Category Archives: doubt

Emerald City Writer’s Conference and the courage to start over (and kittens)


Photo by Sean Dreilinger

Wednesday of last week I got to work and noticed a pain in my throat. Every time I swallowed, it hurt, heralding the onslaught of a sickness that has been going around my office the last couple weeks. I was, to put it lightly, upset, because that very weekend I had a big conference to attend. A conference I’d been looking forward to for months.

I wet home. I took NyQuil and chugged hot water and honey. I slept, a LOT, and took a bunch of Vitamin D, all the while crossing my fingers that by Friday morning I’d be back to my normal sunshine and lollipops disposition. Problem was, me being sick was not the only thing dragging me down. I was neck-deep in revisions for Struck by Chocolate at this point, and every day felt like I was pulling myself through by sheer force of will alone. The revisions were tough, but everything else felt hard, too. I thought I was being moody, or maybe SAD had finally taken hold.

Photo by tinkerbrad

Friday morning I made my way to the conference (by way of Starbucks). Throat still hurting, exhaustion still clinging to my tired limbs. The first event of the day was a class with Cherry Adair, author of the Cutter Cay series, talking about creating 3D characters. Now, I defy you to feel poopy while listening to Cherry talk. She’s energetic and fun and full of so much solid information my head is still swimming.

Later that day I met up with Miriah, and got a chance to meet a lot of other lovely, brilliant women, as well. There were mini workshops, panels, and then a big dinner during which I made the fatal error of drinking a cup and a half of coffee.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Not only did the caffeine keep my heart beating erratically, but a couple personal issues paired with the seemingly endless black slog of revisions meant I didn’t get to sleep until nearly 3 am. Which was exactly what I needed, considering I was signed up to pitch my novel to an agent at 8:30 in the morning.

I went home early that night, crashed hard, and did it all over again Sunday morning. All the while feeling like I was hanging on to my sanity by a thread. It wasn’t until Monday that I started to realize that what I was going through wasn’t okay. It wasn’t right. And I needed to do something to fix it before I did something stupid.

Photo by Andy Oakley

Now, if you know me, or have been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably heard my ‘life story in a nutshell’. When I turned sixteen I dropped out of school and went crazy for five years. In those years, I barely wrote, and I am firmly convinced the two are linked, because every time I’ve stopped writing since then I can feel myself careening off the rails. Every. Damn. Time. And while I was still working on writing during these revisions, what I was actually doing was bashing my head against a wall, trying to put a band-aid to stem the hemorrhage that was my novel.

Riding on the wave of good feelings, great people and information overload from the weekend, I sat down on Tuesday for lunch, some reading and, apparently, epiphanies.

I wrote Struck by Chocolate four years ago. I didn’t read romance at the time. In the interim I’ve gone to ClarionWest, read a LOT of books on writing, wrote several more novels, gotten published, and started reading the genre I’d been trying to write back then. I’ve learned so, so much both about the requirements of a romance novel, and about writing in general. Why was I trying to fix a book that, in reality, was me experimenting? Clearing my throat.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the characters, the concept, the storyline. But there was so much missing from the page that trying to revise was making me crazy.

So I’m starting over. This is the second novel I’ve rewritten from whole cloth. I’m really hoping it doesn’t become a habit, cause it’s pretty annoying.

Every writer is different. Every person will feel the warning signs that they’re doing the wrong thing a different way. Maybe you can identify with some of what I went through. Maybe not. For my sake, at the very least, I present the following list of Cues to Pay Attention To:

Photo by Lance Johnson

  • Feeling vaguely angry all the time.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • A deep reluctance to open the laptop.
  • Avoidant activities such as overindulgence and lots of passive television viewing.
  • The urge to snap at people I love and cherish.
  • A consistent, low-level urge to curl up on the floor and sleep.

I know I would have come to this breaking point sooner or later, but I think the great vibes and techniques I picked up this weekend really pushed me to figure myself out faster. Thank. Freaking. God. I’m pretty annoying when I’m working against myself.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Or have you noticed your own set of Cues?


SONY DSCLast weekend Mr. Eliza and I took our cats, Pumpkin and Pi, on a roadtrip down south to visit some long-neglected relatives. Aside from the car ride up to our house from the shelter we where we adopted them, and one trip to the vet, neither cat has spent any time in the car, so we were a bit nervous about how they would react.

We got the car set up in what we thought would be an accommodating way: litterbox, food, water, cat bed. We even picked up a bottle of cat cheek pheremone to spray in the car to chill them out. I didn’t know you could get cat cheek pheremone in a bottle, but there you go. Learning stuff.

