writing

So this probably won’t surprise anyone else out there, but it surprised me. Today I learned that I write Superhero novels. (Yeah, I’ll pause for you to say, “Um, no duh.” Except people probably don’t say no duh anymore.) But the reason you might not be surprised is that you ONLY know of the superhero novel I wrote, and not all the others. You don’t know which ones I loved and which ones I hated and what they had in common or didn’t or whatnot.

I’ve been reading Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! screenwriting books. (LOVE them, btw. And I don’t love a lot of writing books.) He has ten movie genres he’s defined that cover pretty much any kind of story. (Note that I don’t like a lot of writing books, but the ones I do like are about story.) Well, anyway, I’ve been reading the second STC! book and trying to figure out which genre I write, because it doesn’t seem to be any of these, and while I think my books are good, if they don’t fit into a structure, then I’m missing something, whether it’s in the books or just in my inability to figure it out.

I get to the last chapter in the book, which is about the “Superhero” story. Basically this type of story has three things: a “power” or “mission” that makes the MC super/more than human, an equally powerful nemesis, and an Achilles heel or some kind of weakness. Well, even though some people have said Renegade X isn’t like other superhero stories they’ve read, it also IS because it has all these things. But that’s one’s easy, because, duh, it’s a story about actual superheroes (and villains).

But my latest novel, Shades of Rome, which isn’t literally about superheroes like that, is still a Superhero story. It has an MC that’s given both a power and a mission, an enemy made equally powerful by the same power and an opposite mission, and a key weakness the MC has that hinders said mission.

!!!!!

Yeah, I was pretty ecstatic when I realized I have a story type. Because, you see, recently I’ve been trying to figure out WHY I love writing some books, while writing other types of books bore me to tears (even if the end product might come out good for either one). I definitely love combining the real world with some kind of fantasy element. If the fantasy element is too weak, though, I get bored. I like to have everyday family and relationship drama, yet I need something BIGGER (and, well, just plain fun) to give the story focus and keep it interesting for me. (Note that I read all sorts of books that I love, yet would hate writing. I love reading purely contemporary books, yet writing them not so much.)

So, some of the books I didn’t enjoy writing so much were maybe not balanced right. They were too real world, or they were too fantasy world. But they definitely weren’t Superhero stories. And all the books I LOVED writing were. COINCIDENCE?!?! (A clue: No.) (Yes, I make Sheriff of Nottingham references. What are you going to do about it?)

That’s my big revelation of the day. I write Superhero stories. Good to know, right?

I keep meaning to have more non-writerly posts (or, you know, just more posts in general), but then I think no one wants to hear about my mild-yet-mysterious foot pain, or how everyone at the grocery store smells and stands in front of the milk right when I need it, or what a success it was making gravy with TWO packets instead of one the other night. SNORE.

So anyway, today I thought I’d talk about where ideas come from. Because this is something that non-writers often ask, expecting it to be something cool. Possibly even a Sekrit. And sometimes I can pinpoint the exact moment an idea really came to me, and that can be cool. But usually it’s not so glamorous or exciting.

Usually coming up with ideas is a matter of sitting down at the computer and typing until something makes sense. Which sometimes doesn’t take long at all, and sometimes takes days. Sometimes I hit on something I want to work on right away, but usually it takes a couple days of typing out nonsense to get a feel for what I might work on. And then it takes more nonsense after that to refine the idea and figure things out. If I let this process only go on in my head, not on the keyboard, then it could take months for an idea to properly form and will be pretty undeveloped. Not that there’s never any point where I’m only thinking about potential stories, not hashing things out on the computer, but it’s not how work gets done.

I think everyone has their own methods for how they get the work done, but in my case what generally works for me is sitting down and working the keyboard until some sort of order appears in the chaos. Then I outline it. It’s not glamorous or awe inspiring, but it works.

