Dragon Vs. Turkey, Death by Hamster, and Writing Advice

Um. Hi?

I feel like I should be tiptoeing in here, and it’s my own blog. I’m sorry for the extreme silence lately, y’all. Honestly, the only thing I can tell you is that I’ve been pureeing pears and prunes. Seriously. Since the Itty Bitty started her foray into solid foods, I’ve felt as though I’ve been living in the kitchen.

Fortunately, I shall soon acquire a brilliant gadget unfortunately named “Babycook,” which shall do the cooking and pureeing for me and is, fortunately, not made from real babies.

Furthermore

My grand and good intention is to get back into blogging regularly — at least once a week. There won’t be another month-long hiatus if I can possibly help it (and I do think I can, Pauly). In the meantime, I’m also planning an updateish post to let you know what’s been happening in my writing world.

But that’s for later. Right now, I’m in the mood for silly, so silly is what you’re gonna get. Specifically, silly related to keyword searches.

You people are weird, and I love you for it.

Without further ado or adon’t, here are some of the keyword searches that, according to Google Analytics, have recently led y’all to my blog. And also my reactions to said keyword searches. BANGERANG.

1. would you please do me a favor

I never take requests unless asked, so yes!

2. what can be the misuses of having banana
common misuses of a banana

I take it back. You don’t get any favors. Sicko.

3. upside down scrambled cat

I don’t really understand, but okay….

scrambledcat

I didn’t know how to do the scrambled part, but perhaps this will suffice anyway.

4. what to do when your novel gets too complicated

SIMPLIFY.

No, really. Cut a character, erase a subplot or two, delete some scenes. If the novel’s too complicated, it means you’ve got too many cats in your frying pan. Toss a few of them out. You’ll end up overcooking them anyway.

5. sometimes a lady

…will have her cat cake and eat it, too.

6. should a writer listen to suggestions

For the love of all that’s good and true and writerly in this world, YES. Don’t be a precious snowflake.

7. scary hamster
hamster kiss
hamster suicide
dumb hamster
death by hamster
cool hamster

Okay, I can see why the hamsters might be kissing. Even furfaces like a little lip once in a while. And if a dumb hamster and a cool hamster are kissing, it might have entertainment value. Locking braces, awkward positions, AND SO FORTH.

But…but…why hamster suicide? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? And by Grabthar’s Hammer, what is death by hamster? Diana from “V” swallows one and chokes on it?

And why did these searches lead to my blog?!?

#whatisthatidonteven

8. novels — how long is too long

If you keep writing after the story is finished, then your novel is too long.

9. i have a bachelors in writing now what

Yes. Quite.

(READ: When I find out, I’ll let you know.)

10. dragon vs. turkey

dragonvsturkey

Prepare Ye the Way of the Novel

Hey y’all,

I have a poor little pink baby with an ear infection, so I’ve been neglecting the blog (mea culpa) and have failed to post guest-columning news in a timely manner. But yes, indeed, my weekly guest post over at UnstressedSyllables.com is live. This week, I’m discussing “prewriting”:

  • what it is
  • and why those of you who are writers extraordinaire need to engage in it. By which I mean do it.

Click righ’cheer to read and rejoice!

beprepared

The Next Big Thing (and New Novel Excerpt!)

Two of my fellow writers, Josh and Laurie, did this chain blogging thing a few weeks back. It’s called “The Next Big Thing,” and it’s an interview on upcoming writing projects. Josh tagged me to do it, so here I am, doing it. Josh’s own post is here, and you can find Laurie’s post here. Go read, it’s fun stuff. : )

elevator--vertical

The Next Big Thing

Okay, now that you’re caught up and have returned, please to enjoy my contribution to the blogging chain:

What is the title of your next book?

The working title of my next book is Elevator People. (A few months ago, I challenged readers to come up with a better title. The jury’s still out on who won, by the way. I’ll work it out soon though. Promise.)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea for Elevator People originated where most of my story ideas originate: my dreams. In the dream, I saw a young man in a steampunk-style elevator that could move up, down, sideways, forward, backward, and diagonally. I knew the man was traveling in the elevator from one planet to another, and he was going to be set upon by thieves at his next stop. This turned into the opening scene of the novel.

What genre does your book fall under?

Is “low sci-fi” a genre? It’s definitely sci-fi, what with the interplanetary and possibly transdimensional traveling via mechanical conveyance. (There is, however, no time-traveling.) And there are laser rifles at some point. Also space shuttles and nanotechnology. But I don’t delve into the science of how it all works, so readers shouldn’t expect the intricacies of Asimov or Heinlein. Hence the “low” sci-fi.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Uffda, that’s a hard one. I rarely cast real people in the roles of my characters, although I know many writers use that as a visualization technique. That’s never been my habit, so Ima have to give this some extra thought.

Okay. Wentworth Miller (of Prison Break fame) for my main character, Went Banning — and not just because Miller is my Went’s namesake. He’s got the acting chops for a quiet, reserved, yet passionate and determined adventurer. I can easily see him stepping out of the elevator and, five minutes later, needing rescuing by two adorable urchins. ; )

As for the urchins…once upon a time, I would’ve wanted Dakota Fanning for Jop, but she’s too old now. The same probably holds true for Chloë Grace Moretz, but she would also be a top choice. I can’t think of anyone else right now.

