Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Happy Birthday to the Boy who lived!

That's right, it's Harry Potter's birthday today!

Here in the muggle world it's just some cake, but if I were a wizard, I'd definitely splurge on some Weasley Wizard Wheezes.

*sigh* I wish I got to go to Hogwarts.

Have fun, eat cake, and be sure to thank the boy who put an end to Voldemort.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Just an update

So this week I'm up to my ears studying law. Every now and then our lives go in funny directions, so I'm reading up on law. I can't really say any more than that, but it's a good thing, not preparation for a trial.

 Rewriting has been going well, although I find myself constantly circling back around to polish up earlier chapters, which I usually forbid. I keep polishing up because I realize that I can leak little hints about what's coming so the flow seems a little bit more like a freeway and a little less like a road with poorly timed stop lights.

Although, sometimes I feel like even my stoplights don't get it...

Go home stop light, you're drunk.
Yes, that's my picture, I was driving past when I saw the wind had knocked a stoplight into that car. In Albuquerque, Light Stops you.

And I'm back to law (did you know, law is filled with typos. It's driving me insane!!!)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Editing is hard because you've changed

Like most people, I jumped into writing with the intent of publishing thinking that the world was about to show me all the unicorn riding kittens wrapped in rainbows.

Let me start by saying that publishing did not turn out like that.

At every turn the journey has been hard--wonderful, but hard (sound like that speech from A League of Their Own? That's because it's right). I struggle with a lot of things, but the realization that my good book must be somewhere between great and spectacular to get anywhere has sent me back to the revising trenches.

And every time I go back I'm caught in a trap. I've written a quarter of a million words since I wrote the first draft of this book. That's somewhere between a sneeze and a ton. The real problem is that my written voice has shifted. It's closer to my actual voice. And this means that even though my book is good, if I could put my current voice into my old book, it might be great.

But how?

Edits should be the answer. Should. My problem is that I'm one of those terribly inefficient creatures for whom nothing short of rewriting will straighten out my writing voice.

That's right. I'm thinking about starting at the beginning and just rewriting it. AGAIN.


I rewrote the first chapter and Krakatoa! that's better. It's better in that relieving sort of way. It's like having two clarinet players*, the really good one, and the one with a lot less experience. The two are never in tune. The playing isn't bad, the timing is pretty close, but it's never quite in sync. Alone, most people would never see that the inexperienced player had some issues, but when the master plays it's clear.

I'm not saying my first chapter is like the master playing--actually maybe I am. For one brief moment it was really good. Like really good. (Why is it hard to say that about my writing?). But now it's clear that the first chapter is awesome, and chapter 2 isn't. Nor is chapter 3. Which means, I have to rewrite the whole thing. Anything less is going to look like a bad patch job where I threw in that "new" voice all over the place.

And anytime you write something, it must be edited for all the things. It's not quite starting over at least, but it's going to need time. Like lots of time. Like handing it to beta readers time, and that's hard because I thought I was done with that step. It's frustrating. But I think it's better to believe in something, especially this story.

Which leaves me at frustrated that writing takes so long, and excited for what this story really could be. In short, I'm totally ready for my 80s Movie Music Montage. Maybe we could go with a snappy pop song about working for your dreams or something.

Have you ever had that moment where the story you thought was ready for prime time came back with a seemingly subtle change that was really "here change the whole thing"?

*I chose clarinets because when played badly they sound like the noise my vacuum cleaner would make if I accidentally sucked up a set of bag pipes.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Joy of The End... for now at least

Ah, there is no more wonderful feeling than typing The End. Even when I know that this silly book is going to continue to cause me pain and suffering (and sweet potatoes, this one caused episodes of abject whining and moaning already) it’s still nice to put the damned thing away for a little while.

I haven’t shared the title of this little gem, but since I’m about to toss it into the revision stew to let it simmer for a while, I thought I’d give it a touch of love as I start to practice pitching (seriously though, it’s a rough draft, so it’s just not ready for anything).

Comparison: If you took Captain Jack Sparrow and put him into a blender with Avatar: The Last Airbender and hit frappe, you’d get this story.
Pitch (this is super rough, so feel free to comment):

Tashira grew up in a world where singing is punishable by death. The only people who sing are the sea priests, ancient descendants from the guardians of the seas, and tasked with keeping the world safe from the Kryannians, monsters who live in the depths of the oceans. When the priests arrest Caven, a young man serving on a cargo ship, Tashira begins to doubt the sea priests’ propaganda. When the sea priests burn down her home and send giant mud crabs to kill her, Tashira knows something is wrong with the priests. To get her answers, she defies the priests and sings. When her song calls down a storm, Tashira knows that the sea priests are lying and she’s something the world hasn’t seen in generations: a storm singer.
Now the only problem is staying alive long enough to uncover the other lies the sea priests have raised her on, and the biggest is waiting at the bottom of the sea.

