Fantasy binge

I’m happy to say that I broke ground on my YA high fantasy this week! I’ve got about 3,300 words, which is nothing compared to the 90,000 it will probably be. Yet the distance from 0 to 3,300 seems so much greater than from 3,300 to 90,000 in some ways, so I’m grateful to have started. It already feels more possible now than it ever has.

The Fading Hour, the book I’m querying now, is a historical fantasy that takes place in a sort of alternate version of 1920s America. Though it’s not actually America and our world, it doesn’t really have other features of second-world/high fantasy, so I wouldn’t call it that. That means my new WIP is my first high fantasy novel, so I’m nervous about how I’ll pull it off. Because of that, I’m going on a fantasy-reading binge. I finished The Golden Compass and am well into the second book in the series, The Subtle Knife (fun fact: I think Will Parry as depicted on the cover of the paperback that I have was my first literary crush). Then on deck, I’ve got (in no particular order):

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
(not YA, but has a teenage protagonist)

Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne

The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove
(middle grade)

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

One thing I’m paying particular attention to is the use of third person vs first in high fantasy. Based on books I’ve already read, I find that I prefer third person for fantasy. I’ve started my WIP that way for now, though who knows if I’ll wind up changing it. I like the freedom that third offers, and I think I like my writing voice better in third. I know some people find it too detached, but I think first person in fantasy can be tough since the tendency is for it to be more conversational and therefore feel too much like a person in our own world narrating. I don’t want my MC just to sound like a teenager plucked out of high school and dropped into a fantasy world. That said, I’m leaving my options open in case I realize third isn’t working out.

Do you have any high fantasy (YA or otherwise) recommendations for me? I have many more on my list, but the ones above are the ones I’m planning to read soonest.

writing/reading/watching update

First of all, thank you to everyone who has critiqued my first 250 words for the MSFV #blogpitch contest (post found here). I really appreciate the feedback, and I’m relieved to see that much of the information I wanted to convey in those first 250 did actually come across!

I hadn’t blogged for a while before that blogpitch post, largely because I wasn’t feeling very inspired. I haven’t had much to offer in terms of advice or encouragement, so I just stayed away (the internet can be exhausting sometimes, can’t it?). I do want to get back into blogging though, and I thought I’d start with a kind of general update post. So:

What I’m writing

For a couple of months, I was working on a MG fantasy, but I’ve kind of stalled on that. Something wasn’t quite working–it might have been too simplistic with not enough subplots–so I’m taking a break from it for now. I definitely want to get back to it at some point, because I feel like there’s something there. Just not yet.

Instead, I’ve been planning out a YA high fantasy idea that I’ve had for years. Really, years. The very first kernel of the idea came in fall 2009. Needless to say, it’s intimidating to work on something that’s been in my head for so long because I don’t want to screw it up. It’s evolved so much since 2009, and I’m dying to get started and see the world come alive, but I don’t have enough details yet. Still working on plotting. I’m hoping to break ground on the actual writing some time in August. On the bright side, I have a few character names set, so that makes it feel more real. I don’t really feel like I can get to know a character until s/he is named.

What I’m reading

I‘ve been reading fantasy in preparation for starting my new book. I finished Bitterblue recently, the third book in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series, and I LOVED it. It’s a long-ass book (about 600 pages), but I couldn’t put it down and read it in only a few days. I’m currently re-reading The Golden Compass for the first time since I was like 12, and it’s even more amazing than I remembered. I already feel emotional knowing what’s to come for the characters (though I forget a lot of what’s to come as well, so I’m eager to keep reading).

 

What I’m watching

I’ve seen so many movies recently that I’ve loved, it’s hard to pick favorites. Most recently, I saw Begin Again, a sweet movie in which Keira Knightley plays an unknown musician and Mark Ruffalo plays the washed-up record label guy who produces her first album. It’s one of those movies that makes you feel good and leaves you smiling, which I always appreciate.

If you want something a little darker, go see Snowpiercer! You might think you’re sick of anything remotely dystopian, but you haven’t seen this movie yet. It takes place in a world that has frozen over, and all survivors live on a train. But there’s a rebellion–led by Chris Evans’ character–brewing, and the poor class at the back of the train is determined to make it up front to the engine. Weirdness ensues, and I was freaking riveted the whole time. (It’s in English even though that poster isn’t.)

Also, last month I saw the underrated Edge of Tomorrow, a sci-fi movie where the main character (played by Tom Cruise) relives the same day over and over again as he tries to figure out how to defeat the aliens who’ve attacked earth. Even better–the experienced soldier training Tom Cruise is a woman, played by Emily Blunt. The movie is surprisingly funny for something set on the verge of an alien apocalypse.

