Happy holidays to everyone!

November 29th, 2010

Holy cow! I can’t believe that over three months have passed since my last post. Well, unfortunately, that’s due to my incredibly busy work schedule – and the subsequent lack of time for anything fiction-related. Despite my preoccupations, however, I’d be extremely remiss if I didn’t wish everyone a happy belated Thanksgiving, a merry holiday season, and a wonderful New Year!

Baby steps forward

August 16th, 2010

As you might have gathered from previous posts, I’ve lately been focusing a lot less time on my fiction writing and a whole lot more time on my travel writing. Projects like my ongoing American Nomad blog, upcoming Moon Florida Keys guide, and soon-to-be-due book proposal for a new edition of Moon New Orleans have kept me fairly occupied. Still, although I haven’t yet had a chance to plunge into the much-needed revision of Hollow Souls, I have kept fiction on my mind during this past year. Fulfilling at least some of my beta-reading duties, for instance, has helped to keep me inspired, as has maintaining two weekly posts at Come In Character. While it might not be the same as working on my novel, it certainly keeps my characters active, which is better than silencing them forever. So, if you ever need a fictional pick-me-up of your own, consider stopping by…

A common writer’s disease

August 11th, 2010

Okay, so I meant to take a two-month hiatus from this blog, not a six-month one. And all I have to say in my defense is… oops. Sadly, such responsibilities as my American Nomad blog and my work on the upcoming Moon Florida Keys guide have forced my poor novel onto the proverbial backburner. It seems, however, that Nathan Bransford’s latest post has put an end to my silence – even if only temporarily.

Yesterday, the well-known literary agent asked his followers if they suffer from one of several common maladies, from imprecision to overstuffed sentences to description overload. Although he used his easy-to-swallow humor to illustrate such “pernicious writerly germs,” the sad fact is that I, like many of those who read his blog yesterday, had the distinct impression that he was talking about… me! Sigh. Guess I have my work cut out for me as I embark upon this long-overdue revision.

Well, at least I had a reason to giggle last night!

A fictional hiatus

February 8th, 2010

Although I hate to admit this, I’ve finally accepted the fact that I have no time for my novel right now. Of course, I wish this weren’t the case, but between my travel blog (American Nomad), my work on the Moon Florida Keys travel guide, and my duties for the upcoming Beverly Hills Shorts Festival, I have no spare brain power to devote to Hollow Souls. In fact, I’ve decided to take a two-month hiatus from almost everything related to the novel – including my much-delayed revision, my blogosphere research, and my sporadic blogging here.

Because I’m not fully willing to give up my imaginary world – even for a little while – I’ll continue to explore my novel’s characters at Come In Character, but I’m just not going to focus a lot of energy on this project right now. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not giving up on being a novelist. I’m just taking a break – until I do have the time, energy, and brain power to give the revision my whole self. If life has taught me anything, it’s that there are times when you have to put your dreams aside, but nothing’s permanent. Besides, the break will probably give me the clarity I’ll need to approach the revision in a careful, objective manner.

After all, while being a published novelist is my ultimate goal, there’s no point in rushing the process. Better to do it right than to do it too quickly and regret the result. And, heck, it’s not like the publishing advice is going to change too much in two months – and if it does, well, at least I’ll be ready for it.

How do you deal with a revision slump?

January 25th, 2010

As you may or may not know, I’m at the point in the publishing process known as “revision hell.” In a nutshell, what that means is that, after finishing what I thought was the final version of my first novel, Hollow Souls, I finally followed the advice of countless writers, agents, and editors and enlisted the assistance of beta readers to help me find my story’s problem areas.

Luckily for me, their perspectives have helped me enormously, but while I appreciate their assistance (and still feel guilty that I haven’t yet had the time to help all of them), their notes have made one irrefutable truth abundantly clear: I still have a long way to go before I’m finished with this novel and ready to send it to potential agents.

At the moment, most of my time has been consumed by the Florida Keys travel guide for which I’m currently researching, so I won’t be starting my revision (or, unfortunately, finishing my beta-reading commitments) until early April. But, even with this slight reprieve, I’m petrified about mishandling the revision process.

