Worrying, Waiting, & Writing

This image is by the artist Kibbitzer (Kibbi) on Deviant Art

This image is by the artist Kibbitzer (Kibbi) on Deviant Art

The resubmission process is not as easy as I thought.

Last year, my agent submitted me to three presses. Each one of them saw something of value in it, and offered me some feedback about what aspects of the novel they had issues with. The idea being that if I fixed some of these things, they would review the revised manuscript which might lead to an offer for publication. 

I took a lot of time and care to substantially alter and rework my manuscript, and now that I’ve finished  I’m on “resubmission” with the three editors/presses who gave me feedback. What I have to do now is wait. When I was on submission the first time, I was nervous but also confident. After all, my manuscript had been good enough to get an agent, and I had glowing reviews from my critique partner and beta readers. The editors could have simply rejected my work, but thought it was good enough to give me feedback on. It felt like they wanted to publish my work, but it just wasn’t quite there.

So now that I’ve worked so hard to revise my manuscript, I’m surprised that I find being on resubmission a lot more difficult than the original submission period. I’ve tried hard to figure why this is, and ultimately it comes down to fear. Resubmission is my second & last chance for my novel to be acquired/published by these presses. I fear that they will read it and find my manuscript ultimately unworthy. This concept is scary not just because I truly want my manuscript to be published, but also because it makes me worry about who I am as a writer. I fear that I am somehow in a literary “uncanny valley” as a writer, meaning that my skills/stories are good enough for consideration, but ultimately unworthy of publication. This fear has made it much harder to write something new.

I’ve asked a lot of writers what they do to cope when on submission/resubmission, and the answer I see the most is:

“Work on something else and hope that it distracts you enough from the idea of waiting.”

So I set out to work on something else, but have been plagued by doubt. I know all writers struggle with this. I certainly did when writing my first novel, and even more so when revising/rewriting it. My process in writing a first draft generally requires me to accept that a first draft is about finding the bones of the story. This translates to accepting that the beginning will likely be completely rewritten (saving the plot points and nothing else) and the rest of it will be heavily rewritten. A lot of my first draft writing has me writing scenes that I need to write to get to know my characters better, but are ultimately cut because they are not necessary. A character could talk endlessly about being an outcast in high school, but you could simply reduce this to a single phrase in a conversation. Something like “Sorry, I’m just used to eating alone.” That tells you everything you need to know, and avoid long ambling exposition.

I used to hate this about my process, but I have learned over the past few years that it’s pointless to fight it. I’ve tried to be better about writing work that requires less editing, but ultimately it makes it much harder for me to complete a story. If I think of my novel as building a bridge, and I choose to build it slowly and steadily out of huge stones that once placed cannot be removed, then I run into big problems when I find myself  at a dead end. Whereas if my first draft is just the basic framework which can be altered easily, then I can make sure that those huge stones are in the right place when I edit/rewrite/ and revise.

This is definitely not the fastest way to write a good novel, but it’s what works for me. The issue I have now is, I worry whether the bridges I build are good enough for other people to walk/drive on. Whether they will be able to be used by the masses, or if I’m simply building them for myself. What if my bridges aren’t good enough? Should apply my craft to something else? A true artist is said to be compelled to make/compose whatever art calls to them even if no one else saw it. I perform and sing without an audience often, and I write stuff that no one sees (nor should). For me there is no difference, because they all focus on one thing: Telling a story. I can’t imagine a life where I didn’t tell stories. But stories require an audience, just like theatre.  While novels can certainly exist without anyone but the author reading it, that’s not why I write. My goal in writing is to not only craft and create an excellent story, but also to share it with the world. For that reason, publication means a lot to me, and that is the reason that idea of resubmission being my second & last chance is much more nerve wracking.

My hope is that by blogging about this, I’ll remember that publication is the final step for my first novel. It’s an important one, but I shouldn’t let that stop me from taking the first step with my second. I’ve got other stories that need to be told, and that should be my focus for now.

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The Importance of reading for writers

Young-man-reading-a-book-001

BHE (for new readers BHE stands for “Best Husband Ever”) recent gave me a great book called “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” by Mason Currey. It is a novel that tells you about process famous artists had when creating their art. Reading about the process of others, made me think about my own.

