Wednesday, May 22, 2013

100 Writers Project: A Sigh of Relief

Introducing Heather McCoubrey!

I've always been a reader and a writer.  My father worked in construction, so we moved around quite a bit when I was a child.  I was always the new kid, it seemed, so I escaped into stories.  In middle school, I took a few creative writing classes, and fell in love with creating my own stories.  Throughout the rest of school, I wrote short stories and poems.  I wrote my first novel, Emily's Choice, as a senior in high school.  Writing for me has always been my creative outlet.  Emily's Choice has gone through several drafts but it never seems to work exactly how I want it to, so it sits on the back burner.  I work on it every so often to see if I can make it work, but it's frustrating for me when I have to put it aside.  I've started several different stories throughout the years and I work on each of them sporadically.  When I get "blocked" on one, I move to a different one, back and forth - these are kind of my in-between projects.  I work on them when I don't have a major story fighting for attention.

A friend of mine is also a writer and he and I share our stories with each other.  I'd been playing around with my writing for years, participating in free contests and dreaming big dreams.  In 2011 he suggested, for the third time, that I participate in NaNoWriMo.  He'd participated for 2 years prior and thought it would be something good for me.  Thinking that this would be a good opportunity to get Emily's Choice rewritten again and maybe even published, I asked him if I could do that.  He said No, had to be a new idea.  That was the point of NaNoWriMo.  So in between life, school, kids, husband and my mom visiting for Thanksgiving - I managed to put down 21.5k words that month.  It was hard to concentrate on one story for a whole month.  I had no outline, no character descriptions, nothing but a vague idea of what I wanted the story to be about.   Once November 2011 was over, I put it away and got busy with life again.  Christmas came and went, 2012 rolled in and I picked it up again in February.  I worked out some of the back story, some character development and I wrote a few more chapters.  Then, letting it go so that it could germinate in my mind, I picked up a new project.

When November came back around in 2012, I became a NaNoRebel and I finished To Love Twice.  It was quite a feeling to have a novel finished, one that I could actually see publishing!  I sent it off to my writer friend, and a couple of other people.  I asked them to read it and to get back to me with a critique.  Everyone loved it and three came back with ideas and ways to improve.  I implemented some of the ideas and went through it myself with a fine tooth comb.  By the beginning of March, I felt the book was ready to be published.  I bought a picture that I felt enhanced the story and created my book cover.  And then on 3/19/13, I uploaded the entire thing to Amazon Kindle and blew out a sigh of relief.

I currently live in PA with my husband, two children and our chihauhau, Rex.  I'm a SAHM who does event planning on the side when the opportunity arises.  When I'm not providing a taxi service to my children, I can be found at the local Panera or Eat'n Park or hiding down in the basement at my desk - working on my next novel.

Twitter: @h_mccoubrey

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

100 Writers Project: Castle in the Swamp

Introducing Tia Kalla!                                                      
So, you remember that scene in Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail regarding the king who was dead set on building a castle in the swamp?  For the zero of you that haven't seen it, BEHOLD VIDEO EVIDENCE.  0:22 - 0:47 is the relevant part:

That castle that keeps sinking into the swamp?  Is my novel.

Close to fifteen years ago, my first novel started with a dream.  A dream involving what would be my main characters as the villains against a cast from a show I happened to be fangirling.  Being an impulsive fanficcer at the time, I began writing what was the longest project I'd ever attempted at the time.  Most of my works were short stories or one-two chapters of unfinished mess.  It was ambitious.  It was complex.  It was... a mess.  It was grammatically correct and sort of made sense, which I suppose makes it mediocre rather than outright horrific, but it was full of cliches, had a very rough writing style, and just didn't lead to a sensible plot (because even I didn't know where it was going.) Nonetheless, I made it to eight chapters, plus 20,000 words of prequel involving my own characters, which was the longest thing I'd ever written.  And then, when I graduated high school and went to college, I stopped writing.

My novel sank into the swamp.

It wasn't until five years later that I heard about this little thing called the National Novel Writing Month, And decided to give it a try.  At that point, the characters that I had almost forgotten about made their presence known in the back of our mind.  "Forget those fanfic characters," they whispered.  "We're the real main characters.  You want to write about us."  What?  These old characters from my fanfic days now wanted me to write that fanfic with them as the stars?  And yet... that story kept gnawing at the back of my mind, taking the basis of that original plot and making it not suck.  This was no longer a fanfic, but an original story in its own right.  This time, I managed 50,000 words inside of a month, failed to make it to the actual central plot, and fell over from exhaustion.

That novel also sank into the swamp.

This time, though, it wasn't forgotten.  I spent the next three years writing other novels, most of which were shoved into a drawer afterwards, a few of which were earmarked for further drafts.  I learned how to structure a novel and how to finish one.  I learned better prose, better formatting, and better characters.  I learned how to sit down and actually write, and write in volume.  And three years later, I felt ready to try again.  This time, the plot fell into place, the subplots fell into place, the side characters all shone... and the narrator character turned out to be completely worthless.

