Beta Readers

The thing I loved most about my time in undergrad and grad school was the community of writers who were available to read stories and provide feedback. It’s a little trickier when you’re out of school to find these same sorts of communities. If you are lucky to live in a big city, there are usually a plethora of writing groups that you can join. But small towns or small cities…well, you might just have to start one and hope someone shows up.

One perk of being a college teacher, especially in English, is having friends and mentors who love reading and writing as much as you do – who when they find out you are writing a novel offer to read it. And when you follow up to ask how serious they were about reading it, they actually take you up on it. For me, that’s Amy and Ann. I owe my teaching career to them. They are closer than friends. And I’m about to hand over a copy of my novel to each of them – I feel like I should be more nervous about this. But maybe lack of nerves is a good sign…?

Another full copy goes to my sister, Kelly. The remaining half a copy goes to Jack. He’s been reading along since I started.

I’m a treehugger, I swear I am. But there’s just something about the physical – the heft of the pages. I wrote that. I may have sat and stared at this for a bit just trying to take it in.

Once I hand them over, I will, for the first time in over two years, not be actively working towards writing and polishing my WIP. What does one even do?

Oh yeah. Start something new. 🙂

Timeline for All Falling Things

August 17, 2018 – Alice and Stanley bump into each other on the street.

May 24, 2019 – Alice unpacks her office box at the end of the novel.

Along with using PowerPoint to track characters and locations and a few other things, I used an Excel calendar to track the time of the story. I realize this might date the novel, quite literally (though one doesn’t need to know these dates to read the book), but it helped me with a few things. For one, accuracy. When the temp spikes or drops, when it snows or rains, when the Cubs beat the Pirates 10-0 during their 2019 season opener, it’s all what actually happened on those dates. Sometimes the internet comes in handy, eh? (I can also tell you that the Cubs game lasted three hours and twelve minutes, had 40,692 folks in attendance, and that there was a high of 74* F.)

The novel takes place during a length of time that is less than a year – which Alice notes as she is marking her goals. She had given herself a full year to figure out her life, but it took her less than that.

I’ll also note that all of the locations are real, though I will admit that I have not been to all of them. The one exception is that the Art Garage does not exist in Chicago – it is based on the Art Garage in Green Bay, WI, where I live. I just loved the concept so much that I wanted to model Lily’s gallery after it.

The End. Sorta.

I am a bundle of emotions at the moment. I started Alice’s journey 753 days ago. And today, I got to type “The End.” 753+ days of thinking about and writing about and talking about these characters as though they were living breathing people. And just like that – “The End.” It feels physically anticlimactic – surely there should be fireworks… (soundless ones since my youngest cat is frightened of the noise).

I’ve been writing since I was a kid – I’ve always loved reading and making up stories and writing them down. But before this day, I had never completed a novel. I have written hundreds of poems and dozens short stories – but never a novel. Never something this… BIG. But I did it. Is this what marathon runners feel like after their first race?

I’ve done chunks of revising and editing as I’ve gone along – but now it’s time to pull out the official red pen and go start to finish. Wish me luck.

“After Stanley typed ‘The End,’ he sank back into his chair and smiled. It didn’t matter what happened next – Stanley had accomplished what he set out to do. And he was ready to do it all again” (333).

Inspiration

This post contains spoilers for All Falling Things.

It was my intent from the moment I started writing this book that Alice and Stanley were not meant to end up together. I just wrote their break up. I knew it was coming since the first page – and even then, it wasn’t easy to do.

It’s not that I’m jaded. It’s that their romance is not the point of the book.

After my own marriage ended, it was pretty easy to regret that it ever happened because of the hurt and pain associated with the end of it. But as time went on and I gained more distance, I realized that if given the chance, I would not have done anything differently in my own life. If not for that relationship, most of the people I hold so dear to me today, who are my family on this journey…we never would have met. This relationship was the thread necessary to tying me to these other people. And when looked at from that point of view, regret is easy to erase. I would not trade these people for anything.

When I started to write Alice, that was the idea I wanted to explore. Stanley’s mother says to him, “Not everyone in our life is meant to stay. Some people are just meant to teach us something.” This is, please excuse the pun, the heart of the book. A happily ever after doesn’t always mean romance. If not for each other, though, how different would Alice and Stanley’s lives be? We can’t know. (Well, I can, because I created them – but I hope you get the point I’m making.) Without each other, Stanley isn’t reminded of why he came to Chicago, and Alice never finds herself at Shiri’s opening meeting Lily. Remove this thread from their tapestries, and they are walking down very different paths.

Some call it fate. Others call it chance. Whatever it is, their paths needed to cross in order for them to find their right places. It just turns out, their right places are not with each other. It doesn’t mean their love was not real (I did love my ex, after all). It just means that their love was not meant for more than that.

Alice’s happily ever after was never in “finding a man” – it was in finding herself. And she does just that.

Milestone

Every genre has a set range of words that is typical of what is published. Agents will go so far as to note they will only look at novels that fall within this range (if you submit something outside said range, they likely won’t even look at it – as an English teacher, I understand this feeling a little too well). While there are, of course, folks that break out of these ranges (Historical Fiction is 80,000 to 120,000; Fantasy is 90,000 to 120,000; the first book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon which blends the two genres is 283,910), it is pretty rare for a debut novel to do so.

My WIP seems to fit best under Women’s Fiction, which has a range of 80,000-110,000 words.

Well, today is the day I’ve been working toward for 652 days (thank you date calculator/counter for figuring that out for me). It was almost more shock than celebratory when I realized it.

Jack, if you’ve been following along, is my BFF and writing buddy. If you are a writer, and you don’t have a BFF/writing buddy – get one. There are so many perks to this sort of relationship – one is getting to celebrate these sorts of milestones with someone who truly understands what it means.

Titles

Titles are hard. Seriously – I would pay someone to write titles for me.

I tell my students in my writing courses that the intro/first paragraph of an essay/story is like meeting someone for the first time. It’s our first impression where we size each other up and decide whether we want to continue with this essay/story/conversation.

A title, then, is like meeting eyes across a crowded room – it’s the thing that leads to the first impression. A bad title means they aren’t crossing that room – their eyes are going to keep scanning the shelf. (Please excuse my mixed metaphor.)

Titles are hard. But finally – after working on this novel for a little more than a year, I finally have one. And all because I misread a billboard while driving. 😛

My WIP is now All Falling Things.

Casting Change: Lucas

I’ve decided to make a significant change to Lucas. I’ve been toying with the idea of him being a wheelchair user for some time now. I considered many different paths that would land him there before ultimately deciding that this would just be his life. I don’t want his story to become “inspiration porn.” I didn’t want this to be something he had to overcome. It just is. Like Kya’s sexuality, Lucas’s wheelchair use is treated simply as a matter-of-fact by everyone, including the narrators. (Well, aside from one creepy ass hole artist that has a show at the gallery – but I needed that guy to be yet another degree of gross.)

It’s going to be hard to see anyone but Paul Rudd as I write – it’s been a little over a year, after all. But it is my wish that if there is ever a visual representation of this story, this role will go to an actor who is a wheelchair user in real life.

Character Questionnaire

If you are interested in writing novels and have no idea where to start, I highly recommend checking out Structuring Your Novel and Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland. I always direct my students to Weiland’s Character Questionnaire as a means to get to know their characters (and I use it, too!). When writing a novel, we should know our people so well that we know how they would react in any given situation (an organic reaction based specifically on who they are). This questionnaire is a great way to start.