Monthly Archives: April 2013

Chapter One is done!

My attempt at speed writing is yielding overall positive results. Today, a little more than two weeks since I put “pen to paper,” I finished chapter one. Is it pretty? Not so much, but the gist is there. The skeleton is formed, and later I can go back and fill in some of the meat. The important part is that the first draft of my first chapter is on paper.

As far as my daily quota, well, I didn’t hit 700 every day, but I wrote something every day. In the end, I’m satisfied with that. The quota is a good guideline, a goal to focus on, but when I don’t hit it, I need to remember not to beat myself up. Even if I produce only a handful of words in a given day, those are a few words that didn’t exist the day before. Forward progress is the most important thing, and so far, I think I like this whole speed writing thing. I definitely feel freer than when I was writing Bent, constantly pausing to imagine a scene or character or conversation in painstaking detail. Now, I’m able to let my fingers fly, unconcerned with beauty at this point, only focusing on the story. The rest will come.

Here’s a roundup of my daily production this week (daily/total word count):

4/15: 928/2856
4/16: 807/3663
4/17: 735/4398
4/18: 135/4533 (my head a little worse for the wear after Marta’s b-day celebration…)
4/19: TBD

Not bad considering that it took me nearly five months at the keyboard to write the first ~28k words of Bent. So far I’m moving at twice that pace. Good stuff.

Oh, did I mention my wedding is in eight days?! Wonder if I can cap off Chapter Two by then…?

Happy Friday, everyone!

ETH


Eleven days and counting…

Nineteen months have passed since I proposed to Marta. Nineteen months… Wow.

We met six years ago during a turbulent time in my life. My brother, Matthew, and a mutual friend, Jeremy (who’s since crafted our engagement ring and wedding bands), used to work together at a neighborhood restaurant where Marta and I would occasionally bump into one another. I could never, for the life of me, remember her name, but always enjoyed talking with her. It’s Marta, after all. How could you not enjoy talking to her?

One gorgeous day in late June, Marta, Jeremy, and I spent the afternoon at Montrose Beach (by this time, I’m happy to report, I’d learned her name, though I’d soon realize that my “Mar-ta” pronunciation was unique). We played Frisbee. We lay in the sun. We even looked after a youngster whose dad told him to “stay and play with these people” as he disappeared for several minutes (a favorite memory of the day). And after packing up our camp and heading home, we reconvened some time later at Marta’s apartment for dinner. While Jeremy expertly grilled our steak on the deck, Marta and I cooked together indoors. She made risotto, I sauteed asparagus and portabellas. I’m pretty sure we were both stealing glances at one another, thinking, “This girl/guy is pretty cool.”

And so it began.

Marta was very patient with me those first few months. I was still gun shy after exiting a six-year relationship with my college girlfriend, and it took me a while to feel comfortable opening myself up again. I wanted to be sure, but when in life do we ever have that luxury? Marta endured several months of my waffling before I finally realized that everything was okay. That we didn’t need to know how things would work out down the road in order to enjoy the journey today.

A year after we met, we moved into our first apartment together. It was great. Marta has learned to deal with my pickiness (okay, my borderline OCD, but you didn’t hear that from me!), and I’ve gotten better at compromising. And we’ve both learned that while we absolutely love spending time with one another, some things are just better done solo. I shop for groceries while Marta cleans. And when we fly, we meet at the gate now. Hey, when you recognize flash points, why not avoid them? (Did I mention I’m fussy?)

We loved our first apartment and met two of our (now) best friends, Caitlin and Keith, when they moved in across the hall. One of our favorite jokes was to tell each other “Get home safely,” when we’d say goodbye. Yeah, those three steps across the landing can be risky… We’d probably still be living there if it hadn’t been for the herd of elephants – er, family – that moved in upstairs. Good grief. Reluctantly, we packed up and moved – two blocks away on the same street! I’ve never lived at two different addresses on the same street before, but there’s a first time for everything. Our new apartment became home even though we sure do miss living across the hall from C&K!

Two years ago, Marta began traveling more regularly for work. Overnights to Minneapolis, longer trips to Seattle, Tennessee, Las Vegas, and Miami. I’ve gotten used to these trips now, but at first it was difficult. I missed her a lot when she was gone, and that’s when I realized that I really couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life without her. I didn’t want to imagine it. Things had never been perfect for us, but I knew then that Marta was the woman for me. I wanted to be her partner, to commit not only to relishing the good times, but to working through the difficult ones. I wanted to continue this journey with her.

I reached out to Jeremy, now a metalsmith and GG (graduate gemologist) based in Seattle, and together we began working on ideas for a ring. At first I told no one, figuring that if I couldn’t keep my own mouth shut, I couldn’t very well expect anyone else to. Then, when we visited Marta’s parents for Father’s Day, I stole a moment with Bob, her step-father, and told him my intentions. He was thrilled, but made me promise that I would tell Sherri, too, before we left. “You have to tell her when Marta’s not around, though,” he said. “She will start crying.” So I concocted a plan to run back into the house as we were leaving on Sunday, and sure enough, the waterworks started when I told her. She gave me a huge hug. I’d always felt like part of the family, but this made it official.

That summer, Jeremy and I must have exchanged zillions of e-mails and phone calls, reviewing CAD renderings of the ring, talking about tweaks, organizing wire transfers of funds so that he could source the stones and metal. Finally I got the call the last week of August: “Done!” A week later we were in Seattle for a planned visit, and when I saw the ring for the first time, I was blown away. Absolutely stunning.

The thing practically burned a hole in my pocket. I managed to wait a whopping four days, then planned a dinner out at Caro Mio, our favorite Italian joint, and a walk through our neighborhood park afterwards. With the moon shining down, standing together in a place important to us both, I asked Marta to marry me. She said, “Shut up!” followed quickly by “Yes!”

And now, nineteen months later, our wedding is right around the corner. I couldn’t be more excited to marry this woman – my best friend and partner – and begin our next chapter together. I know how lucky I am to have her in my life, just as I’m lucky to have such wonderful family and friends. You all make life worth living, and I cannot wait to celebrate with you on April 27th as I put the “ring of ownership” on Marta’s finger. =P

Sure do love you, sweetie!

ETH


New story, new quota

Shooting for 700 words per day (doubled from my last project) to help keep me moving forward. And copping to it here will help keep me honest =)

Wrote 928 today for a grand total of 2,856.
Maybe I can break 1,000 tomorrow…

Speed Writing

I am not a speedy writer. Well, let me qualify. Ideas come quickly most of the time, but in transposing them from brain to paper, I bog myself down with questions: Can I word this better? Is this clear? What does this scene really look like? Would this character really say that? This tendency, I believe, originally stemmed from my previously-mentioned fear of revising. Now that I know not to fear revision, though, I see another cause: I feel that if I don’t nail a scene/character/conversation/etc. the first time around, I’ll be building everything that follows upon an unstable foundation. Makes sense, right?

The problem with this line of thinking, however, is twofold. First, while I allow myself to be preoccupied with minute details, the story languishes in the deep recesses of my mind. I home in on one little thing – how does this room look, for example – while ignoring the big picture – what’s happening in this room? Of course I eventually get to the ‘what,’ but sometimes I’ve waited so long that the creative spark has fizzled and then it feels more like pulling teeth than writing.

That brings up the second issue: the longer I toil on a particular scene, the more questions I start asking myself. Don’t get me wrong – questions (and their solutions) are good. But questioning too much breeds self-doubt, and that’s one of the most insidious and omnipresent dangers a writer faces. Second-guessing can drag you to a halt. I remember reading something (can’t remember where now) by an author (can’t remember who) that said (and I’m paraphrasing): “I write as fast as I can to outrun doubt.”

I really tried to spur myself along as I wrote Bent, but despite my best efforts, I still found myself rereading, tweaking, polishing as I went. This was gratifying in some ways, maddening in others. I wonder now how many brilliant ideas flitted right out of head while I was busy correcting a grammar mistake or eliminating a word I’d repeated in the same paragraph – fixes that easily could have been completed during the revision phase rather than the composition phase.

So now, I’m about 3,000 words into Time Lapse, and I really am trying to write differently this time, just to see what happens. It’s not easy to change the way I’ve always written and the method that witnessed the completion of my first book, but I want to give it a try. I want to see if I can outrun doubt and get my vision down on paper before I dress it up and send it out into the world. Maybe I’ll be surprised at the result. Maybe I’ll find that inspiration flows more readily when I don’t try to bottle it right away, but instead let it shoot right out of my brain like some mental fire hose.

Stay tuned.

ETH


Dealing with rejection

Rejection stings. As if anyone who survived middle school needs to be told…

Rationally I understand I’m going to have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding my (publishing) prince, but it’s still a drag when someone says “thanks but no thanks” to the story I spent nearly two years crafting. It’s awfully hard not to take it personally, to start questioning my work as well as my dream. Just remember, I tell myself, NO story appeals to everyone. You just need to knock on the right door, find the right person. It’s true, I know, but patience is not one of my virtues.

So on I trudge, doing my best to keep chin up, spirits high, and optimism flowing. Someone will like this book of mine!

ETH


Checking in after a long absence

Two years have flown by so fast it’s scary.

I completed the draft of my first novel – a sci/fi thriller called Bent – last fall. Writing it, while incredibly gratifying, was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. The writing, itself, wasn’t hard. That’s not to say I didn’t toil over some scenes until my eyes went blurry, but the true challenge was sustaining my spirits over the course of the eighteen months it took to complete. Some days I was awash with confidence, certain that I was penning the next chart-topper. Other days I knew without a doubt that whatever drivel I’d managed to spout up to that point would never see the light of day, consigned to some literary purgatory far, far from any eager readers. The highs were great; the lows excruciating.

Yet on I wrote, one word after another, weaving sentences into paragraphs, pages into chapters, until, at last, on September 7, I wrote the final two words every author longs to see at the bottom of the page: the end.

After letting it marinate for a month (thanks for that suggestion, Stephen King!), I began revising. Those who know me are aware that I harbor an irrational fear of the revision process, dating back to high school when I was required to chop a twenty-page paper to ten – the most difficult writing assignment I ever undertook (until Bent, of course). Consequently, I wrote my draft with painstaking slowness, hoping that I was nailing every word so that I wouldn’t have to revise a thing. Yeah, that didn’t work.

To my surprise, I really enjoyed revising, and I can laugh now when I remember how frightened I was to begin. Between October and December, I chopped nearly 25k words (of the original 130k) from the draft while cleaning, polishing, and reworking the parts that remained. Just before Christmas, satisfied that I’d whipped it into shape, I printed five copies for my first beta readers. Up until that point, no one had read a word. Nerve-wracking!

Initial response has been very positive. I’ve fielded a number of helpful criticisms, some of which I implemented, some of which I filed away as “that’s interesting, but I don’t think I’m going to use it.” For the most part, I just wanted to know whether the story was entertaining and the characters believable. From the feedback I received, the answer is yes.

In January I began working on my query letter (for those who aren’t familiar, this is a one-page pitch to literary agents consisting of a high-level synopsis of the story, an introduction to me as the author, and an explanation of why I’m contacting that specific agent for representation). I soon discovered that this little one-page letter was, in many ways, more difficult to write than the book itself. When you have 350 pages to make an impression, there’s not nearly as much pressure to make each and every word pop as there is when you’ve got one lonely page to sell yourself and your work. I joined an online forum and got some great feedback which helped me hone my query into a sharp little missile of self-promotion, then began sending it out.

Just when I thought I’d jumped through the last hoop, I discovered that many agents also request a detailed plot synopsis (yeah, try condensing an entire novel into a page or two while maintaining narrative voice) and author bio. Back to the drawing board I went and produced these two additional submission samples.

I’ve now queried nine agents, received three rejections and one request for a partial manuscript for further review. Upon receiving the first rejection, I could scarcely contain my excitement. Many agents have a “if we’re not interested, we won’t reply” statement on their websites, so the fact that someone took the time to write back and say “thanks but no thanks” was incredibly validating. I’d been noticed! You can imagine how excited I was when an agent e-mailed me to tell me how intriguing my premise was, asking to see more. So the waiting game continues. Nothing moves particularly fast in this business and I’m just going to have to deal with that. But damn it, I want to know! Meanwhile, I’m continuing to search for agents and sending out additional submissions. After all, John Grisham received something like 28 rejections for A Time to Kill before someone finally bit. And J.K. Rowling only made it when an agent’s daughter picked up the manuscript he’d brought home, read the first three chapters, and promptly asked for the rest. You just never know when lightning will strike.

And last week, I began my next project, another sci-fi/thriller tentatively called Time Lapse. Regardless of what happens with Bent, I’m moving forward, pursuing my passion. What more can I ask for?

I intend to make regular updates to this blog now, describing my progress, thoughts, and challenges as I write Time Lapse while also tracking my attempt to publish Bent. I hope you find this interesting and will follow along with me. Please feel free to share this link, too, with anyone you believe might enjoy it.

Off I go!

ETH