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THE COBWORLD Deconstructed

A lot has happened since we last spoke.

I’ve written another book. :O

Photo on 2014-03-05 at 15.34 #2

I know, it’s kind of a surprise to me, too. I’ve never written a novel so quickly, or using this method, and so I’m ecstatic to share the recap of the project:

(You may remember my other Deconstruction posts; I like to recap what inspired a project and what the process was like to complete it.)

So I haven’t really mentioned it much on here, but the book is called The Cobworld. Here’s the pitch:

Continue reading “THE COBWORLD Deconstructed”

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THE DEAD-FILLED HALLS Deconstructed and Excerpt!

A new excerpt from my zombie book is available here at vvb32 reads for zombie week!

After Deconstructing my sleeping beauty retelling I decided to make a deconstruction post after finishing every book. Sort of a way to relax and look back at the process. So, here’s the Deconstruction of THE DEAD-FILLED HALLS!

The Inspiration: I’ve been fascinated with zombies for a long time, ever since I saw Night of the Living Dead while home alone at the age of 15. Hoooly cow. Terrifying! I’ve been scared of zombies ever since. (I talk more about the psychology behind this fear here).

But it never occurred to me that I could write my own book about zombies. Not even when my friend Susan Dennard sold her book, an adventurous steampunk with necromancers and the walking dead. Zombies were Beyond for me; something I admired and relished but didn’t feel capable of producing myself.

Until Chris talked me into playing the video game Left 4 Dead 2 with him. We were a team of four lone survivors, trying to fight our way out of multiple zombie-infested areas. And then I had The Idea:

What if the zombie apocalypse happened while I was in high school?  What if they were surrounding the whole building? How would I escape?

A premise was born.

The Writing: I went into this writing without the full plot developed (surprise, surprise). I knew, of course, how I wanted it to end (and boy is it explosive!) I was really inspired by that repeated quote in the movie INCEPTION:

Mal: You’re waiting for a train. A train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you; but you don’t know for sure. But it doesn’t matter. How can it not matter to you where that train will take you? 

Cobb: Because you’ll be together.

I also wanted to explore something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a zombie book: a main character who is going to become one of the infected. How does a teen girl deal with knowing that in 48 hours she’s either going to have to kill herself, or turn into a monster that might attack her friends? How do you face mortality? Say goodbye to your family?

Call me morbid, but whenever I go on a long roadtrip I write out a ‘last words’ letter to my family, just in case something terrible happens. It makes me cry every time, but I think it’s worth it to tell them how much I love them, in case I don’t get the opportunity to say goodbye. As I was in the beginning stages of writing this book I went on vacation with some of the girls from LTWF, and had an 11-hour roadtrip in front of me. The letter I wrote to my boyfriend Chris was inspirational in figuring out how to face those feelings of having to say goodbye in advance.

While at the beach house in Florida, I just couldn’t leave the story alone, and wrote 2,000 words by hand during some of our down-time. Returning to normal life, I kept a word count chart in google docs (I detail that process here) and used that every day to track my progress.

Along the way, I realized my characters were going to be setting off a bomb, and a little unexpected romance found its way into the story. For the bomb I ordered a book off Amazon for how to make improvised munitions (it’s so weird how you can  just buy that stuff with no questions asked), and for the romance I… well… daydreamed a lot? Romance comes pretty naturally to me.

I started writing on July 12th, and finished on September 11th (yikes), so this book was written in 9 weeks. The total word count came out to 55,000 words.

Except not totally.

Initial CP feedback confirmed what I’d been thinking about: The book started too late into the story. I was going for a ‘start with the action’ angle but it left readers disoriented. So now on the task list is going back and adding a few chapters at the beginning showing Milani receiving the detention, interacting with her brother at their foster home, and then the actual lockdown. I’ve put off doing this, however, until I finish edits on my first book, Nameless.

The Reflection: Like the others, this book was magical. Immediately Milani popped into my head. Why a half-white, half-Hawaiian, angry, grieving girl from O’ahu with cultural identity issues? I have no idea. Maybe because I was displaced as a teen, too, when my parents moved us from my home state of Washington to Illinois. In March of my Junior year. My Junior year! I’d been in the same school district my whole life, and suddenly I was going to be graduating with strangers.WA to IL might not seem like a huge change, but I was proud of where I was from. I disliked everything that was different. The environment, the local mentality, the accent, even the demographics in my high school, was just different. And I wasn’t happy about it. So I truly identified with Milani, and the disdain she felt for her new student body. She had spent her whole life as a native, thinking poorly of all the tourists that came to her island, and now suddenly she was one of them. I saw the potential for her individualism to both help and harm her. To truly conquer her situation and save her brother, Milani would have to give up her prejudiced attitudes and learn to work with people she professed to hate.

