It Means A Lot

. . . when I hear from readers who want a sequel to something. Readers may think they don’t have much influence on writers, but (at least in my case) they do. While I do have other commitments to consider, I can rearrange my project list based on encouragement from readers.

Point in fact: last week a reader requested a sequel to The K-Pro. In fact, I’ve noticed more sales of The K-Pro just lately, which I thought was interesting. I had started a second book a while back but when the first didn’t do so well I backburnered it. Now, however, I’m inclined to possibly dust it off. I need to finish Brynnde and the second Changers book, but now the K-Pro sequel (titled Ms. Fortune) rounds out my top three writing priorities.

Anyway, I love hearing from you guys. Especially when it’s about a book you loved. (I value criticism too, just ask that you try to be nice about it.)

By the way, I finished a second round of edits on Changers, which means we’re getting ever closer to you being able to read it! Can’t wait to share this one with you!

#amediting

Editing, for me, is so much harder than writing—and writing doesn’t come easily to me either, which tells you how difficult I find editing.

Yesterday I received the first round of edits on Changers, and my stomach is in knots over it. I’m only on page 10. It’s like I have to come up for air frequently because this stage practically gives me panic attacks.

I keep reminding myself of the good things. Edits = progress = closer to publication. And of course I want my book in the hands of readers!

Still, there’s something about the editing process that I find chastising. A lot of it is subjective, and still more of it has to do with individual publishers’ styles. Compromise is required. I try to see it as a learning experience, but sometimes I can’t help but think, This is why I self-publish so much of my work.

Which is not a dig at my publishers, I promise! Every writer should learn to compromise and negotiate their words. I think most of us want to dig in our heels and be stubborn about it, but it really is important to learn to take criticism and critique.

Just having an editor and a publisher is a blessing. It means the work has value. As a writer, I need to remind myself that a little tweaking isn’t a condemnation. But I still have to tackle it in bite-size pieces. They’ve given me two weeks.

Deep breath.

I’m going back under.

Incensed

My home office almost perpetually smells of incense. And no, I’m not smoking pot and burning incense to cover up the smell. Truth is, I used to burn candles all the time, but they were leaving soot stains on the ceiling (still need to clean/repaint there). Then a friend and I were out for a day in “the City” and I came across a cool incense burner. I’d never burned incense before, but the shop owner showed me how. The burner is in the shape of a dragon—very appropriate as I was writing Changers at the time—and so the dragon blows smoke from his mouth when you burn a cone of incense in the burner. I fell in love with it instantly.

But then later I discovered there were so many more scent choices if I’d burn the sticks instead of the cones. So I found a burner for those, too.

I’m not sure what it is that drives me to . . . make my office smell while I work? I can’t listen to music while writing because I find that distracting. But I really enjoy having candles or incense burning, possibly in part because I hate the smell of food cooking. That’s weird, right? I love food but can’t stand for my office to smell like it. So I feel compelled to mask the scent. And now, even when nothing is cooking, I find I generally want some incense going anyway. My brain has forged some connection between writing and the scents of nag champa or sandalwood (among many others).

Sometimes I worry that I’m going to die of some lung disease after years of candles and incense. Does that happen?

Right now the slow cooker is on in the kitchen, and the tri-tip does smell good . . . I just don’t want to be able to smell it in my office. Count it as one of my weird hang-ups. But now I’m off to burn some patchouli.

The Slump

Every time I finish a major writing project, I feel like I go into a slump. I know part of it is just the exhaustion. Though writing is not physically active, it is mentally taxing. Also, it takes time to come out of the world of the story. At least for me it does. I can’t jump from one world to another without some liminal space in between.

The bigger the project, the deeper the slump. After writing a Sherlock Holmes story, for example, I only need a couple days before I’m ready to move on to the next thing. After a novel it might be a week or more.

Thing is, I really hate these down times. I can’t seem to write, but I’m simultaneously bored and restless. I want to write, but I just can’t. I honestly should probably schedule getaways and vacations for after I finish a project so at least I have something to do while I’m “off work.”

