Pushing Through to the End of My Draft

Hi everyone!

I was a neglectful blogger last week. It was Christmas show week, which is a crazy time in my house. My husband and I both play in our church orchestra, and my son was also in the children’s choir this year. Between the three of us, someone had rehearsals Sunday through Wednesday, and then we had shows Friday and Saturday. Everything went well, though, so now we can relax a bit. Whew!

IMG_1261Remember how I went on that frantic reading spree in October and November? Well, I’ve only finished two books in December. That drives me a different kind of crazy. I start to get impatient if I haven’t finished a book within a few days, but I just haven’t had the time to read. I don’t quite want to read as fast as I had to to get through all those library books, but I’d like to read a couple of books a week. I went to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale last week and picked up these goodies, plus I still have those books from the Fierce Reads tour, plus there’s Christmas coming up (I asked for several adult books I’ve been waiting on), so I will have a lot to read!

I guess I should get to the title of this post. So, back in November I posted about how I was actually enjoying the drafting process this time around. It’s gotten a little … harder … as I approach the end of the manuscript. I set myself a goal of 70,000 words by Dec. 19 (this Friday), and I’m not sure I’m going to make it. I should clarify. I’ll make the 70,000 words, but I don’t think the manuscript will be finished, which is a bummer because that means I will have a break in the middle of drafting. I am planning to work on Monday, but then the holidays will interrupt. Oh well. I really like my processes (ask my husband–or anyone who has worked with me for that matter), so the fact that I have to adjust the plan I set out is something I have to make myself let go. (Yes, I am now singing the song to myself.) I could try to write more this week, but I don’t know how much more the story requires, so I feel like I’m better off sticking with my daily word counts because drafting isn’t the only thing I have to accomplish this week anyway.

I think the other reason the draft is not so wonderful anymore is that I had a pretty detailed outline for the first half of the book, but it was pretty vague. I got to this part of the book with Scrivener notecards that said “Road trip” and “Visit to old hometown” that really should have been about six or seven notecards each. I didn’t know what was going to happen there. I didn’t get stuck or anything, but I didn’t have as clear of an idea of where the story was going at that point, so it didn’t flow as quickly as it had earlier on. As a result, the story has gone in a different direction than I expected, and that’s part of the reason it will be longer than I anticipated. I should note that I don’t have a problem with it being longer. I like where it’s going. I just wish I wouldn’t have an interruption in the middle of drafting. But I’ll deal!

Next Monday I plan to have my annual post with my favorite reads of the year. What will make the list??? Honestly, I don’t know yet because I haven’t looked back through the more than 100 books I’ve read this year to jog my memory. There might be some from early in the year that I’ve forgotten how much I loved.

Ok, that’s it. Just thought I should check in. Is everyone else having as crazy of a December as I am?

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Revising from Public Critiques: Baker’s Dozen Edition

Hi everyone! I took Monday off from the blog due to Thanksgiving (which also happened to be my birthday), followed by Black Friday shopping and Christmas decorating. It was a crazy but fun-filled weekend. Oh, and I participated in a little contest called Baker’s Dozen. If you’re not familiar with this annual contest, it’s hosted by Authoress and is a frenzied auction in which agents bid on entries for the privilege of a one-week exclusive for the highest bid. I found myself in the exciting position of having agents fight over my entry (!!!!). You can see it here. This was, of course, awesome, but I’m a realist. It doesn’t guarantee an offer of rep is forthcoming. But no matter what happens, I will be holding onto that glow a bit longer :).

As with all of Authoress’s contests, a key component leading up to the agent round was critiques by other writers. You may recall that late this summer I participated in a blog hop–also hosted by Authoress–after which I posted thoughts on revising from public critiques. For Baker’s Dozen, Authoress specifically stated in the rules that entrants could not respond to comments, which I fully support. First of all, the entrant joining the conversation could taint the opinions of future commenters. Second, if it’s not working, trying to explain it could confuse things even further. And finally, agents wouldn’t normally see your explanation, so why should they now?

You might be looking at the title of this post and wondering why I would bother revising at all when I had agents fighting over my entry. Here are a couple of points to consider:

  • Not every agent bid on my entry. Maybe they just had another favorite and didn’t make it over to mine in time, or maybe they didn’t care for my premise. But maybe it was my first page that put them off, and if there are tweaks I can make to fix that first impression, I should.
  • Sure, I had a great showing in this particular sample of entries. On a different day, with a different set of agents and a different set of entries, mine might not have been as popular. So much of this business is dependent on catching the right agent at the right time in the right frame of mind. As a result, I will never ignore feedback but always consider it carefully.

