Posts Tagged ‘hey ranger’


There comes a time in just about every endeavor when enough is enough and you realize it’s time to throw in the towel. I am not especially proud to admit that I recently reached that point a few weeks ago with a book I was working on.

It was over a year ago when I got the idea for this story. At the time, I was right in the middle of Beautiful Monster, a novel I co-wrote with Kim Williams-Justesen, (author of My Brother the Dog, The Hey Ranger! series, and co-author of Love and Loathing ~ in case I haven’t mentioned her before!) and I wasn’t looking to get started on anything new for several months. Like many stories though, this one gnawed and picked at me, demanding precedence over all else, making me anxious to finish Beautiful Monster so I could get right on it. I took down notes about the new storyline as the ideas came to me, saved them in my “writing” file, and assumed that as soon as we wrapped up the current project, I’d sit down and pound the novel out with the speed of a sugar-buzzed Quarter horse and the light-hearted glee of  a Keebler elf on sixty milligrams of Paxil per day.

That isn’t what happened. I started the story, stopped the story, revised the story, re-wrote the story and ultimately, renounced the story. At first, I was proud of my stick-to-it-ive-ness. I figured I’d hit a rough patch and instead of giving up, I’d see it through, and in the end, be able to say it was a great accomplishment. As the months rolled by and I realized I’d never made it past the five chapter mark though, I began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t time to move on to something else. After all, in the interim, another storyline (one that I liked much better) was beginning to form. But still I persisted, fearing that by abandoning this story, I might be cultivating the very bad habit of cutting all my projects short and thus becoming one of those authors that I’ve vowed never to become who has drawers full of half-written novels but no complete product.

There were a lot of reasons I had trouble with this novel. First, I ended up hating the town I set the story in, not to mention its entire population. Second, I couldn’t pin down the main character’s voice and I seemed to be at a perpetual loss as to how this kid would react to anything. Third, every time I thought I had the plot down, another layer presented itself, negating the previous concept, and as hard as I tried to stick to main frame of the storyline, I found myself constantly wavering in a different direction. Finally (and perhaps worst of all), I developed a powerful dislike for my main character.  I chalked this up to the notion that my writing voice is not that of a small-town, nineteen year-old kid and I even thought I’d been foolish to believe I could extend my creative writing abilities enough to convincingly portray one. But, while it’s true that my natural voice is older than nineteen, the reality is that I stopped caring about this story.

After attempt number five at chapter one (and seven months of frustration), I suspended the story and began something new. It had been a long while since I’d had that kind of writer’s block, and in my experience, this often indicates a (sometimes unconscious) germinating of a different story that needs to get out before any progress can be made. I am certain that one day I’ll go back to this story, and it’s my hope that by then it will have worked out its issues on its own, and I will be able to write it with my usual, natural flow.

 

I’m still hell-bent on not becoming a writer who half-writes their books. I’m still not willing to give up because the writing isn’t easy. But I have come to understand that sometimes, a story just isn’t ready to be told yet. It’s occurred to me that in the case of this recently abandoned project, I had been approaching it all wrong, and that maybe my efforts to write it in the first person were in error. Whatever the cause or causes, the story just wasn’t working and for now, that’s okay.

I am currently trying to recover from the self-doubt that this insubordinate last novel has inflicted on me, and the best way I know to do that is to keep writing. I’ve gone ahead with the concept which came to life in my mind as I was muddling through the other one, and so far, it’s coming off well. I am passionate about this story. I am excited about the upcoming adventures of my main character, I’m a little bit in love with each of the players, and most of all, I’m doing something I haven’t been able to do for far too long: I am enjoying writing again~ and these things have convinced me that (sometimes) it’s not only okay to give up, but it’s the best thing for you.

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Of the various steps a writer should take before handing his or her query letter or manuscript over to an agent or publishing house, probably the most important one is getting raw, honest feedback from a few trusted readers. These lucky folks are called Alpha and Beta readers.

An Alpha (Alpha meaning first) reader is the first person who gets to see your work. This person has the responsibility of stopping you from further embarrassment before anyone else gets to see it. The Alpha reader should therefore, in my opinion, be your strongest critic. This person must be wholly comfortable telling you what sucks about your manuscript and what doesn’t. An education in English and Grammar is also a plus.

In my case, my Alpha reader is Kim William-Justesen, author of My Brother the Dog, The Hey! Ranger series, and co-author of Love and Loathing. Kim acquired her MFA (Masters of Fine Arts in Writing) from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2003. Not to mention, she has been circulating throughout the literary world for a good number of years, so she kind of knows her stuff – and, as it should be, she is probably harder on me than anyone else.

Kim is really the only person who gets to see my work in its most unpolished and unrefined state. However, knowing that she will be reading it, I work hard to keep it clean and neat, and to follow the rules of writing fiction, which automatically puts me in better shape. A typical page that’s been critiqued by Kim usually comes back to me with plenty of issues. Unnecessary words are called into question, 90% of all adverbs are slashed, question marks indicate a characters inconsistent voice or behavior, and of course, misspellings, grammar issues, and improper English is marked. Not to leave out issues with paragraph breaks, timing, dialogue, too much exposition, tense shifts and logic flaws. The point is, at first sight, the returned pages are often intimidating and discouraging but this is probably the most important part of the process.

