If at first, you cannot sell . . .

. . . cut, cut, cut again.

And so, East of Yesterday (or Highway to Yesterday, I can never quite decide), which was once over 116,000 words, is now a trim 95,000 words. My latest cut was 11,400 words all at once, when I decided some pretty lengthy scenes were unneeded backstory that was written from the wrong character’s point-of-view.

I’ll be able to rewrite what is needed for the story from the right character’s point of view, and I don’t expect to take anywhere near 11400 words to do so. I may even be able to cut some additional things toward the end.

I just wanted to celebrate that little triumph with you. Back to the rewrite.

Oh! Do you have a preference? Do you like East of Yesterday as a title, or Highway to Yesterday? I find the first title nicely subtle, but the second title is a little more obvious as a time travel novel, and it is my current working title.

Life and Stuff. Plus Some Books.

It seems like a year since I posted last, even though I know it hasn’t been so long. But it HAS been a rough year. Not terrible–just a little rough.

After the most productive writing year of my life, during which I completed two novels (2015), I had the LEAST productive writing year of my life. I blame insomnia for making me just tired enough to make writing (including blogs and submitting said books to agents) a chore rather than a pleasure.

Chores are no fun.

My insomnia seems to stem from persistent intestinal gas that strikes at about 4:00 AM every night. No matter what I eat. I don’t like to go to bed particularly early, since I like to squeeze as much living into my life as possible, but when I am up at 4, it makes it difficult to function when I don’t go to bed until 11. When I went to bed earlier, the gas would merely strike earlier. I’d still be awake for about two hours, resulting in oversleeping, getting into work later than I wanted, and therefore working later into the evening than I wanted, resulting in a vicious cycle.

The good news is that melatonin seems to be helping. I still wake up with the gas, but the melatonin makes me sleepy enough most nights to be able to get back to sleep without lying there for hours. I am still working on getting a solid week of at least 6.5 hours of sleep. I’m not there yet, but I’m closer.

So that’s all.

I’m thinking about renaming my blog to something like Life, Writing, and Stuff. Yeah, I know that name sucks. I may play with formats and titles over the next few weeks. I also need to figure out if I want to move this blog out of wordpress.com and into a self-hosted site. I meant to do it last year (and the year before, and the year before), but I had that terrible infection. Yeah, yeah, excuses. And–oh, yeah–I did say that was all, didn’t I? One more thing …

What I’m Reading Now

I am slowly reading The Dreaming Hunt by Cindy Dees, which is the sequel to The Sleeping King. I meant to review The Sleeping King last year, but see above. I’m almost done with it and it has been pretty entertaining because it is much like reading the adventures of a RPG group going through a long-term campaign. Five adventurers (or maybe six) fighting their way through battles with all kinds of fantasy races, while constantly being healed and even resurrected when necessary. Maybe I’ll review both books together when I’m done. (However, any such review will be WAY more informal than those I used to write. I am still not considering myself a book reviewer. It’s just stuff I’m reading.)

That really is it, this time. What have you been up to? Any good fantasy book recommendations?

A Study of the Foils of Darth Vader

I finally saw the new Star Wars movie. To me, it was a mixed bag. The heroes were very likable, but the villain was flawed, and not in a good way. Overall, I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars. But this is not a Star Wars review.

I was trying to pinpoint why the villain didn’t work for me. To do so, I compared him to his own hero, Darth Vader. I was explaining to my husband about how Vader was made more sympathetic through the skillful use of foils, when I wondered if that new Star Wars villain is, in fact, a foil for that other evil dude. But then I realized that that didn’t work–we didn’t see nearly enough of that other guy for him to require a foil.

What do I mean by a foil? Here is Wikipedia’s definition:

In fiction, a foil is a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character.

I have no way of knowing if this is what Lucas intended, but I could identify two Vader foils. In A New Hope, it is Grand Moff Tarkin.

Grand_Moff_Tarkin

This is the general-like character, who is first introduced in a meeting of Imperial officers when he orders Vader to stop his choke hold on another character. Vader obeys with an “As you wish,” and immediate obedience. It makes an impression. We already know Vader’s a badass–and this is the guy that Vader obeys.

The movie hints at a bit of friendship between them. In a later scene, he says to Vader, “The Jedi are extinct. Their fire has gone out of the universe. You, my friend, are all that’s left of their religion.” He seems sincere when he calls Vader “my friend”.

How does he contract with Vader? One way is to examine the reactions of characters who know him.

  • Leia, when first seeing Vader: “Darth Vader. Only you could be so bold.”
  • Leia, when first seeing Tarkin: “Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.”

Vader is merely “bold”, while Tarkin provokes a somewhat unhinged response.

Finally, we have Vader’s preferred method of coercion vs. Tarkin’s. Vader uses a torture robot brandishing a needle and a high-pitched whine. Tarkin blows up an entire planet.

