Scenes from The Rewrite: Part I

15 Feb

As you may know, I’ve been rewriting my novel.

I started on the 11th January and I finished the main* part of the book at 1:17am this morning, after a thirteen hour writing stint that surely put me at risk for curvature of the spine, RSI and deep vein thrombosis.

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This isn’t because my agent is some kind of task-master, but because this gap – from the first day I returned to university after Christmas and had handed in my Michaelmas term essays, to this coming Friday when my next two essays are assigned – was the only time I had. If the rewrite ran over, it would clash with my essay-writing. If it ran over again, it would clash with studying for and then taking my exams in May. The summer is reserved for (a) being horizontal, preferably in a sunny place with a view of a pool, a stack of the all the books I haven’t read since last summer within easy reach and (b) writing the first draft of another book. (Sweet baby Jesus.) So I had to put a lifetime’s habit of procrastination and deadline-avoiding to one side and just get on with it.

I’m writing a post for another website on how exactly I managed to do that, but since this blog is but a stretch of hot, black tarmac for some tumbleweeds to run across, I thought I’d share some scenes from The Rewrite this morning, just so you know moi’s little pink blog is still alive.

The Rewrite wasn’t supposed to be too structural, as in none of the major plot points needed fixing. This was more a case of deepening characterization (I LOVE plotting but sometimes I, ahem, forget to flesh out the people the stuff is happening to), ironing out a few rough edges and just making everything stronger and clearer and more convincing.

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But you change one thing…

I wasn’t at the end of the second chapter and things were already getting twistier than a Curly-Wurly. So I turned to my forever friends, Post-Its. And then because I needed somewhere to stick them, I printed out charts, one for each act. And then I had to get a calendar so I could keep track of my progress, and then I had to make a calendar for the book so I could keep track of what happened when, and then I had to make a scene list because I wasn’t sure where the B story chapters were going to go and then I keeled over and wondered why my dream wasn’t just to see the Grand Canyon or something, you know, doable.

(Although that was one of my other dreams. And I did get to see the Grand Canyon.)

In the end though, I did it. I have to say that when you have a twisty, complicated plot, writing fast is a huge advantage. Whenever I was forced to take a couple of days’ break, it took me a while to get back up to speed with who was where and why and what was supposed to happen next and what thread I was supposed to be picking back up, but when I wrote everyday, all that stuff just stayed in my head. (Mostly. When it didn’t: Post-Its.)

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Now I’m going to leave it for a few days before I do a typo-hunt and consistency check and also, because this book is a logistical nightmare, a list of who knows what when, so I can check I haven’t made any plotting decisions that could only be explained by coincidence, psychic abilities or Oceanic Flight 815.

Then I’m going to put on my PJs, order in and binge-watch the shite out of something.

THE END.

(Until next week.)

*My book has a main, A story that takes up 80% of it. Two other characters have chapters that are interspersed throughout the main plot, which isn’t really a B story technically speaking but that’s just what I call it for ease. 

A Great Start to the Week

2 Feb

While I was in a lecture being introduced to the wonders of the Romantic Poets while daydreaming about the gigantic Starbucks latte I was going to have as soon as it was over, some virtual cretin compromised my catherineryanhoward.com e-mail account and sent out a spammy message to everyone who ever received an e-mail from that account, which is a truckload of people since I’ve had it since 2010.

Thank you if you’ve already e-mailed, texted, Facebooked, smoke-signalled or carrier-pigeoned me, but if you haven’t already: thank you, but I know. And please ignore any e-mail you got from me today that invites you to click on a link or download a document. If you didn’t and you’ve already clicked, you might want to change your e-mail password just in case.

Definitely getting that gigantic latte now…

Talking Self-Publishing, Doing Rewrites

24 Jan

Hello? *looks around* Is anyone still here?

Apologies for my blog silence this far into the new year, but I am BUSY. Ever since I started university back in September – and realized, belatedly, that I don’t really have time to go to university full-time and do all the stuff I normally do – I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot, to the point where even I’m completely sick of it. The word has lost all its meaning.

But I am very…

Well, let’s just say time-challenged. 