That novel caught on fire, fell over, and sank into the swamp.

But this time, I was okay with that.  This novel, I knew, had fully sunk its claws into me, and during the drafting my thoughts had shifted from "I can't quit you, novel" to "Never give up, never surrender!"  There were characters here.  There was story here.  There was a whole world that continued to be worked on and developed even when I wasn't writing the story.  There were sequel plotlines that began nibbling on the back burners, waiting their turn.  I couldn't quit here.  This time, I was close.

So five years after draft three, I tried again.  I took the nuggets of amazing from the last draft and worked them in, cleared up my POVs, and made the subplots even tighter than ever before.  I cut out close to 30k of...well, something from the previous draft.  I had a narrator who meant something to the story.  I am still having problems with the beginning, but I'm not worried, because everything else in the story has been overcome, and I now know how to tackle these problems.  Once the lead-in has been hacked out, this story will be ready to make the next step into the great unknown of editing and eventual publishing.

The fourth one stayed up.  And that's what you'll get, lad.

Tia (if that's her REAL name) is a thirty-something office slave living on the far outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia.  She lives with a cat, a roommate, and a heck of a lot of plants.  Primarily a fantasy writer, she claims to be enrolled in the remedial "million words is practice" course and has her fingers in far too many novels. She is short, may or may not be a ninja, and is most assuredly evil.

Follow her on Twitter or check out her blog In This Topic

Monday, May 13, 2013

100 Writers Project EXTRA: My first book (without pictures)

Because we want the 100 Writers Project to be inclusive, we've decided to include occasional "extras." At it's core, the 100 Writers Project is about first-time novelists, but some writers are already on their second or  third books. Some writers are published. And we want everyone to feel included and welcome in the 100 Writers community. In that spirit, we'd like to introduce Ken Magee!

I began writing seriously when I was in my late teens. That’s when I started a story called Dark Tidings, but then there was a long gap while I got a job and earned a living. All through that period, I got a recurring niggle which told me that someday I’d have to finish the book, partly just to prove to myself that I could do it.

In 2010, I decided that the time had come to get the book that was in me out. I tried to write every day, but that proved to be too difficult a discipline for me to follow. I’ve always been a bit of a lazy sort of guy, unless I’m under pressure e.g. if I have a deadline to meet. That meant that the best way to get the book finished was to pile on some pressure.

I think I also wanted some validation… was the story any good, was my writing style and ability up to scratch? I decided that I’d start looking for an agent or publisher, and if someone was interested then I’d have no choice other than to complete Dark Tidings.

I researched who’s who in my genre very carefully, Dark Tidings is a funny fantasy which lives under the tagline ‘ancient magic meets the Internet’. I knew there was no point in sending my fantasy to someone who only published romance or children’s books. Also, it was important to check that they were currently taking submissions and the only way to do that was by visiting their websites. They gave the very latest information, unlike listings in books, which get out of date very quickly. The websites also set out exactly what was required in the submission e.g. format, length, hard copy/email. Most of them seemed to want the first three chapters plus a synopsis of the whole story.

I compiled a list of potential agents and publishers. Then I set about editing, refining and polishing the first three chapters. In parallel, I wrote the story synopsis (which forced me to think through the complete story in more detail than I had previously). When I was happy with my work, I started submitting it to my list.

Then I waited, and waited. I used the time to further refine the three chapters and the synopsis. I’d decided not to have more than four submissions out at any one time, so when a rejection arrived, I sent out another enquiry. After seven standard rejection letters, I struck lucky with a small English publisher, Ragged Publishing.

They asked to see the completed manuscript. They wanted at least 90,000 words, but I’d only planned to do 50,000 so the pressure was really on.

As I said, I thrive under pressure and I found that, with someone pushing for the finished work, I was able to write all day, every day. The first draft was soon finished and I immediately passed it on to a professional proofreader/editor. I also worked on it in parallel searching out errors and improving the storyline. Between us, we got the job done and shipped the manuscript off to Ragged Cover... and they accepted it!

There was plenty more to do… design a cover, write the blurb, agree the contract etc., but that’s another story. Dark Tidings is now published and available in paperback, on the Kindle, Nook and Kobo. Here’s the Amazon link in case you’d like to check it out.

My name is Ken Magee and I’m an author. I live in Bangor, County Down. I worked for many years in the computer industry in a wide variety of roles including programming and sales. In the middle of it all, I served in the Royal Naval Reserve for five years... which was hard work, but fun. In 2010, I decided it was time to finish the book I’d started many years earlier (writing not reading). I would have finished it sooner, but life got in the way. The book’s now finished and published, but I don’t think any of the original story survived the process!
Follow him on Twitter

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

100 Writers Project: Kill Your Darlings!

Introducing Jesse Rebock!

About ten years ago (that'd put me in middle school, I suppose), I took up a pen and decided I'd write a story. After a hundred video games, books, and movies, how hard could it be, right? Heck I've been telling stories long before that - not that they were any good - but a novel, eh? Now there's a challenge.

