When you're a writer looking for advice on how to improve, it doesn't matter where you go: an established author's blog, a conference, a book signing, a writers' group... One of the first pieces of advice will always be: "Just write." The more you write, the more you learn and the better you will be.
You know that saying about not seeing the forest for the trees? Well, I think I've been so focused on big trees - like writing the perfect query letter, finding the perfect agent, and just, you know, my LIFELONG DREAM of seeing my name on a real, live book - that I've lost sight of the forest. After all, the whole point of this crazy attempt of mine is to become a better writer. I want to write something one day that resonates with somebody. I want them to wake up and think about my story. I want them to read a sentence I've written and say, "Dang. This girl can write."
So I got to thinking. I've been writing books nonstop for the past six years, but have I become a better writer? Have I learned anything?
SECRET NOVEL: I've been writing forever, but this book was my first written as an adult. I was 22, trying to pretend I was happy and actually wanted to be a doctor. I worked in a medical research lab, but this was my real experiment: writing secretly at night, posting chapter by chapter online under a pseudonym, knowing that the reception would make or break my decision to pursue publication.
It is thanks to this novel that I wrote other novels. I learned about pacing, because writing a story in serial format - and having people want to read more - is not only just about hooking the reader, but keeping them hooked. The need to pace the story evenly became the need to outline my chapters, so I would know exactly what was happening and when. And now I can't imagine writing without an outline!
RICE FLOWER MEMOIRS: This book taught me about characterization. A lot of writers pull inspiration from people they know in real life, but the skillful ones do it in such a way that no one can tell who they're supposed to be. When I gave chapters of RFM to some of my family members, EVERYONE knew who they were supposed to be. And some of the descriptions were less than flattering. It was terrible! I learned to borrow defining characteristics, but to mold the characters into unique people in their own right.
PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS: I knew the basics about young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG). I had read widely in both categories. But I never really understood them until I started writing this book, which began YA and became MG. The difference between them might seem really obvious to you, but when I started writing, I had to learn the hard way that YA vs. MG is not just about age. It's about the characters' viewpoints, their goals, their dreams, and what drives and motivates them.
Noelle's wide-eyed exploration of the future - and the very tentative romance - made the book much too young to be true YA, and I'm ashamed to admit it took several CPs, agents, and an editor to make me realize that it should have been upper MG all along. But upper MG it eventually became!
ELEGY: This was my first attempt at a ghost story, and it was a crash course in the art of suspense. I winged it, wrote a truly terrible rough draft, and had to struggle through various rewrites before it became anything resembling something exciting enough to keep reading. I had never written anything with high stakes or the supernatural - witches, maybe; fairy godmothers, yes; but never ghosts or curses - and so it was a tough lesson in juggling smooth plotting, world-building, and tension all at once, all the while making sure my characters were behaving the way they should.
I also learned - really learned - that it is impossible to make everyone happy. You can write nice characters and people will say they're too Mary/Gary Sue, and you can write not-so-nice characters and people will say they're too unlikable. You can kill someone at the end, and people will say you need a happy ending, and you can let them live, and people will ask "Why?" I learned how to absorb and apply feedback, but to also stay true to the vision that I have for the book.
THREADS: My NaNoWriMo 2013 project was based on Theseus and the Minotaur, and I did a crap ton of research before I started writing. I thought that if I tried to learn everything about everything, and to incorporate it in my book, that it would be a better book. I wrote about the texture of linen, and the taste of the wine (always watered down in ancient Greece; it was considered barbaric to drink it straight), and the architecture of the buildings, but got so bogged down with trying to include everything that the story suffered a lot. (It definitely helped the word count go faster, though!)
The manuscript has been gathering dust on my desktop ever since, because I'm too scared to look at it, but I learned a lot about doing thorough research and then choosing what to include, rather than dumping it everywhere.
FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS: This is my 2014 book. I've got several chapters written, so I probably haven't learned anything yet, but I have a feeling that all of those previous experiences will help make this novel a lot better than it might otherwise have been. It's an epic fantasy, and I want it to span multiple books, so even pacing will be a must; as always, I am pulling inspiration for characters from real life, so learning what to include and what not to include will be needed; and all of the research I have done will need to be distilled and sprinkled into the framework of the story, bit by bit.
Have I become a better writer? I'd like to think so. There's so much left to learn, but I'd like to think that I've learned something from all of my stories and that I'll be bringing the experience with me to every book I write from here on out.
What has writing your books taught you? Are there any specific lessons you've learned from each one?
10. THIS GLORIOUS WEATHER. It has been over 40 degrees and sunny on two consecutive days. Cue the bikini! Just kidding, but I did wear a cocktail dress last night without freezing.
9. Dario Marianelli's score for Anna Karenina. I enjoyed the movie, and it was nice to see Keira Knightley playing a somewhat different character from the ones she typically portrays.
8. This Twitter account. Because there is nothing cuter than an animal dressed up like a person.
7. Cranking out 5K words on FOTL in a single sitting. Yeehaw!
6. The Lunar New Year (which is more accurate to say than "Chinese New Year" because many other countries celebrate it besides China). It is the Year of the Horse, and from what I've read, there's supposedly an exciting year ahead of us!
5. An upcoming girls' spa weekend, during which I will be getting my first-ever massage! With hot stone therapy (still need to Google that).
4. Food boards on Pinterest. *wipes drool off keyboard* Seriously, look at this. And this. And this.
3.The Puppy Bowl, because that's what this weekend is all about, right?
2. One of my readers for ELEGY composed music inspired by the book (!!!) and I am begging her to let me share it with everyone, because it is freaking amazing. Like Tchaikovsky and Hans Zimmer got together over a couple of beers and wrote a brilliant symphony with electronic synth.
1. And last but not least, WRITING CONFERENCES! At least one is in the works right now (the SCBWI), and I would like to go to at least two more, although they are very pricy. But... author talks! Live pitch sessions! Book signings! And best of all, meeting writing friends in person!
P.S. I am so sorry that I've been lax in responding to and returning blog comments, but rest assured, I have read them all and I'll be catching up this month. :)
Last week, for the first time since winter began, I wrapped myself in layers, laced up my running shoes, and took to the streets in the darkness. When it's 13 degrees out and I can barely see through the scarf of my own breath, I tend to prefer the security of a treadmill. But the gym is packed these days, as it always is in the first few weeks of the new year, and I didn't relish the idea of running in a hot room under harsh fluorescent lights, on a machine coated in other people's sweat. Not that night, anyway.
Something drew me outdoors. Maybe it was the promise of near-perfect quiet, when houses are alight with people having dinner and the roads are empty.
Maybe it was the sky, an unusual watercolor swirl of black and navy that kept the stars a secret.
Or maybe it was frustration about my writing, and the constant fear that I will never be good enough, which had intensified last week.
I gulped in cold air, sharp as icy knives, and thought about how many others had been showered with interest (well-deserved), while my words had been greeted with only silence (well-deserved?). I felt that familiar prickle in my nose and eyes and the shame that accompanied it.
I knew that I was being irrational, putting so much store by something that might not mean anything in the end. But I couldn't stop feeling upset, no matter how I scolded myself, and so I fixed it the only way I knew how.
I ran. Hard.
I ignored the burning in my lungs and tugged my headband tighter around my stinging ears, telling myself that the cold would be good for me. I've always preferred frosty winter evenings over the thick, sweltering nights of summer, and so I closed my eyes against the bitter wind and forced myself up the first hill.
So far, so good. I had been keeping up with my training throughout the winter, so I was barely out of breath at the top. I had learned, from foolishly running too hard and injuring myself last year, to stretch and to warm up properly, and my body thanked me for it as I turned down a dark street several blocks from home.
I thought about how a year ago, that hill might have seemed impossible, as did running in the dark on a cold winter night. Why can't writing be like that? Why can't you write relentlessly, every single day, and risk your health and your sanity and see something solid for your efforts? Who wouldn't be discouraged by training faithfully and getting absolutely nothing back?
I don't know how many times I've thought about giving up. I don't talk about it a lot, this constant struggle to keep going while blow after blow is delivered, carrot after carrot is offered and then snatched away. I've kept it close, this thought that maybe I should just write because I love it, and then put those books away on a high shelf, to save for my children one day.
It seemed so appropriate, I thought, to ponder these things while running again, after such a long period of waiting and healing. After all, I run because I love it, not because I would ever want to do a marathon. Maybe that's the secret. Maybe by wanting something too much, you lose sight of why you're even doing it in the first place.
So that's my goal for this year. To remember why I'm writing, even if it's taking me to one hill I can't seem to climb right now.
For me, querying a novel is a private business. I quietly send out an email, and I quietly receive a response. Aside from me and the agent (and the few that I tell, such as my long-suffering, ever-patient critique partners [I owe you guys sooo many cookies]), no one has to know what response I got.
So this is really a few thousand steps out of my comfort zone, what with ELEGY being up there for two whole days, and everyone being able to see whether there's interest or... well... *crickets*
But I am so proud to be here and to have this opportunity, make no mistake!
Please feel free to stop by and fling tomatoes say hello! And please also visit my amazing teammates, who will all shortly take the book world by storm. Count on it!
ELEGY (by yours truly): Read the short pitch and first page at Jaye Robin Brown's blog HERE.
#TeamPPU (Phantom Pirate Universe)
Our fearless leader: Stephanie Garber
A SEA OF HOLLOW HEARTS (by Kate Bucklein): A bad-ass YA epic fantasy about pirates, romance, and monsters on the high seas. Find it HERE.
STRANGE ATTRACTORS (by Melody Marshall): An action-packed YA sci-fi about a teen spy who crosses universes to steal secrets. Find it HERE.
Our fearless leader: N.K. Traver
THAT NIGHT ON BLOSSOM HILL (by Alison Green Myers): Murder, mistrust, and manipulation abound in this suspenseful YA horror. Find it HERE.
WISHING (by Jerilyn Patterson): Magic and crime mix seamlessly in this contemporary YA fantasy. Find it HERE.
ME: (clutches heart) Oh my god, Stella, I told you not to do that again!
STELLA: What? Suddenly leap out at you from the novel you're revising?
ME: (weakly) That was the general idea, yes.
STELLA: Well, you're making some huge changes, so everyone's all shaken up in there. I had to come out and say something. (peers at computer screen) So what's all this about a...
ME: Spoiler alert.
STELLA: And did you decide to kill...
ME: Spoiler alert!
STELLA: What about that scene where she's got the knife...
ME: SPOILER ALERT! Stop trying to ruin the ending!
STELLA: (crosses arms over chest) Okay, fine. But you owe me an explanation. Why are you changing the entire ending of ELEGY?
ME: First of all, I don't owe you anything. You are a figment of my imagination, and if I wanted to, I could do this. (finger hovers over Delete key)
STELLA: You wouldn't dare. I'm too young and beautiful and talented to die.
ME: (calmly deletes an entire page)
STELLA: STOP IT, YOU NUT JOB!
ME: (hits Ctrl+Z to undo) Get a grip, you know I need that page. And I'm not changing the ending. Not for sure, anyway.
STELLA: (glares, points at screen) Then what is this all about?
ME: This alternate ending's just for fun. Half of my CPs liked ELEGY's original ending, but the other half didn't, so I want to see what happens when I end it the way they think it should have ended.
STELLA: But why? You love the original ending, too.
ME: That's... I... (defensively) I'm open to feedback. And how would you know?
STELLA: (eyeroll) From the tear that rolled down your cheek when you reread it, you cheesy sap.
ME: Why are you so upset about me changing the ending, anyway? I don't have to change anything about you directly. (pauses) Wait a sec. That's the problem, isn't it?
STELLA: (loftily) I haven't the faintest clue what you mean.
ME: You want everything to be about you, and you're mad that I'm focusing on this other character.
STELLA: Everything is about me. I am ELEGY. Just like Theseus over there is THREADS, aren't you, Theseus?
THESEUS: (from behind) Well... yeah.
ME: (clutches heart) Okay, moving forward, you guys are officially BANNED from jumping out of your stories.
THESEUS: (raises eyebrow) I killed the Minotaur, I am a prince of Athens, and I may or may not be the son of Poseidon. Also, I am quite pretty. So I believe I can do whatever I please. (looks casually at the screen) Yes, I see what you mean, Stella. She totally cannot write.
ME: (angrily) Why are all of my characters egomaniacs?
NOELLE: Hey! I'm not an egomaniac! I am friendly and adorable, and I have a magic wand and great taste in shoes. (eyes Theseus) And men.
ME: He's too old for you.
NOELLE: No, he's not!
ME: PPP is a middle-grade novel. You are fourteen. So yes, he's too old for you.
LAUREN: Okay, since we're all jumping out of our stories, I would like to say that I am not an egomaniac, either. (looks thoughtfully at me) In fact, I'm like you. I think I am you.
ME: (blushes) RICE FLOWER MEMOIRS was my first novel, okay?! Self-insertion is totally allowed just that one time.
STELLA: Why is this suddenly not all about me? (stomps foot) We are talking about my story, and my character arc, so all of you guys can get lost.
LAUREN: Let's take that ego down a few billion notches.
STELLA: Excuuuse me for being self-confident. I don't see anyone else in this room who opened a Carnegie Hall concert at age thirteen.
NOELLE: I fought a band of evil goblins at age fourteen. Does that count?
THESEUS: I traveled, barefoot, from Troezen to Athens and slew a bunch of monsters along the way.
LAUREN: And I was in high school? And, uh, I wrote a novel?
STELLA: (scoffs) My point is, all of you guys are on the shelf, and this conversation is about ME and MY ending. And I want to know why it's changing.
ME: Because I said so.
ALL CHARACTERS: (staring blankly)
ME: I know you guys think you run the show because I let you do random stuff sometimes, and I agree to your crazy schemes here and there, but get this through your hopefully three-dimensional, hopefully well-fleshed out heads: I AM THE BOSS. The big cheese. La jefe. Lauren, if I want to shamelessly write myself into a story under the guise of an original character, i.e. YOU, I'll do it.
LAUREN: (nods meekly)
ME: Theseus, if I want to write in a gory injury for you - maybe as a punishment for just abandoning Ariadne like that - I'll do it. Capiche?
THESEUS: (flexes again)
NOELLE: (gazes at his biceps)
ME: He's still too old for you.
