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Personal Update: Moving, Glasses, New Stories, and more!

I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since we last talked. Time has definitely gotten away from me. Here’s a quick update on everything to catch you up on what’s happening!

Moving

Chris and I moved! Into what is basically a modern day fairytale castle.

Here’s what went down:

Continue reading “Personal Update: Moving, Glasses, New Stories, and more!”

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On the Subconscious

Anne Rie House selfie
Quick aside — me in front of Anne Rice’s house where she wrote The Witching Hour! October, 2016

Several months ago my mother and I were chatting about Anne Rice (whose series The Witching Hour we both adore), and she asked me this question: How, as a writer, do you possibly come up with such complicated worlds, characters, and plots?

I’m sure I gave some bland answer about working at it, or using character reference sheets, but I’ve been thinking more intensely lately about the creation process, especially as it comes to getting to know characters.

For context, at the time I started this blog post (the end of September) I was hard at work on Nameless drafting, after the last post’s announcement that I’d cut an unholy number of words from the manuscript. Many thousands of those words have made their way back in, so it’s not as drastic as I first thought, but the new chapters are filling me with all sorts of emotions. The over-arching one is wonder. I’m actually enjoying working on this book again, and creating new emotional plot beats that take this middle part to a new depth.

And yet I struggle. It’s an enjoyable struggle, and thus I’m fascinated by it. With each new chapter from the male character’s perspective, I end up outlining and ‘sketching’ about five different ways the scenes could go, trying to find the one plot line that feels the most exciting and true. I’ve found the abstract emotions; now I’m trying to translate them onto the page, and it’s just bloody difficult.

Why is that?

Why can one book, like The Cobworld, or Shotgun Girl, proceed at a lickety split pace, and if I need to tear it apart in edits afterward the pieces can mostly be reshuffled and re-stitched without significant damage to the overall emotional arc? But Nameless is definitely not a Team Shitty First Draft Novel. If I try to skip ahead, I lose the magic. Instead I have to build on what came before, molding emotions and editing scenes until they’re as right as I can make them for now. Then I can move on to the next thing.

It got me thinking about subconsciousness, and how it influences the building of a story.

We’ve all  heard some writers say they literally hear voices, or have a character show up and start speaking to them as if telepathically communicating. We all slip into this language, talking about our characters ‘complaining’ or saying how they want to go off in different directions than we planned.

How is this possible? How can what are entirely figments of our imagination get so far out of our control?

I think it comes down to this: Characters are a creation from our subconscious, but our conscious minds treat them like people we actually know. We know what they’d do or say about as well as we’d know the words or actions of a close friend or family member, in a given situation. You know what your best friend will find funny, what will make your significant other scrunch up their face, what gift will bring your parent the most joy. We don’t have telepathy, but we know them, by learning their patterns and habits over time. We can predict them.

Character creation works the same way. Our subconscious, trained to generate characters, plots, story emotions, etc., pushes forward someone for our conscious mind to meet. We get a sense of them, a vague sort of understanding of their energy, and we go from there. We pick names from baby books, we start fleshing out a family, and a mission, and a passion. We might try communing with our subconscious by filling out character interview questions. What’s your character’s favorite food? An automatic answer might pop up — blueberries!

Sometimes you can calculate a character, design them like building a house, and form them to the exact plot/theme you need. Perhaps some of the greats did that, but I don’t, and I think a lot of contemporary writers don’t either. We rely on our subconscious instead, teasing out details based on the mishmash stew of everything we’ve ever fed it, from real-life interactions, to the media we’ve consumed, to the thoughts we think.

When I struggle with a character’s actions, usually what I’m running up against is my conscious mind trying to make the character act in a way my subconscious says doesn’t ring true. This behavior doesn’t match the patterns I’ve been collecting and analyzing your whole life, is what my subconscious would say. So I’m gonna go ahead and make being creative really difficult for you until you figure out your mistake and listen to me.

So there you have it. Characters are amalgams of real people and their patterns of behavior, mixed up and repackaged. We both invented them and can increase our knowledge of them, conscious and subconscious minds passing information and instinct back and forth. Writers are both the creators and consumers of their media.

Now the only question remaining is where exactly ‘creativity’ comes from, but that’s a little out of my depth for now :-)

Since we last spoke I’ve switched back to working on Shotgun Girl, but it’s been slow going. I haven’t been feeling so great mentally here lately, probably due to the stress of working and going to school full time, plus writing, plus the other stresses and dramas of daily life. Today is the first day I feel like ‘myself’ in a few weeks, and I had a lovely session at the cafe this morning tearing apart and remaking the opening for Shotgun Girl. Wish me luck on continuing edits!

Here are some more pictures from when I took my sister to New Orleans at the end of October!

