Showing posts with label Cunning Folk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cunning Folk. Show all posts

Got Me a Jorb

Last month, as you'll recall, I lost my game design gig. For the past several weeks, I've followed every lead I have and pulled together pieces of several jobs. Unfortunately, none of them are big enough (or steady and consistent enough) to serve as a Family-Providing Job.

But that's the past! I am now officially a remote editor on the roster for an online editing and proofreading firm.

Okay, that sounds super boring, but let me tell you why it's exciting IN LIST FORM!
  1. It's a steady job! Game design is super awesome, but it's hard to consistently find contracts for a remote designer/writer/whatever I am.
  2. It's ridiculously flexible! I can stay on the roster as long as I edit a minimum 10,000 words a month, which is like a day of work for me. That means that I can still do game design contracts, freelance editing, and writing gigs as they come up, and this editing firm will still be there when I'm done.
  3. It'll make me a better editor! I get tons of practice, advice from professionals, and even free training, so every job I take for these guys improves my skills for my private clients as well as my skills as a writer.
  4. I set my own hours! Do I need to make extra money one month? I can work crazy hard and do that. Do I need to take a week off suddenly without asking for permission? I can do that too. Nobody cares, so long as I meet my minimum (and feed my family, which my family cares about, I guess).
  5. I work to a task rather than to an arbitrary number of hours! On Torment, I was paid monthly no matter how much I worked -- and I worked a lot. I don't regret the time I put into that game (the opposite, actually; I wish I could have put more time into it), but it wasn't really sustainable. On the other hand, most projects pay me only for the hours I do, which is more fair but gets tricky when they don't have enough for me to do or when there's too much for me to do in the hours they've budgeted for me. I much prefer to get paid for a task and then be left to work at my own speed. I don't have to stress about working too slow (within reason), and if I work fast then I get bonus freetime.
  6. As I said on Twitter a few weeks ago, I freaking love editing! I get to help people! And clean things! And make money doing it!
Reasons #2-6, by the way, apply to freelance editing as well. And freelancing pays better. AND I get to work on awesome projects like novels and RPG rulebooks. But yeah, that Reason #1 is kind of important. Editing resumes and college essays and dissertations might not be a manic dream job, but it's exactly the glue I need to hold all these other job pieces together while still keeping my family alive and junk. (And I do get to edit novels sometimes).

Other theoretically more exciting updates, in no particular order:
  • My Sea of Souls outline is still in the hands of the person who will decide its fate. That's publishing, man.
  • I'm working on a gamebook for a mobile game company. It's no steady job (and no contract has been signed, so I can't say anything concrete), but it's pretty exciting. Gamebooks are basically my prestige class.
  • I'm doing some proofreading and editing for Monte Cook Games and enjoying every minute of it (and not just because I get to read all this awesome stuff before anybody else). I love all my clients, but MCG might be my favorite.
  • On Sunday nights (US time), I'm currently streaming Ori and the Blind Forest, which is one of the prettiest most explory-fun games I've played.
  • I might MIGHT be able to breathe new life into ye olde Cunning Folk (which could be exciting for the two of you who've been reading this blog since forever).
As always, more on these if/when I have it.

In the meantime, how are you doing? What are you playing? Or watching? Or whatever you do for fun?



How I Got My Agent, Part I

I don't know about you, but when I read these stories, I'm always more interested in how long and difficult the journey was (it encourages me when I'm dealing with The Long and Difficult myself). So this first part is everything leading up to the call. The part where Tricia chose me comes on Friday.

BACKGROUND
2003-2008: I wrote a novel (Travelers). I learned what a query letter is. I got rejected a lot.

2008-2010: I wrote another novel (Air Pirates). I got lots of feedback on it, learned how to delete whole chapters, and queried again. I got rejected less, but still . . . rejected.

(Side note: I also spent some time writing three short stories, getting one of them published, and drafting another novel (Cunning Folk)).

2010-2011: I revised Air Pirates from adult SF/F to Young Adult and, in May, queried it again.

THE REFERRAL
Querying the YA version of Air Pirates started off fantastic. Three agents from the adult round said they'd be interested if I did revisions or had another novel, but more than that, I had the Holy Grail of the Unpublished Author: a referral.

