Friday, March 31, 2006

It's a Mad Mad World

Slashdot's gone...pink? Their marketing department crunched some numbers and "discovered that (their) audience is strangely disproportionately skewed towards males. Like, 98.3% males to be precise."

I guess that their new look is supposed to appeal to the female demographic. Let's look at it like this, if you like ponies, you'll LOVE the new Slashdot.

Happy April Fool's, y'all.

Maia

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Third Draft's A Charm

(AKA: Oh, the lies I tell myself...)

Well, I'm well into my third draft, and my mood varies from foolish optimism to dismal catastrophising (new word!) from day to day. It's an interesting time, though. I'm really glad I only have to do this once per book, but I also doubt that it's quite the same every time. It's just a challenge to be SO close to being finished and still not quite able to make it there. And I'm definitely not there yet.

I decided to do another series of character outlines to help me refine and shade my characters a bit more. Generally, this is done through by creating a backstory for characters through a series of questions.

Holly Lisle, who I've mentioned before, has a good article on character development on her site, as well as a checklist for creating characters. I also add a few other variables to this list, like; what's under your character's bed and in their fridge, how to they dress, what kind of sense of humour they have, any tics or habits, and lastly, how they change during the course of the book, and why.

The point is, naturally, to be sure that I've stayed true to my characters and followed them through through their character arc. By doing this it helps show what I've missed. I've already found out that I have missed some stuff, but it's fixable. (Unlike my book addiction, which continues apace.) I also picked up a book called "Creating Unforgettable Characters" at my latest book buying extravaganza, and it seems excellent so far.

Story is all about conflict and character, and I like reading (and writing) about everyday stuff that everyone can relate to. It's, I think, an interesting challenge to write - convincingly - about why you're going to leave your partner/husband/wife, etc. when all they did was screw up your plane tickets.

Speaking of plane tickets, I think that The Amazing Race is - if you'll excuse the redundancy - an amazing place to look for conflict and characters. The Amazing Race, if you haven't heard of it, deals with the seemingly mundane subject of personal relationships and international travel. Throw in sleep deprivation and wacky tasks and you end up with a truly impressive level of conflict. They've had contestants so evil that they got death threats after the show was over. And it all deals with seemingly innocuous stuff that really can bring the average Joe/Jane to tears; I once put my head down on a check-in desk in Helsinki and took some quiet time, after being informed that I had been put on standby. This was the last straw in a very long chain of events, and ten years later I still remember it vividly.

And in another entry in my "gee, maybe I'm not co-ordinated" file, I'm currently reading through a copy of "In Cold Blood" that was published in the late 60's. It managed to last 35 years with the dust jacket, and I ripped it right off the second time I picked it up. I'm...not good.

On a happier note, it's beautiful here today - I hope the sun is shining where you are too.

Cheers,
Maia

Thursday, March 23, 2006

ME ME ME!

I've heard back from the freelance editor that I hired. Unfortunately, it was not as positive as I had hoped it would be. She did have some excellent suggestions that will be easy to implement and will definitely strengthen the story, which I'm very thankful for. She also liked the ending, which is nice, since I *really* worked my arse off on it.

On the not so great side, she thinks that the middle is weak; specifically the crisis point - the point that the whole book turns on. On the bright side, she said that this is common with new writers. Back to the not-so-great side, some of her commentary makes me think I just haven't gotten my story across the way I wanted to, which is depressing after so much work.

I took about five pages of notes from our discussion, but my handwriting is cartoonishly gargantuan, so it's likely only about a page or so typewritten. (This was just a read-through, not a full edit.) That's not so bad, really.

I know that hiring freelance editors is sometimes seen as controversial, and I'll likely blog more about this in the future. From my perspective I think it can be a useful tool, particularly on a first novel, and particularly since the market is so competitive. I have other readers who are really excellent, and a few other reader/victims lined up to read the third draft, but they have to be nice to me, if they expect to come sailing with me. It's nice to have someone impartial take a run at it; kind of like novel-writer couples' counseling. (Right now, my novel isn't speaking to me, but I'm hoping to open up a dialogue.)

