Living the Fictional Dream

Erin M. Kinch’s musings upon the writing profession

Archive for the 'Novels' Category

Finished!

It achieved a pretty big milestone a few weeks ago. I finished my first real novel.

I specify “real,” because I have finished a few others, but with those I always cheaped out at the end. I got tired or didn’t have the complete vision or fell too hard on the “happy” side of happily ever after. I remember one NaNoWriMo novel that I struggled and struggled on, and on the last night just wrote a plot synopsis of the story arc.

This is the first time I finished a novel with a well-thought-out plot that reached all the way to the last scene. All my plot and character objectives were met. The appropriate threads are tied up, with a few left dangling for the sequel.

It’s a really good feeling. I feel like I really accomplished something. So… when are the millions of dollars and top spots on the best seller list going to start rolling in? LOL!

I still have a lot to do on my little novel that could — rewrites, revisions, a line-by-line edit — but I’m going to do it. I love this novel, and I feel like I finally have something to query with. It just needs a little more fine tuning. All in all, though, finishing is a really great feeling. And it was better than any NaNoWriMo I’ve ever done, because this time I feel like I have something strong and real saved on my laptop, not just a jumble of words strung together for quantity.

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Story Every Day Is Back

Poor, little neglected blog. I really mean to give you more attention, I do. Maybe one of these days, when my two toddlers are out of this all-engrossing toddler phase…

And because of said toddlers, it’s still really difficult to find time to write anything that isn’t the technical writing I do for my job. But, I have been succeeding a little more this year than in the past couple of years.

My best writing outlet is still my writing group. We only meet twice a month these days (assuming we have enough people not to have to cancel), but we have a lot of writing time at the meetings (and it’s child free writing time!).

Also, the group does try to do things to inspire us to write every now and again. Most recently, we were looking at Camp NaNoWriMo — who knew they had so many different offerings other than the November blast?

Right now, though, we are doing our third annual Story Every Day (SED) contest. The goal is to write a story every day between one meeting in the next. If anyone actually succeeded in that, it would be 17 stories (usually more in the flash variety). I doubt any of us will go that far, but I’ve already written two stories this time, which is more than I wrote last year (I think last year I wrote a big 1, if I remember correctly). My personal goal is to write 5 stories.

The two I wrote already are scenes from a longer piece that has randomly formed out of several different prompts and contests over several years. After this is over, I might put them together and see if I can get a workable short story out of it.

I’m also hoping to write a few SED stories that flesh out my solo novel in progress that I’m poking about at again. I’ve been brainstorming lately with my sister (who is the worst best and most critical brainstorming partner — she doesn’t let me get away with anything, which will make the end product so much the better), and I’ve got a ton of new ideas for both the novel and the series. I re-read everything I had from before, and there really is some good stuff there.

I’ve also been working on a novel project with my sister. However, she is a little less proficient at actually writing her scenes than she is at brainstorming and editing. I really love the project, though. I think it has great potential, if we could ever get it finished.

So, all in all, this year has been much better for writing than any year since my oldest (now almost 3!) daughter was born. Of course, there was nowhere to go but up!

If I get the chance, I need to write up some book reviews. I have read some really great Y/A lately. I swear, that genre just gets better and better!

If there is anyone out there who still checks in here from time to time, I’d like to say Hi and Thanks! Maybe you’ll see a little more activity here for a while. Or, perhaps I will vanish again for another 8 months. We shall see. Either way, I do hope at least there will be some writing going on!

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Finding Good Reads in Self-published Books

Since getting my Kindle (best first Mother’s Day gift ever!), I’ve taken to stalking the free fiction available on Amazon.com. It’s interesting what pops up there. Some good, some bad, and some just meh. And then I started noticing the self-published books that are available. For $0.99 to $2.99, you can buy whole novels. The number available in Y/A paranormal is mind boggling. You have to wade through some dreck, but you can find some decent reads for a much cheaper price.

The first one I read was Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy. The first one, Switched, showed up in the top 10 on the best selling list. It was only $0.99, the premise (trolls) was intriguing, and the reviews were good, so I picked it up. And liked it well enough to splurge on the remaining two books in the series at the higher $2.99 price.

