STEPPING STONES – A LOOK BACK (PART 2/3)

Stepping Stones - FinalIn anticipation of Stepping Stones’ release on August 25th, I’ve dug out my old manuscripts and, along with some amazing friends, torn them to shreds. I’ve been writing consistently for 6 or 7 years now, and I’ve come a long way. What you see below is progress. Sometimes (READ: ALWAYS) you don’t get it right on the first try. It takes multiple drafts, a lot of heartache, and tons of hair pulling to finish a manuscript. It’s worth it. Learning to write in a way that affects people has no comparison.  I’ll never forget when I read at Flint Area Writers and one of the other authors (who I respect immensely!) turned to me and said, “I hate you.” You can read the piece she loved. It’s in the inaugural issue of Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. The point is, it took me YEARS to reach that point. And it made all the work worth it. (Getting published certainly helped, too.)

Joining me today are my partners in crime, Stephanie Keyes (of The Star Child fame) and Hannah R. Goodman (Founder and Editor of Sucker Literary and All the Way YA). These ladies have taken off their gloves and given me their honest opinions and suggestions. When you’re a new writer, you NEED people like this. Grow some thick skin and let’s get down to it.

STEPPING STONES VERSION TWO – 2010 (CATCH UP Read Version One HERE.)

KACEY: I will prequel Version Two by saying that I shared Version One with a few close friends who I love dearly. They, bless them, LOVED it! This bolstered my courage. “I am a writer,” I shouted. “Hear me roar!” Which essentially means I sought out some writers online. Writing groups. Writing websites. Things about *gasp* publishing.

Here’s what I learned between Version One and Version Two:

*Agents won’t look at a YA manuscript that has 125,000 words.

*As a writer, you can’t just ramble on and on for no reason.

*Self-editing sucks, and it’s not something you learn how to do overnight. (HANNAH: Toughest rookie lessons to learn but once you let go of taking anything personally, this is a game changer in a manuscript.)

The first bell rang forcing me into my final year of high school. The last two weeks of summer had passed quickly. My mother moved out and away without a backward glance. My dad and I still reeled from the shock of it. Even though she’d served the divorce papers I’d never really believed she would go through with it. She wasn’t my mother anymore—her entire personality had changed.

HANNAH: Aha! Yes! We are in the moment! Things are HAPPENING! And backstory is given with succinct, action-oriented language. “Moved out” and “still reeled” although simple, get the idea across with a feeling of movement in the wording. Much better!

I should’ve been excited to start the final year. I’d looked forward to it since fifth grade when I realized that school ended eventually. But instead, I thought about my mom and worried about my dad.

KACEY: BEHOLD! The condensed version of the INFO DUMP. At least it’s condensed, but it still doesn’t belong here. Slightly fewer HADS, still FAR TOO MANY.

STEPH: I like this better, but there’s still no emotion in this. Also, it needs to be more active for an opening paragraph. Everything’s still happening to her. Her mom ditched her entire family. How does she feel on the first day of school with that news weighing her down? That’s a big deal. We should feel the weight bearing down on her shoulders from this.

I slammed my locker door and wound my way through the familiar hallway flanked by red lockers. Halfway down the hall Hunter joined me, already talking a mile a minute about the new guy. I’d heard snippets from other students in the halls.

KACEY: Hot guy? What is this? Better yet, WHO is this? That’s right. I discovered that it’s important to introduce BOTH main characters in the first scene. This is a CATALYST. Something needs to happen to the character that gets her story going.

And let me warn you about all the adverbs coming. ADVERBS are like dialogue tags. They should occur rarely, if ever, and only if they’re super special. I have a friend who uses prettily to describe sighs and I’m down with it. I’m sure there are a few in my final version. But adverbs are not our friends. They’re distant relatives that you visited once when you were a kid but can’t really remember.

HANNAH: I will point out the words that improve this…slammed, flanked. Strong verbs that evoke immediate feelings and images. Cliché alert! “Mile a minute”.

STEPH: So what feels familiar about this hallway? How does she feel seeing it and knowing her mother isn’t around? That the last time she was there they were a family? Describe it more fully. What else is there besides red lockers. Are they freshly-painted, chipped, older than God? We need to see this. Also, what does Hunter look like? Can we have dialogue with Hunter talking about the new guy? Describing him?

“And, oh my gosh, Onna!! I cannot believe how hot he is.” She sighed longingly, “If only I wasn’t still with Brody. I would be all over that.” She pulled a tube of watermelon lip gloss from her newly acquired Coach purse and applied it liberally, smacking her lips. “I mean, I love Brody…” She smiled, “Of course I do.”

“Who are you trying to convince?” I asked. Hunter rolled her eyes.

I couldn’t comment on the supposed hot new guy. I hadn’t met him yet, but news traveled fast at Swartz Creek High School. I wondered how long it would take for everyone to know the details of my parents separation.

KACEY: INFO DUMP

STEPH: Most people don’t use one another’s names in casual conversation that often. Hunter is a girl? I missed this! It could just be me, but let’s be clear on Hunter’s gender. A good description of her above would help.

We passed the library. It was empty except for the frumpy librarian who was steadily stamping newly donated books, looking as menial as her job.

