Specter." Even saying the name chilled me, like calling on the Bogeyman.

Gage made a choking sound. "But how?"

"I don't know."

I nudged the dead woman's hand with my bare toes. The third finger had two rings on it, one a very large (and probably fake) diamond. My first thought was to wonder how much a pawnbroker would give me for that ring. My second—and much more pressing—concern was about the man who had probably given the rings to her.

"Where's the other guy?" I asked.

A looming shadow filled the door, still dressed in the same jeans and flannel. I looked up, right into a pair of yellow eyes and a sawed-off shotgun. No time to duck, nowhere to go.

"Say hi to your father for me," he sneered, his voice a queer blend of the man's and someone else's. Monstrous and terrifying.

Enraged, I clapped my hands together with no real idea what would happen, and he fired immediately after. The buckshot struck a haze of violet energy and ricocheted, like a thousand ping pong balls. Blood and gore splattered the open doorway and walls.

I had little time to be nauseated by the sight. The kinetic energy of the shotgun blast reacted to the force field I'd instinctively created. The feedback struck me like a speeding truck and tossed me backward onto my ass. The gunman wailed and gurgled in someone else's voice. The voice of a man not quite human, full of anger and pain and frustration, filled my ears. I lay on my back, too stunned to care if he was dead. My nerves burned. I couldn't feel my feet.

Gage's face loomed over mine. "Trance? Jesus, are you all right?"

My head throbbed. My tongue felt thick and dried out. I swallowed and tasted blood. I'd bitten into my lower lip. Every single joint in my arms and legs ached.

"Him?" I hissed though the pain settling into my bones.

"He's dead. If Specter was possessing them, he's gone now. We need to get out of here."


"I know. Damn it, the entire motel must have heard us. I'm going to sit you up, and then get our stuff together, okay?"

I nodded. Stopped smiling when my lip twinged. He looped an arm around my shoulders and hauled me up into a sitting position. The room spun in loopy circles; I tilted sideways. Gage caught me and helped me lean back against the foot of the bed.

"It's already starting," I said.

"What is?"

I caught his gaze and held it, feeling a little drunk. And not the good kind of drunk. "Banes trying to kill us."

Monday, September 12, 2011

In the flesh

It's amazing how small actions can result in big consequences. When I first began writing the Vampire Academy series and created an intricate tattoo system for that world, I had no idea that those designs would catch on so quickly among readers. It just wasn't anything I'd ever thought about. I never expected those tattoos to show up on T-shirts:

And certainly not--permanently--on people's bodies:

My awesome readers have gotten pretty creative with the designs, and I've had a lot of fun seeing them show up at my signings. Nonetheless, it's left an impression on me to be careful what I do in books. You never know what might come of it. So, you'd think I would've thought twice before writing this piece of dialogue in Bloodlines, in which Adrian describes his dream tattoo:

"I want it to be a skeleton on fire on a motorcycle. With a pirate hat, and a parrot on his shoulder. A skeleton parrot. Or maybe a ninja skeleton parrot? No that would be overkill."

I shared that passage with someone shortly after writing it. She looked at me and said, "You know this means people are going to get real tattoos made of this, right?" No, I hadn't known that. It had never crossed my mind. Neat geometric designs are one thing, but did I want to be resonsible for someone getting an on-fire pirate skeleton motorcyclist tattooed to their body? It was a dilemma, and I had to decide if that comic value was worth keeping in the book.

I decided it was.

Hopefully, any readers who are excited by that tattoo concept (and honestly, who wouldn't be?) will stick to temporary ones or T-shirt designs. Don't get me wrong--the skeleton's cool. And, I'm secretly itching to see someone make it. I'm just not sure some people will think it's cool when they're eighty and can't get it off their bodies.

In the meantime, Arcane Vault seems to have read my mind about wanting to see how this tattoo would actually look. So, they're having a contest that requires no needles whatsoever! You artistic types now have a chance to win some hot prizes and make Adrian's tattoo come to life. The details are on AV's Facebook page, but I'll repost here for your convenience:

We want you to design Adrian's tattoo.

