Priorities, and First Quarter Wrap-up

I’ve been absent from the blog for a couple of weeks, but I have a good reason: my family. While I like writing my blog and chatting with those of you who comment, my family is my priority.

Nothing bad happened–I just had opportunities to spend time with family I don’t see often, so that was more important. Two weeks ago, my daughter arrived home for Spring Break. She had a lot to talk about, so I wanted to spend that time with her, and the blog never got written. I thought about posting it on Monday, when she was off visiting friends, but got busy with typical Monday things. I could have pushed, but being kind to myself is best for my health, so I let it go.

Then last week was Easter, and I hosted the family gathering. My family is small, and Mom and I are old hands at planning ahead for these (we do the same thing every year, food-wise), so it’s not a big stressor. We had the added blessing of hosting my mom’s cousin, who lives on Vancouver Island and was here for the holiday. He’s extensively well-traveled and well-read, and is a fascinating and fun person to talk to, and it was also fun to catch up on what’s going on with his family. So, not a stressful day, but a busy one, between cooking, spending time with my family while they were here, and then cleanup. My mom and daughter help with that, but it’s still a big job. So I decided to let the blog go once again.

Wreck of HeavenGods Old and DarkWhat I’ve been reading: I always make sure to take time to read, and I finished Holly Lisle’s World Gates Series, which I binge-read. Book Two is The Wreck of Heaven, and Book Three is Gods Old and Dark. (Book One is Memory of Fire, mentioned in my last post.) This was one of those series that’s so mind-blowingly awesome it could be depressing for a writer in an “I could never write something this good” sort of way. Luckily, I enjoyed it too much to think much about that. But wow, enormous stakes, heart-rending emotion, and one of the freakin’ best villains I have ever read. You know, one of those that’s horrendously evil, yet so well-developed we can still feel a twinge of sympathy and understanding of how he became that way. And an immensely satisfying ending that didn’t tie up everything neatly into a bow, but where we knew the characters were on their way, with plenty of hope. Flipping AWESOME. If you like epic and/or contemporary fantasy, this series is a MUST read!

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: ROW80 Round One ended last week, and I didn’t even realize it at first, LOL! I met some of my goals. I finished the first draft of Time’s Dilemma, and got it to my beta readers. However, I did not finish the revision, because the beta readers found a lot more work it needed than I expected. So I am still working on that. Still working on the cover for it, too. Round 2 of ROW80 starts tomorrow, so my goals for that are to finish Time’s Dilemma and get it to my publisher, hopefully in time for it to be released this quarter. I would like that to happen in time for me to get a start on the next long Saturn Society novel.

What about you–how are you doing on your goals so far this year? Do you sometimes have to shelve one thing you like to do for another priority? How has the weather been in your area, now that it’s officially Spring? (Ours has been all over the place!) Have you read anything awesome lately? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

What is the best book you read all last year?

I haven’t seen any new releases from my writer friends this week–yes, that’s unusual! So I thought I’d talk about another favorite of mine – actually two.

Many years, I’d be hard-pressed to answer the question, “What’s the best book you’ve read all year?” Sometimes, there are too many good ones to make a choice. Other years, nothing has stood out. 2012 was one of those where I read tons of good stuff, but one book–actually, two– stood out: Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood by Holly Lisle, and its sequel, Warpaint.

HTCB-Ebook-387x600How can I sum up what made these books so great? All I can think of is, they were just more… everything. In one of her blogs, writing workshops, or maybe her email newsletter, Holly stated that one of her goals with this series was to create scarier vampires. And boy did she! Yes, these are vampire books, but not your typical horror fare. Oh yes, they’re that too, but they’re also science fiction – in fact, that’s the primary genre they’re shelved under. But they’re also mystery, thriller, suspense, and there’s even a little romance in Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood, the first of what’s planned to be a ten-book series, I believe.

