Plans, they keep a-changing

I’ve made a lot of plans this year, and it seems like every time I’ve been on track with one of them, something has cropped up that means I veer off in another direction, or get jolted off course altogether.

And that’s life, isn’t it?

This was meant to be the year of the novel, but it wasn’t. Apparently it was actually the year of the novella, which in some ways makes sense. Making that leap from short fiction to long can be difficult, making that leap when your family is in chaos and stress levels are through the roof is just ridiculous.

However, I DID finish writing my novel Sun-Touched, and it’s at the top of my list for revision come the new year, but Surplus to Requirements simply did not get further than about 5k into the rewrite. I couldn’t get past those opening scenes, and then the nudge to write Burn came along so I ran with that. Sometimes you have to run with things.

My writing group has been a great help in my sanity this year, and in keeping me moving forward. Even though we’ve all been busy, just knowing that these other writers give a damn and are there when I need a boost, or need to be challenged or cajoled does a great deal in keeping one foot moving in front of the other.

I think I am slowly learning to be okay about the fact that just about anything can derail a writing plan – the important lesson this year has been that no matter what else is going on in my life, writing will be there when I recover enough from life to get back to it. I can’t count the number of times this year I’ve been sure the muse has abandoned me forever, only to find that the moment my stress level has dropped below that line where I can begin to think of other things, the ideas are there, waiting for me.

And I do have ideas, good ones. I’m just starting to rough draft a new short story, as well as planning for a new novella to launch into come December. They’re both set in New Zealand, which is exciting for me, and I’m looking forward to tapping into some of my personal history, my heritage and experiences of life in NZ and using them creatively in fiction.

What have you all got lined up for the last few weeks of the year?

Day-dreaming

You know how I said I was taking a holiday? Well, we did go away for a few days, but my brain hasn’t stopped working, other than to fail at combining sentences and finding the right word for things.

As we drove to Rotorua my mind was turning over ideas and options for the novella I’ll be writing in December. I saw a lake at the bottom of a waterfall that sparked my imagination, and then the mist as we climbed into the hills, and then once we were at my inlaws I collapsed on the bed for a bit and more things connected. Over the next few days a whole town emerged with snippets of my personal history intertwined and I began to get really excited about writing in a New Zealand setting.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I often don’t place my stories. They aren’t grounded anywhere in particular, and I’ve actively avoided writing about NZ for a long time. I’m totally ready to embrace my country and my heritage in my writing though and I’m excited to see how it all turns out.

Of course, I still need a character, and a story line, but I am sure those will come. The MC is beginning to talk to me, and I know that as we get to know each other I’ll be able to piece her story together – whether I can make it fit into a novella is another matter entirely, but I’ll do the best I can.

And so October is almost done. November will see much planning, for both the novella, as well as the rewrite of Sun-Touched. I think it’s going to be really interesting, seeing if I can work on the outlines for both at the same time. They are quite different – one being urban fantasy, and the other science fiction – but at the story level, there are bound to be things they have in common.

What have you got in store for the new month? How many of you are doing NaNo this year?

Oh that familiar siren song of a shiny new idea…

Okay, maybe not a NEW idea, because Saving Tomorrow has been around and in the works for probably two years now. I started writing it once (beginning of last year? all the months are blurring together), but it never sat right and I struggled with several aspects of the story, including the fact that unwittingly I’d created something kind of abhorrent and which could easily be taken the wrong way. So it’s been back on the drawing board indefinitely.

Until now. I’ve been reading some books, different to my normal reads, and I think I know what I want to do with it. The issues I had haven’t been resolved, but I’ve pushed a few thoughts around and realized what it needs, and how I need to write it in order to make it sit right for me. It still has kinks to work out, big time, but I know I can resolve those, and now that I’m kind of a planner, everything (well mostly) will be laid out in advance and I will know that I have a story that works before I kick start draft one, again.

I’m really excited about this again, folks, but there is so much to do before I can get started on it! Burn still needs it’s final round before I kick it out the door, and then there is Sun-Touched to revise. I adore that novel and I want to make it shine and find a home for it. And then, after that (and the novella in between that I am trying hard not to think about!) it will be time for Saving Tomorrow. I figure I have a good six months to nail the plot down and smooth out the many rough edges. But still, six months is a very long time.

Damn that whole ‘finishing’ thing I’m trying to work on. Truth is, I’m never going to get anything published if I don’t knuckle down and finish what I’ve started though, so I guess it’s onwards with these revisions!

What’s tempting you right now? Anyone with a new shiny?

The Next Big Thing

Well, the lovely Leigh tagged me in this, so I thought I better post it up! I was going to write about Sun-Touched, which is the novel I’m going to be preparing for submission in the near future, but then changed my mind and thought I would share a little about ‘Burn‘ with you. It’s ready for it’s final pass before it’s out the door – SUPER excited to submit something. This ties in nicely with SpecFicNZ blogging week in that I get to tell you a little more about what I’ve been working on recently :-) I do love this story.

