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Archive for January, 2011

Update: Aliza is back to her bouncy, bossy usual corgi-queen-of-the-world self again.

In my revision/rewrite of DREAMER’S ROSE, I’ve come to the next place that needs a significant rewrite. Unfortunately, it’s one of those scenes. You know, where two characters first really get together. In other words, a sex scene.  Not an explicit one; I don’t write those.  It’s much more my style to sort of set up the situation, let things begin to warm up, and then figuratively draw the curtain and come back in the morning. You know, sort of pull out to a shot of waves crashing on the beach, like in the old movies. Still, there has to be enough there to let the reader know what’s not being said.

Difficult enough at the best of times. Much harder now that I’ve decided that this really should be a YA story. Not that I think sex should be completely ignored as if it doesn’t exist at all in YA stories. That’s disingenous and a discredit and disservice to the readers. They’re smarter than that.

It shouldn’t be thrown in without cause, just for the thrill of it, either of course. But where it belongs in a story, as it does in this one, it should be acknowledged. To an extent, the last third of this book doesn’t happen if this scene doesn’t happen, so I can’t just ignore it.

I think it requires a little extra delicacy, though, in an already delicate subject. It’s a difficult balance to strike.

As I sometimes do when writing difficult scenes, I’m reviewing other, published, well-regarded works for guidance. How did some of the authors I respect most handle similar situations? I’ve found my role model, I think, but not in YA literature. 

The approach, if I can pull it off, will be to go mostly to internal dialog. To focus almost exclusively on the character’s emotions.  It’s not going to be easy. I’ve already spent two days on the rewrite of this chapter and I’m not even up to the hard part, yet.

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Sick Dog

My first view of Aliza
The first time I saw Aliza

Not much to say about writing today.  The last couple of days have been pretty much devoted to my heart dog, Aliza, who has been very sick. Thankfully, she appears to be on the mend, now.  Aliza is ten years old and normally very healthy, apart from low thyroid which is controlled with medications.

The illness was very sudden. She was fine on Sunday, her usual self, begging for food like any good corgi. Then through the night she vomitted bile several times. I gave her some anti-nausea meds. (Aliza gets a sour stomach if it stays empty too long.) She refused food in the morning. Definitely a sick corgi.
 
Off to the vet, who suspected pancreatitis.  But the blood tests all came back normal.  So, maybe gastritis. Possibly she ate something that irritated her stomach.
 
I coaxed her to eat a little food. Later she happily lapped up her yogurt (given twice a day to prevent that sour stomach).  Then through the night and early morning on Tuesday, she had bloody diarrhea.  Not a good sign. I spent most of that night in a state of panic, waiting for the vet’s office to open in the morning.
 
Back to the vet.  (Have I mentioned that I know this vet’s phone number by heart?)  Because of the blood, the vet did x-rays to rule out a blockage. Nope. The x-rays showed a thickening of the intestines due to inflammation, but no blockage.  That’s very good.  Back to the gastritis diagnosis.
 
(This, by the way, is my life story when it comes to diagnostic tests for my pets.  They’re always coming back normal even when it’s obvious that the dog or cat is sick.)
 
So, we came home again, with some meds to help her heal up inside.  She doesn’t mind that–doggie pills are given wrapped in cream cheese in this house.
 
Today she seems some better. She ate nearly all of her breakfast without prompting.  The diarrhea isn’t completely over yet, but . . . well, not to make a very bad joke, but . . . this too shall pass.  At least it’s only orange (from the pumpkin I’ve added to her food for extra fiber), not bloody.
 
Aliza is the smartest, sweetest dog.  So glad she’s starting to feel more like herself.  Sorry to break it to you, sweetie.  No agility class for you tomorrow.  Maybe next week.

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Since I last posted about antagonists and villains, I’ll continue on with the theme.  What about stories that have no antagonist?

Yes, it’s possible. It’s even possible to do well. Look at Maggie Stiefvater’s SHIVER. Of course, in a way, there is an antagonist. It’s just not a person.

This comes up as I prepare to start working on SEVEN STARS again because I think it’s one of the problems (not the only one) I had with the earlier version.  This story doesn’t have a personified antagonist.  There will be characters who variously help or impede the main character for their own ends. There will be characters or groups she vilifies as evil and fights against. But there really isn’t a single antagonist.

Instead, her battle is much more against a part her own nature. Very similar, in a way to SHIVER, although SEVEN STARS is not a werewolf story. 

I think there are additional challenges to writing a story without an identifiable antagonist. Keeping the tension up, for one. There’s nobody to point to and say, “Hurry, he’s going to catch you.” SHIVER still had that, to a degree, because the weather was a huge part of the problem–and you know things are only going to get colder as winter comes in. SEVEN STARS won’t have anything that clear to point to.

I’ve written one other book (THE IGNORED PROPHECY) without an antagonist on the main story line. The central story on that one was very internal. But I had a really unlikable antagonist for a strong sub plot. I’m not sure I’ll even have that for SEVEN STARS. 

It’s going to be a challenge, I think.  Well, it’s one of two stories (DREAMER’S ROSE is the other) that have made me work harder to get the story out and get it right.

The current challenge on DREAMER’S ROSE is going to be to cut about a quarter of it. The pacing stinks in places.  That’s going to require more than one pass, I’m afraid.

