The Next Big Thing – The Weeping of the Willows

There’s this meme post going around called "The Next Big Thing" where new authors answer questions about the books they’re working on. I’ve been tagged by Sofia Samatar back in October, and then tagged again by my VPXV classmate Blair MacGregor in December. So I am really, really late on this. But never late than never, hey?

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The Weeping of the Willows.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Different elements of the story came from different parts of my life.

When I was in college, I had a friend who had kept swords in his dorm room. Sometimes, we would stage  fake fights. From that, I got the idea of a black girl assassin.

Because of my Christian charismatic background, I wanted to write a world that explored the nature of prophecy. I combined that with the madness of the Greek oracles to come up with the concept of voices in my story. I also love growing herbs, and that’s where I got the idea of herbmasters instead of doctors.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Epic fantasy.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I doubt it would ever get turned into a movie, but I think an older version of the girl who played Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild would be perfect as my main character, Coren.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A black female assassin is assigned to kill a herbmaster, but becomes a bodyguard to his son, the prophesied destroyer of the world.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

When I finish it (and by God, it will get finished), I plan to send it to agents, but also to publishers. We’ll see what happens then.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Officially, I started writing this in 1992 and made it up to 15 chapters before I stopped in 1997. I picked it up again in 2004, decided I had no clue what I was doing, threw all those chapters out, and started rewriting from scratch. I finished the first draft in July 2007 and saw that I had enough for two books. So I broke them in half, and I’ve been in rewrites since.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hm…probably the closest would be the Sun Sword series by Michelle West.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Over time, the story evolved to the theme of identity. What is identity? How can you claim identity when it’s been taken from you without your knowledge? What must you sacrifice to forge your own identity? In a way, the book mirrors my own journey as I wrestle with these questions.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Swordfights! Plagues! Talking trees! Politics! Meddling aunts! And lots of swears and oaths…

To be honest, I’m still in the revision stage, but I’m always posting updates here at the Café in the Woods. Feel free to follow me here, or on Facebook and Twitter if you want more timely updates.

Include the person who tagged you, and add other people if you like:

As I said, I was tagged by both Sofia Samatar and Blair MacGregor. I’m going to return the favor and tag my other VPXV classmate Veronica Henry, as well as fellow Madisonite Monica Valentinelli, and David Steffen who is one of the masterminds behind The (Submission) Grinder, an alternative to Duotrope.

Weeping of the Willow Update: Resetting the Counter Back to 1

Well, I can’t put it off any longer.

The main reason I went to Viable Paradise was to get help for my work-in-process, The Weeping of the Willows. I had reached a point where I was in revision hell, and I needed clear eyes to get myself out of it.

What I learned there was that 1) everyone goes through this, 2) I got a good complex story, and 3) I need to CUT THINGS DOWN. Right now, I have so much happening and so many characters, trying to juggle it all wore me down.

I’ve looked over my outline and cut out some stuff. Some storylines can wait until the next book. I’ve combined some characters into the main characters, making the latter stronger. And ::deep breath:: I’m starting all over again.

So you see the Willow in progress counter to the right? It’s back to zero.

That was probably the most painful part of this whole process.

But…in theory…this revision would go faster. I no longer have 60 chapters to wade through. It’s been streamlined to 45 chapters. We’ll see how this works.

Last night, I edited the first page. Only a kazillion more to go. It’s a start.

Update on Willow (or Running the race as slow as I can…)

My friend Nicole recently ran the Chicago marathon. You can read her story, "Chasing Garbage Trucks (a marathon story)" at her blog, Five Penny Nicole. It’s really moving. Nicole is a fellow Chicagoan who also moved to Madison, so a lot of what she wrote resonated with me.

I mention this because as you can see, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this month. Just putting all my energies into my current short story and Willow.  And even those have been going slow. With work and Daniel’s school, I just haven’t had any decent writing time. And I also admit, I’ve been slacking in writing in the evenings. We’ve been watching Babylon 5, and while it’s an awesome show, I haven’t been able to dedicate my usual hours of work in the evening. Sometimes I do write, but it’s hard to concentrate when I’m engrossed in the workings of the Sintari. So it’s getting to be that it takes me two, maybe three weeks to finish a chapter of Willow. And at this snail pace, it would be a miracle if I finish at all next year.

In Nicole’s blog, she talks about running when most of all the sprinters and experienced runners had taken off, leaving the slow runners behind. She talks about running on the sidewalk because the police had open the streets to cars again. She talks about passing empty water stations because the helpers had packed up to go home. And she talks about how despite that, she kept on running. She had made it her goal to finish the course, no matter what place she came in.

It’s not like I have writer’s block that keeps me from working on Willow. While it feels like I’m chipping away at each chapter, paragraph by paragraph, what emerges from all that chipping is some real good storytelling. I’m taking time to think through the logistics: atmosphere, description, believable action. It helps that I’m not in a hurry. Yes, there are times when I get frustrated. I feel that I should be further along.  Here it is getting into November and I only just now finished introducing all the players and starting the dive into the story itself…

But wait…I lie. That last line didn’t feel me with frustration at all. It filled me with glee. It’s got me rubbing my hands in anticipation. I want to see the book to the end, and the thing is, I’m enjoying what I’m writing. It’s not like it’s turned into a thing I have to slog into. This week, I’m putting in the details of a palace that’s based on African architecture. Do you know how much fun it is doing that?

So yes, I’m going slow. But it’s okay. My goal is not to write fast. My goal is to write Willow and finish, so that’s what I’m going to do. And for all you NaNoWriMo writers out there who feel like you’re flagging, like you can’t keep up with the daily word count, ask yourself this: did I sign up for this just to write anything, or did I promise myself to write and finish a novel?

If it’s the latter, then congratulations. You got yourself a goal. Now just keep writing until you reach it. Oh, and thanks Nicole for re-inspiring me. Now if you don’t mind, I got some writing to do!

Short Story & Willow Update (or why the best bar stories never get published…)

Last week our home routine changed again. Daniel has started kindergarten. His transformation into a bona-fide student went so smoothly, I’m surprised he wasn’t standing at the school’s doors at 6am with his new bookbag and lunchbox, calling out impatiently, "What time is it? Will school start soon? How about now? Now? Now?"

Thank God it went so smoothly. Much better than his summer school program back in June, when he got being mistaken for a Mexican boy and put on the wrong schoolbus. I would go into more details about this, but I’ve realized something: there are just some stories that are only meant to be told once, in the heat of the moment. Told any more times after that, and then the power of it wanes. When Daniel did not get off his bus and I spent the next two hours trying to piece together what happened, my emotions became so churned, that when we finally found Daniel (safe and sound, and in fact taking great delight at his impromptu ride) I headed down to the bar where my book club was meeting, where I spat out the most vitriolic, obscenity-laden, ear-blistering diatribe railing against the ignorance and ineptitude of the whole Madison bus system.

Then, afterwards, when the room still ringing from my profanity-laced hollering and the group, in all their wisdom, got me a well-deserved Mike’s Hard Lemonade, I found myself thinking, wow. That was good!

I have since told the story since to other people, but it’s not the same. For one thing, I’m calmer and had a chance to think about it. And I’m also owing up to part of the whole mess, so the story loses its emotional impact. ("If we hadn’t lost the wristband he was supposed to wear…") And even if I did get upset about it ("Never mind that even if he did wore the wristband, they would’ve ignored it; much like how they ignored the wristband of the Mexican boy they claimed was my son…) it pales against the initial blizzard of frustration and rage I felt.

The profanity was the best part. I never swear all that much in public, and even among friends, I occasionally use a tame ‘hell’ or ‘damn’. But that night, whoa, I swear, the bar we met at got few more cracks in their ceiling from the words I was using (and I don’t regret it one bit—in fact, according to Time Magazine, it’s actually good for women to swear now and then. Acts as a pain reducer. Who knew?).

On the plus side, I did sell two stories in August. (Don’t worry, what I wrote above is related. You’ll see.) One will be published in October, the other sometime in Spring next year. So I crossed them off my list and took a look to see what other stories I had floating around the magazine markets.

Only two.

There’s one story that’s currently at Writers of the Future, so I should be hearing from that sometime this month. There’s another story that’s a rewrite request that I’m waiting to hear back on hopefully by this month as well. But as far as new stuff goes, I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Which means I better get some new stories out there to circulate, stat.

It’s not like I don’t have any stories to send out. I did a ton of writing back when Daniel was in summer school, so I actually have several finished stories sitting on my hard drive. Thing is though, these are all first drafts of stories. I wrote them as fun freewriting exercises and just never had time to go through them again. Or I figured I’d do some research first before I return to revisions. Then there’s one story I wrote a long time ago. But when I started the second revision of it, it started to get too wordy, too long-winded. The second draft was killing the story, so I set it aside to think on it some more, then promptly forgot about it.

Ever since I started writing, I’ve been of the opinion that good stories need to be revised twice, three times, four, maybe even five or six times before it’s ready to send out to markets. And I still stand on that. I’m working on a short story now that I know I’ll need a heavy duty revision for—it requires some research for it to be just right. It is a jewel that will need some good polishing to make right.

But I’m also wondering if my story-writing has improved as such that I can take some stories I wrote, do a general pass for spelling, grammar and punctuation, and just send them out. No toying with plot or point of view. No countless freewrites to figure out what the story’s theme or playing around with words to make it more lyrical. Just make sure it flows well, then send it out.

It’s a risky thing to do. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to revising stories (and that’s the last time you’ll see me use the word ‘perfectionist’ when describing myself). I don’t want my stories to be merely good. I want them to be great. But who am I to determine if a story is ‘great’ or even ‘good’? The only way to find that out is to let someone else read them. But I can’t do that if they’re only sitting on my hard-drive. And there’s a possibility that the more revision I’d do, the less effective the story gets. There are some stories that do require carefully planning and revising, and there are some stories that are best when they were written in the heat of the moment, so to speak. Those stories work so well the first time, to rewrite them again would be an injustice, just like the school bus mix-up story. When I told it to my book club, it was perfect. I can’t recapture that again. (See, told you it was related.)

So here’s what I’m going to do. Starting this week, I’m going to start submitting a story a week. That means it need to be pulled off the hard drive, given a once-over to make sure it looks good, then find a market and send it off by Friday. If I do this for five weeks, it gets me five stories out in the market field. (I wanted to start this last week when September started, but with all the first day of school fun, I was pretty busy). So my goal is to have five stories submitted to markets by October 9. I’ll put a progress meter on the blog to show how I’m doing.

This isn’t something I’m doing for money or for show. It’s just a simple way for me to get some stories off my hard drive and out circulating until they find a place where they belong. Oh, yes, Willow is going along quite well. I just finished editing chapter seven, which ended on, I think, a wonderfully sinister note. I’ve been trying a new style of revision using Word 2007 comment feature—as I revise, if there’s something I’m really stuck on, instead of spending precious time trying to figure it out, I comment it with a couple of questions and continue on with the rewrite. The next time I open Word, I go to the comments first. Not only have I figured out the problem by then, but it also pulls me back into the story. I’m kicking myself for not doing this sooner—it would’ve saved me a whole lot of backtracking.

But I will get Willow done. Darn it.

Weeping of the Willows update (actually, it’s more of a non-update…)

So this week is the last week of the boy’s summer school. Can’t believe six weeks went by so quickly. It’s a good thing I used all that time to focus exclusively on Willow…

…oh, wait. No I didn’t. Truth is, I did not work on Willow at all.

You see, back in June, I was working hard to make the June 30th deadline for Writers of the Future contest. Then I learned that another deadline for a rewrite request I’m doing got pushed down to August, which gave me the whole of July to focus on reworking my story. I’m glad it got pushed, because if it hadn’t, I would’ve just done a slap-and-dash rewrite and hope for the best. This gave me time to really contemplate on how to change the story. But yeah, because I was working so hard on these two short stories, Willow fell to the wayside because I didn’t have time to work on it.

Which don’t make sense at first–with the boy at school, I had oodles of time to write, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Except with all that time, I did other things too, like clean and nap and uh…read email…play Bejeweled…

But the other thing was that I was totally wrapped up in these short stories. I couldn’t put them down. I had to finish them to see how they turned out. There were the deadlines, too, but still–I was having fun working on these stories. And I felt that if I switched to Willow, I would lose my momentum in getting them sent out.

Both stories have gone out now. And I got a week left of freedom…of sorts. Except really, it’s only two more days, because I have in-laws visiting on Thursday. Which means we have to get the apartment clean. And I have an essay to wrap up that needs to get done by Saturday, which means I need to finish it tomorrow…

But I miss Willow. I miss working on it. I want to work on it again.

Okay, here’s a promise to myself. Make August Willow month. Sure, the boy will be back to being at home in the afternoons, but to be honest, I miss the structured time I had with him. Actually, there’s a lot more I miss from him not being around, but that will have to be a separate post. Trust me, come next week, I’ll probably be thinking, man, I so wish he was back in summer school…

Status Update on Willow

It’s been about three months now since I started the second full rewrite of Willow. And today, I just started working on Chapter Five. That means that so far, I’ve been spending roughly 3 weeks on each chapter, instead of just one week like I thought. At this rate, I won’t be finished with Willow until…um…late next year.

Crud.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been going through the whole text with a fine tooth comb. Looking for inaccuracies, trying to make sure I get wording right. I’ve rewritten the prologue and Chapter Two twice because the storyline didn’t sit right with me, and I wanted it to read right. So I threw out whatever I had, and completely wrote the chapters from new points of view, changed the location of a couple of places, and in one scene, decided a man would be better off as a woman.

The thing is, though, I’m having so much fun doing these rewrites. And I don’t feel terribly bad that it’s taking so long. I knew that the first few chapters would probably take the longest to rewrite. It’s like a first impression—I have only one chance to get the reader’s attention, so I want the storyline and the writing to be good. And so far, I’ve been really pleased in how strong the rewriting has made the story so far.

It also helped that I listened to #25 of the Odyssey Podcast by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. They discuss the differences between writing a story and a novel, but they also point out that you don’t know the story until you reach its end, thus, when you go back to rewrite, you can do so with that ending in mind. Hence, the opening chapters of your book will be the ones you’ll rewrite the most often. That made me feel a lot more encouraged.

(By the way, I highly suggest listening to the Odyssey Podcast. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s gives a very good idea on how it works. And they have great advice.)

Speaking of short stories, I’m working on a new one for the Writer’s of the Future Contest. This is probably the first story based on an actual person. It’s also based on some very personal feelings I have. I had a bit of a scare when I thought that the deadline for the contest was June 1, but it’s actually July 1, so I have more time. Which makes me happy.

So that’s the latest writing update I have. Willow’s growing, bit by bit. It’s taking a bit of time, but that’s how good stories get born. Letter by word, sentence by paragraph, page by chapter, until—surprise!—a book.

All right. On to chapter five…

Celebrating Black Future Month

Remember Black History Month back in February? Yeah, I didn’t either. Sadly, my observance of the month has faded along with Kwanzaa, which my family never really celebrated anyway (in fact, it never even entered our heads to celebrate it). I do have fond memories of all the stuff we had to learn during Black History Month, and I’m a little sad that Daniel won’t have that same experience, not unless we send him to an all black school (and to be honest, I want him to be exposed to many different cultures, not just white and black).

That all said, this past March has been interesting. It feels like I’ve spent the entire month not just discussing multi-ethnic matters, but reconciling on how that applies to me as a black writer.

In the past, I really struggled on what made me a black person other than just color. I didn’t act like a "typical" black person; in fact, as a kid, I caught a lot of flack from other black people because I "acted white". I spoke proper. Always had my head in a book. Wasn’t very interested in singing or dance groups. In high school and college, I got to hear all the fun names that goes along struggling with black identity—like oreo or zebra. Fun, fun times. See, this is why I don’t like thinking about high school days.

It got to the point where I felt more "black" among my white friends than I did with other blacks. So I hung out with whites more. It was where I felt the most comfortable. The way I figured it,

Now, fast forward to this past March. I’m attending our Wiscon Book Club, Beer and Marmalade, and one of the things we decide to talk about was a racism discussion that’s been happening on LiveJournal appropriately called "RaceFail 2009". I’m not going to spell out the whole history of that; clicking on the link would give you an idea, although you can get a more detailed history of the whole mess at Ann Somerville’s LiveJournal. But anyway—I didn’t really want to do it, as any discussion about race makes me highly uncomfortable. But I dutifully read some of the essays out there, and I came across this post "We worry about it Too".

That essay hit a strong nerve with me.

You see, when I started writing, I had prided myself on being a ‘black’ writer of speculative fantasy. I figured it would make me stand out more, especially since I was writing a fantasy novel that contained black characters in it. Heck, it had a black woman who was a main character. But when I first wrote Willow, she wasn’t the main protagonist. The young man she protects, the white male, he was the protagonist. Most of the book was written from his point of view, as well as several others who were white.

I once took a draft of Willow’s Synopsis to an agent at the Midwest Writer’s Conference a while back. One of the things she said was, "It looks like the female character is stronger than the male. Why isn’t this in her point of view?" And I just stared at her, because 1) it didn’t really occur to me to write in the black female’s point of view, and 2) deep down, it scared me. Who was I, a black woman, mind you, to know what an actual black woman felt like?

(And yes, I know most of my short stories have black characters as the main protagonist—but it’s different when you write sci/fi or plain speculative, because it’s easier to picture black people in the future. But in fantasy? Most are set within Eurocentric settings; any black people would be relegated to an African tribal status.)

My sister, who has a LiveJournal of her own, puts it down the best way when it comes to her writing fanfiction: "I write about white characters because that’s what I read when I grew up." I’m the exact same way. I’ve grown so used to seeing white males in fantasy that when I started writing a fantasy novel, it was easy to fall into that same line of thinking.

My realization about my main characters came before I read that essay by Nojojojo, of course. But the timing couldn’t have been better. Because I read it just when I started my second rewrite of Willow’s prologue. And it made me seriously think. Am I writing from this character’s POV because it’s what I’m used to, or should I write from this other character to give him/her more of a voice in the book?

It’s a hard thing to juggle, but I’ve rewritten the prologue and chapter 1 of Willow, and I think that so far, both have come out a lot stronger. I’m eager to see this novel through Coren’s eyes. It’s risky, but it’s also very exciting.

That’s how I feel about this whole RaceFail thing. Sure, a lot of people on both sides have vented and/or said very stupid things (I almost don’t read comments anymore), but some very insightful and deep discussion has come because of this. And there are attempts to further the conversation. Wiscon will be holding its first Cultural Appropriation Class (I mentioned this in my last post), and luckily, I’ll be able to attend that. There’s also been a great promotion to read more fantasy and sci/fi by people of color, which I highly, highly recommend (and I’ve started doing myself). There’s also a new small press in the works called Verb Noire who caters specifically to people of color in the scifi/fantasy community. Worth checking out.

This is probably the best time to be a black speculative fiction writer. We’re forging into new territory here. It’s scary, risky and it’s never really been done before. But it’s long overdue. And I think this whole experience is helping to strengthen my own identity as a black writer. For the first time, I can own up to that and really feel like I mean it, instead of feeling like some imposter.

Of course, my hubby would suggest that’s because inside of me there’s a Japanese girl perpetually stuck at age thirteen, but that’s not true. She’s sixteen. That’s a world of difference.

Weekly Cafe update and a little Writing News

Another bunch of links for you. I’m finding it easier to squeeze these kind of posts in between writing and real life.

First, an update on Willow: going slow, but I expected that to happen. I want the first three chapters of this book to really pull readers in, so I’m taking my time to make sure that it’s right. I’m planning to workshop the 1st two chapters at the Wiscon writer’s workshop, so I need to get those done by April 1.

And speaking of Wiscon, yes, I’ll be there, albeit on Friday only, due to some scheduling snafus. But the scheduling looks very good indeed. After the workshop, there will be a Cultural Appropriation 101 class that looks to be very interesting in light of some very interesting discussions that’s been taking place on LiveJournal. (I’m still working on my own thoughts of the matter, but there are a couple of things I still need to do before I set those thoughts into words.) I also plan to go to Odyssey Con April 24-26. Hmm…from writing workshops to geekcons. I’m making my way up the networking ladder.

