Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Polly Plummer: Back To Genesis

Just a quick note to say that my new column on Polly Plummer and The Magician's Nephew is up on Hope you enjoy it! Here's a snippet:

As we come to the end of our series of articles on The Chronicles of Narnia, I want to return to the attacks of atheist Philip Pullman on Narnia, which I dealt with in my first article. In his infamous assault on Lewis’ writing, Pullman says of Narnia, "It is monumentally disparaging of girls and women."... To anyone who has read the Chronicles, this is arrant nonsense. Flying in the face of this statement is the panorama of wonderful female characters who are the main heroines in Lewis’s stories. Read more...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Reading it for the Hundredth Time: The Final Edit

Andrew and I are joking that we should call ourselves, "The Midnight Editors" because it seems that way too much of this book is getting edited between the hours of midnight and 2 AM. It's just that it's so nice and quiet during those times. With six children in the house, this is the only time that it seems this novel will get done.

Occasionally people ask me to describe what the editing process actually looks like. Since my memory of this time tends to dissipate into a blear of lost sleep once the book is actually published, I thought I'd jot down some notes from the front lines.

This stage, the final edit, is where I suspect the best writing on the book gets done, even though it can be painfully like beating an equine cold corpse at times. It is also the point at which I (and I suspect most writers) are "in the zone."

At this point, the book is written. You have your creative opening sentence at the beginning and your killer climactic moment at the end. You've written, "The End." You've set your chapter openings and breaks. You've done your grammar and spellchecks. You've done a search and replace on MS Word to replace all non-smart quotes with smart quotes, and to replace double hyphens with dashes.

Now is when you do your real writing. How? By reading it. Over and over and over and over again. Each time you read it, you change the parts that don't sound as good. You pause in your reading when daily life interrupts you (and at this stage, interruptions are helpful), then return and start reading it again with more of a fresh mind. You read and edit, read and edit, then stop. Then you re-read and edit more, re-read and edit more.

In this way, you can get through your book (at least the first part and the last part) at least a hundred times.

You're switching your brain constantly between "reader" mode and "editor" mode. In reader mode, you follow the emotional progression of the plot. You laugh at the jokes. You skip the boring parts. If you have Andrew's brain, you also notice the typos, and the parts where the character turns off his car twice in the same paragraph.

In editor mode, you're fixing the boring parts - ejecting them, making them shorter or reworking them (yet again) to give them significance. You're trying to think of better punchlines. You're deciding whether or not it's better to say of a sunset landscape that it was "tempting" or "inviting." You're debating as to how much information you should give the reader now, and trying to remember what it is that the reader would know by this point in the story.

I try to read my opening chapters the most because they have to be the best, especially the first three pages. It's easy to get sick of those opening pages. If after reading them a hundred times, you still find *some* parts that are interesting, your book is in pretty good shape.

The best part of this book has been that my husband Andrew is working on it so closely with me. This is different: before, I was always working with Bethlehem Books editors, and I wrote Waking Rose expecting that I would have it published by someone else. But The Midnight Dancers is the first book whose excellence is dependent almost entirely on us.

So we are reading it VERY closely.

And arguing. We each have a typical part in the argument.

I am the author: I have my favorite parts, the bits that I want for "me", for my art, for my "moment," not for the plot. My message, my heartache, my piece to say in print.

He is the reader: he gets bored by the parts that are too much about "me." He hammers his hand and demands I get ON with the story. He demands I demonstrate the importance of everything in the story.

Microsoft Word is the battleground. We have the "track changes" tool on, so every keystroke is instantly highlighted in red on the screen. He reads a sentence, says, "Too wordy," and deletes it. It vanishes into a red bubble on the side of the screen.

I become an advocate for the sentence. I right-click on it, reject his change. I then rewrite it, and it's a blaze of red across the monochrome page. He points out I just used the word "fastidiously" twice in the same paragraph (and it was *not* for stylistic effect). I rewrite. His head nods. I highlight the text and right click "Accepted." Black and white unity returns. On to the next paragraph.

(Repeat this process a thousand times.)

After a while, we start to get silly. We "accept" changes, and belt out Marie Miller's song, "I am Accepted, hey yeah-eh-yeah!" We "delete" changes, and bellow like StrongBad, "Deleted Forever!"

