Achievement Unlocked

About 427 days ago, give or take a few hours, I sat down at my computer. I had a story in my head–a story that some friends and I had been telling each other for years, and I had some new, crazy ideas to go with it. So I sat down at the computer, and I started to type.

At first, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I deleted just about as much as I kept. I was excited when I hit ten pages, really excited when I hit fifty pages, and six weeks later, when I typed the last words of the Epilogue (at about 400 pages), I thought I would fall over dead from the joy of having accomplished the thing that I had set out to do. I had written a book.

Now, here’s the thing. I did, in January and the first half of February, 2013, write a book. It wasn’t yet a full book, and it wasn’t even close to a good book, but I wrote a book. And that, in and of itself, felt like a win. But I’d been bitten, and I knew that it wasn’t good enough.

So I kept typing, kept revising, kept fidgeting. I *gasp* gave it to people whose opinions I trusted and asked what they thought. I fought with my husband when he quite rightly showed me the enormous plot holes that I had woven myself into. I rewrote, some more. I got more advice, found a critique partner, revised, reworked, and rewrote. In a word, I was humbled. The task was a great deal harder than I had at first imagined. I revised, and rewrote until I couldn’t see a way to change it, and then I set A SOWN WIND aside.

Now, this first book was always intended to be the first in a series, and so when I put it aside, thinking, “It’s done,” I started hacking out the first bits of book #2, WHIRLWIND. And at first, that went well. The first 150 pages, or so, were a breeze, and I thought, “I’ve totally got this.” I started querying agents and keeping my fingers crossed.

But here’s the thing. As a human being, I am always learning. I am always evolving, and as I sat there, staring at the first bits of WHIRLWIND, I began to see that I didn’t know what I was doing. Maybe we never know what we are doing. Maybe those authors that I admire, whose books I cannot get enough of–maybe they have no idea what they are doing, either.

I don’t know.

The truth of it was, my craft needed work. My craft still needs work. Probably, my craft will always need work.

I finally managed to type the last words in a revised first draft of WHIRLWIND, yesterday. After fighting my way past a point where I wasn’t sure if the story was capable of surviving, after pushing past a bout of, maybe not writer’s block, but at least writer’s doubt, after months of staring at this thing… I have a finished story. It isn’t a complete story. It’s probably not even a good story, yet. But I am willing to do the work to make it better. I feel the pull to fix and change it, to breathe life into it.

As of yesterday afternoon,  I can now say that, truly, I am writing an epic fantasy series. I have written two books, both of which are still in different stages of revision. It isn’t ready for the light of day in the world at large, but every day, it gets a little closer. Every day, my craft gets a little stronger, and a little tighter. I am learning something about storytelling, every day.

So, I consider this an achievement unlocked. It isn’t as if I’ve beaten the whole game–but I’ve gotten to a bonus level. I have found that determination, humility, and the willingness to accept criticism and make change are crucial, if I want to really, REALLY, in the great, wide world, be a writer. Because, sure, I can call myself a novelist, right now. I can do that, and there isn’t really anyone who could argue with me.

But this isn’t good enough. Not anymore. I want to see my name on the spine of a book. I want to see my novel on the shelves of a bookstore. I want all the success–and who’re we kidding? Who doesn’t? I’m not delusional enough to think that I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling or GRRM. But if I don’t believe that I can achieve publication, if I don’t strive, every day to make it so, then I don’t deserve it.

I could call myself a novelist, right now. But I am not going to. I’ve written a couple of books. I am still writing those couple of books. I’d feel confident calling myself a revisionist, perhaps aspiring author. I’d be happy to say I’m a writer. But I am not a novelist, yet.

But I will be, someday.

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Weekly Recap and Germs, Be Gone!

What I am Reading: Still working on The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie. I am still enjoying it, and it is reminding me of the in-depth world building of GRRM in Song of Ice and Fire. My favorite scenes center on Logen Ninefingers, right now, and I am interested to see how the separate groups of characters will come to interact.

What I am Reading to My Kids: We are still chugging through Charlotte’s Web and Pippi Longstocking, although I expect to finish both, this weekend. We plan to read Because of Winn Dixie and The Mouse and The Motorcycle, next.

