The Glaring Problem With My Book

You guys. I am so excited. I can hardly contain myself. Something wonderful happened this morning and I have to drop what I’m doing to tell you about it:

I found out there’s something dreadfully wrong with the climax of my book and that I have to completely re-write it.

  • It lacks tension
  • There’s nothing at stake
  • We already know the outcome
  • Everyone–all my betas AND Carey–wants to stop reading right before the exciting stuff happens
  • The exciting stuff isn’t all that exciting

Carey got up early* to tell me all about it this morning, so instead of working on edits in my book, I listened to him elucidate all the reasons why, ultimately, my book fails.

Isn’t that great? Doesn’t that just make you feel all squishy and wonderful inside?

Yes, I’m serious. No, I’m not completely insane (well, maybe, but that’s another topic entirely). Let me explain.

I woke up this morning reeeeaaaaally not wanting to write in my book. My alarm went off at 5am like it does most mornings, and I turned it off. Sadly for me, I accidentally hit snooze, so it went off again at 5:08. Sigh. I got up, and then procrastinated for nearly an hour before opening my book file.

I’m working on edits on chapter twenty and following. Chapter twenty is where everyone–Carey and all of my betas, among those who basically like the book, stopped reading. (Not everyone who received an early copy of my book loved it–those who didn’t, stopped reading much sooner, per my instructions–and I thank them for their honesty. Luckily, enough of them did love it that I have faith that it’s basically a good book. With problems. Obviously.)

When the first reader (Carey) stopped reading at this point, I assumed he just got busy. He’d pick it up again soon, I figured, and wouldn’t be able to put it down until he was done.

He didn’t finish the book for almost six months.

Maybe a fluke?

Except that the book had gone out, by this time, to several other readers and they all said variations on the same thing: “I started wanting the book to wrap up around chapter 20.” “I’m so sorry, I got busy and haven’t finished the book–I got to chapter 20.” “I’m at chapter 20 and I’ve got to take a break. I’ll come back to it!” The kids stopped asking me to read it aloud to them right around… chapter 20.

Maybe not a fluke.

So, chapter 20 is what I was slated to start on today, and I had no idea what to do. I thought maybe I could just cut a bunch out, make it short so people wouldn’t feel so burdened by having to read it.

I cut 2,000 words before I realized the stupidity of that approach. I mean, I’m not knocking brevity, but I don’t want people who read my novel to finish it by giving themselves pep talks: “Hey, at least it’s not that much longer, man. Keep trudging! We’re almost there!”

I want the reader to be sorry it’s over. To wish it were longer, not shorter. To sit in stunned silence staring at that last page and thinking, “Oh my gosh. That… was… amazing. I can’t believe it’s over.” I want the reader, when he has recovered from his shock, to get on Facebook and post links to my book on Amazon. I want the reader to post memes.

bookfession1

April-25-2013-22-42-38-books

So I sat and stared at my screen, with no clue how to accomplish this end.

Then I distracted myself with blog stats, and aimlessly Googling “What is wrong with my book?” (Which, by the way, yielded this, which is a really raw and beautiful read and also thoroughly depressing for someone who is recently convinced her book sucks, so you know, check it out…?)

Google, by the way, is a miracle-worker. Google helps with research, sure, but Google is so much more. Google is like the great Problem Solver. Sometimes Google helps me through my depressions (omg, Google is all-knowing, all-seeing, benevolent, and starts with the letters G-o… I think I’m having an epiphany… no time for epiphanies right now, crazy brain. Stop it!).

One of the links Godgle (I just invented that word. I’m a genius) served up was to a Writer’s Digest article that turned out to be a useless piece of twaddle, but it had the word “tension” in it, so it wasn’t a totally wasted click.

And “tension,” it turns out, is exactly the word I needed to hear.

There’s no tension in chapter 19, chapter 20, or most of the following chapters of my book, until the very end, and even that tension is weak and un-compelling. The problem? I suddenly go soft on my characters. I let nice things happen to them. They get comfortable.

This is all very nice and fuzzy for them, but not very interesting for the reader. If you’re a writer, you don’t get to play Mrs. Nice Guy. You can’t afford to.

This insight was very exciting. I did as any considerate person would do under the circumstances, and didn’t wait another moment to share my insight. I ran into the bedroom, switched the lights on, and shouted at Carey through the protective shield his arms had inexplicably formed over his eyes:

“I think I have to leave someone behind, so there’s more tension!”

