Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Yep, it's that time again.

You know, the time where you suddenly look up and there's a whole new year ready to hit you in the face like a gigantic cream pie ... and you still haven't gotten the remains of last year's cream pie out of your hair yet.

Writing-wise, I think I have made some forward progress this year. At least I'm getting better at recognizing bad writing when I commit it, though in some cases it still doesn't stop me from doing it anyway. (Write now, edit later, right?)

I've had my work critiqued by more different people than since my creative writing class back in college. That's helped me see where some of my weaknesses are as a writer, and it's been very helpful. It's also been somewhat demoralizing on occasion, because it points out just how far I still have to go. But as long as I keep making progress in a forward direction, I'll count it as a win.

I've bought myself a domain name and am in the process of creating a web site. Talk about your exercises in creative writing! It doesn't help that I have to do at least part of this in an unfamiliar language. (I'm really learning to hate CSS, by the way...)

I'm part of this group here on The Melt-Ink Pot, and I've been trying to post at least something every Thursday (although this week and last week have been challenging, since, well, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, y'know...). This is a great group of friends, and I'm hoping for good things for all of us in the coming year.

So for 2010 ... here's what I'm hoping to do:

  • Finish revisions to Phoebe and the Damned Strumpet (formerly "The Vedia Gamble") and send out the necessary summaries, query letters, etc. to some agents.
  • Finish the current WIP, The Daughters of August Winterbourne. Try to bring it in under 200,000 words, so I only have to cut out half of it during editing. {sigh}
  • Either write or edit at least a little bit every day (Except January 2.) Remember that it's easier to keep momentum going than to have to start it rolling again.
  • Continue posting here, with the rest of the ladies.
  • Finish and post web site (by the end of January, preferably).
  • Give more (preferably daily) updates on my writing progress. I started out well with that, but have faltered recently -- mostly because I've felt I'd rather spend the time writing than blogging about it. However, the daily updates help me feel as though I'm making progress, so if that's what it takes, I'll do it.
  • Network more with other writers and aspiring writers. This is not an easy thing to do, because while I can be very articulate on the page, when it comes to carrying on coherent face-to-face conversations -- especially with "the cool people" -- my tongue swells to about three times its normal size, my lips turn to wood and my brain freezes up worse than if I drink a Slurpee too fast. But I'll try. Initial forays into these waters seems to indicate that the species authorius americanus is generally friendly, if somewhat intimidating.
  • Read more, especially new books. Right now, I've been doing a lot of re-reading, mostly because the majority of our books are still in storage, waiting to be unpacked. Which has to wait on painting, which is waiting on warmer weather... But there's still the library, and borrowing from friends, and a couple of Barnes & Noble gift cards that I've been carrying around unspent for far too long.

I think that's enough to go on with for now.

What resolutions related to writing are other people making this year?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Inspiration

I've been out of town for a week and missed both my Tuesdays (travel days both weeks). So here is a substitute sort of post. I recommend that if you're writing, go read this post by NYT Bestselling Author Yasmine Galenorn about making time to write.

Making Time To Write

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Maintaining Focus; or ... Oooh! Shiny!

This time of year is hard on our inner seven-year-olds. So many distractions, so many things we could be doing, along with the things we should be doing, and there's never enough time for everything. I should write. I should also finish decorating the living room, shopping for presents, and planning for the party at my house on Sunday. Somewhere in there, I need to find time to wash my hair, clothes, and bathroom floor, and oh, yeah, I'm going to a concert tomorrow night.

I have -- so far -- managed to write every single day since the end of NaNoWriMo. Granted, my word count on one of those days was a whopping 22 words*, but it was still progress in a forward direction. I did write a mile worth of words (5,280) the Sunday before last, however.

It'd be easy to say, "Well, it would be all right if I didn't write until after the holidays." After all, it's not like the writing police are lurking outside my door, waiting to haul me off if I don't put fingers to keyboard for at least a few minutes a day. I'm only doing this for me, and no one will know the difference. Right?

Right ... but ... (You knew there would be a "but", didn't you?)

But ... I'm doing this for me. I'm doing it because it's something I really want to do, and because it makes me feel good to do it. I'm enjoying the heck out of writing this story, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with my beta readers -- which I can't do until it's done. And yes, it is good for my sometimes-tenuous self-esteem to be able to say, "Look! I wrote every damn day in December, and I've written a hundred thousand words since November 1." It will be even more satisfying to say, "I've finished another book, and I don't think it sucks."

It's also important to me to keep my momentum going. I can sit down right now and pretty much remember where my brain was when I left off last night. Two weeks from now, I might not have a clue. And once I reach that point, it's just that much easier to let it slide just another day or two ... another week ... another month ... forever ... while I wait for inspiration to strike, or the muse to return, or the planets to be in just the right conjunction, or -- even less likely -- my brain to go back to where it was when I left off.

So, yeah. I'm going to keep writing every day. I might -- MIGHT -- give myself a day off on Christmas. (Though we will have to drive back from my parents' house in Fort Collins, and that would be an hour of writing time, if I can persuade the husband-unit that it's his turn to drive ...) And I honestly don't think I'll be doing any writing on January 2nd, since I'm helping cook an SCA Twelfth Night feast that day.

But other than that, I'll be writing. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. One word at a time. Because I am determined that it shall be so.


(By the way, for folks who were wondering about the fate of poor, first-name-less Mr. Fletcher, to whom I introduced you last week, worry no longer. This time around, the poll was conclusive, and we have settled happily on Mr. Nicholas Owen Fletcher.)



* Yes, that was the day of the holiday party thrown by my employer. Yes, the one where they put me in charge of the drinks tickets. Yes, the one where I used my two and then some. And?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two roads diverged in the woods...

Did I "win" Nano? Nope. And I'm perfectly fine with that. I did spend the month working on projects that I want to tackle in the future. I've been focusing a lot on reading lately. Studying books in some different genres and analyzing form and structure. There's something new niggling my brain, something that could be a series. We'll call that Project A. Then there's Project B. Project B is a derivative of Project A. It started off as an idea for part of A, but it's taking a new life in my head. It would be taking me in a direction I hadn't gone before. I have no idea if I could find a market for it. But oh man, would it be fun to write. I think for the time being my plan is to work on Project A, planning, researching, analyzing some books put out by the target publishers... and then in stolen moments work on Project B.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I've been writing every day. Sometimes not much more than a couple of sentences, but I'm writing. I've been bouncing between a couple of stories too, when what I need to do is pick one and buckle down to finish that story, but at least I'm writing. It feels good to write without the pressure of Nanowrimo. My "win" the first year aside, Nanowrimo and I do not have a history of getting along well.

So, my stories. One of the things I'm struggling with, other than not having the attention span or discipline to stick to one story, is knowing in which direction each story needs go. I have written some great scenes, but that's all they are, just scenes. I write one and then I write another and then maybe a third, but none of them are really connected. Right now my plan is to keep writing those scenes until the connection is clear. And if that doesn't happen, then I will split off what I have added to save for something else, and then I will try again.

It's not pretty, this slogging through the words. It's not pretty and it's not always easy, but it feels right.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What's In A Name; or Does The Shoe Fit?

We've had a couple of good postings here about book titles. But when you're writing a novel, the book isn't the only thing for which you have to find a name.

You also have to name your characters. And sometimes that can be a painful process.

There are so many factors to consider:

1) The time and place in which your story is set. If your story takes place in the past, this requires research into the kinds of names in use at the time of your story. One of my stories, set in 1873, has a character in it by the name of Grant Tomlinson. It sounded like a good Victorian English name to me. "Tomlinson" is just fine, but only later did I find out that "Grant" wasn't commonly used as a first name until the 1860's (twenty years after the character would have been born), and then mostly in America. Oops.

That's fairly obscure, of course, and unless you happened to have the misfortune of having a large number of people among your readership who are fanatical about the origins and meanings of names, it probably wouldn't be a problem. But your characters' names should all be suitable for the story's time and place, or it will jar readers out of the world you are building in their minds (imagine a samurai warrior named Ezekiel or an Indian princess named Heather).

2) On the other hand, if your story is set in the future, or in outer space, or in some fantasy setting, you have free rein, right? Well, not necessarily. If you're setting your story in a bronze-age village on a fantasy world with unicorns and dragons, and most of your characters have names like Tar'jil and Kun'axa and Rog'min, when your readers come across the character Nixelthorpmoojman, you'll almost be able to hear them humming that song about how one of these things is not like the others. So unless you're prepared to explain how poor Nixelthorpmoojman washed up on the beach after a really bad storm, and even he can't explain where he's really from, you'll want to have some consistency in naming practices.

Also, your names should be pronounceable and preferably not too unwieldy -- Larry Niven's The Ringworld Engineers, as I recall, had a section where all of the people had nearly-unpronounceable five-syllable names, which was at least consistent, but it made that part of the book very tedious to read.

3) One problem I've run into is having names for my space pirates that are almost too familiar. I wanted them to be accessible, strange without being too strange. Instead, I've received comments that they're not alien enough. So people have asked why Shon Braca is named Shon and not just Shawn (they sound the same, don't they? ... well, not quite, but the difference is *very* subtle). But these are space pirates. Shouldn't they have more interesting names?