As part of my, ahem, "networking" I lucked into a couple of beta readers who have agents and/or book deals. One of them LOVED Air Pirates (still does, I believe) and thought her agent would too. Her agent requested the full within hours.

Three weeks later, she passed.

She was really nice, and said her client was right to refer it to her, but she just wasn't passionate enough to represent it. And I learned something I thought I had already known: a referral can only get your work seen, not sold.

THE ROLLER COASTER
That rejection hurt the most, I think, because I'd put so much hope in it. Over the next month I got a couple more requests and a couple more passes (always with the same thing: "There's a lot I liked, but I just don't love it enough to offer representation."). I also wrote this post and found myself in Stage 6 of this one.

Then in August I got 8 more requests(!). I thought I was level-headed about it, but I also doubled the rate I sent out queries so . . . maybe not.

In September, my manuscript was with 10 agents. A month later, half of them had passed -- some that I'd been really excited about -- all with the same comments as the others. I was still querying, but emotionally I was in the final stages.

THE OFFER I TURNED DOWN
This is another post, because it comes with warnings I think every Professional Aspiring Writer should hear. For now, know that I got an offer that may or may not have been a real offer and probably wasn't a good idea even if it was. I turned it down.

And I realized I was sending my 140th query letter to agents I probably wasn't going to be very excited about even if they offered -- agents I might even have said no to. I stopped sending out new queries.

I was done. Yes, there were still a few manuscripts out there, but I'd lost hope in most of them. I didn't even know some of the agents who had requested them. Would they turn out to be the same as the offer I turned down? I let it go and focused my efforts on drafting another novel.

It was less than 24 hours after finishing that draft when I got an e-mail with some hope in it. (Continued here)

Statistics, Milestones, and Statistics

As of this morning (last night for you in the Americas), the first draft of Post-Apocalyptic Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!) is finished, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief. Not because the work is done (far, FAR from it), but because drafting is my least favorite part of the process.

To celebrate, I'm posting these pre-revision statistics on the four finished novels I have sitting on my computer. (What, you don't think statistics are fun? Perhaps you've mistaken this blog for someone else's.)

I also submit these in the hope they will encourage any of you who feel you write slow: It Gets Better.

TRAVELERS 
Time to Draft: 4.5 years, both planning and writing (mostly writing).
Outline: None (GASP!), but lots of notes.
Draft Length: 76,000 words.
Avg Drafting Speed: About 1,600 words/month.

AIR PIRATES
Time to Draft: 19 months.
Outline: 244 words.
Draft Length: 100,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 5,200 words/month.

CUNNING FOLK
Time to Draft: 9 months.
Outline: 5,500 words (if you think I'm proud of that, read on; it gets better).
Draft Length: 48,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 5,300 words/month.

POST-APOC NINJAS
Time to Draft: 4 months.
Outline: 9,100 words (<--- !!).
Draft Length: 79,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 19,800 words/month.

I'm not quite at NaNoWriMo speeds yet, but I am finally at a place where I feel like I could produce a book a year, if I had to. You know, if someone wanted to pay me to do that (do you think that's too subtle?)

Answers the Second: Randomness and Torture

Matthew Rush asks: Would you rather be Jirayah (Pervy Sage) or Kabuto (the dork with the glasses)?

I can't say I approve of Jiraiya's choice of hobbies or Kabuto's choice of employer, though they are both pretty powerful. But any way I look at it, Jiraiya's got one thing going for him that Kabuto doesn't. Sage Mode:



Susan Kaye Quinn asks: Favored platform: Mac or PC?

I would love a Mac. Thank you for offering.

Every time I buy a new computer, I have to make this decision, and it always comes down to the same thing: Macs are expensive, and PCs have all the open source software I want.

Preferred literary success: Bestseller or Hugo?

Oy. Fine, if I have to choose, I go with the one that gets more readers: bestseller.

Apocalypse: Super virus or sentient computers?

Neither. The world is destroyed by robot pirates and zombie ninjas (also dinosaurs).

Awesomeness: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

For the purposes of this exercise, we will pretend George Lucas stopped fiddling with Star Wars in 1983. With that in mind, the most awesome trilogy ever is ISTHATSAMUELL.JACKSONINANICKFURYMOVIEZOMGITIS!!!