NOELLE: Oh, fine, you grump!
ME: And if I wanted to write ALL of you into one ridiculous mash-up of a novel, in which fairy godmothers must use haunted violins to battle a secret army of Minotaurs in Vietnam, I'LL DO IT. OKAY?
STELLA: (mutters something that sounds like "Look who's an egomaniac now")
ME: Okay, now that we're clear on that, I have to get back to work. My pitch and pages are going up for Pitch Wars soon, and I have to make sure ELEGY's in good shape.
ALL CHARACTERS: Yeah, yeah...
THESEUS: So... that mash-up novel? Is that really happening? And can I be the main fairy godmother?
Today I am proudly co-hosting the January session of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, brainchild of the one and only Alex J. Cavanaugh! IWSG takes place on the first Wednesday of each month and serves as a support system for any writer who has ever felt unsure about themselves (hello... pretty much everybody!).
2014 is upon us at last. Twenty fourteen. Two thousand fourteen. No matter how you say it, it sounds good.
This year, people in the blogging community - folks that you and I know - will finish novels. They will land agents and/or publishing contracts. Publisher's Weekly will broadcast names that we recognize. Books will appear on the shelves with familiar author photos and acknowledgments.
How do I know? Because these good things happen every year.
The question is: in 2014... will they happen to YOU?
It's possible. More than possible.
Every new year is a new opportunity. Think of it as a clean page in a notebook, or a move to someplace nobody knows you. It's a chance to start fresh and establish your new identity as a writer.
All you need to do is dust off that old you, the 2013 you. Take risks. Send a query to that out-of-reach agent. Write that book you were always too chicken to begin. Break rules and ignore taboos. Add a prologue, or use too many adverbs, or create a love triangle with shameless abandon. Worry about critiques and revisions later.
Fearlessness is the cure for insecurity... even if you're just telling yourself that you're fearless.
For my part, I've resolved to finish my epic fantasy this year. I've been afraid to really start it for a long time now... afraid and insecure that it would be cliche, or just plain bad, or both... but I'm going to crack down and just WRITE it. The 2014 me is reserving judgment until the book is complete.
So join me, won't you? I have a feeling it's going to be our best year yet!
I know I say this every time the end of the year rolls around, but... I can't believe it's the end of the year. 2013 flew by faster than any year of my life has so far. I feel like all I did was work and stress out. BUT, I did get a lot of writing and querying done, and I went to author talks and learned a ton, so at least in that area of my life, I feel like I've made progress. I feel happy and content, and I know that I'm becoming a stronger, better writer with every book.
In case you missed my spazzing out on Twitter, I entered ELEGY into the Pitch Wars contest at Brenda Drake's blog earlier this month. You can read the official rules here, but basically, how it works is you send a query letter and the first five pages of your completed, polished manuscript to four mentors (out of 50 or so) of your choice, based on their preferences.
The mentors are agented and/or published authors who each wade through their slush piles and choose three lucky people: an official mentee and two alternates, who will all get the benefit of their coaching and expertise in terms of spiffing up their queries, synopses, chapters and/or full manuscripts for the agent round in January 2014.
I'm so proud to say that not one, but TWO mentors chose ELEGY as their first alternate, and these were my top two choices for mentors. They are the incomparable Natalie Knaub-Traver, who just sold her book DUPLICITY to Macmillan Entertainment for publication in 2015 (add her book to your Goodreads list here) and the lovely and wonderful Stephanie Garber, whose agent is Jessica Negrón of Talcott Notch Literary and who blogs at Mystic Cooking.
Let me tell you something, guys.
I have never been picked for ANY team in my entire graceless, unpopular, athletically challenged life. (Except for middle school, when we did a couple weeks of ping-pong, at which I was unnaturally gifted. Yes, I know this is totally a stereotype, but whatever.)
So to be chosen by TWO mentors for their teams, out of thousands of entries, is mind-blowing. And not only that, Nat and Stephanie really believe in me and in ELEGY, and are pretty much the sweetest people ever, and my eyes/nose are tingling as I write this because 1) I'm a sap and 2) there is no way I won't succeed with these ladies (and with my awesomely talented teammates - what's up #TeamTallahassee and #TeamPPU!!!) supporting and coaching me.
Exciting things are happening, for sure!
I have two weeks off at the end of this month, and several writing goals to meet. They are: 1) fine-tuning ELEGY: I have some small line edits and a little bit of rewriting to do, and I have to figure out how to put together a synopsis for its multiple-timelines, multiple-POVs, semi-epistolary craziness; 2) finish THREADS, the Minotaur book that I wrote for this year's NaNoWriMo; and 3) start FOTL (finally!).
Just to give you a taste of my planning process, I took a few snapshots of the contents of my writing duffel bag. (Yes, I need a duffel bag to tote around all of my sticky notes, notebooks, binders, flash drives, pens, etc.)
This is my pretty binder for all of my FOTL notes! (Courtesy of the classy French store Tar-zhay)
Some of my notes for the FOTL story plan. Later I'll write the chapter outline from this synopsis!
My finished manuscript for ELEGY (all 209 pages of it!) and my planning notebook.
A peek at my story plans for ELEGY... and all of the Post-its that I sacrificed in the process.
My chapter outline for ELEGY, on which I relied heavily while drafting!
I've got a busy month ahead, so I'm not sure I'll be blogging again before the new year. If not, I hope you all have a very happy holiday season. Thanks so much for hanging out with me at Silver Lining this year, as always, and for being an important part of my writing life.
You always believed I would take the world by storm.
Awkward, meek little me, with oversize glasses and a notebook hugged against a skinny body.
You opened your arms and smiled, and after our bear hug, you tugged gently at the ears that were too big for my head. "You've got lucky elephant ears," you said.
"What does that mean?" I knew your answer by heart, but this was a ritual between us, you and I, and you happily obliged.
"It means that you're a very, very smart girl, and that you'll be very, very successful."
And you would pull out a bag of Werther's Originals, your favorite, and I would open a candy wrapper for you and you would open a candy wrapper for me and all would be right with the world.
You asked me about school over a box of Chips Ahoy - the chewy chocolate chip kind, my favorite - as I dunked cookies into milk until they broke apart, sinking to the bottom of the glass in a soggy, sugary sediment.
Whatever worries I confessed, you nodded your wise, gray head and promised that all would be well. I would get a A in math (no matter what Daddy said); that boy would like me (how could he not?); and that friend would invite me to her birthday party (even though she had left me out of the last one).
Of your seven beloved grandchildren, I was the only girl, the princess, the favorite.
Everything I did was perfect and right in your eyes. You laughed at everything I said, took my side against Mom, and bought me whatever I looked at.
Some men are born to be girls' dads and some are born to be boys' dads, and mine was the latter, too often absorbed in his sons to bother much with a lowly daughter. But to you, I was something special. You were the only one who bothered to look for the flame inside me, to cup your hands around its fragile light and protect it from the wind.
I told you I wanted to write books, and you never belittled or scolded or bent down the corners of your mouth, the way they all did. You just told me that I could do whatever I wanted, because I was your precious Elephant Ears and I was born into this world to be somebody.
