Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: a year in review

It is the last day of the year, and of the decade . . . Wow. How did that happen?

It has been an interesting year for me, and by and large, a very good one. As I am writing this post, it is hard to believe that this is the same year I was sitting at my desk at work reading about all the layoffs in publishing. I remember all the doom and gloom, of people saying no new writers would be published and only the already established bestsellers had a shot in this market. Not that there isn't a lot of darkness hanging over publishing right now, but I have always chosen to be cautiously optimistic, and well, this year, it certainly paid off.

Career-wise, here are my 2009 highlights:
    I signed a deal for five more books in the Haven series.
    Lucienne sent the first book in a new Urban Fantasy series to New York, and within two weeks we had an offer. After the book went to auction, I ended up with a three book deal from ACE/Roc.
    Not exactly career, but . . . I wrote and revised two and a half books in 2009, almost all of that while working full time. It gives me hope for what I can do in 2010.

Here are some non-career highlights from 2009:
    I learned to hoop dance and am now one of the founding members of the Columbia Hoop troop (which made it in a front page article on hooping.org following World Hoop Day) and of the performing/teaching group Lunatrixs.
    I ended up on stage with the members of Cruxshadows during their Dragon*Con concert.
    I spoke on a panel with Charlaine Harris.

There are probably more things I should list, but I can't think of them at the moment, so I think those are both pretty healthy lists. It was a good year, and I'm hoping 2010 will be even better. What are your top highlights from 2009? Are you looking back on the previous year favorably, or hoping the new year brings new luck?

For anyone interested, I've been invited to join The Magic District Blog. I posted for the first time today. You can check it out here.

Have a happy and safe New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

TWICE DEAD EXCERPT

I have now uploaded an except from Twice Dead. If you would like to read the first chapter, check it out HERE. Enjoy!

I'll upload the second chapter closer to the release date, so check back often. And remember, Twice Dead will be available in print and electronically February 2010!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Number 1?

I found out this morning that ONCE BITTEN is currently #1 on Amazon's Fantasy list and Horror list!!

Thank you everyone who took advantage of the Christmas special on the kindle edition of the book. I hope you enjoy the read, and be on the look out for the sequel, TWICE DEAD, which will be released in February!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas (and free books!)

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone is having a joyful and safe holiday. As a special Christmas gift, my publisher has released my first book, ONCE BITTEN, free for kindle on Amazon. If you haven't had a chance to read the book yet (or you've read it but would like a kindle version) check it out HERE.

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Revision Game, Part three--4th drafts: Micro edits

In the second draft we made sure our story was all on the page. In the third draft, we made sure each individual scene carried that story along. So what is left for the fourth draft?

Micro edits.

The micro edit is where I really focus on the writing. I know, I know, all the stages are about writing, but in all the previous drafts I was focused on getting plot and characters and such on the page. Now I'm really focused on the actual words.

This is the stage where I pay special attention to which verbs I'm using, and I try to replace weak verbs for strong ones. This is the time to nix over used words and phrases, to tighten and polish until the sentences sing.

Tips from the trenches (because I am revising right now)
-Try reading it out loud. You can hear clunky phrasing.
-"Be" verbs do have their place (trust me, just try to write a story without any) BUT, do evaluate their use in your sentences. Can you use a stronger verb or rearrange the sentence to make it stronger without the 'be' verb? Try it. Again, read it out loud to hear the difference.
-Prepositions are fickle friends. Okay, I admit, that is a strange sentence, but overusing prepositions clogs sentences. Directional prepositions are the worst culprits. "She stood up." Well, unless she's standing up to her superiors, or submitting and standing down, the direction is implied. "She stood." If you find you have two prepositions back to back, that is probably a good sign one is unnecessary. (rule of thumb, but not always true.)
-Problem words. We all have them. If you know what yours are, pay special attention to them (maybe to the point of using find all --> highlight so they really jump out at you.) One of my words is "just" I can fit it in just about any sentence without noticing. (Hey, just look at that. There it is again ^_~ [yes, those were intentional]) Common problem words include "That, just, even, sudden, frown, smile, feel/felt, start, and begin". That is not a definitive list, and everyone is going to have their own overused words which sneak into their manuscript and multiply like bunnies, so be on a look out for your own.
-Cliches. Yes, I chose to list cliches next because I used one in the last sentence of the previous example. Use them cleverly or sparingly (or not at all) just know and recognize when you use them, and make sure you do it intentionally and there isn't a better, more original, way to phrase the sentence.
-Adverbs. Okay, again I'm playing off the previous point (this time to drive one of my critique partners nuts.) Some people adamantly hate adverbs, particularly 'ly' adverbs. I'm not one of those people (as you can tell by my liberal use in these last two sections). That said, don't litter your sentences with adverbs, and for goodness sake, don't use them after said. "She said animatedly" No. Just no. One, it is bad writing, and two it is lazy writing. In a case like that, either the dialogue itself should show her emotion, or you should use an action tag. One of my critique partners twitches during critique every time I use an adverb. I laugh. My best advice is to read the sentence and see if it says the same thing without the adverb. If the adverb doesn't add anything, nix it.
-Write with authority. Certain words and phrases are weak, no way around it. Words like 'Almost, Seem, and Nearly' make the world and the writing very wishy-washy. "He seemed to be angry" "She was almost a head shorter than him." "I nearly always hated broccoli." Bleh. You're the writer. Does it seem to be, or is it? Is something almost true, or true? A little ambiguity is fine, but don't let wishy-washy statements muddle your writing.

