lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
2017-08-17 12:24 pm

Pitch Epiphany

In my efforts to get back in the query trenches, I'm looking at an agent who has a long and unnecessarily-detailed (yet oddly appealing) submission form. One of the several things she wants, in addition to query and synopsis, is a one-line pitch.

Now, I've never had a good short pitch for Highway of Mirrors. The plot is highly dependent on a lot of character and backstory stuff, and it doesn't reduce down to a sound-bite in a coherent and appealing way. It would be much easier if I was pitching ...And The Kitchen Sink, which I've been known to describe as "a rollicking space-opera adventure filled with everything from ninjas to grues to a cyborg platypus." I'm fond of that pitch; it gives you a good idea right up front of what kind of book you're looking at, and if you want more details, you can always ask.

And then it hit me: That pitch for Kitchen Sink says nothing whatsoever about the plot. You can infer a little about the sort of plot from "space-opera adventure", but who does what where to whom? That's for the follow-up discussion, which is what a short pitch is supposed to encourage. And that's okay, because Kitchen Sink is not a plot-driven book. If you enjoy it, you'll enjoy it for the characters and the settings and the jokes about plural nouns. The plot holds up reasonably well, but it's primarily there as a framework to hang all the other stuff on.

And the same goes for Highway of Mirrors. Okay, not the grammar jokes. But it is not a plot-driven book either; what it's really about is the characters, their interactions, and the MC's ethical dilemma. But popular wisdom declares that you have to talk about the PLOT!!!, so every attempt I've made at a short pitch for HoM has been an attempt to summarize the plot in one sentence -- and not only does that tend to come across as confusing and/or stupid, it does nothing to tell you what makes the book worth reading.

So what do I think the point of HoM is? How about: "A spy on the run from her own agency has to compromise her ethics, her marriage, and even her daughter -- to protect her daughter." That could use a little fine-tuning, but it's much closer to why I care about this story in the first place than anything else I've tried. And if you're the right reader for this book, it might just be why you care about it, too.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-08-03 12:26 pm

July Word Count

2015 new words in July, all on Falling From Ground.

Which is not as high as I would've liked, but really is pretty good for getting back in the groove again.


No submissions or queries.


What really matters, though, is that I have come up with a what's-going-on for the novel! It's not the cleverest and most cunning idea ever, but it ticks the necessary boxes and has the right sort of "feel"; my back-brain seems comfortable with it.

And yes, as soon as I came up with it and decided it might just work, I started coming up with ways to work bits of reveal into some of the scenes I know are coming up. It's a lot easier to do reveal when you know what you're revealing!

So what worked?

I did a spiderweb-map of all the characters and their interrelations. Didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but it may have helped get my brain thinking about "who" instead of "what".

I drove around doing errands while listening to unrelated music.

And... I said last month that I had one more trick to try. Since I'm dealing with memory and conflicting memories, a writer-friend suggested that I "follow the smells". Smell is the sense most strongly tied to memory, and conveniently I already had a lot of smell-description in the text. I had envisioned this as a deep-thinking task, laying in a quiet room without interruptions (yeah, right) and immersing myself in sense-impressions, probably for hours. But I was thinking about it while puttering around with something else, contemplating what smell I would start with and how I would progress from there, and all of a sudden the smell of the safe-house connects to the smell of X's office. And damn, there it was; the connection from the memory-events to the causation, and the character that was driving it all.

So then I drove around doing errands and listening to unrelated music some more, and the basic skeleton of the thing blossomed forth into my brain as if of its own accord. I've said all along if I knew who, I'd know what (or vice versa), and yep, as soon as I had X, I had roughly what he was doing and why. I don't know X's name yet, but I know him.

A little grinding and polishing, some very minor backfills to shore up a couple of points, and I've got a workable plot.


The relief is overwhelming.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, going forward:

Now that I've got a plot, it's time to get some words down. This book has been troublesome from the start; I looked back at my records, and the only month I topped 5K was when I was going down the wrong track entirely, headed for a train-wreck. So I'm not going to make pronouncements about high count goals. But let's see some steady progress, eh?

And, as one of my favorite founts of writing wisdom likes to say, editors do not conduct house-to-house searches. Submit, and query.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-07-24 01:30 pm
Entry tags:

Chocolate: Donckels Belgian Truffles Cocoa Dusted

Donckels Belgian Truffles Cocoa Dusted

Where bought: Sam's Club

Oh, my god.

Aroma is subtle; on opening the bag, you don't know what you're in for.

Texture is perfect; firm, but on first bite, the truffle crumbles away under your teeth like the chocolate equivalent of perfectly-tender fish. Enough chew to feel satisfying, but not one iota more effort than necessary between you and exquisitely melty goodness.

Taste: The first ones out of the package are merely good; like other truffles I have known, the flavor gets stronger once they've had a chance to oxidize. But once it does, whoo boy. I've described these elsewhere as utterly deadly killer chocolate, and I stand by it. Slightly bitter bite from the unseasoned cocoa dusting as it first touches your tongue, followed by a mouth-filling intensity of dark-but-sweet chocolate. Damn. It's a good thing just a few are so very satisfying, because otherwise I would happily eat myself sick on them.

Did I mention they come three 1-pound boxes to a package?

These were a seasonal item at Sam's, and boy, do I hope they're back again next year.
lizvogel: A jar of almonds that warns that it contains almonds. (Stupid Planet)
2017-07-16 10:53 am
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Computers *are* run by gremlins.

Yesterday, my laptop's keyboard spontaneously decided it wasn't going to work. At all. Rebooting didn't help, even unplugging and pulling the battery didn't help.

Today, it's spontaneously decided to work just fine again.

Technology, pah!
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-07-03 06:46 pm

June Word Count

I suspected I hadn't done any writing at all in June, and I was very nearly right. 100 words of beta-edits on Falling From Ground, and that's it.

Stories submitted: 5

Contests entered: 1

This is not a surprise. Between coming down off of one con and gearing up for another, the kerfuffle, a number of house projects that were way over schedule (and still are), and several other things which I recall being present but can't bring to mind at the moment, I basically gave myself permission to put writing on hold for the month. And clearly I did so. I'm actually fairly impressed that the sub stats are as good as they are.

This is not, however, an acceptable state of affairs to let continue.

There are two things working against me. One is that the novel is stuck, stuck, horribly stuck, and I really am at the point where I have to figure out what's going on so that my MC can start uncovering it. The other is simple fatigue.

The fatigue I can fix. It involves boring things like going to bed early and exercising regularly, and maybe even remembering to take a vitamin once in a while.

The stuck is another matter. I've tried some new brainstorming techniques recently, but I keep ending up staring at the same blank wall I've been slamming up against all along. I've got one more trick to try, but it's going to require laying still in a quiet room and turning my attention inward without falling asleep, and that's a tall order right now.

Okay, three things. Lack of focus is another obstacle. The house projects and various other undertakings do all need to be done, and they will happily eat every minute of every day without so much as a burp. I need to get back to making writing the top priority, at least some of the time. Which would be a lot easier if I felt like I was getting anywhere with it.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-07-03 09:54 am
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-06-26 03:24 pm
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Oblique Strategies random phrase generator

Because I couldn't find this when I wanted it, I am now posting it here (and bookmarking it everywhere I thought it ought to be).

Oblique strategies was originally a set of cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt used to break deadlocks in creative situations, and is now a website. Each "card" contains a (sometimes cryptic) remark, the pondering of which may help you resolve a creative dilemma.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-06-20 12:29 pm
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A Point of Order

At closing ceremonies of 4th Street this year, Scott Lynch publicly gave me credit for the Writers Workshop.

This was wrong.

I should have said something at the time, and I wish I had. At first I was too surprised to say anything, and then I was too furious to say anything fit for public consumption. All I did for the workshop was sit in the room and make sure people had pens and coffee. Janet Grouchy did all the heavy lifting that made the workshop happen, right up until the on-site point. And she kept doing it even after she knew that she would no longer be a part of the convention. That deserves a hell of a lot of respect, and a lot more acknowledgment than the nothing it got in closing ceremonies.

Any thank yous or kudos for the workshop should be directed to Janet (and to the panelists, who were awesome), not to me.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-06-07 12:38 am

At The Foot of Plot

I mentioned in a very previous post that I came up with a way to ask something, and it didn't work.

