Tuesday, December 28, 2010

what a difference a year makes

i declare this holiday blogging break officially over!

we're running up on the new year here in just a few days, and it got me thinking about just how much has changed in the last 12 months.

it's hard to believe at this time last year, i'd never queried an agent or sent a manuscript to a beta reader.
it's hard to believe i was a blog lurker and a die-hard twitter hold out instead of a blogger and tweeter.
it's hard to believe Butter was still unfinished, and Billy D was barely a twinkle of an idea.

i never would have guessed that by now i'd have an agent, a publisher, a new manuscript and best of all - friends online i can truly confide in.

we always say publishing is slow, but maybe it only looks that way from the front end. i think sometimes when you look back, it's easier to see how things move pretty damn fast, actually.

i'm glad i started seriously down the path to publishing this year, but i'm mostly glad i took the plunge and joined the online writing community. from blogs to tweets, public forums to private emails, i've had a blast making friends and following other writers. you are all made of awesome.

here's to another fun year in the blogosphere.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the greatest Christmas present ever

i bet you think i'm going to say peace on earth or the love of family and friends or some such thing, huh?

yeah, yeah, that's all well and good... but no, the greatest Christmas present ever was from an elf named Lemdel.

i can't remember how old i was, but it was around the time of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze. remember phase two of this fad? KOOSAS - the cabbage patch pets!
i wanted the dog one, with a brown eye patch. (or as i believe i put it on my letter to santa - "a black-eyed akoooza")
this letter to santa was followed by many conversations with my parents, in which they explained santa's workshop was all out of the black-eyed koosas and wouldn't i want a different one? no, just the black-eyed one. (i wasn't spoiled at all. nope, not me.) mom and dad even put in a personal call to santa, they explained, but he just did not have time to make any new toys, and surely some other koosa would be fine, right? no, santa will figure it out. (really, i was darling.)
around the same time, i remember seeing something on TV that looked like a stampede of adults climbing shelves in Toys R Us, trying to grab the last Koosas. i guess they all got the same messages from santa about the toy shop being all out. i still had faith in the jolly old guy.
my parents came home looking frazzled sometimes too, and trying to talk me into different toy ideas, but my list was unshakable.

anyway, every year, on top of the gifts under the tree... Christmas morning, an additional pile of presents would appear - all wrapped in special red santa paper. that Christmas, there was one extra present on the pile - wrapped in green elf paper instead. a long letter attached to the present in special elf handwriting (that looked an awful lot like professional caligraphy, now that i think about it) was addressed to me. the letter explained that i'd been such a good girl (all evidence to the contrary) and that i deserved a very special present. so even though santa was very busy, one of his helpers - the one writing the letter - had taken time to make one extra present just for me. it was signed: Lemdel, the Elf.

i guess you know what was inside. i still have my black-eyed Koosa, who is named, of course, Lemdel.
best. Christmas. present. EVER.

there is a sequel to this tale - an adventure/mystery in which Lemdel goes missing, sparking a desperate search that ends with Lemdel nearly getting thrown out with the trash only to be saved at the last possible second.
story for another time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

the myth of Shiny New Ideas

...well maybe not myth so much as illusion.

clearly, the Shiny New Idea is not a myth. ideas are very real things - tangible even. we can see them, hear them, taste them. it's the "shiny" part that's an illusion... for me at least.

Shiny New Ideas sneak up on me when i least expect them (i.e. very inconvenient times, like when i'm in the middle of another manuscript or about to start a long revision.)
i find new ideas are shiny only when i need a distraction from the work i'm supposed to be focusing on. i had at least three shiny - even glowing - ideas when i was smack in the middle of NaNo. funny how the shine slid off those ideas as soon as NaNo was over. now they're kind of muted and dull and not even interesting enough to distract me from editing.

i'm not saying all SNIs are clunkers disguised as something sparkly. some of them are worth exploring. for many authors, every book started with a SNI.

but i'm learning that, for me, the ideas that become full manuscripts aren't the shiny ones that pop up out of nowhere... they're the ones that slink in barely formed - just a character or a line of dialog - then slowly grow and fester, refusing to go away until i deal with them. (which is probably why i can't pinpoint the exact moment i came up with either Butter or Billy D. - they were both books that snuck into my brain through some dark back door instead of bursting above my head like a light bulb.)

i get those "light bulb" ideas all the time. they just tend to fizzle out. whereas the ideas that creep up on me nice and slow are the ones that eventually illuminate my entire imagination.

okay, are you tired of my lighting metaphors now? me too.

