Wait For It

Blessed be, all! Sit down with me a moment; I want to talk about something that’s near and dear to me right now. Or maybe a couple things. The first of which is the musical Hamilton, which I mentioned back in this post here. The second is taking the time to do justice to the story while also caring for yourself.

But wait! Doesn’t being a writer mean working even when you don’t want to? Even when the inspiration isn’t there or when you’re convinced the work is terrible? Even when you’re tired, even when you don’t have the time? Don’t you have to Write Anyway and keep your hands on the keyboard and all those platitudes?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer, though, is yes, but.

What brings this about is this: an agency that I follow obsessively is going to be holding a Twitter pitch party within the next month. Two of my top-choice pie-in-the-sky dream agents will be participating. And me? I’ll be playing Cinderella, stuck home from the ball.

The reasons I came to this decision are threefold. First, both of the two stories that I’d like to query are in the middle of intensive revisions, and I don’t feel that a month is adequate time to get either of them in shipshape. Second, I know that the month of June is going to be an extraordinarily busy one for me, and I don’t need the added stress of a deadline contributing to my load.

The third reason–and the one I want to focus on–is that you only get one shot to make a killer first impression. Just like with the query letter, you want your manuscript to showcase the best of your ability. While you may be eager to start querying or pitching your project right out of the gate, it’s better to sit back, let it cool, take another look, and then send it out when you’re sure it’s the best you can do.

You’d be surprised just how much your craft will improve between one draft and the next. Things that you’d never thought of before will suddenly be obvious; moments that you thought were beautifully rendered will feel flat. Holding back for just a minute gives you a chance to fix those things instead of realizing after you’ve gotten a rejection from your dream agent that, oh. That wasn’t my best work, actually. And being unable to take it back.

I speak from experience on this. The two top-choice agents I mentioned above have both seen an early draft of my vampire history. One of those being an incredibly premature draft with flat writing, an overdone opening, and–being frank–tons of plotholes that I was too underdeveloped as a writer to notice. Even after extensive rewrites, I will probably never get those chances back again. You can read Danielle Burby’s (one of the agents in question) thoughts on first impressions and if your manuscript is ready here.

All of this brings me back to Hamilton. I have friends who write, especially among my classmates from grad school, who are routinely selling short stories or talking excitedly about their latest novel’s release date or the agent they just landed. I find myself feeling like Burr in the song “Wait For It,” watching as life passes by and wondering when it will be my turn.

In recent days, though, I’ve decided to embrace the core of the song. I’m working to the best of my ability. I’m getting better every draft, honing my skills all the while. Sooner or later, my opportunity will arrive. All I have to do it wait for it.

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Camp NaNo: Hourly Goals!

Blessed be! It’s the first Thursday of April, so I’m working way at Camp NaNo. In a way, this is an update to my monthly goals post in which I said I was aiming to complete fifty thousand words worth of work on my fantasy romance. That was before I realized that the fine folks at NaNo had added an option for this year: an hourly commitment for the month.

I will admit, I was skeptical at first. After all, isn’t the whole point of NaNo to generate as much new material as possible, regardless of quality? And, technically, this is true. But. This is Camp, which, is first of all, a lot more lenient than NaNo proper. Secondly, my thought is that, as long as you are pushing yourself to do more than you thought possible during NaNo time, you’re winning.

Which brings me to the hourly goal. Since I’m working on revisions now, it’s hard to quantify it in terms of word count. I could just count the total words of scenes that I’ve completed, but that feels like cheating. Especially looking forward to when I start getting into the parts of the story that don’t need a lot of surgical overhaul. If all I’m doing is moving punctuation and fixing sentence structure, I don’t feel that I’m really pushing myself the way I need to be doing to make a NaNo worth it.

With all that in mind, I set myself to doing seventy-five hours on my manuscript this month. I’m off to a good start; I should hit twenty or so by the time I end my wording binge tonight. The great part about it is that it lets me engage the perfectionist side of my brain–the part that makes drafting ordinarily a slog since I hate every single thing I type–while still feeling like I’m making progress. It changed my vocabulary from, “It’s been almost a week, and I’ve only written five thousand words,” to “I’ve written a chapter and a half, and it only took me seventeen hours!”

