Sunday, June 26, 2016


I've wanted to be a published author for a long time.

The notion first struck me in elementary school, not long after I read the first Harry Potter book. I'm pretty sure that book was the first time I really understood that writing stories was Actually A Thing that people Actually Did. This thing that I loved had been created by a real person. More than that, this thing I loved had been created by another woman. (J.K. Rowling and S.E. Hinton both played a pretty major role in my decision to write--one day I'll devote a post to those experiences.)

The point is, I knew I wanted to be a published author almost as soon as I knew what an author was.

I understood parts of the process. I knew I'd have to put in the work to write--come up with ideas, get them on paper, clean them up. I knew I'd have to deal with critique to make my work better. I knew I'd have to find ways to narrow down 80,000 plus words into a three-paragraph pitch (this may be the hardest thing ever, by the way). I knew I'd face rejections (so, so many rejections). When each of these things happened, I was prepared. I took the punches and rolled with them as best I could.

And then it happened.

It's happened twice, actually. I sent queries and pitches, and publishers made an offer.

It's done. Dream achieved.

I did a great deal of research as I started my journey towards publication.

Nowhere in my research mentioned the waiting.

Signing a contract is a rush. A wild excitement pumps through you and--if you're me--you send back your contract as soon as you can. You immediately get wrapped up in thinking about when the piece is published. You imagine the signings or plan out how you'll pose for the first picture of you holding the actual physical copy of your work.

But the signings and the selfies are a long way off. On some level, I knew that. Publication itself is a creative process. Catchy copy has to be written. Covers have to be designed. Marketing strategies have to be laid out. I understand that it takes time.

Knowing that in a logical sense and being ready for it, though, are two different things.

To a certain extent, I anticipated the wait time. It's part of why I waited so long to start this blog and to make the Facebook page. What I didn't expect was how it would make me feel.

As might be expected, I have a rather active imagination. My overly-anxious brain has come up with a million different--and ridiculous-- scenarios about what's going on while I wait. The company's changed their minds. They're trying to find a way to tell me that the back half of the story needs to be totally rewritten--that they like my idea but hate the execution.

The waiting is normal. But it still makes me nervous.

The two pieces of mine that have been picked up are both in the hands of their to-be publishers now. I have a great deal of respect for both companies, and I'm confident that both are the best home for the works they've taken on. Certainly both know the publishing industry better than I and will make better decisions about how to proceed to publication than I would, given my newness to the experience. I've got to sit back and let them do their work, trusting that, if there's something I need to do, they'll let me know and that, if there's a significant problem, I'll be told.

But there's a part of me that still wants to fiddle, that wants instant gratification.

I'm not good at stillness. That's part of why I jumped into project 2016 as soon as my last work was done. But at this point, I've done all that there is for me to do. I just have to wait.

No one told me about the waiting.

But, as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait. I'm going to get to do what I've wanted to do since I was a kid. That's worth waiting for.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


I wasn’t going to write this post. At least, I wasn’t going to write it yet. I'm going to say some too-big-for-my-britches things about creative responsibility. I wanted to wait until I had a following that reached beyond my family and friends, but I felt like this was the time to talk about this.

I’ve mentioned before that my background is a mix of communication studies and sociology. I’m teaching a summer session of Mass Media and Society this summer, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the past week talking about identity and representation.

The crux of the course, the main thing that I’m trying to communicate to my students, is that art is never just art. In other words, it’s never just a game or just a movie. It’s a cultural shorthand. There are myriad social experiences that a single viewer/reader/player will never experience, so the mediated version of these experiences become the reality—I may never travel to Paris, but I’ve seen movies set there, and I’ve read books about Paris and Parisian life. For me, those representations make up the entirety of my view of what Paris is like.

We have a very specific view of artists in our society—the lone, starving artist, dedicated to their vision. We frame art as something that comes solely from within and is put into the world.

This, honestly, is a load of crap.

I don’t mean to imply that creative endeavor is impersonal, because obviously the desire to create and the things we choose to spend our time on are personal. But this notion that an artist’s creations aren’t informed by the world they live in is flat-out wrong.

People don’t live in a vacuum. The world that we live in and our social identities shape our experiences. My experiences and point of view as an American are going to translate into the things that I create—in a legal sense, I’m allowed to address topics that writers in other parts of the world can’t, and in a social sense, the things that I think are important are going to be defined by my context (for instance, my sociological background gives me a different set of tools with which to address issues than might be available to someone with a background in, say, physics). What we know, the body of information or ideas that we have to pull from, depends on our social context.

