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Posts Tagged ‘Jesse Joe Kellen’

One of the cool things about getting book reviews isn’t just having people say nice things about your book. It’s getting a review from a reader who appreciates an element in your book that often gets overlooked.

Recently I got a review from a reader named Gretchen who wrote: “I was wary of yet-another-multiple-POV-story but this is next level sh*t. There are probably over a dozen (or more? I didn’t count) narrators, some first person, some third person, and yet the corners where they meet are perfectly joined. The math of it is impressive. This is hard mechanics but you don’t notice it because it’s done so well. Someone, please analyze this and tell me how she did it.”

There are, in fact, 16 narrators in All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.

Some of them are integral to the story, at both the emotional center of the book and at the center of the action. Other narrators are observers. People who know Kellen or Wavy in one way or another, or who meet them in passing.

I have always been a multiple narrator writer. The first real novel I ever finished in 2004 had three narrators, and I can remember going to a conference, where three different agents gave me the puzzled dog head tilt during my pitch sessions. Three narrators? Two of them said they couldn’t even think of a successful novel with multiple narrators, and I helpfully reminded them of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. I like writing in multiple narrators, but my reason for using so many in All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was more than just a matter of personal taste.

I chose to tell the story through sixteen narrators for two reasons. Firstly, I needed a way to manage the impact of Wavy’s narrative on readers. When she speaks, it’s fairly intense and to the point. Putting too much of her voice in the story felt like putting too much salt in a dish.

The second reason for all those narrators was to be sure I was being honest with myself. I’m not ashamed of the controversial nature of the story, but I’m not in denial about it, either. By checking in repeatedly with other characters, looking at Wavy and Kellen from other points of view, I was able to write the story almost like a documentary.

As for how I did it? As with all of my writing projects, I radically over-wrote. The first draft of the book was 200,000 words, and before it was all said and done, I had 280,000 words, which I ultimately cut down to the final published length of 120,000 words. When I’m writing the first draft of a book like this, I’m walking through the story with the main characters, and I’m noting the ways they interact with the rest of the world. I’m identifying people who are “key witnesses,” if you will. Then I investigate them. Not just what they saw and felt about their interactions with the main characters, but what kind of people they are, and how they view the world. For every narrator in the book, I could tell you what they were doing the day before the chapter they narrated and the day after, and possibly the most embarrassing thing that happened to them in sixth grade.

woodworking1Sometimes I think of it like woodworking, but instead of joining one piece of wood to another, I’m building multiple iterations of the same piece of furniture and then cutting out the sections I need from each piece, and joining those together to produce a single piece of furniture made up of those parts. For some narrators, I’m literally writing a novel about them, and then superimposing all of those stories together and choosing where they overlap with the story I want to tell.

For example, I have what is essentially a whole novel about Wavy’s cousin Amy. Not just where her life intersected with Wavy’s, but all the other parts of her life, too. There are other narrators for whom I wrote novellas, so that I could understand how they fit in. Of course, there are also narrators who didn’t make the cut, including a few very important characters, like Wavy’s parents and her aunt. Ultimately, Wavy’s mother and father were too self-absorbed to make the cut–they weren’t focused on Wavy enough to tell part of her story. Wavy’s aunt simply had a habit of derailing the narrative with peripheral concerns, and she did so well at verbalizing her opinion in other character’s scenes.

Ultimately, my goal in the revision process for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was to give every character a narrative arc. Some of them are quite small, and some of them take place off stage, but by the time I’m finished writing a novel, I know all these people intimately and I want to understand how they got here and what happens to them.

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It’s one of the best Valentine’s Day gifts I’ve ever received: a box of advance reader copies of my new book.
bookfort

Naturally, having received the love from my publisher, I want to spread the love on to my readers. So this blog post kicks off a series of giveaways that I’ll be doing over the next six months as I wait for the book to be released.

To see all the ways you can enter to win the first ARC and a trinket–your choice of a necklace or a keychain–visit the full giveaway site.

But the first step starts here. If you follow my blog, you can enter by commenting on this post and telling me what your favorite love story is. Do you love tragic and doomed like Romeo and Juliet? Do you love tragic but then requited like Maurice? Are you a Pride and Prejudice reader or a fan of Gone with the Wind? Wuthering Heights or Like Water for Chocolate?

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is ultimately a love story, because for me, those are often the stories that shape our lives. Who we love, how we love, what we’ll do to be with the one we love. So tell me about yours and you might win a copy.

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There’s something special about All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. It’s not just that it’s my first Big 5 publishing deal or that it sold at auction, or even that after 100+ publishing professionals told me it wasn’t commercial enough that it sold at auction to a Big 5 publisher. Sure, those things are exciting, and to some folks that will be what makes this novel special. For me, the something special about this book is that it’s a book of my heart. There was nothing plotted or planned about it. The whole story from stem to stern came from my heart.

