January 2015 archive

The answer is 42

Many thanks to all of you who commented and emailed in reply to my last blog! Your suggestions really helped me frame my thoughts. I have completed my response to the Writers’ League of Texas interview and pasted it below, just so you’ll have closure on the subject for a worry-free weekend.

Those of you who are familiar with my selection for the deserted island question will find the title of this post witty and appropriate. The others will be confused. To you, I say: the title of this post is witty and appropriate. I encourage you to read the books (no, the movie doesn’t count at all) one day when your mindset is to explore and to giggle, perhaps on a beach but hopefully not a deserted one.

WLT:  In what genre(s) do you write?

JH:  Most people would probably identify the genre of The Achievers as young adult thriller.

WLT:  What authors would you like to have coffee or a beer with and which beverage?

JH:  If you’re offering, may I please have a beer with Gillian Flynn? Before I started my novel last spring, I hadn’t thought much about the craft of writing fiction except in the case of Gone Girl. The way she pieced that plot together with varying techniques was genius! I was eager to see how she would handle the screenplay, and bam, she nailed that too. I’d love to hear about her process in developing both and the differences between them.

Forgive my changing the rules on you here, but the appropriate beverage with my next author would undoubtedly be tea. Jane Austen wrote with tremendous intelligence and insight during a time when women were expected to have little of each. It’s always exciting to chat with ground breakers to hear what makes them tick.

Other authors I’d like to hang out with include Stephen King, Tana French, Larry McMurtry, Winston Churchill, Ian Fleming, Stephen Ambrose, JK Rowling, Tom Wolfe, James Clavell. The list could go on and on. Beers for everyone!

WLT:  If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

JH:  This question stumped me for days, and I’m still vacillating. There are so many factors to consider—it’s not just a favorite book. I’m stranded, presumably forever, with no other books on the horizon. I’m by myself with no other entertainment forthcoming. Which book will keep me most closely in touch with my humanity? Which book will provide a wide enough range of emotional touchstones to serve as my only human contact? Which book will be sufficiently long to keep my interest upon infinite rereading? Which book has enough depth to feed me something different each time I read it? Which book could possibly contain the only words I will read for the rest of my life?

I put this question to my blog readers and heard some intriguing suggestions and persuasive arguments. In the end, however, I went with the book that makes me laugh far more than any other (levity is needed on a deserted island, right?) and is about as interesting as a book can be—The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. HitchhikerI find Douglas Adams’ brand of relentless, profoundly exuberant imagination to be inspiring. And I’m going to cheat a little because I’m claiming the entire collection of the series which I possess in a single volume and will henceforth pack every time I board a boat.

WLT:  What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

JH:  When I embarked on this journey, I knew pretty much nothing about the business. I kind of thought I’d write my book, send it off to some agents, make some edits and joyfully receive a box of beautifully bound compilations of my meticulously chosen words while the checks regularly appeared in my bank account. I didn’t want to hear anything to the contrary until I had completed the first draft. Thankfully, I finished in time to attend the 2014 WLT conference because it adjusted my expectations a lot, thereby reducing the shock of reality.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but the business is most definitely not. The conference taught me what it requires, but the WLT workshops and resources teach me how to go about it so that it’s not quite as daunting. Knowing that there are others out there who have been and are going through the same processes and have paved the way for me is comforting. Learning from their experiences is invaluable. I have taken these steps in a very specific order and at my own pace, and it seems that every time I look up to move forward, there is an email from WLT announcing a class on how to go about it. It’s kind of eerie, actually, how y’all seem to know what I need, when I need it!

WLT:  Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

JH:  See second sentence of answer to preceding question. Complete and repeat, over and over. I haven’t given up the fantasy entirely.

WLT:  Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

JH:  Having completed the edits of my first novel The Achievers, I hope to find just the right agent who will usher it through to publication so that I can concentrate on the remaining books of my American Dream trilogy. Meanwhile, I’m blogging about my experiences as a newbie novelist at www.jenniferhubbswrites.com. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and to follow me on Twitter @jhubbs1 where I will report on the steps along the way!

