Doppeldangers on the Net

Yesterday, I was reading one of my email newsletters and came across an essay written by a black woman musing about the birth of her biracial son. Intrigued, I decided to click on her weblog to see any more of her writings. The first thing that popped up was a picture of the woman, her husband and her newborn son.

It was like looking into an alternate universe and seeing myself.

The woman was slimmer, true, but she had lovely long locs spilling down her shoulders and her back. Her white husband had the same brown hair as mine, but he was a musician, not a computer guru. Their son gazed out into the camera with shocking green eyes, something that’s not in Daniel, but the curls and cappuccino skin I immediately recognized on my own son.

Furthermore, this woman is also a writer mama and have already published several essays, stories, and poetry, though she’s more a literary writer while I work in fantasy. She’s traveled to India whereas I’ve traveled to Africa. We may have passed each other in Rio, though. She lives on the East Coast, I in the Midwest. But the grade school picture she posted, we look eerily alike, right down to the pigtails. It’s in the eyes.

The first thought that popped into my head was Whoa, she’s just like me! The second thought was, Eep! She’s just like me!

How do I respond to that type of thing? Do I respond? Should I go to her blog, post a comment: “Hey! We share the same interest! Let’s be friends!” Or do I continue reading her blog from afar, mentally comparing myself against her? She has all these essays published and I only have a measly couple. She got this award for a story. I haven’t gotten anything. So far, she’s doing this and this and this. Me? I haven’t done diddly-squat…

That’s the funny thing about being unique. You strive so hard to stand out of the crowd, to not conform to whatever is around you. But in making yourself unique, you also become lonely, because you don’t share the same interests as the people around you. At the same time, however, when you do come across someone who is like you, you fear of losing your uniqueness. Suddenly, you don’t seem all that special anymore. Worse, you start comparing yourself to that other person, seeing them not as an ally, but as a potential threat.

I’m currently reading The 2006 Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (much better than 2005), and I see there’s a story in there from a black woman. Haven’t read it yet–I took one look at the woman’s credentials and felt incredibly small. I can’t attain to her level of expertise. I can’t…I can’t…I’m no longer excited to meet someone in the same field as me. Instead, I’m scared and feeling very insecure. I simultaneously stretch forward and shy away.

Deep female relationships are very hard to come by. I think it’s especially hard for black women. You want to stretch your hand out in friendship, but at the same time, you don’t want to make yourself vulnerable. You don’t want to be hurt. It shouldn’t be that way. As a black woman, I should be supporting other black woman writers. Not that we are such a rare breed…boy, am I finding that out…but to help sharpen each other, to be mentors and commiserators. I shouldn’t be worried about losing my unique status. Granted, there are many black women out there who have accomplished more than me, but on the other hand, there are others who have done less than me. There are women who share my same interests, true, but I have yet to meet anyone who has the same lifestyle, the same family, the same anything as me.

It’s dangerous to compare myself to someone else, especially if that someone has a presence on the Net. I don’t know anything about that other person other than what they’ve put out there. But it doesn’t help me any if I see that person as a rival. If anything, I should be excited in knowing that there are other black women out there who are also on the writing path, that I’m not alone in that regard.

To this day, there’s a part of me that yearns to meet another black woman who’s into writing and anime and has a white husband. We could visit each other houses and talk about the challenges of raising bi-racial children, of finding our identities, and the last episode of Full Metal Alchemist. I don’t know if that ever, ever will happen. But I think I’ll go to this one woman’s blog and post a comment. Something along the lines of “Hey…I know exactly what you mean…”

Memo to myself: Don’t kill the boy…

Silicon Valley Moms Blog: Top Ten Things to Do While Your Kids Have Tantrums

I post this link for other moms who are probably repeating the very mantra in the title. I found it to be a hoot, and have now promised myself to do the very things mentioned here. Granted, I really could’ve used this adviceΒ a couple of days ago, but, at least I now know what to do next time.

Oddly enough, Daniel has been acting very, very good today. I wonder if that’s because he’s never seen cords pop out on his mother’s forehead like that before. Or was it when Mommy went from sounding like herself to James Earl Jones in a split second?

Hmmm. When you’re with a kid flinging himself on the floor and you start to channel Darth Vader, maybe it’s time for a break.

