Like Holly, I’ve had a change of plans in recent months. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about her decision to self-publish, where I want my writing career to go, and what I think the future holds. I’ve been doing a lot of research on self-publishing, reading blogs on both sides of the issue, and trying to see what makes sense for me.
The more I learn, the more convinced I become that self-publishing is the smart thing to do. Publishing is in turmoil right now. Traditional publishers and agents have little idea of how to deal with the whole explosion in ebooks. It seems to me that they’re trying to find ways to hold onto their turf, keep things working in the way they’ve been working for the last several decades, and trying to make independent authors who self-publish fail. I hardly believe that is going to happen. That train has left the station.
So how do I become a part of this revolution? The answer is to publish my own books. This requires a big learning curve and a lot of confidence. I’m working hard on both right now. I’ve rededicated myself to a writing career of my own making.
One of the secrets to being a successful self-published author is to have a series. Readers like series, particularly mystery readers. Once your target audience finds you, they’ll buy every book in a series.
I originally started participating in this walkthrough because I wanted to finish all the lessons under Holly’s guidance, try to make her techniques work for me. I didn’t want to stick in my same mold. Because she’s a fantasy and science fiction writer, I decided that I’d make it easy on myself by writing a fantasy. It’s not my usual genre, but I had an idea I really liked and felt I could work with. My next book would be a class assignment, developed for the sole purpose of working through the How to Think Sideways walkthrough.
But writing a fantasy, no matter how good the idea is, isn’t making progress on my goal of being a mystery writer. I know the series I want to write. The first book is drafted. I need either some critique partners, trusted readers, or a content editor to help me revise it. While I try to find those, I’m going to start on the second book of the series. I hope to get to having my scenes laid out in Scrivener by November 1st so I can write the first draft of that book during NaNoWriMo.
Last night I started working on my sentence. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting close. I’ve started listing titles and character names and have a few key scenes in my head. My goal for this week is to complete four character sheets for this novel. And polish that too-long sentence which, for now, reads:
Faith Andersen, a skeptical Christian, attending a church retreat at an isolated ranch for a weekend of horseback riding, Bible study, and prayer, must use her crime-solving skills when the ranch foreman is murdered and mutilated by a psychopathic killer.
I think that’s what you call what happened to me this morning. Whatever you call it, it was amazing!
I’ve mentioned before that I have the draft of a mystery with a story I really like, but it has some really serious problems. The biggest one is that the Main Character is too much like me, which translates into not interesting enough. She also doesn’t have a strong enough motivation for investigating a murder.
This is always a problem with amateur sleuth mysteries. Why in the world would a normal person, be they a bookshop owner, chef, or knitter, get involved in solving a crime? This is serious business, more suited for law enforcement than a nice young girl or a little old lady, Miss Marple aside. The trope is for the accused murderer to be either the sleuth or someone close to her.
But that didn’t work for the mystery I wrote. I know who the killer is and why he did it. It’s so intimately tied in with the theme and the plot that I couldn’t possibly make it someone else or change the murderer’s relationship to my MC without drastically altering the whole book.
It was because I was so discouraged over this situation that I decided to write a fantasy for the walkthrough of HTTS. I needed to create a MC who was over the top in the hopes of being able to create better main characters in the future.
But I haven’t been able to totally let go of my mystery. I’ve worried The Sentence for it during week four, as well as working on one for the fantasy novel. And I’ve reread Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict over the past couple of weeks, trying to wrap my head around the concepts for both the mystery and the fantasy. You see, details on the fantasy are not forthcoming, either.
Anyway, as I was finishing up breakfast this morning and thinking about the rewrite of the opening of the mystery, I was also thinking that I needed to do a list of what my characters want and what is blocking them from getting it.
So my ME threw out there:
Faith, what do you want?
And my MUSE answered:
I want to be a superhero.
And my jaw dropped. This was awesome! It totally makes sense. My MC is a computer nerd (like me) and very ordinary. But lots of computer nerds are into superheros and comic books. I think most of them have already seen Thor.
