After the great Nanowrimo November writing bust of 2020, I am somewhat hesitant to lay out my writing goals and resolutions for the New Year. However, I am coming up close on completing at least one of my larger writing goals I'd set in place for 2020 (another editorial pass at Iron Curtain) and it seems like the best time of the year to hunker down and plot the course for the next year.
In terms of writing accomplishments, 2020 had a lot to offer. I submitted Tin Road and it was accepted into the 2020 Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection. I graduated with an MA in Book Publishing from Portland State University, where I served as Managing Editor at Ooligan Press, helping to usher half a dozen books through the editorial gauntlet. I am now working as a full-time editor AND doing freelance editing gigs on the side.
Perhaps the biggest 2020 takeaway, was the print publication of both Metal Heart and Tin Road. Are they completely perfect? No, not really. Would they both benefit from some professional copyediting and proofing? Probably. But I kind of love them for all their imperfections and I'm pretty emotionally attached to these stories and not really willing to turn them over to anyone else at this point. I'm never going to make a million dollars on this simple little trilogy, but for the sake of my love of these characters, I'm excited to see these books through to conclusion and to have them available in print for posterity. ;) Especially for those out there who love my imaginary friends as much as I do.
So, what's next for 2021?
Resolution #1: Publish Iron Curtain (Spring 2021)
While I am loathe to say a final goodbye to my favorite idiots, the Universe is telling me that...it is time. I've been working on these books and these characters for a decade, and so it seems fitting that 2021 is when I finally write "The End" and part ways with them. I spent summer 2020 writing the ending to the trilogy, and now, after getting notes back from my beta readers, I'm doing an editorial pass where I write fun notes to myself like "This scene has entirely too much blocking. Fix it, it sucks." I even took out the entire first chapter because I usually always start the story just one chapter off from where it needs to be.
Once this round of editing is completed, it goes back into the willing hands of my beta readers (who I made cry last time around, I MADE THEM CRY) and then, after another copyediting and then proofing round, it will be submitted to the Library Writers Project collection for 2021. No matter what happens (whether it is accepted into the collection or not), the book will go into print publication by mid-to-late Spring 2021.
Resolution #2: Finish Astrid vs. the Asteroid (Winter 2021)
My burning secret and shame is that I still haven't finished my first lovely little stand-alone, Astrid vs. the Asteroid. It needs an ending and I guess maybe I'm bad at endings or I just avoid them because I know it means I am saying goodbye to the dear, dear characters I spent months and years creating. Whatever the case, they are most deserving of a good ending and I want to do good by them, so I will be giving Astrid the send-off she so richly deserves very, very soon.
Resolution #3: Draft Rosita Ruins the Heist (Summer 2021)
A memory stealing bank robber. This one has been kicking around in my brain for a few years and I've been itching to put her down on paper. I figure if I can log 1,000 words a day for three months, that should put me around 90k words which would be a very sweet spot indeed for this simple little caper.
Resolution #4: Draft Untitled Horror Novel (Fall 2021)
I have a handful of different horror novel ideas, and it's about time one of them floated to the surface and saw the light of day. My biggest beef with most haunted house stories is that they take place in these GIANT labyrinthine mansions with endless spooky corridors with doors that open to giant dusty rooms. They're almost always situated on huge sprawling estates with tunnels and trapdoors and haunted greenhouses or something. I say thee nay! Give me seedy, creepy little houses in a neighborhood littered with needles and condom wrappers and graffiti and poverty. I want a story set where the bus line ends and drug dealers hang out on the street corners and everything smells like weed.
OR I might end up drafting a book based on this dream I had the other night about a girl who quits her job on her birthday and adventures with a coworker (named Michael Anthony, a very specific dream detail), which just so happens to be the first night of the apocalypse. You know me and a good apocalypse story. ;)
Those are all the writing goals fit to print at the moment. As always, they are probably loftier than their practical and realistic application. I will be lucky if I get Iron Curtain published, finish Astrid, and draft Rosita.
And that's, of course, not counting any of the other goals I have for my editing gigs and we can't forget the writing workshops and critiques and social media marketing, blog posts, eventually putting out that newsletter I keep teasing/talking about, maybe some book club appearances, and maybe a digital reading of some kind plus thinking about converting some of the books to audio...
There is always a lot to do. But without the writing first... none of that other stuff matters as much.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson mingled fantasy, horror, and grief in a contemporary tale of raising the dead. The focus on the witchcrafting elements was what hooked me at first. Mila Flores has a strong voice and a chip on her shoulder, and isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done. But at the same time, she has a soft marshmallow side that she mostly only reveals to her long-time crush Xander.
It was a great Halloween-time read, but the end mystery kinda fizzled for me because it came out of left field. Even when I looked back on the killer reveal, I don’t really SEE it. Readers want to be in on the fun and instead I felt a little gut punched. Luckily the humor and the unlikely camaraderie between the witch and her zombies carried the book through its somewhat rocky conclusion.
I honestly wouldn’t mind spending another book in Mila’s world.
I am pleased to announce that Tin Road, the exciting sequel to Metal Heart, is now available on Amazon for purchase via paperback and ebook. For those who loved the first book and want to continue following the journeys of our intrepid heroes, you don't have to wait!
Tin Road is the second book in the Metal Heart series that follows the exploits of young women and men conscripted into "national service."
This installment focuses on Scarlett Buford and Rabbit Santiago as they escape from the Fort Columbia base and travel to Mexico City, carrying with them a cure for the nanovirus. At the same time, a mysterious clone awakes on the East Coast and joins forces with a super artificial intelligence with the same goal of eliminating the nanovirus. But do all of their purposes truly align? Who will get to the cure first, and who will get lost along the way?
AND it's been newly revised and streamlined for print, which makes this the SECOND edition. I spent Fall 2019 and Summer 2020 reducing word count and otherwise cleaning up errors and fitting it better into the overall continuity of the trilogy. It's the second book in the series to be included in the Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection.
The third book in the series, Iron Curtain, is in production now and will be available in Spring 2021! You don't have to wait long. ;)
PLEASE NOTE: If you decide to purchase a copy, shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will mail you a signed book plate to attach to your book (yagirl has a jobby-job now and signed special deliveries won't fit in the holiday schedule).
Purchase your copy today!
Hey Everyone! Another Ooligan Press book baby is entering the world!
Please join me at the Laurel Everywhere launch party on Nov. 10 at 6:30pm via Zoom. Along with the editorial team, I'll be interviewed by author Erin Moynihan about the behind-the-scenes book making process.
You can pre-order a copy of the book or register online for the event at: https://linktr.ee/ooliganpress
About the Book: Fifteen-year-old Laurel Summers couldn't tell you the last words she spoke to her mother and siblings if her life depended on it. But she will never forget the image of her mother's mangled green car on the freeway, shattering the boring world Laurel had been so desperate to escape. Now she can't stop seeing the ghosts of her family members, which haunt her with memories of how life used to be back when her biggest problem was the kiss she shared with her best friend Hanna.
After the accident, Laurel and her dad are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Her dad is struggling with his grief and depression, unable to cope with the loss of his family. He seeks a way out of his pain, leaving Laurel behind while he struggles to cope with his own mental illness. She is desperate to find a way to hold everything together again and help her father come to terms with the loss so he can come back to her.
Laurel tries to make sense of her pain with the help of her grandparents, her two best friends, and some random strangers. As she struggles to understand who she is without her family, she must come to terms with the items on her List of Things Not to Talk About, learn to trust her dad again, and on -- on top of it all -- keep her heart open to love in the wake of her immense loss, eventually learning that it's OK to not be OK.
Hope to see you there!
Last year I did a reverse Nanowrimo and cut 30k words out of a manuscript. It was a bit of a grueling process, but actually felt really, really good and resulted in a version of Tin Road that I was confident enough to submit to a local library collection. And it was accepted! It's now available in paperback form for purchase.
