His brain is a
nest of snakes and buzzing hornets, and he wants to kill this girl and kiss her
and shake her until her teeth rattle, demanding to know how he knows her, why
she’s boring into the soft parts of him that should be completely gone, replaced
with steel and fire.
I'm working on something completely different from anything I've written before. It's electrifying, being on unfamiliar ground, trying something completely new. All I can say is that it's a gritty scifi with a male protagonist, no romance. And if you want to get a feel for it. you can check out this playlist.
This is me, in my office, working. Very serious. Murdering all sorts of people.
When I looked at today's date, I had an odd little twinge of deja vu. Something in my brain pinged about Gmail, and that's when I realized that it was around this time three years ago when I opened my authorly email address and sent out my very first query letter. Thus began an hour's worth of scouring my Sent Mail folder to see what I've been working on.
Here's the madness of creation. I haven't included data on various drafts, revisions, PR stuff. Just books started, abandoned, finished, sold. Busy busy busy.
Sent first query for FERRYTALE: October 25, 2009 (to Joanna Stampfel-Volpe)
Sent last query for FERRYTALE/abandoned: December 25, 2009
Request for more: 12+
Offers of representation: 0
Briefly believe I have a pub offer, which is actually a vanity press: January 15, 2010
Number of queries sent for FERRYTALE: 53
(quirky, mythology-based romance)
Sent first query for SCRITCH: January 13, 2010 to Elana Roth
Number of queries sent for SCRITCH: 64
First agent phone call: March 23, 2010
Number of agent offers: 2
Number of times SCRITCH went on submission: 2
Officially shelved after going to the table twice: February 2011
(middle grade adventure, The Borrowers x Labyrinth)
Finished frst draft of BLUD (working title of Wicked as They Come): May 26, 2010
Sent WICKED AS THEY COME to agent: July 5, 2010
Sent revision of WICKED AS THEY COME to agent: September 20, 2010
WICKED AS THEY COME goes on submission: January 5, 2011
WICKED AS THEY COME sells at 3-way auction: February 14, 2011
WICKED AS THEY COME publishes: March 27, 2012
WICKED AS THEY COME + book 2 sell to Bastei Lubbe in Germany: May 8, 2012
(steampunk paranormal romance, 110k)
Finished first draft of THE PSYCHOPOMP OF UMBRA: August 10, 2010
UMBRA goes on sub, doesn't sell, is shelved: December 2011
(creepy middle grade adventure)
Finished first draft of ATTACK OF THE BATSH*T BIMBOS: September 18, 2010
ATTACK shelved; agent didn't like: April 18, 2011
*Note: I love this book and want to make it into a graphic novel.
(teen geek zombie farce)
Started PRETTY LITTLE THINGS GO BOOM: December 14, 2010
Abandoned PLTGB at 150 pages: January 26, 2011
*Note: Loved the idea, didn't spend enough time on plot and character.
(YA superhero farce)
Started BLACK PARADE: April 11, 2011 (abandoned at 20k)
*Note: Might finish one day.
(contemprary YA, girl sent to Blud world)
Started ROSE THE SUNBEAR: May 3, 2011
Finished ROSE THE SUNBEAR: May 3, 2012
*Note: Birthday gift for my husband, agent hasn't seen. Considering another edit and sub.)
(middle grade mythological)
Started LOVE YOU FOREVER (Ink & Bone): April 13, 2011
Finished first draft of INK & BONE: May 18, 2011
Submitted INK & BONE to agent after major revision: October 25, 2011
Shelved; author and agent unable to agree after another major revision: July 2, 2012
*Note: THIS IS THE BOOK OF MY HEART. It's going to be sold, one day, no matter what.
(YA ghost thriller/suicide/issues/romance)
Started SPARROWHAWK: May 24, 2011
Abandoned SPARROWHAWK at 58 pages: August 16, 2011
*Note: Love the concept/imagery/characters, didn't pay enough attention to plot. May finish one day.
(alt history YA based on Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty + goblins)
Started HIS GOLDEN EYES: STEAMPUNK ROBIN HOOD: September 30, 2011
Finished first draft HIS GOLDEN EYES: December 31, 2011
*Note: In edits.
Started PAYBACK/DEBT-FREE AMERICA: October 20, 2011
Finished first draft of PAYBACK: November 11, 2011
*Note: Agent has not seen. Needs editing.
