Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Announcements and So Forth

Sorry for the longer than usual radio silence, peeps, but we've had a bit of an emergency here at Casa de Aaron-Bach. My 3-year-old son got an infection in his leg that required racing to Atlanta for surgery and a lengthy stay at the pediatric hospital. As you can see, he was most displeased.

When I write "death glare" in my books, this is what I mean.
He's getting better now, but things were very scary there over the weekend. We're hoping to be home before Christmas, but it all depends. I do think I've aged 20 years over the past 5 days, though. Thank goodness we have such a supportive family who lives near by!

Because of all this drama, I haven't gotten to say how amazingly grateful I am to everyone who helped make FORTUNE'S PAWN such a huge success! With the exception of SPIRIT'S END, this has been my best book launch ever, and I owe it all to you guys. Thank you so much to everyone who bought and reviewed the book. You have given me the best Christmas present ever!!

And just a reminder to everyone I left hanging with FORTUNE'S PAWN's admittedly tense ending: the next Paradox novel, HONOR'S KNIGHT, comes out February 25, 2014! That's only 2 months from now! I'll be posting an excerpt and hopefully announcing my new new series next month (yes, another new series! What? I write fast :D). 

In the meanwhile, I hope you have a great holiday and that everyone in your family is healthy. Seriously, as my son can tell you, it sucks to be in a hospital at Christmas. Much love to you and yours, and I'll be back at the end of the month to do a year's end wrap up! 

<3s div="" forever="">

Monday, November 25, 2013

What Project Runway Taught Me About Writing

My husband and I have been on a Project Runway binge lately (we've only just finished season 8 so NO SPOILERS!!!). A few days ago, I joked on Twitter that I was going to do a post on all the lessons I've learned about writing while watching the show. Things like "When someone tells you they hate your book/look, don't argue, just quietly hate them." (Seriously, Gretchen, SHUT UP. You are only digging that hole deeper when you argue with the judges!) or "Make separates and accessorize. The designer/writer who makes the same cocktail dress/book every time always goes home early."

Anyway, the whole thing started as just an excuse to make Project Runway jokes on Twitter, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wasn't actually joking...

At its heart, Project Runway is a show about being creative under pressure. It's about putting your work and yourself out there to be judged, often harshly, by a jaded and fickle industry famous for chasing trends. It's about staying true to your artistic vision even when other people hate it, because if you change your style to try and please everyone, all you end up with is boring. It's about balancing art with commercialism, drama with practicality, structure and craftsmanship with time limits, all while staying within the constraints of a tightly defined medium...

Sound like anything else I talk about on this blog?

The parallels between writing and designing are by no means perfect, but the ones that do exist are pointed enough that I feel justified in making an entire post on the subject. Please note that while I won't be referencing specific events in the show, I will be assuming at least a basic understanding of Project Runway and reality TV elimination shows. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, the Wikipedia article on the show has a great breakdown of the basic format. You can also watch several seasons for free at Lifetime. Note that I am not being compensated by Project Runway or Lifetime in any way for this post or these links. I just really freaking love this glorious, redonk, catty circus of a show.

You tell it like it is, Heidi.

Anyway, now that's out of the way, on with the post!

Art vs Commercialism, or, "You Have to be True to Yourself as a Designer"
The more I think about this topic, the more excited I get, and not just because it gives me an excuse to post pictures of Tim Gunn (though that was a definite bonus). See, as I've done my yearly "Ask an Author" thread on the NaNoWriMo forums, one of the themes I run into again and again is this idea of "What should I do to sell my book?" This question manifests in many forms, from the ever popular agent questions to "I notice there's a lot of X out there, can I write Y and still get published?" to questions about how long a novel should be in order to be acceptable to publishers. My answer to these questions is always the same: keep the restrictions in mind, but always stay true to your story and your vision. And every time I say I say this, I hear Tim Gunn in my head saying "you have to trust your instincts and be true to yourself as a designer."

I know this all sounds a little cheesy, but work with me here. On Project Runway, the ultimate goal, the Holy Grail, is an outfit that is creative and beautiful, but still wearable. A dress you can't walk in is useless, but a dress that's too plain is boring (which is the kiss of death on Project Runway). The judges always go crazy over the outfit that is wearable, but still interesting. Something that is exciting and sexy and beautiful without being costume-y or overwrought. They want something that will make them go "Wow!" but can still be sold at a department store.

This delicate balance between creativity and commercialism is also at the heart of publishing. Publishers and readers are constantly looking for the next new thing. They want a story that knocks their socks off and shows them something they haven't seen before, but at the same time it can't be too far out there. The book still has to be readable, and it has to be something that can be summed up in a 150 word blurb and make people want to buy it. Bonus points if the story's on trend for what's hot in reading right now, but it can't be too trendy or it will seem old hat before it's even published.

Just as the designers on Project Runway are scrambling to meet this seemingly impossible standard, so are writers struggling to balance their own creative vision with the needs of the modern publishing world. Even people who self publish have to meet reader expectations. Books that are too weird might be extremely creative, but readers and publishers will often pass over them because they're too strange to be taken seriously. Does this mean the book is bad? No, it simply means it's not publishable, which isn't the same thing at all.

It is perfectly possible to have a fantastic, non-commercially viable book just as it is perfectly possible to make a gorgeous dress that is a work of art and yet will never be mass produced or available for sale. But publishing, just like Project Runway, isn't about art. Or, at least, it's not wholly about art. It's not a show for making dresses that will sit on mannequins in a showroom. It's about who can make the best, most interesting clothes that could potentially be sold to real women.

By the same turn, whether you're going through a traditional house or doing everything yourself, commercial publishing is about writing books people want to buy and read. This is why it's so important to know what you want from your writing career. If you want to be an artist first, then commit to that. Accept that your vision comes before sales, and don't get upset when you're not commercially successful. If you want to be a bestseller, same story. You need to commit to your decision and focus on how to make the biggest, most interesting splash while still playing within the tightly defined rules of your genre. And if you want to be both (which is what I and I think the vast majority of authors really want) then you need to commit to learning how to balance art and commercialism.

I'm not saying this is easy. Reliably creating a new, exciting, wonderful stories that are commercially viable is just as difficult as creating beautiful, interesting, new types of clothing that are still wearable and comfortable. If this crap was easy, everyone would win Project Runway, and everyone would be a mega successful author.

Personally, I take great comfort in the fact that it's not easy, because then, when I fail, I know it's not because I'm a failure, but because I've set myself to a nearly impossible task. I also know that I can pick myself and keep working, because unlike Project Runway, I don't have to worry about getting sent home and losing all my dreams forever if I have a bad day. Bonus!

The Vast Effort behind "Effortlessness"
Nina Garcia and her dreaded Death Glare.
Not to betray my endless Tim Gunn love, my favorite point of view on Project Runway is actually panel judge and Marie Clare Creative Director, Nina Garcia. Where Michael Kors is the (bitchy) voice of the pro designer and Heidi Klum fills the role of the potential client, Nina is the voice of the Fashion Industrial Complex. She is the one who looks beyond artistry, beyond technical skill, even beyond her own personal taste to see where a design can successfully go. She thinks about how a dress would be styled in an editorial spread, she thinks about hanger appeal, she is constantly asking "Who is your customer? Who wears this dress?"

