* * *
We are brought to a warehouse when we are ready to begin our new not-lives. We stand in a factory line, naked and shuffling. Our heads are shaved, our bodies altered by hormone injections to become sexless. The only signs of who we used to be are our disfiguring scars.
Around us women gossip, their voices like clucking hens as they measure and tick off our numbers on wooden clipboards. They throw grey sets of clothing at us and hand us slips of papers. No one in the line speaks. We do not make a break for it. Ahead of me, a man reaches down to touch the still-swollen flesh where his genitals used to be. A thin moan escapes him. I stare at the back of his head and try to be anywhere but here.
I feel a phantom breast pain, and am reminded of Rose and the heavy weight of her pressed against them when she was still breastfeeding. My eyes start to burn.
The women don’t look us in the eyes.
-excerpt from “The Testimony of Anna Spey”, my current work in progress.
I love NaNoWriMo, don’t get me wrong. I’m currently powering through it, and enjoying it as I go. However, I differ in one crucial way. I edit as I go. The mass majority of people who do NaNo will tell you without a doubt that you should never, ever, ever edit as you go. It is taboo. I go completely against that. I am a rebel. Or, if you prefer to see it that way, an idiot. I edit like there is no tomorrow.
There are a lot of reasons I choose to do that. Editing as I go, going back over my work to tweak is something that I find crucial to my writing process. Often when I’m stumbling over my words, going back to clean up my writing lets me get my thoughts in order. By going back, I am able to look ahead and start pulling the novel together. Sometimes when you’re sewing, things can be wonky. Only by going back and redoing the last stitch can you make sure that you can keep going.
NaNoWriMo is allllll about the word count, and even when focusing on my word count, I go back. Often I add in entire chapters or scenes when I edit. I increase my sentences, work on my description or dialogue. Going back once again lets me move forward. I don’t focus on grammar or spelling. I’ll be the first to admit that that would take me FOREVER. I focus on story development. I don’t edit during scheduled writing times, but when I’m on the bus or in class? I power through that stuff like there’s no tomorrow.
Editing might not be for you. If it’s not, awesome. I’m just saying I find it incredibly helpful for me to edit. I like to be deliberate in my words, and editing can help me find the right words that I need to say, or need to add in. If your way is to just write, awesome. If you want to edit, awesome. The whole point of NaNo is not just to write the next great novel. It’s getting things done. It’s a motivator to sit down and write. There are no prizes or accolades. It is a community of people sitting down and doing something that they want to do. It is people sitting down and setting time aside and working. There are no recriminations if you don’t finish, or you run out of ideas. I feel like there is a stigma against people who don’t finish, or do things a different way. We are cheering each other on. We are being motivated, and whatever motivates you to write, go to it.
Happy Writing Y’all!
A blog article arguing for a hybrid model that allows for authors to walk both the traditional and self publishing routes.
I’m currently trying to get traditionally published while working with the self published Tempered by Fire. In honour of my first rejection slip, I give you this article.
Prompt: Giving in vs. giving up.
Ryan stood up.
I stared at Maggie. “You started this.”
Ryan started slowly. “There comes a time in all our lives when giving in seems a valid option. The right option. But that, that my friends is giving up. We cannot allow this.”
“They’re really quite different,” Maggie started to try and make amends.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “Oh no. You’ve gotten him going.”
“But the point of the fact is that giving in to Montezuma’s demands is giving up, and we as a steadfast group of –“
I pointed at him, my eyes boring into Maggie. “You did this. It won’t end. It won’t ever end.”
Antony quickly plugged his ears. Ryan continued to drone on.
I stared unblinkingly into Maggie’s soul. She began to tremble.
“….a noble quest….”
C2EB began to whine.
“Never give in….”
Tony strode over and slapped Ryan across the back of the head. Ryan promptly shut up, settling into a sulk.
“Thank goodness,” Tony said. “He was about to kill me with all the hope and inspiration.” We fell into an uneasy silence.
“Giving in to his demands is not giving up,” Maggie said after a moment. “I have a plan.”
Prompt: Feeling inadequate over something seemingly trivial. (Not going to be used, but fun!)
I slowly lowered my head so that it rested in my hand. “Let me get this straight. You feel inadequate because of Tony.”
“Well, yes,” Ryan said. “I can’t help it.”
“You’re telling me that a dark prince of the UnSeelie Court who can fly, is an expert swordsman, and can burst into a pillar of flame whenever he so chooses, is jealous of a dog-man.”
“Fox,” Antony said, tongue sticking out between his sharp, white teeth.
“Shut up, or it’s the muzzle for you,” I warned. I looked at Ryan. “Why?”
“His fur is redder than mine.”
“Your Characters are Stuck on A Bus”
We were stuck. Traffic was idling along. We’d moved about twenty feet in the past five minutes. The others were growing impatient.
“What a lovely country this is,”Antony said mildly.
“Yes. Quite,” Maggie said darkly. “There’s nothing like being on an urgent mission and being stuck on public transport.”
