Out of the Comfort Zone

I like to give myself a bit of an overarching theme to a year, and this year is “finding my way out of the comfort zone.” I’m shaking things up a bit. While I’m a believer in trusting your process once you’ve found what works for you, there are times a shake up is useful. I think you should be prepared to look at what you’ve always done and ask if this is still working. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. We all change over the years. Being prepared to adapt to the change is key.
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Advice for NaNoWriMo newbies

So it’s almost November – which means National Novel Writing Month. I’ve done and won this seven times now. (No, I’m not obsessed…) If you’ve decided to sign up for the first time and take a crack at it, here’s some advice for you:

Writing 1667 words in one day is not the hard part. I’m a slow typist and I can knock that out in a couple of hours. What is hard is doing that for day after day after day. That’s the real discipline of NaNoWriMo and writing in general. But, build up a word cushion when you can. However disciplined you are, you can’t avoid unforeseen events that stop you writing that day. Get ahead so a day lost is not a disaster.

2013-Participant-Square-ButtonIs it okay to…? YES. Whatever it is you are asking about, say the content or style or way of writing your novel, you were going to ask, then yes, it’s all right. You can write in any POV you like, or non-linear or whatever. There are no rules to writing. Selling it is another consideration, but it’s too early to think about that. You don’t need anyone’s permission to write the book the way you want to write it.

And following on from the last point, do not attempt to write a novel by committee. Don’t go on the NaNo forums asking “Is my character a Sue?” “Is this believable?” Or worst of all “Would you read this?” For one thing the advice you will get will almost always be contradictory. Brainstorming ideas with others and getting suggestions is great. But it’s your book, you’re the executive producer of this show. You get the final word.

Don’t listen to anyone giving you advice couched in absolutes – you must have an outline, you must always do it this way or that way. Nonsense. Figure out the way that works for you. Take advice from people who are basically saying “This works for me, so I’m passing it on in case you find it useful too.” And mix and match the advice and techniques until you find your own way of working. Many outlining techniques for example can be useful just as they are, but they may be even better for you in combination and turned into your own unique method.

Don’t make a fetish of your writing environment. It’s fine to have ideal writing conditions, but don’t turn an ideal into an essential. The only essential thing is some way to make words. Don’t convince yourself you need just the right music, your lucky hat, that particular brand of hot chocolate and the cat no more than three feet away from you. This just gives you excuses not to write when the cat is hiding, someone borrowed your hat and the supermarket was out of that type of hot chocolate. It will lead you to waste what might have been useful writing time and in NaNoWriMo more than at almost any other time every moment counts!

2013-Participant-Vertical-BannerBackup‼ It shouldn’t need to be said. But every year I see people on the forums wailing about how they’ve lost their novel to a hard disk crash or file corruption. It’s sad because it never needs to happen. If this is your first time writing a novel you may never before have put so much time, effort and love into one fragile little computer file. You must protect that file with as much care as you’d protect a baby. Back up every single day. Losing one day of work is sad, but you can still recover and go on. Lose several days and you’ll probably give up the challenge in despair. Backing up could well prove to be an important part of your strategy to make it to 50,000 words. How you do it is up to you. But DO IT!

I hope those tips will help some of you out and maybe I’ll see you around the NaNoWriMo forums – after you get your word count for the day. Feel free to buddy me over there and say hi! My profile on NaNoWriMo

And I’ve written a few others posts about NaNoWriMo
Why NaNoWriMo is not about writing.
Why am I doing my 7th NaNoWriMo?
How NaNoWriMo helped me get where I am today

The short history of Patient Z

I know exactly when I first came up with the idea for Patient Z, the novel coming on 23rd of July, from Loose Id. It was on the 24th of September 2012. How can I be so precise? Because I mentioned it on my Live Journal. At that point it was just called “the zombie bunny.” (Bunny as in plot bunny, not an actual zombified rabbit.)

I had no intention of writing it anytime soon. I already had other plans. I thought I would write some notes about the idea and put it away until after I’d written the second book in what’s now called the Red Dragon series. But the bunny kept on eating my brain for the next few days and with NaNoWriMo on the horizon it began to insist that November would be just a perfect time to write it. Zombies are a great subject for NaNoWriMo, it argued. And it would be nice to have another draft in hand. It doesn’t have to be all that long… Then the killer argument. Since at that point I hadn’t yet sold The Company Man, was it a good idea to write the next in the series? What if I had to change the first one a lot?

