Saturday, December 17, 2011

Back on Track

Whew... okay! Everything is back how it was. I kept the good additions, the tweaks in character and pacing, and nixed that annoying contrivance set to establish false urgency; because that's what it was: FALSE urgency. I spent more time making my characters remind each other how urgent it was than I spent developing their relationship. It drove a wedge between my mains and kept everyone unhappy including me. I'm better off without it.

Progress wise I'm back in the realm of 60-90... that dreaded pie slice that has dogged me for so long. I'll tell you all when I get back to Kindle parts and have to snip her out again. My Betas tell me they don't miss her at all from the previous pages where she was summarily amputated. Just goes to show you that I didn't really need her to start with. I plan to write an obituary on her later when she's 100% gone.

For those friends who keep track of me on facebook and instant messenger I'm sorry I've been so absent. I've been keeping my chat streams off so I can get down to writing. I never make any progress when it's on - too choppy. I'll be back later when this stuff is sorted out.

If I don't post another blog I wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! You can keep up with me on Twitter (@threadcaster , @jenniferstolzer ) facebook and tumblr (jameson9101322)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crisis, breakdown and an emotional low

I have ruined my book.

It was doing fine. I loved it. I believed in the characters then suddenly I get some feedback.

"It needs urgency" my reviewer said. So I devised a plan... include a day in which things take place. Suddenly everything sucks.

I no longer know what's happening or what to do. I'm "fixing" things with patches I haven't preplotted out and messing with things I swore I'd never again touch. I'm at a crippling emotional low as I reconsider the value of everything I've made.

This book sucks, it'll never sell, It's a wasted effort, I'm a horrible author.

Why did this happen? Why have I fallen into this hole and how can I get back out of it?

First question I have to ask myself is was the edit worth it? Do I believe in the concept of the new story element? Well yes... on paper I believe in it fine. Utilizing it, however, has thrown me for a loop. I've edited it fifteen times... how can I use the same idea with less invasion?

Maybe I just namedrop it like it's not a big deal? No, it's a story thread... ugh...

Maybe I leave it out of the part that's confusing - aka the prophecy. We learn about the Brushcaster betrayal later in the game. Build it back up about the Curses again like I did last time.

Maybe I put this goddamn book on a shelf for another three years and rewrite it then.

I'm really miserable right now, you guys, I'm seriously considering abandoning ship and going to a previous draft where this addition didn't exist... at least to write ahead. I'm so tired of being stuck in the same ninety pages.

This blog post is more for my own frustration because my previous strategies haven't helped. I tried to talk it out but my sounding board didn't care. I tried to write it on paper and failed. I tried putting it together in the draft and sucked desperately.

All I ask from my audience right now is prayer - God's the only guidance I can trust at this point.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A sense of urgency

So I share 30 pages of Threadcaster at a time with a few close friends and mentors. They are all extremely patient with me - especially since I keep rewriting and rewriting things they've already seen, but it's their feedback that makes it necessary possible. Yesterday I got such a piece of feedback from fellow author Peter H Green. He said "Everything flows fine but there is no sense of urgency. You've got the pull toward the goal, but I don't feel any push."

Sense of Urgency huh? This posed a dilemma. My story has plenty of conflict starting around page 65... but up to that point it's getting to know the characters and getting used to the world they live in. I 100% believe this is a good thing - my world is complicated, it has rules and traditions the reader must understand to follow the rest of the story. Still a lack of urgency is a very real problem and it does not a good writer make if you ignore the input of your betas just because it's a little work.

So I thought about ways to build urgency - how about a villain actively working against the players through the plot? No... I do have villains but they are very powerful people who's leverage on the beginning of the book would probably keep our reluctant hero from agreeing to go without three pages of combatant dialog. No, the Brushcasters need to stay where they are.

What about a ticking clock? A time limit would impose some urgency and up Cat and Peter's emotional dilemma because a rush to save the world is a rush to put poor Pete in an early grave. That could do... it can't just be contrived though. I need to find a way to get it in without it creating an audience perceived False Urgency. Otherwise known as the "Just'cuz"es.

A "Just'cuz" is when an author's fingers start to show. "Why did he do that?" Author - "Just because." "Why did he decide to go there?" Author -"Just 'cause". "It was extremely lucky that he went to that town to run into the next action scene." - "Yeah, I needed him there for the plot"

The Just'cuzzes are as bad a disease as the Yes-mans and the Bamboo Traps. These things pander to the audience and insult their intelligence. I needed to find an integrated way to up the intensity that isn't Lady Creven saying "'By the way, I'd like you to complete this dangerous journey in about a week... Thursday's my only free day, you see. Does that fit in your schedule?" So what solution did I decide to employ? Well... it's all a matter of festivity.

I've had an elaborate backstory for a while now, but I took it out of the book because a large part of it had nothing to do with Cat. It still doesn't, really, but it has a lot to do with the rest of her world. I used the backstory as a stage and invented this great big huge festival in which the people of the Valley try to fulfill the same prophecy Cat and Peter are trying to fulfill in the book. This festival takes place on a specific day and time - the only day and time that "success" can take place. Unfortunately that festival day is a week away. Cat's going to have to hurry to keep the world from dying.

This solution is super. I can use the festival theme throughout as Cat moves from town to town. We see the decorations going up; the signs and festivities and how hopeful the people are that this will finally work. Little do they know that Cat's the one REALLY trying to fulfill the prophecy and the Brushcasters are actively trying to stop her. It gives us a C story that is separate from Cat's main quest but parallel so I don't have to cut away to any sidescenes. I've already implemented it up to a point. I have a little more rewriting to do before it's done... but I think I'm content. It definitely gets the beginning of the quest to go a bit faster.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Ensemble Cast: a Collection of Names

I thought it would be fun to share a little wisdom I've found writing a book with a very large cast and a bit of a tactic I use to implement it.

Threadcaster, as some know, is a quest story - Cat and her horribly afflicted friends travel their small world on a grand adventure. They meet a lot of people on their journey - some important, some not so important, some only important later on. So the questions is - if you meet ten new people every place you go how do you help your readers keep it straight? The answer I've found is as simple as ABC.

That's right; the Alphabet. Reading is a visual activity as much as an aural one and having a lot of characters with similar names can be very confusing. For the eye, starting the name with different letters helps the reader differentiate at first glance - if the character is the only person in the whole book whose name starts with "F" then the reader will instantly say "Oh! It's the "F" name guy!" when he shows up again. Let's apply this to Threadcaster.

As a bit of an exercise I opened a blank document and listed all the letters A-Z in rows, then filled all the names of people we meet with any significance. I do a pretty good job of this already it seems ... but some letters (A, J, and M as it turns out) had an uneven number of characters listed. These might get confusing so I've taken some of the minor characters out and either not named them at all (Is it really important to learn the Mayor's first and last name?) or renamed them (Ashley is a very minor character tucked in with some important ones like Aiden... so I swapped her for Heather since I only had one H.)

I try not to name two characters in the same place with the same letter unless it's plot-appropriate, and I try to make reoccurring side-characters the only ones in their list. This way I think the cast, although large, is a little easier for the brain to sort - and if there's one thing I pride myself on in this book is how easy I want it to read and understand. It's taking a lot of work and brainpower on thsi end of the pen but for you, noble readers, I hope it's pretty easy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A discovery

So today I discovered I'm a writer.

I know that seems silly what with me having already completed a novel, but let me explain. I had a meeting today with a very very nice local business consultant ready and willing to learn about my illustration work and how he could help me. Instead of whipping out my work and expounding on how accomplished, useful and willing I am I prattled on forever about writing - not necessarily Threadcaster, I didn't dwell on the novel itself - but about writing in general and being in writing groups and how writing works and my plans for publication. I met with him hoping to get leads on a job for my illustration and by natural conversational happenstance I wasted the whole time on my other career.

I guess that means that Writing is my primary passion then huh? I can do the rest, but when asked what I want to be doing Threadcaster is it. It is what I want to be working on, it's what I want to put my hours and invest my future in. I'm discouraged because this seems like a really stupid thing to have done, but I guess it's true now. The conversation wouldn't have happened if I wasn't being honest.

So hi everyone, I'm a writer. Lets hold hands and pray this isn't a huge mistake in priorities.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Welcome to!

That's right! Threadcaster now has a domain. It's sleeker and classier than it's ever been before - special thanks to the Rampant Creative group ( for their help in designing and building it.

