November 27, 2013

That Is All

At long last, the moment you've been waiting for: I am done revising!

Let's all take a moment to bask in that, shall we?

Now, I'm certainly not saying that there will never again be further changes to this novel, because that's not the way it works, but for now, I am finished. It's time to embark on the next step, which is to send this manuscript out into the world and see how it goes. Specifically, I'm going to start querying agents.

That next step is another doozy, and it will be another long process, but it will be a different one, and I'm very thankful for that. I'm thankful for the support you've all given me, and I'm thankful that now I get to really enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with my family and friends.

More on all of this in December. I hope that all of you get to enjoy a wonderful little break of your own in the next few days, however you celebrate!

Good Stuff Out There:

→ I was intrigued by this list of 50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers assembled by Emily Temple at Flavorwire: "some absurdly long, some notoriously difficult, some with intense or upsetting subject matter but blindingly brilliant prose, some packed into formations that require extra effort or mind expansion..."

November 22, 2013

Nearly There

Since my last revision update two weeks ago, progress continues apace. There have been no more repetitive conversations about ice cream, though I did find that frequently, my characters experience intense situations as a "frozen moment", "some frozen span of time", or a "frozen silence". Which isn't too far from frozen dairy confections.

In this revision pass, I've noticed a theme to the different issues that needed fixing at the beginning, middle, and end of the story. (This is separate from my previous tripartite classification of easy, medium, and hard problems.) For the beginning chapters, I had a lot of notes about explanations and character traits that I had to better establish by adding details and bits of backstory. The middle of the novel mostly required shortening, and that's not too surprising, given that "sagging middle" is a common manuscript diagnosis. Now I'm deep into the final section, and for these end chapters, the common issue is that certain things don't tie up as plausibly or satisfyingly as I hoped. I would venture to guess that a great many revisions could be structured around these same types of beginning, middle, and end fixes.

I mentioned on Twitter that since I'm going to end November with significantly fewer words than I started, it's like I'm doing a reverse NaNoWriMo. My friend Lilly says this means I've leveled up, and I love that way of looking at it. However, I have also spent the month often feeling envious of my NaNoing buddies as they experience the excitement and thrilling terror that comes with writing a new story. I'm looking forward to the time when I'll be able to work on something other than this novel and embrace the messiness of a first draft again. But in the meantime, to everyone doing NaNo: Good luck on the final week, and I salute you!

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Beyond the Margins, Julie Wu looks at What Writing the Second Novel Is Really Like: "A couple of writers compare writing novel two to having amnesia--'a rare form...where you remember everything except how to do your job,' says Julie Kilber. Amy Nathan describes it as 'seeing someone you are sure you know well, but not remembering her name, where you met her, or what your connection is to her. And then, trying to figure out how to say hello without revealing any of that to anyone.'"

November 18, 2013

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

I adored WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler, and I think you should read it. I can tell you why I loved it, but I can't tell you what it's really about, as I'll explain.

The novel is narrated by Rosemary, who is funny, sarcastic, thoughtful, and well aware that she has spent much of her life being too clever for her own good. If you like stories with strong and wonderful narrative voices, that alone should sell you on this book. I would be happy to read along while Rosemary told me anything.

She takes her father's storytelling advice to "Skip the beginning. Start in the middle" so she starts the story with an incident in college that brought a new friend, and chaos, into her life. But it's the beginning of Rosemary's life that sets her apart, and though she soon offers some glimpses into her childhood, it takes a while until she really starts opening up about the truth of her family. The disjointed chronology of the narrative is used to good effect, and I enjoyed the way the story takes on the unreliable nature of memory.

At the core, this is a family story, and it's one with a secret, but not any of the family secrets you've read about before. I hope that will intrigue you enough to dive in without learning anything else. When I began reading, I already knew the book's big secret, and I think it would have been cooler to have the unspoiled reading experience. On the other hand, one reason I picked up the book was that the premise was so enticing, and I haven't told you what it is yet. So I'll understand if you need more convincing. You can find plenty of other enthusiastic reviews that reveal information the author holds back until one-quarter of the way through the book, and I won't blame you if you want to look those up. But my recommendation is that you simply start reading WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES immediately.

When I attended the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop this summer, one of the highlights was the time I spent with Karen Joy Fowler, who is wonderful as both a teacher and a dinner companion. This is the first of her books that I've read, and I'm eager to read all the varied others.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ S. Bear Bergman examines expectations about writerly lives and reflects on doing it wrong: "When prompted to account for my time as a writer I typically balk, mumble, and change the subject in order to avoid talking frankly about the bare and worrisome facts: I do not keep a journal of any sort, unless you count tweeting. I do not write first thing in the morning, dipping my handmade pen into the fresh well of my settled thoughts -- I am dragged to wakefulness most days by a three-year-old who wakes up like he was shot out of a cannon, and his morning requirements stir that well pretty good."

November 7, 2013

Full Speed Ahead

Things have been going well on the revision front this past month. I'm still finding that relatively small changes are fixing my hard scary problems, so I'm zooming right along on this millionth pass through the manuscript. Well, zooming compared to the speed of any of my other passes, so at least that's something.

As part of the process, I'm once again making a bit of headway on shortening my too-long novel. I've cut or abbreviated a bunch of scenes that don't serve enough of a purpose or that seemed to drag while I was reading aloud. And I'm yet again trimming unnecessary words and sentences all over the place, because apparently I didn't get them all last time.

Or maybe someone has been adding words to my manuscript while I'm not looking. Otherwise how could I have let the following piece of dialogue survive to this point?:

"Tell Meredith I'm ready for my ice cream."

"You want ice cream?"

"Meredith always brings me ice cream."

I returned to the kitchen. "He says you always bring him ice cream?"

I was aware that my characters were possibly a little too obsessed with ice cream, but this sounds like a comedy routine without a punchline.

That mischievous somebody is probably also responsible for the fact that the same unusual verbs keep appearing over and over again throughout the story. I've been tracking down occurrences of "crammed" and "gaped" this week. I also have my eye on the rather too popular activity of characters touching one other on the shoulder, which could lead to problems, namely, reader boredom.

In my ongoing angst over paragraph breaks, I've now become concerned that I have too many short paragraphs, and I've been merging some of these together. After long, painful periods of thought, of course. You see why this is all going so slowly?

But seriously, I'm zooming along over here. It's like I might even be done someday.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ The New York Times asked a variety of authors to comment on how new technologies influence fiction: "This new place [the internet] needs to be studied; it needs geographers, anthropologists and economists. There’s a new visual and conceptual grammar -- just as we learned how to look at paintings, so too have we developed ways of looking and being in cyberspace," says Charles Yu. (Thanks, The Millions!)