Have you bought your copy of Divine Bloodlines yet? Or are you afraid of commitment. If so, here’s your chance to check part of it out for free. Chapters 1 and 2 are currently posted on Wattpad.com and available for anyone who wants a preview. If you like it, please give it a star. And, feel free to go ahead and buy the book! Still not sure? Check out Chapter 3 next week.
I know. I was MIA there for a while. It’s because I was in proofreading hell.
Proofreading your own work is like being a doctor operating on yourself. It’s a bad idea. Still, if you were a doctor stuck on a desert island and a shark attacked you, and you had to operate on yourself, you would. Hell, you would probably operate even if you weren’t a doctor. Just like if you were a writer, stuck on a desert island with your manuscript and a limited budget, you’d get out your scalpel and start cutting.
That was my situation. Sure, I paid for my book to be edited. Once. And proofread. Once. But that’s like only having money for half a facelift. Or one boob enlarged. It’s really only part of the process. And if you can’t pay for the rest of it to be done, you might as well do it yourself. (Which is why I have yet to have any plastic surgery.)
When you edit your own work, you run several risks. One is simply not seeing your work objectively. Not being able to make necessary changes because you are too in love with a particular character or plot line or piece of dialogue that doesn’t serve the broader picture. In my own opinion, I think I was a pretty brutal editor of my own work—refining and tweaking and cutting, in addition to what my professional editor did, to get the story as tight as possible.
However, as far as proofreading goes, that’s a different ballgame. I’m the first one to admit, I’m a terrible proofreader, especially of my own work. I’m pretty certain that if you go back and look at any blog I’ve ever written, you will find at least one typo in each. At least. Which is why I had my manuscript professionally proofread. But, here’s the deal: once is not enough. It’s just not. When one person reads through over three hundred pages they will catch mistakes. If she is a professional she will catch many mistakes. But very few people will catch ALL the mistakes on just one go round. Which is where my descent into hell comes in.
Let me start off by saying, I was not an English major. And while I’ve always been pretty good at figuring out where to stick a comma or when to use I versus me, grammar and punctuation have never been such a focus that I could tell you about dangling participles or predicate nominatives. As a result, well, let’s just say the process became very labor intensive.
For example, did you know that you’re supposed to use “curly” quotation marks and not “straight” quotation marks in a manuscript? Probably not because I’m guessing most of you never needed to notice the difference between the two. Or the difference between an em dash—and an en dash–. Subtle, right? But technically, they are not interchangeable and you need to know when to use one versus the other. What about ellipses… or is it … or is it . . . ? Depends on what reference manual you use. How about writing numbers? I know, you think that one is easy, right? Everything up until ten is written out and everything after that is spelled. Wrong. Again, depends on your style manual. How about when to use I was versus I were? Oh, yeah, that one depends on “the mood” of the verb. Seriously. And so now you know why I’ve been MIA all this time. And why the next photo I post will have a whole lot more gray hair showing.
Along the way, besides figuring out all of these stylistic consistencies and finding the errant word missing or slight misspelling, I noticed something else. It’s just, I noticed that I just used the word just, just too much. To the point where I started to think that maybe I should leave the word in there and suggest people make a drinking game out of it. (Hey, college students of legal drinking age, every time you read the word “just” in “Divine Bloodlines,” just take a drink!)
And so I read it and read it again and again, combing through each page, each phrase, each word, to try to find all the errors. The sad part is, I probably will still have a few things in there. Hopefully, they will be the subjective things, like, where to use or not use a comma. But, there might still be one or two others. In which case, my new plan is to tell everyone that I purposely put those typos there! Sort of like the Easter Eggs in those superhero movies that only the most attentive watchers will find. So, yes, go ahead and look for my typos, because I meant for them to be there. I, just, like, really did.
There has been a lot written in the media over the past few months about adults who read Young Adult books. Ruth Graham wrote a piece for Slate.com in which she stated that adults should be “embarrassed” by reading YA books. That article was countered by a host of others defending the genre and the adults who read it, including, now, me.
I find myself firmly ensconced in the “in defense of adults reading YA” camp, not only because I’m a reader of the genre but a writer of it as well, and I find it hard to separate my love of one from my love for the other. The reason I wanted to write YA is because these are the books whose characters and stories have resonated with me the most out of everything I’ve ever read. I remember reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a child, and re-reading it as an adult, and finding the same love of the characters and the world of Narnia as I originally did. Harry Potter. Twilight. The Hunger Games. Divergent. The Fault in Our Stars. I’ve read them all, and then some.