For those watching the blogspot fear not - for it is the same and all the blogger features remain they're just prettier. I'm excited for Threadcaster to have a real web presence - it's like the book is becoming a real thing.

Now back to editing it!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Never Give Up

Went to a workshop today by the St.Louis Writer's Guild. Claire Applegate spoke on promoting your book... it made me realize I have a lot to work on.

Firstly I need to get my website going. This blog is great and all, but I own and I've got to get going on that. Second I might want to publish a logo for my book so that I can sue people who try and call their whatever Threadcaster before the book comes out. Third I need to start working on my BOOK TRAILER which I am going to ANIMATE because I want to use that degree I earned for SOMETHING!!!

I'm particularly excited about the book trailer. It's goign to take a lot of work, and I don't know when I'm going to squeeze it in around all my other obligations, but it never hurts to start early. I need to get an animated storyboard put together so I know what stuff I need. It'll give me a chance to show off all my designs and maybe something to submit to film festivals and local showings for more publicity.

Everything is publicity. Everything has an angle. Try anything you can, join anything you can, do anything you can.

Never give up! You've got your own strengths and skills other people dont have. You're telling a story no one else can tell - do it for your sake and for the world! Enjoy yourself but don't slack off.

Never give up! Never surrender!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Replotting the path to Water Town

In response to the twitter freakout I had a little bit ago, I realized I was flaying my baby to the point that there was no life or love in it anymore. This, of course, is no good, so I got out an oversized sketch-pad and an offensively orange pen and wrote down what my troubles were. Aside from motivation issues and otehr problems I realized that the major problem here is that Cat didn't have a thing to do before she reached Water Town. She's the protagonist; if it's not important to her then it should not be included, even if it's developing the personalities of characters we'll be killing off shortly.

So this begs a new question; how can I accomplish the same end using Cat as a more prominent character. I won't get into all the details but suffice it to say I've run out of ink in my offensively orange pen and I have a plan for a new, better scene that will play out at the beginning of 60-90. It will involve the Brushcasters and will give Sharon and Kindle more definite direction. I hope it works in my favor... and that this new scene will eliminate a bunch of the questions and concerns that have been dogging me for months. Here is a short list of what I hope the new scene will accomplish for future reference:

1, It will include the Brushcasters without killing the action and explain a bit of what they are and how they work without having a lecture scene - although I like the lecture scene. I'll use as many elements from that as I can in this new scene.

2, It give Kindle a chance to be the hero again and take off through the wild blue yonder. With one more act of courage perhaps she will justify her existence?

3, It will put Cat in Chalsie-Veneer first, therefore allieviating a lot of the problems I had with getting people into town.

Wish me luck on this stuff, I'm not sure how it's going to work out. You might see some graveyard days go up here shortly as a result... or you might not because at this point the previous series of events is pissing me off so much I'd rather not look at them again.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I'm my own thief

I've run into an interesting problem of late... I keep stealing from myself.

I had to give Fire Town a whole rewrite for this new draft - the old way of things was meandering and unfocused so I had to punch it up. I worked on it for months until I got it just the way I like it... then moved on to Water Town and found - lo! In an effort to make Fire Town exciting I'd completely stolen Water Town's backstory! I guess I only have one idea at a time huh?

So this led to a decision; do I like Water Town's version better or Fire Town's version better. The answer is emphatically Water Town. Water Town's backstory has been the same as it is in one way or another since it's inception. So back I went to Fire Town to nip all the backstory out and replace it with another.... which was remarkably easy (go figure) The present was staying the same and a couple lines of dialog removed and replaced smoothed it all over. Then it was off to work on Water Town again.

Water Town doesn't get a WHOLE rewrite but it is getting a facial and a pedicure as it were... the beginning segment was horribly boring and needed a change. I came up with a great solution - it explained a ton and got everyone in the places they needed to be (which is a problem for me) and I wrote it as I was happy with it until I realized... I'd stolen that from Castleton in, like, the third scene! One trick pony - this am I.

It's because everything relates back to Cat and Peter's friendship - her stubbornness and his martyr complex.

In light of that though I think perhaps I might keep it...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Graveyard Saturday: Water Town Exposition

Today I decided to make an effort to show not tell. It's a re-up of the intention stemmed from a great lecture about scriptwriting. I'm afraid I get addicted to dialog and I realized my characters are talking a lot and saying nothing - I want the whole book to be really snappy and I just got off a huge chunk of dialog, so I decided to cut this portion out completely even though I like it. So in it goes to the Graveyard. I hope you all enjoy this segment from Chapter 15


"We should reach the Southern road by nightfall," Peter called from the trailing wagon. "Then it's south to Chalsie Veneer from there."

"That long?" Ildri said and wiped her brow, "It's so hot out here."

"Hold on, I packed an awning." Kindle recovered a roll of canvas from her things and stretched over them on a set of polls, "Better?"

"Yes." Ildri answered in a weary tone, "I guess you knew you were coming all along."

"Yeah, I figured that out the minute you and Mom started arguing. It gave me all night to pack and make stuff." She grinned briefly at Peter then shrugged, "Lucky I'm over-prepared. I didn't think we'd get two Fire Curses. Lucky I made extra booties."

Aiden raised the scab that used to be his eyebrow, "Booties?"

"Oh yeah." She rummaged in her duffel and produced a sack of bags and string. She thrust her foot into one of the plastic pouches and tied it at the knee with a piece of colored yarn. "See? Waterproof!”

Ildri smiled uncertainly, “It's very clever, Kindle.”

Aiden bit dead skin off his lip, "How wet are you expecting it to get?"

"Water Town is super wet!" Kindle replied cheerfully. "Water Curses leaking, you know. They sweat and drool and cry and snot all over the place constantly. I can't wait to meet one!"

"Sick," Aiden sneered, "Do we really need one?"

We need one of each suit,” Cat confirmed.

"He can ride in your wagon then," Aiden groaned, “Keep the walking pain factory as far away from me as possible.”

"Don't worry, you'll be fine!” Kindle insisted. "I've got enough booties to wear on your hands too!”

Aiden wrinkled his nose, "I'll pass."

"What?" Kindle demanded. "Come on, I've made your life, like, fifty times easier. You can at least say 'thank you'."

Okay,” Aiden looped his arm out from behind Ildri and leaned forward, “Thank you for making us painful footwear that will take all the skin off our legs, stick to our sores, inflate with hot air and collect puss on the bottom until they're just as wet as the ground we're avoiding.”

"Ew," Kindle scraped her tongue on her teeth, "I think I just gagged a little."

"Nature of the beast, kid," He slouched in satisfaction, "We're Fire Curses."

"You're nasty." Kindle stuffed her invention back in her bag, "Our Water Curse will take Cat's wagon by choice."


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Evolution of a town

So my little Threadcaster world hasn't gone through a lot of significant changes. It's a very small world - a collection of towns within the bowl of a huge crater surrounded by mountains. In the center is the capital city called Castleton and in the four cardinal directions like a compass-rose are Dire Lonato, Chalsi Veneer, New Torston, and Astonage.

Saying the world hasn't changed through development is a bit misleading however. It's been changing constantly. The towns have changed locations, names, appearances and attitudes, but the things that are have always been; four towns in a compass around Castleton- the center around which this small universe rotates.

I just finished the final revision of Dire Lonato. Sure I'll go back and give it some shine later, but the series of events and what happens there is pretty much set in stone. I thought it would be a nice time to talk about the town's staggered history through the eyes of its author.

Dire Lonato was always named Dire Lonato. It was always Fire aligned and always the first stop on our tour of the Valley. The place was originally sort of a Disney's Aladdin looking place (further emphasizing the middle east and the allegory and ho boy that's another blog post). Square sand-brick buildings with colorful awnings and simple people who make pots and textiles. Cat and co were initially forced to adventure into the bad part of town because there are Curses among them. They left their things with a blind, toothless stable owner and got stuck in the market place on their way to Sharon Fiammetta's house.

I guess I could go back even further - in teh first first draft of this book, the place was an artistic town and we found Sharon by attending her daughter Kindle's school play. Not only was this impossibly slow and dumb but Peter's a liability everywhere we go. His trauma and hardship hinges on the fact that he's not tolerated - and walking into a school auditorium was really obviously misaligned. Instead I had Cat get nabbed in the street and trapped in a burning house. This was also bad so I had her attacked by fire monsters.