Now that I have that out of the way, when I posted before, I said there are four questions to consider when deciding whether to revise:

  • Are they questioning something that will be answered within a page or two?
  • Did multiple people mention the same issue?
  • Did people disagree on the same issue?
  • Does the comment resonate with you?

My thoughts on these questions remain the same, but I do have some additional thoughts after this contest.

Are your words accomplishing what you intend them to accomplish?

I mention this because in the case of my entry, almost all of the comments centered on one paragraph. A few people liked it, but most said it distracted them for various reasons. Now, I had a specific reason for including it, and I could explain that, but the point is it wasn’t carrying the weight I intended it to carry. So, that means I need to take another look at it.

Do you agree with other comments a particular commenter has made?

One of Authoress’s requirements for entrants was that we comment on at least five other entries. I always read through the previous comments to make sure I’m adding value with my own comments. As I was doing so, there were some comments I found I disagreed with. If they were people who had also commented on my entry, I made a mental note. It doesn’t mean I will disregard their opinion entirely, just that we see things differently, so their opinion on my work is going to understandably hold less weight than someone who generally had the same taste as me on other entries.

I guess those are the only two additions, but I really wanted to get them out there!

To my fellow Baker’s Dozen participants and everyone else who stopped by: thank you for the critiques! They were valuable, and I am considering them carefully. And thank you, Authoress, for such a thrilling experience. No matter what happens next, I enjoyed being a part of the contest and the new connections I made through it.

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MMGM: EVERBLAZE, BALANCE KEEPERS, and THE MAP TO EVERYWHERE

Today I’m continuing my reading roundup with middle grade books–because of course my reading extravaganza included a few of those. I wish I had the time to give them full reviews, but alas, still speed-reading.

Of course I have to start with the book by MMGM founder Shannon Messenger. EVERBLAZE is the third installment (and thankfully not the last!) in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series. You can read my reviews of books one and two for an idea of why I love this series so much. Basically the same reasons hold true for this third book, and I’m excited to see where Shannon takes it in the next book (and maybe even more??)!

Everblaze by Shannon MessengerSophie Foster is ready to fight back.

Her talents are getting stronger, and with the elusive Black Swan group ignoring her calls for help, she’s determined to find her kidnappers—before they come after her again.

But a daring mistake leaves her world teetering on the edge of war, and causes many to fear that she has finally gone too far. And the deeper Sophie searches, the farther the conspiracy stretches, proving that her most dangerous enemy might be closer than she realizes. 

In this nail-biting third book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie must fight the flames of rebellion, before they destroy everyone and everything she loves.


THE FIRES OF CALDERON is the first in the Balance Keepers series by Lindsay Cummings, and I can tell it’s going to have wide appeal. My first thought upon finishing the book was that I needed to make sure our school library has ordered it because I could already think of some kids who would like it. It has adventure, magic, creatures, friendship–all the great things an MG reader loves. A must-read!

The Fires of Calderon by Lindsay CummingsWhen eleven-year-old Albert Flynn follows a mysterious map deep into the woods, and then under the woods, he discovers he’s a Balance Keeper—someone with special magical skills for keeping harmony in fantastical underground worlds. Together with his teammates Leroy and Birdie, Albert must master his magical talents in time to stop the fires in the Calderon Realm from destroying New York City above.

 

 


I requested this last one because an agent I follow on Twitter (can’t remember which one now) said how much she(?) loved it even though she doesn’t usually read middle grade. (Really wish I could remember who to thank for the recommendation!) I loved the two main characters, Fin and Marrill, the magical places they visited in their quest to find the various pieces of the map, and the unique way the map itself worked. Plus, the ending left me wanting more. Actually, now would be good :). Definitely pick this one up!

The Map to EverywhereTo master thief Fin, an orphan from the murky pirate world of the Khaznot Quay, the Map is the key to finding his mother. To suburban schoolgirl Marrill, it’s her only way home after getting stranded on the Pirate Stream, the magical waterway that connects every world in creation. With the help of a bumbling wizard and his crew, they must scour the many worlds of the Pirate Stream to gather the pieces of the Map to Everywhere — but they aren’t the only ones looking. A sinister figure is hot on their tail, and if Fin and Marrill can’t beat his ghostly ship to find the Map, it could mean the destruction of everything they hold dear!


Have you read any of these yet? If not, I hope I convinced you!

