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Now that I am at last, at last approaching the end of The WIP That Would Not Die, I find myself strangely reluctant to push forward. Daily word counts have been in the tens instead of the hundreds since I embarked on Chapter 32 (of 33) (I think). Part of the problem is of course the unsettled state of the house, rugs pulled out, furniture where it should not be, no furniture where it should be, books and towels and papers all higgeldy-piggeldy … but the other part is … me. Why should this be? Why should finishing be scary?

It’s a great thumping big word, though, “finished,” and I’ve been unsteadily hacking my way towards the end of this maze for more years than I care to admit. How can you ever do this professionally, I chide myself, if it takes you this long to write one thing … and then you balk at the end?

image

A cookie if you can read my scribbles, because I sure can’t!

 

But I am moving forward, if slowly and with inexplicable reluctance. Ten words a day is still better than no words, right? Even if at this rate it’ll take another [really long time] to finish.

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When I’m working on a story, it often helps my writing-brain if the drawing-brain gets in on the act too.  Right now I’m plugging away at an old-fashioned buddy low fantasy adventure tale, in the vein of the pulp authors in the heyday of sword-and-sorcery (I like pulp.  It’s overwrought and over-the-top and fun, never preachy (unless, “Hey, Therns, enslaving people and murdering them is not cool, so quit it” is preaching), and it’s eventful and colorful.  So how do you meld a pulp sensibility with a more modern story-telling style?  Will that even work? Stay tuned), and trying to nail down a design for the main characters keeps me thinking about them even when I’m not actually writing–which, let’s be honest, is 22 out of the 24 hours of the day, most days.

So here is a rough pass at Clover and Bronig*, the heroes of my work-in-progress.  He’s a Viking warrior with a penchant for smashing, she’s a cleric of an unknown god, together they fight crime monsters!  (I’m hoping to submit the story to the latest Sword and Sorceress anthology, deadline soon, so everyone please send me happy story-finishy thoughts.)

Rough pencils--please excuse the mess.

Rough pencils–please excuse the mess.

I had wanted to finish this drawing and color it before today, but oh well.  Maybe next week! 😀  Clover must be standing on a box here, because otherwise she would only stand as tall as his belly-button.  Yes, he is huge and she is tiny; I love that kind of contrast in my main characters, and since they are both warriors, I needed to find other ways to play up their differences.

How about a snippet, while we’re here?  I cut this bit because it set the wrong tone, and because it was taking too long: it’s supposed to be a short story, which means I don’t have a thousand words to spend on the characters walking up to a church.

The Sanctuary of the Queen crouched in the midst of lower buildings, at the end of a tangle of hilly streets, as though lying in wait to pounce. The long, bleak stone plaza fronting its tall red doors gave it plenty of time to overawe the approaching worshipper with its dense black height, its bristle of towers and turrets and scowling gargoyles and its row of wholly extraneous spikes along the peak of its roofline, and the blank eyes of the buildings lining the plaza glared to reinforce any approaching human’s littleness and the sanctuary’s superiority.

Clover, stepping into the plaza from the mouth of a narrow alley, raised her eyes and recoiled, her heel coming down squarely on the top Bronig’s foot.

He grunted. “Easy,” he said, and removed her.

“That church,” Clover declared, “is a bully.”

Bronig said nothing. His silence weighed nearly as much as that of the inimical building glaring them down. Clover twisted round to beam at him.

“Ineed,” she said. “Have we not faced much worse on our journeys? And shall we falter in our divine purpose now? No, indeed!” Back to the sanctuary, she raised her voice and her fist and cried, “We do not fear you!”

The shout rebounded from stone to stone, filling the space between buildings with echoes. With a a rattle of wings, a raft of large black birds launched themselves into scummy sky, screeling. Bronig patted Clover’s head.

“Well,” he said. “Now they definitely know we’re coming.”

She grinned at him, a flash of teeth like a drawn sword. “It is honorable to give one’s foes fair warning,” she said.

He shook his head–but the corner of his mouth twitched a little beneath his moustache.

Their footsteps rang loud against the cobbles–or Clover’s did, her boot heels like the clappers of bells. Bronig by rights should have clanked like a working forge with all the cutlery he had hanging about his person, but not a single dagger rattled in its sheath, and his tread was inaudible beneath all the racket Clover was making. No other humans were visible, in that stony space before the looming sanctuary and between the cramped, inward-leaning buildings, but the sense of being watched was strong. Clover’s shoulders twitched, and her hands dropped to the hilts of her twin swords. Bronig dropped back a few paces behind her, his gaze keen and alert and everywhere.

