Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Summertime blues

I only smile in the dark
My only comfort is the night gone black
I didn't accidentally tell you that
--Garbage, "Only Happy When It Rains"
Ahh...a blissfully cloudy day. I might actually get some work done.

Much fuss is made of the more common winter version of Seasonal Affective Disorder* (SAD), but just try to find hints for those of us with daytime concentration issues during May and June, beyond the tossed-off phrase, "There is also a summer version of seasonal affective disorder, but this is far less common and has different symptoms."

Gee, thanks. That's really helpful.

The little research this topic has garnered (largely here in the Washington, DC, area, where summers are notoriously miserable) indicates that bad summer moods stem from the heat and humidity.

For me, that ain't it. Sure, I hate riding in a black car on a summer day as much as anyone. Pant, pant. But after several hours in an air-conditioned room, a free sauna can be a good thing. A hot summer night is one of my favorite seasonal experiences, stepping outside to feel the soft evening air on my skin, without even thinking about a shiver.

Emphasis on night, you'll notice. Whereas most people need a certain amount of light to feel normal, I need a certain amount of dark. I'm not saying this to create a Goth-y persona or make me sound special or mysterious. It's just a fact. Sunny days make me restless.

Maybe it goes back to the childhood litany of "It's a nice day, go play outside!" when what I really wanted to do was sit in a chair and read a book.

Maybe it's the ever-present weeds that need pulling. Weeds magically disappear at night.

Whatever it is, during the summer I only feel settled after dark. Morning feels like an Ambien hangover without the Ambien, and I long to go back to bed, but one cup of tea or coffee sends me into caffeine overdrive. I'm a-twitchin' and a-bitchin' all day long.

The only remedy is a cloudy day like today. It's a serene 73 degrees, the windows are open, and the mockingbird chatter is at a tolerable level, allowing me to hear the gorgeous twitter of a red-winged blackbird across the lane.

Aw, crap, the sun just came out. Guess it's down to the basement, where I'll huddle like a tornado victim until sunset.

Anyone else have this problem, or am I just insane?

*Li'l known fact: Despite the lack of winter sunlight, Icelanders rarely get SAD.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Balticon 40 update #3

Day 3

Still going...

Tired. So tired. And there's a whole 'nother day of Balticon tomorrow. But not for me. Work beckons.

Okay, let's try a complex sentence: This morning I was on a panel concerning Romance in Science Fiction/Fantasy, which drew a full crowd of people into the small, not-so-air-conditioned room.

Other panel participants were Stephanie "Flash" Burke, Mary Jo Putney, Hildy Silverman, Eve Vaughn, and Joy Ward.

Naturally, the discussion turned to sex, since that's what romance novels mean to most people (or maybe people just like to talk about sex). As on Friday night's panel, someone asked whether publishers put pressure on authors to make their romances hotter to meet the demands of the market.

Vaughn and Burke, who both specialize in erotica, said that their publishers encouraged them to push the envelope. Vaughn mused, "I've already got threesomes and even foursomes. Geez, what's next?"*

Putney used the concept of "girl cooties" to explain why romance still gets a bad rap, even though they've improved in quality and accessibility (i.e., cross-genre outreach) and even though love is a central or supporting theme in most successful stories of any genre. "Girl cooties," as I mentioned last year, stems from the idea that anything that womenfolk enjoy must be inferior and worthless**, and that anything that contains a female-friendly element (such as a love story) is instantly tainted.

Then I went to two excellent panels for writers, one on Writer Beware, an invaluable service that helps new writers avoid scam artists and amateur publishers/agents; and another on how the publishing world is changing for authors (you don't want to know).

Through a series of serendipitious meetings, I found myself giving an impromptu interview for the Balticon podcast. Neither I nor the interviewer had time to prepare, but hey, we winged it wather well, I beweive. It should be airing in November, when Eyes of Crow comes out. I wish I'd had time to plan what I would emphasize about the book or about myself, but with more time I would have been more nervous.

So yay, Balticon. Lots of stuff to do, cool panelists, and friendly, energetic conventioneers. If you couldn't make it this year, hope to see you next year (and be sure subscribe to the podcast through the link in the previous paragraph).

If I met you there this weekend, it was a great pleasure. For me, I mean. If it was for you, too, drop me a line and say hi.

*which, for some reason, reminds me of the ever-increasing number of blades on disposable razors. How many is enough to get a really close shave?