So yeah–Vader is bad, but Tarkin is much more ruthless. At the end of A New Hope, he’s blown away, so we need another foil. A bigger, badder foil.

Enter, the Emperor.

Emperor_RotJ

With the Emperor, we have two movies to establish him, and contrast him to Vader. As the movies reveal the Emperor, they are also revealing Vader. We first see Vader without his mask–albeit from behind–and we know that there’s a terrible reason he wears it. But there is a man under there. He is no cyborg. The Emperor barely looks human even though he has skin. Something has twisted him.

At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, there is evidence of discord between Vader and the Emperor when Vader proposes that he and Luke rule the galaxy as father and son.

It continues in Return of the Jedi, where we see and hear much more of the Emperor. Here’s a good scene that shows the contrast:

Moff Jerjerrod: The Emperor’s coming here?

Darth Vader: That is correct, Commander. And, he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.

Moff Jerjerrod: We shall double our efforts.

Darth Vader: I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.

It makes you wonder, because Vader has hardly been forgiving so far. We especially see Vader’s struggles in the scenes with Luke, especially this one:

Luke: Search your feelings, Father, you can’t do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.

Darth Vader: It is too late for me, son. The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now.

Luke: Then my father is truly dead.

The words, “It is too late for me” is laden with regret. After the scene, Vader is left alone in the corridor, and there is a moment of silence.

~*~

So what do you think? Do you agree that these two characters served as foils for Vader? Can you think of any foils for the other major characters?

IMO: When to Give Up. And When Not To.

 

Today’s post is about perseverance. When to stick to it. And when to not to.

No, I’m not planning on giving up on anything. But that is not to say that I have never given up on stuff. Once, I dreamed of being an artist. I still have pictures that I drew in the 6th grade, and they are not bad. I stuck it out all through high school, mostly because I already had signed up for the courses. But then something happened after I left high school.

I discovered that it was not my passion.

So, I stopped doing it. Well, not entirely. I still have extensive art supplies and I still occasionally use them. I have a discount card to my local art store. And I keep up my calligraphy skills. But, I no longer actively pursue art as a career or even as a serious hobby.

More difficult to give up was music.

When I was in my 20s, I rediscovered music. I retaught myself how to play piano and I started taking violin lessons. For two years, music overtook my life. I was a very serious violin student. I practiced for hours each week–probably 2 hours a day (in addition to working full-time) and 10 hours over the weekend. I was also still writing my Trunk Novel Epic, so I was also a very serious aspiring writer.

And then I went back to school.

And at the ripe age of 27, I realized that with the demands of a full-time class schedule, I’d have to pick one serious hobby. I asked myself, which hobby do you honestly have a shot at turning into a career? So the violin went into the case.

Why? As a musician, I really did start too late. And I was inspired by an old woman I knew in my community orchestra who had re-taken up the violin at the age of 60. I knew I would not lose my ability to read music–at least not permanently. I may temporarily forget how to tell the difference between E-major and A-major on the musical staff, but I’ll never forget how to play them, and I’ll never forget the theory behind them.

Although I didn’t play for about 15 years, I did take it back up again, and I did brush off my piano skills. (I would have brushed off my violin skills as well, but the danged thing keeps eating my D string.) Still … it’s not a serious hobby. It can’t be, until I can quit my day job.

What about writing? I’ve had some successes, but nothing career-changing. I think it’s the one thing that I won’t ever give up. At least, not for long.

What hobbies or interests have you had, that you eventually lost interest in?

Plotting a New Novel

June has been crazy, with a series of ups and downs, along with a lot of changes. This week, I started a new job. Things are starting to settle down now, hence this blog post.

Normally, I don’t plot much, and when I did, I often didn’t follow the plot.  Until recently, I have been a panster. But the plot for East of Yesterday remained mostly intact, so I’m trying it again for the sequel. I started out with index cards, but when I realized I could do the exact same thing more effectively with Visio, I transferred the cards to Visio processes (using the Flowchart template), created some swimlanes for the POV characters, and took off.

SOYThreads

South of Yesterday is just a working title, but it works pretty well, because for the most part, the plot takes place even further in the past. Areas that are blocked together will probably end up in the same chapter. This is helping me estimate how long the book might be. I had all these characters converge in a major confrontation in what will probably be the early second half of the novel. I don’t know, however. It is hard to get a feel for the length.

In the past, whenever I outlined, it the act of outlining would sap some of my enthusiasm for the story. The reason for that, I think, was those outlines were too detailed. With this approach, I can only fit about fifteen characters in each of those boxes. This helps keep my outlines in the ideal state of sketchiness. I can’t wait to write these scenes, and that’s how it should be.

I’m finding it difficult to plot much further than that confrontation. I know what the villain is doing, and some of the shades-of-gray characters, but not everyone else. There is a doosey of a betrayal, and an even better rescue involving forgiveness and transformation on the part of both the rescuer and the rescuee. The plots for some of these characters may come to an end, with formerly-secondary characters jumping into starring roles.