Caped Guy: Batman or Superman?

Batman, hands down. Did you know he has a file on every superhero's weakness, just in case he ever has to fight them? The guy's a genius.


Asea asks: What's your favorite local food?

Market food: fried pork and bananas, dim sum and pork dumplings, chicken satay, rotee, fried potatoes... (Hm, just got a Mary Poppin's song stuck in my head).

If your characters (from your various WIPs) were caught in a zombie apocalypse, would they make it?

Heh. Hagai would be the first to go, though Sam and Ren might last a while (good fighters, and I bet the zombies would have a hard time storming their airship). Suriya, on the other hand, should have no problem. She has a tendency to blow things up when she's mad.

Do you ever make up your own board/card games? How about twists to existing ones? Do you play games in combination (e.g. you play Monopoly, and the profits from it fund expansion in Puerto Rico)?

Before I focused my creative energies on getting published, I designed games all the time. As for twisting existing ones, we don't do it often (I tend to assume the game balancers did their job well), but we do it to our most familiar games. We've played Settlers with a blind setup (i.e. flip the numbers over after you place your settlements) or with a 12-sided die, and we once played Ticket to Ride: World Domination, in which we combined a board of regular TtR and TtR:Europe. I don't like Monopoly much, but I love your combination example. Sounds like it would be fun for a tournament or a gaming marathon.


Thanks again for your questions and for putting up with my answers. Don't forget our special guest artist on Friday!

That Thing Where I Draw: Angry Suriya


I don't want to say much about this scene. Even though Cunning Folk is T-minus-infinity years away from being published, I don't want to spoil it. (Though now I wonder how negative numbers fit into the spoiler formula).

All I'll say is Suriya finds herself betrayed and gets mad. Like many fledgling super-powered humans, her powers go a little nuts when she's upset. On the plus side, there's no one left to mess with her when she's through.

So after a year or two of asking people what kind of pencils they use, and searching in vain for Prismacolors (they seem to be the brand of choice, but good luck finding them in Chiang Mai), I finally found colored pencils that actually blend. My previous attempts with colored pencils -- even the better ones -- never felt like this. It's like I've been playing a two-string guitar and someone said, "You know there are supposed to be six?"

That Thing Where I Draw: Novice Suriya

No, this isn't Aang (though she does live at a temple, and she is, for all intents and purposes, firebending). I've paused work on Cunning Folk to implement Air Pirates Plan B, but Suriya's story is still bouncing around my head in pictures like this one.

So after fleeing the villages and ditching Anna (a decision she's still not sure was the right one), Suriya takes refuge at a Buddhist temple in the countryside. It becomes almost a home to her, the first place she has felt safe since she was little. But it's only temporary -- someone will find her eventually.

When she sees a vision of bounty hunters burning the temple to the ground, looking for her, she wonders if she should trust the monks with her secret.

Flashbacks (and Cunning Folk Excerpts!)

Flashbacks are hard. Why? Because they're about the past and are, therefore, backstory infodump. On top of that, they're really easy to screw up. So here are some tips I've learned to keep from giving the reader flashback whiplash.

Keep it relevant. This is the same as the rule for infodumps. Only tell them what they need to know to understand this part of the story. This is especially true in beginnings, when we don't know the characters or their conflicts yet. The last thing we want to do is jump back into the past and get to know even more characters and conflicts.

Keep it short. Or rather, only make it as long as it needs to be (really, this is just an extension of the first tip). For example, the flashback below (in italics) is only 10 words long:
(from Cunning Folk)
How could Suriya lose control like that? Aunt Pern had told her how, as a baby, Suriya’s fire kept them warm at night, but that was a long time ago. For as long as she could remember, Suriya had been able to control her power, even in her sleep – to the point where releasing was difficult simply because she never did it.

Don't be heavy-handed. When I first started writing, I thought I had to make the flashback obvious. Like this:
Five minutes to curtain, and Steve was nervous. He stared at the guitar in his hand--the same guitar he'd played with for ten years. It reminded him of the first time he played on stage...

