Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Introducing the Novelist, Amy Michelle Wiley

I have approximately six abandoned novel files in my laptop right now—that’s just from the last five years. None of them go past three or four chapters, and few were abandoned after a mere page and a half. During my childhood I'd started another three or four books, never to complete them, and the number of storylines rattling around in my head is closer to a whopping fifteen.
All my life I've been a writer and aspired to be a novelist. I've started a novel with grand hopes, only to let them fizzle and die as I left it in the dust to pursue yet another novel. So never has that goal been attained.

Until now.

NaNoWriMo, and its support group hundreds of thousands of people strong (plus my own smaller wonderful support group of family and friends), was the kick I needed to get a novel out. I passed the NaNo goal of 50,000 in thirty days on Saturday, four days early, and today on the thirtieth I finished the epilogue and now have a completed rough draft of Reaching Sky. It's a fairly short book at a current 55,783 words, but it is WRITTEN!

I think NaNo worked well for me, despite the rushed time limit and the "no major editing" rule. The story is rough with a lot of holes (like the cat I introduced in one scene, never to mention again... and the fact that I don't mention the main character's name, the weather, or the location in the whole first whole section... etc.) but it's definitely a very viable draft that has some strong parts.

You can read a short story based on the characters here, Eureka in Yreka, to get an idea of the book. My aim is to get this one published through a traditional publisher, so here are my goals for the next year:
  1. Go over the book again right now to add in all the scenes and details I remembered later but didn't have time to go back and put in during the competition.
  2. Let it sit at least a month without so much as a glance or a thought.
  3. Edit it with hopefully somewhat fresh eyes.
  4. Give it to two trusted writer friends to give me lots of constructive feedback.
  5. Write another draft based on that feedback.
  6. Give the new draft to another three or four people—a mix of writers and just readers.
  7. Rewrite it again.
  8. Send it to a professional editor for a polish.
  9. Send it to an agent!
  10. Probably more rewrites for agents and publishers.
  11. Have a publisher accept it! Woo!
Thank you all for your support and encouragement and for believing in me! Keep 'em coming! I can't wait to see what God does this this book, now that He finally got me to actually write it. ;-)

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Cracking the Whip at the Limping Noodle

    When I first joined NaNoWriMo and began planning to write a novel in a month, I started hearing about Week Two. Yes, all in caps like that. It’s An Event. But the thing is, this is one event that didn’t have such a good rap. Week Two is terrible. Week Two is tough. Writers quit during Week Two *cue dramatic music* never to return to their story again.

    At the end of week one I was barreling through my story at top speed. Mighty Writer Amy wasn’t going to be daunted by week two, oh no. (Did you note how I trivialized the threat merely by not capitalizing it?) Reaching Sky is a winning novel! Bethany House is going to publish it, and not only that, they are going to offer me a two-book contract for it and the companion novel, M&Ms and Apple Cores. Get ready, week two, here I come!

    And then Week Two hit. There were three things I underestimated about Week Two.

    1) The middle of a book is hard to write. I know this because I researched it (read, misery loves company). Even best-selling authors feel like giving up during the middle of the book.

    2) My handy-dandy outline said “Day five: LA to Yreka, Drive and Talk. Day Six: Arrive in Newport, OR.” Now, maybe you haven’t looked at a map lately, but LA and Newport are almost a whole state apart. And California and Oregon are big states. On top of that, “drive and talk” isn’t exactly a detailed blueprint.

    So now I’m stuck in a notoriously Hard to Write Middle, with a very Vague and Fuzzy Outline, right in the midst of Week Two.

    3) Added to that is that I’m tired. Not tired of writing, just tired. As in a bit of a Fibromyalgia Fatigue Flare.

    So what do I do? I keep writing, of course! I am Mighty Writer Amy, remember? I may now be convinced my novel is as exciting as a limping noodle (no, I don’t mean “limp noodle” or a “wet noodle.” I’m not quite that depressed. A limping noodle is a tiny bit interesting, right?) but I am determined that not even the Three Plagues of Week Two can stop me.

    So. It doesn’t.

    And just as a treat, here is a teaser from this week’s writing. It comes from near the beginning of the week, back when things were still moving pretty good and not yet limping.

    I went back to scanning the cars behind me for that dark blue sedan. It was amazing how many blue cars were out there. I freaked myself out several times, but they always eventually took an exit or pulled ahead or fell behind. I was zoning out when something made me glance beside us.

    The squinty-eye man was not behind me. He was beside me. On the other side of my window. Staring right at me.

    I yelled. His car kept pace with me and for a second we locked eyes. His were dark and piercing, even with the drooping lid. Sky took a gasping breath.