You can use any medium you want: paint, pencil, pen and ink, photography, Photoshop, pasta... (You get the point right?). Once we have received all the entries our panel of judges will select the top 3 images and post them in an album on our Facebook page.

Then, it’s your turn. The design that receives the most "likes" will be the named the winner and will receive a very cool Arcane Vault prize package.

We will begin accepting entries this Wednesday (Aug 31st) and the last day to submit your entry will be Friday Sept. 16th. Fan voting for the final 3 will begin the following week and will run for 1 week after that.


- This contest is open to all fans, domestic and international.

- There is no age limit.

- We have no preference in what medium you choose to use.

How to submit your entry:

Please send your entry to: and include the following information:




Title of your piece:

Best e-mail address at which to contact you:

Disclaimer and other assorted notes:

- Please note that all entries must be appropriate for all ages (in other words no nudity or crude language).

- Photographers: You must own the rights to all your images and have written releases from any and all models.

- All likeness must be original and may not purposely represent any celebrities, sports figures or otherwise "famous" individuals.

- Initial judging will be done by a panel of individuals chosen by The Arcane Vault; their choices will be final.

- This contest is purely for entertainment value and is not in any way associated with Richelle Mead or Penguin Press.

If you have any questions or need any additional information please feel free to e-mail us at any time. Good Luck!

You heard them! Get out your pencils/paints/Photoshop, and good luck. :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Eleventh

I was sitting in my living rom running a fever and watching the 9/11 memorial on CNN when it occurred to me that the Eleventh is my day to blog at the League, even in September. So here goes.

It’s hard for me to remember exactly what it was like on September 11, 2001. I was ten yearsyounger, new to being a Dad, and my writing was still just pie in the sky stuff. I’d finished a first novel, but it was bad and I didn’t know enough to recognize that yet. (It involves a mage and his familiar; maybe one day I will rewrite it).

Things I do remember:

Standing in the break room and seeing that second plane hit the World Trade Center.

Rolling the television out so that other folks at work could see what was happening, too.

Recording a video message with my wife for our tiny son, who was just one week old, so that he could understand the event later. (I’m not sure where we put that tape.)

And that’s pretty much it.

I feel I should mention that this is my umpteenth attempt to write this blog. There were a few full of intensely disrespectful (but funny) thoughts about what might have happened if various characters from my series were on one of the planes, if there had been another plane that was headed for Void City… I like to think the Mages Guild would have been really useful…

But it’s hard to write about.

Where’s the line between humor and disrespect? It’s a line for which I’m often searching. How much is too much? Not enough? Too high brow? Too low?

We live in a world where the X-men have fought vampiresuicide bombers, where Mark Waid’s Irredeemable explores what would happen if a being as powerful as Superman went nuts, (read it, it’s awesome), and where another comic, Ex Machina, is predicated on the idea that one world’s superhero’s greatest failure is that he only managed to stop one of the WTC Towers from being hit.

Maybe one day I’ll be comfortable writing a scene with ubervamped Eric emerging from a burning plane, but it isn’t today. Today I’m still in awe of the event. I’m too cowed by the air of respect and the so-called “failure of imagination” that prevented us from seeing those possibilities.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Okay, seriously? I have nothing to blog about.

I have three deadlines over my head at the moment; a novella due like Monday, page proofs due Wednesday (which I need to have finished by Monday so I can get them mailed, since I'm going into town on Monday anyway), and edits--which in this case means rather a lot of work, since I'm not quite happy with it yet--on Downside 5, CHASING MAGIC. Not to mention I'm sort-of-plotting something new, and working on a couple of other little things, and all of that.

And I haven't been feeling well the last few days, which means I've fallen behind on this stuff because when I'm not feeling well I have a hard time working.

I've been considering blog topics for the last three hours. I was going to mention, which is this awesome site I found where people who work with the public can submit horror stories (yes, I'm very late to this one, since the site already has a book deal, but whatever. I just found it and I love it). But that seems like rather a small thing to base an entire blog post on, really, doesn't it?

