Publishing Colors of Deception

Dear Readers,

We interrupt our regularly scheduled bloggramming to bring you the following News Bulletin, which I just added as an addendum to my About page:

The publishing date for my YA paranormal novel COLORS OF DECEPTION has been moved up to April 2011! I’ll keep you posted on how the process progresses, dear readers — and in the meantime, I’ll be starting final edits soon!

We now return you to your regular blog posts (the newest of which will go live tomorrow). 🙂

The One Where I’m Not An Impotent Bachelor

Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion by Salvador Dali

Fishing For Love in All the Wrong Places

So, Gmail has this fantastic little gadget called a spam filter. I don’t pretend to know how it works — I just know that my inbox never sees a shred of spam.

The filter is like that little guy in the office down the hall, doing his job in such a quiet, unassuming way that you never really notice he’s there. But if he didn’t show up one day, an apocalyptic avalanche of junk would come crashing down on your head.

I rely on that little guy, and maybe I even take him for granted. But I do check in on him every so often. And when I do, I get a good look at the trash the poor guy has to wade through every day!

Apparently, my spammers think I’m a customer, and they think I’m a customer who’s simply jonesing for their products. They offer me all sorts of peculiarities. They shake their wares beneath my nose and assume that the pleasing aroma of a great deal is just too delicious for me to resist. They think they know me, and they think they know exactly what I want.

The problem is, my spammers have pegged me wrong in three areas:

1. I am female.
2. I use my smartphone to tell time.
3. I’m married.

You see, ladies and gentlehobbits, my spammers are completely convinced that I’m an impotent man looking for good watches and a Russian bride.

These poor, misguided people just don’t get it. Like fishermen casting out lures, they send me all these emails, hoping I’ll bite. What they don’t understand is that they’re casting into a pond that has no fish in it.

Fishing For The Right Readers

When I finished the second draft of my YA paranormal novel Colors of Deception, I gave it to my mom for proofing. My mother happens to be my foremost beta reader, and she makes better every piece of writing I share with her. She also taught English and Literature to teenagers for 25 years.

After reading and marking-up, she handed back the copy of Colors and said, “You can’t write for teenagers like this.”

All I can remember now is that somewhere in the manuscript, I used the word “elucidate.”

Not that I think teens won’t know the meaning of “elucidate.” But that’s not the only adult vocabulary I wrote into the novel. Throughout the story, my style betrayed the fact that I was used to writing to adults. What did I know about writing to teens? I was casting my lures in vain, because the fish I was looking for were in a different pond.

I had to find different ways of expressing myself without losing the flow and feel of the story. Some re-writing was in order. So I did it.

Whether or not I succeeded in hieing myself to the right fishing spot has yet to be proven. Currently, my editor(s) is (are) putting the manuscript through its first paces toward publication, and I’m sure they’ll have some feedback for me on this score. (And, no doubt, on several other scores, too! These are generous but exacting people.)**

But the point is that I’ve tried to narrow my focus to my target audience. Too bad my poor, deluded spammers can’t learn the same lesson.

Yours Truly,

A Female, Married Heterosexual Who Quit Wearing Watches A Long Time Ago

** Since this post went live, Colors of Deception has been published! The genre is listed as “Christian fantasy,” as both my editor and my publisher deemed it adult instead of YA. Click the link to get your paperback copy for $12.99 or your Kindle edition for $2.99!

Crippled, Demented, Or Crushed: Still, I Will Create

In a recent perusal of old journal entries, I once again ran across a poetic gem entitled Air and Light and Time and Space by Charles Bukowski (who was born in Germany, I learned via Wikipedia article). The poem describes the mindset of so many people who want to be creative — but then never “get around to” doing anything about it. Bukowski gives a definitive answer to what I’m calling “that self-delusional procrastination.”

You can Google the poem in its entirety elsewhere…but what I’m interested in right now is this part of Bukowski’s answer:

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
…in a small room with 3 children
…you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented…

…baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it…

I feel as though I’ve spent most of my life in a desperate search for air and light and time and space. Most of the time, I haven’t even been aware of what I was seeking…but now, I look back at certain hard times in my life, and I find myself nodding in wry understanding. “Oh. I see now. That’s what that was.”

