With the exception of Eleanor I and Peeling Layers (Lizzy & Michael I), I have put off the editing and revising processes of my other novels for far too long.
It was, by and large, a deliberate process. I think every writer would tell you that once you’ve given birth to these characters, moulded and developed them as though they were your own children, growing right before your very eyes, you gradually became very much attached to each and every one of them. Over time, these characters grew to be so much more than just fiction. The main protagonist became your new best friend, the antagonist your mortal enemy. Supporting characters felt like they were your parents and siblings; your next door neighbour; your long-lost relatives.
For the longest time, the thought of removing myself from this utterly riveting story felt like cutting one of my arms off (or any body part, really). I simply couldn’t, for the life of me, distanced myself from the story I’ve invested so much of my time and energy on and looked at it from an objective, unbiased point of view of an editor/proof-reader.
There’s a saying that “the only true creative aspect of writing is the first draft. That’s when it’s coming straight from your head and your heart, a direct tapping of the unconscious. The rest is donkey work.” And really, when I examine them, all of my novels as they currently stand are a series of first drafts, and only that; drafts.
Having gone to the ‘Year of the Edit’ course at the beginning of last year, I knew that there were certain aspects of my novels I need to fix. Take ‘Peeling Layers’ (Michael & Lizzy I), for example. I have provided pages upon pages of back story about both Lizzy and Michael – a direct contradiction to the golden rule of starting a novel – in media res. To hook the readers, a novel has to start with something dramatic; something that will hook their interest and make them want to keep reading past the first page.
I know exactly where ‘Peeling Layers’ should start; I have just a scene in mind that to me, will hook the audience and suck their attention past the first page. I can’t, however, bring myself to press that ‘Delete’ button to the first twenty, unnecessary pages prior to that particular, attention-grabbing scene.
But the time has come to ‘toughen myself up’ and put on that ruthless, objective, editing hat; time to hang the ‘creative hat’ on the rack for a while. It’s time to take the next step and complete the ‘donkey work’, removing all those unnecessary back stories and conensing my novels to a respectable word count. After all, the last sentence of the quote above mentioned that “It is, however, donkey work that must be done.”
My sincere thanks to Lou Schwarz for nominating me for this award – I am very humbled.
Rules of the Liebster Award:
1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to their blog.
2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself and create 11 questions for your nominees.
3. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 bloggers who you feel deserve to be noticed. These blogs must have 200 followers or less. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know they’ve been nominated by you.
4. Copy and paste the blog award on your blog. Post all the items listed in item 2 on your blog also.
Number 1 – check. Onto number 2 – answering the nominator questions.
1. What makes your heart sing? Seeing my novel and/or character(s) grow.
2 If you could be anywhere in the world right now where you be? New York… Concrete jungle where dreams are made of…
3 Why did you start blogging? I’ve kept and written on several diaries from a very early age; to me, it has always been an outlet of any pent-up emotions I couldn’t convey to people for fear of offending them or not saying it correctly. I started this particular blog to further promote myself as an author.
4 What is your dream job? To tell you the truth, I’m in one right now, being a Communications & Facilities Coordinator in a P-12 College. My long-term dream job is to make a living out of becoming an author.
5 Who or what inspires you and why? Warning – the answer to this question could be long winded. I don’t think I have a particular role model I can claim as a constant source of inspiration to me. I hear stories of injustice and how people rise from any adversities they have found themselves in and these are the stories that stay with me forever, challenge my thoughts, inspire me to be a better person and inspire my writing.
6 Favourite hobby? Writing, scrapbooking, card making, cooking, watching movies.
7 Favourite food? Bikol Express – a Filippino pork dish that is just absolutely divine.
8 How did you spend your day today? Went to the city with husband. Took advantage of the 30% off MYER sale and bought a few things, including a plush microfibre bathroom mats (as the ones we have right now are in the brink of falling apart…). Had a lovely lunch at Vapiano and came home to a nice Indian take-away and the premiere episode of ‘The Voice’
9 My life is rich because? ….. I have a wonderful husband and a group of friends who love and support me.
10 2 things you love? My husband and my Jack Russell dog, Sasha.