Started writing THE MYSTERIOUS MADAM MORPHO: January 25, 2012
Finish first draft of THE MYSTERIOUS MADAM MORPHO: February 13, 2012
To editor: March 12, 2012
E-published: October 2, 2012
(Blud e-novella #1.5, 34k)
Started writing WICKED AS SHE WANTS: February 16, 2011
Back into WICKED AS SHE WANTS: March 13, 2012
Finished first draft of WICKED AS SHE WANTS: April 19, 2012
Publishing date: April 2013
(paranormal romance Blud #2)
Started first draft of SERVANTS OF THE STORM: July 23, 2011
Finished first draft of SERVANTS OF THE STORM: August 7, 2011
Sent SotS to agent: November 25, 2011
Finished big revisions on SotS and sent to agent: May 30, 2012
SotS goes on exclusive submission to S&S: June 19, 2012
SotS sells to Simon Pulse: June 27, 2012
SotS publishing date: August 2014
(creepy YA paranormal)
Started THE PECULIAR PETS OF MISS PLEASANCE: June 9, 2012
Finished THE PECULIAR PETS OF MISS PLEASANCE: July 25, 2012
Publishing date: April 2013
(Blud e-novella #2.5, 37k)
Started BLUD 3: June 24, 2012
Started THE THREE LIVES OF LYDIA: August 15, 2012
Finished TTLofL: August 25, 2012
Publishing date: August 2013
(Blud short story, 10k for CARNIEPUNK! anthology)
Started SELECTION: October 21, 2012
Currently at 24k
(gritty scifi, male protag)
I was up in a hot air balloon, looking down on a plantation house surrounded by ancient pecan trees. The fire was hot on my face, the moon rising among the clouds. I disembarked as darkness struck and strolled past the torches lighting the path to a grand tent. As I came around the corner, I heard music. It was Norah Jones singing Come Away With Me, and I stopped where I was, alone beside a carriage house, hidden in shadow.
That moment held a sort of magic, and I was transfixed.
If I had been in a movie, there would have been someone waiting under the tent, arm held out invitingly for a slow dance of forgotten steps, of a cheek on a shoulder, of shining eyes. It was the moment when everything misunderstood is made plain, when unanswered questions are finally resolved. The kind of moment where a spotlight shines on you, and everything else melts away, and you're in a little bubble, smiling a secret smile. A hundred different stories went through my mind about magical things that could have been happening.
But they didn't, because I was alone.
The moment was there, and I was there, and that was all.
I stayed where I was until the song was over, swaying gently, arms wrapped around my waist. I watched a few people dancing under the tent, the lights twinkling around them like stars as they laughed. And I couldn't help thinking that somewhere, someone was having that moment where everything changes, that someone was experiencing magic.
I found an old sketchbook while decluttering the studio tonight.
I'm pretty sure I actually came up with that.
At least, no one else did, according to Google.
I used to be deep.
The book is fat with quick works-- roosters and sea birds and octopuses and frogs.
I sat in on a mixed media class with artist Frank Shelton back in 2005,
while I was working toward my one-woman show, HUNGER.
Frank encouraged us to keep sketchbooks, and I'm glad I did.
My show included mixed media on board and canvas, one huge 8x4,
and about 60 half-animal mermaids made of clay.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution came out and took pictures for a 2-page spread.
There were cream puffs.
It was awesome.
The whole show grew from one article about how albatrosses accidentally feed trash to their chicks, and then the babies starve to death with bellies full of plastic. It made me think-- not only about the wretched things we're doing to the world. But also about the nature of hunger, of striving.
I want to always be hungry, but I don't want to stuff myself with the wrong food.
Tonight was a good reminder. I put all the pages back and shut the book-- as far as it will shut. It's back on the shelf until the next time I discover it.
Stay hungry, y'all, but only eat things that'll make you grow.
Gritty scifi. Male protag. No romance. No magic. No carnivals.
No adorably bloodthirsty critters.
Plenty of guns.
So I needed to do some research.
I haven't gone to the range since 2005, but thanks to my magic Lasik robot eyes, my aim is even better than it was before. I filled that zombie rat and his stanky cheese full of holes.
Followed it up with a leisurely dinner on the side porch of a new restaurant. Duck confit spring rolls, lamb shank, chocolate torte with almond Chantilly cream. And this marvelous concoction of gin, St. Germain, simple syrup, and grapefruit that the bartender calls a Wild Blossom. It looks like a pink girly drink, but it packs one hell of a punch.
I'm over at Bitten By Books today for an ongoing interview/chat and giveaway.
Starting at noon, Central time, you can read my secrets, ask questions, heckle me aplenty, and enter to win an Amazon gift card, which you can use to purchase almost anything that has ever existed, except for baby sloths, because I CHECKED.
1. How amazing is this bludbunny pumpkin by Josette Bowsher Schaber? She posted it on my Facebook page yesterday, and I kinda freaked. My favorite. pumpkin. ever. Well done, darling!
2. Tomorrow, I'll be hanging out at Bitten By Books. There's an interview and a giveaway, and they've requested I haunt the comments to interact, answer questions, and possibly heckle with hugs. Here's the RSVP, which gives you 25 extra entries in the contest. Come play!