A question for you

I was asked to be interviewed for the 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, and one of the questions has really stumped me because there are so many factors to consider. I’ve thought a lot about it but still haven’t landed on my answer. I’m curious to know what your answer would be.

The question is: “If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?”

Favorite books from various genres started popping up in my mind, but then I thought more about what is really being asked. It’s not just a favorite book. You’re stranded, presumably forever, with no other books on the horizon. You’re by yourself with no other entertainment forthcoming. You have to consider things like which book will keep me most closely in touch with my humanity? Which book will provide a wide enough range of emotional touchstones to serve as my only human contact? Which book will be sufficiently long to keep my interest upon infinite rereading? Which book has enough depth to give me something different each time I read it? Which book could possibly contain the only words I will read for the rest of my life?

It’s a tougher question than it seems at first, isn’t it?

Contenders have been percolating for a few days, but I haven’t chosen my response yet. I’d love to hear what your answer would be and why.

The End of the Beginning

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know that I finished the first draft of my first novel The Achievers back in June. You also know that my summer took a sad turn, and, well, life brought some complications as it tends to do. What you may not know is that I got back on track and have now finished my edits! Hallelujah.

After stepping back from the first draft, I recognized that restricting the point of view to one character severely limited access to the potential contributions of other characters’ voices and emotions. Being the stubborn novice that I am, however, I sent the first draft to an agent I’d met at the conference in June. I wasn’t surprised when she suggested that I establish and explore the other characters more thoroughly. The last couple of months have been spent trying to figure out how to go about that. I took a few different paths to my goal, and I confess that they wound around a bit.

First, I wrote the life stories of each of the other main characters in their own voices. That was a fascinating exercise. I knew these characters already. I saw them clearly, and I could hear what was going on in their minds. But as I wrote their stories, I realized that there were lots of things that I didn’t know about them. My friend Shannon, therapist extraordinaire, reminded me that human beings are driven by the people and events that molded them. To discount those influences is to lose sight of what motivates people. Even if those influences don’t come up in the story by name, they are always there, lurking in the psyche of the character. I’ve articulated them now, and my characters are (hopefully!) the richer for it.

Next, I decided that we needed to hear from these characters. The entire first draft was filtered through my heroine’s sheltered life experiences because she was the only one reporting on the story’s events. I wrote chapters from her best friend’s point of view and her father’s and another important character’s, and I sent them off to my loyal cadre of awesome readers (Shannon, Elsa, Correy, Christine, Mom—many thanks!) who never fail to provide useful feedback. We talked and argued and emailed and edited and scaled it back. Once I decided on the characters from whom we’d get to hear, it was down to me to finish the job of writing it all.

Actual photo of a moment in Chapter One

From Chapter One!

Finally, I scheduled a rush trip to Seattle, the setting of the story. I needed the inspiration to complete the journey, and the city didn’t disappoint. We walked the streets and felt the misty rain and admired the mountains and the Sound that play their own parts in the book. I took what I needed to fuel the final push, and now I’m done.

I can’t tell you that I enjoyed this part of the process all that much. As I wrote the first draft, the words flowed through me. I didn’t always feel the same sensation during the second draft. At times, the new chapters seemed alien to me. I was so accustomed to reading it in its first form that additions felt like unwelcome intruders. I kept checking in with my cadre because I couldn’t see it clearly anymore. I couldn’t step back and be objective or look at it through a new reader’s eyes, but now that it’s over, I like the new chapters. I like what they add to the world I created. I like that we get to hear from someone whose perspective is really key to the experience. I must say that I love his voice and what he brings to the table.

What I’ve learned from writing my first novel can’t really be expressed. I’ve learned about myself and other people. I’ve learned what to think about while I plan the next book of the trilogy. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, for me. But the components of what I’ve learned are woven into the fabric of my becoming a better writer just as they are woven into crafting a better character. Characters aren’t just made up figures in two dimensions designed to propel a story. They have to be multi-layered–more than the sum total of the things they’ve gone through and learned–just like real people.

What a valuable lesson!