August 24

SEPTEMBER 1

September 1.

That is the goal.

On September 1, I plan to send my first query out in 11 years. I was 15 the last time I tried to get published and the world has changed since then. Most agents are taking or even requiring email queries now. This may be a good thing, because I spent a small fortune on stamps, and envelopes when I was 15. Now it’s just a click of the button. The Writer’s Market and other sources I used to help me find agents doesn’t appear to have as much of a selection as it used to. Their may be other changes that have occurred but that I am not immediately aware of.

What hasn’t changed is the anxiety. The constant question of “Is the book really ready?” Of wondering if, once you send it off, “Will I never find someone who loves my baby?” Those fears have made me delay, find reasons to keep editing my book, to improve on it, but NOT send it in. I need to get over these nerves and the best way to do that is to send out that query letter. Right?

September 1 is the goal.

I have the first half of my story checked for grammar, and spelling issues. I have the second half to work on. I have the query letter written, a draft of a synopsis done, and a long list of agents to query. And September 1 is right around the corner.

April 25

Preparations for School

Life is growing increasingly hectic as I prepare for my second semester of school.  Outside of  normal responsibilities, I have things I need to read, critique and watch.  I’m also trying to decide what to pack.

When I made this trip last year, I had the luxury of driving down. I say luxury, not because the cross-country trip was easy, though I’ve made the trip so often it’s probably far easier on me than on someone who has never managed it before. I say luxury because cars have the advantage in some areas when it comes to travel. By taking a car, I don’t have to limit my luggage.  As long as it fits in my car it can go, whether it’s edible, leaky, necessary or dangerous. With airlines you either pay a small fortune or are severely limited to what you can take on the plane, and how heavy/large your bag can be. So it’s a tossup on which is better the plane or the airline.  Both are uncomfortable, but you’ll, usually arrive faster on a plane than by car.

So, I’m making and re-making packing lists, trying to prioritize what needs to go and what can stay.  The school stuff has top priority. I need to take the screenplays, books and the schedule with me, along with a handful of other things. Clothes are an obvious necessity, but how much do I take with me? With me staying at my mothers I can do laundry at her house without it costing me anything.  However, I don’t want to be doing laundry every night. Do I take my manuscript, even though my focus is screenplays? Make up, which I rarely wear, but wore every day at residency? Then I need to consider my sister, who will be coming with me on the trip.  She’s seven. This will be her first time on a plane. What do I need to make sure she has in her carry-on? Then I’m trying to get other things done.  Newsletter for the Coeur du Bois Romance Writer’s Group, paying bills, working…looking up ideas on what Young Adult screenplays I should read for the semester…

As stressful as preparing for Residency is, I’ll be glad when I finally get there.  Last year I learned a ton.  The information I received from lectures, workshops and critiques transformed my writing, making me stronger in some areas. My story has made a dramatic change because of what I learned last year.  This year, I expect, will be no different, especially when I look at lectures they’ve announced will be at residency. For me, the semester was fun, a retreat, a vacation of sorts despite the long hours and sometimes stressful, last minute assignments. Plus, things will be less stressful for me once I get into the swing of things and add homework to my regular schedule again.

Until then…well, I’m wondering if the queen of hearts is trying to chop off my head.  I hope not.  The way I’m going right now, I’d never find my head again.

March 23

Good Things Can Make Your Writing Stronger Too

As a writer, I know the importance of receiving a good critique from an honest eye. I appreciate the comments I get, the suggestions on how to make my work better, perhaps too much.  When I’m receiving critiques, I often find myself skipping over the complimentary stuff, almost ignoring it completely and focus on the “may improve” suggestions.  That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the occasional “Good Job” written on the manuscript, but it’s a secondary desire to improving my writing.

