Painful Beginnings

Going back to the beginning.

Starting anew.

Getting a fresh start.

It doesn’t matter how you phrase it, when you’re starting something over, it’s hard.  Ever tried to save a batch of chocolate chip cookies with too much salt?  Trust me, despite the agony of throwing it all out, it is the better choice.

I started an exercise program several months ago.  I made great progress, dropped several pounds, even lost a clothing size.  Then life got hectic as life is want to do at times. I quit going to the gym, stopped following the diet, and found the pounds I’d lost had come back with a vengeance. So I went back to the gym and started over with everything, and I’m pretty sure it hurts worse by 200 percent more than it did when I started originally.

Now I’m doing something almost as painful: I’m rewriting one of my novels, starting over from scratch because I just can’t seem to fix it in bits and pieces. I’m rethinking the characters, I’m reworking the plot, and I’m sorting through some of the subplots and secondary characters to decide what I want to keep and what I want to get rid of. It’s a far more painful process than I had anticipated it would be, and I find that I come to the writing part of my day and I am reluctant, even a bit bitter, about going through with the work. After all, I created this world and populated it and set it in motion – I liked it enough at the time to see it through, and I liked it enough when I finished it to begin submitting it. Now, here I am, the fickle god who is destroying my beloved creation.

God-of-War-Destroying-Earth-56260-215x300

The truth is, though, that I didn’t get it right the first time. I need to start over because the story isn’t working as it is, and simple revisions won’t be enough to fix the issues. As much as I like some of the characters, and as much as I thought I had worked out a solid plot, I realize now that the story really needs a new start – no matter how painful it might feel right now.

In a way, I’m hopeful that this process will seem easier – eventually – than writing the original story did. I already know the basic thread of the plot, and I know the key characters (even if they will change a bit), so in a way, the story is somewhat written already. I’m trying to think of this in terms of a piece of clay: I molded it one way, but the result wasn’t as appealing as I’d hoped, so now I’m reshaping it into something more attractive and useful.

dirtyHands

It would be easy to toss the whole story aside and say, “Oh well, better luck next time,” but I really believe in this story, and I really think it will find a home and finds its life outside my computer. I think I know the answers to the issues I’ve uncovered, and I’ve had good readers willing to look it over to share their insights as well. I know it will be better, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Writing at its very core is a painful process, but now I’m compounding that pain, and doing it on purpose. I guess that makes me some kind of masochist – which is a pretty funny thought.

So, it’s off to work again on a novel called The Afterward. Hopefully this time I can release its full potential. I just don’t think I have the heart to rip it apart yet again.

Resolutions – The 2013 Edition

It has been a VERY successful year for me, and I am grateful for the support of friends, family, teachers, librarians, and most of all readers! In June of this year, Angelic Knight Press made an offer for Death’s Kiss. In August, I sold a horror short story under my pen name Mimi A. Williams. That story, entitled Rita, will be part of the Axes of Evil: Heavy Metal Horror Anthology that will be released on February 1, 2014.  The Deepest Blue was released from Tanglewood Press in September of this year. This book has a long, winding history behind it, and it’s one that I am incredibly proud to see in print. All of this exceeded my goals for the year, although there were a few places I fell short

This is the seventh year in a row that I’ve done this exercise. It is a tradition now, and something I look forward in some sick and twisted way. It actually started further back even than the posts on this blog! All credit is due to Carol Lynch Williams who started the whole thing at least a dozen years ago and maybe even more. We are members of several list serves together, and every year about this time, we would publicly post our writing goals, and at the end of the year, Carol would hold us all accountable by posting our objectives on the list.

I like to do it this way: First, I review my resolutions from the beginning of the year to see how I did. That usually provides the motivation for my new resolutions. So here is what I aspired to a year ago and how I did:

1) I will revise my book The Afterward and continue to send it out.

The Afterward did not get the work I had hoped it would. It was shoved aside in favor of other projects. That’s not entirely bad. The other projects were both getting revised for publication. The Deepest Blue was the one that required the most time, followed closely by Death’s Kiss, which will be released early in 2014.

2) I will revise my book Death Kiss and continue submitting it and looking for its home.

Death Kiss was revised, and it was bought by Angelic Knight Press. It did find a home, and as I mentioned, it will be released soon under the revised title of “Death’s Kiss”

deathkiss final-front

3) I will participate in as many promotional and marketing events as possible (like Authorpalooza, Writing for Charity, and others) to promote my books and my availability for speaking.

