Let The Games Begin: Candidate #1

If you aren’t sure what’s going on here, please read this first.

The story intros will be offered up in no particular order. There are seven candidates. I quite literally used a random number generator to choose which to do first.

First up is the intro to an adult (adult as opposed to YA, not THAT kind of adult) sci fi concept centered around a young slave who discovers a way to use her master’s own desires against him–and change the world in the process (hm. I seem to have this thing about slaves & changing the world. I’m going with it anyway). Here you go. (UPDATE: I’ve modified this since first posting, in response to outstanding feedback. This new version is shorter & gives away less, and I think it’s better. Enjoy.)

Art by Mandy Tsung http://mayhemandmuse.com/mandy-tsung-paints-the-art-of-sensuality/

Art by Mandy Tsung http://mayhemandmuse.com/mandy-tsung-paints-the-art-of-sensuality/

Working Title: Slave Chip

Mother was gone to town the day Asha’s code was transferred. She had known this sort of thing could happen to a person, but it was not the sort of thing that happened to her. She was the charmed one. She was the one who had inherited all her mother’s best traits, tempered by her father’s. Beauty, wit, charm, and a hefty dose of good luck.

That morning there had been just enough sugar and flour to bake a tart with the cherries from the tree outside the kitchen window, and Asha had been the one to find the wooden whistle Mother baked into it. Having seen thirteen summers already, Asha was a little old for the toy, so she licked it clean and gave it to little Horace to blow, and got a sweet sticky kiss in exchange.

Lately there had been a lot of parties at the big house, parties where Asha had danced and been celebrated as the belle of the ball. Standing in the hall outside the parlor of the big house, little Irena in her arms, Asha was still blissfully unaware that those parties had been designed to make her master rich off her sale price.

The master and his guest would be arriving soon, but for a few precious moments she and Nan, the housemaid, could gossip and giggle.

Ten summers later, she would still remember every detail of that morning. How the sun had slanted through the Smartglass windows, striping the wall with light. How Irena’s chubby arms had wrapped around her neck, and the dampness of her delicate curls after their walk across the hot compound. The baby smell of her skin coated with drying sweat.

When the master called for Asha, she handed Irena over to Nan. Asha smiled at Irena’s pout, and later wished she had kissed her one last time before entering the parlor.

Of course, there was no physical sensation associated with the code change. The only evidence was that when her new master Dexel ordered her to his shuttle, Asha found she had no desire to resist. It felt to her as though she wished, with all her heart, to forever leave behind her baby sister. And Mother. And Father who was kind and generous and the cherry tree and the whistle and the kitchen window with herbs drying over the sink and all the little siblings she had helped to care for all their lives–and to walk down that path and up into the elaborate private shuttle that would take her away, without even saying goodbye.

Game of Intros

By popular request (actually, by one request, that’s you Jaimie): The Game of Intros!

Here’s How It Works:

Over the next few days/weeks/however long, I’ll be posting the introductory scenes from several stories I’ve started and aborted over the past several years. ONE of them will be my next project, and will eventually (probably) end up a finished work.



1. There are no rules. These are just guidelines on ways you can be helpful in your feedback.

2. Feel free to comment or respond in any way you like to each entry. However, a few things I’m NOT looking for at this stage are: Grammatical feedback, ways to tighten the verbiage or sentence structure, line edits. I mean, if you want to tell me those things, by all means. It’s just not what I’m looking for. Yet.

3. Please DO tell me your gut reaction: Is this a story you would read? Are you eager to hear the rest? Is it your *type* of story?

4. I also want to know what your expectations are after reading each intro: What type of story you think it’s going to be, what questions you already have about the story, which character(s) you especially like/don’t like, etc.

5. Be brutally honest. It will do me no good to hear “It’s great, I love it!” about every single thing I ever write. If you don’t like ANYTHING I write, then you probably won’t help me much by telling me so. But if you like some things and not others THAT is useful information. I will appreciate it served straight up.

6. If you have a favorite, feel free to be vocal about it. At the end, I’ll ask you to tell me your top choice, but you can state your feelings on the matter at any time.

How The Winner Will Be Chosen

1. The decision will be highly subjective.

2. Based on perceived enthusiasm for any one story.

3. And what kind of mood I’m in when I decide to get started on the next project.

Everything clear?

Let the games begin–and may the odds be ever in your favor! Or the favor of the story most likely to be fun to write and engage a wide and enthusiastic audience while netting a hefty advance to the author! One or the other!