You believed, even before I did, that those journals I scribbled in when I was supposed to be studying fractions would amount to something. You had exchanged wealth and consequence for a mere middle-class existence in this strange land across the sea, and damn it, you had done it for me, so that I could succeed.
Even now, when no phone or letter could ever reach you, still I think of you tugging my ears when I'm feeling low and it reminds me of our heart-to-hearts over cookies and milk. It reminds me that you always thought my dreams were worthwhile, and it gives me hope that you'd be proud of who I am today.
Whatever happens from here on out, I promise I'll keep tugging my lucky elephant ears in your honor.
Do you ever wonder why it's so much easier to doubt yourself than to believe you can do whatever you try? I wonder that. ALL THE TIME. I wonder that when I'm writing and thinking, This is garbage, isn't it? It is. I wonder that when I'm reading a book and thinking, I will NEVER be able to write like this.
Is it some kind of sick defense mechanism where, if you tell the universe ahead of time that you're going to fail, you'll feel like you covered the bases if said failure happens and then no one can accuse you of having false hopes and you can just shrug and say, "See? I told you so"?
The weird thing is that even with all that self-doubt, deep down, I really do believe that people can do whatever they want to do.
The key word there, of course, is WANT.
I hear people doubting themselves all around me, every single day. Not just friends and family and people I know, but strangers having conversations on the train, in a restaurant, passing by on the sidewalk.
I can't find a job. It's impossible.
You can't or you won't?
I can't take care of myself without him. I can't live alone.
You can't or you won't?
I can't write a good book.
I can't or I won't?
It's depressing, all of this negativity. Because there is ALWAYS a way to do something, if you really WANT to do it.
Here's a way I remind myself of that, every time I sit down at my computer:
Left row, top to bottom:
Soon you will be sitting on top of the world.
Good luck bestows upon you. You will get what your heart desires.
The secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one does.
Right now you need to be patient.
Middle row, top to bottom:
IT only gets better when YOU get better.
Your present plans are going to succeed.
We create our fate every day we live.
When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice.
All the effort you are making will ultimately pay off.
Yeah, I know that these are arbitrary little pieces of paper that aren't grammatically correct or even logical half the time. And I know they are written in such a way that anyone cracking open the cookie would be able to apply the fortune to their own situations.
But who's to say that saving these words, reading them, and thinking about them every day won't make me start to believe them?
And who's to say that that won't help me achieve what I want?
Well, folks... another NaNoWriMo has come and gone, and I am very happy to say that I made it through alive! Exhausted, but alive. Of course, this is setting the bar high because I am now two for two for November NaNos (I'm not counting August's Camp NaNo), so whenever I participate again, I will have to try to keep my record spotless!
I've been to a few author talks by now, and since they all took place in late summer/early fall, there was a lot of heated discussion about the virtues (or lack thereof) of NaNoWriMo. I was surprised to find out that many of the authors don't approve of its crazed 30-day madness. I'm all for anything that gets people to sit down and write, but this time around - sapped of energy, fingers aching, with a ghost of a book that may or may not have any character development - I'm starting to see where they come from.
Is it better to pound out 50K as fast as you can, just to have something down on the page, even if it's complete and utter crap? Or is it better to savor the process and have a more polished product, even if it takes you months or years?
After writing four-and-a-half novels, I've done both, and I have to say... I still don't really know.
But here is what I do know, and what two NaNoWriMos have taught me:
I need an outline.Hopelessly. Desperately. There is no way I can do NaNo without at least some plotting. If you made me pants it, I'd probably turn into Jack Nicholson in The Shining and just type "All pantsing and no plotting makes Julie crazy" until I hit 50K.
That being said, I need to leave the ending open. I only plot about 50% of a book before I write it, because even with a road map, things change. I need to be able to adapt the story should it decide to go in a different direction, and I can always continue plotting later.
I can't write every single day. Yes, I know that is the whole point of NaNoWriMo, but it's just not realistic for everyone who works full-time. Plus, writing 1,667 words is nothing. For me, that's barely half a chapter. When I sit down to write, I need to dive in and give it my full attention, and that means writing at least 3K.
There is no wrong way to write a book. (Unless you're not writing at all.) I won both NaNoWriMos by doing full-on weekend sprints. Both times, I felt so guilty when I didn't (or just couldn't) write as much on weekdays. But the technique works for me. I have 50K written, just like the people who did it the "right" way.
The idea needs to excite me. Duh, right? But inspiration helps me when my motivation flags... and it is guaranteed to flag at some point. I need to be writing something that I 100% love and believe in. It's much easier to write when I want to know what happens next.
I will never finish a rough draft in 50,000 words. Never. I am so ridiculously wordy (as anyone who has CP'd for me will tell you) and my first drafts are always full of word vomit. My past books ended on average around 80-85K, so that's what I'm aiming for with THREADS.
My end-of-the-year goals: 1) Finish THREADS (which has less than 30K to go!) and 2) start writing FOTL, my epic fantasy. I'm scared, but I know it will be a good learning experience in terms of world-building and writing an ensemble cast, two things I want to work on.
How are you guys doing? Did you do NaNoWriMo/NaNoRevisMo, and how did it go?
Hope all of you fellow Americans had a great Thanksgiving!
One of my favorite things about blog reading is learning about other people's writing processes. There are so many different ways to put an idea on paper and then transform it into a novel!
So how do my stories evolve from a twinkle in my eye to a fully formed book baby? (Well, when a writer and her story idea love each other very much...)
Just in time for my second ever NaNoWriMo, here's how I'm planning to turn my brand-new WIP into another completed manuscript:
Pick an idea. This is arguably the hardest step for me, but there's always one that shoves the others aside and hollers, "Pick meee! Pick MEEE!" And then it pops up in my dreams, waves its arms frantically when I hear a certain song or phrase, and generally makes itself too obnoxious to ignore.
Buy a new notebook. I apologize to all trees, but I have to have a fresh notebook for every new story. I prefer spiral (so I can stick a pen in), with a folder or two, and nice clean lines.
Write a short synopsis. When I was younger, I loved writing book jacket and movie summaries for my stories. Now, I use that as a pre-noveling tool to get a general idea of what my story will be about.
Make a cast of characters. I like it when books include a dramatis personae section, where you can see how each individual is related to another (i.e. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; Gertrude, his mother; Claudius, his uncle). This is also where I name my characters, with a little help from my friend Google.
Do research. My NaNo project is based on Greek myth/legend, so I hit up the library for resources: history books, myth retellings, and a biography of Arthur Evans, the archaeologist who discovered the palace of Knossos. I take notes on things that I want to add or that might be pertinent to my book.
Make a chapter-by-chapter outline. I write a short, general description for each chapter that includes all of its major events. This is subject to change, of course, but it becomes a writing map that I rely on heavily, especially during time crunches like NaNo.
Decide on add-ins. I always have a page called "Add-Ins," which are events/characters that might not be crucial to the plot, but that will help with other stuff, like world-building. Eventually, as the story unfolds and I decide how closely it's sticking to the chapter outline, I'll write each of these on a post-it note and attach them wherever I plan to write them in.
Make a loose schedule. I don't do this for every story, but with NaNo, it's a necessity. I pick a projected final word count (also subject to change) and divide it by how much time I have to write. I set mini-goals and try to hit those to stay on track.
