Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Out of Hand

Project 2016 continues to be an on-going struggle.

Lately, I've been looking back over the responses to my queries. I still have a couple outstanding, but the responses so far have been nos. A couple of them have been form rejections, but the ones that have had even one non-form line have suggested that I've got something here--there's something about this project that has potential. It's just not quite clicking.

So, this has sent me back to the drawing board, so to speak. I've started another round of revisions on the project. The plan was to make a few tweaks. The structure of the story itself is pretty sound. There were a couple of big things that needed to be done--blank page rewrite on chapter 1, add a chapter in the first act, change a setting in act two. But I figured most of the revisions would be pretty small. Manageable.

As has been the trend with this project, I underestimated.

The thing that I've learned in this past year--the year that I started diving in to writing as a craft and as a pursuit in earnest--is that the writer that I am changes over the course of time.

I wrote the bulk of Evin in 2011. It was absolutely the best book I could write at that time. But, if I sat down with the intent to tell the same story today, I wouldn't end up with the same book. I can even see changes in my writing style between Evin and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," which was written in 2014.

Changes in writing style over three years might not seem so surprising. What's been more striking is the changes I've seen in the way I write in this one year.

I wrote the first draft of the manuscript that I'm currently revising this past November. In the time since I wrote the draft, I've done a couple major revisions, written two short stories for anthologies, and done small writing exercises that were more for practice than anything else. I don't write every day, but I spend several hours a week engaged in my writing--actually drafting or building or outlining a scene in my head (or on my phone, as the case has been a couple of times).

That time spent with the work makes a difference.

When I did the blank-page rewrite of chapter one, the strategies I used were completely different. My focus was in a different place. Certainly, part of this was the fact that I knew the story better this time around, but it's impossible to discount the amount of time I've spent learning about writing and practicing what I learned.

This was great for the chapter rewrite. But it's turned into A Thing as far as the rest of the revisions are concerned.

I'm still working my way through act one. There have been a couple of chapters that I've only tweaked. But there have already been chapters that have moved from the "light revision" category to the "start it over" one.

The writer I am now isn't satisfied with some of what the writer I was before did.

This isn't a problem, really. In the end, the writer I am now is better than the writer I was earlier this year and late last year. Reworking parts of the project is letting me get closer to the story, the world, and the characters as they exist in my head. It's a good thing in the long run.

The theme with the work on project 2016 has been "this is getting out of hand." But I think, really, that's what a project like this should do.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Events, Workshops, and Appearances

This summer has been hectic.

Though things have slowed down in terms of my day job, I've still been doing work. The summer class I'm teaching lasts until the end of the month. I've had the worst month in terms of migraines that I've ever had. I've had two pieces due on deadlines (both are out the door now, thank goodness). And I've been going back to Project 2016 trying to get it in the best possible shape (I've about decided to call in a professional editor to take a look at it--I think I've hit the end of what I know to do to clean it up).

So I've had a fair amount on my plate. But, as I've mentioned before, my ability to use moderation in the creation of my schedule isn't the best. I'm trying to take breaks and get some rest, but I promised myself that 2017 would be the year that I did everything in my power to further my writing. Part of this is wrapped up in working on the writing itself. Part of it is working on promoting the work that I've already got out there. In the coming months, I've got a few workshops, events, and appearances on the schedule. If you want to find my work, check out a workshop, or meet me, check the schedule below.


July 29--Indies in Indy, Carmel, IN

I won't personally be attending the Indies in Indy event, but Evin's publisher, Foundations, LLC, will have a table. Copies of Evin will be available for purchase. Be sure to say hi to Steve and Laura and to check out the other Foundations books at the event.


August 12-- LitPow Author-Prenuer Workshop, Huntsville, AL

I wrote about going to the Alabama Writers Workshop back in February. That event was an excellent experience, and I noted at the end of my post about it that it was a shame I wouldn't be able to do many similar events.

And then one got scheduled right next door.

Where this workshop differs somewhat from the ALAWW is that there's more time given to platform building and getting a career started. This and the opportunity to get feedback on my first page and to hear what agents are looking for has got me pretty excited for the workshop.

