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Progress Report: The Writing Process

Remember progress reports? Mine always said: “Kendra excels at spelling but could really use some work on her times tables.” Unfortunately, this is as true now as it was when I was twelve. And just like those recurrent times tables, sometimes the writing feels like I’m running the same track over and over again, wearing down the soles of my shoes. But apparently, readers/followers/anyone-else-who’s-listening like to hear about The Process. So I’m going to indulge myself and y’all a bit and give you an update on my writing process.

I’ve been working on my young adult fantasy novel, By Wingéd Chair, in its various stages for about three years now. It was the fourth book I wrote, it’s the second book in the Valeria series, and it’s the third book I’ve tried to sell.  It’s been written, revised, pitched, rejected, revised, pitched, rejected, and revised some more. My last rejection was particularly positive, telling me I’m finally starting the story in the right place, my character is well-balanced and interesting, and I’ve locked down my voice. So now I just need to find the right agent and the right editor for this project. Unfortunately, that’s a big “just”.

So this week, I will be polishing my synopsis and query letter. I already have a growing list of agents to try for my next wave of submissions. And if I exhaust those prospects, I have a list of small press publishers I think would be a good fit for my book.

And while By Wingéd Chair is out on submission I’ll be working on the fourth book in the series, A Shroud For My Bride (Skin Deep is broken and is going on a back burner until I have time to fix it). I also have a couple short stories that go along with both books in the works. Those will go out on submission as soon as they’re polished.

It’s funny how rejections lead to a flurry of activity. The next couple weeks are going to be pretty busy with revisions, submissions, and heavy edits. Not really my favorite part of the writing process, but every step moves me forward.

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Accessible Excerpts: Full Circle

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

Merry and her companions encounter a creature who has the ability to make them relive their worst memories.

 

An invisible hand reached out and grabbed hold of my mind, dragging me deep into the darkest corners of my own thoughts.

My horse was leaping, a move I could feel was faulty even as she left the ground. She stumbled as she landed, and my foot came loose from my stirrup, my weight shifting and the edge of the gully rising to meet me as I fell.

A darkness I remembered all too well, the black behind my eyelids as I refused to wake, refused to face what I already feared might be true.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid she will never leave this bed again. You may as well get used to it now. It will make it easier in the years to come as she realizes she will never live her life as a normal person would.”

“Papa?”

“I’m here, Merry-child.” His voice was broken, and I opened my eyes to see why. His face hovered over mine, his eyes red-rimmed with pain and exhaustion.

“Papa, I can’t feel my legs.” I tried to sit up but my balance was all funny, and Papa put his hand against my shoulder to keep me from trying anything more. I fought growing panic and threw the blanket back so I could see my legs and feet. They were there, everything was where it was supposed to be, but I couldn’t feel anything below my waist.

“Papa, what’s wrong? I can’t move.” I tried. I tried harder than I’d ever tried anything in my life. The desire was there, I was doing exactly as I had the day before. The signal was leaving my mind but it was blocked. I told my toes to wiggle. They didn’t. I told my knee to bend. It remained limp against the bed linens.

“Papa!”

“I’m sorry, Merry. I’m sorry.” There were tears coursing down his cheeks. I couldn’t look at him; I could only turn my face to the wall and scream. The bed sagged as he sat beside me and gathered me into his arms. His chest heaved with his sobs, but I couldn’t tell under my own shrieks of pain.

I could feel two sharp personalities present in the back of my mind looking on in horror as I relived the moment I’d realized I would never walk again. I don’t know how I recognized Zev and Whyn. There were others there too, though less distinct.

This wasn’t anything like the memories I’d relived with Zev before. I’d never given him anything so personal or painful, and they had never been this vivid. I struggled to regain control, like I did with Zev

With a gasp I was back in my chair, feeling like I’d been thrown there, the frigid air flooding my lungs and making me cough. Zev crouched, quivering beside me, holding his head. Someone was crying, and I turned to find Lans holding a distraught Vira-we to his chest. I looked for Whyn and found him still sitting opposite me. His hands shook and his eyes were glassy, but he met my gaze.

Zev collected himself and stood, raising defiant eyes to glare at the creature who had accosted us. “You have gone too far, Elder. In attempting to prove how wrong I am, you broke a sacred trust. You had no right to take those memories from these people. You fed on their experiences without permission and for that you are no better than the Vachryn.”

“These humans do not deserve the respect we grant our own kind.”

“They are thinking, rational beings like us. Some are evil yes, but some are noble and worthy. These,” Zev said gesturing to Whyn and I. “These are mages. Like the ones we used to partner with. How dare you say they are not worthy?”

