Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Spy and a Lady

I officially started my file for Starcaster book 2, A Spy and a Lady. In it, I took advantage of something that I had changed in book 1 after all my beta readers read it--Mr. Layfett didn't die after all. I figured he could be useful. So I made him disappear, instead. I don't leave it a mystery long in book 2.

I have 30 or 40 pages in my head, so I'll go ahead and get that down. After that, if it keeps on flowing, I'll keep on writing. I'm more hopeful about this novel than the last one, so I may just go ahead and write at least one sequel.

Here's about 300 words. It starts with Tory talking to Lucy, who is Sgt. Crandall's granddaughter. Sgt. Crandall is the owner of a pub on Tory's street. A mysterious gentleman just tried to talk to Tory, but she brushed him off in order to protect her reputation in front of a gossipy neighbor.
"I don't know," I said to [Lucy]. "But he obviously wanted to talk to me."

"Are you going to talk to him?"

"Discreetly, yes. Please tell your grandfather to tell him that I'll meet him in the history section of the bookshop."

"But the stranger is standing right there with him."

"Whisper it in his ear."

Lucy did so and came back inside. Shortly afterward, the Tarquillan gentleman departed.

I tarried twenty minutes before I followed. I couldn't make my visit much shorter than usual without making it stand out in the minds of my fellow patrons.

I entered the bookshop. As I walked in, I noticed that Sgt. Crandall had followed me and he now lingered outside. This didn't really surprise me and I appreciated the backup.

"Hello, Betsy," I said to the young woman at the counter. Her husband was the owner.

She gestured for me to come up close. "There's a man back there," she whispered. "A stranger."

Needless to say, strangers didn't often appear on our street. "Well, if he tries anything, I'll scream," I said with a wink, only half kidding.

She giggled.

I wandered through the fiction section, eventually ending up across from the history section. The bookshop wound and twisted behind the shop beside it, so we were out of sight of the cashier.

"Miss Lawrence?" he asked.

"You'd better talk fast," I said. "My neighbors can be somewhat protective."

"I represent a group of dissidents within Tarquil who wishes to make contact with the Alden intelligence community."

This was not what I expected. "You're not after asylum?"

"No. I intend to go back to Tarquil as soon as possible."

"How did you know about me?"

"Messer Luc Layfett said that you could be trusted."
I have this great scene in mind where Miss Young, Tory's mentor, feels that she must interfere in Tory's love life in order to protect her reputation. I can't wait to write it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Word for the Novelist - Revisions, Part 2

It's been an embarrassingly long time since my last Word for the Novelist installment, and now that I have some new readers, I decided I should make time for this.

Before we begin, you might want to review Revisions, Part 1. It discussed setting up a document for reviewing (which is really quite easy) and what all the menu items are (a bit more complex). This article discusses reviewing revisions by others, and making revisions yourself.

These instructions are for Word 2003. I'm told it's not too difficult to apply these instructions to 2007.

Protecting a Document before Distribution
You can protect your document and force any reviewers to make any changes as revisions.
  • Click Tools, and then Protect Document. The Protect Document pane will appear.
  • Under Editing Restrictions, pull down the menu and select Tracked Changes.
  • Click Start Enforcement and enter a password.
Unfortunately, you can only restrict editing to either tracked changes or comments. You cannot have both in a protected document.

A more friendly method of encouraging your reviewers to track any changes is to click the Track Changes button before saving and distributing your document for review.

Reviewing Revisions by Others

To review changes to a document, use these buttons on the Reviewing Toolbar:


The buttons with arrows let you jump back and forth among the change markups. The Accept button is the button with the checkmark, and it accepts the change. The Reject button is the button with the X, and it rejects the change.

The Accept and Reject button each has a dropdown menu with the following options:
  • To accept or reject all changes in a block of text, highlight the text and click the Accept or Reject button.
  • To accept all changes in the document, pull down the menu next to the Accept button and select Accept All Changes in Document.
  • To reject all changes in the document, pull down the menu next to the Reject button and select Reject All Changes in Document.
  • To delete all comments in the document, pull down the Reject menu and select Delete All Comments in Document.
The dropdown menus also contain options to accept, reject or delete all changes and comments shown. If you had chosen to hide any changes, choosing this option will let you accept or reject all comments that currently appear in the document. Any hidden revisions will remain in the document.

Selecting Reviewers

If more than one person made changes to your document, it will appear less cluttered if you only look at one reviewer's revisions at a time.

To look at a specific reviewer's comments, point to Reviewers. The names of all reviewers will appear.

Place a checkmark next to a reviewer's name. Word will hide all other comments and changes.

Remember to go back and unhide everyone's revisions by selecting All Reviewers.


Final Clean-Up

When you think you are finished, do a final check for revisions.
  • Ensure your document view is Final Showing Markup (see previous article if you don't know how to find this).
  • Ensure you have all options checked in the image above.
  • Click the right arrow button. If you see this box, you know that your document is clean.

Reviewing a Document
To Track Revisions

To review a document and track any changes that you make, click the Track Changes button, which is the highlighted one, below.


The button turns orange while Track Changes is on.

If you are viewing the document in Print Layout view (which shows your page as it would appear after printing, including headers/footers), your deletions will appear either as strikeout text or in balloons to the right of the page. Insertions will appear in color within the text. In Normal view, it looks like a legal document, with strikeouts and insertions. (To change your document view use the View menu.)

You can turn the Reviewing Pane on and off with the button next to the Track Changes button. The revision pane will show the complete text of all your revisions and comments.

Use the button that looks like a sticky note to insert a comment. Comments will appear as balloons to the right of the text, or in the Reviewing Pane, depending on your options.

In previous versions of Word, Word prevented you from accepting your own changes. This is no longer the case unless the author has protected the document.

Tips

If you have many changes in a small amount of text, such as capitalizing or converting the tense of a phrase, just delete the original and re-enter the text with your new wording. It is easier for the author to review.

When Word's grammar or spelling checker replaces text, it automatically replaces the whole word. To avoid this, you may want to enter the change yourself.

If you have the Show Formatting option turned off (which is off by default), you may see some apparently empty balloons. These balloons contain any spaces that you have deleted. You can see them if you turn the Show Formatting option on.

~*~

To read the rest of my Word for the Novelist series, click here. Previous articles include instructions on making a manuscript template, grasping Word styles, and making excerpts for emails and the web.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Slammed With a Plot

So I was driving down the road, on my way into work this morning. I live near a town called Bayard, Florida which the highway I was on, US-1, runs through. In Bayard, about three years ago, there were a bunch of old houses, motels, and restaurants, all abandoned. My husband and I took a photo trip through all of them before they finally tore them down. I don't know why, but I got to thinking about that particular stretch of road and all the pictures we took and suddenly I had a plot. It coalesced with some other ideas that had been swimming around in my head for years.

Since it's a time travel novel, I need to do some research. To make it even more difficult for myself, I decided that the trip back through time is gradual. Therefore, I need to research the entire twentieth century, back to the 20s. Yeah, I love a challenge.

The great thing is I even have the ending! But then, endings aren't my problem. Middles are.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Am I Brave Enough . . .

. . . to post a snippet of my work? Yes, I think I am.

Today on the way in to work I thought of a little sub-scene that I just had to write down. Once I got to work, I immediately grabbed a sheet of paper and wrote it out. I caught it at that critical instant when all the words were still spinning in my head. It was like I was taking dictation.

~*~ The Cast ~*~

Tory Lawrence: the protagonist, a spy with an inherent magical power called starcasting.
Cecil Crowley: a fellow starcasting spy. Referred to by his last name because Cecil and Tory are not on a first name basis. Is a muscular 5'7".
Robby: Crowley's simpleminded cousin. Has something like Downs Syndrome. He's about sixteen.

For those of you who have read the novel, this take place at Crowley's house, just after Tory and Crowley had their Eye Contact Moment. I'll add a bit of context. For those of you who have not read it, this is sort of like a Regency Romance, but it's a Regency Fantasy instead. Except the romance aspect is really quite light, this scene nonwithstanding. And it takes place in a fictional world, not Regency England.

~*~

Then, I realized that we were staring at each other. Crowley bowed and I found myself curtsying in return. We had never exchanged such courtesies before. I would not have even thought that Crowley knew how to execute them. I was beginning to find out just how much I didn't know about Cecil Crowley.

