Category: get cupid

Writing Update

It’s been a while since I gave you all one of these, so I thought (since I’m off to Bangor again today) this might be an opportune moment to catch you all up to date.

For the last few months I’ve been steadily making my way through OUR LADY, working on the second draft. I haven’t been focused on too many fine details at this point–I do my drafts in passes, usually. What I mean by that is that I’ll do each revision with a few goals in mind. The first draft is all about getting the thought down on paper in some form. The second draft, then, is focused on refining that thought and making it consistent. The first draft will have all sorts of bumps and errors. Places where I changed my mind about how a character behaves, or what plot elements are important. In order to avoid losing my forward momentum, I just keep writing through the rough spots. I don’t go back to revise anything unless it’s really problematic.

That’s what the second draft is for.

After the first draft is done, I set it aside for a month or two at least. Then I print it out and read the thing through from start to finish, marking up the draft as I look for big issues. Sure, I’ll tweak word choice here and there, but all I’m really concerned with is seeing if the original thought is working, and making sure what’s on paper represents that original thought as closely as possible.

Once I’m done with the second draft, I send it off to my agents. In the past, I’ve tried to work on it even more, but I’ve found that’s often a bad idea. There might be some big issues they find with the novel, and any extra time I’ve spent on the book could well be time wasted. While my agents are reading it, I also send it off to some beta readers–people beyond my writing group who I turn to for second opinions.

Based on the feedback I get from my beta readers and agents, I either making huge structural changes (if necessary) or move onto the next phase: refining the descriptions and language. Trimming the book down, tightening it up, making sure everything’s more consistent. The kind of stuff most people usually associate with revising.

So anyway–for now I”m on the second draft. I personally am feeling quite good about this book. That doesn’t always mean the book is good, unfortunately. I thought GET CUPID was awesome, and in the end it was just too much awesome for one book, perhaps. Too busy. I’m hoping I’ve done a better job this time with keeping focused on a few things instead of using the shotgun approach.

Anyway. I hope to be done with this revision by the end of the month or beginning of next at the latest. At that point, I’ll turn my attention back to a first draft of a novel I’d set aside a long while ago–reread it, get a feel for where I was, and then resume writing.

Meanwhile, I continue to have two books out on submission–meaning they’re on the desks of editors for consideration for publication. I don’t say much about that process while it’s ongoing, but just because I don’t talk about it publicly much doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Really, I just feel good to have settled into a rhythm for a bit. Sometimes I feel like I still have so much to learn about writing. Other times, I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it. You’d figure that after doing it every day for thirteen years, I’d be getting used to it.

That’s all I’ve got for you for now. Happy Monday, all. Catch ya tomorrow.

A Report Back on Harry Potter

A few weeks ago, I asked you all for insights on what made Harry Potter work for you. I’m in the middle of prepping for a substantial revision to my latest work in progress, a prequel of sorts to GET CUPID that takes place at a school for magical delinquents. After reading through my first draft, I decided that I was doing a pretty good job getting the criminal aspects of the book right, but I was failing spectacularly at getting the “school” bit down. It just felt like too much to handle easily–have all the school bits and the main plot and make it all work together.

Harry Potter handled it okay, though. Right? So I reread Sorcerer’s Stone to find out what was up.

A few things became clear right away. First off was the fact that a lot of the complexity to the series doesn’t show up in the first book at all. Rowling spends a bit of time on a few issues that get elaborated on much later in the series (Ministry of Magic anyone?), doesn’t even mention others (house elves come to mind), and instead spends the majority of the book on Harry discovering this whole new world and understanding how it all works. So that’s one key to the book’s success: keeping it simple whenever possible. If she’d tried to dump all sorts of backstory out to explain everything that’s going on, it would have been confusing and–worse–boring. But if you just rattle off a few references to a bigger, deeper world, you can explore those references in later books, and still bring a sense of depth and reality to the world as you’re describing it in the moment.

She also did a great job of spacing out the character introductions. By the end of the book, there’s quite the cast of characters on hand, but because we meet them a few at a time, it never seems too overwhelming. When it is overwhelming (right when Harry gets to Hogwarts, for example), it’s that way on purpose–we can be overwhelmed, because Harry is overwhelmed. And then it all evens out over the course of the novel as Harry figures out who matters (and we do too).

Add to this the fact that most of the characters are nothing more than caricatures at first, so remembering who they all are is much easier than it would be otherwise. Draco is that awful jerk of a human being. Ron’s the kind of clumsy, friendly one. Hermione’s the know it all. Neville’s the forgetful one. Through the course of the book, only a few actually start doing anything complex, and even then it’s stuff that isn’t very “deep.” Rowling saves that sort of thing for later on in the series, as well.

