Thursday, July 30, 2015


Hi, it's Lisa here today. No, you're not going crazy; I'm not supposed to post this week. It's Dan's turn but he is gracious enough to let me cut in line.

I've been thinking about writing a sequel on one of my  novels - for which I already have an epilogue, so I thought it might be tricky getting around that - and thought I'd see what other people's thoughts were on writing a sequel after you've already told your audience what happens three years after the book ends. Guess what I found. Nada. There's so much talk about prologues on Twitter, on craft blogs, at writer seminars, on book comments/criticisms. But there's virtually nothing on epilogues. And guess what I decided would need to happen. There needs to be more blogs about epilogues of course.
So here's where we put our thoughts about them - negatives, positives - and can you effectively write a sequel after having one? Are they necessary? Is the "necessary" question even applicable here? Is it just like a desert, unnecessary but nice to have, so no harm, no foul? Or are they an aggravation and you don't read them?

1,2,3, GO!

Dan: That's a great question, Lisa. Short answer: I have no idea. I do most of my reading in science fiction and fantasy, where stories can span several books. Epilogues are rare, and maybe that's a good thing. It feels a little bit like cheating (to me) to drop in a chapter that quickly wraps up everything in a pretty bow. There's far less emotional impact.

That being said, I think that there's always room to write a good story, even if people know where it's going. In fact, the series prequel faces a similar challenge: we already know what happens later in the series. But with a series, world, and characters that readers enjoy, I think either a prequel or a post-epilogue book is a viable option.

Caitlin: With HEARTSICK, my agent asked me to add an epilogue. With RED BLOODED, my editors did. I tend to like to keep at least some aspects of the story open-ended. Even with the epilogues, though, many reviewers wrote that they were looking forward to the sequel to HEARTSICK ( sequel is in the works yet...:-/), and I've already gotten one reviewer who thought RED BLOODED ended too quickly. So I guess I tend not to wrap things up, even when I'm told to, heh.  But, as I said, HEARTSICK had an epilogue but also left many things open-ended, things that could be explored in a second book. Does your sequel take place after the epilogue, or does it cover what is already covered by the epilogue?  If the former, I don't see any problem at all! If the latter, that is a little unusual, but, like Dan said, readers often want to "experience" stories even when they already know the ending to. So, if you want to write the sequel, I say go for it. :)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Writerly Goals

As writers, we usually have a career dream, that end goal that makes it worthwhile and keeps us churning out page after page, day after day. Sometimes we lose sight of that goal in the rush of everyday life, but in the end, it always resurfaces. My question for all you writers out there – where do you see yourself and your craft in ten years? What are your long-term goals?

As for myself – I hope to have a doctorate in English, enabling me to teach at a university while still devoting plenty of time to writing. Getting published is a pretty big goal too. My secret wish is to eventually support myself on my work alone – but that will probably take longer than ten years, haha.

Share your success stories, fails, and end goals – we want to hear them!

Dan: This is a great topic! I think a single or handful of goals is tough, because as you unlock each new achievement in a writer's career, your goals change. For me, at least, there's never a point where I'd say "this is good enough" and just call the rest in. When I started writing, it wasn't really for the money. If you forced me to call out a single goal, I'd say walking into a bookstore and finding a book with my name on it. That's the moment I'm really waiting for. Trouble is, once I do that, what's next?

I decided to capture several of my writing goals with a "Writing Career Bingo Card." I heard about this from some writer friends last year, and made one of my own. You basically make an Excel file that's 5 rows and 5 columns. In each of the 25 squares, you put a writing achievement. Some of mine are: get a book deal, pro short story sale, anthology sale, first 5-star review, first 1-star review. Then you fill out the squares as you accomplish each one.

My writing career bingo card is 7x7 (I'm ambitious like that) and I only have six squares filled in, so I've got a long way to go.

Lisa: Success story - Support myself with nonfiction writing - achieved.
Fails - Starting and continuing a print newspaper in a small town for at least ten years (I blame the recession). Hey, I still have the news website though.
End goal - In ten years I want to support myself with fiction writing.

