Almost there…

…stay on target!
There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

Yes, I just paraphrased Star Wars: A New Hope. So sue me. I love that movie. It inspires me.

In any event, I think that I am finally getting somewhere with Wyldling Snare!

As I mentioned in a previous post, this novel is to be the first installment of a five or six book series – all of which will have “Wyldling” in the title. I had a large part of this series already written in a ponderous tome entitled The Grand Illusion, but I felt that I needed to rework that behemoth into a series of separate books. This is the twenty-first century, not the nineteenth century. No one wants to slog through my rendition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (no, I haven’t actually read it – although I have read Anna Karenina.)

Right now, I am still in this writing/reworking phase. My goal is to have the first draft completed by the New Year – and I believe that this is an attainable goal. There, I defined my goal. I set a deadline. I even wrote it down and shared it with other people…in this blog. Hooray! I made a few baby steps toward accomplishing something! Even if it turns out to be utter malarkey!

If I had to quantify my progress, I would have to venture a guess. Three-quarters done? Perhaps even more, since much of the book is already written. Five out of roughly twenty-five chapters left to rework, and one earlier chapter that requires additional prose.

I suppose I have to ask the question: technically speaking, is this a first draft or a second draft that I am currently working on? Part of me responds “who cares?” but another part of me likes to be accurate and precise. I could call the manuscript a second draft in the sense that much of it was already written. However, it is a first draft in the sense that other eyes have not yet critiqued it.

Mea culpa! I am guilty of trying to edit and revise simultaneously as I craft the story -which is a big no-no for a writer who actually wants to finish a novel.

My advice: write everything down – without judgment! – and then go back to revise it. You are your own worst critic. Stop listening to that nasty, paranoid voice and just WRITE.

Even if it ends up sounding like utter malarkey.

I agree with Voltaire

Perfectionism = Procrastination.

“Perfect is the enemy of good.” —Voltaire

Recently, one of my friends handed me a printout of an article by Tim Herrera of the New York Times: “It’s Never Going to Be Perfect, So Just Get It Done.” It’s a good read, and I really identified with what he wrote.

You know…I could be wrong, but I think that she was trying to tell me something.

So here I am feeling kinda bad about how little I have accomplished on my novel thus far. I have been reworking the first installment of the Wyldling Series for the past several months, which translates into me rewriting everything to fit into the new paradigm. Every time I feel that I’ve made some progress, suddenly my brain vomits forth some new, cool idea about something I really should’ve included in a previous chapter. This is how the original version of my novel became so cumbersome and part of the reason why it is taking me so long to finish (that, and over-editing.)

I’ve found a way to discipline myself on this front – just a little bit.

In order to keep myself from sliding off the Cliffs of Insanity and into shrieking eel-infested waters, I simply make a note of every new idea in the book outline and then move on reworking each chapter, one at a time. I don’t lose those ideas and actual progress is made. And if it turns out that an outside editor thinks the current idea as written sucks, I can pull a second or third stringer off the bench to try out.

It’s slow going, but all is working out according to the plan.

I ask myself: So, you have an actual plan? That’s great! What is it?

Myself responds: Um…to finish writing my book and then try to get it published?

I: Yeah, but have you set some achievable goals?

Myself: Huh? Goals? What are those?

I: *sighs in exasperation* Then, how about at east setting a deadline for yourself?

Myself: Well, you know what they say about deadlines…

I: Now you’re just making excuses!

Myself: Yes. Yes, I am.

Me: Hey, guys! Feeling a mite peckish, here. Let’s get some Doritos!

Beware folks, for Perfectionism = Procrastination.

See, if I want to finish the book, there comes a point when I will have to say “good enough” and find an editor to help me get the manuscript ready to publish. It all comes down to fear, really. If I never finish it, then I don’t have to go through the agony of having my book rejected a gazillion times by literary agents and publishers. Yes, I am going to try traditional publishing first, even though I realize it will probably be a no-go all around. I’ve told myself that I want to start a huge collection of rejection letters. Keep a portfolio or a scrapbook of’em and everything.

But first, I have to stop procrastinating, tell the Internal Editor to SHUT UP and finish the *bleeping* book!

On that note, I’m off to take Tim Herrera’s advice.

 

Inaccurate statistics make for great writing prompts

“Last year in the US alone more than nine hundred thousand people were reported missing and not found…out of about three hundred million, total population. That breaks down to about one person in three hundred and twenty-five vanishing. Every year…Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it’s almost the same loss ratio experienced by herd animals on the African savannah to large predators.”