Yeah, like I said, that’s really rough. It needs a lot of work, but so does the draft.

Stats (because I love numbers)

Date started: 4/1/2013
Date ended: 7/13/2013
Time off (for good behavior): 21 days (you know, to start a new job, and interview, and work on another project… normal stuff).
Number of days writing: 84 (commonly known as 12 weeks, no really, it’s uncanny).
Average number of words per day: 881
Number of times I whined about how much it sucked: Yeah, I can’t count that high, I’m busy toasting the end of a rough draft here.
Number of Shiny New Ideas that tried to tempt me away: 2
Number of words I plan to cut when I get back to this draft sometime in December? All the words.

So there you have it folks. Start to finish, one rough draft. How do I feel? Well, it always feels great to pound out the words “The End,” but I can honestly say that this was one of the hardest books to write ever (I say that every time because This Is the Hard Part). The whole time I could see my failings as a writer while I was writing it. It was strange to see it as such a terrible, flawed thing. Usually, when I write a rough draft, it’s a fast and easy love. All I want to do is work on it. This one saw me questioning everything about it: Is this good enough? Was Act I long enough? Did I include enough description? Too much? Is the dialogue good enough? Does my non-native speaker sound to much like he’s from India? Does he sound british now? Oh god, shoot me before my pirates start saying “shiver me timbers.” 

Okay, it might not have gotten that bad at the end, but I would definitely call that draft an over glorified outline. It’s going to gain about 20K in new material alone. Then I’m going to rewrite the whole thing. Yeah, I talk about efficiency because I have none. ::shakes fist at sky:: Process, why are you so lugubrious?!

And there you have it, Too Much Information. How about you, do your first drafts feel like they’re written with Umbridge’s pen, using your blood as the ink and scribing the words on your soul? Or are you a happy go lucky writer for whom first drafts are all kittens and rainbows? I used to be kittens and rainbows writer, but not anymore.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Step Number Five

I can’t remember where I read it, but someone wrote about the steps between querying and book deal. Here they are for the most part:

1. Silence 
 2. Form Rejection 
3. Page requests
4. Partial requests
5. Rejection with helpful feedback
6. Full request
7. Revise and resubmit
8. Representation offer
9. Editor Rejection
10. Editor Rejection with Feedback
11. Editor Revise and Resubmit
12. Book Deal

When I read the steps, I was just starting to query my first novel, and this list crushed my heart. The person who wrote the article said that you could skip steps, or get to step 7 with one book and only land at step 2 for the next. The article said you could skip right to step 6, or get stuck in the trap at step 5. It said you could bypass steps 1 through 8 and go right to small presses.

In writing people talk about coping with silence, form rejections, and even quite a few people talk about revise and resubmit (and boy howdy there are plenty of people who talk about representation, book deals and being on submission). I don’t see a lot of people talking about number five up there. I think this is probably because all the advice says to keep this stuff off your blog etc. etc.

I’m a rule breaker.

My first novel stalled out at page requests. I hoped my second novel would do better, and it did: partials! Yay! But still not representation.

I kept reading all the blogs that talked about querying their first novel and getting full requests and book deals in a couple of days. It made me feel defective. I kept ready blogs about the querying process, and they all said: pay attention to the personalized feedback you get; it’s golden. Except I’d never had personalized feedback. I thought it was a myth.

Until I got some. Buckets, actually. I got so much feedback I didn’t know what to do with it (none of it agreed).

If you’ve been here, I feel for you. All around me people congratulated me for moving up in the world. “Personalized feedback is a huge step!” they would say. Inside I felt like I’d burned all my bridges and ruined my chances by putting out substandard work (never mind that I’d polished and polished and polished that manuscript).

So if you’re in that boat: breathe deep. It’s hard. I don’t know if it ever gets easier to hear that you’re not there yet. Once the immediateness of failure began to fade, and I could try to figure out if I was going to try to fix my novel, I realized something: None of the feedback was in agreement. One agent said one thing, another something completely different.

What’s a girl to do?

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s really frustrating. You feel like you’re destroying your novel with every change, and if you don’t really understand what the feedback meant, it can really feel like you’re swimming through a murky pool of poo. So here’s what to keep in mind.

When someone says there’s a problem with your novel, they are correct. When they tell you that they know what it is, well, take that part with a grain of salt. People can see a problem a lot faster than they can actually see what that problem is.

