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Misery Loves Company

So I haven’t had much of a chance to write lately between our crazy number of hospital visits in the past two weeks. Complications from husband’s original surgery have led to not much free time. Plus, there’s that pesky PitchWars thing I’ve been tweeting about.

In preparation for PitchWars, I have slaughtered my pages over the past few weeks, tearing them apart, reordering, rewriting, revising, and generally pulling out my hair until I positively manuscript-blinded myself.

Seriously.

I have no idea whether or not I’ve made my story better or worse at this point. None. Not a single clue. Because I can no longer see what I have written nor judge the quality of the words on the page.

But in blinding myself with a manuscript, at least I can take some solace in the fact that there are not just dozens, but hundreds and hundreds (perhaps thousands) of writers who are in the same boat and feeling the same way right now.

You know what they say. Misery loves company. And nothing is more miserable than a writer in waiting. (Miserable in an entirely good way, of course!)

But don’t take my word for it.

Querying (Part IV)

Hooray! This is the last installment of my querying series.

(Read: I think this is the last installment of my querying series, unless, of course, the person who is critiquing it as I type comes back with drastic changes that need to be made… Never done, people. It’s never truly done.)

I used to read about authors who said that they would have kept working on a particular book of theirs had it not been for their agent telling them quite forcefully that they were done. And I would think, “How??? But it’s perfect! How could they have worked longer on it? How could they possibly have made it better?” As a reader, it’s so easy to believe in perfection. As a writer? Never.

So, without further ado, my query as it currently stands:

 

Dear (Agent),

At eighteen, Moreina di Bianco is a young healer who believes in medicine, not magic, even while possessing a second sight she can’t fully explain. So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs, unlock the talisman’s secrets, and harness the magic within.

Reluctant to accept help, Reina agrees to allow two determined escorts to accompany her on her journey for truth, but each comes with a mysterious past of his own. Her estranged childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, left their village years ago and only recently returned, harboring dark secrets behind a solemn exterior. And despite his status as a perfect stranger, a dashing captain by the name of Niles Ingram is quick to fight by Reina’s side at whatever the cost.

There’s just one problem with Reina’s two companions. They, too, are featured in the prophecy and as potential suitors no less! But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s tasked with defeating a usurping general, ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne? For Reina, the only solution is to discover the truth before death discovers her.

A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT is a 100,000 word YA quest-based fantasy featuring a headstrong heroine who discovers that magic runs far deeper than even a prophecy could have foretold. It would best be suited for readers who enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and White Hart by Sarah Dalton. Thank you for your time and consideration. I very much hope we can work together soon.

Best Regards,

L. Ryan Storms

 

The things to note:

I’ve eliminated the reason why I’m contacting an agent. That doesn’t mean I won’t add it back in. Undoubtedly I will. But, I am using this query for PitchWars, so that means I’m not contacting an agent directly. I’m looking to work with a mentor and mentors aren’t interested in why you chose them. (At least, not up front!)

That being said, I began my query with the hook, with the story. I want to make a strong case early on. I want to make a reader say, “Hmm, intriguing. Tell me more!” You might notice that I still have a bit of a “When X, then Y” thing going on. (“So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs, unlock the talisman’s secrets, and harness the magic within.”) I wouldn’t use this formula more than once in a query, but if it works (and it’s proven that it does), I think using it is just fine. (Trust me, though, if I could find a way to get rid of this formula, I still would.) I’ve also used specifics for the Y part of my formula. The key to a successful “When X, then Y”  is staying away from general blanket statements. The more specific you can be, the better. (Within reason, of course. It wouldn’t be any good for me to say, “When a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must figure out how the talisman works, use abilities only she possesses, and devastate an army without any backup.” That’s a little too specific.)

At the recommendation of an industry professional, I’ve also opted to add more detail about both of Reina’s suitors and I’ve given a little more of detail on how they are included in the prophecy.

Additionally, I’ve added the stakes. I thought that by sharing the tone of the novel (Hey, there’s a war going on, an evil general to defeat, and a true king that needs to be found!) that I had given enough info to make it seem obvious, but it was brought to my attention that I’d never really named the stakes. So, “For Reina, the only solution is to discover the truth before death discovers her,” makes it pretty clear to me. The stakes? Reina needs to figure out what the heck is going on before she’s killed for her role in trying to uncover the truth. I think that about does it. (But I’ll certainly let you know if my latest critique goes over well or not!)

