Sunday, September 2, 2007

Editing the Beast: The Hellacious Process Begins

Thieves (still hate the title) is seven years old. I began it when I was seventeen, the summer after my junior year of high school. I began it after setting aside a four-year project of mine that I finally decided was too complicated for me to tackle at my age and writing level. Thieves started out as what I thought was going to be a short story, or at least short-ish novella, called Shadownight. I wrote the first chapter, involving a thief in a faraway land trying to steal something, nearly getting caught, and ultimately plunging into a rock-ridden river, which should have effectively ended her thieving career. She, however, had the audacity to live.

A few months later, in winter, I was struck with another idea. I saw a girl who was being forced to be a thief who really didn't want to be a thief. But she didn't have much of a choice. She looked like her mother, almost a copy, and her mother was infamous. The Queen of Thieves. The daughter was therefore derisively referred to as the Princess of Thieves, and so her story was named.

It seems painfully obvious now, but at the time, beyond the two girls being thieves, I didn't think the stories were related. Then I went to Canada and had a revelation. These two girls were living in the same land. At the same time.

And I suddenly had a problem. I'd dropped my previous project, which also, ironically, still only has a working title (Bonded by Blood. Don't ask) and also, even more unbelievably, was crafted from three disparate plots I hadn't envisioned intertwining and suddenly did. And wouldn't you know, Thieves picked up a third plotline as well, one of my one-page wonders that I started and let go by the wayside. But I'd dropped BBB because it was so complex, and was showing signs of sequels. Lots of them. Wheel of Time (otherwise known as Waste of Time) sequel potential. I wanted to tackle something mangeable, in my humble opinion, for a seventeen-year-old soon-to-be college-bound not-going-to-have-a-lot-of-time-on-our-hands sort of person. And damned if I didn't stumble myself into another epic, at the worst possible time of my life. I didn't have the discipline. I didn't have the time. Most importantly, as the novel kept expanding in bits and pieces, years were passing, and I was getting older, and so was my writing. My life was changing a lot, my writing got terrifyingly worse, then better, and finally hit polished, though I'm still hoping to improve a lot before I cock up my heels and die. And this all happened in this one book. By rights, this should be my "transition novel" and I should put it in a drawer somewhere and never look at it again.

But you see, people like it. That's the trouble. Despite its rampant misuse of adjectives, its inconsistant magic system, it's over- and under-dramitization of events, its white-space action and overboard descriptions, unclear political structure, over-telling, and completely unbelievable sex scenes, I get asked more often about the status of Thieves than about anything else I've ever done. Plus the characters stubbornly refuse to go quietly into the night, and vampire lit. suddenly isn't sellable, according to several agents.

So, I've begun work, serious work, on Thieves again. I haven't edited it this seriously since my senior year of high school. And I have to give silent thanks for the intervening years, because I've finally become capable of editing, even my own work, to some degree. But this is going to be a long haul. I only hope on the other side, it will be worth it, and that this book isn't lying again (or rather the character union isn't lying again) and there really is just the one sequel and then there will be blessed peace. And who knows? Maybe it'll sell!

-Mel

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Shamelessly Stolen from Tate Hallaway's Blog

What do you find _______ about writing?

Hardest? Editing stuff that spans a seven-year period in my life. OMG. What insanity. The most depressing part is that for the most part, it isn't the earliest writing that sucks the worst.....

Easiest? Dialogue. As long as one character is working off the other, it just keeps on flowing. My favorites are arguments.

Most fun? Hearing little snippets of conversation in my head all the time.

Most Tedious? Trying discipline myself to ACTUALLY FIND A REGULAR TIME to sit down and write.

Coolest? Having people tell me they remember certain scenes I wrote, vividly. Even things of mine they read ten years ago.

Least cool? Knowing there's a book out there with my name on it that I don't like very much. *sigh*

Best? When you feel like you could go on and on and the words come easily.

Worst? When you can't even force a coherent sentence. For a good three months.

-Mel

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Inundation

It seems my best option is to keep shopping Once Bitten while getting the dreaded holy mess Thieves fit for shopping as well. I'll just have to swamp them all with books and books and books out of my arsenal. Now, if I only had books and books and books fit to print. I'm only 25. I didn't hit my stride until last year. I was still hung up in the whole "but I just don't feel like writing" trap. This is total boloney. Professional writing Step 1: Take that whiney little child who doesn't FEEL like writing out back and beat the snot out of him. This is a job like any other. I don't FEEL like teaching sometimes either. But I do it. And eventually, your imagination gets the memo that we aren't just writing when we feel like it anymore, and you write better, faster. My God, if I still waited until I FELT like writing...

