Missing both my computer and imaginary friends

If you’re the type of person who likes unfocused, general blog posts, then you will love this one!

So, what’s going on with me? First, I don’t have a computer! That sucks for anyone in general, but if you are struggling to put out the last book in an urban fantasy series, it perhaps really sucks. It’s been over a month now, and I miss having a computer a great deal. However, I just started a new job after being home with the kids all summer (read: not making money), so while I’ll hopefully have one soon, it hasn’t been able to happen yet.

Another thing: I was in two regular RPGs, and now both are on hiatus. I know this shouldn’t seem like that jarring an occurrence, but these were two people who I was very close to, and I do miss them. This happened at around the same time when I finished writing the first draft of Fresh Blood, so I also had to say goodbye to my protagonist. And for those who weren’t clear from reading above, the people I am missing are the characters I played in the games.

Thing of change the third: My older son started attending kindergarten in a public school this fall. He had previously only attended a private pre-k at his daycare. For those who don’t have kids, daycare hardly ever closes. Public school is closed all the time, for holidays I would never have off from work. In addition, daycare gets out at 6pm. Public school gets out at 2:20pm. So it was a bit of an adjustment, to say the least, with a ton of scrambling for childcare. When both parents work outside the home (and in different boroughs) and both kids attending different schools, commuting can be very difficult.

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My son on the first day of kindergarten!

So in conclusion, there have been a lot of changes lately, and I am looking forward to having things calm down a bit, if that ever really happens.

First day of school blues

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All ready for school!
Today is my older son’s first day of kindergarten. When he was born almost five years ago, this day seemed so far away, but now, with seemingly no warning, it’s here. This day, and these last few months in general, have been somewhat of emotional roller coaster for me.
To make a long story into a somewhat shorter story, I was a stay-at-home mom for a few weeks this summer. Summer is usually a slow time for the work I do, and it seemed like a good time to try out my ideas of working less and being with family more. Did I enjoy it? Almost all of it, except for one big part. I worry about money all the time. It’s just my nature to do so. And that I wasn’t contributing to the household very much did upset me. So one day, I asked my older son if he wanted to go back to camp for the rest of the summer, and he said, “Yes, I really want to!”

Most kids like being around other kids. And while I took him to the playground every day, it obviously was not enough for him. Not everyone is like me and just wants to be left alone in the dark to read a book, after all (yes, this is something I enjoyed at age five). At that point, I realized it would probably better for both of us if I went back to work full time. I did feel some guilt with my just-turned-a-year-old son, who is going through horrible separation anxiety, and just wants to be with me all day. But I know that in a few weeks or months, he too will start playing with his daycare friends, and look forward to school.

And as for me, I’ve been at work for about three weeks now. I do genuinely enjoy editing, so that’s always a plus, to like what you do. The coworkers and boss are all as sane as you can get in the world of advertising, and as usual, the Diet Coke is free, so I can’t complain. The fact that I can go to the bathroom without anyone screaming for me and opening the door and place a hot cup of coffee on a table without worrying that someone will knock it over is just a bonus.

But today is my son’s first day of kindergarten and my first day off work, and as school gets out at the crazy time of 11:10, I am looking forward to taking my son out for a quality afternoon of movies and ice cream.

Re-reading the Vampire in the City series

Last week I finished writing Fresh Blood, the sixth and final book in the VitC series. The next day, I left for a vacation to Cape Cod. We were with family, including our two children, who are almost five and just turned one. We stayed at a house on the beach, and spent most of our time outdoors doing stuff with the kids.
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My older son, buried in sand and screaming!

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Me with my younger son, not buried in sand but screaming nevertheless!

At nights, after the kids were asleep, I busied myself with re-reading the entire Vampire in the City series. I wanted to take notes on the timeline, figure out what loose ends might need to be tied up, and just have it really fresh in my head for the edit of Fresh Blood. Somehow, I managed to finish the fifth book the day after we came back, and am now set to start on the second draft. While I don’t have an official release date yet, I’m thinking sometime around October 1st.

