New Project!

With SOUL MOUNTAIN now officially in the querying stage, I’m focusing my attention on a new project, tentatively titled THROUGH THE WALLED CITY. I have a new cast of characters that are setting up shop in my head, and I’m excited about it! Today I tweeted: Write what you know, sure, but for the real adventure, write what you’ve always wanted to know. And that’s what this project is for me. I’ve always wanted to know more about Cartagena, this gem of a city on the northern coast of Colombia. It’s a current popular Caribbean port, though it’s always been popular–just not always for tourism. This city has such a rich but turbulent history with slave trade, pirates, conquests, and this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn more.

And I’m totally calling in a “research” trip to truly immerse myself in its beauty and history.

Though I’m still working on the details and characters (I’m in the planning/research phase of this project), this is the basic premise as of now. I think (hope?) it will be more magical realism than fantasy:

When fifteen-year-old Micaela “Mica” Uribe is sent to spend the summer with her aunt and cousin in historic Cartagena, she doesn’t expect to literally step into history. She also doesn’t expect to fall for the cute local, Gianluca. But as she experiences the city’s past with Gianluca’s help, she comes to terms with her heritage and her present.

So yeah. It’s vague but I’m SO EXCITED about this new project! =D And I’m choosing songs for my playlist because after I finish grading these sets of papers I owe my students, and after I finish beta reading two manuscripts, I’m going to start writing in earnest!

I’m also scribbling outlines for the sequel to SOUL MOUNTAIN, and that’s what I’ll be working on through my UCLA classes this fall.

Oh my. Two projects at once. Am I crazy? Maybe, but now that I’ve had one book-length project done, I feel more prepared to tackle these next two.

Happy writing (and revising), everyone!

Blog, Writing

This thing called revision

I know many people hate the dreaded “r” word. Revision. For some, it’s enough to send them into panic mode, complete with shivers, palpitations, and sweaty palms. I think most of my students feel this way about revision, and if I’m honest with myself, I used to dread revisions, too–not to the above extreme, but I didn’t like them. I was impatient. I wanted to be “done” with whatever project I was writing.

If there’s something I’ve learned during the process of writing a book-length manuscript is that there are no shortcuts. And this includes revision. Patience, in the words of the age-old adage, is a virtue. I failed to see that before, rushing through because I wanted to get work out. Not anymore. Whenever I get the itch that I just want to send this out already, I remind myself, it’s not ready yet. Almost, but not quite. I know this. And I want it to be ready when I send it out.

But here’s the thing. I’ve gone from dreading revisions to actually loving them! Sure, I still get impatient, but the wonder at seeing how each revision adds a layer to my story, my characters so that they stop being rough caricatures keeps me grounded. I recently emailed a former instructor about how I felt like a kid discovering Disney during this process, and how I hope it never gets old.

It’s that sense of wonder and discovery that now makes me yell out to whomever will listen, including my students, I LOVE REVISIONS! 🙂

Blog, Writing

If I’m a little quiet on here…

it’s because I’m working hard! 🙂

This is the last week of summer term, so final portfolios and research papers are coming in.

I’m also working on revisions for my novel. I’m counting my blessing for my wonderful beta readers and critique partners who are giving me some amazing feedback! My novel is printed, tabbed, and it’s starting to bleed purple (I refuse to revise OR grade in red ink…) I’m happy with where it’s going, and I’m marveling every moment in this process. I feel like a kid who’s discovering Disney World for the first time. Seriously! I’ve added the first chapter to the SOUL MOUNTAIN page above, or you can see it here.

Sprinkle in the things life throws in, just to make it interesting, as well as the class I’m taking at UCLA’s Writer’s Extension, a hiccup with health, and family life, and, well, you can deduce the rest.

But I’ll be back soon!


First Draft DONE!

Okay, so this is actually two-days-old-news: Tuesday I put that last period of my first draft. Total word count? 59,600. Twenty-four chapters. That’s after I cut out 3 chapters/8,000 words. A mixture of emotions flooded through me. I was excited at really being done (with the first draft anyway). I was surprised that I ended where I did (in my “outline” I ended somewhere else, but as I wrote this last chapter, it just clicked. THIS is where I had to end.) I was eager to start revising. I felt the immensity of the task of revision, but I’m ready to embrace it. Bring on the layers!

But first I had to grade some papers.

Yesterday I started with the first part of my revision process: reading the whole damn thing from start to finish, looking for things I missed, filling in scenes, changing my “usual suspects” of writing tics, working with word flow and language, adding in character and plot elements that I now know because of the ending, catching things I might have missed before . I’m three chapters in.

