Conference Play

I love the yearly SCBWI Carolinas Conference. This year, with a diversity theme, especially fired me up. The sessions were helpful and encouraging. My crits went very well with great feedback both helpful suggestions and glowing praise. The keynote by Kelly Starling Lyons truly inspired me. I came home with a prioritized to-do list and plenty of motivation to do.

But soon after I returned home, soccer season for the kids amped up. My daughter and son both added sports, one of my work partners had to leave unexpectedly, and more rejections started to roll in. My resolve to rewrite sections wavered, and I changed gears on which novel idea to pursue.

In short, I got the post-conference blues.

In my limited experience, writers are mostly a dreamy bunch. When we get slapped back to reality, it can be a little harder to get that inspiration going again. That’s why I’m grateful for a few folks who’ve given me a boost back onto the writing saddle (even if I haven’t managed to giddy-up and gallop yet).

My critique group keeps me thinking about writing, and their work inspires me. My family and friends give me space, and provide endless source material. And I’m lucky to have my day job, which constantly reminds me who and what I’m writing for. Not for my ego (OK maybe a little), nor some writing ideal, nor to entertain solely (though I do want to entertain), not to preach (happens accidentally sometimes).

I’m writing for kids, but I’m also writing for the kid I was, could have been, am, and will be.

 

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The Journey of 50,000 Words. . .

After writing two novels, I would’ve thought I’d be better at starting a new one.

I’ve learned how to better prepare, though that’s not necessarily a good thing. I’m too cheap to invest in writing software to plan my novel, but I’ve done most of what those programs would do.

I’ve got spreadsheets for character traits, arc, physical description, and wants/motivations/backstories for each of the ten characters who actually speak. I’ve written  a synopsis and chapter-by-chapter breakdown, and pre-written a query letter. Most importantly, I’m aware they’re all guidelines.

I’ve read as much as I can get off the internets about the Shaolin Templesouth-shaolin-temple01and wokou pirate settings. I’d already done a lot of research on the Ming Dynasty for a future book.

I’ve even drawn the major characters, with plenty of (positive) comments from my wife and son, and some constructive criticism from my daughter (“your monk’s bald head is lopsided”).

So, I’m as prepared as I can be. And after all that, I’m still staring at a blank screen when I work up the nerve to open the blank first draft file.

I know the exercises and advice. Write three drafts of your first page/chapter. Or completely stream-of-consciousness launch it without regard to any craft. Hand write. Storyboard. Protected time. Dictate it. Act it out. Etc. Etc.

I’ll be honest. I know why the screen is blank. It’s not lack of confidence in my writing abilities. It’s not life interfering or a lack of time. And it’s not because I’m too busy blogging (OK, sorta, as in right now).

It’s fear, pure and simple. Fear of failure. One hundred or so rejections for two completed novels will do that to you. But the fear isn’t for my writing career. I’m going to keep writing, regardless of rejection.

I’m not writing for myself. I’m not writing for agents or editors or librarians or reviewers or even parents. I’m writing for you, kids, if any of you are reading this. And at some point, some of those people can help me get my story to you. But some of them (including myself) are going to be obstacles to that happening.

I know the characters and the story. I want to share it. It’s alive, in my head. But it’s imprisoned there right now. When it comes out as words, I have to get it right. I have to do it in a way that will convince those people above to share the story with you. I don’t want to fail you, and it’s such a cool story, I don’t want to fail it. Because failing it means failing you.

But I’m optimistic. It’s a good enough tale that it will bust out onto my computer screen at some point. Probably not exactly the way it’s planned out now. But something that’s true to its spirit, sometime soon.

I hope you’ll enjoy it someday.

 

Split Decision/Separation Anxiety

In a previous post, I wrote about a “first” book I read that had an impact on me. I haven’t polled my (successful) author friends to know for sure, but I suspect that many writers have a special place in their hearts for their first — as in their first significant novel/work. Whether that special place is heaven, hell, purgatory, etc. I’m going to guess depends on the writer.

I haven’t written a novel that’s been published, yet. I’ve only written two novels. But I can already tell that the first one, Treasured (or if you think that’s too Disney then Tomorrow the Mountains May Separate Us, or whatever it’s going to end up titled when it gets published), is going to be my writing life’s first love.

The few who have read both books are crystal clear on which one they think is “better.” It’s the one I’m currently shopping around to agents, Collard Green Tamales (a future post will describe).

I wrote Treasured fast because I couldn’t keep up with the ideas pouring out of my head. Even before I finished it, I felt like I’d missed out on so much of it. I still wish I’d taken more notes, paid more attention to all the possibilities of plot, character, theme.

If that sounds overly nostalgic, it’s because it is. “Kill your darlings.” That’s what Mr. King tells us to do. I take his advice seriously (except for the adverb part, obviously). But I’m certainly not suicidal, given the vague resemblance of one of the main characters to me (I know, red flag, autobiographical alert!) And I’m no murderer, so I have some illusions about how good Treasured is.

But despite those illusions, I still think it’s the better book. It’s braver. It wades deeper into themes. It’s setting and characters are more vivid. The plot has more twists and turns. It’s more layered.

It’s also the tougher sell. Fifty plus rejections later, that’s abundantly obvious. Most of them were form rejections. But the few query replies with comments had one element in common — the split point of view.

Treasured was originally an epistolary novel, letters written by a brother and sister who, unbeknownst to each other, both slip back in time to Chang’an, the capital of T’ang dynasty China. In various incarnations, the letters were addressed to different people, from different times, at different times either past or present. I alternated letters, then arranged them into blocks by plot, then wove them by theme. I eventually decided to keep the sister’s letters written from Chang’an (maintaining suspense about her fate), and to transform the brother’s letters into chapters written in first person past tense without revealing exactly when the brother is narrating from until the very end.

None of those changes mattered so far as acceptance goes, and the most recent comment still pointed to point of view. The sister’s voice is stronger (maybe I should become suicidal?), and the transitions between points of view are jarring.

Which is jarring to me as the arcs of the characters and the story depend on the two points of view being kept separate until the climax of the novel, when the two intersect. One of the major themes, connection, plays out through the spiraling points of view.

I know in my head that it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like I’m J.R.R. Tolkien trying to shove the entire Lord of the Rings into one book.

But I feel a little like this woman when I  think about splitting my first book apart.

Though for all I know I might feel like these guys’ parents.

So, as I sit here typing this post, waiting for the upcoming SCBWI-Carolinas writing conference before further working on my current novel, I wonder what to do with Treasured. Do I take the advice of one of my critique group partners and separate the novel into one from the girl and the next from the boy?

Whatever I do, I hope that place in my heart for Treasured won’t look like this.

So much as this.