NaNoWriMo starts in two months (*pauses to let the hyperventilation pass*) and I’m in once more, for my third (!) year as a Municipal Liaison and tenth (!!) year participating. I write year-round and I’m never short of projects, but I like to use NaNo to experiment, indulge, connect, and generally enjoy my hobby that, these days, tends to feel more like work.

I also like to do NaNo with a new, standalone story idea. To that end, it’s time for me to run my best off-season writing exercise.

I don’t have a name for it. (So if you’re clever, suggest one–maybe something like Gail Simone‘s recent #MyThemesAre.) I take a blank sheet of paper, write FAVORITE STORY ELEMENTS at the top, and list twenty or thirty things I currently think are awesome.

In fandom they’re called “kinks” whether or not they’re of a sexual nature, or “squees” (as opposed to “squicks”) whether or not they’re positive moments. Most of these can be found cataloged on TV Tropes–but don’t go there, it’s more important that you name them yourself, and also TV Tropes is an Internet tar pit, where productivity goes to die. Look, I didn’t even link to it.

Types of story elements include:

Character archetypes or subtypes
Settings
Hairstyles
Weaponry
Emotional beats (ex., “David Tennant cries in rain”)
Very Important Opinions
Moods
Plot twists
Forms of dialogue (ex., “snappy”)

Everything goes in the list, no matter how weirdly specific, fleeting, or inconsequential. And it doesn’t matter if they work together or not. Even opposites are fine! It’s less of a checklist than a wishlist.

The quicker you write, the better; the goal is to draw from your id, so the list is as potent as possible. It’s also a good way to suss out what’s made an impression on you recently, that you might want to explore on your own. My list this year includes “allies who kind of hate each other”–thanks, Guardians of the Galaxy! They can also be valuable insight, if you do them regularly. Why did I love X book so much? Why do I never get sick of writing Y? Why are my curtains blue?*

Once I’m done, I don’t try to form a story out of what I’ve got. I just read it over and bask in how awesome it would be to use those elements. Then I put it away. But it’s brought those elements to the front of my brain, so when I do start coming up with a NaNo idea–a proper idea, with all the important parts–those elements are ready and waiting to attach themselves to the structure, and make everything awesomer.

And, you know, if I DO end up writing about, say, an ocean ghost who falls in love with a warrior nun trapped in a seabird’s body…I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

 

*A reference to this meme, about which I have Strong Feelings, summed up as: If it was YOUR brain that made the curtains blue, take a minute to figure out why it chose blue over every other color.

I’ll be in London for LonCon soon, by sheer chance, because I’d signed up for a bus tour in the same area that happened to be ending the day before the con. Sweet Providence! Which means I’ve had two weeks to acclimate to travel around the UK and the handful of little things different from US hotels. Since they might save LonCon attendees a tiny amount of grief, here you go.

- Energy-saver boxes by the door use your keycard to allow power in your room. Until you put it in & leave it in, the lights don’t work.

- Low-flush toilets with dual flush buttons, like a lopsided yin-yang.

- Plugs. Everyone knows they’re different. American appliances do need an adapter. They probably DON’T need a voltage converter: most modern devices are rated for about 110-220V, so work in both places.

- Coffee: very strong everywhere! Room accoutrements: electric kettles, not coffee pots! Raw sugar (Demarara sugar, “brown” sugar): very popular apparently!

- Nobody puts ice in your drink unless you specifically ask for it. Ever.

- They like to hide the blow dryer in a drawer for some reason. There also never seem to be washcloths, which I don’t use, but this vexes some of my older traveling companions.

- Boy, do I love the pound coin. Also awesome: London taxis must be certified & have set meters, so they are fast and reliable and not bad rates if split with friends; cheaper than the Underground, for how we used them. The ones I’ve seen fit four comfortably in back, five if you’re thin or friendly.

- Crappy wifi seems the norm, and has usually required some kind of login, the stuff of nightmares. Almost none of our hotels have had AC; none had a fan in the bathroom. Windows tend to open.

- The tap water seems fine to drink.

This is probably kindergarten stuff for seasoned travelers, but it took me by surprise. If you’ll be at LonCon on Friday, let me know. Happy travels!