2. November 10 and 11, I'll be a guest at the Dahlonega Literary Festival in the scenic north Georgia town of Dahlonega. If you're in the Southeast and love fall in the mountains and books, please stop by. It's free. And pretty. And there's a general store where you can buy rabbit feet, hand-carved canes, and kitana swords. And you can eat lunch with me at a Mexican restaurant. I'm looking forward to seeing A.J. Hartley and Faith Hunter again and meeting Cherie Priest for the first time. I drove up for a few hours last year just to meet Deanna Raybourn and had a wonderful time.
3. I'm in the thrall of a shiny new idea and am furiously first drafting. I might not look up for a while, so if you need me, ping me on Twitter. And please remind me to eat and sleep, because I tend to forget.
I have a bad habit of saving things for "the perfect time".
Dresses, shoes, a new piece of jewelry. I'll put it away and wait for a party, a wedding, a conference, some sort of event where I want to feel special. Sometimes, I have to wait longer than I like. But I'm trying to get over this affectation, because, frankly, I'm sick of postponing joy.
That's why I opened the Roussanne tonight.
When I first tried it at RoxyAnn Winery last October... well, read that blog post, and you'll see how a simple glass (or two) made me feel. It was magic. And when they sent me a bottle, I was really excited. I made grand plans. I put it away for the ultimate celebration.
And it sat on top of a shelf for nearly a year. I sold two novellas... but didn't open it. I sold two books to Germany... but didn't open it. I sold a YA... but didn't open it.
And you know what?
It's my birthday. I've had a lot to celebrate in the past year. And I'm 6,000 words into my next book, something entirely different from anything I've written before. I feel alive and awake and filled with fire. And I wanted to taste the Roussanne again.
Tomorrow, I'll buy some pears and cheese and sopressata and sit outside and taste everything slowly, thoughtfully, under an ultra-blue October sky. But now, I'm going to pound the keyboard and build words and sip, remembering the smell of wine in barrels and the warm glow of lights strung overhead and the feeling of being on an adventure that I don't want to end.
Today is my birthday, and the next year is going to be great.
"My home is a white house that is flowery. My Mommy, My Daddy, My Sister; that is my family lives in our house. Do not forget about my kitty cats! I have a lot of names that are in my house, because I have not told you about Troublehead, my shark, and Jakeface, my fish and Cheeper, my bird. So many names! That is why I love my home."
~my son, age 3
He doesn't look like me, but he's definitely got my genes.
Adding for comparison and further OVARYSPLOSION: the boy as a babe.
What, you mean that you went to a writers conference, but your wildest dreams didn't come true?
Yeah. Sorry about that. Mine, neither. Not yet.
See, I went to a fantastic writers conference a few weeks ago and enjoyed the hell out of myself. I came home inspired and reinvigorated, ready to dig my thumbs deep into the fried chicken thigh of writing and pry out the deliciously greasy bits. Who could ask for anything more than chicken and transcendence?
Lots of people, actually.
When you're on Twitter and Facebook and connecting with people after a conference, you can't help making note of the feedback. And while most of what's being said about this particular con is overwhelmingly positive, I've seen a few complaints that people didn't get the answers they'd hoped to find. And I'm somewhat annoyed, because you can't blame the con for your false expectations. I mean... if you walk into a Bojangles and ask for caviar, you're bound to be disappointed, but that doesn't mean you should go whining about it on Yelp.
Here's the thing: you can't worry about getting published/getting a million hits on your blog until you've perfected your craft-- until your writing is really damn good, and you're plugged into your muse, and you're networking, and you're constantly working your ass off. The people you admire in the writing world did not start last week and rise to stardom yesterday. It's taken them years, sometimes decades, to get where they are.
And they're all going to tell you the same thing: there is no one secret to success.
Life as a writer is about hard work, time, tenacity, embracing failure, taking risks, and never giving up. You apply that to your writing, and then to your editing, and then to your querying. And then to everything you do, ever.
You don't get to skip to the front of the line just because you went to a conference.
Most of the questions I heard during Q&A sessions weren't about how to improve one's writing and perfect one's craft. They were about how to get MORE STUFF. How do I get blog hits, magazine gigs, an agent, a sale, self-publishing success? Gimme, gimme, gimme. And, yes, these are questions asked by everyone who wants to be a writer. I would *still* like to know how to sell more books and get more deals and anthologies.
Believe me-- I feel your frustration. When you're still writing on your own, for yourself, hoping to get somewhere, you want the answers to the next step so that your current situation feels viable. After all, if you can't eventually level up, why are you working so freaking hard right now? You want to see success waiting on the horizon. You need something to run toward, proof that your blood and sweat and inky tears will be worth something, someday. You're looking for outside validation.
