Posts by rlfryar

Hi, there. I'm an author living in the Arkansas River Valley in west Arkansas, not far from the Ozark National Forest. I write adult fantasy about mountains with souls, trees with hearts, and the natural world is never that far removed from my writing.

Writing In the Time of Quarantine

So last weekend, I started coughing. Normally, I wouldn’t be worried.

I’m allergic to some pollen, and as I’d been sleeping with the windows open, and there was a fine film of yellow over everything in the room. I felt fine. I believed nothing much was wrong with me. Well, three days later, still coughing, now feverish, I had to go down to the triage center where the doctor in hazmat checked me out, and tested me for a few things (Not COVID—there were not enough tests). This was last Monday. That evening I got my results. It was the flu. So I’ve been home recovering ever since.

I’ve been writing, reading, revising—all at a fairly normal pace for me. I’m home most of the time, so hours behind a laptop or working in my fantasy worlds is my usual work. My children are homeschooled, and have been since they were in kindergarten. They are sixteen now. They know the drill. We’ve not had school this week because I was sick, but they’ve amused themselves by writing, reading books, watching documentaries, and working outside, getting the garden ready for this year’s pumpkins and watermelons. In short, everything is perfectly normal.

Except it’s not. Nothing about this is normal.

Some people have been posting their goals of being more productive writing as they are spending more time at home. That may be you. It may not be. We all must find our own ways to adjust.

Give yourself grace. Remember this isn’t normal. We shouldn’t expect to feel normal, act normal, or accept a new normal any time soon. We all need to take the time we need to find our best mental space where we can be productive and creative.

Dark Times, Bright Words

 

This weekend, I developed a cough and a fever. Therefore, after a doctor’s visit today, I’m under home quarantine. I thought I might have less to do, being both sick and confined.

Instead, I find I’m busier this Monday than last week! Writing, yes, brainstorming with other writers, talking with family and friends, contacting people where I work, planning out two to three weeks worth of food, laundry, etc. for the household, all while trying not to cough up a lung. You’d think I’d have time to put “get blog post done” on that list, but…

So, I thought this week I’d talk about a book I’m reading and how it’s affecting me.

I’m not going to name the book. This is my policy: I don’t like to name books or authors when I critique. My own tastes are so eclectic, and I feel that my judgement is so subjective, it won’t be all that helpful in specifics, but it’s interesting to me to look at a book, see how it affects me, and why it matters.

The book this time is a really good book by an amazingly talented author. It’s been a long time since I read prose that’s this poetic and pointed. Every image is as vivid as if it were raked across my corneas. And that’s a problem because the content is killing me.

This may be one series that I can’t finish due to the absolutely brilliant way the author tells the story. We talk sometimes in the community about censorship and about trigger warnings. In general, I’m not a fan of either. I believe that writers should write the stories they have to tell, write them as well as they can, and write them to the best of their ability, using Betas, sensitivity readers, and as much reading in their genre by own voices authors as possible. I think that’s wise; I think that’s good.

However, this is the second time I’ve been absolutely broadsided by content, and when that happens, it causes me to rethink how I phrase and write certain things in my story. The content this time was the physical abuse of a child in a truly horrifying way to “teach her” a lesson. The first time was the graphic description of animal abuse in a poem that caused me to be terrified to pick up another modern poetry anthology. In so many ways, the more pointed and beautiful the craft, the more painful it is to read things that hurt: spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

I will try to finish this book. The prose is worth studying. I certainly don’t have any problems with the author writing the story they had to tell as beautifully and brightly as they could. But, for me, it serves as a warning to use my gift for words with care. What I write has the power to hurt, to heal, to wound, to repair. I need to be cautious with my prose. I need to make sure I elevate the beautiful as much as the disgusting, to paint the wonderful as well as the wretched.

This is a dark time we live in. It’s going to get darker before it gets lighter. And if I can use bright words to dispel the darkness, I want to do that.

 

Crossroads…again

Crossroads in life are challenging places. It seems like I’ve spent a lot of time at this particular crossroads in the last year.

After parting with my first agent, I chose to sign with another agent who had originally offered on my first manuscript. I spent some time deciding whether that was a good choice for me to make, and ultimately decided it was a chance that I needed to give myself and my manuscript. But sometimes the choices I make don’t always work out. After working through edits to another manuscript, I sent them back, and got the notice yesterday that my agent felt it was best for us to go our separate ways.

This time it was easier in some respects. Although it was painful, differences in vision are not always things that can be worked out. It’s much better to find that out earlier rather than later. Although it was painful, ultimately, I have to believe it’s for the best.