Miss Robicheaux's Academy where they filmed American Horror Story: Coven!
Miss Robicheaux’s Academy where they filmed American Horror Story: Coven!
Toms at Lafayette Cemetery. I highly recommend the Two Chicks Walking tour through the Garden District.
Toms at Lafayette Cemetery. I highly recommend the Two Chicks Walking tour through the Garden District.
Cemetery Wall
The inner wall of Lafayette Cemetery

PS: Got some cool media things happening in the next month or so that I can’t wait to share with you!

<3,

Savannah

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Nameless Check In

I have so many things to tell you after a blog silence of a few months (Las Vegas! Visiting Kat Zhang! Visiting Susan Dennard!) but today I want to talk about Nameless.

The last official update about Nameless was in January, and I’m sorry to say I didn’t end up working on it too long before switching over to Shotgun Girl. I finished the draft in June and completed my own edits in late July. I was supposed to turn my attention back to Nameless, but it was so hard.

I hated working on it. Like, hate-drove to the cafe, hate-set up my laptop, and hate-drafted for an hour each day. I assumed my problem was that I’d spent so long starting and stopping on this middle section that I was just bored of it. I decided to take up the rally cry of “Team Shitty First Draft!” once more and plow my way to the finish.

It did not go well.

You’re showing up, I told myself. You’ll start to feel better. Just finish the damn thing. And yeah, I was writing upwards of 1k per day, but the draft felt absolutely dead.

I was also re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC, and encountered the story where she talks about a project she’d put to the side turning up dead when she went to work on it again. Liz feels that if you don’t dedicate to an idea, it has the right to leave you and seek out someone else to help midwife it into the world. I don’t know about the rights of ideas, but suddenly I got The Fear:

What if I’d let Nameless sit for too long? What if I’d spent too many years pushing it to the side when something easier (and often more exciting) came along, and now it had finally left me for good?

I didn’t want to give Nameless up. I owe too much to myself, the readers, and the story itself. But it was agony to work on it, and I knew if I was having this much trouble, any future readers were definitely going to hate it. I even got to the point where I was considering drastic plot rehauls (yes, even now that the middle plot is the most condensed and action-y that it’s ever been), up to the point of discarding the whole Rebellion idea entirely and turning the book into a general sort of romance with no bigger societal conflict.

sav-and-susanThen I visited Susan.

Susan and I used to be in LTWF, and then Pub Crawl together, and I hadn’t seen her since Summer, 2011. She graciously invited me out to spend the night with her at a cabin in the woods of Georgia.

We hiked, visited the adorable local town, and ate some amazing food. And the whole time, we were talking. It was an amazing experience hanging out with her. Susan helped me heal from an old wound and exorcise some emotional demons I’d been carrying around.

I didn’t say much about it online, but the previous week I’d experienced something I can only describe as depression, and the experience was terrifying. Out of nowhere as I was driving home my mood tanked, like I could physically feel my hormone levels drop, and they didn’t come back for several days. I’ve never felt anything like it before. It felt like something curled up in my chest and died. Nothing was interesting, I didn’t want to do anything, not even something mindless like watching TV. Chris could convince me to go out, and I kept going to work, kept doing homework, but in the back of my mind my thoughts were always racing: what if this doesn’t go away?

bridgeI told Chris about it obviously, and my family, and my boss. If it continued or maintained I would have gone to a therapist for help. Thankfully it lifted on its own, and in hindsight might have been triggered by a stressful family situation, on top of working full time, on top of taking four classes this semester, on top of receiving a challenging edit letter from my agent concerning Shotgun Girl. I’m so relieved to return to my normal buoyant mood, but it really taught me something about the reality of folks fighting depression. I could easily see how a long-term existence like that could wring absolutely all enjoyment out of life. If you’re struggling with depression you have my every sympathy. Don’t be afraid to reach out — it’s really not your fault, and if all those traditional remedies like Eat Right! Exercise! Sleep! can’t help fight it off, please do go see a professional. *sympathy hug*

Anyway, thankfully this depressive episode lifted the day before I went to see Susan, but it was still good to talk it out with someone, and catch up on everything from the past few years. Our conversations were so healing I’m convinced they must have shaken loose a psychic cap on some part of my brain, because as soon as I got home some very interesting things started happening with Nameless.

soozPart of our conversations revolved around the latest discussions in the YA community (especially on Twitter) concerning diversity. I’m not an expert, but my understanding is that there have been many wonderful hashtags, groups, and blogs created to promote and support more diverse stories in publishing. This of course leads to discussions on privilege, tokenism, and inclusion. It’s been very educational, and it made me think more critically about how I’m representing people of different colors, races, sexualities, and physical abilities in my books.

