Raising the Dead: Giving an old manuscript new life

Every author who has written for any length of time has novels in the drawer that didn’t quite make the grade. They are “almost” there, but sometimes we can’t quite figure out what’s missing the mark. For the moment, they are dead novels.

The novel I am raising from the deadI have one such novel, The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas. It’s a YA contemporary fantasy that made the query rounds a few years ago. I had a few requests, but ultimately no one took it. The feedback I got pointed to a confusion on the reader’s part on the character’s goal, the driving force behind the action.

I didn’t know how to fix it, so I put it aside and moved on. Now, though, I am ready to raise it from the dead. I have learned a lot on the past few years, and have new ideas on what might help move the book from “almost” to “ready”.

One tool I am using with this review is Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Her book is meant to be used before you start writing, but can be used to revise. Her exercises focus on the “why” that drives all the character’s actions–and thus the plot. Since the feedback I got from the agents who looked at the manuscript was that they didn’t understand the main character’s driving motivation, Cron’s exercises seem tailor-made for bringing this to the front.

Hopefully my revamping under Cron’s guidance will move the manuscript from “almost” to “there”. I am having fun viewing this story through a different lens. Even at this early stage of revision, I see my protagonist more clearly, and I can hear her voice in my head more precisely than ever before.

Do you leave your dead manuscripts buried? If you do raise them from the dead, what methods do you use?

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How Writing is Like Swimming

Swimming as analogy for writingMy daughter’s swim season is drawing to a close. After 3 months of breathing chlorine fumes and sweating through sunscreen, I can see many similarities between swimming and writing.

Technique & Form

Technique is important for swimming. The way your hands enter the water, the precision of your kicks, how you position your head, all combine to power you smoothly through the water.

Technique is equally important in writing. The choice of words, precision of punctuation, flow of elements such as dialogue and metaphor, all combine to bring your voice to life and give the readers a smooth experience.

Technique can also be called “form”. Writing has different forms as well, from poetry to novels. Writers need to master the structure and expectations of their form and genre.

Stamina & Muscle Memory

Incessant laps in the pools increase a swimmer’s stamina. Hours of repetitive practice ingrain the techniques in muscle memory, enabling swimmers to swim faster without having to concentrate so hard in their movements.

Writers who practice their craft also build up stamina, so they can plow through the tough times to get to the end of a novel. Careful study and repetitive practice of techniques store them in a writer’s subconscious so they come easily, allowing the writing process to flow faster and the writer to seamlessly weave the elements together.

Breathing

Swimmers who don’t master breathing will run out of oxygen before the end of a race. Similarly, writers who don’t step away once in a while and recharge risk burning out on longer projects.

Like swimming, mastering writing takes hours of practice to build up those creative muscles, coaches to help you perfect technique, and a cheering section to get you through the hard times.

So pick up your pen, stroke out boldly, and don’t forget to breathe.

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Interlibrum: That down period between books

My manuscript pre-interlibrum

Veritas, before editing

An interregnum is the space between regimes. I am currently in an interlibrum—the period between books. An interlibrum occurs when one book project is completed, but another has not yet taken its place. It is a rather unmoored time (as I imagine an interregnum is as well).

I finally finished my work-in-progress, Veritas. I pared it down from 101,000+ words to 90,000, and by the time I had completed that (my fifth revision), I was done with the book. Does that mean the book is finished? No. It just means I had reached the point where my brain could no longer tell if further changes would help the book or hurt it. My objectivity was shot.

When I get to that point, it’s ready for my wonderful editor, Kathryn Craft. So now I have sent it off for bloodletting…er, editing. And suddenly, I have no book to work on.

Now, this does not mean I literally have no book projects. What I mean is that there is no project I am currently actively working on. One that is taking up the head space Veritas did. When I was younger, and had more energy, more time, and no child, I often juggled two projects at once, so I rarely experienced interlibrum.

With the increased demands on my time and energy now, I find I can only focus on one book project at a time if I hope to make meaningful progress on it in a reasonable amount of time. So interlibrums are a new part of my writing landscape.

The good news is that I have at least 5 book projects to choose from:

1) The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas: a YA contemporary fantasy that got some interest from agents but ultimately a “well written but not quite there” response. A return with new eyes and new craft tips may allow me to finally get it “there”.
2) The English Expedition: a first draft of book 2 in my middle grade historical adventure series that is currently making the query rounds.
3) The Enemy of Zal: a from-scratch book 2 of my published book, The Witch of Zal.
4) Amoris: a from-scratch 2nd book in the series of the YA scifi I just finished.
5) The Forgotten Planet: a from-scratch new scifi that will likely also be a series.

They all have their appeal. Oracle has the advantage of being nearest completion, in the interest of getting more books out more quickly. The English Expedition has a completed first draft, but will need a good amount of revision before it’s ready. The Enemy of Zal has a brief outline, but it appeals because it follows an already published book. Amoris follows the one I just finished, so my brain is still immersed in those characters and that world. And The Forgotten Planet intrigues because it is shiny and new. I am leaning toward Oracle at the moment.