Write, write, write! Write until there's a rough draft! Usually, by the time I type "The End," I'm so sick of the story that I take a long break (1-2 weeks) before Round 1 of revisions.
Revise, send to CPs, revise, send to CPs... And rinse and repeat.
So there's my basic strategy. It might not be the easiest, and the planning stage alone can take weeks to months because, well, I need to work and have a life... but that's the technique that helped me write my three previous books!
What's your process like? Do any of these steps show up on your idea-to-book-baby journey?
P.S. This will be my final entry for a while as I gear up for NaNo. Feel free to spy on my progress here and to send me snippy tweets if I'm not meeting my quota. See you in December!
Whenever falls roll around, I get this urge to clean. It may seem strange, since cleaning is usually associated with the springtime (why is that, anyway?), but there's something about tidying up this time of year that really appeals to me. I guess getting neat and orderly is my way of preparing for another long, tough winter. And I don't mean just dusting or doing laundry, but also donating clothes I don't wear anymore, organizing the 148712859123 things I need to add to my scrapbook, and purging my computer of old links, files, and pictures.
Anyway, while I was busy doing this last type of cleaning, I came across a bookmark to an ancient LiveJournal account I had opened in college and had continued to update sporadically until 2010. Somehow, I remembered the password and logged in, and what started as giggling and banging my head on the desk over embarrassing entries turned into a rabbit hole of sorts. I tumbled down past memory after memory, and lost all track of time reading words I don't even really remember writing.
I'm sure most of us aspiring authors kept journals while growing up. I have two cardboard boxes filled to the brim with old diaries, almost every page covered front and back with writing. I'd say there are about 35 in all, and they would probably be a good representation of Barnes and Noble's catalog of notebooks and journals for the past twenty years. (Man, that makes me sound old!) I've been lugging these boxes around with me for years, so I guess it was only natural for me to progress to LiveJournal to save some trees (and my back).
Do you ever think about how our old selves live on in these diaries? Not in a Voldemort way, of course... but it's amazing how fast memories can come back, and how vivid they can be, when you read your entries. That's what happened to me this weekend. It started out as a simple task of changing passwords and organizing folders, and became an hour or two of reliving some of my best and worst memories.
I relived... the trip I took to Disney World with my childhood best friend in 2009, and how liberating it felt to laugh and feel carefree again.
I relived... my freshman year of college, possibly the darkest and loneliest time of my life, when I ended up with a horrible roommate who turned all my friends against me. Mean Girls is not just a movie, folks.
I relived... the cold winter day we put my dog down, when I went out barefoot to take a picture of the last paw prints she'd ever leave in the snow.
I relived... my very first trip to the city I now call home.
I relived... a really painful break-up, just before I moved to the city, and all of the letters I wrote him that I never wanted him to see, but needed to write for me. (Rereading these made me cry, and cry, and cry, and also understand what had happened better than I ever had before.)
I relived... our family vacation to Europe, the last one we all took together before the divorce, and how happy we were.
And best of all, I relived... the day I decided to write again (a decision that, ironically, started out with reading those 35 diaries I just mentioned).
Maybe I'm biased, but I don't think that photographs can ever really have this effect. They chronicle memories, too, but here's the thing - you can pretend to smile in a photograph, but you can't hide what you feel in your writing (at least, I never can). It all comes out. There's something about reading the writing of the person you once were that can bring you back to that year, that day, that hour, like nothing else.
And that's something else that photographs can't truly document... how we grow as people. The feelings we feel, and the thoughts we think, and the lessons we learn, and how they lead us to where we are now.
I don't really journal that much anymore, but I think the same effect applies to the stories that we write. I'll read a chapter or a paragraph that I've written, and shining through will be a memory or an experience that only I will connect to it. And I think about that piece of advice, the one that says that you can only truly write from the heart when you get out there and live.
Have you ever kept a journal? Do you ever go back and read the words you wrote, and do the memories appear in your writing when you least expect them to?
The title says it all: in less than one month, I will be doing NaNoWriMo for the first time in four years.
That's right. For some strange reason, I have not tried to write 50,000 words in 30 days since I "won" back in 2009!
November 2009: My first NaNoWriMo. I finished RICE FLOWER MEMOIRS.
November 2010: I was busy with a new job and with writing PPP. I had gotten agent interest earlier that year from my blog, and wanted to finish the book so I could submit.
November 2011: I was working on a revise-and-resubmit request for PPP, and had also just started planning/researching FOTL.
August 2012: I knew November would be a busy month, so I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo. It helped me write the first 35,000 words of ELEGY!
And now, here I am. It's early October. PPP is being queried. ELEGY is about to be, as well. And I'm twiddling my thumbs, unable to come up with an excuse not to do NaNo.
I have so many projects to work on. ANCHOR ISLAND and GARDENSPELL both have several chapters written, and then there's FOTL, still waiting in the wings, and SEAWALL, of which I have written exactly three and a half scenes.
That's why I felt guilty about pushing them all aside for this brand-new story, an idea that hit me earlier this year and is fresh and exciting and new. But it's calling my name and I can't ignore it, and I have to ride the wave of inspiration while it lasts. There's a good chance this story could be finished in November (or at least the majority of it will be written), and it's just too attractive an opportunity to pass up.
I'm not going to share too much about it at this time, besides what is already on my NaNoWriMo page (click here) and my Pinterest board (click here), but suffice it to say that I am REALLY excited!
My schedule can be crazy, so I won't kill myself trying to get to 50K. I think 25K is a good number and I'm sure I can beat it. The pressure is scary (even though it's just coming from myself), but I know that it will help me write and I can't pass up the chance to maybe get another book done this year!
Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Have you done it before and has it helped you?
The Insecure Writer's Support Group is a blogfest created by Alex J. Cavanaugh that takes place on the first Wednesday of each month. Think of it as a coffee shop full of writers talking about things that they've overcome, or still need to overcome.
Since you guys already know my situation from recent blog updates on the query trenches, I won't go into any more insecurities (although I've got plenty!).
Today I want to talk about an insecurity I've overcome.
Here's the thing about me: I strive hard for other people's approval. I care a lot about what others think. That's just the way I was raised. I don't think it's a coincidence that my strength/passion/goal center on a field that is almost entirely dependent on the approval of others: readers and reviewers, agents, editors. And that's fine... I think it's normal to want other people to like us, and to like our work.
But it's not good when that's the only thing that makes us feel validated. And that's what I've come to realize over the years. I can't let other people's approval be the one thing that defines my perception of success - because my own approval is just as important. Maybe even more so.
When I first started blogging, I had this toxic friend who would make mean-spirited comments about everything I wrote. It cut me deeply because I cared about them, and were our situations reversed, I would have been as supportive and encouraging as I could be. But I kept getting snarky, underhanded remarks, and after a while, the friendship obviously dissolved.
It was a long time before I could understand where this person was coming from. Sometimes a lack of approval has nothing to do with you, but with the person from whom you seek it. And taking a step back - and talking to a mutual friend who cared about us both - made me see the picture more clearly.
And you know what?
The honest truth is that I'm proud of my blog, even when it might seem cheesy, or corny, or irreverent, or silly... because it's 100% me. I don't have to front with you guys. I can just be myself. And I've learned to like myself, and my writing... and I've learned that that's okay to say.
I think we should all tell ourselves that more often. You are a good writer. You are worthy. You are enough.
I recently attended my FIRST writing event ever! I've never been to one in real life, so when I heard about this session on writing/publishing with a bestselling author, I jumped at the opportunity and registered to hear him talk. Best decision I could have made!
His name is Hugh Howey and he wrote the fantastic WOOL series. If you haven't heard of these books, you need to get to a store or library ASAP, because they are truly awesome. I made sure to read the first novel before I went to see him, and now I'm inhaling the next book. And you know post-apocalyptic is not my usual cup of tea!
Because Hugh got his start in self-publishing, the talk was very much in favor of that path of publication. WOOL was once a short story that he self-published on Amazon, and after much reader acclaim, he turned it into a novel that went on to become a New York Times bestseller. He's got an agent and a publisher now, after the fact, but he kick-started the process himself.
He was both cool and funny, and extremely well-spoken about his experiences in the industry. I'm pretty sure I was not the only aspiring author in the room who began to waver from the idea of traditional publication, after hearing the passionate and positive way he talked about self-publishing and the freedom and self-assurance that come with it.
I was so busy taking notes the whole time that whenever I had a question, someone else would ask it before I could muster the courage to raise my hand. (Fine by me, as I am petrified of public speaking, even if it's just to ask something for 5 seconds and have every single person in the room looking at me. *hunches in seat*)
Anyway, these were some of the awesome tips I jotted down:
On the Writing Process
Join a writing group. He described the very well-organized, professional-sounding group that he had been a part of (they had a president! and a treasurer! and dues, so they could buy refreshments!), but it doesn't have to be that intense. Just write with other people, because it's a great learning opportunity.
Write for readers. Don't write for agents; don't write for publishers. Think about the actual people who are going to be reading/buying your book, because they matter the most.
To be a good writer, you need to read. Everyone knows that... but Hugh stressed that you shouldn't only be reading for pleasure. You should also be paying attention to craft. You can write a dozen books, but if you don't read, you will never grow as a writer. He recommended "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" and Stephen King's "On Writing." (Speaking of which, I really need to read King's book; it seems like everyone recommends it!)
To be a good writer, you need to live. He said that MFAs and writing programs can only teach you so much. A truly well-rounded writer is one who gets out there and lives life, has adventures, falls in love, gets their heart broken, travels, and - most importantly - talks to strangers.
If you're a plotter, write for the reader who will read your book twice. Hugh said he's a hardcore plotter (woo-hoo! plotters represeeeent) and that he could be writing Book 1, but already know what will happen in Books 4 and 5. He likes outlining because you can stick in foreshadowing and Easter eggs that repeat readers can have fun picking out.
Six CPs is the perfect number. Too many CPs is not good, as you'll get pulled into too many directions. He also advised us to stagger our submissions. Send out to 2-3 CPs, incorporate their edits, revise, and then send out to 2-3 more. That way, people aren't all reading the rough draft and wasting time picking out the same mistakes.
If you're self-publishing, write a lot of shorter pieces instead of one giant novel. He said that this would be 1) easier, 2) more practice, 3) help you build up readership, and 4) allow readers to finish faster so that they can review and spread the word faster.
Enjoy your anonymity.I loved that he brought this up. He said that he misses the days when he could just write and not worry about deadlines and tours. Appreciate what you have now and don't lose sight of it.
Tell yourself your 10th book will be a bestseller; not your debut. He compared this to being an athlete and said that it's not likely you'll make MVP your first time on the field. He said that each book is like a lottery ticket; the more you write, the more you expand your opportunities. He also suggested writing different lengths and different genres. (This tip made me really happy because, as you guys remember, I worried a while back whether jumping around genre-wise was a good idea.)
Don't be in it for the money. He repeated this so many times that I could tell it was an extremely important point he hoped to pass on. "Dream, but don't expect" were his very words.
Self-publishing vs. traditional, and how writing is like a painting. Hugh compared a book to a painting, and explored this metaphor down the paths of traditional and self-publication.On the traditional path, a writer can make the sketch, but someone else will paint it onto a canvas, someone else will decide what frame to put the canvas in, and someone else will decide what to call it. Self-publishing can give the writer a lot more control, creativity, and freedom.
All writing is practice... even crap. Especially crap! Never underestimate the crap.
Tearing down other writers is tearing down yourself. His exact words were, "That's just crazy talk!" He warned us not to hate on people who've had an easier time (like the ones who get an agent on their second query letter, or a movie deal and tons of money right out of the gate, etc.) and not to judge writers - especially self-published ones - whose books aren't perfect. They are out there making art, and that's the most important thing. Someone else's success (or failure) takes nothing away from you; don't wallow or revel in it.
I really wish I could have talked to him afterward (and that I'd brought my copy of WOOL for him to sign), but he was swarmed by everyone else so I just left and tried to absorb everything he'd said.
The session really gave me a new perspective on self-publishing. When I first started to get into serious writing, I (very ignorantly and stupidly) thought that the only people who self-published were the ones who could not cut it on the traditional path. And that's just a very self-limiting, close-minded way to think. I'm glad that my years of being part of the blog community have shown me how much incredible talent there is out there, regardless of publication style - self, traditional, small press/big press, agent or not, etc. - and that I learned so much from this event.
It's way too early to make hard and fast decisions (and my heart still tells me that I want to be traditionally published, because I want to focus on the writing itself and leave the design/heavy marketing stuff to the pros), but I am happy to know that there are so many roads I can take.
So what do you think about Hugh's advice? What's your opinion on self-publishing vs. traditional?
And what would you think if - one day down the road - I ever released PPP as an e-book, since so many of you have asked to read it? :) :)
Good news: the first 100 pages of ELEGY are now in real, live agent hands! *collapses* The query letter did its job back at the WriteOnCon forums, so now I just have to hope that this partial does its job. It's a substantial chunk, about 70-75% of my entire book, so all crossable limbs are crossed that the full manuscript will one day be requested!
Thank you a million times to Marisa, Don and Kim, Nancy, and Margo! *blimp-sized hug* They did quick readthroughs of not only my rough draft, but also the revision... not an easy feat, since I added a ton of new scenes and dialogue. It really does take a village to write a book, and no matter what happens, I'll be forever grateful for their help in making ELEGY the best it can be.
I'm so proud of how far this story has come. It was once just a small idea, but now it's a full-fledged novel with characters that I care more about every day. It also stretched my writing comfort zone a LOT, since 1) I've never written a ghost story before and 2) I've never written such completely flawed people... who I then chucked headfirst into a high-pressure environment - a performing arts school inspired by New York City's Juilliard - where their jealousy, competitive natures, and loyalty are all put to the test. (All the while cackling evilly, of course.)
My enthusiasm for ELEGY is my security blanket right now, because August was a month of major setbacks. I didn't get a writing fellowship that I had applied to and had been very excited about. And then a wonderful agent with whom I've been communicating for three years (and someone who I would have loved - and would still love, if I'm ever so lucky - to work with) finally passed on PPP.
I know rejection is the name of the game when you're a writer. But this stuff still hurts. It feels like sending up hopeful balloons and watching them all get stuck in trees or burst by pine needles. I've lost count of how many stars I've wished on, and how many birthday candles I've blown out, and how many tunnels I've driven through while holding my breath.