August 19-- Southern Authors Expo, Huntsville, AL Library Main Branch

This day-long event is a combination of panels by authors dealing with different aspects of writing and publishing and a writers market. I'll be there all day with copies of Evin for sale. I'll also be signing copies, so if you're local and have already bought one, bring it by. If the event works the way it has in the past, there will also be door prizes and chances to get your own writing reviewed and critiqued by the participants.

I'll be posting more events as they're scheduled. If you want to keep up with what I'm doing, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook or check out my website.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

First Impressions

I've been querying again lately. The whole process makes me nervous. Pitching is always an anxious process, but this project is more important to me than anything I've written so far, so the tension is higher and the rejections have a harsher sting. I'm letting this round wrap up, and if nothing comes of it, it'll be time for the next round of revision.

I've got to where I'm pretty comfortable with my query as it stands. It was the basis of the in-person pitch that got a partial request from an agent at ALAWW, and I've had it critiqued by an Writer's House agent via The Manuscript Academy (this is a great resource for authors, by the way--I really recommend checking them out). From the feedback I've had on it, it's pretty solid. And I'm proud of that. It's not easy to distill 82,000 words of novel into a compelling two-paragraph pitch.

But, of course, a good query is only part of finding representation. What I've really been thinking about recently is first pages.

Most of the agents I've got on my query list ask for sample pages. The number of pages varies. One agent asked for the first 50 pages of the manuscript. One only asks for 3. Most want the first 10 pages or the first chapter. No matter how you look at it, there's not a lot of time to make an impression.

I've poured over my first chapter dozens of times. I've moved the starting point. I've sheared description and reframed sections from the character's point of view. I've cut words that create space between the reader and the character. I've played around with starting at a different point in the story entirely to change what the reader knows at the beginning. I'm trying to find a balance between compelling reading, connection to character, and a solid establishing of the world. I've had test readers and critique partners give feedback, and I've applied it--or at least tested it to see if it would work.

The first chapter--the first page--of a book has to do so much. I know what potential the entirety of my story has. I love the narrative and the characters--I have followed them through their journeys.

But a reader doesn't. I have to earn their time. If a reader doesn't like the first page, there's no guaranteeing that they'll read the second page--let alone the second chapter.

I've been reading and listening to podcasts and researching, trying to find advice on how to craft the best first page I can. It's overwhelming. But there are a few things that are common threads in all of the information.

A first page has to introduce the main character. That seems obvious, but it can be more complicated than it sounds. You have to give a sense of who the character is and what they want, and you have to do it without relying the cliche: things like waking up in the morning or getting ready for work (there are always exceptions--some authors can make these intros work, but more often they get boring).

The first page should introduce the conflict, or at least give a sense of it. I tell my students that, by the time I read through the introduction of their papers, I should know what to expect from the rest of the work. In some ways, this same principle applies to a first page. You don't have to telegraph the ending, but there should be something of a feeling that "oh, hey, this thing is probably going to be a problem."

On top of this, the first page should give a sense of the world. What is the structure and how does it inform people's actions and reactions? What are the rules? What is the character's place in all of it?

When you consider that a single page in the standard format-- Times New Roman 12 pt., double spaced, one-inch margins--is only about 250-300 words, you get a sense of what a tall order all of this is.

I've been trying to find ways to be more precise with my language. Some of this is dropping crutch words (the word "that" is a big one for me--also "had"). Some of it is finding ways for sentences to do double duty: to reveal something about the character while simultaneously introducing the conflict or building the world. It's improved my writing overall from where it was when I wrote my first book--even from the way I was writing at the beginning of the year. I don't know that I've "cracked the code," but I certainly have more tools in the toolbox than I did before.

There's still a lot of the process that's out of my control. I have no say over what editors are interested in. I can't control agents' personal preferences. Even an excellent first page won't excite someone who's not into the story idea. But I keep working on the things that I can address, and I'll do what I have to to make my work the best I can.