It's hard to believe these rough draft ideas ever worked now that I've got the final version - I won't spoil the events for those who will inevitably read the novel - but it does not involve school plays. What it does involve is the strengthening of global themes and the more poignant introduction of a main character. And more than one burning building - I scaled up :)

Past Dire Lonato is Fire Town which has gone through it's own set of changes. Originally it was out in the desert. Then I moved it to a dry riverbed. The final location is wedged in a mountain pass where (and here's some lore for you) the most impressive waterfall in the Valley used to fall. The hidden falls trailed down from the western mountains and carved a deep lake and snaking river out into a forest. The forest is long dead and the lake is now dry and that's where Fire Town is. It's pretty fancy. I'm quite fond of the "lake of fire" pun I serendipitously arrived at through this system. The Curse town itself still looks the same as it always has - and the members that survived the pruning are the same members that always lived there. There are about a dozen other named Curses that exist in town, but it's hard to keep track of a bunch of named characters when there's no time to flesh them out.

Fire Town and Dire Lonato's current incarnation is relatively young, but I feel like its the way they were always meant to be. When you read the book see if you can spot fragments of these old locations in the current ones.. there are more than a couple bones buried there.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


So I'm done with the next 30 pages. I'm using the term "done" in a "I'm SOOOO done with this" sense. I know it's not perfect, but I've changed so much and worked so hard that i'm ready to move on. I'll go over it with the spit polish when I'm done with the rest of it. Part of it hurts my heart - since I have an ingrained sense of perfectionism when it comes with my book - but its time to move on.

I'm on to the next 60-90. I have just as much work to do on these as I did looking at 30-60... these pages were written five years ago and my goodness are they showing their age. It's being made better, and that pleases me. I'm excited to move on to Water Town and getting the next leg of the journey behind me.

For those I've spoken to about possibly querying at the beginning of September I'm sorry to report that I'm not ready to do that yet. I'm going to save it until I'm ready for it to go out. hopefully it won't be THAT long.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Graveyard Wednesday

Graveyard Friday kinda failed, so I'm changing the rule to Graveyard Whenever.

I wrote this really sweet scene today, but I have to take it out because it's filler and filler is bad, so I'm putting it here, because it's sweet. Maybe someday when someone cares, people will find this section and a couple of the details will become fringe canon. Huzzah


They stopped briefly back at the Fiammetta's inn for supplies. The town gate sat wide in the wake of the mob who'd ransacked the barn and busted open the front door. Sharon and Kindle went in to pack and assess the damage. Cat and the Curses waited in the garage. Ildri sat with her head bowed and Aiden's arm around her back. Cat approached with a heavy heart, "Hey."

Ildri glanced up. Aiden eyed her steely, "Hey."

"Um," Cat cleared her throat. "I wanted to thank you both for being so brave. I know it's not easy..."

"It's not," Ildri said. "But you guys are right. The rest of the world is afraid of the truth but you're facing it. My mother has never been able to cope like that."

"It's a lot to ask of someone," Cat agreed. "We'll make the best of it. You'll see. It won't be too bad."

"Hey Cat," Peter called. He was standing near the broken stable door staring out at the ruined sculpture. "Take a look."

The square was covered in evidence of the fight, but was no longer burning. She checked the rooftops briefly for strangers but saw no one. Instead her eye was drawn to the plume of fire in the Goddess's amputated hand. The base was covered in red jewels invisible from the ground until it fell; a mournfully poetic detail meant only for God. "I still don't think I can do this."

"You can." Peter said. "You were meant to."

"Was I meant to leave a trail of hate and destruction in my wake?"

"Don't blame yourself for that," Peter said. "You're the messenger. People always try to kill the messenger."

"That pretty much sums up Fire Town." She griped.

"Yeah and look how well that worked out!" Peter nudged her encouragingly, "You asked for one Fire Curse and got two. We'll ask for a Water Curse and get a dozen. By the time we get to Wind Town you'll be beating them off with a stick."

"The Brushcasters will try and stop us." She said.

"We'll beat them off with a stick too."

Cat smirked up at him. "You're faith is unshakable."

"Of course it is," Peter answered. "I believe in you."


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fire Town update: 2

The hard work continues. I'm knee deep in a third drafting of this sequence of events. It's a complicated mess, but I know it's required. The hard part is making it interesting.

Some of the decisions I'm making seem like a stretch to the canon. I'm making excuses and coming up with awkward solutions to make the events fall in line. At what point does logic become lazy? When does watching people argue turn boring? At what point does "okay we'll do it" seem like a logical solution?

I'm at kaldi's right now. I plan to keep going. I'll report back when I can.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fire Town update: 1

Update on attempted rewrite:

Changes aren't as dramatic as I first thought.  I'm moving the focus from two minor characters who were bogging everything down just to prove a point.

I introduce this little Fire Curse girl: (seen here): to show how tragic it is for kids to be abandoned to different element towns. In previous drafts, Edana was more an adult than a child - forced to grow up and be the parent to her grief-stricken mother who is coping with loss in an unhealthy way. This was very interesting but stretched the time before we get to our first Curse Town out really wide when I needed the plot to start rolling on.

Intermediate plan was to make her cheerful and curious so as to give her the secondary roll of explaining both hers and Peter's symptoms in a colorful way. Her friendship then helps us get to places we couldn't before ... which was all well and good except I found myself stretching for ways to include her.In the end there was far too much emphasis on this tiny character we already know isn't coming along with us for the long haul. It was causing me a lot of stress so I decided to take it out.

New and updated plan is to make Edana very timid. Her mother is a force to be reckoned with... she's a conflicted person who needs to be developed far more than her daughter. I will use Edana to describe how Fire Curses degrade, but Isolde is the one who'll be doing all the talking and making all the decisions. I feel much better about this. It'll take some rewrites, but it'll put the emphasis in the story in a more adult place and keep stuff from getting too cute or confusing overall.

I'll report in again when rewrite on this section is finished. I'm salvaging most of it, I hope to report great success by the end of the day.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Possible rewrite: the trouble with Fire Town

The trouble with Fire Town is that it's a lot of talking and a lot of rehash. I'm wondering if I need to change it... all of it... and very dramatically at that.

This is a horrible time to come to this conclusion. I'm past Fire Town, I'm just putting the spit polish on it... but I'm discontent because It's boring. Its a lot of talking and exposition. The more I think about it the more I don't like it. This is bad.

So this is my new strategy. I'm going to dissect Fire Town out. I'm going to remap replan and rewrite all of Dire Lonato. I'm going to do it tonight and if I don't come up with something promising from the cobbled bits I've built then I wont continue tomorrow and I'll go back to my previous plan. I hope it works. I hope it'll work. I hope it'll work fast.

Author out.... see you all in the morning.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Elegant Solutions

I'm knee deep in the revising process. I've bounced the 30 off beta readers and I've got an editor lined up to do a serious once-over before I query. Color me terrified.

In other news I'm on page 50 in the draft as far as revising goes. I need to give it the read-aloud test to my faithful read-aloud betas, but overall I'm happy with what I've done. I wanted to give you all a taste of my latest victory! Because even though good news is sometimes boring, it's always welcome.

There's been a splinter in the back of my mind since I began this rewrite... it has to do with my villains. About halfway through the draft I realized that the Brushcasters have a reputation to keep in the Valley - they are revered as religious leaders and present themselves as the upstanding moral right. Some of the things they did at the beginning of the book for plot purposes didn't make a whole lot of sense in that context. One scene in specific is when the cast is on their way to Fire Town. Previously Cat was actively attacked by the Brushcasters in broad daylight resulting in the destruction of property and livelihood for tons of innocent people. Doesn't fit with the 'avatar of god' persona does it?

So to avoid attempted murder and vandalism, I tried to change the circumstances to make them attack her in secret. They set a house on fire to prove a point then leave her to take the blame - but even that felt out of character for these people who are used to having the whole world fawn over them and take their side in all things. This leads to the current rewrite and the elegant solution I titled this blog for.

First I'll set the requirements. This scene must accomplish three things - 1, We need to see that Trace can paint golems and what shape his golems take. 2, We need to prove that Cat is pretty powerless against a golem of any size, and that her magic - while useful - is not going to save her. and 3, Introduce Joshua and nurture the mystery that surrounds his character.

The attack did all these things in a clunky ill-conceived, plot-contrived kind of way. We see Trace paint a golem to attack/threaten Cat with. We see her struggle against it and Joshua saves her. It hits the bullets but leaves so many gaping holes. There had to be a better solution. The recesses of my mind have toiled on this for many months.

