About This Blog

This blog is about my books (of course), but it's also about writing in general and the editing process. I love the puzzle of a novel, and I'm happy to share anything I know about editing and revising. Any questions? Leave them in the comment box or send me an email, and I'll address them as quickly as I can.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In Regards to my Most Frequently Asked Question...

In honor of the free promotion I'll be running this week on Laryn Rising (June 27th-29th), I thought I'd address the most commonly asked question I hear. Namely, "Where did you come up with all of that?" The answer is rather long (and possibly tortuously boring) so instead of going into all of it, I've decided to touch on the first piece: the initial inspiration, so to speak.

Long before I'd thought up Laryn, her sisters, or even the Federation, I was one European History credit shy of my History BA from BYU. I was married, had a one-year-old, and was pregnant, and we had moved to Provo specifically so I could finish up the odds and ends standing between myself and my degree. The only class offered that spring that fit my course requirements was The Spanish Colonization of North America. Yeah, I know - it didn't sound thrilling to me, either.

The class commenced, and the whole first section was spent comparing and contrasting the Spanish, French, and English colonization models used in North America, and I have to admit that I was a little fascinated by all of it. Why? Because even though the French and Spanish beat England to the punch, in the end the English (we're counting those who became Americans here, because it was the same colonization model that led to their independence) walked away with pretty much everything, other than a few pockets of Spanish and French. But that fact alone wasn't what fascinated me. It was the reasons behind it that I couldn't stop thinking about.

You see, while the French sent trappers and the Spanish sent men looking for gold, the English sent families. The Frenchmen owned no land and neither did the Spanish, and the goal of those two colonization models was the same - wealth for their respective Crowns. The English, however, came for the land. They brought their religion, their livelihoods, their women and their children, and they invested everything they had in the search for a better life.

While the Spanish and the French left everything they cared about behind, the English came with it all in tow. Think of it - the English colonists brought their infrastructure with them, complete with traditions, trades, and an actual economy. While the Spanish monarchy funded the men they sent and supported them while they were there, the successful British groups were fairly independent of the Crown. They succeeded or failed on their own merits, and were motivated by their own personal goals - the most powerful of which was a safe place to practice their different religions. (And yes, I am aware that this is a gross over-simplification of this gigantic topic. Now hear me out as I relate this back to my book.)

When we finished that section the class moved on to other topics, like the Spanish missions, etc., but in my head I was stuck on the whole 'colonization' thing. It dawned on me that if at some time in the far distant future the human race needed to establish a colony of sorts, it would be wise of them to do some research. If that was the case, wouldn't they go back and study the different colonization models that determined the creation of the United States of America? I think I would. And if it were me, I'd look at the English model and say, "Yeah, I think I'll pick that one." I would then want to incorporate each element that was critical to the success of that original venture into my own colonization model, including families, land ownership, political freedom, and the values of a moral-based/religious society.

Enter Nequam, and the James Town Venture. It took me a long time to decide where in time these people were coming from and what necessitated their need to set up a colony, and it took me even longer to figure out what sort of protagonist I wanted to put in this setting. Basically, I looked at my colonists and came up with a protagonist who was from the other end of that continuum - she's from a family-less, freedom-less, religion-less, immoral society, and the dissimilarities don't end there. For me, these elements are the foundation stones of my setting. They are not the theme or the protagonist's main conflict, but they provide the setting and situation in which her story is told.

While I could have chosen a protagonist who was born and raised in James Town, I was too intrigued by the idea of melding two completely different societies together to pass up the opportunity. This, of course, meant introducing my protagonist to all the different elements of colonial life - including religion. I really tried to do this in an organic way, without focusing on any sort of conversion or specifics. Mostly, I just needed Laryn to be introduced to the religious-based reality of her new people. Does she become religious herself? Maybe, in a sort of personal, spiritualistic way. I think the idea intrigues her, and she identifies with it a little because of her mother's belief in 'fate', but at no point does she actually become a Christian or pronounce a belief in God, and in the second book this element is left almost entirely alone, as it doesn't really have anything to do with the setting of that book, or her personal story.

The Federation, the genetic caste system, Laryn herself, and even Kieff's role in the book all have different origins and were inspired by separate events or ideas (for the most part). But as for the overall concept, I have to attribute that to a class on Spanish Colonization that I would never have opted to take if it hadn't been absolutely necessary. If it hadn't been for that class, who knows what I would have ended up writing? Maybe some things are just meant to be.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How An Ice Pick Doubled My Sales

So, the craziest thing has happened to me. It took me a while to sort out all the pieces, but in a nutshell, on my birthday some person (whom I will not name, but I do know who it was) did her best to sabotage my books. She found my birthday on facebook, wrote two rather hateful reviews, found a friend to post them for her so I wouldn't know who had done it, and then waited till my birthday to have her friend buy and return each of my books (no doubt so she would register as a 'verified purchaser'), and post both scathing 1 star reviews. Did I mention they waited till my birthday to post them? That was a nice touch, don't you think? It's kind of like the difference between shooting someone and stabbing them 53 times with an ice pick.

(Insert creepy sound effect from Psycho...)

It was pretty obvious right off the bat that the reviewer hadn't actually read the books, because they cited some pretty major inaccuracies (like calling the second book religious propaganda when religion isn't actually mentioned in the book), but it took me a while to sort the whole thing out. Even despite the clues and one kind-of-obvious link, the list of people who might hate me this much is pretty short - like one-person short. And to think I'd felt guilty for wondering if she was the type to go on and leave me a bad review...

