Revisions are a beast

Really, they are. But they’re a beast I love.

I’m 3.5 chapters away from finishing the bulk of these revisions for SOUL MOUNTAIN. They started simple enough–changing one of the POVs from 3rd to 1st person. And then my UCLA class happened and I reached a moment in my process where I just didn’t know which way was up. I put it on hold, worked on THROUGH THE WALLED CITY, and just kept brainstorming. Because something wasn’t working. I knew it, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

After much soul-searching and agonizing and tears (oh yeah, there was some of that), I had a glorious moment of clarity: I needed to rewrite this book. About 70% is new material. Other parts have been shifted. Characters strengthened, redefined. The ending is completely new. Most importantly, I worked on making sure the reader connects with the characters emotionally. I knew I was on the right track, when my instructor’s feedback went something along the lines of, You nailed it! (I imagine Haymitch from The Hunger Games saying it, like “Now that’s what I’m talking about, Sweetheart!) Talk about feeling the breakthrough! With the help of a newly redesigned book map and outline, I was well under way.

But let me tell you. It’s very, very scary, to look at your 65,000-word manuscript and open up a new, blank document, and say, we’re having a do-over. Holy crap it’s scary.

But I did it. I’m less than 4 chapters away from the end. It’s been a fascinating process, slow and steady, full of layers. Every day that I work on it, it goes something like this: read and revise previous chapter, then write new chapter. It’s a write/revise, write/revise pattern. And it works. Sometimes, I go back two chapters or three before I write the new one. But I’m moving forward and I’m excited about the end product.

And each new chapter I take to my critique group, who’ve been fabulous and awesome in their feedback and support.

The true test will be once I submit this revision.

So here’s something else I learned during this part of the process. My layers work (roughly) as such:

  1. Action/dialogue: I start writing a scene as I see and hear it happen. I know what’s going on, who says what, etc.
  2. Add emotional depth: After the first layer, most likely on a different day or after I’ve let some time pass (today it was a few hours), I add what the character is thinking/feeling. How what’s happening and what’s being said affects him/her. What’s at stake.
  3. Pretty up the words: Once I feel better about the action/reaction at play, I look at the language. I revise for my tics (too many coordinating conjunctions, for example). I make sure I’m doing mostly showing. I read aloud for the “flow” and the “rhythm” of the words on the page.

And then I move on to the next scene/chapter. I also update my book map/outline. Where I catch inconsistencies, or if I notice I’ve forgotten a thread, I make a note of it on the outline. Once I reach the new end (with the above layers), I’ll be doing another read-through, slipping in whatever I may have missed.

At this rate, I expect to submit the revised draft by the end of the month. Let the nail-biting begin!

New Project!

With SOUL MOUNTAIN now officially in the querying stage, I’m focusing my attention on a new project, tentatively titled THROUGH THE WALLED CITY. I have a new cast of characters that are setting up shop in my head, and I’m excited about it! Today I tweeted: Write what you know, sure, but for the real adventure, write what you’ve always wanted to know. And that’s what this project is for me. I’ve always wanted to know more about Cartagena, this gem of a city on the northern coast of Colombia. It’s a current popular Caribbean port, though it’s always been popular–just not always for tourism. This city has such a rich but turbulent history with slave trade, pirates, conquests, and this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn more.

And I’m totally calling in a “research” trip to truly immerse myself in its beauty and history.

Though I’m still working on the details and characters (I’m in the planning/research phase of this project), this is the basic premise as of now. I think (hope?) it will be more magical realism than fantasy:

When fifteen-year-old Micaela “Mica” Uribe is sent to spend the summer with her aunt and cousin in historic Cartagena, she doesn’t expect to literally step into history. She also doesn’t expect to fall for the cute local, Gianluca. But as she experiences the city’s past with Gianluca’s help, she comes to terms with her heritage and her present.

So yeah. It’s vague but I’m SO EXCITED about this new project! =D And I’m choosing songs for my playlist because after I finish grading these sets of papers I owe my students, and after I finish beta reading two manuscripts, I’m going to start writing in earnest!

I’m also scribbling outlines for the sequel to SOUL MOUNTAIN, and that’s what I’ll be working on through my UCLA classes this fall.