As for TV, I’m just finishing up season 2 of Orange is the New Black, I’ve got a couple of episodes left of Penny Dreadful, and I can’t wait for Masters of Sex to start up again on Sunday! So much entertainment to consume, so little time.

That’s all I’ve got for today. What have you been writing/reading/watching lately? Any recommendations?

Miss Snark’s First Victim #blogpitch entry

I’m excited to say that I was chosen to participate in Miss Snark’s First Victim’s BLOGPITCH contest! I don’t usually enter online critique contests, largely because I’m a wimp and don’t know if I can handle getting my writing critiqued in such a visible space like the internet. But I’m always tempted to enter Miss Snark’s contests, and I finally did.

Don’t know who Miss Snark is? Well, you need to check out her blog, Miss Snark’s First Victim, especially if you’re a querying writer (or one who will be querying in the future). It has a ton of fantastic resources for writers, including frequent contests that can get you critiques for your work as well as agent attention.

As one of the winners of the BLOGPITCH contest, I’ve agreed to post my pitch and first 250 words here to be critiqued. So, here they are…

Title: THE FADING HOUR

Genre: YA historical fantasy

Twitter Pitch: Dava must find the boy who tried to bump off her crime-boss father before he returns to finish the job. GODFATHER meets DIVINERS.

First 250:

It was an open casket.

Dava Blackburn gazed into the cherry-wood box without flinching. She knew how a dead body really looked, and it wasn’t like this. The old man took on a wax-like appearance, so stiff he seemed more like a dummy than a person. He’s preserved, Dava thought. Like a taxidermic bird. And she couldn’t help but wonder, why bother putting eyeglasses on a corpse? It wasn’t like Silvio Serpa would ever look through them again, his eyes dead and sightless. It seemed foolish.

Dava bowed her head, feeling obligated to pray. Dear light moon, please claim Mr. Serpa as your own. Don’t let the dark moon have him even though he may have done bad things. We all do bad things sometimes.

Kissing her palm, she held it skywards before stepping away so the snaking line could keep moving. She forced her way through the tight crowd, bodies pressing in from all sides. There was always high turnout when even a peripheral member of one of the four families died. With a head like Silvio Serpa dead, it made sense that the mourners lined up for blocks. It couldn’t hurt to be on the good side of the families.

“You’re Cyd Blackburn’s daughter, ain’t ya?” said a voice behind Dava.

She spun in her Mary Janes to face a man she didn’t recognize, his double-breasted jacket overwhelming his wiry frame. “Who wants to know?” she asked, tilting her chin up and setting her jaw.

———-

Critique away!

Want to win a 15-page critique from Authoress Edits? Contribute to this blog critique tour! More details here, as well as links to the other 9 participating posts>>

Writing outside your comfort zone

My first book was YA light sci-fi.

My second book was YA historical fantasy.

My third book (drafting now) is a middle grade fantasy.

All three are very different, but they have one thing in common: they don’t take place in the real world. Their respective worlds don’t resemble each other in the slightest, but for all three I got to make a lot of stuff up. I know, I know, all fiction writing is making stuff up, but not setting a book in the real world gives you so much freedom.

I read a ton of YA and pretty much like every genre (fantasy, sci-fi, thriller, contemporary romance, etc). I therefore kind of what to write every genre. And I’ve tried to start a couple of contemporary, realistic YA books before and they just…sucked.

Something about it doesn’t work for me as a writer (or at least, hasn’t worked yet). I start and then I think, But…but…where are the creatures? Where are the memory-readers? Where are the people with violet skin? I get stuck. Really stuck. (I did make it 30k into one idea, but that was a horrendously terrible idea that I will never speak of again.)

But then…I got this idea.

It might sound silly to say it came to me in a dream, but guys, it came to me in a dream. It was a Sunday morning, and my early-rising husband was trying to wake me up. For me, waking up is about a 45-minute process that involves periods of dozing after the initial wake-up. It’s rough. Wakefulness is not my natural state (no, seriously. I have mild narcolepsy). So on this particular Sunday morning, my husband left the room, foolishly believing I was awake for good. But I dozed.

For some reason, most of my dreams come in this dozing state. Maybe it’s just that those are the ones I remember, I don’t know. But I had a dream that morning. And toward the end of it, it became lucid, and I thought, Hey, that’d be an awesome premise for a contemporary YA book. (Well, maybe my dream self didn’t think it as coherently as that.)

When I finally got out of bed that day, I wrote. And I wrote and I wrote. I had my highest word-count day EVER (2,800 words). I was one of those crazy writers saying her characters were speaking to her. It was like I was channeling the protagonist, not creating her. And then I had to ask myself the question:

Now what?

