Saturday, January 31, 2009

How Writing Changes

I wrote a contemporary inspirational romance novel a few years ago, for NaNo 2005. I promptly pushed it off to the side and proceeded on my merry way playing with fantasy novels and ideas again, but the story resurfaced about a year ago when I was chatting with my friend Jean. I snippeted her a few bits and then she read the whole thing. The first draft, scary thought. And said nice things. (Not ONLY nice things, mind, but included them).

Through that the idea of revising and shaping up this story took hold, though certainly not to the exclusion of anything else, lol. I played with it a bit at the time, but soon came to realize the problems were deeper than I'd thought at first and set it aside again.

So, the other day I printed out the whole thing and began to read through, making brief notes on every scene. Along about fifty pages in, the note for one scene was simply a large X and "delete." And for the next scene, I scrawled across the page, "Seriously?" I'd found a few really good bits (the ones I'd first shared with Jean!) but way more dross. A LOT of dross.

I sat back in my chair and thought about the characters, their kids, their issues. She's too nice, I thought. She takes monumental stuff totally in stride. Superwoman! Okay, so it's official. She needs a makeover. I began mulling over *logical* makeovers that would tweak things but not necessitate ALL new scenes!

After a few minutes, I turned my attention to the hero. Also a pretty good guy. Slightly less perfect than the heroine, but nothing that really qualifies as a character flaw. A little case of temper, perhaps, would go a long way. Or maybe...

In just over three years, my writing style has changed a lot. I've learned to characterize much better (even my stupid whiny hero from Tempest has more personal issues than these folks). And I've learned to get much deeper into point-of-view. Quite a bit I've done since then has been in first person, which helps with the deeper, but the potential markets for this romance novel want third.

Even in third, this main character thinks too much! So the first thing is to bring someone directly into that opening paragraph/scene so she can TALK about stuff instead of THINK about it. The meeting with the hero later in the scene is reasonably okay as is. She shouldn't tell him all this stuff yet. But she needs a new best friend to bounce issues off of.

I've set aside the month of February to hit this novel and bring it into line. I'd like to think I could do it all in one month--after all, I wrote the entire 52K in one November!--but I'm thinking it may take a little longer. Hopefully not a lot longer, though. Maybe six weeks? Two months tops.

I'm reworking character profiles as we speak, and I still need to mine the previous manuscript for more good stuff to carry over. It's in there. The bones are decent, and worth rebuilding from.

If you're wondering why I'm not writing either Tempest or Dottie these days, the answer simply is that I'm not. Though I've been poking at Dottie recently and getting good ideas of how things need to proceed. One thing her story does not suffer from is weak characterization. The novel is populated with true individuals and they agree on very little. Lots of fun sparks. I'm stopping short of calling Tempest dead. But she's on life support, which is sad as it is some of my strongest writing thus far. One day the answers to my questions about her will erupt in my mind and she'll hit the road running again. I hope.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs -- Day 3

Here it is, the wrap-up day for the blog tour for A Book of Names. It's been interesting to read what various folks have said about it. (Check my Day 1 post for the complete list of tourists.)

Steve Rice doesn't let the fact that he hasn't read a book stop him. Check out his Genuine Fake Review for a few laughs as he reviews the Amazon book reviews.

Becky Miller and Chawna Schroeder expressed concern about the darkness portrayed in some of the scenes, particularly from the villains' pov scenes. To be honest, this level hadn't quite caught my attention, perhaps in part because it's been quite a few years since I've had a young teen in my house and, in general, I tend to read more mainstream fantasy than specifically Christian. So the advice for parents to preview for younger readers may not be a bad idea.

On the other hand, Keanan Brand got the goods from his 10-year-old niece, Jamie, who read the book and agreed to be interviewed about her impressions. Here is the link to the first segment, and here is the link to the second. I'm heading back later today to check for the third installment. After all, Keanan says this (emphasis my own):

I'm still reading the book, and should finish it by tomorrow, in time for my last post for this month's tour. I liked the poem and the map at the beginning, but--I confess--aside from the opening sentence, the first page just didn't grab me. Maybe that's because it wasn't intended to get a grown-up's attention. Jamie, however, devoured the book like a bear raiding picnic baskets at the park, and would have consumed more if the second book had been available.