2014-summer-sale-banner copy

World Weaver Press, the publisher of Wolves and Witches, is holding an ebook sale through August 10. That means our collection of fairy-tale retellings is down to $2.99 on Amazon, and 50% off direct from the publisher, with coupon. There are some terrific books in the mix, and rolling freebies, so be sure to check it out!

As part of the Smashwords Summer Sale, The Lair of the Twelve Princesses is 50% off for the whole month of July! The price is set in at Amazon; for other formats, you’ll need to hit its book page on Smashwords to get the coupon. (Want to use Smashwords to pick up a Kindle-friendly format, such as .mobi, and put it on your Kindle? Here’s how.)

If you’re also participating, put a link in the comments so we can all check out your work!

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Bay has nothing to show for her years of military service but the clothes on her back, a bad leg, and a sardonic imp in a bottle who’s more harm than help. When she hears an open call for bodyguards for the twelve headstrong princesses, she thinks the job could reverse her fortunes. Unfortunately, her new charges are under a nightly curse, and everyone seems determined to keep the details a mystery–including its victims.

Luckily, Bay has a trick up her sleeve. Her imp owes her three wishes, and is desperate to grant them. She’s been hoarding his magic for an emergency, but it might be time to cash in: according to a fine-print clause in her contract, if she cannot solve the princesses’ curse in three nights, she’ll be executed the following dawn.

This 9000-word novelette first appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show in January 2012. Cover elements by Jessica Truscott and Jeannie Ann Numos.

(I’m not saying I’ve also got a small, free collection of zombie stories over there too…but I’m not saying I don’t.)

#

Lair of the Twelve Princesses on Amazon

Suddenly, Zombies on Amazon

Good news, everyone! World Weaver Press’s latest anthology, Fae, is gearing up for release. Here’s the cover!

FAE coverMeet Robin Goodfellow as you’ve never seen him before, watch damsels in distress rescue themselves, get swept away with the selkies and enjoy tales of hobs, green men, pixies and phookas. One thing is for certain, these are not your grandmother’s fairy tales. Fairies have been both mischievous and malignant creatures throughout history. They’ve dwelt in forests, collected teeth or crafted shoes. Fae is full of stories that honor that rich history while exploring new and interesting takes on the fair folk from castles to computer technologies and modern midwifing, the Old World to Indianapolis. Fae covers a vast swath of the fairy story spectrum, making the old new and exploring lush settings with beautiful prose and complex characters. Enjoy the familiar feeling of a good old-fashioned fairy tale alongside urban fantasy and horror with a fae twist.

With an introduction by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman, and new stories from Sidney Blaylock Jr., Amanda Block, Kari Castor, Beth Cato, Liz Colter, Rhonda Eikamp, Lor Graham, Alexis A. Hunter, L.S. Johnson, Jon Arthur Kitson, Adria Laycraft, Lauren Liebowitz, Christine Morgan, Shannon Phillips, Sara Puls, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, and Kristina Wojtaszek.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter for more than a year or so, you already know that the European Song Contest, Eurovision, makes me happier than anything else on earth. Wall-to-wall Europop punctuated by backflips and fountains of fire and clowns–it’s upbeat and theatrical, both awesome and ridiculous. This year, my sister Megan Engelhardt watched the promo videos for the competitors ahead of the finals this Saturday. Here’s her take on this year’s batch. With, of course, links so you can judge for yourself.

Eurovision: First Thoughts

Megan Engelhardt

Sweden – Stand and sing. Pleasant enough, catchy, but still. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdXXnX5BvGY&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Moldova – This sounds like it should be in the musical Jekyll and Hyde. The video is overly dramatic. Are those dancers airbending? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_E12QokqAs&index=2&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Estonia – The song is just OK but I dig the dancing. Surprisingly low voice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VRSXRXBWCs&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Latvia<3! The guy needs a haircut. His band is totes adorbs. I bet that’s his hometown singing with him. These guys won’t win but I love them anyway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7CL8anA1hQ&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Poland – I think the video having old people is making me not hate this, but removing the old people would tip it over. Hubband thought it was about “Slutty girls”, not “Slavic girls”, lol. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syMhJMmGEIc&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

France – This is very un-France, haha. The chorus is “I wanna have a moustache.” Wut France? This looks like an 80s music video! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWJFfnHNOWI&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Portugal – Woo, salsa! Hubband: “I like the song better than the performance of it.” I dig the drum/flag guys and the painted bongo guy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcTiPW-X8q4&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Belgium – Mine ex nihilo! I like this song! Not sure what the dancer is doing. Appropriate for Mother’s Day, n’est-ce pas? D’awww, was that his mom in the audience? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APWpOkRQoiY&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Norway – Pretty song! Plaintive, pleasant. Will probably go on my “melancholy” playlist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LBOjxBty8U&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Switzerland – Peppy! I love songs that go Acapulco except claps. Cute. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjWG0oNpWog&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Austria – The big flap is that the singer is a drag performer. The sad thing is he’s a prettier woman than I am. Not terribly impressed with the song. Sounds like it’s trying to be a Bond theme. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToqNa0rqUtY&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Finland – Had me tapping my toes right off the bat. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-NSVFBKU-4&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Ukraine – Also kind of 80s music video ish. Catchy but not overly so. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdAf2EjhRiE&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Netherlands – Folksy with a nice driving beat. A low-key sound. Not a winner but I’ll keep it on my playlist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkrF8uC92O4&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Albania – Torn on this one. It’ll take a few listens to decide if I like it or if it grates on me. At the end she’s rocking out far harder than the song requires. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4ABpIspdic&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Malta – Well, I like this one. Also soldier music videos get me. Sweet dulcimer. They may have a chance on sentimentality and musicality. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qxi5C-lGX2Y&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Azerbaijan - Just singing. Meh. Bored. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipQswujA5gw&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Armenia – Bookies’ choice to win. We can’t see why. It’s OK but I wouldn’t say the best of the lot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChkJpnOgIwQ&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

San Marino – host piano! Also, Valentina love, 3 years at Eurovision? Really? San Marino is small, though. Maybe they only have the one singer. TO be fair, this isn’t terrible. Also kind of Bond-film-esque. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt_3yms1PcM&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Iceland – Picking up the ska sound from Moldova, but not successfully. To be honest, though, this will probably get a fair bit of play from me. And they look like they’re having fun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwfGKEIn5xw&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Denmark – Hosts this year. This is pretty dang fun. I think he’s channeling Michael Jackson and Bruno Mars. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn8DzOcpQas&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Spain – Fun dancing. Pleasant song but not outstanding. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9R96ZoWJBU&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Italy – Lady Gaga? Not interesting, anyway. This song seems SO long. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si9K0ChHzDI&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Belarus – This guy needs slapped. I appreciate that he knows it, though. I kinda like his pouty chick, at least until the end. I will probably skip this on the playlist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Qe7YmYgowM&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Greece – I feel betrayed. The horns provided a good sound and then there was rapping. L Sad, because if it wasn’t for the rap this would be a funky song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8QIbL9i2MU&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Georgia – This is strange. I could have used less weird chanting in the beginning but I liked it once actual singing happened. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9ixkdkbieU&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Montenegro – I always dislike Montenegro’s entry but this is not terrible! Pleasant, even! You redeemed yourself form last year, Montenego. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xym7CQFFTOU&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Hungary – This video made me feel sick to my stomach, which was probably the point. I will probably skip this one because of that, which is not to say it’s bad. I just can’t handle it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzfRDZmuFUI&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Romania – Magic girl! That is awesome! The song is not terrible and kinda catchy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYfyMkwTLPg&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Ireland – Boring video, nice song. It will probably be a stand and sin, alas. I do like the song, though. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zc14AzCXUgQ&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Israel – Sassy! Driving beat. Fun song. I hope the sword is part of the stage show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uB4JMw4ctc&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Lithuania – They need to spice up the stage show, but the song is fun. I dig the chorus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWi0zF6bFto&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

UK – I actually think they have a chance this year! Catching song, pretty fun singable chorus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFqYbibLh8k&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

FYR Macedonia – Weirdly, I feel like I’ve heard this before. Maybe like Rihanna’s Diamonds, or the Steam Powered Giraffe version, at least. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ak73KTgy9nE&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Russia – Twins! Hubband says “I prefer Jedward.” They should do some wacky twin hijinks to spice up a perfectly pleasant but not outstanding song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPI7AnD_QS8&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Germany – What a cute weird band! I dig this song a fair bit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTC-4YO_5eE&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Slovenia – Always love a flute player. Lots of dancing this year. Song is OK, not great but not terrible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMpNkCOMaGU&list=PLmWYEDTNOGUJpNOiYf0F-yA4wCVV59Iqq

Everyone’s writing goals are different, but I think it’s safe to assume we all want to be productive and happy. Easier said than done. Last year, I asked Twitter two big questions: “What motivates your writing–what helps you be and stay productive?” and “What encourages your writing–when do you feel good about your writing and yourself as a writer?” Twitter is pretty smart, cumulatively, and I got some terrific answers. Funnily enough, those answers boiled down into three major “types”.

Now, a quiz. Pick the phrase you are most likely to say.

“I got so much writing done today! Thank goodness for

A) that deadline at the end of the week–it gave me the push I needed!”

B) that new idea I got–I couldn’t wait to see it on paper!”

C) that writing conference–it really got me fired up!”

“I had a great writing day!

A) I made a huge dent in my work in progress!”

B) I wrote the best scene–I’m still laughing!”

C) I got some great feedback!”

“Guys, I suck at writing.

A) I haven’t written anything new for a month, and missed an open submissions window.”

B) All my words are dead on the page and my characters are boring me.”

C) None of my beta readers are getting back to me, and I got a mean review.”

Tally your scores! Most people who talked to be about their motivation and encouragement fell into one of three broad mindsets, which I’m calling the Striving, the Story, and the Social profile.

All or Mostly A’s: Striving

These writers reported being motivated by: “hunger”, “deadlines”, “filling in the blanks.” Their encouragements were things like: “having written”, “hitting a goal”, “getting paid.” Sample responses:

feeling of accomp when I finish a scene/thing – just that it’s done — I finished a thing, and there it is, and even if it’s bad I could let it loose in the world

Knowing I have written is the reward for writing.

to be honest i get encouragement even from writing what turns out later to be crap. i always feel like it’s great @ the time…

Encouraged by sales, money and being TOC with great authors.

All or Mostly B’s: Story

These writers said they were motivated by things like “exciting ideas”, “a concept I can’t ignore”, “great new characters.” They were encouraged by “expressing a scene just the way I envision.” Sample responses:

Fun when it’s going well

Finding my work to be something I’d want to read

My positivity is all thanks to characters.

Enjoying what I’ve written and being able to picture the scenes (either written or upcoming) in my head

All or Mostly C’s: Social

These writers said they were motivated by “community”, “accountability”, “sharing the story”. They reported being encouraged by “feedback”, “getting it out to readers”. Sample responses:

getting good feedback that helps me grow as a writer

knowing others will read them helps too

Encouragement you get from other people, friends and colleges. You can’t do that either unless you have work to be commented on

I love it when people say they like something I’ve written. So, having a story get published and kinda disappear without a trace is a bummer.

All three profiles are capable of producing great stories. Almost everyone cares about all three things, but one tends to dominate. Identifying your motivation-encouragement profile is all about getting things done and feeling good about yourself.

So you know your motivation-encouragement profile: what now? Well, it can help you identify the source of a block, and what you can do about it. Striving writers can set a low goal, and trust their momentum to carry them from there. Story writers might skip ahead to a scene that’s really grabbing them. Social writers can find a reader who’ll enthusiastically push them for the next part of the story.

If you’re a mix of profiles and you’re having trouble, think about what’s lacking right now. Something to work toward? A great idea? A reader? Work through the possibilities, and you might land on something that gets you going.

For me, the biggest benefit of discovering these profiles was learning how to better encourage other writers! Someone complaining about a lack of feedback won’t be comforted by being reminded how much they wrote today. If we can learn to motivate and encourage each other in the ways that work for them, we all get closer to being productive, happy writers. Mission accomplished.

Have you thought about what motivates and encourages your writing? What’s your motivation-encouragement profile?

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