Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pride Cometh Before a Fall

OK, not so much pride, and not so much a fall either.

I have a couple of published authors reading Finding Angel for possible endorsement. I won't tell you who they are until I get the official go-ahead from them, but I will tell you some of the feedback I've gotten.

One author has told me she is finding it very suspenseful. She hasn't gone into specifics, but she seems really enthusiastic.

The other author is a bit more pragmatic. Her comments have been things like, "This is great! But, you've got some extra wording that can be shaved down." I as much as admitted that in my last post. The difference is this author has thrown a new light on specifically which words/phrases to trim.

I know to stay away from passive voice and all the other traditional no-nos. But she's pointed out some unnecessary explaining I've included, and I agree with her. So, the word count is shrinking. I still do not believe Finding Angel will drop to the "recommended" 80,000 words for Young Adult. But, I may be able to shave it to under 100,000.

She has also said things like, "I really want this to succeed." And, "This is so close."

The thing is, I still believe in my story, and my writing. Yes, I still believe it is good. I still believe it has been submission-ready, that a publisher who actually read the writing and not my query only might have said, as the aforementioned author did, that all that's required is cutting away a few extraneous words and phrases to give it that final gleam.

As I said, not so much pride and a fall, but rather posting about arrogance and then coming back to say, "Well, one more polish."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Arrogant Me

I am lucky to have a handful of friends that I've known since high school and before. A few I've even been friends with since kindergarten. That means I've got friendships that have endured 25 to 35 years. It's a very cool feeling to be connected with people for that long--people who remember you with pigtails and your first glasses, who knew you when you had your first crush, who sat next to you in class and passed you notes and now you're emailing each other about your own kids.

One particular friend is a girl I've known since seventh grade, which means we've been friends for 28 years. I saw her yesterday because she brings her young son to the park where my homeschool group meets. After the festivities of the "first park day party" we sat down at a picnic table and talked for over an hour. She said something to me that really has me thinking.

She told me I need to gain some "arrogance" about my writing.

That statement has extra meaning because it came from her. You see, she knew me when I was an awkward adolescent. We were in a lot of the same classes, so she knows the kinds of grades I got in school (A's) and she also knows what that meant considering the kinds of classes we were taking (gifted/honors/advanced). She also knew me when the bomb dropped and I turned into a massively rebellious teenager who nearly threw away her entire future in favor of parties, drinking and drugs.

In other words, she knows first-hand what I am capable of. Good, bad, and ugly.

One thing she did not know when we were growing up was my secret aspirations to be a writer. Honestly, it was something even I wasn't too keenly aware of. It wasn't until I made the decision three years ago to sit down and attempt to write a novel that the memories came back--me sitting on my bed with a legal pad and pen, "Chapter One" written at the top of page after page that ultimately ended up crumpled and thrown across the room--me closing a book I've been reading and staring at the binding, wishing with all my heart that MY name was on there--me wandering the aisles of the library, wondering what it would be like to see MY book sitting there on the shelf.

My friend has now read some of my writing. Unlike those of you who don't know me, or haven't known me very long, she had to add that bit of information to a jumbled pile of knowledge about the real me. Me, the rebellious teenager. Me, the one who never gave any indication she wanted to write. Me, the one who blasted everyone away in math but never showed an affinity for the work we did in English class (yes, I got A's, but I didn't care).

Here's the double-whammy. She's an aspiring writer, too. And she's knowingly wanted this her whole life. She has EVERY right to blow me off as a hack and a wanna-be.

Instead, she told me I shouldn't worry about getting other opinions about Finding Angel. That I need arrogance about my writing. Holy cow, what a thought.

So, here goes:

Finding Angel is not an unpolished half-attempt at writing. It may have been my first work, but I've revised and edited and reworked it with every gain of knowledge about craft. I am rather good at discerning what is helpful advice that actually corrects issues and what is another person's opinion about proper style (i.e., their style).

I am creative and unique. (Another friend recently called me "artsy and original" this week. :D Right when I needed to hear it the most, I might add. Thanks again, HH.) Maybe not every word I write follows the "rules" but when I break them I do it with purpose.

My word count is high. Yes, I get it. I'm fully aware of that fact. Could I shave it down? Most likely. But judge not by the number, please. The story is complex. It is not a linear novel--multiple lines of story all tie together at the end. If I cut a line, the whole thing will unravel. I have given this a lot of thought. And, dagnabbit, I happen to LIKE complex novels and, no, I will NOT simplify it because you want to read something that carries you along like a kite on the wind. Be part of the wind, people.

