Saturday, August 28, 2010

Who Has Seen the Wind

The first time I picked up W.O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind I was in eleventh grade, and was dreading it. I needed to read it if I was going to pass the test the next day. My lack of enthusiasm came more from my English teacher than anything else. She was an over analyzer. She killed To Kill a Mockingbird for me, by the endless symbolism I couldn't see.

But with Who Has Seen the Wind I sat down and began read. Six hours later I was done. I can even remember being curled up on my dad's chair , turning the pages and occasionally sending my mum dirty looks when she asked me questions like "Have you done your homework?"

I'm not sure where that instant love came, and even after reading it again, slower this time, over the past month, I still can't place my finger on it. A literary novel is not normally my type of reading. I much prefer romance, mainly because I like a tear-jerker as long as it has a happy ending.

Mitchell bounces around between points of view, although Brian remains the central character. And while I still wish he'd given more from Brian's father just before he died, he more than made up for it with Brian's grandmother's last days. Her constant need to hear the world, the wind while she prepared to die, was heartbreakingly shut down by her daughter's desire to keep the window closed in what I see as a desperate attempt to make her mother want to keep going.

So many times, I've read that writers try to emulate their favorite authors, but for me the difference between Mitchell and myself is what appeals to me. He is description heavy, uses dialects I sometimes had to reread, and allows the reader into the minds of multiple characters.

I had originally started reading this book again to do a book review on it, but I've since decided that reviewing isn't what I need as a writer. It's published and I need to learn from what Mitchell did that worked.

The way I see it, he set out to give us a picture of life on the prairies on the 1930's. He captures the simplicity of the people, while at the same time showing how complicated their love and prejudices are. He shows how a young boy faces death, the grief of losing his dog, the emptiness when his father suddenly dies and the disbelief that his grandmother has finally passed.

As for myself, I'm going to take a page from Mitchell's book and focus on the little details. I've always had difficulty with setting, so I'm going to go back and see how I can develop this in some of my own pieces.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Warming my Engine

I'm continuing my reading of The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham and have found it surprisingly easy to read. When I first purchased the book I did so on the advice of a fellow writer from tNBW (Thanks Crazeesharon!), but I was hesitant to open it. My reluctance came more from my own insecurities than any aversion to reading. I just didn't want to know that I was doing everything (or in this case 38 things) wrong.

I posted about Chapter 1 earlier and I've taken steps to end that mistake - I now have a brand-spanking-new whiteboard above my desk, ready for me to record and plot my word count goals.

Today's post is about openings. Bickham calls it "Warming your Engines" and he suggests not doing it. Being an idler is definitely something I can lay claim to. When I think back to my original version of Janie, I idled as long as possible. I spent so much of my first few chapters giving background and setting the stage that I completely neglected to provide any action. It's only due to some honest and amazing reviewers that I scrapped my crap and now have a solid opening for Janie.

But as I started Reconstruction, I noticed that I was doing it again. Everything I read about sequels suggested that I needed to do some kind of recap for the read, just in case they didn't read the first book. So in my mind, it was better just to dump it into the opening chapter. Well, Thank God I had those honest reviewers again because they  called me on it. I've rewritten the opening chapter and will use the previous versions later in the book.

As I'm rewriting this opening with a focus on more action, I'm really finding it much more enjoyable. I can visualize the scenes and it's not feeling forced. I've managed to give bits and pieces of information without dumping and I think that it's enough for a new reader to come in and not feel completely lost. I've finished the first chapter and have started on the second, which is going to have some drama, and lead into where I need the characters to go, but still it's not forced. It's a conversation that a number of reviewers have asked about and I didn't put it into Evolution because it was going to open up the premise for the sequel, and really until I can sell the first book there's no point in writing it to need a sequel.

 So, I have decided to take Bickham's Chapter 5 advice: Don't warm your engines. Start the story with the first sentence!

