Archive for the ‘First Drafts’ Category

Blog Hop!

July 2, 2014

I’d like to thank Ann Finkelstein for asking me to participate in this blog hop. I’ve been neglecting my blog, and this gave me a reason to get back to it. Ann is a talented writer and photographer whose YA fantasy is now out on submission. You can read about her writing process here.   I’m tagging Stephanie Bearce and Nancy Tupper Ling, two charming and witty writers.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on a contemporary YA novel that’s a modern retelling of a classic.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not aware of any recent updates of this particular work. And if there are any adaptations out there, I doubt that they feature high school cross-country runners.

Why do I write what I write?

This current project hit me over the head three days after my husband and I decided to move to Portland, Oregon. Scenes started unfolding in my head while I was out on a walk. Before I got home, I came up with any number of ways to deal the adjustments that I’d have to make to pursue the project and stay quite true to the source material. Otherwise, I tend to write the books that I like to read. My YA novel, SUSPECT, belongs to the cozy mystery genre. My contemporary fantasy, SAVING THE GRIFFIN , has been called a Narnia in Reverse by one reviewer, but one astute librarian recognized it as an appreciation for the works of Edward Eager. I always liked reading books about kids in unusual settings, so I knew that I had to pursue DEFENDING IRENE, about a girl playing soccer on a boys team in Italy.

Since I’ve also been a fan of historical fantasies, as exemplified by Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion , I’ve tried my hand at a couple of those. I’m also in the midst of working on one set in a place that has a number of things in common with Ancient Egypt a few generations after the invasion of Alexander the Great. But my Xander cemented his empire instead of having it fragment after his death. And then there are the magical elements…


–How does my individual writing process work?

I like writing the first draft of a scene by hand while using Natalie Goldberg’s strategy in her book called Writing Down the Bones. Here’s the short version. go into a coffee shop and “rent” a table through buying some kind of snack or beverage. That place is now my office, and I want to get my money’s worth. I pick up the pencil and start writing, keeping the hand moving at all times. Often, I get dialogue with just a sprinkling of action. Once I get home, I type everything into a computer and add a few more details. Then I keep working on the scene by layering on action and description. Once I bring that up to the level of a semi-polished rough draft, I head back to the coffee shop to start another scene. I usually have a general idea of where I’m headed, but I leave things open enough that I can follow inspiration. Sometimes I’ll jump ahead and write a key scene, but I usually work sequentially.


I tossed a lot of this process out the window for my current project. In two weeks, I went through the original work conversation by conversation and scene by scene and pulled together my take on what was going on with the modern characters. This took about two weeks. I’ve been building on this initial structure ever since. I’ve added some scenes of my own and taken some out of the original that just didn’t work in a modern context.


Stephanie Bearce’s Top Secret Files of History series will be coming out this fall, starting with Spies, Secret Missions, and Hidden Facts from World War II. I’m privileged to be in Stephanie’s critique group, so I’ve learned all sorts of cool things that have been hidden in history. This blog hop might wind up being one of her first blog posts on her new site. Stephanie will be posting on or around July 9th.

Nancy Tupper Ling is a talented children’s writer and poet. We met a few years ago at a retreat put on by our literary agency. I’m especially looking forward to one of her upcoming picture books. Here’s the official announcement: THE YIN-YANG SISTERS AND THE DRAGON FRIGHTFUL is a charming original fairy tale, told with heart and humor, about twin sisters Mai and Wei whose village has become encumbered by a very problematic dragon. Wei wants nothing more than to send that nasty old dragon packing. Mai… isn’t so sure. What are two sisters to do? Nancy will be posting on or around July 14th.

I’ll provide updates if needed.



23,333 Words

August 22, 2012

Lots of writers work faster than I do.  Plenty of my Facebook friends will regularly post one or two thousand words a day, and they’ll do this day after day.  In fact, Stephen King thinks people are serious slackers if they don’t get three to five thousand words down. I’m just excited that I’ve finally figured out how all the revelations are going to unroll such that my character is ready to take a serious leap.  It’s so incredibly important that readers believe in these kind of choices.  Everything falls apart if the motivation doesn’t work. I’m thinking of this novel where the protagonist decides to get on a boat.  There was absolutely no good reason for the character to do this except for the fact that the rest of the novel was all about the subsequent journey.  It’s tough to sink deeply into a book when you have the following dialogue with yourself:

Question: Why did the character decide to get into the boat?
Answer:  Because the author needed her to.

Saying “No” to NaNoWriMo

October 23, 2011

Thousands upon thousands of writers are gearing up for National Novel Writing Month where the goal is to produce at least 50,000 words of a first draft.  It’s described as Thirty days and nights of literary abandon. I won’t be joining them.  And it’s not just because I’m in the middle of finishing the latest round of revisions to Calyn’s story for my agent.  I tried NaNoWriMo about five years ago.  I managed to produce 11,000 words before I stopped trying to get through what was turning into the thorny hedge of my story. Then it took me a couple of months to first untangle and then relink all those words.  In the end, I would have come out ahead by proceeding at my normal, plodding pace.  I do believe in the power of writing with literary abandon.  Donna Jo Napoli shared some insights on that at a recent conference on Mackinac Island.

I believe in the power of the amorphous blob that she talked about, but I can only stay in that zone for three or four hours.  Then I have to sort things out and smooth them together so that I know exactly what happened to my characters before I move on. Even though NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for me, I know that it has worked for thousands upon thousands of writers.  I’ll be wishing them well as they come up to the starting line with their outlines and character sketches.  On your marks. Get set.  Write!

