Friday, November 20, 2015

Applied Project: where I reminisce on what I have learned as an English major at ASU and dissect my current work in progress


            ENG 498, Degree Capstone is a required class for my degree program at Arizona State University. For this class we were asked to showcase what we have learned as we worked toward graduation. Since my focus has always been my writing, I have chosen to gear this project towards the process of revising a novel. 
            Towards the end of my first semester as a returning college student I began writing my current work in progress. To help with the creation of this novel I register for CRW 170, Intro to Writing Fiction.  In this class I began the revision process. Over the next three years I continued this process. For my applied project I will be chronicling this process, focusing primarily on the first chapter. 

The idea

Before words are ever put to page all novels start with an idea. I have always taken an interest in different Asian cultures.  For my husbands work he travels back and forth to both Japan and South Korea, bringing home stories and souvenirs. One day in late fall 2012 I sat brainstorming story ideas. My mind kept wandering to the east and a dragon bell my husband had brought back from Seoul. This is when I began thinking of how dragons were depicted in different cultures. Specifically, I thought about how European tales depicted dragons as beast that burned villages, yet in Chinese fables they were revered.  I asked myself what would happen if these two ideologies clashed as cultures so often do.  Quickly a story formed. Two months later I had completed a rough draft of Empire of Ash and Bone, the story of an unwanted daughter of the emperor, who finds herself accompanied by a dragon on a journey to the land of dragon hunters.

First Draft, you have to start somewhere

Because I write quickly my first drafts are always rough. Unlike many authors I do not edit as I write. This frees me to live only in my head, to pour out the story without worrying about mechanics or form.  Putting to paper that first draft is my favorite part of writing.  There is an adrenalin rush that comes with writing that can’t compare with anything else I have experienced. By the end of my writing sessions I am half filled with this natural high, and half exhausted. It’s exhilarating.
            As I began this novel, my focus was more on the feel of Lan and her world than on catching the reader’s attention. To me this version is written more like a song, or a poem than a modern novel.


They were not to be seen by others, prisoners behind silk-screened walls. Only in the middle of the night when only the stars could witness did their jailer let Fen and her daughter Lan out of her their assigned rooms. At the youthful age of nine, Lan’s need for constant motion, kept her no closer than a dozen steps ahead of her mother’s slow hard fought stride. Dressed always in white, Lan scaled hedges, squeezed silky pedals between fingertips, and danced around fountains in Emperor Qiang’s gardens.  She touched everything within reach of her slight searching hands.

Second Draft

During this semester the class workshoped my novel.  I learned the value of fresh eyes. It is impossible to read your own work and get a sense of what the reader sees. We as authors know our characters motivation, even if that motivation is not clearly stated on the page.  As author Robert Stone once said, “Revising is like cutting your own hair." You don’t do yourself or your work any justice if it is only your critique of your novel that is taken into account during the revision process.
From this workshop I came away with a new understanding of what I had written. I realized that though I loved the lyrical feel to my prologue, it was not the best introduction to my story. The goal of those first few pages is to grip the reader, pull them into the story and keep them turning the page. What I had written was beautiful but had an outsider’s feel. I wanted the reader to feel as if they were right there in the mythical land of Tulea with Lan. So, I pulled back and began the novel at the moment Lan’s world changed, propelling her to action.

Chapter One
This is not supposed to happen, Lan thought.
She willed her mother to take a breath, but no amount of strength on Lan’s part made a difference. Her mother decided her own fate, and she had never been a fighter.

Lan calculated everything to the smallest of details, and this. . . this was never part of the plan.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Third Draft, where I begin the query process

After completing my first college writing class, I felt mildly more comfortable with what I was crafting. I had made several revisions of the whole novel from line by line edits to overall plot revising.  I was ready to do a round of querying. For those of you who do not know, a query is a letter sent to prospective literary agents or editors. The standard query consists of three to four brief paragraphs telling the recipient about yourself and your work. Sometimes the agent will ask for a few pages or chapters of your work, or a brief synopsis of the story.  It is important to read an agent’s or editor’s submission guidelines before querying.
I usually send out only a handful of queries at a time. Then I wait for feedback. After a few months I collect that feedback and make another round of revisions. I also make sure to revise my query letter.
At this time I also attended a writer’s conference in which I pitched to several agents and editors. During one of these sessions I met an agent who asked for me to submit my full manuscript to her agency.
In the version I sent her I added action. Lan is kneeling over her mother, her face pressed to her mother’s chest. You can see in the highlighted portion Lan’s physical appearance. I have depicted her as petite, she is supposed to have a fragile aspect to her. I also tried to show her turmoil. Her eyes are squeezed shut, too fearful to look at her mother’s still body. She is pleading with her mother to breathe, to not let the unknown him win.

Chapter One
Not now, Lan thought. This is not supposed to happen.
She willed her mother to take a breath, but no amount of strength on Lan’s part made a difference. Her mother decided her own fate, and unlike her daughter, she had never been a fighter.

Lan bent her small frame over the still form, resting her forehead on her mother’s chest. She squeezed her eyelids shut. “Breathe, mother,” she commanded. “Don’t let him win.”