Under the sanctuary’s shadow, the peak of its roof cleaving the sky, its stained stones straining at their bonds, each eager to be the first to fall on the interlopers. Clover’s toe touched the first step up to the red doors, and she paused, craning up, and the building glared back down. Bronig, passing her, hooked his arm through hers and hauled her up, sure-footed as a mountain ram, unworried as a man traversing his own home.

“I can walk!” Clover protested.

“So do it,” was his unruffled reply.

Halfway up, the tall red doors swung silently outward; a figure stood in the opening, waiting.

 


*I think I’ll leave the story of the origins of these characters for another day, but I should mention that Bronig is somebody else’s creation, and I made sure to get his permission and blessing before snatching up his character and running off with him!

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The other day the Viking Prince informed me that he wants to be an artist like Mommy.  Now, of course this is terribly flattering, and the Mother part of me is proud as heck, but the Artist part is appalled.  (Or is it the other way around?  Mother, who wants Viking Prince to be safe and warm and fed and happy, is appalled, but Artist, who understands the call of these things, is proud?  Anyway.)  Art, as a hobby, is probably a lot of fun.  Art, as a job, is … well, it’s a job.

But business too

But business too

I bring this up because, what with one thing and another (i.e., life) my records got very much behind, and I have spent the last couple of hours struggling to bring them up to date.  “Records!” you scoff.  “What do records have to do with ART?”  And I reply, “Alas, the job of the freelance artist is not just to make pretty pictures that people enjoy (and enjoy enough to buy).  You must also communicate with clients, keep records of income and expense, pay taxes … in short, you must also run a business.”

This goes for writers, too, of course, and for a good rundown of what to expect as a self-employed creative person, head over to Patricia Wrede’s blog and look at the entries tagged “business.” She has been publishing novels for thirty-odd years now, and she’s a practical and apparently organized person who gives excellent advice.

“But look,” you object, “I got into art to get away from spreadsheets and all that boring stuff. Why should I bother about it?”

“Hey,” I respond, “you sound a lot like me!”

The thing is, life happens, and communications come at you from a bajillionty different directions at once, and when life is happening it’s hard (impossible!) to remember what you promised whom and when–and that’s why building good record-keeping habits from the start is a smart idea. So you don’t have to spend hours and hours much better spent making art catching up on your records.

If only I had reminded myself of these truths, oh … six months ago?

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The experience of writing Steel Butterfly has been one of brief, intense periods of activity (and progress) followed by long stretches of nothing at all.  My computer tells me that the last time I edited the latest chapter was February of this year: ten months.  More than enough time to bring an infant to term.  (I don’t know if other mothers think of time in this way; certainly I never did, pre-motherhood, but now I find it a useful measure.  If it ain’t long enough to have a baby in, it ain’t that long.  And of course the converse is also true.)  So, you know, a not-insignificant amount of time.  My memory, when consulted, adds the helpful rider that, when I accessed the file this February past, I fiddled around for half an hour or so, played a few hands of solitaire (probably), then felt too tired or sad or disgusted or whatever to continue, and closed the file again.

For when you're stuck...

For when you’re stuck…

I don’t believe in writer’s block per se.  I do believe that 90% or so of story-creation is instinctual and unconscious, and that whatever process governs the writer’s (or at least, my) ability to get words onto paper (screen, wax tablet, whatever) will halt unless the conditions are, like the littlest bear’s porridge, just right.  (You, hypothetical reader, may be different.  You may exert such masterful control over your unconscious processes that you can muscle through these … cessations.  There’s no right way or wrong way, so long as the words are getting written and you, the writer, are pleased with the end result.  But most of my best thinking happens when I’m not paying attention to it.)

So what are some wrong conditions?

1. The writer’s emotional state.  Seems pretty obvious.  If you are distracted by real-world problems–or even real-world joys–you probably will not be able to write effectively.

2. The writer’s physical state.  Ditto.  It doesn’t even have to be pain that distracts you.  When I was pregnant, I was unable to sit comfortably in a chair for the long stretches required to concentrate on writing.  I probably should have found an alternate solution: a standing desk (ugh, with swollen ankles and feet? Maybe not) or dictation or something.

