reading and (w)riting, no ‘rithmetic

Last night, I wrote about my hope, my not-hope, and my forever-hope, all threaded through with the discouraging guanoshow that was 2016 A.D.

Today, I turn my mind and heart to lovelier things. When it came to reading and writing, 2016 was one of my best years ever. 🙂

On Reading in 2016

In 2016, I started reading 67 books, and I finished 64 of them. (The unfinished 3, I just couldn’t get into or enjoy, but I won’t mention them by title.) That’s 17 more books than I read in 2015, and I credit intentionality for the difference. Last year at this time, I purposed to read as many women authors as possible. At some point, my to-read list and to-read stack basically exploded. When the rumblings echoed away and the dust settled, I found a SMORGASBORD BOUNTY OF WOMEN’S VOICES, and I devoured them with vigor. YUMBLY IN MY READER TUMBLY.

This was the first time in my life I’ve read so many women in the space of a year, AND IT WAS GLORIOUS.

These voices rang fresh and clear in my mind. They reverberated with beauty and sorrow, disgust and joy. They spoke things I’d never before heard. They made me laugh and cry and think. They inspired me to write more. They inspired me to write more freely.

Reading these women, I found myself living the reality that I could write as they do, unbound by shackles.

HALLELUJAH I’M FREE

But more on my writing later. First, their writings.

Books I Read in 2016

Asterisks indicate particular favorites.

  1. The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee ***
  2. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke *
  3. Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse *
  4. Journey to America by Sonia Levitin
  5. Dark Beyond the Stars edited by David Gatewood *
  6. Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1) by Sarah J. Maas *
  7. Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood, #1) by Aliette de Bodard
  8. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor *
  9. The Giver by Lois Lowry *
  10. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab *
  11. When the Silence Ends by Jade Kerrion
  12. In the Woods by Tana French *
  13. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin **
  14. Gateway to Reality (Reality Series #1) by Becca J. Campbell
  15. Kushiel’s Chosen (Kushiel’s Legacy, #2) by Jacqueline Carey
  16. “The Father Hunt” (A Flawed Story) by Becca J. Campbell
  17. The Selection (The Selection, #1) by Kiera Cass
  18. The Likeness by Tana French *
  19. Kushiel’s Avatar (Kushiel’s Legacy, #3) by Jacqueline Carey *
  20. Open Minds (Mindjack Saga, #1) by Susan Kaye Quinn *
  21. A Wind in the Door (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #2) by Madeleine L’Engle
  22. Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) and short story “Glitches” by Marissa Meyer *
  23. The Haunting of Gillespie House by Darcy Coates
  24. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess **
  25. The Three by Sarah Lotz
  26. Blood Oranges by Caitlín R. Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney
  27. Hopeful Monsters by Hiromi Goto
  28. You by Caroline Kepnes **
  29. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  30. Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
  31. The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal
  32. Sword-Bound (The Sword-Dancer Saga, #7) by Jennifer Roberson
  33. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
  34. The Wild Road (Book 3 of Karavans) by Jennifer Roberson
  35. Timebound (The Chronos Files, #1) by Rysa Walker *
  36. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  37. The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude *
  38. Just One Damn Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Book 1) by Jodi Taylor *
  39. Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials, a short story by Annie Bellet
  40. The Paper Magician (Paper Magician Series, #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg *
  41. The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1) by Maggie Stiefvater **
  42. Tiny Bites: A Collection by Stacy Claflin
  43. Kindred by Octavia Butler *
  44. The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl *
  45. Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  46. The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
  47. Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse, #5) by Charlaine Harris
  48. Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
  49. Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson
  50. Candles Burning by Tabitha King and Michael McDowell
  51. Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
  52. The Christening Quest by Elizabeth Scarborough
  53. Ill Wind (Weather Warden, #1) by Rachel Caine *
  54. Trey of Swords by Andre Norton
  55. Uprooted by Naomi Novik **
  56. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere, 1) by Meg Elison *
  57. The Fading Dusk (Smoke and Mirrors #1) by Melissa Giorgio
  58. The Leaving by Tara Altebrando *
  59. Jinian Footseer by Sheri S. Tepper
  60. The Kraken Sea by E. Katherine Tobler
  61. Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux *
  62. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope *
  63. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness **
  64. The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts *

Recalling these stories is like thinking back on the utter joy and satisfaction surrounding delectable holiday meals. Here’s hoping for even greater tastiness in 2017.

So…what *is* in store for 2017 A.D.’s To-Read List?

Well…lemme tell ya. The other day, during our family’s roadtrip back to Oklahoma from our Florida-panhandle Christmas, I decided to head a head start on my reading list for this year. I already had a few titles and authors in mind, but I hadn’t collected them all in one place yet. Here’s the tentative reading plan so far; the only order is “ladies first” again (with a single exception):

Currently reading: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Further reading
Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl
Sarah Maas, Throne of Glass 2
Aliette de Board, Obsidian & Glass 2
Lowry’s The Giver sequel
Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows
more from Kerrion’s Double Helix series?
Tana French on nightstand (that’s not the title, it’s where I’ve stacked the book)
Jemisin, 100k Kingdoms 2
Cass, The Selection 2
Quinn, Mindjack 2
L’Engle #3
Meyer, Cinder 2
Bloggess, Furiously Happy
Carrie Ryan 3
Walker, Timebound 2
Taylor, St. Mary’s 2
Holmberg, Paper Magician 2
Stiefvater, Raven Boys 2
Sookie Stackhouse #6
Caine, Weather Warden 2
Lilith Saintcrow, Night Shift
Delilah Dawson, Three Lives of Lydia
Ellison, Road to Nowhere 2
Harkness, Discovery of Witches 2
Kepnes, Hidden Bodies
St Crow, Strange Angels 2
The Power, Naomi Alderman
Slipping, Lauren Beukes
Wake of Vultures, Lila Bowen
Fifth Season, Jemisin
Thin Air, Paver
Copper Promise, Williams
Crosstalk, Willis

Wendig: Aftermath, Invasive, Thunderbird
Nod, Adrian Barnes
Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Hendrix
NOS4A2, Joe Hill
Versailles, Yannick Hill
Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones
Paper Menagerie, Liu
Lovecraft Country, Ruff

Well, then. There’s my 2017 reading list already more than halfway sorted, and the year isn’t even a day old yet. And so it goes.

