Thursday, September 29, 2011

In Need of Help... maybe the kind with a couch

Unfortunately, I don’t think the help I need can come from the outside. I’m in need of help with the craft. I’m in that really really insecure part of a revision. I’m struggling to put together a compelling opener for my soon-to-be query bait. It’s having a hard time catching the eyes of anyone who reads it, so that’s gotta change. It’s top heavy, and bloated in places, thread bear and breathless in others.

I had this great opener for it, but I’ve changed around some chapters and now my awesome characterization seems out of place. So that has to go. But then how to start? ERRRG. And to think this is merely reason number 857 that writers are bat$**7 crazy. So here I am, leading with more action, and struggling to build in enough characterization and information for the reader not to be completely lost.

And it’s hard. Of course, pretty much all of writing is hard, so I guess my struggling is a good sign. Right? I mean if it were easy then I’d know I was taking a short cut and not really putting in the work, right?

I totally sound like that crazy kid in high school right now.

Still, I know I’m not the only writer who pulls her hair out when they find the broken places in their novel and has to fix them. Right now I’m fixating on other peoples openings like at MSFV and Mother. Write. (Repeat.), but how does everyone else handle the My-manuscript-is-broken-OMG-how-do-I-fix-it moments?

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Whole Package: Part 1 Voice

The Whole Package is a series describing the whole writer. This is part 1 of (n+1) where n equals the number of posts that I think it takes to cover the topic (subject to change)

Finding my voice (or Learn From My Fail)

When I started blogging (not all that long ago), I think I did it because it was the expected thing. I didn’t put too much into it, and I really REALLY didn’t want to be directing agents to my super secret blog where I’ve clearly shared too much, and in all the wrong ways. But when I started blogging what I noticed was that all the blogs I read were written by writers about writing. At first I thought, oh, I’ll use this as a way to update people on what I’m doing. I can just talk about the whole publishing process (and won’t my future fans be pleased when they can read all this crap online?). But then I read somewhere that I wasn’t supposed to post about the trials and tribulations of querying. Besides, it would get boring “I queried agent XYZ today, and I got another form rejection letter.” Yeah, that would get old quick.


It was hard to put all of that away though. In my mind’s eye, I was just a successful query letter away from finding Agent Awesome, and that was just a tiny stepping stone away from the book deal. I really felt like I was knocking on the door to the greatest party on the planet. But if that’s not what I’m supposed to do in a blog, I decided to play along, but finding something else to talk about, or ways to talk about how the querying process sounded more like a side note in my life and not the crushing defeat that it felt like at the time was grueling.

I had to dig deep and find other things to make it worthwhile. There were blog fests (One of my all time favorites was Elizabeth Poole’s 50 follower blog fest, OMG that was fun) and the friends. There were silly contests. And there was the talking about the process. Lots and lots of talking about the process. What I’ve learned from blogging about my process is that I have no clue how my process works. Every time I think I have a process, I go and do everything differently, and I mean everything. The whole thing was a struggle. Being involved and not talking about how I got my thirtieth (I know that's a baby number for rejections) rejection on the same day where I read about some writer who whipped out a query letter for her first novel ever and landed an agent a week later, that was a struggle. 

But for me, struggling is good.

It’s stupid, but it’s true. I don't like to struggle, and so I do everything I can to not struggle the next time through. I knew I needed to work on my craft (and oh boy, I am not saying I'm 'there' yet). I knew my grammar and storytelling had some issues. I worked. And I started to realize that the project I was working on was not going to cut it with anything shy of a full rewrite. When you find yourself with your back against the wall, the truth will out. With a pile of rejections at my feet, I was able to look at my writing in a new way, and to realize something very important:

I might never be published.

Seriously, I could write awesome stories and through the world’s crummiest set of luck--poor timing, bad ideas, wrong market, not the greatest writing, never finding the right agent, never selling a book, you name it—I could really and truly never be published. It became a real possibility for me.

Before that moment, I’d sort of taken it for granted that given enough time and effort, I could open any door on the planet, and publishing just had a tricky lock. But with my stack of rejections, the other option looked startlingly real.