11 How do you relax? Put on my favourite music and cooking always do the trick
Stll on number 2 – list 11 random facts about myself.
1. I am a stickler for spelling accuracy.
2. I LOVE watching Award Shows (Emmy and Oscars especially). When the actor/actress cries during their acceptance speech, I’m most likely to join them.
3. I love dressing up! If only I could have a wardrobe full of ball gowns (and enough excuses to wear them….)
4. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a surgeon. That was until I failed Science and Biology, miserably.
5. I’m a night owl. On weekends/days off, you’ll find me still up at 2 or 3 in the morning.
6. I can’t sew to save myself….
7. I can only swim breast stroke.
8. I can’t stand beetroot.
9. My favourite salad dressing is balsamic vinegar.
10. Growing old doesn’t bother me. I know a lot of people whom had dreaded the day they turned 30, but I had simply welcomed my 30th birthday with open arms.
11. I am, however, scared of death….. especially at the thought that my body would decay and all kinds of bugs would be crawling all over me *shudder*
The last part of number 2 – my own 11 questions for my fellow nominees.
1. This question is inspired by the movie ‘Leap Year’. If your house was on fire and you had 60 seconds, what would you take?
2. If you could only bring 3 books to a deserted island, what would they be?
3. What’s your vice?
4. What frustrates you the most?
5. Sport/exercise – love them or hate them?
6. Your favourite season and why?
7. If you could invite up to 5 people to dinner (celebrity, politician, members of your family), who would they be and why?
8. What is your favourite reality TV show?
9. When was the last time you pamper yourself? What did you do?
10. Beach or mountain? City or country?
11. What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?
And lastly, here are the shout outs to those 11 deserving bloggers!
5. Milda Harris
8. Jeff Foltz
9. Eric Swett – My Writer’s Cramp
10. Ron D Smith – Writing About Folks in Flyover Country
11. Elle Beth – Words from Above Beneath and Between
I am very humbled to be nominated for this award by Kathleen Doyle, the blogger of Writing, Reading and Life.
Now… once you are nominated, there are some rules that needs adhering to.
1. Thank the person that awarded you and link to their blog.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.
No. 1 is ticked. Let’s see… what 7 things can I share that the wider blogger community out there (and even my close friends) might not know…?
1. The only ‘coffee’ I drink is in the form of Starbucks’ white chocolate mocha. Otherwise, it’s tea or pure hot chocolate for me.
2. I love almost everything Kate Middleton has ever worn, especially since she became HRH Duchess of Cambridge. I so want her wardrobe.
3. I have a jacket fetish. It’s a bit of an irony because I live in the part of Australia where the coldest of winter only last about two or so weeks. But still, I have half-a-wardrobe full of knee-length jackets of various materials and thickness. Hey… at least I’m prepared when I holiday in Europe and US in freezing winters, right?
4. Had I been able to withstand prolonged torture, have the fitness level required, or hide my bruises/the truth from my husband, I would love to be a spy. Short of that, I am addicted to spy TV series such as ‘Alias’ and ‘Nikita’, and try my best to strut like Sydney Bristow.
5. To this day, I have never tasted a slurpee.
6. White and pink roses are lovely, but I just can’t warm up to dark red ones.
7. I make a point to stare as needles go in, just to be sure that the nurse didn’t take more blood than s/he should (not that I ever know in the first place as to how much s/he should take, but still..)
And last but not least, here are 15 awesome blogs I’m nominating for the award:
1. Tracey Baptiste – Knitting with Pencils.
2. Jamie B Musings – Culture Shock: A Daily Blog About Everything Pop Culture.
3. The Redhead Riter
4. Miranda Gammella – Onward to the Written Word…
5. Tawn K Makela – Totally Tawn
6. Em LaBonte – The Realms of a Fantastical Mind
7. Alisse Lee Goldenberg – Ramblings
8. George Sirois – The Official Page for George Sirois
9. Karen Pokras Toz
10. Shelli Johnson
11. Sharon Jones – Color-Me-Read
12. Joseph Eastwood’s Blog
13. Bridget Bowers – Rants ‘N’ Ramblings
14. Wendy L Callahan – Wendy In Wonderland
15. Sharon C Williams – The Musings of a New Englander
Please take some time to visit these blogs, find out the 7 unique things about them and support them in any way you can.