I was distracted, thinking about my mom again. She was going to miss my senior year, my senior prom, graduation, all of it. I hadn’t heard from her since the day she left nearly two weeks ago. I was beginning to think that she didn’t even care. The morning she left, I’d woken to pancakes. It was almost a normal day; her heading off to work at the salon, my dad was already gone for the day. We ate breakfast in oppressive silence—not that I’d worried about it. I went school shopping for a few hours and when I returned all of her stuff was gone. I hadn’t seen her pack. She left her wedding ring on the kitchen counter where Dad was sure to see it.

KACEY: So I moved on from HAD and developed a love for WAS. WAS is HAD’s illegitimate brother that always gets drunk at weddings and embarrasses the family. Almost always, WAS sits in front of what could be an awesome VERB. She was going to miss my senior year, my senior prom, graduation, all of it. WAS GOING…so ugly. Simple fix? Mom would miss my senior year… Better fix? Mom abandoned me. ABANDONED. Hits you right in the feels! Also, Onna’s inner monologue makes her sound super selfish, which she isn’t, I promise.

HANNAH: I just wonder if we could skip all the narrative and get to the immediate, present day action.

STEPH: So explain a little more clearly that they are still walking. Where are they going? What’s her goal. YES! I want these thoughts about her mom. I want them sooner. Again, we’re slipping into backstory here. Show this all to me as it’s happening. I’m getting everything after the fact.

“Um, hello. Are you in there?” I forced myself to meet Hunter’s insistent stare, her watermelon lip gloss shimmered on her pursed lips. Her summer blonde hair flounced around her shoulders as she nodded towards the door. “Are you going to go in, or are you just going to stand here looking dazed?”

KACEY: Oh gosh. That description of Hunter’s lip gloss and hair. Less is more, people. Less is more.

STEPH: If you spend that much time on the lip gloss, we’re gonna think it has magical properties. : ) Also, I’m not sure who’s speaking here. Just be clear.

Inside, I could see students milling about, chatting with friends and already looking bored at the prospect of a new school year. I could relate.

The sociology classroom was unusually full, which forced Hunter and I to sit on opposite ends of the room. She blew me a kiss and headed to an empty seat in the back. I had to take the last seat in the front of the room, directly facing the teacher’s desk. I wasn’t a bookworm, but sitting in front of the class wasn’t unusual for me. My grades were important because I wanted to go away to college—not just any college, either. Only a big university would do. But it was all just dreams, even though it was my senior year.

The second bell rang and the teacher bustled into the room. She was intimidating at six foot two. She had a short, no nonsense haircut that left brown strands fringing her face.

“Full house,” she joked, her voice sugary, more fitting to a preteen girl than a forty something woman. “Okay, this is Sociology 304, if this isn’t your class, get out your schedule and we’ll help you find it.” She smiled as five students, including the boy seated beside me, stood up, looking slightly embarrassed. I assumed they were freshman, as lost as an Alzheimer’s patient at Detroit Metro Airport.

KACEY: This is a lot of description for the teacher. She’s not even important to the story. Save your words for people and things that matter. Also, what’s happened so far in this scene? A whole lot of nothing. It’s Onna’s first day of school. There’s a new hot guy. This is normal, boring, everyday stuff. The reader is bored. I’m bored. Somebody please throw this manuscript in the trash.

Just kidding…

Kind of.

HANNAH: I hate to say this, but I agree. I keep waiting for the “something-big-to-happen” and I’m waiting too long as a reader.

STEPH: Inside what? I need more transition so I know their walking to Onna’s first class. Did they have their schedules before they came to school? Wouldn’t they swap schedules? Alzheimer’s patient at Detroit Metro Airport.—love this image.

As she assisted them in finding their respective classrooms, I stared blankly at the wall. I wondered what Mom was doing, and if she was happy. Should I pop in for a visit at the salon she worked at?

I thought better of it. If she wanted to see me, she would come home, or call, even.

Dad was taking it hard. He still went to work, but I’d noticed the dark circles forming under his eyes. When he came home he no longer wanted to watch television or play pool like we used to. He just went into his office and shut the door. We didn’t eat dinner together anymore either.

Though I was capable of taking care of myself, I worried about him. I’d cooked dinner since my mom left; though it used to be something my dad enjoyed doing. Now he wasn’t interested in anything. His portion of the food usually went uneaten, even if I wrapped it up and left it in the fridge. I was at a loss; I didn’t know how to make it easier for him. I cleaned the house, I did his laundry, but he wasn’t seeing anything anymore. He just went through the motions of living, but didn’t feel any of it, like a zombie or a robot.

I could only imagine what he was feeling because he refused to talk about it. He’d slammed his office door in my face one too many times, and I’d lost the will to pursue it. I wanted my dad to be happy, but I didn’t think he was ready to deal with his grief yet.

I didn’t know if I was ready to deal with his grief yet, let alone my own.

The teacher handed out papers about the course and the required project, and I forced myself to take notes. I refused to let my grades slip. I wanted to apply to Yale, and it was a stretch if I didn’t have perfect grades. So I settled into the mundane task of recording every word she said.