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I mentioned in my last post that I have trouble writing villains. I wanted to expand on that a little.

First, my early drafts are all about the protagonist, so the antagonist doesn’t make it onto the page as an individual with goals and feelings of his own until the second or even third draft. That’s just the way I work.

Then, I find that the advice that your antagonist should think of himself or herself as the hero of his or her own story is sound. It helps a lot–for most antagonists. Not so much for villains.  There’s a difference, at least for me.

Most of my stories have antagonists:

1)      In THE SHAMAN’S CURSE, Maktaz was a grieving father who really believed that he was avenging the murder of his son.

2)      In THE IGNORED PROPHECY, Gerusa was narcissistic and her political maneuverings were designed for her own benefit. But she did really believe that the changes proposed by her hated ex-husband were going to destroy their people.

3)      Zobran, in BLOOD WILL TELL, was unscrupulous, ruthless, and very dangerous, but he really believed that he was saving the world.

4)      In MAGE STORM, Trav is seen only through Rell’s eyes. Still, despite his huge ego, he does believe that he has a solution to a problem that almost tore their world apart, once–and, of course, he thinks he deserves to be heavily rewarded for it 

They’re antagonists, not villains.  I didn’t have so much trouble writing them into the second or third draft.

Kaleran, in DREAMER’S ROSE, is a villain, true evil. His only goals are personal gratification. No one else really counts as even human in his mind. That’s the kind of antagonist this story needs. Nothing less than seeing the face of evil in his own son would set Lerian so off-kilter.

That’s why Kaleran is so much harder for me to write, I think

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This week, I finally got through the chapter of DREAMER’S ROSE that’s had me stopped for nearly a month.  This is a story that has fought me tooth and nail from almost the beginning.  Well, that’s not quite fair.  It’s only this first part that fights me. The rest has gone fairly smoothly. I’ve been tempted just to chop off this beginning and start where the story starts flowing more easily, but that just ends up feeling unbalanced to me.

Part of the problem with this first section is the old, old one from the very first of trying to create enough conflict for a character that’s basically invulnerable.  That’s not easy.  I think I’ve finally hit on the right balance–or close to it–for the male main character.  I may do some cutting in the next pass, but I’m feeling a lot better about it.

Then I got stopped on the two chapters in this section that are written from the antagonist’s point of view. Have I mentioned that writing real villains is harder for me?  And this one is a particularly slimy little sociopath. Well, I finally got through the chapters that show his development and I’m making good progress on the next chapter (back in the male main character’s point of view).

The next chapter after this shouldn’t need too much revision and then it’s on to the chapters where the female main character makes her appearance.  Those are actually some of the first chapters I wrote and they’ve always just flowed better for me. 

Since this first section is basically a rewrite, I’ve given myself first-draft permission not to get everything perfect right now.  The later sections will be more of a revision and, hopefully, will go faster.

It feels good to be past that block, finally.

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Rejection

News:  This is my 100th post. There have been about the same number of comments.  And some time over the holidays while I wasn’t looking, the blog went over 2000 views.

Now on to today’s topic: rejection.  It’s something we’re all going to have to deal with. The only way to avoid it is to never send your work out and that just guarantees that no one will ever see it or publish it. So, you have to take the risk.

Earlier this week, I started sending out the very first queries on MAGE STORM.  Five queries have gone out and one rejection has already come back.  That’s not totally unexpected. There can be all kinds of reasons for it and agents don’t usually stop to tell you exactly why.

But that’s not what this post is about.  It’s about the freeing nature of that first rejection.  (Now, this isn’t my first rejection.  Just the first for MAGE STORM.) When you first send the queries out into the world, you’re a little bit on pins and needles, even though you know that realistically it could be weeks before you hear anything back, if you ever do.  Some agents only reply if they’re interested.

Then that first rejection comes back. It’s disappointing.  It stings.  But then you realize that you’re still standing, still writing. That you still believe in your story. And you compose another version of the query letter and send it right back out. 

The worst is over.  It may be an uphill battle, but at least from here it is all uphill.  Well, mostly, anyway.

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First, an update:  Last week I blogged about e-publishing.  SFWA’s Writer Beware has a very informative and realistic article about e-publishing on their blog. Plenty of food for thought.  I’ll be interested to see the next installment.

Over the last week, especially, I’ve been working on refining the query and synopsis for MAGE STORM.  I’m almost happy with the query:

The only traces of magic left in Rell’s world are the violent, semi-sentient mage storms made up of the ashes of the magic-wielders killed in the great war.

At least that’s what Rell believes until a mage storm infects him with magic he can’t control. The magic ebbs and flows with his emotions, protecting those he cares about one day and starting fires the next. His only hope of returning to a normal life is to find someone who can help him learn to either control the magic or get rid of it.

Rell follows rumors of a teacher but instead finds a cult leader, Trav. When Rell witnesses the death of another student, he realizes he’s next on Trav’s list. Forced to flee, Rell can’t forget the friends he left behind. Somehow, he has to learn enough to return and free the others.

That is, if Trav doesn’t catch him first, because Trav doesn’t let anyone with real magic live long enough to challenge him.

I’ve also started my research and developed an initial list of agents.  In the next few days, I’ll take a deep breath and start submitting MAGE STORM to agents.  Fingers crossed.

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