Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why I shelved a novel

I wrote a story about a girl who’s half dragon and her best friend is half troll. They get into some shenanigans and run across the Southwestern US chasing down some would be kidnappers. Every scrap of feedback I’ve gotten on this project has been positive. I’ve entered it in contests, gotten feedback, all manner of things. Everyone, by all reports, loves it and would “totally read the rest of that book.”

Except agents.

Every bit of feedback I’ve gotten from agents is that paranormal is pretty much done. In fact, I’m seeing more and more that they want to see anything but paranormal.

So what does a girl do with a ho-hum professional result? Well, I don’t know what the smart people do, but I sat back and took stock of what was going on. I liked that MS. I’ve edited the capunkas out of it, but it still has issues. Weeks ago I decided that I probably ought to set it aside. The more time I spend away from it I realize that it wasn’t a very good lead off project anyway.

It’s not that it was such been there done that project, but I have to sort of realize what that novel really was: practice. Yeah, it looks like I wrote a practice novel. It’s not like I tried really hard to reach out for new concepts, or new views on anything, and in YA right now, it’s pretty tough.

I’m getting used to my voice, and part of that is figuring out how to make it work for other people. Which really means I need to spend more time writing before I can think about publishing. It’s a strange place to be able to sit back and think, Yeah, my voice could really use another novel or two to develop before I try to publish. That runs so contrary to my little voice of grandeur—you know, the one screaming that I should finish my WIP and query it ASAP because it’s awesome sauce on toast—but I know that voice is a liar.

And then there’s the other side of things. Yes, I loved that ms, but it had some big issues (namely with voice) that would basically require rewriting much of it. While it would be good practice, if I spent all that time rewriting a book that is unmarketable, I would be pretty pissed to have a fantastic, unsellable project.

The second aspect of leaving an MS behind.

I loved that book, but honestly, I didn’t. I know, that sounds like a load of swamp gas reflecting off of the clouds of Venus, but it’s true. I enjoyed the story. It was fluffy. It was fun. There was even a moment of truth in it, but it was really teenage girls go on road trip and save their friends from trouble. It was a, well, I guess you could call it a ‘small’ story. Cute, sweet, but it wasn’t the kind of story I want to tell. From a purely professional stand point, how could I put myself behind a story that wouldn’t be anything like my next? And by nothing like, I mean the only thing it would share with my next set of projects would be that it was told in first person.

I really couldn’t query a project that is somewhere at three sigma for me. I wrote that story to be more like what I’m reading in YA, and that was fun and all, it just wasn’t me. And how could I try to start a career with something that wasn’t even my best, most representative of me? It’s stupid, but as I sent out my query letter, I had this nagging little voice ‘What if they like it and they want you to write a sequel? What if they want you to write the next ten books in that world?’

That thought made me want to puke. The MS was fun, but there wasn’t enough substance to that world to make me happy. It needed more. More what, I’m not sure, but more. Lots more.

In short, the process is really too long to write for anyone else, so you have to write for yourself. And that’s why I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to run the query gauntlet with the “I just didn’t love it,” rejections. How could I blame an agent for having the same feelings I have about the manuscript? What if I found the agent who absolutely loved it? Yikes! How could we be a good match if they loved something I was almost ready to park on the curb, call it a practice jalopy and move on? So I barely queried it, but I am moving on.

And the annoying thing is that it really does come down to voice. Agents always harp on it “I want voice” they say, but what does it mean, writers ask. Well, now I know. More and more I understand voice, and specifically my voice, but it’s tricky. I thought I’d nailed my voice in my practice jalopy. But no, not really, it’s already evolving in my WIP. I’m 35,000 words in, and I already have to go back and rewrite the first five chapters to match up my voice (which is fine because I just flew out the gates on that novel, and it needs more structure and support up front). And my voice is still evolving (a lot and rapidly). I’m starting to worry that I’ll need another ten novels just to nail it down (just shoot me now). But if that’s the case, I can always go back and rewrite my earlier ideas.