So obviously there can't be an attack... that's out of character. And probably there will be a crowd of people because Brushcasters can't go anywhere without a crowd of people assembling around them - so how am I going to hit my major points? Maybe Trace paints a golem as an example to impress or frighten Cat? That would work except she's already seen a golem painted in chapter 2... not only that but it was crafted by the most talented and skillful Calligrapher in the Valley, making it far more impressive than anything Trace can hope to make. Plus she's pretty pissed off right now and wouldn't stand by tapping her foot waiting for Trace to finish showing off. Plus its likely anything he makes as an example would stand there and not do anything which is does not an exciting chapter make...

So the golem is going to need to go berserk so Cat can use magic and Joshua can save her. Thankfully I've programmed a way for that to happen, but it relies heavily on people either messing with the actual paint (which is on the ground directly beneath the ten-foot fire monster) or someone actively attacking it. So what if Cat attacks it? She's pissed off that Trace is parading around like a know-it-all and flips out her magic to prove she's hot stuff too.

That solution sucks. Her motivation is to get she and her extremely fragile friend out of danger as soon as possible - yes she has no patience for Brushcasters, but she's not stupid. She knows her measly little water spouts aren't going to kill a fire gorilla and she knows that messing with them turns them into God's wrath incarnate. Not an elegant solution. Bad form.

So how do I mess up the paint? Maybe a child runs in? Another character we haven't met yet? A character we've already met? A wayward dog? An accident with the paint bucket? No. None of these are good ideas. No one is going to come near this golem, it's a wall of pure fire. No one is going to mess with the brushcasters' paint because they are holy and introducing some random child or pet into the mix just to screw with the spell is probably the most hackneyed idea I've ever had. No. Bad. Bad all around.

So at this point it was about 2am and I decided to sleep on it. The best ideas come to you after a good nights' rest. I turned out the lights and lay in bed when suddenly inspiration strikes like a prod to my brain.

What if it comes with him? What if Trace PAINTS A GOLEM OFF CAMERA and FOLLOWS IT TO THE SQUARE. Therefore he already has it - maybe he painted it for show? Maybe he painted it to help him find Cat's location... whatever! Point is now he has it and the circle to cast it is way over on the other side of town. CHA-CHING

So who messes with the circle to set the fire golem off? Well that solution is obvious. Who is here to make sure things go by my plan? Who is my tool to enact "god"'s will in this world? Joshua of course. If the circle is out of sight and no one is paying any attention to it then there's no reason Joshua can't skip across the rooftops and draw a huge X through the middle of it behind a guard's back?

This is fantastic - Joshua's involved, the golem going berserk is a perfect time for Trace and Paige to assault Cat with a little dogma, the locals will assume the whole thing is Cat's fault because she's being belligerent and they're stupid, the brushcasters have to LEAVE THE AREA to fix it therefore freeing Joshua to show up and do his thing without being caught - Trace hits point 1, Cat hits point 2, Josh hits point 3 and no loose ends remain.

It is a supremely elegant solution... and it rose from the inside of my world to knock me on the side of my head. These moments are what makes revising my favorite part of the process - I've taken something broken and made it amazingly better. I've tightened a loose bolt in the Threadcaster machine and now it's like clockwork.

So there's my moment of victory. As parting words I bit you remember my editor's motto - now's your chance to do it again better. And keep instances! I went all the way back to my second draft of the scene to pull inspiration for this new one - instances and copies along the way are extremely helpful, but that's another entry.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I've got my first 30 packaged and ready as far as I know. It would help me scads if I could get some beta readers to look them over for me.

If anyone is interested in volunteering please email me at I'm not sending it to everyone so jump on board if you're interested!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


So I've hit the 30 page mark in my revision pass and now I face a quandry... to query or not to query.

Kristin Nelson back at the Missouri Writers' Guild "Just Write" conference told me that if I got the thing revised really well she'd love to read my first thirty pages. I really want to get them to her before she forgets who I am, but I don't know if sending them now is a good idea or if I should wait to finish the rest of the draft? Because there's always room for improvement and my darn prophecy keeps being rewritten over and over and over again. I want it to be as perfect as it can be, but I also want to start this process moving.

If I do query now, it moves my success anxiety to a whole other level. I have full confidence this thing will succeed, there is simply no doubt... but I want it to succeed with an agent and a publisher. Sending it now is frightening because I can always make things better and I want nothing but the best to be reviewed by my choice agent. This of course marks a difference between the quality of the writing and the details of the story.

The writing is at a level I'm proud of. It's been reviewed well by peers so far and reads decent out loud. There's always room to improve or at least change it, but barring another year of practice I don't know if it's going to improve too dramatically with another pass. Even if I change details of the events, the story and writing will be about the same. So what's to lose by querying now except some sleep maybe.

Plus querying now would put it on her desk for the expected six months I could then spend revising and editing the rest of the draft. Even if I go back and change details in the first thirty pages she'll probably have revisions to suggest anyway, right? I think that's how it goes. Maybe it's a good idea to send it off in it's juvenile state?

OH but I'm nervous! I'll have to start really really working on my query letter! I've never written a query letter before...and I have no idea how to write one for an agent I've already pitched to. Do I say "Dear Kristin (or Kristin's assistant), I'm Jennifer Stolzer, I pitched you a book about Brushcasters and Curses, you asked for my first thirty pages please find them attached?" or do I query the old fashioned way and make puppy eyes hoping she'll say "Hey I remember you! Send me your thirty, I'ma ready for them!"

And I know everyone's scared of rejection, but I know my book is a good one. I'm confident in it and I love it... I know if it gets rejected I'll grow some serious doubts. I don't want to make a million dollars, I only want people to read it! I'll be alright with an ebook I guess -_- I'm dreaming big on this one though, and I don't often dream big. If you keep your expectations low you're less likely to be disappointed.

So okay, I'll query now. Well soon. I'll query soon. First I'm going to tie a ribbon around these thirty, sent them to some strangers and ask them to read and review. If they like then I'll send them... if not then I'll give them another pass with the suggestions I receive. I think it's a good plan.

What's everyone's thoughts?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Redoing things

I'd like to take a moment to expound on the great value of beta readers. Both readers and listeners. I've been reading the book chapter by chapter aloud to a good friend of mine and it has been immeasurably helpful. Today I had my cousin read the first five chapters to herself. This presented a completely different problem which leads to the title of this journal. I'm rewriting chapter 1. Again.

I know I said I'd never touch it once I was done - but it's my first chapter! I can't just let it be when I know it's flawed!  So I'm rewriting the first chapter again, which is timely since I didn't really know how to progress in the spot I was writing. I'll keep working though.

The goal right now is to have the first chapter rewritten quickly. I've already got a plan for how it's going to go down and I"ve got a lot of other work to do too, so this is necessary.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Off Topic On-Topic musings - Ghosts of Whitehall

Editing is moving along at a snail's pace. My goal of having it done by August seems very far away, but I've got to remind myself that the part I'm editing right now is the oldest stuff. The closer we get to the the end the more recently I've revised it and that's going to make things go faster and easier. In the meantime I'm taking notes and reading chapters aloud to friends and family for spot-checks.

In the meantime though I've been thinking a lot about my next project/projects - Runian, the prequel to Threadcaster and Ghosts of Whitehall, a separate IP I've been wanting to write for a long time.

Whitehall is going to take a while to research and such. I still need to organize the events in my head and nail down the character list. I know the basic gist of it; it's spiritual investigation from the ghosts' pov. That's barely scratching the surface but I'll spare everyone details for now. All I know for certain at the moment is that the main character is a 100 year old 8 year-old ghost named Victoria who must find a way to communicate with the investigators in order to save them from a furious poltergheist hellbent on destroying the Whitehall legacy including all souls both living and dead.

I'm basing the house extremely loosely on the Lemp mansion. Whitehall (the house) is going to be located in the Benton Park area and Whitehall (the original owner) is a brewer with a very successful beer company. I want to name as many of the characters as I can after famous St. Louisians, specifically the present-day people, where their monikers are more obviously homages than the past where they might be confused by the actual people. Plus I've got names already for a lot of my ghost characters that I'm not willing to change - namely Victoria, her century-old companion Lancaster the butler, his wife Moira and Whitehall itself. 

There are a lot of famous people from the St. Louis area I'm discovering. Not just the givens like Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams, but obscure people like Linda Blair from the Exorcist and Lance Robertson, the human and host on Yo Gabba Gabba (a show on PBS I've watched and ironically wondered why our children aren't normal).  In reality I realize that no matter how bad I want to name someone after local comic book artists and internet celebrities, I'm going to have to pick the semi-famous ones like Lindbergh and Shaw... (obviously naming someone Anheuser-Busch is being heavy-handed)

Then another idea could be to name everyone after the streets of St.Louis. I like this... because I finally get to name someone Spoede.