And, I wondered, how much did I really want to know?

Then, Robby barreled into the room and flung himself at Crowley. He climbed up into Crowley's arms exactly as if he were still two years old. Crowley handled him with apparent ease and administered a few spine-jarring thumps on Robby's back. Crowley looked over at me while I stood mute with astonishment. He didn't look a bit embarrassed.

"He thinks of me as a father," he said.

Robby looked over at me. "The lady!" he said.

"That's Miss Lawrence," Crowley told him.

"Hello, Miss Larrence," Robby said.

"Hello, Robby."

Robby looked back at Crowley. "Wanna run!" He bobbed up and down in Crowley's arms as if Crowley actually ran while carrying Robby.

"Not now. Look. I'm dressed."

Robby immediately climbed down. "Sorry," he said. "I didn't see."

"Go to your Mum and get some biscuits," Crowley said. "I need to speak to Miss Lawrence."

Robby barreled back out of the room, yelling, over his shoulder, "Bye, Miss Larrence!"

"Good heavens--you run while carrying him?" I asked once he had gone. "He must weigh at least twelve stone."

He grinned. "It keeps me in good physical condition."

I was completely impressed and not just a little charmed. He didn't give me a chance to dwell on it for long.

"I have news," he said. "You are now wanted for arson."

~*~

I just love it when the words flow like this.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Is the Recession Affecting My Writing?

I'd have to say, no. It's not affecting my querying, either. I got a bunch that I sent out just last week. I intended to send more this week, but sometimes, intentions are like . . . well, never mind.

Anyway, I'm not letting the recession affect my writing or my writing plans. Life goes on. What goes up must come down, and what sinks in the ocean eventually bobs back up. If I lose my job, that'll be another story, but my job seems good so my writing plans are unchanged. I'll still write my slightly off-the-beaten-path stories. Just this morning, I loaded up my Neo with a bunch of different possibilities:
  • A Christian thriller. I've blogged about this one before. The first three chapters zoomed by like a rocket sled, but now I'm a bit stalled in a "what do I do next" complex. Sounds like a good time to throw a problem at my hero, whose name is Max.
  • A Hollywood Romance. I've blogged about this one as well. This one will be unusual because it will have no sex scenes. The entire story takes place before the couple's long-delayed and much-hyped first date.
  • A modern fantasy. This is the comic book/graphic novel I alluded to in the previous post. I reread it today and hooboy! Have I ever improved! All the "telling" rather than "showing," even when I was describing something for an artist to draw. Anyway, it's sort of a superhero novel, but sans costumes. With immortals.
  • And Starcaster, Book Two. Tentatively entitled A Spy and a Lady.
  • A Snow White retelling short story. I have a very exciting plot but I've kind of backed myself into a corner. I need to think of something really clever to get out of it, and I'm not sure if I'm clever enough to think of it.
If you write, has the recession affected your writing plans?

Blogroll Updated

I added a bunch of blogs that I had been following in Google Reader to my blogroll, so some of you may notice yourselves there. If you haunt this blog and keep a blog yourself, but I don't know about you, please leave a comment.

I don't usually cross-publicize my blogs, but I think all of you aspiring writers who read this blog should check out my post at Fantasy Debut called Blogging Advice for New Authors. It has been widely linked (for me) and generally accoladed. There are additional hints in the comments section.

I'm not writing much. I read 4 books in about 4 weeks, which is a fast pace for me, but now I'm not reading anything. I feel a writing urge coming on, but I'm not sure if I'll dive back into my Christian thriller (currently stalled) or start something new. I've had an itch concerning an old idea of mine, an idea that I originally envisioned as a comic book but would work great as a graphic novel. And graphic novels are hot these days so maybe it's an idea whose time has come.

Trouble is, I have no idea how to submit a graphic novel. I know how to format a comic book manuscript (similar to a script), so maybe I need to do some research and see if graphic novels are formatted the same way. I'll check out my old comic book drafts--assuming they're on my hard drive--and decide if it is worth pursuing.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Funny Kid Story

So there we were, all chilling out after putting the Christmas tree up. I was snuggling on the couch with my honey, watching the lights of the tree behind me reflected on the TV screen. I was in sort of a mesmerized Christmas spell. Behind me, I could hear my child dancing around the tree and talking about the lights.

Then, all of a sudden, it got quiet and the tree began to lean.

Without turning around, I said, "Don't pull on the tree."

My sweetie said, "You have eyes in the back of your head."

Magical Mommy powers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Welcome Back, Nano Survivors!

I hope you made whatever goals you set! Now maybe you have time to comment on my blog. Hint, hint.

;)

Friday, November 28, 2008

More on the Synopsis

The synopsis is going better. But I discovered something. I went through Agent Query and sorted about thirty agents into those who want synopses and those who just want the query. The ones who just want the query vastly outnumber those who want the synopsis. So some of the pressure is off. Of course, I'll have to have a synopsis ready for partial requests, but at least I can send a bunch of queries out this weekend.

Ugh; why do we put ourselves through this?

Monday, November 24, 2008

In a Synopsis Mire

Any advice for writing a synopsis for a book that has a very twisty plot? It's all I can do to make this thing sound coherent. Which, of course, makes me wonder if my novel is coherent.

If you know of any tricks, I'm listening. Right now, I'm going to try to give myself one paragraph for each day of the action. That's seven days.

If you love something, let it go . . .

. . . and so, Starcaster is now launched in queryland, as my friend Kimber An would say. May her journeys there be short and successful.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Final Draft Finally Final

I finally got through my final draft. I've written my hook and tweaked it endlessly. Now I'm working on my synopsis. With any luck, I'll be sending my first queries on Sunday. It's later than I wanted, but repeated sinus infections really affected my motivation. I'm on some really whiz-bang antibiotics right now. Tomorrow I get to go for a sinus and lung X-Ray. Lovely. When I had a stomach X-Ray, I had to drink a foul concoction in order for the stomach wall to show up. I shudder to think if I have to breathe anything before the lung X-Ray. Probably not, I know, but it's amazing how much one's imagination can run away with one.

I wrote three chapters of my Christian novel and it fizzled. But I'm not panicking. I have never started a book bump-free yet. I am certain that the first three chapters are good to go. The ending all set up in my head. It's getting from A to Z that's giving me trouble.

I also find myself thinking about Starcaster Book 2. The plot possibilities are wide open, because the first book resolved everything except the overall political situation. I find myself thinking about Sgt. Crandell, the owner of the inn across the street from Tory. I'm thinking that the book is going to begin when Tory meets a mysterious stranger at that inn, who came looking for her. Sgt. Crandell will probably play a much bigger part than the line or two he got in Starcaster, plus his grandaughter, Lucy, is shaping up to be part of it. Tory's love life is going to encounter some difficulty, especially since it is in limbo as long as she's a spy.

Writing is fun, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Starcaster Hook

I am going to keep my current hook for Starcaster in this post and on my sidebar.

Tory is new spy for the nation of Alden. She's also a lady. Therefore, she's dismayed when her director, Mr. Bradburn, pressures her into using her feminine wiles to seduce state secrets out of unsuspecting fascists. While Tory appreciates the implied compliment, she's also a starcaster--one who can use a sneaky form of nighttime magic--and she thinks he's wasting her talents. When she learns that he's spreading rumors that question her loyalties, she wonders what's really going on.

She doesn't realize that what Bradburn really wants is a patsy, and he's set up the entire conflict in order to make her look untrustworthy. When enemy spies try to steal a prototype that enhances starcasting ability, Tory thwarts them and traces the spies back to Bradburn. Before she can gather evidence against him, he frames her for the theft of the prototype. Now, everyone wants the prototype and Tory's dodging villains like ladies evade louts at a ball. Her pursuers include corrupt policemen, spiteful femmes fatales, and a frightening spy with a penchant for disfiguring the faces of female spies. Not to mention her own fellow operatives.

Clad in an apron filled with lockpicks, revolver and other spy paraphernalia, assisted by a trio of quarreling gentlemen, and thwarted by rogues both foreign and domestic, Tory must figure out what Bradburn is up to before she ends up in the gallows.

