Archive for 'pearls of great wisdom'

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What Stace had to say on Thursday, July 8th, 2010
Dog-paddling

Wow, this is late in the day to be posting.

Seriously, guys, I cannot recall ever being this busy in my life. I mean, in normal everyday life, not, like, the weeks before my children were born when suddenly the entire house needed to be scrubbed and redecorated, or the weeks before my wedding when the entire house needed to be scrubbed and redecorated and I had a houseful of guests and I needed to get manicures and hairdos and fittings and all of that stuff, or when we move. This is just my daily task-list growing longer and longer. (Oh, and before I forget, did you all see the UNHOLY MAGIC playlist on iTunes? You know I don’t get paid or anything when you purchase it, but the artists do; I just put them together in case anyone was curious about the music in the books and would like to hear it. This way you don’t have to hunt around and not know which songs are mentioned or whatever.)

I just finished a short story for an anthology; it’s a Downside story but because I didn’t want to give spoilers, and am well aware that most readers have never heard of me or my books, I wrote it from an outsider’s point of view, which was fun. You know what the most fun part of it was, though, which is really weird? Getting to actually describe Chess head to foot. You know, it’s hard to find ways to describe characters when you write from their POV; you don’t want to use hoary old tricks like them looking at themselves in the mirror, and really, just about any other sort of trick to describe your characters feel hoary.

MC: Oh, Friend #1, I hate my hair.

Friend #1: Nonsense. I wish I had long blond curls like yours.

Do you know what I mean? I don’t describe my characters too closely, I don’t think of them in terms of what actor they look like and would never describe them that way. I like to leave that up to you guys to fill in, really. Which makes me think of a fun contest! Which I may mention at the end of this post.

Anyway. So it was really fun to write a short where, because the MC of that story doesn’t know these people, he can actually take in the details of their appearances. They’re still not really facially described, but there’s a much more complete description, down to things like what Chess’s bag actually looks like. (I’ll share that one; it’s faded army-green canvas.) The story is tentatively titled Rick the Brave, but I’m still trying to come up with something better.

Now I have two other projects on my plate, one of which is another short for something else, and one of which is a new series-starter WIP which I’m extremely excited about. I’m not super far into it yet, but what I have I’m very happy with, which is a great feeling. It’s tentatively called Stone and Steam, but that will probably change.

I also have a to-do list which includes five interviews, which I really need to get to. And, I’ve got a couple of dozen emails and forum messages in my inbox from readers, relating to the Downside books, which I swear I will answer, my days have just been disappearing from me lately. But I do get those emails, I do read them, and I do appreciate them immensely. Nothing in this world is as amazing as getting an email from a reader who loved your work. (Well, okay. Sorry readers, but there are a few better moments, I have to admit. Holding your baby for the first time is pretty fucking amazing. But outside of stuff like that, reader email tops the list.)

BUT. That does bring me to a question most of the emails have been asking, and a ton of people on Twitter have been asking, as well as here on the blog. And I really wasn’t able to answer the question, although I’ve known the answer for, oh, three weeks or so now. Ready?

YES. There WILL be more Downside books!!

I don’t have any more details I can share as to number or dates or anything, although I think I can pretty safely say, considering it’s now July, that we’re talking about next year. We’re still working a lot of details out. But I’m extremely pleased and excited, and I hope you guys are too. Read the rest of this entry »

What Stace had to say on Monday, April 19th, 2010
The Cool Kids

I’d planned to post about something else today (Amber Publishing, who are publishing the Downside books in Poland, have posted the cover and blurb on their site, in Polish [of course], which is totally cool), but that, along with the online translation of it, will have to wait. Because I’ve had this post in mind for like a month now, and I want to get it out there. Settle in, guys, this is a long one.

You may have heard of Young Adult Authors Against Bullying, a Facebook group made up of–as the name implies–YA authors who disapprove of bullying. I’m not technically a YA author but I’ve joined, as have a lot of others. And a few weeks ago many writers posted their bullying stories on their blogs. I didn’t; not because I don’t have bullying stories or wasn’t bullied as a child/preteen/teen (believe me, I was, horribly) but because I didn’t learn about it until it was already in progress and I already had this post sort of planned, as I said above.

A lot of this is in reaction to the death of Phoebe Prince, a high-school girl driven to suicide by a gang of less-than-human teenage shitweeds who decided she deserved to be mocked, bullied, teased, insulted, and otherwise abused because she *gasp* dated a guy who used to date one of the aforementioned shitweeds (and the guy later joined in, which just makes me lose hope in the future of humanity, but then, this whole story does).

