lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
So far this month, I've crossed off one agent, queried one, crossed off two more, and I just snail-queried another two. That's quota for the month! So any additional queries I may manage to do are gravy.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Green & Black's Organic 85%

Where bought: Foods For Living

Aroma is a little... light? Not bad, just not as deep as one might like.

Texture is very smooth, I'll give them that.

Taste is, well, bad -- slightly sour, and the chocolateyness is so mild that it's almost not there. The sourness becomes more encompassing the more I eat.

Overall: Not very good at all - in fact, it's terrible. Would not buy again; in fact, I'm tempted to throw out the rest of the bar.

(Later note: Yep, toss it. That's just nasty.)
lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
We finally managed to see Guardians of the Galaxy last night.

spoilery request for merchandising )

September Word Count

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 08:24 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Falling From Ground = 3783
The Green Ring = 2318
Total new words in September = 6101

Well, whattaya know? That's quota, and then some! After what I figured out about chapter 2 of Falling From Ground, I was prepared to let myself off, and maybe go to a half-quota, 2500 or 3000 words, for the next month or two. But thanks to Green Ring, I don't have to.

Yay to that!

Querying... didn't happen. Oops.


For next month:

What the hell, 5000 words. Let's see if the magic continues.

I need to get back on the querying wagon. Being casual with myself isn't working. Given how fast September slipped away from me, I'm not sure anything calendar-based is a good idea, but I'm going to try the every-seven-days thing again (query one or cross off two).

I also need to get back to sending out short stories; I have things that were waiting on various markets re-opening, but now they're just waiting on me. (Well, and waiting on critique, but, well.) A quick glance at the subs log tells me I've got at least three stories sitting around here; let's get at least two of them out this month.

the new thing

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 07:27 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I'd meant to start Falling From Ground and Financial Wizardry at the same time, and work on them more-or-less simultaneously. FFG is expected to be grim enough that I'll need a breather periodically, whereas FinWiz should be relatively light -- and I've found that if I write unrelentingly light for too long, I start craving angst big-time. So they'd balance each other well. Unfortunately, FinWiz needs research, and I'm having trouble finding the sources I need; it's gotten semi-involuntarily back-burnered.

Meanwhile, FFG is turning out to be hard. Not just the usual difficulty of plots-are-hard; every sentence is a battle, even when I know exactly what needs to happen. Which is doubly frustrating, because it's my fourth novel, and this was supposed to be the one where I knew what I was doing! Granted I had high expectations, but the reality is being a real struggle. It doesn't help that I'm finding myself justifying and shoring up every choice the main character makes, countering every imaginable objection in advance. (I have theories as to why that is, most of which I hope are wrong.) The alpha reader assures me that the end results are actually good, but the process has been a misery. And a slow misery at that, as it's seeming to take two or three days of percolating to get even a few hundred teeth-pulling words at a time.

It's probably just as well that FinWiz is back-burnered, since it's a mystery plot and that's something I'm still learning how to do; I don't need my respite from the hard thing to be another hard thing. But those multiple days of percolating on FFG are days I'm not writing, and that many days of not writing is bad for me. (Especially when even the writing days feel brick-wall-ish.) I need something else to work on during the lag times, but even the short prompt-fic I was playing with is sticking; the main character is developing a nicely snarky personality and I quite like the tiger, but I've no idea where it's going.

So.

A few days ago, I woke up with an idea for a new novel in my head. Unlike with Highway of Mirrors, I immediately lost all the proper names and a fair amount of the premise upon waking, but there was enough left to go on. It's a bog-standard fantasy setting, though I may mess with that as it goes along, with a young man on what turns into a small-q quest and an accreting collection of not-entirely-helpful animal companions. Nothing revolutionary, but it has the potential to be fun. Working title is The Green Ring.

And, so far at least, it's easy. I gave myself permission to play with it and see what happened, and I'm a couple thousand words in already. (Which is a lot, for me.) I had to figure out a name for the main character, but once I got that, other things fell into place as fast as I could type them. Faster. And when I've had to stop and work out how something happens, the answer's come in minutes, not days.

It's strange, but neat, to be working on a novel right after coming up with the idea; usually they have to queue for years.

The real test, though, was whether I could shift back to Falling From Ground once the percolating was done, or if this was just an avoidance technique. Well, I'm happy to say that after a few days of Green Ring, the solution to the next FFG-obstacle popped into my brain yesterday, and I got a few hundred more words done there. Still every bit as teeth-pulling as before, but words nonetheless. I don't want to write the whole novel at that pace, but I can if I have to.

