Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rewriting the Rewrite

Apologies to our few, steadfast and dear imaginary readers for the late Tuesday post. If you haven't heard, we're having a hurricane! It's official. Hurricane Isaac is on the way... and Mississippi and Louisiana are in his way. Needless to say, the Peas have been a little distracted with storm preparation and giggling at the repercussions of The Weather Channel's reference to our state as a land mass. Ah... the entertainments provided by the clash between social media and the national media. It's endless. But enough on that. Let's get to my actual blog topic today. Rewriting.

Every writer knows writing means rewriting.
(At least any writer worth their salt.)

And every rewriter knows that there's always a chance of another rewrite. Often times multiple rewrites. In some cases, years of rewrites. That is where I'm at right now with my own manuscript. Rewriting the rewrite. For me, its a daunting frustrating experience. Even when I fully understand and accept the necessity of it.

To catch ya'll up...

I've been on the cusp of completing a manuscript for about a year. I've long since written the last page. I've pitched it at ITW's Agentfest with great response. I've queried it with no response. I've had full manuscript requests for it from agents and even an editor. But I've never finished it and sent it out in earnest. Because I know it's not ready. Not ready enough to stand on it's own two feet and exist as a thing of true publishing potential.

It's my first finished book.

I'm not that good a writer yet.

This summer I let out my little creation to some non-biased readers. An old mentor, a friend who happens to be an agent, several renown instructors at a writing conference, and even a beta reader or two of known published authors. The feedback was staggering. And quite confusing. I've gotten everything from "send this to my office immediately" to "I'm sorry, you don't have any business sending this out."

What's an insecure upstart writer to do?


It's all I can do.

At least if I want to ensure that I've written the very best book I possibly can. And why wouldn't I? With so much competition in a rapidly changing publishing landscape, I have to write the very best book I can if I want to have a hope of publishing success. Which, for me, means picking my book up off a bookstore shelf and knowing it's reaching as many people as it can. Why else would you write a book and publish it?

That said, I have to stay true to the story I'm trying to tell. And let me tell you...
Everyone has an opinion on how you should write your book, how you should change it, what will make it better, more sellable, more likable, just.... more.

As a writer you have to learn to filter through all that. Which is the hard part. Anyone can sit down and rewrite a book -- transfer changes to the page and hit save. But it takes a real writer to make the right choices which actually enables that book to take flight.

That's where I'm at.

Daunted, overwhelmed, and terrified I will make the wrong choices and may nudge my manuscript off kilter and send it careening off course where it it crashes and becomes a fiery pile of horse manure, ending my nonexistent writing career before it starts. So what do I have to do to save it?

Cut the cast of characters in half.
Make the protagonist likable.
Show the reader who to root for.
Create a more commercial conflict.
Narrow the focus.
Widen the social/cultural conflict and commentary.

And...well... there's a laundry list of suggestions from a multitude of critics I have to consider. Now whether I consider and toss away or consider and apply...that's the real test isn't it? Will I make the right choices to attract the largest audience I can? No one knows -- least of all me. All I can do is rewrite the best rewrite I can and put it out into the world again until either someone else or myself decides... yup, it's ready.

In the end, I'm the only person who can decide when it's done because it will never be finished. I know I can write a better book and I will try my damnedest to do so. Then when I'm happy enough to close the laptop on this bugger, I'll send it out and move on. Until then, I'll be right here, rewriting.

Because writing is rewriting. Every author worth their salt will tell you so.

Stay safe world in the path of Isaac. The winds are picking up here and the rain is starting. I'm going to shut this down and post before the storm lands. Peas be with you, always.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


The Peas are finally back together!! We all say hello, blog followers!! :) ...now back to our dinner!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


This month, much like on my plate as a child, the Peas have been scattered. We miss each other terribly and look forward to getting back into the swing of weekly meetings again. Alas, we have just been too busy with vacations and various other things for that to happen yet. Which means convening to discuss upcoming blog posts has been, well... impossible.

In fact, M and J don't even know they've left me unattended in the pod today. *mischievous chuckle* And since I have the run of the place, I thought I would share with you the progress I've made in my latest story -- one you might be familiar with -- as a look into the creative process of beginning a novel.

As you may remember, a while back the Peas had a game pod: flash fiction using story dice. For that flash fiction, I imagined a boy with a very strange shadow. I had no intention of going any further with it at the time, but J and M {and others'} enthusiastic response to it spurred me to look deeper and see if there was a novel-length-sustaining plot inside it. About 10 minutes after my plot investigation began, I had the whole thing mapped out. And so I started writing it.

