Rag Dolls and Glass Balls

My Muse threw a rag doll at me.

Figuratively of course, but my mind can be a funny place sometimes.

There’s been a lot going on over the last few weeks. I’ve really been stretched to my breaking point more often than I’m comfortable with.

I’ve been feeling like the emotional equivalent of a kicked puppy, cowering in a corner.

And it killed my creativity.

I like using the term “Muse” to describe the creative right side of my brain that I have all sorts of fun with. I think any writer out there knows that creative side can take on something of a life of it’s own when you really get in the thick of things. Usually my Muse and I get along pretty well.

But it turns out that high levels of stress chase her about as far away as she could possibly go. Not good when members of the Survivor cast ask me what’s I have planned for the next round…

In a desperate attempt to lure the Muse back, I pulled out my copy of Holly Lisle’s Create a World. I sat down to do the first little exercise, hoping to generate a few ideas for NaNoWriMo. Last time I did the exercise, I got inspiration for Crafting the Badger’s Head, so my track record here is good.

My Muse opened a door, threw Laura Ingalls’ rag doll at me, then stuck out it’s tongue, blew a raspberry, and slammed the door again.

Somehow, I’m supposed to turn the rag doll into a story?

Actually, I’ve got a couple ideas already.

I did a couple other exercises in the book and got some more interesting elements. A glass ball like a marble, yet, bigger. A canyon of many colors, and a swatch of dark black, thick fur.

Even stranger was an emotion that came with the glass ball. I had a very vivid memory of a visit with my grandmother a year or so ago. She sat on the floor with my girls and she was showing my oldest some marbles. She mentioned the names of some marbles and I got a very strange vision at the time of my grandmother as a school-aged girl, sitting around with her young friends and piles of glassy marbles between them.

Thinking of my grandma being a girl some 80 years ago was a weird sad/happy nostalgic emotion.

Not sure how it’ll fit in to this story that I’m going to do for NaNoWriMo, yet, but at least I have an idea.

Now, time to caffeinated the Muse, who crept back in sometime during the night, bringing an offering of dialogue for the next Redwall Survivor chapter.

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Creation of a Redwall Survivor Application

I’ve been meaning to put this together for a while, but, well, life, you know.

As of this moment, we’re in the final hours of voting for Mossflower Odyssey IV: The Beasts In The Crater. Over the last couple weeks, everyone has been reading and reviewing the top 30 applications sent in and voting on their favorite of each category. Ten categories, with 3 apps apiece (except that two categories only had two apps, so technically, it’s top 28….) all judged and weighed and debated on by the audience.

We’ll know the official cast for MO4 soon, then the story will really begin!

I wrote three apps for MO4, though much to my surprises, only one of my apps got in. Since I’ve been somewhat disappointed, I thought I’d share my favorite app and also share the process I used to create it. Every author has their own system and way of doing this.

This is simply mine.

Bear in mind that this app did not make the Top 30 cut, but I think I worked the hardest on it.

I started out by using How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t SUCK, a free course offered by Holly Lisle.  Since in her flash fiction course, she’s walking you through writing 500 word flash fiction, I figured that’d be just perfect for coming up with a 750 word application. I brainstormed for a while, going through the worksheets, but really struggled with the ideas.

Eventually, I had two of the concept sentences kind of merge in my mind. They were:

  1. A usurped horde leader is imprisoned and about to be executed.
  2. An exhausted refugee struggles to find shelter from an oncoming storm.

With those powers combined, I came up with: A usurped horde leader struggles to find shelter from an oncoming storm.

Next, I switched gears, because I wanted to find out more about this horde leader, specifically species, since this is set in the Redwall universe of animals, after all.

So out came the notebook and I started brainstorming.

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I wrote Horde Leader, drew a line, then wrote Species. From there, I drew lines to every vermin species that came to mind, and added more lines for reasons why or why not. The last line I drew, going down, was Bird Species. Something about that peaked my interested. Perhaps because the first Redwall book I ever read, Mattimeo, featured a bird horde leader. I went online and did a search for “birds in Great Britain”, then narrowed it down to “birds of prey”.

When I saw the first picture of a male Hen Harrier, I fell in love. I switched to a red pen (as seen above), and continued on brainstorming for a bit longer, toying with names and background. While I did this, I also pulled up pictures from the internet and put them into Scrivener.

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Scrivener itself was a bit of an experiment, since the program was new to me, but it proved very useful to organizing information on my characters. I was able to pull up a bunch of images and even download a PDF file on Hen Harriers from Wikipedia.

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With my background worked out, I was able to start writing my first draft for Sarek.

