Thursday, July 31, 2014

I celebrate

On July 31, 1996, when I was eighteen years old, I started writing a book.

It was not my first or even my second novel, but it was the first book I'd written in which I lost myself completely. I threw a protagonist onto the paper, watched her interact with other people in her life, followed her weird little self across several chapters, and sat back shaking my head. This was kind of a ridiculous time to start writing a book, right? I was about to start college. I was new in my college town and had new roommates. I had an apartment to finish settling in and exploring and socializing to do. Well, my character had other ideas.

I spent two weeks of that summer writing the first draft for what would become a very silly series of fantasy books called The House That Ivy Built. That is to this day my record for writing a novel--over 100,000 words in 14 days. It wasn't very good, but it did have captivating characters, and when I realized how unpublishable it was many years later, I decided it wasn't worth trying to make it something it wasn't and developed it into a webcomic instead (where I could be indulgent with dialogue and navel gazing to my heart's content). But those were some of the most fun writing days of my life, and it was certainly the first book during which I experienced the creative process that's now familiar to me.

So . . . it was essentially the birth of my life as a writer, if that makes sense.

For that reason, July 31--also the protagonist's canon birthday, 'cause I like being cute--is my "celebrate being a writer" day. Hey, people celebrate anniversaries and birthdays; why not celebrate one of the most important things in my life?

I usually celebrate by reading old stuff and writing new stuff.

It's pretty awesome.

Here's an old thing I scrawled as a teenager about being in the middle of the drafting process. It's cute. And has some similarities to my writing process of today--though I don't sit on the refrigerator and eat SpaghettiOs out of the can anymore.

Written while drafting my fourth book, age nineteen or so:

Up in the morning, mulling over weird book-related dream, wondering if there's any way you can work anything from the dream in as you get your orange juice, rejecting that as stupid, deciding all you can do is accept the insights you got in your dream as adding to the richness of the novel. . . .

Flopping into "writing position" on the bed to start chapter sixteen, crowded around with pillows, eventually kicking them away from you because they get in your way, growling at the papers you are scrawling on because they are wrinkled from being stuffed under your bed with the towels and that guitar you never play, wishing you had the money to buy actual paper so you wouldn't have to write on the backs of typed first-draft copies of earlier books. . . .

Growling at the stupid bitch because she decided to say something that made her opposite go off on a tangent that led you away from what you wanted to say and was the point of the chapter and made you lose your train of thought, throwing a couple shoes, pens, roommates. . . .

Hollering in angst because your soda is empty again and you only just opened it, realizing you're still in your clothes from yesterday and that you're tangled in your own hair. . . .

Physically attacking your roommate because he finds it necessary to play the song you hate on the piano without his earphones on, thinking whiny thoughts about him because he plays that song whenever he's bored, not because he needs to practice it because he's playing it quite a bit faster than the indicated tempo and obviously knows it already and wants to impress us and the neighbors with how well he plays. . . .

Laughing for almost fifteen consecutive minutes because your main character did something that neither of you have done before in either of your lives and it went over marvelously with a touch of humor. . . .

Realizing you need a bath . . . again. . . .

Holding the completed chapter in your hands three hours later, reading it over, reading it again out loud, wishing you could read it to someone else but they wouldn't understand because they haven't read the earlier chapters, which you would drop dead before showing to anyone before extensive editing. . . .

Enduring strange looks from your roommate's friends as you sit atop the refrigerator eating cold SpaghettiOs from the can and barking "what the hell're you lookin' at" for no particular reason. . . .

Getting immense pleasure out of the fact that you've consulted your writing handbook and discovered that you were, in fact, using dashes correctly. . . .

Getting ready to punch the wall when you realize that there is a day unaccounted for in your main character's life . . . brightening when you decide to use the silly excuse that she slept all day because she was tired . . . realizing how stupid that sounds but deciding no one will care or you'll just edit it later. . . .

Deciding you can't wait a second longer to begin chapter seventeen even though you have three people waiting for you to call them back and lots of homework to do and dishes to wash and laundry to do and your e-mail to answer and your hair to wash. . . .

Noticing with glee that you've decided to write the chapter, beginning with the main character waking up, on the back of chapter six of the last book, which featured your main character waking up. . . .

Realizing that your character is very sleepy and that you are too, and wondering (as you fall asleep on top of the pages) whether you are sleepy because she is or she is sleepy because you are or if the two have nothing to do with each other. . . .

Waking up and realizing you've slept longer than you wanted to and that there's precious writing time lost . . . and that now all you want to do is waste six or seven hours talking to strangers online. . . .

Writing at one in the morning at the Denny's counter, putting up with stupid questions from friendly waiters about whether you're doing your homework, letting them think you're flirting with them so you can get free food. . . .

Realizing you've written an obscene amount of pure crap . . . not feeling depressed at all, for some reason . . . reading over it again and again and realizing it's better than you thought. . . .

Thinking that if anyone tried to take your papers away from you as you were walking home in the dark at 4 AM that you would engage in physical combat before you'd let them have their way. . . .

Going home and dreaming strange dreams. . . .

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Signing with that agent: questions to consider

There are TONS of guidelines out there for what authors should look for in an agent, including what questions you should ask if they offer on your book. With PitchWars coming up again very soon, I'm thinking about those questions again as I prepare to take another fresh author under my wing and get them signed so fast their head will spin. (Okay, I'm being optimistic, but it happened last year!)

I encourage you to look around at other people's perspectives on agent excellence and questions to ask them if you are hoping/planning to find yourself in this situation soon, but here is my list of Ten Things to Consider when searching for or signing with an agent. Huzzah!

  1. Appropriate Enthusiasm. It's probably best to sign with someone whose enthusiasm for your book shows. Are you comfortable with how into your work the agent is? If an agent offers on your book, they will probably say something specific about why they're in love with it, and you won't have to prompt them in your call to talk about what they love about it. (If they don't volunteer this and simply offer with no apparent connection to the material, you may ask about this and make sure the agent digs it. You want your representative to the publishers to be very excited about your project, because they'll make a better advocate.)
  1. Similar Vision. Make sure the agent is on the same page as you are about what you're doing with the book itself and with its publication options. If you were thinking Big Five and your agent says "no, let's just go to a small digital-only," it's better to find another agent rather than keeping silent and believing their vision is superior to yours just because they're an agent. (Usually they want to go as big as they can too, of course, since they'll benefit from that.) You may also want to compare notes on whether the book needs minor or major changes; whether the book will be pitched as a series or a standalone; and what kind of comparison titles and specific editors/imprints you'll be considering.

  1. Agenting Style. Are you comfortable with your communication with the agent? Can you establish a precedent for the type, medium, and frequency of communication that you're happy with? Will your agent be open to representing other projects of yours? And how will that work? Do you feel like you'll get enough attention to your project? Do they have a relationship with other agents at their agency with whom they share your work, and are you comfortable with that? Will they send your work out often enough/to enough editors to match what you want/expect? You should be able to bring up questions and concerns with an agent and make sure you're not uncomfortable with any major part of how they do business. If you don't know--or think you know but aren't sure--about an agent's agenting style, ask some of their clients.

  1. Comfortable Rapport. Let's be honest: you don't want to work with someone you don't like. Do you like the agent? If not, it will be kind of a bummer to work with them. If there's something they say or do that you think can be fixed by discussing it, great, but sometimes you just have no connection, nothing really in common, and don't really feel like you'd get along as people or as friends. Your agent really doesn't have to be your pal, but consider how important it is to you that you like your agent, and act accordingly.

  1. Track Record. Obviously this is a biggie, and obviously this is obvious. I probably don't have to say much about this, but you want to know the agent has sold or has the potential to sell your book, because . . . that's why you're working together! Most agents have this information available on their websites or through Publishers Marketplace. If you can't find any sales, that's obviously a red flag. The exception of course is if they are a new agent, but if they are, they should be training with an established agency and the senior agents there should have sales. It's nice if they've got a huge impressive client list, but many of the smashingly successful agents aren't taking new clients (or are only doing so by referral), so don't necessarily expect huge fireworks. Just a couple sales to publishers similar to the ones you'd like to sell to is fine. 

  1. Additional Rights. Your agent is obviously trying to get you a book deal, but what about audio rights, film rights, foreign rights, etc.? You want to know that they can/will handle these, and you'll want to know HOW it is handled at the agency--does your agent personally sell/negotiate those rights, do they have a foreign rights specialist, etc. It's good to know that they think broadly and to have some sense of your agent's workings within the agency.

  1. Social Media. Do you feel okay with what your agent may or may not be doing on social media? I’ve seen some agents behave in a way that I would not want to be associated with on Twitter, forums, and blogs. (Most notably, I've seen flame wars and poor spelling/incorrect information, which was a red flag and made me not submit to them.) If you like how they interact online, that can be a good sign. If you like to connect through social media, are you comfortable with how they seem to interact with their other clients? (For example, many agents and publishing professionals are casual, even crass, on social media, and that's fine if you are too, but not so fine if you're not. Or it might be the opposite: your agent is strait-laced and you're uncomfortable with tweeting where they might see it because you like raunchy content, or something like that.) Will they plug their clients' work on social media without being spammy? Do they understand how it works? Do they post mostly industry-oriented content or is it dominated by personal drama? None of these are WRONG ways to act on social media, but you need to be comfortable with their choices, because they represent you.

  1. Submissions Transparency. Some authors prefer to sign their lives away to their agents and then hide under a pillow, asking to be awakened only if there's a book deal. That's rare. Most of us want to know what's up, what's going on?? So for the majority of us, openness about submissions is important. If you want to know who you're pitching, what imprint they're with, and what exactly they said when they requested your manuscript or rejected it, make sure your agent is willing to share as much of that with you as you want. You should also be allowed to know what your pitch materials contain, though agents generally don't CC you on e-mails to publishers or anything. 

  1. High Standards. Perhaps this sounds weird, but you want an agent who rejects a lot of people. That seems like a kind of jerk thing to say, but you don't want to get signed with someone who will take just about anyone who can string a sentence together. You want to know your agent is picky so a) you know your book is of saleable quality and b) you know the agent isn't picking up clients willy-nilly and will run out of time to dedicate to you. You can see some stats on QueryTracker, and what you should look for is a low acceptance rate and comments detailing polite rejections. If they are accepting writers by the truckload, your work will get lost in there--especially if these high client acceptances are correlated with low sales. There are occasional failtastic startup agents who think they will succeed by building a huge client list and playing the numbers game, but that is a bad deal for you, the author.

  1. Community Engagement. Is your agent active in the publishing community? You probably want an agent who is decently in touch with the buzz in publishing and well connected with other professionals. Find out if they go to conferences, check out if they read the publishing news and post links of interest online, maybe occasionally participate in social-media-based opportunities. (Do they watch #mswl—Manuscript Wish List—on Twitter? Do they participate in pitch parties or contests? Do you want them to?) Some more established agents aren't partying it up online with blogging communities or trending hashtags, but they should be clearly involved in other ways--maybe they release articles for well-known author-advice websites, teach workshops at conferences, or participate in professional organizations.

Some of these are common sense, and some of them may be things authors don't consider. You may feel that getting an agent means you're stuck with whatever that agent wants--that they call the shots and you get dragged along for the ride--but that's not the case. The agent/client relationship is one of the most peculiar things in the world, because when all is said and done, authors are the employers and agents are the employees. However, because the agents are essentially agreeing to work for free until they sell your book for you (at which point they become entitled to some of the cash you make from it), they get to be super picky about who hires them. That's why it can sometimes seem backwards--that once the agent has chosen you, the author, then they're YOUR boss. That's not actually the case. It's best if the author doesn't imagine themselves some kind of shots-calling boss either, because it's more of a symbiotic relationship, but you have a choice about how that relationship works once it is established--and about whether to establish it at all if some of your must-haves are the agent's dealbreakers (or vice versa).

Not all of these items are equally weighted, either. You may find that you don't really like your agent in a friend-type way, but you're convinced they'll be a fantastic advocate for your book, so you are okay with not having your agent as a buddy. You may wish your agent was more active on social media but their private enthusiasm for your work outweighs that. You may be uncomfortable with a few things and just agree to try it the agent's way--and that's okay too, because they've been here before and you probably haven't, so you may trust them. (And let's face it--publishing is pretty uncomfortable no matter what your relationship is with your agent.)

So consider these questions, write down some of the questions you might have for when you get your first call from an agent, and really consider what your dealbreakers and must-haves are. If you get an offer from an agent and it will require you to tolerate something you find unacceptable, remember it's actually true: no agent is better than a bad agent. (Plus you can use their offer to tempt other agents who are considering the manuscript; you have options!)

What did I miss? What should querying agents consider when agent-shopping? What are you wondering right now? Ask away!

Monday, July 28, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 17: Favorite Protagonist



Today's question: Favorite protagonist and why!

I don't have a favorite.

I could say something fantastic about all of them, though I guess if I had to give some semblance of an answer to this then I'd have to go with the ones I have a really long history with--the ones I've spent the most time loving. My oldest protagonists are Delia from Bad Fairy and Ivy from the webcomic/the books I wrote in college. 

To be perfectly honest, Delia turns me into a useless puddle of rage and feelings every time I write about her, so I kind of hate her as much as I love her. I adore her unapologetic confidence in her abilities and her straightforward refusal to back down when people are challenging her or lying to her. And I can't freaking stand her snotty attitude and her elitism. The size of this girl's ego, oh my god. It's tough to write about it sometimes without letting my annoyance come out in the narrative. But I think the thing I love most about her is her thirst for knowledge and how unabashedly curious she is about her world. She's driven, and takes her art seriously, and is truly and fully committed to and inspired by her purpose. It's such a pleasure to see it manifest for her.

Ivy's pretty similar when it comes to confidence, but her inside is a lot softer. She doesn't know what people think about her and she worries about it. She's insecure in a loud, sullen way. So even though she and Delia both alienate people sometimes, Ivy is probably a little more fun to actually be around. She's certainly not as infuriating to write.

