This *is* the Manuscript You Were Looking For

After looking over client lists of agents to get a taste of what literary agencies are endorsing, I’m thinking it’s time I learned the Jedi mind trick. Have you read some authors’ bios lately?

Initial. Initial. Smarmy was terminally ill from the age of two, which explains much of the philosophical trauma he endured as a child. In his teens, he established his own business, ‘Nightshade Window Treatments,’ from which a friendly cult began, dedicated to educating others about the advantages of poisonous vegetation. A part-time volunteer for the Association for the Beautification of Carnivorous Reptiles, he paints abstract portraits on crocodile teeth to help raise funds and awareness. He has a pet platypus that travels with him to book signings because ‘Curby’ won’t sleep unless he’s wrapped in Smarmy’s silk scarf. Smarmy always wears this scarf; it marks his triumph over his 14-year addiction to Ace of Base.

Okay, I would love to read this in a real bio. My own will include my short stint as a bad fortune-teller and my award for being the worst slob at camp. But I can’t compete. Padawan training, you are my only hope.

When Tolkien Met Ivanhoe & Turned Me into Doctor Frankenstein

When I began writing Dragonfly Prince, I was recovering from an abysmal first attempt at fantasy. I was 25 chapters into a story set in a medieval times alternate universe sans Catholic influence. (Ever tried omitting Catholic influence from the Middle Ages? Ha!) My challenge was to merge the Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Little Mermaid, Hansel and Gretel, and Rapunzel archetypes into a seamless tale of tragedy, mystery, sorcery and heroism. My mission was to follow multiple male and female protagonists of different races who would discover their strengths and rise above their harsh circumstances, forming alliances to bring a new era of peace. I named it, “Daughters of the King’s Forest.” I fed the story with a caboodle of research, and it grew and grew to epic proportions. Then it wanted more.

Colin Clive and Boris Karloff - Frankenstein (1931)

It wanted created languages and descriptive background stories. It wanted clever riddles. It was like Tolkien meets Ivanhoe, who saves Little Red Riding Hood. I even developed a renga for the dwarves – which were giants because that made them more intimidating to the Snow White character. If you’re not familiar with a renga, it is a genre of social poetry; it requires more than one participant. And there I was, writing a poem by myself that relies on the filters and experiences of multiple contributors to make the transitional passages unique. I was becoming Doctor Frankenstein, mad in my drive to make my story-monster live.

I pushed back from my desk one day and realized I was not enjoying the story anymore. So, I quit. I think it’s okay to quit. Mainly because I did it. And you can do it, too. (This is the motivational portion of my blog today.)

Then I panicked. I’d just devoted hours and hours of my busy life to what I’d planned to be my magnum opus, only to find it was epic alright: Epic fail. I couldn’t even read through it myself, so you know how bad that is. I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, I was staring into the sluggish, burping pit of Mordor, watching the story I’d been lugging around for months melt away. I was painfully aware of the emptiness it left behind; my mind kept returning to it out of habit. What could I do to make it go away? Give up writing?

It was around October when I went back to the drawing board to revamp my goals. For this I am very thankful because most of the writers’ forums were ablaze with “Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?” Thank you, NaNoWriMo, for existing because, though I’ve never participated in writing a 50K story in one month, you gave me an idea. I decided to try my own NaNo-like challenge. I thought it would be more reasonable for me to try for 40K by writing a 5-7 pages twice a week for 2 to 3 months. My story was going to be set in an author-created environment – no research required. There was to be no background story. My main characters were going to be normal people – no valiant knights and magic-wielding witches. Immediately, I thought, “I can handle this.” The challenge was to keep it simple and hit my goal, forget about that greatest-masterpiece-ever-composed stuff. I just had to write, like the NaNoWriMo site advises.

To keep myself accountable, I posted it in a generic category on Fanfiction. Those who contributed to the 400+ reviews for the rough draft chapters of Dragonfly Prince know what happened. And if that’s all the recognition my story ever receives, I’m really okay with that. Some of the most intelligent, supportive reviewers picked it up and ran with it. I started seeing traits in other stories in that category, obvious spin-offs of the environment I’d introduced. How cool is the influence of being a writer? Very.

So, the moral is: If at first you don’t succeed, you might be overcomplicating things. Consider a quick check in the mirror for telltale signs. Have you been sporting the mad scientist look lately?