Speaking of whiney children, I also have to kick Anxiety's butt up and down the emotional plane, because I really have a lot of trepidation about trying to edit Thieves. And that's not going to help the process.

-Mel

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rejection Six

Well, that's the first time I got rejected on a pre-query. Lois Winston at Ashley Grayson says I missed the boat on vampire lit, that chick lit itself is a hard sell right now, and that I should either shelve Once Bitten and wait a while, work on something else, or I'd need to turn my vampires into shapeshifters or witches.

My vampires are, I guess, in the technical sense, witches. But they're still vampires, so I think that would just be arguing semantics.

It's a good book. It's a really good book. I don't want it to die in a drawer.

-Mel

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Written Into a Corner

Long time, no write, I know. And that's been precisely the problem. I haven't worked on Two Evils in two months. I haven't worked on anything in two months. I figured out the historical fiction thing I was working on was SOOOO not me, and that Thieves was still, indeed, to clusterfucked up beyond repair.

So, I went back to Two Evils, because when I was reading it, I remembered the true enjoyment I get from writing about Evie, and how much I like her wit and sarcasm. I was trying to think of exactly why I stopped. Part of it is that I still haven't sold Once Bitten, not to an agent, not to a publisher, nada. So I decided to try and think of something that might be more marketable, and as Lyda always said, writing for the market instead of writing for enjoyment is the KISS OF DEATH.

I think the biggest problem, however, is that I HAVE WRITTEN MYSELF INTO A CORNER. I don't know how to move forward from where I am, honestly. Oh, I have a pretty good idea of what comes next, but I have literally created an impossible situation impeding the journey from here to there. It's frustrating as all hell.

Maybe I'll whine at my writing pals and ask for advice. I've been thinking on it for two months now and STILL don't know how to move on.

Despite this, I have written a new section for the book that I think rehashes two arguments that have already happened in the book, but hey, I worked on the thing and you edit when you're done. Forward motion is key. Kicking the inner critic's ass, however, has proven challenging.

Bad inner critic, no soup for you!

-Mel

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Methinks the Story Doth Protest Too Much: When Fiction Immitates Reality

All writers give something of themself to their characters to help them relate to them better. Even the villains get some understandable foible, flaw, or obsession that the writer him or herself has experienced.

That said, it gets a little creepy when your own personal internal and external conflicts start seeping into your work. When things get a little too autobiographical for fluffy vampire fiction (not that I'd call Once Bitten "fluffy"). Case in point, I while was writing Two Evils, I had Evie nearly get stabbed at the Sinventura in Antigua, Guatemala. I barely remembered the scene until I was reading it to my mother, and suddenly went "oh crap..." At an earlier point, Evie was having an internal war about being a wuss for crying, and my mom smacked my arm. When I asked her about it, she said, "That's you!" She's never really approved of my "tough it out, you weenie" attitude toward my own instances of tears. I was just surprised she saw me in that scene, really actually floored. That always gets you to thinking about all the other places in any number of stories you've written where the you shines through. It sort of feels like walking out on stage only to find out your fly's open. It's like, oh crap, they can see my panties, while at the same time, you're also thinking, well, at least they know I don't wear grannie panties. Bizarre bizarre.

Some stories of mine have been prophetic. Characters and situations that flitted through my mind for a series of scenes suddenly sprang to life in my real life. Things I could never have predicted. Lyda once talked about how she had the Medusa bomb take out a couple of cities in her Archangel Protocol series, including New York, and then a year or two later, bam, 9/11. I can't claim anything quite so disturbing, but when you're arguing with a family member and can suddenly remember this situation having been argued almost exactly the same way with almost exactly the same results in one of your novels, it makes you a little leery. Writing can be a scary thing, like reading the Tarot cards. There are some things you know that you don't want to know and damned if they don't come tumbling out onto the written page to stare you in the face.

I just have to wonder at the irony, that so much of writing happens privately and behind closed doors, yet in the end, you end up being more exposed than in any of the other arts.

-Mel

Monday, June 11, 2007

8 Random Things About Me

I actually saw this on Myspace once.

1. I'm the first person in my family to decide to take Spanish instead of German.

2. I'm going to be 30 when my youngest sibling enters kindergarten.

3. I am a chronic overdrafter.

4. I prefer stick shift to automatic and like to drive like I'm at the Grand Prix.

5. I actually do belong to a dance troup.

6. I'm allergic to some metals and plastics.

7. I've found three errors in the one book I've published (you think I'm going to tell you what they are? Fat chance!).

8. I'm a closet fan of sappy, badly done Hallmark fairytale movies.

-Mel

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Writing and ADD

I am now convinced that I suffer from the writers' version of ADD - I just don't want to spend a long time on any one project, and if something isn't blowing up or dying or making whoopee, I get bored in the middle of writing it.