I like her balancing act between the sky and the ground. I like the surprising vulnerability that comes with being the most powerful person in the room anywhere she goes. I like it that she gets all sulky when people make a big deal out of her, but also gets all sulky when nobody makes a big deal out of her at all. I like that she's a living contradiction sometimes. I like that she has a ton of flaws, some of which she considers strengths. I like that she basically likes herself, but isn't sure if she knows herself. I like that she can be wise despite not being particularly smart. I like that she can have her moments of tenderness just minutes after having her moments of intense, scary rage. I like that she's willing to use her special strength to protect people she loves.

It's interesting how well her Zodiac sign sums her up, even though I didn't intentionally invent her during the sign of Leo (and July 31, the day I actually created her in real life, is the birthday I gave her in the books). Traditionally, Leos are very loving, loyal people who are protective, dramatic, creative, and good at leading others, but their drawbacks are being a bit vain, easily upset by others upstaging or outsmarting them, more sensitive than they like to admit, easily tricked by flattery, and egotistical. That's my girl--typical fire sign. (Incidentally, I'm not a follower of Zodiac mythology, but it's way too tempting to use archetypes and symbols when you're analyzing a character. ^__^)

And ultimately I guess I like Ivy because she is an honest character who evolved over time and is complex like any real person. She doesn't always learn from her mistakes. She doesn't always make the right decisions. She sometimes regresses or does things for reasons she doesn't understand. And sometimes she does exactly what she ought to do and makes me proud.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: July 19 – July 25

Life news this week: 

  • This was kind of an uneventful week for me. I spent a lot of time writing reviews of books I read as a teenager. Finally got up to 1995 this week. 
  • Talked to my sister and my friend Sarah on the phone over the weekend. I love marathon chats. 
  • Finally started applying some of the editing I got from early readers on my short story, but I still don't know what the crap to name it.
  • And finally finished processing the subtitles on a video from when I went to Canada. (Transcribing and timing subtitles on a video that's over an hour long is extremely boring. I'd done all the transcribing weeks ago and just couldn't bring myself to time it.) 
  • I ate at IHOP with Jeaux this week. We went to his house to watch America's Got Talent because we're nerds, and watched some Legend of Korra: Book 3.
Places featured: 

Reading progress:

  • Finished The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty. ★★★★★
  • Currently reading Real Ultimate Power by Robert Hamburger.

New singing performances:

Recorded "I've Told Every Little Star" by Linda Scott.

New drawings:

Webcomic Negative One Issue 0480: "Bigger Than Flying."

Webcomic So You Write Issue 38: "Hater Love."

New videos:

None, but I'll be participating in a cool collab over the weekend!

New photos:

Just a silly picture of me gloating over finding mistakes in a document.
The day I held my pants up with office supplies

Social media counts:

YouTube subscribers: 3,622 for swankivy (29 new this week), 366 for JulieSondra (3 new). Twitter followers: 535 for swankivy (3 new), 491 for JulieSondra (6 new). Facebook: 260 friends (no change) and 128 followers (1 new) for swankivy, 381 likes for JulieSondra (3 new), 48 likes for Negative One (no change), 74 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 1,436 (10 new).

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My nemesis: Titles

I'm bad at coming up with titles.

My first published short story was pitched as "Hope Came Out" and published as "Your Terms."

My recently sold nonfiction piece for The Toast was pitched as "Have Fun Dying Alone In Your Houseful of Cats: The World Reacts to an Asexual Woman." (Wow, what a mouthful.) They published it as "'Enjoy Your Houseful of Cats': On Being an Asexual Woman."

My nonfiction book on asexuality was pitched as So You Think You're Asexual: An Introduction to the Invisible Orientation. It was acquired and will be sold as The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality.

I like all the titles other people picked for me better than I like the ones I came up with. My title will probably get changed on everything I ever sell because I think I'm Really Bad at this. It's a little weird for someone whose life revolves around picking the right words to say she sucks at doing it in one particular situation, but I guess this is a symptom of my broader difficulty in being concise.

Summing up the essence of your piece while making it appealing to your audience is very difficult. It's a rare talent.

And now I'm struggling with naming one of my short stories and I just can't do it. I named it something silly at first. Then I named it something even sillier because I was exasperated. Now I just kind of want to find a title for it that isn't too ridiculous, and I probably need help again. Anyone want to read a 10,000ish-word short story and help me name it? General fiction, queer characters, commentary on relationships.

The first book I ever wrote, at age fourteen, was called Double Vision. There was no reason for this. The "double" part had an obvious tie to the plot, as the action focused around nine pairs of twins. I have no idea what the "vision" part was supposed to be. I probably just thought it sounded cool.

The second book I began to write and left unfinished never got a title. I call it the "Skyler Stories" book because the protagonist's name was Skyler Stories (yep, that was her last name), but it also makes it convenient in talking about it as a story, haha. What a nerd.

The third book (which ended up blending into book four, five, six, seven, and eight for me) was a fantasy series about a telekinetic teenager named Ivy, and the series literally got named by a drunk guy in a chat room. I was basically doing then what I am doing now--complaining about my inability to name my work--and this dude started throwing out ridiculous and funny titles to "help" me. My friend and I were in the chat room goofing around with him and then all of a sudden he said "The House That Ivy Built!" and my friend and I kinda "looked" at each other because, well, actually she built a house in the book. It stuck. I later thanked the drunk guy for naming it and he didn't remember the experience at all.

I couldn't think of good individual titles for the books in the series so they became THTIB books 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, with a prequel I titled Book 0. Then when I started writing a webcomic based on it that covered the events before Book 0, I just called it Negative One. Yeah, that's the ridiculous reason behind my webcomic title. It's not profound or anything. It's just me being bad at titles.

Then came Bad Fairy and, well, it's an awfully cutesy title for a book that's not friggin' cute. It's a series too. I haven't named any of the individual books in it, much like with THTIB. When that sells (hehehee, I love saying "when"), I bet the publisher will change it. They probably should. Or at least add a subtitle.

Then I started (but didn't finish, yet?) a book about a kid with divorced parents and wow, the originality must have been leaking out of my pores when I decided to call it Joint Custody. Subtle, eh? And it's sad, because the protagonist is really an interestingly complicated little boy and there are so many other things his story could be called. But then I go and pick the obvious thing. Shame on me.

Finding Mulligan is probably my best title. Like, it's mysterious and you're like "huh, who's trying to find WHAT now?" and it's totally accurate because the protagonist spends most of the book looking for Mulligan, but I'm not sure if other people think it's a good title.

And then we have my latest, Stupid Questions, which I like because it kind of attracts your attention and makes you wonder what kind of questions are stupid but to be honest I'm concerned about it being ableist (even though it's questions being called stupid, not people).

With a lot of my short stories I just named them after characters because I couldn't think of anything. I have twenty-eight short stories listed on my most comprehensive page. Five of them are just a character's name. Three more mention a character's name. Most of the rest of them are incredibly vague/boring/generic. Like "Goodbye." And "The Escape." And "The Curse." And "The Mother." I actually like a couple of my story titles. "Her Mother's Child" is a pretty cool, evocative title, and since that short story sold to a magazine but isn't published yet, I guess we'll see someday soon whether they keep it. I like the title "Bloom" despite its simplicity. I like "In Love With Love." Kinda.

