Nu Shooz

The seasons are changing, temperatures climbing, my clogs aren’t going to cut it for summer (they’re on their last legs, anyway) and I needed some damn shoes. Certain lifestyle changes have made wearing heels a new possibility. I hadn’t worn them for many years, first for feminist reasons, then for comfort reasons, then for reasons of not wanting to break my blessed neck in the course of a very physical job. The number of pairs of heels that I’ve worn in my life that have been bearable I can count on one hand. However, those few pairs shared some common features (wedges, no higher than 3″, securely-fitting uppers), and I think I’ve found a new pair that encompasses all of them.

New shoes. Neato or Nana? You decide.

The problem, of course, is that when one has a penchant for the practical, and one’s tastes tend toward the Nordic anyway, one always runs the risk of buying Nana shoes. “Would my Nana wear these?” is a question that is always foremost on my mind on the rare occasions that I find myself in a shoe store. So now I put it to you: are these awesome, or are they Nana shoes?

A cracked mind lets in more light

“Thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box,” says Dr Ullén about his new findings.”

Wain's Kaleidoscope Cat, #3 in the series

Thanks to Aleksandr Voinov for this article about the similarity between the brains of “creatives” and schizophrenics. There’s another similar article about “odd behavior” and creativity going hand in hand. And then there’s the field of neurotheology. It blows my mind, the incredible diversity of wiring from individual to individual, and the wonderful ways in which that diversity manifests itself in the world.

Wain's Kaleidoscope Cat, #6 in the series

I’ve always been fascinated by Louis Wain’s kaleidoscope cats. It’s been argued that the pictures depict Wain’s mental deterioration (he was hospitalized for schizophrenia, though Asperger’s Syndrome, toxiplasmosis, and visual agnosia have also been retrospectively theorized). Though there’s no arguing that whatever the truth of Wain’s condition, this series of paintings are arresting, beautiful, and utterly fascinating.

Locking In SpaceTime Coordinates

My WIP has gone through a lot of setting changes. It’s definitely steampunk, so the natural choice was Victorian London. It seemed like a no-brainer, especially considering all the research that I did for AFD.

The problem was that the MC is most decidedly not English. I tried. Not happening. She was very clear about that.

The next attempt was post-apocalyptic desert southwestern U.S. Another no-brainer. I grew up in the desert southwest, and it’s pretty post-apocalyptic as it is. But that just wasn’t it, either. There were a number of similar scenarios, but none of them was a good fit.

Fortunately, setting doesn’t really become important for me until the second draft. The first draft is for hammering the bugs out of the story, making it work, making it tight. And yesterday, I managed to finish the scene that’s been jamming up the works for two weeks. It reads like an auto-summary of a USA Today article, but the events are out of my head and down on paper. Now to finish off the remaining scenes next week and put it to the test.

La Barricade de la Place Blanche Défendue par les Femmes

The timespace I’m eyeing right now is shortly before or shortly after the rise of the Paris Commune. It wasn’t a great time to be a cop, for one thing. By all accounts, the police had fled Paris–as you can imagine, the law enforcement section of an overthrown government would not be popular with the leaders of a populist uprising. I like the idea of setting my MC to her task in a siege environment. Coming from the slums herself, she would naturally sympathize with the uprising. At the same time, she feels duty-bound to uphold justice, and justice, in this case justice means protecting an aristocrat from the mob. What’s that, Mr. Maass? How can we make it worse?

The next task, though, will be to dash off the final three scenes (hoping that none of them proves to be as problematic as the last one) then even out the setting from a conglomeration of three very different, very rough timespace descriptions to something even and neutral.

And then, hopefully in a few weeks, I can dive into a delicious new bout of research and start decorating.

SFD Blues

Now that the initial euphoria of the First Big Sale has worn off, I’ve been trying to get to work on the WIP. It hasn’t been easy. The WIP is in first draft, and first drafts are ugly.

For me, first drafts are about getting the nuts and bolts of the story down, beginning to end. The prose is always terrible. The dialogue, appalling. There is never any setting to speak of. The excitement of a new project ends about halfway into the first draft, and if I don’t push through that horrible last half, it’s over.

I’m 2-1/2 scenes from finishing. This draft will end up about 15K, and then it will go to my group. Hopefully I’ll have some time to do a second draft this summer (research, setting, subplots) before the edits for Porcelain Dog come down from BSB. The third draft will be fun: picking and polishing and making it pretty.