Carey is something of a miracle to me. He doesn’t always follow my sudden non sequitur leaps but when he does, it’s 5:45am and the overhead light is burning his eyes out. “In the lab?” he said.

“In the lab. Like Hedi or somebody.”

He smiles wryly, “It wouldn’t exactly raise my tension if you left Hedi behind.” He doesn’t exactly like Hedi.

Well. Crap.

“But you’re right about the tension. It’s not there.”

Well. Crap.

And then he proceeded to tell me all the reasons why not.

Well. Awesome.

No, really. Awesome. You see, understanding what is wrong with it, in detail, is how we figure out how to make it better. And we did.

We came up with two critical changes I can make to ratchet up the tension without leaving Hedi behind. Which is awesome because I happen to like Hedi (take that). Also, leaving her behind would require massive re-writes, so, yeah.

It’s not the first time Carey’s brought my attention to glaring problems in my book. Because of him, I had to completely rewrite every single chapter containing my main character, seeing as how the main character sucked. It took a long time and is one of the primary reasons the book has taken almost a whole year to get to this point. It’s also one of the primary reasons the book is as good as it is. Carey’s insight made my book awesomer.

This time, the changes are mostly just rearranging things so that the reader finds things out in a different order. So they’re left wondering about things they actually care about. These changes won’t be all that time-consuming.

Oh, who are we kidding. There will be massive re-writing. But we’re all pretending, right now, that this is a minor thing. That this will just take a few days. WE ARE ALL PRETENDING THIS RIGHT NOW.

It will actually take several weeks, maybe months… 

And when I’m done making these little, bitty changes, the ending is going to explode like a bomb. The sort of bomb that makes readers go, “Oh, wow. Holy crap. That was good. I want moar.” And then they will beg for it to be made into a movie, loudly and persistently until it actually happens, and I will live happily ever after as a wealthy full-time novelist writing Big Important Books.

They will post memes.

hangover

Or, if that doesn’t happen (but I’m sure it will), at least my book will be good. The best I can make it. Which is really all any of us can do.

So of course I’m excited. I have a partner who loves my book, and clearly sees what’s wrong with it. Who is willing to tell me what’s wrong with it, in detail, fearlessly and without apology.

This is a priceless gift.

Omg. It needs a meme.

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*In this context, “got up early” means, “was unjustly awakened before he was ready and then worked with me even though he had other Big Important Things to do.” I love my husband.

What Do Your Dreams Look Like These Days?

There’s a woman up against a wall. Facing her is an old man, a beggar. He’s huge and ragged and bloody, and he’s just gone on a rampage and killed all the men in her banquet hall.

And now he wants to talk.

He’s saying crazy crap, talking about her son, and monsters, and gods.

She thinks he might be her dreams come true at last. Only, he doesn’t look so hot.

Do you remember that scene? I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since I read it as a teenager. Odysseus comes home after twenty years to find his house overrun by men trying to steal his wife and kill his son. He’s faced monsters and witches and angry gods, and now that he’s finally home he’s got this: Rude guests.

That’s what growing up is like. As a kid, you think life is going to be all big glorious battles, important challenges, and working hard for your dreams: The great odyssey of your life. Maybe you even have some of those adventures. Then you grow up and realize life is mostly laundry and what to do about the rude guests messing up your banquet hall. I mean kitchen.

So here’s Penelope, and for her it’s been *all* laundry and rude guests, and in comes her husband, late as usual and caked with mud from his exciting adventures, and no wonder she’s sitting against the wall trying to decide what to do with him.

Lately I feel like Penelope, up against that wall, staring at this big ragged hulk of a thing in front of me. It’s saying crazy crap, talking about my sons, and my book, and God. I think it might be my youthful dreams come back to me, and they’ve been having an awfully exciting time without me.

Of course Penelope didn’t know what to do. She’d been bogged down for twenty years in drudgery, entertaining guests, protecting her son, and attending to clothes. It was hard to believe the miracle she’d been hoping for had actually shown up. And he didn’t exactly look the way she remembered him, either. Well, maybe a little, if you could get past the blood. Could she trust him?

Penelope did ultimately figure it out, what with her brilliant intellect and all. It helped that Athena cast a glamour over Odysseus right about that time, making him taller and goldener and “crisping curls”ier. Didn’t hurt a bit. Convinced at last, Penelope threw herself into his arms.