— Harry Dresden in Dead Beat by Jim Butcher, published in 2005.

“Actually, no, Harry,” I retort, rather disdainfully. “That loss ratio on the African savannah number is probably at least an order of magnitude higher than 0.3%. Maybe even more.* However,” I add in a softer tone, “I completely understand what you’re getting at.”

— Me…had I actually been there. ***sighs wistfully***

*No sources cited, don’t have to, na na na boo boo. I have a Masters of Science in Applied Ecology, so there!

It turns out that there are a number of other folks on the interwebs world who have already commented on this highly provocative quote and thought it “sounded correct.” One or two people actually did a little research on the statistic and did not agree.

***Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that Dead Beat is a novel, i.e. a work of fiction. Facts can appear to be grossly distorted because this story takes place in a different, albeit very similar, universe to our own. The big hint is that magic exists and there is any number of supernatural entities gadding about causing trouble for our wizardly hero, Harry Dresden, and generally raising Cain. Suspension of disbelief is essential, people!***

Obviously, Dresden’s example is a bit melodramatic – not to mention grossly inaccurate – but Harry is trying to clue in Waldo Butters to the dangers of the supernatural world. He uses the disturbing statistic trope to explain to Butters why the majority of people who have a close call might choose to rationalize events, deny whatever happened, and simply pretend the supernatural world doesn’t exist instead of going public about it. This conversation takes place shortly after the zombie attack in the morgue. Zombies, ick. What a horrible introduction to the things that go bump in the night. Personally, I think I’d rather deal with werewolves than zombie-wielding necromancers. Werewolves are way cooler, for one thing. At least, the Alphas version of the werewolf in the Dresden Files Universe is pretty awesome. Who wouldn’t want to be able to autonomously turn into a wolf while retaining human-level reasoning ability? Heck, yeah! Count me in.

Anyway, out of curiosity I just went online and did a search for the number of people reported missing annually in the USA. First, I found a transcript for a 2013 NPR broadcast entitled “The Majority of Missing Person Cases are Resolved,” in which they interviewed the director of communications for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. He claims that in 2012, there were 661,000 cases reported for missing people, but the vast majority of these were quickly canceled, leaving them with 2,079 unresolved missing person cases (3.145%).

And then I did a little more digging. The actual number of missing person cases filed in the US was 830,325 in 2004 according to the NCIC. I don’t know if this statistic represents missing person reports that are new starting in that year or is a cumulative total of open cases at the time. Probably the latter, but the website doesn’t specify unless you pay for the privilege of knowing. Therefore, Harry was definitely exaggerating the number by incorrectly rounding up but don’t be too hard on him. Most people who aren’t mathematically challenged would have done the same to make their point. As you know, 85% of statistics are made up on the spot.

In any event, if the proportion of reported cases to actual unresolved cases remains more or less constant year to year, that means that there were about 28,800 unresolved missing persons cases “last year” in the Dresden Files Universe. Yikes. Of course, this number is not taking into account the resolved cases where missing people are actually found dead. These folks MIGHT have been killed by supernatural predators.

Hmm…what if supernatural predators really DO exist?

Double yikes.

Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

Spot on, Billy Bard. Spot on.

All ghostly gibbering aside, how can anyone NOT love Shakespeare?

 

There ain’t nothing wrong with the Radio

Another influence on my writing that cannot be ignored is music. Before I can go into detail about that I should lay out the groundwork and give you a little historical background – just as I did with my reading preferences.

Much like my reading preferences, my listening preferences have also evolved. My music collection can best be described as “eclectic.” If I commanded a spaceship it would be named MusicStar Eclectica.

As a youngster, I listened primarily to whatever was on the radio. My parents’ tastes pretty much dictated what was available to me, but I discovered fairly early on that I did not care for country music, which was what my dad listened to, pretty much exclusively – except for when he decided to really annoy us all by listening to the polka station. Now, I don’t have anything against polka music. I think it’s great to dance to; whenever I hear polka my feet start itching to hop around. However, listening to polka for hours on end strikes me as a form of audible torture. The same goes for country music. There are some songs that I like – primarily by the late great Johnny Cash, now that I think about it – for various reasons, but much of it does not appeal to me.