3. The story is wrong.  Either something you’ve already written contradicts where the story wants to be going, or something you’re about to write is not going to work.  It is best not to force the story into the shape you want it to be.  If the problem happened earlier in the story, it is kind of like a dropped stitch in knitting: you will have to tear out everything you’ve done since the mistake, fix the mistake, and then do it all again.  Tedious?  Well, maybe, but presumably you enjoy knitting, or you wouldn’t have started the project in the first place.  If the problem is about to happen … well, unless a future version of yourself appears before you and gasps out, “No–not that plot development!” how can you know?

This is more challenging.  If a 3 corresponds with a 1 or 2, the time necessary to regain your equilibrium may also help to shake loose the right plot development.  If you don’t have that kind of time (maybe you are a published writer with deadlines, and not a dilettante like me), you can always do something else, something physical and repetitive and boring, to help your subconscious produce the right answer.  Taking a walk is good, or a shower.  Washing dishes, or folding laundry, or some other tedious, necessary chore, can also help.

4. You just don’t have the right words.  Everything else is fine.  You feel okay (or you are writing to purge those feelings of not-okay-ness), you have had adequate sleep and/or are adequately caffeinated, you know what happens next … and still nothing.  You sit and stare at a sterile white screen with a blinking cursor mocking you.

What do you do?  You have no idea how to go on.

Sometimes … you can just say so.

In Voyage to Ruin, I got stuck in just such a way.  Fortunately, I was writing with an omniscient narrator who liked, now and then, to interject his own opinions into the goings-on, so I wrote:

I must pause here and confess, dear readers, that I am puzzled as to how I should continue.  In fact, a part of me wishes I did not have to continue at all.  I would much prefer to leave you here, with the charming image of Captain Flynn at the helm of his beloved ship: a man in the prime of his life, rather good-looking, made handsomer still by his evident happiness—a man, it must be admitted, of no particular virtue, but in whom a certain dash and ebullience of spirit might almost have obviated the need for virtue.  I would like that of all things, because the events to come are unpleasant in the extreme, and will no doubt be as disagreeable for you to read as they are for me to relate.  However, to leave you with the impression that Captain Flynn’s story ends here would be iniquitous, vile, false.  We must remember that the service of truth sometimes requires the endurance of suffering, and if things become too frightening, we will hold each other’s hands for comfort, like children lost in a dark wood.

Wow.  That narrator had one heck of an orotund style.  But however over-the-top the words, the idea was straight-up truth.  I was puzzled as to how to continue.  I didn’t want to keep writing.  The narrator expressed them, but those were my thoughts and feelings.  And, expressing them in the story’s style helped unstick my brain and get the words flowing.

What about a story with a more limited POV? I hear you asking, assuming there is a you and I am not just yapping into a void.  After all, omniscient POV is really not popular right now.

It can still work!

In fact, the reason I am writing this now is because I used this technique, or trick, this morning, to get Steel Butterfly unstuck.  Now, Steel Butterfly is told in third-person limited with no narratorial intrusions, so instead of describing how I felt, I had to describe what the POV character was feeling.  (To make picking up the story more difficult, I had stopped right before what I thought was going to be an action sequence with a particular plot development, only to realize that the story needed a different, much more emotionally-charged development.  So I had to dive in to that without having a chance to warm up on some dialogue or scenery description or something easier.)  So I chose to describe the tension I felt, that I couldn’t just make the story get on with it already!

The moment stretched on and on and on.  Move, Aine thought at it.  Break.  End.  But it did not move, and it did not break, and it did not end.

Not a lot to it, but that little paragraph helped get the story going again.

And a little bonus tip: learn and use rhetorical devices to make your prose stronger.  The technique in the final sentence is Anaphora, the repetition of words or phrases.  It is helpful for emphasis, and also for slowing down the pace, making the moment seem even longer.

I don’t know if this technique would work for everybody, but it works for me every time.  If it works for you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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This Thanksgiving past, I did something I have never done before, something I didn’t think possible.  I wrote in a room full of people.