4) And then, once you've addressed all of those questions, you have to make sure that you don't have characters whose names sound (or even are) too much alike. We all know that in Real Life, everyone you meet doesn't have a unique name. The company I work for, for example, has had two Beccas and three Wendys all at once, and a Sean and two Shawns (one of whom was female). But in a story, you probably want to avoid having more than one character with the same name, or even two names that sound too much alike. Geoffrey and Gregory are two that will make me struggle every time, but I also have problems with names that have the same cadence and vowel sounds -- Julian and Lucien, for instance.

5) Sometimes you also want the name to have a meaning that's important to the character. Would Severus Snape have been the same kind of character if he'd been named George Smith? How about Ebenezer Scrooge? Luke Skywalker?

6) Finally -- and perhaps most importantly of all -- the name needs to fit the character. It's true that when parents name their children, they don't really have much of an inkling of what the child's personality will eventually be. So occasionally in Real Life, you'll see a Marigold whose blonde curls have darkened and who grew up to be a hard-bitten police detective, but unless you want that kind of irony to be a part of your story, your characters should have names that fit them. If they're to be evil wizards or cold-blooded killers, their names should not evoke bright sunshine. If they're to be heroes, they should have strong, bold names. And if they're to be involved in a romance, they ought to have a name their loved one can sigh, well, romantically.

I've run into just such a situation in my current work-in-progress, set in 1870's England. My main character, Celia Winterbourne, seems reasonably happy with her name. However, when I went to name her Romantic Interest, I decided upon Bartholomew Fletcher. Fletcher is a good British surname, no problems there. And I thought Bartholomew was a good choice, too ... right up until I wrote the first scene that has Celia whispering her beloved's name in his ear, along with a profession of her love.

Yeah. Mr. Fletcher did not hesitate to inform me that "Bartholomew" is not a name one can murmur lovingly in anyone's ear. Nor, he was quite certain, did "Bart" suit him. Not in the least.

In fact, he and I have been having a series of discussions as to what his name should be. Those can be found over at my LiveJournal, starting here (including the poll I ran). As of this writing, we have yet to make a final decision, but I think we're homing in on it. I'll keep y'all posted.

(And we're not even going to talk about the story I wrote in high school, where I decided it would be funny to give my Romantic Interest the most unromantic name I could come up with, so the poor fellow got stuck with the name "Glunk". Yeah.)

What challenges have other people found when naming characters? How did you solve them?

By the way, here are a couple of my favorite sites for finding names:

The Fantasy Random Name Generator
English Census Results for 1881
The Random Name Generator (uses U. S. Census data)

Friday, December 4, 2009

First Drafts

I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend last week. I was off in the great Midwest visiting family hence the lack of a post from me last week.

This week I’m going to talk about something that I’m currently going through – having people read and critique the first draft of a finished product. It’s been said that there is not an author who ever existed that ever had the first draft of their work published. And boy howdy is there a reason for that! First drafts are messy, full of not only enough grammar mistakes to send any English teacher into fits but plot holes and random notes and, at least for me, places where there’s this: (put something else here).

First drafts are safe, because really the only people who should ever see them are you and your critique group (and sometimes, maybe even they should be spared). First drafts really should be one long plot summary. You lay out your story in the first draft and then go back and fill in the blanks, tighten it, see where maybe your story should start in a different place.

First drafts are opportunities I think to make a good story even better and then let the subsequent drafts make it the best story you can come up with. I know editing is a long and tedious process, sometimes even more so than coming up with and writing the silly thing in the first place. But at least at this point, I’m enjoying it. I’m appreciating my critique group pointing out the good and the not so good and making me see things in my story that I didn’t notice before.

We’d all love to think that the very first go around we have the best story EVER but the reality is we don’t. No author does. Oh I’m sure some come close but I think that comes with time and practice and success.

How do you feel about first drafts? What about editing? Do you enjoy the process or do you find it tedious?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Welcome to December; or, The Post-NaNoWriMo Hangover

Wow, what a ride!

November was great. Despite a couple of days when I got almost nothing written -- my worst day was something like 300 words -- I still ended the month with over 75,000 official, duly-counted and verified words, and a third winner's certificate to hang on my wall. (Which, I now realize, I completely forgot to buy a frame for when I was out shopping last night. Dang.) About 10,000 of that came from a single-day marathon session on the 29th. That surprised me. I didn't know I had it in me, but the story was apparently in a hurry to get out.

For the most part, the words seemed to flow effortlessly from my brain to the screen. A little too effortlessly, in some cases; I know that much of what I've written this month is wordy and more than a little bloated. However, I'm forcing myself to finish the story before I go back and start trimming. Inner Editor is just going to have to sit on her hands for another month or so. (She hates that, she does...) It was a good feeling, though, to have the story practically telling itself.

So what did I learn last month?
  • Writing an average of 1,667 words per day doesn't seem nearly as difficult as it did the first time I did NaNo in 2006. At no point did I fall behind the average pace for the month. So maybe that is something that improves with practice.
  • The resources available to authors today are astounding even compared to my first NaNo in 2006. Thanks to Google Street View, I took a virtual tour of Oxford and saw some of the same buildings my characters interact with. It helped me visualize my setting in a way I've never been able to do before.
  • Having supportive family members and friends is important. My Beloved Husband was behind me all the way (thanks, dear!), and many of my other friends, old and new, cheered me along as well. Thank you all!
  • It's good to know that if I ever needed to write 10K in a day, I could, but I did pay the price for it in sore wrists and hands for the next three days. (Mmmm, nothing like the smell of BenGay in the morning!) If I ever do that again, I will dig out the wrist braces before I start, rather than after I finish.
  • I think I still have a lot to learn about pacing. I feel as though I've spent far too much time on the setup for this story, and wonder if the payoff will go by too quickly. But that's what editing is for, and it's not Inner Editor's turn. Yet.
  • I'm also learning to spot when I'm telling and not showing, at least some of the time. I've already left myself notes in the manuscript that say things like, "Find a way to show that Adja is being stubborn, rather than telling us that she is", and "Go back and illustrate this through examples."
So overall, I think the experience helped me continue my growth as a writer, which means that it was worth doing. It also means I'll probably do it again next year.

Most important of all, though, this year's NaNo got me back into the habit of writing on a daily basis again. (Things kinda fell apart after I finished last year's behemoth.) Ideas are flowing, plot bunnies are scampering madly through my brain, and all is well and happy with the world.

So for everyone reading this who completed a writing challenge last month, congratulations! For those who tried but did not reach their goals, also congratulations. At least you wrote something, and hopefully more than you would have otherwise. Either way, I hope the experience helped you learn more about the craft of writing.





(Oh, and for those who were wondering ... yes, I did take a day off from writing the current WIP yesterday to write notes and sketch outlines for the rest of this book, plus books two and three of the trilogy. That was also very satisfying.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Series overload

I realized last night that one of the contributing factors to my reading blahs is series overload. At least two of the books I'm working my way through are part of a series. One is the 5th book in the series and the second is the 4th (and final) in a series. I adore both authors, but I believe I've gotten to a point where I just want things to end.

In the second set, we're in the fourth and final book. And it looks like we're going to get a resolution to the events that have followed through the series. But I'm to the point where I don't even care how it ends. I've been trying to finish this one for months.

In the other set, there is no end in sight for the series (as far as I know, maybe there is). In fact, the sixth book just came out. And I have to say, I think I'll skip it. While I love the author's writing, I'm burned out on her world and want something new. Or if I have to have the familiar, I'd rather we return to the main characters from book 1 and 4. The main couple in book 5 is sort of a yawn fest for me.

And this is the conundrum for anyone that writes genre novels were series are common - how do you keep things fresh and keep your audience interested? I heard Kim Harrison speak once at a book signing. As she talked about her series, she talked about how the book we were all there to have signed ended a particular arc and that the next book (she was contracted for a few more) would begin the next arc for her main character. I think that's what I'm missing, at least in series 1, we've had essentially the same big picture arc now for 5, going on 6 books. Get on with it! Let's move on.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Onward

Just a quick one tonight before last night's lack of sleep completely overtakes me and I fall asleep where I sit.

Today marks the end of Nanowrimo 2009. Did I win? Nope. Did I come close? Ha! Not even. My final word count is less than 2,000. I hit a massive wall right from the outset and chose to let it rule me. I'm disappointed in myself. Not that I didn't "win" but that I let my anxiety and frustration and unwillingness to fight the block consume me and keep me from telling a story I think has potential to be a great one. My preconceived notions of title and characters and plot never meshed and instead of changing one or the other, I kept trying to force everything into a neat package.

So another Nanowrimo is over and with it, another unfulfilled idea. The good thing about challenges, however, is that they can happen at any time. With that in mind, I'm going to take December to rework my Nano idea into something I feel comfortable with and I'm going to move forward and- hopefully- keep in mind the lessons I learned in November. My challenge to myself is to write every day. Every. Damn. Day. Even if what I end up writing are throwaway words, I will write. No more excuses, really. I'm all out of them; it's time I just write.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Getting Ahead Of Myself; or, What Happens When A Story Really Comes To Life

(Brought to you by the "Better Late Than Never" department, since turkey coma took over my brain last night...)

Well, my NaNoWriMo project is currently sitting at roughly 61,000 words, and I'm not quite halfway into the story. Which means that this one, like last year's, is probably going to run a lot longer than it should.

