Saturday, December 3, 2016

My NaNoWriMo Fail

It's no secret that I've been struggling to get any writing done these days. Lord knows I've whined about it on this blog (and Twitter) enough times. I've spent the past several months trying to pinpoint a cause... that the day job has made me too busy, that I agreed to too many extracurricular activities, that back-to-back shockers in October and November (one personal, one political... the latter is probably obvious for anyone even tangentially aware of U.S. politics and the former is, well, personal) threw my mind into an anxious/depressed state that left me unable to be productive.

NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month for any novs out there--always exacerbates the awful feeling of being a writer who's not writing, whether due to time conflicts or writer's block. It's tough to see all those inspirational memes floating around social media, plus all your writer friends boasting about banging out thousands and thousands of words per day. Not that there's anything wrong with either--those who are being productive have every right to celebrate. It magnifies one's sense of inadequacy.


Me trying to write
This past November's NaNo was supposed to be a reset of sorts for me. I'd been blocked for ages, but had come up with a plan to get back into the groove. And it worked... for about a week. I got the first half of my NaNo goals done and then just... stopped writing. And I couldn't blame time conflicts this time, since I used the time I'd set aside for writing to binge-watch silly TV shows. My goal wasn't even to write a full novel... it was to write 15,000 words in two projects, for a total of 30,000 words (and I've been known to write 50-70k in a month, so this was a laidback goal for me). But all I got were 15k for the first thing and a page for the other. Yep, a single, lonely PAGE. And though I had plenty of time to turn that page into more, just thinking about writing anything prompted a gut response of "NO." The same kind of silent but visceral response your subconscious gives you when you see a spider or something else you just would not want to touch.

While in this pit of despair, I found this Medium article that included a quote from the great Ursula K. Le Guin: 


“Don’t try to go against the flow, to work when work seems futile. Let it be. Let the block stay uncarved, or the word be unwritten — until it wants to take shape, to speak. What nobody in America teaches any more is how not to act, not to keep busy, how to wait … My guess is, you need to be still while your strength is gathering; and when it has gathered, you will know the direction you need to go — and you’ll go on there.”


Man, that was just what I needed to hear. And after seeing that, I thought back to all that time I spent not writing before launching a career of sorts... how I went from being an avid dreamer in middle/high school, churning out multiple novels that shall never be spoken of again, to not writing a single word for about six years during college and the years framing it. And how, when I did dive back in around summer of 2011, six years' worth of ideas congealed into a book that basically flew out of my head in the span of about two months (it became ARTIFICIAL ABSOLUTES). 

And I came to realize that, while I could beat the words out of me if I absolutely needed to, knowing that's where my head was at was causing the "NO" reaction.



While I don't plan to stop writing for another six years (especially since I've got deadlines for two things), it was good to remember that not writing, that failing at goals, is all part of the process.

Here's hoping that, when I get my act together again, what comes out will be awesome :-)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Chessiecon Schedule!

I'll be back at Chessiecon this year! If you're in the Baltimore area, come out and see me! Here's the location: 

RADISSON HOTEL NORTH BALTIMORE

2004 Greenspring Drive
Timonium, MD 21093


And here's my con schedule:

Friday, November 25
9:45 PM Reading (Greenspring 2)
10:30 PM LGBTQ Content: Plot or Set Dressing? (Greenspring 3-5)

Saturday, November 26
10:00 AM Literary Agents and Query Letters: What, How, and Why (Greenspring 3-5)
11:15 AM Silent Symphonies: Incorporating Music into Literature (Greenspring 3-5)
5:30 PM Evolution of Women in Fantasy (Greenspring 1)
6:45 PM Group Book / Art / CD Signing (Atrium)

Sunday, November 27
10:00 AM Being a Woman on the Internet (Greenspring 3-5)
12:30 PM The Handmaid's Tale in the Real World (Greenspring 3-5)

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Shaking Up the Writing Routine

I've always thought of myself as a binge writer... that is, I start one project, then work on it non-stop until I have a first draft, then take a huge long break to do other stuff in between. The thought of working on multiple WIPs at once confused me. I could have multiple PROJECTS going on at once, but only one thing I was WRITING writing (the rest were things I was in the process of editing, publishing, or promoting). Basically, I could only have my head into one thing at a time.

