Friday, April 5, 2019

My Favorite 99th Revision!


Happy Tenth Anniversary!


Carmella began the celebration of our   TENTH blogiversary at  TeachingAuthors! In honor of this momentous milestone, we'll be giving away a signed copy of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults (W.W. Norton) written by book editor and author Cheryl B. Klein. You'll find the giveaway instructions here!

We are looking at our favorite posts of these last ten years, and I have to admit, I love them all, written by every one of the TAs. I found them all inspiring, informative and relevant to the ongoing adventures of writers who teach writing to children, teens and adults. But perhaps the most relevant discussion, from my post of Feb 2017,  centers on revision. I'm currently taking the Revising and Re-Imagining Your Novel or Chapter Book online workshop, offered by Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. This is my second time around, and I continue to learn new strategies on how to dig deep into your story, looking at what ails it, and how to -- as Cheryl Klein states in her book on what makes for a good story -- "take readers on wonderful outward adventures and stirring inward journeys."

"I want to be sucked into this imaginary world and believe these characters and their actions are real, and I want the flow of language to be like water to a fish -- transparent, so I see right through it to the action, and so immersive that I take it for granted." -- Cheryl B. Klein, The Magic Words




Remember that old marching song:
99 bottles of beer on the wall
99 bottles of beer
Take one down, and pass it around,
98 bottles of beer on the wall.
Its repetitive melody helps you find your rhythm when hiking trails or jumping ropes. It’s an ear worm that keeps you steady when the task at hand seems monumentally tedious. It diverts your attention from the monotony to the goal. That’s what I feel when I revise. When I finish a first draft, breathing a sigh of relief and accomplishment, I move on to the first revision. Only to discover another plot hole. A character acts out of character. First person slips into third person. Or worse, the history is wrong.

I write a blend of historical fiction and American fantasy, blending the folklore that captures the American identity with a unique form of fantasy that – I hope – captures forgotten times and personalities in American history. My first book, Big River’s Daughter (2013), begins in December 1811, when a series of earthquakes shook the Mississippi River basin. It shook so hard, the river ran backwards. It changed the landscape. Language is as important as the history during this time. In true rough and tumble fashion, the heroes of tall tales mocked and defied convention. Annie Christmas and Mike Fink – two important characters in the book – used language as wild and unabashed as the circumstance and landscape that created them and the protagonist, River. If the language isn’t correct, not only to the time and place and character, it’s time for a second revision.

98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer…
The historical details are particularly important, whether it is the day the river ran backwards or a day during the Civil War. Historians work within a broad spectrum of data-gathering, dairies, journals and other volumes of primary sources. Planning and plotting resemble postnotes arranged in rainbows, Venn diagrams and flowcharts, all in the quest for accuracy. The process of writing historical fiction, like researching history, is neither straightforward nor risk-free. My second novel, Girls of Gettysburg (2014),  focused on Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. No other time in American history has been so researched, even down to the number of bullets fired during the charge. Historical fiction makes the facts matter to the reader. If you get those details wrong…

97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles of beer… 
Even after a manuscript is done, it's not truly done. My dear Reader (what some might call a beta-reader, but I call her Clara) and I have a process. After so many rejections, we review the story, and look for possible revisions. For all the blood, sweat and tears – no tall tale here! – spilled during the writing of the manuscript, a manuscript is more likely to get rejected than not. Recently, I revised one rejected manuscript, taking it from 150 pages to 175 pages, refining character,  language and plot while expanding on the historical context. During this process,  I have to keep reminding myself, revising is when the real writing begins. This is when the real story emerges, the one that needs to be told. 

Now I’m revising another historical fantasy manuscript. The original was an experiment into the contemporary. After several rejections, it became apparent that the experiment didn’t work. With this book, I venture into the wild, wild west, taking on its fantastical landscapes and lore. Think The Reluctant Dragon meets American Gods.

96 bottles of beer on the wall, 96 bottles of beer…
Historical fiction is one of the hardest sells today. As one agent warned me, western themes are harder still. The original manuscript was 150 pages, and I have to get it to 225 (for many reasons, one of which is the conventions our hoped-for editor prefers)...

95 bottles of beer on the wall, 95 bottles of beer…
You know what? I hate beer. And this morning, I hate revision even more. It’s hard, hard, bloody hard work.  It makes me dizzy-eyed. And there’s no guarantee that after all that blood spilled, sweat poured, and tears cried, and there’s been plenty of each, I’ll even be offered that coveted contract. So why do it anyway?

Indeed. Instead of spending all those hours writing, typing, outlining, researching, deleting, cutting, pasting, I could bake a pie. I could eat a pie. I could give my cat a bath. I could learn a new hobby, plant another garden, or two, or three…

Wait. Pause. Take a breath.
True enough, I have enough gardens. And I have enough hobbies, which mostly centers on books and more books. And my cat would not let me live to see another day if I dared give him a bath. And I haven’t had a baking oven for close to a decade.

Besides, this character, for all her flaws, is getting really interesting. If I could just…

Fine. Back to work.

94 bottles of beer on the wall, 94 bottles of beer…
Don't forget to enter our giveaway!

Bobbi Miller

12 comments:

Yvonne Ventresca said...

Revision is such a joyful, tricky process! Keep going. :)

Rebecca C said...

What is it they say....Writing is revising. It's not fun but very much part of the process. Thanks for sharing your own experience!

Carmela Martino said...

Great "favorite" choice, Bobbi! I hope your revision class helps you get your story where it needs to be!

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction said...

Revision can be both wonderful and terrible (sometimes all at once!). Thanks for sharing your insights.

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Damyanti said...

Revision can be a relief and a torture. All the best with yours!

Bobbi Miller said...

Thank you, Yvonne!!!

Bobbi Miller said...

Thank you, Rebecca!!

Bobbi Miller said...

Carmela: Harold's class is exactly what I needed for this revision. ❤

Bobbi Miller said...

Thank you, Nicole!

Bobbi Miller said...

EXACTLY, Damyanti! Thank you!

Marcia Strykowski said...

This is wonderful and really speaks to where I am in my current WIP. Great quote from Cheryl, too!

Joanna said...

Awesome favorite. Love the gritty honesty here.