At the moment, before I get more essay assignments (didn’t we just have those? DRAMATIC GROAN) and then, once they’re handed in, we start – GASP! – studying for exams (and also learning how to handwrite something that’s longer than a shopping list for the first time in more than ten years – looking forward to that), I’m all about this: The Rewrite.

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My agent (doesn’t that sound nice? My agent…!) has a truly wonderful in-house editor who read my novel – The Serial Killer Thriller – and then sent me several pages of ideas on how to improve it. Luckily there’s no structural changes but there’s still plenty to do, and I’m trying to do it as quickly as possible due to the aforementioned essays and exams. The bottom line is I either get this rewrite done now, or I have to wait until the summer to even start it.

So: no blogging. No binge-watching. (Another reason to move fast – House of Cards Series 3 starts streaming in February!) No reading for pleasure. (What’s that? It’s been so long I can’t remember.) No leaving the house for long periods of time. No fun-having.

Which is why I’m really looking forward to the Irish Writers’ Centre Publishing Day: Focus on Self-Publishing event next Saturday, January 31st. (It’s outside! I get to go to there! Without feeling guilty!) It features Vanessa Fox-O’Loughlin talking all things self-publishing, Robert Doran (who has guest-blogged right here) on all things editing, Anne-Marie Scully on all things Amazon and then Emily Evans and me in conversation about how we did it. The price is €60.00 for non-members and as with all IWC events, you’re bound to go away feeling all motivated and with the knowledge you need to get the job done. To find out more or to book, visit the IWC website.

See you there!

*retreats back into writing cave*

Happy New Year!

31 Dec

Happy New Year! I wish you everything you wish for in 2015.

Today Writing.ie have posted a blog of mine, Finish Your Damn Book. It’s what I needed to read this time last year, so I’m sharing it with you now.

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Are you writing a book? Been meaning to start? Been “finishing” a novel, whatever that means, for longer that you’re comfortable admitting? Maybe you’re like Badger in Breaking Bad, well able to lead anyone who cares to listen through every plot point of your tale – a Star Trek spec script, in his case – only to end with “I gotta write it down, is all…” If so, then read on.

One afternoon in August 2008 a much anticipated e-mail landed in my inbox. I’d sold my laptop back in Orlando to fund my subsequent adventure in Central America, so I had to check it on the family PC, in full view of half of the family. It was from an assistant at a literary agency in London – let’s call her Helen – who had loved a travel memoir I’d sent her, Mousetrapped, and had pitched it enthusiastically to her boss. I double-clicked. I’m writing with some good and some bad news. Unfortunately we don’t feel there is enough of a market for us to be able to represent Mousetrapped … However we love your writing. What are you working on now? We would be really interested in reading it. Do you write fiction?

Fiction was all I really wanted to write – Mousetrapped has just been an accidental detour – and now here was an agent saying she wanted to read it! Fantastic! Now there was just the little matter of actually writing some…”

Click here to read the full post.

See you next year!

 

Merry Christmas and Here’s to a Very Exciting 2015!

23 Dec

Thank you so much for sticking around these much-neglected parts this year! Write more blog posts and post blogs more frequently is on my list of New Year’s resolutions, I swear. My last post was a bit of a recap of the year and all its university-going and agent-getting excitement, but if you’re looking for something to read while you queue at the tills in the midst of department-store-mania or just need a quiet escape over the holidays with a cup of coffee and your phone, below are a list of quick links to 2014’s most popular posts. I went for quality over quantity this year, so although the list is short, the reading times are generally loooooong…

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Catherine’s Caffeinated’s Highlights of 2014:

Mel Sherratt, Laura Pepper WuC.S. Larkin, Jean Grainger, Dan Holloway and Pat Fitzpatrick were all fantabulous special guest stars and the ever-annoying US tax withholding situation got a complete makeover this year too. You can read about it here.

Finally thanks to the VAT shambles, I will no longer be selling my e-books directly to readers come January 1st. If you want to buy direct from me, you have to do it before December 31st.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year. See you soon! 

