Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Is It Done Yet? Part 4 – What the Story Needs

This is the fourth installment aimed at helping writers know when their novel is ready to query. It's based on the presentation I made at the Las Vegas Writers Conference in April of this year, "Is It Done Yet? How to Know When Your Novel is Ready to Query"

Part 4 – Stages of Revision

What the Story Needs

In Part 3, I talked about the first stage of revision, Telling (Yourself) the Story. Essentially, a Stage 1 manuscript is driven by what the writer needs to know or discovers about their characters, plot, story, etc. There’s often a good-sized chunk of backstory or core dump of research. A Stage 1 manuscript sometimes withholds crucial information until the end of the novel, which leaves the reader guessing about character motivation or being bewildered about the situation a character is in.

In the previous post, I explained that this often happens because the writer has completed that first draft and moved on to editing without taking the time to understand the story they’re telling. They assume that the backstory they needed to write is an essential element of the story or that the withheld information builds suspense. Sometimes it does, but most of the time those elements need to be more fully digested and integrated into the story for the novel to move forward in a dynamic way.

This is why the next steps are an important part of the revision process. Stage 2, Telling the Story, and Stage 3, Telling the Real Story, are driven by the needs of the story. These stages ask you to take a look at what you put on the page at both the macro and micro level and turn all the subconscious choice you made while writing into conscious choices that work in service to the larger story.

In order to do that, there are two things you need to do before you begin revising:

Read your draft – Just read it as quickly as you can without making any changes. No matter how painful this is (and it is sometimes VERY painful), it’s important for you to get a sense of the draft as a whole.

Reading the draft is important because it’s difficult to get a good feel for the rhythm of your novel while you’re writing it because some scenes take forever to write but are very quick to read, while other scenes that go on for pages may only take us a few hours to write.

You also catch things like continuity errors (Did you change the name of a character halfway through the novel? Change a detail in the character’s history? Leave a subplot unresolved because you realized it wasn’t working?) and repetitions of ideas, phrases, imagery, etc. Take notes if it makes you feel more comfortable, but don’t get bogged down in revising just yet.

If it’s distracting to do this on either your computer or hard copy, I recommend emailing your manuscript to your Kindle reader. It will show up, formatted as a book, in your library (you can find the email address for your device on the Amazon homepage – scroll to the bottom and click on “Manage Your Content and Devices”).

Create a timeline – this isn’t just a scene-by-scene outline of your novel (another tool that’s useful if you’re feeling ambitious), but a timeline of your story with indications of scenes that are in the present storytelling moment (á), scenes that are backstory or flashbacks (â), or digressions (à).

This exercise does two things. 1) it helps you see the novel more objectively because you’re not reading it as much as processing the information, and 2) it gives you a visual of how often the forward movement of the novel is suspended, breaking what John Gardner called “the continuous dream of the novel.”

This is why I make such a big deal about backstory. Every time you interrupt the present storytelling moment and break the forward flow of the action, the reader has to do a mental recalibration to locate your characters within the story (How old are they? Where are they living? What was the last thing that happened to them?). And every time the reader leaves the dreamlike state and goes into their head, you give the real world a chance to intrude – What do I have to do today? What time is it? – and risk the reader putting down your book, possibly never to return.

So now you’re armed with some important information about your draft. You’ve got a sense of what is and isn’t working, as well as a sense of what’s essential to the story and what you needed to write in order to tell it. Now it’s time to turn to…

Stage 2: Telling the Story

One of the biggest mistakes I think writers make is believing that everything they wrote during a Stage 1 draft is important to their story. It is very important and necessary to the writer because it’s the way we discover the story we’re really telling. But it’s not necessarily important to the actual story or to the reader.