Ooh! Abigail Breslin. I bet she’s the one.

For my second urchin, I am thoroughly impressed with Pierce Gagnon, who plays little Cid in Looper. The kid’s scary good. He might be a little young to play Skee, but a couple more years and I think he’d be perfect.

With apologies to Jason Isaacs, he would make an excellent villain in Carrigan Bell. *shudder*

As for Risk, Went’s female co-star…another toughie. Emma Stone? Deborah Ann Woll? Anna Popplewell would probably be too young. I dunno. Like I said, I’m not great at this casting thing!

(As an aside, I talk a little more about the characters here.)

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Ugh. I’m not good at these either. Even though they’re supposed to be a big part of my job. *sigh* Okay, here goes….

When loner Went Banning loses the codes that operate his “magical” elevator, he realizes he must rely on two street urchins and a damaged former slavegirl to help him find the mythical Mr. Banjoman…who might just be Went’s father.

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

Um, yes. ; ) You can expect the book sometime in 2013 from indie publisher Consortium Books.

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

It’s not done yet.

I started it in November 2011.

*sigh*

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

I never like this question. To compare my story to other books feels like I’m expecting everyone to agree with me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the writing business, it’s that no two people view the same story the same way. I honestly can’t think of a novel I’d feel comfortable naming here.

But if you like character-driven sci-fi with interplanetary travel and hints of the transdimensional, I think you’ll like Elevator People.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Inspiration came from my dream, as I mentioned above. I tend to have “story-seed dreams” right when I’m wrapping up a project and am mentally ready to move on to the next one. Call it synchronicity, divine providence, spooky coincidence, whatever. I’ve learned not to question it. It’s there when I need it, so I go with it.

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

Went is a man of deep, inspiring conviction, and he’s just despairing enough to win and break your heart; Jop and Skee, the urchins, are clever and adorable; female co-star Risk is smart, strong, and sexy; and their collective enemy, Carrigan Bell, is terrifying and utterly despicable. (Oh, and wait’ll you meet the vampire who’s after the lot of them….)

Together, they’ll take you on a great ride.

In closing, I hereby tag my fellow writers Aaron Pogue, Jessie Sanders, Becca Campbell, and Pam Davis to post their own “The Next Big Thing.” (And don’t y’all forget to send me your links!)

Bonus Round

This isn’t part of the interview, but I figure a New Year’s treat is in order. Here’s an excerpt from Draft 1 of Elevator People. Enjoy. : )

From Chapter One of Elevator People by Courtney Cantrell

…They hit him again. Went’s arms felt limp. He coughed, choking on blood. They kicked him again and growled words he couldn’t understand. Metallic heels rang harshly against the pavement, receding.

When the echoes had died, Went finally moved again. With greatest care, he slid his knees up toward his chest and tried to roll to his hands and knees. His ribs screamed, and a small noise escaped his lips. The list. What of the list?

He forced his knees to cooperate and pushed himself up on his elbows. Leaning on his left arm, he clutched at his waistcoat. The waiscoat didn’t feel bulky enough. Another groan escaped him. It sounded like a whimper.

Damn.

He had to get back in the elevator. Even without the list, the elevator was his only hope for…for….

A hoarse, bitter sound escaped him. Hope for what? It was over. Was there any way he could go on without the codes list?

No.

Wait. The elevator hadn’t yet yielded all of its secrets. There was hope. Perhaps there was hope. He only had to get back inside first. Went spat blood, then clenched his teeth against the pain as he planted one foot and pushed up. His world spun, a black and gray blur of rectangular pillars and twisted metal. He thrust out a hand and groped for the wall. His fingers met flesh.

He jerked his hand back, and the momentum sent him tumbling farther away from the elevator. He slammed into one of the pillars. Rough, hard material slashed his palms as he rebounded. He dropped to the floor again and curled into a ball as the impact shot pain through his ribcage.

“Cose!” said a small, high voice. “We’ll a-help! Can you walk?”

Went felt hands on his arms again. But these hands were smaller than his attackers’. Their touch was soft, hesitant. He blinked up at the gloomy ceiling high above. The face of a young girl wavered into view.

Below dark, worried eyebrows, her darker eyes were enormous in her thin face. Her hair was long and stringy. He glimpsed a ragged, grayish brown tunic. She bit her bottom lip and shook his shoulder. “We’ll a-help,” she said again. “You’na get back in the cagey, yeah?”

“What?” Went coughed, then spat blood again. His jaw hurt.

“The cagey!” The urchin threw a glance over her shoulder. “Skee! Come ya over. Candles ain’t skeerin’ back here awhile.”

The girl turned back to Went and shook him again. A small shadow bobbed up next to her, and another pair of small hands tugged at Went’s white cotton work shirt. The newcomer was a boy even thinner, dirtier, and larger-eyed than the girl. Both children were pulling him toward the still open elevator doors.

Went rubbed at his jaw and winced. “I don’t understand most of what you’re saying,” he managed. “But it were well I got back in there.” He nodded toward the elevator.

The girl gave a few quick, vigorous nods. “The cagey, yeah. Come on, Skee. We’re a-help.”

