Pre-Summer Progress

Nothing like a looming deadline to spur on the writing. In my case, the end of school creeps ever closer, and the knowledge that I will no longer have 6 free hours a weekday pushes me onward. And so I have buckled down to try and get my current Work In Progress in shape before my days are filled with Mommy-duty events and my creative life takes a vacation.

Of course, I will have SOME time to write over the summer, but it will not be in the same volume as now. It will also likely not be in the large chunks of time I prefer, but in snatched moments here and there, at swim practice or waiting to pick my daughter up from day camp. Perfectly fine for blog posts and even line-editing, but not conducive (for me) to deep writing or big-picture revision.

Knowing that, I’ve been focused on making progress on Veritas, my YA sci-fi. I am coming into the home stretch with these edits, and I want to finish before summer stifles me. I also have a July deadline to give it to my editor, in case I need further urging.

This round of edits focuses on two things: sensory details and voice. Sensory details because I am terrible at putting them in. As a reader, I’m okay with minimalist description, and I take that to the extreme in my writing. So I have to go in and add appropriate sensory details.

Those details go hand-in-hand with voice in that point of view determines exactly which details a character will notice. But I also need to make certain my 3 POV characters don’t all sound alike. My antagonist (a 300-year-old spirit of a queen) can not sound like my main protagonist (a 16-year-old girl who only wants a quiet life and her father’s love, and seems destined to have neither) nor her twin brother, who wants desperately to be a warrior but fears he doesn’t have what it takes.

Voice is more than just tweaking, but I have already gone in and physically re-written each scene from scratch. Now I’m polishing the voice—especially the boy’s, as his voice took the longest to become clear in my head. In this go-round, I added many details to his scenes, some to the antagonist’s scenes, but very few to my protagonist’s scenes. I hate when that happens. I’m never sure if I am not making tweaks because what I have is really good, or because I’m just sick of the project. My editor will tell me.

I finished that round of edits earlier this week. Fantastic progress, to check off that last chapter! But I have one more round to go—trimming word count. The last round of revision pushed my count to about 101,000 words. Not out of the ballpark for a YA science fiction, but more than I am comfortable with. So I am hoping to trim 5,000 to 10,000 words at least. It’s no secret that I can be wordy, and I am sure I will find plenty to tighten. I hope I can finish that before D-Day on June 21st.

Once I finish that edit, that’s all the progress I can make on my own. I will have revised the manuscript about 5 times, and I will be so sick of it that I will have lost all objectivity. At that point it will go off to the editor, who will no doubt make it bleed.

Here’s hoping for pre-summer progress for all you writers who are parents!

SciFi Fantasy Day 2017 in Washington, NJ

SciFi Fantasy Day with the Mad Hatter and Queen of HeartsSo on May 20th, I rose with the sun and drove through the rain to Washington, NJ, for their SciFi Fantasy Day. This was my first SciFi Fantasy focused event, and I looked forward to seeing fellow authors Marie C. Collins and Kristina Garlick there.

The rain had me worried, however, as I had no tent (on my list of things to buy when I have money again). I DID have “emergency rain gear” (a sheet of plastic) and an umbrella. As I arrived, the time for the rain to stop was 10 AM, the official start time of the outdoor event. Waiting in the headquarters for the rain to let up, the time changed to around 1 PM. Was I going to have to simply turn around and head home?

Luck was with me. I set up a little before 10 AM under cloudy skies, outside Misty’s Pet Grooming & Boutique and Gaia’s Gifts . I utilized my emergency rain gear three times in the next two hours in the occasional light drizzle. The plastic did nothing to enhance my display, but the rain also meant that there were no customers browsing, so it worked out well!

After noon, the clouds stayed but the rain stopped. The crowd would have been larger with sunny weather, but the people who came had a good time. Positioned close to the tail end of the street due to getting my application in late, I could not see many of the activities going on, but I could hear the music and enjoyed hearing favorites like the Beatles echoing down the street.

I glimpsed elves and steampunk, storm troopers and knights errant, belly dancers and Darth Vader. Vendors included crystals, tapestries, geodes, chain mail, lightsabers, jewelry, games, plush Pokemon, and books. I did not have a chance to explore, but it seemed a vibrant mix of customers and vendors.

In spite of the damp start and the chill air, I enjoyed Washington’s SciFi Fantasy Day. I intend to apply for next year as well, and hope the weather is better.

SciFi Fantasy Day in Washington, NJ

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Rejection & Perseverance

Latest title to get a rejection

(Concept art)

I’m shopping a middle grade historical adventure, The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone. I’ve had wonderful feedback from all of our beta readers, and am very excited about the quality and prospects of this book.

Unfortunately, real life has other ideas. I have queried 50 agents. 3 requested fulls (yay!), but all ultimately passed. The rest of the agents either passed on the query (19) or have not answered at all (28), which is usually an assumed rejection.

The last agent who requested just passed Tuesday, so at the moment I am in the pity party stage of acceptance. And I will allow myself to feel it until Thursday. After that, it’s back on the horse. (A horse actually threw me once, so I know how this goes.)

I’ll compile a new list of agents and start over. Maybe take another critical look at the query, although 3 requests is not bad in today’s market. And then I’ll send them out.

Am I glutton for rejection? No. I am a stubborn writer who has a book I believe in passionately. Somewhere out there is an agent who will believe in this book as much as I do.

We just need to find each other.

Do any of you have a cutoff point for when you stop querying?

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Time Travel: Philly to Phoenix and back in 52 hours

Time travel is real. I did it this past weekend. I went back in time, to a different world, and then into the future. Amazing.

Friday afternoon, I boarded a cramped metal tube and was catapulted through time. After a slightly bumpy ride, we arrived at our destination 3 hours earlier than our time.

A different world! The environment we had left had been a cool, rainy 60 degrees. We exited our capsule to an arid 106 degrees. Instead of waving deciduous trees, newly green with the spring, we saw stunted trees and twisted cacti. Brown, sandy desert replaced my soft green landscape.  Mountains towered on the distance, dwarfing the sprawling intrusion of humanity.

We enjoyed our visit to this other world. Time spent with longtime friends, an exploration of nearby South Mountain with its grand vista overlooking the city, and culminating in a beautiful renewal of vows for my friends celebrating their 21st anniversary.

Although Phoenix is a modern city, the Western landscape evokes the Wild West and time long past. Stone structures on South Mountain brought the old time atmosphere to life. And spending time with a friend you’ve known for 32 years brings the inevitable nostalgia and memories. The past was very present out there.

Sunday morning we climbed into the tiny tube again and reversed course. Aside from a seatmate who had an inflated idea of his own personal space, the ride was pretty smooth. And when we arrived back in the cool (and still rainy) airport, we were 3 hours ahead of where we had started.

We had come back to the future.

For all its discomfort, air travel is truly amazing. To be able to travel 4,600 miles in about 9 hours of flight time in order to visit friends for a single day is a minor miracle. I am a terrible flier who often has panic attacks on the plane (fun!), but I am grateful I live in a time where such speedy travel is possible.

I am, however, waiting eagerly for transporter technology to become a reality…

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Marketing Desert

River Reads 2016--not a marketing desertAfter the whirlwind of book events last year, I have hit something of a marketing desert this year. I have missed 4 opportunities to do book events—one I dropped the ball, the other three occurred while I was away on vacation.

Another book event that conflicts with the last day of the Philadelphia Writers Conference popped up. It is a new one for me, so I will go and meet new people. I have to buckle down and see what other events might be coming down the pike, so I don’t miss any more deadlines. A few are in the summer, but the rest of them are slated for September on.

This down time is ideal to work on my email list for my newsletter. I have collected many emails, but have yet to do anything with them. Neither I nor my email recipients want a tsunami of emails from me, so it will be light—once a month at most. If you want to join my email list, click here and scroll down until you see the blue Join Mailing List button under the Author Profile.

I also want to look into getting more reviews for the book. So I will explore book reviewers and see if I can make some contacts with them.

Events, newsletter list, pursuing more book reviews, and booking school visits for are going to fill this marketing desert.

What marketing strategies do you use when book events are few and far between?

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The Evolution of an Author

Every author, if they are serious about writing, goes through an evolution as they grow. At my critique group this week, we are reviewing a manuscript from one of our members, J. Thomas Ross, that she wrote soon after she graduated college. She is now a retired school teacher, so this manuscript has been in a drawer a long time!

We have reviewed many a page by Ross, and we rarely find much to criticize—although there is much to praise. Her work is meticulous, her descriptions effortless and vivid, her characters deep and real. Her world-building sucks you right into the story, and the plot grips you. She has done much to perfect her craft over the years, so seeing this very early manuscript has been fun.

This young manuscript has problems most beginners are familiar with. Head-hopping POV shifts. Clunky description. Confusing action. Minor plot holes. Using overly-large words when a shorter one would suffice. Even the grammar mistakes, which is a rarity today!

