Five Immutable Laws

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One of the tasks I’ve set myself while Rivers and Roads is in Beta is to “Get To Work on My Next Project.” To this end, I’ve begun scribbling in a brand, new journal. I’m interviewing potential new characters, drawing maps, making rough outlines.

The trouble is, I’m not quite sure what my new project should be. If it turns out I can’t generate Industry interest in Rivers and Roads, I’ll need to try something completely different. The only trouble is, just what, exactly, can I try that is different from what I usually do, but is still something I would want to read?

In case you haven’t yet read my post about Books I Might Not DNF, I’ve grown picky in my old age. As far as I can tell, nobody nowadays writes what I really long to read. Which is why I started writing in earnest about eight years ago. And I’m not going to waste the years I have left writing stuff that doesn’t make my heart sing. I did that for a living, for decades! I don’t do That Stuff anymore.

But if The Industry is not interested in what I want to read (which would certainly explain why I can’t find it in bookstores) then how am I going to write Something Different enough (that is to say, similar enough to what everyone is already publishing) to get a foot in the door without compromising my principles? And just what are those principles, anyway?

I scribbled on, and on, until I finally distilled my thoughts down to a concise handful of main points I was/am not willing to compromise under any circumstances in my efforts to pique Industry interest. Five is not too many, right?

The Five Immutable Laws
of
anything written by Kim Beall

  1. The Magic Is Real
    – objectively, empirically real within the context of the story-world, and not merely real within the narrator’s own unreliable head.
  2. The protagonist is an adult
    – preferably over 40.
  3. The protagonist is a human woman
    – though under some circumstances she may be a deceased human woman. Ghosts are people, too! Within strict limits, some vague claim to a long-distant non-human ancestor may be permitted.
  4. The setting is in the contemporary United States of America
    – no long-distant past, no romantic foreign places, no fictional worlds, and absolutely no Cotswolds!
  5. The world is Beauty
    – This beautiful world may be under threat by grimdark evil, and we may get bone-shuddering previews of what might come should the protagonist fail, but the goal of the characters is not merely to survive in a grimdark world. The goal of our protagonist and her allies is to preserve the beauty, even if they have to go through hell (and several sequels) to do it. The Final Image, if the protagonist succeeds, is of a world that is worth saving in its own right, and not just a bleak container within which hominid DNA may continue to replicate a while longer.

Addendum: Things that are Right Out
as I will throw up if I have to write about them, so please do not even suggest them:

  • Sexy vampires
  • Sexy werewolves
  • Sexy shifters of any kind
  • Shifters of any kind
  • Toxic relationship tropes between the protagonist and the love interest. (This is why my protagonist is a grown-ass woman, FGS.)
  • Sexual attraction to a toxic male (see above) (except, within limits, for some incidental side-characters)
  • Chiseled abs and perky breasts (except, within limits, for some incidental side-characters)
  • Conflating ghosts with demons
  • Elemental magic

Needless to say, this idiotic rigidity of mine makes it hard for me to find anything to read, let alone write anything that The Industry will consider looking at. But if I’ve learned nothing else about tropes (even my own) I’ve learned that they can work, if done right. People will gobble them up, if only the author can think of some way to turn them on their heads.

It’s all about Positioning.

With this in mind, I’m not even going to wait until Rivers and Roads makes its the way through the querying process to whatever end. I’m already starting to churn my Immutable Tropes around in my mind. I am determined to, and I know I can, honestly and with integrity position them as something agents and editors are actually looking for. (Because another thing I’ve learned from the past few years is that there are, in fact, lots of people who are just as hungry as I am for what I write.)

I’m still also gonna write the sequel to Rivers and Roads, though. I don’t want to Emeraldize Geddy and Wing, after all!

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Realistic Magicalism

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“BBR” stands for “Beloved Beta Reader!”

A few weeks before Christmas, I completed the first draft of Rivers and Roads (I’m pretty confident I’m going to keep that as the title, this time.) By now I’ve entered it all into electronic format, done a couple of structural overhauls, and several passes through with an eye to basic line-edits. Today I’m going to complete the line-edits of the final chapter. This means I’m about to embark on the Beta Reader phase of this manuscript. I’m excited about that!