Mr. Eliza picked me up from work, which meant that he had both cats in their carriers for the half hour drive from home to my office. They cried, that deep yowling that just yanks at the heartstrings. When I got in the car I got them both out of their carriers, and they immediately crawled underneath the passenger seat and hunkered down for the drive. Not sleeping, not crying, just hunkering.

Oh, and glaring, when they deigned to look up at me.

At one point I dragged both of them out from under the seat and situated them next to me, where they proceeded to do yet more hunkering. Eventually they slipped back to their original hiding space, where they stayed until we arrived at our destination.


I expected to go through the same cycle on the trip home.

Maybe they were more comfortable with the car, since their last trip hadn’t ended with us abandoning them in a parking lot. Or maybe they were better with the fast-moving vehicle because we left after dark, and they weren’t able to see the rushing landscape as easily. Whatever the reason, both cats were about a thousand times more adventurous  Pi climbed onto the pile of stuff in the hatchback area and chilled there for a while. Pumpkin spent some time voluntarily cuddling, and a LOT of time exploring places he shouldn’t be. (Like the foot well on the driver’s side.)

Working on this novel, I’m feeling a bit like my cat’s on the return leg of the journey. Maybe I should explain that a little.

When I started, I had a pretty detailed outline, like I always do. For the most part, my outlines serve as a safety net, making me feel more secure in the writing. I could see the road outside, rushing past. And this time, instead of comfort I felt a creeping sense of unease. Even worse, I felt a sense of duty, a dull thing which lacked the glittery, shiny, fun and awesome work I look for when writing.

Then Dean Wesley Smith started a series of blog posts chronicling his adventure ghostwriting a novel.

In ten days.

Now, you may not agree with his approach to writing and submitting. There are a few things I take umbrage with. What can’t be argued, though, is that he has made a good living in this industry, and can’t be all wrong. Also, what can’t be argued for me personally, is that when I read about his headlong, weak flashlight approach to writing this book, I felt something stirring in me.

Something like hope. (Ha, god the melodrama.)

So I took some of the things Dean talked about–like writing the next line, and the next, and the next; like just GOING; like trusting the process–and I rekindled a love affair with my book. I have the outline’s structure in my head and in a scrivener document I haven’t opened in weeks. Mostly, though, I have the memory that I’ve done this before and it turned out okay, and I have my headlights shining out on a mostly darkened road.

Who knows what it’ll take to get the next book done? I predict: divine inspiration in the form of bologna sandwiches and an interpretive dance version of Peter Pan.

… mysterious as a cat

Writing My Query Letter and Trying Not to Freak Out


This past weekend has been dominated by the hair-raising, hair-ripping experience of writing my first query letter. That means the really hard editing/revising stuff is done, at least. (Though the book is now loaded onto a twelve year old’s Kindle, to get feedback from my target audience. Gah!) I’m scanning the manuscript for word stuff right now–cliches, redundancies, finding better and more economic ways to phrase things, etc.

Can I make a confession here? I’m going to pretend you all just said yes, and gave me soft, encouraging smiles.

I’m really nervous about this manuscript.

I believe in the story. My characters. I know what I’ve done to the manuscript (the rewrite, the deep revisions, the feedback integrated by my amazing alpha readers) has made it hella stronger, and I’m proud to call it mine. ALL MINE! Mwahaha!!!

Ah…right. But there’s still that seed of doubt. That niggling, irritating stone in the bottom of my writerly boot. And at this point I don’t know if it is a legitimate fear, or if I’m just experiencing the built-in self doubt that comes with the whole being creative (being human?) thing.

So, dealing with that while at the same time trying to draft a letter explaining why someone might want to read this staggering work of genius. In 350 words or less. Yay!

I found a couple sites that were helpful during this process.

Successful Query Letters for Literary Agents. Listed here are a number of query letters that garnered representation, for a lot of different genres. YA Fantasy, Steampunk Novel, Lady Lit Mystery. (What is a Lady Lit Mystery?) Seeing how these authors formatted and presented their information helped give me direction on what to include, and how to include it.

How to Write a Query Letter from AgentQuery. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this site. Essentially it’s a database of literary agents, along with some nice resources. Take this article, for example. A very comprehensive look at not just one way to write a query letter, but several different approaches an author can use. Most of this stuff I either didn’t know, or hadn’t considered in this context.

Like, should I use a more ‘formulaic’ style blurb? When necrophiliac Nancy meets celebrity impersonator Ned, sparks begin to fly. But can she overcome her need for necrotic flesh, or will Ned be the next body on the slab?