What is amazing, though, is what else is evident in this early manuscript. The descriptions, while occasionally clunky, are vivid, drawing you right into the moment. Her characters leap off the page. You become invested in them and their journey immediately. They are real. Her portrayals of emotion are compelling, not cheesy as many early efforts can be. It is clear that she applied her current meticulous writing style to this manuscript, because even with its faults it is a page-turner.

I am really enjoying this look into the early work of a writing friend I admire. It has let me see her evolution from a young writer to a seasoned one. Her basic skill was evident early on, but she has worked hard to bring her craft skills up to meet that potential. I hope that someday you, too, get to enjoy the work of J. Thomas Ross. I guarantee she will grab you from page one.

Have you ever had the chance to read early work from another writer? Could you spot the potential? Do you ever look back at your own early work and compare it to where you are now?

 

 

 

A Change of Place: Creativity and Location

So many things can impact our creativity—how we feel, what we eat, time of day, how much we’ve slept, outside worries. But one major component of creativity is place. Where we write. How does where we write influence what we write?

I’ve often read advice that we should have a specific place where we write. Perhaps an office, a local coffee shop, the library, or even a spot in our home. I’ve even heard that if you write on your sofa (as I do) you should write at one end and watch TV, etc., from the other. The idea behind all this advice is that having a dedicated writing space triggers your creativity because it trains your brain to write when you are in that spot.

This week I had a much larger change of place than the opposite end of my sofa. I spent some of the week in North Carolina, in a small rural town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Over the years, I have noticed that this change of place triggers a change in mindset for me almost every time. For some reason, genealogy obsesses me when in North Carolina.

genealogy obsession heightening in one place

Now, it doesn’t take much to get me chasing down rabbit holes for genealogy. But for some reason, the past feels much closer to me while I am there. Perhaps it is because the town often feels like it is from a bygone era, and the surrounding mountains have a timeless quality. The many farms could be from a hundred years ago, and the pace of life is slower. Not everyone knows everyone, but the community is close knit. In the way of rural communities, many earlier generations had more than the 2.5 kids families have now, so kin networks sprawl across the land. The past is still very present here.

Maybe part of the mindset shift is because we come here specifically to visit family, so family is very much top-of-mind. Whatever the reason, it ramps up my genealogy obsession and I want to chase ghosts for hours.

This got me wondering what kind of stories I would write if I lived there. Would I still write fantasy and science fiction? Or would I be drawn to family dramas and small-town conflicts? What stories I would write if I lived on Chincoteague Island, as I did for 8 months one year? Would I be writing stories of wind and sea and sky?

Assateague Island--a favorite place

Your location undoubtedly influences your writing, from topics to characters to theme. While a temporary relocation may not fundamentally alter what or how you write, a change of place can shake up your creativity and dig you out of a funk, break a writer’s block, or give you a new perspective on some element of your story.

Do you have a specific place you write? Have you found your creativity influenced when you have a change of place?

What place will you sail away to?

by William T. Gans, Sr.

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Heatstroke Jury Duty vs. Frostbite MRI–what’s your perfect temperature?

I’ve packed a lot of activity into this week. First, I had jury duty, then I had an MRI of my shoulder. Jury duty here is for 2 days, although mine went into a third. And time seems to warp inside an MRI tube, so the 18 minutes inside stretched into an eternity.

Jury duty is an obligation that I do take seriously, even though it can be inconvenient. A jury of our peers is one of the elements of our judicial system that sets us apart from many other countries (or did at the time it was codified). It is one of the checks and balances on the power of the judges and police in our system. So I praise it for what it is…but, man, there has to be a better way of picking a jury.

We spent from 10 AM to 4:15 PM picking a jury—and still hadn’t filled the whole panel. We seemed to have a full panel around 3 PM, but then the lawyers started using their preemptive challenges (they get 10 each), and suddenly the prosecutor had dismissed 2 jurors and the defense had dismissed 4, and we ran out of time. So we had to come back the next morning. They questioned and dismissed me very early, so I have no idea how many more jurors they went through. But we undoubtedly spent more time picking the jury than the case would require to be presented. This was not a complex case.

The worst part of the experience was not the long day, or the bad lighting that gave me a headache, or the mind-numbing boredom of not doing anything but listen to other jurors get questioned over and over. It was that fact that on this 83-degree day, the air conditioning was not turned on. I was sweating like I’d been exercising, as were most of the others. Melted jurors everywhere.

So I escaped the courtroom sauna early Wednesday morning, and the afternoon found me getting an MRI at the medical imaging place. They imaged my shoulder because I injured my arm/shoulder in December and it still hurts. I’ve lost a great deal of range of motion, and it hurts almost constantly—to the point where even my sleep is disrupted because I can’t sleep.