And in the meantime, young Teb is about to receive the first check on his simple little task, and a couple of complications that he doesn't even know are complications yet....
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Coming into Chapter 2 of Falling From Ground, I had the problem that I was looking at a giant unrelieved block of navel-gazing. Some of that's inevitable and even appropriate -- the MC's got quite a mess inside his head that he needs to sort out -- but there needs to be something actually happening, too, as leavening. And so when action starts happening that is related to the mess, in a few chapters, it won't be too much of a change of pace.

Went out to dinner with the housemate and tossed the problem around, and now someone's following him. Don't know who or why, yet, but that's okay. But the words still weren't happening. I'm coming up on end-of-month, and despite having sailed well over quota last month, I'm looking at a hell of a push to make word-count this time.

This is incredibly frustrating and more than a little scary. Beginnings are supposed to be the easy part! But then I got to thinking about the Haley novel, and how I had to re-research Zurich three times. And most of the messing-about-in-Zurich stuff is in the earlier parts.... So I checked my notes:

It took me five months to write Chapter 2 of Haley.

And something like nine months for the second chapter of Highway of Mirrors, though there's some first-novel learning-curve there. Which means this isn't a sign that this novel is going horribly off the rails, or that even the easy parts will be hard and nothing will ever be easy again. This is just part of my process.

It makes sense, when the enthusiasm for a new project meets the tedium of actually making it happen. And it's not necessarily a part of my process that I have to keep unaltered; I still want to make quota for this month, if I can. And I don't think the lull is due to any back-brain work that needs to be done: I can still generate world-building at the drop of a keystroke, for example. But it's useful to know that this is a thing I do, and right about at this point in a new novel, pretty consistently.

Now, get back to work.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I have a fondness for high-end chocolate. Don't get me wrong, I've no objection to a plain old Hershey bar; chocolate in pretty much any of its forms is fine by me. But the good stuff does have an oomph that's worth the price, and is often more satisfying in smaller quantities.

Recently a friend was kind enough to give me a gift certificate, and I embarked on a comparison survey of some of the snootier chocolate bars available in my area. Oh, the hardship. ;-) And because I'm sharing like that, I'll be posting the results here, as the fancy takes me and to fill in the slow times. (I'm not sharing the chocolate, though. The chocolate is mine.)



First up is Theo Organic Dark 70%, a brand I've not tried before.

Where bought: Foods For Living (Although it turns out Meijer also carries several varieties, for substantially cheaper.)

Compelling aroma, which creeps out of the opened package and says, "Eat me. Eat me!"

Nice. Texture is very smooth, with a hint of hardness that breaks into softness as soon as you bite down, like a crispy pastry. Flavor is intensely chocolate; you can practically feel the theobromine soaking into your tongue. Slightly tangy aftertaste, almost a semi-sweet, like a mouthful of Nestle's morsels that should have gone into the cookie dough.

Note on longevity: I think this was at its best when I first opened it; as I'm nibbling the last piece to complete this review a few weeks later, the intensity has faded somewhat. (Not that fine chocolate should usually sit around for weeks; life's been weird, lately.) Still yummy, though, but next time, enjoy it more promptly.

Overall: Good. Very glad I stretched the budget to try this. Would buy again.

Oh, thank ghod

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 05:13 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
The alpha reader reports, on preliminary read, that Chapter 1 is not a horrible world-building info-dumped mess, but instead is very interesting, with a nicely-distributed measure of world-building that raises curiosity without overwhelming. Also, she felt quite bad for my poor messed-up main character, and flagged several of my favorite bits as especially good lines.

(I am glad I cut the two paragraphs of world-building that I did, however. That might well have tipped the balance, and one of them will work better later anyway.)

There's still the proper full-critique read to come, of course, but at least now I can stop worrying that I'm going to have to torch the whole thing and start entirely from scratch. Whew.
lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
Been meaning to post this for days, but fell down the rabbit-hole... including two days spent trying to name a character. Which pretty well describes how the de-bracketing on Chapter 1 is going. ;-P

Falling From Ground = 6149
original short fiction = 96
Total new words in August = 6245

Now that's more like it! Having broken through several blocks on the new novel, I was finally able to get the first chapter going. I'm not at all sure it's right; it may need significantly more revision than my first chapters usually do, but at least it's there. Must get it to my alpha-reader, so she can tell me what I've done.

And a lot of that word-count is because, as threatened, I jumped ahead and wrote the scene that was clear in my head, henceforth to be referred to as Chapter N until I figure out where in the sequence it fits. There's lots of material there to work with going forward. Not so much working backward; it'll be interesting to see if the preceding chapters catch up before it gets carried away.