I haven't officially announced it yet (I'm going to do a promotional/fundraising push to raise some book and food funds for my Little Free Library closer to Thanksgiving) but for anyone who actually reads my blog and wants a copy, you can purchase now on Amazon. If you show me the receipts, I'll even send you a signed bookplate! I know, Amazon is the devil. But it's allowed me to fulfill one of my meager life goals, which is getting my books in print.
This year, for Nanowrimo 2020, I am torn. I finished the draft of the third novel: Iron Curtain. I got feedback from beta readers. I am in the process of applying some changes and angling to submit to the 2021 Multnomah County Library Writers Project. If that doesn't happen, I still plan to publish it in Spring 2021.
So, I could spend all of November 2020 cleaning up this manuscript.
Or, I could write something new. I have a story that's been burbling in my brain for a while now and it really, really, really wants to get out. I even went so far as to make it a playlist, so you know that's when things are getting really serious. If this brain book and I were dating, making a playlist is the mental equivalent of going Facebook official. I don't really know if that metaphor worked...
Anywho. If I decide to tackle Iron Curtain, the main things I'm looking at are cleaning up the last 12 chapters (out of 32) and overall beefing up the language. Basically, a back-section DE and a line edit. That seems doable in a month. Then I could pass it off to my beta readers for one last review before it goes the MCLWP in early 2021.
BUT if I decide to tackle the new project, that is starting over entirely from scratch. I have a rough outline, a rough character sketch, I know what she wants (and what she REALLY wants, and what she needs). I don't have all the specifics mapped out, but I have a general idea of where it's going. I have to admit, the idea has appeal and some merit. I've been embroiled in the Metal Heart world for months now, and taking even a week long pause to ACTUALLY read a book (bless you Undead Girl Gang for being the one) really helped me approach the manuscript with new eyes. Why, just yesterday I unearthed a fun little plot swivel that will make the ending much more interesting and dynamic.
I'm quite prepared to enact either plan. OR BOTH. I think both will probably be disastrous, but hear me out. No, really.
What if I took half the month to vomit out 25k words of a story that's been taking up a lot of my brain space lately?
And then what if I took the other half of the month to finish cleaning up Iron Curtain so it can FINALLY see print and the fates of my favorite idiots will FINALLY be secured properly?
These are the very questions that have kept me up the last few nights.
And I'm still not clear in what order those things would best fall together. Part of me says: Iron Curtain first. Then take a breather. LET IT BREATHE. Work on this new book and get it out your system. And then come back to Iron Curtain with EVEN FRESHER eyes.
I know. It's too much. Yagirl is always in danger of doing TOO MUCH.
The pragmatic, realist side of me says: You'd better just get this damn book FINISHED. Like, all the way finished. No more distractions. No other WIPs and fun side stories. Iron Curtain is the end of a writing era and it deserves my full attention until it is the best possible version it can be.
I think you can tell which side I am landing on. But when it comes down to November 1... I still have no idea what I'll ACTUALLY do. Here goes something...
Confession time: I haven't read a single book in my To Be Read pile since the pandemic started.
I know. Bear with me. At first, there was a totally reasonable excuse. I was in the midst of my final term of graduate school and there was no time. When the pandemic first kicked off, it was consuming my whole attention as we are a multi-generational household and we had to figure out our "new normal" in order to keep everyone safe. Everything went online. Shopping became a scary undertaking. Exercise regiments were established. Sanitizing protocols were put in place. It was A LOT.
But then the MA program ended and I was jobless and home bound like many other unfortunate Americans.
Sure, I started freelance editing. I was job searching. I was formatting my books for print. My hometown of Portland, Oregon was thrust into the spotlight due to our nightly protests. We were occupied by federal agents. A Proud Boy was shot and killed downtown. My entire state of Oregon was on fire. We acquired a new pet. My daughter started online kindergarten. The election drama has been INTENSE this year and fractured my personal relationships. I started a new job. The holidays are coming up. Financial stress is real. The list goes on...