So, I’ve moved on. I’ll update my projects page. And who knows, maybe someday, I’ll know what my half-dragon needed to really come to life. In the mean time, it’s middle aged super hero takes on cosmic star eating badass. Check out the prologue and let me know if you hate it or love it (or if you hate or love prologues in general).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A note on packaging

I am now quite thoroughly convinced that toy packaging is designed with the sole intent of reducing parents to gibbering incoherent—we’re trying not to use the F word—idiots who cannot even manage to liberate a toy pony from a box.

To wit: this year, my little girl got a “Precious Princess Pony Palace”—I kid not, that’s the actual name of the toy, someone from alliterations ‘R’ us should be shot—for Christmas. The princess was zip-tied in with a special, molded plastic piece designed for theft prevention attached to the spinning platform. The zip tie was industrial grade, I think my dad used less industrial zip ties to hold my VW bug together in college—I do know he use bailing wire and twine for some parts.

After tearing off the zip tie, we realized that the plastic bit wasn’t part of the toy and needed to be removed, but we couldn’t figure out how. Now realize, the whole time, the child is excitedly pointing at the Precious Princess Pony Palace saying “Princess! Unicorn! Princess! Unicorn!”

It’s not like there’s a stack of dumb people at my house for Christmas morning. Between us we’ve got a Masters in Geology, a Masters in Forensic Psychology, a Bachelor in Forensic Anthropology, enough physics classes for a minor (or a major in Geophysics). In short, a bunch of over educated people trying to pry a princess out of the precious princess pony palace.

Much swearing and shouting things like “Oh Saturn’s Rings this is ridiculous. I have a sword that would take it right off!”

“Don’t you think that’s overkill?”

Ten minutes later: “I’ll get the sword.”

Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but it was ridiculous.

Well, the happy ending is that we liberated the princess and the daughter had many wonderful hours playing with the princess (who was saved from the evil cats by the unicorn). 

As for my WIP, I think I may not have made it clear, but I'm working on a different book now. I'll write more on that tomorrow. Like most of my stories, it's a sordid affair.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

"And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year."

Happy short day everyone. I for one am looking forward to the longer days to come. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Falling in love... again

When I put my WIP on hold I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to get back into it. I was such a fool to think it might lose its shiny luster. I’m back into it (it’s my Christmas gift to myself while I try to figure out where to go with my dissertation), and I’m loving it more than ever. I still don’t know where some of it is going, but I know the ending and a few important stops along the way. I even know what the sequel would be (erg, brain, why do you do that to me? I need the first story before we can think of the second story).

I know it’s boring to listen to people wax poetic about all manner of silly things, but there is little worse than writers going all over the moon about their WIP, so thanks for sticking around till the end. Here’s a funny for those of you who play Skyrim (or are at least familiar with the soundtrack):

and if you're still trying to figure it out, here's a taste of the epic music behind the funny. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why I don't always read book reviews, and the first of my own: Across the Universe

When other people blog about a book they’ve read, I normally just fly right by. It’s not that I don’t value people’s opinions on books, it’s just that it can be hard to figure out what people are really saying about books in a review. So often we writers have been told only to post good reviews, or if you have criticisms, bury them in praise. After all, if we’re out there bashing books and the editor of that book visits our site while we’re on submission (a distant figment at this point) and sees our unpolitic opinions, then we’re doomed.

What that leads to is a lot of reviews that are either watered down, or otherwise lackluster. How many times can we hear that someone “just loved” a book? It’s kind of unhelpful from my stand point. I don’t have a lot of free time, and buying a book is much easier for me than finding the time to read it. So when I read a review of a book, what I need is why someone liked it, not just that it was great. Great is unhelpful to me. And for the record, I’ve read a ton of books that other people rated at five stars and “just loved” that I wasn’t exactly over the moon for. In fact I would have called them crap, except I can appreciate that I have different tastes from other people.

So given my views on reviews, it’s funny that I feel compelled to write about a book I just read. And I’m probably going to do it again, but I have some ground rules.

