Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Massa's Tools

It was Audre Lorde who said something like, "We must use massa's tools to dismantle massa's house." Loose translation: We're in a world ruled by the aesthetics, languages, laws, etc of the imperialistic powers and we have to use those laws, aesthetics, languages, etc to show our minority truths. Or "fight fire with fire."

It's a bit like the African Proverb: As long as lions don't speak, only the hunters' stories will be heard.

Well, here I am: sitting at my computer and trying to see what tools I'll be using on my new WIP, Inheritance.

In Wind Follower, I tried my best to use high fantasy language to write about the heroic victims of imperialism. I tried to show those cultures who aren't normally considered worthy of mythic fantastical literature to a world that often only thinks fantasy literature as a European genre. In a world where dark-skinned black women are called "ho's", and looked down upon (I'm talking about you Martin Lawrence with your sheneneh, and you Eddie Murphy of Norbit fame), I wanted to show black women as being virginal, sought after (yeah, by non-black guys) and deeply loved. Of course I had other issues in Wind Follower too. Religion, primarily. I wanted to show how religion interweaves with folklore and popular worship and human interpretations and predilictions of the common man. Well, I think I kinda succeeded. For the nonce anyway. With every new book, an author has to learn how to write all over again.

So, now I'm into Inheritance and again all my minority and ethnic issues have popped up. This time my love for common people is really pushing me. It wants to be in the book. It wants to be raised to the status of high art. Kinda like the Grapes of Wrath of urban fantasy literature. I want to write about normal folks --white country folks, black folks-- in a weird spiritual and supernatural situation. Now, how am I gonna do that?

Which of Massa's tools should I use? I'd like to use urban street language or black folklore speak or white country talk. I'd like to attempt to raise the langauge of the book to a level of loveliness that is as beautiful and geographically/linguistically precise as high fantasy is to Celtic United Kingdom. But dang! Can I do it? And do I have to use folklore-rap-or country talk? How brave can I be? A part of me wants to use high langauge in upstate New York and among the urban streets. But would it work? I'm sure it could work...in the hands of a good writer. But dang, folks, how good a writer am I? And how much risk am I willing to take? And how weird am I willing to let the story be?

I went all out with Wind Follower and that was an exercise in bravery. I wanted to see if I could put all of my soul into a story. Sometimes I flinched when I realized that certain aspects of me may not fit into the story. Sex and religion. Feminism and a patriarchal God. Declaring my love of the imperialist's religion yet my dislike of the imperialists themselves and my dislike of spirits, clerics, shamans, priests and all who intervened between God and humans. Trust me: it was very brave to write about such things and not seem polemical, naive, a traitor-to-the-cause, an angry-black-woman, simple-bible-believing-black-woman-who-don't-know-no-better, or deluded. However, the book cohesed gracefully (if i do say so myself) and my bravery was rewarded with its publication. Can I walk out in faith again and do something utterly totally "me" again?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Juno Books Countdown Widget

Here's something for the Juno Books authors with a future release date--that includes me! I like the idea of a graphical panel with links for pre-ordering, book info, and a countdown timer to the release date. So, I spent a couple hours goofing with javascript, images, styles, etc., and created the Juno Books Countdown Widget.

Here's what it looks like with Dru's book out in April:

I posted the code and directions on my blog. (http://the0phrastus.typepad.com/). Grab it, fill in the values for title, author, image URL, and a few links to Book Sense, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Paste the code in your blog sidebar, any web page, and you're done.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Resolutions for 2008

Well, it's that time of year again. And as they say, we writers have to plan and schedule our time. I don't even want to put all my scattered thoughts into a list. Might just overwhelm me but here goes:

1) The eunuch's wife -- A short story based on Joseph story in Bible. I've been thinking about this and it should be a very bittersweet story. Hey, I can't help it. I like a lot of the Biblical so-called bad guys.

2) The Gleaners -- Caribbean Harry Potter slavery story. Janet Lorimer gave me some ideas on this.

3) Inheritance -- novel May-August multiracial love story suspense psychological thriller. I have scenes for this one. Am about 68 pages into it but I've been doing other shorter pieces and just jumping around from project to project. I think it's cause I don't quite have the "voice" for this story yet. But nevertheless...am gonna finish it in 2008 (deo volente)

4) Daughters of Men -- novel based on Nephilim. Honestly! This story is all there. Already finished. Liked. Paul Witcover liked it. Dorchester almost bought it. It's just a mess and even Miss Paula says it needs a lotta work. Why can't I just finish it?

5) Exotic -- slipstream story for Subtle Edens. Have a great idea for a story about a woman's romantic daydreams. Prose poem pseudo-memoir.

6) Send letter to local community college telling them I'd like to teach creative writing there. Janet's ideas are really working in my brain. Just want to see if I can commit to doing this kinda thing. I so hate administration academic issues. How Sylvia does it I never know!