This year, though, my writing game has been all over the place. So I decided to shake things up. I'm currently working on 2-4 WIPs at the same time, depending on how you count "working on".

The first is a YA magical realism that was supposed to be my current PROJECT project, the one I sat down and wrote until it was finished. But for various reasons, I've been blocked. Meanwhile, I also had an idea for a YA sci-fi knocking at the back of my head. Depending on the day of the week (or sometimes the hour in the day, or the minute in the hour), I'd either be like "OMG I'm so excited about this magical realism thing and I don't want to stop until it's finished" or "ugh this thing is going nowhere and I should really just work on that other book since it's more my usual thing."

The other two are shorts--another FIREDRAGON novella and my story for the next BRAVE NEW GIRLS anthology. These two I'm still happily brainstorming, but I have a feeling I'll get the hankering to dive in and WRITE before I can finish either of the full-length WIPs.

So I'm doing something I thought I'd never do... I'm working on multiple projects at once. Write some pages of this, write some pages of that, depending on what strikes my fancy. Although, to keep me from getting TOO scattered, I'm making myself write at least a chapter of each before switching gears to the Other Project.

In case any of you are following me on Twitter or Facebook, that's why one day I'll be complaining about a 6 Character Disaster (the nickname I gave the magical realism out of writers-block-induced annoyance one day), and another I'll be marveling at how freaking far away Neptune is (the YA sci-fi I'm working on is about a mission to the Solar System's outer planets).

Will this work? Will this get me out of this rut? Or will I just end up confusing myself? 

I have no idea, but since my usual thing wasn't working, I figured it couldn't help to shake things up a bit. Wish me luck!!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Searching for Inspiration Wherever I Can

I've been in the mother of all writing slumps for a while now, and it's been bugging the heck out of me. Part of me wonders if I've just burned out a bit and need to recover. If that's so, though, it hasn't stopped me from searching for inspiration wherever I can. Here are some pics of my efforts...

In the woods of Pennsylvania...




A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

... and Virginia 




While hanging upside down and playing circus freak... 



A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on


A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

... and while onstage singing opera. 



A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

Or indulging in a different genre of music.


A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

From Greece... 





...to a galaxy far, far away... 



A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

... to places under the sea (or the aquarium equivalent). 



A photo posted by Mary Fan (@astralcolt) on

Inspiration, inspiration, where the dickens are you??? 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Arlene McFarlane

An interview with author Arlene McFarlane

 


Hi! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author?

Hi Mary! Thanks for having me! I’ve been writing for over ten years, learning my craft, entering contests, attending workshops and conferences. Murder, Curlers, and Cream is my debut novel.

What got you into writing?

I began writing when my children were little. I started by writing picture books and one day decided to try my hand at writing a novel. Finishing a 300-page book was a huge accomplishment. My story didn’t have plot or structure, but it did have snappy dialogue! And I’d been told I had a strong voice.

What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?

I’d heard so many times to write what you know, so I took my knowledge from the beauty industry and my love for cozies, and the Murder, Curlers series was born. The first idea I had for my book was to have my protagonist use her tools of the trade to help solve mysteries. From there, I wanted a set of characters that would complement her. And naturally, there would have to be a love interest.

Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?

I’d have to say Valentine is my favorite character. She’s stylish and she’s got spunk, and she’s got a soft heart and strives to do her best in every situation.

What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

I don’t know if I have a favorite scene, but I like the constant quibbling between Phyllis and Max, and I love the sexual tension that brews when Valentine and Romero are together.

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

I love writing dialogue. It comes easy, and I’m told it’s one of my strengths.

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

This is a hard one because book one of the series went through a lot of revisions. Book two got easier, and book three faster yet. I start with an outline, then a first draft. I keep on improving until I feel it’s done. I’m not a fast writer, but I try to be thorough.