On (W)riting in 2016

Compared to previous recent years, I accomplished quite a bit in 2016. Not as much as I’d planned — I published only one book instead of two — but I ain’t kicking myself over it.

Not too much, anyway. 😉

The Elevator

elevator_cvr_lrgIn tags list at the end of this post, please to be clicking “The Elevator” for more details about this novel. For now, I’ll just say that I consider The Elevator my best published work to-date. As of this writing, it has but one Amazon review to its name, which makes me sad for it. Completely objectively and also quite biasedly, I think the book deserves more. Apparently, others’ mileage varies. Oh well. Can’t make everypony happy, and I long ago decided not even to try. 😉

But come on. It’s a space fantasy adventure with a chaotic psychopath, a cross-dimensional traveler, a vampire, a mech-woman, and two adorable smartass street urchins, all tied up in the nature of Reality at the heart of the multiverse. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

*ahem*

Don’t answer that. Unless it’s with a resounding silence in which you fork over money for my book. In that case, BRING IT ON.

I…uh, what?

elvendeadThe Elven Dead & Other Legends of the Light-Walkers

Ohhhhh, did I ever have such plans to publish this anthology in 2016!

Alas and alack, ’twas not to be.

I just ran out of oomph, y’all. In its final eleventh, 2016 managed to plaster me with that guano I mentioned before, and I didn’t cleanse myself of the disgusting sludge in time to hit “publish.” The short story collection *is* complete, minus a couple of touch-ups. I even have the cover art, thanks to fabulously talented Sam Hunt. All that’s left is to put in some butt-to-chair time to get the book out into all y’all’s greedy little reader hands.

Come on, I know you want it. 😉

Soon, my inklings. SOON.

Writerly To-Dos for 2017

What’s next? Well, that’s an excellent question, dearies. In early December 2016, I counted up the number of projects I could possibly turn to next — after taking care of the pesky pubbing details I mentioned above, of course. The count numbered 9. I repeat, NINE.

Nine project ideas with equal potential for becoming my next completed work.

People ask writers where we get our ideas. The better question is how can we NOT get ideas, so that we have space and time enough to work with the ideas we do have.

When it comes to writers’ ideas, picture a closet with all the junk just shoved in and the door slammed shut, in which each junky-seeming object represents a story or character idea. Except that the closet is actually a warehouse the size of Montana.

That’s why we never need people to tell us *their* ideas for a story *we* “should” write. Our ideas warehouse is already filled to bursting at the seams. Dude. The roof has practically exploded off. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S GOOD AND TRUE AND WRITERLY IN THIS WORLD, DON’T STUFF ANYTHING ELSE IN THERE

*ahem* But I digress.

In trying to figure out what to work on next, I enumerated and described my options to my writer friend Becca. She listened and asked pointed questions. Simply through conversing about my dilemma and sifting through the story ideas in my mind, I realized that I kept coming back with excitement to one particular idea:

the story of Taeven Ravenhair.

Taeven makes a cameo appearance in The Dying of the Light (Legends of the Light-Walkers 3) and gets a mention in Rethana’s Trial (Legends of the Light-Walkers 2). I penned the first 12k words of her tale for NaNoWriMo back in 2004 — and promptly screeched to a halt because I had no clue which word should be number 12,001. The story’s been shelved ever since.

But in 12 years, Taeven has never left me alone. She’s not naturally a patient person, but she has exerted a monumental amount of self-control, waiting her turn. So, as I shared a bit of Taeven with a fellow writer, suddenly it all turned crystal clear:

2017 is the year in which Taeven finally gets a real voice.

Of course, as soon as I decided this, I frantically typed out four pages of notes and then started writing a completely different story.

And so it goes, right? Busy, busy, busy.

This new story, currently entitled The Flight of Elfled unBlessed isn’t part of my Legends of the Light-Walkers series, but it does take place in that universe. It promises to be a novella, so I’m hoping it won’t take up too much of early 2017. But more on it later.

Taeven’s story has gathered dust under the title The Bearers of the Stones. I never really liked it, so I tried to come up with something more suitable while I was taking those four pages of notes. As of a couple of weeks ago, Taeven’s story is entitled Sister of the Black Flame — subject to change at my writerly whim. AH THE POWER MUAH-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAA

So. 2017 shall be:

  • pubbing Light-Walker shorts collection
  • first draft of Taeven’s story, hopefully final draft
  • Elfled’s story
  • getting paperbacks prepped and on sale pages for all the longer works

Plus LIFE.

And enough.

For now. 😉

my 10 novels

Since my social media vacay apparently has catapulted me into random-abundant-blogging mode, and since I have books on the brain (HA HA BUSINESS AS USUAL AMIRITE), here are the titles and statuses? stati? of my finished…um…”finished” novels.