Tell me, fellow writers, is it this way for you, too? Or am I the only one who slumps after a project?

Guest Post: Kimberly Emerson on Character

“Where do you get your ideas?”

This is the question everyone asks when they find out that I write. Truthfully? I have no idea. Snippets of conversation pop up in my head, and eventually the characters saying them step out of the shadows and introduce themselves. Where the snippets or the characters come from, I don’t know. I also can’t tell you why I can’t make a bat hit a baseball, or why I can hear a tune and make my vocal cords reproduce it accurately. That’s just the way it is.

I don’t know about the people asking the question, but I find this frustrating. Order and reason make me happy.

“No wonder you love writing,” people say, grinning in triumph. “You can make things happen the way you want.”

It should work that way, yes. But it doesn’t.

I’ve been writing since I was young. I remember doing a series in Mrs. Walden’s class, using the other fifth graders in the class as character models. Every time we had a creative writing exercise, Mrs. Walden got another chapter in the adventures of Cindy and her friends. Every story got a title—“Cindy and the Big Adventure,” “Cindy Stays Home Alone,” and so forth. I even had a signature way of writing Cindy’s name in the title, so that it took up about a third of the page. There was indeed an element of wish fulfillment in these. Everything always turned out right for Cindy. Her friends adored her, and I don’t think she ever got punished. Likewise, the people who made trouble for her always got their comeuppance by the time the two-page story wrapped up.

I gave Cindy up at the end of the fifth grade. The stories in sixth grade featured her daughter – Sandra, I think was her name. Fortunately for us all, I let the family end with Sandra, or we’d be up to her remote descendant by now, dozens of generations later, who grew up hearing fairy tales about an ancient witch ancestor Cindy who turned children into toads.

Eventually, I gave up the pretense and started writing stories with myself as the main character, surrounding myself with the perfect mate and a fifteen-bedroom mansion outside of London. If you’re going to do it, you may as well do it right.

Interesting thing about those stories, though—things didn’t always go right. I wrote one about myself getting cast as the lead in a professional musical, and had myself fainting in front of the theater and being discovered there, lying unconscious, by the director. This is not the sort of thing I fantasize about. I fainted once when I was fifteen, and it was really, really unpleasant. I lost all illusions about romantic swooning. But I put it in the story because, well, it worked in the scene.

Yeah. I made something lousy happen to myself in a story, and my fictional self wasn’t thrilled.

In my thirties, I wrote my first actual book about characters I made up, Ben and Kelsey. (This book is in a drawer, and will stay in there until I have time to give it a lot of work.) Something bizarre happened. I didn’t want Ben and Kelsey to have a perfect happy ending. They got together, the loved each other, but their careers hit snags and Ben’s extended family would remain pretty messed up. I couldn’t make everything okay for them. Stranger still, I didn’t want to. I couldn’t relate to idyllic endings. My life didn’t work that way.

It didn’t occur to me till later that maybe other people felt the same way.

Even stranger, suddenly I couldn’t bring my villains to a completely sticky end, either. Backstories for them kept popping up in my head. This one experienced verbal abuse from her father. That one spent his entire life competing with his Olympic athlete older brother. They whispered reasons why they turned into the people that they did. Once you start listening to the explanations of people in your head, it becomes a lot harder not to look for reasons why the three-dimensional people in your life do the things they do.

Now, in my forties, I am incapable of forcing characters to do anything. Once they materialize in my head, they become as real as fictional characters can be. They don’t act in a vacuum. They do things for reasons, and have to deal with their own demons. (Don’t worry. I listen to them, but I stop short of knitting them scarves.)

I think the real magic of writing isn’t that you can create a world. It’s that writing helps you better understand the creation that is the world around you.

KimberlyEmersonKimberly Emerson is the author of three novels besides the one in the drawer, and is currently seeking representation for her latest mystery No Accounting for Destiny. You can find her most recent musings at www.kimberlyemerson.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/fbbykimberlyemerson/, and on Twitter @KimberlyEWriter. You might also run into her at random literary conferences, sipping chai lattes and discussing deep thoughts with her buddy M Pepper Langlinais.

