Saturday, January 22, 2011

Yeah...I got nothin'

This weekly blogging on writing an original work when I'm not yet actually writing the original work is hard. However, I have absorbed two lessons this week, writing-wise.

I've been tapped this week, mentally and emotionally. Work has grabbed my head and twisted me into the ground. I haven't even had the opportunity to work on my SPN fanfic. However, I did post chapter one of said fic and thus far people seem pleased. I'm always braced for the flame, but am filled with relief when it rarely comes.

I did have one review spin me a bit -- not for On the Surface, but for Heroes for Ghosts, a story I finished over six months ago. Or maybe longer. Time tends to fold on me at times. The story won a fanfic award on LiveJournal, and due to a spoiler that leaked my way after a convention in San Francisco about a possible upcoming time-travel western episode, I've heard some people speak up about it again.

The reviewer started out by saying she (I'm assuming she, I really don't know for sure) liked the story, then segued into a bit of a mocking tone about the convenience of time travel that just "works out" and then said she had to "get something off her chest" and proceeded to bash my depiction of the 19th century. The 'back in time' part of the story took place in 1870.

Now, I will say that I did research to make sure what guns could be used, what medicine would be available, if there would be a town where I placed my make-believe town, that sort of thing. I purposely set it soon after the Civil War and I purposely set it in Texas. However, this reviewer thought the language and social class depiction was (as she put it) "hella" wrong. She brought up several things that apparently took her out of the "realism" (*cough*) of the story.

I haven't replied to her yet. I needed to shake off the sting of the 'tone' her review wrought. I had to remind myself that it, like any positive review, is just an opinion. And I had to also remind myself that I knowingly went into this story basing things like language and social class depiction on things I'd seen in Hollywood westerns or read in Zane Grey stories. So...maybe she has a point. Maybe it is "hella" wrong. Not sure how she would know; I'm assuming she, too, was born in the 20th century. And based on what I read of her profile, I highly doubt she's a 19th century opinion.

The thing is, I did the research I needed to do to tell the fictional story I wanted to tell, and it worked for most who read it. It really does need to be okay with me if it doesn't work for everyone. Because my style won't work for everyone. If I'm going to do this for real, I have to settle myself with the fact that I can't be liked all the time and that sometimes people are going to tell me about it. Sure it'll hurt because I'm sensitive like that and I really take to heart what people say about my writing -- because I put so much of myself into it. But it's life.

Also...I have to remember to think about where the person who offers such opinions is coming from. This particular reviewer does write -- mainly (at least on fanfic) Japanese Anime stories as far as I could tell. None of them over 2K words, and none of the more than one chapter. Heroes for Ghosts is nearly 120K words and is 10 chapters long, and is one of many stories of similar length. It takes some work to conceive of and bring to life a story of that length. Not to say anything one way or another about her stories (which I haven't read) or any other short stories. Just that...I didn't go into this story lightly.

Second lesson came from reading the novel The Passage; a vampire apacolypse story the magnitude of The Stand, this story became more of a mission than something I enjoyed. The author had a point and a path, but he introduced a plethora of characters and told us intimate details about these characters and got us involved with these characters...and then they were killed off never to be heard from again -- and that was just in the first 1/4 of the book!

I have several characters in Gone, and what reading The Passage showed me is that if you want to keep your reader's attention, make each one pivotal to the overall arc of your plot or you'll frustrate the reader.

Either that...or make sure vampires are involved.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

As it turns out, I have a type

In an effort to keep the creative, non-PowerPoint-oriented part of my brain limber and engaged, I poked around in some old files I had in the My Documents folder I transferred from my previous laptop. In that folder was a file labeled, "Gone: Character Sketches."

I had a two or three paragraph description of the four main characters I'd originally thought up: Michael Sullivan, Ryan O'Malley, Grace O'Malley, and Jack Sullivan.

The file was dated September 18, 2000.

Since they were drafted, Ryan, Grace, and Jack's characters have changed shape and significance to the story, and I think I'll probably only pull a few of the original physical descriptions, such as:


28 years old. Lean, roughly 6 foot. At first glance, looks too "small" to be a cop, but is all muscle. Dark hair, cut short, spiked up in front around a widow's peak. Gray eyes. Crooked smile. Married to Sara (artist), born to be a cop. Protective -- one has to work to be part of his inner circle, but once you're there, you're in for life.

(I'd also included a scar on his hand from a childhood incident that I'm no longer going to have happen, and I added a lot of background that doesn't hold true of my new direction for the story. But I like the look of this guy and it fits the character he's always been in my mind--with one exception. I think I'll make his eyes brown because gray eyes feels a bit...gimmicky. And I can picture him with laughing brown eyes that go flat and cold in a second.)


26 years old. Average build (size 8, 5'5", curvy, not thin, etc), curly black hair that she tends to tie in a knot at the back of her head rather than cut. Same gray eyes and smile as Ryan. Loves music, obsessed with Zeppelin, can't sing or play a note. Keeps journals -- has boxes of them from when she was seven and first met Michael.

