Sunday, July 29, 2012

TCWT Critique Contest: Lessons Learned

To become a published novelist, it's not enough to be able to tell a compelling story in novel form. Along the way, there are a million other little skills to learn, such as the art of writing a 3 sentence pitch. (For the record, it's a lot harder than the length of the finished product suggests.)

Teens Can Write Too just held a contest where the prize was a professional critique of the first page of your novel. To enter, a 3 sentence pitch and the first 100 or so words of your novel were required. I entered, and it was an eye-opening experience to try and squash 54 000 words worth of story into a clear and concise 3 sentences. I think/hope I managed well enough.

Here's what I came up with for my YA fantasy WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE:
Caught trying to steal her cousin back from the king’s priests, 17-year-old farmer’s daughter Renata is forced into gladiator training. Determined to get home again, she’ll have to fight, kill, and maybe even lead a mutiny – just to survive. Ren’s ready to quit until she discovers it’s not too late to save her cousin from being sacrificed – if she can summon the strength to fight for both their lives.
I tried to incorporate the tips I'd read about, including:
  1. Minimizing names and using descriptors instead
  2. Showing an active protagonist, with desires and goals
  3. Covering the entire story: inciting incident, middle and climax
And here are the first ~100 words:
When I arrived home from the market, Mother was waiting in for me the doorway, eyes wide.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Rumour has it the High Priest is coming to town.”
I swore. I knew what that meant. Still, I tried to reason with her. “If rumours are just starting, surely we have some time yet. Leta and I don’t need to -”
“You’re going into the attic tonight.” Her tone brooked no dissent.
“Yes Mother.” I dropped my market basket on the kitchen table with a sigh and joined my cousin Leta our room. I hated hiding.
This opening is an edited version of the opening I wrote when I rewrote this story for Camp NaNoWriMo in June. I cut the cliche "It was a day like any other except..." and tried to get right into the meat of the story - what will end up being the biggest issue of the book.

I think I have a shot at being selected for a critique, but I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the contest in any case. It will be educational examining the 3 pitches and openings the judge chose as the best.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"All Men" and the Problem of Privilege

Today, a rant, but just to be clear: my main source for this is Wikipedia. I can't find the kingdom's website, if such a thing still exists, so take these details with a grain of salt. But please, take the message to heart.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."
-- United States Declaration of Independence, 1776


Well, sort of.

It's also from the Gay & Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands Declaration of Independence, 2004.

Steam came out my ears when I learned that, and a little bit of my hope for humanity died.

I believe that nothing we create exists in a vacuum. When you look at any text, speech or movie, you have to consider the cultural and historical context.
That's why when people nowadays read the Bible, most dismiss things like prohibitions on cutting their hair, the idea of women on their period being unclean, and the many passages talking about slavery. We accept that cultural context of this book shaped those rules.

As the amazing Rachel Held Evans says here:
We must remember that every poem, every letter, every list of laws, and every historical account of the Bible had an intended audience that shaped its content.
And that specific intended audience was never us, several thousand years in the future. Which is why, as long as people are willing to move past the culturally based problematic statements in the Bible, I can forgive those statements. They are simply the product of their time.

By the same token, I can forgive the founding fathers of the US for not making their iconic statement about people or humans. In their day women couldn't vote and had limited (if any) property rights. In the context of 1776, the founders' statement is a message about freedom and rights, and so I can forgive them.

But by 2004, you'd think things would have changed a bit. 

So when a group of LGBT activists decided to found their own micronation off the coast of Australia to protest the Australian government's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages, you might think they'd update the language of the classic Declaration.

Not so. And I for one cannot forgive people in the 21st century for excluding me from their definition of equality.

I'm trying really hard to not make this about how my concerns are more valid than theirs. I know they don't have to "take care of me" when we talk about their issues. But this is not about gay rights. It's about the discrimination within their community that is supported - some might say even allowed - by their Declaration of "Independence". 

They named their micronation the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom. But somewhere between the idea and the implementation, women's voices got lost. After all, I find it hard to believe any female activist would approve of copying this most annoying thing in the Declaration.

I hope this was a simple error, just an oversight. But even so, it is one born of male privilege.

Before I tell them off for privilege, I should acknowledge my own. On the Straight White Cisgendered Able-Bodied Male scale, I rank a 4 out of 5. So I know I have privilege, and I'm sure I don't realize it a lot of the time.

But my lack of male privilege gives me a window of insight into the other privileges that I do enjoy, and so I try to understand what's invisible to me, and when someone who sees it every day says something, I do my best to shut up and listen.

I would have hoped that not having straight privilege would help the men among the founders of the Gay & Lesbian Kingdom to understand what's it's like not to have male privilege. I guess not.

After writing all of this, I'm not angry anymore. I'm just sad that we live in a world that's so complicated and messed up, and that has "difficulty levels" the people on "easy" don't even see.

I just wish - for them, for myself, for everyone - that we could all work together to fix a broken system of invisible privilege.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Lucky Seven Meme

On July 7th, appropriately enough, I was tagged in the Lucky 7 meme by the always interesting EM Castellan.

Here are the rules:
  1. Go to the 7th or 77th page of your current WIP
  2. Go down to the 7th line
  3. Copy the next 7 sentences or paragraphs and post them AS IS (no secret editing - the guilt monkeys will know).
  4. Tag 7 other authors and let them know
The following is from an 18k fantasy romance story I recently did a first editing pass on. There's still work to do, but I enjoyed re-reading it, and that is always a good thing!
"Triple the guard for the rest of the night, and keep it doubled for the next few days. I don't want any trouble from this. Jennor, meet me in the village centre with the stocks. I'll fight Lavis after the morning meal."

The men nodded and began to disperse. Reid helped Leanna to her feet. "Are you alright?" he asked under his breath.

"Is Tris still alive?" she said, ignoring his question.

He nodded. "But every day she is weaker."

"I brought chammol - a herb that may cure her," she explained when he looked at her quizzically. "It's the bundle in my belt. Give it to the wisewoman. She should know what to do. If not, tell her this."

She relayed the instructions to Reid and made him repeat them back to her until she was confident he had them right. By then they had reached the center of the village, where the stocks were already set up. Reid locked her in and left. 

She slumped against the supports, too tired to care what a sorry picture she must present. The important thing was that Triss had a fighting chance now.
And now for the seven lovely author/writer tweeps I shall force this upon, in no particular order:

Jess Verve


(I feel a bit like I'm forwarding a chain letter as I name other people, so please don't feel obligated to participate, or to tag others if you do participate, although of course I would recommend it because I've had fun. If you do join in, please let me know on twitter - @Amethystars - or in the comments here.)
Love & hugs from my lazy vacation,

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Walk Tall

I walk tall
like a man, they say
like a woman, I say

the world is tough
and women are taught
bend over, give up
I walk tall

the world is hard
and harder when you fight
it will beat you down
I walk tall

I walk strong
take long strides
it's a means
to all I will accomplish
not an end
not my end
I walk tall

This isn't the most polished poem, but I like it. The walking is both literal and metaphorical, both of which draw from my life and more general events.

Literally, I try to walk the same way in dressy sandals and a tight-skirted dress as I do when I'm in jeans and runners. That doesn't tend to work that well, and it shows the physical restricting a lot of women (willingly) place on themselves. Isn't it odd how that's normal?

Plus, in the same vein, by my clothes, my body/face and my manner (including possibly how I walk) I get taken for a boy every now and then. I don't really mind, but it's interesting that in a split second judgement, people see no makeup, no heels/flats, walking crazy fast (what? I don't like being slow) and they think: boy.

But walking tall is also a metaphor for (my) passage through the world. I sometimes have to remind myself that taking up space in the world isn't a bad thing - because of the many admonishments to be "nicer" that target me and other women over men. And because of the general air of shock when I fail to give myself up for the good of the whole. As if by nature, I'm a "nicer," more selfless person, because I'm female. Instead, I like to be kind. Kindness doesn't tend to require not looking after myself, and I'm damn well going to look after myself.

Maybe I shouldn't explain all this, and just let the poem speak for itself instead. But then I feel lazy about the whole blogging thing. What do you think? Do you like my poetry updates? Do you want more/less commentary & explanation? Let me know in the comments or email me if you'd rather keep it private. Or tweet me for all the world to see. Whatever tickles your fancy :)
P.S. Updates next week may or may not happen. I will be traveling with less than awesome internet. 

P.P.S. I will almost certainly find some way to tweet every so often. Follow me.

Monday, July 2, 2012

How I Won Camp NaNoWriMo

Pigheaded stubbornness. A quality I inherited from my father, a quality that gets me into no end of trouble, but also a quality I wouldn't give up for the world. Because being stubborn is why I've been able to accomplish a lot in my life, including winning Camp NaNoWriMo.

If you read my Day 17 Update you might remember how far behind I was. If you didn't, here here's a rough breakdown of my writing progress in June.

In the first half of the month, I wrote 5000 words. Of the remaining 45000, I wrote a third in the next week (days 16-23), a third in the six days following that, and the final third on the last day.