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My first draft finished with 1069 words. By the way, I love Scrivener’s on-screen word counter, which is nearly visible at the bottom center of the picture above.

Next I printed it out and used an abbreviated How to Revise Your Novel (also by Holly Lisle) setup to go through my draft and polish it up. I took pages of notes…

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And took a red pen to a printout of the draft. One of my two-year-old twins tried to help with a black one.

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Then typed it all back into Scrivener, with a few more tweaks here and there to fix rogue spellings and get the final word count below 750.

With my word count at 748, I then fixed the formatting and sent it off. With one app done, I then started the brainstorming process all over again and came up with two more apps to send off.

Unfortunately, Sarek didn’t make the cut for “A Beast Driven by Revenge,” but I’ll include the app below for anyone interested in reading the final product.

Continue reading

One, Two, Cha-cha-cha!

I like to think of myself as an optimist. Always looking for the silver lining. The glass is half full.

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It’s hard to keep that mindset. Sometimes I take things too much to heart. Sometimes I get down on myself for areas where I’ve failed. I run a vicious cycle in my mind of how I’ve screwed up.

In 2015, I decided to take my writing seriously. I was done making excuses. I was done playing around. I was going to finally make progress. I was finally going to win. I even coined a little phrase for myself. “I Win 2015!” I had two big goals for that year. Two things I was focused on.

  1. Publishing a book of short stories
  2. Publishing Sentinels of Mysera

I started out strong. Ran through Holly Lisle’s Flash Fiction course and got a bunch of short stories done. Sent Sentinels of Mysera to a couple people who were willing to content edit. Waited and tried to keep myself busy with the shorts, telling myself I was making progress.

Then I ended up in Redwall Survivor as Vera Silvertooth and my regular writing got put on hold as I did that. Redwall Survivor ended up being one of the best things I could have done, because on a weekly or so basis, I was writing a 1000 – 2000 word story, revising it, getting it critiqued by the cast, doing final edits, then posting it for the audience, where it was further commented on and critiqued. After finding out I’d survived another round of voting, it was back work on the next post.

Not only did I gain valuable experience as a writer, but I built relationships with a core of other writers who have different strengths that I do and were able to point out flaws and weaknesses in my writing.

By the time the end of 2015 hit, I’d grown in great ways as a writer, but I had failed to meet my two major goals.

One step forward, one back.

2016 was the year of revising Battle of the Bargaws, which is Sentinels Book 2. Through Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course, I finally found myself learning the tricks and strategies that I needed to turn a wreck of a book into something good. While that was being done, I assembled notes on Tales of Mysera (my collection of short stories) and Sentinels of Mysera and had in my mind that edits and publication of those would happen in the later half of the year.

But I hit a wall, burned out a bit, and didn’t do much between finishing BotB revisions and NaNoWriMo.

My 2016 NaNo dragged into 2017 and now I find myself in the middle of April, two years behind my goal of “Publishing ToM and SoM.” In fact, both of those projects are now further back that I thought.

I spent two weeks going over SoM using HTRYN’s Lesson 1 and my dusty notes from my friends. At first I was frustrated with how long it took me, because I got through BotB in a week, not two. Reminded myself that SoM was almost twice the length of BotB, and kept going.

I’m less than encouraged by the results.

There are holes in SoM that I forgot to fill. There are errors. There are spots where I’m cringing at what I wrote. I’m almost embarrassed that I let anyone read it. The book that I thought was finished in 2015 is far, far from it.

One step forward. Two steps back.

My plan, at the beginning of 2017, was to have a revised, update version of SoM done by June 1, with a target publication date of January 2018.

I did not realize how broken the book was. And I didn’t anticipate that it may take me longer to revise, since it’s longer.

My June 1st revision date is not doable in the time I have to spend on the project each day. If I can manage the HTRYN lessons faster than last year, I’m still looking at finishing revisions by mid-September. But it’s highly probable that I may be working on this for the rest of the year.

Redwall Survivor is gearing up to kick off a new contest. I’m going to apply again, but if I make it in and if I last as long as I did in 2015, that’s going to slow down progress on SoM, because I have learned that I struggle with running two creative projects at once.

Plus I just signed up for Holly Lisle’s How To Write a Series course, and I’d like to work through that, too.

Of course, I don’t have the time or the energy to do everything. I have to juggle my family and those responsibilities in addition to writing. I’m still trying to figure out the balancing act to doing what needs done without burning out, because for me, that is a concern. When I push too hard for too long, then I burn out and everything stops. It’s not fair to me, my husband, or my kids when that happens.

Where does that put me and SoM? Well….