(In case you're wondering, I edited her book for her, and she wasn't really ready to hear what needed to be said. She told me a million times how awesome, amazing, and thick-skinned she was, so I was pretty worried about it from the get-go. The sad thing is, I didn't think her manuscript was bad at all for a second draft, but I could tell she wasn't getting that from me. Second drafts from a first-time author are always rough, but the makings of a solid, original story were there, and I'm actually pretty confident that she has what it takes to work it into a good book - which can't  be said for the majority of first-manuscript writers and their second drafts, which is why so many first novels are never salvaged. Unfortunately, I think I offended her when I suggested that her rewrite might be more time-consuming and extensive than she thought it would  be, and when I told her it wasn't ready for a professional edit. And who knows what else I may have done to offend her. Too bad she didn't just tell me. Then I could have apologized and all this retributive hate wouldn't be necessary. What a thought, eh?)

But 1 star reviews happen to pretty much everyone (although one generally hopes they're of the sincere, honest variety), and I'm certainly not going to go on the attack in the comment box (although I did have to hold back a few of my friends, who were chomping at the bit to go leave her a piece of their minds). There's really no point in trying to combat reviews that you can't get rid of, and in the end it just generates bad press. Instead, I resigned myself to the harsh reality of the situation and hoped people would notice how generic and overly-spiteful the reviews sound.

Then my sales doubled.

Seriously. In the two days since she posted those reviews, my sales have doubled. They've been pretty consistent for about the last three weeks, and were actually starting to taper off a bit, but on the day after my birthday they totally took off. I don't know if it's because her reviews have made people curious about the book, or because I'm being blessed with good karma for trying not to let her personal problems get to me, but whatever is going on, I'm tempted to send her a thank you note!

And so, today's message is that if you get a 1 star review, let it pass. Don't worry about it, don't go on the attack, and don't feel like the future of your book is doomed (and watch for an uptick in your sales, apparently). Do read it carefully and look for elements of truth, however, because ideally the person who wrote it actually read your book and may have something valuable to say. 

I'm certain that if my detractor had read mine she would have been able to come up with substantive critique, and who knows? Maybe she would have pointed out something that I could have changed or learned from? After all, there will be people who find the inherent faults in my books, or who simply don't care for them. It's a given. Someone will read Laryn's story and find it a complete waste of their time, because no book appeals to everyone. Heck, for all the great feedback I've received, my own mother thought the third quarter of Laryn Rising was a snooze fest, and continually tells people, "Oh, the second book is much better. I loved the second book." Thanks, Mom.

The thing is, I knew Laryn Rising wouldn't appeal to her. It's a story about personal, internal struggle, and that sort of thing bores my mom. She reads mysteries and historical fiction, and prefers the plot-driven story over the character-driven one, and that's okay. If there's one thing I've learned through all the editing I've done, it's that there is value in all honest critique, and we should embrace it. I've also learned that not everyone is ready to do this. I can say that I care a lot about the clients I take on, and whether she (my 'reviewer') realized it or not, I did not spend hours and hours agonizing over her story without becoming invested in it. I think about it all the time, and wonder how she's doing with it and what her rewrites look like. I admit that I was blind-sided by her actions, but I do still want her to succeed, and I honestly hope the best for her book - I just wish she realized that, and it makes me sad to know that I failed to convey my sincere interest in her project. The fault there had to be mine, and that's something I think I'll always regret.

(Still, the doubling of my sales just might make up for it...)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blog Tour Time!

It's always interesting to hear how someone else attacks the whole novel-writing process. No two people approach it quite the same way, yet it seems you can learn a little something from every author once you pick their brain. My good friend VR Christensen, author of Victorian-Era Historical Fiction (including her latest novel, Cry of the Peacock) has invited me on a blog tour all about authors and writing processes. Every author is given the same four questions to answer, and those questions are then passed on to another author (or two or three). So here are my questions and answers:

1) What am I working on now?
Well, it's a bit of a departure from LarynRising (The Chronicles of Nequam, Book One) and its sequel, Finding Shemballah. My current project is a middle reader titled The Gift of the Cornesh, and it fits firmly within the Fantasy genre. I know it's considered risky to hop around from one genre to the next (not to mention switching up target audiences in such a drastic fashion), but sometimes you just have to write what you have to write. For me, the pivotal moment happened one day when I was (once again) neglecting my children (and their laundry) while caught up in the haze of a writing frenzy. Somewhere in there my daughter—then six, now eight—wandered up and asked me if I was ever going to read her the 'story' I was writing. I stopped what I was doing, looked up at her, and realized it would probably be at least a decade before she would be ready to appreciate the manuscript that was stealing her mother away from her.

In that moment, Isla Bianca Marcelliana Tortar, Princess of the Realm; Duchess of the Six Isles, was born—complete with blond hair, blue eyes, and three older brothers.

I don't know what exactly happened, but I suddenly knew that I had to write something my kids could appreciate while they were still young. Something they could identify with. Something that represented them and gave a them a reason to be invested when they were missing meals, clean underwear, and all the other things that go along with having a mother who is continually in the throes of writing 'some dumb book' all the time.

