The Muse Wields a Sledgehammer

NaNoWriMo

On November 1st I am going to embark on a writing frenzy. Every day for a month I am going to write an average 1,667 words until I have a grand total of 50,000 by November 30. This is National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated twice before, once in 2011 and once in 2013, each time I wrote over 50,000 words.

Yes, my book is still on submission, and while I am waiting I have been toying with a book idea. I’ve started writing the thing three times and each time I’ve been dissatisfied with the results. The plot, the characters, all feel derivative, like I’ve seen it before a million times. That is a disaster waiting to happen.

And in the past two days I’ve gotten three passes, which is hard to take. I know it isn’t personal, but each one is another little cut until I’m stinging and bleeding all over the place. Yeah, I suppose that’s dramatic, but I allow myself to wallow in misery for a night and then I suck it up and move on.

So last night after a visit to Royal Scoop ice cream to drown my sorrows, I went to bed. I was idly thinking about a tweet my agent had put out last week about how he would love to see a Western. So I started thinking about how I love Westerns myself, and what I would do if I ever wrote one.

That’s when the muse descended and whacked me in the back of the head with a sledgehammer. I had a hard time falling asleep because my brain was galloping away in a thousand directions, coming up with brilliant ideas and details. I kept having to get up and write them down.

This morning I have two protagonists, a setting, the rough outline of a plot, and even a title. I’m calling it West of Never and on November 1st I am going to start the first draft. The rest of October will be given over to drafting an outline, character sketches, and general noodling. I’m pitching it as True Grit meets Thelma and Louise.

This. This is going to be wicked fun.

And that’s what writing is all about, right? If it isn’t fun, you shouldn’t be doing it.

Five Questions: Katharine McGee

The Thousandth Floor

It’s one hundred years in the future, and New York is still the center of civilization, but with wicked cool new technology. Contact lenses can make calls and show your social media feed, cars are replaced by self-driving machines, and the tallest building in town is now 1000 stories tall: complete with schools, shops, parks, and houses–there is literally no need to go outside. Why would you want to?

Some things never change, however, and the wealthy still live extravagantly on the upper floors, teens still party and experiment with sex and drugs, and the course of true love still doesn’t run straight.

The Thousandth Floor and its sequel The Dazzling Heights follows a group of teens as they try to navigate their way to adulthood. Avery is the golden child, genetically modified to be gorgeous and smart. Her friends Eris, Leda and Cord all go to an exclusive school “Up Tower,” while Rylin and Watt, kids from the lower floors stumble into their orbit of parties, expensive clothes, and killer digs.

The Dazzling Heights

But things aren’t as perfect as they appear on the surface. Many secrets and troubles exist between the different players and someone ends up getting hurt. Will the others keep the secret, perhaps the deadliest secret of all?

Katharine McGee has put together a tale that is at once gleaming with polish and raw and authentic. I would pitch it as Gossip Girl of the 22nd century, and it really is a glossy read filled with lifestyles of the young and rich and the all-too-real troubles of a teen from any age: substance abuse, bullying, sex, and forbidden love. I really enjoyed these both and look forward to the next in the continuing series. Here are Katharine’s five questions:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

I lived in Manhattan for five years after I graduated from college, working as an editor of young adult fiction. This was back when the dystopian craze was all the rage, series like The Hunger Games and Divergent. I couldn’t stop thinking about those books, wondering what it said about us as a society that we were obsessed with such bleak, dark visions of the future. What would the future look like if, instead of destroying the world, we actually got things right—if each generation left the world better than they found it? I wanted to write a non-dystopian young adult novel set in the future, but hadn’t quite figured out what would look like.

