Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ze Next Gargantuan Thing...

Well this is larks! Jenny of The Penslayer asked me to participate in a Next Big Thing Blog Hop that began away back at Anne Elisabeth Stengl's blog and continued on from there. I was excited to participate for three main reasons:

1.) The questions were simple, straightforward, and practical
2.) I was asked by the Slayer of Pens herself, and when she calls, you answer.
3.) My targeted participation date happened to be on a Wednesday, allowing me to keep on my nicely tailored "shed-dewl."

So now, enjoy a peek at the not-really-illustrious, but-certainly-hopeful Rachel Heffington's "Next Big Thing"...

What is the working title of your book?

Fly Away Home

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A short story I wrote some years ago titled: "How About Coffee" which, in turn, came from that question floating around my head, wishing for a story to be attached to. It was a very easy story for me to write, quite possibly because I fell in love with the characters right away. Mr. Barnett for the very obvious reason of his total amazingness, Callie because if I had lived her life, I would be very much like her. Our mental process is similar. And because of Nickleby, the cat. And journalism. Also, NYC in the 1950's is a cool combination of place and time that never fails to fascinate and excite me. I wanted to write this book, almost for that reason itself. ;)

What genre does your book fall under?

Inspirational romance

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ohhhhh this is hard. See, I wrote Fly Away Home thinking of Gregory Peck as Mr. Barnett. But obviously that can't be, because he's dead. I have been mulling over this problem for ages and ages, so the only two possibilities I could come up with are a clean-shaven, vintage-wearing Hugh Jackman...

 or Thomas Gibson

Neither entirely satisfies me. Jackman's features are too angular, and Gibson's eyebrows and dimples are all wrong. Sorry, I'm just picky. They just don't make 'em like they used to! :P I could find several also-dead actors who could have played Mr. Barnett. It's so much harder with the modern men! I suppose if I was in charge of the casting-call, I'd advertise for Peck look-alikes.

As for Callie, I had little trouble in pegging Michelle Dockery (minus the accent) for the part.

She looks like Callie to me. Elegant, slender, dark eyes. Looks as if she could say a few things of her own if anyone gave her the opportunity.

But then my sister said she never thought Callie was that poised and elegant. So I was forced to come up with a plan 2 in Rachel Weisz.

Then again, I thought of Lily Collins who is a bit young for the part, but might work out pretty well by the time they'd ever get around to making Fly Away Home into a movie. (But by that time Hugh Jackman would be too old....argh.)

Sass. Yes.

Sean Astin is an easy choice for Jerry Atwood.

Tommy Lee Jones could do the curmudgeon-y role of Mr. Shores well

Nigella Lawson is an easy choice as Nalia Crosticinni. Well, her looks. She's a chef...a t.v. chef, yes, but can she act? I would have to look into that. At any rate, her looks are ideal for Nalia.

Jules Cameron...Ahh...JOSEPH GORDON_LEVITT! Charming, stinkin' good-looking, could play the arrogant, evil nemesis rather well...

Yes. Him.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Glamor and Glitz is Calida Harper's career of choice, but when her ticket comes in the form of a recklessly simple man stealing her heart, a hidden past breathing down her collar, and her long-held ideals tumbling from their sandy foundations, is Callie willing to rip off the precious mask to save another?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

An agency. I hope. That is the road I am actively pursuing, so unless something changes, Fly Away Home will be represented by an agency. Then again, we never can tell what will happen, so if plans change, I'll be sure to let you know.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A matter of about 2-3 months all told. This was the first novel I wrote using my thousand-word-a-day system, so it worked up nice and quick. It is not a long novel (75,000 words) so it did not take long to write, and I had little trouble with plot. I was interrupted in the writing of this story by my month of campaigning in Georgia (If I am remembering correctly...) so it was not a fluid couple of months, but it was no longer than 70-90 days of active writing, certainly.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Comp titles are the bane of my existence, truly. I have said before that the reason Fly Away Home is a good romance may certainly be influenced by the fact that I've read very little romance so I don't have that baggage carting around in my brain. ;) This novel is also unique because while the setting is 1950's NYC, the plot doesn't circulate closely around historic events, so I can't really compare it to historic romances I have read. I intend to make a trip to town and visit Barnes and Noble this week or next to get my Comp Titles for my queries, so I'll get back to you on this.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Gregory Peck, actually. And that short story I mentioned beforehand. And my desire to write a book that would, perhaps, minister to young women who are in similar positions as Callie, bewildered as to what true success is, if there is any God in this world that is interested in their case, and who might possibly be fleeing from a past that hunts them down. There is grace. There is healing. And I hope these girls can find a little of that in Fly Away Home.

In other news, Amy Dashwood, author of Only a Novel will be the next stop in the blog hop, so stayed tuned at her blog for her Next Big Thing soiree!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"They're not here-things...."