the point is - SNIs, for me, are just fuel for the creative juices. sometimes i need them to get my gears going when i'm in a slump with the current WIP. and sometimes i need them to bridge the gap between the ideas that will actually become stories. But i've yet to turn a Shiny New Idea into anything more than a dusty word document abandoned somewhere inside my laptop.

what about you? did all of your stories start with that burst of inspiration that writers have come to call the SNI? or do your stories sneak up on you?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jack Master

Handsome and i were talking recently about whether it is better to be a jack of all trades or a master of one. he considers himself a jack, and i'd have to agree. i don't think there's a thing on this planet he doesn't know something about. (seriously, you want this guy on your trivial pursuit team.) i constantly ask him, "how do you know stuff?" and he'll shrug and say, "i read."
but it's not just the reading, the knowing, it's the doing. he has skills ranging from art to home improvement that blow me away.

i envy his wide range, while he envies my commitment to writing. he thinks getting published makes me something of a "master" of the writing craft. i, of course, flat out reject that. to me, a master is somebody who wins the Nobel Prize in Literature or something dramatic like that. heck, i don't even write those types of books. i am far from being a master writer and further yet from even desiring that. but i guess putting a book out into the world does make me something more than just a jack of the trade.
similarly, in my other calling - journalism - i will never win, nor even strive to win, a Pulitzer. but i'm pretty proud of my two shiny Emmys - representing something in between jack and master.

the other loves of my life fall all over the jack-master scale.
- i'm no guitar pro, but i know the chords and can hold my own around a campfire.
- i’m pretty good at puzzles, but i’ll never be one of those people who can solve a rubik's cube in 30 seconds, blindfolded.
- i am, however, a master of Bear Claw. you know, those machines with the mechanical arms that pick up stuffed animals? i kind of rock at that.
(side story – i used to run a bit of a scam at the roller skating rink when i was young. kids would give me a dollar to win them a prize. i’d use a quarter to get the toy on the first try, then pocket the remaining 75 cents. i made a killing… for a 12 year old.)
to this day, Handsome will hand me a dollar now and then at the super market Bear Claw and ask me to win him something, just to see me do it. and I have to say, i’ve still got it. ;)

but aside from my mad Bear Claw skills, i’m really not aiming to be the master of any one thing or a jack of all things. i’m aiming for somewhere in between.
i want to try my hand at a lot of things… be passable at some of them... get pretty darn good at even fewer… and hope to come out -not necessarily a master- but at least REALLY GOOD at two or three things – a Jack Master, if you will.

that’s just my own personal goal.
but i will continue to be amazed by folks at both ends of the scale.
(side note: a great place to see both jacks and masters in action is on the show Pawn Stars, on the History Channel. it's astounding how much those guys know about history and cars and sports and just everything. and it's even more astonishing to see those jacks bring in the masters when they need a truly expert opinion.)

what about you? are you a Jack of all, a Master of one? or are you like me and aiming for the in-between?

Friday, December 10, 2010

write what you want to write

"I want to write a book about vampires, but all the agents say vampires are over."
"I want to write a contemporary YA, but all the 6-figure deals are for dystopian stories."
"I have this really great idea, but I just heard about a book with almost the exact same concept."

but.. but.. but NOTHING!

i see all of the above lines and many more from authors lamenting how the story they want to write, isn't what they should be writing, if they want to get published.
well, here is a huge, not-so-secret-but-hard-to-believe fact i have learned: the #1 way to get published is to write the best book you can.
and in my opinion, the best book you can write is the one you want to write, have to write - the one with the characters who keep you up at night. even if they ARE vampires.
that's the good news - freedom to write the story you want.
here's the bad news: you're right. it might not get published. this post is about why that's OKAY.

JM Tohline put together a great blog post today on the biggest mistakes writers make when querying agents. (when you're done here, go check it out. he got excellent input from tons of agents and compiled it all in one neat post for you.)

one of the agents JM quoted on his blog said something that really resonated with me:

Cameron McClure (of the Donald Maass Agency) added this: "Most writers query too soon – either before the book is really ready to be read by an industry professional, or with a book that is a learning book, or a starter book, where the writer is working through the themes that will come out in later books with more clarity, getting things out of their system,making mistakes that most beginners make, finding their voice."
the bold is mine. i wrote that book - that "starter" book - and it was everything McClure says. it was my training ground for the kind of themes i wanted to write about, for practicing plot and pace, for learning whether 1st or 3rd person worked better for me and above all, for finding my voice.

