First draft of novel complete! How does this revision thing work?

Less than a week ago, I *finally* finished the first draft of my first complete novel. I’m still feeling a bit ecstatic and can’t quite believe it’s actually done–sort of like I felt those first few weeks of 2009 every time I heard the words “President Obama.” Clocking in at 466 pages (128,000 words), it’s easily the longest piece of writing I’ve ever completed–even including the theses for my undergrad and graduate degrees and several ridiculously long federal grant applications.

My fab writing group gave me their crits of the last chapter a few days ago, which, as always, had the perfect combination of kudos and helpful feedback for improvement. Soon I have to embark on revising the novel, a somewhat overwhelming prospect. At a cursory glance, some of the things I have to do include:

  • Consolidate two characters into one
  • Completely eliminate one character that I thought I’d need in the first 6 or 7 chapters, then realized I didn’t, at which point he abruptly disappeared
  • Make consistent the gender of a character who changed sex midway through the novel (but is neither transgender-identified nor belongs to an alien species for whom sex variation is a standard biological feature)
  • Fix various world-building details that only became clear later in the novel
  • Tighten and strengthen the Earth sub-plot
  • Tighten and strenghten the outer-space primary plot
  • Cut 10,000-25,000 words overall
  • Strengthen characterization, particularly for four key characters
  • Improve use of sensory detail throughout
  • Strengthen prose throughout

Other than that, though, it’s ready to go!

I will soon be reading a triptych of books on writing and revising to get some advice from the masters as I work my way through the revisions. (LeGuin, King, McCloud) Revising tips from my fellow writers are welcome – please feel free to share!

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World Con Countdown Plus Queer Spec Fic!

I’m writing in Brisbane, Australia, for my “Australia tour” in the lead-up to World Con next week.  Been visiting the fabulous Peter Ball and the inimitable Chris Lynch, hatching ideas for gonzo stories about puppet occupations and were-raves and the like. Can’t wait to be reunited with more Clarion South-mates in just a few short days!

Just before I left the States, I got my copy of Wilde Stories 2010, a lovely anthology of great gay speculative fiction from the past year.  My story, “Tio Gilberto and the 27 Ghosts” is included, as are some great stories by Rick Bowes, Laird Barron, Tanith Lee, and others.  Brit Mandelo gave it a lovely review over at tor.com.  And while you’re there, check out Brit’s series of posts on Queering SFF, which is chock-full of great reviews, interviews, and recommendations.

More posts to come … now back to writing…

2009 How it Went

In emulation of the inimitable Christopher Green, I thought I’d post some stats on how I did toward my writing goals in 2009.

I sent out 27 submissions this year.  Pretty modest compared to Mr. Green’s 75, but a personal best for me.  (In previous years I sent out no more than 20 subs.) The increase is mostly because I kept my New Year’s resolution to keep my completed stories in circulation. The rejections came in and I sent them back out – amazing how that helps to keep things rolling along!

I sold five stories – three new stories and two reprints.  Given that in 2007 and 2008, I sold, um, one story per year, this is definitely a record for me.  My acceptance rate was about 18% if you count the reprints, or 12% if you only count the new ones.  Either way, that’s ridiculously high for me considering my rate has been 0-5% up until now.  I think this is mostly because I had a streak of good luck, with several stories hitting the right markets at the right time.  I doubt I’ll be able to keep up that kind of streak in 2010. But, hey, very cool that I met my secret goal of selling five stories this year, even if I had to cheat a bit by counting reprints.

Of the stories I sold this year, on average they were rejected by 5.3 markets before they found a home.  There’s a widely quoted stat out there that the average story is rejected something like 20 times before it sells.  If that’s true (and it seems about right), 5.3 seems pretty good.  Either way, like Chris said, the clear lesson is not to be demoralized by a rejection or two.

In terms of actual writing, my goal was to finish five stories and I finished three.  I have a fourth one that’s close to done and another that I finished a draft of this year, so I was sort of close on this one. I had also hoped to finish the first half of my novel, and finished maybe a quarter of it.  All in all I’m not going quite as fast as I’d like, but I’m definitely doing slow but steady productivity, which I feel pretty good about considering what a hectic year it was and that my day job demands way more than 40 hours a week. 

Just to finish the rundown of how I did on my New Year’s resolutions:

  • Reading on subway: I kept this one, mostly, and did a lot more reading this year than last year. My unwritten goal was to read three books per month, and I came pretty close to that – it looks like I’ll be at about 34 books at the end of the year. 
  • Blog posting: My goal was 100 blog posts, and it looks like I’ll hit 54 or so.  Very hard to do any blogging when things get intense at work, and then so often when I do have free time I think I should be writing fiction instead of blogging.  I may just have to accept that I’m not going to be a super-active blogger any time soon.
  • Swimming: Totally flunked this one.  Really do need to get back to it, though – hopefully in 2010…

So all in all, of seven 2009 goals, I largely hit three, made decent progress on a couple others, and totally missed two.  Not too bad all in all…

More 2009 wrap-up and 2010 goals soon to come!

Agatha Christie Oh How You Make Me Angry

OK, so I just finished reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and it made me oh-so-angry.  (In case either of the two other people who still haven’t read this 100-million-copy-selling book happen to be reading, I’ll try to leave this spoiler free.)

