CHILDREN OF THE WITCH in a paragraph

Children of the Witch is a 71,000-word fantasy that imagines an American West where misfits and marshals in an arms race with Rasputin seek to weaponize demons. Peter Slips Noose just wants to escape his brother and the blimp-borne pirate crew of The New Delight, reconcile with his grandmother, and have some good friends. Instead, after a visit to the gallows, he finds the Three Sisters and their many, many husbands, Henry Johnson and his hammer, and pentagram wearing United Americas’ marshals. And the demons they are summoning. So many demons. To finally find a family, he must pick between his estranged grandmother and his hostile brother, each trying to exploit the conjuring.

FRIENDS OF THE CLAM in a paragraph

FRIENDS OF THE CLAM is a 71,000-word literary novel. Neurodivergent and obsessive, mid-twenty-year-old Curtis Love has a tricky life. A perfect honeymoon leads to a less than perfect marriage, a demanding boss, and a mysterious job. And now, his marriage is over. Determined to change himself and find an ideal social life somewhere between loneliness and social anxiety, he faces an employer who will only meet in video games, drunk runners, and angry churchgoers. Curtis sees his chance to balance between too many friends and too few evaporate. Then he meets June and Donnabella. Changing himself becomes his only option as he tries to find and fit into a family. 

Reading drafts aloud

The last few months I’ve been revising by reading aloud and line-editing as I go. This is surprisingly satisfying, especially when I can read in big blocks of time, like three or four hours. Before these sentence-level changes, I made bigger structural changes by dragging and dropping or cutting large pieces of text. Once I had chapter-level changes made, I started on the sentences.

Once I’m done with the sentences, I’ll write a synopsis. Then I’ll write an elevator pitch.

I like this approach, but I think that the next time I start something big, I’ll begin by drafting pitches, then the synopsis, then a manuscript. I’ll do structural changes and proofreading in the same order as I am currently.

THE SECRET PHYSICS in a paragraph (two versions)

In The Secret Physics, a dying woman’s final whisper threatens to undo everything her son Jonathan knows about their relationship, his life, and reality itself. Years before, a stranger named Simon interrupted an innocent girl’s childhood, changing her life and leaving her hungry for revenge. Wendy vows that she will have the power that was meant to be hers, but when her life collides with Jonathan’s she learns Simon still seeks to do her and her family harm. When he returns to battle Wendy, the only person who can save her is Jonathan, the man whose trust she betrayed and life she destroyed.

In The Secret Physics, readers meet Jonathan Norton and Wendy Daily, a mild-mannered mortician and a beautiful linguist, married but not exactly in love. To save their grandson from an otherworldly poisoning, Jonathan races from world to world searching for Wendy and doubting his sanity. All of her family is at risk. Her parents disappeared decades before, perhaps exiled by a man who once saved her. Now Wendy must journey toward revenge and Jonathan must search for help through realities neither can understand. They must survive each other and the plot to destroy them to defend a loved one from a deadly, poisonous transformation.

100 x 100 III

I reached my goal to draft 100 micro fictions. None of them are shorter than 100 words; some are longer but nothing over five hundred. I like some but flinch slightly at others.

The traditional suggestion for revision is that once a draft is done it should sit as long as possible. The thinking is that the passage of time will help make the draft new or fresh or strange the next time it is read. This strangeness will show possible next steps for future drafts.

Another common suggestion once a draft is done is reading it aloud. Hearing sentences can reveal ways they might be improved.

Today, I’m not sure which of these I’ll do next. Letting this draft of 100 micro fictions sit for a while is an easy default. I have one or two other big projects (Friends of the Clam and Children of the Witch) I ought to return to as well.

On characters alone

The Practice of Creative Writing by Heather Sellers is an excellent introduction to Creative Writing across genres. It includes the following advice: “When you write about one person who is alone, you tend to rely on thoughts. It’s harder to create tension with a character alone on stage, lost in thought – difficult but not impossible . . . As a rule, however, a character alone with their thoughts is boring” (255). This is a good principle. One of the weaknesses in one of my projects lately is time a character spends alone, specifically while driving across much of the country. I’ve been thinking about how to revise to add tension to that journey.

At the same time, I’ve just started rereading Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, the first of her MaddAddam trilogy. Atwood’s Snowman/Jimmy is very alone in a postapocalyptic cli-fi setting. Atwood’s text suggests a character who is alone can spend lots of time thinking about an interesting past that is full of other characters (these include for Snowman/Jimmy, his father, mother, father’s lover, teachers, a male friend, a female friend, at least one crush, and others). He is comfortable commenting on his own time thinking about his past (he generally doesn’t like it) and is comfortable guessing about the thoughts and feelings of people from his past. Most importantly, while much of the book takes place in Snowman/Jimmy’s past, the contrasts between his past, our near future (in which the book is set), and his present gives the narrative real tension.

I’m not sure how that set of three sources of tension could work in my project, but another strategy Atwood uses, that you’ve already probably noticed, is that her character gives himself a different name. He thinks of himself as a different person as a result of an event in the story. Before, he was Jimmy. Now, he is Snowman. Another source of tension or interest for me as a reader is discovering the details of this change. Why the change? Why Snowman?

That’s something I can use as my character drives and it might add tension or at least help characterize him. Before a big event he saw the world one way. After he sees it another. He might rename himself as a result. He’ll definitely think of himself differently in ways I can make explicit.

Are there ways Atwood’s strategies might apply to something your working on?

100 x 100 II

Since my last “current projects” post, I’m at 82/100. Some of these are certainly going to be tossed, but I like others. Given teaching and other business, I feel good about what I’ve done so far. Hoping for more revision over the summer and more attention toward submitting work for publication, my biggest weakness.

100 x 100

Yesterday, I collected 61 of my microfictions, probably averaging 100 words, in a document. I know I will throw some out.

My long term goal is to have 100 excellent 100 word microfictions. I have not submitted most of the 61, but 11 have been published. One was nominated for a Best Microfiction in 2020.