Fiction


Hi, all!  As many of you know, my goal for MayNoWriMo is to finish editing one of my SciFi novels, and I have to admit that in my experience, editing (even simple copy-editing and proofreading) is a longer and harder slog than writing 80,000-200,000 words.  This is, in large part, an issue of motivation.  The actual story grabs me by the neck and drags me head-first through a roller coaster of multi-layered plots and subplots, intrigue, character development, world-building, and snark laid on with a trowel (in any case, that last bit happens to me 7 times out of 10.  Please don’t go looking for mortar-thick snark in the Kinlea Keeper world system O_o;).  When I’m writing, I’m often so addicted to the story and the people in it that I can’t wait to get back to my notebook or keyboard.  It’s a lot like my novel reading habit but  with more emotional investment.  The problem lies in the fact that once I finish writing a story, I feel like I’ve finished reading the novel and don’t always feel any intense need to read it again… ten or twenty times… with a fine-toothed-comb and a red pen.  So, today I would like to offer up to the MayNoWriMo reading public the process I have developed to force myself to actually (and occasionally effectively) edit the insane number of novels that I’ve written over the years and subsequently left in notebooks and hard drives to collect dust.

1) Find beta-readers you trust to tell you the grim truth.

I have learned that brutally honest beta readers are the best friends a novel writer can have, and indeed most of my best friends are on my beta-reading team.  So is my mother.  Good beta-readers not only spot problems at an alarming rate, but they remind you how much better the story can be if you work on it.  They also remind you how much fun and worthwhile your stories are, and they keep the story fresh long after it would grow stale if you kept the editing process to yourself.

2) Find an audience and read the entire book out loud.

I know this seems extreme, but I have discovered more spelling/grammar errors and awkward passages while reading my books out loud to groups of friends than I have through any other method.

3) When in doubt, wait a year.

Going back to a novel a year or more after you write it can give you an amazingly fresh and uncluttered prospective.  I notice that I am less apt to cling to awkward and cluttered wording (and trust me, my diction in early drafts can be horrifyingly thick) with a little bit of time-distance.  I finished writing the novel I’m editing for MayNoWriMo back in 2007.  I am in a much better position to hack and slash now.

4) Use other projects as edit-goal rewards.

This doesn’t always work for me, actually.  Sometimes the unfinished third book in a series starts doing that neck-dragging thing (mentioned in the above intro) while I’m editing the first book… as in, I have the first book open in the window in front of me and my mind (erm… figurative neck?) is racing so fast through third-book plots and pitfalls that I don’t even see the words in front of me.  BUT, sometimes it does work.  Sometimes I can tell myself that I’m not allowed to write the rest of Horror Novel A before I finish editing Fantasy Novel B, and that can be a good motivator.  When it works.  Which it often doesn’t.

5) Actually USE the spelling and grammar check options in your word processing program.

Seems obvious, I know, but a lot of us are reluctant to wade through our mushy-slushy-mud-oceans of fantasy words, myth names, and foreign language references.  The bajillion clicks on “add to dictionary” are worthwhile, though, for even a hand-full of good fixes.

6) Set an edit goal for MayNoWriMo.

When all else fails, pledging an edit goal to a nice mass-project like MayNoWriMo can boost one’s motivation.  Deadlines that the world can see are better than deadlines you set for yourself and frequently break… by years… sometimes decades… heheh.  Yeah.

So, there you have it!  The Elisa Grace Diehl method for editing novels.  It’s not a foolproof method, but through its application I have managed to publish a couple of decently good novels.  That’s approximately a 10% success rate so far, and that’s better than the 0% rate I was running until the summer of 2008.  With that, I wish you all the best of luck with your goals for the month, and I feel as though I really ought to get back to editing An Exercise in Bad to Worse.  Only one week left!  Wish me luck! -EGD

Sooo, Drollerie Press finally released Curse.  It happened without my noticing it (in part because I actually wasn’t informed 0_o) and there are a couple of odd formatting errors in the final copy, but hey, it’s a seriously long book, so a couple extra spaces between lines in places won’t kill the experience.  Curse is one of my favorite books I’ve ever written, incidentally, and probably the most syntactically sound.  I highly recommend you wander over and read the excerpt, but then, I’m biased ^_^.  Hugs to all- EGD

