Monday, July 14, 2014

Ain't Dead

Just a quick update to announce I am still in the land of the living. Epic stuff is happening.

I've landed my first script reader gig with the fabulous Film Festival Guild, so even though my script writing has slowed to a crawl due to the novel thing, I'm still involved with the film industry somehow. Which is good, cause it'll always be my first love.

I sold a book last week. The working title is Finding Figaro, and right now it's scheduled to be published next spring by Dreamspinner Press. With a title like that, how could it ~not~ be romance?

I wrote a short story about a book made from human skins (originally intended for a sweet anthology about writing and publishing. I'm screwed up, I know. I took the prompts and decided to go in a more...anthropodermic bibliopegy direction.) but it turned into a novella, and now it's well on the way to novel size. Stuff just happens, okay? I don't even know how.

The writing process is weird.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Romance by any other name... would still be hard to write.

In case you haven't guessed yet, I am writing (and selling, whoot whoot!) romance under the not-so-clever pseudonym Penny Hudson. I wanted to use Penny Dreadful, but that's already taken. So was Paige Turner. Now I wish I'd picked Penny Kidd (say it by syllables) but alas, it was not meant to be.

My romance author blog is here and I'll be posting about my two forthcoming titles from Dreamspinner Press. They'll both be available this summer. I'll confine most of the romance-specific chatter over there aside from this post, but no promises. I'm cross-posting, minus these two paragraphs. 

HAHA you know my secret identity! I'd be a terrible superhero, I really would. 

That'd be me. I'm a twat.

Anyway, on writing romance.

You might think because the ending is already known--Happily Ever After--romance would be among the easiest genres to write. HAHA LOL NOPE #RollsAroundOnFloorLaughing /wipesawaytears.

As Kipling says: There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right.

There's far more than sixty-nine (hehe) different sources of personal conflict and drama in romance novels. So I'm going to blog specifically on the type of romance novel where the main conflict between the characters is based on a simple misunderstanding. 

Something that could be cleared up with a little honest discussion.

But that discussion cannot happen easily.

For romance, there's a Main Character and an obvious (or not so obvious) Love Interest (or more than one). As a reader, you know after roughly two hundredish pages, they're going to kiss, have some epic sex, and live happily ever after. Because that's what romance is. That's the promise made to you when you pick up the book. You will wade through the trials and tribulations of these characters and eventually, they'll find True Love and you'll get a happy wobbly feeling when they admit how they care about each other and throw themselves into each others arms.

But wait, but wait, why don't they just do that from the beginning? Since they're so obviously meant for each other? Two halves of a single soul, and all the other sickeningly sweet cliches.

There has to be a reason they don't boink (or boink with tender loving feelings sprinkled on top) until after most of the book has happened, otherwise it's just a casual hook-up without an emotional angle, unless one character is using the casual hook-up to avoid intimacy and-- and I'm going off target. Ahem.

My point is it's really hard to stretch a sex scene into 70k+ words. Or maybe it's just I can't manage it. Laurell K. Hamilton can. But she's also got lots of vampire/supernatural plot going on around (and during) the orgies. Orgies that usually further the plot. Have you read her books? The sex scenes are vital to the plot, which usually doesn't have anything to do with sex. I think I should go reread all the Anita Blake books... for research... yeah...

After Main Character and Love Interest meet, but before Main Character and Love Interest do the beast with two backs, stuff has to happen. Important stuff. Plot stuff. Character stuff. Because there has to be a reason these two (or more) people dance around each other and hold off the boinking until the end of the book. If their eyes meet and they run toward each other while At Last plays over the loudspeaker, and then commence violating public nudity laws, it's interesting, but it's not long enough to make a book. Something has to keep the climax (harhar) from happening. 

For dramatic reasons. But there's a fine line between drama and melodrama.

