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Friday, April 15, 2011

Addictions, Attractions, and Allusions

Have I ever told you about my first novel? The one I started scribbling on math notes because I was bored to prose in geometry?

It started at as a fantasy, death, revenge, all the usual stuff. I think the other page had a short story about pod people with thinly veiled allusion to my peers.

The story was titled BARROW QUEEN because I was still madly in love with Tolkien and one of his "forgotten scenes" - you know, the ones that always get cut from movies. Tom Bombadil and the Barrow Wights fascinated me.

BARROW QUEEN evolved into a science fantasy story, the main character came back from the dead for revenge and fell in love. Because at 15 what girl doesn't want to fall in love?

My friends read the story during class, and that was it. I tossed the hand-written manuscript in my luggage and left for college. Five years and three states later I found myself staring at the computer with nothing to do at night. Gaming lost it's appeal (here's my geek card). Work wasn't stimulating. Without the challenge of college classes I felt... worthless. I was an automaton.

Somehow typing my manuscript up sounded like a good idea.

I typed a page or two every night, embellishing as I went along because I was certain I needed 500 typed, single-spaced pages at 12-point font to make a full novel (WRONG!!! Don't do this at home. Just... don't.) I think I spent fifty pages exploring a tunnel. Twenty, at the very least.

And then it was done. I had a novel. Typed, printed, and sitting by my bed.

I read one chapter and hated it.

In my head this was an epic adventure of duty, betrayal, love, and revenge, everything my favorite stories were built around. On the page it was a pedantic nonsensical mess.

The manuscript sat by my bed for weeks before I finally gave in to frustration and threw the whole thing in the trash. I moved the files to a back up disc and told myself I could do better. There were other story bits on my computer. Obviously, I told myself, the first one was just practice.

I found a writing group, showed up, and handed out my favorite piece of writing. It was the intro to a fantasy set around Roman/Gaelic history that promised me author immortality once I wrote past page five.

My critique group started laughing. Punctuation? Grammar? Spelling? Apparently a degree in the hard sciences did not prepare one for organizing commas on a page correctly (something I still struggle with). What was I trying to do here, one person asked. They didn't want to see rough drafts, they wanted my real work.

Little did they know that was my real work. I was a published writer. There are hundreds of newspaper articles with my real name on them. In college I wrote freelance (absolutely nothing to do with my major - I had passion and a nose for news, but a love for dissections). I've spent more hours than I can care to enumerate writing.... but it was all non-fiction.

That year a friend coaxed me away from my second novel to try NaNoWriMo. I wrote PENUMBRA CHILDREN, a sci-fi story about a single mother with special needs children that closely ressembled my own situation with a deployed husband and two small children. Except I didn't have shape shifters, space vampires, or pirates at my house.

I finished the second novel I started, DEMANDS OF JUSTICE. I dabbled in YA and wrote BRYSON ANOMALY. I did NaNo again and wrote DUNGEON CRAWL: THE FALL (epic fun!).

Other novels followed.

Ideas were outlined. Characters were killed. And one by one I threw the manuscripts under the bed.

Not a single novel I wrote was what I wanted.

I cried when I gave up on DEMANDS OF JUSTICE. The main character, Ice, is a constant figure in my imaginary world. I have short stories about his childhood, about his mother's murder. I wrote down the scene where he proposes to his wife. I've named his children. I haven't written in that universe for nearly two years, and Ice still haunts me.

Last year, after shelving UNDER A DARK STAR, I pulled out an idea that's been sitting in the back of my files since 2008 or so. What if you were investigating a Jane Doe murder, and realized Jane Doe was you?

Identity is so hard to pin down. People like to label themselves: Fashinista, Frugalista, Mom, CEO, Scientist, Published Author, Writer, Wife, Hottie, Californian... DNA never tells the whole story. I can't look at your genes and see the life you saved, or the heart you broke, or the things you'll do.

I started writing, met my idealist main character Samantha. Met her foil the damaged and angry MacKenzie. Met Sam's fiance, and her ex. Met her boss. The story is set in rural Alabama, a place I love for it's rustic beauty and quiet sadness.