As Went grabbed the pillar and pulled himself upright again, he heard the boy’s tiny whisper. “We’re a-go?”

“Hush-a, Skee. Maybe.” The girl pulled at Went’s sleeve. “Can you walk?”

Went nodded. “I think so. I’m–” He took a step and sucked in breath through clenched teeth. “I’m not as damaged as I look.” Still, he was grateful as she pulled his hand toward her shoulder and held it there a moment. He hoped his last statement wasn’t a lie.

He didn’t lean on the girl; her small frame wouldn’t have borne his weight. But the feel of her bony shoulder beneath the thin tunic did steady him a little. He tottered forward while she shuffled along at his side. Darting ahead, the little boy peered into the open elevator, then looked back at Went and the girl and grinned. His upper front teeth were missing.

They reached the wall, and Went put out a hand. “A moment, please.” They were only a few feet from the elevator doors, but just the seven or eight steps from pillar to wall had brought another wave of dizziness. He put both palms flat against the cold, jagged stone, ignoring the sting of cuts in his skin. If anything, the sharp pain restored a little clarity. The world stopped spinning and instead only rocked slightly, as though he were standing on the deck of one of his father’s clippers.

The thought of Father was enough to send nausea washing through his gut. He sagged against the wall, groaning.

“They’s all meanie-like, them Candles,” said the girl. “Skee and me, we a-stay clear of ’em. They’s the new dogs, and big ones. Rough-like, cose?”

Went turned his head left, then right. It was as much of a shake as he could manage. “Candles?”

“New dogs,” said the little boy from next to the open elevator. “Bite.”

“Candles and Haggs,” the girl said. “All new since B-line fell in. All new and a-fight over the U. They’s a-wantin’ new digs, pall it? So Skee and me and the other yoolers, we all in the way.”

“Haggs’ is bad.” The little boy frowned. “Candles…badder.”

Went’s beaten body wouldn’t let him think clearly, but he made a small connection in what the children were saying. “Then, these Candles are the ones who’ve robbed me?”

The girl raised one skeptical eyebrow and looked him up and down. “Well-a yeah. Candles pat anybody gets in their digs.” Her expression hardened. “Our digs. Was, anyway. Now, we’re a-look for–”

“Jop,” said the little boy in a pleading, warning tone.

The girl shook her head. “Well-a right, Skee! I’m a-not say, I’m a-not.” She looked up at Went. “Ready, cose?”

He took as deep a breath as he could without offending his ribs. “Ready enough, I suppose.” At least the dizziness had abated a bit. The girl took slow, careful steps toward the elevator, her gentle tugs on his arm urging him on. He used the wall as support. The fabric of his shirt caught on tiny, rough protrusions as he staggered along. He thought of how the Spillaines would rail at him for his torn clothing, and burst of energy shot through him.

It lasted until he reached the elevator doors. As he rounded the corner and into the cabin, his legs gave out, and he slid to the floor. At the same time, there came an angry shout from behind him. Above him, the girl’s huge eyes widened, and her mouth opened in a round “O” of horror. His ribs shrieked at him, but Went turned.

A man was rushing toward them from the darkness. He was yelling words Went couldn’t understand, his eyes trained on the spot where Went’s left hand gripped the corner of the rough wall. Went’s golden ring flashed in the light spilling from the elevator.

The ring. They missed it the first time. Came back for it

“Rotten blagger’s back!” The little girl rounded on Went. “The cagey’s it, cose, ’less you’re a-want us all to get the scroby. Come on!”

Went hardly understood a word but thought he couldn’t agree more. He tried to get his feet under him, but his body wouldn’t cooperate. On his knees, he slumped. He couldn’t even pitch himself forward to fall headlong to the elevator floor. A banker’s son’s not meant for street brawls. He laughed.

With the onrushing “blagger” not twenty feet away, the little girl stepped behind Went and gave him a solid push. Now, he did fall headlong, scraping his left hand on the edge of the door as he fell. His ring gave off a clear, bright tone as it hit.

“The doors, Skee!” the girl yelled. She grabbed Went’s feet and pushed and pulled them into the elevator cab. “Close ’em, or we’re a-get the scroby for sure!”

“How, Jop?” came the boy’s small voice.

She fought with Went’s feet. “The buttons!”

Went raised his head. Eyes wide and lips askew in confusion, the little boy stood beneath the elevator’s control panel. The panel’s brass buttons gleamed.

“Push ’em, Skee!”

Went reached out toward the boy. “No, wait!”

The onrushing Candle had almost reached the elevator. Little Skee turned, saw the “blagger,” and froze. Only his arm kept moving. His palm slapped the control panel, hitting several buttons at once.

Went’s panicked mind could barely keep up with what was happening. Still, one clear thought remained. The list! The boy’s hand came down on the buttons again. Wait! I have to get the list!

The girl gave Went’s legs one final heave, pulling them over the elevator’s threshold. The doors moved. The attacking Candle stretched out his arm in a desperate reach. Went caught a final glimpse of a snarling, mad-eyed, filth-caked face. The doors snicked shut.

Then the elevator was moving, and Went had no idea where they were going.

