I Have a Publisher

I have signed with Five Rivers Publishing.  They are tentatively scheduling release of Avians for August of 2017. I’ll be taking champagne to tomorrow’s meeting of the Fantasy Five critique group. Five is my lucky number, it seems!

It all began in October, at Can*Con 2015.

The bizarre thing is, I didn’t intend to pitch Five Rivers at all. I didn’t think my novel, set on a lost colony planet, was a good fit for their preference for Canadian voices. I just wanted to find out from an acquisition editor why my opening pages were being rejected, so I signed up for a Blue Pencil Cafe with Dr. Robert Runté, Senior Editor of Five Rivers.

But when I introduced myself to him at the hotel coffee-shop before the convention started, he wanted to hear about my book. I was unprepared, and bungled it badly. Luckily, he gave me a second chance at the Bundoran Press party that evening. He offered to take a look at thirty pages, if I would wait until January to submit them.

Which meant that the day after he offered to look at thirty pages, I had to show him the first three of them at our Blue Pencil. The three that kept coming back. He didn’t hate them, but more importantly, he saw what the problem was: a weak opening paragraph and an unnatural patch of dialogue. Go back to my post called It Takes a Village to see how I took his suggestions and turned the opening around with the help of my critique group.

With revisions that strongly matched Robert’s wish list, the thirty page sample quickly generated a request for the full manuscript. When I got it back a few weeks later there were some preliminary edits and a contract offer. This is a first for me, so I had to take a little time to quiz friends and mentors about the meaning of it all. Now I’m enthusiastically on board.

This August, at Calgary’s convention for writers, When Words Collide, I’ll be attending a master class on Working With an Editor. The class is open to any registered attendee, but for me, it won’t be an editor, it will be my editor. Dr. Robert Runté is the presenter, and I’m pretty stoked about the chance to get three hours of face time.

It feels good to say “my editor.” It feels even better to say “I got an email from my publisher today.” A warm glow spreads up  from my heart to my mouth, and I grin.

It Takes a Village

Back in October, at Can-Con, I pitched to the editor of a small press and wangled an invitation to submit thirty pages of Avians of Celadon in January. That’s not unprecedented; I’ve submitted the first two or three chapters before, with varying degrees of failure. I decided that this time, I was going to do everything I could to make those thirty pages the best they could be.

I began with two key points from a pertinent Blue Pencil session. I’m a big believer in immersive world-building as opposed to exposition, but I got renewed feedback that my first description of Celadon’s rings is ambiguous or confusing. Editors and Beta-readers alike have begged me to call a spade a spade and clearly identify them as planetary rings. This rankles, because we earthlings never describe our moon as a planetary satellite, and I feel that the Celadonese would take their rings for granted in a similar way. But those expert readers can’t all be wrong, so I bit the bullet and started looking for excuses to have Raisa take a real look at the sky and describe them. Another priority from the Blue Pencil was about a patch of dialogue. When a mother and daughter have been arguing about something for weeks, it rings false if they preface the latest spat with an explanation of what they’re fighting about. Without meaning to, I had done an “as you know, Bob.”

So I set out to fix both those things and for good measure, I planned to run the new pages past my critique group.

Long story short. Lindsay, a writer I have exchanged novel drafts with, brought a friend to my Chi-Series reading last summer, and in the fall, I was invited to join Fantasy Five, who were losing a member. I drive into Winnipeg once a month to meet with them now.

November’s meeting produced a lot of ideas. I was sitting to the left of Susie, and as the others pointed out issues, I could see that she had drawn boxes around huge swathes of my text on the opening page. I couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say, because I still felt as if the scene didn’t flow. Worse, all the revisions were starting to give it a cobbled together feel. Sure enough, there was a lot of stuff Susie didn’t like, and her analysis led to a powerful brain-storming session with the group that spat out dozens of ideas.  Digesting them kept me excited all through the long drive home. One of her key comments was that if Raisa is going to fly gliders, there should be one on the first page. Bam. There was my excuse to have Raisa watching the sky. I moved her to the garden, and I did better than put it on the first page, I put it in the first line:

Raisa watched the glider, careful not to lift her face toward the sky.

With that opening, I was on my way to build intrigue and conflict with Raisa’s mother, and a description of the rings wouldn’t seem too contrived. I reshaped the scene, and I was looking forward to presenting it at the December meeting. My plan was to fine-tune the early chapters over the holidays and submit them in the first week of January.