How does this all relate to my current book? As I read Harry Potter, I noticed how empty my school was. There are the main characters, and then some nameless other characters. The ones who don’t matter don’t get any attention at all. Same for the teachers. So I realized I definitely need to fill out some of the student population. Not that they all start having starring roles or anything, but there’s a need for the school to feel lived in. To have upperclassmen, and minor teachers. Groundskeepers. People. It’s not a change that will require thousands of more words added to the manuscript. More like filling out scenes here and there with some background noise.

Another surprise for me was how few scenes there were with students in class. You’ve got a bit of potions class, a dose of transformations, and that’s about it. Everything else is put in as students are talking and worrying about class, without actually being in it. Homework assignments they’re working on while they’re doing other things. Exams they’re studying for. I had assumed I needed to add in some big “class” scenes to bring the school feel to the novel. It doesn’t look like I’ll have to, which is a big relief. But I definitely need to be looking at what’s going on around the main action–which actually is easier than it sounds, I hope. A lot of the time, I’ll have scenes where the main characters need to discuss something. Typically, that’s something that works better if the characters are doing something else at the same time, so that they’re not just talking heads. Now I know what I can stick into those scenes to act as the “something else.”

Finally, I had to face something: I hadn’t really put much thought into how my school operated. What the semesters or trimesters were like. How many students were there. How many classes a semester. I had tried to ignore as much of that as I could, and I think the book suffered as a result. So the past few days I’ve been spending my writing time coming up with that sort of information. It helps that I’ve been in education for so long, though since so much of that is college-based, it’s harder for me to remember what the big differences between high school and college are.

Challenges challenges.

In any case, it was an interesting activity and one that was well worth my while. I’m very much looking forward to getting back into the writing stage so I can start putting some of these lessons to work. Wish me luck!

What Made Harry Potter Tick for You?

As you might know, the current book I’m working on is something I’ve been describing as “Harry Potter meets Ocean’s Eleven.” I finished the first draft, but the way I draft (at the moment), I end up with a very rough version of the story by the end of that first draft. (I’ve tried plotting. I’ve tried not plotting. These days, I’m resigned to the fact that it feels like I relearn how to write a book with each new book. Different stories call for different approaches. I do think I’m getting better at it as a whole, but it takes a ton of work, regardless what I do.)

In any case, this time around it’s been closer to the experience I had writing Vodnik: I had a general idea what I wanted the book to be about, and then I dove in writing. The characters were already pretty much set in my mind, but the actual plot was very loose. So there are quite a few times when I’d change direction in the middle of the book. Instead of going back and fixing everything to smooth it all out, I barrel forward. Momentum means a lot to me during that first draft. It’s how I get a sense for timing and the general pace of the book. I have to experience it to know if it’s working right. But that means that once the book is finished, I need to do a lot of smoothing before it’s ready for anyone else to read.

In other words, even after that first draft, the book is really only complete in my mind. I have to go back and make the rest of the novel match what ended up happening in my head.

Long story short, I feel like this book has the Ocean’s Eleven part of the equation down better than the Harry Potter part. This isn’t to say that it’s perfect yet–this is just the first draft, after all–but the bulk of the plot is focused on heists and cons, so it’s natural that my attention focused on that side of the puzzle. Now what I want to do is make sure it also feels like a school book. Yes, the setting is a school, but physical descriptions have always been something I’ve struggled with as an author. I have to go back after the fact to make things come alive, because at first all I really care about is what happens next.

So I’m going to reread the first Harry Potter to get a sense for what Rowling was up to. She managed to do an awful lot in that first book: introduce the magic system, the school, and a slew of characters–all while weaving the main story throughout it: Harry’s confrontation with Voldemort. In the end, you walk away from book one feeling like you’ve been immersed in Hogwarts. I want that feeling, but with my own school I’m describing.

What will I be looking for? Specific things. Nuts and bolts things. How many times does Draco appear in scene? How many classes are described in scene? How many are summarized? What subplots did Rowling put in to give the book its school flavor? Things like that. I’m not doing it to copy it–I’m doing it to understand the balance effort that went into it so that the end result was . . . Harry Potter.

With that in mind, I’m curious to hear from all you Potter fans out there. Just in the first book, what was it that really stood out to you? What made the book tick? Why did you love it? What do you remember most about it? Again–just the first book here. No fair jumping ahead to others. What made Hogwarts come alive? Any bits of opinion and information will help me when I start the reread, likely tomorrow.

(For now, I’m rereading the first draft. So far, I’ve been very pleased with it. Yes, there are some bumps and rough edges, but there have also been a few rock solid scenes I just loved. Always a nice feeling when you come across that in your own writing . . .)

In any case, comment away, and thanks in advance!

You Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em

I finished the read through of GET CUPID earlier this week. There are parts of that book that are flat out awesome. The characters are lots of fun, the tone and voice are jumping and funny. The magic is intriguing.

And the plot is a train wreck.

