Revisiting An Old Friend

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My young adult novel, Morning of the Mermaid, came about because a few lines appeared in my head –

When her parents died, an hour apart, of a mysterious fever, Calista  thought–now I will experience great grieving and utter desolation. All of her family had just passed on to the world of eternal rest, leaving her alone for the first time in her sheltered, pampered life. Yet she felt nothing. The depth of emotion she hoped for never came.

I thought these would make great opening lines for a story and a great character to explore. The story, from there, formed in about a week. I would tell of the first ever mermaid and how she came to be, starting with her mother’s story. The mother fascinated me, this gorgeous doomed girl who, because of a cursed beginning, never developed feelings.  Hopefully, readers would grow to love her as she grew to find love, only to die in  childbirth, leaving a daughter who was half-human, half-fish.

I wrote the entire first draft before I recognized the problem with it. Most of the first half of the book dealt with her mother’s troubles, how she came to live on a deserted island and formed a friendship with the creatures there, grew a heart and fell in love with the mermaid’s father, a man enchanted into dolphin form.

I would begin to tell friends the story and instantly they would ask, “Is she the mermaid?”

“No, wait,” I’d say, “and then…”

“But where’s the mermaid?”

Obviously, this should begin with the mermaid.  Total rewrite in which the mermaid, Kallea, not only seeks to find others like herself, but also to learn her mother’s story. It becomes the story within the story. And those lovely first lines come in somewhere around page 118.

I finished the manuscript, again, and took the synopsis and first two chapters to the summer SCBWI conference for a critique by an agent. I was told I needed to “take it to the next level.” The next level? What did that look like? Didn’t I just do that?

I spiraled into self-doubt, self-pity and defeat.  Which lasted for a few months.

Digression: I’ve never found time off from writing, for any reason, to be unproductive. I usually read a lot and do a lot of cooking and baking. And it usually results in fresh ideas and a wave of creativity.

This time was no different.  I knew what Mermaid needed. How had I not seen it before? The problem was that, for Kallea, the stakes weren’t high enough. All I had to do was make her troubles more do-or-die, put more shadow into the story.

I attacked another revision, the images clear in my mind. I wanted to make this book so good, no agent could refuse it. My mermaid deserved it. Her story should be read.

But a certain amount of my interest and faith had faded. And there was another, more insistent, story pounding on my door. This one had been wanting in for a year as I’d made notes and tossed them into a basket. It was time to put the mermaid aside and channel my inner eighth-grade bully.

The plan was to go back to the mermaid after I’d finished Alex Bullied. I strove, through several revisions, to make this the book that no agent would reject.

I got the idea for My Identical Cousin and decided that instead of tackling Mermaid again, I would write Cousin, because it would be a better book to follow Bully.  We all know how delusional I was. And probably still am.

Cousin had to be put on a back burner, which is fine, because, apparently agents can reject Bully pretty easily. I’m not ready to give up on either of them, but I needed a middle-grade novel break. I wanted to work on something new and different.

Or maybe old and different.  I’d decided to turn Morning of the Mermaid into a graphic novel. The time seems right to start that project. Graphic novels for the Middle Grade and Young Adult crowd are popular right now and not going away any time soon.

I bought some books on the subject, and am reading graphic novels that were actual novels in a previous life. A Wrinkle in Time is one of them. I’ve never read it. (I hear your collective gasp.) I’m reading the novel, then will see how it transformed into a comic. The San Diego chapter of SCBWI, which I attend, is sponsoring a graphic novel intensive next month. It’s a sign that this is the right course to take.

It’s so nice to revisit this old friend, the mermaid. She’s been so patient. I read some printed out pages of the book, the first chapter. Then I pulled it up on the computer and it’s a totally different first chapter. Which one is better? Which version is more suited to graphic novel?

And so it begins.

Stayed tuned.

