Kick Ass Women

wonder-womanLast week I stumbled upon a fabulous documentary, Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American Superheroines. As a child of the seventies, I grew up on Lynda Carter and the Superfriends. I wore Wonder Woman underoos and flew around my house doing battle against evil stuffed animals threatening to destroy the world. I listened to Blondie and Pat Benatar and knew I’d grow up strong and invincible. I wasn’t alone. Every girl in the documentary felt the same thanks to Wonder Woman and all the superheroines that followed in her footsteps. But the documentary made me stop and think a moment. Who would my daughter’s superheroine be?

Sadly, Wonder Woman has been almost forgotten. A footnote in comic history. One I hope we can bring back and convince studio execs she’s worth it. But if not, who will replace her for the next generation? These are the kinds of questions I was asking myself after viewing the documentary. Never has this kind of thing been more important than now as I raise my daughter.

Since I am a serious geek, I doubt my daughter will go uneducated in the ways of Amazonian power. At two, she’s already attended our local comic convention three times and as I’m a serious Joss Whedon fangirl, she’ll be exposed to plenty of well-written female characters. There will be no dearth of strong women around here. But I still worry.

However on our way to school this morning, I made a realization. G is already on her way to becoming a kick ass woman. How did I discover this? Music, of course. She is getting into music these days and is very demanding when it comes to what she wants to hear. (Demanding = screaming and crying). So what does she request? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Florence + the Machine, and Thao & The Get Down Stay Down.

No timid women there. My daughter’s going to be just fine.

 

#vdayplaylist

Growing up, one of my favorite hobbies was making a mixed tape, and my love of mixed tapes has never died. When people transitioned to CD, I did as well, burning mixed compilations for birthday, holidays and special occasions. I’d make the cover art and the backing pages by hand. But once I had kids, my free time dwindled and the pastime was forgotten in a haze of diaper changing and cleaning. However, since the advent of Spotify, the mixed tape aka playlist has come back. I make them all the time and occasionally share them with friends. The only sad thing – no handmade artwork to go along with it.

Yesterday, I shared some of the tracks on my #vdayplaylist and I was asked to share the complete list. I tried to range the gamut of love, from happy & hopeful to tragic & despairing to lusty & wanting.

Can’t Help Falling in Love – Lick the Tins
Breathin’ – Asylum Street Spankers
In Spite of Ourselves – John Prine & Iris Dement
My Funny Valentine – Chet Baker
Cupid – Amy Winehouse
You Belong to My Heart – Old 97’s
Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
Make You Feel My Love – Adele
Valentine – Fiona Apple
We Both Go Down Together – The Decemberists
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers
Question – Old 97’s
I Will Follow You into the Dark – Death Cab for Cutie
My Valentine – Paul McCartney
Wicked Game – Chris Isaak
Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye
What songs would you have on your #vdayplaylist?

A Work Complete

Let it be known: Friday the 13th day of January, I finished my monster in a box. It is done! Final count: 160,004 words, 519 pages. WHOOOOOO HOOO! Time to celebrate. *bounce*
Facebook 01/13/12
One year later… I have finally finished revising and editing.
What took me so long? My husband would love an answer to this question. His as well as everyone else’s excitement for me dwindled as the days lengthened to weeks and months, and I still couldn’t put my stamp on it. But I only get one shot at this folks. My book needed to be as polished as possible before letting it go.
 
Any agent or editor could look at my FB post and tell you right away why I was still editing. Too long. When I started writing, I just wrote. I focused on my story. I didn’t research the industry or what agents/publishers looked for in a debut manuscript. I knew the kind of novels I liked to read. The ones that hold you gripped in their hands and won’t let you go. The ones that when you finish leave you desperate for your next fix. I’ve been a literary junkie for years. I know what gets me going and keeps me reading. Because I was writing the first of a series, I had to plan for the future. Some of my favorite series do a fabulous job of foreshadowing the next book.
 