“These are the least worthy of all,” the elder said, his voice raised. “They aren’t born with the magic inside like the enchanters of old, so they steal it with cunning tricks. The enchanters would never have let their Realm fall like this. They would have weeded out pain and suffering from the human race long ago.”

Saints, the arrogance in his voice was almost tangible. I wanted to grab it and shove it down his throat. “You idiot,” I said.

“Excuse me?” His incredulous tone boomed with an intensity that willed me to back down, but I stood my ground.

“We shouldn’t inflict pain on others, and I’m sorry there are those who do so willingly. But if we avoid challenges and difficult situations just because we might experience pain how will we ever grow? Suffering tempers us. You feed on memories, experiences, life. Life is nonexistent without challenge, without pain. What you seek is only the shadow of life.”

The misty figure leaned down to look at me closer. “And would you say you are tempered by your suffering? Are you made stronger by your horrible experiences?”

“Yes,” I said and swallowed. I hadn’t admitted it to myself yet and it was wrenching to do so here with so many listening, but the truth of it swelled up through me. “I would not be who I am today if I hadn’t gone through everything that I have. I am grateful I’ve had a chance to grow and appreciate the things that have made me stronger. I pity you in your safe, comfortable existence, always running, never standing to fight and grow.”

“You pity me?” he asked, his voice rising with disbelief.

“Yes, I do,” I said. “The next time you want to dig in my memories you will ask first. Is that clear?”

 

I had a really hard time writing this scene. The first couple weeks after my injury are very blurry due to pain, drugs, and a dizzying procession of doctors and therapy. So I don’t actually have any memory of a specific moment that I became aware that I couldn’t walk anymore. Which made it excessively difficult to portray how Merry felt in her own moment of realization. I think she ended up with something like an entire year’s worth of my emotions crammed into about five minutes of story.

I wanted to bring Merry full circle with this scene. This is the moment where we see that not only has she accepted herself and her limitations, but she sees how strong she is. She can finally acknowledge how her experiences have shaped her to be who she is.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: Easier Said Than Done                                                Not All that Different

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Accessible Excerpts: A Risky Kind of Fun

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

On their way to the Refuge of Ammon, Merry and her companions stop to help out some villagers.

 

“Why are there wheels on your chair?”

I jerked in surprise. It was the bold little girl from before, standing beside me and frowning at my chair. “Excuse me?”

“Your chair has wheels on it. It looks funny.”

My spine stiffened and my face went blank. What an impertinent child. My first reaction was to say something sharp that would tell the girl I wasn’t interested in answering rude questions. Then I saw Whyn watching me, waiting for my response.

I took a couple deep breaths and tried to look at it from her perspective. My chair really was strange. And most invalids were confined to their homes, so she wouldn’t be able to guess what was wrong with me. Her question wasn’t rude; it was the result of someone who wanted to know the answer and wasn’t afraid to ask. Huh, kind of like me.

“It’s because my legs don’t work like yours do,” I said. “This helps me get around.”

“Oh,” she said. “Is it fun?”

“What?” Was it fun to be bound forever to a chair? My tone of surprised incredulity would have scared off a lesser child. But not her.

“Is it fun?” She pointed at my wheels. “I bet they go fast. Like the rich people’s carriages. We had a goat cart once and we got it to go really fast down hills.”

“I-I don’t know. I’ve never really thought of it as fun before.”

Whyn had a really strange look on his face. If he laughed, I was going to punch him.

“Well, come on, you should try it.” She dragged at one of my arms until I followed her. At the end of the village, the road sloped down a gentle hill, and the girl stopped at the top.

“We sled down this one in the winter. It’s not as good as Deadman’s Hill, but that’s half a day’s walk.”

I was thinking this was plenty steep enough, and we didn’t have to try anything called “Deadman”.

I cleared my throat. “What if it’s too fast?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“You steer with the wheels, right?” she said, grasping the mechanics of my chair. “You can just grab them to slow down.” She climbed up on my lap, apparently coming along for the ride.

“But once I’m down there how will I get back up the hill?”

“Easy, I’ll push you.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “Are you always this good at solving problems?”

She grinned over her shoulder. “Da says I’m either a blessing or a menace. He hasn’t decided which.”

I stared down the hill, slightly daunted by my precocious passenger. I could just imagine Whyn standing behind me with raised eyebrows. I couldn’t back down now, not with him watching. I had the fleeting hope if something went wrong, he knew a spell that would keep me from plummeting to my death. An image flashed across my mind: this stretch of road, except now it was called “Deadgirl’s Lane”.