The MRI room was the antithesis of the courtroom. Freezing! I started shivering as soon as I stepped into the room.Thankfully they had a blanket for me. But I was grateful to get out of that tube and out of the cold and back into the warm sunshine.

But the temperature variations didn’t stop there. The first floor of my house is chilly enough to need a sweater, while the upstairs I need a fan turned on. Will I ever find that perfect Goldilocks temperature of just right?

Do you prefer heat or cold? Does the temperature influence your writing at all—style, speed, voice?

Taking a Break before Revision

We’ve all heard this advice: put your manuscript in a drawer for at least a month before you revise/edit it. Generally, I do this as a matter of course (and because life often gets in the way). But lately I have been lamenting an unscheduled break in my revision plans.

My sci-fi YA Vertias is inching toward being finished. I wanted one more major sweep for voice and plot tightening, and then I think it will be ready for professional editing eyes to look at it. So, I printed it out—all 100,000 words of it—punched some holes and stuck it in a three-ring binder (2 three-ring binders, actually). Ready to go!

My manuscript before my editing breakNot so fast! I did a few chapters of it, and then for some reason (or many reasons), it languished. From September 30, 2016 to March 8, 2017, it sat on my table waiting for me to return. That’s 160 days. 5.3 months.

Way too long.

My frustration built and built as the binders gathered dust on my end table, and they accused me of slacking every time I glanced in their direction. Finally, I got back to it.

Since March 8, I have made good progress. I finished polishing the shortest of the 3 POV lines in my novel and started the second.

For all that the length of the break frustrated me, there have been some good things out of it. Not only do I see mistakes more readily and clearly (the rationale for taking a break in the first place), but I can see what I did WELL with greater clarity. In a pleasant surprise, my writing is better than I remembered it.

Also, I hear the three POV characters voices more clearly in my head. I see where a sentence doesn’t fit the voice and needs to be tweaked. I have a better handle on their worldviews and can use the voice to crystallize that. In another surprise, the three voices are more differentiated than expected, allaying my fears of them all sounding like me.

So while I hadn’t planned on such a long break, it had some up sides to it. How long do you usually wait before coming back to revise a manuscript?

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Character Voice: Easy to hear, hard to write

Every writer is familiar with the idea of voice. Every writer has their own author voice. Some are terse; some lyrical. Some are plot oriented; some character. It takes time to develop, but eventually every writer finds a voice that is uniquely theirs.

When writing fiction, however, authorial voice is not enough. Our characters have to have their own strong voice, particularly if the story is in first person.

Character voice is a concept I understand but don’t “get”. My brain understands character voice, and I know it when I read it:

“Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich.  We got six thousand dollars apiece—all gold.  It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up.  Well, Judge Thatcher he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece all the year round—more than a body could tell what to do with.  The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out.  I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied.  But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable.  So I went back.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

or

“I knew there was going to be trouble the minute I saw him, which was the minute that tall man carried me over to the kennel and said, ‘I bet you two will get along.’ Immediately I said at the top of my lungs, ‘WHAT? WHAT? DO YOU SEE THE SIZE OF THAT DOG? DO YOU SEE THE SIZE OF ME? How can you expect me to share space with a HIPPOPOTAMUS DISGUISED AS A CANINE? All the fur isn’t fooling ME. I am going to get SQUASHED BY GIANT PAWS and THEN where would the world be? ME-LESS, I tell you! I DEMAND A PRIVATE KENNEL! DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?’” – The Incredibly Important True Story of Me! by Tui T. Sutherland (in the anthology Lucky Dog: Twelve Tales of Rescued Dogs)

But I find it very hard to get right on the page.

My first few novels only had a single point of view character, so if there was a significant overlap between author voice and character voice, it wasn’t terribly noticeable.

My current work in progress, however, has 3 POV characters—a significant departure for me. The problem is that they all need to sound distinctly different from one another, which I am finding difficult.

Some writers have suggested maybe I do not know these characters well enough to hear their voices. Perhaps they are correct, although I feel I know these characters intimately. I have never been a writer who “hears” their characters talking to them in their head. It’s apparently not how my creative brain works.

However, in chipping away at the revisions, the three voices have become more distinct. The last to fall into place was my 16-year-old boy’s voice, but I did finally hear him loud and clear.  Now I can only hope I can get all that onto the page.

We worked on character voice in one of Kathryn Craft’s Craftwriting workshops, and I feel that I am edging closer to “getting” it. I hope someday that character voice will be an element I master so I do it more unconsciously. Then I can move on to improving another aspect of my craft.

Does character voice come easily to you? Or do you find them all sounding like mini-mes?

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