New Years Resolutions

Before I begin, I would love to wish all of my readers Happy Holidays.  Whatever you celebrate, I hope you enjoy your time and as we approach that countdown to a fresh start, I hope you can look back at this year with happiness in your heart, and look forward to a year filled with new and interesting possibilities.

OK, so I lied last week and said that I’d be writing about Bad Guys this month, but I won’t.  We’ll get back to that next year.  In the meantime, I’d like to discuss something a little more on theme.  New Years Resolutions.  Which I hate.  When you sit around in December and look at your life over the last year, New Years Resolutions make you feel cranky.  They are rigid goal posts, planted in the ground to remind you of all the stuff you were supposed to do, but drove right on by.

So, I don’t make resolutions.  I make possibilities. I ask myself, “This time next year, where would you ideally like to be?”  And I remember that word, ideally.  Because it is important.  Life is usually far from ideal and a lot can happen in a year. As long as we don’t make resolutions, and list ideals, we can keep a clear eye on the list as potential goals, and not as failures when we don’t hit each of those goals within a twelve month period.

So, what are my goals for 2014?  I have a list.

1) Logan will be starting Kindergarten next fall, so I’d like to hope that, by the end of 2014, I will have a decent routine going after the great big change in the status quo.  Here’s hoping that by next December, I’m not still racing into my office late everyday because I still haven’t figured out how to get him to school on time.

2) I hope to be able to better manage my time.  I seem to have a real problem doing everything I want to do.  Which is not for lack of trying.  So, I’m trying to become better at procrastinating less, and staying more on schedule so I can have more time to see people and to get out and try new things.

3) I plan to manage my money better.  I went through quite the financial crisis this year, and I don’t intend for it to happen again.  So I’m trying to become smarter about how I manage funds, which means not spending extravagantly, and not offering to buy for everyone like I have a million dollars.  I don’t know why I do that!  But thankfully, nobody who loves me seems to allow me to anymore without a fight.  Thanks, supportive people!

4) I continue to shop out my short stories in the hopes of publication. I haven’t been getting any bites, but hopefully I will be celebrating another short story publication in the year 2014.

5) I would like to finish revisions on The Order of the Key and start shopping it out to agents/publishers by the end of 2014.

6) I want to get in better shape.  Do not read that as “lose weight.”  I just want to be more healthy, i.e. get my migraines under control, get my eating under control, exercise more.  Just generally become a more healthful person.

7) I would like to complete at least my first round of revisions on Legally Insane.  I do not expect to complete the revisions for this right away – the book turned out being about double the size it was meant to be, so I know this set of revisions is going to be extensive.

8) I have completed a prequel short story for the series I’m working on, Keys and Guardians (The Order of the Key is the intro book to that), and I would like to complete edits, begin shopping it out, and, preferably, have that published by the end of the year.

9) I have also recently started a new short story that I hope to have completed soon.

So that is my list of goals for next year.  This should probably give you a decent idea of what I will be babbling about over the next year.  Stay tuned for my end of year post, my year in review.  2013 was a sweet year.  2014, here I come!

Thanksgiving

Note to my readers: This blog is a little late.  That would be because I was suffering my last month with a computer that quit on me.  But I’m back now, with a working model, and a blog that was more timely two weeks ago.  Ah well…consider it the obligatory holiday post.

It’s that time of year!  The time where families try to put aside petty grievances to eat dinner together (and usually fail), the time where we forget our diets, forget how long that drive to _________’s house is and do it anyway, the time where we kiss the behinds of everyone who’s behinds we should have been kissing all year, but forgot to in the shuffle of things (and the above-mentioned petty grievances, which usually are far outweighed by the good things).

So here I go, telling you the things I give thanks for.  Be prepared.  One day there will be an acknowledgements page in the back of a novel that looks something like this, but as that hasn’t happened yet, I figured I’d give it a whirl now.

There are plenty of people to thank, after all. So, to the following, I would like to say thank you:

– My husband, Ismael – I’m pretty regularly vocal about how awesome my husband is and that’s a pretty good place to start.  Ismael deserves a pat on the back simply for putting up with me at my worst, which he does with grace and strength, but also for being my co-writer.  I almost feel guilty signing off on anything as purely my work when every single idea goes through an Ismael screener session.  If life was a romantic comedy with me as the lead, you would be my perfectly imperfect love interest and hero.