KACEY: We spend SO MUCH TIME in Onna’s yet when we’re not yet invested in her story. She thinking about her life, which is code for INFO DUMP. Are you sick of me saying that word? Because I am! There’s hardly any dialogue, nothing to move the scene along. Nothing happens! This makes the opening COMPETELY USELESS. Nobody cares about Onna. Nobody cares that her parents are getting divorced or that she wants to go to Yale. Nobody likes her best friend. INFO DUMPS don’t make friends.  

Moral of the story? ACTION! DIALOGUE! PLEASE GOD LET SOMETHING HAPPEN.

HANNAH: You said it all perfectly for me : )

STEPH: While this is interesting, it’s all told. We aren’t seeing any of this happen. If this is all important enough to mention then the book should start with the scene between Mom and Dad. If it’s so pivotal then show it to us, don’t cheat us. Inquiring minds want to know!

Version Two is in the books…well, sort of. What do you think? Is it better? Did I learn a thing or two those first couple years? Writing is a JOURNEY. It’s a lifelong learning experience. I get better at it every day.

Hang around. The final version is coming!

All the best,

Kacey

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STEPPING STONES – A LOOK BACK (PART 1/3)

Stepping Stones - FinalIn anticipation of Stepping Stones’ release this month, I dug into my archives and found the original manuscript that started it all. I’ll admit it: It’s terrible. I should be embarrassed to show you this, but in hindsight, it’s incredible to see how far I’ve come as a writer and what I’ve learned along the way. And because my opinion isn’t enough, I convinced the wonderful Stephanie Keyes (of The Star Child fame) and Hannah R. Goodman (Founder and Editor of Sucker Literary and All the Way YA) to give their opinions. What follows is a pretty accurate depiction of what it’s like to be a new writer, and some perfect examples of What. Not. To. Do.

There will be three versions of Stepping Stones, the one below, a rewrite, and then the final version that’ll publish later this month. (In reality, there are several more versions than this. For the sake of time, we’re only looking at three.) Just for sticking around and enduring, you’ll be rewarded with a sneak peek at the first scene of the book.

It’s my hope that showing Stepping Stones in various states of—how do I put it gently? Hot mess? Deconstruction? Editing?—will help other writers realize that we’ve all been there and sometimes it takes a village to make a manuscript what it should be. Feel free to chime in below and leave some comments or horror stories.

STEPPING STONES VERSION ONE – 2009

I had known this day would come, but I had tried to repress it. I had heard the hushed arguing, noticed my mother spending more and more time ‘at work’. I didn’t know if that was just an excuse, or if it was true, but at this point, it didn’t matter anymore. My bedroom was the only place that didn’t feel claustrophobic. The rest of the house seemed to have thick walls that pushed the agony back on you, so I spent a lot of time in my room.

Between my mom’s angry looks shot at my dad and his blatant refusal to acknowledge the situation, I was going crazy. I couldn’t figure out where it had all gone wrong, but my mom was very, very unhappy, and my dad, well he was just faking ambivalence.

KACEY: Wow. I don’t even know where to start with this opening. First of all, the HADS! Jeesh. So many of them. Cut as many HADS as you can. It’s a useless, clunky word that automatically makes your writing passive. Take the first sentence: I had known this day would come, but I had tried to repress it. Though I tried to repress it, I knew this day would come. <This is more immediate and eliminates all those ugly HADS.  

This is a terrible place to start a novel. There isn’t any action, it’s just a character sitting in her room whining about how terrible her life is. We don’t care about her at this point, so we don’t want to listen to her whine. We want to see something HAPPEN!

Onna’s narrative sounds likes a poorly done voiceover at the opening of a movie where they need to catch the viewer up quick.

HANNAH: My first thought is, where and when are we in time and space? I want to see stuff, hear stuff, and smell stuff and you already nailed the “HADS” piece : ) Also, are we in the claustrophobic-feeling room? What color are the walls? Are there windows? If so, are they tiny, crank-out ones? Setting details seem necessary, not too many, coupled with some action, even if it is small.  And…what is the situation? Not that you have to front load the opening, but maybe some kind of concrete object or gesture from a character to indicate the nature of the situation. Show the parents, maybe? Maybe she sees them, in the kitchen, through the crack of the door of her bedroom. Sitting across from one another at the kitchen table…her mom glaring and her dad staring at his drained glass of beer…the possibilities are endless : )

STEPH: Too many hads! It’s also completely told. Why not open with an exchange in the parents in real-time so we’re not experiencing things in backstory. What I would like to see is more description. Here are a few examples: Why doesn’t her bedroom feel claustrophobic? What’s different about it? So her parents are experiencing issues—how does this make her feel? I want more detail around the “crazy” feeling. What does that look like to the reader? Get me inside of her head.

My parents had sat me down and had the official talk, my father had cried, but my mother had been stone-faced, as though unaffected by the impending divorce. I wished that they would have just skipped it. Maybe they could have waited another year, for when I was away at college and oblivious to their inner marital turmoil. I knew that thinking that made me selfish because they were so unhappy. But how long had they been holding out, trying to stay together for me? If I was even a factor in their decisions.

