2017 in Review

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With 2017 ready to bow out and 2018 coming to invade, I think I can honestly say that this past year was a good one.

Personally, and I’ll keep it short since this blog is mostly about my hobbies, was pretty good. The wife and I bought a big dumb house (hooray mortgage) that we pretty much redid (painting really blows). The big dog ended up having heartworms, so yeah, that was fun. While the little one had to get gnarly teeth pulled. Other than spending a metric shit ton of money this year, all in all, it went swimmingly. Oh, and I added to my anime-inspired tattoo sleeve – added Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke to my Cowboy Bebop. Next up: Neon Genesis Evangelion.

I’ll leave my writing for the last since that’ll be the longest. In terms of my other hobbies I tend to blog about – I’ve seen/read some badass things this year. From movies to TV shows to books, I can say with aplomb this year was excellent. Now I know that I should have done some more blogs this year about all of the things aforementioned, but sometimes I didn’t want to spoil things (aka The Last Jedi, Stranger Things 2). So I might do a post about them this coming year.

I have a new favorite show: The 100. I seriously don’t know how I missed it until this year, probably the whole YA/CW stigma. But damn, this show is amazing and gets better with each season. One of my other favorite shows, Halt and Catch Fire, ended this year and I am super sadface. I will say that this season was stunning and one character’s death was probably the most well done TV death I have ever seen. Just beautiful. Emotional.

I’d have to say IT was probably the single best movie I saw all year. It (pun intended) was just perfect. It had everything – tension, drama, scares, humor, teenage angst. I just flat out loved it from start to finish. I’ll stand by it, but I loved The Last Jedi (come fight me bro). TLJ really flipped the Star Wars world on its collective head and I loved every minute of it. OK not every minute because that one scene with that one character (we all know what I’m talking about) was very cheesy. And I don’t care if people hate it, I loved it. It’s no Empire, but definitely up there with the best of them. Some of my other top films seen this year were VVitch, Thor: Ragnarok, and Blade Runner 2049.

This year, my goal was to read 30 books. While I didn’t reach that goal, I did finish with a respectable 27.5 (still reading that other half but won’t finish prior to year end). A few of those books were rereads (Elantris, Watership Down, Voyage of Jerle Shannara) but most were brand new. Majority of them were fantasy, but I did dip my toe into YA this year (more on that later). A couple of them are beta reads for critique partners, but I’m counting those because they are full manuscripts. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t been published because someone took the great effort to write them (both were excellent btw). I’d say Blood Song and Nevernight were the top two new books read this year. I will admit, I had to put down three others due to first person POV, I just have such a hard time with 1st person. So hard.

Now to the meat of this year end review – my own writing.

2017 was illuminating for a multitude of reasons. I know I don’t know shit, but I feel like this year really helped clean the muck off so to speak. At the tail end of 2016, I worked with an agent/editor on my passion project. After he lovingly tore it apart, I truly came to understand what the story needed to become – albeit to a point. I spent years writing this thing and in one fell swoop, I learned my story was trite and boring. Overdone. It was disheartening to hear it. But ever the optimist (hey I’m a Chicago Cubs fan so back off) I set my mind to fixing this story of Brynn and Hunter, vengeance v. duty of faith. Long story short, I thought I fixed this story. But I was wrong.

Something just didn’t feel right about it. I changed many things: the setting, the religion, the magic system, points of view. But it still didn’t feel complete. And then I went to my first writer’s conference. Though I grew up in the shadow of Chicago, there really wasn’t a huge writing fellowship, a group of fellow writers. Twitter has really helped grow my world in that manner, but the big thing was moving to Texas. The Writers League of Texas is amazing. I won’t stroke the ego anymore than this, but joining the WLT has been a boon. And their annual conference really helped a ton. I met some great writer friends and had some interesting ideas pop into my head.

You know how they always say you should listen to your wife, well in this case, I should have. Even though she hasn’t read much of my writing (waiting until I’m satisfied with the story) she has always said my style is very YA. So after hearing this and talking about my story at the conference, I came to the revelation it should be YA. I did the edits, toned things down, de-aged the characters, all the fun YA stuff. The story really did pop more. But, I still wasn’t comfortable with it.

