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…

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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…

LaShawn’s Project Status Update (or working on my 5th final draft…)

So right around yesterday as I recoved from a full day of hanging out at the Circle M farm by cooking roast chicken and cheesy rutabega, a thought occurred to me as I looked out and to my shock saw tiny flakes of snow flying by the window:

Oh crap. November’s coming up isn’t it? That means I gotta spend the whole month focusing on Willow!

Ever since I learned about NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago, I’ve been using the month of November not so much as a month to put my butt in a chair and crank out a 50,000 word novel, but to focus on the novel I already had, Weeping of the Willows. The first year I did it, I cranked out 50,000 words worth of new material for my book. Ironically, a good deal of that material got stripped out in the first reading, but I still think it did me some good.

Last year, I don’t think I participated. Things were crazy for me that month, what with the possibility of selling our house and moving to Madison and all. It’s a miracle I got any writing done at all during that time.

So here it is, a year later. At the moment, I’m still reading through the first draft of Willow. It’s been slow going, partially because I do it at night, when I’m more likely to be tired and ready to blow it off. Partially because I’ve been focusing on my short story She’s All Light. Yes, yes, I know. A few weeks ago, I said that I was working on my final draft and once it was done, I would send it to Writers of the Future. No ifs, ands, or buts. I was done with it.

But then something happened.  As I worked on the final draft, one of the supporting characters, which in previous drafts had been pretty sublime and quiet, did something so unexpected and bizarre, I actually stopped working and backed away from the laptop. It still gives me chills thinking about it; I don’t want to say that it was violent thing she did, but in the framework of the scene, what she did was something that made me–and the other characters–jump. And just like that, it came out of the blue. As I was working on the final draft.

Well, of course, when a character does something that gives you chills, that changes the whole nature of their persona in the story. There’s repucussions. You want to know why the character did it. You want to know how that one single act impacts the story from that point on. And I knew that I couldn’t call it a final draft anymore, because the story had changed. Which means that I need to do some more work on it.

Luckily, we had a writer’s group meeting, so I brought my “final” draft in. Turns out that I don’t have to rewrite the whole story from scratch, which is a great relief. However, the group confirmed what I felt after finishing the ‘final’ draft–the sections I had to change were so strong on their own, it made some other scenes unnecessary. So basically, I need to do some cutting.

Which is fine. My word count for this story had been pretty high, roughly around 12,000 words. Cutting out some scenes will trim it nicely. The hard part will be structuring the story after those cuts. I’ll have to take a couple of weeks to think on how the best way to do that…

And now you see my dilemma? For me to do this, I’ll have to either put aside working on Willow, which is something I don’t want to do, or I’ll just have to continue doing what I’m doing now, which is spend the afternoon working on the story, and the evening working on Willow.

Then again, it’s not like my writing schedule is set in stone. I can be flexible. The WOTF deadline is not until January 1. I don’t necessarily have to wait until November to focus on Willow. I can start doing that…well…today…

So how does this look: this week, I’ll focus exclusively on Willow in both my afternoon and evening writing sessions. Then, next week, start working on the She’s All Light cuts during the evening session. It means I’ll be putting more of my energies on working on Willow still, but in switching the two, it will help me focus on something new at night. At least, that’s the theory. Then, when the story is done and finally out the door, go back to doing Willow twice a day until I’m done with the readthrough. My goal is to start working on actual revisons at the beginning of 2009. (Oh, and what fun that will be…)

I’ve realized that this means that I will have spent the whole of 2008 working on two things: She’s All Light and Willow. Doesn’t make for a productive year, does it? Well, I don’t feel terribly bad. Actually, I have written other stories for fun, and there are several that I want to focus on when I get the chance (I may actually focus on one after I get SAL out the door–it’s a flash, so it should take up much time). But in light of all that’s happened this year, I’m just grateful that I have the chance to write at all.

So thank you for being with me as I sort all this out. All of this will pay off, I promise you when both of these stories get published. Don’t know when, mind you, but I can tell you it will happen.

Status update on Willow

My desk is clean. The whole house is clean. The boy is currently watching Diego. I got some free time on my hands. I could work on a new blog post (all right, I’m writing it now, yes. I know that. But there’s a reason for all this. Bear with me, okay?). But I could also work on some short stories. Since so many got published within the last month, I need to get some new works out there. I could work on some essays–I got some ideas in mind to try to get into Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Or…

I can quit dilly-dallying and start editing Willow.

On the “I should be Writing” podcast a few weeks ago, Mur Lafferty talks about pre-writing writing. It’s doing work on your book like outlining or character sheets, but not actual writing. However, it’s just as important, because it lays the groundwork for your book. Without it, you’re lost, or at least constantly changing your world without any set guidelines. I feel like I haven’t been working on Willow at all, just fiddling around with the storylines. But although it didn’t feel like work, it was very needed work.

Over the past few months, I’ve been writing out all the storylines, both major and supporting, of Willow by character. It felt somewhat convoluted, as I did each plotline according to each character, and in some cases, there was a lot of repetition. But I wanted to see how the storyline looked from each character’s point of view. In some cases, what one character did made me change the storyline of another character. Doing it this way, I was able to see the big picture of the book. It also made me realize that I’ll have to rewrite many, many chapters.

Ah, the fun of being a writer.

As of last Friday, all the storyline plots are done. I still need to organize them in a way that’s easy to read (I’m going to have lots of fun with my Storylines software this week), but I think that I’m done cementing the storyline to how I want it. Which means that, sooner rather than later, it’s time to dive back into the pages of Willow.

I suppose this post can qualify for psyching myself up for it. Although I’ve looked at my book while I worked on the outlines, I haven’t ‘touched’ it per se. Now that the actual plotline groundwork is laid, it’s time to look at the book and figure out how to clean it up to how I want it. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that. I know it will involve a whole lot of notes–it will also involve going through each chapter and figuring out what stays and what goes. I may even need to write new chapters. And which word processor should I do this all in? What I’m using now, RoughDraft, was nice for the first draft, but this will be an extensive rehauling. Should I utilize my Word 2007 for it? Should I look for another writing program? yWriter, for instance? Any writers out there with any ideas?

Hmm…don’t know yet. But I do know this–if I’m going to edit Willow, then now’s the time to do it while my schedule is free. So this is my accountability statement: that starting next Monday, March 17, 2008 I will start my major editing of Willow.

Hey, that’s St. Patrick’s Day! A Day of Green for a Willow book. That’s a nice sign, don’t you think?