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Posts Tagged ‘the great American YA novel’

Well, I certainly didn’t mean to leave the blog dormant for so long, but I swear I have a good excuse.

I have signed up for the Writers’ League of Texas 2012 Agents Conference on June 22-24.  I’m super excited for the seminars at the conference, particularly for the optional YA track that I added on.  Friends who have attended previous Agents Conferences have how much they learned.  Two have called it life-changing.  I’m also looking forward to networking with other writers from the state and region, not to mention the instructors, editors, and agents that are also attending.

But I’m most excited about my 10-minute pitch to an agent.

In person.

Like, face-to-face.  Me telling the agent about my book.

It’s exciting and scary all at the same time.  I’m booked with an agent who seems super nice and is very successful, and whose blog and twitter have been both entertaining and inspirational.  So I could not be more thrilled to have an opportunity to present to her.

This means that I’ve been revising like crazy.  I can’t pitch an incomplete book (and no matter that this book has a coherent beginning, middle, and end… until it’s a final draft, it’s not finished) without feeling like a fraud.  And if she likes my pitch and requests pages or a full, I can’t send her something that doesn’t represent my best work.  That’s a surefire way to the “no thanks” pile.

It’s been a rough couple of months.  I’ve spent a lot of time in front of the laptopMy friends Rozie and Kristen and I have formed a small writing group and have been meeting regularly to work on our books, which has helped beyond measure.

(quick aside: their novels are still in outline form but are meticulously researched and they are already so exciting, I can barely stand it!)

Last month, I took a three-week class meant to help develop a novel’s concept and help it stand out in the slush pile.  Though our actual work was not read or discussed, we shared elevator pitches and outlines.  I’ll admit that mine drew some pretty strong criticism from the instructor and classmates.  It stung.  But after talking it through with my writing group and ruminating on the feedback, I realized that the instructor and class had some valid points.

So I tossed the first three chapters of my book.

This was a hard step, y’all.  I had already revised them, but many of my original words were there.  The first words I wrote as an aspiring author.  Acknowledging that they weren’t my best work was rough.  It hurt to move these scenes to the discard pile.

But what I’ve written in their stead is so. much. better.

And I’ve cut a lot more.  I’ve changed from past tense to present tense, re-imagined characters, and rearranged the timeline.  The current draft is, in many ways, unrecognizable from the first draft from 2008.  It’s gone from being a light, fluffy romance to something more of a coming-of-age story, complete with conflict and tension and choices.  My characters make mistakes and get hurt.  The writing is tighter and more vibrant.

You guys, my discard folder has 24,000 orphaned words.

The first draft had only 50,000 words.  I’ve cut nearly half a book.

Right now I’m sitting at about 63,000 words and will probably land somewhere around 65,000 with the final draft.  That’s a-ok with me.  There is still more work to do, and time is beginning to run short.  But I’m determined, and I have a good support system in place both locally and online to keep me from jumping off a cliff when things get frustrating. By the time my agent pitch appointment rolls around on June 23, I’ll have a finished product, a summary, a query, and a pitch.  I’ll be able to talk coherently about my work.  I will get out of the pitch without a nervous breakdown.  I’ve got this, right?  Right.

And I ordered business cards.  They say I’m a writer.  Time to fulfill that dream.

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…and that makes you follow through with it?

Well, that.

My life is littered with half-finished projects.  Scarves that are partially crocheted, needlework still on the hoop, a library only halfway cataloged, diet plans abandoned.  And then there are my novels, the things I’ve sweated blood over, that are all in a perpetual state of work-in-progress or still-editing or please-don’t-ask-me,-I’m-too-ashamed-to-say-I-haven’t-worked-on-it.

As part of my non-resolution to “be a better person” this year, I’m setting goals for myself as a writer, hoping that they will help me think positively and stay on track.  Too often, I get off track and then beat myself up over it.  No more of that, says New 2012 Me.

To that end, here are my three major projects and the goals I’m setting:

YA Novel 1: My contemporary YA novel (2008) and its unfinished sequel (2009), which are now being combined into one book.  The first book has been transferred into Scrivener, and I’ve been tinkering with it on and off for several years.  I got discouraged with the rewriting process, probably because I didn’t really know what I was doing, and so I didn’t work on it as diligently as I should.  Then, several months ago, I had a small epiphany about the timeline of the story and decided to incorporate major plot points from the sequel into the first book.  This change will up the stakes and tension, and I think it puts the novel firmly in the coming-of-age category.  I’m in the process of importing those sections into Scrivener and rearranging the outline.  That project was put on hold while I wrote my adult novel, but I’m now very anxious to see how it looks when it’s all put together.
New draft into readers’ hands: January 31, 2012
Query-able draft ready: April 1, 2012

(And you know what?  If it turns out that I still can’t get a query-ready draft out of this thing, I’ll put it in a freaking drawer.)

