Hardest Writing I’ve Done in a While

I currently have the first regular writing schedule since I began ~10 years ago. The first three hours my kids are gone, I sit down and work on Lindorm Queen.

It helps by having a straight focus (makes it easier to ignore non-novel distractions when I know I’ve just got these three hours — but I do have them, and that creates something of a positive motivation loop…) But that’s not the hard part.

The hard part is looking at a story that seems as though it was written by another person (I started it so long ago), knowing it was me that put all that together, and then remembering to treat me as gently as I’d treat any other fresh novelist who has a lovely story with lots of weak parts.

Sometimes it’s easier to be nicer to other people.

Yesterday I clocked myself (a trick I started NaNo ’13 when I could only write in little chunks) and for raw output I maintained a steady 1100/hour, which satisfies me. Today I went to work, and hit with a familiar problem, I rewound and looked at basics, and saw (perhaps again) the behemoth I’m taking on in changing the story’s main character.

The good news: story’s getting way stronger.

Bad news, that just highlights how weak it was.

You see, the story itself isn’t weak so much as the characters.

Celia and Torbilan, while unique and interesting in LK, were never (in my mind) built all the way up to major-character status. They existed as foils– contrast, backdrop, opportunities to highlight– the main couple of Asmund and Linnea. C & T were (on-purpose) relatively passive in order to give the other characters more opportunities to be active (a technique I don’t think I’ll repeat, but it got that first story told).

Now I have to find a way to work up the goals and motivations of these two very. quiet. individuals so they have enough energy and drive to be the impetus of their own story.

I spent a lot of my work time today on TVtropes.org, working through articles and examples such as Obfuscating Stupidity, The Coward, Guile Hero, Master of Disguise, and so on. Torbilan has such a deep hope and idealism in the face of everything that he frequently can look foolish or a little stupid (when he’s not), and that might have to go by the wayside, but I’m hoping that this aspect of his will play well with Celia’s super-practical survivor-cynicism.

My play with opposites is less about “opposites attract” than “filling the gaps.” The similarities have to be there for the initial pairing or the gaps won’t get filled anyway.

What shifting the main characters has also done is made the B-line of the story (a kidnapping) more significant. In the original, it was just a tool to get the men off being heroes so the folks back home were stuck solving the Big Story Problem, but since the B-plot is now about LK‘s main character (not a spoiler– it’ll be part of the book blurb), I have more history and an established character to play with, so the options have expanded.

It’s been a long time since I had to dig down and build characters from the skeleton out, but it’s a tiny bit exhilarating, too.

And it’s a reminder that research is part of the writing, even when I don’t know exactly where it will all be used.

Lindorm Queen in Process

I chose to self-publish Lindorm Kingdom, because it had been sitting too long for me to do something else first. It was a matter of something like fairness, and also insecurity.

The story represented not just the amount of time I’d been working on it, but also the themes that had been weighing most-heavily on my mind during this latest bout of self-formation (and reformation): justice, strength, using opportunity, and one’s voice.

One writing friend voiced dissent among the other people who have known the story as long as its been in process. She hated the idea of my spending more time on Lindorm, she said, because it was such an early work, and that after reading my current stuff, offering criticism/feedback now seemed like correcting my third-grade homework when I’ve already moved on to calculus.

I was determined, however, and I wrestled the behemoth into submission, ultimately dividing the story in two, and determining to return to the second half in the future.

Well, the future has arrived, and after a seven-month immersion in reading published novels, I finally see what my friend was talking about.

Don’t get me wrong – I still think the first part was well-wrestled – but the second part represents everything that has barely been touched in five years. And that was maybe only two passes away from what I wrote nearly nine years ago.

What I find myself with is the classic (?) troubled novel, where the characters are there, and even some significant and (I’ll be the judge) moving scenes, but there isn’t a strong, compelling through-line in this half, binding it all together and pulling it toward the necessary end.

“Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story for themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

–Kurt Vonnegut

As a result, the experience of revision and pulling this draft up to snuff is daunting.

