Be Jealous of My Box of Books

So, everyone I know is moving this week.

Okay, not everyone, but five people. It’s still a lot. And all at the same time.

One of the things about moving is that you realize how much stuff you’ve wedged into your current place, and how a lot of it you haven’t touched in years. Luckily for me, my family has realized they have a lot of books that they’re never going to read again.

And now they’re mine, bwhahaha.

My grandmother is an avid mystery reader and had a ton of books she’d already read, and my mother was offloading MG/YA science fiction and fantasy that she’d needed to keep up with what her students were reading, but doesn’t need them now that she’s retired.

Here’s my haul:

Box of Books

Mysteries/Thrillers/Gothic:

  • Lion in the Valley, Elizabeth Peters (1986)
  • The Ipcress File, Len Deighton (1962)
  • A Cold Day for Murder, Dana Stabenow (1992) (haha, her name has “stab” in it)
  • The Man with a Load of Mischief, Martha Grimes (1981)
  • Booked to Die, John Dunning (1992)
  • The Missing Mr. Mosley, John Greenwood (1986)
  • Mosley by Moonlight, John Greenwood (1985)
  • Mists over Mosley, John Greenwood (1986)
  • The Mind of Mr. Mosley, John Greenwood (1987)
  • What, Me, Mr. Mosley?, John Greenwood (1988)
  • Smoke in the Wind, Peter Tremayne (2001)
  • “A” is for Alibi, Sue Grafton (1982)
  • Raven Black, Ann Cleeves (2006)
  • Edwin of the Iron Shoes, Marcia Muller (1977)
  • The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley (1919)
  • The Scapegoat, Daphne du Marnier (1956)

YA/MG Fantasy/Scifi:

  • Uglies, Pretties, Specials (trilogy), Scott Westerfeld (2005-2006)
  • The Vampire Diaries (books 1-4), L. J. Smith (1991)
  • Songs of Power, Hilari Bell (2000)
  • Raven’s Gate, Anthony Horowitz (2005)

Other:

  • From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg (children’s, 1967)
  • Lord of Legends, Susan Krinard (romance/fantasy, 2009)
  • The View from Saturday, E. L. Konigsburg (children’s, 1996)
  • The Wanderer, Sharon Creech (MG historical, 2000)

(I really like E. L. Konigsburg. Or I did as a kid.)

What do you think, squiders? Read any of my new acquisitions? Where would you start if you were me?

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Low Confidence

It’s recently come to my attention that I’m not as good of a fiction writer as I wish I was. This comes from the sort of things writers run into all the time–a combo of bad reviews, harsh critiques from my writing group, lukewarm response from betas, rejections on short stories–but this time it kind of feels like a wake-up call.

Of course, there’s a number of ways one can react to finding out that they’re not as good at something as they thought they were:

  1. Give up
  2. Ignore the feedback and continue on doing the same thing
  3. Evaluate weak points and take steps to fix them

I mean, there is always the option that you’re not good at something and that you will never be good at something. Some of us are just not athletic or smart or good at math/languages/common sense…

Though I do hope we’re not at that point.

Anyway, as you can imagine, this hasn’t been great for my self-confidence as of late (also combined with a terminal diagnosis for my cat from my vet and other stresses), but I have managed to take a step back and look at my path moving forward.

  • I have publishing obligations in an anthology and the sequel to City of Hope and Ruin. Those will have to be done. But perhaps I should hold off on submitting short stories and querying agents on other projects until I do some more evaluation.
  • I bought Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course like, ten years ago. I got a few steps in but never finished the process, and perhaps a hands-on course on writing would help me learn some new skills and tools for novel-writing. (Also of note, I took Holly’s How to Write Flash Fiction course a few years back–it’s free and short–and out of the four stories I got out of it, I have sold three, which is pretty damn good on percentages.)
  • I have several writing books that I’ve never touched, both practical ones (such as writing exercises) and craft ones. Maybe now is the time to crack them open.
  • Experimentation might also be in order. I love fantasy–I love to read it, and I love to write it–but maybe it’s not destined to be. My husband thinks I should combine my drawing and writing to try out a few children’s books, which could be fun to do. And I would also like to try my hand at a mystery. It wouldn’t hurt to do something just for fun, too, without worrying about trying to make it marketable.

Any other tips, squiders, for when you’re feeling down and worthless? Thoughts about fixing things?

Writing Around Life: Personal Anecdotes?

