Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chapters Twenty-Three through Thirty Tonight

I had wanted to complete the revisions on Hafan Deg (which you all know, who have been following it, means Safe Harbor in Welsh) by this evening. Tomorrow, a brand New Year, my manuscript should have been waiting only for all those lovely agents to come back to their offices next Monday (well, I intended to give them a few days to settle back in) all refreshed and renewed, like the year, and they would all be ready for the earnest queries I intended to send them.

But I'm not quite finished...

I believe there are four, possibly five, chapters to go, and they are the trickiest of the lot, being the culmination of the story, the final resolution of the various emotional strains and stresses my poor heroine had through the previous 400 pages.

I have to admit to shedding tears during these last chapters. Silly, when you consider it's 'only fiction', but those of you who write, those of you who, as serious readers, deeply identify with a book, will know the characters are alive and well inside the writers' mind. And, if they're not, then they have no place on the written page, for what would we find moving about them? So I've gotten a bit too excited at some of the romantic couplings, and I definitely shed those darned tears during the really sad bits.

New Year has always been a far more important time to me than Christmas, since my children left home. New Year is the promise of better things, new and exciting opportunities, and I usually shed tears watching the various cities around the world as they each, in turn, celebrate. The cities can be safe - well, as safe as any city these days - or they can be war-torn, or politically at odds, recovering from floods and riots, and all the horrible things we see on our news. Yet, at New Year, the people gather with that same incredible, almost child-like, anticipation, waiting for the chance to begin again. This time it will be different. This time it really will be better.

So, watching that, seeing that lovely optimism, that adds to my weepiness. No one can ever say I'm not sentimental. It's just that I don't show it much in public, but get it down into my writing instead.

Hold on for the last few chapters of Karen's story. Nearly there.

I hope you have a wonderful, safe, and rewarding New Year.

Have to go now, because I need another tissue.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Grinch's Thought

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? [Christmas] came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

—Dr. Seuss (1904-1991); writer, cartoonist

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chapters Nineteen through Twenty-Two

I am approaching the final third of the manuscript now. The last few chapters were awkward, for some reason. The relationship between Karen and Malcolm is tricky. You will understand as the story goes on. It's always difficult writing love scenes, I find. I tend to want to write graphic, spicy couplings, but find that, in the end, it's much better to suggest, rather than to describe every naughty detail. We all (well, I assume most of us) know what sex is, so why do we need to go into extraordinary descriptions, unless the protagonist happens to be hanging from a chandelier at the time, or in some other odd situation, something that you, with all your knowledge, couldn't imagine? Well, I have no chandelier scenes, so that simplified things.

I will continue to put these chapters up as they are ready, although I intend to take a few days off in some sort of homage to the Season. So it could continue to be every other day, because the writing urge can't be stifled by mere holidays, or it could be in a week, depending on who comes visiting.

I hope you all have a peaceful and happy holiday.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chapters Fifteen through Eighteen Today.

I mentioned to you last week that a fellow member of one of my writing sites, where we all publish online, suggested that my opening chapter was too full of backstory, glimpses of Karen's past, that might confuse the reader. I was a bit surprised, because I thought it read quite well, but then a second writer at the site said the same thing. So, whether or not you've noticed, I chopped a couple of chunks out of the first chapter, reducing it somewhat, and plopped them down farther along in the manuscript. It all seems to look fine, but I keep having this niggling doubt that I've dropped slivers of narrative from Chapter One more than once in the following chapters. If you should spot such duplication, please tell me immediately. When you are working on re-writes, it's so hard to spot something like that. I find myself looking at a paragraph and thinking, "Hello, haven't I seen you somewhere before?" But there is no way I can start at page one and scan through to find its twin, if, in fact, the twin exists. You would see it immediately, because the story line is all new to you. Help! I would appreciate it.

I want to tell you about the huge number of fantasy and horror manuscripts floating around out there. On one of the afore-mentioned online writers' sites, we are encouraged to critique each other's work, but I've found it difficult to find many books that I enjoy reading. The fantasy/horror books outweigh the classic literary novel about ten to one, from what I've seen. I gather, from other blogs, that this is a general problem for agents and publishers right now. How many more vampire books can be written? It's not to say that the books aren't well written, just that there are so many of them! If you are considering the genre, think about this carefully. If you believe yours is the one vampire story that hasn't been told, then go for it, but I would recommend you browse a few writers' sites for yourself to see what the competition is. Everybody's doing it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chapter Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen Today

The book is moving right along, at what feels like break-neck speed. It's so hard to turn off the computer at night. I am more than somewhat obsessed with Hafan Deg right now. A good obsession, though. It beats having writer's block!

I wanted to point out a couple of things about this page. I've now removed the Preface to the Blog, but left a simple link to it. Figured, if you had been following me for a while, that long column might be annoying.