Can you hear the Wayne's World flashback sound? Don't do this. As long as the reader can tell you're going into a flashback, you can just jump right in: "Five minutes to curtain, and Steve was nervous. The first time he played on stage..."

Same with when the flashback ends. Don't toss in a handful of sentences about Steve looking at the guitar and "remembering where he was." Jump right in. Have a stagehand or something (who was not in the flashback) say, "Steve? It's time," and then Steve goes on stage to his legions of fans. So long as the present is sufficiently different from the past, the reader will have no problem keeping up.

Don't worry about tense. I mean, do worry about tense, cuz you're a writer. But don't feel like it has to be perfect. Technically, when you're writing about the past of the past, you're supposed to use "had" a lot (past perfect tense, for you grammarians). "Steve's first time on stage, he had tripped over his bellbottoms." But in practice, doing this for every single verb is annoying.

Instead, use "had" near the beginning of the flashback as a clue to the reader, but then don't be afraid to back off. Mostly, you only need "had" when the reader might be confused as to when the action took place (i.e. in the present, or in the flashback). "Steve's first time on stage, he tripped over his bellbottoms." See? No confusion.

Okay, for those of you still with me, I have a (multi-paragraph) excerpt from my current work-in-progress. It's a flashback that uses all of these tips...hopefully. If I screwed it up, acting like a better writer than I am, I'm really, really sorry.


(SETUP: It's Suriya's first morning after losing her Aunt Pern and after being chased by bounty hunters through the streets of Chiang Mai.)

No dreams. Thank God.

When Suriya was very little, they had lived in a village where people knew what she was and for a while even liked her. Because of her dreams.

The village was called Umong. Suriya couldn't have been more than six years old at the time – old enough to realize her dreams meant something, too young to keep them to herself. It started when she saved an old man's life. She dreamed he had been crushed by a falling tree. Later that day, when Suriya saw her dream was about to happen, she cried out.

The tree missed the old man by a hand's width.

He had thanked her. The whole village had thanked her. They gave her gifts and roasted pigs in her honor.

Then they wanted their own dreams. Almost every morning, they came to ask what she had seen in the night. She told them with the innocence of a child.

Some nights she had no dreams, and the villagers' reactions frightened her. Sometimes she even lied about her dreams just to make people happy.

Other nights she didn't dream enough. She had seen one man – she still remembered his name was Danilay – lying dead on the ground, but she didn't know where or how. Danilay got mad. He shook her and slapped her until Aunt Pern had intervened.

They left Umong that night. She never found out how or even if her dream came true. And she never told her dreams again to anyone, except Aunt Pern.

Aunt Pern. Oh, God.

Suriya jerked upright. She was still in the strange guesthouse. A soft light filtered through the curtains. Anna sat on the stool watching the morning news.

“Good morning,” Anna's voice came into her mind. She didn't turn away from the TV.

More Answers, in Which Ancient Histories are Revealed

L. T. Host asks: What the deuce IS a jelly baby?

Like little, chewy babies, but you eat them!

I'm curious which PART of the CA coast-- if you're in the middle-ish, here's hoping it warms up before Fiance and I take a trip up there mid-July. If you're down south, you picked a good time to come. This is the NICE weather everyone talks about when they talk about CA. :)

We were in Southern California (Orange County and, briefly, San Diego). So yeah, pretty much the definition of Perfect Weather.

I'm also curious why you picked Thailand?

The simple answer is because my wife Cindy is Thai. The complex answer involves mission trips, a little mysticism, and a DTR (not in that order). We could talk about it over coffee, except I don't drink coffee. (Seriously though, you can e-mail me or something if you want the longer story).

C. Michael Fontes asks: What prompted you to become foster parents in Thailand?

The short answer to this one is the mysticism: God called us. The less short answer: Cindy's had a heart for orphans since she was young. When we decided to be overseas missionaries, we had a vague idea of running an orphanage/planting a church in whatever country we ended up in. But after we got here, that all kind of changed.

Emmet asks: In a no-holds-barred fight who would you rather be, the Emperor or the Lord Marshal (obviously the answer is Riddick, but other than that)?

Let's take a look:




The Emperor's prescience pretty much cancels out the Lord Marshal's coolest abilities. Plus, you know, it's not like he has a pretty face to protect. As long as Darth Vader's not around, I gotta go with Palpatine.

