Thursday, March 31, 2011

When You Can't Write

For a long time, I used to joke that I couldn't afford writer's block.I began writing professionally when my first child was a baby and I learned to use very small amounts of time. This involved "pre-writing," going over the next scene in my mind (while doing stuff like washing the dishes) until I knew exactly how I wanted it to go; when I'd get a few minutes at the typewriter (no home computers yet), I'd write like mad. I always had a backlog of scenes and stories and whole books, screaming at me to be written. The bottleneck was the time in which to work on them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Defining Writing Success by Publishing?

There were some fascinating responses to yesterday's blog, mostly on Facebook here (just scroll down past the cool pic of Mercury). Some people, and successful professional writers at that, began as daydreamers with no thought of becoming published. Whether they wrote fanfic or invented their own worlds, they went through a long period of writing just for themselves. I want to cry when I think of some of the wonderful writers who had to hide their work because of parental disapproval or other reasons. I think that's one reason I'm so encouraging of people in those early stages...you never know where those early Mary/Gary Sue stories might lead.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Would You Write Anyway?

I've heard various versions of the question of whether you would continue to write if you knew absolutely-for-sure that your work would never be published. Self-publishing has made the question irrelevant. It's far easier to put together an ebook, a website, a blog, than it is to write a book in the first place.

The question is worth consideration, nonetheless, because it gets at some fundamental issues. For whom are we writing? How important is it to be told how wonderful our work is? Are we writing because we love story-telling or because we have a message we want to communicate (in which case, an audience is essential to our feeling of satisfaction)? Is our writing a way of generating income? (Don't scoff; I've met middling-successful writers who admit as much.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mary Sue and Pernicious Thoughts

I've been thinking more about that first stage of a writer's development. (See the previous blogpost.) We day-dream, following whatever romantic, adventurous, geeky or otherwise self-indulgent impulses strike us. And then we write it up.

So where does Mary Sue (or Gary Sue) fit in? The term is often used dismissively to describe a character, usually in fanfic, who is a thinly-disguised representation of the author, in many ways, "the author's pet." She or he can be wonderful beyond belief, or equally unbelievably ordinary, but every other character of the appropriately attractive gender falls madly in love with her/him.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Goodbye, Diana Wynne Jones

The news about the death of Diana Wynne Jones, one of the finest writers of Young Adult fantasy of our times, has been all over the 'nets. My younger daughter phoned me this morning to make sure I'd heard. Rather than reminisce about the importance of Jones's work, her inspiration, her humor and understanding of human nature, her wonderful characters, I'd like to talk about connection.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Stages in a Writer's Development

I don't know why, but beginning writers (and experienced ones, too) are often possessed--haunted, really--by the notion that we already know how to write. While few insist that this is something instinctive, that we were born with, there's a persistent and pernicious belief that "talent" will automatically produce great literature...or at least commercially successful work. I lay much of the blame for this on our education. We learned how to write in elementary school, didn't we? We turned in all those school papers, essays, book reports, didn't we? We write every day--shopping lists, emails, text messages, don't we? So how hard can it be to write a book? It's just a longer version of LOL, BRB, isn't it?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Before I Knew It Was Fanfic

One of my favorite ways to hang out with my high school friends was to gather at one or another of our homes, lugging our notebooks and portable typewriters. We'd sit around, chatting and writing, sometimes reading aloud. We didn't know a thing about critiquing, but that was not the point. Writing was fun, and even more fun to do together. There was of course quite a lot of idea-sharing, not to mention character-stealing, and even a little collaboration. Often, we'd set our stories in the worlds of our favorite television shows, or even musical groups. (Teenage fanfic based on The Kingston Trio is seriously weird.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Influences and Pastiches

I've been thinking about how Marion's work influenced my early writings. There's no clear answer, but there never is. Certainly, there was no effect at the beginning. I didn't discover her work until the early '70s and I'd been writing down stories since 4th grade (late '50s). By the time I read The Falcons of Narabedla and The Dark Intruder (they were an Ace Double), I'd accumulated quite a pile of utterly unpublishable short stories and incomplete novels, plus 2 or 3 novels that I'd actually finished. I hadn't yet found my literary sea-legs, that was for sure. I hadn't the slightest inkling of what authorial voice was. I knew only what appealed to me--the characters, the situations, the action, the emotional turning-points in the lives of my characters.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Channeling Marion?

It's no secret that for the last dozen years, I've continued the "Darkover" series created by Marion Zimmer Bradley. We worked together on the story arc for the first three books before she died, and I've used small bits from her other books, woven into scenes. The most recent release, Hastur Lord, began as a 175-page manuscript she worked on in the final year of her life, so it's a true collaboration.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Writer's Block: Lowering Standards?