The Embrace

But what about me? What am I supposed to do with this thing in front of me–my book, my business, my family, these ragged things that look like they *might*, if you can get past the blood and sweat, look a little like my youthful dreams? I’m not as clever as Penelope, no olive-trunk-bed tricks up my sleeve.

And last I heard, Athena quit her job as a glamour caster.

And what about you? Has life turned out the way you thought, all adventure and excitement? And has it paid off like you expected? Would you recognize your youthful dreams if they showed up in your banquet hall covered in blood and asking you to embrace them?

Well, maybe this thing in front of me–my almost-finished book, my on-the-cusp business, my half-grown family–doesn’t look quite like I expected. Be that as it may. What with Athena having quit her day job and all, I guess if somebody’s going to polish these dreams up, it’s gonna have to be me.

Embracing.

P.S. I’m at page 149 of 294 in the final edits on my book before submission. The halfway point. Yah, still kinda sweaty and ragged, but it’s starting to shine just a little. Maybe.

P.P.S. HEY. I’m nearly at the halfway point in my 30-Day blog challenge too. Halfway points suck, btw. All slog no glory. Embrace, Heather. Embrace.

The Pinnacle of Achievement

One: My first novel is out at beta, and receiving overwhelmingly positive first impressions.

“Unique and intriguing,” “A page-turner,” and “Wow” seem to be the primary responses. It may not mean much in the big scheme, seeing as the comments come from friends, but it feels good. And I do trust their judgment, or I wouldn’t have sent it to them. There was that one reader who said, “I’m confused,” and that’s okay too. (Love you, Lisa!) There’s also plenty of good, meaty critical feedback to help me make it better.

I’m reading it to the kids as well, and that’s fun.

I’ve started some minor revisions, like replacing all the wordy dirds with fake language. It came out rather nicely. In fact, the replacements seem to carry more weight than the original actual swear words, so that I ended up toning it down and removing portions of it to keep it from being too heavy.

When I told Monty, who is among my book’s first fans as well as a valuable beta reader, that I had invented a new swear-word language, his face lit up: “I love it when they do that!” he said. Apparently, Michael Vey does something similar. I guess I’d do well to pick up those books and read them. Monty has all of them.

Two: My Query-Preparations are Going Well

My query letter is more-or-less ready, and I’ve started studying agents. I’ve picked out a few who seem like good candidates. I like what they have to say about what they’re looking for, they’ve got strong, relevant client lists, and have had success placing books at good publishing houses. I’m just beginning to look, so I’ll keep adding and prioritizing candidates until I’ve got a good short list.

Three: My book keeps getting better.

Reading my first book aloud to Monty & Eli is deeply satisfying and helpful. They keep pointing out places it can be better, like the endings to several chapters where they’ve said: “Mommy, take off those last few sentences and just finish the book right at such-and-such sentence.” They’ve been right every time.

We’ve also found places where the narrative slows down and can be tightened. Segments removed, chapters conflated.

 

Four: My Next Book Has Begun

Slave Chip is coming along well. I’ve written tons of back story for the main character, who is fleshing out nicely as someone interesting to read about rather than the cardboard caricature she started out as. I’ve written a couple scenes that might even make it into the book–like the one where she meets a slave trader and he flirts with her in a totally unexpected way.

Five: I’ve Been Asked to Beta Read For a Nationally Best-Selling Author

The last time I beta-read a book, it was for someone at Ernst & Young that I worked with in 1999-ish, and the book was terrible. Just awful. This one is not awful. It’s quite, quite wonderful. The brevity of this paragraph does not do justice to its wonderfulness. It’s just that it’s hard to keep my mouth shut about it and if I go on too long I might spoil Things. So that’s all. Just, it’s wonderful.

Six: None of That Matters

I have a teenage son. That, in itself, is an accomplishment. I mean, he’ll be a teenager tomorrow. It feels good, primally good, to have a strapping young lad for a son.

But if you’re wondering what I mean by the “pinnacle of achievement” in the title of this entry, then I must tell you, it’s None Of The Above. It’s this:

Monty, age 13 (nearly), at the dinner table: “You know, Mommy, I was thinking. You run your own business, and you wrote a book that’s just as good as anything else I’ve read.”

Thanks, son. I appreciate that.