While I was re-reading my writing, some of it from about ten years ago, I was mostly struck with how much my protagonist has changed over the course of the series. In the first book she was sometimes awkward to the point of embarrassing me as I was reading it. By the last book she is much more sure of herself and proactive, instead of just reacting to the situations I put her in. Overall, I am pleased with this progression, and I hope my readers will enjoy the culmination of a series that has been very fun to write!

The process of my process (editing)

In a previous post, I mentioned the process that I use to edit my books. It’s occurred to me that I developed this process on my own, in a vacuum of sorts, and I have no idea how other independent authors edit their work. So what I’m going to do is outline my process below so we can compare. I am hoping other writers will have ideas that will help me improve my process!

1) Second draft. I usually try to write the first draft fairly quickly, with little to no editing, so I like to take a few days to celebrate finishing the book, and then I go right into the second draft. This edit consists of simply reading it and polishing it up. I usually don’t make any notes or go heavily into proofreading.

2) Beta readers. I try to get around four to six people of a somewhat diverse demographic to read the second draft. Usually, I give them about a week to a week and a half to finish the read, and I include a short questionnaire that calls out items I specially want to hear their opinions on.

3) Third draft. This is when I go through the comments from beta readers and make changes based on their questionnaire responses. There are usually enough revisions that I need at least two or three days for this step.

4) Consistency check/fact check. This is hands down the most annoying step in the editorial process. I have to pick over, in detail, everything every character says to make sure it doesn’t conflict with anything they said or did in a previous book or their personal timelines. (This is especially annoying in vampire books, where characters can be hundreds of years old.) At the same time, I also check everything that happens against sunrise/sunset calendars, which is another particular step you have to take with vampire books. Is it 6:00am and the vampires are out and about? Well, that’s fine if it’s February, but if it’s April, they will be burned to a crisp.

5) Proofread. This is the very last step, and I like to let a good few days go by between this and the previous step. I try to forget everything I’ve written, and simply proofread it very carefully. I usually have one other person doing this at the same time, in the hopes that we will both find different things.

And finally, I am done! Somewhere between steps 1 and 3 I also start cover concepting, looking for images, and talking to my graphic designer. And of course, if the book is in a series (like the one I am writing currently), I will be simultaneously plotting for the next book. And thus the endless cycle of writing turns once more!

Do you have a different editing process? I would love to hear from you!

The one in which I explain why I couldn’t write for nine months

Just over a year ago, I had one of the biggest shocks of my life when I found out I was pregnant for the second time. And in those early weeks, when the belly hasn’t grown yet and there is little to no physical manifestation of said pregnancy, I actually did not believe it. Then, about nine weeks in, the extreme tiredness set in, followed very quickly by the pregnancy brain.

For those who have never experienced pregnancy brain, this is how it goes: “I am pregnant! Holy crap! How did this happen? What’s going on? I need to sleep!” These thoughts are quickly followed by somewhat of a period of non-thought, in which you may fall asleep, or simply stare blankly into space. As soon as you come out of it, these thoughts occur:  “I am pregnant! Holy crap! How did this happen? What’s going on? I need to sleep!”

Repeat this for about seven more months. I’ve even woken up in the middle of the night to pee, tried to roll over and get out of bed, failed, and then thought “Why am I so fat?” before remembering I was many months pregnant. Basically, it was a nine-month period of having no short-term memory and barely functioning as a member of society.

I’m sure there are women to whom this doesn’t happen. Those women might be able to do awesome things like hold a coherent thought, leave a room without forgetting why they left in the first place, and believe that they are pregnant and are able to make plans for said baby or even buy a diaper before said baby is born. I am not one of those women. My brain only started functioning again about a day after the baby was born, and I then had the wherewithal to order diapers and formula online to be delivered before we got home.

Anyway, the point is that even though I was about 5,000 words into Demon Blood at the end of last year when I found out I was pregnant, my writing immediately dropped off. I was somehow able to get another 5,000 words done by April, which is when I became too pregnant to function. The baby was born on July 10th, and by the end of August, the thought occurred to me that I was in the middle of writing a book.

Fortunately for me, the baby had not been informed that newborns are supposed to be bad at sleeping, so I was able to pick up writing again more quickly than I anticipated. My maternity leave was over October 2nd, and through a shear force of will, I somehow managed to finish the first draft of Demon Blood at 5pm on October 1st.

