Tag Archives: Voice

The Passage into Autumn

Autumn has finally returned here in the Southwest, and we can feel the passing of summer into winter. The harvest and roasting of green chile is almost over, and the leaves have begun to brown along their edges on the trees.

If all goes well, there will be one more burst of blooms from the trimmed rose bushes, and then they’ll go to sleep for the winter.

Some of you already know that the print edition of Cubicles, Blood, and Magic is a finalist in Science Fiction & Fantasy for the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. (The lists are a great way to find authors and publishers located in the Southwest to take a closer look at.)

I’ve been offline almost completely these past two months as I wrestle with the last 1/3 of the sequel novel to Cubicles, Blood, and Magic. What makes it so awkward is that I feel as if I’m collaborating with an earlier version of myself. The novel was started and the first draft finished back in 2013, then got derailed in the editing process due to severe illness and other difficulties.

Health-wise I am finally whole again. So things should get moving rather quickly as autumn passes into winter. I’m excited by what is to come.

I am not the same writer I was back in 2013. I’ve changed. A lot. So most of the sequel got rewritten this year from the ground up … but stays true enough to the 2013 version to not be a complete break from the past.

Book three in the Dorelai Chronicles will be where I can start with a clean slate from the first page.

So now, as the seasons pass from one extreme to another, is a good moment to pause, look around, and enjoy the change in the flowers, grass, and trees. Some parts of the world are waking up, and some are going to sleep. Whichever way it is, may it be wondrous to watch.

Pleasant days, Lynn

 

Green Chile Ice Cream and Other Joys of Local Diversity

Every place on this planet has something that makes it unique.

It might be a local food dish like green chile ice cream. It might be a rock formation in the shape of a camel. It might be a battle that was fought there, or an eccentric person who lived there. It might be the smell of the wind at night, or a plant species to be found nowhere else on Earth.

But that uniqueness is there, waiting to be discovered, if we go in search of it. And I’ve come to believe that the search for it not only feeds the muse, it enriches our lives.

It also helps to support a local uniqueness from going extinct.

About a year ago I started to make a conscious effort to find stores that were locally owned that either had locally made or grown things, or else had a unique passion for something (like the English tearoom experience).

I still planned to shop at big box stores (and I still do), but I wanted to go find what my fellow New Mexicans were up to. Also, have you ever noticed how in a big box store you can be anywhere in the U.S. and they’re all the same, except for a few items and the tourist knickknacks in the checkout lanes? Predictability is their strength, but it means that diversity is gone. Bland and boring are in.

It wasn’t until I went searching outside the big box experience that I discovered a local farmer’s food co-op that is bringing me melons and tomatoes the like of which I have not tasted since my grandfather’s garden.

And a funky locally owned furniture store that has an egg-shaped chair straight out of a 1960s James Bond movie.

And an English-style tearoom considered one of the top five in the country. The owners say that it is the support of their local community, not tourists, that keeps them in business.

And locally owned restaurants that put the big chains to shame in flavor and pricing. Restaurants with stuff like chile relleno sushi, and green chile ice cream.

I didn’t find everything overnight. I just decided that each month I’d keep my eyes open for one new thing to go try out in my hometown. I’d get clues about things to try out by reading the local magazines and papers. Coffee shops often have the free papers that list local events and do interviews with locals.

The more I dig, the more quirky stuff I find. It’s the sort of fodder an artist’s muse loves to munch on. But I’ve also noticed I feel more connected to my community and I’m helping to provide money to pay for jobs here in town.

It doesn’t have to be big box chains or local stores. One can do both kinds of stores. But if one is doing only big box chains, one is missing out on some truly wonderful stuff hidden out there.

One just has to go looking for it.

Writing the Unmarketable Novel

Almost two years ago I finished a YA novel, Soul Cages, that I knew in my heart of hearts was going to be a nightmare for an editor to get past the sales & marketing department of a traditional publisher.

That’s because in my gut I knew it was going to be difficult to get any readers to even want to pick it up. I knew the book was in trouble sales-wise as soon as my usual first reader burst into tears while reading the synopsis, and then refused to read the manuscript. I had to get other readers to take over for that book. Most ended up loving the story, but I never forgot the response of that first reader.

Seeing your first reader cry in sorrow really sucks.

Let’s face it. Most of the time, readers are coming to a story to mentally relax for a while. They’re coming for entertainment. I’d written a story that was a weird horror/romance/special issues tribute to Judy Blume, C. S. Lewis, and Stephen King in one go. It dealt with ugly nasty stuff like family abuse, the way kids with Asperger’s sometimes get treated badly, the abuse of Scripture in the Bible to justify cruelty, and anti-Semitism…among other things.

None of that stuff is appealing for entertainment. Ugh, who wants to read all  that after a bad day?

The novel went through several rounds of editing, but there comes a point when you realize as a writer that you can only make a weird “Frankenstein” novel  marketable by censoring your protagonist and mutilating the story by chopping it up. Chop out the romance, or chop out the horror, or chop out the Asperger’s.

In the end I decided to leave the main character alone. It was her story, not mine, and I decided to let her story stand as she’d told it to me, and I went on to write new stories.

And it was the best decision I ever made. I’ve written another novel and many  short stories since I put Soul Cages to rest, and a lot of exciting things have been happening behind the scenes these last six months. Things that would not have happened if I had attempted to keep rewriting Soul Cages to death.

Soul Cages itself has been released in e-book form, and it is still under consideration with a certain midsize traditional publishing house (though I suspect in the end the editor will fail in getting it past marketing).