    Gripping the wheel, I fought the impulse to stomp the break or gun the gas. There was a car right on my tail. Getting rear ended would just make us more vulnerable. What if the car behind us was part of it, too?

    My heart was going so fast I expected it to give up any second. I’d just die right there, holding the wheel of my truck.

    “Sage, do something.” Sky cowered down, but popped up for a little peek.

    “Should I take the exit?” There was one only a quarter of a mile up. Would that be safer or scarier? “I don’t know what to do.” I didn’t have much luck keeping the panic out of my voice. Dealing with psychos chasing me was not something I had experience with.

    The squinty-eye man made the decision for me. He pulled a half a car length ahead. Then he yanked the wheel. Toward us.

    Sky screamed.

    I reacted instinctively, jerking the truck away. Then I saw the concrete rail. We were going to die.

    Somehow I kept control, slamming on the breaks and straightening out so we were driving down the shoulder. From the corner of my eye I saw the man roll down the car window and reach out a hand that held something black. The bang echoed in my ears. Filling my brain. Overpowering my thoughts.

    When I came out of my shock the truck was stopped on the shoulder, only a few feet away from the freeway exit. Someone honked.

    Sky. Had he shot Sky?

    I turned my head slowly. She was laying flopped over her seatbelt with her head almost on the floor. She didn’t move.

    Yes, I'm going to be mean and leave you with a cliff hanger. No, I'm not going to tell you if Sky is dead or alive or injured. If you'll excuse me now, I have a limping noodle I need to get back to.

    Sunday, November 07, 2010

    Dance in Peace

    During my entire childhood, the families of the Wileys, the Zollers, and the Rauches were almost just extensions of one family. We could all be found gathered at one house or another several times a week, and us kids grew up as close friends. Now that we’re all grown, we don’t see each other as often, but they are still there on my heart, right near the top of my close friends’ list.

    The father of the Rauch family, Bill, just passed away a few days ago. He'd successfully battled cancer several times but he was hit with a new one and this time he was gone within six weeks. The memorial service yesterday was a beautiful remembrance of his life. People always say nice things at funerals, but with Bill you knew every word was truth, because he was a rock-solid man, with a life built on The Rock. We'll miss his ready hugs, gentle humor, and quiet wisdom.

    One person related that a few days before the end, they went to visit him and he said, "How can I complain about this, when God has given me so many things and such a wonderful life?"

    That's a beautiful perspective and one we might all aspire to have when trials come along, whether they be short ones or terminal ones. I may have a chronic illness that requires an awful lot of rest, but during the few hours I can be active I get to be doing my dreamsthe dreams God gave me and has fulfilled in me: writing, interpreting, spending time with my family and friends.... I'm thankful for those times and it's important for all of us to remember to cherish those times while we have them.

    Speaking of writing dreams, my novel Reaching Sky is coming along nicely. As expected, I've had a couple of days my body didn't allow me to write, but I've been able to make up for it on other days. By the end of the day I'll be a tad beyond today's goal at close to 12,000 words. I've gotten further than on any of my other novel attempts and in a couple of days I will have passed my record for my longest solo writing project.

    Here's a short excerpt from the story:

    “Hey,” I leaned over to bat playfully at Sky’s arm.

    She yelled and cowered, her arm flying up protectively.

    We stared at each other for a split second, my mouth gaped, until she shrieked again and pointed to the road. I jerked back into my lane.

    She’s scared of me. My own little sister thinks I’m gonna hit her. I waited until my breathing had slowed down before I spoke. “Sky, I’m not going to hurt you. I would never hit you.”

    She looked out the window, her fingers clenching a handful of her skirt.

    Turning on my blinker, I pulled onto an off ramp and then into the first parking lot I reached. Sky shot glances at me, her eyes red-rimmed.

    I put the truck in park and turned so I could face her directly. “No one should ever have hit you.”

    She looked down. “Sometimes I talk back.” Her voice dropped. “I don’t always do what he tells me to do.”

    I fought the anger. “Sky, look at me.”

    It took a minute, but finally she turned. She didn’t quite look me in the eye, but at least in my general direction.

    “No one ever has the right to hit you. Ever. No matter what you do, no matter how bad you are, the appropriate punishment should never leave a mark. Never. It wasn’t your fault, Sky.”

    She was crying for real now. I hoped they were healing tears. Tears that let go of the guilt for something no child should ever feel guilty about.

    I reached out, gently, and took her hand. “I want to promise you something, Sis.”

    She glanced at me, didn’t pull her hand away.

    “I promise I will never hit you. I will never hurt you.” I said the words slowly. They filled up the car.

