by Julie, preparing for hot weather today in Somerville
Today I’m delighted to welcome Faye Snowden to the blog. Faye is a talented author, and part of our genre hopping series. She is also the current secretary for the national board of Sisters in Crime, a huge job at which she excels. She’s also a terrific person. Welcome to the blog, Faye!
Writing Advice | Five ways your book is not your baby
By Faye Snowden
My new book, A Killing Rain (Flame Tree Press), the second book in my Killing series will be released next week on June 21, 2022. The tale stars Byrd’s Landing, Louisiana homicide detective Raven Burns who must capture a serial killer to save her nephew. Raven is a strong, brilliant, but utterly flawed protagonist made that way by her father— notorious serial killer Floyd Burns who rides shotgun uninvited in Raven’s head. It’s not only his voice from the grave that she can’t escape. She’s being pursued by two men—one who wants to lock her away forever for a crime she felt she had no choice but to commit, and another who claims he wants to redeem her soul.
While promoting the book, I was asked about writing advice for new writers. Now, I wrote Rain during the pandemic at a time when I could barely think straight. I poured everything I had into it, and along the way missed a couple of deadlines, something that’s never happened to me before. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.
Even so, my answer was ready. I said that I would tell new writers, “No matter how much soul you pour into your book, or how difficult it is for you to write it, it’s not your baby.” Thinking of your book as a tiny, helpless creature as I know some authors tend to do will only bring on unnecessary angst when starting the next book. It serves no useful purpose. To help illustrate this point, I’ve listed 5 fun ways your book is not your baby. The list features a real live human baby also known as the #1 grandkid.
- You’ll never refer to your baby as the Shitty First Draft (SFD)
We all have to start somewhere. For me, it’s creating what Anne Lamott calls the SFD. To prepare for Rain’s SFD, I made an intimate acquaintance with my villain by performing a character study. Lamott has some great advice in Bird by Bird (1994) on how to do this.
Next, using Jess Lourey’s Book in a Bag technique, I sketched out 80 or so scenes on index cards, and threw them in a bowl I lifted from the kitchen. Each writing session, I pulled a card from the bowl and started writing. It was like getting a birthday present every day. When the bowl was empty, my SFD was complete. I was delighted. Still, not even close to being a baby.
- Parents rarely obsess over ways they wish their baby was different
We can’t send an SFD to our editors. And Rain had plot holes big enough for an ocean liner. I knew that changes were a must. I started by placing the scenes in some semblance of order, and then rewriting each one. Here are some of the questions I used to guide me during the scene rewrites: 1) Did the scene fulfill its purpose?, 2) Was it vivid enough with sensory detail that mattered to character or plot?, and 3) How would the book change if I removed it? Once this was done, the book was better, but still, I knew I didn’t have a baby on my hands.
- You won’t neglect your baby for at least two weeks so it can ‘rest’
After rewriting and ordering the scenes, I took two more passes. The first pass was a developmental edit by me and my writing partner. The second was a read for consistent tone and style, and to identify grammar mistakes. I made the changes before stuffing the entire thing in a drawer to ‘let it rest’. For me, stepping away creates needed distance for an effective final edit before it goes off to my editor. I’d never stuff the #1 grandkid in a drawer to let him rest.
- You won’t keep asking strangers if they like your baby
Reentering the publishing world after raising my sons was not easy for me. I sent out query after query only to be rejected— about 150 of them before I found my agent. Finding a publisher required similar tenacity from my agent. Would you subject your baby to all of those rejections?!?
- Good parents won’t forget about their baby and move on
I strive to write the best book I can, but once it’s done, I move on. I don’t obsess over small mistakes that my editor and I may have missed, or reread for nostalgia’s sake. And I’m no longer particularly interested in how it grew from that SFD into the finished product unless I’m asked about it during interviews. Does a negative review sting? Sure it does. Will positive ones bring validation? You bet. But I try my best not to dwell on a book that’s already been written unless I’m about to write its sequel. We don’t do that to our babies.
While I do recognize the courage and effort it takes to put work out there, I believe that thinking about your books in an objective light will relieve unnecessary pressure and doubt. And writers need all the help they can get creating and publishing in an intentional and joyful way. But tell me, do you think it’s healthier to view your book as a product?
Faye will give away a copy of A Killing Fire and A Killing Rain to one commenter!
About the book:
Dark, Southern gothic tale of homicide detective Raven Burns, with a complicated past and a desperate case to solve. Black Girls Lit recommends the first book, A Killing Fire “to crime fiction and mystery lovers and fans of Ruth Ware and Gillian Flynn.”
After former homicide Raven Burns returns to Byrd’s Landing, Louisiana to begin a new life, she soon finds herself trapped by the old one when her nephew is kidnapped by a ruthless serial killer, and her foster brother becomes the main suspect. To make matters worse, she is being pursued by two men— one who wants to redeem her soul for the murder Raven felt she had no choice but to commit, and another who wants to lock her away forever.
Faye Snowden is the author of noir mysteries, poems and short stories. Her novels include Spiral of Guilt, The Savior, Fatal Justice, and A Killing Fire, a dark, southern gothic tale featuring homicide detective Raven Burns. A Killing Fire is first in a four-part series. The sequel, A Killing Rain, will be released in June, 2022.
Faye has a master’s in English Literature. She has been awarded writing fellowships from Djerassi and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her short story “One Bullet. One Vote was included in The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021 edited by Steph Cha and Alafair Burke. She is a member of Crime Writers of Color (CWOC), Mystery Writers of America (MWA), and Sisters in Crime (SinC) where she serves as Board Secretary for SinC National. She has participated in many writing panels, appeared as a guest lecturer in several university writing classes, and taught information technology courses at the university level. Today, Faye works and writes from her home in Northern California. Learn more about Faye at www.fayesnowden.com .