Starting With The End

About a third of the way into my current novel, I was lost in a forest of good ideas. You know how it is when you first encounter an intriguing book idea — there’s excitement, drama, and a never-ending flow of possibilities.
I had put all of those possibilities into the first three chapters of the book. Every last neat-o tech gadget. All of the fun science-y conceits. I found myself in a really cool world going nowhere fast.
I puttered around on the book for a few days weeks. I started to lose interest. Maybe it wasn’t such a good story, after all. Then, inspiration struck.
I wrote my query letter. Query letters — the note introducing my novel in a couple of riveting paragraphs to literary agents — would typically come at the end of the writing and editing process. Doing it now would force me to show what was at stake for my hero.
I started my query:
My main character sees a hole in the… Who cares?
The protagonist has to help fix the… Why does he *have* to?
This guy wants to figure out… *click* <– The sound of an agent deleting my email
There’s nothing quite like condensing the (lack of) action down to two paragraphs to make it very clear that you have a really neat idea, but not a whit of conflict or momentum. I scrapped the first third of the book and put some stakes in there.
When you hear the phrase, “kill your darlings,” it doesn’t just mean characters. It can indicate, as it did for me, that you have to surgically remove all traces of the very cool science fiction idea that prompted you to write the story in the first place. Ouch, that was hard. But it didn’t make sense to the narrative. There were better ideas that created more conflict. I set the original idea aside for a sequel and wrote from there.
Today, I’m happy to report that the remaining two-thirds of the book were written in two frenzied words-tumbling-over-words weeks. Once there were proper reasons for the action, the story practically unfolded on its own.
Sometimes, when you’re stuck at the beginning, you have to start with the end.

The Kindergarten Mafia

The first time I ran for office, and won, I was part of a three-person school board which happened to already have two other smart, hard-working women on it. They were the ones who encouraged me to run, because women… we tend to wait for invitations to run for office. (Something I learned from EMILY’s List and never forgot.)
I was so proud and so intimidated. I worked hard studying acronyms, learning complex tax systems, and forging relationships with townsfolk and teachers. We lowered taxes and helped build a strong leadership team in the school. We completed long-stagnant projects and solved problems like hungry children in classrooms and lack of affordable child care in our county. In short, we rocked that shit. Hard.
Empirically, we couldn’t have possibly been doing more right. Taxes were down, the school budget was down, teacher turnover was down, test scores were up, kids were getting three meals and two snacks per day for free, we had free preschool and free before and after school child care. We re-roofed the school, replaced the leaky windows, and updated our playground equipment. Our teachers were so satisfied, they declined to join the local union, saying we were offering better deals than the union could negotiate. Heck, we even continued to offer an ailing teacher health insurance two years after she became ill and had to quit.
One day, someone in town said to me in passing, “You know what they call you three, right?” I had no idea. “The Kindergarten Mafia!” he said with glee. I was devastated.
The phrase was not meant kindly. It was shorthand for, “You uppity bitches came in here and steamrolled through everything you wanted. We liked things the way they were, no matter how fucked up, so screw you.” It took the wind out my sails for a while.
Another time, two taxpayers ran into our meeting, screamed threats at us about the school budget, then ran back out. No matter how many times we offered to go through the numbers, right there, line by line, they screamed louder. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that many words for vagina in one sentence.
It happened again and again. Incomprehensible rage. Nonsensical arguments. Just plain down and dirty hate coming our way. I learned when to block it out. I learned when to call the sheriff.
Over time, as I ran for other offices, it dawned on me. The hatred, the vitriol, it was shorthand for other things: “Things are changing. I’m scared.” “I don’t understand, but I’m too embarrassed to ask.” “I don’t think I’m on the right side of the argument, and I need to call you names to save face.”
I have a better understanding of this knee-jerk reaction. I don’t condone it, but at least there’s some insight. It’s stunning just how strong the bonds of communal hatred can be. That doesn’t put anyone on the right side of history, it just makes them louder. And you can be as loud as you want, because I’m the fucking Kindergarten Mafia.

From The Summer of Done to Short Fiction Fall

The Summer of Done was a roaring success by any measure. I finished the first drafts of two different novels; a contemporary fantasy and a YA science fiction. I’m about halfway through the first editing pass on the YA book and the fantasy is still a raw draft. I always underestimate how painful editing can be.
Now that the Summer of Done is over, my self-imposed moratorium on short story writing is also gone. Thank goodness… I have a long list of ideas from over the summer that I’m dying to work on. My fall goal is to write one story per week and submit at least half of them for publication by the end of the season. Fridays are short story days and here’s a little taste of the one I’m working on today:
I was born with a tiny plastic doll shoe in my hand. A high heel, butter yellow.
No more for you! Wait until someone offers to publish it—or I trunk it and post it here.