So if the reason they aren't together is because of a smallish misunderstanding that could be sorted out with a brief conversation over some caramel lattes on a sleepy Saturday afternoon, then that conversation has to be danced around like negotiations with North Korea over chilling the fuck out and developing a national hobby that doesn't involve Geiger counters.

Get me? It has to be a huge thing, with some element of danger or apprehension surrounding it. An 'I might die if I say this right now' sort of atmosphere. There has to be trepidation. There has to be a solid reason the conversation absolutely could not happen in the course of the casual 'getting to know you' chatter amid the heated glances and magnetic pull they feel toward each other.

How tedious and unfulfilling would it be if they met, had a misunderstanding, then retired to some trendy cafe to work things out by the end of the first chapter?

'Oh, I made an incorrect assumption about your life/job/values/personality/relationship status/family. Allow me to kiss away your hurt feelings.' Then nothing else happens except sex in every possible position for the next twelve chapters? If you've been reading romance novels any length of time, you've read lots and lots of sex scenes, and you know they're not nearly as rewarding when the characters haven't bled, sweated, and wept copious amounts of tears to get to the emotional climax, not just the physical climax.

You want them to work for it. You want them to clench their hands, bite their lips, and take deep, shuddering breaths while they force the words out with their eyes squeezed shut because they can't bear to watch the reaction to whatever they're struggling to say.

The conversation to clear up the simple misunderstanding has to be radioactive. It has to be enormous. It has to be a giant, world-view shifting moment that causes stress, anxiety, fear, nerves and running through it all has to be the faint, thin shred of hope that maybe it might work out after all.

This is when character motivation becomes vital. You have to know exactly why your characters would flee to the ends of the earth rather then have that particular conversation. Then you can make a simple misunderstanding work to keep them apart for 70k+.

Go forth and obfuscate.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Make Them Say No to You.

Don't say no for them. Whoever the anonymous them is. Don't you dare. Whatever you're making, stories, art, macrame sex toys, whatever creative thing you're doing, don't you dare look at it and decide it's not good enough for the market and then tuck it away in a drawer with a dramatic sigh about how if only you'd had THE ONE MAGICAL ADVANTAGE you could sell it and quit your day job mopping up the exorcism room after those three rogue priests wander off to congratulate themselves on a demon well banished and break into the sacramental wine.

Three reasons:

1) Creative people are naturally down on and extremely critical of their own abilities and will underestimate themselves. This is an actual scientific fact*.

2) In my travels around the world I have seen some hideous shit sell, but YOU make cute, fun stuff. Whatever you make. Because the thing you make reflects your taste and style and classy self as an artist.

3) It's a big world. Suppose the publisher/art gallery/etsy store you selected and made your thing specifically for rejects it? They turn up their nose at it? They tell you it's just not right for them, the tone doesn't match, it's too similar to a thing they already have? So what? So what? There's a lot of publishers/art galleries/websites that your thing will be treasured and upvoted and sell. Use your google-fu and find them.

But if they're saying no to your stories or art, it doesn't mean they're wrong. You could be wrong.

1) Are you really ready to shove that project out into the cruel, indifferent world? Has an independent editor flagged all the typos? Have you played with your handmade wooden puzzle enough to know you need a second coat of sealant to keep the paint from flaking? Can you take a decent picture and understand how to edit and upload it? Do you check your email often? Does your 'contact me' button actually work?

There is NOTHING more frustrating than wanting to buy something, but the artist has vanished. Then I'm reduced to twitter stalking and wondering if @battlecat77 is the person who makes that awesome medieval armor for cats, but they never reply. If I can't reach you, I can't buy the thing. So you make no money. That is a badness thing. Do you check your spam folder once a week for hapless customers that use hotmail? (My gmail always bounces hotmail, I never told it to do that, it just does. It also ignores me when I told it to stop. Apparently Google does not obey the second law of robotics.)

