No excuses, but perhaps some explanation

Hello, all of my lovely readers and followers out there.  You may have noticed that my near-daily posting has dwindled in recent weeks.  First, I need to apologize if I have let you down or disappointed you.  Second, I’d like to share a little bit about why.

While I am still not going to tell you where I work, you will need some more details if you are to fully grasp the situation.  I am a supervisor, running a department of three full-time and one part-time staff.  (I also have four summer seasonal staff who will be starting next week.)  Since mid-February, I’ve had an open full-time position that I’ve been working to fill – it’s a process – as well as having to hire my seasonal staff around the same time.

We hit our busy season in April, and being a person down means that I’ve had to fill in on a regular basis in place of that staff member.  We also had someone out sick for a week, and then another person out injured the following week.  My schedule is supposed to be 8-5, but I’ve been going in between 7:30 and 7:45 and not getting home until 6:30 or later (sometimes MUCH later) nearly every day.  This is because I am still doing my own job, as well as a large amount of another person’s job.  The new person will be starting soon, but there will still be a span of time for training before I will be able to return to doing just my own work.

Now, before this gets too far down the path to pity, I want to clarify that I do still LOVE my job and no one has asked me to increase my hours.  In fact, if I asked, my boss would probably push back a couple of my deadlines to relieve some of my workload.  No, I am not complaining.  These are also not excuses for not blogging.  These are simply the real reasons behind the lack of posts, which is the top layer of the deeper challenge: a lack of writing.  I have not worked on Mara’s story (even mentally), query letters, or anything else writing-related since we hit the busy season.  Work has consumed my brain.

I am going to try to continue posting as regularly as I can, but the outlook for work is very busy until the middle of next month at least.  It would be easier if I could post about work, since I do quite a bit of writing there as well, but this is as close as I’ll get to the separation of work and blog.  Please bear with me; I know that an empty blog is a boring blog, and I’m not intentionally leaving you without posts!

Book Backlog

I love that I can put books on hold at my library, and have them appear at my local branch with my name on them.  It means that I can just pop into the library, snag the book off the shelf, check out and leave, without the danger of going home with too many books.

I have discovered another danger.  When there are books on hold, they appear whenever they are available. Sometimes there aren’t any books, and sometimes they come in rapid succession.

I now have a stack of books waiting on my shelf to be read!  They are all books I’m interested in, so I think I need to get reading.


You don’t count the zero

Tonight during my shower, two characters were having a discussion in my head about how to count anniversaries in relation to an actual count if things.  It’s easy with birthdays or anniversaries of events, but when you’re talking about actual items you can count as well, it can get confusing.

For example, the first day of the tenth graduating class from a high school only marks the ninth anniversary of the opening of the school.  The first day of the first graduating class is the event being remembered, but the class gets a count of its own as well.  The first class is the start, or the zero if you will, so while there are ten classes there are only nine anniversaries.

If you didn’t follow that, don’t blame me.  I told you it could be confusing.

Now, my characters aren’t debating high school anniversaries; they’re actually discussing young women sacrificed annually to a dragon.  (I started the above example thinking that something real-world would be less convoluted.  That didn’t work so well.)  The thirteenth sacrifice means that it’s been going on for twelve years, because you don’t count the first girl as a year.  (She’s the start, the zero, the event being remembered.)

The really irritating thing about this conversation, besides the confusing reality of the talk itself, is that these are not characters from any of my current stories.  No, these are new characters that I created a few nights ago to help me sleep.  They don’t even have names, just Dragon Master and Sacrifice Thirteen.  Usually (although not always) my sleep-aid characters stay just that.  Their stories are simple, straightforward, and only exist to keep the work hamsters quiet.  I shouldn’t be surprised, though; two of the characters in Dragon started out the same way, and look where that led!

Physical Surroundings

Today I started thinking about Butterfly Gardens.  This is the name of the estate where the three main characters of Butterflies (along with many others) go for training.

I know what kind of training they get at the Gardens.  I know the kinds of facilities they have, and the types of space they live in.  What I don’t know, because I never actually laid it out, is the exact plan of the place.

Much like with Mara’s tale and the wall, I am going to need to know a lot more about Butterfly Gardens when I get to the girls’ training.  Depth of story means that I’m going to have to work on my less-developed ability of description and give readers a better picture of the place.

Making the original map of the countries involved in Butterflies was a challenge.  I knew that it had to be done, so I could keep track of the many battles and locations of the war.  Visual details don’t stick with me, so a map is incredibly helpful.  (I even had a list of what all the major characters looked like for reference while writing; that’s how much those details slip my mind.)

One of my friends recently told me that she likes making maps.  Perhaps I’ll recruit her help to develop a map of the grounds of Butterfly Gardens, so I can keep track of where things are as we explore more of the place!

Why do we ask?

When you see someone absorbed in a book (or e-reader), it is customary to ask, “What are you reading?”

Why do we do this?

While I don’t mind answering, and occasionally I’m excited to share, the reality is that the asking interrupts the reading.  Someone who is reading might simply be using it to fill empty time and turn out to be happy to talk, but that person could also be very intent on their entertainment (or edification) and will be irritated to be interrupted.