Book Review: “On Writing” by Stephen King

It’s been a wild weekend at our household. Sunday, we hosted a football get-together and watched the Bears blast their way into the SuperBowl. Go Bears!!! Gleefully, I checked my email to learn that an essay I wrote will be getting published. And I finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing. Finishing a book in one week. That’s almost pre-Daniel speed, when I had the leisure to gobble up books days at a time.

Hmm…Stephen King. Interesting how I feel about him. I read him a lot when I was younger, late high school going into college. My sisters and I were hooked on him, reading IT and The Talisman and The Shining (long before I saw the movie). There was one I really liked reading which involved a young man shifting from the normal world to another world by drinking something, but I can’t remember if that’s The Dark Tower or something else. (Heck, I don’t even know if that was Stephen King). But I do know I reached the peak in reading his stuff at The Stand. I was so awed by that book that it stoked my interest in writing (among other things).

Then something very strange happened. The more I started getting serious about writing in college, the more I began to shun King’s works. I started viewing him as a bad influence. Anyone who cranks out so much stuff must be either just writing whatever and putting it out there, and folks eat it up. It has to be his name recognition, not his works. His books aren’t really that good anyway–it’s all the same thing. Same horror stuff, over and over again. Something’s wrong with that. I stopped reading his books. I lost my copy of The Stand. I even started dissing the movies that started coming out based on his books (except for The Langoliers–I read that story, then saw the movie and thought it rocked). Somehow, even though I’ve never published a single word, I considered myself a truer writer than Stephen King, meaning that I never got paid a cent for my works, while he gets paid millions for probably throwing a bunch of words together and calling it a book.

That was how I felt through the latter part of college and up to around the time I stopped calling myself a “writer” and actually started writing. And my opinion of Mr. King changed again. I no longer held his works in snobbish regard, but rather looked at them with trembling fear. Now that I was writing, it wasn’t as easy as I thought. Plus, he became more of a genuine author, but one that was so far above my level that I could write for a million years and not even approach the toehold of his expertise. One day, I saw that he had written a book about writing, and having heard rave reviews, I bought it in paperback. It sat on my bookshelf for a couple of years, because I was far too intimidated to open it. When I’m ready, I told myself. When I feel like I’m a writer, then I’ll read it. When I’m ready to hear what he has to say.

That day came last week, when I was beaten down and bruised, and wondering what the heck I was doing, trying to write a 400k novel. What am I, nuts? Severely nuts? Heck, what was I doing trying to write at all? I needed encouragement. I needed advice. So I cracked open On Writing and started to read.

You know what it’s like? It’s like entering a smoky bar and asking to speak to the best writer in the land. The bartender points you towards the very back, where you see a wrinkled old man nursing a beer and having a smoke. You plant yourself next to him and he starts to ramble about his life, the early years, how he and his brother went on escapades, blah, blah, blah. You nod politely, but you’re looking at your watch, eyeing the door, when–BAAAM!–he lets loose a mind-blowing nugget of wisdom that knocks your ears off. By the time he goes back to puffing on his cigarette, you’re hooked, listening to every word. And you think, whoa! This is the best writer in the land.

By the time King leaves his memoir section and gets into the actual know-how of writing, I was spellbound. I’ve forgotten that King is a storyteller, one who gets you into his stories by sucking you in, even in a craft book such as this. It’s not all writing advice, either. Even though he’s written this way back in 1999, and I’m finally seeing the words seven years later, it feels intimate, like a letter from a master to a rookie, and everything outside of self is excluded. We’re on the same wavelength because he’s addressing me, the reader, as a writer, and, in a weird and wonderful sense, it places me on the same level as him.

I love the section where we play a bit of psychic mindplay; (though I also read that part with a bit of dismay–he employed a technique that I used in a short story that’s making the anthology rounds, thus rubbing in my face that nothing is original). I liked how he used examples of writing not just from his works, but from other works as well. He even address profanity, something I’ve been struggling a lot with (and frankly, something I’ve struggled seeing in his works). He does all this with a frankness and sincerity that doesn’t condescend or makes him sound smug. In fact, there’s a refreshing vulnerability in him laying it all down for you to see what made him the writer he is today. I never met the man, and I probably never will, but on some level, this book makes me understand him a little (to a certain degree–you allow yourself as much as you put on a page.)

