Hi friends! Sorry again for the radio silence here. The good news is that I haven’t been posting because I’ve been hard at work WRITING, among other things. To update you, I’ve been: WRITING I’ve finished revising my first novel, … Continue reading
Hi, friends. This year has been the year of the contests for me. I’ve entered novel #1 in some twitter contests and the like, and am throwing my hat in the ring for one more: #PitchWars. For those of you not familiar, a lovely writer named Brenda Drake has organized a group of 75 published/agented authors to mentor 75 unagented writers. Then, the mentors will read and make suggestions for edits of their mentees. In November, there will be a handful of agents reading all of the sparkling, perfect novels… and I hope mine is one of them!
Thanks to Dannie Morin for creating this mentee blog hop! You can read other hopeful mentee’s posts here.
1. I hail from small-town Michigan, but after living in Chicago for six years, I am truly a city girl through and through. (I moved to the city to receive an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University.)
2. I’m married to a funny guy and we have an even funnier doggie. Her name is Frankie (or, #MissFrankie) and she is a three-year-old Boston Terrier with a BIG personality.
3. I work in Human Resources at a large Chicago-area University, but work on my historical fiction novels before work, in the evenings, and on lunch breaks. I’m a firm believer in 6 a.m. writing sessions.
4. Some of my favorite books include: THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson, The HIS DARK MATERIALS Trilogy by Phillip Pullman, THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. As you can see, my reading list is wide-ranging.
5. My husband and I collect vinyl. My favorite musical artists are Carly Simon and Carole King. (And yes, I’m not even 30 yet… what can I say? I grew up listening to great 70s/80s music!)
6. I really love to sleep. Really. Like 8-10 hours a night is my favorite. (Which isn’t always conducive to being a writer.)
7. My favorite meal on the planet is a cheeseburger and fries (with aoli) from Au Cheval paired with Vandermill‘s Totally Roasted Cider. Throw in ice cream or a slice of flourless chocolate cake for dessert and then I’m in heaven.
8. Things I don’t like: moths, filling up the car with gas, the ending of a book/movie/TV series being spoiled for me (HIMYM!!), beer, and any song by Pink (sorry, I just really don’t like her music).
9. Favorite TV shows include How I Met Your Mother, Dexter, Girls, Breaking Bad, Lost, Entourage, and Gilmore Girls. My guilty treadmill pleasures consist of Pretty Little Liars and Scandal.
10. And in case you didn’t notice from my lists above, I AM a fan of the oxford comma. :)
If you’re curious about anything else, feel free to ask! I’m looking forward to seeing the mentor’s decisions come September 3rd. Best of luck to all the other hopeful mentees!
It’s time for some news! I’m excited to announce that my short story V-Mail made the short list of ten stories for The Historical Novel Society’s Short Story Contest. The short story is actually an excerpt from a chapter of my first novel, Thicker Than Water, and it is about a college co-ed named Evelyn who writes to dozens of military men during WWII, looking for her next suitor. But when one of the men shows up in her small town expecting more than she wants to let herself believe, she must face the reality of the fantasy she’d been painting both for herself and for the men waiting for her words. It sounds like HNS may compile the short-listed stories into a e-book compilation for purchase–don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know when it’s available!
On other fronts, I’m still plugging away at novel #2 and enjoying my summer! More updates to come soon.
I was tagged in a Writing Process Blog Tour by my twitter pal Rebecca Paula, who writes historical romance and NA Romance. You can check out her post about her writing process here. Thanks, Becka! (And let’s all pretend that I’m not a full week behind schedule in posting this myself, k thanks!)
What are you currently working on?
I finished my first novel, Thicker Than Water, in December 2013. Which means by January 2, 2014 I was already itching for a new project! That new project is currently in Revision Land, and I’m hoping to finish the manuscript by the end of 2014 (which would equate to writing the book in one year!). Novel number two is historically-based literary fiction, and at the moment is unnamed (I’m terrible at titles). It’s a dual narrative about a little-known Chicago architect during the Progressive Era who struggles to make a name for himself among the greats of his time; and his on-again, off-again girlfriend, who is a transplant from rural Iowa and is running from a disturbing past into a scandalous future in high society Chicago.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m incredibly Type A, so you’d think that I would like putting my writing in a neat little box, and stamping it according to genre definitions. But I really, really dislike pigeon-holing my work in that regard. Over the past year or so, I’ve taken to calling what I write “Historical Fiction” but, given my MFA in fiction, I really hate to think I might be straying from the highly-regarded “Literary Fiction” genre. What that means is that I strive for my books to be written well, focus on developing my characters, and try to remain only somewhat concerned with plot. At the same time, these books are set in the past, with rich period details, which makes it easy to dub my work as historical. I also write strong female characters who are often struggling to figure out what they want and who they are, so my writing would also appeal to those who appreciate the “Women’s Fiction” category. I don’t think writing for several genres makes me particularly unique, but I suppose that this could make my work differ from stories that stick strictly to one genre in particular.
Why do I write what I write?
I don’t make up stories from scratch—rather, I hear glimpses of stories and mold them into richer, more complex narratives. My first book is a mix of family lore, characters of my own imagining, and a setting very much based on the small town from my childhood. My second book is a compilation of real, historical events that are set in the Chicago of old, with my original characters reacting to the events in the ways I see fit. My writing comes from two places: first, inspiration (when I’m originally planning for my story) and second, discipline (sitting down in my writing chair every morning at 6 a.m. despite whether I’m feeling inspired or not).
How does my individual writing process work?
For the most part, I work on one project at a time. This means I waited until my first book was 95% complete before starting book number two (and at the time, I thought the book was 100% complete, but a few months away from the project gave me some insight).
When writing my first draft, I write by hand. Yes, using actual paper with an actual pen. Often I’ll have an idea of the sort of thing that needs to happen in the scene (i.e., my main character should attempt to find a solution to her lack of monetary funds and fail) but I don’t like planning my plot points too carefully. I like to write in a slow, exploratory manner.
Then, when it’s time to transcribe those words from page to computer screen, I’m already at a pseudo second draft. I do a little minor editing at this point, but try to remain pretty true to what I wrote by hand. I liken my handwriting words to that old advice you always received when it came time to take a standardized test: your first instinct is often your best answer.
Then comes revision. Currently, I’m in this stage for book number two. What revision means to me is printing what I wrote for draft one and making my own comments on what’s missing and using feedback from beta readers to then sit down and do more “re-seeing” of the scene with my pen and paper. I weave in the new stuff and take out the old as needed.
Last, but not least, I read everything out loud to my husband. He’s not a big reader, so he’s actually pretty discriminatory when it comes to random things (like character names, odd metaphors, lulls in the story, etc.). Reading aloud helps me catch any repetitive words or phrases and also helps me figure out where the language could be heightened. I made edits based on those notes, and then I’m ready for my final readers. These are people who can give me large picture comments about the storyline, pacing, etc. I generally like to choose people who are readers rather than writers for feedback at this point, because I am mostly finished making sentence-level changes. This might be when I decide to cut a chapter or reorder scenes.
After that, I like to say that I’m DONE. Of course, DONE can mean a lot of things, but for my purposes it means I’m not allowed to mess around with it any more. It means it’s time to starting thinking about how I’m going to get the book out into the world, and time to brainstorm my next project.
… whew! That was a lot of information, but I hope you found it interesting and helpful! And now for the tagging of two other authors who will share their writing process posts within the next week (or so). Drumroll, please….
Melissa Marino: Melissa is a full-time writer with a focus on contemporary adult and young adult novels. She loves to tell relatable stories, with a splash of humor and is a total sucker for love. She can often be found huddled in the corner of her favorite coffee shop writing, or at Story Studio, Chicago’s premier writing studio. She lives just outside Chicago with her husband, and nine year old son. When she’s not writing she’s reading, baking or on adventures with her boys. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Adam Morgan: Adam Morgan is an author, writing professor, award-winning screenwriter, and book critic in Charlotte. He has a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction and Screenwriting, and has taught undergraduate and graduate students at Roosevelt University and Montreat College as a teaching assistant and faculty member. He is currently working on his first novel, THE HIDDEN CITY. His diverse portfolio includes a book about Chicago’s natural and human history, a television script in development at Fox, and contributions to all three major publishing magazines. He is also a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle. Poets & Writers Magazine named him one of three distinguished graduates of Roosevelt University’s MFA program. When he’s not writing, Adam is an outdoors enthusiast, and has hiked the Appalachians, Rockies, Sierra Nevada, Cascades, the Caribbean, and twelve national parks. Follow him on twitter @earthmorgan, and click here to see his writing portfolio.
Chicago’s Green Mill Jazz Club
I have some exciting news to share: as of Monday, June 16th, I have officially completed the first draft of my second novel! That means I’m a whopping 2 weeks ahead of schedule! (Which also means I’m in the middle of taking a much-needed 2-week break from novel #2.)
It took a total of 136 days and 65,000 words. I woke up at 5:30 – 6:00 a.m. at least 3 times each week from January through June to steal an hour of writing in before work, wrote during countless work lunch breaks, and on the evenings and weekends. I carted my husband all over the Chicago area for research purposes (see photo above and/or my Instagram account) and stole away to coffee shops while visiting family out of town to keep the momentum moving.
And I might be crazy, but I’m already missing my characters and their quirks and issues. Each morning, I’ve woken up wondering is it July yet? because I want to dive right in to draft two. I suppose it’s a good problem to have!
Until then, I’m counting down the days until July (–seven!).
P.S. Learn more about my work-in-progress (novel #2) here.
“What’s that you say?”
#MissFrankie the Boston Terrier just heard we have a big to-do list around these parts this weekend.
Writing, editing, synopsizing. As Lawrence Kasdan has said: Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.
And every weekend, too.
Happy writing (and to-do-list-conquering),
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
This was one of those my-husband-is-purusing-Costco’s-wine-selection-so-I’ll-look-at-the-books purchases. You know the kind, right? I was intrigued by the book as it is historical fiction, and because the secondary character in the story is based on a real-life actress, Louise Brooks.
In The Chaperone, conservative, mid-30s Cora agrees to accompany 15-year-old, budding actress Louise to New York City during the mid-1920s. It is an unusual pairing from the start, and the animosity between the two border on humorous–especially when Louise goes out of her way to make Cora feel uncomfortable. However, as the story progresses the reader learns about some not-so-conservative parts of Cora’s past, and this really drives the story as she comes to terms with her relationship with Louise–in addition to others in her life.
The character development of Cora in this book is well-done and, in my opinion, is what keeps the storyline moving forward. In addition, Moriarty does a nice job balancing plot and historical details so that neither seem to be the main emphasis of the book, but rather a nice mixture of the two. I would definitely recommend this to anyone else who like historical fiction–and even those who don’t.
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockamole
Back in 2010, I shared that I don’t prefer books written in the form of letters, and while I haven’t changed my mind about that entirely, I did find myself reading another letters-as-book story about a year ago. I was intrigued by the premise–the story is centered around the letters of a daughter to her enlisted beau in the 1940s, and the when the daughter discovers her mother’s own love letters from 30 years earlier, she learns more about her past–and her mother, herself–than she ever expected.
Because of the format of this book, it was a relatively quick and easy read. I do feel as if something from the experience goes missing when the reader is only able to envision characters based on words that the characters themselves write. How can the reader know, then, if the character is reliable? How perceptive the character is of his or her own actions? But, the one thing that this format does seem to lend to the story is a sense of mystery in an otherwise not mysterious book. The thing about reading a book of collected letters is that there is always something left unsaid–something that the reader does not, and cannot know. At least until the character knows it and writes about it, that is. The mystery comes from the characters unfolding slower than they might in a traditional novel, and I think this is what keeps a reader engaged in the story when it is in this format.
All in all, this was an interesting read, and I enjoyed the mother-daughter relationship that unfolded throughout the book. Not to mention, now I want to visit Scotland after reading this.
The Paris Wife by Paula McClain
This is my favorite book that I’ve read in the past few years. A hefty claim, I know! In The Paris Wife, McClain (who holds a MFA from the University of Michigan!) balances perfectly her beautiful prose with a rich, historical setting and a plot that is fully-formed and character-driven. When I finished reading this book, I found myself wishing that I had written it. Not in a jealous way, but rather in an inspired and awed way.
The story is loosely based on Ernest Hemingway‘s first wife, Hadley, and their relationships ups and downs while the great writer makes a name for himself. The book takes place in Chicago and Paris and Spain in the 1920s, and the picture McClain paints of the great writers of the gilded age (Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald) made me wish I was writing in that place and time rather than today. As Hemingway rises to literary fame and success, Hadley–and the reader–must question the pair’s coupling, and whether they can ultimately make it together.
This is one of those books that I recommend generously and at length to anyone looking for a great read. And for any writers out there struggling to “choose” between a more literary writing style and a mainstream, plot-centered one, The Paris Wife can convince you that you don’t need to choose–it is possible to have both.
Happy reading (and writing!),
Note: This is part 2 of a 2-part blog post outlining my “Novel in a Year” project. You can find part 1 here.
The Second Draft: July through December
If everything goes well, by the time Independence Day rolls around this year, I’ll be completed with the first draft of novel #2, and will be ready to move into the revision process. I anticipate the book will finish up with a total of 16 or 17 chapters, which makes the July through December goals a little easy to describe than my first-draft goals.
My goal for July through December will be to completely edit (this could be adding historical information, removing extraneous content, adding character development or plot points, and tightening up prose) one chapter every ten days. Sure, some chapters might need a little extra help than others (obviously the first 1-2 chapters and the last chapter are extra important) but I anticipate that it should be pretty even, otherwise. Much of the time spent in the latter half of 2014 will likely be researching the time period and making sure my characters are fully-formed. I’m sure there will be plenty of posts in the future about revision and the like!
