books, Uncategorized, Writing

The Dreaded Red Pen – A Publishing Update

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I haven’t posted in a few months, but I wanted to update those of you who are following my publishing journey. I said back in July that I planned to self-publish Stoker’s Mill, my first novel. Since then, however, I’ve really felt God leading me to publish my second novel, Subversive. Subversive is the first book in a dystopian trilogy that I’ve been working on for a few years. I’ll be honest–this was a difficult book to write, and I’m much more nervous about publishing it than Stoker’s Mill for a variety of reasons. But I’m moving forward with it because I feel God leading me in that direction. I’m working on the sequel now (and dreaming up ideas for the third–and final–book).

I just started working with a professional editor. Yes, that’s right. I have an editor! She’s going to do a comprehensive edit of my manuscript and power it up as much as possible. A few days ago, she sent me her corrections of the first three pages (see the picture above). Look how marked up it is! It’s like AP English all over again. But I was amazed (and thrilled!) at how much stronger her changes made the opening scene. And she doesn’t just edit–she teaches her writers as she edits. My degree is in Criminal Justice, not English. I’m entirely self-taught as a writer, so I need all the help I can get. With my editor’s help, I’m learning about subjective clauses and dangling modifiers and all sorts of fun things! I really am enjoying the process and can’t wait to show you the finished product.

I plan on posting more regularly and keeping you updated throughout the entire process. Not only because I hope you’ll find it interesting, but because I’m going to need you along the way. There will be decisions to make (which cover do you prefer? which font looks the best?), and I’ll be asking for your help!

Since we’re talking about Subversive, here is the “back cover blurb.” Some version of this will end up on the back cover of the published book. I’m including it here so you can get an idea of what it’s about:

In an abandoned coal mine, a group of fugitives huddle four-hundred feet beneath the surface of the earth. To the world, and to the Federal Task Force who have been commissioned to hunt them down, they are known as subversives. Dangerous religious zealots who must be captured and imprisoned before their extremism can infect anyone else. Since the night of her parent’s arrest, Gemma Alcott has been in hiding as a subversive. She’s found a home—and someone to love—but she’s never forgotten the love she left behind. 

Taylor, a young Task Force officer, believes wholeheartedly in his mission and in the danger posed by subversives. He believes in the mission so much that he detained and imprisoned his own father. But when his first love, Gemma, is captured by a rogue Task Force unit, his loyalties are put to the test. Facing interrogation and possible death, Gemma must summon the strength—and faith—to protect her friends at all costs. And Taylor must decide if he’s fighting against evil . . . or for it. 

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Has anyone ever been to the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine in Ashland, Pennsylvania? We go there every summer (the boys LOVE it) and that was the inspiration for my fugitive group’s hideout in this book. I took notes each time we went (how deep it is, the average temperature, the gross orange stuff clinging to the walls) and included those details in the book.

I’m hoping to publish Subversive next spring or early summer. It all depends on how quickly I can find a cover designer. The really good designers–the ones used by the major publishing houses–are expensive. Like . . . very expensive. And they have long waiting lists. But the cover is the reader’s first impression of a book. Think about it. When you are looking at books, the cover is the first thing you notice. If it grabs your attention, you flip the book over and read the back cover. Then, if you’re still interested, you might peruse the first few pages to see if you like the writer’s style. The cover is so important. I have a dream designer in mind but I have no idea if I could afford her or if this is even a project she would agree to take on. But I’ve emailed her and I’m waiting to hear back. If you would, please pray that I find the right cover designer for these books.

If you took the time to read this far, thank you for joining me on my long journey down this yellow brick road. The hardest part of being a writer is putting your work into the world for others to read (And judge. And criticize). Especially for an introvert like me! But having my work edited by a professional in the industry is a good first step. When I’m anxious about it, I think of the writers I love and admire. I think about the characters they created in their minds and brought to life on paper. What if they had kept those stories for themselves? I know that God will give me the strength to endure anything the world throws at me. And maybe–just maybe–my stories and characters will have an impact on someone’s life. Maybe my work will be a blessing to someone else, as so many stories and characters have been a blessing to me over the years.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. –Proverbs 3: 5-6

 

Writing

Bobby the Crayfish

A little background on this story:

A few years ago, Ben’s teacher requested that some of the kids in his class try to catch a crayfish at home and bring it to school. They wanted to feed and observe a few crayfish as a science project for that marking period. Since Ben takes all assignments very seriously, he insisted that his grandfather take him to the creek to find a crayfish.

After a few hours (or minutes that felt like hours) of searching, they located one under a rock. Ben named him Bobby. Two months later, while still in the throes of grief, he wrote and illustrated the story of Bobby’s life.

Below you will find that yet-unpublished story . . . along with my own editorial critiques.

After all, every book needs an editor.

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Be careful when claiming your book is “based on a real story” in an effort to raise the stakes for the reader. Sure, they will be more invested in the book, but if your reader finds out that you lied to them, they’re going to feel cheated and they’ll probably leave you a bad Amazon review. I can verify, however, that BOBBY is a true story. He lived. He existed. And this little crayfish deserves to have his story told. 
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Your protagonist should enter the story early, preferably in the first chapter. Since he is introduced on the first page–and since his name IS the title–we can safely assume that Bobby is the protagonist of this story. He’s the guy we’re supposed to identify with. He’s the hero. The one we’re rooting for. I also love how the book begins with an action sequence that grabs the reader right from the start. Go Bobby!
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I know what you’re thinking: Ben added that massive snake for dramatic effect, right? While it’s true that all good writers add unexpected elements to their stories in order to create more tension, the truth is that there ARE snakes living in that storage room and one almost certainly tried (unsuccessfully) to eat Bobby at some point during the night. Excellent tension-building!
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This scene could use a little more description from Bobby’s point-of-view. We know about the rocks and the cave but what about the other crayfish? Do they welcome Bobby with open chelipeds or is he treated as an outsider? What about the classroom? How many students does Bobby see? What does the room look like? What does it smell like to Bobby? Eh, never mind. It’s an elementary school classroom . . . use your imagination.
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Bobby could use a little more character development. We’re following his story, but why should we care about Bobby? He’s just a crayfish, after all. Tell us more about him. Sure, we know he likes to hide under rocks and eat moss and vegetables, but who is Bobby, really? What are his hopes? His dreams? What motivates him? What scares him? (Aside from those terrifying faces staring down at him).
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Wow! This story takes an unexpected turn for the worse with the sudden loss of our protagonist! In this scene, we also see Ben’s dad emerge as the antagonist. Although it’s not bad as written, I feel like this ending could use a final twist. What if the reader learns that it was actually Ben’s mom who made the fatal mistake of not realizing that Bobby’s container had no air holes and was only intended for transport to-and-from school as opposed to overnight housing? And what if, in a blatant display of cowardice, she allows Ben’s dad to take the blame instead of owning up to her mistake? What if she becomes the real antagonist of this story? 
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The story wraps up with a fitting final scene where Bobby’s body is returned to the precise spot in the creek from whence it came. This scene could’ve been fleshed out a little more. Was a funeral service held for Bobby? (Yes) Were prayers said? (Yes) Were tears shed? (Yes) However, the best part of this scene is the chilling final line: “Ben was sad, but he had to remember, ‘Bobby would have been eaten, if they hadn’t taken him.'” Although it sounds like something a guilt-ridden mother would tell her kid, it really leaves the reader pondering the fleeting nature of life and the certainty of death.
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Overall, not a bad first draft but it could use some work. This blog post is, of course, dedicated to the memory of Bobby the Crayfish.