May 30, 2013

Notes From the Editing Mines

I've been reading through my manuscript, fixing the parts that make me cringe, changing things that don't quite make sense or no longer serve any purpose, and generally giving everything a good shine. It's going well. This is an important step, and I'm not rushing it, but it's also not taking forever.

Miscellaneous observations from the last couple of weeks:

→ I discovered that in one chapter, there are two separate scenes in which the narrator has a sandwich in from of him and doesn't eat it. This must be that symbolism my high school English teachers were always talking about.

→ It is possible to spend quite some time agonizing over where to put a paragraph break.

→ I thought I knew every twist and turn of my story, but I reached a part where I was puzzled as to what was about to happen. That was cool.

→ Though I'm generally able to write a coherent sentence, I'm amazed by how often that skill appears to have failed me. I continue to find some real doozies of tortured syntax. There are even some awkward sentences that I remember groaning at and fixing before, and yet they remain. I think they were so awful, they grew back.

→ I don't know how anyone else is going to react to this novel, but I'm over here laughing and tearing up and getting chills and feeling sympathy and pity and outrage. So that's something.

→ I'm not done. I will tell you when I'm done.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Sarah Johnson of the Historical Novel Society compiles statistics on which centuries are the most popular in today's historical fiction: "The 20th century strongly dominates, with the 19th century in second place. The 'Dark Ages' are pretty dark. Historical novels set in the early medieval period aren't very common, at least until you get up to the 11th century (with 1066, and all that)." (Thanks, Foreword Literary!)

May 20, 2013

It's All Happening

I snuck off on a trip last week, and I have another one coming up shortly, and that's all before I go to Squaw Valley in early July for the workshop I got into. Thanks to everyone who offered congratulations. I'm still very excited about it.

I'm working hard on giving my novel those finishing touches it needs, making it better and shorter and more coherent. At the workshop, I'll get a chance to meet with a professional who may be interested in reading my manuscript and potentially working with me. I also hope to start querying agents this summer.

Short story thoughts are rattling around in my head, because I want to write something new to bring to the workshop. Plus I'm in the middle of reading four books right now. And I'm behind on Mad Men, and I need a haircut, and I probably haven't answered your email.

Life is busy. Life is good. More details as events unfold.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Gemma Cooper at The Bent Agency explains some common problems she finds when editing: "During action scenes, it's easy to get caught up writing movement and dialogue and forget the noise. What I mean about this, is when explosions are going on and your main character is running away, you need to remember to show this to the reader. Have the main character shouting their dialogue in broken sentences. They would be panting if running, and always when you are stressed, you don't bother with niceties in dialogue or even finish what you are saying."

May 9, 2013

News Is Good News

Back in the fall, I blogged about polishing up the first chapter of my novel so I could submit it to a brand new juried writing conference. Eventually I heard back that I had a spot on the waiting list, which was better than a rejection but didn't result in getting to attend.

After that, I didn't blog about the fact that I submitted the same materials to another, more established conference. I decided I'd just keep that to myself unless anything came of it.

Well, guess what? I got in! In July, I'll be attending the week-long Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, and I am thrilled.

At the conference, I'll get to participate in a daily workshop of about a dozen students, having my work critiqued and critiquing the work of others. Every day our group will be led by a different staff member from the large roster of professional writers, editors, and agents. In addition, there will be lectures, panel discussions, and other opportunities to work with the rest of the attendees. My brain is filling up just reading over the information I've received so far!

I'm sure I'll have plenty more to blog about this as the conference approaches. And now I have extra confidence and motivation as I continue with the final-for-now pass through my novel.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Abigail Grace Murdy sums up recent discussions about unlikable characters by women writers: "Women face a deeply double pressure to please, to be likable--to be made of sugar, spice, and everything nice. In the world of fiction, that pressure falls on their characters." (Thanks, Conversational Reading!)

May 7, 2013

The Aversive Clause

Reading a book written by a friend is a nerve-racking proposition. I was afraid to start THE AVERSIVE CLAUSE, a short story collection by B.C. Edwards, because I've known the author since high school. (As a result, I know all manner of embarrassing things about him, and vice versa. None of those will be revealed here.) I didn't want to find myself in the position of disliking the work of a person I'm fond of.

I had no reason to worry. From the first page of the first story, "Tumblers," I was taken in by the writing. Get a load of these sentences: "He wasn't always a driver, the man dressed as our driver said. Just this afternoon he was dressed as a man discovering his wife sleeping with another man on a fainting couch." How great is that?

So now I face the other problem with reading a book by someone I know: I have to convincingly explain that these are truly fabulous stories, independent of my friendship with the author. Fortunately, I can point out that other people think so, too.

Some of the stories in this collection are of this world, and others are set in worlds where things are a little different. In "Goldfish," a nineteen-year-old boy is drunk at a party and thinking about the girl who's always been good to him, and then the story circles around in a horribly clever way. "Aggie With The Hat On" features a slacker who discovers there's a more together version of himself living in the same town. In "Sweetness," a zombie-type illness begins with a constant sweet taste at the back of the throat.

Several of the stories have settings that are apocalyptic or on their way there, but one is the simple reality of a guy attending a family reunion with his boyfriend for the first time. In other words, there are lot of things happening in this collection, and if you don't like one of the stories, the next one will be completely different. I hope you'll give it a try.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At The Millions, Nichole Bernier reports on The Point of the Paperback: "A look at a paperback's redesign tells you a thing or two about the publisher's mindset: namely, whether or not the house believes the book has reached its intended audience, and whether there's another audience yet to reach. Beyond that, it's anyone’s Rorschach. Hardcovers with muted illustrations morph into pop art, and vice versa. Geometric-patterned book covers are redesigned with nature imagery; nature imagery in hardcover becomes photography of women and children in the paperback."

May 3, 2013


There's a secret ingredient to my current editing pass that I didn't mention in my post last week. Right now, my manuscript is problematically too long, and my goal is to get it down to acceptably too long. I wasn't sure if I'd actually be able to accomplish that this time through, but so far it's going very well.

I'm not removing anything you'd notice -- not taking out any scenes or altering the plot. Occasionally I'll find a chunk of dialogue or a whole paragraph that can go because the information is repeated elsewhere or is no longer relevant. But mostly I'm tightening sentences and conversations to say the same thing with fewer words.

I wanted to offer a set of tips on how to do this, but I'm finding it hard to formulate guidelines that are generally applicable. If this advice would be useful to any of you, speak up, and I'll work on coming up with something.

Rather than a tutorial, I thought I'd provide a before-and-after example. I've picked out a short excerpt that I trimmed by twenty percent. Perhaps it will suggest some strategies.

This isn't an especially interesting piece of text on its own, but it serves its role in the story. It's a conversation between a husband and wife in which they are both thinking about things they aren't sharing. As further context: they've recently moved to California, and it's 1963.