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.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Antidote for Rejection

I'm convinced that the antidote for a rejection or brutal critique feedback is to write a short story.

I had this idea for a science fiction setting. I didn't have a plot, just a sort of situation based on something we all have to deal with these days--the price of gas. But I didn't know what I wanted to do with it. I just knew I wanted it to be a short story.

Then, the idea came to me. It's a western. To be precise, it's a western revenge story. And like most science fiction, it takes place in the future.

So I started writing it . . . in dialect. I know--dialect is a hard sell. I tried to stop myself. I wrote out the first paragraph in a nice, sane third person. Then, I wrote out the paragraph again in dialect reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn, albeit with more readable spelling. And I kept writing . . . and writing . . . and writing. 2000 words went by. I still ain't done.

Oops! The dialect keeps leaking out.

I figured that if Lisa Shearin can get away with having a modern sounding Medieval elf, and if Naomi Novik can get away with having a Napoleonic Air Force composed of dragons, maybe I can get away with down-home cowboys 200 years in the future.

My protagonist is a hot-tempered 18 year old boy, hence the above picture of Billy the Kid. I've never written from such a point of view in my life. I hope I can pull it off.

And in honor of an old fix-er-upper muscle car that my husband used to have, a 1967 Chevelle is part of it.

I might even make it candy-apple red, just because it looks so danged good in this picture. (And no, my husband's Chevelle never looked this good.)

Huh? you might ask? A 1960s muscle car in a western revenge story? That takes place in the future?

As you can probably tell, it's been a lot of fun. If nothing else, it should stand out from the stack of submissions that day due to its sheer strangeness.

* * *

I'm going to try to get another "MS Word For the Novelist" article out before the end of the weekend.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

MS Word for the Novelist - The Magical Document Map

Now that you have a nicely-behaved document template for your manuscript (if you don't, see my first installment of this series), it's time to delve into Word Styles. Why would you want to learn Word Styles, you ask? Because (1) they are so powerful and (2) they allow you to navigate huge manuscripts with ease. Allow me to illustrate.

Right now, I'm loading up my manuscript for FORGING A LEGEND. Aah, here it is, all 457 pages of it. No, I don't divide the manuscript up into chapters and no, it isn't a pain in the tush at all to have to navigate such a huge manuscript. If I need to tweak Chapter Thirteen, I'm there with one click. Here's a picture to prove it. All of the text is clickable.

This little wonder is called the Document Map. It's aways up there on the left side of my manuscript. In order to use the document map, you really need to master Word Styles. No, it's not easy. But it's worth it. These instructions work for Word 2003. They work for 2007 too, but you'll have to find the equivalent menus. My husband assures me that it's not hard to adjust, so I'm going to assume you'll be able to do this in Word 2007 as well.

First, start a new document based on your Manuscript template. Right-click your toolbar (which is the strip toward the top with all the icons) and make sure the Formatting toolbar is highlighted. It's the second one down on the list. On the Formatting toolbar, click the icon on the far left that looks like a double A.

The Styles and Formatting menu will appear on the right side of the screen.

Now back on your document page, enter some text and make it look the way you want your chapter title text to appear. If you're like me, it's simply centered. Now, highlight the entire line, not just the word.
Notice how it looks like there's a space after the last word when you highlight the entire line. There's an invisible paragraph mark there, and you want to make sure you include that. An awful lot of formatting is packed into that invisible paragraph mark.

Now, on your Styles and Formatting menu, click the New Style . . . button. Name it Chapter and select the following options from the dropdowns:
  • Style Type: Paragraph
  • Style Based On: Normal
  • Style for Following Paragraph: Normal
  • Click the Add to template checkbox in the lower left corner.
Don't click OK yet.
  • Click the Format button at the bottom of the page.
  • Click Paragraph . . .
  • On the first tab, in the upper right corner, click Outline Level and select Level 1.
If you have set up your document template according to my last post, then everything else should be all set. Click OK.

Close your document. If it prompts you to save your template, click OK or Yes.

Open Word back up again and load a document based on your Manuscript template. To make your document map appear, click View and then Document Map. You may need to click the little circle on the bottom of the menu in order for the entire menu to appear. Or, you can click this button near the right end of the Standard (top) toolbar:

In the above example, the Document Map button is light orange and has a box around it.

Now, enter a chapter title and click the Styles and Formatting button again. Select Chapter. Not only will it format your chapter the way you specified earlier, but the text you entered should appear in your document map. Cool, huh? When you click enter, your text should no longer be centered.

I have three additional styles set up as follows:
  • Name: Chapter Title
  • Style Type: Paragraph
  • Style based on: Chapter
  • Style for Following Paragraph: Normal
  • Centered
  • Outline Level: Level 2
  • Add to template checked
I name my chapter titles, so if you don't name chapters, don't bother setting the above.
  • Name: Scene
  • Style Type: Paragraph
  • Style based on: Normal
  • Style for following paragraph: Normal
  • Centered
  • Outline Level: Level 3
  • Add to template checked
This is a temporary style, which I only use while actually writing my novel. Since I generally have 3 or 4 scenes per chapter, it's helpful to name them, because you can home in on exactly the scene you want to work on. I even name all my scenes ahead of time, based on my novel outline. It's like plotting out my entire novel ahead of time on the document map. I always delete all scene names when I'm finished with the manuscript.
  • Name: ToDo Item
  • Style Type: Paragraph
  • Style based on: Normal
  • Style for following paragraph: Normal
  • Left justified
  • Italic
  • Outline Level: Level 4
  • Add to template checked
Since Word's Bookmark feature sucks so badly, I created this style to use as a bookmark. These stand out because they are italic, and italics are no-nos in final manuscripts. They also show up as italic in the document map. No ToDos will remain in the final document.

I realize these instructions are complicated. Play around with word styles until you are comfortable with them. Feel free to leave questions in the comments. If worse comes to worse, I could email you my template, but keep in mind that templates can be tricky to install.

Microsoft Word is a complicated piece of software, but it really becomes a wonderful tool when you take the time to learn to use it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Perils of Revisions

Ok, so I thought of a great revision for one of my novels that would give me the opportunity to have a much better opening, plus would tie a major villain to my character. Because I still have a full manuscript out on submission, I made a copy of my manuscript before I made any changes.

And I proceeded to pepper the manuscript with changes. Too late, I realized that I should have turned on my "track changes" feature, but I gave a mental shrug. I resolved to find some sort of tool that will show the differences between two Word docs. (Surely such a thing exists.)

Then, on the way to work this morning, I realized that my great revision will not work. At least not without a lot of changes. More changes than I am willing to make, at this time, and changes that I'm not even certain will work in the long run. I'd hate to rewrite the novel backwards, then discover that it just ain't working.

So I'm glad I took that backup before I started. Have you ever done this?