This, unfortunately, has caused problems for me, mainly when I try to critique someone else’s writing. I try to give those I critique what I want most–ideas on improvements. I will, on occasion, put a “Great Job” on the page, but those are extremely rare, mainly because I understand that the best way to improve is to get critiques and work on improving the area of confusion. This has left some people disheartened, even some who I believe to be talented writers.   As an MFA student, I am required to give critiques to classmates–a mixture of good and how to improves.  Although I’m good at identifying what needs improved, I really have problems thinking up the positives in the work to mention.  I’m not sure why, other than I’ve never really focused my attention on the positives I received during my reviews.

I can absolutely love a story but when I write something up, I’ll start listing the negatives, what bothered me about it and what I thought needed changed–even if what I’m reviewing has already been published.  This works out for me as well, since that lets me know what kind of things I need to avoid if I’m going to write a book in a similar genre.  Then, when I’m done, the  few positives I listed  beside the (possible) super-long list of negatives appear miniscule, pitying and/or may be invisible.

Recently I’ve read a book where the author pointed out that identifying the positives and negatives in a work can be beneficial to ones writing. The negatives I’ve already mentioned, will let me know what to avoid, what I don’t like, etc.  The positives, however, will let me know what I need to do more often.   For example, I nailed a description on page 32.  By knowing that, I can try using the same method used to get that description to create other great ones.  In that way, I’m improving skills that I’m already decent at, not just improving things that I’m poor at.

With that realization, I’m hoping that I can write up a more balanced review/critique every time I write one.  I don’t imagine this will be easy.  I’m almost blind to the positives in someone’s work, especially if the piece isn’t something that makes me go  “BEST BOOK EVER!!!”  But I think that learning to balance the positives and the negatives in a review or critique will serve both the writer and I better.  I may need help reaching this goal. And if my dear readers have time, I would appreciate a nudge whenever I focus too much on the negative. Remind me that I want to try thinking up more positives.  Lately, I feel like the latest books I’ve reviewed have come across as negative, when in fact I may have enjoyed the book.  And if you have any questions as to whether I liked a book or not, let me know.  I’d be more than happy to clear that up.

So, don’t do what I’ve done for years, ignore the positive and learn from the negative.  The positives in your writing could make you a stronger writer too.

What about you?  Do you focus on the negative?  The positive?  What about when the comments are from someone else and directed at your own work?

November 27

Writing Withdrawal and Why I Suffer

My story is getting closer to being done. One or two more run through and I believe it’ll be ready for me to start query processes of publication. Who knows though.  I’ve said that thousands of times over the years.  I could be far from the mark. Despite feeling I’m close to having it done, I’ve decided, with some urging from friends, that I’ll take a break from Shadowed. I won’t edit anything on the novel for at least a month, perhaps longer, which, if you know me, is akin to torture.

I’ve been working on some version of this story for years. It’s really all I know, and although I’m tired of  working on Shadowed I don’t want to leave it alone until the story is finished. I have gone an entire month without working on Shadowed before. I don’t like doing it.  The moment I say I will take a break from it the ideas on how to improve the story overflow and I am forced to fight the temptation to do more than simply write the ideas down, and store them someplace safe until the month is up.  For me, going a month without working on Shadowed is like going through caffeine withdrawal.  The most painful process is getting through the first three days, and usually by the first week all my symptoms are gone or so weakened that they are easy to ignore.  By then I’ve settled into another book or project to focus on to past the time.  I believe the last time I took a break from Shadowed, I completely redesigned my website with help from friends. I don’t know what my project will be for the month yet, but I doubt it’ll be another website project.  I imagine I’ll get a TON of reading done however.

Right now, I’m going on break from Shadowed, already aware of about sixteen things that need to be changed in the story. I know how to fix some of them already.  Others I have no clue on how to fix them, but know it needs done.  I figure that by going on break now, I’ll have time to come up with solutions for all of them and see more things that need fixed when I re-look over the story a month from now.  A month usually gives me what I call ‘fresh eyes’ on a piece of writing.  I get a fresh perspective, more distant look, at my work than if I keep looking at the same thing too many times.