7) Buy a new house. Intend to do this with some money I intend to get from Wind Follower. Hey, maybe a movie deal. Who knows? With God all things are possible.

8) Sell or repair old house.

9) Lose 100 pounds -- Am presently avoiding wheat and trying to drink a lotta water. Who knows? Been 23 years since I was skinny. Back in the day doors would open by themselves as I approached. I was that cute!

10) learn to ride a bike -- hubby keeps telling me he would teach me. Twenty six years and still hasn't done so.

11) publish my non-fiction Bible study via Lulu. I'll still give the free download on my site but I'd like to see it as a book today.

12) Get and accept a ghostwriting job from my friend's agent. That would mean so much committment. But hey, the right job and the right client would be a trip. And hey, getting anywhere from $10,000 to $75,000 for a six month writing job is pretty swift.

Anyone else?


Monday, December 17, 2007


So much of the writing craft is about balance, how much to tell the reader. There are many aspects of this balance: how many hints, how deep the info--too much and you give away the surprise, or you kill your suspense. I have been struggling with this very issue in the sequel to Seaborn, but I'm thinking of another aspect of balance.

How much do you write for the present, an audience of today but not tomorrow? How much history, cultural depth do you--or should you--fill your pages with? It's a question for genre, historic, contemporary, all kinds of lit--even purely made up worlds. Although there are differences with the last because a reader cannot know your world without you. Unlike our world--this world--21st Century Earth--where I can have two characters talking about a tyrant's downfall and have one say, "He'll most likely end up like Hitler."--and leave it at that. I don't need to explain. There are facts a storyteller can assume a reader will know, but it is that assumption that is the balance we have to deal with: can you assume that all audiences will know? Is the best bet to pick your audience and write to their level of understanding--their current level of understanding at this point in time?

3 o'clock this morning, Antisthenes by way of Aristotle got me thinking about this, because Ari assumed his audience would always know certain facts. In the Politics [around 1284a] there's a great line that goes something like, "...it's like the response from the lions in the parable of Antisthenes when the hares came before the assembly demanding equality." That's it. Aristotle didn't think it necessary to include the lion's response--not when every freakin' kid in the agora knew. But 2400 years later, not every freakin' kid is familiar with Antisthenes' work.

I'm going to spend some thought on this because it's definitely worth keeping in mind when mentioning historic events, cultural references, popular works, Buffy, Harry, Scotty, Freddy, Elmo--will you're readers two millennia away understand you without footnotes? Do they need to? Do all writers write for a certain time, a century, an era, but no more--beyond which they need analysts and historians rooting through the news and Net garbage to find out what the hell you were talking about?

Oh yeah. The lions asked the hares, "Where are your claws and teeth?"


Wednesday, December 12, 2007



You just sold a novel. You may have some short-story sales under your belt, too. Or some articles. You’re about to have a second novel published, and you’re at work on a third. Did you ever think about teaching a “How to….” class?

I have only a Bachelor’s Degree, but because I’ve had a lot of things published, I was able to teach non-credit courses at Leeward Community College in Hawaii. I’m about to do the same in Arizona where I live now.

Most community colleges offer non-credit courses for interested adults. Pick up a catalog from your local college to find out what kinds of non-credit classes they offer. Pay special attention to any section on writing. Memoir writing is fairly popular in my community, but it’s not anything I’m particularly interested in doing or teaching. However, I can teach a class on how to write for children and teens, or how to write a novel, or how to write a short story. I can also teach a class on how to market what you write, although I never guarantee that my students will be published. Heck, I can’t even guarantee that I will get published.

The first thing I do is put together a portfolio with samples of my work. I have photocopied pages from some of my children’s stories and books, articles I’ve sold, and so on. I put each sample in a plastic sleeve and into a binder. I think a professional-looking presentation makes a difference.

I print out a list of my publishing credits to give to the college, but I also have a resume that gives other information, such as where I went to college, what degree I earned, and so on. I already know that the college will probably ask these questions.

Before I call the college to set up an interview appointment, I write up a course outline for each class I want to teach. For example, I plan to teach a class on how to market what you write. So I’m going to include everything from manuscript preparation to query and cover letters to submission packets to how one finds publishers to what records need to be kept, and so on.

As I prepare the outline, I try to come up with exercises, too. For instance, for the class on marketing, I’ll have my students write a story synopsis, a query letter, and probably a cover letter, among other things.

Writing the outline helps me figure out what handouts I may need. Handouts might include sample query letters, or a manuscript that shows and tells the students how to correctly format a manuscript! The college where I’ll be teaching this summer has a policy regarding handouts. They don’t want to photocopy too many, so I need to be judicious.

As for textbooks, the non-credit program may frown on that extra expense. They may feel the students have to pay enough in tuition. That’s something you’ll need to find out at your initial interview.

Writing the outline also helps me figure out how long the course needs to be. I try to give myself enough time to teach each part of the course thoroughly, and time to answer all the questions that arise.

So that’s it. Once I have the course outlined, have my portfolio up to date, know what handouts I’ll need, and can at least make an educated guess about how long it’s going to take to teach the class, I’m ready to approach the college.

One nice thing about non-credit classes – the students are motivated adults. You won’t have to grade them or put anyone into time-out. You will get to share your experience and expertise and help others down the road to – hopefully – publication! And that’s a very satisfying feeling.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The visual side of writing

Gail's post a few days back got me thinking about motivation and writing...and drawing.

I'm a visual sort of person--maybe we all are. In writing, I always "see" what's happening to my characters, I picture scenes, see the tension in the room through the posture, the space between two characters, the expressions on their faces. I see characters in action and I write what I see. Pretty much the way it works for me.

I have sketched scenes and characters for years, and it helps me in several ways:

Drawing scenes helps anchor the future plot, keeps the plot from straying. Drawing also helps keep the characters fresh. Characters grow during the story. They're rarely--or perhaps shouldn't be--unchanged when you reach the final chapter. An early character sketch can show characters smiling, untroubled by all the bad stuff your plot's going to hand them a moment later. It's good--it works for me anyway--to have character studies at key points in the story.

I also use character studies to keep them fresh in my mind. There's the old writing rule: don't go back and read or edit everything you write. Move forward or you may stall and never complete the book. For the most part I do write forward, but I do look back--mainly for motivation. I go back and re-read my work. A lot. I may read the first 3, 5, 10 chapters a hundred times before I've completed the book's first pass. When those chapters become unbearably dull through over-reading, I usually move on to the middle of the book. And this is where those early character studies help me. They're the inspiration to keep going without having to re-read anything. I don't have to read anything to get a fresh picture of the characters and how far they've come. I just browse the sketches.

I've been drawing and painting for years. I have no formal training. It's mainly just me goofing with a pencil or pen or brush. For a novel, I'll typically draw or paint fifty or sixty pieces, some not much more than quick character outlines in pen or pencil. Others just seem to require more effort, and need to be completed. Here's an example. Click the pic to see the detail view.

Posedonis_by_the0phrastusAt last year's Boskone (Great F&SF convention in Boston every year), Wen Spencer led a room full of us through her sketches--which weren't much more than stick figures--but she didn't need more to show us swords swinging, blood flowing, characters falling, parrying desperately, biting, going in for the kill. With a few pages, she choreographed an entire fight scene. I thought this was brilliant, and reinforced my own views about all the good things a writer can get out of drawing.

It really works for me. What about you? Do you have good (or bad) experiences drawing your characters or scenes? Do you find them helpful?

Here's a quick sketch from a chapter at the end of my current work. It's sloppy, but that doesn't matter. I treat sketches like this as visual counterparts to the stuff in my writing journal. I write notes on them, names, what's going on, where the scene's taking place. It helps keep the scene in mind--even seven chapters away, because it's that scene--that sketch--that's leading me. In this form, the sketch is like a map. It shows me where I need to go.

Click the pic to see the detail view.



Friday, December 7, 2007

Waiting to hear

Well, I've been working on short stories. Very hard to work on short stories when one is in novel mode but hey, I've got to get my 2 stories into an antho --any antho-- and the year's end is fast approaching. So am waiting to hear from some anthologies. So, please to enjoy...(at least the first couple of chapters) of my latest stories. The first is about a sistah fending off a demon:

HOUSEWARMING (with apologies to Dorothy Parker)
Of all the annoyances! And I’d have to notice him now, with a house full of guests. But of course, that’s the way they are! Hiding themselves away then bingo! This one must’ve hidden out in the attic as the real estate agent showed us around. Figured I wouldn’t go up there, and he was right. But if he thinks I’m a sucker or one who’s going to pity his plight or be afraid of him, he’s got another thing coming. Darn it! If it’s impromptu exorcism he wants, it’s impromptu exorcism he’ll get.
I can not believe it: this fool’s actually hanging around my dinner table like he was invited. This kinda thing just pisses a sistah off. Shouldn’t he have moved on to his eternal home, the invisible realm, the choir celestial? No! He’s got to hang here for.... how long has this dude been dead? Him and his see-through ectoplasmic self!

The second is called, SO FAR, and is about a parchment which tells the reader about his life and challenges him to repair an evil he's done.

