Month: July 2015

When a Writing Dream Becomes a Mission #amwriting

Dance leap on the beach

Two years ago, my lovely, well-read, Russian friend Irina and I were chatting over coffee, reflecting on how some people seem to soar toward their dreams while others — like us — do not. “Break through the wall,” Irina said. Somehow, those words resonated. Each night after my family settled into their beds, I held her words close as I stole upstairs and Just Wrote.

I finally started working on a novel idea that had been kicking around in my head for years– through countless short stories, writer’s workshops (in one of which I met my future husband), a writing conference or two, a local writers’ network I founded that lived on long after I left it. After that one conversation with Irina, I started my novel, one character, one plot idea at a time.

And then abandoned it.

A few months later, I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month, jumped in with both feet, attended write-ins, checked off goals. And I completed the novel. Or a semblance of one. A rambling, complicated mess, actually. But alone in a Starbucks just before closing time I typed these words: “The End.” And I cried. I collected myself, went to the counter to buy a green tea, and when the Starbucks employee gave it to me for free he was joining my celebration and didn’t even know it.

I printed out the manuscript of my first novel, wrote out the scenes on flash cards, tried reordering them all into a semblance of a logical narrative. Then gave up.  I put the manuscript in a drawer, tossed the pile of scene cards on top, and left it.

But I kept writing.

Short stories, more novel ideas, observations on my fresh return to writing, my fear and excitement over witnessing what had always been a DREAM turning into a GOAL.  About the possibility that maybe it really is Never Too Late.

Then one day a character stepped out onto my page in all her feisty, loyal, kick-ass glory. Her magical world, her concept, all right there. And now I’m completing the third, much improved, 80,000-word draft of her YA fantasy story.

I wish I could explain how I finally broke through the wall. I think part of it is that, for so many years, I limited myself to only writing short stories because that seemed more attainable. But now I was finally allowing myself to write novels. As daunting as that had always seemed, I realized for the first time in my life that writing a novel was possible. And I loved it. Novels made sense to me because they are what I have always read. To be sure, writing a novel is as bloody difficult as everyone says, but I haven’t given up (well, not for more than a couple of days), and ideas for new novels are springing up all over the place.

As a writer, I still battle deep insecurities, but I breathe deep and jump back in to tackle those weak plot points, underdeveloped characters, and bad prose. The answers come. And I feel the shift.

My DREAM has become a MISSION.

–Eve Messenger

Yay!!! First Day of Summer VayKay!!!

joy

As of 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon, thirty-seven unfettered, glorious days of doing whatever I want popped up and smiled at me like a goofy toddler. For the whole month of August I get to read all the books I want, write whenever and for as long as I want, sleep in, exercise(?), spend time with family and friends, and catch up on. . . everything!

You don’t think my to-do list for the first day of summer break is that bookworm-ish…do you? 😉

  1. Make to-do list for first day of summer break.
  2. Play with dogs.
  3.  Brew tea, continue rewrite of YA fantasy, act III.
  4. Think about going for a walk.
  5. Figure out genre of the next book I’m planning.
  6. Research more literary agents who might be a good match for my YA fantasy.
  7. Finish reading Tahereh Mafi novel.
  8. Make a run to the library – whoop whoop.
  9. Hang with the fam.
  10. SUGGESTIONS??? _________________________

YA Reader, I Could Really Use Your Suggestions

wordle 2

I’m planning a YA book that I’m REALLY looking forward to writing, but I’m having a hard time classifying the genre. It’s about a modern girl fantasizing her way through major life changes and social awkwardness. There’s an integral paranormal aspect, but it’s subtle – no werewolves, witches, vampires — and a sprinkling of chapters set in an earlier period of history.  There’s a little romance, but I’d say it’s more about family and relationships.

What would you call that genre?

Josie’s Book Corner, I’m looking at you.

The Epiphany of “Write What You Know”

Epiphany

“Write what you know” messed me up as a writer for a long time but not anymore. I was conflicted because I thought Mark Twain’s adage meant I could only write with authenticity about experiences culled from my own life. But this morning, as I contemplated the third draft of my YA fantasy novel, I had an epiphany. My protagonist — a feisty, daredevil fifteen-year-old girl living in a magical, alternate world — might be very different from me, but she is exploring the great theme of my own life: Who am I? Why am I the way I am? Where do my people come from?

I am writing what I know.

I Want to Sell Books, but I Won’t Sell My Soul

dollar sign eyes

Something unusual happened when I served jury duty a while back, not just that I was excited about it. I struck up a sort of friendship with a fellow juror — I don’t recall her name, so we’ll call her Ann.  She was very different from me, worked as an accountant, was years older, married, with children, while I was still years from all that.

Despite the differences, Ann and I were conversational, conspiratorial.  She was friendly, albeit a little aloof. I was flattered, I guess, that she seemed interested in what I had to say. She was smart, well-spoken, dressed in expensive clothing and nice shoes – I didn’t recognize the brands, just that they weren’t from Payless or Target. When the trial was over, Ann invited me to a gathering at her house. Vague, just a “gathering.” I didn’t want to be rude and ask what kind of gathering, opting to chalk it up to that’s how rich, white working moms invite people over.

So I drove to Ann’s house, which was lovely.  And large. At 4, 000 square feet her home was nearly 10 times larger than the apartment I lived in. Clean, new, not-thrift-store-bought furniture, a sunken living room. Ann met me at the door wearing only a smile.

Just kidding.  Wanted to see if you were still paying attention.

Actually, Ann was dressed fine, sort of business casual. She led me from the foyer, through the sunken living room, back to a large den where twenty or so people of all ages milled about. A few light snacks were laid out on a dining table, and there were – I don’t know – packages of things, boxes, pamphlets. The event had an unusual vibe. The other guests weren’t unfriendly, but it all sort of reminded me of when I was nine years old in small-town Virginia and had just started Majorettes (remember baton twirling?).  The girls and our moms had all gathered at the coach’s house for our first meeting.  None of us really knew each other yet. Ann’s “gathering” kind of felt like that.

Then Ann started pitching Amway products.

Amway, the pyramid scheme multi-level marketing company in which sellers at the top get a cut of everything sold by people under them. The more sellers you recruit the more money you make. Simple as that.

I was a mark.

I’m slow sometimes, but I get there eventually, as my friend Marcia would say. I now saw the gleam in Ann’s eyes, the dollar signs. Her invitation had nothing to do with friendship or a desire to chat about our shared jury duty experience. Ann had seen nothing special in me. Feeling foolish and betrayed, I left.

A couple of months later, would you believe, this super cute guy asked me out to a “friendly gathering.” “What kind of gathering?” Vague response. I pressed. “I’m doing well with this business networking thing (or whatever euphemism the cult members employees had for it at the time).  Maybe you’d like to check it out with me.” Sorry, cute guy, Amway is not my idea of a good first date. Next.

It’s easy to recall those memories when now, as an aspiring author, waves of advice crash all around me to promote, promote, promote. Start even before your book is sold, the blogs and tweets and writers’ magazines say. Show agents and publishers you know how to work the ‘net, that you’re the queen of social media, that you’ll be able to promote your book when it’s published. I get it;  if you have no audience then you may as well not have a book.  But what the advice-givers don’t mention is that this whole networking, community-building process could easily turn us into a bunch of Anns.

The artist’s lament? Sure.  I want to sell books, but I won’t sell my soul.  I love communicating with people in the online writing and reading community, sharing insights, fears, successes, and passion for literature.  I don’t ever want to lose that.  If, in this blog of mine, you ever see me mutating into an Ann, please, dear reader, slap me upside the head (in writing, please). Thank you.

EBM

P.S. If your name is Ann, I’m sorry I just tarnished it.  I actually really like the name.

My Name is Eve, and I am a Recovering ‘Pantser’

pantsing

I’m one of those writers you might call a ‘pantser,’ you know, the kind who writes a novel with reckless abandon — sans plot outline — until I reach the semblance of an ending.

It’s fun! It’s exciting! It’s FRESH.  And I’m afraid if I don’t write like that I’ll overcensor myself , or worse, get bored because I already know what’s going to happen.

But.

Revising a pants-style, mutant pit first draft of a novel takes a really, really, really, really long time.  I’m not saying I’ll never pants a novel again, but I’ve done it twice now, and the first novel was such a complicated mess I had to stick it in a drawer until I became “a good enough writer to tackle such a complicated plot.”

This second full-length novel, a YA fantasy, I’ve been revising for dozens and dozens and dozens of hours…reordering scenes, consolidating bits I had epiphanies about later in the writing, just, you know … Clean-up on aisle seven…and twelve…and one…and fourteen.  Clean up the whole damn store.

But hey, writing and revising a novel should take as long as it needs to, right?  And who’s to say I would ever have been able to come up with the cool, out-there things that happen in this story (don’t mean to brag, just sayin’) if I had NOT let my imagination flow 100% unhindered, not even by a plot outline?

But.

I’m not as young as I used to be (I’ll admit) and have a lot of stories I want to write. So many.

Yet here I am, dozens and dozens and dozens of hours into revising and fleshing out this first draft into a flow, a scene order, that tells a cohesive story.  Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel — I’m three-quarters of the way through — but I’m not even talking about all the fun edit-y things like crisping up dialogue, bringing out sensory details, polishing prose.  I’m talking about just getting the first draft into an order that makes sense.

Outlining would have been so much easier.  More importantly, it would have been FASTER.

Then this morning a lovely thing happened.  A brand new character, with a brand new story, in a brand new genre (still YA), danced herself right onto my computer screen.  And she brought a LOT of her story’s plot with her.  God bless her.  When I’m done with this YA fantasy, I might just be able to write a novel using a proper outline.

HALLELULAH.

Now if I just knew the best way to outline a novel.  Any suggestions?

–Eve Messenger

Reading While Writing – Is it a Bad Thing?

NTSNBN

There’s this YA dystopian thriller I’ve been dying to read.  Very hyped, mentioned in lots of blogs, highly ranked on Goodreads. I won’t mention the title because — call me superstitious, or maybe respectful or polite — I won’t publicly write negative things about another writer’s published work. Who knows, maybe you’ll guess it from the references I’m about to make. Anyway, I was excited to read this book, but I stopped myself.  I stopped myself from reading any fiction.  Why? Because I’ve heard from other writers that reading while you write can be detrimental.

But reading is the shizzle!

So two days ago I picked up this hyped novel-that-shall-not-be-named (henceforth known as NTSNBN), and I began to read.   Even though I’m working on my own novel.

And it’s been really helpful!  Possibly because NTSNBN is in a different enough genre from my own YA fantasy adventure. Or maybe because it’s a good book but not so brilliant that I’m utterly intimidated. Or maybe (and probably most significantly) because the plot and characters of my own novel are well-formed enough that reading someone else’s novel — both as a positive and negative example — gives me ideas on how to enhance what I already have.

Back when I was tapping and scribbling out the nucleus of a plot in coffee houses, libraries, and all the other free places writers and homeless people hang out, reading someone else’s novel might have been detrimental to my process. Consciously or subconsciously, another writer’s plots and characters could have crept their way into my own writing.   (Though I probably will take the chance and try it while writing the next novel.)

After two days of reading NTSNBN — while working on the 2nd/3rd major revision of my own — here’s how reading someone else’s novel has been beneficial. Throughout the narrative, NTSNBN gives a very clear sense of the main character’s emotional state. It contains too much a lot of internal self-talk. With a keener awareness of this, the next time I sat down to work on my own book, my characters started spilling their emotional guts a lot more.

I like that.

The author of NTSNBN also employs several quirky stylistic devices, such as replacing number words with the alphanumeric, as in ‘2’ instead of ‘two.’  Also, there are long passages that deliberately avoid commas. Thirdly, there is a lot lot lot of  too much  striking out of lines and words, which signify the MC censoring his/her own thoughts.   Though I probably won’t use those devices in my own writing, the stylistic experiments definitely inspire me to try new things.

Lastly, NTSNBN reads really fast. All the chapters flow really well, each with its own grabber that takes you right into the heart of the scene and an ending that propels you further into the story. All wonderful things to keep in mind while revising and polishing my own work.

E.B.M.

Just Say No to Cliffhangers

Angry about cliffhangers

I hate cliffhangers.  There, I said it.  I don’t mean cliffhangers in the middle of a story, of course — those are great.  I mean a cliffhanger ending to a novel — it’s a cheat, a crutch, a convenient device.  Inherent in every novel there’s a silent contract between writer and reader, included in which is a proper ending!  What should drive readers to want to read the next book is compelling characters and great writing, not — I repeat — a cliffhanger ending.

Books Choose Their Authors

Michelangelo's

Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Salman Rushdie said, “Books choose their authors.” This concept of a complete work of art waiting in the ethos to be carefully released by the artist, helps me. I find it reassuring to think of my novel not as an evolving thing but as something which exists and is merely waiting to be discovered. With each editing and writing session, I chisel away at the marble to expose the True Work within.

As I move well into the first revision of my YA fantasy novel, do I see the True Work revealing itself? Yes, the characters, the magic, the plot twists, the history, they’re all very exciting to discover. But the thing I can’t seem to reveal — the thing that is kicking my excavating arse, quite frankly — is the most important element of all: what the main character truly, truly wants. She wants a lot of things. She wants to buck convention; she is very curious and wants to know where the massive structures on her otherwise bucolic world come from, who built them, what their purpose is or was. She questions the True Mission of her people and wants to turn against it. I’m having a hard time solidifying that into EXACTLY what she wants. I get this feeling that the answer is right in front of me but I’m not seeing it.

If You Were a Modern-Day Noah, Which Animals Would You Save?

Noah's Ark

What if there were an apocalypse looming and the decision on which animals to save was all up to you?  What if you only had time and space to save a few dozen species?

I admit, my first inclination would be a selfish one, to save dogs, horses, tigers, goats, wolves, whales, elephants, and wild birds because I enjoy them,  plus cows and chickens because I like milk and eggs.  But what about the survival of the planet and how animals would serve the new ecosystem?  What justifies saving predators?  Would we need to keep rodents and cockroaches around for some reason?  Snakes? Spiders? Mosquitoes?