What I’ve been watching: In order to force myself back onto the treadmill, I’ve guided myself back to my first season obsession with Once Upon a Time. Catching up on season 2 on Netflix… It’s not as good. BUT… it’s enough to get me onto the torture machine, so I guess it is worth it. My husband and I have just started watching True Detective (HBO) and Black Sails (Starz). Both are really good. True Detective has given me some honest respect for Matthew McConaughey’s acting chops, and Black Sails (while occasionally falling into the GoT gratuitous sex scene trap) has drawn me in, in two episodes, more than Agents of Shield has in half a season. I’m looking forward to these two shows’ next episodes more than I am the return of Walking Dead, for what that’s worth.

Where I am at, writing-wise: Alas, I am not much further along than I was, last Friday. The knights screwed everything up, and I had to do some edits to fix the paradoxes that they had created. Ugh. But I have done some other cool writing related stuff, this week (see below).

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I figure that if the best I can do is set aside the period between packing five lunches at 6:30 a.m. and driving the smallest heathens to school at 8:20 a.m., every Friday morning, for blogging– well, so be it. So here you have it, the second weekly recap. Ta-da! Aren’t you impressed? Thank you… thank you.

But seriously… it has been madness around here. We are all at the point where we just want to throw the windows open to get rid of the germs and the winter blahs with a little fresh air, but the wind chill is -20, right now, so fresh air = frozen flesh. Not really what they’re depicting in the sales brochure. Our five-year-old was home sick with a cold for a couple of days this week, and every one has that drug out, sort of “winter overdose” look on their faces. The snow piles next to our driveway are taller than the minivan, though, so it’ll probably be June before it is all gone.

In Valentine’s Day preparations, we are busy putting together goodie bags and the 3rd grader has to design and assemble her own Valentine mailbox. Have I mentioned how the 3rd grader is my overachiever? This process has involved blueprints (yup… blueprints), two trips to the craft store, and use of the oven on two different occasions. I’ll post results, next week when it is finished, but this is clearly not an amateur project. (Meanwhile, the kindergartner could not care less about any of it. Go figure.)

The two big kids are in the midst of mid-winter chaos, too. Our 15-year-old is on the tech crew of The Crucible, which is showing this weekend, as well as preparing for the forensics team. I think she will be home for a total of about 12 hours, this weekend, hopefully some of which she’ll spend sleeping. Sixth grade son is busy with basketball, and he has spent a great deal of time figuring out EXACTLY how many games they can still lose and make the playoffs. Its high stake stuff, here.

Speaking of playoffs, let us never speak of that Super Bowl, again, shall we? It wasn’t just that the Broncos lost… it was how truly, disgustingly awful they played. That was the single most boring game of football I have ever watched, and frankly, I was just relieved by the time it was over.

In word related news, I am excited to be heading to Art Hop, tonight. My youngest daughter and I are planning a special date to go see a show of college artists who have illustrated some pieces by local writers (one or two of which *might* have been written by yours truly). It should be fun, and I haven’t seen the artwork, at all, so I am interested to see how they interpreted my pieces.

Also this week, I participated in my first Twitter pitch party. For those of you not on Twitter, or not familiar with the process of trying to get published, a brief explanation: Once an hour, you can post a “pitch” for your book. It has to fit in 140 characters (which is about as painful as childbirth, but without the drugs), and agents and editors will peruse the posts. If they are interested in seeing more of your project, they can “favorite” your pitch, which is sort of an invitation to query them, with the added bonus that you get to say, “You WANTED to see this… Like me! Like me!” It was a fun and interesting experience, and I received two requests from agents and two from editors, so we shall see where this goes. If nothing else, it was a great learning experience, figuring out how to describe my book in such a short space and how to hook the reader, with such limited word count. I’d love to think that an agent is on the horizon, but if not… I’ll definitely do another one of these. Reading other authors’ pitches was incredibly helpful, and there are a great many books out there that sound really interesting and fun. I wish all of those that participated in #adpit, good luck.

Beyond that, I am very excited to get back to our tradition of Saturdays spent playing RPG’s, which has been on hiatus since Christmas (Stupid winter.), a weekend full of art and time with my kiddos (Except for the big one. Soon, I’ll forget what she looks like.), and a full day, today, dedicated completely to working on Whirlwind. It is like my birthday and Christmas and the county fair, all rolled into one! Happy Friday!

Fictional Character, Actual Rebellion

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I have a character that aims to misbehave.

As I thought about this blog post, this morning, I realized how crazy it sounds. The characters that I write are figments of my own imagination. Therefore, their behavior is dictated by me, right?

That’s what I used to think, when I started the first novel, but I could not have been more wrong.

When a character becomes fully formed, I mean real enough that you can see them and smell them and hear their voice and really, truly understand their motivations, they don’t like to be pushed around. I’ll admit it. Sometimes, as is human nature, I try to take the easy way out. I have been known to try to get a character from point A to point C, without a pit stop at B.

