The Great Revision Game

So I wrote a really fabulous book. A book I adore, a book I thought my darling agent would fall on her knees in gratitude for. I pictured all sorts of glory – way up on the NYT list, a movie contract, praise and adoration all around, because I freaking loved this book.

Uh, no. My wise and supportive agent missed the glory of this masterpiece completely, so did two of her colleagues, and I slipped it back into the desktop (or into Dropbox) and, a la Scarlett, decided to “Think about that tomorrow.”

It’s tomorrow. Now some people (editors) seem to think I don’t work well with others, but they’re dead wrong. I’m always interested in thoughtful criticisms and suggestions because I have the blessed ability to choose what edit/suggestion is good for me and what doesn’t work, given the book in question. For instance, one publisher said I refused to write heroes who weren’t as dark as my usual. Not true — no one ever asked me to. What I can’t do is soften an already written character without rewriting the entire book. My heroes are strong, and people have strong reactions to them. Softening the hero would change the entire story and create a different book. It’s less trouble to start afresh, and my imagination is the gift that keeps on giving.

But I digress. It’s time to take apart 34th Street Timewarp (its terrible WIP title) and wrestle it into shape. And here’s how I plan to do it.

First, I’m going down to visit Crusie and Tom Hiddleston (Betrayal), so I figure when I’m out of the city Crusie and I will sit and talk and drink tea and coke and coffee. Crusie’s brilliant – and wonderfully analytical. She’s saved more than one of my books. and she loves the current, flawed mess that I love so much. I’ve got her, and notes from Beta Readers. That was the first step – send the mss. to beta readers to get their feedback. They found masses of flaws, most of which I agreed with, and they universally loved it.

So to get prepared, I’m going to break it down by scenes (Crusie does this all the time with flow charts and stuff, but it’s the rare book that demanded that from me). One choice is to use Scrivener – it’s got virtual index cards and I do love computer programs. The other is to take some of my stacks of color index cards, real ones, and do it by hand, which tempts me. Anything that breaks me out of usual thinking is helpful in doing revisions – otherwise I just tend to fawn over my good stuff and miss the bad. So different colors for different POV’s, I think, and then I can move things around like word blocks in an old tv game show. Make a list of darlings I won’t kill, but make sure they earn their place. Maybe print up the mss. in a different font so I have something physical to work on. Bring lots of binder clips and paper clips, lots of pencils and a pad of Clairefontaine for notes. Crusie and I will unite to do battle (and maybe do a round or two with her fabulous NITA who has not yet chosen her proper form) and we’ll cuddle the dogs and watch movies and have a glorious time. I’m so damned lucky to have her.

Gird your loins, children, I’m going in, and I will emerge victorious on the other side. We’ll see what happens with this baby, whether I submit it on my own to a few places. It’s possible that this brilliant, wonderful book doesn’t have a place in this current world. These things happen. In which case I’ll self-pub and those who want it and will love it will find it (I’ll drop some breadcrumbs in the wilderness to lead them home).

Aah, work. I’m excited. The only drawback is The Absolutely, Positively Worst Man in England wants me to continue his story too, but I gotta throw everything into 34th first. So many books to write, so many wonderful stories that I want to wrap around me like a worn flannel quilt with a rhinestone trim. That’s me in a nutshell.

Are you with me?

What’s Up, Doc?

Ah, my theatrical career has started back up. I played half a dozen parts in a staged reading reading of Under Milk Wood last weekend, and we’re going to be doing a full production of a brand new play written by the author of “The Elephant Man” and I’m completely chuffed. Since the directors are friends, they help me work around mobility issues and stamina issues, and it brings an incredible amount to my life. Happy, happy.

It’s fun, because stretching in a completely different art form is great for my primary task, writing. I think that would be true for any discipline – you’re still creating, and in fact it’s all about the same thing. Story. Painting, music, dance, acting, singing. All about Story.

In fact, I learned from Rosann that my favorite writing quote serves for acting as well. In fact, I think it serves for life.

