Friday, July 27, 2012

Suspension of Disbelief When Revising A Novel

Here’s the thing, when you’re sewing, when the dress has pieces sewn on wrong (such as the sleeves are inside out, and the neck facing is on backwards and you forgot one of the darts in the front), what you’ve got still looks more like a dress than it does after you rip the pieces apart and start planning the reconstruction.

Even though, by taking the never-gonna-be-a-dress, inside-out-sleeves garment apart, you have, in fact, moved one step closer to finishing the dress of your dreams.

And this, ladies and gents, is where I am with my revision. I have written some new chapters that I love and eliminated some parts that don’t work, but in order to integrate the new and fix the transitions where the old used to be, I had to do the equivalent of a whole hell of a lot of seam ripping.

And this is the part where suspension of disbelief comes in. Or some metaphorical variant thereof. As in, belieeeeeeeeeve or Tinkerbell falls from the sky and dies, writhing, on your keyboard.

That would be my keyboard.

(It wouldn’t be a mixed metaphor if I introduced The Little Engine That Could here, right, as long as Tinkerbell was passed out in one of the boxcars?)

You have to believe that this thing with the many improved moving parts can, in fact, be put together again in a new, improved version. That new seams can bind together all the old and new and radically overhauled parts, and that the sum of those parts will be, well, seamless. And also a book.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Even More Really Bad Writing Advice

Do we even need a preamble?
Dear Clueless One, 
My 7,500 word picture book, “Give an Aardvark an Ambien,” written in bouncy yet mind-numbing (It’s a bedtime story; I was going for mind-numbing. ) iambic pentameter that came to me in a drug-induced daydream yesterday will be ready to submit tomorrow if only my hairdresser doesn’t take too long with my Brazilian blowout and I have the afternoon to rewrite it in its entirety, choose a really cute font, and promote my self-esteem by chanting forty or fifty unreastic affirmations while having a few drinks.

It is the best book ever written.

Do you think I need a beta reader before I send it off? 
Also, people keep saying not to include art from illustrators who aren’t me unless they have a Caldecott, which I had never heard of so how big a deal could it be, seriously, but my cousin Missy has done a the cutest sketch ever of the scene when the insomniac aardvark goes out back for a smoke. I should send this in and say that Missy has to be the illustrator or I’m “hoppin’, skippin’, jumpin’ down the road and round the happy pumpkin,” (a heartfelt line ripped straight from the oevre) right? 
Signed, Rhyme-Meister

To which I reply

Dear Meister, 
About the beta reader: of course not. It is, after all, the best book ever written. Trust your instincts. 
As for the illustrator, get real! How many pictures of insomniac aardvarks taking a smoke do you think editors have seen? You have a truly unique concept and you will only increase your chances of hooking up with a publisher deeply committed to your vision by acting inflexible, petulant and ever so slightly unhinged. Artistic temperament being what it is. 
Love, Clueless

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Horror of Deleted Scenes

A couple of weeks ago, I did a guest post at the wonderful blog, Words At Home, which consisted of a deleted scene from Where It Began.

Due to the fact that I write in random order without an outline, I have many, many such deleted scenes from which to choose -- some deleted as a result of brief interludes of good judgment and others deleted as a result of the strongest possible suggestions my agent could muster without being undiplomatic or making me listen while she banged her head on her desk.

Anyway, I really did love this scene. It tied up some loose ends and it had an element of characters from different social groups singing "Kumbaya" and, coincidentally, not getting drunk during school lunch. I fought for this scene. I bitched and moaned and mourned while cutting this scene.

And now that it’s back, I’m in a state of Oh My God. Never mind that it actually contains grammatical errors and clunky repetition, but there’s a slight chance that it’s cheesy. Oh My God. Is this cognitive dissonance, I wonder? Do I have to think it’s cheesy because otherwise, noting its wonderfulness and the fact that it’s no longer in my book, I’d be too sad and miserable to go on? Or would a propensity for cognitive dissonance have more sinister implications for how I feel about what I left in the book…?

Self-doubt, recrimination, and hyperventilation probably being worse for branding than the dispensing of Really Bad Writing Advice, I read back through Where It Began in a state of perfect calm detachment, at the end of which I concluded that I still love it a lot.

I am, on the other hand, so glad that I saw reason and deleted what I deleted. And four months post-publication, I am ready to concede that Where It Began would not, in fact, have been all that much better at 986 pages.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Return to Really Bad Writing Advice

OK Gang,

Perhaps unhinged by an excessively good mood, I posted some Not Half-Bad Writing Advice. And so much for that! People were all over my Really Bad Writing Advice, but as for the sorta good advice, forget it.