And Jamieson for that matter... boy it's gonna take a lot of work to put an "I" in that.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

First Edition of Graveyard Friday

Hey all. I'm currently engaged in heavy handed editing as you all know. I'm sparing none of the rod either, this thing is getting flogged to near death. Unfortunately this means that sometimes parts of the book I really like are forced to exit the draft; usually because it's rehashing previous events, slowing the pace or (and most often) is just another excuse for me to have fun writing dialog.

I usually like these scenes just fine, sometimes I think they're really fun, and to make the separation easier I cut/paste them into a separate Graveyard file I keep open nearby - which brings us to Friday.

I've decided to start what I'm going to call "Graveyard Friday". A moment for me to share with the world excerpts and blurbs of the book that haven't made it to final draft. Kind of a bonus feature if you would... an easter egg in case this thing ever gets published and people want to find cool behind the scenes content; and a permanent record for me when I want to relive a little of the editing process.

First Friday of June, 2011... I offer you all the first edition of Graveyard Friday: a scene clipped from the beginning of Chapter 3 when Cat and Peter are getting ready to leave Mason Forge, the only town they've ever known.

The cart was an open-air with a steel frame, foam-padded circumferential seats, thick rubber tires, and near zero suspension. It was drawn by a mare named Strawberry; a copper colored draft horse previously employed contour-plowing the terraces above the town. Probably the largest of the sacrifices; Cat wondered what Mason Forge would do without her.

She and Peter filled the cart with personal effects - most the essentials were already present, tucked beneath the seats and they could send back for any missing items once they had a free house and grounds to furnish. That didn't stop Sheila from putting things in boxes.

Peter, honey, I packed everything I can think of,” The curly-haired woman rattled down the front ramp with a stack of boxes in her arms, “I have clothes and plenty of bandages and the books you like...” Cat was sitting in the back of the wagon; Sheila unloaded the boxes onto her, and addressed her son, "Are you sure you have everything?"

He grinned at the new pile, “Pretty sure.”

"I don't want you to go without!" She noticed the greasy spatula in her hand, "Oh! The oven!"

She swept back into the house. Peter shook his head, "That woman..." Cat shoved the pile of boxes aside with distaste. The Earth Curse nodded to her, "You okay?"

Invisible but otherwise fine." She answered, "You?”

I'm staying positive." He reached into the book box to retrieve his well-worn atlas, "I never thought I'd travel for real. It's kind of exciting when you think about it.”

"Exciting, sure," She smirked, "You enjoy the ride. I'll be doing all the work."

"You volunteered," He reminded her, "Complain if you want, I'll just stand here turning to stone."

"You always ruin my pity parties with your extra suffering," She pouted. "I don't know why I hang out with you."

He could hear irony in the joke and replied in kind, "It builds character."

Here!” Mrs. Montgomery charged out of the house carrying a cardboard box between a pair of oven mitts. “I baked cookies for the trip.” She unloaded the box into Cat's arms, tugged her mitts off with her teeth and laid them on top of it. “You can take these for cooking." She reached into her apron pouch, "and here's a ladle and a colander. I don't know what you'll use them for, but you should take them just in case.” She added a couple more random cooking utensils then blew her nose and stuffed the handkerchief in the same pocket. “Mothers always send cookies with their boys leaving home, I didn't want you to feel unloved.”

Peter set the book aside and pulled her close instead, "With a mother like you? Impossible."

The Astons came down with the last of Cat's things. Her father tucked them under the seat and dusted his hands, "That should last you a while, especially if Lord Creven provides utilities.”

I'm sure there's a catch.” Cat said.

"No no!" Her mother assured her, "My sources say it's completely free!"

"Yeah, well," Cat folded her arms, "Your Book Club tends to embellish."

Her mother folded her arms as well, "I never embellish."

The women stared at each other a moment Peter and Raymond exchanged a knowing look over their heads. The Earth Curse sighed, he'd miss the place despite it all, "We should probably get going."

"You should?" Sheila peeped.

He squeezed her with his bandaged arm, "Goodbye Mom."

"Goodbye dear," Mona hugged her daughter tight, "Write often, I want every little detail."

"Try to get a plot far from town," Her father advised.

"We'll take what we can get," Cat said.

"And don't cast any spells." He prompted.

"Yeah we'll see about that." Cat spooled her loop of string around her wrist and gave her travel buddy a nudge, "Shall we?"

He nodded, "I'm driving."

"What!? No you're not!"

I am so.” He climbed the low step into the coachman's seat and pinched the reigns in his stiff hands, giving them a tug to prove he was capable.

Cat shook her head and conceded. "Fine fine." She climbed in behind and gestured dramatically to the road laid before them. “To Castleton!”


That's it for now! I hope you enjoyed!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Length Crisis (aka it's too long and I refuse to cut it apart)

So I went to a fabulous talk on Thursday. The topic was "Writing a Young Adult Novel". The speaker, Antony John, author of "Busted" and "Five Flavors of Dumb", did a marvelous job explaining the varied and exciting world of young adult writing. He convinced me that Threadcaster absolutely should be a young adult novel - it's straightforward and experimental and concise with teen characters and clean to slightly dark situations. He even signed a copy of Dumb for me with the encouraging words "I look forward to seeing your books".

So off I went home to start reading his novel, hoping a published YA would give me a peek into the "Authentic Teen" voice he said was so important. I learned a thing or two about authentic teens; they speak in incomplete sentences and use the passive voice (but that might be because the author is british), but they also like their chapters short. Like... five pages short. Then i noticed that the amount of words on a page is next to nothing compared to the amount of words per page in my Threadcaster document, so a chapter was more like two pages. Then I noticed his book was the same page number as mine... and with the difference in content per page...

... to add all the parts up for you, my book is too long. According to the notes I took at the talk, an average young adult novel is 40,000 words. Threadcaster clocked in at 140,000 words. that's 100,000 more words than is generally publishable, and that's a lot of words.

To it's credit, through editing only the first chapter i've managed to pare out 12,000 words... but the sheer size of the task is still daunting. This leads to three options - butcher the hell out of my book, split the book in to two or three volumes or ignore it and hope someone publishes it anyway.

Option one does not sound good to me at all. I can cut out redundant phrases, but to get that kinda word retraction I'd have to cut out a whole Element! If we skipped Water Town or Wind Town all together then maybe we'd get down to 60,000 words (after removing all of Zephyr or Lynn's dialog. We'd get more removed with Lynn). I've worked really hard building these relationships though... there's no one in there who is just kinda there and not serving a purpose like Nell was back when I decided to cut the Lightning curses.

Option two is not favorable. There is one place where the story could concievably break. It's what I call the "Wrench Scene" where I take us all in a totally different direction. The only problem with breaking there is that it's the bleakest place in the whole book... and ending a story with such tragedy would suck and most the second book would then be somber. Or maybe it'll be a good thing? Ending on an unexpectedly awful note might get people to run after the second volume as soon as they can to find out what happens. Then the second book I can spend more time getting to know Jared who has precious few scenes. It'd be a bit of filler, but it's easier to add content than subtract it.

Option three is what  I'm going to do for now. Who is to say someone isn't going to want to pick up a 100,000 word book just because they're a teen? I might lose some audience members but hopefully the pace and sense of adventure will drive them on. I have a whole stack of Redwall books on my shelf- those are YA and excessively long, so there's not rule saying it cannot be done.

I still have doubts about being able to sell the book to an agent though now that I know it's both a first novel and an overlength one. I'm really doubting myself and my work lately, I think it's because I'm tired and I've been so critical. All I want is to edit the thing so people can read it - I think when I hear feedback that is not my own I'll regain some of that confidence, because in my heart I know the book is good. I know the universe is interesting and the characters authentic, just as an author it seems stale and overdone.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Break Book: Good Omens

Good Omens: What I learned

On the wise advice of my good friend Kathleen, I took a break from Threadcaster to listen to someone else's author voice. In this case I chose two authors: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, both of whom I respect greatly, although only one of whom I have read previously.

First it needs to be stated up front that this cult classic has been lauded by many as their favorite book ever. It is, indeed, a fun book. I wouldn't call it my favorite though for the reasons I state below. I spent the entire novel comparing and contrasting to my own novel and trying to learn from it.