Books I Read in 2011

My To-Read Shelf for 2012 -- not counting ebooks!

Well, my lovelies, ’tis the last day of the year! Thus, it’s time for me to share with you the list of books I read this year.

I’m slightly disappointed in myself, because this year’s count is lower than last year’s.

In 2010, I read 58.5 books.

In 2011, I read 42.

What made the difference? Well, becoming a published author, for one. By necessity, I had to spend more time working on my own books than reading others’. There were days when I was so worn out by the time I finished my writing and editing, I had no mental capacity left over for reading. Sleep and vegging in front of Netflix had to take precedence.

I know, I know. What kind of writer am I, choosing a movie over a book? Sheesh. Mea culpa.

But another thing that cut into my writing time was becoming an acquisitions editor. When it comes to my own novels, Consortium Books is my indie publisher. But when it comes to novels by our Consortium artists, my job as acquisitions editor requires me to read each of those novels and (a) approve it for line and copy editing if it’s ready or (b) work with the writer on getting it ready if it’s not.

This, too, takes time. Sometimes, it means I’m reading the same book two or three times. Always, it means I’m reading fewer already-published works.

However, I have no complaints about devoting time to my own writing or to the writing of my cohorts. I’m helping get new works out into the world and into readers’ hands. That’s at least as valuable as reading works that are already out there, if not more so.

So, when I look at it from that perspective, I guess I’m not so disappointed in myself, after all. : )

(Not to mention the fact that a books-read count of 42 [aka answer to life, the universe, and everything] is not something I can argue with.)

Thus, without further ado or adon’t, here’s my 2011 list of books!

Books I Read in 2011

An asterisk indicates a favorite read for the year.

  1. The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
  2. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
  3. *Lilith: A Snake in the Grass by Jack L. Chalker
  4. *Cerberus: A Wolf in the Fold by Jack L. Chalker
  5. *Charon: A Dragon at the Gate by Jack L. Chalker
  6. *Medusa: A Tiger by the Tail by Jack L. Chalker
  7. *Absolute All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Neal Adams
  8. *Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
  9. Black: The Birth of Evil by Ted Dekker
  10. Relentless by Dean Koontz
  11. The Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card
  12. Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman
  13. The Cure by Anthony Marais (not finished)
  14. Taliesin by Stephen R. Lawhead
  15. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
  16. *The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  17. Shadow’s Edge by Brent Weeks
  18. Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist
  19. Magician: Master by Raymond E. Feist
  20. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  21. Ghost Targets: Restraint by Aaron Pogue
  22. The Walking Dead, Vol. 11 by Robert Kirkman, et al
  23. The Walking Dead, Vol. 12 by Robert Kirkman, et al
  24. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  25. The Dumb Bunnies’ Easter by Sue Denim and Dav Pilkey
  26. Serenity: Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, Will Conrad
  27. Serenity: Better Days by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, Will Conrad
  28. *Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub
  29. *Snow in August by Pete Hamill
  30. Conan, #1 by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter
  31. Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1) by Jim Butcher
  32. A Consortium of Worlds, Vol. 1 (Fall Issue) by Consortium Books
  33. Death and the Dream by J. J. Brown
  34. Yesterday’s Gone, Episode 1 by Sean Platt and David Wright
  35. The Zombie Bible: Death Has Come Up into Our Windows by Stant Litore
  36. *Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
  37. Secret Life of a TEEN Agent by Joshua Unruh
  38. Taming Fire (Dragonprince Trilogy, #1) by Aaron Pogue
  39. *The Dragonswarm (Dragonprince Trilogy, #2) by Aaron Pogue
  40. Resistance Front by Kindle All-Stars
  41. *Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
  42. *Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

_____________________
How ’bout y’all? How many books did you read this year? What was your favorite? Tell us in the comments!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

But I’m a Novelist — Why Write Short Stories?

Short stories? Really?

G’day, inklings! It’s a beautiful day in the Oklahoma City neighborhood! Remember that horrid heat dome thing I recently vented about? IT’S GONE. As I type this, it’s 11:29 a.m. and 72ºF. My windows are open, and my a/c is off. CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH?!?

But I’m not here to talk about the weather, much as I am in it rejoicing. Today, my lovelies, we’re back to short stories. My recent post Get Shorty elicited the following comment from reader Heather:

I am still terribly confused about the purpose of a short story. Why on earth would we want our stories to be short (unless, of course, they are children’s bedtime stories and then they cannot seem to be short enough for my tastes!).

As I pondered Heather’s question and posted my reply, I realized that others might have the same question and that it was worthy of its own blog post. Why write short stories? What’s the point of creating a world and then only spending a few pages in it? And as I pondered, I also realized that I’ve done a 180 on the subject since last I gave it thought. Oy vey!

So, in case you missed it, here are my thoughts on:

Why Short Stories?

1. I’ve always enjoyed long fiction far more than short. If I’m going to make an emotional commitment to a piece of fiction, I want a full return on my investment! It always seemed like short fiction couldn’t compensate me enough.

But since I’ve started writing my own short stories and reading others’ and reading what others have to say about short fiction, I’ve discovered that some readers feel the exact opposite about short stories. They want the short fiction, because it lets them know if they’re going to like a particular author or not. They can commit a short amount of time to a short piece. If they like it, they’ll invest more time in a longer work. But if they don’t like it, they haven’t lost a lot of time, and they can move on to something else.

In this article, Charlie Jane Anders writes,

You start every story with a certain amount of capital, and that capital is your readers’ attention span. You need to spend that capital wisely.

This rule of thumb applies well to short stories. Short story readers donate only a certain amount of capital. But if we spend it wisely, we can get them to donate more — and it’ll be enough to buy an entire novel.

2. Writing short stories hones our craft. I’ve only recently started realizing this. In a short story, I’ve got a very limited amount of word-space in which to establish character, develop character, develop plot, and transition from scene to sequel to climax to denouement. Since I can’t take my good ol’ easy time about it, I’m more focused on choosing the right words and on cutting unnecessary material.

It’s kind of like blogging vs. Twittering. On my blog, I can expound at length. On Twitter, I’ve got 140 characters with which to say something meaningful. Each tweet must be lean and to the point. The same, I find, applies to short stories: They’re lean and to the point, because they can’t afford not to be.

So, as I learn to fine-tune my short stories, I’m also fine-tuning my skills as a novelist.

3. ________________________________________.

Readers and writers, this one’s for you! Fill in the blank: What benefit do you see in writing short stories?

Or, if you disagree with me on the merits of penning short fiction, you can use #3 to hold forth on that, as well. ; )

Insert Maniacal Indie Author Here

In this video, I talk about:

  • getting my first royalties check
  • doing something very stupid
  • writerly emo-panic
  • Consortium Books, my indie publisher
  • and itchy noses.

There is maniacal cackling, as well as much rejoicing.

Sometimes, the two are even related.

At the end of my video, I invite you to share thoughts in the comments section below. Let me repeat that invitation: Come talk to me in the comments! If you think I’m ridiculous, please at least tell me. After all, if no one tells me, I can’t know that I’m ridiculous; thus I am doomed to remain forever ignorant of my laughable plight.

Thank you in advance. ; ) Also, if this got you curious to read my novel, Colors of Deception, then do please click that link and buy the book. $12.99 paperback, $2.99 for Kindle.

Let’s talk!

When The Salmon Speaks, Do You Listen?

This made sense when I drew it. I swear.

Or: The One That Got Away

Last night, Trish and Becca came over to help me select a few of my paintings to donate to the Consortium’s art fundraiser. Afterward, Becca and I chatted about all things artsy, including noveling and blogging.

As I was replacing paintings on my overloaded art shelves, Becca said, “I almost had this great idea for a new story…but it didn’t quite materialize, and now I can’t remember it.”

I nodded in sympathy, having experienced such non-remembering of ideas more times than I care to not-forget. For a few moments, we discussed the merits of Writing Things Down, and then I remembered something.

“You know,” I said, “I just remembered something. I read somewhere that if we don’t quite remember a story idea, then maybe it wasn’t a valid story idea after all. If it really is The One, it’ll probably pop up again, even if we don’t write it down.”

Story Ideas Eat My Worms

Grandpa used to take us kids fishing every summer when my parents and I congregated with aunts, uncles, and cousins at the grandparental home in Oklahoma. We’d go out to a family friend’s property and fish from this rickety, ancient, sagging wooden bridge (which was okay for the ’80s but probably wouldn’t hold water [ha ha] with any safety standard of today).

Sometimes, we caught a fish, and there was much rejoicing, since Grandpa would be the one to clean it. Most times, though, we’d feel a twitch on our line, yank our fishing pole back, and reel in nothing but a soggy, half-eaten worm who was definitely not having a good day. Those crafty fish knew just how much to nibble without getting themselves in trouble. Which goes to show that a catfish is smarter than a 9-year-old human.

Last night, after Becca went home, I had an absolutely cramazing idea for a blog post.

I didn’t write it down.

This morning, I woke up not to a bright, sparkly new idea — but to a half-eaten, soggy, grumpy worm.

Big Fish Story

No! It really was that big! I promise!

I remember things about that blog post idea. It was gonna be smart, it was gonna be snarky-funny, and it was gonna give you dear inklings some great how-to-do-something info. That unwritten, now much-lamented blog post was going to be one of my best yet. It was gonna be The One.

It got away.

So now, I’m asking myself: Was that really The One? If it were The One, wouldn’t it have stuck around? Since all I ended up with was mangled bait, does that mean the Big One is still lurking out there somewhere?

And that thought leads to the image of me, wading out into the deep and getting half a leg bitten off by something that I wouldn’t have wanted on my line in the first place.

Ideas can be scary. Some of them have sharp teeth and are big enough to swallow you whole. They wait out there where it’s dark and deep, and oh, they move fast. I picture them as deep-sea angler fish the size of a VW Beetle.

Gone Fishin’

So, if you clicked through to that angler fish picture, you’ve now seen one of my greatest fears. Angler fish fascinate me — mostly because I find the sight of them terrifying. (Imagine my surprise and relief when, a few years back, I found out they’re about the size of my hand. Or smaller. No VWs, thank goodness.)

But, in spite of my fear, I still go fishin’. No, I’ve never fished out on the ocean — but even when I’m standing on the bank of a placid Oklahoma lake, my imagination supplies the endlessly deep water and the lurking, fishy creepazoids, thank you very much. Those shiver-your-spine thoughts don’t deter me from fishing…

…but still, let’s just say I’ll never become a noodler. ; )

Gone Writin’

So, what about this write-it-or-lose-it thing? Honestly, I can’t tell ya. I carry my scribblebook with me almost everywhere, and I’m always jotting down something. Are they all viable ideas? No. I’ve stuck a few soggy worms in there. Sometimes, the simple act of writing myself a note tells me that I won’t be looking at this idea again.

But still, I write ’em down, even if they’re nothing but water-logged mush. Because if I don’t write it down, I’ll always remember that flash of fin, that brief flick of a tail, and I’ll always wonder,

Was that The One?

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And you, dear inklings? Do you keep a scribblebook? How faithful are you in recording those half-glimpsed ideas?

Or do you prefer the scribble-on-scraps technique of trapping those elusive ideas?

If you don’t capture an idea, do you choose to believe it wasn’t viable in the first place?

5 What-To-Dos When Your Novel Is Too Long

1st draft of high fantasy novel. 200,000 words = NO

 We novelists slam headfirst into this particular wall all the time: Finish first draft, sit back with sigh of contentment. Languidly reach for mouse or mousepad, click “wordcount” in the dropdown menu of whatever word processor suits our fancy.

Sit back once more. This time with the horrid sensation of paralyzing shock.

As far as we’re concerned, the story is finished. It is complete as is. Major alterations would destroy the beautiful statue we’ve worked so long to carve out of that rough-edged block of marble called Idea.

But the wordcount generator tells us the awful truth: Our manuscript is 10,000…30,000…50,000 (…100,000? *ahem*) words too long. In today’s economy and with the ever tightening belts in the publishing industry, there no way anybody’s gonna publish this behemoth until we trim the fat.

“But,” we wail, “the story is what it is! How are we supposed to trim anything when there’s nothing to trim?”

Nobody said it would be easy. Writing the story wasn’t easy; trimming it won’t be, either. But here are a few suggestions that will at least get the process started.

5 Ways To Trim Your Novel’s Wordcount

1. Change your thinking
Here are the sad, unavoidable facts of reality, my dears: First drafts are drafts. They are not the be-all, end-all of noveling. Finishing a first draft is a great accomplishment, for certain — but the work doesn’t stop there.

That lovely statue I mentioned before? It’s got rough edges that you’ve overlooked (on purpose). It’s got odd lumps in peculiar places. Its face isn’t nearly as well-defined as it could be. When you type “The End,” the story might feel finished, and it might feel perfect. I hate to break it to you, but it is neither.

When we writers finish a first draft, our story needs us to work on it some more. The sooner we wrap our minds around this fact, the sooner we can start getting that wordcount down to something manageable.

2. Get beta readers.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You gotta get you beta readers. We writers are chronically unable to view our work objectively — especially when it comes to trimming it down! Forest-For-the-Trees Syndrome strikes again.

You can’t see the forest of Necessary Trimming, because you’ve got your writerly nose shoved up against the bark of the nearest tree. And that, sadly, is where the writerly nose generally stays from start to finish. We need somebody outside to look at our story and identify excess branches and superfluous shrubbery.

Writing can be lonely work, but we can’t do it alone. That’s a paradox I’ll save for another post…but maybe you get the picture anyway.

3. Edit for simplicity.
I grew up in Germany and went to German schools. Do you know anything about the German language? Without turning this into a grammar lesson, I’ll tell you this: One of the peculiarities of German is that the verb often comes at the end of the sentence. The result of this can be (and often is) long, convoluted sentences nested within more long, convoluted sentences. By the time you get to the action verb, you’ve forgotten who was doing the action and why — so you have to go back and re-read the whole paragraph.

And that’s the main language I was taught to write it. Did I develop some tenacious sentence-nesting habits? You bet yer patootie I did.

I had to break that habit. I had to simplify. I had to break up long sentences into two or three sentences. I had to replace flowery phrasing with straightforward description. I had to choose simple action verbs over the ones that sounded high-falutin’.

Simplify. I promise, your story will thank you — and your readers will too.

4. Get rid of adverbs.
Okay, brief grammar lesson this time. And yes, I am keeping this very simple, and my explanation here is not complete. But I don’t want to put people to sleep, so the purists are gonna have to deal with the incompleteness of my instruction.

Adjectives describe nouns. Blue, hot, solid, wet, and shiny are adjectives.

Adverbs describe verbs. In point #2, I used the phrase “view objectively.” Here, “objectively” describes the how of “view.” Other examples of adverbs are: lustily, happily, worriedly, and sideways.

“I got a new bike for my birthday!” she said happily.

Okay, so she said it “happily.” What does that look like on her? Don’t tell me she said it happily; instead, tell me that her eyes are wide, her smile is huge, and her teeth glisten in the sunlight like tiny bottlecaps.

Yes! Make it a hideous description, if that’s what it takes. I’ll read anything, just get rid of that clunky, boring, milquetoast adverb!

“But wait,” you say. “Wouldn’t adding description actually increase my wordcount?”