What is the working title of your book?

The novella has been dubbed ‘Burn’ and I’m so bad at titles that I probably won’t change it ;-)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I initially got the idea a few years ago for a short story challenge that my writers group were doing. I never got around to finishing the piece, but I did write a few hundred words of the intro. That scene still takes place in the story, with some of the original words in place even (though it’s not longer the intro!). It wasn’t until this year that I actually re-envisioned the idea and wrote it.

What genre does your book fall under?

This is a fantasy story.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This is one of the questions I hate the most when it comes to these kinds of things! I’ve never successfully cast actors in the roles of my novels, and I think that’s because in my writing I like to leave character appearance broad enough that readers can create their own images of what the character looks like. One that they can connect with. That said, for this story I did actually look for some inspiring photos, and I’ll share those with you here. The first is the woman that brings Carmel (my main character) to mind for me (though of course, in like, fantasy clothing lol).

And this next one is an image Leigh posted on my facebook timeline. She found it and immediately thought of my novella. This IS Serafina (okay, it’s actually Pele, I had totally forgotten about that fire goddess!), and every time I look at it, I shake my head in wonder.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Arg one-sentence synopsis!!! Bane of my existence… Alright, I will try…

When Carmel’s son dies, his last wish is to be burned in the fires of the Goddess Serafina. Can Carmel escape the city and make it to the mountain? And if she does, will the Nivaen goddess accept her half-caste son, or will her journey have been in vain?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I wrote this for a particular anthology, so fingers crossed that works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll certainly look at finding another publisher for it, and if that doesn’t work out, I could see myself self-publishing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a month! A couple of my writing buddies set aside a month to knock out the first draft, and we cheered each other along.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Again, this is one of those questions I struggle with. I really don’t know…

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Well, it was a combination effort between Anna and Meryl. Anna posted the anthology guidelines to our group, and Merrilee was all ‘SHINY! I can do that, you should totally do it too.’ At which point I realized I did have something that I could develop for it, and then we wrangled Anna into playing as well. (Yes, PLAY!). It’s been great to all work towards something longer than short stories, for the same market, and I’d be thrilled to see any of them appear in it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The main characters are a woman in her late middle ages, her dead son, and her baby grandson. A few others crop up along the way, but those were my staples. It was an interesting experience writing with this limited cast. Basically, it’s a story about a woman returning to her roots on the premise of burning her son according to her native culture, but alongside that it’s about her rediscovering who she is, and what her purpose is, after spending more than half of her life in captivity.

Thanks for reading! Cross your fingers for me :-)

Oh, right. I’m meant to tag some other writers. I almost forgot! The following are some of my core writing crew (the ones that haven’t already been tagged yet, anyway), and I know that they are either in the process of getting something ready for publication, or just about finished with their first drafts (hint hint, Tama. You done yet?? ;-) ).

Take it away, Anna, Meryl, and Tama

Refocusing, again

I’ve been really struggling to get back on top of things (namely any kind of routine) since we all got sick over a month ago. I got behind on absolutely everything I possibly could have, and have been struggling ever since to catch up.

I’m still not finished ticking tasks off my to-do list. But I’m getting there.

Unfortunately, I still have no routine, and since getting my most recent assignment in a week ago, I’ve been floundering. Well, I’ve decided that a week is enough and it’s time to get back to work. Perfect timing, really, because my writers group had a critique session on Friday night which means I can now get stuck into the revision of Burn with those notes in mind.

I’m excited to work on Burn for several reasons – it’ll mean I get something ready for submission (and gosh it’s been so long!), I have a fond feeling towards the story which I’ve not even read since finishing it, and it’s also great practice for when I start work on Sun-Touched. I’ve finally settled on it as the novel I’m going to finish, and it feels really good to commit to something after spending so long undecided.

The next few months will see a whole lot of change, which I’ll talk about in a post of it’s own, but I need to make sure that I’ve got some kind of routine down or I am going to find myself falling off the focus wagon again. And I don’t want that. I have another assignment on the horizon, submission deadline up ahead, and my health and well being to balance as well.

But let me assure you that life is grand. I’m sitting on a good deal of excitement and that’s an awesome place to be. I have so much hope inside. And I know that I can do this, do everything that I have chosen to include in my life.

Reflecting back, I had such high hopes for July. But that’s okay. I got my novella finished, and I got my assignment in. Those were the two most important things that needed to happen. August is just around the corner, and I’m looking forward to it.

How has July been for you? Did you achieve your goals? Or did you have to shuffle things around a bit?

Cough, splutter, cough

I’ve been sick for the last week, which has been incredibly not fun. The saving grace is that the kids managed to avoid catching the same thing, which would have been terrible. I can’t breathe, and breathing is so very important! Well, today I can breathe a little easier, finally, but no running or jumping for me. It almost kills me lol

This has meant not as much writing has happened recently. Which is a shame. I started the month off with gusto, and then fall flat a little, though not because of the story – because of ME.

My story is awesome. I’m sitting around 13.5K at the moment, and there are around 3 scenes/5,000 words to go. This should put me right at the bottom end of the word count guidelines for the place I want to submit it, and gives me plenty of room to expand where necessary and play in this wonderful world I have.

I have to say that I think this novella is the least populated that I have written to date. Considering the length of it, that is. I’ve had short stories with only three characters, one with just two. But when the other main characters are a baby and a dead person, it makes dialogue a little tricky at times. I firmly believe dialogue is important though, so its lucky that I know from experience that people talk to babies ALL THE TIME, just like they talk to cats and other things that can’t talk back.

Anyway, I’m kind of hoping to finish up the first draft this week. Then I can let it simmer for a week before giving it a tidy up and passing it on to my crit group. It feels really great to have set the goal of writing it in one month and actually knowing that I can achieve that. Does wonders for my confidence as a writer.

Now I just need to set some firm goals for the StR rewrite. And follow through on those, as well. I’m starting to get a better shape of my day sorted out in my head, seeing patterns of time blocks that will work for me. It’s not just a matter of making sure I don’t waste those on unimportant things, like facebook, and twitter… damn those evil sites which eat time. Maybe it’s time to go on haitus again?

Anyway, enough about me. Tell me about you! What are you all up to at the moment?

Christopher Ruz on cover design

Here on the blog today, I have an interview with Australian speculative fiction author, Christopher Ruz. He’s got a wide range of stories available – both short and long – and many more in the works. Well worth checking out. I recently read his novel, Century of Sand, and really enjoyed it. An epic fantasy tale set in a diverse landscape, peopled with unique characters – some of whom I will never forget.

Not only did I love the story, but I adored the cover design and wanted to get inside his head and find out more about it. I hope you enjoy :-)

I love the cover of Century of Sand. It’s really beautiful, and quite artistic in comparison to many titles out there. What made you decide to go in that direction?

I knew when I was first planning to self-publish Century of Sand that the cover was possibly the most important part of the equation. Fantasy art speaks to readers in very specific ways. It has its own particular language. If you look at the works of modern fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta, and more recently Brom, you see hyper-realistic colours, hard brush strokes, and eclectic palettes. I wanted to be a part of that artistic language. I also think that the cover of a book informs the reader as to both the content and mood of a piece. Regardless of what people say about not judging a book by its cover, the art on the front of the book does effect how we interpret a work. As such, I wanted to give my readers the very best design possible, and not cheat my audience by slapping together a quick and dirty design.

The cover is hugely important in an online environment as it’s the first thing that draws the eye – what were the key components you felt were necessary to catch a reader’s attention for this book? 

I’ve learned a lot through trial and error as an indie author, and the three most important parts of any cover are (I feel) clarity, genre, and mood. A cover doesn’t have to depict a particular moment in a story, but it must be absolutely clear what the book embodies. My genre is fantasy – specifically, an epic swords-and-sorcery trilogy. To represent this, I put my main characters up front, in fantasy garb, holding swords. It sounds obvious, but the number of fantasy covers I see that could easily be slapped on to the front of a colonial drama or historical fiction is staggering. Hence, my quest for clarity.

The mood is just as important, and is related to colour and composition. Century of Sand is the story of a journey, and to represent a journey we need to see the distance from here to there. Hence, my characters in the foreground, and Ini’s fortress in the background as an ominous hint as to what lies ahead. Finally, the colour is vital. The blues and greens in the foreground are calming, and are very un-sandlike, which adds an air of unreality. In the background, muted reds hint at blood and danger to come. The transition between the colours creates tension and mystery.

Those three elements together – clarity, genre and mood – are what I felt are the most important aspects in catching a reader’s attention.

How did you start the process? For example, did you look at artists first, or did you decide on the style you wanted then go looking for someone who could pull it off? 

I’ve been a long-time member of deviantart.com, so I’m familiar with a lot of artists that work in the approximate style I was after. I approached a few different artists once I knew what sort of cover I was after, asking for quotes, and one in particular was the perfect fit – talented, pleasant to work with, and within my price range. I sent him my sketches and specifics for colour and mood, and he worked almost independently from there.

I know you’ve done a fair few of your own covers for your other published works, what made you look for an artist for this particular novel?

