Tag Archives: Savannah J Foley

The Big Pause

23 Nov

by Savannah J. Foley

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(cross-posted from my personal blog)

Recently I read this article by Jaye Wells, and it cleared something up for me about writer’s block and how I write.

Usually when I’m working on a novel I encounter a point I call The Big Pause. It occurs 75% of the way through the story, when all the meat is out of the way and all that’s left is to write the big finale.

I stop.

I tell myself it’s because I don’t exactly know what’s going to happen next, and how can I write it if I don’t know what to write, but that’s not really the reason. I know how it all ends up. I don’t have a firm grasp on the details, but I never do for any scene. Somewhere in all the work it just magically comes together.

But the above-mentioned article pointed out what was really going on: The Big Pause is my moment of fear. It’s the point where the book is about to turn into a reality. Soon it’s going to be a finished product, not something I’m just working on for fun. I’m going to have to show it off. Be responsible for its perfection. And that’s scary.

But not the only thing that scares me. The biggest reason I have a Big Pause is that I’m afraid what I’m going to write is total crap.

I don’t have this problem in the first three quarters of the book. As a friend once put it, I write really clean first drafts. I’m not saying everything comes out sparkling, and there have definitely been some scenes I’ve had to cut or seriously modify. But to put it in perspective, for the sleeping beauty story there was only one scene I really struggled with. One that got completely rewritten out of a whole book.

So when I have to face the prospect of writing just to get it done, I freeze up. I love the idea of writing messy and cleaning it up, or maybe I love the idea of getting into that mental space where you know, as the creator, exactly what needs to go, what can stay, and what just needs to be fixed. But when the moment comes I really struggle with writing a sentence I’m not happy with the first time around.

(This is starting to sound like I’m not capable of editing, and let me say that’s definitely not true. After everything I’ve gone through with NAMELESS I feel confident in stating I absolutely know how to edit and mix things up 😉 )

I also read recently that procrastination is sometimes defined by fear and guilt. The fear that once the story is complete it will have to actually BE a functioning, sellable story. The guilt that it’s not moving fast enough, that it’s maybe not as amazing as I’d hoped.

My Pause usually lasts a few weeks, and by that time I’ve gestated the issues in my mind well enough to know how to sprint towards the finish. But I don’t want that to turn into a habit. I want to learn to let go, and give myself permission to write the story clearly not perfect, because it can always be fixed later.

It can always be fixed later.

That’s what editing is for, after all.

I now declare The Big Pause officially over!

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Writing about Zombies + Book Giveaway!

10 Oct

by Savannah J. Foley

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(Cross-posted from my personal blog)

Is anyone else totally psyched that it’s October? That it’s any month in autumn, really? But October is dear to my heart, and I imagine it’s dear to many of yours for the same reason: Halloween, and all the scary stuff that goes along with it. If you follow my blog then you’ll know that I recently finished a YA zombie apocalypse novel. I’ve written before about how scared of zombies I am, but working with them has transformed my fears into enthusiasm. You could, these days, if you were so inclined, call me a Zombie Enthusiast. *Puts brain-splattered monocle into place*

One of the most enjoyable parts of working on this book has been planning out which types of zombies I want to use. For such a well-known genre, the monster itself has many variations: undead, alive, slow, fast, hungry, lusty, moaning, silent; the list goes on and on. And since it’s October, the month of horror, I thought I’d put together a short list of some of the more popular types of zombies, and the pro’s and con’s of each, in case some of you find yourself branching out into zombies as well. But first, a glossary!

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Zombie: A blanket term referring to the walking dead, or the undead (Romero zombies)

Infected: Sometimes used interchangeably with ‘zombie’, could be taken to mean someone who is about to become a zombie, or someone who has whatever causes zombieism and is acting like a zombie, but not technically dead yet.

Horde: Sometimes referred to as ‘The Horde’: a large group of zombies, typically attacking a building.

Incubation: The time it takes for someone who is infected, or zombie-capable, to become a full-out zombie.

Reanimation: Refers to the point in time when someone rises from the dead as a zombie (Romero). Usually takes place after incubation (WWZ, Resident Evil).

Turn: As in, ‘to turn.’ The point at which someone becomes full-on zombie, usually after reanimation, but not in the case of still-living infected, as in 28 Days Later.

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Type: Voodoo Zombie

Cause: Mostly dried pufferfish. And a little bit of voodoo.

Effect: Turns the infected into mindless slaves.

Characteristics: These are the original zombies. Still alive, still human, just mindless slaves of the voodoo master.

How It Spreads: Typically the voodooer would get the secret pufferfish recipe onto the skin of their victim. The toxins in the pufferfish slow down the victim’s life signs to the point where they are considered dead, and buried. Then the voodoo practitioner digs them out of their grave and presto! You’ve got yourself a zombie slave.

Side note: I own several dried pufferfish. You can read into that whatever you like.

Why are they scary: You get what you think is a bit of dust on your arm and then the next thing you know you’re rising out of the earth like a corpse and forced to do whatever it is some crazy voodoo witch wants you to do. You lose your personality, your sense of time, and your family thinks you’re dead. It’s basically a living nightmare.

Why they don’t make sense: This is a tricky one, since there are reports of this actually  happening. The only hard part of making this work is infecting the person in the first place, then convincing their family they’re actually dead. These days with autopsies and formaldehyde it’s highly unlikely this tactic would work.

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Type: Romero Zombies

Cause: Radiation.

Effect: The dead walk. All dead, even the recently buried (no infection; the zombieism is transferred simply by dying)

Characteristics: The goal of Romero zombies is to consume (that’s where the symbolism for consumerism came from, har har). These zombies are undead, and have low intelligence. Humans only.

How It Spreads: Through death, or biting. Incubation is at least 24 hours for bites.

