Now what? Novel four in a waiting game.

This is an exciting time for any novelist – a second draft of my latest novel is complete and I am now sending it off to some trusted readers for feedback.

Exciting, yet scary.

No one else has even seen a word of this novel, and now about eight people will be receiving it, tasked with letting me have it: the good, the bad, the ugly.

Honestly, I have no idea what I’ve created. It makes sense in my mind, but as a prior post expounded, my mind can be somewhat uneven. Who knows what others will think about it?

Luckily, I have some really shrewd readers who have agreed to take it on. Many of them have extensive backgrounds in literature, so I feel confident they will be open and honest with me about what works and what doesn’t.

Then it’s up to me to not be defensive. To take in their criticism and look back at the manuscript to make the final determination of whether, in my opinion, their ideas need to be addressed. Probably, they do. Initial feedback is oftentimes the most helpful. It helps shape the final draft and helps ready it for the editor to once again pick it apart.

But it’s also at this point that I can start thinking about my next novel. What should it be? Actually, I have the first chapter of a different novel already written. I will take a good long look at it as it will most likely be my next one – set in a imagined tropical island in southeast Asia. Yeah, I know. Asia always calls me home.

So, thank you readers for taking my baby and giving me your honest feedback. It will allow me to move forward and try something new. But I know that in a couple months, I’ll be back at novel 4 one more time to get things ready for my editor.

I must admit that it’s awfully fun to be a writer. May the creative processes never cease! Here’s to four, five, and beyond!

I’d Rather Write a Novel than a Summary of that Novel

I’m at it again. One of my most frustrating times of the year. Writing the dreaded “blurb” that will become the back of my novel or the description on Amazon or just the pitch that I’ll use with reviewers.

I’m nearly at the point of sending the draft of my fourth novel out to some early readers for feedback, so I thought I should “sharpen the pencil” and try to hammer out a simple pitch, so they know what to expect.

Ha!

Nothing simple about it. I just spent the last half hour writing five paragraphs of description about my novel and all of it is garbage.

Summary writing is creative writing. Perhaps one has to be even more creative to write a good summary than to write a good novel. How can you boil 60000 words down to a hundred. An “elevator pitch” some might like to say. All right, but let’s make this an elevator in the Empire State Building, so it can be a little longer, OK?

Back to the blurb. How much of the story to reveal? And which parts to give away? These are crucial issues, and it’s especially tough with this novel because, honestly, the basic premise of it is quite boring. It really is. BUT, it’s not a boring novel at all! I think it is a gripping and intense novel, but the premise is boring. If I really told everyone what the book is actually about, nobody would want to read it. It would be like me saying, “It’s a thriller about grass growing” or “cement drying”.

PASS!

But, I am now tasked to make this boring premise an exciting blurb. What’s the premise you ask? Okay, I can tell you that. Everyday a man walks into the presidential square and stands for 12 hours waiting for the revolution.

That’s it. Real snoozer, huh?

Actually, not. I’m in love with this story because I think it’s so simple and yet so beautiful. The main character is charming and lovely, simple, yet complex.

So I’m thinking I need to move beyond the simple premise and add in some exciting elements. There are exciting elements. But which ones?

***BREAK***

I went back to that page where the five different summaries had been written, and I finally had a breakthrough. I found a combination which I like for now. What did it? Perseverance.

Sometimes success is just about keeping at it, wrestling with it, twisting and turning it every which way until the right little nuggets fall out.

Thanks for listening. I needed to complain about if for a while. It helped a lot.

UPDATE

I just had my wife read my new blurb out loud. I was wrong, it was bad. Another blank page, please!

Advanced Readers and Novel #3

I’m starting to get feedback from some advanced readers concerning my third novel.

I’m excited by what I’m hearing so far.

It made me think. What makes a good advanced reader?

Well, I like diversity. My third novel is mainly set in Vietnam, so I have chosen a variety of readers – foreigners who have lived in Vietnam, others who have never stepped foot in Vietnam, and, recently, my first ACTUAL Vietnamese advance reader who will give me her impressions.