I got this image of her turning into someone else in her mind, like Rose in the Rose is Rose comic strip, who turns into a tattooed motorcyclist whenever she’s escaping from her life as a wife and mother. And I could just see my MC having Walter Mitty-like fantasies of saving the day from the evil-doers.
Solving the mystery gives her a chance to live out her fantasy of being a superhero. That’s her motivation. And it makes her so much more interesting as a character. Of course, this means even more rewrites. But it’s got me excited about going back to the mystery again.
Well, this has been interesting. As everyone who is doing the walkthrough with Holly knows, the week three lesson (which is actually being done every two weeks, so it’s week six if you’re a stickler for accuracy), is to learn techniques for “calling down lightning” or coming up with ideas on demand. You use your Sweet Spot Map to help you come up with these ideas.
An additional task that’s a technique in getting comfortable with this process is to personify your muse. You’re supposed to develop a picture or use a totem of sorts (say, if your muse happens to be a stuffed animal you already own) to encourage you to communicate with the right-brain side of yourself.
Holly was right when she said some of us skipped this step when we did the class initially. Those of us who are left-brain dominant thought it was silly. I don’t need a cutesy animal or anything to help me get in touch with my muse. During the walkthrough, Holly encouraged us to do it anyway and set up a separate topic for us to post pictures of our muse. In case you missed mine, which I’m not sure how you could have since the only way to find this blog is through the walkthrough links, here she is:
Now, there are a couple of interesting things here. The first is that I thought of a fairy. Fairies belong to fairy tales, happily ever afters, and childish things. Anyone who knows me in my “normal” life would not be thinking fairy when they think of me. They’d be thinking computers and maybe church and a very practical person. But there was no doubt in my mind that my muse was a fairy. And she had to be flying, flitting around like Tinkerbell. She’s not the slow, deliberate, thoughtful person that my “Me” is at all.
The other interesting thing (to me, anyway) is that she likes purple. I tend to think that my favorite color is blue, with yellow as a close second. But as I looked at pictures of fairies, I kept coming back to this one and only secondarily gravitating toward the blue ones. I realized this is not the first time my muse has expressed a preference for purple. Back six or seven years ago when I was writing a seaside mystery, an important part of that process was a pair of earrings that I’d bought on Long Island. They were seagulls made from clam shells and were definitely purple. I kept thinking that I’d have to find a nice purple blouse or dress to wear with them on my (imaginary) book tour.
One of the most important lessons from How To Think Sideways is to let your muse speak to you. You have to make your left brain stop throwing up objections like “I can’t have a purple fairy for a muse. My favorite color is blue!” Well, my “Me” might like blue, but my muse doesn’t. She not only likes purple, she likes lots of bright colors. She likes yellow and pink and bright green. She has a whole different perspective on the world. My “Me” insists on writing in black ink only. My muse keeps wanting to write in colors.
Okay, so on to the the Calling Down Lightning part of the lesson. I’ve been sulking over this for pretty much the whole first week. I looked at my Sweet Spot Map after viewing the walkthrough video and pretty much said, “So how am I going to come up with neat story ideas from this stuff?” Besides, my muse has been busily tossing ideas at me for a few minutes a day on the fantasy novel I’ve already decided to write.
It’s only a few minutes because the only time I seem to have to listen to Esmeralda (and I’m not sure I like that name, but that’s the one my muse is using, so I guess I have to listen to that, too) is the few minutes between after the coffee has started to take hold and before I have to get ready for work. It’s annoying, it is. I start my day by writing in my journal as I sip my first cup of coffee. I got started on journaling, or writing Morning Pages, years ago when I took a class based on Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.” It’s a very strong habit and I genuinely miss it when I don’t journal for a few days. Anyway, as I’m drinking my coffee and writing whatever pops into my head each day, eventually Esmeralda starts throwing out ideas. If I’m lucky. It helps to read a writing craft book as I eat my breakfast as well because all kinds of good stuff is inspired by suggestions in those books. Lately I’ve been reading “Goal, Motivation, And Conflict” by Debra Dixon. I’ve read it before, but I need constant reminders on the way to write a good novel.
Okay, so it’s week two on this lesson and I don’t want to fall behind in this class, so I watched the walkthrough video again this morning to get in the right frame of mind to try this assignment. I did have one idea that came at me during the week. This was “horses.” I can’t remember whether it was the same day or the next day, but that evolved into “circus ponies.” I guess this was my equivalent of “rabbits.”
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do to keep on track with the assignments. It was also on my mind that I’ve started Holly’s Create a Culture Clinic. You see, this fantasy novel has at least four, if not five, cultures, two of which are alien. I’ve never created an alien culture before, so I decided I needed some help with that. I’ve barely started work on the clinic and had only done the first exercise, which is describing a culture you know. The next part was writing a short story about this culture. Sheesh! More ideas? And a short story? I don’t write short stories!
So I “cheated.” I decided that for one of my Calling Down Lightning ideas, I would set as the task the short story from the Create a Culture Clinic. The other two could be any genre, any length.
Then the dryer stopped tumbling so I left my office and took the basket of laundry into my bedroom to fold. And the most amazing thing happened as I was folding laundry. Esmeralda just wouldn’t shut up! I got the clinic story, I got the circus ponies story, and I got something I hadn’t even thought of yet from just passing by a painting hanging on the wall of my living room.
Now, I’ve been pelted with ideas by my muse before, but this was a clear example of how Holly’s techniques work and I’d just proven to myself that they do. So I’m feeling very satisfied with myself and happy that it worked out this way. I can’t wait for the next step.
Almost everyone wants to write a novel it seems. The thing is, until you’ve tried it, you have no idea how hard it is. It’s fairly easy to dash off thirty or forty pages of your masterpiece. Then you get stuck. You have no idea where the story goes. Your characters sound like their last acting gig was on a call-in talk show… as the caller. You’ve used every cliche you’ve ever heard. A lot of people give up at this point.
I’m more persistent. I managed to finish a couple of novels and even revised one. Twice. It still wasn’t good enough to see the light of day.
Two years ago I decided to take Holly Lisle’s novel writing class called How To Think Sideways. I’d heard great things about it and was really hoping that it would solve my novel-writing issues. I probably made it half-way through the lessons, but there were times I just didn’t get the techniques. Holly thinks very differently than I do. Which I guess is the point. And it was too easy, in a self-paced class, to procrastinate on working through the lessons. I kept wishing this were more like a regular class with deadlines and a teacher to guide you through it.
Then, just at the right time, Holly announced that she was finally going to do her promised walkthrough the HTTS lessons. I’ve been working on my second completed novel over the past year and it came to me that my biggest problem is that my protagonist is usually too much like me. She’s wimpy. She doesn’t have a strong motivation for doing what she does other than I want her to do it. There are a series of events, but no driving urgency.
So I sat back and thought a while. I’ve always thought of myself as a mystery writer. Up until recently, that’s all I read. A cozy mystery with an amateur sleuth seemed like something I could handle. The latest one was also Christian fiction, which surprised me. Now, the problem with cozies and Christian fiction is that it’s too easy for the characters to be too nice. Even my murderers wind up being nice, if a bit misguided.
What I needed was a really bad bad guy, a villain deserving of the name, and a larger than life protagonist. I needed stakes at least as big as life and death and maybe as big as the survival of the universe. So I decided to write an epic fantasy.
Just like that.
Except I really don’t read epic fantasy. Oh, sure, I read “Lord of the Rings” when I was young, about mumblety-mumble years ago. I read all the Harry Potter books and loved them. I even recently read “Hunger Games” and was blown away by it.
I have no idea what the conventions of the genre are, I’ve never created a world or developed a magic system or anything like it. But it’s something I want to try. It sounds like fun. A lot of work, but still fun.
So here I am, starting How To Think Sideways over again, this time with lots of extra good stuff supplied by Holly, and ready to create my first fantasy novel with no idea how to get there. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?