I am the opposite of excited about what I need to do once my BBRs start reading. That’s when, according to my List O’ Goals ’22, it’ll be time to hit Query Manager and start compiling a spreadsheet of agents who might, possibly, be excited enough about this novel that I should consider querying them.

It’s not that I dread rejection. Rejection is just proof to me that I am a Real Writer(tm)! It’s just that queries are supposed to state the novel’s genre, and cite comps.

“Comps,” in literary-speak, are books or authors published recently (preferably in the past two years) to which I can point and say “If you liked that, then you will love this manuscript, because it has the same premise and atmosphere in a similar setting.” I could probably find any number of books that have the same basic premise and atmosphere, or the same atmosphere and setting, or the same premise and setting, but never all three.

My readers have informed me that what I write is “Contemporary Southern Gothic Fantasy” and I like that. I’ll run with that as my genre even though it, technically, does not exist. Trying to find comps, however, fills me with an overwhelming sense of frustration, dread, cynicism, anger, outrage, bitterness, hopelessness, and the urge to throw any device on which I’m searching for comps through the nearest window (whether or not said window is open.)

People tell me I should just say: “Imagine Urban Fantasy Title A meets Literary Magical Realism Title B,” and this is good advice. But would I really be able to get away with saying things like: “Imagine Twilight has grown up into an intelligent woman who can spot a toxic relationship a mile away but has no time for them anymore because she’s too busy saving innocent ghosts from paranormal TV show hosts” or “Imagine Allison duBois finally dumps her whiny-ass husband and moves to Innsmouth.”

(Or could I get away with this? I don’t suppose it would hurt to try… If it would, please stop me before I do it. Thanks.)

Amazon often tags my books as “Urban Fantasy,” but it wouldn’t work to try to hook an agent with this claim. They’d be disappointed at the lack of, well, an urban setting, mainly. But also the lack of sexy supernatural shapeshifters who lust after mayhem. The only mayhem in my distinctly non-urban fantasy settings is committed by human denizens. Agents who represent Urban Fantasy would be irritated that I had wasted their time by “not doing my research,” or “not understanding the market,” and rightly so.

Amazon also often lists my work under “Magical Realism,” but I’ve learned the hard way that people who love Magical Realism do not like my work, because there’s (and this is a direct quote from a review) “too much magic.” Apparently you are not allowed to come right out and reveal that the magic is actually real, in Magical Realism. Any magic alluded to must never be proven to exist anywhere but in the POV’s highly unreliable head. Well, I don’t mind reading that kind of thing, but it’s not what I write (and I’m really not interested in ever writing it.)

I think what I write is closer to Realistic Magicalism. Too bad there is no such genre.

At least, there isn’t one now. But maybe there will be, someday when authors start using my work as comps.

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The End (only not!)

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The Inn at night

The other day, at my usual table at the coffee shop, with my usual coffee-flavored latte at my elbow, I penned what they call the “Final Image” of the rough draft of Rivers and Roads. I don’t usually write “The End” until I’m satisfied that I’ve done all the revising and editing I can before I call in the Beta Readers to hack it to bits for me.

But this time, well… the new barista here has always been very inquisitive about my writing. She asks me “How’s your novel going” every time I come in and set my mug on the counter, and listens patiently while she fills it with coffee-flavored espresso and then creates milkfoam art on top.

So as I jotted the last few words (they made me cry, by the way. I hope they make you cry, too!) I stood, picked up my notebook, and carried it to the cash register. Our excellent barista looked up at me and asked, “How’s the novel going?”

I said, “I just wanted to share this moment with you.” Then I put the notebook down on the counter and wrote “The End” at the bottom of the page.

She was very sweet about it. She’s just that way.

Well, I just figured, seeing someone writing “The End” isn’t something most people get to do very often. Heck, I’ve only seen it five times, now, and I’m the one who wrote it. Well, typed it – until now!