Because I was looking through the archives of several blogs last night, I realized how long it had been since I had written a thing entirely unconnected with any "work in progress." Sometimes it feels amazing just to write something that is footloose and fanciful. Something that doesn't require commitment or follow-through, but simply is...and sometimes speaks volumes. Please enjoy this bit. I wrote it, feeling somehow that it fit both Mirriam and Jenny somehow. Don't ask me why because I couldn't say, but I thought I'd post it for all of you to read. :)

By Rachel Heffington

            “I love big cities,” I confided, jog-stepping around a pile of half-melted slush and colliding with his dark gray jacket.
            He laughed and pulled me to his side, pinning my arm under his. The corners of his mouth tried to sober and failed. “Really? I thought you begged me to change jobs so we could live in the countryside and you could forever and always take your dreamy little walks with your little umbrella.” My companion’s strong pull dragged me away from imminent collision with an Asian bicyclist, and into his arms.
            “Smooth,” I said, and tipped my head to one side to see him smile with that rogue’s light in his eyes.
He laughed and took a step backward. “You don’t belong in the city, minka.”
“What is a ‘minka’?”
You are a minka.”
“Ah. I see.” Funny thing is, I rather did see after he said it that way.
“What is it you like about the city, you quaint little changeling-child?”
I scuffled a leaf or two and wished I had a woolen pea-coat so I at least appeared to fit in with the city-dwellers. His words had made me doubt myself and what I liked and didn’t like. But I liked when he teased me, for it was in teasing me that the last of the almost sorrowful tilt to his brow-line smoothed away and he was merry.
I tugged against his grip and pushed my copper-brown hair from my eyes. “What I like about the big city is everything our cities lack.”
“Such as?” He pulled me to a stop as I tried to jaywalk through an intersection. “Outlaw.”
I shrugged. “Small cities have all the big city squalor with none of the attractions.”
His laugh was short, knowing, and the wind pushed his light hair into his eyes. “The attractions seem to me somewhat limited. Traffic, crowds, stressed pedestrians—oh! And the occasional homeless beggar who always pegs me as a philanthropist. Tell me, minka…” He lifted his hair with one hand and the sunlight jigged in his blue eyes. “Do I have a benevolent forehead?”
I slapped his arm with my Library of Congress brochure and forged the way across the street on my own. He caught up with me—I heard his chuckle and the thud of his feet on the pavement, and even after all this time belonging to him, my breath snatched wonderingly in my throat. Two muscular arms wrapped around my waist and squeezed me.
He popped around to my left side and quirked one eyebrow. “Tell me, what are its attractions?”
“What’s attractions?” I played dense, that I might organize my thoughts before speaking them.
“The metropolis’.”
I was quiet a moment longer. “Noble buildings…busy life everywhere. People. Restaurants. History. Sights and sounds.”
“Ah, minka, you’re a blithering chicken.”
We walked for some time without speaking. It was enough for me to know he was beside me, thinking me a ‘blithering chicken,’ calling me ‘minka’, with the sorrow-lines away from his eyes. It was enough for him to watch my fluttering from one side of the walk to the other when a thing caught my fancy.
I looked up at the towering buildings above and ahead and wondered at the thousands of stories the people within must hold. Each a story—each a book, if only I  had the time and talent...He, of course, would laugh at me and tug my hair, but it would please him all the while.
As my thoughts drifted back to my companion, my fingers stole into his. He wore smooth black-leather gloves. I felt small. I needed the touch of his work-scarred hands against my skin.
“Take them off,” I said, my voice a half-whisper.
He knew.
He grunted softly and pulled the glove off with his teeth, then wrapped his warm supple fingers around my hand.
I tugged him to a low wall enclosing a green area with a marble hall behind, and sat on it.
“Are we watching?” he asked, and lifted his chin so the sun picked up the highlights in his three-day’s scruff.
I reached a finger up and brushed his cheek. “You are a swift learner.”
“Mmm.” It was half pleasure, half acknowledgement.
He set his arm firm against my back and I leaned into it, watching this bit of the City spring to life in my small-sight…A man kissed his wife on the steps of the Supreme Court building across the way. Two college students dashed across the road and a blue cab protested with its horn. Down in the gutter a pigeon strutted, the sunlight gifting the feather on his neck with plum and emerald tones. I watched the pigeon and sighed kitten-cat soft.
“Incandescently happy?” he asked of a sudden. I could hear the sorrow-lines in his voice, as if he did not enjoy the small-sight as I did. I wanted him to love it. I wanted him to see as I saw—to feel as I felt—in this, as he did in most other things.
“Teach me, minka,” he murmured into the top of my head. I twisted to see him, and he kissed my forehead.
“Teach you?”
“Your way. What makes you so happy about a dull city block?” His tone was playful, but I caught the shadow in his blue eyes like an uneasy current. I had a wish to dabble my fingers in that blue and change its course to a happier way.
“All right.” I shifted on the wall and blew on my numb fingers to warm them. He tossed me his extra glove and I slipped it on my left hand, covering the precious band of gold linking my soul to his. “It’s only a matter of looking quietly enough. Of…caring enough to notice.”
My gentle reproof caused him a quiet wince and I put my words like a gentle scalpel into the wound to widen the gash for better healing. “You won’t see if you don’t care to. Look now, listen, and wait.”
I held my breath and he held his, the both of us cupped in breathless small-sight. The cars sloshed through a puddle of snow and water, and it tinkled like tiny bells after their passing. I pointed, and he raised his chin a fraction. A mother with a stroller hurried by and her baby yawned. I pointed again, and my companion’s mouth quirked into a fragment of a smile. Above us the early-budding arms of a cherry tree waltzed against the pale, cirrus-strewn blue. He jinked and eyebrow in a question and I nodded, smile spilling into laughter.
I scooted close and rested a hand on his shoulder. “It makes you feel there’s still some good in this world, doesn’t it?”
He turned to me, a wild, tameless sheen in his eyes. “Nooo.” He drew the word out as if tasting it.
My heart started dove-like from its covey, then fell, dead with disappointment.  I could not make him see what he purposed not to.
“It doesn’t make me feel there’s good in this world.”
I startled to again to hear him speak so soon.
“It makes me know there’s good out of it. Perhaps…perhaps, minka, the world is as twisted and barren as it has ever been since that Fall.”
I had to say something to break the cool quiet. “Cheering, isn’t it?”
He patted my knee and tipped his head to one side. “No, listen. These things—these little beauties—they are not from this world. And the other, finer things like courage, honor, and…love…” he squeezed my hand, “they’re not here-things either, are they?”
I couldn’t laugh with him because of the sudden tears.
He clasped his hands between his knees and leaned forward into that keen, critical stage which never ceased to enthrall me. “Minka,” he said of a sudden. “Take notes because this might be clever….perhaps the good we see in people isn’t in them at all, but on them. Like a coat. Like a veil. Maybe it’s not because they’ve withdrawn enough to see into the world. No.” His lips were firm, his brows working to aid the thoughts to come out right and shapely. “It’s because they’ve left this world behind, for once, and have seen out of it. They’ve reached up to Heaven, and all these things are God-gifts. Aren’t they, chicken? And our hearts have poked holes in the bottom of Heaven to let the giving through.”
I was silent and stunned by his sudden gripping and vocalizing of my own soul-thought. “You are…”
“Am I right?”
I didn’t answer—couldn’t.
But he threw back his shoulders, finished with his philosophy for this moment, this day. “Say truce, minka. You’ve taught well and I am a swift-learner. We’re like, you and I.”
So like.
He stood and offered me his hand, dragging me to my feet. “So you like the City, my girl?”
We started down the sidewalk, and I smiled, drawing my shoulders up. “I do.”
“Funny thing, that,” he muttered, and jammed his fists into his pockets, taking long-legged strides I had to jog to keep up with.
“So do I. I like it minka…for a change.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"...a woundy luck..."