What do I do with this idea I really like? I haven’t written much of it since that Sunday a few weeks ago, largely because I’m committed to my MG fantasy and refuse to get distracted by a Shiny New Idea. But I think that I might want to write this book. The whole book. And I don’t know how.

For some reason, fantastical or otherwise non-real settings help me with plot. Or I guess it’s the other way around–I think of a premise and vague plot, and the world is shaped by that. With a realistic contemporary, that’s not the case. Even though I’ve read plenty of them, as a writer, I just can’t get my head around it. What does the character do? What plot points do I have to hit? Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to figure that out if it was a thriller or a mystery, but it’s not. It’s about relationships (romance! friends! family!). It’s about grief. It’s about a strange little habit that this girl has. But how do I build a book around that?

 

How to find writing critique partners

Writing is hard work, but my current experience (writing my third book) has been so much better than writing my first book. The difference? Now I have a few awesome critique partners who lift me up when I’m down and tell me when I need to slash words or entire chapters. I love my critique partners. They are phenomenal writers, editors, and supporters.

The reason I didn’t have CPs for my first book was that I didn’t know how to find them. I had a few generous friends read my manuscript, and they were super helpful. But having CPs who are also writers means you have somebody who understands the industry (and your angst). Also, you get to return the favor and read their books, too!

So, here are a few resources you can use to find CPs if you don’t have them:

1…Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Love Connection

Every year, this awesome YA author (have you read The Raven Boys? No? Go do it!) helps writers find CPs. She writes a blog post where you can leave comments with some basic info: genre you write, whether or not you have an agent, etc. Also, contact info, so then other writers perusing the comments can get in touch if they think they’d be a good fit. This year’s CP Love Connection happened in February, so it may be a little late to find someone on there now, but it’s worth taking a look at next year. It’s were I found several of my CPs last year.

2…QueryTracker

This website isn’t just useful for keeping track of your queries–you can also meet other writers and have you query/synopsis/opening pages critiqued on the message boards in the QT forum. I personally haven’t used this part of the website much, but I’ve heard of other writers finding CPs that way.

3…Absolute Write water cooler

This is another resource I didn’t really use, but it’s got a forum similar to QT. Again, I didn’t find any CPs that way, but I’ve heard of other people having luck.

4…Writers’ blogs

I found one CP after we got to know each other online over many months. We’d both read the other’s blog and comment often, so I felt like I knew her and her writing. Then, I read the query-style summary of her book on her website, and it sounded great, so I offered to read. She later critiqued my book and query and has been encouraging me about my new idea. Sometimes, you find a CP when you aren’t even looking!

Hope this helps some of you CP-less writers! If you know of any other great resources, leave them in the comments.

Writers at play

Writers at play

I’m digging into my third book right now, and it’s every bit as intimidating as writing the first two was. I’m beginning to realize that there will always be uncertainty about a new project (whether it will come out on paper the way it is in your head, whether the voice will work, whether the characters will feel real or flat).

On the one hand, I now know that I’m capable of finishing books, so I don’t have that same fear of getting 10k in and then giving up. On the other hand, this book is middle grade, which is a younger age group that I’ve written for before. Plus, it has a wry, humorous voice, and let’s just say my first two books weren’t very funny.

As I read through a bit of what I’d written so far, I realized something: this book will be fun to write. If I can let go of my worries and insecurities and focus on the crux of the thing–the writing, the story, the characters–it will be more like play than work. Writing for a younger audience means it can be a little sillier, and it takes place in a creepy fantasy world and I can have fun with. And I freaking LOVE my narrator (can’t tell you about him because it would give away what the book is about, but he sure is a dry fellow).

Writing my first two books, I learned that I’m the type of writer who produces a somewhat messy first draft and then pulls things together in revisions. Knowing that, I can dive into this MG book without so much fear of perfection. I’ll just let it come out how it comes out, and at the end, I’ll fix it. Revisions are when my type-A personality can kick in, but for now, it’s all about playing.

Word count evolution

My second book (TFH) wound up being longer than my first book. This is partly because it’s fantasy and required plenty of world-building, partly because there are 2 protagonists, and partly because I learned that I sure do like describing stuff. There was a time during my first revision when the book was creeping toward 100k, and as many of my fellow unpublished writers know, it’s best to keep your debut under 100k (at least in YA).

So here’s how TFH looked word-count wise over the 3 drafts I did:

First draft–92k

Second draft–97k

Third draft–90k

The second draft was longer than the first because the first was missing a couple of chapters early on (I left very helpful notes for myself, like, “figure out what happens here and fill it in later.”) So I filled in those early chapters and revised the rest of the book and then nervously sent the whole thing off to a couple of CPs.