As I wrote, I kept the following things in mind:
  1.  The major story arc that would span the first several novels.
  2.  The characters that would become important in later novels.
  3.   Building the tension between future couples.
And I accomplished my task. Too well. I had too many characters, too much tension, too many side stories, too many points-of-view.
 
So I simplified.
 
I focused on the main HEA. I cut scenes I loved. I scrapped characters and put them on a waitlist. I slowed the build on one of the couples. They needed cooling or they would never make it to book three. That alone shrunk my monster from 160k to 118k.
 
The next step was focusing on the nitty gritty. Words. I had to cut the fat in my manuscript. Filler and filter words had to go. I learned my sloppy words (look, thought, that, so, just) and nixed them. And in doing so, I made my writing better. Showing, not telling. A lesson I always taught my students but didn’t fully understand until now.
 
My monster in a box is now a respectable 106K.
 
It’s ready. I’m ready. Today I’ll be sending out my first query letters. It’s scary and terrifying and all that jazz. But it’s time.
 

A few thanks to the following:
My husband for his support and putting up with me in general. Jason Kiniry for being my personal hole-poker and not the dirty kind :P. (See Poking Holes.) My girls who read my manuscript and gave me feedback (Angela Johnson, Elicia Arwen, Tanya Barnes, Shea Precht, & Sarah Haney). You guys are awesome. My mom aka babysitter. Without her help, I would have never finished my book and would never have clean laundry. Del Dryden for beta reading (and giving it to me straight), general sounding board, and industry question answerer. Your feedback was invaluable. Seriously, you rock. I owe you. Angela James for B4UHitSend. Her workshop helped me clean up the nitty gritty. I can’t recommend this online class enough.

 

Never Again

I will never take another break from writing.

I feel terrible. My mind is sluggish.

It isn’t that I chose to stop. No. Life got in the way as it is apt to do. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’re aware my husband and I are remodeling our house. I had heard horror stories about home renovation, so I was prepared for the worst. Or so I thought.

I have no desire to rehash in gory detail all the crap that has befallen us. I’ll make this brief. In fact, I will simply describe our Thanksgiving holiday. We had one week to move all our worldly possessions into a POD. If that weren’t a difficult enough task for a typical family of four, my father-in-law passed away, my husband had an emergency root canal, and my kids got lice.

But we made it. Big, big thanks to wonderful friends and family who helped us along the way.

Since October, I have been mom, wife, contractor, painter, grief counselor, demolition crew, packer, organizer, nit picker, handyman, and chef. I have been everything but writer.

I wrote that life got in the way, but really I let life get in the way. I let the renovations take over. Life will always try to change your plans. The trick is making the time. Every day. I have to find a way to write even when life is beating down my door with crazy demands (along with my children).

When I don’t write, I am unhappy.

 

My resolution for 2013: Write.

