Sunday, April 20, 2008


On many an occasion, my friend and CP, Diana, has joked about my need to have a first line in order to get started on a book. And on more than one occasion I have talked about how important it is as writers not to fall into the trap of our own myth -- to believe we need to write at a certain time, in a certain place, with a certain ambiance lest we never be able to write anywhere else and under any other situations. And so of course I wanted to prove Diana wrong and start on Book 2 (B2) without the requisite first line. At the same time proving myself right that we need to find flexibility as writers.

Oh, how I tried and tried!! I even started a draft, wrote many many words and sent it to JP who said "Well, I don't think that will end up as your first line, but that's a great start to the book!" And then a few weeks later that draft stalled for various reasons. And it was back to plotting (which I don't really do so I'm not sure why I was trying).

I think one of my issues is that the possibilities are so endless when you start a book. I've used the analogy of thousands of doors that stand open and ready at the beginning of the book and writing is a series of closing doors. To me, choosing that first line is like finding the spot in the labyrinth of open doors to start closing them.

Put it this way: before you put one word down on paper, your book is without limits or bounds. With every word, you narrow the focus and the world. And so here I was casting about for ideas in an infinite world!

I realized that for me, finding that first line is finding the jumping off point (yes, duh, but bear with me). Suddenly, the possibilities aren't endless -- they all have to lead from the last word written. At that moment it's not just "what happens" it's "what happens from here? What comes next." That narrows that infinite stream of possibilities dramatically. Having something on paper gives me focus, and if the first line is wrong, then that focus may be off.

When I was in high school I read a book on short story plotting. The author suggested that the beginning of a story is like standing on a line and looking into the distance, each line splitting into more and more branches (like the trunk of a family tree constantly splitting). Each branch is a moment of decision for the character: he can choose to do what he's always done, he can choose to change, or he can refuse to choose. At the beginning, every one of those branches should be a possibility to the reader (like standing at the base of a tree -- there are hundreds of possibilities to reach a leaf). But looking back from the end of the story (from the leaf), every choice should be clear -- there should be a defining path back to the starting point (the base of the trunk).

For some reason, that image has always stuck with me. And so I wonder that if that first line is wrong -- if the trunk of the tree is off, if the rest of the story fails.

Because I've become a big believer in revision, I'd like to say that no, the story won't fail because the first line is off. I know enough people who have changed their first lines to know this for sure.

But at the same time, a while back I was struggling with the infinity of possibilities and then I found my first line and now I can focus on the story. Now, instead of hopping from idea to idea to idea, I can take where I left off and think "what comes next." To me, this is much easier - that first line grounds me and grounds the story.

How do y'all start your stories? How do you find the beginning?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Learning to Love Revisions

A few updates...

Thank you for all of your warm thoughts -- thankfully my kitty's eye is doing much better! And Jake's (the puppy's) paw is much healed and he got reprieve from the lamp shade collar today. He's also gained 10 pounds since we got him 3 weeks ago. Eep! I promise pictures soon!! Oh, and because I always feel that she's so left out, JP's cat is still smelly. And fat. But still cute :)

And now, I'm cross-posting from my Tuesday post at the Manuscript Mavens about revisions and learning to love them :)

I'm not going to lie, I used to hate revisions. In high school, college, law school -- I never revised. With my first completed novel I thought I revised -- I read it out loud, changed the flow of a scene or two to make sure the plot held and ran spell check. With my second novel I set it aside rather than revise a massive plot flaw.

I'm not sure what really changed with The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Maybe it's because I didn't have a clear idea where the book was going so I kept changing things on the fly. Maybe it's because I really felt I had something with that book and I needed to give it the best shot I could. Maybe I just loved the story enough to get it right. But whatever the reason, I learned to love revisions. I'm sure every process is different (and in fact, authors are discussing their revision processes over here on Fangs Fur & Fey), but I thought I'd share mine. Or at least, what mine was most recently :)

After writing 20k in less than 2 weeks I had no idea if I had a viable idea. So I sent it to a CP and she said "Yes! Keep writing!" So I kept writing. I added another 20k, sent these pages back to the CP. This time she noticed some issues. I believe she hated one of my characters with the fire of a thousand suns. And I realized that maybe this book was going to take more work than I realized :)

So I finished the book, changing the plot as necessary. Relationships changed, attitudes changed, secrets changed. But I never looked back -- just kept writing. Because who knew if I'd have to reverse some of those changes or change them even more? I didn't want to waste time revising something I'd just have to revise again.

