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.


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.


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?

So, there was July

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 01:55 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Falling From Ground: 252
bakery story: 2158
Total new words in July: 2410


Non-numerically speaking, the bakery story ("Rising to the Occasion", yes I tried to resist, but there it is) is finished, beta-read, and basically ready to go. I'm very pleased with it; there's a lot of things going on below the surface, as 'twere, there's some clever world-building that justifies my back-brain's insistence on certain features, and I even managed some subtle character stuff that my beta-reader picked right up on!

Also: Contacted somebody about the research I need before starting Financial Wizardry. Haven't gotten the information back yet, but at least I've started the ball rolling.

I had more or less resigned myself to back-burnering Falling From Ground, as it seemed to need to compost more. No sooner had I done so, however, than I recognized what's probably the major thing holding me up. Haven't addressed it yet, for reasons I'll explain elsewhere, but the diagnosis has moved it back up to a front burner again.

So, what's on for August?

- Do the head-work I've got to do to get Falling From Ground moving properly.

- Get back to querying Highway of Mirrors. I've collected another little list of potential agents; I should at least burn through that, AAR database or no.

- I think it's time to get back to quota-land. So: 2500 words, on FFG, FinWiz, short stories, or any combination. That's a nice warm-up amount, should be doable if I only apply myself.

(Admin note: Have I never properly introduced Financial Wizardry, a.k.a. Will Wallace, financial advisor to wizards? I came up with it at that local writers conference a couple years ago (the only useful thing to come out of that conference), but I can't seem to find a tag for it. Well, it's got one now.)


Thursday, July 31st, 2014 12:55 pm
lizvogel: Run and find out, with cute kitten. (Run and Find Out)
I finished the last day of the Couch-to-5K program today! I'm not actually doing 5K yet; I went with the time-based metric rather than distance-based, and apparently I run about as slowly as I write. So, I'll need to work on my speed, to get time and distance more in alignment. But it's a given now that I can jog 30 minutes without stopping. And that's pretty cool.

One scene and stuck....

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 01:21 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Oh. Maybe the problem with the Mars novel isn't that I don't know what happens after the character walks through that door. Maybe the problem is that what he sees on the other side of that door isn't what I've written.

Interesting thought. Is that it, brain? Is that why you've stopped me dead?

An Automatic No

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 08:40 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Oh, Timothy Hallinan. You were so, so close to an outstanding book. I was really regretting that Crashed was released as a $15 trade paperback, because I was thinking this series was something I wanted my very own copies of and that's more than I'll generally pay for a book. Engaging characters, interesting plot, and a really compelling writing style. And then you blew it.

Because no, your character doesn't have a 9mm automatic that he keeps in a tackle box, as you described. He certainly didn't fire one, as in single, as in a lone solitary bullet, shot into the bad guy's shoulder from an automatic in the manner you related. And he sure as bloody hell definitely did not acquire an automatic by staking out a gun store until somebody bought a new firearm and then following the guy home and stealing it from him.

Shame on you. And shame on your editor, who you kindly credit with making the book what it is but who clearly didn't pick up the basic fact-checking that you dropped the ball on. Because that word "automatic" isn't just a cool-sounding word to throw around about a gun; it means something -- and it's not what you evidently think it means.

I may still read the rest of the series, courtesy of my local library, because the writing style really is compelling. But I'm relieved of my dilemma over the price, because a book with a screw-up like that in it is not a book to devote shelf space to so I can have it handy to pull out and re-read.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Starting a new novel only to get stuck on the third freakin' paragraph is not my idea of a good time. ;-P

I am unstuck now, having worked out a blend between graceful writing and world-building info-dump. Something that could be construed as a scene has been produced. I am finding my thoughts focused more and more on this character and his world, which implies that the usual new-novel obsession should be forthcoming. And the next scene I have clear in my head is probably a week into the action, and needs a chapter or two of lead-in if it's not to be a pacing train-wreck.

C'mon, brain! Beginnings are supposed to be the fun part!

Go read this

Monday, July 21st, 2014 11:58 am
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Found via Bujold's blog, this lovely little story by Ursula Vernon.

How did she take something so ridiculous and make it heartbreaking?




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