Just Write Cat

One Writer, One Journey

Plugging Away… June 13, 2011

I’ve been remiss. I’ve let my writing take second chair. Well, second chair (or first, for that matter) isn’t taken – it’s given. So the burden of responsibility rests solely on my shoulders. Oh, I’ve been writing – mainly for local magazines and blogs – but I consider that something other than “working on my novels”.

I could point to a couple of external factors – problems due to the concussion I received two years ago (just started therapy for that, finally) or my recent involvement in my son’s PTSA  (funny how when you’re cell deep in your novel, you almost forget you have a real, live family). And the editor I worked with is on hiatus until the fall. I love that word, hiatus. Sounds like something requiring surgery. I had my hiatus removed, so the doc said I can’t lift anything over twenty pounds.

So, I’ve been plugging away at my manuscript (the wonderous third draft you hear so much about), trying to apply what I learned working with said (amazing) editor to the other 300 pages. I will state this: my first fifty are solid! Um, I think.

Here are my goals for the summer – finish my revision. attend the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference , prepare for the  International Surrey Writers Conference (both manuscript and confidence-wise), lose ten pounds (nothing to do with writing, but still a worthwhile goal. On second thought, make that an even twenty).

And how, pray tell, do you plan to spend your summer? I’ll ask another way – what writing goals have you set? Please share!

Cat

 

Freelance Writing Guest Post, II November 22, 2010

Filed under: Freelance,Writing — justwritecat @ 8:43 pm

My second post on freelance writing is up at Inky Fresh Press!  Please check it out –

Happy Writing –

Cat

 

Guest Post on Inky Fresh Press…The Money Side of Things November 8, 2010

Filed under: Freelance,Life,Writing — justwritecat @ 8:00 am
Tags: ,

This month Inky Fresh Press is blogging about the money side of this whole ‘writing thing’. To read my take on the topic, please check out my guest post. I was truly honored to be asked to provide a guest post – and writing for another blog proved a worthwhile learning experience.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts on the subject!

Cat

 

The First Fifty… July 27, 2010

Filed under: Editing,Writing — justwritecat @ 3:28 am
Tags: , , ,

Whew!  Two weeks of cold/allergies/who knows what else and I’m wiped out.  I didn’t write for an entire week.  Okay, three days but it seemed like for-ev-er.  I did a bit of revision work, but quickly realized that what one writes in an allergy-drug-induced state doesn’t always make sense the next day.  Non-drowsy, my a–.

So, the past three days have proven a bit more productive.  I’m off “my meds’ (hmmm, not sure that sounded right), and my mind’s clear and ready to get back to revision work.  My next session with Lisa is this week, so I’m excited.  To prep for the next call, I spent the last couple of days thinking about ‘the first fifty pages’.  My first fifty, to be exact.  Fifty pages seems to be the typical number of pages asked for in partial requests.  I’m not exactly sure why, but enough agents ask for that so there must be a good reason.  Just enough to get a solid idea on what’s going on, who the protagonist is, is this something I want to keep reading…that sort of thing, I guess.

So, to better consider if my first fifty have what it takes, I read (and reread) the first fifty pages of several urban fantasy books and took notes.  Here’s what I found out:

When I read the first fifty pages of several books, one of two things happened – either I found, on page fifty, that time had flown by and I didn’t want to stop reading.  OR, I held the book in my hand, trying to figure out just how much more I’d have to slug through based on the width of the book.  If it was an especially thick book, say 450 pages thick, I promptly placed the book in my ‘return to library’ bag.  If the book was oh, 250 pages thick…I gave it another twenty pages…and then put the book in the bag.  There really was no in between.  No, ‘well, it’s not that bad so I’ll keep reading because my other books are downstairs and it’s late and what if I get out of bed to go downstairs and I hear a sound and it’s a ghost or something’.  See how my mind works?  I either wanted to keep reading or I didn’t.  So – those pages either grab a reader and refuse to let go.  Or they don’t.  Of the half dozen or so books involved in this ‘test’, only two made the cut. 

Jim Butcher’s Changes (latest in the Dresden Files) and Joe Gores’ Spade & Archer, the Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

I don’t know if you read The Dresden Files, but this last one is a doozy.  No spoilers, don’t worry.  I hate spoilers.  The series is about a wizard living in Chicago.  This guy – Harry Dresden  – has really, really bad luck much of the time.  He’s a good guy, a great guy – but crap is always happening to him.  Of course, that’s what makes the stories so fun to read.  You get to watch Harry deal with the crap in some very creative ways.  First fifty pages of Changes – no less than four major crap things happen to Harry.  Again, no spoilers – but as I took notes, I realized that there was more action in Butcher’s first fifty pages than I read in some entire books.  Lesson learned – things have to happen to your character!  Maybe not quite so much so soon, but enough.  Enough to keep you turning the pages all the way to the last one.  The author Piled. It. On.