Are you ready? Is your work ready? If you aren't confident in your own work, then do your research, see what's out there, and if your stuff is of comparable quality, send it out. Let them say no. Don't you say no to yourself before anyone else even sees it.When the first buyer says no, then find another. There's always another. Another publisher, another shop, another way to sell the thing you made. Get creative, you ARE creative. You MADE a THING. You WROTE a SCRIPT. You can find a way to sell it. I believe in you. 

2) Are you doing lots of stuff? The more you do, the better you become. The more stories you write, the more stone walls you build, the more exotic gerbils you raise, the better you become. This is also a fact, scientifically proven by anyone who has practiced any skill whatsoever. Branch out. Expand. Even if a thing has been around thousands of years, you can still put your own unique twist on it.

Books are old news, but remember those 'Choose Your Own Adventure' novels? A novel new twist! I rest my case.

3) Are you for-real serious about this? Are you writing at least five days a week? Do you treat it like a job and sit down, unplug the internet, and stare at a blank cursor until story happens? Do you have an outline, or at least a summery with the beginning, middle, and end of the book to keep you on track? Substitute the word project for book. Do you know how it's going to happen? Etsy, ebay, and craiglists are full to the brim of weekend crafters churning out random stuff and barely making their material cost back.

Step 1.
Step 2.
Profit... is a funny joke, but knowing the outline of the project and the steps you have to take to accomplish the goal is SO IMPORTANT I CAN'T EVEN TELL YOU. BUT I WILL.

4) Did you write your goal down? No? Go and do that. Right now, hop to it! Find some paper and write down what you want out of this thing you do. To be published? To make X amount every month? To spend your life traveling from one craft fair to another like some sort of modern hippy in an SUV instead of old VW van? To develop a variety of guinea pig with hair so long you can cackle like Dr. Frankenstein and shriek 'IT'S ALIVE', because you've just created a tribble?

Write your goal down, pin it up somewhere you see it EVERY DAY, and do something every SINGLE day to accomplish your goal. Even if you just have the time/mental bandwidth to do one thing to reach the goal, one thing a day will get you there. Do nothing a day and you'll never get there.

I leave you with this for further reading.

Neil Gaiman's Make Good Art graduation speech and Make Every Day a Non-Zero Day.

Go get'um tiger. 

* Based on a random survey of creative people I know and didn't actually bother to survey.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

2013 aka The Year of You Did Better.

Time for the annual roundup post of doom.

I didn't blog as much this year as last year. Or it should be 'last year as the year before' because wow, it's 2014. I still can't believe it. 2013 was shorter than normal. I'd scientifically prove this, but it's so obvious I can't be bothered.

January - Learned I needed to expand the short story into a novella if I wanted to sell it, and promptly put off actually doing it for about six months.

March - Wrote a slightly pretentious blog post about Amanda Palmer and Veronica Mars. I still think it's so fucking cool they let the fans fund a movie.

April - Entered a contest. Lost. I'm not going to document all the time I entered a contest this past year and lost because that would be too depressing. This particular contest sparked an idea and I expanded it into a script. Now I'm rewriting it as a fantasy novel because it would be so much easier to sell it as a book than as a spec script from an unknown, unproduced writer. It's called 'Rhiven'. Selling it to Baen Books, or having it securely nestled in their slush pile by 2015 is a nice goal, right?

June - Sucked it up and expanded the short story to novella size. I swear I've never checked a word count so many times during one document in my life. I didn't think I'd do it, but I added a few scenes and found a way to keep the tension going and pulled it off. Go me.  

August - I was a quarter finalist in BlueCat's title contest for 'Camp Wishaway', the zombie horror story that mutated into a kid's coming of age/adventure story but with zombies.
Because zombies.

September - Resubmitted novella. Waited. Waited. Waited. 

October - Wrote stuff so secret I can't even remember.

November - SOLD THAT MOFO!

