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.

A Day Late and 1,668 Words Short

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The novel I’m writing has been gestating in my mind for the last three years. It’s a middle grade-ish novel about a girl who pretends to be her own identical cousin in 1965 because she feels so invisible. I’m itching to get it down on paper. I designated November as my month to do it and I joined NaNoWriMo.
National Novel Writing Month was created for November by a group of writer friends. It’s become a nonprofit organization with staff, sponsors, a fund-raising gala and nearly 120,000 participants. That’s not counting those who may not officially sign in. As I did for several years.
I never signed up because I knew I’d never do it. I was already involved in a project, either well into writing it or editing it. This year I’d just completed a final (yeah, right) of my middle grade novel, Alex Bullied and sent a round of twenty queries to agents.
I was ready for NaNoWriMo!
Each day the writer must produce 1,668 words in order to reach the goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month. I began writing this blog post on a flight home to San Diego from Maryland on November first. I was already a day behind on NaNoWriMo.
Yes, I know, as someone pointed out, you can write on an airplane. Well, I can’t. But I figured I could make those words up. I started the next day with eager enthusiasm. I knew how the story started, even had notes on the first few chapters. Had some pages that could be cut and pasted. I wasn’t sure if this was cheating, but I had those words to make up.
Dog concerns (was Bug going to need a vet? No, as it turned out), previous scheduled commitments, our son moving home, upcoming friend visits, and finally agreeing to attend a Thanksgiving dinner as well as the daily grunt work of shopping, errands, cooking , cleaning and caring for pets made for a lot of holes in my tight writing schedule. The word count did not multiply as quickly as I’d anticipated.
This doesn’t make sense. In spite of the distractions, I have most of every day to write. I have no excuses. And yet, maybe I do –
The November/December issue of Writer’s Digest has a section on NaNoWriMo. There is a section about how there’s a paradox of creativity in that is seems to benefit from pressures and boundaries. I have found this to be true for me. This blog entry, for instance. I would never post a blog without it having been read to my writers group and gotten critiqued. The group, The North County Writers Bloc, meets tomorrow morning. So I have to get this done – now. It’s amazing how the words flow when they have to.
The words that are going into this new book are pretty much crap. But that’s what editing and writers groups and meetings with agents at conferences are for. I think we have to figure that writing this fast is not going to produce publishable work without a lot of revision. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen started on NaNoWriMo. You can be sure it did not come out the best seller it was without a lot of editing.
And yet participants will send agents their first draft messes. Apparently agents shudder at the volume of queries they receive after November each year. “I have written this book in a month and here it is.” No book is written and ready in a month. So, slow down. But not until after November 30th.
This yearly challenge does seem needlessly masochistic. I feel a little like I’m drowning as I fall behind on word count. I’m sinking beneath those unwritten words.
But there are also positives to get from this exercise. I am building a habit of writing every day. My process has always been a slow one of outlines and first drafts on note paper with pencils. I want to train myself to have the ideas go directly from brain to keyboard to computer screen. While I still outline a little to help me when I’m stuck, figuring out how to go from A to B, I am getting more streamlined in my process.
Today is November 17, two days past the midway point. I am about 4,000 words short and expecting company for the weekend. I do not know if I will finish on time but I still maintain the delusion that I can.
Stay tuned.