I’ve done no email blasts, no blog tours, no ads, no book launch party, no “push” of any sort. And I don’t intend to. My limited work time is better spent writing new stories to improve my craft, and some of those new stories will prove to be more marketable–i.e. more appealing to readers–than Soul Cages is.

But am I sorry that I wrote Soul Cages? Do I feel I wasted my time by working on an unmarketable novel?

No.

I think it’s good for an artist to write at least one story where it feels like you’re spitting in the eye of the market. Writing that unmarketable novel made me a better writer by making me a gutsier writer, and I think I’ll be reaping the benefits for decades to come.

Turtle Steps Add Up To a Long Distance Over a Year

Turtle steps add up to a long distance over a year.

But we all know that maxim already. But there are days that I have to remind myself of this truth. It’s gets hard to remember it when the rabbits are racing by (or at least bragging that they’re racing through things).

Many of us have jobs and family obligations that demand a lot of our time.  And there’s a temptation to take an “all or nothing” stance to writing.  That attitude that either we need to be writing thirty manuscript pages a day, or else quit.  Yet, writing just one page a day adds up to a 365-page manuscript over a year–a good length for a novel.

Finding the time to write thirty pages a day may be impossible.  Finding the time to write one page a day is not.  Even if you’re a slow typist and writer, we’re talking about finding 15-60 minutes of time–the time can even be broken down into increments of 10 minutes if needed. Most writers I know need only about 15-30 minutes to write that one page (about 250 words).

It’s like people’s attitude towards losing weight–the “shock and awe” approach.  Many go after the extreme weight loss over a two month time period by starvation-type dieting, instead of the steady permanent loss over two years by small changes each week in lifestyle.

I’ve learned from trial and error that tiny steady changes over a year can lead to more extreme results than a “shock and awe” approach to a goal. And when the time frame goes to three to five years for turtle steps, the changes seen can be stunning.

Part of it has to do with the fact that the “shock and awe” approach is often unsustainable over a long time frame.  Sooner or later a crisis happens, or one’s health collapses from overwork, or when one doesn’t meet the outrageous goal for the month, one quits trying at all since there’s that “all or nothing” mindset. For example, being on a strict diet and going off the wagon to eat half a pizza at a party, and then saying, “I failed, so there’s no point in going on” and continuing the eating binge for weeks.

Slowly I am learning not to compare myself to the rabbits bounding by, and to instead keep my mind focused on the next small step as I move along in my turtle-like way. The rabbit path is not feasible right now, but it’s not the only way to get where I want to go.

Or to quote Benjamin Franklin:

It is true, there is much to be done, and, perhaps, you are weak-handed; but stick to it steadily, and you will see great effects; for ‘Constant dropping wears away stones; and by diligence and patience the mouse ate in two the cable; and little strokes fell great oaks.

Thoughts on How Instant Feedback Can Impact the Voice of Some Writers

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I turned comments off on my blog back in November 2010 due to severe time constraints:

I didn’t know what impact it would have, but one of the surprising results was that now my blog thoughts sometimes dig deeper into things.  The time I used have to waste wading through spam in the queue instead gets spent thinking and writing the post instead.

Since writing those words, I’ve been mulling things in my mind, and I’ve come to realize that there’s more to this than having more time to think now that I’m no longer babysitting a blog comments queue.  (I do, however, still have comments flipped on in Facebook and a Contact Me page so people can talk to me direct when they need to.)

There’s the issue of a writer’s voice, or what I’ve nicknamed the “Aw, crap” factor–as in, “Aw, crap, if I write about that, I’ll have to deal with too many comments. I want to spend that time writing instead.”

So instead of writing the post that might stir things up, I’d write something bland that would have no risk of being interesting enough to trigger responses from people.

Writers who have the extra time to referee a comments section don’t have this “Aw, crap” problem. But it’s become clear to me that I do.  And I suspect there are other writers out there as well who are subconsciously making their posts bland because they also have time crunch issues.

A few months after I turned off comments, I finally felt comfortable enough to do livelier blog posts, and my web traffic jumped. I also started writing things that would unexpectedly catch the eye of other, more established, bloggers. It’s too soon for me to tell what the permanent increase in web traffic will be since the spikes in traffic happened so recently. I’ve seen spikes as high as 10x the November traffic.  Maybe 2x – 3x? I’m guessing at this point.

So if you’ve got a severe time squeeze, you might want to give flipping comments off on blog posts for a few months a try to see if the “Aw, crap” factor has been in play.

Also, the same “Aw, crap” factor can come into play if a writer posts fiction online with comments flipped on. I’m never going to post fiction with comments turned on, since I’ve already learned I’m too likely to self-censor myself to avoid comments.

I can easily imagine myself thinking, “Aw, crap, I don’t want to write that story idea because it will piss off too many people and I’ll have to deal with too many comments and fights between readers who either love it or hate it. I don’t have the time for that. Let me write something soothing instead.”

And so I’d end up writing something so boring it would put everyone to sleep. I’d stifle my voice as a writer for fear of having to deal with too many comments.

Hmm, I think this happens quite a bit to writers even outside the world of posting fiction online. It’s so much easier to write stories that are bland and soothing and make everyone go “Zzzzz…” so that one can tiptoe away before they wake up. Stories that are lively stir everyone up like bees so that they break into camps and start fighting about the story (some love it, some hate it).

Of course, some writers thrive on controversy and fistfights and instant feedback.  Their writing gets better, instead of worse. So it’s important to experiment and see what works best since each writer is different.

Good luck testing all of this. May you find the path that suits you best.