Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reaching a Milestone

Yesterday, I validated my NaNoWriMo story, Serpent Fire, at 50,080 words. The novel isn't finished, but all NaNo requires is 50,000 words, and I've met that goal. I suspect many writers are in a similar position, and NaNo is the perfect catalyst to getting words on paper.

This isn't my first NaNo. Death Sword, my short novel, published by Lyrical Press, was a 2008 NaNoWriMo project. Last year, I wrote The Ripper's Daughter, a story about a former Scotland Yard DI turned vampire who's determined to stop the killer of Louisville prostitutes. Another vampire novel, initially titled Marguerite, was the first time I did NaNo (2004).

I'll admit not all of my NaNo attempts were successful. But I never threw the stories away, and plan to finish them. I've also found sometimes it's a good idea to let a story wait.

What do I plan to do with Serpent Fire? I don't know. I'm having fun writing it. At this point, it's a paranormal political thriller urban fantasy. I think it'll be somewhere between 60,000-75,000 words upon completion.

To be honest, I almost gave up on NaNo this year. In the beginning, I was so far behind, the stats predicted I'd finish December 3. I started writing 2,000 words a day, writing scenes out of sequence, just to meet and then exceed my goal. Sorry, folks, guess I'm too stubborn to give up that easily. The last day, I wrote 4,061 words to meet the 50,000 word goal. My process was write 1,000 words, take a short break, then go back and write another 1,000 words, take a break, etc. If I didn't know how a scene would work, I'd write another one, telling myself that I could "fix it in post."

I'll have to let you know how that goes...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Imaginary Places

Location is crucial to a novel. For crime fiction, which is a very crowded market, it's almost as important as plot and characterisation. There's a serial killer loose? We need to know where. Is s/he pounding the streets of East End London, or moving among the movie star wannabes in Los Angeles? Swedish crime novels are the Hot New Thing at the moment, and I'm sure that part of the appeal is the Otherness of Sweden - a country that most people haven't visited, and its uniqueness - both in climate and the attitude of the population - make it a fascinating backdrop.

Of course, the location of a novel can only pull your readers in if it feels like a real place. If you're going to write about a real place, you need to convince readers who've actually been there. If I write about a real place in my stories, it's generally London, or parts of London that I know pretty well. But that's because I'm rather lazy about the research. If I have to set a story in a place I don't know very well, I'll create a fictitious place, rather than research a place I've never been to.

For SUFFER THE CHILDREN, I made up a fictitious town in Surrey, called Stanbridge. The town itself doesn't exist, but it's based on a combination of other Surrey towns, and I hope it comes across as a real place in the novel. For DEATH SCENE I used real-life locations - the book is set in and around London and Sutton. I wanted Shara to have a real-life grounding, a chronological time line in an actual place. It does mean that I have to be careful with location, as when you use a real place you have to respect the features that are actually there. If you throw in an abandoned warehouse on a street that actually exists and is exclusively a residential area, the residents might feel the need to correct you.

The current work in progress - the horror novel - is set partly in the Forest of Dean and partly in London. I don't know the Forest of Dean all that well, but it's a vast ancient forest and I don't think anyone knows every tree intimately.  However, it became necessary to take my characters to a town on the outskirts of the Forest of Dean. It had to be a small, old town.  Since I don't know the area all that well I thought I would just make up a town. After playing around with a few letter combinations the name Lydney came to mind, and seemed to work.

Earlier this week I discovered there actually is a town called Lydney - and it's a small town on the outskirts of the Forest of Dean. I found it while looking someone up on the database during the day job. One of my committee members actually lives there, so I suspect this knowledge had been lodged in my brain for a while, and my brain threw out this information when a request for the name of a town in the Forest of Dean came to light.

The only problem is, having never been to Lydney I have no idea if my Lydney bears any resemblance to the real life one. And because I really don't want irate Lydney townspeople writing me to protest what I'm doing to their town - and not just taking extreme liberties with the layout - I think I need to change the name. I'd far rather use a fictitious town. So I'm going to have to come up with another name for my fictional little town in the Forest of Dean.

I'd be interested to hear other writers' views on this. Do you prefer fictional locations for your settings, or real ones?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Women Want?

I don't get political on this blog very often. There are few issues I feel strongly enough about to be bothered to argue, frankly. But there are a few I get emotional about, and one of them seems to have been in the spotlight rather a lot of late.

I consider myself a feminist. I can't stand the sweeping generalisations that society seems to make about how people should behave based on gender. But this is me: I am a woman, and proud to be so. I don't know how to fix a car if it goes wrong, and I can't put up shelves. I also can't cook, I hate cleaning, I possess no maternal instincts whatsoever, and I have no interest in shoes or handbags. And I categorically do not know how to put up curtains, as I have discovered this week.

