Writing Without a Net

I haven’t had a whole lot to say here lately because, well, I’ve been busy. Not with writing, of course – perhaps if I was busy with that I might have more to blog about – but busy with career things, with job application things, with terribly mundane things I wish I didn’t have to pay attention to. It’s only in my “spare time” that I’ve been able to work on finishing my last edits… and I have a super fun announcement to make tomorrow morning regarding the book. You only get one guess what it is, though, because it should be terribly freaking obvious by now.

I have, of course, already started Book 2. After I finished Tragedy and had it sent off to my beta readers, I couldn’t wait to dive into the sequel, Suffering. The first few chapters are floating around already, but on a recent cross-country plane ride I discovered that 90% of what I’ve written in Suffering needs to be tossed, and the end of Tragedy needed to be tweaked.

I say ‘tweaked,’ but if anyone becomes attached to these characters it’s going to amount to more than just a minor difference. However, if the change isn’t made then Book 2’s plot simply doesn’t work (or doesn’t work without a lot of ridiculous retconning). Of course, tweaking Tragedy by adding one scene to the end is no big thing for that book – but it means losing most of what I’ve written in Suffering. You would think that losing 90% of what I worked on would bother me, but as I reflected on the changes I’m making, it’s really quite normal for me.

That leads me into the brief discussion topic of this post. All authors have a different method of writing. The wonderful, beautiful, fantastical podcast Writing Excuses recently did a show entitled Digging Yourself Out of Holes’ which explored this topic a bit. As they explain in the podcast, there are folks who outline before writing, termed ‘architects,’ and there are those who write without a really firm plan, a method termed ‘discovery writing.’ Naturally people can fall anywhere on the spectrum between the two; not everyone is either strictly structural or wild and crazy stream-of-consciousness. As you see above, in my case, I lean more towards the latter. I like to think of it as writing without a net.

Part of that has to do with my inner nature. I’m a person who likes to intuitively feel through situations, and focusing on details makes me awfully bored (reason #1 why I hated anatomy class). Writing is my fun hobby on the side, and while I’m sure I’d be more efficient if I planned everything out, I would also be a lot less motivated to do it.  Not planning is more exciting, but the downside is that I probably went though 5 radically different scenarios for the story in Tragedy before I found the “true” story (really, the one that made any sense). I’ve got tomes of discarded writing scraps between the drafts of Tragedy and the drafts of my probably-never-to-be-published first novel, 4012.

How do I write if I have no structure? I have goals. I start stories with two things in mind – an image of the first scene and an image of the last scene. The adventure is in trying to get from beginning to end and making it all sensical. Sometimes this means I’ll get running on a premise that I really like, and then I outline a few chapters ahead to remind myself of my train of thought. Those outlines are pretty flexible, though, and usually consist of dialogue clips or one particular image that needs to be described. Interestingly enough, my original final scene did not make it into Tragedy even though I was working towards it for the entire book, even in the final draft. Things just didn’t quite pan out that way. The result is quite satisfying to me, though, and hopefully it’ll be satisfying to you.

So that’s my little spiel for the day. Keep an eye out tomorrow… that’s all I’m sayin’.

The Challenge of Cheerfulness

Well I’m sure you’ve been waiting for my exalted opinion on the matter (no really, you can breathe again!), so I will start out by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed Anne Bishop’s latest novel, Written in RedI’m not going to go full-on book report on this mini-review, but I’ll give you my impressions and my sincere recommendation that you give the book a try if it sounds at all interesting.

A departure from her previous works of fantasy, Written in Red is an urban fantasy novel complete with werewolves, vampires, and a variety of other paranormal creatures (those that are called “The Others”). I expected that this novel wouldn’t be your run-of-the-mill, standard vampire vs shifter kind of story, and I was completely right. The characters had the Anne Bishop charm that I have come to expect from her work, and The Others were portrayed in an organic, character-driven light that I haven’t seen so much in other urban fantasy books. Specifically, she did a great job characterizing her shifter characters as very animalistic and… well, other. Of course she has done this kind of thing in the past – the kindred from Black Jewels were some of my favorite characters.

Above all, Written in Red was an example of how an author who has a history of writing deeply dark and sometimes disturbing fiction can take you to the extreme opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Somewhere in the middle of Written in Red the main character, Meg, works her naiive charm on a very broken, sad character, and the moment where Meg’s kindness comes to fruition was so adorable and lovely that it brought me to tears. So freaking adorable!