The results? So far, so good. They're all very interested in the fates of their alter egos, and I'm having a ton of fun writing them. I'm currently somewhere in the bog otherwise known as the-middle-of-the-blasted-book, but I'm planning on coming out on the other side alive and well by the first of July, so wish me luck!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, in terms of Laryn Rising, the challenge would be finding the genre in the first place. Laryn, my protagonist, leaves a dystopian-type futuristic society (with her sister and 500 other young women) to join with a group of colonists traveling to a pastoral colony on a distant planet. Her story is all about overcoming her identity as a member of the Federation's lowest caste and struggling to assimilate from a world where everything was provided for her (and demanded of her) into a society where she must be completely self-sufficient. There's a space ship and interplanetary travel, yet the theme is far from Science Fiction, and the target audience is definitely not men (although I've received some surprisingly great reviews from the men who've read it). If anything, it falls into the Women's Fiction category - it's just hard to sell that in the book blurb.

From the reader's standpoint, I would say Laryn Rising and its sequel, Finding Shemballa, are pretty unique as far as setting and protagonist-circumstance are concerned. As a History major, I was inspired by the history of our country, and the resilience of oppressed souls fighting for freedom and family. I am also fascinated by the idea of taking someone from the future and watching them learn the basic building blocks of frontier life. Basically, my books tell an old and familiar story of the human experience from a new and different angle, with a heroine who's struggles aren't quite like those of any fictional character I've ever come across.

3) Why do I write what I do?
All I know is that I need a purpose before I can write anything. Ever. And for me, that purpose has to be personal, and it has to carry some weight. Taking regular people and watching what they do under extraordinary pressure fascinates me. Sometimes I look around at my friends, family, neighbors, etc., and wonder who we would become in a crisis. Who would stand up and lead? Who would collapse under the pressure? Would the person to collapse be the one we all thought would save us? And then there's the big question of Why? What motivates people's responses to a crisis, and how can an ordinary person rise up and do extraordinary things? And all of this is quickly followed by the terrifying question of which person I would be?

Consequently, I also find great purpose in writing humor. I had (still have/greatly neglect) a humor blog for a few years, and I love laughter. I love taking the mundane and finding the funny in it. Why? Because let's face it—the majority of life is mundane, and if we can't find humor in the mundane then life isn't any fun. (For a sampling of my other blog, go here.)

4) How does my writing process work?
For me it starts with a character and a concept. Whether it's the idea of a twenty-something young woman jumping into the unknown for a chance at freedom for herself and her sisters, or an almost-thirteen-year-old Princess who happens along a magic silver egg with a fantastic creature waiting to hatch out of it, I have to know who my protagonist is, what they're doing, and why.

This generally leads to a word document with names and sketches of all my main characters, a sketch of the setting, and roughed-out plot plan. Everyone has to be named before I can write them in, and I usually spend a lot of time (generally in the bathtub) filling in details and motivations and all the why's and wherefore's. For me, everything has to make sense. If I can't explain it, I can't use it. Period.

Then start writing. My general strategy is to write from one conflict to the next. As soon as one conflict is wrapped up, I see where that leaves things, figure out what the next one will be, and then I write myself there. This is mostly determined by what things need to take place logistically, and what I want the reader to see/know/understand about my character. For instance, logistically, Princess Isla must find the golden egg, and I also need to establish her camaraderie with her next-older brother and his best friend Roy. Naturally, this leads to them planning a crazy scheme to do something they have no business doing, which then leaves Isla wandering lost through the mountains alone—at night—thus giving her the perfect opportunity to find said magic egg.

I do keep an outline of sorts in my head, and I like to have a list of all my major plot points as well. This keeps me heading in the right direction and helps me see if I start veering off course. It does leave me with a significant amount of excess material, but thankfully I have a younger sister who is only too happy to go through and brutally eliminate every unnecessary thing (and then some), complete with snarky little comments like "Please, we've heard this ten times already!", "This is so boring," and, "You must cut this. Now." 

And then the edit begins. I've been doing freelance editing work for almost seven years, and the most frustrating thing about editing other people's work is watching them quit when they think it's 'good enough'. This is also (in my opinion) the plague of self-published books. Too many author's think they're done, or want to be done, when they really should have two or three more rounds of edits to go through. I get it, though, because there is no agent or editor holding a bar over our heads. There isn't a team of editors and proofreaders at our disposal, and those last few hurdles are usually left because they're the hardest ones to get over.

To combat these obstacles, I use a pretty extensive network of beta readers, and I pick their brains mercilessly. With that said, I've learned to listen to consensus. It really doesn't matter how much you love that scene, or what you think that introspective passage adds to your novel, if five out of six people are bored, confused, or irritated by it, it's not working. If there's one thing I know, it's that you can't write in a vacuum. Other people have to be involved in your writing process if you want it to successfully make contact with readers, and that means reaching out and finding people to give you honest, intelligent, constructive feedback.

When it comes to editing and revising, my system is far more specific and detailed than what we have room for here, but that's the gist. When I'm finally satisfied with everything, I read my manuscript out loud to myself, check once more for errors, then send it to my proofreader and two or three other sets of eyes. Then, when I'm sure it's as clean as it can be, I call it good and move on.

Now, if you want to read more posts answering these same questions, go back to VR Christensen and follow her links to the other authors posting today. Below is an introduction to RaShelle Workman, who will be posting her own answers and sharing a little of what she's done to become such a successful author. Make sure you check out what she has to say next Monday, June 15th!

