j_cheney: (Default)
Recently there was a post made in the Daily Beast that talked about how you should write every day or just go ahead and quit.

Now most people who took exception with that article took exception to the bit about writing every day.

I agree. It's a dumb rule. Art is art, not science. It's helpful if you write frequently, but putting an "EVERY DAY" rule on it is neither helpful nor realistic.

Or the part where he says he hates all other writers. That was hyperbole, I think.


However, the thing about the article that bugged me the most?

This part:
What is certain is that on that same day, whichever one it is, one thousand other people will start their novels. In order to publish mine, it has to be better than theirs.

I don't know if that was also supposed to be some form of hyperbole, but here's what I heard: Publication is only for the BEST BOOKS


Not true.  

We all know that. We all pick up books and go, "How did this get published???"


There are a lot of factors that influence publication:

1) Talent, but also...
2) Persistence
3) Luck
4) Marketability  
5) Connections

Sometimes things are actually published because the writer knows the right people. People pull strings for each other.

I recall purchasing a book from an author who seemed perfectly nice. His debut novel was published by a MAJOR publisher, part of a trilogy released in hardback, ebook, and paperback. Fancy Schmancy.

Not far into the novel, I figured out that it was Full of Tropes. Painfully so. And the writing had some issues, like having the POV character's head explode...and yet that scene continued....somehow. 

The blurbs were admiring, but the reviews weren't. Publisher's Weekly was downright...well, it wasn't pretty. 

Notably, there wasn't a second series.

It was not the Best Book...but somehow, this person had gotten a lucrative 3-book deal with a major publisher. Instead of #1, the writer had 4 and 5. He was young and good looking, and a protege of some old-school Big-Name Writers. He was connected in another industry. And there may have been luck involved. I don't know. 

But I still remember reading that book in my hotel room, over a decade ago now, and thinking of some of my friends who'd written truly amazing books. And they weren't published (or were having trouble selling books at that time.) 

I wasn't at that time, either. I had written Dreaming Death a couple of years before that, but had only gotten form rejections from agents at that point. (Including one from my future agent!)

My whole point being that the assumption that his books are the Best Books because he's being published is a false one.  

It's entirely true that his books might actually BE the Best Books. They could be.  

But every day the Best Books are languishing on an agent's desk. They're being rejected by publishers. They're being left on computers because the writer's health is too bad at the time to deal with sending things out.  Or they don't have enough spoons. Or they have to work too many hours to pay bills and keep a roof over their heads to learn the systems of submitting and querying. And they surely don't have time to go to a conference and pitch to an agent/editor.  

And you can say that those people just aren't trying hard enough, but if you can say that, you may be suffering from privilege. For most people, keeping a roof over their head isn't an option. Trying to keep their health isn't optional. 

(As an aside, this isn't a statement about self-publishing. I'm only talking about traditional publishing and the assumption that the gatekeepers choose the best books. The self-publishing discussion is one for another time and place.) 

So while a lot of people took exception to that article for other, very valid, reasons, that was the thing that annoyed me. I dislike the automatic assumption that any book published by a Big Publisher is going to be great...or that all the books that didn't get there are inferior. Look around and you'll probably find dozens of great books that are published by smaller publishers, or indie-published.  And, on occasion, you'll find a real lemon under the hardcover jacket at the bookstore. 
j_cheney: (Hurry...)
Since I often write in actual existing places (the "Iron Shoes" stories in Saratoga Springs, the Of Blood and Brandy novels in Porto, and the Russian novella outside St. Petersburg, for example), I have to do a lot of research.

Now my work is fantasy, so I'm actually writing a form of 'alternate' history. I can change things, including geography, within reason. I like to have a reason behind those changes, though, and I tend to obsess about making things fit.

I want to get the trees right. I want to get the birds right. I want to get the cobbles in the road right....so I research waaaay more than is likely needed by my readers.

For "Iron Shoes", not only did I procure as many period books about Saratoga Springs as I could find, but I also went through blogs. I dug through web-sites. I read diaries about horse-racing stables. I ran down costume books and catalogs so that I would have my characters dressed appropriately. I purchased a movie DVD because it was partially set in a Saratoga Springs hotel that was subsequently demolished. Google Street View. Google Maps.

I had also -visited- Saratoga Springs. From the train I watched the trees and undergrowth as we passed so I would know what trees I would find in the forest there. I tried to remember what kind of birds I'd find there.

I've just returned from Portugal, where I noted that there are 2 kinds of seagulls in Porto (brown and white). The pigeons of Porto are uniformly dark, while down in Lisbon, there's a lot of variety (white, brown, gray, mixed). There are also super-cool little diving birds out on the Douro River that made a little popping sound when they broke the water (although we only saw two...and I haven't figured out yet what they are.) It can be drizzling and then suddenly raining in sheets...and then stop again a moment later.

But St. Petersburg? No, I'm not visiting there any time soon, so I have to research on paper.

One of the things I like to use is stuff written by the people who lived there and then to give me that background. I've read some biographical work for this story: The Pearl and A Life Under Russian Serfdom: The Memoirs of Savva Dmitrievich Purlevskii (still reading), both tales that talk about the relations between the slaves and masters in pre-emancipation Russia.

A lot of things can be found via your library. Other things aren't available that way, especially books written decades ago (if they're not popular, they're removed from the library eventually). The used-book market can be useful here. Also, a lot of it, if published before 1923, is going to be available on-line via Google Books or Project Gutenburg. If you can put up with the iffy OCR, you'll find a lot of things are still out there.

But these days web-sites are also your friends. Google Maps and Google Street View are awesome resources. I've used the archives of the New York Times a lot. You can also use the internet to contact librarians...which I've done. I communicated with the public library in Saratoga Springs on a topic where I couldn't find the answer, and the librarian tried her best to find the answer for me. (In that case, she didn't have the answer. I found the answer in the NYT Archives and ended up sending that link to her so she could stick the article in her file for future reference).