Anica is a great name, but if there had been no vetoing process (Cindy), what would have been on her birth certificate?

The only girl names I tried to push were Anica and Serenity (the latter being your suggestion, as I recall). But if I'd had a boy, and no wife to stop me, he'd be either Morpheus or Optimus Prime.

Would you rather write an amazing book (LOTR caliber) that doesn't get published until after your death, or a shite book that gets made into a bunch of movies (Twilight), and all your friends pat you on the back and say "great job" but then ridicule you on message boards around the internet, and you will have no other books to redeem yourself? 

So either way my career is depressing and full of rejection? In that case, give me the movies.

Would you rather give up cheese for the rest of your life, or be a vegan for a year? 

Definitely vegan. Uh... vegans can still eat bacon, right?

Bane of Anubis asks: How could you choose Aliens over Dragons? :P 

[Bane is referring to being a finalist in Nathan's contest, wherein I was a total jerk and voted Josin over him.]

See, Bane, like any good American I assumed my vote didn't really matter. How was I to know you'd tie? As soon as I get my time machine working, the first thing I'm going to change is my vote, I swear.

jjdebenedictus asks: Do these jeans make my butt look big? 

I can honestly say, from my point of view, they do not.

Myrna Foster asks: Do you have any other family over in Thailand?

Me? No. But Cindy's dad lives in Bangkok. She also has approximately one thousand aunts, uncles, and cousins scattered throughout the kingdom. One of them drew me a family tree once trying to explain it all. It took him like half an hour. I don't remember any of it.

What do you have in your writer's "drawer?"

You mean the stuff you'll never, ever read? Folks who've been around here a while will remember my first novel, Travelers, which got trunked after 60 straight rejections. Also before Pawn's Gambit, I wrote and submitted another Air Pirates short story to BCS, trunking it because it just wasn't working. And before that there was a short story that would eventually evolve into my current WIP, Cunning Folk. That one...is not very good at all.

Do you really own an umbrella chair?

.......no.

And lastly, Carrie says: I'm relatively new to your website. I'm curious to hear on what are your thoughts in regards to writer's block.

Which I'll answer on Friday. Thank you, everyone, for your questions! I enjoyed answering them. Hopefully you enjoyed it too.

Notes to Self: In Which I Tell My Inner Editor Where His Advice Can Go

Last time, I tried to trick my inner editor by writing notes to myself, rather than the "real draft", in the hopes that he wouldn't offer up advice. You may recall, it didn't work.

I got better this time. It turns out writing that post helped me identify when my Editor was sticking his nose in (again, these are my actual notes):

  • Anna and Suriya prepare to go to the airport.
    • Suri wakes. Anna has clothes for her, but they're like Anna's -- short. Suri is embarrassed to wear them. Anna has nothing else. “Besides, you'll look more American.”
    • Anna shows Suri the fake passport. It's a US passport with a fake name. In fact, her last name matches Anna's (Pak), implying a relationship. “It won't be enough to fool immigration, but by the time we're in the States, we'll be safe.”
    • Anna has a rented bike to return. They catch a songtaew to the airport. [Boring. Stage Direction.] {Thanks, Inner Editor. Now shut up.}

That Thing Where I Draw: Anna


Suriya first meets Anna in a hotel room, after waking from a drug-induced sleep. Anna saved her from the bounty hunter who drugged her, or so she says. She says she's there to help, but mostly she seems annoyed at having to deal with Suriya at all. She won't even answer Suriya's questions.

But who else can Suriya ask? She's never met anyone with powers like hers before.

Suriya doesn't trust Anna, but she goes along with her for the time being. Mostly because she has no choice -- Anna has to take Suriya back to her employers or else kill her. Needless to say, Suriya isn't happy about it.

Notes to Self: The Cunning, Chapter 3

Sometimes when I'm drafting, I have to do a quick outline or write other notes to myself to figure out what happens next. I guess I could just write the draft and change the stuff that doesn't work, but these notes help me brainstorm. They're also a way to trick my inner editor into thinking I'm not really writing, and therefore don't need his "services."

