Category Archives: My first novel

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.

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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!

Nanu Nanu NaNoWriMo

Everybody always sounds so excited about NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month which starts today. I never really got it until I started writing my novel last month. I knew it was coming up, but didn’t want to wait a month to start.

Well, I looked at the rules, and I can still enter, participate on a work in progress.

Also, I am at a point in my novel where there is a major break, so it almost is as if I am beginning another book, even though I am not.

So I will attempt to write the 50,000 words this month and keep track of it on the NaNoWriMo site. I also will try to connect with other people who are doing this. I’d like to be a part of a like-minded writing group. Eventually.

The challenges are that I just started a new full-time, albeit temporary, job. And it requires a ton of mental energy. I also have some other freelance work requiring immediate attention that will have to be done after the other work. And so forth. Family. Church. That sort of thing.

So, we’ll see how much I can get done.

Also, this post has no image. I thought I might post more if I didn’t feel like I had to post an almost meaningless image every time.

Now to see how much I can write today…

Moving forward—What I’ve learned so far about writing a novel

I began writing the novel on October 7, 2014.

Let me tell you what I have learned so far. But first, here are the word-count numbers:

Oct. 7: 2,494 words
Oct. 8: 613
Oct. 13: 1,584
Oct. 14: 2,023
Oct. 15: 43
Oct. 16: 1,473
Oct. 20 2,764

So far, the novel has 11,092 words (the numbers above fall short if added because of revisions here and there). This means I have 58,908 words left to reach a typical YA length of 70,000 words.

How it is going so far

The first thing I noticed is how different writing fiction is than writing non-fiction. I always loved it when I could write a story for the newspaper where there were real scenes and, heaven, real dialogue between people—but that was rare.

I was surprised when I began writing the novel how easy it was to get into the flow. I love the creation of the paragraphs and the flow of scenes. I love the variation and pacing. The music of it.

At times, it is like watching a movie. I really love my characters and how they are coming alive. I love it when I look up and three hours have gone by and I’ve been in another world.

I really love when, suddenly, something happens that I didn’t expect and it is awesome.

What I don’t love is when I can’t get in a few hours a day. I feel like it is pulling at me all the time. Write me. Write me. Write me. But I have other responsibilities and writing projects (such as my non-fiction Visions of Freedom: Wilford Woodruff and the Signers of the Declaration of Independence book and freelance writing jobs). Nevertheless, I should still be able to push it along each day.

I’m amused that as I write, the needs of the story will require me to rewrite previous things. It doesn’t matter that I have the thing outlined. I need to go back and, for example, demonstrate that Verity has a trickster side to her. Another example, I need to change the role of Lady Diewell to be more involved earlier in the story for a payback later on.

I read the first four chapters to my 11-year-old (who is worried that it will have a romance. Sorry.) and she likes it. It was very helpful to see the parts that were not clear to her and needed more explanation.

I’m simultaneously pleased with what I have written and hate it completely. I gave myself permission to write, as the audio book version of Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, says, a “Crappy first draft.”

Shannon Hale describes it this way in a tweet: “Writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

The difference between what I want it to be and what it is is so vast. But I’m laying down the words in the hope that magic will happen in the revision process. I remember James Dashner talking about his novel Maze Runner and how much it changed as he revised it and as agents and editors gave him specific advice.

One of the things I was worried about before I began writing, was that I would hurry too fast through the scenes and that I couldn’t sustain the story. As I am working on it, however, I am pleased that I am able to come up with details and action and dialogue as it is needed. I didn’t know if I could do it, but indeed I did. So far.

I don’ t know if this book will ever be published. But I am determined to learn how to write a good novel. Regardless of this first book’s success or failure, it is the first substantial step in the right direction.

So far my 11-year-old likes it. That is, by itself, some success.

And so it begins

Everything was in place.

I had my outlines. I had my maps. I was about to begin the actual real writing of the actual first draft.

The document was open. At 3:48 p.m., yesterday, Oct. 7, 2014, I typed my chapter title and first sentence: Verity ran.

Then the phone rang.

Since I am looking for work, I can’t afford to not take phone calls these days. It was, indeed, an important phone call.

Then, I sat down again.

The phone rang before I could write another word.

This was a phone call to arrange an interview with Michael McLean with my daughter for her Deseret News “Connect 123” column, Ellie’s Bookshelf. Also important.

Then it was dinner. Doorbells rang. Etc.

It wasn’t until 7:28 p.m. that I was able write the second sentence. I hated everything I wrote. But I pushed through. Eventually, I seemed to get into the rhythm of the writing. Although I write for a living, this was very different. I can see right away where I need to develop the craft of writing fiction better.

But, as I said, it got better as I went along.

Because this is my first novel, I completely expect the first draft to be nauseatingly bad. I also expect it to get better as write more. My hope is, after revising, it will not be nauseatingly bad, but merely bad. Then, with advice and help, I hope to punch it up to passable, then good, then fantastic.

Well, that is my hope.

By the time I finished last night at a little before 9 p.m., I wrote a full first chapter with 2,494 words. That includes the seven words (chapter title and first two-word sentence) I wrote at 3:48 p.m. That isn’t so bad for a start.

Now, only 67,506 more words to go. At this rate, assuming I am able to put in four hours a day instead of just an hour and a half, I should be able to finish this up in, oh, about 10 working days. If I unplug my phone…

…and don’t eat, or shower, or work on my non-fiction book, or anything else, and if my wife doesn’t have any projects–like painting that stair railing, etc., etc., etc.