But first I have to push through the last part of this ugly, nasty SFD.

Math Rock

I’ve never been one of those people who can see around the corner to the next trend. I have someone who does that for me, and I provide sandwiches and comic relief. The arrangement works fine for both of us. When it comes to the Bandwagon, I’m usually the one dawdling behind, examining the flowers on the side of the road, long after the bandwagon has disappeared over a hill. Maybe that’s why I write historicals.

Recently I stumbled onto a musical movement called Math Rock. Naturally, it was cutting edge 25 years ago. At that time, I was just discovering the music that had been over at that point for another 25 years. But the Internet is forever, hooray! And I have found a new and interesting treat for my ears.

The basis of math rock is unusual, sometimes asymmetrical time signatures–7/8, 11/8 or 13/8 instead of the usual 4/4 beat we’re all so familiar with. There’s also a liking for start-stop rhythms and the use of instruments to provide texture, rather than melody. It’s pretty awesome. Takes me back to high school, when the band leader introduced us to Dave Bruebeck’s Unsquare Dance in 7/4 time. I had a brief love affair then with time signature experimentation. Never really went anywhere, as music eventually took second fiddle to foreign languages, but it was still fun to play with.

PostHuman

Alex Beecroft recently posted a snip from a talk by Aimee Mullins.

Mullins was born with a disease that led doctors to amputate both legs below the knees when she was a year old. She learned to walk, and eventually to KICK FREAKIN’ ASS on prosthetic legs. Now a former Olympian and a world-record holder in various track events, she owns a number of sets of custom prosthetic legs, which give her five different heights, super-powers of jumping, and other abilities. She views her prosthetics not as fixes, but as augmentations.

This is unbelievably cool on its own, but also because this is one of the ideas that I’m looking at in my current WIP. One of the MCs is a physician, who starts a fad for prosthetic augmentation. She herself has several augmentations, which came about as a result of injuries. However, the character doesn’t relate to her world as “disabled,” but rather as augmented–much like Mullins.

I liked how Mullins described the way she relates to the world as a “conversation,” and how the “conversation” has changed for her, from being about limitations to being about super-powers. It’s an excellent clip. Watch it if you have the time.

Mad for Plaid

From time to time, a fabric really grabs me. Call it love. No, call it infatuation, because as soon as I’ve worked with it for a while, something shinier catches my eye and I move on. My fabric-fetishes are a little unusual, I’ll admit. Nothing so cliché as silk or velvet. I tend to go for the butch end of the spectrum: the muscular workhorse fabrics that people take for granted–the reliable fabrics that don’t complain about doing the heavy lifting, and won’t let you down in a rainstorm. The kind of fabric that could bust you out of a third world prison, and make you look good doing it.

FYI, some of the handbags are for sale at my shop. Others have been sold. I’m happy to take custom orders.

(1) Corduroy – The first one was corduroy. As strong as denim, but a little more interesting. At first, one might think of the pants that all the geeky kids wore in the ’70s and shudder. But there’s nothing like the texture of corduroy: soft yet durable, textured yet utterly touchable. Add a delicate pattern, and it’s downright sensuous.

Three Corduroys Quilt

(2) Canvas – Oh, I love canvas. Specifically, natural-colored canvas, perhaps tea-dyed to give it that afternoons-in-the-workshop look. Canvas and I aren’t done with each other yet. I’ve still got some messenger bag designs on the brain, and maybe when the WIP is off to the crit group at the end of the month, I’ll get cracking on them.

Made-to-order Explorer’s Vest, tools included

Convertible messenger-clutch

Amelia Earheart Bag

(3) Brown Denim – Almost as tough as canvas, and looks better spray-painted. Much better. And if you’re thinking about using the extra-speshul non-toxic spray-style paint because it’s non-toxic? Don’t waste your money. Suit up and use the real thing.

Convertible clutch-messenger

This Bag Tells Time

Right now I’m doing some very girly things with upholstery fabric, lace doilies made by my distant relatives, and a handful of brass octopi. And I’m mad for anything plaid. But soon some other Clydesdale of a fabric will grab my eye, and I’ll make something awesome out of it.

Announcement!

Contracts are signed, information is up at the publisher’s website, and I just received the press release in my email, so I think it’s officially official.