Several revisions, a hundred epiphanies, and ten years later, I figured I'd finally gotten it down. It wasn't as though I'd spent all that time working solely on writing, but after picking up the hobby and deciding to make it a serious business, I edited and wrote and patched and fixed and edited again. I even attended the Writer's Digest Conference of 2013 and pitched my book idea at a multitude of agents, having garnered enough confidence from peers and anonymous critiquers alike.

But I came to a horrible realization. This book, the first of planned series of seven (maybe eight), was wrong.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing the story, got very involved with the characters, and especially loved piecing together the setting. I had written histories, bloodlines, even finished a rough-draft of book two. The characters and the world(s) in which they lived were as alive in my mind as a celebrity is to …well, to a normal person. I had gotten loads of positive response and praise until I spoke to one person who changed everything.

And all she did was ask me the simplest of questions, even after reading it herself. "What is the plot?"

I couldn't answer, and was horrified because of it.

I realized that this story, this "gateway" breakout novel, was little more than the ramblings of a teenager, without direction or meaning or subtext. Over the years, the story stuck with me, and I kept adding to it, eventually laying a plot line over the "journey" that I had spent years polishing. But said plot-line was not only sub-par, it was boring.

So lo and behold, I found myself in a position I would never have thought myself to see. Rewriting a book, yeah, that's feasible. Roll up the old sleeves and crack your knuckles, it's going to be a lot of work. But I had attended a Pitch Slam only weeks before, and was still waiting to hear back from the last of the agents. At this point, I'd heard from a few who'd read samples, and was rejected. But now, with the new-found realization that I not only needed to, but wanted to fix the novel, I actually felt relief in seeing the rejections.

After all, what if one of them actually said they liked it, and wanted to see more? I would have to turn them down. Turn THEM down.  Who ever heard of a first-time up-and-coming writer turning down the publishers?

So after a few days of contemplation (and they thought I was working at my day job! Ha~ha, nice try sucka!) I formed an idea. Scrapped it. Played with some other ideas. Something stuck. I'll skip this part - you all know how chaotic and subjective the creative process can be. Suffice it to say, I put my mind to the grindstone. Is that even a phrase? You know, put so much concentrated, prolonged mental effort that you work up an appetite despite lunch concluding fourteen minutes ago.

I did what I had dreaded - I went back to square one. The story was not scrapped entirely, for there is much that remains in it that I will salvage, but there's going to be some serious trimming and the addition of two story-lines coinciding with the original ­solo. I made a plan, I used spreadsheets, I jotted down ideas on Post-Its and transcribed them to digital later.

The short of it: I now have a plot (gasp), and by extension a better story. Gathered a bunch of proverbial phoenix downs after ritualistically slaying my books original premise, and without getting into details, well, I'm more emboldened and excited than ever.

I have taken up two new mantras as a direct result of this event in my writing career.

“Books aren't written - they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it.”
― Michael Crichton


“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
― Stephen King, On Writing

Fantasy Writer, Health Nut, Mango Slayer. I'm kind of a self-described audiophile and harbor a passion for trivia. I was born in Connecticut, raised in the Catskills of New York, and matured in New Jersey. I’ve traveled a little - been to Alaska and S. Korea - and hope to travel more in the future; life is an experience and I’m hoping to experience quite a lot. I have a degree in Fine Arts, have taught English as a
Second Language, and have a penchant for listing things in threes. Also really enjoy mythology and linguistics - often lacing my writings
with hidden meanings and dastardly names.

Favorite and/or Influential Books:  Shogun (James Clavell), Ravnica: City of Guilds Trilogy (Cory J. Herndon), Dune (Frank Herbert), Foundations (Isaac Asimov), The Hobbit (Yeah yeah…)

If you're interested in learning more about Jesse Rebock, follow him on Twitter, or check out his blogs, (more traditional blog posts) (Fantasy Writings for public viewing.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A New Light

Well, I'm nearing a sort of end with my first book. It still needs a bit of work, but it should be ready to send out to agents and beta readers any day now. So what's next?

Photo by xdante-stock

It turns out I have an opportunity to do something pretty exciting. I can't give too many details (top secret!), but it's going to be awesome. A best-selling writer friend of my has created what he calls an "open world." He's writing a novel set in this world, but he is also inviting fellow writers to create connected novellas. That's were I come in. I'm one of the lucky ones he's approached.

So while I didn't design the world, I will be writing a story of my own creation in my own style. And let me tell you, it's exciting. I love creating within a framework. It's a challenge. In many ways it's more difficult than creating everything from scratch. Conforming to set rules while maintaining my unique voice has always been something I enjoy. That's why I write sonnets or pontoums. It's hard and it's fun.

I'll give more details as I can and I hope all of my readers will support this project. I love the idea of having many authors involved in one world. Even with novellas, that will allow an in depth exploration of human experiences that can be hard to achieve with a single novel or a single writer.

Also, it's refreshing to work on something new. I love my novel, but I've been with it for over a year. I'm ready for a new challenge!