I was surprised the first time that a character put on their brakes and said, “Not on my watch, Lady.” That’s right. A fictional character held my fingers hostage and made me type something that I had not planned on typing. There are a lot of swords and daggers in my novels, and I’m pretty sure that I have been held with a blade at my throat a time or two, especially in the last few weeks.

Have I lost you, yet?

O.K., let me clarify. When I write, I use a rough outline. Very rough. I know where the novel starts, and where it ends, and I know a few key events that will occur along the way. As I write, sometimes my brain creates events that I didn’t foresee, and then I have to figure out how my characters would respond to those events.

That has become one of my favorite parts. I’ve been known to have an argument, out loud, between two characters as I drive down the road, trying to decide how they would deal with a situation. My kids think I’ve completely lost my mind, but it works. It isn’t often that my characters surprise me, because I have gotten to know them so well.

But sometimes, I don’t want them to follow their own nature. Sometimes, I ignore the events that should take place, because they are hard to swallow, or difficult to write, or they make me sad. I love my characters, and I don’t want to see them suffer.

And that is where I am, right now. A character that I love possessed my body (alright, that’s being a bit dramatic, but you catch my drift), and wrote a chapter that changes the whole ball game. It alters the course of everything that I write in the series from here on out, and it is hard. But it isn’t wrong. Honestly, it was a stunning revelation of truth, but…

It isn’t the easy way out.

So I am starting at a new square one. Two hundred thousand words written in the series, and the book has taken a turn that feels like a second starting place. It is overwhelming, but also a little awe-inspiring. It makes me grateful for the muse that keeps the story coming, makes me see the characters in new light, and makes me think about all the new possibilities. I have to step back, getting to know all of my characters all over again, in light of these new events. I have to rethink what’s been thunk.

And I have to write.

But that has been the coolest part about the writing process, thus far. I love that my characters have come to life. I love that they are real enough in my mind that they act accordingly, even if I try to force them to act against their nature. I love that they can make me laugh, and make me cry. I love them like I love my kids… and misbehavior is part of the growing up process, right? So, I’ll take this character’s act of rebellion and learn from it. The other characters will learn from it, and be changed by it, and the books will become stronger for it.

I will become stronger for it, even as that blade rests on my jugular.

(image courtesy of fyeahwriterleopard.tumblr.com)

Where I Am At – Agent Queries

Since I have finished the first book, a lot of people have asked me “So… what happens next?” or “When will it be a real book?” which are both really good questions, that require a really long-winded answer.

The short answer is A.) I try to find an agent, and B.) Hopefully sometime while I am still living, but there are no guarantees.

So let me explain a little bit about where I am at, right now.  I began the first book in the Auran Cycle last January.  The first draft was completed in March, and then I edited it about six times. Some of those drafts were just touch up drafts, but several were total re-writes.  The thing that I did not fully understand about writing a novel, until I had done so, was that when you pull on one tiny storyline thread, it ripples through the entire book (and in my case, sometimes into the next one, too).  Thus, lots of rewriting.  Truth be told, I don’t know if I’ll ever be done rewriting, until it is officially published, but for now, I am calling it “Finished” with an asterisk.

So, as I was writing, I had a few trusted readers that read various drafts.  They told me the areas where I was missing information, or didn’t have enough conflict, or talked too much about Lillia’s hair.  They pointed out continuity errors and giant plot holes.  They were, in a word, invaluable.

Now that book one is FINISHED*, my next job is to find a literary agent.  Which honestly, is a lot more intimidating than it sounds.  To do so, I send out query letters, presenting my book and asking if they would be interested in representing the novel.  This means that I basically have to boil down 400+ pages of character and storyline and world into about a page.  Some agents will look at five or ten pages of manuscript, but more often than not, I have one page to convince them that they WANT to read this book.

So, I send out queries, and I wait. Thus far, I’ve gotten lots of rejection letters, BUT I’m still feeling optimistic.  Every author gets rejected.  JK Rowling got rejected.  (Not that I am comparing myself to her, because, well… that’s crazytalk.)

The point is, this isn’t a career path for with thin-skinned.  But the cool thing is that even my rejection letters have been really positive, and my exceptional beta-readers helped to prepare me for constructive criticism.  I am currently taking a brief respite from querying, due to the holidays, but come January 2nd, I’ll be back at it.

And you know what?  2014 is definitely going to be Lillia’s year.