Dieselpunk

With George R. R. Martin, we talked a lot about world building and genre-blending. What better send off than Twit Publishing’s call for Dieselpunk submissions?

“What is Dieselpunk? Dieselpunk is a re-imagining of the diesel-era (the post-World War I era to the early 1950s). It’s gangsters, bootleggers, swing, Mexican revolutionaries, Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde, U-Boats, the Depression, the end of the Wild West, Bolshevik agents, greasers, zeppelins, jazz, art-deco, roadsters, hobos (anything that fits into this era of time along with cross-genres), and the Red Scare. It is the beginning of mechanization of the military and the beginning of the mechanization of the factory.”

Come on, how fun is that? Mobsters and wizards, bootleg potions… the list goes on. This weekend, I challenge you to step up to Twit Publishing’s challenge. The deadline is April 30th, so you’d better get started today.

Happy Writing!

A Game of Thrones Trailer to See Us On Our Way

Unfortunately, my friends, today is our last day with George R.R. Martin and A Song of Ice and Fire series.

But don’t worry. If you need your fix…the HBO series kicks off this Sunday at 9:00. To whet your appetite, here’s one of the trailers (I picked this one because I love the song in the back ground – that’s Florence and the Machine if you wann hunt it down….)

Last Minute Stories and Editing: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

It’s Spring Break, so I almost forgot it was Tuesday. Time to be held accountable!

Here is what I did last week:

1. As Ali posted on Saturday, Hayden’s Ferry Review has put out the call for their “In the Dark” issue. Oliver and I decided that would be a fun experiment for our writer’s group and extended it as a challenge…which Ali then passed on to you guys here.

At first, I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t have an idea. But then Oliver threw down and I can’t just send out a challenge without participating in the challenge. So on Saturday I came up with an idea, worked it, and then worked more on Sunday right before the group.

Oh yeah, it’s a last minute thing. But I have a new short story! Yay!

2. Wrote more stuff on The Line. Got through two scenes – so about 2000 words. (Sounds pathetic, I know. But the short story writing time cut into it.)

3. Finished a rewrite of the first chapter of La Llorona.   And let me tell you something interesting about that experience:

Way back in the day, Ali was reading the early chapters of La Llorona and I remember her saying something along the lines of “The sentence structure is off.” You see, I was being all ‘literary’ and she didn’t get my genius. So, of course, it was her problem.

Then I was re-reading this stuff, marking it up, pondering it. And thought: I don’t understand what half these sentences mean. I got the gist, but it wasn’t easy reading. Most of my marks were cleaning up weird grammatical things – not incorrect, just…weird.

There are two things to take from this:

The first: You’ve heard that bit of advice about needing distance from a piece before you revise. In On Writing, Stephen King recommends at least six weeks. (Which, to many writers, seems an impossible long time. To you I say: It’s not, and it’s worth it. If you can hold out even longer, better.) I have never had a problem with this waiting gig – it makes sense to me. But I think something else goes along with it.

Practice.

Between the time you put a piece down and the time you pick it up again, you should have written something else: a short story at the very least, but maybe even a whole different novel. 

If you do nothing between the time you drop your novel and the time you pick it back up again, you have learned no new skills. You have learned no new techniques. You are the same writer. You haven’t improved. If you haven’t improved, why on earth would you think you could make your manuscript better? You learn something with everything you write – so write a lot.

The second: Assuming that you don’t have the time to wait (hello Deadline!), you have to trust your early readers, especially for the grammar thing – that kinda stuff isn’t as open for debate as storyline or character motivation. Readers have the distance, and they have a different skill set than you do – so they have the two things needed in order to edit gracefully: distance and practice.

That’s all for me! What’d you guys do this week? (I gotta tell you, we’re re-doing the upstairs bathroom this week…so I can’t guarantee big word counts for next week.)

The Hedgehog and Feast for Crows – Incomplete Series Troubles?

I am of the general belief that revisions can wait until the book is done. Finish the rough draft, take a break, come back and rework the story accordingly. My reasoning for this is pretty straightforward: you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve finished it. Though, yes, you can certainly revise as you go and make a more polished work – you’re still (probably) gonna have to revise big chunks based on where you went with the story. Holes and lost threads are kind of par for the course in this writing gig.