Over all, they were a good read. If only Amanda Hocking had better critiques and copy editors for her self-published work. Grammatical and punctuation errors jarred me out of the stories sometimes, and she falls into a lot of beginning writer traps that my writing group has helped me get away from (using “just” and “almost,” passive voice, repeating the same word multiple times in the same page/paragraph, using complex verb constructions when a single one will do, etc.). She also really could have used someone to tell her that the climax of the third book needed a little more build up to be believable and to help her smooth over certain plot issues (like the abrupt switch in the heroine’s “one true love” and how the ending of the trilogy was just too happy and too perfect).

But, despite the flaws, the concept and the heroine’s voice drew me in and held me there until I finished the story. I think the ability to do that is the most telling indicator of a writer’s talent (despite valid criticisms of her plotting and writing style, Stephanie Meyer has that gift, too). The mechanics can be learned and honed. (And maybe now that Hocking, self-publishing phenom, has signed a deal with a major publishing house, which includes re-release of the Trylle trilogy, she’ll get some guidance in those areas from the trained editors.)

Next, I tried Hocking’s zombie apocalypse story, Hollowland, at $0.99, and I liked this one even better than the Trylle books. The heroine was awesome, the world building was spot-on, and the supporting cast had a lot more purpose. There were still editing and technique issues, but the story was so much better, it was easier to ignore. I’m still hoping that another book in this series will come out, but I guess that will depend on her schedule with her new publishing house.

I’ve tried a few others here and there, and I seldom have as good of a reaction as I did with Hocking’s work. I need something outstanding to get into a book. A good character and can identify with and/or root for. A unique, intriguing, fresh twist on a concept that I haven’t seen a zillion times. Quality writing that doesn’t jar me out of the story, or a story so compelling that I don’t notice the sub-par writing skills (or at least can ignore them).

Without one or more of those attributes, I can’t commit to the book. I tried Hocking’s vampire series, My Blood Approves, but I couldn’t get into them. Sadly, I did not realize this until I’d already purchased them (my new rule, only buy one book of a completed series at a time to make sure you still like it when you finish the next installment!). The vampire series was just so… meh. The narrator never did anything but react. She really seemed more passive than Bella of Twilight fame, if you can imagine that. And things kept happening that were just too convenient. Once sure, but over and over again? Strains my ability to suspend my disbelief.

I alway skim the reviews of self-pubbed books . If one or two say there are grammatical problems or writing issues, I move on, even if there are a ton of 5-starred reviews, as well. Also, if the concept seems tired or a rip off, it would take very stellar review to get me to even take a peak. The Vampire Journals self-pubs that have been popping up on Amazon lately make me cringe. I think L.J. Smith was there first, people, and even if you weren’t into Y/A in the 1990s, her stories are back in the public view thanks to the TV series.

However, I think I may have finally found a winner on the self-pub Y/A market this weekend. Barbara Pandos, who wrote The Emerald Talisman. Pandos can actually write! She doesn’t use the same words repeatedly, but has a range of vocabulary (even a couple of higher priced words thrown in from time to time). And I don’t think a single grammatical or punctuation error jumped out at me. Her descriptions were vivid, and her characters were unique and interesting. Her take on vampires was different (at least to some extent) than the plethora of stories on the market right now. Her heroine had a gift of her own, and was not completely passive. And, also, her book is (as of today) available for free on Amazon, so the price was definitely right. I enjoyed the book a lot, and just downloaded the sequel, The Sapphire Talisman.

My only complaint with Pandos’s story is that sometimes the emotions felt by the lead couple weren’t completely justified by the text and there were a couple of plot holes that could have been fixed by just adding an extra scene. But I’ve seen worse in books released by an actual publishing house (Need, by Carrie Jones, for example — blarg, good concept, but what a mess!). What the book had going for it, far out weighed the bad.

I wonder what it takes to jump into this self-publishing market. So much is out there. Of course, if you go that route, you most likely give up your chance at publishing those books via a traditional outlet, and I’ve heard it makes it more difficult to get a traditional agent, even if you were shopping around a different project. However, that’s not 100% the case, because Hocking’s Trylle trilogy has been taken down and will be re-released by St. Martin’s Press in upcoming months.

