The Timekeepers War– Final Edit Complete! (again)

Well, I’m sure some of you were starting to think it wasn’t going to happen (myself included)… but I finally completed the final edit of my novel, The Timekeepers’ War! Again.

Editing is really the hardest part of writing a book, I swear. I’d heard that before and I never believed it. But that’s because what I thought was editing was really proofreading. And the two are very, very different beasts. After I finished my behemoth of a first novel (it came in at 503 pages, and almost 147,000 words…) I gave copies to a few trusted people to read for consistency, grammar, spelling, and readability. They came back with lots of little changes. I went through TKW three or four times with suggestions from various people, making what changes I deemed necessary, and TA-DA! Final edit complete (pt. 1)

I was feeling pretty good about myself, as a first time author. I’d gotten some really great feedback from my beta readers, along with some constructive criticism that I was able to apply to make my novel the best that I could make it. I sent it out with quiet confidence to agents and publishers alike. And waited… and waited…

And then the rejections started to roll in. I did receive some interest though, which was encouraging. I had requests for the next 10 pages, the next 30 pages, the next 50 pages, and even a couple of requests for the whole novel. I must be doing something right, I thought. They want to see more! They must like it! But nothing panned out. Eventually, each of those requests for more ended in yet another rejection. I was heartbroken!

Two good things came of this process. One: I received some really great feedback from a small publisher who highlighted my strengths and went to the trouble of explaining exactly why The Timkeepers’ War wasn’t working for him. And suddenly, all those vague rejections started to make sense. I had a great story idea, I had likeable characters, I had an intriguing setting. But I needed to seriously work on my pacing if I wanted to sell this as a commercial novel. But I didn’t really know how to go about fixing that issue. I read a lot of long-winded fantasy and sci-fi, and I enjoy them. Pacing isn’t something I knew how to do, it isn’t something I look for in a book. It isn’t my style. But as a first time writer, you have to be able to market your work to a wider audience. And agents and publishers like to see action, they like pacy, they like movement, they like all these things I didn’t know how to deliver (and in many ways, felt I shouldn’t have to). But that brings us to good thing number Two:

I decided to hire a professional editor. One who specialized in SF and worked in the publishing industry. And it wasn’t cheap. But it was totally worth it. My editor echoed some of the feedback that I had already had regarding my strengths as a writer.  And he really, really drove home the point about my weaknesses. It was hard to read at times, but I had decided when I hired him that I would listen and learn from what he had to say. So I had to suck it up. And that can be very hard to do when you read “Boring! Get on with it!” and “I’m losing interest here” and “I’ve forgotten what this story is about now” and “I really want to throw this book at the wall!” written in the margins of your baby. Okay, so that last one never happened, but I that’s how I interpreted it.

But when I started going through some of the changes that he made, I got it. Slowly it dawned on me that my readers don’t need to know everything I know about my world and my characters. I’d spent so long envisioning them, and building a world to hold them, that I found my self rattling off inane details about everyone and everything in my novel. As the person building the world, these details were necessary to me. They helped me to visualize my world and my characters, and kept my environment consistent and believable. But what we need as writers is not the same as what our audience needs as readers. Lesson learned. I started cutting like a crazy person.

At first, this was difficult. But I saved all of those little scraps of imagery, unnecessary scenes and characters, and I told myself “They’ll still be here for me when I need them.” And as kept cutting, and rewriting, the process became cathartic. Sometimes less really is more, and I finally was able to see what this meant in relation to my own work. The middle of my book required extensive rewriting to deal with info dumps. I rewrote about 200 pages of text just to get the pace moving again after I had killed it dead and beaten it’s corpse like the proverbial horse.

And it didn’t always go smoothly. There were good days and bad days. Good months and bad months, really. The hardest part of editing like this is the urge to give up and move on to something new. I was so disheartened some days to be still working on the same book when I have so many ideas for my next projects. I have new projects started, waiting for me, calling out my name! I had thought The Timekeepers’ War was done, I had cut the strings and moved on. I felt stuck.

I started procrastinating. I started to fear finishing it, actually. I was afraid that I would go through all of this, only to find that my novel was still nonpunishable. That I would be a failure at the one thing I really wanted to do. That I would let down everyone who had believed in me and supported me up to this point. Even thinking about my novel started to make me feel anxious and depressed.

Luckily those people who believed in and supported me, continued to do so. I was ready to throw in the towel on more than on occasion. But after a serious kick in the ass from my partner and biggest supporter, I realized that the only way I was going to fail all of these people, and fail myself, is if I stopped trying. I was going to quit because I was afraid to fail. That didn’t make sense. That didn’t even leave me a sliver of a chance to succeed. I’m no gambler, but those are some shitty odds. So I made myself do it.

And as I plowed through I realized that it’s a better novel now than it ever was. And what I considered my best before is sorely lacking compared to my best today. I have become a better writer for this process. And every time I have to do this in the future, I’m going to come out ahead. This is what it’s all about. Blood, sweat, and tears, no lie. Lots and lots of tears. It’s no cakewalk… no wonder so few people make it in the publishing game. Will I be one of them? Only time will tell. But I’ve learned so much in the process that, if nothing else, I can say that my attempt wasn’t a failure.

So the final result? I cut over 20,000 words from original text. I’m down to 127,191 words, down over 50 pages of info dense text. And I feel like a new person with a new and better book. I’m read to start all over again.

I will be looking for beta readers for this round, if anyone is interested in helping. Please send me a message.

Thanks for reading!

Holy Crap! An Update!–Further adventures in editing…

Okay. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m sorry I haven’t been updating very frequently. The waiting game is tough, and it’s hard to keep thinking of positive things to tell myself (and my readers) when I’m wallowing in a pit of despair.

However–!

–I have news: I’ve just gotten back the results of my professional edit. And I’m posting here instead of hiding under my bed, so it must not have been too bad. Here’s the good news: 1) He said I’m “better than most new writers [he] works with” 2) He liked my characters, and thought I had a good story* 3) The edits were helpful in so many ways that I didn’t even expect and I’m thrilled that I decided to do this even though it cost me real money (thanks Dad!)

*a good story that is hiding inside a web of verbosity.

So, long story short: He liked my book, but it needs to go on a diet. I knew that already but I didn’t really know where to start. The trouble with editing your own work is that every word is already justified in  your mind. Even once you’ve set the thing aside for months, in the back of your little brain you know why you put stuff in there.You unconsciously justify scenes and images that should have been deleted long ago, because you’re stubborn. You are. Trust me.

My trouble is–one of them, anyways–that I often confuse details that are necessary to me when I’m writing the story, with details that are necessary to a person who is reading the story. World building is tricky business. Too often, potentially good tales (esp. in SF and Fantasy) fall flat because the world is inconsistent, or unbelievable, or just not “present” enough. I know that. I tried really hard not to be that writer. I succeeded… and then some. Which is not necessarily a good thing.

Building a rich, detailed environment for your SF novel to flourish in requires more than a little noggin scratching and weird doodles in the margins of your rough draft notebook. You should be able to answer any question about your world that someone might think to ask. Test yourself, have someone ask you random questions and see if you can answer them. It’s tough!

But… just because you know every nook, cranny and dirty secret of your world doesn’t mean you have to show it all to your reader. Right now, my novel is basically just wandering around in a trench coat waiting to expose itself to the first person who looks its way. Its a total perv. I kind of suspected this, but now that it’s be pointed out by someone who knows his stuff, I can actually see it for myself. It’s embarrassing, but kind of awesome too.

I’m much happier having to trim the fat than I would be if I’d been told that my characters were unsympathetic losers, or that my story was pointless, or that my world-building sucked. Those are much tougher challenges to overcome (and really, if that had been the feedback I would be seriously considering what I was doing trying to be a writer). But all of the elements of my story are there. My novel is there, it’s finished. I just need to carve away the excess and expose it in all its glory (back to the trench coat again).

Seriously, though. If you don’t have access to writing workshops in your area (there are some online, but this can be just as expensive as editing) I highly recommend taking the plunge and getting a professional to edit your novel. I used John Jarrold, an editor in the UK, whose website I stumbled upon purely by accident when I was researching SF agents. He’s great, and comes with my highest recommendations. He’s helped me to solve problems I knew about, but didn’t know how to fix, and how to fix problems I didn’t know I had. He made a suggestion about reordering my chapters that solves some major pacing issues I had at the beginning of my novel, as well as addressing issues I had with POV and time line confusion.

In one sentence, he’s helped me to rewrite the first six chapters of my book. I’ve always felt that the beginning was the weakest part of my novel, and now I think it’s got potential again. I’ve just finished editing the first 35 pages, and I’m pretty excited to finish the rest.

I’ll keep you updated with the rest of the editing process. But I think I’m off to a good start. I’m also going to post my new and improved chapter one, so you can tell me what you think…

 

The Life of a Novel

…my novel, that is.

I thought that, perhaps, I should tell you a little about my novel. Just in case you don’t know me IRL and I haven’t talked your ear off about it already. If I don’t know you IRL, then feel free to tear my ideas apart with no fear of physical retaliation. If you do know me, though, tread carefully…

Just kidding!

I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can accept criticism of my writing and ideas without bursting into tears and/or plotting the demise of my critics. But I would ask that any criticism be done constructively, otherwise I’ll probably just ignore you. Because I’m still a writer. And I will think I’m right unless you prove to me that I’m wrong. So don’t just say “Your story is cheesy goat balls,” because I’ll probably assume that you are the kind of person who enjoys cheesy goat balls–to each his own–and that you just have an odd way of telling me I’m brilliant. But that I definitely am brilliant.

In any case, I let me know what you think. I’m going to include a book-jacket style blurb, and a little theme description. And you can let me know if it sounds like cliched drivel or if maybe I have something here…

Hint: I have something here.

The Timekeepers’ War is gold, people. Science Fiction gold. You ain’t seen nuttin’ writ like dis…

So, without further ado, I give you The Timekeepers’ War by Cat Phillips

Ghost is known throughout the City for her ability to find anyone, for the right price—anyone except her sister, Lyca, that is; but when she is approached, by the most notorious man in the City, to recruit for a war against the Elysian Empire Ghost realizes that her stake in the conflict might be more personal than professional…

Things are looking bleak as Ghost chases shadows throughout the City, until the day she returns to find a mysterious stranger making himself at home in her flat. Lynch, a terrorist—and one of the most feared figures in the City—needs Ghost’s help. In exchange Lynch offers her a chance to make history and, more importantly, a clue to the disappearance of her sister ten years ago. With the help of Lynch, and an enigmatic group of scholars called The Timekeepers, the City is about to be reborn.

But Lynch means war. If she agrees, Ghost must delve deep into the City to discover truths about her world—and about herself—that will change everything she thought she knew. How far will her search for Lyca take her? And will she be able to live with who she has become once she finds her?

The Timekeepers’ War is a character-driven commercial science fiction novel about one young woman’s attempt to reconcile her past with her present in the midst of a post-apocalyptic civil war. Her struggle to find some identity in an increasingly anonymous culture, her fear of intimacy–with Lynch and the ever-intriguing Mirielle, and her guilt over the “loss” of her younger sister make Ghost a character with diverse personal appeal. The Timekeepers War addresses questions about gender and sexuality, humanity, social responsibility, and the importance of history.

I don’t know about you, but I’d read it.