I did quite well with this! I attended 10 different events, including a workshop at Whitmore Library, Writing for Charity, Davis School District Literacy Night, SCBWI’s The Inside Story, and others. I have also upgraded my website, and learned new ways to use social media to help promote my books. The results have been very positive, and as I anticipate my upcoming royalty payments, I should have a more concrete idea of how effective these efforts have been.

4) I will begin offering writing workshops 3 or 4 times a year through different sources as a means of income and to promote my books.

I didn’t quite follow through with this, though I did teach two workshops with good results. This year, though, I will follow through with the workshops, and I have recruited my talented writer friend C. Michelle Jefferies to be part of the fun! We have already laid the plans for the first workshop the first week of February.

And now it’s time to commit to the page (such as it is) my goals for the coming year. They came pretty easily this year, and I feel like I am stretching a bit and giving myself a challenge, but I don’t sense I’m setting myself up for failure. So here they are:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

That’s a lot to do in the next year, but I’m feeling confident and enthusiastic. It’s as much giving as it is taking. I’m focusing on quality and quantity. Overall, I think 2014 holds more promise than even this past year held, and that just makes me even more eager to get started!

Here’s to the coming year! My propellers are spinning and I’m ready to fly!

airplane

Research, Reviews, Revisions – Oh My!

revision

I’ll start with revisions. For one book, they’re done, for another, they’re just beginning. Two weeks ago I received the Advanced Unedited copies of my contemporary young adult novel THE DEEPEST BLUE from my publisher.

deepestblue

This was the last possible chance to make any kind of changes to the book before publication. Nothing major – like I couldn’t change the ending, make big alterations to scenes, or anything of that nature. A few extra spaces were found, and a line that should have been deleted was probably the biggest glitch. The thing is, it was just an amazing thing to read the story all the way through for the first time since all the major revisions were done. It was frightening, but it was also exhilarating. I can tell you that at the end of it, I’m pleased – very pleased. I’m very critical of my work, and typically I’m harder on myself than anyone else ever would be, so the fact that I read through the entire book and didn’t hate it says something.

Now I’m gearing up for the revision process for my young adult paranormal novel called DEATH’S KISS. My publisher told me to expect the work to begin in earnest at the beginning of August. I actually like revisions because it’s a second chance (or third, or fourth, or whatever) to fine tune the story. It’s like working on a painting only now I get to go in with a tiny brush and add the details that bring the picture to life. And believe me, the excitement of having two books coming out within a month of each other is only getting bigger with each passing day!

review

This brings me to reviews. The verbal feedback I’ve received from those who have read the two stories has, thus far,  been incredibly positive. I’m grateful for the comments of my beta readers and my editors. Their input has guided both stories and helped to make them stronger. But last week I got word that Kirkus Reviews was planning to publish a review of THE DEEPEST BLUE in their August 1st edition.

kirkus

I got a copy of the review, and while it is very positive, it is fairly critical of one aspect of the book, and that stung a bit. Well, no, it stung a lot. I’d be lying to say that my feelings weren’t just a bit hurt. The only remedy is to remind myself of the same words I’ve given to other writer friends in the same situation: reviews are really only one person’s opinion. If readers respond, that’s all that matters. Soon enough, I’ll have the answer.

So research – I’m working on a new young adult novel, a murder mystery. When I worked with my writing partner on BEAUTIFUL MONSTER, we interviewed a friend of mine who is a mortician to be sure that we got certain icky details correct.

Beautiful Monster Blue.2

Now, I’ve started interviewing a good friend who is an attorney, and a friend of my parents’ who is a retired city detective. They are helping me to verify the details of  a cold case murder. I’m learning all sorts of legal and forensic information that will help me tell a better story. The cycle has started over, and I’m excited to be launching into a new adventure.  Of course, with three books in the works, I’m at three different stages in the writing process, so to say I’m starting over is only partially true.

This time in my writing life is busy, rewarding, and always interesting! I’ve worked hard for this, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I have spent 15 years of my life (minus a few I took off when I didn’t think I could write) working toward the experience I am having right now. When I hear other writers whine that they haven’t achieved some level of literary greatness after three or four years, I just have to laugh. I’m happy. I’ve worked hard for this happiness. I will enjoy it to the fullest, and I will continue working to maintain it. Research will not slow me, revisions will not dissuade me, and reviews will not take it away. I’m having a blast!

Zounds!

The partial Shakespearean quote reads: “Zounds, I was never so bethumped by words . . .” Perhaps a bit out of context, but I am very clear on the concept. I need to clarify first that this isn’t a complaint by any means! I don’t know when I’ve been happier, and a good deal of that is due to the fact that I am – indeed – bethumped by words.