As the list of chapters gets longer and longer, I will probably just put up a link (which in fact is already in place, whichever chapter you choose) to the novel itself, otherwise I'll run out of space soon.

At the very foot of this page, there is a map of Bangor and Anglesey where most of my story takes place, along with a little blurb on the house, which did exist when I was last there. It's nice to get a feel for an area, when you're reading about it.

And, just below, because it's that time of the year, there's an old editors' (and the editors in question would be very old indeed by now..) gag on The Night Before Christmas. This was scanned from a very old page, which I've been carrying around for over twenty years, since my editorial days. It's still funny. Some editors could really do this.

You'll get eyestrain, because I couldn't get it any larger. Zooming doesn't help at all, by the way. But you get the gist.. Try a magnifying glass..

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chapter Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten Today!

I'm putting up FOUR chapters today, because I have to keep moving with this ms. If I don't put more up, you won't get to see them all before I start submitting. It is such a tiresome job transferring it to the website so that the blog page can link up with it. It goes from Word to a totally different format, and everything changes on the screen. It's excruciatingly slow. But, I said I would do this, so I won't be quitting now. I worked out that I only get that strange neck pain when I'm editing, particularly when I'm correcting wrong quotation marks, that kind of thing. The actual writing gives me no pain at all!

I wonder if we will still be friends in our blogs, when our books are picked up by a publisher - not necessarily famous or rich, because we know that's rare with writers, but expecting to satisfactorily sell in our favorite bookshop. I'd hate to think we would just lose interest in our various support sites. It seems to me that we'll have even more to offer, once we've signed a contract to publish. What a story that will be! I thought we could design some sort of logo for our page - something like Obama's "We Did It!" kind of thing. I trust all of you are writing fervently and confidently (with or without neck pain) towards this goal.

I hope you'll let me know what you think now that the story is unfolding more.

Don't forget to send off your first chapter, suitably polished, to Firebrand Literary for the contest I mentioned last week. It started today. See their link in the sidebar.

See you on Wednesday.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chapter Six Today

I'm really on a roll, now. The re-writing is zooming along, and I barely break for lunch - or dinner, for that matter. I've said this before, but my characters chatter away while I'm washing up, or trying to concentrate on the news. (To a non-writer that must sound like some kind of psychotic episode.) I have to grab a bit of paper, the back of the shopping list, whatever, to get the snippet down. If it's a longer "chat" and I'm really excited, I come back to the computer and do it right there and then.

When we are in Flow (a rewarding book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ), the work just pours (flows) out, and you lose all track of time. If I didn't have to feed my cats, I'd probably be writing into the wee small hours. So food doesn't seem important, until I notice I'm about to faint. I could get thin. Dorothy Parker was thin. Perhaps I'll become a published writer AND thin. What joy!

There is a fantastic opportunity for you on Monday. Firebrand Literary is holding a contest for submission of a first chapter, without the preliminary query letter. The novel must be complete, with word count, genre, and so on - you'll get the details from the link under Contests. The contest closes January 15, with their response no later than February 1. (IF they respond. Without a response, fear not, you are still a writer, not a would-be writer - a real writer, and you will research the blogs and Google and Twitter to find your perfect agent.) If, like me (bar the tweaking), you have completed your ms, here's your chance. The prize is simply that you will get one foot in the door, your manuscript over the transom, and your beloved pages in the hands of a professional, and we all should realize how exciting that is!

I have been nominated by Brian of The New Author blog (link in the sidebar) for a Real Blog, Real People award called the Marie Antoinette award. I regret to say I hadn't heard of it, but Brian is very nice, and wouldn't lead me up the garden path, I'm sure, although the name of the award is a little alarming, considering the poor woman was beheaded. Is this a play on words? Is this a little joke on the blog community, that we have all, figuratively speaking, lost our heads? Of course, the lady in question was a woman of rare talent and beauty (with head attached, of course), and that's undoubtedly what was in mind with the choice of name. I am moved to think my blog is deserving of this, as I only started it on November 27, sixteen days ago! I feel I've been doing it for years. I am thoroughly enjoying it, but it's even more delightful to know someone else really likes it, too. Isn't that reminiscent of something Sally Field said at the Oscars way back when?

Enjoy Chapter Six.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chapter Five Today

Chapter Five is here for you, if you are following Hafan Deg.

If I can keep up my tweaking, I'll be able to blog three chapters a week. Tweaking sounds like minimal work, just dotting a few 'i's, etc., but it's real work, re-reading for errors in rhythm, dealing with seemingly endless typos, sentence structure, punctuation. On top of that, I am adding and cutting material as I go, so it's like a full re-write, although the 'good bones' are untouched. With each chapter for the blog, I am pruning away dead wood, I hope.

