Oh Rats! Where Kink comes from

KinkOften writers are asked where their ideas come from. Mine come from all over.  Usually bits and pieces of things get put together and develop into a character or plot over time.  Today I’m going to explore where one of my characters came from: Kink the pet rat in “A Recipe for Disaster.”

As a kid, I thought rats were both cool and a bit scary.  They were dangerous in the wild, animals that carried plague, that might hurt or possibly even kill a cat who was hunting them.  I remember vividly both the description of a rat fight that almost killed the cat main character in “The Abandoned” and the scene in “Lady and the Tramp” where the evil rat climbs into the baby’s room and Tramp saves the day, killing it.  Then the infamous Cluny the Scourge was the villain of “Redwall” and my brother and I quickly got into all things Redwall.

When I heard some people kept rats as pets, I could hardly believe it.  Then some friends of ours turned out to have a rat.  It was a rather large creature, and we were warned it bit people.  My brother and I eyed it carefully as its own let it climb around and weren’t sure what the allure was.  There my attitude stayed until in high school Japanese class.

One year in high school (I think it was my sophomore year) one of the other students in the class wanted to do a rat breeding genetic’s project for biology.  The catch was, the biology teacher wouldn’t allow him to keep the rats in the biology classroom and his parents weren’t interested in allowing them at home.  Instead of picking a new and easier project, this resourceful student somehow talked the Japanese teacher (who was far too nice to be teaching high school in general) into allowing him to keep all the rats in that classroom instead.

Now, what happened regularly in Japanese class was the class talked the teacher out of class.  Into anime movies, into long rambling discussions, into making our own cheese home video movies, into potluck gatherings, “study time” that involved doing homework for other classes and socializing a lot with each other.  The rats added a new activity–playing with rats all class long.  Which happened often.

I learned a lot about rats.  That they were often fun and pleasant to hold, play with, and let run around.  About how they needed to be handled almost every day or they went wild and started biting.  About rat sex, babies, and their development. I even learned about mice and animal fostering, when a kid in the class accidentally killed a mother mouse and saved the babies and brought them to class and added them to one of the nests of the baby rats (mostly that rats are awesome as pets while mice are terrible).  I ended up very pro-pet-rat through the whole thing.

Even better, one of my friends in college got himself a rat–he named her Agnes.  We used to practice for church music together and often I ended up playing with Agnes.  Agnes was older, more handled than the young breeding rats, and had much more freedom over a longer period of time.  This allowed me to see the full extent of how mischievous rats are–always into everything.  Without 30 kids taking turns holding her, Agnes wasn’t much into holding. She liked to climb inside pant legs and shirt sleeves, she liked to hide in the couch, she liked to steal objects.  Agnes is who I thought of when I started considering an animal familiar for Cal in “A Recipe for Disaster.”  It’s been years, but I still remember her quite well.

I’m not sure I want to ever own a rat myself, but I am sure that I find rats both wild and domesticated fascinating as well as the wide range of attitudes about them, and that I want to write about them and all the different reactions people have to them.  I doubt “A Recipe for Disaster” will be my last exploration on the topic either.

Living Air Purifiers

New plantsThere’s no nice way to say it… the new apartment stinks. At first I thought it was the carpet smelled like pet… then I wondered if a previous owner smoked, but my husband who smells a lot clearer than I do found the main source: the wood around the sliding glass door reeks of some weird chemical scent. Perhaps they used something as a sealant or an extermination spray… whatever it is, it’s stinky.

That naturally has my husband look at indoor air filters, while my reaction was to always open the sliding door and run a fan every moment I’m home. However, in his research, my husband discovered a delightful fact: NASA discovered some houseplants naturally purify the air.

Now if that isn’t a wonderful excuse to go out and buy a bunch of houseplants, I don’t know what is!plants 2

I love the idea of houseplants, and over the years I’ve kept a couple of them alive, but mostly small things. I’d managed to keep a Christmas Cactus, a philodendron (which split into two), and an African Violet alive most recently in Hood River. However, with the husbandly backing and a buy one get the second one half off deal at Fred Myers, we went on an indoor plant spree.

Looking over this list on wikipedia and this nice gallery of photos, we wrote down the ones that take the least light (since the apartment is pretty dim), and headed out, returning with eight lovely plants. If they live, I’m all for doubling it, really. The greener the better and it can’t hurt the air in here.

Although, note, we currently are petless and childless and a lot of these plants, including my fabulous Peace Lily can be poisonous. We picked the ones noted for doing the best job on the air, but wikipedia also lists whether they’re poisonous or not.

Now, next on my list, the fact all the cats in the neighborhood think the spot right next to our door is a litter box. Sigh. That’s not helping our air quality either. I’m thinking some plants in large buckets/planters with rocks around the base of it all, which will hopefully discourage everyone from pooping there.

Ah, apartment living!  Just what everyone aspires to, isn’t it?