But my husband can't fix the car either. When it goes wrong we take it to the garage. Neither can he put put up shelves. We pay someone to do these odd jobs for us when the need arises. We also pay someone to do the cleaning. He is perhaps a marginally better cook than me. Neither of us likes ironing, so we have an arrangement - he irons his clothes, I iron mine. Generic items like sheets and tea towels do not get ironed at all.

And Hubby hates football. Which is good with me, because so do I.

After thousands of years of evolution, we have arrived at the twenty-first century and rampant sexism still exists. It makes me very sad, because it seems the human race has learned nothing. I would like to draw your attention to this website - the Everyday Sexism Project. Though I admire what this site is trying to do, if I spend too much time on it, I just get depressed.

A lot of women whose blogs I follow have talked about their own experiences of sexual harassment. The fact that so many people have stories to tell makes me very sad. I'm going to draw your attention to two, just because they are recent. Sarah Ellender has recently blogged about sexism, drawing on her own experiences of harassment in the workplace. And earlier this year, Sonya Clark wrote an excellent post about being a girl.

Fortunately for me, I don't really have any stories of my own to add. I have spent many years being a secretary, working for both male and female bosses. For a long time I preferred female bosses, as I saw too many men who wanted their secretary to either be a glamorous dolly-bird, so he could preen to his colleagues about having the sexiest secretary, or a mother figure who would look after him. Since I am neither a glamour girl nor a mother figure, I tend to be hired by people who just want someone to do the work.

Occasionally I get hit on, if I'm in the pub having drinks with female friends, in spite of obvious presence of wedding ring. I do not consider this a compliment, especially since the men in question are generally looking at my chest and not my face. But it has to be said I haven't gone through life having to constantly fend off unwanted attention, and as a teenager I did not have boyfriends. Boys just weren't very interested, and in some ways things haven't changed much. A lot of men appear to find me too intimidating. I do not conform to what society tells us is a model of attractiveness. I do not look like a Bond girl. But I am not fat and I am not ugly, even though it's taken me all of my life to get to a point where I can accept that. I am intelligent, I am opinionated and I can be brutally blunt, which some people think makes me a bitch. A lot of men don't know how to deal with that. And there are some people in this world whose opinions are informed by how society dictates men and women should behave. I'm not interested in many of the things women are supposed to be interested in. Some people find that rather disconcerting, which is probably why they think I'm a bit weird.

I grew up in the 1980s, where girls were encouraged to be Superwoman - have a career and a family. Thirty years on, I think we're going backwards. A lot of young women seem to be interested only in marrying footballers and having babies. I want to yell at them, "Where's your ambition?" It especially annoys me when women don't vote. Women had to fight very hard to get the right to vote. We shouldn't take it for granted.

And now we are approaching the dreaded Festive Season, where sexism appears in abundance. Asda's offensive ad has already been mentioned in the blog sites I pointed you at earlier. I go crazy at all the ads that assume generic 'his' and 'hers' gifts - with 'his' gifts being video games, and 'her' gifts being perfume and make up. The only thing I wanted for my birthday was Resident Evil 6. Which I got, but Hubby - who it has to be said has far better taste when it comes to picking women's clothes than I do, in spite of being straight - took me out shopping because he thought I should have some new clothes too.

I've come to terms with the fact that people think I'm weird. There are plenty of people in my life who value me in spite of my weirdness. But it saddens me that as a race we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. When I was a teenager, I thought I could change the world. Now I'm older, I'm a lot more cynical.

There are a lot of countries in the world where women have a far harder time of it than we do in the West - in some places, daughters are little more than commodities, to be married off to the highest bidder as soon as they puberty. Denied education, denied the right to drive, denied the right to vote.

A few years ago on a trip to Africa, we visited a small village where one particular charity had worked very hard to set up schools, with computers, and were endeavouring to give an education to as many local youngsters as possible. One woman in particular had worked very hard with these children. We encountered a young woman who came to talk to us, to practise her English. She was 18, and in her final year of school. She told us she was in no hurry to have a husband and children. She was going to go to university. She wanted to be a lawyer, and she wanted to help women suffering domestic abuse.

That young woman, who had clearly been inspired by the woman who worked so hard so help the youngsters of that African village, gave me encouragement that maybe things are changing, slowly. But the change is coming rather too slowly, and we've still got a long way to go.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NaNoWriMo Progress

Courtesy: MorgueFile.com
Yes, it's that time of year again. Time for the ubiquitous NaNoWriMo update. According to my calculations, based on the suggested word count of 1,667 words a day, I should be at 21,671 words. If all goes well, my word count will instead be 20,037, if I manage to get in 2,000 words, my current daily writing goal. (So that leaves me about a day behind...)