I wrote STARCASTER out of a slightly malicious desire to place a character who might have come out of a Jane Austen novel into a harrowing spy setting. When I'm not writing, I run a review blog called Fantasy Debut, where I have showcased and reviewed debut fantasy novels since June of 2007. Currently, Fantasy Debut attracts over 100,000 visits a year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Other Starcasters

Just for fun, I Googled "starcaster" and came up with some matches.

The coolest match was the Fender Starcaster Guitar. Check it out:

 
I don't play the guitar, but I am a musician, so I appreciate the fact that the title of my novel has such a cool synonym. 
StarCaster is also a traffic control system used by radio and television stations. I rather wonder why they came up with "starcaster" to describe a traffic monitoring system. The interface looks a bit dated, as if it were a DOS program. And indeed, they appear to have been around since 1986. Still, they just put out another release over the summer. And -- sigh! -- they own the www.starcaster.com domain.

There is also a whimsical craft shop called Starcaster Crafts. They sell things like dreamcatchers and wands. The website looks really dated, so I wonder if they're still in business.
And then we have the StarCaster Automatic Terminal Information Service. It doesn't look very interesting, which is why I'm not linking it.
The Star Caster Network appears to be just what it sounds like, a company that casts stars. In movies, that is. And television shows, too.
Oh, and let's not neglect the StarCaster Text-to-Speech system. It's not very interesting for our purposes, but I do find it interesting that I found no fewer than three software packages called StarCaster.
And I'm done with this rather silly topic. In a day or two, I hope to post my blurb, which I am now perfecting with the help of the folk over at Absolute Write. No matter what writing community I try, I always end up going back to Absolute Write. They have the best mix of published and unpublished authors, plus a good portion of the users there write science fiction or fantasy, so I don't feel like some sort of interloper at a literary fiction party. If you're not a member, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Maybe Exciting News? Plus This and That

Ooh, I could burst. I might have news. Not as exciting as getting an agent or selling my novel, but almost as exciting! But I have to wait until it's official. Mmmrrrfff! That's the sound of me stifling myself! Argh!

Progress with my novel: over the weekend I reached a page that I had covered with red marks, said "ugh" and went off and read a novel instead. It was a very good novel; I just reviewed it at Fantasy Debut. Hopefully, it helped recharge my own writing energies.

I submitted "Petroleum Sunset" to an online market that wants near-term Earth-based SF. It almost seemed like "Petroleum Sunset" was written for such a market. I had a "duh" moment when I submitted it. It occurred to me that I should PROBABLY mention that the story is written in Deep South dialect so the editor doesn't toss it aside after reading the first sentence. Since the first sentence goes like this:

After the car got stolen, Pa just gave up on 'em altogether.

the fact that it is written in dialect MIGHT be an important detail for the editor to know.

(This post reminds me: I did a bunch of edits to the story in RTF mode before I emailed it. Must remember to save it as a DOC so I don't lose those edits.)

I heard from someone who loved my Word for the Novelist series and wants me to continue. Thanks, Rascal! Therefore, I will finally do part two of my Revisions post, then I have some other stuff planned. It seems that Word 2003, which I use, is still similar enough to Word 2007 so that it is still helpful. Which makes sense. The Document Map still works essentially the same as it did in Word 97, except it is a bit easier to control, thanks to Word Styles.

That's it for now! Now, maybe I can goof off a bit more before I must get back to that marked-up page. . . .

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Progress, and a Question

Today, I finally finished my read-through of Starcaster. I had hoped to begin querying today, but it will take a while to apply all these edits. Then, I'll need to perfect my query letter and write my synopsis. Therefore, I'm forced to move my query begin date to November 15th.

On the bright side, I found lots of stuff. I warned my beta readers that the draft was a bit rough, and boy it was. They found a lot of stuff, and thanks to them, I didn't find a lot of typos or punctuation problems. However, for this read-through, I was specifically looking for the sort of inconsistencies that pop up after multiple drafts. Things like, has Tory been a spy one year, or two? Was her friend's name Amelia Brock, or Amelia Brook? How much time should pass between event A and event B? That sort of thing. I marked in red everything that I need to check. After Forging a Legend, I'm very aware of the types of mistakes that I make. And for some reason, I don't often see them until I print it out.

~*~

I have a question for you. I have five books planned. When you read a series, how do you feel about major characters dying? I had planned for a major character to die in one of my sequels. Now that I've had feedback, I'm starting to second-guess myself. I know I'm getting way ahead of myself, but if I do away with this character's death, it affects the next book I'm planning, even though I didn't plan for him to die in that book. In fact, I'd have to ditch the entire plot. And nothing else I'm thinking of is nearly as good.

Without giving anything away, let me use a very familiar example. In Star Wars, we have Leia, Luke, Han and Lando. (Interesting how my story ended up like this, with three guys and a girl.) The story was told from the point of view of Luke, but what if one of the others had died . . . say, Leia? What if in Happy Days, they killed off The Fonz?

Would such a character death turn you off the series altogether? Keep in mind that the tone of my novel is somewhat light, but it's not comic, so I'm thinking that a character death would not be completely inappropriate.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Character Origins

Inspired by Lisa Shearin's post today, I thought I'd write about how I thought up my characters.

Abriel is almost seven feet tall, but I actually thought of her after encountering a little person. He was an engineer at a job that I once worked at, and I used to watch him in a gaggle of other engineers, trekking from one end of a quarter-mile long hallway (not kidding) to the other, and keeping up despite his short legs.

It occurred to me that I could remember every encounter with a little person that I ever had. Think about it. They're that rare. Since George R. R. Martin had already come up with Tyrion Lannister (my favorite character in that series, by the way), I decided to go to the other extreme. Abriel has a condition called Gigantism, where she does not stop growing. Andre the Giant had the same condition.

I test-drove Abriel as a character during a role-playing session with my husband. The original Abriel was extremely promiscuous. That was one feature that I didn't keep when I transfered her from the game to the novel.

Tory--or Victoria--was actually born as a character during another role-playing game years ago. Tory's origin character was a super-hero named Elizabeth Lawrence. I played Liz with a very outgoing, gregarious personality who made friends with everyone. This sometimes bit her in the butt. When I came up with the Starcaster world, I realized that this was the perfect role for Liz, except I wanted her to be named Victoria, after my daughter. (My daugher, with her baby-talk, gave me the idea for Starcaster.) I kept Liz's last name as a sort of template to help me glue her character in my mind.

Tory evovled to be very different from Liz. Liz could kick butt and was a mental fortress. Tory is almost pure thief with the personality of a morning news anchor.

I'll do the guys in another post. If you write, did you come up with your characters?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Protag vs. Protag

Just for fun, I decided to illustrate how extreme I get with my protagonists. I admit that after writing about Abriel, I decided that I needed to write about someone completely different. Here's how Abriel and Tory stack up:

Size - Abriel is 6'9" and weighs 200+ pounds. She is noticed and pointed at wherever she goes. Tory is 5:4" and weighs about 120 pounds. She blends in.
Skin - Abriel has the dark skin and hair texture of a middle-easterner. Tory is white.
Passion - Abriel doesn't hesitate to take an attractive man to her bed. Tory is a virgin.
Kick-assitude - Abril is a trained warrior, and does not hesitate to meet conflict head-on. Tory hides or runs away. However, she's a good shot with her pistol and thinks fast on her feet to escape dangerous situations. Neither have much of an attitude.
Strength - Abriel is stronger than most women, but is not as strong as a strong man. Tory is weak, even for a woman.
Stealth - Tory's specialty is stealth and she's as graceful as a dancer. Abriel makes few attempts to be stealthy, although she manages to do so at least once.
Personality - Tory wins people over through her charm and vibrant personality. Abriel wins people over through her presance, and when she can't win them over, she kicks their ass.

As for my next protagonist? He's a guy.

Progress: Nowhere!

Ugh! I got sick last Saturday and I'm still sick! I have gotten absolutely nowhere with my book or with any of my writing. My self-imposed deadline of starting to query by November 1st is beginning to look a bit tight.

I did manage to print my novel today, in preparation for my final read-through and polish. Now that my cough has quietened down, I'll be able to read it aloud. My husband offered to read it for me (what a nice guy!), but I need to read it with my red pen at the ready, and it would be too cumbersome to pass the manuscript back and forth while he reads. Besides, my perpetually upset stomach probably would not let me read under optimal conditions.