I suppose since this is my blog and since finishing a book is a big deal, that maybe I should, you know, mention it on here. I *did* mention what I was doing after finishing–i.e. wandering aimlessly and having no purpose in life–but I haven’t talked *about* the book. Did I even mention I was writing one? I don’t even remember–the last couple months are a huge blur. But, I mean, a few years down the road, you might be holding said book in your hands and going, “Wow–I want to know more about how this book was made. I want to read all her blog posts where she talked about the agony of writing it and the brilliant moments where everything came together and just… how and why and when.” (I have these thoughts when I read books. Don’t judge.) And you will look and… there won’t be any. >:/

I put that angry face there, but really of course it’s my fault if there aren’t any blog posts. And really I don’t want to talk about the book. Why? I spent three months on it. Three months might not sound like a lot of time, but this is, you know, all day every day for three months. I’m clocking in at least 700 hours on this, and that’s not anything to enter into lightly. It’s my tenth finished book (there are way more than ten unfinished ones *ahem*), and I love it very much.

And it’s also probably the greatest undertaking I’ve ever undertaken, so thinking about it also makes me all kinds of nervous. (It feels kind of good to admit that. *phew*) You know I majored in Latin, yes? Scisne me Latine dicere? Sic? Well, good. So, um, I wrote a historical. (Yes, I know, it’s “an” historical, but whatever. I already told you I majored in Latin–how stuffy do you want me to sound?) And it’s set in ancient Rome, which I have studied a lot. Sort of. I had to study it a lot more to write the book, and I had to do Research, with a capital R. Lots and lots of Research. I am not a research person, but this book was special and important and I had to, so I did. (And for the record, I enjoyed it and learned lots of cool things.) I also don’t write historicals, or paranormals, or books with real people in them. And I especially don’t write them in first person.

But, um, I did. I wrote a paranormal historical set in ancient Rome (84 B.C., towards the end of the Republic) involving some of my heroes fighting ghosts, natch, and my Latin teacher will probably barf when she reads it and that’s something I’ll just have to live with. Somehow. It’s also probably the best idea I’ve ever had and right now it’s called DEAD ROMANS and I am a-freaking-mazed that I wrote it and the dialog is pretty snappy and the characters are fun if I do say so myself and it’s got real events interwoven with completely made up–but based on what *could* have happened–paranormal stuff. And even if I can point to those 3 months/700 hours and say “That’s when I wrote it,” really it represents a cumulation of years of my life. Years of study and reading and thought and love and mixing ancient ideas and ideals with modern ones and mashing it all up into a fine stock for awesome sauce.

So, you know, it’s BIG. And while I love it, I don’t know yet if it’s good or not, and neither option would make it less scary, so it kind of doesn’t matter. I’m at the point where there is too much room to think about maybes and what ifs and OMG I WROTE THAT?!? So my coping method is to just not think about it at all. Which is easier said than done, and also very weird. I mean, I spend 3 months on something, and one day I’m working on it and it’s pretty much my life, and then the next day I’m not working on it anymore and I’m not thinking about it and it’s just over.

But like I said, that’s how I’m coping, so it’s all right. I’m taking some relaxation time and letting new ideas drift in while I wait to hear what my agent thinks of it.

***

And now for the other updates, which don’t seem nearly as important after all that. But they would seem even less important if I gave them their own post, so here they are.

I got Disney contracts today! W00T! They came through the e-mails and I had to print them out and get them notarized. It was all very official and the guy at the bank had to stamp a giant seal on them. They are now sitting in a plain manilla envelope (one I bought a million years ago for sending out query letters, back before I realized folding them wasn’t grounds for rejection and before e-queries were all the rage). On my nightstand on top of a pile of library books and research books for latest novel (see above), there is a very plain envelope that you would never think had anything important in it, but it has something very much the opposite of not important inside. It has, like, these important papers for this thing I never thought would happen to me. Crazy, yes? O__o (Yes.)