Oh my. Two projects at once. Am I crazy? Maybe, but now that I’ve had one book-length project done, I feel more prepared to tackle these next two.

Happy writing (and revising), everyone!

SKYLARK by Meagan Spooner

Late last week, I downloaded Meagan Spooner’s debut SKYLARK into my iPad’s Kindle. I was eager to start reading, though I was in the midst of grading (grades are due by tomorrow morning—eek!) and my own MS revisions. So I started slowly. One chapter at a time, squeezed in between all else.

But it wasn’t enough.

The problem with me (is it really a problem? I beg to differ) is that once I’m hooked, I can’t stop. It was torture reading just one chapter at a time, and finally, I couldn’t do it anymore. I told my husband, as he went to sleep last night, “I’m just going to finish this chapter and then go to sleep.” Because I was exhausted. But I didn’t. I kept reading, enthralled in this magical, dangerous world, each chapter ending in such a way that I had to read just one more chapter. And so it went until I finished it a little past 1 AM, when my iPad’s battery had only 4% juice left and my eyes were blearing from exhaustion.

Here’s the book description from Amazon:

“Vis in magia, in vita vi. In magic there is power, and in power, life.

For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley waited for the day when her Resource would be harvested and she would finally be an adult. After the harvest she expected a small role in the regular, orderly operation of the City within the Wall. She expected to do her part to maintain the refuge for the last survivors of the Wars. She expected to be a tiny cog in the larger clockwork of the city.

Lark did not expect to become the City’s power supply.

For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley believed in a lie. Now she must escape the only world she’s ever known…or face a fate more unimaginable than death.

In Meagan Spooner’s compelling debut, magic, technology, and human frailty collide in a brilliant new world.”

Oh my. To say that I love it seems inadequate! I LOVED it! And here’s why:

For one, I’m a sucker for gorgeous language and descriptions. Her prose is lyrical and beautiful and takes me right there. I could picture the scenery, the buildings, the forest, the characters. It was such rich and vivid imagery.

The world is unlike any other and yet it was familiar. I understood it and feared it. From the city in which Lark lives, cut off from the rest of the world, to the vast unknown world Lark encounters on her journey, Meagan Spooner delivers. She brings to life the beautiful and dangerous, the friendly and lethal. And the magic. Wow.

I love Lark. She’s strong and fights for what (and whom) she loves, even if it means taking the hard way out or sacrificing herself. And Oren. ❤  🙂 And Tansy and Nix (awww love Nix!). Even Kris. These characters have heart and soul and that makes me love them and root for them. I’m so anxious to see what happens to them in the next book! I’m invested in the characters, even the bad guys.

I also really liked the pace, which quickened and slowed in natural progression, as well as the sense of discovery that accompanies Lark’s entrance into an unfamiliar landscape.

Definitely recommend this book!

My newest obsession: The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices

Surgery and recovery were really good for one thing: reading. I started with Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy and then, feeling the need for another world and story, I turned to Cassandra Clare’s books in The Mortal Instruments  (TMI) and Infernal Devices (ID) series.

Ohhhemmmgeeee…. I have found a new obsession! I fell in love with her language, her descriptions of New York and Victorian England (TMI and ID respectively), her characters, and the world of the Shadowhunters. It is magical and hauntingly beautiful.

I started with CITY OF BONES, the first in TMI. I read it in a day. Granted, I was recovering, mostly in bed without having (or being able) to do much else, and I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning because I just could not put it down. As soon as I finished, I downloaded the next book, CITY OF ASHES, immediately, and started reading it the next day. So began my obsession. I finished the next three books (CITY OF GLASS, CITY OF FALLEN ANGELS, and CITY OF LOST SOULS) in the week that followed, skimping on sleep because I just had to find out what happened. When I finished the last book, I was temporarily distraught because the sixth and final book, CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE, is not set to be released until March 2014. That is so long from now.

So I went online and devoured website after website, looking for extras and more information about Cassandra Clare’s world. I was pleasantly surprised that her website included a section with wonderful extras, and I hungrily read these.

It was there I started reading about the Infernal Devices trilogy, which is a prequel to TMI, and which remains in the Shadowhunter world, only in Victorian England. I bought the first book, CLOCKWORK ANGEL, and just like that, I was again pulled into this amazing world, and hooked. I just finished reading the second book, CLOCKWORK PRINCE, and have found that I am, again, despairing because the final book, CLOCKWORK PRINCESS, will not be available until March of next year.

I haven’t been so fully immersed into a world since J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the books I’ve read. Some of them are okay (Trylle trilogy) while others are very good (The Hunger Games, Divergent series), but none has completely enthralled me like HP and now TMI and ID.

Why do I love her books so much? I think it starts with the writing. It is really good. Yes, there are a couple typos I caught in theKindle versions. I didn’t catch these in the printed book of CLOCKWORK ANGEL, so I don’t know if that is a print vs eBook problem. But those typos were minor. Cassandra Clare has a gift of description. She brings the setting and the characters to life. New York City and Victorian England are as much a character as Clary, Jace, Tessa, Will, Jem, et al. My world dissolved and I was an invisible bystander as the action unfolded. She really shows us her world. The dialogue is, also, realistic and believable and in tune with the characters. Her characters are three-dimensional; there’s no ambiguity to them. There is some angst (and sometimes I did get a tad annoyed with some of the characters), but those moments were few in the scheme of things. And they’re teenagers. I’ve read my journals from my teenage years–I annoy myself!

Then there’s the world she’s created. Like Rowling’s HP world, TMI and ID world is complex and full of mythology. I think Clare does an amazing job in drawing us into the world of the Shadowhunters, Nephilim (products of man and angel) who are sworn to protect the world from demons, and Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, faeries, warlocks, and shape-changers), magical creatures who are part-human, part-something else. There’s a hierarchy and discrimination, much like our “real” world. The question of what makes us “human.”

Then there’s the mythology at the base of this world. Old world mythology which is especially explored in TMI. It’s fascinating. though perhaps I’m more enthralled with it because my current project involves a certain mythology as well. After I finished TMI,

in the brief reprise between TMI and ID, I looked up some of these myths, of Lilith and such. Fascinating, I tell you. Like memory begets memory, this series has brought about some exploration into religious myths and the current battle between Catholic and Christian faiths.

And of course, there’s the romance. I’m a sucker for romance, and Clare does a good job in writing the relationships with the characters, pulling us into them and making us feel what they’re feeling.

Each of the series has its strengths. Between the two, I think I like ID better, perhaps only because of the lure of Victorian England and because two of its characters love literature and books and the series is replete with literary references of the era. I was reminded of other literature of the era and of my British lit courses I took as a grad and of the romanticism associated with the era.

Both of these series deserve 5 stars. I (im)patiently await the final books in both, and a new series Cassandra Clare has in the works, also of the same world.

“Dual [writing] Citizenship” and other news

I’m in Chicago this week at the AWP 2012 Conference, and I have to say, I’m loving it (granted, it’s only my first day).

This is the first time I attend  such a conference (most of my conference experiences deal strictly with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or children’s writing, in mostly workshop form. This, however, is a different experience. For starters, it’s no small event. There are over 10,000 (if I misremember the number, please excuse me) attendees, dozens of lectures/panels happening simultaneously across two hotels, and an impressive celebrity author lineup.

Additionally, though, this conference is great because it encompasses two of my loves: writing and teaching. The lectures/panels that are available broach a wide variety of subjects that pertain to writing and writing programs. The beauty of this combination is that, in one place, I can get tools or listen to conversations about the kids of writing that I do and the classes that I teach. It’s awesome.

The title of this post is in reference to one of the panels I attended today that was titled: “Dual Citizenship: Writing for Both Children and Adults.” It was fabulous and I think it really nailed a problem I’ve been encountering, a sort of snobbery if you will. We’ve been so conditioned to accept a reality of labels that we constantly feel the need to fit into one of those labels, as if writing could be contained in such a way. We don’t have to have just one writing identity (the poet, the fiction writer, the memoirist, the kid lit writer); it’s perfectly okay in embracing this multiple personality effect!

I know that when I get asked the pivotal question,”What do you write?” I stumble sometimes because, well, I like writing it all (though not necessarily all with the same strength)! I don’t want to be known just as a fiction writer or a memoirist or a YA or PB author. I want to write it all. I want to strive to be, like one of the panelists said, Julia Alvarez. Why settle for just one writing identity when you can have several (and be good at several)? It makes perfect sense. Still, whenever I do say I write more than one genre or for more than one age group, I tend to get an “Oh” with a glazed look, as if saying I just haven’t made up my mind what I want to write, that I have to find one niche and stay there.

