Category Archives: Editing

Just Like The Rest of Us

There’s one thing I hate about meeting with agents and editors (and a famous author this time around) is the anxiety. The fear of stumbling over my words, the inability to share my story correctly, and all-in-all making a bad impression.

Before my first appointment — a fifteen-minute mentor appointment with Terry Brooks (who wrote the Shannara series among others), I prayed most fervently to take away my anxiety. Not so much that I say all the right things (although I prayed that too, but considered that secondary). I hate being nervous, because ninety-nine percent of the time, that anxiety is in the end completely unfounded.

As I waited for my appointment with Terry, another writer was waiting for someone else to finish theirs. I mentioned how I’ve been praying for a calm spirit, she graciously (and beautifully) prayed for and with me. Her prayer even made me a little misty-eyed (and simultaneously grateful I don’t wear makeup).

During that appointment, and a literary agent appointment a few hours later, no nerves presented themselves. I was calm, confident, but also listened more than I talked. When I did talk about my story, the words flowed out of me when I usually stumble. I also didn’t hedge or try to figure out what they wanted to hear (as if I could anyway, but still I try. I can’t help it. I know why I do, but that’s an entry for another time).

The literary agent was intrigued by my idea, but as he speed-read through the first couple of pages, he said that while he’s intrigued, the jump between the prologue and the first chapter was too jarring. Still, he did ask me to send him a proposal. Not a complete rejection, but nothing to indicate he was all that excited either.

For which I was fine with, oddly enough.

Or not. Truth is, I received the score-cards for the contest I submitted it to a few days before, and although I didn’t agree with some of the comments at first, they still got me thinking that perhaps I need to revisit the story yet again. The first couple of chapters at least.

As I talked to Terry Brooks, he offered also to read my sample chapters. I had to keep it, however, because it was the only one I brought (reminder to self: bring multiple copies next time). I did give it to him during the scheduled autograph session later that evening (I was the only one in line who didn’t have a book for him to sign, but that’s because he signed my copy of “Sometimes the Magic Works” during the mentor appointment).

He read it that night and returned it to the conference coordinator with the message for me to find him so he could talk to me about it.

I attended a Q & A session with him and fellow author Brent Weeks, and hovered over him until he finished signing several more autographs after the session. That entire hour and a half of me waiting to talk to him, I tried not to worry that he would tell me to burn those pages and never write another word.

I exaggerate. I didn’t think that at all. Nor was I overly anxious, because I convinced myself that no matter what he told me, his advice would only make my story better.

He first asked if it was YA or adult.

When I told him it’s adult, he said I need to flesh it out more. Adults tend to want to read about the emotional impact of what happens–that I need to add more exposition. The prologue was powerful, but not enough emotion of the devastation the characters endured. The same for the first chapter of another character being sold as a slave.

Other than that, he said he wanted to keep reading, the bones of my story are good, and the concept is interesting. Granted he was working off a dozen pages, but experienced authors do get a sense of good or bad writing from the first few pages. That he thought the bones were good gave me a measure of relief. As long as my story has a solid structure, everything else is detail (literal and figurative), and can be fixed. A poorly structured story can’t, at least not easily and not without starting over.

All in all, after spending $500–which included the cost of the conference and one of the few Terry Brooks mentor appointments, I got my money’s worth. Not only to spend time with one of my favorite authors, but to get a glimpse into the man behind the words. I discovered he’s a delight, funny with an almost childlike gleam in his eye, a real passion for the written word, and doing whatever he can to help newer writers learn the craft to tell fabulous stories that entertain, and teach readers new things (without the sermon, of course).

Because (with God’s help) my nerves didn’t get the best of me, I was able to enjoy both appointments and discover that famous authors are just like the rest of us. They have the same desires and passions, weaknesses, strengths, humility and humor as everyone else.

I’m Not Dead

Although the silence of my blog might have indicated I might have. I’ve been busy! I’m rewriting a sequel — which may seem kinda silly since the first one isn’t published, yet. A friend read the first one and asked to read the second. I realized that I should probably polish the second one before sharing it, though. I’m about a third done.

I’m also co-editing a flash fiction magazine called Havok. The first edition will be released January, 2019, so if you like flash fiction in multiple genres (mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, and thriller), go check it out. So far the stories we’ve acquired are amazing (and no, I’m not getting paid to write that). For the first month alone we received over a dozen stories in the fantasy genre alone, so even for the first edition, there’s no shortage of stories.

Now I need get over this cold my son gave me yesterday. I accomplish a lot more when I’m not sneezing and coughing all over my computer.

The Worst Part of An Interview

It isn’t the anxiety beforehand.

Nor is it during the interview itself.

It’s the aftermath.

I just ended an interview for a magazine associate editor’s position. This was especially nerve-wracking because I haven’t done an interview in twenty years.

It took place over Google Hangouts which was interesting and kinda cool (I’ll describe why in a second) with two ladies involved with the magazine. They asked me about my writing, my editing strengths and weaknesses, and my expectations with the position. They will be interviewing several others, and will let me know either way within a few weeks whether or not I obtain the position.

Now for why the aftermath is the worst part of the interview.

For the next two hours I will mentally scrutinize every word I spoke, and every action of my face and rest of my body.

Did I stutter too much? Did I blink too much? Did I pick my nose? Did I yawn? Did I talk with my hands too much? Too little?

I could have answered that question better!

I should have said something else!

Why, oh why did I say that?!

The upside of it taking place over Hangouts was they couldn’t smell my bad breath due to nervous dry-mouth, or that my deodorant gave out three hours ago.

Eureka?

I like that word mostly because of its history. It comes from ancient Greek meaning “I found it.”

From Wikipedia: “The exclamation ‘Eureka!’ is attributed to the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes. He reportedly proclaimed “Eureka! Eureka!” after he had stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose, whereupon he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. “

I had a bit of a Eureka moment whilst taking a shower this morning. I think I figured out a better prologue for my novel (the one that failed so miserably in the contest).

I rewrote the first chapter already from a different point of view, but I’m not sure I like how it turned out. The first iteration contained a lot of information necessary to the rest of the book, but I couldn’t include it in the rewrite, because the new point of view character doesn’t have that information. Yet it won’t fit anywhere else. At least not yet. I did ask a few people to read the prologue and first three chapters to see what they think, so we’ll see how that goes. Maybe it does work, and I’m being overly critical.

Perhaps I’ll have another Eureka moment whilst in the shower tomorrow, or at least by the end of June. I intend to present this novel to an agent at a writers conference in July.

Also, I signed up to write more devotionals for my church. The focus is on the minor Old Testament prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah and Nahum. Each day is a separate chapter of each book (except Obadiah since it’s only one chapter), so the series will encompass a month.

So far I signed up to write six devotionals. I wanted to sign up for more, but I thought that might be too greedy.

I look forward to writing them, especially the ones in Hosea. It’s about how God not only punishes his people (Israel), but about his relentless pursuit of drawing Israel back to him in spite of her sins. It’s a love story in many ways. Plus, as a writer, I can appreciate the beauty of the prose, and the parallels it draws between God and Israel, and Hosea and his wife and children.

Hmm. Maybe I should study Hosea as a writer, and see how I can apply those techniques to my own writing. Something to think about anyway.

Self-Deceit?

I received the score sheets and suggested edits to my contest submission three days ago, and I have yet to download or even open the attachments.

I’m still too uncertain as to whether or not I’m emotionally capable of handling more criticism — even though intellectually I know many of the comments will only help to improve my craft.

As writers we get so close to our stories that we can’t see what readers see. What seems obvious to us can be confusing to the reader.

As I continue to struggle with feelings of rejection and inadequacy, I am nonetheless thinking and simmering over the scoresheets themselves.

I believe I have come up with a way to “speed up” the first chapter, and give the reader a sense — at least at the beginning — of who the main character is. As a reader, I do like to pick one character — at least to start — to latch onto, relate to, and root for. By giving the reader three equally important characters, the reader has more difficulty making that choice.

All it will take for me is to switch the point of view to a different character. Everything else that happens won’t change, so it won’t adversely effect the rest of the story.

Still, by avoiding the judges comments, am I engaging in a bit of self-deceit?

Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” once said: “I reject your reality, and substitute my own.”

Perhaps that’s what I’m doing, both with my previous entry about my manuscript not being the best fit for the contest (and hence the low scores), and by rewriting the first chapter entirely without looking at and thereby digesting the other comments.

I won’t know for sure until I read the comments . . .

Nope, still not ready to face them. I prefer to swim in my chosen “reality” for a while longer.

Maybe tomorrow.

“I Hate Writing. I Love Having Written.”

Quote by Dorothy Parker.

I can relate to this, especially recently. For the past month, I can’t seem to write a single blog entry. I had also hoped to write 50,000 words in October, and I barely surpassed 10,000. I started writing two short stories, but have yet to finish either.

My lack of writing boils down to a combination of lost interest and motivation, and a waning confidence. I don’t know where it comes from except to say that the more time passes with no writing, the more I believe I lost whatever skill I’ve gained, both in my writing ability, and finding interesting subjects to write about.

In short, I suck at this whole writing thing, and to share even a single word is to embarrass myself and waste readers’ time.

What I need to do is shelve my unfinished short stories in favor of finishing the second draft of my latest novel. I entered the first few pages to a contest for which I should hear how it fared within the next two weeks. Although it made it to the finals, I’d like it to win. The prize amounts to little more than bragging rights, but I’m okay with that. If I ever decide to seek publication for it, winning a contest will hopefully pique an agent or publishers interest when they might otherwise pass it by.

