Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

Kate's idea of doing a weekly progress report has caught on with other Blog Chain members. Here's a quick summary of where I'm at with Across Two Universes:

Currently on: Chapter Four, page 55-56 (at the end of page 55)
Total pages: 434
Total words: Approximately 104,000

I think I'll finish Chapter Four before the end of the month.

I've sent the first two chapters to two readers for feedback.

I've entered the Drop the Needle critfest on Miss Snark's First Victim. My chapter ending (from Chapter Two) will post tomorrow. It'll be #50 if you want to check it out.

Time to get back to work; I have more chapter endings to crit.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Torture or Tough Love?

Time again for another Blog Chain Post. Leah picked the topic this time, and she's hoping to make us stretch ourselves. Here's her question (or series of questions):

So Blogchain, (and others) show me your dark side...What do you do to amp up the conflict? What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls? How do you torture your characters???

(As always, you can go back to Leah's post to follow this chain from the beginning, or you can go back to Michelle's post immediately before mine and follow the chain backwards.)

Leah thinks this topic will make some Blog Chain members squirm since (and I quote), "These girls are nice...sweet...moms and teachers and doctors!" Leah, I assume you're not a parent yet; forgive me if that's wrong. But moms know sometimes you have to let the baby cry himself to sleep, no matter how long it takes, so he learns to fall asleep on his own and sleep through the night; sometimes you have to take your child to the doctor for shots and give them nasty-tasting medicine; and sometimes you have to take away something dangerous or discipline them when they do something wrong.

In short, sometimes you need to practice tough love, even if your kids think it's torture.

When it comes to writing characters, I treat them like children (no wonder they sound younger than they are!) and practice tough love with them. I like my protagonists; I don't want to subject them to waterboarding. My antagonists deserve that. But my protags wouldn't enjoy their Happy Ever After endings so much if they didn't pass through some tough times first. And to be honest, I want to see my characters grow over the course of a novel, but they won't overcome their faults until they make mistakes and learn from them. The wounds that I give them will remake them.

Let me give some examples from my WIP, Across Two Universes. At the beginning of the novel, my hero, Paul Harrison, is a seventeen-year-old actor. He is also literally the product of two universes and has a unique talent because of that. However, he doesn't understand his gift, so when his mother is poisoned, he doesn't understand the warning in time to save her. This guilt will drive some of his most desperate acts later in the story. But I don't stop there. Paul was cloned from a famous musician who lost his mother at seventeen. Paul suspects his mother was killed to make his life similar to the man he was cloned from. The death doesn't unlock his musical talent (he doesn't have any), but it gives him more guilt he has to live with, and the only way he can deal with it is to bring the murderer to justice. Add to that the fact that Paul refused to give his mother a final hug (It was in public; he didn't want to look like a mama's boy. The refusal probably saved his own life, but at the cost of more guilt.), and I have another factor that will affect how Paul treats others in the future.

Internal pressures are good, but to keep a reader hooked, it's better to have different types of conflict in a story. As Paul tries to solve his mother's murder and prevent another, he finds other people opposing him, from time travelers, who are trying to protect history, to his friends, who are trying to protect him from himself. Every time he makes progress towards his goals, he complicates the situation further. But these struggles are necessary for him to mature into adulthood and develop his quantum gift. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." (KJV, Luke 12:48) I have grand plans for Paul extending beyond this novel; if anything, his suffering will increase in the sequel. I empathize too much with him to call it torture; I've wept over what happens to him. But the story has to go that way for him to achieve what he must, with humanity's survival at stake.

Anyway, that's more than enough for one post. Leah, I hope I've answered your question. Head on over to Kat's blog for her take on this question!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

I got the idea for this post from Kate. She plans to report her progress on, well, her work-in-progress, every week. As I've said before, I'm currently revising Across Two Universes. I'm trying to revise/rewrite two chapters each month, working mostly on my lunch hour. I'm rewriting a lot more than I expected--or perhaps I should have expected it, seeing as that's my usual method of revising. I'm currently on the first scene of Chapter Four, which I'm changing. There will be at least one more new scene in this chapter, which may lead to changing another scene and dropping another--I'm not sure yet. I'm not counting words because I'm more interested in chapters at this point. I should search for a chapter count meter, if that exists.

I have an idea for a short story I'd like to enter in a contest next month, but I haven't had much time to work on it.

Anyway, back to writing....

Monday, February 16, 2009

Alex's Half Day

Sometimes three-day weekends are tougher than working.