Some thoughts on writing from Donna Jo Napoli

October 4, 2011

I’ve been collecting quotes from writers and editors for the past 18 years or so.   In fact, I just delivered a talk at the Michigan SCBWI’s fall conference on Mackinac Island that shared the quotes that I’ve been collecting for the past 18 years.  I had about two pages worth of them from various events in Nebraska, Missouri, France, Arkansas and Michigan.  Each of them has become a part of my writer’s toolbox.  Within a few hours, I had several more from noted author Donna Jo Napoli.  She was one of our headliners.

On first drafts:

“The amorphous blob–that’s the emotion. That’s the blood. Your readers is bloodthirsty.”

On switching from the writer’s hat to the self-editing.

Writers are psychopaths.
Writers are a mess.

Editors are neat.
Editors are tidy.

On carving out time to write:

My kitchen floor was so clean you could eat off of it…for a month!

Writing A Thousand Words A Day?

September 1, 2011

Some of my agency sibs are annoyingly  astonishingly prolific.  They add thousands of words a day and post totals on Facebook.  I cheer in their comments section because I am honestly delighted that their words are piling up. But there is that grumpy little envious corner of my brain that’s jealous, jealous, jealous even though I understand that my slow plodding ways are a function of my talent and my approach.

But I’m always interested in how other writers work.  Here’s a great post from C.J. Omololu on how she manages to add a thousand words a day every day.

Characters Who Are Too Dumb to Live

August 22, 2011

As I might have mentioned before, one of the tricky things about writing in the suspense/mystery/thriller genre is ensuring that your characters aren’t too dumb to live.  There has to be a reason for them to keep their deadly secrets or roam through dangerous places.  In fact, there was one series of books by a mystery writer that I finally had to give up on because I couldn’t believe that the main character would keep endangering herself with no good reason whereas she had a serious and deeply personal reason to do this in the first two novels.

Today, I had a mini-breakthrough for my character. Since she was supposed to know quite a bit about art, at least for a high school student, she needed to consider an alternative. I didn’t have the first idea of how to slip it in until I was living in the moment with her. Bang.  There it was at what Jack Sparrow would call “the opportune moment.”

I have found that a lot of logical problems will sort themselves out when you get to them as long as you’re conscious of them and let the backbrain work.

Escape from the Seiser Alm!

July 26, 2011

My characters and I have been trapped up on the Seiser Alm for weeks now. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a beautiful place to be. I’ve enjoyed the research. But today, I decided that I had to break out. After studying pictures and video from the web–not to mention our old photo albums, I knew almost exactly where they were going. I knew most of what they were saying, but I just couldn’t smooth things out to the semi-polished rough draft that I usually like to have in my pocket before.

So how did I fight my habits? I inserted cliches. As writer Sharon Darrow noted in one of her lectures, they can be signposts to go deeper in a later draft. I also used my own personal signpost of “Transition Needed” in strategic sections instead of banging my head againt the keyboard in the struggle to come up with something with flow and fluid. Just after midnight, I took the Seiser Alm Bahn down to the valley station with my characters. I’m going to try to stay away. Plus, I think that this important scene will need some tweaking as I think more about the characters’ relationships.

Over 11,000

July 22, 2011

I’m finally digging in again on PORTRAIT.  This week I managed to pull together over a thousand words.  It really shouldn’t be that difficult.  I try not to get jealous when my Facebook friends manage to pull together three or four thousand words a day.  But one of the problems with this chapter is that my characters are moving through the Seiser Alm, the Alpe di Siusi.  It’s a high alpine meadow surrounded by some of the most amazing rock formations in the world.  So my job is to evoke the the stunning views without completely slowing things down. Not easy!   I’ve spent a lot of time going through family pictures of our trips to the Dolomites as well as checking out various videos on YouTube.  It’s extremely convenient to have tourists film the very lifts that my characters are taking.


Another Blank Book

April 26, 2011

Back in March, I opened up a fresh blank book that I’d gotten for Christmas last year and started scribbling away on what I’d been calling the Italian chase novel.  The black and white cloth cover was attractive enough. I would have been happy to scritch-scratch away on all of my outlines and extremely rough scenes on the pages inside of it until I saw a blank book on display at the grocery store earlier this week.  Its front and back covers were illustrated with places that my main character either had visited or would visit on her trip to Europe: London, Paris, Rome.  What can I say?  I gave into temptation.  Instead of being jinxed, I managed to produce ten pages of very bad prose today. But there were a few bits that sparkled like iron pyrite on polished lapis lazuli.

Over 5000 Words Already?

April 19, 2011

In general, I tend to work quite slowly.  Dialgoue might flow easily, but then I have to smooth all of the details that bring a story to life with action, description and movement.  That’s why I’m just a bit surprised to discover that I’m about 5600 in.  The first chapter is fairly polished. The second has a few rough patches.  Then the rest of the words from Chapter 3 and Chapter 5 are the mere scraps of scenes.  

Chapter 5, but no Chapter 4?  Well, I was doing a bit of outlining and suddenly a big argument between two characters erupted.  I felt like I was taking dictation.   For the most part, I tend to work sequentially.  I like to know exactly what happens before moving on, but I had pretty much “set the table” for this confrontation in advance.