    Sky nodded. Ever so slightly, she nodded.

    I hoped, oh, how I hoped I could be as sure of not hurting her emotionally as I was of not hurting her physically. I knew taking her from that house had been the right thing, but had taking her away? Should I have brought her straight to the social worker and let her investigate?

    I looked at her vulnerable face, tears streaking through last night’s makeup. No. I’d done the right thing. And anyway, I’d made a decision and would have to follow through with it. I was her protector now.

    Now I think I'll go take a nap. Oh, speaking of that, when it comes time for me to die (which hopefully won't happen for a long time), I hope people don't say, "rest in peace." I've done a whole lot o' resting here on earth! When I get to heaven I'm going to be healthy and full of energy. I hope people say something more like, "Dance in peace, Amy, dance in peace." 

    Tuesday, November 02, 2010

    Connecting Me

    I often get told how funny I am. Now mind you, if I try to be funny then I only get blank stares or, if it's a text medium like FaceBook, I might get an "Oh, that's too bad. I'll pray for you." But throughout my everyday conversations, periodically someone will burst out laughing and declare how funny I am, leaving me at a complete loss as to why exactly that comment was funny. But no worries, because I like being funny. Certainly I haven't much talent at writing humor, so I'll take all the chuckles I can get from my everyday actions.

    A few weeks ago my humor made national headlines. No, not in a newspaper, on a friend's advice blog. In fact, Connecting Now hosted what turned into a rather huge competition between my humor and another lady's comments. Check it out here: Duking it Out Connection Style: LaBuff vs. Wiley. Subsequent posts can be found there as well, with Hold the Phones and Extra! Extra! Read All About It!  following the polls and then the final and triumphant win of--well, you'll have to go read it--in The Results Show.

    My fame even spread to Canadian comedian Timmy Boyle's blog, Inside Timmy's Mind, with his post The Great Debate.

    Today I am once again showing up in the bloggesphere, though this time because of my creativity rather than my humor. My dear friend Joanne Sher just interviewed me about my collaborative fiction group Peculiar People over on her blog, An Open Book. I think I forgot to mention here on my blog that I've just opened up for submissions to the next group book, the orphan plane project, so be sure to check out the details on her blog and on the PeP website. It's going to be a really fun project!

    But don't worry, I'm not letting all the fame go to my head. Well, not much anyway. ;-)

    Monday, November 01, 2010

    Inaugural NaNo Lessons

    After all the hype and excitement to get going, when it actually hit midnight and I was legally able to start writing Reaching Sky, I felt surprisingly at a loss for a moment. But only a moment, and then I was typing away. I’d decided on this special occasion of my very first NaNoWriMo, I would stay up and get the prologue and first chapter done before going to bed.

    It only took me an hour and a half and when I was done I’d already hit my word count goal for the day. In order to win the competition, I have to write about 1,667 words a day, and I’ve already written 1,772 and most of the day is still left! As nervous as I was about being able to write the 50k in a month, I’m secretly harboring a hope that I can complete the whole book in a month, which will hopefully be closer to normal novel length of at least 70k. Of course, now it’s no longer a secret, but you know what? I think I might be able to do it!

    Some things I learned on this inaugural experience of mine:

    • I forgot to name the bad guys
    • It’s harder to turn off the internal editor than I thought
    • If my character gets beat up in the first chapter and the book spans only a week, she’s going to have a black eye through the whole book
    • As I got into bed feeling satisfied, I realized I’d forgotten to write the one-sentence event—the one the whole book pivots on—into the first chapter
    • It only took me an hour and a half to meet the day’s word goal
    • Why didn’t I write a book a long time ago??

    And now, for a special treat just for you, I will share my opening paragraphs. Keep in mind it’s a hurried rough draft and not yet a polished work.


    She chose red. Sky gripped the pencil with white knuckles and drew a sharp line of lightning through the black clouds. She was huddled against the side of the house—the side with no windows—and pushed the pencil so hard the paper almost ripped. The house in her drawing was just a square, much like the plain box-house she leaned against. The real house didn’t have dark clouds hovering over it, not so as a passerby would notice, anyway, but Sky knew they were there, just as sure as they were on her paper.

    First Chapter:

    I am invisible. I learned that art many years ago, blending with the background to avoid flying fists and boiling words. Now I have used it for a different purpose. I watched, only a week ago, as Mr. Scrivener punched in the password to his safe. He’d thought himself alone in the house, so hadn’t been suspicious or attentive.

    That’s the trick, I’ve learned. Always be suspicious and always know what’s around you. But Mr. Scrivener, in all his conniving business schemes, somehow hasn’t learned that well enough.