I will NOT change my book to a romance. Sure, romance sells. Sure, teen girls like it. Well, that is teen girls who've never considered owning a pair of fake Elf ears, who would never don a medieval cloak, who don't fantasize about owning a real sword...in other words, teen girls who read romance and not fantasy. Guess what--the book is not for those girls. And who says the book is just for girls anyway? Because my protag is a girl? Because I'm a girl? Sheesh.

I am a Christian. My book is not standard CBA fodder. I don't speak once about Christianity in my novel. There is no allegorical Christ figure. There is magic. There are dragons. There is a totally rockin' tattooed, leather-wearing Elf who plays an electric guitar with no electricity, and he is the most spiritual person in the book. The conflict hinges on whether or not we have souls, but that's as close to Christianity as I tread. Therefore, getting published by a CBA press is pretty much out of the question.

I don't fit rightly into the secular arena either. I can't pinpoint exactly why. Maybe because the trend right now is urban, and if anything my book is "rural." Fantasy with a bit of southern twang. But don't tell me it's because it's unoriginal. I've read a LOT of YA fantasy, and Finding Angel is nothing like anything I've read.

(Side-rant: Agents say they are looking for original, that they don't have preconceived ideas about what they want. Yet, they reject most writers based on a single query letter. A paragraph with the stats of the book--genre, word count--then a six-sentence summary that barely touches the tip of the 100,000-word complexity of the novel--and finally who are YOU and what makes YOU so special we should take YOU on? YET, I got a rejection letter from an agent, who actually looked at my first chapter, saying my writing was really good but it didn't fit her "list." Seriously.)

Lastly, I have had FOUR short stories accepted (three already in print and the other will be next month) that are based on Finding Angel. They are back story, or side story, to the novel. They are about characters in the novel. Why do these sell if my novel is not something people want to read?

Boy, this has gotten long. For that I apologize. But I make no apologies for thinking Finding Angel should be published by now. Does that make me arrogant? Maybe my answer to that should be, "Good."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Earthbow Series by Sherry Thompson

I'm going to be flat-out honest in this post. I "met" Sherry Thompson online through a writers group. She seemed like a sweet person and had a book out called Seabird, and at the time was working on getting the next book in the series out. I had just joined the group and noticed a lot of the authors were published by small presses, including Sherry. With very little experience with small presses, I really didn't know what to think. I mean, my hopes were still hung on getting an agent and landing a large publisher for my book, and I saw small presses as sort of a last resort.

My view of small presses has changed, though--quite drastically, I might add, as I've now actually READ some books by small presses. So, a few months ago I decided to give Seabird a shot. And--since I am being honest here--the $2.99 Kindle price offered even more incentive.

Let. Me. Tell. You. What.

I loved the book. A lot. Really, really. I of course went on and read the next book, Earthbow Volume 1.

Put simply, Sherry Thompson can write. She has created a vivid world in these novels, with unique species of animals (like talking seabirds, of course) and races of people. Her characterization is strong, and her plotting solid. You know you've got a good book in your hand when you feel irritated by things--life--tapping you on the shoulder and telling you to put the book down.

I won't go into a plot summary. The general idea, though, is teen ends up in another world and plays a role in a prophecy. Big nasty bad guys. Cool magic. Twists and turns and danger...but thankfully none of those contrived and confusing battle scenes often found in fantasy. Sherry knows what to include in an action scene so you are kept intrigued and are actually able to follow it.

Seabird and Earthbow are classic fantasy tales done in a unique way, with new scenery and original characters and creatures. The stuff of good writing and an excellent read.

Seabird and Earthbow Vol. 1 are available through Amazon.

You can also find Earthbow Vol. 1 at Barnes and Noble in Nook format.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Zooming In

It's been well over a week since my last blog. I'd like to say I've spent that whole time consumed by a writing project. Well, in a way I have been.

Let me start at the beginning.

Every now and then it hits hard that I have not found a home for Finding Angel. After pouring my heart and soul into writing it, editing, polishing, writing and rewriting queries--which get sent out and ultimately rejected--it's, to say the least, frustrating. At times, it becomes like a huge weight I can't seem to lift.

