Thursday, January 27, 2011

Under the Sun

They say there's nothing new under the sun. Whoever they are, it makes you wonder whether or not they're right.

A lot of what we (as a society) produce seems to be based on, inspired by or downright copies of, things that came before. I'm not just talking about things (for the sake of this discussion, I'm going to stick to artistic endeavours) that were created with the intention of retelling a familiar story, like Westside Story or She's the Man* - I'm talking about everything.

I would say the vast majority fiction, if we were to take away the stylistic aspects and change the characters' names to Protagonist, Antagonist, etc., would tell very similar stories. Which isn't to say those stories aren't compelling, but it calls the idea of originality into question.

Somewhere in this article, I've probably alluded to Shakespeare (and the Bible and maybe a hundred other things), without even knowing. Some things are so prolific that they become part of us, as if by osmosis, and can't possibly be avoided. We write them or say them out loud without any intention to do so. So is it even possible to be original?

I'm wondering if the similarities in the stories we tell exist because they follow a set format that limits us, like that Docx guy suggested, or if it's because we're unconsciously copying each other.

Or, do they exist because of common interest, because we like reading about badass men and damsels in distress, because we like the idea that enemies can become friends and lovers and that the underdog can win, because blood is literally our life force and therefore extremely important to us - do they exist because we're human?

Personally, I think there is plenty new under the sun. I'm a firm believer of originality in art and as far as I can see, it's still going strong.

*I couldn't think of another example off the top of my head, but this kind of leads me to believe that Shakespeare should be left alone... although, 10 Things I Hate About You was really good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Slightly in shock...

The Novel is complete.

This is A Big Deal. I'm under no illusions that it's perfect, or even ready to be read over by another human being, what with its gaping plot holes, loose threads, and wild inconsistencies in characterization, but it is now words on a page instead of words in my head. It's actually kind of weird, not having this project in the back of my mind. When I finish edits it's going to be even weirder.


Really, I just wanted to squee. We now return to your regularly scheduled intelligent discussion.

Hmmm, now it needs a proper title...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Picking Your Battles (or, at least the order they come in)

I have so much going on right now. Not just in my non-writing life (which is wonderful and crazy-intense), but my writing world as well. I've got my normal 60+ stories on the go - I've been trying to pear (pare?) the list down to just a few, so I can complete some of them, and I think I'm down to about 5 that I'm actively writing. What I've discovered: 5 is still too many. I remember the wonderful years between '02 and '07ish, when I could keep all of my characters and storylines mostly straight in my head (2004 saw the introduction of the Characters spreadsheet, which I used to keep my 300+ characters in order and avoid reusing names), when I could write two or three novels simultaneously and not get confused, or figure out the entire plot to a new story and keep it straight in my head long enough to write it down.

So the question is, how do I narrow my list down even further? I don't want to give up on any of my stories, I'd like to think that I'll write them all, eventually, but the problem is that for every story I complete I start at least two, so how am I ever going to achieve that?

To get the 5, I've used a rough set of criteria based on what I feel like writing, what I can complete in the shortest amount of time and what has the greatest publishing potential, all of which, for reasons I don't quite understand, kind of makes me feel like a sell out. I don't know what else I can do to shorten the list, I honestly don't.

So how do I (or how does any writer) decide which projects to work on and which to push to the (seemingly endless) back burner?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Preconceptions: What People Think of Writers

I think there is a propensity among professionals in general to believe their profession is among the noblest, most difficult and most incomprehensible to others - and for the most part, I don't think we writers are any different*. Sure, we understand the necessity devoting time, energy, money, blood, sweat and tears to our passion, but try explaining it to someone else. Not easy.

I've only recently started allowing myself to tell people I'm a writer. A strange feeling comes over me, like somehow I'm tricking them, like a beauty school student telling people s/he's a professional stylist, like I'm not a real writer yet. I know this is ridiculous, since I've been a real writer, heart and soul, since I was about four (the first time, to anyone's recollection, that I proclaimed "I have to write this down" - and without any further explanation, allowed the crayons and colouring book I was holding to fall to the floor and promptly disappeared into my bedroom) and a published (and indeed selling) writer for almost a year. But it still feels weird.

I know how many writers feel about this glorious, insane, impossible, wonderful profession, and how many of us feel about ourselves. What I'm interested in (for the purposes of this article), is what other people think about us - and how their preconceptions (or lack thereof) change ours.

When I tell people I'm a writer, one of the first things they (almost) always ask is, "Anything I'd know?" It's a good question, it shows interest, but I still fear it because I know the answer is no. Not even probably not, just, no. From there, their reactions can go anywhere.

Pleasantly, a lot of people seem to have the That's Amazing reaction, the one where they tell me they could never write and that they're fascinated by people who can, then proceed to ask me a million questions about my writing, my process, my whateverelsetheycanthinkof - which I am only too happy to answer. These people usually insist that I'll be famous soon, too, which I like, even if it is a baseless assertion.

Almost as many people (possibly more and I just trick myself into mentally fudging the numbers a little) have the Stunned Silence and Change the Subject reaction, where they say "Oh," or "Ah," or contrive to make an even less committal noise, then start talking about their cold or their dog or the exhaust pipe they need to have fixed on their car. It always makes me feel a little judged.

And of course, there is always the myriad of reactions we get from our family and friends when they find out we plan to make a career out of this thing called writing. In my experience, they have just as wide of a range as those of strangers and casual acquaintances.

There is the Go For It! reaction. It involves words of encouragement, help with writer's block, help with brainstorming and editing - and the understanding that when we are typing, completely ignoring what they're trying to tell us, it's not personal.

