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Revision Xibalba

While I’ve been blogging mostly about Vicki and “dream writing” this week, the real “work” I’ve been doing is Revision Xibalba.  I got the revision letter from my new editor at Carina Press last week and a deadline of 2/28, so I’m rocking and rolling through her notes.  Vicki is actually my cookie at the end of the day for a job well done.  Er, hopefully well done.

So I guess it’s only fair that I talk about revision process too, right?  Holly Lisle has made the “one-pass revision” her bread and butter.  I can’t think off-hand of any other author who has blogged about their revision process (if you know of any useful resources, shout them out).  So here’s a bit about what I’ve been doing this week.

Of course, the HOW depends on WHAT the changes actually are.  I’m not working on the line-edit phase yet, correcting typos, answering the copy-editor’s notes about eye-color change or questioning the word choice with a suggestion.  No, this is high-level revision, and quite honestly, pretty tough.  I can’t just point to one little spot, make the change, and be done.  Several scenes have to be touched, and tiny changes here affect changes deeper in the story.  I have to keep things consistent and tight, while still addressing the issues.

First:  read the revision letter, all the way through.  Then put it away for a day or two and just think about it.  Let all the comments soak in.  Rumminate.  See what makes sense, organize any questions or comments on paper.  I did so, and by Sunday, I had a plan of attack in my mind.

It’s deceptive to see a little bullet or short paragraph like “make sure you continue the heroine’s wry sense of humor all the way through–it sort of disappears near the end.”  (Not a direct quote – just a paraphrase.)  My first thought was oh.  Didn’t I do that?  I thought I did.  Hmmm.  I should read a few passages in the last third or so and see. 

Second.  Read the manuscript (at least sections).  Look for trends and patterns the editor has pointed out.

Oh.  Yeah.  I started to see patterns where I had the wry humor coming from the wrong character.  Or I could expand Jaid’s dialogue or introspection just a bit and make it bigger. 

Third:  Fix.  Maybe not as easy as it sounds.

Fix Phase 1.  Doubt.  I wasn’t really trying to make Jaid funny at all.  I had this sudden surge of distress and doubt.  OMG, how can I make this funny?  Wry humor, what is that?  I did it on accident!  I swear!

Fix Phase 2:  I read the beginning of the book and jotted a few examples of where I thought Jaid had been slightly funny or self-depreciating.  I had several examples.  Again, I started to see patterns, lines of subtle humor that had been laid down at the beginning and never mentioned again.  Dropped threads, missed opportunities. 

Hello, she’s the Un-Indiana Jones.  I made a big deal about this a couple of times in the first half of the manuscript.  Yet when she’s actually racing through the jungle, chased by demons, and nearly drowning in a dark cave, I never once had her go hmmm, maybe grading and lecturing isn’t so bad.

Fix Phase 3. Go through manuscript and watch for slight moments of humor.  Make sure it’s centralized with Jaid.  Amplify if it makes sense.  Watch for moments of high action followed by a quiet moment.  See if it makes sense to drop in a comment.  Mention “Un-Indiana Jones” at least one or more times in the high action events of the climax to bring it all together.

Yay, one bullet done!  How many more do I have to make? *groans*

Actually, I’m almost done.  The humor one was one of the hardest to fix (other than the name change), because I had that moment of panic.  Last night, I had to fix the reunion with Jaid’s father.  I’d totally gone off the deep end in the last revision (to make it romance) and the sap was just oozing all over everywhere.  Ugh.  I think I made it more realistic, and even opened myself up for all sorts of good stuff in the next book.

Final:  Once I make all the changes, I’ll create a new copy of the manuscript just for me.  I’ll accept all the changes, delete any comments, and read it one more time.  I actually prefer to use Google Mail’s “read as html” option for this phase (which is why I remove the comments).  Seeing it outside a Word doc just gives me more clean space to see how it’s really going to read.

This gives me the chance to look for formatting problems (sometimes it’s hard to see paragraph breaks when Track Changes are on), as well as check the flow and make sure I didn’t break anything. 

So by the time this revision pass is all over, I bet I’ll have read the manuscript AGAIN at least five more times.  I’ll read it at least one more time for the copy-edit phase, and we may have more than one revision pass before we get there.

So yeah, “one-pass revision” just doesn’t work for me.

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The Bloodgate Codex Blurb

I’m sure this will change many times before everything’s finalized, but this will give you an idea of what Ruin and Jaid’s book is about.  I might have to have a contest to get help in coming up with a world/series title!

Called “Ruin” because he destroyed his entire civilization, the Gatekeeper is sworn to kill anyone who tampers with the Bloodgates, which are portals to the mystical realms of the Maya gods.  After countless centuries, he believes his curse will end with the current calendar cycle — until humans discover the ruins of his city on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, and unbury the last copy of a codex detailing his magic. 
When Dr. Jaid Merritt’s partial translation of the codex accidentally sends her father to Xibalba through one of these Bloodgates and releases demons from the Maya hell, the “Un-Indiana Jones” is forced to face her fears and travel to Guatemala on her first dig in twenty years. 
To save her father, Jaid must survive the Gatekeeper’s wrath and help Ruin reclaim — and relock — the Bloodgates before the bowels of Xibalba empty into our world.

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Adrian Paul, Clive Owen, and Dwayne Johnson were in my office. 

Okay, okay, it was actually Gregar, Conn, and Ruin.  Gregar and Conn were shooting the bull so loudly that I could barely read my e-mail.  Gregar had challenged Conn to an arse competition–something I would pay a great deal of money to see, actually–but Ruin moped in the chair beside me.
He arched that infamous Rock brow at me.  “So?”
“I don’t think they like your name.”
He blew out his breath in a miserable huff and slumped even further in his chair.  “I told you Ruin was a stupid name.”
I rolled my eyes.  Yeah, sure he did (remember?).  “Your real name isn’t much better.”
He jerked upright and glared at me.  “What’s wrong with Dwayne?”
“Nothing.”  I smiled innocently.  “Your real name is Xbalanque.”

“Bless you,” Gregar called out. 

Ruin flipped him the bird. “What else did they say?”

“That I killed you one too many times.”

He groaned like I was murdering him with my bare hands. “You didn’t give me a happy ending?”

Gregar smirked. “She does enjoy killing us off.”

“Some of you can’t die,” I retorted. “No matter how many times I kill you.”

“A Death Rider never stops, never quits, until his mark is dead.”

“Shut up, bub.”  Ruin growled, flexing his bare chest to draw my attention to the tats marking his arms and throat like the dark spots of a jaguar.  “This isn’t about you.”

Laughing, Gregar bent over and slapped his thighs as though the other man had made a great joke. “It’s always about me.”

Hope may vanish, but can die not;” Conn quoted his favorite poet.  “Truth be veiled, but still it burneth; Love repulsed, – but it returneth.

Ruin leaned forward, gathering himself like a great cat preparing to pounce.  “What the Xibalba does that mean?”

“Win some, lose some,” Conn drawled.

Gregar jerked his hips so the memsha fluttered dangerously high.  “Challenge me, lose them all.”

Shadows thickened about Ruin.  Snarling, he crouched.  His eyes glowed like lamps in the darkest jungle night.  “You do know that I can crack open your chest and remove your heart while it’s still beating, right?”
“Bring your blood, bub,” Gregar purred, unsheathing his ivory rahke.
Of course, this was all just fun and games for warriors like him and Ruin, but I decided to put an end to the dramatics.  My coffee was getting cold, and Conn couldn’t wait to get back to grading his stack of Freshman essays on dead dudes who write crappy poetry.
[Conn glared at me as though he could read my mind.]
“Enough, already.  There will be no exploding chests or blood sacrifices, at least not today.  You have your happy ending–I already fixed it–although we may still have to change your name.  Let’s wait and see what the editor says when we get the first round of edits.”
The taunts and growls suddenly ceased and three pairs of eyes drilled into me. 
Ruin straightened, all thoughts of blood magic forgotten.  “What did you say?”
I smiled.  “I got the call from Angela James.  Your paranormal Romance is going to Carina Press!”

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The Best Damned Story I Can Write…Today

This morning, I reached a place in this writing journey that I’ve never been before.

Awhile back there was some blog storm about when a story should be submitted.  Jessica Faust at BookEnds wrote that Good Enough is Never Enough, and obsessive-compulsive writers everywhere panicked.  At the time, I totally agreed with Jessica.  I would never send out less than PERFECT work, but I also realize that perfect today is not what I will be able to write in a year or more. 

Heh, at one time I was perfectly happy with a little story titled “My Beloved Barbarian” and proudly sent it off to an RWA contest, only to be mortified when the judge sheets came back.  Head hopping?  What’s that?  You mean, the horse can’t have its own point of view?  *wails*


Personally, I’m always driven.  I’m in a rush to finish, and submit.  Now, not yesterday.  NOW! Go go GO!  However, I’m also painfully obsessive about making sure the work is my best. 

If you’ve been reading here long, you know that I’ve been struggling with the Maya story.  I’ve already detailed its long painful history, but suffice it to say that I just couldn’t get the blasted thing RIGHT.  Every time I thought it was done, I decided it needed yet another revision pass.  I’ve spent months in Revision Xibalba since the first draft in 2007, toiling over massive, painful revisions or struggling to whip out a synopsis that captured the spirit of the story.  I felt trapped in Xibalba myself — constantly drowning in this imperfect project that I simply couldn’t get off my back. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love this story, absolutely.  It’s a total heart-wrencher and satisfies my personal craving for Story and Mythology; however, even though it’s one of the most complex and rich stories I’ve written, I could not get it to a place where I felt like I could really say I was finished.

After at least four major revision passes and four different attempts at a synopsis, I made my declaration yesterday:  Synopsis or Death!  I wrote out that synopsis in painful, brutal detail, refusing to go to bed until a cohesive draft was prepared.  Nearly two full packs of index cards met their death in the attempt.

Braced for the worst, I re-read my synopsis this morning.  I made a few slight changes.

And then I kicked that blasted submission package out of the nest with the first query.

Yes, friends, I reached a point where I was so sick of a story that I knew it was time to let it fly, or crash and burn.  If I polish the manuscript one more time, I think its obsidian-mirrored shine will simply rub off.  If I dink around with the synopsis again, I’m going to cut out my own heart and offer it as bloody sacrifice at the peak of the pyramid.

It’s the best damned story I can write today, and so, farewell blithe spirit.  I wish thee safe travels out in the scary wilds of Queryland.  May your hunt for Agent be fruitful.

It’s time for me to move on.

Victor, here’s fair warning that Gregar and I are coming.  We’re coming for YOU.

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Synopsis Hell

If I can just get this blasted synopsis written, then The Bloodgate Codex is ready and waiting to go out and face the cold, cruel world once more.  I’ve never enjoyed the synopsis, but this one is proving harder than usual.

Maybe because I’m still iffy in my head about what genre this story actually is.  You would laugh, seriously.  I set out to write an Urban Fantasy. Nope, didn’t make it.  Since I’ve gotten rather tired of the kick-ass heroine, vamp, werewolf triangle–or some permutation there in with demons, witches, whatever–I tried to change it more for my personal reading taste–and ended up a long ways from UF.

So then I started calling this story a Paranormal Romance.  Nope, BGC ends on a cliffhanger, and although it’s a very romantic, heart-wrenching act, it is not “happily ever after.”  Plus, the book just isn’t as steamy as what I typically write.  Only one big O scene, if you know what I mean, and only after at least 250 pages.  [I think all will eventually end well, never fear; it just won’t happen in this book.  I’m too much of a sap not to give the good guys a happy ending.  Eventually.]

So then I thought, what the hell did I write?  Contemporary Fantasy? It’s strong  in fantasy, yes.  Tons of Maya mythology.  But it doesn’t exactly feel like a fantasy.  It sort of feels like Science Fiction (the original inspiration was Stargate), but it’s definitely MAGIC that powers the world, not SCIENCE.

May suggested Thriller.  *I always hear Michael Jackson’s Thriller when I type that*  I was like, huh?  Seriously?  Yeah, I balked, until she reminded me of some of the Preston/Childs books I’d read and enjoyed.  I could see some similarities there.  So I punted and agreed.  However, I didn’t think about “suspense” so much when I wrote the book, so that required another revision pass to try and make it as tense and thriller-like as possible.

It’s got a rather large cast, three major plot lines not counting the romantic thread, lots of bad guys, and even Melville references.  [I’m sure I’ll take a hit on that one but he’s not a professor this time!  No Shakespeare.] The plot stretches across Texas, Guatemala, and the Yucatan.  Ironically, it’s all in the same time zone.  (You laugh, but I had it in my silly little head that surely Guatemala was in a different time zone than Dallas, TX.  Nope.)

Because this really isn’t a romance, my normal synopsis methodology isn’t working for me.  I can’t describe one plot line without bringing in the other two threads, which means introducing those POV characters, which complicates everything exponentially.  It’s so much easier in a romance to introduce the heroine/hero and maybe the antagonist and that’s it!  I can’t even easily introduce the antagonist because there are so many LAYERS of bad guys.  Let me count:  1 cursed warrior with no heart, 2 betrayers, 3 demons loose,  more demons trapped in hell and dying to get out, one crazy cancer patient, and his wealthy powerful friend determined to save him at any cost.  Did I miss anybody?

Crazy, I know, complicated, messy and yet…..I found myself reading it eagerly last night, savoring the twists and complexities.  I haven’t written anything quite like it before.  Which I know is bad in a whole different way, but this book PUSHED me.  In a good way.  I have the spreadsheets and diagrams to prove it.  :shock:

So I’m trying a new synopsis method outlined here, only I think I’ll have to introduce the two other POV characters and highlight their plot threads too, or the final resolution makes no sense whatsoever.  Yes, this calls for index cards, colored pens, and maybe Post-It Notes.  Be very afraid.

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Revision Xibalba II

So here are a few of the details that I’ll be tackling this week in the Maya story. 

  1. Opening scene:  clarify the whole “video taping” element.  Smooth the dialogue so it’s not quite so stilted.  Goal:  eliminate reader confusion about what’s happening.  DONE last night.
  2. Opening scenes with Jaid and Geoffrey:  remove the office break-in element entirely.  Remove the missing Chilam Balam book entirely.  Build tension between how she “ought” to feel and reality.  Goal: make Jaid a bit more sympathetic.  DONE last night.
  3. Set up the home break-in element completely differently.  No obvious break-in when she and Geoffrey arrive.  Goal: make Jaid less callous and remove any chance at all for TSTL comments for going into a house unarmed that has obviously been burglarized.  DONE last night.
  4. Move the video viewing element from late 1/3 book up to this point.  Jaid will see her father disappear, see the hints of magic.  Goal:  better explain why she goes to Guatemala, buy in, motivation, etc.  IN PROGRESS.
  5. Quinn’s first scene:  clean up FBI procedure a bit.  Goal: remove doubts to Quinn’s competency.  DONE last night.
  6. Use setting to play off Jaid’s memory of the accident.  Goal:  add subtle tension.
  7. Increase tension in dialogue between Jaid and Reyes.  She knows, but doesn’t believe; he believes, but needs to keep everything secret.  Goal:  racket up that “info-dump” scene with subtext tension.
  8. Reyes:  WHY does he believe?  Goal: specific details in his past to anchor his motivations.
  9. Jaid and Sam: build torn emotions, conflicting emotions.  Goal: racket emotional tension.
  10. Revise the scene with Madelyn to remove the missing Chilam Balam thread.  Play off substitute mother threats/Cinderella aspect instead.  Goal: continuity and tension.
  11. Increase technology in Venus Star, longer descriptive passages.  Goal: ground the reader better and bring tech to near future.
  12. Remove the video scene with Jaid and Ruin — smooth corresponding hole.  Goal: continuity.
  13. Read as a “thriller” instead of “contemporary fantasy” and evaluate tension.  Goal: racket up tension at every point, whether emotional or external stakes.