Interesting to note... I've read numerous times about how every story an author writes is different -- has its own set of challenges, comes about in different ways -- basically, that a new story can completely wipe out a writer's perceived "routine" in the way he or she writes. But I had no idea how true that was until I began writing this story. In The Onyx Vial {the novel I'm currently shopping around}, the words abounded. The world filled in with vivid colors and sparkling details and characters whose voices flowed onto the page with ease. But the plot tripped me up far too often, morphing many times over several years. This new story, however, handed over the plot without a fight. A startling and welcome change. And while the main character came fully realized, writing him -- with his distinct voice -- has caused me to plod through my writing, usually allowing me only a paragraph or two at a time. For whatever reason, the words come slowly. Which means that while there is progress, it's small.

Now, to the good stuff. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you {the rough first draft beginnings of}:


No one ever tells you to be wary of your shadow. Why should they? It’s your constant companion. Trustworthy. Reliable. With you through everything, even when you can’t see it. So, what happens when it peels itself from the ground, grows claws and horns, and starts hissing fork-tongued whispers in your ear?
No one ever tells you to watch out for you shadow because no one has ever had one possessed. Until now.
My name is Finnegan Lonan, and I have a demon tethered to my skin.
In fact, it’s sitting beside me right now, watching me write this to you.
Having a demon shadow isn’t painful. Not physically, anyway. The only harm it can cause is psychological.
Lucky me.
Hey, after all, my shadow is the one possessed. I’m just fine... aside from the fact that it stalks me, lurking, murmuring, reciting my fears over and over and over.
Such a joy to have around, my shadow.
But don’t be fooled by how well we get along. I’ve tried to force it away. I’ve planted myself directly in the sun, where only happiness could possibly survive -- where darkness withers under my feet -- and allowed myself to believe this is all some dream. But time -- like the sun across the sky -- passes, and soon my shadow drags itself up and faces me. The truth is painfully clear. I will never be free of it. Not until I find the key to unlocking the shackles that bind us.
I can see it even now -- the demon’s keyhole tattoo on my wrist, marking where the shackles appeared those first few hours. It will never leave me, and we both know it.
So loyal, my shadow.
I can feel the weight of the ancient book in my lap. It gets me wishing I could read the language, wishing I could use it to do more than send the demon hissing and recoiling into the farthest recesses of my shadow’s edges.
“What did I do to deserve you?”
My shadow flashes a razor-sharp grin and sticks out its snake-tongue.
It doesn’t know. Even now, after all I’ve learned, I don’t think I know either.
Let me catch you up to speed.