In the mind of the universe, the events in this story occurred thousands of years ago. Even so, all the events have yet to happen because you are the chief player, and although you are free to do what you will, your actions are already foretold. Yes, I am speaking to you.
One day, as you – Destiny knows your name, therefore I will not speak it– walk through a marketplace (I will not tell you which), you will begin singing The Song of the Yellow River. You will sing this because you will have just completed a cruel deed and your mind and your body will need rest and the Song of The Yellow River has always soothed your mind ever since childhood.
The song will not be powerful enough to soothe your mind, however, because the crime you will have committed will be so great that your conscience will not be able to endure the memory of it. To further hide your mind from yourself, you will search among the vendors of the market place, looking for sweet, fermented, and spicy dainties, anything to excite your flesh and numb your soul.

I tend to write in different narrative styles, POV's, etc. Simply because whenever I write in third person past tense the story feels too distant to me. Anyways, hope you enjoy. And have a great weekend

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Finding One's Way

I'm not the sort of writer who sits down at the desk/table with the germ of an idea and just wings her way through to the end. Not a "flier into the mist." I have to have a roadmap, I do.

But then, neither can I plot out exactly what scene goes into what chapter, or work out the back story of everyone in the town where my story takes place. I tend to figure out only as much as I have to know to get the job done--and much of the time I don't figure it out until I reach the point where I need it.

In other words, I have to work out the Big Picture before I can really get started with writing, but the Details come later. For instance, when I started writing The Eternal Rose, I knew that the Daryathi were taking Adarans (My heroine is Adaran) as slaves. But I didn't have a clue as to why. Not until the family paid a visit to Obed's cousin. Then it all came clear.

The story I'm currently working on--a romantic science fiction--or maybe a science-fiction romance--is going really slow because I keep having to stop and figure out all the details.
I did work on my world-building before I got started, but even if you know a lot of the whys and wherefores and most of the whats, the little things can still stump you. And sometimes, once you know all that stuff, you still have to figure out the HOW. My hero, a court-savvy, cynical, empire's-capital tough-guy, has to go to the frontier, where he's never been, to investigate troubles in the family business. And I keep thinking of ways he could do it better, and going back to fix it.

Lots of writers say that one should just keep driving for the finish, forget about editing and going back to fix--and for the most part, I do that. I certainly don't go back to polish. And I stick--mostly--to my outline. And I rarely go back more than a few paragraphs. A page at most. But if I decide my hero ought to go to the outer sectors disguised as a dandified bureaucrat with dyed-pink hair instead of wearing a scruffy spaceport tough, that's something I need to fix right away, or it will throw me off my stride. I'd rather fix it as I go than write multiple drafts. I hate multiple drafts. (I say that now, anyway. Watch. I'll probably have to write six drafts of this one poor story...I think I've written as many as two for one story, ever. I frequently have to go back and strip out a subplot, or explain things in my main plot, which means I go over the story a number of times, but they're not really new drafts...)

Anyway, I keep thinking this story is really giving me trouble--except I'm a page over my usual goals two days this week. Not bad...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Committing to the story and not to the words

I'm currently trying to repair a story, The Gleaners, that's been in my computer for the past four years. I've asked my fellow Juno author, Janet Lorimer, the author of Master of Shadows, to help me whip this thing into shape. Cause the woman's an absolute expert on children's books.

Well, she told me a lot: basics I already knew, the basics I had forgotten, and a whole ton of stuff I hadn't known or imagined. So equipped with all this new knowledge, hopefully, I'll buckle down and get this thing done.

We writers, especially those of us who love poetry, or who came to literature by way of oral storytelling, often have a battle with the words in our stories. Words are a tool. They are meant to serve us and not to lead us around by the nose, and yet sometimes they take total control. I've found that Inspiration is often more about information than about the way the story is told. The muse often spills out story information in whatever voice it feels best. Then it's up to moi to consciously arrange the information. In addition, if my Voice has been affected by certain kinds of storytelling, then in the editing, I have to be very aware of the bad habits I've picked up.

The STORY needs to be told. The thing is to separate the story from its styling. The story can NOT be changed but the words can always be changed to suit the purposes of the story: theme, clarity, chronological order.

I battled that problem with Wind Follower. The King James Version of the Bible was always in my ear. Whether I wanted it to be or not, it kept leading my words around. What resulted was stilted writing. I had to wrestle those lovely poetic words to the ground and tell them that the story was the main thing, the story was the king, and they themselves were nothing but servants to the king. In addition, to knock the KJV stylings out of my mind, I read Native American rhetoric, slave narratives, and Chinese classical poetry (not in the original Chinese) and that helped a lot.

So how do I fix this problem with The Gleaners? I guess I have to put myself in a cold editorial mode. I've got to ask myself: "Woman, you want this story published or not? Do you want this thing hanging around your computer for another four years?"

Then, career questions aside, I've got to ask the story: "If I was telling this story in another style how would I write it? Could I describe this exact scene using different words?" That'll be tough, because already I hear myself saying: "But there is no other way to describe this. I feel the power of the words, I feel the joy of my story when I read this section." Note to self: Puhleze!!!!

So, Gleaners, prepare yourself: I'm about to whip you into shape.