I’m halfway through a revision of my manuscript. This time to fully and completely remove any trace of dystopian in it. It’s like yanking a piece of my heart out, but it’s going to be the best thing in the end. I am so excited about it, but I digress. This blog will be about something else. Also, contains no spoilers.
This weekend I was thinking about the differences in us, as writers, readers, as people. I went to see The Maze Runner on Friday night. (Because: Opening Night!) About 30 seconds before the movie started, this couple, older than me, but not yet getting the Sr. citizen discount, sat beside me in the open seats. (Very nearly last open seats, mind you. Movie was packed!)
First of all, the guy totally hijacked the arm rest so I had to sit with my arms folded throughout the movie, which is problematic for someone with neck/back issues, but isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is that he almost hijacked my movie-watching experience by scoffing at the entire movie. The man kept shaking his head when Thomas would do something he thought was stupid. Granted, Thomas does jump into things without thinking but uh…THAT IS THE POINT OF THE STORY, somebody has to do something to attempt to get them out of there, right? Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of grimy boys standing around flinging insults at each other.
It was distracting. I really wanted to go, “Look guy, you try waking up in a box and being locked inside a maze and see how YOU deal with, okay?” Seriously, did they not see a trailer, read a review, even glance two seconds at the movie poster? What did they expect from this movie?
I almost lost it at the end when [the thing that happened] happened and the guy next to me laughed. There were people around me (and me) gasping, sniffling, awing. Not armrest hijacker. No, he was laughing. I wanted to punch him.
(Perhaps this is the time to mention I’m on day 5 of a 10-day steroid treatment. That could have something to do with my violent response to his reaction.)
After the movie, he and his wife, couldn’t stop declaring how horrible the movie was. She lamented spending good money on it and not being able to get it back. He griped and called it stupid about a hundred times. So, feeling completely insulted on behalf of James Dashner, I turned to them and said I liked the movie a lot. Then I suggested they read the book because it had a lot more detail in it.
Which prompted the guy to then laugh hysterically at me for even suggesting such nonsense. “Never!” he said. “No way would I waste my time like that.”
I shrugged and begged my daughter to get me away from the haters, then we left.
Of course, those people have every right to dislike (and openly declare their dislike) for the movie. It really doesn’t matter. To me. To the producers. To James Dashner. It’s not the end of the world. (Literally as the sequel movie is already in the works.) The fact that armrest hijacker and I had such vast differences of enjoyment over the same piece of art just…struck me, I guess. That’s what makes art, art. It’s completely subjective and each person brings something to it and away from it and their experience is undeniably unique to each of them.
As a person who creates a form of artwork, I find that pretty inspiring. It’s my job to bring my story to life the way it is in my head based on my experiences, my voice, my research, etc. The reader takes that and overlays their own experiences, perceptions, and knowledge. It makes me wish I could climb inside the mind of each person who will read my story and experience it the way they will. Each and every time someone reads it, it will become a different experience. How cool is that?
To everyone who will ever read any of my work, I ask one favor of you—please don’t hijack the armrest.
If you’ve followed along playing the home version of our game, you’ll know that I took some time off from EVERGREEN to work a little bit on another manuscript. (As yet untitled.) I pulled EVERGREEN back out for Pitch Wars and I discovered something. What they say is true–sometimes the best thing you can do is give yourself a little break from your work.
I can’t recommend this process enough. If you’re a writer, you really should try it.
I know, I know. It’s hard. It was for me too,but it was the best thing for my manuscript and dare I say, for my sanity.
The time away working on another MS gave me perspective. I easily saw a couple things that weren’t working, so I changed them. It made the MS better. In fact, I reordered the first 4 chapters and found a better starting place for the story. (Also thanks, in part, to a Pitch Wars mentor tweet!) I don’t think I ever would have done that had I not looked at it with fresh perspective.
