The other day I was chatting to my daughter about my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, and the conversation went something like this:
Me: I have this headcanon about one of my characters.
Daughter: You DO realize you’re the author?
Daughter: And anything you decide about a character is actually canon?
It made me laugh at the time. But that little snippet of conversation stayed with me. It suggests that writers are in charge of their characters and keep them on a tight leash at all moments. Which… isn’t really the case at all. How often do we read online posts where authors jokingly complain that their characters won’t do what they’re told? That they downright refuse the plans their creators had for them, sometimes with a big Hell No? WHY ARE ALL THESE CHARACTERS RUNNING AMOK?!!
I can’t speak for other writers, but I’m a plotter. I like my outlines, and knowing where my story is heading. Of course, I leave room for detours and surprises, but my plots tend to mostly behave. When it comes to characters, however, I like to wing it. I start out with a rough idea of what they look like and how they act, but their personalities develop as I write my first draft. That leaves a lot of space for ‘misbehavior’.
Planned romances sometimes go in the opposite direction, while others turn up where I least expect them. ‘Strong’ characters break down in tears that make sense when I write them but were nowhere in my original outline, bullies turn vulnerable, and quiet throwaway characters stand up and demand page space, taking charge. It’s a wonderful crazy voyage of discovery, where I’m surprised over and over again, and often it isn’t until I reach those final pages that I truly know who my characters are.
Going back to that conversation with my daughter, I think I’ll stick to calling my character theories ‘headcanons’. Because once I get to writing them down, who knows what my characters will have to say about them? And that’s just part of the fun.
I sit here in my cozy kitchen looking through my manuscript notes as yet another nor’easter blasts my town with snow, and I’m content. Not only content, but downright happy. I don’t even care that it’s snowing AGAIN. I’m happy because the new story I’m working on has finally had its niggles worked out and its outline charted, and I’m ready to blast my way forward.
After getting my head stuck in boggy, swampy plot points for a good couple of weeks, I’m finally moving on. The main reason for my breakthrough is this: I was lucky enough to spend time this past weekend with friends in Vermont on an informal writing retreat.
We gathered for meals and coffee/tea breaks, and for post-lunch writing prompts, as well as evening readings and critique sessions. The rest of the time, I was able to dive into my work. No distractions of family, grocery lists, or laundry piles. No TV shows calling from my overflowing DVR. Nothing but my laptop, my notes, and a dog or two. I ended my weekend with:
70 pages of revision
The makings of a much-needed new start to my work in progress
Sharing table space
Four-legged writing buddy
Nighttime reading session
Now, I know not everyone can take a weekend off — there are many things going on in people’s lives, like small children or elderly parents, pets, or weekend jobs. Not everyone has a place to go, or knows someone with an awesome house in the snow (like me!), or can afford a hotel or a cabin rental. But there are other ways to break out of your routine if you’re stuck. Try spending a Saturday, or a weekday evening, writing someplace where you wouldn’t usually go, like your town’s library, or a welcoming coffee shop. Hide away at a friend’s house for a morning. Sneak away from your colleagues at lunchtime and find yourself a quiet corner. Get away from those everyday distractions, even if it’s for an hour or two.
Now, rather then just stick with your usual writing routine, label this a MINI RETREAT and set yourself some ground rules. Give yourself an internet allowance, and ignore the online world the rest of the time. If you manage to wrangle yourself an entire day or two, set break times, meal times, and times to relax. Start out with a clear idea of what you want to do. In my case, it was revise the work I had already done and adjust the plot points I’d changed so I could move forward. You can make this work for you, even on a 1hr lunch break: say, 15 mins to eat and browse the internet, 40 mins working on a chapter, developing a character arc, or mapping out a fight scene, and then 5 mins of free internet time at the end.
If you allow yourself to carve out this sacred space every now and then, and keep it fiercely for yourself, I hope you’ll find — like me — that it boosts your productivity and sharpens your focus. Retreat, regroup and then, with your ‘writer brain’ back on track, prepare to resume your regular writing schedule, full speed ahead.
For my Blade Hunt fans: no, I haven’t forgotten you, I promise! I have a gazillion notes and a basic outline for Book 3, Star Blade, and will be jumping back into my Blade Hunt Chronicles world in April, as soon as this draft of my new project is ready for my beta readers’ eyes… More updates on Star Blade and King’s Blade (Book 4) coming soon!
This year I’m once again giving books to The Pixel Project’s International Women’s Day fundraiser. Heart Blade and Night Blade will be among the many ‘perks’ you can choose from when you donate to the campaign.
The Pixel Project is an international non profit organization that raises awareness to help end violence against women around the world. Their twice-yearly Read For Pixels campaign has free online hangouts with top authors, as well as books and other prizes that you can claim as ‘perks’ with your donation. They do a great and necessary job, so please do go and check out their site.
The author hangouts for 2018 begin on March 2nd, and you can find the full schedule and links here.
