Thursday, August 9, 2012

Boom, Crash, Take It From the Top

I guess I should have seen the Great Crash of Mier coming.

It's a huge project, as I've been told a hundred times when I flail and fail to explain what the story is about. Key advice that I heard, understood, and just...filed under "but it can't possibly apply to my BRILLIANT WORLD" is this: If you can't summarize the central plot in a paragraph (some say a sentence), something's wrong. Alas, something is.

I think what it boils down to is, I love the world so much that I spent inordinate amounts of time writing a hundred mini-story outlines and never solidified a GOOD central plot. I know how the third prince in the east feels about his kingdom, his wife, and his crazy aunt...but I don't know how, in the first volume, my two main characters' stories will tie together in a satisfying way. I know that Tick and Vance are exciting to write and their (minor) story is one of my favorites...but I don't know why it's necessary before book three. And on it goes. I created so much STUFF that I want to pack it all in and hope you hit the ground running. But in the end, there's no way you can. Unless every copy of Mier comes with a five-hour Q&A session. (I don't think anyone wants that.)

I played with what I've got, trying to figure out how to rework this. I thought about making the first book Macy's story and the second Elina's (essentially covering the same year twice). While there are ways to do that, most of them seem device-ridden and I can't help but think it's a turn for the worse. I also thought about turning the four kingdoms into a single kingdom with four regions and cutting all the royalty stories I've developed. I don't like that either. (And not just because I love the royal plots. I was totally willing to chop my little darlings to pieces.)

So, new plan of attack:

I'm going to reboot totally. A few scenes might be reusable, but I'll figure that out as I go. I'm starting over and the politics will stay in the background where they belong. Somehow, I'll have to convey the important parts without getting caught up in my "look how everything works and don't forget all the people I made who I can't possibly leave out" tendencies. Before I start, rather than sailing in on a wave of world building like last time, I will OUTLINE. (My heart stops.) I tried the gardener route, and I love it, but I'm beginning to realize that I'm too easily distracted to tell this big of a story that way. I see a tiny flower hiding in a bush and I want to tell all about it, and its family, and its scent. When it just needs to be a tiny flower. It's time to give myself lists and try to stick to them.

I guess we'll see how that goes.

I'm still thrilled about Mier. This is a setback, but there's no point in pressing forward if it's fundamentally flawed. This is THE story that's been rocking around in me for a decade. I'm going to get it right, dammit.

THAT SAID, I think for my health and sanity, I'm going to work on a B project, too. The other day, my stepdaughter was playing and shouted "I'm the queen of the kingdom!" to which I replied "Why wouldn't you be queen of a queendom? That sounds more fun." And I spent the rest of the day outlining a project called The Queendom of Que -- a whimsical middle grade novel about a princess of Que and her mortal enemy from the Queendom of Pue. I don't know if it will turn out as fun as I think (I had a blast dreaming it up), but I think it's a great NaNo project either way.

So that's where I stand, four days before my writing retreat. I hope to come out of it with a solid outline for Mier and at least 5-10 chapters. I had a few dark days with the project, but I think it's all for the best now. (Thanks, in big part, to my writing group! DANG = savior.)

Til next time,
-- Meg

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Night Circus and What's Next

So, NIGHT CIRCUS was completely wonderful. It took a while to get used to the present tense (apparently everything else I read is past), but wow. The description was beautiful, the characters were fascinating and unique, and the writing in general amazed me. I think the best part was the imagination behind everything. It enchanted. It tickled. I was there and I want to go back.

I feel like there's so much less to say about a book like this than a book I only mostly like (or even dislike). It's such a personal thing to be swept away by someone else's fantasy. Thanks for the recommendation, Beka!

I'm on to CODE NAME VERITY now, which I've heard is impossible to get through without crying. That should be fun. Also rereading A GAME OF THRONES, and starting BEYOND THE WALL which is a collection of essays about GRRM's series. Theoretically, this should lead to little bursts of work on my independent paper. Fingers crossed there.

