Hello and Welcome to the New HG!

Hello Dear Readers.  Personal post ahead!

Thanks so much for still sticking around with me.  It’s been a doozy of a time, a real top-notch shitshow for me personally.  The past 2 years have been awful.  But things are great now.  The Coles’ Notes: I was with my husband for 14 years, and now we’re getting divorced.  I had a home and two cats, now I no longer have a home or cats.  I was in Canada, now I’m in New Zealand.  I was awesome, now I am EVEN MORE FRICKIN’ AWESOME.

(Here’s me at my own private “Polar Bear Swim” at Tahunanui Beach in Nelson, January 1st, 2017!)

I love life.  I have had the best time of my life the past few months.  It’s hard to go through something as disruptive as a divorce, but I’m doing well, and have a new improved outlook on life, the universe, and everything.

I wanted to share some things about me and keep you in the loop.  As this blog is primarily about my writing career, you’ll be pleased to hear that my novel, Sleep Over, is coming out soon!  I am beyond excited that I’ve come this far and will finally get to see one of my books in print, from an amazing publisher.  (More updates to follow of course!)

(Here’s me in the shuttle being driven further into New Zealand to the Wangapeka.)

As you can see, I have opted for a new name.  H.G. Bells reporting for duty!  I picked a new name that I think will be easy to 1) pronounce 2) spell and 3) remember.  I hope to hit the ground running when Sleep Over comes out, and my new name will hopefully at least not completely hobble me when it comes to being the new kid on the block.

And it has the added benefit of being similar to one of the ‘fathers of sci-fi’, H.G. Wells.  I hope to follow in his footsteps and contribute to sci-fi as he did (ambitious much Heidi?  Baby you know it!).

So my next few posts will be about me in New Zealand.  It’s so beautiful here, and it’s been an incredible place to begin healing my poor broken heart, meet amazing people, and generally expand my horizons.

(Me up at Omahu at the Wangapeka… the most beautiful place.)

Writing-wise, I will say that going through a divorce was incredibly disruptive, surprising no one.  What did surprise me, was my ability to complete a major set of revisions for my publisher during the worst time of my life.  I have to tell you, when I got the email that my draft had been accepted it was such a huge weight off my back.  It made me realise that I have spent so much time and effort honing my craft that it was still functional while my whole world was being burnt to the ground around me.  I can still perform as a writer while my world is on fire.  I honestly didn’t think I could do it, and, while I was struggling to get the final draft done during those dark times, I thought for sure it was the end of my writing life.  But I have emerged from that process with a deeper appreciation and confidence in my work, my process, and in myself.  I built the foundation of my craft strong, and I built it to last.  Thanks Past Heidi, you did a real good job there.  (Future Heidi if you’re reading this: hi!  I love you!)

Also, I am strong as fuck.  If there’s a thing on this earth that can break me, I sure as hell don’t know what it is.  (ATTN gods of fate: this is not a challenge, pls leave Heidi alone for a while k thanks bye.)

But, while I am strong, I am tired as hell.  I would love it if Sleep Over could come out and do well so I can breathe a little easier.  I know it’s not easy establishing oneself on the world stage of authordom (and realistically I expect to need several published books before I can count myself as successful), but hopefully Sleep Over will be a good start.  And then I can really shine.  Because, while I can keep up with the process while going through hell, my best work has been while I’ve had a stable and happy life.  I hope to get back to something approximating that some day, and can continue on with a vague life trajectory.

We make all these plans, and then life happens.  We assume we will be the same, but we’re all changing all the time.  Things change, we change, and here I am surfing a big change.  Yeehaa!!!

So that’s me.  Thanks for reading my most personal update yet.  I truly cannot express how grateful I am to still have you with me, for your kind words, your support, your love.  As I’m rising from the ashes of my former life I can see so much to be grateful for, so much to love, so much to feel.  And through it all, be it from the sidelines or holding my hand, is you.

Much love,

Continually Yours,

Heidi Grace Bells

 

P.S. You can email me at my snazzy new email address:  heidi {at} hgbells {dot} com  And as you may notice, my website has changed to match!  hgbells {dot} com is the new me!

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House of Leaves

Just “finished” House of Leaves.

If you don’t know it, it’s a novel that plays with the basic form of the novel itself.  The word “house” is blue wherever it appears.  There are footnotes, and footnotes in footnotes, on every page (most of which are completely useless).  Sometimes there are sections of text in boxes, backwards, upside down… whole pages left nearly blank.

