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 #4

I got stuck on a chapter ending rewrite, but I still wanted to make some progress in trimming the fat. So I searched my manuscript for the word ‘that’.  It appeared over a thousand times (yes, I counted) and I removed or altered almost half of those.

129,360 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.

Painting Outside the Lines


This is a foxglove growing next to my studio. It is not what one normally thinks of when one thinks of foxglove. That tall, spiky flower to the left is what we expect, not this strange frilly cup. I assume what we’re looking at is a mutation. (Any botanists reading this feel free to step in with an informed opinion.) But it really seems to me as if nature is painting outside the lines.

As a representational artist, this concept brings about an involuntary twitch. However, if I stop and think about it, (breathe, calm down, it’s just a flower) it’s kind of inspiring. After all, if Mother Nature can do the unexpected, why can’t I?

In a workshop with the wonderful Dan Santat, he lamented the fact that so many artists paint the sky blue (mea culpa). He suggested orange, or purple, or green, if that’s what the painting needs. The minor disclaimer here is that he was specifically referring to children’s illustration, but I think the concept can apply elsewhere.

I recently read ‘Grave Mercy‘ by Robin LaFevers. About a quarter of the way through, I almost stopped reading. It felt like a very predictable plot-line unfolding. The friend who recommended the book said, “Just keep reading”. I’m glad I did. Everything I expected to happen, did happen. Just not in the way I expected it to. Ms. LaFevers was painting outside the lines.

I’m currently working on some art that is interesting in the concept stage, but it’s not right yet. That’s because I haven’t taken it far enough. I’m still too close to what one would expect.

For some of us, it’s a difficult thing to do – paint the sky green, write a likable villain. But it’s where our best work can come from. How do you take things beyond expectations? Do you exceed pre-defined borders in your art? Tell me why. Send me links.

Let’s enjoy the view from the edge of too far.

Doll Bones

Doll Bones Cover

Holly Black (The Curse Workers series, Spiderwick Chronicles, etc) has a new book out. Doll Bones was released May 7th by Margaret K. McElderry Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). I was lucky enough to pick up an ARC at the ALA conference when it was in Seattle this last winter. I sucked it down like lemonade on a hot day. It’s the kind of book that makes me sigh when I’m done. And I don’t normally read middle grade fiction. Doll Bones is a story that I don’t really want to classify by genre. It is a mystery, a horror story, a coming of age tale, all delightfully rolled into one.

I won’t go into the mystery because I want to leave it for you, the reader, to discover. The horror aspect of the story is that slow, steady building of dread you find in good Gothic horror. No monsters jumping out of closets or that nonsense. But what really shines here is the story of the three main characters, two girls and a boy. We get to see (and feel) their relationship as it passes from childhood to the cusp of young adulthood; the things they are willing to leave behind, and the things they are not. It is sweet and touching, and creepy and mysterious. I loved every minute of it.

Read it.