Jun 9, 2014

Cover reveal!

The cover of One Witch at a Time is out, and I love it so much!



It was designed by a brilliant person at Simon & Schuster named Sonia Chaghatzbanian. I love her too, and I haven't even met her.

One Witch at a Time takes readers back to Brixen, where trouble is brewing once more. Can our hero Rudi undo the disaster caused when an unsuspecting stranger brings a foreign witch’s magic to Brixen?

Oma is back, and so is Susanna Louisa, and (of course) the Brixen Witch. And there are some new characters too, including a mysterious girl who Rudi can't seem to resist...

There are cats, too. And chickens. I hope that makes up for the conspicuous absence of rats this time around. ;)

The book is coming in February, so stay tuned for more news! There is a trailer in the works...

Apr 14, 2014

Who doesn't love a free book?

In honor of National Library Week and School Library Month, I'm giving away free signed copies of The Brixen Witch in paperback.

Hop on over to Goodreads to enter. Good luck!!


Apr 7, 2014

Adventures in Copyediting

Last week I got the copyedited manuscript for One Witch at a Time, which will be published in February 2015. (Ten months and counting!)

My editor still works on paper, which is very comforting if you don't take all the little stickies and margin-notes too personally.  Here is what it looked like:



But of course you DO take it personally. In fact it feels like a small stab with a heart-fork* because I've revised and revised and revised already, and my editor said she was happy with my revisions. So why is my ms. marked up AGAIN?

Here is where I explain what copyediting is:

Actually, it's a few things:

1. It's marking up the ms. for the typesetter and designer. Stuff like where to include chapter openers, nonbreaking spaces, dashes, ellipses, etc. Probably half of the red marks on the pages are stuff the author can ignore.

2. Nuts and bolts I might have missed: a repeated word, misspellings, incorrect use of commas or semicolons, etc.

I try to clean this up as much as possible before I turn in my ms, but I do miss a few things. Mostly this step consists of writing a line of dots under the deleted commas marked by the copyeditor. (A line of dots means to "stet" or "let stand" the original text, and ignore the copyeditor's mark.) I do a LOT of stetting of commas. I like my commas where they are, and I like an occasional run-on sentence, even if it breaks the rules of commas. But I suppose the copyeditor can't assume that, so she points out the rules and leaves it up to me to decide I actually DO want to break the rules sometimes. Easy enough, dot dot dot.


3. Consistency and logic. This is where a good copyeditor saves an author's bacon. She notices that you wrote "the dairy has only three cows" on page 14 but "the dairy's last two cows" on page 58. She will also tell you where she had trouble picturing what you described, and do you want to reword some passages? Sometimes she might even draw a picture:




This is where the heart-fork twists a bit, because the description seems clear enough to YOU (because you're the one who wrote it!), and rewording might cause that riveting scene to suddenly go CLUNK. But sometimes the copyeditor is right, and it needs to be done.

Sometimes, though, the copyeditor is wrong, and it's important to take a deep breath and remember that. The copyeditor is not marking your ms. to show you all the places where she is right and you are wrong. She is only asking questions, knowing that sometimes the answer to the question will be NOPE, or STET. But if she doesn't ask, how can you be sure of your writing? And how can you catch the two cow/three cow problem? And so she asks, and it's up to you to not take it personally.

And so I extracted the fork from my heart and forged through the ms-that-was-not-quite-perfect, and sent it back, pretty confident that now it's as perfect as I can make it.



*Heart-fork: Perfect, pithy term stolen from sports columnist Jason Gay.

Mar 25, 2014

A good non-writing day

Take a walk!
It's good for you.
Your dog will be grateful.
You might see a bluebird, even though it's really cold.

What? Can't you tell that's a bluebird?


On our walk yesterday, I learned these things about my new book:

- A bit of backstory
- A bit of my protagonist's internal conflict

and, most importantly:

- What the story's antagonist wants, and why he wants it.

This is big, because it will drive so much of the story. I read somewhere once that everyone is the hero of their own story. I think that's especially true of villains in novels.

It's also true that when you have epiphanies like this, you should get it all down on paper as soon as you get home, so you don't forget your brilliance.

Ya, yesterday was a good non-writing writing day. 

Jan 29, 2014

Novel Writing Made Easy: Your Characters

OK, so I have my SOP outline and a rough idea of what my story is going to be about.

Before I start writing, I need to know WHO I'm writing about. Because a plot outline is all well and good, and a helpful roadmap, but I want to write a story that is character-driven rather than plot-driven.

This just means that I want the twists and turns of the plot to grow out of the kind of people my characters are, rather than making my characters do things that fit into my plot. You can probably think of a TV show or movie where you like the characters, and you think you know them, and then they do something that seems really forced, and you say, "Yeah, right," and shake your head and go off to make popcorn.

For example, everybody watches Downton Abbey, right? The romance between Anna and Bates is so sweet! And it's believable, because those characters really do seem compatible. And the things they do (their PLOT) feel natural because those actions fit with their characters: I believed it when Anna traveled to London to visit Bates' first wife, but stopped short of doing anything nefarious. Because Anna cares that much about Bates, but she's also upstanding and honest and kind.

And then there is Lord Grantham and his romance (such as it was) with a housemaid a couple of seasons back.

Popcorn time! That little sub-plot was hard to believe.

Why? First of all, we hardly knew the maid at all. We really didn't know WHAT her character was, so we couldn't judge her behavior as fitting with her character or not.

But mostly, it was hard to believe because we'd never seen that kind of behavior in Lord Grantham before. He'd displayed poor judgment from time to time, but mostly in financial matters. He'd always been a devoted and loving husband, though, and so the dalliance felt forced.

That's the difference between character-driven story and plot-driven story. The first is organic, and believable, and much more satisfying. The second is OK, and can be entertaining, but it feels kinda hollow, and doesn't hold our attention for long. (Notice how that Lord Grantham/housemaid subplot didn't last very long either.)

Plot-driven novels can be fun. They're the books that make good beach reads or airplane reads. Books you don't mind leaving behind in the hotel room or the seat-back pocket.

I'm hoping to write a character-driven story, though. And I can't know what kinds of things my characters will do, or how they'll react to things that happen, if I don't know WHO they are.

And so, my characters. Most importantly, my protagonist, or main character.

(I'm going to cheat here a little and use The Brixen Witch in my examples. That way, I won't be sharing spoilers for a new book.)

Rudi is a 12-year-old dairyman's son living in an Alpine mountain village a long time ago. He's an only child. He's smart, but quiet and contemplative. He's good with a slingshot. He could find his way around the slopes of the local mountain with his eyes closed. He's loyal. He's brave. He has a strong sense of responsibility. He's generous.

I have an image in my head of what he looks like, but his physical appearance doesn't matter to me too much, because it's not how he looks, but what he DOES and what he THINKS that will be important. It will drive his actions, and his decisions, and those things will drive the plot.

Next: Point of view and voice. Stay tuned!

Jan 16, 2014

Novel Writing Made Easy, Step One: Seat-of-the-Pants Outline

OK, here we go!

As I said in the last post, I'm not a huge planner, but I DO plan a bit at the beginning of novel-writing, for a few reasons:

1. It helps keep me focused once I do start writing. If I feel writer's block coming on, I can take a look at my S.O.P. outline and remind myself where I should be going next.

2. It breaks down the HUGE project of writing a novel into bite-sized (less intimidating) pieces.

3. I can feel accomplished when I fill in a few blanks on my outline.

I speak from experience: I wrote my first novel, Jump the Cracks, almost completely by the seat of my pants. If I'd had to write an outline, it would have looked like this:

Beginning:
Girl impulsively runs away with little boy she fears is abused.
End:
Girl brings little boy home again.

That's it.

It was a painful experience. That novel took a REALLY long time to write, with lots and lots of rewriting and dead ends, and staring out the window wondering what comes next.

It all turned out OK. I learned a lot about writing from writing that book. Mostly, I learned that I never want to write a novel that way again.

Thus I give you the Seat of the Pants Outline.

I call it that because it's really very basic. Here's what it looks like, before I've started any actual writing:






This is an Excel spreadsheet. I could hand-write it, but Excel makes it easy to add new columns and rows as I go along. You could probably build a table in Word that does the same thing. But Excel will add up the word count column for you, which is nice.

I've made a few assumptions, namely:
A finished length of about 40,000 words, broken into approximately 27 chapters of approximately 1500 words each.

I know from having written my other novels that this is a comfortable length and format for me. And I really can't fully outline without knowing this number, or at least taking an educated stab, because I wouldn't know where the percentages would fall. If you've never written a novel before, it can be hard to predict how long your book will be. You might try choosing an average length, based on the age level and genre you want to write for. Nothing is etched in stone; you can expand or contract as you go along. But I think it helps to have someplace to start; to have some sort of roadmap, even if you end up taking detours.


A few words about the columns:

Chapter numbers

Pretty obvious, but you have to start somewhere. I feel so accomplished because ta-DA! I have officially started my book! As I start writing, it will show me at a glance how I’m progressing toward the story markers in the "Turning Points" column. (More on that below.)


Running Word Count

I keep track of the word count chapter by chapter, because:

a. I want to be somewhat consistent. I think consistent chapter lengths help the story’s rhythm.

b. It keeps me honest. My goal is an average of 1500 words per chapter, with a min/max of around 1000/2000 words. If a chapter is skewing short, I know I need to beef it up, or blend it into the next or previous chapter. If it’s skewing too long, I need to cut some fat, or break it into two chapters.

c. Another chance to feel accomplished, as the running total grows!


Chapter summaries

Here is where I’ll jot down the most crucial plot points of each chapter. Once they’re all filled in, it will be a sort of synopsis of the whole book. Right now, I don’t even know what to enter for Chapter 1. I have to actually, you know, start writing.


Turning Points/Story Markers

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE OUTLINE.
I use the percentages as pretty strict story markers: 1-15% means that the inciting incident (or story problem) had better be introduced quickly; somewhere in the first 6,000 words, or first 4 chapters. (15% of 40,000 = 6,000 and 6,000/1,500 = 4 chapters)  Ideally, it will happen in the first or second chapter. If it hasn't happened by chapter 4, I'll know I'm taking too long to set things up, OR my book might need to be longer after all. (Chances are it'll be the first thing, though.)

In the same way, the first turning point, where we move from Act 1 to Act 2, as the protagonist chooses to commit to a task or journey, needs to happen about 25-30% into the novel. (All these numbers can slide around a little, but ONLY a little.) That means I'd better have my protagonist launched on her adventure by around 12,000 words, or by chapter 8 or so.

(And when you think about it, 8 chapters is plenty of time to launch my protagonist on her adventure.)

By the way, these percentages are taken directly from Making a Good Script Great. I'm writing a novel and not a screenplay, but they are both vehicles for telling stories, and good story structure is good story structure. It works for me.



Notes

Anything else I want to remember that doesn’t fit in the other columns. For now, I’ve listed other terms for the turning points. They remind me what I’m aiming for in each section.


Additional columns

I might add another column for my timeline, or to list the characters and/or setting for each chapter, or whether each chapter ends on an emotional high or low note. Whatever helps me visualize what’s going on. Add and subtract as needed.

OK, enough procrastinating, I guess. Time to start writing. Wish me luck, and I’ll report back here with my progress, filling in the chapter chart as I go. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions or comments.