Kat Zhang and I had had some similar discussions when I visited her in July (We went to the Zoo, took pictures in the botanical gardens, saw the new Ghostbusters which was hilarious, and spent several wonderful hours writing in cafes). One of the concerns I shared with Kat was my growing awareness that one of the minor characters in Nameless might unintentionally be seen as queerbaiting. Kat gave me the very wise advice that it’s still okay for the character to act the way he does as long as I include other queer characters, so we can see the diverse situations in which characters like this exist. Sorry about the vagueness, trying not to spoil too much!

kat-and-savKat was right–queer people exist in real life and I have ample opportunity in this story to represent this fact. In fact, I have the really cool opportunity to explore how the society in Nameless would see queer people, and how they would treat queer women different from queer men.

But after the supremely liberating conversations with Susan, I returned home and my characters started whispering. That’s a metaphor, of course–I don’t literally hear characters talking. But new ideas kept cropping up, new situations and new emotional reactions I’d never imagined before. I must admit at first I shied away from them–if this new scene I was picturing really went the way it was writing itself in my head, then it meant undoing so much of the book as it was already written.

Wouldn’t it be better, the lazy part of me asked, just to continue this hateful slog so at least the book is done? How many times have I ‘started over’ on this middle part? How many months have I been stuck on the same scenes, unable to move forward into the new territory I’m so excited and afraid to explore?

But I listened. It’s an experiment, I told myself. I can write this scene any way I feel, and no one says I have to include it in the book.

You can guess what happens next.

That scene plugged into an emotional resonance I hadn’t felt since the first part of the book (which is perfect and glorious and OMGGGG; it’s just the middle I can’t stand). Shit, I said to myself, realizing what I’d done when the scene was complete. I didn’t know they felt this way.

Once again, I’d been shoehorning these characters into the plot, a lesson I am ashamed to say I already learned three and a half years ago. Once again, my main male character has a mind of his own, and the emotional arc I thought he was on is not the one he really wants to be on.

So I cut 30,000 words.

They’re safe in a separate document, but that’s the total of what I extracted from the manuscript, backing it up to a point where the emotional resonance started to fade. This is probably the most extreme step I’ve ever taken with my writing, but I know in my bones it’s the right thing. I must admit I was also bolstered by the knowledge that my idol Maggie Stiefvater did something similar this past June:

The past few nights have been a mad dream of brainstorming, and I found myself praying out loud, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” yesterday as I sketched out a scene unlike anything that had ever existed in the draft. It allowed me to condense two chapters (always a good thing), explain more plot, and stay true to my character’s new emotional journey.

I’m still glad I wrote that 30k of crap because it did help me figure out the general order of events, and I can recycle some conversation rhythms or descriptions. There’s still tons more work to be done (and unfortunately I can’t put off homework any longer, or responsibly stay up far too late a third night in a row), but I don’t care. It’s coming fast and furious, and the best part of all…

Nameless is living again :-)

And so is my excitement for it.

And so is a new way of being more inclusive, and doing greater justice for these characters and their complicated relationship.

I had to be old enough, and educated on diversity enough to let myself go to that place. Once again I find myself so grateful Nameless isn’t under contract (and neither am I!) because I have the time and space to do it justice, even if my growth, and thus its own, has taken place over twelve years.

(Holy crap. I’ve been working on this book twelve years this month).

I’ve also fallen in love with a new band, Cigarettes After Sex, and actually listening to their songs while writing, which is something I absolutely do not normally do. Nameless is really difficult to find songs for, so this is thrilling news!

Thinking of you with love,

Savannah

PS: In regards to the two predictions the psychic made about my family in the last post — one came true! The other is supposed to happen this month. I’ll let you know!

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Writing Revelation: Specificity and Courage

I had a very interesting writing experience with Nameless the other day that I’d like to both record and explore with this blog post.

Side note: Yes, Nameless!!! I’ve turned in edits on The Cobworld and launched immediately into continuing with the new draft on Nameless, which I’d last delved into this past July. This summer I added around 4k words, and I’ve added an additional 7.5k this month, so the total manuscript is now around 65k. Only 35k more to go (and hopefully less)!

A few nights ago I wrote a scene I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s an action sequence involving a lot of people in a large area, and a pivotal moment in the book. I’d been picturing it, and telling myself the story of how it would feel to read, but hadn’t given much thought to the actual words. (In hindsight that’s a warning from my subconscious: if I’m thinking in pictures instead of words, either the scene isn’t ready, or I need to do some hard work to figure out the facts.)

And so, I wrote a thousand words describing what happened. Lots of movement, large groups of people, very little dialogue. It was more describing a flow of movement and crowd reactions versus what was going on with individual characters. I meant it to be sweeping, to have momentum.

It sucked.

I did a thing I’ve done lots of times over the years: I rush past details in an effort to trick the reader. I use long sentences, and gloss over descriptions. It feels like performing on a burning stage, dancing and singing as fast and as loud as I can to distract the audience from the catastrophe that’s really going on.

this is fine dog
Accurate description of my problem.

