First Draft Done!

Celebration time!  The first draft of my third novel is finished!  I’ve been busy writing The Darkness while querying for an agent for Within.  Now it’s time for edits and rewrites, not to mention writing the sequel to The Darkness, Dark Princess.  I like having several projects at once; that way if I don’t feel like writing, I can edit or research.

Editing is not my favorite part of the writing process.  Nor is it something I feel like I’m very good at (which is why I have my fabulous editor, Natalie Haraway, who is amazing at editing).  But the more I write, the more I’m learning about rewriting and layering.  For me it goes like this:  first draft is telling the story, second draft is showing the story through the character’s thoughts and actions, and third draft and on are deepening the tension and emotional connection.  I find it helps to have other eyes on it to help me with flow and with details I tend to accidentally change within the story (age, names, dates, etc).  It also helps me to take a break between drafts and let the story rest for a week or two.  Then I can hit it with fresh eyes.

I’d be interested to hear how other people approach editing.  It’s not a cut and dried process, and I’m certainly no expert.  How do you edit?  Thank again for reading.  Don’t be shy, register and comment.  I like friends 🙂

In the Mood . . . To Wri

So, it’s been a lovely rainy day here in Arkansas and the kids were at grandma’s house all afternoon.  And I got over 2,000 words written.  Not a big surprise, given that I had the house to myself. But I have the house to myself nearly every Tuesday and I don’t always have the word count that I managed today.  Some Tuesdays I don’t even write (shh, don’t tell anyone).  What was different about today?

Rain.  That was what was different.  I always write more and write better during a thunderstorm.  Is it in my head?  Probably.  Could I write just as well and for just as long had the sun been shining.  Technically, I guess I could.  But something about a good ole thunderstorm gets me in the mood to write.  Turn on my current novel playlist, light a few candles and the hours pass like minutes.

Is it important to write when you’re not in the mood?  Of course, otherwise you’d almost never write.  But man, when those creative days hit, it’s almost like a high.  I wish I could replicate it tomorrow.  But the kids will be home and if I don’t do some laundry soon we’ll all be running around naked.  So, I’ll probably get a few pages in.  But man, come next rainy day with no kids, I’ll kill it!

What gets your creative juices flowing?  When it is hardest for you to write? For me, it’s when my family’s home.

 

Sometimes Writing Sucks

It’s June 1st.  The kids are home, the house is a mess, and I’m not writing at all.  It’s really hard to get in the zone when someone’s asking for a snack or the potty every five minutes.  Not that I’m not happy to spend time with them, but I’m really looking forward to a few hours off tomorrow!

I’m deep in the midst of my least favorite part of writing right now – querying.  Most writers with aspirations towards publishing is familiar with that loathsome word.  Querying, otherwise known as constant, soul-crushing rejection.  For those not familiar with the process, a query is a letter sent to literary agents explaining your project and why you think they should represent your work.  Think the inside of a book jacket plus a resume.  There are probably people out there who are fantastic at summarizing their novel in two short paragraphs, complete with a catchy “hook” to entice potential agents.  I am not one of them.  While I believe I am a good writer and that my novel is interesting and well written, I am apparently incapable of showing that in a snappy letter.

I have written many versions of query letters.  I read Chuck Sambuchinos’s and Janet Reid aka Query Shark’s blog regularly (two excellent sources for examples of well written queries).  Still, though, the perfect query letter eludes me.  But like every other part of the writing process, you can only improve by continuing to write. So, I’m off to rewrite WITHIN query number 37.

Good luck to all the other writers stuck in the hell that is querying!

Building Worlds

I’m back after an unfortunate bout of pneumonia!  But back on track this week.  I’ve been hard at work on my newest novel, The Darkness.  I’ve finished the first draft of it, which basically means that it’s an absolute mess!  But it is complete, at least until I begin tearing it apart.