1. If I “just love” a book, boy you are going to hear why and what it was that made me love it.
2. I’m not going to just trash a book for fun, but if there are some serious weaknesses, I’ll let you know.
3. If there’s a book you want my opinion on, just ask in the comments (or email me)
4. Spoilers will always be surrounded by square brackets to start and a line to announce big spoilers. It will look like this:

[Spoiler issues would be written here, but this is just the ground rules}
====================End of Spoilers=========================

Without further ado, the first book to lead off my reviews is Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I know I’m pretty behind the times when it comes to reviews, after all, the paperback version of this book just came out, and pretty much everyone has already read it. 

I literally just set it down, and it was good. Not like “oh it was fun,” I mean good. Solid writing throughout, and I only had one issue. The issue I had is a spoiler and we’ll get there in a bit.

The whole book is a murder mystery in space. It’s not quite a thriller and not quite a science fiction of the days of yore (i.e. not Heinlein, but it wasn’t trying to be). The murderer is hinted out very early if you know how to see the clues, but I don’t think that’s integral to the plot. Knowing who the bad guy is, doesn’t detract from the rest of the story at all. In fact, I think it added to the tension.

So, why did I love the writing?

Amy and Elder (the two view point characters) are written with a voice that makes them come alive. They not only seem like people I know, they have thoughts I have had, making them more sympathetic. At one point I was reading, and the cat brushed up against my leg and I jumped. I was immersed, and it’s because the characters went through all the kinds of thoughts that would have been going on inside me.

The writing was very emotionally savvy, which is to say, I thought all the characters had exceptionally appropriate reactions to their situations. I’ve read a ton of books (published and unpublished) where the characters acted out of character. It drives me nuts. Amy and Elder are always in character, and they never act or sound like mouthpieces for the author (another major pet peeve of mine).

Voice: Beth’s voice really shines through in the way the characters think about the world around them. I liked it, but I always sort of wonder how much of that introspective is realistic (I think this largely stems from the fact that I’m just not that deep of a person—no, I’m not fishing for compliments, I’m just not that deep).

The only thing that would have made the book more awesome: more action. There was very little. I like my explosions and my chase scenes, and there were none. Even without enough explosions to make a 12 year old boy happy (that’s how I like my movies, explosions by Michael Bay, Script by Joss Whedon), the book really drew me in and made me read it. I could not put it down, even though I’d already guessed the murderer very early, the tension was palpable. I had a hard time putting it down to do things like feed my daughter her dinner.

The one thing I found confusing, my one hitch in an otherwise incredible book:

Seriously, don’t read this unless you must know my one issue with the whole book, and it didn’t ruin it, it only raised more questions.

[In the end Elder confesses that he’s the one who unplugged Amy, and it’s completely unfounded. It is the moment that doesn’t work. Everything else works so well that I was suspecting the murderer within pages of having met him. By the chapter where Amy is first brought up to the hospital, I know for certain who the killer is. With foreshadowing like this, why keep that one secret, and why keep it so tightly? There is exactly one hint that Elder knows more about Amy being unplugged than he’s been letting on, so I’m really confused about this revelation. Because it is so integral to the growth of the character and the entirety their relationship, it seems like this should be something we readers know much sooner, that way we can feel Elder’s guilt when Amy rages about things like how she has lost her life.]

==============End of Spoilers=============================

And yet, even with this issue (I can’t really call it an oversight) the story is still incredible, beautifully written and engaging. She does a fantastic job of capturing the delicate situation of the plight (what happens in a generation ship when the engine breaks?) of a ship in space with nothing out their.

In short it is a fantastic Sci Fi novel. If you haven’t read it yet, pick up a copy. And if you haven’t checked out her blog, go here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Made my day

This is shamelessly reposted from Janet Reid.

Go here.


Oh, and push the button more than once.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Closer to home

Last season, I was on the hockey team that won every. Single. Game. (strangely, you’d think that was fun, but it really got old… more on that some other time). This season though, no wins. And there we were, five goals in the hole in the third period:

My buddy, John looked over at me and said “Great shift, Crash*. I hate when everyone stops trying just ‘cause we’re losing.”

“I’m just too dumb to know we’ve lost, and I don’t know how to give up,” I said.

John pointed at me. “And that’s how I know you’re a writer.” 

*Yes, my hockey name is Crash (as in crash the net). I picked it up when I had a team that bought jerseys and had funny nicknames sewn on the backs. Mine stuck.