And yes, that includes attempting to maintain my sad excuse for a blog 😉

DragonCon 2011 Revisited

21 days to DragonCon 2012…

Illuminati coat
On Tuesday, I found out the iPhone app for this year’s DragonCon had been released, and if I wasn’t already excited, I was now bouncing through the house.  Well…Sarah’s house to be accurate as we were beginning work on my Illuminati costume.  And really to be totally accurate, she did all the work.  Sarah, have I told you lately that I love you?
Last year was the first year I had attended DragonCon.  I had wanted to go for years, but when I finally had the money to attend, I was teaching.  Administration frowned on my taking off a week just after the start of school.  My husband and I went with two of our best friends – seamstress extraordinaire and all around bad ass person, Sarah, and my own personal content hole poker, Jason (see Poking Holes where I sing praises of his rad skills: http://perchingonabarstool.blogspot.com/2011/10/0-false-18-pt-18-pt-0-0-false-false.html).  We had a freakin’ blast.  It not only met my expectations, but also blew them out of the water.  As Sarah so eloquently put it, “DragonCon is Mardi Gras if it rolled a D20.”
I will never miss another DragonCon. Ever.  The vibe there is incredible, like nothing I have ever experienced.  The count down to this year’s event has made me nostalgic for last year’s hijinks.  I didn’t have a blog to reflect our journey to Atlanta and back, but this year I do.  So for posterity sake, here are a few highlights from 2011.
The highlight of the con: meeting Laurell K. Hamilton! Aside from being one of my favorite authors, my book never would have been finished if it weren’t for her advice.  Years ago, she posted several blogs about the writing process.  One of the blogs talked about getting words on a page.  I remember her saying to set a goal, even as low as two pages a day, and committing.  I did just that (and 99% of the time surpassed that 2 page goal by 4 or more pages).  I can’t thank her enough.  I think I tried that night, but I was stuck in fangirl squee!
Sarah and I getting our steampunk on!
Dice ready!  Let the gaming commence…
Jason after winning a Magic tourney
My husband in the gaming room enjoying a good sit.
Another cool moment: Attending Jennie Breeden’s Kilt Blowing event and getting to meet her again!
Every morning, I check my email, check social media, and read the Devil’s Panties (http://thedevilspanties.com/  ).  I got to meet her at Comicpalooza a few months before this event.  I had no clue she would even be at the con, and when I rounded the corner and saw a giant Devil’s Panties sign, I freaked!  Very exciting!
What will this year’s DragonCon bring? I can’t wait to find out.  
 
Check out Sarah’s blog chronicling her costuming countdown to DragonCon 2012 here: http://sablearts.com/

Next Decade, Next Project

The past couple of weeks have been quite frantic.  I vowed to write a blog a week, and already I am failing miserably at my task.  Poo.  Here is a brief update on my insanity.

I have finished all my cuts and edits on my Urban Fantasy.  Yay!  Let there be much rejoicing.  My manuscript is now being reviewed by two lovely grammar Nazis since I can no longer see my mistakes. My query is done.  Every week I am reviewing it and making sure there isn’t another way to tweak it.  I’ve written the one, two, and five page synopses.  Again, I am waiting a week to review and tweak.  That way, once my line edits are done, I will be ready to query agents.

In the meantime, I have started on my new WIP – Ginny, a western steampunk w/romantic elements.  Chapter one has been written.  I then did something I didn’t do with my first novel.  I sat down and wrote a chapter synopsis for the ENTIRE book.  I figure this may change while I write, but unlike my first book where I only had vague ideas of where I was going and was constantly revisiting my timeline and changing things, I have a very clear picture of everything.  And that is an awesome feeling.

But before I go diving in, I have one more very important job – creating an alternate timeline.  This will actually be quite fun.  I already have a great reference book The Timetables of History which will help me create the “real” historical timeline.  Then I will rewrite that with my own twists and turns, including historical events, scientific discoveries and inventions, etc.  I think this will actually be quite fun.  Once I have the timetables done, I am going to write the historical reference text.  Most of this information will just be for me, but it will help my world building immensely.

Oh, what’s with the title? I turned forty yesterday.  In January, I wrote Marking Time (http://perchingonabarstool.blogspot.com/2012/01/marking-time.html) and wrote, “In ten years, I will reflect on my forties and say, ‘That is the decade I became a published author and had my first best-seller.'”  It seems I am on my way to making my dreams come true.  Everyone asked if I was freaking out about turning forty.  Honestly, I have never been happier.  I finally know exactly who I am and what I want to do.  I wouldn’t trade that for any age.

Lastly, a shout out to my husband who is an absolute sweetheart, not only for putting up with me yelling at him to hush while I write, but also for taking me out for a surprise night on the town for my birthday.  He took me on a “stroll down memory lane” to places that have meant something to us, like the Richmond Arms and Brewery Tap, where we had our first date.

My big night out!  First stop at the Richmond Arms!

 

Ginny

Over a year ago, I woke up from a vivid dream.  A new disturbing world was handed to me complete with a kick-ass heroine.  I wrote a voice piece from her perspective and Ginny was born.  Unlike the novel I was writing at the time, this series would focus on a single heroine and would be written solely from her view of the world.  But I couldn’t focus on Ginny then.  I had to file her away for another day.