"Indeed, there's a woundy luck in names."
 -Ben Jonson

I had always heard that an essential component to rewriting was reading your work aloud. Frankly, I took that as downright hogwash.

I mean, honestly, wasn't my adorable, British-accented mental voice the best at the job?

Really. I mean it. For years I've swallowed whole the idea that reading your own work silently has exactly the same effect as reading it out loud. After all, you are the one that wrote the ruddy thing- shouldn't you be quite able hear in your head when a thing sounds out of place?

Apparently not.

The minute I actually read Fly Away Home out loud, a strange and wonderful thing happened. First of all, it sounded a lot better than I'd even hoped. The adorable Brit in my head evidently doesn't understand Calida Harper the way my sassy American self does. Because that girl is full of vinegar when I read her. Not only was the dialog more fun, but it was easier to hear the mistakes.

A sentence that may be grammatically correct does not always roll off the tongue very well. Your analytic "brain" filter would read it as a job well done, but your more objective ear hears that it needs to be reworded for best impact. Another thing I realized in reading aloud that I had not noticed while skimming in silence was that Callie used Mr. Barnett's name far too much.

Take a section of dialog in your own book and read it. You might be surprised at how often your characters reference each other's names, and how unnatural this sounds. Think about it: in conversation with a friend or a family member, how often do you really use their name? Not often, I'll warrant. In real life, you rely on body language and eye contact to get the person's attention. Unless you are in a crowded room, there really is no need for you to conduct a discussion this way:

"I need to get this done today, Sarah."
"But Rachel, I'm using the computer."
"Now, Sarah!"
"Rachel, I'm in the middle of a blog post!"

Right. So you get the picture. (And may I remind you that my dialog was not this cheap in FAH). In fact, think about the impact of names the world over. In the past, naming a place, a person, or a thing has been a ceremonious business-a thing people attach much importance to. In the Jewish culture you didn't name a child till the eighth day of its life. In Genesis, God gave Adam his name, and Adam (in turn) gave Eve hers. Throughout the day a little child is generally called by a nickname or a first, but if little Sophia gets into mischief, you can be assured it will no longer by "Sophy," but "Sophia Adella Hawkins!" 

