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A Behind The Scenes Look: Editing BECOMING BONNIE

This week, the Deb’s are chatting about the editing of our novels. As writers, we pick up tricks of the trade as we go along. We never stop learning and improving. I like that about our industry. While revising my novel, BECOMING BONNIE, I felt like I had ample opportunities to grow (i.e. it required…
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6

How I Survived Terminal Computer Malfeasance While Editing My Novel

It’s interesting to me how varied our editorial processes have been here on the Debutante Ball. Louise had the more conventional experience, with an extensive edit letter and line edits. Jennifer had two conversations that made an edit letter unnecessary. Mine? Well, mine was nothing less than a gothic horror story — albeit one with…
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12

Deb Susan Revised This Blog Post … and Her Title

I love revisions, and couldn’t wait to write about the revision process – how many drafts I write, and how my novels change from start to finish. But when I looked at it seriously, I realized that topic called for a lot of explanation, and Emperor Maximus Angryfish disapproves of lengthy blog posts:

13B Max

Back to the drawing board.

I thought I’d write about how I revise – first drafts on an Alphasmart Neo, revisions on my laptop, all of it next to the biggest distraction on the planet aquarium that keeps me in my chair.

That would also let me post seahorse photos, because every blog needs MORE SEAHORSE.

13B Ghillie best

Or maybe not.

In the end, I opted to blog about the hardest edit of all: revising my title.

Originally, my novel was titled SHINOBI.

Shinobi is the Japanese word for ninja. (Take a minute, think that over.) “Ninja” is actually based on a Chinese pronunciation of the characters which the Japanese pronounce a different way. Since the novel introduces my ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, and follows his very first “case,” it just made sense to title the thing SHINOBI.

A couple of weeks after signing my contract, my editor sent me an email asking for “alternative title ideas.” Alternative titles??? Uh-uh. No way. Not happening. It took me MONTHS to title that thing SHINOBI, and in my mind no other title would do.

But I didn’t tell her that.

I fretted to myself for a while and put on my thinking cap. My agent and my writing group helped me brainstorm. The process wasn’t fun. Cherry blossom imagery features heavily in the book, so for a while I considered SAKURA – the Japanese word for cherry tree. Unfortunately, that suffered from the exact same deficits as SHINOBI – a one-word foreign title readers wouldn’t understand.

Then I considered CAT’S CLAW – which made sense, because the novel mentions a ninja weapon known as neko-te, which translates to English as either “Cat’s claw” (or , more precisely,”claws of the cat”). It didn’t occur to me to turn the words around, but when one of my critique partners suggested changing it to CLAWS OF THE CAT the title – and naming scheme for my series – fell into place. Claws of the Cat Cover (50)

My editor kept Shinobi for the series. Book 1 became CLAWS OF THE CAT.

Months down the line, I’m glad we made the swap – and happier still that I didn’t dig my heels in and object to the change of name. I like this title better than the first one. It fits the novel better in many ways (you’ll have to read it to find them all).

The process also taught me valuable lessons about attachment, compromise, and the joy of discovering it’s OK not to get everything right the first time. As with all good revisions, the changes made the title – and the novel – even better.

And that’s something even Emperor Max can approve of.

Have you ever had to change your title? Would you be willing to do it if asked?

5

Deb Dana Has Learned to Love Revisions

When I was in college, “revising” a paper — to me, at least — meant eliminating typos, swapping out a few pronouns here and there, and adding or deleting a few sentences.

Writing a book? Yeah, it’s not like that.

Like many of my fellow Debs, I revised my debut enough times that I eventually lost count. And those revisions didn’t merely involve pronoun swaps and spell check. I cut entire chapters, added new scenes, and changed the occupation of one of the characters. I moved events forward and backward in the story chronology and added plot elements to increase the tension. I rewrote, I revised — a lot.

At first, that process seemed overwhelming. When my editor wanted me to make certain changes, I understood her reasoning, but I also thought, “But…if A never happens, then B can’t happen, and if B can’t happen…then how do I get to C? EEK!” In a novel, events have a ripple effect, and like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, if you change something in the past, that change can have huge ramifications in the future.

But what I learned was that revisions, no matter how involved and overwhelming, always, always, always make the story better. When I think back to my very first draft, I can’t imagine that version ending up on bookshelves. I’d be mortified! Every change I made — every scene I moved or character I tweaked — strengthened the story and turned a Word document on my computer into an actual book. The revisions involved much grunt work on my part, but in the end, every change was worth it.