The semi-finished novel is 92,000 words. I can't think of anything else I want to do with it. It really feels done, except for the tweaks I will undoubtedly make following this read-through. I've begun thinking about the next book in the series, but I'm not ready to start writing. I have my Neo loaded with some potential projects, such as my second fairy-tale retelling (an action-packed Snow White), my Christian thriller and my Hollywood romance.

We'll see what lights my fire.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Finished With Feedback

I'm done! Well, with my beta readers' feedback, that is. My next step is to tidy up four small plot problems. Next, I'll re-read the new scenes that I added over the past three weeks. Then, I'll print it out again and read it to my husband.

Reading aloud is crucial, I think. Besides, my husband has only read a very rough rough draft. He wants to hear what I've changed. Of course, he's perfectly capable of reading it on his own, but I read for two reasons:
  • It really helps me if I can hear the story spoken aloud.
  • I often find more problems if I can see the hardcopy.
Besides, my mother wants to read the novel, so I'll be able to send it to her and let her pass it around when she is finished with it. I can think of at least two sisters that will read it. But by then, I'll be querying. I really want to start querying by November first. That will give me six weeks before the December break. And come January, I'll be at the top of the queue for those agents who take a while getting through their query stack.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Shout-Outs and Something Fun

Wow! 333 pages of manuscript (in 12 point font) times three beta readers equals 999 pages of feedback to go through. And since I'm at the halfway point of the second manuscript, I thought I'd send a shout-out to my readers.
  • Kristin read both of my novels. She enjoyed Forging a Legend, but I think she liked Starcaster better. Her feedback was much more enthusiastic. Kristin is a relentless grammar Nazi and has a profound love for the serial comma. She marked up my manuscript with gusto.
  • Lisa also read both my novels. I think she liked Forging a Legend better. She made all these comparisons to well-known authors that makes me blush to think about. Lisa has an eagle-eye for potential plot knots, and is making me do a lot of thinking!
  • Katie is my newest beta reader. Katie has the neatest handwriting I have ever seen, and she had an eye for stuff that didn't make sense. For about the first third of the novel, she also wrote her reaction to what was going on, which were really fun to read.
Thanks everyone! With all the feedback I now have two new scenes (Sam and Robert's story, plus a raid of the place where they manufactured the umbrellas), plus one scene where I switched characters (Reba chews out Tory at the banquet, instead of Bradburn). And I'm up to 92,000 words! And still going!

* * *

As I was going through my files in my Starcaster folder, I found something fun. I have this concept in my novel of something I call the identity chit. It's similar to a military dog tag, but it's bigger. Since my novel takes place in an era equivalent to about 1810, there was no photography and I had to think of a way to be able to identify oneself to other government entities.

Well, I found a Word file with some identity chits that I wrote out and forgot about! I took a screenshot of them because they won't paste properly in Blogger.

The top two lines has the operative's name, his or her Corps, year that current term started, sex, height, weight in stones, hair and eye color and date of birth.


The description is meant to be read from left to right, while skipping over the empty space in the middle. The empty space is supposed to be where a silhouette is cut out of the metal. It's meant to go into a projector and compared with the person that it's supposed to identify. (More often, the viewer would simply look at the profile and see if it matches.) Maybe one day I'll attempt to draw the silhouettes.

The beta readers will probably be able to guess where Cecil got his bite scar.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sharing the Thrill

Jenwriter has an agent! Check out her leap of euphoria! Congrats, Jen!

The Antidote for Waiting

While waiting for my marked-up manuscripts to get back to me, I've been a bit restless. I was working on my query for a while, but I decided that sort of job needs to be done when I'm doing the final polish. My muse didn't hit me with any new short stories, but I did get a couple of sentences that might start one someday:

She was a plump housewife with three small children and a sick husband--so what was she doing going out to fight trolls?

Because, she mused as she clutched the ancient family shortsword, I have three small children and a sick husband.

And that's it! That's all I have. And it has a dreadful cliche with the trolls.

So anyway, I decided that the best way to conquer my waiting doldrums is to package up and send off a short story. Therefore, "Petroleum Sunset" (the new title of my hick science fiction) is now on my side table, waiting to embark on its journey to Asimov's.

I hope it does better on its journey than the copy of Starcaster that Lisa tried to send back to me. Check out the tracking history:

Processed, October 09, 2008, 2:27 am, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32099
Processed, October 06, 2008, 3:17 pm, CAPITOL HEIGHTS, MD 20790
Processed, October 04, 2008, 9:48 pm, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32099
Processed, October 01, 2008, 8:00 pm, SPRINGFIELD, MA 01152
Acceptance, September 29, 2008, 12:33 pm, STOW, MA 01775

So it came to Jacksonville, wandered north, then came back south again. What on earth?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Happy Reader - Again!

After she finished reading Starcaster, Lisa Nevin demanded more! So I sent her an e-copy of Forging a Legend. I'm thrilled with what she had to say! Plus, she read the first three chapters of the second book in the series.

She really has fired me up to get querying again, but I'm also thinking about submitting to those few major publishers who take unsolicited subs. That way, I can just plunk it in the mail and forget about it for nine months while I write another book.

Any advice? I've already queried 52 agents for it (some of them twice).

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Happy Beta Reader!

Wow--check out what Lisa Nevin had to say about my novel! The warrior princess reference surprised me--I never expected Tory to come across as that capable!

Lisa read my novel in two or three days, and she really made me feel great by sending me a note midway through, telling me that she could not put it down. She provided some wonderful feedback, which is printed up next to my monitor. She also has already sent my manuscript back to me, so I'll be able to see what she marked up on the pages.

Thank you, Lisa!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Dream Cover

I've been daydreaming about my dream cover for Starcaster. I would love it to have an Urban Fantasy look with a Regency flair.

So my vision is a girl in an empire-waist gown and a mop-cap, who is standing with her back to the viewer, holding a revolver behind her back with her right hand. There is some sort of scintillating light over her left hand, which she is holding out as if you would hold a tray. She is looking over her left shoulder, so you can see her profile. Her lower half is invisible.

(Here is a typical gown from that time period. Click to view a larger image.)

It is dark, but street lanterns light the street and stars are visible in the sky. A hackney coach is parked in the distance off to the left. Leaning against the side of the coach is a man smoking a pipe, wearing a hat from that time period and with his head ducked so you can only see the lower half of his face under the rim of his hat. Sorry, no abs. He's in a gentleman's suit from that timeframe, but his collar has been loosened.

Here is a typical man's suit, with hat and frock coat.

Hmm . . . I have some old costumes and a revolver. Maybe I'll try to recreate part of my vision. Of course, my figure isn't as good as Tory's . . .

Monday, September 15, 2008

Plot Tangles Detangled!

Finished! I forget if this is Draft 3 or Draft 4, I just know that this draft is in the bag. All plot tangles detangled. I ran into two scenes that required major tweaking, one that I knew about and the other that I compeltely forgot about. So it's a good thing I read the whole thing again. And I added a short scene to the end.

The scene that required major tweaking was interesting. The scene had to have the same outcome that it had originally, but my first attempts really made one of my characters look like a jerk. And he is not a jerk. It made me think how fiction is so different from reality. In real life, people act like jerks every now and then and we generally forgive them, unless it happens on a regular basis. But when I encounter it in fiction, I tend not to forgive the character. I never forgave Jondalar in The Valley of Horses and I eventually lost interest in the series because of my antipathy toward Jondalar. Since I don't want my characters to encounter a similar fate, I don't want them to look like jerks.

So I rewrote the scene. And it was ok. My character no longer came across as a jerk. He even came across as a the sensitive and thoughtful dude that he is. But it was only ok. In fact, it was downright ho-hum. A real yawner.

So I thought to myself, it needs some action. So I had my bad guy turn up. And instead of Tory trying a dangerous form of magic for the first time in a nice, safe environment, she must try it while on a carriage chase through the city.

Much better.

Because, you know, my novel really was missing a carriage chase. Since the novel is partially inspired by James Bond and Dirty Harry movies, it must have chases. So now it does.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Next Novel

I have been a VERY good girl and I have been working dilligently on getting my manuscript ready for my beta readers (thanks, guys)! However, I have not been able to help looking foward to my next project. I had two outlines ready to go, a Hollywood romance and a Christian thriller. I tried to work on the Hollywood romance, since it is probably my most commercially viable idea.

