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What to do with a Novel Post November

So, I’ve made it, and I hope that most of you who have also been noveling this November have also made it or will shortly!  Often I’m asked by people I get chatting with over Nanowrimo, what I do with my novel afterwards.  I have a pretty set path for how I deal with it, actually.

1) Let the novel sit.

This step for me is critical.  I’ve spent an intense burst of energy over it. Now I need some detachment from it and letting it sit for anywhere from a few weeks to several months can help me get a fresh view on it. How long a book needs to rest between drafting and editing depends on the project, but even if I’m hot to get revising on it, I let it sit at least a week or two.

2) Reread the whole novel and take notes.

When approaching revisions, it’s good to get a sense of the whole picture, the big book issues, what got missed or needs changing, and so I reread the draft at a quick pace, looking for these bigger issues. From my notes on it, I create a revision outline.

3) Revise.

Once my revision outline is complete, I attack the novel for a first revision. My goal is at the end to have a novel that a person can read from beginning to end and enjoy, without any of those [name the city later] type notes in it.

4) Get critiques on the novel.

No matter how good I feel the book is, getting outside feedback is essential. Even with time letting the book sit, I’m too close to my work to be able to be the sole editor. Every novel should get not just one, but several outside opinions. In my mind, the more the better.

There’s several good ways to get a novel critiqued. Unfortunately, the first two popular ones are the worst ways: asking friends or relatives and sending the book to agents/editors. Friends and relatives often don’t share your same interests, tastes, and can be unreliable getting back to you on the novel. Bugging them stresses your relationships and you may not get a helpful or honest opinion either.

Agents and editors involve long waits and often brief form rejections. When they do give feedback it’s often quite useful, but after only one revision a book is not ready for that and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

In my mind, the best people to read and critique your novel are other writers in the same genre. I believe this for some very good reasons.

–as they are writers, they will share your same passion and drive about writing and making stories better

–as they are in your genre they will be interested in your novel and most helpful

–when all of you finally reach publication you have ready-made contacts within the industry

I’ve used critique groups for years and there’s a wide variety of ways they work.  Here’s some basic categories and their pros and cons:

Real life Critique Groups

These are groups who meet periodically in real life.  People either send each other the manuscripts ahead of time, or some of them take turns reading it aloud while meeting.

Pros: There’s high accountability, you’re meeting these people in real life, you’d better get your part done.  There’s also high energy, something very invigorating about connecting with people in person and a group can get wonderful brainstorms through talking about your work.

Cons: It can be difficult to fit everyone’s schedules in such a way that you can all meet.  Sometimes the number of local writers is small or most of the people you can find who are interested aren’t in your genre.  The word count of how much you can submit each round is also limited.

Email Critique Groups

These function the same as a real life group, but are all done in email.  Usually there’s a site that orchestrates making the groups by genre or interest, and then everyone is sent everyone else’s email.  They all run slightly different, either one person takes a turn getting critiqued each week, or perhaps everyone submits a chapter or short selection that everyone else crits within the group’s period.

Pros: You can do crits on your own time without worrying about meeting up with people.  It’s easier to get a group in your particular genre.

Cons: It can take many months to get through a whole novel chapter by chapter with the word count limits most groups require to keep everyone’s work load down.  You don’t get the real time energy that meeting up in person can create.

Whole Novel Exchanges by Email

This is a more unstructured way of doing things.  You connect with some writers online and each mail the other person your novel in exchange for theirs.  I usually do this with people I’ve known for a while on forums or in chat rooms, but sometimes may exchange with someone I just met if they’re asking for partners.

Pros: Someone reads your entire novel in one go, getting a larger, whole book perspective.   You can work at your own pace and time to do your critiquing back.

Cons: It can take a long time with no checks to keep everyone on track.  Sometimes people forget to get back to you or life takes over.  It’s more critique intensive to read someone’s novel back.  You only get one opinion, not a group perspective.  Some of them cost a fee to join.

Forum based Critique Workshops

These usually have an accountability system set in place.  Either your story must wait in line until it rises to the top of the week’s/month’s selection, or some are point based, where you gather critique points by commenting on other people’s stories/chapters that allow you to post your own.