I was going to talk about how frustrating it can be for a writer to have to wait for a release date, and how the anticipation gets to us, too, sometimes, but I've already done that. It's true, though. Waiting is hard. I get just as excited as you guys do, waiting for a book to be released, hoping you'll all like it, hating that I can't talk about it or whatever.

I considered mentioning the ebook sale on the Downside books for all North American customers; UNHOLY GHOSTS is ninety-nine cents in ebook, and UNHOLY MAGIC and CITY OF GHOSTS are only $4.99 each. That's at all of the ebook retailers, so wherever you buy your books--whether it's for Nook, Kindle, Apple, Sony, or whatever else--those prices are in effect. More info here at my blog.

Then, of course, there's the ENTANGLED anthology to benefit the Breast Cancer research Foundation, for which I wrote the Foreword.

But none of that seems like enough to hang a blog post on, either.

I could talk about the fact that after a period of unemployment which ran a little longer than we'd anticipated, the hubs has this morning been offered a job; a good one, too, though it requires us to move (again). So we're very excited (I know, don't I sound excited?) about that, honest. Like I said, when I'm not feeling well I sound full of ennui even when I'm happy, which I am, actually; I'm perfectly cheerful, just horribly busy.

Or, how about a snippet? Yes. Here's a (very brief) snippet from CHASING MAGIC, for your reading pleasure (hopefully):

All of the documents were in place: The Affidavit of Spectral Fraud, the Statement of Truth, two Orders of Imprisonment and two Orders of Relinquishment, and of course, the list of Church-approved attorneys. The Darnells would want that—well, they’d need it, because they were about to be arrested for faking a haunting.

At least, they would be when the Black Squad got there to back Chess up. She didn’t always want the Squad to come along; police presence tipped people off, made things more difficult, and most people came pretty quietly once they realized they were busted, anyway. The Darnells didn’t seem like the come-quietly type, though. Something told Chess they weren’t going to take this well.

I do have a question, though, which I meant to ask on my own blog but forgot. What do you think of links that open in new windows or tabs? Personally I like them; I'd rather not have to navigate back to the page where I was, so I always right-click and select "Open link in new window" unless I know for a fact that the link will automatically open in a new window. But I've heard some people hate this. So I'm curious. What do you think?


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Revision-Go-Round

I'm back in school now and teachin' America's youth about Puritans and witch trials and how their either/or fallacies continue to haunt us today—and I'm also in revision mode on book 4 of The Iron Druid Chronicles. It's kind of odd to talk about real people hanging other real people for being witches during the day, but then go home at night and write about fictional witches battling fictional Druids in Arizona...

Thought I'd share a wee bit about the revision process—keeping in mind that this is my process, and every author's going to be different in the details. What's common to every author is the necessity of revision. No one drops their pants and poops out the perfect novel. Well, maybe somebody does. But they're not in the League. #345 on our 500-question entrance exam reads: "Do you poop perfect novels?" If they answer the question, they're disqualified. Anyone who gets all the way to #345 is way too serious to be in this group.

Revision: I go through several drafts o' my books before the editor ever sees it. I write at least three drafts (but usually more) before I'm okay with sending it off. Nevertheless, that third or fourth or tenth draft is always "Version One" once it gets to my editor's desk. Then, depending on the book, I'll have to revise it two to four more times before it gets "Accepted." During those revisions the book gets larger—I haven't had to cut anything yet; I always need to expand. Some authors work the other way and have to cut quite a bit—it's all good.

I've actually been keeping track of word counts during this particular book for the heck of it. When I finished my "first draft" of TRICKED, it was only 72,300 words. By the time I wrote subsequent drafts, it was up to 81,666, and that's how I delivered it. After the editorial letter came back, I hammered away at the keyboard until version two was 90,345 words. Got some more feedback, and yesterday I sent off version three at 99,487 words. That's actually much more expansion than I've done in the past, but every book is different. So I'm not quite finished getting this in shape, but even after "Acceptance" I'll have more revision to do. Copy edits require another close look at the book, and then once it's typeset you have to go through it again. It's a long process.