The Darkness is a high fantasy book loosely based on Slavic mythology.  I’ve been doing a lot of my favorite thing (next to writing) – researching! As a history buff, I tend to research my books to death, adding historical detail to every piece.  The Darkness has been especially fun because for the first time, I’m creating a completely new world.  My first two books, while they contained a fantasy element, were set in a specific time in history.  That requires careful study and a creative merging of events to make certain nothing is grossly out of place.  I was constantly concerned about following the language, dress, and customs of the time.  High fantasy is a whole new ballgame.

Creating a new world is fun, but also challenging.  Rules, customs, language, religion, and on and on. It all has to be defined.  Even if a detail doesn’t make it into the book, the author still must know it.  It takes planning and constant revision to build a fantasy world and if your premise is shaky, then the whole world will collapse.  But include too much information and you’ll put your readers to sleep.

While we have hundreds of fantastic examples of fantasy worlds such as Westoros, Hogworts, the Shire and Rivendell, we don’t have as many guides to forming a fantasy world. Some knowledge comes with writing, inventing characters and stories.  I recently found a good guide to help build fantasy worlds, featured on Dan Koboldt’s Blog: Author and Scientist.  He hosted sociologist, Hannah Emery who pinned the article, “On Dothraki and House Elves:  Developing Fantasy Cults.” Emery has a blog called the Socialist Novelist.  All contain great advice on building a fantasy world and writing in general.

As a sociologist, Emery has a different perspective on the subject of different cultures and how they grow and change. It brings home the point that as writers we can only improve our work by researching our subject and by taking advantage of the many writing blogs full of information.  Check out some of these blogs and if you have any favorite blogs about books or writing, feel free to share in the comments.

Thanks as always for reading.  Till next week!

 

Book Review of The Duchess by Susan Holloway Scott

The Duchess

The Duchess

I love good historical fiction.  But writing one is a delicate balance.  Too much history and you might as well read a biography.  Not enough history and it’s basically a romance.  But Scott found a perfect balance with The Duchess.  She did her research well and correctly follows the history of the day without much embroidering for literary merit. Instead of piling on pages of historical background, she skillfully weaves it in between narrative and story line.

I enjoyed this book very much.  She captured the fiery and feminist Sarah Churchill’s temperament and made her character come to life for me.  She skillfully takes us through four different monarchs with colorful details that make the world of Restoration England tangible.

While many know the story of Charles II and the Restoration, then later the ousting of James II by his own daughter, Mary Stuart and her husband the Dutch William of Orange; less is known about Sarah Churchill and her ascent from a penniless child to Duchess of Marlborough and the richest woman in Europe.  Despite her sex and rank, Churchill was able to skillfully maneuver herself and her husband into two of the most coveted spots in England, Captain General of England and Mistress of the Robes.  They also received many other titles, high annual incomes, multiple homes, and honors. As favorite of the Princess Anne, later Queen, Sarah was able to have a voice in the government, though unofficial, in a time when women’s opinions counted for less than nothing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Scott and immediately purchased her next, The Royal Harlot, staring Barbara Castlemaine, another strong minded Restoration woman.  Susan Holloway Scott also writes under the names Isabelle Bradford, and in addition to her books, co-blogs Two Nerdy History Girls along with Loretta Chase.  Check out her books and her blog.  You won’t be disappointed!!

Gorgeously Flawed

What a phrase: so much more poetic then categorically perfect. Flaws tell a story. Flaws show me life well lived, well loved. These hands featured below tell me a story.  They belong to an artist, a woman who worked hard her whole life.  She was a woman who cried and laughed without hesitation; and let herself be vulnerable to all the hurts that are out there for us to feel.