I know YA is trending toward more adult themes like sex and violence, but even with toning the story down, it didn’t feel right. I have a creepy sick villain and he had to be taken out in the YA version. That didn’t sit well with me. My main character, Brynn, likes to swear (same with a sky pirate). I didn’t want to lose all of that. But I tried. So I ended up taking the darker parts/characters/plots out and went to put that into a separate book. Nearly finished with that book. But always in the back of my noggin was the original plan for my trilogy. I couldn’t shake it.

And then came the true enlightenment. And it came while playing Final Fantasy IX (of all things).

If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing that game, I highly suggest it. The reason that game inspired me was the whole package it contains – humor, tragedy, tension, rage, friendship, love, idea of self, fast pacing, darkness. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is my story contains all of that. Yes, I tend to write more YA, but the story has to have that darkness to it, that grimness. It has to be dense, fully fleshed out, the world-building has to be adult level. But that doesn’t mean my YA writing can’t fit into that mold. They can co-exist. And then I remembered something that agent/editor said to me – I can write different characters or scenes using different genres. For example, my main characters of Brynn and Hunter can stay more YA style. It fits them. It always has. Minus the swearing by Brynn. My soldier character is definitely grimdark. He sees so much violence, commits violence and has a bleak outlook on life, wavering confidence in his honor. My villain was written to be more like a horror character, especially because he deals with the supernatural. Top it off, I changed the setting again, took the premise of my magic system from a separate WIP, changed some POVs, took out a YA character and gave her a complete separate story. Now I think I’m finally satisfied on where the story sits.

To put all that into perspective, none of this would have come about if I didn’t open myself up to other writers. I have 4 excellent CPs. One (Amanda) I met at the conference, and the other 3 (Claire, Lana, Dewey) via Twitter. What has really helped me the most is by reading their stories. Amanda writes YA fantasy about mermaids and Atlantis. Lana about Slavic mythology and witches (in YA first person no less). Dewey writes Middle Grade adventure/fantasy. And Claire does YA fantasy/sci-fi. Out of all four of them, Claire’s stories are the ones I would veer toward normally. And that is the beauty of having CPs. I’m getting a chance to broaden my horizons, read different types of stories and viewing them in a different mindset than just plan ole reading them. Working with CPs gives the opportunity to read someone else’s story, but also provide constructive feedback, in addition to receiving it. Seeing these other genres/stories has opened my eyes to what my own story is missing. The ideas just won’t stop. I even bring a critical eye to published authors works, see what they did, how it works. It has been amazing to have this transformation and it has really set me up for success that I didn’t have in the past.

Also, even if they don’t read this, I really just wanted to give a massive shout-out to Amanda, Claire, Lana, and Dewey! Thank you all!

Even though my goal for 2017 was to get on the path to publication, I think I can say I achieved it. Sure I haven’t scored an agent, but damn, they would’ve had a shitty story. I know that what I learned this year has set me up for success this coming year. My goal for 2018 is to land that agent. Without all the growth this year, I know it never would have happened.

Bring on 2018!

Writing Thoughts: On Creator’s Block…

So, where do I stand with my writing? That is a tricky question to say the least. And I’m not sure where I want to start (literally and figuratively)

I say this because my head is being torn in three (maybe even four places).

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After I went to the writer’s conference a few weeks ago, I was deadset on changing my passion project trilogy to Young Adult. Young Adult is hot right now and my writing of my main character tended to fit that mold well. So, I jumped in and edited it to YA. It wasn’t all that difficult to do.

However, that edit caused me grief. I had to cut points of view characters that I truly loved. The story was about one character with five other main POV in book one alone. I had to cut 3 of those POV and one of them hurt my soul. I have always loved dark, anti-heroes and this one character was a sick bastard that was fun to write, but he didn’t fit my new audience (he was super creepy and sick, so not so good for teenagers!)

But that also meant three other characters in later books that I loved, one of them being a totally not reliable sky pirate. This character was so ridiculous, vain and swear-happy that I was totally bummed to have to cut. Add in two others that were so different as well, and I had the makings of a separate work.

And throw in working with a critique partner on my just finished completely separate novel and the very early stages of plotting the next one.

And that is where I am in my scatterbrained world…

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I really don’t know which to focus on. Changing to YA isn’t going to take me that long, but it isn’t going to take all that much to tie together my cut characters into a new story, just a few changes and few chapters to tie it all up. But which to do first?

I have a couple of critique partners and one is super hyped about the sky pirate work, but she is also working on my YA story (while I work on hers) and I don’t want to overwhelm her.

I guess my problem is that I think both books would work well separately. The YA book is obviously toward YA audience and the sky pirate toward adult. But the YA is, like I said, my passion project for years. However, I think the sky pirate one will pick up easily enough since its arc is interesting and the main POV is so enjoyable. I also obviously want all my books to ultimately succeed, I just need to find a way to make them all soar.

Which is why my head is near exploding with how to organize it all, good thing I do project management professionally…

The Writing Process: Querying & Rejection

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Since this subject is of recent interest to me, I wanted to dive deeper into what I think is the most difficult part of the publishing industry – Querying.

So the manuscript is done – at least as far as you can take it – and you want to move onto the next step, which is finding an agent or publisher. The next step is to write a query. The dreaded query letter is something that I don’t enjoy, or enjoy doing.

But let me step back a for a few here. Using my own experiences (limited as they are) a writer who is ready to query is only ready when the story is done. But that isn’t always true. You see, when you finish the story, you probably have to go back and re-edit the crap out of it. Most completed stories are nothing but a first draft. It needs polish, it needs substance. So it is important to remember that the time for querying is when the story is as good as you can make it.

The story is done, what next? Well this is where the suck comes in, it is time to research for agents. This isn’t all that difficult if you follow websites such as Writer’s Digest or QueryTracker. These sites give all sorts of good advice for searching for agents. No that isn’t the fun part, the fun part is actually going to the agent sites and seeing what they are looking for. And this is tedious if you are writing in a specific genre. It takes a ton of time to find a list of agents.

Yet, that isn’t the true suck – which is the art of writing the query itself. A query is the one page pitch to an agent discussing your work. You are so suped up by your work you can’t wait to tell everyone in the world about it, but then you have to sit down and write it out into three or four paragraphs without spoiling everything. What in the name of everything good is that? It is so hard to boil down a story, especially when you have so much to share with it. The same goes with the damn synopsis page.

All that said, it does take time and it can suck to do. But when your are done, you feel great. You feel enthusiastic, you feel excited that you are finally going to get that agent. It is a strange catharsis you feel when you press that send button. All that hard work, all that effort.

It all hinges on that SEND button.

Then reality comes to bite you in the backside. This industry is so subjective that 99 out of 100 agents are going to reject your story. Hell, those numbers are probably too low as it is. You get that gut-punch email in your inbox saying the agent is not the right one for it. And you feel nothing but pain, anger and devastation. You start to hate your writing, you want to burn everything around you, feel so defeated that you want to give it up and stop writing. Become something else.

But then the emotions all fade and you realize what the Hell were you thinking. It will happen some day, just gotta keep up with the process and move on. This rejection is the form of feedback you need to make your story better. To strengthen those first pages, to fix the voice of the story, alter the audience group. Makes you realize you still have work to do.

In the end, you will have that better story, but you will have to query all over again…

This is why the hardest part of becoming a published author is the Query Letter. Everything balances atop it like a trapeze artist, danger on all sides, but if you make it to the end, the audience will applaud like mad. The key is to remember that not every person has the makeup to be a trapeze artist, or the wherewithal to write a completed book.

A Conference RE-cap

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This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the 2017 Writer’s League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference held in Austin, TX. Let’s just say up front that my first writer’s conference was something – completely lacking a good set of words to describe it.

I went into the weekend not exactly knowing what to expect. And my expectations turned out to be true, both good and bad. Let me be frank, I didn’t think there wasn’t anything bad about the conference, but there were things that didn’t work for me.

