Archive for October, 2010

Hmm.  Got busy and forgot to blog until late.  Now I’m full of pumpkin pie.

I just got back the last of four full-novel critiques on MAGE STORM.  These wonderful people read the whole thing–inside of a month, too.  Previously, I’ve only had novels critiqued piecemeal as part of a chapter exchange that often stretched over several months to complete.

I really appreciate the critiques.  There are just somethings that I know these readers could judge much better than if it had been a chapter exchange.  Pacing, for one.  I’m always suspicious about pacing comments from someone who’s reading a chapter every ten days. 

At the same time, four complete, marked-up copies of my manuscript at once is a little daunting.  It’s hard to know where to start.  Guess I’ll still end up doing the revisions chapter by chapter just to break it into manageable pieces.

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Two things have got me thinking about this subject right now.

The first:  A recent rejection for BLOOD WILL TELL that said the agent “was not very strongly drawn into your opening pages.”  This agent read only the first five pages.   To me this may mean one of two things.  I’m already considering whether this story was actually young adult all along, as I’ve said in earlier posts.  It could be that the voice was off.  It could also be that I’ve started in the wrong place.  I’ve got reasons for starting where I do, but I’m going to have to get some more readers and get some feedback.  Maybe the starting place is all right, but I need to cut down some of what comes next.

The second:  At least one first reader of MAGE STORM agrees that the epilogue goes on a little too long.  I’m going to poll the readers after the last critique is in, but it’s one of the things that bothered me from the beginning.  I want the MC to come to the realization that home isn’t “back there” any more, but I may have to find another, shorter way to do it.

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I try to always have a critique or two going.  Not only to return the favor for people who critique my work.  It’s a fantastic learning experience.  A chance to analyze what worked and what didn’t in someone else’s work in a way you’d never be able to do with your own.  And then, if you’re smart, turn it around and ask yourself if you’ve done the same things. 

I’ve been doing more critiques than usual this month.  Partly because of the new writers’ group that I joined a little over a month ago. 

Well, something strange happened to the remainder of this post.  Half of it just seems to have disappeared.  Maybe I’ll try to reconstruct it later.

The short version is that, between critiques I’ve received and critiques I’ve given in the last week or so, I’ve come to a new realization of how annoying some of my writer’s tics, like double spacing after the period, can be to others.  I have to work harder to fix that before I send anything out.  There’s no point in aggravating a reader, whether it’s someone trying to help you with a critique or an agent or editor you’re trying to impress.

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The realization that my voice as a writer is a better fit for the young adult market has me doing some reassessment.

MAGE STORM, which I thought was young adult, is probably actually middle grade.  I’d already made plans to rewrite DREAMER’S ROSE as young adult, which I think fits the story much better.  Now, I realize that BLOOD WILL TELL is probably young adult, too.  That’s three fifths of my completed work.

That leaves me in something of a quandary on my planned work, though.

I plan to write SEVEN STARS (I really need to find a new title for this) as young adult anyway.  The only obstacle there is that so far my main character’s voice is sounding a little too old and experienced to me.  But I’ve only written a little over 4000 words, barely enough to really start getting into his head.  I’ll find his insecurities and things will fall into place. 

The two possible sequels to BLOOD WILL TELL pose an interesting problem.  I married the main character off in the first book.  I’m not sure how that would impact the second and third books from a young adult perspective.  Of course, I could find a reason to torture them some more and force them to wait, but the plot of the first sequel sort of depends on their being married unless I think of a way to change the inciting incident and main conflict.  That’s a pretty major change.

THE SHAMAN’S CURSE is probably pretty close to young adult, too, except the pacing is way off.  Too slow.  But I was going to have to fix that anyway.  But then there’s the problem of three more book in that series with a progressively older, more adult protagonist.  Crossover?

I need to spend some time considering the implications.

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Voice is one of those things that’s really hard to define.  To some extent, it’s what makes one writer’s work different from another’s.  Some writers have such distinct voices that you can pick out their work without looking at the cover.  Others are able to modify their voice substantially according to the story they’re telling.

One thing about voice is that it takes time–and a lot of writing–to develop. 

It appears, from recent critiques, that my voice best suits middle grade and young adult stories.  Although it took me a couple of days to wrap my mind around that paradigm shift, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this.  In fact, in many ways it’s good news.  Good to think that I’m establishing a voice.  And, frankly, young adult is one of the better markets right now, so that’s not exactly bad news, either.

It’s making me look at the recent rejection of BLOOD WILL TELL in a new light, however.  If my voice is young adult, then I’ve been marketing that story all wrong and that, of course, could be one reason it hasn’t gotten anywhere, yet.  Because I think it’s a very good story.  (Of course, I’m not at all prejudiced about that.)  In fact, in some ways it reminds me of Kirstin Cashore’s GRACELING, which I’m reading now.  At least, the protagonists are similar in some ways.