You also learn some things about Harry and the larger plot early on, some things that Make You Care about the character enough that you want him to win whatever it takes. 

I reread my first fifty.  First couple of chapters, hey – whaddya know, you do learn some things about Joe.  Things that pre-revision with Lisa, you didn’t learn until – drum roll – AFTER page fifty.  Egads.  Important things, things that matter.  Things that Make You Care.  But, too late.  Again, that was pre-revision, so I do feel good about my revised opening chapters.  There’s more tension, more going on – not just action, but things going on with Joe, with where he’s at when the story starts and where he seems to be headed.  Not nearly as much happens in my first fifty as does in Changes – but, Changes is like book twelve or something in the series (I think).  So there’s been a tremendous amount of set-up, enough that you can bring back characters from previous books, have things happen to them or because of them, and the reader easily follows the plot.  Set ‘Em Up, Joe is the first in a (hopefully) series – so I might need to set things up more before all sorts of stuff happens to characters.  Not sure, will have to ask Lisa during our next session!

Gores’ Spade & Archer.  As one reviewer on the back cover stated – this book is ‘pitch perfect’.  The voice, oh my goodness, the voice.  And the language – this author clearly studied Hammett, read him, read other noir books – maybe all noir books – and then put his own spin on things.  From the first page, nay the first word, I am hooked.  I want to keep reading.  I’m having fun! 

Now, it’s not quite fair to say I learned so much about the character of Sam Spade in the first fifty because I already knew the character from Hammett’s books – and some of the films.  BUT…Gores presents a totally possible explanation for why Sam is the way he is.  You buy it, you see it playing out in your head, you are convinced Gores channeled Hammett somehow.  Not to undermine Gores’ talent….but it’s so darn…darn….pitch perfect that channeling had to have occurred.  First fifty – you understand Spade.  You get him.

My first fifty – yes, a tentative yes, but yes…I think you get Joe.  Get what makes his blood boil, what makes him react.  I believe you can see things playing out.  I’ve been told yes to these things by readers, but it’s hard to see it for yourself sometimes. 

So first fifty – give the reader something to care about, have your protag doing something that is worth caring about.  Make your character(s) real, find a way to connect to the reader.  Make bad things happen to your characters (conflict).  Don’t let up, don’t ease off.  Pile. It. On.  

The books that made the bag rather than the cut?  Nothing was going on, or at least nothing that mattered to me.  In one case – things were happening, but none of it made sense.  It was as if the author tried to throw in every UF plot twist just to keep the reader’s attention.  It lacked focus.  One other book – I actually sort of read it through because I wanted to know how it ended.  I read the first fifty, uh, the skipped around.  Quite a bit.  Like to the end.  I know, I know – I hate doing that, but that was the book in my hands that night when I was suddenly afraid of the downstairs.  So, I read the end.  Um, and in the morning I took the sequel out of my library queue.

Working on your first fifty?  Read other books in your genre, take notes – then apply to your own work. 

Happy Writing!

 

Some Things I’ve Realized… July 11, 2010

After three intense sessions with independent editor (and character therapist) Lisa Rector-Maass, I’ve realized a few things.

Some of my scenes, a few, are pretty decent.  The rest suck.  Not suck bigtime – well, maybe some.  More like suck, with potential.  Which is better than suck without any redeeming qualities.  So, I have hope.  And no, Lisa did not imply said suckage in any way.  It’s more of a personal realization.  She’s been nothing but encouraging and positive, which is really quite wonderful.

You can always push your characters more than you have.  Raise the stakes – both internal and external, turn the conflict and the tension up to high, push them to their breaking point.  Sometimes, it’s more interesting to see what happens if they actually break. 

You don’t know your characters as well as you think you do.  Lisa asks questions about their motivations, history, goals, desires, fears – and even though I have answers for most of her questions (though not for all of my characters), I learn something new each time we discuss my novel.  I’m struggling with my antagonist.  I can’t seem to get a handle on her past, which makes it difficult to know her motivations.  Lisa offered up this challenge:  Look at the first fifty or one hundred pages from the antagonist’s point of view.  My first novel is in first person, so that was something I never considered (or would have).  She provided several questions and things to consider while I tackle this challenge – which I’m working on over the next several days.

