November 26

Back in School: ECE to Write, Books to Read

A lot has happened since my last blog post. I did make my goal and I emailed several agents about my book. So far, I’ve received nothing but rejections, though some did ask that I query them for my next project if I don’t get anything with this one. I’m going to let the book sit for a while before I do anything more with it. Maybe when I look at it again, whenever that’ll be, I’ll have a better idea of how to make it more appealing to agents/editors even in this saturated market.

I have a lot to focus on now. As some of you know, I just returned from my school residency. I learned a ton and if I remember, or if someone gives me a nudge, I’ll post some of what I learned on here. I have a list of major things that all successful novels have in them, information about libraries and publicity, etc. I’d love to share it, but those are something that would need their own blogs.

Since residency is over, my independent study has begun and that means I have an ECE to write. The ECE needs to be twenty to thirty pages long and the rough draft is due on December 17. I already feel like I’m scrambling.  I’m writing about LGBTQIA characters in Young Adult literature and any statistics, papers or articles on the topic are welcome.

My due dates are as follows:
December 17
January 24
February 16
March 14
April 4

Along with the 20 to 30 page essay, I’ll need to read 10 books, as is tradition, for the semester.

Books to Read:
Ask the Passengers by AS King
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
The Art of Fiction by John Garner
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers
Huntress by Malinda Lo
Wildthorn by Jane Eagland
Ash by Malinda Lo
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green
Write your novel from the middle by James Scott Bell

Now if I can’t find a book, or I simply can’t get into the book, I can switch a book out for another with my mentor’s approval. However, I tend to stay close to my original reading list.  My mentor this semester is Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

I should have plenty to post over the next few months.

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.

June 11

Getting ready for a writer’s retreat in McCall, Idaho

Cabin in McCall
Cabin in McCall. Photo taken from the rental site.

The Coeur du Bois chapter of Romance Writers of America is having their annual Writer’s retreat this month.  This will be my third time attending.

We will be going to the same cabin in McCall we went to last year. As you can probably tell from the photo we are in a pretty remote location during retreat. We can’t get internet there, which is both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because, though everyone has a computer with them, our typical online distractions, like facebook, are no longer available to us in McCall. But, you can bet that you will require a vital piece of information for your story and you can’t get online to research the topic.

During our four-day stay, we engage in several power hours a day. The power hours are simple things.  A timer is set and we write for an hour. No editing. No researching.  No plotting. Just writing. It’s a great exercise and you really learn how much writing you can get done in a short amount of time, especially if you find someone to compete with–word count wise. They are also probably the most structured thing about retreat.

For those who want to do more than huddle among the blue screens of a computer, or empty two or three pens into a notebook, they’ll find plenty.  A member or two did enough walking during last years retreat to have walked an entire marathon. Several members go into town to enjoy the farmer’s market, old-fashioned chocolate shop, the beach and so much more. My first year, we saw plenty of deer from the cabin window.  Last year we saw a fox moving through the tall grass and wild flowers. I can only imagine what we will see this year.

Once we’ve exhausted our writing for the day, we find things to do. Someone brought cards and hard candy and several of us played twenty-one. We bring books to read. We play games that allow us to get to know each other better or have long conversations. I’ve never been bored.

With this being my third year going to retreat I have a pretty decent idea of what I need to take with me. I’ll be bringing clothes I can layer, because the weather at McCall can vary. The usual stuff you would expect.  And writing supplies. This year that probably means a hardcopy of the two stories I’m working on, along with my computer, a notebook, pens, etc. I’ll bring a throw with me to cover my shoulders for when  my body seems to have a different temperature than everyone else in the cabin. A small pillow to sit on for the hard surfaces, a surge protector because you can never have too many of those. Plus, I’ll bring a special treat. There is always an overabundance of desserts there.  Alcohol is also readily available. Those who know me well would probably gape at the fact that I had a glass of some kind of alcohol every night.

As social and collaborative as the retreat can be, the cabin was usually pretty quiet, which allowed people to sleep in, nap or write until their fingers and pencils were stubs, which I have personal experience in each.  It’s also highly productive and relaxing. I believe I managed to write nearly 20,000 words at retreat alone, and I know I was not in the minority on that. Why would I not look forward to retreat?