December - Discovered a contest to write an actual canon Dark Crystal prequel novel. With three weeks left before the deadline, I jumped in full steam ahead. I ended up rewriting about half of it with three days to go when I discovered my timeline was flawed, but I managed. I think I ended last year on a positive note. 

January 2014 - Reviewed another short story submission and discovered I made a typo in the motherfuckin' title. It's a new year, but I'm still me. Damn.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

All Hail the Dark Crystal!

You've seen 'Dark Crystal' right? No? Yes? Maybe? It's that muppet thing from 1982 that Jim Henson did. Ring any bells? Once you get past the fact it's a puppet movie targeted at kids, it's really about a genocidal war and slavery and oppression and to cap it off, the end of the world. Or the beginning.
Aughra sees what I did there.

No wonder I adored it as a wee tiny child.

The good folks over at The Jim Henson Company and Grosset & Dunlap of the Penguin Young Readers Group are holding an open call for authors to write a DarkCrystal prequel novel. As a writer who adores epic fantasy, especially gruesome children's stories and regularly gets notes back on my own work that this is really really dark for a children's story, I'M ALL OVER IT YO.

Except I found out around December 4th and the deadline is December 31th.


The contest organizers picked a fairly narrow time frame they want the book set in and the super-helpful folks over at Dark Crystal even made a .pdf doc of all the known canon from that era as a reference. The website itself is an excellent resource, especially to someone like me who didn't even know there were other books and comics and stuff expanding the universe.

Without that, it'd be like writing a Star Wars prequel without knowing about the Old Republic.

They want the book set right in the beginning, before the Gelflings realize the Skeksis are waging a secret war on them to drain them of their vital essence. To sum up, the Skeksis suck the life out of the Gelflings and drink it to keep themselves young. So think vampire, not Red Cross. The Gelflings are not sent home with balloon and a 'Thanks for Donating!' sticker.

That's also when things get weird. The timeline gives me a headache.

The entire movie is about the last two surviving Gelflings and a prophecy about Gelflings healing the Dark Crystal and restoring balance to the force and stopping the Skeksis, but the prophecy doesn't happen until the Wall of Destiny goes up about 100 A.G.C (After Great Conjunction) (There ain't no Gelfling Jesus to number calenders around) (It's fantasy, go with it).

The Gelflings don't know exactly what or who is attacking them until the Wall of Destiny happens, so there's a hundred year period during which eighteen Skeksis (canon number) wage secret war on the thousands and thousands of Gelflings and the Gelfling never twig to it. Not a tinfoil hat 'the guv'ment is gonna get me' war either, an actual war with hundreds of prisoners transported to the Crystal Castle and killed.

Just eighteen Skeksis. Maybe if they were Daleks, or Cybermen, or Borg. You want me to believe that eighteen lousy Skeksis managed to;

1) Always attack without getting spotted, 
2) Always escape with their prisoners, 
3) Secretly transport them into the Castle that's guarded by Gelflings, 
3) No prisoners EVER escape or elude capture, 
4) NOBODY noticed anything? Ever?

Well, they'd notice these guys. Meet the Garthim! 

Only three easy payments of 19.95, vital for all your Gelfling collecting needs!

The source docs say they're incredibly stupid but in the movie they're seen traveling from the Castle to the Podling village (hours away), smashing it up, capturing Podlings ALIVE, and returning promptly. Also they traveled to Aughra's Observatory (a place they'd never been) and did the same thing. 

They don't get distracted by plants or water crossings or funny smells?

Accomplishing those tasks is a complicated sequence of events. Break those behaviors down for a mo'. Have you ever tried teaching dog with no fetching instinct how to fetch? Or a cat how to pick up a rat without crunching it and letting the gooey cream filling out? They might not be truly sentient, but Garthim are a lot smarter than anyone gives them credit for.