And you know what? Now I actually look forward to revisions. I know: I’m crazy. But as I work on my second book and come across elements that don’t sit quite right with me, I tell myself, “Don’t worry — you’ll fix it later when you revise” or “Your editor will have an idea on how to fix that in revisions.” There is something deeply reassuring about knowing your manuscript can and will be better, if you put in the time and effort.

Have you ever learned to love a task that once seemed overwhelming? What made you change your mind?

 

5

Deb Dana Has a Love/Hate Relationship with Endings

Finish LineI have never been good with endings. When I was little, and my parents took me to see Sesame Street Live, I cried for the last quarter of the show because I was so upset the experience was coming to an end. And if anyone really wanted to get me going, all they had to do was start singing the Mickey Mouse Club “Alma Mater” – “M-I-C – see you real soon!” – and I would instantly burst into tears.

Yeah. I had issues.

As I’ve aged, I haven’t necessarily gotten any better with endings. Every time I move, I get a tear in my eye when leaving my old place, and still get sad when the summer and holiday season come to an end. And when I finish a really wonderful book, I’m always a little sad the experience is over – that I’ll never be able to read that book for the first time again. (I also felt this way when I finished watching all five seasons of The Wire.)

That said, when it comes to my own writing, I love endings. I love being able to pound out that final sentence and then type the words “THE END.” There is something so liberating about those two words. They say, “I did it! I wrote a book.” Even if I know I’ll still have to revise that book ten more times.

I won’t pretend I’m particularly good at writing endings or that I always know what the ending is going to be. I remember hearing John Irving once say that he knows the last line of his books before he even starts writing them, and the whole story unfolds before him, leading to that last line.

For the record, that is not how I work. My endings often change slightly from draft to draft, taking into account other changes I’ve made to the manuscript. I like my endings to be satisfying but consistent with the story, and if I’ve made a bunch of changes that now render the original ending false or hollow, I have to change it.

So how do I know I’ve reached the “right” ending for the story? Put simply, the ending needs to feel right. With The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs, I got there. The ending is satisfying – to me, at least. It feels right. With my second book, still a work in progress, the ending feels…right-ish, but not 100 perfect. I’m still working on it.

I probably won’t ever like endings in real life (where the heck did 2012 go?????), but in my writing, I love bringing a good story to a close.

What about you? Do you like endings? Or, like me, do they always make you a little tearful?

(Oh, and happy holidays to one and all! Whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope you’re spending time with friends and family today!)

 

10

So I’m Revising, by Guest Author Donna Andrews

We are pleased to welcome guest author Donna Andrews to the ball. She is a mystery writer, and the winner of countless awards in the genre–the Agatha, Anthony, Barry and Lefty awards among them, and is known far and wide as one of the funniest writers in the mystery field. She began her career in 1998 as Deb Meredith just did in 2007–as winner of the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Award. This year her fourteenth book Six Geese a-Slaying made the extended New York Times Bestseller List.

So I’m revising.

I have a book due in early January. I’ve finished a draft, and it’s pretty awful.

Like so many writers, I don’t write fabulous books. I write good books. Or okay books. Or maybe even pretty awful books. But that’s okay–I revise them into much better books. Maybe even fabulous ones.

At least that’s what I’ve been muttering to myself this week while working on my revisions. Pruning out stuff that seemed marvelous when I wrote it and now sounds dumber than rocks. Reading a scene that was perfectly intelligible last week and realizing that while it works in my head, I haven’t yet got all the necessary pieces down on paper for the reader. Deciding that an interaction needs to happen earlier or later than it does in the draft, and then realizing how moving that one scene changes so much else, like a long line of dominoes falling over. Determining that I have to figure out a way for one of my suspects to show up way earlier than he currently does.

What I like about the draft phase of writing is that it’s as predictable as writing gets. I work by the quota method. If you write a certain number of words a day for a certain length of time–say a thousand words a day for three months–you’ll come out the other end with a book. It may not be a good book–yet–but it exists, ready to be shaped.

And by predictable, I don’t mean boring or formulaic. Even though I outline, I never really know what will show up on the page when I start writing. Because I outline, I don’t have to write sequentially, so one day I might leap ahead to the grand finale scene, and the next day jump back to add something to chapter one. I know the general outline of the plot, but I don’t always know what my characters will say or what they’ll do within that outline. I just know that if I show up and type, words appear and eventually the magic will happen.