The take on the form was very interesting to experience.  There was a lot of flipping back and forth between pages, a lot of manhandling the large book all around to read the different planes the text was on.

The pacing of some segments was manipulated entirely by having the text on the page a certain way.

I’ve never before uttered a shocked explanation out loud at a book, and then read the exact thing I had just said out loud, on the page in front of me.  It was typed out exactly as I had said it.  That was spooky.  I put the book down.  I stared at it.  That was some Never Ending Story stuff right there.

So it was a unique experience, I’ll give it that.  Quite a refreshing thing, to see the age-old text-on-paper get a makeover.

But, I cannot say I enjoyed it.  I skipped over vast swaths of the B story line.  I just didn’t care, and wanted to get back to the much more interesting Navidson account.  Vast swaths of even that had to be skipped over though; the readable/bullshit ratio was way high for this book.  I would have stopped early on (as had the previous person who’d taken this copy out from the library- their hold slip [their bookmark] was wedged into the spine at page 71), but the form of the novel was too compelling to ignore.

So I skimmed.  I’ve never skimmed a novel before.  I feel… kind of gross.  Like that was bad and I should feel bad for doing it.  But damnit I wanted to see what was up with that weird blue box of text, the nearly-blank pages, the text scattered all over the page.

In conclusion, House of Leaves was neat, but frustrating.  I wish I had figured out what I wanted out of it sooner; would have saved me some time.

Tonight: Godzilla.  Next Week: the second half of my novel revisions.  (It’s going well!)

Cheers.

Heidi out.

Stay On Target

Sorry for the long time between updates!  I have a draft of something I was working on, but I won’t post that yet.  For now, news on the novel.

Things have been smoking along at quite the clip.

I have another day of read-through and editing to do, and then my manuscript will be ready for the beta readers!  I am so excited.  I’m already feeling relief; I have written so many challenging things these past few weeks, and I really will be glad to be done.

I have to make a tough call tomorrow about cutting a piece.  The fact that it’s on the chopping block means it’s probably already been chopped, but for some reason my current self hasn’t accepted it yet, so I’m still “considering” it.  I am being careful not to say the same thing twice in this book… so I need to really look at what I said and see if I come at this part of the event at two different enough angles.

Of all the segments I had to write, the pregnancy miscarriages and deaths of infants was one of the hardest.  In the insomnia apocalypse I’m writing, children get a pretty shitty deal.  I wanted to cover it but not dwell on it- because it might come off as shock-value- but damn.  It really took it out of me.  And I fricking wrote the damn thing twice.  One from a paediatric nurse working the neonatal unit, and one from a medical hypnotist.

Guess which perspective is more interesting?

See, it’s obvious.  But my stupid writer brain is clinging to the nurse.  It took so much time to pull that off, it was haaard, it thinks.  Cram it brain, the Hypnotist is better.  But the nurse shows it better.  The Hypnotist is all about The Hypnotist.  

Ugh.  Cutting is hard sometimes.

Sorry, this is all abstract.  Here’s a bat.

This is the most challenging thing I have ever written, and keeping it held together in my mind, dozens of stories, vignettes, characters, locations, research- it’s messing with my brain.  …And my life a little.  Like missing appointments, shifts at work… my brain is just about at its limit with this one.

I got four hours of sleep last night, then went to the cafe, and spent five hours fervently writing (one segment completed) and editing (perhaps 45,000 words read-through/edited.

Once I get this book done I can go back to the methodical agent researching.  I already have notes on several whom I’d love to work with- I hope one of them loves my project enough to work with me on it.

A new apocalypse scenario, who would have thought, right?

Onwards.  Oh god I just devoured The Handmaiden’s Tale.  Man alive, that one will stick with you.

Banished is an amazing medieval city building game.  If you like resource management and seeing your villagers die of starvation, this game is for you!  T_T

It is hard as butts.  But addictive, and also fun.

And also we’re getting another kitty, a kitten.  Will post pictures, of course.  It’s going to be a toss up between news about this book and a kitten.  …I will try and mash them together, maybe like a cute kitten photo with a caption that’s all business.