Names add punch, so to use them as little as possible to is to make the times you do use them that much more powerful. In normal, amiable conversations, I edited the scenes so Callie hardly used Mr. Barnett's name. But there are moments when she does use his name that are all the more poignant for it. Moments when she adds his name onto a question because a name  gives her something to cling to, and she is drowning in a confusion. Until I caved and read my work out loud, I hadn't noticed how I'd cheapened the power of names.

But if reading aloud helps with editing, it is also a glorious exercise in professionalism. See, I have a complex. I can write all day long about my writing on this blog, on Facebook, in emails to relative strangers, and have not the slightest qualm about it. I'm not nervous, I'm not peckish. But the moment a member of my family asks about my writing--what my book is about, what the themes are, what the plan is-- or if they peer over my shoulder while I am writing, I freeze up. I can't think straight, and a fierce grouchiness comes over me. I think this phenomenon can best be described as bashfulness. As much as I love all of you, you are one dimensional to me. I don't live with you, I don't work alongside you, I don't give you a hug every morning when I come downstairs. I suppose the long and short of it is (without any disrespect for you) that your opinions hold less weight than my family's. I believe that is why I get nervous when my family wants to read my books aloud. I absolutely hate it.

Why do I hate it?

What is it to me if they read what dozens of you read on my blog every week?

I really don't know, and this is a thing I'm trying to get over. I am so awkward at home over my writing. Perhaps it is because I find it harder to speak what I feel than to write it. I can write my thoughts on what my book is about at great length here, but I can't express it in a handy sentence in reality. I sit there squirming like a worm in a pecan shell when my book is being read not because I'm afraid they won't like it, but because I'm unaccustomed to hearing my own words outside of my own head.

Speaking a thing, like speaking a name, has great power. You may have a world inside a world inside your head, but until you speak of it, no one else can share in the wonderment. Reading your own work out loud and just listening to the flow of story and sentence is a great way to practice graciousness. It seems ridiculous to think that you'd have to practice gracious acceptance of your own creations, but for me it's a real dilemma.

How do you deal with other people reading your work?
Do you read your novel aloud when editing?

Monday, January 21, 2013

"I said that I could do it...I knew it...I knew it."

"I said that I could do it and indeed I did!"
-My Fair Lady

Fair ladies and noble gents...

...great people from far and near...

The day has come when I have completely finished Fly Away Home!

I realize, of course, that this may not be the most exciting news you've ever heard, but for me it's a definite milestone. Not only have I effectively edited, applied critique, and rewritten the whole book quite systematically, but it's a story that has promise and potential. I have a sneaking suspicion that if my dreams of publishing are to come true, Fly Away Home might be the means.

^All she needs is Nickleby. :)

 It's a dear story full of humor, wit, romance, and nobility with a nice wide slosh of "danger." In fact, the villain of the story, Jules Cameron, perfectly describes his part in the novel in one of his finest moments:

“How about a cocktail of murder, intrigue, romance, and lies?"

Ah yes. And if that doesn't intrigue you, you must be in need of cardiac-surgery. (If that's even a term, which I somewhat doubt.)

I have a really exciting opportunity for a famous-in-the-Christian-circles man to read my book and give me his opinion. If it all works out, this could be amazing: getting professional input from this man would mean a lot to me. It'll be downright scary, but it will be great. In the meantime I will begin to send round the query letters and pray this book finds a home soon.

Mothers are not suppose to have favorite children. I'm not certain if that rule applies to authors having favorite books, but who really cares. Because I have written 5 novels now, I know that there are some that just stick with you. Fly Away Home is that way for me. There was not a moment I actually got tired of it. In fact, the rewriting process only made me understand several characters all the better so that I actually like them more at this end of it. Some of the these characters are Maralie Barrymore whose role was so changed by the final edition, and Jerry Atwood who is still a darling, and still one of my favorite side characters despite all the changes around him. Nickleby, too, is a paragon of marvelous cat-dom. When this book is published, your feline friends will enjoy it quite as much as you, because one of their kind plays a large-ish part in the story.

I have high hopes for this book, and I love it.

I know you'll love it.

I know that the readers I have given the book to have loved it.

