Archive for September, 2015

Underwater Basket Weaving

There is a running gag in our collective consciousness that any useless knowledge or any time “wasted” learning something is like taking a class in Underwater Basket Weaving. And who needs that, right?

I should have taken Underwater Basket Weaving 101 in college. And the advanced course, Underwater Basket Reweaving 201.

I’m being tested as a writer, and it’s my own damn fault. My daughter’s and my manuscript for our middle grade fantasy novel has been read by our dream agent, and she has asked for a Revise and Resubmit. And we told her we would be finished in two months.

That was three weeks ago.

We’re actually making fair progress (I say we because our book is a joint venture, but my daughter has left the R&R to me, because she is in school, and I just have two jobs). I’ve sifted through the notes and suggestions the agent provided and outlined a plan, chapter-by-chapter. And I think I can get it done in the time I promised.

But the thing about a Revise and Resubmit is that you have a pretty darn good and polished manuscript to begin with, or your wouldn’t have gotten the request in the first place. The typical response by an agent to a manuscript that isn’t quite right is, “This isn’t a good fit so I regret that I will have to pass,” because there are so many other promising manuscripts to go through, and only so many he or she can sign. So when you Revise and Resubmit, you don’t want to mess too much with what is working. You have to find just those threads that need embellishing or replacing and try not to disturb the rest.

It’s like taking a perfectly good woven basket with a complex color pattern, and deciding to replace all of the red fibers with yellow, and all of the green fibers with blue – without unraveling the pattern that’s already there. Quickly – because you are holding your breath and you are going to run out of air soon. And when you are done, the basket still has to be just as sturdy and pleasing.

And despite the fact that I missed taking Underwater Basket Reweaving in college, I think I’m getting the hang of it. Now that I have started actually revising the manuscript, I’ve managed a pace of about a chapter a day. I’ve gotten six chapters finished and have eight to go. Some chapters will have / have had more revising or more additional writing than others, and the most extensive work is still to come. But I’ve got my rhythm and the basket is holding.

The real issue is going to be what happens when my air is nearly gone and I discover I should have replaced the red with pink, not yellow.

Advertisements

Numbers Background

I don’t know how many of my readers are at this particular stage in their novel, but hopefully many of you will be soon, or at least eventually. If you find my advice helpful, I hope you will bookmark this post for future reference.


I’ve discovered something about the art of writing a novel, now that we’ve actually written one, queried it, and approached the rarefied air of agent representation. What I think I’ve discovered is this:

The further along you proceed in the novel-writing process, the more structured you have to be. We started out as “pantsers.” We had very little structure (okay, none) and only the ghost of a storyline. We started just writing to see where the characters took us. Several chapters in, and we found we had to stop and plot the rest, because there was no way else we could move forward with what we had in mind – we needed some structure. We needed a map.

By the time we got to the end and started refining and adding in minor story arcs and plot points, we had to pick our way very carefully through what we had already created, lest we unravel it.

Then, at last we had a manuscript worthy of sending to agents (apparently, given the response). And are faced, once again, with a need to make changes to our carefully-woven structure. In some cases rather substantial changes that will occur over a broad range of chapters. It’s like a massive game of pick-up sticks, in which you have to replace all of the red sticks with yellow sticks, without disturbing any of the other sticks.

This is going to take some serious structure and planning.

Fortunately, I happen to be extremely ana― … er, compulsively organized. So the first thing I did was to go through the manuscript page-by-page and create a comprehensive outline of the novel. It looks like this:

image

Once I finished this for every chapter, we went over the R&R request e-mail with a magnifying glass and made note of every request, suggestion and question, so we could define what we wanted to change about the manuscript. Our results look like this:

image

Notice the clever numbering and color-codes? These are so we can keep track of each of these changes as we implement them throughout the manuscript.  The next step was to go through the outline, chapter-by-chapter, bullet-by-bullet, and find all of the places – or the specific places – where we need to insert one or more of these ideas.  In some cases we lined through part or all of a certain bullet, because that needs to be rewritten or replaced.

With our new marked-up outline, we set to work.  And we are now at this point in the process.  I expect we will make a few adjustments, discover a few directions we hadn’t considered, perhaps slightly different  or additional places to introduce some of these concepts.  But for now we will use this outline as a strict blueprint.

There is a certain freedom in having structure to rely on, to guide you.  And that is certainly the case here.  But nevertheless there is a whole new kind of pressure in this process.  Before, we may have had a vague timeline in mind for finishing our manuscript, but we always let inspiration rule.  And if we were stuck, we didn’t force it.  Later, when our manuscript was finished and we had beta readers’ feedback. we had a stricter deadline in mind because the contests where we cut our querying teeth were looming and we needed to be ready in time.  But even then, if we weren’t ready for one contest we could get extra ready for the next one.

But this is different.  This is real pressure.  Because if you are doing a revise and resubmit you (presumably) have an agent who is interested and eager to see your revisions.  An R&R has more than one purpose.  In addition to adapting your manuscript with the agent’s guidance, you are also demonstrating your willingness and ability to work with this agent – your willingness to take direction, consider alternate opinions, and work under pressure.  We told our agent we would have our revision ready to resubmit in two months.  Because I was sure we could do it, but also because I wanted us to appear to be professional.  And now that we’ve committed to this we are facing our first true deadline.

So the pressure is on.  I’ve heard it said that some people do their best work under pressure.  We’ll see if we are among those people.

image
There’s an expression: “No rest for the wicked.” I never really quite understood that. Does it mean good people have more leisure time? That bad guys have to work harder? If so, what’s the point, really, given that “bad guys never win” and “crime doesn’t pay?” Seems like a bad career move all around.

