The Tale of Derpla

When I’m feeling down about myself or the world in general, I turn to cute bird videos to cheer myself up. This is one of my favorites, and it has such a happy ending!

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Paint and Pen

My first publication credit was the short story Bloom and Fade, printed in Trapped Tales (and later reprinted in Wizards in Space Literary Magazine vol. 1). I am, to this day, proud of that piece. It is about four years old at this point, so I can see its flaws with a sense of clarity that only comes with time and skills improved through years of practice. All the same, I think 2013/2014 Deidre took chances: moving it from third person past tense to first person present tense, and creating a strong character voice for the lead. It went through about four massive rewrites, which eliminated an entire central character and created a different scenario for Shayna to fight her way out of.

Perhaps the most exciting part about Bloom and Fade, though, is the art. The Trapped Tales book launch that was also a pop-up art show, with all of the pieces in the show having been inspired by stories from the anthology. I was lucky enough to have three artists create six pieces based on my story – and I’m luckier still that I own two of them.

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I have both of these pieces displayed in my home because they remind me what I’ve done and what I plan to do with my life going forward. They’re a pat on the back, an inspiration, a call to do better. They’re a promise to myself that I will not give up on my dreams. They’re a call to action.

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Trust Your Gut

My gut has gotten me in some trouble before, I’ll admit. I’m mostly talking about things like, “Hell yeah, we should order a medium pizza from Dominoes and eat half of it in one sitting!” But it’s been wrong before. When it comes to writing, though, it’s usually pretty on-point.

I had a revelation while scrubbing bird cages last week: what if the voice and tone for my novel-length manuscript were all wrong? What if the characters weren’t engaging enough because we were still hearing them as filtered through a third person narrator? What if there was an ongoing bit about rules for demon hunting that provided some context and dark comedy?

Binoculars POV

Would it work? Would my protagonist be the sort of woman who would speak directly to the audience and give them a piece of her mind?

I had to try it and find out.

This is the manuscript that I was going to re-write (not overmuch, but tighten up a bit) during the Novel in Six Months project this spring and summer. At this time, it is completed and has had two editing passes. It exists in a close third person POV (everyone is he/she and we get peeks into the thoughts of the character that the chapter is focusing on, but there’s still a sense of distance there). As an experiment, I rewrote the opening scene in first person (the character says I, talks about things from their perspective, and we hear their voice/thoughts/opinions), and really leaned in to her distinct voice.

And, damn it all, I like it that way. I think it’s stronger. Will this make the difference between my last unsuccessful round of queries and finding agent representation like I hope for? I’ve just signed myself up for a massive amount of work, but I have the feeling that this is just the kick in the ass that the project needs. Wish me luck as I sacrifice sleep and free time to this beast while I save up to hire a developmental editor at the end of the summer.

Putting In the Work

I don’t spend a ton of time on twitter (I used to, but lately, writing for games and short stories and novel-length manuscripts has take over my free time), but when I do, I often find nuggets of great wisdom. Take, for example, this tweet by Sam Sykes:

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My god, this is good advice! When we consume art, it is generally in the form of a finished product. A song, a painting, a book, a film. Though our culture of online sharing seems to have created more chances to see works in progress, most of us are familiar with the final version of a creative endeavor.

What we don’t see are the sleepless nights, the pages of scratched out words and hand-written notes in the margins, the tears alone in the shower, the countless versions that were trashed or upcycled, the canvases that were scraped bare after too many mistakes, the deleted vocal tracks, the unanswered text messages from friends, the missed meals, the frustration, the problems, the work. We so rarely get to see what got an artist to where they are now.

We like to glorify these success stories, to paint the artist as a genius; and maybe they are. But genius only gets you so far. It’s work and practice and effort and trial by fire and sweat that gets you your much-deserved moment of “I made it.” And it takes work to stay in that zone.

So let’s stop pretending that a novel just happens, that it comes out perfect with no real effort. It takes hard work. But it’s the work that makes the payoff so sweet.

Over the Table: House Rules for Heroes

Confession: I’m still a relatively new GM, all things considered. I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs on and off for about 15 years, but previous to last year, had only run a one shot Shadowrun game and a Dragon Age campaign that fell apart after two sessions. For each of these, I was woefully unprepared for what was needed from me. Perhaps this is why I now swing the other way and tend to go a bit overboard with preparation when possible.

Regardless of my experience level, I’ve learned a lot very quickly and I think there are some rules that every GM should aim to follow. The most important of which is this:

Allow your players to be the hero of their own story.

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“Hero” is a loose word here because there are evil campaigns that can be fun and there are plenty of anti-heroes out there that can do both good and bad in the same breath. I think a lot of this comes down to player agency and letting them feel like they have the power to make a difference in the world in which they’re playing. They should be able to make choices in their own arcs as well as change the environment/NPCs’ lives as they move through their journey. Actions should have consequences, good and bad, and these should play out in the players’ views as often as possible.

Without a sense of agency, players will quickly become frustrated. If they feel like they’re being railroaded from place to place, they won’t feel like they have the power to play on their own terms. If you trick or trap them too often, they won’t trust you as a storyteller and, once that trust is broken, it is hard to repair.

