Zorya (Writer’s Voice)

Query:

17-year-old Zorya lives on blood, is allergic to daylight, and can lift the front end of a car (well, a small car). But nobody in polite American society uses the “v” word—the PC term is “Nightwalker.”

Zorya’s ancestors called themselves the Oameni back in the old country. Not supernatural creatures, but an ancient race forced out of hiding fifty years ago. After a brief but bitter war, they made an uneasy peace and a place for themselves in the human “Daywalker” world.

Born long after the Wars, Zorya couldn’t care less about history. She’s a popular senior at her high school in the California Enclave, with good grades, the newest smartphone, and the latest clothes.

Now her easy life is about to drastically change. Her fascination with David, the only Daywalker in the school, results in her parents sending her away to her grandfather, an Oameni Elder living in a distant Idaho forest refuge.

There her grandfather teaches Zorya the secrets of her ancient heritage, skills she never needed in high school, and eventually the real reason for her exile.

When her new life at the refuge is threatened by a disturbed Oameni war veteran, Zorya decides her only option is to flee back to California on her own.

On the grueling trip, she deals with anti-Nightwalker terrorists, sunrises, the stalker on her trail, and her grandfather’s secret organization of peacekeepers that wants to recruit her to their cause. And then there’s David, turning up where she least expects him, to help her face a terrorist threat to the Enclave itself.

ZORYA is a YA SF novel, complete at 98,300 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

———————————

250 Words:

My name’s Zorya. Mother says I’m named after Zorya Vechernyaya, goddess of the Evening Star. That’s sort of cool.

There were fifteen of us in my classroom that fall—the entire high school senior class population of the Northern California Enclave. And then there was David. Named after David, I guess.

He wasn’t one of us. He was one of them.

I propped my arm on my desk and casually leaned my head on my hand, turning my face a bit to the right. That way, I could look at him without…looking like I was looking at him. Up at the front of the room Madame Stefonia was writing something on the whiteboard, so she probably wouldn’t notice right away that I wasn’t paying attention.

The moonlamps were turned up high so David could see well enough to read and write. Their eyes are really bad—I don’t think they can even see colors at night. On the other hand, I could see him just fine. Unlike me, he was watching the teacher and busily taking notes.

He was blonde, which in a room full of black hair made him stick out like a snowball on an asphalt road. He was almost a year older than me, almost a foot taller, and even skinnier. His eyes were dark brown, which was as weird around here as the blonde hair. His voice had a twinge of accent, Texas I think, and my God, the tan. It was only the third week of school and he hadn’t been here long enough to start losing it.

“Pitch Madness” again

The latest Pitch Madness contest opened a little while ago, and it’s on until midnight Eastern on the night of the 24th.  Details at Brenda Drake’s blog.

I pitched Zorya again, but just for fun I did a test pitch for Castle Falcon. It’s not eligible for the contest, so I didn’t enter it, but here it is, a 35-word pitch and the first 250 words:

Tom Alan Brosz
CASTLE FALCON
YA Fantasy
Word count: 145,000

Pitch:

Two modern children exploring their ancient and mysterious castle home discover frightening secrets about their father’s history, along with strange creatures and dark forces that could be unleashed onto the world.

Excerpt:

Once upon a time, there was an immense castle crouched near the base of a range of low, heavily-wooded mountains.

This was no elegant fairy-tale castle with flag-topped towers spiking into the sky. It was vast and sprawling, with massive turreted outer walls built of gigantic blocks of roughly-hewn stone, black with the patina of centuries and crusted with moss and lichens. Within those walls the castle’s grounds were covered with mansions, halls, outbuildings and scattered ruins, laid out in a maze with no pattern or architectural consistency. Inside these buildings were hundreds of rooms of all shapes and sizes. There were dark catacombs, airy parlors, hidden chambers, attics, quiet cloisters and expansive courtyards open to the sky. There were corridors and passages beyond counting, soaring stone buttresses, and worn slate roofs with brooding and broken gargoyles perched on their edges.

Two children had lived in this castle all their lives, and they loved their ancient home even more than they loved video games.

Katie Falcon and her brother Zach simply called it “the Castle.” In nearby Monte Vista, an isolated small town in the American Northwest, people called it “Castle Falcon” when they were talking to tourists but sometimes called it “The Wizard’s Place” when they were quietly talking to each other.

It was the first really warm day of spring. Katie, who was almost fourteen and eager to be sixteen, had kicked off her tennis shoes and was curled up in a nest of pillows on the cushioned platform of the big bay window in her room.

