Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dilemmas

I'm still wading through that quicksand, trying to fix plot holes in the book. It seems that whenever I fix one I open up three more - not exactly the type of progress I was looking for.

But there's another dilemma I'm facing as well - trying to find my (insert dramatic music) 'Writer's Voice'.

Because of the nature of my work, I'm able to spend large blocks of time during the day reading blogs written by authors, publishers and agents. I've noticed this whole idea of 'voice' coming up again and again. An agent will say that what sold them on a manuscript was not its technical correctness, its originality or even style - what sold them was the author's 'voice'. When I read the examples given I can see exactly what they mean, though it would be next to impossible to define what constitues a voice and what doesn't (a bit like trying to explain what 'red' is - you can't, except by pointing to examples of it).

Trouble is, I think it's difficult for an author to hear their own writing voice - not until they've been detached from their work for long enough to build up a distance. With the amount of trouble I've had rewriting the first chapter of Ghost, I now have this distance from the other fifteen chapters, because it's been so long since I looked at them.

And I'm not quite sure I like what I see.....

The writing is technically good, it flows well, descriptions are vivid but don't draw attention to themselves. Problem is, I'm not sure I like the voice.

This last year I've been battling with the book, fixing bits, rewriting other sections, re-reading and re-working and trying to get it right. In the process I think I've grown enormously as a writer, and I think I've taken great leaps towards finding my own unique style. The down side of that is as I look at the work I've spent so long doing I feel as though I'm now in a situation where I can do it a lot better.

So - this is my new dilemma. Do I completely rewrite Ghost, do I completely abandon Ghost and move onto something else, or do I try and fix the plot difficulties with Ghost and accept that perhaps the style and feel of it isn't what it would be if I were to write it from scratch now?

My gut feeling is the latter option. If I can get the book to the point where the plot is a lot tighter, and if I can fix some of the other minor things the assessor identified, I should have something that is at least worthy of querying to agents. Even if it goes nowhere, the whole rigormorole of writing a synopsis and a query letter will be really valuable experience.

Problem is, fixing these plot holes is not easy, and if I'm not 100% committed to it that quicksand just gets even deeper and wider.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Still Wading

That quicksand is pretty wide...

I'm slowly getting a clearer picture of what I want to do with the book, but it really is a bit like pulling teeth.

In the meantime, for anyone interested, here is a photo of a drawing I did of Hallegat in 1986. The drawing is on the wall of what was then the Wargamer's Club rooms in Woomera - currently being demolished (thankyou Heather Cleland, and thankyou Facebook).

The (partly obscured) dwarf in the drawing is Gusgad, who appeared in Green Gem but by the time Ghost came around had wandered off. I'm desperately hoping he'll come back some day soon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Quicksand Ahead

Well, I think at the time I wrote my last entry I was full of optimism that it wouldn't be too difficult to make necessary changes to the manuscript.

It didn't take long for my optimism to fall into a great dark hole.

I tried the idea about Hallegat stealing the map - but somehow it didn't quite work for me. At the time I thought it would, but it felt like one of those dud fireworks that goes fizz instead of bang. So I tried a few other things, and similarly they weren't quite right. So now I'm thinking about putting the whole thing on the shelf for a few months and working on something else - to give me a clearer mind when I come back to it again.

There's plenty of other stuff boiling away in my mind, enough to keep me reasonably occupied until then. Although there's still hope that tomorrow I'll have a eureka moment and things will fall into place.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Machinations and Motivations

So I've now started working my way through the assessor's comments - and officially starting draft 6 of a book that probably won't be called The Ghost of Ping-Ling. I first picked that name as a temporary, working title - but it stuck with me. But I've had too many comments from people saying they didn't understand it, and the assessor said the connection was weak - so I think it will go. I already have a few other title ideas floating around my head, I'll have to see which one bubbles to the surface.

The first task I've taken on in this draft is adding more strength to Dillen's motivation to seek after the mana-lord. This has actually turned out to be much tougher than I thought. In the very first draft a god appears to Dillen and tells him to seek the mana-lord, but that was gone by the time I got to draft 3. I toyed briefly with the idea of resurrecting that, and wrote a few different versions - in one a god comes overtly to the temple and tells Dillen to seek Hallegat, in the second the god speaks to Dillen in a dream. I didn't like either. I wanted to keep the involvement of the gods as a more subtle, background thing - something that may or may not be present. I also tried a version (which is now getting close to the original drafts of Green Gem) where Hallegat comes to the temple looking for a map, and asks Dillen to accompany him on the journey - but Dillen refuses, then the temple burns down - was it Dillen, or did Hallegat set the fire? I kind of liked that, but it had a couple of problems - Dillen would never allow Hallegat to have a map from the temple, seeing as they're all rare and valuable, and he also wouldn't knowingly lead the puk-do straight to the mana-lord, simply so he can join him on the quest (a problem that was present in draft 5, which Margaret pointed out).