Perhaps it’s easy to see why diversity is important. I don’t want to write a novel about Vietnam that only people from Vietnam can relate to. Stories have to transcend settings. Some of the comments I appreciated the most about my novel Beauty Rising is when a reviewer would mention how they enjoyed reading about Vietnam and could visualize it and experience it. That visual relationship is crucial for someone who has never been there.

The comments I’ve received so far about my third novel seem to indicate that I’ve hit the right balance between story and setting. The setting gives the story its richness and vividness, but its the story and the relationship between the characters which must resonate in order for the novel to soar.

I think I have some rigidly drawn characters in my third novel, separated in time by 55 years. There are some grand themes as well such as love, duty, family obligations, the bond of generations, just to name a few.

Oh, and after reading it, my latest advanced reader said that she loved the title. That made me happy because it meant that the symbolism and meaning embedded in the story is resonating as well.

I can’t wait for the release of The Reach of the Banyan Tree.

I also can’t wait to see the cover that is being designed. It’s coming!

Humble Thyself, Writer!

I’m the worst. Or at least I can be. 

I’m so fiercely independent that I want to do it all alone. I like to think that everything I write is the best writing in the world and that readers’ opinions are mere distractions.

But I’m learning.

Everything I write makes sense to me. I understand the context and meanings in my head which make all the connotations crystal clear to me.

But I’m beginning to understand that my opinion doesn’t mean anything if I want to reach a wide range of readers.

I so easily get defensive. If an advanced reader gives a suggestion or questions why I did this or that, I want to back it up with a long litany of reasons, which make perfect sense in my mind.

However, all of these mean nothing.

I’m learning.

However, what is it that I’m actually learning about writing?

That I’m not the only one in the world who has insight. (I know, this is such a novel concept.) Sometimes I wonder how I went from having no writing self-confidence that I wandered in the pen-less wilderness for twenty years to get to the point where I everything I write is the gospel. Such arrogance!

Haha. As if.

But I’m learning.

So here are things that I always try to keep in remember:

1) constructive criticism is not personal criticism.

2) constructive criticism is not criticism of one’s writing skills.

3) Advanced readers are HELPFUL – treat them well.

4) I may be writing because I love to write, but I do want others to read it. Therefore, take anyone’s and everyone’s insight! Learn from it and move on.

5) Criticism or not, the ultimate decision remains with the writer. Take all input, look at it objectively then make the final determination what YOU (or I) think is best for the story. Example, I had two readers of THE RECLUSE STORYTELLER have completely different opinions about certain metaphors that I used. One person pointed out how much she LOVED them! The other pointed out how she would remove them. There is no way to please everyone. Decide for yourself, and move on. But make sure to THANK both readers.

OK. I think I feel better.

And I love my advanced readers!

And one last thing: I kept the metaphors.

Couldn’t make it through the first chapter: The importance of advanced readers

After I finished writing The Recluse Storyteller in the summer of 2012I passed it on to my first faithful advanced reader. I was confident and excited. I liked how the story came together, but I was, of course, a little nervous. You know how it is when you finally expose one of your creations to the outside world. You never know how something is going to come across to the readers until the readers actually read it.

So I waited.

But not long.

First feedback. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t make it out of the first chapter. What’s going on here? I’m confused.”

Massive fail.

But not really. The reader did exactly what I wanted her to do. Gave me real feedback. I listened to the problems that she was having with it, and suddenly, I said to myself “Of, course, this is confusing for anyone who doesn’t live in my mind.”

So I went back to work. I completely revamped the formatting, and, I thought, perhaps, an added prologue which helps explain a few things would naturally lead the reader into the story. Because The Recluse Storyteller is uniquely told. Many different stories on top of each other which all weave together in, I believe, interesting and engaging ways. But if the stories are formatted and laid out in a confusing manner, then who cares? Nobody is going to read it.

So after I made the changes, I sent it back to the reader. She read it again. This time not only the first chapter but also the entire book – and she loved it.

Use those advance readers. Completely invaluable.  When the recluse comes up in a little more than two months, I have several readers to thank for helping me to think it through and bring to the world the final copy.

I’m excited. It’s coming soon!