Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mostly a Re-post: Giving up the ghost; When to trunk your manuscript

Sorry for the re-post, but I've been really busy with revisions for Evangeline. It's been a long road, kind of gravelly and washed out in some areas with a slew of bumps, but after months of hard work, the ride is smoother than ever. I've been working on this manuscript since November of 2008 (a NaNoWriMo attempt), and though I had a pretty good submission request rate when I started querying it last spring, it didn't take long to see that the writing just wasn't good enough...

Originally posted July 7th, 2009

Lately I've been spending a lot of time with my work in progress [Strings], while querying a finished novel [Evangeline] that is as polished as I can make it. But today I received a rejection on the full (a full request from the start, so far I have had no partial requests turn into fulls for this project) that really made me think.

The agent mentioned they liked the concept and the setting, but I had problems with narrative, that the agent wanted "more" from the mc's experience. I believe the agent's comments to be genuine, and not something I'm reading into too much. The concern about narrative I had received pretty uniformly from most agents, and something I kept in mind during the latest stage of revisions. So it looks like I didn't do as well on the revisions as I had thought.

Which begs the question: barring the spontaneous propagation of a literary professional who is willing to do a line by line of my work to tell me where the problem narrative is, how do I know what needs to be changed? How do I know if I can even change the book enough to make it saleable? Will more betas help at this point, or should I put all my writing energies into my wip, where I can apply what I learned trying to write the last one?

I have a good-sized list of agents I can still query, and I could change little things, but I'd need an objective reader, or hell, a committee at this point, to help me decide where to start with yet another stage of revisions. I've read it so many times, the words just start to run together at this point.

Keep writing! the agent in question says. Does that mean I should keep writing the same story, or move on to another? It's enough to make me pull out my hair. I'm getting so deep into the main character of the wip, a place I never really got to with the mc of the novel being queried, that it would be difficult for me to switch gears right now. It's hard for me to go backward. Maybe I am a better writer now than I was, but am I a better storyteller? Can I craft a whole story that makes sense from start to finish that immerses the reader in a living breathing character's life and problems? If I can't do this, what right do I have to call myself a writer?

So for now I'm going to play it cool, wait on another full and a partial request, and decide later. Maybe there's an agent out there who will like the story enough to give me the critical feedback I need to whip the story into shape. Or maybe I'll go nuts with my wip and finish it in six weeks (ha!) and have another story to foist other concerns on. And the vicious cycle will start all over again.

How to decide without losing my sanity? Should I tackle two stories, revisions and draft writing, at the same time? Or put all my eggs in a brand new basket?

I wish I knew.

Aww, it's okay past-me. Here we are a year later, and things are looking better. You finished that WiP and learned a lot about character development and pov. And you DID apply what you learned to Evangeline. And you did enlist a small army of beta readers to help figure out where you were going wrong. And now future-you—meaning yours truly, ME—is busy with this second round of revisions to resubmit to Dreamy McAgent in the hopes that she'll like it enough to want to represent us. So you see, it all worked out for the best.

All it took was a little practice, hard work, and TIME. So if anyone else out there is thinking about trunking a story you love, maybe you just need to put it aside for a while and work on something else.

Your future-you will thank you. ;)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Top Writer: Suck it, Bravo!

Had a huge laugh this morning thanks to Kristen Lippert Martin at her blog, A Rock in My Pocket. Her post, Reality TV, Why Not Us? really made me snarf, so I wanted to share it with the rest of y'all in case you missed it.

What would happen if TV producers found a way to make a reality show about writers—let's call it Top Writer for simplicity's sake—that was actually interesting?

Kristen's got a great model for Bravo TV to follow, so check it out if you need a laugh this Monday morning!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

WiP Wednesday: Revise and Resub—Round II

So it's late in the day on Wednesday, and I didn't think I'd have a post today. But, seeing as it's WiP Wednesday, I decided to share what's going on in my writing sphere.

Just received a second email from Dreamy McAgent (that would be my dream agent, for those of you who don't appreciate my crappy brand of humor), and read it holding my breath, thinking it would be a rejection. But it wasn't.

It was a request for a second round of revisions focusing on different issues than the last revision letter. Sweet! Not a rejection! In fact, it's one step closer to publication!

I got all excited and told some of my friends and coworkers. Not all of them were as excited as I am. One of my coworkers even asked me:

"Does it feel like it's not even your story any more, since so many people have suggested changes to it?"