I'm not terribly worried about it at this point, because I can already see lots of places where the story can be trimmed and condensed. There's a lot of what I've seen referred to as "tea drinking" in it. By that, I mean the stretches of story where the characters are drinking tea, and we get the excruciating details of how each takes his/her tea, and how many times they stir it, and how many sips they take of it, and so on. While a certain amount of that is necessary to help flesh out a story's world, too much of it can really bog down a narrative. So that's something I'm definitely going to keep in mind come the editing phase.

The story is also set in the Victorian era, so a lot of the descriptions and conversations are far more wordy than they really need to be. But my goal for this draft is to get down all of the images and nuances that are essential to how I want to tell the story; I can go back later and pare out a lot of the excess verbiage while still (hopefully) keeping in the flavor of the era.

I can see that there's a lot of repetition in it, too. There are three separate places, for instance, where my MC's father thinks about or discusses her relationship with The Love Interest. I'm pretty sure I can lose at least one of them, and I can shorten up one or both of the others (though frankly, I'm very pleased with the scene where The Father confronts The Love Interest directly and don't want to pare it down too much).

Finally, I can look back at what I've written so far and identify a lot of stuff that is really part of the backstory/worldbuilding phase that I, as the author, need to know about, but that you, as the reader, really don't, or at least not in quite so much detail. I can trim that out pretty easily, I think, and it will make for a better story that way.

But what pleases me most of all is that this story finally seems to have found its voice. (I know, a mere 60K words in!) The characters are beginning to come alive for me at last, and the tone is finally starting to even out. I have a fair idea of the arc for the rest of this book. I know where I want to go, and I mostly know how I want to get there. There are still a few fuzzy plot patches, but that's really not a bad thing. Discovering what goes in them will help keep the project fresh and alive for me.

That's not the problem.

The problem is that, in the shower* yesterday morning, I got a very clear vision of where the rest of this trilogy (yes, trilogy) is headed. In particular, a number of the plot points for Book Three have become clear to me, and one scene in particular presented itself to me almost fully-formed.

Now I'm in a quandary. I really don't want to lose momentum on my current story, but on the other hand, I want to make sure to capture these ideas while they are still fresh in my head. I'm not sure how to handle this, though at the moment I'm leaning toward making Book Three wait until December 1, at least. Then I'll take a day or two to jot down outlines and notes for what I want to make sure to do when I get there before I go back and finish the current story.

How do other people handle it when a story wants to run away with you? Do you run off after the plot bunnies, or do you make them wait their turns?


* Have I mentioned that many of my best story ideas come to me in the shower? Why is that, I wonder?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reading and Writing

I was discussing my post with fellow Melt-Ink Pot-er, Andrea, and how I couldn't think of something to write about this week (scandalous, I know). She suggested that since to be good writers, we need to also be readers, that I should blog about what I'm reading right now.

Unfortunately, I find myself in somewhat of a reading slump lately. Oh, don't get me wrong, I am reading. In fact, I believe I have four books that I'm working my way through at this time. The problem is that none of them are reaching out and grabbing me. I pick up one and read it for a few pages, even a chapter or two. Then I put it down and wander aimless through my living room for something else to read. I stare at my bookshelves, pick up books and look at them, put them back, and do this over and over again. Finally my husband will ask me what I'm doing. When I tell him I'm trying to find something to read, he looks at me like I'm crazy.

There is no lack of reading material on my shelves. I have shelves of books that haven't been read, as well as Sony Reader that has about 20 digital books waiting to be attacked (and I won't even count the books I have on my iPod).

One of the books I'm reading is by an author I adore. This is the 6th book in a series she's writing and while I still like what I've read so far, it doesn't grab me the way books one, two, or even four did.

I know that some readers when they get in a slump will go back and reread an old favorite. I'm not a rereader. I've rarely reread a book in my life. My question is how do you overcome reading slumps? Reread an old favorite? Completely switch genres from what you have been reading? Lose your mind in a video game for a couple hours (if you haven't done Wii Archery on the Sport Resort, you don't know what you're missing)?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Insert Title Here

In her most recent post, Colleen talks about titles and how they matter to her as both a reader and a writer. It's a great entry and it got me to thinking about how I view titles from both standpoints as well. She briefly mentions covers too; because I am lame-o and skipped my turn last week, I'm going to subject you all to another post this week, on covers this time (probably on Wednesday).

As a reader, the title is usually the first thing that draws me to a book, especially when I am wandering around the bookshop without a game plan in mind (game plan when bookshopping? oh yes, sometimes I come up with one). Like Colleen says, titles can convey a lot in a few words. I tend to spend most of my browsing in the mystery section, horror too if there is one. Because there are always more books than there is time to look through them, titles help me sort through the stacks and skip over the books I am not interested in checking out. For example, while I enjoy them on occasion, so-called 'cozy" mysteries are not my thing so when I see titles with obvious puns such as Crime Brulee or Pointe and Shoot, I know to keep on moving down the shelf. I do love a good, grim mystery, however, so titles such as River of Darkness and Blood on the Tongue are going to stop me in my tracks. Sometimes a title is misleading, which can be an exciting thing for me as a reader (i.e. The Doll who Ate his Mother by Ramsey Campbell is actually not about an evil doll who comes to life) or it can be an utter disappointment (Fangland by John Marks springs to mind).

As a writer, I understand that while the title I choose will most likely change down the line- whether by me or (pleasepleaseplease) my publisher-I need to come up with one that I feel conveys the heart of my story. Sometimes they come easily and sometimes they don't, but I like to have a title when I begin to write. That doesn't mean it's always the right title. For this year's nanowrimo project, I selected a title that came to me so effortlessly, I just had to use it. Unfortunately, it goes with my story as well as oil does with water and to be honest, I think that's one of the reasons why I've failed so horribly at the challenge this year. I kept trying to make the two mesh when they so clearly did not. No matter how I changed my plot, I could not disconnect it from the title. Bottom line is that that particular title is meant for another story, one that is slowly percolating in my brain, and I just need to save it for when the time is right.

I'm going to echo Colleen's words in her entry: what do you think about titles?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Title (or what am I going to call today’s post?)

We’ve all heard the saying, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Whoever coined that phrase must have been a romance reader. Let’s face it, some of the old-school covers were pretty worthy of being ripped on (no pun intended) and even now, there are some covers that can be pretty cringe-worthy.

But what about titles? To most authors coming up with the perfect title is almost as important (and in some cases, like with me, as difficult) as writing the story in the first place. Most publishers ultimately change the author’s title when they decide to publish but initially it’s the big attention getter for an authors work from contests to query letters. A title has to convey a sense of time, place and what kind of book it is not to mention conveying a brand (Harlequin Presents anyone?). That’s a lot of pressure for an average of 3 or so words.

I’ve been a reader of romance long enough to know that the old adage of judging a book by the cover is true. So as I’m skimming the shelves it’s usually a title that will catch my attention first (especially now that most books are put on shelves with the spines, rather than the cover, facing out). If the title sounds interesting, I’ll usually read the back cover before I even look at the front cover.

Coming up with titles for my own work is often such an exercise in frustration that I avoid dealing with it until I have to. For example, the title of my historical western novella that I’m submitting to Harlequin’s Undone line, has changed several times since I started writing it. I am not 100% in love with the current title that I’m using and chances are it’s going to change before I submit it. I know that if Harlequin buys it chances are really good that they’ll change the title. But it still, along with everything else, is going to have to catch the attention of an editor.

The other day something happened that has never happened to me before – a title just came to me. What’s stranger is that it wasn’t for anything I was currently working on. But the title (which sorry, not ready to share), was so just perfect that I now plan on doing a project around it. It was a kind of refreshing change to the usual frustration that comes with coming up with titles.

What do you think of titles? Do you use them to determine what books you may or may not buy? What about with your own work, do you struggle to come up with them? Do you have to have one before you begin a project or do you wait until you’ve finished?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Being Creative NOW; or What Are We Waiting For?

Wil Wheaton* had an excellent post on his blog this week titled, "Get Excited and Make Things!" If you consider yourself a creative person at all (and why would you be here if you don't?), you really should go read it. Yes, now. I'll wait.

You back? Okay.

Anyway, it really got me to thinking about just how easy it is to be creative in the first decade of the twenty-first century. As pre-published authors, we have access to resources our predecessors could only have dreamed of. Let's start with the computer you're using to read this, and the internet connection that delivered it to you. But that's just the beginning. Stuck on a research point? Open an new Google tab in your browser window, type in a few key terms, and whoosh! Need to get a feel for your location? Google Street View. Don't know the names for the various parts of an airship? Wikipedia! And -- the bit that amazes me most of all -- you can do all of this on a laptop with no physical connection to anything.

Know what I did last night? I decided I needed to create a map of a college campus for my WIP. So I went to Google and called up a map of Oxford, England. No, not just a map. A satellite view. And I found a spot where I could squeeze in my imaginary campus (it's on Longwall street, back between Magdalen College and Holywell Cemetery, with the canal there as the eastern border). I took a screen shot of this spot, pasted it into Paint, and -- using the satellite views of other campuses in the area for inspiration -- drew my campus map on top of it. Voila! One Royal Academy of Science, to order. Even geekier? I can link you to the base map that I used, and if I'd thought of it last night, I could have uploaded the final map to Flickr and linked to it here. (I may come back and do that tonight from home, so check back!)