What is it about the genre you chose that appeals to you?

I enjoy reading cozy and comedy mysteries. Always have. Straight romances don’t hold my interest for long. I need a lot of humor and of course mystery to get me through the book.

Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you?

Janet Evanovich, Lawrence Block, Sophia Kinsella. They’re witty and charming people.

Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?

I love when my characters become real, and yes, sometimes it feels like they’re writing their part in the story. Mostly, though, I’m very disciplined as to how the story should go.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you, Mary, for your time and for hosting me on Zigzag Timeline! 


Arlene McFarlane is the author of the Murder, Curlers series. Previously an aesthetician, hairstylist, and owner of a full-service salon, Arlene now writes full time. When she’s not making up stories, or being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, cat-mom, or makeover artist, you’ll find her making music on the piano.
Arlene is a member of Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Toronto Romance Writers, SOWG, and the Golden Network. She’s won and placed in over 30 contests, including twice in the Golden Heart and twice in the Daphne du Maurier.
Arlene lives with her family in Canada.


“Smart, Entertaining, and Laugh-Out-Loud Funny!”
Liliana Hart, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Addison Holmes Series
           
MURDER, CURLERS, AND CREAM

Valentine Beaumont is a beautician with a problem. Not only has she got a meddling mother, a wacky staff, and a dying business, but now she’s got a dead client who was strangled while awaiting her facial.
         With business the way it is, combing through this mystery may be the only way to save her salon. Until a second murder, an explosion, a kidnapping, death threats, and the hard-nosed Detective Romero complicate things. But Valentine will do anything to untangle the crime. That’s if she can keep her tools of the trade in her bag, keep herself alive, and avoid falling for the tough detective.
In the end, how hard can that be?

MURDER, CURLERS, AND CREAM
                                        
CHAPTER ONE

Excerpt

“You wound a perm rod around a man’s what?” Detective Romero stood in the middle of my Mediterranean-styled salon, hand on his gun hip, legs spread wide. His deep voice was laced with cynicism, and his blue eyes pierced me with a look that said now he’d heard everything.
I know it sounded outrageous, but good lord. It’d been several years since “Local Beautician Valentine Beaumont Uses Perm Rod to Curl Murderer’s Gonads” made front page headlines in the Rueland News. Was I ever going to live that down? It was an awful picture of me they’d run too, considering I was soaked in mud and covered in cuts and bruises.
Besides, there was another crisis at hand. I mean, a dead body had just been removed from the facial bed in Ti Amo—one of my treatment rooms, not thirty feet down the hall. Didn’t this detective, in his faded jeans and brown plaid shirt, think that was a little more important?
I pulled at my tight-knit top, trying not to let him get under my skin. “For the record, that perm rod saved me from being knifed to death. Anyway, it sounds worse than it was.”
“Worse than it was! Lady, that’s about as worse as it can get for a man.” He blew out a sigh. “I’d love to hear the full story on that one day.”
I smiled sweetly. “If you’re nice to me, maybe one day I’ll tell it.”
He glared at me, probably not certain if I was being sarcastic or sincere. Frankly, I wasn’t sure about that myself. 

Social Media Links:

RELEASE DAY ~ NOVEMBER 8, 2016

Purchase Links:
FR:  https://www.amazon.fr/dp/B01M3RMQMG

Sunday, November 6, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Heir of Thunder (Stormbourne Chronicles, #1) / Karissa Laurel

TITLE: Heir of Thunder (Stormbourne Chronicles, #1) 
AUTHOR: Karissa Laurel
PUBLISHER: Evolved Publishing
PURCHASE LINK: Amazon



GENRE
Young Adult--Fantasy

REVIEW
17-year-old Evie Stormbourne was born to a long line of rulers with power over the thunder and lightning. But over the generations, that power has faded, and her own abilities are relatively weak. After her father, the king, is killed and a sudden revolution leaves her a fugitive in her own land, her only hope for survival is her father's horsemaster, a gruff young man named Gideon. The two travel incognito with the goal of smuggling Evie out of the kingdom, but complications soon arise, and Evie soon finds herself struggling for survival on her own. What's more, things are not as they seem, and her journeys eventually lead her to learn the shocking truth behind her father's death... and her own fate.