So, when I say I was "in a way" consumed by a writing project, that's what I mean. BUT, only for the first part of this non-blogging week.

After several devotionals and my pastor's sermon last Sunday, I started noticing a theme in the words coming into my life. "Idolatry." I didn't quite recognize it at first--the devotionals were more about just waiting on God to fulfill His promises and not getting side-tracked with impatience. But then the message got stronger.

My pastor spoke specifically about idolatry last Sunday, and one thing he said struck like a gong. I've known for a long time that idolatry doesn't necessarily mean bowing down to man-made statues of false gods--that it can also mean putting material goods before God, like cars, a big home, money, etc. But my pastor spoke about other things that can become idols--our kids, our need to please people, our drive for success.

That last one is what I'm talking about. Often we think of a drive for success as the guy in the suit who's constantly on his cell phone or laptop, workworkworking to become the top exec in his company. But it can mean success in any endeavor.

Like trying to find a publisher for a book.

At least, when the thoughts about that need overtake you.

So, I made a resolution to "let it go" and try to concentrate on getting closer to God. The weight I couldn't lift seemed to rise off of me all on its own. I spent Monday and Tuesday avoiding writing altogether, which meant no blogging still.

Then on Wednesday, I came across this blog post on Novel Teen. The closing thought seemed written just for me:

Instead we have to stop. Step back. Take a moment. Breathe in and out. Zoom in on the one task at hand and ignore everything beyond it. This is how we seek God. It is the place from which our own creativity springs.

Oh, those two last sentences! This is how we seek God--not by avoidance, but by finding HIM IN what we're doing. Yes, I needed that initial step-back, that moment to breathe. But I don't need to give up writing altogether. Especially because it's when I'm writing that I feel the most connected to Him--where I feel my creativity, which He gave me, pouring through.

After seeing that blog post on Novel Teen, everything seemed to fall into place. I sat down to work on a short story I'd gotten stuck on. Out flowed 2800 more words. The next day, another 1200, which completed the story at over 8,000 words.

God wants us to have good things--He wants to fulfill the desires of our heart. He just doesn't want us to walk away from Him in the process. He wants us to seek Him in our work, and let Him be the one to unleash our creativity.

So, here I am folks. Consumed by writing again--but the right way this time.

(PS--I know, the image I chose for this post isn't exactly relevant. I wanted to find something that illustrates God being a part of our creativity, and my Google searches did not provide what I was looking for. But, the one above at least has to do with creativity, and it's cute.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The "Me" Factor

I've written about 25,000 words of a novel that I started several months ago. The project has been very stop and go, as other things need tending, like art projects and short stories, and pretty much life in general. One of the things that has stopped my progress on this particular work is what might be called writer's block. I say "might" because I know it's not.

Early on in the writing of this novel, I was sending chapters to a crit partner of mine. Shawna has always been very honest with me about my writing, which is something I love about her. If a scene or whatever falls flat, she tells me. If my wording is wonky, she tells me. If I'm putting too much in or leaving too much out, she tells me. At one point, I had sent her a chapter and she told me it just wasn't working.

"Not powerful enough. It's missing something."

After some thought and a few emails back and forth, she finally figured out what was missing.

"You," she said. "Everything that makes your writing yours is what's missing."

I'd been focused on trying to write a story I thought would sell to a particular publisher that would be opening for submissions soon. I wanted very much to be taken by them, and I found myself holding back because this story has the potential to turn rather dark. I was trying to not let it because I didn't think the publisher would go for it.

And the story suffered.

When I went back and wrote as "me" it all started coming together.

A similar experience just happened this week. A local sci-fi/fantasy/horror convention is coming up, and they are taking submissions for designs for the official con t-shirt. I decided to give it a shot. The problem, again, came about when I tried figuring out what *they* would want. Everything I sketched was awful. I crumpled up page after page.

And then it hit me--do something I would like. Don't worry about them. If my design is meant to win, it will. If not, I've done the best I could, rather than a bad attempt at what they're looking for. Immediately, the design came together.

I have no idea yet if either of these projects will be selected, but I am satisfied to be putting my all into them. It turns tedious story-telling (or drawing) into a flow of creative energy when I let go of preconceptions and go with what is in my heart.

Do you ever find yourself stuck on a project because you get side-tracked by thinking more about the person on the receiving end?