Blog Hop ’til we Blog Drop

My friend, the talented YA author Nicole Winters — whose book I am on record as liking an awful lot — tagged me in a meme that’s been making the rounds through the writerly blogosphere — the blog hop. It involves answering four questions and then tagging other writers as the next stop in the hop. The rest is self-explanatory, so I’m just going to get right down to it.

1) What am I working on/writing?

My current work-in-progress is a science fiction novel with the working title Nobody’s Watching. It started as my NaNoWriMo project but has been lying fallow since. I need to get myself restarted.

I’m in the process of seeking literary representation for my first novel, an urban fantasy which I recently realized needs a new title. My first round of query letters, earlier this year, was unsuccessful, but I expect to be doing some more querying shortly.

I have a number of short stories out for consideration by various markets, and a couple more that were recently rejected and that I need to get back out there again.

And in comics – you heard it here first – my old friend Greg Beettam and I are in the very early stages of starting to work on some new Xeno’s Arrow material.

2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

The most straightforward answer is a bit of a cop-out. Because yes, the sum total of my interests and personal experience is distilled into my writing, and by virtue of that alone it’s going to be different from anything that anyone else is capable of writing. But that just seems a bit too obvious; it’s equally true of everyone.

Although I wonder if this is really a question that readers are better positioned to answer, I’ll try to go a little deeper.

I seem to occupy, not always comfortably, liminal spaces with my genres.

In comics, I often felt that Xeno’s Arrow was not easily identifiable as fitting within any of the then-primary categories of comics (the choices back in the day being “mainstream” and “alternative”; neither term adequately captured Xeno’s Arrow or, for that matter, accurately described its own actual content, but that’s another rant for another day). I sometimes wonder if my short fiction, particularly, is in a similar position now.

(My novels on the other hand are comfortably inside of core genres or subgenres that are big enough to emcompass them and lots more variety, in many different directions. Comics have changed a lot too, and I suspect that Xeno’s Arrow, when we really get around to trying to increase its profile again, will be a lot less difficult to explain.)

I like plot, strong and active characters and adventure stories, but I dislike the invisible prose that’s otherwise often associated with those elements. I think my own style is still emerging as I find myself as a novelist, but I think it’s there, and should be there, and will continue to be there, just becoming more and more itself.

I like bringing elements of genre together and using them to interrogate one another. I am interested in conflicts that include complexity and ethical dimensions.

In none of these interests am I unique, but certainly the way they express themselves is – see below.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I love working in the SFFnal genres. I love the sense of wonder. I love having the biggest possible canvas to paint on. When I was a kid, I loved reading, period, and I still do – but it was magic swords and elves and starships and giant monsters and superheroes that most fired my imagination.

As I got older, that didn’t change, but I started to learn and think and wonder about other things – like justice, equality, ethics, representation and democracy.

That’s why I write what I do: Because my canvas is big enough, gives me space enough, tools enough, to attack questions about elves and justice, starships and democracy.

4) How does my writing process work?

Heh. That question presupposes that my writing process works at all.

I think of my process, particularly for prose, as something that’s evolving. I’ve only written one-and-a-half novels, to date, so I’m still unpuzzling what works for me. Here’s what I’ve figured out so far…

From Nothing to Something: The Idea

I don’t know where my ideas come from, except that I seem to get my best ones when I’m doing something else. (The subway. I get a lot of ideas on the subway.) There seems to be an element of play involved, and it’s perhaps significant that a lot of the creative work that I’ve taken the farthest emerged from “this is just for fun, or to prove I can do it” scenarios. Both of my major works in comics came out of a desire to collaborate with a friend, and just kicking around ideas until we came up with something that was fun enough to both of us that it stuck. My first novel started as a backup prose feature for my webcomic, until I realized that I had something with the potential to be a novel on my hands. And my current novel was supposed to be my just-get-the-words-out, logjam-breaking NaNoWriMo project.

In every case, they were things I did for fun, or as a creative challenge — and that helped me to get out of my own way and write.

After I stop stopping myself, pieces start coming together in my head. Plot points, ideas I want to explore, characters I want to use — I recycle characters a lot, sometimes from old projects that never saw the light of day and even sometimes from the role-playing games of my misspent youth. I slot them into the story that’s emerging in my brain, sand down any edges and help them fit.

From Idea to Plan: The Outline

My first novel was pantsed, my second novel was plotted. Going forward, I expect that I’m going to continue to plot. It seems to work better for me. Please keep in mind, though, that to date, my plotting has been fairly loose. I borrow screenplay structure for the story beats and write towards them, leaving a lot of room to surprise myself.

From Plan to Draft: The Writing

And then I write, as much as I can, given the very real limitations on my time and energy. That works out as writing in fits and starts — I successfully completed NaNoWriMo in 2013 with just over 50,000 words of my current novel, but have been pretty much stalled out since then. NaNoWriMo isn’t a sustainable pace for me, not with the other responsibilities I have.

To be clear, this isn’t a writer’s block issue — I know what happens and I want to get there. It’s a time management issue. I truly believe that writing every day is a virtue, and is the best practice in terms of both developing writing as a habit and in terms of making real, steady progress towards a goal.

It’s a virtue that I’m still working on cultivating.

From Writing to Better Writing: The Revision

I’ve revised one novel, a bunch of short stories and my film and comics work, and so far my process has been wildly variable depending on the medium and the individual work in question. Obviously it also depends a great deal on whether I’m working with a co-creator.

Things that don’t have a collaborator usually go first to my writers group. That feedback is invaluable and essential in moving from Draft Zero (something that’s in progress, or done, but that I know isn’t ready for anyone else in the outside world to see) to First Draft (which is ready to go to people outside my writers group for feedback).

Short stories usually only go to my writers group, in fact – I incorporate their feedback, often take back the resulting new draft for more thoughts, but then I generally finish up on my own and then take the story directly to market. Since I have yet to sell a short story, this may, in fact, not be a very good process!

First Draft of my first novel went out to a group of alpha readers (which was my writers group again, plus one or two other very smart and trusted people) for high-level, big-picture feedback. Then I put the draft to bed for a while, and thought about and wrote other things. After several months, I went through the draft and revised, paying careful attention to all the alpha comments. A lot of these related to world-building, clearly establishing character and my propensity to write scenes that go on a little too long and/or fall back on snappy-patter dialogue that doesn’t advance the plot.

Once the revisions were complete, I took the new draft to my beta readers. This was a somewhat larger group that included my alphas plus some additional readers whose opinions I value. I asked my beta crew for their opinions as either content specialists (when you write fight scenes, and you have a friend with three black belts, you listen to his feedback!) or as engaged readers, rather than as writers per se, to the degree that’s separable at all.

I took in the comments, made some final changes. Then I drafted a query letter and synopsis and, as I mentioned up above, started querying agents. Which is a whole ‘nother story for another time.

As for what I plan to do differently when I finish Draft Zero of my current novel? Well, I’d like the whole process to move forward a lot more quickly (without leaning too hard on the goodwill of my readers). We’ll see how much luck I have making that happen.

And… tag! You’re it!

The rules of the meme say that I’m supposed to tag three other writers to do this next. Unfortunately, between writers who don’t have the time to participate and writers who’ve already participated, my network is a bit tapped out. So I’m going to tag ONE new writer, and also direct you to some of the other branches of my own blog hop family tree.

Greg Beettam

Not Actually Greg Beettam

Not Actually Greg Beettam

The one person I’m actually tagging in these blog shenanigans is Greg, my Xeno’s Arrow co-creator. He’s the writer of other comics as well, including The Caped and the Cowled and Captain Lighthouse, and some exciting upcoming projects. You can watch for his post and learn more about his other work at his blog. He’s also on Twitter.

Nicole Winters

Nicole Winters

Nicole Winters

As I mentioned, Nicole is the author who tagged me – and as I also mentioned, her debut novel is really good and you should all read it. You can find her blog hop post here, along with more information about her and her writing. She’s on Twitter as @NicoleWintersYA.

Claire Humphrey

Claire Humphrey

Claire was tagged by Nicole, along with me. She’s a novelist and writer of short stories. Her blog hop post is forthcoming as I write this, but her blog is here and you can follow her on Twitter.

Heather Jackson

Heather Jackson

Heather Jackson

Heather’s the one who tagged Nicole in this merry blog-chase. She’s a screenwriter, novelist and member of the Writeonsisters. Her blog hop post is here, and she’s on Twitter as @HeatherjacksonW.

Charlene Challenger

Charlene Challenger

Charlene Challenger

Charlene is the third writer Nicole tagged for bloghoppery. I’m just getting to know her, so I learned as much from her blog hop post as I hope you will! Her first novel, The Voices in Between, will be published by Tightrope Books in June. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Coming up next: Well, now that I’ve quite thoroughly blog hopped (and you probably want to blog drop), it’s time to start moving forward. I need to get back to writing my current work-in-progress — and keep writing, until it’s finished. To help me stay on track, I’m going to start giving word count and process updates here. As I mentioned last time, I also need to start querying again with my completed, first novel — more on that soon. Finally, I have some ideas for other features I’d like to include here, and I hope to start rolling those out in June. So coming up next? Rather a lot, but the first thing you’ll see will probably be that word count update. Onward!

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