I’ll see how I feel about it at the end of the month but, as of right now, the change of perspective alone is worth it!

Five Things: When You Break Your Story

Blessed be! I hope everyone’s had a slightly smoother week than I have. It’s been one of those weeks that it seems, if it can happen, it will happen. Leaving aside the mundane so I can talk just about my writing life, my vampire history hit a huge speedbump.

There I was, moving along in my notes at a decent clip, when a terrible realization came crashing down on my head. In one of my climactic moments, one of my favorite scenes in the whole manuscript–indeed one of my favorite things I’ve ever written–I had overlooked something crucial. One small detail that changed the trajectory of the entire rest of the novel. I had broken my story.

I won’t lie. The very first thing I did was panic. I texted my crit partner and whined at my wife about the sheer amount of reworking I would have to do to get my story back in shipshape. It would take so much heavy surgery to fix it, assuming it could even be done without rewriting the entire end of the story. So much for my “quick” editing pass!

The next thing I did, once I’d calmed down, is to start making a plan. With so many drafts and so much work already invested in this story, there was no way I was about to let a bump in the road deter me, no matter how big a bump it was.

So, how did I work through it?

  1. Don’t panic! Okay, this one can’t really be avoided. It’s human nature. So perhaps the better way to say it is this: calm down. Get some distance from the problem for a few minutes. Take a walk or a hot shower. Come back to it with an open mind, ready to look for solutions.
  2. Brainstorm. Start throwing possible fixes out to see what works. Get a second set of eyes or ears on the problem. Especially if you have a beta reader, crit partner, or significant other who’s been helping you with your story. Once you’ve amassed a pile of possibilities, you can start whittling it down to things that will actually work.
    The thing to remember, though, is you aren’t looking for a patch. A quick and easy surface fix is just that: a surface fix. To really heal your plothole, you’ll need to find the solution that gets you down to the root of the problem and address it there. It won’t be easy. But your story needs you to do it.
  3. Build a framework. Now that you know what your solution is, you need to start laying out the plan for how you’re going to get there. If you just jump into the manuscript slashing and stitching, you’ll make just as many problems as you solve. Go through your story with the solution in mind and tag things that will have to move or change. You may find that a lot of the things you already have can be repurposed for use elsewhere. Mark places where you’ll need to write something fresh to bridge gaps or replace cut scenes. This is the part of the process that I’m currently engaging in.
  4. Let it cool. Or marinate. Or percolate. However you’d like to describe it, the result is the same. Put the manuscript away and don’t touch it for at least a week, ideally longer if you have the time to spare. Let it turn over in the back of your mind; you may find details that you missed when you laid out your plan, and your story will thank you for taking the time to let them come to the surface.
  5. Take a deep breath and dive in. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way around this one. It’s time to dig into the dirty work and start with the big changes. Just like we talked about in the surgery part of the editing board series, you need to get the bathtub out of the kitchen. Treating it just like your very first editing pass, make it ugly. Move things around. Rip out the walls according to your blueprints. Make a mess if you must; don’t be afraid to get dirty!
    Slowly, the dust will settle. You can begin to fix things at the scene or sentence level and clean up transitions. And before you know it, you’ll have a beautiful story, much stronger for you taking the time to heal it from the inside out!

Lit Snobs: Judging a Book by its Genre

Blessed be! I survived Valentine’s week (and the chest cold that had me coughing the entire week, though that still lingers). I’m still working on getting my productivity back to where it should be, but I’m being gentle with myself as I recover from both the massive amount of overtime hours and my ill health.

In the meantime! It dawned on me toward the beginning of this month that I’d been a bit of a hypocrite when it came to turning up my nose at books. See, I love YA lit. And I love fantasy. And I love dystopias and fairytale reimaginings, all of which are things that, in my undergraduate program, weren’t considered “real writing.” One of my professors even went so far as to write on my YA fantasy story that I “had good instincts, but [she] wished [I’d] write something worthwhile.” It made me defensive of the stories I adore, perhaps overly so. Any critique of those genres by extension became a critique of both my writing and of me as a person.