[Aha! And I did. Here is my map of the Royal Academy of Science!]

RoyalAcademyMap-annotated

Things like this boggle my mind. Even as little as ten years ago, I would not have been able to do something like this, or at least not as quickly and easily. I might have been able to come up with a street-level map of Oxford, but not one that would show the buildings and the detail I needed to get a feel for what a college campus in Oxford would look like. I could have made a black and white photocopy of the map and drawn on it by hand. I might have even been able to scan it in to the computer and used Paint like I did last night. But sharing it with my friends would have involved more steps, and taken a lot longer. (Ten years ago, I was still using a dial-up connection, after all.)

The point is, it's easier than ever to be creative. The only difference, as far as I can tell, between people who create and people who do not is simply motivation.

So what kinds of projects -- writing or otherwise -- are people working on? What motivation do you need in order to make them happen?


*Yes, I'm a geek. I read Wil Wheaton's blog. And I admit it. In public. So there.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Writing and Music: To Listen, or Not to Listen

With the "busyness" of life on this side of the computer, I come to you with a humble heart and apologies for not posting anything last Saturday. Truly, I am a bad, bad blogger. However, despite the larger hurdles I've jumped recently, I have thought a great length about today's topic.

Duke Orsino opens the play Twelfth Night with one of my favorite quotes: "If music be the food of love, then play on." Never was a statement more filled with truth, in my opinion. Music is such a part of our lives, regardless of how, where, what, and when we listen to it. For my part, music adds a fourth dimension to my writing life: it generates ideas for plot and character, and encourages thoughts into words that flow onto the page. My writing would be flatter without music.

However, the question I'd like to throw out is simply, "Do you listen to music when you write?"

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer; like most everything in writing, it's all a matter of opinion. Many famous writers have declared they do not listen to music while they write: Nora Roberts, for example, considers writing her profession and therefore treats it like a business, sans music. On the other hand, I have read about some published authors who use music's energy to write, while others use music to literally block out everything else.

My writing is very much tied into music. Usually I listen to soundtrack music while writing scenes, though I have been known to use upbeat rock to write faster-paced scenes. At times, however, my inner writer will grab onto a song and won't let go until I have written that scene replaying in my mind. Those are the times when I plug in my iPod and put the song on repeat until I'm finished - something my husband finds immensely amusing.

It's true, sometimes I use music to put myself into a writing mood. Most of the time, however, music is my passenger in the drive through writing a story. Sometimes it helps me navigate my way through a scene; other times it takes control and leads me on a merry chase. How do you use music in your writing life?

By the way, I am listening to Enya's Christmas CD as I type this post. Seems fitting on this chilly morning so close to the start of the holidays.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Collaboration

Samantha and I had lunch together today to start brainstorming an idea that came to us this morning. We’ve had the notion before to work on a book together and while that original idea I’m sure will see daylight this new idea has us all a twitter.

There are a lot of writers out there who work together; Lauren Dane and Megan Hart; Anthea Lawson is a husband and wife team; PC Cast is a mother/daughter team and I know there are others I’m just not thinking of. They are all successful, both independently (though I think that Anthea Lawson has only written together) and as a team. Anthea (the wife) spoke last weekend at my RWA chapter meeting. Someone asked her the question of how they work together. She said that her husband is really good at plotting so they come up with an outline of a section and then she writes it. He’ll read it and suggest changes and they go from there.

I think that to collaborate you have to draw on each other’s strengths and be mindful of the not so strong points that each person has. This morning via email Sam was really good at coming up with great plot detail that will make our story pop. Plotting is her strength. I’m pretty good at coming up with something out of nothing (or at least very little) so I’ll be able to fill in the blanks.

I’m excited to work on this project with her. Have you ever thought of collaborating with someone? Have you ever written with someone before? What advice would you give a pair that’s thinking of hitting the blank page together?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Finding Your Voice; or, What's That Under The Sofa Cushion?

Ah, the elusive "voice". It is the one thing we pre-published authors are often told is the most crucial aspect of our writing, but no one can tell us where to find it or how to develop it, or even how to tell when we've got it, other than to just keep writing.

This past week, I submitted a couple of chapters of my space-pirate adventure to an on-line writers group formed by some of the people who took part in the Writer's Workshop at Anticipation (a.k.a. the World Science Fiction Convention) this past summer. Discussion of the chapters got lively, but in a friendly, constructive, helpful way. I got some very good ideas out of it, and I think I can see what I need to do with the story next. (Less death and destruction, more humor. Check.)

Which is all very cool, but that's not the only thing I got out of it.

The next day, one of my commenters posted this on his blog. I'll quote part of it here, but you really should go read it all, because it's good (and also short):

"I recently gave a critique to someone about their story – which was a relatively funny piece – and then I got an email reply to my comments that was loads lighter than the story they’d written. Why was this? Because in the email they were relaxed. They were just trying to get back to me, not trying to entertain or write something important."

Wow. Obviously, he was referring to our discussion about my chapters, but it really hit home for me.

Sometimes, as writers, I think we try too hard. We read endless style guides and how-to books and author blogs, and we go to conventions where we listen to advice from authors and editors and agents and even publishers. And after we've done all of that, we're lucky if we can write our grocery lists without stopping to ponder whether the dramatic tension could be increased if we put the milk ahead of the cheese, or worrying ourselves to death trying to decide if it should be "a dozen eggs" or "12 eggs."

Yes, style and grammar and even spelling are important, but those can be tweaked later. What we need to learn to do in order to find our "voice" is to relax and just tell the story.

For me, that's part of what NaNoWriMo is all about. (Aha! You knew I'd get back to that, didn't you?) It's not about proving to myself that I can write 50,000 words in a month. I already know I can do that, since I've done it twice before. It's a chance to focus more on the story and less on the style. That doesn't mean that I don't pay attention to style at all -- I'm a bit OCD that way, if you haven't already guessed -- but if stray commas or adverbs sneak in, they can be weeded out later. I'm just having fun telling the story. And that's how to find your voice.

Oh, and for those who are paying attention, I'm currently at just a little shy of 29,000 words. In other words, just past halfway and well on my way to the 5oK goal, though maybe only about 1/5 of the way into the story. I'm still aiming at 100-120K words total, but looking back on what I've written so far, there's a lot I could take out and tighten up, so even if I end up around 140-150K, I'm probably doing all right. Heck, as long as it ends up shorter than last year's, I'll be happy.

So my challenge to my fellow writers is this: Spend some time this next week just having fun with your writing. Relax, let the words flow, and let's see what happens!

I love it when I can serve as an object lesson!

(If you want to become NaNoWriMo buddies, or even if you just want to follow my word count progress, I'm arwensouth on the NaNoWriMo Web site.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Left turns

Two Tuesdays in a row, I have not managed to post on Tuesday. *bad Tuesday blogger bad bad* Last Tuesday I can blame on being very sick and just did not have the ability to come up with anything. As for yesterday, well, I still can't get to the blog from home and I was too busy to do it at work. But enough with excuses... Here I am on Wednesday.

A few days before Nano began, I had finally settled on a project. I was going to resurrect the erotic sci-fi vampire story I had begun a few years ago. Now, the issue was that I couldn't just pick up where I had left off. I had written myself into a corner with that one. There was a mystery/adventure for the heroine but the motivations behind the bad guys were very fuzzy and not clearly defined. So I took some of the basics from my old plot and decided to keep X and Y. But what about Z, what about that mystery/adventure for the heroine? I began exchanging emails with Andrea (who is my plotting saviour, I can bounce ideas off her all day long and she either knocks them down or hits them back with questions that keep my mind moving) and suddenly I had the basic building blocks of the new story. And someone that had been a friend to the heroine was now the new big bad. All right! We're on our way. I was ready for Nano.

Then something happened... Monday morning (Nov. 2) just the second day of Nano and while I was driving to the train station a kernel of something popped into my head. It was a title (And believe me, that's unusual, I hate trying to come up with titles). Suddenly, I was off. This title was for a whole new story - shapeshifter menage type story. I spent that day figuring out my main characters names, what they looked like, their relationships with one another and their world.

So there I was now with two things I wanted to work on. What to do? Well, I'm working on both. I'm editing what was previously written in my sci-fi vampire story (more like hacking it to pieces) and spending time developing my characters and plot of the shifter menage. I won't hit 50,000 words for the month. I'll be happy if I have 5,000 new words this month. My goal is simply to actively work every day this month. If I do that, then I've "won".

Monday, November 9, 2009

You put one foot in front of the other

I'm still fighting the blahs that struck me last week and my writing has suffered for it. It's never too late to start over, however, so that is what I am doing. I've reworked my opening at least three times and I've finally hit it to where I can continue. 50k words at this point is a mighty big stretch. Okay, it's not gonna happen, but the whole point is to write so I that's what I'm doing.

About that opening...I know, I KNOW, I'm not supposed to rewrite during Nanowrimo. However, I don't know how it is for you, but I cannot get into my story's groove if I am not comfortable with the opening (not that that means I finish what I write if I do happen to like my opening- just ask Sam, who's read many of my first paragraphs but has yet to read the last one). If the first couple of paragraphs don't jive with the tone I'm trying to set, I'm dead in the water. There is no skipping ahead, either: it has to work from the beginning or it doesn't work at all.

