Birth of a Novel Part 10

This is the sixteenth entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy. Yes, sixteenth, even though the post is entitled Part 10.

I usually name each chapter after I've written the thing. With Mythos, however, there are no chapter names. Just the stark - Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and so on. If I were to name my chapters, though, I think I'd call chapter thirteen: "The Aftermath, Part I". I kind of like that. On the other hand, I've been reading The Lightning Thief, which has really cool chapter titles like, "Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death". Now that's sweet. I could call this chapter, "Magenta Blows Me Off But The Fat Guy Is Still There". Something weird like that.

I should say that from this point on in my Birth of a Novel posts, I'm going to be purposely hazy about the plot details because I really don't want to give the game away. This also makes it more difficult for me to include snippets of the chapter.

So life has seriously begun to suck for Zydeco. Life has changed for him, and he's lonely and miserable. And now that I've written it, I realized he's not acting and thinking as miserably as he ought to, given what's happened. This won't be hard to fix, but I know I need to go back make the dude more depressed. Mind you, he can't be a total "layabout-hiding in the dark-never climbs out of bed-doesn't eat-sleeps all the time-reeks" for long. Readers like him. He's my boy. I want people to still like him. And he's nothing if not resilient.

How we handle tough times defines us. It's a simple truth, but also makes for great fiction.

When I suggested "The Aftermath, Part I", it was a hint. Bad things happen to good people... or griffins, or whatever. Notices that it's bad things, not bad thing. There will be a second aftermath, and this is where Zydeco will show his mettle. That begins in chapter 14.

Today's snippet.

I was thinking of lost moments in the library with Tameina when I nearly crashed into Lex on the school’s front steps. The look on her face seemed appropriate for visiting a sick friend. “How are you?”

Crap. I wasn’t in the mood for the instantaneous cranial stupidity her voice instilled in me. Much to my surprise, I was able to force a few words out of my mouth, but my voice sounded weak to me. “I’ve been better.”

A group of guys in red varsity jackets burst through the doors, but stopped like a flock of birds crashing into an enormous window.

Lex shot them a scathing look. “How many times do I need to tell you boys? I don’t like jocks.”

They grumbled as one and went back inside.

Chapter 14 is a little slow going right now. Apparently, the Inner Evil Editor has made a return visit. I guess he missed me. Thanks for checking out this BOAN (Birth of a Novel) post, and stay tuned for more.

To read about the last chapter, saunter on back to the previous entry.

To check out the next chapter, you might want to shimmy over here.


ABNA and the back-story tweak

Late last week I decided to enter the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest. This year, they added a separate Young Adult category for submission, which is a pretty cool deal for us YA writers because our books were compared against adult fiction in the past. They really are different categories in my view. The style of YA is often quite distinct and needed its own special place.

Seeing as how Mythos wasn't ready, I decided to enter The Children of Midian. However, I realized some things needed changing: the opening and the pitch. As far as the opening goes, I eliminated chapter one and the first half of chapter two. The book now begins with fourteen-year-old Elliot in the woods at dusk, moments before curiosity brings him into the shack from which he's carried off to Midian.

When I originally wrote Midian, I didn't subscribe to the notion that your book should begin when everything changes for your protagonist. I wrote the story where it began. In fact, I once had a way cool prologue, but I put the thing in the guillotine. In theory, everything that occurs before the "big change" is nothing but back-story. That includes prologues. Once this finally sunk into this slack brain of mine, it became quite simple.

What are you supposed to do with back-story? You weave it in throughout your book. In the case of Midian, I've long feared starting where things changed for Elliot because some crucial character information resided in those opening chapters. When it "clicked" this weekend, I was able to weave those critical bits of back-story into the opening scene. And wouldn't you know it? The book opens at a brisker pace, with a bonus of 4000 fewer words!

As far as pitch goes, well, I had one already. But it seemed to me I could do worse than to come up with something entirely different - a whole from scratch kind of thing. So, I spent Sunday before and after the Jets game (sniff) working that puppy until the light bulb stayed on.

New opening? Check.
New pitch? Check.

Last year I stayed up until midnight Sunday into Monday to submit. This year, I got up at the butt-crack of dawn Monday and submitted. Heck, I had to get up and go to work anyway, didn't I? So now I wait. Actually, I'm going to completely tune it out and resume working on Mythos. Spealing of Mythos, I owe you all a new Birth of a Novel entry.


