Saturday, December 29, 2012

He Said, She Said, I Said What?

When Nat first started The Novel, she unintentionally wrote it in third person omniscient. She thought this an excellent way to write and thought it not jarring at all to switch between the heads of her characters at completely random intervals. It was also written with many passive sentences that made sentences a lot longer than they needed to be. Her husband thought it odd that she'd write a book at all, because only nerds did that, and he certainly hadn't married a nerd.

Then Nat submitted The Novel to its very first critique group. How shocked she was to learn she'd forgotten everything from English class and that her random head-swapping drove her readers crazy! But she could fix it; she rewrote every word and hacked off every funky adverb, and characters no longer said things merrily or blurted them out or sighed them, but just said them, and how they said them said everything. She limited her head-swapping to natural breaks in different chapters and thought now, she really had something.

Her husband decided he could live with that.

Soon after, Nat submitted The Novel to its very first editor. Where she realized that despite how clean the breaks were between characters, switching to another character's point of view for just a few paragraphs, to tell a tiny piece of the story, wasn't really... standard. Nor was it any new genius way of writing. She had a choice to make: minimize the number of viewpoints and write more of the story outside the MC, or change the entire thing to third limited.

She thought of books she loved, like Harry Potter and A Monster Calls. She thought of how disconnected she felt when more than two narrators told the story, and how she really preferred one.

She rewrote every word, again, from just the MC's point of view.

Then a few months ago, I started thinking about some amazing books I'd read in first person present tense. How immediate they felt. How I connected so much faster to the main character. How every thought just happened, and it wasn't forced, and for Pete's sake I teared up when a fictional dog died and I knew I had to have that. I don't know if I've succeeded, because a lot of the power behind first person is simply being human, thinking the good things and the bad things and everything between. I want to believe I've done a good job, but months pass and the publishing world gets bigger and I don't know anymore.

But that's what I've got so that's what I'm going with.

And that's how The Novel made it to first person.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The November Silence...

With holidays, another rewrite of The Novel and some self-imposed deadlines coming up, I'll be taking a small break from the blog. Know that I'm working away and should have some updates for you on this writer stuff in January. See you in '13!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cookies of Wisdom

Ever since I got serious about The Novel, I started paying attention to fortune cookie fortunes. Yes, it's stupid, like being in a new relationship and suddenly every song on the radio has to do with you and your boyfriend... anyway, here's proof that sometimes I get girlie about stuff:

Creepy-awesome fortunes. Click for full experience.

I'm rather proud of my little collection. And you've got to agree some of these are suspiciously appropriate, especially the 'Never stop' one I read after tonight's venture to Szechuan Panda.

Okay maybe they're random. But hey, I'll take every bit of encouragement I can find.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

That Voice Thing

I've decided Patrick Ness is one of the greatest authors on the planet. Not only because his novel A Monster Calls is possibly my favorite book ever, but because I just started his Chaos Walking trilogy, and realized the man is a master of voice. He wrote A Monster Calls in third limited, and did such a good job of it that it reads like first. There's not a single emotion in that book you go through without Conor. But Patrick wrote book one of Chaos Walking, The Knife Of Never Letting Go, in such a way that I'd guess it was a different author if it wasn't equally as compelling. It's first person, and Todd, the protagonist, is uneducated and simple, something you pick up from the first sentence just by the way he 'sounds.' And where Conor 'spoke' in short, sharp paragraphs, Todd tends to ramble (in the best way; I have yet to skim) and go light on the punctuation.

So what? Well, once upon a time (okay, like, maybelastyear) I went Googling for 'voice.' I wanted to know 1) what it was, exactly and 2) how I could improve mine. I found plenty of blogs commending good voice or saying all voices sounded different or what have you, but no one ever said, "This is how you do it." I decided when I found out, I'd write about it and The Mystery Would Be SOLVED for generations of new authors to come (assuming, of course, they randomly ended up at my little blog).

Except that's not going to happen.

Because now that I know what voice is, I can't really tell you how to write it :)

The more I read, the more I've realized voice isn't something you can ever describe, just like you can't say exactly why a certain singer sounds so much better than the others. Good voice simple is. It reads easy, it sounds natural, it compels you to keep going. There's no step-by-step guide; I think it's partially something you're born with, and partially something you develop by reading authors like Patrick Ness and writing, writing, writing.