Pitch+250

So, I enter Zorya into the “Pitch+250” contest, where everyone enters a pitch and then the first 250 words. I got cut in the first round, but they sent me a detailed scorecard (which was pretty cool of them) and this comment from the judge:

“This could be a really good story but I didn’t get enough sense of what happens or the stakes from the pitch. Since I’m guessing most of the action happens when Zorya’s exiled, I wanted to know more about this and the stakes to her.”

Everyone had to cut their pitch to 100 words for the contest. Much of what I had to cut was the action during Zorya’s exile.

*Sigh*

“Pitch Madness”

Now and then someone holds a contest where you submit a pitch, and if you get far enough in the ranks, real agents will take a look at it. Here’s one of them, and I entered it (entries are closed now).

Rules vary, but all of these contests involve severe word limits, which is a challenge to a windy writer like me but very good practice. Some contests ask for 140-character Twitter pitches! This one had a 35-word pitch and a 250-word excerpt (you could extend the excerpt to the end of a sentence).

I entered Roger Mantis and Zorya. A lot of entrants are posting their pitches on their blogs now, so I will too.

Pitch, Roger Mantis: Roger McGillicutty, 12, wakes up one Saturday morning and finds out he’s turned into a five-foot praying mantis. And with school on Monday, and his baseball team playing their biggest rival next week!

Excerpt: As young Roger McGillicutty awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

Aw, geeze! he thought.

There was no mistake about it. The drapes in Roger’s bedroom were closed, but the Saturday morning sun was shining brightly outside and the drapes glowed, illuminating the whole room.

Roger stared at his hands, which had been replaced by vicious yellowish claws at the end of spiked, emerald-green arms. Clumsily, he kicked off the covers using a lot more legs than he used to have, and looked down at himself. It was worse than he thought. He was lying on his back. Below his shoulders his middle was a narrow, hard, green cylinder leading down to where four long, spindly jointed legs wiggled aimlessly toward the ceiling. The legs were green too, except the ends, which were more yellowish.

Past his legs was a long, narrow, greenish-yellow wormy-looking thing that was apparently his butt. Roger remembered that this was called an “abdomen” on an insect, and his narrow middle part was called a “thorax.” That was all he could remember right now from that insect chapter last month in his hated seventh-grade biology class. Well, at least “abdomen” was a better word than “butt.” As he looked at his…abdomen, it squirmed and bent as though that end of him was waking up separately.

“Eww! Gross!” he said involuntarily. His own voice startled him. It was a little buzzy, like his art teacher Mrs. Clancy, who talked through her nose.

______________________________

Pitch, Zorya: 17-year-old Zorya sneaks interested looks across her high-school classroom at David, the strange new boy, the only one in the school who can go out in the daytime…

Excerpt:

My name’s Zorya. Mother says I’m named after Zorya Vechernyaya, goddess of the Evening Star. That’s sort of cool.

There were fifteen of us in my classroom that fall—the entire high school senior class population of the Northern California Enclave. And then there was David. Named after David, I guess.

He wasn’t one of us. He was one of them.

I propped an arm on my desk and casually leaned my head on my hand, turning my face a bit to the right. That way, I could look at him without…looking like I was looking at him. Up at the front of the room Madame Stefonia was writing something on the whiteboard, so she probably wouldn’t notice right away that I wasn’t paying attention.

The moonlamps were turned up high so David could see well enough to read and write. Their eyes are really bad—I don’t think they can even see colors at night. On the other hand, I could see him just fine. Unlike me, he was watching the teacher and busily taking notes.

He was blonde, which in a room full of black hair made him stick out like a snowball on an asphalt road. He was almost a year older than me, almost a foot taller, and even skinnier. His eyes were dark brown, which was as weird around here as the blonde hair. His voice had a twinge of accent, Texas I think, and my God, the tan. It was only the third week of school, and he hadn’t been here long enough to start losing it.

______________________________

I have a third book that’s self-published, so it’s not eligible for a contest like this, but for editing practice I generated a pitch for it anyway:

Pitch, Castle Falcon: Two modern children exploring their ancient and mysterious castle home discover frightening secrets about their father’s history, along with strange creatures and dark forces that could be unleashed onto the world.

Excerpt:

Once upon a time, there was an immense castle crouched near the base of a range of low, heavily-wooded mountains.

This was no elegant fairy-tale castle with flag-topped towers spiking into the sky. It was vast and sprawling, with massive turreted outer walls built of gigantic blocks of roughly-hewn stone, black with the patina of centuries and crusted with moss and lichens. Within those walls the castle’s grounds were covered with mansions, halls, outbuildings and scattered ruins, laid out in a maze with no pattern or architectural consistency. Inside these buildings were hundreds of rooms of all shapes and sizes. There were dark catacombs, airy parlors, hidden chambers, attics, quiet cloisters and expansive courtyards open to the sky. There were corridors and passages beyond counting, soaring stone buttresses, and worn slate roofs with brooding and broken gargoyles perched on their edges.