Worthy of note: Rewrote the Highway of Mirrors synopsis to fit on one page!

Queries sent: 2, including the one that required the dread synopsis re-writing above. Also crossed... one?... agent off the list.


Also: Solicited feedback on various short stories from several people, none of whom were obligated to do it. They said yes anyway! The one who's gotten back to me so far has presented a cat's-cradle of confusion that I'm still not sure what to do about, but at least I'm collecting more data to work with.


Next up:

I need to find some more sources for Financial Wizardry. Among other things, it would be nice to have an alternate thing to work on during the de-bracketing/waiting-for-feedback lulls. Anybody know a financial planner / money manager who'd love to talk about his average day?

Keep querying.

And whatever they're on, 5000 words.

Go.

lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Note to self: Don't solicit in-depth critique on a subtle and indirectly-told story you know has a reader-interpretation problem when you're supposed to be de-bracketing and reviewing a novel chapter.

Focus? What's that?
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I think I've figured it out, or at least part of it. Falling From Ground is an SF-espionage novel... and all that worldbuilding? Is inextricably intertwined with the tradecraft. That's why I can't shut up about it. Or at least part of why.

Whether it's a problem or not.... Well. I was browsing the "setting" tag at Pat Wrede's blog, and came across this: Other times, the more-than-minimum information is there because it underpins some other important aspect of Chapter One (plot or characterization), along with other good reasons. And then I was reading (with a sort of detached curiosity) The Fire In Fiction, which has a whole chapter about setting-as-character, and establishing sense of place, and seeing through the character's eyes, and insists that this is a good thing that more novels should do. So maybe it's a sign, and I'm not doing it wrong after all.

Which is good, since I seem to keep doing it.

Rejection

Thursday, August 28th, 2014 11:24 am
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Had to happen sooner or later, I suppose. I am nobly resisting the urge to spend the day eating ice cream and snubbing my nose at the universe in a fit of uselessness. ;-) Instead, I shall find another place to send that story, and another story to send to that place.

Though there may also be ice cream. ;-)
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Progress is being made, and as is so often the case, Pat Wrede had the solution. Or, at least, the right question.

Because I asked myself that... and wham! An entire level of emotion opened up that had previously been sadly lacking. The answer wasn't something that I didn't already know, but asking it that way, it came with an immediacy and force that may just have knocked something loose for me.

I still have no idea if I'm horribly info-dumping or presenting interesting bits of setting and background sprinkled judiciously through the story, but that's what alpha-readers are for.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
So in trying yet again to hack my synopsis down to one page, I went browsing through my substantial collection of how-to links. By far the most useful in this case was Susan Dennard's How To Write A 1-Page Synopsis. It uses a property that might just be familiar for an example, and applies a standard set of questions to reduce it to a pithy and short synopsis.

The questions per se didn't work for me, as such questions never do, because one of the first ones is always "Who is the main character and what does she want?" And for HoM, the "what does she want" part pulls the capstone off the Pit of Backstory, which cannot be explained in one sentence in any way that doesn't sound moronic. And without the backstory, there's no story, so a substantial part of my available wordcount always gets eaten by the stuff that happens before the novel actually starts.

However, the link is still an excellent example in general, and of a particular principle in specific: You don't have to tell the truth in a synopsis. Oh, you need to be somewhere in general alignment with the truth; you don't, for example, want an explosion-packed action-adventure synopsis for a gentle romance novel. But it's entirely okay to fudge some details, even to the point of outright inaccuracy.

To wit:
Luke Skywalker, a naïve farm boy with a knack for robotics, dreams of one day escaping his desert homeland. When he buys two robots, he finds one has a message on it – a message from a princess begging for help. She has plans to defeat the Empire, and she begs someone to deliver these plans to a distant planet. Luke goes to his friend and mentor, the loner Ben Kenobi, for help.

Note the bit about Ben being his friend and mentor -- which is not true at that point in the movie. It's been a while since I've watched the source, but if I recall correctly, they'd never even met before then; they certainly didn't have an established trust relationship. (And come to think of it, the princess doesn't ask anyone to deliver the plans; the robot's supposed to do that itself. Double inaccuracy!)

However, the way it's written works fine in the synopsis. It conveys a sequence of events that functions the same way as the actual events; it serves the same dramatic purpose, in a way that's close enough that anyone reading the synopsis is unlikely to be heartbroken when a particular detail turns out to be different. And because Ben does become Luke's friend and mentor in the course of the story, the technically-inaccurate description doesn't set the synopsis-reader up for disappointment when they get to the real thing. It's not a bait-and-switch.