Stage 2 is about fully assimilating the hallmarks of the story’s creation and making active, conscious choices about how the story is being told. Revision here is focused on the questions of what it is:
·       the novel’s structure (is it linear or modular; chronological or asynchronous)
·       the novel’s market – literary (language driven), upmarket (character driven), or commercial (plot driven)
·       its genre and the genre’s conventions (does it conform to reader expectations or subvert them?)
·       pacing (does the novel hit the right turn or complication at the right time for its market?)
·       POV (single, multiple, 1st, 3rd? Does that choice give you the best vantage point from which to tell the story?)
·       descriptions/details/setting (do they work in harmony or do they feel “off”)
·       what questions does your novel explore and do the choices you’ve made work in service to them?
·       information flow (what gets revealed when)

Of these, the last one is where the timeline comes in. If you see a lot of breaks from the present storytelling moment, take a look at the backstory or flashback moments and decide what the most relevant pieces of information are. Is there a way to convey this information in the present moment of the story through character action or reaction? In the details of a scene or the setting?

In my work as an editor, I most often see writers using backstory within the first fifty pages as a way to give the reader information about their character or the situation the writer thinks they need to know. In real life, this isn’t how we get to know people or understand the world. There isn’t a narrator to sit us down and give us someone’s entire history, so we’ve become very good at discovering patterns of behavior and learning in the moment. The same is true when we want readers to get to know our characters and the world in which they live. Finding ways to integrate the important information is more natural to the way people learn and discover.

Another thing to pay attention to as you revise is what I call “real estate vs payoff.” How much space are you giving in your novel to minute pieces of information? One of the first books I edited back when I was working for a literary agent, was a mystery that took 65 pages to set up the very first clue. Usually, that first clue in a mystery is pretty low stakes, the more important pieces of information will come later as the plot becomes more complicated and the situation more dire. I suggested summarizing most of the original setup, streamlining the scene where the information is revealed so only the most relevant parts of the conversation were rendered in dialogue, and simplifying what leads the main character to this moment in the first place. The result rebalanced the pacing of the novel, so this first clue took up space (real estate) was more in line with how important (payoff) it was to the overall story.

The same is true no matter what genre you write. A literary novel I worked on recently took roughly 5% of the entire novel to explain a small detail of how the world of this novel functions. By integrating that facet into the way characters interact from the very first page, the explanation wasn’t necessary. This, again, is a part of paying attention to the difference between what you (the writer) need to write to create the world and what the reader needs to see or know to understand it.

The main thing to keep in mind when working on this revision is paying attention to what’s truly essential to the story and what isn't. 

Up next: Stage 3 – Telling the Real Story (I’ll try to make it a shorter blog post, but I’m not promising anything).

If you’d like to receive a copy of my revision flow chart, please contact me
Twitter: @DeeGeeWriter
IG: diane.glaz

Monday, June 1, 2020

Is It Done Yet? Part 3 - What the Writer Needs

This is the third installment aimed at helping writers know when their novel is ready to query. It's based on the presentation I made at the Las Vegas Writers Conference in April of this year, "Is It Done Yet? How to Know When Your Novel is Ready to Query"

Part 3 – Stages of Revision

What the Writer Needs

The goal of revision is to produce a fully realized novel. As I said in my first post of this series, a fully realized novel is one in which all the novel’s elements work together to create the dynamic forward movement that propels the characters (and the reader) from the first word to the last in a satisfying and unified manner. There is a clear and well-defined premise or central question that organizes the plot, characters, theme, setting, relevant details, structure, information flow, and sequence of scenes. In a fully realized novel, everything that is on the page has a purpose and a payoff and is relevant and necessary to create the overall effect of the work.

This is why, in my editing work, I don’t pay a lot of attention to the number of revisions writers tell me they’ve completed. There’s no magic number of revisions after which the manuscript is suddenly done. Instead, I look at revision in terms of stages. Without understanding the stages, it’s difficult to know what work you need to do in order to bring the novel into its fully realized form, and a lot of the issues that I see in clients’ work stems from issues that arose in the initial stage of writing and were never integrated into the story.

I want to stop for a moment and define my use of “story” vs “plot.” There are a number of definitions out there, but this is how I think about them and how I will be using them in these posts.

Plot is the string of events that occur within the scope and timeline of your novel (this includes events that happen “off-camera”).

Example: the king died; the queen died

Story is the connective tissue that creates meaning between the events, their effect on the characters, and the selection of details used to provide context.

