It happened! It happened! The universe provided—because I shouted that I will wring its neck if it won't. Namely, I've been invited to do a book reading at Auntie's Books (THANK YOU!!!) in Spokane and had no idea how I would get there (I have no car), but then a miracle happened. Like, a real miracle with thunder and lightning and everything. One of my readers, Katie Lee Cook, shouted at everyone everywhere to find me a ride. Then my other reader, Cassie Rainn, has graciously offered to haul my skinny fundament from Seattle to Spokane and back. And she did. And not only that, she made me dried bananas and strawberries and elephants, and fed me along the way.Read More
I've been asked to write about this for a while now, probably because I'm never serious when chatting with folks, whether it's on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or in some other wondrous online place. (Yes, I'm online a lot. No, really, I'm NEVER serious.) I also want to write novels that are so very silly, they choke on themselves from laughter, albeit my first trilogy was soul-rending, but that's because I was going through shitty times. Now shitty times are behind me, and my 2nd novel, ROSEHEAD, is fully edited and in my hands! To those of you who pre-ordered it, you're so patient, thank you. I'll ship you a banana for patience, together with the book, in the same package. Just wait a few more weeks. I have to read it, send it for formatting, and it will be published. Anyway, in ROSEHEAD I have finally flexed my sarcastic muscle (there is one, it's close to your anus), and this is why IRKADURA was so hard for me to write. It felt too gruesome and bleak, so I injected 2nd draft with bitter sarcasm and magical realism. Cue Roald Dahl a la Stephen King, people! Anyway. My next novel after this, PAGE TURNER (not sure about the title yet, maybe it will be BOOK JUMPER) will be packed with sarcasm, because that's what I love, making fun of people and people making fun of me (didn't you figure it out by now?!?!). Ahem, of course, except those moments when I try to translate a Russian joke into English and it renders my audience speechless. NOT because they're struck by my genius. Some jokes just don't translate very well. By no means am I a comedian (I wish, I wish... there are so many awesome comedians on Twitter who put me to shame every day, my tired quips, oh well...), so I'll dish on you the things I do, and see if you can apply some of it to your writing, that is, if you want it to be funny.Read More
Merry Christmas! Or merry whatever it is you're celebrating. The following is probably for those of you who want to start writing but for some reason haven't yet. Before I dive into the meat of this very interesting topic, let me preface it a little. First of all, it's not me who thought about writing it, okay? So don't look at me like this. And it's not me who even started the whole conversation. It began at Christmas dinner a few nights ago at the house of my dear friend and my ex. Yes, we're divorced, we have two kids, but we totally have dinners at my place or his place, and we alternate Christmas dinners every year, celebrating it together, one year at my house, one year at his. This time we were making pelmeni, sorta Russian dumpling things, from scratch, and somehow the topic of the conversation turned to peeing. I think it began from one of the girls mentioning to boys how it was unfair that they could pee anywhere anytime, and what a pain in the ass it is for girls to pee in public. Then switched to peeing in the snow, pertinent to the holiday season, then to peeing your name in the snow, and then to the wonderment of how one would do it if one were a woman. You can make a sour face right now, but, you know, it was the best Christmas dinner I've had so far and I prefer conversations about peeing techniques and laughter to boring weather talk and people yawning, wishing they were somewhere else. Anyway. It was so funny that of course, I tweeted it. And got a bunch of responses that made everyone laugh even harder. One of them was, PLEASE MAKE IT A HOW TO BLOG POST. See, I told you, it wasn't me.
What's up with this whole business of leaving our names on walls and snow and shit? It got me thinking, why do we like to carve Kate was here (albeit more often it's John was here) on the trunks of trees or on school desks or on a mountain where it clearly says on the sign to please not touch the wilderness and not inflict any kind of damage to it? Fast-forward to 4square and apps similar to it, what's up with this idea of checking into places? What's up with the whole thing of "Hey, fuckers, check it out, I've been here, see my name?" It goes back to the stories, doesn't it? We have this intense desire to understand the world and life and everything, and a simple answer of 42 just doesn't cut it. So we wander around and we marvel and we ask questions and we do stuff and we tell each other stories, about being to that mountain or to that city or to that other special place. We like to have proof, too, either in the shape of the picture of us in front of it (remember the garden gnome in Amelie?) or us carving a picture (or name) into the said poor place, or both. Preferably both. We like to leave our mark. Curious, eh? Kind of like dogs. Hey, look, I've been here, haha! Immature? Yes. Then why do we still do it? Because we love love love to tell stories. Stories help us believe that things can be done. Good can conquer evil. Dragons can be slain. And love can win over everything. We're suckers for stories. Like, why are you still reading this nonsense, tell me? I know. You're waiting for something good to come up. Something that will make it worth the wait for you. All right, here you go.