The first day was all about focusing on our pitch. For those not in the writing world, a pitch is a way to describe our story to agents & editors. Humans do it everyday, we talk to friends about shows we watched, movies we saw, stories we read, food we ate. All of those are pitches. The basics are simple, or so we should think…

But pitching is not easy when you want someone to truly like your story enough to get it to a publisher. The first day was all about working on those pitches with members of the writing community and “experts.” I will say this, and this rings true about the industry as a whole, the advice given in these sessions are too broad and don’t work for everyone. For example, I chose to pitch my standalone story that I just finished as opposed to my trilogy. Why, I don’t really know, but it was the choice I made. And because I write in fantasy, these “experts” told us to build the setting into our pitches. Well that was counter to what I planned. So on day 2 when I had a one-on-one consultation with an agent, I took their advice. Well that backfired. The agent told me I should have led with the characters first. LIKE I ORIGINALLY PLANNED………

After being annoyed and let down that morning, the rest of the weekend went great. Saturday and Sunday were full of panels and short courses. Some of the panels had writers & agents discussing subjects. Personally, I felt these were not as strong as the short course classes. Those classes I actually learned something useful as opposed to how someone else got their dues.

Let me ask a question. How do you make hundreds of introverts even more uncomfortable? You have a mixer.

I jest with that, but it does have some truth to it. Most writers, I have found along my journey, tend to be a bit more introverted than extroverted. We live in our own worlds most of the time and aren’t always socially acceptable. So I thought it funny at this mixer because you can see all the wallflowers looking lost like the nerds at prom that don’t have dates.

I’d say the most important thing that happened this weekend was meeting a few fellow writers that I connected with. I even found a critique friend that is locale writing in the same genre as me. I think that makes the weekend a success overall.

Now that I have one of these in the bag, I have my work cut out for me if I want my stories to get published. This next coming year is going to be fun.

Writer’s League of Texas 2017 Conference

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This upcoming weekend is the 2017 version of the Writer’s League of Texas Agents and Editors conference. A yearly event bringing professionals from the industry together.

For me, this is my first ever writing conference. I am both nervous and excited. When I first moved to Texas last year, I was amazed to find this writing group. People from all over the state are part of this group and I think it is an awesome way to bring aspiring authors together.

I am eager to learn what the craft/business sessions have to offer. I want to connect with other authors that are going through the same growing pains I am. To be able to meet others that have the same passions as I do will be a good thing for me.

Sure I will be there to pitch my stories to potential agents, but this whole weekend is more about learning and growth. I know I don’t know enough and this weekend will help me put some of those puzzle pieces together.

Look for a full recap of the weekend next week. If there are people going to this event, I would love to meet up!

The writing process: Developmental Edits pt. 1

typewriter-1144164-639x426It has been awhile since I have blogged about my actual writing. It isn’t because I haven’t been writing (I have, back off!) but more so I was waiting until I was done with what I was working on to comment. The last month or so, I have been doing a developmental edit on my fantasy series, in particular the first book Longinus Unbound. I will divide up this whole process into parts because there was a lot done to cover in one post.

Now, this process has been an interesting one. The reason I started a developmental edit was that I actually paid a professional (a pro agent and editor) to go over my manuscript with a viscous and critical eye. I found this gentlemen via the Writer’s Digest bootcamp I did back in October. And let me just say up front, this was worth the money!

I’m sure all you fine writers out there understand what a developmental edit is, but for those who don’t, basically it boils down to having a person who understands your genre very well read the manuscript and give honest critical feedback. Some of the things they touch on are line edits, setting, pace, tension, flow and overall feelings.

For me, this was important. Writing in SFF, the genre is pretty open, but also constricting in terms of setting, plots and systems. I had my original manuscript edited by a dear friend, but she doesn’t read this genre, so it was more of a line edit and grammar check. While incredibly helpful, I needed someone from the source who could tell me how much my writing sucked (he said it didn’t, so for that I am grateful!).

However, he was able to pick out the flaws of my writing, specifically the areas in which the book falls flat. Before I go into what I changed and why, I will say that after listening to him and reading his notes, the areas he wanted to see me work on were definitely in need of some editing/re-writing. Most of it revolved around my main POVs, mostly because they were written years ago. This gentlemen enjoyed my side characters more because their stories were better written, and this is because I added them later/recently with more flair and better writing.

