Category Archives: Manuscript

A Tantalizing Opening

You know how you meet someone and then you can’t remember their name later? And you keep meaning to ask, but eventually it’s too late and you’re too embarrassed to admit that you can’t remember? That’s how I feel about this blog. I got distracted and stopped posting and when I finally remembered that I HAD a blog, I realized that to start posting again meant admitting that I’d stopped in the first place. So I’m sucking it up and admitting it. Here goes:

Sorry, I got really distracted… But it was for good reasons, I promise. Reasons like a new novel. And a 4th birthday (I got carried away with the fairy theme). And my daughter’s daycare getting shut down unexpectedly. Lame. I feel especially bad about my timing as I had joined a blogfest thing and completely chumped out on it.

I went to this great conference, I got all these ideas, I decided to scrap my (mostly) completed manuscript (that I got critiqued and actually pitched and everything), and I spent a ton of time researching and fleshing out this idea for an urban fantasy that I am so, so, SO pleased with. The planets have totally aligned with this idea and I just can’t stop thinking about it. Unfortunately, with my eldest daughter NOT in school two days a week and some major teething going on with the baby, I haven’t had as much time to write as I’d like. On either my project OR the blog (obviously).

So here’s a random topic that is marginally related to both my new project and to the RMFW conference. Sara Megibow from Nelson Literary Agency said that she wants to see the genre within the first few paragraphs of a novel. And I though, dang. That’s tough, especially for an urban fantasy where I want to introduce the creepy stuff slowly. I’m working on it, though – I’m trying some intimations of creepy in preparation for the actual creepy. But as I was thinking about this problem, I finally got to have a date with my husband.

You see, I have these two little kids and no baby sitters. But my mom came to visit for the aforementioned birthday party and my husband and I took the opportunity to go see a movie. Now, I know many writers are rabidly opposed to using movies as models for novels, but I feel like structure is structure. I think there’s something to be learned from any artistic genre – movies, tv, music, art, whatever. They’re all trying to communicate a story, right?

So anyway, we finally got to see “Cowboys and Aliens”, which I found delightful. And that opening scene was so perfectly aligned with Megibow’s discussion of the first pages of a novel, which I’d been thinking about anyway – a perfect storm of circumstances. I’m pretty sure the opening was in the trailer, so hopefully I’m not spoiling anything here:

The camera pans across a western landscape, complete with dusty scrub and towering orange mesas (sets location). A man sits up suddenly, dressed in grubby 19th century western clothes – complete with bloody patches (inciting incident – sets time period, characterization, and intimates the circumstances). He looks around, confused, noticing a big, weird looking metal cuff on his wrist (sets sci-fi genre – obviously there’s something more than a western going on here). Then he sees a photo of a woman in the dirt next to him and you can tell that he doesn’t know who she is. Then he kicks the butt of three mounted, armed ruffians (intriguing action). This is, what? The first minute of the movie? Amazing.

Now, I understand that you can’t convey information this quickly in a novel. It takes a lot longer to create this kind of setting in writing than in a visual medium. But still, dang. I was so impressed at how quickly the movie established everything you could want in the opening of a story – everything Sara Megibow wanted, in fact. Genre, inciting incident, setting, time frame, character, mystery, action… Again, amazing.

So the take away is about details. The judicious allocation of pertinent details can immediately submerge your reader in your world – details can establish your character, your motivations, your setting, etc. Not too many or there’s overload and tedium and slow pacing. Not too few or your reader has no connection or investment. But just enough and just the right details can set everything up while still leaving the mystery intact. Tantalizing. That’s what you want, right? Tantalizing while still building expectations for your reader.

I like the word tantalizing. It’s underutilized. And doubly appropriate when talking about Daniel Craig.

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RIP WIP

Whew! I’ve been so busy working since I got back from the conference that I totally forgot to update here – I also missed the first writing challenge for the Platform Builder’s Campaign so I hope any visitors from that will forgive me.

So the RMFW conference was totally awesome. As with all such conferences, some sessions were better than others but I got a ton of inspiration/ideas/confirmations/exposure and I’m feeling re-invigorated and ready to work. But there was one unexpected ramification: I have decided to scrap my current project.

I’ve been working on this project for three years or so. I took two years off in the middle and when I came back to it, I just didn’t love it any more. I still think it’s a cool story and, with some of the plot revisions I’ve been working on over the last several months, I think it could still be a viable project. But I have to admit that my characters are just a touch boring. It’s not that they aren’t three-dimensional… they just aren’t that cool. You know those characters that are vibrant and sexy and you just can’t wait to read more about them? My characters aren’t like that. I really liked them when I first wrote the book but they just haven’t stayed with me like I wanted. So I am going to shelve it and start on the urban fantasy that has been nagging at me for the last month. It’s based on Russian folk lore and I found some serendipitous history that turned my cool idea into a bad-ass world-concept that I just can’t get over. I love it so very, very much. But I have so much research to do…

When I wrote my first book it was based on science and politics that I already had in my head. I went back after the fact and fixed/added in details, of course, but it didn’t stop my writing. My research was primarily after-market. But this project is different. I just don’t know that much about Russia. Or russian-american settlement. Or US Geography. Or Russian geography. Or… I studied russian for four years in college so I know enough to get started with research but I need so much background information before I can start. And it’s a testament to how excited I am that I’ve spend four days doing fairly boring statistical research without getting discouraged or loosing steam. I’ve got a really neat historical context for my family, I’ve got basic character sketches done for everyone, I’ve got a basic premise for my antagonist (she is going to be SO cool!), I’ve got an outline for a modified medieval marriage ceremony, and I just decided on a location for my family estate (dang, that took forever). So I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, but I have so much more to do!