Have you ever experienced an interlibrum? How did you deal with the adrift feeling that comes when you are floating between books? Do you revel in the feeling of endless possibility, or do you grab on to a new work quickly to anchor yourself?

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My Biggest Takeaway: Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2017

My biggest takeaway from PWC 2017At the Opening Speech at this year’s Philadelphia Writers Conference,  Yolanda Wisher, the Philadelphia Poet Laureate, coined the word “kinfluences”, meaning the family and friends whose stories influenced her life and informed her writing.

My biggest takeaway from the Philadelphia Writers Conference this year was my own reconnection with people in my writing family. “Kinnections”, if you will allow me to play off Ms. Wisher’s word.

The conference itself was a forum for connecting with people in real life who I usually only see online. Mary Mooney, Doreen McGettigan, and Kelly Deeny crossed my path this year. So did Uriah Young, who I met at his first Philadelphia Writers Conference a few years ago. At that time he was a newbie with a story to tell, this year he’s on the Philadelphia Writers Conference board.

The biggest blast from my past was Jonathan Maberry‘s visit to Doylestown. I met him more than a decade ago, and he has been a large influence on my writing career. He moved to California a few years back, so it was good to see him.

Keith Strunk is another writer friend of long standing. He was part of a group project that stands as a major turning point in my writing life, and also in my personal life, as I got married during the project. Connecting with him both at Jonathan’s book signing and at the Philadelphia Writers Conference was great fun.

Perhaps my biggest career-related reconnection at this year’s Philadelphia Writers Conference was with Denise Camacho, head of Intrigue Publishing. We first met three years ago at the 2014 Philadelphia Writers Conference.  At that conference, I pitched a novel to her at the pitch session. Not only was she interested in that novel, but she was very excited about a novel that I had literally just begun. This year, that novel is essentially finished, and she is still excited about it, so I will send it to her after I get final edits back from my editor.

So my biggest takeaway from this year’s Philadelphia Writers Conference were my “kinnections”–relationships built on previous years’ attendance, relationships cemented or expanded by shared experiences. Some people ask why I go to the same conference year after year. There are numerous reasons, of course, but the ongoing connections I build and strengthen every year are a part of it.

Writing can be solitary,  but publishing is a communal effort. For me, the Philadelphia Writers Conference is a large part of finding the publishing community to help me succeed.

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Is Frozen Imagination a Thing?

I’ve been suffering lately with a condition called frozen shoulder. Basically, it’s when your shoulder muscles become paralyzed and super tight due to not using your arm properly. Mine started back in December with an injury, and the subsequent non-use of my arm led to the frozen shoulder. Contemplating frozen shoulder wandered into thinking about frozen imagination (because my mind wanders the roads less taken).

We often compare our brains to muscles, saying that if we don’t use it, we lose it. Our imaginative muscle is no different—you don’t use it, it gets all atrophied and useless. As a young writer, I had so many ideas, I couldn’t keep up with all of them. They poured out of my brain like Niagara Falls. Now, not so much.

I think I can trace it back to my daughter’s birth. Once I knew I was pregnant, I pushed the stories I had in progress to get the first draft finished before she was born. Then we had the whole infant-daze period, and then I got into editing and revising those drafts. Today, seven years later, I am still revising most of those stories, and have not embarked on a from-scratch novel. I derived my current work in progress from an idea I had many years ago, so even though the novel’s current form is completely new, the ideas and characters are not.

Truth is, I am not feeling very imaginative when it comes to story ideas. New ideas don’t crop up with the frequency they used to, and I find that my thinking within the stories is not as flexible as when I was younger. Finding fresh ways to approach topics and characters is harder for me. Maybe I am simply getting old and set in my ways—or maybe I have not exercised my imagination for so long that it’s flabby and weak.

My frozen shoulder needs physical therapy to get back to working order. It’s hard, and it hurts like heck as I stretch those muscles again. But that’s the only way to get it back—to push the limits and ask the shoulder to work again. Perhaps my frozen imagination needs some sort of therapy as well. I need to ask it to work again, and push past the comfort zones.

Maybe then my frozen imagination will thaw and my brain will feel more nimble.

So how about it, fellow writers? Any good tips for exercising my imagination muscle?

When You Realize What You Were Missing

My daughter is deaf in one ear, diagnosed at 14 months with mild/moderate loss. Got her first aid at 26 months. Took her first booth test somewhere around 3 years old. At that point, her hearing level had dropped from moderate to profound loss.

It’s hard for those of us with normal hearing to understand what profound hearing loss means. I didn’t really get an inkling until those first booth tests. I sat in the booth with my daughter, but several feet away. She wore headsets to listen to the instructor. The doctor would ask her to point to cards with pictures on them. When the doctor asked for the airplane in the good ear, my daughter pointed without hesitation.

In the bad ear…nothing. The doctor would gradually raise the volume, to the point where I, sitting a few feet away, could hear the doctor as clear as day even through the headsets, while my daughter sat unmoving, waiting for the instruction she could not hear.

That is profound hearing loss.