Disclosure time: Karissa and I are both published by Red Adept Publishing (which published her Norse Chronicles and my Jane Colt novels). I bought this book on my own because I really enjoyed her other stories and this review represents my honest opinion.

Anyway, Karissa Laurel's HEIR OF THUNDER is the first in a planned YA fantasy trilogy, and it was catnip to a longtime fantasy fan like me. Heroine journeying across a fictional version of old-timey, steampunkish Europe? Magic and mayhem and twists and turns? Yes, please! Evie travels across various European-esque countries in her journeys, and it was a real delight getting to see the different kinds of lands that make up her world.

As a character, Evie is easy to sympathize with, and I loved watching her grow from a damsel in distress to a heroine in her own right. When the novel begins, she's just a lost princess trying to survive after her world collapses around her. With little more than determination and a touch of magic, she winds up reclaiming her own fate and taking control of her destiny. Gideon starts off as her protector, but... let's just say there's plenty she does without him as well. There's palpable chemistry between the two, and I foresee a complicated romantic arc that'll manifest over the rest of the series... *rubs hands with delight*

As for the world... well, let's just say it's got swords and horses and dirigibles and pirates and magic and caravans. A fun mix of Lord of the Rings-type high fantasy and steampunkish tech (did I mention there are dirigibles??), blended into a delightful Europe-inspired universe that feels at once new and familiar.

All in all, this was a delightful read and just the kind of heroine-centric fantasy adventure I've always loved. Can't wait for Book 2!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for fantasy, sci-fi, and anything in between. Sometimes her husband convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin. When it snows, you'll find her on the slopes.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Dragon and the Stars / Derwin Mak and Eric Choi

TITLE: The Dragon and the Stars
EDITORS: Derwin Mak and Eric Choi
PUBLISHER: Daw Books
PURCHASE LINK: Amazon



GENRE
Science Fiction/Fantasy -- Anthology

REVIEW
I picked up this anthology after meeting one of the editors and contributing authors, Derwin Mak, at the Ad Astra convention in Toronto earlier this year. And it was one whose premise sold itself. I mean, a collection of sci-fi/fantasy stories inspired by Chinese mythology and experiences? Yes please! I myself am Chinese American, and one of my biggest gripes is that Chinese people--Asians in general, in fact--are virtually invisible in the world of sci-fi/fantasy. Unless you're reading or watching something that came FROM Asia--anime, Bollywood, kung fu films, manga, etc--chances are, the only Asians you'll ever see in sci-fi/fantasy are token sidekicks or stereotyped cameos.

So it was really wonderful and refreshing to get 18 new SFF stories of incredible range, all by Chinese authors of varying experiences and all featuring Chinese people. From a tale inspired by old school folklore to futuristic sci-fi to alternate history... reading these stories was like popping Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans into my mouth, except all the flavors were awesome and made extra special because they were just what I was looking for.

Each story is special in its own way, and to be honest I simply don't have the time to review them each individually. But I highly, highly recommend that you pick up this wonderful collection. There wasn't a single story I didn't like, and what really wowed me was the incredible breadth the anthology covered... so many different types of stories! And it's especially refreshing since even today, six years after this anthology was published, Asians are still portrayed in the same stereotypical buckets in most mainstream SFF (always the ninja, or the sneaky gangsters, or the sexless nerd, or the mute chinadoll, or the dragon lady...). Next time I see a stereotypical Asian nerd in fiction, I want to shove this anthology in that person's face and be like IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY! SEE?? SEE????

Okay, so this turned out to be more of a rant than an actual review... sorry about that! In a nutshell... This anthology features an incredible collection of excellent stories, and the sheer imagination of it all is amazing. I really, truly enjoyed reading every single one of them.