Despite Excuses

This is my second full day back from the Despite Excuses Writing Retreat up near Fort Bragg, CA. I can still hear the sea if I close my eyes and listen hard enough.

It’s called Despite Excuses because we all have excuses not to write. We all have lives and responsibilities and day jobs and things. Despite Excuses is about writing even though Real Life happens, rather than waiting for Real Life to agree to leave us alone for a while. If we wait for that, we’ll be waiting a long time.

I don’t do well with roommates or housemates, but somehow I managed to get along with almost everybody in a ten-person house for a week. “No introvert-shaming” was a big rule and that helped a lot. If someone needed time to themselves, to write or nap or spend some time in nature, there was nothing wrong with that.

I tried out my Rejectomancy and Other Myths exercise on the group. This is a modification of my Rejectomancy presentation from a couple of years ago, expanded to include other myths and “truisms” about publishing. We had a nice mixed group of new writers and veterans, so the input was great and people learned a lot from it.

With a lot of teachers and parents in attendance, I also had the opportunity to crowdsource some ideas and inspiration for my YA novel-in-progress. I’m stuck at the point where kids experience the brunt of other kids’ meanness, and I’m out of touch with the techniques teens use to make each other’s lives miserable these days. We didn’t have mobile phones when I was in high school, so harassment has changed a lot since my day. We had to pass notes…uphill, both ways, in the snow, while fending off bears.

(Minor aside: I did see a mobile phone when I was in high school. It was a giant lunchbox with a brick of a handset attached to it. But it would be about fifteen years from that point until I had my own mobile phone. That phone was a brick of a handset, too, but it was a sleek brick, at least.)

I fell about 750 words short of my writing goal for the retreat, but toward the end I made the executive decision that spending time with people was more important than spending time writing; experiences are writing fodder, and I needed the inspiration more than the wordcount. I can make wordcount at home; I can’t stretch out on my back in a hot tub at home and gaze up at the Milky Way, oohing at the streaks of meteors across the sky.

In short, if you have a chance to drop everything, go to the coast, and write…take it. Despite excuses.

 

Revision Purgatory

Revision Purgatory is a much better place than Revision Hell. I’m fortunate to be working with an editor who has a great developmental eye and a lot of patience for “what if we…” emails, so I’m definitely not in hell. If I were in Revision Heaven, I could just wave my hand and say “Let it be done,” and lo, it would be all done. So I’m definitely not there, either. But Purgatory is a good place to be. It’s neutral, it’s not distracting, there are no loud parties. Just a few loud cats, but that’s my own fault.

The down side of working from home is that every afternoon my office mates start yelling at me about how hungry they are, several hours before the cafeteria opens for dinner. They also walk across my keyboard and try to rename my characters with their feet.

Anyway. I’m about two-thirds through the big, substantial edits on my Pathfinder novel. I still have to go back and brush up a few things, but I’m trying to focus on the big picture first. I’m pleased with the shape it’s taking. Zae, Keren, and Appleslayer are a lot of fun to write, and I’ve had enough of a break from this story that I can see it with fresh eyes now. I’ve written a whole separate novel since I turned this one in, and having that extra experience at this is also helping me now.

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This sign (on Route 580 in Oakland), is my measure of how deeply into this novel I am, in my own head. If I read this out of the corner of my eye as “Zae and Coliseum” as I’m driving past, I know I’m thinking about the story.

There’s not much to say from Revision Purgatory. It’s hard to update when my updates would essentially be things like “this scene you know nothing about? it now happens after this other scene you know nothing about, and I have to find another reason for them to be doing the thing I can’t tell you so that this other thing I don’t want to spoil can happen.”

I took yesterday off to visit the SF Maker Faire, which was a lot of fun and a needed break, and was also inspiring on a tinkering / creating / inventing-weird-stuff level, which of course is a perfect thing to get me into Zae’s world.

Zae’s world, as it happens, is an interesting place to visit. Check out some of the other Pathfinder Tales novels while I polish this one up. I’m looking forward to sharing more of her story with you!

Onder Radio

Have you checked out Onder Radio, the first podcast from Onder Librum (aka the Ed Greenwood Group)? In the first episode, Ed Greenwood gives a lovely shout-out to my debut novel, Of the Essence, which will be out at the end of April. (This month! Eee.)

Ed says:

Mysterious and dark, it brings more than a few daemons to VERY vivid life…and explores a lot of England, too. It’s by Gabrielle Harbowy, a very talented writer and author whom I’ve had the honor of working with on FOUR anthologies now.
[…] I think it really captures what it feels like for the daemons who live among us and are happy to live among us — or at least, are happy to live on earth. And how cruel daemons can be with each other, and what happens when daemons start putting pressure on each other.
It’s a deliciously dark book.
Thank you, Ed!    🙂

Next Up…

My next novel-in-progress (working title: Hearts Are Jerks) is a big departure for me. It’s Contemporary Young Adult, which means the main characters are in high school and there are no science-fictional or fantastical elements. It’s kind of a non-traditional romance, in that it has LGBT main characters, gender fluidity, and positive, realistic portrayals of polyamory.

It’s the first novel I’m writing that isn’t a tie-in to someone else’s world, and that isn’t already under contract. I’m trying to resist the urge to worry about what I’m going to do with it until it’s finished, but of course…worry is the one thing writers don’t procrastinate on, right?

Because this novel brings up a lot of questions for me.

Do I publish it under the same name I use for my genre work? Do I use a variant, like adding my middle initial or something? Do I use a new name entirely?

Do I try to use this novel to get an agent? Is this the sort of novel a mainstream publisher would even want? If I get an agent for this book, would they want to represent my future works in other genres too? Would I want to seek out someone who would want that, or would I rather have an agent who wouldn’t want that? Who do I hire to edit this for me before I start submitting it around? Who do I ask to critique it for me before I’m ready for an editor?