When I was writing “The Role” my process followed this structure:

7:00-7:30 a.m.             Wake up

7:30 – 9:00 a.m.          Free time

9:00-10:00 a.m.           Read a piece of fiction in the POV and tense of my novel. (1st person, present tense)

10:00 a.m. – ????         Write a minimum of 1,500 words.

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.  Take a walk (or do Pilates if it is raining)

3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  If I hadn’t finished my work count I would write to that. If I had met it and was mentally exhausted I would consider this free time.

Understanding and accepting my process is still something I am doing, but there is one aspect of my process I wanted to highlight today.

Reading.

Reading others really helped me in structure, plotting, and just generally making my story feel like a novel. You can learn a lot from excellent authors by engaging with their stories in a critical way. While I usually just enjoy novels that take me on a journey, examining how their writing swept me away was one of the best lessons I ever learned.

So if you are struggling in your writing I suggest you read an old favorite and examine why it is an a favorite of yours. Try and inject some of that magic into your manuscript.

The Power of Failure

tiredrunner

So it has been a long time since I blogged about anything, and the main reason is I’ve been incredibly busy. I could dwell on the events of the past few weeks, but I think a few bullet points will get everyone up to speed to today’s topic:

  • I am now represented by Eric Ruben of the Ruben Literary Agency. To read about that story click here.
  • I have been working a lot. In one two week period I was able to bill almost 40 hours of overtime. That means that in the course of 2 weeks I almost worked the equivalent of three.
  • BHE and I are in the process of getting a house. We’ve already had our bid accepted, we just have to get the loan and inspection stuff done.

That’s not everything, but it’s enough. Anyway, so today I was thinking about what I wanted to blog about. I came up with the power of defeat. If you had found me on January 1, 2013 and told me that by Mid-May I would be so busy I’d have to bullet points major milestones in my life, I’d have said you were crazy. I was so down on myself. I had a lot of aspirations for 2013 but I was guarded with my hope. I knew what a longshot many of them were. I’m happy to report the important ones have seemed to have been accomplished. Part of that is the confidence that comes with being employed. I feel useful, and even when my job has been difficult, I’ve always felt thankful to have it.

I don’t think anyone has ever enjoyed failing, but, for me, a lot of good has come from my failures. There is generally a moment where my brain just clicks and everything that I saw as an obstacle becomes a stepping stone. Many of us wish to teleport from our current location to the goal, but the journey is necessary most of the time. It’s not always going to be fun, but it will make sure that once you’ve crossed over the finish line you are ready for what awaits on the other side.

Past Self and Future Self

past self future self

So the cool thing is…I’m working on something new. With a few fulls hanging out with agents, I decided to stop tinkering with my old novel, and work on other things in my life. One of those is a new novel. I’m once again not really working with an outline, which doesn’t seem to be a problem yet. My first chapter is definitely faster paced than my old one. Of course the new project is YA, so that might be why.

Anyway, my issue so far is this. When I wrote my first novel, I basically wrote to put down the bones of a story. The goal was to just see if I could write a full-length novel, that had a beginning, middle and end. Once I was about 1\3rd through the novel, my ability to write improved a lot. Partially because I wrote everyday, and therefore was in better “writing” shape (my waistline however…well let’s not talk about that!) the other thing that was different was that I knew the characters and the world I was writing in much better. So it was easier to write chapters that felt more fleshed out. I was so so ecstatic when I wrote my ending, and I thought I’d be able to do a quick revision and send it out to agents.

BOY WAS I WRONG!

My first draft was a story with a beginning, middle and end. It had great characters, wonderful moments, and a killer ending. The problem was….the beginning was a wreck. It was crude and poorly written. I despaired, wondering if the entire novel was actually like this. I flipped 100 pages into the novel, and soon saw that it was well crafted and much better than what I had started with. So I went to work heavily revising my first 100 pages. It wasn’t easy. I was angry with my past self for leaving my current self to deal with this mess. I swore never to do this again.