Well, I refuse.

I enjoy writing. Period. So I will write whatever it is that turns me upside down, inside out. Whatever fills me with excitement. Whatever decides to be what I must write right now. Then, when I’m done with that, I’ll move onto the next project that again commands my attention. Because I think that’s what writers should do. Write what they just absolutely have to write and not what they think they should write. That, I think, should be one of the main writing commandments.

SCBWI Conference: Love

The thing I love about writing conferences is they provide opportunity–opportunity to improve skills, to network, to meet new people, and to showcase your writing. We’re a group of like-minded individuals, at different points in this writing and publishing game, coming together to talk about the craft and the business.  It’s wonderful! I usually leave these conferences inspired, ready to re-immerse myself into my project at hand.

This has been true in all the writing conferences I’ve attended, but it’s felt even stronger this time at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) Miami 2012 Conference. Perhaps it’s because I have specific projects in mind, projects to which I’m totally and completely devoted and about which I’m totally and completely obsessed. Or maybe it’s because, like a fellow conference-goer said, anyone who’s writing for kids has to have a more nurturing composition. Or maybe it was because of the fabulous and inspiring line up of authors, editors, and agents. But it was fabulous. The intensive for Leveled/Early Readers, led by Bonnie Bader and Natalie Lescroart, was informative and it cemented my resolution in finishing/polishing my leveled reader MS. I also got some ideas for new stories, so I’m eagerly sketching outlines and notes. To all those who think writing early/leveled readers (especially the first level) is easy: it’s not!

I also loved Jill Corcoran. I came to her blog this past summer thanks to Catherine Ipcizade (who, I might add, is fabulous. She’s the reason why I’m now in children’s writing!) during a children’s writing workshop I took through UCLA Extension Writers’ Program (which, I might add, was also fabulous. Another post for another time.) Anyway, back to Jill Corcoran–her workshop was great and it reiterated concepts I’ve heard before while giving me new “food for thought.” It actually helped to take a look at my current beginning (for my YA project) and realize, I’m not beginning in the right place! I wasn’t brave enough to read aloud today (or rather, by the time I worked up the courage, it was too late), but hearing her lecture and comments was enlightening.

We also got inspirational talks from authors, agents and editors, and I made some new contacts and met some charming new people.

I plan on going to as many of these conferences as I can–it was that good.

Eye-candy or… a snack?

The project I’m working on now is YA which, I’ve come to find out as I trudge through writing the scenes, feels quite natural. I think the teenager in me (I’m 32 now) was yearning to be released and is ecstatic at this chance to shine. For my “research” in getting the voice just right, I’ve been tapping into the journals I kept back then, talking to my students, talking to family who is roughly the same age as my characters, and I’ve found that, for the most part, I’m pretty dead on (let’s see if that holds up!)

Every once in a while, though, I get caught up in terminology or phrases that I’m not sure sixteen- or seventeen-year-olds would say today.

Like eye-candy.

One of my characters is a total flirt. She loves boys and loves flirting and, in one of my scenes calls the guys she’s watching “eye-candy.”

In my Novel Writing workshop through UCLA Writers Extension Program (side note: UCLA Writers Extension classes rock! I’ve been so blessed and lucky to have had wonderful instructors who’ve provided much-needed guidance and structure in my otherwise crazy world), one of my classmates commented that “eye-candy” seemed a bit old for sixteen, which baffled me a little since I was almost positive I’d heard that phrase from students and my neighbor’s fourteen-year-old daughter. But for the sake of research, I asked some of my female students what terms they used when talking about cute/hot guys.

I got… a snack. This, according to my students, is what they’re now using to refer to cute boys. A snack. As in, he’s such a snack. What a snack.

Really? Somehow, that seems just as demeaning as…. I don’t know, calling a cute/hot girl something edible. Edible and cuteness factor just don’t seem to mix. Maybe I’m not such a teen after all! (Though, I have NEVER heard the teenagers on the Disney Channel’s shows call cute guys a snack!)

I wonder what other terms exist today that I’m not used to. Please share them if you know of any!