Archive | March, 2013

Ten Pages at a Time

This morning I started in on my plan to fatten up the novel a bit. Here’s how I’m tackling it: I want to add 10,000 words, but I don’t want to just drop in previously deleted flashbacks or add scenes that aren’t needed. Instead I want to just give the prose some pacing, let them flow a little more. Since the manuscript is 210 pages, I’ve decided to edit in 10 page chunks. I’m taking 10 pages at a time, pasting them into a new doc, and adding descriptions here and there to make the pacing better. I’m working on it until I’ve added 500 words, and then I’m pasting those 10 pages back into the story, slightly fatter for the attention.

I was skeptical that this would work. I worried I was over thinking it – letting my science background influence me too much – but this morning it went really well. In fact, I found the experience very relaxing – taking those first 10 pages and looking at just them, alone, and pausing to think about where I could add without just making it longer. It felt like I was saying to myself “Okay, I don’t have to worry about getting it right. The story is here. Now where do I, as the reader, want more?”

I’ve been so focused on trimming and perfecting for so long, it was nice to just write. Of course, it took me an hour to add just 200 words, and I only edited the first five pages, so it may take a while. But I think I’m back on the right path again. 500 words is a long paragraph. I can totally add one paragraph’s worth of words to every ten pages. I think my novel will be much better for it, and I will feel more confident sending out a manuscript that is 75,000 words instead of 65,000.

Maybe on my next novel I’ll be bolder, more willing to say eff-off to the “rules,” but as a first-time novelist, I’m looking to follow convention. Learn the basics. Walk before I run and all such boring cliches.

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Fattening Up My Manuscript

This question of whether or not my novel is too short is plaguing me. I know what matters most is that it’s good, but I also know I can be a little harsh with the editing.

So I re-read the whole thing and did notice that it feels a bit truncated in spots.

Then I re-read the beginning of some of my favorite books and I noticed their pacing. I read Winter’s Bone, A Thousand Acres, and White Oleander, (and I started Wild Girls – which so far is awesome), and they all have very even pacing. They move along steadily, but without hurry. They don’t feel clipped. Instead they feel like they have all the time in the world. They draw you in. The first paragraph of Winter’s Bone is about hanging meat, but by page three you know the whole family history and have a pretty good sense of what that poor girl is up against. Even pacing, and amazing concision of ideas.

So I’m retracting my statements that my draft is almost done. The pieces are all in the right place, and I’ve cut everything I don’t need, but I’m going to take one more pass to fill in those places where the pages feel a little thin. I’m going to let the belt out a little and not worry about trimming for a change. I’m going to luxuriate in painting the scenes a bit more. Not too much, just a bit.

All I can do is give it a shot and see how it reads when I’m done.

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Books, Wonderful Books!

On Monday a writer friend of mine was in town, visiting from West Virgina. We were in the Masters program at USC together, and she has since moved and found herself a pretty kick ass job as a magazine editor. When she called to say she was coming to town, we both agreed it was a great excuse to have lunch and waste a few hours wondering the isles of our favorite books store.

We are both in love with Skylight Books on Vermont. It’s such a great bookstore. When she lived in town we used to go to readings there together. I don’t think I’ve been since she left, but I do go back to to shop – only these days I go to buy birthday presents, usually for small children. I put on my virtual blinders, fix my gaze on the cement floor, and charge straight back to the kid’s section, because as soon as I look up, it’s over.

I learned that one the hard way. I went there once with the little guy in tow, just as he was learning to walk, and I got sucked into the new fiction section. It was ugly. I was that mom – the one who lets her kid wander around pulling books off shelves. At one point, in a half-hearted attempt to keep him under control,  I was holding the back of his pants with one hand and reading the back of new novel with the other, as he slid and whined on the floor, trying to get away. So yeah, since then, I go with a mission, and don’t allow myself to get distracted.

Except on Monday, I went in the middle of the day, sans kiddos, and just dove right in. I find the entire Wild Girlsshop exceptional, but left to meander, I always end up in the new fiction section. And since I’m nearing the end of this draft of the novel, I took some time focus in on debut fiction. I found three different titles, all by first time novelists, that seem like they have the same sensibilities as my book. In the acknowledgements I culled the names of their agents and have added them to my list of people to investigate. I managed to buy just one, a book called “Wild Girls.” I can’t wait to start reading it.

The whole afternoon just reminded me why I write.

I love books. I just love them.

Did you know there’s a whole book on salt? It’s called “Salt: A World History.” I mean, really, is there nothing books can’t teach me? Worlds long past, worlds that will never exist, miniscule worlds that exist in the cracks of everyday life. Fiction, non-fiction, literary, trashy. I just love them.

It was a wonderful afternoon. I have to remember, the next time I’m feeling frustrated or tired, that an hour at Skylight can change my whole perspective and remind me why I do what I do.

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Is My Novel Too Short?

On Saturday Daniel and my mom entertained the kids all day so that I could work on my novel. I’ve been really needing a big chunk of time to wrap up this draft, so I wrote from 9:30 to 5:30. Well, actually, I wrote from 9:30 to about 1:30, and then I read it through, and I was feeling pretty good about it. It’s really close. Really. I just want to fix up a few more little things. At least, that’s what I thought.

Then I did something I shouldn’t have. I checked the word count. When I started this round of revisions I had a very respectable, if low, 75,000 words. I’m a concise writer. I know this. I’m okay with it. But now, according to my word count I’m at 65,000 words.

Everything I’ve read is that you don’t really want to be below 70,000 for a novel. So now I’m all freaked out. Is my novel too short? I know there are always exceptions to the rule, but I also know better than to assume I’m the exception just because my novel comes up a little short.

But it’s not THAT short. 5,000 words is what – 20 pages? Is that really such a big deal? when I think of it from the perspective of an agent, I would think they’d be much more inclined to read something that comes in a little short than something that comes in a little long (at say 150,000 words). Basic economics of time.

What matters is that it’s good, right?

Or should I spend the time to work another 5-10,000 words back into the thing?

I don’t know. I’m thinking I’ll just polish it up as if I hadn’t done that stupid word count, then send it out to my friends/writing group and ask them if they feel like any sections are too brief. Maybe there are places that need elaboration that I’m just not seeing.

I think I have officially hit that place I’ve heard writers talk about where they JUST WANT TO BE DONE WITH THE DAMN THING.

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Warm air, jet fuel, cigarette smoke and plumerias.

I didn’t post on Monday. I was busy drinking maitais by the pool in Hawaii. Okay, well, in truth, I was busy chasing the kiddos around the pool, which was even more fun, and I did sneak in a maitai or two.

I was ready for a little vacation. We went to a resort just outside Honolulu with my husband’s mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, cousin, and my mom. Here are a few photos (which you have already seen if you follow my Instagram feed).

April Davila April Davila April Davila




It was perfect, but I didn’t blog about it while we were there because I always feel like blogging about being on vacation is like inviting people to rob you.

But now that we’re back I can say – it was lovely.

More than that, it got the juices of my deep deep memory flowing, and as a good little writer nerd,  I’m proud to say, I did my fifteen minutes of writing every day and then some. I wrote almost exclusively about memories of other places, of the times in my life that I have lived on other, much less resort-like, islands. The smell of that thick warm air, jet fuel, cigarette smoke and plumerias kept transporting me, even as I loaded car seats in and out of rentals, to times I almost never think of anymore.

For two summers, when I was thirteen and then again when I was fourteen, my sister and I went to live with my dad on a small island in the south pacific called Kwajalein (here’s a map of roughly where our home was – if it had an address I don’t remember it). My dad, a retired Marine captain, was managing the airport there at the time. In my memory it is such a magical place. We went SCUBA diving every day. There were no cars on the island except for official military vehicles. The place was overrun with kids – military brats whose parents worked all day. We had such a blast. The air was hot and sticky, and our double wide had a plumeria tree growing over the top of it, and there was no air conditioning so the smell of plumeria wafted through the windows all day. I think I did keep a journal back then, but even if I could find it, it would probably just be full of gushing about Brad, the lifegaurd at the pool. Brad.

Then there were the four months I lived on the much drier, even even less populated, South Caicos, at the School for Field Studies. I studied fishery management and went SCUBA diving every day. I went on a date with a very large, local man named Ganger. He took me to the only restaurant in town – Aunt May’s – the carrots were delicious. My classmates and I took our tests under water with pencils on slates. We drank a lot of rum. We stopped whatever we were doing at sunset and gathered to watch the spectacular show.

These are the memories that came up for me in Hawaii. It’s amazing how scents take us back. I wonder if I’ll ever actually go back to those places. They are so remote, it’s hard to imagine. The whole thing has me feeling pretty nostalgic. I suppose there are stories in these memories, but for now they are just notes in my journal, to be mined at some future date.


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Short Stories to Build a Writer Platform

I have thirty-five pages left to edit. They are thirty-five of the newest, and roughest, pages in the entire manuscript, but still, it’s only thirty-five pages, which is pretty exciting.

I’ve made a list of things I need to do once I’ve finally finished the draft. While my lovely readers are compiling their thoughts, I will be working on the following:

  • My synopsis (ug)
  • A list of thirty agents who have represented work like mine
  • A query letter to send to said agents, and
  • A few short works to send off to journals to see if I can’t bolster my platform a bit before sending out the query letter.

I was talking with my writing group about that last one, wondering what pieces I should polish up for submissions to journals, and they suggested I try to pull an excerpt from my manuscript. At first I thought it was impossible. They whole thing seems so interwoven that I couldn’t figure out what section could stand on it’s own, but in the pages I worked on last weekend I think I found a chunk that could suffice.

It would likely need some editing, to lay some basic story background, especially since the chunk I’m thinking of using comes late in the story, but it could be done. And actually, they are some of my favorite pages.

I also have three other short stories that have been languishing on my hard drive for years. I’m not sure how much work they would need, and in fact, I’m very curious to re-read them now that I’ve learned so much about writing as a craft. I’m hoping the holes that made them unsatisfying when I abandoned them will seem less daunting now that I have more experience. That would be great.

Then there’s the Writer’s Digest writing competition. I received a flyer for it in the mail last week. I usually toss the flyer, because I never have anything that’s polished enough (because I’ve been working on the novel FOREVER), but this might be the year I submit. The early-bird deadline isn’t until May 6th. I bet I could put something together for that. I know the odds of winning are slim, because they get a brazillion entries, but if I don’t enter I definitely won’t win, right?

It’s time to start putting my work out there.

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Google Maps Street View: An Awesome Writing Tool

I’ve crossed the two-thirds mark on the final edit of the novel! Woo hooo.

I was actually starting to feel really discouraged, because the work was plugging along so slowly, but a fun thing happened last week. I hit a section that used to be right up in the beginning of the story. Before I did some reorganization of the plot line, these pages made up a good chunk of the first 50 pages and as such – they have been workshopped and fine-tuned to the point that they need very little work. Yes, I had to tweak them up a bit to make them fit in around page 140, but that was easy enough. It was nice to 1. breeze through so many pages, and 2. to realize that as I’m editing I actually am making a difference in my prose, enough so that I could recognize the pages that had already been worked on.

So yeah. Encouraging.

While I have your attention, I want to share a brilliant new writing tool I’ve discovered: Google Maps Street View. Around page 98, my main character, Tallulah Jones, stops in a small town outside of Barstow. In editing, I realized that I didn’t really illustrate the scene very well. I couldn’t, because I had never been there, and therefore had no concrete details to share about it. Then it occurred to me – I don’t have to go there.

Desert road - Tallulah JonesI pulled up the town on Google Maps, chose a corner that made sense for this scene to take place on and dragged the little yellow man into place to get the street view. So awesome. It was all squat buildings in dusty shades. I “rolled” down the street a bit to see how the road slowly transitioned from sun-bleached town to lonely desert. There were two traffic signals.

True, I couldn’t smell the air, or notice how the people interact. I couldn’t feel the heat of the day on my face. I couldn’t hear the whistle of a train in the distance. There’s a lot you can’t get from “walking” down a street virtually, but if you’re just looking for a detail or two to set a scene, it’s amazing.

I will always opt to hit the road if given the choice, but it’s nice to know this resource is available.

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