If you know me, or have been following me for a while, you might know that my Playground for the Gods series originated as my thesis project. When I presented my proposal, the feedback I got repeatedly was that I was trying to cram too much into the book and it wasn’t going to work. I had instructors tell me that what I proposed would be a tomb, if I ever finished it, which was doubtful, and my advisor said he there wasn’t even a genre for my tale, which combines the technology and space travel of science fiction with the mythology and folklore, and seemingly magical events therein. There were echos of my instructors’ doubts from the members of the cohort I found myself in that semester, some even saying there was no way I could pull it off.
In Playground for the Gods, the palnet of Atlan is destoyed and the Atlan people make pre-historic Earth their new home, posing as gods and goddesses, and using their advanced technology to perform miraculous feats that awe humans. In Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle, the Atlans fight amongst themselves in a struggle to prevent their new home from being destroyed as Atlan was. A strong female protagonist, Inanna, heads up the battle against serpents, dragons, and other forms of mythological creatures, mined from the annals of all parts of the globe, in an effort to save Earth. In this story, readers learn all the background information needed to build a basis for the subsequent texts, and there is enough of it to form a stand alone book. (Book 2: In the Begnning is outlined and partially drafted, and Book 3: Inanna’s Song is outlined and has portions already written, although not pieced together in any organized fashion yet.)
In one of the first classes, we had been cautioned to remember that any criticism of our work was not personal, it was about the work, not about me as a person, but when faced with so many telling me I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, what I believed I could do, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds, and I was hurt by their doubt. But, once I licked my wounds and dried my tears, and distanced myself from the work, I realized that much of what they had said was true. They were right, at least on some points and the story will be better for it.
My solution was to turn my thesis novel into a science fantasy series, and write the only the first book as my actual thesis project. The size of the first book, The Great Primordial Battle, let me know that this was a smart decision. (My professors and cohorts were correct in that trying to put it all into one book would have created a massive tomb.) The draft should be back from the beta reader today to begin the final revisions, and after hitting a snag that must be worked out before work can proceed on my memoir, I excited to get started in the final stretch with this one. Upon publication, this book will truly be the beginning of a science fantasy series that almost never existed.
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While Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle is spending time with my alpha reader, I’ve been busy working on Book 2: In the Beginning. Now I know it seems strange name for a second book, but for this series, it’s actually quite fitting.
You see, Book 1 covers the time just before and after the Atlans arrival on Earth in prehistoric times, which result in a great battle between the Atlans and the monstrous creatures created by the angry Tiamat, Oldest of Old Ones. It is the story of how the Atlans came to be on Earth.
Book 2, on the other hand, takes place during Earth’s earliest civilizations. It explores Biblical times and even before, as well as visiting ancient Egypt and Minoan cultures. It looks at the beginning of time, hence the title, In the Beginning.
That said, I’ve finished the first draft for Book 2, and started on revisions. I guess maybe my writing process is a little weird. At Western, while earning my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, we talked a lot about our writing processes, and while everyone’s processes were different, I never found anyone whose process was like mine.
My first drafts are pretty rough, consisting mostly of the basic plotline. The basics of what happens in each chapter, so the way the story moves forward can be seen. Once, I have that down, I can go back and revise, adding description and action that helps the story move in each chapter, sharpening the image, hopefully, for readers. That’s where I am in the revision process now.
Before I send it off to my alpha readers, I’ll do another run through to check for repetition, spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, and eliminate unnecessary words. This is the pass that tightens up my writing to make it the best it can be before going to the alpha readers have a go at it.
Once I have it back with their comments, I may do up to three or four more passes, before I feel it’s ready to submit to publishers or agents. If all goes well, I will get Book 1 back from my alpha reader, which in this case may be a beta reader since I made revisions to the completed work after sending it out without raising any interest, about the time I have the final draft of Book 2 ready to send out for her scrutiny.
I think the main problem, possibly with both books right now, is a lack of emotion from my characters, which could result in a lack of emotional investment from readers. Identifying it as such is good, because if readers don’t care about the characters, they won’t continue reading. The challenge will be finding a way to fix it, so my readers will keep turning the pages. Fortunately, I found some great ideas for showing my characters’ emotions in a post titled Emotion vs. Feeling by David Cobett on Writer Unboxed.
The story is there. Now I just need to breathe life into it. That’s what writers do.
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If you read my post, Rethinking the Playground for the Gods series… again, then you know I’m currently working on Book 2: In the Beginning in my Playground for the Gods series. In the past two weeks, I’ve increased the word count on this novel by about 10,000 words, and updated my character chart, where I keep track of who did what in each book. I view this as being not too shabby. But, as I’m revising and adding to my partial draft, I’m noticing how much of this series revolves around sex of some sort.
In my post, It’s All in Finding the Right Market, I took a look at different markets for my Playground for the Gods series besides the science fantasy market I’ve been promoting it in. In particular, I considered both YA and NA markets, as potential market venues for this series. I dismissed both after looking back over Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle, and determining that there was too much emphasis on sex for either of these markets. After attempting to revise the book for either of these two markets would totally upturn too many story premises.
To understand why sex is such an intricate part of this epic science fantasy series, it is necessary to understand what the series is. Playground for the Gods is based on an alternate universe in which the gods of ancient civilizations were really aliens from a far galaxy whose home planet had been destroyed. The characters are those of ancient gods and goddesses and they play out their own versions of some of the myths of the ancient world, adding their own unique adventures into the mix.
The thing that I’m noticing as I research the mythologies and write my story, is that there is a lot of sex involved in many of the ancient myths. And, sex is so intricately interwoven into them that to try and tell the tales with the sex extrapolated leaves tales that have lost much of their meaning.
For instance, I’ve been working on the part of the story in Book 2 which is based on the Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris. If you know the myth, then you know that after Set chops up Osiris, Isis gathers all the pieces except one, his phallus, in order to resurrect him. Now, I have to tell you, this scene was extremely fun to write and it turned out to be quite humorous, but it doesn’t work to try and write it without the missing member. Without that, the whole story falls flat and doesn’t even make a lot of sense.
In fact, when trying to trace the lines in most ancient cultures, it seems everyone is related and incest is the norm. In Inuit mythology, Annigan rapes his sister Melina repeatedly. The Sumerian god, Anu raped his own daughter. In Greek mythology, there are same sex relations and even relations with birds or other animals. In Aztec lore, there are goddesses of carnality, sexual hunger, sexual power, sexual desire, sexual longing, sexual appetite and sexual misdeeds.
Ancient mythology is filled with sexual encounters between gods and goddesses, between gods and humans, and even strange fetish type behaviors. To write a story based on any of these myths, one cannot extract the sex and still make the story work.
That’s why I couldn’t justify revising Book 1 to take out the sex and adult language to accommodate a YA or NA audience. While I am the author and I can make my characters do whatever I want, if in doing so, I unravel the fabric that the story is based on in order to appeal to a particular market, I’m not being true to my story or being fair to my readers. When the story doesn’t work, the readers won’t be able to suspend disbelief enough to buy into the story, and that’s not a good thing.
Visit my Playground for the Gods Facebook page for more information and updates about the series.
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There are many of you out there who have been following the progress of my science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods. For those who don’t know, it’s about an alien race that comes to Earth and pose as deities, and the power struggles and conflicts that arise. It’s based on the ancient mythologies and religions, with colorful characters who get up to some hilarious antics. You can read an excerpt on my Playground for the Gods Facebook page. If you’re interested, you’ll find an update on the writing processes going into these books below.
In last month’s post, “It’s All in the Finding the Right Market“, I talked about looking at a different market for my Playground for the Gods series. Specifically, I was looking at the Young Adult and the New Adult markets. I was looking to see if perhaps these books were directed toward the right audience, or if perhaps, they might be marketed to a different audience, with revisions, of course.
After attempting said revisions on Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle, and sending it off to my alpha reader, and revising what I had for Book 2: In the Beginning, and writing some the parts of the story that were still needed, I’ve come to the conclusion that this series is not for the light of heart, or a not fully matured audience. The cuss words could be replaced easy enough, but there is just too much sex that is vital to the plot. Removing it would change the entire story.
For heavens sake, my characters are self-indulgent beings posing as goddesses and gods. Self-indulgent behaviors are what landed them on Earth in the first place, and they are what the whole plot, as well as the individual story lines of each book are hinged upon. The indulge, many in excess, in all of the vices, including sex. They are sensual, and most are promiscuous, prompting plenty of jealousy and rage, providing a lot of the conflict in the series. In other words, I decided the sex was a necessary element that the series couldn’t do without, so YA or NA would not be a good audience for this series.
So, what’s next? Well, I’m going to finish writing the first draft of Book 2, and revise Book 1 when it comes back from my Alpha reader with suggestions. But I will be doing this with the science fiction and fantasy markets in mind, the original markets I was looking at for these books.
Once the revisions are complete, I’ll send out submissions once more. Hopefully this time, I’ll get better results. (An acceptance letter would be nice.) Ideally, I’ll be doing this at the same time that Book 2 is with my Alpha reader, and I will be working on Book 3: Inanna’s Song, adding to the few chapters I already have written for it, and working up the outline for Book 4: Enki’s Folly. But, we all know how often things work out ideally, so I’ll just look at these task as goals to aim for and hope for the best.
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My friend and cohort, author Jeff Bowles wrote a post Choosing to Become a Better Writer vs. the God Complex, where he offers advice on what to do when your novel hasn’t been picked up by a literary agent as soon as you’d hoped, as is currently the situation with his thesis novel. I had to chuckle when I read this, not because the post was meant to be funny, (it wasn’t), but because of the timeliness of the post, as I find myself in the same situation and I have been pondering what to do with my own thesis novel, Playground for the Gods: Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle.
Jeff’s advice is sound. Revise. Submit. Repeat. And he’s right in saying that to achieve success in writing, as in most things in life, you must persist in your efforts and endeavor to persevere. In fact, I’d decided on the same course of action for my novel, with a slight twist and a lot of determination. So, my first 2017 New Year’s writing resolution is to get my thesis novel published in the coming year.
Since completing my thesis novel, the first novel in my science fantasy Playground for the Gods series, I’ve submitted it to seven publishers and four literary agents. It was rejected by two agents and four publishers, and is still waiting for word on three publishing houses and two agents. I don’t hold out hope of hearing from the agents, many don’t even bother to respond unless they’re interested, but the publisher who has had my submission the longest has had my submission for six months. There may still be hope there, but I have to wonder.
I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged with these results, so I started thinking about why my novel wasn’t catching the interest of publishers or agents. e first thing I looked at were my query letters. So, the first thing I looked at were my query letters. As I said, I’ve sent out multiple queries for the first book and been rejected multiple times. I looked at all my queries to see if the problem might be in my presentation.
The query letter is an author’s introduction and it is very important. It’s the first thing an agent or publisher sees, and it determines whether they chose to get to know you and your work better. A query should look professional, and it should tell the publisher or agent about the work you want them to buy into and about the author. It raises their interests and gets them to ask for more than just the excerpt you sent with it. A request for a complete manuscript is the ultimate goal.
Some of you may know the story behind this novel, but for those who don’t I’ll relate it briefly. The summer I presented the proposal packet for my thesis novel was the worst summer of my college career. I had this great idea for a story about a species from a different planet, who come to Earth and present themselves as deities. It was to be a science fantasy novel with a strong female protagonist, Inanna. I presented my idea to my cohorts and nobody got it, (this was partly because I was trying to cram way too much into one book, but at the time it just felt to me like the idea wasn’t well received and I was crushed). So, maybe publishers and agents weren’t getting it now, the same way my cohorts and instructors didn’t get it then?
This led me to take a hard look at the audience which I thought I was writing for and the types of agents and publishers I’ve been pitching to. I’ve sent out my queries for my science fantasy novel to publishers and agents who handle both science fiction and fantasy. Something I had overlooked was that the biggest audience for science fiction and fantasy are young adult readers.Epiphany! I’ve been pitching to the wrong audience!
Because of the summer from hell, mentioned above, my thesis novel has turned into a four book science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods. Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle shows the destruction of the Atlan home planet, which explains the reason they are searching for a new home and chose Earth, and how it was almost destroyed before they could make it their home. Book 2: In the Beginning tells the story of how the Atlans made Earth their home and cohabited with humans, and how Inanna becomes the goddess of war and love, forcing her to deal with the dualities within herself. The hero’s journey that Inanna takes in my original story will now be the Book 3: Inanna’s Song. In Book 4: Enki’s Folly, Enki, (the sort-of anti-hero), tries to fix his past mistakes by traveling through time.
By the end of my courses, I had Book 1 and it’s complete submission packet, Book 2‘s chapter outline, synopsis and partial first draft, along with the outline, synopsis and a few chapters of Book 3 completed. If I could do that major transformation in less than a year’s time, I’m thinking I should be able to transform my books into a YA series with minimal revision.
Next, I took another look at the story itself, and I realized that aside from a few instances of harsh language, this book almost reads like a YA novel. Most of the characters are teens, although Atlans don’t experience time the way humans do, (what passes for a year for us is comparable to a millennia for them), and still, some are more mature than others. The series has many of the YA tropes already: a young female protagonist who is idealistic, (Inanna); a perfectly perfect Mary sue character in Inanna’s BFF, (Ki); missing, or at least distant parents (Atlan familial units are pretty messed up); plenty of half-human/half-something else characters – mermen and Minotaurs, the characters are diverse; and there’s a rebellion against the existing power structure, (in reverse).
The one thing that might prevent Playground for the Gods from becoming a successful YA science fantasy novel is the degree of sexual content, which is actually vital to the story line. We’re not talking about unnecessary sex here. We are talking about the story doesn’t work without it. Although it could be toned down some, I imagine I would have several parents who were hot, should I try to market this series as YA, even though it has a lot of the expected tropes. So, I had to look once more at audience, where I took an in-depth look at a market called New Adult.
New Adult has protagonists aged 18-24, and is aimed at audiences aged 18-30, but may appeal to readers of 30 or more. Just as some YA may appeal to adult readers, so New Adult may appeal to older readers, as well. It carries steamier sexual content, that you probably wouldn’t want your thirteen year old reading, but is perfectly acceptable for older readers. In a 2014 article on Book List Online, YA or NA?, by Michael Cart, Harliquinn Senior Editor Margo Lipschultz points out that “NA rose to popularity as a subgenre that bridged the gap between contemporary YA and contemporary romance, it’s gradually expanding… ” NA is not just a romance market any more, and I’m thinking that the steamier scenes in the PfG series could find a home there.
Another 2014 Book List feature article, What is New Adult Fiction?, by Gillian Engberg, Donna Seaman and others quotes Neil Hollands, adult services librarian at the Williamsburg (VA) Regional Library as stating,
“…librarians talking about NA are often thinking of books that appeal to “both male and female readers, in their late 20s and 30s. The books we’re looking for try to capture the feel of a generation, including integrating technology’s effects on communication and relationships, new outlooks on a range of political and social issues, and more recognition and blending of the genres that younger readers are most familiar with.”
Now that sounds like my series. While it still has some of the YA tropes and qualities, it also has more mature content and deals with social and relationship issues, the value of technology for better or for worse, and characters in the right age bracket basically, (give or take a few million years), and would appeal to an older audience of new adults.
From my very first M.F.A. class it was drilled into us the important of knowing your audience and doing the research. And I did do my research in the adult market, and now I’ve done my research in the YA market. But, after discovering that it’s a little too steamy for YA, I’ve gone back to research the NA markets, and I’m currently revising The Great Primordial Battle for an NA audience. When I’m done, I plan to promote to the NA markets with high expectations, while I get busy on Books 2 and 3.
Leave a comment to let me know if you think I’m on the right track with PfG: Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle.
You can find updates on the Playground for the Gods series on its Facebook page, here.
There is no one writing process that’s right. Writers all use different methods to get to the same point – a finished manuscript of a publishable quality. Some writers binge write. I had a professor who writes this way. She locks herself in a room and puts out a do not disturb sign, then writes until she’s given birth to the story. She claims she doesn’t stop to eat, sleep or shower, and when she comes out of the room, she may seem a little crazy, but with full manuscript in hand.
In one of my Facebook groups, members invite one another to join in writing sprints, where they start writing and keep going non-stop for a designated amount of time. The duration that I have seen is mostly about twenty minutes, but this varies depending on which member extends the invitation. This is kind of a nifty way to write, using the encouragement of others to keep you on track writing, but it’s not for me. I work on multiple projects concurrently and I can’t wait for a group sprint, or limit myself by one. As a graduate student, I had a professor who liked to give us timed free-writes, which was okay except that if I wasn’t finished when the time ran out, I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to finish expressing my complete thought or idea. Once I’m on a roll, I want to keep going. I can sprint when I have to, but I think I’m more of a long distance writer.
In another of my Facebook groups, I saw a post where a writer outlined his very structured writing process. In his outline, he showed how he wrote chapters one through five and then sent them off to his alpha readers, then rewrote those chapters using their feedback before proceeding forward. My comment to him was that even though I liked his structured approach, I just can’t write that way.
Once I start writing, I listen to my characters, and keep writing until the story is told. I’m not as emphatic as my professor, I do take life breaks, but even then, the story is swimming around in my head while I tend to other tasks which life deems necessary. That’s what I mean when I say I’m a long distance writer. Once the idea takes hold, I jump in and just keep going until I’ve expended all of my creative energy. And I write fast. I once wrote the first draft for a thirty thousand word romance story in nine days. It wasn’t perfect. It was a first draft. But the story was all there, waiting for revisions.
But there are drawbacks to this method. Only when the first draft is complete, do I send it off to alpha readers. After receiving their feedback I revise the story, sometimes in its entirety. With Delilah, once I got the initial feedback from my alpha readers, I utilized said feedback to do revisions.
On the next read-through I decided that there just wasn’t enough at stake to make readers care whether Delilah would be successful in her quest. So, I went back and wrote in a teen girl, Sarah, and placed her in Delilah’s care at the beginning of the story. Then I rewrote the scenes that came after that, because everything changed once Sarah was in the picture, and we’re talking major revisions. But they added to Delilah’s quest for revenge, a quest to save Sarah, which raised the stakes, hopefully causing readers to want Delilah to succeed.
I’m also one of those writers who, despite all the warnings from my professors about editing as you write, does it anyway. I correct my typos and misspellings as I go, so after the first few chapters, where the story is set in motion, most of the revisions necessary were mostly minor tweaks, but they were required throughout the story. It necessitated going over it with my editor’s eye and reading it aloud.
Once the second draft was complete, I did a read-through before sending it off for feedback once more. About half-way through, I came to a part where the story was dragging for me. Now when your own writing drags for you, that’s not a good thing. Something needed to happen to keep my readers, (and myself), awake and interested. So, I rewrote the scene and had Delilah run into one of the outlaws she is seeking, resulting in a shoot-out that kills off a character that had previously had a big role later in the story. It solved the boredom problem for that scene, but required a rewrite of the rest of the story, because things could no longer go down that way I had originally written it.
You can see the drawback to my writing process. Waiting until the first draft is finished can entail some major rewrites. Sending it off for feedback a small chunk at a time, and then revising bit by bit seems like it might be a better process to practice, but I can’t get my mind to shut down once the story starts flowing. It’s all got to come out. That’s just how I do it.
Delilah is an example of my normal writing process. I took that first excerpt and wrote. I’m not a plotter. I get an idea in my head and let the words fly to the page. But in my M.F.A. program, they tried to turn me into a plotter. For my thesis novel, Playground for the Gods: The Great Primordial Battle, I was required to make an outline before I started writing. In truth, I needed to take that approach with my thesis, because my original science fantasy idea is broad enough to encompass four novels, and in fact, my thesis turned into the first novel with plans for three other novels to follow. My original idea will become the third novel in the series. I needed two books worth of backstory to tell my tale. But that much information, that much plot, that much story needs to be outlined. You can’t just blunder along blindly writing whatever comes into your head, because what you write at this point must fit in, not only with this story, but with the other three in the series. There are a lot of writers, and many of my M.F.A. cohorts, who prefer to outline and plot before writing.
With my thesis novel, I did send chunks off for feedback instead of waiting for the whole story. There was just too much story to fill in and I needed to know it was all there and flowed smoothly. It’s a good thing I did, too, because I am still waiting on the feedback from my thesis advisor. Quite frankly, I’ve been considering pulling this one back out and doing some revising, even now.
I know how my writing process works, but it’s not the only way, or maybe even the best way. It’s a way that works for me.
What is your writing process? Are you a sprinter? A long distance writer? A procrastinator, who puts the writing off until right before deadline and then crams to get it done? A plotter, who outlines and plots the whole story before ever putting down the first word?