Example: the kind died, then the queen died of grief.
Or: the king was poisoned by his brother, and the queen, knowing nothing of this, married the brother to keep her crown, only to die when she drank poison her new husband intended for her son.
Or: the king encounters a young man on the road who refuses to move out of his way. The two fight, and the king is killed. The young man eventually comes to a new city where he meets the queen, they fall in love, and marry. Years later, when hardship strikes the city, it is revealed that the young man is actually the queen’s son. The queen goes mad and kills herself.

So when I talk about the story or writing in service to your story, I am talking about it in these terms.

Stage 1: Telling (Yourself) the Story
No matter if you are a plotter or a pantser, there’s no getting around this one because it is the very basic stage of taking your idea from inspiration to completed first (or zero) draft.
I liken this stage to when you do or experience something. In the moment, it simply happens. You don’t necessarily know what the outcome is going to be, so you don’t have the perspective yet to know what’s going to be the most important aspect of the experience. You don’t know what was relevant before it happened, that maybe gave you warning about it, and you don’t know yet where to direct your reader’s attention. You’re figuring all that out as you write or outline.  

This stage is driven by the writer’s needs. What do you, the writer, need to know in order to tell this story? What do you need to know about your characters in order to make them compelling, know their conflicts, their reactions, who they are? What world do you need to build around your characters (even if you aren’t writing SF/F or spec fic, you still build a world within your novel that has rules specific to your story. In general fiction, most of the rules mirror the world we live in, but there are still rules that govern how your character interacts with friends, families, work peers, etc., that have an effect on your novel) in order for it to be the most effective container for your story?

This stage is about discovery, and most writers have to write A LOT more than the reader will ever need to know in order to figure these things out. In addition, the things the reader truly needs to know may only arrive on the page after two or three pages of backstory, scene setting, dialogue, etc. Most of the decisions you make at this stage are not going to be conscious or deliberate. Happy accidents, synergy and inspiration, sudden connections and realizations abound in this initial draft, and, often times, the completed Stage 1 draft reflects this.

A completed Stage 1 manuscript will often contain a lot of backstory, especially in the first 50 pages. The writer needed to write the backstory because the writer needed to know these things about the character or the situation, and writers often leave these “core dumps” of backstory in the draft where the ideas occurred to them.

The advice I most often give to clients is: 1) backstory is not story, and 2) backstory ONLY becomes relevant to the reader when it informs the forward movement of the narrative. I’ll come back to this more when I discuss the next stages of revision.

Some of the other hallmarks of a completed Stage 1 manuscript (and remember, all this is fine at Stage 1 while you’re discovering your story, it’s what the manuscript SHOULD be doing here):
-        “Withheld” information: I put withheld in quotes because I think what happens during the initial writing is the writer discovers something really wonderful about the character or the situation. Instead of incorporating it earlier and building the foundation for it, the writer holds back that information thinking it will be a dramatic twist or character reveal. The problem here is that, without knowing that piece of information, the reader might not be able to understand your character’s motivation. My second most-given piece of advice to clients: the drama is not in the thing (the reveal), the drama is in your character’s reaction to the thing, the complications is causes, and the way in which your character resolves it. In most cases, and in most genres, you actually increase tension and drama by letting your reader in on it.

-        False starts and disjointed second or third acts: this occurs because the writer started off in one direction and wrote toward this new idea without going back to the earlier pages and revising them to build the foundation for the new resolution or complication.

-        Mushy middles/second or third acts: basically, it feels like characters are wandering around in search of a plot or that thing happens, thing happens, thing happens, without the connective sense of story that gives meaning and subtext to those plot points. Events in the novel feel contrived rather than arising organically from the characters and their conflicts. There can also be a lot of what I call “place holder” scenes where the writer knows something needs to happen but hasn’t chosen quite the right something in the right place yet.

-        Character overreactions: this is another form of place holding is caused because the writer knows the character needs to react but doesn’t know the character well enough yet to understand the nuances of their reactions nor know how to chart their character’s growth through their reactions – I see a lot of characters who yell, scream, shriek, become furious, pound walls, slam doors, behave in ways that most adults don’t in public.

-        Irrelevant details: overly descriptive scenes, expansive cast of characters, authorial intrusion.

All of these are examples of the creative marks left by the need to tell yourself the story before you can move on to Stage 2: Telling the Story, and Stage 3: Telling the Real Story, and are necessary parts of a stories creation. As I said before, writers need to write a lot more than readers will ever need to know. We have to create whole worlds and entire people in our heads in order for them to feel real to us, and we need them to feel real to us, so can they feel real to our readers.

