One Writer’s Journey

October 21, 2016

Fiction: The Truth at the Core

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:17 am

gaiman-quoteI have to admit that I always considered the dichotomy pretty clear-cut.  Nonfiction was true.  Fiction was made up.  Then I saw this quote from Neil Gaiman.

The funny thing is that I’ve probably seen this quote before.  After all, Neil Gaiman gets quoted fairly often and I like his work so I pay attention when someone quotes him.  So in spite of the fact that I’ve probably seen this before, it didn’t click until yesterday.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing all the pre-writing to get ready for NaNoWriMo. I tend to be a pretty seat-of-the-pants writer when it comes to fiction which may well be why, at some point, I always bog down on fiction projects.  There just comes a point when some internal contradiction or plot Grand-Canyon makes itself known and I can’t see a way around it and a quit.

This time I’ve been working with my characters and noodling over their relationships with each other.  I’ve been making up artifacts, considering the system of government (highly dysfunctional for the have-nots) and today I’m finally outlining the plot.

Maybe it has something to do with all of the pre-writing and the fact that I’m must more familiar with my characters and the story world than ever before.  Maybe that’s why.  But the funny thing is that I know what the theme is.  I never know what the theme is before I start writing.  N-E-V-E-R.  But this time I do.  And, you know what?  It is the central truth in the story.

My story is fiction. I’ve made up the people.  I’ve made up the world.  I’m working on their culture.  But the theme — it is one of those Big Truths in life.  Fiction may be, as Gaiman briefly put it, a lite. But it is a lie that some how, some way reveals a central truth.  Or at least it does if it is well written.


October 20, 2016

Author’s Copies! Women in History Have Arrived

women-in-historyAbout 30 minutes after we had finished dinner my son tossed a comment back over his shoulder as he left the room.  “Oh, yeah.  They delivered your books.”

“What books?”

“Your books, Mom.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were on the treadmill.”  Granted, I’d been off the treadmill for slightly more than an hour and a half but my son and husband found this perfectly reasonable.  Of course, I pretty much blew my credibility because, at that point, I spun around and tripped over a pair of wet shoes someone had left by the front door.  Someone.  They were, coincidentally, my sandals.

The last 24 hours had been more than a little book crazy.  At almost 10 pm, I got a rewrite request.  I’ve been waiting for a rewrite request but this wasn’t from the same author.  It seems that the publisher had reviewed this particular book after it had gone through design.  He wanted changes and I can’t say that I disagree.  They will definitely improve the whole.  But that’s not what I was expecting to work on today.

Fortunately, I got the changes in and then had another e-mail.  Rewrite request?  Nope.  Just letting me know that I’d have it in about a week.

Then we had dinner and then I found out my books had arrived.  Aren’t they fantastic?  That’s Women in Sports to the left and Women in Science  to the right.  I have to say that the book design is quite nice and I was surprised by how many of the photographs I recognized from Women in Sports.  They didn’t ask for suggestions so they independently picked out photos I found while researching the topic.

The only book for which I’ve made photo suggestions so far has been Ancient Maya.  That was tricky because they couldn’t always get the photos I had found and had to use something else.  Since I had also written photo captions, that meant having to rewrite photo captions.  That’s one of the things about series writing.  I submit my best possible manuscript, incorporating changes they requested based on the outline.  They read my manuscript and all of the others in the series.  They ask for changes, sometimes because a topic was extensively covered in another book.

Speaking of which, I wonder what changes they’ll want on the last manuscript?  Until I find out, I’ll have to find something else to do.  Maybe I should start by putting up my shoes?


October 19, 2016

Sit and Write as Jane Yolen: How to Approach Your Writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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typewriterAbout two weeks ago, I blogged about taking classes online.  The first class I attempted turned into a ball of frustration as I tried to locate, sans links, the course site and readings.  Because I take these classes for FUN, I quickly gave up and moved to the next course.  Creative Writing: A Master Class for which I downloaded the itunes app.

The first lecture was given by playwright August Wilson.  Wilson discusses his efforts to have his work accepted so that he could attend the National Playwrights conference.  Wilson described writing several plays only to have them rejected one by one.  It wasn’t until his fourth or fifth effort that his work was accepted.