It's Thursday and I fell off the writing chair

Today was one of those days that just sucked the ever-lovin' creative juices from my heart and soul. I stayed up late last night writing and reading, then got home from work today and read some more. I just finished The Boy Who Dared, which my son pointed out he read in eight grade. It's really a good book - historical fiction of a kid growing up in Nazi Germany. I'll post my review on goodreads in the next day or so. For some reason I like these kinds of book. Milkweed was also excellent, and not just because Jerry Spinelli autographed my copy.

Thursday night's are busy. I posted my blog entry for Frankie's blog, which you won't see until Friday morning. It's about setting: when you write it and how much you write. Mireyah posted a really interesting entry there today about whether certain slang is considered "okay". Frankie and I have both posted our comments. I'm interested to see everyone's thoughts. The other entree on the Thursday night menu is scheduling out my FollowFriday tweets, because I don't "tweet" while at work. Apart from the fact that they block twitter and other social networking sites at work, I'm not getting paid to mess about on twitter. What else? Oh, yes. Fringe!!!

And I haven't written a darn thing on Mythos today, although yesterday was super-dee-duper productive. Hey, speaking of super-dee-duper, is Barney still alive?

Okay, time to watch Fringe.


The Business and the Art

When do you set aside the book upon which you're focusing all your creativity, in order to query and submit your previously completed novel? It's funny how the business side of it can sap your creative energy somewhat. Researching where to query is exhaustive, as is refining that most important query letter.

Here's the thing. If I'm doing that after work and dinner, I'm not writing. If I'm writing, I'm not researching and querying. Rock? Hard Place? Meet your man in the middle.

There's also the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest to consider. Submissions begin next week! Do I go down that path as well as querying? But wait, I also want to finish and revise Mythos in time for the next BEA Writer's Digest conference, which I believe will be in NYC again this year. You can't beat those pitch slams!

If I research and query, how much time will it take away from Mythos? Will I still make my self imposed deadline for BEA? How strongly do I feel about this already written book? Mind you, I have queried this book before, and technically it's still out at one or two places, but it's been so long, I've half written them off.

Questions, questions, questions. Writing is art. Everything else is business. (Why do I hear Godfather dialog running through my head?) The art. The business. I love the former and don't mind the latter, but balancing the two is a major challenge.

How do you manage?


Birth of a Novel Part 9

This is the fifteenth entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy.

I really should be writing, but I watched the Jets beat the Chargers today, and my brain is somewhere between way too distracted and shot from nervous energy. Why must the actual watching of my football team be so much less fun than the week between games? But I've done a lot of reading this weekend. In fact, I finally finished Scott Westerfeld's steampunk novel, Leviathan, and loved it. You can check out my mini review on goodreads.

Nevertheless, it was time to post a new birth-of-a-novel entry, so here goes.

This chapter picks up after the multiple bad events that have just occurred to and around Zydeco. I definitely wanted to make his life miserable. For if I do not, then how does he change? How does he learn? I think it's critical not to let your characters get too comfortable. Conflict is great, and when you give your protagonist something to overcome, especially multiple somethings, you can give your readers someone to root for.... hopefully.

For Zydeco, he decides to take things into his own hands, but doesn't find much success. I'm not quite sure just how much I should reveal here, so I'll err on the side of caution. Zydeco revisits the park location, where he and Blaine saw something awful. But that was during the day and they were together. It's fun to recast an outdoor scene in the middle of the night when your character is all alone. Stuff looks and sounds different, of course.

On top of that, Zydeco stays out all night, and when he finally returns home he finds a worried Magenta. Okay, that's not a good enough description. She's in a fit state. And he gets what's coming to him. Frankie has pointed out in her critiques of the chapters so far that Zydeco isn't the biggest brain in the Department of Mysteries' brain tank.

“Zydeco, you are an adorable kid. But you are such an idiot.” She punctuated the last word by slapping the table.

She slumped back in her chair and glared at me. “I suppose you thought it was okay to stay out all night without letting me know. You think I didn’t know about what happened last night?”

“I … no,” I muttered, not really having any answer at the ready.

“Shut up. I’m being rhetorical now, okay? When I need you to answer me, I’ll let you know. Until then, shut up.” She sighed. 

“Bad things are happening to Mythos, Zydeco, and you run around like what Malice is doing doesn’t impact you or the people around you. It’s as if you haven’t noticed or you think you are this invincible being. But that’s the problem. You don’t think!” She tapped my forehead.

I jerked my head back, angered by the accusation. Of course I knew what was going on. “I did. I mean, I do. I won’t be here forever. I … get it.”

