Triple Vision

Now that we knew we needed to re-storyboard, how do you proceed with three authors?

 

Since it was my idea to re-storyboard, I got the assignment of writing the new storyboard for The Egyptian Enigma, our middle grade adventure novel. After I sent it over to my two co-authors, they looked it over and made notes. Then, we had a meeting to discuss everything. While email is a godsend, and imperative when working with others these days, we have found that we are much more efficient and creative when we are all in the same room.

 

My co-authors and I hammered out the details of the new storyboard, until we were all happy with it. Having three authors can be difficult at times, because speed is nearly impossible. When you are a solo author, decisions are quick – you make it and run with it. With three, everything needs discussion. And although that does not lend itself to speed, it has its advantages. Three people see three different angles. Together they see things a single author could not see. This gives the work a variety, depth, and nuance that might otherwise not exist. So having all of us discuss the storyboard was vital. They raised questions I never thought of, and working through them made the resulting storyboard stronger.

 

When you have three authors, the question of how to divide the work never ends. In our group, the pattern usually is that we decide on a course of action together, then I develop the first drafts of whatever we need, and then we polish them together. I don’t know why that is – perhaps because this was my story idea to start with, so I am the de facto primary. Whatever the reason, once we had a storyboard we all liked, I got to work revising.

 

It took a while, what with a 6-month-old in the house, a trip to Arizona, and shuttling between our house in Jersey and our temporary home in Virginia every couple of weeks. But I finished the revision, and was very happy with the results. We cut 10,000 words from the story, all from the first half of the book, and got to the rockin’ second half much faster. We also had agreed to shorten the chapters, and that resulted in a shift from 52 chapters to 96. It reads much faster and smoother.

 

We’re still not done, of course. The other authors need to read what I have done and add their expertise to it. And we have many other revisions to work through – character is up next. Stay tuned for further Tri-vision adventures!

Re-vision Comes Clear

Okay, so if you read my previous post, then you’ll know that I’ve been thinking that The Egyptian Enigma, my middle grade novel, needs some revision. Trouble was, none of the agents that turned it down gave specific enough information to know what it was that wasn’t quite passing muster. But my co-authors and I had to do something, because what we had wasn’t working.

 

Now, I have a good nose for when something’s not right in a manuscript. I can feel it. However, that doesn’t always translate into knowing how to fix it. As an editor, I can usually fix other people’s books, but sometimes the problems in my own elude me. I know they’re there, but I can’t see them without a helpful reader comment or critique.

 

Lacking such precise feedback, I put my trouble-shooting brain to work. It didn’t seem to be the writing itself, which was good news. And it wasn’t the concept – obviously, if multiple agents wanted to read it, there was something to the concept. So what was it? Two tiny clues came together in my head to give me the answer.

 

One clue came from an agent, who said he loved the idea, but the first chapters didn’t grab him like he had hoped they would. Normally, this comment might not have been a smoking gun, because it is only one person’s opinion, and someone else could have a completely different view. But it resonated with me, because of one comment we heard repeatedly from our beta readers – “Once the break-in happened, I couldn’t put it down.”

 

That was the key – to make the first half as page-turning as the second half. After all, if we didn’t grab the reader at the beginning, they wouldn’t read long enough to get to the rockin’ second half. So we had to make the adventure start sooner, bring it to the front. Maybe pare down the family scenes, the character-building scenes. Or find a way to integrate them more deeply into the adventure portion.

 

In other words, we had to re-storyboard the first half of the book.

 

Up next: The revision process with 3 authors.

Re-Visioning In The Dark

I’ve been shopping my middle grade novel, The Egyptian Enigma, for a while now. It’s a good novel, a lot of fun, but I’ve had no representation on it yet. Why? The blasted economy is part of it, of course. And my query letter could have been better, and now is. Even with those problems against me, I have been lucky enough to have a handful of agents request partials and fulls. Alas, no bites.

 

The rejections don’t bother me. They are part of the business, and I certainly would not want an agent repping my book who was not whole-heartedly enthusiastic about it. So when the agents came back with, “It’s just not right for me.”, I was fine with that. Disappointed, but not upset.

 

What made it tricky, for me, was the lack of any productive feedback from those agents who had read the book. I know they are hard-pressed for time, but having taken the time to read the book, I had been hoping for at least a sentence of advice on how to improve it.

 

You see, I am no literary genius.

 

I don’t suffer from the delusion that what I write is immutable and perfect. I know I have learned much about my craft, but still have much to learn about it. I am eager for feedback, revel in productive criticism. Unlike some of my fellow writers, I actually enjoy revision. And I have come to the conclusion that this novel needs revision—something is not grabbing the agents who have read it. Unfortunately, none of the agents has given me any indication what that “something” might be.

 

So I am re-visioning in the dark.

 

When you know something needs changed, but not what, how do you proceed? I have realized the futility of continuing to send the manuscript in its current form out there—there is a fatal flaw somewhere in it. I must fix it. But how can you fix something if you don’t know what’s broken? For a long time, paralyzed by the uncertainty of how to proceed, I did nothing—just continued to send the manuscript out over and over, hoping for a different result.