So, wish me luck on my writing withdrawal.

October 27

What are you doing in November?

I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo for years and last year was the first time I actually “won”.  NaNoWriMo, for those who don’t know, stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November.I participate every year in this great challenge, and though I may not always reach the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days, I always have fun participating.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in you can learn more and sign up (It’s free) at NaNoWriMo.org.  If you want to add me as your writing buddy go ahead.  You’ll find my NaNo page at http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/avikar. I’ll do my best to add you to my buddy list.

Right now I’m debating on what to write on for this years novel. Should I work on Lorenne’s story?  This time combining the two stories I’ve written in separate years to make a completely different one and see if this one sticks?  Or should I work on the sequel to “Shadowed,” which I have very little planned and nothing written. Or I may try something completely different.  Cockroaches saving the human race anyone? Does anyone here have a preference on what they’d like to see me do? I’d be interested to hear comments you have.

Although I’m not sure of a lot of things when it comes to NaNoWriMo right now, like what I’ll be writing, if I’ll win or if I’ll even be able to start on time, I do know that I believe that a Non-Profit organization that helps build communities in classrooms, coffee shops, libraries, and living rooms all over the world and help the inspiration flow for me and thousands of my fellow novelists will need some funding to reach all their goals and make next year’s NaNo even better.  So, for the month of November, I am Fundraising money for NaNoWriMo.   To help me raise money, go to my donation page.

Thanks for your generosity and support.
Also, if you want to help, but want to get something more out of it than a Thank You, NaNoWriMo does sell merchandise that does help them get the funding they need. https://store.lettersandlight.org/merchandise  Be honest, even if you’re not a writer, who can resist the prospect of having a 2 GB USB Bracelet?
August 23

Writing Madness

If you’ve been following me on my facebook account, you probably already know that I’m making big changes to my current WIP.

I’m sticking to the plot I originally had, but the biggest changes are Silas’ role and the timeline. These two things require a lot of changes throughout the novel in itself, but I’ll, hopefully, be able to keep a lot of my scenes intact. I’m not so much as changing the story plot-wise–not this one at least–as much as I’m emphasizing new points and de-emphasizing others. And I like the consequences of most of those small changes.

As I told a friend, this draft is really a spaghetti test. For those who don’t know, that’s when you throw spaghetti against a wall and see what sticks.  Some things I already know won’t stick.  Other things seem pretty solid to the wall.  But I keep eyeing the noodles that dangle from the wall threatening to plummet to the floor. I probably won’t know if it’ll collapse or solidify until I’m much further in the re-write.

A lot of the time I feel like I’m floundering. I keep hitting blocks that appear so easy to fix once I figure out the solution, but I keep getting caught up with how it was originally written or with what I originally intended to happen. The changes I’ve made will make a lot of the things obsolete, but it’s also opening up a lot of possibilities in other areas.

Right now my rewrite stands at about 14,000 words. By September 11th, perhaps sooner, I hope to be at 30,000–about half-way through the draft. I’m pulling a lot of scenes out of this draft though, so I’m losing a lot of words. If I were to keep what remains of my original draft just as it is now, and added it to the new changes I’d only have a 59,600 word novel, which is closer to a novella, I believe. It could be straddling a Novella and a Novel, depending on the source.  And I know some people say that 50k is the minimum word count for a YA novel. I do have more scenes and sequences I need to remove to make the book work with the new changes, but I also have things I need to add, change and expand on.  So, I’m sure my word count will get up where I want it/need it to be. Once I get through this draft and start cleaning up the spaghetti on the walls and floors.

These changes make me feel like my novel better fits the description I wrote for it.  Strange, isn’t it.  The book is changing for the description, not the other way around? The description was close but I think the book had less focus on the plot points than the blurb suggested. Now, I’m not sure I can say that. So I, at the moment, don’t believe the description needs to change. The title probably does, but I’ve long suspected that.  And as I write this story I tend to have weird phrases pop in my head–they might work for titles but I think their are things inherently wrong with them.