But the muse came back this morning, and I have been a hermit today, staying at home and writing intermittently. And lo and behold, I think below will be a part of the Prologue for ‘Isabelle & Eldridge’ novel I’m currently working on.
Even though it was already an hour past curfew, Isabelle ran across the main garden decisively, not caring if her father was currently watching disapprovingly from his study above.
“Eldridge!” She shrieked as soon as she saw his slightly hunched figure on the wooden bench. Isabelle charged towards him in a staggering force, sobbing as soon as Eldridge wrapped his arms around her.
“Belle,” Eldridge forced her name out through a closed up throat. He bent his head, pressing the base of his nose to the crown of her head. “Oh, Belle,” he said desolately, hugging her tighter.
“Please…” she whimpered. “Please tell me that your father had spoken to mine; that…” She rubbed her damp face on Eldridge’s dark emerald velvet tunic. “Tell me that I don’t have to marry him!”
The lack of response from the Prince made her rear back, swollen eyes staring questioningly into his.
“I… uh…” He raked his nails through the mass of his hair, noticing the mild horror in Isabelle’s question. Throughout the years he had known Isabelle, she had annoyed, and even infuriated him. But never before had she ever rattled him. “Belle, such a thing isn’t customarily…”
“Damn to hell with customs!” Isabelle roared, stamping her feet on the well-clipped grass. “This… this is my…” She paused and inhaled with effort. “This is our future.”
Isabelle chewed industriously on her bottom lip, her body swaying back and forth. “Eldridge,” she called haltingly, “it is our future, isn’t it? You do… want to…”
A while back, I was tagged by Miranda Gammella to participate in Lucky 7. Like her, it was a brand new concept to me, but it was also, as she assured me, a fun concept.
Here are the rules:
- Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
- Go to line 7
- Copy down the next seven lines/sentences as they are. No cheating!
- Tag 7 authors to join in the fun.
The current manuscript I’ve been working on is currently titled ‘Isabelle and Eldridge’. It’s still very much a work-in-progress, and as I don’t work in a linear process whatsoever, this is what is currently page 77… subject to change, and written somewhat hastily a mere two weeks ago.
“I am well protected by your men,” Isabelle reasoned; her fiftieth throughout the week she had constantly brought up the subject.
Eldridge did reach across then. Gripping her upper arms tightly, he levelled his forehead to hers.
“I will not allow you to leave so far away with only a handful of guards, Belle.”
“You can increase…”
“Not,” Eldridge interrupted, tightening his hold on Isabelle she had to repress the urge to yelp, “when I just got you back.”
Now, to tag 7 unsuspecting ‘victims’
Let’s continue the fun!
For the longest time, I resisted the concept of working on multiple storylines at once. Between a rather demanding full-time work, maintaining my relationship with my darling husband and some social life (including spending a considerable time with my husband’s family), working on more than one project is the surest, fastest way for me to go crazy and run for the hills.
‘But what about those stories forming inside your head, begging and competing to be told?’, I hear you ask. Well, for the longest time, my simple answer would be to ‘keep it inside my head for later’. Some days it would go away quietly, waiting patiently until I finish my current manuscript and can move on to the next story. Other days, like a petulant child throwing a full-blown tantrum, it would get louder and louder inside my head I had to find ways to put it down on paper; more often than not, these sections have had to be morphed to suit the current manuscript I’m working on. Don’t worry… no zombies/dragons/trolls will jump out in the middle of my young adult/romance novels
About three months ago, I had this overwhelming, irrepressible desire to write another Medieval story. It’s a completely different era than the modern, YA and adult fiction I dabble in since I completed Eleanor I and Eleanor II. It was a much simpler times (in terms of lack of technology/electricity), but in a lot of respect it was also a much harsher times; you had to work quadruple times as hard in the fields, food preparations and cooking took at least twice as long, and jostling through dirt and gravelled roads was both uncomfortable and time-consuming.