Egad, I bet ya’ll thought that sentence would never end.

(BUT I HAVE A MILLION OF THEM OH YES YOU CANNOT HIDE OR FLEE YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED AND YOU WILL LIKE IT)

*ahem*

*eyeroll*

My Ten Novels

1. “‘S’ Is for Survival” — a practice novel

  • completed at age 15
  • YA soft sci-fi/coming-of-age
  • not related to Sue Grafton’s mystery novels
  • inspired by The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson
  • two drafts; will never see the light of day

2. Mindsnatcher — a practice novel

  • completed at age 17
  • YA sci-fi
  • two drafts; will never see the light of day

3. Tomato Electric Destroy Force 9: Writer Dearest and the Interlopers

  • a novel about one writer’s adventure through NaNoWriMo
  • 3rd or 4th draft stage
  • will see the light of Publication Day if I can firgure out how to author-pub it; it contains must-have images and would work best in color

4. Colors of Deception (Demons of Saltmarch, #1) — published by Consortium Books

5. Shadows after Midnight (Demons of Saltmarch, #2) — published by Consortium Books

6. Stains of Grace (Demons of Saltmarch, #3) — published by Consortium Books

7. Rethana’s Surrender (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #1) — published by Consortium Books

8. Rethana’s Trial (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #2) — published by Consortium Books

9. The Dying of the Light (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #3) — author-published, Faeddra Books

10. The Elevator — author-published, Faeddra Books

Big ol’ FYI. 🙂

What’s next?

Next is the Legends of the Light-Walkers short story anthology I’m working on. My goal is to pub by December 31st; preferably earlier, so I can do a Christmas special and whatnot. But I’m not pressuring myself. The holidays are stressful enough as it is, and I plan to enjoy myself in any case. So we shall see what we shall see. In the meantime, my coffee cup needs a refill. Laterz, inklings!

these are the truths

Every time I clean, I lose things. Organized chaos tells me exactly where things are.
I try not to get too philosophical about this.

Living my faith is harder for me than giving faith up.

I am more aware now of the reality of my privilegedness than I ever have been in my life.

Chocolate-flavored vodka is my jam, but I don’t put it on my bread.

I have forgotten how to blog.

Freedom means more to me than ever before, and it has not a smidgen to do with patriotism.

I am weary of holding my tongue. I wasn’t built for it. (And neither were you.)

Writing cover copy for a short story anthology is vastly different from writing cover copy for a novel. This sucks.

I have come to the conclusion that no one who cannot bear or has not borne a child should have the right to tell me when or how I should bear one.

Pinkie Pie.

I possess more materials for unbegun art projects than any one human should.

It’s okay if you end a sentence a preposition with.
I think I decided this after learning Koine Greek.

ἀγάπη is the highest, and no single English word expresses it adequately.

If I could tell my late-teens self any three things, it might be: (1) dye your hair and get a tattoo, (2) turn every moment of your life into the most glorious dance, (3) but don’t dance in front of that fireman named Michael, because he’s going to get the wrong idea and it’s gonna be really awkward later in front of your mom and his sister.

This year I have read only women authors, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Nowadays I laugh at things I used to look down my nose at.
This isn’t a bad thing.

I still love sparklies.
I don’t think that’s ever gonna change.

Yay. 🙂

15045737_10154395327853113_212867872_n

my hair is turning green and I don’t care; also, book stuff!

Once upon a time, there was a writer who bleached the face-framing portion of her hair and then dyed that portion pastel blue. pastelbluehairIt lasted a couple of weeks, then faded. And it continued fading from bluish into the bleached blonde until the blue and yellow combo looked decidedly greenish.

But it looked kind of mermaid-ish, and, in spite of the increasingly greenish tint, someone said she had a Rogue thing going on, so all was joy and frolicking, at least hair-wise.greenhair092016

YAY.

But before we can have a happily-ever-after, I must regale you with The Part Where I NEED TO PUBLISH SOMETHING.

I logged on here today to find out if my blog had imploded from loneliness, since I haven’t posted anything in 5 months. Wonder of wonders, it’s still here, languishing away all pale and tragic. After talking to the blog, consoling it that it is a pretty blog, and it is a good blog, I checked to see when I last posted about my WIP, and lo and BEEEEHOLT it’s been over a year.

Ach, du meine Güte.

So.

The WIP.

The WIP

The WIP is still The Elevator (formerly known as Elevator People). IT IS SO CLOSE TO DONE I CAN FEEL IT MELTING ON MY TONGUE Y’ALL. Just yesterday evening, I sent it over to editor extraordinaire Jessie Sanders, that she might give my final major edits a final once-over.

Once Jessie sends me back the MS, and once the talented Mr. Novak and I have finalized the cover, I’ll finally publish this novel that:

I started in November 2011
and
is probably the best book I’ve written so far.

It’s a very different story from the one I originally conceived of 5? 6? years ago. I thought the main character, Went Banning, would gain a father through the course of the story. As readers will discover, he gains A LOT more (including darker dimensions to his personality, which I certainly didn’t anticipate). The two children, Jop and Skee, informed me they are children of color and not Caucasian, thanks very much. There wasn’t going to be any time-traveling; some joker decides to build a time machine. I wanted the vampire to show up at the end of the story; he not-so-politely declined. Two characters switched gender: not gender-transitions as part of the story, but pronoun and (limited) description change throughout.

The short title got shorter.

When I penned the first chapters of Draft 1, I still thought the book would be published by Consortium Books. After the Consortium folded more than 4 years ago, I decided to shop the book to Amazon’s 47 North. But as the book progressed, it seemed less and less a fit for 47 North and more and more a fit for my self-pub catalog. So there we are.