It was a dark and stormy night…
Actually, it was the following morning.
The point is, it had been raining.
The sky was unusually dark for two-thirty in the afternoon, the sidewalks were slick and the crappy, uneven roads were choked with deep puddles. Despite my natural grace, there was no avoiding soaking the hems of my brand new pants (not that they were anything special when dry) as I made my way to the public library.
I love the library. There are so many books, I could never plausibly read them all in my lifetime. So the entertainment is unlimited. It’s also cheap. As in free. Which is perfect, because I’m always broke.
Anyway, so, it was March third, and I was walking to the library, lost in thoughts of… well, it’s not important who what I was thinking of. What’s important is that it was March third, a completely regular -- albeit damp -- and utterly forgettable day. Except that when something like a possession occurs in your life, you tend not to forget it.
Like I said, March third.
When I reached the library steps, a chill drove through me. At the time, I accounted it to the errant gusts of the reluctantly dispersing storm clouds. I should’ve taken it as a warning. No. An omen.
Instead, oblivious to my looming future misery, I entered that damned library’s giant gothic doors and made my way to the librarian, Hilda’s, counter.
I shouldn’t blame the library. It wasn’t damned any more than I was. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You see, I’d been going through this giant, six-story library for years, level-by-level, stack-by-stack, shelf-by-shelf, picking out any and every book that caught my interest. So it was a great and terrible misfortune that on March third, at three-thirty-three in the afternoon, I was standing on level three, in the middle of aisle three.
There I was, perusing the titles on shelf three, when I heard the ear-piercing shriek of the librarian. I turned to see what was wrong, except that I didn’t.
Despite my mind’s commands, my body wouldn’t move. I felt a thick, icy sludge fill me -- as though I were a mold and it was anti-lava pouring in the empty shell of me. It happened so fast my heart literally stopped beating.
I gasped for breath. I swear it. But my lungs sunk in on themselves and my eyes inflated, threatening to pop out of their sockets. And then I sneezed…
Seriously. I couldn’t make this up.
…The feelings were gone, and I was turned around, facing the balcony. I ran straight to it, peering over the edge at Hilda’s desk.
“She’s dead,” a voice in my head sneered.
But even as it spoke my eyes locked on her. As always, she was leaning on the counter, nose buried in a book, humming softly.
I started to ask her why she’d screamed, but my voice stopped short.
A cloud passed, letting a thin stream of sunlight fall through the glass dome ceiling -- casting my shadow on the floor two stories below me, where it thickened like tar and peeled itself off the clean marble floor, staring at me with hellfire in its blood red eyes.
At which point, I -- Finnegan Lonan, a boy well through puberty -- screamed like a five-year-old girl.
My proudest moment.
The sound startled Hilda right off her chair.
I meant to back away, but my legs were locked in place. My shadow swelled with the changing light, cackling softly as Hilda righted herself and whirled on me.
If she felt any concern for my well-being, it must have passed her face when I wasn’t looking. The moment her eyes met mine, she was seething. “What is the matter with you, Finnegan?” she screeched.
I looked into my shadow’s eyes, then back at hers. For a minute, I would argue, they were both possessed.
“Yes. What is the matter?” my shadow asked, tilting its head with mock concern. A gesture only half as frightening as the mirth that smeared across its face a moment later… The moment I realized two very awful things:
One, that this fiend had made the sneering inner voice of mine its own. And two, that it was only visible to me.
“That’s a startlingly simple question,” I muttered.
“Well then?” Hilda pressed, oblivious to my sarcasm.
My shadow swirled on the floor as a cloud obscured the sunlight, and then it was beside me, stretched lazily across the banister. I looked at it, at a loss for words, and still -- I’ll admit -- scared out of my soggy socks.
It lay there, chin in claw-like hands, feigning innocence and interest with wide, cartoon-deer-like eyes.
I’ll give it this, my shadow is one hell of an actor. I swear, that thing conjured a sparkle in its freakishly cute red eyes, and may have even piped Disney music into my skull.
But it didn’t mask its pointed teeth when it smiled, and I shuddered -- released from my frozen state of fear.
Able, once again, to function, I returned my focus to Hilda. “There’s a demon on the banister.”
My shadow snickered, but I ignored it, praying that Hilda might take me seriously.
Her eyebrows got all scrunchy, her lips caught between a frown and a laugh. “You’re reading too many books, Finnegan,” she said.
Yes. The Librarian said that.
“Scream like that again,” Hilda went on, “and you better be buried under a fallen stack. Otherwise, I will ban you for life.” With that, she turned her back on me.
I was on my own.
Well… but not.
I didn’t know what else to do. So I walked away from the banister. From my shadow. Hoping, foolishly, that it wouldn’t follow.
As I drifted toward the stacks at the far corner, away from the sunlight, my shadow crept behind me. Sunlight winked from my left arm, directing my eyes to the second-most unnerving sight of that day: white-gold shackles, the weight of heaven’s light -- ironically -- hung around my scrawny wrist. My eyes followed the chain, each link growing darker, less reflective, until it was nothing but a fuzzy matte-black blur disappearing into my shadow’s turbulent shape.
I stopped. Tugged at the shackles. The edge of my shadow shifted, puckering where the chain attached. I waved my hand. My shadow gave me a rude gesture back. I jerked my arm up above my head, yanking my shadow like the corner of a bed sheet. The fiend growled.
“What you think you’ll accomplish with that?” I could hear the smugness in its -- my -- voice.
“Irritating you, at least.”
Oh, how much simpler things would be if I’d just been talking to myself. If I’d gone crazy. But, no. I had my wits about me.
I was staring a piece of Hell in the face, and instead of running, instead of looking for a way out, I was having a conversation with it.
It’s no wonder things with haven’t worked out.
“What in God’s name is this?” I asked, pointing at the shackles.
“What the Hell it is, you mean,” the fiend replied.
A sense of humor. Boy, had I lucked out.
I scowled. “What. Is. It?”
My heart sank into the roiling acid of my stomach. I may have looked up in desperation.
My shadow chuckled.
I chose to ignore this. “Why?” I asked, still looking at the underside of the floor above me. I may have been asking God, but it was the devil’s minion that answered.
“Wouldn’t want you wandering off without your shadow.”
I dropped my gaze to the fiend’s.
Looking back, I recognize the terror that washed so slowly over me, building in feather-thin layers, not yet powerful enough to radiate through my skin, but enough to rattle my insides.
“Not these,” I lifted my shackled-wrist. “Why any of it?” It was the middle of the day -- in a quiet, well-lit library. For all accounts this wasn’t when possessions occurred. “Why… the shadow?” I was hesitant to bring this up. Afraid this would be misconstrued as an invitation for it to abandon my shadow and jump to my body. But I was being ridiculous. That was Vampires and houses.
Fear is so unaccommodating to intelligent thought.

