Revising Leah

February 2, 2009

Revised!

My finished novel arrived today. It looks good, so I’ve approved the book for sale through Lulu and elsewhere. Paperback copies may be purchased here.

I’m also making the ebook version of the novel available for free. The PDF download at Lulu will be free, of course, but I’ll also be offering downloads through my website.  Right now, I only have PDF and ePub versions of Leah available, but I’ll be adding PRC and PDB formatted versions, too, soon.

I hope everyone who stops by this page will check the book out. I’m very happy with it.

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November 18, 2008

Are Introverts Losers?

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:40 am
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Here’s a portion of a Google ad I saw on another website the other day:

Introvert = Loser
Being Yourself is Not the Solution It’s the Problem. Learn to Change.

Many of Leah’s classmates would probably agree. Unfortunately, many people in the real world agree, too.

October 14, 2008

Is My Novel Too Weird?

The other day, I awoke from sleep and the very first thought in my mind was, “Wow, Leah sure is kind of a weird book.” And I didn’t mean “weird” in a good way, either. It was one of those moments of self-doubt that, as a writer, I frequently experience.

One of the problems with writing a story is that, as the writer, I am too close to the story. There’s a degree of myopia that I have to account for — myopia that blinds me to possible problems in the story. For example, the reason why I’m reading my novel over and over again is because there are mistakes in the text that I will miss the first three or four times that I read them. I may not notice the mistake until the fifth or sixth time that I read the story.

But the other day, when it occurred to me that my novel might be a little too weird, I wasn’t thinking about one specific element of the story that I could correct; rather, I was thinking about the story as a whole. What I thought was weird about my story isn’t that it is odd or idiosyncratic in places (the best works of literature are often those that are a little strange); instead, it’s the fact that the story really isn’t weird at all which makes it too weird.

I’ve written before about how my story seems to bear little resemblance to a lot of the stories being written and published in the young adult genre (which is where I’m assuming my story belongs). The reason is because nothing sensational happens to Leah in this novel. There seems to be an expectation that teenage readers only want to read about sensational events. Maybe that expectation is accurate, but my novel doesn’t follow that formula. Unfortunately, Leah Nells doesn’t get raped, she doesn’t run away from home, she doesn’t turn into a vampire — none of the things that you expect to see happen to a character in a young adult novel happens to Leah.

Instead, the “second act” of my novel revolves around a history report on the ancient Egyptians. Of course, that report is a plot device which allows me to bring Leah Nells and David Parks together for a few weeks, but I still take time to describe the process of putting together a history presentation. Leah goes to the library, she takes notes, she writes her essay, she’s nervous about reading it in front of her class. These are some of the most mundane events imaginable, and what worries me is that the story itself is too focused on these mundane events.

But what I like about the mundane is that it is real. Sadly, it’s true that a lot of the horrible things that happen to main characters in other young adult novels do happen to some real teenagers in real life, but most teenagers live relatively mundane lives: they go to school, they hang out with their friends, maybe they have a job, maybe they experiment with drugs, maybe they fight with their parents, they anticipate getting a car or going to college, they download music and play video games. If I write a story about these things, then I may be writing a “real” story, but the price I have to pay for that realism is, I guess, a weird and boring novel.

September 18, 2008

Free Book! Free Book!

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:08 am
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I’ve decided to make my other novel, The Spring, available as a free PDF download. It’s what I should have done originally. When I self-published the book last winter, I considered offering it for free, but I got greedy. When self-publishing, I’ve learned that one almost has to give as much of one’s work away for free simply to overcome the hurdles that accompany self-publishing.

As a writer, people don’t know who I am. They’ve never heard of me. I don’t have a “brand”. And since the phrase “self-published novel” carries with it such negative connotations (some deserved, some not), I have to do as much as I can to remove the psychological resistance that separates a potential reader of my work from the act of acquiring a copy of my story.

I originally had offered the PDF version at a price that was much less than the price of a physical copy of the book. But even if I only charged 50 cents for the download, that is still too high a hurdle for most potential readers. Making it available for free eliminates the financial risk completely. One can download it, start reading, and if one doesn’t like it after reading the first few chapters, then one can send the file to the Recycle Bin and forget about it.

September 12, 2008

You’re Invited to Dinner With the Nells Family (Things I Like #4)

One scene in the novel that has improved quite a lot compared to the 1996 edition is the scene in which Leah and her family have dinner together the night of the Homecoming football game. Naturally, Leah hasn’t told her parents anything about Homecoming weekend, so they have to find out about it from a TV newscast while they eat. The scene shows how Leah’s parents have adapted to their daughter’s anti-social behavior. They’re able to have a conversation with her without actually having a conversation. It also gives an indication of just how desperate they are that Leah lead a normal life:

As the newscast went to a commercial, the sports anchor appeared on the screen and teased the audience: “. . . and after the break, tonight’s a big night for high school football!” he exclaimed. “A number of teams are playing their homecoming games tonight, including . . .” and he proceeded to list the names of a few schools, including Leah’s.

