Monday, December 17, 2012

Holy Sh*! It's Christmas

You might not know it, but the title of this blog shares it's name with a lesser known Christmas song. The song is of course a parody, but I had this exact feeling yesterday when I realized the holiday is next week and I haven't wrapped a single one of those presents piled in my closet.

Thinking about the fast approaching holiday also got me thinking about the fact that it's about time for me to sing my standard refrain of All I Want for Christmas. No, I'm not talking about the song. Thankfully, my two front teeth are intact. Instead, I'm talking about making my annual Christmas plea for the one present I have yet to get.

That's right. It's an offer of publication. You know me so well. What can I say? Being a writer means being a dreamer. I still have this glimmer of hope that I'm going to get that Christmas Eve call from my agent in which he tells me that he's heard from a publisher wanting to snap up my next young adult novel. See, what I'd tell you, a dreamer.

I asked for this last year and quite probably the year before that as well. So far I have yet to get my wish. Too bad I can't pull a  Ralphie from A Christmas Story and ask Santa for this gift the same way he asked Santa for his Red Ryder bee-bee gun. If you love this movie as much as I do, you know that Ralphie got his Christmas wish by way of his father playing Santa.

With any luck, my agent can be my Santa Claus and this can finally be the year I get that present of my dreams. Until then, all I have to say is holy sh*! it's Christmas.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

That Old Familiar Sting

Earlier this year I signed with a new agent in the hopes of finding a home for my latest young adult novel, a paranormal offering. For those of you who know me or have read any of my work, you know this is a stretch beyond my norm. However, the agent and his reader really seemed to like it and both felt it could find a place in the market.

The market though is such a fickle thing. Having been a writer for so many years, I know all about the ups and downs and turns in trends. When I wrote my paranormal young adult novel, I wasn’t trying to follow an industry trend hoping to ride the coat tails of those before me. I don’t write with that objective, nor do I like to pigeonhole myself into one genre. While it’s true I lean more toward romantic realism, I’ve been known to pen other genres too. I write the story that comes to me.

Even if I was trying to capitalize on an industry trend, it seems I’m too late. The gist of the feedback my agent has been getting is that paranormal is out. Publishers want realism. I couldn’t have been more delighted to hear that since realism is smack dab in the center of my comfort zone.  I sent my agent a summary of some of the realistic novels I’d written and he asked for two of them, which he promptly sent back telling me to polish them up a bit.

After spending weeks chained to my computer doing round after round of tireless editing, I sent off the final product of the first book with my confidence riding high. Last night, my confidence came crashing to the ground in grand fashion in the form of an email from the agency. I won’t go into the gory details, but the summary is that most of my characters lack definition and seem superficial while my protagonist is too insightful with no apparent reason to be so.

This isn’t the first time my work wasn’t received in the way I’d hoped. For some reason, this time bothered me more than others before it. Maybe because I’ve been at this for so long or maybe because I felt so strongly about the story. I realize writing is a subjective business, but I think this story is better than its being given credit for. I’m also not the only one who thinks so. When I shared this news with my fans, many of them rallied behind me to beg me to disregard what the agent said and self publish this book in print so they could have a paper copy to accompany their digital copy. One even said she was a beta reader for a time and of the thousands of books she’s read, mine was one that stuck out in her mind because it was so well written.

So, here I am a day later, still feeling the effects of the old familiar sting of rejection and feeling it more than I have before. Is there anything I can do to temper that feeling? You bet there is, but don’t ask me what that is. I still haven’t figured it out yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.

Monday, December 3, 2012

He Said/She Said

For the past few weeks, I’ve spent every free moment I have at my laptop. I wish I could say I was consumed with the fire of creating a new novel. I wish I could, but the truth is I’ve been doing my least favorite part of my job as a writer. I’ve been doing the thing that makes writing feel like a job; editing.

Believe it or not, writing the novel is the easy part. With enough motivation and the time to go with it, I can produce a halfway decent novel in fairly short order. That might sound like an impressive accomplishment, but the luster fades when you realize that rough draft is very rough.

Writing a novel is about more than telling the story. It’s about telling it well and making the readers feel as if they’re a part of the story. The only way to give readers the story they deserve is to edit that story, and editing is so much more than making sure there aren’t any grammar, spelling or punctuation mistakes. It’s about character and plot development and a story that flows well with good scene transitions. It’s about being entertaining and finding a way to give the readers enough for them to understand and empathize but not too much to lose their interest.

Like writing a story, editing a story can be somewhat subjective. Case in point; the said tag debate. The said tag is what writers use to identify the speakers in a conversation. For example, “I don’t like beets,” John said. “Why not?” Mary asked. And so on and so forth.

There are some editors who will tell you not to use the said tags when only two characters are speaking. Not only do too many said tags get to be tedious, but they demean the readers who are smart enough to know which character is speaking. Conversely, some editors will tell writers to use those said tags often so as not to confuse the readers. This very thing happened to me. The last editor I worked with insisted I minimize the use of the pesky said tags so that I could improve the appearance and flow of the story. I applied this model to subsequent stories only to be told by my newest agent that I wasn’t using them enough which was creating confusion in my novel. Color me surprised!

As if that wasn’t enough of a shock, it was also recently suggested to me that I needed to confine my said tag identifiers to the words said, asked and whispered. If you haven’t guessed, the said tag identifier is the word that tells readers what type of dialogue has been spoken. John said he doesn’t like beets. Said is the identifier. Mary asked why he didn’t like them. Asked is the identifier.

When I first started out as a writer, these were the most common identifiers I used. Then I started to get feedback from editors who said I needed to show readers how the characters were interacting. To do that, I needed to expand on my said tag identifiers. Instead of saying John asked where Mary was, I could say that John demanded to know where she was. Then Mary could retort it was none of his business instead of it being something she simply said.
Now it seems I’m back to square one and back to the basics of said, asked and whispered. As frustrating as this is, and I’m not going to deny it’s a bit frustrating, it’s part of the editing process.

More importantly, I’m going to defer to my agent on this one. If my agent says this is what publishers want then I’ll spend all the time necessary making these changes. I might be good at telling stories, but my agent is skilled at knowing what publishers want and giving it to them. Funny though, how it all comes down to a case of he said/she said.