Camp, summer giveaway, and a new blog

2013 Nano bannerThe hot weather has finally arrived.  It feels like summer now that it’s July, and just in time for camp–several kinds.  First up, Camp Nanowrimo, the summer version of November’s event.  My writing group (local one) was up for it, so I decided to jump in and be a camp rebel and work on editing/finishing two Dark Lord Academy works, “Homeschooled Villainy” (a second DLA short story) and “Much Ado About Villains” (the long awaited sequel).  I’m behind schedule, so camp is just the thing to get me going.

Day two, and at least I’m on track with the word count.  Plus, I need to finish a day early, because on the 31st I’m going to a different camp, the Portland, Oregon Summer Conference my mother and siblings have attended for years.  I went last year, and I’m excited to go this year and get together with all the people I met last year.2013 Nano banner2

Also, I have had my Dark Lord Academy spin-off novel “A Recipe for Disaster” just on kindle select.  Mostly because I hadn’t gotten it formatted yet for the other formats and was going to do some free promotions while getting that done.  Well, with the moves and general chaos, my book went for another 3 months in select, which, alright, works fine, since I hadn’t had time to reformat it for the other platforms… but then I forgot the promotion days too! Sigh.

So, now it’s on for a third term, I have schedule them ahead of time so they aren’t forgotten–in fact, during my second summer camp, July 31st – August 4th.  That way I can have something going on while I’m gone, right? I’ll remind everyone once we get there.  Then on September 7th, this time I really am going to get the formatting done and put the book up on Nook, Kobo, and Smashwords.  As we get closer to it, I’ll announce that again too.  So much to do!

And finally, in preparation for a website reorganization and migration in October (I have to switch providers) I’m reviving one of my other blogs Interior Writer.  This one is for writing reflections and spirituality and a bit more personal, while I’m going to transition my author site to focus more on the books themselves, characters, world building, villains, and author news as I rework it.  I don’t quite have the evil master plan settled, but thought I’d get this older writing blog up and running again.  While if you’re not into spirituality, this might not be your sort of thing, I plan to keep up this blog for now as well, until I get the new site put together.

From the Dreaded One’s Desk: Horde on the Move

Dreaded One The Most Evil Dreaded One dug through the pile of laundry.  “Someone is going to pay for this!”  She growled, throwing laundry everywhere.

The minions by the door ducked.  “I’ve heard unmatched socks are all the fashion rage, your dreadfulness,” one of them suggested.

“And you could just wear your pajama pants to work,” the other one said, dodging a pair of pants.

“Next you’ll be telling me dirty underwear is trendy.”  The Dreaded Author aimed, fired, and made two direct hits with a couple pairs of aforementioned clothing items.

The head transportation minion leaned into the doorway.  “It’s time to go, your awfulness!  We must fine the new evil lair!”

“I don’t know what’s so exciting about that,” muttered the Dreaded One.  “I just moved into this parental basement four months ago.”  Seizing the prize of clean underwear and two almost matching socks, the Dreaded one slammed the door on the minions.

Forty-five minutes later found the Dreaded One looking over a shabby apartment.

“As you can see, this tower apartment offers an airy living room and a great view of the park.” The rental agency minion swept a clawed hand grandly across the room.

The Dreaded One crossed her arms and glared a fiery red glare across the room. “And the bedrooms are the size of postage stamps. Next!”

“Well…”  The minion waved his hand, sending them teleporting to the next one.  “What about this one?  It’s dark and dank, just like an evil lair should be.”

The Dreaded One creaked down the stairs to eye the half-basement bedrooms. “It’s the prisoners, not the Dark Lord who live in a dungeon! Next!”

Poof!  “This one is newly renovated.  Three bedrooms, huge living room, two car garage–”

“What’s that?” The Dreaded One eyed the slightly roach-shaped objects at the bottom of the toilet.

The minion flushed it.  “Oh, I guess the bugs keep getting in when I keep the door open… showing this house far too much…”

The Dreaded One marched back to the kitchen, unimpressed.  She peered in the sink, opened, the cupboards… nothing.  Then she opened the fridge.  A cockroach waved its antenna at her, slowly, probably since he was chilled.  “I don’t think so!”

Many apartments later, the Dreaded One was losing her patience.  “No upstairs garrets with no ventilation or air conditioning, no houses the size of a pickle jar, no kitchen linoleum that has more wrinkles than a grandmother, and no basement should smell better than the rest of the house!”  The Dreaded One roared, flexing her claws.

“Fine fine.” The rental agency minion held up his hands.  “You’ll just love this one!”

Poof!

The Dreaded One sniffed suspiciously.  “Doesn’t it smell rather like smoke?”

“Oh, no!  These older apartments just smell a bit musty.”

The Dreaded One sniffed again.  “Definitely smoke.”

“That’s impossible.  We–”

The Dreaded One jabbed a claw and muttered a spell.  With a scream, the minion went up in flames. “Told you it was smoke.”  The Dreaded One sauntered out of the apartment to the waiting hoard.  “Forget agencies.  We’ll pick the next best castle we see and conquer it!  Muahahahaha!”