As far as Mier editing goes, I'm moving right along on the seven-chapter section I plan to send for critique. I am a little worried that I'm cutting too much, but I have backup copies, so I guess I'll wait until I've gotten through and reread to see. It feels tighter, at least.

Anyhow, lots of books to read. If you haven't read NIGHT CIRCUS, do. Just do.

Til next time,
-- Meg

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Happy 30th, Husband!

Today, my husband turned thirty. Which is sort of an accomplishment considering McDonald's, shitty drivers, and other such perils of society. So: CONGRATULATIONS and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

I'm not very comfortable in the sappy shoes. (They're sticky.) But, I wanted to step into them anyway for a second to mention how wonderful my [old man] husband is. Without him, I really don't know where I would be. From day one, he's encouraged my writerly dreams (even though I waited forever to actually let him read anything). But more than that, he's gone out of his way to help me improve--supporting my writing group schedules, being the first (brutal and honest) critical reader, and just...believing I'm not wasting my time.

Stephen King said: "Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough."

True that. One reason among so very many that marrying him was probably the best decision I've made to date. So, happy birthday to my best friend, my little N's Dada, and he who makes life as I know it both possible and completely wonderful.

Love you lots,

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Books, Retreats, and Critiques, Oh My!

It's been a while. Let's play catch up.

The school year is over (*deep, cleansing breath*) and my term papers came closer than ever to wiping me out. I'm happy to announce that they've failed. I'm still here, complete with shiny new insight into gender in The Lord of the Rings and the similarities between Virginia Woolf and Anita Desai. Hurray.

For the next three months, it's all writing, reading, and taking care of the kids. And yes--probably working on my independent paper so I can graduate this December as a full fledged Master of Literature (I'd sort of prefer Mistress of Literature, honestly). More on that as it progresses. For now, only know that I have an official excuse to reread the A Song of Ice and Fire series again, this time with an eye on Dany and Cersei as I contemplate performative gender. Fun stuff!

In book news:

I gave in to national peer pressure and checked out the 50 SHADES trilogy. I could wax on about the problematic writing, the often shifty and convenient plot, the frustrating ratio of buildup to payoff...or I could just be honest and say that for all its flaws, it was hot and I couldn't stop reading. So: It was hot, and I couldn't stop reading.

Now that that whirlwind of sexy reading is behind me, I'm on to NIGHT CIRCUS. It grabbed me from page one, and I love it so far.

Others that missed review because I slacked on blog updates, include:

- MATCHED (Condie), which I mentioned before. I finished it without the desire to go forward in the series. That's rare for me. It felt too generic and annoyingly in need of editing. I wasn't expecting another HUNGER GAMES, but I was expecting a unique story, some romance (mentioned heavily on the cover, yet barely palpable within), and the desire to know what happens to the characters. Not so. I'm not even tempted to Google spoilers... That's some serious apathy.

- THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW (Wasserman). I really wish I'd posted when I finished the book. It completely delighted me. There were moments where I felt like I'd figured too much of the plot out ahead of time and couldn't see it surprising me. Certain things felt unbelievable or convenient. But I read on, because I loved it anyway. Then...things did surprise me and the explanation for those "convenient" things make perfect sense, and I was adding Robin Wasserman to my "hot authors" list with one finger while I turned the last pages with the other. Read it. Love it.

- CLEAR LIGHT OF DAY (Desai). This was for my Modernism in India course, and the subject of one of my term papers. It was an interesting book, in the same way Woolf is interesting. Lots of great description, lots of philosophy lurking just under (or on, in some cases) the surface, and the sense that you could read it two or three times without grasping every little bit. My hat is totally off to anyone who can write this way.

- THE HUNGRY TIDE (Ghosh). Which leads to the last book of the academic quarter. The description in this book was astounding. I adore it. It was a glimpse into another part of the world that felt almost as other-worldly as the fantasy I love so much. I'm not sure how to feel about the story itself. I enjoyed it for what it was, but there were moments where I thought the characters became transparencies as the author inserted himself in their place. These authorial message moments were a bit confusing because they didn't always seem in line with the characters he painted so well. Even so, the book was worth the time and I'm glad I read it.