(Again, I included a background for Grace that matched Ryan's {as they are siblings}, but I'm going a different direction. I also think I might straighten her hair because I've never dealt with naturally curly hair and I've learned from friends that there is a whole level of frustration to think about there {in real life}. Other than that, I'm keeping her looks--again, with the exception of the eyes.)

I'm changing pretty much everything I originally wrote about Jack because his character is now a pivotal piece of the puzzle where before he was simply a catalyst. But it's Michael's description that caught my eye and had me chuckling to myself. Especially because, while the others will all play key roles, Michael is the hero of my story.

Thinking back, I wrote these descriptions after I met my husband, but before we were married. The reason that is interesting is that I can see some elements of my old boyfriend -- who was a cowboy -- in Michael. But there's someone else there as well. Someone I hadn't even 'met' when I wrote these, but I certainly fell into the pull of his undertow the minute he came on scene.


26 years old. Lean, muscular, roughly 6'. Slightly bowed legs, powerful arms. Sandy hair, cut short (not quite military). Green eyes. Small scar just below his left eye from an incident during his youth that he can't remember. Full lips, strong hands. A few thin, white scars across his hands from working his way through school as a mechanic.

Wears his older brother's leather jacket like a badge of honor. Spent his spare time in college restoring his father's Shelby GT 500, and loves it almost as much as Grace. Indulges her love of music, but can sing. He's quick to anger if someone he loves (namely Ryan or Grace) is hurt in any way -- he's protective, but cool-headed, balancing out Ryan's temper.

Never wanted to be a cop, but knows his way around weapons because of O'Malley Sr. Works as a writer, can't remember what happened to his family beyond his brother leaving for Vietnam when Michael was seven. Has nightmares due to what happened in his past and a tendency to drink a bit more than Grace or Ryan would like.

When I read that, I actually laughed out loud. It isn't a mirror image of Dean Winchester, but it was close enough to justify my falling for that character so fast and so hard and not being able to let him go.

I didn't start assigning "actors" to my characters until I started to write fanfic, but now that I've done that with fanfic stories, I find it hard not to think of who might play these characters in the movie in my mind. Jensen Ackles would very easily fit the bill for Michael. It's already easy to picture him when I write Dean, and while Michael's story isn't Dean's -- not even close -- there are elements of Dean in the way this character moves I can use to help me picture Michael in a much more realistic manner.

While we're at it, one of the reasons I'm thinking of changing Ryan's eyes to brown is that the change to his character and his motivation in the updated outline of the story could very easily fit a Colin Farrell-type actor. I don't yet know who I picture for Grace. The three women in the story -- Grace, Sara, and Tessa (who may be renamed) -- are all a bit nebulous at the moment as far as looks or who could 'play' them.

Right now, they're important because of how they each affect Michael. But as I bring the new outline to life, they each have a story to tell and a distinctive piece of the puzzle to add. I think the next step in character development might be to figure out who they look like to me. Help me see them as clearly as I see Michael.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Week After Christmas Break Is Not The Best Time To Create...except fanfic

Well, in an effort to continue this log of writing Gone, I make this entry simply to say...I haven't written anything for Gone.

I have, however, written 21 pages of my next fanfic, On the Surface. This will be my last multi-chapter fanfic for 2011 so that I can channel my efforts into writing the original fic. I promised a good friend a fic and am working to tease my muse with my friend's requests. Plus...I really enjoy spending time with these characters and my friend pretty much gave me free reign.

When I first started writing fanfic, my daughter was barely five months old. I suffered from insomnia and used it to my advantage. My life situation was completely different: the hubs was in school to be a Veterinary Technician and I was working for a company. I would get to the last chapter of one story and already be plotting out the next, often times overlapping the creation.

Four years later, my girl is a preschool corker, the hubs is a stay-at-home dad (due to health issues) and I am an independent contractor. I still have insomnia, but because of working two jobs, I spend a significant portion of the day on the computer and find that I can't write at night the way I used to: my eyes won't take it. The two jobs thing has also sucked a good deal of the time I used to use to write. Darn that whole having to buy groceries thing.

I'm also a lot more conscious about what I write and how people receive it. Which makes for slower creation.

On the Surface is a ghost story. But because I love these characters and I sadistically love to pour copious amounts of angst and tribulations upon them, I'm finding myself layering it with introspection and hard conversations and experiences teaching lessons they don't want to learn. It's fun, actually.

I hope to get the majority of it finished before the end of the hiatus. We'll see if life will allow for that. But I'd like to start posting as I go so that I can also reply to any reviews I get. Those reviews are gold to me; it's important to me to thank a person for taking the time -- because I know they don't have to. Same goes for comments to the weekly episode reviews. Keeping up with those and writing is an undertaking.

Which is another reason this will be the final multi-chapter story of 2011. I can't say final fanfic...I think I'd miss these characters too much. I just have to mentally reserve the right to toss off a one-shot.

It's a bit scary, though. To actually take that step. *shakes head* I'll think about that later.