I’m going to keep plugging away, doing my darnedest to complete one lesson a week in HTRYN, but knowing that I’ll likely need to extend it to two weeks for most lessons. If I make it into Redwall Survivor, I’ll reevaluate my schedule and figure out a juggling act.

If I don’t get into Redwall Survivor this year, then I’ll know I can focus everything on SoM.

Tentative new deadline is to have SoM revisions done before NaNoWriMo 2017, so I have November free to write something new.

 

 

Day 2 – NaNoWriMo 2016

Words written: 2350

Total written: 5076

My plan this morning was to wake up at 4:15 a.m., pour myself a cup of coffee, and write for an hour or so before anyone else in my house was up and requesting breakfast.

Something about best laid plans?

Woke up to my husband’s alarm at 5:15 a.m. Apparently I slept through my alarm and shut it of in my sleep or something similar, because I have no memory of the alarm.

Thank goodness for VeggieTales (or ‘a MooMee’ which is toddler-ese for ‘movie’) to keep my twins preoccupied mid-morning so I could write like the wind. Thank goodness for Mythbuster re-runs to keep my husband occupied in the evening so I could finish getting my words.

My personal goal had been to hit 5000 today. I’m already a day ahead of schedule, which is perfect.

Now, despite what the numbers say, it hasn’t been the easiest writing day. Most of what had come out is not something I’m happy with. I feel almost rusty. Like a gear that sat too long without being oiled and moved. It occurred to me that I haven’t really written much since finishing Battle of the Bargaws revision earlier this year, and that was different than rough draft writing anyway. I haven’t written anything truly new since finishing Noontide Green last NaNoWriMo. It stands to reason that I’m out of practice.

Plus the characters in Crafting the Badger’s Head are all fresh and new. I’m still learning their quirks and their traits and figuring out just what makes them tick.

It’s not my best quality of writing, but it’s writing. I’ll find my groove soon enough, if my previous NaNos are any indication.

And let that be a piece of advice for any of you NaNoers out there who may be struggling. Just write. Don’t worry about quality. Don’t worry about your characters. You can always come back and fix it later. For now, tell the story. Get the pictures in your head down in black and white. Ramble on. Daydream while typing. Let your protagonist and antagonist meet up for tea and chess prior to becoming enemies. Whatever. Just write.

Perfection doesn’t happen on the first draft.

Suddenly, September!

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Welp, August sure got away from me. As far as 2016 is concerned, this had been my least productive month. I set out with a goal of getting my edits on the Tales of Mysera stories done after my friends from Redwall Survivor left. I thought coming off the high of finishing Battle of the Bargaws and Holly Lilse’s How to Revise Your Novel would help. I printed out my short stories, sat down with my edit notes from my friend, and promptly hit a brick wall.

I spent over two hours just trying to figure out where I should start. Do I do a mini version of HTRYN on the short stories? Do I work through the notes from my critiquer as if they were set in stone recommendations?

Then I stumbled across this article on Writers in the Storm.

Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait here until you’re back…

Back? Good. Onward!

Anyway, it helped me pinpoint where I was mentally with my writing and I dove in, determined to get the stories done.

I got 4 of 8. That 4 were done in one morning at a coffee shop. I’ve got one that’s half done that I’m considering just tossing in our fire pit because I’m so frustrated with it. Three haven’t been touched.

I was going to try to plow through the rest of them this week, but the last week of August decided to hit me with a puking 2-year-old and me falling down a flight of four stairs. I’m okay from the fall, having suffered a twisted ankle, skinned elbow, a bruised shin, and bruised knees (and maybe damaged my pride because I went splat right at the feet of 3 other people). My 2-year-old was diagnosed with Strep Throat, so she’s on meds now that’ll hopefully help her kick this bug to the curb.

Unfortunately, this weekend is our big Church Family Camp. We were signed up to help with meals, bring cookies, plus there are many friends who this is the only time all year we will see them.

Fortunately, since the camp is held on our Church’s property, which is only about 15 minutes from our house, my husband and I can tag team with sick kids and still be able to attend some of the camp. But it’ll be the first time in our memory that either of us has missed some of camp.

Productivity in writing department.

Hah.

Nope.

Productivity in anything else… well, that’s debatable.

I’m going to limp through Family Camp this weekend, and my 6-year-old starts school on Wednesday, so I’ll spend some time getting my new schedule figured out. ToM is still going to get done. Sentinels of Mysera is in the hopper after that. Hopefully before NaNoWriMo hits.

So, good-bye August. Hello, September.

