This is Getting Series-er and Series-er…

I spent a good chunk of my lunch hour organizing today. Trying to figure out exactly how much stuff has to go into my novel in order for it to be a complete story.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the kind of book where you get to the end and find yourself wondering where the rest of the story went. I always feel a little cheated.

And I feel more cheated if I happen to get in on the middle of a series, and the “rest” of it isn’t even available. Sometimes, I’ll “wait” for the next installment–or more precisely, I’ll remember it exists long enough to get it–but most of the time, I won’t. Half the time, if I do go back, it’s more a coincidence than anything else. Bumping into an acquaintance on the bookstore shelves. Fancy meeting you here!

I don’t want to write one of those books. In fact, for a long time, I didn’t want to write anything but stand-alone, non-series, non-related books.

I’ve backed off the no series thing. (Well, I’m having fun in one of my worlds.)

But I still want the books to stand alone.

I am just barely squeaking by on that goal. And I need to pinch every single word really, really tight to get there.

When I’m focused, I think I can do it. When I let myself look beyond my outline, and see the entire behemoth of a rough draft I have fermenting in my hard drive… I’m not so sure.

So, my question for tonight is… Tell me about the times you’ve picked up a series, and felt like the first book just… wasn’t all there. Tell me about the ones you’ve waited for, and kept reading, and the ones you put down all together. What makes the difference?

Today Is My Day!!!

For the last couple of years, I’ve participated in the Independent Bookworm Advent Calendar. It’s a literary countdown to Christmas, and every day, there’s a different short-story. I think it leans toward the Sci-Fi Fantasy end of the spectrum, but I’ve never really done the math.

Today is my day.

The door opened, and there I am. Me and my short story about a nose hair trimmer. If you subscribed to the newsletter at the beginning of the month, you also got my fabulous recipe for puppy poop cookies with flies. Yes, I know that’s disgusting. But it keeps the children busy, and it also has butterscotch and chocolate.

I got a real kick out of doing it, and it sounds like people are actually enjoying the story.

If you haven’t already, head over there and check out the calendar, and if nose hair trimmers aren’t to your taste, there are plenty of stories that don’t have them.

Let me know what you think.

Yes, I Actually Think I’m Funny…

I just sent in my story for the annual Independent Bookworm Advent Calendar. I decided to go with “funny” this year, because I don’t have much “heartfelt” left in me, right now.

And I did manage to find an idea. And it was the kind of idea that I was chuckling over the entire time I walked home, so I have the sense that it has some mileage left in it. (Home is about three miles, so at least that much.)

So, I got home, and I started writing, and that’s when it stopped being funny.

Or maybe, I just stopped being in the mood for that brand of humor.

Either way, the doubts kicked in.

A thousand words of “funny.” Wow, that’s a lot. And I do have an off-beat kind of sense of humor. And, quite frankly, between a long day at work, and a long walk home, I was really just too grouchy to tell whether anything was funny or not.

I went to bed.

Thought about it.

Sent it in, anyway. (I did send a note with it, saying I’d send something else, if it’s not up to snuff.)

I’m still not as confident about the piece as I was, when I first came up with the idea.

Idea’s great. Or maybe not. Or possibly, I should be in insurance sales, and not a writer in the first place. At any rate, there we go. One holiday-themed, semi-funny, worst-gift-ever type story.

I’ll be checking my email with great trepidation in the morning.

Maybe I should have sent something with elves.

The Waves At Midnight

perpetualbloghop

The screams died down faster than you would think; the icy water took most of our sacrifices before the drowsy demons woke to notice the men struggling against the tide. Here and there, a marked warrior swam back toward the ship, but none reached it, and the priests did not have to scrape their clawing hands off the timbers.

When the demons did come, the sea boiled gently, and the few survivors were brave. The demons dragged them fast and deep. Afterward, the Death Lamp caught just a trace of blood on the waves.

It was a good sacrifice, and by every known portent, it seemed to be accepted. The priest declared the blood valid quickly, and the sailors weighed anchor almost before the words were out of his mouth.

We had turned back.

We should have made it to port before the bars stopped serving, and we would have celebrated with abandon. A good sacrifice, and another year of calm waves and sleeping demons.

The cabin boy laughed, and no one noticed.

The cabin boy laughed. A simpleton, admiring the trail of bubbles in the ship’s wake.

A simpleton, who fell overboard, reaching for the moon’s reflection on the water.