Then I read an article about a concept called “vertical urbanization”: the idea that cities in the future will grow increasingly tall until they become massive skyscrapers. The idea captured my imagination. I mentioned it to my boss at work, who said the phrase “the thousandth floor,” and I knew I had my title right there! 🙂

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m an outliner through and through! I couldn’t survive without an outline, especially since I’m dealing with five different narrators, whose stories all intersect in complicated ways. One of my old writing professors called this the domino effect: if you change one thing that happens to one character, it creates a ripple that extends through all the stories. So before I write I spend a lot of time on my chapter-by-chapter outline. It inevitably changes along the way, but that’s just part of the process.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

My favorite series of all time is still Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy—there’s really nothing else like it, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t yet read it. I’m also very into George R.R. Martin lately, in no small part because of the way he so deftly handles his various narrators, killing off characters and then cycling in new ones, all while still maintaining a heart-pounding sense of urgency. I’ve been trying to do something a bit like that with The Thousandth Floor!

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I’m one of those people who needs silence to write! Somehow my brain has trouble sorting through the prose, especially dialogue, when there’s music on. It’s like my brain can’t process the words of the music and then also come up with new words at the same time! So I’m not very good at getting work done in cafés: I mostly work in my home office, or occasionally in a library. But I do play music between scenes to take my mind off things!

5. What are you reading right now?

I just finished Kendare Blake’s One Dark Throne, which is the second in a fantastic fantasy series set in a world where three princess sisters have to kill each other, and the one who lives will become the queen! I’m also reading Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, an adult historical fiction/fantasy about the rise of early modern Europe. It’s one of those epic, sprawling stories that builds an incredible and intricate world, so I’ve been savoring it.

Katharine McGee

Katharine McGee is originally from Houston, Texas. She studied English and French literature at Princeton University and has an MBA from Stanford. It was during her years in New York, working as an editor by day and writing by night, that she began a manuscript about life in a futuristic skyscraper. The Thousandth Floor is her first novel. She currently lives in Houston with her husband. Check out her website at katharinemcgee.com.

Five Questions: Jodi Kendall

I have this theory that baby anything is cute. Puppies, kittens, piggies, scorpions…

Okay, any baby mammal is cute.

Hamlet is no exception. She is the runt of a litter and eleven-year-old Josie Shilling’s big brother sneaks her home from college over Thanksgiving. From the first moment the wee piglet enters the already cramped Shilling household Josie’s life is transformed. She convinces her parents to let her keep the pig until she can find a proper home for Hammie, and they give her until New Year’s Day.

Josie already has a busy life with four siblings, school, and gymnastics. Add in the rapidly growing pig that needs feeding, bathing, and exercise and Josie’s already full plate is overflowing. Can she manage everything and still find a safe place for her darling pig to live a long, happy life?

I can’t tell you how much I loved this story. Josie is a great character–earnest, sweet and awkward. The descriptions of her relationship with Hamlet are adorable, and I could really hear the pigs little grunts of contentment when they curl up in front of the fireplace. Add that it’s set during the Christmas season and this book just about explodes with fuzzy good feelings. But nothing is contrived, or overly sentimental. I think this book has Newbury Award written all over it. Everyone needs to read it.

Jodi Kendall is an agent sibling. This means she is another client of my agent, Alexander Slater of Trident Media Group. I’ve been following her publication story for a while now and I am so pleased to tell you The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City was released this Tuesday to great reviews. Here are her five questions:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

It was actually my husband saying an off-hand comment like, “You know your childhood pig? You should write about that.” That seed started the wheels turning in my mind, and memories flooded back from when I was a kid and my brother rescued a runt piglet from certain death at a nearby farm. He brought it home on break during college, and it lived with us in our house for about six months.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m a pantser that’s a wannabe outliner. I usually only know a few things before I open up a blank document, and as I get further into the draft, I’ll have some notes with characters and opening problems and closing resolutions. Then I try to thread it all together. But so much of my process is an organic, surprising mystery to me.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

As someone passionate about nature and human-animal connections, I absolutely love the work of Katherine Applegate, Kate DiCamillo, Peter Brown, and Sara Pennypacker. I’m in awe of Leah Henderson’s beautiful debut ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL – Her writing has such a lush, lyrical quality to it, almost like music. Studying her prose has recently inspired me to develop the loveliness and cadence of each sentence when I’m writing and revising.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Most of the time, yes. While I was writing THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY, I blasted holiday music. The story takes place between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, so I listened to Pentatonix albums on repeat.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading ENGINERDS by Jarrett Lerner, which recently published. It’s hilarious, and fast-paced, with short chapters and great voice. I imagine it’ll be a new, funny favorite book for reluctant readers.