So all right, screw the little engine that could. I have removed the sorta good and I'm returning to train wrecks. The not half bad advice is down and I'll be back with something truly rank as soon as possible.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Afterparty!!!! Heeeeeere's the cover!

What can I say? It's perfect. It's beautiful and it evokes a key scene in the book -- a scene which, by the way, the designer hadn't read yet. (Jessica Handelman, design goddess and all-round purveyor of aesthetic wonders, if you are reading this, I love you!)

And all right, I get the part that revealing the splendor that is the cover of my new book after multiple posts in which I carry on at length about how I didn't outline and this was not an entirely wise choice, followed by days of Really Bad Writing Advice, might not be self-promotionally wise.

But look at this cover! I would kill for this cover, but I don't have to, because it's my damned cover.

And all right, I love the characters in this book. I love Emma, the protagonist, a good girl trying hard to embrace badness, her best friend Siobhan, and Emma's dad's choice for her best friend, the darling Megan Donnelly. And also, not one or two but three guys who are not, ta da, sociopathic louts. I love Dylan and Arif and Joe. I loved writing the Hollywood Hills and I love the kiss at a sidewalk table at The Griddle near the corner of Fairfax and Sunset.

And these characters deserved gorgeousness. Stumbling barefoot, shoes in hand, toward Hollywood Boulevard late at night, Emma deserved a cover that says, "Here I am."

Ta da. Emma Lazar, here you go.

Friday, July 13, 2012

More Really Bad Writing Advice

Having succeeded beyond my wildest expectations with my initial foray into Really Bad Writing Advice (e.g. there were comments none of which employed the phrase “you mean-spirited bitch”) I have decided to sally forth into the realm of even worse advice.

Here goes.

Dear Clueless One,
I have just finished my stand-alone historical fantasy in which pirates and mermaids team up to change the course of the Russian Revolution using only their wits, rusty sabers and sex appeal.

Beyond its obvious appeal in raising deep, philosophical questions about Communism, this book is the manifestation of my personal crusade against boring, lazy writing, taking aim at that infinitely overused phrase, “he said.” I am proud to tell you that I never once use “he said” in my book, ferreting out compelling facsimiles such as: 
  • he wholeheartedly yet heartrendingly exclaimed with a plaintive naivete that could draw tears from a mashed turnip, could they have obtained turnips, which they couldn’t because they were pirates who had been at sea for a really, really long time; 
  • she bellowed with the steely yet ladylike determination of sinuous seaweed that now overflowed the banks of the Moskva River with rampant yet implausible abandon; 
  • and the simple yet elegant *he ejaculated truculently.”
Noting that you used the phrase “she said” 2,914 times in your last – and might I point out only—novel, will you reform and join my Crusade? 
Signed, Crusader

To which I reply:

Dear Crusader,
Sure. Why not? The plot of what was supposed to be my next book just imploded and I’m not in a good mood. Indeed, the prospect of committing writing suicide sounds quite alluring. Let’s all hold hands and jump. Off the gangplank. Into the depths of the seaweed-riddled Moskva River. She agreed with crazed alacrity. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice

Hi Gang,

Having noted that the internet is loaded with fabulous, and, all right, possibly a tiny bit of less fabulous, writing advice, I have decided that the moment is ripe for someone to start handing out really bad writing advice.

In the self-promotional vein, I am thinking that not only will I be able to corner the market on appalling directions for would-be novelists, but that this will go a long way toward winning awards as really bad branding too!!!

I’m so excited.

Anyway, here is wee sample of the misguided pap that I plan to send into cyberspace for all eternity:
Dear Clueless One, 
Because there are no good books out there for teen readers, I have taken it upon myself to write a uniquely superb (and also uniquely long) trilogy with magic elf robots who save the world, reinstitute the meaning of Christmas, and also promote dental hygiene. I am calling it “The Dental Floss Games.” Get it? 
Is 895 pages too long for the first book in the trilogy? Also, I’m not completely sure of how the first book ends, so I decided that that would be a good cliffhanger. My know-it-all critique group is being very negative, but this is all right, right? 
Whiny Genius

To which I reply:

Dear Whiny, 
No and yes. I think. Or maybe yes and no. Or possibly, oh my God, no! I guess what I’m saying here is that you should just follow your own inner voice, no matter how long-winded. Ignore the advice of others; you should only be around positive people who support your dream.

Also, after 895 pages of magic elves with pristine gums, your readers will be so damned glad to reach the ending that they won’t actually care about the ending. 

You too can send writing questions great and small to the Clueless One. Really stupid questions are particularly appreciated, but I guess that an intelligent question would be OK too, if you insist. I'm at