These are all amazingly pertinent, professional questions that a lot of designers don't consider, especially in the beginning of a season. But if we replace the word "dress" with "book" and "designer" with "writer," all her questions are still important. It's very easy as a writer to get caught up in your own vision of the story, and having someone like Nina Garcia haul you up and ask "Who reads this book? How will this book be sold?" can be fantastically eye opening. 

If Project Runway was Project Bookshelf, Micheal Kors would be the Tom Clancy style big bestseller, Heidi Klum would be the book buyer, and Nina Garcia would be the acquiring editor. Fortunately for us, most fiction editors are not nearly as mean as she is, at least not to their authors, but it's their job to ask these same sorts of questions. And that's really important, because these are vital issues a lot of authors don't consider, or worse, don't feel they need to consider until the book is done. But just as those designers got a lot better after they started taking Nina's criticism to heart, I think we as authors can't help but improve if we start out our projects thinking about the realities of the markets our books are going to face and incorporate those decisions naturally into our writing process rather than trying to shoehorn our vision into a commercially acceptable shape later (or worse, standing on the runway and arguing with the judges about why they're wrong. No one wins that fight.)

All of that said, however, one of Nina Garcia's favorite words is "effortless." You can always tell when she really likes something because she'll trot out that word, especially if draping is involved. But when she says "effortless," she often qualifies it with the reminder that effortless doesn't mean easy or undesigned. This is because "effortless" in fashion and writing only means the appearance of serendipity. Just like Heidi Klum's ageless makeup, it is an illusion of careless grace that actually requires an enormous amount of care, thought, and work to produce. 

Illusion is the key. When all that work is visible, garments (and novels) are criticized for being "overworked" or "overdesigned." Designers (and writers) are told they're "trying too hard" for adding purposeless details like zipper embellishments or piping in their effort to show how much work went into something. Nina's other favorite phrase is "you need to edit." She is constantly telling designers that they need to step back, look critically, and edit their work down to its essence. "Less is more," she says over and over when some designer has stuck 50 bows on his dress and styled his model's hair in a big Lady Gaga style bow bun. "You need to remove, not pile on."

Of all the advice I steal from Project Runway, this is the sentiment that translates most directly. Writers are creative people by definition, and as creative people, it's very easy to get lost in our own work. When you have an amazing idea that doesn't really fit the story but is too cool to leave out, writers will think of all kinds of wacky rationalizations why they don't need to cut the scenes they love. We often defend these decisions by saying we're adding depth and hooks to our novels when, in reality, we're doing the writing equivalent of over designing. 

To be fair, a lot of over written books do well, but then, a lot of ugly, over designed clothing gets sold for reasons I can not fathom. But just because some people get away with it is no excuse to go easy on our own editorial eye, because the best books/designs, the ones that endure, are the novels/dresses that appear effortless and natural. The end goal of all work in writing is to appear like no work at all. To give the reader a story that simply flows like it was always meant to be. 

In writing as in fashion design, if you do your job right, no one will even notice how hard you worked to do it. They will not see your struggles or your late nights or your botched scenes or how you rewrote the first paragraph 100 times. All they will see is the beautiful, effortless finished product, perfectly presented, and that is as it should be.

"Make It Work"
I couldn't possibly do a Project Runway themed blog post without talking about the show's famous catch phrase, "Make It Work." I might not be working 18 hour days, sewing and creating under enormous pressure just for a chance not to get eliminated from the show that has promised to make all my dreams come true, but it's still powerful mojo. When I am upset, the sound of Tim Gunn saying "Just make it work" is like a Pavlovian trigger for my ability to get up and press on. And that's really, really important, especially in writing, because the moment you start writing on a deadline, Make It Work becomes your mantra.

Whether you're writing for yourself or for a publisher, there are times when the book just has to get done, and you don't know how it's going to get there. Maybe you've written yourself into a corner, or maybe you went entirely the wrong direction and now you hate everything. Maybe you're just stumped on a plot point and you have no idea what to do next, but you need to figure it out pronto, because if you don't get this book ready to turn in to your editor in the next month, you're going to throw off your entire publication schedule. Your book will be late, your readers will be mad, and you won't get paid when you thought you were going to be. DOOOOM!

Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit, but when you're in the middle of the crisis, the idea that not finishing this book on time will destroy your career feels absolutely real. More than one author has crumbled under the pressure, but funny enough, this is where Project Runway has us beat, I think. Because no matter how stressed those designers get, no matter how crazy the time limit on the challenge, when it comes time to put on the show, they always have something to send down the runway. It may not have been their best look, but in the end, the designer who can pull it out and make it work is the designer who is successful, and the same goes for writers.

I usually shy away from generalizations, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that every writer has faced a moment where they didn't know how to go forward. When this happens, especially under a deadline, the difference between writers who choke and writers who succeed is their ability to do like Tim Gunn says and make it work.

This isn't just a careless bon mot. The ability to resist panic is not a natural one. We're born panicky, wary animals who seem predisposed to jump to the absolute worst conclusion, and the ability to rise above this, to be calm and creative under pressure and get the job done, is the line that separates the professional from the amateur. Fortunately, it's also a talent that can be learned, and part of Tim's role on Project Runway is to teach this ability to panicked designers who've just realized how screwed they are.

No matter how carefully you plot or how good you are at managing time, if you pursue a career in writing, you will eventually come face to face with the "I'm totally F'ed" moment. When this happens, it is perfectly natural to freak your shit. Once that's over, though, it's your job to calm down and find a way to make it work. Because you're a professional, and professionals always find a way to deliver. The same "never give up" attitude that gets you published keeps you published, and the harder you embrace that truth, the more quickly you recover from disappointment and find your way to make it work, the more successful you will be.


One of the most amazing things about being a professional artist, or professional anything, is discovering that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The pressures of being a commercial artist vary wildly from industry to industry, and yet the core remains unchanged. Designers, writers, graphic artists--we all face the same struggle to produce creative yet salable work under pressure while not sacrificing the vision that makes this art our own.

My situation is very, very different from the contestants on Project Runway, and yet I can still learn from their mistakes, and that's a lot more than I ever expected from a cheesy reality show about making high fashion dresses on ridiculous deadlines out of random crap. So thank you, Project Runway. I learned a stupid amount about myself from your ridiculous programming.

I hope you enjoyed this absurdly long blog post about a television program! Thank you for putting up with my waxing rhapsodic over reality TV personalities, and as always, good luck with your writing!

It is, Heidi, it really is.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book signing and Fortune's Pawn update!

Just a quick note to let everyone know I'm going to be part of Barnes & Nobel's Discovery Friday this Friday, Nov 22 at 7:00 at the B&N in Athens, GA!

I'm pretty sure 99.99999999% of ya'll don't live in Georgia, but don't worry. I'm lining up several more events over the next year that will hopefully take me closer to your neck of the woods. That said, if you do happen to be in town this Friday, please do stop by. I would be absolutely delighted to talk to you!