Because it’s so special to me, all along I’ve wanted to do some book swag that was different. Something beyond bookmarks and postcards. Something substantial.

Last week, I started on it with a big box of crafting supplies:

IMG_3856

Never let it be suggested that I do anything half way. I’m an all in kind of girl.

In addition to a hand-stamped copper tag with the title of the book on it, I decided to 1969 pennies stamped with Wavy’s name and 1956 pennies stamped with Kellen.

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I love how the different levels of patina look together. The 1969 pennies I got are actually uncirculated, while the 1956 come used from a bank vault. All together, they look like this, and I’ll either put them on a key chain on ball chain necklace.

bookswag

The real question now is what kind of giveaway to have to get them into your hands …

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Well, as you can see in the sidebar, I officially have my cover for the new book.

ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL

I got the news in the old fashioned way: somebody texted me and said, “Hey, did you know your book is live for pre-order on Amazon?” No, I didn’t, but sure enough, it is. With a small publisher, the writer tends to be intimately involved in cover decisions, but with a large publisher like St. Martin’s Press, there’s a whole team of people behind the scenes doing stuff like this. Like publishing pixies coming in the night to put my book on Goodreads.

Speaking of which, there’s a giveaway for the book on Goodreads (those publishing pixies again!) You should definitely go enter.

About All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It’s safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, Wavy finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.

Surrounded by addicts and a culture of debauchery, their relationship doesn’t set off any alarms until a well-meaning aunt steps in. Facing a charge of statutory rape, Kellen may not be completely innocent, but he’s the one stable companion Wavy and Donal have. Instead of playing it safe, Wavy has to learn to fight for Kellen, for her brother, and for herself.

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I’m in the midst of working on a revision of Thirteen for an agent, which has left me with a few blanks that need filling in. This is a scene I wrote over the weekend to try to fill one of those gaps.

***

I closed the door in Renee’s face, but she opened it back up. We glared at each until she said, “You’re a coward, Wavy Quinn.”

In sixth grade I was too old to fall for that trick. I was still too old. I flipped her off and reached for the door knob, but Renee held her ground.

“You say you’re done with Kellen, but then you’re not even brave enough to go on a date with anyone else. And you can pretend that you’re not ready or whatever, but the truth is, you’re not brave enough.” She said it all in a low voice, so I knew Joshua was still in the front room, waiting for me to go on a date I was sure I’d never agreed to.

“Pot calling kettle,” I said.

“That is such bullshit. Show me one time I was a coward about love.”

She thought she was bulletproof. She thought recklessness was the same thing as bravery. I stepped past her into the hall and walked toward the kitchen. Renee came after me.

In the front room, we passed Joshua, who looked confused. Not a Kellen kind of confused, where he was always worried he’d misunderstood or done or said something wrong. A pretty college boy kind of confused, where he thought someone else had made a mistake.

I stopped in front of the fridge and Renee was under such a head of steam that she bumped into my back when I did.

“You can’t just walk away from this. You can’t spend your whole life pining for someone who doesn’t even want you.”

I ignored that. It wasn’t anything I could bear to think about.

The napkin with Darrin’s phone number was right where Renee had put it. At the party, she took it from him with a smile and said, “Yeah, I’d love to go out.” Two weeks later it was still stuck to the fridge. She hadn’t called him. He wasn’t her type. He was a custodian and he wasn’t pretty. Not like Joshua. The other reason he wasn’t her type: he was too nice. Not enough drama. Not enough heartbreak.

I jerked the napkin off the fridge, sending the magnet flying. When I pinned the napkin to Renee’s chest with my forefinger, she made a surprised little O with her mouth.

“Coward,” I said.

She smirked.

“Fine. You go out with Joshua and I’ll call Darrin. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“And you have to try, Wavy. You can’t just sit there like stone until he gives up. You have to try like it’s a real date or it doesn’t count.” Renee knew me.

I passed Joshua on the way back to my room to get my purse.

“Is there a problem?” he said.

I didn’t bother to answer. He was the problem. I’d be done with him soon enough. I came back with my purse and stood in front of him. He was going to have take me as I was, in the clothes I wore to work and with my hair a little greasy.

“Ready,” I said.

We walked out past Renee, who gave me a suspicious look. She could suspect whatever she wanted, as long as she kept her half of the deal.

 

***

While Joshua drove, I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. Renee said he was “gorgeous.” She talked about him like he was a statue. David standing naked in a museum in Italy. I thought he was boring. Like a mannequin in a store. Better to look at a blank wall than to look at him. I also didn’t understand why he didn’t shave. Everything else about him was neat — hair, hands, clothes–and then the whiskers.

He took me to a nice restaurant, I guess because that’s what people do on dates. I’d taken Kellen to a restaurant before, but it was how I knew we were here on the strength of Joshua’s ego. I never would have agreed to go out to eat with someone who was basically a stranger. Never.

But there I was, sitting across from him, with a menu open, watching him talk. That was how it felt, too. A silent movie, his mouth opening and closing, his teeth neat and white, but no sound coming out. I could only focus on some of the things he said. The rest of me was too busy cataloging the ways in which he wasn’t Kellen.

“So, what are you thinking of having?” Joshua said.

“I’m not that hungry.”

He laughed. “Girls always say that.”

I could imagine Renee saying that. On dates, she ordered salads and then came home starving and ate a whole pizza by herself.

At least I liked the restaurant. Aunt Brenda had taken me there before. They had good teriyaki chicken with ginger and pineapple, and they put your leftovers in nice to-go containers. Not crappy Styrofoam boxes. They made it pretty when you took it away.

After I closed my menu the waiter came. I gave him my big smile, to make him pay attention, so that he would look at my menu when I tapped it. You really don’t have to talk much in everyday life. If you’re careful, if you learn the tricks to make people watch. That way you can save your words for important things. Sometimes just “yes” or “no.” Or “ranch” when the waiter wants to know what dressing I want on my salad. Which I didn’t want. I shook my head.

“No dressing?” the waiter said.

Then Joshua ordered and the waiter left us alone.

“So, Wavy,” Joshua said. His teeth really were perfect. He probably had braces when he was younger. “I think your name is so cool. Kind of hippy, but not like Moon Unit or something like that.”

It was a good thing I didn’t talk much, because what was I supposed to say to that? I’m glad you like my name. The man I love gave it to me. That probably wasn’t good date conversation. That was just me being impossible. Aunt Brenda said that about me. So did Renee some days. You’re impossible! I agreed. Most days I was impossible. Like a unicorn.

 

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I’m a vagabond these days. I bought a project house that I’ve been working on since August, but with the bathroom gutted, I can’t live there. As a result, I’ve been wandering from spare room to spare room among friends and acquaintances. This means I don’t have most of my usual writing tools at hand. My writing desk is in a storage container, as is most everything I own. My writing cats are living in Arkansas.

Typically, I write my first drafts longhand while sitting at my writing desk. I prefer a Clairefontaine notebook for their creamy paper, and a Pelikan fountain pen filled with slippery silicone-enhanced ink. Yes, despite being a fucking philistine in the rest of my life, I’m kind of a writing snob. My writing desk is an antique Abernathy library table.

Without my preferred tools, I had rather expected that this hiatus from homebound security would also produce a hiatus from writing, but I was wrong. In September I wrote a first draft of a book, and not in my usual manner. I hammered it out on a dinky little third-hand laptop with pixelated lines on the screen. No handwritten drafts. No handwritten notes even. It’s the first project I’ve ever tackled entirely on computer.

write_tools

Write Tools

Well, almost entirely. When I came time to do the heavy lifting of revisions and edits, I fell back to form. I printed the whole thing out and started editing with pencil. Only a few pages in, I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t working. What was the problem? The pencil. I was using the nearest thing: a mechanical pencil. That was the problem. I always do edits with a real wood pencil. I don’t know why, but it feels easier. It’s warm and satisfying and mess and erasable, which is good, because I’ve been known to do some serious erasing while I’m editing. Plus, there’s something about rolling off wood shavings every few chapters that really appeals to the crafty side of me.

At least once I recognized the problem, it was easy to solve. I dug up some old wood pencils (shout out to my alma mater!), bought a really nice manual sharpener and a good Japanese eraser (Oops!Pig). I’m in business. Two hundred pages of edits done and two hundred more to go.

How about you? Are there writing habits you can kick? Are there ones you can’t? What’s the bare minimum you require to get a book on paper?

And now that I look at the picture I snapped, I realize that the last sentence shown is: “A blowjob on one page and some girl taking it from behind on the other.” Hmmm. So, what the hell, it might as well be a teaser. Here’s the text of that page shown, pre-edits:

***

“What the hell are you doing?” Kellen said. Two sleepless nights and too much adrenaline caught up with him, made his hands shake as he popped the clip and ejected the round in the chamber. He slammed open the kitchen drawer and shoved the gun to the back. “I said, what the hell are you doing? And goddamnit, you better answer me for a change.”

Wavy looked at him, as though to say, isn’t it obvious? A magazine lay on the table in front of her. Reading.

“Come on, pack your shit up. I’ll give you a ride home.” The back of his shirt was filthy from lying in the dirt working on Vic’s car and her dress was white. That was too bad.

