Writing

Revisions are a beast

Really, they are. But they’re a beast I love.

I’m 3.5 chapters away from finishing the bulk of these revisions for SOUL MOUNTAIN. They started simple enough–changing one of the POVs from 3rd to 1st person. And then my UCLA class happened and I reached a moment in my process where I just didn’t know which way was up. I put it on hold, worked on THROUGH THE WALLED CITY, and just kept brainstorming. Because something wasn’t working. I knew it, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

After much soul-searching and agonizing and tears (oh yeah, there was some of that), I had a glorious moment of clarity: I needed to rewrite this book. About 70% is new material. Other parts have been shifted. Characters strengthened, redefined. The ending is completely new. Most importantly, I worked on making sure the reader connects with the characters emotionally. I knew I was on the right track, when my instructor’s feedback went something along the lines of, You nailed it! (I imagine Haymitch from The Hunger Games saying it, like “Now that’s what I’m talking about, Sweetheart!) Talk about feeling the breakthrough! With the help of a newly redesigned book map and outline, I was well under way.

But let me tell you. It’s very, very scary, to look at your 65,000-word manuscript and open up a new, blank document, and say, we’re having a do-over. Holy crap it’s scary.

But I did it. I’m less than 4 chapters away from the end. It’s been a fascinating process, slow and steady, full of layers. Every day that I work on it, it goes something like this: read and revise previous chapter, then write new chapter. It’s a write/revise, write/revise pattern. And it works. Sometimes, I go back two chapters or three before I write the new one. But I’m moving forward and I’m excited about the end product.

And each new chapter I take to my critique group, who’ve been fabulous and awesome in their feedback and support.

The true test will be once I submit this revision.

So here’s something else I learned during this part of the process. My layers work (roughly) as such:

  1. Action/dialogue: I start writing a scene as I see and hear it happen. I know what’s going on, who says what, etc.
  2. Add emotional depth: After the first layer, most likely on a different day or after I’ve let some time pass (today it was a few hours), I add what the character is thinking/feeling. How what’s happening and what’s being said affects him/her. What’s at stake.
  3. Pretty up the words: Once I feel better about the action/reaction at play, I look at the language. I revise for my tics (too many coordinating conjunctions, for example). I make sure I’m doing mostly showing. I read aloud for the “flow” and the “rhythm” of the words on the page.

And then I move on to the next scene/chapter. I also update my book map/outline. Where I catch inconsistencies, or if I notice I’ve forgotten a thread, I make a note of it on the outline. Once I reach the new end (with the above layers), I’ll be doing another read-through, slipping in whatever I may have missed.

At this rate, I expect to submit the revised draft by the end of the month. Let the nail-biting begin!

Writing

Writing Reflections

Now that I have two projects on the table, one in final stages of an R&R and the other still in the drafting process (20K words in), I keep feeling that sense of wonder at the way the words come together to form these stories. It’s like a drug, an adrenaline high!

But what I find most fascinating lately is that no matter how different the stories and characters and feel of each individual project, I love each one just as much, even if differently. Does that make sense? I wonder if this is how parents with more than one kid feel. I can’t completely wrap my mind around it.

SOUL MOUNTAIN was my first love. I breathed and lived this story, these characters for about two years, from the moment I dreamt it to the moment a former instructor encouraged me to write Jimmy and Emily’s story. I have that email printed and posted where I can see it, for the days when self-doubt rears her ugly head. It took me a little over a year to decide this was something I wanted to do and once I did, I couldn’t stop. SOUL MOUNTAIN tested me. It’s a fantasy, so there’s world-building involved. Quite a bit, actually, and in doing so, I learned so much. But essentially, though there are scenes that take place in the real world, locations with which I’m familiar, a good chunk of it takes place in another level. The process of creating this other world (or rather, this other dimension of our world) was fascinating. It was dreaming put to the max: I am master of this universe and I create the rules. Pretty darn cool! And challenging. But nonetheless amazing. I started Soul Mountain with a feeling, a pair of characters, and a scene. The possibilities grew from there.