One of my CPs pointed out that the plot didn’t really get going until 50 pages in. Immediate reaction: gut-clenching humiliation and sadness (How could I be so stupid? How am I ever going to fix the pacing? My CP must think I’m an idiot). Twenty minutes later: Creative fields are subjective. I like these chapters, so they should all stay. Surely some agent will like them too. An hour later: Okay, my CP is totally right. Things could get going faster if I cut these chapters and reorganize these chapters…

My hour-later reaction was by far the most rational. That’s the one I acted on, managing to cut about 6k from the manuscript (I cut another 1k in edits, just simplifying sentences that were too wordy or deleting redundant passages). As it turns out, I cut both of the chapters that I added in my first revision. *sigh*

I am now very comfortable with the word count of TFH because I think it’s far enough below 100k that it won’t scare people off. Before getting CP feedback, I couldn’t imagine a way to get the word count down. Every word seemed so crucial to the story. But sometimes, all it takes is another set of eyes to point out where you can trim you book.

The intangible accomplishments of writers

Over the weekend, I was thinking a lot about accomplishments and how we define them. Generally, I think of accomplishments as something definitive–a raise at work, acceptance into college, a book deal, etc. Something that makes you say, “I didn’t have this thing I wanted, then I worked hard, then I got it.”

But those aren’t the only kind of accomplishments. Because by that measure, I haven’t accomplished anything in my writing besides finishing two books. No agent, no book deal, no best-seller lists…so no accomplishments, right? No. I’m not willing to believe that. I’ve accomplished a lot of intangible things in the past 2.5 years (since I started writing seriously), mostly in the form of one thing: knowledge.

It’s not like high school or college where my knowledge was tested, where it got assigned a letter or number that would tell me how much I knew. In that way it’s easier to ignore. But I’ve done a ton of research over the past few years on authors, writing, publishing, book promotions, and more. Plus, I learned about myself and my own writing habits. And I know things now that I didn’t know before, like:

  • How to write a query letter
  • Where and how to effectively research agents (check out my favorite resources here)
  • How many words I can comfortably write in a day (and how many words I can write if I push myself)
  • That authors have to promote their books and the publisher doesn’t do it all for them
  • Not all advances are for a lot of money (In fact, most aren’t)
  • What type of agent I want
  • That I want to write middle grade as well as YA
  • What an ARC is (Advance Reader Copy)
  • That I get bored if I try to write anything realistic
  • How to revise my writing

And that’s just what I thought of off the top of my head.

It’s so easy to get bogged down in sadness and self-defeating thoughts and longing for what you want, but you aren’t being fair to yourself. You’ve probably accomplished way more than you realize, a thousand intangible little things that are leading you toward your goals.

I’m not a professional author yet. I don’t have a book in bookstores. But if I keep writing and keep learning, I will make it happen.

Can writing drive you insane?

Because if it can, I think I’m headed down that road.

My book, TFH, is dominating my thoughts these days. I mean like every waking thought. I can’t focus on anything else (not that I can focus so well on the book either). Last night, I was editing around 8:30. The next time I looked up, it was 9:45. I don’t know how that happened. I’m still kind of freaked out. If I’d had to guess, I’d have said about half an hour passed, not an hour and fifteen minutes. I think I entered a time warp. A writer’s time warp.

The thing is, I’m thisclose to being able to query. And the closer I get, the more obsessed I get and the less I can do anything else. I’ve had strong anxiety for the past three weeks any time I think about or work on TFH (which means ALL THE TIME). The only relief I find is at the gym I just joined, because for that hour, I actually stop thinking about my book. Characters stop having conversations in my head. A list of agents’ names stops its otherwise continuous scrolling through my mind. It’s glorious.

Part of what’s driving me crazy is wondering if the book will be “finished” after this draft. As most writers will tell you, there’s no such thing as truly finished. So what I need to figure out is when it’s polished enough to send out. I think that will be after this read-through and round of tweaks, but maybe not. Problem is, I can’t see the problems anymore. I look at the book, and it’s just black on white.

Most of what I’m noticing with this read-through is overuse of some words (which I guess is good, since that’s really getting down to the nitty-gritty, meaning the bigger issues are fixed). Apparently, I really really reeeeeally like to describe eyes. I noticed that in my first book, too. Of course, eyes and seeing were relevant thematically to both books, so maybe that’s why, but still.

My go-to words are:

  • shivered
  • shuddered
  • chill
  • gulped
  • looked
  • peered
  • gazed
  • twining
  • twisting
  • squirming
  • pierced
  • dark

Interestingly, that list really tells you a lot about the tone of the book, so I guess at least those words are fitting. Still, I’ll need to change some before querying. I don’t want anything to trip up agents if I’m lucky enough to get requests.

Have any of you ever felt like your writing might be pushing you in the direction of insanity? How do you cope and get your mind off of it?