Thursday, July 24, 2014

Second Book Syndrome

Here's one of those evil little surprises you don't hear about until you're smiling over your first contract, blissfully unaware of what you've just contracted from it—Second Book Syndrome.

I'm not talking about the second book you'll ever write. You might already have ten manuscripts under your belt, and in that case, you might have built up your immune system against Second Book Syndrome already. But if you're like me, and your shelved manuscripts need to stay firmly shelved, or maybe you really are writing your second book ever because the first is the one you sold—be warned now that Second Book Syndrome might be on the horizon.

Symptoms include:
  • Inability to focus, indecision
  • Hatred of all words written
  • Pacing
  • Paranoid thoughts: you are a one-hit wonder, readers who liked your first book will hate the second, you'll never have another good idea
  • Drafting letters to your agent asking if it's normal for writing to be this hard, then deleting that letter, then drafting it again, then deleting, etc
  • Panic that you left your day job too early and will have nothing to show for this time you took off to focus on writing
  • Internet surfing/bingeing on kitten gifs

I got Second Book Syndrome bad after DUPLICITY sold. Despite having started a new book before the sale (that had the approval of my both my agent and my very picky husband), doubt was creeping in like allergies. This book had to be better than what I'd done before, or at least as strong. What if it wasn't? What if it was too different? What if it wasn't different enough?? I decided I didn't like the direction the already written pages were going and scraped them. I rewrote them and scraped them again. More rewriting. More deleting. I deleted about 60k's worth of words before I admitted to my agent that I wasn't as excited about the book as I used to be.

She suggested I outline the story, which, as an improvisational writer, is something I'd never done before. So I tried it. I wrote up a very loose, most-important-plot-points-only synopsis that was about 5 pages long, and it helped me see the MC's character arc and how the book would end. I started to think maybe things would be okay. I even got a little bit excited about it.

But as soon as it came to making it happen, I locked up again. I spent more time writing and panicking and deleting. The voices in my head kept saying, this isn't as good. This main character is boring and stupid. This plot is too complicated. None of this is going to make sense.

It had now been eight months that I'd tried to write that book, and I only had 30 pages to show for it.

But I'm here to give you hope. There IS a cure for Second Book Syndrome, and it comes in two forms: 1) A supportive debut group, where you can read about the other 65%+ of your peers who are suffering from the same syndrome 2) Writing, writing, and more writing. Hate the words all you want, but keep making them. Rewrite. Delete. Punch a pillow and do that scene, AGAIN, for the 59,000th time.

I told myself even if I scrapped that book, I would make myself finish it if only to say I had.

And it wasn't until I finished the first draft, almost a year since the idea was born, that I recognized how badly I'd let Second Book Syndrome get to me. When I reread the pages, I discovered maybe it made a little more sense than I thought. And actually I liked the MC. And the plot was still complicated, but I could fix that in revisions. And holy cow, I had another book.

So, friends. The moral of the story is, if Second Book Syndrome happens to you, it will be okay. (Actually, that pertains to everything in writing—querying, being on sub to publishing houses, cover design, edits, etc)

Have you ever suffered from Second Book Syndrome or something like it? How did you push through?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pen Names and How I Became N.K. Traver

From the first day I got serious about writing, I knew I'd be using a pen name. I wanted to separate my personal life from my writing one, and I also thought my married name might be a difficult one to remember or retype since it's spelled differently than it's pronounced.

So began much Googling of cool names and mixing and matching to find the perfect one. I had possibilities like Jordan Gray, Raven Hollow, and even Ty Traver, which is my brother's name, but I liked it - it's short and easy to remember. Except I have two brothers and then I would feel like a terrible person for leaving the other one out. (Sorry Brent, your name gets mistaken for Brett too often)

As with many important decisions, I called my dad to see what he thought. I listed all my creative combinations and said I was leaning most toward Jordan Gray. What did he think?

Flashback: My Grandpa Traver's house, several years before. I'm in college. I do not yet know I want to be an author. I write online a lot, I start and stop books. But I'm going to school for programming because that's what pays and that's what I'm doing with my life. Grandpa is telling me how he wants to write an autobiography. He's telling me how he's started and stopped writing several books. This goes completely over my head, though I do make note that it's cool both Grandpa and I write.
He passes away a year before I get serious about writing. He never finishes the autobiography.

Back to the phone call with Dad on the other end. He says, "Oh, I was looking forward to seeing 'Traver' on the shelf."

And I thought about Grandpa, and that was that.

To avoid a family feud about using one brother's name over the other, I settled on my current initials for the first name. I had some degree of separation from my personal life, and I think it's pretty easy to remember if heard in conversation.