Who are your favorite voices? Why?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hacking, Pressure Points, and Dissociative Identity Disorder

Someday my internet history is going to get me in trouble. For Random Side Project, I've Googled how you'd go about joining the hacker group Anonymous, what the most valuable personal information on the 'net is, and how to steal and resell it. I've researched Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and what characterizes it. For The Novel, I've watched countless YouTube videos on pressure points, how to KO someone in one hit, and the proper way to wield a sword. It's a lot of fun. But you might see how that could raise some eyebrows.

Writing, I've discovered, takes a lot of research. Anything you haven't actually experienced (and in my case, that's a loooong list) you have to get from somewhere else. Whether that's an emotion, an event, or a personality quirk, I refuse to guess at how something would make someone feel—I want to understand, as much as possible, what I'm writing about.

One of the classes I attended at PPWC 2012 was called Deep, Deeper, Deepest and it was all about channeling emotion in writing. "How do you write about losing someone if you've never experienced it?" someone asked. Our teacher assured us we didn't need to avoid an issue just because we hadn't gone through that exact tragedy (and we wouldn't have many books if that was the rule). "Recall a memory similar to the emotion," she said. "And deepen from there." So perhaps you haven't had an arm hacked off, but you've broken your wrist. Or even, stubbed your toe. Take that, deepen it. "You can also visit support forums and search videos for examples of people who actually have gone through what your character(s) are going through, or something very similar."

I've been fortunate enough to stumble across some fantastic novels with issues similar to my characters'. Personally, these work the best for me. I get to spend a week fully immersed in the issue, and most books cover the whole arc of emotion from tragedy to healing. And I get to study craft. And heck, I love to read.

What's in your internet history that's going to get you in trouble? (And YES, it has to be related to writing...)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Query Sabotage

Gmail is wonderful. It really is. I've used it for more than ten years and I won't use anything else. Still, little did I know that beneath those fancy, seemingly organized paragraphs of 13-point Arial was career sabotage in disguise.

Here's the deal. When you're querying, some agents want you to paste the first 5-10 pages of your manuscript into the body of the email. Attachments can be evil, and they take up mailbox disk space, so it makes perfect sense considering an agent could receive one to two hundred query letters a week.

So here I am, happily querying my little list, happily moving a fresh 'no thanks' to my special Don't Open Me Unless There's Chocolate folder, when I notice something funny. Below the agent's message was my query letter, except not my query letter. The synopsis paragraph was a completely different size and font. So was my signature. And those oh-so-important sample pages? Different font, and no line breaks between paragraphs.

What.

WHAT.

I clicked into my outbox. Located the query in question. Stared in disbelief at the blatant lie in front of my face. My version showed everything the same size and font, with paragraphs an appropriate distance apart. Irked, I forwarded the message to my Yahoo account and said something angry at my screen. There was the version of the email the agent had received, looking like I'd thrown it together in two seconds. And I had certainly spent much longer than that getting it ready.

So.

Forward your queries to a different email provider first so you can see what they (really) look like. I've started using a WYSIWYG editor (What You See Is What You Get) where I can switch to the source view of the html and take out all the super funky stuff Gmail inserts when I copy and paste. Then you can copy that back into Gmail and it should behave.

Don't let query sabotage happen to you!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Of Course I Planned It Like That

Every writer has a slightly different approach to writing. Some storyboard the major scenes, some know exactly what's going to happen from start to finish, some sit down with an idea and write until there's no more to write about. Throw a dart somewhere in that mix and you'll get my method. That is to say, I don't really have one. I always know how the book ends. I always know a couple key scenes that have to happen. But I can't outline it. Every scene has a ripple effect, and my characters often end up in entirely different places (physically and emotionally) than I anticipated. I love writing this way. To me it feels unpredictable and fresh, but the downside is that I inevitably reach a point (and oddly enough, it's usually just one place) where I'm not sure where to go next.

So over the weekend my husband took me backpacking. To those of you who aren't married to crazy people, backpacking is a special form of torture that involves strapping a third of your weight to your back, marching up a mountain, and staying there overnight. (Okay, yes, the lake at the top was pretty and I'm sure when I can move again without flinching I might think it was a fantastic idea.) Sunday morning, we're hiking down mile six of eight and to distract myself from wondering if you can still walk after your legs go numb, I start thinking about The Sequel. Suddenly the rest of the book tumbles through my head. Another couple miles and a creative attempt at writing on a bumpy four-by-four road, and I have The Rest Of It!! scribbled almost legibly on five tiny notepad sheets.