Two children had lived in this castle all their lives, and they loved their ancient home even more than they loved video games.

Katie Falcon and her brother Zach simply called it “the Castle.” In nearby Monte Vista, an isolated small town in the American Northwest, people called it “Castle Falcon” when they were talking to tourists but sometimes called it “The Wizard’s Place” when they were quietly talking to each other.

It was the first really warm day of spring. Katie, who was almost fourteen and eager to be sixteen, had kicked off her tennis shoes and was curled up in a nest of pillows on the cushioned platform of the big bay window in her room.

Embedding fonts on Kindle

I loaded a test version of my Zorya manuscript onto my old keyboard Kindle.  I used the same process I’d used before:  imported my basic Word file into Adobe Indesign, made the proper format changes, added a table of contents, and then used Amazon’s Kindle converter plugin for Indesign to create the .mobi file.  Then I just mailed it to my Amazon Kindle e-mail address, and in a short time it showed up on my Kindle.

When I opened the book, the font looked thin and spidery, and hard to read. I checked the Kindle’s display control panel, and noticed a line I’d never seen before: “Published Font: On/Off” I switched it off, and the text popped in nice and clear.

I checked a few purchased books, and none of them had that line in the control panel. Then I checked Castle Falcon, the one I’d published to Kindle before. The “published font” line was there, and it was switched off! I turned it on, and got the same spidery font. Yipes. That version is out there on sale.

I went back and made new Kindle files of both books using the plug-in, and this time switched off “embed fonts.” Tests of the results show they display nicely, and there’s no “published font” toggle confusing things.  I uploaded an update of Castle Falcon to Kindle Direct Publishing, and will try to get Amazon to tell purchasers the update is available.

So, if you’re making your own Kindle books, I recommend not embedding the fonts unless there’s some special reason they have to be in there. For most of us who are just writing regular normal-text books, the Kindle reader default font ought to work just fine.

Manuscript sweeping

Once my “zero-th” draft of my book was done, I started the editing process by running “sweeps” through the document.  Each sweep has a specific purpose, and is designed to check for specific problems.  By focusing on one issue at a time, my fried brain doesn’t get distracted and miss things.

At least, that’s the theory.  In practice, it ends up being a bit more haphazard.

My first sweep on Zorya was a basic read-through of the story for large-scale screwups.  That’s because this is the first time I’ve ever actually read the whole thing from start to finish.

When you’ve written something over a year’s time, a lot of what you wrote at the beginning might get overlooked when you write the end.  Did I set up a Chekov’s Gun and leave it on the shelf?  Did a character change drastically part way through?  Did any characters that were important at the beginning disappear?  Did any appear out of nowhere?  Why the hell is this scene in there?  Just how many different ways can I spell that guy’s name?  Yikes!  Is that a plot hole?  Good Lord, what was I thinking here?  Say, this part really drags, doesn’t it?

This was where I made sure things flowed correctly from one thing to the next.  Where running gags were tuned, themes polished, and character development checked.  It’s where I pinned everything to the wall, stepped back, and saw if the storyboard still worked.

I picked up a few other loose threads along the way, like spelling errors I spotted as I read (my formal spell check came later).  I also typically write dialogue without quotation marks at the beginning, so I don’t interrupt my train of thought.  When I finish a scene, I go back and add the quote marks and other punctuation, but I often miss a few.  I caught those on this sweep, too.

The next sweep, using text search, was to catch something I had problems with in this particular book:  my story’s character is nocturnal, and it was real easy to forget that.  I needed to make sure day was day and night was night, and I hadn’t flipped it around.  I wasn’t too surprised to find quite a few of these mistakes.  Things like “afternoon” sneaking in there.

I ran another couple of sweeps to check for certain words and writing idiosyncracies I tend to overuse.  I have way too many of these.

Then came the spell-check.  This is enormously tedious.  Microsoft Word’s spell checker is okay, but the grammar checker is quite stuffy about sentence structure, and not very reliable either.  Most of the time I ignore the grammar function, but I have to run it through just in case it catches something important.

Finally, I had to carve the book up into chapters.  I don’t write in chapters, but people expect them, so I had to find the right spots to put the breaks.  This actually went a lot easier than I expect.  Luck, mostly.  I had to think up titles for them, too.  Then I tweaked the new chapter ends to add a bit of cliff-hanging “snap” where necessary.

