Time to make a plan

For the last few weeks I’ve been drifting. I was stuck between writing projects. I couldn’t work out what I wanted to focus on and I felt lost. It’s time to pick a direction and start walking.

I haven’t heard anything from Bloody Scotland so I’m going to assume that they don’t want the story I pitched for Pitch Perfect. Frankly that’s a relief because I didn’t feel ready to finish it. For now Project Cecil can stay on the shelf.

I’ve decided that this year’s NaNoWriMo first draft will be of a story I’m calling Project Academy. It’s another attempt to write some YA (young adult) fiction so I’ll have something that I can share with my kids. I’ve already done most of the pre-November work on this story.

That means that I have until the start of November to work on something else. So I’m going back to Project Kindness, my tale of sexy spies and Celtic gods. I’m sure my beta readers will be delighted*.

I’m aware that for most of my readers this doesn’t really count as a plan. None of this is moving my ‘career’ along. It’s not going to solve any of my real life problems. I admit that I have no idea how to have a ‘career’ and that most of my real life problems are insoluble. I do have the beginnings of a plan for a small part of my real life problems but that is a post for another day.

 

*That was probably sarcasm.

Advertisements

The invisible wall

It feels like there’s an invisible wall between me and my novel. Some part of me doesn’t want to work on it and I’m not sure what it is.

It’s not because I don’t know what to write, or because I’m having plot problems. I know where the story is going and how to write it. It’s not because I don’t like the novel or because I’m tired of the characters. I like it and them as much as I ever have.

It feels like I’m scared of something. Or at least reluctant. Could it be that I’m scared of finishing it because that would mean I’d have to query it and that would mean more rejection?

I’ve invested a lot of hope in this novel. I’m hoping that, because it has a better opening, it will have more chance of attracting an agent. I think the opening is good but it doesn’t solve the problem of writing that doesn’t fit easily into any genre. Agents just don’t seem to be looking for the stories that I write. I’ve been trying to build contacts but so far the contacts that I have don’t link up with the kind of stories that I write.

There’s also the problem of my, apparently, terrible grammar. I say apparently because every grammatical problem that gets pointed out is stuff that I can’t see even after it gets pointed out. I know there are rules to formal english but prose isn’t formal. In prose you’re allowed to break the rules. Unless I’m wrong. Unless I should be following the rules of formal English just so that agents will know that I know what they are. Are agents laughing at my terrible comma usage?

It’s tempting to just give up on the idea of ever getting paid, stick a plain cover on it, self publish and then try to find something else to do with my time. It is just so frustrating to put all this work in on stories that nobody wants to read. I believe in them but I don’t know how to communicate that belief in any useful way.

Reasons why I’m not writing

Ok, technically I am writing because I’m writing this blog post but I should be working on my novel and I’m not because…

In this case I have a very specific plot hole that needs filling. It’s not a plot hole in the ‘oh my God my plot doesn’t work’ sense. It’s the plot equivalent of a pothole in a road. It still needs fixing if I want my readers to have a smooth ride but it’s not major building work.

You’d think that would make it easier to fix, wouldn’t you? Just patch over it with the narrative equivalent of bitchumen and go onto the next scene. But the problem with this sort of fix is that it needs to be seamless. I have to slot a little scene-ette into an already existing scene without breaking the scene or losing the mood.

Specifically I need one character to call another character so that they can have the brief conversation that will signal to the audience that they are moving beyond a disagreement. I can’t skip the scene because it needs to be resolved. I can’t cut out the disagreement because other stuff relies on it. And I can’t work out why that one character would pick up the phone rather than fuming silently about it. She tends to be a self sufficient silent fumer. She needs a reason to call.

My mind is a blank. There are literally millions of things that could precipitate that call but instead of coming up with one my brain is doing the brain equivalent of turning circles on the spot while singing snatches of every song I’ve heard in the last month.

ME: Ok so could she have found something in the files?