 

Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

 

Coming Up: How I found the clues to the fix, and fixed it

My Writing Process, Part 2

After Donna died, I went through a painful process of rebuilding. Aside from the emotional devastation of losing a best friend at age 32, I had to learn a new skill—writing alone. For a while, I wasn’t aware of how daunting a task that would be.

I was in grad school at the time, so all of my writing was vetted by teachers or other students. Even though it wasn’t the same process as with Donna, it wasn’t much different. Even my final Master’s thesis, a story about Donna’s death, was intensively overseen by my thesis advisor. It wasn’t until I graduated grad school that I became aware of the gaping hole in my creative life.

Suddenly, the aching aloneness of my post-Donna life smacked me in the face. Whenever I contemplated writing, I froze. I couldn’t even think of how to get started. Every writing project seemed a dark, craggy canyon, full of shadows and perils. Who would catch me if I fell off a sudden precipice? Who could guide me through the darkest gullies? Who would help me climb over the rockslides in my way?

Me. Only me. Except that I didn’t know how.

All I could do was do it. So I wrote and revised and struggled and wondered if what I was writing was any good at all. I can’t tell you how many times I almost picked up the phone, or opened my email to ask Donna’s advice. Every time the impulse to talk to her grabbed me, it was a fresh thud in the gut over her death. But I pressed on, because writing is like my heartbeat—I can’t stop it. So I finally finished my first truly solo endeavor and then thought, “Now what?”

I needed feedback. Every author does, at some point, and I didn’t have it anymore. My grad school advisor pointed me to a writing group in Doylestown, PA. The location shook me a little—Donna had lived in Doylestown. Perhaps she guided me there, because it was like coming home. Sharing my passion with other enthusiastic writers broke my isolation and revved my creativity. I have been part of the writing community in Doylestown ever since, and I look forward to many more years of feedback, encouragement and camaraderie.

Even now, six years on from losing Donna, my new writing process is evolving. I still like a lot of feedback, and I still am very comfortable in collaborative projects. The middle grade novel I am currently shopping, The Egyptian Enigma, is a collaboration with two other authors. I also know I ask people to read and give me feedback on very early drafts of my other works, probably much earlier than most writers do. I am, however, becoming more confident in my own decisions, my own instincts, and my own writing.

I have never found another writing buddy who fills Donna’s role. For a long time, that frustrated me. I searched for someone to fit into that gaping wound, and it is a futile search. I can no more find a perfect match for my writing partner than I can for the best friend I lost. But I’m okay with that now. I have grown past needing that symbiotic relationship.

I have evolved, my writing process has evolved, and my writing is miles beyond what Donna and I ever accomplished together. But sometimes, in moments of need, I find myself asking the golden question: What would Donna do?

Alien POV

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. When I read the classics in my genre (or others), I can’t help admiring the skill of the writers. I also feel despair that I could ever duplicate the skill of those talented writers. But as any writer knows, learning the craft is a continual journey, and striving to reach the heights is part and parcel of this job that we love.

 

When I read Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land I was deeply impressed by his ability to create the completely alien mindset of Mike, the human Martian. I realized suddenly that this was missing in my own science fiction novel, The Forgotten Planet. In my book, I have three different cultures colliding on one planet, yet I found that I had depicted all three as having very similar views of things. They all ended up seeing things in that middle ground that was my own author’s perspective. Heinlein’s ability to have two characters look at the same thing and interpret it completely differently astounds me, and is something that I would like to try to emulate.

 

Therefore, I will be revisiting and revising my novel to try to sharpen the delineation between cultures. I may even try an exercise where I have all three cultures viewing the same situation or object, and trying to understand how differently they see it. It will be a challenge, but that challenge is the fun part of writing. Making my cultures vivid and alien will step my novel closer to the level of writing I desire. I am eager for the experiment, and wonder where it will take me!

Retro is “In”

Today I reworked a short story I wrote for grad school. When I originally wrote it, I thought it was great. The first time I submitted it to a peer critique, I learned that it was not. Then I put it away for several years. After all, I write novels, not short stories, so what did it matter?

 

I’ve been thinking of trying to bump up my publishing creds by getting some short stories published, so I dug into my very small backlog from my school days. A few were good—the type of good that when I read it, I look to see who wrote it, because it couldn’t possibly have been me! There were a few that were “eh.” Nothing to get excited about, although probably with some major work they could be something. Then there was the one I revised today, in the category of “almost there, but needs some work.”

 

I opened it up, and I found a miracle—I had never really stopped working on it, even though I had put it away years ago. I knew the changes I wanted to make as soon as I clicked on the file name. Before Word had finished the virus scan, the new first paragraph was clear in my head. And, now, it is much better than it was.

 

I have always been a believer in never getting rid of old stories (or getting rid of anything else, but that’s an entirely different sickness). This proves to me what most experienced writers will tell you—visit your personal backlist every once and a while. Old ideas may suddenly be current, old stories can be dressed in new writing skills and given new life. I find that even the stories and novels I wrote as a teenager (which make me laugh so hard I cry, even though they aren’t comedies) have some solid ideas and interesting characters.

 

Old stories. New vision. Future sales? Could be. I hear retro is in right now.

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