Saturday, June 20, 2009

Encouraging news

A few days ago I received a request from another literary agency, one I had submitted three chapters of Kindred to right after the Mount Hermon conference in April. This time it was a request for the full manuscript.

Time to wait again, while Kindred is read and considered for representation. But the timing of the request couldn't have been more encouraging.

I was pleased to be able to say in my cover letter that since the conference I've lowered the word count by over 20,000 words. The total stands at 176K, and it's still coming down.

Thanks to everyone who sent me encouraging notes over the past two weeks, and for your prayers. I appreciate them more than I can say!

Also on the writing front, a new set of characters is talking to me! I'm gradually starting to divide my time between editing Kindred and plotting/brainstorming a new historical set in the Mohawk Valley of New York, just after the Revolutionary War. Some of the characters will intersect with Ian and Seona's story, much later on (if I ever write a sequel to Kindred). But this is their story, and as sketchy as it is at present, I'm excited about it.

I love this season when the characters and their story are starting to crack open, and I'm getting intriguing glimpses. As I posted on Facebook recently, I want to keep saying to my husband (who frequently gets to hear all about the voices in my head and what they're saying), "I swear I'm not making this up!" It's as though
the story is there, fully realized and existing, and if I stare at the bits that are showing long enough all the pieces start falling out of the ether and into place.

Of course, it's never that simple. But there are moments when it feels like it is.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Right Way To Wait

"Some of you have been coming here for weeks, months, years, decades, and it doesn't seem as though what is on your heart, what you've been believing for, what you know to be God's will, is taking place... is working out."

So began my pastor's teaching yesterday in our outdoor amphitheater. Those words went straight to my heart. They were the words I most needed to hear at that point in time.

From what I can ascertain from talking to and reading scores of interviews with published writers, my writing journey has been a longish one--going on 20 years, with some health challenges that, for a time, made writing more of a frustration than a joy. That journey took another unwanted turn into what seemed a dead end just 24 hours before I heard those words spoken by my pastor. While the message is still fresh, I'm going to do my best to paraphrase the heart of it.

He used as an example Simeon, in Luke 2, who at some point in the past received the promise that he would live to see Messiah's coming. At the time of Luke 2, Simeon was a very old man, 113, yet he waited and prayed in the temple daily, still looking for Messiah.

Often in scripture, when God has given a promise, there's a serious lag time between the giving and the fulfillment of that promise. Abraham waited 25 years, deep into his and Sarah's old age, before his promised son, Isaac, was born. Noah began building the ark 100 years before the flood. Joseph endured slavery and prison in the 13 years he waited for God's promise of exalting him to come to pass.

When God fulfills a promise, not only does it often take longer than we expect, but it often looks different than how we expect it to look.

It's easy to believe that over the years Simeon imagined various scenarios, anticipating Messiah's arrival and what that might look like. Perhaps he expected a warrior, or a political leader, who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression. Then one day a man and woman, poor, very young, came into the temple with their newborn son, Yeshua. Was this what Simeon was expecting Messiah to look like? Maybe so, maybe no. It certainly wasn't what many of his fellow Israelites were expecting. But there, at last, was the promise, and Simeon had the eyes to see it, embrace him, and rejoice.

"But God has ways, for those who have eyes to see, of coming into our situations, confirming that he is at work, that the promises are being fulfilled."

God's ways our not our ways, and he always gives his best to those who leave the choice to him (in my case: the choice of when I find an agent, which book is the one, which agent).

So how come God makes us wait so long? Why does he work the way he does?

As we wait, pray, worship and trust him to fulfill those desires, we're being changed. Even though my situation hasn't yet changed into what I envision it will be, I'm being changed into a different kind of person. A person of faith, a person of hope, a person of devotion, a person who knows how to wait on God's timing--the person I'll need to be to live out that promise, once it's fulfilled. Maybe I'm not that person yet.