Today the delete-accept war reached titanic proportions when he declared that two scenes (one of which was my favorite, set in a fabric store) were "useless." He highlighted them and hit a key. DeLETED! I yelped as five pages of manuscript vanished from the page and were sucked into a red bubble on the sidebar. I dabbed out a quick hand: cntrl-Z. Text restored in red glory! Yelling back, he hit "redo" and the pages vanished. Delete! Restore! Delete! Restore! Unable to sustain the serious frustration of the moment, we dissolved into laughter.

I agreed to go back and rewrite the offensive scenes to justify them. He decided to break the cycle of Midnight Editing and go to bed at 9:30.

I stayed up and rewrote the scenes, embellishing them with a few plot points to please my editor, then re-read them tenderly and assured them that they won't be cut from the manuscript.

I can't tell if I'm preserving a scene that posterity will adore, or just stroking my ego.

No doubt my editor will let me know in the morning.

PS: My editor just stagged back up to the computer to make sure I'm okay. He edited this blog post before I could post it. It is much better.

For the record, he takes issue with the phrase "red glory" in the paragraph above, saying that he remembers the text being restored as black and white.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

More Stuff on the JP2 Website...

... in between wrestling with the opening chapters of The Midnight Dancers, I've been updating the John Paul 2 High website. There's now more stuff on the character pages and a little more information on the overall series-- and more is coming. Check it out if you have a moment. Plus Christian Frank is (finally!) answering some questions on the blog.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Writer's Cloister: Working on the Midnight Dancers

If you haven't heard from me for a while, it's because I'm working hard at trying to get Book Four in the Fairy Tale Novel series, The Midnight Dancers, out the door. It's hard but I'm enjoying it. I can't emphasize enough what a different kind of book it is from the "Snow White and Rose Red" trilogy. I sure hope people like it, even though there are no comas in it. (Joke!) Just so you stil know it's me writing, however, there are drugs. (Joke!) (Sorry, my running joke for years has been that people must think I can't write novels about anything but drugs and comas!)

Seriously, there is no mystery in this book, as there was in the first three, and that makes it a different book structurally. And it's a lot deeper philosophically. I don't know if it works: I hope it does. I'm always nervous when I do the final edits: but that's a good thing.

As always, your prayers really do help, so keep them coming if you can spare me some! Many thanks!

Oh, and to answer the most important question: it looks like we'll make our June 1st deadline for release. So hopefully you'll have a sweet fun book to read this summer!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Regina Interviewed by Catholic Moments

Last week I had a great interview with Lisa Hendey ( for her podcast, Catholic Moments. We talked about the Fairy Tale Novels, Angel in the Waters, and of course, John Paul 2 High. Click here to listen (my interview is about 1/3 of the way in). It would be great to get some comments on the podcast on Lisa's site, so if you have a question, comment, etc. leave it on her page.

Thanks for listening! Lisa's hoping to do an interview with John Paul 2 High author Christian Frank sometime soon, so check back!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Back from Steubenville

We had a great time at the Faith and Media Conference in Steubenville this past weekend. It was great to hear about the new technologies of audio and video podcasting. I really enjoyed meeting the folks from SQPN, including Greg and Jennifer Willits of Rosary Army and Fr. Roderick Vonhögen of The Catholic Insider. It was great to see folks from Lay Witness, the magazine of Catholics United for the Faith, which used to be my job before I was married. I also enjoyed meeting writer Emily Stimpson, photographer Don Tracy, and filmmaker Antonio Soave. And it was great to be at the Alma Mater again. See if you can make the next conference, scheduled for two years from now!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Catholic, Reluctantly on Amazon!

Catholic Reluctantly is now on! To buy it, click here. And could I ask a favor? If you've read the book and liked it, could you go to Amazon and post a short review? Those things really help! Thanks very much in advance!

I'm up at Steubenville now and getting ready to talk about "Writing in the New Millennium." Say a prayer for me, because I've lost my voice. :( And if you're in Steubenville, I hope you can come to the talk! I'm going to be talking about pointers for Catholic writers trying to get published in today's market. And I'll have copies of Catholic, Reluctantly on hand if you want to buy one.