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We had a bit of a dry spell there for a few days, but I am delighted to welcome our newest Cauldronites -  Warm and Bubbling “hellos” to @AaronStanton and @AdamBlakeley28!

In My Head: Can I please get another day in my day?

In the Cup: Maxwell House dark roast… keeping it simple!

Currently Playing: Irish Folk Music playlists on Spotify. Compiling mood music for my Top Secret Project! Anyone got any Irish/Gaelic (NOT Celtic, perse — specifically IRISH/GAELIC) songs/artists/albums to suggest?

Daily Run: 2.5 miles.

On the Desk: Mighty Knights (SO CLOSE to a draft 0! SO close!) and all sorts of textual flotsam and jetsam for the TSP (Top Secret Project)

On the Nightstand: (market research) Meg Cabot’s Avalon High. Which, thankfully is nothing at all like Mighty Knights, except in so far as they both feature Arthur and a modern high school setting.

Papers Graded: 5. 11 to go. Oy.

So.

I know, I know. I’ve been derelict and not sharing stuff and being all secretive and shit. I’m sorry! I just needed to get my bearings before I shared. But I am good and ensconced and having a really amazing experience that I am going to go ahead and share a bit of now.

So, most of you have figured out that I am a writer. Some of you have even read the REALLY obscure posts, buried in the deep past of the Cauldron, where I wrote a bit about my youthful endeavors in the field. Here’s the thing: I began writing and illustrating books when I was five. I am not exaggerating; I HAVE my first work, a battered brown spiral notebook featuring a homemade picture book of Black Beauty and Ginger in it. They have Really Big Teeth. But aside from that, they’re not too bad for a 5 year old scribbler. I wrote my first novel when I was in second grade, and wrote one in varying degrees of general awfulness every subsequent year until I hit 9th grade, when I wrote the breakout  40-page epic poem, “The Ballad of Theros Ironfeld”. (This was in 1988. That bad boy was HAND WRITTEN, you people. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it…) BOTI was truly epic in its attention to overused tropes, stock characters, and prose language forced into poetic meter. Then I turned to High Fantasy, and wrote 5oo pages of an epic so memorably bad that I can’t even share it with you. OK, OK, there are actually moments in it that are genuinely great, nuanced, sophisticated writing – but the overall thing is pretty awful, as you can imagine a 14-15 year old’s first trilogy would be.

Then I hit a really rough patch. I was too busy surviving high school to really dig in and work on writing and craft, and the stories dried up because I was too busy surviving to be creative. And that, alas, continued all the way through college and beyond. I was still writing – just nothing like what I wanted to be writing. Then, when I was 26, I wrote another novel. And it was actually not too bad. I mean, it wasn’t a GREAT novel – but it demonstrated emergent talent. I sent it around to a few agents and was told by a few of these some variant of, “OK. You can write. Not interested in this. Try writing something else.”

Hey, at least none of them wrote, “OMG, PLEASE never try to string two sentences together again. I’ll pay you never to write another page of your horrible, shit prose.” Of course, I was pretty thin-skinned at the time, having gone through what could be characterized as one of Dante’s circles of hell for so many years (YOU try being an INFJ in a world of ESTJs, ESFJs, and INTPs, and see how well you get on. Seriously.) And you have to remember, that at the time I didn’t have any knowledge at all as to what was going on – just that I was Odd Gal Out and there was no way you could mistake it. If I knew then what I know now, you’d have my books in your hands already. But, I didn’t. So you don’t. (But – you will!) Because at that point, I put the writing dream  on hold and turned to the business of being a real person in the real world and fitting in. (Which, if you know anything about personality types, you will recognize was NEVER. Going. To. Happen. We are the Rare Birds. We are the iguanas in the pet shop surrounded by the puppies, kitties and goldfish. 1 to 3 % of the total human population, you guys. Just sayin’. INFJs do NOT fit in. Ever. But – you, the general public, don’t want them to! (No, you really don’t. I know you think we’re weird and strange and WHY are we like this?! But without us, you would not have nearly so colorful and creative a world to run.)

So, feeling rather like a failure (which if you know about the writing world you know I WASN’T, because some of the agents actually hand-wrote notes back to me on my queries telling me I didn’t suck, which agents rarely ever bother to do) but which I thought I was because I was sensitive and they didn’t snap up my book, I tried something else. I tried teaching in inner city public schools and working two part-time jobs in the evenings and getting married to an internet porn addict. I’m sure you are all shocked to read that that didn’t work out very well for me. In my defense, I didn’t KNOW he was an internet porn addict when I married him. In his defense, he was generally a really nice guy, that major tic and some heavy bouts of depression aside. But – we were definitely NOT a match made in heaven, or really, anywhere even close to compatible or healthy.

So, I got very depressed and moody and “Oh, the world sucks and I’m so misunderstood and how can I work so hard and be such a failure?” and I drank a lot and walked out of the marriage and held down three jobs and quit a master’s program and moved back home and felt like a total failure – the usual, self-destructive catastrophic response unsettled INFJs go through.

Good thing, too, because at some point in all of that, I remembered I had a backbone.

And that I loved to research and write papers.

And that I loved reading.

And that I wanted to be the person other people read.

And a lot of other stuff, but that’s not all that relevant right now. Suffice to say, I had some moments of clarity and light and returned to my natural state, which is NOT melancholy, female Byronesque self-destruction, but generally happy, ambitious, super-productive, creative self-expression (I know, you’re shocked. You never saw that in me. Ha, ha, ha) And then things started falling into place: mostly great husband: check. master’s degree: check. Gorgeous fairy daughters: check. PhD program acceptance: check.

And then – cancer. Shit.

And that seems to have been the final straw. At some point last year between April 1 and December 31, I finally figured out that if I want the writing to happen, I have to write. A lot. Every day. And I have to just believe that it’s good, and expect that someone out there will like it. You’ve been down this path with me, so I don’t have to belabor it.

This month, I discovered a platform through which I have watched Mighty Knights go from a book I wrote for NANOWRIMO and figured I might revise and publish eventually to a work I’m really excited about. Early on in January, I decided to join an online writer’s group to get feedback on the thing from other writers. I Googled online writer’s groups and happened across one in Beta testing stage, so they were accepting free memberships to promising projects. The place was called Author Salon. Good name.

Free is good, right? Can’t hurt. Nothing to lose. I set up a profile.

Two days later, I had my first email from a forum head: Are you sure this story isn’t Middle Grade?? It sounds Middle Grade and not YA.

I’m sure, and here are the five reasons.

Well, your synopsis doesn’t say that.

Oh. You know what? It actually doesn’t. It DOES sound younger than it is. I revised the synopsis. And then went back into the manuscript and started making changes to reflect thast synopsis shift. Changes I felt REALLY good about.

Cue email #2: Your story sounds flat. The samples are good but the synopsis doesn’t make me want to know what happens to the protagonist. In fact I’m not sure who the protagonist is. Focus on Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot character triangle. Centralize the story. Cut out the extra characters.

But, if I do that, then the story doesn’t really work… and isn’t that what Meg Cabot did in Avalon High, and shouldn’t my book be different?

Then, I started receiving peer critiques. A lot of peer critiques. (In AS you set up a profile, then 5 peers critique it (and apparently some of the editors and agents running it, when they’re of a mind to) and then you go through a review process and once your profile is accepted, you head to the next level, where you have 5 different peers critique the first 50 pages of your manuscript, and then you advance to Marquee status, where your work is showcased and opened up to agents and editors for a look-see.)

The critiques made sense in places. They weren’t valid in others. OH. They’re not valid because my profile’s not making it clear. OH. My profile’s not making it clear because I’ve left that out of the book. OH. Back to rewriting bits as I go…And, cue the light bulb. Make that, the spotlight. Click, click, click. Suddenly, my thinking patterns shifted and I had a REAL WIP, not just a NaNo novel I thought I might publish someday.