Also, I finally had an eye exam and my glasses should be coming soon. I’ve probably needed them for a long time, but I refused to give in. But the aforementioned 700 hours of computer and reading time have done me in and I can’t pretend I don’t need them anymore, because I get eye strain something fierce and it’s just not worth it. I mean, what am I trying to prove? That I can have headaches every day? -__- I can’t wait for the glasses to get here, and then there will definitely be pics.

So, I finished the novel I was working on. The last three months blew by in a blur of frantic research and worry and pounding out word counts and now that it’s done I get to wake up for a while and be a real person who showers on a regular basis and changes her clothes once in a while. There was that moment of OMG I FINISHED IT! when I got through the first draft, and then again when I got through the revisions. There was a beautiful, sparkly moment where all the months of hard work culminated in something awesome and now I’m like, “Wow, did I really write THAT novel? But… I never thought I would, and can you imagine, ME, writing one of those?”

But after spending months thinking about how great it will be when the book is DONE, that’s D. O. N. E. FINISHED, I have to say it’s never all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be more thrilled about being DONE and having a book with a beginning, a middle, and an end to send to my agent and to have under my belt. And I am glad to have a break. But… Not having anything to work on is kind of unsatisfying. Reading, playing video games, watching shows guilt free, and even catching up on much needed chores is all fairly meaningless. Because if at the end of the day I’m getting ready for bed and have no word count, then how do I measure my worth? How do I know how satisfying the day was? There’s a certain fulfillment that comes with creating. I could miraculously burn through my entire TBR pile, and I’d still think, “But what did I DO today?”

It’s a purposeless existence, being in between books. It’s like being a knight with no dragons to slay. But it’s also good to take a break, and another book could strike at any moment, so I’d better get everything else done while I can.

So 2009 was a pretty good year. I got a good agent, sold a novel, and made tons of new friends. A year ago I wasn’t sure if The Rise of Renegade X would ever find a publisher, and since then I’ve held it in my hands as a real book. Crazy sauce!

In the last year I also:

Discovered the Vampire Academy books by Richelle Mead, and now I’m not sure how I ever got by without them.

Watched all of Arrested Development, The Office, and Community (I may have watched all the episodes of Community three times now…) and ABSOLUTELY LOVED all three, so don’t bother telling me The Office is stressful or that Arrested Development got canceled for a reason, because I’m not listening.

Became brave enough to take pictures of the books in the store. I used to be terrified of this and thought it was illegal somehow or that I’d get in trouble, but now I just flash my “Official YA Author” badge and everyone leaves me alone. (Lies.)

Finished reading 45 books, which once would have been a low number for me but now is sort of large.

And that brings me to 2010, which is going to be a big year for obvious reasons. My book’s coming out and I’m going to BEA and probably lots of other stuff will happen, too. I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, because I tend to fail at them, but I’ll at least admit I have goals for 2010.

I want to read 100 books this year.

I didn’t finish writing any books in 2009–that needs to not still be true this time next year, or I will go crazy. I’d like to finish at least two books, and since I’m in the middle of two right now, finishing them would do nicely. Ideally I’d like to finish them up in the next couple months, then take some time off and write another one in the second half of the year. (But even just finishing one will send me into fits of ecstaticness and relief.)

I’m going to at least try using my drop spindle, even if it’s terrifying. (It’s not really *that* terrifying, it’s just a wheel on a stick, but I have a feeling there will be a lot of failure involved before succeeding, and also the magic of turning wool into yarn with just a little wheel on a stick seems too good to be true, even though I saw someone do it.)

I’m going to finish up the knitting/crochet projects I’ve been working on for other people.

And I think that’s it! Sounds doable, right?

Gah, apparently it’s been a week since I posted. The days just slip by!

So what have I been doing the past week? What breaking news is there to report from Chelsea Land?