She shook her head and sighed. “No, Zydeco. I don’t think you do. You know Emma called me last night and told me what happened? She was beside herself, as you might imagine. Much like I was when you didn’t come home.”

With every syllable, her voice rose in volume until she nearly shrieked the last word.

Magenta goes on to abuse him for some time, before lightening up. He has had a bad night. Then again, so have his closest friends. I suppose I can mention that he and Tameina are on the outs, and the realization of it crushes him.

One of the challenges I've mentioned recently is my Evil Inner Editor. I promised to pay attention to when I'm able to simply write, at an acceptable speed without fighting myself with every sentence. While pushing out the last half of this chapter, I noticed things moving well. In this case, I did a better job eliminating all distraction. I cranked up my iTunes library or VH1 Radio, and my family sort of left me alone. These both made a difference. So for this week, some combination of music and lack of distraction kept the Evil Inner Editor at bay. I'll let you know if this continues.

Thanks for checking out this BOAN (Birth of a Novel) post, and stay tuned for more.

To read about the last chapter, saunter on back to the previous entry.

To check out the next chapter, you can go here.


To write or to query or to ABNA?

As most of you know, I've been heads down lately on my YA urban fantasy, Mythos. This has left me precious little time to focus on finding an agent or publishing venue for The Children of Midian. It's actually been liberating not to think or worry about Midian over the last few months.

It's the new year, though, and with the new year comes new ideals and resolutions. Should I spend time searching out some agents to query? Should I submit directly to some small press publishers? If I do this, I probably need to go back and reshape my query, focusing on Midian's crossover nature - it's somewhere between middle grade and young adult, and the word count reflects it. Curse that word count.

Another intriguing option is the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. This year, they've added a Young Adult Literature category, which is sweet, because that's all me. I gave this contest a shot last year, but like American Idol or any fun amusement park ride, why not go again? Considering they've added that YA niche, I think it gives YA writers a better shot.

I might also do both. Or neither. I'm so engrossed in Mythos and want to see it through, that I'd prefer fewer distractions over and above life and family and work and blogging and tweeting.

I wonder what I will do!


This blog has relocated to... here?

Just dropping a quick note to all the folks who follow the strange musings I post up here on the blog. The blog's location has changed. I've moved from http://thefaultybrain.blogspot.com to http://jayeckert.blogspot.com.

I made the change for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to make the blog a wee bit more google-able by name. Hmm. Google-able. Sounds like a word. Heck, if "Doh!" is now in the dictionary...

Anyway, the old faultybrain location still exists, but it will redirect you right here.


Writing vs Life

Life is just a tad on too fast for me, sometimes. I haven't updated this blog 'o mine in a while. I'm busy trying to write, but I've lost control of my faculties. I'm finding the notion of writing distinct chapters for Mythos has gone out the door, through the snow, into the decorative grass (read: weeds) at the edge of the yard, and disappeared. I've got no idea how much I've written since the last chapter, but I know it's way more than a Mythos chapter can stand. When I post the next Birth of a Novel entry, I'll definitely elaborate.

In between all this, work has intervened. I'm an IT dude, and sometimes I get called. I've received a few calls of late. Darn! I swore to myself I would never, ever, ever talk about the day job here. This is my writing space. Phooey. That's it. Done with the work thing on the blog. Kaput. No more. Really, I'm just using it as an excuse for not getting enough writing done. You know - the writing thing? The thing I love to do and want to do and would give my left [insert body part] to do full time while still paying the mortgage, but can't because I'm just not there yet.

Work's not the only excuse. Meals. Clean up after dinner. Make the spawn (read: children) lunches. Walk the dog. Spend time with the way, way, way better half. Drive the older spawn to his high school fencing matches, and sit there for two hours trying to figure out what on earth is going on and why the judge keeps flailing his arms around like he's signaling Ricky Henderson to steal home. Read!!!! Six hours' sleep. Watch my beloved and accursed Jets 3+ hours on the weekend. With a remarkable amount of luck, maybe I'll have the privilege of watching them a couple more times this year. Blog. Tweet.

I know there's more.

What I'm trying to say is, writing is hard. Making time for writing is harder.


The Evil Inner Editor

The Inner Editor is quasi-evil when writing a first draft. Don't get me wrong. He ensures I avoid fragments and run-ons. He proofs my basic grammar. He spell checks for me, although MS Word does it too, just not as well as the evil inner editor. These are all good things.

But he's always poking at me while I write, making me feel bad.

