Sunday, August 25, 2013

The black leather elephant in the room

I've been working on my "elevator pitch" lately.  Because, quite frankly, it sucks.

Not that I plan on running into or cornering an agent in an elevator anytime soon.  But the elevator pitch would be handy during those moments when somebody asks, "So what's your book about?" and I'm stuck fumbling around for just the right words (and for all my effort, my description comes out sounding extremely lame).

Although I still have much more progress to make, I'm getting better at the elevator pitch.  I've written the story of Emerson, a young woman who stumbles into becoming a hitwoman for hire...  But what I'm not good at is addressing the black leather elephant over there in the corner. 

Emerson is a wife.  The only child of a murderer and an abuser.  A young woman who keeps to herself, with good reason--she has many secrets.  She's a habitual liar.  She was thrust into the unenviable role of caregiver/breadwinner after her husband becomes paralyzed.  She has a secret life.  Maybe more than one.  And now she's a killer, encouraged to kill by the cops, of all people.

I'll readily talk about all of those things.  They're all integral to the plot, and they've held people's interest when I've talked about them.

What I haven't really talked about is that Emerson is also a dominatrix.  A domme.  Someone who blurs the line between pain and pleasure, who hurts people--because they ask for it--for money.

I'm comfortable writing about this aspect of Emerson.  But I'm not so good at talking about it to other people.  Because once you start talking about sex, people often get weird, uncomfortable, and even judgey.

I'm okay writing about it.  If (after I'm published, of course) someone doesn't like reading about it, they can put the book down, write me a nastygram, leave a pissy review on, whatever.  Or they can be intrigued by it, keep reading, gradually become comfortable with this aspect of Emerson...  But it's different when I'm talking to someone about the story.  If I start talking about the black leather elephant, they'll have to respond in some way, and...hello, awkward, if it makes them uncomfortable.  I'm all about challenging people's comfort levels, but I don't necessarily want to be looking them in the eyes when I do it.  And I don't want them to feel pressured to respond n a certain way, either.

I went to a writer's group meeting the other night.  A few people, after critiquing a few of my chapters, asked follow-up questions about Emerson, and I happily answered them.  Without mentioning Emerson's domme job.  Sigh.

It's something that has to get mentioned sometime, but I'm nervous that once I mention it, it'll skew people's perceptions of the book.  I've managed to write about a domme in a completely un-pornographic way (seriously, not to toot my own horn, but that takes a bit of talent).  But that's hard to believe without seeing it, reading it.  And I'm scared of this aspect of the story scaring people away from it.

So for now, I let it be the black leather elephant in the room.  I know it's there, and for the time being, I let it lurk in the shadows, whip in paw (or trunk), paddle at the ready.  But sometime it's gonna want to come out of its dark little corner, and at some point, I'm going to have to let it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Why yes, I *am* plotting something...

I had a light bulb moment today.  After a week of trying to cobble together a short story idea, it came to me.

Why are you spending all this energy thinking of short story ideas when you've got another Emerson book to write?

I guess it was because this period was supposed to be my "break from writing."  It didn't seem right to interrupt that with, well, writing.

But...let's just say I am, to some degree, re-inspired.

And if I've learned anything about inspiration, it's that I need to use it when it shows up, because it could disappear into the ether again pretty quickly.  When the muses, those sly little pixies, show up and sprinkle a layer of fairy dust on you when you're sleeping (it totally happens that way, right?), it doesn't last forever, and you'd do well to use it ASAP.

So I did.  Not only did I plot out the first 8 chapters of the book, I also wrote 800+ words--the first chapter.

It felt good, it felt natural--it felt like it took no time at all.  The flow, the voice, and the celerity I'd cultivated during the last third of the first book (yeah, that's a mouthful) is still here.

I can feel it in my bones--I'm ready to do this.  It's what I should be doing.

I never thought I'd be gearing up to revise Emerson 1* while writing Emerson 2*, but it's pretty clear to me that that's how it's shaking out.  And you know what?  I'm okay with that.  It's a little crazy, sure, but what decent writer isn't a little crazy, or hell bent on doing stuff that qualifies as a wee bit nuts?

This kind of crazy feels damn good.

* Because I still haven't settled on actual titles yet.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Courting insanity.

"A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity." –Franz Kafka

There’s a funny thing that happens when I don’t write.  

I start going a little crazy.

Not stark raving mad crazy or anything.  But the difference in mindset and behavior is very, very obvious to me.

It’s been a week and a day since I’ve written.  I finished the first draft of Emerson last Tuesday.  And since then things have felt…weird.

I visited my parents, which was fun.  I watched Dexter and True Blood, like I normally do.  I did some reading—police-related research and a book of short stories by Clive Barker (how the hell have I not been reading him, oh, all my life? Love, love, love).  I did some shopping—perhaps a little too much—buying a couple necessities from Sephora, some new clothes for work, and the 2014 Writer’s Market ebook.  I’ve been nursing an injury, trying to get lots of rest, working on a bunch of projects at the day job, etc.