My idea was this: When people talk about characterization or world-building, they get very detailed on how-to -- and often very mechanical; there's role-playing character sheets, for example, or something like Pat Wrede's worldbuilding guide.* When people talk about plot, however, it's all examples and results but very little how to do it.**

What I need is the kind of granular, how-to equivalent of what people do with character or setting, but I need it for plot.


I thought this was a clear and insightful explanation of what I'm looking for, but I tried it out on two very different groups of people (fellow seminar participants and established pros), and it failed utterly both times. I got some recommendations for the usual plot books, none of which do what I'm talking about; I got a detailed and specific definition of what a plot is, which wasn't wrong, but again wasn't what I was looking for.

Luckily, this was at last year's 4th Street, so I also got a lot of good discussion and further analysis of what I was looking for. Part of the problem is that I'm so at sea when it comes to plot that I'm still trying to find the right way to ask the questions, and we all know that asking the right questions is at least half the battle.

It was Skyler who put her finger on one of the key elements: directing/misdirecting reader attention. I particularly struggle when it comes to writing mysteries, because of course plot is especially important in a mystery story. And a core component of a good mystery is that the reader gets enough clues that the reveal makes sense at the end, but not so many that they figure it out long before the detective does.*** And how do you get those clues in front of the reader in a way that they'll remember them, without going "THIS IS A CLUE, REMEMBER IT"?

Including the clue in a list of other things is one way. If there's a needlepoint cat pillow, a blue teapot, a thread-bare armchair, and a faux-fur rug in a room, and in a later scene a blue teapot's been stolen, the astute reader might connect the two. Another trick is to make the clue mean one thing when introduced, and another later on; there's a couple examples I can think of where something's presented as a formative bit of character backstory, then later it turns out to also be a vital plot element.

There are doubtless many other ways; feel free to mention your favorites in the comments.

Another good suggestion (and I don't remember whose it was) was to outline/flowchart what's happening from the bad guy's POV (assuming you're writing from the good guy's POV, which I generally am). I may have to try that for the fantasy-mystery that's in the queue, laying out the crime and its fallout from the thief's perspective.


So directing and misdirecting reader attention is part of what I'm looking for. This applies to more than just mysteries; in any story, there are things you want the reader to pick up on without hammering it at them, things you want them to have but not notice that they have until it's time to use them.

I think cause-and-effect is another part of it, but I'm not sure I can yet articulate that part in a way that makes sense to anybody else.

I'm still looking for other questions to ask, and better ways to ask them.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sometimes I wonder if anybody understands plot, at least in the way I'm trying to.

It may be because most people don't really have plots in their lives. They have a series of events, related chronologically if at all, but that's exactly what you don't want in a novel. Characterization they have: If you want to show your character is lonely and feeling outcast, all you have to do is show a bunch of people sitting at a table in the breakroom, and your character comes in, looks wistfully at them, and then goes to sit at a different table by herself. Anybody who's ever been to high school can relate to that. And of course we're surrounded by setting all the time; one of the classic ways to teach yourself to do setting is just to pay attention to the details of whatever places you find yourself in. Worldbuliding is just setting with more Why behind it; if one doesn't have that already, one can go and read a lot of history and economics to develop the Why muscle. But true plot isn't something that most people directly experience. (I suspect pacing might be equally as hard to teach on the granular level as plot; I wouldn't know, because I'm lucky enough to have been dealt the pacing card and so can generally do it by feel.)

I want the "Look at the room you're in. How would you describe it?" equivalent for plot. But nobody says "Look at the plot you're in, and describe it" for plot practice, and there's a reason for that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


* All of which bounces right off of me, because character and setting/world-building are among the cards I was dealt for free. I can't wrap my head around creating either in such a mechanistic, deliberate way, because my back-brain spits them up fully-formed (or close enough to be going on with) without any conscious effort on my part. Heck, I can't not come up with characters.

** The 4th Street seminar was a prime example of this. The romance writer detailed a very specific set of techniques to show a character progressing through their arc; the mystery writer talked about the effects a plot should have on the reader, and listed several books that did this or that plot-thing well. No dis to the presenters, they were all good, but it was the same disconnect I've run into elsewhere.

