Finally, I typed that one little word. Wow! It felt good. My first young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT, is finished–all 55,000 words. It has been a fifteen-year journey from the first draft to the finished novel. One that I am both happy and proud to have behind me. I made a lot of mistakes in writing this novel–see previous posts below, but I have also learned a lot about the craft of writing. I don’t think I’ll make the same mistakes again.

I’ve posted two excerpts on the new young adult page of my Web site.

I am prepared for the daunting task of researching agents to find a good match for THE MAGIC QUILT. I will look for agents that are knowledgeable about the young adult market, then spend the next several weeks writing a synopsis and a killer query letter and then submitting THE MAGIC QUILT to those agencies. Wish me luck.

I blogged that I would finish THE MAGIC QUILT by December 31st, 2007. I didn’t quite make it–it took me nine months longer than that. The day job and life intervened.

Below is part of the long history of writing THE MAGIC QUILT from excerpts of previous posts.

Decemer 22, 2006: Finding Time

I wrote a sketchy draft of THE MAGIC QUILT when I was in graduate school in 1993 and then didn’t look at it again during the years that I taught middle school. I never tried to write fiction when I was teaching. I wasn’t alone in that, Stephen King couldn’t write when he was teaching either. In his book ON WRITING, King said,

“…for the first time in my life, writing was hard. The problem was the teaching… by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain.”

And so THE MAGIC QUILT waited. My mind was on lesson plans and whether I had all the materials that I would need for the next day’s lab activity. Then there were the calls to parents about students I was concerned about, and the calls to encourage those who were doing better. And that endless stack of papers to grade that took up all my free time in the evenings.

So it was that after resigning my position as a science teacher, I reread my original draft of THE MAGIC QUILT, rewrote a couple of chapters and brought them to my fiction writing group. With their help, I decided the novel could be good and starting researching the American Revolution, the setting for the book. (Big mistake. BIG. Never start researching after writing the first draft. Do the research first).

May 25, 2007: History amended: Introducing Katharine Taylor
I’ve spent several months correcting the historical portions of the novel. But the trickledown of minor changes in the history affected the plot so that I had to go back and rewrite about half of the novel.

My writing critique group has just reviewed one of the central chapters to the book, “The Midnight Ride,” where Katharine accompanies Paul Revere on his famous midnight ride. As always happens with critique groups, you walk away with insights and more work. So, I’ve got some revising to do. My goal is to finish editing “The Midnight Ride” over the long weekend — I’ve taken Tuesday off work —and then write the ending of the book, which has been hanging over my head for months. I wrote an ending that I thought was pretty good, with flying dragons and a battle with the evil Dr. Ziegawart, but Katharine didn’t play a large enough role in resolving the conflict, so I’ve got to revisit it.

June 1, 2007: Creative License
I finished the first draft my historical fantasy novel for young adults two years ago (a rewrite of the version I wrote in 1993). This was the first novel that I’ve ever written; in retrospect, a historical novel was not the easiest genre for a first novel. The novel takes place in the present and in 1775. I made the mistake of writing the first draft without doing enough research into Colonial Boston, or into Paul Revere’s life, who is a central character.

Patrick Leehy of the Paul Revere house was kind enough to edit my text and, no surprise, he found some mistakes. For example Sara Revere, Paul’s first wife, was alive and well in my first draft. She was deceased in 1775 — oops. So I revised the entire novel, correcting such history mistakes.

June 9, 2007: Keeping Characters Fresh

My goal now is to finish rewriting the historical portions of the novel first, because they are the most difficult to get the emotional interplay right between and among the characters. I did finish a rough draft of a rewrite of the final chapter, and I’m going to start by finishing the ending. I have the history correct, but I don’t yet have Katharine’s voice consistent. Her character grows throughout the novel, so I want to make sure the chapters reflect that growth and match her voice. So I am making what I hope is the final rewrite of the novel for consistency, tightening, and pace of action. I also am cutting where necessary, which is hard for me because I’ve fallen in love with several scenes that do NOT move the story along; they have to go.

July 23, 2007: Writing fantasy: the truth inside the lie.

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”

Stephen King wrote those words. In writing fantasy, we can apply King’s words because we are creating a fantasy world and then making our readers believe that our lie is real. We couldn’t do that if there wasn’t some truth inside the lie. So in order to create a realistic fantasy world we must start with the truth and then build a lie around it.

Creating Katharine’s fantasy world means building a world based upon reality and making sure readers know the rules of that world. The characters must remain true to those rules throughout the novel.