I'm still working on the Victorian thing. My pen ran out of ink. Anyone ever try to find a purple pen in Guatemala?

-Mel

Monday, June 4, 2007

War of the Worlds

I've done the unthinkable and started a new novel. And it's not even science fiction or fantasy! I'm not sure you could quite call it a Victorian romance, but it's Victorian-ish.

*thunk, thunk, thunk* Melanie, what are you doing?

-Mel

Friday, May 25, 2007

When Your Characters Form a Union

Someday I'm going to be hauled away to the loony bin and this is going to be one of the documents they use to keep me there, but what the heck.

In my head, the section devoted to "stories" is actually quite organized. I read somewhere how people compare it to having this attic full of stuff that you keep accidentally running into and forgot you have and yadda yadda. My creative story space is a very, very long hall chock full of board rooms. I can open any door at any time, and end up wandering into something.

Usually, all my characters stay in their little room and don't bother me unless I wander into that particular room (a la The Boss) and ask them what they've got. Unfortunately, since my ill-conceived threat not to finish Thieves, my quiet little board rooms of characters have suddenly started forming unions and lobbying me. Just yesterday, I got a bid from a story I haven't worked on since 5th grade. 5TH GRADE! It's the second ever "real" story ("real" meaning I'd finally managed to grasp the concept of beginning, middle, and end, as well as dialogue and plot) I ever wrote. And I do mean EVER. I wasn't ever expecting to hear from that quarter again, and yet, there they are, insidiously whispering to me that this might be a nifty young-adult series, sort of like a younger, psychic Nancy Drew. I'm almost tempted to try it! And I shouldn't, I just shouldn't, not when I've got TWO novels to finish! I've already derailed once for Thieves. Whatever happened to professionalism?

Except, Once Bitten hasn't been picked up yet, I have no agent, no editor, no deadline. Is it so wrong to let my mind wander where it will?

Oof!

-Mel

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Decisions

In spite of the deep insanity of the decision, I am still working on Thieves instead of Two Evils. I'm doing it without a working laptop, too, which is even crazier because I can't consult what I already have just too often. Or maybe that's a godsend, because I'd only get discouraged if I had to see the amount of working facing me.



*aside* Tate's book is on the bestsellers' lists again, kudos! *aside*



Now, I have this deep, deep doubt that I think comes from being an English Literature major. Something that got planted when I was taking Creative Writing (I'd still like someone to tell me where the creativity came in) classes at the U. Every once in a while, I get this feeling that what I'm writing isn't "important" because it isn't "literary." It causes me to stop writing for a while and once again ponder writing my memoirs or something equally stupid. I enjoy writing great big adventure stories with demons and heroes and easy moral lessons and sometimes darker moral ambiguity. I hate writing about my life. In comparison, my life seems pretty boring, and then there's always the whole "Creative Nonfiction" problem, which is that for the most part, you have to embellish your real life for a memoir anyway, otherwise it's going to come out... pretty boring. And I've never liked talking or writing dishonestly about real things. I'd rather play pretend and act out the tough questions and situations using characters and exotic settings, examine it from multiple angles.



Still, I hate feeling, I hate ever having been made to feel, or ever having the idea planted, that what I'm writing lacks importance because it's for the "masses" to enjoy and will likely never appear in the "canon" along with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Flannery O'Connor and the rest. How did Tolkien do it? Honestly? I would argue that science fiction and fantasy and people who read and write it are far more knowledgable than any of the so-called "scholars" I've met at my university, yet academics for the most part scoff at anything so plebian as a science fiction or fantasy novel. It boggles my freaking mind. I mean, who tells a student who brings a fantasy story to class that a "university level creative writing class" is not the place for this? What, exactly, do university level "creative" writers write about? As near as I can tell, the de jour "literary" writing style is to learn how to artfully talk your way around a problem without ever acknowledging its existance, a la Hemmingway. No wonder flash fiction has become so popular. Who wants to read more than five pages of that kind of ambiguous crap?



I'd argue that what we do is harder. We tackle the big questions, and we do it in space!

-Mel

Friday, May 11, 2007

One Scene at a Time

I started filling in the blanks on Thieves last night, trying very hard to keep my fingers from deleting unnecessary adjectives and adverbs that I seemed to like to sprinkle all over creation at one time in my writing life. The really difficult thing about working on Thieves is that I haven't written a story the way I wrote this one before or since. I was experimenting with a writing technique that would get me to "The End," and I was getting a little desperate, because I couldn't remember typing "The End" on anything in about three years.