Alex has been a bit off the last couple of days--not napping a full two hours, developing a fever on Saturday, not eating as much as he normally does, and being congested. Fevers are going around at the daycare center, but I think he's also teething. I hoped he would be better, since we had plans. Both of us were off, so I set up a play date in the morning, and my parents were coming for a visit in the afternoon.

Alex fell asleep briefly (after a cry of protest) on the way to the play date, but he woke up quickly when we arrived. I met three other moms at a local park district with an indoor play area and carousel. (We took Alex there last summer for a birthday party.) The last time we were there, Alex loved the carousel. This time he didn't want to sit on a horse, but he enjoying riding and staring at the lights as long as I held him. He stuck close to me most of the time in the other play area, but he did venture to play by himself a few times. Afterwards, we went to Panera for lunch. I was pleased to see Alex eat bread, chicken from my salad, apple chips, and yogurt. Then we headed home. My parents were already waiting for us. Alex, however, had fallen asleep. I brought him upstairs to his crib, and we waited for him to wake up. My dad planned to babysit Alex while my mom and I went shopping. Alex normally takes a two-hour nap; today, he slept for four. I think he really needed it, as he was less congested and was in a good mood when he woke up. Unfortunately, my parents didn't get to see him awake. Mom and I didn't get to go shopping either, since we didn't want Alex to wake up and be upset Mommy was missing. Ah well, maybe another day will be better. As for me, I'm looking forward to going back to work tomorrow--it's easier to write during lunch than it is at home!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dating Disasters

Happy Valentine's Day! Eugene and I celebrated last night since we were able to get babysitting for Alex at his daycare. We went out for dinner at a local Italian restaurant. We like the place a lot, but we haven't been there since before Alex was born.

While we were enjoying some couple time, we reminisced a bit about some of our dates. One of our most memorable dates was our first Sweetest Day together. We were juniors at UW-Madison, and we had dinner at the Ovens of Brittany (now defunct) on State Street. My housefellow was our waitress. She suggested we should go for a horse-drawn carriage ride, and we happened to see a carriage outside when we left. I can't remember the driver's name anymore, but I still remember the horse's name: Bartles. We enjoyed a nice ride through misty downtown Madison, but towards the end of the ride, we overheard some odd comments on the driver's walkie-talkie. It turned out that carriage rides had to be reserved, and we had actually usurped someone else's time. Luckily everyone was very understanding. Then we learned we had to pay in cash, and Eugene didn't have enough with him. He had to leave me as security while he visited the ATM.

We've had plenty of other misadventures since then (I tipped the canoe the first and last time we went canoeing), but that was our worst experience on a date. (Perhaps it doesn't qualify as a disaster, but I adore alliteration.) Does anyone else feel brave enough to share their dating disasters?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How Not to Make a Good First Impression

One of the links in my sidebar is to a blog called Flogging the Quill. It's run by a writer/editor, and he critiques the openings (the first sixteen lines, or about what would fit on the first page of a properly formatted manuscript) of novels submitted by writers. I've been following him for a while, and I think he does a good job of pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the submissions. I decided I would submit the first chapter of Across Two Universes once I was satisfied with it.

Before I share my work with others for review, I always make it as good as I can possibly make it on my own. Although I finished Chapter One last month, I held off submitting it to Flogging the Quill so I could tweak the opening. Today during my lunch hour, I decided it was time to send the chapter. I can't access the Internet from my personal laptop at work, so that meant uploading the file to a flash drive, copying text and pasting into a new file, tweaking text again and updating all the files on two different get the picture. Making this even more fun was having Word on my laptop fail in the middle of this and losing my work from yesterday. (I thought I saved it, honest!) But finally, at the end of my lunch hour, the chapter was ready. I wrote up a short but professional e-mail telling the writer how much I liked his blog, (making sure I addressed the writer by the right name) attached the file, and sent it.

A few minutes later, I realized I had misspelled the name of the website in the subject line.

At this point, all I could do was laugh at myself. I thought about sending a follow-up e-mail to apologize, but I decided that would not only call more attention to the typo but flood the writer's Inbox with unnecessary e-mail. At least he won't be critiquing my e-mail; he'll be reviewing my novel, and that's good. I'll consider it good until he posts it and I see all sorts of issues I should have fixed.

Ah, the thrill of a writer's life never ends, does it?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Terri's Two Questions

I'm back again on the Chain Gang. This round, we welcome two new members to our chain: Kat and Christina. Michelle posted before me, and Kat will be posting after me. Terri started the chain with one question, but since she thought it was too similar to our last topic, she added an alternate question. I'm going to go ahead and answer both, since I don't think I have much to say about the second question.