**This is actually true in the case of Barbie Dolls, white wine, and Hugh Grant.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Balticon 40 update, #2

Did a signing and a reading today, which was recorded for a podcast. The reading, not the signing. The audio for the signing would go something like this:

Me: (humming "It Ain't Me" by Bob Dylan)
Me: (shuffling papers)
Me: (whispering) Please, God, let someone talk to me...
Footsteps approach.
Me: (whispering) Someone's coming! Thanks, God.
Dude in a Darth Vader T-shirt: Hi.
Me: Hello. How are you?
Darth Dude: Where's Ann Crispin? Isn't she supposed to be signing at 3:00?
Me: Uh, yeah. I don't know where she is. Would you like a free sample of my upcoming novel?
DD: (suspiciously) How much is it?

Anyway, I met fellow Luna author Maria Snyder, whose novel Poison Study won the 2006 Compton Crook Award--woo-hoo! The Compton Crook goes to the best first novel in speculative fiction. Don't ask me who Compton or Crook are.

I don't know if I'll be eligible for CC next year. Requiem makes things kind of odd: it wouldn't have qualified for many first novel awards because at the time e-books weren't considered real novels, and yet its very existence might disqualify me from some first novel awards. Not that I really care. Except the ones with cash awards--those I definitely care about.

Attended a fun panel on Rock 'n' Roll in Science Fiction. One of the panelists was Adam Stemple, an author and musician who is now on my Check 'Em Out list.

Fantasy luminaries Neil Gaiman and Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn, A Fine and Private Place) gave a joint interview this afternoon. They both spoke about finding jewels of brilliance in their work and not knowing how they got there and worse, not knowing how to make them happen again.

Gaiman added that one moment there would be that spontaneous magic, and then the next moment you go back to bricklaying, laying down one heavy, solid word after another as best as you can.

All I can say is Amen, brothers.

They said that all the success in the world doesn't make it easier to face the blank page. If anything, it makes it harder, because you face a whole new set of expectations from readers, publishers, and yourself.

My thoughts: People often compare writing a novel to having a baby. The effort to get published is like being pregnant. It's painful, nauseating, occasionally humiliating, and you become desperate for it to end. But childbirth is just the beginning and presents a whole new set of challenges. Be a good parent without going nuts.

Same with writing and becoming published. You've got to nurture your career without losing your sanity, without losing yourself. I feel lucky that so many decent author-type folks have trod this path before me and are kind enough to share their experiences at events like Balticon.

More tomorrow.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Balticon 40 update, #1

This thing is huge! I'd always heard that Balticon was one of the top regional SF conventions in the country, but I had no idea. There are twelve tracks, which means twelve different things going on at one time. The mind boggles.

There are at least two literary tracks, as well as tracks for media (movies and TV), children's programming, science, podcasting, comics, gaming, videos, and uh, possibly llama farming.

Today's Baltimore Sun had a good article about the convention, though the reporter couldn't resist a few Star Trek references:
[Dale] Arnold, [BSFS]'s chairman, expects his organization to finish in the black in its anniversary year - another positive sign for a festival that has, like the science fiction genre itself, lived long and prospered.
Get it?! "Live long and prosper"?! Hardy-har-har!

Anyway, the opening ceremonies started with an entertaining takeoff on the Monty Python "Cheese Shop" sketch, in which a customer at a "fantasy bookstore" can't find any of her favorite authors--or any authors, for that matter. When she asks for J.K. Rowling, the proprietor says, "I'm afraid we don't get much call for that around here."

The Guests of Honor didn't speak at the opening ceremonies, unlike at some other cons I've attended. Which was disappointing, because there was no Neil Gaiman GoH speech, but also a relief, because there were no other GoH speeches to sit through.

Then we went to the Meet the Program Participants reception, where there was an assortment of dessert foods (including Cadbury Mini-Eggs!) and a big cake. I decided not to partake, since the last time I went to a dessert reception at a con, I didn't get out of bed the next day.

At 10PM I moderated a panel on "Great Erotic SF Scenes." Luckily, we decided not to read scenes as the program description instructed us to, but discussed the subject instead. It was an easy panel to moderate, because it ran itself, i.e., everyone wanted to talk. We got some great questions from the audience--mostly from men, I'm happy to say.

The discussion touched on the demands of publishers to "spice up" our novels, but got really interesting when we talked about the politics of sexuality and society's resistance to women's self-actualization. Other topics included alien birth control, polyamory, and--I am not kidding--sentient genitalia.