P.S. I’ll post the first sample tomorrow maybe. Look out for it.

*Sort of. No promises. However, all of these projects are hand-picked favorites of mine, and I’m excited about each of them. So whatever the general consensus finds most intriguing is likely to be pursued.

Which One

Sneak peak…

Green Fingernails

I discovered something about myself:

I in fact do NOT enjoy revisions more than first drafts.

I thought I did. I thought it would be easier, for one thing, going back through what I had done, falling in love with my story all over again, making it better.

It turns out that revising a novel-length story is hell. Illustration: Here is something I wrote while in the throes of revision.

I’m lying on a little sofa in a too-cold room trying to decide whether to meditate, create something, or click aimlessly around the Internet.


Feeling insecure.


Wanting to curl up in a ball under the covers and go to sleep because that’s what I do when I’ve convinced myself I’m not good enough not good enough not good enough.


My novel sucks. Maybe all my novels will suck. I’m scared I can’t make money at it. Scared life will always be hard hard hard.


I’m tired, too.


Life is always hard, isn’t it? Does it ever get better? Somebody tell me it gets better because I haven’t seen it in a long long time.


I want to send my novel draft to someone who will KNOW and who will be BRUTALLY HONEST: Will it work? Will it sell? Will it be awesome?


And I don’t want to do that. What if they say no, it’s not awesome. What if it’s ordinary, run-of-the-mill. What if it is? What if I can never ever make a living that way?


What would I do? What would I do if my novel career could never ever work. What would I do?


I want to build something make something create something that no one has ever created before.


Maybe it would be good to start taking my meds again*.

Told ya. Hell. Today I started drafting again. Same work in progress, just the section that’s never had a first draft, the denouement. So I’m actually writing, not revising. And here is what that feels like:


Remember how I used to write in this blog every single day? And then it got slower and slower and slower? Notice how the slower portions correlate to times when I’m revising, versus drafting? Notice how there just aren’t as many resources out there to help authors with the revision process? Even the Stephen Kings & the Anne Lamotts & those other bright and shining angels don’t talk as much about it.


I think there must be some sort of brain sciency thing that goes on. It’s a different place to be, mentally. It’s hard to create when you’re so busy tearing down and rearranging.

And it’s creating that gives you the high. That gives me the high, anyway.

Anyway. Today I wrote a new chapter, the denouement for Semantha. And it’s pretty cool. If I do say so myself. It sets her and her counterpart–the general–up for the next book, while simultaneously creating a satisfying ending for her in this book. And it’s neat because something new happens, something unexpected and yet organic to the characters & the plot. It even surprised me.

Heather with green fingernails

She said: Do you want something pale, something neutral? I said: Green, please.

On a related note, last night I read the first several chapters of my book to the kids. They’ve been begging for it, and I’ve been unable to comply, too caught up in revisions to want to think about reading any of it aloud. The first four chapters they had heard before, in rough draft version. But the fifth–featuring Semantha–was new to them.

They said they love Semantha best. Maybe because she’s more like them–an ordinary kid with an ordinary family and an ordinary teen’s “as if” attitude. Maybe because Semantha’s the only character who is making her own things happen, instead of things happening to which she has to react. An agent of her own change.

Maybe just because it’s a fresh chapter, a new take on a character, something they hadn’t read before.

And maybe that’s why writing is so much more fun than revising. I like Semantha best today too.

P.S. I got a manicure yesterday (for, let’s see, the second time in my life). This fact, and the picture of me looking horrified (because green fingernails: Who does that?) has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with this story. But I can force it to, if you like. It’s symbolic. Of something. Me learning to have fun? Taking life less seriously? Taking care of myself? I love my green fingernails. Love them. They make me smile. Sort of like writing does. But not revising. Revising does not make me smile. Green fingernails do. Connection. See?

*I don’t actually take any meds. Maybe I should.

In Case You Need to Know

Proof positive. Found this while cleaning out our flooded basement: A letter to my grandparents, circa 1984ish, from when I was 10-11-12ish.



Dear grandma and grandpa Wardlow,

I enjoyed that card and read that letter.

I had a slumber party and couldn’t get to sleep for all the noise, and in the morning I couldn’t get awake for all the quiet. ha! ha!

at horse back riding I was one allowed to take the horses out to the field with Tina, (the stable girl) it was dark and, I took out my favourite horse, rustler, who is very comfortable bareback.