It’s another crossroads for me; another place to decide where I would like to do next. I’ve spent most of the last six months either editing, revising, or waiting, hoping that I would have a chance to move on to the next stage.

So, what now?

First, there will be a period of recovery. Even when a decision brings a measure of relief along with pain, it’s still tough. I need to work through it, remember I am strong, dedicated, and unafraid to keep working toward finding the right champion for my work. It’s pretty discouraging. I really did hope this time would be the one that would work out. It didn’t. I’m thankful to have good writing friends to lean on at this time. Writing community is really the best thing ever, and I treasure it.

Secondly, I will probably spend some time thinking and deciding what I’d like to do next. I’ve been reading through my completed series and falling deeply in love again. It’s a vision I believe in, and one I’d like to develop. I’ve found myself alternately exhilarated and terrified by what I’ve created. It’s like a powerful painting that just rocks me back on my heels because it connects to something deep in my soul that is screaming to be heard. That’s not a feeling I’m willing to ignore. But it’s also a scary one. I feel it takes great courage to be authentic, and I’ll need some time to nurture that courage before I query it again.

Thirdly, I want to take some time to do what I do best—write. Just write. Full steam ahead, playing with stories, getting to know more characters, more worlds, more magic. This is my happy spot, where I believe what I know in my heart, imagine what I barely dare to dream, and where I feel safe to be myself—my whole, weird, wonderful self—boldly and freely. What better place in the world could I be than there?

Moving forward will happen. When it’s time, I’ll find my path.

 

 

Hurts So Good: Edit Letters, Revision, and the Turbulent Writer

I just finished revisions to my story Tree Gods last week. My edit letter came back on February 6th, along with the commented MS. I was so excited to get it. Whenever one works with a new agent, new CP, or new Beta reader, there’s that rush of enthusiasm. This person really gets me! This person will understand exactly what I’m trying to do and get me there! This person has this incredible magic elixir which they will sprinkle on my words that will make them smell like roses and cut like thorns! Yayyyyy—ugh.

Y’all know what the ugh, is, don’t you?

Because when that person really gets me, my story, exactly what I’m trying to do, and how hard it can be to get there, they DO have that incredible magic elixir, and it’s called “I love this—but”. Then it’s up to you, the writer, to get rid of the but. Or butt, depending.

So, what did I do after receiving my edit letter?

Well, frankly, I was completely miserable. Not because I didn’t know the changes were necessary to give the story a decent shot at selling, and not because I was angry at having to do the work. I love rewrites. I love solving problems, taking advice and using it to hone my vision. I enjoy arguing changes out and seeing things either get better or worse due to those changes and fixing them. I love everything about this part of revising except the emotional firestorm that is an inevitable part of the process for me.

I cried all Friday. I didn’t eat much for three days. I didn’t sleep very well. For about 24 hours I had a couple of characters screaming at me about the proposed changes. I had nightmares about my story and rewrites. This happens whenever I get feedback—whether it’s hard and unhelpful, hard and helpful, or hard and doggone-it-you’re-right-I hate-you. It’s absolutely normal for me to do this.

I worked very hard to create that vision that’s now open for critical eyes. It’s a part of my soul, whether I like it or not. And when someone tells you your creative soul is “off” in some way, it hurts, whether it’s true or not. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t this attached to my work, but it’s part of who I am as a person and a writer. Either I can hate that about myself or I can embrace it. I choose to embrace it.

Also, I can’t shift into problem solving mode until I’ve got the negative emotions out of the way. In fact, it would be a very bad thing if I didn’t get sad/mad. Those emotions help fuel my drive to write my best work, to fight until my vision is clear, and to take feedback I don’t like and turn it into the best parts of my story. I need that raw, angry unhappiness to stoke the fire that comes around seventy-two hours later that puts me behind the laptop with both energy and a plan for action.

Deep down, I know I can’t kill my story. If I make a bad stroke during revision, I can fix it. A story isn’t stained glass. It’s clay, and like clay, it can be molded, cut, filled in, piled on, taken off, and as long as it isn’t baked yet, it’s fine.

So, because I know this about me and my process, I have learned to do a few things when it comes to accepting feedback—good or bad.

First—I had outside activities that weekend. While it’s not fun to cry in public, at least it’s allergy season. I got a pass for sniffling from time to time and having very red eyes. I was driving four hours a day all weekend long. I was exhausted. By the time I crashed Sunday night, I was too tired to care about anything but bed. Staying busy helps me when it comes to feedback. When I’m in the emotional state of things, I shouldn’t be problem solving. I simply won’t know what to do. Everything will be reactionary. I need to redirect my energy. This can be drafting something new, writing poems, or cleaning out that closet that’s been on the to-do list for months—okay, years. But I have to do something that isn’t working on that story.