Too bad some of these self-published authors don’t seem to care about grammar, punctuation, prose, writing style, and critique. I could make a good living whipping these novels into shape. They’d probably all hate my comments, though, and refuse to pay! :-)

Well, I’ll sign off for now, but hopefully I can find the time to blog again soon. I really want to write a blog about the titles of self-published books. I know titles are not easy, but some of the ones out there are just so, so bad that it’s hilarious.

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Happy Thanksgiving

My goodness — November has been such a busy month. It is lucky I didn’t attempt NaNo, because I surely would have failed. What with the last of busy season at work, I’ve been doing well the past few weeks to take care of the baby and myself and get all that work done. Things are finally slowing down a bit, though, and I’m definitely looking forward to the long weekend.

Some people on FaceBook have been putting what they are thankful for in their status updates all month. There are so many things that I’m thankful for — the health of my little girl who was born so early and is now doing great, supportive family and friends, an understanding job, my sister’s wedding that’s coming up… I could go on and on.

But, in addition to all that real life stuff, I’m also thankful for my characters. Characters are the most important things in a story (in my opinion, anyway). A story can have a great plot, but if I don’t identify with or at least like/respect/enjoy spending time with some of the characters, I won’t enjoy either reading or writing a story.

Here are some of my favorite characters from my own stories and why I’m thankful for them:

  • Caryn — She is the main character in my Y/A fantasy novel-in-progress. As far as characters go, she is the one who takes the most from me. Writing Caryn taught me that you can’t be too nice to your characters — if you don’t force your characters to go through hardships, you’ll have a very boring story.
  • Sean — He is the male lead in the same novel discussed above. He was the first really flawed character I created, and I’ve learned lots about writing trying to balance his flaws with the hero he is destined to be.
  • Sarah — She is the main character in my short story, “The Widow and the Stranger.” She is the first character whose first person voice came to me fully formed, which helped me better utilize that point of view (most of my stories are in third person). She also helped me realize that a plot does not have to be grand or action-packed to make a good story.
  • Luke — He is a werewolf and the hero of my urban fantasy universe, the pack leader who doesn’t want to be in a pack. He featured in my story “Alpha,” and he’s the main character in another story set in that ‘verse that is making the rounds.
  • Super Sonic — My very first superhero, the main character in “Zero to Clean in 10 Minutes or Less.” That little piece of flash started a whole universe, and I’m glad he finally got his happy ending.
  • Daniel — He is the male lead in a Y/A novel that I wrote for NaNo a few years ago (I stalled on the revisions, so it is also still classified as “in progress”). Daniel is deaf, and trying to write him was a good way for me to stretch my writing chops by writing about someone who is not like me. I researched into deaf culture and tried to make him as real as possible.
  • Viola — She is the antagonist in my short story, “The Sorcerer’s Wife.” When I wrote that story, Viola was the villain, but as I wrote, her character came to life and leapt off the page. She is the embodiment of something one of my graduate school professors said: “Everyone is the hero of his/her own life story.” Once I thought about the story from Viola’s perspective, it was a whole new ballgame.

So, those characters are some of the writing-related things that I’m thankful for this year.

What about you guys? Have you ever written a character who changed you as a writer or whom you could not live without? What writing-related things are you thankful for this year?

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Novel Dreams

I have been having the craziest dreams the past few months. I wrote about a month ago about a vivid dream I had that was a scene from a novel — it happened again last weekend.

The new dream was somewhat of a mish-mash of plot elements from two different movies — Go! and The Prestige, if you can imagine that combination. But the weird thing was that the combination worked. And with enough fleshing out, those plot elements would combine into something really different.

It would be a Y/A novel — probably either sci-fi or more of an adventure story, depending on the angle I took on a certain element. There would be some mystery thrown in, also.

I’m not sure which one of these novel dreams excited me more. Maybe the first (the mythological creatures/fantasy world one), but only slightly.

I wonder if this is how Stephanie Meyer felt when she dreamed the dream that became Twilight?