Yep, I wrote FIFTEEN THOUSAND words in one day. Did I say pigheaded and stubborn? I think I meant pigheaded and crazy! Check out the spike in the graph:
My Camp NaNoWriMo progress. Not exact since sometimes I updated a day's work after midnight 
and I was out of Internet access for a weekend around Day 22. But close enough.
Partly, this unbalanced production schedule came from still being in school the first two thirds of the month, but a lot of it was simple procrastination. And because it was procrastination stopping me, and not actual lack of time, I wasn't going to let myself back down from doing everything I could to win.

And so, on Saturday, June 30th, I woke up at 11am and started writing. Four hours later, I hit 35000 and went for a run to work on some plot problems. I came home, wrote, had dinner, wrote some more.

I started using Written? Kitten! which is basically Write or Die but with positive reinforcement. What I love about Written? Kitten! is that I can use it to focus on the incremental goals. Just another hundred words, and then another, and then another... eventually it adds up.

I went into do or die mode around eight o'clock. I just had to write. I gave myself tiny stretching breaks to ease my aches, but other than that it was BICHOK time (butt in chair, hands on keyboard).

With just 22 minutes until midnight, I reached 50042 words. When I validated and won, I felt relief, and satisfaction, and an intense desire to chillax. (I watched Angel, since David Boreanaz = very relaxing.)

There's nothing wrong with not reaching fifty thousand words. That's a lot of writing, and not everyone has the time to make that commitment. If I hadn't been on vacation for the end of the month, I would not have been able to do it myself. But I'm very glad I did.

I learned two valuable lessons from this month of writing:

#1) It's okay to fall behind, or change your goal, or have to bow out entirely. I'm very driven, and this is good for me to know. Sometimes life gets in the way of our goals, and we have to accept that.

#2) That doesn't mean it's okay to make excuses. There's a difference between what you have to do and what you choose to do. I accepted my inability to stay on schedule during my last month of high school, because that was realistic. But I wasn't going to let myself sleep in and watch TV on vacation and then claim I hadn't been able to finish.

Going forward, I'll need to keep both lessons in the front of my mind as I start university. But I know I'll also be able to rely on my Tweeps to help me out. This was my first NaNo since I've been on Twitter (@Amethystars), and it's been amazing to have so many people cheering me on.

I'd also like to thank Sydney for interviewing me on her blog about my progress & story... even though she was looking for JuNoWriMo people and not Camp NaNo people. You can read the interview here.

If you don't want to read the interview, take a moment instead to be glad you aren't my characters. Below is a list of some of the more... interesting... google searches I've made this month.
  • human branding
  • can you laugh without a tongue
  • acrobatics with swords
  • how to fight a lion
  • giant eagles possible?
  • single strike decapitation
  • how long to learn knife throwing
  • how to kill an alligator with a sword
If this intrigued you, please do check out the interview for more about We Who Are About To Die.

On a related note, inspired by Sydney, I'd like to thank my lone but very lovely follower Shannon (aka Secretly_Samus). She has a writing blog full of interesting musings and info.

If you'd like to join her illustrious company, you can put your email in the box in the sidebar, or click the feed thingy. If you'd rather just keep up with me in general and have the option of ignoring future posts, why not follow me on twitter? There's a convenient button to the right, or you can just remember my nifty handle @Amethystars.

Still riding my winner's high, and hoping your weekend rocked,

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Until My Last Breath

Until my last breath
I will protect you
From all the dangers of the world

Until my last breath
Anyone who hurts you
Will have to reckon with me

Until my last breath
I will hold you when you cry
Heal you when you're hurting
Stand always by your side

Until my last breath
I will love you
So hard it hurts
With every fibre of my being
And I will protect you
Even from yourself

I mentioned in a recent post that I am thankful for my sister and the close relationship we have. This poem was inspired by the protective feelings I have for her, and for my best friend, who it like a sister to me - a little sister. I don't think I have it in me to see anyone as an older sister. Growing up, being a big sister was most of my identity, and it's still a big part of who I am. I think that's why, over the years, I've stood in as a big sister for plenty of people, many of whom I was only sort of friends with. 

From the girl who needed help figuring out what to do when she got her period for the first time on a school trip, to the girl who needed a shoulder to cry on when she was stuck at an AP exam and her family was having drama, to the girl who wanted my advice on what university to choose, because she wasn't sure about leaving home, I've been surprised and honoured to have so many people turn to me for help. I guess they know that I see it as my job to step up to the plate and make stuff happen.

So I dedicate this poem to all my 'little sisters' who have trusted me with their problems over the years. I hope I helped.