NOW, for the BIG part of the letter, story time!

Jill chapter one

“Jill, Jill,” whispered a soft voice, from outside, it was just her brother!

Ever since Jill had moved into the haunted house as it was said to be, she had been scared by Tim lots, of course he didn’t do it on purpose, but he still did it.

Jills brother came quietly through the door, and shut it behind him, “I heard something” he whispered “listen” “its probably just the wind” Jill said out loud.

“Sh!” he whispered loudly “I can hear it again” Jill listened carefully “its a thumping” she said, sitting bolt upright.

Suddenly the room was filled with sounds laughs, crys, screams, whispers, and once in a while the word H E L P!…….

until next letter,


with much love,



and an extra kiss for luck!

(more about Jill next letter)

Now you know. Writer for life.

I have also always colored inside the lines. It's just that nowadays I redefine where the lines are.

I have also always colored inside the lines. It’s just that nowadays I redefine where the lines are.

It’s About the Trance

The setting: Okefenokee Swamp, January, 1994. The occasion: Mid-term trip with the head of the biology department (Dr. McGinty), an English professor (Dr. Anderson), and an assemblage of hard-core biology students who tolerated my misfit presence among them. The protags: Alligators, pitcher plants, and the blessed heater in the bathroom, where I dragged my bedding one night because somehow my parents thought an egg crate cushion would be enough to keep the mid-winter chill from creeping out of the earth and into my sleeping bag with me.

Chickadees and raccoons put in an appearance that week too. But that day it was just me and the tree.

We had canoed here to Billy’s Island. Deeper in, there are burial mounds even older than the 600-year-old tree under which I sat, cozied up between two giant roots, my back against the trunk, gazing into the ponderous branches above, completely unconscious of the cramps that had been my excuse for stopping here. The others had hiked in toward the burial grounds. Dead people held no glamour for me that day. I wanted to talk to the live oak.

It told me things, too, things that ultimately earned me an “A” grade for the class even though I was late that first morning by almost an hour. Everyone had been gathered in the just-before-dawn gloom, hugging pillows in the glow of the streetlamp, when I arrived, groggy and unbrushed. Once we were rolling down the road at last, a girl leaned over to me in the van and said, “I’m glad I’m not you. Dr. McGinty hates when people are late.”

Maybe that’s why he was fine with leaving me there under that tree alone. I don’t think so, though. I think he understood what I’m just beginning to understand myself. It’s the trance, you see.

Fast forward 19 years. I’m walking the dog down by the brown lake. There’s a light drizzle and you can hear the raindrops plinking on the surface of the water. See them, too, a thousand tiny pinpricks rippling outward. I stop and look, remembering as I usually do now, how much I love the rain. And then there it is: My mind turns. I wonder what it would be like to be under the surface of the water, looking up.

I imagine skimming just under the surface, my face turned up, effortlessly floating, watching the pricks of rain hit the upper limit of my world. The water is dark and the bottom of the lake is mud. There are large things in there. Giant snapping turtles as big around as a kid’s wading pool, grass carp so massive and scaly they look like prehistoric reptiles when they half-beach themselves down by the dam. I imagine skimming through that murky underworld, that dangerous muddy place, and it’s not a fairy tale. It’s a horror story, in fact, but it feels good. Really good.

Back at the house, I rush past Carey to my computer, and I write this in a feverish flurry:

The Summer I Met Mercy

Nobody knew where she came from. I didn’t know where she came from. She was just there one day, down by the community lake, picking at the mud between her toes. Why she would do that when she was covered in mud from head to foot is anybody’s guess, and I didn’t ask. Just stood there gawking at her. Her hair was so caked it looked like it was made of mud, just long gobby strands of filth tangled with pond algae, and her arms were too long, her fingers too long, but the most notable thing about her was that she was naked.

She looked up at me and smiled, an ordinary, girl-next-door smile, and she was quite pretty, for a stringy 14-year-old, even if her teeth were rather large and white and pointy. Even if she was quite, quite naked. Not that I could see anything, not with her bent over her legs like that.

We became good friends, Mercy and I, that summer that my parents were separating, that my world was crumbling.

More than friends, actually. She was the first girl I ever kissed. She was clean the day I kissed her, and clothed. I never did see her naked again, in fact, not that day and not any day after. But I did kiss her. My first kiss.