The writing isn’t technically bad. The sentences are formed correctly. Nothing is purple or over-the-top. But if I had to re-read it I would cringe because I know it’s the equivalent of being super loud and outgoing at a party because you’re afraid no one will like you.

And for years, I’d let this bad writing stay. It technically accomplishes its purpose, and it allows me to move on and finish the book, but eventually some brilliant person will come along behind me and say, “This isn’t working.” Then I’ll have to go figure out what it is I hate about this scene so much and why I’m struggling so hard.

And I finally figured out the universal truth of why.

One of the pieces of writing advice I try to follow is: When in doubt, go slower, not faster. This has helped snap me out of the above scenario in the past, but only sometimes. I recognized that I felt better about the writing when I slowed down and examined the character’s thoughts and actions, but it wasn’t quite the universal truth I needed.

26308619Then recently I read The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff. The book contains one short story by each author, with notes detailing their writing process and explanations for the choices they made in the writing process.

Something Maggie Stiefvater (whom I adore) said really stuck with me. It’s something to the effect of, “If I could be the fairy godmother to all new writers, I would whisper in their ears, ‘Be specific!'”

It is specificity that makes good writing. Anyone can describe a person. A good writer will point out the specific things about them that make them interesting. Anyone can write a scene like I did, wide and detached and from 20,000 feet. It is the up-close, micro-view that compels.

This ties in with another lesson I learned over the course of editing The Cobworld: I don’t have a problem with killing  my darlings. I have a problem with deleting bad or mediocre scenes because I’m afraid I can’t replace them with something better.

Specificity and Courage: my two antidotes to that terrible, squicky feeling of trying really hard to disguise bad writing.

So when that revelation barreled into me at a thousand miles per hour, I realized how to fix my bad scene. It’s not as simple as going slower and not faster. It’s about showing the reader how significant that scene really is, by getting very specific with the emotions and actions of the characters living it

And the ridiculous part is, I didn’t even consider how all this action was affecting my point of view character. I was so preoccupied with explaining the vast movement I didn’t think about all the super exciting things I could say about how it felt. Because there are exciting things to say.

I can’t wait to write them down.

Some housekeeping:

I’ve decided to save Fave Five posts for months when I have nothing new to report. If you see one it means I’m still writing, but don’t have any exciting revelations or personal news to share. I mean, this was a big moment for me recently:

 

<3,

Savannah

(Psst: Here’s a video of my gorgeous/hilarious Bella dog playing in the snow. Because I care about your happiness.)

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Writing Update, Summer 2015

I won’t hold you in suspense — I’m working on Nameless again.

I officially finished edits on The Cobworld on 6/29, and immediately launched into reviewing the Nameless draft.

After around 2 years away from serious work on the draft, reading it again was a magical rediscovery of the story and characters. Little plot twists I forgot I put in, hints I’d begun weaving for conflict later on… Finally I feel awash in new energy and enthusiasm for the project. Gone is the dread and the panic and the obligation. Now I want to finish this story because it’s so good you guys omg and I can’t wait to share it with you.

When I made the update last November about my current feelings on Nameless, the responses I received publicly and privately were so supportive, and I appreciate everyone who reached out to say something. But I also had this revelation… Why am I so worked up about disappointing fans of the original story, when in reality you guys would account for only a very small percentage of all of Nameless’s potential readers? (Not to mention how cool you guys are with the potential changes). I realized the world at large isn’t going to be judging me; they’re only ever going to see the finished draft.

And so I was able to let go of all my internal negativity, and this feeling like I had an obligation to hold on to parts of the story that had always been there. Re-approaching the story now, I have this fresh energy and motivation. It’s so clear to me what must happen, and because of all the hard work I’ve put in on other books over the years, I know I have the skills to do it.

Obviously writing always seems easy during the planning stages, and I’ll confess that endings remain my kryptonite, but I have around 50k-ish left before I have to fight that battle, and plenty of skirmishes to get my confidence up before then.

Here’s to the next 50k!

In personal news…

Being married is exactly the same as not being married, except now I get to practice a new signature every time I sign a receipt. Honestly the most different thing about being married is how everyone else treats us as a more legitimate couple, which borders on offensive in some instances. I still have trouble referring to Chris as my husband and have called him boyfriend more times than you’d think, but he doesn’t mind, because it’s not a big deal. Anyway, we’re deliriously happy and therefore there’s not much more to say, so I’ll stop.

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I have a new cat now, a small and feisty goofball of a cat, that appeared outside my office building one morning. She was obviously dropped off by some heartless soul, and had drying teats to suggest a recently weaned litter of kittens. Now she’s all fixed up and running wild through the house, amusing us all with her antics. Kitten was a very different sort of cat; she never played and was immune to catnip, but Mia is a cat’s cat. It’s such a joy to watch her play with toys and even things that are decidedly not toys, such as my pen when I’m brainstorming:

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I knew the right cat would come along when I was ready, and Mia is undeniably the right cat. Get this — she had no fear of Bella when I brought her home the first time. What kind of cat isn’t afraid of a big, wolf-looking dog that is very interested in smelling them immediately and up close? This crazy girl.