For a lot of the country, things leveled out or went back to normal or never changed much to begin with. For my particular nook in the Pacific Northwest, we've been bombarded with hit after hit and strangely enough, for me, pleasure reading has been the most impacted by this near continuous "state of emergency." Constant vigilance is EXHAUSTING.
There were and still are a lot of things, BUT I also have A LOT of books. And in the past few months since our lovely Little Free Library opened, the pile has only grown bigger.
I have resorted to purchasing books in multiple for the library, especially the ones that appeal to me, because I haven't been able to fulfill my mental promise of "reading this book quickly and then adding it to the library." Nope. The books intended to hit the library shelves AFTER I read them are now are stacking up and collecting dust alongside all the book presents and impulse splurges from the last year.
I literally haven't even been able to finish a pleasure read I started over winter break back in 2019. My track record for books read in 2020 (that weren't school, work, or craft related) is a big fat zero. I'm not sure what the deal is. I seem to have some kind of mental block when it comes to reading books that has persisted throughout the entire pandemic and resulted in stacks of unread books, even ones that desperately appeal to me, just moldering on my nightstand and dresser and end table and book case.
It doesn't help that I've been working so diligently to FINALLY wrap up the Metal Heart trilogy and get all of those books available in paperback and ebook formats (*fingers crossed* for audio format one day). Whenever I want to selfishly pop open a book for pleasure reading, some weird voice in the back of my head takes over and says: Not today! Finish YOUR book instead.
It made sense at the beginning of the pandemic that all my excess resources were consumed with "solving this problem." There wasn't extra brain space to dive into an alternate reality. I concede that point. Many others have commented on just this phenomena. There's even science to back me up.
But we're eight months in now. There are constant adjustments and shifts, but nothing quite like the massive upheaval in Spring 2020. And I've also been letting myself slip into other realms. My free time is filled with Netflix and Pokemon Go and stupid puzzle/narrative games on my phone. Those alternate realities are OK, apparently.
I'm feeling itchy and antsy and mentally stalled and incredibly GUILTY. I've started multiple books, thinking: This is it! This is the one! This is going to break the cycle! And then read about a chapter in and can't seem to focus any further than that. Books that I was stoked to read. Books that I NEED to read for craft purposes or just to be a better human in general.
It's becoming problematic that someone with an MA in BOOK PUBLISHING, who WRITES BOOKS, and regularly stocks a COMMUNITY LIBRARY full of books is struggling to read them. I can't even blame doomscrolling as I've worked over the last month or so to purge that habit.
I'm buoyed up by my continual interest in the idea of reading. I believe that there will be a time in the future, possibly even the near future, where I can redistribute my headspace and pleasure read a book again. In fact, the one that's been sitting on my end table and calling my name for the last few days is Undead Girl Gang.
What's holding me back from tearing into it right now? That depressive dip, that weird sense of loss that hits when I get about a chapter in and realize that I can't go any further. I am now afraid to start a book because I fear that I won't be able to finish it. Anxiety sometimes be like that.
I will mark it a victory if, in the next few weeks, I can crack open this fun YA novel, read it, and churn out a review. No pressure on this book, but some pressure. I need a win here.
Until then, happy reading, my friends -- if you are able. If you're not able to read, you're not alone, and we're in this together. We'll get back there one day. Your TBR pile is not a negative statement about you as a person. It's more of a condemnation of the times. It's been a rough year and however you've chosen to survive it, and whatever thing you had to let go of to be here today... it's OK.
The books aren't going anywhere.
Dialogue can make or break a story. Dialogue can infuse excitement and intrigue into your novel or it can fall dull and lifeless onto the page. It's so crucial to storytelling and characterization and world-building and it's such a tricky balance to have it achieve all three at once.
Ten Quick Tips for Editing and Improving Dialogue
Of course there are many more that just ten things to talk about, but this will be hopefully be a helpful springboard to managing those mistakes that nearly every writer runs into when it comes to capturing authentic, but compelling dialogue for our readers.