I'm a bit obsessive about this...and no matter how hard I've looked, there are some things I've had to fudge. But I'm still going to keep trying...
j_cheney: (Default)
I'm tired of the rainy and cool. I realize that come August/September/October, when it's boiling hot and dry, I'll regret wanting it to go away, but for now I'm heartlily sick of it. Yes, I realize I'm saving money in watering and mowing, but a few of my plants are teetering on the verge of root rot, including two of my new bluebeards. Grrr....

The moles, however, are loving this weather, which makes ground-swimming easy for them.

We bought new maps for our GPS (in prep to go to Wisconsin), but when we started loading them, the computer said the device didn't have enough memory (so we only loaded certain areas). Would have been handy for them to tell us that before we spent the money. ::rolls eyes::

Process note:
I've finished the draft of DitD, and am taking a week or so to do edits. For example, in order to get some character arcs straight, I have a couple of conversations that need to be altered...nost notably one in chapter 2. This change will, however, provoke a cascade of smaller dialog alterations throughout the book....which means a complete read-through. I can do that, and if you were wondering, I will be incoporating the dratted spring rains as I go along. So, fast read-through progress? 58/602....
j_cheney: (The Thinking Angel)
Yes, I haven't forgotten. BTW, reading this won't ruin your New Year's Resolutions unless you actually go and bake the pie and then eat it.

Eggnog Custard Pie Recipe
This turned out to be a tasty pie (if you like eggnog). We essentially used the recipe here, with a few minor changes. We didn't make the topping, and substituted extract for the actual rum, although in far lower quantities (I think a teaspon, instead).
The finished pie had a great eggnog flavor with a custard texture. I will warn, however, that like all custards, it began to separate a bit when chilled overnight, so I would prefer to serve it lukewarm, or eat it at one sitting.

In other news:
I got 1/6 of the way through the second draft of Iron Shoes. 10 gruesomely marked-up pages, plus an added scene, which I must now type in.

This is about how much I change things between first and second draft, so you can see that there's quite a bit being altered due to the response of the first readers.

I am feeling better, and think I got a good night's sleep.

And I'm waiting on tenterhooks, terrified that a rejection will be in the mail today (I've been watching others from this venue pop up on Duotrope for the last few days). Please think good thoughts for that story for me.
j_cheney: (Please)
AKA, yet another note on process....

I'm thinking about inspiration today.

At least in writing terms, I'm never in short supply here. This is the easiest part for me. Ideas just float by and get sucked into my brain when I inhale.

They aren't plot bunnies, though. They are, perhaps, character bunnies, situation bunnies, setting bunnies, vignette bunnies, but not necessarily plot bunnies

So, some examples, Read more... )

The point being that for me, at least, the inspiration seems to come from anywhere. Whatever the brain takes in can be refigured eventually, sometimes in ways that I would not have expected (such as the fully-formed plot bunny that erupted from Trauma and Recovery, more than a year after I read it, and worked its way into the dragon line-up).

Anyhow, I suspect that most writers get their inspirations from a lot of different places. What's the weirdest inspiration/plot link that you have?
j_cheney: (Horse)
Happy belated birthday to [livejournal.com profile] dotar_sojat and more timely salutations to [livejournal.com profile] sarah_prineas and [livejournal.com profile] babarnett!

Ah now, on to the boring stuff.

Drafts.
ROUGH DRAFT
Some people produce a first draft. I produce a "rough" draft the first time out.
yadda yadda yadda )

So, how many drafts do you do? How many before you let anyone see it?
j_cheney: (Horse)
This is almost always an issue for me.

I was cuddled up in bed this morning, post shower, and the plot bunny whispered in my ear, its sibilant voice (hissy because with those huge front teeth, you can't help but lisp) saying, "You can make this longer...novel length, even."

Yes, the bunny often says this to me. I offer it lettuce if it will just go away.

Pretty much anything can be stretched to novel length, you know.

I knew this one would be 25K when I started it because there's a lot packed into it. Could I make it 90K? Well, yeah....
j_cheney: (Horse)
A process note:
That scene I scribbled out in the outline? Then said I would probably put it back in?

I wrote it, took it out and saved it elsewhere, and just now stuck it back in.

Indecision....a normal part of the process for me.
j_cheney: (Horse)
More about process....if this doesn't interest you, look away!

I'm working fast and furious on this, and working hard to stuff everything in I need. (which is why I'm planning on adding another 4K).

Early this morning, I woke with several ideas...which kept going on, and I thought, Oh dear, I'd better write this down. So yes, there is a little notebook by the bed, and I scribbled down 6 pages of notes in the dark.

You'll probably note that they're not.....easy to read. I crossed the pages to make them easier to read later. Did I mention it was dark? Pre-dawn dark? Writing without being able to see is an act of faith.
Notes cleaned up behind the cut )
j_cheney: (Horse)
I don't usually do these, because I don't know that anyone is really interested in my process, but I thought you might be interested in taking a look at what a weird-mobile I am...and the PB epic is providing a lovely chance...

So, how do I write a "Historical Fantasy-Romance"?

Well, you gotta start with the historical part.

Yep, that's most of my research (a couple of books already went back to the library). You can see that I did some work on-line, borrowed a horse-racing book, bought a book on Saratoga Springs (low on fact, high on pictures), got out my 'costume' folder (Imogen's going to be wearing that dress in the lower right hand corner on race day) and made copious notes.

And then I had to get my characters in my head... many more words after the cut )
Thought you might find this amusing. Do you do any of those things?

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J. Kathleen Cheney

July 2017

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