Louise Bourgeois, 2010

Louise Bourgeois 2010

These hands, these vein ridden, arthritic, sun spotted hands belong to French artist Louise Bourgeois. Born in 1913, Louise was the daughter of Parisians couple Josephine and Louis. Together they ran a tapestry restoration workshop. Early on, Louise showed great promise in the workshop and was utilized to help draw missing elements depicted by the tapestries. Louise was a gifted student, but her art was greatly affected by her father’s affair with the family governess. This deeply troubling and ultimately defining betrayal remained a vivid memory for the rest of her life. Coupled with abuse from an indifferent father, she learned quickly to keep her own counsel.

She began to study Math at the Sorbonne at a young age, but upon losing her mother young, switched her field of study to art. Her father was outraged and refused to finance her education, forcing her to seek scholarship elsewhere and take classes only when she could afford them.

If her early work shows a focus on painting and print work, the 1940s show a shift towards sculpture. Marrying American art historian, Robert Goldwater, provided her with a reason to move to New York. A gap in 1950s and 1960s show a break from art where Bourgeois immersed herself for a time in psychoanalysis and she came back in 1964 with a new aesthetic. Instead of the wooden totems from earlier exhibitions, she presented strange, organically plastic sculptures.

By alternating between forms, materials, and scales and veering between figuring and abstraction became a bigger part of Bourgeois’s vision, even as she probed the same theme: loneliness, jealousy, anger, and fear. In 1982 Bourgeois took center stage at MOMA.

Louise Bourgeois died in her home in 2010 at the age of 98. She said, “Art in a guarantee of sanity.” Bourgeois used her art to work through her abusive childhood. She looked deep inside and found her story.  Credited with founding the so-called confessional art.  Louise lived her life and her art through a lifetime in introspection and vulnerability.  Louise lived a genuine and gorgeously flawed life. Her hands tell her story.

What story do your flaws tell?  Join us here www.queenauthorsquest.  Register at the bottom of the page and give an email and a user name.  Wordpress will send you a link to add a password and you can log in from there.  You will get weekly reminders when I post.  Don’t be shy, I love new members!!

Working on Sleep II

Working on Sleep II

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois

 

Author Spotlight: Elijah Burrell

The Skin of the River

Happy Spring everyone!  I’m pleased to introduce you to my favorite new poet, Elijah Burrell.  I was fortunate enough to meet Eli while our respective spouses were in their pediatric residencies and we bonded over a love of writing, music, and our young daughters.  Since those days, Eli has gone on to complete his MFA from Bennington Writing Seminars and has been published in multiple literary reviews, before publishing his own anthology, The Skin of the River.  He currently teaches creative writing and literature at Lincoln University.  Burrell received the 2009 Cecil A. Blue Award in Poetry and the 2010 Jane Kenyon Scholarship at Bennington College.

Have you always known you wanted to be a writer? Was it always poetry for you?

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a writer. As soon as I could read, I started writing my own adventure stories. I wrote comic books and song lyrics. I spent summers at the local community radio station writing and producing radio plays and skits. It wasn’t until I started thinking pretty seriously about girls that I began writing love songs and poems. We didn’t read a lot of poetry when I was in high school, but I immersed myself in it during college. Couldn’t get enough. It got to the point when I was reading one or two books of poetry per week. I was like that speaker in the Mark Strand poem “Eating Poetry.” In graduate school, I kept up the same pace—long hours in the bookish dark. I fell for all kinds of poets. Poetry stuck. 

 What inspires you more, the world around you or the feelings inside?

I’m inspired by all of it. I think, to a certain extent, all writing comes from within. Writers must choose how best to deliver their ideas and memories to their readers. I have entire notebooks full of images, words that rhyme in interesting ways, and bits of language I’ve picked up in “the world around me.” The poem takes shape when I gather each of these sundry elements and try to stir them together. I’m always trying to notice things around me. Equally important, I try to navigate my own internal terrain the best I can. I work on my cartography skills every day. It’s a strange place.

 You’re a busy man – husband, father, professor – how do you find time to write? Do you set time aside, or write when the mood takes you?