Or should I try something a little different? Nancy knows she has a problem when the only guys that give her the hots are cold, dead stiffs. At a work party, she meets Ned, in the guise of Elvis Costello, and for the first time her heart beats faster for someone ambulatory. Now, Nancy struggles between her desire for love–and her desire for lifeless corpses.

The article goes on to describe what else is necessary–mini synopsis, author bio–and has a list of resources and examples as well. I think this one article might be enough to illustrate everything one needs to know about query letters.

Lastly, the Query Shark blog is invaluable. This blog is run by a literary agent, and she does the whole literary world a huge favor by dissecting query letters submitted to her by readers. There is a crazy lot of good information here, though it takes some time to get through the archives.

So, I have the draft ready. I have four agents picked for my first mailing. I’ll go through and personalize each of the query letters maybe tomorrow, and then I’ll start trying to breathe while my heart lives in my throat for a while.

Oh! And I finally changed the title. Toulouse is now *drum roll*… A Little Bit of Magic! I think it’s better. Not amazeballs, but better.

Do you have any query letter resources or stories? I’d love to hear them!

Photo used under Creative Commons license from Freddie Pena.

Throwing in the Towel on Blood Berries


The very first book I tried to write (barring the awesomesauce vampire collaboration I did with a friend in high school) was fantasy. Secondary world. Set in a vaguely Renaissance era time period. You know, standard fantasy world.

I hated it.

Didn’t finish.

There were things I loved about the book. There always are, otherwise there’s no reason to write it. I liked the dark fairy queen, I liked writing about changelings and a cat with a very special link to his human. I liked the gruff, reluctant hero and the way his wife communicated to him through her ghostly visage (though she was well and truly alive).

What I hated was the time period, which threw me for a loop. See, I love books written in with semi-historical settings. Kristin Cashore’s Graceling comes to mind. Brilliant book. The Song of Ice & Fire books, too, though I never kidded myself I could write anything approximating those vast and complicated tomes. Plenty others I can’t think of off the top of my head. It’s a setting trope I’m familiar with, and happy in, usually.

But I couldn’t write it. So, I set the book aside, this weird, rambling book languishing in the very first of my Scrivener files.

Cut to five years later.

I have this idea bouncing around in my skull that’s been bugging me for the last 2.5 years. Vampires that have discovered a spell to enchant a species of trees, producing berries that can fulfill their needs. I envisioned a kind of Romeo & Juliet story arc. More star-crossed lovers than pre-teen angst, though. But I put it off, thinking I couldn’t do the story justice. I didn’t quite know what to add to the seed to make it a fully engaging story.

I kept seeing these bits of advice: Don’t save your ideas. Don’t wait ’til you think you’re ‘good enough’ to explore those thoughts. Finally, I decided I would write it. And in my head, the story clung to a secondary world, vaguely Renaissance era setting. Horses, nobility, villages and dirt trails. I was cautious, because of my previous experience, but hopeful I could push through this time.

Then the weirdest thing happened. I failed. In exactly the same way. The story has ended up feeling weird and rambling, too long already for what I’m doing with it but at the same time I know it’s not because I;m overwriting. Well, pretty sure I’m not overwriting. And I’m bored. And frustrated.

I wrote not long ago about reaching that scary point, where you start to think your book is a pile of crap and questioning the whole concept of being a writer. I stand by that post: most of the time those feelings are just a matter of temporary insanity. This…feels different. It feels wrong. I’ve been pushing up against that feeling since shortly after I wrote the Scary Point post, and I’m done. So long, Blood Berries. At least, in your current incarnation. So long secondary world semi-historical fantasy. At least, for another five years.

Sometimes projects don’t work. It’s something that I’m learning to be okay with. More importantly, it’s something that I’m learning to identify, earlier, so I don’t waste as much time.

I may return to the seeds of this project and mutate them into something edgier, something more urban and current. I’m not sure yet.

Tell me your thoughts on half-finished projects and abandoned stories. How do you make the decision to quit?

Photo used under creative commons license from Hiking Artist.

Reaching the Scary Point Too Soon


I’ve written four novel length works (five if you count the from-scratch rewrite) in my life. Over the course of putting all those mad, mad words on paper I’ve made a few discoveries about myself. For example, I like plotting things out. Having a map helps me immensely when I sit down to write, and also when just envisioning the book. It’s like a safety net of words, waiting to catch me when I inevitably slip off the tight-wire that is creating a cohesive story.