I guess that's one of my writerly quirks. Maybe it's something I'll grow out of, or maybe not. How do you approach your beginnings? Can you bust through a block right from the get-go and carry on without stress? Or do you sit and ponder and rewrite until the story starts just the way you want it to? I'm not saying that I never go back and edit the openings I do like from the start, because I surely do.

The interesting thing (to me, at least) is that my Nanowrimo story starts out in the same place in each revision; it's just the wording that keeps changing. I went from third-person to first-person back to third-person. And as I sit here and type this out, it's dawning on me that a lot of my issues with my story stem from a very basic problem: I do not know enough about my main character (and this ties in well with Colleen's recent entry). Once I pin her down, I think the rest will come much easier.

At the rate I'm going, I don't expect to "win" Nanowrimo this year. As cornball as this sounds, though, I am winning in other ways. I'm pushing myself past my usual comfort zones and I'm writing. It's crap and it's slow going, but I'm writing. And that's what it's all about.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Connecting With Characters

Characters. Can’t write with out them and you sure can’t have any kind of a story without them. You can have the best setting in the world, the greatest idea, but without people to bring that to life you won’t have much of a story.

There are just as many ways to develop characters as there are to plot. There are entire books on the subject of creating a character. Some writers conduct “interviews” to get the feel for their characters, others fill out questionnaires and still others fly by the seat of their pants.

I’m a visual person so I usually come up with the description of my character right away. I have to be able to picture them in my head and since I am hardly an artist I go to the next best thing – celebrities. When I was developing my anti-terrorist team for my romantic suspense series I looked for actors that resembled the men I had pictured. I found screen shots of these actors and saved them with the name of the character they were representing.

Beyond knowing what they look like I have to know the personality of my characters, especially my main hero and heroine. I need to know how they are going to react to the situation I’m putting them in and how they are going to react to each other.

Background is also important but I don’t spend a lot of time on it unless it’s important to the story or important to why they are the way they are.

Right now I’m working on developing the characters for my next project. I don’t feel that I can do the kind of plotting I want without first knowing who my characters are going to be. Once I have that down, plotting will be next.

So how do you develop characters? Do you fill out questionnaires? Have you ever had a character that you’ve just connected with? What about one that you didn’t like?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Finding The Time; or How To Fit NaNoWriMo Into Your Life

November is upon us, and I, like a lot of my friends, am involved in the frenzy that is NaNoWriMo.

This year's story is going well. I'm already about 4K words ahead of the minimum pace needed to "win", and while I know that at least some of what I've written during the past couple of days will eventually be edited out, I still feel pretty good about my progress. I definitely recommend writing Victorian-era stories for NaNoWriMo. All those long-winded descriptions, all that wordy dialogue ... they really help pile up the word count. Heck, every new character you bring in is worth about 400 words just to make all the appropriate introductions! I'm feeling pretty confident about my chances for success this year.

The first time I did it, though, I was full of doubt. Where could I possibly come up with the time to churn out 1,667 words per day?

I soon learned that there are little bits of time scattered all through your day. The trick is finding them and using them.

Here are some of the places I found spare bits of time:

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1) Watch less TV. In fact, give it up altogether if you can. At least for this month.

After all, isn't that why God gave us TiVo?

I'll be honest. My Beloved Husband and I don't watch much television anyway. We're too cheap to pay for cable, and for years we lived in a canyon of apartment buildings where, while we were less than three miles from downtown Denver, we couldn't even get most of the Denver stations. So it was pretty easy for us to all but give up television. We mostly use our TV as a device on which to watch DVDs, but I'm even cutting back on that for November. (Season 2 of Rome notwithstanding.) So other than my one hour per week of network television viewing (Supernatural), I'll mostly be staying away from my TV.

2) Cut back on social media.

Between this blog, two on-line critique groups, LJ, Facebook, and Twitter, it would be easy for me to spend hours on-line just being sociable. While I'm not cutting those things out altogether, I am making a conscious effort to scale back (though you probably couldn't tell from my Tweet-fest last night...). Just check in once in a while and remind people that you've not dropped off the face of the Earth, and that you'll be more sociable ... later.

3) Be prepared to write anywhere, anytime.

I have a netbook, which is great as far as being able to pop it open and start pounding away on the keys at the drop of a hat. Other folks I know use their laptops and AlphaSmarts for the same purpose. But if you can't afford any of those things, at least carry a little notebook and pencil along with you to capture those nifty turns of phrase that run through your head, or plot bunnies that crop up with new suggestions, or character sketches, or...

I write at work, at lunchtime (with varying degrees of success; my co-workers seem to have difficulty understanding "I'm at lunch right now," and there is no break room to which I can retreat to show them that really, I'm NOT doing work stuff right now!). On a good day, I can grind out 500-700 words in 30 minutes; yesterday, it was more like 350 in a very scattered fifteen minutes.

Any time I think I will have more than five minutes of sitting still with nothing to do, I whip out the netbook. Waiting for take out pizza. Waiting for (and riding on) the bus. Waiting for the optician's office to open so they can put the lens that fell out of my glasses last night back in place. Anywhere. Anytime.

4) Stretch the days.

Biological need usually wakes me up about an hour before the alarm goes off. And once I've gotten up and tended to that, I'm awake. So why not spend that time writing?

Having trouble falling asleep? Work on your NaNo for half an hour, then try again. Usually works for me, and with the added benefit of piling up a word count while fixing the insomnia problem.

5) Pre-visualize.

All those boring meetings you attend at work, all that time spent in line at the DMV, all the minutes wasted listening to your mother-in-law catalogue your shortcomings* ... these all used to frustrate me during November, because I could be using that time to write, dammit! Then I figured out how to use the time to my advantage: Spend those stray minutes setting up your next scene in your head. Rehearse bits of dialogue, toy with different ways to describe your hero's tumbling brown locks, plan the logistics of exactly how SuperSpy will steal those top secret plans from the underground bunker. Then when you *do* get to sit down and write, you have a far better idea of where you want to go.

6) Strategic Eating:

Now, I'm not saying that you have to eat out for the entire month. But sometimes, grabbing burgers on the way home really is the answer. Quick, cheap, fills the gap, keep going.

Alternatively, plan your meals out so that you can squeeze in a little writing while you're waiting -- like my take-out pizza example above. The guys at our favorite pizza joint are used to me coming in and ordering pizza to go and a Fat Tire for here, then plopping myself and my bottle at a table and working away for fifteen or twenty minutes.

If you really can't afford to eat out, plan your meals so as to get the most bang for your buck. That big pot of chicken soup I made for Halloween is still feeding us; I just finished the leftover spaghetti that was also good for three meals.

Alternatively, look for good sales on microwaveable dinners, canned soups, and other prepared foods. Don't neglect good nutrition, but save the gourmet cook-fests for December.

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"But," I can already hear you saying, "I can't write in just five or ten minutes! I need an hour, maybe two, just to get warmed up!"

Actually, you'd be surprised. First, see #5 above. If you already have part of a scene pre-visualized and waiting to be written, you can usually get it down pretty quickly.

Another trick: Don't stop at the end of a scene. Finish a scene, then force yourself to write the first couple of lines to the next scene. Then you'll be in the middle of the action, and it'll be easier to pick up again.

If all else fails, and you only have five minutes and are certain you can't get anything done in that time, that's an excellent time to read back over the last page or two that you wrote and see if there are any places you need to add in a description or clarify the action. At least, that way, when you have a few more minutes, you'll be better organized.

So those are my tips -- at least the ones I can think of right now. How do you squeeze more writing time into your day?


* No, my m-i-l doesn't actually do this.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Write Now

Sometimes the words won’t come. Sometimes life’s lovely little curve balls overwhelm everything else. Sometimes you just stare at the screen for a while and then walk away without a second thought.

This is me tonight. It’s been a day. You know, one of those days. I need to recover physically and I need to recharge mentally. I am drained. The last thing I want to do tonight is write, especially considering my Nanowrimo struggle yesterday (only 207 words and believe me when I say they are baaaad). What I really want to do- after eating a bag of peanut butter cups and having a good cry- is crawl under the covers with a book by an author who actually knows a thing or two about plot and pace and characterization.

But. BUT.

I won’t. I need to write. I need to persevere and carry on. My story is not going to write itself (although I rather wish it would) and I am not going to feel better when I am even farther behind than I am already. 50 words will be a triumph, given my state of mind, but I am not letting myself off of the hook that easily. If I want to be a writer, I need to write regardless of what is going on around me, especially when I am just starting out and still trying to find my footing. I have to. No ifs, ands or buts. Not any more.

Writing is not always easy, but neither is life. Sometimes you just gotta roll with the punches and find the words no matter how well they are hiding.

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How is Nanowrimo going for the rest of you? I know we're all setting different challenges for ourselves and not all of us are gunning for 50k. Has your story started out like you imagined or have you already switched things up? I'm still writing about a haunted house but the particulars, especially my main character's background and ties to the house, have changed drastically. I've also decided to switch from third-person POV to first-person and I think this will make a huge difference for the better. If something about your story isn't working, what are you doing to fix it?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween, or The Nanowrimo Countdown Beginneth.