RaShelle Workman is an international bestselling author. She writes fractured fairytales with bite and young adult science fiction that's out of this world. RaShelle likes cherry pie, movies, family adventures, and chocolate. If you want to get on her good side, send chocolate. RaShelle's sold more than 500,000 copies of her books worldwide. Sleeping Roses, Exiled, Beguiled, and Dovetailed have foreign rights contracts with a Turkish publisher. Her books include: Sleeping Roses, Exiled, Beguiled, Dovetailed, Blood and Snow (1-12), The Cindy Chronicles, Vampire Lies (Blood and Snow Season 2) Short stories: Rose, Undercover Cindy Witch The Hunter's Tale Gabriel After the Kiss Zaren's Travels Visit www.rashelleworkman.com to join RaShelle's EXCLUSIVE mailing list and be entered to win a signed paperback copy of Blood and Snow volumes 1-4 (Special Edition). And be sure to like her Facebook page for all the latest news:https://www.facebook.com/rashelleworkman

Monday, May 5, 2014

Guess What?!?

Finding Shemballah, Book 2 in the Chronicles of Nequam, is now available on Amazon! And can I say that it feels soooo good to finally have it out there? Getting it to this point was a little easier than publishing Laryn Rising, mostly because I at least this time I kind of knew what I was doing. (Or, more precisely, I knew which things I couldn't do myself and who would do them for me...)

Now that the book is out and I can relax, I've been looking back over this journey with some bitter-sweet feelings. I admit it, I love Laryn. I wish I were more like her (and no, despite what my mother might say we are nothing alike). Regardless of how exciting it was to finally write 'The End' for book two, it's been hard to say goodbye to these characters. As I've mentioned before, my current project is juvenile fiction and although I'm having a blast writing it, I truly loved the emotional intensity of writing Laryn. With that said, I thought it would be fun to share some of the inside story behind the writing of these two books, so here we go...

Ten Random Facts About Finding Shemballah:
1. I never intended for Laryn's story to take two books.

2. You know the 'Big Decision' Laryn has to make in Laryn Rising? It was never part of the original storyline. When I realized there was no way Laryn and her sisters could assimilate fast enough to get them off the ship according to plan (i.e., without ending up with a giant, doorstop-sized tome), I had to scramble, rethink, and risk ruining everything in order to split the story into two books and make a complete story out of their journey to Nequam. In the end, I think it was the best decision I made.

3. Inventing a new planet is kind of hard. Don't believe me? Stop right now and see how long it takes you to design, AND NAME, three alien species. Go ahead and try it. If you have any success, leave your new creations (with full details) in the comment box because I'd love to see them. Let's just say I have a whole new respect for the writers of Star Wars, lol.

4. Plymouth was originally named Republic (hence the name for the colonial money being 'pubs', which is short for publicans), but then some astute readers pointed out that I had 'Republic' and 'The Federation', which was a bit too Star-Wars-ish. I still like Republic better, and I never did get used to calling the people of Plymouth 'Plymouthans', although that is the accepted name for 'People from Plymouth'. Who knew?

5. Alistair is my favorite character in Finding Shemballah. (Aside from Laryn, of course.)

6. When I realized I could no longer call book two Republic (see fun fact #4) I almost named it Promise Bound. But despite the great reviews I got on that option, it sounded too much like the title of a cheesy romance to me, and every time I considered it Fabio appeared in my head...

7. I have eleven full revisions of Finding Shemballah. Seriously.

8. The first draft was almost 250,000 words long. The final is around 170,000, which means I cut EIGHTY THOUSAND WORDS!!! out of this manuscript. (I hope all my editing clients read this. It might make them feel better, lol.)

9. There is a map for this book, but since I drew it myself it kind of looks like a 5th grader's geography project. Needless to say, it isn't currently included. Unfortunately, I have no idea where to go to find a map drawing person (cartographer?), so until I figure that out this book will remain mapless. This kind of makes me really sad because I LOVE maps! I even have a whole pinterest board dedicated solely to really cool book maps. (Does that make me weird?)

10. The inspiration for this entire series came from laziness. I love historical fiction. I love stories about American colonial life and all the challenges and adventures that went along with leaving the known for the unknown, and I always wanted to write historical fiction. Then I went to college, majored in History, realized how much research a person would have to do to write successful historical fiction, and promptly started trying to figure out a way to write history without all the research. Besides that, the idea of people from the future having to live in a pastoral world kind of captivated me. In the end, however, creating a whole world and all the creatures and places in it wasn't nearly as easy as I thought it would be, and there were days when I was absolutely positive that there wasn't another name, description, or 'fun fact' about Nequam in my head. Period. But in the end, I managed to come up with a story that, to me, illustrates that when push comes to shove human beings are amazingly strong and resilient, and as a society they will nearly always rise to the occasion.

Thank you to everyone who has shared Laryn's story with me, and to all the people who helped me along the way! I appreciate every time my books are reviewed, pinned, shared, tweeted, emailed, or talked about, because without all of that no one would even know they exist. Such is the world of the self-published, but I truly believe that if a book is good enough the world will find it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

For First-Time Authors: What to Cut on that First Round of Revisions (Part II: Plot Spurs)

In the previous post, we discussed cutting anecdotes, and incidental scenes and events. This time we’ll be looking at plot spurs, or threads that require you to deviate too far from the main conflict or storyline. Remember that sculpture you’re trying to make from the material in your first draft? Plot spurs are the equivalent of carving extra appendages out of your excess material. They detract from the main story, slow down the pace, throw off the story arc, and distract the reader.

