Archive for November, 2010

Urgent-Stolen Dogs


If anyone in Southern California or nearby sees this van, please help.

UPDATE:  All the dogs have been found and returnded safe.

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Goal Tracking

Well, it’s the time of month and almost the time of year for measuring our progress against our goals.  Since I blogged about goalsetting a little while back, I might as well blog about the other side of the equation.

My goals for the month were:

  1. Get half-way through the third draft of MAGE STORM.
  2. Complete revisions on a short story and submit it to Writers of the Future.
  3. Make some progress on SEVEN STARS.
  4. Make a decision on whether BLOOD WILL TELL is actually YA or not.

It was a challenging set of goals.  My progress:

  1. I completed the third draft of MAGE STORM, not just half-way.  Initially, it was a little intimidating to be dealing with four critiques on the entire novel at once. Once I built up some momentum, I didn’t want to stop until I got to the end.
  2. I’m still working on the short story. It is just possible that I’ll complete this goal this month, but it’s looking more likely to be a few days late.  For WotF, I’d rather take the extra time and have it be right. The actual deadline for the quarter isn’t until December 31st. I’m in very good shape to make that with weeks to spare.
  3. Well, I made some.  Not a lot, but this goal was nebulous enough that just about anything counts.
  4. The jury is still out on this one.  Of four responses I’ve received so far from people who read a lot of YA, the voting is running three to one for adult rather than YA. Again, I don’t know that I’ll have made a final decision (and so completed this goal) by month-end. Either way, BLOOD WILL TELL is likely to get a rest while I start querying MAGE STORM next year.

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Knowing When to Stop

This actually has more than one meaning.  One of the important meanings is knowing when to stop editing. You can kill a story with too much editing.  My first novel, THE SHAMAN’S CURSE suffers from this. In places, the writing lost all life. It’s just words, no sparkle. The only cure for that story will be to rewrite it, probably completely from scratch. That won’t happen until I get a better handle on exactly what kind of stories my authorial voice is best suited to. If it’s going to be Young Adult, well, there are more things than the writing that will have to change.

Ever since realizing the problem I’d created for THE SHAMAN’S CURSE, I’ve tried to stick to three drafts. First draft, get the story down. Second draft, fix the things I know I left out or didn’t give enough time to in the first draft. Make it as good as I can. Then get some readers. Third draft, revise based on those critiques. And stop there. Move on to another story, ’cause I’m not going to make this one any better by beating it to death.

The other meaning of knowing when to stop is, of course, knowing when the story ends. Usually, I don’t have too much trouble with this. When the main conflict is resolved, take a little space for denoument and get out gracefully.  I think I failed to do that in MAGE STORM, though.  It goes on too long after the climax. I should let a couple of small subplots resolve and then stop. So, as I work on the third draft, I’m expecting to cut quite a lot from the ending. That’s probably going to save it in terms of length, because it’s creeping up past 60,000 words, now.

Some of what I cut may actually end up being the beginning of the sequel. That’s where what happens next to these characters really belongs anyway.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Back when I was finishing the first draft of MAGE STORM, I posted that it was a little short.  I wasn’t worried about that at the time because I knew I’d end up expanding it in the revisions.

Now that I’m about two-thirds of the way through the third draft, the tables are turned. 

Since I’ve decided that MAGE STORM is really Middle Grade, not Young Adult, I’m now concerned that it’s creeping up towards being too long.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

I know there’s some stuff at the end that I’ll probably cut or at least cut back.  Probably it will still end up about the right length.

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It’s what management by objective is all about and it’s also one of Kevin J. Anderson’s tips for prolific writers.  Goalsetting is obviously important.

To be useful goals have to be:

  1. Specific
  2. Objectively Measurable
  3. Have a definite time frame
  4. Be at least a little challenging

“I want to be a published writer” is a dream.  Goals (and sometimes a bit of luck) are what will get you to that dream.

I like to set different levels of goals. 

Generally, I will set a longer-term goal: I want to be ready to start sending out queries on MAGE STORM in January. And then I will set smaller goals: What do I have to do today, or this week, or this month to make that happen.  It’s easier to track progress on the intermediate goals.  Plus it provides a sense of accomplishment that’s very motivating for me.