Halloween, a day to celebrate a wide variety of events - everything from religious celebrations to scoring the biggest, most awesome bad of candy. For "Nanos" - aspiring writers participating in National Novel Writing Month - Halloween is also the final countdown to the beginning of their thirty day trek into the most intense writing of the year.

While I am participating in Nanowrimo, I have decided to take a slightly different approach: learning to explore the different facets of writing every day. Unfortunately, my day life prevents me from spending several hours an evening sitting in front of a blank screen and letting the words fall from my fingertips, so what better way to improve my writing skills than using this opportunity to study style, tagging, and showing versus telling. All three are areas where I could improve.

In addition to writing a set number of words every day - I intend to writing snippets and scenes, mostly - I will be reading quite a bit. At the moment, I am working through On Writing by Stephen King, a must-read, and have ordered Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon - both of which writing friends recommended to me. I hope to gain some insight into the craft of writing.

So to all of those diving into whatever novel, word count, and practice in a few hours, happy writing! And a Happy Halloween to all!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Nano on the Brain

It’s that time of year again. November 1st is not only All Saints Day in the Catholic church but also the start of Nano – National Write a Novel in a Month month.

I caught the bug last year and in an effort to keep up with the cool kids I signed up to write 1,500 words a day, every day for the month. I had an idea but not much more than that. Needless to say, what was supposed to be fun and a way to get me to write every day turned into a chore. I realized that the main reason why was because I had failed to plan. I had nothing more than my idea and a couple of character outlines. And while I love the idea and hope to flesh it into a series I learned I am not a pantser – I can’t just sit and write without having a clue of where I’m going and that’s where I got hung up last year.

This year I’m going to participate but I’m going to do it on my terms. For starters every Sunday, starting this Sunday, I’m planning out my week. One night might be research, the next might be writing (the goal of which will be 400-500 words a night) another night might be plotting. Last year I picked up a writers calendar planner thing that I’ve yet to use – well it’s going to be put to use this year.

I’m also not going to dive right in the second I walk in the door from work. I’m going to take time to decompress from my day whether that’s by going to the gym for a half hour, doing yoga at home or just veging and then having some dinner I need to have a transition time.

In case you’re curious my Nano project is actually going to be a 2-fer. I’m going to be editing the Undone I wrote this summer and prepare it to submit by February 1, 2010 (if not sooner). I will also be working on a new project that falls in the same place and time as the Undone and will be a YA historical.

I think that Nano is a great idea – it’s a great way to get people who might not otherwise write a motivation for doing so. I’m planning on using it as a way to develop my own style that will allow me to achieve my goal of submitting. After all, you can’t submit what you haven’t got.

Happy Nano everyone!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Latest Revision, Revised; or, Another Form of Writer's Block

One of the things that has been on my writing "to do" list since mid-August has been the overhaul of the first two chapters of my space pirate adventure, The Vedia Gamble. This overhaul is the result of my having participated in the writer's workshop at this year's World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal.

The workshop consisted of groups of two professional authors and three amateurs. Each of the three amateurs submitted the first couple of chapters of their work (along with a synopsis), for a total of up to 10,000 words. The work was then critiqued by both the professional authors and the other amateurs.

I have to admit that I approached the experience with perhaps a little more confidence than I should have. So it came as a major crushing blow to learn that the foundation of my little story had some major flaws, and that I had what were perceived as some inconsistencies in tone between the first and second chapters. (It also appears that I can't write a synopsis to save my life, but that's a topic for another time.)

I didn't actually cry. But my spirit was somewhat ... daunted, shall we say. Yes, I think daunted is a good word to describe how I felt.

Enough so that I set the work aside and didn't even look at it for the next two and a half months. The problems pointed out were such that I couldn't see any way to solve them. And if I couldn't solve them, there was no point in working on revisions to the book, let alone its monster-sized sequel, or in starting the third book to the series. Nor could I seem to interest myself in working on much of anything else, truth be told. I was afflicted with a form of writer's block the likes of which I had never encountered before.

Was this a sign that I was not destined to be a writer? After all, I'd been told time and again that one sign of a true writer is that you can't not write. And yet, here I was, not writing.

Except, of course, that I was. During that time, I've still been composing and posting entries here. I've also been working on my Web site (here's hoping I can get that up and running sometime soon!). I even dabbled a little on the beginning of the third book in the space pirate series. But more importantly, I wrote some things for actual publication -- two magazine articles that will appear in periodicals published by my employer.

You see, I figured it was just a matter of time before I found a way to solve the problems with my story. But I also knew that I might just have to let my brain percolate for a while before the solution became apparent.

Lo and behold, the week before last, some ideas began to suggest themselves for how to solve my story's problems. And last weekend, at MileHiCon, I actually sat down during a free hour between panels and started hacking away at the chapters and making revisions.

I won't say that the fact that one of the guests of honor at MileHiCon was one of the professionals who had critiqued my work was a motivating factor. But I won't say that it wasn't, either. I mean, after all, what if I ran into her and she recognized me and asked what I'd done with the story since WorldCon? (For the record, she did not.)

Another motivating factor is that all of the participants in the WorldCon workshops have grouped together to form an on-line workshop group. I'm scheduled to post something there the second week in November, and I was really hoping it could be my revised chapters.

Be that as it may, I've now hacked the first two chapters of a novel into bits, stirred them around a bit, picked out the pieces I want to save, and added in some new bits where needed. In other words, extensive revision happened. It was difficult to do, because there were some parts that I really liked that needed extensive changes, and others that just needed to be jettisoned altogether. I made myself feel better about the whole thing by saving a copy of the manuscript prior to making any changes. That way, if I really hated the way the changes came out, I could always revert to the prior version.

Overall, I'm pleased with the results. Or I will be, until the workshoppers and my other critiquers get a chance to read it and tell me everything that's wrong with it!

So how do other folks approach revision?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Plot-less in Seattle

Sorry folks, a day late here with my post. I went to post last night and had some technical difficulties getting into the blog. And with all honesty, I was just too dang tired to try and sort them out last night.

Nanowrimo is fast approaching - November 1st - Sunday - EEEK!

I am completely plot-less at this point. I have a couple sketchy ideas but nothing concrete. I have decided that I'm putting my space opera on hold for the time being. There is a class in January I want to take that will directly relate to it and I think it'll be a better story afterward. I have an idea for a contemporary. Correction, I have characters for a contemporary. I know these two characters better than anyone else I've ever written (probably because I've been writing them in a different context for the last ten years). Put I have no idea of each character's GMC.

And then there's a couple other ideas that have popped in recently - one sci-fi and the other, well I don't know what it would be, maybe urban fantasy or just plain fantasy. But those would each take some considerable planning before embarking on them.

Or do I pull out something that I've attempted before. I've got 20,000 words of an erotic sci-fi vampire novel sitting around. A whole lot of editing and an additional 50,000 words could make it work.

But for now, I sit here still plot-less.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Points of Interest

Shiloh Chapel, Durham ME

Rumour has it that Stephen King based the Marsten House in 'Salem's Lot on Shiloh Chapel. Being a King fan, I've long been interested in the places that pop up in his books (even moreso now that I live in Maine). Recently I decided I wanted a closer look at what inspired one of my all-time favorite reads.

Built in 1897, the chapel has a long and controversial history as home to a religious sect/cult known as The Kingdom. Murder, abuse, neglect...it all happened in The Kingdom. There was once a massive complex around the chapel which included schools and a hospital. Hundreds of people once called Shiloh home. The only original building still standing (as far as I know) is the chapel. It sits on a hill, at the end of a long driveway, and the view from the top is incredible. Miles of rolling hills, as far as the eye can see.

As soon as I took this picture, Brian and I were approached by an elderly couple who had been laying flowers in the cemetery at the base of the hill. They asked us if we wanted to go inside. My head exploded and then I remembered my manners and said yes, please. YES.

It turned out that our guides, the Parkers (married for 66 years), have been parishioners of the church for over 70 years. Amazing. They took us inside and led us around, pointing out the lamps that were once fired by oil and the chairs that were at least 80 years old. The church is still active today, although they have broken with the more controversial elements. In what was the capper of such a random encounter, Mr. Parker told us that his father "pounded some nails in" when the chapel was first built and his nephew is the current pastor. Out of respect, I kept my camera in my pocket, but I wish I could share what we saw inside; the place reeks of history.

Every so often during our time inside, scenes from 'Salem's Lot popped into my head. Susan hiding in the woods next to the Marsten House, young Ben creeping up the stairs to steal a relic on a dare, Barlow's voice coming up from the basement... Was I scared at all? Did I get a sense of anything strange or eerie around me? No, I can't say I did. However, it was early afternoon on a bright sunny day and I wasn't alone. Put me there in the middle of a rainy night and I would probably tell you something different.

As we took our leave, the Parkers extended another invitation, this time to Sunday morning services. "At 10 am, and the pastor is a quiet talker...not one a'them loud ones." You know, it was tempting. I've spent a lot of time tonight since then researching the history of Shiloh Chapel and The Kingdom; I'm fascinated by the story and sense I'll be getting my hands on anything and everything to do with Shiloh that I can.