However, my muse wouldn't let me write it. I forced it for a page or two, and then set it aside. The fire isn't there. But it wasn't with the Christian thriller either.

Until a few mornings ago. I woke up at 5 with the following line as the opening stuck in my head:

"Max never dreamed he was arguing with an angel."

I rushed to the computer and banged out about six pages.

Why a Christian novel? Several reasons:
  • Fewer people are writing Christian novels. It might be an easier sell. Of course, fewer markets are buying . . .
  • Christian novels are short. I can probably get a way with a 50,000 to 75,000 word novel.
  • I have a great plot. It's funny and tragic.
  • I have an angel named Leroy. I love that.
My plot cannot exist in any other form but a Christian novel. It's unabashedly Christian. It's partially inspired by an old Anne Murray song, that goes like this:

"I sold my soul . . . you bought it back for me."

I love it and I can't wait to write it. Just gotta get Starcaster to those beta readers . . .

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Plotting Failed Plots

Often when I'm working out a scene, I have to come up with two plots: what the characters planned to happen, and what actually happened. In other words, I'm plotting plots as in someone's plan or scheme. It's usually a dastardly plan that my characters must thwart, but occasionally it's the failed plan of my character as well.

In these cases, I have learned to apply the KISS method. Keep It Simple, Stupid. There's no need for the original plot to be this complicated thing, because guess what? It doesn't happen. The plot that actually happens--that's the thing that can be as complicated and nuanced as I want.

Think of The Princess Bride. In that wonderful movie, Vizzini's plot is to start a war. To do so, he is going to kidnap the princess and frame Guilder for it. Simple, huh? Of course, things started getting complicated with the appearance of the Dread Pirate Roberts. And we all know who he was.

Take a more modern example--the movie Stardust. The witch Lamia's plan was to find the star, make her so happy that she shines, and cut out her heart. Instant youth. Only problem is, a lovestruck boy finds the star first, and there's more to that boy than anyone thinks.

In Stardust, we had overlapping plots to add to the complexity. The seven princes--at least the living ones--needed to be the one that finds the jewel that would declare him king. Of course, the star was wearing the jewel, because it knocked her out of the sky. And the star is now with the boy. Individually, each plot is simple. Woven together, it becomes much more complex.

But it's fun!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Something Different at Fantasy Debut

I don't usually pimp Fantasy Debut here, but I have something different going on and I wanted to call attention to it. Blog buddy Kelly Gay has recently gotten her first book deal and now she's on the road to publication through a Big Time Publisher. So, I asked her to guest blog at Fantasy Debut. She's writing about "switching gears" from query mode to signed author mode.

Here it is! I hope you like it. Please stop by and say hello to Kelly!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

It's Bleeding! Emergency Surgery Required!

Ok, I did it. I cut 8000 words out of my plot and replaced it with 6000 words. Emergency surgery is now required to suture it into place, stop the hemorrhaging and prevent system shock.

Only time will tell if I can perform plot surgery like this:


Or like this:

(For more info on the artist of the above painting, click here.)

Ok, I'm done with all the overblown comparisons.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Patching Plotholes

Does your story ever feel like this?


I look at this picture and I think, wow, now that's a lot of potholes. Of course, this is a dirt road, so maybe that's to be expected. However, the poor sucker who has to fix these potholes has quite a job cut out for him. I kind of feel that way right now about my espionage fantasy.

And you can only work on plotholes one at a time.

In order to repair a pothole, sometimes it's necessary to bring in some heavy equipment. And sometimes, that heavy equipment causes new potholes to form. I'm dealing with this as well. "Ok, so I've rewritten the entire catalyst scene from scratch, but now I have a dangling plotline where this didn't happen the way it did in the old scene, and at least ten or fifteen scenes further on down the line absolutely depends on this happening."

If I'm not careful, I'll be repairing this thing forever, and when it's finished, the patch will look like this:


when it needs to look like this:

 

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cowboy Muscle Car Story

I've finally finished the science fiction story I blogged about last month, the one with the muscle cars. I'm very happy with it. It's about 5000 words. I don't know if I'll sell it, but I learned a few things that I think will help me write future short stories.
  • Keep the subplots to a bare minimum. I have two plots in my story. One is an overarching theme about having to do without fossil fuels. The other is the story of two brothers. I really had to keep it from growing. I wanted to add an aunt in there who was carrying on with the leader of the gang. But to resolve that plot would have required another 2000 to 5000 words. The more plots, the more words. If you get much over 6000 words, the number of markets you can submit to start getting limited.
  • Keep the number of characters to a minimum. The more people, the more words the story requires. The aunt would have been nice in a story that is just about 100% male, but her part in it would have just complicated matters.
  • Give it some drama. I get so impatient with many short stories--stories by seasoned professionals who sell lots of fiction--because they have no plots. There might be an interesting situation, or a fascinating bit of technology or magic, but no problem to overcome. As a reader, I need a problem for the story to keep my interest.
  • Cut, cut, cut. Everything that isn't absolutely necessary has to go. That's why I eliminated another character that I liked--a younger sister. This was the story of two brothers, so I didn't need the sister. So poor Betsy had to go.
On the Starcaster front, I decided to rewrite a lengthy scene from scratch. It had so many plot holes that you could have used it as a sieve. It was also one of the earliest scenes I wrote for this story. I think those two facts are related. The replacing scene (or scenes) will be about half that length, I think. And, it will integrate better into some plot-lines that I thought of later in the story.

But still, over 8000 words was hard to cut from an 85,000 word novel. That was 10 percent!

What's the biggest chunk you've ever cut?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Read-Aloud Phase

Finally, after being sick for almost two weeks, I have progressed to the read-aloud phase of my novel. This time, I combined the read-aloud phase with the hardcopy phase, in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone. For my last novel, I first printed it out and marked it up with a red pen, then after I incorporated all those edits, I read it aloud. I seem to notice different problems with each pass through the novel, but this time, I decided it wouldn't hurt to attempt to do it all at once.

Plus, this time I have an audience for my read-aloud. My heroic husband--who already read the rough draft--has agreed to listen to my read-through. (We occasionally read books together; we read Tom Sawyer and Huckelberry Finn in this manner, and I read him most of Janet Evanovich's One for the Money before he picked it up and read it himself.) We got through 42 pages today before my throat gave out in a coughing fit.

I am pleased with how it's sounding. With my last novel, I made quite a few changes during the read-aloud phase, as what seemed fine on paper didn't quite sound right when read aloud. I'm not making nearly so many changes this time. I think this is because the voice for this novel was so firm in my mind that I was actually able to hear it as I wrote it. For my last novel, the voice really was not this distinctive. First person really was the way to go for this novel.

About 260 pages left to go!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MS Word for the Novelist - Revisions, Part One

This is a document that I originally wrote for my co-workers. Since it's so long, I'm going to tackle it in at least two parts. This first part introduces revisioning in general.

~*~

As writers, we often take part in online critique groups, where we swap documents back and forth and provide helpful comments and suggestions. If both you and your reviewer have Microsoft Word, you can save a lot of time by using the Reviewing toolbar. With the Reviewing toolbar, you can automatically apply or reject a reviewer's suggested changes to your document.

By using these features, you save time both as author and as reviewer. As a reviewer, you save time because you are entering your comments and changes directly into the document rather than juggling another document or printing it out. As the author, you save time because you are free to accept or reject any changes with the click of a button.

Reviewing Toolbar

Regardless of whether you are the author or reviewer, you will need to use the Reviewing toolbar. To bring up the Reviewing toolbar, right-click the toolbar and select Reviewing from the dropdown menu. Here is a segment of what that menu looks like:

Once the Reviewing toolbar is up, it looks like this:

Turning on the "Track Changes" option is quite easy. Just push the second button from the right. It will turn orange, like this:

And you're done. The document is now ready to send off to your reviewer. The reviewer--as long as he doesn't tamper with this button--can make all the changes he wishes, and once you get it back, it will contain both his revisions and your original text.

The rest of the Reviewing toolbar is discussed in the rest of this article and my next installment.

Revisions Displayed

The first dropdown in the reviewing toolbar contains options that control how a reviewed document will appear. "Markup" is Microsoft's words for revisions. When someone makes a change to your document, the changes are considered "markup".