Still, the loss didn’t seem to impact my daughter much. She can’t localize sound, and if you talk in her bad ear she will not hear you, but those were the only major issues. She has a hearing aid for the bad ear, but has been saying for some time that it doesn’t help at all.

So we are trying out a new type of hearing aid, called a cross or crossover.  This consists of a microphone on her bad ear that pipes the sound over to the good ear, so she is hearing both sides on one ear.  Eventually, the brain learns to discern which sound comes from which ear, and it helps with sound localization, as well as hearing sound and speech from the bad side.

When we first put it on my daughter, her eyes got big, and she yelled, “Everything is so LOUD!” For the first time in her life, she was hearing the world as I do. She was stunned and delighted, excitement shining from her face. The funny thing was that every time we put the aid on, she started yelling instead of speaking normally. That seemed counter-intuitive, until I figured out that she probably thought she had to speak louder to be heard over her louder world–much like we yell over a TV up at high volume.

While excitement was her first reaction, a different feeling surfaced a few days later. “Mommy, I’m a little sad.” I asked her why. “Because I never realized how different I am.” I asked what she meant. “I never knew how much I couldn’t hear that everyone else could.”

Sometimes it’s hard when you finally realize what you’ve been missing.

So I whispered into her aided bad ear, “I love you.”

It piped over to her good ear.

And her smile shone out and her eyes lit up.

Maybe she realized that she’s not really missing the things that matter most.

BooksNJ 2017: Hot, but way cool

Author Kerry Gans at BooksNJ

photo by J.R. Bale

On Sunday I skipped the last day of the Philadelphia Writers Conference to attend the BooksNJ festival in Paramus, NJ. For those of you wondering where Paramus is, it’s WAAAAY up in north Jersey. You pretty much pass New York City to get there.

Still, the hour and a half ride was pleasant, no problems at all. I got there early and found a nearby bank easily. Then I got lost coming back from the bank because even with the GPS the roads were too confusing (and poorly signed). But I eventually arrived at the Paramus Library, which hosted the event.

I should add that we were having a major heat wave that day. Temps in the 90s, and this was an outdoor festival. Luckily, we authors were under a tent, so we had shade all day, and enough of a breeze to make the weather not unbearable. The library also provided us with cold water and an air-conditioned room to retreat to if needed.

Because the festival grounds were rather large and there were panels ongoing all day, judging the crowd size was a bit hard. I talked to a good number of people who stopped at my table, gave them cards and bookmarks, and signed some bookmarks for some tweens. I got to spend the day with fellow authors J.R. Bale and Kristina Garlick, so I had good company to pass the time.

Author Tag for BooksNJ

J.R., Kristina, and I were on a panel together, along with author Stephen S. Power. The topic: Worlds Beyond Reality: Fantasy and Science Fiction, moderated by Laurie Meeske. We discussed the difference between SciFi and Fantasy, why people are drawn to one or the other, what drew us to writing those worlds, and why we feel those genres are important. Although we were in the final time-slot of the day, our panel was well-attended. This was my first panel at a book event ever, and I greatly enjoyed talking with these knowledgeable and entertaining authors.

After that I packed up, sweated my way to the car, and let the miles unfurl under my tires as I headed back south. I enjoyed the day, and when the next BooksNJ festival comes along in 2019, I will certainly plan to attend.

Kerry Gans at her table at BooksNJ

 

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A Writing Weekend: Philadelphia Writers Conference and BooksNJ

PWC - part of my writing weekendMy writing weekend kicks off on Friday, when I make my annual pilgrimage to the Philadelphia Writers Conference, my home away from home. I’m looking forward to the classes, the camaraderie, and the energy I always get from the conference.

I find it electrifying to be with so many other writers. Okay, so maybe the electricity doesn’t really start crackling until after the coffee stations open, but the energy ramps up as the day goes on. The confined spaces of the conference rooms trap inspiration and send it ricocheting until some of it inevitably hits me.

I will probably pitch at the conference (I usually do), but I haven’t decided yet. I have two manuscripts ready to go, so I certainly have something to talk about. Oddly enough, I have found that I pitch better if I don’t think about it too much beforehand. That seems counter-intuitive for an anxiety-beset introvert, but it works—provided I know my story well enough to speak fluidly about it (which I do). I think it’s because if I don’t admit to myself that I am going to pitch, it tricks my anxiety into staying calm until it’s too late to paralyze me with fear.

While I love the Philadelphia Writers Conference, I will miss Day 3 because I have a book event. On Sunday, I will be in Paramus, NJ, for the BooksNJ festival. This is my first time at this event, so it is a new adventure for me. I am even on a panel—Worlds Beyond Reality: Fantasy and Science Fiction with fellow authors J.R. Bale, Kristina Garlick, and Stephen S. Power, moderated by Laurie Meeske. It should be fun—just pray for sun, please!

I have quite the busy 3-day writing weekend ahead, chock full of adventure and fun. As is tradition, I will be reporting on the Philadelphia Writers Conference each night on the Author Chronicles blog, although I will not have a post for Sunday’s session. And come back here next week when I’ll tell you about my BooksNJ experience.

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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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