And lastly – my comp titles are reined in a bit (only two this time) and I’ve changed the type of fantasy I’m pitching. Is it still a “chosen one” tale? Yeah, it kind of is, but (without giving away the plot) there’s a catch and so I don’t want to pitch it just as a “chosen one” fantasy. There’s far more going on behind the scenes. For me, a quest-based fantasy definitely seemed to be a better fit over all. So make sure you know exactly where your book fits in because it makes a big difference in who will want to read it.

So that’s it! Now you have seen the 3+ year history of my querying progress. I hope that this helps you in your querying and that you see more than just form rejections in your inbox! Thanks for following!

A Thousand Years to Wait

(A little novel aesthetic I included for A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT for my PitchWars family. You know, in case you’re a visual kind of person!)

 

Querying (Part III)

By now you’ve probably got a pretty good idea where I’m going with my queries. (Progressively better with each version, but still not quite “there.”)

This particular version netted me requests (both partial and full) from several agents. It’s better, but it’s still lacking.

 

Dear (Agent),

Though your website lists that you are currently closed to queries, I saw your recent tweet about opening to queries that match your MSWL. As such, I hope to interest you in TARROWBURN, a YA alternate world fantasy featuring a mystery of otherworldly proportions and a headstrong female protagonist with the power to solve it.

At 18, Moreina di Bianco is a young healer who believes in medicine, not magic, even while possessing a second sight she can’t fully explain. So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and find a way to end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs and learn to control the magic. Reluctant to accept help, Reina’s only company on her journey is her estranged and mysterious childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, and a dashing captain who claims to be her protector. There’s just one problem with her new companions. They, too, are featured in the prophecy. But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s busy defeating an evil general, ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne?

Tarrowburn, a 100,000 word, “chosen one” fantasy is the second novel I’ve completed, but the first I’ve written with the intention of doing something other than stashing in a desk drawer. While I have degrees in subjects completely unrelated to creative writing, writing has long been my true passion. Growing up, I was strongly influenced by the world-building talents of Anne McCaffrey and C.S. Friedman and quickly fell in love with both dragons and magic. Though it is a stand-alone novel, Tarrowburn is meant to be the first of a trilogy. Comparable titles for Tarrowburn might include Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass, White Hart by Sarah Dalton, or The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron. As requested, I have included a synopsis and the first ten pages of my manuscript below. I would be happy to provide you with a partial or full manuscript upon request. Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

L. Ryan Storms

 

The Things I Did Right:

Hey! I’ve finally managed to remember to use all caps on my title! That only took two full years. (Did you notice that my title changed? My word count is also up again…) Also, I’ve directly addressed why I’ve chosen to send to this agent. She specifically had an item on her Manuscript Wish List that matched what I had written.

Notice that my summary paragraph is much more concise now, that I’m not bumbling around about how Reina likes being alone and misses home. Sure, those things might still be a part of the story, but they were never the focus and shouldn’t have been included in the query at all.

I’ve now listed what kind of fantasy I’m writing. It’s a “chosen one” tale. That being said, it’s also a “hero’s journey” (heroine’s journey?), and an alternate-world fantasy, so it fits into more than one tiny niche.

I’ve used comp titles that are more within the scope of my novel, other books that include kick-ass, teenage heroines who generally don’t take any crap from anyone.

 

Things I Didn’t Quite Do Right (Also known as Things I Did Wrong): 

My first paragraph is wrapped up pretty well, but I’ve been told that, “I hope to interest you in TARROWBURN,…” doesn’t relay confidence. One reviewer told me that they thought I sounded like a waitress in a fancy restaurant, trying desperately to pitch the night’s special. “I hope to interest you in this evening’s special dish of braised beef tips served over egg noodles in a delightful mushroom sauce, with a side of steamed broccoli lightly drizzled in garlic butter.” (Now I’m just hungry.)

Another told me that I sounded almost like a used-car salesman. (Shudder!) And a third said that she understood what I was going for (humble and polite), but that it sounded instead as though I doubted my own work. Yikes, that definitely isn’t what I want agents to think!