  • Original - This shows how the document appeared before any changes, hiding all revision markups. This is handy if you want to print your original document and retain all revisions.
  • Original Showing Markup - This shows how the document originally appeared, along with revision markups showing all changes made since then.
  • Final - This shows how the document will appear if you accept all current changes. It hides all revision markups. This is handy if you want to print the final doc, yet retain all revisions.
  • Final Showing Markup - This shows how the document will appear if you accept all current changes, but it also shows everything that changed within the document.

If you select either Original or Final, Word will hide all revisions from you. However, they are still present in the document! These features have made national news when a sender inadvertently distributed a document with hidden—and embarrassing—revisions. Also, if you think you lost your revisions, check this dropdown and make sure you have selected an option that shows the markup.

To avoid sending out documents with embedded revisions that you do not know about, always keep "Final Showing Markup" selected.

Revision Markup Options

Other options control how the markup in the revised document appears. You can use either the Balloon method or the Reviewing pane method.

Balloon Method

By default, Word shows deletions and comments in balloons off to the right, and insertions within the text. When the right margin no longer has any room for new balloons, Word will open the Reviewing pane.

If the Balloon method is not already set up, you can set it up by selecting the following options from the Show dropdown on the Reviewing toolbar.

  • Place checkmarks next to Final, Comments, Ink Annotations, Insertions and Deletions, and Formatting
  • Click Balloons, then place a checkmark next to Always.
  • Click Options and select "Always" from Use Balloons (Print and Web Layout).
  • Then, click OK.

When you click a balloon, Word will highlight the text to which the balloon applies, or it will attempt to point to the deletion point. If there are many deletions, they will become difficult to locate.

Word constantly adjusts the size and positions of the balloons as the reviewer adds revisions. There is no way to move the balloons manually. When the balloons take up all the space along the right margin, Word will compress the balloons and open a Reviewing Pane along the bottom of the page. It will also attempt to merge the contents of several balloons into one, using ellipsis (…) between revisions. Click on the balloon and the Revision pane will display the complete text.

For these reasons, the Balloon method is only useful if you have occasional changes here and there. For sweeping changes, use the Reviewing Pane.

Reviewing Pane Method

Older versions of Word used the Reviewing Pane rather than balloons. The Balloon method is the friendliest and easiest method to use. However, when the document has many revisions, the Reviewing Pane becomes more useful.

The Reviewing Pane sorts revisions according to their position in the document. Most of the time, your revisions will show up in the Main Document area.

To turn off the bubbles and turn on the Reviewing Pane, bring up the Track Changes option box and select "Never" in the Use Balloons (Print and Web Layout) option.

Deletions will now show up as strikeouts and comments will appear in the reviewing pane. The text that the reviewer commented upon will appear highlighted and labeled. If you move your mouse over the highlighted text, the comment will appear in a bubble.

The image below has examples of how a line of text appears with insertions, deletions and comments.

The Reviewing Pane automatically comes on when reviewing changes in the Normal layout.

Hybrid Methods

The Track Changes option box gives you complete control over how tracked changes will appear on your computer. You can italicize your changes, make them bold, or format them in any manner.

However, no matter what method you use, keep the following important fact in mind:

Track Changes options do not save with the document!

The options that you choose apply to every document with revisions that you open on your computer. However, if your reviewer were to open the same document on another computer, it will appear according to the options that the reviewer chose.

Don't let all this daunt you. Ordinarily, you don't need to do anything to set up revisioning. The default settings work wonderfully.

~*~
That's all for this installment. Open up a document and play around with revisions. As usual, I'm ready to answer questions in the comments. The next installment will cover how to actually make revisions or insert comments.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Starcaster Readers?

I'm going to be looking for readers for Starcaster in the next month or so, and I wondered if any of you are interested. It's short for a fantasy (85,000 words at present). I am serious about finding readers, so I want to make it as easy as possible for you. For that reason, I want to actually mail the complete manuscript to interested parties. I'll send the return postage, too, along with a bonus red pen for easier mark-up. Why do I want to do this? I know first-hand how difficult it is to read a manuscript on the computer, and I would not inflict that upon my readers. Kristin sent me her novel when I beta-read for her, and I thought it worked out very well. Hopefully it did for her as well!

Before I send it to you, I'll email the first 20 or 30 pages. I only want to send the complete manuscript to people who are enjoying it, so you could read as much as you want and then let me know if you want to read more.

Here is a crude blurb, to make your decision easier. This blurb is by no means final.

UPDATE: also please note that this blurb is highly experimental.

Tory is a starcaster, a wielder of a weak form of magic available only on clear, starlit nights. Tory is also a spy for His Majesty's Royal Intelligence Service.

When Tory attempts to deliver a prototype of a mysterious film to Mr. Carter, her delivery attempt goes awry with the interference of two foreign spies. She has no idea that the spies have asked her superior, Mr. Bradburn, for political asylum from their cruel dictatorship of a government. And the defectors do not realize that Bradburn is using them unlawfully for his own purposes. And Mr. Bradburn has no clue that two other foreign spies are busy tracking down the defecting spies. And the hunting spies are not aware that Victoria has convinced Mr. Carter to fabricate a device from the film that will enable a starcaster to suncast as well. And Mr. Carter suspects that Mr. Bradburn might be behind the false imprisonment of his brother, who is accused of espionage. And Mr. Bradburn has no inkling that his thug and toady, Mr. Crowley, has fallen for Tory. And Mr. Crowley is fully aware of the fact that Tory's partner Julian was once in love with one of the defecting spies. And the defecting spies have no idea that Mr. Bradburn is playing a deadly game of government against government to protect his lady love, who has fallen under the power of political operatives with their own agenda.

Starcaster is an espionage fantasy that takes place in a pre-industrial, Londonesque setting. It runs about 85,000 words.

If you are interested, please either leave a comment here or send an email to tia dot nevitt at gmail dot com. I will reply from my personal address (which I never put online). Thanks in advance! Oh, and query suggestions welcome in the comment threads.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Novel Arcs

I've written a five-book arc for the Starcaster series. Ambitious? Nah!

Anyway, I've come up with some simple themes and decided what I want to do with them in each novel. For example, I've come up with a Career Arc and a Romance Arc for Tory, along with a Politics Arc for the political situation of her world. These arcs seemed to suggest certain titles. Therefore, I've named all five of my novels, and I have written a one-paragraph synopsis of what each one is about.

For each arc, I try to do something different in each novel. For example, in the Career Arc, I've decided that Tory needs to spend some time as an illegal spy. She's an outlaw spy for most of the first book, but for the third book, she's not a spy at all, but ends up spying anyway. In the Politics Arc, the benevolent king gradually turns paranoid over the progression of the novels, and becomes repressive toward the end. As he grows more repressive, a certain organization grows more powerful.

I think five books is enough to plan out for an unsold series. When (think positive!) those five are published, I'll see if I want to continue it through books 6 thru 10, or if I'll just give Tory a Happily Ever After and let her retire.

Just doing all this while I relax during my post-draft slowdown. I imagine I'll be back to serious polishing by the weekend.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Starcaster: A Post-Mortem

Yes, I work in business (I am a computer programmer disguised as a business analyst), and at the completion of a project, we sometimes do a post-mortem where we ask questions like, what went well? What could we have done better? What did we learn? So here is an informal post-mortem for Starcaster. (Yikes! That word makes it feel like my novel is dead!)

WHAT WENT WELL

1) The voice. I tried three times to write Starcaster, and something was wrong each time. It just didn't flow. Then, I tried it in first person. It worked perfectly. The voice for Starcaster is somewhat Jane Austenesque, however I was careful to avoid terms that sound strange in the modern vernacular. And, I was not afraid to spice things up every now and then. My "biology briefing" where my spy learned about the facts of life is hilarious, in my own humble opinion.

Throughout the entire novel, the voice never failed me, and I only occasionally felt constrained by the first-person viewpoint.

What did I learn here? When you know how your novel is going to open, experiment with writing it in both first and third person, and experiment with different viewpoint characters, if you're not sure which viewpoint to write from. Go with the one that feels the most natural. I did this for my cowboy science fiction story, where I again went with first person. I seem to be using first person a lot these days, but my Hollywood romance will definitely be third person. As will my Christian thriller.