“But we’re inGreece!” I reminded her cheerfully. “That has to count for something. Just think of it like the driver is showing us the sights.”
“If the driver was pulling the bus.”
I turned away from her. Ryan shot me a quick smile and squeezed my hand. “I think that man across from us is part gargoyle,” he said conspiratorially.
The gargoyle in question glowered at him.
I sighed. “What have I said about using your social filter?” Honestly. I’m surrounded by idiots.
Most writers dream of becoming successful writers. While there are multiple and interpersonal definitions of successful, for the sake of this post I’m going to define successful writing as writing as a career - meaning that you are able to make your living, or most of your living, off of your writing. Why wouldn’t we want to? Many of us are extremely talented. However, while our imaginations are endless, the issue with publishing is that our choices are limited. I understand that not everyone wants to write commercial fiction. If you do, good for you. If you don’t, good for you. While some of us want to write something that is undefinable, crosses multiple genre boundaries and be completely different from everything else on the market, writing with those qualities is sometimes very hard to sell. It’s a brutal truth, but a truth.
1. Pick a Genre or Sub-genre
The one issue I have found with other people showing me their writing is that, while their writing might be beautiful and unique, it does not fall into a specific genre or subgenre and would therefore make it hard to sell. One of the things I see on editor/publisher blogs is them lamenting the fact that many of their submissions don’t follow their guidelines, specifically that of genres and conventions. While your writing may be fantastic, it also needs to be explained and appeal to a certain audiences, and when it is in that specified genre, it needs to have certain writing conventions that make it appeal to the audience.
Established genres are popular for a reason. Not only do they appeal because they are familiar, but because the elements in them are ones that people enjoy. This differs for every single genre - each one has elements that are directed at a certain audience. And this audience is made up of your possible readers. While it’s alright to cross a few boundaries (Romantic Comedy/Sci-Fi Thriller/Fantasy Mystery), it does not strengthen your market when you cross all those boundaries in order to expand your audience. First off, it’ll be hard to market. The definitions that make up a genre and the conventions that follow them are ones that are key to marketing. Narrowing your view will help you appeal to a specific market. Try writing a marketing plan revolving around a sci-fi thriller (The book can have aspects of romance/drama/comedy, but it primarily that). Now try writing it for a baseball themed space bonanza with two hilarious protagonists in love via political commentary, with all of those trying to struggle to be in front. It’s a little harder. What bookshelf is a seller going to put it on?
2. Once You’ve Decided on Your Particular Genre, What are It’s Conventions?
Wikipedia tells us that “A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms or criteria, often taking the form of a custom.” Writing is filled with these conventions, and they are constantly changing. Genre is filled to the brim with conventions. GENRE IS BASED AROUND THESE CONVENTIONS PEOPLE. THEY’RE KIND OF IMPORTANT. Conventions helps dictate what goes into a story or a book. Yup, these are even more limiting, Popular fiction and commercial fiction, while evolving, is filled with conventions. These conventions are what makes these books popular. Sometimes these conventions suck, and we, as writers, have to suck it up.
For example, my novel TEMPERED BY FIRE is a young adult novel (no, this is not a shameless plug. It’s a good example. And a shameless plug. But not really.). Its sub-genres are urban fantasy and comedy. Right off the bat, I have set guidelines for my content. It’s YA, fantasy, and comedy. Comedy is pretty broad, and essentially just means that I have to be funny. But when I look at other extremely popular YA novels write now, you can immediately see that conventions that make it popular and lumps all the books in together. Here are a few conventions in popular YA.
Do any of these seem familiar? It’s because they are conventions that are currently extremely popular in YA fiction. If you are hoping to have an book in this current market that flies of the shelves, you better have some/all of those elements present.
BUT THAT’S UNFAIR HANNAH. THAT LIMITS MY GENIUS. IT’S GOING TO BE THE SAME THING AS EVERYTHING ELSE, AND THAT’S WHAT WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE DOING. I SHOULD SELL BOOKS ANYWAYS.
You totally should. I totally believe that sometimes these conventions are total balls. But the problem is, they sell books. So how do you make this different?
3. Follow those Conventions, but Stab Them in The Eyes with a Butter Knife.
You can work around these. The goal is to make your book similar enough to sell, but different enough that it provides a breath of fresh air and stands out from the crowd. Conventions are easy to manipulate in any genre. You can add in the new while still following those set formulas.
For example, genre conventions in Tempered by Fire (I’m not saying my book is awesome. I’m really not. I have mixed feelings about it. I’m just showing how when I was fed up with YA conventions, I twisted them to my own benefit).
The Trio - I have the standard trio. However, my characters aren’t mature adults or in love with each other. One of them is strictly a friend, with none of this open-ended possible relationships. One of them is cynical and prone to tantrums, one is like, the sweetest thing ever, and the third is just, well, a five year old boy in a seventeen year old body. Characters that follow conventions but are still different are important to creating a work of commercial fiction that stands out.