I tell you, it would be so nice not to work full-time. I’ve got all these novel ideas buzzing around in my brain, and little to no time to actually work on something. It’s a lot easier to work on short fiction when you work full-time — or, at least it is for me. Getting into that novel mindset requires more time and energy that I can come by easily when 40 hours of the week or more are devoted to technical writing.

Of course, the catch-22 is that to justify quitting your job to write full time, you really need to have a novel deal in the works.

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Brief NaNo Status Report

The NaNoing is still going well. I’ve actually been on quota or ahead for most of this week. It’s been a new and crazy feeling for me. I’m usually behind all month, and then pull it out with 7K weekends/holidays at the end of the month. It’s been fairly exciting to be ahead of the game. It sure would be nice to win one of those gift cards my writing group is awarding to the first two members to 25K.

Today I am slightly behind quota again. Wednesdays just are not conducive to writing time, what with watching kids in the church nursery. I don’t get home until way after 9 p.m. most Wednesdays, and I’m way too tired to do much more than watch TV or read. However, with today’s double-header write-ins (lunch and dinner), I think I’ll have no trouble catching back up, or at least getting close.

I’m still liking where my novel is going, but I’ve hit another rough patch. There are plot elements that I know need to happen, but we need some character development between here and there. For some reason, that has been difficult to push through. I’m not sure my characters are ringing quite true enough… But that’s what revisions are for! It’s weird, though — usually I’m all about character development and not about plot. This is a switch.

I’m also coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really write polished first drafts. I wish I did. Some people really do, which makes me jealous. I’ve critted a lot of first drafts that, while still needing a light polish, are really well put together. I have to get the whole glut of words down on the page, work the story down that way. When I’m in the midst of the flush of muse, I can’t stop to worry about if I used the word “looked” when I could have used something more interesting like “glared” or “glanced,” if I told instead of showed, etc. If I stop to do all that, I’ll never finish the story. The stories I send to my writing group are usually at least the second draft, if not the third.

But, all writers are different, and I do like my finished product — it’s starting to make sense to me why I’ve not yet completed a novel revision, though. With such a lengthy revision process, it’s so much more satisfying to stick to the short stories. I can actually get them finished in a timely fashion.

My hope is, though, that this novel won’t require a total rewrite like my other two do. If the plot works and all it needs is good smoothing out, maybe actually finishing novel revisions is something I can do this time!

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Success!

While at the cabin this weekend, I typed my fingers to the bone and ended up on quota for NaNo for the first time this month. This is a first, actually — I’m the queen of dragging behind all month and then pulling off a miracle on Thanksgiving weekend. However, I have a feeling I’m going to lose that status today unless I force myself to sit down and write another 1200 words. I wrote some in the car on the way back, but I hit one of those moments where I’m not sure what should happen next, and it caused a bit of a lag.

I’m not worried, though. NaNo is what it is — it’s all about the end of the month, not the daily word count (in regards to winning). In the end, though, it’s the finished product that counts the most.

Checked my email when we got back this afternoon and found two more rejection letters. I don’t think I’m ever going to make it onto one of those fiction podcasts. I’ve been sending them reprints, but none have stuck so far. However, you never know, so I will keep trying.

Now, I have to run. My dog is waiting for me to pick her up from her hair cut. I can’t wait to see her with those little bows in her ears. She always gets them out right away, but they are so cute while they are there. Sometimes, when she has them on, she gives me this expression that says, “Must you?” It’s the same expression she gives me when I make her wear a Christmas hat for our annual Christmas card photo.

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Inching Forward

It’s the second day of NaNo, and I’m moving forward slowly but surely. I’m just shy of 3,000 words right now, but I’m not worried. I always end up a little behind schedule at the beginning, but pick it up by the end. (In the years that I actually finished, anyway.) It’s easier to write at that frantic pace the closer I get to the end of the plot.

I have the basic idea of my novel’s plot in mind, but while writing I still have to fill in the small stuff. I could also really use a subplot. Right now, the main plot is about my heroine, but I’m thinking that I need at least a subplot for the male lead, too. Preferably something that would tie into her plot, at least thematically. And I need to figure out the specific ins and outs of the main plot — whodunnit and that sort of thing. Hopefully, it will all come together.