The Thrill of It All

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I am not a thrill seeker – don’t like heights, don’t like going downhill fast, don’t like endangering my life and limbs. I’m a wuss that way.
But today I wondered if that were true. I just finished reading the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It’s the kind of book (actually, for me most are) that takes me away until I am lost to this world, this time, my life. I live for however long it takes me to complete the story, in this other reality, this other world. For that length of. time, I live the life of other people.
Sometimes I hesitate to start a book. I avoid reading because once I’m into a book, I don’t want to do anything else. Bring me drinks and food and shut the door when you leave. Thanks.
And when it’s over, when I raise my head and contemplate Real Life, I do wonder how the world is still turning, how everything is as it was, when I feel I’ve changed so completely. I wonder if anyone realizes the trauma I’ve just experienced. This has been said before and more eloquently and I’m sure many know this feeling.
Wait, I’m coming to my point.
This book, All The Light We Cannot See, takes place in Germany and France before, during, and after World War II. The story follows a German boy and a blind French girl .
I am with them for it all – pre-war privations, the terror, the grief and in the boy’s case, loss of soul. I’m there, all along the way. These characters are brave and daring and selfless. Either of them, or their loved ones, could die at any moment. It’s terrifying for them. I had an epiphany. This is my thrill seeking.
I don’t need to be a dare devil – I’m a reader!
Sure, we get a vicarious rush watching movies or television, but it’s a surface adrenalin charge. With reading, you get under the skin of the character. I know it sounds odd, sounds contradictory, but with movies and television, to me, it’s more tell than show. You’d think it would be the other way around. But in a book you’re more involved, you get inner thoughts, you get the motivation and you‘re feeling the fear, the awe, the surprise, the love, the hatred as the characters as they feel it. And it’s because the author has shown, not told.
But wait, there’s something even more thrilling for us armchair dare devils – writing a book! Then you get to create your own adventures. The occupation of being a writer is a thrill in itself. It’s not safe, it’s the opposite.
I have been a Pony Express rider, have traveled across the country in 1862 with a band of Shoshone Indians, lived in oceans and conversed with goddesses and eluded a shark as a mermaid and most recently, went back to middle school. It doesn’t get scarier than that.
Our chapter of The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators has begun a new season. Our first speaker did a session on Voice. She gave book titles as examples as she went along, giving me a whole new list of future adventures. Who knows what I will encounter as I read these stories? I can hardly wait for the exhilaration of experiencing new places, new cultures There could be time travel, heart pounding chills, heartaches and hope.
It’s okay though, I’m up for the challenge. I’m a thrill seeker that way.
Stay tuned. See you in November.

Chasing the Dragon

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“Everybody’s a junkie for something. We’ve all got something
pretty funky that we do. Everybody’s a junkie for something. I’m
a junkie, you’re a junkie, too.” Everybody’s A Junkie from bimbo,
a multi-media musical, written and directed by Jack Barnard.

According to Wikipedia, “Chasing the Dragon” is a slang phrase of Cantonese origin from Hong Kong referring to inhaling the vapor of a heated solution of morphine, heroin, oxycodone, or opium. To a junkie, the term “chasing the dragon” refers to locating and ingesting your drug of choice. To me, a writing junkie, it means writing a great book, a book that attracts an agent, is sold to a publishing house and becomes a bestseller. Maybe it’s made into a movie. It’s my immortality.
Immortality – that’s a weighty matter with me. I suffer from Gerascophobia. That’s right, fear of aging. It’s a real thing. I remember a friend in high school lamenting, “It won’t stop!” It struck a chord with me. I’ve been a bit obsessed with aging ever since. It’s not fear of death. It’s not the dying, it’s how I’m getting there. Because of this affliction, I’m always doing the math. How long do I have to chase my dragon?
How long do any of us have, really? We don’t know. We should be actively chasing our dragons, our dreams. And we should have a good time doing it.
I came across this horoscope in a magazine: “In recent years, Libra (that’s Me) has walked over broken glass and hot coals. Life has certainly not been easy for you, due to an unusual array of difficult aspects; and at times, the challenges may have seemed nearly endless. (Yes, revising Alex Bullied has seemed that way) Now this period is coming to an end with the arrival of Jupiter, planet of good fortune, when it enters Libra on the 9th for the first time in twelve years. At that point, you will enter one of the very best years of your life. Get your wish list ready. (List follows) Your sparkling aspects will keep on coming. On the 30th, the new moon in Libra will be one of the most divine of the year. ( A new moon will always open a portal of ten days to take action toward something you want dearly.) (Queries, anyone?)
Yay. I’m not a big horoscope reader, but I like this one.
I made some birth year resolutions –
1. Finish Alex Bullied revision.
2. Query while I do this to keep me on track.
3. Write My Identical Cousin – inspired by real events. A middle grade novel set in 1965.
` 4. Turn Morning of the Mermaid into a graphic novel.
5. Celebrate the small victories.
This makes me accountable – to you, Faithful Reader, and to myself. If I’m going to do the math, I need to make it count.
The goal is not to keep chasing the dragon, but to catch that bitch, and take it for a ride.
Stay tuned.