The minions scrambled after her.  “Um, Your Evilness, shouldn’t we pack first?”

“Or what about the laundry?”

“Did you forget all the weapons are carefully packed up in storage?”

“We simply cannot attack until we’re moved into a new Evil Lair, Your Awfulness,” instead the Second-in-Command Minion.  “It just isn’t done.”

“Fine,” the Dreaded One snarled, feeling distinctly trapped and hating moving with a passion. ” Where was that one with the view of the apartment getto out the window on one side and the parking lot on the other? We can set fire to things while we move.  That should improve the view.”

Hopefully it wouldn’t take too long.  The list of backlogged character in need of torture was painfully long.

The Writing Life: Just the Right Idea

YoungSimbaOften as a writer I find myself slowed up on a project because I’m looking for just the right idea to fill it out.  The thing is, I don’t want just any old idea, I have plenty of ideas for the sake of having ideas. I’m never short on overall ideas for novels or other projects I might do.  But when it comes to writing the particular project right in front of me, while I might have a general sense of it, I find I’m looking for not just any idea to bring it together but the perfect idea–one that will bring together logic, theme, and the mood of the piece, that will not just fill it out but take the project to a whole new level.

It’s not that I have no ideas, but that none of the ones I have quite fit.  Sometimes there’s clear reasons why it’s not really right for the project, but lots of times the problem is more nebulous. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t excite me or inspire me. It seems a little cliche or lackluster. Usually when other writers tell me they’re stuck or have writer’s block, this is what they’re looking for as well–the perfect, stunning, shiny solution to whatever snag the project has.

I have a few strategies for trying to find that illusive bit of inspiration.

Ruminating

Sitting and thinking, picturing each idea I have for solving the problem in my head, or each direction for the project, I can delve into my creative reserve and search for a connection and angle that will make the project shine.  Note, this is NOT surfing the net or watching a show or playing a video game.  All those just postpone searching for the solution.  Ruminating is just thinking, more like meditating, on the project, using the mind and imagination.

Long Walks

This is my favorite solution, because I tend to be too restless and distracted just ruminating.   I slip into surfing the net or reading a book or some other procrastination task.  When walking the body is working, but the mind is relatively free to mull over the project, especially at a natural park with a long hiking trail.  I prefer trails that are challenging but not too steep (it’s distracting to be out of breath) and away from traffic.  The physical activity keeps me focused while not interfering with mulling over the project. I get my best ideas while walking.

Driving or showering can work the same way, but I find waiting in line or in a waiting room for appointments is more difficult.  There’s more distractions and usually I’m impatient to get to whatever I’m waiting for.

Trying the Wrong Idea

Since writing itself also stimulates creativity, sometimes I can freewrite myself out of my situation.  I usually open a new document making this version of the project unofficial and lower pressure.  It’s not “real.”  Then I pick an idea/direction that is interesting but that I’m not satisfied with, and try writing it anyway as the unofficial draft version.  Sometimes after a couple hundred words I’ll find the idea has morphed into something I like a lot better than the original concept.

Tap the Synergy of Others

If none of the rest of this works, sometimes I’ll bring other people into my creative debate.  Talking over the idea in a group or with a close friend who enjoys talking about story ideas can kick loose new ideas.  Sometimes just the process of articulating the story to someone else will clarify what it is I need or want out of it and why it’s not flowing.  I make sure when using other people to respectfully thank them for all their ideas, even when most of them are not ones I’m interested in using, and to remember to have a good time and let the discussion turn to joking. Later, I can mull over what they’ve said and decide if it’s worth trying or not.

Work on Another Project

Sometimes the only course is to give a project space until that perfect idea comes along, but the trouble with procrastination activities like reading, internet, or movies is they rarely bring me a solution, more postpone and distract me.  It gets harder to work if my habit of working/writing is disrupted. By picking another project that’s also important, I’m keeping my creativity active.  Sometimes while working on the other project, I’ll sudden have something occur to me that will be pretty close to that perfect idea to fix the first one.

The Writing Life: 8 ways my writing has changed since 2007

The view from my hotel window today... gotta love a liminal lifestyle.
The view from my hotel window today… gotta love a liminal lifestyle.

In May I made it my project to rewrite one of my first novels, a rewrite that was almost entirely a narrative rewrite.  The story itself has long been clear in my mind, but I’d let the project rest for six years after getting distracted by finishing (and publishing) other novels.

Returning to it caught me by surprise.  I’d changed a lot as a writer in the last six years, in ways I hadn’t realized.  In part because I’d been seriously writing for at least that long before writing the book, and had at the time rather plateaued as a writer.  I felt in 2007 that my craft was solid and that it was more my plotting and characterization that needed work, and thus that was my focus more than the craft itself.

It turns out I had a lot farther to go.  The writing so didn’t match my current style, that it was easier to rewrite the whole thing than edit. I feel very good about the result.  After I had all 75k rewritten (and down from an original 80k), I realized I had a pile of unused crits from the 2007 version, so I opened them up and started going through them, chapter by chapter to make sure I’d covered those changes and plot holes.

