Monday, June 21, 2010

WRITING UPDATES w/writing insights


People have asked me to write a project log again and to incorporate writing insights if I can. I appreciate the suggestion. I am so wrapped up in the current book projects that I have neglected le blog.

NO SPOILERS will be included.

Several book projects will be represented.

July 6 2010: Beautiful Writing and Something Even Better:

For me, the best books have always been the ones that let me forget I am reading. I love beautiful writing, the grace of the unexpected and perfect word, the dance of language. I am a fan of the goofy-smart-ass-hyphenate. But I love beautiful writing most when it isn't so flashy that it requires me to stop and admire it--and its author. If I am admiring (and probably envying) the writing, I have remembered I am reading, that this place and these people aren't real.

I can imagine the writer's joy at finding that perfect sentence and I can carefully re-read that astounding description of a house, a torn glove, a rainstorm. But if I have stepped out of the story to appreciate awesome facility of language, then I have probably lost the vague ache in my heart, the one echoing the protagonist's ache.

Chances are I will flip back a few pages to read another lovely bit of writing I had noticed, but that hadn't stopped me in my tracks and I can only now fully appreciate. And from there I might reread the bio on the jacketflap, then set the book down, remembering that I have a deadline, a dinner to start, a dog to bathe.

There are nearly infinite kinds of beautiful writing. I love them all, but I prefer the ones that don't interfere with the story. It is one of my current writing goals: I want to write literary page turners. To that end, this morning, I cut a scene by more than half. This is what made the cut (so far anyway, this is second draft text:)


Walking light-footed, almost running in the moonlight, she was halfway up the hill when she saw a lantern in the window and knew Sully was awake. Good. But then the door banged open and she heard someone stumbling down the steps, someone tall, doubled over, making a hoarse, sucking sound that terrified her. Eric?

She stopped, staring as Sully pounded across his porch, vaulted the rail and hit the ground running. He was fast enough to get one strong arm around his son's shoulders. For an instant she felt a twist of hope, then realized Eric was limp, folding up. She winced when Sully lost his balance and sat down hard in the dirt, still trying to straighten the tangle of legs and arms, to hold Eric close. When he couldn’t, Sully arched backward, screaming at the sky until his breath was gone. Then he sorted out the mess and began to rock what was left of his boy. She sat down in the wet grass to wait.

Sunday, June 20,  A Resurrection of Magic, Book #3 (which will not yet tell me its name)

Started reading from the beginning to make sure the dual pacing works before I go on.  Adding a chapter in one story means I have to add one in the other story and that can be maddening because the stories interlock...sometimes...and are on sliding timelines, Sadima's is MUCH longer than Hahp's.

 I stalled on the first chapter of Hahp's story as I eliminated what has to be the 10th layer of my desperate attempt to fill in the backstory. There is no better argument for "show don't tell"  than the first 2-4 chapters of any trilogy book, especially #3.

Here are two excerpts;

**Sadima's story is the odd-numbered chapters, Hahp's are the even numbers.
Chapter 2  (My first draft of Hahp, written many months ago: )

I could hear Gerrard's breathing, steady, quiet, as if nothing had happened, nothing that mattered enough to keep him awake. He had said more than once that he was a South End orphan. And at first, I had been sure he was lying. How would an orphan end up here, in the most expensive academy in Limori? And why would a beggar boy know how to read? Reading had been forbidden for commoners for most of the city's history. Now the high price of education accomplished the same goal. Commoners couldn't read; beggar boys least of all. But if Gerrard was lying, why had he smelled like South End--like fish and sweat--on our first day here?

My father had taken me to the slum of South End only a few times. It stank. The ragged children pressed up against the carriage as the pony began to trot, his head high, ready to fly when the coachman loosened the reins. The children were pleading, holding out their dirty hands, begging us for a coin. My mother wept. My father ignored them like a stable hand ignores flies, like he ignored me. Did he ever think about me now? Or was he too busy overseeing his ships, his fortune--busy being cruel to his servants, his wife. 

I turned over, then back again, wishing the wizards would just punish us. Or at least indicate somehow that they had found proof of what we had done.(altered). But they had never concerned themselves with helping anyone get through anything. They withheld food, over and over, not caring when some of the students died. And if what Somiss had said was true--all the parents had known they might never see their sons again. So no one cared about me. Not even my own father.

Gerrard stirred, then quieted. I turned my head toward his cot and realized I was had been staring into the darkness. I closed my eyes again. The little chamber seemed even quieter than usual.  But everything here was hushed, every birdsong, every wolf's cry, every storm was silenced by the endless passages that wormholed the dark stone cliff. I had seen the sun only once since my father had brought me here--the day Jux allowed me to fly.  I still longed to do it again. Just once more, before the wizards decided to kill all of us. And they would. They would have to.