*

Today I got a full manuscript request from the most amazing agent ever!**

*not my kitten

**is only a caption example, has not happened (for this particular manuscript, yet, as it is not finished).

Ta ta for now, beautiful readers.  I will have a tidbit of good news to share with you soon.  😉

And then, hopefully soon, the best news.

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.

SiWC Post 1: Power Editing with Robert Dugoni, and a Book Giveaway!

This past weekend was mega busy, and oh so fun.  I volunteered at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, and worked my butt off for them.  In exchange, I got to pseudo-attend the conference.

I went to a masterclass, panels, and talks, and met some amazing people.  I’m going to do several posts on SiWC, because trying to fit it all in to a single post would be madness.  Just like trying to fit a whole year’s worth of writerly-networking and craft-discussion into a single weekend.

So!  Before I give out my notes from the Power Editing Masterclass, do go check out Robert Dugoni.  He was an excellent speaker, and in addition to giving me some things to think about, he managed to sell me on checking out his books.  (You can also have your chance to check out his books, courtesy of me!  Check out my note at the end of this post about winning his book!)

Onwards!

Please note that this is a mix of Robert Dugoni’s talk and my own opinions.  I made bare-bones notes, enough to trigger thought processes in my own mind, so what you’re about to read is a mishmash of his teachings and my experiences.  It ended up being more about story structure than editing, but it’s all relevant.

Also note that these are notes from a masterclass– this is not day 1 writing.  I’m not going to explain some of these terms.  You can look them up!  🙂  It’s still pretty approachable.

My brain had a little trouble right off the get go.  He mentioned that he’d done 14 drafts of one of his novels.  FOURTEEN DRAFTS.  This was one of those wonderful (read: terrifying) moments when I wondered “Am I doing it wrong?”

I knew some writers (myself not among them) wrote many drafts.  But FOURTEEN!  I tend to write one novel, re-write certain sections of it, and edit the crap out of it.  But I also outline beforehand… People that write a lot of drafts tend to be pantsers (they write by the seat of their pants, without much outlining).  If you plan it out, you know where it’s going, and thus don’t need to rewrite the darn thing so many times.

Once I got over that little factoid, I got right into:

Where the author intrudes on the story.

1) Opinion

Inserting your opinion into the work will bring the reader out of it.  Your opinion can come in the form of narrative judgement or even in the opinions of your characters.  This is difficult, because characters need to have opinions; convincing the reader that it makes sense in the context of the character is imperative if they’re to believe that it’s not yours.

2) Info Dumps

Insert information into conversations, naturally, so it’s not just unrelated information.  Sure it’s great to do your research, but you’ve got to get it into the story in a way that doesn’t jar the reader out and scream “LOOK AT ALL THE RESEARCH I DID”.

3) Biographies

No one introduces themselves and gives their life story.  Give characters information over time, naturally.  And don’t give information on characters that don’t matter or that we’ll never see again.

4) Flashbacks

Flashbacks are tricky.  Chronology works well to help story structure, and when you mess with it, things are bound to get ugly.

Basically, get your info across through your dialogue.

Appeal to core motivations: fear, love, wrath, envy, lust, greed- if it’s a deadly sin, you can use it.  People will identify with your character motivation if it’s universal.

High stakes: make the story personal to your character.

At the climax (the failure of the quest, followed by the triumph), remind the reader: what is at stake?

What is the physical journey?

What is their motivation?

What is the public stake?

What happens in the world, for other people, as a result of the quest?

What is the personal stake?

What happens to our character, personally, as a result of the quest?

But I’m way ahead of myself.  Let’s talk about

The Beginning.  

Do 5 things in the beginning.

1) Set the tone.

The reader should get a good feel for how the rest of the book is going to go.  What kind of story are you telling?  Is it funny?  Grave?  Who is telling it?  Let them know what they’re in for within the first few pages.

2) Introduce the protagonist.

Who’s quest is this?  Who are we rooting for?  We need to know this right off the bat.

3) Create empathy for your characters.

We want to identify with characters.  As writers, we need to give our audience reasons to like our protagonist, to want to go on a journey with them.

4) Hook the reader.

Get ’em invested.  You need to communicate that this story is worth their time, and you do that by hooking them with the most exciting, most pertinent part of the story.  Why are you telling this particular one?  Why should the reader care?  Get them interested.

5) The first sentence poses a question, and early on, a story worthy quest is set up.

The following five questions can be used to describe any story.

Who?

What?

Where?

But when…

What stands in the way of their goal?