Now, I’m in the final edits of my urban fantasy, and Ginny has started knocking on my door again.  She is ready.  In fact, she is screaming that her time has come.  Although I hadn’t written a word about her since that fateful morning, she woke me from sleep, I have thought a lot about Ginny and her world.  And in all that thinking, her story has come packaged and delivered.

Last night, I started writing in my head.  The words wouldn’t stop, and her narrative just about drove me to madness until I told my husband the kid’s bedtime was in his capable hands and fled to the bedroom, locking the door, my laptop in hand.  She poured outta me and on to the page, and it felt so damn good.  She even woke me up at 5:30 am… tap…tap…tapping.  Ginny is not a patient woman.  


The time has come to balance my work.  Until I start querying, I will focus on final edits of my urban fantasy. My query and synopsises are done.  YAY!  That way, I can carve a bit of time each day to appease Ginny.

For those curious about the genre, Ginny’s story will be a western steampunk novel.

 

A Writer’s Stride

For years I had dismissed running, mostly I’ll admit now, because I’m lazy.   Who wants to run when you can sleep an extra hour? I made a lot of excuses.  I can’t find a good sports bra.  I have bad knees.  I don’t have time.  Then, in October, my husband ran his first 5k.  Watching him, a man whose favorite exercise was walking to the fridge to get a beer and back to the computer for another match, complete his first 5k was pretty damn inspiring.  As he crossed the finish line, I vowed the next time, I would be by his side.
So, I started running.  Now I love it.  I couldn’t imagine my life without it.  Especially because of my writing.  There is something magical that happens on a run.  My mind unknots, and my muse is allowed to play.  Working the body is as important as working the mind.  At least for me it is.  After a run, I come to the computer refreshed with plot issues resolved.
This summer, however, is kicking my ass.  Texas heat is NOT something you willingly run in.  At least, I don’t.  If I’m not up and out by six A.M., forget it.  I have tried to run on the treadmill.  I hate it.  I can run two and a half miles with ease on the road, but in the gym, I peter out at a mile.  No amount of creative visualization helps. 
Yet, runners are still everywhere.  And aside from the occasional hot-bodied shirtless runner, I never paid much attention to them.  That is, until I started running.  Now, I find myself looking at people’s strides.  I know every runner who lives in my neighborhood.  Not personally, mind you, but after months of running and waving as you pass them, you develop a certain respect and an unspoken camaraderie.
 
There is one guy in particular that is the most dedicated runner I have ever seen in my life.  He isn’t pretty to look at. He does not stride like a gazelle on the Savanna.  In fact, I am always afraid he is going to trip over his own large feet.  Sweat is always pouring down his face, even in winter.  And I admire this guy tremendously.  Why?  Because rain, shine, cold, or hot, this guy is running.  He is running everyday at two in the afternoon.  That’s right.  July in Texas 100+ degrees, and this guy is out running at the hottest point in the day.  At first, I just thought he was one stupid SOB.  You could not pay me enough money to run at that time of day.  Not in Texas. 
But on Monday, as I crawled out of bed sniffling with the remnants of a summer cold and sat at my computer, I thought of my loping runnerman.  I didn’t want to write.  I wanted to go straight back to bed and snuggle under the covers.  But my sweaty runnerman, wouldn’t do that.  He would get out at the hottest point of the day and run. 
It takes dedication.  It takes balls of steel.  It takes a bit of stupidity.
He made me realize something.  Something I already knew but hadn’t pieced together. Writing, running, it’s all the same.  To succeed in either, it takes commitment.  
I used to only write when my illustrious muse demanded it.  That was before I wrote my novel.  If I had waited on that girl to get it together, I would have never finished my book.  She is far too fickle.  I have to give her some rules.  She still argues with me, but I write.  Every day.  Come rain or shine.  I have to keep up my writer’s stride.  Keep my girl in practice.  Improve her pace.  Build up her endurance.  Because I am in this for the long haul. 