Not even halfway through, and I'm in a bit of a bind. It really won't take much to finish this story. I've already written my inciting incident, two plot points, and black moment. What about the end, you ask? Well, no, I haven't written it, but I do know the story resolution. Even so, I'm thinking 40,000 words and not 50,000, unless I can think of a few more conflicts to throw in.

One of the reasons I write short is because I tend to want to say what I need to, then move on. That may be why it's easier for me to write screenplays.

Layering emotion is also a challenge. It's not that my characters don't care about one another or their situation. It's that they tend to be more pragmatic in their outlook. Which probably explains why I'm better at writing suspense than romance. Sorry, but that's the way it is. Luckily, my romance-writing friends understand and still accept me.

Anyway, as for NaNo, I'll work on one of the scenes that still needs writing. Main thing is to get the story written before I start slicing and dicing. Writer's Digest has some free tips, so I might take a look and see if anything will light the pilot light in my imagination.

For those of you doing NaNo, good luck and keep at it!   

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I have just started draft 3 of my horror WIP. Like SUFFER THE CHILDREN, this is another novel about a mythical supernatural creature picking off citizens, with a select group of main characters being the only one to stop it. This time, my Big Bad is a magic user of old who was messing with some seriously dark magic, and finds a way to have himself brought back from the dead. Of course there is a price to pay for such power.

I've been working on this novel a year now, and I was rather hoping to be further along than I was. Generally I present draft 2 to beta readers. Not this time. I wasn't too happy with draft 2. It seemed that my main characters spent far too much time talking about what this creature was, and how they had to stop it, without actually going out and doing anything about it. My logical brain always wants to put in scenes about research and investigation, when it comes to stopping the Big Bad. But these things don't always move the plot along. There needs to be more action.

So, about halfway through draft 2 I decided that perhaps the Big Bad needs minions, and should work on raising an army. What kind of army would an undead wizard want to command?  The answer, it seemed to me, was that my WIP was crying out for zombie hordes.

So I am now rewriting draft 3, adding a sub-plot where corpses are rising from graves and gathering under the thrall of my Big Bad, as he gathers his undead army for a final show-down. Much as I like blasting zombies in video games, I've never tried writing them into a story before.

I'm planning on sending the MS to beta readers once I've finished draft 3. Then I might find out that I really have no business writing about zombies and I've got it completely wrong. But I am having fun with it, and zombies are hot property right now. Hopefully, they still will be by the time I finish this novel.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Detours Along the NaNoWriMo Freeway

Every November for the past several years, I embrace the novel-writing marathon known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal? Write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I like to joke I start October 1 with the knowledge I have 31 days to plot my story and work on character development. October 15 rolls around and I insist I can plot this puppy in 16 days. Then it's October 31, 11:59p.m. I have probably one character and a vague idea of plot.

Every year. Like clockwork.

This year, I wanted to write a phantasmagorical type of story, about a father and daughter who run a very special exhibit at sci-fi/fantasy cons.Part of it is inspired by my own con experiences and my love of animation.

Then my editor and I were discussing my on-again, off-again, mostly off-again, Angels of Death series. The second book, Serpent Fire, was giving me fits. I struggled with the revisions. The plot seemed contrived and, while there were aspects I liked, it obviously needed an injection of something. What, I didn't know. Ironically, the third book, The Devil Inside, was coming along better.

My editor suggested perhaps writing Serpent Fire as a stand-alone. I thought about it and realized Devil Inside could easily work as the second book. Serpent Fire received a lethal injection to make room for a new story, and one I'm having fun with, when I have time to work on it.

In this new version, Uriel, a demon-hunter, accidentally shoots and kills a demon who had permission to leave Tartarus. As part of his punishment, he's forced to serve under Sargatanas, a demon Brigadier-General, whose tough, by-the-book rules irritates the more independent mercenary angel. Sargatanas considers Uriel to be a proverbial pain and a detriment to the company, despite his exemplary sniper skills.

I'd never written such a story, with opposite characters playing off of each other. I thought it would be fun to make the demons strict and the archangel rebellious.

Unfortunately, I lost the plot sheet I'd devised for the story, which is holding me up. And having had to work on a story galley, plus reading for a contest, has curtailed my writing time for NaNo. I've come to the realization I probably won't "win" this year, but as long as I get words down, that's what matters.

As for my phantasmagorical story, well, I've debated writing it as a serial or perhaps writing it as a series of self-published novellas. I think four stories might work, depending on my research. I also have an idea to release four novellas based around the Memitim. But so far, these are only ideas.

Anyone else doing NaNo?

For more information: http://www.nanowrimo.org