By the demons’ breath, the fool kept laughing, until the water around him boiled. The demons were on him in a second, but half satiated from the sacrifice, the monsters toyed with him.

On board, the priests and augurs scurried to dream up answers. The portents had been so clear… so positive. The demons had taken the sacrifice. The transaction was complete.

Surely, what happened–what was happening–to the cabin boy was a misunderstanding. Perhaps, they thought, the sea-demons thought the simpleton was one final offering. He certainly thrashed enough.

Again, the ship sailed homeward. This time, there was no celebration, and the high Priest stood beside the Death Lamp, searching the water behind us for the demons, or their boiling breath.

Time stopped, or time sped faster, and the assembled priests and the silent crew barely breathed in the darkness. No one could see the ocean outside the light’s narrow beam, but we could all hear the waves whispering against our fragile ship. We could hear the splashes, and the ripples. We listened for what we could not see, and imagined what we already had seen.

Every man on board counted heartbeats. How long had it been? How far had we gone? How much further to land and the safety of home?

They counted.

And the wordless night held them. That was not a bubble. Just a splash. Not a bubble. No. Just the ship cutting through the waves. Just…

A slithering, leathery body, sliding, slithering along the hull.

A second, screeching, not loud, but indescribably shrill, and yet watery, like a razor blade being sharpened on an endless and grainy strop.

The Priest made his decision, and fast. “Throw them overboard.” He gestured to the cluster of sailors closest to the edge.

The captain raised his revolver… cocked it… aimed.

And the men did not move. Better a bullet than boiling in the waves.

But the Captain could not shoot; the demons demanded a healthy sacrifice. The sailors knew that.

“They’ll follow the ship. They’ll hound us all. And the blood won’t stop. Not without a clean sacrifice.” The Priest rallied and coaxed, but the men stood firm. “Don’t you have wives? Children? ”

“Cowards!” The Captain bellowed, but he didn’t move.

The demons would have taken any of us, or all of us, and maybe they would have been content, but no one moved. No one thought about moving.

The ocean all around the ship was boiling. No one could mistake the bubbles for anything else. And the demons’ scales raked across the ship’s sides. We only had one thought between us: how many? How many? There could be one, or thousands.

A moment of distraction. The Captain forgot the helm, and the ship split open on the forgotten rocks. The force threw men and priests off the deck and into the water; it threw me hard against the crags.

The demons had their sacrifice. I dropped my head, and uttered the true sigh of relief: It wasn’t me. Chance had me on solid ground.

I stayed there, until morning, relieved and exhausted, and ashamed to be alive.

And in the darkness, I heard a new sound. Quiet, next to the men’s screams, and even calm, against their thrashing, but getting closer I heard the splashing of demons at play. As gleeful as the dancing of water sprites, and as terrible as death. And something else, that could only be described as laughter.

The demons were laughing.

I trembled in terror and understanding. Whatever happened there, that night, the demons liked it.

With my compatriots dead, I watched the last of the demons frolic in the surf just off shore. Now, and then, their scales caught the beam from the light house above the rocks. And for a while, they seemed to move steadily along a course that would take them out to sea. Then, one of them turned back, rose up onto the land, and lumbered toward the lights of the village.

PARTICIPANTS:

You are Here–> Karen Lynn The Waves at Midnight

Sherri Conway Ants

Elizabeth McCleary Over James Henry Wilcox Dead Body

Canis Lupus The Picture

Peg Fisher All In the Fall, a Fractured Fairytale

Bill Bush Trapped

Benjamin Thomas Autumn Cascade

Crystal Collier Emily’s Ghost

Viola Fury 911

Juneta Key All Hallows’ Eve

C. Lee McKenzie Beautiful

Erica Damon Penance’

J. Q. Rose Sorry

Elise VanCise Lady In The Woods

Barbara Lund Spooky Space

Angela Wooldridge Quiet Neighbours

Katharina Gerlach Australian Dream

NaNoWriMo Tech

So, the first time I did NaNo, it was on a borrowed computer–something in a basement computer lab–and a thumb drive. One big, long Microsoft Word file, with little bits and pieces added in as the month progressed.

And it worked. That was the first novel I’d ever finished, so that’s a plus.

But it wasn’t terribly well organized. And when I started to revise it… Well… Uhm… I have to say again… it wasn’t well organized. I finally made it through the revision several years later.

I’ve done NaNo on a laptop, and on a desktop, and in YWriter… software specifically for writing novels. YWriter helps with organization, more than anything.