Well, yeah. Probably. But adverbs weaken your sentences, and overusing them will make your novel unreadable. I’m picking on adverbs because they’re a bad habit and because this is my list and I can.

5. When all else fails, re-write.
This one’s kind of self-explanatory. If you’ve trimmed and trimmed and trimmed, and the novel is still too long, it might be time for a complete re-write.

Yeah, I know. I hate even thinking those words, much less typing them and putting them where people can see. But sometimes, it’s the only choice we have. Maybe the story took off in the wrong direction in Chapter 2. Maybe there’s a side character who needs to be cut. Maybe there’s a side character who’s supposed to be the main character. Maybe the climax should’ve happened five chapters before it did.

Whatever it is, a re-write might fix it — and fix it well enough that your wordcount “magically” decreases (ahhhh, adverbs) by whatever percentage you require.
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So, there are my five ideas for trimming the fat!

What do you do when your novel’s too long?

Care to challenge me on the adverb thing? Let’s talk!

My 10-Hour Adrenaline Rush (Better Than Chocolate)

(Yes, I said that!)

So. Yesterday. Photographers, model, husband, and I drove 2 1/2 hours northwest of Oklahoma City to Great Salt Plains State Park.

Our goal: shooting the cover art for my novel Colors of Deception, due out in less than 4 weeks.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeek!!!

We had adventure, rain, mud, sunshine, laughter, singing, goosebumps, oooh-aaaah moments, adrenaline, and pesto. I don’t have time to give a full report right now — and even if I had time, I’m not sure I’d have the words to convey how cramazing it is to watch a scene from my novel come to life in reality right in front of my eyes and tangible.

All I can say is that Julie and Carlos (read: photographers) got Morgan (read: model) into a pose; Julie and Carlos stepped back; and suddenly, Morgan was Holly (read: novel’s main character).

It was breathtaking.

The images I took with my little digital point-‘n’-shoot don’t do the day justice and certainly don’t compare to the Velezes’ pro photos! But still, here are a few of my shots for you to peruse. Maybe they’ll give you a little taste of the magic I was privileged to witness yesterday. Enjoy! : )

Morgan turns the Velezmobile into her dressing room

Carlos engages in primitive caveman ritual arranges rocks and a small tree for props

Getting to watch all the prep stuff was kinda fun. Carlos fought with that dumb tree — and finally ended up digging a hole and filling it with rocks to anchor the the stubborn shrubbery.

Carlos gives up the caveman stuff in favor of funky tech!

Julie starts making magic

Of course the vegetation would look dead in a demon world. ;o)

The wide open landscape of the Salt Plains is perfect for Saltmarch!

Presto Pesto! Julie made it, and it was deeeeelish.

Morgan poses for some non-book-related shots

I'm keeping the cover art shots a surprise until the book comes out...but I *can* share some images that hint at the desolation of Saltmarch.

My favorite of my Saltmarch shots. (And yes, I know there's not supposed to be any water.) ;o)

My most heartfelt thanks go out to Morgan, who was a fantastic and gorgeous model; Julie and Carlos for their professionalism and fabulous creative skills; to Ed, my husband, for his support and for schlepping trees all over Oklahoma; to Becca for scouting the Salt Plains with me; and to Aaron for getting us all together.

You are all amazing people, and I am so very blessed to have you in my life!

Watch this blog for news and information on Colors of Deception, due for release next month!

5 Reasons Why Your Novel’s Getting Nowhere

Writing a novel is hard.

Writing a novel makes your fingers hurt. It makes your head hurt. It makes your heart hurt. It puts you in a place where you have to acknowledge certain truths — about reality, about other people, and, most of all, about yourself. Writing a novel is like being an actor filmed in a low-definition movie and suddenly projected in hi-def on a screen the size of a football field.

All of your tiniest flaws are on display to the world. You can no longer hide the grime, the sweat, or the over-sized pores. You can no longer hide your heart, and you have to hope and pray that nobody laughs at it.

So when you’ve made this commitment to laying your naked soul on a sacrificial altar for the world, what really kicks you in the gut is when the novel, this lifeblood-spilling work, just refuses to go anywhere. You’ve risked all, you’ve let them film your grit and tears — and right before they show the film, somebody packs it into a container and hides it away in the bunker from the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

All that sacrifice, all that heartache. For nothing but a screeching halt to everything you hoped. Some of the thoughts that go along with this screeching halt sound like this:

Every time I sit down to work on my story, my mind goes blank.
My characters took the story in a new direction, and I don’t know what to do now.
I don’t feel like writing — the inspiration just isn’t there.
My writing feels stilted.
I’m just no good at this.

Here are a few reasons why that screeching halt happens — and a few hints on what to do about it.

5 Reasons Why Your Novel’s Getting Nowhere

1. You haven’t started writing it.
This one’s kind of a duh, right? Of course, it’s impossible to keep a novel going if you haven’t actually written any of it yet!

But that blank page — whether it’s lined or unlined paper, a notebook, or a word processor with blinking cursor — it’s awfully intimidating. It jeers and sneers at you. It knows your fear of failure. It speaks doubt into your mind and despair into your heart.

In Stephen King’s Misery, writer Paul hears a question every time he sits down to write: Pauly, can you? Every writer hears that question (most of us minus the “Pauly” part) — and too often, faced with getting started on that new story, our answer to that question is, “No. I can’t.” And so we don’t.

The solution to this problem is complex. Each of us has reasons for our fear of the blank page. Failure. Rejection. Ridicule. The belief that we don’t have the right to write. And a myriad of other mental/emotional buggaboos. Overcoming these fears can take years of dedication (and a lot more heartache). Sometimes, whether or not we overcome these fears depends on just how far we’re willing to go in knowing ourselves.

But the answer boils down to the simplest of phrases: Just write. Sit down, pull out your pen and paper, open your word processor, and just write. Write anything at all, even if it’s not your story. Engage in the simple act of getting words out of your head and into visible, tangible form. The rest might just take care of itself.

2. You don’t know where it’s going.
Ack! This plot! I had such a fantastic concept for how this book would go. But first the main character quit talking, then that supporting character just up and died, and then there was a major plot hole I didn’t know how to fill, so I changed direction somewhere around the middle, and now I’m getting to the climax and it doesn’t make any sense in the context of the beginning of the story, HELP!

*ahem*

You’ve been there, haven’t you? Please tell me I’m not the only one.

Not knowing where the story is going will kill your novel. The fix? Figure out where you want to go before you start. This means work, my friends. It means prewriting: outlines, character descriptions, synopses, and the like. You might not need all of these; you might need only one of these. You might need pre-writing in a form unique to your writing and working style. But you need to figure out your roadmap before you start the story, or you’re going to end up in a sticky rut.

If you’re already quagmired in the middle of your story, all is not lost. It’s going to take some tricky effort to extricate yourself, but you can do it! Sit back, plot it out, outline it, and take a close look at your story arc. You’ll figure out where you went wrong. And who knows? You might discover some side paths you overlooked before, and they might just lead you to something sparkly and grand.

3. You’ve forgotten the whys.
Why is he walking down the street with a machete in one hand and a lemon meringue pie in the other? Why is she standing in the middle of the market with nothing on but her hair curlers — and a smile?! What turned him into the kind of person who picks at his cuticles every time someone mentions faulty wiring?

If you don’t know why your characters do what they do, then eventually they’ll (a) do nothing the story needs them to do, or (b) do nothing at all. You must, must, must know their motivations, and you must know these motivations on an intimate level.

And once again, this means prewriting.

You need solid backstories for these people. These backstories might never make an actual appearance in your novel; your readers might never know about them. (Unless you become wildly famous and all your fans clamor to hear so much more about your characters that you have no choice but to broadcast their life stories to the world.) But you will know. You should know. Because that personal history is what makes your characters who they are today. And who your characters are should be your story’s driving force.

4. You’re not getting any feedback.
Oh, I know. You’re not writing this story for other people. You’re writing it for you — so why should you need feedback? You should be able to figure the whole thing out on your own, right?

Wrong.

We writers are blind. Every last one of us. Yes, yes, we see the world in ways that others might not, and we see things in the world that others might not. But when it comes to our own writings, we’re a bunch of blind mole rats. We fall in love with our characters, plots, and turns of phrase — and we’re incapable of seeing their collective flaws.

Fellow writers, there are a bunch of sighted people out there. They are called beta readers, and we need them like a blind mole rat needs…well, whatever it is a blind mole rat needs to get along. I’m guessing it’s more than a cane and a seeing-eye cricket.

In other news, I seem to be digressing into a really bad metaphor. The point is, we writers need objective feedback on our work. Our characters and stories deserve it. Without it, our craft will stagnate, and our stories will die. And if you’re stuck in the middle of your novel, the wisdom of an objective beta reader can get your novel started again in cramazing ways.

5. You’re waiting.
I have sad news to share with you, my friends: Inspiration doesn’t strike. Inspiration’s not an ethereal, graceful lady clad in something sheer, whispering the right words into your ear at the right moment. And inspiration doesn’t just show up out of the blue to help your novel along when you get stuck.

Inspiration, sadly, is a greasy little creepazoid twerp who’s never going to show up at work unless you show up there first. And if you expect him to do so, he’s just going to sit back in his worn-out, grimy easy chair and point at you and laugh.

Okay, so I lied. Sometimes, inspiration does strike — but you can’t count on it, and you can’t wait for it. If you’re waiting for a random hit of inspiration to get you out of your noveling rut, you’re going to be waiting for the rest of your life.

There’s just no way around it: You’ve gotta put in your butt-to-chair time. You’ve gotta make yourself sit down and write, even if every single word strains your mind and makes pulses visible in your forehead. It’s hard work, and it hurts. (Hmm, where have I heard that before?) But if you want your novel to go somewhere, butt-to-chair time is the price you have to pay.

And sometimes, the creepy inspiration dude won’t even show up then. Sometimes, you have to wrestle him into the chair beside you, hold a knife to his throat, and tell him to start talking.

The great thing is that once you’ve got him in that position, the guy usually won’t shut the heck up. And that’s when it turns glorious.

So, there we have five reasons for our noveling woes!

What other reasons have you experienced?

How did you turn the problem into a solution?

Are you still stuck? And what do you want to do about it?