– My son, Logan – I couldn’t have created a more perfect comedic foil if I had tried.  Though you are only four years old, you already have the makings of an amazingly frustrating teenager and an amazingly lovely human being.  My little smart alec – I’m gonna enjoy every minute of raising you.  Love you!

– My parents, in good times and in bad times, thank you for teaching me to laugh at life and for making me exactly who I am today.  I like me, so that is very important.

– Mel and Jon aka big sis and bro – I could not have asked for a better pair of partners-in-crazy  than you two.  Thank you for taking me to a movie and to get ice cream on the days I decided I was running away from home.  Thank you Mel for planning fight scenes with me in all their ridiculousness and Jon for being my first critic – important lessons were learned.

– D and Kristy for not only being great significant others for my siblings, but for being great friends to me.

– Manny and Helen, Miriam and Luis – Ismael’s screwball family.  I was blessed with you guys.  Every one of you provide your own particular brand of inspiration.  You have no idea.

– Jeannie and Genaro (my sister-in-law and my nephew) – Your strength, determination and your ability to reinvent yourselves at a moments notice makes me realize what people can truly be capable of.  Genaro, even at 14, your physical tenacity is a sight to behold.  You keep chasing your dream like that, I’ll keep learning from you.

– My protege (and Ismael’s), Megan (aka little sis) – That’s right.  I’m going to call you my protege.  Feel free to argue against that, but I like to be dramatic, so that’s what I’m going to call you.  And despite the fact that you can probably kick my ass, I’m gonna keep it up.  (Yes, that IS a challenge.)

– My best friends, Joy and Allegra, who, each in their own way, provide me with support for all of my ills, a shoulder to cry on, someone to celebrate with, and generally act as my saviors in my daily life.  Without you and the boys I would be more of a mess than you think.  Really.

– My online crew.  Though you may rotate in and out of my life, and some of you were once real time friends, but we don’t get much time together anymore (Sean, I’m talkin’ to you!) but one thing remains consistent.  If you are someone who I share more than idle conversation with online, if we have discussed deeper topics, shared more about our families, about our lives, than you have impacted me and my writing world in ways you can not even begin to imagine.  I wish I could teleport to each of your houses and smish you all.  You know who you are.

– My actual work crew.  To Ulana and Karen, Lee and Heather, Carol and Gina, Kathleen, Nicole, and Stephen, to all of my bosses, and all of the people around the office who share with me and provide me with support each and every day.  I know it’s not perfect, but I have been blessed with a workplace where people care, really genuinely care, and that’s tough to come by.

– The rest of the Minners and Manzano families.  Though you are more distant, you guys are always providing me and my husband with love, support, and the occasional character studies. 😉

– Annamarie and Rino, who provide us with the house we live in.  Thanks for seriously being the best homeowners ever.  We owe a lot to you and we know it, and you provide us with a roof over our heads so we can continue doing all of the other stuff we love doing. Plus, your kids are adorable and awesome and you make pretty great friends too!

– Dawn, for taking flawless care of my pride and joy when we can’t be home with him.  You spend so much time with him and play such an important role in raising our son.  We couldn’t have done it without you.  Thank you so much, again, for everything you do, especially as we get him ready for school (GASP!) next year!

– Harvey for giving me my first chance, my first ever fiction publication.  Thank you for seeing the strengths in my story.

– Hannah and the Sucker team, for coaching me as a writer and for welcoming me to join the staff of Sucker Literary.  I love working for the magazine and look forward to next year’s promotion of Issue 3 (and the search for more stories for Issue 4, if you’ll have me).

– And finally, my readers, be it here, the people who retweet and favorite my Work In Progress Quotes on Twitter, the people who follow me on Facebook, the people who post feedback on my fanfiction, or anybody who has looked at my writing online.  You guys keep me doing what I love doing.

It’s been a tremendous year, with lots to appreciate and more than enough joys to be had.

Please pop by again next week for my mid-month post, where I discuss Bad Guys…and how to make them as important to your story as your Hero.