The book ends with his account of being struck by a van in 1999. In reading the details of it all, I was totally drawn in, reading with my hand to my mouth. But what struck me most was that King was in the midst of writing this very book when he had the accident. He lets us in on all the pain of therapy he went through, but also the pain of starting up on the book again…his own doubts and fears of ever being able to write again. That was what floored me, made me look at the book in a whole new light. Between one section of the book and another was a gap of about 18 months of non-writing. But you would never have known it if he didn’t say a word about it. And his ending passage, which I won’t repeat here because it’s best to just get the book and experience it for yourself, summed up the entire book so well, I had to sit there after finishing it, soaking it all in. Afterwards, I went upstairs and starting working on Willow, at least a little bit more empowered and encouraged than I have within the past week.

Is Stephen King a hack writer churning out hit after hit for the masses, or is he possibly the greatest writer ever of the 20th century? I don’t think it really matters. He’s doing what he loves, and that’s that. Did I agree with every single word in his book? Not all. There are a couple of things he advised where I shook my head and thought, I can’t do it that way. That’s not my style. Do I feel this is a worthwhile book? You bet your sweet bippy. I think every writer should have this book, and if they haven’t read it, then at least have it on your shelf. When the time comes to read it, you will know.

This book rates 5 spikes in the wall out of 5. I can’t say that I have an attic filled with rejection slips spiked to the ceiling, because I really don’t have an attic, but I do look forward now to racking up the slips–though an acceptance letter works very well too.

Oh, and Mr. King, if you’re out there and you happen to stumble upon this little entry of a blog, allow me to say, “Thank you. Thank you very much. You got me reading your stuff again. I’m even considering reading The Woman Who Loved Tom Gordon simply because that has been sitting on my shelf for six stinking years, and I gotta stop being such a snob and simply read the damn book so I can finally clear some space off…”

Them Word Count Blues

I didn’t plan to mention the other thing that made writing hard for me over the past week, but then I realized that, seeing this a blog about writing, it’s probably good to write about the doubts and fears that crop up every once in a while.

At the beginning of the year, I crowed about the fact that my word count for Willow would probably be less than I thought. Instead of over 800k words, I figured I may finish around 440k, which seems much more manageable. But then I started looking around the net for advice on high word counts, and this is what I found:

“Most authors need to stay in the 100-120k range.”
“Your first book needs to be a stand-alone novel, not a cliff-hanger series.”
“Publishers will not invest time in a thick book. Most agents will not even consider it.”

Oy, my morale!

All of a sudden, my excitement for cutting my word count down shriveled up. It didn’t help that I had a nasty cold and not getting much writing done. Granted, I can divide the book in half–the optimistic part of me said immediately, “Well, it just means that you have written two books instead of one!” But the more pragmatic part of me only shook my head. Even if I did cut the book in half, wouldn’t that mean that book one is ending on a cliffhanger? Actually, the way I’m writing the series (I guess I really can’t call it a trilogy anymore, can I) all except the end pretty much end the same way–not exactly on a cliffhanger note; there is a stretch of time between the books), but you will need to get the next book to see what happens next.

I do realize that I’m obsessing over a first draft, that it’s way too early for me to even consider word count. I’ve always been of the opinion that if there’s a book inside you, then you write it out until you reach the end of the book. Then stop. But now, whenever I approach Willow and start writing, I think to myself, Would this chapter be considered in the first book or the second? Where did I past the stopping point for the first book? What’s the point in continuing to write Willow if I already wrote 100k words? Should I stop and revise the first part and call that a book?

It’s been making writing extremely hard as of late. And I really hate that.

Last week, I decided to start reading Stephen King’s On Writing. I’ll tell you my thoughts when I finish it, but one of the things he does is compares writing a story to finding a fossil in dirt. It’s up to a writer to start excavating it, using whatever tools he or she has in their disposal. In my case, the fossil is a lot bigger than I thought. I could cut the fossil in half and start processing it, but then I wouldn’t see the fossil for what it is. Half of it would be still buried underground, and until I get that other half, I won’t have the entire fossil.