Those were the times I was most depressed. Those were the times I questioned my inherent worth the most. Those were the times nothing I attempted in life seemed to work out. Those were the times my relationships suffered the most. It all happened during those periods in my life when, for whatever reason, I suppressed my creativity because I felt as though I didn’t have the time, air, space, right to be creative.

I’ll talk more about this in future posts (and get deeper into the gritty tale of how I once believed and felt I had no right to be creative), but for now, I’m learning a new conviction: that Bukowski is oh so very right. It’s a lie that my situation has to change before I can be creative. I will make stuff. I will put stuff into this world that didn’t exist in that form before I made it. It’s what I’m created to do: to create. Even at my worst moments, when the will isn’t there, the compulsion is too strong to ignore.

I’ll create if I’m crippled. I’ll create if I’m demented. (This might already have happened.) I’ll create in the tiniest, most cramped space. I’ll create when it’s too dark to see. I can’t help it. I don’t want to help it.

Because the price for ignoring my creative impulse is far too high to pay.

Bring On The Trouble!

Or: A Writerly Aside

By the way, as I mentioned in my first post, I am quite open to your questions, gentle readers! If I say something confusing (the possibility of which, because of my level of coffee intake, is not beyond all imagining), feel free to demand request clarification. If you’re curious about me, pose your questions. (I’ll answer pretty much anything — and if there’s something I don’t want to answer, I just won’t. 😉 )

And for the love of all that’s good and writerly in this world, if I don’t talk about my writing enough, ask me about it! After all, that’s kinda sorta what this blog is for.

Photo credit the fabulous Julie V. Personal Style Photography.

I’m Writing About Demons

Greetings, my dears! For my next trick, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my current work-in-progress (WIP). Earlier this week, I mentioned that I’m writing a paranormal fantasy novel. It is, as yet, untitled, so I’m bringing my formidable, literary creative powers to bear upon the title challenge and calling this book Demons 3. Boo-yah.

“So, O Most Formidably Literary Creative One,” you might be thinking, “what does the numeral 3 denote in the title of your work-in-progress?”

Saltmarch, Where The Demons Live

Ahh, my dear Questioning Ones, I am so glad you asked. The “3” in Demons 3 denotes the fact that this WIP is the third in a trilogy I am, thus far, calling “Demons of Saltmarch.” This trilogy consists of:

  • Colors of Deception (projected publishing date: June/July 2011)
  • Shadows After Midnight

and, of course,

  • Demons 3.

The Saltmarch trilogy (hmm…maybe that should be Saltmarch Trilogy — and here you’re witnessing how a writer revises aspects of her work even as she discusses it) had its genesis in vacuuming and vivid dreaming. One night in early 2008, I dreamed that I was standing in the center of a grated bridge. Facing me at one end of the bridge was this human-shaped figure with its jaw unhinged like a snake’s. A ring of darkness came out of its mouth and spread out toward me. Terrified, I knew that the ring should not touch me. I ended up on my hands and knees, scrambling to get away.

But in dreams, we never can get away, can we?

The dark ring engulfed me, and the whole world turned the “color” of TV static. I blinked and was in a different place, surrounded by people who didn’t quite look like people. Somehow, I knew they were demons. They’d used their powers to make this place look like my childhood home. But even though it looked familiar, I knew there was something wrong with it. I knew it wasn’t real. And I knew that the demons called it “Saltmarch.” Then, the dream ended.

Now, some people would have awakened from that dream and felt residual fear and confusion the rest of the day. They would have called it a nightmare and shuddered whilst relating it to friends over mid-morning coffee. Me? I got all excited, wrote it down, and decided it would make a great fantasy novel. If only I could come up with characters for it.

Fast-forward a few months, and I’m vacuuming my hallway, lamenting to myself that I can’t hear my favorite INXS CD over the jarring noise from this behemoth of a dust-sucking apparatus I’m shoving around my home. And, out of nowhere, the thought pops into my head:

What if one of the demons is obsessed with the music of INXS?

