What Does YOUR story mean?

 

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I’ve always struggled — in most of my professional writing career, after the blissful stage where I only wrote for myself — with making my writing and stories mean something. Maybe it was the crap influences in my childhood who told me that ‘just writing fantasy’ was fine and all that, but eventually I needed to write things that actually meant something. It can’t just be that though, because I’ve always felt a drive to write more than just a story.

Maybe all of this is just all my insecurity and doubt coming home to roost.

It’s the plight of most writers to feel this way. I read somewhere that, at the very least, writer’s write to entertain. But most of us write to try to inform, educate, inspire, engage. So I’m hope to God pretty sure that I’m really not alone in all of my what-do-I-mean angst.

I can’t help but think of this in the light of current world events. Well, USA events, but it’s affecting the whole world, so yeah.

Meaning: I want my books to make people think when they’re out there. I want to inspire and engage and teach. Yes, I’ll always write stories, because I’m one of those ‘if I don’t write it out it just plagues me forever’ writers. But I want to go above and beyond that. I want it all to mean something.

I get a little hung up on how exactly to go about doing that. The first example that jumps to mind is the Orson Scott Card route, of exploring deeply philosophical questions about humanity and morality through science fiction. He does a lot of telling-not-showing, and it seems like he had these deeply moral issues in the back of his head as he wrote the story. Whereas I get characters yelling at me and write them so they’ll be quiet.

So I guess what I’m really struggling with is a way to take my innate character-yelling and transform it. The story comes out, sure, but it’s still just a story. What is the step between characters and plot coming together and then… making it more?

It’s probably the opposite of that. That the meaning to be explored should be taken first — and then add the characters and plot. But how do I do that? Seriously – I want someone to give me a flow chart on how to do this, because I feel like I missed something along the way.

I want to write about environmental issues and the reality of how this relates to economics — so I’ve built solarpunk into my world. But is it really teaching someone anything, or exploring how a world like this works? … I’m afraid it’s not enough.

I have strong belonging, friendship, and what it means to be human themes especially in my current series, but I’m not sure it’s so obvious. I get lost in the plot and the interactions of the characters, and sometimes I think that takes away from the fact that I wrote these two people with the idea that they’re lonely and different… and in each other they find not only a place to belong, but start affecting the world around them for the better.

I don’t feel that it’s enough.

(Maybe I’m just not smart enough — or smart in ‘that’ way? I want to interview Card and figure out his method… and when he feels like he’s really got it.)

I think all of this can be put in the category of learning to take a first draft and make it a second draft — something that, with growing horror, I’m realizing that maybe I haven’t ever done before. I’m going through developmental edits with a professional editor for the first time and getting a crash course in things I didn’t even know were a thing (upcoming blog post on that later! It’s a little nerve-wracking and kinda feels like the floor has been taken out from under my feet).

Of course, who really knows — because an artist’s plight is never feeling like something is ever ‘done.’ It can always be better. There can always be more. Despite knowing this, I still feel that I’m missing some sort of intrinsic lesson on how to get from my A to my B. For all I know I’ll get an epiphany tomorrow and suddenly realize how it works, or I’ll read an article that connects it all — or the most likely outcome, my editor will prod me into understanding what to do.

But for now, I’m definitely feeling a little worthless and like I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’d love to move this discussion out to you, dear readers.

Do you worry that your story doesn’t ‘mean’ enough, especially in light of current events? How do you give meaning to your story? Do you start with the world, the characters, the lesson you’re imparting? If you’re a character writer like me, how do you keep yourself from getting carried away in their interactions? How to you keep yourself from being off subject/too preachy?

 


Published: Behind the Scenes (Jan 2017)

 

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Yeesh, writing “2017” is still weird. But anyway. Welcome to the first segment of my new series, where I talk about the behind-the-scenes action of being published!

So in October 2016 I signed the contract to sell my Initium series to Glass House Press. Pretty much the very first thing that happened:

“Let’s look at your author platform!”

How did I know this was going to happen? Oh right, the entire writing world tells you about it. So, things started happening, like social media calendars, starting up a FaceBook author page (which I don’t hate as much as I thought — hey, if you want to like it and follow my updates more in detail, here it is), and discussing how many pictures of my freaking goats I post on Instagram (heheh).