Some people suggested to use the "funnel". Now, I can't imagine how that would work, peeing into the funnel and spraying it not just like a stream, but also wiggling it this way and that to spell out your name in the snow. Not mentioning cursive. What if you wanted to write it in cursive? I can speculate here on special techniques of doing it by sticking out your bum a clean ninety degrees and jiggling it in a special manner to get the desired outcome. I could even suggest hopping around to get it done, or, like one of you suggested, doing it in several sittings, so to speak. Look, you've read this far. Amazing. Why? What's so fascinating about peeing in the snow? Nothing, right? It's gross! Go away! Go read something else! But here you are, still peering at the screen. I'll tell you why (that is, if you haven't left already). This is like novel writing rule number one. The hook. The opener. The thing that sucks you into the story and holds you by the neck. See, you're mine, I can do whatever I want now, because I got you hooked in the idea that by the end of this blog post you will learn how to pee your name in the snow, if you're a woman, or you will be enlightened as to how women do it, if you're a man. Stephen King does this a lot, the genius whom I love so much that I hate him because he is so good. I want to punch him in the face and then I want to kiss his feet, and I'm all confused because how can one both love and hate someone and claim that they're BOTH out of the goodness of one's heart? Anyway, I blogged before about summarizing your entire novel in the opening sentence, and this seems to be the case.
Is she mental? Completely insane? Or both? Yes, both, and worse. I probably belong to one of those institutions where they feed you pills to keep you calm and speak to you in nice voices so as not to aggravate you. But this is what creativity is about, this insanity that becomes your sanity. I mean, who in their right mind would blog about something like this? I waited for a good hour before starting to write, scared out of my mind. I thought, I will alienate people. I thought, this is gross! I thought, I better find something else to write about. But then I thought, no, that's what separates a writer from a wannabe. A writer can write about anything. Give me a topic, and I will write about it. It's my job. If I fail, well, then I shouldn't be a writer, I should go look for an office job and spend the rest of my life shuffling papers. I just posted recently a bunch of my thoughts on art vs sanity (by popular demand) and on how it's wrong we think that we have to be insane to create. Because art IS sanity, not the other way around. Think back to when you were a kid, precisely to that point of immaturity. Man, peeing and farting and pooping were like major topics of fascination for you, weren't they? Farting in public? Farting to the point of pooping your pants a little? Peeing your pants from laughing? Or peeing in public, or trying to find a place to pee, or peeing your pants because the teacher wouldn't let you leave the class and you really REALLY needed to go? That actually happened to me, it was a horrifying experience. I was called to the front of the class to recite some stuff I was supposed to memorize and I twisted my legs this way and that to hide the fact that I let out a trickle and then another, and another, until I couldn't hold it anymore. I was in the 2nd grade, I think. Gross, right? But we've all been there. We all do these things, that's why we get connected over telling stories about them, at least we did when we were little, before we learned the social restrictions, the rules, the ways of the adults, as in, do not speak in public about peeing and such! That's why it's so interesting to us when someone else does. Like me. Like this blog. Like you still reading it.
See? You can write about anything. It all comes down to just... well, sitting down and writing about it, abandoning all fear. I dare you. Write about something that grosses you out or that would for sure make anyone who would read it sick. Just write it and see where it takes you. If you're stuck, it might be just the thing to get you unstuck. And to make you laugh (i laughed while writing this). Who cares if nobody will ever read it. What matters is, while you were writing it, you felt like a kid again, having fun, without fear of being scolded or told that you shouldn't do it, or that you suck, or any of those things that contributed to you feeling insecure in your own abilities to create art. I say, fuck it. Do it anyway. If all of us do it, the world will be a better place, a happier place, don't you think? And no, sorry, no pictures or diagrams will follow. This is the end of this blog post. Goodbye.
P.S.: So my boyfriend read this before I published it, and he said he felt cheated. He said, so how do you do it? Here is my promise to you. Next time in snows in Seattle (it recently did but melted within a couple hours), I will personally try it. I will find a place where there would be no witnesses, hopefully, I will take my pants off, I will attempt to wiggle my butt in a way so as to spell my name, I will probably get very disappointed and embarrassed, will put my pants back on, and will never do it again. The end.