Catherine x

The Surprising Thing About Rejection (Or What I Learned in 2014)

5 Dec

This will likely be my last blog post in 2014 and you might want to make a cup of coffee, because it’s gonna be a long one…

In past Decembers I’ve compiled gift guides, and last year I shared my first Christmas in a place I lived all by myself (and so could decorate as I pleased, safe in the knowledge that no one could touch anything or suddenly appear with a strand of the most offensive substance known to man, tinsel). But this year I’m coming to the end of my first term in Trinity College Dublin, barely three months in to a four-year degree in English Studies that I started at the ripe age of 32, and assignments are due. This necessitated a move to Dublin, one of the most expensive cities in the world; the shoebox I now live in, while comfortable and suitably Catherine-fied, couldn’t fit as much as a bauble. (I have no books here. That’s how small it is.) And once college breaks up at the end of the next week, I have to use my month off to—

Well, let me back up a little.

This has been a very exciting year. There was always something about 2014; I knew it would be a big one. During it I did three things I’ve been dreaming about for ages, for years in some cases: I moved to Dublin, I started studying English at Trinity and I signed with an agent. The agent, rather. The one who is at the very top of your wish list if you’re a woman who writes crime, the one who represents such awe-inspiring writers that you nearly didn’t even bother submitting to her because you assumed there was absolutely no chance, and when—

Well, let me back up a little again.

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2014 Highlights: Trinity College Dublin as it looked on my first day as a student. 

I want to tell you about the two very important lessons I’ve learned this year.

The first is that when it comes to making big changes, pursuing your dreams or just doing anything that will yank you out of your comfort zone, making the decision to do it is the hardest part.

Honestly, it is. Strolling around Trinity’s historical campus one sunny day in September – having previously only ever strolled around it as a tourist – I couldn’t quite believe that I was there. I go here now, I kept whispering to myself. How had it happened? [For those of you who don’t live in Ireland, Trinity is like Ireland’s Harvard. It’s for the top scorers. Mature students aren’t considered on their years-old exam results – thankfully! – but places are incredibly restricted and competition is fierce. But I filled my application form with all my book and publishing antics over the last five years, and I’m convinced that’s what got me in.] I’d had to apply; interview; come up with the fees; find a place to live in Dublin in what was described as the worst year for rental accommodation in three decades; move out; move up; and show up for the first day of Orientation.

But they were all easy compared to sitting in front of my computer at 11.30pm on January 31st last, half an hour before the CAO [Central Applications Office; how we apply to third-level education in Ireland) deadline closed for the year. I drummed my fingers on the desktop. Was I really going to do this? Could I do this? How could I leave the apartment I loved so much? Could I really move to Dublin in just a few months? Live there by myself? Afford to? Was there any real possibility that I would even get in? I’d been thinking about it for months but when it came to down to it, I wasn’t sure. It would be easier not to do anything. With minutes to spare, I finalized my application.

And that was by far the hardest part. Making the initial decision was the most difficult thing I’d had to do. After that, all I was doing was following through.

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Highlights of 2014: Champagne and Starbucks. What more does a girl want? (Thanks for the bubbly, Denise!)

Lesson number two was that rejection doesn’t mean no.

Quick recap, if you’re not familiar: I love self-publishing, and I can’t even imagine where I’d be now without it. (Not here, anyway!) But my goal has always been to get published. I don’t feel the need to justify it but if you’re wondering why, it can be summed up like this: because that’s what I want, okay? This little girl didn’t ask Santa for a typewriter because she was dreaming of seeing her book on the Kindle store after she put it there herself:

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Around about the time I self-published Mousetrapped in 2010, I finished a novel, Results Not Typical. Chick-lit meets corporate satire, I called it, or The Devil Wears Prada meets WeightWatchers. It got me a meeting with the editorial director of a major publishing house, who didn’t like that book but liked me and hoped I might write something else. We met every few months for two years, but after various outlines, sample chapters and synopses, I just wasn’t coming up with the goods. With hindsight I can see that my heart just wasn’t in it. I was trying to write a book that I wouldn’t choose to read, which of course is completely and utterly insane, and insulting to books and stories and publication dreams in general.