Since I’ve started writing the Vampire in the City series, I’ve been able to get out one book a year, and I realized that the end of 2014 was rapidly approaching and the book wasn’t ready yet. So from the beginning of October until now, I’ve been working on the editing of Demon Blood almost without break. (I have several types of edits I go through, and usually give myself a few days off between them.)

In short, I have given up things like my lunch hour at work, sleep, and the playing of video games, but finally, with less than a month to spare, Demon Blood is coming out on December 5th! Here’s where you can reserve a copy!

Interview with Epidiah Ravachol

A few days ago, I found a PDF e-zine in my inbox titled Worlds Without Master. It’s a mix of short fantasy stories, role-playing games, and other cool stuff. I loved the idea and the e-zine, and am so excited that the Overeditor, Epidiah Ravachol, agreed to do an interview on my blog!

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1. What prompted you to put together an e-zine? Was this your first?

It is my first! I’m not a stranger to independent publishing, and I’ve wanted to publish a sword and sorcery periodical for some time now; but the idea was a bit daunting. So I kept thinking of it as the project I tackle after this next one.

Then I was seeking an outlet for my own fiction and getting frustrated with the number of ezines that paid you in “free electronic copies.” I could get free electronic copies by emailing the stories to myself, if I wanted to. While venting this frustration on the Internet, I joked about making my own magazine, calling it Words Without Master, as a play on the title of a sword and sorcery game I had in the works called Swords Without Master. (Later I changed the name to Worlds Without Master, but I haven’t scrubbed the web clean of the original title yet.) The joke had some heat, and I realized I might have an audience.

Then I discovered Patreon, which is an interesting take on this whole crowdsourcing business. It’s a subscription model where the patrons pledge to give a certain amount of money every time you release something, up to a maximum amount per month that they set. The patrons aren’t charged until you’ve delivered your product and as the creator you can see how much money you’ll make on the product when you do release it. This is exactly the model I was looking for. I would know exactly how much money I could spend on each issue ahead of time, which helped eliminate risk. And I didn’t have all the pressure of fulfilling a product people had already paid for.

There were a few other pieces to the puzzle, but once I knew about Patreon, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion.

2. Why distribute as a PDF?

Printing and shipping is too unpredictable. I have friends who had really successful Kickstarter campaigns fund and then, before they could ship their product out, the US Postal Service jacked up their prices. It was not a pleasant sight.

So, in the interested of making this venture as risk-free as possible, I’m going to stick to electronic distribution. Right now, that means PDFs, because I’m most familiar with that format. In the future I hope to branch out into other formats, as long as they let me comfortably include the illustrations, comics and all the strange formatting that comes with role-playing games.

3. Your e-zine contains both fantasy stories, comics, role playing games. How do these things go together?

The sword and sorcery branch of fantasy and comics have a storied history. They both were raised in the pulps, and before the eventual rise of the superhero, pulp genres like Westerns, detective stories, and sword and sorcery figured very prominently in the comic industry.

I really wanted a comic strip for Worlds Without Master, but I thought that was something that could only happen in the far flung future. Something I would shoot for if the Patreon budget got really big. But then Bryant Paul Johnson, a gaming buddy and an accomplished artist, drew a frame of his comic and posted it online where he knew I’d see it. I seized the bait and I’m so happy with the results.

Sword and sorcery and role-playing games kind of go hand-in-hand, and that might be a bit of a problem for me. In the back of the original AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, Gary Gygax published a now somewhat famous list of influential fiction known as Appendix N. Not all, but perhaps the majority of the titles listed in this appendix fall within the genre of sword and sorcery. And when gamer goes back and reads these titles, they find origins of so many of monsters, sorceries and concepts found in the game.