Playing With Worlds

About the time I was starting up HTRYN, I got a copy of Holly Lisle’s Create a World Clinic, but with the idea that I wouldn’t do much with it until after HTRYN. After one particularly frustrating week of revision, I pulled out the book over the weekend and began working through it, just to give me something different to do.

That became my sanity saver over the last few months of revision. Monday through Friday, I worked on Battle of the Bargaws, but on Saturday and Sunday, if the mood took me, I did an exercise or two from Create a World. I let my Muse (Holly Lisle’s preferred term in referring to the creative, subconscious part of the brain) out of her box to play.

The first exercise spawned a story idea for the famous blacksmith in my Mysera world . One of the next exercises spawned something completely different. In the exercise, you come up with three specific elements (through a process Holly walks you through), then you write a short story of at least 350 words.

My elements were a dry, hot prairie setting, a red and brown platter, and a tan colored dog/lion beast that moved. My brain provided the rest as I wrote. It had absolutely nothing to do with Mysera, or any other world I’ve ever created.

And I’m kinda curious about it. Whatever this world is, I may have to dig a little deeper into it later.


 

[PLEASE NOTE: Other than some spelling fixes, this is completely unedited and raw writing. I haven’t polished this up in any way.]

The air shimmered in rippling waves across the drying grasses. The sun beat on the back of her neck, prickly with heat and sweat. She didn’t move from her crouch. Her dark eyes didn’t dare to blink.

Nether did the eyes of the tan beast who lay not far from her, one pointed ear flicked her direction. On a rounded stone between them sat an old pottery serving dish. Red and brown streaks from the ancient plate seemed to blend with and welcome the blood of the prairie pheasant that lay dead on the platter.

The bird was freshly killed, but already flies swarmed around, drawn by the smell of blood in the air.

A line of sweat tickled down her spine, yet she did not dare move.

The air smelled of fear, blood and drying grass. She knew it was her fear that she smelled, and it made her all the more afraid. The blind wise woman had warned her. She had told her she must not show fear. To show fear would keep the beast away, or worse, prompt him to attack.

Her eyes watered, though not from fear, but from the fact that she hadn’t blinked them in so long. She’d met eyes with the beast and could not look away.

She blinked.

Just like that, it was gone. She swore she could still see the outline of where it had been, but the living, breathing form was gone.

“No,” she croaked, her mouth long dry from sitting in the heat of the summer sun. “Come back! I need you.”

Her plea blew away like dust on the wind.

She bowed her head, tears leaking out to spill down her cheeks. She’d failed. She’d had one chance and one alone, and she had failed.

The girl wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, lifted her head, and froze.

The prairie pheasant was gone.

The blood on the platter was gone.

Not a feather remained.

Slowly, she went from a low, hiding crouch to her feet, through she straightened only enough to peer over the grasses. She looked over the rippling waves, searching for a contrary ripple that would pinpoint the taker of the partridge.

Then a hot breath woofed against the back of her neck.

She’d never heard it move. Not when it had vanished, or when it had snatched the bird. or even now, when it stood behind her.

A cold nose pressed against her neck, and she didn’t even twitch.

Granted, a voice said.

The beast vanished again.

 

BotB Revision Complete!

As of this afternoon, it is finished. Done. Completed.

I’ve successfully gone through all 22 lessons in Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course. I have in my hands a 13 chapter, 70,000 word completed manuscript.


*THUD*

It took 7 months to do, which is 2 months longer than I had hoped. The write-in and type-in portions of the course took longer than I thought I could pull off. Not sure what I was thinking there, honestly.

For any writers out there who have ever struggled with revision, I don’t think I could more highly recommend Holly Lisle’s course. HTRYN blew my expectations out of the water and the sheer number of things I learned over the last 7 months is mind-boggling. Next time she opens the course up for students, be one of them. It’s worth it!

Anyway, Sentinels of Mysera #2: Battle of the Bargaws is now ready to be looked at by my content editors and I’ve got a tentative publish date of July 2017 on my schedule.

Checked that one off the list and it’s on to the next.

Next is edits on my collection of short stories, Tales of Mysera. I’ve got a lovely stack of notes from my old shipmate, Tooley (who I met in last summer’s Mossflower Odyssey III: The Lost Treasure of Captain Blade). Going through my stories with his comments, plus a few things I learned through HTRYN shouldn’t take too long, so I hope to have a concrete publish date for those soon.

After Tales of Mysera, it’ll be once more unto the breach that is Sentinels of Mysera. I’ve got a few things to fix, and a few things to apply from HTRYN as well, but my goal is to have a date on that by the end of the year (or NaNoWriMo, if things really go well).

The road goes ever on and on…

Stay tuned for exciting new developments.