Now I know where the spilled cup of water this morning came from…

A video posted by savannahjfoley (@savannahjfoley) on

For all my American friends, have a safe and happy 4th of July!

<3,

Savannah

PS: I’ve migrated to using my official author FB page instead of my personal page, so please Like at will.

PPS: I’ve added a link to my instagram on the right, if you’re interested in seeing more pet pictures from someone you kind of know on the internet.

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Can we talk about Nameless?

It’s that time of year again.

Every autumn, it seems, I’m drawn back into the world of Nameless. Perhaps it’s just my natural rhythm; I work on it for a month or two and then I need a whole year to feel ready to approach it again.

Recently I received a lovely comment from a reader letting me know they’re still here, still waiting, still supportive of however long it will take me to finish. I’ve had several such comments or emails throughout the years, and I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see evidence of your support. The comment made me realize I haven’t specifically spoken about Nameless in almost a year, so I figured it was time for an update.

I have 50,000 words written on draft number… gosh I don’t even know anymore. There have been three eras of Nameless: The Fictionpress version, the conversion to a single YA book with my agent, and now, the era I call Apprentice version. It’s Adult, and treats the career of the Poetess in a different way; she’s a spokesperson instead of an artist, and she is not appointed so much as falls into the position accidentally. It means she is new to her role (an apprentice, if you will), and must learn the truth about the position of Poetess, which is far darker and nuanced than public perception. The Apprentice draft alternates point of view; first for the Poetess, and third for Number Twenty-Three. It combines the original three books on Fictionpress into a slightly different, one-book story.

This 50,000 words takes us through the plot of the story that was originally found in the earlier parts of Book 2 on Fictionpress. That means there are still roughly 50,000 words left for me to write, but hopefully fewer. Let me be clear, it is not the number of words holding me back from finishing this newest iteration. It’s the plot.

I’m in the impossible unusual and difficult position of trying to rewrite my first book to make it into something marketable. It’s commonly reported in the industry that the first book of a writer usually doesn’t sell, and with good reason. The first book is like the first flight of a baby bird; it’s something that resembles the final product, but you’ll still probably find yourself flat on your face. First books teach you what not to do in subsequent books. They’re a first try, a warm up to something better.

But my first book is… unusual. It captured hearts and imaginations. I am blessed to have discovered such a compelling story, and cursed that I was too young to do it justice. I may be too young, yet.

I usually take pride in being fearless. I also believe failure can be good for us. But when it comes to Nameless I am terribly afraid of failure. You have been so kind to me throughout the years, but in a way your kindness only increases my burden. My first book was not a good book, in a technical sense. If I want to sell it, I have to keep its essence but discard what isn’t working. For some first books that can mean the whole thing. I’m lucky that I have working parts, but in general those of you still following me from the Fictionpress days remember a draft that no longer exists.

Some characters have gone away, and others have been added. Some plot lines have vanished, and new ones introduced. My writing capabilities have matured, but so have your reading tastes. I’m worried that when I finally deliver this book to you, it won’t be what you pictured in your head, and you’ll be disappointed

It is your disappointment I fear most of all.

So here is what I’d like do to, for both of us, to mediate your expectations and hopefully make it a little less scary for me to write: I want to tell you about Apprentice version.

In Apprentice version, you will still find the main characters you know and love. Of this I am certain. The Poetess and Number 23 are even more themselves now; two very complicated people struggling with powerful feelings in a rigid world. The tantalizing story of two people falling in forbidden love is still there, and I think I’ve done quite alright by it. The Poetess as you last saw her was an artist-in-residence of sorts; in this version she is the face of and spokesperson for the government, though what her position is perceived as being by the public is very different from what it is in reality.

You will find more intrigue. You might remember this as a quiet book, and it is, in a way. When you have two characters growing slowly towards each other you have to have quiet, but the plot is quicker. There’s more drama, and more political intrigue. We meet the Rebellion much sooner, and it’s a complicated movement like all movements, with some idealists and some extremists. My characters get tied up with it in new and interesting ways.

The main characters do part physically, but not for the original reason. We do visit the setting of the original third book, but we don’t spend a lot of time there. Basically the plot of the original third book is completely discarded. However, in this version we do make it to the never-before-seen West Hall. Technically, as that part is still unwritten, even I haven’t seen it yet, lol.

Some characters who were lovers are now siblings, and the characters of Carowyn, Laina, and Gapoleon have disappeared entirely (alas, poor Carowyn! I’ll find another book for you.) I won’t say much about the new characters, except that they were carefully chosen to help propel and intensify the story, and therefore I think you’ll like them.

Also, no one has AIDS.

(Forgive me my anachronisms, O gods of writing! And also my love triangles.)

[Oh God I just remembered in the first version I made Number 23 go into a coma because AIDS in order to keep him out of the way for half a book. Why do you guys even like me?]

If all that sounds fine by you (especially the AIDS part), then I’ll breathe a sigh of relief. I guess I just want to reassure you, after so long, that I still love this story and am taking care of it as best I can. I’m not going to give it to you until I think it’s ready, which I guess can be seen as comforting or infuriating. But I promise it will be finished one day.

Okay?

Okay.

 

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Let Me Give You a Christmas Present

Hello readers!

I hope those of you participating in NaNoWriMo are doing well and close to winning! I’ve had a lovely month of not participating.

I filled this month with striking the reading of Cold Mountain off my bucket list, watching 3 seasons of Dexter (which pales in comparison to Breaking Bad and American Horror Story, I am sorry to say), playing countless hours of Tropico 4, rewatching almost all the seasons of 30 Rock, crafting up a storm, and gaining back my writing energy.

I’m pleased to report all of this downtime has led to some rather excellent writing ideas, including the elusive new ending to Nameless, so I’m pretty pleased with myself.

But! I’ve been thinking about you a lot. Yes, you! I’m the sort of person that celebrates Christmas, and even if you’re not I would love to send you a holiday-type gift. So let’s have a little giveaway for my loyal readers, no advertising necessary.

Winners can choose from one of the following amazing, AMAZING books, and I will ship it to you in time for the holiday of your choice!

  1. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
  2. Any of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone books, by Laini Taylor (in case you have one or two of them and would like to own another in the series!), OR, alternately, Lips Touch Three Times.
  3. Either of the Raven Boys books, by Maggie Stiefvater
  4. Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma
  5. Any of the Graceling books by Kristin Cashore

I loved all of these and would love to share any one of them with you. On the off-chance you already own all of these we can renegotiate.

That’s it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving, for all you Americans out there, and a wonderful holiday season! My theme for this year is low-stress, and I’m doing a pretty great job so far ;-) Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off and writing!

<3, Savannah

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A Summary of NaNoWarmUp, and news about Nameless

As announced in late September, this month I’ve been co-running NaNoWarmUp with Kat Zhang. The experience has been invigorating, and I’m pleased to say I’ve added more than 25k to Nameless!

Because I still get emails, comments, and sometimes FB messages from folks asking about Nameless, I added a comprehensive timeline to the Nameless page, so you can check that out if you’re curious.

Below are my personal charts for NaNoWarmUp!

I learned something really valuable through the experience, which is causing me to skip NaNoWriMo this year: writing to a time limit, such as a sprint, makes me write crap instead of valuable stuff. The past few years I’ve used NaNoWriMo to work on Nameless, and it was always crap. This October the pressure was lighter, and now I have 25k more words, every one of which I can keep.

Kat asked me to join her in aiming for 35k in November instead of the full 50k of NaNoWriMo, but I want to take part of this month to edit through what I have, do some brainstorming, and continue to move forward. My goal is to be done with the first draft by the end of December.

In other news, I went as Joan Holloway for Halloween. My hairdresser wouldn’t let me dye my hair red, so there’s that, and my hair is so thick and glossy it just wouldn’t stay put in a french twist, but other than that I have this outfit down. You guys may not know this about me, but… I’m kind of Christina Hendricks shaped.

Earlier in the month I went to the Southern Festival of Books and got to see Kat Zhang again, albeit briefly. We attended a session about MG Fantasy, and I recognized one of the writers as the person who was the handler for Sharon Creech last year. You remember last year, when I accidentally waited for Sharon Creech to emerge from the bathroom, then awkwardly hovered for a good long while without actually getting the chance to introduce myself?

Yeahhh… So I wanted to go up and explain to this woman what had happened, except… I just sort of… ended up awkwardly hanging around YET AGAIN because she was setting up for her session and I didn’t want to go on the stage to talk to her, and so eventually I just sat back down, clouded in a shame of my own social failure.

Can’t wait to try again next year!

<3, Savannah

PS: I’m putting together a list of gifts for writers so you can flesh out your Christmas lists, so check back soon!

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Celebrating 9 Years of Novel-Writing

Today is the 9-year anniversary of the first time I finished a novel. I wish I had something more profound to say today, but the truth is my life has kicked into High-Gear Overwhelmingness.

My day job company has been moving buildings, and as the coordinator for this effort my life has been consumed by the move. The month-long process should theoretically be over this weekend, but even once all the physical items are moved there’s still the myriad issues to deal with that come with a new building and figuring out new processes.

Boring stuff aside, I have gotten to do some really fun things lately, like going up to Nashville two weeks ago for an all-day writing session with my friend Kat Zhang. I wrote 5.5k on Nameless that day, and the momentum has been carrying me forward ever since.