It reminds me a bit of the Megan Meier case, in which a girl was cyber-bullied not just by kids her own age, but by the mother of one of her acquaintances. A grown fucking woman, who thought it was a good idea to harass and play tricks on a young girl online.

And that’s sort of what I want to discuss. Adult bullying, and the society of mean.
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What Stace had to say on Monday, February 1st, 2010
Oh, what a weekend

Yes, yes, we all know about Amazon vs. MacMillan. And I’m sure we all have our own opinions. I know I certainly do, but since Scott Westerfeld said it better I’m just going to link to his post on it, and say, THIS.

I am also leaving the Amazon links up on my site, because I know there are readers who prefer Amazon, or even side with Amazon. But I do encourage you all to buy your books elsewhere. Bookstores are important. Choice is important. Support bookstores, and buy from them, because it matters.

Now. This weekend was also my first-ever attempt at making a beef-and-lentil soup. It turned out pretty well! As always I messed about with the recipe a bit, sort of amalgamating several into one and picking and choosing. For example, most recipes I found called for canned tomatoes. I don’t particularly like eating tomatoes in soup, so I substituted a can of tomato paste instead; tomato flavor with no slimy tomatoes. So here’s the recipe, since I promised I’d post it:
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What Stace had to say on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
It’s YOUR damn story

I could have sworn that I’ve blogged about this before, but I just did a search and nothing turned up, so I guess I haven’t. Or maybe I’m searching wrong. Anyway. (No, I did sort of discuss this before, in this 2007 post, but not with the same focus, so I don’t feel as though I’m repeating myself.)

Here’s the thing. Writing involves making up stories. Perhaps you’re a plotter, one of those bizarre creatures who knows exactly what’s going to happen in the story before you open a shiny new Document and follows your path as tidily as a ballerina with months of rehearsal. (In which case I seriously envy you, despite my snottiness. It’s fond, admiring snottiness, I promise.)

Or maybe you’re a pantser like me, and start with a character or two and a premise, and toss them into the document and see what happens. Maybe like me you have a few vague ideas of where the story will go; I tend to have some sort of idea of what the climactic battle will be like, and maybe a scene or two sort of lurking in the back of my mind waiting to be used.

But either way, you need to make up the story. It’s down to YOU; it’s your responsibility. Quite frankly, a fiction writer who cannot make up a story is not a fiction writer. If writing fiction is what you want to do, you need to learn and absorb the skill of Making Shit Up. Period.

Which is why it drives me insane when I see writers–or those who want to be or claim to be writers–asking people what they should do with their story. Should the hero and heroine get together now? Should the villain do this or that? How old should the characters be? Should the villain die at the end? Should the father be the bad guy?

Then there are the secondary questions, what I refer to as the “unfamiliar” questions. I call them that because the questioner is seemingly unfamiliar with either the genre in which they are writing, or with books in general. (They could also be called the “Is it okay” questions, since they tend to start that way. These are questions like, “Is it okay if the hero cusses? Is it okay if the heroine isn’t a virgin? Is it okay if the heroine kills the bad guy? Is it okay if the hero gets drunk? Is it okay if the hero has a kid?” etc. etc.

I’d say the latter annoy me more, but honestly, they both annoy me equally.

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  • What Stace had to say on Friday, December 4th, 2009
    Guest Post: Simon Wood on The Road to Publication

    Today we have a special treat! I “met” Simon when we were both guests on that podcast show; he’s a cool guy and a really good writer, and he graciously agreed to let me have a couple of articles for the blog. This is the first. The second one will be up next Thursday.

    The Road To Publication – And How Not To Get Mugged Along The Way

    By Simon Wood

    The road to publication is long and without road signs. There’s no one to hand you a map or rules to the road. So when every would-be author hits the road with his or her finished manuscript, they are vulnerable to predators. The scent given off by a new author is very powerful. The wolves and bandits will smell you coming a mile off. I think first time authors must smell like cut bait.

    For most authors, finding a publisher is a Tolkienian adventure. My personal quest to find a publisher took two years and cost me hundreds of dollars. But in hindsight, a number of my run-ins with the wolves and bandits were of my own creation. To my credit, I dodged the perils that line the road to publication without serious injury, but they could have been avoided all together, if I’d been a little smarter.

    Gone are the days when fiction authors could sub their novel directly to the New York publishing houses and be given a chance. Every author needs an agent to be their guide to publication. But, how does the naive author know what a reputable agent looks like? This is where I wasted a lot of time and money. I scoured the various Writers’ Digests of Literary Agents because that’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, these digests are like yellow pages. They list the good, the bad and the ugly. I sent blanket queries and synopses to over a hundred agents without a clue of who I was introducing myself too. Not surprisingly, I introduced myself to some of the carpetbaggers along the way.

    I had agents who said they loved my work and praised the great book I’d written when I’d only sent them a one-page query letter. One agent threatened to trash my name in the industry when I quizzed her on her standard operating practices, then she sent my manuscript back in pieces. Luckily, I never broke the golden rule of dealing with agents—DON’T PAY AN AGENT ANY MONEY UPFRONT. Regardless of their reasons, reputable agents don’t ask for money before they market your book. I know it’s tempting to accept an agent’s offer, but the newbie author has to know when to say no. So when an agent asks for $700 for printing and postages expenses or $200 to read a manuscript before they’ve done a thing, don’t haggle or negotiate, say no thanks and move on.

    Although it seems to be a growing trend for reputable agents to charge expenses for postage, I’ve known authors to have paid less than a hundred dollars. But the agents bill after the fact, not before. If any agent says they are charging expenses, ask what they are for and get an estimate before you a sign contract.

    So, if I was setting out on the road to publication again and was hunting for an agent, what would I do differently? First off, I wouldn’t bother with the market guides. An unsuspecting author doesn’t know what they are letting themselves in for. If you want to find an agent, start with their trade association. The Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. (AAR) lists their members, a code of conduct that all their members must abide by and a great list of questions to any and all agents who offer representation. There are some great agents out there who aren’t AAR members, but finding them is hard, so the AAR is a good place to start. Another good resource is writers’ associations. If you are a mystery writer, consider joining the Mystery Writers of America. If you are a horror writer, consider joining the Horror Writers Association. They have a member’s directory where the authors list their agents. The first time author should write to these agents. The agents listed represent someone with a reputation in the same genre and someone who has made a legitimate book deal.

    After doing things like this—the right things—the first time author still may not find an agent. I didn’t. This means you probably aren’t going to get a book contract with Harper Collins, Penguin or Time Warner, but it doesn’t mean all publishers are off limits. There are a number of small and medium sized publishers who will deal with unknown writers. You need to do their homework. Scour bookstores and jot down the names of publishers. Seek out their websites and check out their guidelines. If a publisher says they will take unagented submissions, then submit. You have nothing to lose…

    …or do you?

    There are bad publishers out there, just like there are bad agents. The same law about agents applies to publishers—DON’T PAY A PUBLISHER ANY MONEY UPFRONT. Publishers pay authors, not the other way around. Again, if you are asked for money, walk away. If you see an author mention their publisher and you’ve never heard of them, check them out. See if the publisher’s claims live up. If a publisher says their books are available on Amazon, use the search facility on Amazon. Punch in the publisher’s name and see how many of their titles pop up. If you don’t find any or it says to allow six weeks for delivery, there may be problems with distribution. And if so, your book might make it to print, but not much further. Authors shouldn’t be afraid to ask for changes to a publisher’s contract. If certain rights are asked for and you aren’t happy, negotiate them out. Again, the likes of the HWA and MWA do have typical sample contracts that authors without agents can use for reference.

    The road to publication is fraught with danger. But it doesn’t mean the first time author has to be mugged and left for dead. First timers need to stop sticking pins in the pages of digests and hoping for the best. To put things into a plumbilogical terms, when hiring a plumber to fix a broken pipe most people don’t go for the first name they see. Usually, they ask for a referral and check that the plumber is licensed. The search for an agent and/or publisher should be the same. You need to know the industry and ask around, choosing from trusted sources.

    Following my tips won’t guarantee you publishing success, but they should help prevent you from walking into some of the horrors that lurk on the road to publication.

    Simon Wood is originally from England but now resides in California. He’s an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. He’s had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. He’s the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he’s the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. His next thriller, Terminated, will be out next June. Curious people can learn more at www.simonwood.net.

    What Stace had to say on Thursday, November 12th, 2009
    Yes, Virginia, you need an agent

    For those of you who haven’t yet heard, yesterday Galleycat published a rather ridiculous opinion piece about how agents are unnecessary and they don’t do anything and they’re just evil old vultures and blah blah blah. The same crap we’ve heard before, in other words, although I find it fascinating that this piece was written by someone who last year–obviously unaware that I already had an agent and two book deals–offered to query agents on my behalf for the low, low price of $500.00, and yes I still have that email exchange saved. He’s perfectly entitled to run such a business and I’m not calling him a scammer, but it’s interesting, isn’t it?

    Agent Miriam Goderich rebutted it here very nicely. So, I’m sure, have others, but I’m about to add my voice to the chorus simply because that’s the way I roll, baby.

    Do you need an agent?

    Yes. Yes, you fucking do.

    Period.

    Okay, sure. If you’re planning on having a career in epublishing, you probably do not need an agent. If you’re planning to self-publish, you do not need an agent. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things. I started out in epublishing, without an agent, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’m glad I did it and am grateful to Ellora’s Cave for treating me so well and enabling me to make some decent cash. Working with them was a pleasure for me.

    But–no offense–I wanted more than that. I wanted books on shelves. I wanted advances. I wanted a bigger career. I wanted to move out of genre romance/erotic romance; not because I didn’t enjoy it or don’t enjoy it (writing and reading), but because the more of it I wrote the more a little voice inside me told me it was simply not quite the right fit for my voice or the kinds of stories I wanted to tell.

    To accomplish those things (aside from moving away from writing romance, which of course is a huge genre in all forms of publishing: ebook, mass market paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, audio, whatever) I needed an agent.

    Here’s what fascinates me (and infuriates me) about the original Galleycat article (aside from the fact that its author apparently also runs a website devoted to helping writers self-publish; again, legal, but certainly interesting). It’s this paragraph here:

    One published author who asks to be unnamed disagrees, “What do you need an agent for anymore, really? Why? To negotiate a meager advance? You can’t get them on the phone anyway. You’re stuck promoting the book yourself because publishers don’t put any marketing dollars into your book unless you’re John Grisham. I don’t see the whole point when I can hire an attorney to negotiate my publishing contract for a flat fee or just upload the book to Kindle myself.”

    Let’s take a look at these points, shall we?
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    What Stace had to say on Monday, September 21st, 2009
    If self-publishing is the future, it’s bleak indeed

    First, a couple of quick things:

    1. “The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance 2” has been released, containing stories by myself, Jeanne Stein, Jaye Wells, Caitlin Kittredge, Tiffany Trent, and Ann Aguirre. My story, titled “Trust Me,” is–I think–kind of a fun little yarn about Jack the Ripper, and is officially the Last Erotic Romance story I wrote (for now). So while I did tone it down a bit for the antho, expect lots of sexxoring.

    Shorts are difficult for me, in general; I have a hard time keeping myself from expanding and expanding and introducing subplots. But this was a story that really didn’t leave a lot of room for a novel, and the idea had appealed to me for some time (as with all mystery buffs and goulish people, I am fascinated by the Ripper), so when I had the opportunity to submit it for the antho I jumped at it. So rush on out and get it; my story is probably the weakest of the bunch, given the other names involved, but I think it’s kind of a sweet little tale nonetheless.

    2. Kari Stewart, my agent-mate and author of A DEVIL IN THE DETAILS, coming next summer from Roc, has written a great little series on writing series novels on her blog. You have to scroll down a few entires, but it’s well worth it.

    3. Charlaine Harris did an interview at Voice America’s “Mystery Matters” show on Friday, and guess who she mentioned as one of her favorite secondary characters ever, right around the fifty-four minute mark? Terrible, my big bad greaser from UNHOLY GHOSTS. Check it out!

    Now. To the point of the post. (Yes, I seem to be on a bit of a self-publishing kick. I promise I have not forgotten the Critique series. I’m just busy as heck these days and going through some other things I won’t bore you with.)
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    What Stace had to say on Monday, September 14th, 2009
    Self-publishing is not like punk rock*

    *except when it is. Which isn’t often.

    Lemme ‘splain.

    More and more lately I’ve been hearing this argument, or discussion, or comment. Self-publishing is just like punk rock! Because anyone can do it. Because self-published authors are taking the bull by the horns and doing it themselves! Fuck the Publishing Man! Rock on!

    And it’s something I’ve wanted to write about for some time, but it was this Genreville blog post in PW that finally inspired me to do so.

    Yes, there are a few similarities, or rather, there is one way in which they are alike. But for the most part they are vastly different, and this is what irritates me and makes me want to pull out my hair sometimes. Because the differences are vast and wide.

    Before I start, let me give you a quick run-down of my credentials to even discuss this topic. I was heavily involved in the punk scene for, oh, ten years or so. With an ex-boyfriend of mine, who was in a band, I ran a tiny punk record label; we sold records for a dollar each. I helped book shows; I had bands stay at my house; I slept on floors; I did a little touring; I watched recording sessions; I sang one line in a song that ended up on a Lookout! records compilation; I went to drunken all-night parties; I never paid to get into shows because I always knew somebody in the band; I traveled across country with the ex (he wasn’t my ex at the time) and his band to attend a three-day punk festival in northern California; I can play a few Ramones and Sex Pistols songs on the guitar; I started my own band with a couple of other girls, and we were getting ready to try booking a show when our drummer quit; and a whole bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten. This was one of my favorite things about writing the Downside books, was being able to draw on those experiences and namecheck my favorite bands.

    I say this just because I want to make it clear that I do in fact know what I’m talking about; it’s not to brag or say “Look how cool I am” or anything of that nature (I readily admit I am not cool. Perhaps I was at one point in my life, but now I sit around all day writing and pouring juice for my daughters).

    The only self-publishing I can honestly and truly say is punk rock are zines. Zines are–at least they used to be–fully punk self-publishing. Handwritten pages (although now that we have computers it’s very possible they’re typeset or laid out using Pagemaker or whatever), usually full of personal essays, record reviews, jokes, show reviews, that sort of thing, photocopied and stapled together at Kinko’s or in your basement or whatever. Are you getting a sense here of what punk rock zines are about? Could it be, hmm, that they are about punk rock? (I haven’t seen a zine in a while, save some of my old copies of big ones like COMETBUS or SCAM. So forgive me if some of my zine info is a little out of date.)

    The rest? Not so much.
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    What Stace had to say on Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

    So Jade Goody has died.

    Of cervical cancer.

    At the age of 27.

    Cervical cancer is one of the slowest forms of cancer there is. If caught early, cervical cancer is nearly 100% treatable.

    But Jade Goody’s cervical cancer was not caught early. You know why? Because Jade Goody was unfortunate enough to live in England, where regular (not annual, I hasten to point out, but regular, by which the NHS means every three years) pap smears are not given to young women until they reach the age of 25. Twenty-fucking-five.

    Many forms of cervical cancer stem from strains of HPV, HumanPappillomaVirus. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease.

    That’s why in the US, pap smears are recommended for all women once they become sexually active. Because sexual activity automatically increases your risk of HPV exponentially. And because even without HPV, you are still at risk (I get irritated when I see people behaving as though HPV is the *only* cause of/risk factor for cervical cancer. It’s NOT) once you become sexually active.

    A loose scan of my memory gives me the names of three or four of my female friends, including myself (I’ll get to that in a second) who were treated at one time or another for cervical dysplasia–precancerous cells on the cervix. To a woman treatment was short and simple, and fairly non-invasive. Easy.

    Pap smears save lives. Period. End of fucking story.

    At least, it’s the end of the story for Jade Goody, dead at twenty-seven, leaving her two small sons behind. Who wants to be the one to explain to those boys that their mother is dead now because England couldn’t be bothered to spend the money for a simple test that would have saved her life? And, far worse, that rather than simply admitting they can’t afford it but urging women to get them anyway, by not even recommending the test until age twenty-five they imply strongly that the pap is a waste of time, that there’s no point in getting one before you hit twenty-five, even in a country with one of the highest teen birth rates in the world (Goody surely could have afforded private insurance or to get the test on her own, but she’d been told it was unecessary)? Which would certainly imply a very high rate of teen sexual activity, wouldn’t it? A country which decides to save money by crushing the lives of young women and treating them as though their health is unimportant, that the pap smear is unecessary and silly? Do you want to explain that to them? I sure don’t.

    It’s not just paps, either. Right after we moved here my husband asked his doctor about getting an annual physical. At thirty-three, with histories of cancer and heart disease on both sides of his family, he’d been getting annual check-ups for three years as recommended. The doctor laughed at him. “Oh, yes, well, that’s just insurance companies in America wanting to make more money,” he said. “You don’t need an annual check-up until you hit fifty.”

    (No, this is a different doctor from the one who told him, when he went in with bronchitis and could hardly breathe, “You look healthy enough. Give it a few more days, and if you start coughing up blood come back.” But the point is the same, isn’t it?)

    So Jade Goody is dead at twenty-seven, because she grew up in a country that told her pap smears were a waste of time. Whereas I consider her death to be a waste of time; time she could have spent raising her children and living a life.

    I got my first pap smear at eighteen, because I knew I was supposed to get them once I became sexually active; it was something which had been drilled into my head by teen magazines and Health teachers and the world at large. Because I didn’t have health insurance I went to Planned Parenthood and paid $35, if memory serves (they bill you on a sliding scale there. Years later I also went to PP for an HIV test, don’t remember what I paid for it; I didn’t think I was at risk for HIV and I wasn’t, but I am a bit of a hypochondriac so wanted to be certain.) It wasn’t too bad; it didn’t really hurt or anything. They sent me my results; all clear.

    I got another at nineteen. Another at twenty, and twenty-one. Twenty-two I skipped, but went again shortly after turning twenty-three.

    That’s when they dinged me.

    I had moderate-to-severe dysplasia, confirmed by a biopsy done with a colposcopy (which is like a really bright light and a dye or something that shows the doctor where the “bad” cells are during the examination so he can take samples from those spots). My gynecologist–a fantastic man who went on to deliver both my children–booked me in for a LEEP biopsy, whereby a loop of wire with an electric current running through it was used to remove the cells. The only really unpleasant thing about it was the lydocaine shot; not painful, but I had an uncomfortable reaction to the lydocaine. It took about an hour.

    I did not have HPV, by the way.

    I went back every six months for the first year or two to get another biopsy & colposcopy. After three years I was considered “clean” and could go back to regular annual paps. Those have been clean too, ever since, although of course I’ve only had one since I’ve been (not pleasant; no chair with stirrups, you have to lie down, tilt your hips up and spread your legs, with no little paper blanket or anything, which is both uncomfortable and undignified) here because history of cervical cancer or not, the NHS considers women’s health to be unimportant (another friend of mine came up against a stone wall when trying to get a mammogram at thirty-five, after every other woman in her family had been disganosed at various times with early-onset breast cancer.)

    My other friends who’d also had cervical cancer, who’d had crosurgery (freezing) or LEEPs like I had or cone biopsies? All had the same outcome. One incidence; closer checkups after, eventually sliding into regular annual checks again. We were all very lucky to live somewhere that paps are taken seriously. We were all very lucky indeed.

    We were also all, to a woman, under twenty-five.

    The youngest was eighteen. The oldest was me, at twenty-three.

    Think about that for a minute. If I had grown up here instead of there, I might very well not be alive now. I might be alive but without my two children; had the cancer spread I probably would have ended up with a hysterectomy.

    Dead or infertile by the age of twenty-five. All of us. All because in order to save money the NHS pretends there’s no point in doing a test, an important test which has been proven to save countless lives. Think for a minute about the women you know; have any of them had it? How old were they?

    There’s been a movement here since the Goody diagnosis to lower the age for pap smears to twenty, in accordance with what the other UK countries do. Which is better, but not enough.

    Pap smears should be done annually once you become sexually active. End of story. On a message board a little while back some women were having a discussion about this, and one was saying (at twenty-one, I think) that she was terrified to go get the pap, that she cried at the thought of anyone who wasn’t her fiance seeing her ladyparts, that she was panicky and sick and blah blah blah. And you know, I felt bad for her; I can’t imagine what that kind of fear would be like. It’s not one I’ve ever had. A doctor is a doctor. To me it’s no different than having my hands examined.

    But I told her something. She didn’t like it and probably still thinks I’m a big old bitch for it, but I didn’t apologize then and I won’t apologize now, because it’s true. If you’re not mature enough to suck it up and get a pap smear, you are not mature enough to be sexually active.

    Seriously. Responsibility is part of it (the same holds for birth control). Pap smears are part of being a grown woman and not a child. I have two daughters, and you bet your ass they’re going to get their paps every year when the time comes, if I have to drag them in and hold them down on the table myself. Because they are so, so, so hugely important.

    It’s just too bad the NHS doesn’t think so. And that now another young woman is dead because of it. I never watched Jade Goody on TV or really knew very much about her; reality TV isn’t my thing, in general. But I am absolutely furious that she is dead, when she didn’t have to die. I am furious that her government killed her by pretending she wasn’t at risk for a disease which strikes thousands of young women every year. I am furious that they behave as though my experience and the experience of so many others is unimportant or an aberration; I cry to think of all I might have missed had I been born and raised here instead of America.

    A young woman is dead today, of an entirely preventable and treatable illness. And I feel sick about it. And I hope the NHS does too, because they should be fucking ashamed of themselves.

    PLEASE, if you are reading this and you are female, or if you’re reading this and you know some females :-), PLEASE encourage them to get their pap smears. Please. It is so important.

    NOTE: Last night I noticed Mrs. Giggles–whom you all know I adore–linked to this entry and wrote an excellent and very informative post about Pap smears and the types of cells/cell abnormalities found in them. It’s well worth a read. But more importantly, Mrs. G. makes a point that I neglected to make: whether or not you are sexually active, you should be getting your pap smears annually. I don’t care if you’re a nun, once you reach a certain age–Mrs. G suggests 18–you need to do them. And she is 100% correct. I’m ashamed that I didn’t mention this myself. Please…get the test, whether you’re having sex or not.

    (I’ll be in a better mood tomorrow, I promise, and I’ll post the OMFGAWESOME cover and back copy for UNHOLY GHOSTS, and you do not want to miss those!!!)

    What Stace had to say on Thursday, February 5th, 2009
    A novel in three acts: Act Two

    First, thanks to everyone who responded to this last week! Your questions and feedback were very much appreciated.

    Patrice Michelle brought up an excellent point at Fangs Fur & Fey, though, and it was one I failed to stress adequately in my little disclaimery thing. Guys, this is NOT the only way to write books, and it is NOT something you should get hung up about. Seriously. It isn’t. Even I, who loves doing this with my books, do not look at it as gospel.

    From Patrice’s comment:

    For new writers, the goal is to just write the story and then once it’s written, go back and look at advice like this to see if it can help you tighten and streamline your story to give it the most impact to readers.

    And this is exactly true. Just as there is no magic bullet to finish your book, there is no one exact right way to write. If stuff like this bogs you down, don’t do it. If it feels too tight, don’t do it. You can, as she said, ignore this while writing and go back later once it’s done and see how it works for you. But please don’t ever think that because you handle things differently, you’re not “doing it right.” Whatever works for you? That’s what’s right. Period.

    For me this is just a way of keeping track and making sure I’m pacing correctly. When I hit 30k words, have I put in all my basic clues? Have I laid the groundwork? Have I given myself plenty to work with and expand later? Are all the characters introduced who need to be, is the basic set-up of the world and story clear?

    And there’s a little more to that as well; simply being 1/3 done is a little achievement. Writing a novel is hard work. When you first start out it can seem daunting. But once you get through the first 30k, you know you can do it. You only have to do another 30k and you’ll be in the end zone. And that’s a good feeling.

    So. Last week I mentioned pacing. Anyone who’s spent any time reading about writing is familiar with the phrase “sagging middle.” The sagging middle hits all of us at one point or another; it is, basically, the long stretch of book from, well, 30-60k words or so, where…not much happens. The story falters. The characters start spending too much time thinking or talking and not enough time doing.

    This is also, to put it bluntly, where characters start acting stupid. This is where, in our eagerness to have *something* happen, we send our characters alone into dark alleys, or have them pick fights with each other, or any number of things. Bad things.

    It is my firm belief that the main cause of the sagging middle is pacing, and that the main cause of pacing problems is failure to allow for structure. There are other reasons, of course; too much telling is a big one, too. But I’m assuming you all know the basic rules of writing (such as they are) and so are not writing a book that’s nothing but a big long infodump.

    We have pacing problems because we have inserted too much information into our first Act, and we have pacing problems because we have not given ourselves enough clues to work with.

    It sounds like an oxymoron, I know. But let’s go back to last week’s example, Jennifer the detective with the elderly grandma and the just-ended relationship.

    Our story started when a body was found. Let’s say there was no obvious cause of death. Now, using the three-act structure, we can make a decision; do we want to find out the cause of death before the act ends, thus giving ourselves the second act to explore it? Or do we want to wait, maybe pile up at least one more body?

    It’s up to you and the story you’re telling. But if you’re not thinking in terms of using Act One for clues and Act Two for expansion, if you’re not using that first act to thoroughly ground your characters and their world and introduce some issues for them to deal with, you may find yourself with no choice but to give us a cause of death, simply because something has to happen next. If you’ve gotten too deeply into your subplots in the first act you may not have room to add complications to them in the second act, either.

    Here’s the thing. If in the first 30k you have introduced plenty of characters and situations, the second act will essentially write itself, and I’ll tell you why.

    Because of logic.

    Your entire second act is simply adding more complications and doing what would logically come next.

    For example. At the end of Act One Jennifer finds another body. In the beginning of Act Two she learns cause of death. So what would Jennifer logically do next? She would start studying/researching that cause of death. Let’s say it was an overdose; a particularly pure, new form of heroin. Okay. We learned a little about our first victim in the first act (because we were planting clues). So we know the victim was not an IV drug user; that’s a dead end.

    To gran a few examples from mid-air, Jennifer might now logically start talking to drug dealers or users. That could be a nice suspenseful scene, her interview with a tough local drug dealer. That could have enormous complications that might effect the main plot; it could draw some new people into the case, perhaps, or cause jennifer problems with the police.

    And we have her grandma. The poor lady might have a stroke at the end of Act One and thus be in the hospital. The plot if to some degree resolved; Jennifer knows that her grandma can no longer safely stay with her. But that introduces new complications; Jennifer has to research homes and residences. Perhaps she decides to kill two birds with one stone, and go to the residence where the first murder victim’s mother works? That might provide us with a nice way to tie those subplots together later, right?

    So already we have some action for the second act; we’re meeting drug dealers and having wary conversations with them–perhaps a flirtation, depending on what kind of book this is?–and we’re getting involved more closely with a victim’s family and trying to find a place for grandma and expanding conflict with the cops. When we add that to researching the second victim and trying to find connections between them–perhaps they went to the same college, and Jennifer can go there and discover they had a class together? we’ve got a good 15-20k or so worth of action.

    Any time you get stuck in writing that second act, every time you feel the story flagging, you have only to stop and think back or look back at your first act. What seeds did you plant there that now need to grow a little? Maybe in the midst of all the turmoil with meeting scary drug dealers and putting her beloved grandma in a home, Jennifer’s ex shows up and wants to get back together, there’s a complication. Maybe the college connection falls through but it’s there that Jennifer gets another idea for a possible motive, one she needs to explore. Your Bad Guy should show up again, for whatever reason; let Jennifer interact with him/her, however briefly. Let her feel close to or uncomfortable with the BG.

    Your second act is all about expansion and information. Otherwise known as “the plot thickens.” The second act is where a new clue or two turns up; the second act is where you might illustrate a connection between one of your subplots and the main plot.

    And remember, nothing should be easy; we need conflict on every page! You don’t want Jennifer to just meet someone who tells her who the Bad Guy is in exchange for money; you want them to tease her with the info, make her perform tasks, put her in danger. Information should be a reward or compensation, never (or very rarely) a given.

    There are two other things I like to do/check with Second Acts. One, just as the first ended with a bang, so should the second. An even bigger bang (sometimes literally, heh heh; see below). I used Silence of the Lambs last week, so I’ll mention it again here; Dr. Lecter’s escape comes right around the end of the second act.

    The other is, by the end of the second act, I like to leave the reader with no idea how things are going to work out, or who the bad guy is. I like to know, at the end of the second act, that all of my main threads are still loose but are closing in on each other; I like to be in a position where there’s only one more big clue, or one more fact to be uncovered, before everything falls into place and we’re ready for the climax. I like to think of someone reading to that point and thinking there are so many open holes there, there’s no way they can all be resolved by the end.

    Now, I write UFs with thriller-y, mystery plots; you may write romance, in which case the end of the second act is right about where you’ll put your big sex scene and have it make everything even worse. (The end of the second act is a place I tend to put sex scenes as well and always have, and I’m not alone. I think most romances or UFs with romantic elements do the same; it’s usually a bit past the halfway point, so anywhere from 50-60k words, but again, that’s not set in stone and of course if you’re writing a more heavily erotic story you may well have had sex all throughout.)

    But the end-of-act-2 bang should put everything in jeopardy. It should leave the reader doubting they’ll get a happy or even a decent ending. It should raise the stakes exponentially.

    So, to sum up (and I realize this segment was a bit longer and wordier, sorry, but I think I covered everything I needed to):

    *The second act should be about expansion and information.
    *The second act is the logical next step of the first; I always think “What would they do next?”
    *The second act is where you watch your first-act seeds grow. Don’t forget them!
    *The second act is where everything gets deeper and more complex. You can solve a msytery or two and that’s fine, but you should bring some new ones in to replace it, or have the resolution of one question only bring up more questions.
    *The second act is a good place for sex scenes 😉
    *Nothing should be easy; good information or realizations are worth paying for. Keep the conflict high, don’t let that middle sag!
    *The second act must end with a very big complication; just as the 1st-act-end raised the stakes or made the problem more personal or trapped the hero/ine into solving the mystery, so the second should make it clear there is no out, this is very dangerous, and they have no choice but to follow through. Thus setting us up for Act Three and the climax.

    So, any questions? Anything that doesn’t make sense, or needs expansion?



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