KACEY: A better option for the argument instead of telling the reader it happened, would be for us to see it happening right now, which is “showing the reader” not “telling the reader.” Plus, making it happen RIGHT NOW would get rid of HADS. I hate HADS.

HANNAH: ALL tell and NO show. Should we see the talk? Should this be in “real time”? Or do we save this for another, separate scene? “Have been” and shortly after “would have just” are indications that the writer is struggling with whether or not this should be a moment in the present, actually happening, or if should be background information that trickles out later in this opening scene. 

STEPH: Show me this discussion happening. When something is portrayed in backstory, we lose the pace. I’d like to see the argument taking place, experience her feelings about it. Is she relieved? How about embarrassed that they may have tried to stay together for her? Fear for what her life will become? She’s too detached.

My only plans for the day were to sunbathe by the community pool and maybe read a good book, but now I wasn’t sure if I was up for any of it. I was instead lying across my bed, cell phone in hand wondering who I could call to make me feel better. Maybe someone to just distract me. There was a guy that I had been seeing on and off for the summer, but lately he had been blowing me off for his friends all the time. Not that I was really into him anyways. He had more brawn than brains, but could always scrounge up a good party to go to. I could call Hunter, my best friend, but it was Tuesday and she usually spent half the day at the gym, toning her already perfect body. Yuck…not my idea of fun.

KACEY: Now she’s telling us her plans, which are pretty dull. We don’t know anything about her so we don’t care either. She just talks and talks and talks and nobody is listening. Allow me to introduce you to the INFO DUMP. I’m telling you a lot about Onna’s history. Her parents, her best friend, her boyfriends. TELLING being the operative word here. Basically, an INFO DUMP is when the author drops a whole lot of boring info on the reader. A better way is to sneak in the back story when it feels natural, and usually in the middle of ACTION. We LOVE ACTION! Plus, we’re inside her head a little too much, so she sounds melodramatic, and since we don’t know or care about her, this will make the reader dislike her.

HANNAH: Tacking on to your comments, I would take this and revise it so that it has more punch and so that it also SHOWS the character’s personality and hints at her conflict. “Sprawled across my bed, I scrolled through my list of contacts, searching for the perfect person to make me feel better.”

STEPH: So I just missed something. She’s having the talk and now she’s at the pool, or talking about her plans as though none of the above happened. There’s a lot of passive voice going on. I’d like to see this eliminated so we have a more active paragraph. Also, does this information push the story forward? This seems like an info dump so we can meet her best friend.

 After the family HEART TO HEART, my Mom had STORMED OFF to ‘work’ and my Dad had locked himself in his office, his usual hiding place where he goes to brood and ignore the rest of us. It’s not like divorce was uncommon where I lived. I knew plenty of people whose parents were divorced. Some who acted perfectly normal and others who were questionable.

HANNAH: It’s not like divorce was uncommon where I lived. For some reason, this sounds like something a writer or author would have in a book from the 70s or 80s. I think it’s the phrasing of it, implying that divorce was actually an alien concept . Also, since you pretty much deconstruct this so nicely below and I agree with your comments, I will point out some of the wording that could be stronger and more unique or even deleted. These (BOLDED) are phrases that are clichés or have cliché overtones.

Would they want me to choose who to live with? I couldn’t even if they wanted me to. Maybe I could choose neither. I sighed, and looked at the still blank screen of my cell phone.

I gave up on calling a friend and instead decided to call Ethan, my older brother. He was nine years older than me, and somehow managed to escape before ALL THE CRAZINESS started around our house. I wished I could have been so lucky, but I was born late, and unexpectedly. He answered on the third ring sounding out of breath and in a hurry.

“Hey, Ethan, it’s me,” I said, happy that he answered but worried that I caught him at a BAD TIME.

KACEY: FINALLY! Our heroine is doing something. Even if it’s just calling her brother. Let’s examine the last sentence. “Hey, Ethan, it’s me,” I said, happy that he answered but worried that I caught him at a bad time. This is a clunky, useless sentence. She already commented on him being out of breath, so a simple “Hey Ethan, bad time?” could’ve saved the reader (and writer!) all those words. Dialogue is an excellent way to move the story along and convey emotion in a relatable way.

 STEPH: So her mother is really that cold that she goes to work after having this conversation? What a bitch! So what is Onna’s reaction to this? Is she so used to this is doesn’t even sting? How could it not? Also, why didn’t she ask these questions in the actual conversation? At this point I’m viewing the heroine as a whiner. Is that your intention?

“Onna!” He exclaimed. No matter when I called him, he always seemed happy to hear from me. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have a great older brother, but I was sure I didn’t deserve him. “What’s up kid?” I cringed. I hated when he called me kid, which he did, at every available opportunity.

“I got the talk today,” I told him, no explanation necessary, we talked frequently enough that he knew the SITUATION. Ethan was the one who talked me through most of my SITUATIONS, and sometimes I felt like he was more a best friend and confidant to me than anyone else, even Hunter.

HANNAH: Repeating words…and also a word used prior that is a little vague and not SHOW enough.

“Ouch, are you doing okay?”

“Yeah,” I shrugged, “I knew it was coming. Mom looked bored the whole time, but Dad was upset.” I had known, but it still hurt to think that two people who had pledged their love couldn’t hold up the bargain.

