dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

MorrigansCurse_REV coverI have never been a runner, but I am guessing that as runners near the finish line of a race, they don’t look back to see how far they’ve come. They have their eye on the goal. But as a writer, I often find it instructive to look back at my process. This month, I’ve been working on a second round of revisions for The Morrigan’s Curse with my editor. Yes, there will still be copy-editing and proof-reading to do, but for all intents and purposes, I am approaching the finish line for this book.

Looking back through my files, I saw that I started the first draft of this book (originally titled THE GIRL OF CROWS) in November of 2013. That’s right. 2013 — before the first book in the series, The Eighth Day, was even published and out on the shelves. This is something I posted at Project Middle Grade Mayhem back when I was just about to get started:

***

Dianne: Hello, team! Glad to have you all back for Book 3 in this series – and to the new characters, welcome. I assume you’ve seen the proposed outline for the next book, and you know I’m not very good with outlines. But after two books, we’re used to working together, so I figure you’ll know where I’m going astray.

Jax: Well, there’s something majorly wrong with the climax. In the first book, we saved the world. I mean, the Villain was “this close” to succeeding. And in the second book, you went for more personal stakes. I mean, there was plenty of exciting stuff … my identity was in question, and Riley and Evangeline’s lives were in danger …

Riley: Yeah, he’s right. Personal stakes were fine for Book 2, but in Book 3, we’ve got to get back to saving the world.

Dianne: But the New Villain has a pretty evil plan …

Evangeline: And, according to this outline, we stop him while he’s still three or four steps away from succeeding at it. That’s not very scary.

Dianne: I see your point.

New Character (Name Withheld): If you let the New Villain take things further, he’s going to have to involve me. I’m going to have to make up my mind which side I’m on. Won’t that solve the problem you’re having with my character arc?

Dianne: You’re right. It will.  Great idea!

New Villain: I object to my cartoonish nature. You did everything but give me a cape to swoop and a mustache to twirl. Can’t you provide me with some depth?

Dianne: Not in the outline, buster. You’re going to have to develop your personality on the page, just like everybody else here.

Riley: Yeah. You should have seen how she had me planned in her outline for Book 1. But I set her straight by the end of the first draft.

Secondary Character (Name Withheld, but maybe you can guess): Hey, I have a complaint. I don’t even show up until the middle of the book. I was beginning to think I didn’t have a part!

Dianne: We couldn’t have a story without you! Readers simultaneously love you and want to strangle you.

Secondary Character: But after you bring me in, I’ve got nothing to do. I don’t even see my name mentioned in the climax!

Dianne: I didn’t know how I was going to use you in the climax of Book 1, but I brought you along for the ride – and when the time came, I discovered your purpose. Trust me. You’re my wild card. When it’s time to use you, I’ll know.

Secondary Character 2 (Name Also Withheld): Now it’s my turn to complain. What’s this about me possibly dying?!

Dianne: It’s the third book. There should be casualties. We can’t just kill off bad guys and lose none of our own. What do you think this is, the Twilight series?

Secondary Character 2: But why me? Do you know how many times I’ve saved your heroes or bailed them out of trouble?

Dianne: That’s kind of why you have to go.

Riley: Don’t kill this person off for the sake of our character arcs. None of us want to take the rap for that!

Jax: I don’t think it’s fair for you to kill anyone as a cheap emotional trick.

Secondary Character 2: I don’t want to be the All is Lost Moment!

Dianne: I wouldn’t waste you like that. If you go, it will be a Turning Point – a Courageous Sacrifice for your friends. Otherwise, I won’t do it. Deal?

Secondary Character 2: All right. Either I go out in a Blaze of Glory – or I survive. Deal.

Jax: Hey, the ending scene is perfect.  Good job there.

Dianne: That’s what we’re working toward, then. That ending. Okay, folks. Let me mull over the World Stakes Climax, and we’ll meet back here for Chapter 1 in a couple days. We can do this. Right?