Posted in Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How Do You Pull Off A Successful Unreliable Narrator?

I just finished reading a certain best-selling book that included an unreliable narrator, and it got me to thinking about how you pull one of these off. It’s no easy task. I tried it. Unsuccessfully. I ended up rewriting the manuscript a different way, and as much as I liked the idea of the unreliable narrator, the MS was better without it.

Here’s a funny side note. Agents and editors are always saying they want unreliable narrators, but it’s not like you can tell them in your query that you have an unreliable narrator. That would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it? They’d already go into it not trusting the character. Hmm … I wonder how you’d go about conveying that you’re giving them what they want without giving away the twist.

Anyway, back to my point. I’ve read several books where the author successfully pulled off an unreliable narrator, and I’ve pinpointed a few ways I think they make it work. But I’d love to hear if you know of more!

Written Accounts

Having the character put something in writing seems like the easiest way for them to lie to the reader, and it’s also the tactic I’ve seen used most often with an unreliable narrator. It’s still tricky, though, for that very reason: it’s been done. Maybe not too often yet, but I can think of at least two recent examples–one young adult and one adult–that used written accounts to mislead the reader. There’s something about a personal account that feels true to a reader, even though subconsciously you probably realize that the character doesn’t have to be writing the truth, you don’t have a reason to think they aren’t–until the author drops the bomb on you at some point in the book.

Traumatic Past

Here’s another person you can’t entirely believe: someone who doesn’t even know himself/herself. And yet this type of story still takes some masterful planning to pull off. You can’t just plug in a blank spot in the character’s memory. And for it to work, you can’t be outside the character, showing the reader what is different in the world the character sees versus the world everyone else sees. For the reader to trust the character, we have to be lost with them. While the first unreliable narrator is much more of an external authorial device, like “Ta-da! You didn’t see that coming!”, this one drags you in deep so that you feel more like we–the character and the reader–didn’t see that coming. It’s like the “Sixth Sense” effect. If you haven’t seen that movie, I’m sorry, but I think it’s been out there long enough I shouldn’t be spoiling it.

Deep Backstory

I wasn’t sure what to call this one, but sometimes the information the character withholds is so far in his/her past that it is understandable he/she wouldn’t think about it in the present. Or maybe the character has been trained to bury any thought of it (say, a secret identity). Is it frustrating to the reader when you get to the twist? Maybe, but I don’t mind a good twist if the author is able to explain why the character concealed it from the reader. This one is especially tough to pull off without leaving the reader feeling tricked, though. I’ve read a few that do it well. I’d tell you what they are, but then I’d spoil the twist :).

Other Ideas?

What other tactics have you seen work? I’m not looking for specific titles because then I’d know they’re unreliable! I’m looking more for generalizations like the above. Because maybe I’ll try an unreliable narrator again someday, in a story where he/she would be a fit …

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LAILAH Giveaway, Plus A Few Other YA Books You Should Read

About a month ago, I went to the Fierce Reads event here in St. Louis and bought a stack of books I was privileged to get signed from the authors. I had time for one of them–LAILAH by Nikki Kelly–before I got buried in library books. I’m not kidding here. I think the library has it out for me. Yes, I had 14 books requested at the same time. BUT, I was way down on the list for several of them, and others hadn’t even been released yet. It’s not my fault they all decided to come in at the same time. Anyway, the result is that in the last month I’ve speed-read ten books. Normally I might have granted some of these full reviews, but the library isn’t finished with me yet, so instead you get a young adult list this week and a middle grade list next week. But, BONUS, I’m going to give away my signed copy of LAILAH, so look for details at the end of the post. And if the library books ever stop coming, I might get to those other books I bought at the Fierce Reads event and do more giveaways :).

Ok, I just have to say that Nikki Kelly is absolutely adorable and was very encouraging to me as a writer seeking publication. I’m also extremely impressed that she found a way to successfully publish a YA book about vampires and angels in a market where pretty much every agent and editor says, “no vampires or angels!” She took it directly to the audience through Wattpad, and a publisher came to her after some million views. That’s the way to show them vampires aren’t dead. Well, you know what I mean :).

Lailah by Nikki KellyThe girl knows she’s different. She doesn’t age. She has no family. She has visions of a past life, but no clear clues as to what she is, or where she comes from. But there is a face in her dreams – a light that breaks through the darkness. She knows his name is Gabriel.

On her way home from work, the girl encounters an injured stranger whose name is Jonah. Soon, she will understand that Jonah belongs to a generation of Vampires that serve even darker forces. Jonah and the few like him are fighting with help from an unlikely ally – a rogue Angel named Gabriel.