“Well, You’re pretty cool.”

Yup. My teenager said that. That, dear friends, is the pinnacle of achievement.

THIS son. The one who took down his first prey on his first shot and carved it up to stock his grandparent's larder for the winter. Yup. That son.

This kid, the one who just bagged a deer for his grandparents, thinks I’m cool.

So The Book Is Done

This happened the day after Christmas, but I had a crappy internet connection so it didn’t get posted. And then I got busy.

It came out at 77,000 words (roughly) and is now out at beta. Positive response so far. So that’s good.

And now I’m working on my query letter, and researching agents, and then I realize: I can’t actually do anything else right now. I’m awaiting feedback. Until then… nothing else to do.

(I wrote this several days ago and then didn’t post because… I don’t know. Here it is. I’m not even going to finish it

I Suck, Say My Characters to Me

We are never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever going to finish this book. Despite my jubilation yesterday, it is never going to happen.

We added a new chapter today. Yes, “we.” Remember–me and the characters. I was going to say “my” characters but they’re their own now. I just built the bridge that brought them here.

So Semantha (she’s the cave city girl, in case you don’t know) pointed out that there’s this gaping hole between what happens to her in captivity and when we next see her in glorious battle. I explained, gently, that I patched the climax together the first time, then had to rip it apart and re-stitch it the second time, and then figure out a denouement. I know it’s rough, I said. But I’m doing my best.

Well, you’re doing it wrong, she says, and rolls her eyes. Just stop. Give me the keyboard. Yeah, thanks.

So now the book is three pages longer. And we’re ten pages further back in it.

Semantha’s new chapter probably needs editing, too. (Ya think? Says Semantha. I’m only fifteen. You’re the writer, and it’s still better than what you did. So edit it, then.)

We are never going to be done.

tracking

They Speak for Themselves

This morning, I wrapped up my revision work at 26 pages from the end and celebrated: I’m almost there.

This afternoon the manuscript called to me again. I wanted to re-read the beginning, the page I know is pretty good because of its reception with people I trust.

Then I read the next page, the beginning of the main character’s narrative. It was meh. Still. After all those hours of work, Jed’s narrative was still meh.

So I rearranged the first two paragraphs, let go of my original idea for the beginning, grounded the opening more thoroughly, and let Jed’s voice flow, free from my private agenda.

And it’s better. Much better. Like, really, really good.

I read those new paragraphs aloud to Carey. I read them aloud to the kids. They agreed: It’s better. Like, really, really good.

So I did the entire first chapter again. I let go of my agenda, my ideas about how the story should be told. Removed my voice and let Jed speak for himself. And it’s better. Much better. Like, really, really good.

And then I realized I have to do the whole book again. One more time. Am I just bridging? Procrastinating? Putting off the inevitable shove into the world of my precious baby?

No. I’ve journeyed this far and now: My characters don’t speak to me any more. They no longer send me awkward transmissions across the bridge between real and not real for me to translate. No, they stepped across that bridge some time in the last few days. They exist. And they speak for themselves.

The book deserves one more edit with my characters directly at the keyboard. It goes fast, this way–no waiting for a crackling transmission, interpreting gaps in the sound, filling in the blanks with my own thoughts. So maybe I’ll be ready to send it out at the end of Christmas break anyway.

And when I do, it’s going to be really, really good. Not because of me, but because of them. Unless I’m the one who stepped across the bridge and into the unreal. Am I delusional? Entirely possible.

Photo credit: Who knows. It's been around social media so many times I'd be surprised if anyone does. If you, by some miracle, are a person who knows, please keep it to yourself so I don't have to get responsible with it. Or tell me, and I'll fix it, but you'll never ride my unicorn again.

Photo credit: Who knows. It’s been around social media so many times I’d be surprised if anyone does. If you, by some miracle, are a person who knows, please keep it to yourself so I don’t have to get responsible with it. Or tell me, and I’ll fix it, but then you’ll never ride my unicorn again. Your choice.

Riding The Whale

Just do one thing. Just do one thing. Just one.

Like, for instance, breathe.

Everything is not okay. That’s okay. Just breathe. Stop trying so hard and just breathe.

Grandma is dying.

My book is taking too long.

My kids are neglected.

Just breathe.

Clients are waiting.

New projects are waiting.

Bills are waiting.

Other things too, big scary things I won’t name out loud.

All waiting.