***

Looking back on this is pretty funny to me now. I don’t remember all this uncertainty! I can’t even remember what the original climax was supposed to be — the one that wasn’t very good because the villain never got close to succeeding. I’m really proud of the one I wrote instead. As for the fate of Secondary Character 2 … I’m not going to reveal it here. Everything became clear as I wrote the story. There are casualties. But they may not be the ones I was originally considering.

This is why, for me, outlining is never as useful as actually writing that first draft. Painful as it is, it’s the only way I can figure everything out. And that’s always helpful for me to remember when I’m in the agonizing throes of drafting.

How often do you look back at your process? Do you ever find little gems like this post that remind you how far you’ve come?

I’m over at Project Middle Grade Mayhem today, talking about why flaws and mistakes create a middle grade hero kids can relate to. This is part of an ongoing series on Project Mayhem called Heroes and Villains.

There are a few previous posts you may want to check out, including mine on antagonists, Matthew McNish’s discussion of villain archetypes, and one called Villains are People Too by editor/author Harrison Demchick. Check out the series HERE.

Have an idea that would fit right in? Talk to me about guest posting for Project Mayhem.

Speaking of middle grade fiction, there are a couple days left for you to enter to win an e-book of Sherrie Petersen’s Wish You Weren’t. See the post directly below this one!

Happy Monday, everyone.

Last week kicked my butt.  It was parent conference week (which followed not only end-of-trimester grading and report card data entry, but also the first round of state tests). I worked 12 hours on Monday, with about an hour off for dinner, and also had to work Wednesday night. We had 2 hours comp time on both Thursday and Friday, but somehow that didn’t help.
So, if you didn’t see me around, that was why.
If you happen to read/write MG fiction, you might want to leave here and hop over to Project Mayhem to read about my little experiment with my class. I set up some group discussions on what gets MG readers interested in a book. You might be surprised by the answers.
If MG isn’t your thing, stay here a bit and help me out. I need some books to read on my Killington trip later this week and could use some recommendations. I’m in the mood for a thriller. Adult or YA. I’d love something like Gretchen McNeil’s TEN or Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL. I’m not adverse to a good dystopian or apocalyptic book, either, as long as it’s out of the ordinary.
Somewhere in the blur of the last couple weeks, I also got a sneak peek at the Kirkus review for THE CAGED GRAVES. The whole review is not available for public viewing yet, but I can share this bit with you:
When an inquisitive teen returns to her birthplace to meet her fiancé, she uncovers a bizarre mystery surrounding her mother’s grave, unleashing disturbing buried secrets. Salerni grounds her story in local Revolutionary War lore, creates a spirited heroine with enough self-reflection to feel convincing, and crafts a suspenseful plot that skirts sensationalism. This unusual romantic mystery stands out.”

Yay! Now I just have to wait for some of the other big name reviews to come in – School Library Journal, Booklist, VOYA, etc. Heart-in-mouth time …

Martin Luther King dreamed of sweeping social reform.
Some of us have smaller, more personal dreams, and for many of my blogging friends, it’s the dream of being published. 
If you’re a middle grade writer with a manuscript ready for querying, then you need to visit Project Mayhem today where there is an awesome contest going on – just for MG.
Michael Winchell is organizing the contest. He and Shannon O’Donnell are taking submissions of queries and first pages until Thursday. They will each choose 3 submissions and request more pages, looking for a promising manuscript that would interest their agents: Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group and Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary. Michael and Shannon will each send one winner’s manuscript on to their agent with their personal recommendation.
Some of the other Team Mayhem authors have offered up secondary prizes, such as a query critique by Matt McNish and a three chapter critique from me.
Best of luck to everyone who enters, and special thanks to Mike Winchell for the idea!
In other news,
a) I’ve still got one spot open in February for a first page critique.
b) THE CAGED GRAVES is one of Richie’s Picks on the Rutgers Children’s Lit newsletter.
c) I will have some awesome stuff to share on Wednesday about the SPIRIT GAME short film.
d) I skied the heck out of Jack Frost Mountain in Blakeslee, PA this weekend. In fact, depending on when you read this post, I might still be doing it.