Looking at both the text and the comments I discovered several overall themes in how my writing has shifted.  Here are the 8 biggest early writer’s mistakes I made with the 2007 draft:

1) Passive Description — While people banter around terms like “passive voice” and “show don’t tell” I often find that people don’t actually understand what these mean.  Often frustrated with people poking perfectly necessary be verbs or inappropriate placed people insisted I needed to show more, I tended to ignore this advice.  However, time has proven some specific passive areas in my older writing that I’ve since changed, in particular, qualifying all my description with “he/she heard” or “he/she saw” etc.

Sound, sight, touch, taste, and smell are great to add to the story, but when the POV is clearly already in the main character’s head, it’s unnecessary and passive to keep qualifying it’s the MC who’s doing the sensing.  “The army charged forward” is better than “He saw the army charging forward” and so on. I constantly was rewording things into just describing and when I put the MC into it, I put him in with his physical and emotional reactions instead.

2) Boring Verbs — Similar to passive voice, it isn’t so much that these words are passive, it’s more that they’re dull.   My biggest culprits were looked and turned.  They’re fine and necessary verbs, but were overused.  Now when I write, I rarely use them because I naturally find more interesting things to communicate what I mean.  I slow down, picture the scene, and try to put more creative voice into the action.

3) Word Echoes — Both of these first two issues result in word echoes, or the repetition of a word close to itself in the text, but I found a great problem with echoes all through the novel in the older draft.  In action scenes words like forward, towards, and moment were chronically overused.  Battle scenes had too many slashes or blocks, and sometimes a more unusual word would get used a couple times in a chapter, which while that isn’t a problem with common one, you’re going to notice something like discombobulated if its used more than once a chapter.

4) Grammatical Echoes — This is where the structure of the sentences are too similar too close together, rather than the words used.  While some people are very anti-adverb, for example, rather than simply cutting all the adverbs, I think it’s more important to look at how they’re used and if they are creating a grammatical echo. Two places adverbs do this most are on dialog tags, and when they’re at the beginning of a sentence followed by a comma.

But there’s a lot of ways that sentence structure can get echoed.  The adverbs just jump out in beginner’s work. Now as an author I naturally seem to track what sort of structure I’m using and vary it, back in 2007 I did not.  It changes the entire rhythm of the narration.

5) Abrupt Transitions — I was rather surprised in places to find very little transition from one scene to the next.  One paragraph they’d be debating their plans, the next they’d be half a day’s travel from camp.  In several places I added material, fleshing out the scene, while in others I cut back scenes and had formal breaks.  Which is better depends on the style and flow of the novel, and the circumstances of the scenes.  It’s something I have a much stronger sense for these days.

6) Chapter Header/Footer Info-dumps — A lot of my chapter breaks were used to forward the novel in time.  In my 2007 draft I often had the first few paragraphs or last few paragraphs of a chapter highlight everything that happened during the time gap.  I didn’t want my readers confused, which is a great goal, but it made for less than snappy opening or closing paragraphs.

In some places I worked in this information slowly throughout the scene, but in many of them, I simply didn’t tell the reader what happened, just made it clear time had passed.  It surprised me to find a lot of the information I felt was essential originally actually wasn’t.  Did we really need to know they hadn’t yet had dinner that night?  Or that it was a 5 hour walk to the swamps?  I could just show them being tired and hungry and leave the specifics to people’s imaginations. This helped me control the novel’s ballooning word count. It’s supposed to be a middle grade novel! It’s still a bit long, but I hope to lose even more words on my next pass.

7) Lack of Scenification — While we think of novels being broken up into chapters, a scene is a much more important basic unit.  A scene has a beginning, an arc, an end, a place and time in which something happens.  I’m sure much better definitions are out there, but what I noticed was that some chapters didn’t actually have defined scenes, or large sections that didn’t properly have them.  Or that in others, scenes weren’t fully scenes, glossing over things a scene ought to have.

First, there were transitional chapters that sort of dipped in and out of the action, a couple of sentences of dialog, a few direct thoughts, a handful of actions, interspersed with a lot of narration.  I had to pick what actual scenes I wanted and develop them fully.

Then there were character focused scenes that dissolved into what I call “talking heads” or “telephone conversations.” These scenes were focused on people talking to each other and the MC’s reactions to that, that all sense of setting tended to dissolve.  The few actions involved were looking or turning to people, nodding, smiling, frowning, and tended to be repetitive.

In my rewrites I tended to pick something active people were doing while talking.  Eating dinner, packing their bags, or walking through a specific sort of terrain.  This gives far more interesting actions to frame the conversations, and in the few instances where people really were just standing around talking, I tried to bring out body language and have people touch each other. I’ve seen this technique overdone before, with the details being distracting, but there’s a balance between that and being pure informational.