I guess here is where I should say something like, “No, I haven’t given up. I haven’t even given up on the project that brought this home for me. I’m still writing, and I’m still going to try to get published.” So there’s no need to send in a rescue mission full of chocolate and red wine—I’m okay, I’m just sharing (probably too much, as usual).

In that place where I faced the cold reality that luck, completely beyond my control, is part of the road to traditional publication, I took a step back and looked at what I was writing. I wrote a book I was just sure would take off like a rocket. I wrote it in a way I thought an editor would like. I put it in third person because I thought that’s how the more serious stories are told. That’s “how it’s done” so that’s how I did it. I should have known better. For years I’ve been writing stories to please editors. I have nearly thirty little stories that have, in one way or another, been through the hands of an editor, and not one of those stories has ever pleased the people I’d written them for. Not once has an editor said “Wow, I can see that you wrote this for me, so I’m going to buy it because I’m sure there are tons of other editors out there and they’d like to read this story too.”

Not once. Not ever.

Staring down the barrel of maybe never finding my name in print—at least when it wasn’t right under a title like “Heterogenous alteration of Allende CAIs, constrain parent body alteration conditions,” a real bestseller there, I tell you—I realized I’d been writing everything all wrong. I had a moment where I said to myself, “Well, if I’m never going to be published, then I have a simple choice: I can give up now, or I can write for me.”

And something happened: I found my voice. I’d been suppressing it for years because I thought that the luminaries of publishing would frown on my down and dirty telling it like it is, laugh in the face of tragedy, and flip the bird to any asshole who tells you you're not good enough. My sarcastic tongue could be better put to quoting Hemingway, or at least Silverberg. Wouldn’t my tributes to Frank Herbert at least catch the eyes of the serious editors and agents?

It’s one of life’s most basic lessons, and I continue to ignore it at every opportunity. Do things for you, not for other people. You can sing till you’re blue, but until you sing for yourself you’ll never have anything worth listening to. Writing is no different. I went back through some of my old work and the parts my old crit partners loved were always the places where I let my voice through. Those moments were usually only for a line or two because I had some “serious” writing I needed to do, but every time the me in my writing snuck through, everyone wanted more.

And here’s where things get interesting. So, I’ve started writing for just me, and that means I’ve now alienated some people. Not everyone wants down and dirty, tell it like it is (with a side of humor). There are plenty of people who want the world wrapped in pink tissue paper and carried in a nice little gift bag. I wrote like vanilla ice cream to please as many people as possible, but let’s be honest, I’ve always been a bit more pralines and cream (you know, a tasty blend, with some rough edges).

I know agents and editors always go on about voice, but it really is just that simple: Voice is you. It is the only bit of you your novel really gets to have. The story you’re writing? someone has already written a version of it, probably a couple hundred times. The words you’re using? Those are someone else’s too (unless you’re a word forger, but chances are one of the other 1.6 billion English speakers has come up with it once or twice already). It’s kind of like a building—yes, this is the cheesy analogy to writing—we’ve already made a ton of buildings; mostly buildings are put together with a standard set of building materials: nails, screws, bolts boards, metal I beams, etc.; but every building that is well designed is different. That’s voice. It’s the difference between the Guggenheim and your next door neighbor’s house.

Guggenheim, see, it's all pretty and different.

Possibly your neighbor's house.

The difference is Voice.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Funday

Pretty much today is the day full of stuff I shouldn’t be doing. I won’t go into details, but I’m spending some well earned time with a frumpy superhero (I have some work time scheduled this weekend, so it all evens out). But while I’m taking my new superhero powers for a spin around the galactic neighborhood, I thought I’d send a couple of shouts out to a couple of contests.

This one ends today, but it’s a great idea. Post your first 250 words of your YA or MG novel and see if real teens want to read more. I know it sounds pretty simple, but there you have it. They have some nifty looking prizes, so I, as always, recommend giving it a go. Besides possibly winning some feedback from some teens (who are knee deep in publishing, mind) isn’t such a bad thing.

Then there’s a query critique to be had over at Rene Collins. All you have to do is post about your Best Writer Friend, you know, that one person who keeps you going in writing. The query critique will be given by a real live agent and everything.

Now back to saving the universe and changing diapers.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ah, young love

Since my going on about the project I’ve fallen in love with will get boring real quick, I have a question for everyone who writes:

What is your favorite part of your work in progress?

For me, it’s definitely that moment when I have the idea for my WIP and I know there’s a whole novel in there. I love that feeling. It’s like scoring a goal in a big game, or playing a great solo—at the concert for once! For me, that moment is PFM (Pure Farking Magic).

Of course, the lightning strike never comes at a time when my plate is cleared of all my other projects, so I take notes, and put my idea in a folder where it simmers. And my next favorite moment is when I start. The real reason why these are my favorite parts is because they’re the easiest. My subconscious came up with the idea, and at the beginning, all novels are still great. It’s in the swampy middles, and plot hole filled endings that make us want to tear our hair out and shout invocations at the gods of English.

And speaking of English, here’s a history of English in ten minutes. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The book I shouldn't be writing

Oh, I can almost hear the internet grown under the weight of yet another writer posting about their process/journey.

I started writing a book. Then because it wasn't working out, I sort of waffled around and stopped. Yeah, I know real original, right? Well it happens to everyone. I posted a little while back on why my projects stall out, and by rights, that should be that, right? Write the book or move on. But for some reason neither answer seemed to work for me. I really felt like I had this book buried in me, somewhere.

I needed to read about ten books before I wrote it (seriously, there’s been some awesome writing in this category in the past, and I don’t want to walk on people’s toes). You’d think that I’d put those ten books right at the top of my list, but nope, I've just procrastinated away. I thought maybe it was because I wasn't getting it, or that I couldn't do military science fiction any more. Then it hit me, those books were exactly the kind of book I don't write: deep, dark, serious, heavy on the science, and all about the trials of war.

Now, considering that I was planning to also write a book about war, it’s a genre I should be cool with. And at some point I was, but nowadays, I need my horror of war mixed liberally with a side of ironic humor. Which is my problem. I loved the concept of the deep, poetic, novel about the choices given to the lowest class of citizen (rogue AI) in the time of interstellar war to determine the continued existence of humanity. It was going to be about sacrifice and finding our places in the universe (even if you are a rogue AI based off the memories of a teenage girl).

Turns out, I’m not that deep.

I couldn’t stand writing from the angsty position of the downtrodden AI. There wasn’t enough conflict. There was no humor. Now, it might come as a shock, but I think humor is the way to go. When my family comes into crisis, it’s like the world stops turning. Then out of the darkness, someone cracks a joke, and we can somehow move on. It’s a thing of magic, the strength of humor. There we all are, thinking the worst thoughts, paralyzed by the sheer tragedy of the situation, and then someone kicks it out into the realm of funny. That’s the moment everyone talks about, laugh or cry. My family has always laughed, sometimes while we’re still crying, but we always laugh. So I need humor.

And as such I’ve started a new project. It should be about the strength of humor and how it saves lives and brings us to a new understanding of our place in the universe. My novel should be about the strength and perseverance of the human race in the face of certain tragedy.

But I’m still not that deep.

This is the semester I plan to defend my big, serious, deep dissertation of doom. I need something a little less “greatness of humanity” and a bit more Sailor Moon with a box of bon bons. So here it is, I’m announcing my newest Work In Progress:

Midlife Super Crisis

It’s knights of the round table meet Green Lanterns (minus the smurfs) plus one sleep-deprived mother of two. As soon as she gets the kids to bed, it’s time to save the multiverse.

Do I think this is salable? Oh hell no. Do I care? Nope. See, I know about the zeit geist, and I’m telling you, this concept—the whole middle aged person finally coming into their superpowers—is about to sweep through the world, so I already know it’s doomed as a project. I’m cool with that, and it takes the pressure off (and I really have enough pressure with the whole Pass This Exam or Leave In Shame thing coming up). Writing for fun is supposed to make me a better person (read: better writer). Besides, writing it is like dipping chocolate in chocolate, then chasing it with chocolate and red wine. Guilty pleasure.

Mmmm chocolate…