Tag Archives: novel writing

Chilling your darlings

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I recently went to a weekend-long SCBWI conference (Wild Wild Midwest) that smacked my should’ve-had-a-V8 forehead. You can hear writing advice over and over sometimes before it really sinks in. This time it has sunk. It made me realize what was wrong with the beginning of my sisters novel (finally), and now that I’ve fixed that, I’m working on cleaning up the rest.

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The main smacker was Lisa Cron of Wired for Story fame. You can get a glimpse of her charisma in this TED talk. She has a new book coming out in August, but I couldn’t wait for that. I got her old one so I could get straight to work.

One of the things I’ve relearned is that if there’s something in the story that isn’t necessary, it needs to be cut ruthlessly.

I found an entire scene that I’ve kept in up until now just because I liked the mood of it. But it is not moving the story ahead at all, so it must be cut. And since it’s hard to accept that it will never see the light of day, I’m putting it up here (even though you have no idea who these characters are or what’s happening in the story). That’s how hard it is to throw out writing.

And now for your viewing pleasure (or not), here’s the cut scene from Home Is Where:

Rain has left the air fresh.

I’m so tired from my sleepless night, that I drift off to the swaying of the car.

When I wake up, something smells different. We’re not in town anymore. The house we’re approaching is tall and thin and it sticks up out of the landscape like Luna Lovegood’s house, only not so crookedly.

There are two old ladies inside who belong to us somehow. Sisters to each other. Maybe cousins to Grandma. Or maybe aunts. I search my memory for the odd names and finally remember–Lulujean and Maydell.

We don’t stay long. We enter the house in a museum-going way. Mom is acting like she found a lost locket, drinking in the faces of the live portraits before her. Stroking the old ladies’ hands like they’re bunny-soft.

One sister pats my shoulder. The other lifts Zoë’s hair with wonder, like it’s strands of golden necklaces.

Zoë stands still for once in her life.

            Remember? the sister says to the one near me right before we leave. Remember when we had hair like this?

 

Serendipity Sequel?

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Some readers in the past have asked me to write a sequel to Serendipity and Me. I didn’t say no, but I didn’t say yes, either. Until recently, I didn’t feel any compulsion to write a sequel.

Now, suddenly, I do. I don’t know why or where it came from. I think I just woke up one morning and went, “Oh, that’s what happens next.” And because it’s a story with characters that I love, they are goading me forward. They are telling me, “This is our story. Make sure you write it down.” And so I’ve started.

The kitten that arrived after Serendipity was already written is making writing easier. She is such a wild, weird creature that there’s all sorts of new cat material to incorporate into this manuscript.

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When will I be a media star?

I don’t know how many of her antics I’ll use, but I’m happy for the inspiration.

 

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What? You said you needed inspiration….

Playing while writing

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Writing can often feel like hard work. That’s because it is. But you can batter the joy out of your writing if you can’t also bring to it a sense of play.

"You need this pen, right? Here, let me help...."

“You need this pen, right? Here you go, I’ll just…oops.”

If you’ve followed this blog, you’ll know I’ve brought many revisions to a novel manuscript called Three Prayers. Sometimes I let it sit like a naughty child in the corner. Maybe an abandoned toy in the backyard would be a better metaphor, because I let it sit for months at a time. Sometimes I think I will give up and stop trying to rework it because selling it seems hopeless. But then I get drawn back.

I decided to play with it again last month.

"This is the best part!"

               “This is the best part!”

For some reason (who knows how my mind works), I thought I’d mess around with the point of view. Instead of having three different POV’s writing in third person past tense, what if I changed only one of the three to first person? And then I went further and changed that POV to first person present tense.

It seemed to be working, so I kept on. Although the story stayed the same, Liezel began to speak up in ways she hadn’t when she didn’t get to tell her own story. So even if this POV has to be changed back, I’ll have some new ways to write about Liezel.

Before I got too far with this new POV, I had others read several pages to see if it worked for them. Most weren’t bothered by the odd shift. And I was liking it. So I revised the whole novel with this new perspective. I’m still waiting to hear what my agent thinks of this revision. It was a lot of hard work. But it was still play time. And that’s always good.

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Simmering

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I’m starting to write a funny, slightly-romantic MG novel. It occurs to me that since my first two novels (unpublished) were also supposed to be funny and sort-of romantic, maybe this is a bad idea.

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On the island of Murano.

But it’s an idea that started a year and a half ago, was half-tried, discarded, and has come back around, fully formed. I take this to mean it’s an idea that wants to be written. And it’s an idea that’s been simmering, working itself out beneath my conscious mind.

