Wrangling the Sticky Bits

In the words of Max Gladstone, and of a dozen others in my private Inspiration folder on Pinterest, “First drafts suck.”

I know that. You probably know that, too. Most people who have finished a novel and gone back to revise know it — or should, anyway. But just because I know my first drafts are allowed to suck — are supposed to suck! — doesn’t make it any easier to push through the sticky bits.

The first ten or fifteen chapters are a delight to work on. My book world is brand new, and the ideas are positively gushing from the idea geyser in my brain. (Is there such a thing as an idea geyser? There should be. And someone should get right on that, bottling that stuff and selling it. Some days I’d pay good gold for a drink of pure unfiltered IDEA. Story gold, of course. I don’t actually own any real gold.)

The last ten chapters or so are also wonderful to work on. The end is in sight, all those pesky dominos have been set up by now, and you’re ready to knock them all down in one triumphant sweep of your author-hand. Or your keyboard. Or something. (Look, it’s been a long day. My metaphors and other stuffs are getting a bit unhinged.)

The problem is *waves hand* that stuff.

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Jim Butcher calls it the Great Swampy Middle. I like to refer to it as the sticky bits. Even if you have a great outline, and a fabulous plan for filling up the middle of your novel and convincing people to keep on going, this is still a tricky part to write. By now, if you’re anything like me, you have about a million notes, and scraps of paper, and post-its, with all these crucial story points and plot bunnies that need to be wrangled into something reasonable and stuffed into your work in progress before you can leap into your grand finale. Half of those notes aren’t even on paper, they’re just floating around in my head in neon pink letters that say random things like, ‘remember dagger’, or ‘more anger’.

The sticky bits are hard, even with a road map.

Some days I can push through and get my wordcount down. Other days I get frustrated and end up binge-watching Netflix shows instead. I know my middle doesn’t have to be perfect; after all, that’s what revisions and rewrites are for. And I know that, in order to revise, I have to get to the end first. But I call it ‘sticky’ for a reason: because it feels at times like I’m pushing through mud, or wet cement, or an entire people-sized tub of treacle.

I’ll get there, eventually. I just need to keep writing until I come out at the other side. And if I can do it, so can you. Just don’t let the sticky suck you down.

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Working on my sticky middle; notes finally organized!

Spring 2017 Updates

Connecticut finally has its Spring on. Tiny baby leaves have tiptoed over the treetops like a green mist, and forsythia is blazing in glorious yellow splendor. The sun is shining. I have daffodils in the garden, and Easter chocolate is on sale everywhere you look.

 

So, what’s new in my world?

I’ve finished Book 2 in the Blade Hunt Chronicles, Night Blade. Now the manuscript is off being looked at by eyes other than my own. Until I get all the revision notes back, I can’t do anything else on that front. I’ve already outlined a lot of what will happen in Book 3, Star Blade, and I’m really excited about it, but I’m holding off getting a start on writing that one until I know if I have any substantial changes to make in Night Blade that might affect my Book 3 plot.

What’s in Book 2? No spoilers, but I can tell you there’s a heist, and Rose may have bitten off more than she can handle. Del gets to wear a ballgown. And you all get to meet my lovely new character, Ben Kelley. He’s a witch and, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m trying to get my head back into a stalled sci fantasy YA while I wait for Night Blade revision notes, but it can be hard switching worlds and projects, and to be honest it’s been slow going. I’m looking forward to this weekend, where I and some 700 or so New England kid lit authors and illustrators will gather at the NESCBWI Spring Conference for workshops, panels, and lots of great conversation about books and writing. I always go home revved up and inspired after these events, so this should be just the kick I need to get back into my rhythm again. Follow the #NESCBWI17 hashtag on twitter this weekend for lots of kid lit pearls of wisdom tweeted by event participants.

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New bookmarks, ready for NESCBWI 17

The Pixel Project’s Read for Pixels fundraiser is almost over. The donation page will be open until April 29th, though the main event has ended. I contributed three Heart Blade paperbacks with character art postcards to this, which were bundled together with 1st Edition hardcovers from bestselling YA Fantasy authors Kimberly Derting (The Taking) and Alyson Noel (Unrivalled). I was very happy to hear from the organization that all three bundles were snapped up.

You can find my mini interview on the Pixel Project blog.

What else… Heart Blade had a sale! (Yay!) The sale is over… (Boo!). But you can still find the Kindle version at a very reasonable U$ 3.99 on Amazon. *waves cheerleader pompoms* For those interested in a paperback, I’m planning a giveaway on Goodreads in May, so keep an eye out here and on GR itself.

And last (but not least), today I received a lovely letter from blogger Marguerite Gibson with two beautiful handmade book plates that I’ve promised to sign and send back. It’s always wonderful to hear from readers, whether on social media, or in reviews, or by snail mail, like Marguerite from Australia. Gives me warm and fuzzy writer feels!

Happy Spring to all. May your words be plentiful, your flowers beautiful, your mornings sunny and bright…and may your leftover Easter chocolate last many, MANY days.

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Write Now

Blog post title is a play on Van Halen’s ‘Right Now’. If you don’t know the song, go and look up the lyrics, and maybe watch the awesome award-winning video clip, too.

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My kitchen table ‘office’

On a writing forum I belong to, someone asked whether it was worthwhile paying to rent an office space away from home and all its distractions.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer to that. I know people who need a secluded spot where they can shut everything out and write. Other people need the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop to inspire them. I’ve met people with writing sheds, or who prefer (like me) the kitchen table. One memorable encounter I had with a best-selling author revealed they go on location to wherever their book is set, and spend a couple of weeks dictating the entire novel onto a recording device, to later be typed up and revised from their home office.

Hey, whatever works. (And I’m totally up for the writing on location thing, by the way. Anyone want to sponsor my next book set in, say, some nice sunny beach? I promise to Instagram all my fruity umbrella drinks writing notes.)

The discussion thread got me thinking about my own writing habits, and I realized that, for me, it was less an issue of work space, and more one of head space. Wherever you write, there will always be umbrella drinks distractions. Writing takes discipline, whether you carve out a dedicated time of day for it, or snatch spare moments whenever you can. (Look up #5amwritersclub on Twitter for inspiration!)

When I decided to start writing seriously, I had young school-age children. Afternoons were full of homework supervision, and other kid-related things. So I promised myself a couple of free hours every morning. Between 9 and 11am, I would write.

It wasn’t easy at first. There were all those darn distractions! It was so tempting to jump up and do something – anything – to escape my self-imposed BIC (butt in chair) time. There were days when even cleaning toilets seemed like a good alternative to fixing a plot hole. But I stuck with it, and over time have reached a head space where I can sit down, tell myself ‘let’s write’, and switch the world off for a few hours until hunger and the dog remind me that lunchtime has come and gone.

My point? (Besides that fruity umbrella drinks sound like a good alternative to the snow piled up outside my door?) Don’t worry too much about your writing space. Not at first, not until you’ve found your writing groove, and worked out what (and when) works best for you. Get into the head space, and you’ll figure out the rest. If you wait to find your perfect office, or café, or public library nook before you can write, you risk never finding it. And that search becomes your excuse, your distraction.

Don’t wait. Write now.

Interviews!

I was interviewed by the awesome Gwendolyn Kiste about Heart Blade and writing. Interviews are so much fun, and I had a blast answering this one.

Check it out

And if you’d like to see other interviews, you can click here for my press page.

Note: If you’re a blogger or reviewer and are interested in Heart Blade, I’d love to hear from you! Please get in touch through my contact page.

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Just for fun: Lego Alex, Ash, Del and Camille. 

Juliana on Keystroke Medium LIVE

 

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Yesterday I was a guest on Keystroke Medium‘s LIVE! interview show, with hosts Josh Hayes and Scott Moon. I had so much fun chatting with Josh and Scott about writing, Young Adult fiction, and longswords! Keystroke has lots of terrific author interviews, and it’s well worth checking out their YouTube channel.

