plant-a-tree-today

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

plant-a-tree-today

New Zealand in Pictures

So apparently the trick to letting wordpress upload my pictures is not to upload the original large-res pics, but instead individually save pictures from Google Photos (NOT downloading them, as you get the same issue) and then uploading those lower-res pics, which wordpress will accept. The more you know!

Anyway, here’s the New Zealand trip in select pictures:

First up, Team Shitty First Draft takes Australia!

tsfd

Continue reading “New Zealand in Pictures”

plant-a-tree-today

A Wedding, and New Zealand!

Life has been very good — and very busy! — over the last few months. First up — my sister got married this weekend!

995651_10202730797058671_2746641623143057027_n

The ceremony took place at my family’s stables, with reception in my parents’ backyard. It was lovely and filled with light, but best of all it was filled with family!

10703667_10202919507332247_939508975045776244_n

Here’s me with some of my cousins (and an aunt!) up in Nashville two days before the wedding. Most of the family flew into Nashville the first night so we went up and stayed with them, and partied on Broadway. Let’s just say much fun was had by all, and leave it at that.

My family is big, and loud, and full of love (and partying!). One of my favorite parts of the wedding reception was dancing down a line of clapping relatives and getting goofy with it. The photographer was snapping away like mad so I should have some delightfully ridiculous photographs to show you eventually.

New Zealand

Long story short, my sister (not the one who got married) has an opportunity to live with and learn from an amazing horsewoman in New Zealand who has stayed with our family before, so I agreed to accompany my sister over to New Zealand and get her settled in for her two-month-long stay. We leave in two weeks!

This will be my first real out of the country experience (I went to Canada once as a kid, before they required passports, so that doesn’t really count) and I’m thrilled nearly almost unto death!

Any followers in New Zealand, or Sydney for that matter? My sister and I have a 13-hour layover in Sydney and we’re doing a whirlwind tour!

Writing

Except for an interlude for the wedding, writing is going very well! I’m working on edits for Cobworld and still brainstorming on Shotgun Girl, but it’s all taking form. I was hoping to be able to work on Shotgun Girl for NaNoWarmUp, but unfortunately with the edits and the traveling (!!!!!) I don’t think that will take place. But here’s the current playlist for Shotgun Girl if you’re curious!

Talk to you soon!

<3, Savannah

PS: Here’s a ‘before and after’ on my wedding hair! The hairspray/teasing combo gave me hard little hair nuggets that took two shampoos, a hair mask, and brushing in the shower to get it all out! Worth it though :)

wedding hair

plant-a-tree-today

Chicago, Edits, and a New Story

Friends, please forgive me. I’m just not in a chatty mood lately. I suspect it has to do with the new story I’m incubating. So here’s my monthly update, short and sweet, and even some info about said new story:

Writing

I finished my second round of edits with THE COBWORLD, did a whirlwind edit on A CURSE OF ROSE AND SNOW, and now I’ve moved on to a new project whose code name is Shotgun Girl. (I have a real title for it, but I’m more comfortable just calling it Shotgun Girl for right now.)

You might remember that story from this post, where it was briefly mentioned as an idea I hadn’t quite developed yet. Well a few months ago some more ideas came to me, and I’ve been slowly working out a plot for the book [series?] ever since. In fact, I feel pretty committed to this project, but I’m trying that thing where I keep the details pretty locked down, so though I have a pinterest board I don’t feel ready to debut it yet.

The secrecy is one of the new methods I’m excited and slightly nervous to try. Other methods include brainstorming by post it note, and writing in third person instead of first.

When I can, I spend my weekend mornings and my lunch hours at a local Cafe 153, where I order a dirty chai with 1 shot of espresso (highly recommend!) and brainstorm in a fabulous new colorful notebook. It’s great fun to fill such a lovely notebook with dark topics such as wizard bones and death magic and damaged girls wielding shotguns.

Usually I look to Laini Taylor as my role model in writing, but for this project I’m looking to Maggie Stiefvater and Holly Black. This will also be my first time delving into urban fantasy. Wish me luck!

Chicago

I was graciously, generously invited on a trip to Chicago, where I had All the Fun and did All the Things.

IMG_20140724_140600
Lunch at the top of the Hancock Tower. Best crab cakes I ever had. The bathrooms had floor to ceiling windows, too!

I lived in a suburb near Chicago for the year leading up to my high school graduation, and returning was… odd. I didn’t particularly care for my time in Illinois, and so unlike visiting my home state of Washington being in Chicago made me feel slightly paranoid, as if I was in danger of being stuck there again.