Adult Novel 1: My most recently finished work from NaNoWriMo 2011.  Right now, the rough draft is in the hands of four readers.  I’ve received feedback from one so far (thanks Kristen!), and it was very positive.  I know I have a lot of work to do fleshing the book out, but my reader thinks it’s got great commercial potential.  I agree with her (by the way, positive thinking is one of my goals for this year!).  I haven’t begun rewriting in earnest yet, but I am ruminating a lot on what I’d like to add while the feedback rolls in.
New draft into readers’ hands:  February 29, 2012
Query-able draft ready: June 1, 2012


YA Novel 2: My semi-paranormal contemporary YA novel, begun in 2010 and currently on hiatus.  I still really love this concept, but I am determined to finish decent drafts of my other two books before diving into this one again.  My goal is to start work on it again mid-year.
First draft into readers’ hands: December 31, 2012
Query-able draft ready: TBA

I don’t know whether these goals are too ambitious, not ambitious enough, or what.  I’m still very much a novice when it comes to these kinds of things.  I don’t want to send a complete load of crap to agents, but I also don’t want my manuscripts to languish on my computer for years and years while I debate whether to change a sentence or not.

The other reason I’m setting these goals is that I want to be ready for the Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference at the end of June.  I’m determined to go this year, and I’ll have pitches and samples and business cards and everything.  Until then, I’m focusing on networking and learning as much as possible about agents and publishing options.  I’ll be attending book clubs and meet-ups and write-ins.   I’ll even be presenting a moderated talk about YA Fiction through my writing program.  More on that to come, when the details are ironed out.

Sticking to these deadlines will be hard.  There are any number of roadblocks in my path.  I have a full-time job, a husband, friends and family, and other hobbies.  I’m also a pathological procrastinator (is that a thing?  I think it’s a thing).  Like many other writers, I suffer from anxiety and depression (mild, thank God), and while it’s getting better, it’s never really gone.  My roadblocks are certainly not unique, but they are mine.

But like so many of the writers I admire, I will push past those hurdles.  When I fall, I’ll pick myself up and limp along with a bloody knee until the next obstacle in my path.

And please, in a few days or weeks or months, ask me how my book is coming along.  I promise not to bite.*

*much

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  What have I been up to lately that has kept me from blogging?

Decorating and Cleaning

Our house is a flurry of activity these days.  Last week, a handyman came fix a few things, and today there were electricians and painters galore.  We’re having all of the wood on the outside of our house sanded, primed, and painted, so that it will be fresh and cheery for potential buyers!  We also had some work done on the outdoor electricity, making sure all of our floodlights and landscape features were working properly.

This weekend is Landscaping Part II.  We already cleared out the flowerbeds in the front of the house, and now it’s time to tackle the back.  I’m pleased that some of our perennials are popping up already, and I’m planning to buy some sweet potato vines, pansies, and other pretty things to beautify the yard.

We’ve also started the Giant Culling of 2010.  I weeded through my closet and found a mountain of clothes and shoes to donate.  We’ve got a few things of mine and a ton of Victor’s to take to consignment shops.  I pulled some books out of my library to either sell or donate, whichever works.  We went through our junk drawer, which was – surprise! – full of junk.  We’ve earmarked a TV + entertainment console for craigslist, and we bought a bunch of bins to store unnecessary clutter until we move.

I rearranged the library and found that we have an American Foreign Policy section.  Who knew?  And that brings us to…

Reading

So, I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, and it was freaking amazing.  Since then, two other friends have read it and another has started it.  I’m on a quest to get everyone to read this book (right after they read The Book Thief, of course). 

Flying Changes by Sara Gruen was just as good as the first book in that series, Riding Lessons. Her books always feel so homey, and I never want them to end.  Civil and Strange by Cláir Ní Aonghusa took a long time to read, but eventually it felt homey too, and it strengthened my resolve to retire to the Irish countryside.

I also read This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, and I loved it so much that Victor read it (he doesn’t read many novels).  He loved it too.  Incidentally, Victor would like to retire to the coast of Mexico, so I wonder how we’re going to juggle two homes on two continents…

For the Back to the Classics Challenge (which has been extended until December!), I’m chugging along.  My results so far:

  1. A Banned Book
  2. A Book with a Wartime Setting (can be any war)  Currently reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  3. A Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) Winner or Runner Up
  4. A Children’s/Young Adult Classic  I read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  5. 19th Century Classic
  6. 20th Century Classic
  7. A Book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic  I read Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  8. Re-Read a book from your High School/College Classes

(By the way, I mentioned reading Little Bee for this challenge on Twitter, and Chris Cleave tweeted at me!  I’m famous!  Kristen helped out a little with that, so she’s famous now too!)

So, reading’s been going pretty well, especially considering how little free time I’ve had lately.  Which brings us to…

Writing

Oops.

I have not been doing well on the writing front.  I keep having great ideas, but somehow they refuse to leave my brain and enter the computer.  I have done some research on agents and query letters and while that’s great, you can’t send out an unfinished manuscript and waaah!  Flail!

I am just not in the right place to be creative right now, I think.  It will come eventually.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep jotting down my ideas and notes in Scrivener, and I’ll get there somehow.  Anyone who wants to send some writing mojo my way, please feel free.

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Workspace

Could you write a novel here?

Today is Halloween, which means that I’m nursing a hangover from a party last night and am getting ready to hand out some candy to the neighborhood kids.  It also means that it’s the last day of October… and National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow.  Yes, 50,000 words in 30 days.

It’s my fourth attempt at NaNoWriMo.  In 2006, I lost inspiration and quit.  In 2008, I succeeded and decided to become a writer.  I tried last year and didn’t quite make it.  I let our Italian vacation get in the way instead.  Great trip, but I didn’t even make it to 40,000 words.

This year, I’m going to win.

I set up a workstation for myself this afternoon.  I’ve never tried writing at a desk before, preferring to write in a chair or on a couch.  But my decrepit old back isn’t happy when I do that anymore, and it seems to like the desk chair we have in our sunroom.  So I cleaned off our little desk, moved my three lucky orange Ganeshas to watch over me, and hung three cute bird and tree paintings (mixed media artworks? what does one call these?) for inspiration and cheer. And I have a ton of albums I need to listen to before December, so I’ll have a fantastic soundtrack to this moody, paranormal(ish) young adult novel I’m about to write.  In first person present tense.  Which I’ve never done before.

Deep breaths.

I downloaded the just-released beta version of Scrivener for Windows, and I’ve been playing with it this afternoon, writing character sketches and a synopsis for each chapter.  I’m nowhere near done outlining, but if I get half of the book outlined before tomorrow, I’ll feel pretty good. I’m hoping that organization is going to be my best friend this year.

I’ve got help, too.  I’m participating through D Magazine’s FrontRow blog and possibly helping to coordinate something through the Writer’s Garret.  Even better, some friends are NaNoWriMo-ing too.  Anne and Kristen from my writing program as well as my friend Tiffany are all going to give it a go.  And this guy, who is partly responsible for my current hangover, is thinking of trying, too (do it, do it!!!).

I couldn’t be more thrilled that I will have several writing buddies this time around.  Seriously, you need a cheerleading section if you’re going to make it through this month.  Well, a cheerleading section, some headphones, lots of caffeine, and some serious booze.  At least, that’s how I do it.

And I’m gonna do it.  Who’s with me?

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I haven’t really been able to write much in the last six weeks or so… or maybe it’s been more like two months.  I’ve been having trouble with my back, and it makes sitting for any amount of time  uncomfortable.  Workdays are managed through use of painkillers and frequent breaks to stand and walk around, and by the time I make it home, there’s just no way I can sit and type.  I have a hard time typing while lying on my back (one of the only positions that is comfortable).

And rather than inspiring words to flow like bottles of good red wine, the drugs are blocking my creative juices like I’ve eaten two pounds of cheese.

I apologize for the previous paragraph.

Anyway, while I haven’t been working on any of my ongoing projects  much, I did lay the groundwork for another novel (while I lay flat on the couch!), this time a young adult book with a bit of a supernatural twist.  I’ve been kicking this idea around for a while, and I guess it was getting impatient with me.  So I endured a bit of pain to sketch out the beginnings of it.  This one will be a bit of a stretch for me – the female protagonist isn’t an outcast (in the conventional sense, anyway), and there’s baseball in it!  I’m also setting it in small-town East Texas, and I’m relying on my friend Tori to help me fill in the details.  She grew up in a town similar to the fictional town in my story.

On top of that, I had yet another idea come to me yesterday, and I really like it.  It’s got all of my favorite things (romance, teenagers, nerds), and I’m thinking of using it for National Novel Writing Month this year.

