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

Veronica Rossi’s UNDER THE NEVER SKY

At the SCBWI FL Mid-year conference, I learned about Veronica Rossi’s debut novel, UNDER THE NEVER SKY. I watched the book trailer, and knew immediately I needed to get this book. Like, now. So I did what any other impatient reader would do: I bought the Kindle edition and, as soon as I could (this past Monday), I started reading it.

It did NOT disappoint! I fell in love with the characters–Aria and Perry are my new fave couple!– the world, and the story. It’s captivating, from start to end, and I couldn’t put it down. The only reason I stopped reading at 2 AM Tuesday morning was because my phone (w/Kindle) only had 2% battery left! I woke up at 7:30 the next morning and kept reading until I was done. It was that good.

This is the book description from Amazon:

“Since she’d been on the outside, she’d survived an Aether storm, she’d had a knife held to her throat, and she’d seen men murdered. This was worse.

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

In her enthralling debut, Veronica Rossi sends readers on an unforgettable adventure set in a world brimming with harshness and beauty.”

Okay, so here’s what I loved.

The characters: They were real. I loved the dual POV as it allowed me to get into both Aria and Perry’s heads. And the love story…swoon!!! The entire time I kept rooting for them, and I still am! But it’s not just Aria and Perry. It’s the entire cast of characters.

The world: what an intriguing world it is, and I love that she gives us just what we need to know and doesn’t bog us down with explanations that slow the story down. There’s no need for it (and I’m taking notes for my own story!) She creates a futuristic/post-apocalyptic world that is not, in some ways, too unlike our current one.  And she describes it vividly.

The story: I care about a good story, with a plot and characters that pull me in and don’t let go of me until the end, and even then, I can’t stop thinking about them. So much so that I have to pick up the book and start reading it, again. THIS is what UNDER THE NEVER SKY does. It’s the story of two unlikely pairs who are thrust upon each other, much to their dismay. It’s the story of fighting to survive. It’s the story of love conquering obstacles. There’s action and suspense and love and betrayal and sacrifice. There are surprise twists that leave you gasping, wondering, how can that be? It’s fast-paced, but it slows down at just the right moments.

One of my favorite lines: “She absorbed the terror and beauty of him and his world. Of every moment over the past days. All of it, filling her up likes the first breath she’d ever taken. And never had she loved life more.”

So now I wait and twiddle my thumbs and peek at any updates about the next book, THROUGH THE EVER NIGHT. My 2013 reading list is growing!

Blog, Writing

My newest obsession: The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices

Surgery and recovery were really good for one thing: reading. I started with Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy and then, feeling the need for another world and story, I turned to Cassandra Clare’s books in The Mortal Instruments  (TMI) and Infernal Devices (ID) series.

Ohhhemmmgeeee…. I have found a new obsession! I fell in love with her language, her descriptions of New York and Victorian England (TMI and ID respectively), her characters, and the world of the Shadowhunters. It is magical and hauntingly beautiful.

I started with CITY OF BONES, the first in TMI. I read it in a day. Granted, I was recovering, mostly in bed without having (or being able) to do much else, and I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning because I just could not put it down. As soon as I finished, I downloaded the next book, CITY OF ASHES, immediately, and started reading it the next day. So began my obsession. I finished the next three books (CITY OF GLASS, CITY OF FALLEN ANGELS, and CITY OF LOST SOULS) in the week that followed, skimping on sleep because I just had to find out what happened. When I finished the last book, I was temporarily distraught because the sixth and final book, CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE, is not set to be released until March 2014. That is so long from now.

So I went online and devoured website after website, looking for extras and more information about Cassandra Clare’s world. I was pleasantly surprised that her website included a section with wonderful extras, and I hungrily read these.

It was there I started reading about the Infernal Devices trilogy, which is a prequel to TMI, and which remains in the Shadowhunter world, only in Victorian England. I bought the first book, CLOCKWORK ANGEL, and just like that, I was again pulled into this amazing world, and hooked. I just finished reading the second book, CLOCKWORK PRINCE, and have found that I am, again, despairing because the final book, CLOCKWORK PRINCESS, will not be available until March of next year.

I haven’t been so fully immersed into a world since J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the books I’ve read. Some of them are okay (Trylle trilogy) while others are very good (The Hunger Games, Divergent series), but none has completely enthralled me like HP and now TMI and ID.