But revising is tough. Unlike a draft, you never know when you’re finished with a revision. Has my rewrite disguised that clue or made it stand out like a black cat on a snowbank? Is that scene funnier now, or was it a lot funnier before I began trying so hard to make it funnier? Do I maybe need to rearrange the plot completely? (Please, God, no!) At least, since I’m writing a series, there are a few things I don’t have to worry about, like whether I should switch from first person to third person narration. But everything else is subject to change.

And unlike drafting, when you can chart your progress with your mounting word count, revision’s impossible to measure. Have I done a good day’s work today? The book has about the same number of words as it did this morning. Different words. Better words? Or have I been rearranging Scrabble tiles on the deck of the Titanic?

I hate revising.

And I love it. Maybe not as much as I hate it, but I love the fact that I do get to revise.

Think of Dickens, writing his books in monthly or even weekly installments–and by all accounts he was indeed writing each installment shortly before publication. Maybe he never sat down to work on chapter thirty and realized that he’d written himself into a corner with something he’d done in chapter two. Maybe he never found himself saying, “Blast, but I wish I could revise that!” I bet he did. More often than not.

For that matter, how many things outside our books would we love to have the power to revise? How wonderful if we could call up a draft of our lives and retroactively revise, say, our investment strategies . . . some of our romantic or marital decisions . . . our choice of jobs or careers. Branch out to the draft of world history, and eliminate a few of the nastier passages, like the Spanish Inquisition, Jack the Ripper, and the Third Reich. Current affairs could use some work, too: let’s do a global search and replace–change war to peace.

But that’s not going to happen anytime soon. And however much fun it is to fantasize about things I’d like to revise . . . that’s not going to get my book done.

Back to the grind. What’s in a Black Russian, anyway, and what kind of glass do you put it in? Can I cut out some more dialogue tags here? Should that be “road” or “highway?” Wait a minute—is Meg’s car up at the house at this point, or down at the barn? Do those cows weigh a ton, or only half a ton? Would doing a taste test on that Black Russian count as useful research or writing avoidance?

Be patient with me. I’m still revising.

5

Licking the Frosting By Former Deb Anna

I would say that the main thing that publishing has taught me is how to meet my deadlines and then make a joke about the fact that it’s 4:23 on Saturday where I am and I’ve officially thus missed my deadline for this post.

Missing deadlines is atypical for me — I’m actually the opposite, the virtual equivalent of the kid who sat in the front row and raised her hand before the teacher even finished posing the question, because I always turn things in early. I don’t know if it’s my natural anxiety, my never-easy-to-please parents or simply my over-perfectionism at work, but it’s like something in my mind shifts when I hear a deadline and I automatically log the date as earlier.

This is all a long-winded way of trying to excuse myself for today’s lapse, which I can only explain as the result of having turned my entire life upside down by moving to New York.

I’m not sure I have that much to add to what’s already been written here about lessons gleaned from publishing, especially after Ellen Sussman’s fantastic post (and, as a side note, Bad Girls is perhaps the most consistently pleasing anthology I’ve ever read, and I’m including the one I contributed to in that assessment).

Despite not having much to add, I’d like to add:

Spending nearly a decade in the magazine world (a bulk of them spent in the gossip ghetto of People, Us Weekly, et. al.) before graduating to novels was perhaps the best training I could have. It’s probably akin to enrolling in the army in order to prepare for a rather rigorous spa trip. Which is to say that making it as a freelance journalist required so much persistence, dedication, tenacity and ego-slaying that it’s made any difficulty that’s come my way in my life as a novelist — and there have been a fair share — seem minimal.

Case in point: when my editor first acquired Party Girl and told me she was going to need some changes, I swallowed hard and prepared for what that meant in the magazine world: essentially, a complete overhaul, potentially involving an entire topic change, which would inevitably be followed by her rewriting the entire thing, not showing it to me and then publishing it with my name on it.

Instead, she asked me if I could add a scene where I developed the love interest a bit more.

