Author Archives: Michael De Groote

A False Start

On this day, in 2014, I officially began the writing of what was then called Verity’s Oath. That book steamed forward until it bulged out at 127,000 words. I restructured and cut it back eventually to 85,000 words. Now, three years later, I am starting another novel with the working title False.

Why such a long delay?

Well excuses don’ t change performance, but in this case the main reason is I used the editing process to learn more about the craft of writing. I am confident, now, that I can write a lot faster as well as do a better job in editing. I have a much better idea of what a novel should be.

So I don’t anticipate False to be another 127,000 behemoth, but more of a 70,000 word first draft.

All prepare! All aware! Run!

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Even more incoherency about the novel

I’m currently sending out query letters to agents in an attempt to find representation. I had one agent say I had a “very very good query,” but rejected the novel because she changed what she was representing. Another agent also passed on it, but said it was a “cool premise.” I’m hoping to find an agent who is excited about the novel and its possibilities.

By the way, writing a query seemed much more difficult than writing the novel and almost as difficult as editing the novel. I’ve been through what seems like hundreds of versions. I wasn’t satisfied with the “very very good query” (J. Scott Savage reviewed it and thought it was too much like an synopsis), so I wrote a new one that I like much better. It struck me as odd that I had so much trouble with it because I have a background in marketing and in writing copy for hundreds of television commercials, short form promotional videos and various advertising and promotional items.

Of course I spent a lot of time on Janet Reid’s blog, queryshark.blogspot.com, reading and taking notes on what she thought made a good query. I’ve been to classes and workshops on the process. If my current query works, (agents request my manuscript, etc.), I may post it here some day. If it doesn’t work, I will write another one.

Incoherent ramblings about the state of the book

Yes, I finished the first draft of Verity’s Oath in March 2015.

Huzzah!

So, what happened next.

Thinking. Thinking. Thinkin’.

The structural problems of the novel are so difficult. I kept coming up with solutions and then abandoning them. Wash Rinse Repeat.

I’m now closer to a solution that I like. But it has been very difficult to get to it. And I am likely to not like it either. But, like I did last November during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I will push ahead to the end.

The other thing I have done is add a lot of good texture to the novel. I’ve also been playing around on the ideas for a possible sequel.

Another thing I have done is read through the Query Shark website by agent Janet Reid. Although I am not to the querying stage yet, I am finding it very helpful in thinking clearer about story and plot. [By the way, the link takes you to the first Query Shark post. Start there and read all of them.]

All this means that the writing of a novel is much more difficult than I anticipated. The amount of craft improvement available to adopt is infinite. It is all very exciting and daunting.

In any case, I believe in the story and hope you will like it some day. I think you will. I hope you will. Please like it. 😉

My current goal is to finish the edit by the end of November. Then beta readers. Then query. Then agents. Then publishers. Then published. Excelsior!

So, for me November won’t be NaNoWriMo, but MyNoEdMo.

Boys reading about girls and the realities of the marketplace

I was in fifth grade listening to a girl give her book report about a Nancy Drew mystery. I loved mysteries, but I would never have been caught dead reading Nancy Drew. Hardy Boys, yes. The Alfred Hitchcock “Three Investigators,” yes. Nancy Drew, which warned away boys with its yellow spine, never.  I didn’t know that that was about to change in a matter of minutes.

The girl gave a very good book report. It was interesting. It was a great mystery. I wanted to know the ending.

But she didn’t tell the ending.

Foolishly, I raised my hand. “How did it end?”

The teacher jumped in. “Well, Michael, you’ll have to read the book to find out.”

Then I said the fateful words. “Make me.”

She did.

I was not allowed back into class until I read Nancy Drew: The Hidden Staircase. It took me a few days, but I would dutifully take my copy of Nancy Drew and read it in the sixth grade classroom across the hall. Oh the shame of it all.

But.

I liked the book. I may have even read more Nancy Drew, if it hadn’t been associated with a punishment. But I liked it. Shockingly.

I hated to admit it back then, but I enjoyed it. I shouldn’t have hated to admit it, though.

I have distinct memories of my mother fighting against sexism in the 1960s — such as when she went to get a loan at a bank and was condescendingly told she should come back with her husband. She didn’t. That bank got an earful and another bank got her business. Go Mom!

Shannon Hale recently wrote about her experiences with giving presentations at schools and how boys are sometimes not even allowed to listen to her speak because she writes about girls. This opened up a discussion about the topic of boys reading books with girls as main characters.

And now I am worried.

Orson Scott Card wrote about how he noticed the prejudice:

One thing I’ve been told ever since I began writing as a career — by librarians, publishers, editors, and booksellers — is that while girls are perfectly happy reading books with male protagonists, if you start a book with a female protagonist you had better make it a “girls’ book” because very few boys will ever read it.

I didn’t believe them, because I knew I read books with female protagonists and I always had. … Why should I abide by such a stupid gender rule?

Because, sadly enough, it’s true.

Ender’s Game, with a boy protagonist, is my best-selling novel. Speaker for the Dead, which won all the same awards, sells far less — but the first long section has a girl protagonist.

My Alvin Maker series is, in my opinion, better than Ender’s Game, but young male readers mostly never find that out because the opening chapters star a little girl named Peggy, and those boys never get to the story of Alvin Maker himself.

My YA fantasy novel, Verity’s Oath, begins with a female teen protagonist named Verity. There is also a boy named Conner who is a main character. All in all, the book is about them both, but the first chunk is about Verity. So, should I shift things around? Should I put in a prologue featuring Conner? Should I start with Conner and then use a flashback to tell Verity’s story?

I really didn’t know what is the best thing to do as far as getting boys to read my book (assuming it is published, of course). Then I remembered something.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

My all-time favorite books/movies have been Hayao Miyazaki’s works — particularly his “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” manga and movie. His movies usually center around a girl. And they have done just fine.

Sure, I’m no Miyazaki, but maybe seeing his success is just enough to keep my story the way I love it. I will start with a girl. She is a wonderful character and I just love her and want teen boys and girls to get to know her.

So you want me to write a book about a strong female main character, eh?

Make me. Please.

Racing to the finish so the slashing, cutting, and slicing can begin

I knew that a first YA novel needs to come in around 70,000 words. There are reasons for this, of course—some of which I may know. It takes more resources to edit a novel that is long. I’ve realized this with my non-fiction book, Visions of Freedom, which comes out in April. That book has 56 biographies of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. It has googles of endnotes and tons of quotes. I pity the fact checkers and editors and designers who had to wrestle with it.

But bigger means more cost. It also means more can go wrong. It is harder to keep everything in your head.

My goal was to keep my first novel as simple as possible. Make it easy on myself.

Yet…

Here I am in the fifth month of writing, trying to reach the magic 70,000 words. And, I am at 101,067 words. That’s 31,067 too many. And I still have several scenes to go.

I spoke with author Chad Morris on the phone today* and he was very nice to suggest that perhaps some stories need that many words. That may be true, but I know better for my novel. Things will have to be cut. Fictional lives will be destroyed as if they never existed at all. Alas.

For now, however, I push forward. I’m letting the momentum pull me to the end.

I just hope I don’t write more than 200,000 words by then.


*Chad Morris is the author of the Cragbridge Hall series of books about a futuristic school. My daughter, Ellie, was interviewing him for an upcoming review in the Deseret News for his new book, The Impossible Race, and I jumped in on the end of the call. He is very nice to my daughter, so all I can say is go buy his books!

The impossible race

Lessons from NaNoWriMo

The main thing I learned from National Novel Writing Month was how much I really like writing.

This might sound a bit odd if you know me. Almost all of my work has involved a lot of writing. I’ve written many television commercials, tons of videos, zillions of press releases, and googles of newspaper articles.

And I’ve enjoyed it, for the most part.

But this was different.

So, during November and then in December, when I had time to write, I wrote in my novel and ignored this blog.

Sorry.

So, I did end up doing well enough in NaNoWriMo. A large part of this has to do with the support of my wife trying to cover for me in my other tasks.

For a long time I didn’t think I would be able to hit the 50,000 word goal.

On November 28, I wrote 6,113 words, pushing me over into the “winner” category with 50,389 words for the month. That gave me 63,942 words total written on my work in progress (WIP) since I began it.

But after I hit the goal, it was a couple weeks before I could really get back to it. That was a painful couple of weeks.

Now, on January 4, 2015, I have 77,572 finished. That is beyond my goal, but the end is in sight.

Then comes the editing—getting it down to a reasonable length for a first YA book.

Some people like to quote Dorothy Parker:

“I hate writing, I love having written.”

The way I feel however is more like this:

“I love writing, and I love having written, and I look forward to more writing.”

NaNoWriMo more or less

Not a ton of action yet in my NaNoWriMo leg of writing the novel. I’ve had several writing projects all hit me at the same time, which took priority.

That priority thing, however, is an interesting concept.

I give my all to my writing projects. People are paying me (or will soon) after all. This is good for my family, etc. I can’t even say that my heart isn’t in it, because often the work is fascinating and challenging. And right now, a lot of the work has been excellent for beefing up my resume as I look for more permanent work in communications, marketing, PR areas.

But.

But.

My heart longs to write this novel. I am quite surprised, to tell you the truth, how much I long to work on it and get so frustrated when I can’t. And mostly, lately, it has been can’t.

So, ten days into NaNoWriMo and I have a stunning 2,694 words total to show for it, written on Nov. 1 and Nov. 3. Ugh. That should be a daily word count.

According to the NaNoWriMo website, if I continue at this pace I will finish by May 5, 2015. I’m going to have to find a way to work on it more without lessening the quality of work I do for my freelance clients.

Onward and Upward!