So. My WIP The Elevator shall soon see the light of electronic day. BANGERANG. I am excited for y’all the read this one, dear inklings. I am genuinely pleased with it. I think this is the first time I have fallen so hard for characters that I felt actual pain at doing bad things to them.

But I did the bad things anyway.

nicbadman

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today so I can tell you I really love this book. I hope you do too.

And if you don’t, I DON’T WANNA HEAR IT. *grin-grin-nudge-nudge* Ha ha ha I can be an adult about this, no really I can, shut up don’t talk bad about my baby. What?

Meanwhile, in Writer Land…

In between edits and weeping and wailing and gnashing of drafts in my teeth, there has been the writing of a short novel or novella or long short story, what-hast-thou. I don’t know what these long-ish stories are called anymore. I’ll figure it out when marketing day comes. Anyway, over the course of this year I’ve written a piece that will be the longest story in my upcoming anthology of Legends of the Light-Walkers short stories. Faithful Readers will recognize some of the titles included in this collection:

“Out of the Darkness”: in which new journeyman Quylin Flint and her hapless companions get lost in a network of dragon caves. Getting chased by a dragon REALLY puts a damper on their holy quest from Shaddix Falladd, mad ruler of Jiredd Stal.

“Rethana’s Tower”: In this short prequel to Rethana’s Surrender, magic-user Rethana Chosardal finds her belltower home beset by night-time ruffians — none of whom expected a run-in with the real witch of the tower….

“Dead Reconning”: 2333 After the Return. The determined Wolf Dornsson and his beloved, Lendry Bersallir, fight their way past unstoppable enemies to reach the only safe place left in Jiredd Stal. Their adversaries? Zombie elves.

And the new titles:

“Gateway Drug”: 2016 A.D. Abby of Oklahoma City hasn’t seen her lover, Gerry, in 3 years. When he suddenly resurfaces and invites all the old gang over for drinks, she doesn’t know how to react…especially when people start dying.

“The Eater”: 2012 A.D. The woman awakens in a white room, and she can’t remember who she is. She can’t remember where she came from. She can’t remember what happened. But as her memory returns in tiniest flashes, she realizes that she’s in danger — and it’s not a danger anyone in this world is equipped to handle.
This world? Why does she think of it that way?
Is it possible she isn’t from…here? From anywhere here?
And who is that stranger who keeps appearing and muttering about how he “calculated wrong”…before he disappears into thin air?

And, last but certainly not least,

“Oubliette”: 1356 After the Return. In this long short story/short novel, heir apparent Elyria ra’Shaskalai flees her throne in Kaldoril as assassins pursue her. Together with her more-than-friend, stableboy Tam, she seeks refuge in neighboring Halaferth. But with Tam grievously wounded and Elyria’s magical powers out of control, her enemies have every opening they need for ending the young queen-to-be once and for all. To elude them and finally escape, Elyria will have to give herself over to a darkness she never could have imagined.

And voy-oh-lay, folks: That’s the collection of stories to come. And if you’re very, very lucky…or if I’m feeling very, very generous…I might even reveal to you (on this blog? in the book?) just how all these stories are connected.

Have a good week, y’all. Happy reading and happy writing. Make magic happen.

Ode to Villains: A Valentine’s Day Poem

Second post in one day. This is a new record for the last couple of years.

In case you missed it, I just posted the first installment of my Valentine’s Day poetry tweets. Those were the random ones. Below for your enjoyment, please find the ones that make a full poem (of sorts). Since Valentine’s Day partly originated in death and wickedness, an ode including some favorite villains seemed appropriate.
; )

Not to mention that any story is only as strong as its villain. So if we want to write stories with impact, ‘twould behoove us to pay close attention to these guys!

Courtney’s Ode to Villains

Roses from Red
Ultron brings circuits
Q, galaxies
Loki can work it

Lestat takes a nibble
Dexter, his slides
Sylar’s like clockwork
Hook offers rides

A Sweeney shave’s cozy
New Khan’s the best
Spike charms your…socks…off
Jareth tops all the rest

Lucifer, charming?
Never a doubt
Deadpool brings on the laughs
–Roguish lout

Hell-royal with Crowley?
Hades has flair
Gaston’s got the chin
Lucius, the hair

All of the villains
In our good graces
Might vanish us dead
Without any traces

😉

#HappyValentinesDay

billopus

valentine nuttiness

Happy Valentine’s Day, inklings.

I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek. The husband and I do cards and sort-of flowers: He brings them home, gives them to me, and then they live in the bathroom behind closed doors because Pippin thinks they’re her salad. Some years we go out on a Valentine’s date, but it doesn’t always work out. Especially since there’s now a kiddo involved. 😉

Me, I can’t quite get past the origins of Valentine’s Day, which have nothing to do with romance and everything to do with death. Even so, I still like to have fun with it. So, in the spirit of that, here are some of my poetic Valentine’s Day tweets from this morning. Just goofy stuff, but I hope they give you a chuckle. Some feature favorite movie and TV characters!

Courtney’s Twitter-Ode to Romance

Roses are red
Violets aren’t blue
I think you’re cute
Here, have a gnu

Roses are red
Cat noses pink
Cats don’t care about
Valentines, I think

Roses in bed
Breakfast in vases
Makes for the very
Oddest of cases

Roses blood-red
Spiders can bite
Here’s to delicious
Halloween frights

Wait, what?