I suppose all I want to say is that all the woes of planning and executing a story, all the trials of editing, all the pain of rewriting, all the annoyance of taking other people's opinions and applying them to your book....all of it is so entirely worth it when you can click out of Microsoft Word, having polished it till it shines like Jerry Atwood's desk bell, and think:


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

C- Cecily

Killsfeather Court was just there—a block away—and in that court she knew she would find the Macefields. Bother the Macefields and every other family that required a nanny. Couldn’t she have been banished to the business of…cookery, perhaps? But no, it had to be nannying, and the family had to be this one. One would think that the heroic deed she had performed would be rewarded with some semblance of attention to her wishes. But no. Her term on earth had begun with a firework of ill-premonitions; service to the Macefields the worst of it all.
-The Scarlet-Gypsy Song

Cecily Woodruff {Lady Cecelia} is an interesting character to write for the bald reason that--quite simply put--she's out of place. The duration of The Scarlet-Gypsy Song, Cecily is out of her proper realm. This world is entirely new and different and she made the choice to come anyway. Though I would never peg her as the Christ-like figure in Gypsy Song, Cecily definitely mirrors Him in this way:
She leaves her proper home--the child of a King--and descends into another to save her people. Unlike Jesus, however, her sacrifice is not enough to turn away the dogged Fitz-Hughes. Her sacrifice, in fact, only angers him and spurs the clashing sides onward, culminating in pillage and rapine across the lands.

As she is a stranger to this world, I had the opportunity to write her character full of odd quirks. Cecily's life as the princess of Scarlettania has been a life of gentle pursuits, quiet pleasures, and lush surroundings. As she admits, there were no lessons for the royal daughter to prepare her for the life she would lead as a nanny in hopelessly prosaic London. Accustomed to being a person of consequence, Cecily's character borders on pretension, snobbishness, and narcissism--all perfectly forgivable if you think of where she came from and where she is now.

This is a subtlety we often overlook as writers.

Where has your character come from?

What influences of culture, position, and family have made her what she is?

Yes, Cecily is a kind young lady, and a sweet one. Her heart is in the right place, and she loves her people. After all, didn't she bring all this on herself voluntarily? But if I wrote Cecily as the classic, perfect princess, her character would not be half as believable. A girl whom for sixteen or seventeen years has been catered to, looked up too, and lauded would not immediately transform from that position to a humble nanny of the Macefields. Especially in the first several chapters, the incongruities of London and Scarlettania are painful at best, and I like it that way.

You wouldn't move to Helsinki and promptly feel at ease among the culture, language, and people. (Unless you already live in Helsinki, and which case I tip my proverbial cap to you.) There would be a transitory period in which the topmost clashings of culture would be all that was apparent to the general eye. So it is with Cecily Woodruff--this beautiful and misplaced princess of Scarlettania.

Of course she adjusts over the duration of The Scarlet-Gypsy Song, and one of my favorite parts involves Cecily and that wretched Mrs. Macefield teaming up to accomplish something that will once again rescue Scarlettania.

Oh yes. She's a very good girl in her own right.

She gathered her skirts and her hair into her arms and trundled down the last three stairs and across the black-and-white tile floor. At the door to Mr. Macefield’s study she closed her eyes and rested her forehead on the wood paneling. What a predicament for any self-respecting woman—much less a princess—to find herself in. The cheek of these earth-folk. The children probably did it out of sheer malice—something about her not being as good as Nannykins—whoever she was.
-The Scarlet-Gypsy Song

Monday, January 14, 2013

"She is a perfect cruet."

Although it is time again for Snippets of Story, this month I have not written over-much new material. Perhaps that will change through the next two weeks and I can do a post then. Most of my writing has been the composition of fill-ins and beefing-up pieces for Fly Away Home, or messing about with a new plot idea. (One that I am not springing on you just yet.) You will have to be patient. I am, however, giving you a fresh, deeper glimpse into Mr. Barnett's character. After much thought, I have decided to add a few of Mr. Barnett's "Journal Entries" throughout the book. Because of a certain aspect of Callie's story, I have wanted and needed Mr. Barnett's side of the story to be cloaked. All the same, after consulting many friends (and my own good sense) I decided that it would be prime opportunity to deepen his character, deepen other characters, and generally flesh out the plot if I give you a bit of Mr. Barnett from his own lips. Er...pen. I am in the process of deciding where these pieces will fall, what back-story and new plot developments they will bring to light, and what I will do with this new wealth of material.

Fly Away Home is written in first-person narrative. It's so much fun to write Mr. Barnett's perspective after having written Callie's. Their voices are so elementally different. Callie's is sassy, sarcastic, insecure, and sweet by turns. Mr. Barnett's is careful, archaic, precise, and laced with dry humor. It's actually a little weird getting this close to Mr. Barnett. Getting into his head, in a way. It makes me feel like somehow I've taken a huge step into his character and that I've burst his personal bubble.'s pretty amazing....I thought I'd share an excerpt from Mr. Barnett's journal relating to the first time he meets Calida Harper...