December’s meeting had to be cancelled. Having seen the value of a critique group, I decided to hold off on my submission until after the January meeting. I could still get my excerpt in by the middle of the month. I made another important decision: I contacted Samantha, my freelance editor. We revised the whole novel a year or so ago, but now the opening chapters were so drastically rewritten I thought she should take a look. She was available on the crucial day, and she gave me a good deal.

Somewhere in here, I shortened the part where Raisa spars with her mother, reducing it to just five lines of dialogue. It’s less expository, and it has far more feel. It still leads nicely to the teaser at the end of the scene.

At January’s meeting, I got some good feedback on the first three pages. I told everyone I was sending the thirty pages in within days, and Lindsay and Daria did something stunning for me. They sat down the next evening and critiqued the full thirty page sample in time for my deadline. Daria made quite a few notes on syntax and clarity, and it was clear that they clustered in the newest parts, the parts never cleaned up by Samantha. Lindsay showed me some areas that undermined clarity and plot. Those ran a little deeper, and took a bit more effort to address through rewriting, but they were worth every minute.

Making those changes took me most of a morning, so Samantha didn’t get her copy until nearly mid-day. She had them back to me within hours, cleaned up and with a couple of new points to address.

I was able to fix those in time to get the whole thing away on the fourteenth of January. For once, I didn’t have cold feet after I hit send. With the help of a team, the first three chapters were the strongest they had ever been.

The editor I sent them to agreed. He responded within two days, characterizing the excerpt as nearly perfect and asking for the full manuscript.

There are two common pieces of advice given to new writers: join a critique group and hire an editor. I hope this entry shows why. I’ll add one of my own. Blue Pencil sessions can be strangely effective. Usually only about fifteen minutes is allotted to both read and comment, so you might think they’d be hopelessly superficial. Perhaps. But that focus on flaws that jump out at the first glance can be a powerful tool.

NaNoWriMo, Week Four.

I did it. I wrote 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. Plus five extra words because sentence.

Winner2

For NaNoWriMo 2015, I set out to write a bare first draft of Bandits of Celadon, without sub-plots and with minimal description. I finished that two days early, as I closed in on 47,000 words. To qualify for NaNo, I then wrote an extra chapter from one of the sub-plots. That got me to within 200 words of the goalpost with one day to go, so I  wedged in a few sentences where I thought the narrative was jumpy.

Bandits is not a finished product. If I was building a china cabinet, I’d say we haven’t done the glass, the stain or the fancy handles yet. But you can see the overall shape of the piece, and get an idea of how the wood will look. I’d say it’s coming along nicely.

As you can see on the ramp graph above, I stuck very close to the par value of 1667 words per day. That’s an unprecedented amount of writing for me. My first novel, Avians of Celadon, didn’t hit 50,000 words until at least seven months in.

During the month, I uncovered some plot problems and found ways through them. I got help with metal-free barrel construction from a master cooper I met recently, and my trusty volcano expert came through for me as well. I still have some tweaking to do on the time-line; in this version, things tend to happen too fast.

The bad guy is a bandit chieftan on horseback, and the main character is a girl who hears voices from a higher (technological) power. I was struck by a sudden notion for a pitch: Genghis Khan meets Joan of Arc. I’m fighting the temptation to put an arrow through her shoulder.

Thanks to an Odyssey course, I was able to show more and tell less. I’m also pleased that I included smell, sound and touch and occasionally taste as I went along, rather than leaving the senses for separate pass through the manuscript. Now I’m going to let Bandits ferment for a while before returning with my angry red pencil.

I also began to develop ideas for Caravans of Celadon. In particular, Raven and Denver are going to find ways for the Avians and Caravanners to work together. I’m looking forward to that.

I had better pick up the pace on submitting short stories and querying agents; I got neither of those things done in November. One of the few stories I still have out in the market was rejected last week after a pro publication took a very long look at it. It was a nice rejection letter, one of my longest yet. Sigh.

In December, I’ll be revising the opening scenes of Avians in preparation for a submission opportunity in January. My critique group gave me some great ideas for that, and I’ll be meeting them again in just two weeks.

Let’s see if the work ethic I found for NaNo can be maintained.

NaNoWriMo, Week Three.

This was the toughest week. I fell behind for the first time on Monday, because I spent most of the day and half of the night driving to Winnipeg and back for a meeting with my critique group.

It was worth every minute because I got an awesome suggestion for writing a whole new opening for Avians. (Avians of Celadon is complete, but unsold.) If I can pull it off, I’ll have gliders, airships and conflict all on the first page.

Thought about that on the drive home, and made comprehensive voice notes on my smart phone.