Other news: “She’s All Light”, the story I poured my heart and soul into for the past year, got Honorable Mention at the 1st Quarter Writers of the Future Contest. I was a little bummed about it, but overall a lot happier over it than I was making finalist at the Oddcon writing contest. It also means that I’m free to send it out, so I’m putting it out on the field. Wish me luck! I’ve already started on a new story for WOTF. I won’t make the 2nd Quarter deadline, seeing that April 1 is already reserved for Willow, but I do plan to take my time so that I can send it in time for the 3rd Quarter, which will be around June.

In other news, one of my favorite podcasts is being put on hiatus. Adventures in SciFi Publishing is not ending—there may be a couple more episodes put out, but it’s not known when it will go back to its regularly scheduled broadcast, if ever. Kudos to Shaun Farrell for putting it all together. I’ll miss his and Sam’s insight on the industry. Mr. Farrell, by the way, also placed as a semi-finalist in this quarter’s WOTF. I bet his was the one that got me knocked down to Honorable Mention. ;-). Mucho, mucho congratulations to him.

In light of that, I’m looking for a new podcast that deals with the fantasy/scifi genre in the writing community. I would love to hear suggestions from any writers out there (and I know you come to the Cafe. I keep needing to refill the coffee machine…)

Back to writing!

Writing Goals for 2009

Yayyy! I get to start off 2009 by setting up my goals again. Hooray!

Just think–around this time last year, I had no clue what the year would be like. My hubby and I had just started working on our house, stripping out the carpet and painting the walls, while we interviewed real estate agents who could best sell our house in the quickest time. In fact, I’m pretty sure–yes–around this date, I sat in what was our office and bemoaned the fact I hated painting, I hated having my life in disarray, I hate home improvement altogether.

Interesting how life can change from year to year.

I’m pretty sure this year would involve another move at some point. But this time, it would be a lot less stressful–at least, that’s what I hope. But this post is not about the fun of moving. This post is what I didn’t get a chance to do around last year–setting up my writing goals for 2009.

Believe it or not, I got a lot more accomplished in 2008 than I thought. Which is a more optimistic way of saying that when 2008 started, I didn’t think I would get anything accomplished at all. I figured by the time we moved to Madison and I adjusted from being a stay-at-home mom to entering the workforce on a part-time basis, I then would be able to figure out how I would do my writing schedule. And indeed, during the first half of the year, there were times when I only were able to work on writing five, maybe ten minutes a day. Sometimes not even that.

But once we got to Madison, things got settled more quickly than I thought. In fact, around July I was able to seriously take a look at where I was in my writing. So let’s bring that up:

Willow: Finish reading by Fall 2008, start edits by Winter 2008.
Well, technically I finished the readthrough on January 5, 2009. But at least I never specified exact months. So as far as I know, I can easily say start edits by Winter 2009. Okay, yes, that’s cheating. But frankly, I don’t care.

Short Stories/Essays/Poetry: Polish 5 stories and submit them. Write 2 essays and submit. Polish 2 poems and submit.
Let me take a look at what I did accomplish in 2008:

I wrote 5 new short stories and 1 poem, ready for revision.
I submitted 3 short stories, one of them being “She’s All Light”.
I had 3 short stories published (all in the beginning of 2008).

I also had a partial recap posted for the Agony Booth. (Southland Tales). So that can be applied towards an essay.

Critiques: Do one a month. Find a writer’s group.
Ha! It’s a miracle I even remain on some on my writer’s lists. However, I not only did I find two writers’ groups, I also joined up with a Wiscon book group.

Contest: I’ll give myself a break. Enter 1 contest, fee or non
“She’s All Light” was sent to the Writers of the Future Contest at the end of September.

Craft: Attend the Wisconsin Literary Festival in October (I don’t know when the Midwest Literary one is–the website seems to be down). Plan to attend Wiscon in 2009.
I attended the Literary Festival, and was somewhat disappointed. They didn’t offer as many writer workshops as I thought. Seeing that it was more of a Book Festival, I’m not all that surprised. Wiscon I’ll talk about it in a bit.

Looking at what I did accomplish in 2008, I’m pretty happy. Granted, it wasn’t that much of a productive year, but I could have done worse.

