Monday, September 30, 2013

Writing Faster, Writing Better

Weekend before last, I went to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold conference.  It was my 6th year in a row attending, and just like the previous years, I had an excellent experience.  Haha, this year, I even managed to attend some actual panels instead of spending all my time in the lobby socializing! The best and most motivating of the panels for me was one on "Writing Faster, Writing Better" - something I felt in desperate need of advice on, as I've been struggling to make progress on The Labyrinth of Flame while having less time to write than I ever did on the previous 2 books.  (Damn do I miss the days when my son took a nice 1.5-hour afternoon nap!)

I'm happy to say I came away from the panel with a whole new slew of tricks to try.  Many of them are psychological - everything from picking a simple ritual to perform before every writing session (lighting a candle, listening to a single song, etc), to using a 20-min timer for writing spurts.  Others involve actual adjustments of your writing process.  I've decided to try one of these - the "scene outlining" approach.  (Author Rachel Aaron describes this in her "2K to 10K" approach.)  

Usually by the time I get to a scene, I know pretty much what I want to happen, so I've never tried outlining it in any detail before I write.  I just sit down and start typing, and work through the details of dialogue and action as I go.  Yet I've noticed recently I've been stopping a whole lot while writing to stare at the screen and think about those very details.  They *need* to be thought through, no question; if I just force myself to plow onward willy-nilly, then sure, I pump out words, but then they have to be completely rewritten later because the details are so far from right. Whereas if I sit down and work out all those details in advance of actually setting fingers to keyboard, I'm hoping I can write a far more useful draft version of the scene in far less time. 

I'm not entirely sure how much time this will save me.  Yes, if I work out details in outline form, I'm not trying to write them in prose that other people would read, so that obviously saves a bit of typing-deleting-retyping.  Maybe I can also save time if I think through the scene during other moments of the day (driving to/from work, eating, etc).  But the "thinking" part is always the part that takes me longest, and often I don't have a good grasp of how best to handle a scene until I've actually tried to write the prose and found it doesn't work the way I was originally thinking.  So we'll see!  But I'm a big proponent of "If something's not working, then make a change."  My current writing process isn't letting me make the progress I want.  Time to switch it up.

As part of that, I've decided to make a big wordcount push on Labyrinth of Flame in Oct & Nov.  Full speed ahead, no revision, always moving forward (while using scene outlining, etc, to try and keep the words I put down somewhat useful).  So consider this a heads-up: I'll be a bit scarce around these parts.  I'll post my schedule for MileHiCon when I get it, and I'm thinking of doing a brief post every Monday for my own benefit, to tally progress and see how things are working (and decide if I need to try different tricks out of the workshop bag).  But other than that, it's gonna be nose to grindstone, fingers to keyboard.  

I don't expect this push to let me reach the end of the draft - I'll probably need at least another month or two afterward - but I want to get much, MUCH closer than I am right now.  I remember how awesome it felt to write THE END on the first draft of The Tainted City.  It can be summed up pretty much like this:

Sticking the landing on my final axel while competing at Adult Nationals a few years back. I'd fallen on that jump a million times (nothing harder than landing a jump at the very end of your program, when your legs are exhausted).  That time I made it - and won gold.  (Woo hoo!)
So here's hoping I can move the happy day for The Labyrinth of Flame a whole lot closer.  Fingers crossed!  

Monday, September 16, 2013

My take on author-blogger interaction

Today I'm over at BookSworn, talking about author/blogger interaction, and why it's good for authors to think very very carefully before joining in discussion of their own work:

If you were on Twitter yesterday, likely you saw the firestorm of debate generated by a column at Strange Horizons: “You Got Your Industry In My Fanwork” by SFF blogger Renay of Lady Business.  If you haven’t read the column and its comments, you should; but as a short summary, Renay discusses her discomfort with authors jumping into fannish discussions of their work without an explicit invitation.
My first thought upon reading the article was to remember a conversation I had not long after my first novel The Whitefire Crossing came out in 2011.  One  of my co-workers, a huge SFF fan and active participant on a major SFF forum, came by my cube to chat...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Boulder's Aquapocalypse, and other news

The rain rain rain came down down down, in rushing rising rivulets... That's exactly what we got in Boulder this last week. Nonstop rain, much of it heavy, oversaturating the soil and raising the creeks to gargantuan levels until on Wednesday night into Thursday we got the infamous "100-year flood" that Boulder officials have been muttering dark warnings about for years.