*Title subject to change.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Alexis Read A Book

New review up at Witty Title Here! {Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake}

Thoreau's Bathtub

Previous posts might've led you to believe I'm not a big fan of "literary" fiction. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm am a self-proclaimed Literary Literature Lover -- with capital Ls. I just don't believe it's the kind of book I could write... at least not at this point in my career. I still have too much to learn about craft and life.

That said, I love British and American classics -- 18th, 19th and 20th century books that have stood the test of time. (Generally these works are considered "literary"). This is one reason I find myself in Boston annually. My yearly literary pilgrimage. My annual cleanse in Thoreau's bathtub.

There's nothing quite like immersing oneself in the romanticism and history of writers' lives from another time. Over the years I've stopped at sites and seen artifacts pertaining to Emerson, Dickinson, Keats, Alcott, Hawthorne, Frost, Twain,  Longfellow, Poe, Thoreau, and many others. One of my favorite things to do is to trudge through New England, going from historic landmark to historic landmark, and taking it all in. This year, I brought my niece with me. We had a terrific time and, as usual, my Boston friends brought something new and literary to the agenda.

One of my favorite sites is the Longfellow House in Cambridge. It's a beautiful home with great historic and literary value. A home of General Washington and the Dante scribing poet, Longfellow. I've been to this site numerous times and each time I find myself affected by the history, the tragedy of Longfellow's wife's death, and the society of other writers he kept.

We also visited Orchard House in Concord -- where the Alcott's lived -- and we dropped by the Old Manse -- where Emerson and Hawthorne both resided. The tour guides and well preserved homes never disappoint. Though I've toured these sites before, the stories the tour guides tell are fresh and interesting every time. Seeing Louisa Alcott's sister's artwork painted on the walls of her room at Orchard House brings me instantly to Amy in Little Women. Life and fiction comes together so neatly in ways. I also loved learning that the taxidermied owl in the downstairs parlor of the Old Manse was named Longfellow by Hawthorne. His wife hated it, he loved it, and she often hid it from him -- the attic, behind the furniture -- but he always found it and brought it back out. In the three years the Hawthorne's lived at the Old Manse they etched messages to one another in the window panes -- early day text messages, love notes? It's just plain awesome. These writers were just people -- and walking through the same hall they roamed, listening to their life stories, is the best way to be reminded of that fact.

Another gem?  In the very room where Hawthorne wrote in the years he stayed there, Emerson stood at the same window and was inspired to write the essay Nature -- which birthed Transcendentalism. What was it about that place and that time? As a writer, I can't help but romanticize it.

One of the terrific new things I did this trip was visited the Houghton Library at Harvard. Not only were the books breathtaking -- ancient editions that go back to Gutenberg and before -- but the have amazing collections of letters and artifacts upstairs. The Emily Dickinson room houses not only the books she owned, read, and were informed and inspired by, but her writing desk, letters, and the chest of drawers her writing was found in after her death. Amazing items to peruse, to examine, and to think about. Houghton also houses each edition of Keats work and his life mask. Being able to look at Keats' still face in front of your own while surrounded by his letters and poems. It brings a smile to my face.

We swung by the Boston Public Library which is always a treat. They had an exhibition of letters from Poe, Phillis Wheatley, and so many others. I could've stayed for hours reading them all. Something about the handwriting and the language really transports you.

But there is one thing that I love to do, more than anything, when I find myself in the area. Walden Pond. There's something about having read Walden and walking through the forest paths and hanging out at the site of Henry David's cabin that seems so surreal and real at the same time. And I always walk the path from the site to the water's shore and submerged myself into Thoreau's bathtub -- because certainly he wouldn't have cleaned himself there, wouldn't he have? I like to imagine it anyway.

I love to reread the poems and stories of these writers. I love to travel to this place. But most of all, I love to piece it all together. For me, it creates a strange living history I can relate to -- something to remind myself that even the writers we edify were and are people too...who have to bathe and collect books and play and argue with their spouses... just like me. Somehow, even when I've experienced these places and stories before, it inspires me each time and in a strange way helps me to validate the writer's life I've chosen.