the new one

Crash Landing: A First Draft in Three Months

Guys, I gotta let loose about this one. Forgive this back-slappy, slap-happy post…

The draft is finished. hallelujah.

Twelve weeks of non-stop madness. Five-hour writing shifts, seventeen-page type-a-thons followed by hours of paralysis and anxiety. Editing on the fly, no plot outlines, no plan. Three months. 57,051 words. 290 pages. Done. Written. Wrote.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got  lots of work ahead of me. There are character arcs to modulate, themes to round out, spellings to check (lots of those). I would never, ever show anyone but my agent or my editor the smoldering, white hot thing I have before me. But you can’t fix a blank page, and though these pages need fixin, they ain’t blank, Baby.

Though this is a “first draft” in one sense, it was also a…I don’t know…twelve draft in another. I’ve been working on this y.a. project since August 2009, with the guidance, support, and aid of my patient, brilliant, and marvelous editor Deb, as well as my awesome agent. But as of last spring I knew I needed a fresh start. Things had become confused, over-cooked, muddled. My characters needed a completely blank, slightly damp chalkboard from which to tell their tale. And so, after two years of writing and editing, this September I threw out the old drafts and started rewriting the book from page one, word one.

It sucked. But it was worth it.

The resulting story is a far cry from where I started. The characters are distant relatives of the floral bits of tissue paper populating the previous drafts. To me, this new version, for all its rough edges, feels at once deeper, simpler, more complex, and truer. I was able to take what I learned in the last two years and apply it from the get go. I took the heart from the old book (blackened and raw but still beating) and built a new host body around it. New bones, new brain, new everything. What I’ve got looks like Frankenstein’s monster. But with one or two invasive procedures and a lot of cosmetic surgery, I think she’ll walk and talk again. Hell. I think she’s gonna dance.

To mix another metaphor, I feel like I’ve augered this puppy in with no landing gear and the engines on fire. In other words, I kinda feel like this guy:



And it feels good.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna sleep for a week.

Guest Post & Edits!

Firstly, if you haven’t seen my guest post on the wondrous Word For Teens, check it out!

So last night I came home  to find an email from my fab editor on “the new one,” a.k.a. CHERRY MONEY BABY, the follow-up to Girl Parts. No sooner is one kid out the door, you start raising her baby sister.

I made an effort with this manuscript to “show don’t tell,” and parts almost read like a play, with dialog and action and almost no authorial commentary. BUT, interestingly, my editor wants to see *more* telling, more connective tissue between the bones. This is fine by me, as I love that kind of thing and was restraining myself in this case.

I won’t go into plot here, but I will say that on my desk is a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, the floor plan of an English Manor House, and the annotated Through the Looking Glass.

Back to the salt mines!

Submission Day

Yesterday was submission day; the New One (I’ll tell ya the title *eventually* ) is in the hands of my fabulous editor at Candlewick. Excitement! It was a grueling week, finishing up the final polish. But now that it’s off I’m bursting with ideas, and psyched to get to work on the third book. Thoughts for Girl Parts 2 are coalescing. I think bakers call it the “soft ball” stage.

Possible title: Boy Parts?

Hmm, probably not.

Careful What You Wish For

Back to work on the New One on this glorious May 5th (which is, incidentally, the day the book opens and the main character’s birthday).

Scott suggested I employ more descriptive and explanatory narration. My tendency is to overdo this sort of thing, so I held myself back in previous drafts. It’ll be fun to go through and add more authorial commentary. There’s a lot of subtle metaphor in this manuscript- maybe too subtle. It’s time to go back and bring some of these threads to the surface. Vonnegut can really expose his themes without it seeming forced or heavy-handed, so I’ll try to follow his example.

It’s good to be back.

Enough With the Vacation Already

Yesterday I met with Candlewick’s independent sales reps at the Williams Club on 39th. My dad works for Barnes & Noble, as did I for years, but my heart’s always been with the indies (that’s the retirement plan, anyway– something resembling Black Books). I got to chat about Girl Parts and answer their questions, which ranged from online marketing to bullies to Brooklyn bookstores. It was great to get the chance to chat directly with the reps. That’s a rare opportunity, and I appreciated it.

So it’s been a week since I finished the revise– the longest I’ve gone in years without working on a new project. I’ve begun tinkering with Girl Parts II, and I may, depending on what Scott says, work a little on the adult book I occasionally dip into between drafts. The last stretch on the New One was pretty draining, so I think I needed a week off. But now I’m getting antsy. There’s nothing worse than coming back to the page feeling rusty.

I finished Matched by Allyson Condie (speaking of fantastic covers), and now I need something fresh. Any suggestions?

Finishing up Draft 2 of the New One

This weekend I’ll finish up the new draft of the New One. I’m working on a series of scenes in which a terminally frustrated assassin makes his way across the state to reach his victim (our heroine). I love that feeling when you realize some final point, and suddenly the entire book clicks (not just on paper, but in your head), and suddenly it feels like a complete work. Editing is a long, multi-step process, and I’m sure there will be more work to do, but this version has come together in a way that really thrills me.

In other news, I’m brainstorming Girl Parts II, the next project in the dock. It’ll be great fun to revisit Rose et al. I feel like I’ve already learned so much since completing the first book, that the second is sure to be a blast to write. I may end up doing a big outline before sitting down to write. In working on later drafts, I find my best stuff comes from knowing exactly what I want each scene to accomplish ahead of time. I typically write with a dozen word documents open at once, writing several scenes simultaneously, rather than working chronologically, so a rough outline may work for me. We’ll see.

Back to work with agent’s notes.

Got a positive response from Scott on the new manuscript! I’m back to work now, ironing out the themes. As ever, it’s a question not only of keeping them straight in my head, but ensuring they’re communicated to the reader. This plot is complex, with a dozen minor characters in addition to the main five, with multiple intersecting sub-plots. It’s a bit of a crazy task I’ve set myself, but I love it. Even after leaving my desk it rattles around in my brain, so much that I almost walked into a parked car on the way to work.

Write Like a Painter

Sunday night I decided to annotate my first draft, tracing the motifs, metaphors, allusions, etc. (this stuff is always subordinate to story- especially in y.a.). Turned out to be a tremendously helpful process, and helped me strengthen character arcs as well.

There are a lot of (deliberately) repetitive images in the new book. I love using this technique. I believe a novel can and should have its own symmetry, like certain paintings. Repeated images and motifs create harmony, and give the story a cohesive structure to house the plot. (I guess you could call this a formalist idea.) This “hyper-plot” also reveals character and story by drawing the reader’s eye to certain details which might otherwise seem incidental. But, of course, nothing in fiction is incidental.

Hell Week

So this week will be complete madness as I make my final preps for the Bologna book fair and wrap up (at long last) the first draft of my new book. I’m also getting over a cold, exaserbated by the asbestos spewing (illegal) construction going on in my bathroom. Thanks, landlord!

I had a stroke of genius on the train today and have to wait until I get home to apply it to my draft. Ah well. Work work work.