There's Go For It, But Be Careful. Supportive, cautionary, still overall not a bad reaction to have.

Then there's the Fall Back, the reaction basically suggests that eventually, you'll grow out of this phase and want to settle down and get a real job - and you should prepare for that eventuality, you know, just in case.

And, of course, there's the rare (although never rare enough) Why Don't You Get a Real Job? reaction. The one that can make you want to scream, throw things or just shake your head in bemused disgust. I'm happy to say that this is one reaction that I can't seem to get my head around, and as a result, I never take it seriously.

Have I missed any? I'm not certain what brought on this little catalogue of reactions, but I'd like it to be as complete as possible. I'm nothing, if not thorough.

*Of course, in our case, it's true ;)

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Book Review, of Sorts

As I am occasionally wont to do (generally for the laughs), I browse the paperback section at whatever passes for a grocery store/drug store and pick out something that catches my fancy. In this case, I grabbed Crave, by J.R. Ward, an author I'd never heard of, so I picked it on the basis of the cover alone.

I also, in all truth, have completely exhausted my supply of books at home (which numbers about five, currently).

Halfway in, I've decided that I actually kinda like it. It's the second book of its series, which I didn't know when I got it, but since I wasn't going for brilliance in writing, I don't much care. It's certainly not the best piece of fiction out there, but it's decent. The universe sticks to its own rules, and there's hot men who have wings and fighting and general manliness.

On the other hand, the author used 'symbology' as a word. I just about died. Plus, there's a demon called 'Devina', which just makes me think of that bit in Rabb Nesbit when David Tennant guest starred as a soon-to-be woman. And Devina goes to a mortal therapist for actual therapy, which seems a bit odd, for a demon who's trying to take over heaven and earth. She also won't kill kids, but isn't above sacrificing virgins. Seems a bit inconsistent, but then, there's no reason why a demon wouldn't have foibles like being squeemish about killing kids, but not adult virgins.

In terms of writing style itself, it's an easy enough read, though there are waaaay too any sentences with strung-together-phrases-like-this-one, which I would have pounced on had I been editing. And most of the men are actually just the same man in different clothes and with slightly different backstories, except for a couple of the side characters, one of whom is actually interesting, which is a little annoying, but then again - I wasn't reading it in the hopes of finding loveable characters so much as hot men who could fly.

Still - over all, it's performing its function admirably, and entertaining me enough that I don't mind falling asleep while reading, or go stir-crazy with nothing to do when crocheting socks doesn't hold any interest for me. The universe is intreiguing enough to hold my interest (but not my ability to spell, it seems), despite the character flaws, the smut didn't devolve into the 'throbbing member' nonsense that most romance novels go for, and if it wasn't for a...brusqueness and a bit too much modern-world-name-dropping that always ends up dating a book (like tossing in a reference to eHarmony), it'd move out of the 'decently tolerable' category and into the lesser levels of indifference.

That said, 'symbology' was almost a deal breaker - all I could hear is Willem Defoe saying "Ssssssymbolism."

I kinda want to watch Boondock Saints, now...

EDIT: Fixed sentences, cleared up thoughts, and generally mopped up the mess I made when I wrote this while half asleep yesternight. Jan 10, 2011

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The People You Know

***First of all, I'd like to wish everyone a happy 2011 filled with book deals and adoring fans.***

Most writers write with an audience in mind, even if that audience is only a vague: people like me. Sometimes it's way more specific, with age, gender, even socioeconomic standing or ethnicity taken into consideration. Who a writer writes for will vastly alter what s/he writes, not to mention what gets cut during editing.

So, what I'm wondering is, do you ever find yourself writing for the people you know? Do you worry about what your friends and family will think about a certain scene, concept or character? Do you avoid basing characters off of friends of friends or colleagues, in case they're recognized.

There's no denying it can get awkward. It's kind of hard to hand your Dad a piece of writing with a sex scene and say, here, read this and not feel weird about it.

The popular theory seems to be that it's not what, but who you know that will determine your success as a writer. One of the best tools a writer has is his/her circle of acquaintance. Word-of-mouth is an excellent form of promotion (I know I'm personally a lot more likely to read a book based on a recommendation from someone with similar taste than I am to read one because it's a best-seller), but I find it kind of difficult to approach people and ask them to promote me - and even more difficult if they themselves are not part of my target audience, or worse, I know they're likely to disapprove of what I've written.

So, do you skip sex scenes to prevent your dad from reading them, or skirt religious debates to avoid upsetting your grandparents, try not to rail against your day job to placate your boss?

Do you just not tell people what you're writing and hope that some never find out?

Alternatively, do you just write the way you want to write, release your writing into the world and reap the whirlwind (/backlash)?

I was terrified to let Aigaion Girl go. I wrote it happily enough, not really giving any thought to anything other than the flow of the story, the realism of the characters, the cadence of the prose--It never occurred to me that I should avoid certain topics or images - until I was getting ready to publish, and realized that somewhere along the way, there was good chance my grandmother was going to read it. She won't, thankfully*. I was actually a little surprised that I didn't experience more negativity from my extended family. I didn't send them all invitations to join my Facebook fan page or anything, but, especially with social networking sites like FB, it's kind of impossible to keep my writing secret from anyone without using a pseudonym.

So there's a question, too: Is it worth it to write under another name, so that you can write with abandon?

Really, I'm just curious to know how other writers deal with their family and friends when it comes to their writing - how much of a consideration friends and family are.

*I love my Gran and I don't want to read something that I know will upset her (I've since been told by others that the book is really sexual, which surprised me because all the sex scenes are fade-to-black).