Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fantasy Book Launch Party

I've never been to a book launch party, so I'm not quite sure what happens there. I do know that authors like to theme the party around their books. If I was Ally Condie, I would have had cookies in the three colors of the tablets each of her characters carried around. If I was Suzanne Collins, I would have passed out golden mockingjay pins. If I have the extraordinary good fortune to publish Mina, my launch party will be easy. For one thing, I love to plan parties. My husband will have to be very firm on a budget, because I could easily make the thing as elaborate as a wedding.

The second reason my fantasy launch party would be easy is that the theme of Mina is Christmas. So somebody would have to be dressed up as Santa Claus - if I wanted to give away a spoiler, that person would be female - and several other people would be dressed as elves. Only the elves wouldn't have pointy ears the way the elves in Rudolph do. The elves in my book are normal humans. Elf is their occupation. They would wear blue wool robes embroidered with gold. And then there's the Green Guard - the security force at the North Pole. They would wear green robes, obviously. And it if wasn't too hot, all of these characters would wear imitation fur hats - the big, cylindrical Russian kind, possibly with ear flaps.

The decorations would include a silver throne for Santa surrounded by poinsettias - maybe this is where I would sign books.

In terms of food, there are a few things from the book that are memorable. There are pizzelles, which would be cool to serve because not everyone knows about them. (Pizzelles are super-thin cookies - think hard crepes - that are made in a kind of waffle iron. I'll take a picture of some next Christmas. My family makes them every year, which is kind of funny because pizzelles are Italian and my family is not. Nonetheless, they're a personal Christmas tradition and one that the  family in my novel shares.) Candy canes should definitely be served, preferably by an elf, and lastly, Famous Elven Oranges. These are supposed to be the biggest, juiciest oranges in the world. In the book, they're only grown in greenhouses at the North Pole, and each good child gets one in their stocking every year. Ideally, I would get custom golden labels made that I would put around each orange.

Speaking of stockings, they would be cool to give out as favor bags, but I have a better idea. In the book, Santa delivers all of the children's presents in gauzy white gift sacks with red drawstrings and the child's name stamped on the bag in red ink. These would be beautiful - especially if they were under a Christmas tree at the party - and relevant to the story.

So there it is! My fantasy book launch party. It would be perfect if it took place sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I would take such a lovely party at any time of year.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Well, hello there!

In the spirit of productivity, accountability, and so forth, I hereby create this blog and send it out into the universe. For the purposes of maintaining discretion, I don't intend to refer to my stories in this blog by their actual titles until they become published or I come up with a better reason. Thus, I will refer to my stories by the first names of my protagonists.

I am an aspiring writer. I've been writing for almost a year now. The novel I began to write last June, Safira, is on the back-burner. It's a great story and one that I absolutely intend to write, but I put it down for two reasons:
  1. It was emotionally draining - it required tackling issues that upset me, and until I can learn to detach myself from my writing, I need to avoid such topics; and
  2. I think it's an important story, and at this point in my - career? - I don't feel worthy yet to write it. So, it's on the back-burner.
Last November, almost as an excuse not to write Safira, I began something else. I picked up a short story I wrote for a writing class in college. The story, Mina, was a 30-page fantasy best suited for young adults and somewhat inspired by Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Although I considered Mina to be finished in college, I never quite let it go. I went back to it at least twice after I graduated, expanding it, trying different approaches, different narrators. When I re-read the various versions of this story in the fall, I still liked it. I thought it would be easier than Safira because it's fun. It's primarily an adventure story with much less emotion and drama than Safira.

I started writing from scratch. I kept the important elements of the short story and a few names, but otherwise, I revamped the crap out of it. New plot, new characters, and some critical tweeks to the setting. It took me exactly two months to write a first draft. At the end of January, I had a novel. Now, when I say "novel", I by no means mean something that I could let another person read. But it was farther than I'd ever gotten before. It was 267 pages with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

My husband and I celebrated my achievement by getting me a new winter coat. (I know, I live in LA, but it can get cold here at night, and I'm a whiner when it comes to being cold.) I wore my coat on nightly dog-walks and tried to bask in my success, but it was sort of hollow, and it didn't last. I knew well before I finished that draft that it had problems, most of which arose when I changed an element half-way through, e.g., I'd change a character's name, or profession, or the nature of their relationship with another character in Chapter 8 without going back and making sure Chapters 1-7 reflected this change. I had several versions of the same story in the same draft, and I didn't know how to fix it. So I took a break.

During my two week "vacation", I began to research the publishing industry. I figured that if I revised Mina to the point that I wanted to pursue getting it published, I should be prepared, so I prepared. I read books about the craft of writing and about the nature of publishing. I read books by successful contemporary YA writers, especially ones that could be compared to my story. I read the Acknowledgments sections of most of the books I own, and I read about other authors' stories of success and struggle. I subscribed to blogs and created a Twitter account just so that I could follow people in the publishing world. Most importantly, I created a massive database of prospective literary agents. I researched like crazy. In the end, I came up with two lists: A and B, A being the agents I intend to query first. (There was originally a C list, but I deleted it. If I get rejected by two lists of agents, I'll consider it a sign that I should move on anyway.)

At the end of my two-week hiatus, I returned to Mina. I re-read the whole thing and wrote endless comments. The little margin on the right side of the Word document overflowed into a window at the bottom of the screen that drove me crazy because the comments were no longer immediately visible. The next step was to inventory my comments and make a list of the major structural changes I wanted to make. These were things I wanted to fix and then leave be, things like the setting or the number of characters or a major personality trait of my protagonist. Finally, I wrote a synopsis. It started out as an honest synopsis of the first draft of Mina, but eventually it became more like a wish list. It became an outline for the novel I wanted to write.

I sent the 25-page synopsis to my sister, who is an uncommonly good editor, and she sent it back with a few negative comments but a general stamp of approval. "Okay," I thought, "this is going to be the real version. I'll write this, I'll get some more feedback, I'll make some line edits, and then I'll be done. I'll move on to the query stage and never look back." Only I haven't gotten there yet. It's been three months, and the most I've done is re-write my first five chapters at least a dozen times.

My stuck-ness is the major reason for starting this blog. I want to hold myself accountable. I want to document my progress so that I can remember my achievements and identify places where I struggle. I want to make decisions regarding my book, commit to them, and see them through. Accountability starts today.

Wish me luck :-)