A Novel Diet #Last

I tried. I really did. After almost two months of cutting, (I finished at the beginning of November) my manuscript hit a plateau and refused to budge. Like most diets, there were good days and bad days. Usually it was a matter of finding a chunk of text that was easily removed, cleaning things up around the edges of the edit, clarifying one or two points, and discovering my word count within 10 words of where I started. I know it’s too fat. But I’m so close to it all I can see is that it fills the mirror. It’s readable and hopefully not horrible, and is now in the hands of my critiquers.

Early reports are positive. I’m told there are multiple opportunities for brevity, and some areas early on lag a bit. My critique group will give me their in depth analysis soon, but it is also wonderful to get input from people who have not been involved in the long slog of creating this book. I am blessed to have several family members who understand that liking my book is all well and good, but it’s the parts they don’t like that I want to know about. Their input in making this manuscript better will be invaluable.

The vast majority of us write as a solitary endeavor. Hours spent sitting alone in front of the computer listening to the voices in our heads. Bringing this work out into the light of day is, for me, the  only way to keep going. If not for my critique group and their demand that I produce something every two weeks, this book would not exist. So to Brenda and Alison (the afore mentioned group) and my other reader/critiquers (so far), Mary, Levi, Lois, and Lacey, if this thing ever gets published, you’ll be in the acknowledgments. Until then, thank you all.


A Novel Diet #5 and Art!

There’s been a bit of editing since the last post, as well as other commitments taking me away from the keyboard. I did notice, however, that editing doesn’t hold the same creative drive that writing does, even if the editing requires sizable chunks of rewriting. To scratch the creative itch, as it were, I decided to work on a drawing of my main character. It also didn’t hurt that I could use an extra piece for our local SCBWI chapter sample show. (About a dozen of us brought in postcards, tearsheets, and other printed samples for display before and after the meeting.)

I’ve been fussing around with doing black and white illustration using black Prismacolor pencils, with perhaps a black watercolor wash underneath. I love the technique but for one thing. It is so blasted slow. Layers upon layers of shading looks lovely, but takes forever, and then is very picky about scanning and reproduction. So I thought, ‘why not go back to pen and ink? That’s fast. Right?’



The original sketch, about 1.5″ x 2.5″

I started with a small drawing of my hero out of my sketch book, scanned it, then blew it up to match the size of the original sketch of the wolf.


Resized and layered in Photoshop.

I blew them up again so the image was about 5”x8”, then printed it out and reworked it with black Prismacolor, correcting anatomy and shading. On a piece of tracing paper I did a rough ink, basically to see where to stop drawing.

Done on cheap tracing paper with a crowquill nib.

Done on cheap tracing paper with a crowquill nib.

The wolf was inked on a separate piece of tracing paper. I think the first piece was too small.

The wolf was inked on a separate piece of tracing paper. I think the first piece was too small.

Once I was reasonably confident, I put the reworked printout on my light table with a piece of Arches 90# hotpress on top, and went to town.

Overall, I like the way it turned out. The difficulty has proven to be in trying to repeat this success. I have tried twice, with another character, and neither one works as far as I’m concerned. It may simply be a matter of refining my technique, or accepting that I’m using the wrong technique. Either way, it’s worth the effort.



The final on Arches 90# hotpress watercolor paper. Crowquill with Calli black calligraphy ink.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I did do some editing. I’m maybe a quarter or a third of the way through the manuscript, and my critique group just gave me some wonderful feedback which might actually make the book shorter. Here’s hoping.

128,999 words

A Novel Diet – Day 2

I love my critique group. I would have given up on this project years ago if not for them (and a few others, as well). And sometimes it is the simplest of things that can mean so much. Case in point: What follows are three paragraphs from today’s editing.

These thoughts swirled so in my head that I failed to notice the low rumbling and hissing of our mill until it appeared, as if by magic, around a slow bend in the river. It gave me such a start that I pulled Parsifal to a stop. In the few heartbeats it took to accept my surroundings as real, I felt a flood of emotions pour through me. Relief for Joss’ sake. A silly nostalgia for a place I had abandoned less than two days ago. And shame at having left in the first place. I gave Parsifal a kick. If we were less than a mile from home, I could risk a canter.

Past the mill was the retting pond. It reflected the golden light of late afternoon in its calm surface. At summer’s end it would be a smelly, noisy place as flax stems were soaked and beaten into fiber for linen. Beyond the pond was the edge of our open fields.

The nearest was fallow and a few of our workers cleared wild plants that had encroached from the forest. They all stopped to eye us suspiciously. One of the nearer workers approached us, his hoe held up like a weapon. I didn’t need to be close enough to see his face. Only Halduc would be rash enough to face two strangers on a warhorse while armed only with a hoe.

One of my critique group partners indicated the middle paragraph and wrote the following: “So?”

When in the middle of the writing process, sometimes you miss the obvious. I knew there was a retting pond there, but the reader didn’t. I had to tell them, didn’t I? Um. No. Extraneous information is just that; extraneous. I kept the last sentence. But the rest? Whack! 40 more words gone.

October 10th: 129,724 words

A Novel Diet

For the past long while, I have been writing a young adult novel. (It was referenced in an earlier post here.) About two years ago I finished the first draft. If you were to read it straight through, it wouldn’t make any sense, but that is what I am told first drafts are for. Over the course of the last two years, I dragged the tale, kicking and screaming, into some semblance of narrative cohesion. The first weekend of October was spent grabbing the last chunks and shaking out the inconsistencies.

There was just one problem. That revised draft came in at over 135,000 words. A nice sized chunk was removed when I found a scene had been duplicated twice. (All for the sake of changing one sentence.) Another lengthy scene was great fun to read, but alas, it had nothing to do with the plot and didn’t move the characters forward either. Whack! So after rough cutting this gristle, I got the beast down to 129,718 words. Still way too much, but enough of a change for me to realize this is possible.

I read somewhere that a YA novel should be between 50,000 and 80,000 words. If I ever wrote a YA novel in 50,000 words, my son would disown me. He prefers books that double as exercise equipment. And that’s in paperback. 80,000 words seems like it would give me enough room, but I’m not convinced this story can be told that quickly. So I’m not setting a final word count goal. It would be nice to be in the neighborhood of 100,000. It would be nicer, I think, to tell the story beautifully and efficiently, to let the story dictate what it needs. And if that takes 115,000 words then so be it.

I will try to post word counts regularly. I’m not just cutting, though. I’m editing too. There are several areas where my critique group has asked for more, and they shall get it. The result, as is the way of all diets, is that there will be days when the weight won’t come off. Yesterday yielded a net gain of 69 words. But I think they are better words than the ones that came before. So I will not despair, but hone, and trim, and tighten until the story says I’m done.

October 8th: 129,787 wordsJeand'YvelWeb

Here’s a newish version of the first scene. (The first version was back in that other post.) It has a watercolor wash for the under-painting, and then black colored pencil on top. I got midway through the trees in the background and realized they were too dark in the wrong places. So I erased all the colored pencil off the trees and started over. It made the lighter areas sort of muted. An interesting effect, but not one I would like to rely on.

A Thank You

Over the weekend of April 19-21 I attended the SCBWI Western Washington regional conference in Redmond. I could talk about all the fun stuff I did and the cool things I learned, but there was something different this year. For the first time since I started going to these conferences (six years?) I put my portfolio on display.  My excuse (whether valid or not) was that I didn’t have enough pieces worth showing. But at the 2011 conference, I got hooked up with an illustration critique group and it’s safe to say that if I hadn’t, my portfolio would not have been there.

So as a thank-you to these wonderful folks, they get the spotlight today. Their websites/blogs are listed in the side bar. Please check out their work.

In alphabetical order here’s my fab five:
Amanda Sartor does amazing digital and traditional work with sometimes a dark twist. Well, perhaps more than sometimes. She’s been doing covers and some interior illustrations. And recently she found out that two of her pieces will be in Spectrum 20, a collection of top-notch fantasy/sci-fi art. Let’s hope for more good things to come her way. Oh, and here’s her blog.

Kathryn Dennis has co-written (with Melissa Mahle) a middle grade adventure novel, ‘Lost in Petra’. It just received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. As the subject line in her e-mail to us said…OMG. You can read the review at the book’s website. She also does delightful digital art that you can see at her blog.

Liz Wong got her certificate in Art for the Children’s Market in the same class that I did. See won the best portfolio award at last year’s regional conference and she is also one the instigators for putting this group together. Because of connections made at that conference, she came to the attention of Alexandra Penfold, former editor for Paula Wiseman Books at Simon and Schuster, and now a new agent at Upstart Crow Literary. And now representing Liz.

Susan Pope, the gracious host of our gang, will soon be receiving a certificate from the University of Washington in Natural Scientific Illustration. She intends to put it to use illustrating non-fiction books for kids. Check out her art and stay tuned.

Zack Rock, an egregious punster who also happens to do fabulous watercolor illustrations, had two pieces selected to be on display at this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair. To be selected takes beating some pretty long odds, and his stuff is worth it. Read about it on his blog and see it on his website.