And so, now that I’ve revised the historical parts for accuracy, I’m going back through THE MAGIC QUILT again, chapter by chapter, focusing on the magic world that is Katharine’s reality. Is the fantasy world that I’ve created in the young adult historical fantasy realistic, believable and most of all, exciting to young adult readers.

August 31, 2007: Building the lie
I had to create a fantasy world that would be logical and real to a twelve year old. Time travel, morphing into animals, appearing and disappearing and being invisible had to become routine parts of day-to-day life for Katharine.

Any child who has participated in the fantasy world of children’s books and films, where superheroes exist, a man in a red suit drives flying reindeer, noble lions rule, and kids go to wizard academies, believes the lie. But beyond that, in children’s private imaginary worlds, they can be princes and princesses, plastic figures can come to life and entire armies may do battle on their bedroom floors — all in their imaginations.

It follows then, that it should not be difficult to convince young adult readers that an evil shape shifter can spew deadly smoke from his eyes, or that Katharine can fly, or that the Great Shape Shifter, Askuwheteau’s eyes shine with blue light. He can pop in and out of time at will. But I have to explain where he gets this wonderful power.

October 29, 2007: Taking up the gauntlet
My young adult work in progress will be finished by December 31, 2007. Period. (Ah, wrong).

November 27, 2007: Shape shifting: point of view problem
I am fixing the POV problems I had with Katharine and her fellow wizards shape shifting into animals. I’m editing two chapters from the middle of THE MAGIC QUILT, where Katharine, her grandmother and Sara Revere have transmutated into animals. I have been struggling with the narrator’s POV. Should I call Katharine “the cat” or “Katharine.” Likewise, should I use “the red bird” or “Grandma.” And should the narrator refer the animals as it or she?

December 1, 2007: Perfecting the perfect pitch
(When I wrote this, I actually thought I was going to finish the novel by 2008).
It may not be perfect, but I think this pitch will hook a sixth grader:

Standing on the Lexington Green in the midst of the battle, twelve-year-old Katharine is oblivious to her own danger of being run through by a bayonet. The metallic smell of blood and gunpowder is heavy in the air. Katharine is a shape shifter who has traveled back in time, to a world where electricity, cell phones and bottled water have yet to be imagined; her new friends are dead or in peril. She must make a choice: She can save her friends and turn the battle toward freedom or destroy the evil shifter, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose— an alligator, a dragon, or a tiny cockroach. As a musket ball whizzes by her head, she decides.

January 1, 2008: Write. Edit. Polish—Submit.
I polished my way through chapter 13, of the 24 chapters in THE MAGIC QUILT. Because of the trickle down effect from the later chapters, the first half of the book needed a lot of rewriting. Fixing minor plot flaws, correcting some point of view issues and deciding which minor characters need bigger and smaller roles took up most of my editing time.

Looking back over my older writing, I discovered something else. I have really grown as a writer. I recognize some novice mistakes in my older work, like POV issues–I couldn’t seem to find the MC’s voice, plot holes and leaps, telling instead of showing, needless description, repetition, dialogue tag problems, and tense changes. In fact, some of my older stories are real stinkers. Back when I wrote them, thinking they were awesome works of art, I sent each to friends and family. I apologize for that—I should have sent a clothespin with each story. I even submitted some of these stinkers for publication.

March 28, 2008: The hardest part about writing a novel is in crossing the finish line.
Once the first draft is done, the finish line is in sight, but the final stretch is where the hardest work lies. I’ve lost count of the number of revisions I’ve made to the novel, but in reading through some of my older posts, I am reminded of the reasons for those revisions. In each pass through, I’ve improved specific things.

I had to create a fantasy world that would be logical and real to a twelve year old. This was probably the most difficult and time consuming and yet the most fun. Time travel, morphing into animals, appearing and disappearing and being invisible had to become routine parts of day-to-day life for Katharine.

Beyond the magical elements, the history also had to be accurate. Everything in the room I write in—the electric lights and the computer, the bottled water I drink, and the climate controlled air conditioning —was as imaginary in 1775, as fantastic, as Narnia or Hogwarts are today. So I had to revise with attention to detail that I hope will make Boston of 1775 real to young adults.

I’ve also fixed the POV problems I had with Katharine and her fellow shape shifters changing into animals.

In the first chapter where the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart is introduced, my writing critique group found several areas that needed to be reworked for logic and consistency. I was tempted simply to hit the delete key because I didn’t want to put forth the effort and energy needed for the corrections. See Motivating the cognitive miser. But after some elbow grease, I think the chapter is now both stronger and more believable. I often find that the hardest scenes to write are usually the ones that I am most happy with.

Now, I’ve made another change, also as a result of feedback from my writing group–whose input has been invaluable in making the novel better. I reorganized the order of the chapters in THE MAGIC QUILT so that Katharine travels back to the past sooner, which means I’ll have to write some transition scenes and delete others. I keep reconsidering the ordering. But I think the new order is important to remove any parallels with Harry Potter: Katharine is a shape shifter who is just learning to use her powers and there is an evil wizard trying to kill her. But that is where the similarity stops. I want to make it clear to readers that my novel is an historical fantasy, unlike J. K. Rowling’s novels. So, it is important to bring out the unique aspect of the book earlier, thus the trip to the past must happen sooner. I think it will be more interesting for young people this way and I am reminded that elbow grease usually leads to writing that makes me proud.

In writing from the point of view of a twelve year old, I can’t use the vocabulary I could for adults. The dialogue and plot are much simpler. In other words, it’s harder to write exciting stories for children. It is much more limiting.

September 28, 2008: This journey is over, but another is about to begin.

Learning HTML

I think any serious writer should have a Web site. I am always amazed when I meet fellow writers who do not one. Victoria Strauss says:

A website, if it’s properly publicized, is 24-hour-a-day, nonstop billboard advertising for your writing. It launches you into a virtually unlimited public space, where huge numbers of people potentially have a chance to see you and your work. It can introduce your books to people who have never heard of you, place you in contact with readers who want to know more about you, and serve as a professional tool to which you can refer people who want to learn about your writing.

It is also helpful to me to have a Web site because I can refer to my own work. My stories are Online there and I can send the links to anyone very quickly. In addition, I think my writing has improved as I work on my Web site. The act of writing the pages helps me develop my writing skill.

I prefer to build my own site. I like the control and instant gratification of seeing my pages Online at the click of my mouse. I would never be happy waiting for a host to load the content. Plus, web design services can be costly.

Even people like me, folks with little knowledge of HTML, can build a site. There are hundreds of resources on the Web and in bookstores and many free hosting sites, like GeoCities, the one I use. If you can use a computer, you can make a Web site. I did update from the free site to a paying one because I didn’t like the ads that GeoCities puts on their free sites and I did not want geocities in my domain name.

Maintaining the site is what takes time, but a stale old site can be worse than no site at all. Thus, I am in the process of updating my site. I decided than since I will be contacting agents to represent me for my young adult novel, I want a site that reflects who I am now. I had posted several short stories, essays and articles, but nothing geared toward young adults. I decided it would be a good idea to include a page for young people on the site, with perhaps an excerpt or two from my young adult novel. I am developing that page.

I had previously been using the PageBuilder on GeoCities to build my pages. I have outgrown that program, which I think is helpful for beginners. When I first started building my site I thought HTML was a secret code that designers learned. I had no idea where to start in building a Web site. PageBuilder helped me create and edit my pages without software such as Dreamweaver or Frontpage. I found it to be much like using Microsoft Word.

PageBuilder may be a good tool for beginners, but it is tedious to use and I sometimes could not save the pages after I had developed them. I could usually make a few changes, save the page, and then the program would freeze and I’d have to reboot. It was frustrating and a time waster having to redo work. Others have had the same issue with GeoCities.

This weekend I stumbled upon this HTML tutorial at w3schools.com. It has changed my Web building life. The tutorial makes it so easy to learn HTML that I taught myself on Sunday morning in a couple of hours. I had always thought HTML was complicated, but it is quiet simple. It is actually quicker to put in the HTML tags on my pages than to use GeoCities page builder. I won’t suggest that my site looks like a professional developer built it, but I am happy with it. I think it will be a good platform to show case my work for now.

I wanted a simple site without many bells and whistles. I dislike flash on any Web site–I always skip introductions and hate any pages that take forever to load. So I wanted my site to be bare bones. I hope I succeeded.

The site is now about half finished and I’ll continue to work on it when I have time. The home page and several other pages done or in process. For now, I’ve linked to some of the old pages–I’ll get to them when I can. I plan on plugging away on the Web site and sending submissions to agents. Wish me luck.

I welcome any suggestions on how to improve my Web site.

JA Konrath

I am honored that JA (Joe) Konrath has linked WORLDS THAT NEVER WERE to his blog: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. There he posts interesting and useful information for fellow writers. Althought the title suggests it is for newbies, I think there is something there for both new and experienced writers. His latest post, Casting Your Net, is about how to take advantage of Internet relationships formed from social networking through blogs, websites and billboards. I learn something every time I read A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and am happy to be included in the blogs Konrath reads.

As previously posted, I also love Konrath’s books. In terms of humor, JA Konrath is the king. I discovered his detective series with star Lt. Jack (Jacqueline) Daniels after reading one of his short stories in a thriller anthology edited by James Patterson. I bought WHISKY SOUR, read it, and then bought the next three books. I laughed my way through all four books, one right after another. I didn’t want to stop to sleep, eat or work. Konrath’s is the only series I read straight through like that. He doesn’t skimp on the details. One killer drove nails into the bones of his victims, one peeled off the victim’s skin, all while the victims were alive. One scene that sticks in my memory is when one of the killers put razor blades into candy bars. The resulting scene after a detective bit into the razor blade was both graphic and humorous. The humor lightens the story and works with the graphic scenes in this series. I’ve just read his latest, FUZZY NAVEL and can’t wait for the next one.

It is obvious that I learn from Konrath’s blog by the number of my posts where I’ve quoted him:
A Good Thrill
Stories Aren’t Buckshot
Write. Edit. Polish–Submit

In other news, I have only 25 pages left to edit in my young adult novel–as yet unnamed. It was to be titled KATHARINE TAYLOR AND THE MAGIC QUILT, but I didn’t want it to sound so Harry Potterish, so I was going to call it HIGH TREASON. Harry doesn’t think that is a fun title for young adults, so I’m thinking about it. Whatever it is titled, I should finish this week! I intend to celebrate most heartily. Tip a glass of wine, beer–or whatever you are imbibing–for me.

When Real Life Intervenes

I have just returned from Binghamton, NY, where I’ve spent the last week helping my daughter find an apartment in my grandson’s school district. It’s been physically and emotionally exhausting, and I’ve had no energy to blog, finish my YA novel in progress or submit my work. Reading and surfing the net have been the extent of my activities other than apartment hunting. I did manage to read some of my favorite blogs. This post by Tess Gerritsen sums up how I feel: Sometimes Real Life Intervenes.

I had cut back my hours at my day job to 80%, giving me every Friday off, starting September fifth. I anticipated finally finishing my YA novel. I have only about ten more hours of work to finish, and I thought between Friday and the weekend, I would be done. However, when my daughter called Wednesday night, I put my writing on hold and flew to Binghamton to help her apartment hunt. She is going though a very necessary break up with her fiancé–due to irreconcilable differences–and she needed an apartment immediately.

I booked a hotel, where my daughter Lynn, my grandson Erik and I stayed. We called ad after ad, looked at apartment after apartment, with my eight-year-old grandson in tow. He was his normal gregarious and curious self, which didn’t help the hunt, but added some much needed humor to an otherwise arduous task.

We had nearly given up on finding an apartment in Erik’s school district. Then Monday night, after an apartment fell through that we had hoped to get, desperate, we called the number on a sign posted on the side of a building. It was the one. Today, Lynn and Erik are moving into a newly renovated apartment with new hardwood floors. It is everything we had hoped for in her price range and at the very edge of Erik’s school district.

I enjoyed watching how grown up Erik has become. He is a little scientist. He wants to know everything about everything. He spent some of the time uprooting moss in the courtyard of the hotel and replanting it to see if it would grow in various places. He told Lynn’s new landlord what he recently learned off the internet, that moss reproduces by spores. I now have a picture of moss sporophyte stems on my laptop computer, courtesy of Erik.

I actually had two days in the hotel to myself while Lynn went to her classes and Erik was in school. I went so far as to open the file containing my YA novel, scrolled to the last section I was editing, but I couldn’t concentrate. I thought about posting a blog, but simply couldn’t do that either. I was mentally fried. Instead, I ended up reading Diane Chamberlain’s book, BREAKING THE SILENCE. It was fascinating reading and helped me escape for a while.

Traveling is always tiring. I’ve never figured out what exactly makes it so. Is it the flights? Sitting in airports? Or just being away from home? Whatever the reason, it usually takes me a day or two to recover. My suitcase will be waiting for me to unpack once I get home from work today.

On days like these, I wish I had Katharine’s magic locket. I hope to escape to her world soon, but for the time being, I’m just trying to get through the day.