As my friend Deb puts it (and I’m paraphrasing here): That hedgehog you had on page five? Who knew how important that hedgehog would be? The hedgehog saves the story! The hedgehog is the linchpin! He holds everything together.

But when you wrote the hedgehog on page five, you didn’t know that. And! It could go the opposite way: you thought the hedgehog was going to be SuperImportant…but it turns out the hedgehog was just a hedgehog after all.

Which brings me to the book that most George R.R. Martin fans flung across the room. (My husband included.) This is book four in the series: A Feast for Crows.

The reason a lot of fans took issue – and in some cases still take issue – with this middle novel was because the main characters faded into the background. Martin made a very concious decision to focus on a set of characters in a certain geographical section of his world. Information had to be disseminated and, as the author, he felt this the best way to get it out there.

Now, I trust that Martin has a clear vision of his world. I trust that he has more of an idea where he wants to go with the story than his readers/editors/publishers because it’s his story. That being said, however, I can’t help but wonder – or worry? – that since the series isn’t actually finished it’s more like a rough draft than a completed work.

When you’re writing one book it’s difficult enough to know where the hell you’re going until you’re there. Now stretch that difficulty along the length of seven books. Sure, Martin has finished five of the seven books, and he seems back on track with book five: A Dance with Dragons. But there are two loose books out there.

How does he know what the hedgehog will do? Is A Feast for Crows going to turn out to be really unecessary? Or will it be the linchpin, the cornerstone, and the readers just can’t see it yet?

For example, looking back on another awesomely famous series: Harry Potter. Let’s examine Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I love Rowling. I love Harry. However. The only part of that entire book we, as readers, needed was the fact that Voldemort came back to a body. That’s it. The adventure was interesting – though convaluted. (I mean, what a pain-in-the-ass plan to get Harry to touch a portkey, right? Made me question the deviousness of the bad guys…can’t they keep it simple?) If there’s any unecessary hedgehog in that series, it’s in Goblet of Fire.

Some of this comes – I’m sure – from the writer not knowing what’s really necessary until the end. Threads get lost in the smallest books. A huge series with thousands of pages has millions of threads and, therefore, way more opportunity for meandering/getting lost.

However, Rowling pulled it off with a minimum of hedgehogs and I’m certain that Martin will too. How so? Well, I’m not in their heads, but I’m pretty sure that there are some techniques that control the potential chaos.

1. Knowing the end.
Rowling knew down to the last word the ending of Harry Potter. Sure, that word changed. But she had her vision and stuck to it. Thus, less hedgehogs. And Martin, I’m pretty darn sure, knows where he’s going. For all the Starks that die and shift and adjust – they’re still gonna be the big dogs at the end. (Ha! Dogs.)

***Oh! And because I like making predictions, and because I’ve only read the first two books so I feel cocky enough to predict the end based on the beginning…Jenny’s predictions for the end of the series!:
1.) Bran will ride one of the dragons = war hero. And, if both Jon and Danerys bite it…he’s gonna be the big leader.
2.) Jon and Danerys are gonna be the big leaders – one or the other might die and one or the other might rule…or (this is my real bet) they fall in love and rule jointly. Either way they’re not only going to be the big leaders, but they’re going to care deeply for each other.
3.) Tyrion’s probably gonna die. Sorry. But it will be one of the more affecting deaths because it’ll be near the end in a glorious victory that he created. Bittersweet.
4.) Sansa…well, I don’t know about her. She seems like someone who will grow into the manipulative Cersei, but for good instead of evil. Wouldn’t surprise me if she’s some kind of bard-like character who tells the story. She is fascinated by fairy tales and legends, after all.
5.) Arya – she could go one of a million different ways. Struggling with her a bit. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if she was the one who took out Tyrion somehow….***

2. Tracking
Ali keeps her Book Bible. I’m 99.99999% certain that Martin does too. Perhaps it’s a shoebox full of ideas and scraps – like Rowling – or perhaps it’s a three ring binder that contains maps and character sketches and scene orders. But I’m willing to bet money I don’t have that he’s got something, somewhere that works as an outline/guideline. Because if he’s keeping all this world information in his head – I want his brain.

What other techniques can writers use to track their work? How do you control the chaos that results from rough drafts/lengthy series details?  

In the Dark

Tomorrow is this month’s writers group and Jenny and Oliver challenged us all to submit a story that fits the Hayden’s Ferry Review call for submissions. The theme is “In the dark” and I’m curious to see how many people in the group took the challenge.