Beware of Plot Spurs

Plot Spurs
A plot spur is a thread that requires spurring off the main conflict and away from the main storyline to explain, justify, or support an unessential element of the story. This includes any threads that need their own backstory or development separate from, and not connected to, the main storyline or conflict.

It’s fairly common for new authors to start threads that demand too much attention. Romances between supporting characters are often a problem because if they’re going to happen they require development. Scenes will need to be created to show the characters together, and the reader needs time to invest in their budding relationship – but at what expense? Sometimes this can be successfully done, but in many cases it causes problems with the pace as it requires interrupting the main storyline.

Every thread should be carefully examined, and if it requires you to create scenes, characters, or material in general just to support or develop it, it may be spurring too far from the main conflict and need to be dropped.

Now don’t get me wrong, building a character does require showing different aspects of his or her life. If you have a character who gets accidentally involved in an FBI investigation, for instance, there has to be more to your character than her interaction with the agents and suspects as the case builds. She’ll need to have some outside source of conflict – a neurotic mother, a land lord who is trying to evict her from her apartment, etc. – or both the character and the plotline will be too one-dimensional. The trick is in keeping those other threads concentrated around the necessary plot elements, and making sure you’re not winging off into the wild blue yonder and dragging your reader along with you.

Let’s take the neurotic mother. There is a lot of potential for spurring with a situation like this. There are all sorts of problems and antics the mother may get herself caught up in that can affect the main character, but that’s all the more reason for proceeding with caution. For instance, if the mother gets fed up with her nosy neighbor and decides on a whim to marry the much-younger, hot garbage man and move to Vegas, that’s fine. She may even dump her loud, yapping, skin-diseased poodle on your heroine because her new husband hates pets. All of this provides great material for showing your character under stress, gives her new of issues to deal with, and highlights her struggle with her mother.

However, if we meet Gertrude the nosy neighbor and watch Hank the garbage man propose to the mother, you’ve spurred too far from your storyline. You may need to write those scenes in order to get a good handle on the crazy mother’s character, but the reader definitely doesn't need that much information. Why not? Because the mother’s relationships with these people have nothing to do with your main character outside of the decisions the mother makes regarding them.

In other words, in terms of your character it doesn’t matter who Hank is, he only factors in because the mother is packing up and moving to Vegas because of him, and that she found a hot young guy to marry while the heroine remains single. We don’t need to see the cause, just the effect. A quick phone call or visit from the mother where she announces her news will adequately orient the reader to all the necessary info. Elaborating further than that pulls the attention too far from what’s happening (and going to happen next) to your main character, which stretches out your story arc and slows down your pace.

Plot spurs can be small and easily overlooked or big and cumbersome, but a manuscript is always better without them. Like anecdotes and incidental scenes, threads that spur off the main story line are fairly easy to isolate, and are therefore good elements for any author to focus on when it comes time to make that first round of cuts. You may feel they add interest, humor, or depth, but chances are they are also flat-lining your story arc and slowing down your pace. Once you identify a plot spur, be tough with yourself and cut it out of your book.

The good news is that like anecdotes, you can often find a way to use discarded threads as fan-features on your website. While these threads don’t always translate well into ‘deleted scenes’, some of them – like the mother’s scenes with Gertrude and Hank – can make great short stories that can be included on your blog or website. This gives you a chance to fully develop and create something of value from your deleted plot spurs, and I think we all know how fun it is to ‘finish’ reading a book and then discover there’s more to the story. But whether you find a way to salvage and use the superfluous material from your first draft or not, it still needs to be cut if you want your manuscript to become the best finished product possible.

Monday, April 21, 2014

For First-Time Authors: What to Cut on that First Round of Revisions (Part I: Anecdotes and Incidental Scenes and Events)

This can feel like a daunting task. By the time you’ve finished your manuscript it’s like another reality in your brain. You created it, and did not do so randomly but with great purpose. There was a reason for every word you wrote, and more than likely you still remember what most of those reasons were. This is generally the biggest stumbling block for authors on that first revision, but there are some considerations that can help when it comes time to cut the excess material from your manuscript.

The first consideration is to accept that there is excessive material in your manuscript. They say there is an exception to every rule, but I have yet to meet the exception to this one. Yes, there was a purpose for each and every word, but while all that information might have been important for the author, it isn’t all important for the reader.

Think of it this way: a novel is like a sculpture. It’s a finely honed piece of art that has to be carved from an existing chunk of material, and that first draft is the chunk of material you’ll be carving from. As the author there are things you need to put into that original chunk – backstory, conversations, minor incidents, general information and exposition, anecdotes, etc. – to help you understand the story you’re telling. A lot of that, however, can be condensed, woven through, summarized, or cut altogether, because in its entirety it’s too much. Too clunky, too heavy, and too expansive to create that perfect sculpture you’re visualizing in your mind.

On subsequent novels these things become easier to differentiate, but on that first attempt it can be very difficult to decipher the essential from the excess. Every author knows scenes that fail to move the story forward should be cut, but the first-time author is often left asking what that actually means. I remember asking that question myself regarding certain scenes that I felt offered necessary information or depth to my story, but that my editor felt were excessive and unnecessary. In the end she was right at least 90% of the time. Almost all of those scenes came out of the book, and instead I found ways to preserve the ideas or information that were actually critical to my story.