What an unexpected- and amazing- adventure. All I wanted was to take a picture, which I got, and I walked away with a head full of stories and a drive to take what I saw and turn it into my own tale of terror. Not for Nanowrimo as I've got another scary story bubbling away in my cauldron, but soon. Inspiration is everywhere, but to find it in some of the same places as one of my favorite authors is pretty damn cool. This is the first time I've had an idea hit me so squarely on the head. I can't wait to explore more.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Face of Rejection

This year I stepped onto a large branch and submitted the opening of my novel to the Emerald City Writer’s Conference sponsored by the Greater Seattle RWA chapter. Having never attempted this before, I did not know what to expect. However, at the end of April this year, I cleaned up my opening, got a lot of feedback, revised some more, took a deep breath, and submitted it. To say I was nervous and a little daunted was an understatement.

About two weeks ago, I received the feedback from the three judges who evaluated my opening. The kind of criticism I got was nothing I expected. For the first time, I felt the icy sting of rejection - the idea that my work was less-than-stellar and there were three professionals who had no qualms about informing me of this fact.

So I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I wept a lot and woke up the next morning with an emotional hangover; I spent the next few days trying not to take to heart everything that was said; I wondered if I would ever go back to writing again.

However, once I got through the emotion, my rational side began to process this experience. As a result, I have come away with a few things.
  1. Writing is subjective. What one person likes, another one loathes. That's the nature of anything creative. Based on several of the lengthy remarks one judge wrote, I would wager she didn't like the genre of my book.
  2. Just because a person is a published author, doesn't mean she knows how to critique. One set of comments in particular struck this chord hard. One judge's remarks bordered on sarcastic and condescending,which bothered me. Personally, I think a judge should try to leave personal bias aside, but that's easier said than done.
  3. I have a ways to go in my writing journey. While I know I have talent, I acknowledge there are aspects of writing that haven't clicked with me yet. Time, lots of reading, analyzing examples of good novels, and more writing and submitting experience will help me get over this hurdle.
Rejection is a hard pill to swallow, but my writing skin has grown a little thicker because of it. While I have not yet returned to those comments, part of me knows that I will eventually. Might be tomorrow, might be next year. The point is, I won't give up. If there's anything I have learned through my vast research into publishing, it's to never quit just because I run into the face of rejection.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Rough and Tumble (and Romantic) Wild West

Happy Friday - Today I'm copying a post that I made last month at Seduced By History which is the blog for members of the RWA Hearts Through History chapter. Enjoy!

My love affair with the historical western started when I was about 8 or 9 and my dad began reading me the “Little House on the Prairie” books. I was obsessed with watching the TV show when I got home from school and Dad wanted to share with me the stories that inspired the show. In junior high school my love affair with the western continued with the short lived TV series “The Young Riders”, about the Pony Express, featuring some real life people like Jimmy “Wild Bill” Hickock and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. My 13 year old self wanted nothing more than to have one of these dashing riders come to my rescue. In fact, my first ever historical western story was based off the show (I was writing fan fiction before I even knew what it was!). Other shows like “The Magnificent Seven” and “Deadwood” soon followed and further fueled my love of this time period. Oddly enough I don’t enjoy most movie westerns. When I started reading romances in my late teens, I was drawn to the historicals and mostly drawn to the westerns. The truly wonderful authors who write this genre took me to a time and a place that I’d loved since I was a child. When I decided to take my love of writing and pursue being published, a historical western romance was my first project. So why the historical west? My simple answer is: variety. The historical west was a vast place, there are stories written from the Canadian Yukon to the Mexican border, from the plains of Minnesota to the coasts of Oregon and everywhere in between. It was a time of change and exploration in our country’s history. The time period is just as vast as the places, from before the Civil War, to during that conflict to afterward through the turn of the century and even beyond. Then there are the story arcs. Of course historical westerns have their clich├ęs just like any other genre, but for me it’s much harder to happen upon the same story arc over and over in westerns than with other genres. The types of characters and conflicts within a historical western are as vast as the time period and setting. People of all faiths, races and economic status headed out to settle the west. One couldn’t venture into this place during this time and be a wimp. The heroines were already strong or came to find a strength they didn’t know they possessed, often out of pure necessity to survive. The heros were rugged, tough and mostly lived by their own rules in a place where law was practically non-existent. The couples that came together could have been different as night and day and yet managed to find true love despite all the odds. I love doing research and I love being able to experience a place first hand. My family’s travels when I was younger seemed to center on road trips through my native Minnesota, into South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. I’ve been to Register Rock in Idaho and stood in the spot where Jack McCall shot Wild Bill Hickock. I’ve stood at the Little Big Horn Battlefield and at the place Laura Ingalls once called home. These experiences have helped to fuel my love for this time period even more. I’d love to know what others think of historical western romances. Do you read them? Who are some of your favorite authors? What other time periods do you enjoy reading and can you give me any recommendations? Among my favorite historical western romance authors are Linda Lael Miller, Sarah McCarty and Stacey Kane . As a whole I don’t really enjoy Regencies but perhaps you can suggest something that might change my mind? I have read a couple of medieval stories that have led me to think this might be a time period I’d love to explore more of. I also really enjoy time travel romance.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Consulting The Oracle, or How I Decide What To Write Next

As we've mentioned several times in the last week, November is rapidly approaching, and with it, NaNoWriMo. One of the most pertinent and troubling questions in my mind these past few weeks has been, "What shall I write this year?"

At last count, my Ideas And Works In Progress list had 34 different ideas on it. Any one of them could prove to be entertaining. But I've discovered that with NaNoWriMo, one of the key success factors for me is picking a story that really wants to be written -- one where I have a fair idea of the characters and at least some of the key plot points, and most importantly, one I'm passionate about.

So, okay. I went through the list and managed, with great difficulty, to narrow it down to the seven about which I was most passionate this month. The problem was that I liked them all, and wanted to write them all next. Obviously, that was not going to work, so I consulted The Oracle.

No, not the one at Delphi.

In this case, I refer to my friends list on LiveJournal as "The Oracle". They helped me pick my first NaNo project, and that mostly worked out okay. (Well, except the part where the beginning needs a bit of re-working.) So I was willing to return to them for advice this time around.

The overwhelming majority selected this one:

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Story Title: The Daughters of August Winterbourne

Genre:
Victorian/Steampunk Fantasy

Quick Synopsis:
Celia Winterborne is anxious to prove herself as one of the first female students admitted to the Royal Academy. But when her airship-designer father is kidnapped by the evil Tarmanian Empire, she and the half-sisters she never knew she had must join forces to fly to his rescue.

Description:
Celia Winterbourne wants nothing more than to go to the Royal Academy and study airship design, like her famous father August Winterbourne. And this year, for the first time, the Academy is admitting females into its hallowed halls -- five of them.

Celia applies and is accepted; for her it is a dream come true. At least, it is until she meets the four other finalists ... who are also daughters of August Winterbourne. It seems Papa had an eventful final term at the Academy...

But when Papa is abducted by Tarmanian forces trying to build an airship program of their own, only the five daughters together have the information needed to complete his latest project and fly to his rescue.
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So I have no doubt that you'll be hearing more about this project as November progresses.

However, outside of NaNoWriMo, I was looking for another project. You'll recall that I blogged last week about creating a Web site for myself? Well, one of the ideas I had was to create an ongoing story that could be posted as a serial to the Web site, to build readership and give people a reason to keep coming back. However, none of my existing ideas seemed quite right for this project. I wanted to do ... well ... something with dragons in it. But nothing was springing to mind.

Or rather, nothing did until Wednesday evening, when I was showering before bed. (I get a lot of my best writing ideas in the shower. Not in the bath, mind you, but specifically in the shower. My water bill will likely go up next month thanks to NaNoWriMo.) Then a plot bunny up and bit me, and presented me with a universe to write in, and no fewer than four ideas to set in it. I picked the one that engaged my passion the most, and before I knew it, I had written almost 2,000 words on it. (My goal is to have the Web site up and running before November, and I will have a short synopsis of the new story posted there, but will probably wait until after NaNoWriMo is over to begin posting the serial.)

So the answer to the question is: Sometimes I do a bit of market research, and sometimes I just go where my passions lead me.

How do other people decide?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Critique questions

Earlier this week, I was reading a blog post by author discussing the critique group she had recently left. The progression of time had caused them to 'disband', which I've heard isn't uncommon. What she shared in her post were the 7 questions they used in looking each other's work. I thought these were valuable questions to use as a starting point when looking at your own work and at anyone else's.

1. Who is the protagonist?
2. What is the protagonist's goal?
3. Who is the antagonist?
4. What is the antagonist's goal?
5. What do you expect will happen next in the story, given what you read in this scene?
6. What in this scene must be kept at all costs?
7. What in this scene needs work?

I particularly like question number 6 - what must be kept at all costs? It reminds me of advice I've heard Cherry Adair give - Enter your scene at the last possible moment and leave as quickly as you can. I know I'll be using these questions when I begin editing my next project.

I wish I could credit whose blog I read this on but I don't remember. But thank you to whomever that author is and if I find the post again, I'll give credit appropriately.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fun with Frights

While I am still nailing down the particulars, I have decided my Nanowrimo story will focus on a haunted house. No, it's not original, but it's something that freaks me out and I know I'll stay interested and stay focused on my writing. I've taken Nanowrimo too seriously in the past with minimal success so I want to have fun this time around. I'm not planning on writing a cliche-ridden story, but if it happens, it happens. The goal is to write freely with minimum constraints and for me that includes not caring too much about being clever and original (in the first draft, anyway).

This might sound silly, but deciding what to write and not overly worrying about theme and construction is incredibly freeing (and apparently so is not wondering how many adverbs in one sentence is one- or two- too many). A rough outline and some character sketches are in the works; as I've mentioned in previous posts, I just can't fly blindly any longer- I need some guidance. I'm loosening the binds, though, and not putting pressure on myself to invent a new twist in the Haunted House subgenre. It's liberating, I tell ya, it surely is!

Have Fun is my personal motto for this year's challenge and for me, fun involves a house with a horrific past and a new owner who refuses to let that past die. Lots of little things have tripped this particular idea in my brain and next week I'll share a recent experience that only cemented my desire to write something spooky.

In the meantime, I'm rereading an essay by Stephen King about haunted houses and there is a book on haunted house fiction I can't wait to order. I probably won't get it until after November, so I've also picked up my copy of Shirley Jackon's The Haunting of Hill House to read yet again. Learn from the masters, right?

I hope the rest of you are having just as much fun planning your own Nanowrimo stories.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Accountability: Fighting the Procrastination Blues

I think most authors, regardless of publishing status, will tell you that one of the hardest aspects about writing is procrastination. It's like a disease that creeps in every time I sit down to my keyboard and pull up my latest work-in-progress. Suddenly I remember that the drapes need cleaning, or that my life will end unless I iron the pile of laundry (one of my least favorite things to do). Anything will do, so long as I can avoid digging down into my self and unleashing raw emotion onto the page. Before I know it, several days have passed, and my story remains unfinished.

However, I have found that there are ways to combat procrastination: one of them is accountability. A friend of mine and I have banded together in an effort to remain on a consistent writing track by holding each other accountable for our writing goals each day.

Every morning, one of us emails the other, asking the question, "What will you write today?" Through email, we communicate what we would like to accomplish with respect to writing - everything from how many words we'd like to put out, to brainstorming through a particular scene that hasn't snapped into place yet.

For my part, this accomplishes two things: I think about writing daily, and know there is someone who cares about whether I fulfill my day's goals or not. Because I know I'm not alone, that at least one other writer experiences similar pains and successes, I am more apt to sit down at my desk, open up my story, and write. Most days, I do what I plan and have begun to see progress.

How do you deal with procrastination? What are some methods that work for you?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Contests

Last weekend was the Emerald City Writer’s Conference sponsored by the Greater Seattle RWA chapter. Every year the GSRWA sponsors a contest they call The Emerald City Opener. This is the first seven pages of your manuscript that are judged with the top three finalists in each category announced at the ECWC. This was the third year that I entered and like the previous two I did not final.

What I appreciate about this contest (aside that it raises money for my home chapter) is the feedback that the judges are encouraged to give. They don’t just score but they try and offer positive feedback.

The thing about most contests is how very subjective they can be. I know this from personal experience. Two years ago I judged the first round of entries for the Golden Heart, which is the big contest for unpublished writers in the RWA. I chose the historical category. The RWA has since made Regency historical their own category but when I judged they were included in the overall historical category. I’m not a biggie on Regency romances. I won’t go so far as to say that I hate them but, unless I either know the author or it’s an interesting twist on the era, I don’t go out of my way to read them. Sure enough three of the five entries I got to judge were Regency. I will admit it was really hard to separate that dislike I have from judging the authors work on it’s own merits fairly.

There are people who will enter their work in any and every contest they can get their hands on. For most contests, the final entries are usually put in front of editors and/or agents who agree to pick the finalists and, possibly request work from the author. I think that sometimes too much is made of the contests. I don’t want to take away from anyone’s well deserved win, but the fact is that the very subjective nature of contests isn’t always healthy for a writer’s self esteem.

At the conference last week I attended a session given by Debra Mullins. One of the tips she gave was something I want to print into poster size and suspend from my ceiling – it was what she called “the rule of three.” Dismiss any feedback that you don’t agree with if it’s feedback that’s only given by one person. If two people make a similar comment about something you might want to take a look at what they are talking about. If three people make the same comment work on clarifying that part of the story. She also mentioned that interpreting judges feed back involves a lot of reading between the lines. Oh and though she didn’t specifically mention it, I’d like to follow the rule of three for both positive as well as not-so-positive feedback. For example, all three judges that judged my entry, a romantic suspense I entered in the series category titled “Three Times a Bridesmaid” liked my heroine.

Contests can be a great way to get work read by non-biased people but care should be taken that you worry so much about submitting to contests that you don’t do what you should be doing: submitting the work to editors and agents who can get your work published.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Space Of My Own

Andrea has been blogging lately about setting up a "writer's retreat," a place where she can go when she wants to get some writing done. I've been devoting a lot of thought to a different kind of place for my deepest, most thinky writing thoughts: a Web site.

I've been told that authors, even aspiring ones, should have a Web site. So a couple of days ago, I took my first step in that direction. I bought a domain name of my very own.

Literally. I bought the domain name sheilamcclune.com.

No, don't go there yet. I haven't started building it, so all you'll see is a parking page from Register4Less, which is really boring. But I have it. It's mine, all mine.

Once I had that part settled, I started to do some research as to what should go on an aspiring author's Web site. And the number one most important thing everyone agrees on is: content.

Um, okay, duh? It's a Web site. I know I need content. But what kind of content?

Different Web sites recommended things such as:
  • An author bio. Okay, check. Got one of those, from when I did the NaNoWriMo panel at WorldCon two years ago. Even have a halfway decent picture of myself to put with it.
  • Links. Well, this blog seems like an obvious target. I've got some other writers' blogs I follow -- I could ask if it would be okay to link to those. Maybe links to some of the resources I've found on the Web. Okay, check.
  • Excerpts from upcoming or published works. Um. Not so much. I can't really say anything is coming soon, since I haven't gotten any contracts yet. Okay, I haven't even submitted anything yet. Details.
  • A way to buy your books. Also a moot point just now.
  • Lists of upcoming appearances. Moot at the moment, but maybe I can talk to the folks at COSine and see if they would be willing to put an aspiring author and multiple-time NaNoWriMo winner on a panel or two? Otherwise, yeah, moot.
Hmm, that doesn't leave me much. A bio and some links. Not very exciting. What could I add to it? I can certainly talk about NaNoWriMo next month and do daily word count updates. Is it worth dusting off some of the short stories I wrote back in college? Maybe I need to work on some Web only content, like a serial story that gets posted a couple of pages at a time. That could be a lot of fun.

It's a bit of a puzzle, I'll admit, but one I'd like to tackle successfully.

What would you like to see on an aspiring author's Web site? What are some of your favorite author Web sites, and what do you like about them? What would you prefer not to see on an author's Web site?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nanowrimo

I had planned to talk about the Emerald City Writers Conference which I attended this past weekend. But my brain is a little frazzled because of some non-writing stuff going on, so I haven't had a chance to really write down my thoughts from the conference (probably next week).

Since my blog-compatriots have talked about Nanowrimo, I thought I'd talk about it too. I've attempted Nano for the last few years but never finished. The closest I came was in 2006 or 2007 when I wrote about 20,000 words on an erotic sci-fi vampire novel (I actually looked at it recently and think there might be some salvageable stuff in there).

I think the idea of pushing yourself to write 50,000 words in a month is great, but I rarely work that quickly. In years past, I've started Nano and then after about a week get burned out on by the pace. My plan instead is to set my own writing goal for the month. I don't know what that will be yet. I might set my sights on writing 25,000 words in the month or writing X minutes a day. Either way, my bigger overall goal is just to write every day in the month.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Here and There

Isn't the view from these windows fantastic? Even when the branches are bare, I still love to look out and dream about being up in a tree house. This is the room I want to tranform into our writers' room. I say our and not my because I will be sharing the space with my husband. He's the one who is actually making money off of his writing these days so I will play nice and not lock him out.

Right now we're using the room as a temporary guest room while we redo the other bedroom. It's not large, but there is plenty of space for more bookshelves, a long table (to go under the windows) and some comfy chairs. The blinds will be replaced by something softer, either Roman blinds or sheer panels. Or maybe nothing at all? The walls will be painted a soft color and I already know what prints I want on the wall.

The landing...I love how the room is tucked away by itself. Really, I don't think there could be a better spot in my home in which to work.

My hope is that by thinking about how I want this room to look and function, I will start taking myself seriously as a writer, as someone who is good with words and who deserves a dedicated space to create and grow. I know good writing can and does happen everywhere, from a crowded train to a small coffee shop, but I also know that I need a hidey hole in which to find my voice.
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In other news, I am still brainstorming ideas for Nanowrimo and am not coming up with much other than the genre, which I will reveal in a future post (hey, gotta get you to come back here somehow). Despite not having a plot just yet, I am looking forward to Nano more this year than possibly every other year other than my first. I might end up something so atrocious with which I wouldn't let line the litter box with, but no matter, I am going to have a lot fun with it.
How are the rest of you coming along with your Nano plotting? Are you going to share your ideas or keep them close to your chests until November?