New Sequel, Same Authorial Crisis

60,000 words and counting; the sequel continues.

At this halfway point, I find that not unlike the first novel in the Witchwood Series, the sequel is going in directions I didn’t expect. A lot.

There are new villains. They don’t listen to me any better than the old one. And of course, though  he is not the key antagonist, Jaydeun has reprized his role as a royal pain in the backside. I thought he was going to be moping about the battlements, but no. He apparently has some business of his own, north of the Bothy. In the meantime, a ring of fire has been cast–someone has found the ancient Spagyric Arts with all its complex equations–and Rannon has been separated from Sarah, the queen of serving maids (and the queen-to-be).

The Yeleve, too, seem to have ideas of their own in this sequel. Their labyrinthine Compound has always been a ponderous place. Its many turnings, shadowy and indistinct, make it impenetrable to outsiders; every corner affords shelter, every nook can conceal potential threats. A fortress with eyes and ears, secrets and mystery, where even sound carries strangely—fools the listener, or beguiles him to take a wrong turning, the Compound affords protection against the world above. But alas for Rannon and his brother Rayik, it is proving to be a nightmare.

Ezra and Alex are, of course, with us once more. It is their story–though I think they are as hurried, pinched, bothered and otherwise confounded as I am by the unexpected turn events have been taking. Why, they aren’t even traveling together! Ezra has decided (against better judgment and plain good sense) to follow the jackwolfe, Eurick. Alex did his best to follow her, but that’s hard to do with a thirty-pound full size mirror strapped to your back. And all the while, Saydell’s sociopath of a half-brother is wreaking havoc in his extremely proper, tidy and manipulative way.

Add to this a wet night, a cold bothy, a royal wedding and several improbable unions…season with sexual tension and a pinch of sheer bloody-mindedness. What do you get? Good question. Author or no, I have to wait on the crisis resolution like everyone else. Unfair, isn’t it? Exactly who is writing who, here?

But even so, I can’t wait to see where it ends.

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Building Character (one donut at a time)

I have a great affinity for donut shops…

But not because I am especially fond of pastries.

It has more to do with the reality of such places. Here,  the mundane becomes concrete and tangible: the florescent pink door handle, the flickering light of glass cases, the smell of coffee and powdered sugar (and crisping dough creations in the back-room oven). From the badly designed Styrofoam cups–with lids that never quite fit–to the faux wood shelves attempting to capture a sense of “rustic cafe,” the donut shop is quintessential for one of my favorite fiction exercises… the character build.

Why? Why not create character in a chic Parisian cafe? Or a veranda in Venice? Or a yacht off the Caribbean coast? Because. The goal is to create a real, live character–someone we can identify with and believe in. Unless you spend a great deal of time in one of those three suggested locales, you won’t get real…you’ll get ideal. And frankly, ideal people are not very interesting. Go instead to the donut shop, the greasy spoon, the local pub. Go to the laundry mat, the barbecue, the chili cook off. Go home, for heavens sake. Let the warmth and light of real places and people (with the grit and the soot, the dirt and the smudge, the cackle and the gossip) soak into your creative synapses. Let the dung of the ordinary fertilize your garden. You might be very surprised by what you end up with…you might find that the characters don’t look the way you expected or behave the way you want. They might argue with you, even. Good. That means you have done the hard part–you created something with vittles, innards, guts. In general, they will take over the rest (whether you want them to or not).

So. Back to the donut shop I go to join both my protagonist and my villain. We three (all hopelessly addicted to the lousy coffee) meet and confer regularly over glazers and fritters and the odd box of chocolate-covered raisins. Characters complete, we are busy building worlds to inhabit.

Characters and Queries, Alive, alive-O!

I spent this afternoon between a clock and a hard-case.

That is, I was attempting to finish revisions to my novel by deadline, while one of my characters ran rough-shod over the edits.

Oh come now, don’t tell me this never happens to you. I know plenty of authors who have disagreements with their own characters now and again. Unfortunately, I have one particularly disagreeable character who likes to dictate his own parts. I confess to actually having an  argument with him once or twice…out loud… and there’s nothing like getting caught yelling at an empty sofa. My husband knows me too well, however. He no longer asks “who are you talking to?” He is more apt to say “Jaydeun again? Give  ’em hell, sweetheart!”

But today, we were not arguing over the text at all. We were having a tangled discussion about the process of writing a query letter. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend a fortified constitution…and perhaps a thorough reading of some agent blogs or essays (I rather like “The Perfect Pitch” by Sarah Jane Freymann). The trouble is this: it took you hundreds of pages to write the novel. How, then, do you get it hammered into a short but compelling synopsis without sounding like a mewling, tripe-headed, flea wit or a pretentious git? (Pardon, Jaydeun is fond of Shakespearean epithets). I have written a lot of queries in the past–and I have decided that, apart from the academic job market, there is no more enervating process to be found anywhere. What is a beleaguered author (on the cusp of a new academic semester and desperate to get the fiction abroad before classes begin) to do?

As they say, patience is a virtue. Despite the ticking clock, my solution has always been to write a very different letter for each situation, and that means a lot of time spent learning about the agencies or publishers to whom I send. In case you have ever considered canvas submissions, remember what I tell my students: crap out equals crap in. If you send nameless form letters, expect to receive nameless rejections. Chances are you will receive plenty of rejection anyway, but if you put a lot of thought into what you send, you are more apt to get thoughtful response or even advice.

And, of course, you will rest secure in the knowledge that you haven’t been a mule-born clotpole.

So, having acquitted myself honorably (one hopes) from the task of the query letter, I can return to more pressing matters. Such as addressing the revision of my final chapters and returning to the sequel, which is in process–and about which Jaydeun has already put in his two cents. Oh, villains. They are never happy…

[the thumbnails are ink etchings from the first volume of Witchwood at Nob’s End)