And that's the key. As long as the synopsis sets the reader up to expect the kind of things the story provides, it's okay if some of the details don't match up. It is in fact perfectly okay to leave out major secondary-arc developments, and even some primary-arc, as long as you can stitch the other side of the hole together in a coherent manner. And if that means, for example, that the SC decides to embrace a plan instead of being gung-ho for it all along, well, as long as it doesn't cascade-change too much else, that's just fine.

(I noted, in my passionate fit of rewriting, that that last bit could be recast as She has plans to defeat the Empire, and she begs someone to deliver them to the mysterious hermit, Ben Kenobi. -- which would be both more accurate and shorter. However, the principle still stands: You can lie in a synopsis.)

So my key phrase for the next time I go synopsizing is his friend and mentor, Ben. Because that's not the story that's told, but nobody who bought the story based on that would be upset if what they got was Star Wars.

Synopsize that!

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 05:00 pm
lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
After much fiddling and crossing things out and rewriting bits wholesale and tweaking other bits for one or two words here and there, I have finally produced a one-page synopsis of Highway of Mirrors! Okay, it's one page with a few formatting tricks (high school essay writing finally has a real-world application!), but it does in fact actually fit onto a single piece of paper without doing anything insane to it. The e-version, sans formatting and with blank lines instead of indents for paragraphs, comes out closer to a page and a half, but the people who want hard copy will get a single page and if the people who want plain-text email take the trouble to convert it to hard copy just to complain if it's over a page, they're probably not people I want to work with anyway. :-P

In the process, I think it got better; while I had to slaughter vast tracts of emotional content, I'm not sure it was working out of context anyway. And I found and fixed a couple of ambiguities that could have been confusing for someone who hasn't read the novel.

And as of today, a copy is on a slow boat to the UK, along with three chapters and a query that's also getting progressively difficult to keep to one page, hopefully to wow that agent that prompted yet another fit of synopsolizationing.

Now, how many other agents have I had on hold pending a one-page synopsis? Let me check my notes....

Whither Windy's?

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 08:58 am
lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
I made my spreadsheet of SF/f markets, and it's already proved its worth, since in the process I figured out the best market for the story I want to get back out there next, and the follow-up market if that one doesn't bite. Market S sounds like a good fit, pays pretty well, and has a respectable readership. Market T has a lot of competition for spots and a very long response time, but pays vastly above the going rate and has a huge readership.

And then I found Market U.

I love the sense of humor conveyed by their overall approach; it sounds like exactly the sensibilities that would suit my story. And they pay well enough. I was all set to fire it off that day, and did a quick "bewares" search just for form's sake. I didn't find any warnings... but I didn't find much else, either. Very few reviews, no general chatter at all outside of Market U's own site. Which makes me wonder, nifty as they are... is anybody reading them? People should be, because I read all of the current issue and there's nothing wrong with the story quality, but that doesn't automatically promise flocks of eager eyeballs. And that makes me hesitate.

Because that's the goal here. Money's nice, don't get me wrong; it's not like I'm going to turn it down. But first and foremost, this story wants to be read, and by as many amenable readers as it can reasonably reach. And I just don't know if Market U can provide that.

I've got time to dither: the submissions window for Market U's relevant issue is open for another month or so, and Market S doesn't re-open for another couple of weeks. But dithering without more data isn't likely to get me any farther, no matter how much time I put into it. ;-P

(Of course, this all assumes that any of them will buy the story. But one rather has to assume that, or what's the point of sending it out?)
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I'm still having trouble getting into the main character's head. Attempts at self-immersion are leaving me cold, and my brain seems to have an infinite resource of distractions to dangle before me. And I still don't wanna; all the personal stuff aside, all that emotional intensity just sounds exhausting.

The housemate suggests it's due to stress, and she may be right. In addition to all the usual (and some of it more so than usual), there's a couple of sizable house projects that need to be done this summer (or at least before winter, and fall is such an uncertain thing), and we're fast running out of summer.


The other problem is that this novel seems to be insisting on being written piecemeal. I've always jotted bits down in advance of where I'm working, though I try to keep it to a minimum; for this one, that's almost all I'm doing, and when I do manage to write a longer passage in order, I'm often not entirely happy with it.

This is a frustrating way to write: I'll push out a couple hundred words, then shut down the writing laptop and go do something else -- only to have the perfect phrase for that concept, or the right way to connect those three bits and in what order, pop into my head insistently. (I'm going through a lot of post-it notes.) And while I have jigsawed together scenes before, and they've worked well and readers couldn't see the seams, I don't fancy writing an entire novel that way.