It wasn’t quite what I expected. Weirder. Much weirder. She drew the tip of my tongue into her mouth with a sucking sensation, and then bit it, sucking continuously, her teeth scraping along every inch as my tongue went deeper. It hurt but not enough to make me want to stop. Not even as much as the throbbing in my groin hurt at that moment, and I didn’t want that to stop either.


I decide it’s the start of my next novel, maybe, when this one is done. The main character ends up under the water, skimming along like I imagined myself doing, looking up at the rain falling onto the surface above. But I had to figure out how to get the character there, and this is the start of that.

Or maybe the scene will join the moldering ranks of opening-paragraphs-for-books-I’ll-never-finish in a folder in Dropbox.

It doesn’t matter really. It does but it doesn’t. Because I realized for the first time today that it’s really about the trance. It’s this thing that happens, this altered state of consciousness that I always, as far back as I can remember, slip into so easily I never realized that it was special. I seek it, hungrily. It feels good. It’s why I crave un-interrupted swaths of alone time, because I cannot sink into a deep trance when besieged by the emotions of others.

I told Carey about this, and he said he thinks everyone craves a trance-like state. Which makes sense. It’s why we do drugs, isn’t it? Meditation, running, extreme experiences, and sex are all pathways to the sublime as well. Maybe some people get there easier one way or another–maybe that’s why some people run the AC 100 and some people write novels.

Maybe it’s why some people sink into addiction and never come back. Maybe it’s why some people come back scrabbling, hanging onto art, spewing out songs or poems or paintings as if their life depends upon it which, in fact, it does.

Books are my drug of choice. Neatly packaged, easy-to-swallow nuggets of pure meditative trance. But they’re not the only way I get there.

The tree and I spoke for hours. I felt the peat-filtered moisture coursing up through its roots, a constant, never-ending flow like the pulse of blood through my veins but steadier. The sunlight on leaves, warm energy generated in those green powerhouses spreading through an endless network of vessels, fueling root growth and slow slow slow branching.

The tree was breathing, respirating carbon dioxide and returning it as oxygen, when the Timucua Indians sought refuge here in 1750. Already hundreds of years old, it watched impassively as the Timucua were followed by Spanish missionaries in fretful urgency to bring Truth to the wild. The tree watched for a hundred years as slaves and Seminoles and refugees of all descriptions passed into the swampy refuge from the violence unfolding outside its borders.

The tree was there when giant dredging machines began building a canal to drain the swamp and divest it of its lumber, and there when the canal project succumbed to the wild. There when Charles Hebard laid a railroad track 35 miles directly to the island, and built a church, a movie theater, and a school for the children of the workers who were stripping the swamp. And there when the village faded into a ghost town.

I didn’t know all of that then, and the tree didn’t tell me in so many words. But I felt it, felt the history, the ancient knowingness of that old being. The trunk felt warm against my back, though the air was chill. I never knew before that day that trees generate heat. Most people will tell you that they don’t, in fact. Heck, maybe even the scientists who study trees will tell you that they don’t. Maybe they don’t. But that tree did, that day.

When the humans returned, flushed with triumph–they had stumbled upon a cemetery and the ghost of an old town–I returned also, reluctantly, from my trance. We paddled back to camp, I rowing in front, Dr. Anderson steering in rear, the others paddling their own vessels in pairs. It was the boys’s turn to cook that night, so I pulled out my journal and wrote about my tree, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I earned an A, and why Dr. McGinty started smiling at me, even though I had been late.

Maybe. Doesn’t matter. Regardless, that trance, or rather my ability to sink into it so easily, is why I’m a writer. And that matters.

How do you reach sublimity? Does it make you who you are?

This is not my tree. I don't know where my photos are from this time. Photo courtesy "nonweasel" at DeviantArt: http://nonweasel.deviantart.com/art/Live-Oak-Wallpaper-601007

This is not my tree. It is a live oak, probably as old as the one I sat under. I don’t know where my photos are from this time. Photo courtesy “nonweasel” at DeviantArt: http://nonweasel.deviantart.com/art/Live-Oak-Wallpaper-601007

A letter to the author who wrote that cringe-worthy thing I read

My first six chapters

Dear Author,

The first few days of revising my novel draft were deeply depressing. I was glad to read from Demian Farnworth that this is not uncommon. He compares revisions to shoveling snow in a snowstorm*:  No matter how much you shovel, you look behind you and everything you just did has to be done again. Add to that a crippling anxiety about how completely awful and probably unsalvageable the sidewalk under all that snow is, and you’ve got it.