I’ve just finished the final, final revisions (at least on my part) for my young adult novel THE DEEPEST BLUE which will come on in October of this year. Right there, I’m a pretty happy camper. deepestblue

This book has been a long time coming, and I don’t mean the publishing process (though certainly, there is a little bit of that involved). I started this book in 2006, and early into the first draft, my dad passed away. The scene I was writing at the time had to do with the main character losing his own dad, and that just became too much for me to contend with.  At the same time, I was struggling with my own beliefs in my writing ability, and for a variety of reasons, it was easy for me to put this book, and all my writing, on a shelf. That shelf turned out to be pretty big. In fact, it lasted almost three years.  I’ll save part of this story for another post, but suffice to say that I took a renewed interest in it, sent it out, collected a lot of rejections, and ultimately in December of 2011, it sold to a wonderful publisher.

A few months ago, not sure what my employment status was going to be, I took a work for hire project. My job is to write the last three books in a nine-book series about a former secret agent type guy (sort of like Jason Bourne, only my character is a pretty upstanding guy who hates killing unless there is no other alternative). I am having an absolute blast with this project, and the first book is now almost 70,000 words long. I’m becoming a faster, more efficient writer because of this project. The edits from THE DEEPEST BLUE are informing my writing on this project, and overall, it has been a very meaningful addition to my writing life. The deadlines are rigid, and it forces me to write almost every day to stay on top of my work load. It also forces me to balance my life between a full-time job, my writing projects, and my family. The level of growth I’ve experienced is profound, and I’m grateful to the publishers for granting me the opportunity.

Now another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. My young adult novel, DEATH’S KISS, has sold to another publisher and I will begin working on those revisions within a few weeks. The publisher wants to release this book in September of this year, so I will have two books coming out within a month of each other. Those revisions will take place while I work on the second and third books in my work for hire project.

And the point to all of this is that, with limited exception, this is exactly how I’ve wanted my life to be for more than 15 years. Now I am here. Now it is happening. There is little to my life that I would change, but believe me, I understand the risks. I also know how very fortunate I am, but I know how hard I’ve worked for this as well. I’ve had a lot of support from friends and family, but I was the one who had to sit down at the keyboard and spill my brains through my fingers.  My life is bethumped by words, and that is exactly how I want it to be until I fall over dead at my keyboard, nose on the F key.

A Brick Wall at 60 Miles an Hour

Brick-wall

Welcome to Writer’s Block – again.

I seem to go through this periodically. Sometimes it’s stress related, sometimes not. Stress doesn’t always trigger it, but sometimes it does.

But first, an explanation:

I’ve been trying to finish the revisions on my novel The Deepest Blue (set to come out in the fall of this year). I had every intention of getting it done before the end of the year, but the last two months of 2012 were just a hair shy of total insanity. I left a job I’d only been at for six months to take a job that lasted only two weeks. I didn’t know it was only going to last two weeks, but then I also didn’t know I’d been hired by crazy people. I also moved – which is a long and complex story that doesn’t really need to be given detail other than to say “I HATE MOVING!” Then, of course, the holidays were upon us, accompanied by frequent calls and visits to the unemployment office.  I kept working on the revisions, but I was moving at a pace that would embarrass a garden slug.

I swore, though, that in the new year (being as I was unemployed), I would get the revisions done.

And then I became blocked.

web-blocked-640x480

There were a number of factors that went into causing this block. It took time to identify them, but it’s important to know what triggers a block so you can be more alert to potential blockages in the future! (It’s sort of like paying attention when your drain starts to run slow – better to clean out a small clump of gunk than to have a plumbing crisis on your hands.)

The first thing that contributed to the conundrum was putting deadlines on myself that might not have been reasonable given my circumstances. Moving, changing jobs, holidays, and dealing with government inefficiency all take a toll on one’s psyche. They drain away energy from where it is more useful and better served. Then there was the internal conflict I had over a scene that my editor wanted moved, changed, or deleted. I felt very strongly about the scene and it’s placement. I seriously agonized over how to please my editor while staying true to what I believed was necessary for the story. I rewrote the scene five or six times, and each time I felt it got worse. Enter contributor number three – the hyper-critical internal editor. Nothing pleases this chick! If I had to describe her, she would be six feet tall with long, straight, black hair, and fingernails that look like talons. She sneers, she gives exasperated sighs, and she says things like “That is the stupidest thing I think you’ve ever written. What were you even thinking? OH – I know – you weren’t thinking.” She’s a sarcastic wench, and she makes me doubt my ability to create (despite having six published books under my belt). At one point, I was so frustrated by this internal editor (which, YES – I KNOW – it’s my own self doubt and criticism. Sheesh, I’m not schizophrenic!) that I was about to call my editor in tears and tell her I’d pay back my advance because I just couldn’t write anymore.