120k, 120k, 120k . . .

Editing is hard.  Really, really hard.
No joke. 
I’ve learned a lot writing my first novel.  I’ve learned my bad habits. Hello, adverbs!  I’ve learned the importance of note taking.  Hello, Excel charts!  And I’ve learned that editing is far more important than writing the original draft.  Hello, cuts!

When I wrote my first draft, I knew nothing about the publishing industry or what was expected.  My only goal was to get words on a page.  Every time I thought about researching submission guidelines or agents, my creative sphincter would seize up.  So, I saved it for last.  Words on page.  Words on page.  Words on page.  That was my mantra.  I didn’t worry about word count.  I didn’t try to contain the flow of my thoughts.  I just wrote.
 In the end, my manuscript bloomed to a whooping 158k. 

I didn’t realize that was long until I started researching.  And even when I read Urban Fantasy should be no longer than 120k, I shrugged it off.  I was proud of my book.  I just knew if someone read it, the 158k wouldn’t be an issue.  I justified it.  There’s a lot of world building.  It has an ensemble cast.  I am setting up plot arcs for future books.  Excuses.  All of them.
I sent my query out for a few critiques.  One writer said of my word count, “You may have heard this before but… this is quite a lot.”  What she was really saying, “Holy shit!  Are you freakin’ serious?  158k? ”
Now, I have a new mantra.  120k, 120k, 120k.  And I will keep repeating it until I shrink that word count.  What good is having a great novel that no agent will ever read because the word count scared them away?  This process hasn’t been easy, but my novel is better for it.  My writing is tighter with less repetition.

But I have cut scenes I love.  I have cut dialogue that made me giggle.  And just tonight, I cut a side-plot that made me weep.  It will have to wait for book two.

And that’s my goal, isn’t it?  To get published and get a book two? 
Hell, yes! 
So, I will cut.  And cut.  And cut, until I hit 120k.
As of tonight, I am down to 130k.  And the more I cut, the less I am attached to any one thing.  The big picture is what matters.  The end game.
Big thanks to those who helped convince me to deflate my monster in a box. I’m a better writer for it.

Mother’s Day

I wrote this poem a decade or so ago.  As today is Mother’s Day, it seems appropriate to share it now.  It’s interesting reading it again after all these years, especially now that I have my own daughter.  This poem is dedicated to my mother and grandmother, my lineage.

Lineage
Circa 1972 and my mother whose belly is round and full, heavy
with the flesh of my unborn body, wakes.
Midnight nears, I kick and squirm, struggling
against the natural course of time, unwilling
to leave her womb without a fight.
Circa 1977 and my bare feet stand on the cold
linoleum of my grandmother’s kitchen floor.  My mother
and grandmother stand close beside me.  One tablespoon

of vanilla.  Stir it in now.  My hand grips the metal handle, plunging
the spoon into the dough. I see my opportunity as they both turn away.
My finger dips into the raw butter, sugar and eggs, pulling
up just enough to taste.
Circa 1979 and my roller skates, permanently
affixed to my feet, move
in unison to the beat of Blondie, skidding
around my cul-de-sac for my first taste of freedom.
I spread my arms wide, absorbing the final rays of sunlight
before my mother calls me inside.
Circa 1987 and I am fighting –
Fighting to get out.
The pink bristles of my shaved head stand in revolt
against everyone and everything.  Patiently,
my mother waits for me to be born.
Circa 1988 and my hand yearns to feel her warm breath.
For a moment, I can feel it.  I see
her chest rise and fall.  Maybe
she’s only sleeping. 
A tear falls from my mother’s eye.
She’s gone.
I look back to my grandmother’s still body and see my mother –
my lineage.
My fists unclench and my arms spread wide,
to embrace the past.
Circa 1948 and my grandmother whose belly is round and full, heavy
with the flesh of my mother’s unborn body, wakes.
Midnight nears, my mother kicks and squirms, struggling
against the natural course of time, unwilling
to leave her womb without a fight.