But you're not going to get that at a conference dedicated to insight and motivation.
So, here's my advice: when you pay to go to a conference, be realistic about your expectations.
If you want someone to critique your writing, go to a retreat or hire an editor or find critique partners.
If you want to connect with agents/editors and discuss your query, go to a con with agent pitch sessions.
If you want inspiration/a kick in the pants, go to a con that specializes in just that.
Do your research, and be honest about the return you expect on any investment in writing help, because anyone who promises you success/answers is probably lying to get your money.
And if, after all that, you're still not getting the answer to your particular questions, find the people at the conference who came the closest to satisfying your curiosity and ask more specific questions. Find their websites or blogs, stalk them on Twitter, whatever. They didn't purposefully disappoint you, and most people remember what it's like to feel lost and are glad to offer their encouragement and help, if not their agent's cell number.
The hardest part about writing is that you have to do it by yourself. No one can force you. No one can give you ideas, stick your butt in the chair, or make you do the research that will help you reach your goals. You have to want it, chase it, long for it, and dedicate yourself to it.
And believe me-- you can get a helluva lot done, standing in this line, waiting your turn.
That, my friends, is one of the most magical places on earth.
It's called Boxwood Manor, and it's located in Pendleton, SC. Back in 1790, Boxwood began as a one-room shack, hand-built by the relatives of one of my favorite people, Annette Buchanan. Her family has been there ever since, adding rooms and charm and outbuildings to some of the prettiest land I've ever had the pleasure of walking. I met Annette when we both worked at the Anderson County Arts Center, and I miss seeing her smiling face every day. I also miss her famous chocolate pound cake.
This little wagon was Annette's great-great-grandfather's bachelor car. Notice how there's no room for a chaperon? Her family is known for a gorgeous line of Tennessee Walkers out of a famous stallion named Midnight Sun, and I've ridden a few of his descendants. They were the most amazing horses I've ever known, Shine and Kharma especially. I even got to help birth a gorgeous mare named Elektra. These horses-- they're huge and beautiful with big hearts and fluid natural gaits. Like riding on the wind. And those horses began here, in the pastures of Boxwood.
This is where I stayed, upstairs in the attic. When Annette refurbished the home in 2008, she didn't just slap another layer of wallpaper over what was there. She called in experts on historic building, bricks, and clay, and they lovingly restored the house to its original beauty. It's amazing. When you walk barefoot, you can feel the tradesmen's marks under your skin. You can run your fingers across handprints in that little fireplace.
And Annette's grandfather died on the pretty, swoopy little chaise.
It was strange, falling asleep alone, in the pitch dark, with windows open to the Carolina night. It was cool, but the crickets and cicadas were out there, somewhere. I was curious to see if I'd be haunted, because when someone's been living in a house since 1790, you know a lot has happened there. But Annette's family must have been as warm and happy as she is, because it was simply peaceful.
Here I am, getting suited up for the Steampunk Victorian Gala thrown at historic Woodburn Plantation by the Pendleton Historic Foundation. There's something giddy about primping in front of an antique vanity, the mirror slightly muddled and the light warm in your eyes.
This barn. Oh, this barn.
Remember those moments of mercy I talked about? I had one here.
Back in 2002, I needed good pasture for my horse, and Annette still had a few horses on her land, so she was kind enough to let me bring Chantilly out here to fatten up. My little mare fit right in, and some of the most golden moments of my life were spent out at Boxwood, alone for miles, walking in waist-deep grass and swinging a halter, calling my filly and hearing her whinny as she galloped to me. I would ride, bareback with a rope halter, past the remains of tractors and the idyllic lake. I would eat blueberries off the bushes and pecans off the ground as she grazed. And sometimes, I would open the door of that barn and sit inside, my saddle next to antiques covered in spiderwebs, watching the sunbeams pool on a dappled brown mare and sketching her in my notebooks.
And I would think, "This is all I ever wanted."
I was wrong. But it was close.
In addition to the amazing work she's done inside, Annette has turned Boxwood Manor into a prime wedding spot. I've seen some pictures, and it's gorgeous, what can be done here. The old well was redone like a wishing well and works as a buffet. The 200-year-old boxwood tree rules over everything like an aging queen. And you can hire a horse and buggy to carry you away. There's a company with drum horses in Pickens, one with Haflingers in Pendleton.
Please allow me to geek out over history for a moment.
See the dovetail joints on the left? The ones on the bottom all have an upward slant, which means they were created by Scotsmen. And then, halfway up, just above the chiffarobe, the dovetails go rectangular, which means they were made by Englishmen.
When you touch these boards, you can feel the care that went into them. No Home Depot here. Just Annette's ancestors with axes and adzes, hand-fitting a house where dozens of children grew up. The last time I saw Boxwood, everything was covered up in wallpaper. But this is so much better.