One of the second main themes of my class is that, while we can certainly be critical of media constructions and representations, we do have to acknowledge the degree to which they can present certain things as normal.

The media sell us ideas about what “normal American life” looks like. We tend to see the same patterns in our media narratives. Spend a couple of minutes on TV Tropes (you won’t just spend a couple of minutes; that site is a time-eater), and you’ll see that creative works tend to go back to some of these same safe patterns. Which is not necessarily a bad thing—it gives people something familiar to latch on to, and that can ease the whole story-telling process.

But there are a lot of tropes surrounding identity.

And those are just some of the ones related to racial identity and gender/sexual identity.  

We see characters presented in certain ways over and over again—to the exclusion of other presentations. It normalizes these presentations. If you’re shown over and over again “this is what these people are like,” then, at a certain point, if you don’t see anything else, you accept that presentation.

Art isn’t consumed in a vacuum, either. Our readers/viewers/players also approach our work from within their context. And it’s very possible that their context has been shaped by some problematic things.

I’ve been thinking about my responsibility as someone who creates. I don’t like being told what I can and can’t do with a story more than anyone else, but it’s becoming clearer to me that I have to examine the context into which I’m releasing my work. What are some of the notions that I take for granted? That my readers take for granted? What’s shaping some of my story decisions, and do these decisions help or hurt the group that I’m trying to present?

I’m not perfect—obviously. I will inevitably slip up and produce pieces that are ignorant or hurtful. But if I don’t want my work to be used as an excuse to say “hey, all of group x are this way”—and let’s be clear, I don’t want that—then I have to take responsibility. I have to examine my context.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


When I was a teenager, I was really bad about not finishing books. Barring the Harry Potter series, Jane Eyre, a couple of thrillers, and a handful of other novels, I don't think I read much of anything all the way through. I'd get a few chapters in--maybe halfway, usually less--and lose interest. I'd go back a reread something I'd already finished rather than finishing something new.

I'm better about this now (though this has sort of become my pattern for watching TV shows, now that I look at it). Nine times of ten, when I start reading a book, I read it all the way to the end.

Someone giving up on their book part way through is a writer's nightmare--or, at least, this writer's nightmare.

So, in order to avoid losing the interest of people like teenage-me, I've developed a deep concern about pacing.

Pacing is something that creators of every type of narrative media have to keep in mind. You don't want anyone falling asleep in the middle of your movie, or checking their Playbill to see how close they are to intermission. But it's a tricky thing to pin down. A character-driven drama is going to move at a different speed than a slapstick comedy is going to move at a different speed than an action-adventure, so on, so on.

This is probably not the best time for a conversation, tbh.

But setting that aside, it's difficult to manage pacing even when you're just worried about one story.

There's a fair bit of world-building involved in Project 2016--not high fantasy levels of world building, but the characters are living in a context that's different from the one I expect the readers to be living in. This means that there's going to be a lot of information to communicate to the reader. And I don't have the luxury of an Avina to provide these info-dumps.

My love for Mass Effect is great.
The thing with info dumps, the thing that's always been my struggle when I'm trying to read a book that's heavy on the world-building (looking at you, Wheel of Time) is that this stuff gets boring.
Like, really boring.
Some of this is the result of including unnecessary information--your  mileage may vary, but I, personally, don't need to know how the wood for a cabin was cut and shaped; all I really want to know is that the cabin got built. But some of that stuff is necessary. If I don't know, for instance, that magic in a world is a naturally occurring phenomenon that follows specific rules, then I might not notice that this character that's starting to exhibit abilities is strange and noteworthy.
There's a balance that has to be struck here. The reader has to know all of the pertinent information, but they can't feel like they're being lectured at or that the whole of the book is going to read like a dry description of a movie set.
I've been trying to find this balance in Project 2016. I mentioned before that I've been working on this story off-and-on for ten years. I've had a lot of time to figure things out about the world and the characters. Their relationship to their environment is vital--it serves as a motivating factor. Their relationships to each other are just as important. There has to been evidence of how the world they live in is different to ours. They have to have character moments where their relationships come through.

But they also have to, you know, do stuff.

Finding a way to negotiate these demands is tough, and I'm sure there are plenty of times in the draft so far that I've failed, and plenty more in the draft yet-to-be-written that I will fail. It's more art than science, and what works for me may not be what works for a reader. 
There's a music to a good story, an ebb and flow that carries a reader along. And the pacing, the tempo, of a piece of music can drastically alter the experience.

I'm not ready to break out the metronome with Project 2016 just yet. I've got a lot of fiddling around to do before I find just the right beat.