After the necessary changes are made, my wife Heather is next in line. Heather isn’t really an Alpha or a Beta reader really, but (even though I am her husband), she is honest with me. Heather has a keen eye for small details that often get overlooked by me (little things like a murder scene in which the victim falls the opposite direction he should have after having been struck by a pissed she-vampire!) This is Heather’s strength and it has come in handy many times.

After Heather, my manuscripts go to a few trusted friends. Some of them are writers and some of them are not… but all of them are avid readers who know why something does or doesn’t work. These are my Beta readers.

Beta readers are, in some ways, the most important of all, because they are not looking for grammar and spelling issues. They are literally sitting down with your book and reading it front to back, and giving an opinion of the overall feel of the story. And it’s amazing sometimes what a Beta reader might catch. For example, it was my sister who caught a major discrepancy in time while reading The White Room. Speaking of sisters, family will often want to read your work, and that is good. But keep in mind that often times, they are not going to be as forthright with you as someone who is unrelated to you. That being said, I have received quite a lot of good feedback from family and close friends. Still, for purposes of critique, I rely more heavily on people who didn’t change my diapers and see me through that nasty adolescent stage!

Having Beta readers is fun too, because you get to revisit your story with a new eyes, so to speak. Right now, my friends Tom and Sherrie are in possession of The White Room. Tom is freaking out about the spider in Gretchen’s hair (a scene I’d pretty much forgotten about) and I am cracking up because I can’t wait to see how he acts when he gets to the other spider scene (insert evil laugh here).

After a manuscript has been through several hands, professional and unprofessional alike, a writer can now submit his or her manuscript to an agent, editor, or publisher without fear of being rejected due to sloppy errors and lazy plot holes. Now, when you receive your rejection letter (and you will), you will have the confidence to continue submitting, knowing that no matter what anyone else says, your story is a good, strong one… and one day, the right person will see that.


    

      There is no time to write. If the past six months of my life have taught me anything, that’s it. Today is the first day in a very long time that I have had all to myself. The plan was very simple: wake up, shower, write. I have no other responsibilities today, so it seemed a perfectly plausible idea. So plausible, in fact, that I put off writing earlier this week because I was so certain I would have all the time I needed to do it today. That was my first mistake.

     No sooner had I lifted my head from the pillow than my phone began ringing, my doorbell chiming, and the unforeseen duties began piling up. I spent the day arguing on the phone, making plans, breaking plans, texting the information back and forth between the concerned parties, changing reservations, making amends, and then turning around and changing everything back to the way it had originally been planned in the first place. All the while, chapter nineteen of the book I am currently working on is sitting still, waiting for me to get around to it.

     I have been on chapter nineteen for about a month now, I think. I just haven’t had time to write. I am in the middle of an out-of-state move. I have a new person living with me temporarily. I will begin babysitting my nephew full-time next week. I’ve been cleaning the house inside and out to keep it in pristine condition for open houses and interested buyers. I am full of shit.

     The reason the writing is not getting done is because I haven’t been making it happen. Life is life and it goes on with or without us. The “I just don’t have the time to write” excuse is a crutch I swore I’d never lean on, and up until now, I have done a pretty good job avoiding it. I avoided that excuse so well, in fact, that I didn’t even realize I was using it until today.  Yes, my life is a mess right now. Everything is up in the air and I am juggling too many things to keep track of. My life is a whole different story from one day to the next right now. Aren’t these pretty good reasons not to write?

     The answer, sadly, is no. In truth, this is the best time to be writing. Writing focuses me, brings me peace of mind and allows me to express myself explicitly without apology. Right now, more than ever, I should be writing. I have taken too many breaks from it and they have lasted too long. My goal was to have this project finished by July 15, 2011. I don’t know if that will happen or not but I am going to keep trying for it. The book I’m working on now is a collaborative effort with Kim Williams-Justesen, author of the Hey Ranger! books, My Brother the Dog, and co-author of Love and Loathing. Kim has been waiting on me for some time now, as we’re writing alternating chapters and she can not get very far ahead without me. I have been using the world-famous “I don’t have time” excuse for several weeks now and it’s time to put that mindset to a quick death before it gains enough momentum to become a habit.

     There is no time to write, it’s true. There’s also no time to grocery shop, pay bills, raise kids, maintain a full-time job, exercise, eat right, have pets, do dishes, read books, or floss those hard-to-reach teeth that always manage to attract the attention of those wayward, stubborn popcorn kernels.

        When I finished my first book, Kim bought me a very nice silver pocket watch as gift. In that book, there’s a pocket watch that has symbolic meaning to the story, and I know that Kim meant it as a reminder of my accomplishment and about how important my writing is to me. While it will still serve that purpose, I am, as of today, assigning it an additional meaning: I will keep that watch with me to remind me that time can not be created, it can not be destroyed, and it can not be otherwise controlled. But it can be managed.

     Twenty-four hours is all we have. I do not have less or more time than you, and you do not have less or more time than me. I bought into the excuse of just not having any time, and as a result, my self-respect took a hefty blow to the solar plexus. It won’t happen again.