When she heard the name of her high school, Leah accidentally bit her tongue instead of the food that was in her mouth, and the sharp pain made her wince. Her parents, though, had known nothing about why this weekend was so important until now. Mr. Nells asked his daughter, “Is this your school’s Homecoming weekend?”

Leah nodded and continued to chew. She stared down at her plate and didn’t look at her parents. She didn’t want to answer the flood of questions that she could sense was coming.

“Why didn’t you go to the game tonight?” her father asked. “I could take you if you wanted to go. Jeez, I haven’t been to a high school football game since I was a senior in high school. I’d love to go to one again.” Mr. Nells’ memories of high school, romanticized after almost twenty years, came rushing back to him. “I can still remember my high school’s Homecoming games. Those were always the best, even when our team lost—which happened most of the time!” Leah didn’t look up, but she knew he was smiling. “I know you’re not a fan of football,” Mr. Nells continued, “but that doesn’t matter. I’m sure there will be a whole lot of girls at the game, girls who don’t like football any more than you do”—Leah thought about Heather. She wondered if Heather and David were going to be at the game tonight—“but that’s not why you go to something like that. It’s fun just to attend the event, to be part of a big crowd, to hear them cheer when a touchdown is scored, to hear them chant the school song, or to listen to the marching band play. I’ll bet you’re the only one who’s going to stay home tonight.” The visions his words conjured excited Leah’s imagination. In her mind, she could see the boys in their red and white uniforms running up and down the field; she could hear the excitement of the crowd as a team scored a touchdown; and she could feel the suffocating press of several hundred other spectators all around her; and she imagined David and Heather, standing together in the stands, cheering for the team and celebrating when they scored. “You really don’t want to go?” her father asked again.

Leah shook her head no.

“Well, I personally never cared much for football games,” Mrs. Nells said, trying to take Leah’s side. “But I hated to miss a dance. I think I only missed two dances during all my years in high school.”

“I’ll bet you were quite the socialite back then,” Mr. Nells teased.

His wife laughed, “That’s right, I was!” There was a pause, and Leah kept her eyes shut, fearing her mother would start reminiscing too. Instead, Mrs. Nells asked, “So when is the dance? Saturday night?”

Leah opened her eyes and nodded. Her fork played with the food in front of her. She gently coaxed the food towards the edge of her plate, as if she were encouraging it to get up and run away.

“How come you aren’t going then?” Mrs. Nells asked, ignoring the true reason why Leah would be home alone tomorrow night and on every future dance night. “Aren’t freshmen allowed to go?”

“We’re allowed,” Leah replied.

“Well, you never know,” Mrs. Nells said to her husband. “When I was in high school, freshmen weren’t allowed to attend the Homecoming dance, but I think that was because they held the dance in the school gym and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to attend.”

“I don’t think most schools do that anymore,” Mr. Nells said. “I think most of them hold dances at convention centers or public auditoriums instead of the school gym.”

“Really? That would have been so great if my school had done that. A gym is no place for a dance. Where is your school going to have its dance, Leah?”

Leah honestly didn’t know. She shrugged her shoulders.

“You should have gone,” Mrs. Nells said wistfully. “Didn’t anyone ask you to go to the dance?”

That was what Leah had been dreading. It was the most humiliating question they could possibly ask her. Leah didn’t reply. Instead, she stuffed a forkful of food into her mouth and chewed vigorously. She just wanted to finish her meal so she could excuse herself from the table.

Her silence gave her father a chance to lie to himself. “I’ll bet somebody did. What boy would pass up an opportunity to date a pretty girl like this?”

“He’d have to be blind,” Mrs. Nells agreed, “or maybe just stupid. I’ll bet she had several offers to go to the dance.”

Leah didn’t try to persuade them that the reason why she wasn’t going to the dance was because no boy had asked, especially not the boy she wished would have asked her; she let them believe what they wanted to believe. If they wanted to think their shy daughter had been asked to go to the dance, then she’d let them. If, on Saturday night, they wanted to wait by the windows watching for some Romeo to show up and carry Leah off to a fairy tale land where she wouldn’t be afraid to talk and where she would be surrounded by friends, then that was their choice. Leah, however, had no such illusions. She knew that tomorrow night, while David and Heather and the rest of her class were dancing and laughing and living, she would spend it the same way she spent every Saturday night—alone in her bedroom with a book. While she sat in her room, staring at the blank walls as the minutes passed, David and Heather would be staring into each others’ eyes, hoping that their evening would last forever. They would dance, they would hold each other, and they would kiss. The distance between herself and David would grow wider and more hopeless. Leah looked at her parents, lost in their own fantasies, and decided that the three of them were a pretty pathetic family—but she wasn’t sure who was more pathetic: the dateless girl spending the night of the big dance by herself in her bedroom, or the parents who foolishly believed a boy would arrive on their doorstep with flowers, a limo, and a promise to rescue their daughter from her solitude.

