write icon from flickr ccMy god, I love to write!

Sometimes it’s hard.

And sometime it’s disappointing.

And fairly often things don’t turn out the way one might have hoped.

But then, I read some passage I wrote that I actually like.

Or I work on a scene and everything I type just seems Right and powerful.  Or I talk to other writers about what they’re working on.  Or I get the Best Idea in the World.

I realize, these are things I get to do.

And they’re fun.

(picture from Karin Dalziel under CC BY 2.0)

It Is What It Is

It is what it is is something I learned from tracking.  I’ve talked about it online before, though I don’t think I’ve talked about it here.  In tracking, you train as much as you can, work with your dog until you both know what’s expected, plan for all the contingencies you can think of.  But then, the day of the test, maybe you get a downpour or it’s really hot or bone-chilling cold, maybe a hundred deer run across your track, maybe the judge makes a bad call or you make a bad decision or your dog just has a crappy day.

Yeah.  It is what it is.  You learn from it and move on.

When you write for publication there are some things that are under your control: how well you write, the story you choose to tell, how much effort you put into each draft.  But there are just as many things that are completely or mostly out of your control: what else is being published, your book’s cover, who your copyeditor is, the amount of publicity or the initial positioning or where your book goes on the shelves.  Big things and tiny things, fair reviews and unfair ones, whether anyone ever knows your book is out there or not.

It is what it is.  Other people get other things: a better cover, bigger advance, more visibility, just the right coattails, a particular, perfect moment in time.  You have no control over that either, though sometimes you desperately wish that you did.

The other night I found this passage at the end of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (a great book if, like me, you’re always looking for plotting and structure tips):

You must find a life within the confines of “It is what it is.”  This is where your skills as a bullhead will save both you and your sanity.  And while I’ve made fun of this trait throughout the book I do it as a means of challenging you to be more so: Whatever you do, don’t stop being a bullhead.  The powers-that-be can take away a lot of things.  They can buy your script and fire you, or rewrite it into oblivion, but they can’t take away your ability to get up and come back swinging–better and smarter than you were before.

Most of all, you must try to find the fun in everything you write.  Because having fun lets you know you’re on the right track.  So when you write those two dazzling words, FADE IN:, you’re as excited the hundredth time as you were the first.

It’s easy to get caught up in how your book is doing and which book is doing better or how much you wish this thing or that other thing had happened differently.  Or even: WHY CAN’T EVERYONE SEE MY VERY SPECIAL GENIUS RIGHT NOW!  But yeah, it is what it is.  The best thing you do is learn from it and move on.

What Writers Do

Great quote from Eloisa James’s memoir, Paris in Love:

I have a lot to do.  Revisions for an academic article are due back at the end of this month.  I have a column due to the Barnes & Noble Review website address five novels.  I’ve promised my editor the first hundred pages of my “Beauty and the Beast” romance, and told my university that I would finish my academic book by June.  So I spent the day working on a novella for which I have no contract, no publisher, and no deadline.  Alessandro rolled his eyes.

What I’m Working On

One of the things I’m frequently asked in interviews is–what other stories are you working on?

There will be two more books set in the same universe as Wide Open.  I’m currently editing the second book, Deep Down, which I mentioned briefly in a previous update.  Here’s a brief excerpt:

Ten minutes later, she turned onto the rough lane up to Pabby’s ranch house.  Halfway up the lane there was a low spot that washed out every spring.  Hallie dropped into second and the tail end of her pickup slid sideways along old ruts and morning-frosted grass.  Then, the tires caught, the engine revved up half a note, and she moved on up the lane.

She drove around the final shallow curve to the main ranch house and stopped with the front of her pickup pointing toward the house.  A skinny black dog slunk across the drive in front of her.  It stopped when it reached the far side just short of a trio of scrub trees.  A second dog, as skinny and lank as the first, settled next to it, tongue lolling and sharp teeth gleaming.

I’ve also been working on a draft of book three.  It’s an early draft and it will change, possibly a lot, before it’s done.  Here’s an excerpt from it all the same:

It was always parked in the same spot, had been there long enough that it had iced over, the ice had half-melted and it had iced over again so that the ice now looked permanent, like brittle armor. Boyd was the overnight deputy tonight and it was there as he drove down Main Street, the only car in a row of slant-front parking.  A Toyota, twenty years old, maybe a bit more, a nice car when it was new, it still looked pretty good, nothing more than a little rust along the wheel wells.  There was a web of spidering cracks in the back window on the passenger side, from a kicked-up stone or a hard stab with something pointed, not much yet, but as warm days and cold nights heated and cooled the glass, the cracks would spread.

I’m also occasionally working on a not-secret project with no specific due date or home.  It’s YA, set in present-day Nebraska, about a shapeshifter who doesn’t know what his true shape is, who his family is, or how to live in a world where he looks different every time he looks in the mirror.  So, finally, here’s a brief excerpt from that:

Today, I need to look sharp, like people should pay attention to me.  I choose six feet tall, which is comfortable, dark hair cut short, a running back build—muscles but not too heavy.  I sharpen the nose a little—aquiline, that’s what they call it.  I make my lips fuller on top than bottom, cheekbones a little high, but not too prominent, and blue eyes.  Girls go for blue eyes, the brighter, the better.  You can only go so blue, though, or it starts to creep them out.

Atwater calls it the ‘uncanny valley,’ but I looked it up and uncanny valley means when something looks nearly human.  People are more creeped out when something looks almost but not quite like a real person than they are by something that looks completely inhuman.  Weird, right?  Sometimes I wonder what people would do if I shifted into a wolf-man or an ape or a jaguar.  Because I could do it.  Or, I think I could do it.  Atwater’s asked me not to experiment too far outside what we kind of call the Zone.  “You don’t know how it would change you,” he says.  “Everything you do, every shape you adopt, changes you.”  That’s what he says.

I don’t want to be a monster.

Though I guess I kind of am.

I have some other stories in the draft or planning stages, but these are most likely the next three novels in what’s most likely the order of completion.

So many stories.  So little time.

Mistakes Were Made

But not…oh, wait, they were made by me.

Tor/Macmillan now has a Google Preview of Wide Open available on their website (Look Inside is now up at Amazon too). In both cases, the first two chapters (plus some other pages) are available as well as most of the front matter, including the acknowledgements.

I’m a bit of a loner and I like doing things on my own, but there would not have been a book and it would not have been this book without lots of generous help from other people.  So, the acknowledgements are important to me, even if most people don’t read them.  They’re one of the ways I can point to all those important people and say thanks.

Despite their importance, despite double- and triple-checking them, I still left out two people I’d meant to include.

  • Paul Melko, (whose book, Broken Universe, will be out from Tor in June) was at Blue Heaven the year I brought Wide Open and not only gave me helpful feedback on that manuscript, but recently read book two and gave me terrific feedback on that manuscript as well.  Thanks, Paul.
  • Mike Mauton has been my go-to ‘gun guy’ for both my novels and short stories and provides me with all manner of useful information on guns and hunting, which, given the books and stories I write, is invaluable.  Thanks!

To them, and the people I actually did include in the acknowledgements: all the mistakes in Wide Open are mine, but so much of what’s good is because I had help from all of you.