I walked away mid-book, moved cross country, printed what I had, read it fully expecting to toss it in the mountain of unpolished novels, and fell in love.

Ice is special, but JANE DOE was extraordinary. I wanted to keep reading. Even on the first draft I wanted to read more. I finished the novel, started editing. I could actually see where things were wrong. Unlike my previous disasters I actually knew how to fix the novel!

Yesterday I printed the third editing draft of JANE DOE. The total was 334 pages double-spaced, a little over 80,000 words after I did some impromptu scene cutting earlier in the week.

I hope this is the one. I hope everyone else loves JANE DOE as much as I do. I hope I can edit this manuscript and make it shine. That's the important thing, I HOPE. I'm not giving up. I'm not repulsed. Someone told me once that a mark of a good book was that you were willing to read it 100 times, even the rough drafts.

It's so true. My other novels I enjoyed writing. The worlds I built were fun to play in, but I hate rereading what I wrote. I dreaded edits. Not this time. I want to go back. I want to reread this. JANE DOE has everything, attraction has become an addiction. And that's just how it should be.


  1. This was beautiful. Inspiring and depressing at the same time. I'm not sure if my WIP is this or not. I get really excited sometimes, I even get chills when I change a scene to be what it needs to be, but I'm not sure if I'm as passionate about it as you are about Jane Doe.

    I did get an idea for another book, though...

  2. I hate everything I write upon reread. I don't know if this is just because it isn't the "true" book for me or the result of the massive inferiority complex I have about my fiction writing. :/

  3. I have a book that's like this. I love re-reading it, love getting re-acquainted with my characters, but it's not a good book, execution-wise. I don't know how to fix it yet, but someday I'll get there. Because I have those warm fuzzy feelings when I read it. I have projects that I can't bear to re-read, too. So glad you're enjoying Jane Doe.

  4. I think I figured our why I like your post, your optimistic and you have a somewhat military orientation. Spent thirteen years in the Army. Also was a writer for a newspaper and have found writing for books is completely different than making sure you get the 5 W's all in the story. You are also very prolific and motivated and at 65 I admire that. My writing is very slow paced. Your post made me realize though that going back and dragging out old stuff may not be a bad thing. My cabinet and old notebooks are full of stuff I started, but never finished from back in the sixties and seventies. Really enjoy your fire and spirit. Keep it up. What branch are you? Did your hubby do Iraq or Afghanistan? I was Army and Vietnam 67/68 which were the good years. Anyhow keep it up your blog has helped me learn a lot as that is an area I am just starting on. My daughter is a teacher and she did one on her trip to Central America for her Spanish class. It and her got me started. Some of your posts helped me progress in it. Thanks for that. Did not mean to get all personal, but do want you to know you are influencing some of us. Even if we are not in the same genre.

  5. Sorry to hear that Under A Dark Star got shoved under the bed. I liked that one. Sounds like you've found your ah ha! place with this novel, though. Best of luck with it!

  6. Emily - As long as it isn't an idea I'm using, you're welcome to it!

    J.A. Beard - Keep writing. At the end of the day it all comes down to putting your butt in the chair and trying. It takes time, but all those stories that don't work teach you something. One day you'll get the story that does work.

    Stephanie - I have a couple like that stuffed under my bed. I want to revisit the universe I created for Ice, I just don't know how to make it work. Not knowing what to is the worst part. I can handle the hard work, but not staring at the mess and having no way to fix the damage.

    Rictheturtleryan - I'm flattered that you like my post. DH is army, we have family in every branch of the US military and I think we've had someone in every war ever. Sometimes on both sides of the war. :o) Great-Grandad was a mercenary in Europe. Fun times. Do go pull out your old stories, I bet there's some good memories hiding in those old files.

    Jean - I liked Under a Dark Star, but it's an unholy mess. The whole premise was fun, but the universe and plot need to be set on fire. I might take the characters and start a different plot with them. Or not. When I stumble onto something that would work for them Kit and Khal will be back. Promise. ;o)

  7. This is a good sign for me then. I keep wanting to go back to This Mad Virtue and reread and fix it.