After I typed The End, I went through and streamlined, making the story hold together, making the relationships consistent, making the story "work." And then I held my breath and sent it out to the same CP and another CP who had no idea what she was getting. I also made JP read it (again!). All were wonderfully honest -- pointing out TSTL moments, telling me how they felt about the characters, etc. So I revised again. I think at this point I was up to draft 5. And then I read it again (and made JP read again!) making sure it really held together. That brought me up to draft 7! More drafts than anything else I'd ever written in my life!

I'm sure I could have gone on to drafts 8, 9, and 10 if one of those CPs hadn't kicked my rear and forced me to start submitting. But she was right -- it was time to stop tinkering and time to start submitting. How to make that distinction? I've heard the advice that when you're only working on the tiny details that don't affect the story, it's time to let it go. So that's what I did.

I have to say, I'm pretty proud of the revising I did on FHT. I'm proud that I actually did it -- that I stuck to it. I'm also pretty shocked because I'm usually not so good with the long term follow through (my guest room closet is a testament to that!). I think one reason I was so set on revising was that I never wanted to look back on rejections and wonder what I could have done more -- what I could have done better. I wanted to send my very best work out into the world just so I could then let it go. And I'm glad I did :)

So, what are y'all's revisions processes? Do you like revising? Hate it? Why?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Odds and Ends

For those of you reading this on blogger, I have to say that as dear to my heart as blogger is, LiveJournal has been winning me over recently. I just love how easy it is to feel connected and part of a larger community instead of one blog hanging out a shingle in the darkness. Of course, what I like most are (a) that you can reply directly to certain comments so it's more of a conversation and (b) the flist so I'm updated whenever a friend posts (instead of with blogger where I have a whole big folder of favorites I gotta check every day!) Plus, I seem to get more comments over there *shrug*. Not that I'm changing the way I'm doing things -- I'll still cross-post, etc., I'm just saying that if you're a LJ fan you can find me there:

So, lots of things going on in life, lots to update, not a lot of time. Hence a listing-type post...

1. For a brief moment, I thought my old computer had come back to life! See, it's just that the screen won't illuminate. Except that it does work when starting up, it just goes dark when it's running, as if it the screen is in hibernation when the computer itself isn't. If I angle it just right, I can actually still see what's written which is how I was able to get last year's tax forms off it. I did a system update and for two glorious days my old laptop worked just like it used to. It was wonderful!! Oh, how I missed it! But then, LITERALLY as I began this paragraph, the screen went out. Crap.

2. In other computer news, my firm was selling it's old laptops dirt cheap -- I like dirt cheap! I'm still angling for a new Mac, but this one here will do just fine for a while!

3. My agent posted a really sweet entry on they Dystel & Goderich blog today. Seriously, it made me teary and brought back the excitement I felt when he first called me to offer representation. JP pointed out that it's the first time he's seen an agent admit that he reads to reject :) I'm not just sending you over there because he says nice things, I actually think it's an interesting insight into how agents approach submissions :) Needless to say, however, I love Jim and he's the bestest ever!

4. In beastie news: Jake has had his whatnots removed and seems no worse for the wear for it. Unfortunately, he had a hanging dew claw we also had to remove and over the weekend he reopened the spot and now he wears a lampshade. Poor guy! He's still wonderful and we have many wonderful walks together! He's also a wimp - submits himself in a heartbeat (he's buffing at the dishwasher right now).

However, when we took Jake in to get his foot re-stapled, I also took my cat, Sam, in cause he's been all winky recently. Turns out he has an ulcer on his cornea and he's in danger of losing his eye. I cannot tell you how upset this makes me (even if he would make the best pirate kitty ever). So fingers crossed that copious amounts of meds work!!

5. Sarah Prineas is hosting a week long chat about publicity and marketing on her LJ. For those of you who don't know Sarah, her debut MG, The Magic Thief, is coming out around June (?) and I've been hearing some great buzz, reading some awesome reviews, and am totally looking forward to it. Of course, publicity varies from house to house, author to author, editor to editor (i.e. no two experiences are the same) but I'm a believer that it's better to know more about the process rather than less, even if it's a process that may be different from yours.

6. If you're a YA author with a debut in 2009, I highly recommend joining The 2009 Debutantes livejournal community (I think it says how on the user page). If you're not a YA author with a debut in 2009, I still recommend the site as we've started in with some weekly discussions about writing and the pub process so far. Did I ever mention I was a deb? Perhaps I should dig up pictures... unfortunately I think it was in the day before digital pics. Ah well...

7. Work (day job work) is copious. However, I am learning tons of stuff. 'Nuff said!

8. I'm horribly late in responding, but Karen Mahoney nominated me for a Roar for Powerful Words award! Thanks Karen!! It really does mean a lot to me that people find my ramblings interesting :) But y'all will have to check back in my next post to see who I nominate :)

Um... I think that's it for now. Though I'm sure I'll come up with more stuff as soon as I hit post :)