But for some reason I'm really stuck on this one and I haven't listed it amongst my short story lists anywhere because I can't think of something to freaking call it! And even if it's a temporary title, you can't pitch something with no title, even if you hate the temporary title you picked. Maybe somebody who doesn't suck at titles can help me out?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hater Love

My new issue of So You Write webcomic is out:

This may be exaggerated, but it’s true for me: I’m much more likely to agree with my critics (and adjust my writing in response!). Five people could praise a favorite line and then if one person thought it was silly, I’d probably start leaning toward believing it was silly. Some of this is good, adaptive behavior: you WANT readers who will tell you what’s wrong with your story and push you to make it better. But some of it is just Insecure Writer Syndrome™. For some of us, if one reader criticizes something we wrote, we suddenly can’t see the scene the same way and it will bug us until we fix it.

There’s such a thing as too much of this, but most of us have a healthy level of ability to take criticism seriously. We won’t throw our manuscripts in the fireplace and quit writing forever if someone dislikes our work, but we’ll obsess over criticism and it will seem magnified in our minds. This is generally a good thing unless it paralyzes our ability to draft without too much fear. However, much worse than this is its opposite: the authors who savor only the praise and automatically ignore criticism. These are the authors who are more likely to defend their work in the face of criticism instead of taking a good look at what they can improve, and these are the authors who think they have nothing to learn.

So they don’t.

Here's another blog entry of mine in which I offer a more sophisticated discussion of how to determine the value of criticism and how to apply it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 16: Romantic Relationships



Today's question: Do you write romantic relationships? How do you do with those, and how “far” are you willing to go in your writing? ;)

Hmm, interesting question for an asexual person, eh?

Most of my characters experience romantic relationships. This is because most of the world experiences romantic relationships. I've had some people tell me that it's WEIRD that I write them--or worse, that it's some kind of secret confession, way of acting out my fantasies, revelation about my desires that I can't express in real life, or hidden cry for help--but that's a bunch of crap. If I completely removed sexuality from the lives of characters understood to be non-asexual, I'd be writing hollow, dishonest characters; and if I went the other way and only wrote asexual characters, I'd be accused of just writing self-inserts. Can't win.

But the bottom line is that it only makes sense that most of my characters would have romantic relationships, even if it's beside the point.

And I guess to answer the question about how "far" I'm willing to go in my writing, the answer is all the way. I don't write porn or graphic sex, but there have been a few places where I write about characters having sex or imply that they have done so.

The novel I've written with the most focus on sex and romance is definitely my most recent one, Stupid Questions. Protagonist Nick is pretty traditional as far as his attraction to the girl he likes and what that makes him interested in doing--meaning he's interested in a romance and a sexual relationship with love interest Summer. The romantic relationship that develops between them is sort of cute and innocent at the beginning because Summer has never had a boyfriend before and Nick doesn't want to be overbearing, but then since they live in different states, a bunch of the flavor of their relationship then develops long-distance.

My first doodle of the couple. ;)
Then the book goes into two visits--he visits her first, then she comes to visit him--and in both visits, there's some attempted or actual sexual contact. (There are some complicated reasons why they don't have sex during the first visit, even though they both want to, but interestingly enough, Summer seems more intimidated by commitment to a relationship than she is regarding doing the deed.) There's also a decent amount of sexual humor and couples arguments and stuff. Despite the stuff that makes their relationship very weird, I'd say it's pretty typical sometimes. (This book is a science fiction romance.)

Another novel of mine, Finding Mulligan, also has romantic elements but ends up being more about identity. It did not end up straying toward anything more explicit than a few kisses, but pretty much the whole book plot orbits around protagonist Cassie trying to get her boy. The romantic aspects are complicated because Cassie is actually two people. Her other self is interested in a guy and she's trying to find sort of a different version of that guy. But she finds herself attracted to two guys that may or may not be the right one, and has to figure out what to do about it.

Finding Mulligan has very little sexual content overall (though Cassie's best friend explicitly talks about having sex with her teacher--ah, Gabi, what a gal!), but the romantic elements are central.

Bad Fairy involves sex and romance too, though in the first book the only onscreen romance is Delia's study partners having a very innocently described relationship with each other. In the second book, Delia has her first boyfriend, but the relationship doesn't last very long (it happens when she's thirteen), and in the third Bad Fairy book, there are some opportunities for adult relationships. During her time in disguise, the usually stoic Delia gets rather friendly with a boy fairy, and she seems to be able to let loose a lot more when she's pretending to be someone else. During that time she develops a more romantic and companionate closeness with a local human baker, and even though he isn't as physically attractive to her, she overall values her relationship with him more, especially once the jig is up. I do actually go into some bedroom detail, and as with everything with Delia, plenty of detail filters in about what they're doing and what her experiences were like, though I kind of stepped away from describing the actual sex acts because I felt like Delia would probably spare us that in her writing of the scene. (It's penned as her autobiography.)

And my webcomic Negative One has romance in the Meri Lin storyline, as Meri Lin and her partner Fred are very much in love and the story includes them having a child. There have been a couple bits in her storyline when she expresses some sexual frustration because Fred has become withdrawn due to, ya know, terribly sad circumstances. All of the other adult characters have at least touched on their takes on romantic thoughts, but nothing has really come up beyond philosophy.

I have sort of written one asexual character in my older stuff--in The House That Ivy Built series, the protagonist isn't interested in other people in a sexy way, but even she experiences some attempts at romance, including kissing with two different partners and a few attempts from would-be boyfriends to talk her into more. I think one big difference between her and me is that she sort of wishes she wanted those things--that's partly because lack of interest in such matters is one of the many things that makes her feel like she doesn't belong, and sometimes in her insecure moments she wants to make everything simpler and be like everyone else. I'm not sure yet if she'd be considered to be romantically attracted to anyone, though she has strong attachments to others sometimes.

There's definitely some romance in my short stories too. "Brady" discusses it marginally, when a girl realizes that romantically is not the only way a girl can like a guy. (I'm going to base a YA novel on his short story someday soon.) "Derika and Emily" discusses Derika's lesbianism and how it influenced her take on religion. "Her Mother's Child," the story of mine that's going to be published in Kaleidotrope next year, includes references to a young woman's sexual experiences, but it doesn't go into any detail as it happens offscreen; it's part of a fertility rite (though it happens to be between two cisgender young ladies, so, uh, no babies). And, of course, "Wind" is about the romance between a young man and a fairy.