Meanwhile I’d had an idea for a crime/thriller novel. I am OBSESSED with crime/thriller novels. They are by far and away what I predominantly read. My favorite author of all time is Michael Connelly. If I color-coordinated my bookshelves, half of them would be black. I just love, love, love a good mystery, a chilling serial killer, a twist that comes like a sudden slap in the face. As for writing them, it’s something I thought I would do when I was older, when I had more experience both in life and as a writer. But one day in the summer of 2012, fed up with my failed attempts to write women’s commercial fiction, I caught myself thinking, When this outline is done, I’m going to try and write that thriller just for fun.

*ALARM BELL ALARM BELL ALARM BELL*

Shouldn’t everything I write be for fun? Why was I doing it otherwise? I ditched all notions of writing anything except the book I wanted to read, the book I really wanted to write.

I’d love to tell you now that I banged it out in a caffeine-fueled week or something, but what followed was eighteen months of mostly procrastination. Still, the idea was percolating away in my brain, so all was not lost. By January of this year I had a long synopsis – or, ahem, an outline; tip: if your synopsis is too long, just call it an outline instead! – and the first third of the book, written and re-written to what I thought was a high standard.

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Highlights of 2014: At the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards with Hazel and Elizabeth. (Photo credit: Derek Flynn.)

I have a lot of writer friends, many of them published, and two of them in particular (shout out, Sheena and Hazel!) urged me to start submitting to agents. I said no, not yet, I want to wait until I feel like it’s perfect or, at the very least, finished. Don’t be daft, they said. Are you happy with the first third? Yes? Send it out then. You’re not a novice, you have all this self-publishing stuff behind you, great contacts and you do freelance work for one of the world’s biggest publishing houses. No, no, I said. I’m not ready. I can’t do it. But they kept at me, Dr Phil-style, and finally I said, Okay, okay. I’ll start submitting.

And then anxiety started pushing its way out of my skin in the form of sweat. My heart began to race. I was genuinely scared of the idea of submitting to an agent.

Why?

Because getting published had been my dream since I realized that people actually wrote the books I loved to read. With 30,000 double-spaced words under my arm and a cover letter I’d been perfecting for months, this dream was still intact. But what if I sent it out and got nothing back but a form rejection letter? That would be devastating, a sharpened scalpel tip right into the balloon of my publication dreams. So of course, it was easier to stay in the limbo in between, where my dreams could still happen.

Making the initial decision to take action was the hardest part.

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Highlight of 2014: finalizing the plot of The Novel.

But I did send it out. And it did get rejected. And I was devastated.

It was rejected by three agents. The first gave me detailed feedback, and some of it caught in my gut. I knew she was right so I rewrote it. The second one just said no (or a disinterested “Nah…” in my head). The third one said no too, in the worst possible way: I really enjoyed it, but I just don’t feel passionate enough about it to represent you. As I feel all authors deserve an agent who is passionate about their work… etc

I have a writer friend whose book launches I’ve been going to every summer for the past four years (shout out, Maria!) and who, not that long ago, went to London to meet with two agents, both of whom were desperate to represent her. They both pitched to her and then she got to pick. We first met at a writers’ workshop back in April 2009, when both of us were just dreamers. It had happened for her; I wanted it to happen – and happen that way – for me. But when the rejections started coming in, I stopped believing that it ever would.

I started thinking, Well, the best I can hope for now is an agent who’ll reluctantly take me on because, well, he’ll give it a go, and a deal with a small publisher with no distribution potential and no advance. I was downsizing. Because here’s the thing: if it was a good book, I thought, wouldn’t its goodness be universally recognized?

I finished my book over the summer and decided that my careful, one-agent-at-a-time strategy wasn’t getting me anywhere. I might never get anywhere, so what did I have to lose? I submitted it to two more agents, the agents, the agents I really wanted but had been holding back on submitting to because (a) if the agents on my next-best-thing list all said the book was a stinking pile of crap, it would need a re-write, and I didn’t want to ruin my one chance with my Dream Agents by sending them the first version (although I should say the agents I had sent it to were still brilliant, amazing, well-known agents that I would’ve been delirious to have been represented by) and (b) I thought there was no point, because they got thousands of submissions a year and took on hardly any new clients.