I've never had a plan like this before. Maybe that's what happens as you write more, or maybe that's just what happened for this book and the next will be entirely different. Either way, I'm thrilled to be over the current book's Now What? block so I can focus on turning those five tiny notepad sheets into 45k+ words.

What kind of writer are you? Does it change from project to project?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Please Hold For Next Available Representative

Querying literary agents is kind of like being stuck in an automated phone menu: you're not really sure if you've got the right number, you're not really sure which button will get you through, and when you are lucky enough to get through, they often want to transfer you to someone else.

I can be dramatic at times (family members: you just keep quiet). Turns out that works well in some professions, like writing and acting :) Turns out it doesn't work well when the rejection letters start rolling in. Every rejection gets my mind spinning. Was my query confusing/not exciting? Was the first chapter boring? Or was it honestly something the agent didn't click with? I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong, if I'm doing anything wrong, and it's driving me crazy.

On QueryTracker.net, you can view comments for any agent in their database and read how long they typically take to respond to a query/partial request/etc. Writers who signed with that agent will often leave comments too, and some of them will leave links to their blogs. I decided to check out one such author to see if she'd blogged about her query numbers. Up until now I've been under the impression that the great books go fast, and if I'm getting all these rejections... well, maybe I'm not in that category. But this particular author had signed with an agent who has a ton of bestsellers under her belt, so I thought, this is a good author. How long did it take her?

100 queries sent. 22 partial requests. Three offers of representation.

So, while refraining from calling my mother and telling her no one likes me and I'm a terrible writer, at least I know that even a potential bestseller had to go through 100 people to find the right agent.

Deep breath.

Onward.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Let Simmer For One Year...

It's been a year since I finished the first draft of The Novel and made the (ridiculous) declaration: "If I don't have an agent by next August, I'm self-publishing—no matter what!" Apparently I thought this book thing should have a fast track and I should be on it. Looking back, I've learned a lot—a LOT—about patience and perseverance and how getting published works. And I'm very glad I didn't stay on my "Must Get Published Today!" warpath, because I would've missed out on so many important lessons (and I'm not saying self-publishing is a bad thing, just that the way I would've jumped into it, without learning everything I've learned, would've made it a disaster).

The year's lessons at a glance:

My Round 2 edits came back last week. My editor was thrilled with the revisions, so much so that the word 'verklempt' made an appearance! I had to read one of her lines over and over when she noted there were only a few small changes to make. I was expecting another couple weeks' worth, at least, and after two hours of tweaks, I sat and stared at the "There are no more changes or comments left in the document" message and tried to remember what I was supposed to do next.

Oh, right. That querying thing again.

Last time, I gathered 50+ agent names and sent out batches of 5-10 letters. I didn't really care who represented me as long as they rep'ed my genre and were passionate about my book. When a rejection came in, I rolled another letter out. It was a terrible cycle. Out of 50+ emails, I only got one request for pages, which resulted, three days later, in another rejection.

This time I'm being much more deliberate. I've only sent out one query so far, and yesterday that agent requested the first 30 pages. I think I'm finally on the right track.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Words I Can't Spell Without Spell Check

What I'm Reading Now: Split, by Swati Avasthi

While working on The Novel's sequel, I ran into my least favorite word ever: nauseous. First, I hate that feeling more than any other symptom of illness in the world. Second, I can never, EVER spell it without typing some random I-know-it's-wrong combo of n, a, e, and s, then waiting for the squiggly red line so I can right-click and have Word correct it. I always want to spell it 'naeseous' or something crazy, because I know there's a funky 'ea' combo in there (only in nausea, as it turns out), and yes, every single time it appears in this paragraph with the correct spelling, I've copied/pasted.

What words make you stop and think? Here's what I can think of off the top of my head, with the way I want to spell them in parens:

Nauseous/nausea (n#$(@#!s/n*#$!!a)
February (Febuary)
Massachusetts (Massachusettes)
Armageddon (Armagedeon)
Hors d'oeuvres (Hor Dourves)
Cartilage (Cartilege)
Caesar (Ceasar--maybe it's just the ae combos I hate so much...)
Conscious (Concious/Consious)
Indict (Indite... a legit word, but has a very different meaning)
Lasagna (I spell this one fine, but I'm saying 'La-sag-nay' in my head when I do)
Lieu (Leui)
Mnemonic (Neumonic)
Subpoena (Subpeona/Supena... sopapilla? :) )

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Writing Catch-22

What I'm Reading Now: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (I told you I'd reread it)

My first draft of The Novel took five months. Though I'd use 'five months' loosely, because the first few months I spent maybe an hour or two every other day writing, then as I got more into it and the plot started to solidify, I'd spend more and more time until I was working a few hours every day, including weekends. It was fantastic. It was easy. I only hit one place where I couldn't think what to write next, so I threw in a fight scene. Problem solved.