Remember when phones were pretty?
Annette calls it "the little bathroom", and I called it "the creepy bathroom".
It's fascinating. All these tiny dolls, carding combs, a miniature sewing machine, a spinning wheel. All things found in the house or attic or buried in the barn, artificats that hadn't seen the light of day in decades, sometimes centuries. Until Annette found them, cleaned them up, and made them shine.
She's really good at that.
This piano is from 1836.
It still plays.
I want Casper to play it...
Boxwood Manor was the basis of SCRITCH, the middle grade book that I was querying when I found my literary agent. It was about a little girl who lived in an old country house that matched Boxwood to the best of my memory-- except that it had creepy rat goblins and hidden rooms in the attic. That book didn't sell, but I can still see it in my mind.
And oddly enough, certain elements of Boxwood show up in my Blud books. For example, see those tiny demitasse cups? They're almost exactly what I describe as the serving for blood in WICKED AS THEY COME and WICKED AS SHE WANTS. That lavender one especially.
Except I'd never seen the cups or the piano until this weekend.
One of the things I love about Boxwood is that there's beauty hidden everywhere. This cane is just sitting in a corner, minding its own business. But it's beautiful. It was a gift to Annette's father, hand-carved. You can see the love the carver had for Arabians, the set of the mouth and the carefully dished face. That isn't *any* horse. That's one horse in particular.
I love old houses. So much. Everything here feels so real, so purposeful.
So genuine, just like Annette.
It was hard to leave Boxwood Manor again.
I got in my car at sunrise, driving by the cemetery on the hill and pulling into the fog, windows down so I could smell the tilled fields next door. The air is so clear here, especially on horseback or motorcycle.
I miss the hell out of it.
I'm not a religious person, but the closest I've felt to a higher power was trail riding in South Carolina. The way the sun falls through the trees, the possibility in the air, the feel of mountain laurels brushing across your face as you barrel through the woods and fly over logs. The hitch my mare used to get when she saw turkeys or deer and took to the chase.
I used to just want horses and painting.
Now, I want horses and writing and golden fields and the feeling of being in a place that calls to me.
* * *
Thank you, dear Nanook, for inviting me into your home. And if anyone is looking for a beautiful place to visit, enjoy a Southern luncheon, or get married in upstate SC, here's the Facebook page for Boxwood Manor. Annette also has a gorgeous cabin in Highlands, NC which she sometimes rents to lovely people.
I'll admit it: my Talk Block at the Crossroads Writers Conference could have been better. In part because it was my first time there and what I'd planned didn't gel as well with what I found I wanted to say. But if I had it to do again-- and if they'll let me back through the door again next year-- here's what I would want to say.
WHAT I WISH I'D SAID AT CROSSROADS WRITERS CONFERENCE
For just a moment, I want you to forget that Amazon exists and simply think about a peach.
I want you to forget about 50 Shades of Grey and advances and agents and editors and SEO and Twitter followers and and blog tours. Because that's not what we're here for. That's not the important part of what we do-- of writing. That's like dreaming of a can of slimy peaches in Costco when you're holding a seed in your hands in a beautiful grove, standing over a hole you dug yourself, ankle-deep in dew.
Only an asshole would focus on a can.
If you want to be published, there's no secret formula that you're going to find here--or at any conference or seminar, no matter how much you pay. Because the secret isn't a secret: you have to work your ass off for a long time, develop a thick skin, put yourself out there, never stop learning, and never give up. You have to write every day, be obsessed, put in the work.
But hearing that doesn't get anyone excited. That's like telling you how the cannery works. No one cares about cans, and no one cares about canneries.
The most important thing that happens is that there is a seed, and the seed grows.
That seed is your idea. It can come from anywhere-- something that happened in real life, a dream, something you read online. It might hit you like a tornado and wreck your life, or it might sneak in, unannounced and insidious, like termites. It might seem ridiculous or impossible at first; the best ideas often do. You can't go find it, though. It has to come to you.
The good thing is that if you're curious-- and every writer I know is deeply curious-- there's a good chance the ideas will come. But you have to be open to it, sensitive to it. The ideas sneak in when you're unfocused. You could go for a hike and step on twenty peach pits and never look down. But if you want to write, you have to train yourself to respond to odd little pings. Characters in the coffee shop, or words in other people's books, or that niggling little thought you had in the shower. And when you find a little seed, you have to at least write it down, maybe think about it for a minute. It might not stick, and it might not go anywhere. But the more seeds you collect, the better the chance that your subconscious will start turning one over and over, contemplating the possibilities of what could grow from that bizarre, wrinkled piece of nothing.