That’s the argument that got the zombie bunny onto the front burner. So I spent October planning it. Naturally it got bigger and and bigger, until I knew it was going to be at least an 80k long book. It acquired a title – Survivors. But since this was lamer than a knackered horse, I decided that for NaNoWriMo it should have a “silly working title”. This is a strategy I use to force me to keep on searching for a good title. Give it a silly one that won’t eventually just stick. So for NaNoWriMo, the story was called “Shoot the Fresh Ones First”. Which was a homage to the title of the very first NaNoWriMo novel I did – Shoot the Humans First. (Now available free on Smashwords!)

Along came NaNoWriMo and I dived in, and started writing. It was a successful month. I hit 50k by the end of the month. But there was still plenty of story left. I kept going. December is a terrible month to write in, with all the shopping and parties and stuff. But I kept going. I had a small disaster mid month when I lost the index cards I had the remaining scenes outlined on. (Never did find them.) But the rest of the story was very clear by then. I kept writing even when I was away visiting family over Christmas. At last, on 30th December 2012 I finished the draft. PHEW!

I left it a couple of weeks for the steam to stop rising from my ears, then I started the editing. The big picture editing, getting the plot whipped into shape doesn’t usually take me long, since I’m an outliner, so I finished that soon and sent it off to one of my brave beta readers. (Very brave, since most of the prose was still first draft!) She came back with some great feedback. And lo, what’s that on the horizon I saw – NaNoEdMo. The unofficial editing spinoff of NaNoWriMo. The challenge is 50 hours of editing in March. Anything like that I find very motivating. It keeps me from getting lazy. So I began the editing chapter by chapter in March. I got well over 50 hours and I got the editing done. I sent it to another beta for a last check over, did absolutely final polishing and on the 8th of April I submitted it.

It’s a full length novel and from conception to submission was six and a half months. That’s unheard of for me! I usually faff around with ideas for ages before I write them (usually because I’m busy writing something else.) Then I usually give them longer to rest before editing. But everything about this story happened fast.

It had yet another name by the time I submitted it – In His Blood. And – something much harder on me – so did one of the characters. Just a short time before submitting I spotted the blurb of another m/m book due out soon, and there was the exact same name as one of my characters – Cal Harrison. After some teeth grinding and cursing I bit the bullet, since it was a book in the same genre, and changed his last name to Richardson. I couldn’t have changed his first name by that point. In my mind his real name is still Harrison, even though it never appears in the book. Richardson is just a false identity.

The book was accepted by Loose Id in late April. Yay! From bunny to contract in just over 7 months. Thanks are due to my beta readers, Star and Kay. :)

What’s the book about? Zombies! Or kind of. It’s more “love in the time of zombies”, as two men, Cal and Mitch come together two years after the zombie apocalypse wiped out most of humanity. Each is coping with the new world in his own way. Both are survivors, but with very different strategies. Mitch is embedded in a community, serving it and protected by it. Cal on the other hand relies only on himself. So when he meets Mitch he’s soon at war with himself, torn between continuing his self-reliant strategy and becoming part of a community. Mitch is forced to choose between Cal and the community he’s committed to. The conflict is, at its roots, an old one, the conflict between the wandering nomad and the settled farmer. And between the community and its enemies. And between everyone and those zombies…

If you want a teaser of some of the things that pop up in the story, an idea of what the two leads look like in my head and lots of funny zombie memes, check out Pinterest board devoted to Patient Z!

Review of the Year

It was Year Two in 2012, my second year as a published author and I was working hard on building my backlist.

January was a good start to the year, and the backlist building, seeing my first ever print release – Liar’s Waltz became available in paperback. Meanwhile I was working hard on final edits for Higher Ground with my publisher and with the help of a critique partner, editing Ganymede Tilt, getting it ready for submission.

Liar's Waltz Coverflat

In February I went to my first meeting of the local chapter of the Romantic Novelists Association, which was great. Always fun to meet other writers, all at different stages in their writing careers. I’ve been to several more monthly meetings and other events since. Late in February Higher Ground came out – my third novel and my first ever published novel that started life as a NaNoWriMo novel.

Higher Ground

March, I submitted Ganymede Tilt to Loose Id and continued working on the draft of Chrysalis Cage while I waited to hear back. But in April Ganymede Tilt was rejected – oh no! But like Higher Ground, with a “Revise and Resubmit”, so I decided to make the suggested changes. But this was a way bigger job than the Higher Ground R&R, so took a lot longer. Whole plot lines got taken out, characters eliminated, the relationship started in a much different way. It was hard work!

In April I also wrote a short, for the Lashings of Sauce fundraising anthology for the UK Meet. I’m not someone who writes shorts, well, ever. So it’s no surprise my story was basically “scenes from a novel I haven’t written yet.” Though I think it worked on its own terms too.

Lashings of Sauce Cover

I was slogging on hard with the edits of Ganymede Tilt in May and June. I thought that’s all I had to work on, until I suddenly had to bring forward something else and work on that too, wanting it finished by mid-July. June was an intense month!

In July I toddled over to Penrith in Cumbria for my first ever RNA conference, where I met up with old friends like Jo Myles and my local RNA chapter and some new ones. I had a great time, meeting all those writers and going to loads of interesting and fun panels. I also got to do my first ever “pitch” to an editor. Very valuable experience!

July was a good month all around. The Lashings of Sauce anthology came out, and the rewritten Ganymede Tilt was accepted by Loose Id! Yay! Then after the intensity of June and the first half of July I got to slow down a bit in August. I started doing my edit of Chrysalis Cage and was soon working on Ganymede Tilt with my editor.

September was a great month! I went to the UK Meet of writers of GLBT Fiction. It was in Brighton, and I had a fantastic weekend. Again I met old friends and new ones. Got to meet people I only knew online. And tried not to totally fan girl at some of them.

Me and Jordan Castillo Price

Me and Jordan Castillo Price at the UK Meet. She’s the one with the hat!

Stowaway came out in print about the same time and I took a couple of my author copies to the meet. With that gorgeous cover they quickly vanished off the sales table! I also took part in a panel as a speaker – which was a Big Deal for me. Public speaking, not my thing. But it went well and wasn’t as scary as I feared.

Stowaway Cover Flat

Late September a new plot bunny popped its head up. A zombie story! I’ve always wanted to do a zombie story. I expected just to make a lot of notes about it and put it away to work on in 2013. But no! This bunny was rampant! As befits a zombie story, it ate my brain. This bunny wanted to be written for NaNoWriMo. I already had a plan for what I’d write for NaNo though. But the zombie bunny won in the end. For various reasons it’s best if I put the one I was going to do on the backburner for later. Which left me with a hole to fill for what to do next and NaNoWriMo and this new bunny just waiting. I usually like to have a much longer lead time than that. I like to think about a story for a good while before actually outlining and writing it. But this came together fast –but so did Higher Ground and that turned out okay!

I took October to make the plans for the new one, now given the working title of Shoot the Fresh Ones First. (There’s a long story behind that. I’ll tell you sometime.) Meanwhile, I got great news – Loose Id bought Chrysalis Cage. No R&R this time – phew!

November of course was NaNoWriMo. I forged ahead hard on the word count in the first half of the month, knowing I’d have the first edits for Chrysalis Cage sometime that month. So when they did come in I was able to take a few days off the NaNo novel and not fall behind word count target. I hit 50K on the 29th of November. My 7th NaNoWriMo win.

I also had to work around the release of Ganymede Tilt on the 6th of November. And somehow or another, having my secret identity as a writer exposed at work! It’s not a problem; I just have to put up with a lot of banter and random references to Sean and Alex of Ganymede Tilt.

Ganymede Tilt Cover

And now it’s December already. The year has gone so fast! I continued working on the NaNoWriMo novel as it was far from finished. Chrysalis Cage edits continue. I took part in another panel, this time with my local RNA chapter at an evening event in the library in Hexham, Northumberland. I’m getting the bug!

So it’s been a busy year, has Year Two. Two new novel releases. Print release of my first two from last year. My first ever published short. RNA conference, UK Meet, NaNoWriMo.

Bonus! Books of the year!
I fell a bit short of my usual total of around 100 books read this year, ending up on about 80. I’ll have to set myself a target next year. What were my favourites?

Can I count series? Well I started working through two classic m/m book series, Jordan Castillo Price’s PsyCop series and Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series, so they were my favourite fiction of the year.
Favourite non-fiction: I read Robert McKee’s epic Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. I’m obviously not a screenwriter, but it has many lessons for anyone writing fiction.
Favourite Re-Read: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams.