Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Reading Project: 2015

A few years ago, my husband decided to dedicate an entire year to a specific theme in his reading. His first reading project was to choose a book from each decade of the 20th century. Some books he enjoyed; others he did not. Either way, he was glad to have chosen a theme in which to pick his books, and he opened his mind to some of the great works of the last century.

Inspired, I've spent this year reading genre books by Women of Color. Not exclusively, but still making an effort to include as many as I could find. In fact, had I not taken a break from my project to read "Sword & Sorceress 29," I never would have discovered Rabia Gale. Some books were easy to get: Octavia Butler is a pretty big name in speculative fiction. Others were tough: I still have "The Bone Whistle" on my to-read pile, and so far it's the only spec fic by a Native American woman I've been able to get my hands on. Other books were a pleasant surprise, like the recently read "Rainbird" by Rabia Gale.

Other books, which I will not name, I started and could not finish because they were just not good, and my desire to support non-white female authors within the speculative fiction genre was not great enough to overcome the truly awful writing.



Now that we're into the last quarter of the year, my thoughts have necessarily turned to my reading project for 2015. For a while I considered read genre and historical fiction outside my comfort zone. In genre, I gravitate towards urban fantasy, magic realism, paranormal, and dark fantasy/light horror. In historical fiction, I tend towards British Dark Ages/High Middle Ages (5th-12th centuries), the Japanese Samurai period, and early 20th century American. My idea was to branch out into other subgenres -- steampunk, space opera, alien invasion, high/epic fantasy -- and other time periods -- the Wild West, ancient China, pre-history, the American Revolution.

Then yesterday something caught my attention: several books in my bookcase I hadn't read yet. When I went through the shelves I discovered five print books I own, which I had not yet read. They've been on my shelves for at least a year. I then dove into my e-reader library and discovered twelve more unread books. That's seventeen books I own which I have not read.

Seventeen.

Ok, three of those -- one print and two e-books -- are part of my Spec Fic by Women of Color project. But even if I read those this year, that leaves over a dozen unread books in my to-read pile. Fourteen! Even taking a break to read other books, I should be able to finish those by the end of 2015.

The unread books on my shelves both virtual and physical break down as follows:

7 genre/spec fic
6 non-fiction (including a memior by Joan Rivers)
4 literary/classic fiction (including The Count of Monte Cristo)



Challenge accepted! My reading project for 2015 will be to read all the books I own which have languished unread in the ethers of my nook and the dusty shelves of my big bookcase. I vow to put myself on a book-buying freeze until I either finish them or declare them unreadable after the first three chapters/50 pages, whichever comes first.

Random collections of ghost stories, humorous essays on parenting, and ARCs I won from a "Fantasy & Science Fiction" magazine contest, here I come!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Revisions

Having finished my second novel, THE HOLLOW QUEEN, and having let a few months pass, I've now started the excruciating process of revising it. I have to go through and do this at least once before I'll let my critique partners read it. When they're done critiquing, I'll go through it again. And again. And maybe one more time before I let them read it a second time. And then I'll revise some more. And maybe more after that.

The first draft, of course, is terrible. Awful. I hate it. HATE it. I wrote it as quickly as I could and paid little mind to good grammar, active voice, and sentence structure. I also wrote it for the purpose of getting the story out, not necessarily telling the story well.

Since this is only my second novel, revising is still a major process for me. However, there are a few things I learned from my first novel, which I am putting into practice this time around to make life a little easier on myself:

1. Don't let anyone read the first draft. ANY. ONE. I already have a page full of notes I made as I was writing the first draft, of things I need to change. There is a huge continuity error in the middle. Names change halfway through. Characters' entire religions and ethnicities change, and I have to fix all so it at least makes some kind of sense to human beings.

2. Don't let anyone other than my three critique partners read the second, third, or fourth drafts. Too many cooks, and all that. By the time I let my loved ones read my work now -- even short stories -- I'm pretty much at the point where the piece is ready, or very nearly ready, for submission. This way they get to experience the work the way I want other readers to experience it.

3. Make notes. Lots, and lots of notes. Like I said, I have a page full of them: things I wanted to remember to add earlier on in the story, names that have to be changed, points I need to look up and clarify.

4. Use this resource to identify overused words, and change them.

5. Do a search for the following, and change them: "-ly," "that," "seemed," "tried," "began," "felt," "knew," "it," "was."

6. Comb each chapter for character motivations. Since this novel is multiple POV, make sure each character has a distinctive voice.


Only when all of this is done, will I feel comfortable sending a draft to my crit partners. Even then, I know the manuscript will not be the best it can be...yet. I'll get their notes back. Some I'll agree with, and make changes. Others I'll disagree with and leave alone. I'll revise yet again, and probably think of a few new things to add or remove from the ms. Then I'll send out a draft again. And then I'll keep revising until I feel like the only real "changes" left are small, insignificant ones. That's when I know it's ready: ready to query to agents, ready to pitch on Twitter contests. Ready to be read by my husband and other loves ones.

But that journey is still a thousand miles from where I am right now. I'll get there, and hopefully this time around I'll get there quicker than the three years it took me with my first novel. Until then, I try not to beat myself up too much, and just focus.