One Week!

. . .until Peter is released! If you’re a Kindle user, you should definitely pre-order so you can get the discount price. If you wait until after release, you’ll have to pay full retail. Visit my Shop page at the top of the site to find the various purchasing links. The book is also available on iBooks.

Meanwhile, I am now entrenched in rewrites of the back 40% of Changers. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it . . . And I’m still not sure! But I think (hope) the book will be better for it. My goal is to be done by the end of January, if not sooner. Now that the kids are back in school, I should be able to make more progress. I simply cannot work when there are people around. Even if they’re being quiet, just knowing other people are in the house makes it almost impossible for me. I’ve always been this way, though. As a child, I loved being home alone. When my parents would come home, I felt the need to rush into my room and hide. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t want to interact. I need time to get used to the idea of other bodies in the vicinity before I’m ready to deal with them. The worst thing in the world for me was to have my parents come in and immediately call for me. It’s weird, I know. I’m not sure why I’m this way. But I think the BEST THING EVER would be to have my own tiny house to write in that was separate from everything. I’d get so much more done!

And Then . . .

The publisher told me today Peter is going into formatting and (fingers crossed) will be up for pre-order early next week. Huzzah!

Yes, I’m the kind of person who says “huzzah.”

Meanwhile, I continue to fight my way through Changers revisions. I’ve cut a lot from the beginning of the book, but not as much as my critique group suggested. It’s a careful balance. I do feel the need to establish the characters and their world a bit before shaking up the soda bottle of their lives. In this day and age, people want things to happen right away, but that’s not life. I’m sorry so many have short attention spans, but while I’m willing to make some concessions, I can’t just start the book with an explosion. Because then the reader has no reason to care about the characters either.

I realize there are many modes of thought on the subject. These are mine. I mean, I’m a character writer, so I like establishing that. And I’m a world builder. And then some stuff happens and the world and characters change. That’s how I write. It’s not for everyone. People who want plot, plot, plot will probably be disappointed by what I write.

Which isn’t to say my books have no plot. They do. But they aren’t written from plot point to plot point, bang, bang, bang. That’s not my style, and I hate books and movies that are like that. They feel so superficial to me.

I like deep things. (Venus in Scorpio.) I need to connect with the characters and the world, have a sense of who they are and where they are coming from so that when I see where they’re going it feels like an actual journey.

Rick Riordan (for example) shortcuts, but he can do that because he’s starting in the “known world,” our world. He can write under the assumption most people reading his book have a working template for “normal.” And so then things get all crazy and not normal. But Changers takes place in a future that is very different from our now and our normal, and I feel the need to establish that for my readers. So that when the main characters’ reality starts to change, the reader sees the contrast.

Anyway, I’m doing my best to balance my critique group’s notes (the few I have) against what I feel is right for the book. I’m tightening, and I’ve cut a lot, but I don’t think I can cut out as much as they seem to think I should. We’ll see how it goes.

In other news, don’t forget the Rafflecopter giveaway! Enter to win Peter or a copy of The K-Pro, among other great prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

. . . In Bed

All my stories begin with people in bed.

Now, by the time I’m done with them, the first scene in the story might not be two people in bed (that would be weird, if all my books literally began that way), but that seems to be my mental jumping off point.

What I mean is, when people ask me, “Where did this idea come from?” it’s usually from me lying around and thinking about someone, or more than one someone, in a bed.

Maybe this is because one of my favorite ways to brainstorm stories is to lie in bed and daydream. So maybe it’s natural that I daydream about someone in a bed. I dunno.

But if you look at, say, “Warm Bodies” it does actually, literally begin with two people in bed together.

And my first idea for Peter was a scene that never made it into the book, but it was of Charles being pulled out of bed by agents.

Why do I always go to this particular place? Beside the whole daydreaming thing? Beds set up an interesting dynamic. They’re a very vulnerable space. Intimate. I think starting in bed is the quickest way to get at the depths of my characters, break open their shells.

It probably says a lot that I don’t actually enjoy sharing a bed and would rather sleep alone. Hmm.