I printed it out today on my nice little duplex printer, and had it spiral bound at the office store for about eight bucks.  Much cheaper than having them do the double-sided printing for me.  I just presented the first draft to my best beta reader:  my wife.

Hope she likes it.

First draft of Zorya done.

Or more accurately, the “zero-eth” draft. This draft ended up at 98,276 words. My original goal had been a minimum of 80,000, and I was determined to keep it under 100,000.

On the Making of the Sausage:

I started modifying the original short story on January 14, 2012, so the whole thing took about a year. To be fair, that wasn’t a solid year of writing. The spreadsheet I kept tells me I had 89 days when I wrote something. Since I started out with a 4,000-word short story, that’s 94,276 new words over that time, for an average of 1,059.3 words per day.

That surprised me, since most days were less than a thousand words, and I had one day where I actually lost 31 words. But there were some days when I was in the 2,000 to 3,000 range to make up the difference. On two days, I actually cracked the 4,000 word mark, with my personal best being 4,703.

I worked in spurts, with a number of gaps in between. Usually these gaps were short–one to three days–but a few were extensive. The start was slow. I only wrote on one day in February, 2012, and didn’t really get rolling until the middle of March. From then until the beginning of June, I made steady progress with the usual frequent gaps. The largest gap was 11 days in April, and there were two 8-day gaps in May. The second of those gaps (according to my writing journal) was when I took time to self-publish Castle Falcon.

I hit a wall on June 5, and didn’t do any more real work on the manuscript until September 5. Three months! I only did a little work on August 23. My journal for that day says:

A lot of time has passed. Too much time. Worked some more on Castle Falcon’s website and other things. Went back to the Midwest in July. The complete lack of response on Roger Mantis is very discouraging. It’s obvious that Zorya is my only hope at this point–the market seems primed for something like this–but strangely this seems to make me even more blocked on working on it.

To get back into it now requires a complete refresh on the whole thing. My wife actually had to remind me what David’s name was. Not a good sign.

I’m wondering if a document on character arcs would help, but I find it way too easy to get mired in “busywork” that isn’t actual writing. Maybe I should just dive back into it again and start pumping out scenes, and knit them together later. That’s how Castle Falcon got written.

Puttered around for a while. 37 words.

On September 5, I forced myself to get back into it again, and this time, with one exception, I stuck it out. From September 5 until December 10, the largest gap of days without writing was six days at the start of October, and that was when we went down south to visit my daughter on her birthday.

There’s a gap from December 11 through January 1st, but that was deliberate. Holidays were a lot of work, with me doing huge amounts of baking, shopping, and that sort of thing, so I decided to take the time off so I could focus better when things settled down. I did a little writing on January 1st and 7th, and from the 14th to the end I wrote every day.

Writing is hard work for me. A long day of writing is the mental equivalent of running an obstacle course, one in which alligators are involved. Right now, I’m wiped. I’m taking a few days off, and then will begin “sweeping the manuscript.”

More on that later.

The Dreaded Plot Crash

I’m past my targeted halfway point in Zorya, at almost 45,000 words, and the thing happened that I worry about most when I’m writing. I discovered that I have a critical plot point that manages to negate a big chunk of the rest of the plot.

It’s not the first time it’s happened, not even the first time for this book, but I hate it. First I have to work out some kind of solution that doesn’t sound stupid, or demand an entire flotilla of gods descending in machines. Then I have to alter and rework text all through the manuscript to make sure it’s in line with the solution. You know what that’s like?

My wife has a bunch of necklaces hanging in a necklace cabinet. Often several of them on one wooden peg (no room otherwise). Sometimes when you take one off they snag, and all come off together and fall in a shiny tangled knot of very fine and near-identical chains. I have to sit there with something pointy like a pin and carefully tweak each loop free, tugging gently to avoid tightening the knot, often passing one loop through another multiple times, until all the chains are finally separated. It takes a long time.

It’s like that.

The long, hard, slog

80,000 words is a lot of words. I’m up to 36,600 in Zorya now. My middle-grade book, Roger Mantis, is under 28,000 words in all, and had a much more linear plot structure. I finished that one in less than a month. I’ve been at Zorya since the middle of February, although to be sure there were a few long gaps where I didn’t get much done.

Writing for me is hard work (the term I usually use is “like crapping a pineapple.”)  I envy authors who just seem to be able to pour it out on the page. For me, it’s more like jumping across a river on rocks, hoping that the next one I jump to doesn’t roll over on me (plot hole!) or turn out to be an alligator (book-busting plot hole!) Dialogue seems to come more easily, but keeping the storyline working doesn’t.

Well, back to it.