IWSG—Another month of exhaustion

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

I was pursuing traditional publication in 2000–01, and again from 2011–14. Everything I’d read said all writers needed agents, and I took part in so many contests, pitchfests, and events like Gearing Up to Get an Agent and the Platform-Building Campaign.

Gradually, I came to realise I needed to be the mistress of my own destiny. I’ve nothing against the many writers who’ve chosen traditional publishing, but I personally like having total creative control. Most of my books, apart from my Atlantic City books, are also deliberately saga-length, with ensemble casts. I didn’t want to sit around waiting for 5–10 years to prove myself worthy of releasing a very long book.

I also don’t like the idea of waiting up to two years (or more) for a book to be published, after finding an agent. I enjoy setting my own release dates, and coinciding them with important dates to my characters.

After spending nearly an entire month checking four e-proofs and correcting a few stray typos and errors I caught, I went through my first Russian historical to create the fourth edition I’d wanted to work on for a long time. I also finally put my other books onto Nook and Kobo.

I also added a glossary and a “The Story Behind the Story” for And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth, about both my volumes with Jakob and Rachel. I’ve always considered it one story in two books, though I still agree with my decision to make the final year of the story into its own book. The focus of each is so different.

Then I went back to The Twelfth Time, the sequel to Swan, for a long, long-overdue final polishing. Its first draft was 406K, and I’d taken it down to 398K the last time I worked on it. I’m proud to have gotten it down to a more manageable 390K, plus about 4K of front and back matter. Does anyone expect a Russian novel to be short?!

The Twelfth Time releases on 6 September, Lyuba and Ivan’s wedding anniversary. They chose that date because it was the date they finally became lovers, and conceived their first blood child together. I wrote that book in 2011, and began editing it in 2014. I shouldn’t have been sitting on it for nearly this long!

I also love the Russian Land typeface I found (which is free for commercial use). It’s based on the Old Church Slavonic alphabet, the precursor to modern Cyrillic. This typeface is far more suitable for the mood and style of these books than the fancy types I was playing with prior, like Chopin, Lucien Schoenschrift, Tangerine, and Exmouth.

I immediately got to work on the final polishing of Journey Through a Dark Forest, which I’m hoping to finally release either late this year or sometime next year. All this rereading is really making me eager to finally go back full-time to my fourth Russian historical, and the remaining seven books in my epic series, which I’ve named The Ballad of Lyuba and Ivan.

I also finally put together a page with links to all my current author pages and books. Planned future releases are also listed. I have no one to blame but myself for my previous failure at marketing myself.

Anything exciting going on in your writing and publishing life lately?

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Fun with formatting

One of my favorite parts of the writing process may very well be the formatting aspect, both in setting up documents and at the end, while preparing documents for publication. I love how it lets me use the left (non-creative) side of my brain for a change.

I assumed I had to go back onto my 11-year-old computer to format my alternative history and hyperlink the table of contents, like I’ve done with every other manuscript, but Word just wasn’t cooperating when I C&Ped it into a pre-formatted 6×9 template. It kept going into spinning pinwheel of Death mode when I tried to change certain pieces of formatting, and inexplicably changed certain sections into Helvetica.

The newest version of Pages can hyperlink to bookmarks within a document just like Word, though it’s a more time-consuming, less straightforward process. I also discovered how to custom-set the size of the pages within a document, set mirror margins (facing pages) and the various margins on every page (inside, outside, etc.), make the right and left pages different (to allow for headers with page numbers on alternating sides), and so many things I thought only Word could do.

When I justified the entire document in Pages, my 0.3″ indents were retained, unlike in Word. I only had to re-center my headings, a few of the front matter pages (with quotes, the dedication, and publication information), the numbers and three-asterisk markers denoting sections within chapters, and the headlines and bylines of newspaper stories.

I then changed my chapter, part, and back matter headings to Wellingborough Text, the typeface the title page, cover, and “The End” are in. I want everything to match.

I’ve set the release of my print copies for 12 August, what would’ve been Aleksey’s 114th birthday. I don’t want to rush through the rest of my formatting just so both formats come out on the same day. I still have to set it so no page numbers or other headers appear on the first page of each part, and to set page numbers as footers on the first page of each chapter.

I changed my leading from the normal 2 to 1, which shrank my page count by almost half. I’d planned to leave it in my belovèd Palatino, but came to realize my typographical soulmate doesn’t convey the type of mood I want. Not only does Baskerville shrink page count even further, but it also is very elegant, timeless, literary, and evocative of a bygone era.

Palatino:

Baskerville:

I’ll continue writing just about everything in Palatino, but for actual typesetting, I really like Baskerville. I’m also fond of Cochin and Janson. XenonMedium helps with shrinking page count too, but might not be so readable for long stretches.

Cochin:

Janson:

XenonMedium:

Do you enjoy the formatting part of the writing process? Do you save the less immediate aspects for last, or do you set everything up when you create a document or chapter file? Do you have a favorite typeface for writing, and does it differ from what you like to see in printed books?

IWSG—Grueling edits

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of the month. Participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

This month, the IWSG question is:

Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

That’s what many of my books are! I wrote the rough drafts when I was really young. Most of these are my Atlantic City books, which I love radically rewriting and restructuring (as exhausting as that can be!).

I never understood why my mother felt I should “move on” after reaching some arbitrary age. I love these characters and their stories, and literally grew up with the original cast of characters. We’ve known one another since we were eleven years old. After now 25 years together, I kind of know them inside and out. That puts me in the perfect position to not only continue writing the stories of their lives, but also to revise their oldest stories.

I also want to resurrect my 18th and 19th century characters, whom I thought I’d permanently shelved in the early Nineties. I figure if I never forgot their names and stories in all these years, they were meant to be. I also created these characters (albeit not historical originally) when I was like five or six years old. It’s destiny.

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I just finished second edition edits for Little Ragdoll, which I’m still waiting on the revamped cover for. I first went through the book on my newer computer and made a file with all the things I needed to change on the Word and HTML files on my older computer. (My newer computer won’t open Word 2003, since it’s a Power Point PC application, and I don’t think I can do Time Machine on a computer which never had an older operating system like Mountain Lion.)

My older computer was behaving very well, though it was taking a lot longer than I anticipated. After fixing all the main issues, I began doing find/change to root out excess usage of crutch words and phrases like “even,” “yet,” “apparently,” “I know,” “now,” “I mean,” “still,” “then,” “ever,” and “just.”

I ultimately decided to go through the entire file and make the changes as part of a read-through, not finding them and deciding if the usage of that word or phrase worked in that context or could be junked. I felt it’d reduce the effort.

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I became concerned my older computer was being overused, and making that whirring sound more often than not. Its left fan is broken, and while it’s not dangerous, I don’t like risking overheating. This computer is ten years old, and doesn’t need overworked in its senior years!

I took the most recently saved Word file onto my flash drive and converted it into Pages on my newer computer, so I could work on it as one file, instead of going back and forth between three files on two computers. This still took a long time and wore me out, but it was a lot more practical.

Afterwards, I saved it as a doc file and went back onto my older computer, who really appreciated its resting period. All I had to do was re-hyperlink the table of contents in the Word file. Thankfully, the chapter and appendix titles still registered as being in a heading style, so I didn’t have to go through and redo that as well. After that, I converted it back into an HTML file.

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I took out almost 22,000 words, after thinking I’d just be doing minor tweakings. I’m so much happier the slightly shorter, much stronger second edition has replaced the first edition which released 20 June 2014. It’s a blessing in disguise it only sold maybe two copies since its release.

I made some really stupid mistakes in marketing, and then gave up trying in humiliation and embarrassment because no one was buying my books. Once I have revamped covers for both LR and Swan, I’m going to finally make paper copies of all four of the books I currently have out, and I’ll be able to do things like book-signings and library promotions.

Lessons learnt from post-publication polishing, Part III

There’s nothing better than good old-fashioned time in a writer’s journey. We become better writers with the passage of time, and learn what our weaknesses are and how to edit our work. Excellent, experienced critique partners and the most esteemed editor in the world telling us such-and-such is awkward phrasing, an overused word, cluttery chat, overwrought prose, or infodumpy dialogue won’t mean anything if it doesn’t click in our brains. We have to see it for ourselves, not merely be told it’s a problem. Only then can we begin to understand how to improve.

Thus, I noticed a number of shortcomings while editing the second edition of Little Ragdoll. In addition to what I’ve previously mentioned, I also found:

1. Rehashing established information. We already know, for example, everything good Allen has done for Lenore since he gave her a safe place to stay when she was a 15-year-old runaway. Why be reminded of the main points every time Lenore reflects on or talks about their history together?

We also already know all the good things Father and Mrs. Murphy up in Yorkville have done for Lucine and Emeline, and how they adopted oldest sister Gemma’s birth son Giovanni after she divorced her abusive, unwanted husband and started over. There’s no need to be reminded again and again.

2. Pointless, cluttery chat adding nothing to the scene, or coming across like me putting my own viewpoints into characters’ mouths. At one point, Allen is talking about how his parents were very upset when Giovanni was adopted and taken out of their clutches, since they’d been planning to sell him for at least $1,000 on the baby black market. There’s no need to point that out when we already know how black-hearted they are and why Allen doesn’t want them coming anywhere near his kids.

In another scene, when Ernestine, Julie, and the three oldest Ryan siblings are comforting Adicia after her black-hearted, unmotherly mother coerced her into sacrificing her virginity to save her mother from returning to prison, Ernestine and Girl/Deirdre get into a discussion about the repackaging of Beatles’ albums. Though Adicia snaps at them to have this conversation later, and they apologize, it’s still really inappropriate they began discussing that during such an emotional time.

3. If a character is meant as an intellectual or someone very political, make sure that naturally flows with the overall direction of a scene or dialogue. Emeline just wouldn’t be the same Emeline if she didn’t constantly bubble over with chatter about books, philosophy, music, Eastern religions, and vegetarianism. Likewise, Girl/Deirdre, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Ernestine wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t so tuned into politics and social issues. They have to be discussing that for a reason, not out of the blue.

4. Some dialogues and passages don’t lose anything, and are made stronger, by cutting out the fat. This goes for removing overwrought prose, too many details, unnecessary lines, rehashing established information, and polemics which sound more like the author trying to work one’s opinions in than a character naturally expressing such thoughts.

In the scene of Ernestine and the Ryans riding up to Hudson Falls from Poughkeepsie for Thanksgiving 1972, I cut out everything Deirdre said about a certain topic. Now, Adicia begs to talk about something else after she feels Deirdre’s scathing critique of this subject is finished. I similarly cut out the dialogue Ernestine and Deirdre have when revisiting this subject during baking on Christmas Eve.

5. When a story is set during a very political time, conversations of a political nature are kind of inevitable. The first time the subject of the Vietnam War is broached, it leads into Lenore hoping Allen isn’t drafted, and then turns into the girls planning what Lenore will get Allen for his upcoming 21st birthday and trying to get Lenore to admit she has a crush on Allen.

Chapter 37, “The Year the World Went Up in Flames,” is about 1968, and so it naturally follows there will be discussions about things like the presidential election, RFK’s assassination, the feminist protests by the Miss America pageant, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Were I only starting over with this story today, I’d write certain things differently, maybe change wraparound narrative passages into active scenes. Part I in particular might be drastically different. But this is how the story came together, and I can’t alter everything in the impossible quest for perfection.

Lessons learnt from post-publication polishing, Part II

Going in, I believed I’d only be tweaking Little Ragdoll for its physical copies, doing things like catching stray typos and removing all those excess “even”s I was so fond of. Instead, I’ve cut about 13,000 words so far. That’s a drop in the bucket considering how long it is, but even a deliberate saga needs to be as tight as possible.

First things first, it’s such a beautiful blessing that my older computer still works! I got it secondhand in early 2009, but it was made in 2007. It’s now lasted longer than the 152K Mac and the ’93 Mac. My version of Pages can’t do certain things Word can, like create a hyperlinked table of contents or convert files into HTML, and my newer computer can’t open Word 2003.

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A big issue I noticed was that some passages and dialogues were really pushy, preachy, and lecturey re: attachment parenting and natural childbirth. Yes, both were coming back into vogue during the Sixties and Seventies, but a lot of times it just felt like a smug, holier than thou lesson instead of a naturally-flowing dialogue or prose.

I absolutely still am a huge advocate of natural childbirth, midwifery, and attachment parenting, but that needs to be conveyed as a natural part of a story, not expressed in a rather sanctimommy way. The penultimate chapter, “Allen Finally Accepts Adicia’s Marriage,” opens with a bunch of long paragraphs talking about how Adicia has been mothering her newborn son Robbie, how much she loves him, how she wishes she didn’t have to use cloth diapers, how she co-sleeps, how she uses baby slings a lot more than a stroller, you get the idea.

I junked pretty much all of it and just skipped right to the chase. How was that  relevant? It really slowed down the chapter’s true storyline, and seems more like a history lesson and too much POV.

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I also changed how some things were worded re: Adicia’s awakening during women’s liberation and her disagreement with certain of the things she’s been reading. Back then, I hadn’t yet realized I’ve been a lifelong radfem myself, and was seriously misinformed about just what radical feminism is and isn’t. “Radical” truly means “root,” not “extremist.” I’m planning a series on radical feminism. Too many people are just as misinformed as I used to be.

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One of the midwife characters, Veronica Zoravkov, is really lecturey while discussing the history and then-current use of twilight sleep. It reads like a lesson instead of a natural dialogue! As a former labor and delivery nurse, she’s certainly seen the horrors of twilight sleep firsthand, and oldest sister Gemma was left traumatized by her own experience, but it again comes off more like a polemic. That scene was almost totally rewritten!

There’s definitely a time and place to incorporate one’s own views into a book, but it needs to be a natural, believable part of the overall story and the characters involved. I wasn’t rushing at all during all my prior rounds of edits; I just didn’t see those as things which needed changed.

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I’ve mostly read older books my entire life. Therefore, I absorbed a style which isn’t so in fashion anymore—overwrought prose, God-mode omniscience, monologue-like speech, conveying historical background or other information through dialogue, telly passages. I know I’ll never have a fully contemporary style, but I’m open to evolving in a way which feels right.

I know I can’t change every single thing short of doing a full, time-consuming rewrite. I’m okay with that. This book will just have a somewhat more old-fashioned style than I’ve since developed into. We need to reach a stage where we accept a book is as perfect as we can get it, and not try to run around fixing every little thing.