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.” 
― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

For some reason, over-the-top creature that I am, I’ve always been subdued in auditions and most roles. I should have just thrown it all in. The director will tell you when to pull back. In fact, I don’t worry about dignity or making a fool of myself, as anyone who knows me can attest, so I don’t know why I was so cautious. If you throw extreme stuff out there, either in writing or acting (or painting, or whatever) you can clean it up later. If you don’t throw it out there then there’s nothing to work on.

Speaking of work, I’m still writing the new historical, which is insane but who cares? I think it’s delightful – funny and hot. I’m more than a third done, and I’d love it if the draft is finished by next month but it depends on time and rehearsals and stuff.

In the meantime, here’s the recipe for Welsh Cakes that I made for my fellow cast members after Under Milk Wood was done. They’re yummy and easy (and not in metric).

This is from the joandsue.blogspot.ca


Welsh Cakes

Ingredients

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1 cup flour

pinch salt

1/2 cup butter, cold

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup currants

1 egg

Directions

2 Tbsp milk

Topping

1 – 2 Tbsp sugar, for sprinkling

In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Using 2 knives or a pastry blender, cut in the cold butter until mixture resembles course crumbs. 

Stir in the sugar and currants.

Make a well in the center and add in egg and milk.

Using a fork, mix in the ingredients until dough comes together. 

Flour a work surface and then roll dough out to approximately the thickness of your baby finger. 

Cut out with a round cookie cutter. (Apparently, traditionally the edges should also be fluted!)

Reroll the trimmings and cut out more rounds. 

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Lightly grease with either cooking spray or a little butter. 

Place as many rounds as will fit on the skillet without touching.

Cook approx 3 -4 minutes on the first side. Carefully flip over.

Cook for another 3 or so minutes. (If bottoms are going too dark, too fast then turn down your heat!)

Remove from pan to a wire rack.

Sprinkle immediately with a little sugar.

Continue cooking remaining cakes.

These are amazing served warm with a little butter OR room temp with some jam.

Like scones but different. 

Little fluffy and crispy bites of heaven. 

P.S. – This recipe makes 12 cakes using a 2.5 inch cookie cutter. 

Back to work. Life is good – the pain is being dealt with, the oncoming depression has been stopped in its tracks, and it’ll be summer eventually (not for today in Vermont, though).

It’s Freaking Cold!

My spirits are not at an all-time high. It’s so damned cold in Vermont – after the winter from hell we’re still freezing our asses of. We haven’t been able to have coffee out on our deck yet, It hasn’t gotten above 50 in a couple of days, and the wind’s blowing. Now I’m someone who’s not keen on warm climates, but this is ridiculous.

But I soldier on, trying to be cheerful between a million doctor appointments (nothing lethal) and a peculiar case of insecurity, not something I usually suffer from. I’ve been doubting myself lately, with a little help from my (not) friends, and wandering between too many projects, all of which I love, instead of sitting down and finishing one. I blame the weather (seriously – in Northern Vermont it’s been criminal), and the pain (always a challenge) and chemistry (I come from the biologically bonkers on both side of my family), but I gotta do something about it. If I’m not writing, not telling myself a story, it feels like something’s missing, something’s wrong.

I have one brilliant book written that needs some more revising to be completely wonderful. Well, it already is wonderful, and fortunately I’m not a perfectionist, but this is so good (I really love it) that it’s worth being extra careful.

And I have : 1 historical (The Absolutely, Positively Worst Man in England), 1 modern (revenge fantasy), 1 slightly Indiana Jones-ish, one Mary Stewart Gothic. Maybe I should throw a dart. Or ask for a sign.

Years ago, I was under contract for a number of books, but I wanted to write one more ICE book and my publisher wasn’t interested (silly people!) So it was write On Thin Ice on spec for indie publishing or concentrate on the contracted stuff, and I was really torn, so I asked the universe for a sign. I was driving in the car at the time, and Bruce Coburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” came on. It couldn’t have been clearer.

So I guess I need another sign. I need to figure out how to escape back into my happy place. Any of you out there psychic? I’ll take signs from anyone.

