Thursday, January 24, 2013

In which I eviscerate

Laurie Halse Anderson (SPEAK, CHAINS, WINTERGIRLS) tweeted something the other day that made me spew coffee. In part, she said, “Am busy eviscerating the middle part of my book. Ink & guts are everywhere.”

Since I was slicing out whole scenes of my manuscript, I felt a bit bloody myself.

For a long time, I knew the beginning of my story was weak, didn’t capture the protagonist’s voice as it shows up later. I’d also been told by some crit partners that the love interest was coming across as a creep. I tweaked. I revised. I subtracted a bit here, added a touch there.

 None of it worked. The unworkable scenes had to go. *cut* *slash* *burn*

I let my imagination run and a new idea popped up. It added depth to the characters and the world-building.

Some months ago, I had an amazing crit and brainstorming session with Kathleen Duey (SKIN HUNGER, SACRED SCARS). One piece of advice she gave me was to start over with a blank page. I thought I did by changing the protagonist’s POV from third to first, getting under her skin more and by altering some structural elements of the manuscript. But I still tried to save a lot of the original scenes. That was a mistake. It undermined the voice by dragging in elements from earlier versions.

So now I’m in the daunting position of a true rewrite, not tweaking. Amazingly, I’m looking forward to it, because the voice is stronger, the story is more alive and compelling. Already more than fifty pages in and feeling really good about what’s happening.

I found some other great comments on rewrite:

“I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.” – Don Roff (ZOMBIES: A RECORD OF THE YEAR OF INFECTION)

“There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don’t see them.” – Elie Wiesel (NIGHT)

“Books aren’t written--they’re rewritten. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”—Michael Crichton (JURASSIC PARK)

“That’s the magic of revisions – every cut is necessary, and every cut hurts, but something new always grows.” – Kelly Barnhill (THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Read to me, please

I saw an article about how adults are flocking to hear stories read aloud at an art gallery. I got to thinking how I loved being read to as a child, how much I now love listening to audiobooks, and how we go to booksignings in part to hear the author read a scene. There’s some deep, primal connection to the ancient art of telling a story to others.

(Image source: Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Carl Mautz, cartes-de-visite photograph. Creative Commons license.)

One of my fondest memories, too, is reading poetry aloud with a friend in Ireland. We sat by a peat fire and read and read. It’s a sharing—give and receive—of images and human experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how stories are told, probably because I’m deep into rewrite of a fairy tale, which has changed quite a bit since its first version. And also because I’ve brought up the issue in some reviews recently on Goodreads.

There was a time when stories were mainly told by author-as-narrator. Today that sort of narrator is often considered old-fashioned, and many stories are told in close first person or third. This change propels us into the POV of the characters but deprives us of some of the bigger picture view of an authorly narrator.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way. Some stories are made richer with a narrator, others may be stronger without. I do know that I realize I’d be telling my fairy tale in very different ways, depending on which path I journey on.

Here are links to the article in The Guardian on reading aloud to adults and in The New York Times discussing the role of narrator.

Among books/authors where I settle in and really enjoy the narrator are Neil Gaiman’s STARDUST, Ursula Le Guin’s A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, Dianna Wynne Jones’s HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE.

Any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear them.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The No Kiss Blogfest is back!

The fourth annual No Kiss Blogfest, some of the most fun anyone can have without kissing, is underway, hosted by Frankie Diane Mallis. I wasn't going to join in this year, even though I have every other year. I had no no-kisses and even said so on Twitter.

And then! And then! I got this idea and wrote a flash fiction yesterday that I hope you'll enjoy. I sure had fun writing. I even found a picture that works. I'm beginning to have hope for 2013.

Alys had five minutes. Chronos opened the door between dimensions once at the turn of each year for 300 seconds. Not a second extra would he grant.

She clutched a bone-handle knife and a sheaf of papers. The paper was for Mikel, the knife for anyone who shouldn’t be there.

Stepping through the shimmering light, something like a thin waterfall that had replaced the closet door of her bedroom, she entered an identical room—Mikel’s room in Elsewhere. For the first time, he wasn’t there.

 “Mikel,” she said, not too loudly, not sure if something was wrong.

They’d been visiting one another since they were ten. Mikel had stepped through first, scaring the breath out of her one New Year’s Eve as revelers whooped in her neighborhood.

“Where is this?” he’d demanded as if she’d had something to do with him being there.

“Cuyahoga Falls.”


“Ohio,” she added. When he still looked blank, she turned the questioning on him. “Well, where are you from, just stepping into my room from nowhere.”

“Not Nowhere; Elsewhere.”

But now seven years had passed, and they’d learned to use their five minutes well, exchanging quick words and long letters, full of their hopes and fears, written over the months between meetings. Where could Mikel be? She pulled out of her pocket the beautiful blue enamel timepiece he gave her last year so that she’d never lose track of time and never forget him.

Their precious seconds were vanishing.

The outer door to his room banged open. "Alys." He stood in the doorway, looking taller than last year, shoulders wider, black hair longer. He was breathing hard, cheeks flushed. He shut the door and hurried to her. “I’m sorry. The dimension looters are roaming the streets. I couldn’t let them follow me and find you.”

He grabbed a packet of papers from his desk and thrust them at her. She handed him her papers in exchange and put his in her jacket pocket, where she’d already slipped the knife and timepiece.

“Read them carefully,” he said. “I may have found a way to stay in your dimension without fading. There are things I need you to research for me.”

A closed fist in her chest released, and hope spread like sunshine through her. “Really? What is it?”

“No time, Alys. I…” Instead of finishing his sentence, he threaded his long fingers, still chilled from the night air, into her hair. Gently, he pulled her to him. His eyes were deep purple amethyst, and she hoped if he did find a way to stay with her that he wouldn’t have to cover those unusual eyes with contact lenses. She loved staring in their crystalline depths, but this time she found her gaze drifted to his lips. He was going to kiss her, she was sure of it. How many nights had she dreamed this moment would come?

They leaned into each other, eager, and a little unsure. She placed a hand on his chest and another at his waist. His breath was warm and sweet as apples as he leaned closer, but just then the timepiece rang with a single, haunting chime.

  He dropped his hands to her shoulders and backed her into the veil between their dimensions. “Don’t forget me,” he said as he disappeared. As if that were possible. She grasped the timepiece in her pocket and held it tight.