So, when I got to my MFA, which encouraged and applauded these sorts of stories, I built something of an echo chamber around myself. My stories were valid! My tastes were valid! The work I did and the novels I loved weren’t of lower quality or lesser merit! And this was a good attitude for me to have. But.

But. I took it too far. Somewhere along the way, I decided that “YA is worthwhile, too!” meant that “Adult fic is universally boring and preachy.” For years, it didn’t matter what you handed me. If it wasn’t YA, I would either not read it or I’d read it grudgingly and use every instance of slow pacing or thematic embellishment to support my prejudices against adult fiction.

I didn’t even realize how deep-set this reaction in me had become until one of my betas and my CP both told me that my vampire history would be better served by treating it as an adult novel. I actively rebelled. I didn’t want to venture out of YA because I had convinced myself that anything else was lacking!

After a long talk with my CP (and a lot of soul-searching) I’ve started trying to deprogram myself. I’ve developed a long list of adult fic recommendations from a group of trusted friends that I’m slowly working my way through, broadening my horizons and undoing a lot of self-brainwashing. I’m rereading my vampire history, as well, looking for places where my blinders-on approach to YA might have hampered the story. I won’t say I agree that the book is best served now by a change of audience, but it certainly won’t hurt to venture outside of my box!

Old Stories; New Beginnings

Blessed be, all! As some of you may know, today is Imbolc, one of the eight Wiccan Sabbats. While I no longer identify as Wiccan, I do still keep loosely to the Wheel of the Year. Imbolc for me is all about new beginnings, cleaning out the old to make room for new growth.

On that note, it’s fitting that I took a fresh look at an old story today. I’ve been actively working on it for five years now, done so many drafts and revisions that I’ve lost count. I think I’m currently on number seven, which is more than I have done on any other WIP. I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve built. But. The more I look at it, the more I can see places where it could be better.

Just today, my critique partner and I started looking at ways to bring some of what I learned in writing the sequel back into the first book. Some of it was obvious: a new motivation for one of my protagonists; a bit of nuance for the other. But now we’re taking this old story and looking at it literally from a new perspective. In the sequel, I introduce two more viewpoints in addition to my two mains. The plan now is to take one of them and run it back through the first book, too. If all goes well, it should be the extra push this story needs!

Goal Checkin: January 2017 Mid-Month

Blessed be! It’s right about mid-month, so let’s do some accounting on my goals so far!

  1. Notes for Kheras: So far, so good! Scrivener tells me I have eighteen scenes left to do revision notes for, and I have nineteen days left in the month. With any luck, I’ll actually be able to finish ahead of schedule and start moving my attentions over to my project for February to smooth the transition.
  2. Touch base with my betas: Sooorta? I had a great conversation with one of them last night, in fact. Another has made quite a bit of progress, but we’ve decided that–in the name of not distracting me from Kheras–we wouldn’t talk in depth about it just yet. The last is waiting until I’ve taken my moratorium off such talk to start reading it, which is probably fair.
    An important thing that I’ve learned from this is that I don’t do well with closed-door betas. I like to be able to interact with my betas in real-time as they read, geeking about favorite bits and one-liners and combing through plot tangles. It’s all part of the learning curve for me, though.
  3. Finish Transformation by Carol Berg: Done! I’m now working through the sequel, RevelationI’ll update you on that bit of progress toward the end of the month.
  4. Bonus Goal–Work Every Day: It’s been rough, but I’ve done it so far. No matter how long or bad the day, even when I’ve gotten sick, I have set aside time each and every night to write, read, or blog. We’ll see if I can keep this up the entire year!

The Inspiration Nursery: Where “Kheras” Came From

Blessed be, all! I don’t know if this will become a regular series or not, but it sounded like a fun Twin Thursday to do at least once. I love seeing where stories come from, how the various inspirations all come together and create something new. So, with that in mind, here’s the origin story–if you will–for the project I’m hoping to get back to this month.