Now, I've been asked this before, about the changes that beta readers have suggested, not an agent, but I feel like the response is the same.

It's still my story, only now—since I agree with the agent's comments, of course, we can't all be so lucky— it's becoming the best it can be. I'm not going to turn down great advice that makes my story better from anyone. Especially from someone familiar with selling books in my genre, like Dreamy McAgent. Would I have been able to get this far without all my betas and their wonderful advice (meaning, the advice I actually took from them, lol)? Never!

So rather than focus on the changes, on making the old, the stale and stodgy new again, I'm focusing on the work as a whole. After all, whoever gave me the suggestion could never envision exactly how I will utilize it . No two people are going to re-write the same scene the same way. Not even LiLa. ;)

And as for this second round of revisions, if I'm lucky, it won't be my last. If the book is sold to a publisher, my revision days will have just begun. But I'm ready to write, willing to take direction, and able to churn out revisions like a champ! Hear that Harper-Collins? Hear that, Little-Brown? Are you listening, Scholastic? 'Cuz I'm ready for the endless revisions.

Are you?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ooooh, Shiny!

Oh, boy.

No sooner do I pass the 12K mark of my WiP, Cass's story (as yet untitled), when I'm attacked by Shiny New Idea Syndrome. I've got it bad. It's too early to talk about yet, but it's an alternate history set in the same time period as my Belle Epoch novel, Strings, with a similar "theatrical" flavor, but it's more of a boy-meets-girl story. I just read the latest of Naomi Novik's alternate history of the Napoleonic wars—with DRAGONS (I heart Temeraire!), and I loved Westerfeld's Leviathan. I think I've got enough historical background of the time period to do something really fun, and introduce a huge supernatural element that will make it awesome!! Now just to finish the WiP...

I've still got another 75K or so to go with Cass's story, a story I don't have an ending to yet. So it may be some time before I am able to work on my SNI. I'm thinking if I get any ideas I'll just jot them down in a notebook, but I'm not going to brainstorm for that idea on purpose yet because I want to focus my attention on my WiP.

How do y'all handle a Shiny New Idea when you're in the middle (or the beginning) or another WiP?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

WiP Wednesday: The Right Tools for the Job

I just got my home pc overhauled, got rid of my crappy Vista for Windows 7 and finally got a home copy of Microsoft Office 2007. My laptop is now a lean, mean, manuscript writing machine. It runs faster, jumps higher, and can bench-press 550... Okay, maybe that last part was a bit of an exaggeration, but I'm excited. I don't know how I survived all these years without Word, how much time I wasted during my lunch breaks at work, reformatting and fixing my headers and page breaks, and emailing agents. It was a nightmare.

Which just shows to go ya—it always helps to have the right tools for the job. That's what my southern, retired Army Sergeant daddy always says, and if you're not going to listen to an ex-sergeant, who are you gonna listen to?

Now that I have Word, I'm wondering if there aren't some other tools I've overlooked or didn't feel like I needed. I mean, I've got a word processor and a notebook and pen. What else do I need?

Now that I have Excel, I'm planning on writing out character sheets to keep track of physical features of the characters in my WiP. Since I've got a lot of pseudo-science steam-punk type inventions, I may need another spreadsheet to keep track of inventions and the limitations of the power my sorcerer characters can access. I'm sure I could think of a million different things to keep track of on a spreadsheet, but only when I'm procrastinating. ;)

Every so often I feel the need to use a mind-mapping software, like FreeMind, which is a free download, and is pretty user friendly. I use this when I'm stumped about the progression of details of a scene, particularly action scenes where I'm not sure of sequences of events, or scenes where I need to know the order of information that is to be revealed. Sometimes I just want to write out my scene-goals, and it helps to do this on the computer rather than in a notebook because I can switch between windows pretty easily.

Another tool I use when I need to do some research is Google Scholar—which can sometimes turn out to be more frustrating than helpful if it directs you a subscription only site, and you can't access the article for free. I'm also lucky enough to have access to an online article site called JSTOR both at work and at my nearby alma mater. Though some people say, write first, research later for the details, my brain just won't work like that. I need to know the settings to properly immerse my MC and others in it. Not to mention, research helps get my creative juices flowing, and sometimes even helps me figure out plot details.