I love my subconscious. If I could, I would kiss the damn thing. If I just step out of my way and stop saying no to things, the answers somehow rise to the surface. Sometimes I have to go driving with the right music or take a long bath, but with the right prompts, what's supposed to happen, happens. Your brain wants it to happen. It's almost looking at a Magic Eye poster. But instead of relaxing your eyes, you relax your brain.
The point is that just as a tree can't grow overnight, stories take time and lots and lots and lots of thought. You might get a crazy-good hook in your head-- it's like Twilight for narwhals! But that's not enough. You have to know where it starts, where it stops, and a few mile markers in between. You have to know these characters like they're annoying neighbors. I write romance, and while I'm writing, I'm always crushing on the male lead, trying to make myself swoon with everything he says. So this is the part where you take the seed and plant it. Water it and fertilize it. Tend it carefully. Don't let a day-- don't let an hour-- go by when it's not with you, on your mind. Even if it's just one page, one sentence, one word a day, even if it's just some notes on a future scene-- write it.
The first thing you will do is bang out 10 fierce pages like you're being chased, like you're on fire. All 10 pages will probably suck. Don't let that stop you. It's going to suck for a good, long while. Just keep typing, straight on through, with idiotically dogged determination. To me, a first draft is a lot like barfing. You just get it all out, as much as you can, as fast as you can. Worry about fixing it later. But you can't fix an empty page, so you might as well fill the blank space. Just glorify in the mess. Spread it around. You're going to have to get back in there and pull the guts apart, anyway.
I heard so many people at Crossroads ask how to keep going at this point, and here's the ugly secret: for me, the middle of the book is an enormous pain in the ass. I like the beginning, that electric scene where the heroine meets the hero, the slow burn to the first kiss and the sweet fire of the bow-chicka-wow-wow, and then the climactic end. I don't like writing the piddly in-betweens, and sometimes I'l even put a *** and write "insert character building here" or "talking scene where we learn about tragic past". And then I move on to the next scene that excites me in the moment, because maintaining that excitement is the only way to slog through the swamp. Or orchard. Or Costco.
Call it whatever you want. You just have inch toward daylight, as Matt Stover says.
And some people will tell you to keep your eye on the prize, whether that's typing THE END or mailing that paper baby off to your dream agent. But I think that's bad advice.
Forget the end. Keep your eye on the seed.
Never stop thinking about the seed that excited you about the story in the first part. Roll it around in your mouth a little. Whether it's the world or the characters or the twist at the climax, there was something that moved you so much as a conscious being that it elevated you above your basic dinosaur-brain functions and told you to do this ridiculous, awesome, painful, troublesome, heartbreaking, exhausting, sleep-depriving, family-annoying thing. Keep it in your pocket like a worry stone. Listen to the songs that make you feel it. Immerse yourself in what you're creating.
And if you do that *and* you put your ass in the chair every day and write, you will eventually type THE END.
Will it be any good?
No, it will not.
Even Stephen King admits that his first drafts suck. I don't let *anyone* see anything until my third draft, and nothing hits my agent's desk until at least the fifth. And then, do you know what happens?
She takes three months to read it and sends back a six-page edit letter so honest and brutal that it often reduces me to tears.
For three days, I rant and rage and balk like a mule.
And then I usually realize she's right and figure out how to fix it, because writers are often blind to their own faults. When I think she's wrong, I lay out the most logical argument possible and promise to send her cupcakes.
But as I'd like to encourage you to finish your first book, I'm not going to talk about revision, because that's honestly the hardest part. To follow the analogy here, if the seed is the story idea and the tree is the book you're writing, then here's how revisions work. You stand back and admire your tree for five minutes to six weeks. Then you go over every single leaf hunting for blemishes, turn every single peach. You throw away the rotten ones. Mark the green ones. Trim the bum twigs. Scream and jump up and down because you set out to grow a plum tree instead. Cut off half the branches and rearrange them and sew them back on with a needle and no thimble until your hands are a bloody mess. Maybe set fire to the damn tree.
Forget I said that.
Just remember the beautiful tree, hung with golden peaches. Remember the seed. Keep it close. Treasure it. Nurture it. Worship it. Love it.
No matter how many books I write, the feeling of finding a seed, the electricity of falling in love with an idea, never gets old.
You are filled with boundless possibility. All you need is time and hard work to turn it into something amazing. But all of the work comes later. There are no Costcos, no cans, no peaches, no trees...
After reading this article on Cracked breaking down the reasons that Zooey Deschanel might be beautiful and adorable but is definitely not awkward or geeky, I couldn't help contemplating how the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl presents in men.
As I see it, the MPDG is the 21st century version of a muse. She's gorgeous but quirky, insightful but childlike, and never, ever sticks around for the happily ever after--aka, long enough to get boring/quotidian. She appears in the life of a guy who's either mid-crisis or floundering or half-asleep and shakes him out of his doldrums with her beautiful eccentricity. She leaves him changed and bittersweet in a way that allows the real, true Woman to walk in the door at just the right time.