So, I’m going to stop for a bit and think about it.  Possibly get a few more opinions from people familiar with the genre.  It really would take only minor changes to the manuscript to reorient it as young adult.  If I were going to re-query some of the same agents, I might need to change the title.  There are a couple of references to Valeriah’s age (25), which would have to be changed downward to about 18.  Likewise a few mentions of how long she’s been doing something that would need to be shorter (or else she started very young.)  And only one scene that I would want to take a look at and possibly revise a bit. 

If that’s all that needs changing, maybe it really was young adult all the time and I just wasn’t smart enough to figure it out.

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Roller Coaster Ride

Most of writing is just the discipline to keep on putting words on paper.  We make our own excitement with the torture and the rewards we devise for our characters.  The business of trying to actually sell what we’ve written is usually complicated–query letters and synopses are just a lot harder to write than novels for some reason. And scary.

Occasionally it’s a roller coaster ride.

Yesterday, I checked my inbox to find that there was an e-mail from an agent I’d queried with BLOOD WILL TELL.  I braced myself for the rejection; that’s by far the most common outcome and you have to get used to it.  Well, it wasn’t a rejection; it was a request for a partial.  The first step up that long staircase toward publication.

Woo hoo!  When I caught my breath, I celebrated a little, told my nearest and dearest, and then I settled down to prepare and send the requested materials. 

I thought at the least I’d have a few weeks to savor the idea, the possibility.  If I’d sent it by snail mail, I probably would have.  The downside of the internet age is that it doesn’t take any time for documents to reach their destination.  The reply was in my inbox this morning and it wasn’t a request for the full manuscript. 

Oh well, to quote Dory, “Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.”

Or, Commander Taggert, “Never give up.  Never surrender.”

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The difference between Middle Grade and Young Adult is something I’ve been thinking about lately.  The problem is that there’s no easy answer to what makes a story one or the other and no really clear definition.

Middle Grade is generally ages 8 to 12, while Young adult is 12 and up.  It’s easy, but also a little too simplistic, to use the age of the protagonist.  A fifteen-year-old main character should make it Young Adult.  But the length of the story comes into play, too.  Not surprisingly, Middle Grade stories tend to be shorter than Young Adult stories.  Other factors are the complexity of the plot and the kind of problems the protagonist is dealing with.

On the one hand, part of me wants to say: “Just write the story and let the agents and publishers deal with the rest.”  But that’s naive.  Possibly dangerously naive.  Because it’s possible to get “type cast”.  If a first book gets pegged as Middle Grade, later books that rightly should be Young Adult might end up shelved there, too.  And the problem with that is that it makes it that much harder for the appropriate audience to find those books. 

Ultimately, it’s a decision I would prefer to be in a position to make myself rather than leave it up to someone else, especially since the next two books, DREAMER’S ROSE and SEVEN STARS, are definitely in the Young Adult category.

I could honestly see MAGE STORM being in either category.  The main character is onthe Young Adult side of things.  So is the length.  The plot isn’t very complex, though.  The problem starts out very individual (Middle Grade), but expands to include others and the character’s relationship to the outside world (Young Adult).

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Since I’d made good progress on my world building, I let myself take a little dive into Chapter One of SEVEN STARS (I really have to think of a new title).

The first chapter of anything is always challenging.  It’s not so much the blank page.  There’s just a certain amount of settling into the new character’s head and getting comfortable there.  Kind of a period of getting acquainted.

Often, there’s a certain amount of info-dumping, setting up the world.  Stuff I’ll have to go back and delete later, but have to get out of my head before I can really get started.  Plus, I always try to turn my infernal, I mean internal, editor off when writing a first draft. 

I’m having more than the usual trouble getting into this character.  He keeps wanting to sound too experienced and generally too old, at least if this is going to be a young adult story.  I’ve got to make him a little–no, a lot–more uncertain about a couple of things.  That means getting deeper POV, which is always hard for me for the first chapter or so, but I’m making progress.

I still have world building to do, but getting a better feel for  the main character is important, too.

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I made a public goal to start world-building for the new version of SEVEN STARS this month.  Probably nothing else could have forced me to do it even though I’m getting excited about the new story line.  The thing fought me to a stand-still last time and sometimes that’s hard to overcome and start again.

Anyway, I’ve started on the world-building and pleased with my progress so far.  I’ve got a good feel for one of the cultures already.  There will be three.  And some good possibilities for conflict from differences between two of the cultures.  Not the kind of conflict that can drive the whole story, but certainly the kind that can enrich a story.  In fact, it’s opened up a whole new facet which is going to be fun to work with, I think.

I’ve also got to work on at least a rough outline, but some things will come out of this interaction of the cultures, so this is the right place to start.  And I still need to refine the rules of the magic.

In some ways, this is the most creative part of the process and it can be a lot of fun.  I’ve surprised myself with a few things, but I really like where this is going, now.

Meanwhile, I’ve got revisions on DREAMER’S ROSE, THE IGNORED PROPHECY, and a short story to keep the internal editor happy.

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