My second paragraph is better at summing up the story, but still hasn’t quite relayed the stakes or the urgency in its entirety. I think I’ve done a better job of that in my most recent query, but we’ll get to that later. Someone pointed out that I mention both companions are featured in the prophecy, but I don’t say how. I assumed that my next sentence, “But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two…” made that connection clear, but sometimes it’s easier to make a connection when you already know what’s going on. It’s not nearly as simple when you aren’t already in the loop on the particulars of the story.

I’m guilty of having a bit of amnesia in my last paragraph. I’ve forgotten (again) to put the title of my work in caps. (Twice, in fact.) You’ll notice my word count went up again. I did a little more world-building as I revamped the book and brought it into the YA realm where it belonged.

While I finally used the right kind of comp titles, I’ve used entirely too many of them. I’ve also done something that can be seen as a bit pompous (which is ironic, given my “humble” opening). I’ve used a best-selling series as my first comp title. Agents don’t necessarily advise against this, but if you’re going to use a bestseller, be sure that your work really does match the voice/setting/characters of a book you are comparing it to. (I would definitely advise against using Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games as your comp titles together! Nothing screams “cocky” like using three separate bestselling titles with extended movie series.) This is why I also chose lesser known titles as my other comps.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that if you’re going to use comp titles, use more recent books. It shows that you read within your genre and that you’re familiar with what the genre currently offers.

I also don’t need to say what authors really got me into my love of of the fantasy genre. While it’s good information and might show my style a bit, it doesn’t really mean anything in the long run and it’s something that I could always discuss at a later date. Again, the agent wants to know about my book, not about me and my loves.

So this query is better and it did get me several requests for manuscript reads from agents. But I still think I can improve, and as I’ve taken on the challenge of submitting to PitchWars, I’ve decided to rework it again. That’s a post for another day!

dragonflight-by-michael-whelan

Anne McCaffrey’s dragons (and Michael Whelan’s artwork) will always be one of my first fantasy loves!

Querying (Part II)

After a year and a half of constant rejection, I finally revised my first query into something a little more focused. It’s not quite as rambling as my first and it seems like maybe I knew a little bit more about what was going with my own book on at this point.

Dear (Agent),

I viewed your recent manuscript wish list requests via manuscriptwishlist.com, and I hope to interest you in The Tarrowburn Prophecies, a 95,000-word fantasy novel featuring a mystery of otherworldly proportions and an independent female protagonist with the power to solve it.

Moreina di Bianco is a small town village healer and nothing more…or at least that’s what she’d like to believe, but visions that plague only her serve to remind her on a regular basis that she’ll always be different.  Despite her second sight, Reina is one of the few citizens in the kingdom of Castilles who doesn’t believe in the thousand-year-old White Sorceress Prophecy.  How could a talisman and a lone woman save the kingdom from the war that has raged on for four long years, a war that looks ever more desperate with each passing day?  So, when ironically unforeseen circumstances declare Reina the White Sorceress with the ability to rescue the kingdom from the grasp of a power-hungry General, she’s forced to accept the truth within the prophecy’s words and must take fate into her own hands.

Reluctant to accept help, Reina’s only company on her journey is her estranged and mysterious childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, and a dashing captain who claims to be her protector. There’s just one problem with her new companions.  They, too, are featured in the prophecy.  But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s faced with ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne?

I have an undergraduate degree in Marine Science and a Master’s in Business Administration, but writing has long been my true passion.  After eight years in the pharmaceutical industry, I moved into the world of animal welfare where I currently work as a nonprofit marketing director for Humane Pennsylvania.  I do plenty of writing in this role, but none of it fiction.  In my opinion, the only thing better than snuggling puppies and kittens is writing fiction, and I endeavor to make it my lifelong career.  Additionally, I currently write part-time as a freelance writer for blogmutt.com and writeraccess.com.  The Tarrowburn Prophecies is my second novel, but the first I’ve written with the intention of doing something other than stashing in a desk drawer.  Please note that the full manuscript is currently under review with another agent who understands that I have continued querying while she reviews.  At your request, a synopsis and the first 50 pages can be found below (in a larger font for hopefully easier-on-the-eyes reading).  Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

L. Ryan Storms

 

Guess what? This query is still pretty wild and it’s way too long—this time over 400 words! You probably noticed that I did a little work on the manuscript since the last version. (My word count is about 4k higher than the last query as a result of the first time an agent gave me feedback!)

