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Posts from the ‘first novel’ Category

4 years of writing, publishing…and life!

path of the thunderbird

4 years, 2 months, and 25 days! That’s how long it’s been since I’ve posted. Bet you thought I’d given up on writing. There were several times when I thought I’d given up on it, too. And then there were the times that I put my nose down and just did the work. So much life has happened. No apologies. No excuses. Just life…and writing…and not writing…and more writing…and publishing…and more writing!

Here are the highlights. In that last four years, I…

  • turned 40 years old!
  • moved to a new house;
  • took six months off from writing to throw myself into volunteering at my sons’ school;
  • stopped writing my freelance column for the newspaper because…
  • signed a book contract for a Middle Grade book;
  • co-wrote that book—Path of the Thunderbird (more on that in a minute);
  • became a published fiction writer;
  • went back to work full-ish time for 18 months, and then cut back to part time because…
  • spent a year touring elementary schools teaching students about writing and about Grand Canyon National Park;
  • was the keynote speaker at a writing conference for students in grades K-5;
  • was a finalist in the Juvenile category of the Colorado Book Award;
  • went into a second printing on the book;
  • earned out my advance!
  • and, dove back into writing—tentatively at first and then with renewed enthusiasm.

That’s the short version of the last four years. About a week ago, I felt this overwhelming urge to start blogging again. No promises on how often, but I missed having this space to write about writing—mine and other people’s. So, here I am!

I’ll publish a longer post about the adventure of writing Path of the Thunderbird from idea to publication and all the steps and missteps along the way. For now, I’ll say two things about it:

  • It was a dream come true for me, and I consider myself even luckier because my co-writer was my mom, Pat Toole. Pat is a tireless researcher, an unmatched plotter, and a prolific writer in her own right. It was the chance of a lifetime to share the experience with her.
  • If you like Middle Grade adventures, love the National Park Service, or both, please consider purchasing a copy of the book. Here’s a link. Lord knows the NPS can use all of our support right now. The publisher of Thunderbird was Grand Canyon Conservancy, the official nonprofit partner of Grand Canyon National Park. GCC raises private funds, operates retail shops within the park, and provides premier guided educational programs about the natural and cultural history of the region. GCC supporters fund projects including trails and historic building preservation, educational programs for the public, and the protection of wildlife and their natural habitat. A portion of the sales of Path of the Thunderbird directly support GCC and Grand Canyon National Park.

That’s it for now. Tune in tomorrow when I launch a writing prompt series I’ve been cooking up. As I’ve jumped back into writing regularly, I look for things to get my synapses firing. After searching for prompts that work for me, I decided to create my own. Then I thought, “Why not share these with other writers.” Happy writing!!

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014

A lot has happened since I started this blog back in 2011.  It was just about this time of year, and it was this post (Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2011) that launched it all. It seems that every 2-3 years is the magic number for me because I’m gearing up for a third NaNoWriMo this year.

Let me catch you up on my writing life before and after NaNo 2011. I “won” NaNoWriMo in 2009 with 51,000+ words and promptly threw the virtual manuscript in a virtual drawer.  Then in 2011, I tried again with a historical fiction novel.  I still love that novel’s concept, but it was a slog to make it to 8,589 words that year. Needless to say, the novel was abandoned and lies like Frankenstein hoping one day to be shocked back to life. In 2013, I began reworking the 2009 NaNo project–this time with first-person narration. Let’s call this project, Project A. The new point of view really worked for me, and I pitched the first page at a writers’ conference page reading session.  What happened?  The agent was enthusiastic about my writing and asked for 50 pages at our private pitch session the next day.  She also asked about any other projects I had in the works. I pitched another idea off the top of my head. Let’s call that Project B. The agent gave me her card and asked for 50 pages of Project B, also.

Here is the problem… the hide-my-face-in-the-sand problem that I am almost too embarrassed to admit.  Although Project A was going well, prior to pitching I had only rewritten approximately 25 pages of the book.  Project B was an idea… in my head!  No words on paper, no character names. Nothing more than an idea. But I pitched it anyway.  Don’t ask for what you can’t handle.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I couldn’t handle the pressure.  What was I thinking? I came home from the conference and frantically worked to rewrite 50 pages of Project A while frantically working to create 50 pages of Project B and an entire synopsis for this book.  What happened?  I never sent either to the agent.  Chalk it up to putting the cart before the horse and a hard lesson learned. I still have the agent’s card sitting in my office as a reminder to NEVER PITCH A PROJECT THAT ISN’T FINISHED.

