Sarah Wagner

The Magic Number

I witnessed an online conversation that irked me a bit. This in and of itself is not unusual. It is the internet, after all. Apparently, there is a school of thought that says you have to write a certain number of words before you start writing publishable material. I want to say the number tossed around was something like 500,000 words. To me, this is total bull.

It doesn't take a particular number of words or drafts to make something publishable. Every writer is different. There is no formula, no set answer. We're all making it up as we go along. The best a writer can do is keep writing and hope they can continue getting better at the craft. If you're looking for a short cut, you're going to be disappointed.

I do understand that this magic number being tossed around is actually large enough to encourage practice (and save some poor slush readers from barely first draft submissions) and all that. I get it. But, I started writing stories in elementary school. I'd have hit that "magic number" early in high school (probably). I've read the stuff I was writing then. Even though some of it was published, none of it should have been.

There is no magic number that, when you reach it, the gods of prose will bop you on your head with their scepter of skill and bestow upon you the magic ability to write well.

We live in such a strange time - instant gratification is the norm and no one wants to wait or work for anything if they don't have to. Good writing, good stories, aren't that. They take work and time. I imagine there are those few super prodigies out there who start out brilliant from the start (at least one has to exist somewhere, right?) but they are the exception, not the rule. I thought, at 17, that I had all the elements to be one of those prodigies because the very first short story I submitted to a real magazine was accepted. This story is one of the ones that I look at now and cringe mightily! At that age, I wasn't ready to really work for it. I wanted it and expected it to be easy. Ha!

The older and wiser me gets it and wants to pass the information along and I find myself getting yelled at over the internet because they don't want to hear that there is work involved beyond writing some magic number's worth of words. I'm getting older. I get irked easily. I found this incredibly irksome. Word counts don't matter! There are writers who can rip your heart out in ten words and writers who can't do it in thousands of words. Surely if there was a magic number, we'd all be superstars by now. 
Sarah Wagner

Project Lifesaver

More and more in the news you hear about kids with autism wandering off and being found injured or dead. I don't know if we're just hearing more about it now or if it's happening more frequently of late but it scares the hell out of me.

For those who don't know, my youngest kidlet is on the spectrum. Last September, I got a phone call from his school - kidlet had walked out. Fortunately, the secretary looked in just the right direction at just the right time and they were able to get him back into the building without incident but all I could think about for months was what if she hadn't? Every time I see news of a kid on the spectrum walking away, my heart breaks for their families and I know that could so easily have been us.

For the last few years, my support group, our parent chapter, and our Sheriff's Department have worked very hard to bring Project Lifesaver to our county. Project Lifesaver is designed for people who wander - be they autistic or have alzheimers or dementia or whatever else. It is a tracking device so, even if they do wander away, they can be found with relative ease and speed. ( for the interested)

Our county's Project Lifesaver is finally up and running! On July 2, my little one was fitted with his device. It doesn't mean I can be less vigilant but it does mean I can sleep a little better. Ok. A LOT better. If kidlet goes on walkabout again, we'll be able to find him. I might not mean much to most parents and I'm sure there are those who would think this is too intrusive and overprotective but, for me, it could be all the difference.

Our program has a long way to go and we'll be doing fundraising out the waazoo to expand it but we've started and already several families are feeling the relief in having that backup. Even if none of us ever needs it (and we all pray we don't), having it is amazing. I feel a huge weight lifted and I can imagine the other families feel much the same.
Sarah Wagner

Growing up needs to slow down.

My oldest kid is off to Governor's School - a summer camp program. It's so hard to keep reminding myself that he's the same age that I was when I went off to CTY (very similar to what he's doing). I know he's having a blast. My youngest kid is not - he's missing his brother like crazy. I'm pacing by the phone to hear from him and feeling guilty because I know when I went off to camp, I don't think I thought about calling my mom more than once. I heard from him last night and was glad to hear things are going well. I'm haunting the website for new pictures so my youngest boy and I can play Spot the Kid.

I'm not ready for this growing up thing. I don't feel old enough for this yet. I'm barely a grown up! All of this is made worse by the fact that he's only half an inch shorter than me now and he loves to rub that in.

On the writing front, there's been good news and no news (which isn't bad news!) and much much progress on my two current projects so things are going swimmingly - when I forget to be worried about my oldest kid who just keeps growing up on me.
Sarah Wagner

There is much editing in my future

I was frustrated with my current WIPs this weekend and went searching through my files for something else to work on. I probably should not have done that. Apparently, I write a lot.

There are no fewer than six completed zero drafts (by that I mean they are the bare bones story for the most part). Two others are more outlines than real drafts. One is in the final rewrites (post beta readers). One is a full on rough draft (that's being sent to my crit group). That's not including starts, notes, short stories or novelettes. While I'm struggling with the current WIP, there will be much editing.

Of course, I know what will happen - I'll get knee deep in one of those zero drafts and I'll figure out what's blocking me with either The Cold Dark or Citadel (working titles not actual titles). At least I know for sure that there is absolutely no reason for me not to be working on something. 
Sarah Wagner

Revisions are fun

sort of. My favorite part of writing will always be the initial writing, the zero draft where anything is possible, everything is made up and the names don't matter. Yet. That stage where I'm still learning about these characters I will eventually come to know and love (or hate). But there's a lot to be said for revisions too.

At the moment, I'm working on three novels. One is in that zen zero draft stage but I already know these characters as it's a book 2 kind of book. One is in its second set of revisions, it's gone from zero draft to rough draft and it's being (slowly) sent to my crit group chapter by chapter and mostly, the readers are liking it so far. The last though - it has plagued me for a long time. My dreaded and adored nemesis novel. I finally figured out the problem I was having with the plot and, after a few sessions of obsessive rewriting and polishing, I sent it off to my awesome first readers. I've gotten two sets of comments back now and I'm hip deep in notes, corrections, questions, and the quest for an additional 10k words. It's awesome.

It's been a long time - too long a time - since I've felt this charged up and productive. The last year or three, something has been missing. The only thing I really produced was stuff people asked me to write. This feeling, this productivity, it's what's been missing. I can deal with all the other life crap so much better when I've got words to look forward to. I hope it lasts for a while. Maybe it just means that all the other life crap has gotten to be old hat. I've found a rhythm I can work with again. Again, I hope it lasts. Now, to put on some music and delve back into one of the three things I'm working on. Kids are at school, dogs are behaving, and the phone is quiet (for now). Best to take advantage of it while I can.   
Sarah Wagner

Autism Awareness and The Discussion

So, it's April again. Everywhere I look there is something about Autism. That's not a bad thing. With diagnostic numbers on the rise (again), there's a big push in getting information out there. That is a very good thing, in my opinion. The only way to counter ignorance is with information and education. It matters. It matters a lot. It hits home for me, of course, given that my youngest is on the spectrum. And he's old enough now to start asking questions.

I guess they're doing something about autism at school and he's asking about it. Never one to miss an opportunity (and to make absolutely certain the information came from me and his dad and not an accidental slip of the tongue by a teacher), I used his questions as an opening to explain that he has autism (technically pdd-nos but that it is part of the asd umbrella and yes, I gave him the technical terms of his diagnosis). That it isn't a bad thing or something to be ashamed of. That all it means for him is that he learns a little differently, he wiggles all the time, and sometimes he might need a little help with something that others don't or take a little longer to master a skill (like tying his shoes). That his autism was why we went to speech therapy and occupational therapy (with two of his favorite people ever). I tried to explain that autism is different for everyone - but he's only seven so I'm not sure how much he understands yet. Did I do the right thing having this conversation now rather than in a few years, I don't know. I think I did. For me, I don't ever want him to think of autism as shameful or bad. It's a part of who he is and he is awesome. I feel like, down the road, if he thinks we hid this from him in any way, that would be a whole lot worse than trying to explain it early and often.

I'm glad he is asking me questions, even if some of them are too big for me to answer well. I'm glad we had that conversation yesterday (and this morning, and very likely this afternoon). But, I worry some too. I know that's part of being a mom and the second guessing isn't going to do any of us any good but I can't seem to help it.

Also, we are doing a fundraiser this month with the help of Bob Evans - basically, you take the flyer in when you go out to eat and they give a certain percentage of your total to our local groups. I know we've got all the Bob Evans in West Virginia and some in Ohio so, if you're in those areas, print the flyers and take them with you!
Sarah Wagner

It's nice when someone really *gets* you

Today is my husband's and my anniversary. The poor guy has put up with me for fourteen years (sixteen if you count the two before we got married). I guess I'd be worried if he didn't know me by now. But, no fears, the man just gets me. So well. Even though we're all recovering from a recent bout of icky, we spent the day together. That doesn't happen so much anymore, at least, not without kidlets underfoot. He took me book shopping. The bookstore was a cute independent shop - I'm totally in love with it and could spend so much time there! We were home in time to get the kids off their buses with some books, some coffee, and some dragon's blood candles. I love the smell - I think I can pick out that smell anywhere. It was a fun day and I love that he understands me so well. I'm a lucky lucky girl.  
Sarah Wagner

Corners, Drafts, and Darlings

One of my favorite things about writing the way I do - without a plan or an outline - is that I routinely write my characters into corners just to see what they do. I am a worst case scenario thinker. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t - especially at three in the morning when I’d rather be sleeping but my brain is asking me what I would do if... In any case, it does translate pretty well into stories. What lengths will this character or that character go to to make things right. For me, it makes it interesting. And it almost always takes place in my zero drafts. In reality, my zero draft is more of a really fleshed out outline. If an outline can be 40000 - 60000 words. There is a lot missing in that first draft but there are a lot of things that get cut out too. More often than not, the corners get cut first. A - because they tend to be really outlandish B - because they do nothing to push the story forward or C - because they give too much of my characters away. I’ll keep the ones that highlight important flaws or redeem them in some way. Some of them I keep in a special folder I have for my personal darlings - those ones that say a whole lot more about me than my characters.
I didn’t always write this way. I’ve always been a seat of the pants kind of writer but I used to play it a lot safer with my characters. I didn’t want to push too much, to see what they were really made of. I got called on it by a teacher of mine. She was a really good teacher when I first met her, at least for me. Later, she would be much less so, when for whatever reason, the bottle held more draw than the classroom. She used to write on the edges of my paper about watered down conflicts and that my characters, like actual people, would never grow or develop if I protected them from everything. She challenged me to write something that let them be better than that. Now, I try very hard to do that in all my stories and most times, I think they’re better for it.
Now, regardless of whether or not I keep my darling corners, I love them. I’ll write them into a corner thinking I’m writing one story only discover that I’m really writing a different story when they make it, by hook or by crook, out of the corner and through the door. Almost always, my stories are better for it. Always, I understand my characters better. They become like real people to me which seems silly maybe but I can’t help it. There are some characters of mine who I know better than I think I know even myself.
Sarah Wagner

Anti heroes

It doesn't surprise me in the least that the "anti hero" is generally my favorite type of hero. What does surprise me are the so-called lists of anti heroes out there as none of them acknowledge a few of my favorites (and list a whole bunch that I would never have considered as such). I guess maybe my personal definition of such is off or wrong.

I'm looking for the women, the female antihero. They are out there but you really have to look for them and somehow, no one ever wants to give them their proper title! Why can't female characters be listed as Anti heroes? What's this Femme Fatale crap? Not every woman uses her sexuality that way. Does having deep flaws make them less interesting the way it makes men more interesting? Nope. Do the powers that be really think it'll be harder to sell a woman who maybe isn't perfectly good (or even very girly) without using sex as motive or method? Maybe but only because the powers that be are either stupid or men who want women to use sex that way. I like watching shows/movies and reading about people who aren't perfect, who have flaws and weaknesses and maybe don't always do the right thing but at least attempt to do it for the right reason or not. Perfect is boring and unattainable. I Have no idea why I'm thinking about this today except maybe that the oldest kid is reading neuromancer and asked me a couple of questions about Molly that got me thinking.

There are a lot of cold women posing as strong women in fiction - why anyone thinks those things are the same is beyond me. A strong woman doesn't have to be cold and, in my experience, cold women aren't half as strong as they portray themselves. There seem to be some writers out there who seem to think that strong female characters must be cold and that irks me. It is irksome. I'm done ranting and being annoyed for the morning. I'm going to go read a book and maybe find a movie to watch with my kidlets on this cold, dreary, mama's got a nasty cold morning. Maybe I'm dissing cold altogether because I'm tired of winter and colds and being cold. No more cold in my life please! At least not until next winter when I'm ready to be cold again.
Sarah Wagner

Books for a thirteen year old boy

My oldest child is a bit of a pain in the butt to find books for. He loves to read but he reads way above his supposed "level" and that makes finding appropriate books very difficult. I try to read most things before he does as I have issues with some of the current "popular fiction" aimed at young teens and am not shy about saying no to a book when there are so many good books out there that don't promote bad habits or entitled attitudes. He does not like scary things (which is what I was reading at his age) but he loves science fiction and fantasy. He's read Dune (and grasped a lot more of it than I honestly expected him to) and the Ender books (pretty sure all of them at this point), he's read as much of the Dresden books as I'm prepared to let him for the time being. He's read all of Artemis Fowl, Septimus Heap, the available Virals series, some of the Dr. Who books... It's hard to keep up! I am considering Neuromancer and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. But, we're reaching the end of books I know/have that he'll enjoy. Help! I am looking for suggestions! I have to keep it within the school's lists during the school year (he gets points for tests taken on said books but the school's list doesn't have many small press books on their lists so those have to wait for summer time). He doesn't care much for antiquated language (though I'm really pushing for him to read a couple of classics before he's too old to get the joy from them). He definitely doesn't care for "mushy stuff". He likes the idea of comics/manga/graphic novels but in practice, tends to ignore them. I'm hoping you kind readers and friends will have some suggestions for me to look into. He is only 13 so I'm trying to avoid some of the more explicit stuff (hence putting a pause on Dresden for a bit).