When one author shared a leeeeetle too much about how her writing reflected her own experiences (she has apparently had "pass-out sex" but, unlike many romance heroines, can't get her own legs over her head), I desperately wished that I had a big orange sign reading

TMI

So much for Night One. Balticon looks to be great fun, and I'm glad I finally made it.

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More later

Blogging's been sporadic this week, but as a reward for your patience, I'll be blogging this weekend with updates from Balticon.

Until then, let's take a moment to savor the image of the Enron bastards behind bars for the rest of their miserable lives.

Ahhhh...that felt good.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Cats pride themselves on their ability to do nothing."
--John R. Breen
I was stuck for a non-time-consuming post, so I stole from yesterday's Page-A-Day Cat Calendar.

I happened to be writing a scene in Voice of Crow that featured a Cougar (i.e., a person who has Cougar magic). He's everything you'd imagine a cat in a man's body to be. The kind you don't take home to Mother. The kind you're better off clocking with a shoe when he yowls at your back window.

The kind who leaves marks.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Balticon

It's finally official--I'm a panelist at this weekend's Baltimore Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (Balticon 40), here in Hunt Valley, MD. Though I'm not on the list of guests, trust me, I'm on the pocket program (PDF) .

The author Guest of Honor is none other than my favorite writer, Neil Gaiman. Artist Guest of Honor is Lisa Snellings-Clark. I just took a look at the gallery on her website, and it's really cool.

As usual, Balticon has tons of different kinds of programming (literary, art, comics, gaming, music) throughout the four-day weekend. If you go, you'll enjoy it, and maybe I'll even see you there. At 11AM on Saturday I'll be reading from Eyes of Crow, and I'll also be doing panels Friday at 10PM and Sunday at 11AM.

There might be an autographing, too, although the schedule hasn't been announced. If I get a signing, I'll be giving away free autographed copies of a limited edition chapbook while supplies last. It'll contain a bigger excerpt than what's on my website.

OK, currently there's no excerpt on my site, but that'll be fixed shortly as well.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Unplugged, Part 2

Before I was a drug addict, I had so many problems. But now I only have one problem: drugs!
--Lyle, Cecil B. DeMented
Last week I lamented a recent flareup of my Internet compulsion and how it was interfering with my writing.

The good news is that I haven't had much trouble kicking the habit. I'm an infuriatingly non-addictive personality. When I was a smoker (for a few years in my early twenties) I contented myself with 2-5 cigarettes a day and often quit if I ran out of money or caught a cold. I can eat just one Lay's potato chip.

So all weekend I stayed offline except for a few brief e-mail checks on my husband's computer, stolen moments while he was in the shower or mowing the lawn. I had him hide my laptop's wireless network card so I couldn't go online with the same computer I use to write.

E-mail and blogs quickly went from More Necessary Than Air to a mere annoyance. I was left with tons of time and wrists that didn't ache. So I got lots of writing done, right?

No. Turns out, the Internet compulsion wasn't the problem; like most addictions, it was just the thing I used to run away from the real problem.

I'm scared of this book. I've known this from the beginning. I'm trying a lot of new things with it, partly because I think authors should try to break new ground with every book, and partly because otherwise I'd get bored.

Without the distraction of the internet, I had to face my fears and not force myself through the writing just to get it done. Plus, I had a migraine, which always inspires me to treat myself gently. So I stepped back, did some research, some character work, and eventually, with the help of a triple espresso yesterday afternoon, finally wrote a scene where two characters are interacting like real people instead of marionettes.

Breakthrough or temporary success? We'll see.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Shifty eyes

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
--The Who, "Who Are You?"
Damn these multiple points-of-view. What was I thinking?

Every time I get swinging on my latest manuscript, -BOOM!- the scene ends and I'm in a different character's head. Someone who thinks, speaks, and acts nothing like the person I was just inhabiting. It's like Being John Malkovich, then suddenly Being Lindsey Lohan, Being Rob Lowe, and Being Anna Nicole Smith.

And no, I don't see any of those actors playing my characters, although I think Malkovich could play a five-year-old female Indonesian conjoined twin and still pull it off*.

It's a wee bit tempting to write all of one character's scenes throughout the book, then write each of the others'. It beats not writing at all, I suppose. I used to skip around all over the place within a manuscript, but the last two novels have been written straight through, beginning to end.