Or going up again last week to see Toni Morrison, my favorite author and writing idol, give a speech to Vanderbilt University (trip made possible due to the generosity of Kat). Though I was running late for yet another work event, I managed to slip into her book signing and stand two feet away from her as she signed my book. Even if we didn’t technically get to meet (the woman has more handlers and security than I thought possible), I was there, I saw her speak, and at the end of her speech she blessed the audience, so I’ve been carrying that gem around with me.

Sleeping Beauty just got back from its last critique partner so along with the conclusion of my company’s move I feel like I’m getting back to my regular groove. I’ve been Corporate!Savannah these past few weeks, and I’m excited to feel like Writer!Savannah again.

The rewrite of Nameless is going swimmingly, and I’m stunned and thrilled to learn that even after all these years the characters still have some surprises for me. I think going back to the adult category was definitely the right choice. I’ve also decided to let go of nearly a decade of ‘canon’ and just let the characters tell me what they truly want and who they truly are. I realized that when you start to write a book, your first book, at 15, and you don’t really know much about writing and character development, and so maybe you shouldn’t hold on to those long-ago established ‘facts’ if they are blocking the true story’s development.

With all the rewrites of Nameless before, I sometimes felt… icky is the best word for it, I guess. Like this was just the same old crap I’d always done, and rewording it was like putting fresh lipstick on a pig. An amazing pig, mind you ;) But outdated. No heartbeat underneath. A zombie Nameless, if you will.

This draft has life.

Over the past 9 years I’ve written 7 individual novels, and completed countless revisions and rewrites. The funny part is, when I think of myself as a writer it feels I’ve been that way for eons, but I’ve only been a novelist for approximately 9.5 years. I look at other writers I admire, Toni Morrison included, and look at how many decades they’ve spent perfecting their craft. I know I have a long way to go, and I’m actually grateful.

In the YA community especially I feel like there’s always the sense of ‘now is the only time you have’. And aside from the existential truth of that, I try to remind myself that today, this year, is not the only chance I have to be the best I can be.

All those writers I admire, who make me bemoan my own writing… they have been writing so much longer. I am so grateful for the progress I’ve made, and so excited for the hopefully many, many years to come when I can improve myself and get to the point where I feel like I’m doing my best.

Or maybe that point never comes. But doing better, definitely. Writing at a level equal with those I admire? That’s my goal.

For however long you’ve made the noveling journey with me, thank you <3

 

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Nameless and Characterization, plus some Confessions

Just wanted to share with  you all where I am with Nameless right now, and how the process is really teaching me a lesson about characterization.

(Spoiler: The lesson is that you should do it. Really. You should do it from the very beginning and not 10 years later).

When I decided to add in Number 23’s perspective, I was super excited because I could envision all of these scenes, and couldn’t wait to get down everything in his particular style. But after the first new chapter I was forced to stop, and take a huge step backwards all the way to the brainstorming stage.

I’m the kind of writer that can’t move forward until I know I have a solid base behind me. Even if I envision really cool scenes midway through or at the end, I can only write snippets and not the complete scene, because I don’t know the context. Where has the story caused them to be in the setting? What has just happened the chapter before that is fresh on their minds? There’s so much I can’t include because I just don’t know it yet. And I won’t know the previous scene until I have the one before it, etc., etc., backing all the way up to the beginning of the book.

A book is a series of causes and effects, and I have a hard time doing them out of order.

And so, I was unable to move forward with Number 23 until I knew what he and the Poetess had been up to in the previous chapter. Okay, no problem, I thought. I’ll just edit these first couple chapters really quick. After all, how much could really change? These chapters have been solid for years.

And then I realized.

When I first started writing this story, I was 15. I had read a lot, but I didn’t know anything about actual craft. So while I had these characters, they didn’t really have backstories. How did the Poetess come to be the Poetess? Not a clue. Where was her family? No idea. Who was Number 23 close to in the Barracks? Irrelevant.

For my age, for that draft… it didn’t matter. As the story evolved certain background details were woven in, but only to justify choices I’d made when I was 15. Is that really how I, or you, want this story to go?

And so, while I have written a shiny, amazing new chapter that demonstrates so much through just actions and dialogue (author win!), most of my ‘writing time’ this week has been spent brainstorming with my BFF since 8th grade.

Amber is a sociologist the same way that I am a writer, which makes her input invaluable while we are figuring out how the Nameless world would really work. She has been a reader of this story since the original draft, and my primary CP while writing the original second book, so she’s been on this journey just about as long as I have. Plus, as official BFFs, we have been endowed with magical powers, such as telepathy. It’s pretty great. No, I’m not kidding.