Now the hard part starts: structural revisions, line edits, sweeps through to kill crutch-words (I really use the word “really” far too much!) and then the whole Beta Reader thing. And then more revising and editing. Actually, I call this “the hard part” (actually, I use the word “actually” too much, too.) but, this time, anyway it’s not turning out to be as hard as it was to write the story itself. This story really took it out of me, in a way the Woodley series didn’t even come close to. It kicked my butt every time I sat down to write it. But I hope that means it’ll kick your butt, too. In a nice way, of course!

This isn’t him, by the way. 🙂

PS: Speaking of writers and coffee shops, there’s a fellow here right now who always sits by the window typing on his laptop… When I say “typing,” I mean he pokes those keys so hard with the tips of his index fingers, I can’t believe he still has index fingers at all anymore. He hatchets away at the keys in short, sharp bursts, then he sits back, looks at the ceiling, mutters furiously under his breath, and returns to the keyboard. I sure hope he plans to publish whatever it is he’s writing, because I can’t wait to read it.

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Break Into Two

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I don’t always write according to any currently codified Story Structure, but when I do, it’s usually some form of the Three Act Structure.

I’ve found The Hero’s Journey to be a helpful guide in regulating my pacing, and also sometimes in figuring out just where the heck I’m going from here. Lately, though, I’ve become fascinated with Blake Snyder’s 15-beat “Save The Cat” structure. Not that I carefully adhere to it while actually writing, or anything like that, but on looking back I find I can deconstruct most of what I’ve written (or read, for that matter!) into these structures. I guess story, when you really let story tell itself through you, just naturally follows this sort of growth pattern. It’s in our DNA or something.

Anyway there’s a beat that almost all Three Act stories share, and that is the Break Into Two. And I don’t know why, but that’s just magical for me. I mean, all it really means is that this is where the story breaks into Act Two. Very prosaic.

But even knowing that, it still gives me shivers every time I hear it. Break Into Two. As far as I’m concerned, this is the real beginning of the story. The much-touted Inciting Incident is the very necessary beginning of the story itself, but it is usually something that happens to the character, outside of their control. The Break Into Two, on the other hand, is the beginning of the character’s story, because it’s something they choose willingly.

Here the character breaks their own world with their own hands. They know if they take one more step, they will plunge “down that damn rabbit-hole, where you know you can’t be saved.” But if they don’t take that step, there will be no story.

Couples and friendships are frequently broken up by the Break Into Two. When the old world is broken, the only hope of ever making it whole again is to forge unrelenting through the new world. The road is intimidatingly long, but the character shoulders their hastily-packed rucksack and sets out anyway (usually discovering too late that they have forgotten to bring a handkerchief.)

So I’ve just reached the Break Into Two in the [very rough] first draft of my current work in progress. This is the point where I, as the main character in my Author’s Journey, now honestly get a glimpse of just how far I have to go, how much work lies ahead of me, how ill-equipped I am to complete this task. It is also the point where I know there is no turning back. I’m as caught up in my character’s journey as my hapless character is, and abandoning the quest now would be as devastating for me as it would be for them.

Oh! Yes. About my story, my character, my current work in progress. I have given it the working title “Rivers and Roads” (you might remember this was also the original working title of Ghost of a Chance.) This, also, will probably change but I have realized there is definitely a theme (a river, and at least one road) running through all of my work, past and present. And yes, it’s the same river, in case you want to know. Just a different muddy riverbank.

Below is the blurb I’m writing toward. The content and wording, like the title, will almost certainly change as I get closer to the end, but now that I’ve reached the Break Into Two, it’s too late to turn back from the story itself.

Blurb v1.1 19June2021

Geddy Leigh Arkwright has a perfect, normal life – except she doesn’t. She vaguely remembers a magical childhood, wherein she believed in things more extraordinary than soul-stifling jobs and abusive fiancés. On the night when she decides she’s had enough, she throws her cell phone out her car window and sets off a chain of events which sends her tumbling, literally, into a hidden world of enchantment and mystery.

Only those who need a second chance can find the village of Tavisheen, or so its denizens keep telling her. Geddy isn’t sure she’s ever even had a first chance, but she checks into Keeper’s, a centuries-old country inn, anyway. After her initial shock at realizing not all of her fellow second-chancers are, strictly speaking, human, she begins to adjust to – and possibly even enjoy – her strange but intriguing new life.