…I rang Mr. Shores of The St. Evan’s Post in the evening. If the poor fellow smokes—and I believe all of them do—I’m afraid he swallowed his cigar whole when I announced who I was, and my purpose for calling. It was a one-sided conversation due—I fear—to the swallowed cigar. I politely informed him that I had an interest in beginning a small magazine for the families of America, and wondered if his firm would consider supplying an assistant for me. I had every intention of suggesting Miss Harper for the job, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t think of a plausible reason for knowing the girl. It seems she’s an obscurity I ought to know nothing about. Reminds me of a kitchen drudge in the dungeons of those great English houses.
By some blessed event, Mr. Shores agreed to my plan. He shares the desire of all his type to ‘not be taken in’, by which I understand them to mean they won’t allow themselves to believe in anything, lest it prove untrue. This trait added the complications of him doubting my seriousness, doubting I could get the thing together and doubting—above all—that he could spare anyone to help me.
“Haven’t you any…dispensables?” I asked. “Anyone just taking up space in the office?”
“Why are you so hot to get someone from this office, Mr. Barnett?” he asked.
I felt exactly like man clinging by his fingernails to the edge of a cliff and wishing the rope would come just a bit closer so he could grab hold of it. I reminded myself I would act in a similar fashion if put in Mr. Shores’ position. “I take an interest in underdogs, Mr. Shores,” I said. “Furthermore, I thought it would be an attractive position for your business. Think of the possibilities, sir. If my magazine succeeds—and forgive me the vanity, but I am certain it willThe St. Evans Post will have the dignity of being co-founder.”
He was silent for some moments before agreeing to my scheme. We set a meeting for three o’clock today, and that is why—an hour or two ago—I was in a wretched, ninth-floor office meeting Calida Harper.
The girl reminds me of a yearling filly—headstrong, calculating, and ready to kick a fellow at the least provocation. She stared at me as if I was a ghost first, then Winston Churchill, then a free ticket to Easy Street, then a banana peel in a trash-barrel at the West End. I am not sure on what footing this puts us. I’m not sure she’s sure. I suppose tomorrow will tell.
I ask myself what I think of her.
She is beautiful.
“Calida”…“Beautiful warmth”. Which I must admit is horribly ironic. Miss Harper seems to prefer the cold-shoulder method of communication. She is a perfect cruet, to pardon an odd expression; tall, stately, and full of vinegar.
I have so much to do in the next few days. My yacht will be out of the dry-dock with all repairs finished. I’m thinking of rechristening her. I shall search around for a good name, and ask Dirigible to paint over the old one. Sailors say it is bad luck to change a ship’s name, or to paint her a different color. What a mercy Man has more than one chance to change his stripes. ‘Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His mercy endureth forever.’


Friday, January 11, 2013

How To Survive Rewriting: the good, the bad, and the ugly

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In short, it was time to rewrite Fly Away Home.

After having sent the book to numerous beta-readers, the critiques started swinging back in and for the past several days I've been swamped with so much rewriting it nearly made me question my calling as a writer. (I jest, I jest....partly.) At first it was an overwhelming jungle of horrid mistakes, plotting, and things to correct. I stared at the sheets of closely-written notes from my grandmother, and at the lengthy emails from my long-suffering friends, and thought, "What the blazes have I got myself into?"

There is always this moment on the edge of editing and rewriting, and the question is, "What will you do with it?" Only the brave and true survive the process. Only the dedicated have the guts to go through with it.

With all humbleness, I am one of them.

I know that rewriting is only going to make my book better. It's daunting, terrifying, and wretched at times, yes. But there is also a sense of exhilaration. If you are one who is looking down on your work in progress and wondering how you'll ever make a sensible book out of the hash in your hands, you are at the right place. In this post I intend to make you laugh, make you groan, and show you a little of how I go about it. Ready?

All right.

After assembling my thoughts and girding myself with bravado I didn't feel, (and a deal of prayer I did feel) yesterday was the official re-write kick-off. Witness my Facebook postings throughout the day:

January 10, 12:13 p.m. :

That feeling of utter confusion, bewilderment, and terror when you realize "editing" is more like "rewriting" and you gulp, close your eyes, and plunge in the knife.

January 10, 12:19 p.m.:

The general consensus is that I need some yelling in my book. *feels shell-shocked, realizing she must now spend the day getting her characters into several arguments in several places*

January 10, 11:54 p.m.:

Because there are days when you can't escape editing, and a purple pen lessens the terror. A smidge.

So my first suggestion? Use a purple pen. Never use red. Red is the color of blood. Red is the color of guilt. Use anything but red, I beg you.

The first official step in Rewriting is to identify which pieces need a complete overhaul.

In my case there were two key scenes that several beta-readers had commented on. I knew I needed to completely redo these scenes, adding material, cutting material, changing characters, etc. This was extremely daunting and I hardly had the courage to start cutting in. But I knew it needed to be done. When have a head-to-head with a thing that screams "DEATH! DESTRUCTION! RUIN! CHAOS!" the best thing to do is ignore the fact that it's enormous. I went in with a scalpel rather than a broadsword, and began to make my correction little by little. Don't look at the big picture in these overwhelming moments. Go line upon line, precept upon precept (to hackney a phrase) and you'll soon find the thing is done. Rather than editing the original file though, I copied and pasted the sections into a separate document which immediately tamed the tigers.

Working in separate files gives you mental freedom to make changes, knowing you can always revert to the original if you must. Both of my sections were large and unwieldy and it took me all day, but I rewrote 7 or 8k words yesterday. I was so pleased with the outcome, I made the decision to edit the original file and ditch the old material.