All right, so this is something I sort of have done, having written screenplays in the past that were not entirely fantasy, having written fantasy and preparing to write a literary novel (after finishing my 2nd novel, ROSEHEAD) called IRKADURA and set in the 80's in Soviet Union, and after that a sci-fi novel called PAGE TURNER (temporary title for now). Both concepts are already worked out and both go beyond what I have done before. And you know what? I'm so excited to try something new, that I tell you, disregard what anyone says, jump around as much as you want! Take a look at Hugh Howey, the indie success story who broke through the sky with his sci-fi novel WOOL, and who has been talking about trying romance and other genres. I say, do the same. Write what excites you, write until you feel comfortable, and then throw yourself into a new uncomfortable genre. Why? To stay motivated and hungry. Let me illustrate.
Write not to fit into a genre, write to stay true to yourself. I get many people asking me about the types of books I write and what genre they are in, and I always have a hard time describing my stories, because they are part fantasy, part mystery, part suspense, there is even some romance there, and lately I've been tempted to add sci-fi elements too. I remember way back, when I just started writing SIREN SUICIDES, I was worried sick about how to categorize it, and then I simply gave up. I thought, I will write what I feel and then it will categorize itself. And it did! My Beta Readers categorized it for me as urban fantasy. Same goes for any story. I think genres have been invented by readers, to be able to navigate the massive amounts of books writers produce. Of course, I don't have factual knowledge to back up this fact, but it makes sense, doesn't it? There are plenty of writers who write for a very specific genre, but unless you have done a lot of writing to know how you can follow the rules and write something very specific, if you're a rookie writer like me, I say, forget about genres all together. Write how it feels true to you and to you only.
Let the story dictate the genre, not the other way around. Here is a recent example I can share with you. I set out to write ROSEHEAD as pure fantasy, and as soon as I started it, it made me add elements from classic detective murder stories, and the deeper I went, the more pronounced they became. At this point, I don't even know what specific genre or sub-genre it is, but I do know that not worrying about it gave me freedom to write it as it unfolded itself. The biggest obstacle any writer has is the infamous writer's block, and one reason we have it is doubt. Trying to pick out a genre will only add to your doubt and threaten to block you. Drop it. Let your story flow, especially let it flow when you're writing your 1st draft. It will unfold and surprise you, and when you start editing it, it will start shining, ultimately becoming a certain genre itself, without you having to do anything with it.
Pick new challenges, push yourself to grow as a writer. When you stay in the realm of the same old comfortable genre, you eventually stop growing. It's like having a job for many years and being afraid to move on. You know your coworkers, you've gotten used to them, to your routine, you know what you have to do inside and out. Of course you don't want to move! But you also feel like you're starting to get bored a little, then some more, and more, until you lose your creative spark and wonder what happened. Fatigue is what happened. We were designed in such a way that we had to constantly move and forage for food when we were hunting for mammoths, before we could buy prepackaged mammoths in a supermarket (well, not exactly mammoths, but you get the point). This doesn't mean that you have to abandon your genre all together. No, not at all. It only means that once in a while it's good to break out of a well oiled machine and try something new. You never know what you will find, but the energy of learning will make you hungry again, hungry and excited, so I say, got for it! Try it. If it doesn't work, you can always write another book.
Have fun! We writers often forget this very simple rule. Writing, above all, is pure fun. Just think about it. You get to fool people, you get to make up the craziest stuff you can come up with, you make people believe in it, and then, on top of it all, you make people pay for it, to partake in your imagination. I mean, is there anything better than that? Want to try writing romance? Do it. Want to try your hand at horror? Why not, go for it! Want to hammer out a sci-fi novel or two? You can make it happen. You can write any story, in any genre, you're a writer, and that's what writers do. Like Anton Chekhov said, "I can write about anything you like. ... Tell me to write about this bottle, and I will give you a story entitled "The Bottle."
Well then, what are you waiting for? Go jump genres and see what you come up with! And chime in here, I would love to know what you think on the subject, as always.
Right. This was supposed to be a blog post on character development, as folks on Twitter asked me to write one, but it turns out I already blogged about that, using PINK TUTUS as an example. So, then. Since I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I was so taken by how masterfully J.K. Rowling does her plotting, that I feel inspired to write about plotting, or, rather, how I do it, using socks as examples. Why socks? Because it was all the rave last morning in Twitterverse, which, as you can tell, is sort of like my writer's group and my sounding board. Anyway, socks it is and plotting it is, well, how you do it then? How do you plot a novel? You don't. At first. Hold on to your chair and don't yell at me, here is what I mean by it.
Don't plot until your first draft is finished. Okay, this is key, at least this is what I have learned, so please don't assume like this is some sort of special truth, it is not. It's what works for me. The idea is this. Your subconscious knows better than you do. Now, very few of us know how to turn off the noise in our brains and go down to the place that we only feel. It comes with experience and years and years of practice, of which I have neither. So, you have to write your first draft very fast, lighting fast, ideally, without any breaks at all, well, not longer than 1 to 2 days. It shouldn't take you more than 3 months, as Stephen King advises in his ON WRITING. It took me 6 weeks to bang out 1st draft for SIREN SUICIDES, and I'm almost half-done with 1st draft for ROSEHEAD, having only started writing it 3 weeks ago. I assume it will take me 6 weeks total as well. Why? Because you charge forward on association, writing the first thing that comes to mind and excites you.