He stomped to the front door to get his boots on, but she didn’t come. When he went back to the kitchen, she was still sitting there.

“Now. Goddamn right now. I’m not in the mood for this.”

“Walk.” She got up from the chair slowly.

“No, you’re not walking home.”

“Walked here.”

“Yeah, well it wasn’t pitch black out when you walked here, either.”

She shrugged.

“And how’d you get in here?”

Out of her dress pocket she took a key and laid it on the table. The spare from under the mat on the back porch.

Looking down at the key, he realized she was reading a skin mag. Not a skin mag. One of his magazines, from out of his night stand. She had it open to a page he didn’t even like to think she’d looked at. A blowjob on one page and some girl taking it from behind on the other.

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Here is what’s likely to be my last teaser for THIRTEEN and it’s one of those sections that’s all about breaking with the received wisdom of writing.  Show, don’t tell is the mantra, but the truth is: sometimes telling works better.  Or at least it has its advantages.  The narrator of this scene is the county sheriff, who provides a slightly different perspective on Kellen, and whose interpretation of events are just as important as the events.  The sheriff represents the perspective of “the community” which is pretty darn hard to show to any effect.  You’ll let me know if I’m wrong, though, won’t you?

***

I’ve known Junior Barfoot his whole life.  I never expected him to grow up to be much, because both his parents were as worthless as they could be, but he wasn’t much more trouble than most boys his age. He did some joyriding and some motorcycle racing, but nothing too bad.

I thought he might turn things around when he went into high school. His freshman year he joined the football team and it turned out he had some skill at that. Even at that age, he was the size of a house, but he could hustle when he needed to, bust through the line of scrimmage and flatten the quarterback before the ball could get into play. The third game into the season he carried the ball for a touchdown. He plowed the opposing team’s receiver under and just by chance managed to intercept the ball at the same time. I don’t think he expected that to happen. As big as he was he probably could’ve walked the ball down without getting tackled, but Junior ran it. Forty yards at a dead sprint. The teams we played that year, those boys got shaky in the knees when he walked on the field.

It could have been one of those inspirational sports stories, if it hadn’t fallen apart after homecoming. We got our usual call out to the Barfoots. Domestic disturbance. I figured it would be what it always was, Barfoot beating on his wife and the two kids left at home, Junior and his sister, who was a couple years older but retarded. We did it often enough, we had it down to a routine. Break it up, arrest Barfoot, throw him in a cell until he sobered up and promised he’d never do it again. Which usually lasted a few weeks, maybe a few months if we were lucky.

Arrested

Arrested

That night, when we got to the house, I could see that was how it had started. Mrs. Barfoot was in the kitchen crying, with her housedress half torn off and her nose bloody. The daughter was standing with her, looking scared. In the living room, I expected to find Barfoot going at Junior, but it was the other way around. Junior was pounding on him and screaming, “I’m gonna fucking kill you!” He did his best. It took me, two deputies and a volunteer fireman to pry Junior off his father, cuff him and haul him out to the squad car.

I thought that might finally make Mrs. Barfoot leave that vicious SOB, but when he got out of the hospital, she took him back. They sent Junior to stay with her family in Oklahoma. That’s when he started going by Kellen.

He came back two years later and almost immediately got into trouble, and kept getting into trouble for a number of years. I never saw someone who could tear up a bar the way he could. When you got called out, you could tell if he’d been involved in the fight. Furniture would be broken and people would be bleeding and crying, looking like they’d been hit by a train.

I knew Junior did some work for Ewan Quinn, but it seemed to me he’d settled down. He’d finished sowing his wild oats, and he hadn’t killed anybody, raped anybody, or burned anything down, which put him a few steps ahead of some other people in town. A few steps ahead of the rest of his family. He had the one brother in prison in Iowa, doing twenty to life for an armed robbery that went south. The other brother dead in a drunk driving accident. The sister, well, she turned up pregnant when she was sixteen, nobody knew who the father was. I don’t know for a fact that it was her father or one of her brothers, but you have to wonder. I don’t believe it was Junior, though. He never struck me as that kind. A blessing that baby was stillborn, but when Mrs. Barfoot died, they had to put the daughter in a state home.

When Junior went in partners with Dan Cutcheon, I was relieved. If Cutcheon would take him on, I figured I could stop worrying about him. Maybe he’d be a law-abiding citizen after all.

So that day, when Delbert brought Junior into the station in cuffs, I thought, “What in Hell now?”

That’s what I said, too: “Damn it, Junior, I haven’t had you down here in four years. What in Hell happened?”

“It’s the Quinn girl,” Delbert said. Junior didn’t say a word.

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