I discovered something else too, Well, rather, I rediscovered something–my love for this story and its characters. That probably sounds silly to non-writery types, but it is undeniably true. These characters are like real people to me. When I visited them again, I remembered why I loved them. I found that I had missed them. It was like catching up with friends. And like with my non-imaginary friends, I want them to do well and prosper. Unlike with my non-imaginary friends, I get to torture them to allow that growth. I found some new ways to do that, adding depth and emotion to them.
If you can’t bear to put away your whole MS for a couple months, try it on a smaller scale. I wrote two versions of a 1-pg synopsis for an upcoming retreat. I had trouble deciding on which version was better. I fretted over it for a while, then I left it alone. Three days later (today) I read them again and it was easy to tell which one was the better version. Boom. Done.
I’m continuing with my WIP, but I’m taking Frankie out of the corner for querying and the retreat. Hopefully the perspective I gained from my time away will end in an triumphant finale complete with a well-timed lift and Patrick Swayze levels of swooning.
While we wait for #PItchWars and #WriteOnCon results to roll in, I thought I’d let one of my favorite (GREEN!) characters of all time help me explain the writing process.
Enlighten you, we will.
So you’re struck with this awesome idea for a story. This story will be like none ever written before it. You must write this story because you owe it to mankind. It’s just that good.
New York Times Best Seller, you will be.
You grab your laptop, crack your knuckles and face the blank page. You can do this. You’ve done your research, checked your genres, calculated word counts, considered POV, planned your plot development. You’re ready.
It looks something like this:
You’re writing. You’re clicking away. You’re pulling words out of places in your brain that you didn’t know existed. It feels awesome. Like you drank the blue stuff in the Cantina.
Then somewhere along the middle of the manuscript, this happens.
And you think, “What I was I thinking? I can’t do this. Writing. Is. Hard.”
After a temporary freak out that probably involves chocolate, ice cream, or wine, you pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Somewhere deep inside you something urges you to keep going. The Force is strong within you.
So you keep writing.
There is no try, people. There is no try.
You’ keep at it. You show character growth. You increase the conflict. You even manage to throw in a love interest (that isn’t the MC’s brother.) You’re balancing it all like a pro.
Then somehow you manage to get to the place where you type THE END (Or actually ####### if you want to get modern). You did it.
Finished, it is.
So you hold your breath as you send it to your Crit Partners or Beta Readers. As the Force would have it, they return your MS with helpful notes and suggestions. (Or they breathe heavily into a black mask.)
Now it’s time to revise.
Revise, you do. And edit, and revise some more. You slash out filter words, you cut unnecessary scenes, you light saber the crap out of your little darlings.
Now your MS is ready to Query.
First you spend almost as long writing the Query letter as you did the MS. Then, you send it to unsuspecting agents with a prayer and unspoken plea to LOVE IT, PLEASE PLEASE LOVE IT!!!
Help me, Agent Awesome, you’re my only hope.
Then you get a rejection letter.
And maybe another.
And possibly a lot more. In fact, you start to think that there’s not a Tauntan’s chance on Tatooine that any agent will want to pick you as a client.
But one day. One, grand and glorious day, you get “THE CALL” from an agent who wants to talk about representation.
Gets your work, she does.
From there, it’s just a short trip in an X-Wing fighter to publication. And by that, I mean: revision, waiting, editor feedback, publishing house submission, waiting, more revision, marketing, foreign rights, more waiting, probably more revision, packaging, droids, and contracts.
And then your day arrives. The Ewoks are saved! Your MS is now a book.
Published Author, you are.
To my writing friends and Jedis: May the Force be with you.
My name is Michelle Collins. I enjoy candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach…
Actually, that’s not true. I’d rather eat at a greasy burger joint and I prefer snow over sand.
(Obviously I’m not really Benedict Cumberbatch either. But wouldn’t it be awesome if I was?)
This is me with green nails and shirt to match my MS. Yes, I tend to go be an all or nothing type person.
This is my officially unofficial mentee bio for Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars contest. Dannie Morin, one of the mentors for the contest has posted a Blog Hop for potential mentees. Check out Dannie and the other Pitch Wars hopefuls here. Mentee Blog Hop
Now, please allow me to share a little more about myself.
I live in the South with my husband and 2 kids (1 of each gender) who are older than I care to mention. We’re all Anglophiles, into European football, and actually enjoy spending time together, usually watching Syfy channel or BBC America. I have been an Elementary teacher and now I teach a Study Skills class at the same local college where I spend my days as an Institutional Research Analyst. (Yeah, I don’t know what that means yet either. Just got the promotion a few days ago! I’ll let you know.) I’ve also spent some time working at a newspaper running a Newspapers In Education program and writing the occasional article. My favorite part of that job was overseeing story time at the library.
I write YA because that’s where my natural voice is, even though I passed YA some time ago. I also read YA because apparently my voice is a direct reflection of my brain. That’s okay. My husband loves me anyway. For reals, I would totally be fine if I only read and wrote YA books forever and ever.
Like most writers, I was a reader first. I enjoy speculative fiction with Sci-Fi being my strong fave. Urban Fantasy, High Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Horror are cool by me too. As long as there’s a strong romantic element, I’m all over it. I haven’t tried a lot of realistic Contemp books, but perhaps I could be swayed by the right one. Just don’t ask me to read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, for I am a very ugly crier.
Most importantly, I don’t care what the publishers say, I love, love, LOVE Dystopian and will read every one that I can get my grabby hands on. You should know–there are more people out there like me. There are.
We’re the ones you’ll want on your side in the Zombie Apocalypse.
I’ve been a card-carrying Sci-Fi geek for as long as I have been able to comprehend what that means. (My Return of the Jedi collector cards say so.) My fave Sci-Fi (non-book) things are Doctor Who, Fringe, Firefly, Haven, Star Trek, Sherlock (which is not technically Sci-Fi but sometimes looks like it is), The Walking Dead and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
So I guess I like some horror too.
And like all geeks, I have preferences. Here’s where I come down on the important issues:
Next Gen over Original. Ten over Eleven. Spike over Angel. Cumberbatch over Miller. And Daryl Dixon over everyone else on the planet.
I dislike bananas, coffee, and Nicholas Cage.
I like pork rinds, the end of Allegiant, and Keanu Reeves.
As you can see, I tend to go against the grain.
My favorite books through the years are: A Wrinkle in Time, Brave New World, The Giver, Slaughterhouse Five, The Outsiders, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Stand, The Uglies series, Divergent, and all of the Harry Potter books.
If I had three wishes, I’d wish for the imagination of JK Rowling, the dialogue wizardry of Joss Whedon, and the cojones of Steven Moffat.
For mentors considering me: I’m mature enough to take constructive criticism and have learned to put my emotion to the side when I receive it. I love my characters and believe in my MS, therefore I’ll do what I have to do to polish and revise it. I teach focusing and concentration in my classes, so I can buckle down when needed. Also, I have vacation days left and I’m not afraid to use them.
So bring on your words of wisdom, mentors. I am prepared to matrix them into something amazing!
My YA manuscript, EVERGREEN, is character driven with a lot of action and has a high swoony factor. Set during the Vaccine War in the realistic (actually possible) future, it’s topical with that nasty Ebola virus rearing its ugly head again. It combines the Sci-Fi of Frankenstein with the romance of Romeo & Juliet. It’s dark in tone, but not without a sense of humor. So yeah, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to make out with someone.
That’s the condensed version of my life and times. I’m open to questions/comments/ARCs of your books.
So long and thanks for all the fish!
I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo right now. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of July. Due to the physical limitations with my neck, I already know that I will not make that goal, but that’s okay. As long as I’m writing as much as I can, when I can, I feel like I’m accomplishing something. I AM accomplishing something.
My current WIP word count is around the 20,000 mark. I feel good about it, but I’ve hit a little speed bump. (I refuse to call it “writer’s block” because that sounds and feels debilitating.) In an effort to poke my creative muse into action, I decided to do a little flash fiction (around 100 words) with my characters. This has opened me up to new ideas and character traits in the past, so I figured it can’t hurt, right?
I wrote seven different pieces and discovered a lot about my characters. Some of these things were already incorporated into my manuscript. Some of them though, I’m going to go back and put in because they will deepen the characters, give them back story, and help define who they are.
My muse is alive and awake and singing in my ear.
If you’re a writer in need of some help in getting to know your characters? Do what I did and ask them to tell you their favorite article of clothing. Here’s what mine had to say.
(Character names and plot undisclosed at this time.)
My cowboy boots are unconventional, sure, but I feel most like myself when I wear them. They’re soft and broken-in on the inside so they feel like extensions of my own legs. When I wear them I feel cradled, safe, steady. Like some precious breakable thing carefully cocooned in bubble wrap. On the outside, though, they’re tough and rigid, like they can take anyone or anything on without caving. In my boots I’m a warrior. I am strong. I am sure. When you hear the sound of my boots clicking down the hall way, you should watch out. I’m coming.
When I want people to leave me alone, I wear my Starfleet Academy t-shirt. I discovered early in life that when people think you’re a geek, they tend to give you a wide berth. They aren’t wrong. I am a geek. I’m not ashamed that I’d rather be at Comic Con than the Friday night football game. At Comic Con I’d be with people like me. At football games, I feel conspicuous, like everyone there is comparing me against invisible parameters that I can’t define. Besides, my Starfleet Academy shirt connects me to her–it’s our thing–and it’s the most important thing I have.
Could Picasso pick which painting he loved most? Could Stephen King designate his best work of fiction? Would you ask Bill Gates which one of his dollars is most important to him? No. My collection of t-shirts as a whole is important to me. Each and every one of them hand-picked for a specific reason, to elicit a specific response in others. Some may call my shirts snarky, some witty, some provocative. All of those are true. But my collection is more than that—it’s an expression of who I am at any given time right there on my chest for anyone who cares to know.
My band uniform is ugly. It’s hot and it chafes in all the wrong places. I wear it anyway. Not because I’m required to do so, but because it connects me to a group. It gives me identity and purpose. When I put it on I’m transformed from one into one in the tribe of hundreds. When I stand on the field amongst the sea of blue coats and stiff tasseled hats, I lose individuality and gain corporation. For the fifteen minutes I stand on the field at halftime, the pressure to “Be the Best” is replaced by the relief of “Being Like Everyone Else.”
The handkerchief I wear tucked into my breast pocket every day is monogrammed with my initials, HLW. By handkerchief standards is mostly unremarkable—white, cotton, silk stitching around the edge—but it bears a remarkable purpose in my mind. The handkerchief was a gift from a woman whom I thought I could trust. I was wrong. She betrayed me in the worst sort of way, not as one lover betrays another, but as one soul betrays her equal. I kept it to remind me that trust is mist on the wind. Fleeting, delicate, and easily blown away.
My letter jacket has patches on it that date back to 7th grade. I’m leaving one spot open where the State Championship patch should go. Will go. I have one more year to make that happen and I’ll make that happen no matter what it takes. Excelling at football has been expected of me since I first played in the Pee Wee League. Once the coach noticed my talent, I became Mr. Football. Anything else I did, I do, is second to that. Who cares that I made a 2600 on the SAT, as long as I make the touchdown that wins us the game? I will, by the way.
Most dudes my age would rather run naked through acid rain than wear a friendship bracelet. I wear the one I have with pride, like it’s a badge of honor instead of pink, purple, and black stringed embarrassment. My little sister made it for me. The nurse at the cancer treatment center taught her how. She told me she used the pink thread because it’s her favorite color, the black because it reminds her of me, and the purple stands for courage we both need while she’s doing chemo. She is so strong. Like the bracelet. I won’t take it off until she’s cancer free.
By most standards, I would be considered a picky eater. It’s not because of my diabetic dietary restrictions or discriminating palate, no. I think I’m a picky eater because as I was growing up, I was afraid to try new foods. My parents tried. I’ll give them credit for that. But most of the time I didn’t respond to their tactics of bribery, coercion, or punishment. I simply didn’t want to try things that didn’t look or smell good, so I didn’t.