Until then, Happy Holidays!!!

September Links

Welcome to another edition of stuff from around the web!

My husband’s birthday passed this week, so let’s all say a big happy birthday before we begin.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

So, what’s new on the web?  Let’s start here – my good friend Rana, who I met through Buffy-Boards.com, a Whedon themed message board, just posted a guest blog at The Happy Herbivore.  She took a challenge to go one month eating only from her pantry – which I think is crazy, but she makes it work!  Read about the adventure here.

Do you remember my discussion of revision in the blog post, Too Close for Comfort? This blog post on Positive Writer hits the nail right on the head when it comes to my feelings when revising that story.

This article says it better than I have – this is how I find time to write between a full time job and being a mommy.

This New York Times article is about one of my pet peeves, which I also share with my writer/hubby Ismael – don’t ask me what I’m writing about!  I can’t give you a well-formed answer!  It’s impossible!

An article that mixes writing, fandom, and one of my son’s favorite things?  Yes please! 

Check out this interesting new company, creating audio tales and earning money for literacy.

If you’ve ever wondered what revisions of a book feel like from start to finish, my favorite author, Kelley Armstrong, has got you covered in this fascinating play by play on her tumblr blog.  For updates to this step by step edit of book 2 of her Cainsville series, stay tuned to kelleyarmstrong.tumblr.com.  And, if you like mysteries with a bit of supernatural involved, check out the first book, Omens, which is already available for purchase.  I’m already flipping out waiting for the next installment.

Ready to start querying agents?  Here’s a collection of advice from literary agents on how to get published.

Here’s a little ditty on writing Sci-Fi and Fantasy.  The first question and answer involve something I discuss with people all the time.  Many people consider it impossible to complain that science fiction and fantasy are unrealistic, because isn’t that what they’re supposed to be?  But the truth is Sci-Fi and Fantasy can be unrealistic – if you don’t follow your own rules.  As a speculative fiction writer, you set up your own rules for your environment and you can’t later break them without a damn good reason.  Something as simple as being consistent in the rules of your world can bring realism to a novel about three-headed space goons from Snorg.  If all Snorgs are three headed, that two-headed one had better have a reason for being there that is better than, “Oh, I forgot Snorgs were supposed to be three-headed,” and it has to show.

And on that Snorg-filled note, I bid you adieu until the end of this month, when we will discuss politics and public image. See you then!

Mommy Guilt

As it stands at this current moment, I work a day job, raise a four year old boy, write fiction, and work as a reader for a literary magazine.  That doesn’t take into account the time I spend as a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter, an in-law, or a cleaning and organizing machine.  My husband performs a similar juggling act on a daily basis, and we both have some health limitations that get in the way of things changing.  The money situation is a little tough.  We pinch pennies.  We scuttle by from check to check.  We save a pittance every month.

There are people in my life who worry about me.  Or more accurately, they worry about my son, Logan.  They feel like I need a bigger income source to support him and, because they have a ton of faith in me, they honestly believe I could do more with my life.  They say things like “You could be an executive/personal assistant and make more than you make now.” And they would be right.

It’s tempting.  It really is.  But there’s a problem.  I love my job.  Like, really love it.  Like, for the first time in a very long time, I don’t dread coming to work in the morning.  I like the people I work with.  I like the company I work for.  I enjoy the work I do.  I also happen to love the fact that I can do my job in the time between 9:30 and 5:30 with only occasional bursts of overtime.  I’ve done the personal/executive assistant thing.  I’ve done the ‘tied to your blackberry’ thing.  It ate up my life and my sanity.

It would mean no more writing.  Less time for my family.  As it is, I barely scrape together time for either now.  Those two things, especially for a person with a lifelong struggle with depression, are unacceptable losses. So, I stay at my (still nicely paying) job, and don’t push myself much further than that.  Because I think it’s more important for Logan to have a sane mother than a crazy, stressed to the breaking point, shrew.  I need those outlets to continue to be me.

There will probably be few big family vacations.  Logan will not go to a private school.  But he eats three square healthy meals a day and so do we.  All of our extra money is spent on cool little adventures getting him trinkets and things I know he’ll love.  He won’t live an extravagant life, but he has a loving family and he has grown up confident of that fact, knowing that he can count on Mommy and Daddy, his grandparents, his aunts and uncles and cousins – that they will be there for him no matter what.