I’m not new to revision, but I am new to revising a work of this length. (Does revising my MA thesis count? I realize I have written a book-length manuscript before… but it was academic.) However, thanks to some amazing instructors and workshops (and thanks to some Tweets by authors on this process), I think I’m ready to go.

My game plan:

  1. Read through of entire MS from beginning to end, revising as I go.
  2. When that’s done, print the sucker out, with large margins, and have it spiral bound.
  3. Take out all my notes about revision and strategies and exercises to check the character and plot arcs.
  4. Read the MS again, looking at each chapter individually and as part of the whole, marking up the text.
  5. Incorporate changes into the document.
  6. Send out to beta readers and critique partners.
  7. Wait….and wait.
  8. Review feedback and make necessary changes.
  9. And then one last look from beginning to end. In between I’ll also be reading my chapters aloud at my critique group.

Does that sound like a good plan? I hope so! I’m curious to see how long this takes me. I don’t want to rush, but I’m determined to focus on this and finish before the new semester begins! My son’s in camp until the 10th. Summer classes end on the 5th. Fire is under my behind.

I. Will. Get. This. Done.

Anyone care to share your revision plans?


Write to the Finish Line

I’m on a writing marathon. My son’s in camp, so between 9:30 AM and 3:00 PM, I am writing (or grading… I do still have to do that until the first week of August). The great thing is that with those 5.5 hours, I am getting a TON of writing and revising done! I’m writing 3 days a week (grading the other two) for the full 5ish hours. I’m averaging 3K-5K words on those days, and that includes new material and revising old material.

Basically, I start in the previous chapter, revise, and move onto the next chapter. If it’s a blank chapter (which means I have a rough/sketch outline for it, but I haven’t actually written out the scenes yet), I sit and write it out from start to finish, then go back and re-read it, revising as I go. If it’s a chapter where I already have something written, full or not, I revise as I read through it. Five hours let me work on roughly 2-2.5 chapters per day.

I do this every time I sit down to write. (Check out my post on what I’ve learned about my writing process.)

Today, after I finished writing, I did a quick run down of what I have left: 4 chapters to write, 3 to revise. And then I’m officially done with the first draft. I’m at 58,436 words.

I want to jump up and down! I know I still have the BIG revisions left afterwards, but I’m ready and anxious to tackle them. I have my game plan in place, and I’m confident that, with my son in camp, I’ll be able to finish the revisions by the end of summer. THAT, my friends, is my goal. And as of now, I’m right on track. 🙂

I’ve added my pitch here on this blog, which you can find on the side bar, and soon, I’ll be adding the first few pages. I hope you enjoy it!

Blog, Writing

Five things I’ve learned about my writing process

1. I have writing tics. Many of them. But it’s okay to let them go in the first draft. They’ll be slaughtered in the final one (hopefully).

I never thought about them as writing tics, but that’s exactly what they are.

  • Exclamation marks. I love these, apparently, as I tend to over use them. My emails and tweets and, well, most correspondence tend to contain an overabundance of exclamation marks! Thankfully, they haven’t made their way into my MS, but in almost all else, I sound overly chipper!
  • Coordinating conjunctions. You know, FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). For me, though, it’s “and,” “so,” and “but.” And sometimes “yet.” I’m always using them. And I start sentences with them. A lot. These do make their way into my MS and I’ve learned to look for them when revising.
  • Semi-colons. I didn’t realize I had a “thing” for semi-colons until recently, when one of my classmates from the Writing and Selling the YA Novel pointed it out to me. She said it was residual from the academic in me, and it’s probably so. They just don’t belong in dialogue–I have no etched this on my brain so that as I work on my novel, I won’t do this.
  • And fragments (purely for emphasis, of course). I spend most of my days teaching how fragments are a BIG no-no. And they are. Most people who write fragments without knowing it are writing them incorrectly. Snippets of a wannabe sentence that don’t make sense. But there is such a thing as a fragment for emphasis. Usually in creative writing or journalistic writing. Not in academic writing.

I’ve also learned that sometimes, I use “filler” words like “just,” and “well,” and such. I’ve learned not to use them as much, but when I’m writing my first draft, I don’t worry about it (or any of my other tics). It’s my first draft. It’s meant to be crappy.