Tuesday, I was badly behind and seriously short of sleep. I managed about a thousand words, which left me floundering along to maintain par. I was forcing myself to write in the afternoon and evening, rather than my preferred wee hours. Then I hit a bad stretch.

I was working on some middle-of-the-book stuff that wasn’t well planned or extensively visualized before I started. I painted myself into a corner, making it impossible for Raven to get the help and supplies she needs to carry on. I checked my outline, to try and get back on track, and found the outline vague and contradictory.

Then winter arrived, and I had to make time to change tires on Saturday. I struggled to keep up, with hopes fading for regaining a lead. I ground out words as I left Raven struggling without relief. Denver, her would-be savior, shows up empty-handed. I wrote some dull expository dialogue.

Today, I went for a long walk and decided to throw Raven and Denver into the fire. Now the bad guys are in pursuit, and a deadly obstacle blocks their progress. Boom. Over 2100 words today, putting me almost a thousand words ahead of schedule.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have a pretty clear idea of every scene to come as I head into the climax, and a good idea of how to handle the resolution.

Bandits of Celadon is going to end like The Empire Strikes Back, with the heroes in disarray, struggling to pick up the pieces.

It will lead perfectly into Caravanners of Celadon, the third book in the series. Believe it or not, that book was only a title before NaNoWriMo 2015. Now ideas are starting to flow. Flood, even.

So this week has been harsh. I’ve put in long and sometimes miserable hours. But I ended in a good place, and next week will be fun.

 

 

NaNoWriMo, Week Two.

I’m going to make it. I’ve been slightly ahead of schedule every day, and I reached the halfway point, (25,000 words) a day early. To do this, I have had to put in a lot of hours, but it’s a pace I can maintain. The tricky part will be making the end of the story come close to the 50,000 word mark. I doubt that I’ll run out of story, but I might have to rush through to the ending.

Like NaNo generally, that would likely prove to be a worthwhile exercise. Here’s a thing that intrigues me. When I wrote Avians of Celadon, I worked on it whenever the mood hit me, or I had an idea. I just looked back at my old files, and I can see that the first version to have over 25,000 words didn’t happen until four months after I started. Maybe more. For the first few weeks, before I realized I was writing a novel, I wasn’t very methodical about how I saved my files.

I’m writing sixteen to twenty times faster than those early days. Is it my best work? No. But neither were those first efforts. When I read early versions of Avians, I barely recognize it. The book had a different name. The planet had a different name. Most of the characters had different names. But the story was taking shape. That’s what I’m doing now, with Bandits of Celadon. Telling the story. Hashing it out for practice. Uncovering plot holes. And the opposite: discovering plot opportunities. I’ve had Aha! moments with those, and also with some dramatic scene endings.

Nano has put a stop to my procrastination. I’m writing every day. I catch up to my quota before dawn, before I do anything else. I come back later to build up a lead. I’m learning that I can write every day, and I can perform to a deadline.

I have written some scenes that I’m reasonably well satisfied with. With a little tidying up, they can be used. I’ve written a handful of lines that make me smile. For instance, my main character has a way of silently talking to her technologically advanced friends. She gets permission to reveal this secret to two people, one of whom is a boy she likes.

“Tell him the truth. As much as you need to.”
“What about Denver?”
“Him, too.”
“He’ll think I’m weird.”
“Princess, you hear voices. You
are weird.”

I’m writing. And I’m having fun.

NaNoWriMo, Week One.

I have survived my first week of Nano. More than survived, actually, I am far enough ahead that I can take an hour off to blog.

I’d like to start by pointing out that while some successful authors pitch in for NaNo with pep talks, there are others who decry the process. As one put it to me on Twitter, “I hate it with the power of ten thousand suns.” I didn’t ask why, it seemed to be a sore point. But I can imagine lots of reasons to disapprove, many of them valid. Now that I’ve begun to try it, I’m prepared to offer my take on it.

Plus: I can do it. After months of procrastination, I am writing every morning. I usually start at around four AM. Kids, don’t try this at home, it’s not for everyone. I am by nature an extremely early riser, and after I feed the cat, who is also an early riser, this is my quiet time. I have somehow written over twelve thousand words this week. If I were to look back at my first novel, I imagine it would have taken months to reach a similar word count.

Minus: It’s awful. I am churning out drivel by the bushel. For almost everyone, NaNo is about quantity, not quality. It is faster to tell than to show. MiniPlus: Showing uses more words than telling, if my brain comes out to play.