Some cuts are difficult to determine without outside critique, but other elements are fairly easy to isolate, analyze, and cut with confidence. The two that we’ll be looking at in this post are Anecdotes, and Incidental Scenes/Events.

·       Anecdotes
For the purposes of this discussion an ‘anecdote’ is a retelling or narrative of an interesting or amusing incident, often in the form of an aside or backstory.

These can be funny, poignant, amusing, telling, and often reveal important information about the main character. In pure anecdotal form, however, they are also almost always expendable.

The argument can be made that books revolve around anecdotes, but this is only true when the author uses the interesting and/or amusing incidents as main events in their plot. When used only to demonstrate ‘something that happened’ outside the main storyline, they often fail to contribute anything critical to the plot.

Sometimes anecdotes are included as flashbacks, and sometimes a character actually tells another character what happened. Either way, if you have a scene where your mc ‘remembers when’ and then recounts the entire incident, it should probably go. If the info is legitimately important, find a different way to incorporate it – summarize, put the critical details in dialogue, have another character question your mc about it – or see if you can do without it after all.

·       Incidental Scenes and Events
A scene or event is considered incidental if it serves only to further define or clarify, amuse the reader, or support a theme of the book.

In my first draft of Laryn Rising, there was scene where Laryn and her sisters went to the cafeteria kitchen for their first day of work. They arrived knowing nothing about ‘real food’, and during the scene they smelled their first onion, tasted their first cookie, and interacted with Wanda, the very large woman in charge of the kitchen who also happens to be one of my favorite characters. I loved this scene. It was interesting and enlightening, and it showcased the assimilation process of Laryn and her sisters, which is one of the main themes of the book. Unfortunately, it also slowed down the pace because nothing important happened here. There was nothing new for the reader to learn, it simply highlighted an interesting aspect of the story. There was no conflict, and the scene did not require a meaningful reaction or decision from any of my characters. It had to go.

While anecdotes and incidental scenes are some of the easiest elements to identify, isolate, and cut, they also tend to be some of the most difficult to let go. As stated earlier, we like these scenes. Often times, we learned the most about our characters by delving into their pasts or watching what they would do in normal, everyday situations. But don’t let this fool you into thinking that your readers need to see them as well. Instead, trust that the depth of characterization that happened as you developed these scenes will carry through every other aspect of your character, and let them go. I promise, it really will improve your book. Besides, there’s no need for great scenes to be wasted. We all love the ‘deleted scenes’ from our favorite movies, and books are no different, so save yours and post them on your book blog. They’ll make a great fan feature, and every reader who fell in love with your characters will be thrilled to discover them.

(Click here for What to Cut Part II: Plot Spurs)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Importance of Outside Critique for First-Time Authors

Let me start by saying that if you’re someone who’s vehemently opposed to critique groups -- or carting multiple copies of your manuscript to someone else’s living room where it may undergo public humiliation at the hands of the half dozen others in said group -- don’t panic. There are other options, I promise. Either way, outside constructive critique is something that every manuscript – particularly every first manuscript – needs.

Why is outside critique necessary?
Because as a first time author you need someone to help you see how well you have (or haven’t)
incorporated all that knowledge of ‘the craft’ into this first manuscript. You’re confident that your attempts at ‘showing’ aren’t ‘telling’ in disguise? You believe your understanding and use of plot-driving conflict is solid and effectively used? You’re positive that the threads of your story are well-integrated and essential to your main conflict and character development? You can’t find any place where your pace lags, and you’re certain there’s no ‘sagging middle’? Great! Maybe you’re right.

But maybe you’re wrong.

I can’t count the number of times a first-time author has said, “But I thought I was ‘showing’,” or “But that scene has to be there so the reader will know _____ about my main character,” or “But that thread adds humor because the aunt is funny,” or (possibly the most common) “You think it’s slow/boring/confusing/hard-to-get-through? But I think that [whole giant bulk of the middle] is so interesting! And the reader has to know all of that or there’s no point to the story.”

I don’t know why these things are so difficult to see in a first manuscript, but for some reason they are. Unfortunately, they’re also very difficult to hear, but hearing them is essential since often times we just can’t see them ourselves. New authors may ‘sense’ that something isn’t right, or that they aren’t quite accomplishing what they set out to accomplish, but usually the reasons triggering these instincts are almost impossible to ferret out alone.

Enter the Critique Group.

Or, more loosely termed, the writer or writers who look at your manuscript and tell you where you’ve succeeded and where you’ve failed. The varied critique gained from an actual group of writers can be a very valuable thing (especially since it’s usually accompanied with the opportunity to critique their work as well, which opens up a world’s worth of new insight on how to interpret a manuscript – all of which is sure to help in your own revisions) but sometimes multiple opinions can be a lot for a new author to process. Either way, someone knowledgeable needs to review your manuscript.

When is the best time for outside critique?
I recommend doing one big revision on your own, focusing on your pace and cutting excess material from your manuscript. And be brutal. Saving your original always makes this less stressful, and by all means create a file for everything you delete if that helps. I think I took a whopping 15,000 words out of my first behemoth of a manuscript all by myself. I was so proud. I felt so ruthless. And in the end, even though it was a mere fraction of the 70,000 words that would eventually be stripped from my ms (that’s SEVENTY. THOUSAND. WORDS. in case you think you read it wrong) taking out that initial 15,000 helped get me in the proper state of mind for purging my story of its unnecessary parts and pieces.