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Repost: Why You Should Skip Nanowrimo by Zarah Parker

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I have been struggling with the rewrite of my latest work in progress, My Identical Cousin. I wrote the first shitty draft last November for Nanowrimo. 50,000 words in thirty days. I managed to get to about 47,000 words, which is a decent length for a middle grade novel. I thought having this first draft done in thirty days was quite an accomplishment and a real head start in completing this book.

But the revision has not come together the way I thought it would, or as quickly. I came across this blog, The Memoir Of A Writer, read a current post and suddenly knew why.

This is the first time I’ve wanted to repost from someone else’s blog. But this one made so much sense to me. You may not agree. Perhaps your experience with Nanowrimo was different. If it was more like my ordeal, this post may make a difference.

Of Possibilities And Probabilities

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I had another birthday on October 1st. It seems it comes every year about this time and, once again,  I’m feeling like I have a year of possibilities ahead of me. By next year I will have completed, maybe sold, projects, lost weight, trained my dog, baked a perfect pie crust, read every book in the universe and turned back time to my forties.

That’s what I thought last year, too. And I wrote down my ambitious plans. In this blog. Posted them. Like a clueless fool. I thought of them as Probabilities instead of Possibilities.

I aimed to do a last edit and a final round of queries on Alex Bullied. I did do that. I said I would use the month of November, with NaNoWriMo to inspire me, to write the first draft of my next book, My Identical Cousin. I did that, too. So at the end of last November, I was still on track. I had to finish Cousin, turn Morning of the Mermaid into a graphic novel, and edit the sequel to my first book, Outlaws, which is the second in my series about an 1860’s girl, Carrie Sutton, and self-publish it as I had the first, Riding On The Wind. And I added a new nonfiction adult project, that I thought would be easy peesy and just plain fun to do. I could do all of this in ten months, right?

Not likely.

The adult project turned out to be tougher than I’d thought it would. I knew My Identical  Cousin needed to be deeper, needed another level and I wasn’t quite sure how to reach that level.

Then my much loved mother-in-law passed away in December. In January we traveled to Texas for her memorial. This did not contribute to a sense of  creativity.

I decided to focus on the nonfiction project in February. It required an artist, so finding one and communicating the book’s needs took time. And was distracting.

In April I was pacing and moaning to Husband how difficult  the nonfiction was proving to be and how I’d never make my November deadline. He said, “It doesn’t have to come out for Christmas.” I said, “Yes, it does.” He replied, “Not this Christmas.” Hallelujah! He was right. I put the deadline off a year to my, and my artist’s, relief.

In May I heard about the Big Sur in Cape Cod Writers Workshop for children’s writers, taking place in September. This seemed an ideal way to end my year. I hadn’t finished Cousin as I’d hoped, hadn’t made the progress on the nonfiction book I’d hoped, hadn’t turned Mermaid into a graphic novel nor edited Outlaws. But Husband was leaving for six weeks in Asia and during that time I would focus on and get Cousin into shape. There would be no more distractions.

And then the After happened …

July 22, the night before Husband was leaving for Asia, we went to a BBQ and I may have had a little too much, um, fun. Later, at home, when I brought my chiweenie out for a last potty trip in the backyard, I lost my balance, pitched forward and smashed my face onto a two-foot concrete retaining wall. I was instantly covered in blood. My face felt like mush. I felt like an idiot. I managed to get into the house, and to the bathroom where the mirror revealed a chunk of my forehead hanging loose. Husband says he will forever have the image burned on his brain of me, standing at the bedroom door, drenched in blood, saying “I think I need to go to the hospital.”

Oh, I just got that — “last potty trip.”

A night in the ER, forty-three stitches and possible fractures in my nose and cheek later, we were home and Husband was preparing to go to Asia. He couldn’t not go, as people there were depending on him and he was bringing equipment and products for a trade show. Best Friend stayed with me the first night. I knew I was okay, as far as concussions went, and I would be fine alone after that.

