Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Guest Author Delilah S. Dawson: Better Bend Than Break: On Staying Flexible
Delilah is the author of WICKED AS THEY COME, a steampunk paranormal romance and the first in a three-book series from Pocket/Simon & Schuster. She's an Associate Editor at www.CoolMomPicks.com and a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Georgia Romance Writers, and the Artifice Club. She's a big fan of steampunk and cake. Find out more on her website, or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.
Take it away Delilah...
I have this friend, and she can twist herself into a pretzel. That's because she's an award-winning practitioner of Bikram Yoga, which means that her favorite thing to do is go into a 107 degree room and try to stand on her own head. I can't do that. Maybe I could, once, but right now? I'm just not that flexible. And if one of us is ever handcuffed to a chair, she will probably be able to bend her way out of it, while I would be thinking, "Okay, if I were one of my characters, what would I do?"
That's because my flexibility is in writing, and it's one of the most important tools in my kit. And, like my friend's yoga, that sort of flexibility is attained only through conscientious practice and constant dedication. Luckily, it can be practiced in a French cafe with a coffee and doesn't have to involve sweating. Here's how.
1. There's more than one answer.
When you're making your outline, writing your book, crying through criticism and revisions, or hunting for representation, it's important to remember that there's not just one answer. There are infinite answers, and not all of them involve a straight line or following the rules. If your story isn't working or you're stalled out, take a bath or go for a swim and brainstorm different ways it could go. Sometimes, you even have to step back a few pages and change something. That's okay, too. Just save it under a new name and keep going. Writing is not a multiple choice endeavor. At any given time, almost anything can happen in the world you've created.
2. There's more than one path.
Some people write a first draft in one week. Some people take six years. Some people outline, some don't. Some people query agents, some people go to conferences, some people send their manuscript directly on to editors and hope for the best. It's important to read lots of different stories about how authors sold their books and see how zig-zaggy some of the paths have been. And don't forget that most first books don't sell. Almost every author has one or more finished books sitting in a drawer. It's all part of the process. You can't let setbacks define your path or read too deeply into rejections or criticisms. Failure is part of improvement, and you don't get points for going too fast.
3. Critique and advice are an opportunity to learn
In the Acknowledgments of my first book, I thanked two literary agents who are not my actual agent. That's because when I was querying, they took the time to offer advice that vastly improved my odds of hooking an agent and selling a book. They rejected me, but kindly, and I couldn't be more grateful. It was painful to hear professional criticism of my book, my baby, my story. It was difficult to accept that what I had written was not the only answer. But their advice worked, and I found an agent. And then she critiqued it. And then editors critiqued it. And when it was done, it was not the book I had envisioned. It was a much better one.
4. Enjoy the path, wherever it takes you.
Here's my story. My first book was a quirky women's fiction, and when I queried agents, I was informed that it had promise but was irrevocably flawed. I put it in a drawer and wrote a middle grade magical adventure. That one found an agent but didn't sell. My next book was a paranormal fantasy, and the first round of readers complained loudly about the black-out scenes I used whenever the characters became intimate. So I swallowed my Southern propriety and embarrassment and wrote my first sex scenes. My agent liked it but demanded that the main character, rather than being a wife and mother, become a single woman with hang-ups. I had to add one big scene, remove two, fight for one that I wouldn't give up, and add an extra sex scene. After revisions that brought me to tears, that book sold as a steampunk paranormal romance, in a three-book deal. And they renamed it, too.
5. Don't say no. Say maybe.
Here's the thing, though. If, at any point in that timeline, I had said NO and stopped moving forward, I wouldn't be holding a copy of WICKED AS THEY COME in my hot little hands. Even if I didn't like the idea at first, even if it made me spitting mad, I said maybe. It's like that old quote about how when God closes a door, he opens a window. As a writer, you've always got to be ready to leap out of the window, because it may feel good to say NO, but NO gets you nowhere. No is closing your window.
With writing and with yoga, thoughtful practice will keep you limber and supple. You'll be able to extricate yourself from any situation, bend when pushed and press through when held back. You will measure your progress only against yourself, striving to reach just a little further with every pose or story, transitioning smoothly to the next step of your journey. There is no finish line, no end of the maze. There are, in fact, infinite possibilities. So long as you can bend, you'll never break, even if you only do it in your mind and on the page with a croissant and a cup of coffee by your side.
About Wicked as They Come
When Tish Everett forces open the ruby locket she finds at an estate sale, she has no idea that a deliciously rakish Bludman has cast a spell just for her. She wakes up in a surreal world, where Criminy Stain, the dashing proprietor of a magical traveling circus, curiously awaits. At Criminy’s electric touch, Tish glimpses a tantalizing future, but she also foresees her ultimate doom. Before she can decide whether to risk her fate with the charming daredevil, the locket disappears, and with it, her only chance to return home. Tish and Criminy battle roaring sea monsters and thundering bludmares, vengeful ghosts and crooked Coppers in a treacherous race to recover the necklace from the evil Blud-hating Magistrate. But if they succeed, will Tish forsake her fanged suitor and return to her normal life, or will she take a chance on an unpredictable but dangerous destiny with the Bludman she’s coming to love?