The chapter ends here. I like this ending because it demonstrates that while Leah is inexperienced in a lot of ways regarding social behavior and customs, she is very much aware that the isolated life she leads is not at all normal, and that she’s missing out on a lot of things that her parents and her peers consider important.

August 26, 2008

Leah’s Class Schedule

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 6:16 pm
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Because time is such an important part of the novel, I thought it would be a good idea, for my own purposes, if I spelled out exactly what Leah’s schedule is and identify precisely when she is in each of her classes. A lot of the details about Leah’s high school are generic: the day starts at 8:00 and ends at 3:00, for example.

The novel Leah is set in the same fictional universe as The Spring, so the time schedule below applies to both of my novels. It amazes me that I never needed to create such a schedule when I was preparing The Spring for publication last year. I did have to keep track of what courses my characters in The Spring were taking, but I didn’t need to know when they were in class.

So here it is — it wasn’t easy putting this together:

Leah M. Nells – 9th Grade – Everyman High School*

800-910 1st period (Biology)**
910-915***
915-1010 2nd period (Algebra)
1010-1015
1015-1110 3rd period (Phys. Ed.)
1110-1115
1115-1200 Lunch
1200-1205
1205-100 4th period (Consumer Econ.)
100-105
105-200 5th period (English)
200-205
205-300 6th period (World History)

* – Not the real name, although I do like the sound of it. I never do say, in either novel, what the name of the high school really is.

** – The first period is fifteen minutes longer than the other classes because it is also the period assigned for morning announcements.

*** – Five minute passing periods. Hurry!

The 6-class schedule is something I borrowed from my own high school experience. I know that nowadays it isn’t uncommon for high school schedules to have 7 or 8 classes in a day, or sometimes they only have 4 classes in a day if they are on a block schedule.

This post has been edited for precision.

August 25, 2008

The First Day of School

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:04 pm
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I’ve been working on chapter three which, along with chapter four, describes Leah’s first day of high school. I kind of dread the chapter because every time I read it, I feel a nervous tingle, as if I am living vicariously another person’s first day of school. It’s a really weird feeling, and it isn’t what I was trying to do when I first wrote it. I did want to show how nervous Leah is on this day, but I wasn’t trying to necessarily evoke a sense of anxiety from the reader.

One of the things that makes writing or revising a work of creative writing difficult for me is the fact that I work in relative isolation. Just because my writing has an emotional impact on me doesn’t mean that it will have that same or a similar impact on anyone else. I’m curious, then, to know whether the effect it has on me is experienced by anyone else.

To that end, I’ve posted the latest draft of chapter three

HERE

If you, Dear Reader (who have perhaps come upon this blog by accident), would care to read through it and let me know in the comments if it inspired any sort of sense of nervousness in you (or not), I’d be very interested to hear about it.

August 14, 2008

Chicken or Egg? (Time, Part 1)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:45 am
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(It’s been a few days since I posted last. As September approaches, I’ve had a lot of distractions which have kept me away from the novel, and since I’m trying to read the novel out loud, the moments are rare when I have a chance to sit down and read alone. Sometimes I’m working near other people, and I don’t want to sit there, by myself, seemingly talking to myself as I work. People think I’m strange enough as it is. Therefore, this cycle of revision has gone very slowly. I’ve been working for several days and I’m only up to chapter 12 [not even halfway through]. Hopefully, my pace will pick up again soon.)

One of the things that I need to do as a writer in order to keep track of the plot is establish a calendar of events. As I write, I take note of when events occur in relation to each other. It’s especially important when writing about school, because weekdays and weekends are completely different experiences. I can’t simply write, “and the next day . . . and the next day . . . and the next day . . .” because eventually I’ll bump up against a weekend (or a holiday) that I need to account for.

Time is a very important element in Leah, so I thought what I would do for the next couple of posts is write about time and how I use it in the novel. In my next post, I’ll describe how I use time thematically, but in this post I’ll discuss some of the nuts and bolts issues regarding how I deal with time when writing and revising my stories.