However, I sure didn’t feel like writing. Talk about a distraction. This pretty much finished me off. Recovery took predominance over everything else. I could sit in front of an ever streaming Netflix, but I didn’t have any desire to write or read. The stitches crossed my forehead and clustered around both eyes. I didn’t have pain, but it still felt awful, I thought it must be similar to botox, tight and unmoving.

So this is the After. I will have scars. I don’t know if my eyes will look normal. As I write this, the bridge of my nose and right eyelid and part of my forehead are still swollen. The right side of my head and forehead are numb due to the severed vein that runs up above the right eyebrow. How much feeling will return to these areas remains to be seen. But I am recovering.  I did make it to the Big Sur at Cape Cod Writers Workshop (more on that later) and I am back at my critique groups. I’m self conscious in public but a cap and dark glasses covers most of the evidence of the injury. I am back to writing.

The Birthday Year has passed and another has begun. I am once again excited and hopeful for the year ahead. I’ve made a list – but I’m not posting it and I’m letting it be more fluid this time. I know I have a year of possibilities ahead. Possibilities, not necessarily probabilities. Nothing is certain. We do the best we can.

Stayed tuned.

 

Who Do We Write For?

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I recently received the final two rejections for Alex Bullied, both from agents who had requested more pages – fifty for one, the full manuscript for the other. Whenever I send a full manuscript, I am including my hopes and dreams. And this time, it was to an agent at Writers House, so, win or lose, I was feeling validated. An agent at a Major League Agency wanted more of me! But, alas, having done this for awhile, I know there’s a good chance it’ll just be a delayed rejection. Still, I can’t help but cross my fingers and hope.
Alex Bullied has been shelved – or, more accurately, drawered. I gave it all I had. The agent complimented my writing and the story. He just wasn’t passionate enough about it.

Let’s face it, it wasn’t good enough.

When I wrote my first book, Riding On The Wind, I spent months perfecting the first six chapters. I hadn’t yet taken any writing courses or joined a critique group. I didn’t even know what a critique group was. I knew nothing. What I did have going for me was a lifetime of loving books and reading. I wrote by instinct. I wrote the book I wanted to read. And I read Writers Digest and The Writer and any other writing magazine I could find. Inevitably there would be an article that addressed whatever question I had at the moment. I wrote and rewrote those first chapters until finally I had to make myself move on. But, those are six really good chapters.

On my third query, I scored an agent. I was so green, I had no idea that was a Big Deal. After a year, although it came close a couple of times, she could not sell my book, and we parted ways.
I had written that book for myself, for the reader I had been at twelve years of age. I did the same with the next book, Morning of the Mermaid, in which I imagined how the first mermaid came to be. By this time I had taken some writing classes, had found a critique group and was much more savvy.
I knew enough to be hopeful as I sent out the first queries. All rejected. I chalked this up to premature querying, something many beginning writers do. I attended a few writers conferences, paid extra for professional critiques from agents and editors. I rewrote and rewrote and sought out more critiques, all of which pointed to more rewriting. Would this book ever please the agents? Frustrated, I set it aside.
The story of Alex Bullied had been playing in my mind for a year and I started it with a certain amount of joy. This one would be so much fun. I aimed to write a humorous book for boys. If you’ve been reading this blog you know my trials and tribulations as I finished the manuscript and set out to hook an agent. To please critics, I rewrote. And rewrote. The book drifted from my initial concept. I wasn’t writing for boy readers anymore.
I was writing for agents.
This is a quandary many prepublished authors face. Who do we listen to? Who’s advice, who’s critique, do we take? How far from our vision are we willing to go? As far as we think it will take to get an agent? Who do we write for?
Literary agents are the gatekeepers to the Publishing Kingdom. To get in, we must please them, right? But what if, by writing to them, we lose ourselves, our voice, our vision?
When I am writing middle grade fiction, I imagine I’m writing to myself, at that age. If I start to think about agents reading, the words become self conscious and I do not think this is the way to brillant writing.
I caught an interview with comedian, writer and film maker Jordan Peele the other day. I had to write down what he said when asked if he had any words of wisdom for writers. (He was being asked as a film writer, but I think it applies to any writer) When I heard it, I thought, that’s what I’m talking about! He said:
Follow the fun. Don’t follow the practicality, don’t follow what’s going to get this sold, what’s going to make this good. You’re writing your favorite movie that doesn’t exist. What’s the movie you wish someone would write for you?
Follow the fun.