When you revise, it can help to do so in layers.  Read your scene and/or chapter several times – each time looking for or working on specific things.  Tension, pacing, inner conflict, story development – whatever needs attention.  Everything’s connected, but if you try to tackle it all at once – you’ll get overwhelmed.  Or maybe you won’t, but I did. 

When you find someone who gets your writing – an editor, a writing buddy, someone from a crit group – it may help to work only with that person for some time.  Otherwise, if you get feedback from several different people at once – it can make it hard to know what you should or shouldn’t change.  I’m not saying getting input from several readers is a bad idea – it’s not.  But there’s a point when you’re either doing deep revision or even polishing a scene – and if there’s too much feedback or suggestions coming from all different directions, you don’t know who to listen to.  Too much noise, and you can’t hear the one person you really need to  – yourself.  Yes, get feedback and be open to it – but it’s okay to go with your own instinct.  Oh, but you can listen to your characters.  They usually know best.

One other thing I’ve realized – what matters is writing the best damn story you can.  Being true to your characters, to their story.  Heck yes, I hope to have an agent some day soon.  And to see my book(s) at Borders 🙂  But right now – I’ve put those things out of my mind (as much as possible) and I’m focusing on my writing.  There’s a freedom in that.  And that freedom seems to…well, free me up to improve my craft.

And so the revisions continue.  More on working with Lisa after the next session (I’ve got several more to go)!

 

Hesitation… June 14, 2010

Filed under: Editing,Life,Writing,You Can't Do It Alone — justwritecat @ 2:47 am

So, I got a ‘pass’ from the agent who requested my full manuscript.  I must admit, I wasn’t too surprised.  I was bummed – it was my birthday after all (the day I received the email), but I wasn’t surprised.  Here’s why…

Earlier this year I worked with an editor on my first novel, Set ‘Em Up, Joe.  I’ve blogged about the experience, but the short of it – it was not the best experience for me.  I did receive some good feedback, but I don’t think the match was ideal (editor-writer).  And that’s an important part of the equation – finding someone who gets your writing, who understands your vision.  As a result of the experience, my confidence suffered a bit.  Enough to keep me from writing for about three weeks.  After working with the editor, I felt unsure of myself (and of my story, my characters, and everything else). 

And that uncertainty manifested itself when I did start writing again.   Not good.  I allowed my insecurity to hold me back, to hold my characters back.  And it showed in my writing.  As I revised, I wrote from a place of safety.  I tested the waters, pushing my characters only as far as I felt comfortable doing so.  At the time I didn’t realize I was doing this, but looking back it’s clear I gave my characters easy ways out.  Which didn’t make for high-stakes tension in my novel.  The agent who passed told me she loved the voice, but the plot was not engaging enough.  Fair enough.

About a week before I received that pass, I realized that my manuscript was not all it could be.  I don’t know how I came to that realization, it just hit me one day.  So when I got that email, as I stated – no big surprise. 

I believe in my characters and my novel.  I sincerely feel the potential is there…my novel just didn’t live up to that potential.  But I believe it can. Which is why shortly after receiving that pass, I contacted another editor.  This editor was someone I’d contacted before – and she’d offered to take on my manuscript, but I’d gone with someone close by so I could meet in person.  I was thrilled when this new editor gave me a second opportunity to get her input.  We exchanged a couple of emails, and then scheduled our first phone consult (in two weeks). 

How do I know this editor is the right one?  Here’s one reason – after reading my first five pages she mentioned something that resonated with me so completely, I just knew I was in for an amazing learning experience.  She stated that, as a reader, she hesitated because she sensed my hesitation as a writer.  Let me write that again…

As a reader she hesitated because she sensed my hesitation as a writer.

Wow.  Bingo.  Exactly. 

You cannot write from a safe place.  You cannot hold back.  You cannot hesitate.

You have to push your characters to places that are so beyond comfortable, that you almost (or do) squirm in your seat while writing the scenes.  If you’re like me and you prefer endings not totally devoid of happiness, fine – give your characters what you want them to have…in the end.  But rake them through the goals before they get there.  Push them to their breaking points, give them horrible choices and make them do things that they don’t want to do.  It’s the only way to create inner and outer tension – which is the only way to keep readers engaged.  If everything is hunky-dory (or worse, so-so), what’s the point of reading the story? 