2. Outlines are my friend, but I’m not married to them.

Seriously. I love my outlines. They help me stay focused and give me a sense of where I’m going. But in fiction, my outlines are rough and they’re guides. I have written and rewritten these outlines as my story progresses because part of the beauty and magic of writing is the discovery that ensues. An outline shouldn’t take that away. It should just help

Perhaps it’s that I came to writing from the academic side. I couldn’t imagine having written my MA thesis without one. I would’ve gone nuts! When I started writing my memoir, I sketched out an outline of what I wanted to cover, seeing connections in that piece. And when I started writing this novel, I didn’t, initially. I went with what I had: a vision and I wrote that scene. And the next. But then I got to a point where I said, what next? How can I see where this is going? In one of Jessica Barksdale Inclan’s classed, she had us do a list of things that we thought had to happen in our story, in the order in which they happened. This was a sketch outline. That list grew and I had a vision of the entire piece. So my outline isn’t the traditional academic outline, but it’s still a sort of blue-print of my novel. And it changes as my story progresses because that’s what it’s supposed to do. If it didn’t change, then I’d be forcing my novel into something it’s not. And I don’t want to do that. I really view my characters and story as organic–a life of their own. I’m just witnessing it and writing it down.

3. Revision is much, much cooler than I previously gave it credit.

I recently tweeted this about revising:

What I love about revision is witnessing how each round molds the story, adding yet another layer that works toward making it whole.

And it’s so true. It’s like a painting. First, the artist sketches an outline in pencil. Then she begins to layer the background paints. Then the foreground. Then the small shadows and details. The end-product is a beautifully rich painting that took layer upon layer of paint and care and dedication. That’s what revision does: it adds layers. The first draft is the innermost layer, the rough sketch of what the work will look like. It’s rough and jagged and messy. Then you revise for plot and character and theme and unity and language. You take it section by section, layer by layer, until it’s whole.

4. I thrive in writing stretches of 4-5 hours.

I know we’re supposed to fit in writing when we can, even if it’s in short increments. Ten minutes here. Half-an-hour there. But see, it takes me a bit to warm up. I mean, it helps when I’m thinking constantly about my characters and where I left off. Of course it does. But even if I’m mentally there, getting the words to come out in a good manner takes me a bit. Then there’s the frustration of being in the middle of something great and having to stop. Once I get going, I get going, and I like being able to use my energy wisely. My best comes out in 4-5 hours, maybe even 2-3 hours. Anything less, and it’s worse than 1st draft crap. And anything more, I get bone-tired weary, my eyes blur, and my joints start screaming, especially my knees and my hands/wrists.

Of course, if I only have a few minutes, or half an hour, or even an hour, I take it and work with it the best way I can. Usually it’s making a rough sketch of a scene or chapter so that when I do get the nice stretch of time, I’ll have a game plan, helping me get into scene and character and story that much easier.

5. I can write anywhere, but my best writing is done either at Starbucks or in my home office. With music.

I’ve learned that I can, in fact, write almost anywhere. I lose myself in the story once I start writing, and the house can burn down and I wouldn’t even know it. I’ve burned many a toast by writing. But even then, I get interrupted and it’s another block to the flow. Like my preferred 4-5 hours, my preferred writing spaces are at Starbucks or in my home office. At Starbucks, I have my coffee (decaf caramel macchiato with extra foam– I have to do decaf for health reasons, though sometimes I cheat and get that extra umph), my laptop, and the baristas who I’ve known forever (or it seems that way since I’m always there!) At home, I have my orange (yes, orange….bright and alive) office, with cork-board tiles and a dry-erase board above my desk. I have my outlines, my character profiles, my notes, and inspirations there. I also have incense, which I use whenever I can.

In both cases, I write with music. Music and writing for me are linked. I have a playlist for this project and whenever I’m ready to write, I turn it on and it’s like I’m instantly in my story. It’s so much a part of this story. I chose songs that have the feel of what I’m trying to convey, so that means the songs in my playlist are there because of melody or lyrics. Or both. Some artists in my playlist are Adele, Gotye, Natalie Duque, Brandon Heath and Toby Mac.

Blog, Writing

My Writing Process

If there’s one fact about writing that I make sure to stress to my students, it’s that writing is a process. There’s no way around it, and the sooner they embrace this reality, the easier their time in writing classes will be (and, hopefully, the better their work will be!) This basic tenet of writing holds true in academic and creative writing alike (heck, it holds true in any area of writing!), though for each I approach it slightly different.

But knowing this and putting it into practice are two completely different things.