The birth of D&D is the birth of the role-playing hobby, but it’s also the birth of a new genre of fantasy. One that is heavily influenced by D&D, as well as the fantasy role-playing and video games that have followed it. This genre is kissing cousins to sword and sorcery, but it’s not exactly sword and sorcery. And while I enjoy both genres, the D&D genre already has plenty of outlets. Sword and sorcery, in my opinion, could use another venue. I want Worlds Without Master to be that venue. So I’m drawing a hard line there, especially when it comes to the role-playing games I’m accepting. They’re under a little more scrutiny. Enter the Avenger, the role-playing game in the first issue, is a great example of a solidly sword and sorcery game. The list of places to visit in that game . . . I just want to grab my sword and leap into that world.

4. Artwork features prominently in your e-zine. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Last summer I had the opportunity to see an art exhibit on imaginative realism, which is a style of art that takes fantastic subjects and portrays them as real objects. Or just a fancy name fantasy illustrations. One of the things that impressed me about the exhibit was the power of a single image to light a fuse that would eventually make my head explode in implied narrative. This quality was always vital to my experience of the fantasy art. When I’m sifting through the used book stores looking for lost classics, I’m judging a lot of these books by their covers. And there are so many role-playing games I’ve played based on the strength of their illustrations alone. And don’t get me started on Iron Maiden album covers.

So narrative is an important part of my art direction. I want the illustrations to present the viewers with a world they can’t help but step into and adventure in. I’m not as interested in seeing the characters in action as I am in implying the story around that action.

And it helps me make the e-zine something that teenage Eppy would buy. That’s a dude who could be swayed by some fancy drawings.

5. As an editor, what do you look for when reading submissions? Can you share any tips for writers?

I crave wonder in my stories. But this would be ridiculously useless advice if just said something vague like, “Make sure you deliver the wonder.” So let me instead point you to the more practical advice of a more experienced writer on the subject.

Michael Moorcock said, as part of his instructions on how to write a novel in three to ten days, “You need a list of images that are purely fantastic: deliberate paradoxes, say: the City of Screaming Statues, things like that. You just write a list of them so you’ve got them there when you need them. . . [T]hey have to cohere, have the right resonances, one with the other.”

My submission requirements ask for something a wee bit smaller than a novel, but this is grand practical advice for plugging wonder into your stories. I mean, when you read “City of Screaming Statues,” you were already picturing, and hearing, it in your head, weren’t you? What are these statues? How is that they scream? And why?

As a reader I cannot pass over a detail like that not literally wonder about it. If a submission does that to me then I have to pause and take it seriously. Even if it doesn’t exactly meet my other submission requirements or if it’ll take a lot of editorial massaging, if it pulls me in like that, I have to consider publishing it.

6. As a writer, what authors have inspired you?

Whoa boy. I’ll try my best to keep this list short by just naming the ones I can off the top of my head in no particular order: Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Robert Luis Stevenson, Michael Moorcock, Tanith Lee, Jack Vance, Charles R. Saunders, Harold Lamb, C.J. Cherryh, Leigh Brackett, Andrew Howard Jones, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Clark Ashton Smith.

And, of course, the lyrical genius of the late Ronnie James Dio.

7. What else have you written?

Most of my other work is in my role-playing games: DreadTime & TempVast & Starlit, and my proudest accomplishment, What Is a Roleplaying Game? which is a 463-word long role-playing game my mom used to teach my aunt about the hobby. But I do have a very short fable in The Lion and the Aardvark published by Stone Skin Press.

8. Do you ever edit your own work?

I have editors and proofreaders for most of my stuff. Though I am embarrassed to say that, due to deadline constraints, a few of the peripheral parts of the first issue were not seen by anyone else before it was published, and there are a couple typos to be found. But most of them have been hunted down and eliminated.

I really like the people I’ve worked with so far. I need their eyeballs, expertise, and opinions. Since I’ve got the final editorial say, it ends up being something of a dialog between our tastes and voices. And the end product seems better for it.

9. Where can we get a copy of your e-zine?

You can buy the first issue for $3.99 using this PayPal link: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=3VUDUTN3VLXMW

But more importantly, if you want to make sure you get future issues for only $2.99 each, you should join the Patron Horde: www.Patreon.com/Epidiah

I say more importantly because, as I mentioned in my answer to the first question, Patreon lets me know how much money I have to work with for each issue. As this amount grows, so does the size and content of each issue. More sword and sorcery bang for your electronic buck, and all that.