But her old life comes back to haunt her when the dead body of her ex-fiancé turns up in the street in front of Keeper’s. She begins to understand it’s not so easy to leave your past behind by simply running away from it.

The Inn at night
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And so it begins. Again…

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Moon reflected in river

Yesterday I officially began writing my next series. I’m still not sure how I feel about this, but by the time I was able to stop myself writing I had penned over 4,000 words!  

I’ve been planning this, both in my head and on paper, for a long time. That’s probably why the first day’s writing went so smoothly. I’ve been saying, ever since I released A Midnight Clear, that I’d spend the first 3 months of 2021 reading, reading, reading – and then start writing again on April 1. But I have an appointment for my first Covid vaccination on April 1, so I said the heck with it, I’m just going to start writing right now.

I’d been thinking so obsessively about the beginning of the new story for so long that by the time I sat down to write it, I couldn’t stop until I came to the end of … well, what I’d thought was going to be the first chapter. Turns out it’s probably more like three chapters. Am I overwriting again? That’s what I do. I have set myself a goal of 80,000 words for this first volume which, to make it more appealing to potential agents, is a “standalone with series potential.” I am determined to stick to this low word count. Well, 80K is low for me! I can always edit and make it shorter. I mean, I always have to do that anyway!

This is what some might call my “zero draft.” I write the initial draft by hand, with an actual pen, on actual paper. I understand old farts like me find the hand/body component of handwriting to be beneficial to our creativity. I don’t know about that, but being forced to slow down, if only to keep my handwriting legible, does give my brain time to imagine details and make connections to future scenes in the story. If I write on the computer at first, I end up having to go back and put these connections and details in later. I spend a lot less time fixing plot holes down the road, this way, and a lot less time lying awake at night trying to iron out problems in the story that just don’t happen in the first place when I write by hand.

So in a few minutes I’m going to start typing what I handwrote into a Word document. This will be what I refer to as my “first draft.” While I’m typing, I’ll do a bit of line-level editing.

But! I must discipline myself not to spend a lot of time doing syntactical or atmospheric edits at this stage! I have learned the hard way, after many years of struggling, that if I start seriously editing now, I will get stuck in an endless cycle of rewriting and revising one page, one paragraph, one sentence over and over, and will never finish the actual book. I now make it my strict policy to make sure I am at least 3 chapters ahead with my handwritten draft before I begin typing it in, and eight chapters ahead in my first typed draft before I allow myself to edit anything in previously typed chapters. Once I’ve worked my way to the end of the story this way, that is what I consider to be a finished first draft. After that come second, third, and subsequent drafts.

And so it begins. Again

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not sure how I feel about this new beginning. I feel the story itself is quite good – well, has the potential to be quite good – but I miss Woodley, and Cally and Georgie and all the rest. I really fell in love with that whole story-world and its characters, and I did it quite quickly! I still vividly remember how I felt when I left the coffee shop on that first day, after writing the first two chapters of Seven Turns. I felt like my feet weren’t even touching the sidewalk as I walked to my car. I was over the moon – and wishing I had someone I could talk to about what I was feeling! But there wasn’t anyone, at the time. That is actually a large part of the reason I created this blog, to tell you the truth. Just to have someone to talk to about how excited I was about my story, even if it was just a theoretical audience.

Well, I have a wonderful circle of writerly friends, now, and a real-world audience. And I was pleased with myself, yesterday, but not floating. I felt accomplished, but not in love. Cally et al are a hard act to follow, it seems. I like my new MC well enough. And I’m starting to get a little turned-on by the new love-interest, even though he’s only appeared for a few seconds so far. I’m looking forward to discovering the new town and its denizens. It really is a beautiful and intriguing place!

But I remain skeptical, somehow. I really hated having to say goodbye to Woodley, and now this new world feels kind of like a new pet. You know – one you adopt after losing one you’d loved for so long. You know you’ll come to love the new pet just as much in time – and you will! But it hasn’t happened yet.

The Inn at night

I guess I should be excited about finding out how it’s going to happen. Well, my new MC is a skeptical type herself, so maybe she and I will figure it all out together!

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