But most importantly, Grandpa, we did it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Writerly Things Update and Whispers of Cover Art

What I've been working on the past few months, and DUPLICITY happenings!

On the writing front:

I'm currently drafting a new teen horror novel unrelated to DUPLICITY. I've just passed the 37,000-word mark, which means it's about 2/3 of the way done. I hope to finish it this month or early next. My agent has already approved the premise and outline, so it's a matter of getting it written. Once the first draft is finished, I'll go back through and polish as best I can, then it will be off to my brilliant critique partners.

On the reading front:

I've finished six books in the last two months - Cracked, Doll Bones, Noggin, Dreams of Gods & Monsters, White Cat, and Unwind. I'm currently reading The Winner's Curse and enjoying it immensely.

On the DUPLICITY front:

I have a cover. OMG I HAVE A COVER. It's striking and unique and awesome and edgy and can I say that it's one of THE coolest things to have an artist read your book and make a picture out of it?? Unfortunately it's not yet final, so I can't share, but you will know as soon as it's ready!

Copy edits will come this month. Copy edits are the kind that fine-tune the book - the content and story is done, and all that's left is for an editor to comb through and make sure the grammar is correct and the sentences are smooth. I will review each change she suggests and apply it. This will also be my last chance to tweak anything, which is rather panic-inducing, to be honest. Dedication and acknowledgements will also be added at this stage. I tear up every time I read them.

I have two new blurbs from two fantastic authors I adore, Kendare Blake and Lindsay Cummings. You can read what they said at the bottom of this page. I'll be over here fangirling.

On the contest front:

I'm participating in a cool little pitch contest called Query Kombat this month as a judge. The first round is over, so I'm looking forward to seeing how my picks do in the agent round. Rounds will continue weekly until only one book is left standing.

I'm also looking forward to mentoring again in Pitch Wars! The past two years, Pitch Wars has taken place Nov-Jan. This year it will be Aug-Nov, so I'm polishing up my mentor bio and looking forward to meeting my next winning teammate ;)

And that's a small snapshot of what's been keeping me busy.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

Blog tour time! Fellow Fearless Fifteener Michelle Levy tagged me last week for a post on writing process (you can read her answers here). She has a beautiful little book releasing next summer about two broken people who help each other mend called NOT AFTER EVERYTHING. She's also a casting agent. Like, for movies. So yes, you should probably stalk her on Twitter if you aren't already!

Now for the questions ...

1) What am I working on?
I'm currently drafting a YA horror, which means I am flashing back to horror movies and thinking about Scary Things all day, which means I am sleeping with the lights on again.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I love unexpected settings and genre mash-ups like Cowboys and Aliens and Stephen King's Dark Tower series. So, it's my hope that this book will differ from others of its genre because it crosses into so many others. There are supernatural forces running amock, but also hover cars. There are old rituals and superstitions - and smartphones. It's a bizarre combination at times, but I love how they juxtapose.

3) Why do I write what I write?
I write to explore situations I would otherwise never experience, some I'm grateful I never will. One of the biggest draw of stories, for me, is to see how a person becomes stronger through the obstacles she overcomes and the people around her. I guess to remind myself that bad things happen in life, but good people will be there to lift me out.

4) What's my writing process like?
I've just settled into a routine where I try to write at least 1000 words a day. Beyond that, I don't really ... have a process. Yet. For two of the three manuscripts I've finished, I started with a plot and some important points, then wandered from A to B until I had characters and a story. For DUPLICITY, I started with characters and a premise and hoped they played nice together. I didn't know it was a cyberthriller until I was a third of the way in, and I didn't know how it ended until I got there, got stuck, spent a week wondering what I'd got myself into, then had an epiphany driving home and bam, shiny ending. For my current work-in-progress, I started with the premise, wrote some of it out, got stuck, panicked, then outlined the rest. Which, for this particular book, was critical for staying on track. Lord knows what random alignment of stars will be responsible for my next book.

And now for the fun part, where I get to tag two suspecting victims to post their own Writing Process posts:

Agency sister and writer friend Alexandra Sirowy, whose drool-worthy thriller THE CREEPING is one I cannot WAIT to get my hands on.

And newly pubbed novelist Ryan Hill, whose humorous paranormal THE BOOK OF BART debuted last week and is scooping in reviews about its fun, mischievous tone.

Check 'em out! They'll be posting their answers next week, June 2.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Interview with Ryan Hill: Author of THE BOOK OF BART

Today I'm happy to congratulate Ryan Hill on the release of his debut, THE BOOK OF BART! In honor of his release, I've asked Ryan a few questions about his book and his journey to publication.


Only one thing is so powerful, so dangerous that Heaven and Hell must work together to find it: the Shard of Gabriel.

With a mysterious Black Cloud of Death hot on the shard’s trail, a desperate Heaven enlists the help of Bart, a demon who knows more about the shard than almost anyone. Six years ago, he had it in his hands. If only he’d used it before his coup to overthrow the devil failed. Now, he’s been sprung from his eternal punishment to help Samantha, an angel in training, recover the shard before the Black Cloud of Death finds it.

If Bartholomew wants to succeed, he’ll have to fight the temptation to betray Samantha and the allure of the shard. After an existence full of evil, the only way Bart can get right with Hell is to be good.

Buy it:

Nat: On your blog, you've described Bart as "a well-dressed Han Solo." Tell us more about what we can expect from him and what inspired his character.

RH: Bart is definitely old school Han Solo, but with a killer wardrobe. He's a scoundrel of the highest order. He wouldn't have just shot Greedo, he'd have toyed with the guy, belitted him, then killed him. Bart is also a habitual chain smoker, and has a proclivity for virgins. He's always up to no good, especially when it looks like he IS up to good. When we meet Bart, he's at about the lowest point in his existence. He's on the outs with Hell. He's forced to work with an angel-in-training. For him, he couldn't have landed in a worse spot. When someone's in a tight spot, they'll try to wiggle their way out, and that's what Bart is trying to do.

Bart originally began as a villain in an earlier manuscript I wrote that's since been abandonded. When coming up with him, I tried to imagine if I were a demon, and had been doing this whole corrupting souls thing for a few thousand years. I'd have gotten pretty bored with it after about, oh, four months. To cope with that, I'd make a game of everything. And that's Bart. He's certainly not your typical good guy, but he's not a murderous psychopath. He'll do what he has to do, but he's going to have fun doing it. I just remembered having so much fun writing him that I decided to give him his own story.

You have to walk a thin line when you're writing a story where the protagonist is a demon. If he's too evil, it will turn everybody off. But, Bart isn't your typical demon. He's not a company man. He's more about the shenanigans, than anything else. Plus, he's TERRIBLE at his job. There's a reason a demon finds himself on Hell's bad side.

Nat: Do you have a favorite scene you can tell us about?

RH: That's difficult to answer, without giving too much away. There's a car chase involving one of Hell's minions that's a lot of fun. Anytime Bart can get in digs against his former comrades, ie angels, is terrific fun to write. Honestly, I really enjoy all of it. If I could write stories involving Bart for the rest of my life, I've done something right. He's ridiculously fun to write, because he isn't afraid to say something shocking or sarcastic. He does things his own way, and he doesn't care if you don't like it.

Nat: Do you have any other books in the works?

RH: I do! My Black Hawk Down meets zombies novel Dead New World is coming in October, and I'm putting the final touches on another manuscript, called The Conch Shell of Doom. That one is just sheer insanity, with goblin sharks, evil dolphins, and a mystical conch shell.

Nat: Do you outline or wing it when it comes to plotting a story?

RH: Both. I lack the discipline to fully plot a story, plus I feel it can constrict the characters, and prevent them from taking the story in their own, organic direction. That said, you HAVE to know where your story is going. I always know how a story will end. Even winging it requires direction, and without it your story will just ramble on and eventually become pointless. You've got to have a destination in mind.

Nat: Tell us about your book's journey from first draft to publication. Did it undergo any major revisions?

RH: Sort of. Some of the scenes in Bart came from that abandoned manuscript, but from first draft to publication it's essentially been the same story. Obviously, when going through the editing process things get rewritten, changed, or deleted (one scene was choreographed to Johnny Cash's The Man Comes Around, but the lyrics had to be cut for licensing reasons), and while the wording is almost completely different, the story has remained in tact, and I feel the final draft of Bart is also the best draft there's been.

Nat: What has surprised you most about the publication process? Any words of advice for those debuting soon?

RH: That's a good question. I think the amount that falls on the author outside of writing is the most surprising. An author's job doesn't end when the book is finished, it almost feels like it's beginning.

Words of advice? Learn the business. Keep learning the business, even if you think you know it. Nobody takes the same road to get published. Lord knows I didn't. Get on Twitter. Network with other writers. Solicit constructive criticism of your work. Learn more about the business. Be prepared for a much, much longer journey than you imagined. And also write. Because...writing.

Thank you so much, Ryan, and congrats on your release!