On the other hand, sometimes my action scenes dissolved into just action.  I wouldn’t have enough dialog or interior emotion/thoughts to keep the character aspect engaged in a proper arc.  No scene should be all characterization or all action.

8) Overly Detailed Action — Going into the edit, I remembered that this draft suffered in the battle scenes in particular from too much detail. We don’t need to see exactly how the MC kills his enemies in epic Iliad style.  Battle moves needed to be carefully paced between overall narration of the battle so that readers got the sense of the action without getting bored.  The novel did need this, but what surprised me even more was how many other scenes also suffered from overly detailed action.

I remember rather clearly my eighth grade English teacher lecturing us on what she called a “bed to bed” narrative: the idea being you start with the person getting up in the morning and detail everything they do in order until they go to bed at night.  I thought in 2007 that I was only including the important details in my story, yet so many times people entering and leaving rooms, picking up and setting down objects, or turning or looking (again) at people in conversations were exactly the sort of nit-picky details I didn’t need.

Details can add a sense of being there, but only the right details.  The fact someone hands the character a plate with two golden sausages that smell deliciously tantalizing is a good picky detail.  That the MC picked one up, ate it, swallowed, then picked up a second one and ate it, and set the plate down, less so.  Apparently I’ve learned a lot about balancing that in the last six years.

I’m excited and proud to discover everything I’ve learned and all the ways I’ve grown, but the experience does make wonder–what will I be listing six years from now?  I will fascinated to find out, but I really hope this novel is finally published by then and it’ll be on some other project!

The Gorge: There and Back Again

Hood RiverIf I thought saying goodbye to the Columbia River Gorge was hard, what’s even harder is living a liminal existed commuting to the gorge and back every week.  Today when I checked into our motel of the week, the clerk at the desk asked for my driver’s licence.  “You live in Hood River!” he said, rather surprised.  “It’s complicated,” I answered.

Complicated isn’t the half of it, sigh.  The future is about as complicated as the past… at least my present is usually peaceful, depending on the moment.  When Ben got laid off in February, his whole company went out of business… or well, everyone but the CEO and owners, so it seemed pretty well dead to us.  With no prospect of a job in Hood River itself (the only other company in town with electrical engineers wasn’t hiring and even the Unemployment office sent a tactful letter suggesting he start his own business instead since he was likely to run out of benefits before finding a job), we decided to move back in with my parents in Lake Oswego.Dog mountain

The job market is not favorable at the moment, as any of you looking for a job knows.  Despite getting regular interviews and looking hard, Ben still hadn’t found employment when out of the blue, his old company asked if he could work again part time.  Well, three days a week driving out to Hood River would pay a bit more than Unemployment.  We couldn’t trust the company to stick around, but well, some money is better than none, so thus started my grand commute.  I’d hang out in the library for three days trying to write while he worked, and he kept apply to jobs.

top of wind mountainWhile it’s long, the drive is certainly beautiful. I’m sick of I-205 and would happily never see it again, but every time I-85 opens up just east of the metro area and ahead the sky and river spread out, every day I see a new stunning view. Clouds and mist, sun and glittering water, there’s endless variety on the gorge, sometimes all in one morning or evening’s drive, as we might go through several patches of rain, sun, fog, hail, rainbows, etc.  Even as it wears me down, it remains stunning.

Now, come June, now the company is asking him back full time.  Leaving us in a truly liminal position.  For one thing, Hood River is now filling up with vacation rentals, so anything not for vacations wants a year lease. We hardly expect the company to last six months, let alone a year.  For another going from 20 hours to 40 hours a week in Hood River is a big jump. We’ll be spending more time in a hotel than we will at my parents’ house.river from the side of wind mountain

Good thing under “occupation” I can put author, or I’d be a homemaker without a home. (sigh)

For the two weeks we switched from commute to motels.  They’ve been a parade of forgetting things, spreading cream cheese on the lunch bagels with the handle of a fork the first week, and eating cereal out of a plastic container every morning the second.  I think I have everything this week, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Small waterfall

The month of May at least, my writing did not suffer. I picked something straightforward, a full book edit of “Dragon Boy” and accomplished it.  Now I’m regrouping, and my focus will be on “Much Ado About Villains.”  I’m not sure how well I’ll hold up, but on the other side of things, I do have long periods of time in motels ahead of me, which at least is quiet and not too uncomfortable.  I think by the end of it though, whether we get an apartment here or Ben manages to get a job elsewhere, I will have done enough traveling and motel staying to be satisfied for years to come.  My idea of “vacation” will be to live in one place and go nowhere for longer than a year.

At least there’s mountains, rivers, and waterfalls.