Let your players explore, let them problem solve, let them play. Be ready to have your plans ruined as they find solutions to what you give them in unpredictable ways. Create a dynamic environment for them to explore, which changes when they interact with them as well as changing around them as they focus on other things. Give their choices and actions consequences, which can aid or hinder their quests.

And please take a lesson from me: don’t let your villains monologue too much. Maybe a little, but keep that in check. Trust me.

Too Many Goodbyes (and a hello)

“When someone leaves your life, those exits are not made equal. Some are beautiful and poetic and satisfying. Others are abrupt and unfair.” – Griffin McElroy

I lost a beloved pet last week. It was sudden and a terrible surprise. It hasn’t even been a year since my mother passed nor two years since a traumatic incident and a divorce. I know I’m made of tough stuff, forged from steel at this point, but I sure could use a brief respite from tragedy.

Still, the universe is a funny place. I’m not a believer in design or fate and I don’t think that things happen for a reason (apart from basic cause-and-effect-based consequences). And yet, I also believe that sometimes animals come into our lives when we most need them and when they most need us. This is especially true of rescue animals; ask anyone who works with or fosters pets. Sometimes you end up saving one another.

Meet Mai Tai

This is Mai Tai, the newest resident of Deidre’s House for Wayward birds. She’s a cinnamon green cheek conure, about two years old. And I say “she” with no certainty of her sex; everyone else at the rescue called her “she” and I don’t see any need to change that; it’s no matter to me and I’ll know for sure only if she ever lays an egg. She’s had a hard life for someone so young. She was seized from some people squatting in Maryland with nine birds, ended up in shelter, was adopted out, then returned to the shelter. From there, I think she was picked up with the other conures by Phoenix Landing, vetted (she’s healthy, though her blood work suggested she was stressed – and no wonder), and has been through two more families before coming to me this past Sunday.

She deserves love and stability, as do all creatures, and I hope that I can give it to her. For now, I’m fostering her, which could be temporary – but if she’s a good match for me and my life, I’ll consider adopting her and being her forever home. I don’t want to make any rash decisions based solely on heartbreak, but I do also want to save every bird that I can.

Elevator Pitches

So let’s say you’re at a writing conference and you board an elevator. The doors are closing and, at the last second, someone shoves their hand between them and says, “Wait! Hold the elevator!” As the doors slowly part, a familiar face is revealed: it’s a really well-known agent or publisher who you’d love to work with. They board, make polite eye contact, push their floor button, and face forward.

THIS IS YOUR CHANCE.

You somehow manage to be cool and not sweat or blurt out, “UHHH YOU’RE AWESOME” and, instead, realize you have about thirty seconds tops to try and make an impression with this person. This is your elevator pitch.

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Now, you don’t have to give it in an elevator – this is just the nickname given to an extremely tight pitch/summary of what makes your project really special. There’s a lot to do in a very short space, so it has to be truly fantastic and needs to address a few key points to really be successful:

  • Situation
  • Protagonist
  • Their objective
  • Setting
  • Inciting incident
  • Conflict/stakes
  • Opponent

You’ve got about four sentences to nail this down. It’s no easy feat, but it can be done.

I’ll use the great example that KM Weiland (of Outlining Your Novel fame) uses to actually illustrate how to outline, but see how well this works as a tiny, compact pitch:

Restless farm boy (situation) Luke Skywalker (protagonist) wants nothing more than to leave home and become a starfighter pilot, so he can live up to his mysterious father (objective). But when his aunt and uncle are murdered (disaster) after purchasing renegade droids, Luke must free the droids’ beautiful owner and discover a way to stop (conflict) the evil Empire (opponent) and its apocalyptic Death Star.

Hopefully you can see that this is less of a summary and more of a brief setup that shows why the project is interesting and gets readers wanting to know more.

And here is my own elevator pitch for my project (the one I’m rewriting now for Novel in Six). It hits most of the points that Weiland suggests and also gives a taste of the sort of dark humor and tone that I try to incorporate into the manuscript:

Wilder Blood is a story about a girl and her dog. And by “girl,” I mean “trained demon hunter” and by “dog,” I of course mean “loyal hellhound bound to human form.” Scarlett “Red” Wilder (protagonist) has been raised to do one thing and do it well: hunt and kill monsters and keep them secret from the world at large. With her hellhound, Caleb, she investigates a string of missing persons (situation) tied to demonic activity (opponent) in DC’s nightlife scene (setting). Weaving through the dark underbelly of the city, they take a supernaturally attuned waitress under their protection and together risk life and limb (stakes) to locate and eliminate a demon nest (objective).

You might notice I’m missing an inciting incident. Well, that’s partly because I’m having  a hard time identifying exactly what that is in the story. We come in and meet the protagonists while their investigation is already underway and the first chapter opens with a fight that is only tangentially related to the plot at large. This is something I may need to address in my rewrite. The inciting incident/tragedy may not be personal enough for there to be a hook.

Let’s just say that I have work to do.