Anyway, long story short, I don't make a big point of writing sex and I don't think I'll ever be writing something for which I need to write explicit detail of the act, but as for romance and "going far," I'm not afraid of it, and I let my characters decide whether such things are appropriate in their lives. If they want to do it, they get to. Yay.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: July 12 – July 18

Life news this week: 

  • Went to Metrocon--an anime convention--with Victor on Saturday, dressed as The Maxx and Julie Winters. We don't have any pictures. Because we are amazingly short-sighted apparently. (Still hoping someone else's pictures of us will show up online.)
  • Mike visited me from Saturday night to Tuesday morning. We made our own pizza, watched a Chess concert DVD, went out to Japanese food, watched House, M.D., and caught up on life news.
  • Went to the doctor yet again and allowed them to abscond with bodily fluid from my veins.
  • I ate at Moe's with Jeaux this week. We listened to Welcome to Night Vale and watched some Legend of Korra: Book 3.
  • I went to a local book club for the first time and met some neighborhood readers. We went out to dinner afterwards. The book we were discussing was Odd Thomas by Koontz, which I'd read the week before. It was fun! I'm going again next month.
Places featured: 
  • I got a tiny plug on Kink Your Kindle by Violet Blue, who's one of my awesome blurbers. Violet is going to promote my book more when it's out.
  • Lara at wrote some stuff about my book, though it's just recycled content and I wasn't involved. It's also got a surprising number of muddy details--mentions my release date being "sometime in September" despite its release date being available, gets the name of my publisher slightly wrong, incorrectly suggests I used to think I had a psychological or hormonal problem because of my asexuality, and mentions the preorder's availability to "Amazon customers" (which implies that's the only place to get it, even though it's available for preorder at all major retailers).

Reading progress:

  • Finished Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg. ★★★
  • Currently reading The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty.

New singing performances:

Recorded "Sister Golden Hair" by America.

New drawings:

Webcomic Negative One Issue 0479: "That Guy."

New videos:


New photos:

Mike took my picture at the Japanese restaurant, eating tofu.
I totally look drunk but I am not.
And it's that time again: Let's see how much my hair has grown since I chopped it off in February.

February 2014, back
July 2014, back
February 2014, front
July 2014, front

Social media counts:

YouTube subscribers: 3,593 for swankivy (44 new this week), 363 for JulieSondra (4 new). Twitter followers: 532 for swankivy (3 new), 485 for JulieSondra (7 new). Facebook: 260 friends (no change) and 127 followers (lost 2--wtf) for swankivy, 378 likes for JulieSondra (3 new), 48 likes for Negative One (no change), 74 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 1,426 (8 new).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wendy West Saves the World

For a weird blog-post-related Throwback Thursday, I decided to share one of my first short stories: "Wendy West Saves the World." It was written when I was eleven years old, in fifth grade: March 15, 1989, composed in pencil in a preteen’s careful cursive. It had its own hand-drawn cover.

Here is the story, for your entertainment. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation has been left untouched. As you can see, I've been writing about courageous young girls with unusual abilities in science fiction and fantasy since childhood. :)

Wendy West was an explorer who had shiny black hair and light purple eyes. She could see farther than a million telescopes put together could see.

One day Wendy West was exploring a hole in Sudan, Africa. She heard some screeching inside the hole and a laser beam shot out of it, narrowly missing Wendy. It hit a tree and the tree evaporated into thin air.

Wendy was shocked at this. She looked into the deep hole. It seemed endless, so she used her special vision to peer deep into the hole. At the bottom, there was a huge group of tall, blue men! They shot lasers at her. They missed. She ran to a nearby police station.

The police were on coffee break. Wendy got a police man to come to the hole. He looked inside the hole. “Is this your idea of a joke? I don’t see anything,” Said the police man. “No,” said Wendy. She shined a flashlight down in the deep hole. Sure enough, nothing was there. She used her special vision to look around in Africa, then in Europe. When she got to China, there were the blue men, shooting huge buildings down.

The police sent helicopters to China, after Wendy West reported her story. They disposed of the aliens, and then they had a party for Wendy and proclaimed that day a holiday called “Alien day!”

My favorite part is that the cops were on coffee break.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sex Scene Writing Tips from an Asexual Woman

Okay, so I kinda lied there in my title. I'm not really going to give you sex scene writing tips.

Well, not really. But yes, kind of.

What I would like to talk about here is writing the unfamiliar. In my experience, people react one of two ways when I tell them yes, I am an asexual author who's written characters who have sex.

Option A: If your sex scene is any good, you're actually writing about your own secret desires.

Option B: If you don't have your own desires, you can't write a good sex scene.

Both options are misleading at best, offensive at worst.

First of all, non-authors often expect us to "write what we know" and nothing else. And they think we can't possibly be good at it if we're not writing characters who are avatars of ourselves. They believe our fictional people are mouthpieces for our beliefs or experiences. Of course, most of us authors know that couldn't be further from the truth. Characters are generally about what THEY want. They may reflect on us or represent us somewhat--sometimes more explicitly than other times, depending on the author and the type of story--but suggesting an author cannot write a character who is not "really" themselves is a huge insult to us. What is our craft if it doesn't incorporate what it would be like to be someone else?

But what's really going on here? What are we "allowed" to write about if we haven't been through it? Fantasy writers write the unfamiliar all the time, and I promise you no one has ever told me I can't be writing a good fairy character if I have never performed magic spells or if I don't secretly wish I could go to magic school. However, that's maybe a bit of a false equivalence. If I'm actually changing the laws of reality or creating a type of creature that doesn't exist in our world, readers understand it's just make-believe and they don't hold it to any standards of objective reality. But if I write a sex scene? Oh, apparently that's ridiculous.

The problem: Those who fall under Option A or Option B think empathy and imagination will short out at the border between reality and fantasy. 

Even though I've demonstrated I can tell a pretty convincing story about what it's like to be a fairy school student, these same people who were enthralled by it are still telling me they don't believe I can write something real-world style that I've never done (or convincingly relay the emotions, desires, physical mechanics, or interaction that surrounds it). I can certainly admit it's easier to write an experience that no one has had, so you can't really get called out on doing it wrong and they basically have to believe it is as you say it is in your fantasy book. But--as presented in the comic above--I've been successful plenty of times in portraying an experience others have had but I have not. People who read my fantasy webcomic have occasionally been shocked that I'm not a mom, because I talk about pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing in an intimate way, letting you inside this mother character's head. It's pretty easy to mess it up if you haven't done it, sure, but nobody's ever complained about it seeming inauthentic. And especially if it's a sensitive issue--like trying to write about being a religion, race, sexual orientation, or gender you've never been--getting it wrong can be really offensive, not to mention just plain ineffective.

So, what should you do if you want to write the everyday unfamiliar?

  1. Seems obvious, but do research. By this I mean you want the objective, physical facts so you don't get anything laughably wrong. If you write a sex scene and get an anatomical fact wrong, you'll show your ignorance. If you write a pregnancy that ends at six months and the baby isn't premature, you fail. If your character is a mountain-climber whose equipment is portrayed as doing things it doesn't actually do, readers won't trust your presentation of the experience. So know the actual basics to the unfamiliar thing you're writing about. Sometimes you can ask questions in places like this Absolute Write subforum for research.

  1. Also a bit obvious: get personal reflections and perspectives from people who have had the experience you haven't. If you know someone who's done what you haven't done, you'd be surprised what kind of authenticity you can pick up just through having one conversation with them about it. If you don't know anyone who's had that experience or don't feel comfortable talking to them about it (or they don't want to share with you!), try reading blogs or stories on the topic. And though I probably don't have to say this, make sure you don't swipe any really specific details about their experience for inclusion in your story without their permission. Soak up their perspectives but don't just parrot them.