Caitlin: I agree with Dan that goals are tricky, because, sometimes you actually achieve them! ;-)  My original goal was just to write a book, so, I remind myself often that I already achieved said goal and all the rest is just gravy. That said, I don't always listen to that positive take on it. When I was in the query trenches, I realized that I was too caught up in the single goal of getting an agent and I made myself think about what I really wanted from this. I wrote a "writing mission." I won't post the whole thing because 1. it's long, 2.  it's embarrassing, but the main themes were to continue finding joy in writing and to connect with other people in a positive way through what I write. Yes, these are both a bit abstract, but I like that they are things I can achieve on my own by simply writing and putting my work out there (in whatever form). There are so many writing goals that are dependent on external factors that are completely out of my control, it's nice to focus on what I can control.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Time to Write

I don't personally know any authors yet whose "real" job is writing, meaning it's not your sole source of income. So you have a job that isn't writing. You work a lot of hours at it. That takes time away from writing. You have kids? Those take away time from writing. Have a significant other? You guessed it - time away from writing.

Here's how the conversation goes:
Significant other: You're on your computer every night.
You: And?
Significant other: Don't you want to spend time with me?
You: Uh....

It seems like there are 1,000 things trying to pull me away from the time I spend writing. How do people do it?

Karlie: I can definitely relate to this…between summer classes and holding down a job, I only have a few stolen minutes every day to write. It's very tempting to watch a movie or curl up with a book instead, but I try to spend at least twenty minutes writing - operative word here being try. For me, it's all about keeping my eyes on the goal. This is what I want to do with my life, so it's time well-spent, no matter how tired I am at the end of the day.

Caitlin:  I think the best way to find time to write is to make it fun. Be sure you're working on something you really are enjoying. How many times do you hear people say they don't have time to watch TV or play games on their phones or check Facebook. Don't get me wrong, I do hear that sometimes (sometimes I'm the one saying it ;-) ). But, most of the time those activities just kind of happen because they are fun, we enjoy them. If you realize writing is a fun outlet, like playing a game, then it isn't just one more chore to add to your to do list.

As for the other demands, my husband and I make deals sometimes. For example, I can write for an hour as long as after that we do something he wants to do. He is supportive of my writing, but he also likes hanging out with me (heh), so, like with all things, there needs to be a balance. And that's okay. 

Dan: This is a good topic, because it is hard. Especially for those of us with full-time jobs and spouses and little kids. I basically fit my writing in around the edges: in the morning before work (rare) or at night after the kids are in bed (more common). It's harder in spring and summer, when the good weather usually takes us places where a laptop would be... less than welcome.

I'm not complaining, though, because I love and need my family, just as I love and need my job. Something tells me that if I had none of those things, and could write full-time, I'd still have the same level of productivity. Luckily, my family's pretty forgiving about the writing stuff when I'm up against a deadline. They know I'll make it up to them.

Friday, July 10, 2015


Caitlin here. One of my favorite novel writing tasks (or, perhaps, procrastinating tasks) is looking online for images to help inspire and drive my process. I try to have a few images, which I usually find on Istock, of actual people who are close to how I “see” each prominent character. These images aren’t just for coloring and facial features, because the best pictures show the model doing something and/or having an expression that resonates with the character. 

I’m less into looking up images for my settings but, as I’m writing my first fantasy in a new world that isn’t too dissimilar from our own, I’m starting to find myself seeking out images in order to craft the cities and other places that will flesh out my world. 

How do you use images as part of your process? Where are the best sources for images?

Dan: I like having visuals to help plan things, and to keep me motivated while writing that first draft. For my most recent writing project, I created this Pinterest board to collect images from Google Image Search, DeviantArt, Wikipedia, and other places.

I also keep world maps and/or landscape images in view while I'm writing. I import them into Scrivener, and display them in the top panel (while I write in the bottom panel). The map is not only a time-honored tradition for fantasy writers, but actually quite useful in reminding me where my characters are and what's around them.

Lisa: I'm not a visual person. Images tend to mess up the idea I have of my characters in my head. So, it's more about a feeling to me. What feels right. That's why I'm not too fond of covers with faces. I skirt around that by only having partial faces on my covers, or else faces with the picture altered so much that the faces are obscure. For both MOMENTS and TRICOLOR covers, I just wanted get the point across that there's a boy and a girl. That's it. As far as setting, I do visit my locations, but it's not so that I can "see" my setting so much as to treat my other senses. I need to hear the sounds, experience the pace of the town, and feel the tone - try to put my finger on the pulse of the community, what's important to them, their activities/festivals, what they hold sacred.

If I were writing a fantasy, I'd consider creating the setting in the "image" of a town that would work for my plot. Say you're writing a steampunk. St. Augustine, Florida would be a great town to mimic your steam punk town. It's dark, steamy/humid, the body count from violent deaths is high, so it even has the haunting/dreadful feel to it at night.

Karlie: I tend to use Pinterest a lot here - it's amazing what you can find. I created one entirely for Kismet and another for Forsaken, collecting little things like tavern stools and larger ones like setting. It really helps me to immerse myself in the mood of the place I'm writing - so I use images a lot. Every now and then I'll use one for a character visual - but like you, Lisa, I'd rather keep them in my mind. :) Great post, Caitlin!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Defining Complex Human Emotions

It's Dan writing today, and I wanted to tackle the complexity of human emotions and life in general. In particular, how to recreate some of the deep, powerful feelings that we have at certain moments when it's hard to put words to them. Recently, I stumbled across a wonderful and entertaining resource called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a compendium of rare but widely-understood emotions described in lovely depressing form. For example:
n. the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist—the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye—which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.
I read that and just thought yes, I've had that. It is not an easy thing to describe, but the author of this dictionary somehow nails it. I started perusing the site and found there are over a hundred entries like this. The words themselves are made up, but the feelings are not. Here some of my favorites:
n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.

n. the awareness of the smallness of your perspective, by which you couldn’t possibly draw any meaningful conclusions at all, about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, because although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still only has a sample size of one, and may end up being the control for a much wilder experiment happening in the next room.

n. the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable—their pupils glittering, bottomless and opaque—as if you were peering through a hole in the door of a house, able to tell that there’s someone standing there, but unable to tell if you’re looking in or looking out.

n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

dead reckoning
n. to find yourself bothered by someone’s death more than you would have expected, as if you assumed they would always be part of the landscape, like a lighthouse you could pass by for years until the night it suddenly goes dark, leaving you with one less landmark to navigate by—still able to find your bearings, but feeling all that much more adrift.

n. a moment of awareness that someone you’ve known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life, and somewhere in the hallways of their personality is a door locked from the inside, a stairway leading to a wing of the house that you’ve never fully explored—an unfinished attic that will remain maddeningly unknowable to you, because ultimately neither of you has a map, or a master key, or any way of knowing exactly where you stand.

n. frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone—spending the first few weeks chatting in their psychological entryway, with each subsequent conversation like entering a different anteroom, each a little closer to the center of the house—wishing instead that you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first, before easing into casualness, until you’ve built up enough mystery over the years to ask them where they’re from, and what they do for a living.

What I admire about this dictionary is that the author gives us a simile for each term that's usually as hilarious as it is descriptive. It leads me to two questions that I'd like you to answer:

  1. What are your favorite obscure sorrows? Bonus points if you make one up.
  2. How do you go about trying to write such complex feelings into your fiction?
Go forth and be sorrowful!

Caitlin: Perhaps this sounds weird, but I don't find these depressing. Instead, when I first read some, I actually felt a bit of a weight off  of me. It's a really nice reminder that I'm not alone in some of my weirder feelings. :) Meaning, it helps ease my monachopsis. But, I'd also like to add, that as writers, we need to stare vemodalen, the fear that everything has already been done before, straight in the eye (and bring on that opia feeling). It can be a really depressing feeling until you, well, just accept it. A writing teacher told me once that everything had already been done, so that's never a reason not to do something. It's actually kind of freeing if you think about it that way. Just write what you want to write, knowing it's unlikely to be a truly, earth-shatteringly new idea. And that's okay.

Lisa: I love this! So, I might sound insane and like I need to knock on 50 tons of wood for saying this but what about lachesism, n. the desire to be struck by disaster? Not that I want something horrific and terrible to happen to me. But there are times that I sit and think: I'd like to totally change my life, new career, move to a new town, get new friends/coworkers/car/pet. Even live in a different country. But I'm too scared. To do something like that I'd have to be forced and a disaster would do that. As far as writing lachesism, that's what I did in my book that'll be out this month TRICOLOR. I wanted to make a character make an entirely new life for herself. Though, I don't think I wrote it in the spirit of the above definition. My character didn't want that big change...or maybe subconsciously she did. How did I write it? Kicking and screaming. When a character doesn't want something like this, that's what they do. Kicking and screaming makes for great drama :)g

Karlie: Lisa. Yes!! I've had that same thought before.