In the meantime, I’ve just republished the House of Rohan series, starting with Reckless, though they’ve just given me back the rights to Ruthless so that’ll be out in a little more than a month and the short story, Wicked House of Rohan, is coming back to me this fall. I’ve also gotten the rights back to Hidden Honor and oh, my heavens, The Devil’s Waltz! I freaking love the book. So lots of reprints and masses of new audio. Lots of stuff going on.

I think spring is a fairly common time for the doldrums to hit. I gotta just slap myself out of it and get back to what I love. Somebody, give me a sign. Or a shove.

Why It’s Great to be a Writer

I wrote my first … lemme see … god, I think it’s 16 … books on a typewriter. The very first one might have been on a manual one – that was back in the days when an IBM Selectric was a wet dream. And I actually liked typing – I liked having the pages pile up beside me, I liked the click of the keys and the sound of them hitting the … roller? It had a special name — platten? (I just went and looked it up – I was close. Platen.) Ah, the good old days. I used yellow newsprint for my early draft, because my mentor did, and onion skin for the final draft which was a big nono but I did it anyway.

And so it goes. Stories helped me survive a … shall we say difficult … upbringing. Think Mommie Dearest crossed with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf crossed with Lost Weekend and you get the picture. But I could always retreat into books, and into my own stories, and I could survive. Maybe my siblings didn’t have that escape. (They both died young from their various addiction issues, as did my father).

But those stories kept me going my entire life (so far). When I was going through infertility and every month discovered that I wasn’t pregnant I would curl up in my big bed with a comforter and reread Georgette Heyer and make it through the day. When I was a suicidal teenager I watched a new tv western (trust me, it was brilliant) and fell so in love with the world that I decided it was worth living. (By the time the show was cancelled I was past suicidal thoughts and none have returned for more than 50 years, thank goodness.

If a story is going strong then life is wonderful – there are days when I can’t wait to get to the computer (yes, I upgraded) to find out what my people are doing. In fact, that’s what gets me there every day. That, and discipline, which I had to discover myself due to the aforementioned upbringing. My worlds, as dark as they might be, are always a safe place for me.

Two things really brought that home in the past few years, one mundane, one existential. I was stuck in an oral surgeon’s office, having two teeth removed. When I went in I hadn’t realized I wasn’t going to have anesthesia, and I sat there, clutching the armrests, tears rolling down my face, in an absolute panic. Desperate to distract myself, I threw my mind into my latest characters, and the panic began to fade. The surgeon did something new and horrible (no physical pain, mind you) and the panic came slamming back, so once more I raced back to my story world. It wasn’t until the third time this happened that I realized what was happening. That world brought me calm and peace even in really dire circumstances.

The other was at a really low time in my life. I’ve got Major Depression as a diagnosis, no surprise with a father and a family history of Bi-Polar Disorder and a mother who had a borderline personality plus a family history of depression. In general I have an excellent medical cocktail and a real enjoyment of life, but occasionally the black cloud breaks through.

A few years ago life was so bleak and hopeless, and I was so trapped, that I drove home from visiting my BFF Crusie, weeping (and it’s a long drive). I tried to think of anything that could bring me hope, peace or joy (I always fight the blues like mad) and there was absolutely nothing – everything was disaster and despair. Until I thought of what I was writing. Thought of the other books I wanted to write, the stories and worlds that were there for me. Remembering story, the movies that never failed to transport me, the books that kept me alive in my childhood, the characters I had waiting for me, was a ray of hope that made the weeping stop. When there had been nothing but devastation there was suddenly wonder.

I used to annoy cancer survivors by saying that the perfect book at the right time can cure cancer. (They ignore the fact that I’m a cancer survivor). But man, it’s true. When you get the perfect story, either reading or writing or even watching on a screen, it puts you in the zone so squarely that I think healing endorphins flood our bodies. Or maybe it’s pixie dust.