 The first thing I learned was the pacing. I don't know about Neil, but Terry has a way with long rambly worldbuilding, and the book tends to stop dead in places in order to explore some strange corner of it that has little or nothing to do with the plot. This can be a footnote on the history of something stupid or a side-character story that provides no content. I found this distracting while I read, because I thought about all the little plot culdesacs and dead ends i've deleted out of Threadcaster because it didn't move the story forward. I wonder if those things were better left in for the sake of color... these are best selling authors after all... or if they are better out so that the clock that is my manuscript ticks at the proper times. Good Omens as a whole is 400 pages long, but I'll bet fifty of those could be eliminated by removing details about telephones and strange nunneries.

Second I learned about character; The main characters are the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, two unfortunate immortals sent to keep tabs on the world by their respective generals. I call them the main characters but we probably only spend 50% of the book with them, the rest is spent with a great cascade of side characters that may or may have much use really at all. There were a couple that were employed cleverly, a couple that were annoying and useless, and a couple that had nothing at all to do with the overarching plot in the slightest. A great example is a demon named Hastur, one of two demon lackeys that meet with Crowley. Hastur was successfully dispatched during a cleverly resolved scene (I suspect one of Neil's) then left by the side. That would have been fine, but then we spend three pages later in the book bringing him back as a player in the already congested narrative only to ignore him completely for the conclusion. It felt sloppy is all... just another excuse for Neil to write about maggots. It's taught me to keep track of my named characters, their motivations and what they're doing. Hastur and a miriad of other bozos all have a lot of pages devoted to them, then no real role to play. Many aren't even a mistake to be included... they're just included past their point of usefulness. Shoulda left Hastur dispatched, it was better that way. Should have left Mr. S back at home, he was pretty useless. I could go on.. but I wont.

Third I learned about doing things for a reason. I understand that Adam was manipulating the world on accident when he raised atlantis and made aliens and tibetans, but they didn't end up having a thing to do with anything. Why were they there? Oh as jokes I guess. That's a lot of really epic stuff happening for the sake of jokes. Maybe it's a play on the British; that truly amazing things happen and they remark on the weather instead. I don't know. I just wanted the aliens or the atlanteans to come into play somewhere in the broad scheme of things... to be used, because they were really great tools! The same goes for stuff like the kraken, or Bealzebub and Metatron... stuff included that could have been used really well but instead were treated as one-offs and dismissed. What I learned is that people can see squandered potential... or at least I can. I'll try to make the things I include significant later on - at least if they are hefty things like gods of the underworld.

Fourth  I learned about passive voice and the difference between acceptable passive sentences and unacceptable passive sentences; the latter being the type that is hard to read. Its 'All the days they'd been having were good days' vs 'They'd been having a lot of good days'. Both are passive sentences but the second sounds more natural and pastoral, conjuring atmosphere. The first screams "IMPROVE ME" at me as loud as it can. The lesson here is not to worry about making sure all the sentences I write are active, just the ones that need to be. Plus variety is a big part of a successful narrative, whose to say a little passive voice is a bad thing? I also learned that rambling is annoying no matter how well it's written.

Finally, I learned the importance of resolution. It comes in line with the statement about characters above; there were a lot of tiny stories and threads weaving around... so many so that the conclusion seemed almost unfit for the novel. I was expecting something big where all the major players came in for their parts; making the celestial chess game complete. Instead (spoiler alert btw) it kinda ends with a certain 'mneh'. They just stand and talk about it, and the power of talking solves all the worlds problems. I realize this is kind of a joke because it's what every leader WANTS to have happen when entering conflict - speak about it rationally and arrive at a conclusion, but for the ending of a book it's kind of mundane. I'm with War when she said "I expected it to be grander", I wanted a real satisfying payoff for all the little trials and tribulations we've faced. It didn't have to be celestial war. It didn't have to be a balls-to-the-walls wings-out flaming-sword fight with the devil (Although I gotta admit I was real excited by the possibility only to be summarily dropped in cold water just when my hopes were up), but something more than just rubbing a couple computer screens, poking some people and shrugging and saying "oh well". Then after everything is concluded they tease me with 20 extra pages of what I assumed was going to be an awesome twist but ended up as rambling epilogues (I am guessing I can thank Terry for). So this great story kinda peters out to nothing. After that long list of nitpicks, the real lesson I drew from it is make an exciting ending, but don't be afraid of writing the aftermath too. I kept reading didn't I? And ending sweetly or happily doesn't make your book any less of a cult classic.

What I really took away from the book as it applies to how I'll edit Threadcaster is to not be afraid of fun colorful stuff if it helps your characters or your setting. I've generally avoided bamboo-trap scenes (sit and talk scenes, see previous entries) like the plague, but the audience can stand one every once in a while as long as it is entertaining. I've also learned that small named character parts are totally forgivable as long as you let them vanish when it's appropriate. I learned anyone labeled as significant by tone or circumstance should do something to earn their keep, even if it's something like dying.  Finally I learned that the grand conclusion should be grand and the followup should followup nicely. I shouldn't punish myself for indulging a little of myself in the ending... the audience might be as in love with all these people as I am.

I also learned to read more Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, although Terry... Terry... you ramble my friend.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Celebration Art

I thought everyone would enjoy this. I put it up as a wallpaper as I finished off my draft. The cast gives me encouragement when I'm feeling discouraged. They held my hand through the finale!

Friday, May 6, 2011

It is done.

I'd like to officially record that May 6th at 9:30pm I saved and closed my laptop on a finished draft of Threadcaster. It's the first time in the history the story has existed in prose in a completed form.

It took me all day, but my good buddy Kathleen was there to give me support. She and I hit up Wired Coffee on Lindbergh from about 2 to close... I ran out of tea, battery and open hours at Wired all about the same time so she agreed to come with me over to Breadco so I could keep my head of steam. I was in the middle of a big emotional scene... my heart was just pounding.

We settled in from 6-9:30 while I forged on, pounding out all the scenes i've been playing over and over in my head. Like a doctor I gave the official announcement: 323 pages, 140783 words. Then Kathleen and I went to Cold Stone and got icecream.

Post-Mortem is kind of moot since I've still got a lot of work left to do on it, but I should give a report of my emotions and feelings and etc on this historic day... I'm proud and kind of drained, but I feel good. I think the ending is good, but I know it needs some work. I've written the thing three times in different places, every time second-guessing it. It was either too sappy or too complicated or just plain too long. This one has some great ideas in it and I think it's pretty powerful - I mean it got me going. you really get thrown on your ear there for a while and I hope everyone will be satisfied. I built a lot of layers of symbolism and stuff into it and tried to make it all pay off. I've got some stuff to weave back through the rest of it to give it stronger legs, but there's a time for that.

What really concerns me is the kinda tolkienesque rambling series of endings I lined up. I have certain things I want to hit - for non-spoilery examples say I want to make sure I tell you if THESE characters survived, where THESE people went, who THIS person is... and when I was drafting tonight I kinda breezed through it all in a desperate sprint to the finish. It's like going down the hill on a bike... once you get at a certain speed stuff starts feeling dangerous. You either keep riding with the momentum and hope you don't crash, or break and take jerking motions until you reach the bottom. I went for the momentum approach just because I was so desperate to declare the thing done. I have a LOT of writing left to do in the form of revision and editing (I'm actually doing some right now... just of the ending bit not back to the beginning. I had a thought about how to improve one of the rambles) First step though, I think I'm going to take Kathleen's advice and read through the thing without worrying just to get the pacing down. I'll probably try and read it aloud to myself to see how it flows and take notes on parts I feel are unnecessary or broken. Then I'll give it the refinement pass and pass it out to my beta readers... while working on Ghosts of Whitehall I suppose, or prepping the good parts for my Kristin Nelson pass (aka the "People don't actually growl and stop telling me she's sad" pass).

I'll start all that good stuff tomorrow. For now I'm going to fix/ finish my grand Cast photo and go rummaging through all my old plotting notes to compare and see what's changed. Maybe I'll do a side by side comparison entry when I'm done... that would be a lot of fun I think!

Anyway, the completion of the rough draft officially marks this: May 6th as Cat's canon birthday. That way I can celebrate yearly.

Love you all, thanks for supporting me in this. I'm gonna delete some fluff and go try and sleep off my separation anxiety. :)


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Home stretch

After the weekend's worth of writing I'm extremely close to finishing the first draft of this book. I"ve had it outlined for six years, prewritten for two, second or even third drafted for places but now, finally, I'm to the point where I can write the official and complete end.