My tastes in music as a child tended to align more with my mother’s. I liked the music that she enjoyed listening to in high school. And I still do. I’m talking about Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, the Who, Styx, Steppenwolf, and The Grass Roots, to name a few. I have fond memories of listening to her vinyl records by these artists when I was in middle school. But my love of music goes back even further than that. In fact, one of my very first memories is of listening to a Styx 8-track on the stereo while watching our dog trotting over to the front door from the kitchen.

My mom and I both liked rock and roll from the 1980s, too, but that was the stuff that I grew up listening to, so it was more my bag than hers. I still liked the older stuff, but I added artists such as The Cars, Madonna, Talking Heads, Cyndi Lauper, Toto, Billy Joel and the Police to my favorites playlist. As a caveat, when I was pre-school age, “Burning down the House” by the Talking Heads was the song that I was most obsessed with, probably because I was going through a pyrophobia phase at the time. My mom tells me that when we went to see Bambi in the theater, she had to drag me outside during the forest fire scene because I started screaming in terror. I remember having awful nightmares about fires a little later on after my brother was born…but now I’m going off on a tangent. Maybe I’ll examine my childhood fire fixation in conjunction with sibling anxiety in the future, just not right now.

Here’s an interesting fact: I never got into Bruce Springsteen, even though my mom loved him and had a sizeable vinyl record collection of his work. I can’t explain it. My apologies to any Springsteen fans out there. I’m sure he’s a perfectly decent guy, but something about him creeped me out back then.

In any event, by the time I was in fifth grade, I had already discovered the joys of audio cassette tapes (remember those???) and recording my favorite songs on the radio. I believe it was around this time that I also learned about the Beatles, thanks to a documentary video (also, remember VHS tapes???) that one of my uncles gave me for Christmas. Like many an impressionable young girl before me, I fell in love with the Fab Four. I found out that certain radio stations still played songs by the Beatles, and by the time I was in middle school I was spending a lot of time listening to “oldies.” At that time, oldies music was anything from before the 1970s, and “classic” was ‘70s and early ’80s music. (I realize that the current definition of oldies now also encompasses the music that I grew up listening to. Cripes, do I feel old!)

I spent a lot of time during my “tween” years listening to popular music on the radio and recording my most favorite songs on cassette tapes. I was given cassette tapes of my favorite artist as gifts and spent my hard-earned allowance on them. Still ’70s and ‘80s music, but since time marches ever onward my musical taste eventually expanded to include the music of the 1990s as well – but not as much as you might expect. In fact, my pattern of musical attraction seems to follow a retrograde path. For the longest time, I was obsessed with a certain cassette tape of Queen’s greatest hits, and another cassette live album of INXS. I tended to prefer the older stuff. I usually lagged a little behind my cohort in embracing popular trends, if I did so at all. I suppose I was always an “old soul.” Or maybe just an “odd soul.”

I was well into high school before I got into grunge bands like Nirvana. Somehow, despite my sheltered and innocent life, I learned about Rammstein. I owned a grand total of one album by them: Sehnsucht. On CD, of course (it took me a little while, but I did finally convert to purchasing CDs after cassettes become rare and more difficult to find). I even remember buying that Rammstein CD from a store in the local mall. One of my older male friends had driven me there so that I could obtain it (currently, I own most of Rammstein’s albums in the mp3 format).

By the time I graduated from college, I owned quite a few CDs and more than 30 cassette tapes that I stubbornly clung to. It was only after I married my husband that I came into contact with those enlightened folk who “downloaded” music from the internet and/or ripped music from CDs to store on their computers. I never got into the whole Napster movement; I felt it was unethical even before it became illegal. However, my eyes were opened to the possibility that technology had to offer for expanding my music collection without having to buy more and ever larger containers in which to store CDs.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they were a-changin’.

At present, I have close to 1000 songs that I ripped from my CDs and my husband’s on to my laptop –  plus we have over 800 songs in our Amazon cloud. Thanks to one of my husband’s friends who had a song by Apoptygma Berzerk on his hard-drive I really got into electronic music about ten years ago. And thanks to Pandora I found tons of other electronic acts that I enjoy. Now, keep in mind that I still like all the stuff that I grew up listening to on the radio and don’t necessarily “have” in my collection. This means that I probably love over 1500 songs, spanning multiple genres of music. I don’t know if that’s a big number or not.