Boulder Creek in flood.  I took this pic on Friday, so water levels are already far less than they were at the height of the flood!
Thankfully, when we bought our house in Boulder we made sure to buy out of the city's multiple flood plains, so Casa Schafer was spared serious flooding. That said, thanks to a leaky foundation and supersaturated soil, we did get water trickling (and sometimes pouring!) into our underground storage area through various cracks. The sump pump kept it more or less under control, though, so we never suffered more than a few inches.  We did get a nice lake in our backyard:

My husband and son standing in the newly-created Lake Schafer
But nothing like the neighborhoods near the various creeks, some of which got slammed:

Parking lot of Boulder's main library on Friday: check out the mostly-submerged bench on the right!
Looking down from a bridge at a flooded bike path on Friday
Really, Boulder was fortunate: the damage here was nothing like the devastation in Lyons and some of the mountain towns, where roads and gas lines got completely ripped out, leaving people stranded without heat and power.  But watching the creek roar past from the surviving bridges is yet another stark reminder of how fragile we are in comparison to nature.

In happier news, look what showed up on my doorstep mere hours before the flood sirens went off:

Author copies of the German edition of The Whitefire Crossing (a.k.a. Die Chroniken von Ninavel: Die Blutmagier)! 
Holding a foreign edition of The Whitefire Crossing in my hands is definitely another mindblowingly cool authorial moment.  Hooray for my German publisher, Bastei Lübbe!  

A few other authorial bits of news:

  • Want to see a back-cover-copy style summary of The Labyrinth of Flame?  Then check out Fantastical Imaginations's "Upcoming Fantasy Novels in 2014, Part 2" in which I and a bunch of other authors discuss our upcoming releases.  (But beware spoilers if you haven't read the earlier books in the series; the summary does have spoilers for both Whitefire Crossing and Tainted City.)
  • Whitefire Crossing got used as a (good!) example in author Violette Malan's post at Black Gate about how to gracefully handle exposition. How cool is that?

Oh yes, and since this came up on Twitter - for anyone interested in getting signed copies of The Whitefire Crossing and/or The Tainted City, I bought up a bunch of the books back when I thought Night Shade might go to bankruptcy court (I figured better safe than sorry!).  I'm happy to sell signed copies direct to readers until I run out.  Email me (courtney (at) courtneyschafer (dot) com) for details.

Monday, September 9, 2013

My WorldCon in Pictures

Oh gosh, I had such a great time at WorldCon.  Since the con, I've seen a lot of thought-provoking discussion about the aging of WorldCon.  I've heard many authors say that other cons offer better promotional opportunities and chances to connect with newer/younger readers.  But I don't actually go to cons to sell my books.  I go to cons to get inspired and meet awesome people, and in that respect WorldCon kicks ass.  (Though I do very much believe the lack of diversity at WorldCon is a bad thing, and one I hope the con will address.  Just think of how many *more* awesome people there'd be to meet if a greater variety of people came.)

I had countless great conversations with friends, met a whole host of fascinating new folks, and came back all fired up to work even harder on Labyrinth of Flame.  (Which is why this post is so late.  As I dig my way out from the mountain of day-job and real-life tasks that piled up while I was gone, when I do get spare time, all I want to do is write more of Dev and Kiran's story, not blog posts!)

I'm not even going to try and name all the wonderful people I met and hung out with, or give you a detailed day-to-day con report.  After all, Labyrinth of Flame calls!  But I do have some fun pictures and links to share from my various unofficial events.

First up: the BookSworn open suite party, which I co-hosted along with a whole gang of author-friends on the first night of the con.  SO MUCH FUN.  