That’s what I gotta tell myself when I approach Willow these next few weeks. Willow is just in its first draft. Maybe conventional wisdom says I can only write 100k and call that a book, but for me, the story isn’t finished until that point where I know it will be finished. Until I reach that point, I need to keep writing it out and not worry about word count right now. Once I finish the story, once I finish digging the fossil out, then I can look at all the parts and figure out what goes where, what can be tossed, what can be rewritten and what can be shortened. Then, I’ll be able to create two fossils out of one, but now is not the time. Now is the time to unearth the story and dig it out.

And that’s the other thing. Writing Willow has been so much fun. When I sit myself in the chair and start writing, I’m seeing the events spill out onto the page as if for the first time. It’s been pretty much the same cooped up in my head, but still, sometimes what comes out is a complete surprise to me. It’s as if I’m watching a TV show, and my mind constantly asks, “So what happens next? What happens next?” My hands type out the results and I lean closer to the screen, completely involved in the story. I love finding out what happens next in Willow. If I stop to revise now, I’ll lose my momentum.

So I’m sticking to my plan. Finish Willow, then revise, revise, revise. Maybe I’ll search for advice on writing epic stories. I didn’t mean for Willow to become an Epic. I wanted it to be a trilogy at most. But what am I to do? Any of you epic writers out there, you mind helping a sister out with some advice? I sure could use it.

Then again, getting advice made me horribly depressed. Maybe I should just stick to Stephen King for now.

My First week as a “Full-time” Writer

Got a call from a friend who asked me, “Hey, I heard you put Daniel in daycare to focus more on writing. How’s that going?”

I responded, “Cough, cough, hack, wheeze. Oh, just fine. Snort, hack, coughcoughcough.

Last week was the first ‘official’ week of Daniel’s daycare. It’s not much if you think about it: only Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to noon. Only six hours of freedom a week, but that’s a lot to this stay at home mom. What does a writer mama do with all that freedom? She writes, of course!

Unless her son decides to leave her a gift of a cold…

I dropped Daniel off on Tuesday and made it back home under a minute. I surveyed the house, gave a tiny cough, did some preliminary cleaning, then started on work. And I do have to say, for about 20 minutes, I seriously felt like I was at ‘work’ again. My fingers flew on the keyboard, my mind raced to keep up…and raced…and raced….

Whew! I think I need to take a nap.

Fifteen minutes later, I was up and typing again, chalking up my lapse of consciousness to the unbearable lightness of freedom. Around noon, I brought Daniel back, made lunch, played with him, put him down for a nap and got ready for some more writing, but first…cough, cough…a little nap..

Wednesday, we went to playgroup. I coughed a lot more then, figuring, Feh, what’s a little cough. Daniel had a cough last week, but then he was fine. I probably will be too. Cough, cough…

Thursday morning, my daycare person called. “Hi LaShawn, my older son’s home with a real bad cough. I wanted to give you the option to bring your son or not.”

“Ughh….COUGH, HACK, COUGH, SNORT! I think I better keep AAAAACHOO! Daniel home. He had a HACKHACKHACKCOUGH bad cold last week and COOOOOOUGH don’t wanna…get him sick again…”

Okay, how is it that little boy can shake off a cold, but it can lay Mama low for a few days? Talk about your occupational hazard. It was bad enough that I hardly wrote, but I did a bad mistake of posting something on a forum and getting mighty depressed over the responses I received. They were all good responses with helpful advice–I just weren’t ready to hear them in my addled state of mind.

Needless to say, my writing suffered.

My head is clearer now–at least it’s less stuffy. I’m surrounded by clouds of crumpled tissue, but I’m not knocked out for the count anymore. My emotional level is somewhat back to normal and I’m back to writing speed. And I’m ready to start my *ahem* full week of being a “full-time” writer.

Hey, if you don’t say anything, I won’t say anything either.

Book Review: The Compass Rose by Gail Dayton

Genre: Fantasy, Romance Rating: **1/2

I saw this book at the library when I was picking up Tom DeHaven’s book a while back. I was intrigued by the cover, so the next time I went to the library, I got it.

Compass roseThe storyline’s very simple: Kallista is a woman warrior/mage whose powers suddenly gets amped up big time as she is chosen to destroy a demon in a neighboring country. She gets help from several others, mostly men, who are ‘linked’ to her magically.