The one thing that interested me most about this era though is the fact that it’s a male-oriented world; they dominate everything, from land to women. They think that they could treat the latter the way they plough, trade and sell properties, with very little regards to their feelings. And as a fierce supporter of equal rights between men and women, the very core of my medieval romance novels tackle the issue of challenging the status quo, depicting brave young women who strive for a better, more just future.
Not wanting to give in to the developing Medieval story, I channeled all my focus to try finish Evelyn. But the story remained inside my head, insisting to be told. It grew and expanded so strongly that by the time I gave in and decided to write it down (otherwise I would have gone crazy from having too many storylines crammed in my mind), I no longer need my trusty pen and paper. And shy of 30,000 words later, I still haven’t written a single word on paper; it’s all straight from my mind to the computer.
So this is a story about Isabelle, a once rather indulgent Princess who believes that she will marry a Prince of a neighbouring Kingdom, only to find out that her father has arranged for her to marry a man twice her age. She defies her father; a defiance that carries near-fatal consequences for her. This is also a story about Sofia, an eighteen-year-old peasant whom, under duress, ends up marrying the man Isabelle was supposed to marry, and has the courage to flee from her abusive husband.
This isn’t the opening chapter or anything, but since I don’t work in a linear process whatsoever, this is the first page as it currently stands.
There was something strangely familiar about the young woman he found looking out from the window of the Great Hall, her back turned to him, a forefinger running up and down the curve of one cheek.
“I beg your pardon…”
His heart leapt to his throat. Firstly, because his greeting had evoked a frightful shriek from the woman. And secondly, because having turned around to face the intruder, Eldridge found himself standing face-to-face with Isabelle Morietta.
Isabelle Valrington, Eldridge’s conscience corrected him sternly. And why wouldn’t she be here?
Looking as dumbfounded as he must be, Isabelle’s mouth parted and moved, producing no sound. He thought he could see her sway the like of fragile tree branches being buoyed by a passing breeze, undecided whether to run and hug him.
She bobbed her head down and genuflected instead, spreading the wide pleated skirt of her dress as was customary to (Kingdom yet to be named). “Your Highness,” Isabelle murmured almost inaudibly.
At the same time, Eldridge remembered his manners and reciprocated, folding his body in an almost theatrical bow. “Princess Isabelle.” Eldridge slowly drew himself up, searching for her eyes. “My condolences over your Father’s passing.”
He cocked his head on a slight angle to see Isabelle pursed her lips grimly. Even knowing that there wasn’t that much love lost between a disciplinarian Father and a free-spirited daughter, Eldridge never thought that Isabelle was incapable of mourning over her Father’s death.
“How are you faring… Isabelle?” He asked gently.
She regarded him as though she had never heard such a question before. “I’m… faring quite well, Your Highness. Thank you.”
“And… Lord Valrington?” Eldridge pressed on further before she could enquire about his own well-being.
A dark veil hooded her hazel eyes. Isabelle compressed her lips tightly, nose flaring. “Last time I heard,” she replied through gritted teeth, “he was expanding his estate.”
The clear disgust in her voice startled him. “Last time you heard…” he repeated, mulling the words over. “What…”
Today is D-day; the day I finally received some critique on the first 10 pages of Peeling Layers from all my peers in Queensland Writers’ Centre Year of the Edit class.
Just like anyone entering unchartered territory, I immediately thought of the worst thing that could possibly happen. This was somewhat compounded when the facilitator said, sympathetically, that it could be hard to listen to everyone criticising your work, and that if it got too much, I (and two others whose work were being critiqued this afternoon) could walk out of the class and ‘pretend’ to get a glass of water.
Perhaps I should backtrack just a little. Throughout my high school and Uni years, every piece of assignments returned to me had had red marks all over it, correcting my grammar. Not for the first time, the feedback I have received from my teachers/lecturers were along the lines of: Maria, you have great content, but unfortunately we have to mark you down because your grammar needs considerable work.
Compared to this, today’s critique session was a walk in the park. More than ten years out of formal education, my grammar, according to the facilitator, was almost spotless (hear that sound? That’s me, sighing in relief!).
So, with that out of the way, I sat back and relaxed a little. And I couldn’t ask for a better, more objective critique, really. Sure, there were things in the manuscript needing work. Sentences that were too long and in need of refinement. Opening that could be more powerful to hook the audience in and keep them captivated. And certain aspects of the main characters that could be fleshed out a bit better.