It was a wonderful feeling. ^.^

After fixing those two beasts, the next step was to try my hand at the Post-it Note System. This is my version of a system introduced to me by author Stephanie Morrill. I had wanted to try it ever since seeing her example on Go Teen Writers, and today was my chance. I woke up bright and early, knowing that I wanted to get my Wall of Power made before breakfast so I could focus on editing the rest of the day.

I wish my camera had captured the grandeur of the sunrise. It was so brilliant.

Sarah is out of town which has been great for my rewriting schedule because I can work at odd hours and not disturb anyone! After waking myself up with a shower, I sat and wrote a sticky note for each scene in my book. I was well-fortified with brightly colored Post-it notes, my purple pen, and my JJ Heller Pandora station.

Oh yes. And chocolate. Please don't forget the chocolate.

 Stephanie's system was a combo of index cards and sticky notes, but I went with only Post-it notes and created my own method that is working absolutely amazingly for me.

 Each color means something different:

Pink: Average scenes
Green: Key "turning-point" scenes
Blue: Possible scrap-scenes
White: Suggestions
Yellow: General comments

I ended up with 70-some "scenes" and it pleased my organized side to see that they squared up with precision when I stuck them to the wall. I was also pleased to find that--not including the two major rewrite-scenes yesterday--I had only a of couple scenes to consider cutting. (This will be my third edit on this book, so I got rid of, or rearranged several scenes in the former rounds) All the same, I reconsidered several scenes and replaced their sticky-notes with ones of a different shade where needed. After that I took out my white pieces and made lots of suggestions for various scenes such as...

These suggestions are so helpful when you need a quick glance to remind you of what needed fixing in the given scene. Heighten tension? Add an argument? Mention this event? Incorporate a certain character? I was proud that I remembered to number the individual Post-its so that if they fell off the wall I could get them back in order without driving myself crazy.

I had fun with the cryptic descriptions of certain one but myself need know what some of them mean...


Here is the wall after rearranging and adding notes:

The awesome thing about this system is that you can literally see the flow of your story. If my key scenes are the green ones, I can see where I need to check tension in the lesser scenes, where I might need to relieve it in the intense blocks, etc. Since you're dealing with Post-it notes, you also have the freedom to play around with rearranging the various scenes. The yellow Post-its, again, are general things to remember throughout each scene and all the way through to the end. 

Another perk of the Wall of Power is that it allows you to easily identify, add, and follow "circularity"--a topic Jill Williamson touched on over at Go Teen Writers earlier this week.

Me standing against the Wall of Power. 

Or the Wall of Terror. 
Both were appropriate depending on when you caught me during the day. By lunchtime, my Facebook statuses were less than cheerful:

January 11, 12:13 p.m.
Historical accuracy makes me want to up and write fantasy. :P


January 11, 1:19 p.m.
Waaaaaaaaa. Editing today is a Sudoku puzzle. Move one piece and the rest goes to shambles behind it.

After I came down to lunch, Mama listened to me rant about wishing there was a coffee shop that wasn't twenty-five minutes away, then calmly said, "Well, you could go anyway. It isn't that far."

I could, couldn't I? With computer in tow. 

It is a maxim of mine that a change of scenery does wonders. Therefore I toted my laptop full of its quibbles with Mr. Barnett, geography, Callie Harper, and 50's slang, and went to Panera. There, I ordered therapy in the form of a cinnamon roll and hazelnut coffee. I took a window seat and flipped open my computer. 

I heard Eric Hutchinson's "Rock Roll" and smiled.

It was a good spot for editing. 

And for taking awkward pictures with the self-shot of one's tablet.

And for embarrassing oneself by taking one's laptop from the laptop case borrowed from one's guitar-playing brother, and finding there is all a manner of horrid things springing out at you like strings and papers and pens and picks. And everyone stares at you tolerantly.

I was there an hour and a half and got nearly all the way through the list of corrections I'd copied down from my Wall of Power. YES! Along the way I was aided by a phone-call from a friend who has just been Sher-locked, and musing over just how amazing Steven Moffat is, and how he probably had to go through this self-same rewriting process for his genius. Tomorrow is Saturday, and therefore a day for cleaning house, but I expect to be right back to my Wall of Power on Monday, making corrections and giving Mr. Barnett a temper, and finding out just where in Manhattan The St. Evans' Post ought to be located, and doing all a manner of things. In fact, I'd rather not think about it. In the past two days I've taken huge leaps in the rewriting, and it's amazing to see what persistence and elbow-grease will do to a story. 

Rewriting isn't easy, and I'm not trying to make it out to be a lark, but it is helpful to have tips and tricks. I hope I've encouraged some of you with a peep at my system, and I assure you it helps. Just get down and get your hands dirty, and it'll all come right in the end. 

We hope. ;)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pretty soon you have a dozen.

