It's pouring. My early Halloween memories involve trick or treating in a Florida drizzle. The weatherwoman vows the rain will clear by this evening. I imagine young students staring out school windows, fretting over that rain, the costumes they can't wait to wear and the sweets they'll gather in their bags. My thoughts are with children in the northeast where a massive snow storm just smothered fall decorations and clogged roads. Will they stretch their costumes over snowsuits and carry on?
Some of my neighbors outdid themselves decorating. Here's a few photos for your enjoyment.
Here in Florida, we have a cold front hovering to the north and Hurricane Rina whirling in the south. By week's end, one of them will claim the state. It's late September in my book and my protaganist is riding through North Florida. I had hoped to match her journey to real time so I could write the weather as I felt it. But last week, I accomplished exactly one paragraph and October is several pages away.
Truth is, Caroline Leavitt's review of my book's beginning affected me more than I thought it would. I had hoped her wisdom and insight would help me see the story clearer. It did. I hoped it would eliminate piles of rewrites that gradually address issues. I think it will. I anticipated a new font of writer's zeal, powering the story to its conclusion. That didn't happen.
I tried to keep writing the last few weeks, actually managed Chapters Eleven and Twelve while the first ninety pages lay in a mangled heap, moaning. I gritted my teeth and outlined Chapter Thirteen. The whimpering pages wiggled past my wimpy emotional barrier. They needed more than a bandaid. They needed surgery and they weren't willing to wait. My fingers stopped typing and my mind returned to Page One. Three days ago, I ran an idea for a new beginning past my husband and he proclaimed it brilliant. Yeah, he would say that but truth is, my ego really needed to hear it. It was the first step in healing the story.
Critiques are a critical part of creating our best work and I'm grateful for what I learned from Caroline's review. But I don't think I'll ever do another professional critique without a polished first draft. I've heard it over and over: Write the book first. That's a lesson, I'm slow to learn.
My photo this week is a small grove of young orange trees, covered in fruit ripening from green to yellow. In another couple months, they'll be lucious orange and juicy. Many of Florida's citrus trees were wiped out by pests and suburbia. As a teen, I rode through the groves of Central Florida. Orange blossoms used to sweeten the air in springtime. Now, it's hard to find that scent. That little grove gives me hope and symbolizes renewal. Orange trees survive despite insects and bulldozers, and so will my story.
My husband and I spotted this dementor/moss creature hybrid on our morning walk. I love the way its hair glows against the leaves. J.K. Rowling drew from her experience with depression when she created the dementors. She introduces the creatures in her third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban with Harry describing their effect as cold that reached inside his heart and Ron saying he felt he would never be cheerful again.
That sums up my mood as I dealt with Caroline Leavitt's review of my new book's first ninety pages. After almost two weeks, I've sorted her advice into: Totally Agree, Need To Think About It, and What? I can't find my story's start now. The emotional conflict departed with the first two chapters and the plotline driving the following eight chapters was destroyed. In other words, it's a train wreck. In order to continue working on the rest of the novel, I swept the wreckage into a metaphorical room and I'm not opening that door until the entire book is written.
But when that time comes, I'll want clear notes that help reconstruct the book's opening so I need to ask more questions. I hope I've recovered enough to respond to Caroline's advice with some objectivity. I like that she encourages questions. I imagine if she taught a physical class, there'd be lots of lively discussion. She has a good sense of humor . . . more Dumbledore than Voldemort. I'm not sure what I'll do with her suggestions that conflict with my previous learning. I was committed to that learning and its sources and I don't know Caroline well enough to toss it out. Maybe I need to shut the opposing views in another room and let them duke it out. I'm tired of wrestling with the issue and I have dementors to battle. Caroline offered advice from John Irving: If you don't feel you are on the edge of humiliating yourself or losing control of the whole thing, then what you're doing isn't vital. If you don't have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you're not trying to tell enough. I can't argue with John Irving.
That's a rain tree in bloom. In another couple weeks the yellow blossoms will morph into papery rose-colored seed pods, followed by an invasion of rain tree, seed-loving insects called Jadera bugs or soapberry bugs. The rain trees' brilliant show is one more sign Florida's easing out of summer.
But I digress. I should be writing about my mentorship. Correction. I should be working on the second hundred pages of my novel. I'd like to blame this lethargy on Monday. Truth is, I'm tiptoeing around my writer self, leery of undoing the flimsy bandaid that's holding her together.
Caroline Leavitt responded to the first ninety pages of my book with constructive criticism and a dollop of praise. She asked questions that drove me deeper into the story, addressed weaknesses in the plot and undeveloped characters, and encouraged me to ask questions. I digested the review and a few days later I responded to Caroline with more questions and some clarifying notes about plot and character motivation. So far, so good. Sure, hearing I started the story too early (meaning chapters one and two were trash) hurt. But I was feeling challenged and motivated and the story was growing.
Then, I got Caroline's response to my response. She liked some of the new plotlines and character development and she says this is a great story . . . at heart. Who doesn't want to hear their story's great? It's the caveat that worried me. That along with the rest of the comments that felt like they wiped out the other eight chapters I sent. It's amazing how fast the thrill of seeing ninety pages in print turns into the agony of imagining them shredded. I spent four days in a torrent, my brain spinning around and around the issues with no results. Yesterday, my brain shut down and I'm leaving it be. In the meantime, my story's stopped and I wonder, was this mentorship a mistake? Maybe I'm not ready for this level of criticism. I've only been writing for four years and my education's spotty. Maybe, I don't know enough to understand what Caroline's trying to teach me.
Trusting someone you've only just met with your book is hard. No matter how much you respect the person who recommended them and how shiny their credentials. When they ask you to put aside your doubts and believe in their instincts, it feels like jumping without a parachute. If their advice conflicts with what you've learned, you need a super hero's courage to jump from the plane. I've never worn a cape. Right now, I'm hiding in the bowels of the aircraft where no one can find me.
This week, my fingers are glued to the keyboard and my mind embedded in novel. (I fought off greedy words, phrases and sentences to get here!) So I'm ushering you to Julianna Baggott's blog where author, Kim Wright guest posted about her experiences with large traditional publishers, small presses and self-publishing. I found it very insightful and more helpful than the usual fare.
And below, some eye candy: Fall foliage taken blocks from my home. Proof Florida does autumn just fine, thank you very much.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. And creatures, always creatures. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor