Am I Doing This Right?

Posted: February 26, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

Last Princess Cover 3

I never studied (or learned, according to my wife) basic child-rearing skills. It’s just as well; she’s outstanding at it. We have three amazing children as evidence. But, being a man I am cursed with the hubris to think I can contribute from time to time, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

So, when my 12-year-old daughter seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with fairy tales, how did I handle it? I decided to write a tween fantasy novel about a girl who sees faeries everywhere using my daughter as inspiration, and invited her to be my co-author. See? This parenting thing ain’t so hard.

I think I may have sailed off the map, here.

Let me tell you, there are no How to Write a Semi-autobiographical Urban Fantasy Novel Using Your Own Family as a Model, for Dummies books out there. I’ve been told, “Write what you know.” Check. I’ve also heard, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Can’t argue with that; if I wrote about my actual family … well, I’m not sure there’s a section for that in the book store.

That’s okay. I still had a lot of left over hubris to convince myself I could create an amusing fictional family with all of the wonderful quirks and qualities of my real family, that would be just right for a middle grade audience. And the characters just came alive on the page — practically wrote themselves — because I already knew them so well. I felt like a freaking parenting genius.

I realized my navigational error about the time the typhoon hit. My daughter read the first draft of chapter one.

How to Alienate Your Family For Fun and Profit doesn’t say how to explain that the quirky girl in the story is only based on your daughter — she isn’t what you think of your daughter. I wasn’t prepared for the tears.

But I think I managed some actual parenting, somehow. After a long talk in which I told her how beautiful and smart and talented I knew her to be, the two of us made it out of the storm and back in sight of dry land.

Our book is going to be great. Even if it doesn’t sell, my daughter loves the story and her fictional twin, now. And we’ve bonded in a way that is special and magical and totally our own. Plus I’m now clear why I should leave most of the parenting to my loving and infinitely more savvy wife.

I should probably tell her that before she reads our book.

  1. jmgajda says:

    I actually laughed out loud reading this. I have a daughter who’s almost 11, so I understand. She keeps asking why I’m not writing a story with a character based on her. This post reinforced why I didn’t even want to go down that road, so thank you! Good luck with the writing and can’t wait to see more.


  2. Steven Hicks says:

    John, I really do understand this. They will forever do this. However, the one that kills me is when I open my soul and write about the day Marie and I met. I give it to her to read, and she corrects my grammer and word choice.


  3. jmgajda says:

    Just thought I’d inquire how the writing is going. We have a snow day here and it’s unclear whether this will be a good thing or a bad thing for writing. You?


    • No snow in CA; some rain. Working as usual. For me, writing is something I have to squeeze into the cracks of my day. Occasionally I have the luxury of being able to write during my lunch hour. I’m currently working 7 days a week, with a half day on Saturday. Any time I’m home my 5-year-old boy takes most of my attention, and family chores take the rest. We maybe squeeze in 1-2 hours of TV together before bed. Mostly I writer after the rest of the family has gone to sleep. If I’m not too tired to think.

      My confidence is high. My being able to adapt to this schedule and actually producing chapters that my critters enjoy and look forward too makes me feel like I can do anything. And I’m doing it without impacting my family or work, which is the most important thing, at this stage. If I make a 3-book deal and get paid an advance to write two more books, then I think I can safely call writing my second job and devote weekend hours to that instead of part time at the local Barnes & Noble.

      Any more thoughts on joining a critique group and submitting your finished chapters? I’d love to introduce you to my group.


  4. jmgajda says:

    I am incredibly impressed that you are so dedicated and find time to write with such a hectic schedule. You make me feel like a slacker! 🙂

    Thank you so much for offering to introduce you to your group, I really appreciate it! Although, I must admit, I’m a little nervous. My first thought was, ‘Oh no! What if there’s homework! I’m terrible at homework.’ So, I’ll ask: is there homework?



    • I use Critique Circle. It’s free to join, but there are optional features you can pay for for turning off ads, having unlimited messages in your in-box, setting up private queues and private forums, etc. It is a place where you can submit your stories (short stories or individual chapters) for other members to critique. When you critique you earn points depending on the length of the submission, and you use those points to pay for your own submissions. The idea is that you must critique more than you submit — which is actually as much of a benefit to you as a writer as getting the crits on your own work.

      Outside of the story queues there are a lot of very useful resources and online tools, and a very active community forum where you can get your questions answered and advice on issues you’re having (with your writing or your career). There are members at all levels, from first-time writers to authors with several books published, and from all over the world. The forums are also a great place to do research; you can ask a question about police procedures or how to raise chickens or any other thing you need to help round out your story. I just recently used the CC forums to find a phrase in Gaelic for my story, as well as learn how to write about an archery class.

      So, homework? Well, you’ll need to critique the work of others if you want to submit your own work for review. That’s it. No assignments. No timeline. But you manage to write a pretty massive blog every day, so I don’t see how anyone would classify you as a slacker. One of the tools I have started using is a monthly wordcount meter. You pledge so many words for a given calendar month, and punch in how many words you write, and it gives you a nifty little graph to chart your progress.

      CC has really proven to be invaluable to me on this novel The advice I’ve received has made my book substantially better than I was able to make it on my own. Look for me there: JBerkowitz. Chapter 8 of The Last Princess is up in the public queue right now, but only for another few hours (the public queues run on a Wednesday to Wednesday schedule.


  5. jmgajda says:

    AH! Thank you for reminding me!

    So, thank you for this incredibly long response (I know you’re super busy). I really like the idea of this, and when I’m ready I think I’ll submit stuff for critique. In the meantime, I’d definitely like to look at the stuff you have in the public queue. I just joined and see you have 8 Chapters up so I will start looking them over. Might take me a bit to work my way through all of them as I just got bitten by my own writing bug but I’m excited to see what you have so far!

    Cool stuff! Thanks for giving me the info and I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me over there in the near future.


    Liked by 1 person

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