That isn’t to suggest that my path to publication or from publication to now has been smooth (my publisher was fired in arguably the greatest scandal to hit publishing in years, and because of that, there was no marketing person and a fraction of the publicity team for my release, I went into the Barnes & Nobles in Union Square and was told that they haven’t carried Party Girl since May, when the store’s two copies were sold, and many other moments either too humbling or humiliating to relay here) but just to say that the book publishing world is far kinder than I was led to believe before I got into it. Obviously, it’s got its harsh side (in my perception, it seems like the industry either considers a book a success if it makes some bestseller lists or a failure if it doesn’t) but how could anything that so many people yearn to do not? I love what Ellen said about enjoying the process because the truth is, by getting to publish, we’ve already reaped the reward. Good reviews, the potential to be on bestseller lists, the possibility of our works being made into movies — that’s all just frosting.

And calorie-free frosting at that.

P.S. Sorry for the lateness. I may well start on next month’s post now.

7

Angsting on Ending by Guest Renee Rosen

We have a divine guest blogger today. Debut author Renee Rosen is joining us to talk about endings and getting through them with your sanity intact. Renee’s novel, Every Crooked Pot is the semi-autobiographical, coming of age tale of a girl on the outside looking in. 

ecp-cover-thumb.jpgChosen a Hot Summer Read by the Chicago Tribune, Renee’s novel has garnered praise from NYT Bestselling authors like Sara Gruen and is currently on the top of Deb Kristy’s TBR pile. You can get it through Amazon or any other online venue as well as all the usual suspects like Barnes & Noble, Borders, and your local independent.


Hi ladies and thanks for asking me to dance and thanks especially to Deb Kristy for inviting me to guest blog today. When Kristy told me the topic on the table this week was endings, I immediately thought about the angst I went through while writing the ending for my debut novel, Every Crooked Pot. 

Originally the novel had a different ending—a safe ending that didn’t challenge me and well, frankly was a copout. Among other issues, Every Crooked Pot deals with an intense father/daughter relationship and all along I suppose I knew there was really only one ending for the novel, but I was too afraid to tackle it. It’s no secret that this novel is semi autobiographical and without being a spoiler, let me just say that I knew the ending was going force me to relive some less than happy memories that I had been trying to dodge. Trying so hard in fact that I opted to write not one, but two different endings—both, which very conveniently sidestepped the real issues.

This is where having a brilliant and compassionate editor comes in mighty handy. Gina Scarpa at St. Martin’s came to my rescue. Her instincts were spot-on and she knew exactly where I had to go, and so she pushed me—ever so gently—in the right direction. I remember I would work on the ending, digging down as far as I thought I could go. I’d show it to her and she’d reply with a “Hmmmm… it’s closer, but we’re not quite there yet.”  We’re not?!!  You mean I have to dig down even deeper? So I did. I know this sounds ridiculously dramatic, but when I finally managed to hit that place where all the truth was hiding, I literally sat at my computer and cried. And I’m not talking a little whimpering here—I’m talking serious, full-blown head-clogging sobs that formed puddles on my keyboard. When I finally reached the end, I felt an enormous sense of relief and lightness inside, like at last, I’d found a way to say a proper goodbye to that part of my past.

Now that you’ve heard my whole saga, aren’t you even just a little curious about this excruciating ending?  Clever, aren’t I?  Seriously, it may have been a painful ending to write, but I’ve been told it’s not painful to read. 

Ladies, it’s been a pleasure being here! Thanks for having me and keep dancing everyone!

16

What a Difference a Year Makes: Guest Blogger Patricia Wood

lottery.jpgI am honored and pleased to introduce today’s guest blogger and fellow Hawaii resident, Patricia Wood. She also has a wonderful blog that’s attracting readers and writers from around the world. Her debut novel, LOTTERY (Putnam, August 2007), is a poignant and wise novel about a very rich underdog who shows everyone just how little his IQ says about his smarts. Read on and learn more about the book, Patricia and her road to publication … I guarantee you’ll love it all.

ABOUT PATRICIA

pat.jpgPatricia was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. She has served in the U.S. Army, worked as a Medical Technologist, horseback-riding instructor, and most recently as a marine science teacher working with high-risk students in Honolulu. Patricia is an avid SCUBA diver, has assisted with shark research, won the Hawaii State Jumper Championship with her horse Airborne, crewed in a 39-foot sailboat across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu to San Francisco, and is now pursuing her dream of writing. Currently a PhD student at the University of Hawaii, her work is focused on education and the study of disability and diversity. She has been fortunate to have the guidance of author Paul Theroux, who spends his winters in Hawaii and has been her mentor. Patricia lives with her husband, Gordon aboard ORION, a 48-foot sailboat moored in Ko`Olina, Hawaii. She has a son, Andrew who lives in Everett, where Lottery takes place.