There's always the debate of how much dialogue is TOO MUCH dialogue, and I would say that really depends on two things: the writer and the reader. Some writers are always going to include more dialogue because that's their writing style. They like to have their characters interact often on the page. Some readers are more engaged by dialogue than by descriptive prose. I have a sibling whose eyes glaze over when they encounter too much landscape description, so they'll skim sections until they hit a patch of dialogue and pick up from there.
The onus is on the writer to determine where their strength lies, and just how much dialogue is too much.
I'm a victim of over-dialoguing (I LOVE TO HAVE MY CHARACTERS TALK TO ONE ANOTHER) and so my editing and revision process for my own writing is usually to go through and cull out huge chunks of dialogue. I weed through the thorns to find the beautiful sparkling roses within, and cobble together the best dialogue for the most engaging and natural sounding interactions.
My relationship with dialogue has really changed over the years I've spent writing and revising. I originally was opting for more "natural" sounding dialogue which included pauses and filler words and stammering, but it's just quite cumbersome to read, to speak aloud, and just doesn't work as well on the page as it does on the screen. So I've revised my attitude towards dialogue (but not the frequency of use) and I find it much more exciting for me to write and for others to read.
Stay tuned for the next blog post on the exciting perils of dialogue punctuation! ;)
So it’s not a developmental edit?
No. It’s not. While developmental editing does look at language as a function of the entire manuscript, its primary focus is on larger structural functions of the story like timeline, pacing, character development, and authenticity. Developmental editing is taking a macroscopic look at the book, while line editing is applying a mesoscopic (middle or intermediate) lens to the content.
And it’s not a copyedit?
Nope again. Copyediting is the final microscopic lens of editing. Copyedits correct errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, fact-checking, word usage, and style. A copyedit wants consistency, and it seeks to eliminate glaring language errors that will distract readers and pull them out of the story.
What might a line edit look like?
There might be some elements of both developmental editing and copyediting involved in a line edit, especially because the goal of this type of edit is to upgrade the language for clarity. A reader will not achieve that blissful feeling of sinking into your text if it has glaring inconsistencies. So along the way, line editors will likely address any or all of the following elements:
Why is it important to know the difference?
You might be looking to hire a freelance editor for a manuscript, and they’ll likely be versed in a wide variety of editorial services. You need to know the right one to select for your manuscript and how to most effectively communicate your desires. Of course, any freelance editor worth their salt is going to help you select the right service from the get-go, but arming yourself with knowledge even before approaching a contract is highly suggested.
Or, if this is your first time stepping into the publishing world with a manuscript, folks are going to be using these terms to inform you of the next steps in their process. And once any type of editing is done, it’s up to the author to incorporate, apply, or revise. Some edits are much more time-consuming than others, and line editing falls into that middle territory. You’ll need to parse through all the individual edits, but it’s not nearly as complicated as a developmental edit. On the other hand, you likely won’t just be clicking “accept all” for all the spelling and punctuation errors to be magically fixed. You’ll want to investigate each line edit, and it might even require some work on your end.
The ultimate goal of a line edit is not only to elevate the manuscript, but also to improve the craft of the writer. A writer cannot address their tics if they can’t see them. They won’t know about the potential power of certain words or phrases until someone looks at their writing and points these things out. All editing seeks to improve a manuscript, but line editing in particular has the ability to have a long-lasting effect on writers themselves.
This was written for and originally appeared on the Ooligan Press blog on May 11, 2020.
I am pleased to announce that Metal Heart is now available on Amazon for purchase via paperback and ebook. It's been a long time coming and I can't wait to hold a copy in my hands and share it with the world in an exciting new format!
"Eleni Garza watched her parents die in a terrorist bombing that stopped her heart. Prothero, a shady corporation, saved her life by implanting her with experimental nanotechnology.