Anyway, Amber swears she loves this story as much as I do, though I have doubts in that regard. Still, it’s hard to deflect her protestations when she dedicates hours out of her life each week to type or skype with me, listening as I babble and making me unpack my instincts until we figure out what’s really going on. She’s amazing, I tell you, and an excellent steward for this brainstorming process.

Thanks to her, for the first time in my life I’m making a story bible, and recording the facts and details that had previously existed only in my head. Stuff like the exact structure of the government, whether rape is a thing in this society, and if so, how it is perceived, what happens to a parent’s slaves when the parent dies, etc.

This is stuff that won’t necessarily get included in the story, but is imperative to figuring out the current climate and background motivations for my characters. Clarifying where they come from and how their social backgrounds will affect them has opened up so many pathways and revelations and that it’s staggering.

It is also triggering some pretty big plot changes.

I just want to be up front with you about that. The beginning is still mostly the same, and they end up in the same place, but the reasons are different.

You guys, the reasons are better.

I would also like to confess something embarrassing about Number 23, or Shae, as he’s called later on. He was the first love interest I ever wrote. Him and the Poetess were my first couple, my first true characters, my first everything. But I never really knew him.

That’s such a weird thing to write, right? I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking, ‘what the crap are you talking about?’ but it’s true. His muteness wasn’t just to the reader, it was often to his very creator.

I can’t have a conversation with him, even in my mind, like I can with other characters. His motivation, his reasons — he keeps those close to the chest. One time I even had to go to incredible lengths to map out what I thought he was feeling in each chapter of the book, just because it was so difficult to intuit. But guessing how a character feels and knowing how they feel are two totally different things. Shae was a stranger to me.

I recognize how much of an epic fail that is (do people still say ‘epic fail’, or am I totally dating myself to the early 2000’s here?). And yet, I think Shae’s characterization has been part of the problem.

Because I didn’t know his background, because I didn’t fully allow myself to see and experience what he’d gone through, I couldn’t know his values, his boundaries, or how far he would go to protect himself. I forced him into actions that didn’t make sense, for the sake of a plot I’d already developed without his input. And because I wasn’t letting him make authentic choices, I didn’t really know who he was.

But I’ve reached a point with this story where I know that if I do not tear it down to the foundation I will never be able to fix its flaws. Part of that means letting go of how I used to think Shae would act, or trying to change his internal character to bring about plot twists I wanted him to initiate. I can’t have it both ways. I can’t have him feel a natural affinity for this woman who represents danger to him, but also have him be totally cold and focused only on his own survival.

Through his new chapters Shae is showing me parts of him I haven’t seen before, and it’s going to affect how he takes to the life of a slave, which will completely alter how he reacts to the increased role of the Rebellion in both their lives. It’s a ripple effect from there.

But don’t worry; Nameless is in good hands. At this point in time I just want to represent what’s authentic and true about this story. I’m willing to sacrifice what has historically been present for a new narrative that I think could finally present everything I ever wanted to show you. About these two characters, at least.

And so, if there are any young writers out there reading this, please learn from my lesson, and don’t forget to give your characters families, and childhoods, and friends. Learn how their backgrounds affected them, then go from there.

Trust me, it is so much easier that way.

Some fun stuff for you:

Gratitude Buddies! I thought I was a grateful person, but when you have to send 5 things you are grateful for to someone each day, and make it honest and meaningful, gratitude is hard. Here are 5 things I was grateful for the other day, addressed to Amber:

  1. A BFF who actually enjoys talking about my stories and stuff, because I have never been excited about someone else’s novel the way you are excited about mine, and that is very special.
  2. You introducing me to Alanis Morissette, which led to, among other things, the purchase of a Vegetarian cookbook from which I was cooking last night.
  3. The bluetooth speakers Chris got for Christmas that allow me to play Mumford & Sons REALLY LOUDLY when I cook.
  4. The flowers Chris and I decided I could buy every week so we always have fresh flowers in the house. So grateful for that every time I see them. I love flowers. Although it is sad to see them die.
  5. Being able to find one more of my favorite notebooks at B&N, AT A DISCOUNT.

Books & Such Blog: Wow, I have never found such a consistently fascinating and informative blog about writing. If you don’t follow this one already, start!

4 Books I’ve Loved Lately: As a writer I have a whole guilt complex in reviewing and recommending books, but these are some I read lately that I really adored:

  1. The Night Circus – read it for the beauty, for the magic.
  2. The Darkest Minds – read it for the amazing, striking ending.
  3. The Casual Vacancy – read it for the excellent characterization
  4. The Gate to Women’s Country – read it for the startling similarities to Nameless, and also the amazing revelation

Nameless Pinterest Board! It’s not very full. Finding stuff that fits is so hard.

Laini Taylor’s essays on writing. Laini Taylor is one of my writing role models, and a website devoted to her thoughts on writing still seems too good to be true.

That’s all folks.

<3, Savannah