They bill Author Salon as a place “where you become an author the old-fashioned way — you earn it”. This, is true. You have to critique 5 other people’s work as well as your own, and constantly be revising and editing. But so far I have encountered hard, driving criticism that has actually transformed how I see my book and myself writing it, and everyone has been fully supportive as I work through that slow turnaround. Some folks have left, citing the requirements as too stringent and the people running the place as being inflexible and controlling. I disagree – these are professionals who know what they are doing; I don’t agree with or follow all of the regulations concerning plot structure and character development they suggest (for this book, at least), but I definitely agree that their process works. You’re not getting fluffy feel-good props and fuzzy bunnies on this site – they are serious about helping you write the best book you can, and if it’s not working you will know (thank God(dess)(e)(s), as far as I’m concerned, that’s what I joined for!) I’ve had enough people in my life read my writing and tell me what a great writer I am. If I’m so great, why don’t you folks have my books? I clearly needed actual criticism, not props, to get to the next level. This is what I have been looking for as a writer. I can get props from pretty much anyone who reads my writing. I believe I can get published through AS.

So, here’s how it really works, from my perspective: If you take YOURSELF seriously, don’t join. If you take your WRITING seriously, this is an amazing place. The people who are flaming out seem to a one to demand that everyone treat them like Writers and get angry if they feel that they are not being nurtured enough as individuals. Not what this place is about. They are nurturing you as a writer. Place the focus on the project and understand they are as invested as you are in making that book the best piece it can become through a very arduous process, and all I can say is, Wow.

The results of all of this – so far – have been hugely gratifying to me. As I have indicated, Mighty Knights is going from a book I wrote that I was pretty proud of, to a book I am really excited about finishing and getting out there. As I have struggled and wrestled with the feedback, I have grown much more aware of what I want my book to be and why it isn’t that, and also how to explain it to others so they understand what I’m doing and know what to look for, and also how to revise it to make it what I want it to be (which is why you Beta readers are still waiting to hear from me – hang in there!)

ANYhow -  the point is, Author Salon has in the past 3 weeks turned me into the Serious Writer I have always meant to be. (OK, OK, it has given me permission to be myself the INFJ writer.) Apparently, I wasn’t as self-actualized as I thought and was still squashing that aspect of me to large extent. Anyhow, whatever happened and whatever they did, they have tapped the vein and the prose is seriously flowing forth. GOOD prose. Prose I am sure someone will publish – and even if someone doesn’t, I WILL. in short – this is the first book-length work I have written that I have no intentions of sticking in a drawer to languish. And, I have a currently 50-some odd messages long email from a complete stranger in which are contained some extremely exciting new things to play with – the Top Secret Project. I can’t tell you about it yet, it’s too nascent – but it’s in the same vein as everything else in this postie. It’s definitely writing–related. And it’s definitely how I now KNOW that: I. Am. A. Writer. I’ve always thought that, believed it, always said it – but now, it’s more true than ever, and I’m more productive than ever, and there is no sign of this slowing down or stopping anytime in the next – well, I’ll be writing for a long time, if all of this pans out. (hint! hint!)

And yes, all of this also positively impacts 1800 Days. And Yes, you’ll get your monthly fix of 1800 Days this week! Swear!

Credit goes to my Muse, obviously. And the Musettes. And the folks at NaNoWriMo. And you, O Cauldronites, for encouraging me and reading my blog posts – where I have actually been honing my craft to some extent, without really realizing it.

And Author Salon, for whatever alchemical process they are using. It works. They may not get me published – but they broke me out of the socially- and self- imposed shell, and said Oh, you have an idea. Why don’t you go with it and see what happens? rather than That, is really weird. Why do you like that stuff? Where do you come up with this shit? Nobody understands what you’re talking about. Okay, whatever you say*rolleyes*. Which is what I have historically gotten, even from those who support me the most. Did the AS folks remind me that I am an Odd Gal Out? Nope. THEY said, Why don’t you see where that goes? Now, why don’t you try this? What if….? OK, take that and run a little while and see where it leads you.

Which, for an INTJ, is like giving a crack addict a pipe and saying “here, smoke as much as you want”.

Except, of course, that my addiction is legal, and possibly even beneficial.

Anyhow, Author Salon. Check it out.

Here’s my profile there, also, so you can see what it looks like (remember I’m still working on it. If you have suggestions, feel free to send them along!)

And in the next postie, I’ll give you a new sample of Mighty Knights as it is going now so you can see the shifts that are making it so much more dynamic and interesting than it was ever going to be pre-Author Salon.