I promise I’ll write up some reflections on the better sessions I took at the conference (an agent session on the first 30 pages; designing deliberate secondary plots, characters, and villains; publishing research for profit; building a brand/website; and writing a pitch). It’ll help me crystalize my impressions, anyway, but I need to loose my new-idea-high first.

I will say that I had a group critique session that went really well – I got a lot out of critiquing the other five projects and listening to the editor who was running the session, but I got very few criticisms. There was only one small suggestion from the editor and, while two people in the group had criticisms, everyone else disagreed with them. So that was nice! Even though I’ve decided to shelve that project, it’s reassuring to have such positive feedback. It means that my writing, itself, is on the right track. I also had a pitch with a New York agent (who was the most adorable person) and, while she did agree to look at my first two chapters, she seemed far more excited about my russian project. I just need to get a move on with writing it! She actually told me I was a tease for telling her such a great idea without having a book for her to read! So, a good weekend for my ego. And I feel so good to have finally admitted that I don’t want to finish the thriller. I’ve been fighting with myself for months – thinking that I just didn’t want to do the re-write because it was hard or it wasn’t as exciting as a shiny new project… but I feel really good about switching projects. It’s better for me and, conveniently, it’s better for the market right now. And much as I love the process of writing, I also want to sell a book. Shocking, right?.

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I took the plunge…

… and started my revision. After only, what, two years? I’ve decided on a couple of plot changes and I really need to tighten up my characters. But the first step is the hardest and I made it through chapter one yesterday. And even though I know I’ve gone  through that chapter a dozen times or more, there was so much expository chaff left to delete. I think it will really strengthen my main character to be ruthless about the rumination. I thought of something else to adjust while I was trying to sleep last night, so maybe I’ll work on that today.

I need to send out a one page summary and my first ten pages for my conference critique and I only have a week before the due date so I really need to get those pages dealt with. I have a new version of my synopsis from my class, but it’s a page and a half and, while I suspect it’s fine for querying, it’s too long for the critique session.

I also need a new title. And I’m totally stymied. I like my working title, but I suspect it’s too pretentious for the genre. I’m just a little uncomfortable with it, but I can’t think of anything better and I’m getting frustrated. I have awesome titles for my next two projects so why can’t I think of one for my current project?

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Baking and Character Motivation

My daughter talked me into making cookies for a playdate she had yesterday and it made me think of writing. And no, I don’t mean the obvious metaphor of how a story has ingredients and they have to be mixed in the right proportions, blah, blah, blah. It reminded me of the scene in Anne of Avonlea (I think?) where Anne tries to publish her first story.

Anne gets a rejection and then confides her very dramatic disappointment to Diana Barry. Diana asks to read the manuscript and then complains because the heroine (who is appropriately fancy and hoity-toity, just like Anne likes) bakes a cake a the end. Anne is defensive, saying that the heroine (I think her name is Cordelia?) is trying to show her domestic side. Diana, trying very hard to be a good friend and NOT a critique partner, just smiles and nods. Later Diana re-writes the cake scene and there is a very funny scene where the story wins a flour competition and Anne gets very offended that her work has been used for.. gasp!… profit.

So that made me think about this book I’m reading on developing characters and how you have to create a back story for your character so that you can figure out a natural and understandable way for the character to react to things. If they react in an incongruous way, then your reader will be taken away from the narrative. And I think the important part is that it doesn’t matter if YOU think it makes sense for the character to behave in a certain way – your READER has to think so, too. If they sense that you are just making the character do things to further your plot without being respectful of the character, itself, then the reader will stop trusting you as a writer and become less invested in the character and plot. I can think of a few places in my WiP that have this issue – I know why the characters are doing whatever it is they are doing, but I’m not sure I’ve set it up thoroughly enough to convince a reader.

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Research defeated

I’ve been putting off my re-write partially based on the research I still needed to do. I wanted to have all my research done and in hand so that as I worked through my manuscript I could deal with issues as they came up – as opposed to just going through for character or plot revisions and again for science. Well, now I’m out of excuses. I still need to write up a little treatise on how I’m going to adapt my research but the actual work part is done. Thank goodness I’ve taught biology or I would never have understood all this crap, much less been able to create with it!

I’ve learned all about viral metabolic processes, their reproduction, enveloped vs. non-enveloped, lytic cycles vs. lysogenic cycles, gene therapy, retroviruses, and viral vaccines. I’ve also researched a bunch of different virus families their respective effects. And also cryogenics. Whew.