It was the long-ago year 2015. Mark Reads was doing Fifty Shades of Grey, and I, being a masochist on occasion, had vowed to watch the whole thing. I’m not a fan for a multitude of reasons, but the main thing that got to me was how coercive the main relationship is. Consent and boundaries are extremely important to me, especially in intimate relationships. Doubly so when it comes to BDSM, where trust in your partner is paramount.

At one point in the middle of this endeavor, I texted my CP about it, something to the effect of, “I want to rewrite this. Only with gay. And consent. And magic.” To which her response was, “Go for it!”

The next thing that poured into the mixing bowl was Tamora Pierce’s Emelan novels. One of the characters–Sandry–works her magic with fabric, thread, looms, and so on. The idea was a fascinating one to me, and I began to construct this image of a magical system built entirely around the imagery of spinning and weaving.

What I settled on eventually was a system where magic was worked in pairs or groups, one party “spinning” the magic–taking it from its raw source and making it usable–and the other party being responsible for the shaping and using of that magic. Gradually, this came to replace the BDSM element of Fifty Shades, but the idea of consent and equal give and take remained.

After that, I needed a setting. I had been gravitating toward ancient Greece for quite some time, had done ever since I was young. But since reading Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat, I had been dying to try my hand at writing a setting that would evoke that same sort of feel. And now I had the perfect place to use it, so away to the research I went.

Surprisingly, the characters came last for this one. Raes and Taegen built slowly, coming together in bits and pieces. At the time I started the story, I still only had the barest idea of who they were and what they wanted. They developed their own hearts and minds in the writing, but this was a big departure for me from my usual method.

So far, this has been a fun project to work on. Now that I’ve had some time and distance from that first rush of inspiration, I’m hoping to go back to it with a keen eye and start making the edits.

Say No To This! – Staying Faithful to Your Story

To explain the title, it’s a reference to this song from the Broadway musical Hamilton. I highly recommend the whole soundtrack if you have a few hours to burn. That line has become a bit of an in-joke in my circle of writers. Lately, one of us or the other will get distracted from our main WIP by something shiny.

It’s easy to do when you’re elbow-deep in the manuscript. Maybe you’ve got a killer idea for a new story. Maybe your current manuscript’s developed an unforeseen tangle that you now have to comb out, and you don’t want to deal with it. Maybe, from out of the blue, you’ve figured out the thing you needed to make that other old story finally work, so you just need to do this one quick fix. Whatever it is, your attention is divided, leaving room for the interloper to try to wreck your commitment.

I’m going through it right now. I’ve been working on my current story off and on for over a year. Sometimes it’s the main project. Sometimes it’s the homewrecking termite trying to steal my attention. Most recently, I’ve been trying to work on it consistently.

But the other day, I had a stroke of inspiration on the story I trashdrafted this past summer. A problem from the backstory that contributed to a nebulous character’s motivations snapped into sharp relief. This fixed everything! Suddenly, their whole arc made sense! Oh, it was tempting. So tempting. But I managed to not stray.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of advice on how to do it. The only thing that made me stay committed was that I have people waiting for the story. If I didn’t, I would have flipped in a heartbeat. Which, I guess, is the best suggestion I can make in this case. When you’re termited hard and you don’t now how to say no to that, having a writing partner or dedicated reader that can do it for you is sometimes your best defense.

Swift For the Sun: A Path to Publication

Some of you may remember I mentioned waaaaay back here that a friend of mine from grad school had a novel forthcoming. I asked if she would be willing to share a little bit about her journey to the sale. Enjoy!

What was your inspiration for this story?

Pirates! I very specifically sat down to write a m/m romantic story featuring pirates. Dreamspinner author Heidi Cullinan, a member of my local National Novel Writing Month region, mentioned the press was looking for volunteer copy editors. I did copy edits on ten m/m romance Dreamspinner novels to gain some confidence and learn what the press published, found out they wanted more historical submissions, particularly featuring pirates, and got writing! Important note: This was six years ago. And yes, I had no idea the personal growth adventure I was about to have!