Right now the title that pops in my head the most is: Serendipitous Pain.

That might work for an adult novel. Not sure it would work for a Young Adult novel.  And if I stare at the words long enough, I start seeing a bondage porno thing playing out. Not at all the image I want for a YA novel. I don’t know why I bother trying to figure out titles though.  I don’t seem to have a knack for coming up with them.  Other titles I came up with include:

  • Political Reprisals
  • Wayward Games
  • Depraved Politics
  • Seasoned Spoils
  • Shadowed Descent
  • On First Appearance
  • Died at the hand of Shadows
  • Vampires Befriending Slayers
Okay. I think I’m done embarrassing myself. But simply calling it Regan Strommen seems too lazy. And some of my oldest titles, like Playing Deadly Games  or All Our Secrets Are The Same probably won’t work. So, for now, it’s going to remain Shadowed.

Recommendations are always welcome on anything writing related–novel changes, book titles or story descriptions. Do you have any? And how is your own writing going?

Write well, even if it sucks.

August 15

Packet 4 plans

I’ll be turning in everything for packet three later today. The critical essays are difficult for me to write, mainly because I have problems picking out the elements. I’ll get stuck on one thing, whether it actually qualifies for what my essays need to be or not, and have a hard time looking for something else that would fit the assignment better.  I think I did a fairly good job with this packet’s critical essays and I’m hoping my next essays for packet four will be a little easier.

For packet four I’ll be reading   Holes by Louis Sachar and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I trust the people who recommended them to me and looking forward to reading them, though they probably aren’t books I would have picked up on my own.

Have you read either of these books?  What do you think?  Is there something the authors did particularly well with the books?  Or something in particular you want me or recommend I focus on as I read through it, like dialogue, description, characterization, time, etc.?  I may write about it when I’m done reading.

June 26

Response from Lesléa

I got an initial response from my mentor, Lesléa, about the material I sent her for my first packet. I got a lot of positive feedback on Shadowed and my short critical essays. However Entangled, unsurprisingly, needs a lot of work.  I agree with most of the comments she made. And suspected some of the issues she mentioned.

Entangled needs a work and right now, with the initial comments thrumming in my head, I’m not sure how to make some of the changes, specifically, how do I get Maline into his role without readers going, “A real mother would question that”? I’ve had a few people who have already made suggestions on how I could possibly make it work.  I really like a few of them, but I need to see what kind of changes that would mean for the draft I have and how to make them all work, or use those ideas as inspiration.

Does anyone have ideas?  Anyone else willing to look at the fifteen pages I’m working on?  Or someone who is willing to just play sound board for me while I figure it out?

Lesléa’s email was encouraging but she did not hold back on what she thought needed improvement. So far, I only have an email from Lesléa. From what I understand she’ll be sending my submissions through the mail with her notes in the margins.  So I may get more detailed notes on the material when the packet arrives.  It seems to take mail a week to reach me from the East Coast, so I probably won’t get it until late this week, early next week. But I will let everyone know when I get it.

I also will be reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke instead of How It Ends by Laura Wiess. If you recall, How It Ends was on my original reading list at the very beginning of the semester. So far, no other books have been switched out.

For my next packet I plan on reading:

  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  • Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
  •  Girl Meets Boy This is due around the time my packet is but isn’t necessarily part of packet 2.
  • Make A Scene: Crafting A Powerful Story One Scene At A Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld  This one is more to help me make the changes I needed to make and not a necessity for the school semester.

I now have a Goodreads account for those who would like to follow my reading progress.

I’ll keep all of you up-to-date.
Thanks for the help and support.

Edited: Got the Hard copy packet today.

