Obsession Much?

July just ended, and now it’s August. Did I get caught in a time warp and miss July altogether? I must have because it seems I opened my eyes the other day, and it was August. How did that happen? And how have I managed not to blog for a month or more?

Three words: Work in Progress, aka WIP.

This particular WIP is a four-book series entitled A Perfect Hatred. I’d left it alone for a year, then resolved to do a complete rewrite of all four books this year. All told, I’ve cut about 90,000 words from three books, and I’m working on the fourth now; it’s down 10,000 words.

A writer friend said why bother to cut; length doesn’t matter in an ebook. It may not, but unnecessary words weigh anything down. Most of what I’ve cut has been back-story, info dumps, and clever little paragraphs to show the reader just how much research I’ve done. I’ve cut swaths through what a character is thinking and let those thoughts emerge through dialogue and action. I hope.

In short, I’m trying to apply everything I’ve learned from three years of workshops and conferences, and it takes a lot of time. I’m back in my characters’ heads, and I don’t want to leave them. I dream about them. When I’m not writing them, I miss them. I find myself getting annoyed when other responsibilities intervene. I’m having chats with my characters when I’m in the car, the shower, at the grocery store. Trust me, if the chat happens in a public place, it needs to be entirely within your head; otherwise, people avoid you.

Why am I suddenly obsessed with this particular WIP? It’s somewhat time sensitive. It deals, fictionally, with an historical event whose twentieth anniversary occurs in April 2015. It would be timely to release an ebook a month starting in January, with the fourth book coming out on the anniversary itself. Of course, that pre-supposes I’m going to self-publish it, another thing I’ve obsessed over, written endless pro/con comparison lists about, and changed my mind countless times.

It’s my opus magnum. I started a first rough draft of it in 1997, researched and wrote in my spare time, discussed the topic to the point where my now-ex said, “Please stop,” and ended up with three books worth of “stuff” by 2000. I put it aside because it had no ending–at least the right ending. I’d tried several; none worked. Then, in June 2001, the ending happened.

In the meantime, I’d drafted other novels and many, many short stories. I got a new job, which involved a lot of my time, and this particular WIP got tucked away again. When I retired in 2009, it wasn’t the first thing I picked up to concentrate on, but when I did focus on it, I realized it should be four books, not three, an unusual number for a series. So, last year I edited the first book, put it aside because something wasn’t clicking, and I got caught up with other projects. It dawned on me late last year, the whole kit and caboodle needed a rewrite, as in start book one from page one in a blank Scrivener file.

I’m likely going to be diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome (again), my back is pretty much wrecked from sitting too much, and my house really needs cleaning. Oh, it’s not in hoarder territory at all, nothing a good vacuuming wouldn’t cure, but I don’t want to take time away from rewriting to do that. Lately, I don’t want to use my time for much of anything except writing. I went to a writers conference on Saturday–a good one where I got to be a gushing fan girl to Bruce Holsinger about his incredible novel, A Burnable Book–and resented the hell out of every minute there.

Obviously, this is something I need to get a handle on or I’m never going to leave the writing room in my house.

But, why is that so bad?

The Prodigal Returns

It’s been over a month since my last substantive post here–on the first day of AWP. It’s not that I haven’t been writing; I have. Mostly re-writing. I haven’t been writing my political blog; I haven’t done Friday Fictioneers; I haven’t done Flash! Friday. I’ve not put my finger on quite why, other than the obvious: winter doldrums, lingering nasty weather, and overall write-on-a-self-imposed-deadline burnout.

So, here’s a summary: AWP was great; I had story selected as a finalist in a national contest; the agent loved my writing but decided my novel wasn’t for him; the Virginia Festival of the book was wonderful (though I’ll confess I wish I’d been a panelist instead of in the audience); I had a story rejected for an anthology about a week after an anthology appeared with one of my stories in it; I had an editor solicit a story from me “for consideration;” and we’re about ten days away from the staging of my ten-minute play, “Yo’ Momma,” which was a winner in the Ampersand Arts “Bar Hopping” Contest.

Then, on Sunday, I got tagged in a Facebook post: “Name 15 authors who’ve influenced you and who will always stick with you.” Once I started thinking about that, I began to jot down names and decided this would be a much better blog post than a comment on a Facebook post.

I’m back!

Here are the fifteen authors who’ve influenced me with a brief explanation of how and why, divided into women and men but listed in alphabetical order so as not to give away who is/was the most influential.

Louisa May Alcott – She embodied for me the woman writer’s struggle to be accepted for what you are by society and family.

Margaret Atwood – She shows the world that dystopian fiction can be intelligent and well-wrought, and that makes her worthy of emulation.

Jane Austen – For her time, she wielded a sharp pen of sarcasm, feminism, and egalitarianism, and, damn, but she could turn a phrase.

Charlotte Bronte – She showed me that romance and happy endings aren’t elusive after all.

Ursula K. LeGuin – She is a pioneer in one of my favorite genres, science fiction, and I first heard “write what you want to write” from her.

Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters – She taught me that romantic pairs as protagonists can carry a series (or several series in her case) and that the romance doesn’t detract from a good mystery story.

Sara Paretsky – She showed me your female protagonist can take care of herself and not be dependent upon a man and still be popular (and don’t let editors tell you otherwise) and that plots suffused with liberal politics can be, too.

Kate Wilhelm – She showed that female writers could write “hard” science sci-fi stories and be respected by her male colleagues, even the stodgy ones.

Honorable Mentions: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Octavia Butler, Shirley Jackson, Doris Lessing, Flannery O’Connor,

Isaac Asimov – As well as being one of the most prolific authors of the twentieth century, he showed me you could tell a story and educate people at the same time.

Harlan Ellison – As well as being an ardent admirer of LeGuin, he showed me that you could and should go into the dark areas of the mind and write about them. He also spent fifteen minutes with me once and told me to never, ever give up writing.

William Faulker – He showed me what every writer from the south needs to accept–our history is both full of joy and worthy of embarrassment.

Thomas Hardy – I love this man’s prose. He can take pages to relate a nanosecond of plot, but you don’t mind.

Stephen King – He showed me that when you write about the horrific, at least do it in a way which elevates it.

Boris Pasternak – He showed me how an artist should stand up for the integrity of his or her work and that an epic should truly be an epic.

Kurt Vonnegut – He showed me that a good story is worth spending weeks, months, even years to perfect.

Honorable Mentions: Mikhail Bulgakov, Fredreich Engels, Seamus Heaney, James Joyce, V. I. Lenin, Karl Marx, Vladimir Nabokov, William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy

Now, fifteen of the writers who read this need to do the same. 😉

 

No Foolin’

Today, I could have played a major April Fools joke on the rest of you by “announcing” that I’d just been offered a six-figure advance and a multiple-book contract from one of the “Big Six.” I could have, but I won’t because it’s likely the joke would be on me. So, no advance, no book contract; just constant editing and revising and hoping.

I get frustrated at times with the lack of new material I’m producing. I retired to have more time to write, and I have written more and more constantly than before I retired; but it seems at times that I do more re-writing than writing.

No difference, you say. Writing is writing. True, but I miss the mad rush of researching and drafting that comes with a whole new project. Granted, I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November, which means I have created five, original manuscripts in five years.

The first one was a semi-autobiographical piece, which, after re-reading it, I realized was 200+ pages of self-indulgent whining. It has, however, been a good source of short stories.

The second one I have edited, revised, and re-written to the point where it’s as ready as it will ever be for pitching to possible agents.

For the third one, I took a risk and killed off one of my characters, a bold move that turned out fairly well. It also helped me face the loss of my long-term relationship and address the emotions that involved; however, the character wasn’t ready to die and told me so. The good news is, I’m meshing this manuscript with another one I developed shortly after the events of September 11, 2001. So, all is not lost.

The fourth one is one that I really enjoyed writing. It’s the closest thing to a sci-fi novel I’ve ever written–a story about a dire future after the Tea Party takes over the government. Dark and political, it was a rough draft I was very proud of, and, in fact, the first 5,000 words I submitted for critique in last year’s Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop. The reception it received was awesome. (It helps that the workshop instructor, Pinckney Benedict, is a fan of dystopian fiction.) Then, I re-read Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, for a book club and went, “Oops.” It had been two decades almost since I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, but apparently I channeled Atwood when I wrote my manuscript. (Channeling Atwood could be a good thing.) However, since it got such good feedback, it’s definitely something to work on.

The fifth one, last year, was a completely different work for me, a straight-up literary fiction novel that intersects an event in a small town during World War II with an event in the same town in present day. The protagonist is a successful romance writer married to a not-so-successful novelist, and all is just lovely until they find the bones of a baby in the wall of a room they’re renovating. I always put a NaNoWriMo draft aside for six months before I start revising, so next month is when I’ll pull it out and start polishing it.

So, what am I whining about? Well, after an amazing amount of creativity in the late 1990s and early 2000s wherein I dashed out six novel-length manuscripts featuring my two favorite spies, Mai Fisher and Alexei Bukharin, as they work for the fictional United Nations Intelligence Directorate, I haven’t produced a new novel featuring them since 2002. Yes, I’ve been revising and re-writing all those original manuscripts, but I’ve missed creating a new adventure for them. I have been writing short stories featuring them (Spy Flash, published in December 2012), but aside from that, Mai and Alexei walked away from a mission in 2001; and we’ve heard nothing from them since.

You’ve written all you can about them, you might say. No, I feel they have a lot of adventures in them, and I’ve made notes about those adventures. Merely, focusing on improving my craft and establishing a bit of a name for myself as a flash fiction writer has become my immediate focus.

That’s why I need that multiple-book contract, publishers. I’ve always been well-motivated by deadlines, so take a chance. Tell me you want three books, four, or five, and I’ll get right on them.

Don’t forget, this is National Poetry Month. Take a break from fantasy or cozy mysteries and read a poet you’ve never read before.