Okay, that was a lot more than I intended to list. I might have gotten a little carried away. The point being, this draft is when you let your inner editor run free with his/her red pen. The fourth is the most meticulous draft and is saved for last because it is too easy to get stuck polishing the same scene forever if I try to focus on story and the writing all at once.

Well, that wraps up the revision game. At the end of this draft, the manuscript should be polished and shiny--at least until critique partners, agents, and/or editors rip into it. Then the stages for drafts three and four are repeated (because hopefully they didn't find anything so large you have to repeat draft two--but big logic issues could cause that.) I can't tell you how many drafts it will take before a book sells or ends up on a bookstore shelf--there are just too many variables. But, keep writing, keep polishing, and don't get discouraged. While one project is out on submission, start a new one.

Best of luck everyone! I hope you found this blog mini-series on revisions helpful.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Delayed post

I didn't have a chance to write the post I planned for today because I didn't finish my writing goals in time. The real writing comes first. I'll try to get the last revision post up tomorrow.

Sorry about the delay.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Revision Game, Part two--3rd drafts: Scene by Scene

Continuing on with our revision topic . . .

Now that the second draft is complete, I know that the manuscript tells a full story, I haven't dropped any plot lines, there are (hopefully) no huge logic flaws, my characters progress naturally, and the plot arc is in place. The big picture looks pretty good--just don't look too close because I haven't focused on the actual writing yet. The book is not ready to be seen by anyone but me, and there is a lot of work to be done before it can be taken to critique.

More than likely, at this stage, the dialogue meanders at times, there are a couple backstory dumps that need to be spread out, there is either too much or too little description, and the action doesn't quite work all the time. I know the story as a whole works, so now to break it down and focus on individual scenes.

I know some writers who break this stage down further and make one sweep (draft) just for dialogue, or just focused on making sure there are no large clumps of backstory clogging up the story. Then each subsequent draft they focus on a different element. My suggestion is to do whatever works best for you. If you open the file and are looking at the scene and you get overwhelmed trying to fix it, break the process down to just one or two elements per draft. For me, I work well looking at one scene as a whole at a time. If you find you spend an entire week working on just a couple paragraphs, stop. You'll actually save yourself time going through it multiple times than getting stuck in the first chapter for months. (**Note: All my suggestions are just my own experience and opinions and may not work for everyone. Every writer you ask with will have a different process and opinion.)

Some tricks that can help when focusing on scenes:
-Read the dialogue out loud--just the dialogue; skip everything in between. You'll be able to hear issues you might not notice with action and narrative breaking it up. Dialogue that doesn't really say anything, monologues, and characters answering questions that aren't asked are some issues to listen for.
-When looking at action scenes, pay close attention to cause and effect. That means, don't have your character react to things before they happen. Sounds like a no brainer, but it is actually a very common mistake I catch in my own drafts, see in critique, and read in contest entries. Clauses and the word 'as' are often the culprit, but sometimes entire sentences are out of order.
-Look for your descriptions. Do you ramble on for paragraphs describing everything? Or are your characters featureless, naked, and wandering around empty space? If you supply the reader with two or three key details, they will latch on to those and typically fill in their mental picture. Remember to reinforce them once in a while and to firmly root your reader near the beginning of the scene as to the location of the action.
-Backstory is a tricky one. I've heard people say not to include any backstory in the first three chapters--that doesn't mean make chapter four all backstory. The best idea is to weave it in as seamlessly as possibly when needed for the reader to understand what is happening. The best analogy I've ever head (and sorry, I don't remember who said it) is to imagine the entire backstory written on a plane of glass. Then break the glass so it shatters into tiny slivers, each with just small bits of backstory. Slid those tiny slivers into your story.