2) The action. I never tried to write a nonstop-action type of novel before, and it was really fun. Acting on the advice of my critique partner, I was careful to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. Not that I really use chapters at all in this novel. I just note time and places with a space before and after. I wanted it to read like a thriller.

What did I learn here? Keep piling on the trouble. When your protagonist deals with one situation, ask yourself, "what's the worst thing that could happen?" And then do it. But make sure it works for your plot. Otherwise, you'll end up throwing out a lot of scenes.

WHAT I COULD HAVE DONE BETTER

1) Planned the ending. I wrote three drafts before I wrote an ending that I was satisfied with. Three drafts of the entire novel, not just three drafts of the ending. This seems very typical for me. The only novel I wrote where I stuck to my original ending was my first one. My short stories always seem to change as well.

In the end, I finally just wrote out the ending the way I wanted it, without consulting the rest of the manuscript. It worked out better than I expected. And, when I looked at the rest of the book, I realized that I would not have to do as much re-work as I anticipated.

What did I learn here? Just go with your gut. Don't worry about what you're going to have to rewrite. You're going to have to rewrite anyway. Embrace it and write an ending that really rocks. The last thing you want to do is disappoint the reader with the ending.

2) Planned the opening. Oh, I had a devil of a time with this opening. I must have written five different openings. I liked my original opening, but an early beta reader pointed out that it wasn't nearly dangerous enough for the accolades she got later. Finally, I wrote a scene that had only been referred to in the book--a scene that had nothing to do with my previous openings. It practically wrote itself. I also was able to write two of my leading men into the opening, along with the villain who Tory ultimately must defeat.

What did I learn here? You have to do a lot with your openings, but you must do it in such a way that sucks in the readers without bogging them down in backstory. Focus on the scene at hand and let the backstory come out in tiny little chunks throughout the rest of the novel. Remember your goal is to engage the reader--make them want to cheer your characters on.

True, I'm not yet a published novelist, but I hope I've learned a thing or two after twenty years of writing and three (yippie!) completed novels.

Have you ever done a post-mortem like activity for your novels? Try it! It's enlightening.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

And We Come to the End!

No, I'm not going anywhere. BUT I did write the magical words, "The end" today at the end of my manuscript of Starcaster.

WooHoo!
(happy dance time)

(BTW, I never would have finished this quickly if it had not been for my Neo.)

I've gone through most of the book at least three times now, and rewrote the sorry excuse of an ending that I had before. For this ending, it's Tory alone against her nemesis, with a nice gun battle. Oddly enough for a fantasy, there is no magic used during the ending at all, although there was an abortive attempt to use magic. The magic system in Starcaster is extremely limited.

And, the finished draft is only 85,000 words! That gives me a lot of room for fleshing out, because fantasy novels are often over 100,000 words. This is a new thing for me. For each of the previous novels, I ended up having to cut. This time, I'm definitely going to have to expand. The ending is decidedly sketchy. Even so, I don't see going much over 90,000 words. I hope that doesn't turn out to be a drawback!

I hope to be querying by the end of October at the latest. I can't wait to try to write the synopsis. That ought to be a BLAST.

Yay!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Vacation Time and a Question

I'm off on a short vacation until Thursday. Yes, I'll be taking my Neo with me. I have it all set up with the ending of my novel and two unfinished short stories.

Have not been doing much other than writing on my Neo. I'm frightfully behind in my blog reading. Must be because of all the time I'm not spending on my computer. I've untangled some plot knots that had me in fits in Starcaster and I'm trying to smooth out my very rocky ending.

I keep meaning to write another Word for the Novelist post. I have actually already written an article on Revisions that I want to post, but I need to rewrite it for the Novelist audience, rather than the Business Analyst. (I originally write it to help out my co-workers.) I have several such documents, but they're rather long and I'll probably have to handle them in chunks here on the blog.

I'm actually considering self-publishing this whole "Word for the Novelist" concept. I've looked into Lulu, and I can sell a 30-40 page 8.5 X 11 booklet for less than 10 dollars. I would write two versions, one for Word 2003 and the other for Word 2007. I suppose, before I self-publish, I should probably see if I can't get a proposal package together and sell it the old-fashioned way. However, I don't think I have enough material for a full-sized book, and I think it would be more useful to the reader in the booklet format anyway.

If I were to self-publish this thing, would you be interested in purchasing it, if I kept the price below 10 dollars?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Nifty Device: Neo by AlphaSmart

I'm writing this review on a nifty little device called the Neo by AlphaSmart. What on earth is it? It's kind of like a word processor, except it's laptop-sized. It's designed for one purpose--the entry of text. Well, maybe two purposes, if you add the transmission of the text to and from a computer to its function as well.

Think of it as a $219 no-frills laptop. It's /wonderful/ if you need a way to write away from your computer, but you don't want to spend the money on a fragile laptop.

I discovered the Neo via Kelly Gay, who is happily using her own Neo as well (and who calls it her "precious"). It allows me to write in the La-z-boy. No more sitting hunched over my computer all night after spending all day hunched over my computer at work. I actually prefer writing this way. My husband is going to get awful lonely in the computer room.

It's tough. Supposedly, it will withstand being dropped, and I believe them. The thing is made of hard plastic. It has a 700 hour battery life. That's right, 700 hours. On 3 alkaline AA batteries. I haven't even put a dent in the battery life.

The file system is a bit strange, but it's quick to get used to. There are eight file positions, each accessed by the push of a button. To get to this file, I push the "file 5" button. That's it. With one button push, I'm working on my novel. And it remembers where I was when I last entered text. Not even Microsoft Word does that. As soon as you enter the text, it's saved.

You can have any number of files at each position by giving them a name. I have not named my files so far; when I'm done with them, I simply upload them to my computer and clear the version on the Neo.

The drawbacks? There is absolutely no formatting. That's why I used slashes above, where I would usually use italics. I also have not found any way to remove some applications on it that are designed for teachers. Also, each file has a hard limit. I found that I need not bother transferring files that have more than 8000 or so words. Otherwise, I don't have room to actually work in the file, which holds about 10000 words, max. You can adjust this maximum file size, but so far I have not bothered. 8000 words seems a comfortably large chunk for me to work with.

It reminds me of the word processors of the 80s, except it transfers files instead of typing them out right away. It emulates all the same key combinations that Windows uses, so you can still copy with Ctrl-C and paste with Ctrl-V. There's nothing like a mouse or a touchpad; navigation is done entirely through keys.

There is another version called the Dana, which blends the Neo with a full-featured PDA, including a touch-screen. However, it seemed to have more functionality than I needed and I really wanted the toughness of the Neo. This thing looks to be as tough as a calculator.

Ok, now I'm going to upload this into Blogger and write about that experience. Ciao for now . . .

Done. I plugged the Neo into my computer using the USB cable, and hit the "send" button on the Neo. It typed the file directly into this Blogger window. That's actually a slow way to send files; I usually just use the software that came with the Neo to just send the whole file as a chunk. But it's kinda cool to watch it type the text onto the screen.

It's easy. It's fun. I'm going to take it with me on vacation next week. I think every writer should have one. Check it out.

Monday, June 30, 2008

My Writer Story in Two Parts - Part 2

Part 1 of my writer story is here.

I didn't write much prose in high school, but I did write some poetry. In the eleventh grade, I attempted to write a story about a young woman named Gwenyth who was somehow transported from the dark ages to the 20th century. It had no plot. The story fizzled.

Fast forward five years. I was in the Air Force and I got my first typewriter. I wrote a story about a young girl who lived among a band of highwaymen. It had no plot. The story fizzled. (However, my typing speed shot to 60 WPM and there it stays.)

Later, I tried to write a novel about a young knight who participated in the First Crusade. It had no plot. The story fizzled.

Are we noticing a pattern here?

Determined to finish something, I wrote a story about a young girl who grew up as a feral child in the forest, and who turned all the animals loose in the king's menagerie. It had no plot. I wrote it anyway. I sent it to a fantasy magazine that was popular in the 80s, run by a certain well-known fantasy author.

She sent me the most brutal rejection I've ever received. No, I didn't feel all special that she sent me a personal rejection. It was mean. I tore the letter up and threw it away.

I sent other stuff to other magazines, but soon gave up. Obviously, I had no idea how to write a short story. Instead, I worked on another novel.

