Posts tagged Alone
The Guardian recently published an article about illness in young adult novels.
You can read it by clicking here. In that Guardian article, Jessica Honnor supports more realism in YA novels, arguing that writing about illness can have positive impact on young patients, as well as healthy readers. She also asks for survivor characters.
So… since she asked for it, I present Alex Wolfe in Alone.
Alone is a contemporary YA story of an orphaned high school senior forced to live with his resentful guardian. And while he waits for his eighteenth birthday, when the guardianship will expire, he’s diagnosed with Leukemia. He struggles to fight cancer while his acidic aunt regards him as a cancer in her house.
My Name is Alex.
Today is my eighteenth birthday.
I have a decision to make.
Alex Wolfe wakes in a hospital to find himself injured and orphaned. He’s alone. Per the will, guardianship is given to the only remaining members of his family: his mother’s brother and overly-religious, strictly-reared aunt. While Uncle Dan welcomes Alex into their family, Aunt Eve resents every moment Alex lives in her house.
Alex deals with the pain of his injuries as he tries to adjust to his new life, having been forced to leave his friends behind. He accepts the help of his cousin, James, to orient him to the streets and businesses in Bakersfield, but cannot possibly hang out with a junior and his bible-study friends. Thankfully, he finds a new friend, Olivia, to help him with student life in his new high school.
Once school starts, Alex settles into a routine. He hangs out with his new friends, texts his old friends, and studies hard in school to maintain grades for college admission. But on Halloween night, Alex is diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. While Olivia, James, and Uncle Dan support Alex, giving him the strength and encouragement he needs to fight the cancer inside him, Aunt Eve silently rejects Alex as if his presence is a cancer in her house.
While enduring the pain and side-effects of chemotherapy, chemotherapy that is working, Alex tries to plan his future. He struggles, balancing the need to be close to his friends and James for inspiration and motivation with the desire to leave the house in which he’s not wanted. He solicits opinions and advice from the people he trusts, the people who care.
Alex comes to realize that he’s caught in a perfect storm from the past. It’s not his fault, but he’s left to cope with his aunt, exposed to the bitter feelings she holds towards his deceased parents, particularly his mother. As his eighteenth birthday approaches, when the guardianship will expire, Alex must decide if he should stay or go.
Ultimately, it’s Aunt Eve’s action that leads Alex to his final decision.
My novel, which is semi-autobiographical, shows the pain that Leukemia patients experience when diagnosed and when treated. It also illustrates how positive encourage and constant reinforcement from doctors, friends, and family help the patient to face the pain of the diagnosis and chemotherapy and defeat cancer. And it reveals the effects on the patient–stress, depression–when a family member or close friend does not provide the needed support. Alone is a positive cancer story with a winning character that I hope YA readers will enjoy.
P.S. I am currently seeking representation for my novel and I hope it will be published soon.
This is an addendum to an earlier post…
Okay, I thought that the fourth version of my manuscript for Alone would be enough. Four ought to do it, right? Um, sorry.
After I hacked off a limb, cutting somewhere around 23,000 words to get sort of close to the magic number of 90,000, I actually gave my MS to a critique reviewer–another set of eyes. (Don’t laugh at me. I know I’m not the brightest bulb, the sharpest knife, etc., but I’d like to think that I’m at least learning.) After her review, my critique partner said, “There’s something missing. There’s more to Alex than what I’m reading. I need to learn more about him.” She was correct. I had cut a huge portion of the action and dialogue from the beginning of the story, so… I had to bring some back. After pasting words back in and cutting others, I finally got to 92,500 for the fifth draft. But I knew I had to lose another 10 pages at least. So… another round of critique. I sent the MS to my first partner and also added a second partner. Both liked the story, the second partner “really liked it”, and both helped me improve the pace and remove the unnecessary parts. So that’s where I’m at: the sixth draft version containing just under 88,000 words.
So, is that enough editing? Obviously not for publishing. A professional will have lots of ideas to clean my MS. Can I cut more? A lot more? I don’t know. I don’t think so. (Yeah, yeah, all authors say that and they’re wrong. I get it.) But in order to cut another 50-100 pages, I’ll have to lose the complexity–the “perfect storm” aspect of my book. Let me explain…
Alone is not only a story of an orphaned high school senior forced to relocate to the home of his guardians–one of whom deeply resents the guardianship, but it is also the story of Alex’s battle against cancer. The novel cannot be one or the other. I cannot separate the two. Without the cancer, there is no need for any sort of parental support for Alex. On his eighteenth birthday, Alex could tell his aunt to f&*^ off and leave. There would not be much to that story. Because of the cancer, he can’t easily walk out the door. He needs the people around him to care, to help him battle the cancer. On the other hand, if Alex’s parents were still alive when he was diagnosed with cancer, they would love him, completely support him, and care about him. There would be no conflict–nothing to stress him out or increase his anxiety. (Well, nothing more above and beyond the general pain-in-the-assness of having cancer.) [By the way, I am not taking cancer lightly. But since I have defeated cancer myself, Leukemia, when I was 3 to 7 years old, I can be a little flippant.] That story, without the added factor of being an orphan, would simply be another cancer story. I wrote alone to not only tell the cancer story, but show how important it is to have the team of supporters and what effect it can have when there is someone close who doesn’t care. I honestly don’t think I can cut another 15,000 to 20,000 words without decoupling the two aspects and collapsing the story.
I’m hoping that agents will not judge (and quickly reject) my query based solely on word count. Yes, it may be a little high for the YA audience, but my story needs that many words. At least that’s what I think.
Am I open to further editing? Of course. I expect to edit it more. But at this point, I can’t see a way to lose a significant number of words without losing the story.
It never ends.
When writing a book, I first get the words in the computer. I forgot who said it, but this initial writing phase is a “regurgitation” of my ideas. It just comes out. And then I walk away.
When I return to the book, anywhere from one month to one year later, I re-read the novel electronically, editing the story as I go, moving, deleting, and adding text. At this point, I only correct typos as I stumble upon them. I don’t go looking for them. When I’ve completely re-written the story, I walk away again.
After allowing a month for the plot to fade from my mind, I print the novel. This is when the power editing begins.
- The first editing pass through the printed copy is dedicated to the story; plot, dialogue, character depth, backstory, etc.
- In the second pass, I focus on the finer details; word choice, grammar, punctuation.
- During the third pass, I have to look at every quotation mark, comma, period, colon, and semi-colon. And I have to find the instances when they’re missing.
This third pass is where I’m at right now in my latest novel, tentatively titled Alone. And this is the point when I think the editing will never end. Every time I read the story, I find a period when it should be a comma, or I find a missing comma. Sure, this is logical, but it begins to get tiresome. How many mistakes did I make? And why do I keep finding them?
The problem is an effect of dilution. At every pass through the book, I find and correct typos. During the first two passes through the printed copy, the typos are a greater proportion of the total number of words, so they are easier to find. In the third pass, the missing puctuation marks are a much smaller fraction of the total, so they are harder to find. I have to look carefully. And I have to ignore the story while I’m looking. That’s difficult for me, because I find myself reading the book instead of editing it.
I believe that I will need a fourth pass through Alone to find all of the errors and polish the story.
And that will just get me to the point when it can be read and reviewed by others, long before it will ever be published. After review, the whole re-writing and editing process will begin again.
It never ends.
Five years after I started writing my first book, I’ve now, finally, realized that writing is a humbling experience, even humiliating. Why?
First, authors have no exposure. Okay, some do, but only if they’re represented and have best-selling works. But the majority of authors have to work for their publicity. And some, those of us struggling just to break into the business, have to spend all our time with no support. I have written and self-published two light sci-fi books in the Sue series: Sue’s Fingerprint and Sue’s Vision. I think they’re smarty, funny, and entertaining, and I have pretty good reviews so far. But my sales have no traction. Yes, I have this website, an author profile on Goodreads, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. I tweet and post, but to no avail. I’m sure I could gain attention if I quit my day job to focus on marketing me and my books, but I can’t afford to do that right now.
Second, to restate the title of the advice book from William M. Akers, Your Book Sucks. My third book is a story taken from my personal experience. The protagonist’s name is no coincidence. After writing, I edited the book with the help from another author. Feeling confident, I sent out agent queries. Either my queries sucked, or the first few pages of the book sucked, or both, because I got no hits. Nothing. Not wanting to give up, I printed bound copies of the book, complete with cover artwork, and gave it to students in an AP English course at the local high school to read and review. They didn’t like it. Okay, it sucked. But they did give me valuable feedback. I took all their comments and suggestions, there were a lot, and re-wrote the story. So does it suck now? I don’t know. And I won’t know for a while. I’ve put it on the shelf.
Which brings me to my third point: Confidence? What Confidence? I’ve written my fourth book. It’s the story that long ago I told myself to write. It was my first idea for a book. It’s a semi-autobiographical novel of my fight and victory over cancer—a diagnosis that occurred four decades ago when I was a small child. This is a story very close to me, and I’ve finally written it. It’s almost 500 pages filled with 113,000 words! I wrote it. I put it away. I came back and re-wrote it. I edited it. Is it good? I have no idea. I think it is, but I won’t know until I ask others, which I plan to do.
Maybe I am insane for doing the same thing over again and hoping for a different outcome. Maybe I have the story that will be liked by many. Maybe I don’t. Either way, I’ll keep writing, despite it being a humbling, and potentially humiliating, experience.
I’ve been in hiding for a while, haven’t I? I last posted on this site over a year ago. What have I been doing? Well, I tell ya…
- In the fall of 2013, I completed draft #1 of my first YA novel, tentatively titled Senior Experiment.
- In November of 2013, I participated in NaNoWriMo and met the goal of over 50,000 words written for my second YA novel, tentatively titled Alone.
- In January of 2014, I was lucky to have students in a local high school AP English class review Senior Experiment. They had a lot of valuable comments. I’m grateful for their input.
- For the next few months in 2014, I re-wrote Senior Experiment, incorporating the suggestions from the students’ review.
- I took a 6-month hiatus from writing until November of 2014 when I finished drafting Alone–adding 60,000+ words to the over 50,000 I wrote the previous year.
- In December, I edited Senior Experiment and put it on the shelf.
- Last month I revised Alone and set it aside for a month.
- I’m now editing Alone, preparing for queries.
So now that you know what I’ve been doing for the past year or so, I’ll try not to hide any longer. I plan on ramping up my posting activity. Stay tuned!
And thanks for your support!