March 2

Plans for Extended Critical Essay (ECE)

For my upcoming semester at Spalding University,  I need to turn in a 20-30 page essay referred to as an Extended Critical Essay, or ECE,  Since I imagine three and a half-weeks between each draft wouldn’t be enough time for me to do all my research, reading, writing and edits, I am working on gathering all my information now.

I’m not sure what my topic will be on. I’m leaning toward writing emotion into a story or something on world building.  Maybe I can somehow combine the two…. How character’s emotions can help with world building in YA. I may decide to go in a totally different direction as well. But I’m hopefully giving myself enough time to do the research and come up with a final decision.

In fact, I plan to write mini-essays on the two topics while I am doing the research, with the hope that it’ll help me build material/resources for the ECE I will need to work on. I would love feedback from people as I make progress, differing opinions, suggestions on what other resources to look at, no matter what stage I am in during this endeavor.

My first step is to find the resources that will help me write the mini-essays and eventually the ECE. I would appreciate recommendations on:

  • Non-Fiction books/articles on Writing Emotion
  • Non-Fiction books/articles on World Building
  • YA Fiction that is a good example of one or both elements.
  • Any other resources that you think may be of interest/help to me.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations and comments.

November 18

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the entirety of November.  For those who don’t know National Novel Writing Month is when you try to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  This happens in November.

The month is over half-way over and I find myself ahead of schedule by a lot. I’ve never been ahead, in fact, with one exception, I’ve never hit the goal in the allotted time. I think the main difference from now and earlier years is that I’m not allowing myself to edit what I’ve written and I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time.

I don’t expect perfection when I take part in NaNoWriMo. When the goal is to write 1,667 words a day, you can’t expect anything near perfection. The goal, for me, is to get as much of the story written as possible by deadline. By not allowing myself to over think what I’ve written my stories develop more organically and I’ll often find more creative solutions to plot issues than if I took my time and thought my way through the issue.

Those are the positives.  The negatives are that I often end up with a lot of material I end up needing to delete and discard, because I didn’t edit and what I have doesn’t actually work well with the rest of the story.  I’ll find a plot hole the size of Wisconsin that needs patched up or eliminated some other way. And I often have a lot of rewriting to do so that I’m showing instead of telling.

My favorite thing about participating in NaNoWriMo is that the hardest part of writing–which used to be the easiest for me–writing the book is mainly done by November 30th.  I then get to start editing it, rewriting it and making it better. Yes, editing is easier for me now days.  Maybe that’s normal for writers–the editing becomes easier than writing new material.

This years novel is actually the beginning of what I was planning on being my sequel. With what I’ve written so far, I’m getting the strong impression that this “novel” won’t actually be long enough to be a novel. That I’ll, in fact, need to add what I end up with to the end of what I have written. Since what I have written isn’t technically long enough to be a novel by itself, this may be for the best. But I won’t know until I actually get everything written and then re-written and cleaned up.

If I do end up combining the two things together than I’ll have a lot of editing to do, including parts of the novel that I have had written a long time, simply because I’ll have more time to introduce concepts that I’m only now touching on in this “sequel” because it wasn’t relevant to what I’ve now written.  It’s amazing how much a few pages of writing, a simple challenge can change your writing.

I also enjoy the community, and encouragement that can be found on NaNoWriMo. There are write-a-thons available throughout the month where you can meet up with other writers to write. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people, and potentially new critique partners, friends and resources.  Prizes are given for hitting 50,000 words.

If you’d like to finish a book or see how many words you can reach by Nov. 30th, I’d urge you to try NaNoWriMo. Or, try to start from the beginning next November.

June 22

Preferences

Do you like the book-to-movie reviews I posted?  If you’d prefer a book only review, let me know. I’ll make a strong attempt at writing the book before I watch the movie, or if I’ve already watched the movie, like Jane Eyre and Northanger Abbey, do my best to talk about only the book. Let me know what your preferences are.