Pros: A larger selection of people and genres/novels to critique or read from.  Often there’s a format to submit chapters one by one, and you can collect a fairly large group of readers, I’ve had 10-20 people following me on larger critique sites.  You get a wide range of opinions.

Cons: It can take a long while to put a whole novel through.  Some people may critique inconsistently or only part of your novel.  Some of the sites require fees to join or have full use of the site.  Some require consistent participation to stay a member.

Paid Creative Writing Classes/Workshops

These usually cost money to do, so I’ve never tried one.  But I can imagine that you do get what you pay for, both group critiques and an instructor who helps you with your novel.  There’s some online as well, and I know some people are very happy with the instruction and interaction.  I’ve found the free systems have worked well enough for me so far, but if you have the money and interest, there’s no reason this couldn’t be quite beneficial.  I met someone who took a writing/revising series of classes and went on to get an agent and become a NYT best seller.  She credits the class for getting her there.

Whichever for of critique you chose, I have personally found the process of giving and receiving critiques invaluable.

“A School for Villains” gets a review

The holidays may have been super busy, but I’m excited to announce I’m up at a couple of other sites this weekend.  Exciting times!

I got my first review today for “A School for Villains” on Nayu’s Reading Corner.  I’m ecstatic about her 10/10 rating!

Also, I am featured in a guest post about “Chosen Sister” discussing sibling rivalry and how it inspired me to write the book on Someone Else’s Kids.

Then, “Chosen Sister” print edition has also finally come up on Amazon.  It’s the same price there ($9.99) as on Create Space.  The advantage for Amazon is, all the reviews on the e-book came across for the print.  I haven’t seen a place to put reviews up on Create Space’s site, the only advantage it gives me is a slightly larger royalty.

Also, been poking away at the Nanowrimo… just broke 46,000 words.  I’m aiming to win on Monday, which will give me a little more time to prepare for attending a Create Space book pitch workshop I’m signed up for on December 7th.  I’m excited to have been chosen for it, although I’m unsure still which book I’m going to get feedback on the pitch for!  I go back and forth between both published novels and whether I’d rather attempt one of the unpublished ones.  So, I need all the time I can get to prepare for it.

That and I’d like to get the books out to some more blog review sites to get the word out.

A Break from Writing for Dreaming

One thing I always notice during Nanowrimo is how much energy getting out the word count takes out of me and how much more time I spend intently staring at the computer screen.  While it’s not as hard on my eyes as say an 8 hour marathon of spider solitaire or minesweeper, it does rather exhaust both my eyes and my brain to add that much more screen time.

This makes it more critical to take proper breaks and do non-writing activities that are both restorative and creative.  My usual choice for non-writing creativity is wychinanki, or Polish Papercutting, where layers of colored paper are cut into the shape of birds or flowers with colored paper on top in diminishing sizes.  However, living with relatives (gotta love the recession) doesn’t give me a permanent table for the cutting and gluing and has scattered my supplies.  Thus, I decided my non-writing activity would be cleaning my room and sorting through the clutter to find my stuff.  Joy.  But it moved my hands and rested my eyes and used a different part of my brain than novel writing does, so that was good enough to qualify.

Well, while cleaning I found a dreamcatcher kit that my aunt had given my husband for Christmas several years ago and he’d never bothered with.  I’ve

always thought dreamcatchers were really cool, but none of the people I knew who made them ever got around to make me one, and let’s face it, when spending money, it was never going to get up to the top of my list as far as actually buying one.  So, I got excited, and thought I’d try and make the dreamcatcher following the kit instructions.  It was an interesting process but I’ve ended up really pleased with my dreamcatchers and quite pleased to finally have some to hang up.

After soaking the reed and starting to bend it, I realized the instructions actually suggested making three smaller ones instead of one big one, so I switched to trying that and made three hoops out of the colored reed.  I was a bit clumsy, but liked the results anyway.  I started with the blue hoop, and decided to use the blue string in the kit for it, but while there were feathers, the beads and a small clay bird, supposedly in the kit, were missing.  So I hunted around in some of the old jewelry I had and picked the star and the turtle for the blue dreamcatcher, along with a couple of old earrings.  After all,  a turtle is as good as a bird for a symbolic dream symbol, right?