First, my main female character Brynn, my main male character Finn and my second main female character Hunter all needed some changing. Brynn and Finn were too stereotypical heroes. Yes, they had flaws, but I didn’t make their flaws stick too long, derail them too much. They didn’t fester too much to give a bigger sense of urgency, sense of tension. Main characters need this to have a successful story.

Brynn was a stock princess character, a badass with magic and one that had the fortitude to go on the journey the plot needed. However, even though I made her a lesbian character (mainly because I use religion and this comes to the fore in the second and third books, not because I wanted to spice it up like a fanboy), Brynn wasn’t all that special, merely a vessel for the plot to move forward. Speaking with the editor, he pointed out that the protagonist needs some reason to go on the journey, mentally and physically and that readers want people to relate to. I had thought Brynn was this way, but I realized she was only partly there, she needed some oomph (however it is spelled). Since my setting contains major steampunk vibes, I decided to alter her from a typical princess to more of an outcast in her family – she is a gearhead, swears a ton, loves to learn about everything, skeptical of the magic she can use, not a true believer in the Church, trusts easily at the beginning and once betrayed, becomes a hardened character. I also changed the gradual reveal of her preference for women to be at the beginning, not as I had it when she first met Hunter. All of these changes made Brynn a robust character, flawed and capable, hopeful and sorrowful. She is the hero of my trilogy and she needed to be the strongest character I write (which I can say from later books, she certainly became one due to my writing getting better).

One thing that I needed to change was less badass characters and more human characters. My main party was all badasses. Making Brynn less open to using her magic helped that, but changing Finn was the key to that success. I completely removed him as a POV character, giving his scenes to his sister Hunter and some to Brynn. This allowed me to make Finn complex. He had a rough backstory, but instead of having the reader be in his mind, I took that out of view. The readers now have to put the puzzle of Finn’s contradicting emotions together from the views of others. It made him easier to write this time around. Finn is a heroic character, but he was betrayed in the past, banished from his army life, and the chosen of the magical Longinus blade. While it was originally fun to write how the power of the blade takes over Finn, it was even more interesting to have other characters view his change, because it makes Finn more unstable, his actions less expected. Finn, the drawn character, the deep character, the open, yet closed off character, all comes out now because we aren’t in his mind.

Hunter wasn’t changed all that much, but one thing I did alter was making her be more secretive with her knowledge. A true believer in the Church, Hunter’s arc was always to follow the religious aspect, but being a lesbian contradicted her beliefs. I added Hunter to the story way after the original manuscript was written so I had more opportunity to create and develop Hunter as a complex person who was struggling with the choice of belief vs her heart’s desire (in this case Brynn). But by making her be a manipulator of others – especially Finn – puts Hunter into even further shades of grey characterwise. Hunter has clairvoyance, almost like Min from WoT, and I brought that to the fore in this new edit. She uses people to get what she wants, as opposed to just being able to see what others are thinking. And this manipulation has cost her, it makes other characters harsher on her, makes her more deplorable and less honorable than she previously was. This helps create not just tension among the main party, but also makes her difficult choice of religion vs love even that more difficult for her.

One of the biggest changes to the characters in this book was the combination of what was once book 1 and book 2 of a four part series. I melded those books together to create one book and now a trilogy. The new book is called The Fallen Unbound (a combination of the two titles). I will go into more detail on the combination, but for this part, I now have my Ashe character back in book 1.

Ashe, a teenage street urchin, is one of my favorite characters. In this book, she doesn’t interact with the other characters but very very briefly, but she plays an important role in the rest of the series. The reason I love Ashe so much is that she is a commoner, a person without skill (minus being a street rat, which come on, is a heroic thing in itself!), someone who doesn’t understand the greater world around her. She is a character that the readers can relate to easily enough. I enjoy Ashe, I love writing her and it made me happy to bring her back in the first book, instead of her being in the second book.

The editor thought my three side characters, Marcard, Evander and Darko, were all more interesting than my main party. These guys were different in many ways and had lived completely different lives, while also being entertaining. Marcard is a military man, straightforward and to the punch. He didn’t change all that much, but I highlighted his loyalty conundrum even more in these new edits, while also making him more gruff. Evander is a sick bastard with devious thoughts. He is really the villain of the whole series and I made him even more the bad guy. In what was book 2, he becomes quite powerful, but in the first book, he kinda disappeared after a while because he was in captivity. So in this new edit, he escapes and does what he did in that book 2. He becomes even more an asshole and darker as a character. Darko didn’t shift much, but I did make him a little bit more conflicted on his choices.