The past couple months have been about setting goals and thinking about branding as a whole. The holidays took up a lot of time and headspace, so that was mostly easy, fun stuff. When 2017 hit, it was time to get serious (<– I almost wrote that ‘series’, ha!). Anyway. *cracks knuckles*

The part I’m struggling with the most is finding and actually utilizing my ‘keywords’ in a natural way. The whole point of social media as an author is to be able to connect with potential readers, to find them and make connections before the actual book comes out. So if you want the right people to connect with you, who are interested in the concepts/themes in your story… you have to effectively find/attract them through keywords.

So while I can tweet/post indefinitely like #fantasy #alternatehistory #strongwomen #solarpunk etc etc etc — I definitely feel that it’s the bare minimum of what to do, and there has to be a better way to do it. It needs to feel natural, not like I’m awkwardly waving off in the corner and nobody really knows what I’m doing there.

Do I know the answer to that yet? Not really.

(Though I am having a lot of fun finding really cool pictures to post on Instagram. Seriously, I feel like a image hoarder right now.)

Another aspect of it — as you probably know — is that you want people to make connections to you as a writer. They’ll hopefully want to buy your book when it arrives, but that’s not the point. You’re supposed to make connections and build relationships as your primary goal.

So there’s this balance between ‘keywords my book is about’ (AKA finding the right people) and ‘being naturally you’ (being genuine so people don’t think you’re a robot). I’d like to say I’m pretty good at that last part, and am working to incorporate the first part… but we’ll see.

 

As for what’s happening with the actual manuscript… the first thing to tackle is developmental editing. Basically, my editor wants to make sure that the whole series fits together and is pushed to it’s best possible potential. Big picture stuff. Does-what-happens-in-book-four-make-sense-with-what-happens-in-book-two. Etc.

I haven’t gotten the letter with developmental edits yet, because my editor has been slammed getting authors ready with books coming out here shortly. But we have been talking informally about basics.

Liiiiiiike — big reveals that happen in book four must be foreshadowed in the previous books if it’s a big freaking plot hole. If it’s a plot hole that’s supposed to be there, you’ve got to let the reader know YOU know it’s supposed to be there.

Which, apparently, I did well with Fairian’s whole obsession with finding secrets. I reveal to there readers that HEY LOOK THERE’S SOMETHING REALLY WRONG WITH GEOGRAPHY I KNOW IT’S WRONG JUST BEAR WITH ME without giving them answers. And then drag out allllll the secrets for several books…

Eh-hem. It’s good to know I did that part right, because the waiting in strangling anticipation for the edits letter is only killing me slowly. I am so ready to tackle to this thing and turn it into an even better beauteous creation of awesome.

So. Moral of the story: publishing really does take a long time, for various reasons. Use the time to beef up your author platform. And meanwhile, write more books!

I feel like there should be a lot more to tell, but that’s all I can think of for now. It ought to get more exciting as things progress; stayed tuned for the end of February update!

 

Happy writing,

R. K. Brainerd


Organizing Documents as a Writer

 

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My wonderful partner got me a new computer as a birthday/Christmas present. With my old computer giving me spouts of paranoia that I’d lose all my work (never mind I have three backups for all my writing), alongside moments of freezing, and the ten minutes it takes to start up — it’s a relief to write on something that works as fast as my brain does in the heat of a writing moment.

Yet being the insane sentimental person that I am, it’s been sad to move from writing on my old computer to the new one. My older laptop has been with me since 2011; it’s been my steady companion through college, after-college job hunting and internships, and hundreds of hours of writing. I haven’t moved all of my writing yet (though most of my pictures and programs were moved over immediately to give my old computer a break!), instead easing into my fancy new one.

The writing I have moved are my current projects: my NaNoWriMo project from 2016 and my current WIP, the third in my INITIUM series. And as I moved them over, I grew kind of excited, because it became an opportunity to completely rework the way I organize my files.

My old computer was organized by type of writing (novel, short story, essay, etc), and then series or theme, and then individual documents. I’ve got the terrible habit of creating a new document for every scene, thought, or spark of inspiration that hits me — which means that one book is actually dozens of documents, one series working out to be a hundred files. Most everything I write down is digital, anything not attached to a working series thrown into random documents that are then thrown into the ever-growing ‘Writing Ideas’ folder, which I proceed to forget about for the next year.

All of this, of course, is buried in the recesses of the ‘My Writing’ folder, which houses everything in tarnation.

With my new computer providing a fresh start, I reworked all of this, for ease and clarity. My new organization style is by current or back-burner projects, and then type, and then individual series or documents. This is working a hell of a lot better for my brain — I’m not clicking through dozens (okay, hundreds) of folders and documents to get to the project I’m actually working on.

I’m sure it’ll get messy as I move the rest of my writing over — but right now I’m basking in how pretty and organized everything is right now.

But it made me curious about you, my fellow writing friends.

How do you organize your files? Are you a digital or paper writer? Is everything in one folder, or do you attempt to create some organization out of the mess?

 

And for all of you waiting for the Published: Behind the Scenes blog series to begin, never fear! I’m writing the first one even as you read, and it will be up in a week or two. 

 


Upcoming Blog Series: Behind The Scenes in Being Published

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As many of you know, I sold my now-titled Initium series to Glass House Press in later 2016. I knew from the beginning I wanted to share as much as I could about this whole process, what it entails, my reactions and feelings — just so you all would have an idea of what it looks like when you get your awesome books deals (if you’re going the traditional route, of course!).

In my effort to be organized and pretend like I know what I’m doing, I’ve decided to create a blog series. It will be called “Published: Behind the Scenes,” and at least one blog post a month on AwakeDragon will be solely dedicated to detailing all the details I can describe (

I don’t have an agent, so this is me and my publisher, one on one. Hopefully, in all these posts, you’ll get a glimpse into what to expect — and maybe know how to improve right now in what you’re doing, based on my experience.

Needless to say, this is going to be a LONG series. It will, at the very least, last throughout 2017, and probably through most of 2018. Just based off of the first few months I’ve had this contract, I’m going to guess this series I will cover a broad variety of topics:

  • developmental editing
  • copyediting
  • structural editing
  • stylistic editing
  • (repeat: editing, Editing, EDITING)
  • marketing
  • branding
  • author platforms
  • book launching
  • debuting terrors
  • handling criticism
  • improving as a writer

I also have a feeling that some months there may not be that much to say. As many of you already know (or guess), publishing is a looooonnnnnnng process. I’m just now starting to realize why. Everything takes so much longer than you expect!

Some of it will be diary-like. Some of it may be more technical. And I’m sure that my experience is going to differ from other’s experiences. My publisher is a small publisher focusing on intense, high-quality literature — I love their vision and what I think they can do for me. Small publishers have more time to spend with authors, helping and cultivating them. Smaller publishers depend on authors more for marketing and such. This is going to vary if you’re picked up by a bigger publisher, or have an agent. (Even within the same publisher I’m sure experiences will be different) I want to share my experience for fun and for reference; but I’m not saying everyone’s journey will be like mine.

Okay, and finally: to keep all these posts organized, I’ve done a few things. All posts will be linked at the bottom of this post, so they’re all in one place. All posts will link back to this post, so everything else can be found. Also, I’ve set up a new category dedicated to these posts, which can be found on the righthand side of this blog that will take you to said posts. Lastly, I may even create a new page that can be accessed from the menu at the top of AwakeDragon, so it’s just that much easier to click and find.

What do you think? Is everyone excited? I’m excited!

Posts:

January 2017

February 2017

March 2017

April 2017


Artichokes and Salsa: A New Year

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2016 ended with me eating artichokes and salsa while watching Gargoyles, a silly animation show for kids that aired in the 90s. It wasn’t really planned — in fact, I’d been thinking I’d be asleep by 10 — but there I was, awake to usher in the new year.

As most of us writers here on social media agree, 2016 was overall a dumpster fire. Which is unfortunate, because with my weird thing about numbers, I really like the number 2016.

But anyway, here is the obligatory New-Years-Resolutions post.

As stated in my post from early 2016, my writing goals for last year were:

Finish Dragon Immortals Book 3 (working title Occultum)
Develop a kick-ass, intelligent marketing plan for Initium (the first book!)
Consistently query

So, all right, I didn’t complete the first one. Which sucks, because it ruined my pattern of finishing a book a year. Occultum is about a third finished right now — which can be directly connected to my lack of consistently working on it. I’ve actually been working on it more in the past month than I have all year, after the inspiration and good habits that arise from NaNoWriMo.

Though, even as Occultum isn’t finished, I do have another book that’s almost completed in another series (the first of the Fertility Daughters series I wrote for NaNoWriMo).

Also, I did write quite a few short stories.

(… Huh, it seems like I didn’t write a ton, doesn’t it? It’s weird, I feel like I wrote a lot more…)

Well, for my second goal, while I’m figuring out I may never feel like I’m ‘prepared’ for marketing, I know a ton more than I did before. I’ve got quite a few ideas in my head, an author platform I’m keeping up decently, and some semblance of a plan. So that, I believe, is a success.

Ha, and as for consistently querying — that was true until June, when I got my amazing mentorship and Glass House Press snagged up my current series.

I also had some personal goals I wanted to strive for:

Go to three new places
Get an “adult” job
Read 6 books from list

Definitely check on the first one, all thanks to my family. We decided that instead of Christmas presents this year, we’d travel. We ended up going to Mont-Tremblant, Canada, Poughkeepsie, NY, and NYC. It was an amazing two week trip — and so much fun!

Ehhhh not so much on the adult job. I mean, I suppose if you count retail. But I really mean something fulfilling with a salary that does something to make the world a better place… which, perhaps was a little ambitious of me. But until I’m a world famous author, I’ve got to make money somehow, right?

Read 6 books from list. Ha. Well, I definitely read 6 books (a lot more than six), but I have a specific list of classics and good literature that would help improve me as a person and a writer. Really, the list is about expanding my reading horizon and choices.

For example, War and Peace is on there, as is 1943A brief History of Time, and Guns, Germs, and Steel. 

I managed three from that list. Two from Orson Scott Card (I know, similar-ish genre to what I write, but he writes so differently than me and is such an iconic author), and one book about Ooparts (out of place artifacts) and how ancient society may have been much more technologically advanced than we believe. (That, actually, resulted in a new series idea that I briefly describe here.)

Basically this means I need to be a lot better about picking up books outside of my comfort zone. The goal continues for 2017!

On that note… let’s talk about 2017, folks.

  • MORE BOOKS FROM THE LIST. Let’s aim for 6. Double what I did this year. Yes? Yes.
  • Finish Occultum.
  • In fact, since my NaNo project is only a few chapters off from completion, let’s make that a priority too. Finish two books in one year!
  • I’d really like to write a short story that gets published in a magazine like Asimov’s.
  • Build a majority of the marketing content I’ll need surrounding the release of Initium. Short stories, excerpts, meet-the-characters, behind-the-scenes stuff, fun contests…

I also have some personal goals, but those aren’t as fun. They mostly involve things like getting more involved in volunteering, changing the world, etc… you know, easy stuff like that.

2016 may have been a dumpster fire, but the only way 2017 is going to change is if all of us strive to make it that way. Maybe it’s the millennial passive problem, but I’ve never felt the phrase ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ so keenly before. Or maybe it’s that I’m simply growing up, and now see I can’t wait around for someone else to make it better. I’m taking control of my writing destiny and making it happen through hard work; why can’t I do the same in the world I live in?

As much as writing is an escape, seeing the world as it could be, and we all joke that writers don’t tolerate reality… I still feel driven to do something. I may not tolerate reality well, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a duty to try to make it better.

We live in a democracy. It gives us the right to not care… but we’ll only remain a democracy if we act like democratic citizens, and engage.

So. I have my writing goals for 2017, and personal goals for 2017.

Let’s do this.

Tell me about your goals. What are you looking to achieve in the coming year?


The Benefit of Two Projects At Once

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Somewhere in the haze of NaNoWriMo and my own butt-kicking, I’ve managed to add 6 chapters to a WIP I haven’t worked on all year. Maybe it’s me procrastinating finishing my 2016 NaNoWriMo project, maybe it’s because it’s finally clicking — but whatever it is, I am totally okay with it.

I did write a post a while ago about how having several projects to work on at once was really beneficial — particularly if they’re in different stages of completion. I think I may be experiencing that. Because while my NaNo project is a few chapters from completion, the third INITIUM book (loosely titled Occultum) is only about a third done.

A few days ago I got a little stuck on OCCULTUM, and simply switched back to my NaNo project. I didn’t write a whole lot on it — only about half a page, and some minor editing — but after that, I felt ready to return to OCCULTUM. And I did.

It’s rather awesome.

I think I need to keep doing this.

(So basically I’m telling myself that as OCCULTUM passes the halfway mark and heads towards ‘done’ I need to start up another project. Why am I not surprised my brain thinks this is a good idea? Actually, I know exactly what project it would be, too…)

Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon? 


The Concept of Flood Without Water

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Earlier this year I conceived a fun idea: an antediluvian post-apocalyptic sci-fi. (That first word, in case you needed to know, means pre-bibical-flood). The idea started forming when I started reading up on things called Ooparts.

What are Ooparts? Out Of Place Artifacts. It means, there’s something that’s been found in an archaeological dig or written down thousands of years ago that does not fit in our concept of history. Gliders found in ancient Egypt and Maya that, when precisely blown up in size, fly by themselves with little to no propelling power. Giant batteries in ancient Iraq. Pyramids that generate power. Depictions of using electricity and mind-control. And much more.

Sure, some of it can be conspiracy theory. Some people take all of these things and say that aliens visited us thousands of years ago. But why does it have to be aliens? Why can’t humanity have been as smart as to create computers and airplanes and batteries thousands of years ago — and then something happened?

And since I write fiction, I don’t have to care if it’s all absolutely true or not. I can run with it… and turn it into something awesome. *cue evil grin*

Further along on the formation of this idea, there is a lot of evidence that suggests a giant catastrophe (as in, a giant flood) swept the entire globe a few millennia ago. A catastrophe big enough to turn the earth slight on it’s axis. A catastrophe big enough to leave giant pockets of vegetation and decaying bodies that are hard to explain in any other way.

This is besides the fact that every culture on the planet has a flood myth.

Now, I’m not a religious person. I don’t want to prove or disprove the idea of a biblical flood sent down by a God of this culture or the next because we were all bad people. But the concept of something like this is awe-some — and I ran with it.

I utilized the favorite tool of the writer: the “What Ifs.”

What if humanity progressed to a technological level we weren’t supposed to go? What if we broke an unspoken rule, a rule we’d forgotten was made, a promise we’d forgot to keep?

Who would be there to put us back in line?

 

Then it all started coming together. All of the fun Oopart technology and Bibical history and environmentalist themes takes place around this story:

Sofija left home to learn about defense against warfare. Her peace-loving family and village is continually plagued by the Kurgans, the warring civilization to the East. But when she left home, they came…

Stuck on the Green Isles, trapped in a fort seiged by demons every night as it desperately tries to save it’s technology, Sofija just wants to go home. Her family is all probably dead anyway — but she has to see for herself.

 

 

Everything changes when she inadvertently kills one of the Princes of the demons, gaining the loyalty of one of their most precious steeds. He’s a black, flesh-eating horse born from the molten core of the planet — and now he’s irrevocably hers. And in doing so, Sofija may have just been handed the only possible chance at understanding why the demons are here, and what they really want.

With the flood still in mind (and I’m definitely not throwing out the idea an actual flood will occur), I titled it “Flood Without Water.” I wrote the beginning of this story for a novella contest I never actually ended up entering, but it’s been in the back of my mind for a while now.

Then, the other day, my publisher asked me about writing a short story for their blog that used five favorite words picked by their head editor. The words given to me were: assemblage, labyrinthine, brood, nemesis, and inure. I had to look that last word up, but almost as soon as I had the words, Sofija and her devil-horse started talking.

So I ran with it.

And I came up with this.

Let me know what you think. I’m pretty excited about this one.

(Also, for fun, I created a Pinterest board where I’ve started collecting concept art for the whole series. Check it out if you’ve got time!)