It got me to thinking, of course, about my own work (after all, learning is about observation). I view Anne Bishop as a sort of role model – I have been in love with her characters for the last 8 years, and devour each book in less than a week of purchasing it. She’s not a classical master of prose or anything like that, but she is an author who has sucked me into her worlds over and over again. Her darker themes please me on whatever level causes me to write dark stories, and her style is fluent enough that it doesn’t grate on my senses. The heartwarming thing, though…

If you met me on the street, I don’t know that you would peg me for the kind of gal who writes tragic, bloody fantasy stories. I smile pretty easily. I like to laugh and joke, and I fancy myself to be a cheerful person most days. I wear colors, though I have been known to dress in some quantity of black (it is so very attractive… and helps one blend in with creatures of the night… >.>). However, as cheerful as I might be in person, I do not write heartwarming stories in any sense of the word. Sitting on the bus during my commute, I kept trying to think of a hearth-fires-and-hot-chocolate moment from any of my scenes.

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t come up with one. Witty moments? Maybe… at least I’d like to believe I have a few of those in there. Funny moments? Smirk-worthy moments, at least. Heartbreaking moments? I certainly felt heartbroken when I was writing a few of the scenes from Forsaken Lands and Fathers and Sons, so I can only hope that you felt what I was feeling at the time. Heartwarming moments, though, not so much.

Anne Bishop had a few of those delightfully cheerful moments in her prior work, but none so prominent as those in Written in Red. It’s an intriguing proposition, really, to consider putting a scene in the book that makes the reader feel that unique blend of heart-wrenching and soul-feeding happy-sadness that comes with a dramatic… is there another word for heartwarming? I’m getting tired of using the same word too many times in this post. Anyway. It’s a skill that would seem to take some training for those of us who specialize in the tragedies; a skill I would like to sharpen in the future. Will there be any warming of the hearts in Forsaken Lands 2? It remains to be seen at this point…

That’s just my musing of the night. I was feeling guilty about not posting anything in a while, especially when the release date for Forsaken Lands Book 1 is so very, very close! The cover art is coming together beautifully, and the final pre-publishing edits are certainly somewhere in the process. I wouldn’t say almost done. Or even halfway done. Close enough that I can finish it off before the end of the month, though, that’s for sure!

Trust me, we got this over here.

As usual, I leave you with a question to close: are there any emotional states you have a hard time reaching with your writing? To those who primarily read, what scenes do you find authors struggling with in the work you enjoy?

Do I write like a woman?

I’ll go ahead and say it since you’ll probably either find out or figure it out eventually: I consider myself a feminist. Now I’m sure I’ve lost a few of you with that statement alone, but for those of you still listening, I’d like to get a few things out there.

  • I do not hate men. In fact, I love men. The majority of my characters happen to be men, actually, which causes mixed feelings.
  • I believe in equal rights for all people – gay, lesbian, queer, straight, bisexual, transexual, extraterrestrial, lens-glare white to mahogany brown. I understand that there has on occasion been friction between the feminist community and the LGBT community, so I want to be quite clear on that point in particular.
  • I’m not looking for a fight. I’d like to believe that all of us have more in common than we have differences.
  • I define who I am. Although I believe in a lot of feminist principles and loosely categorize myself as “a feminist,” I refuse to be defined by the actions of others under the same title. Do not ask me to defend the questionable actions of others. I speak for myself, and myself alone.

Now with that all out of the way (or so I’d hope), I’d like to continue on and discuss this article (blog post?) that I read earlier today. “Michelle Rodriguez Made Me Cry at Comic Con” by Kate Conway relates Kate’s personal experiences at Comic Con, specifically a panel called “Women Who Kick Ass.” The women on the panel recounted several stories about how other males on the set treated them, at times, with a lack of respect, and how the writers seemed to have difficulty writing believable scenes for them. Maggie Q described a classic scene in which her character was performing kung fu in high heels (and anyone who has ever worn high heels will tell you that there is nothing you would rather do less than perform fast, athletic movements in heels). This kind of ridiculous scene is rampant in all manner of fantasy and science fiction.