MY BRAIN: the last, the last, the last…

ME: But seriously there’s bound to be stuff in there that she’d need to talk about

MY BRAIN: How big, how blue, how beautiful…

ME: That way I could set up the later revelations…

MY BRAIN: Somebody once told me…

ME: Oh for fucks sake

So… Chocolate? I’m thinking chocolate. And possibly booze. And maybe a brain transplant.

 

If you have enjoyed this pointless rant maybe you’d like to support this blog by buying me a coffee with Ko-Fi. Or alternatively today is the last day that you can buy stuff in the Shop of Doom.

Editing hell

That’s where I am right now. Constantly vacillating between, “This line is brilliant, people will be wearing it on T-shirts,” and “This is trash, I am a hack, why did I ever believe otherwise?”

Once again I find myself wondering why I pick such hard stories to tell. Why would I choose to open a story on a scene where a bunch of people who don’t have names (for reasons of plot) are all talking to each other? Also why can’t I just write a normal book? Lots of people write regular mysteries. Or what about a nice historical drama? Or a romance? Why am I writing a spy thriller featuring Celtic Gods?

And why am I trying to get it ready for this pitch event? I’m pretty sure no-one there is going to want it no matter how well I write it. It could be perfect and still be the wrong book for any of the publishers and agents there because it’s just too weird.

At this point I’m fairly sure that I’m only working on it out of stubbornness and a need for purpose.

Everything is feeling a bit pointless at the moment. I spent a year updating this blog three times a week and it doesn’t seem to have resulted in any change in the reader numbers. I spent six months trying to work myself into starting a t-shirt shop and when I finally did, well, I’ve got no idea how to build it as a business and I’ll be closing it at the beginning of next month because I can’t afford to keep it open.

I’m trying to work out how to continue to move forward in a life where everything seems doomed to failure. If you know you’re never going to get anywhere than it should be possible to plan around that. There has to be a way to just do the things that I find satisfying and not care that nobody outside my circle of friends is ever going to see my work.

If you have enjoyed this whine why not buy me a coffee with Ko-fi. Or pop into the Shop of Doom before I have to close it.

Writing Fat Women

Recently on Twitter much fun was had with the idea of women writing ourselves as a male author would. I couldn’t join in because I’m a disabled fat middle aged women and that means I’m invisible to most male authors. And actually a lot of female authors. And when they do write us it’s as comic relief.

I did get to join in with the “write yourself as you would write you” challenge but that left me wondering why I write so few fat characters. I think the truth is that I don’t trust myself to write fat characters. I’m worried that my own body image issues will creep through and I don’t want to put any more fatphobia in the world.

Perhaps I’m also subconsciously feeling like I’m the wrong person to write that kind of acceptance and diversity. I shouldn’t write positively about fat women because I’m a fat woman so it doesn’t count. But if I don’t do it then who will? There’s not a lot of skinny people queueing up to write warmly about fat people. Able bodied people tend not to write about the disabled, particularly not those with chronic pain. And neurotypical people are really bad at writing neurodiverse characters.

But then there’s a part of me that resists that. Don’t I get to write my fantasies of a life without pain, a life of full mobility, a life where I don’t have to spend every waking moment justifying the space I take up? I deal with that shit all day every day and now I have to write about it too? How is that fair?

IMG_0133 (1)

 

If you’re the kind of masochist that enjoyed reading this rant why not buy me a coffee.

Writing a ‘Strong Male Character’

I recently wrote about my current work in progress and how I’d accidentally made my protagonist into a ‘strong male character’, by which I meant that I’d made him into a gender swap of the ‘strong female character’ .

I started out to write a character who was, in part, a satire on male power fantasy characters but re-created for the female gaze. I grew up loving action movies but over time I realised that a lot of the characters I loved were somewhat problematic. They were violent, manipulative misogynists who perpetuated toxic ideas of masculinity. I set out to write a more rounded, less misogynistic character and to reveal what it costs a person to do all that action hero stuff.