At the end of the day, I'm betting that this is a fairly normal part of the process and I just need to sit down and work out my problems. I guess that I just feel pretty discouraged right now. Things just don't seem to be going well generally, my laptop is almost unusable since I installed a new hard drive in it, and...well. You get the picture.

I'm going to focus on my third draft for the next 2 or 3 weeks, so I'll be bumping my posting down to Thursdays only for the next while. Of course, if it comes to light that Frey is going to write a new book about....anything, really - I'll definitely whip up some Estosnark.

Cheers,
Maia

Monday, March 20, 2006

Winterlicious

It's sad but true, winter is over. Well, it was bitterly cold on the weekend, but all of the rain and warm temperatures lately have ruined the good part of winter; skiing.

I'm one of those immensely irritating people who love winter. I wasn't always like this - as a teen I skied quite a bit in Quebec, but for ten years after I moved to Toronto I stayed indoors in the winter, putting nose prints on my windows from all the checking to see if it was spring yet. When I did venture outside I spent most of my time grumbling about having to wait in bus shelters designed by people trying to maximize the amount of wind going up my skirt. It was miserable.

Then I fell in love with a man with a car who wanted to go skiing on one of the tiny molehills around Toronto. Once I snapped my feet into my rentals and did one run, I was hooked again.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, I'm an avid skier, or as avid as it's possible to be when you live in the flatlands of Ontario, and I find skiing to be one of the most inspirational things in my life. There's a vitality in skiing, in putting my energy out there in a way I don't normally. It's amazing how often a bit of dialogue pops into my head, or a solution on how to fix a problematic scene comes to me when I'm looking down from the top of a run. As a nerdlet and writer - both of which demand a lot of time sitting on my arse - I tend to get my thinking in a bit of a rut; skiing helps shake that up.





At the risk of being photo-albumy, this is a shot of me at Whistler last year. It's hard not to get inspired with this kind of scenery...





I'd LOVE to do a book about a city girl who chucks it all and heads out to Whistler to be a ski bum, but then finds out she can't ski well enough to cut it. I'd give anything to be able to write off that kind of research...

On another note, I've always thought that there's a different flavour to life in Canada in the winter, a different energy and, certainly, a different lifestyle. I find it a challenge to write in opposite times of the year - hard to get into the Christmas spirit in June, hard to think about patios - in a realistic way, not a delusional one - in January. Spring and fall are always a bit of a paradigm shift for me, so I'm at loose ends a bit, these days.

Of course, sailing season is just around the courner...

Cheers,
Maia

Edited to add: Bestseller Tess Gerritsen blogged on "Writer's Anemia" this week, which ties into the whole skiing/recharging/inspiration thing I was talking about. Of course, she does it better :)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Yeah, it's been that kind of a week....

I'm in the midst of a five alarm migraine and heading out of town until Monday, so my ode to snow is going to have to wait a few days.

Cheers,
Maia

Monday, March 13, 2006

Hanging on to Winter...

Since I'm depressed that winter is pretty much over (that's right - depressed!), today I'm going to direct everyone to JA Konrath's excellent post about blogging at: http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=11291165&postID=114226624553067025

Thursday: I explain my obsession with winter and the white stuff.

Cheers,
Maia

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Quincy vs. Star Wars

I must admit, I have a weird thing for 70's shows. When I was working at an answering service to support myself during university (and no, this wasn't in the 50's) I did homework and watched TV between taking messages. There were a lot of 70's crime shows on when I worked, and I got hooked on Quincy, MacMillan and Wife, the Rockford Files - shows I had never seen before. (Turns out I'm a sucker for TV where people don't look or act like wind up toys; I'd take the delightfully full-of-flaws MASH characters over Friends any day).

Since I'm a hermit I often work from home, and around lunch time I tend to put Quincy on in the background. Yesterday, the show was centered around two teens driving home from an all night party, both drunk as proverbial skunks. An accident ensued - naturally - and the mystery ended up being trying to figure out who the actual driver was. During the investigation Quincy consulted a computer geek whose specialty was the *cough* "cutting edge" field of accident scene recreation, using what looked like prehistoric computer imaging. The computer graphics used were a monochromatic rectangle for the car and a series of dashes for the road, sort of like an automotive version of Pong. In the end, it turned out that the survivor hadn't been driving the car. Hallelujah!