Overall, the characters were some of the biggest changes I had to make with this edit. They needed polishing, needed more complexity, needed more secrets, more distractions, more tension. And I think I accomplished that pretty well with this first round of new edits. I know there is more to be done with them, but that will come soon enough.

The next post will bring up the other changes I made regarding setting, religion and magic.

Thoughts on writing: A whole new world…

dsc_6051Last year I finished writing my fantasy series after a decade of toil. It isn’t published yet (goal of the year!) but I have moved on from it for the time being- for the most part that is. I still have plans of doing some edits and like I said, it is my goal of 2017 to get this thing either published or on the road to publishing, whether it is traditional markets (preferred) or self-published.

That said, I have stepped away from that world I had spent so much time in. I wandered and meandered my way through that world for ten years and created some lasting memories with the setting and the characters that I will never forget. But it was time to step away for a bit and see what else there is out there. Although, I know I will be going back to that world shortly when I do some hack-n-slash with a broadsword to it, but that is a post for another day…

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This leads me to where I am currently. The world is called the Crystalium and it is governed by a Godking that breathes energy into the Crystal of Life. From the Crystal of Life come the 11 Crystals of Power and each crystal is kept in the protection of the 11 Queendoms. Only women can use magic, aside from the Godking, that comes from runes created from the shards of the crystals of power. The Godking only has twenty-five years of service to the Crystal of Life before he dies and the duty must pass on to one of his sons from the realms of the Crystals of Power. The current Godking only has one month left of service and his chosen heir has been murdered, this is where the story begins.

This world is completely different from the world of the Dies Irae that I just left. What is amazing about the SFF genre is that each story can be set in a different world, whereas contemporary works must be in the real world. I enjoy these other worlds with different rules and peoples. The world of the Dies Irae was one of religion and history based from the real world. The world of the Crystalium is nothing of that. Its God is the Crystal of Life and the Crystals of Power. The histories are stark changes from one another. Their peoples are different and the Queendoms of the Crystalium are detailed and as different from one another as the two worlds are.

The thing that separates the worlds are its people and places. Within the Dies Irae, it was based on our world, but far into the future. An event happened that caused the world to be altered and the people who rose from the ashes were reshaped by their religion and the gift of magic. These people are like us, they live in a world of steam and magic, so there are definitely steampunk attributes. But I also wanted to show this world as a gritty and dark place that our world can be. The people are real, they are dark beings with inner demons and the world they inhabit, though can be saved, is a dark place. Magic can sustain them, but there is also mistrust of its users. Science once destroyed this world and people are wary of anything relating to advanced science. There are wraiths, demons and the ascension of spirits from the underworld, but it is the people who drive this story. Each character has some sort of darkness within them, though others hide it better than the rest.

In the Crystalium, the world isn’t as dark, though I can’t steer away from a little darkness…The Crystal Queens are as different from one another as the crystals themselves. The range of personalities in human-kind fits a broad spectrum of strengths and weaknesses, and these are brought out by the Crystals of Power. My three main protagonists couldn’t be more different, but none of them are as dark and brooding as the world of the Dies Irae. I wanted to keep this story and its characters grounded, but they also have this strength of a strict magic system with consequences and outcomes. Though there is still war and death, the scope of this story is fairly narrow  (hence only 3 POVs vs the Dies Irae’s 18).

As a writer, it is the best part of the job: creating these worlds. With SFF books, to make the world work, you need to be detailed about the people and the places within it. That is where the creativity becomes paramount. Though fun, it is also time-consuming and arduous. I bring this up because leaving the world of the Dies Irae for the Crystalium has been a task that I find interesting and strange. The Dies Irae was an old friend at this point. I knew the people, I knew the places, their histories, I mean I was in that world for ten years. I just recently entered the Crystalium and introduced myself to it. It is exciting to see where the journey takes me.