When I'd finished, I had possibly the worst first draft ever written (both craft-wise and plot-wise, because let's face it... I hadn't read a book in over a year and who needs grammar, anyway??). But I was proud of my 68,000-word project. I'd written a book. And it had been so easy!

Fast forward 10 months, through hours and hours of painstaking revisions (2,857 of them, according to Word); eight beta readers; books on craft, grammar, and (most importantly) fiction similar to my genre. Through a fantastic editor who taught me more about the structure of a novel than any old 'Write Your Own Book!' er... book. The Novel is a whole new animal. Something I might actually be willing to let strangers read, soon.

New problem.

I've started working on The Novel's sequel. Now that I (kind of) know what I'm doing, I'm thinking about things as I go along: What does this scene do for the plot? How/when should I reveal the secrets characters A and B are hiding to be most effective? How can I draw more similarities between the antagonist and my protagonist? I guess it's good to think (-smile-), in the hopes that I won't have so many changes to make in subsequent drafts. But it also means I'm spending more time staring at the page, wondering if I'm going in the right direction, wondering if this is a scene I'll end up cutting.

I'll find that happy medium soon, I hope, in which I begin writing again with reckless abandon, and save my worries for the next draft. But man, writing was so much easier when I had no idea what I was doing...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Query Me This

What I'm Reading NowThe Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

Query letter.

Two words that spike my heart rate to unsafe levels. I've blogged about this before, but only in reference to a class I was taking and the feedback from my instructor. Now that I'm getting close to querying again (maybe. Keep your fingers crossed...), I've been thinking about this little letter and drafted a version I'm planning to send out in a few months' time. Which makes me even more excited to send it. I've got to hide the file or something so I stop messing with it.

For those of you who don't know what a query letter is, it's a one-page, single-spaced note/email of no more than 300 words or so, that has one goal and one goal only: to get an agent to request your manuscript. It consists of three seemingly harmless parts:

Paragraph One
Brief introduction, shameless agent flattery, reason you're querying this agent and not just everyone on AgentQuery.com, and the word count/genre/title of your book.

Paragraph Two
One-sentence hook followed by mini-synopsis. Synopsis should read like the jacket copy on the back of a book and give an idea of who the protagonist is, what his/her Big Problem is, and why he/she cannot simply walk away. Yes, that means you have to condense your 75k+ word novel into about 150 words. The 'hook,' a magical sentence that should touch on the novel's Big Problem and compel the agent to keep reading, should top the paragraph. That one sentence is probably the hardest thing I've ever crafted in my life. It's taken me ten months, one critique group and two query letter classes to create the mini-synopsis I have now, and I'm still working on my hook.

Paragraph Three
Any pertinent accomplishments as a writer (if you have none, leave them out), thank-you-for-your-time, and the all-important "May I send the manuscript to you?". I'll also add here that my manuscript's been through a dev edit for some extra brownie points.

A query letter is definitely not something to rush through, or you'll end up with all rejections at best, or on sites like SlushPile Hell at worst. At the publishing class I went to in Denver, agent Megibow said if you aren't getting a positive response of at least 40% (so, 2 'yes, send it!'s out of 5 submissions), look hard at your manuscript. That seemed like funny advice to me at the time, because a good query letter should fetch a 'yes' regardless of the manuscript, right? But Ms. Megibow said the query reveals more about the quality and readiness of the story than writers realize, and if it's lacking voice or clarity or excitement, the manuscript probably is, too.