In real life, most of us avoid conflict.  We don’t like tense situations.  Tension leads to stress, which leads to sleepless nights, body aches and overtime at the gym because we look to chocolate for moments of peace.  Or maybe that’s just me.  Whatever, what we try to avoid in real life we often seek in fiction.  And that includes tension.  You cannot achieve this state unless you push your characters and push yourself as a writer.

Don’t hesitate. 

More on my experiences with this editor as the work begins, but for now let me say that I’m eager, ready and willing to not hesitate.  Oh, and I’ve already thought of ways to push Joe to some very, very difficult places.  He won’t be happy.  But happy is not the emotion I’m trying to invoke in my readers.

 

Some Thoughts on Writing Your Next Novel… June 1, 2010

Filed under: Baby Steps, Baby Steps,Life,Writing — justwritecat @ 3:14 am

I started my first novel – Set ‘Em Up, Joe – last year.  When you begin to write your first novel, many things happen to you.  You feel a bit overwhelmed, you go a little crazy.  Maybe you start talking to yourself – more, and in public.  You dream, you hope, you pray.  You laugh at yourself, but not too much because you think you might just be able to swing it. 

Then, on the second day, you think it might be better to not worry so much, not over think the situation – or you’ll never get past the first scene.  So, you write.  And at some point, you finish (really finish, like after the many critiques and revisions).

Then, you find yourself in the middle of the submission process.  Maybe you have some partials, or even a full, out.  You wait a week or two before getting seriously into your next project- you know, just to give yourself some breathing room and a little time before you go through the whole crazy, glorious journey again.  You may have some ideas swimming around up there, a few possibilities jotted down on your favorite notepad.  You’re not quite sure which one to give yourself to, so you mull things over.  You could study trends, see what might be the best idea to foster.  But then you quickly realize doing so won’t do you any good – by the time you write the novel, the trend will be over (or on hiatus).  Plus, you should write what speaks to you.  Write what you have to write, not what you think you should.

Then, you decide on a project.  Could be one jumps out at you fairly quickly, or you might have one of those moments where you realize idea number five on your list of eight ABSOLUTELY MUST BE WRITTEN NOW.  Maybe one of the characters whispers sweet somethings (because nothings would be…nothing) in your ear or visits you in a dream and threatens you –  “Write this now, or else I’ll Stop. Talking. To You.”  Egads, that wouldn’t do at all (I’ve always wanted to use egads, thanks).

If you’re like me, you write the opening scene knowing it’s going to change and quite possible go away completely.  Then you do some research, interview your characters, start working through questions you find in the How to Write the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass.  You know, get a better feel for the story and the people.  Then suddenly the real opening scene appears, hovering just within reach, and you make a mad dash to your computer or notepad, shut out the world, and START YOUR NEXT NOVEL.

And you realize something.

That thing you read or heard about authors – you know, the one about how you never, ever find an agent to rep your first novel because it’s rarely good enough – you realize its true. 

And the other thing you heard about – that you have to write two or three or four or more novels before you can hope to have any idea of what you’re doing – you start to think maybe that one’s true, too.

So you fret and maybe cry – just a little bit, just enough to work out some anxiety and fear.  But then you tell yourself something you never thought you would hear yourself saying (or think yourself thinking):

It’s o.k. if my first novel doesn’t find a home.”

Because some day, it might – even if that is after your next one does (or the one after that or after that…)

Because, you have to write.  You Have to Write.  And each and every single novel you work on is worth it. 

If you have kids, you’ll get this – you love each child as much as the other.  Maybe you love different qualities about each child, because each child is different, unique.  But you love all your kiddos so darn much you can hardly breathe at times.  You want the best for each child – that includes doing the best you can as a parent.  Sure, you learn as you go and so maybe the way you parent your next child is slightly better (or way better, maybe) than your first.  Because you’ve learned some things – tricks of the trade, what works, what doesn’t.  Plus, remember – each child is different so you cannot parent all kids exactly the same.  What works for one may not (always) work for the other.  Which is good.  Parenting should never be easy.  It should be hard, it should force you to try better each and every day.  You won’t always – some days, you’ll be too tired or you’ll fall into old patterns of (bad) parenting.  But that won’t last long, not if you really want to be the best parent you can be and you really want the best for each child.

Now – substitute writer for parent and novel for child. 

That’s how you approach the next novel.  And the one after that and the one after that…

Cat

Submission Update – I’ve not heard back from the agents that have partials/full.  I did have the opportunity to meet one of the agents at a recent workshop.  She said she’d keep her eye out for the partial (I’d just mailed it out) and that she’s looking forward to reading it.  That made my day.  And she was so very nice!

Hard at work on my second novel – a supernatural thriller.