Saturday, May 23, 2009

Taking It to the Next Level

It's weird. I've had two things happen in the last few days that are both encouraging and illustrative of how far I still have to go for GWENDOLYN'S SWORD to see the light of day.

I submitted the first 10 pages to the Texas Writers' League's annual Manuscript Contest. I submitted in 3 categories, and I've heard back from 2 so far and I'm a finalist in both. Yeah! That's encouraging. And just today I heard back from a professional editor who does reviews of just the first couple of chapters to offer critique on how well you've set up quest-motivation-conflict and just the general flow of those crucial opening pages, and she gave me GREAT feedback.

I've been feeling like I'm polishing, polishing, polishing, but not really getting to the guts of what needs to be fixed in the manuscript. And I've been sort of thrashing around trying to get a hold on what it is. I've figured out some of it on my own, getting rid of the reams of exposition at the outset, but now I'm realizing that's just the beginning. It's not just about weeding. It's about picking up the pace, sweeping the reader off their feet in the first few pages and never setting them down again until they're ready to jump up and cheer when Gwendolyn finally triumphs at the end. I get it now. I've had it in my head that I needed to focus on the "writing": have a clear voice, write readable sentences, don't smother the dialogue. Now I'm realizing from my success with the contest and the editorial feedback that I've got the "writing" part of it pretty well in hand; it's the STORYTELLING that I need to work on. I'm writing an action adventure with a little paranormal thriller thrown in set in medieval england. This is not the time to wax prosaic about manor life and court politics. This is "Lethal Weapon" starring a woman set in 1192. I get it now.

Man, you get all involved with your characters and the setting and your own writing, and you lose your way. They have a story to tell, and it's a heart-thumping page turner, and I need to get myself out of the way of it.

Whoa. I get it now.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Currently Reading: Ash by Mary Gentle

Ass kicker. I was going to wait until I was finished with this book before I blogged about it, but it's about 1,000 pages, and I'm only at 677. I'm reading slowly, savoring. I'm already getting panicky about what I'll read next, when I'm done with this, that won't taste like table wine after a fine claret, Lone Star after Guinness.

Ass kicker.

Wanting to read stories about tough broads with swords doesn't leave many choices for the library shelf. There are cute broads with swords, romantic broads with swords, religiously devout broads with swords. But a woman mercenary set in medieval times? Delightfully yummy. And it turns out that Ms. Gentle herself is an expert swordsman with a Master's in War Studies.

Mary Gentle's writing is as brave as her heroine. She takes chances, and most of the time, she's spot on. The narrative has made a few turns to some very dark places, maybe a few that I wish I hadn't gone to, having two small babes at home. But the writing is pheonomenal. Ash won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History in 2000, and has received consistent critical praise since then. The themes are complex and the characters beautiful and terrible.

I probably need to read all of Ms. Gentle's works.