It helped somewhat to print it out. There’s something deeply satisfying about words on paper. It’s more real that way. Sorry, Kindle, but a screen will never be the same.

Apparently none of this is true, but I intend to believe it anyway.

I’m talking to you about revisions, because yours really needs them, dear.

In an effort to cheer me up  when I was worried about my own draft, Carey found part of your draft online, and showed it to me. It is really pretty rough. I’m being kind. It is awful. He thought it would cheer me up to see that mine is at least better than yours. It didn’t. I felt so sorry for you. And then I thought, “That author has no idea just how bad it is. She thinks it’s great–it’s her baby. Would I know if mine were that bad? Probably not. Maybe it is.”

Still. I handed off the first five chapters of my partially revised book to Carey last night, still rough but readable at least. He said (drum roll please!): He likes it so far. He is, in fact, obligated to say that, of course. It’s part of the contract.

What he is *not* obligated to say is that he is being honest and he still really likes it. And he did and he does. He even laughed out loud at one point. He asked me for more.

It’s funny that what other people think matters so much, isn’t it? If I slave over a blog entry and turn out something that I think is really amazeballs but nobody reads or comments on it, I start to genuinely believe it was kind of crappy. It becomes one of my least favorites, unlikely to ever be resurrected again. But if I toss one off all in a hurry and run about my day and come back and there are five comments and 50 views and somebody shared it on Facebook, I’m like, “Wow, I’m amazing. This is the awesomest blog post EVA.”

So anyway. Carey has really great taste in books. The best. And he likes my book. Honestly. So obviously, my book is the awesomest book ever. Well, it’s good, anyway. He didn’t actually say it’s the awesomest book ever, so it’s really just that it’s the awesomest book I’ve ever written. Which is absolutely, swear to goodness, the truth.

But none of that matters, and I’m sorry for being kind of boasty in a letter about how much your draft sucks. The central point is, I did it. I wrote a draft. And even if it’s as awful as your first draft, it’s okay. Because you know what? I’m so proud of you. You did something most people never do. So what if your first draft sucked. Everyone’s does. Maybe you went on and fixed it already, anyway. Who knows, maybe in some form it’s a published novel somewhere now and you’re laughing at little newbie me worrying about whether my first draft is good. I believe in you. So I’m going to believe in me, too.

My book has a climax and a conclusion and lots of literarily mentionable things like foils and subplots and imaginative environments and stuff, and at least half of that I didn’t even put there. I mean, I wrote the words, but I didn’t mean to put in themes and motifs and fancy plot twists. They just magically appeared after the draft was done. Maybe those elves really do come in the night.

Anyway. Read Demian’s blog post. It’s by far the best thing about this letter. Scratch that. I will have confidence in my work. This is an AWESOME LETTER and you WERE RIGHT TO READ IT. Now go read Demian’s post too, because it’s ALSO awesome.

P.S. I know this is a really crappy letter to address to someone whose first novel draft sucks. Sorry about that. Except, it’s not really crappy, because it’s really a letter to me, for all those cringe-worthy things I’ve ever written. Which is a lot. And that’s cool. Dear me: Keep writing the cringe-worthy stuff, because without some of that, nobody would ever write the good stuff. And without the good stuff, this world would be a poor place indeed. Sincerely me.

My Novel Pitch and My Cat Has Polyps

About 80% of the way through my first draft, I had an opportunity to pitch my novel. It was great exercise, forced me to focus in on the essence of the story I was telling, and helped me bring it in to the conclusion. Here’s the pitch I wrote:

Jed, a boy outcast among his own, discovers he can talk to plants… and soon realizes his gift could end 2,000 years of human enslavement. Will he be the people’s savior, or will the ensuing war destroy everything worth saving?

So, anyway.

I finished the novel yesterday, the first draft. Headed straight into revisions.

Feels like there should be fanfare, and at the same time it feels like there shouldn’t. Had a little mini-party on Facebook yesterday, but mostly it feels unreal. And I don’t think it’s going to feel real until the draft is ready for beta readers.

Perhaps the issue here is that my cat has polyps in her ear. That is not a metaphor.