Looking ahead to 2009, I can tell it’s going to be a novel-heavy year. Weeping of the Willows is ready for its second rewrite. I managed to get it down to 50 chapters, and I want to shoot for a second draft that’s at least 150,000 words. I’m hoping that will cut down the amount of time spent working on it, because I no longer have the luxury of a stay-at-home status to write.

But I still need to get some short stories circulating out among the markets. I happen to be working on one right now, though it’s not for a market per se. I’ve also been seriously thinking about the advice Neil Gaiman gave on the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast about writing every day. I’ve been trying it out, and while I don’t always write something new everyday, I have been managing to write out a whole story a week since 2009 started. All right, yes, that means so far I’ve written two new stories, but maybe there’s something to this ‘write every day’ advice.

I’m thinking with all my energies going to Willow, this would be a good time to churn out stories that are relatively short, easy on the word count, and don’t require all that much. Of course, this brings me to my next hurdle, the Writers of the Future Contest. I confess–I’m really having fun writing stories for it. Maybe it’s that Honorable Mention I got the first time I submitted something. I’m curious to know how high I can get. Semi-finalist? Finalist even?

The Contest’s deadlines are quarterly. If I can revise four good stories this year and send them off, what are the odds that I reach the Finalist stage? Don’t know until I try, I suppose. But time is the factor here. Again, I don’t have as much time that I did when I lived in Chicago. I’ll have to budget my time wisely.

So let’s do this:

Willow: Begin 2nd draft in February 2009. See if I can do two chapters a week for completion by Fall 2009.
Short stories: Freewrite a story each week. Revise four stories to send to Writers of the Future. Submit rejects to other markets. (This means that while I’ll be writing more stories, I won’t be submitting as much. A bummer, because I want to get more of my work circulating out there–but I think Willow takes higher precedence, so I don’t mind putting submissions on the back burner. And at least this way, I’m getting something out.)
Essays: Although I’m not going to work on any essays this year, I do want to do a full recap for the Agony Booth since that is so much fun to write for. That would probably happen in latter portion of 2009.
Contests: Focus on submitting a story for each quarter of Writers of the Future.
Critiques: With all the writing I’m doing, my email critters lists have taken a very low priority. Conversely, I’ve been working more with my face-to-face email groups. I’ll have to keep doing that, I guess.
Conferences: There are actually several conferences I’ll be doing this year, but seeing that it’s getting late, I’ll reserve those in my next post.

So there you have it. More writing, most of it concentrated on Willow. If all goes well, who knows? Maybe the beginning of my 2010 goals will be “sending Willow off to publishers & agents…”

Readthrough of Willow Done (or Helllooooo, 2009!)

Well, I’m back! Did you have a good Christmas holiday? I sure did. Lots of rest and relaxation. It was pretty nice.

Oh, by the way. I finished with my readthrough of Willow.

It rocks considering that I didn’t think I’d be done with it until the end of January. Then again, it sucks because I realized I spent more than a year working on it. I started the readthrough back in October 2007, and I officially finished it yesterday, January 5, 2005. That’s a long time to figure out a first draft of my book.

But despite the long time, I am pleased. I took my time to go through each chapter, making notes on how I wanted storylines to go. Sometimes I had to backtrack to previous chapters to see whether things remained consistent. I wrote down a lot of questions that I will need to do research on, and I have a lot of decisions to make, like names and other world-building tasks, that need to be finalized. But the reason for going so slow in my readthrough was that I wanted everything in place, so when I start on my second draft, I can write it straight, knowing what will happen in each scene. It’s basically what Stephen King mentioned in On Writing  (and I really wish I can find that book now–it’s packed up somewhere in our garage; I could really use his advice again. Looks like I’m going to have to go digging this weekend.)

So what does this mean? Well, first of all, I’m giving Willow a little rest while I get some other things out of the way. My plan is to start the second draft work in February, but first of all, I need to know where I stand as far as writing goes. Seeing that it’s a new year, that means new goals, new resolutions. I’ll have that on the Cafe hopefully this week.

But just think–I’m one step closer to actually having Willow finished. Who would’ve thunk it?

Stay tuned. 2009 is going to be one interesting year…

…let’s just hope that it won’t be as interesting as 2008 was. Oy…

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