One of the biggest mistakes I think writers make is believing that everything they wrote during a Stage 1 draft is important to their story. It’s not. It is very important and very valuable to the writer, but the distinction I’ll be making in my next posts is learning what is important to your story (Stage 2, which focuses on information flow and making active, conscious choices about the elements of your novel, and Stage 3, which focuses on your novel’s essential questions, what drives its forward movement, and ) and what is important to your reader (Stage 4).

What matters most, after you've completed this initial draft, is to read it with an eye towards what's essential to the story. What story are you telling? What choices have you made about how to tell the story? What do you know now about this story and its characters that you didn't know when you started out? When you look at your opening scenes, how does what you know now inform your choices and the way in which your characters act? Where are places where you've bogged down in backstory or core dumps of research? Where are places where the dialogue meanders for pages before finally coming to the essential moment? Asking questions like these will help you move through the next stages of revision much quicker. 

If you’d like to receive a copy of my revision flow chart, please contact me
Twitter: @DeeGeeWriter
IG: diane.glaz

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Is It Done Yet? Part 2 – Know Your Genre

This is the second installment aimed at helping writers know when their novel is ready to query. It's based on the presentation I made at the Las Vegas Writers Conference in April of this year, "Is It Done Yet? How to Know When Your Novel is Ready to Query"

Part 2 – Know Your Genre
In the previous post, I said I would talk about identifying the stages of revision, but I realized I need to back up a bit and talk about one of the most basic steps for knowing when your manuscript is ready to query.

Do you know your novel’s genre?

Surprisingly, there are a lot of writers out there querying who don’t, and this is such an important question because if you don’t know your genre, you won’t know which agents are more likely to represent your work and you may not understand the conventions of the genre. Every genre, from literary (and, yes, literary is a fiction genre) to historical fiction to thrillers has conventions that the readers of the genre are not only familiar with, they expect. Those conventions cover everything from use of language to pacing to what drives the action of your novel forward. A mystery without a crime to solve, isn’t a mystery. A romance without a relationship at its core isn’t a romance. And a literary novel that doesn’t turn on deeper aspects of human consciousness and the writer’s use of language isn’t a literary novel.

Understanding and reading in your chosen genre not only helps you find comp titles when it’s time to query, but it also helps you avoid overworked tropes and genre clichés (or use them to your advantage by subverting those tropes), and recognize other conventions that vary from genre to genre, such as the average number of pages and word count.

In addition, most agents only represent a select number of genres. Besides personal preference, agents specialize because it allows them to get to know the imprints and the editors who acquire books in those genres. They understand the current marketplace demands for those books and are familiar with the genre’s conventions. So, if you query, say, a serial killer thriller with only one murder that takes place over halfway through the book and no plot line about someone trying to stop the murder from occurring, you’re likely to receive a slue of rejections because the readers of the genre expect a fast pace, a string of murders that happen during the course of the book, and tension derived from the attempts to save the next victim, and the agent knows they’ll be hard pressed to find a publisher.

The Large Buckets for Fiction – Commercial, Upmarket, and Literary

Though some people call these terms “genre” as well, I prefer to call them “categories” so there’s less confusion.

The first question you want to answer about your novel is where it falls on the market spectrum. These are the big bucket categories of commercial, upmarket, and literary. Like genre, each of these categories has conventions, but they’re pretty straight forward. And, please remember, these are generalizations, and these terms have nothing to do with the quality of the writing.

In general:
·       Commercial is driven by the plot
·       Upmarket is driven by the characters
·       Literary is driven by the language

Commercial fiction – like Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Danielle Steele, Suzanne Collins, Stephen King – is driven by the plot. It’s fast paced, oriented more toward what happens than character development (note: sometimes commercial fiction is also labeled "genre" fiction, which means that it conforms to the tropes of the genre rather than subverting them or commenting on them, as a reader would expect for an upmarket or literary mystery or YA or fantasy, etc).