What was your process from concept to query-ready?

At that point, I had already written three NaNoWriMo novels, two fantasy and one science fiction, that were adventures with romantic subplots (m/f main characters and some LGBT side characters), and those were fun (it took me about four months including NaNo to complete each). So I thought it would be easy to transfer those skills and my creative-writing-master-of-the-arts chops over to historical m/m romance.

BOY WAS I WRONG. Here I will discuss how sausage is made. Avert your eyes, faint of heart:

Writing a romance novel was HARD. Writing a historical (i.e. no magic or space ships) was HARD. I created my two male characters whom destiny had brought together on a tropical island, guided them through their internal and relationship problems until they were a couple, then threw some pirates at them. It was good times, but at 27,000 words when complete, it was not a novel. I also knew it wasn’t a romance because there was too much adventure and complicated colonial politics of the 1820s Caribbean taking the focus away from the relationship. I loved it—but I didn’t know what the heck to do with it. After four months (January-April) of hard work creating the ~30k draft, disappointed by how long it had taken me to craft even that much, I thought about the ten novels I’d copy edited and thought it was not what Dreamspinner would be looking for. I had a few false starts of trying to rewrite it and make it novel-sized, or more romantic, but my self-confidence/skill wasn’t up to the task.

So I put it in a drawer. Six years passed, and I would occasionally revisit the draft, have warm, loving feels for my characters and try to edit it, enlarge it, and consider what to do with it, but come up with nada. What I was doing was self-rejection at its finest. I was blocked on this story.

Fast forward six years, six more NaNoWriMo novels, earning an MFA in popular fiction, and publishing about twenty short stories—my confidence grew more and more with each publication. I sent one of my other novels to a press and it was glowingly accepted, though the editor advised me to send it to a larger press because of the high quality (that email floored me! And gave me the confidence to seek an agent for that novel, which is currently under consideration). I looked through my other projects and remembered how much I had loved my 27,000 word m/m pirate adventure, re-read it and found I still cared deeply about the characters. I submitted it to one novella publisher and was rejected. On a whim, I visited the Dreamspinner site to see if perhaps they were publishing shorter fiction now, and noticed they were coming out with a new imprint called DSP Publications that was more LGBT genre focused (fantasy, sf, historical, mystery etc.) rather than romance. BINGO! I decided to send them a query and ask if they were interested in this as a short e-novella piratical adventure.

Much to my amazement and delight they wrote back. *cue party music*

They thought it was an interesting story with two fascinating characters. The editor asked me about my vision—was it stand-alone or part of a series? She said their reviewers recommended it be expanded into a novel. Was I interested in working with an editor to expand the story?

Me of six years ago would have been too afraid to take this challenge. Me of ten novels and an MFA and some short story and novella publications under her belt was all like YES, YES I WOULD AND THANK YOU. They sent me a reasonable contract that included an advance and nice royalties percentage, a beautifully macro-edited manuscript with wonderful suggestions for expansion that dissolved my blocks instantly, and gave me three months to expand the novel.

And how did that process go?

Three months to expand by at least 23,000 words? No problem! I’m a NaNoWriMo kid!

Again, I approached this with my usual odd mix of overconfidence and low self-esteem, but this time I had two very important tools. Someone important (an editor) had read my draft and said it was good and publishable, and had pinpointed for me exactly what I should do to expand it to something novel length.

I decided to get to work right away at the beginning of the summer just in case I had unforeseen obstacles or health issues. I’m so very glad I did. Even with editorial guidance, I felt I couldn’t edit the thing until I’d emotionally reconnected at a deep level with my characters—who were they, what were their hopes and dreams and histories, what were my hopes and dreams for their futures—because in order to incorporate her suggestions at high skill, I had to intimately know my story. If I didn’t agree with a suggestion, I wanted to be able to intuit what the problem was she was pointing out, and what would best serve my vision of both the characters and the story I wanted to tell. This is truly a Karen Bovenmyer story.