June 25

Retreat Update: It was a blast

I got home from retreat today and I am sad I am home.  I wish the retreat was still going on and I did not have work tomorrow.  I learned a lot at retreat both about writing and non-writing topics. I tried foods that were new to me, drank a single glass of some sort of alcohol every night. I had great conversations with writers, about writing, helping them through their story and about books we’ve read.

There was no internet access at the cabin, which meant when we were on the computer we could only write. We had to leave notes in areas where we would otherwise immediately start doing research and distracting us for several hours from our writing.  I got some good feedback on my work, good sound-boarding was accomplished and some general editing.  I went there intending to edit my novels, which I did, not to create new pages, so I can’t say exactly how much writing I got done.  But one of the attendees there hit 20,000 words. It’s amazing what no internet and several “Power Hours” can accomplish.

A Power Hour, for those who don’t know, is basically an hour of writing.  You don’t worry about grammar, whether the scene makes sense, or anything other than getting words on the page. It can all be edited later. And some make it a mild competition.  Who can get the most words on a page in an hour? I was editing, so I didn’t get as many words written as I otherwise might have when I participated in two of the power hours.  I hit about a thousand words.

This was my first writer’s retreat, my first retreat. I wasn’t sure exactly what to bring with me to this one so I took the basics and a few other…”I may needs.”  Now I have a better idea of what I’ll need to take with me for retreat next year.  Here’s an example of a few things:

  • A Throw

I think I would have been a little more comfortable if I’d had a small blanket to throw over my legs or shoulders at different parts of the day. It got chilly in McCall.

  • A small pillow

I would have been more comfortable with a small pillow to sit on.  The chairs I sat on–the kitchen table chairs–were hard and would grow uncomfortable after a while. The pillow would also give me a little support when I was trying to go to bed for the night.

  • A Hard copy of my novel(s)

I may not feel the need for a hardcopy at a later time. But since I do everything better on paper–editing, writing, reading, critiquing–I probably should have brought a hard copy with me to help me with my editing.  If I’m focusing on writing, instead of editing, next year I should be fine with just paper and pen.

These are only a few examples but they are what I would put on the top of the list of wants/needs.

Thanks to everyone who made the retreat a great experience for me. I look forward to next year’s retreat.

June 14

First Packet Due Soon

The due date for my first packet is drawing near and I’m busily trying to get the last-minute stuff done.  My novel has changed a lot since residency.  I don’t recognize the structure anymore, though the scenes themselves are familiar, except for one. It still has issues that I need to work out–the new scene is throwing me for a loop. I’m not sure what bothers me about it.  However, I’ve spent most of my time on Shadowed and not nearly enough time on Entangled 

Entangled is Lurynne’s book. It’s a story that’s been on the back burner for a while. I have several drafts of the book written out but have never been satisfied with what I wrote. Something has always been off. I’m not sure this draft–the one I’m trying to revise is going to work either. I may simply not be ready to write the book. It’s not time for me to play with it.  But the book–both of Lurynne’s books–dominate my mind. They want to be told. Being in the MFA program may be exactly what I need to get the story down in a satisfactory way.

What do I need to send in for my first packet? The following:

  • A 2-3 page cover letter discussing the enclosed material and asking questions about the material
  • 35-34 pages of fiction–excerpts from two novels
  • 2-3 short critical essays
  • cumulative bibliography in standard MLA format
  • cumulative list of titles of original creative work included in packets

Packets cannot exceed 50 pages length, total.

The cover letter is mostly done. I need to finish working on Entangled, otherwise the fiction pages are done.  I have one essay written.  I’m reading the book now so I can start writing the second one.  I still need to do the cumulative lists.But I think I have enough wiggle room to get everything done on time.

Thank you to everyone who’s helped me by editing my pieces, sometimes multiple times.  I’ll be working on packet 2 soon, which will be even harder to put together than this first one I’m sure. Let me know if you’re interested in reading new edits.  For packet two I plan on them being part of a different section of both books.  So you’ll get a break in that area.