Whatever it is, it’s magic

In honor of that magic I’m going to recommend books every month that will cure whatever dark cloud is swallowing you up. Books that can silence Donald Trump and wipe out the southern legislators. Books that turn Mitch McConnell into turtle soup and William Barr into a toadstool.

Was there ever a time we needed magic more? Another friend, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, said she never aimed to change people’s lives with her books, she simply wanted to change their afternoon. With enough good afternoons you can survive anything.

All the Storms

Life has a habit of making other plans. I’ve been in absentia again, due to all sorts of issues, but I’ve lost my main ways of pondering life, so I’m going to do it here. Eventually it’ll morph into fun and games, but right now I’m just being thoughtful. I’m working my ass off on so many things, so first I’ll give you a book update.
1. I just finished writing a really wonderful book. You know when you read a book and the world stays with you? Some of you immediately go back and reread it, some of you can’t read anything else for a day or two. I remember when I read Sunshine by Robin McKinley, I stopped a couple of chapters before the end and just clasped it to my breast. Seriously. Well, I feel that way about the new, untitled book. I started it as a Christmas novella, to be out last year, and it was supposed to be piffle. I almost immediately knew it was going to be more than a novella, so I sent it to my agent, who said expand it, and I put it to one side and worked on another project. When that self-destructed I went back to it, and it just blossomed like a dark rose. I want to go back there – I want to listen to it in audio, I want to dream in that world.
The world of publishing is completely random nowadays, so who knows what will happen to it. My agent has it now, and I’m relatively sanguine about the outcome. It could be glory or disaster, but then, those things come out of throwing everything into life. If there’s no market for it I’ll make one, and I’ll move on, because there are so many more books to write. But this is one of the special ones.

2. I’ve been revising older stuff. Belle Bridge Books is coming out with Crazy Like a Fox in the next couple of days, and that was so much fun! Sometimes when I revise older books I end up being astonished at how much I like some that I’d forgotten about, and disappointed in some of my favorites. I can’t figure out why. I’m about to put out Rafe’s Revenge, and originally I’d thought of that as a sort of throwaway. I ended up loving it -I don’t know why I thought there wasn’t much to it. Maybe my life was going insane at the time – my life has a tendency to do that with lots of sturm und drang, usually not caused by me. Lots of storm and disaster in my family. But both of those books were a real treat. Next up is Special Gifts, which I adored and was a RITA finalist – I’m hoping that won’t turn into a disappointment.

3. I’ve redone the Maggie Bennett novels, with new covers, rewritten, and those I still loved. It only makes sense that I’d love my books – after all, they’re written by someone who knows my fantasies and wants exactly the same characters and stories that move me. I can’t imagine writing someone I hated.
Well, I did do that, twice. And trust me, I didn’t like it and don’t like those books. Though maybe those will be ones I go back to and end up pleasantly surprised.

4. Nanowrimo is starting, and I’m going back to a proposal I adored. I never finished it because I had too many contracts to fill, but now is definitely the time. I promise I’ll come back and tell you all about them.

But in the meantime it’s Halloween and the world is a horror show. I’m going to do my best to keep up the holiday spirit – I live in a very small, rural Vermont town, and we have very few trick or treaters. This year our delightfully liberal church has decided to organize a local Halloween trail in the town proper. Since most of the houses are owned by summer visitors they tend to be empty, but they’ve given permission for a bunch of us to porch sit and hand out candy. I’ll be wearing my nun’s habit, with spooky lights (and long johns underneath) and maybe even a boombox full of spooky music if I can find one in my crowded house. A good buddy is the next house up, so we can cackle at each other if the mood strikes us. This is a world where goblins and witches are the good guys, where demons are hot and sexy, and the “good” people carry torches. When I was young people used to say I lived in a fantasy world. I think it’s a much better place to be.

Life is a balancing act and right now the see-saw is little off. It’ll get better. And I have something to write that I love. My family is stable, my cats are wonderful, my sewing machines are working, my husband is fabulous — what me worry? Sometimes you gotta work hard to be happy. Fortunately, I can do that.

Happy Halloween!