“By Zombies” and other novel writing highlights: Celebrating a manuscript milestone

Tap tap tap. Space. Tap tap tap.

“The End.”

I type the phrase of a dream. My heart is pounding. I’m grinning. The manuscript for my first novel, “More Than You Think You Know,” is finished, totaling 84,819 words complete.

No matter what else happens, it’s done.

As I lurched inelegantly and inefficiently toward the home stretch I thought about the writers who liken the novel-crafting process to building a house from the ground up. I tried to track down who said this first, but the phrase has become as ubiquitous as that other worn-out adage: writing a book is like giving birth.

My house is built. The baby is born. I’m still surrounded by mysteriously worded sticky notes clamoring for their rightful place in the moveable feast that has migrated from my head to pages:

  • “The rock is hard but the river is patient.”
  • “If you want to live on the water, you gotta learn to live in the water.”
  • Salt marsh, cordgrass, willing to bend, reluctant to break.
  • Major lunar standstill in 2006, an 18.6-year culmination. Lower than the winter sun. Higher than the summer sun.
  • Katrina.
  • K-tel records.
  • Controlled depth nine feet.
  • Sept. 7, Oct. 7, Nov. 5 and Dec. 5 – Full moons in 2006.
  • Ephemeral world of wind and water.
  • Stinky pinkie. Roomba. Chatagem on the Tennessee River, Tally Ho!
  • Hoppie’s Marina, founded 1934. Only fuel for 400 miles.
  • Benlysta, for lupus.
  • Johari Window: Arena, blindspot, façade, unknown self. Four panes. Hailey living in a blind spot of her own making. Hailey needs to do her self-inventory (see note in white notebook).
  • “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” Van Morrison (listen).
  • Add sandpiles after Demopolis, Bestada Bar, Big Bunny and Little Lizard creeks. Brown’s Woodyard. Barry Steam Plant.
  •  Carved sand mesas. Rotten limestone. White Cliffs of Epes.
  •  The gray cottage was as ever.

Where am I to put all this? The fact that cuts are ahead – this is the first draft of a manuscript, after all – makes ironic the compulsion to leave nothing out.

During the writing of “More Than You Think You Know” I acquired three hats that an Irish sailing couple left in the giveaway box at the local marina: A straw sunbonnet for Hailey, a tomboy ball cap for Robin and a saucy fedora for Trish. I wore them as I typed, operating on the theory that the hats could get me into my main characters, just as Meryl Streep or Johnny Depp nail their acting roles through costuming and dialect.

I imagined my character’s Pinterest boards. Robin drinks vast quantities of Miller Lite Beer, lives for dolphin encounters and buys her clothes at West Marine boat supply stores. Trish’s Pinterest boards feature push-up bras, cosmetics, hairstyles and anything with Hello Kitty on it.

Hailey’s board is a before-and-after of what she was and what she’s become since she ran away. Menopause, infidelity and celibacy can do funny things to a woman’s head.

I have learned during the writing of “More Than You Think You Know” that a novelist can play fast and loose with fictional truths, but the organizational mechanics – continuity, grammar, spelling, fact-checking, point of view, formatting – are as rigorous as what’s required to put together a cohesive non-fiction article. I was grateful when a fellow Word Nerd recently shared a grammarly.com tip noting that you can test for passive voice by adding “by zombies” to the sentence.

The required fixes, corrections and additions overwhelmed me. The editor in my head reminded me (again) that I’m not all that.

And then my young writer friend Corey Labissioniere said, as he jumped willy-nilly into the second book in his Young Adult Fantasy trilogy: “I forgot how much fun writing is.”

What a wonderful reminder. We’re in it for the fun.

In September my self-imposed deadline for finishing “More Than You Think You Know” came and went. Why was I lagging? I feared that I epitomized that snarky jibe “Those who can’t, teach.”

Enter my new writing friend Deborah K. Frontiera, a teacher and author with 13 books in various genres to her credit. She does both fiction and non-fiction, and does them well. At the beginning of October Deborah finished her latest book, a yet-to-be titled coffee-table pictorial detailing the history of the only Lutheran College in North America, Finlandia University, in nearby Hancock. It will be ready for FinnFest USA 2013, to be hosted here on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

“Shut off your editor mind when you’re drafting,” she tells me during an early October lunch, along with two other cogent adages: “Don’t get it right get it written,” and “Some people watch TV, some are writers.”

Ouch.

I kept a calendar entitled “More Than You Think You Know: Words by Day,” in August 2012. Some of the entries were appalling. I began the month with a great gush of verbiage, averaging 1,500 words per day. On Aug. 6, my output plummeted to 717 words and never went up from there.

On Aug. 27 I penned in the lamest entry of the entire record-keeping episode: “Thought.” I thought about “More Than You Think You Know ” on this particular Monday. Nice.

“Just start writing and keep going until it’s done and then keep going until it’s perfect,” Deborah advised.

In early October Corey messaged me on Facebook. His Young Adult Fantasy was accepted by a publisher. I urged him to have a lawyer look over the contract; he did, and so far all is a go. On a chilly Sunday afternoon I shot some author photos and scenery that will inspire cover art, book trailers and other promotional material for “The Land of Enchantas: The Well.” Riding in Corey’s pick-up truck down the autumn-crested back roads in this old mining town, wending through cemeteries and ignoring “no trespassing” signs near ruins that I wanted to photograph, I told Corey about the pictures and videos I’ve taken of the Heartland River scenes in “More Than You Think You Know.”

“Cool,” he said. “Is your book done yet? When can I read it?”

As I head down the next stretch, polishing the manuscript before sending it out to beta readers and crafting the all-important hook, pitch, synopsis and query letter, I’m grateful for the advice and encouragement of new and seasoned authors.

It’s said that when the student is ready to learn, the teacher will appear. Who has helped you on the path to publication?

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5 thoughts on ““By Zombies” and other novel writing highlights: Celebrating a manuscript milestone

  1. It’s such a rush to type “The End” isn’t it? Congratulations. That’s fantastic!! I love the sigh of relief when I finally get to write those words. But, for me, that only lasts a few precious days while I let the story simmer before I contemplate the rewrite 🙂

    I love the Pinterest boards!! What a great idea to do that. I think that would better help me visualize characters as I’m working on them.

    As for finding a place for all those mysteriously worded sticky notes – that’s a tough one. I keep hearing over and over again in all the seminars and classes – “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” Those great words or phrases that you MUST find a place for – sometimes they have to go. Sometimes not, but that’s the tough call that you have to make. Would they help the story? If so, find a place for them. If not, sadly you say goodbye to those little darlings.:(

    What a high you must be on though, to write “The End.” I raise my glass to you to toast this superb accomplishment. We should share a bottle of wine together on Skype and toast to this!! 🙂

    Cheers!

  2. Thanks for the warm and wise words, Shar. As I contemplate the sticky notes I’ve got the feeling some of them will be going in the next book or maybe in a file entitled “Little Darlings.” When I initially got the notion to craft some sort of Pinterest board for “Loop Dee Doo,” I merely jotted it down (on another sticky note – lol), wondering if it was just a goofy idea that would pass. Not long after that an agent named Carley Watters whose blog I follow mentioned the value of “pinning” interesting elements of a novel. That encouraged me to create a “Loop Dee Doo” board. Really having fun with it. Looking forward to a Sunday Skype toast!

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