I don’t know how these things work. I don’t know why INXS triggered the beginnings of a character description for a character in a story that consisted of nothing but a rather odd dream sequence. All I know is that two months later, during NaNoWriMo 2008, a whole story came pouring out of me, and that dream sequence turned into one of the last scenes leading up to the climax.

That story became Colors of Deception, and it revolves around a young lady named Holly Idaho. Holly’s a sophomore at a Christian university. She’s got her problems: boy issues, tension with her girlfriends, doubts about her faith, an intense crush on the new music teacher, too much homework. Pretty standard stuff for a college student, right?

Until the demon with the INXS obsession shows up. And, as far as Holly is concerned, all hell breaks loose.

Colors of Deception is Holly’s story: how she deals with doubt, terror, love, lust, betrayal, and forgiveness. Her story is filled with the bizarre and the ordinary — a tale I hope will both fascinate readers and connect with them on a basic, I-know-how-that-feels level.

Shadows After Midnight picks up a few months after Colors ends. This second book in the trilogy is the story of Peter Townsend, who is Holly’s somewhat antisocial friend and doesn’t know that he shares a name with several famous people (and wouldn’t care, even if he did know). I won’t tell you much about Peter, because it would give away too much of the first book. But suffice it to say that Peter has a lot of arrogance to get out of his system (oh my word the boy’s got an ego, but I love him!)…and the demon who shows up to plague him has just the tricks to get him to make a mess he can’t clean up on his own.

The unfortunately untitled Demons 3 tells the story of Anne Waylock, another of Holly’s close friends. I feel like a mother hen playing favorites among her baby chicks…but I almost want to say that Anne is my favorite of the three. She’s snarky, unapologetically obnoxious, borderline blasphemous, and deeply, heart-breakingly sensitive. Her external challenges seem more threatening than those Holly and Peter face in their stories — and her internal challenges are far more subtle. I think. I’m not even through Draft 1 of her story yet, so I’m still getting to know her. There are aspects of her that haven’t crystallized yet.

So, that’s my paranormal fantasy trilogy in a shelle du nut. When I talk to people about it, I refer to it as “young adult (YA) paranormal,” but in some ways, I feel this is misleading. No, it’s not “adult” fiction, but if I had kids, I’m not sure I’d want my kids under age 15 to read it. On the other hand, I’m hoping the books will appeal to the wide audience of adults out there who’ve been devouring so much YA fiction over the past decade or so. (Some of you are reading this. 😉 )

Either way, I am so excited to get these books into the hands of readers, I can hardly stand it!

Let’s Talk About Mosquitoes, Hives, and Outlines

I love words and how other people use them. Sometimes, I’ll be reading a novel and enjoying it most thoroughly — and BAM! I hit a phrase that makes me sit up and say out loud, “Odds bodkins, that was perfect.” One of my most enjoyable challenges in life is learning how to do that to my own readers…and, as ever, I remain a work-in-progress.

But. I heart mightily (and sometimes, I even liver) how other people use words. So, for years, I’ve collected quotes. I buy nifty little notebooks in various sizes and scribble them full of the fun, inspiring, infuriating, thought-provoking, artful, and elegant ruminations of my fellow humans.

Courtney's Quotes Collection

Some of them are writers (my tribe! Woot!). One such is Laura Resnick, a fantasy author who penned the following gem:

“For the first half of a book, I’ll cling to my outline in helpless terror. Then I’ll start veering away from it, which will worry me deeply for weeks. When I finally finish the book, I’ll suddenly realize I haven’t thought about my outline in ages and don’t quite remember what was in it.”

Once upon a time, I did not believe in outlines. I’d never heard of this thing called “pre-writing.” My preferred method of starting a novel was to sit down at the computer, open a Word document, and start typing. And that, my dear inklings, is how in 2004 I came to be in possession of a 12,000-word chunk of fantasy novel that was supposed to be the sequel to an already-completed epic. Instead, more than six years later, it lies still in unfinished, digital ignominy. I hope to finish it someday…

…but before that can happen, I’ll need to do all the pre-writing: for nowadays, I’ve abandoned my lackadaisical ways (mostly), and I’ve converted to Putting Faith In Outlines. (Oy vey, was that a long sentence. Sorry.) Spontaneity is great, but when I’m writing, it just gets me stuck in squelching, mosquito-infested bogs.