Deadline:  by next Monday so I can return to queries.  That means I also need to revise the synopsis and eyeball the query again.

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Maya Blurb Retake Retake

I think I’m really, really close.  Thank you to Rene for her question — I think this one is even stronger.

Called “Ruin” because he destroyed his entire civilization, the Gatekeeper is sworn to kill anyone who tampers with the Bloodgates – portals to the mystical realms of the Maya gods. When Dr. Jaid Merritt’s partial translation of a codex accidentally sends her father to Xibalba through one of these Gates and releases demons from the Maya hell, the “Un-Indiana Jones” is forced to face her fears and travel to Guatemala on her first dig in twenty years. To save her father, she must survive the Gatekeeper’s wrath and help Ruin reclaim — and relock — the Bloodgates before the bowels of Xibalba empty into our world.

Aside, Kait asked about whether I should be using “Mayan” or “Maya.”  According to my references, “Mayan is used to refer to the language; otherwise, the adjective or noun Maya is used.  Mesoamericans today speak many languages (not “dialects,” as they are often called erronenously), as did their Precolumbian predecessors.”  From An Illustrated Dictionary of The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. 

If you’re interested, other research books I used for this project include:

  • Popol Vuh
  • The Ancient Maya
  • The Code of Kings
  • The Blood of Kings
  • Reading the Maya Glyphs
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Maya Blurb Retake

I hereby declare that May the Queen of Blurbs! 

Last night she patiently helped me tear and paste and scribble until we came up with a revised blurb for the Maya fantasy.  My beloved Sis also made a few important tweaks that I think help a lot — which Soleil also agreed with.  So it *does* take a village!

What do you think of this one?

Called “Ruin” because he destroyed his entire civilization, the Gatekeeper is sworn to kill anyone who tampers with the Bloodgates — portals to the mystical realms of the Maya gods.  When Dr. Jaid Merritt’s partial translation of a codex accidentally sends her father to Xibalba through one of these Gates and releases demons from the Maya hell, the “Un-Indiana Jones” is forced to face her fears and travel to Guatemala on her first dig in twenty years.  Together, Jaid and Ruin must reclaim – and relock – the Bloodgates before the bowels of Xibalba empty into our world.

A huge thank you to everyone who’s already commented.  Keep up the feedback – I greatly appreciate it!

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Maya Fantasy Blurb

Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath.  Smell the coffee brewing, fresh, crisp books, and stories just waiting to be read?  Great.  Open your eyes and pretend this blurb is on the back of one of those books.  Would you want to read the story?  Opinions and feedback welcomed.

The working title was NIGHT SUN RISING but now that I’m in the query stage, I’ve been calling it THE BLOODGATE CODEX.  Which do you like better?

Epigrapher Dr. Jaid Merritt is known as the “Un-Indiana Jones” on campus, but when her father disappears, she follows him to Guatemala with the ancient codex he discovered.  In the ruins of the city once called the Mouth of Creation, she learns that the fables she’s been translating are frighteningly real:  there really are “Bloodgates” to the mystical realms of the Maya gods, her father disappeared through one of these portals, and in the process, he accidentally released demons bent on human sacrifice.  Now she must find a way to save him, force the demons back to Xibalba, and survive the wrath of the werejaguar priest who guards the magic as the Gatekeeper.