On my iPod:

I wish I could tell you, but my battery is dead and my computer has crashed!! New hard drive is being installed and I'll be getting it back in about 3 weeks. Until then I'm destined to listen to the radio in the car, and I can never remember songs and artists :) 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tackling the Sequel

With The Evolution of Janie done for now (well, except for minor revisions and those nits that keep popping up) I've been working on the sequel, The Reconstruction of Janie. I already have an idea of where the story is going and I even think that my trilogy may be pared down to just the two books. So knowing where I'm going is wonderful, and even having an idea of where it will end is even better. The hard part is where to start.

Due to changes I'd made to Evolution my previous start to the sequel just wasn't going to work. So, I took a stab at an alternate opening, Janie and Marcus facing the council, that way I could recap what happened in the first book. Problem! It then felt more like the next chapter in the book, and like an info dump. Definitely not what I was going for.

I've had an idea that ties very nicely back to the opening chapter of Evolution, but I'm still torn. Where do I draw the line with the recap of info? Having an info dump is just too tiring, not just for me but also for the reader, because really if they wanted to know right away what was happening in the sequel, shouldn't they read the first one? I hate getting a sequel and having to wade through a retelling of everything that happened before, so why would I, as an author, want to do that to my readers?

At this point, I've managed to find a spot to start. What I've written with the Council scene will stay (with a bunch of cuts) and will come after my new Chapter 1. What I had from a year ago will also stay, although I'll need to do a lot of edits and revisions (five chapters of plotline that I'm keeping is too much to toss).

So, knowing where I'm starting is great, right? That's what I thought, then I began to wonder how I will distinguish Reconstruction from Evolution. And really, that's through Janie. The Janie of Evolution, starts off alone and weak, and by the end of the book she's facing her father and mother and has a sense of self-worth. Janie in Reconstruction is stronger and refuses to allow anyone to take away the confidence she's gained. Janie isn't what's giving me the problem now. In my head her voice is right, it's telling me exactly what she wants to say and do. The problem is my own voice trying to come through for Janie. I've been trying to tell her what to do and I've hit a road block because it's apparent that it's not flowing. The only thing I can think of to do is tell myself to just shut up and write. Which is exactly what I'm going to do - finish chapter 1 right now.

On my iPod:

Cleaning out my Closet by Eminem

Friday, August 20, 2010

Writing Mistakes

I've joined a small study group of writers and we're looking at a number of books targeting novel writing, and despite the amount of work I think it's going to take to work it into my schedule I'm really excited. I'm still waiting for my book to arrive, but in the meantime I've pulled another off my shelf - The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid )e by Jack Bickham.

So far tonight I've read the first two chapters (extremely short) and I've found it really interesting. The first chapter is about not making excuses. Well, hello!! Haven't I been talking about this endlessly and how I need to stop doing this!! He even suggests the calendar that I said I was going to do. Just another kick in the rear to get me going. After finishing the 2 chapters I even went to my sequel for Janie and wrote a page and half! Yeah for me! Now if only thisw book would tell me how to write the perfect query that will get me requests from every agent I send to. What? A girl can wish can't she??


On my iPod:

The entire Last of the Mohicans soundtrack

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Getting into Gear

For many, the new year starts on January 1st, but for me and most other educators the first day of the year is the day our students come back from Summer holidays.  For me this was last Tuesday, and I'm pleased to say that I made it through the first week and lived to tell about it!

But as I sat home today, I realized that despite every years saying I want to be organized and stay on top of things, I inevitably get behind and never seem to catch up. This week I made a concerted effort to stay on top of work. I did grading everyday , and when I left work on Friday I wasn't panicking thinking about Monday morning. It was a nice feeling. I only have one more batch of tests to grade and input into my data folder on Monday and I know what I'm going to be teaching once class starts.

It's almost 6pm and I just realized that maybe I can carry this over into other parts of my life. Going to the gym is always the last thing on my mind, but it doesn't hurt to go anyways. I've already been trying to go more often (as in once or twice a week) but really, I know that with the number of hours I spend on the computer a week writing I should be going at least four times a week.

Writing is the other part of my life that needs a bit more organization. I keep saying that I'm getting back on task, but it never seems to happen. I get distracted, because honestly Bejeweled Blitz is just too addictive. But even as I played yet another round today I knew I had to get to work. When I first started writing The Evolution of Janie I set daily goals for myself and each day tried to beat that goal. Most of the time I was ahead and could get as much as 5,000-6,000 words a week done.