First off, in this version, I started with the reason why I contacted this particular agent and it’s okay. Nothing flashy here (notice no comments on personal appearances). It’ll do the job, but now I find I usually like to give a little more detail in this paragraph, like the fact that the agent and I share a love of Outlander or that this agent just mentioned on Twitter that she was looking for kick-ass heroines and alternate world settings. Something along those lines.jamie-fraser-picture-outlander

The hook is still too long and too “un-hooky.” (Sure, that’s a word.) I still ramble a little, albeit not quite as much as before. After nearly two years of querying, I still hadn’t figured out the heart of my book and how to present it! (More on this in an upcoming post.)

The worst part of this query, though, is the fact that I’ve made my bio nearly as long as the two preceding paragraphs about the book itself! Typically, you want your query to contain a sentence or two about you, but this is definitely more important if you have publishing credits to share. No one cares what my degrees are in, where I previously worked, that I liked snuggling kittens and puppies, or that I wrote another manuscript and don’t want anyone to ever see it. This information is completely irrelevant. (Okay, most of it is completely irrelevant. Degrees are good, but they don’t determine your success as a writer.) Also, notice I still haven’t used caps when mentioning the title of my work.

My thought at the time I was using this query was that agents were interested in knowing who they would be working with just as much as as they were interested in knowing what the book was about. Wrong. Yes, of course they want to know who they will potentially be working with, but at this stage of the game, they don’t care. That’s for future emails and phone calls to determine. Right now, the only important information they need to know is the premise of your story. And if you can’t manage to sum that up in the neat, little package of your query, they’ll have to pass.

So, work that hook!

Captain-Hook-killian-jones-captain-hook-33583000-1000-1324
(No, not that Hook! Although…)

Querying (Part I)

Any writer can google how to query, so contrary to the title of this post, I won’t be teaching you how to query. There’s tons of information out there regarding how to query a literary agent — what to say, what not to say, how to say it, and how to say it well.

No lie. Querying is hard. In a previous post, I wrote about how long it took for me to get my query letter to the point where I finally got more than a form rejection as a response. So what I aim to show you in this series of query posts is the difference between my beginner query, my “better” query, and my most recently revised query (that was said to be “solid” by established writers).

Are you ready for my beginner query? Prepare yourself. It’s pretty bad.

 

Dear (Agent),

Translating prophecy is a tricky and inexact science, and one in which Moreina di Bianco doesn’t exactly place her faith, so when she finds herself at the center of a thousand-year old prophecy, everything she holds dear is suddenly threatened.

When Reina is chosen to accompany the White Sorceress candidates in their search for the infamous Faranzine Talisman, she quickly agrees to help. What she doesn’t realize is that her own life is about to take a drastic spin, and turning back won’t be an option. When the talisman unexpectedly chooses her as its wearer, Reina must not only accept the truth within the prophecy’s words, but also must find a way to save the kingdom from the malicious grasp of General Bruenner – a daunting task for a village healer who doesn’t even believe in magic.

Reina’s only help on her journey is her estranged and mysterious childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, as well as a dashing Captain who claims to be her protector…oh, and her second sight, which she insists is nothing more than a slightly heightened sense of perception. As if discovering the key to unlocking the talisman’s untold power, ending a war, and placing the rightful king on the throne weren’t enough of a challenge, Reina is also forced to address a most unpleasant section of the prophecy – the part regarding two suitors. For a quasi-hermit like Reina, the only thing more overwhelming than losing her much coveted solitude is the prospect of losing it forever, but Reina soon discovers that there are things more important than solitude, and that sometimes home can be found even afar.

The Tarrowburn Prophecies is a 91,500 word fantasy novel ideally suited for readers who enjoy tales such as C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy or Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. Though it is a stand-alone novel, it is intended to be the first of a trilogy. Initially, I decided to contact you based on your profile on AgentQuery.com, and upon reading more detailed information on your submission website, my decision was confirmed. Like you, I have a diverse background, having worked in many different professional atmospheres. Thank you so much for your consideration! I’d be happy to provide you with a copy of the manuscript upon your request, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

L. Ryan Storms

 

Okay, so do you see the issues with this letter? I cringe just looking at it!

