Killing your darlings: on why cutting words doesn’t hurt (that much)

Photo: The bible-length book I wrote that will be much shorter when I'm done with my red pen.Don’t mind the random fruit loop sitting on the booster seat chair. I have a two-year-old. Enough said. The focus is the manuscript sitting in print form on my kitchen table. Epic proportions it may be, seeing it like that filled me with a sense of accomplishment. No more computer screen. This is real. And then I quietly freaked out inside realizing how much editing still needed to be done before I could get where I’ve been heading all this time.

Stephen King has a quote: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric scribbler’s little heart, kill your darlings.” I’d say in terms of words, I’ve been doing pretty well at cutting since I laid this out on the table. A friend’s words recently reassured me: “None of that matters though, when you can throw your book down on the kitchen table like that and it makes the floor shake, you did good enough.”

I did good enough. But now I need to do better. So gone are the first 25 pages, the first words I ever wrote when the story first came alive. Gone are pages in the middle, chopping away at 200k words as if it were someone else’s words going into the trash. Although there have been twinges, passages I delicately caressed before hitting control X– delete would be too harsh so I keep those words in another file–I have found that it hasn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. Hours, days, weeks and years toiled away on the keyboard, and with one stroke those words are gone.

I guess, in the end, making it the best story it can be outweighs the pang of loss. And when the day comes I see it in published form, those years of words that will never see the light of day won’t bother me in the least. Because they were stepping stones and bridges to a story that moved beyond them. They served a purpose, and I can be content knowing that.

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Editing versus writing and why I like both

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“While writing is like a joyful release, editing is a prison where the bars are my former intentions and the abusive warden my own neuroticism.”
― Tiffany Madison

I follow a lot of writers on Twitter, which makes sense since I am a writer myself. And I’ve noticed at various times when I’m perusing my feed the number of writers who, finished writing a book, bemoan the editing they now have to do. While I’m sure every writer would like to write the last sentence and declare a manuscript complete, I can’t relate. Editing is the part where I get to make it pretty — to change a sentence from drab to fab, and bring color to quickly-written passages. But I do agree with the quote above on writing; it is a release to let the story breathe and the characters clawing their way out of you go free.

Having written my own book over a period of years, I’m finding the editing is more than arduous, as full chapters need to be rewritten, and new ideas still come and force me to tweak a character here or a side plot line here. It doesn’t help that the book itself has reached epic proportions in length, so that my next job once I’ve went all the way through is to use my literary scissors and cut.

But I do love editing, having only realized this when I became the editor of an online publication. And now my path has led me to Booktrope, where I have begun to work with authors by editing and proofing their stories. Most of the time, it doesn’t even feel like work, it feels like I should be editing books and writing books full-time — oh the dream!

Since I’m a realist, I’ll be plugging the hell out of my own manuscript and editing books into the wee hours of the night while working the day job that pays. It’s hard to rein in inspiration when it hits, so I’ll also be fighting off the overwhelming urge to write a YA story that came to me one day recently and has since festooned itself around my soul with images, plot lines and character colors. One book at a time, Katrina, or so I lie to myself…

“You grow ravenous. You run fevers. You know exhilarations. You can’t sleep at night, because your beast-creature ideas want out and turn you in your bed. It is a grand way to live.” ― Ray Bradbury

Self-published authors are NOT destroying literature

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Today I read a an article at GoodEReader.com by Michael Kozlowski  with the headline, Self-Published Authors Are Destroying Literature. I was immediately offended for all self-published authors who’ve written solid work, I mean what a blanket statement. We all know that the facts are in, and that self-publishing has an obvious role in the future of book publishing, so blaming self-publishing for the downfall of literature seems  rather unrealistic.