Please check out this book. Anyone who has ever loved an animal will get all the feels.

Jodi Kendall grew up in the Midwest with her family of seven and their household of countless pets, including hamsters, ducks, dogs, rabbits an iguana and yes…even a farm pig! As a freelance writer, Jodi once followed  a secret nighttime transport of a manta ray over state lines, swam with seven species of sharks, got up close and personal with venomous snakes, and motored through a saltwater crocodile breeding ground. These days, you can find Jodi typing away at home in New York City, where she’s still an animal lover at heart. Jodi holds an MFA from the University of Arizona and is an active member of SCBWI. This is her first novel. Visit Jodi online at www.jodikendall.com.

We’re Back in the Saddle Again

Good old Gene Autry. He wrote the song about being back out on the range, toting his old ’44 and feeling at home. When I set out to write this I just conjured the line of the chorus without really considering the rest of the lyrics, but I find that they mean something more than being back in one’s old routine.

I`m back in the saddle again
Out where a friend is a friend
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed
Back in the saddle again
Ridin` the range once more
Totin` my old .44
Where you sleep out every night
And the only law is right
Back in the saddle again
Whoopi-ty-aye-oh
Rockin` to and fro
back in the saddle again
Whoopi-ty-aye-yay
I go my way
Back in the saddle again
It’s more than doing something familiar. It’s about being in a place that is comfortable, that suits a person right down to the blood marrow. Every person is different when it comes to their saddle. Some people never discover what theirs is, and for those I feel the most sorrow, for there is something so satisfying at being in a place that brings you quiet joy.
For me, it’s writing.
The Abduction of Audrey Bettencourt is currently out on submission to editors in New York. It is a thrilling and terrifying prospect all at once that chips away at my concentration on everything. My brain is always half somewhere else, wondering, hoping, and wishing for the best news possible.
To distract myself I have started a new novel. I won’t tell you about it yet because the idea is still just a seed and I need to work things out before I start yammering about it to the world. But this is exactly what I need. Writing is being in the saddle for me. It is a place so familiar and sweet that it calms and energizes me at the same time. I can throw my entire brain at it and be absorbed completely, no fretting about what may or may not happen in other arenas of life.
So I am going to dive head first into a new project and give it all my attention. What may come with Audrey will happen in its own time. Don’t get me wrong, I will be out of my mind with happiness if it sells. But in the meantime I am going to do what I love most.
Whoopi-ty-aye-yay.

Writing in a Vacuum

Writing is an isolated business, at least for the writer. Once a book is sold it becomes a team effort of agents, editors, designers, printers, bookstores, and marketing teams. But before a writer gets to that lovely prospect, there are countless days of agonizing over every word, plot point, and character. Usually all alone.

I am one such person as that. While it is true my husband (also a writer) is hands-down my best go-to person for reading pages, giving critiques, and editing with me, it still is a rather lonely place. I know my husband loves my writing, but he did marry me, right? I know he wouldn’t bullshit me, but he is just one opinion.

The Algonquin Round Table — the ultimate writer’s group.

That is why a writer’s group is so important. You can get feedback from more than one person, and if you have a good writer’s group, that feedback is helpful. Ah, but not all writer’s groups are equal, are they?

For example, last year I heard of a group that met at a church on Saturday mornings. It was a drive but Kosta and I arrived on time and took seats in the meeting room. It was a very large group–near to twenty folks crowded around the tables. But as the first few members began reading their work I realized I was in the wrong place.

How did I know? Because my husband and I were nearly the only two folks who were not octogenarians writing about their husband’s cancer/Alzheimer’s disease. That’s not entirely true, but it did feel more like a therapy group for widows. They enjoyed what I read (at least they said they did) but I didn’t get any helpful criticism. How could I when I was only aloud to read one page?

For a serious writer it can be hard to find a group of like-minded folks who are working on projects for publication. I still haven’t found one, but I am always on the lookout for potential partners. But it seems that for now I am on my own. And that’s okay. I’ll just keep working hard and doing what I love. That, in the end, is what it’s all about anyway.