Related to that, I’ve discovered that no matter how hard I try to pin down each and every scene, I will always surprise myself. A new scene will appear which must be told. Two scenes will meld into one. The number of scene cards I write in the beginning never matches the number I have at the end, and I’m learning to trust that process.

I’ve also discovered that I have a breaking point.

I’ve seen other authors write about this. That pint in the novel where shiny turns to shit, and you’re suddenly convinced that nothing you have ever written, nothing you will ever write, is anything but a pile of wasted energy. It’s a moment of bleakness. Plot bunnies start poking their adorable little heads out of the bushes. Mopping the floor of every single room in the house suddenly sounds like the Best. Idea. Ever. Then again, so does sitting on the couch with a half gallon pint bowl of ice cream, re-watching the first season of Buffy while laughing at her ridiculous pants.

In the past, my breaking point has come around the 25% mark. I’ve got a good twenty-thousand words behind me, maybe a little more. Enough to have a solid basis for my feelings of ill will and crushing disappointment. I’ve come to realize that those feelings are transitory, and take what amounts to a grand mope fest cuddled up with Mr. Eliza trying to figure out how to help. (Secret: He helps just by being there.)

Which is why when, after only seven thousand words into Blood Berries (working title, fo’realz), I came down with a bad case of the OMGWHYBOTHERs, I was nervous. Really nervous. Did it mean this book really was stupid? Was my plot to convoluted/overplayed/ridiculous/boring? Should I quit writing this book/altogether? Should I start sending out applications to local tech schools, get an accounting certificate and make myself happy in the role of reader, and only reader?

Mr. Eliza, being the more clear thinking of our party, initiated Operation: Cuddle Therapy. And as I lay in his arms bemoaning the ‘fact’ that…well, all the terrible things I think about writing. That I’m no good. That even if I was good, this industry is killer. No one makes any money, what hope do I have? Why bother writing this book if it’s just going to rot in my hard drive? And a few truths snuck in, too. Like the sticking plot point that introduces a character I know I need, later, but I’m not sure fits in this book. Which then reminded me that I made a realization about said character, which never made it into my outline, and which would serve to tie up her oddness in a much neater way.

Then I went and wrote three thousand words.

I don’t know if it works this way for everyone. And I don’t know if this will be my one and only breaking point on this book. What I do know is that the very act of bitching and moaning and throwing a tantrum in a safe and understanding space helped me move past the feeling of helplessness and into a healthier frame of mind. I can write this novel. I’ve done it before. I’ll do it again.

I’d love to hear about any personal quirks you’ve noticed in your writing. Rituals, sticking points, processes. The mind is such an intriguing maze of tunnels and dead ends and surprising magic passages.

Musing on Genre


Well, I finished the second draft/first rewrite of Toulouse. The next day I woke up with a bad headache, and I’ve felt like I’ve had kind of a hangover ever since. Maybe I’m sleeping poorly. Maybe I have bad posture. Maybe I’m having Toulouse withdrawals, I don’t know. The plan is to start on deeper edits sometime next month. I’ll do another full read through, locate any serious structural flaws and address those first. Then I’ll go through straightening out characters, followed by another pass for dialogue, another for setting details, and then I’ll start working on the sentence level edits. Pretty words and whatnot.

Ugh. Maybe this headache is just a shadow of what is to come.

I say I’m excited about these revisions, and I am. I’ve written four novels, but this is the first I’m really working on, to try to get it in a submittable state. But part of me is unsatisfied, and I think it comes down, in large part, to not know what I want to write. What I think I can start a career on. There are so many genre possibilities out there, and each genre has its own tricky set of perks and pitfalls, both in general and for me personally.

Horror is my first true literary love. I discovered Poppy Brite and Caitlin Kiernan as a teenager, and gobbled

them up. (Drawing Blood and Silkare still two of my top favorite novels.) My love for Clive Barker’s weird and wonderful worlds came a little later, but not by much. And I found myself writing a LOT of really dark, bloody things, for a long time. But I’m not sure that’s me anymore. I still like blood, and am fascinated with serial killers, but I haven’t read near as much horror lately. Which may simply be a result of a few years of “Oh my god, I can’t like horror, it’s bad!” I’ve mostly gotten over that.

Science fiction is another option. Mr. Eliza claims that he likes my sf short stories most, out of what he’s read of my stuff. And I will admit, I like writing science fiction with a darker edge. But I think, even now, it’s difficult for a female writer to break into the SF genre and be respected. Beyond that, the genre itself is…kind of floundering. In addition to that, I always feel like a fraud when I write SF. I’m not big into science, and while my stories are focused more on the characters (sociological or soft SF), I still feel like a fish out of water. I think if I focused hard on this genre, I could love writing it. I’m not sure I want to do that.