Why do I love her books so much? I think it starts with the writing. It is really good. Yes, there are a couple typos I caught in theKindle versions. I didn’t catch these in the printed book of CLOCKWORK ANGEL, so I don’t know if that is a print vs eBook problem. But those typos were minor. Cassandra Clare has a gift of description. She brings the setting and the characters to life. New York City and Victorian England are as much a character as Clary, Jace, Tessa, Will, Jem, et al. My world dissolved and I was an invisible bystander as the action unfolded. She really shows us her world. The dialogue is, also, realistic and believable and in tune with the characters. Her characters are three-dimensional; there’s no ambiguity to them. There is some angst (and sometimes I did get a tad annoyed with some of the characters), but those moments were few in the scheme of things. And they’re teenagers. I’ve read my journals from my teenage years–I annoy myself!

Then there’s the world she’s created. Like Rowling’s HP world, TMI and ID world is complex and full of mythology. I think Clare does an amazing job in drawing us into the world of the Shadowhunters, Nephilim (products of man and angel) who are sworn to protect the world from demons, and Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, faeries, warlocks, and shape-changers), magical creatures who are part-human, part-something else. There’s a hierarchy and discrimination, much like our “real” world. The question of what makes us “human.”

Then there’s the mythology at the base of this world. Old world mythology which is especially explored in TMI. It’s fascinating. though perhaps I’m more enthralled with it because my current project involves a certain mythology as well. After I finished TMI,

in the brief reprise between TMI and ID, I looked up some of these myths, of Lilith and such. Fascinating, I tell you. Like memory begets memory, this series has brought about some exploration into religious myths and the current battle between Catholic and Christian faiths.

And of course, there’s the romance. I’m a sucker for romance, and Clare does a good job in writing the relationships with the characters, pulling us into them and making us feel what they’re feeling.

Each of the series has its strengths. Between the two, I think I like ID better, perhaps only because of the lure of Victorian England and because two of its characters love literature and books and the series is replete with literary references of the era. I was reminded of other literature of the era and of my British lit courses I took as a grad and of the romanticism associated with the era.

Both of these series deserve 5 stars. I (im)patiently await the final books in both, and a new series Cassandra Clare has in the works, also of the same world.

Blog, Writing

“Dual [writing] Citizenship” and other news

I’m in Chicago this week at the AWP 2012 Conference, and I have to say, I’m loving it (granted, it’s only my first day).

This is the first time I attend  such a conference (most of my conference experiences deal strictly with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or children’s writing, in mostly workshop form. This, however, is a different experience. For starters, it’s no small event. There are over 10,000 (if I misremember the number, please excuse me) attendees, dozens of lectures/panels happening simultaneously across two hotels, and an impressive celebrity author lineup.

Additionally, though, this conference is great because it encompasses two of my loves: writing and teaching. The lectures/panels that are available broach a wide variety of subjects that pertain to writing and writing programs. The beauty of this combination is that, in one place, I can get tools or listen to conversations about the kids of writing that I do and the classes that I teach. It’s awesome.

The title of this post is in reference to one of the panels I attended today that was titled: “Dual Citizenship: Writing for Both Children and Adults.” It was fabulous and I think it really nailed a problem I’ve been encountering, a sort of snobbery if you will. We’ve been so conditioned to accept a reality of labels that we constantly feel the need to fit into one of those labels, as if writing could be contained in such a way. We don’t have to have just one writing identity (the poet, the fiction writer, the memoirist, the kid lit writer); it’s perfectly okay in embracing this multiple personality effect!

I know that when I get asked the pivotal question,”What do you write?” I stumble sometimes because, well, I like writing it all (though not necessarily all with the same strength)! I don’t want to be known just as a fiction writer or a memoirist or a YA or PB author. I want to write it all. I want to strive to be, like one of the panelists said, Julia Alvarez. Why settle for just one writing identity when you can have several (and be good at several)? It makes perfect sense. Still, whenever I do say I write more than one genre or for more than one age group, I tend to get an “Oh” with a glazed look, as if saying I just haven’t made up my mind what I want to write, that I have to find one niche and stay there.

Well, I refuse.

I enjoy writing. Period. So I will write whatever it is that turns me upside down, inside out. Whatever fills me with excitement. Whatever decides to be what I must write right now. Then, when I’m done with that, I’ll move onto the next project that again commands my attention. Because I think that’s what writers should do. Write what they just absolutely have to write and not what they think they should write. That, I think, should be one of the main writing commandments.

Blog, Writing

The Hunger Games Trilogy

Something I like about summer is I can catch-up on my reading. It doesn’t happen much during the regular semester because of time constraints (there’s only so far I can stretch myself before being completely useless!), so in the summer, I take full advantage. I joined a book club, which gives me an extra push to read (but that’s another post for another time).

