Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My First Story

I started my first novel when I was in Elementary School. The Adventures of Peanut Butter and Julie was about a Plucky Young Heroine named Julie and her trusty pit bull Peanut Butter. It would be in the mood of my favorite book at the time, Me and Katie (The Pest). I wrote about two pages, where Julie eats breakfast with her mom, but I couldn't finish because I had a concept and a title, but no story.

Also, I was afraid of pit bulls, and changing it to a poodle named Peanut Butter made zero sense.

I do remember how fun it was to sit down at a computer and create something out of nothing. I remember working on it, and feeling like I was playing the best video game ever.

I still feel that way.

I guess then I must have written my first official story for a class. It was about a Plucky Young Heroine who somehow traveled back in time and became a knight and battled a dragon. I don't remember much about it. Just one line of description. When PYH wears her first armor, and she says the chain mail felt stiff like a pair of jeans that hadn't been washed in a month. I remember it, because I thought it was brilliant, and I remember it, because my mom came up with that sentence and let me use it.

But it was an assignment, so maybe it doesn't count as my first story after all.

In Junior High, while I was crushing on boys, pretending I didn't need glasses, and wrapping my stomach with ace bandages to try to make myself skinnier, I carried around a blue wire bound notebook full of my poems. I wrote poems all the time, mostly in math class, and they were kind of awesome. I remember one.

He who laughs the loudest, is trying to hide some pain,
but he who doesn't laugh at all, is probably insane.

Thank you, thank you.

I wish I still had that notebook, because there were some real gems in there, and it's sad to lose something that you've worked on. But in ninth grade, in a deep end of depression, I decided that nothing I wrote would ever be any good, so I lit it on fire. I told myself I destroyed it because writing didn't make me feel any better, and I worried that dwelling on my sadness made me sadder. So I held it in one hand, lit a match, and watched it burn. When the fire got too close to my fingers, I dumped it in a white bucket full of water. I threw the sopping half burnt notebook away in shame for having destroyed it, but mostly in shame for having created it.

That was the day I quit writing.

I started again in High School. I would write these monologues, and my amazing saint of a Drama teacher would let me perform them. I never wrote them down, so it didn't count as writing. I just would stand in my bedroom and make them up, and then perform them in the classroom that felt as much a home to me as anywhere I've ever been. My monologues were always pretty serious, but it didn't matter what I did, the kids in my class wouldn't stop laughing. I remember yelling at the class that this wasn't funny, which made the class laugh until they cried. I guess  they thought my stomping fits about taking this monologue I wrote about a girl who loved her water heater seriously, was part of the skit. So I made it be part of the skit, and I learned how to make people laugh. People laugh when you are honest in a loud way. I fell in love with making people laugh by telling the saddest truth I could find with the goofiest voice I could use.

But I had quit writing. I mean, I wrote songs, and musicals with my friends, monologues for fun, and dreamed about one day maybe writing a play, but I had QUIT writing. That was something the Sad version of Me did, and I wasn't her any more. I was a performer, and a comedian, and an actress.

And then one day I became a mom. That title felt like the only one I could hold in my hands while I carried a baby.

About that time, the Sad Version of Me became who I was again. I was depressed, and I thought that I should have been happy. I met my dream guy and had a beautiful baby, why wasn't I happy?

When my son was eight months old, he was napping in his room, and I had no place I could go. I had made a goal to not watch any television that February. I thought maybe that was what was making me so sad, so I was sitting on my couch, staring at the blank screen, wishing for a book. But I was carless, and I had read every single book in our two bedroom apartment.

My battered and exhausted mind decided to create a book for me.

There was a whole world in that story-- magic, religions, characters, history, cultures, details, snippets of dialogue. I grabbed a bound notebook, and spent the rest of the afternoon writing it all down as fast as the ideas came to me. And then, for about the next year, I would spend every nap time at my computer writing this story out.

It was awful. I called it The End. It was the first book in a series, (The End, The Middle, and the final book, The Beginning). It was a huge story, and I didn't have the skills yet to do it. I mean I didn't even know how to use quotation marks, or verbs, or descriptions, or actions, or any of it. I didn't know how to write. Let alone write a series set in a world where I had to invent all of the details.

I couldn't stop though.

Writing became my title. Writing became my Prozac. It made me sleep better. It made me a better mom. It made me happy. When it made me sad, I could with a few more chapters and a bit of imagination, turn it into a happy ever after.

And when my son was three, I found Hatrack. I found some amazing writer buddies, and this blog, and more stories, and more words. With time, I even figured out how to use quotation marks, and verbs, and descriptions.

So my First Story was called, The End.

It was my beginning.

Sheena Boekweg is the Author of Funny Tragic Crazy Magic , and coauthor of Alchemy. Alchemy's sequel Pyromancy will be out this fall, and Sheena has two several other books forthcoming... when she's finally satisfied with them.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Funny Tragic Shadowed Magic

It took me eight years to write my first four novels. In that time I had three kids, so I guess that makes sense.

 My fourth novel Funny Tragic Crazy Magic was the best novel I knew how to write at the time, and I published it. It did really well, especially for a first novel. It spent eight weeks in the top 10,000 on Amazon, the lowest it got was 3,450 something. And it's still selling, that's the exciting thing.

The number one feedback I heard from everyone who read it,  was my favorite question-- Are you going to write a sequel?

When I wrote it, I was very satisfied with the ending, and felt it was a stand alone book. However, publishing has taught me a lot, and the number one thing, is that if the reader isn't satisfied, then you can't be either.

So I looked into it, and they were so right. HOLY COW, THERE IS SO MUCH STORY THERE. I even started writing the sequel, got a few thousand words into it, but I knew it was the wrong path. It was stressful too, I guess. I didn't know how to write a sequel. I didn't want people to be disappointed, and I wanted a sequel I could be proud of, that FTCM deserved.

And I had different stories pounding on my head.

In the year and three months since publishing FTCM, I've written four novels. Granted I three of those novels were Prophecy Breakers, (whazup ladies!) so I didn't do it alone. But I've learned a lot in that time. I've learned from Sabrina and Melanie. I've learned from Waxling. I've learned from my amazing betas, and mostly I've learned from my  AWESOME readers. I love that feedback the very best. I love seeing what they want, what they need from the story. And I've studied, practiced, and written about 250,000 words all on my own. Kinda crazy when you add them all up. I've been working really hard this year.

About a week ago I was on Pintrest (obviously working hard) and one pin I pinned almost a year ago had a comment by a reader I've never met.  (Hi Madison!)

 Well, that comment got me thinking... just one more time. Since the last time I approached FTCM's sequel, I've written a sequel (with help). But I know more now. So now, Sheena, what are we going to do for the sequel?

Yes, I talk to myself in third person.

Anyway, an idea fell out.

Not just an idea, the right idea. I knew it the second I thought it. This was the idea I was waiting for.

Photo: Plotting the sequel to Funny Tragic Crazy Magic.  Yes the handwritten way on a credit card application envelope.

I tried to catch it on the closest piece of paper I could find (a junk mail envelope). My husband took a picture with his phone and then posted it on my author page, and people got excited. (I don't know why, it is not a flattering photo) I had more page views for that goofy picture than I've had in months, and a couple of my amazing readers started sending me private messages, responding, encouraging me.

The next day I was scrolling facebook (again being really productive) and one of my writer friends posted this link, a simple novel outline-9 questions for 25 chapters.

I could do nine questions. I could do simple outline. I know the idea, so I could totally do this.  I got out my envelope and opened a file, and started answering the questions and filled out my simple outline. It helped that I had figured out my 8-character-archetypes on that envelope, and that I knew my hero, and my hero's goal, and set up the whole story idea around those goals. It was easy, took maybe ten minutes to answer those questions and figure out all the chapter headings. Simple.

 At the bottom of that article, there was another link to an article,Quick Overview of The Heros Journey, and it said that this simple outline works really well with the Hero's Journey. SO... simple. Quick. Easy.  I could do that. I clicked the link, and made a few simple adjustments and amplifications of my simple outline so it fit within that Journey. This took another ten minutes, but it was fun and simple.

There was another link on the side of that blog about the snowflake method, but it wasn't super helpful to me, so I googled it, found this snowflake-method link, and before I knew it, (okay, so it took three days and several hours of work), I'd filled out the first eight steps of the snowflake method, until I knew the story backwards and forwards. I could fix story structure before I wrote. CRAZY CONCEPT for me, and I knew all the characters, and why they did everything they are about to do. I had a list of necessary scenes, and chapters. Before I knew I had done it, I wrote 10,000 words of a detailed outline.

So that's kinda crazy.

And my betas, my beautiful amazing betas haven't finished reading Pyromancy yet, so I can't really work on the next one, and Waxling is tricky because of story structure problems that an outline would have fixed, and I have stressful things coming up and needed to escape, so I kinda sorta started writing Funny Tragic Shadowed Magic. I'm five chapters in, and it's the right beginning. It's going to be awesome.

It's weird though writing from an outline. It's weird knowing all the details, and the twists and turns of the story that are coming up. But it's given me so much more confidence in the details of the story. I know these people already, and I know that their story line will make sense, so I get to sit behind their heads and play there. It's cool, because since I know all the settings, all the characters, I don't have to use my mental energy to create them at the time, so I find I can write more in a sitting, and really enjoy the language, and the voice of the character.

Outlining is actually fun. Who knew? I'm loving being able to create twists and turns without risk of failure. I can throw out any plot twist or do any twisted thing my broken brain can come up with and see where it leads. I know no one will ever read that outline, so I don't have to work on the language, don't have to work on making it sound pretty, or think about the weight of an audience on my shoulders while I make the major decisions, and it makes writing easier. There is no block, because I know what comes next. If I'm in the mood to write an action scene, or an angsty scene, or a kissing scene, I know right were they go, and I can just write what I want, and know where the characters are in their journey.

Which will be SO helpful to battle against the obsession that is the world of Prophecy Breakers. Once the betas get Pyromancy back to us, I can jump back in and play, and know exactly where to go next when I come back to it. All this work in one paper, so I won't forget it.

So this is what I've learned this week. I'm putting the pants away. Perhaps for good.

And one more thing...a sequel is coming. I'm working on it as we speak.

Thank you, Madison, for commenting. You never know the power of one kind word.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Progress Report!

We're about to send Pyromancy to the betas, and there's been an odd week here, where Melanie and I are done but we're waiting for Sabrina to give it a once over before we send it, so there's a vacancy of WIPs, for me.

 In some ways it's nice. I've read a bunch of amazing books, including Code Name Verity, which broke my brain and my heart at the same time. (I've since forced three separate women I know and love to READ this book.) But the absence has made me bring out Waxling again.

I've blogged about Waxling before. A few of you beautiful readers were even my betas for it.

I'll tell the rest of you what the betas came back with. It's a good story with major structural problems. And it took me a couple of months away to really digest the beta's comments, and figure out all the solutions.

So now, I'm applying the solutions and I'm happy with it. Sort of. The main problem, is that story tells two love stories, and it's a short book, and simply put-- that's too much love story into one book. One love story needs to be the star, so I've decided to back seat one of the love stories, which sounds dirtier than it is.

 Ha. I'm sorry, Mom. Anyway.

I'm getting to the point in the story where I have to delete stuff that I love, and I just don't want to and you can't make me.

 I keep thinking maybe I can just lose this paragraph, or chapter, or sentence, and the story will be just fine. I agree with my own thoughts, which is you know...helpful, and my mind and my outline all make sense, and I go to the text and highlight, and I just can't press delete. I created a separate file, so I can save it to put it in a later chapter, but I go to the file, highlight the words, press control c, and then can't do it.

They say you should kill your darlings. They say you shouldn't be so attached to any sentence or word that it hurts to cut them, or that you do whatever you can to serve the story and get the story out there, but I say, please don't make me cut this chapter. Please don't make me lose this line that I love, even if it makes the story better without it.

So it just sits there, in a file, waiting for me to be brave enough to break it.

Now the story has more structural problems than ever before. It's half way fixed, and half way broken. I love it and want everyone to read it, and it's broken and no one can read it until it's finished. I know how to finish it, but it means breaking my heart to do it, and no thank you. Let's watch cat videos instead.

So it's there. This story that I could finish and publish if I was just brave enough to lose a paragraph I love, or smart enough to find a reason to keep it.

I'm too close to the story now. It's too personal. It feels like taking my name off of it.

Writing is really hard work. It breaks your heart sometimes.

I'll take a breath.

 Kiss me, Hardy. Kiss me quick.

I just clicked delete.