More importantly, he is a happy boy.  Because his Mommy and Daddy are happy people, despite the struggle it took to get us there.

So, I refuse to feel guilty about my choices in raising my son…

…for at least the next fifteen minutes….

….at least.

Dreams vs. Reality

I have an active imagination.  This fact is pretty much a no-brainer since I write loads of weird fantastical things on a daily basis. But I don’t just have an active imagination about things I would place into a book.  I have an active imagination about reality too. Sometimes, this means that the creak of a floorboard in the middle of the night has me plotting how I will avoid the crazed killer that has clearly snuck into my house (doesn’t everybody do this?).  But most times, this involves dreaming up where I will go in my career, what I will do with the crazy amounts of money I make, how I will support my family.  There are real versions of my future, and then there’s the ideal version, the person I could be if the absolute best case scenario happens to me.  They do not remotely resemble each other.

In my ideal world, the hubby and I meet unprecedented success as writers.  All three of the novels that are currently still mere works in progress are published by major publishing companies and my urban fantasy is picked up as a series.  All three are optioned as movies.  We make a ridiculous amount of money, as they become immensely popular.  I gain J.K. Rowling style fame. The lead character in the urban fantasy, Jacklyn Madison, becomes a household name.  Other people write fanfiction about my stuff.  I get enough money to become a full-time writer.  I buy a house somewhere with wide open spaces and beautiful views.  I get all kinds of fancy stuff for my family.  My kids go to prestigious schools.  I stay home and write all day and when I’m not writing, I’m doing interviews, working as a consultant on the movie set, or teaching writing.  I eat, sleep and breathe my dream job and my family and there is nothing to get in the way of that.  No distractions from real life that take me away from writing for weeks at a time.  I can travel to new locations to research for future books.  I have room for a writing office in my house, which has state of the art computer software and is covered wall to wall in anything that inspires me.  My husband has one of his own.  We live a busy but happy life that is thoroughly driven by family and writing.

Reality will probably look alot different. It is alarmingly likely that I will never be a traditionally published author.  I may end up publishing independently or not at all.  I may end up publishing my novels in serial format on this very blog.  Who knows?  You guys may be my only readers!  I will likely never be paid all that much for my books. A normal publishing contract doesn’t look anything like J.K. Rowling’s next contract will look.  I will probably never be a household name.  There is a very good chance that I will continue to live in the apartment I live in, with the car I’ve got, and my children will go to the nearest public school.  We’ll do our best to gather a college fund for them.  Anything else, will likely be done in student loans that we will co-sign…assuming our credit gets better.  I will work a 9-5 (or in my case, a 9:30-5:30) for the rest of time, and I will write when I can scramble time together.  My computer will probably always be a four year old or older model.  My writing office will probably always consist of my laptop on my lap, while I sit on my couch.  And we will almost always be fueling our writing with the scraps of money we have left over from our tightly budgeted lives.

The truth of it is, while writing is my dream job, I am realistic about it.  I know where my writing career is, where it has been, and where it is likely to go.  As in every relationship or situation I find myself in, I’ve asked myself a couple of questions – Am I willing to live with this if it never changes?  Is doing this ‘for the sake of doing it’ enough?  And I think it is.  I love to tell stories.  It would be great if there were people out there to hear them.  But barring that, the simple process of putting words to a page, of weaving a tale, is something that brings me great joy.  I’m nothing if not a practical person, so I will probably always have my day job, squeezing out minutes to write whenever I can.

Do I really believe I will be the next J.K. Rowling?  Probably not,. but it sure wouldn’t suck. Can I live without that?  If I knew I would never make a single dime from this thing I would keep doing it, because I love doing it, and that’s more than enough to keep me fueled.

 

Organized Chaos – Writing with Mild ADHD

“Oh, you’re a writer!  What are you working on?  Can I read it?”  Said every person ever when I told them I was a writer.

My response is always, “No, you can’t read my work – because none of it is in order.”