"That sentence makes me angry. When I get angry, Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset. And when Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset, people die!" "

"Your protagonist's dialog is insolent. When I was insolent, I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds."

"How dare you use an adverb there. I demand the sum of ... one million dollars."

"That scene. Throw me a friggin' bone here."

In short, the dude slows me down. And yes, he's a dude. He's a bald dude with a bald cat and a miniature clone living in an underwater lair.

I very well know it's fine to write crap, at least in the first draft. But will the Evil Inner Editor let me? How do I turn him off? Why can't he just have a look at the first draft once its written, and then give me one cohesive critique? I'll tell you why. The Evil Inner Editor doesn't work that way.

He's an omnipresent, mojo-draining taskmaster that needs to be locked away in a space ship in geosynchronous orbit around the moon until I'm ready for him. Until then, I'll agonize over each paragraph, sentence and word. I need to stop that. I need to stop him. Sometimes, I'll have the mojo flowing. The story finds its way from my head to my fingers, and the word count shoots up. I need to bottle that. That's the genie that keeps the Evil Inner Editor at bay.

I'm going to start paying careful attention when the words rush out. What am I doing to keep the Evil Inner Editor out of my head so that the story can flow freely? Once I get that figured out, I'm going to try it on purpose, and see if it's repeatable. I'll blog about the results in a few weeks.


Birth of a Novel - Part 8 (and the dog butt is not on my foot)

This is the fourteenth entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy.

It's been a while since I wrote a Birth of a Novel post. In fact, you may have noticed that the name and layout of the blog looks different. It's true. Around New Year's I messed around with a few variations, but for now have settled on The Sharpened Pen. I'm not sure quite sure how I feel about it. The layout appears pretty clean, and the name of the blog is such that it should be easier to find me via the googles and bings of the world. We shall see.

Back to Mythos then. I wrote two more chapters since my last post on BOAN (Birth of a Novel, the acronym). These chapters are really about:

DUM ... DUM ... DUM!!!

The Prom.

As with many a prom, loads of really good things happen. Magenta gets to act a bit motherly to young Zydeco in prepping him for the prom. It's a nice little scene. Here's a snippet.

“Hmm.” Magenta stepped in front of me, the corners of her mouth curving up. She reached up and adjusted the collar of my suit and brushed some invisible dust from the front. “You look handsome.”

And then I saw something that I thought I’d never see. Her gold eyes, shaped once more as diamonds, glistened. “Are … are you okay?”

She drew back a few wisps of short, black hair and cocked her head just a little. “Yes. It’s just, well, I’ve never been particularly maternal. There were never any little hatchlings.” She chuckled but there was no mirth there. Her lips thinned. “And this is going to sound completely cliché, Zydeco, and I abhor clichés. If I could, I’d collect all the clichés in the world in a stack of papers and then I’d burn them to ashes in one blow.”

I blinked. Magenta was rarely at a loss for words, and this was no exception. “What are you--?”

She closed her eyes and shook her head. “What I’m trying to say, Zydeco, is that if I had a child, I’d be happy … I would be proud … if that child were you.”

I'm weird. I like these little tender scenes. There's a bunch of inner voice from Zydeco who mulls over what it means to have Magenta - the dragon woman - react like this. Any-hoo, I followed this up with some scenes of hint-dropping/foreshadowing. Zydeco picks up Tameina at her place and we finally get a little peek at her dad. It's brief, but I need to get Daddy in the story just a bit more.

There's some Mythos folks kind of "there" in the background, and Hunter and pals still following Zydeco around. And then... they arrive at the prom - at this old city hotel with paneling and a distinct 70's vibe. It also becomes apparent that there are more Mythos around the school than Zydeco realized.

Now then. Former mythological creatures wouldn't have had much dance experience, right? So there are two options for such creatures at a prom.

You have the Blaine "totally fearless" option, a dance worthy of Elaine Benes from Seinfeld.

On the other hand, you might have someone like Zydeco, who is simply not comfortable dancing. Fortunately, Tameina is with him, keeping him calm and luring him into a slow dance. Well I posted a bit of that scene on the blog for the Official Kissing Day Blogfest. From that moment on, this chapter gets a bit on the romantic side for Zydeco and Tameina, as they enjoy the night and talk a bit about the future. Even though Zydeco isn't sure about his future, what with the bad guys rounding up Mythos left nad right, he's in a state of bliss. And as the guy writing their story, I was so happy for both of them.