This bit's from the chapter I recently finished in The Cunning. Suriya and her aunt move to Chiang Mai after the villagers in their last home became frightened of Suriya's strange powers. Suriya's aunt hopes that a big city will be easier to hide in.

The beginning of this scene needed to show the passing of time, what happened for Suriya in her three months living in the big city. I didn't want to start with exposition, but I had to write it out just so I knew what happened. So I did it in a quick outline. As you can see, I didn't trick my inner editor at all (yes, these are my actual notes):

  • Suriya learned a lot over the next three months, perhaps more than she'd ever learned in her life.
    • She learned that Thai food only cost twenty-five Baht.
    • She learned Kham Muang, and enough English, German, and Chinese that she could avoid the kinds of problems so-and-so, the other server, had on the first day they came to the guest house.
    • She learned what a bargirl was.
    • She learned how boring this exposition was. Why? She's just happy and learning stuff, but NOTHING'S HAPPENING IN THE STORY!

Troubles in Thailand

You may have heard about the protests going on in Thailand right now. Basically one group (the "red shirts") wants the prime minister to dissolve parliament, step down, and call for new elections. He's not, obviously, and a few days ago the protests turned violent. Twenty people were killed, hundreds hurt.

Most of the trouble's in Bangkok, so we're largely unaffected. But I did read one story saying protesters had gotten a hold of Chiang Mai Provincial Hall. If so, that's kind of a trip because we just went there to announce Anica's birth. You can learn more about it here or from the video:



It's the same mess that started years ago when the military took the government from Thaksin. Very little has changed except who's in power.

Not to make light of it, but one really eerie thing is that I wrote a scene just like these protests about a day or two before they happened. I really hope I don't have that power. If so, I'm done writing modern-day fantasy right now.

On Priorities

(Fair warning: Posts may be short or non-existent the next couple of weeks. Just saying.)


If you think this means I won't be careful with my Thai, you should know that 6 of those 8 people are my wife and in-laws.

Also, this is not to scale (unless you're a prospective agent/publisher, in which case this is totally to scale).

False Starts

I started writing The Cunning for real on Monday (so my WIP sidebar will get updated more often for a while, FYI). These are the first new words I've written in months. Yet for all my planning, I didn't plan enough.

I'm constantly trying to find ways to write faster. Things like making comments where I can research later (instead of stopping to research now) or forcing myself to just write even though I hate what's coming out (because you can fix bad writing, but you can't fix what's not there). But it's so hard when I've just come off polishing Air Pirates to a shiny, cast-iron sheen. Especially the beginning.

See, the beginning is the most important part. It's the first thing everybody sees, and it's how they determine whether they can trust you as a writer. So at the end of a novel, you go over it again and again until it's perfect. It's easier at the end because you know who the characters are and you know everything that happens. You can drop hints and make your voice come shining through.

When you start a new novel, you also have to start at the beginning.* But now, even if you planned everything, you don't really know what will happen. You don't really know the characters, and you're probably not even sure of your voice.

Here's the paradox. You go from working on one beginning to the other. The first beginning is as perfect as you know how to make it. The second beginning is terrible; you know it, you don't know why, and you can't shake the feeling that this beginning should be as good as the one you just finished working on.

That's where I was on Monday, telling myself everything I'd learned in the last couple of years. "Just write it." "I can't fix it until something's there." "I hate it, but I don't know why so there's no reason to keep staring at it." "I'll know how to fix it when I've written more of the novel." After an hour and a half of this, I'd managed to pry out 349 words.

I don't have any lesson for you in this. Maybe just to let you know that you're not alone, and this is one reason why starting a new novel is hard, even though finishing the last one was so awesome.

The worst part is, when it was over I went online to research those things I wasn't allowed to while writing. The opening scene takes place in a Karen refugee camp under attack by Burmese soldiers, and it took me all of 5 minutes to find really awesome information that unstuck all the parts of the scene that were stuck.

That kind of thing makes me rethink my commitment to do no research while writing. It's also why I will never win NaNoWriMo.


* Well maybe you don't have to, but I do.

Meet Suriya

Suriya lives with her aunt in the mountains of Northern Thailand. She was born with the ability to control fire. Every so often, the local villagers find out about her powers. When this happens, Suriya and her aunt become the center of unwanted -- often harmful -- attention, and they have to find a new place to live. Even so, Suriya persists in practicing her craft.


