Monday, March 30, 2009

Be-Were the Writer (or Why Writers Are Like Werewolves)

WARNING: Mild gore ahead... consider yourself warned!

In case you want to skip the gore and just get to the bones of it (he he), here's a summary for you:

1. Writer - Beware!

2. Writer, Be Aware

3. Writer: Be-Were

Got it?
Read on...

The writer is an unpredictable creature, this we know. The act of writing can transform the most normal and civilized person into a tortured soul.

Typical symptoms are snarling, moaning, head-holding, uncharacteristic fits of cursing, bloodshot eyes, maniacal laughter, unpredictable mood swings, growling if approached incorrectly, grunting, disregard for personal hygiene - er - grooming and shunning of society. Not to mention the tendency for keeping odd hours or turning nocturnal.

Sometimes there is drooling.
Yes, drooling.

You writers know what I'm talking about.

It can feel like you're getting turned inside out, that you're being taken over, that you're no longer quite yourself.

But not to worry.

This is completely normal.

It's just PMS (and yes, guys, I mean you too).

I'm not talking about blood (that comes later), I'm talking about Perfect Manuscript Syndrome; a very natural phase of the writing cycle. The strength of the symptoms vary from writer to writer but we all have to deal with it.

Phase One is when your writer-ly instinct kicks in.

You scent a story and the urge to capture it is overwhelming. With a novel in your sights, you scrabble about for a writing implement - any writing implement- resorting to using your nails as nibs if nothing else presents itself, lest your elusive quarry (the amazing story idea) get away.

Once you dig your claws in, it's all you can do not to gorge yourself on the meat of it; ripping in to get to the guts of its succulent characters, tearing it apart to find the juiciest plot twists, burying your head in the bowels of the story till your senses are filled with it. If it were up to you, you wouldn't stop until you devoured every morsel in one sitting, bones and all.

Eventually you emerge from your writing stupor with glazed eyes, wiping unsightly drool away (among other things) to leave a sheepish smile in it's place.

But here's the rib.

Most stories are much too large to consume all at once. You're likely to be left feeling more than a little unsatisfied. Your perfect story suddenly seems very flawed and doesn't sit so well in your stomach. You begin to notice the mess of manuscript around you and begin to wonder: "What the (bleep) have I done?!"

Welcome to Phase Two: The Realization.

Often we come away from the thrill of our writing spree bloated and fit to burst. It's only then we realize our prose is completely overwhelmed and awkward to behold. Experienced writers will tell you this is completely normal in the early stages of capturing a story but no matter how many times you hear it, your gut still aches when you consider whether or not it was as tasty and worth the pursuit as you thought.

Instead of giving into despair, experienced writers will tell you this is the moment to sit back, digest what you've captured and take a long, hard, critical look at what you've done (also known as Phase Three).

Actions have consequences and it's time to deal with yours.

For a lot of writers this is the hard part. The thrill of the hunt has passed. You've gorged on a tender idea and now you're left with a mess to deal with. Worse, you're tired and you just want to zone out and forget it ever happened. Nobody has to know, right?

But abandoning the remains to rot in a drawer somewhere won't leave you truly satisfied. After a while the messes start to pile up and others begin to notice the smell. There's nothing like the stink of piled-up story corpses to close doors of opportunity.

There's a lot more to being a writer than hunting down stories when you're hungry.

And this is where I'm at, right now.

My manuscript for "Dead Wood" stands at approximately 80 000 words and, not only is it not-quite-finished, it's in need of serious cleaning up and restructuring.

I can't avoid this. In fact I'm walking around all day burdened by this embarrassing dead-weight, feeling unable to move forward until some serious damage control has taken place. Having my novel in this unresolved mess is hard. I'm frustrated at the constant race against the clock, the hairy lack of focus and the plain, hard work I need to put in to make my hunt worth it. I still see in my mind's eye that story that I set out to capture and wonder just how much of my own blood I'll have to sweat (see, I told you there would be blood later!) to transform this story-carcass into that shining, perfect prize.

So the re-write begins.

Cue moaning, gnashing of teeth and all the symptoms that make writers unpredictable - and sometimes dangerous - company to keep.

Now I'm clawing at ideas, at plots, at words, trying to settle them into a cohesive story-form but - surprise surprise - my prey is uncooperative.

This is where I have to remind myself of what I truly am and to trust that I have the ability, the tenacity and the resources to finish what I started.

When I resist the transformation to fully-formed writer (also known as the writer-who-actually-writes, not the 'writer'-who-just-wants-to-have-written) and become self-conscious of who I am and what I'm doing, the process gets harder.

This is also where I remind myself that my transformative tendencies are not a curse but a gift.

What I need to do is give in to my dual nature, revel in it even. If-and-when the instinctive half falls short I can still continue the hunt with my more rational side and finish what I started.

That search for the perfect manuscript, or PMS, becomes less traumatic as I gain experience and learn to deal with this, very natural, cycle. If nothing else, I have proven to myself that I can capture a story in its entirety (a.k.a. finish a novel) and that means I can do it again. And again. As many times as I want to.

There will no doubt be those unkempt-hair days, those "careful I might bite your head off" days. I am intensely occupied in my task, after all, but once the base nature of my beast has had it's fill I can choose the paths I take, focus on my goal and, in the end, savor the complete and delicious taste of a complete and fulfilling story.

"I am Writer - hear me roar!"*

* I find it ironic that this phrase is grammatically incorrect! Let's just call it a stylistic thing, shall we? :)

NOTE: Illustrations are copyright of the following artists:
Werewolf 4 (female) by Aaron Sims Company
Werewolf Pawprint by ~Leonca
Werewolf (mixed media) by Seph77 (Joseph Witchall)
Werewolf by Korethi
The Maiden and the Werewolf by Gizmodus (Reto Kaul)

Click on each picture to go to the artist's website and see more of their work.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What The Heck Is She Up To?

