Revisions and revisions: A never-ending cycle

Happy Easter, my friends! As I mentioned in my last blog post, revisions for the next draft of The Thieves of Traska are currently underway. It’s been a little tricky to find time to write and edit now that I’m working 30-40 hours a week at the patisserie. I’m still rearranging a few things so I can write every day and (try) to blog every week. I think aiming for a blog post on Mondays will work better. Fingers crossed!

A week ago, I had no idea how I was going to revise Thieves. I had a list of problems, courtesy of my beta readers, and a vague idea of what would fix them. But I also had a list of responses that I wasn’t sure what to do about:

  • “The chapters feel too short.”
  • “I’m not sure why Garrison sticks around.”
  • “It doesn’t feel like anything connects to a bigger scheme.”
  • “Not enough really happens in the beginning to compel me forward.”
  • “The pacing is too slow.”

Alright, redistributing where the chapters begin and end wasn’t too hard. I wrote out all the events on my whiteboard and figured out where it made the most sense to put breaks. That left a few blanks to fill in, but I’d figure that out later.

More than a few blanks, since the picture I took before erasing my board is a little fuzzy in spots. (Spoilers all over that board.)

Why does Garrison stick with Claire? According to enough of my readers, it had to be because he has a crush on her. Since that is not the real reason, I need to tweak his dialogue in places so that it becomes clear. I’m still bouncing ideas off of people on how to make it make sense.

Those last three comments drove me crazy. Nothing connects to a larger plot?! Nothing happens in the beginning?! What is wrong with the pacing?!

Asking my readers didn’t offer any clear answers. It wasn’t until I started poking around at what other people said about the pacing in YA books that I got to the heart of the problem.

Everyone in The Thieves of Traska has a personal goal driving them forward. It’s great for their motivation, but it’s not enough for the story. There’s no common goal any of them are working toward together that relates to the overall plot. Sounds like a pretty big thing to be missing from a sixth draft, right? But it’s not entirely missing. There are plenty of little actions that could be connected to something greater if I just add that central point.

So what do you add to The Thieves of Traska to make all the petty crimes Claire commits connect to a bigger picture? Why not some sort of heist? Sure! Now the revisions will include a heist.

What about the lack of events in the beginning, and the slow pace? That one was trickier to figure out. It’s not so much that nothing is happening; the stakes just aren’t high enough in what does happen. For example: when Claire and Garrison are on the road to Traska, one of the highlights of the trip is when they’re attacked by bandits. That’s exciting! But buried beneath a lot of uneventful walking.

Now, instead of mutually deciding to journey together, I have Garrison unaware that Claire is following him. These revisions help build up to the solution to the “why does Garrison stick around” problem. And, by adding the risk of discovery, the stakes are just a little bit higher.

It’s not such a boring walk anymore, is it? If I take the same approach to every chapter, perhaps the pacing problem will be fixed, as well.

Call for beta readers: The Thieves of Traska Draft 6

This is it, my friends: the official call for beta readers. Last time we were here, I was absolutely terrified. Only one friend had read most of The Thieves of Traska by that point. If my readers didn’t like the story, I might have spent a significant amount of time crying and maybe given up on it altogether.

But my readers liked it. Some even loved it.

For the second time, I ask for volunteers. The Thieves of Traska now has nearly 300 pages, and more than 86,000 words.

If you want to be a beta reader…

  • Comment on this post, tweet at me, or email me at Amanda (at) ajswitz (dot) com by Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017
  • Specify your preferred format for reading (Microsoft Word document, PDF, .mobi, etc.)*
  • Please briefly explain your interest in being a beta reader

*NOTE

If you provided feedback on Draft 4 last year, you are eligible to receive a professionally printed and bound copy of Draft 6. The number of printed copies I order will be based on the number requested. If you would like to receive a printed copy, please notify me no later than Jan. 15, 2017.

Beta readers should prepare to provide a thorough, honest critique beyond “good,” “bad,” or “x/5 stars.” To avoid interfering with your reading process, I will save specific questions until after you’ve finished reading.

For a brief description of the story, check out the new Books tab on the top of the site!

2017 brings beta copies of The Thieves of Traska!

I’ve been writing 2017 instead of 2016 on my notes since mid-November. Finally, that can stop being a mistake. Happy New Year, everyone! We have a few exciting announcements to start the year off.

First: I quietly finished inputting the edits I received from beta readers early last year. Even though no one said extensive edits were needed, they happened. Since readers last saw Draft 4, eight chapters have been added, and more than 30,000 words.

Draft 4, Draft 6, beta copy, comparison
A few more edits than I meant to make.

Your positive feedback assured me that I’m not half bad at this whole writing thing. There was also an unexpected side effect: I rewrote the plot for the rest of the series. You’ve all helped me make this a story worth reading.

Our second announcement: now that Draft 6 is complete, I need another set of beta readers! Anyone interested in reviewing a digital copy is welcome to comment here, shout out to me on social media, or email me (amanda AT ajswitz DOT com) at your convenience. I’ll be posting an official call for beta readers next week.

Besides having more content, this draft is special. It is, perhaps, THE DRAFT. The one that will be submitted to agents and publishers. Of course, there are sure to be more edits. But The Thieves of Traska might just be ready to seek publication.

And that brings me to the third announcement. A limited number of print and bound copies of The Thieves of Traska, Draft 6, will be ordered this month. Certain readers (some who read the previous draft, some who haven’t read any of it) have difficulty reading the story as a book when it’s not in book form. For some, a print version — that isn’t a 300-page stack of copy paper — would be most convenient.

A photo posted by Amanda Surowitz (@ajswitzy) on

That’s a daunting read for anyone.

A friend brought another use for these printed copies to my attention when I asked for help formatting the text. Potentially, this could appeal to agents and publishers and help get me published. Whether or not it helps, I will share what I learn in later blog posts.

This is an out of pocket expense for me. Due to the cost, there won’t be an open call for requests for a printed copy. Only those who provided feedback on the previous draft are eligible to request the printed copy of Draft 6. For my overseas readers, have no fear about your own eligibility. One copy is already destined for the UK. International shipping is not a concern.

As this year is already off to an exciting and productive start, let me once again wish you all a happy 2017!

Winner of August Milestone Giveaway!

Many thanks to everyone who entered my August Milestone Giveaway! Thank you so much for joining my little celebration and taking the time to write some comments. It’s hard to stress how much of a joy each entry is. I have yet to plan a giveaway without my first thought being, “How embarrassing would it be if no one entered and there was no winner?”

Thankfully, 11 names were in the pool! That really blows me away. But the biggest surprise was the wonderful mention on Winterwolf Books. Thank you so much, Jessica. You were the cause for many happy squeals.

And now, for the part you’ve all been waiting for: Bianca’s selection of the winner!

Thank you all for entering! And thank you, Alex, for your help in creating this video. It couldn’t have happened without you.

See you next week, and hopefully at the next giveaway!

Printmaking project for The Thieves of Traska

Whenever the artsy-fartsy mood strikes me, I usually stick a bunch of paintbrushes in my hair and get to work on a watercolor painting. Printmaking is not something I’ve done a lot of — I’d honestly only done it once for a class in my freshman year of high school — but I’m quickly changing that.

It started with this key rack I made for the new apartment I now share with my brother. We didn’t like anything we saw in stores, so we decided to customize. We wanted some kind of picture at the top, and I eventually figured out that carving a stamp was maybe the best way to ensure that picture looked good. I bought a kit and a linoleum block and ended up with something pretty awesome.

I’m on a #printmaking adventure! #art #carriage #horse #ink #stamp #crafting

A video posted by Amanda Surowitz (@ajswitzy) on

The kit did include a block to carve, but it’s a different material than what I used in high school. It wasn’t until I moved the block next to a package of plain brown Molskines that I got an idea of how to use it. Hadn’t I just been thinking it would be nice to make a strong, easily reproduced image I could slap on some gifts to promote The Thieves of Traska? Well, here was my answer.

I only played with the idea at first — I doodled a random thought in a lined notebook, not really thinking seriously about the design for printmaking. But then I liked it. So out came the graphite paper to transfer it to the block (which wasn’t particularly effective). I tried to make the lines easier to see with an ultra-fine Sharpie, but the so-called permanent ink smeared and rubbed right off.

The Thieves of Traska printmaking draft
The initial scribbling.

In true Amanda fashion, I said screw it and just started cutting. By the time I tried the first test print to make sure everything came out clearly, I realized I should probably add a border, or a background of some sort. Another element made up on the spot, I cut out some brick patterns as a nod to all the stonework of Traska.

The Thieves of Traska printmaking block
Many hours later…

After some minor adjustments and corrections, it was time to get the ink and the roller ready to go. As always, I made a bit of a mess on my desk getting this done, but the notebooks look fantastic. They will be included as prizes in my upcoming giveaway.

I’m so pleased with the result. The fact that I can reproduce the image easily without having to scan and print a less authentic-feeling copy is almost a bonus. Perhaps printmaking is the right art style for The Thieves of Traska. It’s hand-made, a good blend of rough and refined, and lends the right kind of mood to the picture.

The Thieves of Traska printmaking notebooks
The final products!

If you like the notebooks, check in later for the official giveaway announcement and rules to learn how you can win one! (Or, if you’re impatient, email me and I can sell you one.)

The Thieves of Traska giveaway, take 2

Earlier this year, I wanted to host a giveaway to celebrate my progress with The Thieves of Traska. It was really exciting to send the fourth draft to some volunteers and see how the story went over. I haven’t received responses from everyone yet, but what I have gotten is wonderfully positive.

Thank you everyone for the feedback you have given me. I know there is still work to be done, but I’m grateful that you not only liked the story, but also had some brilliant ideas on how to make it even better.

But this giveaway isn’t just to celebrate The Thieves of Traska. I’m also celebrating my acceptance into grad school. In a few short years, I’ll have my M.F.A. in writing! I won’t start class until the fall, but it’s crazy to think how fast it will happen.

In addition to the prizes I had already collected earlier this year, I’ve been adding a few more. Here’s a peek at a test I did during the making of some new prizes:The Thieves of Traska giveaway prints

Hurray for printmaking! As much as I love painting, I’m starting to wonder if these types of prints fit the story better.

Anyhow, the giveaway to celebrate all this will happen toward the end of June/beginning of July. In the meantime, I’ll be kicking the dust off my blog and poking awake my sleepy readers. I’ve let The Thieves of Traska simmer on my back burner while I’ve been grinding out the first draft of The Raiders of Vaskegon (which recently hit 31,000 words!), but now it’s time dive into the wonderful feedback I’ve received and get to editing.

For you, readers, this means more excerpts, character profiles, peeks at my notes, glimpses of the comments I’ve received, and more. If you see something you like and want to read more about, let me know!

Book two, chapter one: A messy first draft

I wish I could say the prolonged silence on my blog for the last few weeks was due to some intense writing on the first draft of the next project— the kind where I neglect a meal or a shower here and there because the muse is stranded in my head with a flat tire. I’d also like to say that I’m rolling in a mixture of glee and self-loathing after receiving all the comments from my beta readers. But I’m actually stuck.

This is no surprise. After sending out The Thieves of Traska, I forced myself to take a step back from the story. That lasted maybe a week before I realized that I could start working on its sequel, The Raiders of Vaskegon. Same cast, different story — that still counts as taking a step back, right?

Well, in the eight weeks since I started the first draft, I’ve already restarted numerous times. The first chapter alone is in its fifth revision. I thought there would be progress when I finally put a couple pages into chapter two, but I stalled when I realized the foundation of the first chapter still wasn’t stable. Why? Because I’m making mistakes that, by this point, I ought to know how to avoid.

(Non)obligatory summary of book one

Yep, I went there first. What if a new reader gets to book two before book one? What if people who read book one have to wait months or years before getting book two? They’ve got to be caught up on the story so far!

If the events of book one could enjoyably be covered in the span of a few paragraphs, I wouldn’t have written over 50,000 words on it already. Book two has a job to do: continue the story, not retell it.

Reintroducing familiar characters by ignoring stages of development

Did that, too. Book two starts a few days after the end of book one, yet the familiar characters had apparently gone through months’ worth of development while no one was looking. They almost have to be different people to handle the new problems ahead of them — why not start them over with the new book?

Let’s refer back to book two’s job: continue the story, not restart it.

Forget everything else and charge full speed ahead into the plot

I’m getting closer, but this still isn’t the way to go. Readers of the first book won’t get annoyed with boring recaps of stuff they’ve already read, and newcomers will just have to go get book one if they want to figure out what’s going on. We’re continuing the story here, right? So let’s introduce seven new characters in two pages and go from there.

Book two still has to be a book with structure to its narrative. Right now, it’s a crazy mess. But it’s also a first draft.

While I have received some feedback from my beta readers — with lots of positive comments! — I haven’t gone back to work on The Thieves of Traska yet. If anything, I’m reading it and letting myself fall in love with the characters as if they were someone else’s. I’m thinking about that feeling when you finally get the next book and it’s like you’re seeing an old friend again. It’s a tall order, but I’m up to the challenge of filling it.

The Thieves of Traska tote bags are here!

A full week ahead of when they were expected, the tote bags I ordered for my giveaway arrived! I’m very pleased with how they came out and I am happy to offer them as prizes. Take a look:

The Thieves of Traska giveaway bags

One side has the title, my name and my website. The other has a block of text from the book:

Dark clouds gather, calling me to my post. I see lightning, hear thunder, feel fury. I will sail on, flying with the wind, not against. I carry the Coterie on my back and in my heart, through loss and sacrifice, on to glory and victory. I will not break before the storm.

That is the oath taken by all members of the Coterie, the powerful criminal organization in control of the city of Traska in The Thieves of Traska. How can you get your hands on one of these tote bags, you ask? The giveaway, of course!

The giveaway will launch on Monday, Jan. 18 via Rafflecopter. Like the last giveaway I did, there will be a number of optional things to do to increase your chances of winning one of these bags (and other goodies!). Two winning names will be chosen at random on Friday, Jan. 22 and Friday, Jan. 29. That’s two chances to win!

More information on the giveaway and prizes will be posted next week. Stay tuned!

The Thieves of Traska needs beta readers!

Hello, friends! I’m very pleased to announce that I have finally finished the fourth draft of The Thieves of Traska! And that means we’re ready for the next step: beta readers!

When I first announced the project a couple years ago, I said it would be a novella. Now — at a whopping 52,580 words — it stands to be the first installment in a trilogy. It is also the longest piece of fiction I’ve ever written and the only one I’m prepared to show to a test audience.

Honestly, it’s scary. It’s like critique day in class all over again, but the stakes feel much higher. I’m not asking for feedback on a 10-page short story that I can edit in an hour or so. I’m asking for feedback on a 186-page novel that is supposed to launch my dream career as an author. So no pressure, right?

Even so, I come to you, my friends, to recruit some beta readers. I need volunteers willing to read the whole novel and give me your feedback. Whatever format you need — Word doc, PDF, Google doc, printed copy, etc. — I will gladly send it. And then I will forget about it for six weeks while you read and come back to it with fresh eyes.

If you’re interested in reading this fantasy adventure about a runaway and a fugitive getting swept into a dangerous game of intrigue between the shady criminal leagues who control the city of Traska, let me know! Comment here, email me at amanda (at) ajswitz (dot) com, or reach out on social media.

If you already volunteered before I finished writing, then keep an eye out for a message from me. Thank you all in advance and I greatly look forward to hearing from you.

By the way, what is Traska?

For this week’s Writing Wednesday, I’ve decided to give you all a look into the city of Traska, the fictional setting of The Thieves of Traska. The name is actually derived from a couple of real places I’ve visited many times in Michigan: Traverse City and Kalkaska.

I remember being in the car about two years ago, traveling between Michigan and Virginia with my family. All I had was an idea to expand a short story about a thief breaking out of jail — I still needed a new name for that thief, a location, a plot, and just about everything else. Every so often, I wrote down the names of cities and towns we passed through, picking apart the sounds I liked in each. After testing a few options on my family, I decided on Traska.

Even the Toskey River, which cuts through the city, got its name from the petoskey stones my family collects in Michigan. Though the landscape and the names are inspired by my time up north, the city is nothing like what I’ve seen there.

This is a partial image of an unfinished painting of Traska from the earlier drafts. The city was smaller, but still occupied the north and south banks of the Toskey River.

And now, for your reading pleasure, an excerpt from The Thieves of Traska about the city itself. As the book is yet unpublished, the following text is subject to change before being finalized.

Excerpt

Late in the morning, the forest ended abruptly, cut back for farming. The ground sloped upward, a number of farmhouses and villages dotting the countryside. Further ahead, Claire could make out the serene blue of a bay, rounded mountains spanning the horizon, and a river that popped in and out of sight among clumps of forest. If she had to guess, that was the Toskey River, and it fed right into the bay.

And the dark shape next to it could only be Traska.

Before reaching the city proper, they passed through a town that spread along the edge of the bay all the way to the massive stone wall surrounding Traska. According to locals, the area was called Skeggs, though they couldn’t agree on whether it was a town on its own or one of Traska’s districts.

As they neared the gate separating Skeggs from Traska, they entered a swelling stream of people bustling in and out of the gate. Once Claire and Garrison passed under the shadow of the gate, the air had a different charge to it. She could feel the life of the city pulsing around her and in the bluish stones beneath her feet. The sounds of peddlers hawking goods and horse-drawn carts rattling by carried over the crowd from an open marketplace further up the road and echoed off stone and mortar walls. There wasn’t a single building in sight with fewer than two floors; some towered more than twice that further in. The buildings were the same blue-grey as the roads, many of them displaying glittering tiled mosaics on one wall or another.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek into The Thieves of Traska! Be sure to check back on the blog for details on my upcoming giveaway to celebrate the fourth draft.