Noses are red
Fingers are cold
This winter weather
Is getting so old

Except here in Oklahoma, where we’re having spring temps

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Just like your fingers
I chopped up for stew

Roses are red
Star Wars is cool
Scrappy young Rey
Ain’t nobody’s fool

Roses are red
Star Trek is neat
Riker likes Troi
So he turns on the heat

Roses are red
Thor wants “ANOTHER!”
Gets dirty looks
From Loki, his brother

Except SPOILER ALERT Loki is actually a frost giant

Roses are red
Dean loves him some pie
Winchesters go hunting
And monsters will die

[Dean randomly dies in the shower again]

Roses are red
USA has no luck
#Election2016
Already sucks

Roses are red
#amwriting is fun
But I need time away
Out in the sun

preferably in Maui

Roses are red
My final decision:
Netflix has ruined me
For normal television

TAH-DAH. 😉

If you enjoyed that and want more, I got really into the characters part of it all and wrote a Valentine Ode to Villains. Since Valentine’s Day has upon it the stain of death and evil and whatnot. 😉

#NaNoWriMo When You Have No Freaking Clue What Happens Next

Hile, wordslingers!

With neither ado nor adon’t, Ima splat you right in the face with a lemon meringue writing advice pie. It’s November, and that means NaNoWriMo, and though I ain’t perticipatin’, I know there’re plenty of you crazy kids out there who might need a little scribbling inspiration as the end of Week One approacheth. So here y’all go:

This Hoopla We Call Writing

Writers are people with ideas. Or so the story goes. Most of us, when we sit down to start writing, don’t seem to have much trouble finding something to write about–after all, if we didn’t have the idea, we wouldn’t have sat down to write in the first place. (This might be what’s called circular logic, but I’m gonna go with it anyway.) (Also, this might not apply to the dreaded monster known as Undergraduate Thesis Paper; but in this case, if the list of ideas grows short, there’s always coffee and foolhardiness.)

Hitting The Wall

But I digress. (Shocking, innit?) We writers are people with ideas…except when we’re not. The initial sit-down-and-start-scribbling-like-mad ideas are not a problem. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve got that covered. But what happens after the first bout of hectic, joyous franticness fizzles out?

Oh yes, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t you dare shy away. Make eye contact with me, kiddos! We’ve all been there: You’re slashing away with your pen at that bountiful pad of lined, yellow paper. You’re hammering away at those keys as if they’re tiny square culprits who drank the last of the milk and stuck the empty carton back in the fridge. Things are flowing, story’s moving, characters are sparkling–and BOOM. Dead end. You smash face-first into a wall, and you’re pummeled by that most horrid of questions: What happens next??? You don’t have a clue, because you. Are out. Of ideas.

Part of the solution to your difficulty is that most horrid of pre-writing exercises, The Outline. But that’s another story and shall be told another time. What we’re concerned with today is ideas, and we’re going to turn to a seasoned pro for advice on where to get them.

Elmore Leonard Gets Ideas…

In “Making It Up as I Go Along” (AARP Magazine [don’t ask], July/August 2009), Elmore Leonard describes some of the ways in which he generates ideas for his stories. Considering his novel-pub cred (Get Shorty, Three-Ten to Yuma, Out of Sight, and Rum Punch, among many others), I figure the man probably knows what he’s talking about. So take a look at some of these and see if any of them resonate with you:

…From Photos

Leonard describes how the main character of his novel Out of Sight started life as a photograph of a woman deputy marshal holding a pump-action shotgun.

eleonardAs some of you, my darling readers, already know, I am a very visual person. I can see myself picking up a magazine like National Geographic, thumbing through to an article about some 19th-century adventurer, and feasting my eyes and my creative brain on the sepia-fuzzy image of a hood-eyed man in a weather-beaten hat. Maybe he’s wearing a heel-length overcoat and carrying a pack. BOOM again–but in a good way, this time. Suddenly, I have a character named Mac Finchley, and he just stepped out of the magazine pages and into my dead-end chapter–to do what? Shoot my main character in the leg? Build a fire and cook supper? Juggle spoons? Release two badgers and a wombat? The possibilities are endless, which means the ideas start piling up and the story can roll on, dude.

…From Other Writers

When Leonard needs spare style, he reads Ernest Hemingway every day. When he wants to flavor his prose with humor, he picks up Richard Bissell.

Me, I turn to Stephen King when I have trouble with characterization, and to Tad Williams when I need a refresher on world-building. In my opinion, though, it’s best to use caution when reading other writers specifically for help with your own writing. Especially when you’re reading one of your favorites, it’s easy to adopt that person’s style instead of developing your own. It’s natural to imitate what you love. But if you focus on finding your own voice and remain aware of your literary surroundings, you should be able to glean what you need from other writers without transplanting their entire crop into your own creative field.

…From History

Moonshine and the library gave Leonard the seeds for his novel The Moonshine War.eleonard2 Speaking of war and not-so-shining historical moments, I have long thought that the epic battles described in the Bible’s Old Testament provide great framework for battle descriptions in fantasy stories. And in ancient Roman tradition, a slave whispered “you are only a man” to the great leader as he made his triumphal entry into the city; in my novel Rethana’s Trial, I turned this bit of real-world history into a character’s final test of manhood. Humanity’s past abounds with facts and people and scenes that will spark a fire of what-happens-next in your mind. Grab a history book, open it to a random page, and let what you read be the next challenge your characters face. How does the real-world snippet “translate” to the world of your story? How will your characters handle it? Let them tell you.

…From Real People

Leonard based a fictional judge on a real-life friend in the judicial system.