In other news, the launch for FORTUNE'S PAWN has been pretty freaking epic and I could not be more pleased. For everyone who didn't see me losing my shit on Twitter, here's a bunch of links to things that happened over the last 2 weeks!

Thank you everyone for making FORTUNE'S PAWN such a huge success!! This series is off to a running start, far better than I ever could have hoped, and I owe it all to you, my readers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I can't wait to get you a sample of HONOR'S KNIGHT! :D

<3s forever="" p="">Rachel

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It's Launch Day for Fortune's Pawn!

HOORAY! Launch day has finally arrived and Devi is officially live!

You can read the first few chapters here and you can buy the book on Amazon, B&N, or anywhere you like!

Devi is also out in the UK as an ebook for only £2.99!! The print edition doesn't come out until February 6, 2014, but you can get a head start and save some paper (not to mention £) and buy today! And if Amazon isn't your cup of tea, here's a full list of UK ebook retailers!

ETA: I'm also participating in the Book Smuggler's "Conversations in SFF" essay series today! My entry is called "Upsetting the Default" and it's about, what else, gender default in genre. The whole series is very good and I'm  delighted to be a part of it. I hope you'll come by and check it out!

Thank you everyone for your support! I couldn't do any of this without you.

I hope you enjoy FORTUNE'S PAWN!

- R

Friday, November 1, 2013

Places I'll be in November!

November is upon us, which means there are only 4 days left until the official release of FORTUNE'S PAWN! Yaaay!

To celebrate, myself, Ann Leckie, author of the new SF epic, Ancillary Justice, and Daniel Abrams, 1/2 of the joint entity known as James S.A. Corey, author of Leviathan Wakes are all doing a Google+ Hangout on Thursday, Nov 7, from 7:30 PM - 8:30 PM EST called "A Night at the Space Opera!"

Folks, this is going to be every bit as epic as the paragraph above makes it sound. I'll be there with my new mic and my new snazzy haircut answering questions live for you! So come take advantage of all the hard work Orbit has done getting three authors in the same place at the same time (herding cats comes to mind). It should be a lot of fun!

ALSO! November means I'm doing my yearly NaNo thread over on the official NaNoWriMo Fantasy forums. So if you have any questions about writing, publishing, or craft, feel free to come by and ask me. Seriously, I love this thread and obsess over it every year, so don't be afraid to post. You are not bothering me and I love to talk to ya'll.

So there we go! With all that going on, there's no way we won't bump into each other. Personally, I can't wait, and since Fortune's Pawn is almost undoubtedly out in the wild by now (bookstores always shelve early), I hope those of you who've already snagged your copy enjoy the read!

Thanks a ton!
- Rachel

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Anatomy of a Hook

This morning, I was thinking about Six Word Stories. You know, the writing exercise inspired by Earnest Hemingway's famous short, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."  After lying dormant for decades, these literary bon mots surged back into popularity a few years ago. Here are a few of my favorites from the Wired Magazine collection:
"Longed for him. Got him. Shit." - Margaret Atwood
"Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so." - Joss Whedon
“I couldn't believe she’d shoot me.” - Howard Chaykin
"Tick tock tick tock tick tick." - Neal Stephenson
"Epitaph: He shouldn't have fed it." - Brian Herbert
Personally, while I enjoy reading Six Word Stories, I always objected to calling these things stories. With the exception of Margret Atwood's spectacular entry above, none of them have plot or characters. Nothing changes, no tale is told, therefore, I put forth that these short pieces (however clever) aren't stories at all. They're hooks, and when done right, they represent a perfect encapsulation of what makes us want to know more about a story.

"Hook" is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot in writing about writing. You can't even search about "how to get an agent" or "how to write a book" without someone telling you that you have to hook your reader, often from the first line. And for the most part this is true, good advice, but when you use a word, especially a metaphor, so often and so exclusively, its meaning begins to leach away. That in mind, I thought I'd take a few words to stop the dilution cycle and talk about what the hook does mechanically in a story.

What Does the Hook Do?
As its namesake implies, the purpose of a hook is to "catch" a reader's attention. The starting point for all narrative is interest. Even before they've read a word, readers can be attracted by an evocative cover or a clever title, but the real kicker with hooks is that one is never enough.

This is where the fishing metaphor breaks down. Readers are not trout. You can't just have one powerful hook to pull them into the boat and leave it at that. Rather, you're enticing them to climb into the boat of their own accord, first with a good title, then with a good first line, then with good tension, then with plot twists. It's never done, it's always hook hook hook until they've reached the last page, and then you've got to hook them again for the sequel.

I actually wrote about this eternal hooking process in a post called Story Velcro. The basic idea is that if you want your reader staying up all night and turning pages, you have to keep sinking hook after hook into them until they're stuck to your book like velcro. And, of course, with so many hooks, you need to vary it up to make sure the reader doesn't get bored and the hooks become less effective as a result. So, let's take a look at what types of hooks we have to work with.

Because I enjoy dividing things into categories, I like to separate my hooks out into 3 broad classes: Big Ideas, Suspense, and Wit.

Big Idea hooks are exactly what they sound like: big ideas that capture the imagination and then use that thrill, that inspired curiosity, to make you read more. Because of their inherent Wow! nature, Big Idea hooks are often high concept, like the opening line to J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan novel, Peter and Wendy, "All children, except one, grow up." This hook immediately sets out an impossible situation that makes the reader want to know "Why doesn't this child grow up? What's going on?" It also, coincidentally, meets the criteria for a Six Word Story. See how that works?

But the Big Idea hook doesn't have to be highbrow or complicated. It can just as easily be straight and to the point, like the exceedingly simple and highly effective "Snakes on a Plane," which is quite possibly the greatest hook of our generation. (Seriously, they sold the entire movie, millions and millions of dollars, on that line alone. Now THAT's a hook!) The essence, however, is the same. We hear a big idea, and we immediately want to explore it.

Sometimes the Big Idea is the core of the novel as well as the hook, the central spoke that everything else radiates off. Other times, the Big Idea is just one of several cards in the writer's hand. However it's used, though, the Big Idea hook packs the biggest bang for your buck. As Snakes on a Plane showed, people will put up with some pretty awful drek if they love the Big Idea enough. That said, Big Idea hooks rely on execution (i.e., how well you actually explore and use that Big Idea to tell a story) and can overshadow the narrative they're supposed to be pulling the reader into if used incorrectly (see the final two Matrix movies for an example of how Big Ideas aren't everything).

Long story short, the Big Idea is the Dirty Harry gun of hooks, and should be treated accordingly with respect and caution.

But while the Big Idea hook is the most flashy of the three, the Suspense hook is by far the most prevalent and omni-useful. The Suspense Hook is a line that rouses curiosity by implying an interesting situation without giving away the details. Going back to our Six Word Stories, Joss Whedon's "Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so," Howard Chaykin's “I couldn't believe she’d shoot me,” and Brian Herbert's "Epitaph: He shouldn't have fed it," are all examples of Suspense hooks. Each one is a tiny peek into a much larger, more complicated situation, a tantalizing hint of a vastly interesting story, and we as readers can't help but read the next line to find out what happens next.

