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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

From start to finish

Finishing my first novel showed me I could write one. I had started thinking about the characters ten years before I decided there was more to their story than the few pages I wrote in my college journal. But with real life getting in the way, it took me another five years to gather my notes and understand the science fiction world that became Demia. Then I needed another year to feel the courage to show it to my family, and another to ask for critiques from strangers. The two years I spent revising the novel, in response to many rounds of constructive criticism, made me realize I cared about the project. And that I could be a writer.

The Legacy of the Eye still isn't perfect, but I decided to give it a rest. I spent the last year writing something completely different and I discovered that I could fall in love with this new world just as easily as I fell for Demia and the rest of the Tetracoil Galaxy. And that these new characters talking in the back of my mind could feel like family to me, just like David and Catrine.

My fantasy novel Shrouded Goddess is finished and awaiting another round of critiques. The feedback I've received so far is very encouraging, much more than for Demia. Part of the interest, I think, is because Shrouded Goddess is set in a world that mirrors colonial South America during the Portuguese settlements of the sixteenth century. Not the typical medieval fantasy world. Moreover, my novel focuses on the indigenous custom of accepting strangers into the community by marriage, and how the settlers exploited the native family values to recruit laborers, which I don't believe is a common subject either.

My excitement is growing with each round of revisions. And there are now new characters whispering in the back of my mind...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Green paint and sadness

Last night I came home to bright green paint splattered all over the clothes in the dryer. Not uniformly dyed like the pink spacesuit from the "Despicable Me" movie; a crap-hit-the-fan kind of mess. One of the soccer jerseys my dad brought back from Brazil was the culprit, but throwing the offending shirt in the trash did not prevent the tears I needed to shed.

Dada's response was to buy new ones. But these were the new ones--mine, his, and the kid's. I at least had to try to wash off the stains and maybe recover some of them, because I knew I wasn't crying over a dryer mishap. My father-in-law is dying. His speedy deterioration over the past few months has tugged at everyone's heartstrings. But just as it is a lot easier to focus my emotions on imaginary characters whose fate is at the tip of my fingers, it is also safer to cry over spilled milk and paint stains, which are much less overwhelming.

This morning most of the clothes had lost their offending green streaks. Not all of them, so I wouldn't be tempted to rescue the conniving jersey from the trash bin. This means I will be looking for other silly everyday catastrophes to unburden the pain welled up inside me. I cannot mourn a loved one still with us; those tears have to wait.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Where and when

As I struggle through the query trenches, I have taken up other projects to distract me from the torture of waiting for feedback. I outlined three companions to THE LEGACY OF THE EYE and started drafting one of them, the prequel DEAR KATHERINE.

I also experienced bursts of creativity, where random stories kept me awake at night until I wrote them down (like this one). They did not fit the science fiction world I had created; they leaned toward fantasy. The three plots I outlined shared the same comment, to "think of an interesting world." I had no idea where to set these stories or to which time period they belonged. I just knew they needed a historical feel.

So I set about looking for where and when. I needed something unique, but something I knew about enough that research would not become a nightmare. I wanted a project that would distract me, not a burden.

And now I am immersed in the colonization of South America and the exploitation of family values. I have researched the history of hammocks, looked into the vegetation of snow-capped equatorial mountains, and am currently delving into the languages and habits of indigenous tribes. Twenty-five thousand words into the first draft, I can feel the first novel in this project taking shape.

Best of all, the two other stories I outlined fit this world perfectly.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pitching time

It was my #Pitmad pitch last spring that led to an agent suggesting I rewrite THE LEGACY OF THE EYE in first person.Today, Twitter is once again the host of this fantastic pitching contest. These are the four short pitches I'll be tweeting today:

Jane Austen's Persuasion meets 1984 in space--Love and politics on a planet colonized according to Plato’s Republic. Adult Sci-Fi #Pitmad 
Austen's Persuasion meets 1984 in space--On a planet where merit trumps birthright, David must expose a secret hereditary polity. SF #Pitmad 
On a planet where merit trumps birthright, David must expose a secret hereditary polity or be tempted by the crown. Adult SF #Pitmad 
A secret hereditary polity on a planet colonized as in Plato’s Republic. David must expose the deceit or be lured by the crown. AdSF #Pitmad

I think I managed to condense the query below into just the hook...

THE LEGACY OF THE EYE is an adult science fiction with a literary bent. Think Jane Austen's Persuasion meets 1984 in space--Love and politics on a planet colonized according to Plato’s Republic. 
Like all children on Demia, David was sent to the Academy at the age of two to be raised without concepts of marriage and family. Sixteen years later, his impatience towards graduation from the Governance Department overshadows his apprehension of finally learning his parents’ identity. 
When David notices the tiny tattoo hidden beneath his girlfriend's hair, he realizes Catrine is next in line for a hereditary throne that should not exist on their academic planet. David is appalled that a single family has been ruling in secret since colonization. Demia is the center of knowledge in the galaxy. Their society is supposed to value merit, not birthright.

Then David discovers his parents are conspiring to crown him the first king of Demia by marrying him to Catrine. Desire will bind him to a deceitful government David is unsure he can change from a throne. His leadership skills might be better employed bringing peace to the turmoil at the other end of the galaxy. But can Demia prosper without him? And how long can he evade those determined to lure him home? Catrine might just be the bait he cannot resist.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The evolution of a first page

The first page of THE LEGACY OF THE EYE has changed quite bit since I first started writing the novel. Some writers begin too early and need to cut several pages before they find the engaging start. My problem seems to be the opposite. The original opening I wrote is now on page 152.

What I thought was back story that could be given in short flashbacks was actually the inciting incident and first major plot point. Apparently, I started writing the story from the mid-point. Hence, I had to work my way forward and backward, to the beginning and end. And even after I thought I had a complete story, I realized I was not beginning with a hook. So I added an extra scene.

My new first page is below. You can compare it with the previous version here. Feedback is always appreciated.


CHAPTER 1

David: Proposal

It might have been a symbolic gesture, but I was not budging. My hand covered the keypad inside the traveling pod as I faced the old instructor standing next to me. "Come on, Max. We're leaving the school anyway, why not let me punch the code?"

Arms crossed over his loose-fitting black outfit, the short instructor obscured the pod's doorway. "The council should have made you wait until after graduation like everyone else."

Cat and I had been confined in the school since we were two. What difference would two weeks make after sixteen years? "We've earned the distinction."

"Next you'll ask to stop for a black uniform on the way out," Max said.

We probably earned that too, but I knew how to pick my battles.

Cat's hand pressed my shoulder. "David, we'll be late."

"Tell him that."

"You're only making him more stubborn, Max," she said. "You know we have no reason to run away."

The instructor hesitated. Would he make us miss our appointment with the council? He knew Cat and I could not navigate the maze of buildings to get to the gates--even disregarding the risk of being detained as soon as we left the governance complex. Our gray uniforms would give us away as soon as we stepped outside because students were not allowed to leave their home departments. How long would it take to convince every instructor in our path that we had an appointment with the council? We had one, not fourteen daylight hours to reach the government building.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Who's on first?

I have spent the last two months rewriting THE LEGACY OF THE EYE in first person point-of-view. It was a lot of work, but I think I have a better novel now.

The change that struck me the most was character voice. It has much more strength in first person. No mater how much I tried, in third person it always sounded like I was telling the story. My brother even said he heard my voice in his head while he read the manuscript. In first person, I could see the sentences that did not sound right for a specific character. Not only thoughts, but descriptions, too. People see the world differently and will describe things with more or less detail given the importance they project onto the thing. Their word choices are also individual, even if they have the same upbringing.

One thing that stalled my rewrite was the fact that I needed to lose three point-of-view characters. In third person, the chapters alternated between five different characters, but in first person I had to restrict myself to the two protagonists. One of the characters I lost only had a single chapter and one beta reader already had suggested I rewrite that chapter in my main character's perspective. This rewrite forced me to do just that, and to realize I was scared to feel the scene.

To lose one of the other characters, I needed to write three new scenes and expand the role of a different secondary character to get some of the missing plot detail across. These new scenes enriched the novel and made the plot move forward with action instead of internal thought, which is a good thing.

However, the last character who lost his voice is the one I miss the most. And I worry he will be misunderstood if the reader does not know his motivation. I am waiting for feedback from beta readers to assess whether I weakened him too much. But this is not his story and I need to remember that. Sorry, darling.