Not just a blog post or a Facebook status, but actual semi-coherent words of fiction, a scene appearing in a s.f. retelling of Rapunzel, co-written with my longtime friend and fellow scribbler Joanne Renaud.  (I’ll let you know when and where you can read the story as soon as more details become available.)  So there I was, in the living room at my grandma’s house, surrounded by family talk-talk-talking away, and I sat at the coffee table with my laptop and formed thoughts and words and images out of the ether (but not the Aether, because if I had that I would probably not be writing science fiction), or the raw material of creation, whichever you will.

Not this Aether

Not this Aether

Jane Austen famously wrote her classic novels in the sitting room, laboring away while the busy family chattered around her, and because of her industry we have Emma and Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion and Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility.  Six novels of pure genius.  Virginia Woolf famously wondered what else Jane Austen might have achieved, if she had been less constrained by her circumstances.

I can’t speak for Jane Austen; maybe she had powers of concentration and focus that I lack.  It took me all afternoon to write an 800-word scene.  Some of my slowness came from not knowing what exactly needed to happen until I was writing it, which can lead to a lot of “Hmmmtypey typey typey … ponder … delete.”  (And in those cases it really is often better to get up and go do something else, washing dishes or folding laundry or just taking a walk, something to shake the appropriate neurons loose and get them working again.  But then again, other times stubbornly plugging away can also work.)  But even when one is focusing one’s best, trying to think of the words you need is hard when snatches of relatives’ conversation keeps catching your ear.

Still, I did it.  I finished the scene, and I emailed it to my writing partner so that she could do the next bit, and I felt triumphant and smug.  Take that, Virginia Woolf! I thought.  It can be done!

Yes it can.  But it adds an extra dimension of challenge to a process that is already challenging.  And I wouldn’t recommend trying it with a noisy toddler: the advantage of the chatty family is that they chatter around you, leaving you in an isolated little bubble–not of silence, but of separate-ness, giving you the space to concentrate.  The toddler is 1000% guaranteed not to do that.

So, pace Jane Austen, unparalleled quiet genius, I think I’ll take that isolated room after all.

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Happycrow blogged about his “spare time” list, and that got me thinking about what I would like to do in that elusive thing called “spare time.”

Ha. Ha. Ha.

My goal for the new year was to be done done done with sketchcards so I could focus on other things: like moving into comic book pencilling, finish my novel (and start on the next one!), actually get paid a living wage for the work I do … you know, crazy stuff like that.  SPELLCASTERS was going to be my last set, for realsies.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Because I am weak willed and have trouble saying no (and some of the things I wasn’t saying “no” to are really cool gigs), now I’m looking at June before I am done done done.  Late June.

Here's what's on my desk right now.  That's not counting all the stuff that's drawn but not yet inked or colored.  Oy vey!

Here’s what’s on my desk right now. That’s not counting all the stuff that’s drawn but not yet inked or colored. Oy vey!

But what would I be doing, if I weren’t breaking my heart, mind, soul and body over a drawing table in the wee hours of the night (because daytime is kid time)?

  • Finish Steel Butterfly
  • Redo the bathroom
  • Brush up on my animation skills
  • Get my concealed carry license
  • Learn basic car care, so that I can do the maintenance on my Dad’s car myself
  • Gardening!  Lots and lots of gardening.  I am thinking: roses everywhere!  (Sidenote: the house down the street just took out all their rosebushes.  What were they thinking?!)
  • Get in shape
  • Work on personal art
  • Learn how to make bread
  • Learn to play the mandolin

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.  Some of this stuff is just me dreaming, but some of it is going to happen.  Just.  You know.  Not till after June.

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valentine_flat_full

I don’t know how it is with other people who both write things and draw things, but I find that my writing goes better when I have time to draw–and I don’t mean, either, the focused kind of I’m on a deadline and have to draw fifty spandex-clad superheroes by Monday drawing, but the more leisurely, Hey this class–or meeting–or what-have-you–is kind of boring and I’m going to doodle my characters in the margins of the notes I’m supposed to be taking kind of drawing.  In that way, the writing and the drawing balance and fuel each other, like one of those kinetic batteries that charges when you shake it.

Not a lot of time for that lately (although Aine did get to wear some cool plate mail in a scene because of doodles of plate-mail Aine), but here’s a picture from a year ago that I polished up and refurbished–like an old cabinet with a new coat of paint! 😀  If you like it, you can get it as a print on Redbubble.  (See what I did there?  Subtle, right?)

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