Some of my favorite reviews (of any book) are those that talk about the "natural prose" or some other similar phrase that implies the author wrote it that way the first time. Nobody writes that perfectly. Getting that "natural, flowing prose" or whatever onto the page took them several attempts and most likely many attempts, together with a damn fine editor and probably plenty of caffeine and/or booze. Occasional breaks to pet/walk the dogs help tremendously.

If you're an aspiring writer, I hope you're having a great time writing your current draft! But don't get too attached to those words just yet...

We interupt your regularly scheduled League posts...

To bring you an announcement from yours truly. This is my passion project, and I would love it if you jumped on board. Like us on the Facebook, follow the twitter, all that jazz... and subscribe/listen when I launch next week. Feel free to steal the press release here and help boost the signal.


your semi-humble Anton


Anton Strout, Host/Curator

The Once & Future Podcast Launches with Readers And Writers Of Fantasy and Science Fiction In Mind

(USA, NY, NY) September 6, 2011- Speculative fiction author Anton Strout announces the launch of The Once & Future Podcast- a new weekly book-centric podcast focused on all things fantasy and science fiction. Segments will focus on: breaking news in the publishing industry, upcoming release titles, guest authors, book tour info, convention news, and overall general discussion of genre reading for readers and writers alike.

“Parts of the show will be focused on content for readers,” says Strout, host and curator of content for the show, “but there will also be segments coming up for writers, no matter what stage of the process they are at.”

Strout is the author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series published by Ace Books and the first book in the Spellmason Chronicles, Alchemystic, to be released in 2012. Strout has been in the publishing industry for over twenty years, fifteen of those as part of Penguin Group USA.

“I’ve always loved books,” says Strout, “and I’ve discovered, thanks to my author capacity at conventions and on panels, that I love talking to my fellow authors. I wanted a place where I could talk about all things happening within my chosen genre and share that with others. I’ll be chatting with New York Times bestsellers, authors just getting their careers started… anyone I find interesting, really, including professionals from within the world of publishing itself- editors, artists, publicists, bloggers. You name it.”

The Once & Future Podcast will debut on Monday, September 12th with new episodes posting every following Monday. Episode One will include interviews with Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire series) and Jackie Kessler (author of the Hell of Earth series and The Rider’s Quartet). Upcoming episodes will feature a variety of authors including Rachel Caine, Amber Benson, Chris Hardwick, Jim C. Hines, Matthew Cody and many others. To find out more, please visit


Anton Strout, Host/Curator





Monday, September 5, 2011

What does this writerly screed have to do with my grandmother's notebook?

I’ve been carrying around this old notebook of my grandmother’s forever—it's sat in the bottom of a bookshelf in every place I live. It was entirely blank and unused, aside from one page of something random (and the front, where she wrote her name and ‘knitting book.’) Isn’t it cool? 

Yeah, so cool, that I felt like I needed to wait and find a really important use for it. 

So, I didn’t write in it for years, waiting for the exact perfect use for it. Something monumental. And of course I simply never used it. 

 There is this bad habit writers can get into, or at least, I can get into, which I think of as ‘scarcity thinking’ which is where I’ll think of an awesome event or realization or twist, and I decide I need to hold that for the pinnacle of the book. 

 Whenever I find myself thinking that I need to keep something to spring later, I purposely do the opposite — I blow the cool idea early in the book. 

 It’s because I have this writerly superstition that holding things back for the right time implies that there aren’t millions more cool ideas, and I think it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy—that is, waiting to use the good stuff makes the good stuff scarce. Holding back the candy makes it so that I have less candy, whereas if I spill all my candy right away, more will be there waiting for me later. That is my superstition, but I actually think it works like that. 

 There is another form of it where I’ll hold off on getting my characters in worst-case-scenario trouble until later. I think that’s really bad for a story to let worst case scenarios hang out there forever. When I find myself doing that, I’ll try and spill that candy, pull that trigger, push the nuclear option button. 