Sometimes, I’ll also set two levels of goals–and easy goal I’m fairly sure I can make (to keep the momentum going and provide that motivation) and a more challenging goal to shoot for and try to raise my productivity.  Since I’m a fairly competitive person (and most competititive with myself), I often make the harder goal.

Gotta go.  My goal for today is to finish the 3rd draft revisions of Chapter 11 of MAGE STORM.

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Conflicting Critiques

The thing about critiques is: No matter how much the reader wants to help you improve your story it is still your story and only you can decide what’s really right for it.

Whenever you get multiple critiques on any work, there’s bound to be some disagreement.  The question then arises, which do you believe?  I’m on the horns of this dilemma in two separate cases. 

On the latest revision short story (yes, I’m withholding the title for a reason), I’ve gotten three critiques so far (and two still out).  One reader thinks it’s good as is, one thinks it needs minor tweaks, and one thinks it needs some major changes to deepen the point of view. 

On my novel, MAGE STORM, I occasionally have a similar issue.  Out of four critiques, there’s one that consistently wants deeper point of view.  In some cases, I agree.  In others, not.  Other issues, often places where the story needs a little more detail or depth to make something work well, most or all of the critiques agree.

On one of my writers’ forums the answer to this situation was put very clearly: The only two times you really must respond to a critique (other than to say thank you), is when three or more people agree or when the critique resonates with you.  I’d add one more: There are certain people to whose critiques, through experience, I’ve learned to give extra credence. 

So, if three people see a problem, it probably really is a problem you should address.  And if a comment feels right to you or, better yet, triggers some new ideas, then that’s pure gold.

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Good News, Bad News

And they came in the same e-mail. 

Actually, the bad news came first.  The familiar “Thank you, but we’ll pass” rejection letter.  Almost as an afterthought down at the bottom was the notation that the story had made it to the second round.

That’s actually very good news.  It got beyond the slush pile.  It just couldn’t quite make it that last step to publication.  At least, not this time.

The story in question is the short story version of “Mage Storm”. Now I’m in a bit of a quandary with this one.  The next two markets I’d planned for this story, if necessary, are unavailable.  One because the new editor has already rejected an earlier version of the story, the other is temporarily closed to submissions.  I may just decide to sit on this one and use it as a teaser when the novel version gets published (thinking positively).

On the brighter side, I’m starting to fall into a rhythm with the four full-novel critiques of MAGE STORM.  The first two chapters were pretty hard work, but I’m starting to hit my stride, now.

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Swimming in Critiques

An embarassment of riches.

I’m almost finished with the “first” set of revisions to what will be my first Writers of the Future entry, working through five critiques from a specialized critique group.  As soon as I finish that, I’m going to start workng through the four full novel critiques on MAGE STORM.

Meanwhile, I’ve got two full novels to critique for the group that critiqued MAGE STORM (which, so far, is a real pleasure).  I’ve got the first of what should be six stories for the WotF critique group (five second drafts and one late first draft).  And I’ve got to critique another Synopsis Challenge that I started.  One or two others might pop up, but hopefully not until a little later in the month.

Whew! Looks like November is critique month, coming and going. But I learn so much from critiques, both those I receive and those I do.

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I’ve posted before about how inspiration can come from literally anything.  The other thing about inspiration, especially that first spark of an idea that you build on to make a story, is that it can’t be forced.  At least, I can’t force it.

There are things you can work on, of course.  I have a set of questions that I ask myself about a culture or a place when I’m doing world building.  The thing there is that they all have to integrate, to feel like a cohesive and rational whole.

But the idea itself, that comes from deeper in my brain, from my subconscious.  And it has to bubble up from the depths in its own good time.

This happened recently with SEVEN STARS.  I have the world building pretty well done.  I wrote the first chapter, plus a little.  And then I stopped.  The main character felt too confident, competent, and especially too old for what I wanted this story to be.  He sounded like an old campaigner when he’s supposed to be a kid forced into the role of leader in a stressful situation he’s not really quite ready for.  I wasn’t sure what to do with it.  So, I put it aside for a while, worked on revisions on other projects, and let my subconscious work behind the scenes. 

It paid off a couple of days ago.  I know exactly how to change that first chapter or so to fix my main character and the story.

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