I’m not wicked – or at least it is not a defining characteristic. I would have to place myself in the “good guy” column, all things considered. So, why don’t I have more free time? Seriously? I mean if “nice guys finish last,” that suggests we’re not particularly speedy or overly motivated, as a general rule. And yet, here I am, an aspiring author with my daughter (a career path that takes enormous amounts of time) while at the same time a devoted father and husband and holder of two jobs. I typically work 7 days a week, or at the very least 6, and that’s not even counting the writing. So I clearly don’t fit the mold.

I have a serious lack of free time (like any working parent with three kids, or a writer, or both), but I’ve suddenly been presented with some R&R, and I am at something of a loss as to how I should handle it.

I am not speaking of Rest & Relaxation. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Our dream agent read our book and requested a Revise and Resubmit. That’s like having Simon Cowell ask us to sing our audition song again because he liked it so much. I’m told (because this is brand new territory for us) that an R&R is very good. Most of the time – statistically speaking – an agent will respond to a query with, “Thanks but no thanks,” or if they liked it but could not sign the writer due to circumstances unrelated to the writing, they might say, “I loved it but….”or even, “This is not for me but do you have anything else?” A request to revise and resubmit means they REALLY liked it, and even though it is not currently marketable for one reason or another, they aren’t willing to let it pass without trying to fix it.

So, an R&R is very good. My daughter and I are understandably excited. Of course, there is that pesky issue of actually having to revise our carefully-constructed manuscript. This R&R was accompanied by first a list of the things that this agent thought especially worked. Then she gave specific suggestions for how to resolve the issues she detailed. I gather this is not always the case.

I’ve heard that some writers reject the offer to look at a revised manuscript, because the writer does not agree with the agent’s request. I suppose I can understand that. If this agent had asked for something we were not willing to change, we might do the same. Fortunately, this is not the case. But even if it was, I am led to understand that most successful agents are successful because they know what they are talking about and because they know the market. Meaning, even if I passed up this opportunity and found another agent willing to sign us with our manuscript as-is, it is not unlikely that an editor at a publishing house would later ask for the same or very similar changes. So, it is tremendously lucky that we see eye-to-eye with this agent.

Did I mention she is our dream agent? She is the agent for the author who wrote our favorite books — the books we used a model for the tone and pacing and voice of our own book. Not exciting enough? Okay, how about this: We sent her our blind query on September 2. She responded with a request for our full manuscript on September 3. On September 11 we received the R&R. Nine days from initial query to R&R. Do you suppose that means she is interested?

We suppose so.

image

While a couple of agents and a couple of editors take thier time reading (or getting around to reading) the full manuscript each requested of my daughter’s and my middle grade novel, The Last Princess, I have had plenty of time to contemplate and dream.  This whole journey began when I finally made a decision I had been contemplating for several years — whether to completely rewrite my first novel (which I quite like but is deeply flawed), or start fresh with a new novel.  When the idea for The Last Princess occurred to me, the coin finally landed on tails and we embarked on a new novel.

A big part of that decision was the work of our favorite author, whose middle grade series (featuring a young girl and fairy tale characters) my daughter and I both had read many times.  We used these books as a model for our own, giving us a solid example of a tone and voice and pacing that worked very well.  We have always credited this author with being the inspiration or push that drove us to write our current book, the first in our own series (we expect).

So I had always planned to submit a query for this book to that author’s agent, whom we’ve always placed in the unenviable position of being our “dream agent.”  But you rarely ever get a second chance with an agent, so I was reluctant to submit until I was certain our query and first pages were perfect.  This recent swell of enthusiasm for our book from agents and editors gave me the confidence to finally submit to our dream agent.

But what good could come from it, really?  The others had already had our full manuscript for many weeks — several months in some cases — and at least one had made noises to the effect that she wanted to set up a time to discuss her notes.  By the time our dream agent got around to our query, and if the impossible happened and they got through a partial and actually wanted to read our book, it might be all over.

Nevertheless, last Tuesday I personalized our query letter, pasted in our first ten pages, and hit send. “Nothing ventured, no pain,” I think is how the expression goes.

On Wednesday, we received a reply thanking us for sending the query.  And asking would we please send the full manuscript.  Yes, fewer than twelve hours after I had sent the query, we received a request for a full from our dream agent.

Did you ever forget how to breathe?

IMG_0276

I have been challenged by my good friend, fellow writer and compatriot in the query trenches, B.A. Williamson, to compete in the 7/7/7 Challenge.

The rules of the 7/7/7 Challenge are very simple. You just:

  • Go to page 7 of your work-in-progress
  • Scroll down to line #7
  • Share the next 7 lines of your manuscript in a blog post
  • Tag 7 other writers (with blogs) to continue the challenge.

So I accept. My current WIP (with my daughter), is the middle grade fantasy, THE LAST PRINCESS. And here are my 7 Lines from page 7:

Thomas stood up on his seat and sliced the air with his foam rubber sword. “Hyah! What did he fight?”

“Everything. Giants and trolls and goblins.”

“And ogres?”

“Of course, ogres. Well, one day a giant came knocking on the castle drawbridge, and—”

A child’s scream split the air. Probably a scraped knee or a tantrum. But Thomas gasped and froze, staring at the wall with huge eyes. “It’s the ogre! Hide, Cat!”

And who are the lucky 7 recipients of the 7/7/7 Challenge from me?

  1. Julie Artz @julieartz
  2. S.H. Marr @SH_Marr_Writes
  3. Michelle Hauck @Michelle4Laughs
  4. Beth Overmyer @Bethyo
  5. Kimberly VanderHorst @Kymburleev
  6. Nadine Ducca @NadineDucca
  7. Karen Blacher @KarenBlacher

So there you are, kiddies!  Be sure to check out the blogs of my fellow challengees to see what they post and who they challenge.