There it is–my dirty little secret I’ve been stewing about for quite some time.  Meanwhile, fiction writing went on hold (yet again) as I took on even more writing projects for work, and I took on even more volunteer opportunities at my boys’ school. I did have one more foray into the fiction world in the fall of 2013. After the impromptu pitch, Project B, although it wasn’t close to finished, took flight in my head.  I wrote almost 100 pages, polished up the first 10 pages, and submitted them to a writing contest last fall.  Although I didn’t win the contest, I did have some very helpful comments back from the judges. I was pleased with the new experience (submitting to a contest) and lots of great advice from the judging responses. Another notch carved in my fiction writing bedpost.

Then out of the blue in April, I got an email from one the contest organizers. I will quote the email correspondences below because although they may not seem like much to most people, these are the emails that keep me going when I think about throwing in the fiction towel.

Email #1:

“Hello Sara,

Below is a message I wanted to pass along from one of your contest judges.”
The Message from the contest judge:

“I judged this submission, and would love to talk to the author about his or her work a little more. It’s a story that stuck with me. If he/she is open to that, can you pass on my information and have the writer email me?” [NOTE: She says his or her because the contest is blind judged so she didn’t know anything about me except the name of my manuscript.]
Am I open to that? Heck yeah! I did a little research and discovered that the judge is a published author whose name I actually knew. So, I emailed her. She was really nice and very encouraging.  Here’s a snippet of her note:

Author’s Note:

“I mostly just wanted to say that I looked for your manuscript on the winners’ list and hoped you’d place in the contest. Contests are so subjective and I know I felt crushed after a few, so I just wanted to tell you that your voice and writing were strong and that I like to think I know a little something about the biz. Is your manuscript complete? And have you started querying it? I wish you the best with it and any other writing you do! :)”

 

Let’s put this in perspective. I am fully aware that agents ask for sample pages more frequently at writers’ conferences than they do from the unsolicited slush pile.  Even though I was dancing a jig when the agent asked for pages from two projects, I know that this isn’t an uncommon occurrence.  I am also aware that nice words and compliments from one judge do not get a manuscript finished, let alone published.  (No, it’s still not finished!) HOWEVER, it’s the little things that keep you going when you are new to fiction writing.  So, these little things are what keep me going. Thus the reason that I am using NaNoWriMo 2014 as an excuse to take the plunge back into fiction. During the hiatus, the characters and stories haven’t stopped pestering me, I just did a better job of keeping them locked in my brain.  November is the time to let them out again and FINALLY FINISH A DARN BOOK.

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night…

el doctorow

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5 Debut Novels on My List for February

It’s time to get your Goodreads accounts pulled up.  Here are five debut novels you’ll want to add to your February “to-read” list.  Enjoy!

A Good American by Alex George

An uplifting novel about the families we create and the places we call home.

It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead (“What’s the difference? They’re both new“), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together.

Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf.

A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette’s grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors’ story, comes to realize he doesn’t know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James’s family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American. And, in the process, Frederick and Jette’s progeny sometimes discover more about themselves than they had bargained for.

Poignant, funny, and heartbreaking, A Good American is a novel about being an outsider-in your country, in your hometown, and sometimes even in your own family. It is a universal story about our search for home.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse. August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels. Age level = 8 and up.

The Golden Hour by Margaret Wurtele

In this stunning debut set in the summer of 1944 in Tuscany, Giovanna Bellini, the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat and vineyard owner, has just turned seventeen and is on the cusp of adulthood. War bears down on her peaceful little village after the Italians sign a separate peace with the Allies-transforming the Germans into an occupying army.

But when her brother joins the Resistance, he asks Giovanna to hide a badly wounded fighter who is Jewish. As she nurses him back to health, she falls helplessly in love with the brave and humble Marco, who comes from as ancient and noble an Italian family as she does. They pledge their love, and then must fight a real battle against the Nazis who become more desperate and cruel as the Allies close in on them…

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

The Darlings by Cristina Alger

Now that he’s married to Merrill Darling, daughter of billionaire financier Carter Darling, attorney Paul Ross has grown accustomed to New York society and all of its luxuries: a Park Avenue apartment, weekends in the Hamptons, bespoke suits. When Paul loses his job, Carter offers him the chance to head the legal team at his hedge fund. Thrilled with his good fortune in the midst of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression, Paul accepts the position.

But Paul’s luck is about to shift: a tragic event catapults the Darling family into the media spotlight, a regulatory investigation, and a red-hot scandal with enormous implications for everyone involved. Suddenly, Paul must decide where his loyalties lie-will he save himself while betraying his wife and in-laws or protect the family business at all costs?