So, as the meager list (which will flourish over the next three months, I hope) stands:

11. Fifty Shades Freed
10. Fifty Shades Darker
9. Fifty Shades of Grey
8. The Hungry Tide (Ghosh)
7. Clear Light of Day (Anita Desai)
6. The Book of Blood and Shadow (Wasserman)
5. Matched (Condie)
4. The Home & the World (Tagore)
3. To the Lighthouse (Woolf)
2. Mrs. Dalloway (Woolf)
1. Jacob's Room (Woolf)

In writing news:
First off, I am 100% stoked for my birthday this year. My oh-so-supportive husband booked an entire WEEK for me at my favorite writing retreat in Middle-of-Nowhere, Virginia in mid-August. I can't even fathom how much I'll be able to do with a full week. Writing, editing, full nights of sleep. Stoked doesn't begin to cover it.

My weekly writing group continues to offer amazing and insightful critiques. I'm up to 9 chapters that have been through the ringer and are ready for draft three. (Two more are up this week.) Every time I leave a critique, I wonder again how it took me this long to seek a writing group. There's not a doubt in my mind the book will be better for it.

My original plan with the critiques was to review them the night of, making notes and whatnot, then to file them away until the writing retreat. I like the idea of giving the whole piece time to breathe, but I do feel that I've gotten to a turning point in the plot where it would be useful to have a solid grasp on what will actually make it into the first chapters. Which is good, because a bit of Twitter-play recently changed my hold-off-on-revision plan.

In a moment of procrastination, I clicked on a link to a charity auction for a sick baby. His story was, of course, heart-wrenching (babies should never be ill, period), and several of the auction items were especially attractive for a writing crowd. This did not make for a climate of financial restraint. To make a long story short, I bid and won a 50-page critique from an agent who (upon further research) quickly landed on my list of "holy crap, dream agents".

So. Time to revise after all! I'd really love to send the first seven chapters, which currently total 67 pages. If revision does NOT put that number down to 50, I may consider reordering to make the break where I want it. But I'd rather not. I feel like page 50 is a great place for the plot point to fall and there's no reason whatsoever it shouldn't. Especially given the amount of stuff that comes after. The 120k mark is never far from my mind, and I have no doubt that I will exceed it by a long shot if I don't make sure to keep beating my long-winded tongue back.

Anyhow, that's the latest. 

Back to editing! I'll try and stop in to let you know how NIGHT CIRCUS goes.

Til next time,
-- Meg

Monday, April 9, 2012

Much and More

A quick stop on reading updates, and then on to the monumental progress with writing groups.

Books so far this year:

4. The Home & the World (Tagore)
3. To the Lighthouse (Woolf)
2. Mrs. Dalloway (Woolf)
1. Jacob's Room (Woolf)

This is going incredibly slow, and I think a lot of it has to do with The Difference Engine. I got pretty into it for a while, and then the story shifted dramatically and I was sort of left adrift in the wrong part of the pool, spinning in circles and trying to figure out why. Every time I pick the book up I try to get a new grip on things, but I'm confused. That's not good.

Also not delighting my little reader's heart is Matched (Condie). I started this over the weekend hoping to find great YA fantasy candy for the drive to and from Cleveland. It is a quick read, so that's not a problem. The problem is that the characters are supposed to be 17 and I can't imagine any of them being a day over 13. Beyond which, there are a LOT of sentences that are just clunky and unfortunate. Usually, I don't even notice these things in my "mind candy" reads. Example: Twilight. For all the shit it gets for being crappy writing, I would argue that the language is mostly unnoticeable -- which is a good thing comparatively. The plot progression and character melodrama is fair game, but there was a voice (in the first three books, anyway) and a rhythm. I never stopped and said "Why didn't an editor cross some of this out?" I'm doing that a lot with Matched. I'm also getting annoyed by the scenes that are overt in their purpose. In a good novel, I feel like every scene is important but I don't always know why at the moment. In Matched, every time a new scene starts I can pinpoint exactly what I'm supposed to get from it. Too often the setup is convenient and contrived. All negatives. Still, I'm halfway through and there's no point in tossing it aside. It will take a lot to get me to read the rest of the trilogy, though. More likely I'll Google for the plot points (or wait for the films) and move on.