Er, not a whole lot. Mostly I’ve been writing. And freaking out and deleting scenes and then deciding I like them and putting them back in again. (With minor tweaks. Remember what I said about minor tweaks being so useful.) I am loving this book a lot, but trying not to push myself too hard when I get frustrated. At this point, it’s less about adhering to a strict word count every day as it is just being happy that the book is going well and that I love it and that freaking out will only lead to more stress, whereas stepping back a little might lead to answers. I’m up to 40k, and if I finish it by the end of November (for fake NaNo), I will be SO HAPPY. This book is a sequel I’ve been struggling with for, erm, a couple years now, and this incarnation of it is one I’m finally happy with (and so’s my agent, and let’s hope my editor is too), and it has gone from being a frustrating, unfinished burden (while I had the day job) to being something I don’t ever want to finish because I looooves it, Precious, except that I do want it to end someday so I can BE DONE with it and move on with my life, even if “moving on” is just fantasizing about the next volume. This is the writer’s dilemma: Odi et amo. I hate and I love.

I read through my ARC. It was good times. I still have it in my stack of books on my night stand, and sometimes I leave it lying around in my pile of junk next to my beanbag, just to see it sitting around, being real. Like it could be any other book, piled somewhere in my room or on my desk, and it’s MINE. Also, speaking of my ARC, I heard Egmont gave away some copies at a YA festival thing in Austin, among other awesome ARCs like Anastasia Hopcus’ Shadow Hills and Bree Despain’s The Dark Divine–both of which I have not yet had a chance to read, but AM DYING FOR. Ahem. Anyway, how cool is that that people I don’t even know might have my ARC sitting around? Very cool.

Also I changed the description on the Rise of Renegade X page to match the jacket copy. It goes like this:


Damien Locke knows his destiny–attending the university for supervillains and becoming Golden City’s next professional evil genius. But when Damien discovers he’s the product of his supervillain mother’s one-night stand with–of all people–a superhero, his best-laid plans are ruined as he’s forced to live with his superhero family.

Going to extreme lengths (and heights), The Rise of Renegade X chronicles one boy’s struggles with the villainous and heroic pitfalls of growing up.

I’m reading Heat Wave, by Richard Castle (I know, right??), a tie-in book for ABC’s show, Castle, which, if you didn’t already know, is awesome. I’m almost done with the book. It’s pretty good–just like the show, except that Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook, the NYC detective and the reporter following her around, are characters Castle supposedly made up, so unlike most tie-in books, life changing stuff can actually happen in it. Which is brilliant!

I’ve also been watching Supernatural. I’m about 3/4 of the way through season one. I love it. It has it’s really stupid, cheesy moments, and then there was that hillbilly episode… but overall, they always get me with whatever emotional dilemma is going on even on the episodes where , and I love the roles the Sam and Dean play, both in their demon hunting team and as brothers.

Okay, so, I have to confess that I used to be TERRIFIED of revisions. Just the thought of some editor with a revision quota they had to fill on my book pissed me right the hell off. You hear horror stories, or you make them up in your head, or you just *know* someone’s going to want your main character to have green skin or change genders or go from a bad ass to a wuss. Or even if no ridiculous changes are made, you know they’re going to want to cut your favorite scene or change somebody’s name or have the main character end up with the love interest you hated. Because if there’s one thing you know for sure about revisions, it’s that something about your book’s going to have to change, period.

You know what didn’t help my paranoia? Author’s websites where they got all defensive about it and were like, “You think you’re so great that you won’t have to do revisions??? Well, you will–I DID–so get over yourself!” The tone of those posts were probably never as harsh as I read them, but I still felt they had *attitude,* and even if they didn’t, they certainly didn’t make revisions sound any less scary.

And then, even worse, were the authors who claimed they LOVED revisions and that it was somehow the part to look forward to. Ew. I mean, for some authors the hard part is getting words on the page and they just need to get to the end, then fix up what they’ve got, and that works for them. But for me, the fun part is the new stuff, and if I don’t get it at least close to right the first time, the whole book is going to be too big a mess for me to fix. Both ways work for different people–it just depends on how your brain works. I revise as I go, shaping the book to be what I need it to be and what feels like a good story. I can’t ignore big glaring problems, because I base what happens next off of what’s already happened, and basing what happens next off a big glaring error only screws up the rest. For me. But that’s a different post.

