1. Read your work aloud
2. Write flash fiction (generally stories 1000 words or less).
1. Read your work aloud
2. Write flash fiction (generally stories 1000 words or less).
This past Sunday night, I was invited to read a passage from Diary of Bedlam at the first Noir at the Bar L.A.
Eric Beetner, Stephen Blackmore, Josh Stallings, and Duane Swierczynski also read. I suppose it's appropriate to ask the question: Including my own, which of these names are not like the others? You guessed it: Holly West.
I'll be honest. I was terrified to read my work in front of this crowd. Not only was this to be Diary of Bedlam's first public outing, my work is considerably fluffier than the pull-no-punches, skulls-blown-to-bits stories these guys put out. I love reading the hard stuff, but I don't write it because when I do, it's trite, derivative, and fake. I'm a big believer in knowing your strengths, and playing them up to the hilt.
Not that I don't also believe in doing something new and challenging once in awhile.
So with that said, I did the only thing I could: I donned a push-up bra, black leather boots, and pretended like I knew what the hell I was doing.
For the most part, it went well. I certainly have no regrets, though I still wonder if perhaps I could've picked a better passage. That was the hardest part, you see–figuring out what to read. What best represented the tone, characters, and story of Diary of Bedlam? I'm not sure I nailed it, but the passage I picked at least did the job.
One thing I learned from this experience that I will certainly be putting into future practice: Reading your work aloud is an excellent editing tool. I'd heard this before and had even done it a little whilst editing Diary. But now I kind of think that every scene in every novel, every story, should be read aloud because it's easier to identify superfluous words and passages that don't work when you hear them, not just read them.
Many, many thanks to Eric Beetner, Stephen Blackmore, Aldo Cacagno, Josh Stallings, and Duane Swierczynski for letting me play author for a night. Makes me think someday I might be doing it for reals.
I attended the California Crime Writers Conference in Pasadena this weekend. What a great time. I met a lot of new people and got to know several people better. We all talked incessantly about writing, books and careers, and everything in between. In the process, I took away loads of great advice.
The first bit of wisdom I took with me was something I already knew, though it seems that I require daily reminders of its importance. Writers must have patience. Patience is something I've always had in short supply, but I'm going to have to cultivate it if I want to be happy in this career I've chosen (sometimes I feel like it chose me).
Until I started my search for an agent, I had no idea how much patience would be required of me. The process goes something like this: I send my query, the agent responds, usually within a couple of days, asking for more material. I send it on thinking they've been waiting with nothing to do for my brilliant manuscript to make its way to their computer. Of course as soon as they get it they're going to read it, love it, and offer me representation, right?
Turns out agents have other stuff to do besides reading my manuscript. In fact, they might not ever get around to reading it. At the very least, it is typical to wait weeks or months for a response, even when they've requested a full manuscript.
June is my birthday month. When I was a kid, I hated having a birthday in June because school was already out for the summer and it meant I couldn't be celebrated at school the way other kids were when it was their birthdays. I'm sure my mother was pleased, however, because she never had to schlep 30 cupcakes into my classroom.
Speaking of my mother and cupcakes, here's a somewhat funny story, and I don't think she'll mind me telling it. For various reasons, my parents locked onto the health food craze early on. Certainly before any of my friend's parents (if they ever did). Progressive, right? Uh, no. It was the bane of my 13-year-old existence (along with the 1968 Oldsmobile they picked me up from school in). Back in those days, one didn't have stores like Whole Foods or even Trader Joe's, stocked full of healthy options that actually taste good. My mom's version of health food was carob, no salt, no fat, and wheat germ sprinkled on everything.
But I digress.
At some point during this time, my mother was called upon to bring a baked good to a school or church function and she chose to whip up a carob concoction–I do believe they were cupcakes of some sort. She set them down on the table and awhile later a lady picked one up, took a bite and said "Ew, what is this?" She might've even let an expletive fly. I know I would have. But my mother was standing close by and she heard everything, causing her much hurt and embarrassment. Her response to the incident now is "What was I thinking?" Indeed, mother, indeed.
Of course, this post was meant to be an update of what's happening in Diary of Bedlam land, so I suppose I should get on with it. I am, at the moment, looking for an agent, which means sending out query letters to various agents and agencies, hoping they'll at least want to take a look at my manuscript. On the whole, the response to these queries has been great–I'm at about a 35-40% success rate and the manuscript is currently being read by four agents with a fifth one who asked for more material. Definitely not something I'm complaining about.
That said, there haven't been any offers of representation and not only is it possible none of these agents currently considering the manuscript will make an offer, it is extremely likely they will not. Such is the nature of the process, I'm learning. Still, I'm optimistic, I really am.
I'm also writing the sequel to Diary of Bedlam, the working title of which is Diary of Deception. It took me three years to write Bedlam, so I'm hoping to finish this one more quickly. I need to learn how to write a polished novel in 6 months or less, I think.
In a few weeks I'll be 43, can you believe it? Well, I'm sure you can, but I certainly cannot.
At least that's what author Darrell James said to me on Facebook today. I believe him.
The first of which I speak is sending out my first agent query for DIARY OF BEDLAM. I did that yesterday, and I've sent two more today. I guess I'm gonna keep doing that until one of them falls at my feet and begs to represent me.
Wait, wha…? I'm sorry, I dozed off there for a second. I must've been dreaming. Hope I didn't say anything foolish while I was out.
It feels wonderful to finally send DIARY OF BEDLAM (well, at this point, just a synopsis of it) out into the real world. For so many months, or years, actually, I struggled for it all to come together. Then one weekend *poof*–the novel was finished. Now it's not just finished, it's polished.