And this year?

I’ve decided to do NaNo on paper.

Not just to be retro, of course. I’m still working on that organization thing. I have just a little bit too much…. Hey, look, a duck!… in me. I am working from the idea that if I write on a piece of paper… on ONE piece of paper… I will wind up with more coherent chunks than I do, if I have say a notebook or a computer at hand.

Montessori style novel-writing. Write ONE topic on ONE piece of Paper. Fill that Piece of Paper, and get another Piece of Paper.

Right now my method seems to be more false starts, and aesthetic fresh sheets of paper than actual writing–at least, until I get some steam.

I am moving toward cleaner drafts.

Or at least, I’m going to succeed in finding another method that doesn’t work!

Either way, it’s something.

Good Taste, Sensitivity, and Writing

I’m fiddling around with the first traces of an idea. Something I might write for NaNoWriMo, if I can work out where the plot starts by then. I’m actually fairly excited about the idea. No, I won’t tell you what it is, but it does seem to have planted itself pretty firmly in my head.

The problem–if I can call it a problem–is that the idea centers around one of Humanity’s tragedies, and then adds a little bit of sci-fi-y, supernatural-y something. It’s the kind of story that needs to be written very, very carefully in order to avoid coming across as either preachy or callous.

I know that from experience. I have my own little corners of history that I’m protective of. Things that happened that resonate with me, that I don’t want touched. And there are certainly plenty of stories I’ve quit reading because they de-emphasized the serious part of the true story.

On the other hand, now and then, there’s a story about those same times that is actually… good enough. Good enough to make people think. Good enough to make them feel.

And I’m debating whether I have the skill to do a “good enough” story or not.

 

Sixteen Days To Full-Scale Panic

Sixteen days til NaNoWriMo, and I still don’t have an idea. Not a plot point, not a character. Not a teeny-tiny play on words to amuse my Muse. (Who is more or less an eighth grade boy, at heart.) Well, fine. I’ll just start with an explosion and work my way up from there.

I haven’t gotten much done with the idea that fluttered through my head as a September/October project, either. Maybe a couple thousand words.

The rule, right now, seems to be that if it’s stressful, it’s going to happen. Head to head with supervisor? Check. (Not sure it makes it a whole lot better that I appear to be winning.) Car problems? Check. Family problems? Double check, and also… Thinking of joining a commune. Or a convent. Or a nudist colony. Something, anyway. Anything on an island. Or a space station. Or an oil rig. Something not here.

This is not a good year for anything but treading water. I’m still working on revising Lepterians. Still working on figuring out exactly what I have there, and how many of it. I’m filling out a plot thread or two, trying to get from Point A to Point B.

And Nano begins in 16 days.

I probably need Nano, this year. Some nice solid goals and a whole lot of peer pressure to keep me from feeling sorry for myself. And I do have peers. A whole team of them.

So, working down the checklist of things that I need to do to get my nano-brain in order. I’m getting pretty close.

 

Mrs. Willoughby’s Heart

There were still a few pieces of Mrs. Willoughby on the slab, after the master finished his do-it-yourself project. All of the intestines. A bladder. No one wants the hassle of taking a monster to the toilet, after all. And there were other things. Odds and ends the monster wouldn’t need. A pair of emerald-green, sling-back pumps. Her right hand, still clutching a worthless can of pepper spray. The master had replaced that with spare parts from his Jeep. And Mrs. Willoughby’s heart.

The monster, you see, ran on propane and electricity, and a beating heart was just a relic.

Igor was supposed to clean up.

He was supposed to sweep the leftovers into the bin, and carry them down to the incinerator. He was supposed to hose down the lab, and empty the filters on the floor drains.

But the whole process had been horrific.

Mrs. Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster. She wanted to be a second grade teacher. And when Igor finally did get her back to the lab, it turned out the master didn’t want a second grade teacher. He wanted a Woman. Not a woman. A Woman. Not a woman. The master repeated himself with curse-words and fury, and in the end, Igor pretended to understand.

Then, there was the dissection.

Igor threw up four times before the master threatened to dissect him.

By the time they got to the electro-ressurrection, Igor was a little dizzy. He could barely stand up, and he would have gone home, if he had any sick-time left. He didn’t have any sick time left, though, so he pushed himself forward. Willed himself to keep going. He was careful. Slow and careful, and if he took his time–
The master threw the switch.
Mrs. Willoughby’s body convulsed. All at once, her muscles contracted, and then… The master cut the electricity. Mrs. Willoughby’s fist shot out, and hit Igor in the face.