My current query letter synopsis got the "I like it" from an agent at PPWC 2012, so I'm hoping I finally have a draft that can shine in the slush. Guess we'll see in a few months...!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Those Golden Beta Readers

What I'm Reading NowThe Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

Stephen King says, write your first draft with the door shut, your second with the door open. But once you open the door, how do you get the most out of your readers? It's great if your friend Sally says, "I loved it!" or your brother Joe says, "I really like the action scenes!"—but that doesn't help you improve your manuscript. Here's a list of questions I wish I'd had for my first-round readers*:
  1. Describe the main character/antagonist/[name of any major secondary character] to me.
  2. Is there anything you're still confused about?
  3. Do you have any outstanding questions about the story/world?
  4. Did the ending tie up the loose ends?
  5. Could you picture the world of the novel? Were there any places you wished I'd described in more detail?
  6. How would you describe the relationship between the main character and his father? His sister? The antagonist?
  7. What did you think when character A did/said this to character B?
  8. Did any parts of the book seem slow or out of place?
  9. What was your favorite scene and why?
  10. Favorite character and why?
  11. Did the relationships seem real or were there parts where you felt a reaction/relationship was forced/over-the-top?
  12. What thoughts/impressions did the book leave you with?
*Salt and pepper to taste. By the way: while they're answering, I've learned to resist the urge to counter-explain right then and there. This is important since I'll usually have a beta reader take another look months down the line, and I want the answer to come from my manuscript in case I miss the mark in my revisions.

I try to make the questions as neutral as possible. It puts the reader in a sticky spot if you ask things like "Did you like the main character?", especially if the reader is a friend or family member. At least, I get much more out of, "I'd describe the main character as humorous and slightly insecure, but willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants" than something like, "Yeah, he was cool." For instance, I asked my brother to describe the antagonist. The minute 'ditzy' came out of his mouth, I knew I had work to do.

My beta readers have helped polish a lot of cloudy pieces out of The Novel. Are they a substitute for a professional? No, and you can read why here, but I'd consider them an important prerequisite.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Strap on Your Backpack—It's a Long Hike

What I'm Reading Now: Legend, by Marie Lu

Ever wanted something so bad it feels like you're waking up to the day before a big vacation, but never the day of? That's the stage I'm at now with The Novel. With today's instant Google searches and emails and text messages, I'm used to getting what I want within seconds. The Internet is a wonderful, infinite, deceptive little thing.

Because that's not how writing a book works.

When I finished my first draft, I would have laughed if you'd told me, "You know, you won't be querying agents for this project for at least another year." I would've said there's no way I could make that many changes. It was done, for Pete's sake, and it couldn't change that much, right? And besides, I'm not nearly that patient. I would have an agent within six months (I mean, c'mon, that's plenty of time) or die trying.

One month passed. Two. Eight. No agent yet, and I'm still breathing.

Thank goodness, too. I still had so much to learn about the process. In October I realized this and switched my focus from trying to get published to improving my manuscript. Still, I had to work very hard to harness my excitement. I think I've been through the seven stages of grief during this process, and sometimes I catch myself slipping back. But when I query again, I don't want to have something half-baked that a hundred agents overlook before one (if any) decides maybe my book's worth the work. That work has to go into it now, and that takes time, and I'm slowly accepting that fact.

You might be waiting on something, too. A new job, Mr./Mrs. Right, a move to another city/country. But if I've learned anything, it's that a dream is not a race. It's a hitchhiking trip from Boston to Los Angeles with a backpack that starts empty and fills as you go. You'll meet people along the way who can point you in the right direction, but there are going to be lots of times you want to scream, "Am I there yet??"

No, not yet. But every day's a step closer.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Setting As Character

What I'm Reading Now: Insurgent, by Veronica Roth

At the conference in April, I had the privilege of listening to agent/author Donald Maass speak on strong point-of-view characterization with setting. I've already bragged up and down about Donald Maass and how much his book The Breakout Novelist has helped me, so I'll spare you my fangirl raving. But I will tell you the man can speak, and his workshop at the conference was one of the most powerful. This is what I took away from his lecture.

What is setting as character?
Authors spend hours, days, years developing characters and bringing them to life. Everyone's process is different (I'm one of those 'WHO NEEDS A MAP? DRIVE!' writers), but when all's said and done, you've got a character with experiences and feelings that make them unique from everyone else. Why should setting be any different? A setting is just as alive as the people within it, as the memories surrounding it. As Mr. Maass says (and I love this): the silence in a sleeping child's bedroom is much different than the silence in a deserted subway at 2 AM.

Generic description is what readers skim most. Makes sense--I don't really care how many candles are in the chandelier or if the carpet's blue or purple. I do care if the chandelier once fell and lit the building on fire. I care even more if the character knew someone who died in the accident.

Let's put it to practice. How many words do you read of this before you start skimming?

It was a bright room, with a domed ceiling and little holes set at intervals where the sunlight filtered in. A wooden table stood in the center. A few trinkets glistened upon the red tablecloth, forks and plates and a gold chalice. A turkey steamed on the one side. A man sat in a chair at the other.