Sigh...guess I should follow my own advice and write each novel the way it demands, not try to cram it into an existing mold or assume that what's worked before will work again. What's that saying brokerage firms always use: "past performance does not guarantee future results"?

*And no, there are no five-year-old female Indonesian conjoined twins in my novel; it was a hypothetical.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Unplugged

Too much information
running through my brain
Too much information
driving me insane
Overkill, overkill
over my dead body
Over me, over you
over everybody.
--The Police, "Too Much Information"
I don't know if it's something in the collective unconscious, or if the volume and speed of internet bloat has reached a tipping point, but lately I've noticed lots of people admitting to an internet addiction. Has anyone else felt this way?

Many years ago, we used Solitaire to waste time at our computers. Then it was e-mail. Now it's blogs. We read, we post, we comment, we respond to comments, over and over. Some blogs even e-mail you follow-up comments so you can monitor the conversation without going back to the blog itself. As courteous as a crack dealer who delivers.

Since blogging about breaking an internet addiction is like celebrating a new diet with a chocolate eclair, I'll stop talking and just do it. Here's my chance.

Today I'll take Old Faithful to the car doctor, where I'll have two hours of internet-free writing time. Then I'll go to work, where my boss has, and I am not kidding, a 28.8 kbps modem, allowing only a brief check on one of my e-mail boxes. After work, I'll have time for nothing but my daily scene.

Will 24 hours be enough to detox? We'll see.

In the meantime, leave a comment about how you waste too much time commenting on blogs.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

This day had to come

Marge (opening refrigerator): Homer, didn't you get any milk? All I see is egg nog.
Homer: 'Tis the season, Marge! We only get thirty sweet noggy days--and then the government takes it away.
--The Simpsons, "Marge Be Not Proud"

Just finished my annual bag of Cadbury Mini-Eggs. Feeling sad. I'm purely a seasonal confection consumer, and the long string of sugar-oriented holidays that began with Halloween is finally at an end.

(pause)

Yeah, I'm behind schedule on the manuscript and needed a quick blog post. How did you guess?

Name your favorite holiday sweet, and make us drool.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bed Books

No, not books that depict what happens in bed, books that you read in bed.

Bed Books (TM) allow you to lie on your side and read a book by propping it on the bed itself. It eliminates the strain of simultaneously holding it upright and spreading the pages apart.

The book resembles a bound galley, in which two pages face another two pages, with the spine in between.

What do y'all think? My first reaction was to laugh at it like I did the Slanket (which I'm pretty sure was a joke). But the more I think about it, the more Bed Books appeal to me. My fingers tend to cramp when I lie on my side and hold open a book with one hand.

However, I have trouble taking any product seriously that features a Gallery of Pain on its website.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Anti-heroics

Yesterday I saw (saw, as opposed to watched, which means I actually had a real live cinema outing for the first time since, umm, Batman Begins last June) Thank You for Smoking. A smart, funny, pitch-perfect satire.

Thank You's protagonist is Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry--the least sympathetic character you could imagine, aside from a dictator. Yet from the first moments, Nick had the audience on his side. He used his gift of spin to create a reality in which he was the hero and the usual do-gooders--an anti-tobacco crusading Senator, a spunky young female reporter--became the villains.

Such is the triumph of the well-drawn anti-hero. In a novel, we don't have access to an actor with the facility and luminosity of Aaron Eckhart, so we have to find other ways to charm the reader.

Perhaps this is why most anti-hero novels are written in first person. The reader is allowed no emotional distance to criticize the AH's motives and acts. Either they happily go along for the ride, or they toss the book away in disgust, unable to make that moral and imaginative leap.

For instance, right now I'm reading Stolen by Kelley Armstrong, a novel with a female werewolf protagonist. In the first third of the book, Elena kills several men who are trying to capture/hurt/kill her, hunting one of them down as a wolf and tearing out his throat (after toying with him to prolong the enjoyable chase). She then jokes about it with her fellow werewolves.

Obviously werewolves believe they don't need to adhere to the same morality as normal humans. Anything goes to protect the Pack. I can buy into that worldview for the time it takes to read the novel, but I can see where another reader might not be comfortable in Elena's head.
  • Who's your favorite anti-hero? (Mine is Lucifer in Requiem for the Devil, but obviously I'm biased. Hee.)
  • What makes them so sympathetic, you root for them to overcome the "good guys"?
  • Are you just as happy with an anti-heroine, or are there some dastardly deeds --lying, cheating, stealing, killing--you only condone in male characters?
I'm off for a long day of writing and pretending the Internet doesn't exist.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Say your prayers...