In those action movies the female characters seem to be either damsels in distress or ‘strong female characters’. As a kid I hated the damsels but as an adult I’m coming to dislike the SFCs even more. The SFC is strong but that strength is defined by the male gaze. She can kick ass but she has to look good while doing it. If she wears armour then it’s boob plate and if she doesn’t then she’s showing an unnecessary amount of skin. She wears heels regardless of practicality. She has long hair and she doesn’t tie it up before kicking ass and it never gets in her eyes. She may be a-typically feminine but she still has to be decorative.

The SFC has stereotypically masculine skills which have to be explained in the dialogue because it’s totally unbelievable that a woman could fight, or code, or fix a car just because. She is surrounded by men (because she’s the only female character) and must constantly strive to prove herself to them. She has little to no character arc of her own, will help the hero even if it harms her own goals or beliefs and in the pinch she may still have to be saved by the hero. She helps the hero because she loves him and she loves him even if that makes no Goddamn sense.

The SFC is like a fluid that changes shape to fit the gaps in the plot. She’s not a person she’s a plot device with boobs.

My ‘strong male character’ isn’t that bad. For one thing he’s the protagonist so we see things mostly through eyes and he’s the one driving the plot. He’s a ‘men want to be him, women want to be with him’ type character but with the priorities flipped. Though once you find out how damaged he is you might change your mind about that.

So why am I saying he’s a ‘strong male character’ then? Well he is surrounded by women to whom he must constantly prove himself. He looks really good, even under circumstances when he should look terrible. He spends an inordinate amount of time shirtless (which is the female gaze equivalent of artfully torn clothing) and when he’s not shirtless he’s usually wearing tailored suits. When the female characters discuss him amongst themselves it’s in terms of his attractiveness. They’re not exactly objectifying him but they’re not exactly not objectifying him either.

I’m not sure what to do about this. Should I ramp up the ‘strong male character’ stuff as a subversion of the trope or should I continue my commitment to making him as well rounded as possible?

 

If you’ve found this interesting then why not check out this link to a comic on what the sexual objectification of the female gaze might do to a superhero.

And if you’ve enjoyed this post why not buy me a coffee with Ko-fi.

I’m writing the best book ever but it’s trash.

Writing is such a bittersweet experience. I love the novel I’m writing but I’m also sick to the back teeth of it. I adore my characters but I think that most of them are arseholes and I’m killing a lot of them. I think the premise is either brilliant or cringe worthy and sometimes both at once.

My male lead has turned into a ‘strong male character’. That’s like a strong female character only, you know, male. I think that’s a brilliant deconstruction of the genre except when I think it’s lazy and derivative.

I love my opening. Except for when I’m sure that someone else must have done it before and done it better. I love the way my characters are introduced but I’m also sure that it’s taking too long to get to the plot. But I can’t see anything in there that I can cut. But it’s definitely taking too long.

That plot is going to take my characters to some interesting places and I am absolutely sure it sounds properly nuts. No one is going to take me seriously if I send them this but at least it isn’t derivative. Apart from all the bits that are.

Is it too gay? Not gay enough? Is the sex too straight? Should I just cut out all the sex? Should I add more?

AGGGGGGHHHHH!

Writing. It’s so much fun.

 

If you have enjoyed this post then why not buy me a coffee with Ko-Fi?

My tarot deck keeps telling me that I’m trapped by indecision

It’s not wrong.

I have done very little this week except vacillate on the subject of my writing “career” and I’m no closer to a decision than I was last week. I still have a novel that I was querying that I don’t know what to do with. I still have the novel that I was working on that I don’t know if it’s worth finishing. I still have many potential future novels and no idea where I want to go.

Back in 2016 when I pitched my finished novel at XPOnorth it was greeted with a great deal more enthusiasm than I had been expecting. So much enthusiasm that it led me to believe that it was good and that people liked it and that my pitch, and therefore any query letter I wrote based on it, was persuasive.

That was the last time I got any positive feedback from anyone in the publishing industry. Everything since then has been form rejection. If there’s something wrong with my novel then I’ve already blown it’s chances with the best agents to represent it. I have one beta reader telling me that there are massive problems with the first chapter that need to be fixed or I will never sell it and one telling me that it’s okay apart from a couple of spelling mistakes. I’ve got no idea if there are any agents left who’d be interested in it even if I could fix it.