And the Master threw the switch again.

And again.

And again.

Igor was black and blue before the thing that had been Mrs. Willoughby sat up and started to recite the times table.

By the time the monster got to thrice eight, the master cut out its vocal cords, and there was silence. Then, the monster began calisthenics. And the monster wasn’t content to do calisthenics alone. Oh, no. It grabbed Igor by the ear, and made him touch his toes.

The master just laughed and watched, and by the time calisthenics were over, Igor was black and blue, and out of breath, and exhausted. None of the other monsters had been that much trouble.

Then, the master took his new monster and left to do whatever peasant-chasing, village-burning things mad scientists and monsters did together.

Igor did intend to clean up. He intended to put things away, and tidy up the lab, but he dozed off.

Mrs. Willoughby’s heart was the first thing he saw, when he opened his eyes. She had a beautiful heart. It was perfect. Big, and warm. And it was his favorite shade of red. It quivered a little, as if it had been crying, and didn’t want him to  know.

He still knew. He could feel the heart sobbing in his brain. And he knew why, too: Mrs Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster, and her heart didn’t want to go in the bin.

The mess was still there, too, but the master could clean it up, himself.

And while he was at it, the master could get his own Women. He didn’t like the way Igor did it, anyway.

Igor put the heart in his knapsack and hefted it over one shoulder.

He was leaving. Mrs. Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster. Her heart didn’t want to go in the bin. And he didn’t want to be a laboratory goon.

On the climb down the mountain, Mrs. Willoughby’s heart chirped encouragement. Sometimes, the sound was lost in the waking songs of birds. And sometimes, he got distracted by flowers, or the rising sun. But by the time he made it back to the village, he knew what to do.

He was going to teach second grade.

NaNoWriMo Home Regions and Immigration

The first letters from our municipal liaisons are arriving, today, and I got back to my home region for the first time this year. Nebraska::Other. A rip-roaring writing community of eight people. Twenty-five percent of them are Municipal Liaisons, if you’re doing the math. Which I am.

As always, I’m seeking out new writers and new writers’ groups. And…

Somebody suggested a Google Hangout, since we’re spread out across the entire state.

And I’m vaguely thinking of defecting to Lincoln or Omaha. After all, that’s a fairly short drive, and there are more people in either one…

And yet… there’s a part of me that’s incredibly loyal to the small-town, stuck alone in the middle of nowhere writers and intellectuals. I connect with that. I am that. Have been for much, much too long. And I can’t imagine growing up, that way, or trying to get feedback on a first novel that way.

There’s also a non-nano writers’ group starting up. I might actually do that, if I have time and energy.

I still have to do my annual search for real live, local, in my own town writers. Last year’s wasn’t wildly productive. I located my next door neighbor. And her abandoned manuscript. And I still haven’t found a good way of bringing up the fact that I recognize someone from on the internet.

And I don’t have an actual idea, yet. I’m still hoping that one will turn up sometime soon, and I can pretend to plot a little bit.

Are you doing Nano this year? I’d love to hear about the novel you have planned (or not planned) and be sure to look me up over on the Nano forums.

Who’s My Main Character?

About a week ago, I started a new project. It’s a cute little thing. About ten pages long, barely talking in complete sentence fragments, yet. I’m also revising my last project, working through what I have, and trying to get it all to sit still in some kind of order.

The two projects are very different. The old one is third person, multiple points of view, and basically becoming a sprawling wasteland of revision. The new one… well, maybe I’m looking for something simpler, right now. It’s first person, one point of view, and–from an ethical standpoint–a lot more right and wrong.

First person really narrows my focus. The main character–the one who’s going to spend the most time on stage–is the I character. (Haven’t named her, yet. Of course.) Yes, you can find exceptions. But in general, that’s it. And that’s it in my new project.

I’m hoping that focusing on ONE character will reduce the revision time. And that first person will force me to do that. Can you tell?

In my last project?

There were five major characters in the last project, and that leaves me with two suspects for THE main character.

And three, if I’m allowed to count the world as a character in its own right.

It’s a big story.

But I’m still not sure whose story it is.

That makes me wonder if some of it’s more repetitive than I’m seeing. The two story lines are pretty closely intertwined. In the end, I’ll pick one, or reasons will appear and make one a clear winner.