It was very, very hard to get that intimacy back. Not only had time passed, but I was a different person now and writing at a much higher level. I worked on editing every day, re-reading the original, making small changes, re-reading her macro-edit letter and all her comments, re-writing here and there, bringing up the skill and craft. It was taking a very long time and I started to get nervous. I took a week off work and called for backup. My 14-year-old niece camped out in my writing room with me for that week, making sure I was not only continually working my way through the draft, but also getting at least 10,000 steps, food, and 10 minute breaks every few hours. When she left, I had managed all the minor edits and a 10,000 word expansion (far short of my goal) but I’d fully re-bonded with the story and characters. The next six weeks, I wrote a total of 35,000 words and did an enormous amount of historical research (even at the vocabulary level because this is a first person narrative—the Oxford English Dictionary helped me select words only used before 1822). The novella I had written is now the middle of the 72,500 word novel and is still the heart of the story, and I am extremely proud of the expansions and how they shaped the character journeys and message of now well-researched book I turned in at the end of July.

What about the process do you wish you’d known sooner?

I’m lucky that I guessed it was going to be hard to re-bond to the work and bring the level of writing up to my current skill. If I hadn’t known that, there would have been a lot more stress and panic. Also, I was lucky that it was summer, and I had the extra time and lower amount of stress to deal with it (my day job is at a university and my family owns and operates a Christmas tree farm). It was the best possible time for me to work on it, and everything just sort of fell into place. Perhaps the one thing I wish I’d known sooner was remembering how useful a writing soundtrack is. After I had all four Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks in a playlist, I cranked that thing on while driving home to write and by the time I was home, I was ready to jump back in that world. I wish I’d thought of that in May rather than in July, it would have sped up my bonding time.

Another important note—I re-read a favorite J R Ward book at the beginning of July and lost valuable work time. I wish I’d remembered how obsessed I get when reading and discovering someone else’s world and how that robs my focus. Next time—playlist earlier and no other novel reading when facing the revision challenge!

Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmyer will be released in the first quarter of 2017.

Summer, 1822: Caribbean Sea…

Benjamin Swift imagines himself a smuggler, a gun runner, and an all-around scoundrel. A preacher’s son turned hard-bitten criminal. Sinner extraordinaire. But first and foremost, a survivor.

He’s never considered himself noble.

When Benjamin is shipwrecked on a tropical island, fortune sends an unlikely savior: a blond savage who is everything Benjamin didn’t know he needed. Falling in love with Sun is easy, but pirates have come looking for the remains of Benjamin’s cargo. They find their former slave, Sun, instead.

Held captive by the pirates, Benjamin learns the depths of Sun’s past and the horrors he has been exposed to and forced to perpetrate. Together, they must not only escape, but prevent a shipment of weapons from making its way to rebellious colonists. Benjamin is determined to save the man he loves and ensure their peaceful future together is never threatened again. To succeed might require the unthinkable—an altruistic sacrifice.

The Book that Changed My “Why”

For tonight’s Twin Thursday post with Rachel from Undivinelight, we’re looking at a book that changed our writing. Not the what. Not the how. The why. The thing that brings us back to the keyboard day after grueling day. For me, that’s Tamora Pierce’s first book, Alanna.

Now, more than a decade after first reading it, I have books that I enjoy more than that one. Even from among Pierce’s work. But Alanna stands out for a reason: it’s a fantasy book written for girls like me. It was the first work that I remember reading that really drove home to me that women not only could write but could write the kind of stories that I wanted to tell. Stories for girls who want to go on adventures like the boys. Whose defining characteristic isn’t who she falls in love with or the color of her hair, eyes, and dress. That female characters could be brave, quick-tempered, who don’t have to “pretty-cry” when they’re upset.

The reason this stands out to me is that it gave me the courage to pursue writing for myself, to tell stories to young women who feel like I felt. It keeps me going when the rejections start coming in (and, boy, do they ever) or when I hit a block on a story. Sometimes it helps me to take a step back and imagine someone pulling my novel from a shelf and feeling that, yeah, there’s an audience for this. I can do it, too. If I can do that for just one person, it makes the whole thing worth it!