It was purely because I didn’t think I could do the book justice on my own. Century of Sand has occupied four years of my life, and I didn’t feel it proper to slap one of my amateur photochops on the cover and hope it sufficed. I want to represent myself as a professional author, and for that I need a professional quality cover, for which I was happy to pay professional rates. And it paid off – I receive as many compliments on the cover art for Century of Sand as I do for the book itself. I hope it’s directed a lot of business towards Chris Newman, because he deserves it.

Finally, what is the best advice you can give to someone seeking a cover artist?

Take your time. There are many talented artists out there, and many who are happy to work at affordable rates, but not so many who are easy to work with. Make sure you have a good idea of what you want before you begin the process – being vague with your artist will only lead to frustration. Then speak to as many appropriate artists as possible, get quotes, balance out their style versus the cost, and examine very closely which of those artists are courteous and prompt with emails, and which can’t be bothered. Their personalities are as important as their skill with a brush. Finally, be willing to pay! If you cheat your artists, they’ll cheat you back, and talent should be rewarded. Save your pennies and make sure your cover is something you can be proud of, instead of something hasty and cheap. Remember, this is your business. Your cover is your advertising, your public face. Make it beautiful.

Thanks for your time, Chris! And for answering all my questions.

If you want to check the book out, you can find it on Amazon. And if you want to find out more about Chris, you can find his blog here.

June, already

I’m still getting my head around the fact that it’s June already. I know I keep saying this, but the year is flying past. May kicked my ass. It was one of those months that simultaneously blew past, but also dragged on forever. It was pretty hellish. June is already looking better, and I really hope it stays that way.

My big goal for this month is to get the first draft of my new novella (Burn) written. I began on June 1st, and am currently sitting at just over 6,500 words. I’m hoping to hit 10K by the end of the approaching weekend, which should mean I am around halfway done – that said, I am lousy at predicting word counts, so that could well change.

I’ve done things a little differently this time, having sourced a bunch of images on Pinterest to help guide my character, and myself, through the plot of the story. Several of them have scenes crafted around them, while others just contribute to the general feel of the story for me. I’m really enjoying writing it so far, and have to say that this month, first drafts are easy!

I’m quietly hoping to wrap it up before the end of the month so that I can claim some more time for StR. I only managed 5,000 odd words on it in May, when my goal was 10,000. I feel like getting back to basics with this novella has helped shift my head from the ‘must be perfect’ mind set that was choking my progress just a few weeks ago. Fingers crossed huh?

What’s happening for you this month?

If 1st drafts are meant to suck…

What are second drafts meant to do??

We hear it over and over again. It’s a first draft, it’s okay if it’s not perfect. It’s MEANT to suck. You’re just working all the kinks out. You can’t edit something that hasn’t been written – get that story written down. Once those words are on the page, then you can start getting the story perfect. All first drafts are bad.

Where is the advice for second drafts though? Because I need some. Now. I’m about to admit defeat, throw my hands in the air, and consign myself to being that girl who writes fifty million first drafts because it’s so much easier than trying to edit something to perfection. Because I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t make it right, or anywhere near right. And I certainly can’t make it perfect. I’m not even sure I can make it ‘good enough’.

So someone, please, tell me that second drafts can suck too. Because I need to find a way to ease off on myself and stop thinking that every word I write is rubbish. If it’s even a fraction better than the original, that’s something. Right? Does it count? Second drafts suck less?

Complete this sentence for me. I’d love to know what you think: Second drafts….

A new title for the new vision

TCM has undergone quite an overhaul (at least, the outline of it has, I’m yet to get into ripping the organs out of it and replacing them with better working parts), and as such, the title is now completely irrelevant. I think I mentioned this a few months back…  Ah yup. I did.

Anyways! Seeing as Sun-Touched is now finished, and I’m reworking TCM, the time has come to rename it. I was talking about it with Merrilee just yesterday and she fired off a bunch of names. This morning I went through and put them all into Goodreads to see which ones have been used plenty (this is a great tool! you don’t want a name that already has 10 books sharing the title).

I’m pleased to announce that TCM now has a new working title, and it’s Surplus To Requirements. Which I guess means it’ll become STR. I can handle that. It fits the story, which is about a girl who flunks out of her final tests and so is set to be shipped off Earth with the other failures to help pre-colonize planets for the worthy. There is no room for failures on Earth, hence she is surplus to requirements.

I also purchased Scrivener a few days ago. I’ve had the trial version for ages, but keep forgetting to start working in it. Logically, I know it’s a good move, but I just haven’t made the leap yet – well, until yesterday. I opened it up, filled in the scene cards for the first act, and started the first scene of the novel. I’m really excited about the direction it’s taking now, and am looking forward to bringing you snippets of it as I go.

It’s Mother’s Day today (Happy M’day to everyone!), and I’m hoping that means I can get maybe an hour to myself this afternoon to write. That would be the best gift right now. I want to start making a dent in this thing :-)