I'm really happy with this one. It doesn't look as amazing as Zhang Ziyi, but it's something new. Nobody's ever seen this girl before, and now you have.

One of the problems I'd been having with drawing from my imagination is I'd just do it too fast. I mean, it took me hours to draw Tosh and Lutiya, but I'd spend like 10 minutes on Fitch. What's that about?

This is also the first time I've used reference pictures (for the pose and the dress). I don't know why I didn't use them before. Did I think they were cheating? Probably. I've got a lot of misconceptions about artists that need to die, I think.

That said, I'm still sketchy about using reference pictures for faces. Maybe that's what I should try next then...

Another Look at Revision Fears

When I started writing Travelers, it was just to prove to myself that I could do it, I could finish a novel. Sometime during that process, though, I decided (possibly because other people said so, though I don't remember now) that Travelers might be good enough to get published.

That was before I knew anything about the publishing industry. Before I'd read Nathan's FAQ, the Questions and Face Lifts on Evil Editor, or every single Query Shark query. Regardless, once I got that idea in my head, whatever I was working on became The One That Would Get Me There.

This was mostly a good thing. It made me work hard and write with confidence. But now, as I plan my third novel and prepare to revise my second, I'm discovering this idea has a dark side. The newest novel is the one that will get published (in my head), therefore my old novel -- the one I have to revise -- is not.

I'm wondering if this is the real reason I stopped work on Travelers even though I'd gotten a couple of enlightening personal rejections. Because I'm looking at the work it will take to get Air Pirates to a place I'm happy with, and I wonder if it wouldn't just be easier to write novel #3.

It wouldn't, of course. I'd get to the end of The Cunning, send it to beta readers, and the cycle would start again with novel #4. Nothing will get published if I don't revise it, usually multiple times.

Plus, I really, really like Air Pirates. It's a world I want to write at least a trilogy in, if not more. That, more than anything, is why I will polish that thing until my spit hurts. Really, all this self-doubt is just because I haven't started yet.

Trying New Things

Although I love planning and starting new novels, it makes me a little crazy too. I mean, in addition to all the normal worries (e.g. am I wasting my time? will I ever get published? if the previous novel(s) didn't get me an agent, what makes me think this one will? etc.), I have worries about new things.

I have to try new things. Unless it's a sequel, I need new characters, a new world, and a whole new idea, otherwise, what's the point? But new things are scary.

For example, The Cunning will be the first time I've tried writing a female protagonist.* Not only that, but she's a teenager. I don't know if I can do that convincingly. What if I'm trying something I'm just not good enough to write yet?

And Suriya doesn't even speak English. Am I going to have a lot of dialogue tags with "she said in Thai"? Will Suriya and Anna** have telepathic dialogue the entire time? What about the times Anna tries to speak to Suriya in English and she doesn't understand?

It also looks as though the entire first book (I think in trilogies) takes place in Thailand. I wanted to give this story something unique from my experience, but I'm afraid I'm going overboard with it -- including every little thing I know about this place. Even crazier, what if it does work, everybody loves it, but they're all disappointed because Book 2 takes place in the US?***

What if I can't find Suriya's voice? What if I do and it's no good? What if I can't bring the humor from Air Pirates into this story? What if I force the humor in and it doesn't fit?

I'm being totally stupid, I know (and thank you for caring enough to read this far, btw). Ultimately this is just a fear of failure I need to get over. The truth is if I don't try new things, I'll never know the answers to any of those what-ifs and I'll never get to tell Suriya's story.

I keep thinking that if this doesn't work it will be a year (or more) wasted writing this story, but the only way it would be wasted is if I didn't learn anything. What I really need to do is stop writing to get published and start writing for me again.

Hey, how about that? The crazy's gone.


* No, wait. The original "Joey Stone" had one, but she wasn't a teenager. Also, that story wasn't very good.

** For those of you
following along, Charity's name is now Anna.

*** Think that's crazy? I'm also thinking, "What if I can't write Book 2 because I haven't lived in the US for 4 years?"

Three Acts

By popular demand (8 out of 15 votes), the new working title for my WIP is The Cunning. I want to thank everyone who voted and commented. You've given me a lot to think about for later when I give this thing its real title.