They are about a kick-ass, independent starship captain, Cadence Drake. And if you think she looks rather comic book-ish with her curvy figure and exotic features, well, there’s a reason for that – she’s genetically engineered to look that way, and she uses it to advantage (and not in the way you’d expect). She has a special talent for locating missing things, and when she’s hired to find a missing starship, how hard could that be? Especially when said starship is one of only 27 made of a new model that would be very conspicuous in any spaceport?

Of course, it turns out not to be so easy, and on the way, Cady and her friend Badger run into all sorts of nasties, as well as unexpected allies. Which is where the more horrific vampires come in. If you want vampires that are sparkly, hot romantic leads then this is not the book for you – they’re definitely the bad guys here.

WARPAINT-FLAT-387x600But again, there’s more. More worlds to explore, each with unique cultures derived from recognizable, Earth subcultures. (I totally want to live on the planet called Up Yours!). And yes, there’s a bit of humor – just enough! And while these books are classified as space opera, they’re not buried in tech, and what’s there is believable and understandable. We see it through Cady’s eyes and learn more about her in the process. There were some epic space battles, again, just enough to satisfy the expectations of space opera while not boring other readers along for the ride.

And these aren’t mere entertainment either, although they can certainly be read and enjoyed solely on that level. There’s plenty of thought, theme, and ideas that make the reader think, and this is, I think, what makes these books so special. They are not pedantic or a soap box for the author, although for those of us who’ve taken writing workshops from Holly, they’re probably more visible.

So it’s probably all these things combined that made Hunting and Warpaint a couple of those books that you read until the e-reader conks you on the head because you’ve fallen asleep, and then you think about it the whole next day while at work, and can’t wait to get on the treadmill so you can read again (or maybe that last part is just me LOL). According to her blog, Holly plans to release the third installment in the series later this year, and I for one can’t wait.

This is the bar I reach for in writing my own books. I’m getting closer, but I’ve still a long way to go.

Both of these books are available on Amazon, Barnes &, Apple’s iTunes, and on Holly’s site, along with a bunch of other good stuff.

ROW80Logo175Quick ROW80 update: I’ve pretty much finished the print formatting for Hangar 18: Legacy, which is the form I do my final proofread in. I’m also about 1/3 of the way through on the proofread, so on track so far this week! I have also done 2 workouts, so that is also on track.

What about you – what was the best book you read all last year? (Or books, if you can’t narrow it down to one?) Or maybe you’d like to share one you read years ago, that still sticks with you? If you’re doing ROW80, how is your week going so far? Please share – I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Making it a Book You Want to Read

Last week in reading posts by my ROW80 buddies, I noticed that many mentioned having goals for revisions. Some asked for suggestions.

For those writers, maybe I can help. For readers, here’s a glimpse of the nitty-gritty, not-so-pretty side of writing a novel and making it something others might want to read – maybe even pay for!

I can write a first draft of a novel in 3 months, give or take, depending on length. That’s on top of working a full-time, 40 hours/week day job, not ignoring my family, helping with my husband’s businesses, and other responsibilities. I’m not saying this to brag – it’s not that big a deal – but to point out that the first draft – getting the words down – isn’t the hard part of writing a novel, IMO. At least, it’s not hard if I’ve done a decent amount of planning ahead of time (aka plotting or outlining).

My first drafts have plot holes big enough to fly one of these through

The hard part comes after the first draft is written: revision. Because despite the heavy planning I do beforehand, there are always details that get left out, cardboard characters doing stupid things that don’t make sense, and plot holes big enough to fly a C-17 through. All in a world that’s barely seen, much less heard, felt, smelled or tasted. And that’s not even getting into the little nitpicky things like dialogue that doesn’t sound like anything a normal human being would ever say, people we can’t visualize, much less empathize with because they’re so thinly described, all wrapped up in a nice big package of WHO CARES because I left out the emotions.

It’s a daunting task, especially with my doorstopper-sized, >100,000-word, Saturn Society novels. How to handle it without getting overwhelmed?