And that, my friends, is my goal for the second draft. If all goes according to plan, I should be checking back in eight months’ time (don’t worry–you’ll hear from me before then, of course) with a mostly-completed novel (I’ll still need feedback from my critique partners, etc.).
What do you think? Am I crazy? Can I do it?
Happy writing (and goal-meeting!),
You probably noticed that, until a few weeks ago, things have been pretty quiet around these parts. I think that this and this post help explain my absence. But just so you know–just because I haven’t posted on book reviews for over a year doesn’t mean that I haven’t read a book since then. Quite the contrary, actually. That said, I’m going to be posting handfuls of book reviews here over the next few months to try to get up-to-date. Some of these I read more than a year ago; others, just a month or two ago. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read any of these yourself!
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I had heard a bit of buzz about this book, and once I heard it was being made into a movie, I knew that I had to read it first. It is my opinion that seeing a visual representation of a character before reading about the character ruins the entire experience. One of the best parts about reading a book is realizing the characters in your own head—their features, their expressions, even their height and build. If I were to reread the Harry Potter series now, after seeing all of the movies numerous times, there’s no way that I could envision Harry as anyone other than Daniel Radcliffe… you get the point.
From the very beginning, I was intrigued by this story. The tale of a young orphan girl who likes to steal books, it’s set in WWII Germany, and narrated by a unique character—a personified version of Death. The story itself was lovely; the characters were rich and fully-formed. The plot was intriguing, though I will admit that I found myself thinking on more than one occasion that the book did not need to be as long as it was. There were certainly parts that could have been cut to keep the plot moving along at a slightly faster clip.
Growing up, I read dozens of stories about the Holocaust (Number the Stars, The Upstairs Room, I Have Lived a Thousand Years, just to name a few) and, in my opinion, The Book Thief was a more uniquely-written version of those.
Have you read The Book Thief? if so, what did you think? Or perhaps you’ve seen the movie?
The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene
This book was a quick read from the fall of 2013 (I think I started and finished it in two days’ time, which is always a welcomed turnaround for this busy gal). I can’t quite remember why I picked up this book, but possibly because I’m connected with a large number of YA writers on Twitter, and so I often hear about fabulous YA books. As of late, I’ve been hearing about Eleanor & Park, which has been officially added to my Amazon “Wish List.”
This story is about a quirky and smart teenage girl, Hazel, who is dying of cancer. She meets an equally quirky/smart AND good-looking teenager at a cancer support group meeting, and the book follows their romance. They also embark on a journey to meet the author of Hazel’s favorite novel, which is a realistic yet well-imagined story.
One of my favorite things about this story was that Greene doesn’t shy away from tough themes—fears about dying, contemplations about afterlife, real love, and hard losses. The Fault in Our Stars faces the tough issues that many YA novels shy away from—and many adult novels as well.
Also—like The Book Thief, this story will be coming out on the big screen soon. Have you caught the trailer yet?
Happy reading (and writing, of course),
Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part blog post outlining my “Novel in a Year” project
The First Draft: January through June
As I mentioned previously, I’m working on an exciting new project—and I have lofty goals for completing it. Below, I’ve outlined my goals for what I’ve dubbed my “Novel in a Year” project. (Keep in mind that these are just projections and planning, but thus far (4 full months in!) I’ve been successful!
Overall, my goal is to write 10k words each month from January – June, which will give me the first draft of the book by July 1 (60k words total). Now, I anticipate the book will finish up at closer to 80-90k words (THICKER THAN WATER came in at a whopping 95k), but I want to leave room for growth in my second draft pass.
My 10k words/month goal breaks down like this:
- Week 1: 3k words (roughly 1 chapter). Generally I can complete this with 6 writing sessions (I often try to squeeze two session into one day (before work and at lunch) early in the week
- Week 2: 3k words (roughly 1 chapter)
- Week 3: 3k words (roughly 1 chapter)
- Week 4: Loosely edit previously 9k words/3 chapters. This isn’t a comprehensive pass, but mostly connecting scenes, adding details, and implementing chapter arch. Generally, this adds 1-3k to my word count, leaving me with 10-12k for the month
So far, I’ve successfully hit my 10k words/month goal for the past 4 months, totaling 43k words to date. With two more month of this, I *should* be finished with draft one by July 1!
Stay tuned for my next post—I’ll be sharing my vision for the July – December portion of my “Novel in a Year” project with you.
Cheers (and happy writing),
P.S. Like the picture above? Follow my Instagram feed for more images from my writing adventures! (And other adventures, too.)