Promises, Promises

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It may have been a mistake to announce, in writing, on this blog that I would complete my nonfiction project and have it published by November fifteenth of this year. Perhaps.
Or was it?
What I do know is that I am at the halfway mark on my schedule, but not on the book. Putting the book together is going more slowly.
It’s not like writing a novel, which is something I do all by myself. I am in control of every aspect. This project requires others to bring it to completion and to realize my vision for it – an artist and an expert on the subject and later, actors for the promotional spots.
Before I began writing seriously, I was involved in local theater. I loved the atmosphere, the camaraderie and all that it took to get a show off the ground. But we had to deal with egos and insecurities and the flakiness of others. We had to rely on everyone doing their jobs and doing them well. That may have led to my becoming something of a control freak.
Writing a novel is the perfect occupation for someone with control issues. I get to be not just the writer, but the actors, the set designer, the costumer, prop master and so on. I get to control everything. No one else contributes until I bring the pages to critique groups, beta readers and, eventually, literary agents.
The nonfiction project I’m working on now takes me back to those theater days. I have found my artist and expert who will – hopefully – be able to see and interpret my vision. I have to rely on them. Then others will be involved in the production of the promotional ideas I have. I will have to find these people.
It’s all going to take more time than I’d planned. Which brings me back to my schedule and my arbitrary deadline. It seemed doable at the time. At the time a year stretched before me. It seemed possible to complete the nonfiction as well as a novel and a graphic novel.
What was I thinking?
I imagined how fun the nonfiction would be, in a completely different genre and age group. And it is, can be, fun. It’s just once I began it grew, swelled with more ideas, as each of the topics led to something else, something more.
I am not an anxious person, but I began to think about it constantly and felt the passing of time crushing down on me. One night I was pacing, complaining about my schedule, or lack thereof, to my husband.
“It doesn’t have to come out at Christmas,” he said.
“Yes,” I said, “it does.”
“Not this Christmas,” he replied.
Not this Christmas. He was right. Just because I announced it, vowed it even, there’s nothing holding me to this deadline. I didn’t carve it in stone. Suddenly I have all the time in the world.
A year and a half stretches before me.
Stay tuned.

The Count of Monte Cristo

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I’ve been reading through a stack of books I imagine the thirteen-year-old girl in my latest Work in Progress would have read in 1965. She has – I mean I have – just finished The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

I loved it and only wish I’d read it earlier in my life, back when my mental retention worked better. There are so many characters of whom to keep track. They have French names, Italian names, bandit names, and use first names, last names, or nicknames, or titles, or their professions. Even the servants have several names each. The Count himself is known as Sinbad the Sailor, Zatara, Lord Wilmore, Abbe Busoni, and, of course, his given name, Edmond Dantes.
During the time I was reading the book, I came across the 2002 movie version on HBO and DVR’d it. When I had finished reading, I looked forward to seeing the film adaptation. The movie starred Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Henry Cavill, and Richard Harris and, in spite of the stellar cast, was disappointing. In fact, I did not like it at all.
I had to laugh at myself for my reaction. I mean, the book was published in 1845 and the movie made in 2002, and yet I thought Alexandre Dumas must have rolled over in his grave. I was appalled at the movie version. It is such a wonderful book, it’s a pity it didn’t come across in the film. For me, anyway, as a new fan of this novel.
But isn’t that proof of immortality, that 172 years later, someone reads Dumas’s novel, loves it and is insulted by the film adaptation? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
It doesn’t matter when it was written and published, or how language has changed, or how different stories were written. I always say I just love a good story, but I amend that, because it’s not just the story, but the telling of the story. Alexandre Dumas could tell a story. If I weren’t writing the middle grade novel I’m working on now, I may never have had a reason to pick it up.
I am searching this stack of classics for quotes to use in my book. I want to start each chapter with a quote from a book my character would have read. Helpful friends have suggested that I just Google quotes, and that I don’t need to read the entire book. But I tell them I want the quotes to have context. And truth be told, I want to read these books. They are classics for a reason.