It was called Oath of the Songsmith. It was about a minstrel and a young woman who take on a witch. I had the ending nailed before I wrote the beginning. I did everything right. Except, the plot wandered all over the place. Oh, and it used every fantasy cliché imaginable. I did try to breathe new life into those clichés, but still. I had 40 chapters spread out over 40 files. When I sewed it all together, its length shocked me--230,000 words.

That's not one novel, it's two. Two long novels. It even had a nice point in the middle where I could break it up into a duology. I sent it to one agent. Rejected. I put it away and never sent it anywhere else. I didn't think it was sellable or even worth trying to salvage.

I turned my attention back to short stories. I received a few "nice writing, but" rejections from JJA. I also got a few without the "nice writing" bit.

I had a baby. I stopped writing fiction and sold some nonfiction to help support the family while I worked a 3/4th time job. Several years passed. I went through two brutal periods of unemployment. I learned that my child was disabled.

In 2005, while once again gainfully employed, the Michael Jackson trial made all the pieces click in place for a fantasy that I long wanted to write based on mythology. It took 18 months to write and refine the 115,000 word novel. I sent it to 33 agents. One agent read the full, but passed.

I started writing my third novel. I wrote 80,000 words in 6 months. I got some great feedback from Kristin on Novel Number 2, and rewrote it. I sent it to 35 or so more agents. The agent from attempt number one reread it, and passed again. Another partial and several queries are still pending. I've had some invitations to submit other stuff. I seem to be getting closer but still, no cigar.

I started writing short stories again. I trashed the ending of Novel Number 3 and started working on a rewrite. I wrote the first three chapters of Novel Number 4 and I have thought a lot about Novel Numbers 5 and 6. My genres started wandering. Here they all are:

Novel 1: light epic fantasy
Novel 2: epic fantasy
Novel 3: light espionage fantasy
Novel 4: Hollywood romance
Other, unplotted novels include a Christian thriller and a Ancient History mystery (hey! that rhymes!)

It doesn't seem like much of a writer's story because it's not over yet. When will it be over? 1) when I die or 2) when I give up writing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

MS Word for the Novelist - Creating Excerpts for Web Pages and Email

This installment is by request.

We all have to do it--we must paste the first three chapters, first chapter, or first five pages in either an email message or on a web page for critiques or submissions. And every time we do so, we lose our indents due to the way web pages work. Therefore, we must find our paragraph breaks and put an extra space between each paragraph

Drag!

Well, here's a way to do it. All you have to do is search and replace for paragraph marks. Already know how to search and replace for regular text? Well, you're halfway there!

  • First, highlight the text you want to enwebben (to coin a word) and copy it into a new document. Five pages, three chapters, whatever. Get it in a new document. Don't do this with your official manuscript
  • In the new document, bring up the Find box (Click Edit on the Word 2003 menu bar, then Find).
  • Click the Replace tab.
  • Click the More button at the bottom of the form.
  • Make sure the cursor is in the "Find what:" box.
  • Click the Special button at the bottom of the form. Heres a helpful image of what the form should look like at this point:
(Click to embiggen)
  • Select the first option, which is Paragraph Mark. Do not select Paragraph Character, which is further down. That's just an image. You want Paragraph Mark.
  • You'll see this code appear in the Find what: box:
^p
  • You could have just typed in the ^p, but the Special dropdown menu will always give you the proper codes so you don't have to remember. In the Replace with: box, just go ahead and type:
^p^p
(Or you can select it from the Special menu twice, if you prefer.)
  • Click Replace All. Spaces will magically appear between all your paragraph marks.
  • Press Ctrl-A to select all of the text again, copy it to the clipboard (Ctrl-C) and paste it (Ctrl-V) into the email or the web page.
And you're done. These instructions assume you are using normal paragraph breaks, but don't worry; you'd have to try to get anything other than ordinary paragraph breaks, so you're probably ok.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Science Fiction Western Done!

After abandoning two storylines, I finished the first draft of my science fiction western. I didn't want it to turn into a bloodbath, like many westerns do, yet I wanted a fitting way for my boys to deal with the "gangers" as I call them in the story. I needed a storyline that:
  • focused on the brothers, Ty and Joel.
  • gave needed backstory through Grandpa's ramblings about the good old days.
  • dealt with the gang in a non-violent way. I want to be able to submit this to family-friendly magazines, like Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.
It needs considerable polish. Right now it's just over 4000 words.

Now I need to flush this voice out of my head and return to my Jane Austen voice for Starcaster. It may take a Jane Austen movie or two to do the trick.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Writer Story in Two Parts - Part 1

Kristin wants writer stories. So here's mine.

As a young child, I was a terrible reader. The written word was my enemy. It just didn't click in my mind. I struggled through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade, grateful each year just to pass. In the third grade, I had two teachers. One accused me of playing with my fingers. She punished me for it and mocked me in front of the class. The other teacher wondered why I would play with my fingers. After all, it's not a usual thing for a child to do. When she noticed me peering at the blackboard through a tiny triangle formed by three fingers, she realized that I was doing it in an attempt to see.

You see, when you're nearsighted, you can push away the blurriness by peering through a tiny hole. I have no idea how I figured this out. It only works up to a certain point. I'm too nearsighted nowadays to be able to do this.

She sent home a note suggesting I get glasses. They helped a lot, but not with reading.

In the fourth grade, I had the worst teacher in the world. I don't credit her at all with my figuring out how to read that year. I credit my father.

In the fifth grade, we moved. I had the most wonderful teacher in the world that year, Sr. Clair. She was Irish and about 25. She had us memorize poetry. At first I hated it, but then I realized I could do it and I started to enjoy it. Then, toward the end of that year, she issued a challenge. Anyone who memorized Hiawatha's Childhood would get a special prize and extra credit.

I took on that challenge.

It is 165 lines long. It seemed impossible. But I knew Sr. Clair wouldn't have us try if it were not possible. So I did it, and I recited it in front of the class. Only one other girl was able to do it. I didn't recite it perfectly, but I got about 95 percent right. I got the extra credit and prize anyway. I didn't realize then that Sr. Clair wasn't looking for perfection. She was looking for the effort.

It was a wonderful boost to my confidence. The prize? A copy of The Wizard of Oz, signed by my teacher. I wish I still had it.

The next year, I had the same teacher. I almost won the class spelling bee a few times. That same girl who memorized Hiawatha's Childhood with me always beat me. At about that time, my mother was making lots of trips back and forth to Orlando for medical reasons. One day, for reasons I no longer remember, I was alone with her for the trip back. In a family of five children, moments alone with her were rare. I decided to compose a poem. Aloud. It wasn't my first poem (Sr. Clair was always having us compose poems), but it was the first time I ever let anyone see the writer in me.

Coming up in part 2: my not-so-angsty high school years and beyond.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Muscle Car Science Fiction Western

Here's an excerpt from my science fiction western. All misspellings and grammar irregularities are intentional. A few words of explanation--the boys sleep in a converted bus, and the Chevelle gang is a band of thugs and criminals.

* * *

But Joel just couldn't let go. That night, in the bus, he asked me a question that sent a sick feeling churning in my gut.

"What if we join the Chevelle gang, Ty?"

"We cain't join the Chevelle gang, Joel. You've seen what they do to folk."

"Yeah, but if one of us joins, maybe they'll leave the rest of us alone."

"That's a mighty high price to pay, Joel. Murderin' and lootin' folk just so your own folk stay safe. Do you really think you can do it?"

We argued about it for hours, but nothing I said mattered. The seed got planted in his head, somehow, and once it took root, it wouldn't let go. He was gone by the end of the week.

A month later, a car showed up in our barn, keys in the ignition, without a word of explanation.

"Guess that goes to show that crime does pay," Grandpa said.

Pa turned around and backhanded him--just like he'd have done with one of us boys.

#

It was a 1972 Grand Prix. It was silver, once. Pa wouldn't drive it, so it fell to me. I used it to take Ma back and forth to her treatments and for grocery runs. Life got back to normal--cept Joel wasn't there. It was like there was a big hole in the seat beside me. Clyde took his place, but it wasn't the same. There was only four years difference between Joel and me. Clyde--he was ten years younger.

I tried not to think too hard about what Joel had done to earn himself a car for his famly.

* * *

Warning! Any reminisces about pre 1975-era muscle cars will result in that car being absorbed into the story. I have room for a few more cars.