Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My sign is vital, my hands are cold

Rewrite of the current project is continuing at a steady pace, after which I will set it aside for a couple of weeks before a final once-over. I've started spending the first part of the day on the rewrite, and the second part of the day on a combination of catching up on reading, playing with some additional world-building work I've decided I need to do for Crowmaker before I proceed with anything resembling writing or revision, and fiddling with a short idea story that cropped up the other day. I feel like it's a good balance of left-brained activity, right-brained activity, and feeding the muse from outside sources.

Day two of clouds and rain. Here's hoping for a return to sunshine soon!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Through dust and heat

Last Tuesday it was 40 degrees all day long, with intermittent downpours of rain mixed with sleet. Yesterday, we had to finally cave in and turn on the air conditioning. (OK, so it had more to do with Joey's allergies slamming him but good than with the actual outside temperature. Still, it got into the 80's yesterday and today.)

The boys had a grandparents' day at school on Friday, and my parents were both able come out and attend it this year. (They're in Illinois, but it's still a 6 hour or so drive.) They arrived Thursday afternoon and left on Saturday morning, so I got to have a nice visit with them and yet still have my coveted writing time each day. Was pretty cool.

Today, I tackled the game room in the basement, which is where the boys have their computers and their plethora of game consoles, along with the attendant tangle of cords and an assortment of bookshelves, file cabinets, and big wicker baskets full of magazines and yet more books. The toy corner is cleaned out, at least, since one of our projects for spring break was shoveling outgrown toys into bag and boxes for Goodwill. (I am mildly embarrassed at the sheer quantity of STUFF we have hauled to Goodwill the last couple of weeks. I'm trying to view it as a reminder of how fortunate we are.) But all the electronics in that one room act as a sort of dust magnet, and it had been a while since I actually pulled out furniture and dusted/swept behind and under it. Ugh. So yeah. That was MY fun for the day.

Got a good halfway through the rewrite of the current project last week. Polished a query and synopsis and mailed those out on Friday. With an estimated turnaround time of 3 months on queries to Steeple Hill, I should have plenty of time to finish the rewrite this week and then let the ms cool a week or two before a final polishing read-through. I'm finding that the rewrite is mostly filling in gaps, as I'd suspected, and that there are entire scenes which give me that little tingle of "Hey, this is pretty good. Did I really write that?" I'm pleased with the ms for the stage that it's in, I have a clear idea what remains to be done to it, and I'm reasonably confident in my ability to finish the work. Then it's just a matter of waiting to see if anything comes of the query.

Speaking of queries, Allison Brennan, who submitted the query for her published novel to Nathan Bransford's Agent for a Day contest, has offered a thought-provoking post over at Murderati today. (She's commented in a couple of other places about other aspects of the contest, too, but I'll let you follow those links from her post.)

Side note: I've removed Murderati from my sidebar because I couldn't get their new blog to show up properly there.* But I read it daily, despite not being a suspense/thriller reader or writer. Cool bunch of writers for whom I have a great deal of respect and from whom I've learned a number of interesting things. Go visit them sometime.

*We all saw that coming, didn't we? As soon as I posted and went to fiddle with my layout, the Murderati link worked. So it IS on my sidebar now. You should still go visit them sometime.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

About that new project

Yeah, I know. I've been kinda close-mouthed on my current project. I have mixed feelings about it, so I've avoided talking about it much. Which is ridiculous, since everyone reading this has been uber-supportive and all kinds of wonderful.

Most of my qualms are knee-jerk reactions stemming from the genre and my target market for this story. I mentioned already that it's an inspirational romance. The publisher I intend to target is Steeple Hill, which is an imprint of Harlequin. So, yeah. Category romance. And you know, as a writer of fantasy fiction, I should be above the whole inward-cringe-at-the-mention-of-genre-fiction. I've read a number of the Love Inspired books, and some of them I found not-so-interesting and reliant on cliche. But then, some of them were well-written and entertaining and even touching, albeit in a light-and-fluffy way. And you know, I'd probably come away with diverse opinions regarding individual books from pretty much any genre I chose to sample. (And have. Direct yourselves toward my foray into sampling YA fiction. Which I would link, if I actually remembered where to find it. Man, someone needs to put better labels on these blog posts.)

