Contest Winner!

My short story, ‘The Divvy’, won an award for ‘Propulsive Scene and/or Plot Line’ in the 2015 Stoneslide Story Contest. They may include it in their anthology or publish it on their website; as soon as I know I’ll post here and on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Propulsive scene and/or plot line: “The Divvy,” by Mary Holland, starts with an unwanted and burdensome gift and moves at tremendous speed through complications and challenges, barreling toward revelation, all the while assembling a fantastical and convincing world.

‘The Divvy’ is an outtake from The Bone Road. Originally, it was a bridge chapter between part 1 and part 2, and it was told from Jak’s POV. But it never fit, so I tossed it into the edit folder where I keep the deathless prose that I cannot bear to part with, i.e., large hunks of text that don’t quite work but which I cannot delete. This is the only way I can edit out large globs of text.

When it never did end up in the book, I rewrote the story from another POV and submitted it to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. They rejected it, but suggested changing the POV (again!) to the primary character instead of to an observer. So eventually I rewrote the story a third time and, trust me, changing a POV is much harder than writing a new story from scratch. Beneath Ceaseless Skies asks authors not to resubmit revised work and I took them at their word, so as other opportunities came up it went out and came back. I’ve lost track of how many times.

I’m so pleased it won an award, and that an impartial editor liked it. If you’ve read The Bone Road you know it’s a complicated world with an oddball premise. Boiling that down without dumping a heavy explanation on the reader’s head was a hell of a lot of work. I’m so happy it paid off.

Revisions and Editors

After three months of revisions, I sent the finished manuscript to a professional editor. My final version of The Dog of Pel is almost exactly 100,000 words, by Microsoft’s Word Count. 340 pages.

For anyone interested in process:

I printed out the entire manuscript, went over it line by line, and wrote in corrections and notes to myself. Sometimes they were very detailed corrections to the text and other times said informative things such as “Rewrite!” or “Expand” or “?”. Going to Starbucks was very helpful and caffeine was essential. Well, caffeine is always essential, but the atmosphere helped. The white noise of a coffee shop really aids concentration.

Then I went back to the computer and entered the corrections or changed the troublesome bits. The ending seemed rushed and weak to me. I have an elaborate world with rules and structure and the end as first written seemed a bit ‘he waved his arms and magic happened’ so I rewrote it.

I rewrote it three times.

Because these changes altered some of the earlier plot, I printed out the manuscript again and repeated the corrections process, trying to catch all the tiny plot details and achieve logical consistency. I double and triple checked the last 50 pages for flow and tone and whatever you want to call it so the characters achieved logical and emotionally satisfying ends, whether good or bad.

I spell-checked the whole thing twice. I also went through my List of Words I Overuse such as ‘just’, ‘thought’, and for some annoying reason ‘nodded’, and removed as many as possible. Sometimes I see my characters as bobble-headed dolls, apparently. I have never put a sentence into a manuscript that said: ‘I just thought he nodded’ but clearly it is only a matter of time.

I let the manuscript sit for a few days. When I returned to it I changed some sentences. Then I changed them back. Then I changed some more and changed them back. This is my “You Are Done” indicator.

I didn’t use a professional editor for either Matcher Rules or The Bone Road. Whatever your opinion of either of those titles, I decided this time to move beyond the criticism and input of my friendly beta readers and send this manuscript to a professional. After some hesitation I chose a woman who I’d taken a workshop with some years ago. She’s not a fantasy genre specialist, but she does edit genre. I felt my trust in her professionalism and competency outweighed the narrow confines of genre. 

I won’t find out if this decision was good or bad until May 8th. She’ll start on the manuscript on April 20. I sent it in early because I could not do anything else with that enormous lump of work and anxiety sitting on my desktop. So it’s gone.

Now I have time to clean up a bit around here and work on some other projects. Also, I’m carrying around a notebook with the beginnings of the next book. So far I have a title, the first two sentences, about six character biographies and the beginning of an outline. This is my favorite part. All the possibilities of story, none of the reality of writing it down.