I like young adult (YA) books. But not just any YA; I like fantasy, magic, romance, and a little paranormal. It’s why I like Harry Potter and Twilight, and it’s why I got sucked into reading The Hunger Games trilogy. All three books in four days (of course, I did this when we went on vacation to the beach, before the new semester began, when I still had some extra time).

Once I started reading the first book, The Hunger Games, I couldn’t stop. I downloaded the second (Catching Fire) and the third (Mockingjay) into my phone. I just had to know what happened to the characters and I couldn’t wait until the next time I made it to a bookstore. I needed them NOW.

(On a side note, I’ve never been happier that eReaders exist. I never thought I’d give-in to downloading books – and reading them – from a hand-held device, but it’s actually quite useful. I will NOT give up reading actual books, however; there’s something sacred about that experience… it’s a complete sensory experience. But again, another post for another time.)

So The Hunger Games books were pretty awesome. I loved the story line, the setting, the themes. When I started reading the first book, I kept thinking: This is so Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” meets Survivor with a sprinkle of X-Men. Seriously. Read the beginning of The Hunger Games, the way they pick who the two contestants for each district will be, and tell me it doesn’t sound like “The Lottery.” It’s such a macabre process! And once Katniss and Peeta are in the “games,” it is literally survival of the fittest in a reality TV fashion during this post-apocalyptic era.

One of my favorite lines comes from the last book, and I think it sums up one of the main themes quite nicely (and it’s an excellent observation about our society, our world, our history): “‎Collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.” — from Mockingjay.” I can see using this in composition courses and triggering some great discussions.

The writing was good (though not great at times). The books are written in the first person, from Katniss’s point-of-view, which works well. However, sometimes, there’s a lot more telling than showing. We don’t SEE the scenes unfold, we HEAR Katniss telling us about it. This is especially true in the second and third books. Sometimes it didn’t bother me too much, but other times, it did. I didn’t want her to tell me about the reunion with Gale when she got back to District 12; I wanted to see it.

I saw a little of Twilight in the love triangle, when both Gale and Peeta are talking about her while she’s feigning sleep in the last book (Eclipse, anyone?)

But the books were such an addictive read. Suzanne Collins did a great job in hooking the reader with cliffhangers: at the end of chapters and at the end of books. She ensured readers couldn’t wait to read the next book. And the strong within the books, especially the second and third, were war-related themes: dangers of war, the brutality of it, the reality of PTSD. Real dangers today told in a story of a futuristic community. But overall it’s the story of mankind, how we don’t learn from our mistakes but instead keep making them over, and over again. When I read the last word in the final book, all I could say was, “Oh.”

I would definitely recommend these books!

Blog, Ramblings

Incoherent Musings (or Not)

My mind has been a bit depleted of blog topics, what with the end of the summer term upon me (grades due in less than two days!), grading, and working on my own writing for my two classes. I feel a bit scatterbrained, sitting in front of my computer, urging myself to post something, anything, but all I do is stare straight ahead, mouth slightly ajar. I wonder if I can fall asleep in this upright position. I’m exhausted from today’s grading marathon, but I’m still here, urging myself to write. So these might be some incoherent musings.

I’m working on a picture book manuscript for one of my classes. I’m hoping to get good feedback on it and maybe prep it to send out. I love how writing works – much like memory actually, when one memory triggers another then another until there’s a web of memories knitting together your past. Writing works like that for me – I start writing something and then, the ideas start coming. One by one. I jot them down and then tackle them in whatever order is most pressing. It’s not terribly organized, and one of my tasks at hand is organizing myself to focus on ONE project and ONE project alone, from start to finish. Otherwise, I’ll be spinning in circles without ever reaching the end.

So, for the time being, apart from the materials for my classes, I will be focusing all my creative energy around this fiction project, possibly a novel. The characters in this project have hijacked my subconscious and I find myself needing to know exactly how everything plays out. I’ve come to realize this will be a YA novel, and I’m excited by that (and terrified!). The next two courses taken at UCLA’s Writers Extension program will be dedicated to getting my behind in the right gear for this project. Because, damnit, I will get this done. I’ve received some very positive feedback from people I trust who are in the business, so I’m jumping in. All else will have to wait (im)patiently, and I’ll have to resign myself to jotting ideas on margins of documents.

Healthwise- I took another jab at acupuncture and noticed a short burst of energy immediately following the treatment. I’m going to give it the 6 weeks I have per my insurance and see how it helps. The doctor also started me on some natural Chinese herbs to help balance me out. I still haven’t gone to the yoga, though I’m hoping to get myself there soon.

I think that’s as much energy as I have right now. Until later. Chao.