Last week I binge-read the first five books of the Pretty Little Liars series. They’re about four high school juniors in a super-rich community (someone’s grandmother leaves all her grandkids $2 million and no one blinks), and the problems they have being popular. Totally not the kind of thing I usually read. I don’t even remember how they appeared on my radar.
They’re very high tension, so I kept getting dragged through them. There’s a mystery about what happened in the past, plus a mystery about what’s going on now, plus a zillion other conflicts. I only managed to slow down and get more writing done because I made myself read the spoilers in the Wikipedia article.
Kelly posted some good thoughts about conflict last year, defining macro (world-level), micro (interpersonal), and sub micro (internal) conflict. The Pretty Little Liars books have the last two dials turned up to max. The world-level conflict is pretty high in the context of the girls’ high school lives, but the planet isn’t going to get blown up or anything. However, the author brings in every possible interpersonal conflict. No one has a relationship with anyone that doesn’t have some kind of tension in it. (Or if they do, it’s not mentioned, which is pretty much the same thing.) Not with parents, not with teachers, not with friends. There’s cheating (academic and romantic), bulimia, shoplifting, stalking, bullying on multiple levels… The only time their friends or siblings are mentioned are when they have a fight or another conflict. Only one teacher is mentioned, and it’s because one of the girls sleeps with him. It’s exhausting (think after school special meets soap opera), but it keeps me turning pages.
I wouldn’t want everything I read to have this much conflict in it—I said something before in a post I can’t find about how it feels like being dragged through a foreign city by a travel guide who won’t let me stop to enjoy myself—but it’s a good writing lesson about how to find conflict everywhere.
Streets of Shadows, the urban fantasy noir anthology that I have a story in, is launching this weekend at Context 27. Which means I’m going to wander over to Columbus, Ohio and attend. This will be the first time I’ve been able to attend a launch party for a book I’m in. Hopefully, it will be awesome and involve free drinks. And no hazing.
At least it feels that way sometimes. On one hand, I feel pretty fortunate that I have stories to promote. On the other hand, it’s easy to tell myself that no one–even loyal blog readers such as yourselves–really care that I have anything coming out, anyway. On the other other hand, well, I can’t get faithful readers if I don’t tell people my stuff exists. So. Without further ado:
1. Chicks Dig Gaming is a non-fiction book filled with essays written by women about … you guessed it … gaming. Jaleigh has an essay in this, too, so you should buy two copies. Or something. It comes out in November but is available for pre-order now.
2. The Bard’s Tale is an anthology-slash-cookbook about … you guessed it … bard’s tales. The stories are either told by bards or feature bards as characters. Each story is illustrated and is accompanied by a recipe. I think it’s pretty cool, and I’m excited to be a part of it. The kickstarter runs through October 21st, but don’t wait! Five bucks gets you the ebook.
The other night we watched an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in which we saw a doctor besides Bashir for possibly the first time, or at least the first time either of us remembered. It’s a necessary convention that the interesting stories have to take place while the main characters are on duty or at least awake, or that they have to be woken up to deal with whatever emergencies arise.
Then I was reading something about polyphasic sleep. There are a bunch of systems where people can take several short naps during the day instead of one long sleep, which (supposedly) keeps them just as functional on many fewer hours of sleep.
Since it would be extremely difficult to do this with the current typical lifestyle where most people have an employer-defined 8-hour work schedule, I’ve been thinking about what a society would be like if it were built around a polyphasic sleep schedule.
Would employers be required to provide cots for their employees? Would everyone have the same nap schedule, so that all businesses shut down for half an hour every four hours? Would families with kids try to stick to the same schedule, or would it be better for the adults to stagger their nap times so someone is always awake? If your scheduled naptime occurs during a friend’s barbecue, is it socially acceptable to go curl up on their couch for a bit? What would jet lag be like?
It would at least make it easier to believe that the main crew of the space station is always on duty.
So I’m working on a new project. While I won’t tell you the particulars, I will tell you it’s speculative fiction set in Prohibition-era Chicago. So you know that that means. Flapper girls and speakeasies and maaaaagic. I am so, so excited to build this world and research the era. I’m reading history books! I’m researching gangsters! I’m watching documentaries! Next I’ll research fashion and language! I will also be keeping my liquor cabinet well-stocked, because you know. One shouldn’t research Prohibition without a drink in one’s hand. By the time it’s all said and done this will be the most research I’ve ever done. Hopefully my liver will still be functional.
Right now I have a solid story concept and a nebulous idea for a plot. Right now it’s also the Best Idea I’ve Ever Had that I Will Naturally Fuck Up Somehow Because I’m a Shitty Writer. So all systems are normal.
I recently ran across a kickstarter for a “goal board”.
It looked like a nice visual way of organizing annual/quarterly/monthly goals, so I set one up in a Google spreadsheet. It’s the same kind of planning I’ve been doing with Trello, where I belong to a small group that posts weekly goals. The spreadsheet lets me see the whole year at once (I can even print it and paste it into my journal – it fits on an 8×5 spread). I also made a section for some weekly columns to break the months down a bit.
Since I feel slightly bad about pointing out a kickstarter for a product and then telling you how I made my own, I will point out that the kickstarted goal board is a tactile, physical object, and is much larger and easier to read. If I had wall space it would be very useful.
I got a new phone! If ever there was a way to procrastinate working on a book, this smartphone is it. For one thing, it’s an Android, and I’m used to using an iPhone, so that’s taken some adjustment. For another, it’s just really fun to play around with.
And oh is it a distraction.
Write some words. Check the phone. Write some more. Oh! Change the wallpaper. Get Twitter and Facebook on there. Set up voice mail. Write a few more words–oh, hell with it, let’s check out ringtones!
But I managed to reach 100 pages on the work in progress this weekend, and I did some tabletop board gaming with friends and family, so I’m calling it a win.
While my twitter account automatically pitches my novel for me, I’ve been thinking about a line I read in Writing for Emotional Impact yesterday.
Open [a classic script] at random on any page and start reading. Even if you have no idea where you are in the story, you’ll be hooked by the dialogue, characters, or conflicts in the scene, and you’ll want to turn the page. This should be your standard of excellence.
Part of me wants to grab the nearest good novel and find pages for which this is not true, just because I dislike people telling me what to do.
But it’s a good goal to shoot for. Sure, if pages 1-57 have been wonderful, maybe your reader will continue on to page 59 even if 58 was a dud. But why risk it?
Back and recovered from the Decatur Book Festival, and wow, what a great time. Huge thanks to the festival organizers and volunteers for making this such an amazing experience. The outdoor children’s stage (or the enchanted forest, as I like to call it) was a great venue for talking middle grade novels, and I had a blast describing Steampunk Stories with author Alan Gratz. His new book, The League of Seven, is out now and looks amazing. It has all the things I love about steampunk plus monsters that feast on lightning. How cool is that?
Next up, fall is here and that means it’s time to gear up for touring again. I’ve updated my website with all the cities I’ll be visiting, starting with the Tweens Read Festival in Houston TX. Check it out if you want to know where I’ll be in the coming weeks.
And on the writing front, I’m at 25,000 words on the WIP and with edits on book 2 imminent, things could get interesting come October. But busy is good, and I’d much rather be busy writing now rather than in February tax crunch time!
I have a new story out!
“Last Dance Over the Red, Red World” is now up at Apex Magazine. Please feel free to abandon every other possible thing so that you can click that link.
If you do read it, let me know if you recognize the classic story that I ripped off –sorry, I mean the classic story that inspired– this one.