Funny thing? After writing only 2,000 words I can see I’m doing it again. Now it is better written than the first novel, but it is still crude. The character’s are definitely interesting, but I’ve not spent enough time with them to really get a feel for exactly how they feel and sound. It’s almost feels like they are in an opera where they play an exaggerated version of themselves. I am sure that, much like the last time, I will be able to better wield my keystrokes to turn these operatic icons into characters you can connect to on a true and personal level.

So to my future self I must say this: I know the beginning is rough, but you know these people so much better than me. So don’t be mad at me for not doing them justice. Just remember, without me, you’d never know them at all. Together, you and our even further future self will hopefully be able to bring our new found friends and enemies into the hearts of our readers.

Instead of resolving to do something in 2013….

Looking in mirror

This post is kind of self-help in language, so if you don’t like reading about people announcing to the universe their desire to change themselves for the better, I’d skip this. I usually hate reading it too, but this blog is meant to be a collection of my thoughts, and this is something I wanted to have on the record.

It occurred to me that as 2012 comes to a close, I have a lot of things I want to do. Life goals/aspirations, that I’d felt too guilty or unable to pursue, because my fruitless job search had bogged me down into a deep depression. In 2012 my goal was was simple to say, I wanted my novel to be read by people. Now, when I announced this aspiration, I meant the public at large. However I have had about 15 people read it, and it was nice to have that. I usually make some sort of resolution each year, but it rarely sticks (though I did lose 75 pounds the one year I ever kept my resolution!) So instead of “resolving” to do some new things in 2013. I created a list of things I just want to do. Things I usually think of as “Wouldn’t it be nice if I did that!” A good example is that my husband and I always say we should create a “poker night” for our male friends (many of whom have girlfriends\wives who do a book club). This year, I’m going to stop saying we should do it, and just do it again.

When I lived in AR, I was kind of a social event planner. Now granted, the events usually were the same each week (Friday night watch movie, Saturday night have wine and song at a piano bar, midnight meal at diner, Sunday brunch, repeat) I was good at getting people to do things. However, doing that takes a lot of planning and effort. And the older I’ve become the more expectations I feel are foisted upon events that I plan. Whenever we throw a party, whereas once I might have simply bought a few bottles of wine and laid out some cocktail books with the extensive liquor cabinet I had (though I rarely drank hard liquor back then.) Now, I spend a good 3 hours the night before chopping fruit for enough Sangria to probably fill more than a Magnum bottle. [in fact I often have to buy special containers for it!] and I also cook food for about 3 – 6 hours the day of. Now do I HAVE to do this? No. I enjoy it. I like throwing parties,  and have learned how to accurately set expectations of how involved the party planning will be. So what’s my point? Basically I’ve lost sight of a the mid-point. I am either completely lazy or super involved (some would say overly involved). The beauty of my AR event planning was that it was more middle of the road. I think I was just tired of being the only one who did it! So when I didn’t have to (my husband explained that my friends would figure out what to do with themselves if I stopped planning everything) I never wanted to be thrust back into a situation where I felt the need to do be the “go to” person for a lot of things. Instead I took a lot of “assistant” roles.

So I think I’m ready to get back to being more active. I think my body will be happy to return to the gym/yoga/pilates (of course it’ll take 2 weeks for it to really be happy about this decision!). I think my brain will be happy to once again return to using some portions that have been neglected. And perhaps most importantly, I think my soul will be happy to once again have me singing everyday (even if it is only in my home office!).

So I’m not “resolved” to changing myself for the better in 2013. I’m excited about it! Because I don’t HAVE to. I WANT to!

Sometimes Being There is what matters most

So, I have had a pretty selfish week. It’s been a lot about me, and my book that I am editing. Then someone sent me an article from the Rolling Stone:

One Town’s War on Gay Teens

In Michele Bachmann’s home district, evangelicals have created an extreme anti-gay climate. After a rash of suicides, the kids are fighting back.

The article is hard to read, not because of the length or the prose, but because of the heart-wrenching content.