(Hang in there, Jamie. Book 2, Corus the Champion is available for pre-order now!)

So of course, you know me. I have to post up the opening bit of the novel for you. Like Keanan, I wasn't smitten with the poem (too long, too cryptic), so I'll just head straight into Chapter 1:

The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic. Strange clouds overhead teased the senses with a fragrance of storm, wind, and lightning, and the faint, clean smell of ozone. Invisible energy sparkled like morning dew on blades of grass.

Standing alone in an empty field on the back end of their new acreage, Hadyn Barlow only saw the clouds. By definition, you can’t see what’s invisible, and as for smelling magic? Well, let’s just say, unlikely. Hadyn saw what was obvious for late November, rural Missouri: leafless trees, dead grass, winter coming on strong. Most of all he saw (and despised) the humongous briar patch in front of him, feeling anew each and every blister and callus earned hacking through its branches.

Making room for cattle next spring, or so he was told; this, even though his dad had never owned a cow in his life. He was a history teacher, for crying out loud. A college professor. Hadyn’s shoulders slumped. It didn’t matter. Everything was different now.

Mr. Barlow didn’t let his boys curse, but low under his breath, Hadyn did, mildly, just to prove the point. Life stunk. That was the brutal truth.

All true for the most part. Yet standing alone in the field, bundled in flannel, something else prickled his skin--something hidden in the rhythm of the day, at its core--and it wasn’t just the chill wind. He couldn’t shake it. A sense of something. Out-of-placeness. Faced with a friendless sophomore year, Hadyn knew that feeling all too well. It attacked him every morning, right before school.

But this was something more, more than the usual nervousness and name-calling stuff. His intuition was maddeningly vague. Hadyn sniffed the air, eyeing the field. A fox scampered in the distance. Bobwhites whistled softly. This had been his routine for weeks. Go to school, come home, do chores. Today was no different. Except for the clouds.

Download and read the entire first chapter here.

Even though The Book of Names doesn't have a rapid-fire opening scene, I still found it intriguing. What was different about this day, really? What, in combination, made Hadyn's life stink? Why only mention his father? Why would a man, a history professor, who'd never raised cattle decide he wanted cows at this stage of his life?

I can feel the day, and I can feel Missouri in November. I believe that author D. Barkley Briggs has been there. I'm grounded, rooted, and already feeling the magic in the air that he is certain to spring any minute now.

And he does.

Thanks for touring with me!

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs -- Day 2

D. Barkley Briggs wrote this novel (and the rest of the upcoming series) for his four sons, which is one of the best reasons I can think of for penning a manuscript. I asked Mr. Briggs about the connections between his family situation and the novel. He says:

"The story is very much rooted in my kids' lives and the impact of the last few years on our family. The names are even similar to my kids' real names: Hanson, Hadyn....Evan, Ewan....Gatlin, Garret....Gabe, Gage. I've infused the book with aspects of their personality, and the realities of the loss we suffered when my wife lost her battle with cancer at a young age. Our world turned upside down in every way imaginable. It was like being exiled to a foreign country, and all you really want is to go back home. So while the pain you read is real, the point of the story was to find a way to immerse myself and my boys back into the adventure of life.

"I think it's important for people to realize the magic and thrill of the tale, no strings attached. The average reader will easily lose themselves in the fantasy without feeling the heaviness of what compelled me to write it. For many, it's just going to be a great read, nothing more---and that's exactly what I want. But for others, for kids and parents that have been knocked around a bit, they'll read it with an additional level of empathy. Regardless, I think most teens and preteens will appreciate the honesty with which I've tried to present some of the issues they have to face. Hope so, anyway! As it relates to my boys, I simply wanted to find a voice for the hardship that they could feel was their own, that would enable them (and me) to live again.

"In short...the fantasy is entirely my creation, but the journey is very much theirs."

Knowing the situation does bring a deeper understanding of the story in The Book of Names. Readers not going through a similar grief will still feel the edge of the pain that the characters Hadyn and Ewan (in particular) have gone through, lending depth to the tale.

The main message Mr. Briggs sends his sons--and to those who read the words over his boys' shoulders is summed up in The Calling:

Don't give up. Hang in there. Answer the Call.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs

It's time for the Christian Science Fiction Fantasy tour for January. I love being introduced to new books, new authors, new series. It seems that most of the fantasy novels coming out in Christian circles are aimed at a Young Adult audience, and this month's pick, A Book of Names, is not the exception.

In this article, debut author D. Barkley Briggs talks about what draws him to fantasy:
This is the power of speculative fiction. This is the power of fantasy: to capture the mind, to both focus and liberate the emotional, imaginative faculties, to form real and symbolic connections, to viscerally associate yourself with a magical, desirable, grand-scaled life.

He goes into greater detail of what he means in a follow-up post.

The Book of Names thrums of the author's dedication to exploring those fantasy connections while never once bopping the reader on the head and saying: "This is what I want you to get."

Here's a brief introduction to the novel:

Here's what other bloggers are saying: Sally Apokedak, Brandon Barr, Keanan Brand, Rachel Briard, Frank Creed, Amy Cruson, CSFF Blog Tour, Stacey Dale, D. G. D. Davidson, Shane Deal, Jeff Draper, April Erwin, Karina Fabian, Andrea Graham, Todd Michael Greene, Timothy Hicks, Joleen Howell, Jason Isbell, Cris Jesse, Jason Joyner, Carol Keen, Magma, Rebecca LuElla Miller, Mirtika, Eve Nielsen, Nissa, Steve Rice, Crista Richey, Alice M. Roelke, Chawna Schroeder, James Somers, Rachel Starr Thomson, Steve Trower, Speculative Faith, Jason Waguespac, Phyllis Wheeler, Timothy Wise

Stand-In Groom by Kaye Dacus

I don't read a lot of straight-up contemporary romance novels. Not because I don't believe in romance--I certainly do!--but because it seems many stories are awkward at finding the right balance. I mean, we all know the plot pattern, right? Boy meets girl, there's some almost insurmountable bumps in the road, it all comes out fine, and the ending is HEA (happily ever after). Because we know that they'll get each other in the end, the wrap-up is never in doubt. We don't read romance for the ending but for the path.

My personal opinion is that it's hard to find believable conflicts to put in the path of these two characters who are obviously going to end up together. Conflicts that are significant enough that it's not some silly misunderstanding that could've been cleared up on page ten and saved us all from thinking "If they only talked to each other!!!" Because I'm a writer myself and have penned one contemporary romance (alongside a pile of fantasy novels), I've brainstormed a lot of conflicts in search of ones that are realistic and workable. It's not as easy as writers like Kaye Dacus make it look. I'd say she nailed the conflict department. The premise of Stand-In Groom?

When professional wedding planner Anne Hawthorne first meets the handsome Englishman George Laurence, she wonders if God has finally answered her prayers for a husband. But when the "best man" for her turns out to be a client--and someone else's to-have-and-to-hold--Anne quickly realizes that planning his wedding will be no honeymoon. Can she remain professional while falling for the groom?

A personal assistant for a wealthy man who wishes to keep his identity--and his engagement--a secret, George Laurence has come to Louisiana to plan his employer's wedding and pose as the groom. Not only is this a challenge to the tenets of his Christian faith, but he can't stand the fact that he's deceiving Anne, the first woman who ever made his heart really sing. Will George ultimately risk his career to keep the woman he loves?

And what will happen when Anne finds out the groom's true identity? Can Anne and George find a way to a happy ending, or will this "I do" ruse destroy their chance at love?

Having an evening with no real plans and no real energy this past week, I read this novel published by Barbour Books in one sitting. And I quite enjoyed it. I'll be happy to read subsequent books in this series.

If you're interested in reading the first chapter, click here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

2009 plans

Well, here it is the 17th day of the new year. You'd think I could post up some goals for it at some point, eh? Perhaps my first goal should be...

1. Blogging more. Aiming for at least once a week might be a good idea.
2. Getting my website completely redone and the blog integrated. Hopefully within the next month.