And then there's the worldbuilding. I'm normally not much for in-advance worldbuilding -- what I need to know will come to me when I need it, and there's no sense fussing about with it before that -- but in this case, I've got worldbuilding coming out my ears. And every time I try to focus on the necessary character stuff, I get more of it -- Mars has got political backstory that says all kinds of things about the culture on Earth at that point, and political, social, and aesthetic characteristics keep turning up in nearly every paragraph. I honestly can't tell if I'm offering the reader interesting tidbits about a complex new world or info-dumping it to death.


I am tempted, deeply tempted, to jump ahead to one of the key scenes that I've got clear in my head, which feels like it's at least in chapter 4 and possibly chapter 8 or later -- which could mean anything, as I've never been good at predicting how long it'll take to get to something in a book. (And it could be that what this story really needs is to have the later thing shoved forward, and figure out more stuff to put in after; it wouldn't be the first time.) And just start writing from there, forwards and backwards as need be. This is not a thing I do; I'll jot bits of a future scene as they come to me, yes, but I've learned the hard way not to commit to them, lest the scene no longer fits when I write up to it. Not to mention the carrot effect. Better by far to write as close to chronologically as I can. And yet, that scene is the one I'm feeling; I can hear the character voices, feel the setting, all that stuff that says this scene is Right. It even has its own specific theme song. (Though the soundtrack is the one thing about the whole novel that's going easily, so what does that prove?)

And quite frankly, if I sit down to write that scene and even that runs aground, I'm going to be seriously tempted to bin the whole novel. Which, before anyone suggests it, is not the right answer here.

retro-posted 8-25-14
lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
I've started putting together a spreadsheet of short-story markets. That may sound like a procrastination tactic, and to some extent it is, but it's reached the point that keeping track of pay rates, length limits, and all the other factors that go into deciding who gets a shot at what story next is more than my poor brain can handle unassisted.

If I'm not back in a week, send search parties.

Getting Into It

Friday, August 8th, 2014 09:26 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Back when I was writing Highway of Mirrors, my characters pretty much took over my brain. I was living, breathing, and sleeping in their head-spaces, to the point that I started taking my coffee the way they take theirs. (This wasn't so bad with the character who drinks hers the way I always took mine anyway, but it was a bit jarring when I suddenly switched to the fellow who takes his with milk, no sugar -- yuck! Except it wasn't yuck; it tasted just right. To this day, I can't answer coherently when a waitress asks me if I want cream and/or sugar with my coffee, because I don't know until I taste it who's mind-set I'm drinking it from.) This was occasionally entertaining to watch, I'm told, and more than a little disconcerting from the inside, but it meant that when I sat down to write, I could drop into the character's point of view completely and effortlessly with no preparation whatsoever.

And I realized recently that that's what's not happening with Falling From Ground. I've been spending a lot of time with the world-building; Mars is shaping up to be a fun place, for definitions of "fun" that include a certain amount of evil writer cackling. But I haven't been getting into the main character's head-space at all, to the point that I'd even lost sight of one of his major characteristics that, while it becomes a major focus later, needs to be at least hovering around the edges right from the start.

There are reasons for this. Not least is that his head-space isn't a very pleasant place to be. I like to think that I've achieved some contentment with my life in the last couple of years, and I'm going to have to shatter that to really get inside this guy's head. Bluntly, I don't want to go there. But as one of my favorite exchanges about writing puts it:
"It would hurt like hell."

"What would that matter, if it made a good book?"

There are other reasons. I'm effin' tired, and emotional engagement takes energy. There's the usual new-novel inertia; the same force that pushes for completion with 60,000 words behind it makes getting started a challenging proposition. And there's probably the fact that I've been taking a caffeine break for the past two weeks (it was either detox, or start buying Red Bull in larger cans). That last, at least, will be over in a few more days, and it may be that this effort will have to wait until I've had that first, sweet, much-desired mocha.

But as for the rest of it... the only way out is through. I'll just have to suck it up and do it, and warn everyone around me not to take any weird mood changes personally for the next few days. And do my best to compartmentalize it all, of course, so that I can step back out as needed, which will be an interesting exercise given that writing a novel is pretty much a road-map for obsession. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if I Don't Wanna; there's a book that needs to be written.

Oh, *bleep*

Friday, August 8th, 2014 02:24 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Once, just once, I would like to dive back into querying and not get brick-walled by some piece of documentation I don't have.

A one-page synopsis. How the *bleep* am I supposed to distill a novel's worth of grey-shades backstory and complex characterization down to one page, and still have it make any sense?

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