Phew!  Finally!  Kinlea Keeper was released at Drollerie Press last week.  Yes, I know I said it would be released in June, September, and October respectively, but this is an honest to goodness sure thing!  I’ve seen it!  It’s true, I tell you!  Now we can all wait with bated breath for Curse (the sequel), which by contract must be released before early March of 2010.  If you are at all interested in mixed-myth folklore fantasy, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the series, and I would be more than a little grateful if you give the excerpt a shot even if you aren’t.  It’s free, after all, and I promise it won’t take up too much of your time.  Much obliged! -EGD

This may seem a bit odd, but reading Angela Korra’ti’s Faerie Blood sharply reminded me that I have been remiss in my campaign to review all the Drollerie Press books I like, though I’ve been pretty successful in not-reviewing the ones I didn’t, which is probably to my credit.  Anyhow, the book-I-liked that I skipped was David Sklar’s Shadow of the Antlered Bird, and I bring it up now in part because I liked it for many of the same reasons I liked Faerie Blood.  Both FB and SAB (Yes, I shortened the titles for convenience’s sake) were utterly charming, and both dealt with Faerie in a way of which I strongly approve.  They also both displayed a refreshing and blended balance between the ancient magical beings and magical world and the modern environment with which they surely must come to cope.

Back to FB, though, I saw a lot of myself and the way I see the world in its pages.  It plays to my age-group and my social tastes as a twenty-something gamer geek and musician with a penchant for Faerie-lore, and I found myself relating to the characters as though they were fiction-world proxies for my buddies from college.

Also, I found the romantic element of the story delightful and heart-warningly innocent (another thing, incidentally, FB shares with SAB), and I found myself impressed by the intimacy Korra’ti achieves with her story’s sense of time and location.  It’s a very well crafted piece, and it made for a very fun afternoon in a beanbag chair with a cup of tea, which I needed to distract me for a bit from midterms and intensive Jingju (Beijing Opera) training, if only for a short while.  If you get a chance (and now would be a good time, because Drollerie’s running one heck of a sale in their bookshop), and if you like Faerie stories, by all means, get your hands on a copy of this book.  And yyyyyeah… when you’re finished with Faerie Blood, try Shadow of the Antlered Bird.  It’s shorter, but goes just as well with a cup of tea and a beanbag chair ^_^.  -EGD

Ah, the back to school sales!  Ah, the bills!  Ah, the coming of a time when holding down a full-time job is not physically viable!  Ladies and gentlemen, school starts on Monday.

As I sit here at work, staring at the usual tools of the IT operator (coffee, 15 computer monitors, eight keyboards, three phones, worn console notebooks, rack upon rack of tapes and the gigantic tape machine), I find myself wondering “um… how am I going to cope with the pay that comes of only doing this for 16 hours a week?”  The answer is, clearly, that I need to sell off all those bodily organs I’m not using.  Anyone need a nice, clean kidney?

Alternately, I’ve got hundreds of thousands of words sitting around on my external hard drive, and by gosh, most of them are neatly arranged into novel-length manuscripts.  This may be a more useful thing to observe, though, if I actually had the time and energy to expend on convincing publishers they’re worth something while holding down the hours of a full-time theatre MFA candidate with a part-time job.  Ok, so we’re back to that kidney.

I think, perhaps, I need to find me an enthusiastic literary agent who doesn’t restrict him/herself to one genre bracket.  I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, but I write pretty much everything but romance/erotica, and I write stuff for all ages.  Shoot, I’ve even written picture books, I’ve written plays, and I tried to write a novel in Japanese once, long ago, when I was feeling insane and ambitious.  I write rock songs on napkins.  I write travelogues that number in the thousands of pages.  I have some quite nice graduate-level research papers, including one on modern Brechtian Broadway musicals that I’m partial to.  I’ve got a historical fiction cold-case murder mystery in the works.

I really wish I could make effective use of all of this to support my theatre habit.  Lately, acting causes more bills than it pays, and writing doesn’t cost me more than paper and hard drive space.  It says a lot about my life that it might have actually been simpler if I’d fallen head-over-heels for the novel writing trade instead of for live theatre.  Novelists often have it just as rough as actors, only novelists make their own working hours.

Still in all, I want to act, and I am giddy with anticipation for this semester.  I’m learning how to be a Beijing Opera (Jingju) actor from the very best Chinese master actors!  SQUEEEEEEE!  Dang, I love my graduate program.  Now, if only it were free like that lovely musical theatre BA for which I had a National Merit Scholarship…

Ah, well.  Kidney anyone?  Kidney?

There are some things that most of us fear. It’s a fact of the human condition. We share a sort of odd, primal collective consciousness that makes us jump when something moves in the shadows. This law of humanity also dictates: the stronger the power of our imaginations, the more we have to fear. This means very different things for different people, and there is something of a gap between this law’s influence on children and its influence on adults. Often times, it seems the monsters of the adult mind spring from experience and the knowledge of small, probable realities like “if I do not go to work, I stand a fair chance of losing my job, and in this economy I might not be able to replace it, and I will not be able to pay my rent, bills, tuition, and health insurance, and if I am diagnosed with some sort of dangerous and terribly expensive disease three days after my payments lapse…” and so-forth. Adult imaginations turn people into worrywarts and lead to nervous disorders and ulcers. Adult imaginations also pick up on words like “disembowelment,” “genocide,” “miscarriage” or “epidemic” in novels and set adult guts clenching in horrified sympathy, whereas children generally read the words and absorb only a very general impression of “bad,” even if they know what the words mean by dictionary definition.

Children, in general, are more likely to fear things without understanding them than to fear things because they understand them. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have more to fear than adults, but it means that their fears are enormously (and rather metaphysically) difficult to allay. Without anything concrete to cling to, children must face their childhood monsters with pure, unadulterated bravery or not face them at all. What’s worse, when the monsters are real, children are smaller, weaker, and generally less equipped to cope.

I am pretty convinced that this is why children so often make the very best storybook and folktale heroes. When children are brave, they are brave against some overwhelming odds.

In Heather Ingemar’s short series of short stories, Collecting Dreams, the main character is one such child heroine. Isabelle, a 10 and then 12 year old orphanage ward, is courageous in the face of the unknown, and she is also courageous when facing the steep and awful price of her brave actions. Isabelle’s monsters are all too real, and what’s worse, one of the monsters Isabelle faces is the one she herself might become. Without giving any more away, let’s just say I absolutely loved this tiny little (less than 60 page!) book, and highly recommend that you all go storm the gates of the Drollerie Press bookstore to get yourselves a copy, especially if you like faerie-style children’s horror.

Anyhow, if you’re a grown-up, it’ll not only entertain you for a fast-paced half hour, it’ll frighten you with something far more interesting than income tax and the rising cost of healthcare, and perhaps it’ll make you remember why, at an earlier point in your life, those sorts of things weren’t scary at all.

Soooo, as is the natural order of these things, all the stuff I was complaining vehemently about when I opened this blog account has turned out quite nicely (except that the Chicago Cubs have yet to win a series in just over a century).  I am now a University of Hawaii MFA candidate in Asian Performance, and I have signed two publishing contracts ^_^.  I just found out very shortly ago that the first of the two is slated to hit e-book-shelves (figurative shelves, seeing as e-books are e-books) in June.  That’s… soon 0_o.  In the meantime, I am producing UHM’s short play and dance festival this summer and I’m in two productions that start running next week and the week after.  Aaaaand finals are banging down my door, and I have what feels like several hundred Theatre 101 papers to grade.  I’m busy, but heck, I’m pretty thrilled with life as it stands.  And now you know.

I FINISHED CURSE!  BWAHAHAHAHA!  I DID IT!  128,819 words of Kinlea Keeper sequel awesome-ness.  In case you’re wondering at the excitement and saying “Dang, with all the novel-length fiction this chick has finished in her life, she should be used to this sort of thing by now,” I would like to put forth that this is the first time in my long and extremely fruitful “career” (haha, very funny, Kid) as an amateur novelist that I actually had the specific goal of getting something finished.  I generally just let that happen on its own time between rehearsals, plays, work deadlines, band gigs, ski/hiking trips, and all the usual fun-stuff I almost always let take priority.  This historic occasion, I actually sat my butt down and spent four months working really hard to finish something, and now I’m finished and can rejoice.  As to whether or not I’ll ever make a concerted effort to finish a novel again, we’ll have to wait and see.  As to whether I’ll ever finish a novel again, I can say with confidence that judging from my track record, it is very likely to happen at a steady rate as I scrounge for time between things and rocket around the world with my steamer trunks and laptop.  But since I’m on the subject: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  It’s time to celebrate!

So, anywy, sometimes cool stuff happens when one hangs out on the Drollerie Interact pages.  In this particular instance, I got a free preview copy of a book they will be releasing shortly on the condition that I send my thoughts the editor’s way to post on the Interact Blog when they release the book.  Now, this isn’t exactly a conventional review.  I think I did a pretty good job of withholding spoilers, but it may seem like *too* good a job to some because I didn’t write much of anything the little summary that’s going to be provided on the Drollerie pages had already said.  Of course, where those things would be redundant there, the lack of those things make for holes in the review here.  Sorry about that!  You’ll be able to read the blurb at Drollerie soon enough, I promise!  Without further ado, though, here is what I submitted, and I submit it to you for your general scrutiny and reading pleasure:

            There is something delightful and electrifyingly mysterious about picking up a book and reading a story with absolutely no prior expectations.  This, in a quirk of contrast, is decidedly not what happened when I opened the Adobe file of Deborah Grabien’s And Then Put Out the Light.  I received and then read the story in large part because I found the little information I had of someone else’s opinion of it intriguing, and I read it knowing it had to be mythic fiction (what with it being published by Drollerie Press!).  It is therefore safe to say that the poor book was at something of a disadvantage when I started it.  I opened the file expecting it to strike me with depth of meaning and myth-world atmosphere from the get-go.  To my reading pleasure, it shattered my every expectation.

            And Then Put Out the Light drew me from the very beginning into a world and a mind so intensely and intimately real and familiar that it could have been a first-person, diary-style travelogue rather than a third-person piece of fiction.  Emily Moon-Bourne, the story’s central character, carries a reader with her through a journey of self-discovery that is as much physical in the beginning as it is internal in the end.  It struck me particularly because I share a hometown and a jaw-droppingly similar impromptu romp through Great Britain and France with the fictional heroine, and Emily’s observations were so similar to my own at times that I found myself pining for the bygone days of 2004.  Everything that happened for more than the first half of the book seemed so concrete and quintessentially real that I caught myself on several occasions either A) forgetting it was fiction at all or B) fishing for fantasy elements that weren’t actually there.  This, of course, was silly of me.  What we call the “real world” is a very fertile ground for planting seeds of the supernatural, and though they sprout slowly in this particular story, they sprout beautifully and poignantly.

            As for Emily Moon-Bourne’s personal, internal journey, I found it not only to be deeply female, but deeply human in a way that can not be gendered.  The character, after an ego-tearing divorce, wrestles with the ghosts and ghouls of her own past and with a self she has segmented and compartmentalized in favor of functioning outwardly in a world that stares and judges.  Her emotional state and the money she has acquired through the divorce lead her away from California on a spontaneous and solitary charge to and through Europe.  As she travels, she argues with herself in the form of an internal voice she goes so far as to name, and she meets with women who, while being from markedly different cultures and backgrounds, reflect things in herself as much as they do women in her past and women the world over as a collective whole.  Gradually, in part due to the effect these women have on her, Emily’s apparent flight from her unfaithful and demeaning ex-husband and the immensity her problems becomes an active search for the true roots of the problems and the answers to questions she has always been too horrified to ask (or in some cases, even consider).  These questions rise to the surface as with water forcing itself through the cracks in an old dam: at first trickling, but ultimately threatening to break the dam entirely and flood everything in the figurative valley below.  In direct relation to the amount seeping (and eventually gushing) through, Emily notices the materialization of a man on the periphery of her life (who may or may not be physically real) and the subsequently increasing frequency of his appearances.  He comes to symbolize the answers she wants and needs, and this once again ties her physical search with things internal.

            By my way of thinking, the story of Emily’s journey embodies the damage that is caused when we convince ourselves that what we are and what we deeply and integrally want is somehow inappropriate.  We dam the floodwaters of pain and other things we’d rather not accept, and while we’re at it, we also dam worlds of our own potential.  The one can not be released without the other, of course, and the story addresses the question of how and whether it is worth it to tear those protective walls down.

            In fewer words (and this is a quote directly from Emily’s mouth): “Wow.”

 

So there you have it!  If you want to see me rant extensively about Pygmalion figures and literary allusions in the book, you’ll have to check out the Interact Forums in a month or so, and if you’d like to buy the book, I say go for it!  It’ll be worth your time and money, and I’m sure you’ll agree ^_^.