And a special thank you to the folks who said they liked the story idea. That kind of encouragement is always welcome here :-)

So I'm plotting out The Cunning now. I freaking love this part. Everything's out there, just waiting for me to figure it out, and (because I plan before I draft) I don't have to spend a lot of time doing it. I might talk more about that later. Right now, because it's on my mind a lot, I want to talk about the Three-Act Structure and (maybe later) the Hero's Journey.

The simple form of the 3-Act goes like this: (I) setup, (II) confrontation, (III) resolution. In more detail...

Act One

* Introduce protagonist, "normal" world, and supporting characters.
* Introduce simple conflict.
* Ends when the main conflict is introduced and the protagonist's world is irrevocably changed.

Act Two
* In an effort to solve the main conflict, protagonist tries and fails against increasingly difficult obstacles.
* Ends with the Final Reversal - the last bad thing before everything is resolved. The protagonist has had enough, or the villain thinks they have defeated the hero for the last time. Whatever.

Act Three
* The protagonist faces the main conflict in the climax.
* Everything else is resolved.

That's one way to look at it, albeit a simple one. But it doesn't explain much about Act Two, which is supposed to be half of the story. Screenwriter Syd Field saw this and improved upon the 3-Act Structure calling it the Paradigm...

FIELD'S PARADIGM, Act One
Opening Image:
The first image or scene that summarizes the story, especially its tone. This is kind of a screenplay thing, but it can work in novels just as well.
Inciting Incident: The protagonist encounters the problem that will change their life.
Plot Point 1:
The turning point, in which the protagonist's life is irrevocably changed.

FIELD'S PARADIGM, Act Two
Pinch 1:
A reminder, halfway between the beginning of Act Two and the Midpoint, of the overall conflict (e.g. while the protagonist deals with his obstacles, cutaway to the villain for a scene).
Midpoint: An important reversal or revelation that changes the direction of the story. Field suggests that driving the story to this scene can keep the middle from sagging.
Pinch 2:
Another reminder scene, connected to Pinch 1, and halfway between the Midpoint and Plot Point 2.
Plot Point 2:
The final reversal, when the hero has had enough or the villain believes they've defeated them for the last time.

FIELD'S PARADIGM, Act Three
Showdown:
Midway through Act 3, the hero confronts the problem for the last time. They don't have to win.
Resolution & Tag: The issues of the story are resolved, giving the audience closure.

This post is long enough already, so I put my examples in the comments. Feel free to add your own too; trying to match stories to this formula will probably teach you more than I could. (I learned a lot just figuring out my examples).

And remember, the three-act structure is not The Formula By Which All Stories Are Told. It's just one way to think about things. If you're not sure where your story needs to go next (like me) then it can be really helpful.

Your Call: New Working Title

For over a year, I've been using the working title Joey Stone for my next project. The name came from a short story I wrote about a powerful psionic-in-training believed guilty of treason like his father.

Unfortunately, that title and storyline is 100% obsolete. So I need a new working title, one that does as much of the following as possible (in order of importance): (1) makes you want to know more about the story, (2) conveys a sense of the world, (3) conveys a sense of the plot.

I know that's totally subjective and that there's no perfect title that does all three really well. Clearly, in situations like this, the best thing to do is to use an unscientific online poll:




I'd like you to vote without any more knowledge of the story, so please vote before reading on. If after reading the blurb below you change your mind, or think you have a better title than the options above, feel free to say so in the comments:

Suriya thought she'd hid her powers pretty well, until a group of Chinese bounty hunters comes after her. She escapes using her ability to call fire, but the fire gets out of her control and destroys an entire Chiang Mai city block. Even worse, now everybody knows what she is.

More bounty hunters come, but Suriya finds unexpected help from a woman named Charity.
They don't speak the same language, but Suriya understands when Charity speaks directly into her mind. She says Suriya is one of the Cunning - a group of people born with fantastic abilities. Charity wants to take her to the US where she can be trained.

Suriya wants to trust Charity, but when she overhears her speaking with the bounty hunters in Chinese, she wonders if Charity is telling the truth. She wonders if she can really trust anybody.