Which brings me to an interesting article I read on keeping the writing as clean as possible (and I am not referring to smut avoidance). The writer pointed out that the over-use of a past participle, "had been", "had said" "had gone", or other double verbs, muddied the writing, clogged it up, if you will. Once you've established that this action happened somewhat earlier, with ONE example indicating that at the beginning of the paragraph, or the page, it's unnecessary to use it again, and you can comfortably change to simple past verbs - 'was', 'said', 'went', and so on. Readers quickly see that the section is set in a more distant past, and there's no need to keep reminding them.

Karen, in Hafan Deg, is often examining her past, so I went back and looked hard. Sure enough, with those verb adjustments, my page is cleaner. It's taking a lot of time to do, of course, because the little devils try to slip by me. (One did, just then, but I caught it - Gotcha!) With habit, I think I will naturally write with the cleaner verb.

I have no intention of getting into grammar, or syntax, in this blog. But when tips like this come along, I'll share then with you.

Nathan Bransford, literary agent, has a contest, of sorts, which you'll need to act on quickly, as it closes tomorrow, Thursday, 4 pm Pacific time. All you do is paste the first paragraph of your book as a comment on his blog. The entries are an interesting read. Prizes are vague, but involve professional critiquing of your work, fifteen minute phone conversation, things like that. It only took me five minutes this morning to put mine on there. Go check it out.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Chapter Four Today

I just registered the copyright for Hafan Deg online. It seemed to me, putting these chapters out every couple of days, that the novel was a bit vulnerable, despite the little copyright symbol I added to the title. Anyway, it's done, and well worth the $50 Canadian to do it.

Browsing through agents today, and - what a surprise - my old agent, from days of yore, who worked with me on my ghost story, is still agenting! Thought I would surprise her with the new book. I mean she liked my writing, just found the ghost too unscarey. She might even re-think the original book now that so many similar romantic ghost stories have been produced. That would be very cool - two books ready for print...

I have completed the fine-tuning on eight chapters of Hafan Deg now, and have developed a strange neck injury, as a result. It only hurts (sharp, burning sensation) while I type, and is gone when I do something else. Hmm, this could be very detrimental to my writing. I have done so much typing this weekend, for hours and hours straight, that I guess I've just overworked something. It's good when I'm writing a poignant scene, because I share the pain on the page, but no good if I'm in a light-hearted bit of dialogue. Have adjusted the chair, the screen, no go. Will keep trying.

Is anyone going to make any comments about this book? I mean, that's one reason I'm doing it. Sharing it, nakedly, with you. I belong to another site where it's received a couple of comments. Basically, it's felt my first chapter is a bit long-winded, with too many characters to confuse the reader. I don't see it, but I intend to go back and give it a serious look. I know what that confusion feels like, because I have tried at least three times in my life to read Dr. Zhivago! But that was different; I have no Russian names in my book.

Enjoy Chapter Four.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chapter Three Today

I've had a very interesting morning. I woke up at 5 am and couldn't get back to sleep, so I just got stuck into my usual internet ritual.

I've found a useful site for all of you who would like more feedback on their work, called Authonomy. It's not much use to you if you haven't completed at least 10,000 words, because that's their minimum, but you then simply download the material, one chapter at a time (save them to separate doc files).

The manuscript could be reviewed by HarperCollins, as it's their site, and there are so many writers to critique your work, and everyone seems really friendly. Do check it out. I've just put the first three chapters of Hafan Deg there, so will let you know what kind of feedback I get.

I cannot believe the errors that keep popping up in my MS. I have been using a lot of expletives lately at my apparent blindness. How is it that I have proofread this book so many times, yet still they present themselves? I was an editor for years on a rather stuffy business directory, lots of names and figures, and I don't recall it being as tricky as this has been. I think, when we're working on our own words, the flow of them is already embedded in our brains, and we simply think we've transferred them that way to the page. With the business publication, it was so fact-oriented, it had nothing to do with that creative flow.

Somewhere or other, I have a nice poem on this subject, if I ever find it for you.

Do read Chapter Three. The story is now truly unfolding.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Those Helpful Links

You will have noticed a number of helpful site links to the left. I haven't really checked any of these out at length, but they appear to be intelligently written and useful.

The reason I put them there is to stimulate you into doing your own research. The agents' links are wonderful reads, and will fill you with fresh resolve to get going, but you'll need to find some more for yourself, because you will be submitting to quite a few, and you'll want one who is absolutely right for you.

I've also heard that many Canadian publishers don't require agent involvement. I'll certainly be checking that out!

All the information you could possibly need to format your manuscript is there, as well. All those little things you thought you knew, but didn't.

There's a section on British spelling and usage vs American. I have a devil of a time with that, having lived in both worlds. Car trunk or boot? Bonnet or hood? Stuff like that. I still have to be so careful and constantly muddle them up. Perhaps it really doesn't matter; the lines seem to have blurred with the internet. Apparently the British arms of US publishers produce books with US spelling, even if the book is set in the UK. It's all a bit confusing, but, when the time comes, I'm sure some charming copy editor will make everything right.

I added a link to Post-It Digital Notes. This little program goes right into your computer as a soft version of all those little stickies you have everywhere. I thought it might be a bit late for me to use on Hafan Deg, but I know they will get me organized with the next book, which I've been incubating for a while. Think about it: You have a bunch of characters who are all chatting away. Five chapters later, if you didn't make notes in that dear little book you got for the purpose, you can't remember their names or what they did for a living, what they looked like. And you scroll back and back. It drives you crazy! Digital notes mean you can just put them right on your desktop. You would draft out your rough chapter outlines, one for each note. Get your chronology going. (I certainly had a rough time with dates with Hafan Deg, because Karen jumps all over the place.) I have all the names, ages of people, professions, etc., written in marker on a sheet of cardboard, because I was always referring to it.

On top of all of that, think how useful they will be for general stuff, unrelated to writing? I have no shares with 3-M, by the way, although for the amount of stickies I've used over the years, I should have. Anyway, I just ordered them. US$9.99. A deal for how useful they will be, I think. And that's the only piece of blatant advertising you will see on this blog site.

Amazon is set for its 2009 book contest, and I've put the link separately above the blog list. If your manuscript is more or less ready, the contest opens in February. The prize is an advance on royalties of $25,000. Not bad..

And, because you asked about it, Chapter Two of Hafan Deg appears in the link to the left. I'll probably be able to manage a chapter every two days, so figure you will be reading this over the next couple of months. Be patient with me. When you copy from Word to this blog, all the indentations and what-not change, and it takes me ages to get it into the right format. And, naturally, I continue to find all sorts of errors, despite all of my proofreading. It never ends.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm So Brave

Well, the scarey thing for me today, the first chapter of Hafan Deg is in the link on the left.

The following is just a tiny book-jacket kind of blurb about it, so that you know what to expect.

Karen Miles is a successful London book editor, a single mother in her early fifties. She seems to have it all, good income, beautiful London apartment, regular travel, the occasional man, and adult children she is proud of. Yet she is not happy and her days are becoming more and more deadening. Something is missing from her life, and she sets out to discover what this is. A derelict house in North Wales, an area where she and the children vacationed many years earlier, becomes the catalyst for her transformation.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Writing Bug

I can't explain to you how to write a novel. There are a number of very good books out there that can help you a bit with that. John Braine (Room At The Top, The Crying Game) wrote a good one, How To Write A Novel, and it certainly helped me, but no doubt there have been dozens of others since I began novel-writing.

Once you're seriously into it, you will know when it's right, when it's starting to fall into place. You will re-read bits of it and get a little shiver of pleasure at the words you've written. You will have an awful need to share it with someone else. It's fine to do that, but don't expect friends to be honest with you, or even particularly interested. Your style, your plot, may not be something that interests them. One friend who read my manuscript just couldn't get over the fact that it was my voice, and she found it difficult to read as a piece of fiction. Having said that, all writers weave some of themselves into their work. I am a lot like my protagonist, Karen, and many of the things she's done in her life are from my own experiences. But the story is not mine.

I am a huge fan of J.K.Rowling, and I am forced to conclude that she is one of the few writers who does not use her own life as "fill" for her characters. Well, not that I can identify.

So you are on your own with the book. Think about it at work, think about it while you're meant to be watching a movie, think about it when your kids are trying to tell you something, make scribbly little notes on whatever paper is to hand, and then, finally, get to your computer and get it all in there.

At that stage, I suggest you just let it be, just let the words flow, save it, and come back to it tomorrow. Then you can look at it fairly coolly, and make the changes necessary. The one thing I want to remind you of here, something that helped me with the whole daunting process: just three pages a day equals a total of 300 pages, or 75,000 words, in 3 to 4 months, allowing for occasional days away from the computer. Read that again. Allowing for the never-ending proofreading, and probably two or three re-writes, it wil be complete in one year. Of course, your agent will want you to mess around with it again, but that's when you're in the home stretch, we hope.

My novel is entitled Hafan Deg (Safe Harbour in Welsh).

Over the coming weeks, months - however long it takes - I intend to include my novel here, one chapter at a time. I believe the worst of the re-writes are complete, so there shouldn't be much to do, but perhaps you'll comment. You could become my editorial team, my literary critics.

I won't be doing this today, because you already have far too much to read.

I hope you hung in there. I like the company.