For THROUGH THE WALLED CITY, I wanted to turn to something that has always called my attention: magical realism. It was my focus for my MA thesis and I’ve long since admired the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and Toni Morrison. So when I set out to brainstorm this story, I started with a setting (I wanted to tell a story in Cartagena, Colombia) and the desire to explore the magic of this city. Then came the main character, Micaela Uribe, who just sassed her way into the story. The rest started coming together as I researched the magnificent, and oftentimes turbulent history of Cartagena. And what a different experience writing it has been! Though there is some magic and I have to work out the myth that is accepted as real, TTWC is rooted in the here and now. And the best part hands down has been getting to write about that which makes me Colombian: the food, the people, the experiences. It’s like tapping into my memories, my experiences growing up while straddling both the Colombian and American realities while molding this story. It’s pretty awesome!

I can’t wait to see how the process evolves into the other stories I tackle. And I hope I never grow tired of it. Ever.

Because it’s pretty freakin’ awesome. 🙂

Blog

Book Hangover

book-hangoverThis is me right now, still hungover on Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. To say it’s awesome is an understatement. The characters…wow. And the setting…amazing. And the costumes… sigh. And the writing…lovely.

Okay, I’ll stop. I’m not very eloquent right now. 😉 I promise to come back with a review, though, once the semester’s officially over.

In the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming with Alina, Mal and the Darkling. 🙂

Writing

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!

Writing

A Short Snippet…

“What’s it like to lose someone you love?” I ask.

She doesn’t answer right away. “It feels worse than the worst pain you can imagine. Day in and day out you wake up, thinking you’re going to pick up where you left off, that it was all one big fat nightmare. But then you can’t. Sometimes, you forget, and you try to call them, and you realize they’re gone.”

A single tear falls out of her closed eyes. I reach out and wipe it away with my thumb, my finger cupping her cheek. Her eyes flutter open and she watches me.

“Your parents would be very proud of you.”

I bring my thumb down to her lips and it lingers there. For a few glorious seconds, I’m not dead.  I don’t live on Soul Mountain. I’m not governed by Elders and I don’t have rules that keep me from her.

“I’m glad I was assigned to save you.” My eyes never leave her face. There’s only one thing I want to do. Only one thing I can do.

“Me, too,” she whispers in an exhaled breath.

To hell with it. I’m here. The Elders aren’t. I bring my lips to hers and the world goes mute.

Blog

SKYLARK by Meagan Spooner

Late last week, I downloaded Meagan Spooner’s debut SKYLARK into my iPad’s Kindle. I was eager to start reading, though I was in the midst of grading (grades are due by tomorrow morning—eek!) and my own MS revisions. So I started slowly. One chapter at a time, squeezed in between all else.

But it wasn’t enough.

The problem with me (is it really a problem? I beg to differ) is that once I’m hooked, I can’t stop. It was torture reading just one chapter at a time, and finally, I couldn’t do it anymore. I told my husband, as he went to sleep last night, “I’m just going to finish this chapter and then go to sleep.” Because I was exhausted. But I didn’t. I kept reading, enthralled in this magical, dangerous world, each chapter ending in such a way that I had to read just one more chapter. And so it went until I finished it a little past 1 AM, when my iPad’s battery had only 4% juice left and my eyes were blearing from exhaustion.

Here’s the book description from Amazon:

“Vis in magia, in vita vi. In magic there is power, and in power, life.

For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley waited for the day when her Resource would be harvested and she would finally be an adult. After the harvest she expected a small role in the regular, orderly operation of the City within the Wall. She expected to do her part to maintain the refuge for the last survivors of the Wars. She expected to be a tiny cog in the larger clockwork of the city.

Lark did not expect to become the City’s power supply.

For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley believed in a lie. Now she must escape the only world she’s ever known…or face a fate more unimaginable than death.

In Meagan Spooner’s compelling debut, magic, technology, and human frailty collide in a brilliant new world.”

