Monday, February 27, 2012

Passing of a Great

Today one of the co-writers of The Berenstain Bears passed away. RIP Jan Berenstain.

I have a stack of 20-30 Berenstain Bear books that I've saved from my childhood. They were my ultimate favorite books in that "learning how to read" stage or life, and if I'm being completely honest, even now. I mean, there's nothing more nostaglic for me than seeing a Berenstain Bear book at the store. Last Christmas I bought my niece two of my favorites: "Too Much Junk Food" and "Go Out For The Team" (or was it "Get the Gimmies"). When I think about writers who inspired me to write and tell stories, I really do think it stems with Stan and Jan Berenstain. These were the first books that I could read to myself. The first books that I was completely lost in.

So, it's sad that she's passed and I wanted to take a moment to remember her. She was 88 years old. I can only hope that I live to be that age and that I'm still writing.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A little at a time....

So, I managed to edit 127 pages of THE SPIRIT KEEPER this weekend. I'd probably get through a little more if I had tomorrow off like most people (it's President's Day). But, of all the holidays not to have, I guess it makes sense. Anyway, I came to a bit of a stand-still with ARABELLE WILD (which means it's time for me to outline the rest of the novella), so I packed up my computer and spent three hours at Barnes and Noble working on edit #7 (or is it 8?). This edit is going well, or as well as it could go. I add a little. I take a little away. This time around I'm focusing on Evelyn, and really looking for things that could come out all together. Unfortunately, after 127 pages, I really haven't cut that much. In fact, this draft is longer than the last. I don't know why I worry about length so much, probably because I'm trying to break into the YA scene and a lot of books right now run like 150-200 pages shorter than where I'm at. I guess I'll just worry about that if I start getting feedback about length (if I get feedback at all). Might as well not jump the gun.

Anyway, just wanted to post a little blurb about where I'm at.

On another note, I came up for bed and found that my lovely cat had puked all over my blanket. I thought hairballs were supposed to come in easy matted chunks not projectile vomit and stomach juices. Gross, I know. What's grosser... sticking my finger in it. I don't know why I feel like that's important to share, but there you go. Enjoy, as I did.

Too bad he's so damn cute. Can't be mad for long.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Let me tell you a little story...

Still no news (I've got about 5 query letters out at the moment). Some of the agencies have a longer turn around time than the first few rejections that I received. I'm okay with waiting for these to come in. I need a break from the entire process. Is it sad that it's only two weeks in? :c/ Last week really sucked. I felt in a funk for days. I'm doing MUCH better now. And after receiving more feedback (thanks again Jammi!!!) I've decided that I need to do another edit of THE SPIRIT KEEPER before it's ready for more submissions. I had a feeling that it needed one more edit, but in my mind that was just to tighten up some of the writing (clean up the sentences). I've learned that I have a bigger issue on my hands: Making my main character more likeable (something that you HAVE to do when you get feedback from multiple sources that she's just not doing it for them).

The biggest issue is that I don't seem to show enough emotion/inner thoughts, etc. She comes off disconnected from things that are happening to her. Now, I see her totally differently then my readers did. After the first set of comments I was like "okay, I can fix that." Six edits later, the second set of comments come in and are virtually identical, and I was like "WTF am I doing wrong?" I think in a lot of ways I'm still too close to Evelyn (main character) to really see her closely. This is definitely why you need readers that you trust to give it to you straight. I thought I was seeing things so objectively! :) But no, I'm still too close to her.

But I think I have a game plan of how to attack the situation. And it involves the first rule of writing: show don't tell.

Here's an awesome link from Ilona Andrews's blog (thanks again Jammi). It has a lot of great examples in it, some of which I feel like I already do, and then new ways to think about this sometimes frustrating writing rule. For example, I never really considered that there might be a downside to too much showing. Something the blog post said that really suck with me is the following:
Use both showing and telling, each in moderation. Don’t try to make your book into a movie. It’s not; it’s a book, a written narrative.
(Check out the blog to see what she means about not turning your book into a movie, it's pretty interesting). I feel like I both show and tell, but for some reason Evelyn's personality isn't coming through. The reasons for this could be endless. I think it's because I know her so well that I don't give some of the details (that are in my head) to the readers.

This isn't the first time I've gotten this kind of feedback. In my MFA workshops "show don't tell" was fancied up to "trust the reader." One classmate in particular was always like "I want you to trust me to get it." A few others were like "there's too much telling in this." Now, to be fair to myself, it was my very first workshop story, written about seven hours before class. [I was the person to volunteer to bring in the first story for our workshop. I didn't give myself enough time, and unfortunately I think the first impression of my skills was pretty poor and lingered over my head. The second story I turned in my prof was like "wow, do you realize how much you've improved in such a short time?" I just kinda smiled and nodded, but I had more time to work it and knew my abilities were far more than that first story. Plus I worked hard on the second story because I was determined not to have such a negative workshop again. And I don't feel like I did.] Anyway, the point is that I've gotten feedback about showing and not telling before. Many times.

I wonder what it'll take to stick so that my first draft could be my last. Maybe that's just a pipe dream.

From my years in school I learned that my first drafts tend to be full of telling details. I think this is because I go with what Stephen King says to do: write the first draft with your heart. A lot of other people say this too, but his book On Writing was the first one to really connect with me. It's an excellent writing how-to book. The first half is his autobiography (which is inspirational on it's own) and the second half is a "writing toolbox."

Here's another great example that I discovered today:
Creating and editing are two different driving forces behind writing.  Creating is like running forward through a wide field: you don’t look back, you just go in whatever direction makes you happy.  You see only the field and the possibilities.  Editing is like looking at that field from a Goodyear blimp and pondering where in the the world that fool down below is going. ~ Illona Andrews
I love, love, LOVE this quote. When I'm writing a first draft, I am a total fool. And it's FUN to be foolish. It's crazy fun!

When I'm working on a first draft--especially if I'm excited about it--I just write and write. Some wild idea might come into my head and I just go with it. For example, in the very first draft of THE SPIRIT KEEPER (then called SURRENDER) I had a chicken (named Tessa) who was basically a character with personality and everything (she's has since been edited down). Here's how the creative process for Tessa the chicken went: Writing, writing, writing, and now we're on a farm, writing, writing, writing, and there's a big barn and a fancy chicken coop, writing, writing, writing, and there is a big chicken, a leader of all the other chickens, writing, writing, writing, Tessa is her name, writing, writing, writing, Evelyn puts Tessa in her bike basket and they ride around the farm, writing, writing writing [BOOM sudden realization]: Tessa is the special pet of one of the angels! YES! AMAZING CHICKEN! SHE'S AWESOME! She has super powers!!!! (Not really, but it felt that way).

*sigh* so much fun. That is the joy of the first draft.

I've been writing ARABELLE WILD this last week and it's been going very well. I'm glad that I started to write on it again (especially during my submission-rejection-funk) because it reminded me that even though the submission process is really hard and stressful, writing is fun. So in this first draft, I'm writing fast and furious. I don't think about sentences or showing vs. telling. I just go, go, go, and it's fun. And easy. It's the editing that's the hard part; it makes writing difficult, heart breaking, and rewarding.

But let me tell you... Tessa was one super bird. After my sister (who will always be my very first reader) read the novel we chatted about it and the conversation turned to places/things that could be cut and I was like "Tessa or Buddy?" (buddy is a friendly little demon). She said she liked Buddy more so he stayed in and Tessa became a sliver of the awesomeness that she was. In the end, it was a good edit.

But anyway... show versus tell might be the biggest battle of my writing life.