Sort-of as a result, I’m self-coaching now. I am taking the work, and applying what I’ve learned since I first invented Linnea, her stepmother, stepsister, and enigmatic sister-in-law, considering character growth, drive, goal and relationships.

As a fairy tale (or wonder tale, as I prefer to call them now, since so few include fairies), the plot is already determined. For me, the life in this type of novel comes not from any huge surprise, but from a new logic of events or connection with the characters.

I’ve always felt that the irrational randomness in these tales must have made sense to the principals in the moment, and that’s what I look for in recreating the story – the complexity that creates its own sort of sense. And that eventually becomes (through persistent editing) simple enough to follow.

I am traveling back to basics with this one: premise, hook, characterization, goals. It shines an uncomfortable light on on the cockroaches of my noveling process. Apparently most of my stuff comes pre-packaged, already assembled. Picking apart the yarn to weave in a different, more purposeful direction is a new experience for me. But for now I’ve got a bit of time for that.

Acknowledgements (aka My Book is Out)

lindormkingdom_smallerThe book is out in the world. (Here, too, if you prefer Kobo over Amazon.)

It would be really encouraging if you bought a copy, or shared it with a friend, or left a review.

With that out of the way, I wanted to share my thank-yous on my blog, since I already know the book isn’t for everyone (seriously, if you don’t like magic, or dragons or if any kind of violence makes you uncomfortable, this probably isn’t the book for you), and I want to say this “out loud” for anyone to hear.

From the back of my book:

Lindorm Kingdom began in 2006 as my first NaNoWriMo novel. At the time my daughters were two and three, and I achieved a decent one-handed typing speed from all the time at the keyboard while I held my six-month-old son (those midnight wakings were put to literary use).

To all the people over the years who asked, “How do you do it?” the answer is Time. The story – more specifically the themes – wouldn’t let me go. I chipped away for years, learning as I went, and eventually it was sculpted into its current shape.

In eight-plus years, a variety of people have read my pages, encouraging me to stick with it, making me feel heard and valued:

Jay (my husband, best friend, protector, provider), Becky (world-champion encourager, endurance reader and editor), and David (the second engineer to read my work and the only reader to catalog all the places that made him laugh), along with Tori, Mitzi, Kim, Bluestocking (Brooke), Katie, Carolyn, Crystal, Tiffany, Corinna, Kati, Annie, Sarah, (another) Tiffany, Bekki, Lara and Daniel.

Special mentions for Lindorm Kingdom include Jerry Smith (who is one of the reasons this novel didn’t end before it was really started), and the delightful Irene who was born after the stepmother’s name was set, and is nothing like the Irene in this story.

Finally, to my friends that share this writing path and the delight of discovery: Becky (again), Jennifer, Kit, Roy, Janet, Beth, Jen, Kati, and Tiana (my precious Watson), I am so glad to be doing life with you.

With fewer years between books, maybe the next Acknowledgements section will be shorter, but I can’t express with fewer words how tremendously blessed I feel to be surrounded by such honorable people and incredibly live-giving love.

Noveling Update

I have officially finished the first draft of my 2013 NaNo novel (Sherlockian Daze). Word count is just under 120K, and I did that in just under 5 months.

Which is a super-exciting first for me.

Next order of business is to finish last-last edits on Lindorm King.

I don’t remember if I’ve said here, but a friend of a friend did one last beta and gave me some very meaningful feedback:

I love it when people *get* my story:

“So, I had a bit of time on mine hands, took a look and then was thoroughly hooked. Meaning I read all 344 pages last evening.

I totally adore your women characters. They are strong, but not in the way that “Now I do stuff like the boyz” that so often gets mistaken for strength. I’m fascinated by how they struggle and try to cope with the roles their restrictive society cast for them.

Also, I wanted to hit Tykone over the head frequently for all his subconscious sexism. Very good job on that one, maybe one day a guy reads it and has a d’oh-moment.”