Anyway, for years and years I was terrified of what it would be like to have an editor tell me what to do and take over my story and make me do things I hated. Because even if your book is perfect, they have to change something, it’s the rules. But, I mean, if they loved the book enough to buy it, why would they want to change everything??? HUH???

Within the last year I’ve had the chance to work with several editors, AND EVERYTHING I EVER THOUGHT ABOUT REVISIONS WAS WRONG. So I’m going to explain the process a little bit and tell you why you don’t need to have nightmares about it. (Based pretty much only on my experience, but that’s life.) Ready? Here goes.

Okay, so, first off, when an editor wants revisions–whether they’ve already bought your manuscript or are just thinking about it–they send you both a Word file of the book where they’ve marked sentences or concepts that weren’t quite coming through–line edits–and another file of their notes on the big concepts. The big concepts might be something like “I didn’t buy the romance, why would those two end up together?” or “I LOVE x concept, can you develop that more?” Whereas the line edits might be notes like “Why does the character love strawberry ice cream so much?” And you’ll read it and go, “BECAUSE THE CHARACTER’S MOM ALWAYS GAVE HER STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM WHEN SHE WAS SICK! Grr! I spelled that out!” But they’re not really asking *why,* because, like you said, you spelled it out. They’re asking what meaning this gives to the story and how can you bring it out more and make even more use of it. It’s a hidden compliment, but editors aren’t going to stop and say, “Oh, I like this” first for every single comment. And maybe they don’t like everything they’re commenting on, but usually all it takes is a tiny tweak to change their feelings about it. (And sometimes you’ve just got a stupid line in there. I had one that made really made it look like the main character’s mom had just slept with their house guest to change his mind about something, and that’s NOT AT ALL what was going on. So I’m glad someone was there to go, “Uh, what just happened? Why is she smiling and out of breath?”)

So after your editor sends you these notes, and you have a chance to think about it, then you have a phone call about it. You discuss the parts they were confused about or thought needed to be stronger or tweaked a little to bring out some other aspect. And since you both love the book and working with the characters, a lot of it is, “YEAH! Oh, wow, that’s awesome… I could totally do that.” Some of it is more, “Uh… so what did you mean here? Because that’s not how I saw it. OH. That’s how you saw it? Okay, one sentence will fix that whole mix-up.” I’m seriously not kidding when I say a lot of misunderstandings and concepts that need clarifying throughout the book only need a sentence tweak here and there.

There might be some big changes needed, or a concept that your editor thinks of and you’re like, “Whoa–that is so going into the book!” that means you have to tweak A LOT of things, or maybe add in another scene or two. But the price of adding another scene or two is nothing compared to how much better the book will be.

And I want to emphasize that I have never in this process felt like it wasn’t MY book. My editor even made it very clear to me that he didn’t want to change it from being my book, and that any notes he had were discussion starters, not direct orders to change anything. I never made changes I wasn’t comfortable with. In working with two editors throughout the whole submission and publishing process, I never cut anything. Both editors wanted me to add to the book and further develop the cool concepts I’d introduced. (In fact, I added 25k total.) My editor did ask me to cut one of my favorite scenes–and one that had been a favorite with readers–and I was baffled and not about to just straight out cut it, but we talked about it, and GUESS WHAT? It needed a few little tweaks, and tada, we were both happy.

There were a couple spots (yes, two) where my editor made suggestions–like Damien needs to be more villainous in this scene, etc.–and his suggestion on how to change these parts didn’t click with me. The suggestions didn’t fit my writing style or the way my thought process worked. Those were the hardest changes to get through, until I realized he liked my writing style, he’s not trying to write it for me, just give suggestions any way he knows how, and that all that really mattered was the ends, not the means. So I changed them my way, and one of those scene changes turned out to be his favorite of the new material. (And it’s one of my favorite parts, too. It’s hilarious and I loved telling people who’d already read the book about it.)

