Writing and Dithering

The second Hecate Applebough book (sans title, at the mo), grueling though it was to write, is completed, and I feel a sense of accomplishment about that.  It took longer to write, probably because I wasn’t on the high of NaNoWriMo, and of course, Christmas and New Year’s and the beginning of a new semester intervened, and there’s just a lot of things you have to get done at the end of the year, making writing another novel difficult.  (That sounds so pretentious right, “another novel.”  Gag me.)  I still have to tweak a couple of scenes before I will be satisfied with it as a first draft.  (Although of course no one is satisfied with first drafts, but you know what I mean.).  And I might have to seriously reconsider some other scenes which I know why I wrote them the way I did, but I don’t love them, and they need fixing.

But I knew I had to get Hecate Applebough 2 done so I could start the third one, which I’ve done in the last few days—and somehow I have a good feeling about this one.  Like I’m going to try to make it much more lighthearted, more comic.  I think that was my problem with the second one—it was like a goddamned angstfest—NOBODY was happy in the entire book.  I kept just making everyone miserable—like, it was a contest with myself:  how much can I screw with Cate’s life?  Just how twisted can I make her relationships?  Can I make some of the minor characters sad?  Yes?  Great!  And kind of what I wound up doing was making myself miserable in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, while I’m my own worst critic, and by the very nature of breathing, I assume everything I write is utter and total crap, there are “moments of possibility” in it, but the moments of pure dreck outweigh the possibilities of goodness.  I keep thinking, if I were Cate, and that was my life, I would probably swear off men forever and become a hermit.  The men in her life really are just fucked up—I wasn’t totally being funny when I joked about naming the second book Hecate Applebough and the Fucked Up Men in Her Life, because they are just such drama queens and so needy and complicated.  Honestly, I don’t know Cate stands me.  She must think I’m a total bitch to keep putting her in these stupid, angsty situations with men who don’t know what they want.

Which is why, as I said in a recent tweet, I need to let this book mellow.  Because it’s very raw, and it’s very overemotional—not like melodrama, but yeah, kind of sudsy at points.  I need that time away so I can come back to it fresh.  And maybe with some distance I can figure out what I really wanted to do with that second book and see if I can’t get it more there than it is right now.  (Of course, it will need substantial revision—I just want it to be a good first draft that will make revision be something hard but worthwhile instead of painful just to get to ok-ish-ness.)

And writing the third one will help me a lot because I am determined to make it fun.  Cate needs a break from constantly having her life explode in her face—and I need a break from that too.  I suppose, all fiction authors are either consciously or unconsciously trying to work out the crap of their own lives, and it manifests in the lives of their characters.  I know that I’m working through some issues—that sort of became obvious in the second book, because Cate is always thwarted, she always thinks things are settling down and then, hello, some tragedy or another happens and she’s back down in the sewer trying to dig her way out.  And that’s kind of how I feel my life is.  Of course, I don’t have two hot guys vying for my affections, so I can’t relate to her on that level (alas and alack—that might be a fun problem to have!), but that’s just a mask for the angsty things going on my life, I think. (So personal life spoiler alert:  I have problems and bad things are happening.  And who suffers?  Cate.)

Anyway, not to give away too much about the plot, but the third book already is starting with the comic premise that Cate, Val, and Lonny are all going to visit her Dad in Nebraska for Spring Break.  Book 3 starts on the airplane and I had a good time writing Val and Lonny sniping at each other and Cate just rolling her eyes, and now they’re in Nebraska and she’s dealing with her stepmother and her infant brother, and the change of scenery, away from Sunderson Academy and the Study Salon, is doing me a lot of good.  I’m really hoping that I can sustain the humor because Cate deserves a little happiness after what I’ve put her through.  But on the other hand, it wouldn’t be Cate’s life if it were charmed.  So I have to figure out how much I can torture her and still keep the majority of the book breezy.