[This last, in particular, was an awesome affirmation to specify on her own: it was an experiment on my part, since I wasn’t sure it would even be recognized as sexism since it’s so “normal.”]

She also had some very useful structural feedback that was very meaningful. Moving back to revision is already proving to be a blast!

It was this reader who pointed out the main (male) character had the only name in the story of Celtic origin, so I’ve renamed him, and it’s going to be interesting as I reread/revise to see a familiar character with a different name.

That said, I started revisions this morning before the kids were up. Got through about 30 pages in an hour. At this rate the revision will take about 12 hours total, which seems painfully slow, since I can only count this as a minimum.

But… after 7.5 years, can I really complain about another 12 hours?

That thing about “momentum” is true. Once you get started, once you’ve proven to yourself what you can do, a lot of the sluggishness falls away.

Making Characters interesting — Before they do anything.

image courtesy of Sias van Schalkwyk via stock.xchng

Lindorm, Part One, is essentially a Beauty-and-the-Beast story, where the beauty is teenage single mom, and the beast is a dragon.

Short story writer Kurt Vonnegut says that every character needs to want something, “Even if it is only a glass of water.”

In a novel, that wanting, the characters’ goals, usually corresponds to the plot of the book, and those goals are what make the action happen, but in this series of lectures (sorry, I don’t remember which one) the teacher urged pre-existing goals for your characters.

This concept brought a much-needed life into my main characters.

For one thing, pre-existing goals let them be proactive, interesting, believably awesome people before they get yanked into Story-Action. They act instead of (just) reacting.

If the original goals conflict with the (newer, more-compelling/unavoidable) Story-Goals, there’s bonus points in terms of conflict.

My main characters are Linnea (the beauty) and the Lindorm (the beast).

Image courtesy of Lotus Head via stock.xchng

I found this one step– giving them preexisting goals– was huge for giving them depth and dimension.

All of my novels (so far) have been seeded by folk tales, which means I’m starting from archetypes, stereotypes and puppets.  People do things because they DO things. It’s not like they have a motivation all the time.

Now, I am particularly gifted in mind-reading, and I’ve said more than once that my super-power is Instant Extrapolation.

So this starting place really works for me.

I’m not so great at the what-if game out of reality (what if you were investigating a crime and found evidence your daughter might be guilty?), or out of the news (one of James Scott Bell’s suggestions for story mining is taking a headline/newspaper article and milking it 10 different ways). My main problem with this is that they’re all too close to home.

I could really imagine this stuff happening, completely wig myself out, and be useless the next few days till I got over it.

I’m still very tender in the depression department.

I have to be nice to myself, and recognize when to stop pushing or just take another road.

This is where having the solidity of old stories really anchors me.

This is a pattern. This isn’t anything that I could’ve foreseen and prevented, or anything that I made happen with my freakish brain-power.

It’s got magic and crazies and just enough underhanded predictability (GA! I should have known!) that I can just play and enjoy some blatant non-reality.

Continue reading »

Officially Sick of it {Just give me a day.}

But it’s a celebration, too:


Image courtesy of Wong Mei Teng via stock.xchng

The Lindorm Novel is once again making its rounds in the real world of real readers.

How did this finally happen? (You should ask.)

The last time I released LINDORM to betas was June 26, 2010.

(I know because I was so ecstatic about being done I had to try to dig up guilt at having no party ideas for my middle girl’s birthday.)

God provided so perfectly for that event that I felt its success as an extension of His pleasure in me, that I’d persisted in what he designed me to do.

That would be both momming AND writing.

Here was one glorious example of how I didn’t have to do everything, and God supplied for my deficiencies. *happy sigh*

She had a lovely, lovely 6th-birthday party with way more of what she wanted than if I’d put it together.

That was version 8.7.

Yesterday I released version 13.1, one paper copy and three kindle mailings. After Jay converts it to PDF, I have another four friends on the internets who will receive it for review. A couple more friends at church will get paper copies. This is the largest pool of beta readers I’ve yet had, so I’m excited, even though it is unknown how many will actually Finish & Respond.

