Hello writers! I haven’t done a personal post in a while and it’s time as you’ll see. Previously I blogged an entire series called “Journey to a Bestseller” about a young adult steampunk novel that I wanted to be a bestseller (I suppose it’s not quite finished). Some of you may ask, what did happen to our book? Well, I sent out five queries, including one to the publisher I’d chosen. Four didn’t answer, but the publisher I really wanted–an imprint of Macmillan–gave me what’s called an R&R (revise and resubmit). However, they don’t want you to get over-excited and reedit really fast and return it. So, one must wait a minimum of six months before resubmitting.
So, rather than sit on that book, I went on to begin to write something that I know is right up their alley. This particular publisher opts for books that are considered “high-concept.” If you aren’t familiar with that term, I wrote a post on it here. I believe I have a greater chance of success at a bestseller with this book than the last. So I shelved the R&R temporarily, and once I send out this new book, it will be easy to go back and re-edit that first one.
Is this all I’ve written in the past two years? No. Not at all. Since I published my trilogy two years ago, I’ve written six books. This one makes seven. Yes, I shelved them all. They weren’t ready and I knew it. I was finished with book number five and about to pour myself into editing when I stopped and asked myself, “What’s my goal here?” (Many of you know it is to be a “bestseller” at least once to shut my family up and allow them to believe that I am a true author. It’s a long story throughout these posts.)
So I asked myself next, “Is this book a bestseller?”
I looked hard at it and said, “Definitely not.”
Then I asked myself, “So why are you spending time on it?”
I stopped immediately and shelved that book. Then I made a decision to write a real bestseller–on purpose. Something I plan from the beginning to make it, using everything I know about writing so far. I have blogged the journey all the way back to the beginning with planning and coming up with the concept.
So, since we’ve journeyed through one potential bestseller, I am starting a new journey with a book that I have full confidence in. I have taken off December and January to finish it. The book is once again a young adult fiction, this time in the science fiction and romance genres. It has a simple, high concept, and I’ll give a cookie to the one who figures out what it is. Nope, I’m not telling you. :^D
BUT, I am going to be very authentic here and share my first chapter with you. It is a rough draft, so it will change some between now and publication, but you will get to say you read it here first. Ha ha. I know. Slow down and don’t put the cart in front of the horse. It’s just so hard not to get excited when you have a great idea and think you might finally be able to pull it off! You know? I’ve worked hard to get to this point. I’ve written a lot, and edited even more. I’ve sold books as an agent, and edited them for a publisher. I feel like I might be at the place where I finally get to jump off and it’s thrilling.
Most of my readers are new authors and that’s why I’m so explanatory. I want to be real here with you. If your first draft and my first draft don’t resemble each other, there’s nothing wrong with that. You may be a better author than I am, or maybe you’re just starting out. As skill levels change, and as you learn more from book to book, your first drafts will start out sounding better and needing less work in editing. But hear me people, it is said that every first draft is shit. And it’s true for all. Including yours and mine. So don’t worry about it.
That said, for my new authors, if you haven’t read the post from March about how an agent can read one chapter of your book and know if it’s any good or not, make sure to check that out. It’s not a short post but talks about what I looked for in submissions as an agent, and what you need to know about it. In your first draft, don’t worry about getting it perfect, do what you know to get the story out. Everything else can be edited later. It becomes much easier in time because the more you learn, the more you incorporate into your writing the first time, and you spend less time on the little things like spelling and grammar. Not that they are unimportant at all. Your correct spelling and grammar will differentiate you from the unprofessional. (For punctuation brush up, click here.)
But a good book lies in the story. You need to introduce your character in media res (basically in the middle of something), it may be action, it may not, but do not have your character waking up or looking in the mirror when you begin a story. Those are big taboos. Show a little of the character’s normal life, then pretty soon give us an “inciting incident” that catapults the character into their new journey or their part in the story. You should be able to get to the inciting incident at about 5% of the way through the book. So, by the third chapter at most, we need to start seeing the happenings that bring about the action of the story. (Read more about plot points for your story here.)
In your sample chapters that you send in your query, set up the world, the time period, the main character’s current situation, without infodumps. Come into the scene without interruption and have the characters carry on as though they know all they should know. For example: there’s a phrase that labels some redundant dialogue as a “Well, you know Bob…” Stay with me here. Sometimes the author wants the reader to know something but instead of finding a creative way to get it across, or just an inexperienced writer that doesn’t know how, has one character say to the other, “Well, you know Bob, since that day we went fishing remember, and I got that lottery ticket you know, and since I married your sister twenty years ago, and we’ve lived in the same small town all our lives, I thought I might share some with you.”
Now, I know I went way overboard with that, but my point was, don’t give us your backstory in infodumps and/or by one character telling another, something that they should already know and wouldn’t need to have explained for the conversation. This is key. You can give backstory in conversation, just don’t tell people things they should already know. Basically have your characters go on as usual and slip bits of the world in, one sentence at a time. You are all welcome to critique my first chapter rough draft. See if you think I accomplished this, or what you think could make it better. I don’t mind. But I’d rather hold onto the suggestions until I’m done writing the story. I’m only on chapter fourteen, but close to halfway through according to my notes. But my characters keep changing my story. Gah.
Okay, enough stalling. I’m taking a deep breath. This never gets easier. Here’s the rough draft first chapter of The Blood Match:
The Blood Match
By Jennifer Haskin
The cold air was sharp inside her nose; a tear gathered, and trekked down Marishel’s cheek. She dabbed at her eyeline, careful not to disturb the contact that was playing her favorite show. Her shoulder glowed where it pressed against the living concrete wall outside Ulu’s Electronics Repair. A plastic basket of mending was crooked in her elbow, cutting off circulation to her already swollen fingers. More work she hadn’t gotten finished, although her fingertips were numb from a long day of sewing.
Yolenie swept through the doorway. “You been waiting long?”
“Just long enough. I’ll be lucky to make it to a reasonable bedtime.” She laughed, but her stomach clenched like a knot of yarn—tighter, tighter.
“Then let’s go.” Yolenie linked her elbow with Marishel’s empty one and they strode toward their neighborhood.
Marishel minimized the feed and her attention was caught by a light flickering out above them. She reached behind her ear and muted the show with her cochlear dial. They still had tech, but the once-proud outer limits of Haumea had been crumbling for a few generations. Being carved out of solid rock and minerals, the remnants of art surrounded them. Centuries of carved rock, like the ancient frescos on Earth. They didn’t always have color to spare anymore, but the oldest works were brilliantly pigmented, doming over their heads—the latex colors peeling, losing their adhesive qualities over the years.
She hugged her sweater closer to her body. Some days Marishel couldn’t shake the chill. One day she’d move to the summerlands, beyond the farms and their comfortable climate, nearer to the core where it was always hot. The rich people lived there, with swimming pools and homes with open arches and fluffy furniture. Her father claimed to hate the cold as much as she did, but he’d grown up in the outer limits and was used to it, he said. Even the farmlands made him feel like his bones were melting. She knew part of it was the price, but not how much. She shivered.
“You icy?” Yolenie asked, her expression full of empathy. Yolenie enjoyed the crispy coolness of the outer limits. She rubbed Marishel’s arm briskly as if that was all it took to defrost the thickness of her muscle.
“I can’t wait for next week. Classes are done, and I’ll be so warm.”
“You going to your aunt’s farm?”
Marishel laughed. “Like every other school break we’ve had in the last ten years.” She bumped her friend’s shoulder.
Yolenie coughed. Marishel pulled her arm back and patted her friend on the back.
“Thanks.” She choked. “Stop. You’re making it worse.”
“Sorry.” She worried that Yolenie might get the sickness. The mining kicked up dust. No matter how hard they tried to purify the air coming out of the mines, they never caught it all. The poor miners, like her father, had to breathe it all day. He even coughed in his sleep. Miners got it, mostly, but the dust seemed to settle in the outer limits and covered everything in a filmy grit. Of course, the miners lived in the outer limits, so there was naturally a higher number of them who got sick. The dim chill didn’t help. Electricity cost a big portion of the workers’ salaries, and the outer limits couldn’t afford to pay much collectively, so they lived in a perpetual dusk, or what she’d heard of dusk. She’d never seen the sun. They said it only looked like a small star from here, but she’d never been outside the dwarf planet to see what stars looked like. Just the videos in school.
She remembered why she’d been in such a hurry to get home. “We’ve got to hurry. We’re going to miss the announcement.”
“The lottery? Ah, who cares? It won’t be us. We’re not even fighters.”
“You aren’t even a little worried they’ll choose you?”
“Nope. My family’s not in the pool.” Yolenie grabbed her arm again and threaded her hand through Marishel’s elbow, then gave her arm a squeeze. “Don’t worry Risha. We’ll be fine.”
Marishel couldn’t swallow the lump of anxiety that clogged her throat. Why did she have to be seventeen the same year as their leader’s son, the Ambassador? Sixty 17-year-old girls would be chosen to compete for the title of Ambassador’s Bride. Her family name was chosen in the pool of competitors. Jilly, her cousin on her father’s side—they seldom spoke—was eight months older than she and so her name was always destined to represent the family, but Marishel believed in the one percent. If there was one percent chance it could happen, it would probably happen to her.
They turned the corner and reached Marishel’s street. More like a ten-foot-wide path, crumbling in the middle, the edges showing remnants of a once-smooth walkway; the streets weren’t self-repairing, like the buildings. She touched the nearest wall of living concrete, and its bacteria glowed in the shape of her hand.
“See you on Monday,” Marishel said. They still used the old times and dates from Earth, though Haumea spun completely every four hours. It helped with the artificial gravity. Days and nights were only a concept here. She couldn’t imagine walking on the outside of a planet and being warmed by the sun, huge in the sky.
Yolenie smiled. “See you Monday.”
When Yolenie’s coat was out of sight, Marishel kicked up the dust and ran home.
“Hi Mom. I’m home,” she called, closing the front door, and dropping her basket on the floor.
“Hi honey. Good day?” Her mother stepped out of the nook they called a kitchen, and wiped her hands on a towel.
“Mmm hmm.” She absent-mindedly tossed her mom a smile. “Nex, turn the TV on.” The screen flipped on, and she plopped down on the loveseat.
“Hey!” Her sister Madigan was spread out on the floor among her schoolbooks. “Don’t step on me.”
“Missed you by a mile.” She leaned forward and tugged her sister’s braid. “Nex, volume up.” The housebot’s name was given by each home’s inhabitants. Her father had named theirs Calanets after the current leader of the time—a joke to himself about his lack of political discussion—but Madi was often frustrated as a little girl when all she could say was “Nex,” and couldn’t turn on the lights.
“You scared?” Madigan asked.
She opened her mouth to answer.
“Of course not, Madi,” her mother interjected, going back to the kitchen. She called out, “Supper will be in half an hour.”
Marishel smiled at her little sister’s innocent question. She was scared witless. If anything went wrong…
Sweet floral surrounded her in soft fragrance and worked to ease some of her anxiety. The candles were lit. That meant there was news. “Why’d you light the candles?” she called over the couch.
Her mom peeked around the wall. “I had tea with Granny Elspeth. She was all in a tither because Sootsie’s daughter eloped last weekend with a boy from the Summerlands who put her in,”—she looked over at Madi—“a family sort of way.”
“What’s that?” Madi asked.
“Wait.” The blood drained from Marishel’s head and the back of her neck felt prickly. “Aunt Sootsie? That’s Jilly’s mom.”
“What is it?” Madi repeated.
“That’s right. Jilly’s gone off to the Summerlands to start a new family. That’s what it means,” she said, a little too brightly.
Marishel turned around and faced the TV, effectively dismissing her mother. She felt numb—no, not lacking feeling, she felt like her skin was electrified. She was buzzing with energy. If Jilly wasn’t in the lottery, that meant her name was in the pool. She concentrated on the hard breath she pressed out her nose and inhaled as deep as she could inflate her lungs.
The program came on with the show’s host, she couldn’t remember the guy’s name. “Welcome,” he boomed, “to this generation’s Blood Match coverage. I’m your host—”
“Why do they call it that?” Madigan asked.
“Sshhh!” Marishel didn’t have time for silly questions—especially ones she didn’t have answers to.
The scene shot to the leading family of Haumea—the Leader himself, Karthik Porter; his oldest son Quinlan, called the Ambassador; his wife Gioia, called The First; and his younger son Canon, called the Second. They sat with stoic poise, except for Quinlan, who looked like he’d rather be out in space without a suit than sitting on a televised sofa with his family. Marishel thought he might have looked excited or at least pretended to be, but he glared at his father and the camera.
The First stood in a sparkling gown of indigo sequins. It must have been brought ready-made from Earth. Nothing Marishel ever sewed was that fancy. “Good evening. I thank you all for watching as we play the lottery.” She gave a little chuckle. “As you all know, the Blood Match honors The First, and I am very honored to be the mother of this generation’s Blood Match. As you all know, the contest for the title of Ambassador’s Bride has been carried out for centuries. Though it began as a silly pageant, when Analiyah The First came to power, she won by proving her true worth in a battle against the other contestants. Wanting nothing less for her own son’s bride, she carried on the competition, and her daughter-in-law did the same. On and on we’ve honored the old traditions.” She clasped her hands. “So exciting! One month from now, one young woman will prove herself worthy of being the Ambassador’s Bride, in the most romantic, self-disciplined, show of bravery … and she shall be the future First.”
“Yeah, and all the rest of them die,” Madigan said, coloring a page on the floor. She lay on her stomach with her knees bent, swinging her feet back and forth.
“Hush.” Marishel leaned forward.
“This year’s contest—”
Marishel’s father flung the door open and slammed it shut. She turned around to look, but didn’t dare “shush” him. She valued her life.
“Hello family.” He plopped down in a chair at the table and sighed, kicking off his boots. He unbuckled the straps of the exoskeleton across his muscled thigh, and then began pulling on the other leg’s strap. “Nalyn! You aren’t going to believe this.”
Her mother came out of the kitchen. “What? What happened?”
“They pushed through a new decree.” He slammed his hand on the table, his still-mechanized fist nearly cracking the surface. “They’re taking corporate ownership of the mines.”
“Who?” Madigan popped up and kneeled on the loveseat next to Marishel, facing backward. “I thought you were going to own it.”
On TV, the show’s host was going on about contests of the past and flashing pictures of girls in fancy dresses and pony-tailed contestants training with state-of-the-art weapons. She wanted to watch but she also knew what a crisis this was for her father.
“Madi, that was the plan. The mines have always been owned individually, maybe it was something they forgot when Haumea was made community property. But now they’ve realized the mistake and want to make it corporate.” He put his face in his hands and Marishel’s mother laid a hand on his shoulder.
“We were almost there,” she whispered.
Marishel’s father had worked his way up from the bottom to being the name on the mine’s lease. It was almost paid off and he had planned to sell it once it was his, and that would be his ticket to the Gentry—what the rich called themselves. It was his dream. To choose where to live, to have what he wanted, to leave the mines. It was all over now. The hoping. The plans for a home in the farmlands next to her aunt. They’d be stuck in the outer limits forever now. A chill ran over her skin. She’d never escape the cold.
“And now for this generation’s contestants!” the TV rang out.
Her family stopped and watched the screen as names scrolled from the bottom to the top. Her eyes were crossing, and her sight was blurry reading all the names. As twenty names rolled, some of her apprehension eased. After forty names, she was calm and reading to see if she knew anyone who was chosen. There was a girl she’d seen at school who didn’t live too far away. That eased the last of her tension. They wouldn’t choose girls who lived so close together, right? Number forty-nine was Marishel Vance. The letters scrolled up the screen slower than any of the others, it seemed, and she sat motionless. Had she really seen it? Her family was not reacting, it must have been a trick of her eyes.
She looked around the room at her family, each staring at her with open gazes, and Madi’s mouth hung open.
Oh no. No, no, no.
[To be continued…]
So what did everyone think? Did it introduce the character and her situation well? Did it show enough of her normal life for you to understand what a big deal the inciting incident is? Do you understand at least a little where you are in the world? Can you see where you are? Do you have a picture in your mind of what the carvings look like? I’d love to see some art. I know I have a few explanatory paragraphs, but hopefully they are informative enough and flow with the story well enough not to read like infodumps. If so, I’ll have to rewrite.
Take your author knowledge and what you’ve read from that post in March and tell me what you want to see more of. Now remember, this is only the first chapter. We dig into the world even further as the chapters go on. The first chapter needs to place you in the story. Not overwhelm you. The reader doesn’t have to know everything off the bat. Some mystery is good. It motivates the reader to keep going. I’m not sure I will be here next week, but in case I am, make sure to let me know if you have any questions. And please let me know if you’d like to see more sample chapters as I go.