Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Sunday, July 29, 2012
I know a number of writers that drafted and sold their first manuscripts -- often with the help of insightful critique partners, lots of revision and a great willingness to work hard at marketing their novel to the right agent/editor in the right genre at the right time.
Sadly, I wasn't one of those writers.
I didn't know what the hell I was doing twelve summers ago when I began my first manuscript. Really. I hadn't even read a how-to book on novel writing until after I'd drafted my first (embarrassingly dreadful) 627-page manuscript -- written by hand, by the way, on lined yellow paper because I didn't own a computer then. And, of course, I hadn't yet joined a helpful writers' organization like RWA or begun working with a critique partner or six, like I do now. My first manuscript has so many unresolved issues, it needs therapy. And it's not sitting alone with its problems on my hard drive. I wrote four full-length books before beginning my fifth one, According to Jane, which became my debut novel. (And I wrote two more novels after I finished 'Jane' but before it sold.)
So, not everyone's process is the same...and this roundabout, meandering, trying-to-get-the-big-picture-before-you-learn-the-details approach to storytelling just happened to be mine. Which is to say, when it comes to "trunk novels," I have a few.
Here's what I've learned about them in the past decade or so, though: They were not entirely awful manuscripts. Not even my first one. But they were different than what I write now. Different in a way that, when I'm being honest, is certainly less skilled and sure than my current writing, but not always poorer by comparison.
It reminds me in a way of when I first started teaching. What I lacked in experience, I made up for in enthusiasm. The kinds of projects I was willing to try with my classes early on were sometimes ambitious activities that I was years away from having the skill to pull off without a hitch. But I didn't know that then, so I did them anyway. And some of the students from my first few years later told me how much they loved those goofy plays or weird radio shows or huge murals that we did. Imperfect as they might have been, they were memorable and, in their own strange way, maybe better than if I'd known how to avoid every potential glitch -- at least in light of what my goals had been at the time.
However, thanks to the recent digital revolution, I was able to test out releasing two of them online last year -- editing them with the more professional eye that I now have, but striving to retain most of the youthful writer exuberance that had been woven naturally into the storytelling.
And it's been so fun!
Such a delight to discover that these shorter, romantic comedies have an audience and have brought joy to a group of readers. I can't tell you how appreciative I am. Are these books as complicated or as thoughtfully structured as my traditionally published women's fiction? Oh, heavens, no. But they are, in their own way, exactly what they should be, and there's something extremely satisfying about that. On Any Given Sundae was a top 100 "Bestseller in Humor" on Kindle last year, and Double Dipping just finaled in the contemporary novel category of the 2012 International Digital Awards, both of which pleased me as much as my Golden Heart® win for According to Jane because there's nothing like the right story finding its right readers at long last.
Not every manuscript I ever wrote should be foisted upon the world (trust me, you should be very grateful I'm keeping that first one to myself), but I do believe it's true that nothing we write is wasted. Sometimes, it's put away but becomes the springboard for a later, better idea. Sometimes, it can be heavily revised and substantially improved. But, sometimes, sometimes...it just needs a little polishing, the right timing and a receptive audience to find its proper home. In those cases, patience is indeed a virtue and persistence will one day be rewarded.
Moral of the story? You just gotta keep writing and revising...revising and writing...and keeping hope alive as you press onward. A happily ever after is possible for us all. :)
I've posted chapters from both of these novels on my website:
On Any Given Sundae is excerpted here.
And Double Dipping is excerpted here.
I hope you'll enjoy them. And, because you've probably guessed from the titles that I'm a big ice cream fan, I'd love to know, what are your favorite flavors?!
Friday, July 27, 2012
Thursday, July 26, 2012
And so I had to explain to my daughter that, sadly, girls like us do not make the rockin' world go round.
There's a line in one of my novels in which a female character misses an appointment and says, "I got a little behind." The man she's speaking to looks at her ass and says, "But you make up for it with your sparkling personality."
We certainly hope so.
At any rate, there's a parallel in my writing life, as I don't have much junk in the trunk there, either. There are certainly plenty of false starts—novels that began with great enthusiasm and died before crossing the finish line—but no complete manuscripts.
Still, there is a book that has been haunting me for years. I've attacked it again and again from every possible angle. Each time I show it to my agent she gently tells me it's just not working. Not that I plan to give up on this book. In fact, it may well be my magnum opus, waiting for the day when I'm wise enough to understand the real story.
In the meantime, I'd like to share with you the prologue that got dropped during the last rewrite. The tone is probably all wrong for the book, but it's one of those darlings it pains me to kill, and since this may be my only chance of publishing it, I'm happy to present it here. I hope you enjoy it ...
Ellen Meister's new novel, FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER, comes out from Putnam this February, and she hopes you'll want to read it. In the meantime, please follow her Dorothy Parker page on Facebook to receive daily quotes and quips from the mistress of the verbal hand grenade. For other info, visit Ellen's website.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
So, the topic-of-late here has been Tales from the Trunk Novel. And I'm into, really. That said, I'm also into the fact that my favorite yoga teacher (j'adore) suggested at Memorial Day that all his yogis spend the summer looking forward, not backward. True story. So, there's that and there's also the fact that while I'm not always good at moving on from things, I'm actually really good at moving on from my trunk novels. I'm over them. That's not to say that I don't want to post an excerpt of my unpublished writing. I in fact DO want to post an excerpt of my unpublished writing.
To that end, there's a game going around Facebook that came my way via girlfriends Brenda Janowitz, Ellen Meister and Karin Gillespie (fine writers all.) It's called The Game of Seven and here's what you do:
The challenge is to post seven lines from an unpublished work. Specifically, you:
Go to page 7 in your manuscript
Go to line 7
Post the next 7 lines exactly how they are (no cheating).
Sometime before my last such excursion a couple had moved into the apartment, unbeknownst to me. They also hadn't locked their door and it was, I would say, embarrassing for everyone when on my way home from work one evening I walked into their apartment while they were having dinner. I felt at the time that it would best not to say anything, and so I left their apartment, perhaps no more stealthily than I had entered it and spent the remaining year that I lived there anxious that I would "run into" them again.
My favorite part about that? It's from the first essay in my essay collection, YOU TELL YOUR DOG FIRST. That's the cover up yonder. And while it is at present unpublished, it will in fact be published on November 6. Just about four more months. Can't wait.
Monday, July 23, 2012
I don't have trunk novel. But I have a good story about a story of mine that never sold. Well, it wasn't really a story as much as it was an idea and that's why it never sold. Here's what happened.
I was young and idealistic when my first book, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America came out in 2001. I co-wrote the book with a friend and we were so proud of ourselves. Hair Story is a cultural history of Black people's hair in the United States. Slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, Reganomics. We re-visit them all through the lens of Black hair. The book got rave reviews and even though I was six months pregnant when the book hit store shelves, my co-author and I hit the road to promote it, hitting at least 10 cities before my son was born.
Considering our publisher only prepared for a modest first print run, we sold out of our first printing rather quickly, but that didn't mean we hit any bestseller lists. We knew our book was good. And important. But it wasn't sexy. No, sexy books at the time were being written by a lot of men. I was working at Entertainment Weekly magazine at the time, and I even wrote an article about this trend of men being able to write even the crappiest pieces of fiction and women would buy it. It was infuriating. At one book event my co-author and I attended, we were seated at a table next to a famous male author who had just come out with yet another one of his bestselling books. Another sexy romantic thriller. Yawn! Six people came over to our booth to inquire about Hair Story. Six hundred women lined up to see Sexy Author Man. And that's when we hatched our plan.
My co-author and I decided we could probably write something at the same level as these upstart male romance writers. We figured we could probably do even better. But we knew that even if the writing was just as good, we wouldn't get the same play as a hunky dude. So, rather than sit down and plot out our story line, we went through our contact lists to see which one of our guy friends could we convince to pose as the author of the book we were going to write. We planned the photo shoot for his author photo (We decided on bare-chested with a beach background), how we'd prep him for the book tour, and of course we calculated just how much we'd have to pay him to be us. That was the tricky part. But my co-author was friends with a wanna-be actor who also happened to be ridiculously good-looking and we thought he might just do it for the experience. And maybe a nice dinner.
We were giddy with the idea. So sure that it would work. And we consoled ourselves by saying that we were only doing this for the money. It was a necessary evil. Then we could then write the important books we really wanted to be working on instead. Plus, we would be proving that the literary industry was just as sexist as the rest of the world. Did I mention that both me and my co-author went to women's colleges?
Anyway, my dear girlfriends, here's what happened. Nothing. After we found our fake hunky author, my co-author and I realized we really had nothing we wanted to write about. Every time we tried to sit down and spit out this easy, breezy novel, we came up blank. Eventually, the idea fizzled, and our fake author moved to Switzerland and got married. Moral of the story? Writing for money will never get you through to the finish line? Cheaters never win? No, I think the moral of that story is just that we should have tried harder and we'd probably be rich today. After all, it worked for Richard Castle. Yes, a fictional character from an ABC TV show is writing New York Times Bestselling books. What's the secret to his success?
Decent story + Good looking guy pretending to be the author = Multi-book Deal.
Live and learn. Live and learn.
Lori L. Tharps is the author of the novel, Substitute Me. She blogs regularly about parenting and pop culture at myamericanmeltingpot.com
Friday, July 20, 2012
Picking On Trunk Novels
by Amy Sue Nathan
by Amy Sue Nathan
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
can think of a thousand things online to tweak or check or join, when
I'm supposed to be writing. I went to a writers’ conference a couple of
weeks ago and heard a novel suggestion: Turn the Internet off when
you're working! So I'm trying:).
Stay Away From Savage Chickens
"Seat of the pants to seat of the chair."
No internet, except Wikipedia if I need to check a fact.
9-12 is writing time. I don't meet people for lunch because that means the whole time I'm writing I'm thinking about getting to my appointment, dressing, showering, all that stuff.
If I think of something that needs to be done, desperately, I can write it on a list instead of hopping up to do it.
And if you want something from a really prolific writer:
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring."
3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5. When you can't create you can work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it -- but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Small Blocks of Time
I write much better if I know I only have a limited time--an hour or two as opposed to five or six. I think it comes from writing during nap time and Barney episodes.