As it reads this morning:

Chapter 2

It was pitch dark. I could hear the mouse still trying to find a way out. I had made it a bigger box, but it hadn’t helped. I hated the sound of its toenails on the blood-flecked wood. I just wanted to let it go, but I was afraid to.

I fed it fruit, cheese, and bread. I always brought back more than I needed from the food hall and I always left it in plain sight. Gerrard hadn't touched it. He was stick-thin and I was almost sure he wasn’t eating anything. He was the only one who hadn’t yet passed the last test, except Luke, but that hardly mattered now.

Gerrard stirred beneath his blanket. I heard his cot ropes creak, then the easy rhythm of his breathing.
He was sound asleep.

I hated him for that. I hadn’t slept through the night in a long time. And once I was awake, I felt lost in the  stone passages that wormholed the cliff. I felt the silent pressure of the still, stale air. And I couldn’t stop remembering.

The wizards had taught us that. Memory—exact, detailed memory. So I could see Luke, his face half in lamplight, half in darkness. I could count the beads of sweat on his forehead. And I could hear the sound of my own voice, soft, calm, sincere.


June 24:

Working on two things today, the third of the Resurrection of Magic trilogy and a young MG novel I am still struggling to find a voice for. Yesterday I took half a day to do a ms consult for someone I met at a conference in FL. She is a good writer and a lovely person. The missing ingredient in her story was a firm point of view in the text. I see this a lot. Here is the 10 second demo (not excerpts from current work, I am making these up) why VP is usually better:

   Narrator's voice:
         The air was hot and damp. The clouds were so thick it was eerie. It looked like the kind of rainstorm that usually meant spectacular lightning and thunder, but this time it wouldn't. Tory and James both knew they had no time to rest. They would either make it to Franklin's Bend before the storm hit or everything they were doing, everything Greg had done, would be for nothing. Faces beaded with sweat, they kept going, dropping back into a plodding jog to catch their breath, then running again. When James couldn't keep up, Tory went on, glancing only once at the unatural, darkening sky.

Same Scene, Tory's voice:
       Tory's eyes stung from the salt in her own sweat. James was slowing down. She could hear his heavy footsteps behind her, the sharp gasping of his breath. She dropped back to a jog again. She had no idea how much farther Franklin's Bend was, but it didn't matter. If James couldn't keep up, she would have to leave him behind. She had to get there in time to warn everyone to stay inside, to make them understand this wasn't  a rainstorm. If she didn't, Greg would be just one more casualty instead of a hero who had died to save everyone he loved.
       Tory refused to cry. This was the only gift she could give her brother now. She wiped her face on her sleeve and broke back into a run. She heard James shout, but she kept going . When she finally glanced up at the sky, she almost stumbled. The storm was coming in fast, straight overhead, and the clouds were black.


June 26, 2010

Another show-don't-tell example--even when you are working in an insanely massive backstory, it's better to show and imply:

Bad first version:

    Sadima missed South End sometimes. The Eridian meetings in the little apartment over Charlies' cheese shop had saved her life, her heart. For the first time since his death, she had been able to laugh, to cry--at least for a while. She knew it was only a matter of time before the women who had become her sisters realized  that she wasn't getting older. Once they did, they would know that magic had been worked upon her. She was doing everything she could to keep them from noticing, using the khol she had bought in South End and wearing drab clothes. But they would notice, evenually. She could only hope that they wouldn't blame her for it, that the friends she loved wouldn't hate her for what she could not even remember.

She got up and set about her chores...

Current, better (not final yet) version:

    Sadima put kindling into her woodstove, stirring the ashes, baring the hot coals, and opened the flue wide. Then she carried her kitchen bucket out to the well. Coming back, she heard children’s voices, high-pitched, happy, and a moment later, the sound of someone whistling, walking the path that ran past her little house. The settlement was waking up. She belonged here. Whatever she couldn’t remember mattered less than her love for this place and these people. Far less.

Back inside, the fire crackling, Sadima warmed water to wash her face. While her skin was still wet, she dabbed moistened kohl around her eyes to make grayish shadows. Looking into her little mirror, she squinted a hundred times to make natural looking lines as the khol dried, then used a light dusting of finely ground chalk to pale her rosy cheeks and lips.  As she buttoned her modest gray dress and assumed the hunched posture she wore all day, she forced herself to think about things she had pushed aside. She had debts to pay.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Excuses, Excuses...

Three people have emailed this week to make sure I am all right. Four or five more have written missives asking me when I will get to whatever it was I said I would do...months ago. Russet fans are asking when that story will continue. ((Soon, soon.))

My first book cover,
copyright Sergio Giovine

So...I am behind on everything. There are a pile of reasons, mostly small ones, but they have added up. So I am not all caught up with finished manuscripts and traveling this summer as I thought I would be. I am traveling, as planned, not missing appearances, but once home, I am pretty much chained to my desk trying to meet re-set deadlines. In a few months, things will be less crowded...YAY!! So I apologize if I haven't answered your email or returned your calls. I will, I will...