*** And not send the reader haring off in some other, completely unintended, direction entirely. This seems to be something I have trouble with. ;-P
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-06-02 03:15 pm

May Word Count

May was a wash as far as word productivity was concerned. The load of stuff needing to be done around the house was just too heavy, and I pretty much wrote off writing in favor of getting some other things done. (Which mostly still aren't done, but that's another post.)

So, words for May:

Falling From Ground = 114

And that's it. That's net; there was some negative-word-count editing in there, but not enough to make the gross any less embarrassing.


I was not a complete slug all month, however:

stories submitted = 6

Which meant that more than half the available works were out there making their case. So the business side made a decent showing, even if the production side didn't.


June may be another fustercluck, what with a con that may be fraught, and a home improvement project that I'm thoroughly fed up with. On the other hand, I've already started applying the alpha-reader's feedback to the mega-chapter conglomeration, and I think I know where to break it up into reasonable chapter-sized chunks. I really do need to figure out what's going on behind the scenes in FFG, though.

So, goals:

- Let's say 3000 words. Some of which had better be on getting FFG moving, though don't forget that Green Ring and short stories exist.

- Keep subbing stories.

- Get HoM querying happening again. I've already started this, with finalizing the new query, setting up the new email address, etc. Now to put them to use.
lizvogel: Chicory flowers (Landscapin')
2017-05-18 11:08 pm
Entry tags:

I'm ten hours farther behind than I was an hour ago.

I spent half the day fighting more of the lawn into submission, after the other half was eaten by more digitally-oriented clean-up. I didn't even try to work on the remaining downed trees that need to be cut up; it was just too windy. So the enormous tree limb that came down in my parking space wasn't really necessary.

On the plus side, it merely dinged the hood of my car before rolling off, causing no operational damage and only minimal cosmetic. I've been pulling back a bit when I park, in case of just such an eventuality. So it could be a lot worse.

It even politely rolled off to the side, blocking neither parking space nor the rest of the driveway. But there's still what looks like an entire tree laying there, and I'm the one who'll have to deal with it. So yes, I am farther behind after working all day than I was when I started; I estimate I accumulated an extra ten hours of work to do, not an hour after I'd done a whole bunch of work.
lizvogel: A jar of almonds that warns that it contains almonds. (Stupid Planet)
2017-05-12 07:52 am

Y'know...

If your cause encourages you to be horrible to people in the advancement of it, maybe it's time you got yourself a new cause.

lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-05-02 06:06 pm

Word Counts, February - April

February:
original short fiction = 3 (just a title, really)
Green Ring = 2942
Falling From Ground = 4457
Total new words in February = 7402

March:
Falling From Ground = 79

April:
Falling From Ground = 2620

Okay, so March was a fustercluck of a month. I knew that. April was supposed to be the month I went back to the A-Z mystery short story that's been languishing, but instead it got bogged down in this expletive-deleted novel, which I swear I just need to finish one conversation to get to the end of the chapter (actually a 4-chapter-length conglomeration, but this would definitely be the end of *a* chapter), and I just cannot get it to go. If I'm more than 500 words from the break I'd be surprised, but no, the alpha reader's getting another stops-in-mid-scene chunk. Argh.

(February kind of rocked, though.)


In other goals, I did get a new email account set up in February, and by mid-March had tested it enough to be satisfied in paying for a year. It's not perfect, but it does the things that are deal-breakers for me, and the things it doesn't do I mostly don't mind working around. Final clean-out of the old email accounts is in progress.

With that done, I haven't gotten back to querying, but I have at least been sending out some short stories:

February: 1 submission sent

March: 3 subs sent

April: 5 subs sent

I currently have four stories out there in slush land. My game plan is to send out two for every one rejection; eventually that should lead to everything being out there, though it gets trickier with the things that have been making the rounds for a while.


For May: Words, dammit. Keep stories out. At least glance at agents lists and query.
lizvogel: text: I have more userpics on Dreamwidth (more userpics on Dreamwidth)
2017-04-18 01:27 pm
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Test Post

I just turned on beta testing for the "HTTPS Everywhere" feature -- this is just to make sure I can, in fact, actually post via my ancient browser and snail-slow internet connection.