That’s perhaps being a tad harsh. It’s not a train wreck. It’s more of a long journey with some fun friends who have no clue where they’re going and aren’t in any real rush to arrive. Some friends who make random stops along the way. Which is fun for a while, but when you signed up for a direct route, it can get pretty maddening after a while.


I’m faced with a difficult decision. I can try and do a fourth massive revision of GET CUPID. And that was my first instinct. To fix it. To make it better, darn it! I’ve spent over a year on that book, and giving up on it would just make that year feel like a complete waste, writing-wise. So I tried to figure out what I would do to salvage it. The first chapter was great. Second chapter started to go awry. Third chapter would have to go. Maybe the middle three chapters are gone. Rewrite the finale . . . The more I listed things that needed to change, the more I looked at that list and said, “Nope!”

And so that’s what I’ve decided. Nope nope nope. Not rewriting that book. Not again. Not right now.

Am I giving up on it completely? No. Because some of the hardest part of writing for me is figuring out characters and developing a strong main voice. I’ve got that done here. All I need to do is transfer them into a new plot. In this case, it’s going to be a prequel to the book I wrote. GET CUPID takes place in the main character’s senior year of high school. The new book is going to be his freshman year. It’ll be more Harry Potter-esque, in that it’ll be a “school book” far more than GET CUPID. I sat down last night and started hashing out conflicts and coming up with new and exciting heists and con jobs.

Moving the book to freshman year also does something interesting to the plot: it moves it out of young adult and right into middle grade. Which is okay by me, but will take a bit of tweaking and getting used to.

The good news is that I’m excited to write the new book, and that’s key when you’re sitting down to the keyboard. GET CUPID is done. Finished. It remains the 10th full novel I finished, and nothing will change that. It’s just I’m now working on my twelfth book, and it happens to be the first prequel I’ve done. The year and a half I spent writing and revising the original wasn’t wasted time–it was time getting ready for this next book.

Because sometimes that’s just what you have to accept as a writer.

Writing Update

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so allow me to enlighten you all. As most of you know, I’m now up to four projects in various stages of completion that are all post-VODNIK. First is TARNHELM, a YA noir fantasy which has been out on the desks of editors for over 18 months now. We’ve heard back from around 40% of them. You heard that right. 40%. I’ve asked my agents if that’s par for the course–if some editors just never get back to you at all, agented or not. And it sounds like the bitter truth. There are a few editors we’re still holding out for, but at some point this is a book I’ll have to decide to either publish myself or just set it in a drawer for a while. Sad but true.

Next is GET CUPID, a YA heist fantasy which I’ve just started the fourth draft of. I’m in the midst of re-reading the third draft, and it’s an interesting read. My agent didn’t like the second at all, and so I did a huge revision (that he’s still yet to see–I never sent it to him) and set it aside for a long while in order to let myself be able to read it fresh and see what was working and what wasn’t. The good news is that I feel like the characters and conflict and magic system are all working great. The bad news is that the plot is still an absolute mess, even three drafts into it. The book was trying to be too  many things at once. My third draft helped streamline it some and bring it to more of a focus, but that focus (i’m discovering as I re-read it) is still far too blurry. But to return to good news, I have quite a few good ideas about how to change the book and make it work, plot-wise. It’ll be a hefty revision, but I think it’s doable. That’s what’s keeping me busy on a day to day level at the moment.

My other book is THE MEMORY THIEF, a middle-grade contemporary fantasy that I just finished the third draft of. My agent is reading it over now, but it’s looking good so far. I’m fairly confident we’re not too far off from having it on the desks of editors. TARNHELM is a strange book and one that could be hard to find an audience for. (Not too many teens reading noir at the moment, and even fewer clamoring for a hefty dose of fantasy with that noir, ya know?) MEMORY THIEF is much more main-stream and easy to sell (I hope). It also helps that I haven’t read anything really like it, though it fits comfortably in the same genre as other books. But we’ll see what editors think when they get it.

Finally, I’ve started another book that’s still unnamed. I got about 10,000 words of it written before I set it aside for MEMORY THIEF and GET CUPID. It’s nice to know I’ve got a project lined up to return to when I’m done with my revisions, and I actually think the time away from the project will once again help me approach it fresh and see how well it’s working.

I’ve been focused a lot on improving my ability to plot lately. I feel like my prose and voice is solid, but my plots have a tendency to meander around quite a bit. We’ll see how well it works in practice, as I try to wrangle GET CUPID into fighting form.

People always ask me, “Are you working on anything new?” And I’m always surprised they don’t know that I’m *always* working on something new. I just don’t have anything to show for it that you can read in print just yet. It makes me sad, but it is what it is. Hopefully I can buck that trend in the near future.

Anyway. Thanks for reading, and thanks as always for the support you all give me. It’s much appreciated!

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