And you know what? I AM SO PROUD OF IT.
I know it's rude to use all caps–it's considered shouting. But if I had a taller ladder I'd climb up to my roof top and shout this to the world:
FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS, READERS, BECAUSE BEDLAM IS ABOUT TO BE UNLEASHED.
Or something like that.
Since I don't have a taller ladder, I'll probably just sit here hitting the refresh button on my email and checking my spam folder until I get a response from an agent.
So yeah. You may have heard I finished DIARY OF BEDLAM. After giving it a good read-through, I can confirm that I love it. It is everything I wanted it to be.
Sure, it still needs some polishing. I have my own notes, and now I'm waiting on feedback from my beta readers to see what they think. But the key word here is "waiting." I don't want to touch the manuscript again until I get their comments. When I do, I will re-emerse myself in it so I can start shopping that puppy ASAP.
But waiting means I have a little time on my hands to plot my next novel. Initially I thought I'd jump right into the sequel to DIARY OF BEDLAM. But I also want to write a stand alone and a short story. Sure, a more disciplined person could do both, but in case you haven't been reading this blog over the years, I AM NOT THAT PERSON. I'm a one-project-at-a-time girl.
There's a novel I've wanted to write for at least ten years which takes place in contemporary Santa Monica. After spending so much time in 17th century London, I kind of think it might be time to put that old adage "write what you know" into practice. Then again, it has a male protagonist. What do I know about being a dude? Still, it explores a theme I'm interested in: what happens when you accidentally kill another human being? What does that feel like? How do you live with yourself?
But truth be told, I'm reluctant to leave Isabel Wilde (DOB's protagonist) and her world for any length of time. I'd really like to get a jump on the sequel by the time I'm looking for an agent.
Not that I'm complaining. Life is damned good right now, and it's nice to have choices.
(Okay, so after thinking about it, I'm 99% sure I'm going to start on the sequel to DOB. Stay tuned).
Yesterday, I posted on Facebook that I'd just typed THE END on the latest draft of my novel, DIARY OF BEDLAM.
What does this mean?
It means that I've got a finished novel, folks. A complete manuscript that tells a story from A to Z. It means I've got a novel I'll let others read.
Most importantly, it means that I've accomplished one of the the biggest goals of my life. I've dreamed about writing a novel since I was a teenager. And now I've done it. Frankly, that makes me feel a little weepy.
What does it not mean?
It doesn't mean it's perfect yet. It won't be ready to shop until I get and possibly incorporate reader feedback (some of which I've already done, but never on the complete novel). I think it's pretty damned good, but I'm also pretty sure it's not ready for publishing yet.
It will need some revisions as different people (first my trusted beta readers, then, hopefully agents, and dare I say it, an editor) read and give feedback.
Thanks to everyone for all the kind comments on Facebook and for all the support you've given thusfar in my journey. It helps more than you know!
Not bad, eh? This is a book I can’t wait to read.
Eric and I met at Left Coast Crime in Los Angeles in 2010 and have since become friends. To celebrate the release of Borrowed Trouble, we took some time out to chat about our writing processes.
I really, truly thought 2010 would be the year of Bedlam. While it certainly was a crazy year in some respects, it wasn't, sadly, the year I finished my book. I have to be okay with that.
I have every expectation of finishing the book in early 2011. I am, in fact, right on track for that. The problem is that I've been here before–I'm on a roll, I'm revising like crazy, and writing "THE END" seems iminent. Then something happens and that damned train gets derailed.
This time, it was a brain storming session with a good friend. One night at dinner she asked me "Why is she [my main character] doing this?" When I gave the answer, she said, "What I wanted to hear was this…" And it turned out that "this" was so much better than what I'd intended, I knew I had to incorporate this new, improved (and rather obvious) motivation into the novel.
While this hasn't required a full re-write, it has entailed moving sections around, adding passages, et cetera. It requires a new reading of the entire book, making sure every chapter is consistent with the changes that came before it in the last. For this novel-writing novice, it takes time.
I do believe that 2011 will be the year of Bedlam. The year I hope to get an agent, or better, sell DIARY OF BEDLAM. Regardless, it will be the year DOB is finished and a new novel is started. I also hope to write a few short stories as well. Since I've been revising DOB for over a year, I've done less actual writing, and I need to get back to that.
So here's to 2011. May we all accomplish our goals.
I haven't been updating my blog in the last few weeks because I've been spending my writing time revising my manuscript. After I finished my first revision, things unexpectedly took off for me–I still find it a challenge to keep my butt in the chair, but the work is moving much faster and feels much less tedious.
I'm also having a lot more of those moments when I read over my work and I think "wow, did I write this?" Moments when I forget I'm reading something I wrote and it feels like a real novel. Moments when I think maybe this is the reason why I've struggled so long to get this done, when I realize maybe I'm good enough to have my work published.
So lately, I've been pretty excited about this whole novel-writing thing. Though it still needs work, I can, with all honesty, say that I have written a novel. It didn't feel that way after I wrote my first draft because the story was just too disjointed and needed too much work to feel anywhere near done. Now, with my mid-October deadline around the corner, I am much closer to the finish line and I see–dare I say it–light at the end of the tunnel.
Why the October deadline? On October 13 I'm travelling to San Francisco for Bouchercon by the Bay. Last year I went having just completed my first draft. This year I want to go with a finished manuscript in hand and be able to report I've started querying agents. This is a huge milestone and it seems appropriate to make Bouchercon the deadline.
I'll see you in mid-October, and in the mean time, I hope you're also finding success in completing your dream projects, whatever they may be.