Just breathe.

Just breathe.

Last night, three chickens died because I did not remember to close their pen.

Just breathe.

Everett comes into the room and wants to know what FMG stands for. I have to look it up. Why that? Just breathe.

I’m breathing.

I’m breathing.

“The best way to avoid responsibilities is to say ‘I have responsibilities.’”*

Things are changing. They’re changing fast and it’s like riding a big scary beast that I can’t even see or hold on to. Terrible and thrilling and in between the rushes are these cavernous depths of exhaustion and sadness where I wallow before catching the next upswell.

Grandma is dying.

I’m afraid of flying.

God says don’t fear.

Get me out of here

No no no no no Y’all

One moment is All.

Stay here and breathe

Stay here and breathe.

I am a point of light, one tiny point of light. You are too. This little tiny prick, one dimension. Every moment before and after is outside my grasp. We are ants on a two-dimensional pipe, except the pipe’s got a third dimension wrapped around the second and we move back and forth and can’t even see that we live in three dimensions let alone four and more.

Friday night in Charleston we stay up late with folks we meet in the hotel bar. “Kelly and Heather,” says our new friend, his dark face shining with glee, “Those are two of the whitest names I have EVER heard,” and we collapse into each other with laughter because yes, they are. Funny the things you don’t notice when you’ve lived with it all your life.

We play an improv game:

“I like my men like I like my coffee: Dark and spicy.”

“I like my women like I like my coffee: Sweet and chocolaty.”

“Yeah? I like my men like I like my coffee: Hot and in my mouth.” High fives all around, peals of laughter.

When we get back to the hotel room I check my email one last time: There’s a note from my mom. Grandma’s in bad shape. Mom thinks she’ll die tonight.

I cry for two hours. Why am I here? Why did I make her say goodbye to me again? I could have stayed and she would never have had to say goodbye to me, I would have been there to the end.

Instead I’m here, so selfish. So, so selfish. When I left her house two days ago, she said, “Noooo,” in that moaning voice she has sometimes now, the otherworldly voice that hurts my gut. She cried. Then, in her playful fake British accent: “I’m sad sad sad,” letting me know she’s sad, and also: It’s okay. You can go. I got this.

I shouldn’t have made her do that. I should have let her hold me there. Tomorrow could be a big day for me, it could be the day I make the connections that send my author career into flight. It could be a big fun day. It’s not fair, it’s not right, it doesn’t make sense. I can’t make sense of it. I shouldn’t be here. I should be there, in California, holding Grandma’s hand.

I cry and cry, lying on the hotel bed still in my clothes, wringing myself until I’m dry.

Kelly listens. I wanted to be there for the end, I tell her. I never wanted to make Grandma sad again. I want to bring my kids to her again, so she can see them one last time. It’s too late and it makes no sense.

That night, I dream. I’m in a room with Grandma. She’s in the bed, lying on her side, and I can’t tell if she’s breathing. I’m scared she’s not breathing, but Grandpa is missing, and I have to find him. He should be here, with Grandma. Where is he?

I go looking for him, and I’m frantic. Out of my mind with worry. Where is he? And why isn’t Grandma breathing? Where is everyone?

I find my dad, and he’s totally calm. Cool as a cucumber. I try to tell him, but he has things to tell me. Unimportant things. But he keeps talking over me and I can’t get him to understand how bad things are. He just keeps talking. And then I see Grandma: She’s walking down the hall toward me. Frail, but no wheelchair, not even a walker. She hasn’t walked on her own in years.

I’m flooded with relief, and turn back to my dad. He says, “Your grandfather is in physical therapy. Scheduled therapy.” And the way he says it, I realize I’ve been foolish to be worried. He was in good hands all along. I didn’t have to worry about either of them. I’m not responsible for them. And they’re okay. Everyone’s okay.

Then I wake up. I tell Kelly my dream. I’m not responsible for them. They’re okay. No new emails from Mom.

Time for a good time. I’m going to have a good time. I’m careful to turn my phone to airplane mode, though. There are certain calls I don’t want to receive in the middle of my coffee meeting.

This is a BFD meeting, possibly one of the biggest of my life so far. Big F Deal. This is the morning where I’m meeting a well-known author I have admired for a long time, and who has offered to help me with my book.

On the way to the coffee shop, I breathe hard and sweat. I practice my power poses: Hands behind head, fake confidence. I worry about the frayed snags on the front of my shirt, formerly completely unnoticeable but currently magnified to epic proportions in my mind’s eye. My jacket is stretched too tight across my front, shows the weight I’ve gained. Do my pants look stupid stuffed into my tall black boots?

You’ll be awesome, you’ll be awesome, says Kelly. All I want is to be somewhere else. Well then, nothing to lose, right? Just be here.

And then I am. And it’s amazing.

He’s brought a friend: Another well-known author whose book happens to be in my purse. A two-fer. We talk books. They workshop my query. We laugh. We tease each other. We argue. We laugh again. They tell me things, helpful things, and I tell them things: It’s okay, be brutal with me, I can take it. So they are and it’s good.

Then they look at my first page, the first page of my book. It’s hard to believe, but when they read it, they light up, both of them. Surprise, enjoyment. Genuine pleasure. They say nice things about it. Things I wish I could record so I won’t forget, but I’ve already forgotten. Something about the voice. The idea’s originality, maybe. Bottom line, they like it. I can tell in their faces, their voices–not just the words–it’s in the way they say it. They genuinely like it. I try to memorize the timbre of their voices, so I’ll believe it later when I’m convinced it sucks.

At one point, they debate how long the first Harry Potter book was, and I say, “79,000 words.” He looks at me: “I’m impressed you’re nerdy enough that you know that.” I grin. It’s almost like I’m in the club, the one I always wanted to be in: The authors, the famous ones, the nerdy folks who talk about books and stories and then write actual books that actual people read. I’m not quite there, but so close to the curtain that separates us, I can taste what’s it’s like on the other side. I’m hungry for it.

I wonder if it’ll be everything I want, or if it’s smoke and mirrors, a real-life Brakebills: Cool and all, but really just another level of ordinary, only as good as the people in it make it. Doesn’t matter. I want to be there so bad it hurts, the way a powerful crush hurts when you’re not sure but you think maybe your crush likes you back.

Later, an email from that author: My enthusiasm for your book is very real, he says.

I’m sitting in a bookstore, working on my book. It’s too much. I didn’t dream it then. I cry.

It’s too much crying.

Grandma is still dying. What is life anyway?

For two days since, I’ve been wrung dry. Lying here in bed messed up and dry. I want to work. I’ve got emails from clients wondering if I’m in town, if everything’s okay. I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s too much. No, everything is not okay.

Everything is changing. Grandma is dying (“Nobody lasts forever, oh, not even that good little dog, oh”) and I’m afraid of flying (sweaty palms racing heart terror please not again OH) God says fear not (be brave be brave, love and be brave that’s all, yeah) I will fear not, yes yes yes yes I will (life is your playground so play on it,** now), moment by moment by moment by moment

Yes. Breathe. One thing at a time. I’m breathing. Everything is okay.

(Please forgive me if I’m flakier than usual recently. Be kind. I’m riding a whale. I’ll come to shore when I figure out how, and when I do…)

P.S. Grandma is still hanging in there, still touch and go. The hospice nurse thinks she will be with us only a few more days. Mom & Dad are on their way out there again. I will go back too, soon. I don’t know when exactly. It’s a big whale and I’m not sure where to grasp it.

***

*Quote from Richard Bach, in his book Illusions
**Quote from Keli Semelsberger, in improv class

Photo credit: Arian Zwegers via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Arian Zwegers via Wikimedia Commons

On Faith and Fiction

“Are you a person of  faith?” He leans out of the car window, his face searching mine. We’re newly neighbors, and this meeting in the grocery store parking lot is random.

What do I say to that? Last night, I stood in our backyard and talked over the fence with him about the night sky. He has a good telescope and I like him. What do I say to this question?

“Yes,” I say.

He nods, satisfied. “I knew you were,” he says.

A car pulls in behind him. I back away, wave goodbye so he can move on.

On the drive back, I think about my answer. Am I a person of faith? Not the way he meant it, I think. No every-Sunday-morning church, Wednesday-night Bible study, and evangelizing to the neighbors faith. I don’t stand on street corners with God is Great signs and I don’t ask my co-workers if they have found Jesus.

I suspect these are the sort of things my neighbor would count against my claim to faith. But am I a person of faith?

Not blind faith.

But am I a person of faith?