The red one, I found that I hadn’t made the hoop as well, and the tension started to warp it.  After determining this was inevitable without resoaking it and trying to shape it to be smaller and stronger, I decided just to go with as the warped shape was also sort of pretty.  Again, I used a couple of old earrings for beads and while I’ve never seen a bell on a dreamcatcher, this one lying around seemed like the perfect thing to add to it.  To conserve feathers as the kit was short, this is one I found in my driveway that I think was once a feathered earring, but ended up in the mud and so is a little worse for wear, but the rugged shape I think worked out despite that.

The final one (purple) I hoped to keep from warping by not pulling it as tight, but it did a little, although not into as dramatically as the red one.  I decided to go all out on this one as far as trying to weave things in.  The stone and cross I got from one of those little machines at the supermarket (see my previous post and ninjas and aliens for the little machine saga) and thought they would be the perfect elements for this.  The shell I found on the beach last year.  The beads are old earrings and I just stuffed the ends of the feathers into the beads and figure if I’m careful, it’ll stay together.  Over all, I love these.  It was worth the wait for the right dreamcatchers.

Bad guys, Good guys, and the Ten-year Anniversary of Taggerung

The battle between good and evil is a well worn theme in fantasy books, shows, and movies.  When I was young, I reflected this in my playing.  My brother and I would divide the toys up into the good guys and the bad guys.  Then the two would duke it out in a  classic epic battle.

The toys that were good and the ones that were bad were usually set by the shows they came from, or we’d decide when we got the toy which side it “belonged” to.  It was hard to give away the cool toys to the bad side, so their group usually got run by the purple panther Skelitor rides and a couple of battered insecticons.  Some generic GI Joes would fill in the ranks as minions, or perhaps some plastic dinosaurs.  It wasn’t easy being evil, you only had the dregs to help you out, while the cool characters remained in the ranks of good.

The thing is, in this world of good vs evil, do the bad guys call themselves bad guys? Do they think they’re bad? Revel in their evil and their plans for world domination, death, and destruction? Or do they think they’re actually the good guys? Do they believe they honestly are on the side of right and that the good guys are the bad ones?

We used to break our brains a bit, considering that. Sometimes we played it one way, sometimes the other, but it was a debate that always caught my attention.

And then there was Taggerung, by Brian Jacques. Now don’t get me wrong, while I’m going to complain about this book, I’m a huge fan of the Redwall series, and precisely because I’m a fan, is the reason this book bugs me. An avid reader of the series, while I started noticing the books were getting a little repetitive, I still faithfully bought each one as soon as it was released.

Most Redwall novels follow the same classic format our play world always did, with a team of good animals and a team of bad ones, usually defined by which animals

I was very excited when Taggerung was released. The book flap explained the story was about an otter (good guy animal) who as kidnapped as a baby and raised by ferrets (bad guy animals). Here perhaps was a good debate and adventure on the idea, with Taggerung questioning his upbringing. I excitedly dived in, only to be horribly disappointed.

Despite growing up in a family of selfish vermin who taught Taggerung constantly that selfishness and evil was the way to live, he seemed an instant hero. He was always fair, just, and righteous. He instinctively treated everyone he met kindly. He seemed too easily to realize everything his father taught him was wrong and too quickly walk away from his life of evil, and without a second thought. If he was raised entirely by vermin, where did he learn to be a good guy so easily? It left me with a picture of good guys always been inherently good and bad guys inherently bad, with upbringing mean basically nothing. He was an otter, not a ferret, so of course he was chivalrous and turned against the people who brought him up without a thought, all in the cause of good.

That didn’t sit right with me. It seemed like a simplistic answer and a waste of what could have been a very interesting debate.

So, while I was frustrated with Taggerung, to the point I gave up reading any new Redwall books, I’m also thankful for it, because it started me exploring in my writing what makes the bad guys bad and the good guys good. As I gear up to release “A School for Villains” I don’t feel like I’ve gotten to the half of it, but I have gotten some fascinating debates in my novels on this subject.

So, here’s to celebrating a novel I hated and all the inspiration it’s given me these past ten years.