The Seven Habits for Writers Part 2: Public Victories

A much spiffier cover than my ancient copy.Alright, I’m back finally for my promised second part to how I’ve been thinking over Steve Covey’s seven habits in regard to writing.  The first three habits are things a person does inside themselves, private victories as Covey calls them.  In writing, that’s our inner confidence, the story we’re picturing, the draft we pour out on paper, the long hours we wrestle with characters in that creative dark space within our minds.  For some writers, that private process is all they crave.  But a lot more writers, like me, want to share our writing with the world, and that’s where I found Covey’s habits 4, 5, and 6 were crucial.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

This is a simple idea, but a really powerful one.  The idea that in a situation or agreement, both people involved win–that is get a deal that’s beneficial for them out of it.  No one gets ripped off. If money is being made, both people make it. If success and recognition are being attained, both people attain it.  In a society full of win/lose situations, it’s important to remember that tons of situations don’t have to have a loser.  That making someone lose is completely unnecessary.

I do not think there is a more important thing a writer can do than think win/win in all their interactions with other people.  There’s a sort of toxic energy I feel when I encounter a win/lose writer.  Writing is one field where all of us are potential winners.  What is it that almost all writer’s have in common besides writing? Reading! Most people who love to write loved first to read.  There’s no good reason we can’t all have our work out there and lots of success.  Your book selling well ought to help my book sell well, or at least I really can’t see why not.  There’s room for each of us and our unique style and talent, our stories we care about.

When authors are jealous of each other, bitter about other people’s success, it creates an icky feeling I just can’t stand.  What is just as bad is when authors get negative about illustrators, agents, publishers, or even readers.  This is one field where everyone involved can and ought to have success!  This is really a field where there ought not to be any losers!  It’s a tragedy that so many people think there has to be.

Reaching out and helping new writers, encouraging people to read and supporting literacy, interacting with industry professionals, promoting each other’s work, everything we do really ought to follow a model of both sides can come out a winner, or we ought to refuse to have a deal together.  If you really can’t for some reason work in a positive way with a positive outcome for everyone involved “no deal” is the best solution.  Go your separate ways wishing the person the best.

Habit 5: Seek First to be Understood, Then to Understand

In Covey’s book, he uses this principle to talk about all communication efforts.  Another simple but powerful idea–to listen emphatically to what people are saying, to help them feel truly understood before you go about trying to make them see what you’re saying.  Obviously this is great for communication in general, but there’s several key places it can be used in writing.

In interacting with other writers, like in critique groups, it means taking the time to understand their view, their stories, their problems with it, what they really need, before trying to help them with their writing.  Doing that will make your advice better as well as helping the person be more interested in accepting it.  When receiving critiques or even professional editing, the same thing applies.  Even if you disagree with the person’s reaction, set that aside and really listen.  What are they saying? And is it actually about your writing, or is this more about something they’re feeling/struggling with?  Once you understand where the other person is coming from you, you can better decide what advice is worth using in your novel.

Even if you don’t end up using suggestions an editor or beta reader wants you to use, the power of actually listening to the other person will still make them feel validated. You’ll preserve the relationship and the other benefits it provides to both of you. By actively understanding an editor, they’ll be more open to hearing your vision and dream for your book and seeing where you are coming from in return.  That can only improve a project.

Listening is also important in marketing.  So many agents and publisher get queried by authors who don’t really understand their requirements, mission statement, or what sort of projects they’re looking for. As an author, I can reduce rejection and heartbreak by first seeking to understand each agent or publisher’s personal mission, tastes, guidelines, by looking at what other work they’ve published and then see if I really think it’s a good fit, if my project is one that really belongs here.  Then, these people will be more interested in learning about what I have to say.

Habit 6: Synergize

I think this chapter, habit 6, was the hardest one for me to follow when reading the book.  My best sense of what Covey means here, is that when a group is built using using win/win and seeking first to understand, that a creative and dynamic atmosphere forms that takes regular cooperation to the next level, a level where people can really appreciate and value their differences in view and opinion, because they are necessary to lifting the joint project above itself.

My husband and I debated a while on this chapter while reading it, because rather than being an actual habit, it felt more like being open to something that just happens.  But I suppose working to have all the right ingredients there at the right time and place for synergy to happen could be considered a habit.

I think the first thing that comes to mind in regards to writing is synergy in a brainstorming session with friends, when I’ve been stuck on a novel.  With the right atmosphere, suddenly the support of my peers sparks new and exciting ideas, their suggestions helping me build momentum, until I can see my current project in a whole new and exciting light.  The other place I’d like to find it, is someday between editor, illustrator, and marketers in a publisher, all coming together to push the project to the next level.  I still feel this is more something to foster than practice, this sort of environment, but I can see its value.

Next week, I’ll have a third and final post on habit 7 and writing, since I feel like it’s important enough to get its own.

Faizah’s Destiny Blog Tour: Master Wafai

This week I’m thrilled to participate in a blog tour for my fellow author, Marva Dasef. I love “Faizah’s Destiny” a fantasy novel set in a middle eastern style world.

The Village Magician

*** Leave a comment for a chance to win a free ecopy of “Faizah’s Destiny.” ***

MasterWafaiThe four teen adventurers in “Faizah’s Destiny” are all students of the village magician, who also serves as teacher for the children who have some time to expend on schooling. Master Wafai is an all-round teacher, covering the academic topics such as mathematics and writing. As a magician with minor skills, he also loves to impart his knowledge of magical beasts that roam the earth.