I grew up as a gay teenager in Little Rock, Arkansas. For most people who read this, that will not be news, but if even just one person out there comes across this and is in need, well, I think it is worth talking about a little bit. I’d like to start off saying that Little Rock is not the worst place to grow up gay. It is also, however, not a great place either. I was fortunate to find friends who loved me, in the closet and out, and honestly that is what saved me. I’ve thanked those friends often, but I never can thank them enough.

I pondered suicide in school, there were times I got close to killing myself, on nights or weekends when my parents were away. I thought about how I would do it and where. I wrote several “final letters” over the period of 5 years. Sometimes addressed to my parents, sometimes friends, and sometimes to no one. Because I thought no one would care. Part of what stopped me, was that my explanations never felt like enough. I worried that somehow my death wouldn’t be enough to make the statement about the hell I was living, and I also found I wasn’t able to write a letter that did any better. I think that in the darkest of times, this might have been what kept me alive.

For people who are in that place, and reading this, I hope you can see. It really does get better. We’ve spent so much of our lives becoming used to things getting easier and faster so the idea that you might have to wait 5 years to not feel persecuted or horrible, sounds like a pretty tall order. I get that, I’ve been there, and I can tell you, it is worth the wait.

What I want people, especially kids, to know out there, is that they are not alone. I know what it is like to be surrounded by a football team, thrown into the mud, kicked, scratched, and beaten. It’s something I don’t talk about, because most of the people who did it, grew into better people. It, and a few others, were moments that really pushed me to the point where I thought I’d be better off dead. But talking to someone, anyone, really did help. I talked to strangers a lot in those days. Sometimes strangers are people who become friends, but often, strangers are just people who show you that humanity is actually good at the core. I have never been able to thank them, because I have no idea who they were.

If you want to contact me, do it. I’m happy to lend an ear. Tell me about anything that is troubling you. Even if you don’t think talking about it will help, just do it. There are plenty of people like me in the world, who were once like you, and any of us are happy to talk to you, or simply listen.

Your voice is powerful. You probably know the power words have had on you. Don’t let anything silence you for good. Even if your words only reach my ears/eyes, they could possibly change the world.

Words of Wisdom?

So I haven’t been posting a lot here. I’m sure no one has noticed, but I felt the need to put something out in the larger universe to tell everyone I’m still here. I’ve been a bit more guarded about my work lately, because i think it is getting to a point where I should be. That said, here is something I thought I’d throw out there, and see what people thought.

“Yes. Thanks.” I say, but after I’ve stepped outside, I turn around. “Lycan, can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“What am I going to say when I get home?”

“Even the sturdiest of ships, bend and break in a storm. Repairs are quick and crude, but assure the journey can continue. When the seas are calmer, the crew works to refine and restore what they once had. They reinforce parts, to assure they never break again, but the new wood can take years to blend in with the rest.” Lycan replies, and while I ponder what he means, he simply shuts the door.

I think it is lovely, except for the word “parts” but i couldn’t think of something better. I would love suggestions.

Also, in case you missed my post on facebook. I am currently seeking Beta-readers for my nearly completed first draft. If you are interested, let me know.

The Magician King

I have to admit, it has been hard not to post this review until now, but today is the day Lev Grossman’s newest book “The Magician King” comes out. This book is a sequel to “The Magicians” which I reviewed some time ago. This time, I was fortunate enough to obtain an advanced copy, so today, while it is fresh on the shelves, I am able to review the book in its entirety. As this book is certainly one that has spoilers, I will refrain from mentioning anything in specifics, and perhaps revisit the subject at a later date. If you would like to comment, please do so, but if there will be spoilers please warn other readers or send me a message personally.

The Magician King picks up generally where the other book left off, the magicians Quentin, Eliot, Janet, & their newest addition Julia, are now kings and queen of Fillory. Fillory is Grossman’s personal Narnia, and while it certainly makes you think of the world C.S. Lewis created, Grossman is clear from the first chapter that Fillory has a much darker forces at work than the lush green fields and clockwork castles might indicate.