The thing about NaNo is that it’s quantity over quality. You rush to get the words on the page and the plot out there, without worrying as much about word choice, pretty sentences, and showing/not telling. It helps you to get around the internal editor (who can be stifling at times) and get to writing.

The problem is, it needs so much revision when you’re done. My goal this time is that I don’t want to have to rewrite the novel when I’m done. Revise, yes… but I’d like it to be plotted out enough that it doesn’t have to be a full-on rewrite to have it in a finished state. I think that’s been my downfall on my other two novels-in-progress.

The first one, I wrote when I was in high school. I still love it, and I’ve actually got all sorts of grand plans and schemes and dreams about how to fix it. My style has improved so much from those high school days. Back then, I was way too easy on my characters and didn’t understand craft like I do now. I’m sure in 10 years, I’ll think the same thing about what I’m writing today, but there you have it. Novel 1 (well, really it was novel 2, but the first one… no saving that sucker… it was just practice, notable only in that I actually wrote the whole thing) needs a total rewrite to fix the plot problems (which were extensive) and to improve the writing.

Novel 2 (my 2006 NaNo novel — the 2005 one was the one I never actually finished, even though I hit the 50,000 words) is the one that I realized halfway through should have been written in the first person. It was too late the change during NaNo, so that one requires a total rewrite, as well. Somehow, that one I’m just not as excited about. I like the concept, but getting back into it has proven difficult.

So, with this NaNo novel (assuming I finish it) I want to not need that total rewrite. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it, but maybe, if I can, I’ll have some revisions that are less mind-blowing than the ones for my previous novels. Perhaps, then, I would be more apt to actually get the novel through the revision process, which is where my previous novels have all bogged down.

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NaNo Prep

I guess I have NaNo on the brain right now. Understandably so… My writing group dubbed October “NaNo Prep Month,” so Steph, VA, and I have been trying to come up with exercises that we can do during our lunch meetings that will help the group prepare for the upcoming madness. Not all of us are outliners, so planning for something like NaNo is a stretch.

I won my first year writing by the seat of my pants. And, yet, I never finished the novel. It languishes to this day at about 56K. I put it down after winning NaNo for a “break,” and never felt like going back to it. At this point, I don’t know if I ever will. We all have dead manuscripts like that laying about don’t we?

I won my second year with a brief outline. It was helpful to have something to go back to if I forgot what was to come next. I never write with outlines, so it was a new experience for me. Sadly, I realized halfway in (when it was too late to change for NaNo purposes) that I should have used 1st person POV instead of my preferred 3rd person. To get anything out of that novel requires a full rewrite, which I just haven’t been able to make as much progress on as I should have. I don’t know why… I’ve just been more into short fiction recently, and sometimes I think that revisions suck my creativity right out of me.

Last year, I had a fairly detailed outline, and I totally failed at NaNo. The outlined story had my interest intellectually, but I never really felt the story. I think that’s why it failed. It was too much like work, not enough like that creative spark that carries you away. The characters never took on a life of their own — I was forcing it. So, a few days in, I switched to another idea that I’d been pondering, but had not prepped for. I got a couple of chapters in and realized I’d made a huge mistake in Chapter 1. Sadly, that mistake was the premise for the whole plot thus far. I couldn’t face starting over again, so I gave up on NaNo and wrote short stories for the rest of the month.

I think I’ve decided that during our planning month, I’m going to noodle around with the urban fantasy novel idea. If I get something workable, I’ll go for that. But, if it never comes together, then I’ll focus NaNo on novel revisions. Possibly on the rewrite of my novel from 2006 (mentioned above — the 3rd to 1st person rewrite). I call it my Siren novel, because the main character is, in fact, a Siren.

Or, alternatively, I’ll work on the rewrite of the novel that I wrote in high school. It’s about a young group of sorcerers who have to save the world. I wrote the whole thing in high school, so the style and plotting are not up to snuff. It needs a total rewrite now that I actually have more skills on how to do those things. But I love those characters and their story, so I really want t finish it. This was the novel that first stole my heart and will always be my favorite pet project.

So, the possibilities are out there. I will see where NaNo Prep Month leads me!

And, not related to NaNo, I have to say, if you haven’t read “Outlast the Stars” over at Every Day Fiction today, you should. It’s great!

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