This will of course be followed by a thorough rewrite, but there's no denying to significance of this upcoming event. I'll have a complete draft for the first time in the life of Threadcaster. I can't even tell you how strange it feels to be at this point. I'm excited.

I'll be writing at Wired Coffee in Lindbergh tomorrow. Maybe Friday as well. I want to be able to go to the St. Louis Writer's Guild's open mic next week and announce I have a completed draft. An official completed draft.

Current page count 310. I'll update again tomorrow with my development.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kill your babies

So I've spent the last week writing a scene I've been planning from word-one.

The scene involved a character introduced at the very beginning as a fun throwback to remind you of where we came from. She wasn't particularly important... but it was a fun marriage between the beginning of the book and the end of the book - and quite literally too.

I've been trying to write this scene for days, but as you can see from my title, I've decided to cut it. I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss what it's like to have to cut something you've held on to for so long... in homage, let's name him Charlie

Charlie took place in act 3. He was a scene about Cat, our main character, running into a woman named Isolde who we meet on the road to Fire Town. It ends up she's married a man who is the father of another character we meet in the second half. At their house Cat gets a disguise and a strategy for how to sneak into the Endgame, which will take place dangerously soon.

Charlie's first warning signs came with the inkling... the inkling that perhaps he was extraneous. I don't know how many others share this internal klaxon, but it's what I call the "library book sense" and it lives in the back of my head near the base where my spine connects. I get this sensation when it's about time for things to happen - like returning movies, paying bills or, of course, killing literary babies. Charlie started going on too long... I'd gotten to the point where it was supposed to be stressful and exciting, but instead it was feeling like a chore - like the book knew it needed to be doing other things right now, and that was the first sign that it either needed a rewrite or a purge. I'd planned too long to put this scene in the book, there was no way I'd purge it now!

So Charlie went to imagination therapy. This led to sign number two - character knowledge vs. plot requirement. I solved a large part of the prewriting problems by sending Cat in to meet these people by herself because there's no way she'd drag her four Curses into a dangerous Brushcaster-infested town with her for a menial task (delivering a letter) so I decided to send her in alone, something she might actually agree with. I presented her the situation and she started arguing with me. I even had the mysterious and powerful Joshua show up and tell her to go but she still didn't want to. Joshua doesn't fight with me, he does whatever I say. Eventually he basically told Cat "The Author wants you to go to this town, I'll carry you there." and she begrudgingly agreed but still thought it was a bad idea. It's times like these that you should listen to your characters, Cat had far more valid arguments than against following my plan than I did expecting her to follow.   Before rewriting the scene again, Charlie needed to be put though one last test.

It's the last-chance hazardous and highly difficult Double-Column-Graph test. I start with a blank piece of paper (usually in one of my idea notebooks) and draw a line vertical through the middle and put Positive on one side and Negative on the other. As you can figure, the two columns are for all the good points of making a choice and all the bad. The question was "Should Charlie go?"

Positives in favor of axing Charlie: 1, it keeps Cat and the Curses together, 2, It will add speed when there is speed and make room for another slow scene later when it might fit better, 3, Cat doesn't want to go and it makes sense not to, 4, I can eliminate this slack thread i've woven though the book.

Negatives resulting if Charlie is axed: 1, I don't get to use this recurring character, 2, We don't get to see the inside of Astonage.

There are obviously more positives than negatives in my graph, but that's not what necessarily what makes a successful graph test; sometimes there might be one point in the positive or negative panel that tips the graph in its favor even if it's the only thing in there. A great example was when I was thinking of getting rid of a trip to Joshua's house - originally the place was just a well of backstory that was stop and sit in for a couple chapters. This setup was awful and counter-productive, so the question came up about whether or not it should be removed. I gave it the graph test and realized that the value of going there (for reasons I won't mention) far outweighed any benefit we'd receive by skipping it, so instead of obeying the positive column I reorganized and reworked the whole latter half of the story to make it fit better with great success.

The second major red flag I got from the chart was the fact that everything in the Negative column was related to ME. *I* wanted to keep Isolde because *I* wrote her that way. *I* wanted to see Astonage because we haven't been there before. Cat didn't care, she didn't know a disguise and a solution to the problem was waiting for them inside the town, all she knew was that it was dangerous and a totally illogical course of action. A novel is supposed to be a slice of the characters' lives, the minute the reader sees the author in the draft they've left the narrative... don't do things out of character, it's poor form!

The decision was clear. I had to abandon Charlie to the junk pile. The lesson to be learned is; just because it's in the outline doesn't mean that time and evolution can't change circumstances and even if you've planned and provided for something in the beginning, the STORY is what counts. Listen to your draft, listen to your characters, don't force something just because YOU want it seen. Snip Charlie off, store him in your Graveyard/Grab-bag file and proceed without him.

Sometimes you have to kill your babies, but you can name them if it makes you feel better.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Real Life Intrudes

I am in an unfortunate rut.

The sad reality of the world is that only one soul can live per body. My body has volunteered to do a lot of work recently, and my soul is being stretched pretty thin. I'm experiencing the stress in various ways; I've got weird phantom muscle spasms and pains from time to time, I break down into emotional goo piles at random triggers, I have started swearing more liberally than I'm used to, and I'm excessively tired.

Despite all this I've tried to continue writing, but the part of my soul I use for Threadcaster is being wasted on other things. The time I can devote to it is fractioned off to other responsibilities - sometimes suddenly and dramatically. I've written a thousand times "I'd rather be writing", but this is the first time I've written and had no will to do it. Usually if I hit a wall or something I can jump back and revise a bit to restart my juices, but now no matter what I do everything feels forced and lifeless. Still I have to finish this draft. I have to write through the plot points and get to the end so I can start over from the beginning. There's no time to pity myself. I must keep going.

What has actually happened is that writing has become part of "work". It was never "work" before, it was always hobby - something I did for fun. Now that I'm trying to make Threadcaster into something substantial, I'm experiencing for the first time what paid writers feel when a deadline is coming up. I'll do it even if it doesn't come out great, I had a vision when I outlined it, hopefully the vision endures through my exhaustion.

I spent an hour writing two paragraphs tonight. I think they'll do. They're acceptable enough that I can go to sleep and assume everything will sort itself out eventually.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Town troubles.

I don't know how to write this next part. I'm bothered.

Last time I hit this wall I went back ten chapters and rewrote the characters. Now I still have no idea who they are or what they're doing because I'm having a hard time getting them motivated to do it. Cat shows up and does things... hurray.

I had two versions: the one where they meander through the desert kind of depressed and stop for a moment by the road to have a character scene, then evade a couple Brushcasters by pretending to be whiny teen runaways, and the one where they get caught in a dust storm and charge blindly into a dramatic event.  Slow version and Fast version respectively.

Benefit of the slow version is we have character moments. It gives us a chance to sort into our new roles in the group and shows Cat growing up a little and reacting bravely in the face of danger instead of uncertainly.  Drawback is ITS REALLY SLOW. It feels like filler and that's bad. When we get to Earth Town you feel like you're going through the Cursed Town paces like the last three we went to.

Benefit of the fast version is it's more exciting. It rockets us from one place to another without the boring travel scenes and introduces Earth Town in a huge exciting event. The bad news is that it doesn't give the Curses riding shotgun a whole lot to do. They're almost like other baggage in the wagon right now appearing every so often to have a conversation with Cat then vanishing back into the tent like they never existed.

Maybe I need a touch of both. Maybe I should salvage the stop on the path from the slow version and put it in the new version ahead of the big event. I don't know if that'll solve the problem or not. I really don't know anything right now, I'm so frustrated with the rest of my life piling up that it's throwing me off my keel.

I'll experiment with sorting paragraphs around. Revising always makes me feel better.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Allegorical Frustration

So I arrived at the conclusion last night that the swift downward slope to the end of this book will go much faster if the end is already first-drafted. I've had my big finale planned from word-one but that doesn't mean conclusions are easy. I've always been terrible at beginning things and ending things both in person and on paper.

Needless to say this passage might be a bit of a spoiler.

What's killing me now is I know exactly how this is ending. I know what's going to happen, why it happens and who it happens to. It's always been religious allegory, because I believe the forgiveness story of the Bible is the greatest story ever told - the very concept that someone would endure so much pain and suffering for the love of others moves me, and I wanted to write about that kind of relationship between people. Not to give too much away, but when Threadcaster comes down to brass tacks it's still a story about overcoming the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. As a result, the beautiful ending I have planned flirts really hard with line between literary and preachy. I learned at the writers' conference that writing a novel with an underlying moral is one thing, but using a novel as a vehicle for a certain message is another. To keep to the topic of allegory, if the whole point of writing the book is to show people that "Jesus is the Way", then maybe you should be writing a book about that instead of pretending to write a novel and stapling it blatantly on the end.