For my novel Shadows after Midnight, I needed someone to get my main character into a heavy metal concert without a ticket. On the day I wrote that scene, I happened to be texting with my friend Bryan, who listens to the kind of music my MC was hearing. Jokingly, I asked Bryan if I could put him in my book. He said sure–and suddenly, my MC had the knowledgeable insider he needed, complete with a T-shirt bearing the name of Bryan’s favorite heavy metal band. Later on, it turned out that Bryan had information my MC was desperate to get, which moved the MC and other characters halfway across the country.

So look around at your friends and family and see who possesses the traits your characters might need to move your story forward. You know these people–their habits, hang-ups, foibles, and faces. Once you start pondering, I promise you’ll find you know exactly who is going to help your characters take over the world. Of course, you should always ask permission before you assign a real person the role of Evil Overlord, lest you acquire too-intimate experience with a lawsuit for defamation of character.

______

So there you have it, sweetlings. A few ways to generate ideas that will poke, nudge, prod, or blast your story forward when you’re stuck. But plenty of other options exist, and I don’t doubt you’ve thought of some while reading this post. The mental block of what-happens-next can seem as intimidating as a 2001 monkey-hysteria space-monolith. But it need not lay you low. Use some of Leonard’s methods to generate some ideas, or follow some of the methods that have worked for you in the past. (Share them in the comments! We all need ’em!) You’ll be skipping gaily around that monolith in no time. Or at least hacking dementedly away at it with a hammer and chisel.

To wrap up, a few particularly enjoyable and helpful quotes from Leonard:

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

“Dialogue, in fact, is the element that keeps the story moving. Characters are judged as they appear. Anyone who can’t hold up his or her end of the conversation is liable to be shelved, or maybe shot.” (I, Courtney, heart this one with gusto.)

“A photo of a woman marshal with a shotgun, and a prison break, gave me what I needed to write a love story.”

“After 58 years you’d think writing would get easier. It doesn’t. If you’re lucky, you become harder to please. That’s all right, it’s still a pleasure.”

May we all be able to say that after 58 years. 🙂

i write because mirrors have voices

Hile, inkslingers, ne’er-do-wells, and sundry,

I’ve been neglecting the blog again of late. But I have good reason. A depression low-point struck, and I’ve been self-medicating with Netflix. Also, I was sick with another of my lovely sinus infections, so it’s taken me a bit to bounce back from that.

But I’m trying to get back to bouncy-trouncy-flouncy-pouncy-fun-fun-fun-fun-fun, hence my choice not to indulge in ST:Voyager tonight but wet my writing whistle, instead. (Ooh la la.)

“Here, drink this,” he says.

Last month, Herr Chuck the Wendigo (as I like to call him [read: I just made that up]) issued one of his weekly writing challenges: 1,000 words on why we write. Since I tend to drink up whatever the Wendigo hands me (and yes, this maybe should frighten all of us), I am taking that challenge and frolicking with it.

(Ooh la la.)

Why I Write

I write because mirrors have voices.

You can walk past a mirror and not even notice it. From the corner of your eye, you might catch a glimpse of movement, but it’s not enough to give you pause. You keep going, focused on wherever you need to be, whatever you want to do, whomever you intend to see. The mirror stays behind, hanging forgotten on the wall or sitting blind-once-more on the shelf or waiting silently in the windowframe.

(Windows and eyes can be mirrors, and we sometimes forget this to our peril. But that is another story and shall be told another time.)

You can walk past a mirror and barely register your own reflection.

But I write because mirrors have voices.

I walk past a mirror, and it screams at me.

LOOK.

Stop, writer, and LOOK.

See yourself. Stare into your own soul, and pull something out of there that you would prefer not to see. Turn that thing over in your hands. Feel it. Touch it the way you’ve never touched anything else. Dig your fingertips into it and feel the pain…

…because, oh yes, you might pull that thing out of yourself, but it remains connected to you as though by vital umbilical cord. That thing in your soul sends and receives, and so do you. You press that thing between your palms, and you set off an agonizing resonance. The thing in your soul that you don’t want to see, that thing is pain. But your job is to fiddle with it and poke it and prod it and see what makes it squeal.

You don’t want others to see that thing, either.

But your job is to show them, writer.

Take that resonating pain and make them feel it, too.

They might not perceive it as pain, but it’s still your job to show it to them.

That’s the only way you’ll ever write something real.

That’s the only way you will ever be real.

I write because mirrors have voices, and they tell me to pull out the parts of my soul I would rather keep hidden and bare them to the world.

Everything I write is, in some way, a reflection of myself.

Every character I write carries around a little part of me. (This maybe should frighten all of us.)

(Sometimes the voices of the mirrors sound suspiciously like the voices of my characters.)

I write because mirrors have voices, and they tell me to dig deep and unearth what makes me real and use it to craft something real for someone else.

I write because mirrors have voices, and they insist that I Make Things.

* * *

When I ignore the mirrors…when I walk past them and stare anywhere else and refuse the glimpse of my reflected movement…bad things happen.

That thing in my soul? It turns surly when I ignore the mirrors. If I’m not writing, that thing in my soul goes dark and sucks in light. It sucks away joy and interest in life. It saps motivation. It leaches me of any desire to interact with other people.

When I ignore the voices of the mirrors, what happens to me looks an awful lot like depression.

* * *

During the times in my adult life when I wasn’t writing, I didn’t like myself very much.

* * *

I write to soothe the thing in my soul.

I write to Make Something Real in fiction, in the hope of touching people I would never be able to touch otherwise.

I write to like myself.