  1. And still a tad obvious: get test readers whose perspective is appropriate for your work. After you've written it, consider specifically soliciting beta readers who can help you fine-tune using their unique outlook. If you've already written it, it's a bit late for cleaning up the big stuff--like whether the premise is even physically possible or whether the plot of the book is even legal in the country you set it in, etc.--but for smaller things like how your characters react and little nuances, the test readers can be super helpful. Are you an adult writing a teen protagonist and haven't been around teens for a while? Get a teenage reader and ask them to keep an eye out for all the places it feels like an adult who's faking it. Are you a thriller writer whose protagonist is a cop and you've never been in law enforcement? See if you can find a police officer to read it, and you might be surprised the kinds of things your cops are doing that cops wouldn't actually do, from situations where they'd carry a weapon to whether they'd be able to enter without a warrant. Are you a woman writing a man? A white person writing an Asian person? A straight person writing a gay person? A healthy person writing a character with an illness? Gather perspectives. And while you shouldn't let them tell you how to write it (because they may think their experience is definitive of the overall experience of people in their demographic or group when it isn't, or you might be writing a person who's an exception), you should very seriously consider their opinion if their experience is closer to your character's experience than yours is.

  1. Now moving on to the not so obvious: keep in character. This is easier said than done if you are writing about an experience you haven't had, because you're likely to lean on other people's versions of those experiences, but you need it to be your character's experience. Let the characters' personalities lead you into an expression of their inherent characteristics in these experiences as well as the ones you're not as confident in. For example, I generally don't write "romance," but sometimes my characters have experienced love and romantic attraction, and I gravitate toward writing intellectual characters. Because of that, their expression of romance and even sexual interaction has been a bit more cerebral than you'd see in a typical "romantic" book; my characters might overthink kissing and analyze their intimacy and fixate on mental rather than emotional experiences with their significant others. They can't suddenly drop their usual inclinations just because they're in the throes of passion, though excitement and attraction might change how it's filtered. It's just very important that who your characters are outside of the unfamiliar experiences is consistent with who they are inside of those experiences. Don't be tempted to replace the less familiar with scenes that are essentially copy-pastes from the research you've done, the blog posts you've read, or the recommendations of your readers. These scenes have to come from your characters if you want them to read as internally authentic.

  1. And finally, leave things unsaid. Some authors are obsessed with squeezing in the details to show off their research and really nail the unfamiliar topic, so they end up overwhelming the reader with unnecessary information. Truth is, if a reader has done the thing you're describing, they don't need the recitation before they'll fill in the blanks themselves, and if a reader has not done the thing you're describing, it's probably better that they don't learn about it from you. On the few and far between occasions where I've had to write a sex scene, I left a lot to the imagination--not only because I really don't want to write explicit erotica or porn, but because implying goes a long way. There aren't too many adult readers who'd be puzzled when I write that my characters decided against having sex because they didn't have a condom but they did "other things." Do I really have to tell you what they did? Unlikely. First of all it doesn't actually matter, story-wise, what my characters did in bed, and secondly, if people interpret what they may have done different ways, it doesn't change how the story moves on from there, so why not let them imagine? I don't have to lead them by the hand through all the details of this scene, and if they wanted an erotica book, they definitely shouldn't have picked up mine. Similarly, a character can go hang-gliding in a book without you as the author explaining how all the mechanics work; if a person really wants to know that, they probably need a hang-gliding instruction manual, not a book that ultimately isn't about hang-gliding. Same way I'm going to leave it to readers who want a step-by-step set of sex instructions to pick up the Kama Sutra.

Ultimately your goal is to make the scenes that depict the unfamiliar read just as naturally as the scenes that depict the familiar. So you should treat them the same. Soak up what you may need to know before you are qualified to present this experience, immerse yourself in your character's perspective, and proceed as if you are familiar with this experience. Don't give more detail to these scenes or write them with a different style, and do let the characters have their experiences with confidence. As long as you haven't made any contradictions to reality (assuming you're writing reality), and you've made your characters' experiences internally consistent, the reader should be able to believe you.

Monday, July 14, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 15: A Writer I Admire



Today's question: Midway question! Tell us about a writer you admire, whether professional or not!

I'll just do the obvious here and answer by praising the author I considered my uncontested favorite for many, many years: Joan D. Vinge.

I'm not sure, to tell you the truth, whether I'd think she was my favorite author if I'd started reading her now, and it's been a while since I picked up one of her books, but I seem to recall that she's one of those authors whose books I revisit and am always surprised how good they really are.

She's a character-centric writer who also includes epic plots, but ends up focusing on how these epic situations affect INDIVIDUALS. And to tell you the truth, a lot of her writing is horrifying because of how realistic it is at times. I have seen her portray some of the ugliest things about human nature and gone away crying because I see shadows of those same attitudes in my own life.

I don't want to go into anything specific about her books here, but I will steal a few important excerpts from an author's introduction she wrote for the ten-year anniversary edition of one of her books. I want to use her own words to show you why she's a favorite of mine, what her attitudes and experiences regarding writing are, and how shockingly, scarily similar she is to me in that respect.

She wrote this about her character Cat back in 1995. I have known and loved Cat since . . . I think it was 1990 or 1991. If you read nothing else of this, read the last two paragraphs to see why I love this author.

Over the years, between other projects, I had tinkered with that manuscript again and again, but I was never satisfied with it. Finally, after The Snow Queen, I took it out again. This time, when I reread my "trunk novel" (i.e., that old first book every author supposedly has stuffed in a trunk or a closet somewhere), I realized two things: that I still wanted to tell Cat's story; and that the "exciting adventure" I'd started when I was in my teens was in fact a considerably darker story when I looked at it from an adult perspective. (A friend of mine once remarked that "adventures are just tragedies that didn't happen." In this story tragedies, large and small, do happen.) At that point I did a major rewrite, using what I'd learned about writing (and human nature) in the intervening years to make it the book it wanted to be.

I get a lot of the same pleasure from writing a book that I get from reading one, because I don't plan every detail about who will do what before I begin. It's the lure of that next startling or unexpected development that makes me want to go on with work that often feels like pulling my own teeth. By the time I'd rewritten Psion, I realized that I wanted--needed--to write more about Cat; that in fact I wanted to write a series of stories about him, at significant points throughout his life. . . .

. . . For years I wondered what it was about Cat that made the need to write about him so compelling. I often said to people that he seemed to be almost an archetypal character; his hold on my imagination was that strong. It was only about three years ago that I finally had an insight into why: In the middle of a radio interview I was asked about it, and I said, "Cat is the personification of my social conscience."

Much to my surprise, I realized that was the answer. Cat came into my head at a point in my life when I first began to grasp the unspeakable variety and immensity of the pain human beings can inflict on one another. His personal story was an empathic narrative about prejudice and injustice seen from the victim's point of view. Cat's survival was testimony to the resilience of the human spirit, and his innate goodness proved the importance of judging everyone by what they are inside, how they treat others, and not by race, sex, color, religion, or sexual preference. [ . . . ]

The creative process taps parts of the brain that we don't generally have conscious access to, or much control over. The dark depths of that Jungian magic pool of inspiration sometimes produce images and insights that are startling and even horrifying. As a result, in the real world we do things for more than one reason; and a character like Cat takes on that same duality--like us, he may or may not really understand why he's doing something, even though he thinks he does.

