You missed me, didn’t you?
Well, I missed you, and here I am. Back from the NaNoWriMo trenches and already flung onto the battlefield that is Pitch Wars. Apparently I don’t like to, you know, stop for air. Air. *Pshaw* Who needs that?
NaNoWriMo went well for me this year. I didn’t reach my 50k goal because I didn’t write a single word the last week on account of kids being sick and the whole holiday rush on top of work, but I’m still feeling great about what I got out of it. Nearly 40,000 words of a very cool story that I’m excited to pursue off in the future. I didn’t write what I told you I was going to write. I threw that out early on. I’ll tell you about it sometime when I feel like beating my head against a table.
So, Pitch Wars! I submitted my four entries just moments ago, and I am jazzed. I’m taking CROW AND THE SECRETS OF THE SPIRIT WOODS on its first walk around the block since its creation and rounds of edits, and I couldn’t be more encouraged. We’ll see if any of the truly great mentors I submitted to decide they’d like to take it a few miles. If not then I’ll have one more round of edits and start querying agents. I am so looking forward to it.
‘Perseverance’ has been the word I’ve kept on repeat this past three years while I’ve been writing my heart out, piling up the rejections as I go. Maybe I’m getting close now, or maybe it will be another three years or more. Either way, I’m enjoying the process, the thrill of curious agents and the growing pile of form rejections.
I’ll keep at it.
And I hope you will too.
Yesterday I finished the 1st draft of the book I’ve been writing all summer. And I was thrilled. And I still am.
This is my 5th novel, and my 1st that fits better into the middle grade (MG) age group instead of young adult (YA). I’m a bit frustrated about this because my main characters age doesn’t quite line up with MG, but that is a post for another day.
As soon as I finished the story I sat down with a blank word document and listed out everything that I know needs editing. I quickly filled a whole page. Now I’m going to put the story aside until after NaNoWriMo and let my mind move on to other things. Like fixing the 80,000 word mess I made with my previous book (which I am utterly in love with).
Anyway, for those of you who would like a little sampling, here is the teaser for the book I just finished, Crow and the Secrets of the Spirit Woods, plus the 1st chapter. Keep in mind that this is a 1st draft. I did not clean it up or fill it out for you (and it needs lots of filling out). But it’s a good start. For me. Enjoy!
No one ventures into the haunted forest north of the village. Not unless they’re an orphan girl taken in by Crow and her band of motherless misfits. Here they have made a home for themselves among the dancing trees, the horses made by the light of the moon, the mudmaids that come with the rain, and all of the secrets which the forest keeps safe from the outside world. But their home is threatened when the townspeople become more hostile towards their way of life and a group of boys invades the woods. A white bear is stalking their camp leaving behind eerie piles of teeth, and Crow has to question if their beloved home will keep them… or kill them.
They were the children of the trees, and on the nights they were lucky, the moon would shine down on them.
And it had been many nights since they’d seen the moon.
Crow snapped twigs between her fingers. Last night’s fire had ceased to nothing more than smoldering logs, and she watched the grey smoke move through the camp. None of the other girls were up yet, and Crow wished she could say the same for herself. When her hand got to the end of the twig, she dropped the pieces and chewed her thumb nail.
A dog whined at her feet, reminding her that there were things she needed to do. Like finish packing the donkey for starters. She let out a ragged breath and looked up through the tops of the trees.
Clouds. Nothing but clouds. This was why she hated spring.
Crow set to wrapping up the rabbit furs. They’d managed a few dozen of them over the winter and she imagined they’d fetch a fair price. But it was the two deer hides and the fox fur that would bring in the most. Besides the skins, she packed the bundles of herbs, the healing salve Goss had made, bones they’d carved into beads on the days their hands could get warm, and three sacks of brec that had been roasted and ground.
Crow scold at the brec and looked back to the fire pit. On a decent day, she’d still be in bed like the other girls. Leelah would be up in two or three hours, and she would get the fire going again. By the time the sun was high past the trees and Crow was staggering out from her bed, a pot of brec would have been brewed and a cup delivered into her hands.