To repay that debt, Prothero enlists her in military service. During a routine combat simulation, strange powers emerge and Eleni discovers she may have a cure for a global virus. She may, in fact, be the cure to the virus.
Now she must escape a heavily fortified military base and deliver the cure to the same terrorist organization that killed her parents."
AND it's been newly revised and streamlined for print, which makes this the SECOND edition. I spent Summer and Fall 2019 reducing word count and otherwise cleaning up errors and fitting it better into the overall continuity of the trilogy.
I've offered to purchase author copies of Metal Heart, sign them, and hand deliver them around the Portland Metro area in September 2020. If you're interested, shoot me an email at: email@example.com
Otherwise, you can purchase your own copy now.
It started out on a whim. I'd driven past a couple of these colorful independent community libraries in my neighborhood, and always dreamed about establishing one in our little corner of Portland. It was just a dream, and I didn't put much stock on it because we live on a dead end gravel street.
But then someone developed the vacant lot next door into townhouses and the city created a bioswale sidewalk that is maintained exclusively by the city and is technically not residential property.
And the final clincher: I hit Level 40 on Pokemon Go and could officially nominate a Pokestop. Little Free Libraries that are NOT situated on residential property have been known to become Pokemon Go stops, so it seemed like killing two birds with one stone. Create a Little Free Library, possibly garner a Pokemon Go stop that I could spin without ever leaving my house. Could it be true? Was such a thing even possible? BUT with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, I knew it couldn't JUST be a home for neighbors to exchange books. It needed to be a waystation for food, hygiene products, COVID supplies, and other essential items.
All I really wanted for my 38th birthday was $380 to turn a weary and faded old closet into something cheerful and bright and chock full of resources for my neighborhood. I ended up scoring $500 (thank you friends and family) and we set about cutting shelves, refitting the door, sanding, painting, and affixing Pokemon stickers (of course). We also purchased a plaque and charter number that allowed us to register our Little Free Library on the global map. Now I'm officially a library steward. ;)
With the leftover funds we purchased culturally specific books from local Black authors Brian and Josie Parker (Believe in Wonder Publishing) and a wide array of diverse books from our local Gresham bookshop Books Around the Corner. Trace Kerr, an author friend, sent us a delightful book-filled care package all the way from Spokane, Washington. It boasted TWO copies of our book baby The Name We Take. And another author friend, Laura Stanfill, publisher of Forest Avenue Press, sent us a copy of
Our first Little Free Library Friday stocking session took place last Friday. And I go out daily to assess the food pantry aspect and restock important items like hand sanitizer, disposable masks, and feminine products. We cleaned my daughter's room over the weekend, and ended up with a couple gallon freezer baggies full of perfectly usable playdough, crayons, and markers as well as some preschool workbooks. Hopefully those will help tide folks over who are scrambling for school supplies in the absence of in-person instruction.
While I'd like to pretend there is a strong literary nuance to our library, my main focus is on supplying our community with books and resources to survive the next year. And honestly, the distinction between "good" and "bad" books wanders too far into a territory of classicism and intellectual elitism that I don't truck with. Somebody's "crap" book is another person's pleasure read. Literacy is literacy is literacy. We're all in this together, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. And maybe the best way to give back right now is to leave a book and lend a hand without being a judgmental a-hole.
One of the more important aspects of this project was having it greenlit by one of my MA cohort members, Desiree Wilson, who wrote her thesis on Little Free Libraries predominantly operating in wealthy neighborhoods and usually stocked with books for white folks (Spatial Politics and Literacy: An Analysis of Little Free Libraries and Neighborhood Distribution of Book-Sharing Depositories in Portland, Oregon and Detroit, Michigan). That concept really helped me develop what kind of books I wanted to stock on our shelves (diverse!), what readers I wanted to focus on (young adults and kids need books!) and how I wanted to steward (like a boss!).
If this idea intrigues you, I strongly encourage you to read Desiree's research paper before moving forward.
And to also consider, right now, what kind of needs your community has and how you can best serve it.
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.