Plus: I am habitually lazy about quantity, and in the usual course of things, I often stop when I get stuck. I walk away from the keyboard to mull things over. I’m good at mulling. I can mull for days. NaNo puts an end to that. I have learned a new technique. If I get stuck on something that I need to check, like the name of a minor character from the first novel (I’m writing a sequel this year) I just bracket it in dollar signs $Antonio$ and keep going. Man, that is liberating. No more losing the scene while I look stuff up. Yesterday, I cheated by emailing my volcano guy, but I kept writing anyway, throwing in whatever pre-eruption signs worked best for the plot. When he replied, I found I had done quite well.

Minus: After three days of peckering away on my keyboard, and some five thousand words into the story, I realized I had been mostly writing backstory. Sure, it had character, setting and conflict. It had world-building details left over from book one, and the characters were building new relationships based on the outcome of the first book. But it lacked action relevant to the plot. Very little of these first five thousand words will be in later versions of the story.  Ouch.

Plus: but I had an AHA! moment when I typed this sentence:

It wouldn’t save her, but Raven tightened her harness anyway.

There’s a good chance that will be the opening line of the novel. I had another AHA moment today. I need my main character to get fired and re-instated. This morning, I realized this could happen if a crisis cranks up the workload for her colleagues. Her transgressions can be overlooked in an emergency. The first novel, Avians of Celadon, ends with my young heroine catalyzing a rescue after a volcanic eruption. No good deed goes unpunished, so the second novel, Bandits of Celadon, looks at the ensuing refugee crisis: a descent into lawlessness and um, banditry.

Conclusions, if we can call them that one quarter of the way in. What I have written, and much of what I will write in the next three weeks, will not be art. The best parts will serve as a rough draft to build a real novel on. The worst parts will go into the virtual shredder of shame. But it’s writing that wouldn’t have happened without National Novel Writing Month. For me, it’s worthwhile.

That’s all the time I can spare for blogging today. I have a novel to write.

NaNoWriMo

That’s National Novel Writing Month, if you didn’t know. It’s a huge affair, with thousands of writers pledging to write a 50,000 word first draft in 30 days. This year, I’m one.

For a while now, I’ve been holding off on writing the sequel to my novel, Avians of Celadon. Avians is unsold, and it seemed to me that any agent or publisher that took an interest in it would likely want me to change stuff. Hey, it’s my first novel- I’m sure there’s ample room to improve it. I let this get in the way of the sequel. If I had to make major changes to Avians, those changes would have to follow through in Bandits of Celadon (yes, I’m going alphabetical. Sorry, Sue Grafton. By the time I get to Zombies of Celadon, I’ll be either stinking rich or heavily medicated.) The idea of revising two books seemed daunting.

Aanywaay. No more procrastination. I’m actively outlining. I’ve laid out the bones of the plot, I know how it will begin and end, and I’m crafting scenes in my head. I go for long walks and use the voice recorder on my smartphone to make sure I don’t forget my best ideas. I have half a deck of file cards tacked to my Scrivener board.

Can I really do it? On the plus side, I have ample time to write. On the minus side, I’m a slow writer. I can type like the wind, but I agonize over every sentence. NaNoWriMo may be just what I need to think less and pound the keyboard more. We will see.

I’m fortunate to have found an in-person critique group. Lindsay Kitson, a self-described dieselpunk author and fellow writer of aviation-themed SF brought one of her group’s members to my recent reading at the Winnipeg Chi-Series. A bunch of us went for food and drink following the readings, and soon afterwards, I was offered a chance to attend a group meeting in Winnipeg. Best of all, at least two of the five are also NanoWri-ming, and have buddied me. That means I will get encouragement. Or nagging. I will probably need both. By the way, the group gets some of the credit for my new ambition. They collectively urged me to write and let the chips fall where they may. Massive revisions? Suck it up- it’s part of the process.

Speaking of the Chi-Series reading, one of the other readers that evening was Kate Heartfield, and I see on her Twitter feed that she’ll be moderating a couple of panels at Can-Con in Ottawa. I’m stunned by how many people I will know there this time around- last year I knew only one before the con began. I’m looking forward to seeing chair (and author) Derek Künsken, Can-Con afficionado (and author) Brandon Crilly, publishers (and authors) Hayden Trenholm, Gabrielle Harbowy, and Sandra Kasturi, and authors Fanny Darling and Rob Sawyer, to name a few.

I won’t be doing a lot of pitching this year, because I have already pitched and/or submitted to most of the relevant parties. I will not be getting drunk and whining “But why?” to the publishers that declined. Two reasons: One: they might tell me the truth. Two: I plan to get rejected by everyone before I quit, and I’d like to have some friends left over!