Returning to the green hills of Alabama was a relief :-) I had so many stereotypes of Alabama in my head when we first moved here, and it’s been a wonderful surprise to find that I love it here so much. I can’t even say what’s so great about it; it’s just pleasant in so many different little ways, including the weather, the people, the food, and the fact that they actually have hills!

A particular highlight from the Chicago trip was getting to eat some new foods, including real ramen!

IMG_20140723_172146
Ramen at The Slurping Turtle!

Chris and I watched the David Chang reality show (called The Mind of a Chef – I highly recommend!) on Netflix and were fascinated by the episode on ramen, so trying authentic ramen in Chicago was a must. If you can call ramen in America ‘authentic’, which according to David Chang, you can’t.

In other food brags, I drank Guiness at an Irish pub and ate Irish sausage and blood pudding for the first time, both of which were fantastic. I’m suffering terrible cravings now that I’m in Alabama where we don’t have any of that stuff :(

In other favorite moments, I learned how to use a heat wand to curl my hair!

IMG_20140725_083317
Selfie in the hotel to show off my hair.

I also spent the trip severely appreciative of the fact that I’ve now lost around FORTY POUNDS, and was able to rock some awesome new dresses and shirts in sizes smaller than I had to wear just a few months ago. I’m gearing up for a Color Run at the end of September. Excited/nervous!

Oh man, we did so much stuff… saw the Blue Man Group, went to a Cubs game and ate real hotdogs, visited the Field Museum and the Art Institute, but I think my favorite was the very hurried morning at Lincoln Park Zoo. I wish we’d had more time, because I would have loved to spend all day there. I can’t get over how wonderful it was, and this from someone who grew up going to the fabulous Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. But did I mention the Lincoln Park Zoo is FREE? It’s funded almost entirely on donations. Just amazing.

Meercats
For example, I would have liked to have spent an hour or so just watching these little guys run around!

Other Life

After twelve years, six of which he spent with me, my wonderful boyfriend Chris is finally graduating with his Bachelor’s Degree :D

The graduation party is this Saturday, and I’d just like to say publicly how proud I am of Chris for his hard work and sacrifice, particularly over these last 2 years where he worked full time and attended school full time. He did it to make our life together better, and I can’t wait to celebrate his accomplishment this weekend with our friends and family. We will hopefully have more exciting news to come after that!

10409474_10152351326924055_6640941134100290332_n
My sister, Chris, and I at the family stables on July 4th

I hope your summer is going as smoothly and productively as mine!

<3, Savannah

PS: I’m getting ready for Halloween! Guesses as to what this costume’s for?

IMG_20140712_121814

plant-a-tree-today

Dropping out of NaNo, and I’m taking the Big Apple!

Well I might as well make it official. Despite how much I love it and how outspoken I’ve been about it this year, I have to drop out of NaNoWriMo.

My reason is simple, and the best one of all: revising other projects to make them more sell-worthy.

After speaking to my agent, I’m putting down NAMELESS for a bit and preparing  my zombie book, THE DEAD-FILLED HALLS for her eyes. I need to add a few chapters to the beginning (the first chapter excerpt I shared will no longer be the first chapter).

Then it’s moving on to the sleeping beauty retelling :-) I’m adding in a few things, doing some slight world-building changes, and modifying the somewhat-heavy middle section. If I’m a very good writer I think I can be done by the end of the year and return to writing brand new NAMELESS stuff.

Which leads to my next point: I’m going to NYC! My sister and I will be in the city from Dec 8th to 12th. I’ve already made plans to meet up with my fellow LTWF Sammy Bina, who works for a high-profile literary agency.

I went to NYC once when I was 13 and did all the touristy stuff; this trip is more about visiting family and hanging out (read: shopping).

I’m not really one of those people that romanticizes NY. True, I had the bug when I was 17 for about 6 months, but it’s passed. I blame Sex & the City. Yes I know how pathetic that is.

And yet NY is still one of those places I visit frequently in my dreams, so I’m particularly excited about going back and seeing it now that I’m an adult and can wander off and explore on my own. Plus it’s a city known for growing writers and hosting both publishers and agencies, which makes it part of the culture surrounding my passion. You could call it the holy land for American writers.

I guess it’s about time I made the pilgrimage :-)

plant-a-tree-today

Writer’s Retreat Recap!

As I mentioned previously, I spent last week with Sarah Maas, Susan Dennard, Kat Zhang, and Biljana Likic from Let The Words Flow!

The trip was amazing. We stayed at this awesome beach house right on the coast, went to Harry Potter World in Orlando, and even met up with a fan of the blog for lunch/book shopping! You can see all the pictures from the trip here on my Facebook.

The most amazing part was how we managed to spend 6 days together and not run out of stuff to talk about as it relates to writing. From the projects we’re working on to anecdotes about querying and publishing, I learned sooo much and felt so grateful to be privy to this wisdom.