LOTTERY

“What I love about LOTTERY is that it is much more than a novel about a windfall affecting a simple soul — it’s a book about a stupendous event affecting a great number of people, especially the reader.”

Paul Theroux

Perry’s IQ is only 76, but he’s not stupid. His grandmother taught him everything he needs to know to survive: She taught him to write things down so he won’t forget them. She taught him to play the lottery every week. And most important, she taught him who to trust. When Gram dies, Perry is left orphaned and bereft at the age of 31. Then his weekly Washington State Lottery tickets wins him 12 million dollars, and he finds he has more family than he knows what to do with. Peopled with characters both wicked and heroic who leap off the pages, LOTTERY is a deeply satisfying, gorgeously rendered novel about trust, loyalty, and what distinguishes us as capable.

IN HER OWN WORDS

Where was I a year ago?

When Mia e-mailed to ask if I would be willing to guest blog I leapt at the chance. I mean, why not take the opportunity to procrastinate legitimately from both my current work in progress (to be further known as WIP) and my ongoing obsession as to the exact status of LOTTERY (two weeks from ARC and final galley proof production for release August 2, 2007 in 140 days not that I am counting) at my publishers?
But what would I write about?
What could I say about this last year?
Would I talk about my long arduous journey to obtain an agent? The serendipitous connections I have made with published authors? About my premise that arrived in minutes, written in months, but simmered for years in the recesses of my mind? The jubilation after priming myself to wait interminably for a sale that happened in less than two weeks?
What would I say?
Well.
There is an aura of unbelievable circumstance that surrounds me now. A dreamlike quality to each day.
I turn to my husband at least once a week and say, “Can you F***ing BELIEVE this?”
I am no longer filled with envy when I read about another published author’s path. Each e-mail received asking for a bio, picture requests, letters asking why I wrote my novel — each contract that arrives from another country — each time I surf the Internet and find my name — all give me pause. And I think back.
A year ago.
What was I doing a year ago?
2006.
The struggle. The doubt. Had I wasted three years of my life producing manuscripts that would never be read unless copied and bound using my own dime and handed out on street corners?
This was a year of serendipitous change and opportunity for me. At each fork in the road –each month it seemed — I was being given a chance to go for it or to hang back.
To grab that ring or let it pass by.
And each time I chose to take the risk. Working with Paul Theroux was one of those situations that arrive unwarranted and without expectation.
And the idea – the premise of LOTTERY that jelled and formulated in my mind — that was another.
This premise was different.
This novel was different.
I could feel it deep in my bones — in my gut.
When I confided in Paul, he told me to drop everything and write that novel. NOW!
I acquiesced.
That validation of my idea as a good one sustained me through the first draft. It was written quickly as if fully formed in my subconscious, which, if I am honest, much of it was. It utterly became my story. I lived it. Breathed it. Rolled in it like a dog in dead fish, emerging exhausted, smelly, but triumphant.
When Paul predicted LOTTERY would be my first work published, I unaccountably believed him because I felt that same way in my heart. With no evidence. No explanation. Just an amorphous sense of what the universe had in store for me.
My mother died in April of that year. Grief gave me even greater impetus.
Death became an opportunity. An opportunity to take stock of where I was going and what I wanted to do. Draft two. Three. Four. The spirit of my mother sat on my shoulder. She was a voracious reader but her mind was claimed by dementia.
Would it eventually claim me as well? That thought gave me even more energy and speed.
At the end of May, the very first agent I e-queried asked for the full of LOTTERY to be sent as an attachment. More evidence I was on the right track.
I continued to edit and submit. Although that agent passed with regret, others requested fulls and partials.
The last week of June.
There is no such thing as a Dream Agent. I know this.
But all that year I kept coming across an agency: William Morris.
And a name: Dorian Karchmar.
I studied what she represented. Read interviews she gave.
I decided to query her. Forty minutes later the request for the full came.
She offered representation July 20, 2006 at 5:15 a.m.
It would have been my mother’s 86th birthday.
Some times things are really to be.
The universe works in just this way.
And I am gratified.
I am oh so gratified.