What did he do differently that time around?  He says that that was when he realized that he was sitting in the same writing chair as Tennessee Williams and as Ibsen.  An unknown with no plays to his credit, he was in the exact same position that they were when they sat down to write.  He had to figure out how to get actors onto the stage and all of the other things that have to be accomplished in a play.

He had to do these things but so did the greats.

Think about your own writing.  Are you writing picture books like Jane Yolen?  Maybe you are writing early readers like Arnold Lobel.  Me?  Some day s I write nonfiction like James Cross Giblin.  I’m getting ready to work on a middle grade novel just like Bruce Coville.

No matter what you write, you are doing the same thing as the luminaries in your field.  You have the same goal.  You have similar tools.

Will this realization change how you write?  So often we are told to remember that we are in competition with every book that is in print.  Your work has to be that good or better or it will never see print.  And, that’s true enough.

But Wilson has definitely hit on something.  As soon as you sit down to write, or stand at an easel to paint, you have the same goals and the same means to get there as the greats.

You just need to make the work your own.  How about them apples? (To quote my grandmother.)


October 18, 2016

Characterization: Prewriting to the Extreme

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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When author K.M. Weiland interviews her characters, she asks them a wide variety of questions including the name of their favorite book. As I started doing this for my main character, Clem, my first thought was that she wouldn’t have a favorite book.  She is definitely working class and poor.  She doesn’t have much time for things like books.

Then I started to wonder if I was taking the easy way out.  My grandfather graduated with a degree in Mining Engineering just as many of the mines in the US were playing out.  Because of this, he took any job he could find.  Sometimes he was head mining engineer for the mercury mines in Terlingua, Texas.  Other times he ran a filling station.  My grandmother used chicken feed sacks to make clothing.  Pretty sacks became dresses focrisscrossing-the-galaxyr the girls.  Ugly sacks were destined to be underwear.  They were definitely foundation-stonesworking class and poor but they had books.

So what kind of books would kids on a mining planet have access to?  Especially working class kids? What would there be and what would they want?

Fortunately, I collect old books, snatching them up whenever I see them at a yard sale, rummage sale or book sale.  I was able to base these two books on actual texts in my collection.  One is my character’s favorite book because her older brother read it to her.  The other is the kind of book her step father wants her to read.  It should be pretty obvious which is which.

I’m not going to be able to put this much effort into every crumb of material culture but having put the effort into creating these “books,” even if I really only made the covers, I feel like I know my characters a bit better.

I better hustle though so that I’ll be ready to start working on the novel in two weeks.  Fingers crossed!






October 17, 2016

Novel Writing: What to Know Before You Start

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:26 am
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prewritingWhen I came across this checklist, it was billed as NaNoWriMo prep.  “Do these things and you’ll be ready to rock.”  Admittedly, that’s why I’m doing them right now but if they are good prep for NaNoWriMo then they are good prep to write a novel.  Period.  So what is on this amazing checklist? I’m going to just touch on each of these points and then go into detail in other posts.

  1. Write your premise sentence.  The premise is a summary of what your novel is about.  It goes beyond the bare bones concept to include a bit about the protagonist, their general situation and what they are working on before they get sucked into whatever your story is about. As if all of that wasn’t enough, you have to include your protagonist, what disaster gets the plot moving and the conflict between these two characters.  I’ve already blogged about the premise here.
  2. Work with your characters.  I’ve already started this in my scrapbook.  I know how they look and how they dress. I know some of what they like.  I have some backstory.  I did not do detailed interviews.  I should address that and I’ll write another post on characters when I do.  I also need to consider the character arc for each one.
  3. Work with your plot.  You are going to have to make sure you’ve addressed any plot holes, added a few twists so that your story isn’t business and usual and identified all of your plot points from the inciting incident to the climax.
  4. Details your plot.  It isn’t enough to know vaguely what is going on.  Before you start writing, you will need an outline composed of all of the scenes that get your from one plot point to another.  Yep.  Scenes.  You may need 3 scenes to address one plot point.
  5. Explore your settings. When we plow through a novel manuscript, it is easy to slight the setting and leave your characters wondering around some place that is a bit gray and amorphous.  Avoid this by exploring your setting ahead of time  Some writers create setting folders.  I’m doing this in my scrapbook, colleting images for each setting.

It sure looks like a lot of work, doesn’t it?  But I’m fairly confident that once it is done, I will be ready to write that novel.



October 14, 2016

New Publishing Opportunities: St. Martin’s Press Launches a Crossover Imprint

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:02 am
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wednesday-booksMacmillan’s St Martin’s Press (SMP) is launching a new imprint — Wednesday Books. Publisher Jennifer Enderlin will publish YA and adult titles that focus on coming-of-age themes but are also “dynamic and exciting.”

The imprint is looking for both fiction and nonfiction that is described as “bold, diverse, and commercial.” Readers who are attracted to their books will be those looking for YA and beyond.

The first titles in this new imprint are scheduled for Fall 2017.  Ultimately, the imprint will publish 10–20 books/year.  This imprint will be the home, from here on out, of all SMP YA titles.

Editorial Director Sara Goodman, who has worked with both Rainbow Rowell and Courtney Summers, will edit and acquire adult and YA titles for the imprint.

I couldn’t find any more than this but will keep my eyes open.


October 13, 2016

Editing Your Manuscript: Reading Level

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:43 am
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Why oh why can’t I get the reading level down?

Remember that optimistic estimate I had that it would take me three hours to finish the manuscript?  It was a lot closer to five. The biggest problem that I faced was bringing things to the correct reading level.

When I write for Red Line, I use the ATOS grade level calculator.  My goal for this book was a reading level of 7.0 to 8.5.  I don’t test the entire manuscript, preferring to test each chapter.  I do it this way because my Red Line editors are really good at spotting reading level problems.  If one chapter is off, they will catch it.  I’d much rather spot the problem without any help.

Yesterday I had finished the hard copy edits and just needed to make the changes and then test each chapter.  The first one was 8.8.  The second one was 9.0.  Thankfully the third one was 8.5.

How was I so off in one chapter.  In part because it had a section on Colin Kaepernick.  It wouldn’t be so bad if his last name was Colin because I could use that throughout most of the section.  But oh, no.  Kaepernick.  Kaepernick does frightening things to your reading level.  Not as frightening as Maya place names but bad enough.

I’ve seen some people recommend substituting Bob for such a name.  Bob is a nice low reading level.  The problem is that Kaepernick is going to be in the book.  It has to work with Keapernick in the manuscript.

Fortunately, there are several  ways to bring down the reading level.

First things first, look at your sentence structure.  No semicolons.  None.  Break down compound sentences.  Phrases are okay but don’t join two perfectly legitimate sentences with AND or BUT.  You don’t want the entire manuscript to be composed of simple sentences but if you can get rid of a complex sentence per page, that will drop the reading level by .2 or .3.

Second, don’t forget to look for passive construction.  That tends to make your sentences wordier.  “The boy hit the ball” vs “The ball was hit by the boy.”

Third, simplify some of the vocabulary.  Look for multisyllable words that can be replaced by shorter words.  Want replaces prefer.  Use takes the place of operate.

Of course, if your reading level is too low, you do the opposite, except for the semicolon (publisher’s preference).

And whenever you’ve been tinkering with the reading level, reread the section out loud.  You want to be certain it is still a smooth read.



October 12, 2016

Deadlines: How Close Do You Cut It?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:18 am
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I business-1067978_1920have a book due today.  In an ideal world, I’d have spent yesterday working through the last of my hard copy edits.  Of course, in an ideal world jr. wouldn’t have come home from school spiking a fever.

Granted, he’s a teenager so it isn’t like I need to be at his beck and call. But, you know how it is.  If someone else is here, you just don’t get as much done.  First he has to tell me his head hurts.  He may be 17 but he’s never willing to get over-the-counter meds out without saying something to me first.  Then his stomach was bugging him and that’s when we discovered the fever.

For better or worse, I tend to meet my deadlines without a whole lot of wiggle room.  Of course, that’s because things like this seem to happen on a regular basis.  When I was working on the Pearl Harbor book, I did hard copy edits on a clip board leaning against a wall in the emergency room while my dad slept.  They finally diagnosed him with . . . I think it was pneumonia that time . . . and gave him a bed.  But I edited at least two chapters with beeping and nurses bustling to and fro.