...light your candles, invoke your mojo, cross your fingers, toss a penny in a fountain--however you call for divine intervention*. Bad Company has left the building.

My agent's building, that is. It's on its way to a number of publishers (I probably shouldn't say how many, but it's a good healthy number that shows up in many myths). By this point, it's probably on the desks of several editors or their lovely underpaid assistants.

Hey, if you're one of those editors, Googling me after getting the submission, you should know I always make my deadlines and always send holiday gifts. I crave editorial feedback like the Olson twins crave diet pills.

Unfortunately, if an offer is made, I won't be able to announce it on the blog until the contract is completed. My agent, rightly so, prefers it that way. I always worry when authors shout to the world,
I JUST GOT THE CALL 2 MINUTES AGO!! OMG OMG OMG!!!
that they've totally tipped their hands. That they've lost negotiating power with the publisher because now they can't walk away from the table without embarrassing themselves in front of their friends/blog readers/listserv buddies.

I got the offer for Eyes of Crow in February 2005 and couldn't announce it here until June when the ink was dry on the contract. By then the exuberance had worn off and I didn't have any OMG!!!'s left in me. I was too busy trying to finish the novel.

Bottom line: don't expect to hear any more on this for several months. And don't ask, because I'll either be frustrated and grumpy that no one has made an offer, or frustrated and giddy because someone made an offer and I can't tell you.

*On second thought, scratch the superstitious rituals. Ciara, my heroine, doesn't believe in any of that crap**. Just hope along with me.

**Her words, not mine.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Getting to The End, Part 2

Yesterday I discussed the pros and cons of measuring a novel's progress by word count vs. page count. Then I hinted that they can both be hazardous, based on my experience.

With Eyes of Crow, I got in trouble by keeping to a page count. I padded some sentences and paragraphs just to fill out the volume, which made extra editing work for me in later drafts.

But even worse, by the time I reached the halfway point pagewise, I hadn't told half the story. Oops. Not only did it take a few weeks longer than planned to complete the novel, several of the scenes near the end were rushed and shallowly* written. Again, more work in the rewrites.

Now that I'm trying to write two books a year, for different series, I can't afford a bloated first draft. So I've decided this time around that a better way to get from beginning to end is to write the story. Radical notion, that.

What I mean is that each day, rather than writing X number of pages or words, I'll write one scene. The scene may be 5, 10 or 15 pages, or somewhere in between. It doesn't matter as long as the story gets told.

So here's what I figured out:

As a rough estimate, in a 600-page first draft, there will be 75 scenes of approximately 8 pages each. I'm sketching the scenes on index cards, making sure that each point-of-view character gets his or her allotted amount of "camera time:"
  • Rhia, main female character: 40% (after all, it's her book)
  • Marek, main male character: 25%
  • Alanka, secondary chick, 17.5%
  • Filip, secondary dude, 17.5%
But Jeri, one might gasp, how can you quantify creativity? How can you shove a sweeping epic fantasy story into little 3x5 boxes?

Screenwriters do it all the time. It's how I wrote my original screenplay. I knew what would happen in each scene, though sometimes only vaguely. A few scenes got shifted around, but the original outline stood. The first draft was only 120 pages--I hardly had to cut any length to fit the industry standard (average screenplay length is 120 pages, but comedies tend to run shorter).

The larger the story, the greater the need for outlining and planning. Outlines impose discipline, keep the story from wandering off into side alleys. With four POV characters, Voice of Crow could easily end up 800 pages long, at which point bricks would clog the toilets at my publisher's office.

The later scene descriptions are a bit nebulous (e.g., something happens here to make Rhia change her mind about X), but they all point toward the resolution of the story.

I hope this focus will not only result in a cleaner first draft, but also make the work more fun. Less aww, I gotta fill pages, more Hey, let's tell a story!

Each novel requires a different method. Never let anyone tell you that you have to do it a certain way, or that you have to write your next book the way you wrote your last one. Keep searching for what works for the book in front of you.

*Yes, it's a word. Now.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Getting to The End, Part 1

Most writers measure their daily progress either by page count or word count. I seem to be in the minority as a page-counter, based on an unscientific survey of authors who brag/moan about that day's accomplishments on their blogs.