"What happens next?" is, in fact, the core of what makes the Suspense hook work. You are hooking interest via that most powerful of human drives: nosiness. We always want to know what's going on, what are people doing, even if those people don't actually exist. A good Suspense hook grabs that curiosity and turns it into a page turning engine.

This sort of thing is the bread and butter of the Mystery and Suspense genres, but human curiosity exists everywhere there are people. So long as your reader is human, you can count on enticing them with a leading, suspenseful hook. Keeping them, of course, will require actually making that suspense pay off.

(On a side note, "Weather Report" openings (i.e., "It was a dark and stormy night") also fall into the Suspense category since they are there to create atmosphere, interest, and general What's going on?-ness in the world at large. That said, they tend to do this badly, because unless there's a hurricane bearing down on our heroes, weather is not in itself very interesting. There's a reason these openings get a bad rap, so unless you're dead confident you can knock it out of the park, I'd avoid trying to make weather into a hook.)

Finally, we come to my personal favorite hook: Wit. Wit hooks are exactly that: bits of writing so charming and interesting and well done that we will keep reading just for a chance at more. Jane Austen was a master of the art, and several of her Wit hooks are now well known lines everyone repeats. Even people who haven't read Pride and Prejudice know that "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." That's how good her hooks are, they hook themselves out of her book and into our cultural consciousness.

Of all the hooks, Wit is the hardest to pull off. It's a delicate and highly creative art that's insanely easy to mess up and depressingly dependent on individual taste. What one reader considers witty, another might consider overwrought or cutesy. That said, when done right, it can win you readers like nothing else. Even if they're bored stiff with the actual story and characters, people will keep reading so long as the text is packed with enough witty hooks to overcome the rest, which is a claim none of the other hooks can make.

That said, wit is not the same as good writing. Granted, many good writers are witty, but there's so much more to storytelling than being a good wordsmith. Your story should stand on the strength of its characters and narrative, not just because there's enough wit in the language to keep the pages turning. There are plenty of successful authors who survive by wit alone, but I wouldn't call them good writers, and I don't tend to keep their books past the initial burst of witty pleasure (or finish them at all, actually).

Special Addendum: Mixing Hooks
Just like in Food Science where the best recipes rely on mixing fat, salt, and sugar into ever more complex concoctions, the absolute best hooks come when you mix two or more of these hooks together. My absolute favorite novel opening of all time is the beginning of Deanna Raybourn's, Silent in the Grave.
"To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor."
This is an absolute perfect mix of suspense and wit. I want to know every single thing about what's going on here, and I am still grinning like an idiot over how charming it is. I bought the omnibus of her first three books on the strength of this line alone. A highly effective hook.

But as with everything in writing, the more you try to do, the better you have to be to pull it off. Mixing hooks is a delicate alchemy, and can easily blow up or fall flat if you don't get it just right. But again, as with everything in writing, the more you know about what you're doing, the easier pulling it off becomes.

Hey girl, this sounds great and all, but who appointed you grand poobah of putting things in boxes? Why do hooks have to be categorized, anyway? You're one of those crazy people who labels everything, aren't you?

... Maybe...

While I confess to a slight obsession with dividing nebulous ideas into workable categories...(What? Nebulous ideas defy examination by their very nature, and without examination, how can we improve? I must catch this cloud and pin it down...FOR SCIENCE!!!)

Ahem, anyway, the point here isn't that these three branches I've outlined above are some kind of Holy Trinity of Hooks. Quite frankly, while I of course hope that you like my categories and find them helpful, I don't really care one way or the other if use mine or make your own or say screw it all together. The point of all this, my dear reader, is to take the washed out, overused, high-school-lit-class-vocab-word hook and turn it into something useful again.

Though hooks are one of the most important concepts of writing, constant flogging has robbed the term of all its meaning, and the only way to get that meaning back is to divide, dig in, and examine. If this article has done nothing but make you pissed at how wrong I am about all this, then it's still done its job, because you were thinking critically about hooks, and that very act pours meaning back into a vital term that deserves so much more than an off the cuff, "everyone knows what this is" comment on a writing blog.

It's hard for me to express how angry I get when I see so many people talking about hooks, and yet saying nothing. "Something that hooks the reader" isn't enough. You can't define a term with itself, especially when that concept is the make or break point for a novel. It doesn't matter how good your book is, if you haven't mastered your hooks, no one is going to get past the first page. If there was one thing I would tell new writers to master above all, it would be the hook, because the hook opens the door to everything else.

Whew, that got long and technical, but still, I trust, enjoyable. If you're a writer, I hope this breakdown of hooks helps you find new, more effective ways to use them in at your own writing. If you're a reader, I hope this insider knowledge helps you realize when you're being tricked into reading a bad book supported by hooks alone (because who has time to read bad books?). Thank you as always for reading, and please feel free to leave your thoughts, good and bad, in the comments!

Yours as always,

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Odds and Ends

Okay, no more contest posts after this, I swear, but I still need to hear from Jessie and Amy. Come on, ladies, send me your stuff so I can send YOU stuff! Everyone else's books are signed and going in the mail, so you should all be receiving them soon. Thank you everyone for helping me spread the word about FORTUNE'S PAWN!

In other, non-contest-related news, fellow Orbit author Michael J. Sullivan has written an absolutely amazing guest post over at Bookworm Blues about his decision to go back to self publishing and the challenges the publishing industry is facing. If you care about the publishing game at all, it is absolutely worth your time to read through this post. Highly recommended!

Monday, October 21, 2013

FORTUNE'S PAWN Raffle Grand Prize Winner and Contest Wrap-up!

Well folks, what a lovely little contest this has been! Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to plug my book. If I could, I'd give books to you all!

But all good things must come to an end, and so it is my pleasure to announce that, after entering everyone's numbers into my spreadsheet one last time, the random number elves have chosen.......Hannah C! Hannah, you are our Grand Prize winner!!!


Please let me know where you'd like the book/$50 gift card mailed and whom you'd like me to autograph it to and I'll get it (and the rest of this here prize pile) sent off post haste.

Again, thank you EVERYONE for participating. You are all my favorite people who have ever lived, and I hope you'll all give my new series a shot on November 5th!

Love always,

Sunday, October 20, 2013

FORTUNE'S PAWN raffle Day 6 Winner!

And today's winner is..........Jessie! Yaaaaay! This means, GASP! We've only got 1 day left!

Jessie, please let me know where you'd like the book mailed and whom you'd like it autographed to and I'll add it to the mail pile! And please remember you're still eligible for the grand prize at the end, so YAY!

Today is day 6 of our 7 day contest, which means tomorrow I will be picking our grand prize winner for a signed book and a $50 gift card! To give everyone maximum time to enter, I'll be doing the drawing at 5:00 PM eastern standard time. Everyone in the comments is eligible to win! (But if the magic number elves pick someone who's already won, I'll just give them the grand prize and pick a new person to win the daily prize.)

A huge thank you to everyone who's already entered! Thank you all for helping me make this give away a success! Please keep spreading the word over these final 2 days and letting me know on the original contest post so I can keep track of everyone's entries! Thanks for playing and good luck!