Should I put every scene on an index card, as I’d originally intended, decide which ones are necessary and which ones aren’t, and revise accordingly, or should I start from scratch and rewrite the entire novel, as one fellow writer suggested? I’m not sure – and even more confusing, I’m not certain how to overcome the decidedly disheartening feeling that I’ll never be satisfied with my revision, no matter what I do.

So, how do you handle a revision slump? Do you have any advice that you’re willing to share? Believe me when I say that I’m all ears.

Some might call it procrastination

January 17th, 2010

Yes, it’s true. It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to work on Hollow Souls. Over the past few months, real life has simply been too busy to indulge in my fantasy world, and although it’s frustrating to delay the inevitable revision, I take some comfort in knowing that I haven’t utterly abandoned my characters, especially Devi and Olivia. Through the Come In Character site, I’ve continued to explore their journeys with the help of “getting to know you” exercises, forum games, group stories, first line challenges, and the like. While it’s difficult, at times, to distinguish my characters from one another (given the on-the-fly, off-the-cuff nature of CIC), I’m still having a lot of fun with them – which helps to ease the frustration of my delayed revision.

Some writers might call it procrastination, but I call it inspiration. After all, at least I’m maintaining my interest in the world that I’ve created – at least until my work schedule clears a little, and I’m able to return to my revision. So, remember that the next time your life intervenes with your fantasy world. CIC just might help to keep you engaged in your characters – and serve as a gentle reminder that they still long to have their journeys realized. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I spend too much time there.

Is it better to go the young adult route?

January 8th, 2010

To celebrate the publication of his client Jennifer R. Hubbard’s young adult novel The Secret Year, agent Nathan Bransford ran a compelling teen diary contest this week. Besides the fact that it attracted some wonderful entries, it also made me question – again – the target audience of my novel Hollow Souls.

After all, that was one of the very concerns that the ICM literary department raised when it was considering (and eventually passed on) my novel. Although Hollow Souls is intended to be adult literary fiction, the lengthy bedtime story at the heart of it seems better suited for a young adult audience. So, it begs the question: which genre should I aim for during the revision process?

Although I have too much work right now (between blogging and my Moon Florida Keys travel guide) to start a labor-intensive revision of my novel, it can’t hurt to think ahead. And, while I’ve long wanted to be an adult fiction writer – not a YA one – it’s hard to resist the pull toward the young adult genre, which seems to be selling better than anything else right now. Of course, traditional publishing success isn’t everything. Shouldn’t being true to my vision trump concerns of snagging modern-day agents and editors?

A Ruby Hollow Christmas

December 24th, 2009

For the past two weeks, I’ve been so busy with my travel work that I haven’t had much time to think about Hollow Souls. But, since it’s Christmas Eve, I thought it might be fun to revisit Caroline’s first holiday season in Ruby Hollow. The following scene occurs at the Yuletide Ball, the Hollow’s annual Christmas Eve event:

As Caroline waltzed across the threshold, the breath snagged in her throat. The ballroom was even more tantalizing than in previous weeks. Evergreen wreaths, garnished with crimson berries, lined the walls. Golden sashes and woodsy garlands hung from the simple chandeliers and the impressive grandfather clock in the farthest corner. A scarlet linen tablecloth covered each table; and a wreath-wrapped candle burned as each centerpiece. Along one wall, a lengthy buffet table teemed with an assortment of holiday treats, including steaming wassail, spiced apple cider, pumpkin cakes, shortbread cookies, turkey legs, smoked ham, and more. On the modest stage, a trio of musicians played “Silent Night” for the couples on the dance floor, and in another corner stood a magnificent tree, shining with festive ribbons, glass ornaments, and illumined tapers. The mingled aromas of pine, cinnamon, chocolate, and warm bread perfumed the air, and all around her, people were smiling. It was a heavenly scene, and Caroline wondered if, once she’d left the Hollow, she’d ever again be in the presence of such mirth and magic.

Marybeth touched her shoulder, as if reading her mind. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

The Littletons and Peppers had descended upon the buffet, leaving them by the entrance.

“Let’s get something to eat,” Marybeth said. “It’ll give you strength for dancing.”

Caroline followed her to the enticing smorgasbord. She glanced at the enormous Christmas tree and wondered how the Hollowites had managed to squeeze it into the room, much less decorate it. “Why don’t you guys get a tree like that? Some place to put all the gifts.”

“So, you’ve been chatting with Sam? Course, that’s not a real tree. It was made years ago, painstakingly, from varnished wood, wire, and cloth, then reassembled every year since.”

She was impressed, and yet it made sense that a town so conscious of its environment would construct a synthetic tree rather than destroy a real one every year, just for a holiday.

“Besides,” Marybeth continued, “who ever said the Littletons exchanged presents? Come on, Little Miss Nosy, let’s get a turkey leg before your friends eat them all.”

Caroline spent nearly five hours at the Yuletide dance. She stuffed herself with countless ham quiches and apple muffins. She danced with the Littletons amid familiar Christmas tunes. She chatted with her old teachers, kissed Jesse beneath the hanging mistletoe, and made secret plans with her friends. As the clock struck midnight, marking the official start of Christmas Day, she felt at once exhausted and elated.

Shortly after one, Marybeth approached the table where Caroline and her fellow mischief-makers were munching roasted pumpkin seeds and playing a fierce round of hearts. The other children had already been prodded upstairs, though many adults were still milling about, keeping warm with wassail and dancing a bit more intimately than earlier in the night.

“I know four little people that need to put away those cards and toddle off to bed before Santa decides not to stop by this year.”

“Mom.” Jesse slipped the Queen of Spades into someone else’s trick. “You know we don’t believe in Santa. It’s impossible to visit every house in one night. Silly to think he could.”

“Well, you used to believe it just fine.” Leland smirked. “We all did.”

“That was then. This is now.”

Marybeth rolled her eyes, and Caroline grinned in amusement.

“Besides,” Joshua added, “it’d be pretty difficult for him to get all the way down to the third floor of Ruby Hollow without at least one of our guards spotting him and his reindeer.”

“Maybe he doesn’t conceal himself from adults,” Caroline suggested. “Just the kids.”

Jesse looked horrified. “You don’t still believe in him, do you?”

She shook her head, giggling. “But wouldn’t you have felt awful if I did?”

After a few more whiny protests, the four pals gathered their cards and followed Marybeth to the corridor. As Caroline hobbled through the exit, she took one last, lingering look at the majestic tree and remaining partygoers and wished her ankle would never heal.

Once she’d donned her pajamas and slipped beneath the quilt, the full impact of the night finally settled upon her. Too tired to flip through the diaries beside the soaking holly sprigs on her nightstand, she shut off the lamp and whispered “Good night” to Whiskers. As she drifted into a deep, satisfying slumber, her last thoughts were of the eight packages beneath the bed.

Happy Holidays, everyone! See you in 2010!

To pseudonym or not to pseudonym

December 12th, 2009

Earlier this week, Nathan Bransford broached the subject of adopting a pseudonym in his “What’s In a Name: All About Pen Names” post. Apparently, he receives a lot of questions regarding pen names, such as whether or not a writer should have one, and if so, whether or not said writer should include said pen name in the query to a potential agent.

This is obviously a subject that many of us have considered – for a variety of reasons. So, I appreciate Nathan’s attempt to make sense of it all.

His first piece of advice, of course, is to write a query from your real name. “When I receive your query,” he says, “I don’t want it to be from your pseudonym. I want to know who I’m really going to be working with. Even for authors who have established pen names: I want to hear from the real you (though of course mention your writing name).” According to Nathan, if you have a pen name or are considering a pen name, you should mention it below your real name.

Overall, he recommends against using a pen name unless it’s absolutely necessary – for instance, if you have an ordinary name, want to avoid complications with your “day job,” wish to appeal to a specific demographic, or hope your new book will sell better than your previous ones. Reasons not to pursue a pen name include wanting to defame others without repercussion (which is impossible in the Internet age anyway) or simply liking another name better. In addition, having a fake name can be challenging nowadays, what with trying to juggle personal and professional email accounts, websites, and social networking pages. It can also make it more difficult for you to use your real-life network to help sell a book.

When Dan and I started dating over a decade ago, the issue of a pseudonym was uppermost on my mind. Having wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, I’ve always thought that I would use my maiden name (Laura Raitman) as a professional novelist. The problem was… I’ve never liked my last name. So, after Dan and I got engaged, I started weighing the possibilities.

On the one hand, I wanted to honor my real name – I owed it to myself, my family, and the little kid who’d wanted to be a writer. On the other hand, I longed for a better-sounding name. Dan, of course, wanted me to take his last name when we got married. But, being a stubborn, independent woman, I thought a brand-new name would suit me better. So many options came to mind – from “Laura Guinness” (inspired by the beverage and the actor) to “Laura Kingston” (sparked by a visit to Kingston Mines, a blues club in Chicago). I would scribble the ideas down on napkins, notebooks, and random bits of paper.

Dan was hurt – and a little miffed – that I was so willing to change my last name to anything but his. While I hated to upset him, I knew that he’d never truly understand the difficulty of a modern-day, career-minded gal adopting her husband’s name – which, to me, felt like altering my identity and becoming a shadow of the man I loved.

Eventually, it was my mother-in-law who inadvertently decided my fate. In the spring of 2003, she sent us plane tickets as a gift (and as a way to entice a visit to the in-laws in Florida). Without realizing that, after two years of marriage, I still clung to my maiden name (and had even published a few travel articles under said name), she booked the tickets under “Daniel and Laura Martone.” At that post-9/11 time, it would have been impossible to board the plane with a name discrepancy (even if I had toted my marriage certificate along with my drivers’ license), and my mother-in-law couldn’t change the tickets (due to frequent flier policies).

So, I was stuck with officially changing my name to “Laura Martone,” and despite a few doubts over the years, I haven’t really regretted the decision. For one thing, I have way more credits (articles, blog posts, and guidebooks) under my new name, and admittedly, it was a proud moment when Dan and I sold a horror screenplay with the words “by Daniel and Laura Martone” on the title page.

Still, I’ve noticed that there are more “Laura Martones” on the Internet than “Laura Raitmans,” and that makes search engine optimization a small concern. But by having a presence on Twitter and Facebook, a website related to my work-in-progress, and three other blogs (besides this one), I seem to be overcoming the competition. So, the pseudonym issue has long since been put to rest. After all, as Nathan says, “Don’t use one just to use one.”

So, what about you? Have you considered using a pen name? Or are you, in fact, using one already?

Title matter resolved… for now

December 6th, 2009

Recently, I posed a question about the current title of my novel Hollow Souls. Basically, I wondered if it gives the wrong impression about my story, or if, as I feel, it offers a double meaning about the book’s two main motifs: Devi’s ongoing disillusionment with her life and her connection to the people of Ruby Hollow.

Between this blog and my Simple Pleasures’ one, I received several much-appreciated responses. And the consensus seems to be this: If I like the title, I should keep it. Well, not only do I like it, but it seems that many of my fellow writers do, too, especially Deb, Susan, Weronika, who has read the book, and Donna, who believes my “title brings to mind a community – a PEOPLE with a certain mind set and cultural norms outside of everyday society. It is mysterious, secretive.” That’s exactly what I’ve hoped someone would infer from the title.

Similarly, Bane nailed it when he said that he likes Hollow Souls because “it’s short and conjurific… but also adds a layer of mystery and hints at an underlying sadness (and portends redemption/reconciliation/etc.).” As I responded to him, “I think Hollow Souls is a solid title, and the multiple meanings are apparent to you, so that makes me feel good. At least for now, the title stays.”

More than anything, I appreciate what Martha wrote: “If you like Hollow Souls, then stick with it. It is as much a part of your writing style as anything else. Do what makes you happy for now. Do what keeps your focus on the book.” Well said, Martha. Although a title can easily change down the road – especially once agents and publishers get involved – it’s never too early to think of one, if for no other reason than that it can inspire and guide you when you need it most. Like, for instance, when you need to get through a much-feared revision. Gulp.

So, thanks, everyone! Every day, I’m grateful that I decided to emerge from my “cave” and meet my fellow writing buddies in the blogosphere. If nothing else, we can help one another navigate these crazy publishing waters – before and after we find our blessed agents, editors, and, ultimately, readers.