It’s obvious NOW (of course, hindsight being 20/20) that my whole blockage was really self-inflicted, but in the midst of it, it felt like hitting a brick wall in your car going 60 miles an hour.

car-hits-wall

Everything came to abrupt halt. Just the thought of sitting at my computer to try to revise would make me nauseous. I’ve gone through bouts of writer’s block a few times – which is really the Universe’s way of punishing me for saying once (a very long time ago) that there was no such thing as writer’s block – it was just a lazy writer’s excuse. Yeah – that’ll learn me.

Thank the heavens for wise friends who know just what to say and just when to say it. I was expressing my frustration and telling a friend of mine that I just didn’t have what it takes anymore. I told her that I felt like I was a fraud by telling people I was a writer. She gave me a very kind smile and said, “Your thinking that you are a fraud is insecurity. Insecurity is a character defect, and underlying every character defect is fear.” She looked me in the eye and asked, “So, what are you afraid of?”

Before I could even think about it, the words fell out of my brain, into my mouth, and out into the open. “I’m afraid of disappointing people.”

Yeah – I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to like me. I don’t want to make anyone upset at me and I felt like I was letting my editor down, letting my writing friends down (the ones who offered to help with the read-through), and letting everyone I’d ever told about this upcoming book down. That fear of disappointing people nearly paralyzed me.

Then I said, “I’m afraid it won’t be perfect.”

Whoa – that caught me by surprise. This book is still going through revisions. It isn’t meant to be perfect. It will never be “perfect” in the sense that no one anywhere will be able to find fault with it. I remember hearing Jane Yolen speak at a conference and talking about how there are scenes in her book “The Devil’s Arithmetic” that she would still go back and revise – and this book won all kinds of awards! I realized that I was trying to achieve a finished product, but it isn’t time yet.

I meditated a long time on what this friend had said and what my answers had been. In the mean time, I also started a new full-time job (also quite stressful), but while I was sitting at my desk at work, inputting numbers into a database (not real stressful), the solution to the block arrived. I almost couldn’t get through the rest of my day because I was so eager to get home and write! That was a magnificent feeling. I sat down, I dug in, and I solved the problem. I found a happy compromise for the scene my editor wanted changed and I didn’t (well, the scene isn’t happy, but resolving where to put it was). I got through the remaining chapters, and I sent the entire manuscript off to my wonderful editor before my self-imposed deadline of the end of the month!

Lessons learned? Um – many. First, I am terribly hard on myself, and I need to learn to just let it flow. Writing “Beautiful Monster” happened during one of the most stressful times in my life, but that story flowed because I allowed myself to admit there would be issues and errors, and I could go back and fix them later.  Second, I need to address my frustrations earlier. I do a lot of “I’m not blocked, I’m not blocked, I’m not blocked, OH CRUD! I’m blocked!” Backing off sooner, removing obstacles when they are small instead of when I’ve made them into demons – this is the better way. Finally – remember who you’re writing for. It’s not an editor, it’s not an audience. I’m writing for me. This is – and always has been – my passion. I do this for my soul and for no other reason. I’m going to make a sign that says exactly that and hang it right behind my computer.

Sigh.

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

So first, I need to thank Jared S. Anderson for tagging me in this, and apologize that I’m a few days late (eek!). You should all check his blog at  http://jsascribes.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/the-next-big-thing-blog-hop/ to read his answers, or check out some of his other awesome possum stuff!

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
What is the working title of your book? The Deepest Blue

Where did the idea come from for the book? A number of places. First, I wanted to try writing from the POV of a male character. Second, two of my children went through the process of having a step-parent adopt them because of issues pertaining to a biological parent. I lived through this with them (my oldest daughter asked my husband to adopt her when she was 15, and my step-son asked me to adopt him when he was 16). For all of us, these were emotional and powerful experiences, and naturally, that makes for good fodder for books!