How did I make the leap from writing/plotting/planning YA fantasy and over to inspirational romance? At one point I'd done some research into Harlequin's supernatural/paranormal romance lines. I concluded at that time that I wasn't sure I was a natural for writing the general type of story they published in that line. As I was thinking idly about the Loki story one day a couple of months ago, it struck me that story's plot might work as a paranormal romance as easily as for a YA fantasy. (And maybe more, since there were a lot of overtly sexual themes emerging from the plot line. Reference my gtalk tagline: "The Norse gods were sluts.") At the same time, I'd been doing a lot of musing about how my natural story-telling style seems more straightforward than the complex world-building and plot-weaving I'd been doing for Crowmaker and then for Loki. And about how spiritual themes seem to shove themselves to the forefront of almost everything I write. And I stumbled across the Steeple Hill guidelines, and a little click sounded somewhere deep in my brain.

The basic plot formula for an inspirational romance (or Christian romance, more accurately) is fairly simple. Romance is about the personal development of two individuals and their romance with each other and the ways in which they and their romantic involvement change each other. An inspirational romance adds the relationships of each individual with God to the mix. I had a basic idea almost immediately, I hashed out a plot over a weekend in early March, and I blasted out a first draft over the course of... 6 weeks? 7? The word count requirement for the line is 55,000-60,000, which suits my tendency to write short and sweet.

What I've discovered while writing this story:

I started out half-thinking I would bore myself to tears midway through and have to force myself to finish in an effort to have something to throw at an "easy" sell publisher. I expected to feel like I was selling out. I do not feel that way. I like this story. I have begun the revision process, which for me involves layering in setting and mood and theme and additional character development bits. I find that I am excited about how well this story is turning out. I think I will be proud of the writing, even if the story itself never finds a home or earns rave reviews.

The writing has been easier than on recent projects, but not in a white-heat inspiration kind of way. Rather, I simply feel like I have a better grasp on what I'm doing. I am able to think to myself "I want to have this effect on the reader," and then I see how to manage it. I feel like I know what I'm doing. I feel like I am in control of the story, or rather that I am balancing with confidence on that tightrope between right and left brain functions as I am telling the story. It's a pretty good feeling.

Did I mention that I feel like I know what I'm doing? I've struggled for years to figure out a writing process that works for me. I feel like with this project, all the little bits and pieces I've picked up here and there are coalescing into a single, powerful process for me. Which vindicates my long-held belief that writing is like many other skills: You can't just pick up and do it. You can't just memorize a list of rules and procedures. You have to focus on the fine points of technique and practice them individually and often and to the best of your ability. And not only do you get better with practice, but eventually, hopefully, the individual things you do begin to internalize themselves and become part of a whole process.

Or maybe I'm just fooling myself, and the smoothness of this project is just a fluke.

I don't know how good this story will really be, objectively speaking. I don't know if I'll be able to sell it to Steeple Hill or to anyplace else. I do think that I am learning and growing as a writer from working through this story, though. I do think it will be a decent story, and I do think it's been worth my while to write and will be worth my while to continue working on.

Even as Crowmaker bubbles and boils and murmurs in the background.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Going down swinging

Agent Nathan Bransford hosted an "Agent for a Day" contest last week, in a brave effort to educate non-agents (and especially writers) on the joys and agonies of the slush pile. In summary, he asked for volunteers to submit queries (real or make-believe). Then he planted three queries for books that went on to be published into the midst of the other queries and posted 50 queries over the course of one day and invited contest participants to put on their agent hats and pick the wheat from the chaff.

On a whim, since the queries did not have to be for completed manuscripts, I cobbled together a query letter for Crowmaker and submitted it. It wound up being one that Mr. Bransford used for the contest. The results were posted today.