That may sound peculiar (or even pathological) to people who aren't writers; but the characters who live in the virtual reality of an author's mind become very real. The writer may be playing God, but the characters still have free will. They stand up and yell, "You can't make me do that!" in your brain, or take an instant unplanned dislike to another character, or step into a scene for a moment and wind up taking over the story. [ . . . ]

Cat is, to me, far more than the sum of his parts, and always will be. How long it will take me to finish telling the story of his life, I don't know. I only know that I wouldn't mind us growing old together.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: July 5 – July 11

Life news this week: 

  • I signed books for the first time--just the ARCs I sent to the contest winners. It was weird though.
  • I sent a new short story to a couple beta readers. It's still a pretty rough story and I don't know how I feel about it or what its final title will be, so I haven't listed it anywhere on my "official" pages.
  • I got ultrasound results back and according to the lady who called me, I have some kind of very tiny fibroid, but they don't think it's responsible for causing me any symptoms? I dunno.
  • I ate at IHOP with Jeaux this week. We watched some America's Got Talent.

Places featured: 
  • A new review has popped up for my asexuality book: Nikki gave me five stars on Goodreads and put the same review on Bibliophibian. 

Reading progress:

  • Finished Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. ★★★★★
  • Currently reading Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg.

New singing performances:

Recorded "Daniel" by Elton John.

New drawings:

Webcomic Negative One Issue 0478: "A Good Thing You're Here."

New videos:


New photos:

This is from May 31, but I just got it from someone
who was at this party. After party with sisters and bro-in-law!
Here I am signing an ARC for the first time.

Wrote something cute and goofy.

My mom came over and made me
try on a coat for a much bigger person.

My co-worker accidentally sent his timesheet to print
on the architectural plotter, not the regular printer.
I made him sign it.

Social media counts:

YouTube subscribers: 3,549 for swankivy (28 new this week), 359 for JulieSondra (2 new). Twitter followers: 529 for swankivy (4 new), 478 for JulieSondra (12 new). Facebook: 260 friends (2 new) and 129 followers (2 new) for swankivy, 375 likes for JulieSondra (6 new), 48 likes for Negative One (no change), 74 likes for So You Write (1 new). Tumblr followers: 1,418 (11 new).

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On Mary Sues

Mary Sue: a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional. [x]

"Wow, what a Sue!" is thrown around a lot these days in literary criticism. It's always insulting. It always implies that the author did something wrong. And if it's applied to an amateur or developing work, it generally means the author needs to do something to reduce the "Sueishness" of the character. 

The problem I have here is that sometimes, any character who's exceptional is labeled a Sue. But wait, don't we like reading about extraordinary people? Having a character who's truly unique in her world can't be the mark of incompetence, can it? 

A while back, in a completely unrelated-to-writing forum, I received a nice message from someone who appreciated one of my articles online, and she added this at the end of the message:

Also, your webcomic rocks. Actual plotlines and character development? Yes please.

After I thanked her, she said a little more about it, mentioning one of my Negative One characters in particular:

Too many stories—especially webcomics—are filled with cheap action and universe-spanning prophecies, but the whole thing is ruined by the one-dimensional cardboard cutouts the author pushes around. I'm especially in awe of how you manage to handle Ivy—with all her unbelievably Mary-Sueish characteristics—in a way that makes her realistic and likable. Seriously... how do you manage it?? I try to work with characters that have half her Sueishness and every time they wind up devouring half the story like some sparkly black hole.

So, I thought about it. Hey, how do I manage it? The character she's talking about is indeed in the red as far as Mary Sues go. I've been well aware of that for a long time. To give you some idea:
  • Author self-insert: When I named the character, she got my nickname, and I didn't realize it was going to stick to both of us. . . .
  • Exotic and attractive appearance: She's biracial (half Chinese, half white American mutt) but somehow ended up with features you don't often see come out of that combination: blonde hair, really big green eyes. Annnnd she is randomly missing the pinkies on her hands and feet and has pointy ears for no reason.
  • Has unusual powers that aren't commonplace for the character's race: She has an unexplained and unprecedented gigantic case of telekinesis. Why? Got me!
At this point in the webcomic story, my character was a two-year-old, so she was kind of too young to really do most of the Sueish things people in her situation are prone to doing (e.g., angsting, being sought after by people who are drawn in by curiosity or attraction or greed, making some kind of Epic Plot based around superpowers, etc.). But she's still got a LOT of the warning signs of Suedom, and yet the compliment above suggests I've managed to avoid the pitfalls somehow. Well, what's up with that? 

Here is my somewhat rambly and surely incomplete guide to making your characters not suck, even if they possess qualities that make them prone to being mistaken for Sues:
  1. First off, try not to worry about whether your character is too special. It is natural to want to write about the most interesting character in the room. 
Don't you know a few people in real life who seem to have so much going for them that it's almost like they were badly written characters? These things happen. Are you taking these dramatic names, unusual features, and special qualities away from your character because they actually make her unbelievable or annoying . . . or are you doing it just in the name of trying to make your story less Sueish? If the latter is the case, I recommend worrying less about what other people will say. Keep the attributes if you really want them; just handle them realistically.
  1. Include disadvantages and flaws, but not as an afterthought. 
You are not giving your character flaws to balance her like she's a math equation. It makes her seem constructed. You are giving her flaws because the flaws grow automatically from her situations, and you will find them easily if you just think. You have not succeeded in balancing your Sueish character if you just give her a negative trait like making her a worthless human being who constantly has to be saved as a plot point clumsiness. What really happens if your character has, as in my case, absurdly awesome superpowers?

The character referenced above has telekinetic powers that have made it possible for her to physically interact with her world through only mental effort (and very little of it, incidentally). Obvious result: abysmal muscular development and terrible dexterity. Some writers have thought of this with characters like her; they can't use their hands well, and it's sort of considered cute. But really? It's a lot worse than that, because this character can't honestly wrap her mind around the concept of fine dexterity well enough to even properly fake it, and that can be very inconvenient. Despite being what people would call a "toddler," she actually does not have the balance or physical coordination to walk, and . . . this is kind of gross here, actually . . . since walking usually assists children's development of the same muscles they use for toilet training, she is prone to peeing on herself until she's about eight frigging years old. (It probably would have gone faster if she'd had more consistent discipline in her life, but that was also missing.) I haven't included her later life in the webcomic yet, but even by the time she's an older teen she doesn't have the balance or coordination to walk backwards or use stairs unassisted, and when she learned to actually run at age seventeen she was quite proud of herself. . . . The lack of muscle tone also ends up giving her a sort of sickly-skinny appearance, though that hasn't entirely manifested yet in the comic since she's still a sorta cute chubby baby.
  1. If your character is a person whom everyone (or at least everyone good/important) wants to befriend or take to bed, make her actually likable. 
This is probably harder than it sounds, but just think about it while you write the character. If you met this person, would you actually want to hang out with her? If her superior attitude, off-the-charts awesomeness, or sullen brooding would make most people think "a-hole," don't push all the characters into loving the protagonist anyway. Have supporting characters call the Sue out on her crap. Realistic characters will do this. If you have a character who is beautiful and powerful and, worse yet, knows it, she may get a big head, but I guarantee you that people will express jealousy, lack of tolerance, and behind-the-back gossip if your character is a jerk.