If you’d like to have a look at my interview, here’s the link:

LIVE! with Juliana Spink Mills

Keystroke Medium has partnered up with cover artist Tom Edwards to raise money for Parkinsons.org.uk. If you’d like more information on this fundraiser, have a look at the Facebook page: Covers for a Cure.

Also, for all you military science fiction fans, Scott has a brand new book out today!

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Rising Starr: Interview with Kim Briggs

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Wintry ski slope kisses (Avalanche, February 2017), a sizzling dark romance (And Then He, October 2015), and an exciting YA trilogy that concludes later this year; the writer life has been busy for YA and NA author Kim Briggs. Kim joins me on the blog to chat about her latest YA release, Starr Lost, Book 2 in the Starr Fall Series. The series centers on Starr Bishop, and the secret organization that has decided the teen would make the ideal assassin. Starr Fall (Book 1) was released in November 2016 with Inkspell Publishing. Starr Lost is a brand new January release. And look for Starr Gone, Book 3, in June 2017.

Juliana: Hi Kim, and congratulations on Starr Lost. In the first book, Starr Fall, we meet Starr and the Organization trying to recruit her, and see her go into hiding with help from moody and sexy Christian Evergood. Where does the second book take us?

Kim: Starr Lost brings the action into the series.

On the run from the Organization, Starr and Christian find safety on the Qualla Boundary with their friends, Ben and Coda, but Starr needs answers. She owes her dear dead friends, Sami and Jody, that much. She forms a team of her own to fight the general and his recruits.

Di, a mutual friend and anti-everything is a no-brainer, plus her Taser will come in handy. Frank, Starr’s BFF, will put his life on the line for her. Ben and Coda, not to be outdone by Starr’s friends, also swear their allegiance. Christian’s the only hold out. He knows what the Organization is capable of. He has the beaten body to prove it, but when Starr wants something, she gets it.

Now that the team’s together, everything should be perfect. Trouble is Starr loves Christian but so does Di. And Frank, well, he’s never been very good at hiding his love for Starr. Will his four-year long crush on her threaten the safety of the team?

Life becomes tense on the Qualla Boundary, sparks fly, and the Organization is about to smash in their door.

Juliana: Where did the inspiration for the series come from?

Kim: The inspiration for Starr Fall came in the form of a dream. I’m always chased by bad guys while I sleep—I blame an overactive imagination combined with consuming one too many action and adventure movies. One night I woke up in a cold sweat. A secret organization wanted me as an assassin. Me? No one wants to read about me, but Starr Bishop? That’s a character readers can get behind. I added Christian, because who doesn’t need some kissing and a dreamy hero in their life?

Juliana: A full trilogy in under a year! Could you talk us through the logistics of such a tight release schedule? How did you handle the writing and editing process?

Kim: I am insane and I don’t sleep. Actually, I wrote the story of Starr Fall in all its vomit draft worthiness about six or seven years ago. I broke it up into three books, that’s actually grown to four now, and rewrote and revised Starr Fall several times before I finally got it right. While I had Starr Fall out on submission, I started working on Starr Lost, so I had a very rough draft to work with last year after Starr Fall went under contract. As for Starr Gone, I had the skeleton of the story and busted it out under my inner deadline that wanted it out as close to the other books as possible. (Read COMPLETELY INSANE.) I am a sucker for series, so I want all the books ASAP. When you’re the one writing the series, that proves challenging, but I don’t like to be kept waiting and I don’t want my readers to wait either. So, who needs sleep when there are such things as soy chai lattes and chocolate?

Juliana: Continuing on from the last question, did you start out with the trilogy fully planned out? How much of an outliner are you? Or did you have a loose idea that grew in the writing?

Kim: I am a visual person, and many people will hate me for admitting this but the story arc for Starr Fall came to me fully formed. I’ve read so many series, and most of those series are fantasy, so the arcs of each book and the arc of the story came to me fairly easy. I just connected the dots (which sounds much easier than it is.) For my next series, I outlined and researched, and did all those things you’re supposed to do when writing a series, but often times, my characters take over and dictate where they want to go and what they want to do. They’re strong-minded pain-in-the-asses most of the time, but I’m okay with that.