- R

Saturday, October 19, 2013

FORTUNE'S PAWN raffle Day 5 Winner!

And today's winner is...........Courtney Richards! Yaaaaay! I am "Anderson Cooper with an obscenely fat cat" levels of happy for you!

I've been waiting the entire contest to use this gif!

Please let me know where you'd like the book mailed and whom you'd like it autographed to and I'll add it to the mail pile! And please remember you're still eligible for the grand prize at the end, so YAY!

We're getting downt to the wire now! But if you haven't won yet, don't worry, we've got 2 days of books left to go! Every day is a blank slate, so keep spreading the word and letting me know on the original contest post so I can keep track of everyone's entries! Thanks for playing and good luck!

- R

Friday, October 18, 2013

FORTUNE'S PAWN raffle Day 4 Winner!

FORTUNE'S PAWN raffle Day 4 Winner! And today's winner is...........Ezzie! Yaaaaay!

Congratulations! Please let me know where you'd like the book mailed and whom you'd like it autographed to and I'll add it to the mail pile! And please remember you're still eligible for the grand prize at the end, so YAY!

Halfway there, folks! If you haven't won yet, don't worry, we've got 3 days of books left to go! Every day is a blank slate, so keep spreading the word and letting me know on the original contest post so I can keep track of everyone's entries! Thanks for playing and good luck! - R

Thursday, October 17, 2013

FORTUNE'S PAWN raffle Day 3 Winner!

And today's winner is...........Chihuahua Zero! Yaaaaay!

Congratulations! Please let me know where you'd like the book mailed and whom you'd like it autographed to and I'll add it to the mail pile! And please remember you're still eligible for the grand prize at the end, so YAY!

And if you didn't win, we've still got 4 days of books left to go! Every day is a blank slate, so keep spreading the word and letting me know on the original contest post so I can keep track of everyone's entries! Thanks for playing and good luck!

- R

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

FORTUNE'S PAWN raffle Day 2 Winner

And today's winner is...........Amy!

Congratulations! Please let me know where you'd like the book mailed and whom you'd like it autographed to and I'll add it to the mail pile! And please remember you're still eligible for the grand prize at the end, so YAY!

And if you didn't win, we've still got 5 days of books left to go! Every day is a blank slate, so keep spreading the word and letting me know on the original contest post so I can keep track of everyone's entries!

Thanks for playing and good luck!

- R

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

FORTUNE'S PAWN raffle Day 1 Winner

And today's winner is...........Deshipley!

Congratulations, lady! Please let me know where you'd like the book mailed and whom you'd like it autographed to and I'll add it to the mail pile! And please remember you're still eligible for the grand prize at the end, so YAY!

And if you didn't win, we've still got 6 days of books left to go! Every day is a blank slate, so keep spreading the word and letting me know on the original contest post so I can keep track of everyone's entries!

Thanks for playing and good luck!

- R

Monday, October 14, 2013

Official FORTUNE'S PAWN raffle!!

Oh yes, it is time...

Devi Morris isn't your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It's a combination that's going to get her killed one day - but not just yet.  
That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn't misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she's found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn't give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle
With a little over 2 weeks until the offiical launch of my new SF series, it's time to give away some SIGNED BOOKS! So, I'm giving away seven signed copies, one for each day until Monday, October 21, plus a grand prize of a $50 gift card at the end! And, because the Goodreads book giveaway is only open within the US (and because the FP paperbacks are waaaaay smaller and lighter than the Eli ones), this giveaway is open WORLD WIDE


Now, if you've ever seen a contest on my site before, you know the drill (different name, same rules), but here they are again because copy+paste is my super power.

Official FORTUNE'S PAWN Raffle Rules

To enter to win these amazing prizes, all you have to do is spread the word that FORTUNE'S PAWN is coming out on November 5th! Post about it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, your blog, or any other social platform of your choice. Drop me a note in the comments below letting me know what you did and I'll enter you into the pot.

This is a raffle, that means you can enter multiple times. Every time you spread the word somewhere on the internet, put it in the comments below with a link. Pin the cover, post on Twitter, and mention the book on your blog? That's 3 entries! Tell me so and I'll enter your name 3 times. Telling people about this contest also counts as an entry, to be sure to spread the word!

I'll be drawing from the comments on this post every day, including today, so the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win! You can also keep promoting the book every day to increase your chances ever further. Winners will be announced the morning of the day after they win, so today's winner will be announced tomorrow morning, etc.

The grand prize drawing will be one week from today on Monday, October 21 at 5:00 PM, east coast US time (EST). After that entries will be closed and I'll be mailing out a lot of books!

Boring Rules Stuff
As I mentioned earlier, this raffle is open WORLD WIDE! Only one entry per social network per day (so no posting it a million times on Twitter for a million entries :P). Readers who win one of the earlier signed copies are still eligible for the grand prize gift card at the end, but since they already have a book coming to them, I'll pick a new winner to get the extra copy.

If you have any questions about the contest, the rules, or the books, please contact me! If you want to learn more about Fortune's Pawn, you can do that here!

Good Luck!
And please spread the word of the contest around. If I get a ton of people, I'll just give away more books to keep the chances even. Let's win some books!

Friday, October 11, 2013

New Website and book giveaway!

Good news, everyone! I made a new website to support my multiple personalities different pen names! It's pretty and you should totally check it out!

More importantly, however, I have a giant box of FORTUNE'S PAWN paperbacks sitting in my living room! Is it time for a... GIVEAWAY?!

You heard the demigod! So, starting Monday, I'll be giving away copies of my new book plus a grand prize of some sort, so check back and win yourself something!

See you then!

- R

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

FORTUNE'S PAWN - book giveaway, early reviews, and the official word on why I changed my name

First up, Goodreads and Orbit Books are doing a giveaway for my new book! Go check it out and enter to win yourself one of twenty-five free copies (US residents only)!

I've been pretty busy lately getting everything ready for new book, FORTUNE'S PAWN, to launch in November. There's a lot more involved with setting up for a new series than I expected: updating Amazon/Goodreads/Social Media to reflect my new pen name, a new website to support the addition of an entire new name, obsessively searching for reviews, etc.

All of this was made more complicated by the fact that the name on my new book is "Rachel Bach" not "Rachel Aaron," a decision I've gotten a lot of questions about, so I though I'd go ahead and give an official explanation...

Why my new Paradox Science Fiction novels are listed under "Rachel Bach" and not "Rachel Aaron" -- the long answer.
I am very very proud of my work in The Legend of Eli Monpress. To this day, I still consider SPIRIT'S END to be one of the best books I ever wrote. That said, FORTUNE'S PAWN is most decidedly not an Eli book, and I don't just mean it's Science Fiction and not Fantasy. Devi's story is told first person in the head of a very blunt, very violent space marine. Sex, cursing, booze, and violence are all present front and center (though it's not a dark or gritty series by any stretch. This is still me we're talking about.) That said, since my Eli Monpress books enjoy a younger audience, my publisher decided right off the bat that I'd need a new name/brand for this new series. And so I became Rachel Bach, Science Fiction author to the stars!