Oh my. To say that I love it seems inadequate! I LOVED it! And here’s why:

For one, I’m a sucker for gorgeous language and descriptions. Her prose is lyrical and beautiful and takes me right there. I could picture the scenery, the buildings, the forest, the characters. It was such rich and vivid imagery.

The world is unlike any other and yet it was familiar. I understood it and feared it. From the city in which Lark lives, cut off from the rest of the world, to the vast unknown world Lark encounters on her journey, Meagan Spooner delivers. She brings to life the beautiful and dangerous, the friendly and lethal. And the magic. Wow.

I love Lark. She’s strong and fights for what (and whom) she loves, even if it means taking the hard way out or sacrificing herself. And Oren. ❤  🙂 And Tansy and Nix (awww love Nix!). Even Kris. These characters have heart and soul and that makes me love them and root for them. I’m so anxious to see what happens to them in the next book! I’m invested in the characters, even the bad guys.

I also really liked the pace, which quickened and slowed in natural progression, as well as the sense of discovery that accompanies Lark’s entrance into an unfamiliar landscape.

Definitely recommend this book!

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!

Writing

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?

Writing

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

Friday Five

My writing Friday has returned, and to start it off, I thought I’d delve into a “Friday Five” kinda post.

1. My son graduated from preschool. And he’s now registered for KINDERGARTEN. Yes. I am warring with myself. On the one hand, I’m so excited for and proud of him. On the other, I want to throw myself down, pound my fists on the floor, and cry, “I don’t want him to grow up! I don’t wanna!!” But I won’t. Because I’m, you know, an adult. Now we have to work on getting his uniform, school supplies, AND we have to work on a summer reading project which is due by the third day of school. EEEK! Let the homework begin.

Of course, his being bigger now is causing me to seriously think about camp during the summer. At least for part of it. I have work to do–I’m still teaching, and I have to finish this draft…I’m THISCLOSE to finishing the first draft and I’m so ready to begin the serious revisions– and he’s got a ton of energy. I’ve been keeping him busy during the day with pockets of quiet time so I can get work done, but it’s been really hard getting that balance…it hasn’t been working too great.

2. The SCBWI Florida mid-year conference was AMAZING. Not only was it held in Disney’s Yacht Club (which was beautiful and a hop-and-a-skip away from Epcot!), but I also met so many fabulous people and the intensives and workshops were great.

I attended the Novel Intensives on Friday, with agent Josh Adams from Adams Literary, author Gaby Triana, and author Nancy Werlin. What I loved about this intensive, was that it focused on strategies that will help me now as I transition from first draft to serious revision. I have the skeleton down, but now comes the real work: reshaping, adding layers, removing fluff, and working on (fixing?) characters, pace, motives, tension, stakes, and language. I’m adding layers, people! Layers.

I recently tweeted this about revision: “What I love about revision is witnessing how each round molds the story, adding yet another layer that works toward making it whole.” I know my students come to revision with groans and excuses. They hate it (most of them, anyway). I think I used to as well. But there’s a moment of clarity that happens, when I watch what I’ve written be transformed into something so much more beautiful than when it started. A butterfly emerges from its cocoon. That’s what revision does to writing, and I’m loving witnessing this transformation. So yes, revision? Bring it on!

Gaby Triana and Nancy Werlin had great suggestions and exercises for working on plot and characters. I’ve already started implementing some of these, and they’re beyond useful. They also talked about time management, which, as you can see from my number 1 in this post, is tricky! Josh Adams gave us a wonderful view into the current YA market, which writers need to know! It’s daunting and harrowing thinking about the after. After the manuscript, now what? After I finish my story, how do I do this? After the story is finished… the query letter *shudder*–I think most newbies probably follow a similar thought pattern, and that’s why knowing the market is important! (I’m still working on my feelings toward the query letter…) It doesn’t mean going out and writing into a trend (no! Though if that’s the story you must tell, then tell it. Don’t force it into a trend); it means understanding the way it works. Writing is an art, but publication is a business; writers need to know this. All three also read great first lines from current and past books, and it reinforced the importance of a great first line/page.