Here is the link to the donations page and the perks you can get for your money. My books are in a bundle by themselves, and also in a larger bundle with books by YA authors Susan Dennard and Leigh Bardugo. (USA only for these, sorry, but there are other international items, such as 1-1 Skype calls.)
You can read more about The Pixel Project’s work on SFFWorld.com, in my interview with founder Regina Yau.
I’m back from Boskone, aka “New England’s longest running science fiction convention.” Boskone is big enough to bring in great guests/panel participants, and yet small enough so that it still feels relatively cozy. This was my fourth time at this event — second as panelist — and probably my favorite year so far.
A few thoughts about Boskone 55:
Being a panelist is fun! Last year, I was terrified at my first couple of panels. This year, I knew what to expect, and managed to relax and enjoy myself. Our moderators did a great job, and conversation flowed easily. If you’ve ever thought about being on a convention or conference panel, but weren’t sure if it was for you, here’s my advice: give it a try. Cons like Boskone are happy to mix up established and beginner writers, and to give a chance to new faces and voices. Keep an eye out for calls for participation. Boskone has a nice little survey you fill out, which lets you tick all sorts of boxes and tell them what you’re comfortable talking about.
Kaffeklatsches are still one of my favorite things to attend. Unfortunately, this year I only managed to go to one, with agent Joshua Bilmes. Joshua answered publishing and agenting questions, and gave the table all sorts of great advice.
I’m also sorry I only managed to get to one reading. I love having a chance to see an author engage with their own work. Jane Yolen’s reading was a nice mix of poetry and prose, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Informal conversations are definitely one of the highlights of going to events like this. I caught up with old friends, got to meet a couple of online friends in person, and made some new friends. Just perfect.
Dogs, dogs, everywhere. The Westin was full of furry companions this year. A shout out to the Mega Floof who sat politely through panels and was a very well-behaved con-goer.
From the Writing For Children panel: stories don’t necessarily need a happy ending, but they need a hopeful one. Also, a great debate on what to do with those pesky parents and other responsible adults in middle grade fiction…
From the Feminist Fairy Tales panel: a huge list of great book recommendations!
From the Marketing Uphill panel, lots of ‘don’ts’: Don’t overmarket; Don’t be boring; and many more… *gulp*
Downtime is crucial! At my first Boskone, I exhausted myself trying to cram in as many panels, readings, and events as I could. From the next year on, I realized it’s equally as important to take breathers, chat to people, and just enjoy the con atmosphere. Or maybe take an actual break from the whole thing and go for a walk or read a book in your room for a while. My husband and kids came along to get some use out of the hotel room and pool this year, and I think being able to step away from the con every now and then for family dinner or some much-needed downtime made a key difference.
SF/F conventions and writing conferences can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and talk to people, or try new things you wouldn’t usually do. If you haven’t been to one yet, you can always start small: look for local events and meet-ups, and ease your way in. But don’t let fear hold you back! Going to cons has brought me a whole new world of writing friends, including the lovelies who became my local critique group. Who knows what it will bring you?
I have a short story out today in The Last City a brand new science fiction anthology by DUST. My own little murderous tale is called Blood Makes Noise. This was my first time playing around in a shared world, and it was a lot of fun!
From the publisher:
Twelve outstanding authors come together to bring life to The Last City, a shared-universe anthology from Dust Publishing.
The City, built upon an asteroid, is the last stronghold of humanity in a star system ravaged by a long-ago war. Now, centuries after the apocalyptic conflict, the City thrives — a utopia for the rich, built on the labours of the poor.
From the home of five million souls come twelve stories of adventure, love and loss. Take a leap with Tinashe Arcaid, super-rich brat who thinks adventure is a trip to the dangerous lower levels; crawl through tunnels with Chthenia, a child ‘apprenticed’ to a scavenger who dwells deep beneath the City; or have a drink with Sam Nero, private investigator, dealing with gangsters on the mean streets.
Life in the City can be harsh, but the alternatives are far worse.
Contributing authors — Robert M Campbell — Jo Zebedee — Scott Moon — Juliana Spink Mills — Nathan Hystad — Jane Jago — E.M. Swift-Hook — Rosie Oliver — Chris Guillory — Samanda R. Primeau — Thaddeus White — Stewart Hotston
You can find The Last City on Amazon, and it’s at a special promo price of $0.99 until February 21st, 2018.
It’s snowing, and I’m home with my kids watching big flakes tumble down outside. This is perfect weather for reading, writing, or talking about books someone else wrote! Preferably with a blanket and a big mug of tea. After a busy (and wonderful) December, with a houseful of visiting family, January brought silence and a chance to dip into some of the titles on my to-read list.
Recent Reads: Robots, Radiants and Really Bad Life Choices.
I kicked off January with an ARC for Man O’War, a sci fi crime thriller by Dan Jones, which arrives in bookstores in March. The story begins when illegal pleasure robot Naomi lands in a fisherman’s nets, and sets him on a dark journey that starts off in London’s seedy criminal underworld and ends up on an oilrig in Nigeria.