I write to be who and what I am created to be.

I write to quiet the characters who demand I tell their stories.

I write because mirrors have voices.

 

iheartwords

________________

Why do *you* write?

Dare to write the darkness. Also: ain’t no such thang as writer’s block.

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

–Erica Jong

Once upon a time, I got stuck and needed rescuing, and the above quote pulled me up out of the sucking quagmire.

*squelches*

Now, my darlingest readers, in order to help you understand just what happened, I must take you back in time to a place fraught with danger and derring-do, abysses and adventures. ‘Twas a place both frightening and fabulous, and feckless wanderers found themselves fettered in both frying pans and fires.

Yes. Yes, you guess correctly, my ingenious inklings.

It was The Climax of a First Draft.

The climax of Elevator People, Draft 1, to be exact, and I had a sad. The whirlwind of writing-insanity was drawing to a close. I’d overcome the heady challenge of Beginning, Middle, and Near-End. I yearned for the Twitter cameraderie of wordsprints and communal writing procrastination. I’d dropped like a stone from my keyboard-pounding mountain peak and found myself wallowing in the Valley of Deep Post-Climactic Sorrow.

That happens sometimes. I get past the story’s climax and lose interest. I’ve written the denouement so many times in my head, it’s a chore to type it all out where other people can actually read it. I mourn the time when the story was fresh and exciting and the blank page, while intimidating, sparkles with the beauty of unmarred potential. I get sad and go off rummaging around for sparkly new things.

But the only thing that lifts me aloft again is writing itself.

So, finally, I shed my mourning veil and stripped off my black mourning bands. I delved into Elevator People once again, and with the most enthusiasm I’d felt for the story since Chapter 5. I was typing merrily along when suddenly! Out of Nowhere! There Came a Great Ginormous Wall of Writer’s Block! Zounds and Oy Vey!

I struck and was stuck. For, dismayingly enough, that Great Ginormous Wall was composed of Dark Stuff I Didn’t Wanna Write.

Lest you misunderstand me, dear inklings, let me assure you that I don’t usually balk at writing the Dark Stuff. When I was 15 and completing my first novel, I killed off about 40% of humanity at the beginning of the story. A teenage psychopath attacked the protagonists halfway through, and the climax involved the main character’s boyfriend getting shot and bleeding out with his head in her lap. (Muy tragic, n’est-ce pas?) That’s fairly gritty for a 15-year-old, conservative Christian kid. “Dark” can be relative, that much is certain.

Writing darkness in light

Writing darkness in light

So. I’m not afraid of the Dark. But on that blockety-blocked writing afternoon, I got to a point in the story where I knew the Dark Stuff was coming. I looked at my computer screen, watched the cursor blink at me a few times, and said aloud, “I don’t want to write this.” I closed the file and walked away.

(Figuratively speaking. In reality, I probably just popped over to Facebook and switched my brain off.)

A day or so passed, and I didn’t go back to my story. Why? I simply didn’t want to. That’s all there was to it.

But then a new day dawned, and it brought Twitter, and with Twitter the quote I’m going to make you read again, because I’m feeling all vignettey right now:

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

–Erica Jong

Sometimes, synchronicity just reaches out from whatever dimension it lives in and slaps you right upside the noggin.

“Okay, fine,” thought I. Story 1, Courtney 0. Whoopee, that’s what I get for not doing my job. So instead of staring up at the Great Ginormous Wall of Dark Stuff I Don’t Wanna Write and slumping into dejected discouragement, I girded up my loins (yikes!), pulled out my trusty sledgehammer, and pounded my way through that wall until rubble surrounded me and a thick haze of dust lay upon the air.

I followed the talent to the dark place where it led, and I wrote the Dark Stuff because that was where the story needed to go.

I have come to believe this as truth: There is no such thing as “writer’s block.”

Let me repeat:

There is no such thing as “writer’s block.”

There is I’m Not Focused Block.
There is I Don’t Care Enough Block.
There is I’m Not Giving Myself Permission Block.
There is I Am Plain Too Lazy Block (this one gets me, too).*

And there is I Don’t Wanna Write The Dark Stuff Block.

But sometimes, you just gotta suck it up, gird your loins, put on your Big Girl Panties, and DEAL WITH IT.

Don’t shy away.
Hold your head high, grit your teeth, buckle down, and rubber-cement your buttocks to the chair.
ART HARD, GORGEOUS.
Art hard through the Dark Stuff.
Write the thing.

Not every story will need to go to that Dark Place. But some of them will. (I’d venture to say most of them will. Truth, even beautiful truth, is a scary, vulnerable place.) And when your story goes there, writer, don’t hide. Acknowledge your fear, but don’t be skittish. Don’t quit. Do as I say, not as I do: don’t let it make you quit for even a day! It’s too easy to let one day turn into two, then four, then twenty. That Great Ginormous Wall of Stuck (read: FEAR) gets higher the longer you let it stand.

Every time you give in to fear, that Great Ginormous Wall gets thicker.

Write the Dark Stuff.
Let it flow.
Let it be what it needs to be.

Your story will benefit–and you’ll be stronger for it.

*There are other forms of so-called “writer’s block,” but they are another story and shall be told another time.

Movies, books, and hobbits

Hile, my beloved inklings. I hope this finds you in fine fettle and pie.

This is yet another post that has gestated long in my Drafts folder. Its conception occurred when I watched the first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and then read John Scalzi’s review of the same. Since that all happened a few minutes ago, I won’t go into review mode concerning that movie specifically. Instead, here are a few thoughts about Jackson’s Hobbit films, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and, in brief, my position on books vs. movie versions.