So, I made a deal with myself. I would write all the scenes I "liked" and fill in the blanks in between later, essentially writing the pearls without the string. Well, now it's down to the string, this being the less exciting scenes of connective tissue, and what on God's green earth made me think leaving the most boring parts for last was going to get me closer to writing "The End" on anything, I'll never know. Now I make myself write a story step by step by sentence by paragraph all the way through no matter what I might be seeing "happen" in the "future."

-Mel

Thursday, May 10, 2007

75,000+

It should be rather telling that I haven't looked at Thieves in a long time, seeing as I was off on the word count by 6,000 words. As it is, without having all its pieces yet in place, it is just over 75,000 words in its newest version. My e-mail back-dating suggests the last time I worked on this piece was July of 2005.

It's not even finished, probably just barely approaching 2/3rds of the way done, and it is already longer than "Once Bitten" by 500 words.

I really hope I'm not making a mistake by giving it another look-see. I'm hoping, in equal parts, that it'll overwhelm me again and I can put it to bed, and that I've matured enough and the characters have matured enough to at least try to finish the beast.

Oh, God, I don't even want to begin to think what hell it will be to edit this thing if this run does pan out.

-Mel

Attack!

I don't generally write *about* my writing process, even to myself, because it, like my faith, is something I don't like to question too much. Sufficing to say I had a woman I go to occasionally for spiritual/life guidance tell me once that I don't write so much as channel, like she does, and I couldn't exactly argue the point. I don't generally feel writing comes from me so much as it comes through me. Ever since I first set fingers to keys and felt this great electricity almost literally spilling from me into our new elementary school computers, I haven't ever felt like I was ever creating anything. I felt like I was opening a door and setting it free.

There's a few age-old questions that are put to writers, one of which is "where do you get your ideas" another, asked among writers, "do you start with a problem, a setting, or a character." I can't remember many instances in which a story didn't leap out of my head, very nearly fully formed, like Athena. Question 1 is easy to deflect, because mostly people just want to hear "oh, here and there" or something else that's fluffy and easy to absorb. I hate question 2, especially when I'm in the company of other writers. I feel like answering it puts me in the position of the woman who has the one-day period without cramps at a girl-gab session. I often hear writers say they have characters running around their heads without a setting; neat, interesting people they'd just like to be able to put somewhere. I've never met a character who didn't already belong somewhere, and I write character-driven stories (the other kind being problem-driven stories). When I begin to explore a story idea, when it arrives from the great beyond or the big long hall of board rooms in my head, or wherever from whence it hails, the first thing I get is a scene. A fully-formed, often more-than-one-character-present, set in some modern or fantastic or science fiction locale, scene. Like someone just decided now would be a good time to hold a screening for some new movie in my head. Usuallly the scene's happening from a certain character's perspective, who is usually the one who ends up being the main character. After that scene, I ask "what's next" and "what came before" and I almost always get answers in the form of more scenes. Inevitably, I have to find a way to string the scenes together, but I always get a beginning, middle, and end, and generally a whole lot more. I might be mumbling the long scenes of dialogue out loud like a crazy person for a week or so, but one these people come upon me, they come ready to tell their version of events. I flounder in writing more often than not because I can't see what happened between scenes, or I'm just plain bored listening to this character.

This has led to me having some rather... pushy characters. In my head, I can walk in on stories that have been replaying themselves over and over again, just waiting for the right time to grab my attention. I've never said I won't write, or finish a story. I just say, not now.

Except the other day when I said I wouldn't finish Thieves. This caused quite a stir in that pot, and now it's boiled over and I have some very feisty people trying to have their say (while I'm trying to finish the second book of the Evelyn Blomquist series, no less). The really hard thing is that I'm a little bored with Evie, and the Thieves characters have begun assailing this crack. I don't want to be distracted, but then again, I haven't "heard" anything from the Thieves camp in two years. Is this an opportunity or a derailing?

-Mel

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Holy Tai Wan, Batman!

It should tell you how well and truly bored I was today that I actually went on WorldCAT just to see how many of my books were out there in the worldwide library system, and where. I was thinking maybe twenty-five books, a handful in California, New York, and here, because that's where I knew ABDO had markets.

