Thursday, January 31, 2008

About that working title

Tomorrow I start (again) the editing of Kindred. Following the guidelines mentioned in an earlier post, from author/writing instructor Barbara Rogan (here's her new Next Level Workshop website), I'll print the whole manuscript off and read it. And I won't let myself succumb to the temptation to do a line by line. Really. I won't. Here's a brief rundown of the self-editing steps:

~ Put the novel away for, preferably, a month or more.
~ Read it over lightly to get a feel for the story's flow. Take notes. Do no actual editing.
~ Read first and last scenes to gauge the novel's arc. Did I start and end in the right place?
~ Follow the subplots, reading only those scenes in which the subplot takes place. Strengthen or cut them out if necessary.
~ Overall structure--does the tension level keep rising?
~ Themes: identify, strengthen and clarify.
~ Characterization: isolate each character, read their scenes through. Is their motivation constant and evolving?
~ Dialogue: pay special attention to each character's voice, word choice, rhythm of speech. Make them distinct.
~ Scene by scene reading: is it pleasing, is it shapely, does it draw the reader further on? Raise questions?
~ Language, the sentence by sentence fine-polish edit.

We'll see how this plan of attack works for me, and whether I find it easier and/or more productive to combine some steps.

But about that working title, KINDRED. Book titles are not subject to copyright. A search at Amazon.com for Blood Ties, for example, will bring up books by different authors sharing that title. Still, I'd rather have my own unique title, insofar as that's possible (with the making of books having no end, and it being a few hundred years since the printing of them began in earnest). The title KINDRED belongs to a published novel by Octavia Butler, and it is, in fact, where I snagged my working title sometime during 2004, the year I began writing Kindred (my Kindred).

Sharing the title (should a future publisher not go and change it anyway, which they are wont to do) would pose no problem really, had Ms. Butler's book been about banana boat men of the West Indies, say. But it's about slavery in the southern United States, and race relations, and blood ties extending across the color line. So is mine. Although that's about where the similarities end, they're strong enough, and Butler's book (a time-travel/historical) is well known enough, that should my novel be published I don't want to spend the rest of my career telling people, "Yes, Kindred is about slavery, but no, it's not that Kindred."

So for the past four years I've had my eyes peeled for a new working title--with the idea of leaving KINDRED as the overall series title, because it fits so darn well. I don't have a replacement title for Kindred (Book One) yet, although I have a long... long list of possibilities, or "in-the-ball-parks." Some have to do with the story situation, some with Ian Cameron, my main character. Others reflect various themes in the book--slavery (physical and spiritual), kinship and blood ties, being uppermost. A lot of them have to do with rivers, and crossing them (hence this blog's title).

I realize few have read more than an excerpt or two of the story, if that much, but a book's title is usually what makes me pull it off a shelf at Evangel or Barnes & Noble, to investigate further, when I know little or nothing else about it. A title is a first impression. So if one of these titles leaps out at you for whatever reason, post a comment and let me know which, and why.

My top picks from a very long list of possible titles, in no particular order:

Trouble the Water
Carolina Autumn
Carolina Road
Mountain Laurel
The Bones of Mountain Laurel
Canaan's Shore
There Is A River
The Wayfaring Son
The Leaf That's Blown
The Beautiful Shore
Wade In The Water
Rivers To Cross
Next of Kin
The Near Kinsman
The Wind-Drifted Branch
Coming Unto Jordan
Canaan's River
An Issue of Blood

I haven't tried an Amazon search for all of these titles to see if they're in use, and if so attached to what sort of book (though some I have), but again, if one of the above piques your interest, do let me know

January has been a surreal month. For the past four years I've lived and breathed Ian and Seona's story, never taking more than a week or two off at a time for travel/vacation, even then weighing down my suitcase with notes, printed scenes and research books, to be working on in my free time. I've missed Ian and Seona (and Lily and Thomas, John and Cecily, Malcolm and Naomi, and Judith), and find it a good sign how eager I am to get back to them, to immerse myself in their small corner of the late 18th century.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Artwork: good, bad & ugly

For Beth and Sallie, who wanted to see.

A large, older painting (pre 1993). 20x24, if I recall. I still like the wolves. Not so much the composition or setting. They look like they're grazing, for crying out loud--and what was I thinking with that distracting wispy mist in the background? Probably just being lazy!



My most recent attempt (2002 or 2003). 5x7 portrait of a chicadee. Now hangs in a home in Jerusalem, Israel. My tastes have gone from the big and overly dramatic to the small and intimate. Bird by bird, so to speak.


And the drawings I did this month for the first page of BEAR COUNTRY (and all I plan to do!) in a rough, collage-type mock-up.



Text for the above page from BEAR COUNTRY, Copyright 2008 by Lori L. Benton (all rights reserved, etc.):

One day near summer’s end, a teddy bear named Palister and Sarah Jane, his child, had tea with The Queen of England on Sarah Jane’s bed.

Right in the middle of their second cups, Sarah Jane’s parents came into the room.

“We’re going on a family trip,” said her mother.

“A camping trip,” said her father. “In the wilderness.”

Sarah Jane set down her tea cup and gave the bed a little bounce. “Hooray! I love camping.”

“We know!” said her parents.

“This trip will be a special adventure,” her mother said. “It will be Palister’s first camping trip.”

Palister didn’t know what a wilderness was, but he knew all about adventures. After all, he had fought a dragon and rescued Sarah Jane from a high stone tower. He had sailed a ship on the ocean and battled pirates by her side.

Of course, the dragon and the pirates were pretend. The high stone tower was really a tree house. The ship was a porch swing.

Sarah Jane bounced again. Tea cups clattered. Palister flew into the air and landed on his head in the pillows. The Queen of England remembered an important engagement, and dashed away.

Sarah Jane turned Palister right side up. “Did you hear, Palister? We’re going camping!”

Yes, Sarah Jane, I heard, Palister said in his heart. He didn’t know what camping was, either, but it was clear that he and Sarah Jane were about to have another great adventure.

And no more pretending about it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

One-Book Meme

I snagged this meme from writer Kaye Dacus's blog. Feel free to snag it for your own.

1. One book that changed your life. Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead, first book in his Pendragon (King Arthur) series. It wasn't the first fantasy I read, but it was the first with a historical Celtic (in this case Welsh) cultural basis. It inspired a lifelong fascination with Iron Age, Roman and Romano-British periods of England, Wales and Scotland (evidenced by my Bucket List), which in turn has inspired and/or influenced everything I've written since (excluding the teddy bear story....).

2. One book that you have read more than once. Obviously there's more than one, and very hard to choose, but I'll go with An Excellent Mystery, by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter). I have this book in her Brother Cadfael mystery series on tape, and I can listen to it over and over for the beauty of the language, as well as for the story. Of course it holds no mystery for me now, yet I find it as moving no matter how often I listen/read.

3. One book you would want on a desert island. Because this is a One Book meme... my Bible, hands down.

4. One book that made you laugh. To Say Nothing Of The Dog: or How We Found The Bishop's Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis. Time travel set largely in Victorian England. Just read it. Please. Better, listen to the Recorded Books, Inc. version.

5. One book that made you cry. Taliesin—by Stephen Lawhead. No spoilers as to why.

6. One book you wish you’d written. Another tough choice. Titles are swirling through my thoughts. Snagging one more or less at random: Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers.

7. One book you wish had never been written. I don't think I've read a book I feel that negatively about. The last book that made me wish I hadn't wasted my time reading it was The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.

8. One book you are currently reading. The Brother's Keeper by Tracey Groot (author of Madman, which won the latest Christy award for historicals; I am really, really liking this author's work).

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read. Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts. Because of the setting, the Mohawk Valley of NY, where my KINDRED characters look likely to end up... eventually.

Monday, January 14, 2008

About the teddy bear

I wrote the first half of Bear Country in the late 1980s. It sat untouched for quite a number of years, until I went back to it sometime in 2000 or 2001 and rewrote that early version, and finished the manuscript. Every few years I've taken it out of the "drawer" and given it a buff and shine, thinking I really should do something with it. Shop it around again. Something. I once paid a chunk of change to have a childrens book editor give it a thorough critique. She liked the concept, but wanted to see the character as the hero of a series of books for beginning readers. I fiddled with that idea, plotted and brainstormed, but could find no real or lasting passion for it. Back in the drawer it went while I spent nearly four years writing KINDRED.

