Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Writing about Animals

I had the honor last week of reviewing Karen Wrigley's manuscript Beyond Woofs and Whinnies. I began with a large degree of skepticism. I know Karen is an animal communicator and I fully believe such people have gifts I lack. I wasn't sure I could get into a book of vignettes about animals, or critters as she calls them, with whom she has communicated.

She captured me on about the third vignette when she wrote about her old horse Jake. She could have been writing about my high school quarter horse, Flaxie. Same demeanor, same quiet nature around children. I have never forgotten this mare, not because she threw me on asphalt and broke my back/hip/knee. I put her in the wrong place, in jeopardy, so the fact that she threw me was due to "operator error." I remember that she didn't step on me when I fell under her hooves. I remember coming to and seeing a sturdy hoof on either side of my head. And I remember not being able to move because said hooves were on my braids.

But enough about me. I loved Karen's book. For skeptics out there who don't know if animal communication is real, read this. If you still don't know, at least you will have learned something from someone who does believe. Karen's book will be out in the next few months. I suggest you check into her web site for the announcement. Remember, it's called Beyond Woofs and Whinnies by Karen Wrigley.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Editing 101 -- Or Don't Be Afraid to Kill Your Darlings

Yes, I brought out the dreaded red pen and began editing -- or rewriting -- the raw draft of Max 2. Hemingway rewrote A Farewell to Arms 39 times because he wanted to get the words right. It's axiomatic that you don't really begin to write until you begin to rewrite.

I wrote the bones of Max 2 down and then I took a month off to let the draft settle. I picked it up again last weekend and read the book cover to cover, red pen in hand. I was trying to answer six questions. And these questions can be applied to a sentence, paragraph, chapter, or the whole damned book. They are:

  • Does this sentence/paragraph/chapter advance the plot line?
  • Does this sentence/paragraph/chapter advance character development?
  • Can I shorten the sentence/paragraph/chapter without losing essential elements of plot or character development?
  • Do I need this word or phrase, or was I in love with the written word when I wrote it?
  • What does my character want when she does or says something?
  • Why does my character need to do something?

I read looking for concept errors, plot omissions, and characters that were introduced but not developed. I was not doing a line edit or a copy edit for grammos and typos. That comes later.

What I learned didn't surprise me. I have a lot of work to do. This time, I wrote a blueprint for Max 2. This saved countless errors in names and motives, because I thought that stuff out in advance.

Now, I have to do a very close rewrite. I bled red all over the draft, and I used about a pack and a half of sticky notes. Sigh.

But, I think of this as the fun part. It's my private time with my words, working on it to improve it, before sharing it with my two writing groups, Lake Writers and Valley Writers.

And yes, I engaged in a teeny weeny "but first" and wrote a short story that I want to submit to the Wytheville Festival in June. It too needs polishing, so I work on it when I can no longer see what's working or not working with Max 2.

I continue plowing ahead. Anything else would lead to mental stultification.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Enough "But Firsts"

All y'all know what "but firsts" are, don't you? It's what you do when you know you have to do something but keep putting it off. Like, I know I have to clean the house, "but first" I have to re-read War and Peace .

I but firsted my way through reading two friends' manuscripts, commenting on another friend's play, writing a sketch/short story for a contest, and an essay for another contest. And now, I have to address what I really want to do. Talk about writing and what I'm working on.

This is the first of many, many posts on writing. How I go about it. Why I am compelled to write. How I get my ideas.

I have written five complete novels in recent years. (This does not count earlier output, all of which have been destroyed to protect the guilty. Me.) My first was erotica. Had to get it out of my system. The second one is actually a trilogy -- Venn diagrams of women from high school, through college, career, marriage, and motherhood. And now, the first Mad Max book, Unintended Consequences, is complete and the second is in very rough draft.

Generally, I'm happiest when I have three books going simultaneously. That's both for reading and writing. I continue to tweak Mad Max 1, although I think it is about as complete and polished as I can make it. I am now querying agents for MM 1. Thick skin required.

Next, following the example of Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones, I have finished the bones of MM 2. It's about 70,000 words already, needs whole chunks rewritten, other chunks moved around, secondary characters fleshed out. When I begin a story, I have the main characters in mind, a general story line, the main themes, and little else. Because I write character-driven stories, I let the characters take me where they will.

After finishing the draft, I let it sit for four to six weeks. Kinda took a break. Now, I've just reread it. The first thing I look for is inconsistencies in plot. I circle them, move on, fill the margins with copious notes, and mark things for deletion or moving. I love Post-It Notes, because I decorate page after page with them. And at this cut, I look for those wonderful freedoms of creation that Anne Lamott writes about in Bird by Bird. She allows herself to call characters names like Mr. Poopy Pants (if you'll pardon what might be a paraphrase). I need to rename Honkin' Fat Dodge Boy to Sheriff Lester Hardy. Thank God for search and replace.

I started the first revision this weekend. It was rainy and a perfect time to dig into 70,000 words. Now that the manuscript is covered in red ink, it's time to start moving chunks around.

This step can take weeks or months, depending on how many "but firsts" I find along the way.

And what about MM 3? Doing the research, because I want to learn about gene-splicing and viruses. (Viri??)

So, tomorrow I start moving chunks. Stay tuned for updates.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jane Rosen's Alice

My dear friend, Jane Rosen, has written a play that is a semi-finalist at the 7th Annual Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto. Entitled Alice, it's a real tour de force. I can't wait to see how well she does.

Jane has a history of success. An Emmy winner as producer for the PBS show for Austin City Limits, Jane has written a book on women mentoring women, that propelled her into a series of speaking engagements across the country. It's called My Life as a Corporate Goddess. And yes, I'm one of her goddesses. She most recently coauthored a book, Convergence Marketing with Richard Rosen. Yes, she confesses to having slept with the author, "but hey, she's married to him."

So Jane has a broad-based platform. I encourage any of you who are interested in a different world view to check out her web site and get to know her. You won't be disappointed.

Writing News from Lake Writers

I have recently had the honor of working closely on manuscripts by two writers in Lake Writers. For the past several months, I have been an avid reader and concept editor for Don Fink, whose Escape to the Sky, is shaping up to a very good historical novel. He still has a couple of hundred pages left to write, but the plot is solid and the characters are very compelling.

I just concluded a line edit of Sally Roseveare's second novel. Her first, Secrets of Spawning Run, has a devoted readership, which partially belies the idea that self-published fiction doesn't sell. I think the next one will do as well, if not better. You can read more about Sally at her web site.

Now, we need Becky Mushko, with her middle grade novel, and Sue Coryell, with a young adult work, both picked up quickly by agents. I wish my fellow writers the best of good luck.

My fingers are crossed, although it makes typing very difficult jf;ljsd;lfjsd;l.