Mind-bending exercises

I’ve been wondering lately if you can change your mind. Not just the “hey, I think I’ll have AmeriCone Dream instead of Late Night Snack” kind of change of mind, but actually change something fundamental in your thinking.

See, I’m having this work problem. My first novel, and the novels that I’ve attempted after that, were quiet literary pieces. The thing is, quiet literary pieces aren’t hugely popular, especially if you don’t do them amazingly well. Think Kate DiCamillo, or Jewell Parker Rhodes. So the question I had to ask myself, was: do I keep trying unsuccessfully to write the kind of novel that I’m not doing particularly well, or do I try to write something entirely different?

Now, a lot of people say, “don’t write to the market.” And it’s true that you shouldn’t. But you have to pay attention. And being a person who pays attention, I know that what’s huge right now are middle grade novels. Particularly ones that can be made into a series. I’m also doing this project for Scholastic where I have the opportunity to read a lot of middle grade novels, which has taught me a few things. I know what’s already published. I know what’s popular. I have some idea of what an agent or an editor is looking to snap up. So since I was fed up with being told that my writing is “lovely” or even “fantastic” but no one still wants to publish it, I began to ask myself if I could possibly write one of these books.

You probably think that I’m selling out my own muse. Or that I’m selling my creativity short. Or that I’m doing some other soul-sucking activity that undermines my own artistry. You might be right, but I don’t really think so. And here’s why. What I wanted to do, was try to think up something that goes in a vein that’s popular right now (sellout), but that is also uniquely me (makes the muse happy). The thing is, is that even possible?

After weeks of racking my brains, making notes on pieces of paper all over the house, not holding up my end of conversations (sorry everyone who’s talked to me in the last couple of months!) not blogging or reading other people’s blogs (I think I’ve already apologized for that), and essentially worrying myself all the way to the wrinkle-cream aisle at Target, I think I’ve actually hit upon an idea that I (a) LOVE and (b) think is commercially marketable. Of course, it’s just an idea. Execution is the thing that’ll make or break it. So what I’m saying is,  you’re still not going to see much of me for many more weeks.

Setting up the sequel

When I was drafting the manuscript of my latest novel, I worked a little with Harold Underdown, who advised me to give the book a more epic feel. I understood what he meant, and I could see the story getting there, but at the time, my little story was limping along. Getting to epic wasn’t in the foreseable future. An epic is not something you can make happen with a simple stroke of a pen. Several hundred thousand strokes, maybe.

However, now that it’s finished and has been sent to my agent and I’ve started to think about the sequel, I realize that the “book 1” manuscript is missing a lot of things that I need for “book 2.” And those are the kinds of things that would make it epic.

What now?

I don’t want to pull the manuscript from consideration. But going forward, I’m going to make notes for changes and get started on the sequel. The “book 1” edits aren’t going to be huge or plot-shattering, but since the book isn’t final, they can be made later.

I’ll let my agent, or an acquiring editor know how I want to revise as we work toward publication. And if the book doesn’t get sold, I’ll make the changes on my own as I work on the sequel. Maybe I can sell the stories as a package sometime later. (I understand that that’s unlikely, but you nevs know.)

I guess the lesson here is that as soon as you start thinking that your book has the potential to be a sequel, you need to let your mind go to the furthest reach of your story, or else you might short-change yourself with a less-than-adequate original.