I went into this book intending to break stereotypes. There are 4 members of the team Milani eventually joins to make the bomb and escape together: Milani herself, James, an intelligent nerd, Allen, a track jock, and Lindsay, a softball player/popular girl.

For the first time in my life I actually based a character off of a real person; James is a derivative of my boyfriend, Chris. Like Chris, James’ family has a history of engineering, and he’s naturally interested in machines, computers, and explosives. I needed a really intelligent character who could guide the group to finding the items they need for the explosives, and James was that character.

Unfortunately the other two characters didn’t fare quite so well in the unique department. Allen turned into the angry jock type, and Lindsay became, frankly, super witchy (though she did save Milani’s life a couple of times, and, in retrospect, her behavior was totally justified). In Lindsay’s defense, Milani isn’t very nice to her. But really, did I truly want to villianize the popular kids? Hasn’t that been done to death?

Well, it turns out the story called for it. I needed some of the characters to be antagonists to keep the story moving along and create tension within the group. So while I did my best to give them motivations and depth, Allen and Lindsay did sort of become the ‘bad’ popular kids. We’ll try to break stereotypes on another project.

This was the first book I wrote where every chapter ended on a cliff-hanger. It was super fun to figure out what dangerous situation my characters were going to have to claw their way out of next, and I really enjoyed writing tense and scary scenes. I tried to keep in mind one of the rules of horror writing: for a good scare, go slower, not faster. Describe every creak in the dark, every sliding shadow, every skipped heartbeat. And then when all hell breaks loose, write fast and furious, moving the story as fast as the action to keep the reader on the edge of their seats.

It was great fun basically all the time. :-)

The Plan: Honestly this one’s going to sit for a while. I’m rewriting Nameless again, and there’s still stuff going on with the sleeping beauty story. I’ve honestly considered self-publishing this book since it’s short and sweet, but what can I say? I’m a traditional publishing girl at heart. I’ll probably get those last few chapters written when Nameless is stalling (as it inevitably will).

Well, it was super fun, guys! Thanks for all the support during the process!

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ROSES OF ASH Deconstructed

As I let you guys know the other day, the sleeping beauty retelling was finished on Sunday. Here are some stats for the book, the origin story, and my feelings about the process.

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Original Idea: Conceived in September 2010 because of this song by Florence and the Machine. It was clearly about Sleeping Beauty even though it directly references Snow White. At first I fell in love with the song because I thought some of the lyrics went ‘No more dreaming like a ghost/So in love with the wrong world.’ I loved the idea of the dead still in love with the living world. Then I realized the lyrics were actually ‘dreaming like a girl’, and that pretty much just made my mind explode.

What world was the girl in love with? Was it the past? Then came The Question: What if Sleeping Beauty woke up and didn’t remember her former life? Would she even believe whoever told her what really happened a hundred years ago? What if they lied to her? How would she know?

Previously I’d had a story idea sort of inspired by the relationship between the Hatter and Alice in the Alice in Wonderland movie that came out recently. Two characters in an abandoned castle, almost in love but haunted by relationships in their past. So when I started the first experimental writing, I borrowed the abandoned tower and the sorrowful nostalgia. Everything grew from there.

As I moved through the first few chapters, I realized I’d written myself into a mystery that even I didn’t know the answer to. There were so many possibilities and motivations that it seemed overwhelming. So I shared my tentative story ideas with my boyfriend, Chris. We were in a video game phase, and played Tetris against each other for hours, talking through plot options and how the different character related to each other. Then we watched the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, which inspired the insight into some groups of character’s motivations. A plot was born.

Idea Approved: I didn’t have a fully-planned-out novel at that point, but I had an idea I was in love with, and about 7,000 words. At the same time, I’d also been working on a concept called SOULMANCER, about a boy whose soul gets snagged on the soul of his female best friend after a magical ‘execution’ of sorts that should have killed him. But something wasn’t quite right with the story. I sent my agent both ‘pitches’ anyway (long queries that didn’t tell the ending). She wrote back that she was leaning more towards the sleeping beauty story, and in that moment I realized that’s what I’d been hoping for. I literally jumped up and down with excitement because I had approval to work on the idea that I really wanted.

That was in January.

The Writing: But despite how much I loved the story, I had a first obligation to my novel of 7 years, NAMELESS. And after my agent gave me her thoughts on the revisions I’d sent her, I had to go back into the editing cave and leave ROSES OF ASH alone.

But it didn’t really work like that. When I was frustrated with NAMELESS I found relief in the plot twists of ROSES OF ASH. It’s the first young adult novel I’ve written with actual fight scenes and a rapidly-moving plot. Something was always happening, someone’s loyalties being challenged, some secret being revealed. I fell asleep thinking about sleeping beauty and her struggles. So when it was time to send off a partial of NAMELESS to my agent to make sure I was on the right track with voice, I relished the opportunity to give non-guilty focus to ROSES.

Over the long weekend, I decided that I was absolutely going to finish working on the book. I had recently figured out the ending (after a few delicate days where I thought I’d be stalled on the book forever), and knew precisely where I was going. This allowed me to write 6,000 words on Saturday and 4,000 words on Sunday.

And then I was done. I wrote each scene when I was really feeling it, which had me alternately getting goose bumps and flashes of adrenaline and crying. I finished up the ending which resolved itself on that hopeful note I’m fond of, then went back and added in a secondary character I’d needed, then it was done, done, totally done.

Cue huge sigh of relief. :-)

I thought I’d end up at about 70k, and it came close, at 66k. Maybe with revisions it’ll climb up there and be firmly in the middle of the ‘sweet spot’, but 66k is definitely respectable for YA.

The Reflection: ROSES OF ASH is the first book I’ve written since signing with my agent. Everything has been NAMELESS focused for the past two years, and at times I thought I’d never have another idea. When I was working on SOULMANCER I even remember struggling moving on from NAMELESS. At one time I told SOULMANCER, inside my mind, that I would never love it as much as NAMELESS. Talk about self-destructive tendencies. Because subconsciously I knew there was something not quite right. I never had that problem with ROSES OF ASH.

ROSES OF ASH reminded me that I’m a writer through and through. I fell absolutely in love with this story, and have been rereading it non-stop since finishing. Plus, holy cow, 6k in one day?! That’s definitely a personal best. I sat down and wrote for 6 hours straight. It was incredible.

This is also a project that hasn’t had much outside influence. By that I mean that no one was reading it as I went. Yes, I kept Chris updated on all my plot changes, and yes I did post some excerpts, but I didn’t have a CP I was sending chapters to and waiting for comments every time (like I do with NAMELESS revisions). I’ve been thinking a lot about what writers mean when they say that they have to feel like a work is private before they can work on it.

Because my work has never been ‘private’. Even when I was writing the first draft of NAMELESS I was sharing chapters on Fictionpress, sometimes just moments after I finished them. I’m always thinking of my audience as I write, but usually it’s thoughts like ‘Omg I can’t wait to share this with everyone; it’s so awesome and I know they’re gonna love it!’. It’s never ‘What if they don’t like it?’ or ‘What if I can’t pull this off?’ I guess I’ve had such positive feedback from readers over the years that I have faith your approval will be there; that’s not even something I worry about at all.

Lately I’ve been reading a non-fiction book about writing that talks a lot about how our writing is an expression and reflection of ourselves, and we sort out our own issues through it. When I came upon the final chapters of ROSES OF ASH, two of my characters had an argument that threatened to leave them separated forever. One of my MC’s constant complaints in the book is that people keep lying to her, to ‘protect her’. Even when the lies are made in order to prevent her pain, she can’t stand it.

And I realized I’m the same way. I had a few experiences growing up that taught me that I absolutely cannot stand to be lied to for my own protection. Living a lie is far worse, to me, than the pain of knowing the truth, whatever it is. Living a lie means that not only are my experiences false, but my emotions are too. And there’s a sense of embarrassment that goes along with it: I feel this way, and was confident in the way I felt, but if I had known the whole truth I would have felt completely different. Whoever lied to me took that dignity away from me.

The past is incredibly important to me. I try to make sure I honor my younger self, and don’t violate the intentions and dreams I had. When my MC would do anything to get back what she lost, she is carrying my fears and desires with her. I would fight like crazy to get back the memory of someone I loved and can no longer remember. In the end, memory is all we have. If no one can remember someone, they might as well never have existed. Memory is a fight against death, in a way. And my MC is someone who clings to life.

The Future: So what’s the plan? I’ve sent ROSES OF ASH to begin making the rounds with the CPs. When I have their approval, off it shall go to my agent for her thoughts. In the meantime, I’m finishing up NAMELESS revisions notes and tentatively planning a sequel to ROSES. The deal with sequels and trilogies is that you shouldn’t write them until the first book sells. So I’m creating outlines and working on the scenes I absolutely MUST, but not planning to focus on it seriously until I get approval.

So, that’s the complete story. Any questions?