Step To My Bones: Day One… Again

 

SONY DSCI promised in one of my posts a few days ago that I would give you guys a front row seat to my writing process as I draft, craft, and complete my next writing project. I wanted to do this for two reasons:

  1. It holds me accountable to getting it done in a timely manner.
  2. Hopefully you’ll get excited about what’s coming and want to read it when it’s done

I’m not going to be divulging too many details quite yet. My books usually clock in about 65,000 words. That was the case for the Shadows and Bloodtruth books. The Twisted Souls series fell out to be a novella series with the 2nd-4th books clocking in at just around 40,000 words. I tell you this because my original thought was that Step To My Bones was going to be another novella, but I’m not sure now, and I probably won’t know until I cross the 15,000 word mark.

At that point, the story is going to be pretty well baked in my mind, and I’ll have a good grasp of the major characters and the story’s main conflict. Being a pantster through and through, there is a certain amount of fluidity that I have to be comfortable with when I’m writing- so it’s one of those cases of I’ll share with you what I know when I know it.

I’ve started this story three times previously. For whatever reason, the front end just didn’t click which is why I kept going back to square one and eventually set it aside for another time. As you can tell by the title of this post, that time has finally arrived.

I travel for my day job, and I’ve found that being closeted on a plane for 2-3 hours without wifi is an ideal time to pound out the daily word count. So that’s exactly what I did last night on my flight home. I didn’t even bother with music. The hum of activity throughout the cabin was enough to provide the required level of noise I need to be productive. (I can’t stand trying to write in complete silence. It drives me batty.)

End result?

1 hour writing time = 2,040 words = Chapter One draft complete

The best part is, I feel good about it. The chalk outline of the guardrails for the story are there, and I’m ready to rock it.

(Photo credit: Dewey Beach)

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When You Want to Quit, Do This Instead

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There’s nothing quite like setting out to do something amazingly big and exciting, and then promptly falling on your butt. All of that enthusiasm you initially had evaporates in an instant, and you feel a myriad of emotions that range from chagrin to outright nausea.

Whether we want to admit it or not, failure at any level hurts. The idyllic shine of the unknown that we found so intoxicating gets a little bit tarnished. We grow a bit more jaded. Worse yet, we might swing toward taking the conservative approach the next time we face the same challenge. Nobody likes getting knocked down twice.

Although it’s hard to see in the heat (or despair) of the moment, making a rash decision and quitting is the exact opposite thing you should do in these types of situations.

The best way that I’ve found to work through the emotional rollercoaster of failure is to take swift and immediate action. Any action is better than no action at all, but hopefully the action is guided by what I learned in my spectacular fall. I truly believe that it takes a lot more guts to dust yourself off and start again, and I consider myself up to the challenge (most days anyway). The sooner I do it, the sooner I find that my focus shifts back in a positive and productive direction.

In my writing, I’ve set deadlines and missed them. I’ve gotten less than favorable (and sometimes brutal) feedback about my books. I’ve been positive that certain stories would resonate with readers and then released the work to the resounding sound of crickets. Nonetheless, I continue to write, and I continue to publish. That’s because the act of writing itself is cathartic to me, and adding to the growing bookshelf of work available to purchase is a unique and heady rush. I love it and hate it all at the same time, and I’ve learned that sometimes the story works for readers and sometimes it doesn’t. But those readers who love my books and my characters rave about them, and hearing that kind of feedback never gets old for me, and I don’t take it for granted. Putting myself and my work out there the way I do is a risk, but the reward has a huge upside.

When it comes to my life and my day job, I’ve had some epic failures- some of them painfully visible to family, friends, and colleagues. What I can’t do is crawl into bed and try to forget that life exists. Pity and self-loathing gets me nowhere. At some point, I have to stop feeling sorry for myself, pull my chin up, and face the world. And you know what I find? People are usually gracious, and second chances come easier when the other person sees that you aren’t willing to give up. In fact, moving forward and learning from a failure like that will often earn you respect that you couldn’t have found otherwise.

It’s hard to take action in the face of failure, no doubt about it. But at the end of the day, it’s easier to look at yourself in the mirror when you know that you’ve given it your all, and you’re still willing to get back in the ring and fight another day. With that kind of attitude in your life, you’ll be unstoppable.

(photo credit Krissy Venosdale)

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Out In the Open: One Author’s Creative Process Exposed

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My process for starting a new story is pretty simple.

  1. I have an inkling of the location where the story takes place. I definitely have the main character profile figured out (gender, age, background).
  2. I identify the genre of the story (very important so that you know the expected genre requirements).
  3. I pick a name for my main character.
  4. I might jot down a few notes that serve as an outline in the loosest possible way. This is because secretly I love the idea of being a plotter and declare to myself that this time I will be more organized.
  5. I give myself a deadline for finishing the story (following up on #4).
  6. I buy myself a lovely new planner so that I can assign myself a daily word count goal and track it.
  7. I sit down at the keyboard and start to write.

That’s it. At some point rather early on (usually within the first 10,000 words), the notes get tossed to the side because my characters have taken over. After writing as many stories as I have, I have gotten used to that happening, which is why I don’t bother doing a ton of plotting upfront. (For all you plotters out there, I bet that comment makes your skin feel itchy.)

As much as I love the idea of trackers, word counts, Excel spreadsheets, and the like, #6 gets tossed out the door because I’m clinging to dear life just trying to make sure I write something everyday. Some days, life gets the better of me and nothing gets down on the page. Other days, I am a writing goddess and bust through 10K words across several writing sessions in one day.

I tell you this because I’m currently gearing up to write another story. I’ve written about 800 words on it so far. It’s actually a story I’ve started and stopped several times because I haven’t gotten the front end quite right yet. This time though is different, and I’ll tell you why.

My character has a face. She has a name. She’s made herself known to me.

Until you feel that strong sense of who you’re writing about, the writing can feel flimsy, awkward, and disconnected. It’s work. Now I’m not saying that writing isn’t work, but when you aren’t connecting with the characters you’re writing about, it’s the kind of work that sucks out your soul.

Definitely no fun.

Two nights ago, as I was contemplating where I was going to go next in my writing journey, I stumbled across a cover reveal that I did over a year ago, and I remembered this little story that had gone nowhere.

And then BAM! She was there in my head. I had her and she couldn’t stop talking to me. I know more about her now then I ever have, and I know it’s time to tell her story.

That’s the amazing thing about opening the casting door and letting the characters in at will. Who shows up will always surprise you.

This is the first story that I’m going to “write out in the open”, if you will. In a post I did a few days ago, I emphasized the importance of simply finishing the story. To many people, that step feels very hard. So I’m going to let you into my world to see how I do it from beginning to end. That serves three purposes- you guys will be able to see that I am actually working on something new, I’m holding myself publicly accountable, and you’ll get to see first hand how the creative process works for me.

Happy Writing? 😉

(photo credit fabrizio q)

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When Authors Upset Readers

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I don’t rant often. At least not in public. But people who know me know that I have two big beefs with two big name authors.

Mr. Stephen King: Good ole SK and I go way back. Hell, he was a large part of the inspiration for me taking pen to paper to begin with. I cut my horror teeth on books like “IT” (which incidentally is still one of my favorite books of all time). For one reason or another though, it took me years to pick up The Gunslinger, which is the first book in his Dark Tower series. I think it was because it felt too fantasy/western-ish for me. (What- no vampires? No possessed cars? No kid with telekinesis? Next…)

What happened next surprised the crap out of me. The intertwining story of Roland, Jake, Eddie, and Odetta drew me and captivated me. I couldn’t stop. There are seven tomes in the series (some rather massive), but I plowed forward reading day and night. I read pretty fast, but it still took me almost two weeks to reach the pinnacle of the story in the last book. Then it was over, and I wanted to scream and throw things at the wall.

Not because it was over, but because of the way that King wrote the ending. I HATED it. I couldn’t believe that was how he chose to close out the epic plot. I felt sick. My mind was full of these characters, and what had been done to them. I was heartbroken for days.

And even though this happened in 2009, I’m still ticked off about it.

Mr. George R.R. Martin: I started reading Game of Thrones before it debuted on HBO- which I think mainstreamed the series. It took me a little while to get used to George’s writing style (particularly due to the continual violence against the female characters), but I was intrigued by the Stark family and growing tentacles of plot that followed each of the main characters.

Then (*spoiler alert*) he went and killed off poor Ned Stark at the end of the first book. I remember putting my iPad down thinking “WTF JUST HAPPENED?”.  Dumb me, I continued reading the next book.

You know the old saying “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me?” Well, I let old George fool me more times than I cared to count as each of my favorite characters (and I had to keep promoting new ones to that VIP status) fell to George’s killer pen. Finally, at the end of book 4, I said enough was enough. I won’t read anymore of the books because there isn’t really anyone left that I truly give a crap about.

Even Jimmy Fallon gets it.