10. Anything else you would like to add?

If you dig sword and sorcery and you’re interested in submitting, here are my guidelines: www.dig1000holes.com/words/submissions/

News and Nostalgia

First, a bit of exciting news: I have finished the second draft of Cold Blood, and it’s now with my beta readers for review. Usually, it’s during this stage that I write the first chapter of the next book, which I just finished the other night. I am very happy to almost be finished with Cold Blood, as it’s the only thing I’ve written so far that has given me actual nightmares. Just by my admitting that, I’m sure those who know me can figure out the particular subject matter fairly quickly! Those who don’t, feel free to guess! 

Next, a bit of nostalgic news–I just realized that it’s the second year anniversary of the release of New Blood, the first book in the Vampire in the City series. As to how many years it’s been since I actually wrote it–probably around six! It was originally written in a composition notebook and then hidden away in my desk for a few years. Then, in 2010, when I was getting rid of the desk to fit a bassinet into my bedroom, I found it. In 2011, after I had (marginally) adjusted to being a new mom, I typed it onto my computer, and finally let other people read it. The response was good, so I went ahead and published it. And today, almost four books out, I couldn’t be happier with where this little series has gone!

Everything Is Happening!

When I started working on two books at the same time, I had the passing thought, “What will happen if they both come out at the same time?” Then, the passing thought passed as I answered myself with, “That will never happen.”

 
Now, it is months later and both my charity urban fantasy anthology, Urban Harvest and the fourth installment of the Vampire in the City series, Cold Blood are both very close to being complete. I’m actually a little surprised at how far along I am on Cold Blood, but during the long Labor Day weekend, the ending became very clear in my mind, and I breezed through 10k in about three days. Since I’m working on the release and promotion of Urban Harvest now, Cold Blood will most likely be released in October.
 
So Urban Harvest will be releasing on September 22, the first day of Fall. Please join the Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/200193933487655/. Teasers from the book and other fun stuff will be going on there up until the day of the release. Also, right here in this blog, I will be having some interviews with the authors!

Blah blah adverse events blah blah important safety information

I may have discovered an even more counterproductive way to write. As I have previously mentioned, my first two books were written in first draft with paper and pen. When I wrote the first chapter of Witch Blood, I was almost ready to release Wild Blood, and wanted to include it at the end. In my hurry to write, I did the unthinkable, and typed it directly into Word. That led me to my revelation: typing is much quicker than writing longhand. And, since that means the second draft doesn’t consist of transcribing notebooks of copy, that would make the process go faster as well. 

At first, I was elated that I had joined the rest of you in this century at typing my book directly onto my computer. And it was going so much faster than the first two books. But then, something bad happened–a new drug was launched. Okay, so technically that’s not a bad thing. Some may even call it a good thing, as I’m a freelance medical editor who gets paid by the hour. And don’t get me wrong–I love making money. But having transitioned from non-drug-launch average of about 20 hours of work a week to the drug launch average of about 50, I have to say that it is also quite tiring. 

While I used to get off work by mid-afternoon and have plenty of time to get home and write about two hours a day and also make dinner, I am now going in early and staying late and even working when my kid goes to bed and on weekends. Making mac and cheese has now become a time luxury I can’t afford. So you can guess what has happened to my writing in all of this. 

Believe me, when you spend ten hours a day staring at a 165-page document that goes something like “Blah blah liver failure blah toxoplasmosis blah antihypertensives,” the last thing you want to do is relax by sitting in front of a computer and typing. Let’s just say my sofa and I are almost as friendly now as we were during my maternity leave. So apart from waiting a few weeks for the work insanity to be over, I wondered when I could fit in some daily writing. It occurred to me that I didn’t want to sacrifice any of my precious relaxing on the sofa time, so the only occasion I would have to write was when it was otherwise impossible to relax. 

Since it’s fairly impossible to write while washing dishes or cleaning the cat litter pan (if any of you have figured this out, please let me know!), I began writing on the subway during my daily commute. And because it takes 45 minutes each way on a good day to get back and forth from Queens to TriBeCa, I manage to get a fair bit of writing done. 