Why are they scary: They want to literally eat you. Dead corpses have risen from the grave to sink their rotting teeth into your flesh. Terrifying.

Why they don’t make sense: So do they stop eating you after you die? Or do they keep eating you? If so, then why don’t they eat each other? Could you, hypothetically, turn, and then start eating them back? Or yourself?

Also, space radiation? Seriously?

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Type: Resident Evil Zombies

Cause: Science Experiment gone extremely wrong (T-Virus) (T for Totally Awesome?)

Effect: Turns the infected into walking corpses.

Characteristics: These zombies are also undead, and slow. Low intelligence. Incubation period of less than 24 hours. No real eating; these zombies exist only to spread the virus. Also spreads to non-humans.

How It Spreads: Biting. Originally the virus was airborne, though.

Why are they scary: Have you seen Resident Evil? Walking corpses that don’t care if you shoot them or break their legs are scary.  End of story.

Why they don’t make sense: A virus that originally spread through the air ducts? But doesn’t go airborne afterwards? Also, if you’ve seen the later movies, you know how the virus managed to mutate and turn its hosts into squid-humans, which is just ridiculous. Plus there are ‘bosses’, but that’s because this movie was based on a computer game. I don’t really like computer/video game zombies because the nature of the game demands ‘bosses’. Some zombies mutate into really weird, oddly specific types, and that just bugs me because it wouldn’t happen ‘in real life.’

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Type: 28 Days Later Zombies

Cause: PETA  Tree-Hugging Activists Another science experiment gone wrong (The Rage Virus)

Effect: Turns the infected into violent monsters that want to attack any uninfected.

Characteristics: These zombies are ‘fast’, and can be moderately intelligent. They’re still considered alive. Eyes typically become red or yellow, and the infected vomits blood. Some people may have a genetic immunity to the virus, but can be ‘carriers’ of it and pass it to others.

How It Spreads:  Fluid transfer, whether saliva, blood, or bloody vomit. There is no incubation  period for this one; the virus goes into effect almost immediately.

Why are they scary: In the first Romero film, one of the characters is able to repel a zombie simply by pushing her back weakly. These zombies are not like that. They will hunt you down, can probably outrun you, and attack you like a boxing linebacker. Plus, any hint of contamination and you’re a goner.

Why they don’t make sense: First of all a virus could not possibly spread that quickly. Secondly I don’t buy into the whole ‘rage’ thing. Finally, did you see 28 Weeks Later? The same zombie followed them around the whole time! Totally illogical!

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Type: World War Z Zombies

Cause: Unknown, some type of creature in a river in China. Not known whether this is a virus, a bacteria, or something else.

Effect: The infected become walking corpses that seek to pass on the infection. 

Characteristics: These zombies are slow, both physically and mentally. They are attracted to noise, and usually moan themselves. They can last for years at a time, growing progressively more raggedy. These zombies fail to blink, so their eyes quickly become milky with scratches on the retina. They are attracted to all forms of life, but the infection itself does not cross species.

How It Spreads: These zombies pass the infection mostly through biting, but in one notable case the infection was transferred through a heart transplant, so clearly it’s fluids-related. There is a 72-hour or more incubation period, after which the infected dies and ‘reanimates’.

Why are they scary: These are the zombies that took over the world. The incubation period is so long that infected were able to fly all over the world, spreading the infection rapidly.

Why they don’t make sense: These zombies are very well done, in my opinion, but the constant moaning means they wouldn’t be able to hear their prey a lot of the time. However, the author uses this to his advantage because the moan activates other zombies nearby, so if you encounter one sooner or later more are going to show up. Plus they can keep moving after being frozen and dethawing, which violates the rules about how cells work.

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So, what have we learned? It makes more sense for zombies to exist solely to ‘reproduce’ by passing on the infection. Shorter and longer incubation periods are ideal for fast transmittal over a large areas. Dim-witted zombies are more common, and good in horde situations, but smarter ones can be used very effectively to create scarier situations. A zombie who can figure out how to pick your locks? No one would survive the zombie apocalypse.

Here are the specs I chose for my zombies, pulling features from my favorite canons:

Type: Savannah Zombies (Woo!)

Cause: Bacterial in nature, originated in Asia before spreading to the US through Hawaii.

Effect: The infected become living and undead zombies seeking to spread their infection.

Characteristics: The bacteria works like a hive mind, taking over the human body and using it as a host to the infection. After a two-day incubation period during which the human becomes more ill, the infected turn when the bacteria population reaches a breaking point and takes control of the human. ‘Fresh’ zombies are intelligent and speech-capable. Once the human within has died the zombie loses its intelligence and begins the moan. These zombies are fast in the early stages, but get slower. In late stages the bacteria consumes the body completely and it has a harder time moving. Growths burst from the skin. The bacteria makes the infected run at a high temperature, even when deceased, and gives their blood and skin a greenish hue.

How It Spreads: This infection spreads through biting, but could conceivably spread through other fluids.

Why are they scary: In the beginning stages the zombies are able to express their hungers and pursue characters with intelligence. In later stages they are essentially decomposing corpses badly mutilated with infection and continuing to move. I don’t know about you, but that certainly gets my adrenaline going.

For more zombie goodness, here’s an article about how the zombie apocalypse could actually happen (including brain parasites, hooray!).

And to balance it out, here’s an article about why the zombie apocalypse could never happen.

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How do you like your brains: What are your favorite types of zombies? Alternately, what do you find really unrealistic about the zombie genre?

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And, of course, because I’m a zombiephile and I want to spread the awesomeness of this genre, I’m going to give away a copy of my favorite zombie book to one lucky commenter. That’s right, you could win your very own copy of World War Z!

True, it’s not a new release, though it is being turned into a movie (OMGSQUEE), but it’s the most emotionally compelling zombie book I’ve ever read, and is also told in the format of oral biography. The awesomeness abounds.

To Enter:

Do nothing but comment. 🙂 Unfortunately, I am going to have to restrict this to readers in the US only. Commenting closes on Wednesday!

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website and blog is at www.savannahjfoley.com. She is currently working with her agent to sell a sleeping beauty retelling about a girl who wakes up after a hundred years with no memory of her former life. You can read excerpts from her stories here.

Where Do You Live Your Life?

29 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley

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In July I was lucky enough to be able to go on a retreat with some of the girls here at the blog. We talked constantly for five days about writing and writers, and this is something I’d been thinking about for a while that I finally voiced to Kat Zhang:

Don’t you think it’s funny that huge-name authors, like J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins, have humongous fan bases and best-selling works, and practically zero web presence?

Stephenie Meyer hasn’t updated her website with any sort of personal note since May 17th. In 2010.

J. K. Rowling did just launch Pottermore, but before that her most recent update was from 2008. She also has a barely-used Twitter account where so far all she has done is confirm that it is actually her official twitter.

Suzanne Collins’ website looks like it’s from the 90’s and has zero personal update information.

Why?

Why would these megastars of the writing world NOT utilize all the social media applications we’ve been told will make or break us? Here’s why I think it is:

They are living their lives in the real wold, not the virtual one.

And that made me wonder… where am I living my life? I was slightly disturbed to realize that most of my life is entirely virtual. I don’t have any friends in town; all of them are online. LTWF takes up a lot of my thoughts and energy, and I’m an active member of several online communities. I wasn’t disturbed from an anti-technology perspective, and actually I’m in the camp that believes all this technology has brought all of us closer together. But it’s a different sort of mind space, and it made me realize that… I love my virtual life, but I miss my life in the real world, too.

Here’s my issue with cutting off all my social media, though: I pride myself on being available. I have my gmail up constantly. I see everything the instant it comes in. On one hand, this is great; through gmail I get to chat with my boyfriend and my writing friends all day long. I’ve gotten some wonderful opportunities just by being able to instantly respond to something. But it’s also a big distraction. Every time something pops up I leave whatever I’m doing to see what it is.

The other weekend I tried writing with the internet closed down. No gmail. No Twitter. No Facebook. It felt good. It felt like the old days when I wrote in my room because I loved it, because I couldn’t stay away from my stories.

But could I live like that? Could I be like Joanne, Stephenie, and Suzanne, and not tell the internet at large what I’m up to?

I grew up posting to Fictionpress and FanFiction.net. I’ve always written ‘publicly’. I’ve heard some writers say they have to feel like what they’re working on is ‘private’ or they get too stressed and can’t perform. But I love thinking about my audience while I’m writing. I get so excited, and can’t wait to share it with you (though these days all I can do is tell you how awesome it is on Twitter, lol). I enjoy updating my word counts every day, and posting on Facebook about the awesome thing my character just did (like cutting off a zombie’s head with a circular saw).

I can take breaks and not check my media accounts, and it feels nice, but I don’t think I could ever go fully private. The internet is too much a part of my life. But I do sometimes think it would be nice to be completely unplugged, or to never have plugged in at all. Life would consist of my family, my town, my pets, and my writing, and that’s it.

But this also ties into something else I’ve been worrying about… social media and ‘branding’. During the retreat, Susan relayed a story about a writer who emailed her to ask if she really, really needed to have a website like everyone said? Susan gave a great answer: Only get one if you really want it.

Yes, publishers will probably want you to have a website, but that doesn’t mean you have to blog or update it constantly. It can just be a landing place for people who want to know more about you and your books.

Here’s the thing about blogging: Everyone is doing it, and it’s hard to do it right. I’ve struggled with blogging for a long time, because I’m not a social media guru, and I don’t particularly want to be an ‘expert’ on any one thing. I do love writers and helping out writers, but there are already so many awesome websites devoted to teaching about writing and publishing (like this one) that starting my own on the side would be pointless, and redundant.

Instead I decided I would just blog about me and my projects. After all, if you’re coming to my website that’s what you’re interested in, right? And it doesn’t matter if I don’t have a million comments or a fan club or 5,000 Twitter followers. If J.K, Stephenie, and Suzanne have taught us anything (from a social media perspective), it’s that you don’t need to do all that in order to have readers. All you have to do is write a great book.

And that’s where I want to live my life. Offline or not, I want to make sure that I’m giving enough dedicated, distraction-free time to my writing. So while I’m not going to unplug completely, I will cut down a bit, and accept that I don’t have to be ‘available’ constantly. I will allow myself to be busy.

Busy living. 🙂

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website and blog is at www.savannahjfoley.com. She is currently working with her agent to sell a sleeping beauty retelling about a girl who wakes up after a hundred years with no memory of her former life. You can read excerpts from her stories here.

Staying Motivated with Word Count

24 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley

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I’ve had some good writing weekends. Weekends where I write 10,000 words. And I’ve had some bad ones, where I get maybe 200 words. Every single time I sit down to write, I’m always amazed by how much text it actually takes to make even 100 words. For example, in Times New Roman sized 12, double-spaced, an average page from one of my books has 350 words on it. This paragraph only has 89, and look at all of the ideas I’ve expressed so far.

So even though numbers like 100, 200, or 300 seem low in comparison to what I get on a good weeknight (2,000), that’s actually quite a bit of writing.

And I’m obsessed with word count. Here’s a picture of the spreadsheet I keep open in Google docs when I’m working on my books (the word counts are from the zombie book I have going on the side) (click to see it bigger!):


I got into word counts when I participated in NaNoWriMo last year, and made the foundation of the above chart at that point. (At the time I originally wrote this post, I was the only one I knew of who kept charts like this, but then Susan came up with the awesome idea of us at LTWF sharing our daily goals/achievements with each other. For the past week we’ve updated our word counts in a shared google docs, and it’s been incredibly motivational, as Susan mentioned yesterday, but I still maintain this chart on my own!)

These days, whenever I’m writing and hit a pause (you know the kind. The one where your brain interjects and says, “HEY! Let’s go check email! Or Twitter! Or Facebook! Or Google+!”) I do a word count check and update the word count chart. I know when I’m really hitting my stride because 500 words will go by and I’ve been so engrossed in my story I didn’t even think to stop and check. I’ve gotten really good at estimating how many words I just wrote by the time it took. On average I can do 1,000 an hour (Yes, I also maintain complicated hour-by-hour charts as well. What can I say, I love charts!)

Yes, this behavior is obsessive. But it has also taught me something about writing and motivation:

Writing takes a long time. A long, long, long, long time. From conception to actualization on my last book it took 9 months. In actual writing time it took 3 months. That’s faster than some, slower than others, but still, when you think about it, a really freaking long time.

9 months of staying motivated about a story. 3 months about showing up and making it happen (Or as Susan calls it, BICHOK). 90 nights of going home with the intention of working on this huuuuuuge project, and sometimes not even getting started. This past weekend, I spent 8 solid hours over two different days, and got almost 9k out of it. But that was 8 hours of my weekend dedicated to doing nothing but writing. That’s an entire work day! And I only added about three scenes.

If you let yourself think about how much work and time goes into making a novel, it’s very easy to become demotivated. That’s why I like word counts. It compartmentalizes my goal for the day, and makes it attainable. I don’t think about having to write 70,000 words. Instead, I usually shoot for about 1,500 per night. That’s doable. It takes about two hours, but I’m lucky in that I have that time every evening.

During the day, I do spare some thought to the eventualities of the novel, but mostly I focus on the upcoming scene. I use all spare time to think about what I’m going to write that night, and then when I get in front of the computer I know exactly what I’m doing.

By the end of the novel, I’ve spent about 90 full days with my characters. Thinking about them, talking to them, exploring their worlds in my mind. They become friends. And that’s something else to look forward to during the process; it’s not a race to the finish, but a stroll with good company and an exciting reward at the end.

In other words, “It’s not the destination, but the journey.” And the satisfaction of every small goal along the way.

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How do you stay motivated when working on a novel?

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website and blog is at www.savannahjfoley.com. She is currently working with her agent to sell a sleeping beauty retelling about a girl who wakes up after a hundred years with no memory of her former life. You can read excerpts from her stories here.

Contrarianism. I have it.

3 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley

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One of  my articles on Sassiness not indicating a strong character got a great response, and provoked a lot of thought about trends, gender roles, and tropes. The discussion reminded me of the topic I’d like to talk about today.

At the time I was writing that article, I was also writing the part in my Sleeping Beauty retelling where the character describes how she looks (or in this case sees herself for the first time after waking up with no memory of her former life). Here’s what she said about her body:

I discovered I had solid limbs with muscles lying dormant beneath slightly freckled skin. My breasts were small but not completely flat, my belly pooched out slightly, and I had what I felt were very masculine feet, but then again there was nothing to compare them to.

Let’s recap: thick limbs, imperfect skin, small breasts, tummy, masculine feet. And this character is still going to kick ass and be beautiful because of who she is.

Not because I’m a feminist or an equalist, but because I’m a stubborn, irreverent contrarian, and I think you should be, too.

When I write, I want to show you characters that are as real as I can make them. That means they don’t look like book cover models (okay, Nameless is an exception because all the men are pretty, but that’s because they’re biologically engineered that way so it doesn’t count). They’ve got stretchmarks and acne, and they hate their noses. They get greasy hair and they stink sometimes. In a genre filled with descriptions of ‘icy blue ‘or ‘startling green’ eyes, I give most of my characters brown eyes. And they’re still, I hope, people you want to be because of what they have inside.

But like I said, that’s not because I’m on some moral high horse. I just happen to have that annoying condition (I can’t help it!) where I dislike what everyone else likes simply because everyone else likes it.

When I was in elementary school, I refused to talk to my friends on the phone because that’s what girls my age were expected to do. I wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt to school EVERY DAY because I was expected to wear cute clothes and jewelry.

When we had to write screenplays in Drama class and the teacher told us they had to start with ‘once upon a time,’ I asked if my story could start, ‘a time upon a once.’  Just, because, you know… I’m a contrarian. *facepalm*

Not always and not on all issues, but a lot of the times I am, and nowhere is this more obvious than in my writing.

Physical characteristics aside, I have a tendency to write YA characters who have a lot of responsibility or maturity for their age, which has created some problems for me. I’ve had to rewrite characters to make them ‘sound younger’, and change plots so that they face more ‘teen-like problems.’ I don’t quite know what to make of this. On one hand, I know that I was always way more adult-thinking than was normal for my age group, but surely I’m not the only one. Where are the readers who want to read about teens with immense leadership responsibilities and making long-term life decisions? Surely there’s a market for that, right?

Pretty much my worst fear is getting a review on one of my books where the reviewer says the characters are either stereotypical or too perfect to be real. There’s a lot of pressure in the industry to write a book that will appeal to a lot of teen readers, but the truth is that in real life individual personalities don’t appeal to everyone.

So how do we balance that?

I’m not blinded by my contrarianism. I understand that you can’t have a germaphobic agoraphobe go on this epic adventure and have it be realistic, no matter how brilliant the character’s creation is. Instead, I fit my desire for ‘real characters’ in the details of characters who have the type of personality that can carry the plot.

For example, on the side I’m currently working on a YA story about a girl trying to escape her high school during the zombie apocalypse. To propel the plot, I needed a girl who could be brave and resourceful, and who is motivated to escape not only out of a sense of self-preservation, but also through the desire to rescue her little brother.

Here’s a typical character who could fit that role (and who I think we see a lot of these days): pretty, athletic, semi-popular (she has a BF and a BFF at least), middle-class, white.

But here’s who cropped up: Milani, a half-Hawaiian, half-white, culturally displaced teen who hates tourists, coping with the potential death of her parents and living in a foster home in Texas after Hawaii collapsed under the zombie infection.

Milani is filled with guilt, hate, confusion, and love, and I find her infinitely more fascinating than Mary Sue, the midwest soccer player.

This blog has talked a lot about Mary Sues. Susan (whose main character in SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY displays some contrarianism herself) did an article about self-indulgent fantasy, and Biljana did one about how Mary Sues are good (in the beginning).

Today I guess the point of this article is just to ask that we all have a little more contrarianism while writing. The world does not need another book about a girl who doesn’t realize she’s pretty until everyone starts telling her so. We don’t need someone who is ‘special’ or has some hidden talent that makes them Important.

Who is more interesting: the girl who was born with a special power that transforms her into being totally kickass over the course of a chapter, or the girl that has to struggle and fight her way to the top in order to achieve that same level of kickassness? Who is going to be the most realistic role model for teens today?

I think we need more real characters, characters that people can relate to through their flaws. Today I encourage you to add detail to your characters that make them more unique, more flawed, and more realistic as human beings. Seek out alternatives, and find the individuality in your characters.

Provided it doesn’t interfere with your plot, of course. (That’s a whole other article about self-indulgence).

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When have you been exhibited contrarianism in your writing?

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website and blog is at www.savannahjfoley.com. She is currently working with her agent to sell a sleeping beauty retelling about a girl who wakes up after a hundred years with no memory of her former life. You can read excerpts from her stories here.

The Tuning Fork – Knowing When It’s Right

11 Jul

by Savannah J. Foley

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When I was younger, I literally thought I was crazy. I felt about writing in a way that none of my other writing friends did. I seemed to have an instinct for what would work in a story and what wouldn’t, something my peers weren’t even conscious of. Later on I found out that I was just a normal writer, but that fascination with the ‘different’ things I was feeling never really went away.

Recently I read an article where the author mentioned that when she had an epiphany about a particular topic from reading a quote, she “felt every tuning fork in me go buzz.” Well, my tuning forks were going buzz, too. Not at her same revelation, but at her very description.

I, and just about every writer I know,  have an innate ‘tuning fork’ of sorts that gives me insight into my writing. It’s the extra sense when something ‘feels right.’ For me it’s a slight pressure on my chest as if the idea has landed there and started absorbing into me, usually precipitated by a rising feeling of excitement. It’s a sense of rightness, of saying, ‘Yes. Yes, that’s it exactly!’

My tuning fork thrums when I see a quote or hear a song lyric that unlocks the meaning to a feeling inside me I didn’t even know I had. As if I couldn’t recognize this knowledge I was carrying until those words verbalized it.

Lately I’ve been thinking about that ‘gut feeling’, particularly as it relates to novel writing. Last month I hit a burst of creativity that allowed me to write 10k in two days and finish a book I was working on, but it wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t listened to my tuning fork to guide the way. After experiencing a rush like that, I wanted to keep the momentum going, and continue to work at a crazy pace. So I started brainstorming on my next book.

And ran out of steam.

What could be wrong? I kept asking myself. I was just plowing through this other story, why am I stopped here? Eventually I realized it was because I was forcing scenes I logically thought would work, instead of listening to my tuning fork telling me that emotionally that scene is NOT going to work, and in fact I need to start from a completely different perspective.

This ‘tuning fork’ is something I think that all writers need to learn how to recognize. Because you realize I’m not talking about some fictional organ in your body cavity thrumming with activity. The ‘tuning fork’ is actually your subconscious, the place where a story’s bones are grown. I believe that you can write a book using pure logic, but it’s not going to be fun, and in the end won’t be enjoyable.

We write because we want to communicate. And communication comes with a whole slew of other social cues: tone, connotation, trust, etc. You have to use every piece of humanity at your disposal to create a story that’s going to thrum with your readers, that’s going to activate their tuning forks and make them realize that a part of them is in that story, too.

How good are you at listening to your tuning fork, and when has it steered you right? Let’s discuss in the comments!

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournalShe is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.

The Advice I Didn’t Take

14 Jun

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

Over a month ago I posted an entry to my personal blog called ‘Knowing What Your Dreams Are In the First Place.’ It recounts my story of growing up as a writer and not knowing any other novelists, and shares some of the bad advice I received.

Today I thought I’d share this bad advice, some even from other writers (though not novelists), and why I’m glad I didn’t listen. Then I’ll share the advice that I did take, that really helped me.

 People Whose Advice I Didn’t Take

Non-Writers.

Non-Writers who love you are all around you. They’re your parents, your teachers, and your friends. They want what’s best for you, and often they think they know what that is, even if they aren’t writers themselves.

Non-Writers have told me to do a lot of stupid things in regards to my writing career, but only because they didn’t know any better. Here is some of the advice they gave me:

  • Be a journalist
  • Be a judge
  • Don’t write until you’re older
  • Don’t write until you get a degree
  • Don’t write until you get an MFA
  • Be a teacher
  • Don’t write fantasy
  • Write about dreams
  • Stop reading so much
  • Don’t post your work online
  • Don’t start a blog
  • Get published in some literary magazines first
  • Submit directly to publishers
  • Don’t be a writer at all

Obviously I didn’t take any of this advice, and I’m very glad. It’s easy to listen to the concerns and fears of others, but oftentimes they don’t know what they’re talking about. My parents were convinced if I posted my work online people would steal it from me, publish it under their own name, and make millions off my ideas (yeah right). If I started a blog it meant I’d get stalked and killed. If I didn’t study academically I wouldn’t be able to write well. If I didn’t focus on another career I’d starve to death.

None of that was true, and somehow I knew not to trust anything a non-writer said about writing. I trusted my passion for writing, even when it felt like I’d never be good enough, never be prepared enough to be a writer. And eventually I discovered this wonderful community we’re a part of, where we make writing work and it’s fun, and we all have day jobs but write at night anyway, and your capability to write a good story has nothing to do with your age or education level.

The other day (as I’ve already told you in this article about ‘coming out’ as a writer) I was offering some anonymous critiquing to a writer who had posted a short story online and asked for suggestions. At the end of my review I said that I’d been a writer for 7 years, and had an agent for 2, if he wanted to know my credentials. Another user added a comment asking me just in what capacity I had ‘been a writer for 7 years’, because all the writers HE knew had been copywriters for years before moving into fiction.

I didn’t exactly see red, but I saw shades of pink. Though I didn’t respond to his comment, internally I thought, ‘I know people who have been writing for a single year and produced work so amazing it made my jaw drop.’ I’ve been focusing on and learning about writing for seven years, regardless of my publication credits or how much experience as a copywriter I had (none). I know good writing when I see it, period, and I’m knowledgeable enough to pinpoint exactly what works and what doesn’t work when asked for my opinion.

So, you know. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too young or too uneducated or too inexperienced. Remember, they don’t know what they’re talking about. We do. And you’re okay 🙂

Writers Whose Advice I Didn’t Take

As I’ve learned from first-hand experience, writers can misadvise you and let you down as well, usually because you work in different mediums. A writer who only works in poetry isn’t going to be able to give you the best advice on your novel. Neither is someone who specializes in short stories, or in fashion articles. Here’s some of the advice they gave me that I’m glad I didn’t take:

  • Be a journalist (I’m so sick of that one)
  • You have to go to workshops or you’ll never be a good writer
  • You have to have an MFA or you’ll never be a good writer
  • Self-publish; it’s the only way to make money and traditional Publishing is full of thieves and sharks
  • Don’t get an agent; they’re all scammers
  • Write short stories first, only short stories
  • You have to be published in literary magazines before anyone will take you seriously
  • Write every day, otherwise you’re not a real writer

Perhaps it was ego or arrogance, but whenever someone said something that didn’t ring true in me, I ignored it. Here’s the thing: If someone’s not doing what you want to be doing, they might not be capable of giving the best advice.

I remember being SO thrilled to finally meet some ‘real writers’ when I went to a critique group at a local Barnes & Noble, but when I got there I discovered they’d been in the same group for 12 years – and none of them had published anything yet.

Or the time Kat Zhang and I went to a book fair in Nashville and met an obviously very self-possessed illustrator who insisted we could only make money through self-publishing. He’d never been traditionally published, nor was he, actually, a writer.

Or when I showed an edited version of Nameless to a friend of mine who dabbled in writing on the side, only for her to tell me I was ruining the story by making some essential changes both my agent and I felt were healthy for the manuscript, as well as making it more marketable.

You know that feeling when someone suggests a plot point and you just know that’s not going to work? That’s the feeling I get when someone gives me advice that’s not going to work for me. I think ‘yeah that could work, but I’d be forcing it and it wouldn’t make me happy.’

Writers Whose Advice I DID Take

 I will never forget the moment I realized I was not alone.

I grew up never meeting a novelist, never knowing anything about the publishing industry, or the community of writers out there. None of my friends or teachers felt what I did, this wonderful resonance with writing and creating stories. Even the friends who did actually write didn’t ‘get it’ – they wrote terrible, and failed to recognize how to improve.

Then I read Fahrenheit 451. It was a great book, but it was the author’s note in the back that really changed my life. Ray Bradbury mentioned feeling as if he was just following his character around with a notebook and jotting down what they do. What he said about writing rang so true in me that my eyes teared up a bit.

That day marked a turning point for me in my writing career. I started seeking out writer autobiographies, and reading instruction books. Stephen King’s ON WRITING came a little too late to be truly formative for me, but it’s also on my list of highly-recommends for aspiring writers.

Another turning point came from joining Let The Words Flow. I’d had my agent for nearly a year but was still lacking in real writer friends or sense of community. LTWF gave me that and showed me all the other people out there I’d been missing so desperately as a teen. I can chat with novelists like me on a daily basis, Twitter provides me with an endless supply of interesting links and ideas, and the contributors here have been an invaluable resource for encouragement, advice, and knowledge.

Disclaimer

Finding and trusting ‘experts’ is really important. Someone may be a NYT best-selling novelist but their advice still won’t ring true for you, or you may meet a lone blogger online with no agent or publishing creds who gives you a greater insight than you’d ever expected to receive. It’s important to be able to identify who’s an expert and who is just blowing their own horn, as evidenced by this article.

~~~

What are some examples of advice you DID and DIDN’T take?

Villains: Empathy and Motivation

7 Jun

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

Note: This post expands on this excellent one by Vanessa di Gregorio. She covers everything that has to do with villains, whereas here we’re only focusing on one aspect: motivation.

When we were kids, the villains were obvious. Every kids movie makes the bad guy very clear: diabolical grin or laughing, spiky costumes, menacing physical appearance, explicit statement of evil intent, a darkening of the music, etc. Was there ever any doubt in your mind that these characters were Bad?

But let’s face it – that only works for kids. As you become an adult, you realize that contrary to the stories you read as a child, the world rarely has clearly defined villains. Sure, there are bad people who do bad things, but no one goes out to commit world domination just because they feel like it. Everyone has a powerful motivation for their life-long goals, and your villains should be no exception.

Why is your villain mercilessly torturing space soldiers to get the access codes for the nuclear device on the space station so he can blow up Planet Xenon 3? Is it because he’s Evil? If that’s your excuse, you need to go back into the editing cave. Just being Evil doesn’t cut it anymore, because no one is just Evil. Maybe your villain is trying to destroy Xenon 3 before it collides with his home world, even though he’s exiled from there, because if he saves the planet they’ll finally let him come home to his wife and children. Or maybe he’s doing it because Xenon 3 hosts millions of miles of cloned death warriors beneath its surface, and another villain is going to activate them to destroy all life in the solar system (For a very good reason).

The point is, you have to give your villain some very powerful motivation, otherwise they’re just not believable.

I like to take things one step further. As 19th century German playwrite Friedrich Hebbel wrote, “In a good play, everyone is right.” Ever since I’ve heard that quote I’ve tried to take my villain’s motivations more seriously. I love stories where both sides have equal claim. Whenever possible I try to work that into my own plots. Does it mean I want my reader rooting for the ‘other guy’? Absolutely not. I chose my main characters for a reason, and of course we’re going to side with their needs more than the antagonist’s. But I do want the reader to recognize that choice is sometimes a very hard thing, and to empathize with the villain even if they don’t support their actions.

Because that’s what empathy is: Understanding why, even if you don’t agree.

Take my novel NAMELESS, for example. In this world, women rule as heads of the households and men are kept as domestic slaves. An underground Rebellion movement seeks to free the slaves, but at what cost? True, no human should be enslaved, but on the other hand, an entire society has been built around a slave system. What will happen if they are all freed at once? There will be no one to tend to crops, or do maintenance on the sewer system, or even make consumable products. How many will go hungry? How many government-provided necessities – water, electricity, plumbing- will fail? Obviously we want our main characters to defeat slavery, but we can also empathize with those who choose to put down the Rebellion out of fear for the outcome of freedom.

For a pop culture example, consider GAME OF THRONES (book and TV): Yes, we want the Stark family to come out on top, but isn’t Daenerys the rightful heir to the throne?

In THE OFFICE (TV), didn’t we both want Michael to get fired out of empathy with his employees, but not want him to go out of empathy for him (and comedic value)?

In JANE EYRE (book and movie), weren’t we horrified at the revelation about Mr. Rochester’s secret, yet understand completely why he lied?

When I was working on my fairytale retelling, ROSES OF ASH, I knew that the main villain, the Fae witch Silaine, had to be pretty evil. She cursed my MC to sleep, brought winter on the kingdom for a hundred years, and generally behaved rather poorly in regards to humans. As I wrote the book I thought I could just chalk it up to hunger for power, but soon it became clear that wasn’t going to cut it. It wasn’t interesting, and it didn’t lend any sort of new possibilities to the plot. Then I realized, Silaine wasn’t doing all this because she wanted to rule, she was doing it because she felt the Fae people had lost their soul when they left Earth for their perfect world of Avalon, and she was trying to revert to the old ways to get it back.

Power hunger or need to save the spiritual identity of her people? Which one is more interesting? Which one makes you empathize with her more?

As a conclusion, I’d like to share with you several passages about empathy that you can apply both to villains and main characters. These are all from a wonderful non-fiction book I’m reading called WRITING WITH BREATH, by Laraine Herring:

“A writer without empathy cannot create a world where you, the reader, can understand the characters, even if you don’t agree with their actions.”

“Acceptance doesn’t mean condoning actions. It means recognizing that piece of each of us that is purely a human animal, not dressed up to go to church all the time.”

“Empathy helps us move from an ‘us and them’ mind-set to a ‘we’ mind-set.”

“Empathy, like forgiveness, doesn’t mean that it’s OK for people to murder one another. It means we can find our way past the deeds to the human being, and we can discover the basic need that person was trying to meet.”

“Empathy creates connection; judgment creates distance. Choose connection.”

What motivations have you given your villains, and do you have any particular philosophies when it comes to villains?

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournalShe is currently working on editing Nameless. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here. You can read an excerpt from her Sleeping Beauty retelling here.

Coming ‘Out of the Closet’ as a Writer

2 Jun

by

Savannah J. Foley

~~~

I was 10 when I first thought that I wanted to be a writer. Previously I’d only wanted to be an astronaut. But I didn’t actually start calling myself a writer until I was 16 and had completed my first novel.

At that point, I had no agent (I didn’t even know what a literary agent was), and no real hope/chance at publication. But I had written an entire novel and received positive feedback on FictionPress, and at that point I felt confident enough that I would dedicate the rest of my life to writing. Therefore, I decided it was time to call myself a writer.

Privately.

I didn’t take public ownership of the word until years later. I had to feel confident enough in my knowledge, and secure in my dedication to writing before I felt comfortable admitting I was a writer already. My worst fear was telling someone I was a writer and having them give me that Look. You know the Look. The one that says “Yeah, right” or “You can’t be a writer. You’re too young/inexperienced.”

Every now and then I hear on the internet about young writers deciding to announce to friends and family that’s what they are. If you’re in that place right now, then this post is for you. Announcing your dream is scary. Scary because what if it never happens for you? What if it turns out you’re not any good? What if someone says there’s no way YOU could ever be a writer?

When I first started publicly owning up to being a writer, these were my fears. However, as more time went on, the more surprised I became that no one tried to ‘call me out’ or sound the alarm that I might be an imposter because I wasn’t published yet. Instead I was met with enthusiasm and curiosity. This led to greater confidence, which lead to me not being so afraid of admitting it; rinse, repeat.

But recently something happened to shake my confidence. I was offering advice to someone seeking a critique in an online forum, and at the end of my suggestions I added, ‘I’ve been writing for seven years, if you were interested in my qualifications.’ A different user responded to me, saying, ‘In what capacity have you been a “writer” for the past seven years? All of the writers I know were copy writers before they got into fiction.’

For a moment I saw red. This was the exact attitude I had feared to encounter. In this person’s eyes, all of my work and effort over the years was worth exactly nil, because I didn’t fit his standard of being a writer.

Do you have to be published to be a ‘writer’? No, you have to be published to be an author.

Do you have to write every day to be a writer? No, but if you’re taking year-long breaks in-between it might be time to either dedicate or look for a new hobby.

Do you have to be making most of your money from writing to be a writer? Of course not.

Do you have to work as a technical or copy writer before daring to jaunt into fiction? Hell no.

There’s not a definable point at which you become a writer. You become a writer when you’re ready to own the word, when you feel confident that your writing habit isn’t going to change, that this is something you want to dedicate yourself towards.

Do I feel more legit as a ‘writer’ because I have a literary agent now? Yes. But with these standards of qualification comes a lot of doubt; should I therefore feel like more of a writer than an unagented writer, but less of a writer than a published writer, and way less of a writer than a multi-pubbed writer?

No. You’re not more or less of a writer because of where you are in your publishing journey. The market changes, book deals come and go, but all you can really control is the quality of your books. So write what you want to write, make it the best you can make it, and own up to being a writer. 🙂

…Of course, I should warn you that a lot of people will try to tell you about the memoir/fiction novel they’ve always wanted to write. Just smile and nod. Then go home and write, because hey, that’s what you do.

~~~

What is your ‘coming out’ story like? How did people react when you first told them  you were a writer?

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal. She is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.

Can’t Lose It

30 May

by

Savannah J. Foley

~~~

How confident are you that you’re a writer? That you’re meant to be a writer, or that it’s all you want to do?

I’m very confident –when I’m writing. When I’m in cycles that I don’t write, however, my confidence starts to slip. I start thinking all these defeatist thoughts: Writing is so hard, it’s taking so long, the issues in this manuscript are insurmountable, etc.

I’ve felt like this a lot lately. May 15th was the 7-year anniversary of finishing the first draft of my novel NAMELESS. And I’m still in revisions.

Oh, there were times during this 7 year period that I thought I was finally done. But even after ‘done’ was declared something would happen that made either me or my agent decide that a little more work was needed. More recently, a lot of work.

I converted a trilogy into a single book and sent it off. It came back with a thumbs up on the new plot, but a thumbs down on the voice. My character was still clinging to her adult persona; I need to fully let her go and be a teenager. Susan recently did a wonderful post on how to revise, step-by-step, and though I thought her article was brilliant, and I’ll definitely use it for future novels, I’m at a point with NAMELESS where even Sooz’s brilliant methods can’t help. This is a voice issue. That means every single sentence has to be examined, and I need to determine if it stays or needs to be fixed. In a 110k manuscript, that’s a lot of sentences.

The task was (and still is) daunting. So after about five chapters of revisions, I just… stopped. Oh, I had good excuses. My laptop finally failed. My new laptop didn’t have Word on it. A tornado hit and the power was out for a week. I was on vacation. I was busy working, going to the gym, cooking, cleaning, reading, and watching Game of Thrones.

And through it all I kept thinking, ‘what if it will never be good enough?’ What if I can’t do this? What if this story will never come together right? What if it’s broken?

What if I’m not really a writer?

What would happen if I gave up right now? Left LTWF, shut down my blog and Twitter account and just… lived a normal life for a while. Tried to forget that I ever called myself a writer. Stepped out of the rushing stream that is the writing industry and laid by the shore.

I knew what would happen: I would be a quitter. A coward. I could not let that happen.

I finally buckled down and decided I would just get used to using Open Office until I can afford Word. I would let the house dirty itself and scrounge around for dinner and not go to the gym if I had to. But I had to start writing again, even if I felt like a failure.

Something magical happened.

I’ve read the first few chapters of my novel probably a thousand times, in all its different forms. I love the beginning. If writing a novel is like polishing a rough stone, then the beginning has been touched so many times that it’s a sparkling diamond. I always re-read my first few chapters to get back in the ‘mood’ of the novel, and psych myself up to keep working.

NAMELESS did not disappoint.

Suddenly I felt this rushing, like an invisible wind from the universe was rustling inside me, filling me up with all the faith and sense of ‘rightness’ I would ever need. Of COURSE I could do this. Of COURSE this is the right thing for me to do in my life. I was meant for this. I belong to this. To quote, writing is the one thing in the world that, when I’m doing it, I don’t think I should be doing something else.

And I remembered that this had all happened before. I go through cycles of not working, letting my manuscript’s problems settle and take root in my subconscious. And every time I decide I’m ready and go back to work again I get that magical feeling that lets me know I’m doing the right thing.

I feel like an instant writer again.  So if you’ve stepped away from your novel and are questioning whether it’s even worth the effort to go back, if you’re discouraged and tired and wondering if it’s all worth it, just try reading a bit of what you’ve already done. Soon you’ll be wrapped up inside your story and then you won’t want to stop. You’ll want to keep creating and growing your project until it reaches the shining conclusion.

While my agent had a few sample chapters of NAMELESS, I worked on my next novel, a sleeping beauty retelling. Then, with this memorial weekend giving me the perfect opportunity to stay home and write, I wrote 6,000 words on Saturday, 4,000 words yesterday, and finished the manuscript. It felt good to finish a long project, but even better than that, I felt relief at refreshing my faith in myself. If I could crank out word levels like that, then obviously I was good enough to hack it.

In conclusion, sit down. Eliminate Distractions. Write your story.

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal. She is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.