Also, what is the purpose of asking?  There is natural curiosity, of course, and the inexplicable human need to make conversation.  Really, though, what’s the likelihood that you’ll know the book, or be able to comment on it?  How often does this question lead to further discussion, and how often does the conversation die with a simple acknowledgement?

On the flip side of this, I also wonder why it is human nature to answer verbally while also showing the cover.  The cover probably doesn’t help, unless the author’s name is prominent and well-known, or it’s a bestseller.

This all happened to me yesterday – I went to dinner by myself, accompanied by Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday (it’s an interesting non-fiction read).  I sat at the bar (which I highly recommend if you dine alone) and both bartenders asked what I was reading.  Of course, I flashed the cover when answering, and the conversation went through the usual “is it good” and “what’s it about” before finally petering out.

I guess we’ll chalk this one up to a societal habit.

Zombie Dreams and Some Alien Doctor

There are many benefits to having an active, vivid imagination.  One of those benefits is the ability to write stories, but there are others.  I can play out possible outcomes of a conversation, I can dream up new ideas for work, and I get very, very absorbed into books and movies.

The biggest downside I’ve found is sleep. More specifically, my imagination often prevents sleep, or interrupts it.

I find that my brain processes my day when I’m trying to fall asleep.  Sometimes that means an endless running of the work-related hamster wheel, with problems and stresses keeping my brain rattling.  Occasionally it will also mean that something I’ve watched or read earlier in the day gets replayed, in pieces or in its entirety, while I am trying to drift off.  I’ve found this is particularly the case with certain television shows, including one with a time- and space-traveling doctor and a phone booth that I’ve been hooked on lately.   Combine a mini-marathon (thanks, Netflix!) with caffeine after 8pm and I am not having a restful night.

Even when I can fall asleep, my imagination sometimes runs wild in my dreams.  Most often they manifest as generic “action-adventure” dreams, which don’t leave me with specific memories so much as a feeling that I spent the whole night running, thinking, and not resting.  Last night I had a zombie dream, which doesn’t really fit within my usual fiction-related habits.  I’ve watched a grand total of one zombie movie in my life, along with a couple of viewings of the zombie episode of Castle, and none of that has been recently.  I don’t even remember the zombies from my dream; I just know that when I woke up I was sure there were zombies involved.

Due to the sleep-affecting nature of my brain, I’ve learned to avoid horror (books or movies) and developed some coping mechanisms to help resolve some of the above.  I wouldn’t give up my imagination for anything, but it does make itself a pest from time to time.

Provocative Statements

Sometimes there are ways that things can be worded which create a very specific response in a reader.  For example, how would you respond to the following opening line?

The girl was clearly asking for it.

See what I mean?  While this doesn’t have to be a negative statement, it immediately puts certain images/connotations/responses in your mind!

As a writer, there are some reasons to use phrases like this, and some reasons to avoid them.  There may be times when you want to bring the “typical” response into a reader’s mind.  Putting someone in a specific emotional state, however minor, can be useful.  In the case of the sentence in question, it can generate suspicion of the narrator or character with point of view, or it can unsettle someone enough to keep reading.  It also creates innuendo, because the reader is now in a potentially icky place and may take innocent things that follow in the wrong way.

That’s both a potential reason to use and reason to avoid.  It can be tricky to write something innocuous when your readers’ minds are already on a certain path.  You also run the risk of offending a reader; sometimes a positive, but it is usually not a great idea if you want to keep your readers.

I happen to like the concept of using a phrase like this and then shaking the reader’s expectations by following it with something that clarifies and makes innocent the words that, on their own, have no weight of negative.

She couldn’t even talk, or at least hadn’t spoken to me, but her outstretched hand and giant, pleading eyes made the message plain.  When I handed her the bright pink carnation, the grin that crossed her face confirmed it; she’d wanted the flower all along.

Not what you were expecting, was it?

Can you think of any other phrases that might work like this one, creating an immediate gut reaction which may not be warranted or accurate?

Back and… well, not rested, but at least back

It’s the first day of May, and I said I would return to the world of blogging.

Like all breaks, this one would have benefitted from a little bit more time.  I didn’t end up getting to rest my brain as much as I would have liked, and I really did very little writing-related stuff, but at least I spared you from the drivel that would have poured out of my ears during that time.  (I was a touch stressed last week…)

Here’s where everything stands:

Query Count 2013: Rejections: 6, Pending: 0, Still to Send: 4.  That’s right, I haven’t sent any query letters while on my break.  But if the goal is ten, and I’ve gotten six at the beginning of May, I’m somewhat ahead for the year.

The only update I have about the Butterflies overhaul is that the timeline fell off of the wall.  Nothing exciting, but I have been turning to Mara and her tale to help quiet my brain when work-related noise won’t leave me be.  I have a couple of ideas now that I hope to write up soon.

And what about the two big work projects?  I got one completed, and the other one is barely started.  The first project took longer than anticipated, plus we’ve had a round of sickness and injuries in my office, which meant I had to pick up tasks for a few of my team.  At least I made the deadline for project one, and the project two deadline was extended.  (It’s nice when you’re the one setting the deadline…)

I should be getting back to normal (maybe) so hopefully I can get back in the swing of things!  (Thank you again for your patience!)