  1. Make your character's thoughts accessible, and make sure the reader understands why she thinks the way she does. 
A romantically attractive, mysterious, special, and/or kickass character will seem a lot more human and understandable if the reader can be let into her private world. She surely has feelings about a lot of experiences in her life, and it really helps if you can filter the mundane experiences as well as the experiences that directly relate to her specialness through the voice of the character into the reader's mind.

For instance, I mentioned above that my Sueish character has unusual eyes (since people with Chinese ancestry don't usually tend to have green eyes), and she has pointed ears and is missing fingers. This hasn't gone unnoticed by the other people in the comic. Various characters have their theories about what her nearly faerie-ish appearance might mean, but sometimes their curiosity manifests in ways that confuse or upset the main character. She's puzzled and sometimes self-conscious about the attention she gets, and she's learning to minimize the bad reactions unsuspecting strangers have sometimes (e.g., people who scream if they unexpectedly see a flying baby; putting her feet on the ground around strangers fixes that!). The point here is that she responds. She wonders. She reacts to being reacted to. Even if you've never felt the way she does, you understand why those experiences feel the way they do.
  1. Accept your character's vulnerabilities. And I'm not talking about giving her a grafted-on superweakness, like aversion to iron or sunlight. 
She should have vulnerabilities as any person does. If she's truly so powerful or beautiful or speshullll that it bowls people over, isn't it kind of uncomfortable if no one else is comfortable with her? And please don't just give her a phobia or something to try to make her accessible. If she's not vulnerable unless another character sticks Kryptonite in her pants, it's not an accessible human weakness that anyone can relate to.

My webcomic baby may have superpowers, but she's a baby. She cries if she's tired or if there's a loud noise or if no one's there to hug her at the right time. She's always a person first. Having off-the-scale telekinetic abilities has drastically affected her life (obviously), but she isn't immune to self-esteem problems, self-consciousness, anger, confusion . . . none of which is exclusively related to her "special" conditions. And keep in mind that even though we make fun of characters who angst too much, some angst is appropriate when you really are the only person like yourself in the world. Super-special characters are going to do this. Heck, regular people do this. Let them. Just don't make it their whole lives.
  1. Don't make all the supporting characters have the same reactions to your character, and make their feelings complicated. 
I'm sure one of the big FAILS of Suedom is that everyone either wants to fight or f--- your character, and it just gets tiresome. But everyone your character meets has an entire lifetime of experiences leading up to that meeting, influenced by culture, environment, upbringing, and personal preference. Your drop-dead sexy character should meet potential love interests who don't love her, and your drop-dead sexy character should NOT always be able to seduce the object of her affection. Your super-powered character should meet people who don't want her super-powered help without being therefore cast as an antagonist with a burning jealousy. Characters with difficult or alienating situations should still be able to meet people who can love them. Et cetera.

And these supporting characters should sometimes have mixed feelings about your Sueish character. Maybe they are awed and impressed by the Sue's abilities, but prefer not to show this aspect of themselves and end up treating the Sue gruffly or unfairly because of it. Maybe they are attracted to the beautiful Sue, but have too much self-respect to make a move on someone just because they're pretty. And so on.
  1. Don't make your character unrealistically good at things that don't have anything to do with her specialness. 
Your character can be the best in the biz at her specialty without being the best at everything. We all know how pissed off we get if the hero learns to read in a week even though being a Chosen One had nothing to do with speed-reading/speed learning. If your character is the best at something, make peace with it and go with it, but let someone else win the damn spelling bee for cheese's sake. Let her get beat up at school. Let her lose the talent competition (and be a bad loser). Everything coming easily to a Sue is part of what makes her utterly ridiculous and inaccessible. You don't want to do it.
  1. Consider letting your character weird herself out occasionally. 
You can show her discovering new things about her special abilities or effects on others and seeming surprised, bewildered, impressed, intimidated, or alienated. It's also a plus to actually show her having to practice or hone her talents instead of just suddenly appearing on the battlefield one day, made from a superior mold and destined to kill 193 soldiers kick ass without the necessary practice and training. Lots of stories show characters building their skills, but including some vulnerability and some being impressed at her own skills (especially if she learns them quickly) is really important. If it isn't something traditional that she's learning—especially if it's something unique to her—other people's shocked reactions should make her a little self-conscious, even after a long time.
  1. Include glimpses of your character's life where she does NOT stand out. 
Feature her own jealousy, confusion, or incompetence, and make it clear there are aspects of her that are just like everyone else. It makes a character more tolerable—more likable—if she asks for help now and then, or needs a shoulder to cry on about relationship issues, or gets made fun of for something she failed at. A Sueish character often isn't used to feeling like this, so some sullen entitlement will sometimes come out, but we need to see it all—and we need to also see good-natured "aw, I suck at this . . . oh well!" reactions too, if they are appropriate.
  1. Give your character illogical thoughts and irrational feelings sometimes. 
Sometimes, if they're realistic, vulnerable human beings (or some close approximation thereof), they have to learn their lessons the hard way more than once. In real life, people who date a bad boyfriend often end up with a similar bad boyfriend a couple more times before learning their lessons on what kind of people they should be dating. In real life, people get jealous when they have no real right to be, or say things they don't mean, or royally screw up without some kind of noble reason for doing so.

When my webcomic baby is older, in her teen years, she does sometimes go through phases of wishing she was "normal," so to speak, and though the first time she tried to "pass" did NOT go well, there are also other times and other people to whom she pretends. This inevitably leads to her screwing up situations and losing friends. This is also a terribly hard lesson to learn and she doesn't WANT to learn it—she doesn't want to accept that there are things she can't do and people who won't accept her. If you don't want to actually go through this again and again with your character, it's still important that her soul bears the scars of irrational behavior and actions at times. Nobody's perfect. Not even your Sue.
  1. Let your character have interests and preferences that aren't necessarily predictable, as part of a larger personality conglomerate that shows she is a complete person. 
Sometimes writers try to do this to be cute, like when they make a prissy little princess type obsessed with combat and "boy" things, or when they have a big scary tough guy who melts when he plays with puppies or babies. I don't really find this to be a step up from the one-dimensional type-casting. It's just a recognition that stereotypes exist and a poor attempt to remove your character from criticism. (Obviously the above examples can still work; I'm just talking about how it DOESN'T work if all you do is throw in a manly man and randomly have him declare that his favorite color is pink to "combat" the stereotype.)

Take what you know about your character and think, "What is it about this character that makes her enjoy this pastime or that form of entertainment? What other things would be included in someone's personality if these attributes were in her inventory?" What's vital, however, is that you don't have to justify these interests/preferences in your text. You just have to know why and how. You, the writer. If these bits of your character make a cohesive whole, they will naturally come out on the page representing a well-rounded person.
To wrap up (and hopefully not to sound too dippy or whatever), don't be afraid to make your characters special, even to the point of Sueishness, if you can write the story to handle it. Make your character a little of everything, the way real people are. We want to read about special, attractive, interesting, amazing people . . . and we'll willingly accept these traits if they're framed within personalities that are naturally and accurately reflecting what it would be like to be special in the ways they are.