I can’t resist sharing this little bit of the critique I’ve received from my peer:
I read this with a sneaky smile, as I think it has all the characteristics of high comedy. The overstated language and long sentences requires the reader to read each sentence very carefully. This makes it utterly gripping, and we are caught in the world of the two central characters.
This could just be the prelude to a wonderful book review, don’t you think?
For the first half of the year, I have enrolled myself in Queensland Writers Centre’s Year of the Edit course, aimed to arm me with a set of skills necessary to revisit and continuously polish the first draft of my novels until I can confidently say “I have THE final draft!”
As part of the program, each participant will receive peer critique on their first ten pages of their current and/or submitted work. It is a prospect that I at once embrace, and dread.
When you’re a writer, you get so absorbed in the characters and their developments that by the time you stroke that pen to write ‘The End’, these characters are no longer fictional; they have become equivalent to close friends it was almost impossible to separate yourself and review the story objectively. Or you become heavily immersed in the craft, making sure you’ve sprinkled each section with enough allegory, imagery, and analogy to hopefully grab and sustain audience’s attention at every page you get sidetrack from keeping the main focus of the story. So, any constructive criticism I can get is good.
But with that, there is a real fear of utter failure. All my life, I’ve lived with that little voice inside my head asking me “do you think you can do that?” and even “maybe you’re not cut out for this!” Most of the times, I have been able to spin that into a positive thing, making it a way to continuously challenge myself and set higher expectations for lil’ ol’ me. On many occasions, I have been surprised to find out that “yes, I actually CAN do this!”
What if, in this particular occasion, the answer is actually a resounding “no, you actually aren’t cut out for this?” What if a fellow participant in my Year of the Edit class turn around and say “this is utter crap! Start again from scratch!”? Yes, there are guidelines on how to critique – how to say “utter crap” in a more constructive manner, so to speak. Yes, my work will be critiqued using a set of criteria such as language, pace, dialogue, setting, plot, and all other important aspects that will make the audience wanting to read beyond those ten pages. Yes, there is a monumental emphasis on critiquing the story, not the author. None of these, however, give me any sort of relief.
And then there’s the part I’m most anxious about; at no point before, during or after the critique can the author defend his/her work. I have to sit there and take it as each participant voices their opinions, hoping to God I don’t cry like a little girl half-way through it (something that the facilitator had told me had happened in the past). And being the emotional person that I am, everything I feel show on my face.
So, I guess between now and my next monthly class at the end of this month, I have to practice putting my ‘poker face’ on. I have to try not to glare, roll my eyes, or blanch during the peer critique. Perhaps, I’ll focus all my attention on that black dot on the ceiling…
Today is the day! After about 9 months of planning, and waiting, and counting down, we are now down to the wire. In about 7 hours, we will leave our home for 3.5 weeks, and by new dawn tomorrow, we will fly across the Pacific Ocean to Singapore, and get a connecting flight to the Philippines.
My next post (whenever that would be!) will recount our experiences in the Philippines. I doubt it will be before Christmas, so to all of you, a very Merry Christmas! May it be filled with joy and laughter, spent with your family and those who are dearest to you.
And as Christmas is my favourite holiday season of the year, it’s only natural that all of my books to date have touched upon this subject. Here’s a little excerpt to bring you more Christmas cheer and joy, from Lizzy & Michael III.
“Ready?” He asked his companion, fingers intertwining with her slender ones, tugging her arm excitedly she had no choice but to trudge along the narrow footpath serving as some kind of an entrance, teeth tightly clamping her bottom lip upon witnessing Michael’s apparent glee.
“How big is this tree going to be?” Lizzy asked, envisioning the available space provided b the humongous living room of the Presidential Suite Michael had called home since May of this year; if he wanted to, he could order a nine-foot tree to fill up a corner, and more.
“Whatever tree that’s light enough for both of us to carry,” Michael replied, sensing the churning of Lizzy’s mind as to how to possibly transport an enormous tree.
