Friday, July 16, 2010

Writing progress update and another teaser

It's been kind of a crazy week. I just got back from St. Louis where I celebrated my birthday and met one of my long-time heroines, Courtney Love (that story is here!) and on Sunday, I am headed to a cabin in northwestern Illinois with my mom and a friend to write. (My mom won't be writing. She will just be taking a well-deserved vacation, reading, watching birds or whatever she does.) And I have a lot I need to accomplish.

I'm extremely jealous of writers that can put out a book (or more!) a year. A friend told me about a friend of hers who wrote a first draft in two weeks. I can't imagine how that is humanly possible. My process is slow and it's starting to frustrate me. I know readers are used to get a book a year from an author and I'm afraid that by the time I finish my next book, let alone sell it, the few readers that I have amassed will have forgotten about me.

I'm also at the point where writing an entire book start to finish is a daunting idea. I haven't done that since 2006 when I finished the first draft of BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. I wrote that first draft in probably nine months however I'd been toying with the idea behind it for six years, even writing a full other version of the story. So I had six years of thinking time, wrote the draft in nine months and then spent another year revising it. Now mind you, in the middle of that year, I sold I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, so I had to take time out for revisions and copyedits on that. Then I went back to BALLADS, sold it (and the only reason it came out a year after IWBYJR is because I'd finished it before IWBYJR sold), and had revisions and copyedits on that.

Since that time I've been working on two books, which if you follow my blog at all, you've certainly heard me mention. One is my "bartender book" and the other is my first foray into urban fantasy. I spoke about them here, near the beginning of the year, though the bartender book was COMPLETELY different at the time. These books have both had multiple false starts. The urban fantasy started out as a contemporary book about a girl grieving her sister with references to mythology. It took three fifty-page partial attempts to get the story to a place where my agent even thought it worked. (She was the one who coaxed me into trying it as an actual urban fantasy.) Then it took a couple more attempts to get solid 75-page partial that my agent felt she could shop.

The bartender book started out as a YA which I wrote and revised the first 50 pages of a couple of times before my agent felt comfortable sending to my editor at MTV Books last fall.

I've never sold on a partial manuscript before. What that means is that you sell on a chunk of pages (50, 75, 100, first three chapters, or whatever) plus a synopsis of what the book is going to be about. It's extremely rare for a first time writer to do this, so I wrote IWBYJR as a full book. Since BALLADS was already written, we submitted it as a full, too. But since I've had two books out, we thought maybe, just maybe I could sell on partial. Which would be nice because it would mean getting a little bit of money upfront before writing the whole book. It would also give me the security of being under contract, knowing that I *will* publish another book, not feeling the anxiety I feel right now.

But it's a hard market to sell a partial right now, especially for a writer like me who has really yet to break out in any way. My editor at MTV Books passed on the YA version of the bartender book, though she did say she would be interested in seeing adult fiction from me. I realized that I was actually forcing the bartender book to be a YA because I wanted to fulfill my option with MTV Books, which was for a YA. So I decided to revamp the bartender book.

In the meantime, my agent started shopping the partial of the YA urban fantasy. No takers. Several very interested editors, but they all said the same thing: we need to see the full manuscript to understand how this story will play out. Fair enough. It's an intense story with a lot of twists and turns. So I told myself, I will finish a partial of the bartender book for my agent to shop and then write the rest of the urban fantasy.

After a month or two of struggling, I really got into my groove with the bartender book. I blogged about the elation of finally learning to love writing again here. As it turned out, my agent loved the story as much as I did. She just didn't like the beginning, so I spent a few weeks tweaking that. I figured then it would be good to go and I'd go on my writer's retreat and work on my urban fantasy, the goal being to finish that before my agent goes on maternity leave in mid-September. If all went well, I daydreamed that maybe I could sell two books in one year to make up for not selling a book since 2008.

Yesterday, I talked to my agent and she loves the bartender book. She says she's as excited about it as she was about IWBYJR. She says it falls in between women's fiction and commercial fiction though and that she'd really be shortchanging me on it if she tries to sell it on partial without reading the whole thing and knowing exactly which editors should see it. So I have to write the whole thing. The fantasy of selling two books in one year (which was probably utterly unrealistic anyway) is out the window.

On one hand, I was disappointed because I am really anxious to keep the momentum going of selling/being under contract for books and being able to give the readers that ask a date of when they will be able to read something from me again.

But what really counts is how excited my agent is about both of these ideas and I do want to have the best possible chance of selling them.

I wish I wasn't so slow. I wish I could write full-time so I had more time to get things done. But you can't rush the muse.

The current plan of action is to finish the bartender book first. I'm really in the zone with it now and I think I can write it faster than the urban fantasy. That one really may take a while to get just right. Now I just have to figure out how to most efficiently use my time so hopefully I can get the bartender book turned in before mid-September. Do I take the fast, shitty first draft approach and just write as fast as I can and finish it before going back to revise it? Or do I work slowly to nail each scene so I have less to revise later? I'll probably take the first approach since I know the characters now and am just having fun with them. I think to get through the writing of a first draft (which I absolutely hate. I am much happier revising), I do just have to write the book for my own sense of fun and enjoying the characters. Then I go back and take the pleasure in trying to make it perfect.

And I'm best as a binge writer. I need a long stretch of hours to ignore everything but my story, which is why this trip next week is going to be perfect. I'll write for several hours during the day (on previous writing retreats, I've sat for 10 to 12 hrs) and then have dinner with my mom and friend, enjoy a glass of wine and watch the Gilmore Girls (which as a mother-daughter story is perfect inspiration for my bartender book). Who knows what I'll accomplish in four days? Probably not a full novel, but if I can do 10 pages a day I'll be happy. Hmm, I wonder if that is realistic and wonder how I should break down my goal to finish the book by September by pages, scenes or chapters? I guess I better go look at that, but before I do, I'll leave you with another teaser from the bartender book. In case you missed it, the first one, which explains the story a bit and the alternating points of view is here.

This is the beginning of the second chapter, told from the daughter's perspective:


“I will not get a tattoo that matches yours,” I informed my mother in the parking lot of a strip mall on Route 43.

Since I was leaving for college three days before my eighteenth birthday, she’d decided to give me my present early. She’d been talking about her big surprise all month, unaware of the nightmares she was causing me.

It was just as bad as I’d imagined. She’d blindfolded me, picked up Bender and Cole and drove us to a tattoo parlor where she’d plunked down two hundred dollars and said, “Whatever my daughter wants, but it should match this in some way.” She tapped the tattoo on her forearm that she’d gotten on her eighteenth birthday.

“No. No way in hell,” I’d declared before turning around and marching right back out to the car.
Mom had followed. “I know normally it’s uncool to match your mom, but I’m a cool mom, right?” She pouted her glossy red lips, begging for reassurance that I wasn’t about to give.

I stood with my arms crossed over my chest. My bangs whipped me in the face whenever a car went past. Traffic created the only breeze on that stagnant, ninety-five degree August day. But tomorrow I’d be the one speeding out of town and after four days of driving, I’d arrive on an island full of free-thinkers: Walden Springs, Washington.

Even though it had been four years since Mom dragged me out of the Pacific Northwest to the Midwestern town she’d grown up in and aptly dubbed Nowhere, I could still remember what Washington smelled like. I closed my eyes and imagined bay breezes stirring up the scent of damp earth and pine. I saw myself sitting on the lush green lawn in front of Goldman College’s main building. There would be other students around me, studying or planning the revolution while the prestigious yellow brick building topped with a clock tower hovered over us like the nurturing parent that my mother had never mastered being. I’d memorized this image from the school’s homepage and mentally inserted myself into the center of it.


cat said...

I'm of two minds on the "book a year" thing. On one hand, it's nice to know you'll have a book in your hands from your favourite author all the time. On the other hand - sometimes I find that the story and writing suffers if there is a book a year because the deadlines are so fast that the author might not devote as much time to expanding/exploring the story as they would if they had longer.

I have stopped reading a couple of series because the writing became so bad that I couldn't bring myself to read them.

I think if you truly love an author's writing, you'll remember them when they publish another book even if it's 2 years after the first. I don't think you can rush art. If you do it's less "art" and more "unorginal commercial drivel". I'd rather read something that was truly crafted and not rushed, personally.

Your readers will follow you, I am sure of that. :) (some might even share hair colouring product information with you!)

Amy Lukavics said...

God, I so completely understand about how you feel with your pace. You know what you want it to be, you can picture yourself executing it, but when it comes down to it you always end up doing it the same way. I also am a binge writer and while it sucks a lot, the stuff that gets written during the binges is way more passionately written and captivating. I don't know, to each their own.

Please don't be worried about your readers. I've found that you're not the type of author to just have 'yeah she's okay' fans, but 'holy fuck she changed my life' fans. Waiting may be difficult, but it's certainly not in an annoyed way. It's pure excitement. That bartender book looks so fucking rad. I can not WAIT to read it.

I'm still reeling about the Courtney Love story, btw.

Harmony said...

I agree with Amy. Your fans are not "oh yeah, her books was cool. I liked it" fans. We're "holy shit. she changed my life and I'll wait forever for a new book if I have to" fans. We'll be here. Waiting might suck for now but it'll be worth it when this book blows us away 1000x more than any of those "oh yeah, it was a cool book" books.

So write the best you can and take your time so you KNOW it's the absolute best you can do. And we'll try our very best to be patient little reads. ;)

Robby said...

Some writers write slower than others. Sometimes it just takes longer. But like everyone else has said, as long as the books are written by You they will be brilliant and completely worth the wait. I cannot wait for the bartender book, however long it takes to find it's way into the world. You will break out. It will come.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks guys, you are all so sweet and encouraging and make me feel more comfortable with what I am doing.

And Cat, I know what you mean about the writing suffering. I don't want that to ever happen to me.

Amy, I am glad I am not the only binge writer!