Monday, October 20, 2014

Finishing My Novel: "Ain't It Fun" by Paramore

Question: "How do you eat a whale?"

Answer: "One bite at a time."

Now, I personally haven't actually 'eaten a whale', but I have finished writing a novel....novels, in fact. I have also finished several HUGE creative projects and continue to find news ones to tackle.

People often ask me, "Where do you find the time to do ______________ ?" <writing, painting, sewing, or whatever project of mine we happen to be discussing> I'll be honest and say that I've never been one to sit idle - well, even if I'm sitting still, my brain is still churning out ideas and stories. The plain and simple truth is that I HAVE to do something creative everyday or I feel like my head will explode. Some people feel the same way about exercise. (Why couldn't I be blessed with that specific drive? Ha!)

It never fails, whenever I first sit down to start devouring a new whale I feel a swirling mix of anticipation, excitement, and (dare I say it) dread. Standing in front of that blank canvas or sitting in front of the blinking cursor in a blank document, I always pause to give myself time to fully commit to the task in front of me. I will toil for weeks on this project and I have to be 'in it to win it.'

Eventually, the engineer in me kicks in....when writing, I start an Excel spreadsheet to track my daily word count and progress towards my goal. When painting, my inner engineer envisions the finish project and deconstructs the object to methodically produce a plan of attack.

Finishing is critical. How else can you learn and improve if you don't complete the process? Especially with writing, often the last bits take an unexpected turn that requires some pre-seeding in the parts you wrote months ago.

I finished writing my third manuscript this spring, took a month off to let it marinate, then started editing and polishing. By the end of summer, it was ready to go out for submittal to my short list of dream agents.

And now, I wait.

Waiting for a reply is the worst part of this process. Agents and editors are busy people. They have bills to pay, clients to meet, and networks to groom. And like any job, you give attention to the projects that are making money, not the slush pile that might bear fruit. Mostly, I submitted to folks who requested my work via one-on-one meetings and pitch sessions at conferences. I also submitted to agents recommended to me by one of their authors. My hope is that these meetings and personal recommendations will keep my manuscript out of the general slush pile.

But still...I wait.

And let me tell you, patience is beyond a virtue. Patience is tortured anguish, wrapped in calm frustration, drenched with silence.

Still, I find solace in that fact that I FINISHED another book....and that, my friends, is farther than most make it on this journey to publication.

"Ain't It Fun" by Paramore

I love it when a song's lyrics reveal a deeper and opposite meaning to what I initially thought. Like when a mellow song has biting lyrics or when a peppy song is about depression. Songs that immediately come to mind are "Linger" by The Cranberries, "No Rain" by Blind Melon, and now "Ain't It Fun" by Paramore.

Like this song laments the realities of growing up, as a writer you quickly learn how hard it is to get traditionally published in today's market. Now, before you put on your rose colored glasses and question why I'm not self-pubbing - trust me when I say that in many ways self-pubbing is more work than the traditional route IF you want to do it well. In the end, this is my dream and hope for a new career path - so I really can't complain...too much.  :D

"Don't go crying to your mama, 'cause you're on your own in the real world..."

Miner's masks for my latest steampunk adventure!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Spreading the Love: "Where is the Love" by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

So...back in June, I had lunch with one of the smartest and sweetest couples I know - Tammie & Andrew - in downtown Portland. I met Tammie through my local writing club. At that time she was the webmaster for the club's website and an aspiring author. Now she is the book review tour-de-force behind Night Owl Reviews (NOR). It was during our yummy lunch, that Tammie asked me if I would like to cover the diversity desk for NOR's free monthly e-magazine.

I'll be honest and admit that prior to her asking, I really hadn't entertained the notion of becoming a book reviewer. However, once I picked myself up off the floor, thought about it, and asked a few questions, I felt the gears in my brain start to churn with ideas.

You see, the world is full of untold stories and firsthand accounts that remain unspoken. As I continue my journey towards publication, I've crossed paths with several like minded authors from all walks of life and cultures. Here was my opportunity to shine a spotlight, even if it's a small one, on some of their amazing stories. In addition, here was my opportunity to connect with readers interested in these stories, too.

Without further ado, here is the debut of my new column: The Melting Pot.

The subtitle is "Stories with Diversity and Multiculturalism." Just so we're clear, the word 'stories' is key to that phrase. The authors of these stories will not always be from a minority population, however the vast majority of books that feature minority leads are written by minority authors. In this column, I will also explore cultures, countries, and locations we don't often see in commercial fiction.

I'm an avid reader of several genres. I'm particularly fond of unusual mashups or fresh takes on standard totems. My first column features a Latin twist on ghost stories. My September post will feature a Russian aesthetic applied to young adult paranormal and the romance thriller genres.  And I will most certainly cover Chinese, Native American and African-American stories before the end of the year.

In the end it is my goal to showcase a wide variety of books that feature a broad spectrum of characters. It's just my way of trying to spread a little love and highlight all the flavors the world has to offer.

"Where is the Love" By Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

Boy, this song brings back many childhood memories. I was truly blessed to grow up in a house full of love, laughter, and music. If I made a mix tape of songs from my childhood, Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, The Hair Soundtrack, Dionne Warwick, Motown, and Roberta Flack would dominate the list of songs. (Throw in a few of Moms Mabley's jokes and my young year's soundtrack would be complete.)

Given the events of this week in Ferguson, MO, I felt this song was somehow very appropriate. My hope is that as more people and authors stand up to tell their stories, we see more empathy, sympathy, and action towards equality.

"Where is the love? Where is the love?..."

Check out my new column in NOR's free e-magazine each month!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Blog Hop: "Hold On" by Alabama Shakes

Many thanks to Gina Fluharty and Sarah Raplee for asking me to participate in The Writing Process Blog Hop. Gina asked me to post in January and I failed <miserably> to get my post done. But I did manage to snag Melia Alexander and Linda Mercury into the fold. Now Sarah requested my participation and I am taking it as a sign from God and the universe that I need to comply. Here are my answers to the four key questions:

1) What am I working on?
I am working on a young adult Americana Steampunk novel that takes place in an alternative 1860. It is the first book in a planned five book series.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? story features escaped slaves. The lead character is sixteen years old. She is a mechanic and a healer with paranormal abilities. Having an African-American lead in a Steampunk novel is still rather rare. The physical transition from slavery to freedom happens in the first book, however throughout the rest of the series the mental transition is also explored. How does one learn to live like a free person when subservience is literally beat into you from an early age? There are romantic elements in the series, too. Specifically, the son of the plantation master is in love with my heroine...but she has to decide if she really loves him or if she has 'a love' for him because he provided a level of protection for her when they both lived on the plantation.

3) Why do I write what I do?
Let's just say that I grew tired of reading books that did not include people like me. :D Black and brown skinned people were present in every time period in some way, shape, or form - yet we are missing from most works of fiction. I started writing, because I felt like my stories weren't being told and my perspective wasn't adequately represented.

I write both futuristic fantasy and steampunk. I am an engineer by degree and a time traveler by choice. I love doing research and I love gadgets. Plus, I get to either rewrite history or create a new future. Writing ties all of my interests and hobbies into one big ball of good times!

4) How does my writing process work?
I typically start with a kernel of an idea that usually takes the form of a 'what if' question. Any little thing can plant the seed of a story in my head. Often I hear things on National Public Radio that prompt an idea. In my day job, I work on products for smart / green buildings. I have to stay current on new and developing technology, so it is always interesting to wonder what would happen if the technology is misused or abused in some way by some maniacal person.

After I have the idea, I plot my first draft of the story using Michael Hague's Six Stage Plot Structure. It is the three act, five turning point structure used in screenplays and it is a great way to lay out the rough skeleton of your stories. To be honest, I am a mix of plotter (planner) and pantser (writing by the seat of my pants - stream of thought writer). I like to plot the 'big rocks' (major turning points) for my story, then pants my way from rock to rock. I subscribe to Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People school of thought. Specifically, habit number two "Begin with the End in Mind" applies to my life and my writing. I have to know where I am going, so that I can pants my way there.

I put my plot diagram, story timeline, word count tracker, submissions, and other key story information into an Excel spreadsheet to keep everything organized. Yup, that's the engineer in me rising to the surface!

The artist in me, creates fun world building journals that include maps, character pictures, drawings of gadgets, character profiles, and other mementos that pertain to the story. I even use these journals to pitch my books.

All of this work is being done while I'm doing research and hammering out the first draft. Getting that first draft done is soooooo key. I used to get stuck in a loop of rewriting the first few chapters. I learned the hard way that you just have to power through that first draft, because the characters and story lines will take twists and turns that you didn't plan...and often these twists affect the opening chapters.

For me organization is key, then it's just a matter of getting the words on the page.

"Hold On" by Alabama Shakes
I LOVE this song. I get a chill every time I listen to it, because it is the story of my life! I fell in love with Alabama Shakes during their performance on The 2013 Grammy Awards ceremony. I remember being mesmerized by lead singer-guitarist, Brittany Howard, and her soulful crooning.

I'm adding "Hold On" to my mixtape, because as a writer you just have to keep plugging away at your dream of writing a novel. Don't worry if people tell you it's 'unmarketable' or 'I'm tired of reading about vampires / werewolves / whatever.' If the story is on your heart and keeping you up at night, then write it and see what happens. If you don't write your book, you'll never know where it would've taken you...

"But I don't want to wait......"

My world building journal for my latest work...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Afrofuturism & My Big Chop: "The Rain [Supa Dupa Fly]" by Missy Elliott

I am an Afrofuturist. Though the term has been around since the nineties, I am just now discovering the Afrofuturism community.

What is an Afrofuturist and what is Afrofuturism?

Good question. Ingrid LaFleur, art curator and Afrofuturist, explains it best in her TEDx presentation on the visual aesthetic: "I generally define Afrofuturism as a way of imagining possible futures through a black cultural lens..."

In a nutshell, it's people of African descent creating stories, music, literature, paintings, multi-media works, and all manner of creativity you can imagine that project black people into the future. Organizations like the Black Science Fiction Society; comic book artists like Erik Reeves; musicians like Janelle Monae; authors like Octavia Butler and Ytasha Womack; and sooooooo many other academics, scientists, and visual artists are producing amazing images of a more diverse future.

For me, Aftrofuturism combines all of my interests. As a mechanical engineer (the only black female in my undergraduate class), artist, and author of futuristic and steampunk stories - I'm used to seeing very few representations of black and brown skinned people in science fiction literature, movies, and television. (If they were present, they seemed to get killed at some point during the movie. At least Idris Elba survived most of Prometheus, thank you Jesus! LOL!)

In all honesty, I am one of Lt. Uhura's children. It was Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura who inspired my interest in space flight that ultimately led me to engineering school. I'm sure that Uhura's lack of story lines / screen time is at least part of the reason why I am a writer, today.

So what does all this have to do with my 'Big Chop'?

Ok - for those of you who aren't familiar with the term 'Big Chop,' it is the 'going cold turkey' form of transitioning from chemically straightened hair back to your natural hair texture. You can Google 'Big Chop' to find tons of videos and stories sharing individual experiences with going natural (both good and bad).

As I began my research on slavery, plantation life, the American Civil War, and Reconstruction for my current steampunk manuscript, I felt a need to find ways to honor the sacrifices made by my ancestors that have allowed me to be who I am today.

On an even more personal level, I had a difficult time finding artwork, children's stories, coloring books, and dolls for my three year old niece that utilized images of black and brown skinned females with natural hair. (Etsy was a godsend in this area.)

In the end, what ultimately made me decide to start off 2014 with a fresh head of hair was this:
I believe that WE need to be the change we want to see in the world.

Which means that if I want to see more diversity in literature, I need to contribute my stories. If I want to see more women of color sporting their natural hair, then I need to let my natural hair out to play, too. Talk about a real root revival on soooooo many levels. My goal is to write stories that allow all little girls to think, explore, and see a place for themselves as leaders today and in the future. My hope is that they have ways to freely express and accept who they are and what they value.

A 'one size fits all' approach to beauty no longer applies. I am beautiful, just as I am. And now I feel that I really OWN it.

"The Rain [Supa Dupa Fly]" by Missy Elliott

Missy Elliott is a true creative powerhouse. What I love most about her is all the collaborative work she does. With a variety of 'partners in crime', Missy Elliott defied the traditional standard of 'skinny-video-ho' imagery. Raising rap music videos to a new level of artistic expression, while utilizing a futuristic aesthetic, quickly became her visual calling card.

Please enjoy this latest addition to my mixtape. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

"Me, I'm supa fly, supa dupa fly..."

Day One photo after my Big Chop - feeling Supa Dupa Fly!