Then came the first page critiques. These are done anonymously and are exactly what the name suggests: critiques by the panelists of the first page of your manuscript. I submitted mine and when they started picking them at random, holding my breath, vacillating between “please pick mine” and “no, don’t pick mine.” And then they picked mine. I swear I heard nothing by Nancy Werlin reading my first page, and it was scary and nerve-wracking and all I could do was wring my hands to keep them from shaking while I waited for her to finish and for the critiques to begin. But guess what, they loved it! I must’ve sat there with an idiot grin plastered on my cheeks from the feedback I received. It was such a confidence boost, such a shock of electric excitement. I think my favorite compliment was that it sounded “lyrical.” Granted, I know it’s only one page–one out of maybe two or three hundred– but it means that what I did with the first page, and probably chapter since those have been worked and reworked so many times I’ve lost count, works. And it means I can do it. So yeah, that was pretty cool.

On Saturday, I attended the YA track with Nancy Werlin and Noa Wheeler, editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan. It was also a great workshop, with the focus on characters. Again, we got great exercises that I’m keeping handy now as I start transitioning from first draft to revision. Then, Sat afternoon, I had my first chapter critiqued, only…it wasn’t my first chapter anymore (though it was one character’s first chapter). Still, it was good because I saw some major flaws with that character’s chapter/motivation, so I know it’s something I have to work on. Donna Gephart was sweet and insightful and gave me some really good notes.

It was a great experience, and I’m so happy I was able to go. Another pretty freaking awesome thing happened, but I don’t know if I can say much about it, so for now, I’m keeping quiet. Suffice it to know that I was excited and terrified all rolled up into one sticky ball, but that which doesn’t scare, isn’t worth pursuing! Regardless of how it turns out, the fact that it happened had me grinning, again, like an idiot for a long, long while.

3. I went on vacation after the conference, but it was the most stressful vacation ever! Why? Because I had to close out session 2 (finish grading and entering final grades) and I had to prepare session 3 (for which I had to finish converting the course to the new learning management system). I wouldn’t have chosen to go on vacation this week, but since the conference was in Orlando, this was the most obvious choice. Still, it was nice going to the parks (sometimes), and working by the pool (much better than working in my desk). I wasn’t feeling great thanks to a small flare-up and difficulty sleeping, but I trudged through and made it. I think another mini-vacation is in order. This time, to the beach. And this time, not during such a critical time in the semester!

Of course, vacation on the beach will probably look something like this:

4. I started a 4-week class in LitReactor with Mandy Hubbard, YA author and agent with D4EO Literary, on writing and selling the YA novel. This class was perfect for the month gap I had between my Novel III and Novel IV classes, and I’m so happy I signed up.  It’s been awesome, and the community of writers in there is unbelievable. Some amazing talent! And Mandy Hubbard is funny and insightful and helpful! We get our first three chapters and a query letter critiqued during the class by both classmates and Mandy, and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback. This is what I love about classes in workshop settings, like the UCLA classes. They are invaluable for growing as a writer. Critique groups, too. The only way to get better (other than learning about craft and revision and working hard, of course) is to put your writing out there. It’s scary, but it is SO SO SO beneficial. It also teaches how to take criticism. I don’t get defensive like I did when I first started sharing my work. I take it in, let it simmer, and often find truth, which then makes my writing that much better. My first page/chapter wouldn’t be such if I hadn’t listened to suggestions of my classes. In fact, it was a classmate in my UCLA class who suggested starting with my male character! So yes, I’m excited about this class.

5. I’m also excited about starting Lynn Hightower’s Novel Writing IV class at UCLA’s Writers Extension. I received the email that I was accepted into this advanced course in early June, and I registered immediately after! I’m nervous, too, and a little terrified as it’s going to push me more, which is a GREAT thing (even if my first reaction is to bury my head in the figurative sand)! Like I’ve said in the above points, what pushes me in my writing makes me better. So I’ll gulp down my fear and my self-doubt and do it!

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”– Sylvia Plath

Happy Friday, everybody!