Secondly—I refused to email my agent anything other than a “Thanks, this is going to be hard, but I’ll do what I can” until I had sorted things out. But boy, you should have seen that sorting out process! I opened a word document and wrote 5000 words stating how hard the changes were going to be, why they hurt, and if I felt they would or would not work. I needed the catharsis. I howled to my CPs and editing partners. That’s all helpful. But I put that buffer of time and space between myself and the person who wouldn’t have given that feedback if she didn’t care about me and my story!

Feelings and emotions are valid. They need to be felt. I needed to get them out. Because you know what happened while getting all that out on the page? I remembered why this story needs to be told. I remembered why I wanted to tell it. I remember that there is only one person who could write this story, and that’s me, because I care. Because I could reaffirm that, I could also transition to the state of mind where I could see changes as good for my story. They would be my own changes, made with my personal goals in mind.

Thirdly—I planned out my time for the changes. I did this about 48 hours after the initial screaming period. I pulled out my calendar, and thought about what kind of time I might need for revisions. I figured what I could do based on the biggest developmental things that were suggested. I began to come up with compromises for developmental suggestions where I knew I wouldn’t get full cooperation from the characters. I drafted an email with those potential compromises and asked for a time-table without giving my own. I knew what I could do based on having done substantial edits to an MS before, but I wanted to see if that was about right or too slow. Turned out my time-table was about two weeks faster than the first deadline. Awesome. If I’d needed more time to do what I wanted to do, I’d have had it.

Fourth—I sat down on Monday and started with the easy things. I sent a copy of my MS to one of my CPs and gave her one objective for reading, and she had the whole thing turned around for me inside of a week. By that time, I was already working on most of the places she felt could handle the recommended changes. I then picked out four major scenes for the subplot and pulled them out of the MS for targeted work. Once they were done, I plugged them back into the story, and read them aloud to see how they worked. The characters cooperated better than I imagined they would because of the compromises I offered, and put in those scenes. That smoothed the rest of the editing substantially.

So… it took me three weeks of hard work, putting in between 6-8 hours of writing seven days a week, but I have a shorter and hopefully stronger MS.

Is it perfect?

Nope.

Will there be another edit letter with suggestions on how to make it better?

Yep.

Will I go through all this turmoil again?

Yep.

It’s all part of writing the best story I can write.

Know yourself. It’s the key to turning feedback torture into a crucible of creation.

 

Office, Monday Morning

 

Office, Monday Morning

 

Hailstones hammered the sky blue,

Washed the windows clean.

The lawn, busy in green, is a thousand starry faces as I pass,

Then each leaf, bent double with the dew, attends to the work

Of an earth on a tight spring schedule.

The noisy rush of water, trafficking down the river, ferries a million drops

Shaken from the trees by the light breeze—hurry, hurry—

A vulture, late commuter, tips a bronze wing in passing

Takes to the sky, elevating.

In my office, Monday morning

Even buzzards are eagles.

R. Fryar

 

I had a very difficult time coming up with a blog topic for today. It’s not that I couldn’t think of anything to write about, rather that I couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted to say.

I’ve been busy for the last two weeks, revising Tree Gods. I had a few developmental things that needed some attention, but the biggest difficulty has been cutting sentences and paragraphs that I spent time crafting in favor of tighter prose that isn’t as pretty, but gets the job done in fewer words. I find myself exhausted by the end of the week. It’s a good kind of exhaustion as I see the pile of cut words mount, while knowing that they are all safely in track changes where they can be retrieved if it turns out that I do need them after all. I’m unfortunately a little aggressive with cuts!

I am so lucky. I have an agent who likes my book. At some point, it will be out on submission. Maybe an editor somewhere will like it too. And it’s by no means the only book I have written or will ever write. Already I have two stories percolating, and two revisions that are ready to start in the month of March. Sometimes it takes re-reading a poem I’ve written to remind me that it’s a special thing to wake up and know that going to the office on Monday morning is always delightful.

Have imagination. Will work for stories.

Keep Swinging

With Author Mentor Match going on, ReviseResub coming up, and Pitchwars showcase just over, writerly angst seems to be riding a bit high. I thought this would be a good time to say I never got into a writing contest, a mentoring relationship, or won an editing opportunity. Nevertheless, I got up to bat every time. I swung. Every darned time.