When I was working on my MA thesis, I had detailed outlines, lots (and lots and lots) of 3×5 index cards, books strewn on my dining room table (where I did most of my writing), notes and scribbles from my notebooks, copies of relevant essays I’d written throughout my graduate career, and my laptop. It was a straightforward research process, but one that involved prewriting, writing and rewriting nonetheless.

Writing this novel, though, has taught me a completely different process. This one is more organic and chaotic; instead of a linear process, it’s one that’s cyclical. I’ll write a few scenes, revise them, rewrite them, organize them, separate them, write a few more scenes. Back and forth, back and forth, until I see the story moving forward. In between, I do research as needed, I write and re-write character sketches, and I look for images for inspiration. I have a writing “playlist” on my computer/phone (consisting mostly of Adele and one or two other songs) and they have come to embody my world, my story. I’ve created a creative space in one of the rooms upstairs. In that small, orange room (the walls are painted orange), I have a dry-erase board and some cork-boards containing lists of plot points, ideas, scribbles of important tidbits of my characters/world, and any other pertinent notes and inspiration. These are all over a small writing desk, which is mostly bare except for my laptop, a couple of books, and more notes. Oh yeah, and my Cricut machine from when I tried scrapbooking and such (still love that stuff, just don’t have time! Writing trumps scrapbooking any day.)

But my process doesn’t end with the written. Every day, on my commute to and from work, in between classes, in the bathroom–in other words, everywhere–I’m thinking of my characters. I’m thinking of the story and where it’s going. I’m thinking of the world I’m developing. I’m asking myself, what if? What if this happens? What if that goes down? And I’m coming up with more ideas. Or, I’ll write down notes in my phone (love that app!) and when I get home, to my writing space, I’ll sketch out those ideas some more.

And then, after I’ve written and rewritten my scenes, I share them. In my UCLA extension classes. With my critique groups. With select friends and family. And I take their suggestions and questions, and I revise some more. I used to hate revision; now, I actually like it. It’s what allows the skeleton to fill out and transform into something beautiful.

It’s a never-ending process. It’s not linear. It’s chaotic. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Blog, Ramblings, Writing

Five Random Thoughts…Because I’m feeling random today

1. I absolutely, positively, no questions asked love the 2004 film The Phantom of the Opera. It is one of the most beautiful adaptations with exquisite detail to set and costume. And of course, there’s the music: it’s hauntingly beautiful. It’s the kind of music that reaches deep into your core and moves you. Andrew Lloyd Weber is a genius. I have to admit that I saw the movie before I ever saw the Broadway production, and that the production I saw was a traveling one, when they came many years ago to South Florida. Though I liked that version, it simply didn’t live up to the art that was the movie (and I love live theater!)

It had been a couple of years since I’d last seen it, and a few weekends ago, my husband and I had a date night in. We pulled out the movie and watched it, marveling again at each part, each song. And I keep replaying the songs –I can’t get enough of them.

2. I am definitely an English teacher and my son is definitely an English teacher’s son. Today, as we were getting ready for bed and I was reading him some bible stories, I went into a short lesson on what a metaphor was. And he listened to everything I had to say, repeating the word back to me and trying out an example with it. He’s four. Yep. Definitely an English teacher’s kid.

3. I want to see The Hunger Games so badly. Like, really, really, really badly. It’s like when Harry Potter came out and every inch of me itched to go see it. That’s me now. Waiting. (Im)patiently. Tapping my toes, strumming my fingers, flipping through the pages, again. Just waiting. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go, which makes the waiting that much more unbearable.

4. I’m eagerly awaiting Veronica Roth’s book Insurgent to come out. I think it’s May; I pre-ordered it on my phone. Sometime before it comes out, I’ll have to re-read Divergent so that it’s fresh in my mind. It’s one of several books that I want to read this summer.

5. I want summer to get here. Now. I’m not a very patient person (though I can be). Four more weeks until this term is over and grades are due. After that, though I’m teaching online courses in the summer, the hours during the day are mine for a glorious month while my son is in school. That means I will have four days, for five weeks, to just write. Of course, I have to factor in some gym time, my gallbladder surgery, and some grading, but I will have more uninterrupted writing time than I do during the regular terms. And I just can’t wait! My goal of finishing the first draft by the end of summer is very much within my grasp…I can almost feel it. And I’m anxious to finish it now. So I can begin really revising it and whipping it into shape; though I tend to write and revise as I go along (I can’t just write from start to finish–I do a lot of back and forth), I won’t feel as if I’m truly revising until the whole damn thing is done. I already have agents I want to query and other stories floating up there in my mind, so I just need to finish writing this thing. Now. 😉