I'm not successful at it yet. It's a discipline I'm working on. Striving. You know how it is. 

Have you ever watched the Sopranos? It’s this whole drama about Tony Soprano, the mafia boss. Not to criticize it, I mean, it was an excellent, brilliant, groundbreaking show, and I couldn’t have written it better. But, my husband and I would get so frustrated because they kept almost getting Tony in trouble, and then withdrawing the trouble. He never got arrested, convicted, toppled by another Mafia boss, nothing. They kept the Sword of Damocles suspended over his head—season after season after season, just wiggling around now and then. And I think that’s why the show got stale. 

The opposite is Joss Whedon, who’s perfectly willing to go there, wherever there happens to be. Joss is a total hero to many writers, including me, and I think a lot of it, for me anyway, is his abundance thinking, which is the opposite of scarcity thinking. He’ll kill characters (sometimes twice) let people radically transform, even plunge the planet into apocalyptic chaos. He doesn’t hold back on going to the ultimate place. He’ll go there - it’s as if he knows that when he comes out the other end, there will be a new ultimate place waiting. 

Actually, Kresley Cole does that really beautifully, too, in a different way. She lets things get big and crazy and terrible and spills candy all over the place. Sometimes, I look at the events in just one of her chapters, and in other hands, I could see it filling a whole book. I think she is amazing. 

So this is a big thing for me that I’m always working on, to get away from scarcity thinking, and always looking to my favorite writers for their example of it. Like, what would Joss or Kresley do? 

I was thinking about it this past winter, and thinking about other places in my life where I do that. 

I have favorite clothes that are so favorite that I coddle them and, I limit how much I’ll wear them, like they’re too precious. Why do I do that? I actually have another grandmother thing—these little Christmas candles from the 40’s that I never burn. Sometimes at Christmas I take them out but they get dusty if you leave them out too long. But I think I’m going to burn them this Christmas! 

And this notebook of my grandmother’s, of course. So I thought, no more scarcity thinking with that notebook! I’m going to use it. I decided to use it for brainstorming notes on short stories and novellas. And it’s been really great, because the thing is in use, laying all over my office, in the living room, wherever. I look at it 1,000,000% more this year than my whole life combined. I’ll eventually fill its pages but why not? It's there to be used.

Do you do that scarcity thing, too? Do you need to find a way to blow all your candy, or do you have the opposite problem? 

Images: Sword of Damocles by Richard Westall; Jelly Babies by Father Jack

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Woe Is My Word Count

So here we are. You, me, and Labor Day weekend. Most of you are probably celebrating the end of summer. Which I’m not hesitant at all to say, I’ll be glad to see go. It’s been butt-ass hot here in TX, and I’ve had enough.

Enough. :)

That said, my next three weekends, with only an occasional break for dinner with a few of my gal-pals, is going to be spent writing to meet my deadline because I’ve fallen woefully behind. Why have you fallen woefully behind, Dakota, you ask?

Worry and the world at large.

I learned something about my writing process a couple of weeks ago when I was super stressed over a life dilemma I was having—I can’t write when my emotional state’s gone awry.

I know some writers find solace in their writing when life gets to be too much. They escape to the world they’ve created and find respite in their characters. I so admire that.

Me? Not so much. I can’t make the funny if something’s bothering me. In fact, I can’t make the words—at all. My word count suffers and I plummet from 8-10K a day to more like 3-4. Now, I’m the kind of writer who vomits whatever’s in her head, which accounts for the higher word count, but I also delete probably half of that 8-10K because it’s all just shit. Well, it’s all just shit anyway, but you know what I mean. :)

So for about a month, I was only working with 1-2K a day. Thus, getting me absolutely nowhere in terms of reaching the desired goal of 90-100K. And it sucked, folks. Sucked ass. Despite the jokes I make about what I write, I take the mission itself, the work ethic involved, seriously. It’s my job. Period. If I have a deadline, I make it—no matter what. I don’t ask for extensions at the last minute. I don’t put it off. If nothing else, I continue to beat my head against the word count wall in order to get ‘er done.