Not today. And she hadn’t seen the moon all week.
She grumbled to herself as loudly as she dared. There was no sense in waking the others, but still she felt someone ought to know about her suffering this morning. The donkey was the only one to hear her, and his ear only twitched.
“Come on, This.” She took hold of the donkey’s lead. “Let’s get Bell.”
The horse was back in the fields, well- field. One field, even a small one, was hard to come by in this forest. When Crow had found it it was barely more than a clearing, and it had taken her weeks to get it to what it was now, dull ax in hand. That was two years ago when she was 13.
Now she was 15, and her ax was sharp.
She saddled and bridled the horse, went over the list in her head one more time, and double-checked the sacks on the donkey. Then she stood and chewed her thumb nail. The donkey was content to stand, but Bell was an impatient horse. She fidgeted, made nervous by Crows own nerves, and her ears flicked back and forth. When she stamped a hoof, Crow shook her head at herself and climbed into the saddle on Bell’s back. They turned away from the small huts nestled in the trees and headed south.
So, this was what the forest looked like in the morning. Crow tried to remember the last time she’d been up so early. Last summer, she supposed, on one of her trips to town. She’d picked up little Jovi that day. It seemed like longer ago than it was.
Crow smiled, remembering Jovi’s curiosity, how it’d gotten the better of her. It had gotten the better of all the girls Crow had brought out into the woods; if they didn’t have enough of it, they stayed at the Mission in town.
“But those woods are haunted,” Jovi had said.
Crow remembered smiling. “Yes, but she’ll take care of you.”
“The woods. She takes care of all the orphan girls. It’s the riff-raff she keeps out.” Crow had winked when she said that. She was sure of it.
“But the orphans are the riff-raff.”
Jovi had seemed so small huddled against the wood shed that used to be her fathers. Crow had knelt down. “Not in the woods they aren’t.”
She could still see the look on Jovi’s face. Fear, sadness, loss… curiosity.
No girl ever made it into the woods who wasn’t curious.
The woods were sleeping now, just like the girls back in their huts. One groggy oak seemed to notice Crow on her quiet trek towards town and its branches reached out, stroking the top of her head.
“Just me,” Crow said, lifting her fingers to meet the new leaves that had recently pressed though. “Back to sleep with you.”
In a little over an hour, she was at the forest’s edge. Staggering black spruce went up on all sides around her, a blunt fortress against the empty field she looked out across. She could just make out the dirt road from her spot atop Bell. After another long breath, she left the safety of the trees.
The donkey perked up at the sight of so much grass, and Crow had to fight to get him down the road. When she spied the smoke that rose up above a stand of trees further ahead, she smiled. It surprised her a little. But then, she’d made it to the cabin. That was reason to be glad. She’d forget what waited for her after that.
Past the stand of trees, she took the path back to the house. The black hound was outside stretched out on the porch, telling Crow that they must be awake. Of course they’d be awake; they weren’t like the girls.
The hound caught the sound of hooves and looked up from her post. In an instant, she was bawling, and yelping, and clamoring for her footing on the old wooden boards, leaping the stairs and sprinting for Crow and her animals. Crow cringed. Was their nothing noisier than a hound?
Moments later, the front door cracked and a head looked out across the yard.
“Gwen!” he cried. “Come and look!”
The door flung wide, and the man headed down the stairs. He clapped his hands together, and smiled broad at Crow.
“Well, well,” he said as he neared her. “You’ve made it another winter. Thank our lucky stars.”
An odd expression, Crow thought, since the stars seemed to do little good other than shed their dull light. Why did no one thank the moon? Crow didn’t exactly thank anything, but if she were going to start then she would start with the moon. But then, it’s easier to thank the moon when you live in the Sprit Woods.
“Alive and well,” she said.
“And the others?”
“All good. We even got two deer.”
“And a fox.”
“Well, now! Hides whole?”
“Is there another way?”