In short, she's an object, a creature of male fantasy, a vehicle to something better. Her function is to awaken the sleeper.
So what I want to know is: what is the male version of the MPDG?
Because I'm pretty sure that a dude with all of these qualities would not have the same appeal to women. For example, remember Duckie from Pretty in Pink? He was cute, quirky, intelligent, fearless, filled with love and possibility and tenacity. And although women everywhere swore he was adorable, no one ever called him sexy. Or swoony. Or handsome.
He was fun. Sweet. Cute.
These words? Are romance doom.
No one gets a fire in their loins for cute. Even Molly Ringworm chose the smoldering, standoffish, rich dude. No matter what they say, I don't think that, subconsciously, women want to be worshiped like that. They want to be chased like wobbly dibatags by lions with soft paws hidden under extendable claws.
So although your mileage my vary and different strokes for different folks and please don't attack Delilah for averring something, I believe that the male version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the Stoic Warrior Poet, sometimes known as the Sparkly Vampire Manboy.
If the idea of this trope is to shake up a person's status quo and make them feel more alive so that they're more open to leveling up as a human being, a woman's biology simply isn't programmed to swoon for a Manic Elfin Dream Boy, a skinny little Ducky or Doctor Who. In her churning cesspit of pheremones, a woman craves a cave man, a beast, a man who will protect her and be entirely competent when it comes to helping her and her offspring survive. But in our world, when any doof in flip-flops can go to WalMart for a steak, our brains tend to forget about that part and lead us to guys who make great friends and loving fathers. And thence, I believe, many women are missing something they crave, deep down, but aren't always aware of.
So our hormones and instincts want a cave man. Fine. But our hearts want romance and poetry and pretty words and soulful eyes, not being raped from the behind in an alley. So these two basic desires are really difficult to come by... because they're entirely opposite. When a man's dinosaur brain wants a fertile woman, that need is expressed by eyes that rove to boobs and butts and facial symmetry-- things that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl has, because she's *always* gorgeous. Add in some intelligence, quirk, and an ability to swig beer and make insightful comments on whatever game or band the guy also likes and you've got your MPDG.
But while a woman's dinosaur brain wants to be protected and carry viable offspring, she doesn't actually *want* to be an object of lust solely for her body. She wants to be respected, understood, adored. She wants power and equality in the relationship. Or so she thinks. Because if there's one thing the men of romance books and movies show, it's that women really dig 100% confident guys who kill things. And that's where Edward, Christian, James Bond, Tony Stark, Khal Drogo, and the dude from Desperado come in. They'll kill something that's trying to hurt you, throw you against the wall for a smoldering interlude, and then write a song about it.
Boom. All your needs, met. And they all have money to take care of you, should that interlude actually satisfy nature's urge and produce the children his dinosaur brain wants and his dude-groin fears. Stoic Warrior Poet always comes with built-in monetary security. Don't worry your pretty little head.
And yet all these characters have an unnatural sensitivity that goes against their forceful nature and allows women to accept all the bad things they do. Edward and Christian (whom some posit as the same person, really) are creepy-ass, super-rich stalkers with man-boy issues, but they play the piano and express their tenderness through twisted acts of physical and emotional tenderness. Khal Drogo, Desperado, and James Bond are basically murderous savages who draw their women into their worlds, hardening them and strengthening them like an annealed blade. Tony Stark is a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist, and yet one woman is able to cancel out the playboy part. Because she's simply that special.
The point is that these guys? They change in one way only: by loving a sensitive woman, they open like barb-wire flowers in one small area of tenderness, but on the whole, they stay the same. Their stability as a trope allows their women to change, to become strong and fearless in a way that your average stay-at-home-mom can't. These dudes are a springboard to awaken women to the passion they've forgotten, repressed, or lost.
Basically, the Stoic Warrior Poet awakens the woman with near-forceful passion that rides the line between rape and acceptance with a precision that's hard to duplicate in real life.
If you sit in a bar and watch human behavior as the flaneur, Wild Kingdom style, the dance is beautiful and fascinating. I was in a bar last weekend and couldn't figure out why so many pretty, dude-seeking girls were wearing dork glasses, tights, flats, high-waisted pants, or tent-shaped dresses, which seems like the equivalent of trying to catch fish with packets of used cat litter. And then I read the Cracked article today and realized that women are actively trying to emulate the Manic Pixie Dream Girl style. That they *want* to be that muse, that adorkable fawn of a girl who dances in and garners every eye, but not because she's a vapid bitch in a skin-tight dress. Because she has some interior magic that makes her special. And I think that some guys are starting to catch on to a more traditional expression of masculinity, Mad Men-style. I still don't understand the hipster boys, though.