Oh, I got pulled down. I had moments when I was sad, tired, and sure I’d never make contact. I’ve had plenty of rejections. I’m sure to have plenty more. That’s part of the game. Strikeouts are far more likely than home runs. But the way the writing game goes, when you aren’t getting home runs, it feels like you aren’t even hitting the ball. The truth is that every time a writer writes a query, enters a contest, pitches their work to an agent or publisher, or applies for mentorship, that’s a hit. We just feel like we can’t call it a hit unless we get to run the bases, am I right?

But a curious thing happens when you keep getting up and going to bat. You get another chance to swing. That next hit could be your home run.

Keep swinging.

Reading As A Writer

 

Writers are supposed to read.  Most of us got our desire to write from reading. It’s good for us. It allows us to decide what we like and what we don’t like in a story. It lets us study craft, and appreciate both good and bad examples. It keeps us aware of what is being published, and helps us look for comps to what we are writing.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not easy to read as a writer.

First, there is the time commitment. Even if a writer is listening to books (and I am absolutely a fan of the audiobook!) time reading is time that isn’t spent writing. For a writer who may only have two to three hours to write per day, taking an hour to read is the difference between finishing a first draft in four weeks vs six.

Then there’s the concern that reading while drafting an/or editing will create a difficulty for the writer in keeping their unique flow as they write. I don’t personally find that a problem, but I know many writers do.

Then there’s the simple fact that writers are readers when they read. As objective as a writer tries to be, it’s impossible to be completely objective while reading. Worse, it’s impossible not to compare your own writing to the polished book you are reading. Writers can go two ways. Either the published book is so good, the writer begins to believe their own writing is crap. Other writers go the other way: how on earth did this crap get published when their own work is so much better? The middle ground—accepting that published work has been through more rounds of editing than a writer wants to think about, and also accepting that while that work may not be great, it fit the publisher’s idea of what they believed should sell to the widest audience possible—is a hard place to get to.

But the part about reading that I find most challenging as a writer is dealing with a popular Meh Minus book.

I tend to grade books when I read them. First, I’ve got the A books. These are so awesome, I can’t shut up about them, I have to buy them in hardcover, read them multiple times, and they get a place of pride on my bookcase as the most amazing books ever.

Then I have the G books. These are good. Most of them I read once. They occupy an evening. In the days of my local used bookstore, these would be sold or traded in on new books, often by the same author.

Then there’s the M books: Meh and Meh Minus.

Meh books don’t lead me to despair. Every author has constraints. Maybe they weren’t allowed to end that book in a satisfactory way. Maybe they were constrained by word count limitations. Maybe it’s a debut, and the craft is just not great yet. Meh books mean there’s room for improvement, and that’s okay.

The Meh Minus is the real challenge. My Meh Minus this time was a book written by a well-established female fantasy author, and I was looking at it as a potential comp for something I’m writing. Eep. Let the spiraling begin.

First of all, Meh Minus books are published, and sometimes by a big publishing company. That means that if I personally hate the book, I hate something that a fairly large population of people like. That’s not encouraging.

Secondly, Meh Minus books make me afraid that I will be forced into the mold set by those books. That’s really terrifying. It’s like having your toes or heel cut off to fit a shoe. It’s a little worse as a woman writer, too. I feel that in general women fantasy writers are expected to write a certain way, about certain types of characters, and adhere to certain notions of what women are allowed to write about. In short—you’re either Galadriel or Eowyn. There’s not a whole lot of room to be Thorin’s sister, a hard-working dwarf mother with a beard and one heck of a war hammer.

Every Meh Minus book, especially one written by a female author, leaves me deeply afraid for myself and for other women who write boldly, dangerously, and on the edge of what is expected, skydiving off the ledges of our imagination.

The third and worst thing a Meh Minus book can do is make me terrified to pick up another book. If a popular fantasy book is one that I can’t enjoy, what if they’re all like that? What if everything I write is doomed because I can’t write in a way that I hate? That’s the hardest thing to get past, and yet it’s essential that I do conquer it.

I can’t find that next A book unless I keep reading. And I’m bound and determined to find five A books by women fantasy writers this year that I can put on my shelf as the ultimate triumph—I have found a woman author who can write characters, male and female, that I can love and identify with.

And I can have hope. The wonderful thing about publishing? What sold two years ago may not be what is wanted in two more years. What was accepted in fiction is changing. My next A book is out there. I will find it. And maybe someday, I’ll write a book that ends up on a woman fantasy writer’s A shelf as the first time she’s been seen and heard. And then—then I will have really achieved something I can be proud of!