However, the trip was fraught with some weird bad luck. First Biljana’s plane got delayed and she almost had to spend the night in Atlanta (having done this before, let me say it’s airport hell on earth), then a ride broke down at HP world, Billy got stung by a jellyfish, and I realized I’d left my laptop and reading material at Susan’s house (not to mention the van broke down as we were trying to get home).

Cue gasp of horror. I’ve never been on vacation without something to read, or at least something to write on. Thankfully, after lunch with our fan, Sydney, we went to a Barnes & Noble and I was able to buy a notebook, which I quickly filled with 2,000 words of the zombie novel.

A snapshot of how crazily I filled this notebook. A page was about 250 words… that’s a lot of pages!

I know I said I had to put it aside, but I’m in this weird limbo right now where I can’t work on anything else so I might as well write on the zombie book since I know I want to sell it eventually.

Just in case anyone was wondering… Harry Potter world was awesome! They have a village set up just like Hogsmeade. We all got butterbeer (it was disgusting), and waited in line for 2 hours just to ride the Hogwarts Adventure ride. It was worth it, though I wouldn’t do it again. We were literally dripping with sweat and in the longest line I have ever seen in my life.

Later we discovered we are all screamers as we went on a log ride that left us absolutely soaked, then on a dragon roller coaster that left us all with headaches and sore voices. But that didn’t stop Billy, Susan, and I from riding the Hulk, where we screamed so loud Sarah and Kat on the ground knew which coaster was ours.

Here’s the girls with our fan (I was taking the picture). From left to right: Sarah Maas, Susan Dennard, Biljana Likic, Sydney, Kat Zhang.

Here’s all of us taking a picture with Mandy Hubbard’s newest release, RIPPLE!

The oddest thing about the vacation was how in-withdrawal we all felt after leaving. You mean I’m not going to be able to see my writer friends as soon as I wake up tomorrow? Sad. :(

But on the other hand, I really missed Chris and wanted to come home and be with him and get back on a regular writing schedule again (with my beloved laptop).

Also, I have a really funny Teaser Tuesday to share with you all, so tune in next week to read the first fantasy story I ever wrote!

plant-a-tree-today

Life and Novel Update!

Today I sent the finished version of Roses of Ash to my agent! Hooray! It feels so good to finally get it off my chest. ROA went through four CPs and underwent some small character modification and word choice issues. Definitely the easiest draft of something I’ve ever had to edit.


Thank you Rose, for being the easiest character to work with :-)

With it went a few ideas for new stories, including the Steampunk Cinderella, but also one I haven’t told you guys about yet. So I’m going to do so now :-)

Chris and I have been playing Left 4 Dead, and one night when I had what I think is my first case of insomnia, the plot for a book just jumped into my head: It’s a YA about a girl struggling to escape from her high school after it is locked down during the Zombie Apocalypse. Sort of like The Breakfast Club with zombies :D

After ROA and Nameless, I think this might be the one I work on next, postponing Steampunk Cinderella (provided Teh Agent gives her approval, of course). The reason being that Cinderella still needs a lot of world-building I don’t have quite yet, and the plot is still a little fuzzy, whereas the Zombie novel has a complete plot and will be of a genre and POV I’m more comfortable with. Plus I’ve wanted to do a contemporary for a while, mostly because I feel disinterested in contemporary as a whole and want to test myself by seeing how well I do writing in the ‘real world’.

Side note: Here lies the reason why lots of writers don’t talk about what they’re working on until it’s finished… projects get reshuffled and cancelled all the time.

Plus, did I mention I’m MIND-BOGGLINGLY EXCITED about working on a zombie book?! I’ve had a fascination with zombies for years (you can read about my zombie issues in this article here). What I love about zombie pieces is the tension that flows through them… you never know what’s going to be around the next corner. World War Z by Max Brooks is one of my absolutely favorite books of all time… I have zombie anthologies, zombie movies… I even watch zombie short films on youtube. I’ll post a longer book summary later on this week so you guys can have knowledge of the awesomeness of this plot :-)

In other news… I’m going on a writer retreat! With the other girls from Let The Words Flow! Next week!

I’m meeting up with Kat Zhang, Susan Dennard, Sarah Maas, and Biljana Likic in Jacksonville, Florida. We’re staying in a beach house on the coast and going to Harry Potter world!

I’ve been looking forward to this for seven months. I lost 15 pounds for the summer and have collected fabulous sangria and cooking recipes to make for the girls. Can’t even contain my excitement! While I’ve never been to Jacksonville, I imagine it looks something like this:

I will definitely take tons of pictures of HP World and share them with you :-)