Maybe the real issue is that once I’ve accomplished something significant, I realize, well, if *I* did it, it must not be that big an achievement. Finishing the second draft of a novel, that would be a big accomplishment. Except, when the manuscript is finished I’ll probably feel the same way, except then I’ll think, if it gets published, THAT will be an accomplishment. And then only if I become famous. But only if I’m as famous as Rowling. And as enduring as Shakespeare. No, God. Being as important and well-known as GOD would be an accomplishment.

I suck.

Because guess what: I adopted an elderly stray cat several years ago, got her doctored up, fell absolutely madly in love with her, and then recently went over a year without updating her shots or medical care and now she has uncomfortable polyps in her ears and she’s probably going to die in pain because I’m a terrible, terrible cat parent. (Reality check: The jury is out on the painful death.)

This was supposed to be a celebratory post, but obviously I’ve got issues.

I took a break from this mess for a minute, planning to come back and probably delete it all and just leave the pitch at the top and nothing else, because really, this is supposed to be a celebration, Heather.

Then I went and read this. And decided that I’m probably not the only novelist ever who has struggled in this particular way, and that maybe there is value in sharing THIS part of the journey too. This messy, depressive, anxious, uncomfortable part. So here I am.


My cat chose me. This is literally true for me, not just in the way people say their children chose them, or God chose their children for them, or whatever. I mean that I walked up to a yard sale and my cat was there waiting for me, and she came over and said, “Please take me home. I have nowhere else to go, no one to turn to. And I even like your kids.” She said it in cat language, of course, that winding-through-your-legs-purring language cats speak in. And her fleas and her underweight body and her greasy hair and her ear mites also said, “Please, take her home.” (Actually, the ear mites and the fleas would probably rather I hadn’t, come to think of it).

I keep telling myself these stories to pull myself through. And I will pull through. I will learn to love my success. I will. And to forgive myself.

And also: I finished a draft of a novel. I did it.

The End of the World As We Know It

Well, it’s done. Not the whole book, just yet. But the climax. I wrote it. And, it turns out, the climax is about three scenes from the end so… I’ll have a draft in roughly three days. I’ll have a draft in three days.

This would be way more exhilarating if my characters hadn’t just royally screwed every freakin thing up for themselves and the rest of the world. And they were so close–so close–to a happily ever after ending, too. After writing their catastrophe, I left the room for tissues and came back blowing my nose, which is when Carey noticed that I was sobbing. “What’s wrong?” He didn’t know whether to congratulate me or console me. I’m not sure either.

Writing is easy. Just sit down and open a vein.

The writing is pretty crappy, to be honest. But the emotion is there. The idea. Thanks, Jaimie, for encouraging me that that is enough for now. It is salvageable because I believe in it. And I do.

Another trusted writing mentor told me last week to bring it in under 90k max. This piece of feedback stopped several new story lines in their tracks and got me refocused on getting to the climax. Those other started story lines will be removed in revisions and probably end up in Book Two. Letting them go from this book freed me to bring the whole thing in for a landing. A bumpy, horrifying, catastrophic landing.

I feel pretty much exactly like the boy in this video. All of it, all at once.

P.S. The “writing is easy etc.” quote is variously attributed to many different authors in many forms. That’s why there’s no citation, even though the thought is not mine originally.

Where Are the Elves When You Need Them?

I wrote a scene in my climax today.  It sucks.

Have I spent so much time on it I’m sick of it? Or is it really that bad, that much of a let-down? Shall I go on telling it like I have been, or scrap it and start over from a new point of view? Or is the entire concept so completely screwed I might as well start the whole book from scratch?

This latter thought, I suspect, is yet another trick of my brain to convince me not to finish the darn thing.

When I started this novel the whole point was not to get published. It was simply to prove to myself that I could finish something of this scale.

So I will.

Still, I want it to be the best I can do right now. So, outside of my designated butt-to-chair hour, I’ve been reading some pretty good stuff on how to construct a climax. Harry Potter and Ender’s Game, for instance. Deconstructing and reconstructing. And these:

Improving Plot Climax

Mistakes Not to Make

That latter site contains several really helpful articles, including one on writing a novel pitch. Not that I’m writing a pitch yet, except I did. But that’s another story for another day. If you’re struggling with your novel, try writing the pitch. It was quite a useful–and fun–exercise.

Hasn’t helped much with my climax, though. Where are those darn elves?

This one will do just fine. Thank you.

It’s Not Magic. Well, Maybe.

Carey snorts when I say it: “My story is crap.” Then he rolls his eyes.