I don’t like mosquitoes. They give me welts. And sometimes hives.

So I’ve learned to appreciate outlines, and I’ve learned to like outlines, and I’ve learned to trust outlines. And, like Ms. Resnick, I’ve learned The Desperate Writer’s Clutch (by which I do not mean a purse). The spectre of that 12k-word unfortunate loometh at the edges of my writerly consciousness, yea verily and forsooth. While working on my current rough draft, I even printed the outline so that I could have it well within clutching distance instead of having to switch from the novel doc to the outline doc. (It’s nice to have one’s comforting blankie in sight at all times.)

That said, the second half of Resnick’s quote resonates with me just as much as the first half does. I’m thirteen chapters into the rough draft of a 15-chapter, paranormal fantasy novel. For the first eleven chapters, I hobbled along, using my outline as my crutch. Sometimes, I felt strong enough for a steady walk. Rare bursts of enthusiasm gave me the power to sprint. However, whether walking or sprinting, I never let go of that blankie crutch outline. I still needed something to lean on.

Chapter 12 changed a few things. I didn’t look at my outline for days! Characters talked and did, and they talked and did without a whole lot of help from me. What made the difference? I think it was my deeper understanding of my characters.

When I started writing their story, I didn’t know them well enough just to give them free rein. Every time they spoke or acted, I had to check the outline: Is this how it’s supposed to go? It is? Okay, then, tally-ho. I couldn’t trust my characters yet. I didn’t know them.

Now, we’ve been through twelve chapters of adventure together, and I’m starting not just to know these people but to know them. Their edges aren’t so blurry; I can see some sharp outlines. Ephemeral wisps on the wind have solidified into distinct voices. I’m seeing the shapes of their souls.

There comes a point at which the characters, not the outline, lead my thoughts and guide my fingers. And that’s where the magic happens. And it is glorious.

Why I Think Writers Are Like Bats

No, I’m not talking about baseball. I’m talking about flying mammals.

Yes. I am of the opinion that writers are like rodent-ish creatures with leathery wings, sharp teeth, and rabies.

Okay, so maybe not the rabies.

I’m kind of winging it here (Get it? Winging it? Hahaha.), because when I first came up with the idea for this post, I was just drifting off to sleep. “Writers = bats” popped into my head. I woke up enough to grab the nearest writing utensil — which happened to be my iPhone — and “scribbled” something that would later jumpstart me into writing a coherent blog post.

The note I “scribbled” took the form of an email I sent to myself with the subject line “writers are like bats. pinging.”

My Computer Comprehension. Let Me Show You It.

Unfortunately, the body of the email remained blank. And “writers are like bats. pinging” is not quite enough to send a power surge of writerly inspiration through my brain. However, one works with what one’s got.

“Pinging” gives me a clue as to what I was thinking. (I’m sure you computer gurus are going to squirm uncomfortably in your seats at what I’m going to say next, but I’m sorry — it can’t be helped.) My understanding is that a “ping” is kind of like a computer’s version of a Facebook “poke”:

Computer A sends a signal to Computer B…
…(i.e. Computer A “pokes” Computer B) to see if Computer B is paying attention.
If B is paying attention, B sends a signal back to say,
“Yeah, I felt your poke. Dude.”

If I didn’t get that right, you computer gurus are welcome to tell me about it. 😉

The Return to High School Biology

Whether I got it right or not, my concept of pinging reminds me of how I understand a bat’s echolocation works.

The bat makes an ultrasonic noise that bounces off of objects and other animals, specifically the bat’s prey. The bat analyzes the echoes that bounce back; this lets the bat decide whether or not those tiny flying things right there are yummy insects or not.

Facebook-style poking: I poke you to get your attention — will you poke me back?

Chiropteral echolocation: I make a noise at you — are you edible?

Writerly sharing: I show you my work — will you give me feedback?