In other news, I admit that I’m still vacillating back and forth whether to share Book 1 with Brilliant Fiction Writing Friend.  He’s super persuasive, with his metaphorical chisel that chips away at my protests (plus his company is awesome).  My insecurity, however, is equally persuasive—pugnacious, even (which means it usually wins out when I have these “what if” wars in my head).  But he said something to me the other day that—guilted isn’t the right word—tipped the balance in his favor a little more, let’s say—something about making editing a part of his professional development, and that my book would help him work on those skills.  And frankly, when he pitches it like that, and I can see letting him read HA1 not as an opportunity to deprive him of time he could be writing, were he so inclined, but as opportunity for him to grow in a way he’s interested in growing, well, how can I turn that down?  That would just be mean of me.  And of course, if he didn’t have my book to read, he has other people whom he could help, so it’s not like he’ll languish if I said no (and really meant it).  So, why not let him help me, right?  But…blah blah blah.  Shut up, JC. (Can’t you for once just accept good fortune?)  (Not easily.) (OMG OMG OMG, I realize, I write this blog the same way Cate writes her diary—I’m such a headcase.) (Please send help.)

Anyway, apropos of nothing, please enjoy a picture of sleepy TimToms, who has been keeping me company today as I’ve been writing.

2016-01-30 16.28.27

Seriously, JC, They Make Pills for This

My novel went on a “first date” yesterday.  Metaphorically speaking.

What I mean is, it is in the process of being “courted” by a potential future editor, which is to say, my Brilliant Fiction Writer Friend™ (whom I’ve mentioned before in this blog), who, despite not being a fan of YA, has graciously, and generously, and kind of insanely agreed to read my NaNoWriMo novel Hecate Applebough because he believes in me as a serious writer (even a serious writer of fluff), and sight unseen is willing to work with me to revise it and maybe make it into something good (or good-ish).

I must admit I am in the absolute worst dither of insecurities about my writing ever.  Like I’m back in my first creative writing class when I’m 20 years old, and so shy about what I’ve written that I really fear—not just that what I wrote is crappy (because that is surely a given)—but that I will have a) inflicted my mental crappiness/ drivel on another person; b) wasted someone’s already limited amount of leisure reading by forcing them to read something appalling (and deeply flawed on all levels); c) imposed on someone’s friendship, even when they offered, even when they are doing their best to wear me down to make me agree to continuing this part of the writing process (and I am deathly afraid of imposing on people, like pathologically so); and d) allowed someone to discover proof  that I’m not nearly as hilarious and awesome as I think I am.  (Perhaps that last fear on the list sounds trivial or frivolous, but I assure you, it’s a deeply-seated fear.)

It’s really a weird place to be in—like I believe in my ability as a poet.  I might be having a shitty time convincing contest editors that my volume of poems is fantastic, the next best thing, blah blah, and they need to publish it already, goddammit, but I don’t doubt in any fiber of my being that I’m a poet.  When I think “JC,” I think “poet.”  These ideas fit in my head together, like synonyms.  And sure, it makes sense—you think about all this time that I’ve worked on writing poetry, that I earned that Ph.D. in poetry—I mean, if I didn’t see myself as a poet after the time I’ve invested in it, that would be a huge (and annoying) problem. (And would make having to pay back student loans even more of an insult.)

Except, I don’t want to be just a poet.  I have more words in my head than that.  I’m not saying I believe BFWF that I’m a “novelist” either (just by virtue of having written 1.99 “novels”), but limiting myself to one version of “who I am as a writer” doesn’t fit me any more either.  Of course, in terms of writing fiction—well, I still feel like I’m still 20 years old, with zero experience—but there’s an expansiveness that’s been coming the last few years, a real desire to try something new, and to tell stories that take more than a page.

That narrative bent in my writing and my voice is there—and let’s be honest, the poetry world does not appreciate narrative as a form.  So, I need to use forms that narrative work in… which is why I wrote Hecate Applebough, which is why I also write these memoir-y vignettes that seem to find homes in little journals too.  Hmm.

But getting back to the possibility of having a real reader/ editor:  I was asked if I want to be worn down.  That’s a hard question to answer.  Like, realistically, who wouldn’t want a person you admire who is brilliant and has critical and practical expertise and proclaims a genuine wish to help you succeed to be the one who reads your book and helps you edit and revise it—the two hardest parts of writing?  You’d have to be an idiot to turn that down—particularly when there is so little return in it for them.

(But to be fair, my idiocy is well-documented.)

As I’m thinking about this and talking myself in-and-out of this amazing opportunity that has shown up in my life like a late Christmas gift, I realize my fear isn’t anything like worry that I’m a “fraud” as writer.  I don’t question I’m a writer, per se.  Because there’s so much that goes into writing beyond the actual writing of whatever the piece is, you have to believe that you’re a writer deep down in your heart because if you don’t believe it, then what is the point of doing this really lonely, difficult  (and often barely rewarding) work?  Once a piece of writing is released into the world (and that’s after the writer has spent her time polishing her poem or story until it gleams) you can’t control the people who read it.  If your submission (or your “novel”) shows up on a day that the editors/ grad students working on a journal are on the rag, or hungover, or pissed off at their bosses, or they hate anything that smacks of genre or narrative poetry or they just read a great bird poem right before they picked your bird poem up from the pile and so can’t imagine any bird poem after the one they just read as measuring up (or whatever), your writing, no matter how good it is, won’t go beyond the first pass.  It might not even go beyond the first lines. (I say this as a person who has participated on the grad student side of the journal publication process.)

There’s so much luck involved in a person’s work entering the wider world by being published. And forget about the accolades.  You have to believe you’re a writer—because the odds are so stacked against you that your work will ever resonate with anyone and find a home in their journal or on their upcoming publications list.

So it’s not a matter of lacking faith in myself as a writer (in the generic sense) that is the stumbling block with my sharing Hecate Applebough—the fear emerges from the realization of just how drafty the first draft is—and sharing a piece of my writing with someone that is 98% imperfect terrifies the fuck out of me.

Because when I share my poems with people, they only see them after—typically—the poem has gone through 8-10 drafts already.  Like my writing group?  I show them poems that are, to my mind, already mostly good.  Poems after I meet with them may go through another 5-10 drafts, but when the writing group sees them initially, they don’t see the first draft.  They see something I’m not ashamed to show.

First drafts are unfit to be seen by anyone.  And Hecate Applebough is a first draft.  I mean, it’s prettier than a first draft, in that I’ve line-edited it, I’ve changed some words here and there, or added a few scenes to smooth over some plot holes.  But the aggregate is still first drafty.  (It’s so drafty, it needs to wear a coat.)  And sharing imperfection with someone, even someone as committed to helping me as BFWF is (someone who expects imperfection, moreover, so I’m not going to shock them), even someone who is my friend, is just one of my worst anxieties.  It just seems so wrong—so contrary to my process.  So naked.

And I guess I either need to get over myself and stop being so crippled by self-doubt and all this blather and take the opportunity because when the Universe wraps it in a bow, how stupid do you have to be to say no?  Or I just need to STFU about this book and move on to the next thing and be satisfied with sabotaging myself (again) and learn to enjoy obscurity and blown chances.

(Ugh.  When I put it like that, suddenly I think I must be pretty foolish to have spent 1400 words to realize I planned to say “Yes” all along.)

P.S.  I know BFWF will have read this post (being one of my Five Faithful Readers). And BFWF will think “I knew it.”  But I’m pretty sure, recognizing the kind of headcase I am, that I will change my mind at least 58 more times.  Possibly more. So certainty tonight may shift back over into uncertainty many more times before I actually hand a copy of the book over.  Fair warning.

P.S. #2  BFWF should in no way feel compelled to comment or to cheer me on. (This post is not a plea for more convincing.)  Sometimes I blog just to take the edge off my neuroses.

Final Report on NaNoWriMo 2015

Have you missed me?

I got so engrossed with writing the NaNoWriMo novel in November and the sequel (still in progress) in December, and the of course the holidays intervened, that I took a break from my blog.   This was my thinking:  I can either write 1,000 words on my blog, or I can put that 1,000 words towards my novels’ daily word counts, and the novels won out.  But here, enjoy some metrics about the actual novel I wrote in November.

Novel Facts…

Title:  The Life & Times of Hecate Applebough, Teenage Poet
Words:  79,142
Page Count:  281 (double-spaced)
Certified NaNoWriMo Winner:  Yes
Genre:  YA high school romance-ish
Plotline:  Hecate (“Cate”) Applebough attends a school for wealthy, gifted students while developing her interests in writing and poetry.  She also attends events at an afternoon club and becomes friends with its members.
Timeframe of Plot:  August 22nd-December 25th
Setting:  Fictional town of Lytton, Maryland
My Favorite Character Besides Cate:  A toss-up between her Mom and Professor Khaniff
Character I’m in love with:  Alaunius

Novel Statistics:  Number of…

Times the Main Character (Cate) is Named: 184  (But this is somewhat disingenuous, as the book is written in first person.  I tried to do a search on the number of times “I” was mentioned, but it listed all the I’s in the book, to the tune of 23,744 times.)
Times other Salon characters are named:  Alaunius/Lonny:  472; Val/Malik:  463; Finian:  147; Felix:  133;  Arwyn:  93; Dhruv:  68
Times Mom/ Maggie is named:  369
Times Professor Khaniff is named:  30
Poems Cate “writes”: 4  (There are references to others, but I only include 4 poems in the actual text.)
Poems others “write”:  5
Times the words “Poetry” or “Poem” appear:  176
Texts from all characters:  111
Times the word “Text” appears:  96
Times the fictional manga title A Moon for Autumn appears: 10
Times the fictional character Takehiko from A Moon for Autumn is named:  23
People who have read this book besides me:  2 (1 for sure, 1 I’m not 100% about, but I gave it to her to read.)

The Sequel, You Ask?

The sequel is currently title-less… I really could just slap “Volume 2” on it, but I don’t love the original title so much that I want to repeat it (and frankly, the original title is subject to change, anyway).  On the other hand, I don’t want to adopt the format of Indiana Jones and the… or Harry Potter and the… either.

Or if I do follow that pattern, I guess the title will be something along the lines of Hecate Applebough and the Fucked Up Men in Her Life which I don’t think anyone would naturally gravitate towards if they saw the book for sale in Barnes & Noble.  (Despite it being an accurate title to describe Cate’s life as it appears in the sequel.  And let’s be real, that would probably be an apt title for the first one too… Hmm.)

Speaking of the sequel, it’s making me lose the will to live.  I’m really having to work to write it.  It’s like the first one wrote itself, like it was buried somewhere in my psyche, and just needed an excuse to be expressed on the page.  But LaToHATP ended on a cliffhanger so of course I had to write the sequel…which is going sooooo sloooowly.  I mean the first book covered four months; I’m only in February in the second book. (Still.) Granted, I’m at February 26th, but really, I’m 215 pages in (currently 66,702 words), and she’s only lived 2 months since the original book? Come on.  And somehow I have to resolve this story in the next 14,000 words?  Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

I don’t think it’s necessarily slow in terms of plot, I just think that there are so many characters making demands on me, that it’s really hard to progress.  Also, it’s really hard to write in first person.  Like, there are so many things going on in the background that Cate can’t know, and it’s really restrictive to me as a writer, and that annoys me.  (But to be fair, I’d probably complain if I wrote in third-person too.  But if I did write in third-person, at least I could let the audience know things that would be helpful to know in terms of backstory.  But alas, I cannot.)

2015 was a pretty good writing year for me over all.  Back when I decided to challenge myself with NaNoWriMo, I wasn’t even sure I could write 50,000 words in a month, and in 2 months plus a week, I’ve managed to write 145,844 words, which is amazing.  Add that onto all of the publications I had in 2015 (10, across genres, plus several more accepted, and a Pushcart Prize nomination), and I have to count it as my most successful year of writing yet, and I’m proud of that.

Of course, if I plan to do anything with LaToHATP, that will require a hella lot of work, and while I’m working on the sequel (and sadly, one assumes the sequel to the sequel, because I can’t fix Cate’s life in the remaining 14,000 words, there’s just no way in hell), I can’t think about revising.

Plus…revising fiction is really hard, and I’m not good at it.  Like revising a poem?  I got that down to a science.  But since fiction is basically a mysterious genre to me, I don’t know how to revise my own work.  I mean, I can tell other people how to revise (hence, why I teach fiction in my creative writing class), but I seem to have blinders on when it comes to my own work.  I just have no idea where to go.  And, frankly, no idea whom to ask for help.  Well, ok, I have an idea of whom to ask, but I feel like it would bleed him dry, and I couldn’t possibly ask him. Unless I had $100 lying around I could slip him for the pain and agita… Anyway.

Still, I’m not gonna worry about revision for a little while.  I need to worry about resolving Cate’s life and then I can get back to writing poems full time.

At least, that’s the plan.