“Oh…well that’s Judith and Kurt for you,” He never called my parents Mom and Dad anymore, “Do you want me to come down later? We could go out to dinner or something,” he offered, willing to put off any of his plans for me, as usual. He didn’t even sound put out by it.

KACEY: ARG! Dialogue tags. Let me list all the awful ones in this section. He exclaimed. I told him. Oh? Only two really awful ones. Dialogue tags should be invisible to the reader. It’s true. They’re only necessary to root the reader in the story. If you have any sort of action going on around them that tells us which character is speaking, they are absolutely unnecessary. When and IF you need a tag, a simple he said or she said gets the job done. SAID is your friend. ASKED can be your friend, but only on Sundays. You can use other tags, such as he offered, or he promised, but SPARINGLY. The best option is to avoid the tags altogether, if possible.

HANNAH: I feel like this conversation is restating what we already know.

STEPH: Ethan isn’t going to greet her by her full first name unless he’s substantially older—maybe in his eighties. It’s going to be something like “Hey” or “What’s up, On.” Something fresher. Ethan’s reaction is pretty blasé for a brother. Wouldn’t he ask how she is? Or make an assumption about how she might be feeling if they know each other so well? Also, why wasn’t he a part of the conversation? Wouldn’t he have reached out to her? Maybe even known this was going to happen and been proactive? Also, some of the phrasing is a little old for high school. They might say “pissed off about it” instead of “put out by it.”

“Nah,” I said, though secretly wishing I was needy enough to say yes. “I can handle it. Just wanted to talk, you know?” I fingered the purple flowers on my bed spread. “So what are you up to today?” I heard him hesitate, so something was going on.

KACEY: She HEARD him hesitate. Why can’t he just hesitate? Filtering it through the main character makes this passive. A better way would be to stay Ethan hesitated. Bam. Short and sweet and gives the reader space to wonder WHY Ethan is hesitating.

STEPH: Hearing him hesitate is a point of view break. This needs to be shown. Example: He sucked in a breath and silence took over. Why is he hesitating? Also, how does she know something was going on? Is the pausing an indicator with him? Can she just read him so well that it’s obvious? We need to know.

“I’m meeting Cora later, we’re having lunch at my place,” his voice was higher than normal, excited. “I bought the ring last week. I even talked to her Dad, Onna.” He laughed a little, “I’m going to ask her today.”

I shrieked. “Oh my gosh, Ethan! I can’t believe it!”

He chuckled. “Yeah, finally.” He had been dating Cora for five years. They had met during his third year in college and had been inseparable since. Recently she had started bugging him about moving in together, but he had held her off because of his other plans, asking her to marry him, of course. I couldn’t believe he was holding out on me.

KACEY: The last paragraph is an example of how to sneak in backstory. Ethan announces he’s getting married, Onna reacts, and then gives the reader a little look into their history. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than the doozy of an INFO DUMP at the beginning.

STEPH: So what is higher than normal? Does he have a bass voice maybe a higher pitched tenor? Does his voice crack when he talks? Let us know how he sounds. Would he really propose to his girlfriend on the same day his parents announced their divorce? Not only is that cold, but it’s kind of a bad omen, isn’t it? Wouldn’t he be skeptical about marriage? If he isn’t, then why not?

I felt a little guilty that he was willing to put off Cora and his proposal to come take care of me, but that was Ethan. I was so excited for him; he truly deserved to be happy. “Do Mom and Dad know?” Right now, I wasn’t sure if a marriage proposal would bode well with them, even if Ethan and Cora were so right for each other.

KACEY: Ouch. It was hard for me to read that. So much telling, hardly any action. Many, MANY writer no-nos.

STEPH: Why should she feel guilty? He should be there. He’s her older brother. This is a big deal. Although you’re trying to paint him as caring, he’s coming off as a little selfish here. Also, this is really bad timing.

So there you have it, my first failure attempt at writing a novel. Pretty terrible, right? Come back next week for Version Two of Stepping Stones and see what I learned (or didn’t learn) along the way.

All the best,

Kacey

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT MAKING IT BIG

It’s not news how much I want an agent. I’ve wanted one for years, but maybe it’s only lately that I’ve begun to think my writing will actually snag me one. My friends accuse me (lovingly) of romanticizing the idea of having an agent. They’re not magical creatures who will suddenly make me rich and famous. I realize that. I don’t even think I want one for the sake of being “rich and famous.” Sure, that’d be nice, maybe, but my goals in having an agent have a lot less to do with fame and a lot more to do with personal growth.

I’m a member of a couple of writing groups. I get a lot of feedback, a lot of it complimentary. Does that go to my head? Not really. I’m a writer, so I suffer from crippling self-doubt on a daily basis. It’s awesome that people like my work, it makes me feel good, but feeling good isn’t getting me an agent. Feeling good isn’t making me a better, more rounded writer.

My intense desire to be repped stems from my own personal drive. I’m an over-achiever, eager-beaver, always-have-too-much-on-my-plate kind of girl. Sure, I’m a good writer. People tell me all the time I can string two sentences together, but I’m not a great writer, and I want to be GREAT. I want someone to tear into my writing and comment on things like plot and character arcs and theme. I want someone to get down and dirty about word choice and blocking and structure…and…oh gosh. It’s like a writer’s dream to talk long and low about words, like two friends whispering in the dark. I want these things so badly. Because I want to be great. Because I can’t settle for good.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t you just get an editor? These words and phrases you’re talking about sounds like editor business. You are correct. It IS about having an editor, too. But do I have $800-$2,000 laying around to pay someone to edit EVERY manuscript I’ve written? Sadly, the answer is no. I can’t afford to pay someone to get down and dirty with my work, no matter how much I want it. Wishes don’t pay the bills.

So my logical course of action in all this is to get an agent. And I’m trying SO HARD to make it work. I’m eyebrows-deep in manuscripts and edits and rewrites. I know that I’m working towards a goal, yet most days it feels like I’m spinning my wheels and watching everyone else pass me at light-speed. It makes me wish I were younger, or that I lived in California or New York, or that I was rich kid with a trust fund to support my writing habit.

I want an agent NOT because I hate being an indie writer. Indie writing is fun. I’ve gotten quite the following this way, and I love each and every one of you for having faith in me and my work. I want an agent so that I can learn how to be a better writer, so that I can plot a course for my future work, so I can have someone to bounce ideas off of, someone who will champion my work as much as I do.

I need a partner in crime, someone invested, someone who will love my characters and give me the harsh criticism. I want to put in the hard work, the hours, the pain and frustration.

Because I want to be great. I want to learn. I want to progress. I want to be the very best writer I can. And really? What’s so wrong with that?

2014: A Look Back

2014 is almost over. I think it’s time to look back on everything I’ve accomplished this year and what’s coming in 2015.

Wow, judging by my posts for 2014, it’s been a rollercoaster. I decided to publish some books (3 to be exact) and had my work published in Sucker Literary Volume III. I think, though the date is up in the air, I’ll have another published in Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things by the end of December.

1-FINALBookCoverPreview(1)Out of the GreenReflection-Pond-ebook-1-Vanpoison-tree-ebook

In January 2014, did I know I’d get this far? No. No, I did not. It’s amazing what we’re capable of when we want something enough. That being said, there’s still more I want, and I’m not giving up.

I’m the process of querying Stepping Stones. Those of you not familiar with this story—it’s the one that started everything for me. Back in (oh God!) 2009, I sat down on a college break and wrote a manuscript in 4 weeks. It was my first real attempt at writing, and in retrospect, it was terrible. I knew nothing of plot or characterization, or hell, even point of view or tense. I’ve come so far since that summer. I’ve written 9 manuscripts since then, not counting ALLLL the rewrites. Stepping Stones, through many, many complete rewrites, is something I’m proud of, now. The technicalities of the story have changed and improved, but the heart, the things that made me love those characters, remains the same. I’m determined to find an agent to represent my work. And never giving up is kind of my motto.

When I cleared away the cobwebs of my hard drive, I found another manuscript in there. Sleep and Shatter, which I wrote for Nano 2013. As a writer, I suffer from self-defeatism. I get an idea in my head that things suck. My writing, specifically. A lot of it comes from taking criticism to heart. So, after Nano, I had a few people read Sleep and Shatter, I took their words as truth, and shoved the manuscript to the back of my hard drive and willed myself to forget about it. A few days ago, I opened Sleep and Shatter, and read it, beginning to end.

And felt like I won the damn lottery.

Suffice it to say, this story will not remain hidden in the back of my computer. I’m currently editing it and making notes. It’s my back up plan if I can’t find representation for Stepping Stones.

So what’s coming in 2015?

Torch Rock, the final installment in the Reflection Pond series. Agent representation (cross your fingers!). More short fiction, possibly a novella, Who She Is. More writing. More good things. More. More. More.

Stay tuned.

I feel like my time is coming. My represented writer friends tell me that it’s only a matter of time before I snag an agent of my own. I sure hope they’re right, because I have so much to give and I’m SO ready to work for it.

All the best,

Kacey

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED

The past year has been a tremendous time of growth for me as a writer. A little over a year ago I joined the Flint Area Writers, an amazing group of gals and guy (and occasionally guys) who have taught me SO MUCH. It’s taken my writing from “just okay,” to something that’s a bit more. While I’m not one to blabber on about my own stuff, I can tell a difference, not only in my writing, but also in my confidence. Sometimes now I actually feel like I might know what I’m talking about.

1. Show your work to a lot of different people.

Writers tend to be stagnant. Admit it, we’re set in our ways. When you work with lots of different people, you’re going to get LOTS of different opinions. My favorite thing when working with someone (either as a writer or critique partner) is when you get or give the response: Oh, I hadn’t thought of it. Interesting…

I write YA. This means I’m always in fantasy land because I’m an adult. I tend to overlook things like “laws” and “rules” that apply to normal life. My writing group is really good at pointing that out.

2. Let your work simmer.

I’m an anxious writer. If someone tells me to fix something, I fix it and then get all frantic to get it back to them for more feedback. Give yourself a few days, weeks, if you can manage it. Let the feedback settle, look at your work from a different angle, THEN rewrite. Then simmer again before you send it back.