I read the entire, very lengthy, character-full The Count of Monte Cristo and found the perfect quote on the very last page. And if I hadn’t read the whole book, it would have meant nothing.

Committing

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I’ve always believed that ideas float around in the ether. Creative minds catch them – then some will start on it but let it go, others go further but don’t finish, others will finish, but not do it well and a small percentage will follow through.
It’s the follow-through that counts.
Ideas are a dime a dozen. Or a dime a thousand. They’re cheap, I’m telling you. Ideas are easy. Committing to them, not so easy. I know a few writers who are protective of their ideas. They’re so sure someone is going to steal them.
I hate to burst that optimistic bubble, but no matter how wonderful you think that idea is, the chance of someone actually stealing it is probably remote.
Have you, as a writer, ever found that the idea you thought was so original, has been done or is being done? You see the book you wanted to write on the shelf or reviewed in a magazine or has already been made into a movie? And you think, damn, they stole my idea.
I’ve always believed that ideas float around in the ether. Creative minds catch them – then some will start on it but let it go, others go further but don’t finish, others will finish, but not do it well and a small percentage will follow through.
It’s the follow through that counts.
Lots of people, myself included, pay lip service to their ideas, their plans. They tell their friends and family of their wonderful, creative, sure-to-make-a-buck ideas, talking them up, vowing to make it happen. Then they don’t. It was fun talking about it, impressing their friends and family with their genius. But all they do is disappoint.
I’ve done this plenty in my misspent youth. As I matured, I found how rewarding is was to follow through. Self esteem is not given, it’s earned. And it’s earned by accomplishing your dreams.
If you’re familiar with this blog, you may have read September’s post, Chasing the Dragon. In it I resolved on my last birthday, October 1, to make this year, to October 1, 2017, count. I’ve done four of the five things listed. I finished the revision on Alex Bullied, sent queries to twenty agents (one of whom requested the full manuscript) (still waiting), wrote the first terrible draft of My Identical Cousin, and I continue to celebrate the small victories, like that agent request or completing NaNoWriMo.
I have not yet begun to turn Morning of the Mermaid into a graphic novel and I added another project, a nonfiction adult book which I will self-publish in November.
I’ve been thinking of this nonfiction book, writing it in my head for years, and I believe it will have commercial appeal. I’ve come up with a promising way to promote it. I need an artist and an expert to be on board and I want to have it out in time for Christmas sales. I’m being vague about the book’s contents for good reason, which has nothing to do with fearing the idea will be stolen. Because it’s so different than what I’ve been working on for so long, the project just must remain mysterious for the moment.
This post isn’t about this particular project anyway, but my commitment to do as I’m promising, to not just give it lip service, to put my time where my mouth is. I have to prove to myself that I’m right about its commercial appeal and the marketing.
All the while, I will edit My Identical Cousin to have it ready to be workshopped at a writers retreat in September and get Morning of the Mermaid ready to be a graphic novel. I have eight months to accomplish these things. One key to committing is not to over reach. Don’t be too ambitious, or you’ll set yourself up for failure.
What is that saying? The road to Hell is paved with good intentions? The road to Failure is paved with good intentions is more like it. Intentions don’t get projects done. Only work, often hard work, does that.
Can I do it? I hope so, because if I can do it, it might inspire someone else to not only have dreams, but commit to them and make them reality.
Stay tuned.

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