I think the break through was me leaving the house entirely. I’ve been trying to research here and there with my babies constantly interrupting me and it’s really hard to get the sense of a complex topic when your reading time is in two minute increments. So I took my laptop to a local coffee shop with WiFi and nursed a piece of key lime pie for two hours while I read about viruses. And amazingly, around the 1 and a half hour mark, I finally started making connections between what I was reading and what I needed to create for my novel. So now I need to write up a description of my virus – how it works, how it will be treated and eventually cured, how it’s transmitted, etc – and then maybe I’ll send it to my old department head/AP Biology teacher/ Dr. of biochemistry and see if he thinks it’ll pass. Unfortunately, the school year is about to begin at my old school so I don’t know if he’ll have time to review it.

Regardless, that’s one less excuse for not getting to my re-write and I’m feeling motivated! Go me! It also reminds me how much I love science. I do kind of miss it…

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Don’t wanna…

… write a synopsis. Which is, of course, the reason I’m taking a workshop on writing synopses. So that I have to do it. By Monday night.

I wrote a synopsis when I went to the Southern California Writer’s Conference a few years ago but, when I pulled it up and re-read it, it was super boring. I mean, the story sounds interesting (I’m biased, of course), but the style is just pedantic. It’s really more of an outline than a synopsis. There’s no voice, there’s no tag-line, there’s no eye-catching hook… dull reading. It’s less interesting than some of the curriculum I’ve written.  Clearly I need to re-do it and since I need to have it for my workshop on Monday night, I’d better get to it. But I really don’t want to. I’d rather watch TV. Or surf the internet and read writing blogs. Or change diapers – no seriously. I really don’t want to write a synopsis.

And I can’t keep fro thinking about other projects. I have two more ideas for novels and I’m really excited about both of them. One is historical fiction set in 14th century England and the other is paranormal (possibly YA?). Thinking about them is way more interesting than writing a synopsis. Or re-writing my WiP. It makes me think of the following, which reminds us that new projects are, according to Ernessa T Carter, “big ol’ sluts”… (it’s the third video in the roll, I think).

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Science Re-Write

I did some “editing” to my manuscript before my writing hiatus but I need to do a major re-write before I get ready to query. I need to do the ubiquitous character and plot tightening re-write but I also need to do a science re-write. The manuscript is a science-y political suspense (a la Michael Crichton) and the basic science is (I think) pretty solid. But it’s vague at best. When Jacob read it, he complained that he wanted more details. I argued with him for a while – partially because I worry that too much science will be annoying to a non-science-y reader and partially because I just didn’t want to. But he was right…

So in the novel I have a virus that is created as a treatment for cancer, but it’s still too damaging when it’s accidentally released. A century later, the main character is trying to cure it. I was very pleased to find some research that’s currently being done on neutrallizing virulent lipid-envelope viruses (like ebola). They’ve found a compound that damages the lipid bi-layer in the envelope of the virus and, since a virus can’t repair damage by itself (it needs a host cell to do those things) it can’t attach to a healthy cell anymore. So it doesn’t kill the virus exactly, it just renders it unable to perform mischief. It also damages the healthy cells – it’s a full spectrum lipid disrupter – but a normal cell DOES have the internal mechanisms to repair the cell membrane. So the trick would be to make sure the damage to the healthy cells doesn’t happen faster than the cells can repair the damage. In other words, the compound would make you sick, but not as sick as ebola. Which is dead, after all.

The other part of this research that is interesting is that, in order to study their test virus (some super aggressive, irresistible virus called Nipah) in a reasonable setting, they stripped the envelope off the virus and stuck it onto a pretty benign virus instead. That way, they could just test on the envelope and if they could find a way to stop the virus envelope from attaching to a healthy cell then it doesn’t matter what the virus interior is doing. This kind of manipulation is the basis for another type of research that pertains to my story – cancer gene therapy.

Scientists can take a virus envelope that easily bypasses a body’s defenses and insert cancer-busting genetic material in place of (or on top of) the virus. Once the new virion invades the body, it uses the virus envelope to attach to the cells and re-write their genetic material in a way designed by scientists. Scientists are even experimenting with using the envelope from the HIV virus as a cure for HIV. How cool is that? They’re also using something similar to stop transplant rejections by putting a “trigger” in the transplant cells using a designer virion that prevents the transplant cels from creating the protein that causes the rejection. If the host starts to reject the transplant, doctors can release the trigger and stop the chemical reaction that’s causing the rejection. I mean seriously, people are so clever.

In reading, I realized that I also need to re-imagine my lab spaces. In my mind they are are way more “hgh school chem lab” than “biohazard 4”. And if that’s what they look like in my mind, I’m sure that’s how they come accross in my text. Once I finish my virus research and write out my plan for adding that info, then I need to look into BH 2-4 and re-design my labs. I also need to research cryogeneics.

If I go to the Southwest Writer’s Conference at the end of September, that can be a good deadline for my re-writing. For the Advance Submission option (where I can send some material to be reviewed by Useful People), I probably only need the first few chapters done and those are pretty strong already. So I just need to be on track to have a submit-able manuscript just in case I run into someone who wants to see it.

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