Well, there are books there. And in 20 other states, including the Library of Congress. But most startling was that there's one copy in Saskatchewan (I'm sorry, my Canadian friends, I don't know if I spelled it right), a copy in Heidelburg (Germany, on a US military base, no less), and a copy in TAI WAN. There are 85 copies of my book out there in the world, or so WorldCAT tells me. This doesn't include the private school libraries that ABDO also sells to, but, I mean... uh... WOW. AND my book as two editions. ABDO's made it an electronic/CD-ROM type thing. Now, I wish they'd tell me these things. That's another thing that's kind of annoying. Since they aren't paying you after the inicial, they're kind of done with you, so you don't get nifty info like this.

But anyway, I just needed to say I was rather floored by this new info.

-Mel

Royalties Screwed

This here is the book. There she is. All 55 pages of her.

Want to know how much I make on this book, which retails for $25.65 on Amazon.com?

Not. One. Red. Cent.

That my name is on a cover of a book, no matter how many changes I still want to make on it, is still kind of gratifying. But don't let anyone lie to you and tell you non-fiction is more "stable" or you can make more money at it. Just because the books cost more doesn't mean the author gets paid more. In my field, a book will be contracted for somewhere around $1,000, $2,500 if you're going for middling to top talent, or, as in my case, it may just be authored in-house by the editors. That amount doesn't have royalties attached - it's a one-shot deal. Seeing as I was an unknown author, all of 21 years old, and not even out of college yet, AND that I worked for the company, I'm not even going to tell you how much I got paid to write this baby. What was kind of nice is that I did get to do a lot of things an outside author doesn't get to do. I had a lot of influence over the images in the book - because I was our company's photo researcher. That ultimately most of the images were pulled from the same Civil Rights event still grates on me, but hey, I did find some cool photos. I got to write my own captions and sidebars and timeline and index, which usually the editor would do. I got to request my own maps and graphs. I got to touch it hot off the proofing press.

Still, I get awfully frustrated when I see it on Amazon.com, retailing for $26.00. It's in schools and libraries in California and New York, and probably other places that buy educational books from ABDO. I get frustrated because I have to hesitate every time I want to buy a copy of my own book, because in real life, I don't make enough money that $26.00 isn't something to think about, and I got one gratis copy. There is no author discount for me if I tried to buy it through ABDO. I get it from Amazon.com, just like everybody else.

I call this book my life lessons book. Never sell yourself short.

-Mel

A Real Writer has a Real Blog

Technically speaking, I have been a "professional" writer (read: PAID) since I was seventeen years old. That I am turning twenty-five in four weeks should tell you I'm a little behind on hopping on the professional blog bus. I thought I'd wait until I got one of my pet projects published (fiction) instead of my bread-and-butter (non-fiction/inspirational), but heck, why wait? Personally, I'd love to flip back through a favorite writers' blog and read about the struggle as well as the successes. Also, I was getting a little tired of not having a space where I could wax on about writing (somehow, the Guatemala and Spain travel logs didn't quite do the trick), and, mother of many creative moments, I was bored. So, here's me writing my first post for my first professional blog.

For posterity, I have one *actual* book in circulation called The Civil Rights Marches (and between you, me, and the wall, I'm still trying not to cringe at the idea of it being out there) one children's inspirational historical novella online at a small press, and one short story that Guideposts owns, but to my knowledge has never seen print. I have two rejection letters from agents on my Evelyn Blomquist vampire chick-lit series, a rejection on "Casserole Martian Invaders" from Realms, and a very early rejection from Merlin's Pen on two short stories I wrote when I was about fourteen. Currently, Once Bitten (Evie Blomquist) is off in query form at the JABberwocky Literary Agency. Here's to hoping Charlaine Harris' agent is looking for more chick-lit. "Casserole Martian Invaders" has been tabled at least until I can figure out what genre to call it (if it's young adult, then it can't happen at a college. If it's science fiction, it's "too fluffy"), and the two stories to Merlin's Pen are in my filing cabinet in my office at my grandparents' house, which is currently undergoing renovation while I'm in Guatemala. I'm trying very hard not to think what might have happened/is happening to my books and papers there.

I'm currently working on the second book in the Evie Blomquist series. Two Evils has hit a bit of a speedbump. It seems to be nearing its ending, but it's grossly under wordcount. It needs to percolate for a while.

The other novel/series I'd been working on, a high fantasy story with the working title of Thieves has been removed from my agenda indefinitely. After eight years, a person's way of writing changes so dramatically that it starts sounding like the story's being written by two different people. The amount of work it would take just to shape up the writing there is, much less finish the beast, seems insurmountable. I'll call it my transition novel, and probably leave it in a drawer. Which is something darned painful to do with over 69,000 words, but that's the breaks. Hopefully the characters won't seek vengeance while I'm sleeping and give me an aneurism or something.

Keep your fingers crossed that I snag me an agent soon!

-Mel