Jay just started reading it this morning and came running out from wherever he was reading with a rushed, “You ready for feedback?”

And my skin crawled, but I said yes, and he said something really relevant and meaningful (translation: embarrassing to have someone else notice before me), and I reluctantly asked, “Should I correct that before you PDF and print it?”

He instantly went from intense to bland.

“It’s your book. Do whatever you want.”


This is what I call emotional whiplash.

ETA: Jay clarified later– it wasn’t meant as emotional whiplash. There were more words than just that, and it was him challenging my response: Did I really want to change bits and pieces as feedback came in, or did I want to wait for the weight of everybody and make my decisions/revisions at that point.

It isn’t deadly, but sure as rain & taxes it’s disorienting.

This is what I experience when I get in (say) a stylistic or story-question debate with someone about a movie/book/television show, and it gets a little intense, diffuses, and then the person I was just as loggerheads with shrugs and says, It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter?

What were we just arguing about then?!

And I’m reminded that some people really do argue recreationally

(Jay’s not one of them, thank God, but this exchange reminded me of similar, less peaceful interactions).

Now, I enjoy a good argument– if it’s clear, and I think I can win, and I think it’s worth the effort– but part of what makes it worth the effort is that I actually care about the thing we’re discussing.


Image courtesy of pixaio via stock.xchng

I proof-read the first 35 pages of LINDORM after I printed out the whole thing, and in the 2nd chapter I found a bunch of pronouns that needed correcting.

I tried to continue the read-through after Page 37, but didn’t get far. I was just tired.

Then I figured, you know, I’m not publishing-publishing now. I’m doubtless going to make corrections/revisions in response to my Betas’ responses. So enough with the line-editing. Put it away. Let the ashes fall where they will.

And that felt really good.

One of my efforts at present is to be content with less-than-perfect.

Not strictly to celebrate sloppy (I don’t see that as any sort of need), but to keep things moving by accepting limitations.

This novel is being released now because I let some stuff go.

The second part of the story, to be specific. The Huge Second Part that refused to be wrestled into submission or structure or anything like coherence within acceptable word-counts.

Version 13.1 is 74,000 words.

Compared to version 8.7, it stops at chapter 21 of 45. Version 8.7 was 88,000 words.

All along this journey I’ve had people tell me I needed to break up the story, that it was too big for one book.  And I agreed, but I couldn’t give you two *whole* books out of this story, either.

“Whole” being defined as at least 65,000 words–  and that seemed short anyway.  I knew my genre, or the closest thing to it, and few of those books are tiny. I imagined the challenge it would be to connect with that type of reader when my book looked different from what was familiar.

Image courtesy of Verzon via stock.xchng

Revision #13 was going really well, and at some point I realized I was well past the natural break between the “set up” story (Modified Beauty & the Beast, where the Beauty is a single mom and the Beast is a dragon-sized serpent) and the *BIG* story of the second part.

I had already decided to indulge myself and “just see how the story flows” with word-count not a factor. With all the scenes left in.

I’ve also been reading (even re-reading!) a lot this year, and that added to the amalgam that has been my intense life over the last year. I saw things in this story I had only sensed before. I had words for feelings I’d never recognized.

And I put everything I could think of into my work.

The effectiveness of this new vision yet to be tested (figuratively biting my nails, waiting on reader responses), but my favorite addition to bulk/meaning in the story is the addition of non-story goals. Or, put a different way, Pre-Story Goals.

More on that tomorrow.

The Fine Balance in Growth

What could possibly threaten something of your size?”

“My size.”

“Yes, frej, of your size. Surely there is no predator larger than you?”

Lindorm turned his head from side to side, hungry to speak, but wondering how he dared. This would be used against him.

“Every lindorm continues to grow all his life,” he whispered, hoping she was the only one to hear. “If the creature is foolish enough to stay on land his own weight will crush the life out of him.”


The  life-cycle of the Lindorm (limbless dragon, or giant snake, for those of you just joining the story) has an awkward twist, in that here is a creature that is a terror both on land and in the water.  Best as I can piece together, the females must navigate as far up the rivers as their bulk will allow them to travel, and leave their offspring on the shores to disseminate into the nearby terrain.

Ostensibly this will give them a better chance of survival, considering the always-increasing size of the long-lived water lindorm.

But being the brilliant, master-predators that they are on land, how do you get them back in the water, where the average human will have less of a chance to run into them? (This is the challenge of the cryptozoologist– to explain both the unlikely creatures plausible existence, and why they’re not seen more clearly or frequently.) Well, you have my lindorm’s explanation there above: as the mass of the monster increases, so does the strain of living on land.

Some instinct, therefore, calls him to the water.

But too soon, and the young lindorm will become Chiclets for the established sea creatures.

So this keeps the population in check, but also shows why the ones that remain are the cleverest (in a definitely-creepy way) of the species.

So why am I thinking of this just now?

Well, I’m approximately one week away from returning to my novel, and shooting to have it submittable by the end of the year. Continue reading »

Tykone and Rickard

Did I mention I met some of my characters in real life?

Here’s Tykone. A smidge older, perhaps, than in the book. And lacking context. He was not a lot taller than me, which was part of what flagged me I’d found Tyko.

Yes, I told him why I wanted his picture. I’m sure that contributed to the bemused face (and this is the second one. I barely had the nerve to ask him to take off his work hat, but this was the look I wanted). How many times do you get someone saying (yes, I was squirming inside) “Can I have your picture? You look just like one of the characters in my novel.”

And I totally guessed this guy’s right-age based on Rickard’s story-age.

The light was bad, but I was just glad to see him and get the nerve again to ask for a picture.

This guy asked (which I actually appreciated) if his character was good. And I (not wanting to lie, but also not wanting him to change his mind) said that Rickard tries to be. That his methods aren’t always the best, but he really does mean well.

Which is completely true.

It would totally be a Fear Factor kind of experiment, but I’ve considered bringing my good camera (and an official card/photo release) to the fair this year.  Once I snapped the second guy (all I had was my old iPhone, and the light was dismal) I kept noticing all the fabulous faces around me.  So much more interesting and deep than the stuff you find in a magazine.

And good-looking, too.  I mean, both these guys are good-looking, but I’ve never seen either of them (or their types) in print so I was thrilled to see them in person.

Maybe my natural enthusiasm/gratitude would make other people feel special?

I hope it could.

The only problem, of course, is that no one sees themselves as a supporting character…


NaNoWriMo 2011 in Review

Glad I did it, glad it’s done.   50,648 words since November 1. Happy to take a breather from creating reality.

Next project is getting ready for a talk on personality theory (Meyers-Briggs, as I’ve been writing about on my family blog). It’s scheduled for January 18 if anyone local wants to come here me speak.

But my next writing project is to finish moving Lindorm into first person so I  can start submitting it ASAP.

I saw an “unagented author” opportunity at a Christian publisher (whom I’d never heard of) getting ready to launch a YA line in 2013.  It sparked a whole series of internal questions about how ready I am to push my “baby” out to receive the spitballs of the world.

Answer: I’m not.

Provoking the mirrored response: So I should jump at this chance, just to get moving.

But the story isn’t done yet (for real: this isn’t stalling), and I am certainly not starting Lindorm at a Christian publisher.  This isn’t snark or hierarchy: I have broken my heart more times keeping this story “neutral”

In the form of most (Western) traditional tales: good and evil exist, and maybe even the outward showing of religion (churches, prayer), but within the story itself redemption is not personified in Christ.

So I am not going to “waste” all that by sending it somewhere that would have taken the incongruity of active magic alongside a real-world redeemer.

I’ve got two other stories I’d only expect Christian publishers to touch, so they’ll get their turn.

(If anyone’s lining up for the opportunity.)

So the writing progression is this: finish Lindorm’s revision.  Send out submissions, and once that’s out turn to finishing the novel I wrote last November.