Question 1: Have you ever had anything cause you to step back from writing? If so, what was the cause and how long did it take you to get back into the swing of things? If not, do you have any advice for other writers about not letting life get in the way of writing?

My priorities have changed since becoming a wife and mother. When I was single, I could get on the computer as soon as I came home from work and be there until bedtime. I wasn't always productive, but I had time to goof off and still get things done. I can't do that anymore now that I have Alex. He's under two, and he still requires a lot of attention. He goes to bed late for a toddler, around 9:00. He mostly sleeps through the night, but he occasionally wakes up early. I've never been a great sleeper, but it's been worse since I became a mother; I think I subconsciously listen for Alex. While I wouldn't give him up for anything, all of these factors have reduced the time and energy I have for writing. I've also cut back on critiquing, reading, and attending conventions. Add to that the fact that I'm working full time and still have to cook and clean, and there's very little time left for writing--or much else.

One thing that helped me get back into writing is doing NaNoWriMo in 2007. If I was going to have any chance of completing it, I had to make writing a priority and find time for it. I started bringing my laptop to work so I can write on my lunch hour. It's still my most productive writing time. I also think it helps to have multiple projects going, so if you get stuck with one, you can switch to another. Finally, it helps to set goals for yourself. NaNoWriMo was a crazy goal for me; I generally can't manage 500 words a day, let alone 1660. I had to push myself and allow myself to write a real rough draft instead of obsessing over perfect sentences. It's not the best way for me to work, but it was useful for me to do, even if I didn't quite finish the novel. (I did somehow manage to get to 50,000 words, though.) As I've mentioned elsewhere, my current goal is to edit two chapters of Across Two Universes each month. So far I think I'm on target, and this version seems stronger to me. It does need some critting before it's ready to query, though. I have some side projects I also want to work on if time permits.

I do want to echo what others have said about living a full life so you have something to write about. Is it hard being a working and writing mother? Yes; that's a lot of hats to wear, and you can't wear them all at once. Things always have to be shifted around. Luckily I have a fantastic partner in Eugene. He understands that chores have to be done, and we work as a team. He has interests of his own that are also time-intensive, so I support him with them just as he supports me with my writing. Ultimately each different role brings something else into my life and makes me more of a well-rounded person. Except for sleeping and beauty primping, that is.

Question 2: Alternative question: Do you brainstorm with a friend when you are plotting, or do you prefer to be the only one who knows what your characters are going to do?

I work by myself. I mull my plots over in my head when I can, or sometimes the plotting comes as I'm writing. I don't chat online with my writing buddies on a daily basis anymore because I have to focus during my writing time now. It would be nice to brainstorm with someone else--maybe it would help me get the plot right on the first draft instead of tossing out a novel draft and starting over. But it doesn't matter so much how you arrive at a good final draft as long as you have a method that works for you.

That's all for now. Head on over to Kat's blog to see which question she'll answer and what her response will be!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Alex and the Cell Phone

After I returned to work from maternity leave, I started keeping my cell phone in my back pocket. Since I move around the lab a lot during a typical day, it made sense to keep my phone on my person instead of at my desk or even on the lab bench--I might forget where I'd put it. Well, it turned out not to be one of my most brilliant ideas. The screen on the front cracked, and my phone takes a long time to boot up. Eugene and I have discussed getting a new phone for me, but we're not at a good point in our contract to do so. (And of course we don't have phone insurance.) So we borrowed a very old phone for me to use as backup and talked about buying a temporary phone off of eBay.

Enter Alex. He loves electronics, especially phones. I swear he tried to say "cell phone" on Sunday. Figuring my phone was done for, I let him play with it this morning in the car. I took it away when we got to daycare, since he can't bring in objects like that. To my surprise, the display on the front was working. Not only that, the phone stayed on throughout the day; I was even able to make and receive calls on it. I'm not quite sure what he did; he may have pressed on the display, since the cracks seem less obvious now. (For all I know, he called India and got through to tech support.) If I'm lucky, I can make this phone last until October. It all depends on keeping the phone away from Alex so he can't undo whatever he did!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Two and Two...

My goal this year is to edit two chapters of Across Two Universes each month. I'm a couple of days late, but I just finished Chapter Two. I've revised the first two chapters extensively, not only rewriting and writing new scenes but deleting big chunks. (I removed an entire chapter, actually.) Only eighteen more chapters to go! I hope they won't require so much revision, but I know myself too well.

Anyway, that's enough for one night. Off to a bath and bed.

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