Counting pages is less precise than counting words--after all, should a half-page at the end of a chapter really have the same weight as a full page? What about a page of dialogue versus a page of description?

No!
the word-counters cry. That's cheating! Get back to work before I rap your knuckles!

To which I say, it's a novel, not the SATs. Assuming you're not plagiarizing (and who would have the stones to plagiarize a novel? hee hee), there's no such thing as cheating. As long as you get the job done in the end, who cares how you do it?

Besides, once you reach a certain point in the manuscript, you're just trying to finish the story. It's only at the beginning when the discipline of a page/word count is needed.

Doing a word count involves math, and the obsessive use of the Word Count feature (Alt-F, I, Statistics tab), whereas a page count involves glancing at the number at the bottom of the screen. Anything that can streamline the process for me gets my vote. I know that in the end, if the manuscript is between 500 and 650 double-spaced pages, it's the right length for most publishers.

That's about 100K-125K words, by the way. In case anyone's interested, I try to reduce the size by about 10% from the first draft to the final. Eyes of Crow went from 124K to 112K. Bad Company went from 108K to, uh, 107.5K. (I had to add a few scenes to develop a subplot.)

Big caveat: I discovered last year that focusing on the daily volume of writing, rather than the story itself, can lead to time-chomping pitfalls. So I've come up with a third way. I hope it works.

Stay tuned tomorrow.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Stupid pet pics

By now y'all are probably bored with my nattering on about my own writing for the last week and a half. So for a little change of pace, I'm going to make fun of the freak show that is our home.

The Cat in the Hat



Look, Major Misha's joined the Air Force! But wait, he obviously doesn't know his head from his butt. Maybe he should've joined the Army instead.

(Li'l Air Force humor there, no offense meant to our soldiers in green. Don't hurt me.)


What the Hell is That?



In an obvious riff on the obscure Steve Martin Saturday Night Live routine, Meadow and Brutus are fascinated with nothing whatsoever.

Upon closer inspection, the dogs have smelled this:


All together now...awwwww. Or, if you don't know what you're looking at: ewwwww.

It's a robins' nest under the deck. Two-day-old baby birds! Squeeee! Or, if you're a dog: yum!

They're obsessed with the nest, scratching and biting at the deck, thinking they can dig their way to a fresh breakfast. Soon it'll be time to borrow the neighbor's belt sander...

So here's to you, Mrs. Robin. We all love you more than you will know. Whoa-whoa-whoa.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Discipline

To get anywhere in this business, one must be persistent. Not just with submitting books and proposals despite the long response times that end in rejection. With the act of writing itself.

Things are not going well with the new work-in-progress. Words are coming slowly and crappily. It reminds me of when I took up yoga again after a three-year hiatus. My muscles remembered the movements as if they had happened in someone else's dream, they couldn't stretch as far or as gracefully as they once did, and boy, did they hurt the next day.

It hasn't been three years since I wrote fresh material. It's been two weeks. But the styles of Bad Company and the Crow books couldn't be more different, so maybe it's the equivalent of starting yoga after playing nothing but rugby for three months.

So it's time for Frau Blucher [horses whinny] to step in and impose some discipline. I'll allow myself one hour of internet a day until I catch up. Nearly half of that hour got Hoovered writing this blog entry and reading quotes from Young Frankenstein on imdb.com.

What are your best methods for imposing self-discipline? And keep it clean. This is a family blog.

But not too clean. I'm gunning for higher ratings.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

To map or not to map

(Cheating slightly and posting this the night before, because Friday is Internet Moratorium Day while I catch up on my languishing manuscript.)

I love maps. My traveling buddies used to call me "MapMaster J." I can entertain myself for hours with a Rand McNally, wondering what's in all those blank spots in North Dakota.

Many fantasy novels include maps near the front of the book, which I appreciate as a reader. I never truly understood what was going on in Lord of the Rings until I followed the map. All that walking...geez...where the hell were they going? Now I know.

Maps provide context that can help the reader understand the fractured cultures or climatic challenges the characters face--all with a quick glance instead of many pages of explanatory text (not that LOTR lacked explanatory text--it took me two drowsy weeks to read the purgatorial Council of Elrond scene).

Much as I love maps, I decided not to include one for Eyes of Crow. This decision was based partly on the desire to make my publisher's overworked production staff love me.
Hooray! One less stupid map to draw! Let's knock off early today and have a drink in Jeri's honor.
But mostly it was because the book doesn't warrant it. After all, it contains a grand total of two major settings. Sure, there's a larger world out there, with other friendly villages and a big sea with bad dudes on the other side of it, but none of my characters go there in this opening novel. A map would have been a tad pretentious.