Juliana: Besides Young Adult, you also write New Adult. Your NA novel And Then He goes down much darker paths. From your blurb: ‘Following a night of innocent flirting with a handsome stranger, Tiffani finds herself in the midst of a nightmare she can’t escape.’ Did you find it hard to transition between YA and NA? What were the main challenges in switching between target age groups?

Kim: Young Adult Fiction is my passion, my true love. Through Starr Fall’s storyline (and others in the works) I can create stories that readers devour. Young Adult fiction consumes me, but once in a while everyone needs a crush and New Adult fiction writing like And Then He and Avalanche feeds that need.

The biggest challenge I faced switching back and forth between young adult and new adult writing was whether I should keep my writer name or add a new pen name, but honestly, I already have my writer identity and my real life identity, and I don’t have time to create another identity. My time is also limited. I prefer to create new stories rather than creating new social media platforms.

Juliana: What’s next after the Starr Fall series? What are you working on at present?

Kim: I’m taking a break from Starr and her friends for a month or so (excluding edits for Starr Gone). I’ve been working on a young adult urban fantasy combining Celtic Mythology with werewolves. The Antigoddess by Kendare Blake meets Avril Lavigne, before she got pretty. (She was always pretty, but during her middle finger to the masses years.)

Juliana: Just for fun: if you were to be recruited by a secret organization, which of your skills or ‘super powers’ would they be after? (Mine would probably be my amazing ability to walk into furniture…because who wouldn’t want that on the team?)

Kim: Ha, I know, those sofas and chair jump right out at you. My superpower would probably be my stubbornness. I like to say that Starr wouldn’t shut up and made me keep coming back to her story until she got published, but my Ink Sister Alison Green Myers told everyone at Starr Fall’s book launch that I’m the one who’s stubborn and no one disagreed with her, so I guess my superpower is Stubbornness. I’ll take my cape in teal.

Juliana, thanks so much for having me!! I’m so glad we met at the NY SCBWI conference all those years ago. Has it been three years already? Wow! I also can’t wait for Heart Blade to come out so I can share the writer love with you!!

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Find Kim at www.kimbriggswrite.comINK Sisters, and on Twitter as @KimBriggsWriteStarr Lost is available on AmazonKoboItunes, and B&N

Heart Blade!

Finally, the cover I’ve been teasing you all with for months. I’ve been longing to share Merilliza Chan‘s gorgeous artwork, and here it is in all its glory.

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The official reveal took place on Sunday over at SFFWorld.com; check it out for an exclusive sneak peek excerpt.

Heart Blade is now up on Goodreads, and the e-book is available for pre-order on Amazon. The paperback (yes, there’s a book-book for those who prefer it!) will be available for purchase on release day.

I have more treats coming! The talented Corinna Marie has been working on some Heart Blade character art for me, and I’ll be introducing four of my main characters on the blog over the next weeks.

E-BOOK PROMO:

The e-book version is at a special promotional US$0.99 at the moment. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app for free onto your tablet or phone.

PAPERBACK PROMO:

For all those interested in the paperback version, I have a special promo lined up for you. Once the paperback hits Amazon, I’ll be giving away exclusive sets of postcards with Corinna Marie’s character art to the first 30 people to send me proof of paperback purchase. More on this later!

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December Updates

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Night Blade outline notes

The end (of the year) is nigh! Cue much panicked screaming and Kermit flailing as I rush around trying to finish all the stuff (ALL THE STUFFS!) that I should have finished oh…about a month ago.

Procrastination, thy name is DVR queue.

I’ve actually been keeping pretty busy, even taking into account distractions like the CW 4-show crossover week, and the growing pile of books I’ve bought and not read yet. I’m working hard on Night Blade, book 2 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles, and have sailed past the halfway mark now, with the finish line on the not-too-distant horizon. There are lots of cool bits in Night Blade that I’m having a blast writing, such as the splendiferous ballroom scene I hammered out yesterday.