You’re not fooling me again, George.

I’m a lot smarter about all of this stuff these days. With the internet, you can find out what’s going to happen throughout a series ahead of time, and then you can decide if you want to invest the time and energy to take the chance on it or not. (I’m looking at you, Charlaine Harris and Veronica Roth.)

So why the rant?

As frustrated, annoyed, angered, ticked off, hurt, sad, and bitter I am about these two series, I can’t deny one simple truth. I’m all of those things because the author was able to tell a story that sucked me in and got me emotionally invested. I connected with the characters in that magical way that makes them feel almost as real to me as the people around me. In the moments I spent with them, there’s no where else I’d rather have been.

That is a magical thing. And one that you don’t expect the author to abuse.

Right or wrong the author is the one that gets to make the decision on where the story goes and what the characters do. They invite us into their head and their worlds. They are sharing their creations with us, even though I feel quite possessive of them myself  (as if the story was written just for me). The only thing I have control over is whether I will continue to give them my attention or not (which is actually a pretty powerful thing when I think about this from my author perch).

Me and SK will continue to be buds. He’s proven himself with his other books that continue to entertain and delight me. Me and George are likely on the outs for good, but I’m not really sad at all about it.

Do you have a favorite author who did you wrong? Tell me about it in the comments!

Happy Reading…

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Tending To My Book Garden

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You might have noticed that things have been a bit quiet on the new release front of Cege Smith books. I wrapped up the last book in the Bloodtruth series in March, and then kind of disappeared for awhile.

There’s a few reasons for this:

  • I have the luxury for the first time since February 2012 of picking where I want to go next without having to worry that I’m disappointing readers (because you were waiting for the next book). I could write a sequel to Ageless. I could write a companion story to the Shadows trilogy. I could start something brand new entirely. It’s a bit heady really.
  • I was feeling a bit of burnout. 25 published works since November 2011 is pretty nutty when you think about it. By this time last year, I had published 3 short stories, 1 novella, one novel, and was halfway through a 2nd novel. That pace is exhilarating and exhausting, especially when still trying to find time for family and holding down a full-time job.
  • I realized that I had finally had the time and space to do some tending to my book garden.

This last point is really important for anyone who has jumped on the hamster wheel of being an indie author. There is always something to be done, whether it’s writing your next manuscript, promoting your work, or balancing your writing life with everything else you feel like you should be doing. A lot of things get prioritized much lower on the list and sometimes sacrificed altogether.

Dean Wesley Smith shared a great blog post on this recently in his “Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing” series. The post, called “Put the Book Up and Leave It” goes into great detail about the importance of tending to your book garden. I didn’t even really realize it, but this is what I’ve been doing since publishing A Heart’s Deceit in March.

I have three complete series under my belt, and honestly, the Shadows series has been the star performer since day one. I had some fantastic success with making Edge of Shadows free as part of the early days of the KDP Select program, and I also managed to complete the trilogy in just a tad over a year. I’ve only rebranded the covers once, although I continue to tweak the blurbs. It does well with promotions, and so I often feel like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Love it or hate it, that trilogy has earned out its production costs in spades and so, for now, to me it ain’t broke.

I’ve always thought that the Bloodtruth series suffered from the anti-Twilight backlash. Those characters are some of the nearest and dearest to my heart, and that is probably why it was the series that took the longest to finish. I so wanted to do Angeline’s story proper justice. Still, it wasn’t until I rebranded the covers late in 2013 and ran a successful Bookbub promo on Heiress of Lies in January that I felt like it was finally starting to get its legs. With the final book now done, I’d say it’s treading water and showing some very positive signs of momentum.

That brings me to the Twisted Souls series. It pains me to say that this series has yet to find its footing with readers. I’ve made tweaks here and there to covers and blurbs (and even the first book’s title), but I’ve never spent a lot of dedicated attention to it to try to figure out what went wrong. It’s a strange, quirky take on the zombie mythology, with some dystopian horror elements mixed in. That’s probably part of the problem too. It doesn’t fit well within any specific genre.

So I decided to spend some of my newly found down time rebranding that series and trying to find it a home with readers. So far, I’ve had positive comments about the new covers (which I personally love) and so I went ahead with my plans to finally put the series in paperback. I’ll keep tweaking, but I think the major work has been done. Perhaps this will be the year that series finally breaks even.

The future is full of promise, and I’m excited to see where the second half of 2014 takes me. Just know that if you don’t see me writing, I’m probably out back tending to my garden. 🙂

(Photo credit: Raddish + Rose)

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