I remember the first time I tried a salad with Thousand Island dressing (the gateway dressing). I was sixteen. Now that I’m an adult, I quite enjoy salad. And get this…I can name about six types of dressing that I like too! That is progress, I tell you. I don’t know what I was waiting for. Salad is good. I should have tried it long before I was sixteen.
I started thinking about this recently when I discovered, much to my total amazement, that I like soccer. My son is a huge soccer fan. He has never played the sport, but he follows European league football with fanboy gusto! He eats, sleeps and breathes around it. He’s constantly talking about it and I, like a good mother, try to pay attention and participate in these conversations because it’s important to him. But if I were asked, I would have said, “Soccer? Eh.”
When the FIFA World Cup began, I happened to be sitting on my couch nursing my ailing neck when my son and husband turned on the game. I couldn’t move from the spot (stupid neck) so I watched the game. And…it was fun. I found myself asking questions about the sport and the teams and the Cup itself. My son was so amused by my sudden interest. (He, thankfully, stopped short of saying “I told you so.”) The next day, I texted him from work to find out the score of the game that was ongoing. He questioned me and I admitted in my next text: Yeah, I sorta kinda like soccer now.” His reply: AMAZING!
So I’ve watched all of the games I could since that day and I am enjoying them all.
The moral of the story is this: Try it, you might like it.
Need further proof?
If you’ve ready my recent blog posts about my completed Sci-Fi manuscript that teeters dangerously close to dystopian (the scarlet letter of the publishing industry at the moment), you’ll recall that I have a manuscript that appears to be have a solid concept and good writing. I have been told by a few agents that no matter good it is, it may not sell in this market.
So what is a writer to do? Perhaps…write another manuscript in a different genre that may stand a better chance in this market.
I was afraid. I didn’t want to try it. I thought I could never be any good at writing a realistic (read: non-dystopian) story.
But I tried it.
And I liked it.
I’m not putting EVERGREEN on the shelf. I will still continue to query it because I know in my heart it’s a good story. But this new project has a totally different voice and feel to it and I am finding it rewarding to stretch my brain in a different way. It’s a contemporary story (with a Sci-Fi spin) with regular characters who don’t have a big world-changing destinies or global cataclysmic events to deal with. I’m starting to fall in love with my characters and that, for me, is a sign that I’m going in the right direction.
So, my advice to you writers (or potential soccer fans) is to try it, you might like it. You may be surprised at how quickly you latch on to a new idea and where that idea can take you, When I finish this manuscript, I’ll have two things for agents to consider, creating better odds for offers.
I haven’t been able to blog in a few weeks due to a literal pain in my neck. Apparently a few of the vertebrae in my neck are fused together with bone. No biggie, right? This disc problem has reared its ugly head a few times in the past 5 years or so. A couple years ago I suffered through severe neck pain coupled with numb fingers. Try typing with numb fingers. It ain’t easy. This time though, I’m fortunate. I have full feeling in my extremities. However, this pain in my neck that radiates through to my shoulders is starting to be a real bother.
At the urging of several friends, I have finally given in and started seeing a chiropractor. This was not an easy thing for me to do. I was terrified of going to the chiropractor. In my head, all I could see was the image of a guy sneaking up behind someone, reaching around his neck in an almost loving-looking embrace, then snap, crack, thud. Broken neck.
That is what I thought it would be like at the chiropractor.
Turns out, that it wasn’t. It was close, but I’m still breathing and my neck is firmly intact.
The chiropractor has told me that I need to visit 3 times per week for the month of June. She thinks she can get me some relief from the pain. I’ve been a few times and I can already feel the difference. I feel hopeful that I am on the mend. Not only that, but I am certain I will come away from this with some exercises and tips to prevent this from getting this bad again in the future.
As I was going to sleep last night (on my new chiropractic pillow!) I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between the chiropractor and the revision.
Saturday I met with my critique group. I came away with that meeting with many insights and helpful suggestions. I discovered I was using a couple words that they weren’t quite sure of the meaning. I also had rewritten a scene from a different angle that caused some questions for them. As we talked through it, I realized my original angle was the best choice for the scene and will make it more powerful. (Perhaps this is a lesson on following your instincts?)
The thought of revising (again) does not strike my heart with joy and gladness. In fact, most of the time I’d call revision a real “pain in the neck.” But right now I’m anxious to get back into and apply their suggestions and start to rework things. What they told me is spot on. It will improve my story.
Kind of like the chiropractor — I need a few adjustments on my neck; my story needs a few adjustments to make it the best it can be too.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll take my laptop and adjust my neck and my story at the same time.
So, I didn’t walk away from Pitch Slam last week with a glorious offer of representation handed to me by my dream agent. Nor did I walk away with requests for more pages. After a couple few undisclosed amount of minutes filled with, crying, flailing and gnashing of teeth, I realized that it’s okay.
I’m disappointed that I didn’t get requests, but as the lovely contest organizers said, “That doesn’t mean you’re writing is bad.” It simply means that *MY* agent didn’t happen to read my entry.
There were around 180 entries over 4 age categories, with at least 8-10 different genres being read by only 5 registered agents participating in the contest. You do the math. (Seriously, you do it. I hate math.)
The odds were slim to start.
Just like the odds of landing an agent in the “traditional” way.
I have to admit there have been a few dire moments recently when I thought of giving up. I gave into thoughts of self-doubt (Maybe I’m not good enough to be a “real” writer…) I questioned my instincts. (Maybe this kind of story just won’t sell right now…) I decided that I just wasn’t tough enough for this business.
It wasn’t a fun place to be.
Then I spoke with my writer friends and realized each of them have had these same thoughts. Even the big name writers have been plagued with these thoughts at some point along the way. Those writers–the JK Rowlings, and the Stephen Kings –they had those thoughts. What they did after them is what makes all the difference. They blocked them like they were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar under the basket. (Yeah, I just googled that sports reference.)
This Tuesday I’m making an effort to block those negative thoughts. And I’m looking back at my story and falling in love with it all over again. Sure, there may be edits still yet to come, but at the end of the day, I will fight for this story to be told. I want to find an agent that will fight alongside me. That person is out there somewhere. When we find each other, there will be no stopping us. The rejection, the doubts and the questions may rise to the surface from time to time. But it’s what I do after them that makes the difference.
This is not just another Tuesday!
This is #TeamSpyder Tuesday!
*Cue epic guitar lick*
Previously on this blog I mentioned participating in the Music-themed Twitter #PitchSlam contest. It’s been a blast to meet other writers on Twitter as we tweeted our fave music, theme songs for our characters, and cool parts of our stories. What a great way to delve into our stories and network with people who are walking down this crazy publishing road at the same time as I am.
The unique thing about this contest has been the Revise & Resubmit component (R&R doesn’t just stand for Rock & Roll!). The judges read our pitches and first 250 words and in and unprecedented move, sent us critique/feedback on ways to make our work stronger. What? That’s crazy, right?
*pause for tension-building drum solo*
Some writers chose not to heed the sage advise of those who have walked a mile before us. Me? I worked my tail off to revise my submissions in exactly the way they suggested. Cuz the thing is…they were right. My pitch was cliche and there was some confusion in my 250. So I beat my words into submission revised with their comments in mind and now my work is stronger for it. If nothing else comes of this contest, it was worth it for that alone.
*Lead singer steps to the mic peeling his shirt to reveal mind-blowing abs and fierce ink*
I’m pleased and grateful to announce, I was chosen for a band! Agents will be viewing the entries and requesting pages from the stories that, well, make them want to bang their heads.
In a good way.
Follow the link to see my entry, EVERGREEN along with the rest of the totally rad #TeamSpyder
Much thanks and lurve to L.L McKinney and Kimberley VanderHorst for choosing me to rock on your team. AND for creating this awesome contest. It truly has been a Crazy Train! \m/