- Sock example number 1: A pair of checkered socks lay forgotten at the bottom of the drawer, when an unfamiliar hand reached for them and set them on fire (so, twist number one, who got the socks? Why fire? No clue, first thing that came to my head. What would be cool next?) But then the socks exploded because they were made of special magic exploding wool! BAM! (Whoa? Where did this come from? No idea. Have to keep moving, keep writing.) The socks themselves, instead of burning, grew into two humongous floating balloons and burst out of the house, when the unfamiliar hand reached for them and grabbed their ends, flying out into space! (Right, I thought I was writing fantasy, but this is turning into sci-fi. Fine, I have to keep moving.) A vicious rain of acid alien socks pummeled the pair, causing them to deflate and land on the Moon, which was actually a roll of wool in the jaw of a cat that represented the universe and everything. (WHOA!!! What the hell? No matter, I'll keep writing.) See what I'm doing? I keep moving no matter how crazy it sounds, because it's fun and it keeps me going.
Write out plot points and clean them up. Once you're done with Draft 1, put it away for at least 2 weeks. Don't touch it, forget it existed. Then, after 2 weeks are gone, read it all in one sitting. Again, I'm only borrowing advice from Stephen King here, it worked for me, so I'm sure it will work for you. Anyway, then, when you read it, keep a notepad next to you and write down every single little plot turn you come across, just like you write down a list of to-do's.
- Sock example number 2: A hand reached for socks. (Whose hand? Why? Why secretly?) Socks exploded. (Why? Did someone put them there on purpose? By accident? Were there more socks like these or are they one of a kind?) Exploding wool. (Who invented it? Why? Is it used in other products, like exploding sweaters? Has it been tested on ill-tempered humans?) Socks inflated. (Who did? Did they have a computer chip for it? Was it implanted by special spying sloths? Murderous hippos? Sock monkeys?) Acid alien rain was waiting for them. (Did aliens plan it? Were they enemies for years? Have they mistaken these socks for some other checkered socks?) You see the pattern I'm creating here? That's it. You write out a list of all your turns, big and little, and then start cleaning them up, weaving a logically possible story out of it.
Explain every single plot detail in Draft 2. Now comes the painful part. After you are done with Draft 1 and writing out plot points, in Draft 2 make sure you carefully explain every single plot point, to the point of wanting to vomit. Seriously, write as much of it as you can, as if you were explaining it all to your almost deaf great great grandmother. Because if she can understand what you're talking about, any other reader will understand it too.
- Sock example number 3. A pair of checkered socks lay forgotten at the bottom of the drawer, their bright pink and purple pattern barely visible in the gloom of the rest of the socks, most of them brown or black, the typical fare of a typical boring clerk working in a bank his entire life without a raise. This particular pair of socks felt particularly out of place, itching to get out, after having spent there only 1 hour, a tag still attached to them, together with a barely discernible scent of a woman's perfume. Then, without any warning, a woman's hand, long and slender, each finger encrusted with a diamond the size of a robin's egg, swiftly snaked in and snatched the pair with a pair of silver pincers... Do I need to continue? I don't think so. You see the point. I try to over-explain every single detail.
Cut down to only necessary details in Draft 3. Bam. You did it. Now in Draft 3 simply cut out the fluff that is not needed, leaving only the things that ring true. Ask your beta readers to chime in, if you're having difficulty seeing it. Or, again, take a break for a couple weeks, and then read it all in one go.
- Sock example number 4. At the bottom of a drawer, underneath a pile of silk stockings, a pair of checkered socks lay uncomfortably, their purple microchips blinking. One minute left until explosion... I think you get the point.
Use the accordion method for the rest of the drafts. Somebody told me about this concept, I can't remember who, but the idea is that you keep expanding and shrinking your drafts until they can't expand and shrink anymore. In any case, don't do more than 10 drafts, chances are, you're overwriting it. Don't write the same novel for longer than 2 years, chances are, you've lost the spark and have to move on. Trust me, once you move on to a new novel and start the same process all over again, it will flow a 100 times smoother. I know, it does for me in ROSEHEAD.
Well, here you have it. It's the method I use, it's nothing like you would read in books on plotting. It works for me. What works for you? Got any tips or secrets to share? Please do in comments, I'm totally dying to learn.