It’s almost impossible for me to maintain a regular writing schedule. I either try to write late at night, when everyone has gone to bed, or through irregular daytime eruptions of output. It would be fantastic to wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and sit down to a clean desk and a blank page each morning. That seems to be the romantic perception of a writer’s existence. I’ve come to grips with reality that, in this stage of my life, that’s just never how it’s going to be for me. I’m not complaining.

 What is your editing process like?

Every poem in The Skin of the River endured numerous revisions and rewrites. I’m one of those poor fools who never think the poem is finished. I find myself reading some of the poems from the book aloud, out in the world, thinking I’d like to change them still. One time I heard Donald Hall tell a crowd of writers he revises each of his poems over a hundred times. I do anywhere from a fifth to a half of that. If I look at the same poem too long, I start getting itchy.

 How do you fight writer’s block?

I’m going to say something wildly unpopular. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Someone smarter than me once said you don’t see carpenters complaining about carpenter’s block. I’m building things when I write poems. I put on my metaphorical tool belt and go to work. Maybe I think that if I keep telling myself there’s no such thing as writer’s block, I’ll never suffer from writer’s block. 

 What advice do you have for other writers?

I’ll give two pieces of advice that will seem very obvious. First: Write. There are so many distractions all around us. Most of them come from some bright screen—a television, a computer, a phone (oh, the phone). Unplug those distractions, take a deep breath, and just start writing. Seems easy, but it’s not. Second: Read. I’ve yet to meet a great writer that never reads. 

The Skin of the River is a collection of poems that evoke a feeling of childhood summers in the south.  Burrell’s words flow like a conversation with an old friend.  Pick up a copy today at amazon and discover a whole new world of modern poetry!

Sorry for the Interruption

I’m back!  Sorry guys, I had a Crohn’s setback and have been in the hospital for the last week.  After careful consideration, I decided that pain medication and social media do not mix well.  But I’m back home and trying to climb back in the saddle, writing-wise.

This one really took me by surprise.  I was in such a good stride after the conference.  I was motivated and inspired, I had queries out, and was waiting for replies.  I was writing daily and making great progress with my new novel. And then, BAM – hospital time.  A week of pain and the swirling haze of narcotics, and my mind is reduced to mush.   And now I’m facing a possible liver complication.  How do I pull myself out of this and get back on my path?  I don’t really have an answer for that question.  For now I’m just putting fingers to keyboard and hoping something comes out.  But I will not give up on my dream.  Crohn’s has moved somethings out of my reach, but it will not take this away from me.

Join me next week, for an interview with my favorite new poet, Elijah Burrell.  Check out his book A Skin of the River on amazon.  Thanks for reading!

Writing Emotions: Being Vulnerable

Yay, it’s Tuesday.  Except not yay here in the south, because we’re about to get slammed with yet another winter storm. That means picking kids up from school early, driving through ice, being stuck inside for days on in, etc.  It’s time for Spring, I say!

On a  happier note, I would like to say how surprised and happy I was to see so many people register for my blog last week.  I was starting to worry that no one was reading except my husband and my mom. So thanks guys, you made my week!

Today I want to talk about writing emotion.  Not because I’m an expert by any means, but because I think it’s interesting to hear how different people go about writing emotions in a book.  In order to make your readers feel something for your characters, you have to make their emotions feel real.  You have to create characters and situations that people can relate to, and those can fall flat if the emotions you are writing about don’t feel authentic.

To make emotion feel authentic, I have to let myself be vulnerable.  I have to use my own emotions and my own pain to paint my characters’ pain.  I don’t mean that my characters are little versions of myself who speak and act like me.  I simply mean that anyone who creates uses their own experiences – good or bad – to help give their own creation life.  For example, the physical pain that I feel with Crohn’s disease doesn’t mean I understand what it’s like to be a victim of abuse, but I have an idea of what it’s like to endure something you cannot control, that causes you harm.  I don’t know what it’s like to have lost a child, but my miscarriages give me an idea of the pain that would cause.