There were other reasons for the required name switch on my publisher's end (mostly having to do with marketing and sales), but branding was what sold the decision to me. Do I wish I'd gotten to keep my Rachel Aaron name? Well, yes, but I can understand why the decision was made to change my name, and part of working with a publisher means listening and trusting when they say "we need you to do this."

So does this mean Rachel Aaron is retired?
Absolutely not! Rachel Aaron is still my name for all new fantasy projects, including the (AWESOME) one I just finished and will be telling you all about as soon as I can!

So you're just writing books under two names then? And both names mention you write books under the other name? That seems kind of silly.
Yes, yes it is. Welcome to publishing!

I loved your Eli books, do you think I'll like the new series?
I certainly hope so! They are very different, but they've both got the same light, semi-humorous feel. Think of it as two meals made by the same chef. If you like one, chances are, you'll like the other, even if Science Fiction isn't usually your dish of choice. In any case, I sincerely hope you'll give my new series a try. I loved writing it a lot, and I think people are going to get a real kick out of Devi.

Speaking of! Here are some early reviews!

Felicia Day gave me a 5 star review and I just about died - " I JUST LOVED IT! Perfect light sci-fi."

That said, this review by Lexie is probably my favorite yet - "Devi is AWESOME. She's stubborn, impractical and justifiably arrogant and I love her to pieces. I want to hang out with her (even if I'd probably wind up dead). I want to hire her to protect me (even though I would likely wind up in debt to my ears AND dead). And I really want to go drinking with her (even though I would likely wind up with alcohol poisoning then dead)."

A few other links to round out the picture:
The Lazarus Project calls Devi "Samus done right," which is about as good a complement as I could ask for.

Sporadic Reviews loved it! "If you like Firefly/Serenity, Mecha Corps, or Alexander Outland: Space Pirate - Fortune's Pawn won't disappoint!"

While Tolerably Smart didn't care for the romance portions of the book, he liked the rest. - "If you’re in the mood for science-fiction promising epicness and love kickass heroines, give a Fortune’s Pawn a try." 

And finally Romantic Times gave it 4 and 1/2 stars! The review is only for subscribers at the moment, but here's a quote, "Bach's space opera is a fantastic, action-packed and accessible exploration of deep space. Devi is hands down one of the best sci-fi heroines I've read in a long time...Fans of Douglas Adams, Scalzi and Forde will absolutely devour Fortune's Pawn."

There are more of course, but that's plenty to get you started. And if you want to try the book for yourself, go over to Goodreads and enter to win a copy! The contest is open all month to US residents (sorry, rest of the world ): ).

FORTUNE'S PAWN comes out November 5, and I sincerely hope you'll try it. Until then, I remain your author of two names, Rachel Aaron/Bach.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Almost there!

Just a note to say I haven't died or forgotten about this blog. My blogging time has been taken up by off site promo for my new SciFi book FORTUNE'S PAWN which, by the way, releases Nov. 5!

I'm also putting the finishing touches on a secret project I think you guys are going to loooove. I know I'm super excited about it! So bear with me and I'll make it worth the wait, honest! Won't be too much longer.

love and baby sloths,

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to Write the Hard Stuff

First up, I wanted to share with you a preview snippet from some promotional writing I'm doing for Fortune's Pawn. It's a bit out of context, but I'm so proud of this paragraph I think I might burst.
"I'd actually say that the most pernicious aspect of sexism in Science Fiction isn't that there aren't enough of us [women], but how often the women who are here and have made huge contributions to the genre get ignored and passed over in favor of their male contemporaries. This vacuum of recognition isn't just unfair and dumb (seriously, why would you want to ignore Ursula LeGuin? That's like ignoring cake), it leaves every new generation of women writers feeling like lonely pioneers when we're really just the latest addition to a long, wondrous, and tragically undervalued cannon of female authored Science Fiction."

Okay, now that I'm done tooting my own horn (for now, at least), I want to talk about something much more serious. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of SFF book review blog The Book Smugglers. I don't always agree with their reviews (because who always agrees with anyone?), but I absolutely love the way they approach genre fiction, a class of literature that often skates past critical scrutiny on the grounds that it's "escapism" and therefore below reproach, with the sort of serious analysis good writing deserves and bad writing needs. I especially love the way they call bullshit on sexism, racism, and privilege whenever they see it, and their take downs are some of my favorite reading on the internet.

But while Reader Rachel eats this stuff up, Writer Rachel gets a little nervous. This sort of criticism (which is by no means limited to The Book Smugglers. There's a whole host of fantastic review blogs out there putting genre books through the wringer and being entertaining and informative while they do it) sets a very high bar for thinking about my own choices in a novel--how I represent gender, is my cast all white, am I falling into any blind zones of stereotype, etc.

Now make no mistake, this sort of thinking is a Very Good Thing. Choices in novels should be carefully considered, that's what makes you a good writer instead of a thoughtless hack churning out unexamined drek. But at the same time, it's easy to overthink yourself into a panic, especially if your book is about tough topics like racism, sexual violence, addiction, or any of the other darker parts of the current human condition. You want to tell your story in an impactful, hard hitting way, but you (or, at least, I) don't want to get called out for being an insensitive jerk when that's not what you meant at all.

So how do you do it? How do you safely write about the hard stuff without softening it up? Well, the easiest path is just to stay away from controversial topics. No one can call you out for handling rape badly if you don't write it, right? And if you never write a character of a race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background other than your own, you're safe on that score, too. We're also missing the point.

The truth is, it's pretty much impossible to write anything that matters safely. Art, even the stuff produced purely entertainment purposes, is meant to push boundaries. If it doesn't, it's only reinforcing the same old status quo, which is a problem in and of itself. But just because it's pretty much impossible not to step on toes when you're herding sacred cows doesn't mean we should just let them be. These are powerful stories, and they need to be told. The key, though, is to always be sure to allow these topics the room and depth they deserve within your narrative, and, most important of all, to be sure you actually know what you're trying to say and feel proud standing behind it.

That fact that you're even considering how to write hard things the right way already puts you miles above the really problematic authors (you know the sort), but it can still be a complicated minefield, and one I was especially afraid of entering. It took me years to gain the courage as a writer to start tackling the harder topics, but caution can be rewarding, and I think I've worked some good rules of engagement over the years to make sure I don't accidentally come off looking like a jerk. And since this wouldn't be a Rachel Aaron writing post without a list, here they are!

1. Don't be a jerk.
This is kind of obvious, but considering some of the author reactions I've seen, it clearly needs to be said. If you are an actual jerk with jerky opinions who writes jerky jerk work, then all the writing tips in the universe won't stop readers and reviewers from calling you out for it. That's the price of jerkdom; not being liked or taken seriously. This isn't to say that you can't be a mega-bestselling jerk, but if you insist on putting offensive material in your books, then you can't get mad when people get offended. You will get mad, of course, because you're a jerk, but you have no ground to stand on. Not that you'll see that.

Fortunately, you, my lovely reader, are not actually a jerk, and so this point is not for you. Unless, of course, you are a jerk, in which case I'm very glad to have made you aware of your jerkitude. Acknowledging you have a problem is the first step toward recovery.