Wondering what many things I'm working on right now?

Here's a brief list of posts to come and a peek at my other projects:

For THE ORGANIC WRITER there's lots coming your way!
  • I'm busy getting details on the writing processes some published organic writers use - fascinating stuff here! The results are likely to be in the next post or two.
  • I'll be profiling one writer in particular who uses art as part of his process (the general post discussing multiple writers has to come first but this will be lots of fun!)
  • You'll hear about some of my different writing approaches

There are lots of CREATIVE DETOURS to take you down:
  • the next one I've chosen creates beautiful fairy tale worlds within books by using the books themselves...

  • I have at least three half-written but rather than get your expectations up I'll just tell you there's lots more UF focused posts on the way :)

Then there's MY WRITING:
  • For day-to-day updates, progress and 'regress' reports on my WIP 'Dead Wood' please feel free to follow me on Twitter.You may even get hints about the novel I'm working on! ;) I'm using the hashtag #SOLIDARITY to indicate I'm joining in with other writers attempting to make serious progress on their books. Here's the link:
  • I've been involved in an experiment of 'chain fiction' with James Patterson & Borders via Twitter. I'll discuss my thoughts on the social media experiments on 'crowd written novels' and 'chain fiction', plus you'll get to read 'the story so far..' and my thoughts on the results
  • I'll post an update on 'Dead Wood' too and my current challenges with it
  • A new urban fantasy story has reared it's tantalizing head but I can't give it the attention it would need to go from 'interesting' to 'excellent' just yet, though I have written one interesting scene...

And there's the stuff I WANT to be doing too - my WISH LIST - that somehow needs some attention without taking away the little time and energy I have for my main projects:
  • My poorly neglected fairy tale blog, in which I explore themes, ideas and post some of my own fairy tale inspired work
  • My personal family blog
  • Project 'Bite Me' which blends retelling fairy tales with urban fantasy
  • Finishing my 'book cover illustration' for 'Dead Wood' - though I won't be using it for a while it is in progress and will be useful, eventually...

And don't get me started on my GOTTA READ list!
(Anyone have a cloning machine handy?)

I think that about does it for now. Stay tuned for more to come!

Oh and isn't the Jack & the Beanstalk illustration cute? I thought it appropriate, seeing as we're talking about stories and projects that grow and end up goodness-knows-where. I especially like that he's lost his hat on the way but has to keep climbing. I know how he feels! (Illustration is copyright of Niko Geyer. Click on the illustration to see more of his work.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

What Is UF? (The Elevator Pitch Version)

NOTE: This is NOT the blog post I've been planning for days now but I couldn't resist...

Writers of Urban Fantasy often come across the same dilemma.

It goes like this:

Conversation with average-off-the-street-and-fairly-well-educated-types eventually comes around to vocation. You say you're a novelist and then...

They say:
Oh you're a writer!
*nod* (& add a reassuring smile)
Then they say:
What sort of stuff do you write?
We say:
Urban Fantasy
They say:
What's that, exactly?
*take a deep breath then ramble, trying definition #32 for the day in an attempt to encompass both the genre we love and write in AND our new novel which would seem to not quite fit within the confines of said definition*
They say:
"Oh." *and either look confused and wonder if you know what you're doing or decide you're writing another version of Twilight or Buffy*
*sigh and decide we'll try definition #33 next time we're asked this question*

The writers over at The League of Reluctant Adults, have been thinking about this recently as well and comments were invited to suggest the ultimate 'one-liner' for a definition of what Urban Fantasy really is. Here are some of my favorite responses:

Blogger Jaye Wells said...

Fantastical tales set in modern times that blend elements from the mystery, horror, romance, and traditional fantasy genres.

Blogger Heather said...

"It's real life for people like me who believe in fairies." Or "It's like if Narnia came out of the wardrobe instead of the other way around."

Anonymous Thom said...

It's stories about the paranormal in the modern world, kind of like horror in as far as there are kewl supernatural folks, but with far less gore and far more sex.

Blogger December/Stacia said...

Usually something about magic and/or magical/paranormal creatures in modern or urban or suburban society.

Blogger -Kelly Meding said...

"Harry Potter with sex!"

"It's like Twilight, only with vampires."

OpenID silveradept said...

"What if there really were vampires, fairies and werewolves, and they're your next-door neighbors?"

Bloggertalshannon said...

Urban Fantasy: Modern, everyday life with a fantasy twist. So if your next door neighbors were elves, that would be Urban Fantasy. If your cat turned into a sexy cat-man one day while you were vacuuming, that would be Urban Fantasy. If you found out you had invisible fairy wings, that would be a miracle (and it would also be Urban Fantasy).

Please note: the above quotes are excerpted from people's comments. Most had a lot more to say than a single sentence! For the whole post and all comments please click HERE.

So what's my elevator-pitch definition of UF?

Well I shy away from saying 'paranormal' or 'supernatural' because to me that not only means ghosts but all things X-Files, including aliens, which I think belong to the sci-fi realm so I'll say:

Urban Fantasy is a contemporary genre-soup of an often-edgy story where the main ingredient is an element of the fantastic, be it fanged, furred, fey or other mythical type (kick-ass protags welcome but not truly necessary).
What do you think? Are we getting close?

NOTE: Illustrations are copyright of Timothy Lantz. The top illustration was used as the cover art for A Flash of Hex by Jes Battis, published by Juno Books. Please click on either image to go to Timothy Lantz's website.