Simply put, no writer should be allowed to get away with writing a mystery in which you narrate from the internal point of view of all the characters and yet still manage to surprise the reader as to who the culprit is.  It’s clearly cheating!  And, yet, you go back and re-read the parts that made you think what you thought, and then you realize, oh, that’s how she did it, it actually wasn’t cheating after all, and then that only makes you angrier…

The technique that she seems to use again and again, to such great effect, is deflection. She puts the answer right in front of you, but arranges such a carnival all around it that you assume that can’t possibly be the answer, until, oh wait, it is.  Which makes the conclusion as superbly satisfying as it is frustrating.  Curse you, Agatha!  And please teach me how you do what you do.

(Side note: there are also all sorts of things going on in the book around race, class and gender – some of which is conscious and much of which probably is not, but that could be a whole dissertation unto itself.)

Garth Nix is the Master

sabriel coverJust finished Sabriel by Garth Nix.  I’ve read a lot of good young adult fantasy in the past year or so, but this is definitely one of the best.  The story follows Sabriel, the young daughter of the Abhorsen, a special kind of wizard who makes sure that the dead stay dead.  Sabriel has grown up outside the Old Kingdom, in the mundane world where magic has been forgotten.  When her father disappears, she’s discovered that his title as Abhorsen has passed to her, and she has to return to the Old Kingdom to rescue her father and save the Kingdom…

Nix has created a rich world, with magic that’s actually governed by rules and has limitations.  Even better, the rules are interesting and limitations make sense. The whole concept of magic being created through “charter marks” is great, and leads to lots of other fun corollaries, like creatures constructed out of charter marks or the paperwing as a means of transportation.  (I definitely need to get myself a paperwing.)

Garth does a great job of making sure his heroine is overwhelmed by the task at hand but is still strong and capable – always a hard thing to balance.  In Star Wars, Lucas manages it by giving his heroes almost no preparation, but has them quickly rise to the occasion because “the Force is strong with them.”  (Or, if you prefer the prequels, they have a high midi-chlorian count.)  Nix gives his heroine some strong innate abilities inherited from her magical Dad, plus a bit of schooling – but not nearly enough, because she was raised outside the Old Kingdom where magic dominates.  This also means she’s not quite clued into all the bad stuff that’s been happening in the Old Kingdom, which of course adds to the fun. (Plus, there’s a curse that stops anyone else from bringing her up to speed.  D’oh!)

It’s going to be hard to resist picking up Book 2 in this series the next time I’m at the book store…

Brilliant First Lines from Aimee Bender

girl in the flammable skirtJust finished The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, a short story collection by Aimee Bender, one of my favorite writers.  She mostly writes surrealist, magic realist, and just plain weird stories, but due to the mysteries of bookstore shelving you can usually find her under (plain old) fiction instead of fantasy & science fiction.   Among her many talents is her knack for brilliant first lines. E.g.:

I’m spending the afternoon auditioning men.  They don’t know it.  This is a secret audition, come as you are. (“Call My Name,” The Girl in the Flammable Skirt)

There was an imp that went to high school with stilts on so that no one would know he was an imp.  Of course he never wore shorts. (“Drunken Mimi,” The Girl in the Flammable Skirt)

There were two mutant girls in the town:  one had a hand made of fire and the other had a hand made of ice.  Everyone else’s hands were normal.  The girls first met in elementary school and were friends for about three weeks.  Their parents were delighted; the mothers in particular spent hours on the phone describing over and over the shock of delivery day. (“The Healer,” The Girl in the Flammable Skirt)

Ten men go to ten doctors.  All the doctors tell all the men that they only have two weeks left to live. (“Death Watch,” Willful Creatures)

At the party I make a goal and it is to kiss three men: one with black hair, one with red hair, the third blonde. Not necessarilly in that order. (“Off,” Willful Creatures)

So.  (An Invisible Sign of my Own)

Gardner Dozois (science fiction editor, guru, and Clarion Writers Workshop Instructor) says that in a good story by the first page you already should have established an interesting character(s), in an interesting setting, dealing with an interesting situation. Bender usually manages to do all those things in just one or two lines, and with an interesting voice to boot (and often with a laugh or two as well).  She seems to casually do that thing that all good fiction does – reveals the fantastic in the ordinary and the humanity of the extraordinary.  Put her on your must-read list.

SFWA’s new look

There are some cool folks at the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) who have been working hard to make the organization more relevant and visible.  Up until recently, SFWA’s website looked a bit like a time-traveling refugee from the early 1990s.  But now they’ve upgraded by a couple of decades with an attractive, professional look, and lots of cool features: a blog with regular updates, a “featured author” and “featured book” providing a rolling spotlight for SFWA members right on the homepage, and an online “suggestion box” for the Nebula Awards.

I signed up yesterday as an associate member and immediately received an automated reply.  In less than 12 hours, SFWA had finished processing my membership and my username, password, etc. were all set up. So it looks like they have an impressive and speedy service model on top of the revamped look.  Very cool.

On a more personal note, I’m trying to imagine what my teenage self would say if I went back in time and told him, “Some day you will be a card-carrying member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.”  Largely excited, I think, though he might have the sense to not tell the other kids in school.