Also, I’m passing on the challenge, because the more the merrier, as they say. Today you should pick out the pen with the blackest ink and get to writing something you think Hayden’s Ferry Review will publish.

Themes of Strength and Weakness

Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark, Jamie Lannister, Tywin Lannister… What do all of these characters have in common? Power and strength. These are the guys who have the guts, the glory, and/or the gold.

Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen… Here are the underdogs. They don’t have the strength, they don’t have the political clout, and most of them have been pretty poorly treated by those who are supposed to support them – like Daenerys being sold off by her brother for the promise of an army.

I love the way Martin draws these characters because they’re both extreme, and balanced, which is no small feat. Robert Baratheon, the conquering hero, has everything. He’s got the gorgeous wife, a whole kingdom, a life of luxury, and Eddard Stark, the strong and loyal friend. The only problem is that for every strength, he’s got a matched weakness. His gorgeous wife hates his guts and is having an affair, the kingdom sits on the brink of unrest, and Robert’s love of the physical pleasures of life prove his undoing.

Eddard, well, Eddard was doomed from the start. He was too honest, too just, too fair to survive in the cuthroat world he got tossed into. A little more political savvy, a little bit of manipulation, and maybe he would have gotten out alive. But, if he had done those things, he wouldn’t be Ned Stark. His best qualities proved to be his doom.

On the underdog side, let’s talk about Arya. Arya was instantly one of my favorite characters. The little girl with a little sword. Hardly anyone takes her seriously. She doesn’t have much physical strength, she’s a young girl, she’s very much her father’s daughter, and once Ned is executed, she’s in an incredibly vulnerable position. And yet… Arya is a scrapper. What she lacks in other areas, she makes up for in pure force of will. This is one determined gal and those who cross her better watch their backs.

Tyrion, portrayed excellently by Peter Dinklage, has an obvious physical disadvantage. His father, as a result, treats him with disdain. Everywhere he turns, Tyrion is underestimated, mocked, and ignored. People are constantly blowing him off. The only thing he really has on his side is the family money. Oh, and his razor sharp mind. By turns callous and compassionate, Tyrion pays attention to what others miss and those who underestimate him pay the price, including his father.

In Martin’s world, the characters with the most obvious strength often have the biggest vulnerabilities and those with the most obvious disadvantages turn out to be the characters whose good side I’d most definitely want to be on. This balance means that although the world is larger than life and run through with magic, the characters stay real. Like real life, nothing, and no one, is black and white. So, we can’t help it if, every now and then, we root for the “bad” guy or find ourselves apalled by the “good” guy. We also can’t help it if, as we read, who we consider to be the “good guys” vs. the “bad guys” changes.

It keeps things interesting. It keeps us turning pages (or watching episodes).

Revising the Plan: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Happy Tuesday, writerly folk! Tuesdays are accountability day here at Place for the Stolen…so time to see what we accomplished writing-wise this past week:

1. Okay, so I know last week I said to hold me accountable for the End-of-April rough draft plan. I’m here to say that perhaps that was a smidge hasty. I’ve been re-evaluating the speed at which I can compose gracefully (read: without pulling my hair out) and have come to the conclusion that slower and steadier wins the race. I’m now aiming for the end of July as the rough draft due date for The Line.

And this past week I’ve added another 2400 words to the novel. Huzzah!

2. Part of the revising my plan is also that I’m starting another draft of an earlier book – my La Llorona book for those who care what I’m working on. It occured to me that The Line won’t be ready for submission this year no matter how much I bust my ass – and I want a submittable-to-agents draft of a novel this year. That way I can at least build experience in the querying gig. Plus, I like this book and, after seeing Woman in Black, feel that a good, old fashioned ghost story is the way to go. (For those that have read some of it – you realize this means some definite retooling.)  

I whipped out my handy-dandy calendar and figured out a way to gracefully (read again: without pulling my hair out) do a new draft by the end of August.

So far I’ve marked up the first three chapters, cut another chapter, and have typed in a new two pages. Huzzah!

*Interesting note: I work better in the morning on the flat-out new stuff. Revisions are more a late afternoon/early evening thing. At least it keeps the days interesting, huh?*

That’s it for me, kids. How about you guys? Revising? Working on something new?