I think about that Sunday in Quaker Meeting, the epiphany that We Are Not Alone, even when everyone we trust abandons us. How I–or something, or Someone–purged the fear in my gut that day, shook it out of me in one great gush, replaced it with faith that Help Is On Its Way. How I walked forth in courage. Because I knew then that I am held in God’s hands, that we all are.

Am I a person of faith?

Last May, Annie and Glennon, two people I admire, said “Write for one hour a day,” and so I did, and I wrote a novel. Is that faith? Saying, “I’ll give it a shot” and then doing it, day after day after day, even when it’s hard, even when it feels pointless. Is that faith?

Let me tell you something about faith. I had very little when I started my book. Maybe as much as a mustard seed–ever seen a mustard seed? They’re small. Not microscopic or anything, but no bigger than the head of a pin, anyway. Small. That’s what my faith was like.

And it didn’t tell me what was in it, either, any more than an unlabeled mustard seed tells you it’ll turn into a mustard tree. My faith said: “Start writing. Do it every day. Something will happen.” It made no promises about what that Something would be.

Then the book started to grow. It grew to 5,000 words. Then 10,000. 20,000. It kept getting longer, and a story started to emerge. Around 40,000, it started to feel like an actual novel. Along with the novel, my faith grew. I could do this.

And it was a good thing, too, that my faith had grown roots, because after 95,000 words, it was time to revise. Revising is hard.

Some weeks, I spent days doing nothing making no measurable changes. I was writing character sheets, or developing a timeline, or literally cutting and taping the manuscript. Writing scenes I knew would never end up in the book, but that were necessary for me to understand what the characters were doing in other scenes and why.

Did I have faith? It didn’t feel like it. It felt frustrating. It felt like I’d never, ever ever be done. Like a sailboat in a lull, no momentum, and no motor to get it going again. Did I keep going, well, yeah. But only because… well, I guess you’d call it faith. But it didn’t feel like faith. It felt like paddling without an oar.

It did get done, though. Eventually I found myself with a completed second draft, a book organized and corralled into almost-presentable format. An actual novel.

Faith grew roots. It’s stronger now. Or maybe that’s not faith. Maybe what grew was confidence. But confidence feels rather like faith, don’t you think?

I’m now in second revisions (third draft), which means I’ve been through this before. When I stop changing the actual manuscript and start working on other things (right now I’m writing chapter synopses to get a handle on the order of events and better build tension in the right places), I don’t panic. It’s part of the process. I have faith that it is what I’m supposed to be doing. That it will all get done.

Am I a person of faith?

I believe in God, because I’ve experienced God in the Silence of Meeting for Worship, in the quiet of my heart. I’ve felt God take my hand when my hand most needed taking. Is that faith, or is that knowledge? (Superstition, whisper my atheist friends.)

I don’t actually know anything. I have no proof. I have only my heart, and experience, and faith that Something will happen if I just take the next step. And so far, every time I take that next step, Something happens. I’m not moving mountains, but if the pen is mightier than the sword perhaps it is also at least as mighty as a shovel. I’m writing books.

Am I a person of faith?

Maybe faith is just doing Something You Believe In, and stepping forward with the belief that Something Good will come of it. Which is another way of saying we are held in God’s hands.

Am I a person of faith?

Sure. You betcha.

P.S. Plant a mustard seed and Something will happen. But not a mustard tree. Mustard does not grow on trees, no matter what the preacher told you. Sometimes the Thing that Happens when we do Something We Believe In is not the Thing we were expecting. Often it’s far more beautiful.

It is kinda pretty, though.

13 Steps to Publishing a Novel (That I’m Glad I Didn’t Know Before I Started)

I began writing my work-in-progress (WIP, in the industry slang) in May 2013 because Annie Lamott said if I didn’t get started then, I never would. I promised myself one hour a day, and I stuck with that.

The first few weeks were delightful (I’m pretty sure my memory is foggy on this–it may have been delightful in the same way that the first few weeks of motherhood are delightful–painful, wet, stinky, sleepless, horrible, and now-I’ve-forgotten-all-that-and-only-remember-the-first-smile). I found I could write a little more than 1,000 words a day on average. Based on Google research, I only needed about 50,000 or so to make a complete young-people’s novel.

Math isn’t exactly my thing, but based on my sketchy understanding of how many hours there are in an hour, and how many days there are in a 30-day month, and how many 1,000s there are in 50 thousand, I guessed it would take me about two months or a little less to complete my novel.