I just have to hold on to that saying: "When one door closes, another opens." I'm going to try to open as many new doors as I can, no matter how many slam shut. I will write more books, and revise them, and send out queries, and enter contests. I'm going to find those doors and keep them open, no matter what... even if I have to jam my foot in.
Self-publishing is another door that I am more tempted to open than I have ever been before, thanks to a FANTASTIC author talk that I just attended. I will be blogging about everything I learned very soon, so stay tuned for that post!
Right now, I've got a shiny querying spreadsheet for ELEGY, a whole new list of people to submit to, and someone who is very kindly giving the story a chance.
Just keep moving forward, right?
How are you doing? What are some doors that have opened for you?
(I am still madly revising, but the home stretch is in sight and I have an ELEGY update coming soon.)
I hereby interrupt this blog break to share details about an exciting book release! The latest installment of Alex J. Cavanaugh's bestselling space opera is out TODAY. Alex is one of my favorite blog buddies and has been there for me since way back when. It is an honor and a pleasure to help spread the word about his phenomenal series!
By Alex J Cavanaugh
From the Amazon Best Selling Series!
A storm gathers across the galaxy…
Commanding the Cassan base on Tgren, Byron thought he’d put the days of battle behind him. As a galaxy-wide war encroaches upon the desert planet, Byron’s ideal life is threatened and he’s caught between the Tgrens and the Cassans.
After enemy ships attack the desert planet, Byron discovers another battle within his own family. The declaration of war between all ten races triggers nightmares in his son, threatening to destroy the boy’s mind.
Meanwhile the ancient alien ship is transmitting a code that might signal the end of all life in the galaxy. And the mysterious probe that almost destroyed Tgren twenty years ago could return. As his world begins to crumble, Byron suspects a connection. The storm is about to break, and Byron is caught in the middle…
“CassaStorm is a touching and mesmerizing space opera full of action and emotion with strong characters and a cosmic mystery.” – Edi’s Book Lighhouse
"Cavanaugh makes world building on the galactic scale look easy. The stakes affect the entire known universe and yet Cavanaugh makes it intensely personal for our hero. The final installment of this series will break your heart and put it back together." - Charity Bradford, science fantasy author of The Magic Wakes
Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The author of the Amazon bestsellers, CassaStar and CassaFire, he lives in the Carolinas with his wife.
This year was my second year at WriteOnCon, the online writers' conference that takes place every August! I can't recommend it enough. The people who run it are fabulous and the forums are just oozing with talent. You know those dreams where you're in a bookstore, buying lots of awesome books, and then you wake up and realize they're not on your shelf? (No? Just me?) That's kind of how I feel when I read the phenomenal queries and pages that people post, because I desperately want those stories on my bookcase, RIGHT NOW.
I haven't had a chance to take part in the live forum events this time around (I did the Twitter pitch last year and got some feedback on PPP from an Entangled Publishing editor... very cool stuff!).
Mostly I've been bumming around the critique forums, where the ninja agents have been prowling since yesterday. I posted the query letter and the first 250 words of ELEGY into the YA section, hardly daring to hope that any ninjas would show up. (They didn't last year for PPP, although I practically had an aneurysm every time I saw them visiting a buddy!)
I got a ton of fantastic suggestions that really helped me tighten up the query. People advised me to take out wishy-washy words so the letter would sound surer of itself; pointed out repetitions; made comments on how to improve the flow; and gave me a ton to think about in terms of how I want to convey the characters' motivations and voice.
And then this happened:
If you heard a squeal-scream sometime around 5 PM Eastern time yesterday, echoing through the mountains, rivers, and valleys, that was probably me.
I got some more great feedback from other writers and some kind, lovely, encouraging words, and then I went to bed (and dreamed about revising all night. The worst part about those dreams is that you wake up and the revisions aren't done).
And then I woke up to some private messages in my inbox and also this:
Guys, my heart stopped beating. I had to close my eyes and remind myself to breathe, so I wouldn't pass out, and then I freaked out because ELEGY is still just a WIP and has such a long, long way to go. And then I frantically called and texted and emailed all of my poor, poor CPs who have read this book, who gently calmed me down, told me it would be okay, and to get my ass in gear and start revising.
So that's just a long-winded way of saying that I need to take a break and focus on this book, and I'll be away from the blog for a little while, until it's in decent form. (Jesus. My heart is still beating so fast as I type this.)
Back soon with a full report on how revisions went! Thank you to everyone who stopped by to critique my query and pages! *fist-bump*
The critiques have been rolling in for ELEGY this week, and now all I want to do is drop everything and revise it! They were that fantastic - full of brilliant suggestions, gentle hints that some things weren't working, and sharp character analyses that made me say "Wow!" several times. I printed every email, taped them into my notebook, and scribbled down ideas on how to work in the advice: adding a chapter here, weaving in a scene there, etc.
Now, I hadn't looked at ELEGY since I finished it back in March and did a few brief edits in May. I hadn't even opened the Word document. I just typed "The End" and started sporadically shooting out the manuscript when the mood struck: first to my CP, then to three friends, and finally a couple of blog buddies who had shown interest in beta-reading it. And then I put ELEGY into a folder on my desktop and "forgot" about it.
But now it's all I can think about, after reading the critiques I got so far. I wouldn't say that I'm more excited about revising this than I was about PPP... it's just that I worked on PPP for so long that the excitement was more spread out.
I try to be a good "parent" to all of my books - I try not to love any of my "kids" more than the others - but I do love them in different ways, and ELEGY is giving me a feeling that I'm not sure I fully had with PPP. That's not to say that PPP hasn't done well, or that I would ever, ever give up on it, but I just feel more confident about ELEGY. I feel good. I feel like I'm becoming a stronger writer, and that it's not so hard to figure out how to use feedback to make the story better on my own terms, with my own style.
I sat down last night to read ELEGY in its entirety for the first time and felt so proud of it. Like, I know that in its current state, it's a hot mess, and there is a truckload of revisions to be done - but I love this book so damn much. I can't wait to flesh out the characters, add more detail to this world, and structure chapters so that everything flows more smoothly. It's all there in my head, just waiting to come out!
I'm busy all weekend, but I'm hoping to have at least a few hours on Sunday to get my notes together, whip the first few pages into shape, and write a query letter in preparation for WriteOnCon! ELEGY is nowhere near querying status, but I figured it might be fun and good practice. When the links go up, I'll make sure to post them here so anyone who's interested can hop over and critique!
That's it for now! Have a great weekend, everybody!
I love Wednesdays in the blog world because so many friends participate in the What's Up Wednesday fest. It's fun to see what people are reading, writing, and thinking, so I thought I'd do my own version today!
This is truly a wonder of a book and I think it deserves all of the praise it's been given. I laughed and cried and wanted more. August's voice is phenomenal and I loved his protective big sister, Via.
I finished the entire book in one sitting! The problem with ensemble casts, though, is that some characters have to necessarily be less well-developed than others. I thought Meg, the MC, was very well-written.
I LOVE Greek mythology and I have a feeling I'm going to really like this book. I've always loved minor characters and I'm rooting for Patroclus already!