Cutting and condensing really does require a certain state of mind, and forcing yourself to take those first cuts is an important step in the right direction. If you really aren't sure what to take out start small, but start somewhere. And when you've taken out everything you can possibly justify, know that it was just the tip of the iceberg and get ready to listen to, and appreciate, the suggestions on your first real critique.

What qualifies as ‘Outside Critique’?
Or, perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t? In my opinion, anyone predisposed to wade through and like your manuscript simply because it was written by you does not count as outside critique. Mothers commonly fall under this category, however, I do not believe in excluding anyone simply because of their relationship to you. It has much more to do with the inclinations and qualities someone possesses than it does with how well they know and love you.

For instance, my mother would not wade through or love my book just because I wrote it. On the other hand, she also doesn’t have the knowledge or inclination to read something that needs work or tell me how to fix it, so she still would not be a candidate for a first critique. Three of my sisters are actually the first people to ever look at anything I write. One of them reads every word along the way, disqualifying her for the job of outside critique because she’s already ‘invested’ in my characters and plot. The second reads for me after I’ve done my own first round of cutting and tightening, but she’s easy to please and not at all opinionated, so she too is disqualified for giving outside critique.

Then there’s my sister Annie. She’s super qualified. (Almost regretfully so, as illustrated by the 70,000 word elimination previously mentioned.) In the first place, she’s a writer (although she’s not a novelist – yet). In the second, she’s opinionated. And in the third, I know she’ll tell me what she thinks and have insight for me when it comes to fixing the problems. Tough love can be hard to take, but this is what you’re looking for when the time comes for knowledgeable feedback on your manuscript. It can be brutal, it will most likely be painful, but it is essential.

You may not have a sister (or mother, or friend) who possesses the right qualities for outside critique, but I suspect that somewhere amidst your acquaintances is another novelist. (Seriously, they’re everywhere. Just start casually mentioning that you’ve got a manuscript, and people will start confessing.) Trading critiques with another writer is a great option, and is mutually beneficial to both authors. Just make sure not to get caught in the trap of being mutually ‘nice’, as this isn’t beneficial to anyone. If there isn’t a suitable author available, keep looking. The first person who ever critiqued any of my writing was an old high school teacher, and almost everyone knows someone who knows enough about writing to make an effective critique partner.

If all else fails, there are writing groups. There are also online writing forums and other online resources for connecting with other authors and critique groups. Be creative, find something that will work for you, and don’t make the mistake of forgoing this important step in developing your first manuscript. Solid, knowledgeable critique is an essential step in turning any manuscript into a polished, sharp, well-paced novel.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Where Have all the Princesses Gone?

Since I've started writing my fantasy middle-reader, I have come to a conclusion: No one out there bothers to take cool princess-photos of girls between the ages of ten and fourteen. Either that, or I just don't know what search it is that will take me there. 'Tween princess', 'tween princess photography', 'photography of tween princess', 'pre-teen princess', 'pre-teen princess photography', 'thirteen-year-old princess art'... All of these have gotten me nothing but Disney princesses. Why is this? How could this be?

It all started because the main character of my new book is a thirteen-year-old princess. Eagerly, after writing up my initial description of her, I went image-hunting for my pinterest board. I was positive that there would be scads and scads of cool, tween-ish princesses all overt the place, and that I would be sifting through them for hours trying to find the ones that were just perfect.

I found this:

which wasn't terrible and is even kind of cute, but after that I hit a rough patch. Here's a sampling of some of the pictures I've been desperate enough to pin:

Cute, but she's not supposed to look five-years-old or have such a very large head...

My princess isn't from Russia. Or the arctic...

She doesn't have a bosom (or weird, ear-like hair thingies)...

And (in my head, at least) she's prettier than this (is it mean to say that about a drawing???) and isn't wearing a flower head-wreath that really doesn't match her outfit.

Now, I have found a few more images and some are better than others, but none of them are great. Why is this? How can there be so few images of tween princesses? This really stumped me for a while because it seemed like such a strange phenomenon. After all, there are a gazillion super-artsy, super-cool, amazing pictures of little girl princesses, and we all know what happens if you type 'princess' into the search bar (most of them are scantily clad, large-bosomed, sheild maidens). (Or they're Disney.)

And then I developed a theory. You see, girls older than nine and younger than fifteen are the only females on the planet who are too old and/or too cool to be princesses. At ten they've just grown out of that phase, and it's 'baby-ish', and they aren't willing to admit that they secretly want to get dressed up and photographed as a princess until they hit fifteen or so, when they're finally far enough from childhood to admit the truth again without jeopardizing their image.

Doesn't that make perfect sense?

And if it doesn't, then maybe you can come up with some better theory for explaining the age-gap in princess photography subjects - or find the elusive 'tween princesses'  that I can't seem to locate. Believe me, I would greatly appreciate either. I kind of can't stand not having images for my characters - especially my main characters - and this is driving me crazy! And if any of you out there are photographers, would you please, please, please go take some really cool princess photos of girls between the ages of ten and fifteen? (In particular, I need a blonde thirteen-year-old [preferably with a pony] and a petite, dark-haired, fourteen-year-old who looks snobbish. That's not too much to ask, is it?) I'll be eternally grateful for any photos sent my way... 