One of the agents was so selective that she only accepted the first ten pages of your book. Fifty is the norm. I’d no chance. I actually remember being on her website and thinking, There’s no point. It was a repeat of January 31st, drumming my fingers on the desk, thinking there was no point in applying to Trinity.

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Not a highlight, but what I’m stuck with reading as my essay deadline looms. Ugh!

But I’d got into Trinity, and now I was living and studying in Dublin. Making the decision was the hardest part, remember? So I took a deep breath, submitted my ten pages and hoped for the best.

Actually, I just hoped for a response.

Both agents requested the full manuscript. And then they both offered representation, one of them even before she’d finished reading the book. I shook and squealed as I read their e-mails. And just like my friend Maria, I had a day (during my first Reading Week!) where I flew to London and met with two amazing agents and listened, slightly dumbfounded, while they pitched for me and my work.

The day before I’d got an invite to the Irish Book Awards and the day after the new Michael Connelly book came out, so that was quite the giddy week, let me tell you.

A few weeks before my London trip I was watching an episode of ITV’s Crime Thriller Club where crime writing queen Lynda La Plante was being interviewed. She said if she could give advice to aspiring writers it would be that “rejection doesn’t mean no.”

I rolled my eyes. Um, that’s EXACTLY what it means? Come on, Lynda. Aren’t you supposed to be a writer? But after my London day, I realized what she meant.

Publishing is an incredibly subjective operation. Whether or not someone likes your book depends on their personal tastes, their professional experience and even what mood they’re in when they sit down to read it. Whether or not an agent will take you on depends on all this and the level of belief they have in you, what they see in the possibility of what the book can become. Timing factors in too, of course. Maybe they just took on a similar author, or they know that a publishing house just paid five-figures for a similar book. That’s why we have these stories of Ms Author getting rejected all over town for years, and then getting an agent and going on to hit the bestseller lists.

Just because your book got rejected doesn’t mean that your publishing dreams are dead. It doesn’t even mean that you have to modify them. Rejection, as Lynda said, doesn’t mean no.

Last week I signed with Jane Gregory of Gregory & Company. Next week I’ve to hand in my first lot of university assignments. Then I start on a re-write of my novel and after that, who knows what the new year will bring? It might bring everything I want, or it might bring disappointment. I’m ready either way. I’ll keep you updated.

In the meantime, remember that making the decision to take action is by far the hardest part and that rejection doesn’t mean no. Consider this when you sit down to think about your writing goals in 2015.

In the meantime, thanks for reading in 2014, especially as life has got in the way and I’ve become so sporadic with my blogging. I hope to improve a bit in the New Year!

Wishing you and yours a fabulous Christmas and a New Year that brings everything you want.

Catherine x

(Fun fact: this blog post is the exact length each of my four essays has to be. Procrastinating much?)

A Discount on Self-Printed 3.0 Just for YOU!

14 Nov

Well, not just for you, but for all my blog readers.

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Until midnight GMT Monday 17th November, you can get enjoy 25% off an ePub or Kindle edition of Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing (3rd edition) if you purchase it directly from me at one of the links below.

Just enter the code blogreader to avail of your discount.

Click here for Kindle

Click here for ePub

A PDF is also available at a permanent price of $2.49. (There’s no discount on that. Sorry!)

Please note that this process will result in a file being downloaded to your computer. You’ll then have to transfer it manually to your e-reader, if applicable. And sometimes I get complaints from people that they click the “I want it!” button and nothing happens; if this happens to you, try accessing Gumroad in another browser. It doesn’t like Safari, I’ve found, but it loves Google Chrome.

While we’re on the subject, Gumroad is GREAT for selling files online if you think you might want to do that sort of thing.

Newsletter subscribers, keep an eye on your inbox. In the next 24 hours I’ll send you a discount code for a whopping 50% off the same thing. (And guess what? YOU can become a newsletter subscriber. Just sign up here – QUICK!)

Should you miss it, you’ll still be able to purchase these via my E-book Store.

In other news I have my first four assignments due for university in a mere four weeks’ time, so you probably won’t see too much of me around these parts until they’re handed in and I’ve caught up on the sleep I had to skip in order to get them finished. But then, I’ll probably be desperately searching for procrastination activities so you never know. You might want to stick around…

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