Master Wafai wants more than anything to meet the elusive, all-knowing Simurgh. He feels it’s very important for his students to learn about magic, even though there is very little to be found around their tiny village. Of the Simurgh, he says:

“The Simurgh is a tutelary creature.” Wafai looked meaningfully at Bahaar’s tablet. The boy quickly applied chalk to good use. Wafai continued. “It is so old, according to legend, it has seen the world destroyed three times over.” Wafai folded his long fingers around the chalk, holding his hands against his chest. “Many believe it has learned so much that it possesses the knowledge of all the ages―a great teacher and a guardian. The Simurgh simply are. In the past for all of eternity and in the future for all of eternity.”

One day, Master Wafai isn’t at his little school. His four pupils are puzzled and concerned. Why is their teacher gone without leaving word? A possible answer is found on a page of the Magicalis Bestialis. The book was left open to the text describing the Simurgh.

Faizah, a farmer’s daughter and Wafai’s favorite pupil, knows how much the Master loves the Simurgh, she immediately believes the open page is a sign that she and the boys who are also students must seach for the home of the Simurgh.

The boys scoff at the silly idea, but agree to searching the nearby mountains for signs of Wafai’s whereabouts. They only decide to go on the search when they find the adults in the village are content to send word to the Sultan and have troops sent to search for the missing teacher.

Excerpt:

LargeSimurghMaster Wafai sat at the small table that served him for both dining and desk. One of his prized books, the Magicalis Bestialis lay on the table before him, open to the section on the Simurgh. If only they were real. Wafai sighed. His advancing years never dimmed the hope that someday he would know for certain such magical beasts truly existed.

The stories he had heard of the flying, fire-breathing horse stabled in the Sultan’s palace, helped to keep that hope alive. Still, he longed to meet such a creature, to see it with his own eyes.

He sighed again and stood. He moved into the bare kitchen and carried a bowl of fruit back to the table. In this tiny village, there was not much chance of seeing anything magical. Wafai had long ago accepted the fact he would never be a great or powerful mage. A competent magician in an average sort of way, he could cure most common ailments, cast a spell to clear the air after a sandstorm, find lost livestock, and sometimes water. He could even generate a few small curses, though he seldom chose to do so.

Peeling an orange, he stared, unseeing, at his whitewashed walls, smudged with ochre chalk. His students provided the greatest joy in his life. A mediocre magician though he might be, Wafai was a born teacher. His pupils made jokes about him ‘putting on his teaching voice,’ but when he did, they listened. Although Wafai had always longed to meet a magical creature or two, what he really wanted was for one or more of his students to have the opportunities he had missed.

He thought about his three students and wondered about the new boy. Would any of them become adept? Would any of them ever meet a flying horse, a demon, or a Djinn? Most of the village children came to his school only until they were eight or nine, and then family duties called them away.

Harib, the son of a rich merchant, was the only one free to do as he pleased. He attended school to be with his friends. Left mostly to his own devices when his mother died, Harib had come to the school out of curiosity and boredom. He met Faizah and Bahaar there, and the three of them soon formed a close friendship. School was easy for Faizah and Harib, however Bahaar struggled a bit. They had all mastered the basics of reading and arithmetic and were now engrossed in learning what they could of the magical arts.

Wafai looked down at the Magicalis Bestialis and picked up an orange pip he had dropped. He closed the book and put it aside.

* * *

FAIZAH’S DESTINY
Faizah's Destiny 333x500The gods are at war and only a farmer’s daughter can save the world from Armageddon.

MuseItUp (all ebook formats): http://tinyurl.com/faizahsdestiny
Also available at Amazon, B&N, Nook, and other on-line stores

Blurb:

The village magician has gone missing. His four pupils think he has left a clue to his whereabouts in the Magicalis Bestialis–the book of magical creatures. They must seek the help of the elusive Simurgh, the mythical birds who know all the secrets of the universe.

However, this is not an easy camping trip into the mountains. Spirits, gods, and demons confront the four friends, who are not aware they’re being set up by otherworldly forces for a much larger task.

A farmer’s daughter, Faizah is chosen to lead the humans in the battle. She must persuade a slave, an orphan, and a rich merchant’s son to join in the battle on the side of good. Although divided by Dev, the evil god of war, the teens must band together to find the Simurgh, rescue their teacher, and stave off Armageddon.

Bio:

Marva Dasef lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two ungrateful cats. Retired from thirty-five years in the software industry, she has now turned her energies to writing fiction and finds it a much more satisfying occupation. Marva has published more than forty stories in a number of on-line and print magazines, with several included in Best of anthologies. She has several published books, including six since 2011 with MuseItUp Publishing.