What’s ironic about this: when I’m wearing my editor hat, these are questions I help other people answer ALL THE TIME. Seriously, all the time. Which is to say, I do know the answers because I know how I advise other people, and how I would advise them if they were me.

I’d use a variant name, I’d seek an agent who represents writers who write books like this, I’d refer this colleague to edit and these two to critique/beta-read and ask these three if they’d be available to give me a blurb. I’d send it here, here, and here for review, and submit it to these three awards.

What’s amusing about this: I know all this stuff. But then I feel like I don’t, all of a sudden. The tables turn when it’s my manuscript in the spotlight. I have become every writer I’ve ever worked with.

What’s fascinating about this: everything I go through as a writer makes me more sensitive as an editor.

Hellmaw Logo

I Finished My Novel!

I debated over titles for this post, but I think this is the biggest thing I have to say. I finished my novel!

If you’re counting, that means I’ve turned in TWO original written-by-me novels this year. I’m still a little stunned, honestly. This isn’t something I would have thought I could do, but I did it and I even held on to my sanity and health. (Mostly.) It meant canceling on all but one convention for 2015 and missing Thanksgiving with my family, but I did it. Hopefully this will make a lot of travel opportunities happen over the next two years. Including visits to my family.

The Hellmaw setting is still under a pretty tight Non Disclosure Agreement, so there isn’t much I can tell you about the book or the setting. However, I’ll tell you what I can:

  • My book title is OF THE ESSENCE.
  • It is a standalone novel. That is, there are no sequels planned at this time. It’s open-ended enough to entertain a sequel in the future, if it does well and readers clamor for more, but I had so many plates in the air already that I only wanted to commit to one book at a time.
  • It has chapters, but not chapter titles. Just chapter numbers.
  • It has characters.
  • It passes the Bechdel test.
  • It does not contain sexual violence.
  • If it were a movie, it would probably be rated R.
  • It will be available in May, 2016.
  • The moment it’s up on Goodreads and Amazon, I will let you know.
  • I’m really, really proud of it, and I hope everyone else enjoys it too. 🙂

 

 

Process: Writing the Actiony Stuff

I complained to Matt, my husband, that I’m not confident about writing the big action sequences. I can do them, I’m not saying I can’t, but they’re not my comfort zone.

He said, “You’re going to have to get used to them. You’ll probably be writing a lot of them. If only there was a macro you could use as a template and just fill it in.”

I said, “Like Pokemon? ‘$name attacks $name2 using $skill. It’s $adjective effective!’ except not like that?”

He said, “No. Exactly like that. Block it out like that, and then embellish around it until it’s a scene.”

Blocking is a theater term for staging out where characters go and when.

I did it. Just the bare bones at first. I made the decisions, keeping it simple.

A shoots B.
C taunts B.
B attacks C.
D, unnoticed, moves to get a clear shot at C.

Then I turned those bones into a fleshed-out sequence, which was much less intimidating once I knew the mechanics and could see it in my head.

It works. I was self-conscious about complaining, but it spawned conversation and a good, do-able solution.

Also, my husband is smart. 🙂

6 Tips For Successful Readings

Performing a reading from your novel is a great way to get an audience interested in buying your book. How do you choose an excerpt to read and what should you watch out for?

1..A reading from your book should be entertaining, but it should also be a promotional tool. You’re giving your audience a sample because you want to intrigue them and make them want to buy the book. Choose an engaging excerpt with some action, some humor, and some drama. Show them that you can do all three.

2..Choose a section that more or less stands alone. Something that requires minimal set-up and minimal knowledge of the story is best. By minimal, I mean something like, “This is our protagonist, this is his passenger. We’re joining them just as they’re about to land on the asteroid.” More than that will make your listeners feel overburdened with facts and relationships to keep straight before the reading even starts. Listeners will be able to figure out a certain amount of backstory just from context, and those context clues help to intrigue them. Instead of picking a section that requires that you explain why they’re on the asteroid, pick a section that your audience can follow along with even if they don’t know all the background, and one that makes them curious about the background. The best reading is one that intrigues them to pick up the book and learn for themselves.

3..Choose a section that involves your main character. It might be easier to find a sampling to fulfill the “stands alone” requirement by focusing on a side plot or a minor character, but remember that your goal is to draw your audience in and make them want to read the book. Focusing your reading on a minor character, if it succeeds at that goal, will get them interested in someone with relatively little “screen-time,” and doesn’t necessarily present an accurate picture of what the book is like or what it focuses on.

4..End your reading on a cliffhanger. Draw your audience into your world, get them invested and make them care what happens next… and then don’t give it to them! If you build sufficient tension and drama in your reading, you’ll hook them into buying the book on the spot: they’ll be caught up in the urgency of the scene, and they’ll need to know! If you end on a resolution, they’ll walk away thinking it was a nice little story and that you’re a talented author, but they won’t feel as driven to give you that sale.

5..Choose content that translates well to the spoken word. A passage that relies on a diagram, a mathematical equation, a written measure of music, or something deliberately unpronounceable will only get in your way. If you really must choose a selection that relies on your audience’s ability to see the page, prepare a display in advance and make arrangements with your venue so that it can be of a size and form that the whole audience will be able to see clearly.

6..Time your reading. Practice it. I can’t stress the importance of this. Be comfortable with your words and be used to saying them out loud. A reading is a performance, and your ability as a performer affects your audience’s interest, too. Don’t just start at page one and go until your timekeeper cuts you off. Make sure that your reading fits your time slot so that you can end on that perfect note.

(originally posted August 2009)