But being in this office for a solid flippin’ month with dribs and drabs and no direction was driving me insane—especially for someone like me who has a high word count goal. Naturally, I went through assloads of self-flagellation. “It’s over. I’m word dry. I’m washed up.”

But then I realized, I was washed up to begin with—so this particular dilemma was no excuse. :) And I’m a subscriber to the “suck it up and shut up” school of thought, so I couldn’t very well sit around and whine. Not out loud anyway.

Then quite suddenly, I found an answer (sort of) to my life dilemma and the words started to flow again, but allowing my environment and stress to dictate my creativity is unacceptable. My creativity is what pays the bills right now, and it pissed me the hell off to have it thwarted. So I mapped out on a calendar exactly how many words per day I’d need to make deadline by October 30, got busy, and the structure actually helped get me over the hump of wordlessness. The words were less likely to end up deleted because I knew they had to mean something or I’d miss word count.

So now I’d like to hear from you. What in life thwarts your creativity or keeps you from moving forward—like stops you cold and makes you force yourself to find a way around your problem? And I’d love to hear your solutions. Because seriously, who knows if I might need to borrow one of yours? :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Few, the Proud, the Stubborn

First of all, congratulations to Leaguer Jeanne Stein for the release of the Anna Strong #7 book, Crossroads. I've known Jeanne for years a long time, and I've seen her persevere in the frustrating and tortuous path to get published. She came close to giving up, and even when she strapped herself back to the yoke, it still took a while before anything positive happened. Jeanne exemplified the supreme toughness it takes to make it was a writer.

If you're a young American male, the standard for toughness is a Navy SEAL. But if you think it's tough to be a SEAL, then try being a published writer, specifically a novelist. It's hard to compare success rates, since the weeding-out process for SEALs and writers starts early. So I'm guessing for SEALs, maybe 10% of the wannabes actually get to wear the coveted Trident insignia.

10%! That's gravy compared to being a novelist. Literary agents get hundreds of queries a week. Maybe they respond favorably to one in two hundred. Of those, maybe one in five gets the nod. So, at this point, it's one in a thousand. And even if you get agent representation, you're still not golden. Getting published is that iffy. Maybe one in two agent pitches ends up with a publishing deal.

There is a curriculum to becoming a SEAL (or a Ranger, Green Beret, fighter pilot). Step 1, Step 2, and so on. Granted, it's not easy.

The big difference between success to becoming a SEAL and a novelist (aside from the physical agony and the attention of merciless instructors) is that becoming an author is so open-ended. There are no guarantees. You can take endless creative writing courses, participate in critique groups for years, have all kinds of writing credentials, and yet, nada. There is no diploma you can hang that says, Published Author. (Well you can, but it wouldn't mean anything.) Being a Published Author happens when it happens.

In one of his vlogs, Leaguer Mark Henry talks about the mental toughness it takes to succeed as a writer. The rejection. The frustration. The hacking at a story you hope will get published. The anxiety that you've tried your best and yet...your manuscript is dismissed as another steaming pile of words.

If you quit, it ain't the end of the world. The fate of civilization does not hang in the balance of whether your work-in-progress makes it the printing press.

But you keep at it, never giving up, until you are one of the persistent White Trash Zombie author and fellow Leaguer Diana Rowland and her Creepy Doll.

Who the HELL Do We Think We Are?

We're a bunch of paranormal romance and urban fantasy authors who occasionally blog, make filthy jokes and prowl the halls of conferences and conventions with switchblades!

Current roster: Mario Acevedo, Michele Bardsley, Sonya Bateman, Dakota Cassidy, Carolyn Crane, Molly Harper, Kevin Hearne, Mark Henry, Stacia Kane, Jackie Kessler, J.F. Lewis, Daniel Marks, Richelle Mead, Kelly Meding, Allison Pang, Nicole Peeler, Kat Richardson, Michelle Rowen, Diana Rowland, Jeanne C. Stein, K.A. Stewart, Anton Strout, and Jaye Wells