Mine wound up ranked toward the middle of the pack--but then, so did two of the real deal queries. I did not participate in the agent side of the contest, but I followed it with interest. A short list of things I learned from the experience:

1. Attempting to write a query letter for Crowmaker was a struggle, in large part because I had to condense the plot into a couple of paragraphs. I didn't do so well, judging by the feedback I received, in part because I caved to my inbred tendency to say what I have to say as quickly as possible and then get out of the way so as not to make a pest of myself. In a query, the idea is to not be quick, but to be interesting and thus make the person WANT you to stick around. Even if I nailed the basic plot (and I'm not saying I did), I failed to deliver on the flavor of the story. It's the difference between a list of ingredients and "mmm, yummy, mint chocolate chip ice cream."

2. In the course of attempting to condense the plot of Crowmaker for the query letter, I had to do some hard thinking about what Crowmaker is right now and what I want it to be when it's done. So yeah, I spent an hour or two fussing over a letter for no apparent good reason. But I also clarified for myself some of the work that's left ahead of me when I get back to that first draft and start building it into a finished draft.

3. I have a draft of a query letter for Crowmaker that is a good starting point for a real query at some point in the future. Even better, I have specific (and really good) suggestions on how to make it a better, stronger query letter. And I have the comments people left on other queries to measure against my own reactions to those queries, as well as a number of eye-opening "OK, I can see why that works/doesn't work" moments. (Defensive note: I did not want to include the suck-up paragraph at the top. I hate the suck-up paragraphs. But after looking at a couple of example letters, I decided having a suck-up paragraph was probably a good idea, even if I hated it. I think I was wrong. Which means I was right. Or something.)

4. Even if you have the best query letter ever, even if you have a publishable story, a huge portion of the submission game boils down to subjectivity, timing, and luck. It's in my best interest to do the best job I can on everything I have control over, and a lot of praying over the things I don't.

5. Even if it ever came to it, I'm not sure I could ever have Agent Nathan as my agent. I'd be too distracted by the urge to muss his hair and tell him what a sweet boy he is. If Dave Grohl is the nicest guy in rock, then Bransford might very well be the Dave Grohl of agenting. (Because I haven't mentioned the Foos in far too long.)

In other news, the first draft of the other project is done, as are the first drafts of a query letter and synopsis for it. More details to follow.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A little help from my friends

So much for the idea of using the ottoman as a desk.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The final countdown

Having planted in my brain an 80's song I haven't thought of since... well, the 80's, I continue with today's blog post. (Link warning: Youtube, tight leather pants, and big hair.)

The current project has reached the end of act 2. The plot boulder is perched atop the mountain and ready to be nudged into rolling down the other side. The word count is in the appropriate vicinity for this point in the plot, and the plot seems to have held together quite well for the duration of the story. I estimate another 3,000-4,000 words worth of first draft to THE END, and then I can go back and start filling in the most obvious of the gaping holes. Most of that will involve anchoring existing scenes into the physical setting with some actual sensory description of some kind. (The part of writing which never comes intuitively for me, so I always have to go back and color it in.) I don't think that declaring my intention to finish the rough by end of day Friday would be over-estimating my abilities. (Barring the occurrence of sick children, dog, or self.)

In other news, today is pick-up day for the school's cookie dough sale. Gallon buckets of cookie dough, just for me.

I mean, us. Just for us. That's what I meant.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

State of the writer

Following a long weekend (kids and hubby were home 1/2 day on Good Friday and boys had yesterday off, too), the writer is back at her desk. Today's activity? A good old-fashioned tug-of-war between "this story sucks and so do I" and "this story is SO close to done, no way am I stopping now." Good sense is winning thus far, but I have the headache to show for the efforts.