I rewatched the movie, jotted down anything that caught my attention, and then camped out at a bakery with excellent coffee for about five days just free-typing as I tried to hash out my story. Stray thoughts happened. Ideas were examined and discarded with abandon. I went in a lot of odd directions before I settled on the high points and got busy writing. They wanted a 7-10k sample of the story I wanted to tell. HA! (I couldn't articulate that completely until I wrote the summery yesterday)

My excellent script reader, Michelle, was willing to take time out of her holiday to do a quick and dirty evaluation for readability and plotholes big enough the Galactica could fly through.

She sent it back on the 22nd, that gave me a little over a week to get it together. I spent the next couple of days polishing the edges and addressing each note. I FINISHED! (Uh-oh... a good thing happened... guess you know what THAT means...)

High on glee, I idly poked around the website just because I felt like it. Good thing I did.

Skeksis don't make the Garthim until after the Wall of Destiny happens.



I say again, the Skekis DON'T build their foot soldiers until AFTER the Gelfling realize SOMEONE is after them. Okay, so, yeah... no. No. NO. The Skeksis are NOT gullible, or optimists, or battle hardy behemoths. They scheme and hide and plot and lie and lie and lie about what they're really doing for as long as possible because they're afraid the Gelflings could stop them.

So why would they start doing it when there's only eighteen of them? You don't go to war when you're outnumbered thousands to one with no soldiers. 

Tactical sense=none.

As a result, on Christmas day I discovered half my story just became invalid. Literally, I had twenty pages and ten of those were about the Garthim. Merry Christmas to me. I haunted the Author Quest message board, relieved I wasn't the only person thrown for a loop on the timeline, and prayed for a solution. After I wasted half a day wallowing trying to convince myself that I could hand-wavy that awkward fact away and give the Skeksis Garthim and keep my PERFECT STORY PERFECT, I accepted reality.

It was the five stages of grief in about twelve hours. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, like psychotic emotional Christmas roller coaster.

T-5 days to deadline.

You know what got me to the finish line?

Steven Moffat. Yeah, him. I saw an interview and he said that he wrote Blink over a long weekend and it went into production ten days later (I know, I know, he'd been thinking about the story a hell of a lot longer than a weekend) but the epic awesomeness that is Blink happened fast! In a weekend!

I can fix a short story over five days. Not that I'm saying I'm as badass or talented as Steven Moffat, but I CAN DO THIS and someday I want to write Doctor Who so as a step down that road, I'M FIXING THIS.

The rewrite process illustrated through interpretive dance: 

*Battle cry*
*Actual cry*
*Chugging beer*
*Weeping into the keyboard*
*Weeping angels on my keyboard*
*Fuck me it's three AM again*
*I can sleep in January*
*Wash, rinse, repeat*

Then a miracle happened, I DID IT. I fixed it, the Garthim are gone. It's as canon as I can make it. I'm going to fiddle with it for one more day searching for the next-to last typo (there's always one that gets away) before I submit and then put it on my 'You Tried' board as my last 2013 accomplishment.

'Cause I rule. 

*Pirouettes into the sunset*  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Whovian 5evah

Unless you hate sci-fi, you must have noticed Doctor Who is celebrating fifty years. Fifty years! Can you imagine writing a story that's stayed around and only gotten more popular as the decades pass?

The Doctor and I go way back. All the way back to... oh... 2010 or so. Shut up, I'm American. I have to pay extra just to get BBCA with my cable AND their programming is hardly a good representation of quality UK shows. Sherlock didn't even air on BBCA ffs, it aired on PBS. (An Americanized edit <---travesty.)

ANYWAYS, I had a point somewhere. 

My very first brush with the Doctor happened from some books acquired at a second hand shop back when I was a kid. I mostly remember being confused. I didn't understand the Doctor regenerates. I didn't understand the Tardis can travel in time and space. Random things were happening. Random people were happening. I was lost, so I set the books down.

Skip ahead a decade or two. I have a very clear memory of flipping channels and wondering if Gordon Ramsey was remaking the Walnut Tree again. He wasn't, but some weird thing was on. There was a woman yelling at a man not to blink and some creepy as fuck moving statues and a police box upstairs which made no sense at all and then it vanished and the statues went back to being statues, although they were even more creepy then. I thought it was the Twilight zone or something. I was hooked. I checked the tv listing to see what it actually was, then I dashed out the door. Late for work as usual.

'Doctor Who - Saves the World'

When I got home that night I looked for it and sure enough, it reaired the next day. (BBCA is infamous for showing nothing but endless hours of Top Gear and Gordon Ramsey. It's practically the Top Gear and Gordon Ramsey network.)

This time the Doctor was hanging out with some redhead and then he was on a train and there was knocking and this creepy blonde woman repeating what everyone said and THE ENTIRE TIME I waited for them to skip to the house and the creepy statues and explain how someone got a police box up those narrow stairs and why it disappeared and why was it bigger on the inside.

It shames me to say but it took for almost the entire episode (literally, three minutes to the end) before I realized I watched a different episode the day before. Apparently BBCA puts 'Doctor Who - Saves the World' for every single episode description.

Thank god for Netflix. I didn't skip Nine, figured out the regeneration thing, the Tardis thing, and basically fell in love with the whole Doctor Who thing.Which led to DragonCon 2013.

It's Seven!

Remember Vincent and the Doctor? I cosplayed as the entire episode.  

Dunno who the cute guy with the 'Keep Austin Weird' hat was, but he takes a good picture.

(It's Gareth David Lloyd)

(Blue Gillespie)

(Girl Number 9)

(Mostly Blue Gillespie)

(Tiny bit Torchwood)

(I'm a fan, okay? That's the point of cons. A place I can be a flaily flaily fan.)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Holy Shitsnacks Batman! I'm a Quarter Finalist!

I will admit having been in an antiwriting funk for the last few months. I don't want to call it writer's block, it's been more like writers why-even-bother-I-suck-so-bad. AS IT TURNS OUT it was a sneak attack by the Insecurity Angel. Damn Insecurity Angel.

Then good stuff happened.

I was published.

I'm being interviewed.

And OH YEAH I'm a quarter finalist on Blue Cat.


First things first: I wrote a snark-laden article over what farriers wish horse owners really knew for 'Gypsy Horse World' under the oh-so-clever pseudonym, 'The Grumpy Farrier'. I divulged trade secrets like don't give my number to your flakey friend with the bonkers horse and for the love of little steel horseshoe nails, bring your checkbook to the barn don't leave it at the house. People, get with the program. 

Michelle Goode, who has done the amazing job of shepherding 'Camp Wishaway' through multiple drafts into something that might actually be worth reading, runs #loglinechallenge over on Facebook. She posts the prompts. We post the loglines. It's a symbiotic relationship. Like cats and the little plastic thingy that comes off milk cartons. She interviews one participant each month and this month (like two days ago) I got the lucky email with the interview questions and felt like a complete fraud because I hadn't done very much, y'know? I had a one page article published and... nada. Some random loglines. And yet I was calling myself a writer. Such a poser!

BUT THEN the NEXT DAY I got an email from Blue Cat asking me to vote in their title contest.


I scrolled through it with absolutely no expectation that I'd be on the list. Then I was. Then I freaked out I was on a title contest list. I will admit that I shrieked. Then I did further reading and discovered the title contest list was actually the Quarter Finalist list. I was a QUARTER FINALIST. ME! 130 out of 1847! I did pirouettes across the living room and that evidently disturbed my dog enough he dragged himself off the couch and blinked at me like I'd lost my mind. Seriously. Tyson was concerned for my sanity.

We went walkies. That turned into runnies. That turned into wow I'm a long way from home maybe I should have done a circle. But I was so full of energy and excitement I couldn't think and I was honestly bouncing for the first half mile. Maybe further. I'm still bouncing, actually. I'm not a poser! External validation! Whoo!