So, since it's the beginning of the year for me, I'm setting goals for myself:

1. Get grading and lesson plans done Friday BEFORE going home

2.  Work out 4 times a week

3. Set up a daily writing goal calendar and post it beside my computer.

On my iPod:

Hate Every Beautiful Day by Sugar Cult

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Query H*ll

Since finishing my latest round of edits with The Evolution of Janie, I've spent a lot of time focused on the next step of my journey - finding an agent. I've gone through this hell before. writing the query, sending it out, rewriting it, sending it out, and the worst part of all - the waiting. I don't mind rejections. After the first one, I've found it gets easier to slide them off my back. I get a rejection, consider if I need to tweak my query letter and then move on.

 So, if I'm taking the rejection well, why call it Query Hell? For me it's the process in its entirety. Summing up the uniqueness of an 80,000 word novel into a 200 word paragraph, researching agents to try and something make each letter individual to each agent (without doing the whole - I read on your blog...), then pressing the send button. It's at that point the true hell starts. You wait and wait. There are those kind-hearted agents who pity you and click auto-reject, within days, sometimes less (my quickest reject was 39 minutes courtesy of Nathan Bransford last year), but the others are the ones that kill me. 4-8 weeks doesn't sound to long when thinking over the course of a life time. But when you're checking your email five times (okay, 50) a day it's an eternity.

Bring on the auto-rejects because at least I know to move on. I'm not sitting at my computer thinking there's still a possibility of getting a request. Which brings me to the worst part of the query process - when agents are known to respond within days, and you sent your's over a week ago and heard nothing. You then enter the land of "should I send it again?" warring with the "Does this mean my query sucked so bad they thought it was a joke and aren't replying?".

This is where I've been the past couple weeks. I sent out one query on July 25th to an agent who typically responds (positive or negative) within 5 days. After hearing nothing, I'd figured she's rejected me and I'd somehow deleted the email. Then yesterday I got a request for the first 50 pages! I refuse to get too excited mainly because I've sent out fulls before and been rejected. But I'm still in hell. I also sent out a query to another agent (know to reply within 2-3 days) and still haven't heard anything. She's an amazing agent and I know she's busy but it just gets me wondering if I screwed up with sending the query, and it somehow didn't get to her.

I've now been stalling with sending out the queries, but I know I need to get my ass in gear. The publishing world moves slowly and I need to move as quickly as I can since I'm ready. So I'm now setting my goal for this moth to send out three queries a week. I'll start tomorrow :)

HAHAHA! Just had a request for a partial from the second agent I was waiting on! Guess I need to be more patient :D

On my iPod:

Breakeven by The Script

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Strong Start

Almost two years ago, I searched the web for a writing workshop and found TheNextBigWriter. I was hesitant at first, worried about the whole credit system, but when they announced they were having a contest for members I decided to go for it. I entered last year's contest with my first novel The Evolution of Janie. I didn't win, but I got something much more valuable - an amazing group of writers and readers that helped me develop my skills and make drastic improvements to my story.

This year the Strongest Start Contest came around again, and I entered both The Evolution of Janie and Songbird. I wavered on where to put Janie. The paranormal aspects of it made me want to go for the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category, but at the last minute (okay, I had about a day to go) I moved it to the Romance category, because to me that is ultimately what it is. Thank God I did!

Both novels made it to the finals in the Romance category and The Evolution of Janie won!  

It was one of those moments when I was uncontrollably doing the "Oh, Yeah!" dance in the livingroom while still in pajamas. My two-year-old even joined in :) There was a moment when I thought how sweet it would have been to win the main category, but having read the novel Priscilla the Great by Sybil Nelson the thought quickly passed and I realized how lucky I was the powers that be (Sol) decided to split into categories.

I don't know if I'd mention winning this contest in a query letter, but I now have a voice inside of me saying - Someone liked this. Someone voted for it.

Swift on the heels of my success came the inevitable fall. Only an hour after finding out I'd won, I got the first rejection from my new round of queries. I have to say though it was a little easier to take knowing that I'd just won.


On my iPod:

Where I Started by Wide Mouth Mason