So, if you’re sitting on some conflicting advice on what to fix, instead of thinking about how to fix everything mentioned in the feedback, look at style changes. Are you heavy on description? Light on description? Do you use lazy words to convey your action? At some point, you might find something in there you can fix. And it might just work to sort out your seemingly conflicting feedback.

So, if your feedback is “This is too fast,” followed by someone else saying “This is too slow” you know there’s something wrong with your pacing. It could be there’s someone out there for whom your novel will feel like the Goldilocks key (“Juuuuuuust right!”), but it’s also possible that your description is too thin to ground person one, and too lugubrious for person number two. The fix, make your description work for you, not just take up space on the page. That means agonizing over exactly which word to use in a sentence (no, it isn’t easy to do this, but it is essential).

Of course, that’s not going to work for everyone. And sometimes it really is just personal, but if you’re getting lots of feedback, it’s time to look at your writing and see if it really is your best (and really, there’s probably something you could clean up now that you’ve had your novel on the market for a little while).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Just a short post

Rocko, Horse Extraordinaire.
By popular demand, here's a picture of Rocko the Wonder Horse!

I feel like I should point out how his legs aren't straight and his lip sags. Among his chiefest attributes: height. That horse is really tall. He's 16 and a half hands (yes, 13 year old me is also very tall). And note how I'm not wearing a helmet but a hat!!! As if the hat will save my noggin when I ditch (and I wasn't wearing one on the day of the fall either). Yeah, we were one go getter of a team. This was us on a good day. We're riding at a horse show and winning ribbons (note, ribbons are fun to win as a kid, but what do you do with them later in life? I've thought about making an "I won these" quilt out of my ribbons).

And don't forget that Tara Tyler's book Pop Travel released over the weekend! Be sure to go check her out, and take a peek at the book!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

IWSG: Actually Falling Off the Horse

If you haven’t seen one of these yet, than get yourself over to the Ninja Captain’s hide out, hop on the linky and join the fun. Today is the first Wednesday of the month, and it’s time to release our fears, anxieties, and insecurities out into the world. Got those covered this month? Great, then lend a hand and spread some encouragement. This month the co hosts are Nancy Thompson, Mark Koopmans, and Heather Gardner, so be sure to head over to their blogs and give them a shout out for lending a hand.

Lately, my family has been asking me why I do it. Why do I go through all the trouble of the pain and rejection and self doubt that is a part of writing (it’s a part of life too, we just don’t talk about all the rejection in life because it doesn’t always come in a nicely worded letter that says "No."). I tried to explain how this business of writing is really about getting up, but that somehow doesn’t cover it. I know you’ve all heard that sage old saying about getting back on the horse after you’ve fallen off, so let me tell you a story about falling off a horse.

When I was a kid, my family didn’t have money for nice horses. My father traded a broken down car and a pile of scrap metal for a broken down horse and a pile of scrap metal that vaguely resembled a horse trailer. The horse was 22, named Rocko, and probably the most wonderful gift my father had ever given me. I could sum this horse up in two words: Quirky and Clumsy.

That’s not a good combinations in a half ton creature you plan to send hurtling off into the wilds with a 13 year old on its back. Oh yeah, I was 13 when I got Rocko the Wonder horse. He ate hamburgers and drank soda, and if you weren’t careful, he’d eat your hair (He must have thought it was hay). And like all teenagers, I just wanted to go as fast as possible, so we’d race our horses along the vineyard roads where I grew up. Now, considering that my horse liked soda and cheeseburgers, you can imagine he wasn’t an athlete. I didn’t win.

So there we were, racing through a freshly plowed field next to a vineyard, going just as fast as we possibly could (and I’ll have you know, we took riding horses fast VERY seriously… even if the horses didn’t actually go that fast). And for once, I was in the lead. My spavined horse could feel it, too. We were winning. It felt incredible. We were homing in on the end, running and riding for all we were worth, all the other horses (and not a few ponies) were behind us.

Winning a horse race feels a lot like flying.

At least, it feels like that right up until your horse trips out from under you. My horse did cartwheels in the dirt. Later, when we went over crash site, the scar in the field stretched for almost fifteen meters. I have no rightly idea how I lived, but when I came to, I was at the bottom of an unhappy pile of horse. He got up, and I was able to breathe. Then that twit wandered over to the grapes and started munching on them like nothing had happened.

I had to get up because we weren’t allowed to let the horses eat the vines. The owners didn’t mind us riding in the vineyards, but they got hopping mad if the horses damaged the plants. So I stood up, checked for broken bones (none!) and caught my horse.