One reason why I picked up this book is because it was published by Luna, which I later learned was a Harlequin imprint. Harlequin, as you know, specializes in producing throbbing romances, but with Luna, they are branching out into the science fiction/fantasy territory. Compass Rose proves why they chose to publish this book. The story starts out strong: Kallista is zapping enemies left and right, but it still doesn’t look good. She calls out to the gods for help, and the gods answer by giving her a power boost that slays most of the enemy, except for an enemy dude named Stone who is not only spared, but bears a compass mark similar to what Kallista now wears. Along with her bodyguard, a runaway woman from the other side, and a mysterious rich stranger, Kallista is charged to travel to another country to slay a demon…

And then the story grounds to a halt as they wait for other linked people to find them, they train their new powers, and have sex. Mind you, Kallista agonizes over it because she’s not sure if she really loves her bodyguard as much as he loves her, and Stone, who’s an angry, sullen prisoner, suddenly turns into a wishy-washy puss who gets all mushy and sweet because by golly, what else is he going to do? And Obed, the rich and handsome stranger, is in torment because…

Oh, why am I even bothering? This is a harem story, pure and simple. Everyone’s beautiful and they all even get married to each other for goodness sake (which, I guess, is nice because they are actually sworn to each other rather than just falling into bed all at once). Once the bed antics are put aside, the story does get interesting again as they all learn to work with each other and Kallista learns to put her trust in those she’s linked with.

This looks like to be book one of a trilogy. (And speaking as a fantasy writer, is there *any* fantasy books out there that don’t start off as trilogies? Don’t answer that.) Other than Stone’s split personality between bitter young man/puss, the abrupt POV changing in the middle of scenes, and a chapter that ends at a weird spot of a conversation and continues at the beginning of the next chapter, side characters that appear to disappear into the woodwork (literally and literally) it wasn’t all that bad. I don’t know if it’s enough to make me pick up the next book, but maybe I’ll consider it if I want something light and easy to read without making me think too hard.

This gets two-1/2 rose marks out of five. Romance and fantasy mashups? What will they think of next?

Willow Revised Word Count

Last week was ‘return to work’ week for many folk, but after all the holidays and food and celebrating, I betcha hardly anyone got anything done. It was the same thing for me as far as writing goes. Seeing that dear hubby didn’t go back to work until Wednesday, we had a grand time chillin’ with Daniel and hanging out with each other. It almost felt like a real vacation: slept in (somewhat), watched TV, played video games, cleaned house…Hey, I said it was almost a real vacation.

One thing I did decide to do came out of plotting my resolutions for 2007. I wondered exactly how long it really would take me to finish writing Willow. I’m at the point of the book where I can see how the story flows and ends, so I decided to use my handy-dandy Storylines program to plot out the remaining chapters of my book. What I found was this: my estimated word count for this book has been grossly exaggerated.

I thought that this first book of my trilogy would be at least 800,000 words long. When I plotted the chapters to the end, I came up with 73 chapters. Considering that there are roughly 250 words to a page (I’m thinking paperback here), I estimated that the book will be about 400,000 words, half of what I put as an end goal in my sidebar meter. That’s a nice surprise.

So let’s see. I’m on chapter 42 now. That leaves 31 chapters left to write. If I write two chapters per week, it should take me about….15 1/2 weeks to finish the book. Which means…conceivably…I can be done with this book…by the end of April?!?!

Ack…I’m no good with math. That can’t be…can it? Am I missing something here? Probably. I’m not accounting for illness, Daniel illness, days when I’m working on another work, etc. But let’s sit down and push aside all those That’s not right. You are wrong. There’s no way you can finish that up. Let’s brush all that aside and dare a little. That’s right. I’m going to point a finger right at myself and say why can’t I?

Daniel is going to daycare two days a week, giving me an extra six hours to work on Willow. Who’s to say that I won’t finish by the end of April? Only I can. I’m the one who ultimately plops my butt in the chair and hack this thing out. I’ve stuck with it this far…and I’m eager to see the end of at least book one. Maybe I can finish by the end of April.

Maybe I will finish it by the end of April. Or maybe I’ll just wait to for my hubby to get home to recheck my math, because I really do suck at it…

One thing for sure–I’m updating my word count meter. Dialing down that 800,000 word count feels mighty good right now.