It’s good to have somebody on your side. Someone who understands you. A partner who can roll their eyes convincingly when you’re being ridiculous.

I love my story!” “Wow, this is really bad.” “This is awesome!” “I can’t do this, what was I thinking?” It is ridiculous. Remember yesterday? Yeah. Today my book is crap.

It’s a game my brain plays, I think, to keep me from finishing the book.

When I was a girl, long before the days of the animated Disney version, we watched a live action movie about Aladdin, made for adults. The hero was given an opportunity to obtain the genie’s lamp. He would gain wealth, glory, and the hand of the beautiful princess. All he had to do was get to it… without ever leaving the path and don’t touch anything. How hard could that be?

I remember wishing I were in his place. I’m an expert at following instructions, especially easy ones: Stay on the path, stupid.

Of course he couldn’t do it. He was fine when he passed all those riches by the wayside. I mean, he kind of wanted to touch things, you see, but he was a good boy. Then there was a beautiful woman beckoning to him. That one was tough. But he stayed the course. It was when he heard cries of terror and saw someone in desperate need of help that he did what was forbidden, with dramatic and terrible results.

That is exactly what writing is like.

All the experts say, “Sit down, butt to chair. Just write. Write. Write. Butt to chair.”

And you think, “I can do that. Just follow the instructions. Butt to chair.”

Then you sit down and it’s not very comfortable. But that’s okay, you can brave discomfort for the sake of your art. You are a writer!

You’re staring at a blank page, and for fifteen minutes you can think of nothing to say. That’s okay. Butt in chair. It will come. You are a writer!

Then you write a few things and they’re crap and you think, “That’s okay. Just write. Everybody writes crap sometimes.” And you keep going. You are a writer.

So then your brain has to get creative. It decides that it would much rather be blogging. Wouldn’t you rather be blogging? That’s a form of writing, right? Just blog for a bit. You can come back to the novel tomorrow. Blogging will help you clear your brain.

So maybe you click over to the blog, but then you remember: “Nope. One hour. Butt to chair. Working on your novel.”

Check. But that’s not the end of it, of course. Like Aladdin, you’re going down this path and it’s lined with temptation and distraction. But you’re good. You’re good.

Open an email? Nope. Read a forum post? No. Watch a video on how to get published! NOOO!

Somebody has said something WRONG on the Internet and you MUST SAVE THEM from their idiocy before it is too late. But you don’t. You are a writer.

Write. Okay.

And maybe you make it through several days like this. Every day, one hour, butt to chair. Maybe weeks or months.

One morning you wake up and you’re sick. That’s okay. You got this. It’s just one hour and you can pause the timer if you have to leave your chair to throw up.

But the next morning, your brain starts playing deceptive little tricks on you. It tells you maybe you’re not really a novelist anyway, and you’re wasting your time. If you were a novelist, wouldn’t you just want to write in your novel, the way you always want to write in your blog? You wouldn’t have to fight so hard. Besides. Maybe your blog could save someone, like Glennon‘s does.

And it’s this that gets you in the end. You miss your hour, because you think, for the briefest span of time, that you were never really cut out for this after all. And there is something more important you should be doing. So you leave the path. You. Suck.

Might as well quit now.

Except the ceiling doesn’t cave in and the walls don’t crumble. You’re not dodging molten rock or sudden chasms. The nice thing about writing is you get forever chances.

I spent approximately 14,000 mornings NOT writing a novel before I finally sat my butt down to do it. So why would I let one missed morning get to me?

You get back on the path and you keep going.

Will I prevail? I don’t know. The experts all say I will, if I just stick to the path and don’t touch anything except my novel for that one hour a day. And at the end of it: Riches, glory, and the hand of the princess. Actually, let’s leave the hand out. Sounds gory.

And maybe there won’t be riches & glory, either. Fortunately, that’s not what I’m after (not that I would turn my nose up at it). But there will be a book. By gum, when I’m done, there will be a book. And when you rub it just right, it will open and reveal the magic within.

I’d rather have that than riches and glory and a disembodied hand any day. Well, not ANY day. But most days, at least.

P.S. Truth in advertising announcement: My book won’t really open just by rubbing it. OR maybe it will. I think I’ll demand that feature in negotiations with my publisher. I’m sure that will make me very popular with them.

P.P.S. What are the games your brain plays to keep you from your art? What are you doing to defeat the temptations?