I subbed at school last Thursday--for the third grade this time. Oh boy. Great kids, too much chaos for my poor little control freak, introvert brain. We all survived and even managed to get most of the work accomplished that their teacher left. I loved the kids, but I was still really, really, really glad when that last bell rang. One of my fourth grade tutorees stood with me as I was watching over the third and fourth grade out in the pickup line and chatted my ear off. She told me that she was sure she'd passed her math ISTEP this time, and she hoped she got me again next time she had to have a tutor. And then, after regaling me with (unrelated) tales about trampolines and dachsund puppies and her mom's adventures in nursing school, she informed me that I was really fun to talk to.

There's part of me that really wishes I could handle the chaos on a regular basis, because yeah, I really do love the getting-to-know-the-kids part of it. Although then I'd have a whole roomful of children to let go of every year. I'm pretty sure I'd suffer some emotional distress over that.

The current project weighs in today at 39,500 words. I'm shoving the story boulder up that final slope toward the climax, and although I know what happens, finding the specific words to make it happen is proving to be harder work than I expected. WHY I expected it to be less difficult, I'm not sure. In the future I will lower my expectations.

Back to work. One slogging step after another.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hello goodbye

Day two of cleaning out assorted closets. I thought today would be easier, since we are done with the stuffed animals and obviously "oh, my baby" items. Board games and assorted science kits seemed like pretty safe territory.

I should know better by now.

I strongly doubt I am the only mother who experiences this. I know that last night when I mentioned I'd had a rough day of cleaning out kid toys to give away, pretty much everyone assumed I meant it had been physically tiring--except the other mothers in the chat channel, who immediately understood that my distress was emotional.

Maybe there are moms out there who are way better at this than I am, but going through my children's belongings--toys, clothes, school papers, ANYTHING--is an emotionally stressful experience for me. Every item has a memory attached to it. Which seems like it would make for a happy journey down memory lane, and it does. Remember my post about how watching my children grow involves a great deal of some emotion that is an equal mix of joy and sorrow? I pick up the plastic dinosaur skeletons, and I hear two little boys at the table on the back deck, clanging merrily at the chunk of fake rock in search of "fossils," and I smell the summer air and the lazy hum of background traffic through the open door. I empty the ancient cardboard box of dried up markers into the trash, and I remember the smell of marker and crayon mingled with cinnamon and vanilla while I made French toast and they presented me with pictures peppered with scribbles and stickers. Even the damned Yu Gi Oh and Pokemon cards bring wistful memories, even though I cringed every time they insisted on spending their allowances on them.

It's not that I want to go back, so much. I love who my boys are now just as much as I loved who they were then. But every item I put in a bag or a box or the trash is a mindful goodbye to the babies I will never again rock and the little boys who will never again bring me a collection of crickets in their bug boxes or beg me to save the spider on the back porch from the Terminix guy. And I suppose we all know, at some level, that every day is a little bit of a goodbye and a little bit of a hello. It's just that most days I'm not fully aware of it, and so on days like yesterday and today, it all catches up and breaks my heart all at once.

I still have the toyboxes in the basement to get through. But oh, I think my heart has had enough for one day.

Dog day


After being ignored for too long while begging from Mom's side, the ever-resourceful huntress tries a more aggressive approach--climb beneath the desk and shove your head up below the keyboard tray until Mom CANNOT deny your existence.



Thursday, April 2, 2009

Big bears and little boys

On our spring cleaning project list for today: the boys' closets and desks, in search of stuff they've outgrown. The first thing Michael-Monster pulled out and added to the pile of stuff he's ready to give away? Big Bear, the over-sized grizzly who once knew so much love that he's nearly flat.

I am hiding at my computer desk, trying to regain emotional control so that I don't burst into tears when I go back up to help him with the rest of his room.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

No news is good news

We are spring breaking this week. Very little writing has happened, but I'd planned on that so I'm not upset by it. The boys and I have done a little Warcraft 3, a lot of spring cleaning, and some making of pico and brownies. (And I remembered to buy ice cream this morning to go with them. Mmmm.)

Not terribly warm this week, but today we have sunshine. All is good.