I have lots of artsy goodness I’m looking forward to sharing. My publisher is putting the final touches on my gorgeous cover, and soon I’ll be able to show off all the glory of Merilliza Chan’s work. I also have a treat lined up for January: the talented Corinna Marie is drawing some character art for me, and I’ll be introducing you all to four of my key characters in the weeks before Heart Blade launches. (Stay tuned for character art postcard giveaways in 2017!)

February 14th is creeping closer, and I can’t wait to set Heart Blade loose upon the (poor unsuspecting) world. Review ARCs are almost ready to go, and I’m excited to see what people have to say about Del, Ash & Co.

In the meantime, for those who’d like a taste of my work, I have a short story (yes, another one!) due out sometime in January. More updates on that soon, but the Journeys fantasy anthology by Woodbridge Press promises to be amazing, with an all-star group of authors and a stabby little tale by yours truly.

 

Happy December!

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Downtime and the Back Burner

Every writer has moments when the flow of words stutters, stalls, comes to a sudden screeching halt. Call it writer’s block, call it what you want. In my case it’s usually a panicked ‘where do I go from here’ feeling which is almost always due to a misstep I’ve taken somewhere along the line. It’s that nagging sense of ‘something’s wrong’, and until I figure out what and how to fix it, I can’t move forward.

That’s where the ‘back burner’ comes in. That place at the back of your brain where you stick an idea to simmer while life goes on; never forgotten, but comfortably out of sight where part of your mind can worry away at it while you do other things.

While you have a little downtime from writing.

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Taking some time out at the White Memorial Conservation Center, CT

For me, downtime can be as simple as shutting off the laptop for the day, and going out to do errands and walk the dog. A couple of hours is sometimes enough to work out a plot tangle. Other times, if I’m really stuck, it can mean a week or two of doing nothing but reading other people’s words voraciously or binge-watching an entire season of Supernatural in the company of my daughter.

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A little break to enjoy the autumn colors

Eventually, after an hour, or a day, or a week, the pot finally stops simmering. The solution to my plot or character development problem is suddenly crystal clear. I can dive in again with new energy, and after taking a break things are stronger and better.

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Energized, renewed, ready for the next round

Everyone has their own approach to writing. Every writer has that rhythm that just works, and that is all their own. I love living in my made-up worlds, and can write happily for hours on end. But I get stuck, too. And for me, taking a break from time to time is essential to keep things moving.

All photos taken at the White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield, CT.

 

October Updates

 

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Dog bed under table for strategic canine foot-rubs

Hello October, you lovely thing. Plenty of the good and the busy going on over here in my autumn-colored neck of the woods.

My Heart Blade edits are pretty much done! I have the wonderful experts at Laurel City Sword looking over my fight scenes at the moment, but apart from that…the manuscript is ready to place in the copyeditor’s capable hands. Although in the past I’ve worked with plenty of fabulous (and patient) beta readers and critique partners, this was my first time working with a professional editor. It’s been a really interesting and positive experience, and I’m sure there’s a whole other blog post right there waiting to happen.

I have a cover! Well, almost. There are all sorts of things that still need to be done to it before it’s ready to share, like adding a title. But my publisher has let me peek and Merilliza Chan‘s artwork is lovely, with a dreamy vintage feel to it. Here’s a teaser:

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Rose petals! So pretty! Shh, secret…

So what happens next? I have a sequel to write. That means I need to do some serious outlining first, and also a post-edits update of all my story and character arcs for the next three Blade Hunt Chronicles books. No spoilers for book 2 before book 1 is even out, but I may or may not have a heist tale in the works. I’ve been dying to try my hand at fictional armed robbery, and Night Blade is the perfect place for it.

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Caution: fictional armed robbery may or may not include swords

I’m looking forward to a busy October, and that’s just the way I like it. Happy words to all you writers and readers out there!