Hey, squiders, a question for all of you that have been following along with the writing around life posts:

Would they be better with personal anecdotes?

I’ve been in most, if not all, of the situations described in the book. Most of the tips and methods described are ones that I have used in various situation.

Would it be beneficial to include “Back when I was in college, I would blah blah blah”?

Or is it just extraneous information and the tips/methods themselves are enough?

I can’t decide if showing that I’ve tested the methods out and know they work would be useful to a potential reader.

The other issue is that I’m concerned that they’ll come across as bragging/discouraging. “I wrote 50K in a month while working full time AND working toward a master’s degree in aerospace engineering, so what’s your excuse?”

So, help me out, guys, Yea or Nay?

Reading Old Books vs New

A writing friend once, in the middle of a storycraft discussion, declared that if you want to be published, you shouldn’t be reading anything older than about five years. So, for example, if you’re reading anything before 2013 today, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.

There is something to be said about this advice. By looking at the recent trends, especially in your genre, you can see what’s selling and what’s not, as well as what agents and publishers seem to like. (While something can come out of left field and be a bestseller, most books that are published are “safe” books.)

(Also, said friend is a bestselling author whose book has been optioned for television, so he does know what he’s talking about.)

If you’ve been around here at all, you know I’m terrible at following this advice. (As we speak, I’m wading through an 1896 novel called The Well at World’s End which is fantasy in the 1800s-romantic poetry sort of fashion.)

Is there something to be gained from reading older books?

Well, to be honest, probably not. I mean, not from a marketing standpoint. The publishing industry is not a static thing. Something that was big ten years ago probably won’t fly today. (And you have to remember that, if you’re reading traditionally published books, that the book that comes out today was probably accepted about two years ago, so the industry may have already moved on.)

But, I mean, that’s not why I’m reading them.

I’m reading them because I like to see the evolution of the genre. Because it’s interesting to see how genre conventions came into being and how they’ve changed over time. Because I like reading the stories that influenced the authors that influenced me.

And because, arguably, the things that worked once can be rewoven and reintegrated to work again in new ways.

What do you think, squiders? Do you like the occasional older work, whether it’s over a hundred years or closer to 50? Do you think there’s value in looking where we’ve been, or only in where we are?

Writing Around Life: Work/School/Kids

Here we run into the ultimate combination–work, school, and children.

(This is also our last official post in the writing around life series. If you think I should add anything, or you have any comments, please let me know!)

Now, this can be intense, but isn’t necessarily. As we discussed in previous sections, you’re probably not full time on work AND school AND kids. Most people are full time on one and part time on the other two. For example:

  • Person A works a full-time job, 40 hours a week. They’re also taking a continuing education course and have two small children at home.
  • Person B stays home with the kids. When they can, they do freelance or contract work from home, and they’re also taking a MOOC course (massive open online course) to see if they’d like a certain career.
  • Person C attends university working toward their bachelor’s degree. They also pick up a few hours a week at a coffee shop, and spends time with their older kids when they’re not in school.

There’s infinite combinations of this, but most people fall into one of the above categories. You are primarily a worker, a student, or a parent. That’s not to say you’re not also the other things, but that one category takes up most of your time.

There are a couple ways to fit writing in around your busy schedule, and they’re primarily things we’ve talked about in the individual work, school, and children sections. Ideally, you can carve writing time in or around your main responsibility, leaving you time to complete your secondary ones. If you work full time, you shouldn’t be sacrificing school or time with your kids for writing.

So, running with the working full time example, if you can get your writing done during your commute and/or your lunch break, then you’re free when you get home to focus on other things. Likewise, if you write during short breaks at school, then you can help the kids with homework when you get home and work after they go to bed. And if you can write while the kids are doing their homework or while they’re napping, then you’re free to work or do your class once your spouse or other child care arrives.

And remember–if you’re too tired to write right now, don’t beat yourself up about it. Yes, you can make time for writing. It’s not impossible. But if it’s not working now, give it a break. Situations change. Classes end. Kids get older. It’s all right to take care of yourself.

Be realistic about the time you have available. Realize that even a little writing adds up over time.

Thoughts about writing around everything, squiders?

In Praise of the Critique Marathon

There’s a lot of writing groups out there, and they offer a lot of different things. It’s been my experience that you have to test drive them as well–some may not be a good fit culturally, or the members may not be at the same level as you, etc., etc.