Cover for “A School for Villains”

I just got my cover back from my artist (the very talented Leo DeBruyn) for “A School for Villains”.  The book is in production and will be released on October first.  I’m really excited about this!

The cover captures the story perfectly, a strong satirical novel with plenty of humor and yet a villain (or is it hero?) you can root for.  In tone, it’s a bit like “Despicable Me” or “Megamind” with a Harry Potter type school setting.

Here’s the blurb:

Thirteen-year-old Danny is astounded when his father decides to send him to Dark Lord Academy to learn to be a villain. Pa claims it will make him stand out and fulfill his own lost childhood dreams. Being evil doesn’t appeal to Danny, but he’s always been a good and obedient son, so he goes.

Dark Lord Academy’s not just unappealing, it’s downright terrible. His advisor dyes Danny’s blond hair black and changes his name to the unpronounceable Zxygrth. He can’t get the hang of maniacal laughter, his second-in-command servant is a puke-colored monkey, and the cafeteria lady enjoys serving stewed cockroaches or fried bat wings. A run in with a hero results in hate mail and he gets caught up in a rivalry with the school bully.  The only way for Danny to stay alive is to find his inner villain.

Read Chapter one

 

Mythological Animals in Chosen Sister

I’ve always had a fondness for mythological animals. When I set out to write Chosen Sister, I knew I wanted the story to center around a unicorn, my favorite mythological animal as a young child. I think to be precise, it was a unicorn pegasus that I liked best, but I chose the classic unicorn for this coming of age story.

I wanted the rest of the world to match, and so when I thought about what sort of evil animals might fit with the mythology, my mind went to harpies. I first studied harpies in school connected to Greek mythology, animals half-bird, half-human, who would snatch people and devour them. One of my favorite stories as a child, “Ronia the Robber’s Daughter” featured them, and the harpies in Chosen Sister are loosely based on the harpies in that book.

To fill out the Red Wizard’s minions though, I added a few animals of my own. Growing up, we had a book called “Curious Woodcuts of Fanciful and Real Beasts”, a book filled with beasts drawn in the middle ages. Often the artists would put together several features from different animals to create new monsters. We loved pouring over the book and drawing our own versions. My mind went back to this and I invented snakewolves, sharkgators, and bathawks to terrorize my characters.

Wanting something a little more fierce and terrible, I decided to return to “real” mythological animals at one point and added manticores, which have a lion body, a human head, shark teeth, and a scorpion tail. In considering how to fight these animals, I pictured them as probably the most dangerous of the Red Wizard’s beast.

Here is a newly expanded post of Reina’s first fight with the harpies.

 

Naming Worlds

I like coming up with fantasy worlds for my novels, but I’ve never named them, like I notice some people do. Oh, I give them a reference point mentally (the wizard world or the troll world) but not really a proper name. Part of my thinking is, these people don’t know they’re in a different world, so why would they have a name?

In science fiction, people would be aware of many planets and so would name each one, but unless my fantasy world has alternate dimensions, they wouldn’t call it something in particular. What’s more likely to come up in the story is the name of the countries or ethnic groups of people involved.

Still, there’s no harm in having a name for you world for an overall series. And I have a real difficulty sometimes coming up with country names that I like the sound of, so I’ve been considering having a more precise name for some of them, even if it’s not one I use in the book itself.

Some friends of mine over at Holy Worlds were discussing this very topic, and someone pointed out that our name for our world/planet is simply the same word for the ground, Earth. And it was suggested that a fun an easy way to name another world might be the word “earth” in a different language. Tsahraf made this fascinating list of the word earth in different languages.

Albanian: tokë
Armenian: երկիր – erkir (jɛɹkiɹ) yeh-rkeer
Arabic: أرض – uraḍ (ʔuradˤ) oo-rod
Azerbaijan: torpaq
Basque: lurra
Latin: terra
Mandarin Chinese: 地球 – Dìqiú
Croatian: Zemlja
Slovenian: Zemlja
Russian: Земля – zemlya
Czech: Země
Swedish: jord
Finnish: Maa
Filipino: lupa
Italian: terra
French: la terre
German: Erde
Greek: γη – gē (gɛː) gey
Haitian Creole: sou latè
Hungarian: föld
Icelandic: jörð (jœrð̠) yoh-rh-dh
Indonesian: bumi
Indonesian: dunia
Irish: domhan
Lithuanian: žemė
Slovak: zeme
Polish: ziemia
Romanian: pământ
Spanish: tierra
Danish: jorden
Turkish: toprak
Vietnamese: trái đất
Norwegian: ddaear

Some of these are really lovely sounding. I just might either steal them for a world/country name, or modify a few of them. It’s also a great reminder that we don’t just have one name for Earth, even if I’d be careful how many names I gave something in a novel. We don’t want to confuse the readers!