The BookSworn & Friends party gang.  Front row: Zack Jernigan, Martha Wells, Doug Hulick.  Middle row: Stina Leicht, Betsy Dornbusch, me, Katy Stauber.  Back row: John Hornor Jacobs, Brad Beaulieu, and a photo-bombing Sam Morgon of JABberwocky Lit agency.

I also had a wonderful time at the group signing that fellow author Mike Martinez organized at The Twig bookstore.  We ended up with 9 authors: Kevin Hearne, Drew Karpyshyn, Mike Martinez, Betsy Dornbusch, me, Brian McClellan, Kay Kenyon, Scott Lynch, and Myke Cole.  I sold & signed some books - met some wonderful fans who came all the way out to the signing specially for me (wow!).  Though my favorite was the young girl walking past with her family who stopped and begged her dad to buy Whitefire Crossing for her - it seems she'd read Tainted City but not book 1 in the series.  Of course I also had fun chatting with my fellow authors; it was a particular thrill to meet Kay Kenyon and Scott Lynch, whose books I've loved for years.  Kay has a new book out (A Thousand Perfect Things) that I'm really excited to read, and of course I'm counting down the days until Scott's release of The Republic of Thieves.

At our table outside the bookstore (which was right beside a popular farmer's market): Mike Martinez, Betsy Dornbusch, me, Brian McClellan.  
Looking down the table: Betsy, Mike, Kevin Hearne, Drew Karpyshyn
Kay Kenyon and Scott Lynch talking to readers
Signing books for Cheryl, an absolutely lovely reader I'd corresponded with on Twitter
Back at the con, I had some particularly great conversations at the Reddit r/Fantasy fan table, and even did a "live" AMA (Ask Me Anything) - click here to read it!  r/Fantasy moderator Steve Drew and the rest of the Redditors who came to WorldCon did a spectacular job on short notice; the fan table was THE place to hang out in the dealer's room, and Steve & the gang came up with a bunch of neat ideas to involve fans unable to attend the con.  (If you've never checked out the r/Fantasy forum, I highly recommend it.  Lots of author-reader interaction & interesting discussion.)  

r/Fantasy moderator Steve Drew and author Stina Leicht at the r/Fantasy fan table.  (Author Wesley Chu sitting behind the table, frantically typing away for his live AMA.)  Sorry for the light flares - all I had was my cell phone camera!

Stina tries on the Helm - a piece that Steve Drew brought & had authors sign, which will be auctioned for charity.
Steve Drew was also one of the co-organizers of the con's biggest unofficial event: the Drinks With Authors party, along with the ever-awesome Justin Landon of Staffer's Book Review and author Myke Cole.  Talk about a great party!  Tons of people came - and since they were smart enough to hold it off-site in a bar with far more space than any hotel suite could provide, we even had room to breathe while talking. :)  Steve's got the best pics of the event, but here are a few I snapped:

Redditors Dave Wohlreich and Ian Everett guard the books.  So many were donated by publishers & authors they had to give them away in lots.  
The party's back room. (The front area by the bar was even more packed.)

Reviewer Justin Landon and author Wesley Chu hold an impromptu handstand competition.  (Wes won.)
Last but very definitely not least, WorldCon was awesome because I got to hang out with my brother Matt.  (He reviews SFF books both on his own site and for Strange Horizons, and there's nobody better at detailed, thoughtful analysis.)  We don't get to see each other that often, and since we both love SFF, what better venue for some quality sibling interaction?

Matt by a seriously huge prickly pear cactus during our visit to the Alamo. 
So, yeah.  Good times. Next year WorldCon is in London, and alas, I cannot go.  (Aside from the expense, my son starts kindergarten right around the time of the con.)  I may give Dragon*Con a try instead - I've been a little leery of attending the bigger media cons, thinking it might be a bit too overwhelming for an introvert like me - but hey, always good to step outside your comfort zone.  Still, I'm pretty sure that when WorldCon returns to the US in 2015 (Spokane won the bid), I'll be back.