I could go on and on, but this entry is growing too long to be interesting anymore and I haven’t even said anything about how my musical tastes have affected my writing. I suppose – in summary – just like my reading preferences my taste in music went through phases.

As did my writing.

To make a long story short, I guess I’m just one of those people who really gets into music and isn’t too particular about “type,” just what tickles my fancy or resonates with me. And as much as I love utilizing apps like Pandora and Spotify to discover new favorite songs, I still enjoy listening to whatever is playing on the radio (my favorite local station is Life 102.5.)

Are you one of those people, too? Which artists or genres are your favorites?

Gollum asks me an important question

“What has she gots on her bookshelveses?”

Why, thank you, Gollum, for showing an interest. Rather than simply listing off the books I currently possess, permit me a measure of self-indulgence in first explaining how my reading habits evolved and how it influenced my writing.

I have always been a voracious reader so it should come as no surprise that many authors have influenced my writing over the years. There is no way I can remember everything I’ve ever read, so I’ll just cover the highlights. From what I recall, during my earliest years I stuck primarily to nonfiction – particularly informational books about the systems of the human body and health, natural history books about animals but mainly books about dinosaurs, with which I was obsessed all through elementary school. The first “novel” that I ever wrote – and finished – was about a sibling trio of young orphaned dinosaurs trying to survive on their own in a dangerous world ruled by a “tyrannical” Tyrannosaurus Rex. Heh heh. That was in fifth or sixth grade and I think it was for a special school project. This book was most likely strongly influenced by A Land Before Time, since the movie came out in 1988 and I’m pretty sure I saw it in the theater. Too bad I can’t find that book anywhere now; I think I gave the only copy to the school librarian.

Foolish child that I was.

By the time I left elementary school, I had read every book in the school library by Dr. Suess, Bill Peet, Jean Craighead George, Jim Kjielgaard and any number of fiction books that were from an animal’s point of view, as well as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Pippi Longstocking series. Those were my favorites, but I also read the Sleepover Friends series and the Trixie Belden series, from which I moved on to the mystery/thriller genre in middle school. I also read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz because my mom owns practically every book by them. My favorite Koontz novel is a tie between The Watchers and Lightning. I love The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King (of course, what else?) above and beyond anything else that he’s written, and I think most of his work is excellent.

Middle school was also the time period in which I finally read The Hobbit in its entirety and understood it. My life was never the same again. From then on, I was hooked on Fantasy and Science Fiction. This is not to say that I never read other genres, only that I had found my favorite genre. I adore various classic literature (especially Jane Austen) and I’ve plowed through all the gothic romances by Victoria Holt and many by Joan Aiken. I also enjoy reading Daniel Silva novels every now and then, primarily those featuring Gabriel Allon. I tend to pull in elements from these other genres when I write, however fantasy is the framework on which I have chosen I hang my stories.

From The Hobbit I naturally moved on to the Lord of the Rings and everything else by J.R.R. Tolkien, William Sleator, Madeleine L’Engle, David Eddings, Piers Anthony, C.S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, as well as many novels set in the Star Wars universe by various authors (we have several bookcase shelves full of these in paperback). & etc. & etc.

A sampling of the books in our household.

I could probably argue that I am fairly wide read in the Fantasy genre. I tend to pick an author and – if I enjoy their style and the sort of tale they weave – read everything by them that I can find in the public library. And if I really like them, I actually purchase the books. For example, we have an entire bookshelf dedicated to Jim Butcher (just about everything he has published so far), and another for the complete Wheel of Time series in hardcover. All seven Harry Potter books (also in hardcover) share a shelf with my growing collection of Usagi Yojimbo graphic novels. Sara Douglass, Michael Moorcock, Terry Goodkind, Simon R. Green, Kate Elliott, Elizabeth Hadyn and Jane Lindskold are also pretty well represented as well.

For awhile space was a real concern. Our house is rather small and there are only so many walls that we can line with bookshelves. However – now that such things as Kindle exist – I don’t have to worry so much about buying more bookshelves. Of course, all else being equal I still prefer to read a paper copy of a novel. Who doesn’t?

You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t mention the Bible in the litany above. This is not because I don’t consider the Bible an influence over my writing – it very much is a strong influence! – but because I thought it should go without saying that I incorporate God’s Word in my Teharan Cycle novels.

More on that later.

Now that I’ve shared my reading preferences with you, what sort of authors and titles tend to dominate your bookshelves? What do you read for fun?