And of course, the interesting part is that the few lucky people who function as Stoic Warrior Poets or Manic Pixie Dream Girls in real life naturally attract the opposite sex with a fearful magnetism. You can't fake this shit, to be honest. Zooey Deschanel isn't adorkable; she's beautiful and knows exactly what she's doing. In the movies, it's easy to craft a character who serves as a journey instead of a destination, a conveyance instead of a living, breathing person. But in real life, each angle of the trope must be met 100% or the approach will appear disingenuous and lopsided. And, honestly, kind of lame.
Either you've got it, or you don't, and halfway only counts in horse shoes and NaNoWriMo.
So, in conclusion, instead of dreaming of these fairy-tale concoctions of impossible people waking us up from our everyday lives, let's just set our damn alarms and put in the work. Sitting in a bar, watching people wearing wedding rings chat with eyes ablaze, all I could think was that finding a MPDG or SWP is a lot like standing at the edge of a cliff. It's exciting. It's dizzying. You get a trill in the pit of your stomach. And right after you jump off the cliff, it would be really, super-awesome-fun for the first five seconds. But, eventually, you're going to splatter against the rocks far below.
There's a reason that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl dances right back out of your life.
She's supposed to.
Thoughts? On anything? Please share. I'm just making this stuff up, you know.
My weekend in pictures. I was having such a good time that I only took two myself, and they both suck. Yes, for the first time, I wish I had a real phone with a camera and such. My 2005 flip phone was officially dubbed "the best joke at Crossroads 2012."
If it's possible to experience flow through social interaction, it would be called the Crossroads Writers Conference in Macon, GA. Highly recommended for anyone who writes, wants to write, or wants to hang out with amazing people and get kicked repeatedly in the inspiration bone.
All pics stolen from my new best friends on Twitter.
They actually let me speak in front of a bunch of people. Their bellies were full of fried chicken, their hearts were full of Chris Baty's NaNoWriMo inspiration, and they couldn't leave because the doors were locked from the outside. I gave a three-hour speech about turnips.
I met amazing people, and many of them were manly men who didn't want to make me cry, so they bought my book. And in return, I drew outfits over Criminy's shaved chest and hard nipples.
I wasn't flicking anyone off. Well, just Mike, but he asked for it.
Finally, proof that the elusive Chuck Wendig exists. Jeremy, however, is a figment of imagination.
In conclusion, this was my first con for writers, and it set the bar mile-high. Chris, Heather, and the many volunteers and supporters of Crossroads do amazing work. It was touching, to see so many people find inspiration and answers and support. For me, the best part was meeting people. I haven't laughed so hard in a long, long time. And learning more about other genres and avenues of publishing was eye-opening, too. It can be easy, when you have your head down and trained on the laptop, to remember that people are doing amazing work outside of my own, super-tiny sphere.
But these people-- my friends, now-- have done great things and even planned further great things while I ate an omelet.
Thanks to everyone at Crossroads.
And if you're a writer or you want to write, sign up now for Crossroads 2013.
If you like books and hanging with authors, you'll want to know about the Olde City, New Blood con in St. Augustine next February. I'll be there-- because the ocean calls to me like a lover with an armful of cupcakes. You can go, too. And if you follow the directions below, you might go for free.
We are gathered here today, to join two awesome things in a state of increased awesomeness.
Today, we're bringing together an author/reader mini-con, and the chance to WIN YOUR WAY IN FOR FREE!
That's right, ladies and gentlemen... starting today, you will all have 7 days to hop around from author to author, blogger to blogger, and enter at every stop to win one of 3 FREE REGISTRATIONS to Olde City, New Blood, the upcoming urban fantasy/paranormal romance mini-con in St. Augustine, FL next February.
You can check out the official website for the complete list of Featured Authors (I'll give you a hint... one of them is ME!!) and Featured Bloggers. There's also a main contest post with all the participating authors, bloggers, and dates for the contest. It's super easy. Visit each of the spotlight blog posts and author websites listed, fill out the Rafflecopter link on each one (one entry PER POST, not per day... and yes, they will be checking), and POOF, multiple entries to WIN!!
The prize is one of 3 FREE REGISTRATIONS to see me and about 49 other authors on the sunny beaches of St. Augustine, Florida, from Feb 8th-10, 2013. We're going to be doing panels, readings, meet & greets, and just generally having a fun weekend with our incredible fans!! Please keep in mind, if you win, you'll have to cover your own travel and hotel expenses, but your ticket into the party will be on Olde City, New Blood!!!
The contest runs from September 30th - October 6th, and the 3 winners will be announced on September 7th. Don't forget to click the Rafflecopter link below before you hop off to check out the rest of the contest posts!! Good Luck, everyone!! I hope to see you ALL in Florida this February!!