For starters, I fortunately figured out several things fairly early on:

  • I need to write the full first draft before revising. Some authors revise and polish as they work; if I did this, I’d never get anything done.
  • Revising and polishing are two different things, and it doesn’t make much sense to polish when big-picture stuff is just going to change again.
  • If I think of a major change while I’m writing the first draft, I note it in a separate Word document, then continue writing as if the change was already made. This is particularly useful when a change occurs to me while writing Chapter 14, but requires changes in Chapter 3, 6, and 7 in order to work and make sense.
  • I read through the whole novel, then make big changes, then change the little, cosmetic things I consider “polishing.”

The above was all fine and dandy, and it got me through five novels, but I still always felt they fell short, that I was missing things. Between novels 4 and 5, I discovered Holly Lisle’s website and craft books, and bought Create a Character Clinic, which is one of the best prewriting/planning tools I’d tried to date, along with her Notecard Plotting article. I used her One-pass Revision method on my book #5, which helped. Yet I was still missing something.

How to Revise Your NovelHolly also had a long-term, online workshop that sounded cool, but her second one of these – How to Revise Your Novel – that caught my eye. It’s subtitled “How to Get the Book You Want from the Book You Have.” I signed up as a charter member.

It goes over a lot of the concepts taught in the articles mentioned above, but in MUCH greater depth – and this was just what I needed. It also broke down all the different things to look for – overall, plot, theme, character, setting/worldbuilding, and dealt with each separately so we could learn.

It took me nine months to complete this 26-lesson course. But when I was finished, I had a book that I was confident had sympathetic characters, and interesting and engaging story, a decently fleshed-out setting and world – and best of all, no more plot holes. This revision process was brutal. And it was absolutely what took my writing to the next level.

Time's Fugitive had plot holes big enough to fly one of THESE through

One of the course objectives is to eventually compress the process down so that it’s truly a one-pass revision. I’m not there yet. Time’s Enemy wasn’t even a very wrecked book, and it took almost 5 months to revise. Granted, some of this time I goofed off and wasn’t very disciplined about just getting the work done. But still… Time’s Fugitive was a pretty wrecked book, and it took six months to revise, with very little goofing off (thanks in part to ROW80).

I have no connection to Holly Lisle, other than that I’ve taken her courses and bought many of her craft books. I haven’t even read any of her fiction, other than a few snippets on her website or in her articles, a lack I intend to correct, as she writes the kind of stories I enjoy. But her workshops – and HTRYN specifically – are hands down, the best I’ve ever taken. The HTRYN workshop is not cheap  (she’s getting ready to phase it out and replace it with a series of ebooks), but it’s hands-down the best $200 or so I’ve spent for my writing career.

So if you’re looking for a way to tackle an onerous revision, check out How to Revise Your Novel. She guarantees the workshop – if you don’t like it, you can stop paying for it – and when she goes to ebook, duh, you don’t need to buy the whole series if you don’t want. But I’d be very surprised if you start and don’t want to finish.

So for my writer friends, what’s your revision process like? Have you tried HTRYN, or if not, does it sound like something you might find beneficial? Readers – have you ever read a novel with one of those C-17-sized plot holes? Did you work past it, or did you want to chuck the book across the room (or permanently delete from your e-reader)? Got any horror stories (that weren’t supposed to be) to share?

Aircraft photos via the Official U.S. Air Force website

#ROW80: Week 1 Wednesday Update

I usually don’t get a lot of writing done on Mondays or Tuesdays, because Monday is paperwork night, and both nights are big TV nights for DH. Yet, I managed to knock out my first goal of the week: I finally noted the remaining places in my manuscript where plot holes need to be plugged – yay! There were quite a few, so that’s one revision step that took longer than the week I’d originally planned for it.

That leaves timing and sequencing for the rest of the week for me. If anyone else here has done Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel workshop, this is Lesson 14 and 15. This is my third book using this system, so I’ve managed to compress it a bit. Anyone else using HTRYN?

Good luck to my #ROW80 peeps!