In the crossfire between good and evil, love and hate, and life and death, the girl learns her name: Lailah. But when the lines between black and white begin to blur, where in the spectrum will she find her place? And with whom?

Gabriel and Jonah both want to protect her. But Lailah will have to fight her own battle to find out who she truly is.


I would review BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE, but the five things I love are pretty much the same as what I listed for THE DREAM THIEVES. Still, you should read this book! Actually, start with THE RAVEN BOYS and read the whole series.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvatershe has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

 

 

 


I’ve been anxious to read STITCHING SNOW ever since The Writer’s Voice contest in 2012. You may recall I was in that contest, too. Anyway, if I remember correctly, STITCHING SNOW was the first entry to receive an agent offer and a traditional publishing deal. It’s not the first published book from the contest I’ve read, but still, it’s exciting. And it didn’t disappoint. I loved the blend of the fairy tale with sci-fi elements, and the pacing was fantastic.

Stitching Snow by R.C. LewisPrincess Snow is missing. Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.


Finally, I loved the MATCHED series, so I’ve been anticipating Ally Condie’s new book, ATLANTIA, for some time. It is a completely different concept and not really what I expected, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed it. I especially liked the theme of sisterhood and the way I never quite knew who to trust in the story. It’s very well done.

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamt of the Atlantia by Ally Condiesand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all her plans for the future are thwarted when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected decision. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long hidden—she has nothing left to lose. Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the complex system constructed to govern the divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.

On to the giveaway! I have a signed hardback of LAILAH by Nikki Kelly. North America only, please. Click on the Rafflecopter link below to enter. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a7/

Have you read any of these books yet? Let me know what you thought!

Posted in Giveaways, Reading, Review, Young Adult | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

The Wonderful World of … Drafting?

It’s been a looong time since I posted about drafting. Let me check … yep, part 3 of my It’s Just a First Draft series posted on Nov. 6, 2013, so just over a year. It feels like much longer ago that I was drafting CATCH HIM BY DISGUISE, probably because I really took my time revising and going through several rounds of readers before I started querying. I was determined not to query that sucker too soon. But back to today’s topic … drafting.

So here’s the thing: I’m generally on the side of loving revising and hating drafting. I think it’s because when I’m drafting I can’t yet see how everything’s going to fit together. It’s like a big puzzle with a bunch of missing pieces, and I just want them all to be there already so I can put them together. I was especially concerned going into this new project because my planning was all over the place. You see, I have a process. Yep, I’ve blogged about that, too. (See my Before the Draft series.) I’m a little bit anal about my processes, a trait I’ve unfortunately passed on to my son (sorry, kid). So when I kept jumping around–ooh, character sketch, oh, now let’s research a place, wait, I need to jot down these scene ideas–I was seriously concerned about how the drafting itself would go.

Now, I’m only 18,000 words in, but I’ve been–gasp!–enjoying it. This manuscript is flowing out in a way nothing I’ve written in the past has. I don’t mean that my fingers are just typing along without pause. There are definitely moments when I have to sit and think about what comes next, but it also keeps surprising me–especially since until about two days before I started drafting I was still struggling with who the main character really was. I just couldn’t figure her out, mainly because to work in the plot I’d set up for her, she has to think very differently than I would. So that’s been interesting. I have a boy POV, too, and I’ve been shocked at some of the things coming out in his voice as I’m writing. He’s kind of angry. And I’m going to have to get creative with his language because cursing is something I won’t have in my writing for my own personal reasons, but I’ll figure out how to make it authentic for him. Anyway, moving on.

The other thing that’s different this time is I keep getting ideas that I have to email myself when I’m getting ready for bed at night or out shopping or wherever. That’s usually a revision, problem-solving thing for me. But it’s happening at the drafting stage instead, and on the plus side, they’re generally ideas for things I haven’t written yet. So, that makes me even more excited to keep drafting. Problem-solving in advance!

I might hit a wall tomorrow, so I’ll just bask in the glow today. But I really hope this is a turning point. It would be lovely to start loving drafting in addition to revising :).

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YA Review & Interview: FORBIDDEN by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Today I’m thrilled to feature an interview with Kimberley Griffiths Little for her new young adult historical, FORBIDDEN, which takes readers much further into history than the typical historical novel. Take a look at this gorgeous trailer for a glimpse.

Kimberley graciously answered questions for me about the five things I loved best.