All these things I knew, but for a few hours on Saturday I lost sight of them. I'm thankful for the timely reminder, and the comfort, of yesterday's word. God knows my heart, my dreams, my hopes concerning writing, and while I may not always like how long this journey has taken, the long wait before I can connect with readers, and while I may sometimes get tired, discouraged, and cranky even, I can rest in my soul as I take the next step. God's in control. My times are in his hands.

And if that wasn't encouraging enough, in my personal reading this weekend: "Then he (Jesus) spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart." Luke 18:1 (italics mine)

So this writing journey will take as long as it takes, and it will have as many turns and twists as it has. And I will take the next steps:

1. Continue editing the word count down as far as I possibly can.
2. Prepare to query more agents.
3. Brainstorm ideas for a new story set in the same 18C world as Kindred, featuring characters who will one day intersect with Ian and Seona's story, should I write the sequel to Kindred.
4. Read, read, read!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Editing progress

This morning I woke up with the realization that the last chapter I edited yesterday (which I trimmed down until only its vital (or so I thought) components remained) could be cut out altogether. Or nearly so.

There's one brief passage that must be worked in. There's a good spot for it in the next chapter, in the midst of action and dialogue, instead of as part of a chunk of exposition, as it used to exist. So, that's good. Dropping a small bit of exposition (two or three sentences) into the midst of action to explain one character's attitude is better than using it to catch the reader up during a lull (thus making that lull even longer).

There's another short passage I hope to work in somewhere, but as yet I don't know where. I'm pretty sure there is a place, but for now I'll leave it floating in blue text at the spot where it used to fall, so I don't overlook it later.

I'm excited to cut 2000 words off at a swipe, and I'm sad. I liked the chapter. It's hard to see it go. But I realized that nothing crucial happened, either concerning the plot, or the characters, that isn't done elsewhere in the story (and can be strengthened in those elsewheres).

So it goes. And I'm nearer to seeing the total count fall below 180K. I want to see some blue sevens by the end of the week!

I'm thrilled to discover that after so much time (over five years now) spent on this book and these characters, I love them passionately and am enjoying their story... yet again. I see the editing, hard choices, time spent evaluating every scene, every sentence, is paying off in a stronger story and more vibrant characters. Certainly better crafted sentences.

If I do say so myself. :-)

Monday, June 01, 2009

While I'm recovering

While I'm recovering from pneumonia, I decided to:

1. print out the first half of Kindred and have at it again.

2. make a list of everything that could possibly go wrong for Ian and Seona in the sequel. Not that I would make them go through it all. This is just early brainstorming. I need to keep researching the development of certain New York counties, to know what other options for Things To Go Wrong I might include. Sloppy and illegal surveying by James Fenimoore Cooper's father, William, is high on the list.

3. read The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass, to help in strengthening any weaknesses I can find (oh, slippery objectivity!) in Kindred.

4. watch all my favorite period movies. The newer Pride & Prejudice is set in 1797, which is just perfect for me in regards to the fashions. In listening to the director's commentary, I learned that he chose this era because those high-waisted Empire gowns--you know, the very unflattering ones that make even slender girls look pregnant--were not yet in fashion (though They Are Coming, as foreshadowed by Caroline Bingley). The waistlines were lower, more flattering. The reason I set Kindred in the mid-1790s was a fashion-related one, but it was all about the guys. I wanted Ian in knee breeches, not those tight-fitting trousers, which I find as equally unflattering as the Empire gowns. I also wanted Ian to have long, tailed hair, not the cropped, brushed forward look of the early 1800s.

The 1790s is a fascinating decade to me. Early in the decade fashions were more reminiscent of colonial styles, but by the end of the decade they were beginning to resemble the classic Regency look. Not to mention what was going on outside the world of fashion: frontiers pushing westward and native tribes fighting back; government taking shape; inventions that would change the landscape of the south; the first generation of "Americans" finding their way as adults in the world their parents fought to give them.

A very cool decade to be writing in.