So, I thought of something else, and I've been kicking it around in my head all day, wondering if it might work. In this version, Hallegat turns up in Ping-Ling looking for a map of the western province - he doesn't know the area at all, and maps of the west are hard to come by. He comes to the temple and asks Dillen if he can look at one, and Dillen (a little reluctantly) agrees. But when Hallegat asks if he can borrow the map, things get a little heated. Dillen refuses point blank, but he should have known better than to stand in the way of a mana-lord on a mission. When he regains consciousness Hallegat is gone, and so is the map.

Dillen calls together the priest and the magistrate and tells them what has happened. Kaji insists that Dillen must follow Hallegat and retrieve the map - that the contents of the temple are Dillen's responsibility and he must give up his life if necessary to make amends for his failure. The magistrate is more reluctant to condemn Dillen to such a fate, but in the end has no choice but to agree.

So Dillen's quest to find the mana-lord is a quest to find and retrieve a stolen map. That's why Dillen has no qualms about leading the puk-do straight to Hallegat - it's his own fault for stealing. I suspect that may work well - although usually I can only work it out when I start writing, which I'll hopefully do tonight.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Ah-Ha! I Spy A What-The!

So, this afternoon I walked in the door and glanced at the kitchen bench, as per previous description in previous post. I was about to turn away in disappointment when I noticed a package under a few envelopes. Sure enough, this was the one - the assessor's report, which inexplicably I had imagined to be a bigger package than it was (because the one I sent contained the package it was to be returned in, and obviously the one sent back didn't - make sense? didn't think so).

I was terrified. Very, very scared. Carefully I took it into the computer room as if it was ticking, and put it near the PC. Then I continued my afternoon's routine, vowing that I would open it later in the evening when the boys went to bed. I just didn't know what I was expecting, or how I would take it, or anything.

Finally I gave in, and while the boys played with granny in the play room I sat down, opened it, and read it as slowly as I could.

I've learned a lot about feedback in the last little while. One of the things I've learned (and I can't remember whether I read this or thought it up) is that there are two types of feedback. The first type is 'Ah-ha' feedback, and the second type is 'What-the' feedback.

Ah-ha feedback is where you read something somebody says, and you say 'Ah-ha', because it clicks with you. Deep down you already knew what the feedback was telling you already, the person has simply confirmed or clarified it for you - either that or it clicks with you because you can see immediately that it makes good sense and it's absolutely right.

What-the feedback, not surprisingly, is the type where you say 'what-the' when you hear it. You say that because you would never have thought of what the person is saying, and even after you've heard it you're not quite sure whether you agree with it or not.

The most valuable feedback you can get is ah-ha feedback, because it's the feedback you can and should use. When you use ah-ha feedback you are bringing your manuscript (or whatever the feedback applies to) more in line with how you originally intended it. and how you want it.

What-the feedback is another animal altogether. While that sort of feedback should certainly be listened to and evaluated, careful discretion must be used as to whether or not to make use of it. Otherwise there is a risk of imposing another person's viewpoint onto your own work - then it is no longer truly yours.

Margaret's feedback was largely ah-ha feedback. As I read it I found myself nodding and smiling, because I knew what she was saying was totally right. The two main things she identified were:

1) Dillen doesn't have enough of a reason to go after Hallegat - he needs a stronger motivation.
2) Dillen doesn't sufficiently earn the solutions to his problems, too many of them drop into his lap by chance, luck or by the intervention of others.

I already knew point 1 - deep down. A number of readers had already identified it - and although I had taken steps to rectify it the basic flaw was still there - and I knew it! (or at least strongly suspected it).

Point 2 surprised me a little, because no reader had previously identified it and I certainly hadn't seen it - but the moment I read it I knew it was absolutely 100 percent correct.

There were many other comments too, but none as significant as the above and all very easily fixed. Some of them (probably about a third) was what-the feedback, but the majority was very definitely ah-ha.

And I feel really, really good - though I'm very aware that now I'm out of excuses for not continuing with the next draft. I face slighly more of a major re-write than I anticipated, though it's still only a month or so's work.

Margaret also ended her cover letter by saying the book 'shows great promise'. From Margaret this is great praise indeed.

And now, I'm going to have a very large glass of red wine.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I Can't Help Myself

I have to do this!

In case anyone thought I was exaggerating about previous cat/ferret comments, I just looked through EACH of the blogs I have listed on the right hand side of my own (except for David's), and here are extracted pictures.

Blog 1) From "Words and Wardances"



Blog 2) From "Lit Soup"



Blog 3) From "This Is My Secret"



Blog 4) From Scribbling Damselfly



Now do you believe me? Huh? Huh? It really is a matter of open the blog, then find the cat (or ferret). Simple.