Tangent: Seriously guys, why in the world would someone as “efficient” as Seven of Nine wear something as frivolous as high heels and a catsuit? As minor and somewhat irrelevant as it is, that kind of thing has always bugged me. Fortunately Joss Whedon and whoever he works with proved that women do not have to be seen in only fancy shoes and tight-fitting outfits by choosing reasonable clothing/shoes for the characters in Firefly.

Digressions aside, the following quote from Kate Conway’s article inspired this post…

In that moment, though, I didn’t know any of that. As the moderator started wrapping things up, apologizing for having to leave “right as things were getting good,” Michelle leaned forward to her mic again.

“We gotta start writing,” she said again. She meant women. “Writing, and directing, and producing the kind of content we want to see. Because otherwise, nothing’s gonna change.”

I’ve seen this kind of sentiment expressed a lot lately amongst the growing subset of feminist nerds on the internet. Anita Sarkeesian is perhaps one of the most high-profile feminist nerds, and she frequently brings up topics which either directly or indirectly lead to the conclusion that the media at large needs more fictional women as lead roles/main characters/playable avatars, and more real-world women in creatively powerful positions. These assertions are surprisingly controversial, and Anita, among other public feminist nerds, has faced a pretty severe backlash as a result.

On the writing side of things, close to half of all fantasy titles are written by women according to Slate’s Alex Heimbach, while only about 1/4 of science fiction authors are female.  The more equitable distribution of women writers in fantasy is certainly something to be happy about, and it’s equally pleasing that many of the most successful fantasy writers of the last couple decades have been women (hello, J.K. Rowling). Unfortunately, most of the data will show that there is still a disparity in female representation in general media, particularly when you look at Hollywood writers and female characters. This infographic pretty much speaks for itself:

I’ve been reading feminist philosophy, data and what have you for a long time – I’ve done enough research to firmly establish my opinion that yes, we do need more strong female characters and yes, we do need more women with creative power (and more trans* and non-binary people, for that matter). I’m not saying we should stifle the creativity of males, but merely the position that it would be good for women and people in general if we were better represented both in print and in films. Women in the United States and in many countries all over the world still face a culture which is silently permissive of rape, perpetuates a substantial wage gap (especially if you are both female and a minority), and attacks our reproductive health choices. Portraying strong and capable women in media is one way to push society towards a world where women are viewed with complete parity to their male counterparts.

Ever since I started this journey towards actually publishing works of fiction I’ve had to evaluate my own work from a different perspective. If I’m going to stand up for my beliefs and “be the change,” as it were, it would make sense for me to put a little thought into what kind of change I hope to represent. One conversation in particular brought me to this realization.

Several years ago during an interview for a scholarly position, one of my interviewers noted that I listed “writing” as a hobby. She proceeded to ask me about what I write, so I told her: I was, at the time, working on a novel about a girl named Zikaly –

“Do you always write stories with heroines?” my interviewer interrupted excitedly.

The question caught me off-guard. It seemed a strange thing to ask – almost every story I’ve ever written has included a woman as one of the primary perspectives. It had always been my natural instinct to first write from a comfortable perspective (in this case, a female one) and add on more ambitious perspectives as the story progresses. My characters tended to (and still do) evolve pretty organically, regardless of gender. Gender was something that I typically assigned on reflex, with no conscious intent. It wasn’t until this interview that I realized that these seemingly small creative choices could potentially make a profound impression on my prospective readers.

The way that I approach gender, race and sexuality in my writing has been changing since that encounter as I’ve started to accept that someone else might read what I’ve written. With Tragedy more than any other story, I’ve tried to be as gender- and race-inclusive as I can. I will be the first to admit that I fail at those goals in many ways. My two main characters are pretty light-skinned (though I do describe Teveres as “honey-skinned” because my gods he is delicious). Most of my POV characters, and really most of my characters as a whole, are male. I do have a gay man and a bisexual man in the story, though they are not usually in the spotlight. It might be hubris that I believe I am decent at writing about other genders – and maybe hubris again that I think I can write well for women when I, like so many others, fall into many of the creative traps that are all around me in the media.

All of this leads to my question, and the title of this post: Do I write like a woman? Does my gender make my perspective as an author somehow different from my male counterparts? I’m not sure. I can’t read my book the way you can; what I’ve written will never be new to me. I do know one thing for certain – none of my characters, male or female, will ever willingly enter a fight wearing heels.