August 29, 2012 § 12 Comments
As follow-up to my notes on query writing, I thought I’d go head and deconstruct a blurb so my talk of stakes and hook and conflict make a little more sense. I’m going to use the blurb on my site here for After You, with the understanding that 1) it is not the blurb I used in my query (but would be if I were querying now – it’s been edited to reflect revisions in the story) and 2) it’s not the blurb that will end up on the book (more than likely).
Seventeen-year-old Camilla Jay has the power of second chances. She can rewind time and she remembers everything. A tragedy like the death of her twin sister Madelyn shouldn’t be possible. Camilla rewinds to the day, but Madelyn dies each time – by her own hand. Madelyn doesn’t want saving. As Camilla searches for answers, she grows closer to handsome loner Wall. Together, they uncover Madelyn’s secrets: she was convinced her death was the only way to prevent Camilla’s. If Madelyn is right, then in saving her, Camilla could lose everything. Is she willing to gamble her future for her sister’s?
- blurb for After You, by me, coming Winter 2014 from Dial BFYR
So, let’s start.
“Seventeen-year-old Camilla Jay has the power of second chances. She can rewind time and she remembers everything. A tragedy like the death of her twin sister Madelyn shouldn’t be possible.”
This is my hook: this is the set-up (or even sometimes backstory), that orients the reader to my novel. It gives us a taste of what’s going on and, if your story is high-concept, this is where that concept tends to go. (The more high concept a story is, the shorter the blurb will tend to be. If your story isn’t high concept, don’t worry about it. Not a big deal, I mention it for thoroughness.) Note I start with my protagonist right away – this is who the reader will connect to, and unless you’re writing something like fantasy which requires more set-up, is a good rule of thumb (see the HSL blurb on my Books page).
“Camilla rewinds to the day, but Madelyn dies each time – by her own hand. Madelyn doesn’t want saving. As Camilla searches for answers, she grows closer to handsome loner Wall. Together, they uncover Madelyn’s secrets: she was convinced her death was the only way to prevent Camilla’s.”
This is my conflict. Here’s something to note: AY is high concept, but it’s not commercial or strong genre; it’s much more quiet, dark, and literary. There is no villain in AY; but Madelyn’s goals are in opposition to Camilla’s, so the conflict focuses on her. I included mention of the romantic subplot because I had the room and because it ties directly into her character arc – if Cam has to potentially choose between Madelyn’s future and her own, we should get a sense she has things in her life she really wants. The basic conflict in AY is the first two sentences – Madelyn dies by her own hand and doesn’t want saving. I add the next two as further complication.
“If Madelyn is right, then in saving her, Camilla could lose everything. Is she willing to gamble her future for her sister’s?”
And lastly, we have the stakes. If Camilla succeeds, she could potentially be risking her own life. Whoa! The motivation is woven throughout the blurb, not just in the stakes here: Camilla and Madelyn are twins and we can infer very close, so she wants her sister back, and in the conflict we’re told Madelyn had secrets, and Camilla is thus also motivated by a desire to find them out.
Some other things: that blurb is only 99 words. It takes up only about a quarter of a page. (Queries should be single-spaced and always written in the present tense.) Yet there are 9 sentences. This is because it uses my book voice, which is short, sparse, and unflinchy. If you write long, lyrical sentences, your blurb should be lyrical and the sentences a bit long to reflect your voice and style of writing. But do not write run-on sentences just to cram more information into your blurb. If you find yourself wondering how to shoehorn in mention of the worvils on Mars, you may need to revisit the query thoughts post.
And now a bit of fun! I recently got to help several various people with their queries; it’s something I love doing, as you know, and I’ve been told I’m not half bad at. Want some help with yours? Just comment on this post between now and midnight Thursday and you could win a query + 10 page critique from me. Contest is international (since prizes are by email!) but the catch is you have to have a finished manuscript (see query thought 1 for what that means!). I refuse to encourage jumping the gun. :)
July 13, 2012 § 1 Comment
Hypothetical Boyfriend had me read parts of Donald Maass’s The Fire in Fiction recently, and I’d like to offer some of his conclusions up without much comment. The themes are familiar.
“Originality can only come from what you bring of yourself to your story. … What gives any novel the impact of the new is something that does not come from plot or milieu but from a perspective: yours.
Where so many manuscripts go wrong is that, if they do not outright imitate, they at least do not go far enough in mining the author’s experience for what is distinct and personal. So many manuscripts feel safe. They do not force me to see the world through a different lens. They enact the author’s concept of what their novel should feel like to read rather than what their inner storyteller urgently needs to say. Novelists by and large do not trust themselves. They do not believe that their perspective is important.
… People are fascinating, don’t you find? That means so are you. Your take on the world is not only valid, it is necessary. Your story is not any old story, it is a story that only you can tell and only your way.
… Ignore yourself and your story will be weak. …
What is the truth that you most wish the rest of us would see? That is the purpose of your novel> that is your message. … Contemporary fiction reflects who we are. And who are you? How do you see our human condition? Where have you been that the rest of us should go? What have you experienced that your neighbors must understand? What have I missed? What makes you angry? What wisdom have you gleaned? Are there questions we’re not asking? Do the answers of the past no longer serve, or are they more apt than ever?
Simply put, what the hell do you want to say to me? If I remember nothing else, what would you have me recall when I close your novel’s covers?
Having something to say, or something you wish us to experience, is what gives your novel its power. Identify it. Make it loud. Do not be afraid of what’s burning in your heart.”
- Donald Maass, The Fire in Fiction, Chapter 9
July 2, 2012 § 5 Comments
I love my editor.
No, really. I call her Editor of Awesome Kate for a reason. We go back to, like, March of last year, when she first rejected AFTER YOU. (Betcha didn’t know that, didja?) But she said she loved it; it just needed work. A lot of work. And if I did that work, she would look at it again. I had more than one letter like that, but I have to tell you, just reading Kate’s rejection made me excited. This may or may not be how you know you have found the right editor for you, because yeah, I just used rejection and excited in the same sentence. The things she wrote I needed to do, in summary, were so obvious when she said them that way, and sparked so many ideas in my head, I just had to revise for her. I did, and then she bought it. Yay! And we’ve been working on AY since.
Kate writes the best edit letters. I know some writers get really scared, because it’s like, “Oh, god, twelve pages single spaced, someone just put me out of my misery,” and I get it. But Kate is a brainstormy kind of editor, so half those pages are her just batting around ideas and what-ifs for me. Which is so freaking inspiring. I would definitely say that working with Kate and Super Agent Suzie has taught me how to revise. It was never my strength; I’ve always preferred to draft, and am good at it. I write clean drafts; unfortunately, half the scenes might not make it into the finished story. C’est la vie.
I realized this, how this past year of revision has been a writer growth spurt, this weekend when I finally caught up to myself in the new version of AFTER YOU. I’m calling it a rewrite instead of a revision because the changes are so massive. I wrote something like 50 pages before I could even open the old file, if that’s any indication. So when I finally got to take the old first scene of AY and put it into the new file and begin revising it to fit, it was like a light bulb had gone off in my head. I could see the things that didn’t work in it so much more clearly now that I had put it where it should go – as the first turning point, not the opening.
And I never would have gotten to do this, to learn, if Kate hadn’t pushed the book back and let me go at it. I am so grateful for the opportunity and so humbled to have such a great editor and agent who believe in my writing. I went through this same thing in 2009, I felt burnt out and didn’t finish anything I started; I’d described it as feeling like I was trying to chip away a brick wall with a spoon, and the past couple rounds of revision felt like that. Lilith Saintcrow in 2009 had said it sounded like I was having a “growth spurt”, and she’d been right. When it settled, I knew it. I wrote three novels in under a year, including the original draft of AFTER YOU.
This growth spurt has settled, and this time I was learning revision. And the key is something Kate said in her most recent edit letter. We already knew she’d be on leave for a few months, so I’d have time to do an extensive revision. We knew we wanted to make the book bigger, and that we were too close to it, the forest for the trees and all that. Kate said, “Basically, I’d love for us to put it all on the table in this revision.” The light bulb didn’t just click on, that thing blazed so bright it hurt my eyes. In the previous revisions, I’d been treating it like some sort of Rubik’s cube, where once something lined up I couldn’t mess with it and just kept trying to solve for all the colors. Instead, when I’d change something, the things that were already lined up didn’t fit anymore, but I didn’t see it because I thought, I’d already dealt with those colors. Kate’s suggestion I question everything freed me. Revision is exactly that, a re-visioning of the story. And that sounds pretty but it doesn’t really mean anything until you internalize it for yourself. I have two takeaways from this.
First, it means nothing is sacred. If I write the first draft of a story about a zookeeper who loses his wife in a motorcycle accident, ALL of those elements could get cut or morph into something else. I could wind up with a finished book about a ten-year-old girl who facilitates a romance between her estranged parents. How is that the same book, you ask? Well, it isn’t. Why is that a problem? The book becomes what it has to in the end, which leads to my next point.
Second, a story must have a heart. How do you decide what to keep or what needs to change? You have to have a guiding principle. A plot arc, a character arc, both, right? All good stories need those things. But, well, again, the entire plot is negotiable. The character is negotiable. If they aren’t, it’s because they’re intricately connected to your vision for the book, and that is what a revision is – a sculptor chipping away all that the marble isn’t so what it is can emerge. And it might not be what you thought it was at first; you might have had to write a widowed zookeeper to figure out what really fascinated you was the way people respond to loss, and that is actually your vision. I hesitate to say theme; when I discuss these ideas with Hypothetical Boyfriend (also a writer), I will use the phrase, “what I want to say,” which is theme in its own way, but again, not every story “must say something,” it is more, I think, “what I’m trying to do here.” Because every writer is trying to do something with their story, even if it’s just push their understanding of the craft.
I knew all of this about revision in my head, but it wasn’t until I’d gone through the process with Editor of Awesome Kate that I began to internalize it, to really understand it. I hope AFTER YOU will be that much richer for it, and I know, at least, I’ll always be grateful to Kate for the lesson.
June 18, 2012 § 1 Comment
Hello everyone! I have Book News! Remember how I announced that the Kindle edition of AFTER YOU was available for pre-order and it was listed to release July 11, 2013? Good times. Alas, I spoke too soon.
Don’t be alarmed! This is a good thing! I shall explain forthwith, but first, the pertinent detail: Dial is pushing the book back. I do not know till when, and that is okay. I will let you know as soon as I do!*
Why this is a good thing and you should be glad: Delayed gratification is more rewarding? But seriously, the book is coming along really well but it’s just not ready to go into production yet. I have Grand Plans for it, you see, and these things take time to execute. (Plus, ask anybody, time travel is just kind of complicated and brainmelting. Right, Julie?) It’s absolutely awesome that Editor of Awesome Kate and I are on the same page about making the book mind-blowing, even if it takes a little longer than we’d anticipated.
And if I can tease you, I am so excited about what we’re planning to do with the book that I almost had an actual fit while in the park the other day. Synapses were firing so fast I couldn’t write notes fast enough. I had to restrain myself from doing actual physical muppetflailing in public. If that doesn’t get you revved up for me to take the extra time, I don’t think I can convince you.
*Having spoken to Editor of Awesome Kate, it will almost assuredly be 2014.
May 16, 2012 § 6 Comments
I heard recently about a young woman who committed suicide, leaving behind three small children. She’d made other attempts, and finally “succeeded.” I don’t know any of her story beyond that, but it’s enough. My heart goes out to her family. If you or anyone you know has thoughts of self-harm, please go here for help. You are not alone, and you don’t need to fight alone. As someone who has suffered from depression, I know how one gets to that point. I write about it in AFTER YOU, to an extent.
Only in my novel, Camilla gets a chance to stop her sister from committing suicide. She rewinds time over and over again to try and convince Maddy not to do it. At one point, Maddy says, “I only get once, Cam.” We all only get once. It’s an idea I keep coming back to.
My life has not been an easy one. I won’t give you a sob story; you know if you’ve read my blog that both of my parents are deceased. (20 years on Friday for Dad.) Oh, do I wish things were different. All the time. And yet when people say, hey, you wrote a time travel book, what would you change if you could, I always say the same thing: nothing. We only get once. I often feel the loss of my parents; this weekend was very acute. I love my sister very much, but she doesn’t live close by. I think that as I recognize there are no do-overs, I’m learning to be kinder. No one needs additional burdens than what a life can throw at them without help. I sincerely regret the pain that I’ve caused people. I have learned from it, if even only to be humbled. I can’t undo it. We only get once.
A life is a long time, even one cut tragically short like the woman I heard about. Cam finally recognizes that “suicide isn’t an accident. It’s an accumulation of burdens: ignorance, apathy, guilt, shame, disappointment, worthlessness. They pile on you until you can’t see the way out, if there is one. And if there is, you’re too tired to look for it, to try to climb out from under those demons.” And the thing is, these things wear at us. Life is like your very best dress, the one you spent way too much money on that you don’t even have an event in mind to wear it to: you keep it in its dressing bag. You don’t wear it everywhere, wrinkle it, throw it on the floor of the closet, run it through the washer. You treat it gently, kindly, in respect for the fact it is your best, and your only, and you paid a lot of money for it. You know?
It’s a stupid analogy, but I think we forget a lot just how precious life is. We only get once. All the little moments we have add up to one entire life. How are you spending yours? Are you locked in a cycle of self-hate? Do you perpetuate drama to distract yourself from the root of your problems, whatever issues you haven’t dealt with? Do you simply waste too much time on things that don’t matter, or energy on emotions that ultimately hurt you? Are you perpetually stressed by things outside your control and need to come to terms with what you can and can’t be responsible for? (I speak here to myself.)
There is so much good in a life, so much that one life can hold, that we only need one. But a life is for living, and living is messy. We need to be gentler, kinder, more loving where we can. We can’t undo things like Camilla can in my book. We learn. We grow, because of the things we can’t undo – whether things that happen to us or that we do, both good and bad. And that’s not a bad thing.
April 9, 2012 § 1 Comment
Short post today. They’ll be like this for a while. I’m really busy offline – not just personally but writing! My writing schedule has blown up as AFTER YOU gets closer to production. I’m finishing the edits on that and drafting a new novel at once. Then I have another novel I need to overhaul. My writing for the new few months is covered, and I will be busy busy! Add to that my part-time job at Barnes and Noble, and a stab at a social life, and the internet is going to get shafted. I may cut blogging back to just Mondays and Wednesdays for a while, but I’ll let you know if I do!
I love the new season, I love the vitality it brings; I always feel like I’m just surviving winter, but once Spring hits, it’s productivity and looking forward and being more than. Spring is an invitation. The weather is warming up, there’s more sunlight; what will you achieve with all that extra time and ability to get out? It’s a promise: if you just buckle down, Jess, think of all the things you can do.
So, I’m off to do them.
April 2, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Just a head’s up – AFTER YOU is coming to a Kindle near you next summer. Which I guess means, by the way, I have a release date! We can all start counting down to JULY 11, 2013* for the wonderfulness. And if you have a Kindle and would like to PRE-ORDER a copy, you can actually do that, right here.
I’m sending back the penultimate version to Editor of Awesome Kate this week and then just one more tiny go-over before we move into that foreign land called production. I have lamented not being there yet and now, of course, I’m all, OMG BUT IT’S NOT PERFECT and such, because that’s how we writers are.
(*Date is, of course, subject to change. This IS publishing, folks.)
March 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’m revising AFTER YOU again. I’ve re-fallen in love with my book. Revision is such a weird process. It’s so very long and drawn out and you go through every emotion under the sun while you’re doing it. Honestly, my relationship to my book is quite possibly more complicated than my relationship to any one person. I mean, you’ve got the layers of what is story and what is author and conscious and unconscious, and those are all thoughts for another post.
But. That said! I am coming to the end of the revision tunnel. The book should be done and into production by May (wheee!!) and I am SO excited to get there, but really am loving these last couple times through. . It’s strange to get to a scene and go, “Oh, I don’t have to do anything to this one, right,” and just give it a read through and keep going.
I’m getting nervous that I won’t fix everything as well as I could. I want to, and I’m trying to, but I’m only human. I miss things. Editor of Awesome Kate is great at pointing out lots of little things I wouldn’t have noticed, and asking questions, and she is such a delight to work
I’m getting proud of it again, as I reread and rediscover and tweak and fix. I don’t know if I’ll ever nail all the time travel stuff, frankly. The book isn’t about time travel; it’s about sisters, and the rewinding is just a device to explore that, but it still needs to be as consistent as possible, as logical as it can be. I struggle with logic. It is not my forte. But! Thanks to Kate and Suzie and my beta readers, I do think it’s tons better than it was.
This pride and love of my book is making me nervous. I want you to like it. I don’t want you to be all, oh the time travel doesn’t make sense (I want it to make sense). I want you to see the heart of the book. I get that I don’t get to explain it. That’s not what I’m trying to do here, and won’t. I’m just finally at a place where I’m not so IN THE BOOK that I can’t see anything else, and I’m starting to ponder the actual READING OF THE BOOK. I’m thinking of interviews about the book instead of about writing, and what will I want to say? So much. I’m looking so forward to all of it. But mostly I want the book to be read, and liked. I want people talk about it, maybe even argue about certain things, maybe even love it. … Doesn’t everyone?
I realize writers aren’t supposed to talk about this sort of thing, but hey, Suzie can tell me to delete this post if she needs to.
March 26, 2012 § 3 Comments
I’d like to introduce a new “blog character,” as it were. This is Best Sister Ever. She’s the one on the left, and yes, we’re identical twins. Yes, I said identical. I was a sickly child. She takes after Dad. What?
I am visiting her this weekend. We’re getting first spring pedis and going to our favorite discount stores and we saw Hunger Games yesterday, which was interesting because she doesn’t watch those kinds of things but her husband was super excited (even more than me) so we went. And we ate at our favorite Mexican restaurant. And she is just funny and fun and smart and super cool. I mean, we are twins. So if you think I’m awesome, double it.
So, no super insightful blogging today. I have a pedi to go to. And everyone, say hi to Best Sister Ever. Give her a warm blog welcome. I plan on dragging her along to AFTER YOU things because, you know, twinsies. :cough:
Peace kitten out. (don’t ask.)