1. When I first read about your research into belly-dancing, I imagined a very different setting for this story. I had no idea it was 1759 BC in the deserts of Mesopotamia. I felt like I’d been transported into the Old Testament! What kinds of texts did you refer to as research for the customs and daily life of this time? Did you get to travel?

I did use the Old Testament – mostly for names, though, but Abraham is one of my favorite prophets and his story is quite heart-breaking. He was also a nomad who had tents and camels and goats. I used to teach the Bible to teenagers several years ago—and it was definitely inspiring and helped me get into the time period. I also spent years reading about the Middle East; Bedouin tribes and their history, culture, food, and goat hair tents. I own one very *thick* book that has 200 pages just about camels.

I did a lot of reading about the roots of belly dance and what an important part of the women’s world the dance was for childbirth, betrothals, marriage, and death. The dance was a huge part of the goddess temples and religion. Those clashing cultures and worship beliefs were a ready-made contrast.

Last year I made my dream trip: I got to visit Jordan and the world wonder of Petra (a very important and romantic chapter takes place in Petra!) although it belonged to the Edomite tribe in 1750s BC. Breath-taking scenery, friendly people, great food; it was a fabulous, awe-inspiring and spiritually uplifting trip as we also spent 10 days in Israel.

Pinterest (I have a Board with fabulous pictures of Petra’s stunning landscape and the Bedouins who live there—and Bedouin-decorated camels! Plus Middle Eastern and Belly Dance boards!)

2. I love the way the romance grows between Jayden and Kadesh. How did you come up with these two characters? Did they come to you easily, or did you have to create one to complement the other?

Who doesn’t love a mysterious, dark and handsome stranger?! I started dreaming about this book 11 years ago . . . the characters came to me fairly easily after all the research because I knew I wanted to write a story about a character who was a true girl of the desert and how much her home and family meant to her, but I was also researching the mysterious frankincense lands far to the south along the Arabian Sea (the modern country of Oman) so creating her love interest in a boy from those secret lands made for a perfect contrast.

3. I loved all the complex layers you created for Jayden. She had to deal with not just the struggle of her unwanted betrothal but also multiple family issues and tribal politics. Did you have all of those layers in mind when you began the story, or did some come into play later?

The tribal politics was developed more fully during later drafts. I wanted to raise the stakes with every draft, and the character’s complexities and motivations grew and refined. It just seems to take time, right? And sometimes it also takes brainstorming with your trusted crit friend or a son who is a bookworm and brilliant at story structure. :-) I’m lucky!

4. Ok, fun question! Dancing is such an integral part of Jayden’s tribe and her own identity. Did you learn some belly-dancing yourself to get into her character?

Absolutely! It was the original spark, actually. And, um, I performed once! Scary, but fun, too!

For years the idea of belly dance was intriguing to me; mystical, sensuous, and yet so beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. How they move their muscles and hands is incredible! I also love this ancient dance because any women of any age or any size can dance this style—and they all look beautiful.

5. I’m fascinated by how different this book is from your others. You switched not only categories, but also genres, jumping from contemporary middle grade with a hint of magic to historical young adult. How did you adjust your mindset to such a different style of writing?

It’s funny because I’ve been simultaneously writing both MG and YA books for 15 years. It just took longer to publish the YA historical trilogy.

During the decade of the 2000’s everything was vampires, werewolves, fairies, and boys in wizard school. :-) Historical fiction definitely took a back seat, but it’s coming baaack! Book genres are cyclical. For instance, during the decade of the 2000’s contemporary YA was also dead, and now it’s being published by the millions and getting made into movies. Contemporary YA is the hot *new* genre. Well, tell that to someone like Richard Peck who wrote fantastic contemp YA during the 1990s!

My other historical fiction: In 2002 I published a book with Random House called The Last Snake Runner. It’s time travel and based on the true story of a New Mexico tribe who lives in a village on top of a 400-foot mesa. It’s a war story with Spanish conquistadors who came through the Southwest in 1599 and waged a 3-day war with the local tribe, eventually burning the village and taking them into slavery. Cannons and guns versus stones and slings! There are snakes and a girl in the past and heart-breaking consequences. Many middle schools use this book because there are no other MG/YA books about the history of the Southwest—that both boys and girls really enjoy. I brought it back into a print book and Kindle edition this past spring. AMAZON LINK

Thank you so much for having me, Michelle!

Thank you, Kimberley! And here’s where you can find her:

Website
Twitter
Facebook
Tumblr
Youtube
Pinterest
Posted in Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments