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.

Crossing the finish line

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 blogged that I’d finish my young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT, by the end of 2007. I’m not finished. 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.

As I previously posted, 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 wizards shape shifting 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 don’t want to do it. I keep reconsidering the ordering. But I think the new order is important to remove any parallels with Harry Potter: Katharine is a wizard 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.

Still, I can’t seem to get momentum flowing into finishing THE MAGIC QUIL. I know what the problem is. As I previously posted, my strength seems to be writing for and about children. But I’m discovering I don’t like writing for young people as much as I enjoy writing fiction for adults. I love reading psychological and medical thrillers for adults, which is what I want to write.

Why? 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. Yet, I think the story in THE MAGIC QUILT needs to be told. It is a coming of age story full of history and magic, but Katharine’s real accomplishment is not in defeating the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart, or playing a role in the battle for freedom. Her growth in character comes in finding the strength to take the first steps in ending the neglect and abuse from living in with an alcoholic mother. I wanted to write this story because there is little literature for children and young adults living with neglect and abuse.

It really shouldn’t matter what I want to write. I should just suck it up and finish THE MAGIC QUILT. It is nearly done–and I think it’s pretty good. Yet I can’t focus on finishing. I sit down at the computer and do anything else, including laundry, organizing my e-mail contacts and cleaning my office.

As a result, I spent several months working on short stories and I pretty proud of a couple of them. I have also been reading stories on Critters Workshop and have learned a lot from other Critter’s critiques of my work and others. One thing that I have learned is that there are numerous awesome writers out there who are dedicated to their art. Many resubmit two and three drafts of a story to the workshop. Their patience in perfecting their work is seemingly endless. The secret to success seems to be dedication as well as talent.

Writing for children and young adults

My writing is diverse, which is another way of saying that I’ll write anything. My strength seems to be writing for and about children, although my heart is in psychological and medical thrillers for adults, simply because I love reading them so much. Give me a day with Tess Gerritsen, James Patterson, David Baldacci or Diane Chamberlain, and I’m a happy woman. I am currently reading the Kathy Reichs series that the TV show Bones is based on.

I digress. In combination with working on my young adult novel, I’ve been writing short stories for adults just to be able to have the satisfaction of completing a shorter term piece while finishing the novel. After reading two of my stories, one of the women in my writing critique group noticed that in both Remission, my first attempt at a medical story, and Mulberry Tree, which parallel’s a teacher’s personal and professional helplessness, that my writing was strongest in the scenes involving children. This gives me pause. Should I be concentrating my writing for children.

While I am pleased with my recent progress on my young adult novel THE MAGIC QUILT, I really wanted my next book to be an thriller for adults. I’ve enjoyed researching 1775 Boston, the setting for the later half of the YA novel. It has been fun writing about the world of colonial America. But writing for children requires a different mind set than writing for adults. In writing from the view point of a twelve year old, vocabulary, parents and the young psyche have to be considered. Yet, it seems that is where my strength lies.

I have had the most success in publishing educational articles, not fiction, which again, gives me further pause. I am passionate about educating and advocating for children and it comes through in my writing. This is a good place for a shameless plug.

What tools should teachers carry in their survival kits?
Find out in my article Methods for success as a middle school science teacher, that has just published in the September issue of Science Scope Magazine. Unfortunately, if you’re not a member of NSTA, you won’t be able to read the article Online.

As an aside:
There has been a long drought here in North Carolina and we’ve broken some records for high temperatures over the last couple of weeks. As a respite from the heat, I’ve had the opportunity to sip chilled white wine, courtesy of my husband, who writes a monthly wine column Ten Dollar Tastings with Harry Calhoun. Kumkani wine has just sent him a half case of wine to taste, and I’m looking forward to contributing my insights.