That makes reading sound so sad! I'm confident I'll find something brilliant soon. If not, I'll start Game of Thrones over again. At any rate, the things I'm reading for Modernism in India are interesting. The Home and the World (Tagore) reminded me a lot of Ayn Rand with less plot. It was a whole lot of political philosophy packed into a novel about three characters who do a lot of contemplating. I enjoyed it on some level, though I doubt I would pursue the author further. Still, it's whetted my appetite for what's to come as far as the culture is concerned. Next up for class is Untouchable (Anand) about a street sweeper in India.

More on that to come.


Since my last post, a lot has changed. I finally joined the NaNoWriMo group that meets monthly. I've been meaning to for over a year, and now that I have I wish I'd joined much sooner. But even better, at the first meeting a member told me about another writing group and I've since joined that as well. It meets weekly (and I thought I didn't have time for a monthly commitment!) and reviews two 5k pieces at a time. So far I've had my first two chapters reviewed and have two more on the table this week. The responses have been incredibly helpful so far. I really think the constant deadline and the feedback are going to be a huge part of my goal.

Between edits, I can't help daydreaming. We all do it. The querying, the agent, the publishing deal. A weekly writers' group keeps it fresh on my mind. Rather than losing myself in the fantasy, I try to spend those moments combing the internet for useful information. I'm happy to announce I've finally discovered a good use for Twitter. (@MegOverman) There are so many agents and editors there, posting advice and interesting anecdotes about the industry. Besides that, there are hundreds of authors -- published, self-published (which is different, and a whole separate blog post that's looming on the horizon), and aspiring. I follow as many as I can find. I also follow the crap out of anyone who likes anything I consider remotely similar to what I write, in hopes that one day I'll be able to tweet "Hey! Like X and Y? Try my Z." I don't know much about building a platform, but it can't hurt to tinker around with it now, yes?

Anyhow, I'm getting dangerously close to midnight. And I've got some writing to do.

For my own reference, blog posts to eventually write if I ever run out of other things to say:
Why Self-Publishing is Wonderful and Terrible
My Favorite Agent and/or Editor Websites and Tips I've Taken to Heart
Could I Survive a Bunny, a Cat, a Puppy, a Toddler, and an Eventual Infant: Or Can My Husband Have a Puppy for His 30th Birthday and Does He Read My Blog? (Maybe this isn't a post so much as a run-on question.)

Til next time,
-- Meg

Friday, January 27, 2012

Moving Right Along...

After the last post, I started thinking about what might help make writing a priority rather than something to be done "if school work is done, if the baby is asleep, if I'm not distracted, if if if..." and I thought a writing group was the answer. I did a LOT of writing in the fall, after all, when deadlines abounded and a workshop loomed on the horizon. So I wrote a whole lovely post about how I would definitely, if I remembered, and could find the right one, join some sort of writing group at some very near point in the future. Then I deleted the post and joined a damn writing group. Score one for not procrastinating.

Our first meeting was last night and my hopes were probably unrealistically high. When I arrived, I realized I may have made a minor mistake. Because this crowd is not my audience. One person had never heard of the fantasy genre, and the rest do not read it. Some admitted they actively dislike it. Naturally, the comments that followed were mostly less than helpful. That I misuse the prologue, that I should have chapters of explanation before anything happens since we're in a strange world, etc. Most of the suggested changes would alienate and bore a fantasy reader (and me, in the process, which is always dangerous), so a lot of it just won't do. 