In the meantime, I'll head back to Dean and Sam and the mess they're getting themselves into and try to make it entertaining enough that people are...well...entertained.

Tune in next week when you'll hopefully hear me lament about posting nerves.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

And so it begins


Today is the first day of a new year and a new decade. I've articulated the resolution to complete a draft of Gone by the last day of this year. It may or may not be worthy of submission to...anything. But I want to get the story out of my head, gather up the various notes and outlines, and compile them all into one centralized location in a fully imagined tale.

For the sake of documenting this journey, I am going to try to make an entry a week on how much I was able to write, what the characters are doing to me and my life, and if writing an original story is all I've imagined it's cracked up to be. I don't know if anyone else but me will read this, but I think it will be interesting to look back on this journey when I get to the end of the year.

This is the year I'll find out if I'm a hack. Full of bluster and dreams. Someone who plans for the future but never actually executes. I've been talking about writing for years. Since high school, really. I don't have a four-year degree but have managed to sponge up enough on-the-job skills to be a writer for a living (e-Learning and technical writing, but words are involved). I post a weekly review of my favorite TV show that's too long for any on-line establishment to take seriously (as in $$ seriously) but that many readers have informed me they enjoy. And I've spent the last five years writing fanfiction -- a genre I didn't even know existed prior to 2006.

So, on one very basic level, I am a writer. It's the activity that makes me most feel like me -- even above being a wife and a mother, quite honestly.

But fanfiction and TV show reviews posted on LiveJournal isn't the kind of writing I can get others outside of that particular fandom to ever read and/or take seriously. For the general populas, fanfiction is something written by 13-year-old girls with TV crushes. Most people you ask about fanfiction would either not know what it was, or would have no idea that it also contains mainstream stories very much in line with the tie-in novels found in a local Barnes and Noble. And more often than not (in my opinion), fanfiction authors are far better than the published material simply because they know the characters inside and out, love the characters' flaws and atributes, and understand what the other fans want to read about those characters.

Fanfic writers haven't been handed a set of DVDs and a script and been told, "Read up. You're contracted to write the next tie-in novel."

Through fanfiction, I have been able to bring alive fantasies and ideas I never thought anyone would understand, let alone connect with. But, connect they have to the tune of numerous online reviews and input that has improved my confidence and steered my creative skill.

I've discovered habits that help me tell better stories -- or at least stories I enjoy writing and telling. For example, listenting to music. I have different playlists for each story I've written -- mostly angsty rock or alternative. My current playlist for the last fanfic I'm writing prior to temporarily hanging up those spurs in an effort to focus on Gone includes:

Send Me an Angel, Zeromancer
Long Way Down, Vib Gyor
It's Probably Me, Sting
Red Sky, Thrice
Hesitate, Stone Sour
What Do I Have to Do?, Stabbing Westward
Make This Go On Forever, Snow Patrol
The Royal We, Silversun Pickups
Call Me, Shinedown
Running Up That Hill, Placebo
Weapon, Matthew Good
Iridescent, Linkin Park
Center of Attention, Jackson Waters
On the Surface, Civil Twilight
Millstone, Brand New
Truth, Balmorhea

I used to only listen to soundtracks, years ago when I first thought myself to be a writer. But when I discovered fanfiction and how to take characters who were much loved by me and other fans and pull them through a journey of my own imagining, I found that this type of music fed the muse with much sweeter ideas...relatively speaking. The stories I write aren't sweet. There is much pain involved -- physical, mental, and emotional. It's not indiciative of my life; it's simply the type of plot that trips my trigger.

In addition to music, I found that there's a certain environment that is more conducive to creation for me: the cave. Be it the kitchen table, the bedroom, the couch, or the office, I crave a sense of closed-off darkness around me with only the computer and the light from a lamp. I want no reminder of the real world to jar me from the fictional one I'm living in while I write.

I think that's one of the reasons the original short stories I wrote for the NYCM contest were largely unsatisfying. With the word limit enforced, I didn't have time to get lost in the story. I haven't studied enough to know this to be certifiable fact, but I contend that there are certain types of writing that one gravitates toward. Just because you are a "writer" doesn't necessarily mean you can write anything from short fictional stories to hard-hitting journalistic articles. You have a niche.

Gone is a story that's taken a journey with me. I first thought of it on a roadtrip with my now-husband from Phoenix, AZ, to Breckenridge, CO, back in 2000. I nutshelled it to him over an early morning in-car breakfast of OJ and powdered donuts. He absorbed and I was satisfied. Several years later, on our last couples trip (this time to Louisville, KY, to tour Churchill Downs) before our daughter was born, I resurrected the story and he offered a couple slants that changed the direction to a more meaty, satisfying end.

Later still, I submitted the first part of the first chapter to a writing workshop and listened as they told me that it was well-written, but somewhat predictable. Not what I had in mind.

I took that draft and the culminated ideas and during an angst-filled family trip grabbed the middle and flipped the whole thing inside out. Now I finally feel as if I have a sequence of ideas worthy of a solid draft, and I have a promise to myself: finished draft by 12/31/11.

And so it begins....