The first draft of Leah, which I wrote out by hand in a notebook some thirteen years ago, includes a “calendar page”. Here, I scribbled out a calendar, circling and making note of the dates of important events in the novel. This calendar is something that I referred to frequently as I wrote that first draft, and I’ve referred to it a few times during this revising project. One thing that I haven’t been sure about is whether that calendar is still relevant. I’ve mentioned before how I imagine Leah and my other novel, The Spring, as constituting two stories set in the same fictional universe. Leah takes place during ninth grade and The Spring is set three and a half years later during twelfth grade. Since both novels occupy different points on the same time line, their calendars must also match.

When writing and revising The Spring, I also kept a detailed calendar of the events in that novel. The Spring is bit more compact, in terms of time, than Leah. The Spring takes place over a period of only 26 days while Leah lasts a little more than three months. Since I published The Spring last winter, I’ve decided to let the calendar of The Spring anchor the calendars of the other two novels in the trilogy. (It’s actually sort of a chicken-and-egg dilemma with respect to which novel came first. Technically, The Spring was written first, about three years before I wrote the first draft of Leah, but I published Leah first back in the 1990s. But since I’ve disavowed that edition of Leah, the publication of The Spring a few months ago represents a new start — a reboot — of the series. It’s all very confusing!)

So using The Spring as the anchor, and keeping a perpetual calendar handy, I’ve counted back three and a half years and found — to my amazement (and convenience) — that the calendar I created for Leah thirteen years ago fits perfectly with the calendar of The Spring. I don’t know if that is just a lucky coincidence, or if, at some point in my revising work on The Spring, I brought that story’s calendar in line with the calendar of Leah. Revising The Spring was a long, on again-off again process that lasted several years. I know that I didn’t get the idea of placing the two stories in the same fictional universe until after I wrote and published the first edition of Leah, so sometime in the late 1990s, when I first started revising The Spring for possible publication, I must have revised the calendar of The Spring to bring it in line with Leah. I don’t remember doing that, but it sounds like something I would do. Whatever, as of right now, I have a definite calendar set for the story. Leah begins on Saturday, August 22 and ends on Monday, November 30. (I should do something to celebrate August 22 next week — maybe go to a garage sale. ;))

In what year is the story set? That’s something that I don’t ever answer. While I pay careful attention to the days and months in which the stories are set, I’ve resisted assigning a specific year to either Leah or The Spring just because I think that if I do that, then I’m setting the story in the past, and I want it to seem as contemporary as possible for as long as possible. Of course, there are cultural artifacts mentioned in the stories, like cell phones, mp3 players, the Internet, and — perhaps — gasoline powered internal combustion engines which place the stories sometime in the early 21st century, but I don’t want to get any more specific than that.

Something else that I ought to do soon, which I’ve never done before (not even for The Spring) is figure out exactly what the time schedule is for the fictional high school where both stories are set. I’ve established that Leah’s school day begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. — a generic school schedule. She has six classes during the day — three classes before lunch and three after (and in chapter four of the book I list what her classes are), but what I haven’t done is identify exactly how long the periods last and when the bells ring. I need to do this for Leah’s history class, at least, since time, with respect to that class, becomes very important in a couple of the chapters.

I consider the treatment of time and its relationship to the plot to be one of the most crucial elements when structuring and organizing a story. Paying attention to those little details can only enhance the illusion of realism. I’ve seen stories (movies and TV shows more so than novels) where time lines were handled sloppily and it definitely takes me out of my enjoyment of a story if I have to try to figure out what is happening when. So it’s important that I get the calendar right for my novel. In the next post, I show you just how important time really is for Leah Nells.

July 5, 2008

Milestone

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:26 pm
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I have finished the first phase of this revising project.

To summarize: I’ve spent the last two months revising Leah, a young adult novel that I first published back in 1996. I was never quite satisfied with that edition of the novel, and I promised myself I would revisit and revise it someday. So far, I’ve been reading through the book, chapter by chapter, working on some of the “big picture” elements: the plot, the characters, the dialogue, the structure of the novel and the chapters, long passages of narration that I wasn’t happy with, etc. I’ve made a lot of changes, including the deletion of almost thirty pages of text. The result so far has been a leaner, tighter story that is already much, much better than the 1996 draft.

So does this mean I’m almost finished? Not at all. I still have a lot of work to do, but from this point forward, the nature of my work changes from a mix of revising and rewriting to something that more closely resembles editing and proofreading. Open the file to any page and you’ll find a spelling error, a missing words, or a punctuation problem that needs to be fixed. I’m also going to be focusing much more on the details of both the story and the text. I don’t always make the right word choices when I write, so I’ll be paying more attention to that. I also plan to add a lot more detail and description to some of the chapters that need it.

I’ll be starting the next phase of this project soon, but for now, I’m going to set the novel aside and take a few days off to recharge so that I can approach the text with fresh eyes. When I start again, I’ll be starting at page one and reading through the whole novel once more. The hard work doesn’t end yet, but I’m happy with my progress so far.

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