Mythical Beings - There are traditional Irish fairies, dragons, magical beasts, sabre-toothed monsters, etc, so it fits in perfectly.
Angsty Romance - There is angsty romance, but the romances in the book flawed. No love is truly perfect. It’s stormy, imperfect, and sometimes denied, but it is love nonetheless.
The Girl is Special - And sarcastic. My God, is she sarcastic. And cynical and silly and like that one friend you have that can always make you shoot milk out of your nose and say “you’re so weird.” Like most YA heroines, she doesn’t really want the Sight, but she just sighs and gets on with it.
What I used to make my book different is I took all of these genre conventions and stuck them into a COMEDY. There aren’t really a lot of YA comedy fantasies out there. (Shout out to Terry Pratchett!). While this has yet to be seen if it’ll ever hit bookstore or whether or not it will ever be successful, this manipulation of genre conventions has proven to be successful in the past. Just look at books such as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Tolkein, etc.
Knowing where your book stands in relation to everything else on the market and knowing what makes it different and what makes it stands out is incredibly important. Whether you’re going the traditional route or plan to self-publish, being able to lump your books in with others and know why your book is special is crucial to marketing and target audiences. You are writing for your audience. You are writing for you readers. You are writing for a living. Keeping these things in mind is very important for commercial literature.
Now go kick some ass.
(Enter Usual Disclaimer about just blundering through life, this is my opinion, etc. etc, we’re all different and have different opinions, this is just mine.)
‘Take a character you’re working on and have them fight a monster. What kind of monster is it? How do they win?
My beloved Morgan sent me this as a prompt to help me get in the mood for continuing to write the sequel of my novel TEMPERED BY FIRE. Here’s a new character. Does it count if he’s the monster? And tumblr formatted it weird. Huh.
TRIAL BY FIRE PROMPT
The box began to wriggle. We stared at it.
“I’ll open it!” Ryan said eagerly.
Maggie stared at him, and then at me. “We receive a strange box from a group of moody mythological beings, and he’s excited to open it? Does he even have an off button?”
“He does, but it’s on the back of his head and you have to trigger it with a baseball bat.” Even then, you’d have to hit really hard. Believe me, I’d tried.
Ryan ignored me, and went to open the box. He went still.
“We have an issue,” Ryan said, turning around to face us.
“I already regret having to ask for clarification,” I muttered. My life was just one strange issue following another. “Please tell me it isn’t a severed head. I can’t handle a severed head right now.”
He quietly reached into the box, and with disdain picked up whatever it is, before turning dramatically around and shoving it in my face. I screamed.
The puppy licked my nose, and both my cheeks.
“They gave us a three headed puppy,” Ryan said flatly.
Two of the heads cocked their ears, and the third one choked on something before it grinned at me. My heart melted. He was just as gross as I was.
Ryan gingerly put the dog on the ground. The size of a jack-russell terrier, it was jet black with smooth fur. Its legs were a little longish, and it had a deep, wide chest and a scruffy little tail. It looks like a regular tiny mutt, if not for the three heads.
“He’s so cute,” Maggie cooed.
“Why would they send us a three headed mongrel?” Tony asked.
The little monster looked up at me and wagged his tail. He was pretty cute.
Maggie reached into the box and pulled out a note. “It says his name is C2EB. Pronounced “Seb”.”
I vainly tried to rub all three heads at once. “What does that mean?”
“Cerberus 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Clever.
“They did not just saddle us with a hellhound. A tiny, malformed hellhound,” Ryan said. “We have to get rid of it.”
“You just can’t re-gift a hellhound,” Tony said. C2EB attempted to viciously defeat my foot. I liked his spunk.
“We can’t bring him with us. He’ll slow us down.”
Maggie unfurled another piece of paper. “Here’s his pedigree. He is one hundred percent hellhound.”
“He’s roughly the size of a loaf of bread,” Ryan argued.
“Which makes him convenient for travel,” I argued. “We can’t just leave a puppy here.”
“And if the furies wanted us to have him, there must be a good reason for it,” Tony interjected.
“Probably because he’s a runt.” How on earth could he be immune to the charms of a three headed puppy? It was like a regular puppy, but three times the fun.
“Yes, but now he’s our runt.” I continued to pet him.
Ryan sighed. “You want to keep him.”
“Yes. Yes I do.” Two of the heads were arguing over a stick. The puppy promptly fell over. Ryan scowled. I glared at him, daring to deny me. He didn’t look away. I tried a new tactic.
“Hailey, if you’re trying to simper, please stop. It hurts to look at,” Maggie said. So much for that.
“Fine, you can keep him. But he better not slow us down,” Ryan said, storming off. C2EB followed him for a few steps, then cocked a leg and sent a steady stream of sulphurous urine after him. Maggie burst into laughter.
C2EB attached himself to my leg and looked up at me. I looked down at him affectionately.
“That’ll do pig. That’ll do.”