Wow, whizz-bang, pow! as Stephen King would annoyingly say.

I’m pretty sure that’s what he would say because it’s the sort of thing a juvenile* says right before dropping a bomb.

The bomb: Writing a novel is way more than getting words down on the page. Writing a novel takes years. If I had known that this fact would apply to me before I got started, I would have begun with more humility. It’s also possible I wouldn’t have begun at all.

Note: October includes several weeks of planned downtime. Most months demonstrate the indicated one hour a day.

Note: October includes several weeks of planned downtime. Most months demonstrate the indicated one hour a day.

So read on with caution. If you’re contemplating becoming a novelist, this may dissuade you (don’t let it). Here are the approximate steps it takes to get from idea to finished, published novel. Time estimates are based on roughly one hour a day (your mileage may vary).

1. Vomit it up, aka first draft. It’s hard, and fun, and fast, and heartbreaking, and grueling. (Time: 2 months)

2. Tear it to pieces, aka first revisions/second draft. “Write drunk; edit sober”–gotta love Hemingway. I have nothing else to say about this except It’s Hard. (Time: 3 months)

3. Put it back together, aka second revisions/third draft. This is where I am now. It’s not as hard as step 2, just time-consuming. No adrenalin rush, all slog. (Time: At current pace, roughly 2 months)

4. Offer up your sacrifice on the altar of pain, aka beta release. This is where you send your baby to a few trusted readers and find out whether everything you’ve devoted the past seven months to is worth a sh*t. (Time: Depends on how fast your betas read/comment and what else is on their plates. Maybe 2 months?)

5. Go to hell, aka review feedback & revise again, aka completely rewrite the whole dang thing, probably. Or toss it. Whatever. (Time: I’m guessing about 2-3 months)

6. Seek a champion, aka research agents. Assuming you even get this far, most major publishing houses will not even glance at your book without an agent. Plus, the agent negotiates contract terms and other unsavory activities with which you wish not to sully yourself. Of course, as in any field that professes to help people, there are more shady agents than good ones. All you gotta do is sort out which are which, and who actually wants to see your book. Check the acknowledgements in similar types of books, read Writer’s Market, Google, check #pitmad and #mswl on Twitter. Go to conferences. (Time: Maybe a few weeks? Days? I dunno.)

7. Prostrate thyself, aka write a query letter & send it to agents. This one is no big deal–all you gotta do is take the 85,000 words you’ve slaved over for 12 months and condense them into 200 words that will jump off the page in such a manner that a good agent, whose inbox is packed with ten thousand story ideas they’ve received just this month, will decide she absolutely must read the rest of this particular book. No problem. (Time: Maybe a few weeks… months? I have no clue. I’ve been gradually honing my query letter as I go, since it also helps to refine my thinking about the book itself, so I guess maybe this could feasibly be complete while the book is out in beta and therefore not add anything to the total timeline)

8. Receive rejections aka receive dozens of rejections. Become depressed, but keep sending the query out anyway until someone bites. If you’re lucky. (Time: Weeks, months, years. Who knows)

8. Tear your hair out, aka revisions based on agent feedback. (Time: No clue. None. Just be glad you found an agent to take your work)

9. Wait. Once you have an agent, and you’ve done what they asked for to your manuscript, you wait for them to find the right publisher. (Time: Who knows. JK Rowling’s agent took a year to find her a publisher for The Philosopher’s Stone. Isn’t that encouraging?)

10. Celebrate. Briefly. Aka, you’ve got a publisher, and maybe an advance, and THIS IS WHAT YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR. Except:

11. Revise and edit. Again. No kidding. The publisher will have his or her own ideas about the book, and now you get to make even more changes. (Time: I wish I knew)

12. Wait. Again. It takes time to get cover art, typesetting, edits, and on and on and on… (Time: I’ll let you know someday)

13. Repeat.

*All evidence to the contrary, I actually really like Stephen King, especially his book “On Writing.” I think he’s a pretty amazing human being and if I didn’t actually like my dad even better, I’d want him for a dad. He can be pretty silly sometimes too. Pow!

P.S. My book has a title. Yes, I have a habit of burying big reveals at the bottom of long posts about other things. Maybe I’m shy. Maybe I just want you to get in the habit of reading the whole thing. Probably the former.

P.P.S. My book’s title is: COME BACK AS RAIN.