It’s not a big deal either way, because an agent once told me, winning a contest is based largely on comparing the quality of the entries. Saying my book is the best out of a lot could mean nothing more than mine was only slightly less mediocre then the other contestants’. It still has to stand on its own merits when read by others, whether my chosen audience or publishers/agents.

In the meantime, I need to submit another complete novel to agents. The question is, since one novel ready for submittal is science fiction, the other is fantasy that could work for either the mainstream or Christian markets. Not all agents take both mainstream science fiction and Christian fantasy. I may have to decide which audience is more important to me.

You’d think as a Christian, the choice would be obvious.

But it’s not. Does God want me to write books for Christians alone where Jesus sits front and center, or reach out into the world? Not to preach, though, because my mainstream novels contain little by way of Christian faith. At least overtly. Several of my characters believe in God, but they don’t preach or try to convert. They simply believe in a Creator, a power beyond their understanding, but worthy of worship anyway, however quietly.

Writing is hard, because it’s a skill in need of constant practice, just like any other artist or musician. “Use it or lose it,” as they say. It also requires constant thoughtfulness, to ever ask the question: is this interesting, and not only to myself? Aside from well-written, is it informative, or entertaining? Both? Neither?

Because we writers pour so much of ourselves into our writing, there’s the constant fear of rejection, of not being good enough. With every word we succeed in writing, we feel like we’re taking one more step closer to an abyss. We think that by not writing, we can avoid falling into that abyss with no bottom, no light, and no way out. That abyss is obscurity, of failure. Of learning beyond all doubt we wasted our time trying to develop a skill, but in the end will never be successful at it. It’s the fear of finding out we will never be good enough. Better to dream in blissful ignorance.

And yet, whenever I do push through those fears and insecurities, and finish a blog entry, short story or novel, I realize I didn’t careen into an abyss after all. While the story may not be publishable at first, it’s at least finished. That alone is an accomplishment.

Yet knowing I can succeed, because I have succeeded many times, why is it still so hard to finish?

Maybe it’s what Dorothy Parker said. Oftentimes we prefer the destination to the journey. To skip the lengthy step of bloody, heart-wrenching work.

After all, how many of us who have traveled long distances look forward to the many hours on the road, on the water, or in the air verses arriving at our chosen destination?

Unfortunately for the uncertain writer, the journey matters most to the reader, not the destination. If it didn’t, all stories would contain the first page and the last with nothing in between.

It’s the in between parts that invites people to read, and keep reading.

It’s also the part writers hate the most.

Research = Yuck (Sometimes)

For some, research is the definition of tedium. I am one of them, which is why I like to write science fiction and fantasy. While rules of physics, biology and human nature must be followed – to a point – at least I don’t have to know what the weather was like on January 3rd 1872 in Portland Oregon, and whether or not the moon was full that day. I also don’t have to know where the local grocery store is, because when I’m building my world, I can put that grocery store wherever I darn well please, thank you very much.

My junior year of high school, everyone had to take an asset test to see where their academic strengths and weaknesses were, so the students and guidance counselors could determine more easily where they should take their next educational steps, if any. My worst score (if I remember right) was history at 83. No surprise there. I didn’t care for history in school. I couldn’t appreciate it as much as I do now, because being so young, I didn’t see how history greatly affects our present and future.

My best score at 99 was research. Looking up where to find things, regardless of subject was easy for me. So you can imagine how much I like the Internet . . .

Even my chosen profession of land surveying requires a slew of research, whether it be finding property owners, easements, or plats. Every new job we get requires all that research. I’m good at it (and relearning almost every day how important thorough research is).

You’d think that because I’m good at research, and at least as far as my job is concerned, I’d enjoy it. And I do. Sometimes finding the one document I need is like finding buried treasure. Finding a property corner in the middle of a forest set over a hundred years ago is even more so. When it comes to writing, however, I prefer to not have to research at all. That’s because I’d rather spend that time writing.

Another not-surprise is that I’m a pantser writer. I’ve tried the outlining, character detailing, etc., and I simply don’t have the patience for it. I appreciate the writers who take that route, because they don’t have to worry about going back and fixing stupid mistakes such as describing the character one way in one scene, and change them completely in another. I think the time they spend researching, building and characterizing saves them a lot of editing in the end.

I think they also excel at finding the right agent and publisher for their works. They know the importance of thorough research (especially those who write historical fiction), so searching for someone to accept their work has to come easier than an impatient pantser like myself.

But it must be done, so I have to put on my research hat and look for agents. I found a few so far that look promising. I won’t know until I research a little bit more (such as whether or not they have social media such as a blog or Twitter), and in the end eliminate them as a possibility, or swallow my fear and pride and submit my proposal.