Quentin has grown up, and much of his original naiveté is gone. Though still somewhat whiney, his complaints are ones of an adult, and this evolution in his character is welcome as well as earned. Grossman seems to take a note from Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” demonstrating that sometimes “Happily Ever After” is somewhat boring, and never all it appears to be. The gang is still relatively young, and not all of them are ready to simply live life in a world where they are mainly an accessory. Specifically, Quentin is torn for his desire for “one last adventure,” as he wonders whether or not asking for this dishonors the memory of the girl who sacrificed herself to give him the life he has.

Alongside Quentin is Julia, who was a character who lived in the shadows of Grossman’s first novel. We saw her a few times, and I was always wishing I had seen more. Grossman appears to have felt this from many of his readers, and although I assumed much of what we learn about Julia’s story, I was still riveted on every page.

Much of what my friends took issue with in “The Magician’s” is dispensed with in the sequel. In particular, all of the characters are older, and don’t fall victim to the follies of college drama as much as they did in their youth. This does not mean, however, that sex is not involved, nor is it always an expression of love. Grossman maintains that sex in life, is not always romantic, and is often messy both physically and emotionally. For this reason, I applaud that Grossman maintains the idea that magicians are still human, and humans with access to magic, can often bring out the worst in humanity.

The book’s central focus is on the idea of the quest. Grossman has often spoken in interviews about his love of T.H. White’s description of the quest for the Holy Grail in “The Once and Future King.” As a huge fan of that particular telling as well, I was keenly aware of Grossman’s adoration of all things that are involved in a Quest, and his ability to balance feats of heroism with the reality of the dangers involved.

In addition to giving us a splendid adventure, Grossman is able flex his in-depth knowledge of all things geeky. From his rather elaborate references to Dungeons and Dragons to in-depth descriptions of tech-heavy enigmas, it is clear that Grossman has a wealth of knowledge in things that the populace has defined as “nerd-culture.” While I consider myself somewhat versed, I was absolutely blown away by his ability to describe what was essentially genius wish fulfillment. To say more, would be to ruin it, but when you read it, and you should, know that Grossman’s ability to describe something so complex with such ease is mark of a true genius.

The Magician King helps Grossman’s characters go beyond the label of “Harry Potter for adults” and enter into a rare gem where characters which would be at home in the genre of literary fiction, are also able to perform amazing things with the help of magic and intellect. If you enjoyed Grossman’s first book at all, this sequel offers you more of what you loved, with less of what readers might have found unpalatable. As a huge fan of his book, I was concerned that without a large section of the book being about the magic college, I would be less entranced. Instead I found every page of this story was so energizing I often had to put it down, as I was literally shaking with excitement. The Magician King is both a poignant story about finding your place in the world, as well as roller coaster ride, and, as such, cannot come more highly recommended by me.

I would like to be sum this up by stating that this review says everything I can think of, and it shocks me that I have basically no criticisms for this novel. While I might have changed one or two things, they are so small and miniscule, that to mention them would be petty and silly; Grossman might be one of the few authors I have ever reviewed in such a positive light.

Actor – How did I not know this?

Today I had a small revelation. While watching the final season of Slings and Arrows, I decided to look up the plot to Troilus and Cressida. When doing so, I was reminded of the ambiguous relationship that Achilles is said to have with Patroclus. In looking up more about Patroclus, I found out that he is the grandson of someone named “Actor.” Wading through Wikipedia, I decided to learn more about that name and found the following information.

Actor (Greek: Ἄκτωρ; gen.: Ἄκτoρος) is a very common name in Greek mythology. Here is a selection of characters that share this name (which means ‘leader’, from the verb άγω: to lead or carry, to convey, bring):