Caveat: this isn't to say you can't include characters who are jerks. Villains are the obvious example, but side characters and even protagonists can be homophobic, sexist, entitled, racist assholes and still be good characters. The key here, though, is to make sure the narrative calls these people out on their awful opinions and behavior. Have another character say something, or have appropriately bad things happen to them as a result of their biases (Woman Meteorologist, "Don't go out there! It's acid monsoon season!" Jerk, "Pah, what do women know about weather?" *Jerk goes out door, is melted by acid monsoon* and SCENE.)

That example's a little extreme, but you get the idea. The key here is that you're using the narrative to separate a jerk character from the story as a whole. You may not be a racist, but if you put a racist character  who says racist things in your book and then allow those ideas to go unchallenged, readers have no reason not to think that's what you actually believe. I'm not saying that every character who's not a well-adjusted saint has to get melted under an acid monsoon, but there's got to be something that lets your reader know that this character's bigoted opinions are not reflective of your own. Unless, of course, they are. In which case, see point one.

2. If you're going to tackle a big idea, make sure you give yourself the room to do it properly.
Say you have a character in your book who is raped. That's heavy stuff. Maybe it happened a long time ago, or maybe it happens during the course of the plot. Wherever or whenever the rape occurs, though, it changed that character enormously, and it's not the sort of thing you can gloss over or hand wave away. Rape is not character development, it's a real and horrible tragedy that 17% of your white female readers, 18% of your black or latina female readers, and 34% of your Native American/Alaskan female readers have personally suffered.

Think about that for a second. That is some heavy heavy ordinance, and it needs to be handled as such. I'm not at all saying that a raped woman's character needs to be defined by rape (god, PLEASE don't do that), but at the same time, it's not something you can ignore, especially since there are readers (myself among them) who often just won't read books with rape in them because it is so upsetting and it's often handled so so badly.

Does this mean rape is a verboten topic? Absolutely not. But it's also not the sort of thing you can just throw in because you want something bad to happen. You can't have a character get raped and then be fine in the next scene. You can't have a character rape another character and then patch everything back together with an apology and a thirty second "You know what I learned today" life lesson. You can't have a character condone or ignore a rape and then expect us to like them without a serious "oh God, how could I have been so wrong!" character redemption arc. Rape is the nuclear weapon of things that can happen to characters, and if you're going to put it in your story, you have to be ready to handle the fallout with the respect and care that it deserves.

Rape is just one example. There are plenty of horrible, horrible things that people do to other people, and if your book is going to be widely read, chances are that parts of your audience have suffered those humiliations and pains first hand. So if you're going to tackle a hard topic, don't insult your readers, the people who make your dream of writing possible, by reducing their tragedies to a plot point. Instead, give yourself the narrative space to explore the implications and consequences of serious issues properly. You don't have to pull your punches, in fact, I hope you don't, but you do have to think long and hard about where they land, and, more importantly, whom you're knocking out.

3. Don't make the victim the butt of the joke.
Man, this is getting heavy! Let's lighten it up. Let's say for a second that you're like me, and you like to write fun, action packed books, but you still want to include issues like racism and sexism because they're important and make for cracking good stories. How do you reconcile serious heavy matter with a lighthearted story? Is it even possible to joke about this sort of stuff?

This is a pretty loaded topic, but I'm a firm believer than joking about the hard stuff is actually the best way to start breaking it down into something we can actually deal with. The key (as always) is that you have to be aware of what your joke is doing. Even a joke about sexual assault can be funny, provided you never ever ever make the victim the butt of the joke.

For example, comedian Louis CK has a very famous clip about how there's no greater threat to women than men.

In this bit, he talks about how a woman agreeing to go on a date with an unknown man is an incredibly courageous act, and also insane, because men are the greatest cause of injury and suffering for women. “If you’re a guy, imagine you could only date a half-bear-half-lion," he says. "‘Oh, I hope this one’s nice! I hope he doesn't do what he’s going to do.’”

At its heart, this is a joke about rape. Yet unlike other, awful, white-hot rage inducing rape jokes, this one actually works, because the victim is not the one being made fun of. We are not laughing at the person who was raped, or rape itself, or even the rapist. We're laughing at how screwed up our society is where this sort of thing is still allowed to happen.

By pointing the joke in that direction, Louis CK gently leads his audience to consider "hey, that is screwed up." And then maybe they'll start thinking about it, and maybe the next time they see something questionable happening, they'll say something, or do something they wouldn't have done if they hadn't heard that joke.

That's the power of making fun of awful things, it tricks people into thinking in ways they're not used to, or don't want to. That's the power of fiction, too, but as Uncle Ben says, with great power comes great responsibility. This sort of humor takes a lot of careful thought and consideration, and even then, humor is subjective. What I find funny, other people may find in horrible taste, that's just how it goes. But if you think about what you do before you do it and always take the time to consider "whom am I really making fun of here?" you can find some really new and creative ways to tackle difficult issues in a non-depressing fashion, and that's always a good thing.

So that's my post. I hope my box of tricks helps you tackle your own stories. I'm always interested to hear how you've tackled this sort of thing in your own writing, so leave a comment below if you care to. Also feel free to leave comments telling me how you disagree. I'm not quite as happy to get those, but they are important none the less.

As always, thanks for reading, and happy writing!
- Rachel

Friday, August 30, 2013

DragonCon and 2k to 10k gets an update!

Hello everyone! So, as you might know, DragonCon is happening this weekend in Atlanta. (Some of you might actually even be there already, in fact.)

Let's hope these guys show up again!

Because I'm tired of getting rejected by DragonCon's guest committee (seriously, guys. Two published series, a popular self-pub writing book, tens of thousands of books sold all over the world, WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME? *looks at accepted guest list* Oh.)

Ahem. Long story short, I will not be attending DragonCon in my official capacity this year. HOWEVER! I will be at the con in Saturday just as myself (can't stop the signal, Mal!). So if you are at the con on Saturday and you want to come hang out with me and talk writing or Eli or whatever (or get anything signed), keep an eye on my Twitter feed. I'll be posting updates on my location all day. Hopefully we can get together and have some good times!

In other good news, I am very happy to announce that a new version of my fast writing book, 2k to 10k, is now available! To be honest, I never expected the book to do as well as it has, and I did not invest the time to do due diligence in my editing. Well, 177 reviews later, I've learned my lesson. This newly updated version has been professionally edited and reformatted. I won't say it's completely typo free because that's just tempting fate, but I will say it is much, much better than it was.

There is no substantially new content, but I did also reword several sections on publishing to reflect the growing importance and viability of self pub, so there's that. If you already bought the book, simply update your Kindle and the new version should download automatically. If you were thinking of buying the book and didn't because you didn't want to waste your dollar on typos, I hope you'll give this new, polished version a try. 

Thank you all for waiting so long, and I'm sorry I didn't do this before I published in the first place. I won't be making this mistake again.

That's about it! Enjoy the pretty new version of 2k to 10k and I hope to see some of you at DragonCon! Everyone else, have an awesome weekend!

- R

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Don't Stomp on My Cake!