I took what was surely my last breath and pushed myself over the crest of the hill. We picked up speed, and the wind of our passing blew my hair out behind me like a war banner. My wheels clattered, and the chair shuddered as it shot down the packed dirt of the road. My passenger flung her arms out to the sides and shrieked with laughter. I closed my eyes and hung on for dear life, longing to grab the wheels to slow down but not daring to. My gloves protected my hands, but even they wouldn’t be able to withstand this kind of friction.

We hit the bottom of the slope and rolled to a stop.

“You can open your eyes now.”

I did and was a little surprised to find myself still among the living.

“See, wasn’t that fun?”

I had to wait until I no longer felt like I was going to have a heart attack before I could answer. But then a grin plucked at my lips, and I found myself saying, “Actually, yes.” And, in a sort of death-defying way, it was. She hopped off and started pushing me back up the hill.

We were greeted by a chorus of voices. “Was it fast, Sara?”

“Faster than sledding, but bumpier,” she answered.

“All life and limbs still attached?” Whyn asked.

“Yes…”

“Why do you sound so wary?”

“Because I think I want to go again.”

 

I like to find the joy and the fun in life’s little setbacks. Every now and then there are some advantages to disability and wheelchairs are one of them. It is a risky kind of fun – I’ve learned through personal experience there’s a reason for the seatbelts on wheelchairs – but what’s the point in having wheels if you can’t fly down a few hills?

This is a big step for Merry in her emotional journey. Just being able to stand back from her pain and see how she might look to others is a huge difference. And being able to see something other than anger and bitterness in her situation shows how far she’s come.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: A Choice                                                                          AE: Worst Case Scenario

 

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Post it Proudly

I’ve been thinking about doing a series of excerpts from my novels for a while now, but the argument for whether you should post your work online or not has been raging for even longer. I want a chance to get my work out there, show you guys what I’m trying to do, and get some feedback on it, but I don’t want to ruin my chances of getting published later. So I’ve been checking out all the arguments, gathering opinions, and really thinking about what I want to accomplish with posting my work online.

The two sides of the argument are pretty well represented in the article “Stop Being Afraid of Posting Your Work Online” and its counter “Be (Slightly) Afraid of Posting Your Work Online”. Yeah, this is frustrating the heck out of me too. If you don’t want to read both of these posts, that’s fine. The first one talks about how writers benefit from posting their work online. It’s testing the market, building a platform and getting feedback that makes the book better. The latter article says that those things are all well and good, but fiction writers should be worried about other writers stealing their ideas.

I don’t know about any other writers out there, but I was really insulted by this. I am not a thief. There have been plenty of times where I’ve heard a pitch and thought (and usually said) “I’d read that”. There have even been one or two that I’ve thought, “Boy, I wish I’d come up with that first”. But it has never crossed my mind that I should steal the idea – even if I think they’re doing it wrong and I could do it better.

Besides, I have way too many good ideas of my own to waste time developing a passion for someone else’s idea (not to mention a plot and all that’s inherent in writing a book). Are there really good writers that don’t have their own projects who spend their time trolling itty bitty author blogs looking for good ideas to steal? That’s like being a world famous chef who has no kitchen and no food, so he sneaks into your house to raid your pantry and use your stove. I’m not saying there aren’t people out there who will copy something in order to avoid doing their own work – there are, it’s called plagiarism – I’m just trying to put things in perspective. And, for the record, everything posted on a personal blog is protected because it’s technically been published.

So, let’s say the evil supervillain is out there. After he’s found my brilliant idea and rubbed his hands together saying “Bwah ha ha”, he still has to write the book better than me (and I use personal experience few others have so now we’re talking about a disabled, evil supervillain). And he has to be better at snagging a publisher. Good luck with that one. I’ve heard lots of “Oh that’s a great idea” and not one “I’d love to publish that for you”. He’d also have to be faster, and since I’m in the process of shopping for an agent, that’s pretty dang fast.

I guess it’s a double edged sword. I want to get some feedback and build a readership, but I have to accept that there might be risks.

All of this is to say that I’m starting a new series of posts. Every Wednesday I’ll put up an excerpt from my current work in progress that has something to do with disabilities. I want this to be a chance to look at how disabilities are handled in fiction (especially fantasy), and if you guys have any suggestions or critique, I’m always looking for feedback to make things better. I’m not going to post the whole book, or even whole chapters or scenes. Just passages that highlight something specific that I want to point out. And Fridays will still feature my regular mix of disability topics, book reviews, and writing advice.

So I hope you guys enjoy the journey along with me as I embark on this new endeavor. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next Wednesday.

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