Let’s try it out.

Alan Grant is a palaeontologist who is invited to Isla Neblar to vet a new dinosaur theme park.  But when the attractions break free from their enclosures, he must help the others on the island traverse the facility and escape from the once extinct predators.

Who? Alan Grant. What is he?  A palaeontologist.  “But when”? Got it.  And of course, the dinosaurs are in the way of his escape.  Easy!  You can boil down any movie or book into these five points and get the basics of the story across.  It’s what makes or breaks elevator pitches as well.

We are at the end of the first page of my notes.  Good job!  Have a silly picture to give your noodle a break.

Ok, let’s get back to it.

1) Senses: appeal to them all to set the scene.  Put your reader there.

2) Goal: ever present.  Each scene is about realizing the goal, or about revealing character.

3) Obstacles: Escalating.  Each one reveals a new character trait; don’t show your character overcoming the same kind of obstacle over and over, challenge them in different ways each time.

4) Conflict.  Always conflict.

5) The final words of a chapter raise a question to keep the story moving, keep the pages turning.

On to The Middle.

The middle= the crossing of the threshold —> the climax.

Here is where we find out

1) Whose story is it?

2) What’s the through line of your characters?

3) How are they to achieve their goal?

4) Who helps them achieve it?

5) Who hinders them?

Which brings us to

The End.  

You must fulfil the promise, the promise you made the reader at the beginning (a story worthy quest, a character they want to follow).

The end must be completely inevitable, but unexpected.

The end must be satisfying.

The end has one more big obstacle.

Let’s talk about twists:

A twist is either an escalation, or a revelation. A twist is inevitable, yet unexpected.

There can be a twist of:

Character (like in the Wizard of Oz, the twist with ‘the wizard’)

Awareness (like in Planet of the Apes, when he realizes where he is)

Complexity (like in The Game, how everything was much more complex than anyone in the story or the audience realized)

Cleverness (like basically all of Sherlock)

Danger- the peril isn’t what we/they thought it was, it’s much, much worse, or different.

In the end, no new forces may be introduced, and no new characters.

When you’ve got all that (you did get all that, right?), then:

Go through scene by scene.  Ask yourself, do you need it?  Does it a) move the story forward or b) reveal character?

Raise a question with the first sentence of every scene.  We spend so much time on our first sentence, our first page; make every start of a scene that important.

If it can be presumed, it can be cut.  You don’t need a whole ton of description for mundane things.  He picked up the cup of water and took a sip.  No!  He took a sip of water.  There’s tons of actions that just don’t matter- cut them.

Readers’ emotions mirror the characters’ emotions.  If the protagonist cares, the reader will care.

Describing clothes: let details be revealed in motion.  Movement/action= active.

Her hair was red, her eyes were green.  No no no!  

Her red curls bounced behind her as she ran into the room; her green eyes darted from the gun on the floor to the knife in Robert’s hand.

And now one of those points that gets made that blows your mind (at least, it blew my mind, particularly because it has effected me and I didn’t realize it):

Secondary characters can be more interesting because main characters are too much like us.  My first novel’s protagonist IS too much like me.  And who did I pick to follow for the second book in that series?  A much more intriguing secondary character.

My notebook has a word that stretches the entire width of the page after that note…

DDDDDAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYUUUUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

Looking at character development: just one step up the ladder is enough.

1) The character cares only about themself.

2) The character cares about 1 other.

3) The character cares about a group.

4) The character cares about a community.

5) The character cares about all.

You can have character growth that doesn’t involve them becoming a saint.  Just one step up in this little hierarchy is enough to show development.

You did it!  You got to the end!  That’s it for that class.  It’s all over the place, I know… Hope you found it useful.  I sure did.

Or if you were more like

then I thank you for stopping by nonetheless.  Sorry for the technical post; I hope other writers find it helpful!

And now dear readers, I offer you a chance to win a book!  The first book in Robert Dugoni’s David Sloane series, The Jury Master, could be yours!  Just leave a comment below, or head to Reddit and comment in this thread in /r/books.  If you do both, I will count you in for two entries!  I will draw one person at random in one week (on Wednesday, November 6th), and I will contact you for your details.  And then you will have the first book in this thrilling series!