It’s not that I don’t read other, more “literary”, more “adult” books. It’s just that, honestly, I don’t usually like them as much as their Young Adult counterparts. I wish I could tell you why, but it would probably take me hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of therapy to figure it out. However, I do have some theories. The first being, so much of YA is about firsts. First crush, first kiss, first sexual experience, first heartbreak, and all of the self- discovery that comes with that. As an adult I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast today, but I can remember all of these firsts. So, it’s my belief that those moments in YA help bring us adults, the ones racing through our day so much so that everything is a blur, back to those most impactful moments in our own lives, the ones that remain vivid even when everything else has faded.
Another reason I find myself drawn to YA is that, as a reader, I tend to be more forgiving of all those young adult characters and the mistakes they make – mistakes all characters must make for you to have an interesting story. As a grown up, I tend not to be all that forgiving of other grown ups who do stupid things when they should know better. Lessons they should have learned as children or teenagers. Even the fictional ones. I remember reading a fairly current literary masterpiece thinking, God, this guy just keeps doing dumb things. Yes, it was very well written. But, I could not forgive the character for his stupidity. However, in New Moon when Edward told Bella that he was leaving Forks because she’s become “a distraction” and that he no longer loves her, even though you don’t believe him and you know it’s totally stupid because he really does love her and he’s just trying to protect her…well…heartbreak! But you can forgive him because he’s only 17. (Actually, he’s over 100 years old, but, still…)
Then there are those novels where the fate of the story, or sometimes the world, is resting on a kid’s shoulders. And I totally buy that. Whereas, if the person were, say, 48-years-old, I would think it was ridiculous. It probably has something to do with the fact that given the state of the world, I don’t have that much faith in adults to do the right thing anymore. We are too corrupted by money, ideology, laziness, and too busy making sure we aren’t late for work to be heroes. But, kids and teens, well, they are the closest things we have to magic today. Even long after they stop believing in Santa or the Tooth Fairy, kids still believe that it’s possible for them to become superstars or travel to space or become the President. They still believe they can succeed in life because life hasn’t yet told them that they can’t. And thank God, because how do you accept growing up in a world with climate change and poverty and war if you don’t believe you can change it? They have the sense of immortality and invulnerability that all young people have, never believing that bad things can touch them, even if they make bad choices. To me, it’s always believable that a teenager will do whatever it takes to move those mountains in a plot to best the bad guy or to win true love or to fulfill their destiny or to just come to terms with the flaws in their own life, because they don’t know better yet. They don’t know yet that they are just supposed to be ordinary people, so they can strive to be extraordinary in the most believable way.
But what it really comes down to is, what difference does it make what “genre” you lump it in with as long as it’s a good story? I’ve ready crappy YA and I’ve read crappy literature. I’ve also read fantastic YA and fantastic literature. And you know what the difference is? Not much. A good story is a good story.
For example, one of the first, great paranormal YA books that I ever read really stuck with me. The plot: a teenage girl is forced to into an arranged marriage because of societal pressures. However, before she is married, a supernatural being comes to her and tells her that he will impregnate her, and that her child will save the world! Despite the threat to her – being shunned by her family, her fiancé, and possibly even being killed, she agrees to see this through. The name of the story? Luke 1:26-38. Yeah, it’s the account of the Virgin Birth from the Bible. So, Ruth Graham, if an entire religion can be based on this particular paranormal YA account, good luck telling me not to read the next John Green book that comes out.
Andy Warhol said, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Turns out he was almost right. About me, at least. I am kind of famous. Not world famous. More like poor-rating cable TV talk show famous. And it wasn’t quite 15 minutes. More like three. But, hey, at least he was in the general ballpark.
My story starts about three years ago when I got a Kindle for Christmas. I discovered an author named Amanda Hocking who wrote YA Paranormal Romance novels. I bought one book, read it, and then bought six more! I really liked her stuff. In the course of buying her books, I came to find out that she was a self-published author who was actually having some measure of success with online publishing after having been rejected thousands (!) of times from traditional publishing companies. Her story was inspiring. I kept tabs on her career and her increasing success, and decided I needed to take my own writing much more seriously.
Fast forward about a year. As a Facebook follower of Amanda’s, I saw that she A.) now had a traditional publisher and B.) was going to be on Anderson Cooper’s (then) daytime talk show. And that the show was looking for fans from the tri-state area to be in the audience. Despite the fact that I never, EVER do stuff like this, for some reason this time I went to the link and filled out a request for tickets. As part of the ticket request, the form asked “how were you influenced by Amanda?” So I wrote a little blurb about how I was inspired by her self-publishing success.
A few weeks later I got a call from the show asking if I’d like to be in the audience. YES. But then I kept getting phone calls asking me more questions – what was my story? How exactly had Amanda influenced me? What was I doing now? After having a couple of conversations, sending in an e-mail AND a picture (because, apparently, they have to weed out the hideously ugly people unless they are doing a show on hideously ugly people), I was asked not only to be in the audience but to be a “special surprise ‘super fan’ guest” for Amanda Hocking.
Being the publicity whore that I am, of course I said yes.
So I travelled into Manhattan, was escorted up into the studio where Anderson (he and I are on a first name basis now) recorded his show, and was given the whole Hollywood diva treatment. I waited in the “green room” (it really is green). I had my hair and makeup done (pounds of makeup, actually, especially under eye concealer). And I did the requisite producer run-through. This is the part where the producer tries to prepare you for the questions, gets a sense of your answers, and then tries to get you to say what he wants.
Tye, the producer: What does trying to get published feel like?
Me: Like an insurmountable hurdle.
Tye, the producer: How about if you say, “It’s like climbing a mountain!”
Tye, the producer: Like climbing a mountain! Try it. Like climbing a mountain!
Me: Um, no.
In addition to whittling down my ten-minute monologue into a few coherent sound bites, there was some stage direction, such as: “Listen, Amanda is great. But she’s VERY mid-western, you know? Kind of laid back and low key, so you need to bring ALL the energy to this. ALL THE ENERGY! Be yourself, but be PASSIONATE! Be ENTHUSIASTIC! Be ENERGETIC! But be yourself.”
I’m sure by now, if you’ve read any of my stuff, you can tell I’m the diametric opposite of bubbly and effervescent. I’m droll. I’m sarcastic. I have just enough energy that you know I’m alive. But, I am also, as previously stated, a publicity whore, and therefore agreed to be as energetic and passionate and enthusiastic as Tye wanted.
And there was this piece of additional direction: “When you get up onstage HUG Amanda. Even if she doesn’t get up, YOU PULL HER UP! Make sure you HUG her! You HAVE TO hug her!”
I’m going to guess that you guys can already tell I’m a not hugger. Especially of strangers. But…publicity whore. I even practiced by hugging Tye. (Seriously, we practiced the hugs.)
When I wasn’t being prepped, I got to listen to the other guest of the show being prepared by his producer. His story? He was a virgin who donated his sperm via the Internet. Funny thing, he also “documented” his process of being “donorsexual” (his term, not mine) which means he filmed himself making his donations and put it online. And, yes, people purchased from his online catalogue of baby makers. But then there was a whole “cease manufacture” order from the FDA or face a $100k fine…now that I think about it his story was really much more interesting than mine. It’s a wonder I remembered anything Tye told me.
Soon it was go time. Sperm donor guy went first, so I stayed backstage until it was time for me to “get planted” (perhaps not the best choice of words, given the sperm donor story line, but I digress) in the audience. Then they brought Amanda out. After a little chitchat and Q&A between Anderson and Amanda, this SURPRISE, SUPER FAN, ASPIRING WRITER was brought up. Poor Amanda Hocking. This was the last thing she was expecting, and the look on her face made me believe that in the past she probably had to deal with some overzealous fan (i.e. stalker) and was hoping that I would not follow her back to her hotel. (I didn’t. She ditched me on the way out of the building.)
As directed, I went up, shook Anderson’s hand, and then I did it. I HUGGED Amanda Hocking. I HUGGED her good and I HUGGED her hard. (She may have actually gasped a little.) This poor woman (who, again, I’m guessing has a stalker) had no idea who I was, and would have gladly shaken my hand, yet she was forced into being molested on camera by me, a total stranger. But, Amanda Hocking, being the professional that she is, was very nice and totally cool, in spite of not expecting my hug, my effusive, bubbly thanks, or me.
Here’s where things get really interesting. In the true spirit of daytime TV talk shows, turns out they had a surprise for me, too. Amanda’s editor offered to read my manuscript! I know, I know. It’s like a fairy tale, right? One problem. I only had about half of a first draft of a first manuscript written. No writer wants ANYONE to read that. Especially not a professional editor. But, being the publicity whore that I am, I accepted their gift graciously and then I internally vowed to get my ass in gear.
Don’t believe me? See it all for yourself:
This confluence of events that could only be described as serendipitous was exactly the kick in the pants that I needed to help me finish my manuscript. Which took about another year, and by that time it was a whole different book than the first one I started writing. (I know, this whole story is full of twists and turns, isn’t it?) But, the point is, I finished it! And I sent it in to Amanda’s editor, who despite the long time frame, still remembered me and still read it! And…she’s decided not to publish it. Okay, so it’s not the fairy tale ending you (or, let’s face it, I) were hoping for, however she did give me some great feedback and here I am today. Following in the footsteps of my mentor…Amanda Hocking…who truly has no idea how much of an inspiration she has been to this crazy “super fan.” Thank you Amanda Hocking! If ever see you again, I promise I won’t hug you. Unless you want me to.
My husband and I have a running joke that I don’t listen to anything he says. To some extent, it’s true. But it’s not because I don’t listen. At least, not on purpose. I don’t blatantly ignore him in favor of watching television or some other guilty pleasure. The problem is, I’m working. However, it’s very hard for him to tell when I’m working because it doesn’t necessarily look like work.
Since I’ve started writing, I’ve felt that the gig is a lot like motherhood. Great work, but very hard to get paid for. Plus, your physical actions don’t necessarily translate into other people’s vision of what work should look like. For example, if a mom takes her kid to the park, it’s viewed as one of the perks of motherhood. Yeah! You get to be outside on a beautiful day. What no one is watching is how fast that mother has to be to follow her kid around the park to keep him from falling off the slide, or putting wood chips in his mouth, or stealing another kid’s toy. It’s just another day at the office for mom.
Writing is similar for me. However, the work aspect is even more invisible to the people around me, because a lot of it goes on in my head. I’ve usually written at least part of whatever I’m going to put on paper in my head before I even sit down to the computer. That’s why when my husband comes in to talk to me while I’m folding laundry or doing the dishes, it’s not that I’m not listening. It’s just that I’m busy working. Outlining stories, or revising dialogue, or writing complete blogs. While I’m standing there folding his underwear.
Don’t get the wrong idea. My husband is and has been incredibly supportive of my desire to start writing. But, it’s been an adjustment for him. He’s had the good fortune of working from a home office much of the time for the past few years. Early on, when we realized this was going to be the pattern, we set some ground rules. Or, really one rule: that I leave him alone. Which, I totally respect because he is working. When the kids were little, and my husband wanted to take a break, he’d come out of his office to say hello, stretch his legs…the usual water cooler stuff. He was used to having them, and me, basically at his disposal. Then I started writing.
Now when he comes upstairs to shoot the breeze during those water cooler moments, and he finds me making the bed or cleaning up after the kids, what he can’t see is that I’m doing the internal work of a writer. Thinking. It’s not that I’m not listening, it’s just that I just have trouble hearing him with the very loud voice that is talking over him in my head, trying not to forget the new idea I just got or the first few lines of the blog I wanted to write.
The same often happens when he sees me at the computer.
Him: “Hey, what’s up?”
Me: (Largely ignoring him while I type.) “Nothing.”
Him: (I don’t know what he’s saying, but it sounds a lot like the grown ups in a Charlie Brown animated special.)
I used to let the exchange going on for a while, hoping he’d get the hint by my irritated glances, impatient sighs and basic refusal to make eye contact. But, he’s nothing if not persistent. (It’s how we ended up married.) So I’ve finally had to simply tell him, “Can you leave me alone? I’m working.”
The first time I said it, I think he was kind of surprised at the role reversal taking place, but since then, he’s gotten used to walking in on me staring off into space or clacking away on the keyboard, and while he doesn’t always remember to leave me alone, he’s now less surprised by my blatant rudeness.
One time, we were driving in the car, and I was silent, but gesturing with my hand.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“You were moving your hand. You looked like you were going to say something.”
“Oh, that! No, I was just thinking about cover art for the book. I’m thinking about using an image of a hand and I was moving my hand around to see what position would work best.”
My husband gets a kick out of telling people that story because “you know you’re married to an Italian woman when she uses her hand to talk even when she’s not talking out loud.”
True, I wasn’t talking. And I probably wasn’t listening. But I was working.
I just finished my first manuscript. For about the 55th time. The first time I wrote, “The End,” I was like, Oh my God! I’m done! I can’t believe I’m done! That was somewhere around two or three years ago, I think. I lost track.
After I completed my manuscript that initial time, I was excited to be finished. Excited that I had actually written my first book. Then I read it and I realized, even though I was finished, I wasn’t. Oh, sure, there were various typos and such, but I wondered if the story could be better.
The next step was giving it to other people to read: my very good friend; one of my sisters; and two of my nieces (who, affectionately became “Aunt Chris’s Book Club”). Giving a manuscript to someone is a lot like setting up close friends on a blind date: you really hope they hit it off because if they don’t, it’s going to be awkward later on.
Luckily, my matchmaking (and writing) skills, seemed to work out. They all loved the manuscript, but all also gave me useful feedback about what parts worked for them and what parts didn’t. So I revised it again. And again. And I got it in what I hoped was good enough shape to send out to an actual editor. I had the good fortune early on in the process to make a contact with an editor at a publishing house and she offered to read my manuscript once it was done. (THAT is a long story and a whole other blog.) After a few more rounds of reading and revisions, I thought, “This is it. I’m done.” And I sent it off to her.
She read it. She really liked it. Unfortunately, not enough to publish it. But enough to give me some very good feedback that really made me think about the flow of the story and how different events happened. So I revised. Again. And I gave it back to Aunt Chris’s Book Club, and got more feedback. And – you guessed it – revised it again.
By this point, I was no longer naïve enough to believe I was anywhere close to being finished. I got in touch with a former writing teacher and hired him to edit the book. Not proofread it, but really edit it, beyond the helpful but more general comments I had received up until that point.
And edit it he did. The first time I received marked up pages in the mail, I thought, “Well, I definitely got my money’s worth.” There was ink on every page. EVERY page. He commented on everything. Things he loved. Things he didn’t. Typos. Inconsistencies. Overused words and phrases. Plot structure. Character development. Dialogue. Everything. Each time I’d get pages in the mail, I’d read his comments, but I didn’t do anything because I knew I needed to look at all the comments as a whole before moving forward.
When I finally got the last marked up page in the mail, the page where it said, “The End,” I looked at the entirety of my marked up manuscript. Then I had a stiff drink. And then I proceeded to procrastinate for the next several weeks (or months – I may have had several stiff drinks) before doing anything with it. Because, I knew, yet again, “The End” was not “The End” but just the beginning of yet another major overhaul.
Eventually my ambition guilt finally took hold, and I started revising the manuscript. Some comments I agreed with and made changes to accommodate them. Some I didn’t. And then there were aspects of the story that didn’t bother my editor or any of my readers but from the very beginning they just didn’t sit right with me. Certain characters and where they fit into the story and how they affected its flow. I ended up cutting out major characters and scenes that had been with my story from the beginning. It was hard, but I think I finally understood that bible quote: “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” I doubt they were talking about a manuscript, but who knows? (Those guys WERE prolific writers.)
When I was finally “finished” with my manuscript (again), it went back to my beta readers for the umpteenth time. (Have I mentioned how much I appreciate these people?) And they all loved the changes! Great, so you think I’d be finished right? Wrong. Because, after the seemingly never ending process of revisions, I just never felt finished. I’d read it and find something to revise. And then read it again, and find something else to revise. Each time thinking I was done, and each time realizing I wasn’t.
Until today. Oh, I knew I had been getting close. I knew when I finally fixed all the major plot points that had been bothering me. And different pieces of dialogue that I didn’t love. And even the names of certain inconsequential characters. But this last time, when I found myself trying decide if I wanted to use the word “disgusted” or “repulsed” I kind of realized, you know, either one of those words will work. Now step away from the manuscript. You are done.
So I did. And I sent it off to my trusty editor to proofread. And I know, this time, when I see the ink, it will be so I can change things like “there” vs. “their,” or start a new paragraph or fix some quotation marks. And once I make those changes, I know it really will be, “The End.”