Geography plays a much bigger role in Voice of Crow, so don't worry: MapMaster J will have her day.

How about you? Do you refer frequently to maps in novels, or do you just like to use them as a coloring book?

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

A tough decision

After examining our finances and my promotional budget for Eyes of Crow, I've decided to cancel my plans to attend this year's Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Daytona Beach. I've heard it's a fantastic way to meet readers and party one's hiney off, but without a book in my hands to promote, I can't justify the expense right now*.

If you're going, have a pina colada on the beach for me. Have two or three--it's what I would do. Me, I'll just be here enjoying having a house with running water, since that's where much of my book advance has gone instead.

Not that I'm complaining. Water is, after all, the source of all life. Like the Atlantic ocean, for instance, which my ex-hotel room overlooks....

*You bet I'll be there next year, in beautiful downtown...Houston.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Block party

Ever have one of those days at work when you feel like doing everything else but the project in front of you?

Today I spent an hour cleaning the house, even though I cleaned (some of) it yesterday. And I've finally started chipping away at my marketing/promotion to-do list.

I leap to read every new e-mail, even the spam (hmm, maybe I could use some "l0ve drugz" or a "m0rtgudge refiii").

Why the distractability? I'm starting Voice of Crow, or at least I'm supposed to start it. I have it all planned out, a writing schedule between now and July 23, my target finish date. But I'm having trouble getting in gear.

I'm not blocked. Really. I just can't focus.

So I'm going to do what I did last year when it was time to continue Eyes of Crow months after submitting the proposal. Introducing a brand-new writer's block treatment:

Write in white.

As in, change the font color to white. If you can't see what you're typing, you also can't:
  • Examine, edit and analyze as you go along
  • Start thinking about or doing something else
If either of these things happens, you'll lose your place. Writing in white is similar to "free-writing," a well-known writer's block treatment that takes the mental editor out of the picture. In free-writing, you simply write whatever comes to mind, usually with a pen and paper, for a set amount of time.

Writing in white forces you to keep the picture/narrative in your head, pouring it out on the page all at once. No breaks, no stopping to contemplate the next scene or the theme or the dishes in the sink. Just let the movie roll and write what you see and hear. It's an exercise in concentration.

When you finish, say, a page or two, you can go back and change the font color to black. Yeah, there'll be typos, but there'll also be some of the purest, least cluttered prose you've ever written. As the Cajun chef used to say, I ga-ron-tee it.

So I'm off to the Zone now, using my patentable writer's block treatment method to--

Yay! The dryer just stopped. I can fold laundry!

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Eyes of Crow cover

In a fit of self-Googling, I stumbled upon the final version of the Eyes of Crow cover.

Ready?

Here it is.

The artist, Chad Michael Ward, has done a lot of other media work, including--get this--the CD artwork for Marilyn Manson's latest release. Browsing the site for his company, Digital Apocalypse Studios, is not for the faint of heart. It takes me back to my Goth days in London, slam dancing at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town.

Okay, there was no slam dancing. But there was a lot of sulking.

Anyway, considering my pasty-faced (distant) past, it's pretty cool that they've chosen someone known for doing very dark, edgy work to design my cover. He also did the cover for Jenna Black's Watchers in the Night, coming out this November, from Tor Books. You should buy her book while you're buying mine.

Funny thing was, when I first saw Black's cover several weeks ago, I was insanely jealous, hoping that I would get an artist nearly that good. Turns out, I did.

Unfortunately I can't post the cover on my web site until I get an official file from my publisher, which I'm told won't be until August. I've seen a mock-up, and the back cover has the same woodsy background, along with these words.

Let me know what you think. Since I'm not the artist, I won't mind if you don't like it, as long as it doesn't keep you from looking inside.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

When good writers go bad

I had a regular blog post planned for today, but then fellow Luna author PC Cast decided to post a round-robin romance story, "Hard Knights," that she and I and soon-to-be-published-if-there's-any-justice-in-the-universe author Shaunee Cole penned last night in a fit of procrastination.

Warning: extreme silliness and raunchiness ahead. Read on, if you dare, and see if you can figure out which bits I wrote.

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This Side of Salvation

This Side of Salvation, Jeri's new contemporary YA novel!

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Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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