I have a very mild form of ADHD.  When I was a child, I used to do my homework in spurts.  15 minutes devoted to Subject A.  15 minutes devoted to Subject B.  And on down the line.  It worked for me from my younger years all the way through college.  The reason for my odd division of time was that, if I worked on anything longer than that, I stopped paying attention to it.  Which meant I stopped caring about it, which meant I lost the ability to retain anything.  Dividing things up in the way I did kept me interested, which kept me in A’s and, later, a 3.95 GPA.  Had I not done this (and, I can’t for the life of me remember how I figured out this little method of mine), I probably wouldn’t have nearly as good grades.

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood and this strange pattern has followed me there.  If you ask my husband what it’s like to clean our apartment with me, he will laugh.  The reason for his laughter is to hide how infuriating the process can be. Because he’s a nice guy like that. I clean each room in the same way I worked on each homework assignment.  Everything gets done, but the order is confusing and my pattern is not something that can be pursued in pairs.  My husband can never follow what I’m up to, so he cleans on his own, ignoring my weirdness in favor of a more organized tract.  In an hour, he cleans the living room.  I have touched upon every room in the house, but with only one task per room.  This means that when I inevitably run into something I need his help with, I will pull him from his work to help me with mine.  By the end, I’m sure he is plotting my demise.  But most times, the house gets clean.  Even my work life gets the same treatment.  Only a hard and fast deadline that I am attempting to meet can somehow give me all of the focus that I need.

When I ended up with three ideas for my first novel, I didn’t even blink.  I’d just work on them all at once.  When I had trouble working on the first scene – no problem!  I’d do that scene in the end that interested me.  Couldn’t think to write?  I’d refine my outline. What I now have is a collection of three outlines that are approximately 200 pages apiece.  I am well aware that these are not outlines.  These are more like bibles for my books. Writing three books at once requires an intense grasp on the voice of each of my characters, built and perfected so I wouldn’t lose one and go sailing off into another depending on what I was writing.  Writing my stories according to what scene strikes at what time requires a detailed knowledge of the path of my story, so I don’t mention things in scenes that haven’t yet occurred in the story or change something and cause a plot hole.  When things are changed, I spend my time refining my outline to make sure things flow smoothly again and that no statement made in a scene belies another. There’s a lot of mental hurdles being jumped over in my head, which explains that far away look in my eyes whenever I’m walking somewhere and I didn’t expect to see you – and it takes a few slow moments for me to go, “Oh hi!”  Because I’m not here.  I’m in my books.

In the end, while it sounds like a crazy way to write, it has a lot of positive sides to it. Because I am choosing what scenes I want to write and when, writer’s block seems to be a much more rare occurrence.  When I get stuck, I work on it, but I try to choose the scenes that I am currently eager to portray, so it makes it easier to get into the right frame of mind.  When I finish a scene I just plug it into my outline, in the place it belongs in my story, replacing the outline text that had portended it.  Outline text is in bold. Scenes are in plain font.  So the less bold I see in a certain section, the closer I know I am to being done, and this can be done at a glance.  This is inspiring when I am trudging through a scene or when I am trying to select a new one.  It keeps my goals in check and it helps me to see the story’s potential.  And that helps keep me writing.

The big downside to it is that I have Chapters 1-3 of one of my stories done.  Then, I have the back 25% of the story done.  I have scraps in the middle.  I will have to fill those in.  On another one of my stories, I have none of the beginning done most of the middle and some of the end.  Another one has a full beginning and chunks of the middle and end, but that beginning is starting to feel like it’s going to need a pretty decent edit. All in all, it becomes impossible to hand a person something to read, because it’s all over the damn place.  It’s becoming easier, but as a girl who manages organized chaos as a constant, I can very clearly tell that it will be awhile before anybody has much of my work to read.

That’s okay though.  I don’t really like to perform on demand.  But that is another blog for another time.

Introduction AKA My Life as a Character

Me and my trusty computer
Me in my natural habitat – behind my laptop

There is alot about writing to be learned in everyday life.  My life teaches me quite a lot, but it is divided into several pieces and I’m never quite sure how those pieces are supposed to come together.  As an introduction, I’m going to rattle off a little summary of these pieces to you. I believe they will help you get to know me better.