Most of the things in my life that I have *some* measure of control over are writing related. While many of the highlights of last year (and previous years) are in family areas, those aren't areas where public goals make sense. So here goes on writing ones:

3. Novel Submissions: Keep Majai's Fury in submission. (I've sent queries out twice already this year, and it's been rejected once. So I'm succeeding in this goal, thus far.)

4. Writing: Finish Dottie and Tempest. (It looks like Dottie is going to move forward and be the first for concentration. I'm taking her story through the How to Think Sideways course as we speak.) I'll consider doing NaNo this year, if these are complete and nothing else seems to be more pressing.

5. Contests: I plan to submit at least two entries into the Genesis. Of course I would like to increase my *streak* of finaling and increase my standing. *If* I final again this year, I'd like to try to get to conference in September. But that's not quite a goal.

6. Revising: I'm not sure what will hit the front burner on this one. It depends on how long the writing from Goal 4 takes. At the moment it's a toss-up between Quest to Be Queen and Chloe. I wish I revised faster is the real truth!

7. Critiquing: I'll take on up to four novels this year for crit, though I'm not sure right now which of my partners will have something ready. So this goal is a bit vague.

8. Forward Motion: Continue with moderator duties at FM, including writing and facilitating one new workshop this year. Other things may come up.

9. Book Tours: I'm committed still to touring at least a dozen new books on this blog this year. Maybe it's cheating to stick it in my goals when there will be two next week!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Store Wars!

Here is Cuke Skywalker: "May the Farm be with you!"

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Looking back at 2008

In the spirit of entertainment, I revisited my goals for 2008. In summary, I hoped to:

1. Keep sending out Marks of Repentance (now renamed Majai's Fury). After awhile, analyze whether the novel and/or the query package need another revision.
2. Complete revision of Quest to be Queen, get it out to critters and hopefully into submission in 2008.
3. Revise the opening chapters to Chloe's story (romance) and The Girl Who Cried Squid and submit both to the Genesis contest in April.
4. Revise both novels, send to critters.
5. Write something. Maybe two somethings.
6. Keep critting
7. Keep up with moderator duties at Forward Motion

How did I do?
1. I did keep sending out MF, but not nearly as much as I could/should have.
2. I completed the revision of QtBQ, sent it out to critters, and now have more work to do on it.
3. Of the two openings I planned to enter in Genesis in '08, I only entered one (TGWCS), but I did place third in my category for it.
4. But did not revise it.
5. Did not write two somethings or even one something. I did make reasonable progress on two separate projects, though, so I'll pretend that counts!
6. Critting? Well, that depends on my buddies having novels to swap. This year I critted two of them.
7. Mod duties at FM grew this year with the addition of the highly successful workshop program.

But in reality, many of the highlights of 2008 for me weren't related to my writing dreams, although some certainly were. The best things about 2008?

1. My hubby getting a local job again after 2.5 years of the nasty commute to his four-on, four-off job at the coal mines.
2. A two-day writing seminar in Couer d'Alene, Idaho, in April with Randy Ingermanson and my two new buddies, Bonne and Viv.
3. A great *Girls* trip to Victoria in May with my daughter and daughter-in-law. Even though the car broke down.
4. My daughter and son-in-law spending four months with us this summer--an unexpected but wonderful interlude.
5. A puppy, Brody. Some days he's not the best thing ever, but some days he is.
6. My walking buddies at Walking to Somewhere, with whom I have (virtually) logged over 1200 miles, and for my husband and the pup, who have been my real companions for many of those miles!
7. As part of the local hikes, we explored a lot of our local area and discovered some of the history with the native pictographs, etc, and got started in geocaching.
8. Placing third in the Genesis contest with the opening pages of my novel, The Girl Who Cried Squid.
9. My in-laws' celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in September, which was a great excuse for a family party and a time to honor them.
10. A great one-week trip to Lake Tahoe with Margaret in December, with lots of hiking and laughing.
11. Spending Christmas in Victoria with our kids and their spouses, spending great family time together. And surviving the nasty roads to and from.
12. No major flare-ups of degenerative disc this entire year!!!

That's a pretty spur-of-the-moment list, but definitely things I've been thankful for this year.

What are the highlights of 2008 in YOUR little worlds? Let me know if you've posted a list or recap!