So, back to my outline of the whole editing process: you’re given these notes to work with and you get a chance to talk about it with your editor and make a game plan. Then you’re given a deadline, which will vary. You might only have a week to get them done, you might have a month. Deadlines in publishing vary a lot, based on things that are out of your control, like how busy everyone is and how many other projects they’ve got going and holdups that are out of their control. (And okay, I’m mostly guessing at this part based on my own experiences working in a business with deadlines, but I think it still applies.)

Once you’ve turned in your round of revisions–on time, natch–your editor rereads the book. They may mark more changes that need to be made, or they may decide everything’s in order. If it needs more changes, repeat the above process. If not, it then goes to copy edits.

Copy editors edit for grammar and consistency. Like did you sometimes write “bad ass” and sometimes “bad-ass” and sometimes “badass”? (I did.) The CE (copy editor) makes sure all the spellings match. They’re also in charge of making your manuscript match the style rules the publishing house uses. So they go through and mark up another Word file of your book and send it to you. You look over it and leave any changes you agree with and make notes for any changes you want to stet (“stet” is Latin for “let it stand” and is an editing term for leaving something how it is) (you see how my Latin skillz are useful for everything). Ideally you want a good balance of consistent, clear grammar and good voice that may or may not make use of proper grammar. I was lucky in that my CEs (I had two–one freelance CE and one in house CE who went over the first one’s notes) were aware of this and left some grammatical errors alone they might not have if they weren’t trying to leave the voice intact. CEs can be frustrating–I’ve heard the most horror stories about copy edits than any other part of the editing process–but you also have A LOT of power to veto them. It’s totally okay to disagree with them if their suggestions mess with the flow of your words or change the voice of your book. I think I stetted maybe 20% of mine–most of them I was fine with.

And then after you turn in copy edits, the next step is ARCs or bound galleys or first pass pages–which is a subject I am still somewhat fuzzy about, since I’m just getting ready to experience it, but my impression is those are all variations of the same thing: a dress rehearsal of your book where you have a chance to find any last typos before it goes to press for reals. But those are their own topic for a different post (in fact, see my last post).

So, tada! That’s editing. There’s no need for dread or hurt feelings or worrying, like I always did, that editors have some “changes to the manuscript quota” they have to meet.

Will you have to revise? Yes, but not because I did so you should have to too, ya punk whippersnapper, and not because your book is so flawed it’s disgusting. A raw book is like a vat of melted chocolate. It tastes awesome and gooey and yummy and you’re so glad you don’t have to test it with that candy thermometer anymore (or guess when it’s done, if you’re like me and still don’t have one). It tastes PERFECT. It is–it’s a super great batch of melty chocolate, and your publisher and your editor and your agent and all sorts of pros involved LOVE the taste of your perfect batch of chocolate. But you can’t sell melty chocolate. It needs to cool, but if you just let it cool by itself, it’s going to be a messy blob. It’s going to look pre-digested (ew), and you don’t want that. You want to pour it into a mold shaped like a rose and stick it on a plastic stem. Or make it into perfect, smooth squares. Or little truffle shapes with glaze and powdered sugar on top, making them look gorgeous and irresistible. The finished product tastes the same as the melted one, minus the texture, but like I said, you can’t sell melted chocolate or hand it to people on toothpicks. You need it to cool into a mold so that other people can enjoy it. The recipe is still yours, the whole vat only tastes as good as it does because you made it, but you need that editor and that publisher to help you pour it into appetizing molds. And you need your publicist to make buyers aware of your new brand of chocolate and how good it tastes. (And you need your agent to make sure you get paid for your chocolate recipe and to help sort things out when you think your glaze should be dark chocolate, not hazelnut.)

So that’s the editing process as best as I know it. Any questions?

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