1) Mother – I have a wonderful two-year-old son named Logan. Everything that involves him is sunshine and rainbows except when it’s not and then it’s stress and ‘oh my God, don’t do that!”  He brings out many qualities in me, but one of them is not the ability to be an adult.  While I can tell him not to climb something because he will hurt himself, I can’t seem to keep myself from laughing at his antics. Can you blame me for laughing when he calls “Look mommy!” and I find him with his fingers stuck up his nose? (Yes, you can.  And you probably should.)

2) Wife – I’m married to an incredible fellow writer, Ismael.  From him I’ve learned that love can transcend all sorts of difficulties, things can be seen from multiple sides, and patience and understanding can go along way.  I’ve also learned that I’m very funny, especially when I’m angry and that no matter what kind of fancy cup I buy to store the toothbrushes, they will always, ALWAYS be on the bathroom counter when I wake up in the morning.  (You didn’t expect it all to be nice, did you?  We’ve been married for ELEVEN YEARS!)  I also learned what true love is, so there’s that.

3) Friend/daughter/sister, etc. – From those around me I have learned that there are those that will do anything to help you and those that you will do anything for.  And there are the opposite. There are arguments that end in “Chat with you next week!” and those that end in slammed phones and facebook defriending. There are things a person can say that will stick with you forever, and there are times when you have no idea how much you’ve effected somebody else’s life with your own words or actions.  Also, there is clutziness, sarcasm, stupidity, shared interests, snorty laughs, spit takes, intellectual conversations, horrendous nicknames, stories that nobody will ever let you forget, and lots of love.

4) Writer – A hat I wear with trepidation. Is that what I am?  A writer?  I’ve never been published.  And yet, I eat, sleep and breathe fiction.  If you see me walking through the streets and my lips are moving, I’m working my way through some dialog I will write later. And if you stare at me, I will look at you like you’re the crazy one, just like a real New Yorker. I carry around a journal in my purse and my pen drive in case I happen upon a computer.  My outlines are saved on my phone in case I need to look something up quickly.  Yeah, I’m definitely a writer.

5) Editor – My husband and I serve this function for each other. We may never technically write a collaborative project, but every project we work on is somewhat collaborative.

6) Fangirl – This is an important part of my life!  This is where my interests lie, because for me, writing isn’t a hobby, it’s life’s blood.  So when I watch TV and squeal because I love an actor, or tweet endlessly about my favorite couple in a novel, quote things nobody should remember or laugh at jokes others would never get…fandom made me do it.  People I have met through fandom have made me cringe and others have become some of my closer friends without ever standing in the same room as me.  Fangirling with others involves important writerly discussions about character development, plot, themes and settings.

7) Worker – I have learned many useless things from jobs, like how to make a tub of ice cream and how to fix a VHS tape (likely the most useless thing I know). I’ve also learned many useful things like how to work tenaciously until a job is done and how to stay strong under pressure (sometimes I’m admittedly a little wobbly on that one, but I’m getting better).

These are pieces of me. Of course, I’m simplifying things.  There is plenty of other stuff.  I love Broadway musicals, I sing in the shower, I’ve lived through traumatic experiences, I’ve been in a couple of student films (if we’re lucky, nobody will ever find them).  I am a whole, complex person with many different facets.

If I can be so many different things that impact the core of who I am, than the characters we write need things like this to become three dimensional. They can’t exist in a plot-induced vacuum where all they do on a daily basis are the things the plot requires. They should have outside interests, other people they interact with, a past that takes place before the story starts, and all of these things should inform who they are and what they do.

Allow these things to make a character react more believably in a situation.  Let the impeccably calm romantic ingénue get angry for a questionable reason.  Let the soldier fall apart when he’s supposed to be a hero and hold it together when there’s nobody to save.  And give them a reason why.  Some snippet from their past.  Some association made.  Some facet of their personality that makes them a whole person.  Just be consistent, so the behavior doesn’t feel as though it is blindsiding the reader.

It will make your plotlines less obvious and your characters more interesting.  Sometimes less likable, but definitely more interesting.  And that’s a good part of what makes a story readable.

Wondering, “What does she know?”  Check out my bio page.  You may still feel that way, but at least you’ll know who you’re saying it about.

‘Till next time!