January 25

Flawed Characters

I’ve always been aware that flawed characters are important for stories.  However, it’s hard for me to really name books that have truly flawed characters.  Usually they’re shown as perfect specimens and the main obstacle is usually an external force, a misunderstanding, a killer that needs caught…the obstacle rarely seems to be caused by the hero(ines) flaws, not caring, arrogance, self-esteem issues, etc. at least not in the books I typically read, which is fine so long as the book entertains me.

I truly believe the story I’m writing is interesting, but I’m not convinced I’ve written my characters so they have flaws. After reading a book where the main character does have obvious flaws, I’ve tried focusing on giving my characters more of a flaw without adding unnecessary bulk to the story.  I didn’t want my characters in a fight, near death or anything like that simply to display that they have faults.  I want their faults to add to the story in a meaningful way.

But what constitutes a true flaw? I’ve been reading articles and read several definitions.  The most common ones seem to be that the “flaw” cannot be turned into a positive. So a character cannot be, say, a busybody and that trait allows the character to solve the murder, the mystery and all the mis-communication that happened throughout the book. Probably not the best example, but you get the idea.

So, what can I do?  The story is written.   All I need is to edit things.

I have a few ideas on what I could do and if they work out, the book would feel like its come full circle, provide room for some more hints and red herrings and lengthen the novel in a good way. If it goes completely wrong, well I’d still have my old draft to fall back on, right?

August 25

Signs I’m about to hit the “I am a horrible writer” stage.

  • I’m making dedications for my book
  • My house receives a face lift, including reorganization of furniture
  • I’ve grown obsessed with dissecting or critiquing other people’s work
  • I look up quotes and cartoons about writing
  • I want to chat and not about writing

All but one have happened so far. And I have a feeling that last one will be happening tonight.

Next is the actual “I am a horrible writer” dump.

Be warned.
Usually I shed the worst of it in two days.
But it clings for a week or two.

July 11

Archived Pages

While looking for some of my favorite writing quotes I came across an old essay I wrote in the hopes of getting into an MFA program and thought I’d share it.

God damn it. I hate when a draft is returned to me decorated with different colored highlighters, red ink, smiling and frowning faces. I hate how much sweat, tears and time writing requires. Why can’t the process be simple? Why can’t I write one or two drafts then be done?  Because doing that would mean mediocre work, and I’m not one to let my stories be less than I am capable.

That’s why I dedicated my life to writing. Although my main interest is in writing fantasy novels, I’ve tried my hand at poetry, flash fiction, satire, freelance blogging, news articles, promotional material and short stories and learned from each form of writing. Through poetry I learned how to give my piece rhythm. Through journalism I learned brevity. Through flash fiction I learned condensing.

I’ve studied the craft of writing to the best of my ability at this point, through various methods.
 I attended conferences and writer’s events. I’ve purchased books, magazines and movies in the hopes my writing would improve. I wrote my favorite authors for advice, insight and tips. I majored in journalism, minored in English, hoping my writing would become tighter more grammatically correct and still my manuscript — the one I’ve been re-revising for years — came back to me with so many critiques?  I consider ripping the novel apart, putting it through the paper shredder and deleting all my previous drafts from my computer. After all this is draft # I. J would be next.

Those not as dedicated to the craft of writing frequently tell me my writing is good, fantastic, better than they could manage.  That is well and good to hear when the writer needs that confidence boost, but I know that my writing is not where I want it to be. I have not met my full potential, which is something I really want and find myself growing frustrated when I feel like I’m not making progress.  After all, I labor and labor to give birth to a beautiful, perfect baby. But when I take the child in for a checkup, I find my baby deformed. So I labor again and again, performing surgery, providing inoculations to find my child healthier but still deformed.

Now I want to get an MFA in Creative Writing at a school where they’ll criticize my babies, tear them into scraps so I can only try jig sawing them together and give birth to healthier and stronger ones. They’ll poke at my work; demand a quality from me beyond my current skills. I want to attend a school so dedicated to the written word that they have a writer in residence, which provides students with different perspectives, experiences, opinions and tips. Am I crazy for wanting to attend BSU or just suicidal?

Just dedicated to my craft, I suppose.