ETA: Yup, that worked just fine.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-04-06 01:49 pm
Entry tags:

OMG Life

The last month or so has been a saga of one thing after another -- except when they've overlapped. To wit:

     housemate sick - trip to con in MN - power outage - me sick - kitchen faucet

each of which lasted about a week. The power outage hit 14 hours after we arrived home from a trip made into a mini-saga of its own by Amtrak's crap communication. The thirty-foot tree that's down in the front yard hasn't really been registering on the agenda. And now it's tax time.


I'm not posting wordcount stats right now, because I don't want to look.

lizvogel: text: I have more userpics on Dreamwidth (more userpics on Dreamwidth)
2017-04-04 11:53 am
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So, LiveJournal

LJ has a new TOS, which pops up so you have to agree to it to use the service. (I actually give them points for the obnoxious, intrusive, unavoidable pop-up, rather than just slipping the changes into the TOS and not calling attention to it.) People are variously freaking out or shrugging. I waded through the English translation, which is not legally binding (the original in Russian is binding, but I don't read Russian, so try enforcing that in court, suckers), and it seems to be mostly the usual TOS junk -- though there is a bit about them being allowed to email you stuff, including advertising. That could be an issue if they actually use it, but then, that's why I have Sneakemail.

(If you tend to post about Russian politics or generally use your LJ as an actual journalism platform, this could be a problem for you. But if you do that, you're probably already aware of the concerns, and have been since LJ was bought by a Russian company several years ago. Nothing really new here.)

Mostly, though, it's SSDD. I shall keep cross-posting as I have been, and checking friends feed when I remember (which isn't as often as it should be). I'm not deleting anything, though I will up the priority on backing up my old pre-DW-crossposting entries -- just in case. (Since the worst LJ could realistically do to me, all the way on the other side of the globe, is delete my stuff.) And I should do that anyway.

I will say, for anyone reading this on LJ that does want to jump ship, importing your old LJ to Dreamwidth is really easy. And DW works pretty much like LJ only less broken. (The only feature gap I'm aware of is photo hosting; you can post photos to DW, but I understand it's awkward and limited. They're working on it, but it's complicated, and the DW folks generally don't like to put things into service until they're working right. Contemplate that for a minute.)
lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
2017-03-16 12:15 pm
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Random Shuffle Has A Point To Make

So far this morning, WinAmp has randomly played two songs that are on the Mars-novel writing mix. I think I need to get back to work.
lizvogel: Run and find out, with cute kitten. (Run and Find Out)
2017-02-24 08:40 pm
Entry tags:

Not what I'd planned, but a very good day.

I didn't mean to spend the whole day in bed. I was only going to spend a couple hours sitting in bed writing. But then this kitten came and used my foot as a pillow -- and stayed that way for about six hours.

Who's going to argue with that?

So I stayed in bed all day, and wrote 1052 words, and made my kitten very happy. And LittleGirl as well, who jumped up and curled up beside me a couple of times.

And me, too. ;-)
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-02-23 02:45 pm
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Chocolate: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Blackberry Sage

Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Blackberry Sage

Where bought: Foods For Living

Aroma: Sour/tart, with an underlying unpleasant tang.

Texture: Solid, chomps well, melts nicely.

Taste: Hmm. Savory chocolate. Well, the blackberry part is good.

Overall: Interesting, I'm glad I tried it, but don't need to have it again.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
2017-02-09 12:17 pm
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Chocolate: Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt

Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt (55%)

Where bought: Foods For Living (They keep having sales....)

Packaging includes lots of information about their ingredients come from (all small farmers/fair trade), sustainable packaging, and what coffee to pair with your chocolate.

Aroma: Oh, wow. Cocoa liqueur straight to the back-brain.

Bar is hard to snap pieces off. Texture is *very* crunchy. Chocolate melts slowly but smoothly around large proportion of crunchy bits.

I'm not really getting much taste of caramel, though there is a nice richness that's probably attributable to the toffee-like bits. Occasional bursts of salt when I hit a larger chunk of salt. Chocolate itself is full, deep, but perhaps a little overwhelmed by the other players.

Overall: Good. Not perfect, but I'd be curious to try other flavors from the same company.