  1. Actor, a king of Phthia, was said to be the son of King Deioneus of Phocis and Diomede, or of King Myrmidon and Peisidice, daughter of Aeolus. Some say that Actor died childless, but others say that he is the father of Eurytion, his successor.
  2. Actor, son of Deioneus and Diomede, daughter of Xuthus, thus a brother of Asterodeia, Aenetus, Phylacus, and Cephalus. This Actor married Aegina, daughter of the river godAsopus, and had several children, among them Menoetius. Menoetius was counted among the Argonauts, and was the father of Patroclus (Achilles’ best friend or lover).
  3. Actor, son of Azeus, descendant of Phrixus, was ruler of the Minyans of Orchomenus. He was father of Astyoche, who was seduced by the war-god Ares and bore him twin sons, named Ascalaphus and Ialmenus. These last two led the Minyan contingent to the Trojan War.
  4. Actor, son of Phorbas and Hyrmine, thus a brother of Augeas. He was king of Elis, and founded the city of Hyrmina, which he named after his mother. This Actor married Molione and became by her father of the twins known as the Molionides, Cteatus and Eurytus.
  5. Actor, son of Hippasus, one of the Argonauts.
  6. Actor, son of Oenops, brother of Hyperbius. He was among the defenders of the Borraean Gate at Thebes when the Seven Against Thebes attacked the city.
  7. Actor, father of Sthenelus. Sthenelus followed Heracles in his campaign against the Amazons and was killed by them.
  8. Actor, one of the companions of the exiled Aeneas. He is probably the same who in another passage is called an Auruncan, and of whose conquered lance Turnus made a boast. This story seems to have given rise to the proverbial saying “Actoris spolium” (“the spoil of Actor”), for any poor spoil in general.
  9. Actor, father of Echecles. His son married Polymele, mother of Eudorus by Hermes.
  10. Actor, a warrior in the army of the Seven Against Thebes. He saw a chasm open in the earth that swallowed Amphiaraus.
  11. Actor, a Lapith. He was killed by the CentaurClanis.
  12. Actor, son of Acastus, was accidentally killed by Peleus while hunting. As a retribution, Peleus sent to Acastus some cows and sheep that had been killed by a wolf sent byThetis.
  13. Actor and Eurythemis were in one source called parents of Ancaeus and grandparents of Agapenor.
This was shocking to me. I had never realized that so many people were named Actor. I am sure I read it in passing, but it never seemed to click with me until today. I did know that the term “actor” that we use today to mean performer, is not what the Greeks referred to them as. Our use of the term “actor” came into popular use around the 1600’s. (According to the dictionary it was 1580’s). Still, I thought this was interesting, and I wanted to share. 

A Damaging Taboo

So I am not sure if this taboo is universal, or not. But as a child I was always told never to discuss money. I never knew how much my parents made, and was told not to ask how much other people made. As a child this little rule was easy to abide by, but now I find myself still clinging to it.

In the few and short moments I decide to break this little rule, I apologize both before and after, but I find the information very useful. It lets me see that sometimes my spending is more lavish than it should be, and also that things I am frugal about are not helping me balance things out. If i paid for a gym membership, I’d tire myself out, which means I would probably, on average, drink less. Alcohol is expensive in cities, and I like good wine, and I often get in a rut where I use the intoxication as a catalyst to sleep, when really a few laps earlier that day would have been a much better choice.

So I wonder….is talking about money really that taboo? People who I know discuss money openly, all seem to do pretty well for themselves. They have a better understanding of how much people make, and are therefore able to push their employers to pay them what they deserve. When I worked at a firm, I was being paid very little to do a big job. After I moved, I learned that if I worked like that, I should have been making almost double. Whether that firm would have paid me double…is probably not useful, but I could have fought for better pay. When I did…all I had was a general survey of how much a person in my job should be making. They looked at it, and told me to wait. I moved from the state before anything came of it, but I think now if I had pressed harder it would have led to me being paid better.

So I understand why talking about money is not socially acceptable at parties and when you just meet someone….but when you are amongst friends….maybe it should be. Maybe it would help people out. I am pretty sure people on top talk about money, their money, a lot. So wouldn’t a little sharing amongst friends, no co-workers, be a good thing?

Clearly I’m channeling Sex and the City tonight, having watched 3 episodes of it to entice me to fall asleep, but it is a question I have been thinking about a lot. When I start my clerkship my finances are public knowledge/record. I can’t get paid anymore than any other clerk in my position. But after that is over I’m going to have to fight for a salary I think I deserve…I’d love to know what friends in my situation did….and whether they think they did it well.

Do people still think money talk is taboo when it is amongst friends?

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