Then I got back on my horse and rode home.

My friends all snickered and laughed at me, making fun of how my horse did cartwheels in the dirt and they’d never seen someone fly so high. I laughed along with them, but inside I was hurting. Not the physical pain. There was plenty of that, but I just wanted to crawl into bed and cry. I had been winning. I’d made it to the top of the cool kid pile for seconds. I’d believed I was awesome, and then it was gone. In that one moment, I was forever relegated to the rider of a horse so pathetic he couldn’t even run through a field.

I smiled and laughed with them, but all the way home I wondered: Was it my fault? Had I thrown him off balance? Did I give him some signal? Did I miss something really obvious to cause my—literal!—downfall? Did he just trip over a rock?

And then, a couple days later, it was time to go for a ride again. Alone, I saddled my horse. It was easy to get on the horse when my friends were all standing around and laughing—well, easier; I was shaking quite a bit. But when they were laughing, it was easy because everyone was there, and I knew what I had to do. You get back on the horse, just as soon as you can, but days later, it was different. My ribs still ached, and I was scared. What if he tripped again? What if the next time he didn’t get up in time, and I expired while he laid on me? No one was there to see; I could just quietly go back inside. I was scared, and not a little bit. My hands shook as I put the saddle on. There was no one to see me, so why did I engage in an act of complete idiocy? Why did I push through such mental and physical pain? It’s simple really:

I wanted to ride.

When you start to let your hopes take flight, a rejection feels a lot like that moment I realized my horse was going down. It was a fact. I knew I was going to hit dirt and hard. When I close my eyes I can still see the dirt rushing up and my arms stretched out in front of me like I could catch the ground and keep it from hurting me. Rejection is like that moment when you realize, you’re Buzz Lightyear, and you are *not* a flying toy.

So, why do we writers put up with rejection? Why do we throw ourselves out there time and time again? Why do we quietly send out more query letters/write more books/seek criticism from our lovely betas and CPs? Why do we put ourselves through all that pain and doubt and fear?

It’s simple: we want to write.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Hiatus Over! And Stats from Brenda Drake's Pitch Party

I’m back from my hiatus. I’ll be slow catching up and getting back into the swing of things, but it’s looking like I’m going to be moving to a two-day-a-week schedule because reasons. I love blogging or I wouldn’t keep coming back, but it’s time to be realistic—and the 5h!7 is getting real as of late (more on that at a much later date).

Writing news that isn’t really news: the WIP isn’t done because I took three weeks off (bloody pirates). Yeah, I know, I need to keep moving forward and all, but I NEEDED those weeks. That being said, I think we’re a week or two from the “You’re going into the stew pot” party (that’s nerd speak for I’m almost done with the rough draft). When that’s finished I’ll probably start waxing poetic about the novel I’ll be revising. It would appear that I fall back in love pretty easily since all I can think about lately is the novel I’m about to be revising (more on that after I put the pirates in the stew).

I’ve been entering contests like a mad woman, so I’m going to take a break from those and absorb all the feedback. Even if that feedback doesn’t go into Query Bait, I’ll keep it in mind for the next run. And speaking of contests, here are the stats from Brenda Drake’s Adult Pitch Party!

Number Entered
Number of requests
Women’s Fiction
Historical Fiction
Paranormal Romance
Urban Fantasy
Science Fiction
Commercial Fiction

New Adult Romance
New Adult everything else

A few caveats: This contest leaned heavily towards romance, and with numbers like these, we can’t really call it statistically significant. So it looks like a really rough time to be writing fantasy, but there’s no way to tell if the ten manuscripts were actually representative, or if they were all unlucky in that they were really similar to the requesting agents’ lists. Which is to say, even though these are fun, they don’t really tell us all that much.

What I can say about contests is this: They are really good for you, and not always for the reasons you think. Yes, the feedback and friends are invaluable, but there’s more. There was an agent who requested my material, and I never would have thought she’d take a second look at Sci Fi. Nothing in her profile indicates that she does genre fiction, so for everyone out in the query trenches: QUERY WIDELY. I would have never, ever—not in a million years!—suspected that agent might have even the slightest interest in that work. I’d even passed up contests where this agent was one of the judges because I didn’t think there were enough agents in my genre to be worth my while! How crazy is that??

Okay, enough of that. Get back out there and write/query/revise/skip rocks across the gazing ponds of life.*

*The Get Back out there and fight is a direct quote from my single favorite arcade game of all time, T-Mek. If you know where there’s still a functional cabinet, let me know, I would seriously travel to play it again! (enter arena, turn left, hit the guns)