Messages in Music

Sometimes I feel like the Universe is sending me messages through music. I’ll wake up with a song in my head, one I haven’t heard in ages, and it will feel important for some reason. And then I’ll hear it again when I start my car, or it’ll pop up on my iPod even though I didn’t even know it was there. Other times I’ll be walking and listening to my iPod while I ponder something and a song will come on that seems to answer my internal question. Or I’ll have a friend say, “I was thinking about you,” and I realize it was around the same time I heard a song that reminded me of them.

I realize, of course, it sounds silly. But there’s an inner knowing (at least for me) that convinces me that sometimes a song is a message or an answer of sorts. Not always. Sometimes a song is just a song. But every now and then it’s something more.

Today as I went for my walk, the songs seemed important. I’m not entirely sure why, but . . . Maybe I’ll figure it out later.

1. “Downfall” by Matchbox Twenty
2. “I Can’t Let You Go” by Matchbox Twenty
3. “Give a Little More” by Maroon 5
4. “I Wish You Would” by Train
5. “Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes to Hollywood)” by Counting Crows
6. “Something to Believe In” by Parachute
7. “You Found Me” by The Fray
8. “Treat Her Like a Lady” by Jimmy Buffett

Yeah, okay, the last one seems weird after all the others. But the tune and the sentiment . . . I don’t know. It counterbalanced all the neediness in the previous songs. From the questionable offer in “Downfall” to the demands of Maroon 5 and the desire for rescue voiced in “You Found Me” (full circle from “Downfall” perhaps), we then come to Buffett’s ode. He’s singing about the ocean, of course, but at least he understands respect is required. The exchange in “Treat Her Like a Lady” is far fairer than in “Downfall.” And the whole playlist smacked of supplication in one form or another.

In my Classics classes, I recall learning about supplication, how Thetis knelt at Zeus’ throne and put a hand under his chin and clasped his knee. I don’t know what I equate this with these songs, but I do. There’s a sense of begging involved, but it’s that respect in “Treat Her Like a Lady” that brings it all together in the end.

You can see why I’m a writer. My mind takes a handful of seemingly random things, knits them together, and extrapolates wildly. When people ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” (though I’ll admit I’ve never once been asked that), this is the real answer. We snatch a bunch of pieces out of various cloths and stitch them together into weird patterns. Sometimes people admire them. Sometimes we’re told they’re ugly. Well, there’s no pleasing everyone. One size does not fit all.

I don’t know where I’m going with all this. Blame the fact I’m on a lot of cold meds at the moment. I’m physically pretty exhausted, but my brain needs exercise, and this is what it has come up with. Think it might be time to go read . . .

Insecure Writers Support Group

I’ve never done one of these. I don’t know if I’m supposed to officially sign up somewhere or what. But I feel like it’s fair for me, as a writer, to voice things that make me anxious or nervous about my work.

Like choosing the next project. I get emails from readers every now and then (and I love that!) asking whether I’ll be writing [fill in the blank]. And then I feel all excited that someone wants (a) a K-Pro sequel, (b) another Sherlock Holmes story (especially one explaining Lord Llewellyn), (c) to know where the hell Peter Stoller is and when they can read about him again (A: look at the countdown on the sidebar), (d) more “Hamlette,” (e) something else entirely, possibly that I’ve never even heard of, but will I please write it anyway.

Um . . .

So I keep a list on my desk of potential projects and when I hear enough rumblings from people, I push this or that one to the top of the list. But it IS anxiety inducing because I do want to please my readers, but it’s a lot of pressure! And then I also have directors wanting screenplays and that kind of thing, too.

So, yeah, I worry that I can’t do it all, or at least not quickly enough.

I guess, however, I should look at it from the positive side and be grateful I’m in demand.

But then I get nervous that, if and when I do write these things, the readers won’t like them. I mean, I love Peter (as much as I can be in love with an imaginary gay man), and I’m happy with his story and excited to share it with everyone, but what if they all hate it? *gulp*

So, yeah. That’s what I get insecure about as a writer.

Thanks for listening.