I try to have things ready to turn in the day before things are due, but that seldom seems to work out. In part, I think it is because I become much more productive and efficient as the deadline nears.  What can I say?  Monday, I did hard copy edits on 2 chapters and got everything changed on the computer.  Yesterday, I did hard copy edits on the other 6 chapters and got 2 chapters worth changed on the computer.  That means that today I have to type up the changes for four more chapters.  I also have to edit and update the back matter and clean up the formating on the bibliography.  It will probably take me about 3 hours.

This may not be the best method but it works for me.  I think that I’ve missed one deadline in something like 20 years.  Fingers crossed that as you read this, I’m attaching the file to an e-mail and sending it in!



October 11, 2016

Prepping Your Premise

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:21 am
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watch-1267417_1920As I work on my NaNoWriMo prewriting tasks, I find myself doing a bit of this and a bit of that on my book.  No, I’m not writing. I’m figuring things out.  One of the things that I need to figure out is my premise.  Not sure what a premise is?  The concept is the most basic take on the story.  My concept is  a girl waits for her brother to come home from the war.  A premise begins to fill in the details.  You can read up on that in an excellent post by K.M. Weiland on the difference between a premise and a concept.

Any-who, for my premise, I need to know the following:

Protagonist:  12 year-old Clem

Situation: Clem is working hard, running errands and acting as a local messenger.

Objective:  She needs to maintain things, specifically her older brother’s a-tee (think speeder) until he comes home from the war.

Opponent:  Evil step-father (ESF).  Yes, this could be cliché but he has a compelling back story.

Disaster: ESF tries to take the a-tee to sell it.  He’s convinced the brother is not coming home.  Maybe dead.

Conflict: She has to find a way to keep him from selling it and hold on.

Let’s see how all of this folds together into a premise:  Clem is running errands and messages to earn the money she needs to maintain her brother’s a-tee. She’s the youngest pilot in the area but she takes care of the vehicle, determined to have it looking good-as-new when her brother comes home from the war.  Then her step-father tries to sell it without saying anything to her.  He’s convinced her brother isn’t coming home but Clem doesn’t believe him.  She’s determined that if she keeps the a-tee safe, her brother will come home.

Premise?  Check.  I’m going to be working on setting and material culture but I also have to . . . hesitant pause . . . make an outline.



October 10, 2016

Characters: Getting to know them inside and out

fiddleAs part of the pre-writing that I need to get done for NaNoWriMo, I spent some time last week scrapbooking my characters.  This is definitely an exercise that I’d recommend if you’ve never done it before.

Before I did this exercise, I’d given some thought to my characters.  For my main character and three main secondary characters, I knew what they liked and what they valued but I hadn’t nailed down their appearances.  Now I have coloring, general height and  build for each of them.  I even have a pretty good idea what one character’s tatoo looks like.  The funny thing?  Before I did this, I didn’t know he had a tatoo.

I knew some of the baggage that he brought with him into the story.  It’s the baggage that makes him such a mystery, but I didn’t know about the ink.  As I was doing a variety of searches in Google Image, up popped a full back tattoo of a fallen angel.  Oh.  Wow.  Absolute perfection.

This isn’t the only character that I learned about.  My main character has a surprising hobby.  Yes, it is something a lot of girls do but it isn’t something you usually associate with a tom boy.

The surprise that’s going to make the most work for me came in the form of a pair of fiddles.  Two of my characters saw fit to let me in on the fact that they both play the fiddle.  That’s awesome for the story but what I know about fiddles would fit in the case alongside the bow and the fiddle itself.

But the character that I learned the most about is my villain.  All this time, I didn’t realize that I had never named him.  I just called him Stepfather.  Yes, it may be a bit cliché that the stepfather is the villain and because of that I’d let this character slide.  But now that he has a name and a face and even a motivation . . . I can’t say that I like him any better than I did before but now I know why he does the jerky things that he does.

This was definitely a worthwhile exercise.  This week I’ll be scrapbooking my settings.  I’m sure I’ll learn a few things in the process.


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