Now it's out again, and I still have the hope and passion for the story I had twenty years ago. Yesterday I shared some scenes from BC with an on line acquaintance who posts here on this blog. After hearing her children's responses to the excerpt (their ages are 6, 9 and 11 and they all liked it very much *s*), I'm once again feeling that longing to DO SOMETHING with this story.

Over the past few days I've had an inspiration for creating a simple discussion guide for parents to use with children. There are many biblical themes in BC, although God is never once mentioned. I never tried to market this book to the CBA publishers, because of that fact. But if I were to create a discussion guide, focusing on those themes, with verses, questions.... Well, nothing ventured, as they say. And it'll keep me busy this month while KINDRED continues to sit on the back burner.

I've been very good in that regard. I've jotted down a few notes, editing ideas, but I haven't opened the file, or read a single word.

Monday, January 07, 2008

All's Quiet

All's quiet on the editing front. I'm letting the manuscript sit for a month, as I should have done during December, but didn't. My bad. So, I don't have a whole lot to be journaling about during this time, since I'm also doing my best to not even think about Ian and Seona and Thomas and Hugh and Lily....

I miss them.

Meanwhile, I dusted off an older, finished manuscript to give it a read through and polish. It's a children's story called BEAR COUNTRY. For years I've toyed with the idea of illustrating it, just for my own amusement. I've been doodling sketches and working on a mock up of page layouts. It's something fun to fill up the time I would otherwise be writing/editing KINDRED each day. Good to be doing art work again.

In another life, over 15 years ago now, I was a professional wildlife artist (a real Robert Bateman wanna be). Then the writing bug bit, around 1991, and I never could shake it. Except for the occasional small songbird portrait, painting has fallen by the wayside. BEAR COUNTRY bridges those two passions of painting and writing, and is, in fact, the story for which I began writing as an adult. It came to me during, or right after, my first trip to Montana (bear country) in 1987 (back then I was an east coaster).

BEAR COUNTRY has been with me a long time. Like everything I write, it's really too long for its intended audience. I did send it around to publishers, once upon a time, and got some glowing rejection letters, but no bites. After having a professional editor take a look at it and make some suggestions, which I wasn't sure at the time I really wanted to follow, I set it aside and began work on KINDRED, which I'm not meant to be thinking about....

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

It Never Fails...

It never fails. When I need direction along it comes on the Writers Forum, and sometimes I don't even need to do the asking. Jennifer H., bless her, started a thread on the revision process a couple days ago, asking members to chime in on how they go about it. And Barbara Rogan--bless her every bit as much--gave us the short version of the revision process she has used for her previously published novels (8 to date), and which she teaches in her online writing Workshops. The list is methodical, which resonates with me, a methodical girl at heart.

Her revision process begins by addressing the big issues--opening, ending, subplots, structure, tension level--issues I've been attempting to tackle in KINDRED over the past few weeks. I'd add pacing to that list.

Then themes are examined, strengthened and clarified.

The list of edits goes on, from the macro to the micro (sentence by sentence language level edit being the final polish).

However... before any editing begins, the novel is put away out of sight for a month or more. I sorta-kinda skipped this step with KINDRED. I say kinda, because my cooling off time was something closer to a week. Even before I read Barbara's post today, I wondered if I should have left it cooling longer. I wonder that even more now.

Back to Barbara's revision method: after the cool off period comes a read through of the entire manuscript in hard copy, "to get a feel for the flow, or lack thereof, of the story." Another step I skipped.

And since I'm struggling with these opening chapters, I'm considering backing off a bit and giving the story a read through in hard copy. Resisting the urge to edit as I go. Marking spots that obviously need attention. Taking notes for revisions, but not doing them until I reach the end.

Perhaps I'm only desperate to get away from these first chapters for a bit....

** *

This post sat in draft for a day. I've since had new ideas for how to proceed with Chapter Three. I still plan to print off the whole manuscript and read it through, sans editing, before I do too much more hacking and rearranging of the early section.

All in all I'm feeling much more optimistic today. Nothing like a dose of direction to lift the spirits.

Happy New Year all!