First off, it’s way too long and cluttered, and it rambles without focusing on the conflict and the stakes. It’s almost 400 words! (About twice as long as it should be!) There’s a lot of description here, but not much focus on what the book is really about. There’s no need for me to talk about Reina’s love of solitude. Is she a bit of a hermit in the book? Maaaaaybe. But that’s not really essential to the heart of the story. Why is the part about two suitors in the prophecy so distasteful to Reina? This query makes it sound like she wants anything but to fall for a guy, but in reality, that wasn’t it at all. (It’s because she’s so focused on figuring out a way to end the war!) I could go on, but you get the point. There’s a lot of ramble in this query.

Next, I made a rookie mistake in my first paragraph with the “…everything she holds dear is suddenly threatened.” In trying to hook your reader, the last thing you want to do is use the word “everything.” There is quite literally almost no possible way to be more vague. Then, I went with, “For a quasi-hermit like Reina, the only thing more overwhelming than losing her much coveted solitude is the prospect of losing it forever, but Reina soon discovers that there are things more important than solitude, and that sometimes home can be found even afar.” Really? Was losing her solitude that bad? Honestly, it wasn’t even a major part of the book… Why was I so stuck on this theme?

My point? Sometimes what we think the book is about isn’t really what the book is about at all. When I was writing this character, I wanted to invoke a sense of longing for home, a sense of loneliness, of a desire to return to the mundane, everyday life, but it wasn’t what the story was about. I hadn’t yet figured that out at the time I wrote this query.

I also used a lot of the formulaic “When X happens, then Y is the result…” Just look at my second paragraph. Surely there were better ways than utilizing the much overused “When X…” And yet, I used it not once, but twice…in one paragraph.

When I mention the title of my work in the final paragraph, I forgot to put it in all caps. You work should always be listed in all caps. (This is something I still have issues remembering even today!) This is not the most horrendous thing I could possibly have done, of course, but using the caps lock for your manuscript’s title is a good way to make sure it stands out right away and it’s generally accepted as the proper protocol for query letters.

Lastly, my comp titles are all wrong! To be fair, this version of my query went along with a very early version of the book in which I had the wrong age range targeted. I was trying to squeeze what was essentially a YA book into an Adult category. No wonder it wasn’t working for me. (And no wonder I had no idea how to summarize what it was really about!) When I finally admitted to myself that I needed to revise my entire manuscript to fit into YA, I was in a much better place, both with the book itself and with the query.

And for the love of God, please do not, under any circumstances comment on an agent’s appearance. That’s just…creepy. I am absolutely mortified to admit that I did this when personalizing an early query. (Like, so mortified that I want to crawl under a rock and never come out.) The agent had said something about her unruly curly hair on Twitter and I ran with it. I shudder when I think of what kind of creep I came across as. So… Just. Don’t.

I try not to be too hard on myself because I know learning the querying process is all part of becoming a writer, but I still cringe when I read my earliest query. And I honestly feel like I just published a couple of nude photos of me! (But then again, I just told you how I commented on an agent’s appearance. Notice how I didn’t post that query.)

If you learn can from my mistakes, it was worth all my discomfort in putting this out there! And perhaps this will help you gain a chance at getting something a little more personalized than the dreaded form rejection!

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 9.02.16 PM

(Yep, that’s one I received on 2/14/2014. Feeling the love? Not so much.)

In a Pinch

It’s hard to know where to begin when my mind is reeling with so much that has happened in the last couple of days, so I guess I’ll just start with the obvious.

The Beginning.

A week and a half ago, my husband was given a green light by his surgeon on getting back into a normal routine. He was the “poster child” for recovery. (I kid you not. The surgeon not only said this to us verbatim, but also wrote it in a letter to each of my husband’s other physicians. “Poster child for recovery.”)

Fast forward to this past Wednesday. Beautiful weather and our kiddos were at camp. Knowing that he had just a few more days on short term disability before returning to work on Monday (er…that’d be today), I agreed to his semi-ambitious trip to the Susquehanna River to go fishing. (Or something like that. He fishes. I read and take photos of dragonflies on my toes.) IMG_9170It’s an hour drive one-way and just getting the boat prepped can be a lot of work. He assured me that he would take his time, move slowly, and keep alert for any signs that he wasn’t doing so hot.

In short, the day was lovely. He didn’t overdo it. He caught fish. Happy man.

IMG_9167

We had a picnic lunch and enjoyed watching herons. We even left the river a little early so we could get home and nap before picking up the kids. Upon waking from the nap, however, he couldn’t stop saying how chilled he was… And that’s when we discovered he had a 101 degree fever.

A fever that, just one day later, led to 20.5 hours in two separate ERs, plus a 1.5 hour transport via ambulance in the middle of the night. Ultimately, he was admitted on Friday night for an abscess that doctors ended up draining through Interventional Radiology (IR). (I had no idea this was a thing for draining an abscess. Have you ever heard of Interventional Radiology? He didn’t even need to be put under again!) Then we were sent home on Saturday with a drain for 2 weeks.

This. This was our “poster child for recovery.”

There is so much that has gone through my head in the last five days that I can hardly keep it all straight. Lack of sleep doesn’t help, of course. My mind has been foggy, my thoughts muddled, and my mood short.

He actually asked me yesterday morning if I was mad at him. As if I could be mad at him. No, I’m not mad at him. I’m mad at the situation. I’m mad at the continued issues. That we couldn’t get the prescriptions he needed filled because when you get home from the hospital at 8 p.m. on a Saturday, every pharmacy within a 20-mile radius is closed. That when I finally did get to our pharmacy at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, they forgot I was there for a script and I waited over half an hour even though I was the only customer. That every time I think we can finally breathe a sigh of relief and begin to move forward, life has a nasty little prank to pull. “You can go back to normal now…j/k!” Life seems to want to yell to us.

So today is filled with phone calls. Calls for extra medical supplies. Calls to schedule a follow up with IVR. Calls to schedule with our regular physician this week and more calls to schedule with the specialist again next week.

But in the midst of the disarray, there’s one thing that moves me to tears above the frustration of the unknown. It’s the amazing level of support we’ve gotten from everyone around us, the people who are willing to pitch in at a moment’s notice (literally—a moment’s notice). When I suspected that we might need to head to the ER, I texted my next door neighbor to ask if she would be around that night, she replied that she would be around all night and all weekend if we needed anything at all. This sounds like a good neighbor, right?

Wrong. This is one of best neighbors anyone could ask for. She’s basically already single-mom-ing it with two kids of her own since her husband is away for work at the moment, but two more kids? Sure! Come on over! When we realized that our ER visit was going to turn into an overnight stay, she came over to our house, packed up jammies and clothes for the kids, fed and let out our dogs, and welcomed everyone back to her house for a sleepover. What? You’re going to have an extended hospital stay? No problem. Kids and pets are fine and taken care of. Everything is good here. Oh, also, niece and nephew are visiting on Saturday…now bringing her total kid count to six. She even texted me to let me know that I have “really good kids.” ***

In addition to our neighbor, another set of good friends also immediately texted when they found out what was going on. Do you need the girls to come stay with us? We can take them overnight. I can’t explain the wave of gratitude that washes over you when you realize that you have people willing to immediately jump in and pick up the pieces that you, in your disheveled mental state, have dropped along the way. Though I was still panicked about the ever-changing plans that seemed to be charging us like an angry bull, we had back up. And we had back up for our back up.

My parents, who live just over an hour away, came to take care of kids and house and pets the following day. They even picked me up from the train station to take me to the first hospital to pick up my car where I had left it in the ER parking lot while taking an ambulance ride to the second hospital. They, too, cannot be taken for granted. The value of family should never be discounted (even if there are often expectations that family should be first on the list to jump in when life’s plans go awry). My parents would run themselves ragged if it meant helping us out. Of that, I have no doubt. I came home to cleaned litter pans, washed dishes, and trash taken out—none of which was taken care of before I’d left for the hospital.