Conclusion? While this writing group might be a good fit for short stories (if I ever get one written), it looks like I'm still in the market for a group that can give me genre-appropriate feedback on the big project. 

Bright side? I wrote and polished a prologue and first chapter, which I likely wouldn't have done without the deadline. So, still, score one for the writing group. And maybe score two, because they were all nice people and reading their writing was nice, too.

I hope find another group soon. I also hope to develop a working writing space that's conducive to getting things done. I really want that to be the office at home, but I guess only time will tell. That is as much to do with my family's cooperation and support (which thus far have been phenomenal, but perhaps too loose regarding interruptions -- my own fault for not stressing how a good moment can be shattered by a non-essential break) as my own organization and backbone in requiring what is necessary. If it doesn't work, I hope there is a babysitter and a coffee shop out there with my name on them. Others have written better books with far less cooperative atmospheres. I'm sure of that.

As far as books go, I've finished a whopping ONE. That would be Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf. It was interesting, though I think I would have hated it without the class discussion to back it up. Is that strange? I enjoyed the second half of the novel much more, as I read it with ideas in mind. I have also started Mrs. Dalloway which I've enjoyed more than Jacob's Room. But more on that later! This weekend is stretched thin. Besides finishing Mrs. Dalloway, I need to create discussion questions and a critical presentation for Tuesday. Lots to do!

'Til next time.
-- Meg

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Because it's January.

Well, this could be a bad idea.

But that's the best way to start a new year, isn't it? Set lofty goals and watch them sink into something between your high hopes and what you might have done had you never set them at all. Thanks in part to Beka's 50 books, 50 pounds blog-o-goals...I'll give it a try. Even if a blog has the potential to partially derail my productivity hopes, it might keep me (mostly) honest too, eh?

So here they are. Goals I'm developing as I type.

1. Finish an ENTIRE first draft of the first book in The Account of Verdi Mier (formerly known as The Project -- or my obsession). In my ten or so years of fumbling around with the story, I have been master at getting close to a draft and then going batshit crazy on book three or four...and then changing the foundation of everything, necessitating the complete deletion of...well, everything. Not so anymore. I have a firm grasp on the world of my characters now and I need to trust that I've grown enough as a writer to hold on to what I'm creating. So. One big, shiny draft. Before November. (NaNo is NOT the time to be polishing a draft.)

2. What the hell? 40 books. For class, for fun, for growing as a reader and writer.

3. To feel in shape. I'm not setting a number. Given the great likelihood that I'll get pregnant and muck the numbers up completely, there's little point. But I do hope to consciously get back to that golden period where Ryan and I were actively cooking healthy meals and making an effort to move our asses occasionally. Sluggish body = sluggish mind, and with goals 1 & 2 I can hardly afford THAT.

I think that's more than enough.

Current progress:

I'm still working on my draft, which I consider a win. It's so easy to get knocked completely off path when things get busy. And I did, for a while. But lately I've found my moments to sneak off and explode into scene. Typically right after a shower or right after I've tried to go to bed. My characters like to yell at each other in my head while I'm in the shower, and while I'm lying in the dark trying to sleep. Any day I can transfer that to the page I consider a win. This, of course, does not equal structured scenes or chapters...which is my next hill to climb. I have a great chapter map complete with note cards pinned to a bulletin board. I have crossed into over-organized territory. It's time to identify holes, issues, and problematic junk and start revising NaNo's efforts. I hope by next post I'll be able to say I've done more of that.

For books, I'm off to a slower start. Jacob's Room is a bit of a mind-slam. I find Woolf interesting, and I think the style was great for "An Unwritten Novel" but in a (written - ha) novel, it's a cumbersome and somewhat confusing. I can only handle a chapter at a time right now. I might start Boneshaker or The Difference Engine soon. I've been craving steampunk lately, and either would do. Not until I'm a little ahead of the game on class reading, though.

I think I'll leave it there for now!

Until next time...

-- Meg