Once you've edited every scene, you've completed your third draft. You now have a complete story filled with good dialogue, action, and nice, tight scenes. At this point, you can probably send the story out for critique and the feedback you receive will be helpful and not stuff you knew you needed to fix anyway. But, you're not quite done revising yet.

Stop back Monday for part three (4th drafts: Micro Edits).

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Revision Game, Part one--2nd drafts: The Big Picture

Last month Cher asked me to go into more specifics about how I revise novels. I didn't get a chance to post on the topic during the NaNo challenge, so I thought I'd delve into it now. In parts. Yes, I'm breaking it down that much.

Those of you who won NaNo last month are hopefully still racing toward those magical words "The End" (or maybe some of you have hit them already). But what do you do after you reach those words?

Personally, I close the file. Then I don't open it again for at least two weeks (if at all possible). During that down time I work on other projects, write a short story, talk to my neglected husband, read as many books as I can without my eyes rolling out of my head, whatever--the point is to let the dust settle on the story I just finished. (**Note: I highly recommend still writing something while letting a first draft sit. It takes about 3 weeks to form a habit, so if you slip out of the habit of writing, you have to force yourself to the keyboard again.)

After letting the first draft sit a while, I've found I can return to it with much more objective eyes. Once the dust has settled, I read the draft in its entirety, just to see what is on the page. I also make notes as I'm going along. Not in-line, nit-picky notes, but big picture notes. Reading a first draft can be painful, and it's sometimes hard not to jump in and start fixing stuff right away, but it is important to read through the whole book. I usually run into some scenes that make me cringe with how bad they are, but I also run into scenes that go unexpectedly well, or where I laid a foundation for a plot element I didn't even plan to work with but now I see where it could fit and make the story so much stronger.

By the time I finish reading, I typically have a lot of notes. Things like: Such-and-such character is flat or goes through an abrupt personality change in chapter X; ABC plot line totally dropped; XYZ scene lacks tension; and so on. For the most part, everything I list in my notes affects the book as a whole or at least several scenes. So, my second draft is focused on fixing the issues in my notes.

This is the big stuff. I'm not going to slow down and make sure all the dialogue and descriptions are perfect at this point. I'm just going to work on the big issues.

Mostly fixing these issues are about asking myself questions and implementing the answers. Character has a personality problem? What is their motivation through out the book? What are they thinking? What do they need/want? Plot line was dropped? How can I weave it back into the chapters? Scene not working? How else can I get from point A to point B? What is the worst possible thing that could happen at this time? Can it happen? (etc.)

If I didn't work this way, if say, I polished chapter 1 until it was 'perfect' and then I got to chapter 11 and realized 'hey this is a cool plot element, let me work it in early to set this up better' or 'huh, this character doesn't work. She hasn't been acting at all in character' I would have to go back to the beginning and I would lose a lot of the work I did. So, big stuff first. Second draft (for me) is all about making sure the story is being told.

Okay, I think I've rambled on enough for one post. Check back later for part two (3rd drafts: Scene by Scene).

Happy Hump day everyone!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

We have winners!

We'll, I finally went through all the posts to pull out the entries for the month long NaNo contest held here on the blog.

If you need a refresher on what this contest involved, here are the pertinent facts:
-Everyone who participated on the blog and completed the 50k word challenge during NaNo will be listed in the acknowledgments page of my February release, TWICE DEAD.
-Of those writers, I picked a randomly generated 'grand prize winner' who will receive Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King as well as a copy of my up coming release.
-Also, everyone who participated on the blog, regardless of whether they completed the challenge, was entered to win a copy of TWICE DEAD.


Okay, without further ado, time to announce the drawing winners. (Remember, each progress comment earned one 'ticket' in the drawing. There were a total of 109 'tickets'.) The random number generator has spoken, and the winner of a copy of TWICE DEAD is:

Demon Hunter (Tyhitia)

Now for our grand prize winner. Five writers completed the 50k word challenge, and out of them, the winner of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and a copy of Twice Dead is:

Ginger

Mega congrats to both of you, as well as to the five writers who completed the 50k word challenge, and everyone else who participated and captured words on the page! Thank you so much for hanging out and writing with me this month. I hope you all continue to stop by my blog.

Ginger and Tyhitia, please email me at Kalayna (at) Kalayna (dot) com with an address where I can ship the books. I will not be shipping Twice Dead until February (unless I get ARCs, but most small presses don't have advanced reading copies), but Ginger, I will go ahead and ship the editing book this month.

Okay, it's back to revisions for me. Happy Hump day everyone!

Er, yeah, it's December . . .

Hey, sorry everyone. I didn't realize how much time it would take to tally up how many entries in the contest everyone has. As such, I didn't allot enough time to do it today.

So, winners will be announced tomorrow.

Stay tuned . . .