The man laughed and slapped Bell on the neck a few times. “Very well.” He turned back to the house. “Gwen! Stop fussing and get out here!” He winked at Crow. “I’m sure she’s cleaning the house for ya. As if you’d care, ha!”
“Do you mind if I let the animals graze? Thistle is aching for some decent grass.”
“Of course, of course. C’mon, I’ll help ya.”
When the animals were settled in a grassy corral, the man lead Crow into the little cabin. Gwen was stoking the fire in her wood stove to a roar, and her checks were flush with excitement.
“Corra,” she said. “Look at you. How you’ve grown!” She grabbed Crow by the arm and pulled her to her chest. Crow was not one for hugs, but fighting Gwen was hopeless. The women had maybe a hundred pounds on her, plus she was relentless.
“Crow,” she managed to say. She was being pressed too hard to fill her lungs properly. “You know I go by Crow.”
“Oh, nonsense.” Gwen pushed back and started fussing over Crow’s hair. “Your mother named ya Corra.”
Crow batted her hands away. “Yeah, but Dad called me Crow.”
Gwen gave a humph. “You’re skinny. I’ve already stared the batter for the cookies. John, milk the cow, will ya?”
Crow smiled. “The girls are as eager for them as ever.”
This was just was Gwen wanted to hear. “Good.”
Soon Crow was stuffed on Gwen’s hash, the best she’d ever had, and two mugs full of brec, her saving grace. The cookies were just emerging from the big cast iron oven, and dozens were set to cool on various counter tops. The girls would rip their guts with them later, that Crow was sure of.
“Now, don’t let the girls eat them too quickly,” Gwen said as she slid another tray in on the rack.
“ ‘Course,” Crow lied. Her fidgeting had returned. “I suppose I should get a move on before the morning gets away from me.”
John looked up from wood piece he was carving. “I suppose you should. Listen, Crow, I have to tell ya. The villagers aren’t happy with ya taking the little one out there.”
Crow nodded and watched the dregs of brec she swirled at the bottom of her mug. “Jovi.”
“That’s the one. They’re bound to give you a bad time.”
Crow gritted her teeth and thought about Kip. Kip was not even a full year older than Jovi, yet no one had cared a lick when she’d brought her out. She almost said something about it to John but fought it back. That was different, and she knew it. She kicked back the grounds in her mug and stood up. “So long as they buy my skins.”
The phone was ringing, so I checked the caller I.D.
It only took a moment for my mind to put together that ‘N’ and ‘Y’, and as soon as the realization hit, fear took over. I went from just fine to sick-to-my-stomach-with-dread.
NY. New York. It could only mean one thing.
A call from New York might not strike you as fear-inducing, but then you might not be in the process of querying agents either. I am, and I’m not above confessing that I’ve been petrified for most of it. When I hit the ‘send’ button on my first query… I freaked. When I had an agent tell me that she liked my premise and first chapter then request the whole manuscript… I fell on the ground and wanted nothing more than a deep hole to crawl into. When I saw that ‘N’ and that ‘Y’ on my caller I.D…. I wished to myself that I’d never EVER sent out a query letter to begin with.
My hands were shaking. I took the phone. As much as I didn’t want to, I hit the green button.
It was my mother-in-law. She was calling from her home phone. In Minnesota.
I mean, is God getting bored or what?
It took me a good fifteen minutes to recover from my mother-in-law’s phone call, and I realized just how afraid I was to move forward with my book. In church last Sunday we had a guest speaker. He told us that he was once horribly afraid of public speaking. You know what he said he did? He did it scared. His advice to us when we need to do something but are afraid: Do it scared.
Do it scared.
I want an agent. I want a book deal. I love telling stories and want a career in writing books.
Writing comforts me; it also pushes me to do things I’ve never done before.
So, I’m going to do it scared. And you know what? I queried another agent this morning and didn’t freak out at all. Querying no longer feels new or scary. I’m comfortable with it. And I’m trusting that one day I’ll be comfortable on the phone with an agent, an editor, even Harper-freaking-Collins!
Right now I just need to do it scared.