Lizzy couldn’t help but chuckle; Michael had booked her diary for this evening as far back as two weeks ago, stating with apparent exuberance that in light of the fact that neither of them will be leaving the Big Apple this year, both wanting to fully experience the joy of Christmas in their own apartments for the first time, they would need to slightly modify their annual Christmas tradition instead of the usual venture to the Fenway Park fete.
“This one’s nice,” Lizzy commented, running her fingers lovingly through the short-spiked leaves of a slender Balsam fir tree the height of her chest.
It would be, Michael thought dryly, for your place. He looked over the tree somewhat dispassionately, believing that his majestic place would swallow the petite plant, making it look even smaller than it actually was.
Lizzy wrinkled her nose when Michael suggested as much, her eyes trailing up and down the length of the five-foot tree with no more enthusiasm than what Michael had displayed just moments earlier. Herself an agnostic, and growing up believing that Christmas was a less-than-special occasion compared to birthdays and Mother’s or Father’s day, the thought of having a lit-up, fancily decorated Christmas tree was foreign and unsettling.
“Let’s find your tree first,” Lizzy said at last. She concluded that should she decide to have a Christmas tree after all, a five-foot tree would be lighter and easier to drag along than a much larger one.
They combed through the well-known SoHo trees displayed on Armsterdam and 98th Street, schooling both their faces to nod and smile appreciatively at the salesman trying their hardest to sell the features of each tree they inspected and put a mild interest on, eyes rolling the whole three-hundred-and-sixty degree or making faces at one another as they walked away from what they believed to be half-dead trees it should already be sent to the chipper.
They emerged out of the lush evergreens some one-and-a-half hour later, both faces beaming and flushed, their hands busily balancing the five-foot tree that had first attracted Lizzy’s attention, Michael’s choice of a seven-foot Douglas fir bushy tree was being delivered this coming weekend, the docket of purchase was safely wedged inside his overcoat pocket; the occasion was made even more memorable as coming out of the display space, they felt small white drops of snow from the sky above, landing on their skins softly like balls of cotton wools.
Today, I was given a golden opportunity to do a fifteen-minute presentation on my favourite subject to some of my fellow colleagues – my passion for writing.
To start of with, silly me, thinking that I was all prepared, forgot one simple fact; that Macbook Air didn’t have a direct connection like PC-based laptops do to a data projector, and arriving at the venue on-time, I had no time to source this little device connecting my Macbook to the data projector from anywhere else.
No matter – I have a back-up plan. Out came another device I have armed myself with; my trusty iPad. So I started showing my website on the iPad and asked my colleagues to pass this around whilst someone kindly sourced another laptop for me. Connected that up to the data projector, got visual, sweet! Opened Safari… only to be greeted with that (damn!) ‘Page cannot be found’ and ‘There is a problem in connecting to your Internet connection’ messages. No, no, no, NO, NO!!!!!
What is it they say in show business? ‘The show must go on’? Well then… I ‘ignored’ the technological problem and dived into telling the fellow Secretaries what started my love affair with my scribbling pen to paper, what I’ve accomplished in the past five years since, and what prompted me to delve more wholeheartedly into creating and maintaining social media presence, being unpublished notwithstanding.
You know, I considered myself being not as bad as I used to be in public speaking. I used to always have to type up my speech, memorised it days (if not weeks) prior to the big day, and refer to it from time to time during my presentation. These days, bullet points outlining the main topics were all I needed.
Still, having known the topic of my speech SO well, I could feel a nervous sweat broke out within the first few minutes of standing in front of about 25 of my colleagues; some of it culminating just below my eyes, blurring my glasses I was compelled to take them off and wiped the moisture away.
But I did get through it, and had tremendous fun doing it, even if:
1. At times, I spoke a little too softly for people to hear. It has always been something I need to consciously work on.
2. Whilst I explained to them the dream that started Eleanor I, and read an excerpt from said book, I didn’t think to explain the premise of Eleanor I and/or II (though perhaps, the excerpt would hopefully shed a light on that? Entice the audience to want to know more about the book? You know, the whole ‘not giving too much away’ point of view and all that?).
It is something I need to work on and improve between now and Monday, when I’m reprising this presentation to another bunch of my colleagues. To my very first group of audience today, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your time, and I hope I have managed to captivate/entertain you in some capacity.