Okay, so this is a true story about me and my writing. Namely, it's about me screwing up, hurting myself and my work, and then figuring out what steps to take so I don't do it again. As with every post in this blog, I'm posting it here in the hopes that you will spot the warning signs faster than I did and act more wisely. SPOILER: There are no actual cakes in this post. The cake is a metaphor.


So you might recall back in the day I wrote a blog post about dramatically increasing my daily word output through planning and observation (side note: this is probably what will be inscribed on my tombstone. "Here lies Rachel Aaron, That 2k to 10k Lady."). What I failed to mention in that original post, however, was all the time I spend not writing. I'm not talking about writer's block or other creative lapses. I mean legit "I have real life crap to deal with and can't physically sit down to type" not writing.

Now, for the most part, this sort of interruption is natural and unavoidable, even healthy (can't write all the time). My problem came with how I reacted to said interruption.

As you probably noticed from the multiple time tracking spread sheets I've posted over the years, I tend to approach my work from a "best case scenario" angle. I'm the sort of person who will suffer a minor interruption in my work flow, and then, if I don't think I can return to an optimal environment, I will rapidly flip in to screw-it mode. This tendency can range from minor ("I finished a chapter at 4:30 and I have to stop writing at 5... screw it, let's just quit here and play Minecraft!") to enormous ("I spent the morning at the doctor and now I'm tired, I've lost half my day, and I have to start a new chapter. Screw it, let's take the afternoon off and play Minecraft!"), and it's lost me more time than I care to think about.

This sort of behavior drives me crazy. I can't seem to make myself be good, even when I know full well what I'm doing and what it's costing me. It's not that I'm lazy (no one who actually gets through a book can ever be considered lazy), but every now and then I'll just hit this wall, especially if my non-writing life gets unusually stressful. And once I'm off a little bit--a few days behind where I want to be, then a week, then a month--it gets harder and harder to push ahead and easier and easier to say screw it, until finally there's no "it" left.

I'm much better about this now than I used to be earlier in my career, but this summer, I had a serious lapse. A combination of family trips, vacations, and various other unavoidable interruptions poked my schedule so full of holes there was barely any time left. Combine this with the fact that I was between books with no solid story line to pull me along and I haven't gotten crap done since June.

Naturally, of course, I feel awful about this. Nothing makes me feel more like a failure than looking at a total word count that's off from it's goal by a power of ten. And I'm a full time writer! The whole point of quitting my job was so that shit like this wouldn't happen. It's like I worked so hard making this beautiful cake of a life, and then the real world came in and stomped all over it.

Now, normally, this is the part of the blog post where I'd present my genius solution to the problem. "You must protect your writing time!" I'd say, or "Plot out your lost time on bell curve and science will show you the solution!" Or I could go with the tried and true writer axiom, "Word harder, slacker! Stop letting life kick you around like wuss and just write!"

The truth is, though, I don't have a solution. Life is messy. No matter how many walls I build or steps I take or plans I enact, shit still gets through to stomp on my cake. For someone as obsessed with optimal numbers as myself, that's a bitter pill to swallow. Looking back, there are definitely places where I could have worked harder or used my time more efficiently, but I can also see why I didn't...and I'm slowing starting to understand that that's okay.

I talk a lot about writing skills on this blog--plotting, tension, character building, etc.--but perhaps the most difficult writing skill of all to master (at least for me) is the ability to accept failure without turning it back on myself. This is amazingly important, because writing is absolutely full of failure. It comes in all sizes, shapes, and flavors of humiliation, and since writing is a solo endeavor, it's all too easy to pin the blame squarely on myself, even if the failure is something I had absolutely no control over. Add in the fact that writing pays the bills at my house, and we're talking lethal levels of guilt.

For the longest time, I thought this guilt was just part and parcel of the writing gig, a side effect of responsibility. Recently, though, I've started to realize there's nothing responsible (or noble, or laudable) about tearing myself down.

As much as I might like to pretend otherwise, writers are not super beings. We're not robots either, tuning ourselves to operate at maximum output efficiency at all times. We're just human, and humans fall down. We mess things up and get tired and make stupid mistakes and say screw it. When you're handling such potent materials as Great Dreams of Being a Writer, it's all too easy to get caught up in the goal, and (for me at least) to hate and guilt yourself over every fumbled step and missed opportunity. It is very easy, in short, to become a guilt fueled writer. But while guilt works in the short term, it's a treacherous fuel source, and enough of it can poison the stream of creativity and shut down your writing forever.

The sad fact is there's no way to completely protect your cake from getting stomped on. You can't will or guilt or threaten yourself into being an infallible super writer anymore than you can will or guilt or threaten everyone into loving your books. That said, just because your writing life cake has a big boot mark in it doesn't mean it's destined for the trash.

Authorship, storytelling, and creativity are life long endeavors; journeys of thousands of miles and multiple peaks and valleys. While we're on the trail, it can be very hard to take our eyes off the immediate mud holes and backtracking. But if we take a breath and look up, we'll see that these problems, however huge, are dwarfed by the enormous, endless, breathtakingly beautiful expanse that is the writing life. And while a change in perspective won't do anything to fix the hole you're in, it can and will make that hole look smaller, and it's amazing how much that helps you find your way out.

I'm still working on that solution for not letting life's unavoidable mishaps take such huge chunks out my writing schedule (current plan: if I decide not to write during work hours, I must do some kind of planning or writing related activity instead. So far, it's going more or less okay.), but I am slowly learning to accept my own mess ups with patience and understanding rather than guilt. That said, I've got a long way to go. I wasted years, years, guilting myself over every little thing and making myself feel terrible for missing what, I eventually realized, was an impossible goal. I can't be a perfectly optimized writer. It's just not going to happen. I can, however, be a reasonably good writer most of the time, and that is perfectly acceptable.

So here is the "learn from my fail" moment of this post: please, please, whatever you do, don't waste your time making yourself unhappy for years like I did. Polish that vital writing career skill of accepting failure and disappointment with compassion and understanding, and don't beat yourself up because you're not the kind of writer you think you should be, or someone else told you to be. Always remember that we're in this for the long game, not the short sprint--the career, not the novel. Anything else is just a form of self sabotage.

I'm going to wrap up here because I'm getting insufferably cheesy, but I really can not stress how much unnecessary pain and teeth gnashing I've put myself through over all this, and the idea of someone else going through all that pointless suffering for no good reason turns my stomach. So if you're mad at yourself and your writing, if you're frustrated with your lack of progress or characters or whatever has you blocked, know that you are not alone. You are, in fact, the opposite of alone. We have all been there, and while we all deal with it differently, I am going to go out on the limb and say that I feel you, and it's okay.

A few missed days or weeks or months of writing might feel like an epic failure, but in the long scheme of things it's just a blip. A long list of rejections definitely feels like the end of the world, but one story chalked up to a learning experience is just a tick on the long list of books you have yet to write. The only thing that really matters is that you get back in the saddle and keep writing, because the only thing on this Earth that can make you stop writing is you.

Life already stomps on your cake enough. Don't help it along by stomping down yourself. Focus on your Stories instead. Life's much more fun that way.

Happy writing!
- Rachel