What genre does your book fall under? It is contemporary young adult fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Um – that’s a good question. I have no idea. I’m still fighting my way (literally and figuratively) through revisions. I’d have to do some investigating on that

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Sometimes it isn’t easy to fight for what you know is best for you, but ultimately, it is the best fight you’ll ever have.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? The publisher for this book is Tanglewood Press, a small (but rapidly growing and exceptionally high-quality) publisher based in Terre Haute, IN. I don’t have an agent currently, and I’ve been quite successful without one, so I don’t stress over it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Depending on how you look at it, it took almost five years. I was midway into the very first draft, and had just written the scene where the main character’s father dies, and then my own dad passed away right before Christmas. I tried repeatedly to keep going, but I wound up putting the book aside for over a year. Then I got busy doing other things and stopped writing for nearly two years. By the time I got back to the manuscript, I’d taken nearly four years off.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? It’s a bit like “Missing May” by Cynthia Rylant, and a bit like “A Place to Call Home” by Jackie French Koller.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? My daughter and my son both inspired me.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? There’s a great boat sinking!

Sadly, the friends whom I asked to join in on this weren’t able to, so I’ll direct you back to Jared’s blog for some other great blogs to check out!

http://jsascribes.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/the-next-big-thing-blog-hop/

Beta Readers, Editors, and the Craft of Revision

I started writing my YA novel, “The Deepest Blue”, nearly six years ago. I knew the story and was excited about tackling a story that was more of a challenge. The main character’s father dies and it is a shock to the main character and to the readers (or at least I hope so). Then, early into the first draft, my own dad died, and I just couldn’t go back to this book. It sat for several years until my friend and writing partner Jared urged me to pick it up again and finish it.  I did get it done, and started submitting, but all the rejections said the same thing: the market is too soft for a book like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I let the story languish on a thumb drive, figuring I’d get back to it eventually. I wrote another novel and began submitting it instead. Then a year and a half after rejecting it, my editor at Tanglewood asked about The Deepest Blue. “Where is it? Have you sold it?”

“No,” I told her, “it’s on my computer.”

“I want it,” she said. That was December of 2011. She said it would be a Fall of 2013 release, so we had lots of time to work on revisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book had already been through several revisions, and Jared had read it and given me his input. But my editor wanted to give it to a reader in the target audience and let him comment as well. We sent it off to him after the new year, then I waited for him to finish and give comments. Unfortunately, this kid dropped off the face of the earth.

Not to worry, though! My editor had another young man who was eager to be a reader for us. Early this summer, I got his comments (hand written on a sheet of yellow note paper!) and he offered some wonderful insights for me. I think I’m a pretty good writer, and I have a good ear for dialog and for shaping the plot of a novel. However, I have never been a 15-year-old boy, and that was clear in some of my passages.  I worked through the story again with this young man’s comments, and I also got Jared to go through it with me and offer his own masculine perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I finished the revisions in August and sent the newly crafted story back to my editor.  She sent me wonderful, uplifting comments about the changes and the new strength in the story, and then told me she would get to work on her own revisions right away.

I got those revisions last night – and I am so grateful to have such an amazing editor! We talked about adjusting the tone in the beginning of the story, about deepening the emotional impact, and about pushing the envelope in ways that I hadn’t quite envisioned. And this is the benefit of a professional editor. My self-published friends will not like this, but the fact is that without a quality editor to work on your story, you may not see the things that take a story to the next level. Beta readers are also crucial to this process. My writing partner and the young man who read the story this spring both gave me needed insights into the male mind that I couldn’t have had on my own because, quite simply, I’m not a guy! They helped me to push the story to a more realistic level, giving it an authenticity that I couldn’t have achieved on my own. This, in turn, opened the door for my editor to dig even deeper and develop the story to a point that – in her own words – will allow her to submit this book for awards.  If that isn’t music to a writer’s ears, I’m not certain what is!

I don’t honestly know how many revisions this book has been through. I know it’s a lot – but that’s sort of the writing part of writing, if you ask me. Being willing to let others tear into your story and offer you suggestions is an important and valuable step in the whole process. I’m regularly stunned by writers who don’t want anyone to touch their work for fear it won’t remain true to their glorious original concept.  Frankly, I don’t know what I’d do without Jared and my many beta reader friends who offer insight into my work from a reader’s perspective. 

Someone asked me if I was sick of this story yet, and my answer is “yes and no.” Yes, I think I could recite the whole book front to back from memory, and that begins to wear on me. No, because each round of revision is a chance to look deeper into what I’ve created and to try to add meaning and depth to the story. I want to get better with each story I write, so if there are folks who want to help me achieve that, then I welcome their input. Hopefully, I can repay their kindnesses.