Did I mention that we’re planning to sell our house on national television?  I’m sure I’ll have more on that later.

The good news is that I am seeing a neurosurgeon and recently had an epidural injection into my back, which has stopped a lot of the pain so that I can start seeing a physical therapist and get back into the gym.  I have high hopes that I can then lose the painkillers and start writing again.

So, that means I:

  • am working a full-time job (and hey, I got a promotion!)
  • am revising my first novel
  • have a half-finished sequel waiting in the wings
  • have two more books begging to be written
  • will be doing tons of physical therapy

… and all the while, trying to keep up with movies, TV, theater, food, and spend time with my friends.  And I should be blogging more as well.  Sleep is overrated, right?

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I am supposed to be keeping a journal as I read my two books for class. I’ve been reading them, yes, but the writing I’ve been doing has not been here on the blog. Instead, I’ve been inspired to work on the umpteenth rewrite of my novel instead. Francine Prose has helped me to really analyze my sentences – not just the structure, but also their worth.

As a result, I’ve hacked away a bunch of superfluous sentences (Strunk and White would be so proud, as their mantra of “omit needless words!” sings in my head each time I press “delete.”). I think I’m finally getting to a place where I understand what is really integral to the story, and I know that cutting huge chunks of crappy writing is okay, because if I choose to replace those words, I will type in something much more meaningful instead.

So classmates, sorry I’ve been such a shitty blogger. I’ve been writing instead, and the Great American YA Novel thanks you for your patience!

Incidentally, I’m writing this on my iPhone at Pearl Cup, enjoying a latte and beautiful spring day while two girls discuss Neil LaBute plays at the table behind me. It is indeed a good day.

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You guys… revision is hard.

I have finished what I’m calling the fourth draft of my first novel (the one tentatively titled the sea between us).  I’ve set the second (still unfinished) novel aside for a while while I concentrate on getting #1 up to scratch.  It’s daunting work.  I can write a novel any old day, but to take what I’ve written and refine it?  So. Hard.

I struggle with keeping myself motivated, and I find that I can stay on track only if I promise friends it will be finished by a certain date, so that they can read it.  Most of my friends are readers, not writers, though a couple are trudging through first and second novels themselves.  My friends’ response, for the most part, has been very favorable, and the feedback is incredibly helpful.  I think I’ve come a long way from the first draft, and it shouldn’t be that much longer before I feel good enough about the book to call it finished.

But before then, I have feedback to consider as I make more revisions:

The pros:

  • Generally, people like the story.  To me, this is the best thing ever.
  • I’ve created believable, likable characters.
  • My protagonist is strong, and people want to be on her side.  Readers are pulling for her.
  • The setting is concrete and defined (only one friend disagreed with this).
  • Apparently, I write good dialogue.
  • People seem to enjoy the band scenes and the individual band members.

The cons:

  • I’m still holding back – this is a major hurdle for me as a writer.  I keep the reins tight and won’t let go.
  • There is not enough conflict in long stretches of the story, especially in the second half of the novel.
  • While believable, the characters are also too nice, and maybe I am too easy on them.  I should make them suffer a little.
  • There are parts where I’m “telling,” not “showing,” particularly in the second half of the novel.
  • There might not have been enough buildup to the conflict at the end.
  • The relationship between my main characters might not be entirely believable as a teenage relationship – it is too cookie-cutter perfect.
  • The best friend character could be expanded upon.
  • The protagonist may need to change even more over the course of the book.

So, what’s next for my book?  Definitely more revision.  It’s time to make some really difficult decisions about plot.  Do I make some major changes to make the story more dynamic?  Do I adjust the timeline of what happens in the story?  Do I focus more on certain plot points and less on others?  Do I make some big cuts?  I have so much emotionally invested in this story that making these decisions will probably be a little heartbreaking.  But I owe it to my characters to make the best story for them.

Over Christmas, I found my high school journal in my childhood bedroom.  It is beyond hilarious.  Every entry is either an over-the-top melodramatic poem or an over-the-top melodramatic journal entry about how I hate a) my life; b) my friends; c) my parents; d) my hometown; e) all of the above (Mom, Dad, and my friends: if you’re reading this, I was never actually serious about hating any of you.  I was very serious about being – or appearing to be – an emotional trainwreck.).  I think I need to sit down and read that thing cover-to-cover, and when I’m done laughing hysterically at myself, I should channel some of that hardcore teenage angst into my cute little teenage love story.

Maybe that will help me get from here to where I want to be:  FINISHED.

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