Cristina Alger’s glittering debut novel interweaves the narratives of the Darling family, two eager SEC attorneys, and a team of journalists all racing to uncover-or cover up-the truth. With echoes of a fictional Too Big to Fail and the novels of Dominick Dunne, The Darlings offers an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society-a world seldom seen by outsiders-and a fast-paced thriller of epic proportions.

Happy reading and happy writing!

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When to dig up that dusty, old manuscript… and when to let it die

Sunrise at my house yesterday – Beautiful!

On Monday, I mentioned that one of my writing goals for 2012 is to resuscitate Sliver of Souls. Sliver of Souls (SOS) was my 2009 NaNoWriMo project that I threw into a drawer promptly upon finishing it.  Here are the misguided reasons why:

  1. No one sells their first novel. SOS was my first completed novel, and who gets their first novel published?  I believed it was a training-ground – the perfect experiment in discipline and long-fiction writing so that I could dip my toes into the world of novels. I figured I would write a few more to build my skills and then try to sell my second or third novel.
  2. The subject matter doesn’t fit my personality.  SOS could be called a paranormal romance.  No ghosts or vampires, but it tells the story of Maggie, a girl who believes she’s displaying early signs of long-term schizophrenia, but is actually experiencing visions from her past lives.  I’ve always wanted to write literary fiction or historical fiction or historical literary fiction, but never dreamed of writing paranormal fiction, let alone a paranormal romance about a 19-year-old girl.
  3. I’m not a YA author. How would I spin it? Young Adult? Paranormal? YA Paranormal? I never set out to write a YA novel, and technically SOS doesn’t have to fit into this category.  However, the age of the protagonist and the “coming of age” themes that are woven throughout certainly lend themselves to this genre. To be clear, I love YA fiction, I just never thought of myself as a YA author.
  4. It’s too complicated.  It’s too cliche.  Every writer fights this fear.  It’s that damn internal editor again.  Of course it’s cliche.  It’s a first draft!  Three-quarters of the content in first drafts is cliche drivel that is cut and reworked into something more original. And, yes it’s complicated, but the ideas were clear in my mind when I set out to write it.  So with some massive revisions, couldn’t it be reworked to make the ideas more clear.

Now let me dispel those misguided myths and fill you in on the reasons that SOS has been pulled out of the vault:

  1. Lots of people have sold the first novel they ever wrote. Google “authors who sold the first novel they wrote” and you can read multiple success stories.  Take The Help by Kathryn Stockett as an example.  It was the first novel she ever wrote and she banged on doors, sent out queries and revised until she was blue in the face. Look at the success that book has had.
  2. Maybe I’m not giving my personality enough credit.  During the four busy and tenuous weeks of 2011’s NaNoWriMo, I thought back to 2009.  It should be said that I cleared the decks for my novel project in 2009, and this year I was juggling multiple projects. However, SOS came easy to me back in 2009.  I was excited to sit down every night and write.  Maggie and her band of present-life and past-life cohorts flew onto the page.  In 2011, I was excited about Ivy and her quirky mother Delilah, but it was much more like a dental extraction to get them out of my brain and onto the page.  I chalked it up to the challenge of writing about events that occurred 25 years before I was born.  But, there may be more to it than that.  I woke up a week ago with a whisper in my brain, “Maybe writing SOS was easier for a reason.” Maybe I shouldn’t pigeon hole myself as a literary/historical fiction writer.  Who says I can’t or shouldn’t write a paranormal romance? Stranger things have happened.
  3. I’m not a published fiction author – so who am I to say that I’m not a YA author? I’m a published non-fiction writer, but this fiction thing is new to me.  So again, why should I limit myself in the fiction world before I’m even out of the gate?  Maybe YA is my niche and I didn’t even know it.  I had a realization a few months ago that the majority of my fictional protagonists are females between the ages of 16 and 20. I currently have six fiction projects either on paper, in notes or swimming in my brain.  Four of the six protagonists fit into that 16-19 year old category.  Hmmm… maybe there’s something to this YA genre after all.
  4. Revision can solve many problems.  Maybe the story is too complicated – right now.  Maybe parts of it are a little cliche – right now.  But SOS also has some gems hidden amongst the blather. As much as revision terrifies me (such an overwhelming project), I also love it.  There is nothing better than pulling out my red Uniball fine-point pen and my stack of Post-it notes and getting to work tearing apart a manuscript and putting it back together.  I love the fact that I get as many chances as I want to get it right.   In the case of Sliver of Souls, I think it’s time to take advantage of those second chances.

What about you? Have you ever revived a retired project? Do you struggle with defining your perfect writing genre?

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