I also have to admit that I have a a thing for Star Wars. (Well, up until the recent ones). As I was watching the show I was hit by the thought that George Lucas would laugh his arse off if he saw the pitiful special effects. In interviews George has waxed enthusiastically about the triumph of making Jar Jar's robe flow in a completely life-like way as he walked. Jar Jar, who is easily one of the most reviled characters in movie history. Who the hell cares what his robe was doing when his very presence took the viewer out of the story? When his character was so poorly drawn that instead of being sucked into the conflict you wanted to punch him? One has to assume that George is so embroiled in special effects creation at this point that he needs some kind of intervention - the kind where someone takes his CG software away and gives him a stern talking-to. (Man, I'd love to be there for that).

Do special effects in today's TV and movies help tell the story? As over the top cheesy as Quincy is, the characters all have heart, they're well established and definitely not propped up by special effects; for my part, I'm able to connect with the story in a way that I often don't these days with movies, or TV. Seriously, I could care less that the volcano scene in Star Wars III took nine months to put together. The acting was gawdawful and the characters were laughable. (Am I the only one that wanted to give Anakin a time out instead of seeing him as the embodiment of evil?)

In the end, it's character and conflict that drive the story. I did some digging around about creating characters and came across Holly Lisle's great article on this subject. I have to say, I read this ages ago - when I had finished the first draft of my book and was starting the second. The points she makes resonate even more strongly with me today, and I'll definitely keep them in mind as I'm writing my next. Right until I need to blow up the Death Star, of course. Then it's CG all the way.

Cheers,
Maia

Monday, March 06, 2006

Rejection...and then some

Last week I made a foray into the local Office Depot to collect supplies for my upcoming query-a-thon. It came to a whopping $92, and I was reminded of the post I saw on www.rejectioncollecion.com where the author was complaining about how they didn't have the money to send out material that wasn't returned even when a SASE was included. My thought at the time was that if a writer can't afford to print and mail out their work, they might be in the wrong field. But now after my $92 trip, I realize that they were totally right! Or not. On the bright side, I really like the paper I got; blindingly white.

Rejectioncollection.com is a very interesting website. First, I have to say that I can understand how difficult it is to be harshly rejected by someone who you look up to. Certainly, some of the letters that agents and publishers send out are written with a dollop of pure evil, and some are downright unethical. I can also understand the frustration of writers who are trying to break into an insanely competitive industry, but the reasoning behind some of the writers' viewpoints and actions just escapes me.

For example, why would a writer want their manuscript to be returned after being handled by the post office and a bevy of agents, publishers, etc.? Do they actually want to send it out again? Books are meant to be read; on the subway, while eating Timbits, while waiting for the doctor. And I won't even tell you how many times I've dropped a book in the bathtub, cause as I've covered earlier, I'm...not good. In short, a manuscript is going to be manhandled. A SASE is for responses. Agents and publishers might well return the MS if you include enough postage, and an envelope big enough, but I can't imagine what you'd do with it at that point. Send the manuscript out with Timbit prints all over it? Oy.

As I read through the submitted rejections, I was struck by the fact that the Rejecters (which kind of sounds like some kind of evil supervillian...but I digress) really couldn't do the right thing. If there was a brief "no thanks" or a form letter sent, the recipient wanted a personalized note, if there was a scribbled note, the recipient was upset they didn't warrant a form letter. Obviously, rejection can be hard to deal with- no matter how it's couched, but I don't think that writing back to a Rejecter rejecting their rejection is going to get you published. It will likely get you on some kind of a list, though.

Cheers,
Maia

Saturday, March 04, 2006

New Website

As you can see, the format for the blog has changed - the website is also now up and running. Feel free to stop by and take a look.

Thanks again to Sandy Law for all her help.

Cheers,
Maia

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Blogstrike!

Well, not really. I've just been up to my eyeballs in work - real work - and haven't had a chance to write today's blog. It'll be there on Monday, I swear.

Cheers,
Maia