It’s an idea whose time has come. I hope.

An idea that arose because of circumstance.

I just got back with my husband from a trip celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary. I took a similar trip with my little sister a year and a half ago, celebrating her new life. The first trip sparked the idea, the second trip fulfilled all the necessary research.

The first trip spawned a first page whose voice was–awful. Right before the second trip, I tried another voice. And suddenly, the book seemed like a do-able thing.

It’s nice to know my mind can work on it’s own without me bossing it around. And sometimes (always?), that’s the best way to write.

Writing update

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A writer's historical journey

A writer’s historical journey

In 2012, I wrote a post asking what I should work on next. I listed three possibilities of novels I’d already started. Two and a half years later, I’ve written 2 out of 3 of those novels. (By “written” I mean in a substantial enough form to send to publishers. I don’t mean they’re published. Or finished. Because once an editor has accepted one, there will be plenty of revision. Because I’m not Roald Dahl. Or whoever that writer is who manages to send in perfect manuscripts. I’m sure I heard there was one.)

I started with the historical novel. Managed to fix the middle and workshopped it with four of my writing friends. Rewrote it. Took it to a revision conference in California. Rewrote it. Meanwhile my agent sent it out in both forms. I got lots of interesting comments, including a publisher who wanted me to revise, but who has been silent since receiving the revision. An editor who’d shown interest at the California retreat decided the revision had too many coincidences. She didn’t say what those were. So THREE PRAYERS is back on the shelf, awaiting inspiration for another rewrite.

A shelf inside Liezel's house.

A shelf inside Liezel’s house.

I developed the soccer novel-in-verse into an entirely new book. It continued to get looks in this form, but several times was rejected because no one could believe that a boy who liked soccer would read poetry. I kept resisting the suggestion that I change it to prose. But with this last suggestion, the editor took the time to take out the line breaks and show what the first five pages would look like if the words stayed the same but the spacing was different.

Keyboard to screen, the beautiful game.

Keyboard to screen, the beautiful game.

Maybe if it had been the first time this suggestion was made, it wouldn’t have swayed me. But seeing the prose version on the page like that was helpful. And I was worn down. And finally convinced.

So I tried it. And I continued on, revising using her five single-space pages of suggestions for more development. And I’m happy to report that, barring a few tweaks after my final readers’ comments come in, I’ll soon be ready to hand this off to my agent.

Number one on that old list, THE OTHER JESSAMY, is languishing. I look at it and love it and have no idea where to go with it. Someday….

Meanwhile, I’m working on another novel-in-verse that began as a picture book. If this doesn’t sound familiar, I haven’t talked about this trend yet. (Note to self: post on this subject.)

This new MG novel-in-verse is tentatively titled, ZOE, HERSELF. It’s a story about sisters. Stay tuned….

 

 

The problem with getting a novel published…

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The problem with getting a novel published, finally, is you can’t revise it anymore. There comes a time when the editor says, “Okay, that’s it. Off to the printer.” And everything you might want to change that you haven’t thought of yet will never get changed. That’s it, baby. You are finished.

 

Serendipity & Me, Viking, 2013

Serendipity & Me, Viking, 2013

The kitten that arrived months after my kitten novel was released really brings home this point. I wrote that novel based on many memories of ghosts of Cats-mas past, plus the ones that lived with me at the time. But it had been a few years since any of them were kittens.

Three of the four cats at the time...

Three of the four cats at the time…

This new kitten not only brought the essence of kitten-ness much closer, but she is such a wild child that the kitten in the book could have been so much more….I hesitate to fill in that blank. Because I love my fictional kitten Serendipity. But my new kitten (now almost a cat) Katniss, well. Let me give you an example.

If I can just squeeze in here...

If I can just squeeze in here…

...a little more...

…a little more…

Ta dah!

Ta dah!

What are YOU lookin' at?

What are YOU lookin’ at?

This isn’t even a very good example. It’s just the only one I was able to get semi-action pictures of. (Although you can see a video of Katniss rescuing her stuffed mammoth from the top of a dresser on my Facebook page here.)

Katniss is like no other cat I’ve ever known. She carries stuffed animals half her size around in her mouth, drags them upstairs and down. She has this strange motion when she’s drinking water from a cup–left paw to the right lower side of the cup, batting at who knows what. She’s quite adept at catching flies between her two paws. And apparently her dream is to fly, evidenced by the height to which she jumps whenever the mood takes her.

So now I have the perfect cat to base an intriguing cat character on.  But unfortunately, that novel ship has already sailed.

Or maybe another novel about a cat isn’t too much…?

You talkin' about me?

You talkin’ about me?