April 2022 Writing Update: Secret Project, SCBWI Conference, and More!

I’ve got a lot of ground to cover with this overdue writing update, so let’s dive right in! There’s a lot going on with my writing projects, plus I attended a regional conference with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) last weekend!

Writing Updates:

The Queen of Whitman Court: Back in March, I finished revisions for Draft 5 of this book and began to pitch the project to potential publishers/agents. Leading up to the SCBWI conference, I received some feedback on my novel’s opening pages that prompted me to take another step back to make an additional round of edits and revisions. While I had hoped that Draft 5 would be the “final,” I believe another draft is best for the book. I’ll admit, it’s hard navigating this question of “Is the book done?” I’ve been trying to lean on courage and boldness instead of letting fear or perfectionism hold me back, yet I’m learning in this process that patience and persistence with myself and my writing is just as necessary as patience and persistence in pitching.

In Draft 5 of the book, I implemented a major plot change that makes The Queen of Whitman Court clearly fantasy (rather than magical realism, as before). This new change is that Melody Evergreen, the main character, discovers a magical crown that brings the kids’ imaginations to life. Up to this point, the series was written in a way where it was intentionally ambiguous whether the kids’ adventures and the crazy places they traveled to were somehow real or merely imagined. I decided I didn’t care for that ambiguous world-building and went for this new aspect of the story. It also helped some of my other plot holes and story issues, which was a nice bonus.

The biggest sticky spot (and a main reason why I need another draft of edits) is the book’s narrative voice. As it stands, Whitman Court features an intrusive narrator, or an omniscient narrator who frequently interjects with their own comments on the story and characters. This Narrator is one of my favorite parts of the book. When I first wrote The Queen of Imagination (the 70,000 word draft that serves as the source material for the now-series Whitman Court), I wrote it for myself first: an adult with a love of classic literature and clever wordplay. I often described the intended audience as “the young at heart,” which is not a legitimate way I could sell the book. As I’ve gotten closer to the pitching goal, I’ve been asking myself: “How does this narrative style resonate with kids, if at all?” To help me think through these questions, I picked up another series from my childhood: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. This series tackles a similar narrative style in a phenomenal way, and it’s helped me think through so much of my narrative voice, especially at the beginning of my book. I still need to think through certain questions—like who even is this Narrator, and do I just need to cut it entirely?—and the answers to those will guide my revision process for Draft 6. My loose goal on getting those edits done is end of May, probably.

(Also, in a couple of weeks, I’ll have a more detailed blog post discussing all I learned about writing quirky narrators from A Series of Unfortunate Events, so be on the lookout for that! You can follow the blog by email from the sidebar or follow me on Instagram to make sure you don’t miss it!)

Photo by Mitchell Lee

Secret Project: I teased in some Instagram posts that I was working on a “Secret Project” earlier this month. Blog readers will get more of the scoop here: I’m writing a fantasy short story collection that I hope to independently publish in 2023. Initially, I had a goal to complete six stories, which I did finish this month, but I think I need a few more, so I’m looking to write three or four additional tales as well. It’s been a fun experiment for me, as I tend to steer clear of short fiction (preferring to write novel-length stories). The stories are also written in a comedic and satirical style, which is a nice change of pace from most of the high fantasy I write. The stories are connected, but that theme/topic will be revealed at a later date… Let’s just say it’s a topic I studied quite extensively in college and a field I continue to be involved in to this very day… I do have a tentative title for this project as well, but for now I’m just calling it “Secret Project” publically. I will also add that in light of more Queen of Whitman Court edits and a new rush of energy for my young adult fantasy series, this may end up on the backburner for a couple of months.

The Myth-Keepers: Speaking of new energy for my YA fantasy series—I’ve picked up The Myth-Keepers again, which is a series that has lived in my head for over a decade and had a couple of mentions on the blog. I’ve found some brainstorming momentum, and have been working on fleshing out a loose outline for the series. I’ve written scenes here and there and even picked away at the first book and the prequel I intend to write. I do feel like this will finally be the final version of the story, which has undergone several plot alterations over the past several years. I feel most anxious to get this story written and out there; it’s just been in my head so long. I’m really pumped about this version from both a story and thematic sense, and would like to write 20,000 words in May for the project. (Okay, that might be too ambitious…)

Ready to take notes at the SCBWI conference!

SCBWI Conference Thoughts: The SCBWI conference I attended last week was my first non-One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) writers conference to attend, and overall I left feeling motivated and energized. There was a bit of heartache for me on the first night; I found myself missing my OYAN community. (Feelings probably compounded by being one, if not the, youngest in the room, as OYAN is geared toward high school students.) Yet I reminded myself of my first OYAN conference, where I felt pretty alone and nervous, and recognized that it takes time to make connections and lay down roots in any community. Speaking of connections, I happened to make a connection with the editor of The Mythic Circle, a literary journal by The Mythopoeic Society, and an invitation to submit short fiction for consideration. It seems like a fantastic organization for me to join and be a part of, and was a really neat and unexpected connection to make!

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I received some feedback on The Queen of Whitman Court that has prompted me to take a step back with the book again. Beyond feedback on my manuscript, certain sessions on voice, how to write a book that sells, and pitching raised questions about The Queen of Whitman Court that I was able to ponder during and following the conference. I started to reconsider what the heart of the book is and whether the story truly focuses on the themes of that emotional center. I’m contemplating the stakes of the story (or the reason it matters). And I’m even thinking through the voice of the story, inspired by a session on how to write a great picture book read-aloud, of all things. Far from being discouraging, I see all of these questions as guides to this next round of edits I intend to make. It’s motivating.

I also walked away from the conference with a modest boost of confidence in my writing. My query letter, even with its things that need work, was received positively (and even got a laugh) by the agent who I met one-on-one with. That felt good, and encouraged me that I’m so close to the finish line with this book. It still may be months or even years of more persistence and patience, but this conference certainly gave me a perspective on how much I’ve grown and how far I’ve come in my ten years (give or take) of serious writing.

I hope to go back for future regional SCBWI events, and perhaps may make it to a national one in the near future. I’m also intrigued by the Realm Makers national conference happening in July, so perhaps I’ll risk another writing conference later this year. We’ll see what happens! I certainly missed the conference environment, and it was a huge blessing to be able to attend an in-person writing event once again.

The post-conference vibe!

Art I’ve Enjoyed: I wanted to end this writing update by sharing some of the art (film, TV shows, etc.) that I’ve enjoyed this spring. First, Netflix’s Lost in Space reboot is fantastic. I could ramble on and on about what I loved about this show, but the two things that stand out are the portrayal of family relationships and the theme of freedom the series explores. It was so good and I already want to watch it again. Speaking of Netflix, I also watched their recent movie Red Notice. I really enjoy heist movies, and this film had a twist that I did not see coming. Very fun! I also picked up Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity for my Nintendo Switch, which is getting me through the sad news of the Breath of the Wild 2 delay. That game has been a delight to play, as it takes all that I loved from Fire Emblem: Warriors but incorporates the characters, items, and elements of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in such a clever way. It’s so good. Finally, I also was able to catch my favorite musical band, The Arcadian Wild, live last weekend, and they were incredible, as always.

And with that, my Spring Writing Update is complete! How are your artistic endeavors going? What stories have you enjoyed this spring?