Seriously, though. Let me know if that imaginary blurb makes sense, or if I need to clarify anything. It can be tough to write a summary for something that you already know backward and forward, because you forget that you know “behind the scenes” stuff. And remember that I’m trying to lure and trap and agent, so I need to know if this sounds like something people will pick up and pay for. Because if you don’t think so, they probably don’t either.

Now. That’s The Timekeepers’ War in a nutshell. So let me tell you a little bit about how it came to be:

Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away. There was a young university dropout who had too much time on her hands before her shift at The (Dreaded) Technology Retail Store started, so she entertained herself by drinking way too much coffee at her local cafe (ya, okay, fine. It was a Starbucks. but damn they make a nice dark roast) and writing down whatever came into her silly little head. Somehow, she managed to mold these ideas into a kind of landscape, a world that was real to her if not (yet) anyone else. She lived in that little world for an hour or two before every shift, and even began to imagine the people who lived there.

A part of her became a person who lived there.

One day, she decided that she had to show someone else the little world she had created. So she held her breath and gave the key to the City to her boyfriend, Philip. Although that little world and its people were only 60 pages long, Phil found he loved it too. And for the first time, he realized that maybe his girlfriend wasn’t crazy, and she could be a writer after all (I’m just assuming, here. Don’t you always think “ya, ya, sure you will” when someone you know says they’re going to be a writer? I did. And I won’t hold it against him if he did too, at first)

Once, she even showed a copy to her cousin, Matt, who also liked it. He wrote a spin-off chapter that opened her eyes to the possibilities of the world she had created, and (eventually) inspired the character named Rook–though, in the end, only the name survived.

But the girl had hit a wall, and didn’t know where to go with her little world and its people. She started working longer hours, and decided to go back to school. One day, embarrassed at her attempt to be a “real author,” she destroyed the City and its people, and that little part of herself. She deleted the file, and forgot about it almost completely.

But Phil did not forget. Every day that she spent working at that Dreaded Store, he saw as a day she could have spent writing. And he believed that, one day, she could write full time and they would be able to live the life they had always dreamed of (the life of bush hermits, in case you were wondering). So he kept the copy of the file she had sent to him all those years ago. And, after they had both graduated from university, after they had both realized that the “real world” sucks and that $50,000 piece of paper they had each bought were virtually valueless currency there, he decided that there was only one thing to do.

Eight years after he rescued it, he gave her back the file she had thought long-dead and gone. And he told her that she needed to quit her job and finish what she started. Because he believed in her, and he didn’t want either of them to spend the rest of their lives wondering “what-if?”

So she did. She quit her job (which was literally the most terrifying thing she had done in her whole life, including learning to ride a motorbike) and started writing. She had no idea what she was doing, and she learned a lot along the way. But 9 months later (coincidence?),The Timekeepers’ War had been born.

True story, bro(s).

So, the TLDR is: I have an amazing hubby who rescued my very first novel from the virtual trashcan, forced me to take a year off of work to finish it, and now continues to support me through the process of submitting it for publication. If every writer out there had someone like Phil by their side, there would be a lot more amazing books out there, I think.

But I’m not telling that story just to brag (although I do think I have it pretty good). I thought I should tell that story for everyone who has a creative person in their lives. I thought I should tell you all just how important your support might be to the people you love, who love to create; it doesn’t matter if they are writers or painters or movie directors or designers or mechanics. You could, very well, make the difference between their living their dreams and their working at the Dreaded Retail Store. And that’s a difference that matters.

So, here’s my novel and the tale of how it came to be. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you think of the idea, or if you have any amazing people in your life who deserve recognition. I think next week, I might publish one of my short stories here. So stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

PS I lost Matt’s brilliant spin-off when I deleted my own writing, or possibly when I recycled my old Compaq desktop (with a whopping 64MB of RAM). Either way, I’m a terrible person. He’s an amazing storyteller and his interest in my story gave me confidence in 21 y/o self, and I hope some day he is able to share his own brilliance with the world. Although, he’s just had twin girls, so it might take a while to get back in the game.