Jackson’s Hobbit Movies

I love them. Unabashedly. Radagast is ridiculous and drives me a little batty (bird poop? really?). I wanted the Beorn scene to go more like the book (dwarves arriving two and three at a time). I might be forgetting my appendices and Silmarillion, but I’m not entirely sure what Galadriel and Legolas are doing in this trilogy. The Tauriel-Kili romance seems gratuitous and far-fetched.

But Radagast isn’t there for me. He’s there to make the kids laugh. The Beorn scene as Jackson filmed it makes far more sense in the movie than would Tolkien’s far, far slower (dragging?) approach. Galadriel makes a great addition for showing us the grave, behind-the-scenes power struggle of Good vs. Evil (as opposed to the more light-hearted material we get from Bilbo and the dwarves). Legolas…well, what would a Middle-Earth movie be without our resident surfing elf, he of the subtly snarky facial expressions?

And I adore Tauriel. She’s a hero, she’s vulnerable, she’s conflicted, desperate, determined, passionate, soft, and unyielding. She’s a female character with power and influence over the course of the story, which is something Tolkien missed the boat on. Another good reason for including Galadriel as well. Two female characters with agency aren’t nearly enough, but they’re better than none.

Side note: Seeing Galadriel’s story brought to the big screen would be FABULOUS. BRING IT, JACKSON.

So, although I admit that Jackson’s movies do have their issues — both internally and from a Tolkien-canon standpoint — I still enjoy the heck out of them. Besides, Martin Freeman is the utterly perfect Bilbo, Richard Armitage is brilliant, and Benedict Cumberbatch is exactly the Smaug I’ve always pictured. It just doesn’t get any better.

Side Note II: Jackson’s trilogy is so superior to the 1977 Hobbit, it’s barely worth mentioning, but for one element. The 1977 version of Gollum terrified me at age 9 to the point that I refused to watch the movie again until I was 16. And since then, that 1977 Gollum has remained the creepiest version of the character that I’ve ever seen. I adore Andy Serkis’s performance, but that animated Gollum from 38 years ago will always be my monster in the closet.

Tolkien’s The Hobbit

I didn’t read the book — or any of Tolkien’s works, for that matter — until I was in my mid-teens. Likely, this “delay” came about partially because I was scared of Gollum and didn’t want him in my head any more than necessary. But part of the reason was that I picked the book up at age 12, found the style of writing dull, and put it down again after reading the first page. Looking back, I find this peculiar, as I maintained an advanced reading level throughout my childhood. Why I didn’t “get” Tolkien back then is a mystery to me. When I picked up LotR a couple of years later, I enjoyed it thoroughly. So I don’t know what my deal was with Hobbit.

In my mid-teens, I came across the book at a German bookstore. I wasn’t interested in reading it in German. I wasn’t interested in reading it at all. But I did wonder why the Germans shelved this book in the children’s section. I’d been a child and tried to read it without success. Silly Germans. Imagine my surprise when I followed where curiosity led and discovered that American and British publishers considered this a children’s book, as well! Stuff and nonsense!

So, at age 17? 18? I read The Hobbit, loved it, and admitted that maybe this did qualify as a children’s book. Maybe my 12-year-old self wasn’t as highbrow a reader as she’d considered herself to be.

Books vs. Movies

There is no “books vs. movies.”

It’s apples and oranges. No. Not even that, because film and print are more different from each other than that. If we’re gonna stick with food metaphors: Books are meat and potatoes, and movies are lasagna.

I heartily enjoy meat and potatoes.
I heartily enjoy lasagna.

I can’t like one more than the other. I enjoy each at different times and for different reasons.

Both are food, but their forms are different. They require vastly different ingredients. They require different seasonings and cooking times and cookware and serving dishes. They belong to different cultures. One person will always like lasagna best. Another person will always prefer meat & potatoes. (What’s taters, precious, eh? What’s taters? >>PO-TAY-TOES.) Comparing one dish favorably over the other means stating that one person’s tastebuds and brain are superior to another’s, and that just ain’t gonna fly.

I can’t sit down to a meal of lasagna and complain that there aren’t french fries in it. Well, I can complain — but everyone will peg me as a lunatic or a bumpkin. “Don’t take Courtney out to dinner — she’ll gripe that there isn’t any sushi in the center of her cordon bleu.” I can’t order meat & potatoes and then demand to know what happened to my sausage & ricotta. It doesn’t make any sense to expect the ingredients of one dish to be mixed into another dish.

In the same way, I’ve decided it doesn’t make any sense for me to compare books and movies. Characters that work great onscreen aren’t going to function the same way on paper. Pacing that is comfortable and familiar and readable in a book is going to be deadly dull in a film. Events a writer has time to portray in a 600-page novel just can’t take place in a 140-minute movie.

The recipe for a book won’t translate directly to film. Just as directly translating German to English can result in ridiculousness, so can directly translating a book to a movie. The 1977 Hobbit pretty much tried this, and the result was a cute but not fantastic movie. Watchmen suffered translation problems. (I will say it has more issues than that, though.) From what I’ve heard, The Great Gatsby did, too; I can’t judge because I hated the book and haven’t seen the movie. But I’m sure any one of you can think of great examples where a book-to-film movie flopped because it contained too many book ingredients and not enough movie ingredients.

So I don’t compare books and their movie versions anymore. If it’s a good book, great. If it’s a good movie, great. I take each for what it is and don’t expect the same from either. It makes my mental life easier and allows me to enjoy more of the entertainment available to me. I can’t complain about that.