I just finished Sandra Tsing Loh's review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua, Penguin) (about which I may write a completely separate blog post )in the April 2011 Atlantic. Loh writes:

I follow the old writer's chestnut: "When you face writer's block, just lower your standards and keep going."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Lady Writers' Commune

One of my personal vulnerabilities is fear of financial insecurity. I can attribute this to a number of causes: being the child of parents who came of age in the Depression, growing up having to be mindful of every penny, alternations of having enough and scraping by...or just a view that money resources are fragile and unreliable. I wrestle with the fears, beat them back with reality checks (I've never been homeless, I've always had work) and affirmations and such. Occasionally, life in the form of friends hands me a reason to laugh at myself.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Strategies for Dealing With Writer's Block

One of the ways I pace myself in my writing day is to pace. I get up, move around the house, make a desultory attempt at some housework, take the dog around the block. If I'm really worked up about how a story isn't coming together, I've written myself into the black hole of all black holes, then I may dive into a cleaning project with a vengeance. Part of what's going in is I'm so frustrated, I need a constructive outlet for all that energy, but I suspect that most of the time, I simply need some corner of the universe where I actually can create order, since the Work In Progress has temporary abdicated that role. (My sister, a visual artist, does this too--you can tell when her work isn't going well because her house is spotless.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Northlight reviews on LibraryThing

The ebook edition of Northlight was sent out to LibraryThing Early Reviews and got some lovely responses. Since they got linked to the old print version, I'm offering a few excerpts (it's also a great way to turbo-charge my writing day). I've left out the parts that describe the actual story, but you can read them as well as the complete reviews, and others I didn't quote from, here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Not to Kill Everyone in Chapter One

I've been thinking about the idea of "storyness" in the context of the books I read (or that someone read aloud to me) as a child and how they taught me some important fundamentals about what makes a story. Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. Every student in a beginning writing class hears this ad nauseum. We make a big deal about set-up (beginning) and climax (end), leaving the middle as a wide and soggy swampland. Actually, the middle is where all the fun happens--jacking up the tension, throwing one complication after another at your protagonist, Making Things Worse at every turn.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More on turning enemies into friends

Mostly, I enjoyed the Back to the Future movies...except for the last one. That's the "Wild West" adventure, where our stalwart hero journeys back in time and encounters the ancestor of his nemesis, Biff. We know that Biff has been raised by a viciously critical grandmother, and said ancestor is obviously the reason for her nastiness. He's not only physically disgusting, but a bully and a coward, apparently devoid of any redeeming virtues. In this family, each generation perpetuates the abuse heaped upon it by the one before.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reading Aloud; Learning About Story

Like many children, I was fortunate to have parents who loved to read aloud to me. Some of my most magical early memories are of snuggling under the blankets while my mother read my favorite stories to me. To this day, I find this one of the most soothing activities; I remember her voice, soft and loving, yet expressive. I not only felt safe and loved, I felt safe letting my imagination take me wherever it would. I felt filled with delight at going on an adventure with someone I loved.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Learning to Rewrite

Check out Sherwood Smith's eloquent and moving essay on struggling to find her literary voice, as well as the confidence to believe in her work:

Learning to Rewrite

Printer's daughter

I joke that it's all my father's fault, this mania for books--reading them, writing them, holding them, admiring them, you get the picture. When he immigrated to the US in 1922, he wanted to become an architect, to create building that would inspire a society of justice and equality. He was all of 17, bursting with idealistic fervor (which I come by honestly!) The hard reality of trying to attend college and support himself set in and his health broke down. He reluctantly concluded that a trade was his best hope, and he chose printing. He called it, "the art preservative of all arts," although I don't think that phrase was original to him.

Fast forward through apprenticeship, organizer for the International Typographical Union, etc., to a steady job as a linotype operator for a newspaper, family and kids. Books filled our home, books on about every subject--art, history, political thought, novels, poetry. That's not all that outstanding. But what made my house different from that of my friends was the ever-present idea that someone wrote those words and someone turned those words into print and then into books...and that second someone was my father. He used to compose letters in his free time on the linotype, run off a proof, and bring it home. I'd look at the column of type (or the lead slug) and think, "My father wrote this..."

Years later, when I studied calligraphy with Lloyd Reynolds at Reed College, he said, "Printers have always been iconoclasts; they know how easy it is to publish a lie." Yep.

I wrote my first book somewhere around 4th grade. It probably stemmed from a long-forgotten school project, but what I do remember is that I wrote and illustrated a story, then stitched the pages together with a painted cardboard cover. The story, true to the Ross tradition, involved a horse that saved the world by making peace between all the animals (who were engaged in senseless combat). I've gotten over being embarrassed to being proud. I made a book, and it was a book that embodied my best 4th grade ideals!






Saturday, March 12, 2011

Welcome to Deborah's blog!

This is the very first post on my new blog! For the past few years, I've written on various topics in my LiveJournal and Book View Cafe (where you can also read more free fiction from me and--sales pitch alert!--buy my novels as multi-format ebooks). But this blog is mine alone, to hold forth on my own stories and my experiences writing them, on the wonderful people they've brought into my life...and anything else that strikes my fancy.

You'll notice the page, "Read A Story." Every month, I'll put up a free short story or novel chapter or snippet of work in progress for your enjoyment. At least, that's the plan. During book revisions to editorial deadline, all bets are off, but there will always be something there, a gift from me to you.