Right now I'm researching Delphi, Greece as a setting, and also rural areas of both Massachusetts and Mississippi. I like to use Google Maps for that and look at the satellite imagery as well as street views where they're available. Then there's the DaylightMap, which is useful if your characters teleport across the globe and you need to know what time it is in Turkey when they just left the southeastern US.

Do you have any favorite tools besides good old paper and ink? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Importance of Being Fleshy

Happy Monday, y'all! I had a very relaxing weekend in which I passed the 10K mark of my WiP, made a huge lasagna, ate Vietnamese soup and po-boys with friends and watched a ton of Friday Night Lights and True Blood. Hope everyone else enjoyed the weekend.

I also did a lot of reading on my new Nook. I love that thing more every day. The new Temeraire novel comes out tomorrow and I've got it ready on my e-wishlist for the release. I can't wait!

Another wonderful feature of the Nook is the ability to download a free sample of a book before you decide to buy it. The samples range in length anywhere from 9-30 pages, and I must have downloaded half a dozen samples this weekend, prologues and all. It's been interesting to look at those beginnings and wonder how close this finished product is to the original material the agent saw potential in.

Some of the samples start more quickly than others, of course. Which seems to be a trend in YA, that the action get started quickly, I mean. The sample of a book I decided to buy did just that, got things rolling really quickly with zombies and mysterious souls. It seemed really exciting, and like it'd shape up to be something fun and hopefully romantic. Problem is, the more I read on, the less interested in the actual story I became. See, the dead bodies weren't the only "zombies". The characters might as well have been, too. They just weren't. . . FLESHY enough.

I'm still not finished, and I'm going to finish, but I'm just not feeling close enough to the characters. Like they haven't been drawn convincingly enough to carry the fantastical things that are happening to them. So now the way the plot is progressing just feels forced and fake to me. No real stakes have been revealed yet, and the motivations of the main characters either aren't all that clear, or border on "too stupid to live" territory.

I know that to the author, the characters felt alive and three-dimensional and their issues and motivations probably felt more real—just like my characters do to me. But somehow that didn't translate to me through the writing. The more I read on, the less of an emotional attachment I feel to the characters.

Not only has this experience led to a case of reader's remorse, it's shown me that no matter how hot your premise is, no matter how cool the plot, the reader still needs to identify with the characters to keep reading until your big plot twist at the end. Because that twist is nothing if the reader doesn't care about the people whose lives are being thrown into chaos.

Making your characters real doesn't stop when the first chapter ends. It's an evolution. They should change with the story, and change each other. They'll be affected by things that remind them of their past. They'll be emotional and angsty when things don't go right, but they'll also be aware of what's happening to them and work toward change. They must be ink made flesh.

Or else your fabulous plot with that amazing twist. . . will be just as insubstantial as your characters. So make 'em fleshy, and make it count!

Or else the corpses rising from the graves won't be the only zombies in your book. ;)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ain't No Sunshine...

It's a rainy, gloomy morning. I'm just getting back to work after a four day weekend. Yeah, blogging is very productive, I know. How do you know I'm not multi-tasking? ;) I could be scanning AND Googling. Look—I just learned that it's my homegirl Freida Kahlo's birthday today. Yeah, she's a Cancer like me, which explains so much. Thanks, Google. Ah, work. I need a hot chai.

Ugh. I wish I was back at home this morning, but not for the reason you think. Yeah, it's been a dreary, rainy morning, and no, I didn't really want to go to work, but the real reason is I want to get back to my WiP.

I really got into my new "As-Yet-Untitled" YA paranormal this weekend. I've got some amazing main characters with great voice who speak to me, and over 6500 words, not a lot yet, I know, but I'm trying to get the ideas down before they fly away into the collective unconscious. Plus, the action starts before page ten, so there's very little back story.

Even though I've got a central conflict and some other conflicts to raise the stakes, I still don't know how it ends yet, not exactly. That's actually part of the appeal this time. I've got a strange new order of magic users, and a plucky new heroine, and she's even more prepared than I am to go running halfway around the world to save a father she's never known. Cass is awesome. That's her in the picture. Her neck, anyway.

Also, there just might be some sexy steam-punk wizards. Maybe they're sorcerers, I haven't figured that out yet.

I'm thinking this could be even better—and more accessible, since the heroine is only 16—than Evangeline. But don't tell anyone, because I'm modest. ;) What are you working on? Something old? Something new? Something borrowed? Kidding! I'd love to hear all about your projects.

And don't forget to enter my birthday book giveaway! Hope your day is sunnier than mine.