My issues with fantasy are kind of complicated. I love reading about magic, and wizards, and talking paintings and elves and etc. But, deep down, I don’t believe in any of it. I think the closest belief I come to in this area is ghosts, and even my belief in ghosts is more of an energy pattern left behind, as opposed to the embodiment of a living personality being left behind. So when I sit down to write that stuff, well, again, I feel like a bit of a fraud.   There is one other genre I’ve toyed around with a bit, and keep coming back to on my consideration continuum, and that is romance.

In the past year or so I have gained a lot of respect for romance authors. As far a genre ghettos go, this is the worst of the lot. Thought of as trashy, smut, and generally less than worthwhile, the romance genre gets a LOT of flak. It also gets a LOT of readers, and that’s because, in general, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Plus, happy edgings! Who doesn’t like a happy ending. All those things make this a tempting genre for me to try, except I haven’t read much romance, and haven’t really even considered it before, aside from the one pseudo romance I wrote a couple years back. I know the writing here isn’t any easier than the other genres. For me, given my history of writing bad relationships, it could be harder. Plus, the idea of going from my SF/F background into contemporary fiction is…a little scary.

I don’t have any answers right now. I’m still thinking things over. I know that if I start in one genre I will want to be there for probably the first decade or so of my publishing career, barring any horrible mishaps. And maybe you think I’m getting ahead of myself, but I think that if someone’s goal is to make a career as a writer, they need to think about these things, so they can focus on building up the necessary skills. Besides, I like having a game plan. Makes me feel better about life.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on genre, and writing in a particular genre. Are there any genres you’re particularly drawn to? Repulsed from? And why? Let me know.


Moving Forward by Going Back


Thank you, Mr. Chandler.

I’m still deep in the rewrite stage of working on Toulouse, the YA novel I wrote last year during NaNoWriMo. It’s no secret to anyone who’s been reading this blog, or who has talked to me about writing, that the revision/rewrite process is my least favorite part of writing. The main reason, I think, is because I often have a hard time seeing what’s wrong with my own work, and figuring out how to fix the problems. Especially figuring out how to fix the problems. It’s like my brain says to me “You’ve already written the scene this way. That’s the only possible way this could go! Time for a drink.”

Sometimes my brain is not helpful.

Despite my struggles in this arena, I am committed to this book. There is a lot about the story—and the characters—that I love. I want to make this story the best I can, and in order to do that I need to fix things. A lot of things.

I realized pretty early on in my first read-through of the finished zero draft that I would need to do some serious rewriting. While writing the zero draft I got to a point where I found myself kind of bored by the story, so I took the age-old advice of Raymond chandler: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” I did exactly that, and ended up taking the story down a road it really should not have traversed. The focus shifted away from the main conflict and turned a character on his head, personality-wise.

Sometimes this is good and necessary. Some characters should be surprises, most characters should develop. But in this case, I lost my way.

So I started the rewrite, which turned out to be almost whole cloth rewriting from about a quarter of the way through the zero draft. At the fifty percent mark, or thereabouts, I ran into the same problem: I was getting a bit bored. This time, instead of a gun, I threw in a drug-dealer.

And then my rewrite screeched to a halt. I can blame the lack of progress on moving to a new place, on quitting my job, on a billion things, but what it comes down to is that I was on the wrong road again. I had pushed, I got another few thousand words out, but this time I was conscious enough to realize that what I was writing felt wrong. Instead of tamping down that feeling like I’d done in November, I used my busier-than-normal time to reflect, and came to the realization that I needed to rewind a bit and get rid of those words I’d forced. I need to figure out how to make the story interesting without sacrificing important things like continuity, internal logic and theme.

Tomorrow, I return to Toulouse in earnest, knowing that I will be cutting before I can move forward. I hope to get this rewrite completed by the end of next month, so I can start revisions with a solid manuscript in July. Hopefully the rest will be relatively easy sailing. I’ll nail down what I want to say with this story, and handle it with aplomb.

More likely I’ll be dodging plot bunnies left and right, while clawing my way toward the ending.

I’m curious to hear about your revision horror stories, and how you dealt with them. New characters you had to slay? A subplot worthy of Jerry Springer? Tentacle demons in your chick lit? Let me know!

photo used under creative commons license from Tim Cummins