IWSG: The A-to-Z Blogging Challenge

It’s time for another edition of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, founded by Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The awesome co-hosts today are Christopher D. Votey, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Fundy Blue, and Chrys Fey!

April 5 Question: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

Last year was my first year doing the A-to-Z Challenge, and it was the first time that I had managed to blog on any kind of a regular basis. 2016 was a hell of a year for me, and blogging gave it structure, and a “thing to do” because “that’s what we do” that I desperately needed. Maybe you know what I mean. That moment when nothing else holds, and… there you go. A thing to do.

In a more general sense, last year’s A-to-Z Challenge was just the kick in the pants I needed to get started.  I’d done some blogging, mostly just storytelling for some friends from other writers’ sites, and my routine was spotty, at best. I was going to blog a novel (which turned out to be both a good thing, and a bad thing, and an unmitigated disaster) but, as it turns out, getting things ready to post–really, edited, didn’t misspell anything, didn’t use the same word six times ready–meant I only posted a couple of times–if that–per month.

I managed to post every day last April–or close to it–and I started to see traffic. And wow, was there a lot of it! Well, I thought there was, anyway. It was something. I don’t know if I handled it as well as I could have. To be honest, I was mostly in shock that people were reading my blog, at all.

The month of April was the best one I’d had at that point (although I’ve passed it a couple of times since then.) I had views and comments, and gained followers, and yes… I’m doing it again, this year.

My insecurity of the month: Getting ready to go to the writers’ conference: the clothes, the travel, the reservations… and most of all that damn revision. I’m so insecure right now, I forgot to be Insecure. Time for me to track down the next must-have scene in my revision and either write it or revise it. See you all next month.

A-to-Z Challenge: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and Building Characters

For those of you who don’t know, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the most recent version being 5) is the great holy hand grenade of the psi-chiatric profession. In its most recent incarnation, it’s a riot-worthy brick of a book, suitable for hurling through plate glass windows and beating unarmed civilians.

Over the years, the DSM has grown from basically a pamphlet focused on a few major disorders to the fine, equal-opportunity diagnostic tool that it is today. And seriously, folks, with a code for caffeine withdrawl, we have a diagnosis for everybody. Stick around after the show and get yours.

I happen to own a copy of version 4 (left behind by an old friend who was studying social work) and it also has some nifty applications in Character development.

It doesn’t have slots for magical abilities, like a Warcraft character sheet, but it is pretty straight forward, and much more fun in fiction than in real life, where you have to write “Caffeine withdrawl” over and over and over… (I have a cure for that, by the way.)

There are 5 axes in the current version. Number five is level of function, ranging from “Respected psychiatrist” all the way down to “Bit someone’s ear off this morning.” If your character is Hannibal Lecter, this will require advanced math. In fiction, it just doesn’t deserve a square of it’s own.

So, divide a piece of paper into 4 quadrants.

Square number 1–Axis I if you want to get all fancy–is what’s going on, right now that needs (but will not get, because that’s the story problem) immediate attention. The DSM lists several examples, but they’re all relatively boring. This is fiction, so we’ll say “Brain invaded by sentient parasites from Mars.” Much more interesting than the day-to-day stuff, isn’t it?

Square number 2–is all the permanent stuff that’s going to impact the response to square number One. Personality disorders, developmental disorders… Not every character get a square number two. But if your character was a somewhat slow janitor who has parasites that can do theoretical physics, that’s here.

Square Number 3–oh, goody. Medical disorders. So, if the sentient parasites go unnoticed for a while because your character has already been diagnosed with brain cancer, this is the square where they run amuck.

Square Number 4–is all the other stuff that just makes the whole thing more difficult. Wife trying to get pregnant? Right here. Spaceship hurtling toward an exploding red giant? Yup. Crew trying to kill you because you have alien worms in your head? Here. Unless that’s all in your head, too, in which case, back to square #2.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

Here’s to Discipline… And Coffee.

I have a day off from the A-to-Z Challenge, and I’m sitting back and thinking what a good B word would be. I’m not really ahead enough to have my short story for the StoryTime Blog Hop written, or any of the letters for the time I’m in Colorado. I’ll have to get on that. You know… right along with working out the draft of my novel and the day job and the… and the…

I can’t really be sure if I’m going to make it all the way to the end of the Challenge, this year. There are a lot of things going on, and the priority at the moment has to be getting that novel revised.

I’m developing quite a backlog of handwritten pages that need to be typed into my revision.

I hate typing.

But handwriting is good for me. It keeps everything in line, and coherent, and typing it in is a little bit of a mini-revision in itself, so I’ll keep going this way. The handwritten chunks are a lot smoother than the pieces that were mostly typed.

If I stayed ahead of the typing, it wouldn’t be so bad.

Back to work, then.

And They Had To Go and Make It a Costume Party…

I’m fiddling around with ideas for costumes, right now. Apparently, someone decided it would be a good idea to make dinner the first night at the writers’ conference a costume party… heroes and villains theme… and then set a bunch of writers loose to do as they please.

There are some practical limitations, of course. You have to be able to sit, and also eat. It would be nice if you could do those things comfortably, and also, you know… stand for a while.

I’d also like to be able to wear at least some parts of the costume again, in a non-costumey way, since I spend maybe… uhm… just guessing, but probably 99.9% of my time not at costume parties. So, that ruffle-y blouse that would be perfect with what I’m thinking, but which I would never wear again… gone.

At the same time, I feel like this is a good opportunity to be impressive as possible. Impressive=memorable. And after all, memorable is what I’m going for. In a non-trips over her own feet, takes out three tables of honored guests, and face-plants in the keynote’s spaghetti sort of way. Just to be clear.

I’m leaning toward some kind of steampunk demon-y thing.

Yes, I know you’re supposed to go as your favorite hero or villain… but in a room full of people who all have a vested interest in their own books… I’m not actually stupid enough to step in that hornet’s nest.

I might even get a haircut on the way out to Colorado. You never know.

The Same Thing Twice

I started writing another missing scene for my revision, yesterday. It was… well, pretty damn similar to the scene I wrote the day before. Not identical, but very, very close. Close enough that I wound up stopping to write a blog post about Deja Vu, voice, and the difference between parallels and repetitions.

So, I guess we’ll find out just how much of this I understand, and how much I can make myself understand.

My characters are psychic–or something like that. There are details–and in both scenes, the psychic bond is being broken. One scene is a death, and in the second, a character has voluntarily given up that connection. Her sacrifice will be permanent.

The lead up to the bond being broken is okay. It’s different; the circumstances are different. But then… well, as I’m writing the break, itself, I happen to have the distinct feeling that I’m writing something basically identical to the last one I wrote.

Feeling? No. I know. It’s the same.

I’m trying to figure out what’s broken that makes the two scenes so similar. They really shouldn’t be the same thing twice, but somehow… well, they are. And until I figure out how they should be different, I can’t fix it.

I think I’ll work on something else, today.

Doing My Homework

I’m still working my way through that revision list, one scene at a time, and the good news is that–in the theory–it could actually be finished by the 27th of April. I have fewer than twenty scenes left… that’s about one scene every two days… it’s not even particularly faster than I’ve been going.

That’s optimism, of course. It is faster, but it’s not impossibly faster.

I don’t usually write like this–I’m not sure I could, if it were a first draft–but it does give me a solid sense of “Here’s the Finish Line.”

I’ve been focusing on one of the subplots, at least in part because it has more scenes that are completely missing from the manuscript. I may be reaching the end of “missing” and moving on to the horribly broken and damaged things that I’m still at least a little attached to. I hope that’s less time consuming, but it might wind up being more.

We’ll see if I can manage something that’s vaguely in the right word count range this time. I haven’t used up all my ‘safe’ index cards yet, so right now, I’m worried about being too short. In a couple weeks, I’ll be worried about being too long. I promise.

The Great Theme Reveal

Anybody who’s read this blog for long knows I’m not much of a “theme” person. I have to drag themes kicking and screaming out of my novels, and most of the time, I have no particular desire to build or work with a theme. I’m not someone your tenth-grade English teacher would like. My tenth-grade English teacher(s) spent the entire year hinting about ways to do drugs in class, on the premise that stoned might be an improvement, and ultimately wound up being sainted for not killing me in my sleep.

At any rate, my theme for last year’s A-to-Z Challenge was a Fly-By-The-Seat-of-Your-Pants stroke of brilliance: Whatever the hell happens to pop into my head. It worked well enough. I made it through.

This year, I thought about doing an upbeat complicated relationships thing, because that always seems to work its way into my stories, but let’s be honest, I’m not really sure all my readers are up for a recitation of A-to-Z relationships, and quite frankly, it would almost certainly devolve into a list of rare and exotic paraphilias. Why no… I just needed something that started with the letter U. Why do you ask?

That could sure get thorny fast.

Do I really need a theme?

Okay, so the one that finally popped into my head was…

Words that begin with the letter M.

That doesn’t seem so unreasonable. I’ll need to add words that don’t begin with the letter M to make it fit the challenge, but with some effort, I think I can make it work.

Words that begin with the letter M it is, then.

If you want to join in the challenge, all the details are here.  Let me know if you’re playing along.

Explaining the Self-Explanatory

Well, hell. Sometimes it just gets down to that choice of getting up or lying in bed counting down the moments that you could have been sleeping… if only you could sleep.

Good morning, world. Time to eat my English muffin and pretend to be awake.

I’m not really sure what got me up this early. It could be the scene I was writing last night. (Possibly I need more time between when I finish writing, and when my head hits the pillow.) Or it could be the fact that I’m having one of those “conversations” at work. You know the kind: I said something I figured was self-explanatory, and apparently, it’s not.

It’s going to need to be fixed.

I’m still vaguely hoping to have a manuscript by the time I leave for Colorado. That may be at least slightly optimistic, but my characters were cooperative last night (and probably any night where I have time and a little bit of discipline) So, it could happen.

I think about going to the library to work on things on my days off, and then, I realize the library opens roughly eight and a half hours after I wake up. That’s a whole work day! I’m not sure what is open, right now. Truck stop cafe might really be it.

In further small-town related news, the junk-yard burned last night. Thick black smoke everywhere. About two miles of road was closed down… not that the fire was that big. It’s just that two miles is the smallest section of road you can close, and still have a place for traffic to turn off without having a giant rut of u-turns.

I liked that junk yard. Meanest dogs in town. Nearly licked me to death, the last time I was there, and when that didn’t work, they tried drowning me in an ocean of slobber. I was lucky to escape with my life.

Confessions From The Writer’s Hard Drive

Somewhere, in the deep, dark depths of my hard drive, I have a mostly-complete manuscript of a prurient nature. Well, it really, really wants to be prurient, anyway. I’m not sure it quite makes it, since I don’t really have the attention span for other people’s sex lives… no, not even if they’re my own figments’ sex lives. Because, uhm… **plot bunny** and suddenly, there’s a series of explosions I have to deal with.

I do, however, go through a fairly regular phase of creative despair in which I’m absolutely positive my stories suck, and I should just turn to writing for the erotica of the month club.

In general, something usually kicks in and saves me before I get too far into Butch Billionaire Bad Boys in Space. But the knowledge that whatever I’m working on doesn’t have to be good is usually a pretty good way of kick-starting the creative juices, particularly on days when I’m not sure I’m capable of being good.

If I were going to write a romance, let’s be honest… it would probably include the words “And then he standardized her spelling, cut out sixty-two percent of her commas, and did some structural things with subplot B that somehow made the whole thing work. Also, he remembered to drop those books off at the library before she got fined. The End.”

Well, the closest I ever got is this manuscript. That lives on my hard drive. 89,000 words. That I will probably never revise, and that… well, let’s be honest… if it’s grounded in the real world (it is) and nobody dies (they don’t) I probably will never figure out quite what to do with it.

I can actually tell you why it was useful to write, though. It helped me to pin down exactly what it is that my stories tend to have in common. I tend to write about complex relationships–between individuals and cultures–and it doesn’t really matter whether I’m writing science fiction, or a romance, or a murder mystery, that will be there.

I think knowing that helps me to skim over the writers’ block phase faster. You know… what are the weirdest people I can possibly put in the same space ship? Right now, I’m moving on to something sorta different, but still the same. It’s a strange sort of thing.

I also think writing a lot without necessarily intending to keep everything has helped me get to a point where I can make more objective decisions about what’s worth revising, and when it’s time to move on.

That Morning Non-Routine

I am awake and staring at a blinking cursor. I’ve had breakfast, and I’ve remembered to put my laundry in the clothes dryer so it will be dry in time for me to go to work. I have checked in on the giraffe that is supposed to be having a baby, live-streamed from the whichever zoo it is. (No baby.)

This is what happens, by the way, when people inform the older generation about live streaming video… hundreds of hours of giraffe. Now live in a computer near me.

I have checked in on the forum where I’m a moderator, and answered a couple of questions. This is one of my bigger morning activities. Something I really do need to do on a regular basis. It’s a good forum. One of the best I’ve seen for writers.

And I have checked the news, the email, and a couple of ads, featuring things I didn’t know existed, but now desperately want. Especially at the fabulous prices listed. Closing and deleting.

Part of this is, of course, that I get up early. It was before 3 this morning, when I finally decided it was time to give up on that last chunk of sleep. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that, or to the idea that sleeping til 5 is “sleeping in.” I’m sitting under an electric light, pretending that it is not completely dark outside, and more or less bracing for the day.

If I had my creative, write when I feel like it choice, I’d probably be writing all night, and then going to bed… well, right about now. Last night, I wrote until that MUST be in bed moment, and then finally did go to sleep.