Small Mercies

I have to declare myself thankful that David Cornish doesn't *appear* to own either a cat or a ferret - and if he does, I don't want to know.

Today I've had a lovely time reading through a host of new blogs by various authors, agents and publishers. I couldn't help noticing, however, that without exception all of them have at least one cat or ferret making regular appearances - either in the context of said cat/ferret lying all over the blogger's lap or tearing apart some item of furniture or rare native wildlife - or in an 'oh isn't this cute' photo form.

Aspiring to become an author myself, I was beginning to suspect that I wouldn't make it until I also purchased such an animal and began to include it in blog posts. That I just couldn't face.

But thankfully, as I mentioned, David appears to be ferret and feline free - and is still a successful author, so I can breathe a deep, deep sigh of allergy free relief.

I might just make it after all.

The Tip Of The Iceberg

Yesteray I was having a look at Deborah Kalin's archived blog entries (yes, I was fairly bored at work - my tests take so long to run) and I noticed she'd referenced other blogs she follows. Seeing as my tests were taking extra long to run I took a look, and found some pretty amazing blogs. In turn these blogs referenced other blogs, which in some cases referenced websites, at which point my head started to spin. It would seem there's no end of extremely helpful (not to mention entertaining) advice for people wanting to escape from the slush pile (see? I even picked up a new word - the slush pile is the huge pile of submissions on a publisher's/agent's desk). The absolute best of these was Jodi Meadows' Words and Wardances. Jodi works for an agent and is the "first point" of contact for submissions. She reads an average of ninety (get that - ninety) query letters that come in each day, selecting those she feels are good enough for the agent to see. Her blog is full of extremely useful advice, an occasional (always well justified) whinge, and many highly cringeworthy examples of how bad some submissions can be. I'm not sure whether reading her advice first would have helped me with my 'failed' query letter of a few days ago, but I know for sure it'll help me in the future. But it's also scary stuff to read. How does one manuscript stand out amongst ninety submissions - particularly when the submission only contains a brief snapshot of the book? What quality are the ninety four or so submissions that never make it? Are they by semi-illiterate neanderthals whose writing reads like a four year old (God I hope so), or are they intelligent, literate people whose excellent and original submissions were just not quite excellent and original enough?? (noooo, it can't beeee)

But I also know I've only encountered the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot of great stuff on the internet that I should spend time looking at - I guess I need to write lots and lots of extremely long tests....

Monday, March 2, 2009

Well That Was Quick

Well, I can now say I officially have my first rejection letter (email), and it only took five hours!

The reason given was 'we don't feel that this project is suitable for our Australian children's publishing program'. That's interesting - in the back of my mind I wondered whether I might hit an obstacle trying to publish a non-Australian-themed book to an Australian publisher. I was thinking because Ranger's Apprentice (also published by Random House) is non-Australian I might be in with a chance, but I think it could be better to describe RA as 'neutral' whereas Ghost could be described as Asian in feel. That's my best guess anyway.

Well - I can honestly say I'm not terribly bothered, and I feel glad that I've put out my first feeler and had a reply - that's so much better than standing still. I just hope I'm not going to hit this hurdle with every Australian publisher - The Ghost of Panganyanyatta just doesn't have the same ring to it...

Oh Good, It's Not Just Me Then

Here's something I found on Kristin Cashore's blog - she is the author of Graceling and one of the illustrious Dave Cornish's fellow nominees for a Nebula. It's quite a relief to know what I'm feeling is apparently normal. I could have written this myself (except for the girly way it ends - I would have ended by saying 'bugger off where you came from, worried thought!').

I worry constantly about whatever book I'm currently writing. I worry about the wording, I worry about the themes, the plot as a whole, whether the characters seem to others the way they seem to me, whether the book is getting too long, whether my protagonist is likable, whether my fantasy world is consistent, whether I'll be able to hold everything together, whether there's even anything worth holding. There is never a moment when I don't have something to worry me. I have learned that this is just what it feels like to write a book. Most of the time, I can keep it from bothering me. You get good at ignoring the voices. Or giving them the attention that's best for them: listening to them and laughing and giving them a hug, and saying, "Yes, I know you're worried. It's okay. Let's go watch a pretty sunset."

Call Me Crazy

... but I just sent a query email to Random House, having wrestled with the temptation for weeks and just when I thought I would be tempted no more....

Is this a foolish decision? Well - I don't think so. According to their website it takes 2 weeks before they even ask for your full manuscript, if they ask for it at all - and surely by that time I'll have the assessor's report. Suuuuurely.

I feel good about it anyway. I feel like I've been able to do something, instead of waiting, waiting, waiting. Now of course I'm waiting again, but at least I'm waiting for something else, so it's kind of not like waiting at all really.... (and perhaps I need another strong coffee).