For one thing, if you’re going to blame anything, blame digital publishing and the ebook revolution. But honestly,  I didn’t realize that literature was being destroyed. From my perspective, it looks like literature is being expanded to encompass more by allowing writers outside the mainstream to have a voice, while also giving the author more control. So many elitists tout the Big Six (not that I wouldn’t love to have them notice my work) but I’ve got to tell you, some of the stuff being published today by the big publishers is yawn-worthy. It’s almost as if there is a formula for success in certain genres — ahem, young adult or anything to do with vampires.

For awhile there, I didn’t want to get into the whole ebook fad. I’m a print loyalist, I’ve said it before. But then I started reviewing books and it just became the easy way to go about business. Since a lot of self-published books start in the ebook format, I’ve read a few. There have definitely been some less-than-polished products, although our good writer over at GoodEReader.com seems to think self-published books in general “devalue the work of legitimate published authors.”

His argument follows the line of thought that because indie authors often price ebooks between $0.99 and $2.99 that it makes readers unwilling to pay for mainstream work that’s going for $7.99 to $12.99. I’m sorry, but I don’t care if you were published by Penguin or your very own self, I refuse to spend $12.99 on an ebook, except for the one time when I did because I was just so addicted to the series. My excuse is I had a gift card. But in most occasions, I would just rather buy the print edition. You can’t  lovingly turn the pages of a digital copy or see it age and wear with rereads. It is just not worth it to me no matter who you are to buy an ebook at that price. Unless, like I explained before, I was already addicted and not in my right mind. I mean it was like 1 a.m. and I just had to know what was going to happen next.

Here’s the thing, I’ve read self-published stories that I didn’t think were up to par with their editing — a grammar mistake here, a weird space there, or an entire chapter that could have been pulled. I’ve noticed when more editing should have taken place, but I can’t discount that many of the stories have been wonderful. And that’s not to say that all self-published works even have that problem.

Joe Vampire by Steve Luna was initially a self-published work, although he is now published under the Booktrope label. He was seriously a little bit of an inspiration in the vampire genre, where so many authors are trying to ride on the coattails of Twilight. It was refreshing to read a different take in a saturated topic.

I’ve also read truly awful stuff published by mainstream publishers that may have been edited to death, but still have grammatical mistakes. That said, I don’t think self-published authors are singlehandedly destroying quality literature, especially beacuse there’s plenty of quality coming from that spectrum of publishing.

The one area where I can agree with Kozlowski is the tweeting. I follow a lot of authors on Twitter, many of them probably self-published, and my stream is almost a solid mass of writers trying to get people to buy their books. I completely understand that this is one reason why Twitter is helpful, but as a reader, I’m more interested in what they have to say as people. The constant advertisements just blur together, and it’s only when I see someone tweet something interesting that I’ll really pay attention. Initially, when I first started my book review blog I caught a few titles off the digital bookshelf stream, but now I really have no need.

Like most things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many would agree that Ernest Hemingway was an amazing literary author, but I’ve known people who didn’t like his writing at all. E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Gray certainly seduced readers in droves, but I wouldn’t deign to touch the book. So let’s give readers some credit for being able to choose their own literature based on their own personal tastes. If they choose a self-published author over a mainstream author, I’m sure the mainstream author will find plenty of other readers being backed by a big publishing house and the grace of newspaper book review lists. And if it’s bad, then it’ll tank. Like any book.

Just in case anyone thinks I’m writing this because I’m going to hopefully publish my book sometime soon, let me explain. While I respect self-published authors, I in no way want to go that route myself. It just seems like so much work and I want more support for my first book. But it doesn’t mean I never would. Publishing today is a whole new game, one that elitists should get on board with soon because the writing is already on the page.

A rebuttal to “Writers, why does everything need to be a series?”

harrypotterI’ve often heard random people mutter that every book seems to be a series these days. It’s true that the hottest sellers do seem to birth sequel after sequel, especially in the young adult genre. Earlier today, I read a post on author Scott D. Southard’s blog, titled “Writers, why does everything need to be a series?” Well I may not be a published author quite yet, but I’m going to raise you that question and give you an answer, not that you asked. But here you go.

When I first got the idea for my book, let’s tentatively call it “The First Dreamer,” I had no desire to go beyond the one.  This was in 2005 when I was finishing up grad school in Boston by interning for a small, nonprofit magazine.

In my small bedroom in a house shared with three other local students, I got an idea and I started to take notes. Given the fact that I just finished writing the first draft in February this year, it’s been a long time coming. The journey has been fraught with self-doubt, inspiration and a cursor that can delete with a homicidal vengeance. Many ideas and concepts have changed from that first seed of a story.

Along the way, as characters took on life and the idea blossomed and grew, I realized there was just more to tell. The story could not be summed up in only 300 pages. Sure, I could make it one giant book as J.R.R. Tolkien apparently did, according to Southard, but that’s daunting to today’s typical reader. My characters just can’t be confined to one book. They need two more. I may not have set out to write a trilogy, but I lost control awhile back. It’s them. The characters.

There are many different styles of writing. Some authors make detailed outlines, and follow an organized, set way of writing. While others, like me, have only a dream of an idea that needs time and patience to become the full-blown story that it is today. In my case, it’s through the writing process of time that saw my characters become who they are, and the storyline mature in the way it has.

Southard suggests that many authors today decide to write a series for the money. I’m just finding this out, but apparently, series writers were looked down upon at one point. But I can tell you, when I decided that this was going to be a trilogy, money was the farthest thought from my mind. I don’t even know if I’ll make a dime. It was merely that my characters dictated they would not be done in the breadth of one novel. Although I didn’t know what would happen in the first book, their stories became clear to me as I wrote. So I have a pretty good idea how it will end. But you never know. Stories change.

I’m the type of person who would eat dinner with her nose in a book as a kid. Spending the entire day reading a page turner is a luxury I can’t afford since I had a son, but I used to do it all the time. And I love authors who give me more (sorry if I sound like an AT&T commercial). Give me a trilogy, give me a series of 10. If I like the story, then I can’t get enough of it — Babysitters Club, Vampire Diaries, Sookie Stackhouse, Harry Potter, Twilight, Sarah Douglas’ Axis Trilogy, Tanya Huff’s Wizard of the Grove, Louise Cooper’s Time Master Trilogy. I read His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which Southard says was a “philosophical mess,” and which I can’t remember, so it’s possible he was right there. But overall, I haven’t been disappointed; it’s not like the movies where the second one is never as good as the first. In my experience, book sequels rock.

I’m not saying they should go on forever. Every story has an expiration date as does life. But if an author can give me a little more, a little longer of a world I cherish, then I’m perfectly content to read on. And I know there are a lot of readers out there who feel the same way. Otherwise, all the books in a series wouldn’t be doing so well.

Refuting the greatness of the book series, Southard gives  us an example of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, where in several paragraphs, the main character walks the reader through all the outcomes that happen after the book ends. While he seems to think this is just great, I say what’s the fun in that? I want the book. I want to keep living those characters’ lives. That’s when you know you’ve found a great story teller, when you’re sad the book has ended and you’re clamoring to get the second one in the series, and then the third and so on.

Next time I write a book, I hope it’s just one. Because it is probably much easier. The weight of the world continues to be on mine and my characters’ shoulders, so tying up all loose ends in 300 pages would be superb. But that’s just not the case with this first labor of creativity and love. So lookout, the Tresslan Chronicles of the First Dreamer will hopefully come to a book store, or Amazon, near you when my characters tell me they’re done. And then you can expect two more.

Until then, keep reading my friends.

Self publishing v. traditional: Which is the right direction?

Self-publishing funnyRemember when I had that whole rant about e-books versus print books and how I want to publish traditionally and be in print? Well I still love print. I am indeed, a print loyalist. But that hasn’t stopped me from partaking of both mediums lately. Mostly, I buy print. But authors will often send me e-copies of their books for me to review on Cellar Door Lit Rants & Reviews. So what’s a girl to do? I also have purchased several e-books when a print edition hasn’t been available.

Of late, I’m also confused as to which direction I want to take the publishing of my book. I’m currently beginning the editing process of my rough draft. This is a momentous occasion for any author, but especially for one who has been working on said book for seven years. That’s the better half of a decade! But it’s not as if I worked diligently every night. I would get stuck and stop for months at a time in the earlier years, hung up on some detail, waging a war with my own imagination.

Only in the last couple of years did I finally figure it out. Funny how even I didn’t know how it was going to all pan out until much later. And when the battle of my ideas was finally won, I got serious about finishing the story and realizing my dream of being an author. In the last year,  I also realized this book is more than just one, it’s three, with a spin-off series cooking in my brain.

So now I’m finally finished with the first draft, but with plenty of editing ahead of me. And now I’m thinking, should I start looking for agents soon? But what about self-publishing? From what I’ve read it can actually be more lucrative than going with a big publisher since Amazon takes such a small cut. It’s also faster — you mean I could virtually write my book, format it and make a cover and have it out within a matter of weeks? Hells yeah! After seven years I hardly have the patience left to wait how many more months it would take to get an agent, shop it around and then, and only if I got picked up, deal with another round of editing. It sounds arduous and long and I just want to happily tweet about my new book that’s on Amazon today.

But that other part of me, the one who says why not try traditional first and if it doesn’t pan out self-publish, sits in the back of my mind chanting its magic spell. She says be patient, what’s one more year after seven? Well, eight or nine actually.

I feel informed, I’ve read the literature and I think I understand the pros and cons.  But while I still struggle with the decision, I think I will be searching for an agent at the end of all of this and we’ll see where this journey continues to take me. I have nothing but respect for those who have self-published and have had even modest success. My hat goes off to you. It’s a world thick with authors trying to rise to the top and self-publishing has given a voice to those stories that may never have made the light of day. I can attest that many  I have read have been great reads. I’m thankful  because I know no matter what, my story will live one way or another. And that’s a comfort that didn’t exist seven years ago when the sprig of this story first blossomed from my imagination.

I’m a literary star…

Ok, not quite. But for a brief moment the other day, I tasted publicity.

It goes like this. I was happily tweeting one day not so long ago when @3GuysRantRadio asked me if I get out to L.A. much. Thinking the question more than a little random, I responded with a negative and a query behind his motive. His response was to ask me whether I would be interested in doing a phone interview. Again, and more than a little confused now, I tweeted “why?” His response this time: the #rantingwaitress.

That’s me, I suppose. Roughly five years ago, I was folding laundry, which included several black aprons. I had recently found employment in my profession and was finally able to hang up my black uniform and non-slip shoes, hopefully forever. And yet this black apron taunted me with memories causing symptoms akin to PTSD (not really, but I’m a writer and I like to add drama.) Anyway, I imagined burning it as my sister had burned her uniform shirt when she departed the food service industry not long after she had entered it. This sounded like such a good idea I began to plot how to best go about fulfilling my pyromaniac urges. I hadn’t gotten very far in my planning when I was struck with a single line running through my head: Never burn your apron.

In a fit of creative inspiration I pounded out this memoir/rant, which in effect helped to cleanse the fryer grease from my soul as much as it was a writing exercise to get the flow going. Then some years later, this year to be exact, I decided I liked it, my family seemed to think it was pretty amusing, so I made a blog and slapped it up. Through some self-promotion, I somehow ended up landing an interview on a radio show.

So with wine in hand, I had a great convo with the people down at 3 Guys Rant Radio about the service industry and philosophies on tipping. I even got to plug my untitled, future novel that has to be completed. Sweetness! Actually, my book does have a title, but it’s a working one and I won’t be willing to share it until I complete the first draft by December. Since my deadline is looming, I should probably stop babbling about my brief foray into literary stardom, or non-stardom, whatever you want to go with, and get writing my book. Chapter…