That’s part of what makes writing so hard.  You have to bring those emotions to the surface, explore, and understand them.  If you cannot understand and suffer with your characters, how can you expect your readers to?  While I was stuck in the airport a few weeks ago, I was daydreaming about what memories or feelings from my teenage years still cause a reaction.  I remember that to me the two most painful emotions as a tween and teen were unrequited love (or “a crush”) and the feelings that everyone you trusted and called friends were growing up and experiencing things that you could not understand.  These things still leave a hollow feeling in my middle when I think about the pain they caused my younger self.  I was a late bloomer, and was frequently the one still caught up in childish emotions and concerns, while my peers had moved on to relationships and feelings that I was not yet able to understand.  It left me with the feeling that perhaps something was wrong with me.  It was a very lonely feeling.

Those are the feelings to take out and explore.  The memories that still, twenty years later give you pause.   Those are the emotions that will fill your writing, your art, your acting, etc with true emotions. When the emotion is real, it feels genuine.  And that’s true art.

I would love any feedback.  How do your emotions, pain, and memories color your art or your life?  Can you name books or movies where the emotions feel genuine as opposed to false?

My Novel

When I tell people that I’m a writer, one of their first questions is always, “What’s your book about?”  That’s a hard one for me because, as it turns out, I suck at summarizing.  Last week I went to a writing workshop in Seattle and was fortunate enough to get to pitch my novel to an agent.  Guess what, pitching is basically summarizing your novel.  Bummer.  Luckily, I pitched to a fantastic agent who managed to understand all my floundering about and she liked my story.  She asked to see the full manuscript, which is a great honor for me.  Doesn’t mean I’m getting published, but it’s a step.

So, point of all of that rambling is that I’m trying to get better at summarizing.  My current novel, WITHIN, is a YA Gothic Fantasy.  What that means is its a Fantasy book for Young Adults (although adults can read it too, I happen to love YA books) and it’s set in the Victorian Era, hence the word Gothic.

LUCY GELLING is a seventeen year old girl completely isolated from the outside world of Victorian England.  Her adopted family fell into disgrace with the Prince Regent, and now lives in seclusion on the Isle of Man.  When JAMES stumbles up the path to her Manor, he is under the impression that it is abandoned and is intending to use it as a hideout.  He is trying to outrun a horrible secret that could see him hanging at the end of a noose.  Lucy takes a chance and promises to hide James, even though he won’t share the details of his past.

Both lonely, they quickly become friends and begin to develop feelings for each other.  James reveals that he is hiding because he killed a boy who was tormenting him at school. Lucy accepts this and shares her secret; she thinks she’s being haunted.  She has nightmares that leave her with injuries on waking, and is followed at night by shadows that belong to no one.  She has shared this with her family, but they tell her that she is imagining things.

One night she feels compelled by a strain from a violin and in following the sound, sees death’s head with glowing eyes staring at her from an abandoned room.  Terrified by the sight, Lucy convinces her nanny to tell her something of the family’s history.  She learns that they are not the people she thought they were, but in fact have pasts littered with secrets, lies, and bodies.  But even the nanny will not tell Lucy of her birth.  James promises to help her find the truth of her past, but the harder they look the more frightening things get for Lucy within the Manor.  An attempt on her life finally opens her eyes to the truth; someone or something is out to get her.

James promises to take her away from it all, but can she leave without learning the secrets that her family are holding so close?  As the Manor walls begin to close in on her, Lucy may learn that the truth is the most frightening thing of all.

I am currently in the process of querying agents about WITHIN, which means I am looking for a literary agent to represent my work.  I will post excerpts from this and my other works here on my blog.  Hope you like my summary.  If you like my blog, please be kind and register.  That way you get emails whenever I post a new blog and you get to comment.  Just scroll down to Meta and click on register.  You will put in a username and an email and it will send you a link.

Thanks for reading!