The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday has been acquired by Bold Strokes Books, with a planned release in 2011 in print and ebook form.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be working with this publisher. Not only have I enjoyed their titles for many years, but their authors can boast an impressive list of awards. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been friendly, which is important, and utterly professional, which is even more important. My assigned editor is someone whose writing I respect, and though he’s warned me ahead of time that he will be a harsh taskmaster and critic, I know that the book will be all the better for it.

I received the offer at the end of last month, but it still seems like a dream.

Feedback, Feedback

One of the most important things for me, as a developing writer, is receiving consistent, constructive feedback on my projects. It’s so easy to get so buried in a project that sometimes it’s impossible to see it objectively. This is where my crit group–and a very small number of gracious professionals–come in.

My group has been together for six years. It’s a very small group, which has, I believe contributed to its success. We meet in a private little corner of cyberspace, but have gotten together numerous times IRL to attend conventions or stage regional “write-ins” when a few members happen to be in the same part of the world at the same time. We have a pretty decent success rate (“success” being defined as publication of projects that we’ve workshopped), and it continues to rise.

There are a lot of crit groups out there. If you’re looking for one, with a little research, you’ll find one that fits your taste and your needs. Many areas have local writers’ groups that meet face-to-face. Or you might consider starting a group with your friends. If you relish face-to-face interaction, and aren’t shy about giving or receiving feedback, this might be the kind of group for you.

Personally, I find that working online makes it easier to both give and receive feedback. We have a rigid schedule (each month, a different member’s project goes through the process) and use a form to structure our responses to the work. Though we’ve become friends over the years, this format has made it easy to focus on the objective, and to give and receive constructive criticism (more or less) without insult or hurt feelings.

There are any number of writing groups, both free and fee-based. What will work best for you is a matter of your taste and your goals. If your goal is seeking as much feedback as possible, you might consider a large online group, like Critters, with over 5000 members around the world. If you’re interested in more personalized, in-depth feedback, you might consider a smaller group.

Beware of vast, unstructured online groups with no reciprocal requirements (ie; give a crit to receive a crit). You may get something helpful once in a while, but often, people are just there to get feedback on their own work. If you decide to go with a paid group, make sure you know what you’re getting before you lay down your money.

Here are a few links that I’ve found helpful:

Flogging the Quill: Professional editor Ray Rhamey (who often leads excellent workshops at writers’ conferences) offers up first pages submitted by writers for his readers to critique, or “Flog.”

Critters.org: A free, very large but highly structured critique group for speculative fiction writers.

Writers’ World article on giving and receiving feedback

Critters.org’s collected wisdom on critique and diplomacy

You might also check your local library or bookstore for local groups meeting face-to-face.

A few stats

Because I’m a nut about these things.

  • Number of unpublished novels written before The Affair of the Porcelain Dog: 2
  • Of these, number actually finished: 1
  • How long, from first ink to contract offer: a little over four years
  • Number of drafts: 8
  • Of these, number that were major rewrites (ie; more than 50% of the MS tossed and replaced with something completely different): 4
  • SFD (shitty first draft) word count: around 35K.
  • Word count at highest point: around 100K
  • Accepted draft word count: around 77,300K

Have to qualify “a little over four years” by saying that during the first two years, I had exactly three hours per week to write. The first draft was written in seven months, that is to say, a little less than 200 hours, which sort of boggles my mind to think about it now. The third year, I had six hours per week, and this last year, it’s been closer to twelve. I suppose I should add up the hours for a more accurate count, but I really can’t be bothered with it right now.

I did a survey recently of writers that I know, and was surprised to find a wide variation in their answers to these same questions. Some took as little as six months to get from first ink to a sale, others took several years. Everyone did more than one draft, but few did more than four. Almost everyone had at least one in the “trunk.”

I think it took me eight drafts to get APD right, because I was still trying to figure out what I was doing. That takes a lot of time–a lot of time that could have been saved, by the way, by using an outline. It’s a lot faster and easier to work the plot kinks out of 20 pages of outline than out of 400 pages of text.

The next three novels are already outlined, and between that and having even more writing time this coming year than ever before, the potential for productivity is sort of frightening. The takeaway lesson, I suppose, is that a writer needs to figure out her process and work it, believing in it, as long as forward progress is being made, without worrying about how other writers are doing it.