I will congratulate the winner in next week’s post.  And if you don’t win this time, I’m planning on doing more of these, so you’ll have more chances with other great books.  🙂

Next up: Surrey International Writers’ Conference Idol: Crushing Hopes and Dreams in front of Hundreds of People for Fun and Profit!  (j/k it was actually really useful, interesting, and fun!).

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.

I’m Still Here


Well, I’m still here.

I’m just keeping on keeping on.  Written another book.  Am having another go at finding an agent for “Luka and Iso”, the tale of the sentient genetically engineered dragon.  I really hope I can get that one represented; the time is right for the story, and it needs to be told.  All the fuforah about GMOs lately is wild.  There’s some great opportunity for marketing, and great potential for cross talk when stories about GMOs and advancements in genetics come up.

Glow in the dark monkeys, anyone?

Meanwhile, my new project is going over well with an army of anonymous beta readers.  It’s nice working with people I don’t know, and that don’t know me; they’re giving me good, honest feedback.  …And a lot of it is positive.  They already want the sequel!

But I’m sticking to my guns about not writing more than one book in a series until the first one gets published.

So I’m starting yet another one.  While I polish the new book, I’m outlining the next, which will be my fifth novel.  A fun sci-fi, inspired by a short story I wrote last year called “The First Gentlemen’s Galactic Scavenger Hunt”.

Short stories continue to be sent out, rejected, accepted.  The latest is in the upcoming “Zombies Gone Wild II”, for which the cover was just sent to me.  I think it’s hilarious.

So that’s me lately.  It’s been interesting trying to temper my least favourite part of the process (trying to find an agent) with my most favourite (writing); the new projects pull me along even as I drag my heels cold-emailing amazing agents who I would absolutely be ecstatic to work with.

Oh, and I’ve levelled up my procrastination skills.  Whenever I finish a major project, there’s a decompression that happens afterwards.  So far it’s been things like fill a sketch book or write a zillion short stories, and my latest: watch all of The Office.  Seriously, I’m almost done.  This has been the least productive of my come-downs, but man is it good.

Thank goodness for the Self Control app, which I use to block out every distraction, but leave the rest of the useful internet free for research.

So, onwards I go.  Book after book, I’m going to just keep ’em coming, until I find an agent that’s into one of them.  And then we’ll really see what I can do.

Remove Head from Sand

I get so focused on writing that I forget to see what else is going on.  There’s a ton of great blogs out there, and I don’t read them as much as I should (if you’re reading mine, you have my deepest thanks).

So I was doing some catching up, and found the following:

Robert J. Sawyer is doing a book tour.

Query Letter FAQs!

Patrick Rothfuss had a good video to post about Ira Glass on art (get well soon Mr. Rothfuss!).

And as for me, well, I’ve spent the last three days reading over my first novel, book one in the Spell Carriers series, a fantasy epic.  I am so pleased that it is not terrible!  My writing has evolved, for sure, but it still flows, and holds me in a way that surprises me- to not be able to put down a book that I wrote?  What is this fresh narcissism?  I genuinely enjoy it, and am really relieved to see that it holds up against my newer works.

And it’s the first time I’ve read it in my new program, Scrivener.  I had to teach it all the new words, all the new names.  And that first time I right click a name and say “learn spelling” is rather magical; for I can see into the future of the characters, and know what a journey they have to come, and it’s wonderful.

Characters I introduce in book one go on to have major parts in book two, and to see their conception, when I didn’t even know how great they would become, leaves me glowing.

So yes, reviewing, and removing one’s head from the sand.  I will try and do this more; there’s a lot of great stuff being posted about this great and mad endeavour of writing.

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.

THE END.

Well, the first draft of my screenplay is finished!  My latest novel, Luka and Iso, is adapted for the silver screen.  I have editing to do still of course, and actually quite a large chunk that I need to compress…  But the bulk is done.

Typing those two words, “THE END.” at the finish was actually far more satisfying than I thought it would be.   After all, I’ve written three books and dozens of short stories… but none of them actually have the words “THE END.” at the end.  They just sort of- stop.

But with the screenplay, it’s customary to put “THE END.” at the end.  And it felt good.

And now, as is my custom, I will take a break from it for two weeks, and work on a short story.  I’ll come back to it fresh, wielding my axe in one hand and my scalpel in the other.  Both help me cut away, in broad, messy chunks, followed up with precise, delicate cuts.

So good readers, Happy New Year.  I wish you the best of luck with all your creative endeavours!

Cheers,

Heidi