THE BIRD AND THE BLADE has been in the world for two whole months. Even better, I am now a full-time mom/writer. To celebrate, I'm giving away a signed hardback of the book on Twitter. Click here for details. (Note: US/Canada only)
So, I have a few thoughts on my debut experience now that the book is officially out there. Pull up a chair if you care to listen.
News flash: this book is not a runaway success. It hasn't listed, and it's probably not going to list. A lot of people have never heard of it. And of the people who have heard of it, a great many have read the synopsis or a few pages and thought, "Nope."
And you know what? That's okay. There's no such thing as a book that everyone loves. I mean, there are people out there who don't like Jane Austen. (They're clearly insane, but they do exist.) And the truth be told, I don't really write for a particular audience; I write for me, and for me alone. If other people like what I write, that is wonderful. If they don't ... well, I loved being a librarian, and I can always go back to that.
This is a really roundabout way for me to say that whether the book makes a bunch of money or doesn't (probably the latter), I'm grateful. I'm so, so grateful. Here's why:
I know I'm supposed to be in the middle of a blog series on revision, but I'm going to take a little detour today to talk about world-building. Frankly, I'm mid-revision right now on my secret WIP, and this is probably a subject I should add to my series anyway.
If you ever go to a Madcap Retreat (which you should definitely do if you are an aspiring writer), you might get a chance to see Tessa Gratton's excellent course on world-building. It's brilliant. The problem is that, for some incomprehensible reason, I consistently ignore her advice, and I pay the iron price for that in revisions.
Tessa begins with world, and the whole novel comes out of the world she has created. Me? I tend to start with a premise, one true thing I know about the book, and then I backfill by answering the question: What world would cause this to happen?
Um, it turns out that is always, always a difficult question to answer.
THE BIRD AND THE BLADE comes out in just 27 days (Eep!) and I'm hosting one last giveaway on Twitter. Click here for the details! And, hey, let's have a look at the cover one more time, because it is so so soooooooooo pretty:
Hey there! Who's still with me on this squidgy, super-unspecific revision model that's taking me months to write? Okay, all two of you, we are working our way down the iceberg, and here we are at the next installment, all about creating connections within the work. (If you missed the first two installments and are dying to read them, you can find them here and here.)
This is the second installment of a series on my super wobbly, organic, non-specific approach to revision. (Do I know how to sell my ideas, or what?) In Part 1, I discussed how revision isn't mechanical. It's about digging deeper into the layers of your manuscript to create a more meaningful narrative for the reader. The story arc--the part the reader sees--is only the tip of the iceberg. Good revision lies beneath the surface. I'm calling it the Iceberg Model:
The first thing we're going to address in revision is character motivation.
In case you missed it, I got to hang out with Natalie C. Parker (Beware the Wild, Seafire) and Adib Khorram (Darius the Great Is Not Okay) on KCUR's Central Standard yesterday to talk about young adult literature with host Gina Kaufmann. You can have a listen here. We come on during the second half of the broadcast. Happy listening!
Also, here's a ridiculously adorable picture that Natalie took at the studio:
Last Friday was the monthly meet-up for my critique group, and we spent the evening helping one of my critique partners figure out how to tackle her agent's revision notes. It is so much easier to see your way through someone else's revision than your own. I wish I could see all the things I need to do with my own book with such clarity. But one of the huge benefits of helping someone create a path for their own revision is learning how to apply your burgeoning critique skills to your own process.
I've been thinking quite a lot about my revision process lately, or the fact that I don't have one. I have tried to be very logical and organized about revisions, but it never works for me. I write and revise instinctively and organically, and while it's messy and, occasionally, agonizing, it gets the job done.
I see a lot of aspiring authors struggle with drafting and, even more so, with revision. There are so many websites and books out there that spell out different approaches to the entire writing process, and to be honest, I think they're a little dangerous. Knowing how plot and character interact, understanding how the basic plot structure works ... these constructs are important to your craft. But I sense that a lot of writers want someone to tell them, "If you just pull this lever and push this button, you will write a book that sells." Sadly, it doesn't work that way. And if you approach your revision mechanically, I suspect the odds are pretty good you're going to end up with subpar work, a book without a soul.
2017 was a brutal, wonderful year for me as a writer. I spent most of it furiously revising THE BIRD AND THE BLADE with my fantastic editor, and between revisions, I spent every free moment I could scrape out for myself working on a new YA fantasy. And I did that while working full time and trying my best to spend quality time with my family. That meant that the middle grade novel I had been working on prior to selling THE BIRD AND THE BLADE in the fall of 2016, had to spend the past seventeen months languishing.
As I pushed through drafting the aforementioned YA fantasy, I found myself daydreaming more and more about how good that little middle grade was and wouldn't it be wonderful to work on it again? Well, I finished the new YA a couple of weeks ago, and here I am, free at last to return to my middle grade gem.
It started off well. I read that first page, and thought, "Yes! This book is so good!" I even tweeted about it:
I forked over a manuscript to the Powers That Be in late January, and have found myself NOT on deadline for the first time in well over a year. Know what that makes me?
An anxious, miserable person.
I can't get over what a wreck I am. It's ridiculous. I should be kicking back and refilling the creative well. Instead, I find myself with no attention span and an inability to properly digest food. What the what?
You know, one of the problems with living the dream is the concurrent and looming presence of eminent failure. The irony is that I just completed a blog post for this weekend's WriteOnCon about the importance of writing for writing's sake rather than for the sake of publishing, and yet here I am, whinging about how THE BIRD AND THE BLADE is going to be received as my publication date approaches. Bad Megan!
This is when I need my inner librarian most. One of the great things about being a librarian is having the evangelical belief that we do not judge stories, nor do we judge people by the stories they crave. I've been a public librarian for well over ten years, and in all that time, the best conversation I ever had with an adult patron about a book was with a woman who loved FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY. Look, I have to admit, I have no desire to read FIFTY SHADES, but the enthusiasm the patron shared with me concerning that particular title filled me with joy. She kept hitting the reference desk, saying, "Girl. Girl! You have got. To read. This. Book!" It made my day. That's how people should talk about the books they love, no matter what other people think to the contrary. I'd probably find FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY a hot mess, but I refuse to judge anyone who loves it. That's Librarian Power.
THE BIRD AND THE BLADE is already making its way in the world as an ARC, and as more and more people read it, more and more thoughts and opinions will surface. Like any book, some people will love it, and some people will hate it. It will resonate with a few, offend others, and bore the pants off many, many more. And all of those responses are valid. As your friendly, neighborhood librarian, I will defend to the death your right to think of the book what you will. This is my solemn vow, and, strangely, I find comfort in it.
In the meantime, I'd better get cracking on the next book, because this non-deadline anxiety stinks.
How do you know when your book is done? (Asking for a friend.)
No, really. How do you know?
Okay, I admit it. I'm asking myself this very question right now, and, as the late great Georgette Heyer would have said, I'm dicked in the nob if I can figure out the answer on my own. (Note: If you haven't ever read a Georgette Heyer book, WHY?? Get her on your TBR!!)
As all two of you who follow me on Twitter are well aware, I've been plugging away at a YA fantasy for some time and have been expressing my drafting woes via brooding Poldark gifs. For example:
Oh my, nothing beats Poldark gifs for expressing despair.