Man O’War brings us a fully believable near-future world, with a diverse cast of wonderfully gray characters. I tend to love characters that are neither wholly good, nor wholly bad, and Jones offers us a whole range of them, from mobsters to AI software developers, from politicians to police officers. Tightly plotted and fast-paced, Man O’War is a really nice debut novel.
I love Brandon Sanderson’s work, and have been faithfully devouring his Stormlight novels as they come out. I’m actually a little late on this one, but I finally got my hands on Oathbringer, the third book in the series.
If in Book 2, Words of Radiance, Kaladin stole the show, then Book 3 belongs in equal part to Shallan and Dalinar. Their character development arcs are superb, and Shallan continues to be one of my favorites in a series full of great characters. If you love Big Epic Fantasy and haven’t tried the Stormlight Archive yet, well, what are you waiting for?
To round off the month, I jumped genres yet again and picked up Drake, the first book in Peter McLean’s Burned Man series. Hitman Don Drake find himself backed into a corner when a gambling debt puts him at a demon’s beck and call. Add in a bound magical assistant, a couple of not-so-angelic angels, and a Fury or three, and Drake’s life… well, let’s just say it gets complicated, fast.
Drake is urban fantasy at its grittiest. McLean’s main character is foul-mouthed, slightly on the sordid side, and more than a little lacking in moral fiber. But he’s also deliciously snarky, and you can’t help rooting for him as he flounders around, trying to do the right thing and failing, over and over. I’m looking forward to picking up Dominion, the next in the series.
Here’s a little taster from Drake that I think sums up both the humor and darkness: “I came back a few minutes later with a bottle half full of my piss, nail clippings, and spit. Magic is such a glamorous lifestyle it’s a wonder more people don’t take it up.”
Now Reading: Spy ghosts!
I’m off to Boskone 55 in just over a week, and the convention’s Guest of Honor is Mary Robinette Kowal. I’ve had the author on my to-read list for a while now, so I figured this was the perfect chance to dip into her work.
The premise of Ghost Talker is fabulous, and so far I’m really enjoying it. Set during World War I, it’s the tale of Ginger Stuyvesant, a medium for the Spirit Corps. Each soldier heading to the front is conditioned to report to the Spirit Corps when they die, passing on crucial information on German troop movement for use by military intelligence. The system has been working well so far. But now the German forces are becoming suspicious, and the Spirit Corps mediums may be in danger…
I have two books lined up to read next. One is by another Boskone Guest of Honor, and my co-panelist: Tamora Pierce. I’ve heard so much about Pierce’s work, so I grabbed a copy of her middle grade book First Test. This is the story of Keladry, the first openly female page, during the first year of her training. I always love a good ‘girls breaking stereotypes’ tale, so this one definitely appealed to me.
The other is the debut novella Pretty Marys All In A Row, by Gwendolyn Kiste. This one sounds amazing: the story of four Marys — Resurrection Mary, Bloody Mary, Mistress Mary, and Mary Mack — who live together, trapped in urban legend and with no real understanding of who they truly are. But to fight for their freedom from the myths that entangle them, they must first unravel the mystery of their pasts. I’ve read short stories by the talented Kiste before, and I’m sure her longer work will be just as wonderful.
Wishing you all a happy Wednesday, and lots of blanket and book snuggles!
I’m really excited to have been invited to Boskone 55 as a program participant. This will be my fourth year at “New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention”, and my second taking part in panels. Boskone runs from February 16th to 18th in Boston, MA, so if you’re in the area, stop by. Not only is this a really friendly con, but it has great guests, panel themes, author readings and kaffeeklatsch opportunities. This year, there’s even a Regency Dance! Check out the Boskone 55 website for the full event schedule.
Here’s my own schedule:
Stories Before the Apocalypse
16 Feb 2018, Friday 14:00 – 15:00, Marina 4
We’re familiar with post-apocalyptic futures, from Max’s desert hellscape to Katniss’s dystopic districts. But what about right before the cataclysm — as doom and destruction loom large? How do people live? How do relationships change as we shift into survival mode? Let’s share our few existing “must-read” favorites, and discuss stories we’d like to see.
James Patrick Kelly (M), Juliana Spink Mills, Julie C. Day, Alan Gordon, John Chu
Curse Your Inevitable Romantic Subplot!
16 Feb 2018, Friday 16:00 – 17:00, Burroughs
Just when things are getting good, somebody has to go and fall in love. Are romantic subplots required? And what makes them work or fail in the larger storyline?
Heather Albano (M), Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, J. Kathleen Cheney, Kevin McLaughlin, Juliana Spink Mills
It’s Not Always About Sex
17 Feb 2018, Saturday 12:00 – 13:00, Harbor III
Speculative fiction is filled with friendships that turn into romantic entanglements. Is that all there is? Can’t our characters just have friends, of whatever gender, without hookups and/or heartbreaks? How about we rescue the world from the odd apocalypse or alien invasion, and forget about the sex for a change?