This is where my christian faith is causing me trouble. Yes, I chose to write an allegory because of the faith I have, but I don't want to sound like I'm pushing my readers into feeling the same. My book explores a fictionalized version of the time between the last of the old testament phrophets and the arrival of the first new testament prophet. Hundreds of years passed in the middle of these two men where the Israelites were left to sin and warp society without being told what to do by a messenger. The result was a corrupt church, an oppressed people and enough false messiahs to turn the whole idea into a fairytale. This is the world Cat and Peter live in, so how do I fall on the mainstream side of the religious vs popular fiction debate?

Perhaps I'm thinking too much about it. I'm so scared the reader is going to check clean out of my conclusion the minute the phrase "died for your sins" is uttered that I've twisted and bent all the dialog to avoid direct eye contact. Perhaps I should just straight up write my ending and let betas decide if they feel like they've been to church or not. I mean, like any author, I already know about this story and can see all the signs. Perhaps someone reading it for the first time will see a romance story first and an allegory second? Maybe they'll see comparisons between the Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Flies, The Chronicles of Narnia or one of the other supposedly religious allegories of modern times?

Really in the end there's no escaping the suspicion of religious allegory. If you search it on google you'll get articles on everything from Harry Potter and Star Wars to Halo and Toy Story 3. The fact that mine was one on purpose only makes the cloaking harder. I'm scared my twists won't pay off, my red herrings will fail in their deception, my characters will become archetypes and my audience will groan. I wish I could turn the religious part of my brain off for right now and stop analyzing every word my characters say to excess. That would make concluding everything a whole lot easier.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Missouri Writers Guild's "Just Write" Conference

I have a ton of stories from the conference this weekend but I'll do everyone a favor and keep this entry just to writing and Threadcaster.

I wanted to start with a retraction. Before the conference I wrote a huge entry about applying backstory, now I know better. I learned so much about craft and process at this conference! First lesson came in the first session At the Agents and Editor's panel, someone asked "Why do you all hate prologues" and the answer was this - they don't as long as they serve a purpose other than A, Lazy Backstory or B, Lazy Worldbuilding. I realized my prologue was both so out it goes into the Graveyard.

-oh and as an aside. Since I'm a big fan of revising I wanted to share a little method. Soemtimes it's easier to retract if you don't delete. I have a Threadcaster_Graveyard.doc I keep open. When I have large chunks of prose to eliminate, I write a title and where it came from, then cut/paste it into the Graveyard in case I need something from it later. It lessens the blow.

Back to the con - after the panel came the Nightcaps. I had a pitch the next day with two Agents, Kristine Makani of Blank Slate Press (A local small press) and Kathleen Ortiz who is interested in YA, but I was on the waiting list for Kristin Nelson so I joined her small group. All I wanted was to talk and be memorable, considering I wouldn't be pitching. As it ends up she's extremely nice and very down-to-earth.  A lot of people were treating her like she was made of gold and if they touched her hem magic would happen - but she was very sincere and human. We talked and asked questions - afterward I shook her hand and asked for a business card. I even invited her to the StLouis Writers' Guild's open mic starting down the hall. She declined of course.

At open mic I read a scrap of Threadcaster hoping to hand out promo cards. What happened instead was a cringeworthy trip through a sequence that desperately needed a rewrite. I decided earlier to bring it to Kristin's "Agent Reads the Slushpile", but now I had some serious work to do. I ran home to gas my prologue and rewrite my first two pages, removing as much pointless info-dump worldbuilding backstory as I could. The goal was to get Cat, the Brushcasters, and Peter all on the first page. It worked (although Pete was just a name-drop) and I saved and closed the thing at 2am.

I slept in the next morning and missed the first session. I also missed a call from the conference coordinator telling me Kristin had an opening for me! Sweet! But now the question was; do I put Threadcaster on the slush pile before I pitch her? What if she hates it and shuts me down? I decided to do it anyway - I went through the trouble of changing it up last night, might as well. Plus I know the story is great and the only reason she'd shut it down would be late night spelling and phrasing errors.

I went to the workshop. There were easy over thirty people in there and she only had time to get to eight entries (after all the disclaimer and paper rustling). The workshop consisted of an assistant reading the entries aloud and Kristin stopping her to share her thoughts on things that bothered her then tell her to continue or pick another. It was a window into her mind when she reads the slush pile in her office - rejecting 90% of what she sees there. I found her comments extremely helpful. It was great to hear the kind of things she likes and didn't like. I'll give you some notes
-1, Be mindful of your character and their relationship to the prose. We identify with character - if they are in trouble, don't concern yourself with describing small details in the setting. We care about what they care about and they care about the gun in their face not the flowers blooming ironically nearby.
-2, The same point with age. Even if your narration is not first person it should be appropriate for the age of your protagonist. If your protagonist is young, then they'll see the world in a distinctly polarized way. If your narration feels too adult it creates a disconnect between the reader and the character, therefore drawing us away from the people we're supposed to identify with.
-3, Show not tell. The way you phrase the action can convey emotion. If a woman sees the man she dated in highschool sitting with a hot blonde and a toddler we already know there's some kind of jealousy going on simply because of how the characters were described, we don't need the next line to tell us she's jealous.
-4, It takes one line to generate a clever turn of phrase. Be concise, tighten and activate your verbs. You can make the same point and not slow the story.

I didn't expect mine to be chosen; it was still web formatted at 12pt font with no title, totally pass-overable. At the five minute warning she pulled one last draft and read the opening line; "Cat sat on the front porch of her parents' house weaving a web of string within the cage of her hands". EEEK! The moment of truth! She stopped first thing and spoke to the crowd "I just wanted to say that that's a great image."

DoubleEeek. At that point I didn't care what else she said, I was keeping that phrase forever. She read most the first page (Didn't get to Peter), expressing concerns about my sense of space and world - all of which are valid. She stopped at the first sign of "Tell not show", when I put a phrase in specifically for the audience not the characters. Worldbuilding needs to happen as we watch the story and should not detract from it. Of course this is the lesson I learned yesterday so I totally and wholly agree. I'm going to have to rewrite a LOT.

Straight from there it was to pitches. Kristy was really into my story - like she really liked it and asked questions and things. I was feeling good, then she turned around and pitched her press to me as well. I consider it a win.  Immediately following was my pitch with Kristin. She was like "Hey!" and I was like "Hey!" and we talked about how it felt like we were friends after all the times we ran into each other. She asked me about my story and I'm like "You know something already! It was the last one on the slush pile!" and she's like "About Cat and the Calligraphers?" and I'm like "Yeah!" and she's like "You're going to revise it aren't you?" and I'm like "Good Lord Yes."

I told her a little more about it and she's like "Here's my card. I want you to go home and take your time revising it... don't rush it... and when you're ready query me, tell me we talked and I'd be happy to see your first thirty pages." to which I about exploded.

So Kristin Nelson is interested enough to read more on my story after a pitch and a half a page. I consider that an acceptance. I wish the thing was done so I could give it to her right now while it's fresh in her mind, but even if it was I've learned so much in the last 24 hours I'd want to revise it anyway. Anyway that's pretty awesome. A great day for Threadcaster, that's for sure!

My pitch with Kathleen was much later. She told me the age of my protagonist was a problem and I needed to make her younger if I wanted to appeal to the YA audience. I was resistant at first - I already  youngened her once, and I wanted to make a point of having a character that WASNT 17 because it seems like all the characters out there are 17. Not to mention i'd have to change Peter's age too, and then change the expiration date on Curses to keep him on the cusp, but in the end I decided it made sense. Cat was behaving a little young for 21 in a world without any higher education, and although it's weird to youngen Peter more, having the death cap at 20 helps encourage the idea that Curses have to live their lives in a wink when most of us consider them still children. So it's now canon - Cat is 18, Peter's freshly 19, and Curses die within their 20th year.

As for the rest of the conference, I made some new friends, I grew closer with old friends, I laughed and talked and told stories and heard stories - it was a wonderful experience and immeasurably beneficial. From now on Threadcaster is an actual job. I want to get it peer edited and to Kristin's desk before this time next year so she doesn't forget all about me, so if you'll excuse me, I've got a lot of writing to do.