Monday, February 3, 2014

People regularly ask me if I'm going to try to get Laryn Rising traditionally published (aka, query an agent, have them sell it to a HUGE publishing house, and ideally rake in the dough with a rare-in-this-day-and-age $100,000 advance). That would be awesome. And if I secured such a deal (even if they didn't give me the life-changing advance) they'd design my book cover, edit my book, proofread my book, print my book, and distribute it to bookstores. Where it would sit on a shelf that millions of readers flocked to with like-minded books.

And therein lies the problem. My book has no genre, and in the publishing world no genre means 'no shelf'. End of story for the first time author (most of the time).

For those of you who have read Laryn Rising and are tempted to disagree with me, let me put it to you this way: it's dystopian, but only for the first three chapters; it primarily takes place on a space ship, but other than that there's nothing scifi about it. (Seriously, hardcore scifi junkie's would tar and feather me if I tried to sell it under that genre. They would be up in arms. They would cry out in reviews that there was no science, no technology, and no alien invaders, and my book would be mud.)

It's the nature of the beast, really, because the whole point of Laryn (and her sisters, and the 500 other Fed girls) going on the ship is to join with a civilization that has no technology. They just use the ship to get them from Earth to Nequam, and let the hired crew do all the sciency stuff. It's almost anti-scifi, if you think of it that way. They grow vegetables, learn how to use paper, tend animals, cook their own food, and about the only technical aspect of their lives are the sliding doors. The ship probably does use 'warp drive' and cool things like that, but my characters certainly aren't aware of it.

And it's not fantasy either. There's no magic. No other-worldly creatures. No fantastical elements at all, other than the idea of space travel and inter-galactic colonization which really fit much more neatly into the scifi category anyway. (Although, if inquiring minds want to know, once they get to Nequam it's a whole new deal - and genre. Nequam is a different world with it's own creatures and-- well, I'd hate to give too much away before Laryn actually gets there...)

Technically, Laryn Rising would be considered speculative fiction, ie, not fantasy, not sci-fi, but out-of-reality in some other vague sort of way. (Consequently, this is also where vampires and werewolves belonged until Twilight). But when was the last time you walked into a bookstore and said to yourself, "Hmmm, I think I'll go check out the Speculative Fiction shelf today,"?

That's what I thought. And that's what the traditional publishers thought as well, which means that more than likely even if they read my book and loved it (which of course they would), they would hand it back to me (with great sorrow in their eyes) and say, "Although this is the most astounding work of fiction any of us here at [insert name of giant publishing house] have ever seen, we regret to inform you that there is no shelf for you. You are unmarketable."

And this, Dear Reader, is why I have chosen to self-publish. Although there is always an exception to the rule, let's face it - the odds are stacked against me on this one, and I have decided that rather than spend the next decade of my life querying every publishing house in the world with the vague hope of becoming 'The Exception', I will accept my place as 'The Rule' and write something else next. Something that has a shelf.

A big shelf, that millions of people flock to, and that publishers like [insert name from above] love to fill.

With that said, since Book Two in this current series finishes Laryn's story, the project I've decided to work on next is juvenile fiction of the very, very, very fantastical sort. And I am so excited, because I have come up with the coolest story ever - and my kids each get a starring role. It's already titled The Gift of the Cornesh, and it involves large, silver eggs that hatch out mythical, magical creatures to the rare and very lucky person who finds them. For a glimpse of pieces of what this world looks like, go here and check out my pinterest board for this next adventure. I've only just gotten started on it, but I'm already in love with the world of Kylandria and all the amazing things that are possible there.

Any thoughts on this latest decision? I'd love some feedback...

Friday, January 10, 2014

About Book Two...

This has been a common source of questions lately. And although there are those who want to know what happens to Laryn in that book, and what happens to her sisters, and what Nequam/Plymouth is like, mostly I'm just getting a lot of 'WHEN WILL IT BE OUT!!!!'

This is a great question, and I love any and every person who cares enough about Laryn (Book One,Laryn Rising) to ask it. And, for those of you wanting to know, it shouldn't be long. My final draft (ie, everything in it is set, and only punctuation and other proofreading-type changes will be made) has already been proofread, and it's now awaiting another run-through. When I'm done with that I'll have two other sets of proofreaderish eyes go over it, and any ensuing changes will be made.

Meanwhile, my cover artist has been enlisted, and she says she'll start working on it later this week. Maybe. She's pretty amazing, so I have high hopes that she'll be able to come up with something that feel/looks right in no time, and from there all I'll have to do is get the book formatted for e-book publication. I use the term 'I' loosely here, because we all know that my sister Laura will actually do all the formatting. I'll just be there for moral support. After all, it's the least I can do since she works for free, right?

All of this makes the projected launch date of Book Two March-ish. I'm shooting for March 1st, so we'll see how that goes. As for the title of Book Two, I'm 95% settled on Finding Shemballah. Should that change, I'll be posting the final title before I publish - and I'll probably be looking for feedback as well, since I like getting as much input on these things as possible.

In other news, my good author-friend Val-Rae (check her books out here) is currently helping me get Laryn Rising ready for printing! I am super excited about that, since it was not something I was going to be able to do myself. I mean, if I were on an island and the only way off was to figure it out, I could probably have done it eventually - but I'd have been sick of coconuts and very tan by the time it was accomplished.

Can't wait to put Book Two out there! And thanks so much to everyone for all the great feedback on Laryn Rising. It really is the best part of this whole process:)