 

Hoodoo Voodoo Chooka Chooky Choo Choo

I can’t wait. I said I was going to take a little time off to relax before starting on the next book, but I don’t want to! I want to plunge ahead and start researching.

I write historical fiction which means my research nerd gene gets exercised frequently. The Abduction of Audrey Bettencourt is starts in London in 1817, right in the heart of the Regency period. Very Jane Austen, or Georgette Heyer, which excites me. But there is also the shadowy figure in a remote castle in the Carpathian mountains that I had to research as well.

Marie Laveau

This new book sees my heroine, Jane Bell, setting out from France on a journey to New Orleans. The war of 1812 still hangs heavy in the atmosphere, and a young Marie Laveau, the famous voodoo priestess, is just coming into her powers. What an enthralling period of history to explore!

I just went and ordered four books on New Orleans, Marie Laveau, and voodoo.  I can’t wait to dig in. I hope a visit to the city itself can be arranged within the next year. I’d love to absorb the flavor and history of NOLA first hand. I figure it isn’t that far and I’m already used to the heat living in South Florida like I do. Seriously. I could use oven mitts to handle the steering wheel these days.

Also: books are coming to meeeee!

I’ll still have a few days before the books arrive, so I’ll take that moment to breathe, relax, and do some recreational reading. Do you know of Book Bub? It’s a great little email service. You create an account and tell them your preferences and they send you a daily email with sales on eBooks from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, etc. It’s wonderful and terrible because I have about 50 new books on my Nook that are just waiting for me. Well, vacation is coming and I’ll have plenty of reading material to choose from.

But soon I’ll be in the bayou.

(p.s. The title of this post refers to a song originally written by Woody Guthrie and covered by Billy Bragg and Wilco. It has been my resident ear worm all week.)

 

Only Good Things

Good things happened today.

It is the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter being published in the US. That is a marvelous anniversary to observe. I always thought about which house I would have been sorted into. I don’t quite know if I’m quite clever enough to be a Ravenclaw, I know I am not ruthless enough to be a Slytherin, but I am a hard worker so I think I would have done nicely in Hufflepuff.

Today was a good day for another reason–I sent the manuscript of my book to my agent in New York. Can I just pause for a moment and give him some love? Alex Slater at Trident Media Group is my champion. He fell head-over-heels in love with my first book and demanded (very politely) that he be allowed to represent me. Goodness, who doesn’t want that? He’s tirelessly enthusiastic, kind but direct, and believes in me and my writing. I know how lucky I am to have him in my corner. I hope that he will love The Abduction of Audrey Bettencourt as much as I do.

Now that I have sent it off to Alex I am quite without an occupation. I’ve been slaving over this manuscript in every spare moment for months now. I know I should be looking ahead to the next book and I shall, but first I think I’m going to do a little reading. It might be time to revisit the Harry Potter series and remind myself that I would have done well in Gryffindor too.

The final lap…

“Been around that track a couple of times but now the dust is starting clear…” ~Dead Horse, Guns N’ Roses

Last week I officially finished draft three of my manuscript. My husband and I edited it together, and I have to say he is a wizard when it comes to pointing out flaws, or places where I can massage the story a little more. It’s a miracle that we can work together as well as we do, and that we’re still happily married.

So now all of the pieces are in place and have been filled out to their best potential. Tonight we start on the final polish. I will read it aloud to him and we will tweak the hell out of it, polishing until it shines like the top of the Chrysler building. (Shout out to little orphan Annie.)

As in my last post, I am so far down the well of editing that I have hardly had time for anything else in my life but the book, book, book! I am looking forward to having a little breather after I send it off to my agent. (Who am I kidding? I’m going to eat my nails off one-by-one until I hear back from him.)

That being said, I am really proud of this book. I am so pleased with the way it all came together in the last draft. I am excited to move forward and find this little book a home at a publishing house.

It’s time.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

Like Alice in Wonderland, I’ve been deep underground in a surreal bout of editing. I can’t tell you how many times I have rewritten the ending of my novel. I think this count is number five. But each time it gets better and I think I might be there soon.

Please let me be there soon.

This novel has taken all my time, sucked every last second of my day that isn’t spent doing other things (you know, like my 40 hour a week job.) I’m obsessed, I’m determined, and I am so ready for this draft to be over. But that said, it keeps getting better every time I make changes. It tightens, streamlines, and propels the plot forward like a comet.

What’s it about? The (working) title is The Abduction of Audrey Bettencourt and I style it as a Pride and Prejudice meets X-Men. My heroine, Jane Bell, the youngest lady’s maid in London has a peculiar talent. She can pick up any inanimate object–a glove, a shoe, a handkerchief, and she can sense who touched it last and what they were feeling at the time. Her employer, Audrey Bettencourt is the most highly sought after debutante of her season. When she is kidnapped from her own coming out ball it is up to Jane to follow the clues to bring her home safely. But the reasons of her kidnapping are much more complex and far reaching than Jane realizes and she finds herself on a chase across the Continent to bring Audrey home.

I have fallen down the rabbit hole of editing. I might be able to climb my way back up soon. There are only 30 pages left in my manuscript, but it is the big finale and it must be as explosive, exciting and perfect as I can make it. The process of the second draft has been so protracted that I am losing patience with myself, although I am so close. Just a few more days work and I feel I will be there. If only I didn’t have this pesky day job taking up all my time and energy I would have been done weeks ago. But eating and having shelter are important too, I guess.

But soon I will put draft two to bed and then begin on the next step: draft three. *headdesk*

I will come out of this someday. And when I do I will have a polished novel with a kickass heroine and a twisty plot with a big bang ending. Stay tuned.

C.J. Redwine: Five Questions

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived in a faraway castle…

Scratch that.

Okay, once there was a princess named Ari didn’t really want to be a princess if she couldn’t snort, eat what she liked, or be friends with Cleo, the daughter of the head of the kitchens.

Ari’s twin brother Thad was king of Súndraille. He didn’t want to be king if he couldn’t keep his sister safe. So he made a deal with a dark and dangerous fae named Teague who could make it all better, but at the cost of his soul in ten years’ time.

Sebastian was a poverty-stricken young man with a mysterious past who became the new king’s weapons master. He didn’t want to be near people at all but was just making coin until he had enough to buy a cottage by the sea far, far away.

These three young people must work together to find a solution to their problem: saving Thad’s soul and the entirety of Súndraille from obliteration and repression by the evil Teague.

This book was an absolute joy to read. It had all the classic markings of a good fairy tale–a dark and twisted premise, a wicked villain, and a heroine with a heart of gold. But in addition to that C.J. Redwine wove in cheeky humor, palpable sorrow, and some rather gruesome action. It all melded together into a delicious read that kept me turning pages. It moved like a comet and kept me guessing until the very end.

FIVE QUESTIONS
1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

THE WISH GRANTER started with the idea of writing a story about a Faustian Rumpelstiltskin, and then everything else built from there.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I do a lot of world building and character development in my head (sometimes for years) before finally sitting down to write a very detailed synopsis, which mostly deals with backstory, world, and the major plot points. I discover the minor plot points as I write.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

I love stories with vivid worlds, high stakes plots, and emotionally driven characters, so I’ve taken bits and pieces of inspiration from other writers who have some of those elements in their stories. Some examples would be Katie McGarry, C.S. Lewis, Terry Brooks, Rae Carson, Courtney Stevens, and J.K. Rowling.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I do! I build specific playlists for each book I write. My playlists are public on Spotify.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading WINK POPPY MIDNIGHT by April Genevieve Tucholke

 

This is Redwine’s second book in the Ravenspire series. The first, The Shadow Queen, is a clever retelling of Snow White, and not to be missed.

C.J. Redwine is the New York Times bestselling author of YA fantasy novels, including The Shadow Queen, The Wish Granter, and the Defiance trilogy. If the novel writing gig ever falls through, she’ll join the Avengers and wear a cape to work every day. To learn more about C.J., visit her website at www.cjredwine.com.