I belong to quite a few writing groups, and I try to attend/check regularly (depending on whether they’re in-person groups or online). I belong to one group that I found through agentqueryconnect.com (related to agentquery.com, which is a useful website to check out agents) that is much more focused on the end parts of writing than most of the other groups, specifically revision, submission, and marketing.

This group does a “marathon” each summer and winter. These are between 8 and 12 weeks long. Each week you post a section of your work (depending on the marathon, this may have to be a polished work that you’re considering/already submitting), usually a chapter or two. You have to critique at least two other people’s submissions (but can do as many as you like, and there’s a prize for doing the most) and other people come in and look at yours.

I’ve been a part of this group for about a year and a half, but aside from a week here or there, I’ve never managed the marathons before. But I’ve been doing the summer one (I came in three weeks late, but I’m still actually doing it) and it’s been amazing.

A couple months ago, I identified the first chapter of my YA paranormal as being the problem when querying it, so I resolved to fix that problem, and spending a week or two in the marathon seemed like a great way to get feedback. I think I thought I’d either switch projects after that (perhaps the high fantasy book I recently finished and is currently out with betas) or I’d bow out like I have in previous marathons.

But, lo, it was been eye-opening. We’re seven chapters into the book now, and I’m getting great feedback. Almost all of it is pretty minor (which is good, since I’ve been querying this!) but the feedback I’m getting is going to allow me to make this a tighter, more coherent story.

The nice thing about the marathon format versus a normal critique group format (where one or two people go per meeting, and meetings may be every other week or once a month) is that it immerses you more into the stories. It’s like a focused beta, almost. And it’s compact, so you don’t have to wait weeks or months while your group forgets previous chapters before it gets back to your turn. And if a chapter isn’t working, you can rewrite it and stick it back up, and get immediate feedback on what’s working better and what still needs some elbow-grease.

In short, it is my new favorite thing and I regret not doing the earlier ones.

(Though, to be honest, I always intend to do them, and then something else pops up. They’re not at the most convenient times–the winter one is in January/February, so there’s new year sundries that get in the way, and the summer one runs June through August and the small, mobile ones are everywhere and not in school–or I’m eyes deep in writing or another step of the process which is not revision.)

If you have a writing group that touches on critique, I’d recommend this technique. It’s really been way more helpful than I ever imagined.

Have other critiquing techniques you’d recommend, squiders?

Writing Around Life: Work/Kids

Like some of the previous combination sections, squiders, we’re going to divide this into work part-time/kids and work full-time/kids. We’re also going to assume you have childcare worked out, whether a family member is watching the children or they attend daycare.

WARNING: Remember, check regulations and make sure all your work is done before attempting to write during work hours or using work resources.

Part-time work

The problem with part-time work is that it may not always be on a reliable schedule. You may work Tuesday/Thursday/Friday one week and Monday/Wednesday/Saturday the next, or find yourself switching between day time and evening shifts. This can make it hard to reliably schedule in writing, so you might need to find time as you can, or schedule a week at a time.

Several of the techniques we’ve discussed before also work here:

  • Work when your kids work
  • Use your commute (if you have one/use public transportation)
  • Ask the babysitter/daycare if they can keep the kids a little longer (if financially viable)
  • Try to have a night off once a week for writing
  • Work while they sleep

Full-time work

If you work 40+ hours a week, you probably don’t have a lot of time with your kids, so it can be hard to prioritize something that takes you further away from family time. Plus you may have a spouse to maintain a relationship with, or a house to keep up. So how do you stuff writing in?

This can be a good time to look at your writing goals. Do you want to eventually quit your day job and write full time? Do you want something to share with your kids? Is writing something you do for fun?

Once you’ve established what you want out of your writing, it can be good to break your goal down into steps. If you want to release self-published novels every few months, you’re obvious going to have to write more/faster than someone who has a single novel or memoir in them that is less concerned on speed.

And once you’ve broken your goal into steps and determined a vague schedule, you can begin to see how much time you need in a week. (I like to work in weeks at a go; others work in months or even years. Up to you.)

Depending on your goals, maybe you set aside a few hours every Saturday morning to work. You get some work done, and then the kids are up and you can do things with the family. Or, depending on how much energy you have, what your spouse (if you have one) is up to, etc., you can try writing for an hour or so after the kids go to bed.

Remember that you might have built-in time at or around work that you can use as well, such as your commute (if you take public transportation) or your lunch break.

Anything to add about working, having kids, and writing, squiders? We’re almost done. Next week we tackle the ultimate work/school/kids combo.