But we writers must maintain a sadistic side, too. Don't we? As the evil bastard I am, I crash their euphoric night around them. When Lex shows up, do good things ever happen? My goal with this chapter was to make things just totally awful for Zydeco, and I think I pulled it off. I'm very mean in this chapter. And I'm not done grinding Zydeco into the sidewalk with a steel-toed boot. Poor, poor Zydeco. Still, I actually felt pretty bad for Tameina, too. She's such a sweet girl and doesn't deserve any of what happens.

I expected to dig down and plant some "seeds" in these two chapters. Sadly, I realized that some of these "seeds" required planting earlier on, so I'll need to return to some earlier chapters and spread them like wildflowers. So now I've got all these notes like "THIS BIT OF TAMEINA BACKSTORY MUST COME EARLIER!!!". There's even one bit of story I introduced in chapter ten that I expected to resolve in chapter eleven, but I forgot to do so! Yeesh. So there's another note to go back and fix it.

One other lesson I'm beginning to learn is that I've got to learn to turn off my inner editor while writing. It's slowing my writing down as I struggle to get certain paragraphs just right. I must bottle the editor and save it until I revise.

Anyhow, thanks for reading and stay tuned for more.

To read about the last chapter, saunter on back to the previous entry.

To check out the next chapter, slip and slide to the next post.


The A in 2010 to the Q in 2009

Happy New Year, everyone!  And as promised, here are the answers to the remaining questions that came in during 2009. Thanks to everyone who participated. I truly appreciate the questions and the opportunity to share a bit of me through the answers.

Mireyah’s questions
Q) What is your favorite music to write to? (Presuming that you write to music.)
A) There is no one artist and the type of music varies from Rock (current and classic), 80’s music, Broadway soundtracks, you name it.

Q) What is your favorite position to write in? IE: sitting at a desk, laying on a bed, reclining, etc.
A) Sitting at a desk

Q) What is your favorite deadly animal?
A) The rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail or the Black Mamba

Q) What is your favorite non-deadly animal other than a pug?
A) Who says pugs aren’t deadly? Fox.

Q) What is your favorite electronic device other than the computer?

Q) What is your favorite snack and drink when writing?
A) Coffee and cookie/brownie.

Q) What is your favorite mythological creature other than the griffin?
A) Kraken. But, it’s hard to write in their POV.

Q) What is your favorite social network?
A) Twitter

Ralene’s questions
Q) Who is your favorite character that YOU have written?
A) Zydeco Caschan from Mythos

Q) Who is your favorite character someone else has written?
A) You mean besides Harry Potter? Ender Wiggin (Orson Scott Card)

Q) Where is your favorite place in the world?
A) Kanapali Beach on the island of Maui. I’ve been there once on my honeymoon.

Q) What is your favorite number?
A) Thirteen (I was thinking seven)

Q) What is your favorite New Year's memory?
A) We were married for only a year or two, living in an apartment in Fairfield, CT. Friends from college stayed with us. We went out to dinner and this retro dance club. We bought our first television as a married couple on New Year’s Day.

Kurt’s questions
Q) Who would you like to be stranded on a desert island with? Just 1 person.
A) The professor from Gilligan’s Island. He’d have full electricity, plumbing, satellite TV, wi-fi, and a MacBook all by piecing together some vines and coconuts within a week.

Q) My all time favourite (sorry to be boring...lol...) If you had 1 wish what would it be?
A) That the world was a safe place for my kids.

Q) Where in the world would you want to live the most?
A) I haven’t found that place, but it would have San Francisco’s climate, New York’s culture, and a nice view of the ocean.

Q) If you could change the past, would you do anything different?
A) I would have started writing much earlier in life.

Q) If you could have any one thing in the world what would it be?
A) Happiness.

Dawn’s question
Q) Who is your hero and why?
A) Jeez, Dawn. Why don’t you throw me an electrified steel ball with sharp spikes pointing out from every direction? LOL. I haven’t had a single hero that has impressed me all my life. However, of late I’ve been thinking Jo Rowling. Why? Watch JK Rowling: A Year in the Life. It’s not the rags-to-riches aspect that impresses me. It’s more her character. She had a difficult childhood, a difficult early adulthood. She overcame depression and adversity and decided she just wanted to write, thinking that the worst that could happen was that she’d be rejected by every publisher in Britain.

Now then, I'm to pass along the Favorite Gnome Approved Blog award. Seeing as how a major portion of it is Harry Potter related, I had to think long and hard on who's prepared to answer the Infamous Harry Potter questions. So, Frankie, this one's for you. I know you'll do us proud!