If there’s any other words for earth to include, let me know and I’ll add them.

Ninja vs Aliens

I’ve always had a soft spot for those little machines you put coins in by the doorway of the grocery store.  Granted, the excitement wondering what you’re going to get is about five times more fun than the actual object you get, but now and then you get something really fun.  I used to collect the football helmets as a kid (in those days only 25 cents, now they’re 50 cents… doesn’t that make me feel old).

In varies places I’ve lived I use them as incentives to get myself to walk places. I’ve found some pretty good ones, with little animals, saints, or those little picture bracelets.  When I don’t have that as an excuse, I’ll reward myself for grocery shopping if I see anything that looks particularly good.  Lately they’ve had aliens for 25 cents at Winco.  Why these aliens are all holding sport utensils (golf club, baseball bat, tennis racket) I don’t know.  Either they were out of ray guns or it’s a sinister plot to infiltrate organized sports.  In any case, I now have three of them.

Then yesterday at a Chinese restaurant I spied an unmarked little machine, not one of the organized chain ones you see at the store, with what looked like very random, and possibly quite good contents.  Ignoring the husband eye roll, I got out a quarter and took a chance—and got what has to be the coolest thing I’ve gotten out of a little machine in a long time.

Ninja!

An extra cool rather rubbery ninja with two knives.  I was very excited.  He can now defeat the invading sports aliens and possibly save all the little rainbow animals was collecting before if I can find them.  They got lost in the move.

If I can come up with a good one, I will write all four of them a story.  Either that or they will happily distract me from getting stuck on my current work in progress.

Quarter Finalist on Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

“A School for Villains” is a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.   I got two very helpful and friendly reviews from the Vine Reviewers and I was quite pleased.  I’m also thoroughly bouncy about the idea of getting my first professional review from Publishers Weekly.  Too bad April 24 is so long away!

Here’s a bit about my novel:

Thirteen-year-old Danny is astounded when his father decides to send him to Dark Lord Academy to learn to be a villain. Pa claims it will make him stand out and fulfill his own lost childhood dreams. Being evil doesn’t appeal to Danny, but he’s always been a good and obedient son, so he goes.Dark Lord Academy’s not just unappealing, it’s downright terrible. His advisor dyes Danny’s blond hair black and changes his name to the unpronounceable Zxygrth. He can’t get the hang of maniacal laughter, his second-in-command servant is a puke-colored monkey, and the cafeteria lady enjoys serving stewed cockroaches or fried bat wings. A run in with a hero results in hate mail and he gets caught up in a rivalry with the school bully. Danny’s determined to get expelled, but when he accidentally kills Professor Screkvox, his History teacher, he’s given an award instead.Screkvox, revived by the professor of Necromancy, is now out for revenge and a failing grade in History hardly qualifies. The only way for Danny to stay alive is to find his inner villain.

Here’s some snippets of what my reviewers had to say:

“The light, slightly tongue in cheek tone of this excerpt is fun and a joy to read. This is a great twist on Hogwarts and why shouldn’t there be an academy for villains? Love the details–like the the Dark Lord Academy’s brochure, only first, third and seventh sons need apply to the hero academy, and that it’s twice as expensive.”

“The novel concerns The Dark Lord Academy, a school for villains set in a mythological, perhaps parallel universe. Danny, a young thirteen year old boy, stumbles across a recruiting pamplet for the Academy. The pamphlet is hilarious. It dispels Dark Lord myths one by one in the manner one would normally see from a snake oil salesman. If this novel keeps up and further develops the funny tone, and avoids taking itself too seriously, the novel will be a funny read.”

An excerpt is now available for download on Amazon Kindle as well!