You don’t want to regret your revision decisions. In the end, your story should resonate with YOU, which brings me to number 3.

3. You write for YOU.

It’s great to think, “Oh X person is going to love this because I totally considered everything they think when I wrote it.” Except, no. We write because we have to. And I don’t mean that in the it’s a job so I must do this kind of way. We write because it fulfills our lives in a way that nothing else does. Your writing should make you happy. You should feel proud of it. If you have edited something beyond pride and happiness, it’s no longer yours.

Claim ownership! Sometimes this means saying no, and that’s okay.

4. Know how to say no.

Have you ever heard the phrase Those that can’t do, teach? This is true of some editors, too. They can’t write their own work, so they want you to turn YOUR work into THEIR work. Don’t. Do. It.

This doesn’t mean that you need to say no to every editor as this isn’t always the case. But you need to think and consider what they’re telling you to do. If it changes WHY you wrote the story to begin with, they may not be the editor for you. Writing is your art, it’s subjective, but it should always be yours.

5. Have an open mind.

It’s hard to have your work critiqued, but my view on this has changed. I used to be scared to get responses, but now I LOVE IT. You should take any chance to improve and immerse yourself in it, especially from people who are better writers than you. The writing world is unique in this way, we love to help one another. Every critique may not be the correct one for you, but you should consider it. Welcome feedback. Beta with someone you don’t know who isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings.

6. Write the stuff that hurts/ that’s scary/ that takes you out of your comfort zone.

So many times I hear, I can’t write that! And I ask, why? Time and time again, the answer is, I’ve never done it before or I’m scared, or I don’t know how. Here is where I quote Warm Bodies:

“What wonderful thing didn’t start out scary?”

Writing can be TERRIFYING. We face fears, we slog through trauma and life experiences, but writing is meant to be FELT, not just read. If it doesn’t hurt sometimes, you’re not doing it right. Make a list of things outside your comfort zone. Pick one. Write.

Remember when I did this? THINGS I WANT TO WRITE ONE DAY.

And I’ve tackled some of those. Short stories? Check. Male lead? Check. Third person? Check. Make a list. Make it happen.

7. Don’t ever expect to be perfect. (Or think that you are.)

We learn from the moment we are born until the day we die. You will never be perfect and that’s okay. I suppose I could change the title of this to Be Humble.

1. not proud or arrogant; modest: to be humble although successful.
It’s okay to be proud of your work. It’s not okay to be conceited.

8. Help Others.

Teach what you know to everyone around you. Teach those who ask for help. Offer help to those who don’t. (REMEMBER: OFFER!) Unsolicited critique will be met with anger, almost ALWAYS. Offer help. Accept help in return.

Tomorrow starts the Sucker Literary Blog Tour. I hope all of you will come along for the ride!

All the best,

Kacey

10 REASONS YOU NEED BETA READERS

Wow. Feels like it’s been forever since I last blogged. You’re not mistaken, it has been. I haven’t been wasting the days, however. I finished the initial edits on Through the Reflection Pond and sent it out to betas, hence, this blog post. I have some friends who don’t believe in betas. I’m not entirely sure if that’s because they’re AFRAID to have someone critique their work, if they’re too PROUD, or they just don’t understand the absolute beauty of a beta. That’s right, my wonderful betas, you are beautiful to me.

Here’s the list, in no particular order.

10. Repetition – We all do it. There are words and phrases that are our “go to” items. YOU know what yours are, just as I know mine. For Through the Reflection Pond, I used “heaving” (Seriously? Heaving. What an awful word.) and “yank” in every other sentence. I went back and edited those annoying little buggers out, but what about the words and phrases I missed because the writing seemed otherwise smooth? Enter, the beta.

9. Repetition, revisited – see what I did there? We like to say things twice, mostly because we write like we talk, ESPECIALLY if you’re writing in first person. Especially, then. I don’t catch every one of these because it sounds like a flowing conversation in my head. Thank you, thank you betas, for catching my rambling.

8. World building – Inside our heads we know exactly what everything and everyone looks like. Our readers don’t. So when we say he had green hair, we know that we really meant, his curling locks fell to his waist in a tumbling cascade if shimmering emerald. The reader, who only read, his hair is green, quite possibly believes that he has a Marge Simpson fro the color of strained peas. Betas read, betas get lost, betas comment on the confusion, problem solved.

7. He said, she said – If you’re like me (now) you try to cut out as many dialogue tags as possible. They’re nothing words used only to direct the reader. Sometimes in our merciless hacking, we remove too many tags and end up with pages and pages of back and forth dialogue that leaves the reader reeling. Dialogue should flow smoothly, the tags lending direction when scenes grow long. Betas can help identify not only too many, but also too few tags.

6. What do you mean I have no plot? – It’s happened to all of us. We’re reading along happily and all of a sudden, bam! We’ve stumbled right into a gaping plot hole and broken 37 bones. Wait, what? And this is an edited and published work? WHOA. How did the author, editor, and publisher miss this? Answer: We’re not perfect. We make mistakes. The more eyes you have on a manuscript, the more likely it is that plot holes will be found.

5. New ideas – Each of us is unique and views the world based on the experiences we’ve had. The reaction we have to words affects us differently, and so, we will have different ideas, questions, and input. So when we read a dramatic scene, our questions as to where the story is headed will be different. Often times betas will ask me questions that I hadn’t even considered, which leads to new scenes and chapters.

4. Fact checking – In light of the election tomorrow, let’s talk about the facts. We are not all-knowing. I know Google is great, but sometimes we get it wrong. Having a variety of betas helps us identify factual errors. A young person may be able to fix teenage dialogue, and older person may pick up on an era faux pas. Like I said before, we’re not perfect. Maybe you’re terrible at history and think WWI happened in 2001. Maybe you don’t know when the iPod was created. Little facts like that can make you look hugely idiotic if you get them wrong. Let me emphasize HUGELY.

3. Because you aren’t alone – Writing is a very solitary job. We sit at our computers and bang out novels, visit worlds richer than our own, filled with interesting people and concepts, yet most of us are socially inept. Recluses. But I want you to ask yourself, WHY do you write? Is it because you want people to read it? Because you want to share? Because you can’t stand the thought of your stories going unheeded inside of you? Then, may I also ask, why the heck can’t you share it with a beta?

2. YOU ARE NOT PERFECT!!!!! – I decided this needed its own number, because it’s so important for writers, especially those that are new, to realize. Writers often have huge egos. We write, and it feels great. We read it, it sounds amazing. But what sounds awesome to us may be awful to someone else. Maybe you’re a rambler, and you go on and on about stuff no one cares about. Maybe you use stilted dialogue that makes no sense. Maybe you have no clue how to world build. If you decide to indie publish, let me encourage you to find a beta reader and an editor. Your work needs it and your readers will thank you. After all, you’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. Authors who have dozens of books published are not perfect. FAMOUS AUTHORS USE BETAS. You are not famous. You are not published. You are not perfect. Get help. PLEASE. Indie is the new black, but because the writing is usually unedited and unbetaed, it’s HORRENDOUS to read. I can’t stress this enough. Please. Please. Please. There are great stories out there buried in junky words.

1. It will make you a better writer – Writing is dynamic. The more we do it, the better we get. Now think seriously about this, in order to learn and become better, we need someone to tell us what we are doing wrong. (Please refer back the #2 if you’ve already forgotten.) Betas are not all-knowing, but if you find good ones, they want to help you become a better writer. That’s what I want when I beta. It’s not about tearing someone apart, it’s about helping, enriching, encouraging. We never stop learning and if you don’t see a huge improvement in your writing every time you finish a work, you’re doing something wrong.

Now for the disclaimer – Betas do not know everything, and the best part is, you’re still the author. You still own the work. You can take or leave their advice, it’s completely up to  you. Some people are afraid they’ll lose their “voice” in all the beta suggestions. But why would that ever happen? Here’s an example.

The original work: Mark hated bees.

The beta suggestion: Bees were the bane of Mark’s existence. He’d never gotten over the awful allergic reaction he’d had.

Your change: Ever since the terrible allergic reaction, Mark hated bees.

You don’t have to accept everything. You can take a suggestion you like and work it into your own, but I can guarantee the right beta will make your manuscript shine.

All the best,

Kacey

MONDAY MORNING FICTION

It’s Monday, which means it’s a great opportunity to post a bit of fiction. Yesterday I almost posted another humdrum entry about how I’m stuck and frustrated. This happens about once a week, it’s not news. We’re writers, we have roadblocks, we overcome them (usually).

Recently I’ve come to the realization that writing is an extremely organic process. It can’t be forced. So I’ve been taking a lot more time to write in spurts, short exercises that have no direction or purpose other than to practice. I’ll be posting these on here in hopes of helping others and sharing. Sometimes I read other people’s short tidbits of fiction and find inspiration, so maybe I can share that with my readers. Or maybe it’ll just be a mess that doesn’t mean a thing. Such is the way of writing. Take it or leave it.

It’s impossibe- sitting here like this and knowing that I’m useless, shoved to the side, hopeless. You give everything, everyday, every ounce of yourself, all for nothing. There was a time, once or twice, perhaps long ago now, where I thought I meant something. That I was bigger than myself, someone with promise and a future, life laying before me like a colorful forest just waiting to be traversed. Yes, I used to have something called faith and dreams, as bloated as sponges. I would sit and daydream, forge a future of promise as those that are young and uninformed do. They allow themselves to hope, to aspire, to strive for the things they think they can do. For if you believe it, then it must be true.

Lies are the heart of life. It starts young, the untruths, they are small, harmless, mere rocks that impede us. As we age they become boulders and then mountains. And when an entire continent blocks our path we begin to question everything we’ve been taught. Because there is no open road, no path that will lead  us through this hell. There is only loss and grief and hopelessness and fear. Fear that we will never achieve greatness, never see our names splashed like colorful paint on black canvas. For we are the rocks, the boulders, the mountain. We are the very thing that sabotages our own existance. And we flail and flail and flail with no direction or purpose. We are blind. We are lost.

We are nothing.

There it is, a look into my head this morning. Additionally, here’s a photo of my manuscript I’m editing. It’s a glorious mess. I love it.

 

All the best!

Kacey