Upmarket fiction – like Sara Gruen, Jennifer Egan, Nick Hornby, Gillian Flynn, Emma Donoghue, Khaled Hosseini – is focused on the character. There’s more emphasis on how the character reacts and changes over the course of the novel as well as an increased need for the character to be well-rounded and compelling.

Literary fiction – like Donna Tartt, Margaret Atwood, Anthony Doerr, Ian McEwen, Cormac McCarthy, Celeste Ng, George Saunders – turns on the writer’s use of language and deeper explorations of psychological and experiential meaning. (I’ll have to do a future blog post about meeting Margaret Atwood a few years ago and our conversation during which she admonished me several times that writing was “all about the language.”) Literary novels can be slower paced (though not always) because readers read for the nuances of the language and expect stories that aren’t as straight-forward as books in the other categories.

The major difference between books in these categories (and there is some overlap depending on the personal tastes of whoever is creating the list) is what drives the novel forward. Going back to the previous post, it’s the question of your novel’s central focus or question. If your novel is focused on the question of what happened, it’s likely you’re writing commercial fiction. If your novel is exploring what happened and the effect it has on the characters involved, you’re probably writing upmarket fiction. And if you’re exploring a philosophical construct or ideas about consciousness and memory, the odds are good you’re writing literary.

Genre – History, Mystery, and Romance, Oh My!

Now that you’ve figured out your category, it’s time to look at the question of genre. As I said above, identifying genre is important because it helps you narrow down your agent search and understand the marketplace.

A good place to start (though a tad overwhelming) is the BookIndustry Study Group’s listing of fiction genres. It’s a comprehensive (and exhaustive) list of genres and subgenres that’s used by the publishing industry (including Amazon) to group like books together. It’s also a good resource for writers who want to identify their genre and, in the case of large genres like SF/F, mystery, romance, and historical, their book’s subgenre as well. For example, there are sixteen subgenres for mystery including cozy, hard-boiled detective, police procedural, and historical. For romance, there are forty-seven including Regency, contemporary, Christian, military, and historical.

You’ll notice “historical” shows up as a subgenre for both mystery and romance, while there are also historical romances, historical mysteries, and historical thrillers under the historical fiction heading. The question of how you label your book goes back to the idea of what drives the forward movement of the story. If the central focus of the novel is the coming together of a couple set in Jane Austen’s time, it’s likely a Regency romance, but if the relationship is a subplot and the main focus is the protagonist’s attempt to stop a bomb exploding, it’s a thriller (think the Keanu Reeves/ Sandra Bullock movie, Speed – the main focus is the bomb on the bus, a subplot is the relationship that develops between Jack and Annie as they attempt to thwart the bomber). Always look to what the novel’s main focus is when attempting to label its genre.

So What Does All This Mean??????

What all this really boils down to is being able to identify the agents who represent the type of novel you’re writing AND giving the agents the kind of novel they want to read.

This is important because an agent won’t represent a book, no matter how well written or marketable, in a genre with which they are not familiar. When I was reading submissions for the literary agent, we received a spectacular query that identified the book as a mystery, which the agent represented. I recommended she ask for the full manuscript, which she did, but about 100 pages into the novel, I realized the novel wasn’t a mystery at all. It was a thriller, which this agent didn’t represent, and so the manuscript was rejected. Similarly, the agent represented historical fiction and was quite specific about the time period in which she was particularly interested: the American industrial revolution. We received a very good query for a novel set in the Roman era but the agent declined because it wasn’t a time period with which she was familiar enough to know if the author was getting the details right and she didn’t want to risk looking foolish to an editor by sending something that got major historical facts wrong.

What this also comes down to is sounding professional from the first line of your query letter: I am seeking representation for my upmarket contemporary women’s novel OR my commercial legal thriller OR my genre millionaire/billionaire romance OR literary amateur sleuth mystery…

In addition, knowing your specific genre is also important because it helps you find comp titles. Remember I said Amazon uses the genre/subgenre list? If you do a search for, say, bestselling dystopian fiction or bestselling cozy mysteries, you'll find comp titles to use in your query letter. 

That was a lot, but next post, I promise, will be focused on revision stages and how to identify where in the process your novel is.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Is It Done Yet? - Part 1

Is It Done Yet? 
Knowing When Your Novel is Ready to Query

Part 1 – The Fully-Realized Novel

This is the first in a series of posts I’m doing based on a presentation I made at the Las Vegas Writers Conference in April of this year focused on how to know when your manuscript is ready to query.

Knowing when your manuscript is ready is a topic that comes up quite regularly in many writers’ groups both online and off. Most of the time, the usual advice gets offered: it’s done when you can’t stand working on it anymore; it’s done when all you can revise is punctuation; it’s done when you think it is; it’s done when your beta readers tell you it is; it’s done when you’ve done x number of revisions; it’s done when you don’t know what else to do with it.

All of these responses miss the mark because the question being asked is: when is my novel ready to query? Underneath that question is the real one: how do I know my novel will attract interest from an agent?

My answer, based on my work as a developmental/ content editor, and several years reading and editing submissions for a literary agent, is a bit more complex and based on both the writer’s understanding of their work and the demands of the publishing marketplace.

Reading for the literary agent taught me a lot. Mostly, it taught me that the vast majority of manuscripts being queried weren’t ready yet. They needed at least another revision to become what I call a fully realized novel.

A fully realized novel is one in which all the novel’s elements work together to create the dynamic forward movement that propels the characters (and the reader) from the first word to the last in a satisfying and unified manner. There is a clear and well-defined premise or central question that organizes the plot, characters, theme, setting, relevant details, structure, information flow, and sequence of scenes. In a fully realized novel, everything that is on the page is relevant and necessary to create the overall effect of the work. The overall effect of the novel is vastly greater than the sum of the individual parts. 

A movie I think does a near-perfect job demonstrating what fully realized storytelling looks like (and I’m using a movie here because they create a complete story arc in roughly two hours) is EverAfter, the Drew Barrymore and Angelica Houston retelling of Cinderella.

What I love about this movie is that nearly everything, from the costuming to set design to dialogue has an arc with a purpose and a payoff.

For example, the line, “You have been born to wealth and privilege and with that comes specific obligations” is spoken three times. First by the Queen of France and then Danielle (the Cinderella character) to Prince Henry, and lastly by the Prince himself. Each time, the line changes in meaning and it effectively shows Henry’s growth from the errant prince attempting to shirk his responsibilities, to realizing the opportunities his position might afford for helping others, to a belligerent response after Danielle’s identity as a commoner is revealed at the ball and embarrasses the prince in front of his subjects and father (in response to which, Leonardo DaVinci, this movie’s fairy godmother, says, “Hogwash” and tells the prince to get over himself; if that's truly what he believes, he doesn't deserve Danielle).

Similarly, a distinctive ruby and pearl necklace provides a subtle detail that has significant payoff. One of the royal pages took the necklace from the queen’s bedroom and gives it to the stepmother so that a meeting can be engineered for the older daughter, Marguerite, and the queen. After church, Marguerite “returns” the necklace to the queen saying it must have fallen off while she was inside. The queen rewards Marguerite’s honesty by inviting mother and daughter to the palace for a chat. At the end of the movie, when Danielle is presented to her family as the prince’s wife, she’s wearing that necklace. No mention is made of it, but the arc of that small detail is clear. In addition, there’s an earlier scene in which the baroness is buying a broach with the intention that Marguerite wear it to attract the prince’s attention. She keeps telling the seller that it needs to be bigger, to which he says, “I fear if it were any larger, she might tip over.” These are two instances where the details that are called specifically to the viewer’s attention have significance and meaning.

A fully realized novel provides the same sense of purpose, arc, and payoff for all its elements. Every scene carries a sense of the underlying premise or question, every detail relates to it, every plot point builds toward the payoff. 

A great test for whether the novel is fully realized is how easily you can write your query letter or create an elevator pitch for your novel. I think many writers struggle with their queries because their stories haven’t coalesced around a central focus that drives the narrative forward, and this is mainly a result of not pushing past the initial stages of revision to the place where the story, that connective tissue that creates relevance and unifies the narrative, emerges and becomes clear.

In upcoming posts, I'll talk about the various stages of revision that will take you from first draft to finished manuscript. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Finding Meaning in the Midst of Crisis

Today is May 1st, the 47th day of lockdown for me. While I know many people are experiencing losses and grief, rampant anxiety, and a sense of numbness that affects their ability to write, I've found this to be an incredibly fertile and fruitful time in my creative life. I'm seeing so much beautiful and profound work from fellow creatives, I know I'm not alone in this.

Prior to the COVID lockdown, I was feeling fairly strung out. I truly wanted everything to stop so I could catch my breath, which feels oddly and tragically ironic now. But here we are. In a moment that is reminiscent of the aftermath of 9/11 when the world seemed to be upending itself and we stood on a precipice of change without any indication of where things would go from here. I remember the same questions from artists, writers, and other creative people -- how do I keep working? how does the work I've been doing have resonance in this moment? do I keep going with the same projects, change them to reflect this new moment, or start something new? how do I keep myself from feeling despair?

This moment has taken me back to what is essential about creating art, to a guiding principal I admit I haven't thought much about in recent years as I've gotten wrapped up in the pursuit of publication for my novel: that writing in particular, and art in general, is a way to express what it means to be a particular human being in a particular moment in time. This has always been my true north.

I've also noticed, in the way we have turned to the arts in the midst of our various shelter-in-place orders, we are looking for these points of connection. It seems as if we are saying, tell me about your experience of this moment and help me understand my own.

This has always been the power of the arts and why I have long thought the emphasis on STEM at the expense of the arts is short-sighted and ignores the very powerful human need for connection as a way to understand and process. While the arts will never find a cure for COVID-19, we turn to the arts to make sense of our world. We create art to make sense of our own reality. In this moment, the arts enrich our lives with beauty, they provide a respite for our over-stressed minds, give us a way to express and process our distress and communicate our pain and confusion and fear and hope. Most importantly, they give us a language in which to be human together.

Friday, April 24, 2020


While I'm spending some of my Life in the Time of Covid writing and editing, I'm also putting together a calendar of blog posts focused on helping writers revise their manuscripts. Posts will start in May, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this interview I did earlier this month with the And I Thought Ladies about developmental editing and reading submissions for a literary agent. Here's the link to that Interview 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Obligatory New Year's Post

In which I give a bit of a wrap up and a little bit of a preview for what this year holds.

2019 was a whirlwind of a year with many miles traveled, words written, and manuscripts edited. There were trips to the East Coast for BookEnds, trips to Portland for AWP, and various trips where I got to hang out in hotel rooms and write while my spouse attended conferences.

I got a lot of writing done while traveling and in hotel rooms, which was something new for me. Typically, I find it difficult to hotel rooms, but I seem to have mastered the skill this past year, which I consider a win. The highlight of all the travel in 2019 was probably the BookEnds wrap up in July because I combined it with a writing retreat in upstate New York (where I got to visit my alma mater and got a personal tour by one of my favorite professors) and then attend my high school reunion where I got to reconnect with a friend I haven't seen since we graduated sometime in the last century. I also knocked on the door of the house in which I grew up and was treated to a tour, which was a kick since some of the woodwork my dad did is still in the house.

Last year was also about getting much clearer about What You'll Know Tomorrow and starting a new revision guided by my BookEnds' mentor, Fiona Maazel. I'm very happy with how that novel is progressing, though I've temporarily put it on the back burner because the fun novel project has gotten within striking distance of being done. I decided to devote my full attention to wrapping it up and beginning to query it or investigating self-publishing. I'll be back working on What You'll Know Tomorrow in February and plan to be querying it by the late spring or early summer.

2020 promises to be an interesting year with two novel projects to query and beginning to work on a new novel-in-stories project. I've also been asked to be on the faculty for the Las Vegas Writers Conference in April, and will be traveling to New York at least once for a BookEnds alumni workshop, as well as heading to San Antonio for AWP in March.

One of the main reasons I'm revamping the blog is because I'm using my experience as a developmental editor to put together a book on editing, so I'm going to be posting portions of that book as I go. Right now, I'm in the brainstorming stage, taking notes on topics I want to explore, generating ideas as I edit manuscripts, noting common issues I see in manuscripts, etc. My goal is to get back onto a regular posting schedule -- at least twice a month, if not more -- as a way to keep myself on track for the editing book and to (fingers crossed) generate feedback.

Here's hoping for a happy and productive 2020.