Hanging out at Books and Boos.

Books and Boos, signing, Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Yay for book signing!

 

Just got back from my reading at Books & Boos.

It was great; I did a little reading, and little signing and there was food.

Books and Boos, indie bookstore

The owners.

Before the reading, we had a little symposium with owners Stacey Longo and Jason Harris, and there was much discussion of books and movies and chewing gum from the ’80s. It was a blast. Awesome surprise of the day: fellow VBP author Kristi Petersen Schoonover drove out to Colchester for a visit.

If you want to see all my photos of the event, check out my Facebook author page.

On another note, I can’t stress enough that if you live in the area of Middletown, Connecticut, you should definitely check out this bookstore. If you’re a horror fan, it’s right up your alley. If not, there are all sorts of books there – new and used.  Indie bookstores are increasingly rare, and it’s nice to find one with owners who care about local authors and who know their trade.

indie bookstore, books and boos, colchester, ct

Books and Boos in Colchester.

 

Behold: The finalists of the Name My Character contest! Now I need you to vote.

The names are in!

It’s been kind of a neat two weeks. I received a dozen name submissions which ran the gamut from Sarah (as in Sarah Connor) to Devon Sharktopus (thanks, Phil.)

But alas, as in Highlander, there can be only one. And because I like to make up arbitrary rules, there can be only three finalists.

One of the three names below will be the real name of the protagonist in my novella, Beware the Hawk. And to keep it a secret until the big reveal next installment of my story, I shant be revealing the winner until the next piece is published. (Although if you can do math and see the poll results you’ll probably be able to figure it out.) The winner gets to name the character, obviously, and will get a signed copy of the next story featuring her.*

Below are the finalists.

Vanessa Pye, submitted by Daisy Abreu

Hendrikke Penelope Brackensfeld, submitted by Beth Callahan

Harleigh McManus, submitted by Karen Morrissey Covey

You can vote here or on my Facebook page. Hell, vote once here and once on my Facebook page, twice a day, from different computers. Vote for your favorite name. Vote for your favorite person on the list. Just vote a lot, because I really want a clear winner.

And anyways, it’s not like this is a race governed by the elections commission.

The poll is below. You guys have until next month (August 19) to vote. So vote often.

*There’s no money or anything else attached to this prize, as you know. Just glory and a free story. Hey, that rhymes.

Beware the Hawk, in infographics

Thanks to my job, I’ve spent the last several days playing around with data visualizations and infographics. Tonight, I was fiddling around with word-related graphics that require a large block of text to work. I decided to use the first half of Beware the Hawk.*

This was just an exercise to help me learn some technology, but it turned out to be revealing. I wasn’t looking to learn anything about my writing. I figured I knew the words pretty well – I wrote them, yes?

I was surprised to discover that certain words important to the plot of my book don’t actually show up that much in the text, while certain other inane words seemed to have crept into my prose and taken over. Apparently I like to throw the words “look” and “looked” into every possible sentence. My characters do a lot of looking. Also, I like to schedule events for my characters. I’m not punctual in life, but in fiction, arrivals, departures and executions are all planned out. Times are given for almost all events.  I’m like my characters’ sadistic cruise director.

The flow chart below (which is nigh unreadable unless you click on it) shows the use of the word “resistance” in the first half of the book. The resistance is kind of an important element of Beware the Hawk, so I was sort of surprised to see that it only occurs 17 times. I thought it was all over the text when I was editing it. I was also shocked to see that “hawk” only occurred twice, which is why I’m not posting any code for a “hawk” word tree.  It looked more like a word twig.

The Resistance in Beware the Hawk

This is really hard to see unless you click on it. But if you DO click on it, it's interactive.

So what words do occur the most? Here’s a cloud that shows all the words that were used in the first half of the book. The biggest words occur most frequently. The smallest ones are the rarest.

Beware the Hawk word cloud

Well, would you look at that. Leo is all over this book, as is the word "like," because apparently, I write like a valley girl.

Lastly, here’s a phrase net, which is a kind of word infographic that I’m just beginning to explore. This graphic shows all the words I link with the preposition “at.” I think it paints picture that accurately describes the book.

Dead at 3

And the itineraries of certain characters.

I think that this sort of data visualization could be valuable to any writer, if only to expose their writing habits. So, if you’re interested, writer friends, check these free online graphic generators: Wordle is free and you don’t need to log in. Many Eyes you need a log in for, but it’s worth it. Just don’t go and upload the full text of your unpublished masterwork, because it’s stored and made available to all users.

* I only uploaded the first part of the book because I didn’t think my publishers would be happy if I gave the full text away for free on an infographic generating site.

How to revise a novel, according to my commenters.

So, I hear (via the  #AWP12 hashtag on Twitter) that last night, Margaret Atwood brought the house down at AWP with her keynote speech.

I cried a little on the inside when I read those tweets, because I love Margaret Atwood and I’m sad that this was her year to be at AWP and my year to not go. But as I said a few days ago, just because some of us writers aren’t in Chicago doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have some knowledge dropped on us.

Earlier this week, I blogged about my fear of revising a novel and issued a plea for help. And, as always, my fellow writers came through in the clutch with all manner of advice.

Here, in no particular order, is the revision advice that I received this week. It’s enough to make a girl want to get revising right away:

“I go over my text a few times, says SickBoyMcCoy, writer of the online serial Bad Blood Bandits. “The first is just to enjoy it. If I can’t do that due to grammatical or spelling or just structure then it warrants change. The second time I go over it and look for ways to push what I have just a little further. The third time I try to detach myself from what I have written and try and think of the most radically different ways I could have told the story and if none of them outshine what I’ve done it stays. It’s enough to drive someone to drink.”

HannahKarena (whose blog is sadly no longer available for me to link to) recommended a technique she read about in No Plot? No Problem! a craft book written by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWrioMo, (For the uninitiated, that’s National Novel Writing Month):
“I’m about to start revising my own novel this weekend–I’ve been putting it off for weeks because I’ve never done it before–but I’m going to try the index card organization of scenes method that everyone is raving about .”

E.S. Cameron recently wrote that she’s addicted to revision. Here’s her advice:

“I haven’t yet finished a first novel draft, so I haven’t yet revised one – but it seems to me that how you revise depends on where you are in the process. Start from the top and work down, from macro to micro. This is how I would approach it:

MACRO: The first thing I would look at is the story/plot, and fix any gaping holes/problems. Then I would look at form/structure: is this the best way to tell my story? If the answer is no, I would start moving things around until it worked.

IN BETWEEN: From here, I would look at elements like place/detail, character development, dialogue, etc. to make sure that I’m hitting all my targets in these areas. This step would probably involve adding a fair amount of text.

MICRO: Then I would go though chapter by chapter and start cutting mercilessly – any sentence/scene not carrying its weight would have to go. Finally, I would start doing line by line revisions, looking at my specific word choices and sentence structure, making sure that every sentence does what I need it to. (I feel strongly that people underestimate the importance of sentence structure.) This last step I would repeat as necessary.”

Matthew Dicks, author of Something Missing and Unexpectedly, Milo tweeted this advice: “Read aloud. Remind yourself that this is just the first of many revisions. Try not to hate yourself when it sounds like dirt.”

UPDATE: Whoops! Matt Dicks has also penned another book, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. It was released this week in other countries, but as with all delicacies (seasons of Sherlock, fashions from Europe, etc.) we will have to wait months (it releases in August) before we can get our hands on it in the U.S. European and down-under folks, go find this book! Read it, review it and don’t include spoilers!

Alena Dillon of The Time is Write has revised four full-length manuscripts. Here’s her process:

“When I’m done with my first draft, I print the whole thing out. I too am an underwriter (you mentioned that you are in a blog a few days ago), but most times I have a feeling where I’ve gipped my manuscript. For instance, if I think a theme or a character may be lacking, I’ll flip through the manuscript and highlight whenever it/he/she appears so that I can visually see its/his/her arc. Each theme or character would get its own color: green for mother, pink for loss, etc. I like to see physical presence as vividly as possible, and when I get a sense of that, then I read through and mark where I could write more (or, rarely, less), and what I could write–but I don’t actually do the writing until later. Revision takes a lot of courage and momentum, so I don’t interrupt that if I can avoid it.

If I don’t have a sense of what is needed, I’ll read a craft book, keeping my particular manuscript in mind as I read. For the novel, I read Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyons and took notes of what came to mind that my novel might need done. Then I placed those notes beside me as I read through the manuscript AND MARKED THE HELL OUT OF IT. The more cross outs, stars, arrows to the back page with a list of what is needed, the better.”

After reading all this good advice, I remembered that I myself am not completely without revision resources. One of my mentors once told me to put work away for a month, then to read the whole thing in one day as if I were reading someone else’s work. Also, Rick Moody visited my MFA program to give a lecture on revision. His lecture, I remember, was so exciting that I couldn’t wait to get out of there and revise something.  I didn’t have anything to revise at the time, but I still have the notes from the lecture. I plan to re-read the notes from his lecture, re-read this blog post and get crackin’.

Maybe E.S. Cameron is right; maybe a writer can get addicted to revision.

Writers, do you have tips for revising a novel or memoir?

Last night, I blogged about my horror of revising something as sprawling as a novel. Revising Beware the Hawk wasn’t so bad – it’s a novella. But a 300 page novel? That’s a project.

Now I want to ask the writing community: How do you go about your revisions?

Do you revise chapter by chapter? Do you look at the whole story? Do you print it out? Do you graph it?

I’m thinking of putting revision advice together for a future post. I would love it if you’d share your own tips. You can do that in two ways: Either leave a comment or emailing me at annjoconnell(at)gmail(dot) com. If I get a lot of good advice I will put all the tips up in an upcoming blog post, with attributions (so if you have a blog, also send me the url so I can link to you.)

I know that I might be blogging to an empty room here, since many of my writer friends are headed to the AWP conference in Chicago to chill with Margaret Atwood for the weekend. They are not checking their blog readers. They are running wild though tables of MFA programs and lit mags, tweeting writing advice gleaned from panels as they stuff swag into AWP tote bags.

But why should our AWP-bound buddies be the only ones to have a little knowledge dropped on them this weekend? There are plenty of us who are not in Chicago and who have wisdom to share. So let’s have our own online writers’ panel. How do you revise a long piece of work? Let me know.

Writer Wednesday: Loving Flannery.

The genius at home.

I love Flannery O’Connor, and that makes me a member of a very big club. Most writers I know list her as one of their inspirations.

I liked O’Connor before I even read her work, for one very superficial reason: Our names are similar. If I look at her book from across the room and squint, it almost looks like my name is on a very big book of collected stories.

Then I picked up the book and I learned to love her even more.

There are a lot of things to love. The spiritual nature of her work, her gentle but unflinching treatment of racial inequality in the South, and O’Connor’s dark sense of humor appeal to me. But the thing I love most about O’Connor is the way she creates her characters through dialogue. She believably creates the voices of bratty children, racist old men, gossipy women, pretentious intellectuals and crooks.

That’s no mean feat. Below the break is the craft essay I wrote for my MFA program about the genius of Flannery O’Connor’s dialogue.

Be warned – O’Connor wrote her stories in the early 20th century and dealt with issues of race, so there are some racial slurs in the essay below.

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