This month of change has been good for this plotting process. Because I have been so busy with all this newness and all my obligations, I am forced to just let it sit. I occasionally open it up and add boxes when I have a flash of insight, as I did with my betrayal and subsequent rescue/forgiveness/transformation. But for the most part, it’s just percolating. Which is just what I think it needs.

Ready to Query East of Yesterday. Almost.

I started a blog post called “Ready to Synopsize East of Yesterday” but I never finished the post and now I am finished with both the synopsis and the query.

Part of the reason I made so many changes to the story in the last few months is that it proved impossible to synopsize. I have learned that the process of writing a synopsis will make evident every point in your story that sucks. Because you will find it impossible to write that part of the synopsis.

So I did some rewriting.

I generally enjoy writing synopses. I wrote a blog post and an infographic on the subject some time ago. Still, it took me two weeks to get a two-page synopsis that worked. I ended up writing three versions–one that was too detailed but had lots of voice, one that was concise but lacked voice, and a combination of the above. When I finished that, I went back to the query, but I only made a few tweaks to it because I liked it already. So I am ready. Now I need to come up with a querying strategy.

There are several agents who have read my full manuscripts in the past, and who might like this book, even though it is significantly different from anything else I have written. So they are my top choices. But the question is, do I query them first? The reason I ask this, is after one round of querying, I inevitably think of better ways to query/synopsize, and I revise everything and end up with a better query and synopsis.

On the other hand, one hears all the time that one should not put all one’s eggs in one’s basket. Plus, I think the query is damned good as it is. Any improvement I make, at this point, probably won’t be groundbreaking. Besides, none of the so-called improved queries and synopses ever ended up in a sale.

It has been a very long time since I have sent out a query. I have not queried anyone since before I sold The Sevenfold Spell. I really want an agent for this book, so I’ve been going through the old tools I used to use. AAR, AgentQuery and Publisher’s Marketplace still appear prominently in my Google query. AgentQuery used to be my preferred agent search tool, but the data is looking a bit stale, and I don’t see a good way to check how old each entry is. I

Then I thought of QueryTracker–I remember when the guy first launched it because he emailed me. It has a slew of awards, so I created a account (a new one–the old one seems to have been purged). I just spent the last three hours going through 125 agents who accept science fiction, looking for agents who also accept Historical, and giving each of them a closer look. There’s no category for time travel, so science fiction/historical is the next best thing. I whittled it down to 27 agents.

I found quite a few agents who appear to accept all genres, and QueryTracker’s reports tool was especially helpful here. If said agent have not actually requested any fulls or partials for SF or Historical submissions, I passed them over, for now. I think this set of 27 will give me a good place to start. If I go through them without any success, then I’ll look at the rest of the SF lovers.

I forgot how much work this is!

Eight Things I Edited For. So far.

Over the last few weeks, I have been going back and forth over my manuscript, tightening up the language. Here are the things that I can recall looking for in particular:

  • Adverbs. This is always the first step, accomplished by looking for “ly “, “ly.” and “ly,” It has the added benefit of letting you see other word use problems, of which I seemed to have an abundance for this book.
  • “Going to”. Man, did I ever overuse this phrase. I noticed it when I did my adverb hunt.
  • “Well” to start a sentence. It took three nights to sweep the manuscript for this word. This was a problem in Magic Mirror, as well.
  • “As well.” Yeah, I overuse this one, too. See above sentence. I saw it so often that I paused my “well” search to look for this in particular.
  • Contractions in speech. I don’t tend to use contractions as frequently as I should when writing dialog. Everyone sounds terribly proper as they enunciate their words perfectly. So I have to go back and add a few. I also added contractions in stream-of-consciousness episodes, when you’re basically reading my character’s thoughts.
  • Colloquialisms. I also don’t use these enough. I believe this comes from avoiding colloquialisms with every other book I have written, which have all taken place in a medieval setting, where colloquialisms are inappropriate. They are appropriate in this story, where the main characters are from the present day, and are in their 20s. So I salted in some gonnas, gottas, ain’ts and similar words.
  • “Basically”, “Actually”, “Quite”, “Rather”. Depending on the decade or century of my characters’ origins, they tended to overuse these words. I purged them.
  • Grammar and Style Check. As Microsoft Word has matured, the grammar and style tool has improved. Even though I still often disagree with the problem or the suggested fix, it usually succeeds in highlighting sentences that need some kind of attention.

When I finished with all these sweeps, I found that I purged 1000 words from the manuscript. I now stand at 114,533 words.

My overall impression is that I have gotten sloppy. The grammar and style check uncovered more passive voice than I can recall ever having let slip through before. Once, I had the habit of questioning every use of a “to-be” verb, not just passive voice. It made my voice so much richer. I need to get back into that habit.