Website: https://sites.google.com/site/mdasefauthor/home
Blog: http://mgddasef.blogspot.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/MarvaDasef
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/?tab=wX#107073845875601488093/posts
Twitter Handle: @Gurina
Book Trailers: http://www.youtube.com/user/MarvaDasef/videos

The Seven Habits for Writers Part 1: Private Victories

A much spiffier cover than my ancient copy.Wouldn’t you know it, but just a month or so after getting laid off in Hood River and after we’d moved back in with my parents in the Portland area, they called my husband back part time.  So now, three days a week we drive out to Hood River and I live in the library and coffee shops while he’s at work.  While drinking all those Americanos and eating chocolate croissants while writing is hardly torture, the drive is an hour an a half each way.

So, my husband and I started having him read to me in the car.  We picked the iconic “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” which I had never bothered to read back in the 80s when it was all the rage.  While Covey is a bit bumpy out loud in his sentence structure, I really enjoy listening to the book and debating it’s points with my husband.  Naturally though, as an author I tend to try to apply any and all informational books to the process of writing and how I can use it to further myself.

I think despite some of the dated stories and ideas, that the 7 Habits is still very relevant and useful, and applies quite nicely to writing. Yanking it off teh shelf and dusting it off was a good decision.  There’s a lot of life left in this classic. Let’s start with the first three “private victories.”

Fun list of all seven habits by Jake HuhnHabit 1: Be Proactive

Basically, this habit is about owning our choice to act/react to things.  No matter how small or narrow, we have a choice between when something happens and what we do about it.  We chose whether we’ll act or be acted upon and which emotions we let consume us, which attitudes we immerse ourselves in.  And this is true of a writer as much as anyone.

I’ve met a lot of “writers” who all say something along the lines of “I’d really like to write but…” filled in with a bunch of reasons why life doesn’t allow them to.  Jobs, kids, parents who don’t approve or consider creative work “real,” a world out to get them in some respect that just doesn’t allow them to have the “time” to get anything written.

The second biggest trap I meet people falling into is enmeshed in woe over the state of the industry.  In query rejection depression I’ve slipped into this one myself.  It’s so easy to take a victim mentality when dealing with putting your heart out there on the line and getting rejected.  Suddenly you’re “helpless” and all of society is holding you back from your dream, leaving bitterness and resentment.

Proactivity means setting aside the idea I’m stuck, that life is acting on me, and see myself as the person who acts.  To focus my concern on what is in my control–that I sit down every day, laptop in front of me and write.  That I do my research, edit my work, exchange my crits, write my queries, and put myself out there.  If other things in my life steal priority, that ought to be because they’re important to me, not because I’m a victim of life. And my writing happens for the same reason, because I chose it.

That’s a message we could all use hearing again and again.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

I don’t think I could come up with a better bit of writing advice when tackling a novel than Habit 2.  Before a book can exist on paper, it needs to exist in the author’s mind.  Now, before all the pansters start an uproar here, I don’t mean that we have to know the literal end of the novel.  This is “end” in a general sense.

What is this novel as a whole? What sort of dream is it?  Can you picture the book in your hands? The feeling it gives you when you read it?  What is it about at its heart, this idea, how does it move you? If I don’t have that for a book, regardless of how much of the plot I plan ahead of time, the book doesn’t live.

I need to know what I want to achieve through a novel when I start it, or it won’t have the clarity to keep through the heat and toil of actually getting the project done.  When writer’s block hits, when doubts overwhelm me both about the idea and my worth as a writer, I need that vision, that “end” to help carry me through to reaching it.

This also I think goes for career in general.  What is my mission as an author? What do I want to ultimately do and say with my writing? What does success look like for me?  These are important ends, that can guide my inner focus and determination.  And looking at how that evolves as I mature as a writer is also important.  Some of my goals remain unchanged, while others have changed into new  perspectives–such as ebooks and my belief in their importance and reaching young readers through them as well as print.  Having that mission, both for my career as a whole and each book, is crucial.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Nifty scheduling chart thingy.

This section of the book has a little chart that I pretty much need to post in front of myself as a constant reminder.  Covey offers a lot of great thoughts about organizing time and trying to not live always bouncing between important urgent crises and time wasting non-urgent non-important tasks on the rebound.  I think that it’s significant that most actual writing tends to be a non-urgent but important (quadrant 2) activity.  It’s often pushed out into the sidelines of life by the back and forth emergency and recovery sort of life style.

Within my writing tasks themselves, it’s also important for me to look at the goals involved.  What are my goals for new books, books currently in editing, my marketing, and what activities are needed for each.  All very practical and solid advice for planning it out and getting what I need to get done, done.  And no, I’m not quite managing it (thus doing nano left me neglecting the blog and so on), but it’s quite inspiriting.  As I come up on May, I want to dive into really embracing these three inner changes and adapting them to fit what I need to increase the effectiveness of my writing.

These three “private victories” I took listening to the book to be what relates for me most to the actual process of writing.  After I go actually do some writing, next blog article I’ll muse on what Covey calls “public victories” and how I consider these habits to be related to the world of publishing.