fortunately, i never made the mistake of querying that novel. during the year i spent pecking away at it, i also learned a lot about publishing. by the time i was done, i could see all the reasons it didn't work. so i recognized it for what it was - a book i had to write for me, and not for anyone else.

one of the first conversations i had with my agent was about this very thing - about the books you have to write versus the books you might actually want to sell. we were talking about my other WIPs/ideas, and i was asking what kind of stories she'd like to see... and she told me she would never discourage a client from writing anything, because there are stories in us that just have to be told - even if we only ever tell them to our laptops.

i guess it's impossible to know, when you start a new manuscript, whether it's one of the stories you'd be proud to put out in the world or one of the stories you need to learn something from. but i would argue: it's equally important, either way.

if i hadn't written LOSERS, i'm 100% certain i never would have been able to write BUTTER.
i have started taking lines and scenes from L and working them into new manuscripts. i basically stole one of the characters and made him the MC in BILLY D.
i will probably keep deconstructing L until there is nothing left but the concept, and then i might steal that too, and write the whole thing over again from scratch.
for all of these reasons, i know, without a doubt, that my time was not wasted on that first manuscript.

if you feel compelled to write something - write it. the story that never gets published may very well be the most important one you ever write.

Monday, December 6, 2010

forest for the trees...

...or something like that.

i figure the post-NaNo glow is a good time to talk revision.

first, let me say - i suck at it.
that is, i suck at doing it on my own. last year at this time, i was finishing up the first draft of BUTTER, which - to tell the truth - didn't look that much different from the draft i sent to agents. i used a few suggestions from early beta readers and did a serious line-by-line edit, but i didn't make any big-picture changes... because all i'd heard was that people liked it, and hey, i liked it too, so what's to change? (ha.ha.ha.)

it wasn't until i got revision notes from agents that i could really see what needed to be changed. i also got a serious beta who wasn't afraid to tell me when those revisions weren't working and to give me big-picture critique like "cut this entire boring chapter." (i'm paraphrasing. Gem is honest but much more eloquent than that.)

anyway, as much as i loved the praise of my alpha readers, i found my motivation to edit came from publishing pros and other writers who basically said, "i loved x,y and z, but these other bits really suck."
it worked for me, because it made my stubborn little writer heart say, "oh YEAH? well watch this!"
and suddenly i learned how to revise. i found the courage to press the delete key on an entire chapter. i managed to shuffle up scenes, change the timeline of major plot events and still sew everything back together. what a breakthrough! now i'll be able to hack up my next book all on my own!

not so much.

it turns out i still need that feedback. i thrive on the criticism. a one-line crit comment can cause an entire new chapter to explode open in my brain. But without that input, i stare at my chapters all cozily knit together and can't see how to rip them apart.
so i'm settling for my line-by-line edits on BILLY D, then rushing this baby to betas, so they can tell me what sucks and inspire me to start hacking.

...and i suspect my biggest revisions may still be to come, when i get my editorial letter for BUTTER.

what about you? at which stage do you do your biggest revisions/rewrites? and how many do you do? as varied as the writing process is from person to person - i'll bet we're even more diverse when it comes to revisions.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

word count wednesday - fifth and final

it is the morning of December 1st, and that means some of you may still be sleeping off your NaNoWriMo hangover.
some others of you may be pointing and laughing at the folks with the NaNo hangover, saying "see? glad i didn't do that this year."

as for me, i hit my 50K on Sunday.
finishing a few days early is like drinking a lot of water and taking advil before you go to bed. it helps prevent the hangover, so i'm feeling pretty good. ;)

my final word count in the NaNo validator was 50,950 !!!

since i had written nine chapters of this book prior to november and because i went on a writing spree monday on my day off to finish the whole darn thing, my total WC for the full manuscript is almost 72,000, including these two words: "THE END."

so yeah, of course i'm feeling all kinds of cheery about that, but here's what i really want to say:
whether you have 72,000 words or 7,200... YOU should be celebrating too!
i've mentioned before that BUTTER was a NaNo novel last year, and i didn't even get halfway to the goal before it got derailed. and as you know, that all worked out okay.

so if you didn't hit 50K, i hope you will continue to work on whatever projects you started in november. if you DID hit 50K, i hope you'll come back to your MS after a few days or weeks off and sit down to revise Revise REVISE. because as we writers all know, the first draft is just the beginning.
we also know that november may be a whole lot of fun, but writing is a year-round job and a lifelong passion.

take that momentum from NaNo and use it to propel you into the new year. however many words you wrote... you are that many words closer to making a dream come true. keep the momentum going!

best of luck. you are ALL AWESOME, regardless of word count.