WHAT I'M WRITING
GARDENSPELL: I've been working on this for a couple weeks, and I'm really enjoying it! Like PPP, it's an upper MG fairy tale, but I want it to be more traditional, like wishing wells-ogres-and-seven-league-boots traditional. I'm about four chapters in and going strong!
FOTL: This is still in the planning stage, but I'm constantly scribbling down random snippets. I'll have to share pictures of my FOTL binder, which has dozens and dozens of pages of notes. Let's just hope I never lose it!
ELEGY: I sent this out to two more beta readers. I'm limiting readers for now because it's still such a rough draft, but I hope I'll get many more pairs of eyes on it eventually. I might whip up the query and first pages to post at WriteOnCon. (My palms are getting sweaty just thinking about it!)
WHAT I'M LISTENING TO
Caro Emerald's album "Deleted Scenes From the Cutting Room Floor." I need to throw a Roaring 20s party to this music!
WHAT I'M WATCHING
We went to see "Despicable Me 2" a few weeks ago, and it was hi-lar-ious. I laughed so hard my sides hurt, and am thinking about installing an Indiana Jones-type obstacle where you have to do a dance sequence on musical squares before you can enter my writing office. (I'm sure that makes absolutely no sense if you haven't seen the movie.) Also, I need a chip hat filled with guacamole.
LATEST QUOTE “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.” - J.D. Salinger
I've been beta-reading and what's great about that is that you CAN call the author up on the phone (or email them) when you want to chat!
I've been working on GARDENSPELL for the past two weeks, which has been really fun because of all the research I get to do. And by research, I mean read lots and lots of fairy tales, folk tales, and fables. The other night, I cracked open a huge fairy tale volume I'd gotten as a gift and hadn't had a chance to read yet.
When it comes to the original Grimms, no matter how many versions you've read or how many times you've read them, they can be a little tough to stomach. My first thought was: "Cool, these are the really old versions of fairy tales." My next thought was: "He cut off her WHAT!?" And then: "She ate WHOM?!" And finally just: "..."
I made a list of some of the juiciest ones (for fun, not for inspiration, of course. I don't think an upper MG novel with murder, cannibalism, and incest will fly these days... just a gut feeling).
Here are a few examples:
The Juniper Tree
Once upon a time, a woman makes a wish under a juniper tree that she'll have a baby "as red as blood and as white as snow." Despite the fact that this is a recipe for one freaky-looking kid, she eventually gives birth to a handsome son, but dies shortly afterward and is buried under the tree.
Years later, the husband remarries. His new wife adores her own daughter, Marjory, but hates her stepson. So, in the great tradition of every Grimm stepmother, she decides to end him. When he reaches into the trunk for an apple (because who doesn't keep fresh produce in a trunk?), she slams the lid and decapitates him, then ties the head back on and props the body on the porch.
When Marjory tries to talk to her brother and he doesn't respond, she boxes his ear. The head rolls off and she freaks out because she thinks she killed him. She and her mom agree to keep it a secret from the father.
Dad comes home and is told that the boy has gone to visit his uncle. The stepmother cooks up a delicious meat stew, and Dad remarks that it's the best he's ever tasted. (Yep... she totally went all Sweeney Todd on the corpse.)
Meanwhile, Marjory is still feeling pretty crappy about her brother's death. She buries his bones under the juniper tree, and the next day, a strange bird appears and sings a song about what a jerk its stepmother is. Three people are moved by the "beautiful" song: a goldsmith, who gives the bird a gold chain; a shoemaker, who gives it red shoes; and a miller, who gives it a millstone.
The bird sings the song again right outside of Marjory's house. When the father comes out to listen, he is given the golden chain; when Marjory comes out, she gets the shoes; and when the stepmother comes out, the bird drops the millstone on her head and kills her. Then the brother miraculously reappears, and he, his father, and Marjory all go inside for dinner. One big happy family, y'all!
Once upon a time, there was this creepy old man who kidnapped young women. He would dress up as a beggar, knock on the door, and carry off any girl who answered it.
One day, he sets his sights on a house with three young and beautiful daughters. He kidnaps the eldest and brings her to his castle, where he leaves her with two warnings: don't go into a certain room, and keep a random egg safe.
Now this is the point in the story where the girl should get the hell out. But no, she immediately goes into the forbidden room and finds a huge, bloody basin filled with hacked-off female body parts. In her shock, she drops the egg (because the best way to keep it safe is to carry it around in your sweaty palms, obviously) and she can't wash the blood off it no matter what she does.
When the old man comes home, he butchers her. Then he returns to her house, carries off the second sister, and the same thing happens.
When it's the youngest sister's turn, she wisely puts the egg in a safe place before she enters the forbidden room. She finds her sisters' body parts, nonchalantly puts them back together, and they return to life (!?!). She tells them to hide inside a basket and covers the top with gold.
The old man comes home, all ready to marry her because she passed the test, but she tells him to first bring the basket of gold to her parents' house. While he's doing this, she takes a skull (from the one of the other victims in the forbidden room, maybe?), dresses it up, and puts it in the window. She then rolls in honey and feathers so she looks like a giant bird, and heads home.
Along the way, she runs into the people who are coming to her wedding with the old man. They call her "Fitcher's bird" (which is never explained), and she tells them that the bride is at the house preparing the wedding feast.
When the old man and the wedding guests go inside, thinking that the skull is the bride grinning down at them, her relatives barricade the doors and burn the house down, and everyone dies. The end.
The Maiden With the Rose On Her Forehead
Once upon a time, a prince and his sister liked each other. A lot. When he went away to war, he asked the princess to look after his rose garden. Several months passed, and she gave birth to a little girl (?!?). However, she was ashamed of her (probably because she was also her niece - very V.C. Andrews) and also because the girl had been born with a rose on her forehead. The princess raised her secretly, made her wear a hood to hide the rose, and warned her never to let anyone at school find out who she was.
The prince eventually came back and visited the school, bringing a present of cherries. The little girls got so excited that they started flinging around the cherry pits, and one of them got stuck under the rose girl's hood. When she came home, the princess found the pit and flipped out, thinking the child had removed the hood and revealed herself. So she kills her daughter, hides the body in an iron chest, and locks the chest in a secret room (not overreacting at all).
Unlike most of the Grimm villainesses, the princess is tormented by grief. Just before she dies of guilt, she makes her brother promise never to enter the secret room.
The prince keeps his promise, gets married, and tells his new wife not to enter the secret room. But she does, and when she opens the iron chest, she finds a beautiful young woman sitting inside. Jealous that the prince is keeping this girl for his amusement, she burns her all over with a hot iron and makes her work as a servant.
But the girl has a habit of talking to inanimate objects, and confesses her whole story to the bedpost while the prince eavesdrops outside her door. Furious, he orders his wife to be burned with a hot iron, kicks her out, and lives happily ever after with his daughter/niece.
What are some of the craziest, creepiest fairy tales you've read or heard of?
THREADS (YA Fantasy/Mythology) The themes of fate, loyalty, and humanity are explored in this retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur, from the perspective of a young Athenian thrown into the Labyrinth.
FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS (FOTL) (YA Epic Fantasy) An exiled princess searches for the five elements she needs to win the allegiance of the dragons and reclaim her kingdom from the grasp of an evil empress.
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