With the new year, I have new schedules and new plans and even (yes, yes, I admit) new stories. More on that topic later. My new "schedule" optimistically went past its bounds of Real Life and entered Blogging as well. Because blogging requires Real Life time, I thought it only wise that the Real Life schedule be brought in. You know. I don't have to explain here. I will enlighten you as to what I mean further down the page.

The New Schedule sets my day up nicely for me. Monday through Friday I have slots for each of the following:

The writing of at least 1,000 words
One hour of editing or querying
One hour of reading

All three of these things are items I want to be sure to keep balanced this year. I don't like querying, reading gets pushed to the back burner in intense moments of inspiration, and editing always has its face of horrific torture. *Glaring at The Scarlet-Gypsy Song* (By the way, "Horrific Torture" is redundant, I believe. Welp...moving on.) I might be certainly shall be more inclined to write 2,000 or even 3,000 words before I'd sit down and write yet another query letter. In order to reduce temptation in this regard, I've slotted just about an hour for each facet of the Writer's Life. Hopefully I'll get more time to read than what I've slotted, but nowadays that is all I can comfortably spare. (If I make it that long) The grown-up life can be very harsh on reading lists, can't it? All of this babbling on about schedules was meant to let you know that The Inkpen Authoress will be moving onto a schedule. There will be new posts Mondays and Wednesdays, though of course I shall be glad to see you any day of the week. I should think I'd hardly have to let you know that if you don't put a thing on a schedule, you don't get any work done. Same thing with blogging. If I hadn't decided to put The Inky-Dink on a round-about, don't you agree I would continue on with spotty posts? I can't have that. I intend to be a fully reliable staple in the world of writing blogs, and 2013 shall be a lovely Monday-Wednesday year.

Watch me post on a Tuesday.

Just watch.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

B- Banter

"Tha's tryin' to jest the jester!"
-The Scarlet-Gypsy Song

A large part of the way I enjoy interacting--or watching others interact--with people is banter. For me, a movie that has a so-so plot but sparkling dialog can be saved. Same with books. So it was only natural that, granted the nature of The Scarlet-Gypsy Song, I should include plenty of banter. There is a distinct difference between Banter and Verbal Sparring, and I made sure to include much of the latter whenever I introduced the former. Like Jenny Freitag said, the two are completely different animals.
Banter is good-natured jibing and teasing, while Verbal Sparring is jibing and teasing with intent and reason; often to discomfit the opponent--not to elicit a laugh from them. I think of banter like friends playing chicken-fights in the water, while verbal sparring is like playing stick-knife with a real knife and a gang of rough-and-tumbles standing at the ready to pound you if you win.
Essentially, The Scarlet-Gypsy Song is a book full of characters that are all too clever for their own good. They each have a rather high opinion of their intellect, and it can result in tidy little tit-for-tats. The challenge in writing it, of course, was not to let bantering go too far on its own. Often I turned what had been banter into verbal sparring, because who really wants to sit and listen to banter on its own for eight paragraphs?--certainly not I. But banter is a fabulous way to ease into a tense situation. The tone is light, congenial, and then suddenly turns desperate.

“I have no wish to fight you.”
“Haven’t you?” Mockery and contempt mingled freely in Diccon’s tones. What a donkey this fellow was—he wondered with idle curiosity whether Peter Quickenhelm was at all related to Sir Roger Guillbert, but the thought was brief. There were more important matters at hand. “You call yourself a soldier, and yet you are fearful of meeting a man in fair combat?”
Peter raised his eyes and all the pride of a wounded lion flashed from them and scalded Diccon. “Is ambush considered fair combat?”
Diccon observed him with his head on one side and a pitying eye. “Many a wiser man has answered that question: ‘All’s fair in love and war,’ or haven’t you heard? I rather think you are besotted with love—or something rather cruder—for these damsels. I—” he put a hand to his leather veskit, “—am a man of war. Therefore, I deem it fair combat, and you, my chosen opponent.”

The beauty of banter and verbal sparring is that it wards off melodrama as effectively as Thief's Oil wards off illness. I have used banter to lighten moments of danger, but it's also equally effective in romantic scenes--a tactic I used more than once in my other novel, Fly Away Home. See, I'm not a big one for deep, dramatic dialog. I enjoy reading it sometimes (especially in older books) but I don't choose to write it--it isn't a natural tone for me. When you are writing with a sweeping, emotional voice, it can be hard to avoid coming across as melodramatic. That is when the all-purpose tool of banter or verbal sparring could save the day. Try it, and see how it works out for you!

Diccon turned around and caught Adelaide’s eye, then smiled. He approached her and extended his hand. “Ah, my own sister—let me escort you to the very capable hands of that fierce little wench—Dear-Heart, was it? You look in need of a good wash.”
Adelaide laughed. “Doubtless you are right—and yet it is not the bearing of a gentleman to say so.”
“Is it not a gentleman’s duty to tell the truth? There—I have silenced you.” He laughed and patted her shoulder. “Get you to the chamber and clean up—it will be a mighty evening.”