Writerly Facebook Bat

From Ping to Publish

I do believe, gentle readers, that this is what my almost-asleep brain was trying to tell me when I made the frantic grab for my iPhone in the dark and typed an email subject line that didn’t make a whole lot of sense:

When we writers share our work with beta readers, we’re asking them to give our project attention.
We’re asking them to read and analyze it, then communicate their resulting thoughts to us.
We’re sending a signal, hoping to get one back.

The same applies when we finally get our work published. A writer’s published novel is the writer’s attempt to ping, poke, and echolocate the world. Readers’ feedback consists of opinions, concerns, complaints, and, we desperately hope, enjoyments. These responses, these echoes, these answering pings let us know the shape of the world around us.

If we know the shape of our world, we have more reference points for relating to the world.

When we writers share our work, we find out what and where the world is. And that helps us know who we are.

Perhaps most importantly, echolocating our readers lets us know whether or not you are edible. ; )
_____________________

Fellow writers, what do you say? Do you feel like a peckish, pinging mammal with leathery wings?

What have been your best/worst experiences getting feedback from readers?

Fellow readers, what do you say? Do you feel pinged?

What have been your best/worst experiences giving feedback?

My Terrifying First Blog Post!

Also: I’m Working On Getting A More Interesting Blog Background (Very Important!)

Firsts” are hard, and I’m not the first to say it.

First day of school? Terrifying, if you’re an introvert. First job interview? Intimidating in a my-palms-could-water-your-plants sort of way. First date? Exciting enough that your stomach transports itself to someplace where gravity doesn’t exist, then pops back into your body suffering from free-fall nausea.

For a writer, the scariest part of any story — whether it’s horror or romance — might just be the very first line. For a blogger, the Frightening First comes in the form of the obligatory introductory post.

So, my dear reader. This is where we find ourselves: smack dab in the middle of my first post, with you watching me flounder about as I try to overcome the nervousness, the fear, the — dare I say it? — angst* threatening to paralyze everything from my brain all the way down to my fingertips.

I’m still typing, though. And you’re still reading. Good, this is good.

Where does the fear come from? I’ve blogged elsewhere for years, so I know I’m not worried about what others will think of my blogging (which, *ahem* is not to say that I don’t want to hear about what others think of my blogging [which, in turn, is a brazen request for comments. Yes, I’m finally learning to be wanton. Huzzah!]). I’m not ashamed of my writing, as People In The Know have boosted my ego enough that I believe I actually have some idea what I’m doing. I’m not concerned about fallout, backlash, backstabbing or any of that deplorable ilk.

No, I think what distresses me is this: When I ask myself what I should write about in my first blogpost, the answer is, “I don’t know.”

Should I talk about myself? Should I delineate the whats, wheres, whens, hows, and whys of my life? Surely nobody wants to read my Autobiography In 1000 Words or Less Fewer. Maybe a “thesis statement” of the purpose of this blog? Nah. And I’m pretty sure that you, dear readers, wouldn’t want to listen to me blather on about the latest antics of my cats as a cover for not knowing what I should write about.

Although, if you do want to hear about the antics of my cats, I’m sure I can oblige.

It’s funny how just the act of writing can clear the mind and crystallize the purpose. In writing out these questions, in sharing my ponderings with you, gentle readers, I’ve come to a conclusion: I don’t need to give you my curriculum vitae, and I certainly don’t need to fall back on the academia of thesis statements. None of that is why you’re here. And I know that.

I guess what I really want to tell you is that this blog is going to be about writing. My writing, as well as writing in general. If you read me regularly, you’ll find out about me in due time — maybe more than you wanted to know! If it’s less than you wanted to know, I am always open to questions, comments, concerns, and encouragements.

I especially love cookies. Chocolate chip or shortbread, please.

Oh, and if you want a little more incentive for spoiling me with said cookies, I tell a Courtney story on my About page. 😉

* I don’t like the word “angst.” In English, it has philosophical connotations that go beyond a simple state of fear. But the German word “Angst” means nothing more than “fear.” It’s not some kind of psychological superlative. And yes, I’m annoying myself by using it that way in this post!

** The photo of me is by the fabulous Julie V. Personal Style Photography.