"Aren't you going to eat?" he asked.

Versus:

Sunlight burned through holes in the dome's ceiling like a hundred prying eyes. The room was too open. Too bare. It held nothing but a table, and even the scarlet tablecloth (red, of course it's red, because if it were anything else I could leave) didn't drop far enough to hide beneath. The place settings glistened like surgeon's tools. I ignored the steaming turkey and stared at the man in the chair, whose scent wafted more tempting than anything set for the feast.

"Aren't you going to eat?" he asked.

Quite a different feel to the same room, no? And maybe that's not a great example. I'm still learning myself, of course, but hopefully I've conveyed a general idea of what Mr. Maass is talking about. The first paragraph could have been written by any character, could appear in any book. It's generic. Detached. But I could rewrite any number of second paragraph examples using different characters. Imagine how much it would change if the person was an interior decorator, or she knew the man, or had an obsession with turkey, or ... you get the point. Strong point-of-view description tells you about the character as much as it does the environment.

Now, is it always appropriate? Mr. Maass says, not always. Sometimes the setting is interesting enough on its own, and for anything with action in it--a chase scene, say--the last thing you want is your character pausing to think about that empty Coke bottle. Then again, a rushed description of what's flying by could still be considered part of setting as character. Maybe your character -does- notice little details even on the run, or maybe he just barrels through and trips on things because he's so oblivious.

This isn't easy. It's still something I'm working on in my current manuscript, and it eats a lot of brain cells. But it adds a whole new dimension to your characters and can shift the mood for a scene from 'eh' to 'MORE PLS.' If you've got generic description, customize it for your point-of-view character. I think you'll like where it takes you.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Editing Process, Round 1

What I'm Reading Now: Breaking Beautiful, by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Despite all the blog-stalking I did to answer the question "what is a developmental edit, really?", I was still apprehensive when the much-awaited email from my editor arrived. "She hates it!" I worried; "She's going to tell me, 'This was an amusing first try. Better luck next time.'" (I won't lie when I tell you my conference experience is mostly to blame for that.)

Buuuut... Ms. Jamie Chavez kept her promise that she's just as much cheerleader as critic.

If you have an editor like Ms. Chavez, you'll receive two documents when she's completed the initial edit: one with notes on Big Picture issues like plot, point-of-view, characterization, world building, miscellaneous loose ends, and one that's your actual manuscript with comments in the margins. My favorite section is the beginning of the first doc, a couple pages of "things that worked!" And there are things that need work, of course, but none of her suggestions make me feel like it's not my story anymore.

And I figured out just why you need an editor:
  • Someway, somehow, Jamie pulled more out of one month/two read-throughs of my manuscript than myself and five+ beta readers over a year/dozens of read-throughs
  • Her attention to detail is scary-good (how, HOW she keeps track of all these little things, I will never know)
  • She can speak into the construction of the book, something I've never really thought about while reading. The proper use of multiple point of views, moving the inciting incident to the first six pages, challenging whether the right protagonist is front-and-center.
  • Her encouragement is invaluable. Hearing "This is great!" from your best friend or your mom is cool, but it's another thing entirely when an industry professional says, "You've done so many things right here."

There are big changes. I'll be rewriting/chopping the first few chapters. I'll be rewriting/chopping the ending. I'll be switching from multiple points of view to a single third person perspective. But with Jamie's helpful notes and suggestions, some very interesting things are already in motion. For instance, you'd think forcing multiple perspectives into a single would obscure the antagonist's motivations, right? If you're not in the bad guy's head and you don't have a, "Before I kill you, Mr. Bond," moment, how do you justify his actions throughout the book? But despite this, somehow I've gone from a 'muahaha' antagonist to someone I can sympathize with, to someone I feel sorry for, because that's how my protagonist perceives her. Just hope I can pull it off.

And that's only the tip of the iceberg. So for anyone asking the question "Should I invest in a developmental edit before I query agents?", I'm going to tell you yes, yes you should.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

PPWC 2012

Or, what NOT to do at your next conference.

What I'm Reading Now: The Giver, by Lois Lowry

Well. To say my first conference didn't go smoothly, is putting it nicely. I suppose I did meet my goal, which was to make new friends and start networking. I'll go day by day.

Thursday
    The best day of the conference by far. Workshops included Perfecting your Pitch and query letter basics/critique. I met a fantastic writer named Rachael Dahl (more on her later). The pitch coaches helped me condense my pitch into two sentences. Agent Kristin Nelson critiqued our query letters in the afternoon, and after helping me clarify one confusing sentence, said, "I like it." So good to hear that, since it's been months in the making!

Friday
    First thing in the morning, 8:35 AM, I read the first page of my novel to an agent I was sure would be my new BFF. We like many of the same books and the things she's looking for are all over my manuscript.
    End fairy tale.
    Before I finished reading, she was marking things on her paper. I barely sat down before she started talking. She said there was no tension in the scene, that there's too much 'telling' versus 'showing' in the second paragraph, that the scene had a commercial quality but that my voice was, and yes she used this word, bland.
    Just so you know, voice is everything--everything--in writing. It's your personal style. The compelling quality that keeps a reader reading. Granted, I had cut a lot out of my first page to try and get to a certain place on page 2 I thought was a better place to end. Maybe that took the voice out of it. I hope so, because if my voice really is boring... ouch. But I do see her point, on all counts, and while I'm so disappointed I blew a chance to impress her, a new scene will be born from her feedback.
    The rest of the day went by in a fog, but I did accidentally sit with Donald Maass at lunch (he's one of the coolest and most successful agents in the business), so when I query him later that'll be a great thing to include in the opening of my letter. I also attended some awesome workshops. If nothing else, I have plenty to think about for my next revision.

Saturday
    More awesome workshops. Tried to keep my head down and learn things, and I did learn a lot of things.
    Dinner. Oh my gosh. If you're not ready to pitch, don't wing it. I told myself I wouldn't pitch, that I'd just sit with agent Evan Gregory and if he asked about my book I'd give him my log line and see what happened. He didn't ask, but for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to pitch anyway, at which time I learned he'd received two similar pitches that weekend. Hard to hear, because I thought I had something unique. That wasn't the worst part. He asked me questions about my book. You'd think they'd be easy to answer, right? I mean, I've been working on this thing for over a year, I created everything in it, how hard could it be?
    I blanked. He asked me about the world of the novel. After an awkward pause, I muttered something about a parallel Earth where they wore jeans and used magic instead of electricity (wow, aren't you aching to read it now??). I told him the protagonist's sister was on a hit list because she's part of an elite group of people that has twice the power of anyone else in the world. Evan said something about, "yeah, can't let anyone have too much power, right?" That's not the reason my antagonist is after them. Of course, I didn't tell him the antagonist has found a way to use their blood to make himself stronger. I said "Eh, well..." and started talking about something else.
    No, I wouldn't request sample pages from me either.
    So please, please please if you pitch a book, be ready to answer the following questions and don't assume you can just think of the answers on the spot:
  1. What the world of your novel is like. What makes it unique? Why is this a place your reader wants to escape to?
  2. The motivation of your antagonist
  3. What drives your protagonist/what kind of person he is
  4. Details about your character's arc; how he's different at the end versus the beginning (and yes, they might ask you how it ends. Part of my problem during this exchange was I was trying -not- to reveal anything that would spoil the ending)
  5. Don't ramble. If you have to pause to think, tell the agent you need to gather your thoughts. No one likes awkward pauses.
    Evan tried so, so hard to get creative details out of me. I just wasn't prepared. Lesson learned. Rachael Dahl, the writer I met on Thursday, sat next to me while I humiliated myself. Bless her. She reminded me later that he wouldn't have asked questions if he wasn't at all interested, that my book is fine, that I just need to practice my pitch and I didn't do bad for my first one. Especially one I hadn't prepared for (she, by the way, got two requests for her manuscript at the conference, one by the aforementioned Donald Maass. So excited for her!).

I would probably consider this the 'low point' of my journey. The realization I still have a lot of work to do, that I blew chances you don't get everyday. But I also learned what I need to do for next time, and for any of you out there writing a book or thinking about it, I hope you can learn from me without going through it yourself. 

Time to digest everything, and revise.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Exciting Month of April

What I'm Reading Now: Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi

Three exciting events this month! I've been slacking with the blog. I know it. But I should have some fun updates soon regarding:
  1. The Crazy Novel - developmental edit begins April 6th! What's a developmental edit, you say? Well, I think my editor says it best.
  2. The Conference - Pikes Peak Writer's Conference 2012, April 19-22. Workshops, agents, editors, oh my!
  3. My "Golden" Birthday - if you can believe it, I'll be 28 on the 28th. Or, as I'd prefer to think of it, I'll be having my 7th annual 21st b-day celebration. Not really sure how we'll be celebrating yet. I'm sure yard games and a grill will be involved.
More later. Nat out!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Every Step Closer

What I'm Reading Now: City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare

As a few of you may remember, I entered a writing contest in November. I knew the work wasn't ready, but I decided to go for it anyway to gauge if I was on the right track. I got my act together, cleaned up the first 4,000 words of my novel, wrote my first synopsis, crossed my fingers, and hit submit.

Four months later and a gmail alert pops up on my desktop - results from the contest! Not really knowing what to expect, I was a little hesitant to open the judges' scoresheets. I remembered while reading the contest rules that you had to score at least a 160/200 and place in the top three of your category to be placed in front of an agent. I was just hoping I'd scored above 160.

I'd been having nightmares all week about what kinds of things the judges would say. I welcome criticism, I think know it's the only way to improve, but sometimes it's hard to hear. To my surprise, I opened the first one: 84 out of 100. She liked my voice. She really liked my premise. She had excellent feedback on stuff I could get rid of in the first chapter, and suggestions on how to clarify the character arc in the synopsis. Pretty happy with that result, I opened number two. Score: 93 out of 100 by a judge who's a published author. She loved my writing style and also thought the premise was unique. She, too, had great suggestions for where I could tighten things up, gave me three bonus points at the end because she liked it so well, and her closing comments: "Can't wait to read this on my Nook!"

I didn't place in the top three for my category, but I'm very happy with my 177, especially considering this was an 'old' version of the novel and many things have changed since then. If nothing else, the contest has boosted my confidence that I'm headed the right direction, and with a little more polishing, my little book will soon be ready for an agent's eyes.

I think I can do this...?!


Monday, February 6, 2012

Muse-ical

What I'm Reading Now: Hounded, by Kevin Hearne

Music inspires me. I'm one of those people who can't think about anything else if a great song is on (just ask my husband, who's made the mistake of trying to hold a conversation with me during Linkin Park's Breaking the Habit). There's really nothing like connecting with a song that speaks to you both rhythmically and lyrically, and for most of my favorite songs, I can tell you when and where I first heard them.

I love to hear new tunes on the radio. They help me attach emotion to scenes in my novel and picture new scenes that need to happen. If you remember this post, one of the things I've been working on is digging deeper into my characters. I can't write while listening to music, it influences my mood too much, but I've rushed out of the car more than once this year scrambling for pen and paper to jot down an idea. Some of my favorites right now are:

Lion, by Rebecca St. James
Set Fire to the Rain, by Adele
We Found Love, by Rihanna
White Rabbit, by Egypt Central
Love You Like A Love Song, Selena Gomez & The Scene
You Make Me Feel, by Cobra Starship

A couple of the videos are kind of weird, but at least you can hear 'em. And yes, you can call them terrible if you want, because my husband certainly didn't hold back. But I can map each of these to a scene in The Novel, and music will continue to inspire and direct me going forward.

What songs inspire you the most? What is it about them that connects with you?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Here's to Another Thousand


What I'm reading now: Clockwork Prince, by Cassandra Clare

Discovered a little feature in Word 2010 that tells you minutes you've spent editing a document (it's under File, then look all the way over at Properties on the right side of the screen). So I took a look at the time I've spent on my manuscript. I'm not sure how accurate this is, because I might've left it open without working on it or I might've created a new file halfway through, but the current draft has 1,056.75 hours logged against it. And yup, there's still a ton of work to do.

To give you a better idea of what that means, if you worked 8 hours a day straight, no lunch break, no bathroom breaks, and absolutely no weekends off, it would take you 132 days to put 1,056 hours into something. That rivals my husband's Modern Warfare hourage. Scary.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

82,000 words!

What I'm Reading Now: Pirate Latitudes, by Michael Crichton

My rewrite of the ending has led me into new territory - 300 pages and 82,000 words! Woo, I think it took about 400,000+ words to get there, but I'm very happy with the progress. Even better, I read the last hundred pages of the book to Collin on the drive home from Loveland (it took the whole three hours) and my book-avoiding, rolls-eyes-at-fantasy-stuff husband actually admitted he liked it and is helping me clarify a couple things before I send it off to the editor. Of course, he may just be saying that because he's a good hubby. I appreciate it either way.

I hope everyone is having a Happy New Year! I'm very excited for 2012 and can't wait to see what the year will bring. Hope you've made your resolutions... I know what mine is!
 

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