So I’ll wrap up this rambling post by saying that I am so grateful, so very thankful, for all of the support we have received (and continue to receive) throughout the last few days. They say you can consider yourself lucky if you can count on one hand the number of people you can depend on in a pinch. And yet, we’ve got enough to cover two hands, and maybe even a few toes to boot. I don’t think a leprechaun clutching a four-leaf clover in one hand and a rabbit’s foot in the other and riding a unicorn with a saddlebag full of horseshoes could match the level of fortune we’ve managed in these last days.

Apparently, it’s also hard to know where to end this post, so I guess I’ll just end with the obvious.

The End.

 

 

 

*** I’m still not sure whether this text came before or after my youngest spilled an entire slushie all over their carpet… Really good kids? Maybe. Really great neighbors? Definitely.

Slimming Down

Revision can be painful. Digging into the words you put so much effort into writing, not to mention deciding which of them need to go, can overwhelm a writer with fear. Which words do I cut? Filter words? Entire paragraphs? Scenes, even? What if cutting this particular scene is wrong? What if it changes the entire dynamic of the story?

But slimming a novel down is a healthy part of the writing process. Writing a first draft is basically loading a bunch of paint on the palette and throwing it on the canvas. You know what colors you want for this piece and you might even know the general design, but you can’t begin to imagine the more delicate intricacies until you begin refining the work. The same goes for writing. A first draft gets the basic idea of a story onto paper, but it’s hardly more than an outline, and an outline is not a masterpiece on its own.

When I write a novel, there are entire sections that need to be scrapped before I’m ready to query. Some of these sections are minor, but many (okay, most) impact the story in a major way. Like ripples in a pond, one thing affects another. So if I make one small change in chapter 2, it’s likely that I’m going to have to go through the entire manuscript to make major changes the rest of the way through.

Case in point. I changed a major character’s ethnicity a couple of months ago in a novel that was 85% drafted. I went from having a short-haired blond with green eyes to a Rihanna look-alike. That meant changing a lot of visual cues, quite a bit of dialogue that referred to body image, and rewriting entire sections of her family background.

But revision isn’t always about rewriting what’s already there. Sometimes it’s about taking out what we don’t need. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve written sections that weren’t needed. Sometimes these segments must be written in order for me to get familiar enough to move forward with my characters, but in the end, there’s always a lot of chopping going on! During the revision process, I erase entire chunks of dialogue and sometimes whole scenes. If a scene isn’t moving the story forward in some way, it needs to go. If it doesn’t show, in some way, shape, or form, the character’s wants and desires, cut it. If it doesn’t present a conflict for the character in some way, delete.

It’s a painful process filled with uncertainty and doubt, but it’s a necessary evil and the sooner you convince yourself that each cut is the right move, the closer you’ll be to having a refined, polished, queryable novel.

Because, seriously…no one wants to read a 186,000 word debut novel. Certainly not an agent.

You know what else is painful?

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Time to dust you off, old friend.

I made the horrible mistake of stepping on the bathroom scale today. Between the stress of spousal health issues (a cancer diagnosis adds a little stress to say the very least), running to constant doctor appointments, and driving back and forth to various kids’ activities, we’ve done a lot of running around over the last couple of months. Suffice it to say that my eating habits haven’t been the best. And to talk about eating habits, I have to talk about anxiety issues.

When I first began having issues with anxiety at twenty-one, I lost weight quickly. My stomach was upset nearly all of the time, I could hardly eat, and anything I did eat went through me pretty quickly. I easily dropped to 99 pounds, a weight I hadn’t seen since maybe freshman year in high school. Meds helped fix the issue, but throughout the years I learned to live and to cope with my anxiety without them.

I wonder now if I’m coping a little *too* well. When I’m in a situation that makes me anxious, my stomach immediately feels as though it’s about to rebel. Add in a stubborn streak and my determination to overcome anxiety, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I now view eating as a challenge, and instead of just eating a normal amount (or eating, say, decent foods), I’ll eat more junk just to spite my anxiety. Go figure.

Needless to say, a few months of this results in pounds gained. Throw in the writer’s dilemma of working while sitting on your butt all day, and the problem is easily exacerbated.

So.

Starting today, I’m going to do something about it. Losing weight can’t be much different than revising chapters, right? A little work, a lot of pain, and in the end you’ve got a better version of what you started with. (Or at least a healthier version!)

Slimming down in more ways than one! Who’s with me?