Editing Gems

Usually people refer to the “gems” in editing in regards to moments of utter, amazing brilliance. So I have been going through my work in progress, currently titled Bloodstone, a romantic fantasy with intrigue based loosely in the 14th century, and I discovered this “gem” while editing. To give it its full impact, I quote it here unaltered, and I hope that my readers will enjoy it in its artistic and amazing beauty.

Felicity was not in bed. This was surprising, given that she had reportedly taken to long bouts of mourning and sleeping. I stepped inside, moved the curtains out of the way, and my breath caught in my throat.
There was the cloak I had sewn and Felicity had taken, sprawled across her unmoving body. A long slash was through its green-gray fabric, and that slash was wet and dark with gleaming, fresh blood. There was also a man stooping over her, checking her throat, moving aside the half-put down golden braids.
I would recognize that form anywhere.
“Sevarius.”
The word hung in midair before I knew I had said it; my lips were numb, my face was drawn, and likely pale. I couldn’t believe it. Then I remembered his enccounter with Bartholomew, the way he had taken the prince’s money, and Sevarius’s promise that there would only be one candidate for the throne.
I hadn’t thought…I hadn’t thought that Sevarius would kill Felicity. She was dumb, yes, but I thought that was all part of what made her so good to to do something gah Zech stopped me. Ahs yes she was dumb and that was what made her an ideal person to manipulate and control.
i stared at them and i realized, slowly, that yes, Sevarius had killed her. He stood up, and turned to see me.
He said, “Belle, stay right there.”
“So you can kill me, too?” I spat out the words before I gave them much thought; i was no good when I was in shock, and I did not follow Mtoher’s advice to think first. Likely I was only giving him ideas.
“There are guards outside. How did you get in?”
Like I was going to tell him now. “Secrets, my dear one. Secrets I’ll take to my grave.”
He snapped, “I’m not going to kill you.”
Funny, that. Witnesses are never good to have, particularly slaves.

Obviously, there are spelling errors, capitalization issues, and all that good stuff I am accustomed to correcting. But that right there in the center is what happens when I lose my train of thought and have to find some way, any way at all, of getting back onto that train again. Even if it means terrible, terrible sentences for the first few minutes.

Just so you know, Zech is my husband and is in no way a cameo in the tale. It is also not very often that I actually make notes like this, so it was quite jarring. Sorry, those sentences are not remaining in the actual manuscript. But I thought I would share and give people a chuckle anyway.

Finishing up Chapter 8 of Bloodstone,

–Nicolette

 

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Pantsing Plotter or Plotting Pantser

It’s long been said in many writing discussions that there are two camps of writers: Plotters (Outliners) and Pantsers (Writing by the seat of your pants). Just as long as I’ve known the terms, I’ve wondered which camp I squat in. Like many aspects of my life, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I warm my butt in one camp while roasting marshmallows in the other. Some people say that any plotting, any outline at all, makes me a plotter. Fine, fine, but know that those camp members think of me with the affection of a camp robber come to beg for scraps, or not receiving that, swiping stuff off the table and flying away again. Oh, when I say camp robber, I’m not talking about a homeless person who skulks from campsite to campsite. I’m talking about a bird.

This post is largely inspired by the project I’ve been struggling to finish. It’s gone through a lot, and I mean a lot, of revisions. I’ve tried a variety of tactics. Plotting. Pantsing. Revising. Re-ordering. Scrapping, starting over, trying to impose order on it later. My poor husband has often declared, “Just finish it already!”

I’d love to. I would. But every time that I read it, it said something that was good (or goodish) but not right. It was the wrong story, sometimes being told with the right characters, sometimes being told with some of the right plot beats. I would also love to just scrap it and continue on with my life, but this is one of those stories which has been maturing in my head since 2010. I didn’t realize it until I was going through my old papers, and I found the synopsis for the story I would write and re-write in 2013 and 2014. I also found two other attempts to write it dating 2011 and 2012.  The early renditions were with different character names and the world was different enough that I knew I had not actually tried to write the same story. Three times in my life I wrote what I thought were three different stories, but they were really the same tale trying to come out of my subconscious again and again. In 2013, I added a fourth time I thought I was generating new material but in reality I was expanding on previous attempts.  The plot felt forced and I decided to re-write throughout 2013 and again this year, but it was only this year that I saw all those old renditions, and I knew this is one of those stories that I have to tell.

When I realized this, I opened up another new document (yes, I know!) and I remembered what was important from all those other times. And I started writing.

I had no outline for the first 6 chapters, and frankly I got stuck on Chapter 4 until I forced myself to type out 7,000 words in one day. That gave me a kick start, and had me clipping along until Chapter 6, when I made a brief list of what needed to happen, and I ordered them chronologically according to the cause-effect relationship. Then I wrote those out. I finished up those scenes on Chapter 9, and in Chapter 10 I realized I was plotting knocking over the metaphorical dominoes. I was only on Chapter 10, it was too early to start whacking them down. Yesterday I wrote another list of scenes. Today I realized half of them were settings, and not scenes, and the other half were events without the need for a particular setting. So I paired them up. Hence “cleaning the streets up after the storm” combined with “brief meeting with Resistance”–let’s face it, an organized meeting of the Resistance is a sure-fire way to get caught, whereas a less-than-chance meeting in a busy setting makes a deal of sense. And then I started to fill in the gaps, and included in the scene describing what is important that happens. Suddenly I have a paragraph narrating what happens in the next 14 beats. Add 14 to 10, and you get 24 chapters. I was planning on having this be approximately 25 chapters, at about 3,000 words in a chapter or about 75,000 words for a book. This fits my ideal range of between 60,000 – 90,000 words. It’s what my mother would call “a vacation book”, something which may be read in a couple of days with plenty of time to do other things.

You can see how I debate if I’m writing by the seat of my pants, or actually plotting. I do a lot of both. I think that plotting is more efficient, but I also think that I get more rewards by pantsing. What about you guys? Do  you outline, or do you just take the leap?

-Nicolette

Missing My Writing Buddy

The worst part about moving abroad may surprise my readers. I miss friends and family, of course, but not nearly as much as I miss one particular individual. Her name is Terra, and she is the dog my husband and I adopted when we were only four month’s married. She became My Dog. She’s a blue heeler, a breed known to be “one man dogs”, which means that unlike your standard ‘love everybody’ labrador, blue heelers bond almost exclusively with The One. They understand family very well, and have a tendency to do things like herd children to keep them safe, or just move them where the dog thinks children should be. They will obey other members of the family.

But they only truly trust and believe in The One. They worship The One. They will do absolutely anything and everything for The One. They never, ever want to be separate from The One.

Which is why I feel so wretchedly guilty for leaving her behind.

She knew that my husband would go for weeks or months at a time, but she also understood that he would come back. It was the nature of his job. When he left, she always upped the security measures. People who were used to ‘love-me dogs’ were often frightened of her. She hackled and she barked, and she sounded like she meant it because she really did. We knew that we were getting a dog of a very protective dog breed, and we wanted that. My husband left for weeks or months at a time, and I lived alone in the country. I was an experienced dog handler and she was very responsive to my commands.

Terra’s job was to guard me, but that was a more peripheral duty. Most of the time, she was my friend and my writing buddy. Being an active, working breed she had this incredible energy level and would run from dawn till about one or two AM. She made sure I went out on walks. She was my shadow. Loved balls. Not so much the water. Loved to hate skunks. Adored her cat. Liked to operate on her stuffed toys to make them ‘skinny’, and I say operate because she would hold her toy very carefully and use her teeth to snip an inch of the seam open, and then pull every last bit of stuffing out of her toy through that one inch hole. It took about an hour for a medium sized stuffed toy.

She would do this for hours while I typed. When it was cold and the wind blew through the gaps in the house, we fought for the space right in front of the heater. She would try to crawl into my lap if the computer wasn’t there. Often she snuggled against my shoulder. Terra had a funny way of sitting, rolled back up on her tailbone so her legs sprawled out like a toad or something, and she would lean against me. That was her cuddle. A lean while she breathed this raspy breath, which there was no medical reason for, she just made noises when she was bored.

During the summers she drove me insane by going to the top of the stairs and licking the dust off every rise and rung, missing the corners but licking everything else. She would do this for hours. Eventually, she started to lick the faux wood panelling, too, and sometimes when she was on the top stair she would lick the ceiling. No clue why. She just did. Tried for a few weeks to break her of this, but in the end we just let it happen, even though it drove me insane.

Now I’m still typing. Sometimes cuddled next to the heater. Sometimes not. I’m constantly reminded of her, there’s a scar across the back of my hand nearly two inches long. It’s from the collar strangulation event, when she freaked while suffocating and bit me instead of her doofus playmate. After I got her collar off, she smelled my blood and did her best to hide beneath the bed, and she stayed there for a very long time. I typed one-handed for a while, until the scab healed. She was by my side the whole time, and tried to lick my hand every chance she got.

I remember staring at her sometimes, and I would wonder…I would wonder what if I hadn’t unsnapped her collar? If I’d waited until she passed out? From what I read on forums about the outcomes of blacked-out dogs and collar strangulation, it seems to be about 50/50 if the dog lived or died. The same as biting or not biting. By risking a wound, I ensured her life. If I hadn’t, I would have been risking her’s. Not that I did any of this during the event, it all happened so fast, but…I wondered. I wondered what it would have been like to have had to bury my friend. More than my friend, basically my child, she acted identical to a four-year-old, she just ate non-people food and I didn’t have diapers.

She’s living with my parents on their farm right now. She still thinks it is her duty to guard the house, and my mother in particular, and she is best buddies with my brother and pals around with my father. They take her to feed cows. Blue heelers are cow dogs, but I did not raise her around them. When we did have cattle around, I made certain she knew that the she did not herd them. Strangely, she also understood the fence boundaries and that the cows were not supposed to go outside those boundaries without having people move them. It only took me two or three times of incessant barking before I realized that was how she told me that the cows had busted a fence.

Now she seems to think that her duty is to be on the back of the flatbed truck and keep the cows from sticking their noses up there to snatch a bite. My family uses small 90-pound rectangular bales, and you cut two strings and feed it off in sections to the cows. Some cows get pushy and try to eat before the bale is even cut. Others will push the slices of hay back onto the bed. It actually does make feeding a little bit of a pain. So, my parents are rather tickled to have a dog to keep the cows back a little. Terra is fine with the cows eating the hay once it is on the ground, but not while it is on the truck.

There’s this fluffy, old, old orange cat who mostly lives inside the house now. He was never one to like change or strangers, but he has always held a particular hatred for Terra. He seems to like to jump out of the coat closet to attack her, then spring back into the closet again. My parents also have a white labrador called Louisa who has what Dad calls a Sorority Girl Complex. I was never into the sorority/fraternity culture, but Louisa reminds him of the sorority girls back in the day who were too good for everyone else. Terra and Louisa tolerate one another. Neither have had to live in a household with another female dog. That is a source of tension, but they are getting along better if fed in separate rooms.

My parents also recently discovered that Terra bays at coyotes. The blue heeler breed comes from a mixing of dog and dingo, so I suspect that the coyotes are triggering some of the dingo pack instincts. The coyotes usually like to howl at dusk, midnight, and sometime around 3 AM. Each pack favors a different time, and when one group starts up, the surrounding groups join in. Most dogs ignore them. Terra feels she has to relay to those coyotes loud and clear that the dingo-dog is here.

So, yes, I miss her. I miss her leaning against me while I type on the floor. I miss her strange, very vocal breathing. I miss the comfort of knowing that I have a body guard every time I open the door. I miss the tricks we taught her–spin, bang, roll over, jump, bounce, shake, other paw, who’s there, where’s the cat, do you want a treat, over, through, under, stop, wait…wow, we taught her a lot, and that was in addition to the basic commands.

Some days I think to myself that this, right here, right now, is how it would have been if she’d died. This silence. This void.

And then I think, I’ll bet she still licks the stairs.

Know what? She does. And maybe, maybe she understands that like my husband, it’s a matter of time before I see her again.

-Nicolette

The Coffee Incident

I am relocating my workspace from the living room to the spare room upstairs. This has largely come to happen following the Coffee Incident. It could more accurately titled, Husband Wants Attention, or Mocha Meets Towel, but in my mind it shall always be called the Coffee Incident.

As a married, childless graduate student, my husband sometimes does interesting things. Men in general have an innate tendency to do amusing, blog-post worthy things, at least the men that I’ve chosen to associate myself with, but I’m told even ‘normal’ men tend to have their fair share of highly interesting events. Note please that I am not saying this in a bad way. Like I said, I tend to gravitate towards men who have more of these peculiar incidences than may be called normal, so clearly my subconscious must find some appeal in it.

As is common in the world of academia, students and teachers alike work hard and have uber long breaks in between semesters. We’re talking a month long vacation for Christmas. This was fine when we were both in college, but now that he’s in university and I’m writing (usually at home), it means that I’m working and he isn’t. This usually isn’t much of a road block for us, but after two or three weeks of me trying (and somewhat failing) to write, I began to ignore him. It is easier to ignore my friend’s five year old.

One morning, I was just really getting into writing, I’d done about three hundred words, and I was finally on a roll. He strolls out of the shower. I ignore him. He tries a ‘Hey Babe’ line (that may or may not have been the exact words), and I might have given him a scowl in reply. After a week of constant interruptions and managing to hardly write anything at all, I was in no mood for distractions or wooing.  Now, we’re both stubborn people. Like, really, really stubborn who make stubborn people comment on how stubborn we are. In keeping with our shared nature, I did not soften, I wanted to write, and he did not get discouraged, nothing discourages the manly-man.

What happened next was funny, after I’d gotten over my week or so of being utterly annoyed.

He yanked off his towel and did a towel-whip, with complete hip-thrusting and outstretched arms. No point in doing something if you’re only going to do it half-way, right?

Now if that had been all that had happened, I would have hardly looked at him. But, no. The towel caught my coffee and sent it in an arc down the table, the shelf under the table, and all over my clothes. Shirt, pants, even my socks. Nothing was safe from the beverage, except thankfully the computer itself.

My husband had not intended to knock over the coffee, obviously. He somehow had missed it laying on the table in open view? The entire mess was a huge surprise to him, and he suddenly had the air of a kid who was caught doing something they knew was dumb, but did it anyway with predictable results in full view of adults. I’ll be completely honest at this point–only raising two puppies and being a substitute teacher enabled me to convert my amusement over his shock into annoyance. Because you don’t reward bad behavior with laughter. You just don’t, unless you want to encourage it.

I had to work fast to rescue the computer mouse from a puddle of cocoa, because this is me we’re talking about and I usually like an extra boost of endorphins in my coffee. It also made it more difficult to clean up. Since the sweater I was wearing happened to be all wool, it couldn’t go in the washing machine (I don’t allow it, that cableknit is too pretty to be felted), it meant I had to wash it in the bathtub. Four dry-clean only pillows followed when I realized how far the coffee had gone. All my clothes had to be washed, in addition to my skin. And the floor had to be scrubbed, same with the shelf and the table. All this time, I was amazed how far 6 oz of liquid could go. How was it physically possible to do so much damage?

Upon talking with my husband while cleaning up, it became all too clear that in his mind, when I’m home, I’m not working, and therefore am free game for interaction. He felt guilty about the spill, but I realized that the time had come for me to etch out a completely private space which was out of the way where I could “go to work”.

There is a spare bedroom upstairs, with a closet with a shelf, a bed which takes up most of the space, and that’s it. I moved my books and various art supplies and project folders onto the shelf, and it’s actually orderly. Since I’m keeping up with my drawing a day (so it’s burst drawing, I skip a few days then frantically catch up…it all counts, right?), it means I have a lot of random drawings to display and no money to buy frames or indulge in any cool idea. Plus, the whole renting thing makes me not want to plug holes in the walls. So, I Blu-Tack the drawings straight to the wall in rows. It’s actually looking good. Gives the room an art-studio vibe, but my husband says he won’t be impressed until the whole wall is covered in drawings. Challenge accepted.

Currently I’m trolling the used furniture stores for a sofa table or computer desk to stick up there, and then a chair and I’ll be good. Presently the computer is on a coffee table and I sit on pillows on the floor, so I’m looking forward to this upgrade. I’ll do a picture of how the office ends up looking. For now, you know the story behind how I got a room of my own.

-Nicolette

Why I Blog

When I began blogging, I had no idea what I was doing.

No, no. Let that sit in a while longer.

I had *no idea* what I was doing. I don’t mean this in the offhanded, playful way I sometimes do. I mean that I knew I had tried and failed a “this is what I’m up to” style blog once in college. I wrote three posts, and forgot about it.

When I decided I wanted to be a writer, chief among top advice was to start up a blog. So I picked a pen name and opened up a blog. Beyond the ‘Hello, World!’ post, I had no idea what I was going to post about. Writing? What about it? Technical matters, things I could research and chew on, just…stuff. I kept on plodding on, figuring that at some point things would start to make sense.

The one thing I felt I did right was keeping it real. To write about what it was honestly like to write. To be honest about the ups and the downs, and sometimes the ‘I Ate Mud Pie and Discovered It was Made of Worse Things Than Mud’ moments.

The best thing I ever did for my blog was not write it for the public. Not write it for myself, because I tend to place other people’s needs first. The best thing I did was pretend I was writing to a friend. Not just any friend, mind you, a particular friend, one with a face and a name, a person who very much exists in real life.

Know what? There are other people who like the way I talk to this friend and they like to read my blog.

I don’t have a huge traffic flow. I write to a small group of readers. I used to think that I needed to have hundreds of visitors a day. I tried that for a while. I did get them, but they went away again. Know why? Because mine is not the Mass Population Blog. It’s the ‘cozy pull a chair up to the fire’ blog. It’s the blog where I roast marshmallows and tell stories.

My visitors stay longer when they pop by. Twenty or more posts per visitor sometimes, more often around 5 posts, but even so. Know how long it takes to read that much material? Yep, it can take quite a while.

My motivation for posting is now to keep my friend updated. That means I don’t neglect my blog for too long, that I can pick my topics better. A secondary motivation is to keep my posting more regular, and this works hand in hand with another goal: To keep up with doing my Doodles. I use them as images for my posts. So, if I go through all my images, it means I need to draw more. Since I post less frequently than I am supposed to draw, I shouldn’t run out of images to use. My habits are self-enforcing in this way.

This is why I blog.

I hope to see all you guys later in 2014.

TTYL,

-Nicolette