I’ve been busy.  But it feels like I haven’t been.

It feels like there’s something I should be doing.  It feels like something’s missing.  There’s a hole in my gut—I can feel it—and its edges are burning, stinging, begging for me to whip out some words.

I have tons of ideas for novels—the next Emerson books, of course, plus a few completely unrelated ideas for other series or standalone books.  My head is filled with ideas for longer stories.  But the only novel-length story I should be working on right now is Emerson—that’s what needs to get my laser focus for the moment.

I’m getting an itch to write a short story.  I don’t really have any short story ideas these days.  But I’m hoping one comes to me soon.  My ideas tend to come out of nowhere, so I’m trying not to overthink it and just hoping one comes up organically.

I need to write the crazy away.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

What I learned while completing my first draft

So the other day (7/30, to be exact), something amazing happened...


It came in at over 115,000 words, which is longer than I expected it to be.  Some of it will be cut during the revising/rewriting process, which I'll start at the beginning of September.  But I'm thrilled that I have that much material to work with, that this first draft is less shitty than the first draft of a different manuscript I wrote a few years ago, and that in the last month of writing, I made some pretty significant progress.

At the beginning of writing this book, I would sit down to write with no plan whatsoever, and somehow I was able to write.  But it was slow-going, and I was just slogging along. But then I gradually began reworking my process.  I outlined the rest of the story using flashcards.  I started writing every day, no matter what.  Then I started giving myself a word count quota every week--and I met it every time.  Then, in the last third of the book, I noted the major plot points that needed to happen in each chapter.  And then I started assigning dates for writing each chapter.  I met (and sometimes exceeded) all my goals--and meeting those goals made me feel successful and accomplished, which helped motivate me to keep on writing.

On that note, here are a few things I learned while writing this draft:
  • Getting organized can work wonders.  When I first started writing, I'd pooh-poohed organization and outlining, but by the end of this draft, one thing's for certain: for me, it's totally necessary.  It changed not just how I write, but what I wrote.  (Seriously, the last third of the draft is worlds better than the first two-thirds.)
  • Yes, I can make the characters in my head talk.  When I figured out the plot points for a chapter in advance, I was confident when I sat down to write.  Finally, I wasn't sitting there staring at the screen wondering what the hell to write about.  When I cleared that nonsense out of my head, all of a sudden the characters were coming through.  They did and said things I didn't expect, and I went with it.  They carried the story, and they made the chapters shine.  I wasn't writing them anymore--they were writing themselves.  And that's when the magic happens.
  • Making writing the top priority sets the tone for the day.  I'm a night owl.  I always preferred writing at night.  But then work and life got stressful, and I was often too tired to write at night.  So I started writing in the morning--specifically, getting up at 5:30 AM to write.  I made it the first thing I did every day. Getting my top priority done first thing in the morning not just helped me write more consistently, it also got the creative juices flowing early and kept me excited about the story all day.  
  • Getting sick can actually be beneficial.  As a writer, I have a very active imagination.  When I get sick, I always envision the worst-case scenario, and every cough or cold has the potential to lead to death.  Nothing makes a writer speed up her writing than wondering if she's going to die. 
  • Be okay with having a shitty first draft.  All the cool kids are doing it.  And by "all the cool kids," I mean every author, like, ever.  It's a rite of passage.  Embrace it.
  • Your friends aren't going to get it...and that's OK.  I can't tell you how many times my non-writing friends looked like they were going to conk out if I said one more word about my story, my characters, my process, etc.  Seriously, don't attempt to tell your non-writing friends more than a sentence or two about anything writing-related you're doing.  They're trying to be polite listening to write babble because they care about you, but do them a favor and either blog about it or find fellow writer friends to talk about it with.
  • [insert thing here]  Don't be afraid to do this.  If finding just the right thing (in my case, the perfect New York hotel for Emerson to kill someone at, or the perfect New York eatery for her to meet Mirabella for a drink) is going to take you away from the actual act of writing, just do [insert thing here], highlight it, and come back to it later.  Keep the flow of writing going, details be damned.
  • Pinterest breaks are good if they're kept short. I swear, I write more than I pin, though you'd never know it from the amount of pins on my "Writing" board.  That being said, some days I got a great deal of good inspiration, words of wisdom, or helpful information from some of these it's actually a pretty good way to procrastinate.
  • I can actually write something substantial during baseball season.  This was shocking.  Seriously.  I also have no idea how I finished the first draft the night before the trade deadline.  I did, however, chew through an entire box of Tic-Tacs fretting over whether my Michael Young Phillies shirt would be obsolete in July (thankfully, it wasn't...oh, and I still taste minty fresh). 
This month will be full of research, getting even more organized, etc...all in preparation to start fresh in September.  Is it totally geeky that I seriously can't wait to start revising and rewriting?   :)