Now, one may ask whether it is feasible or even safe to work on a computer while riding the subway. Since I have a desktop rather than a laptop, the answer for me is decidedly no. So have I once again abandoned technology in favor of paper and pen? No. Instead, I may have come up with an even more ineffective way of writing. 

What I do is this: I take out my handy iPhone and open up a new draft email. Then, since there has been a rash of iPhone theft on the subway (aka, apple picking), I clutch the device tightly with my left hand and type everything in with my poor, abused right pointer finger. Once I get home, cook dinner, eat dinner, read to child, bathe child, and put child to bed, I am free to go to my computer and copy and paste what I’ve written into my Word document. Then, if I haven’t brought work home with me, I am free to go sit on my sofa and dream of a future in which I am a full-time writer.

damn that international journal of something and something

In direct contrast to the three amazing jobs I wrote about yesterday, here are the three very worst jobs I have ever had in my life:
 
1. Clerk at the Bursar’s Office of my College: This was when I went back to school as an adult and needed a part-time job somewhere that worked with my schedule. While it did fit nicely around my classes, I had some vivid nightmares about this job. The most common nightmare I had involved me getting yelled at by students who were angry when they were dropped from classes due to not paying their tuition. I would actually wake up from these dreams frustrated and screaming. The second most common nightmare I had was about counting tuition money incorrectly and being held responsible to pay the school back for it.
 
2. Cashier at CVS: Now, I love CVS for providing me with ExtraBucks and drugs, but working there was awful. This was while I was in college for the first time, so you can assume that most of the time that I  was working there, I had absolutely no idea what was going on around me. My first day, my register total was under by more than $100. I attribute this to me not grasping the exact meaning of numbers. Instead of firing me on the spot, they let me work at the pharmacy. For some reason, I thought only pharmacists could work the pharmacy, and not barely-functioning hungover college students. I don’t remember much about this, but it lasted not so long, as they eventually did fire me.
 
3. Managing Editor at the Journal of International Something and Something: This was my worst job of all time. In my opinion, being an editor is all about sitting quietly by yourself and writing on pieces of paper with a red pen. Or at least, that’s how it should be. This was a monthly, widely-read journal that had a total of one person on the editorial staff. I was responsibly for everything involved in the printing of the magazine. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Once I was asked to go to a medical conference, which is in itself not unusual, but I was required to transport all the materials to the convention, set up the actual booth, and stand there and sell subscriptions. At other medical journals I’ve worked at, all I had to do at conventions was go to cocktail parties and make small talk with the doctors. And I am so much better at that than any sort of manual labor and construction. Our booth looked like a life-sized version of one of those dioramas made with Popsicle sticks that kids make in elementary school. And I had to sit there for two full days selling journal subscriptions. But I do not like to directly confront people, so I think I only sold three the entire weekend. And the cost of the space rental for the booth was $6,000. The last straw for me was that the job did not offer any medical insurance, and during said conference I was suffering with a tooth that needed a root canal I could not afford. If you can’t tell, I am still very bitter about this job, which only lasted three months but felt like three decades.
 
Currently, I have a job that would not make my best or worst list. But I am a freelancer, so I don’t have to attend meetings or have anything to do with day-to-day office nonsense. I just sit quietly at my cubicle and write in red ink on a piece of paper, the way the Powers That Be intended for an editor to do. And it also allows me to use the office computer for doing things like writing blog entries (although my actual blog site is blocked!), and write and edit my own books while I have downtime. And believe it or not, after years of trying, I managed to get a job at yet another place that gives out free Diet Coke! 
 
Mentally, I am now going through a shift between what I think of as my job and what I think of as my career. My job is medical editing. It’s tedious and not fun but it pays relatively well since no one in their right mind likes doing it. My career, on the other hand, is being a writer. It’s what I put the majority of my energies into. It’s what wakes me up in the middle of the night when I suddenly realize the perfect ending to a chapter. It’s what makes me frantically type with two fingers onto my iphone when I’m on the subway. So I may have realized this late in the game, but my job is just something I do for money, while my career is what really makes me feel fulfilled and self-actualized. And at least I realized that before I tried to make a career out of playing minesweeper and drinking Diet Coke.