I decided to concentrate on finishing the novel I was working on and then fix the other one later once I’d worked out what I wanted to do. Only now I find that working on this novel seems pointless. It has the same setting as the other one and though I could tweak it slightly and make it the first book set there I’m starting to wonder if the problem is the setting. Or if the problem is me. What if all my books are too wierd? What if they’re just not sellable?

I started thinking that if they are too weird to sell to an agent or a publisher then that’s not necessarily the end. I could self publish. Only I’d be doing it badly because I still can’t afford an editor, or a development editor, or a designer, or cover art.

Maybe the answer is to write stuff that’s less weird. I did try that for NaNoWriMo 2017. I wrote a first draft with nothing magical or supernatural or sci fi. It was ok. I’m not sure the novel has much potential but I wrote it. Maybe I should concentrate on that. It would be much easier for me to break into the industry via crime. But then I would be stuck writing that sort of novel. I’d have built the wrong career.

So what do I do? I’ve got a finished novel that isn’t really finished. A work in progress that might not be worth finishing. A bunch of weird first drafts that I might never be able to interest anyone in. A not weird first draft that I’m not ready to work on and that might be a move in the wrong direction.

Should I just drop the lot of them in a drawer somewhere and try writing something different? Maybe I could write some generic fantasy? Maybe I should give up on selling, give up on re-writing, and just stick them all on the internet for free.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is a right decision or if they’re all equally wrong. I don’t know what I want to do either.

All I know for sure is that I am spectacularly, incandescently, outrageously angry.

The last rejection

Well it’ll be the last rejection for a while at least.

Today I got the form rejection letter from the last agent I queried. I’m not going to query again straight away. I know that the standard advice is to query 100 agents and not to start panicking about your work until you’ve been turned down at least 80 times but I’m not sure there are 80 agents representing Urban Fantasy in the English speaking world. Good agents, anyway. And what’s the point in pissing off potential agents by querying them with a broken novel?

I don’t know if my novel is broken. I’ve had conflicting feedback. I need to think about it for a while. I probably need to sell a kidney so I can afford a development editor to tell me what’s wrong with it.

Or I could stick the whole thing out somewhere for free. Give up on the idea of ever earning anything back for my effort.

Or I could give up on it. Just stick it in a virtual drawer and try something else. I really don’t want to do that because I have plans for the characters and for the world. I have other novels that I’m working on that are linked to it. I wouldn’t just be giving up on that one story but on literally dozens of others.

At the moment I’m trying to work on one of the other stories in the hope that I can pitch that as the first in the series instead. If that one doesn’t work there’s maybe one more that I could use as the starting point but it’s a lot more work and maybe the whole thing is just doomed. Maybe these are stories that would never sell.

Perhaps it’s presumptuous to assume that there is a solution. That would be to assume that I can succeed at something and so far there’s no evidence to support that assumption. I’m not going to stop writing. I have to fill my time somehow. But I might give up on the idea of trying to get anyone else to read what I write.

Review – Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton

This is the second book in a series. I already reviewed the first one, Hell Holes: What Lurks Below. Like the first book this is a fast, exciting read and if you like books in which our world is not as it seems then you will probably like this.

The writer made the bold choice to use a different character as the first person narrator in this book. I think the choice worked to both extend the cliffhanger at the end of the first book and to give a slightly different perspective on the events of the first book.

I don’t like to hand out virtual cookies to male authors for being able to write convincing women. You’re an author. It’s your job.  However I think Donald Firesmith has done an excellent job of writing from a female point of view which is somewhat harder. This narrator has a different narrative voice than the narrator of the first book but the feel of the world of the story remains consistent which is not necessarily an easy feat to pull off.

My only real criticism is that there’s a lot of exposition. I think it’s a mostly unavoidable side effect of being the second book of a series that has a lot of world building going on. At least this exposition is well written and fits naturally into the dialogue scenes. The reader is learning stuff at the same time as the characters are.

All in all an excellent sequel that sets things up well for the third book.

And look at this. A wild link has appeared.

Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton.