{Guest Post/Giveaway} Revising From Draft to Finished Copy with SING SWEET NIGHTINGALE Author Erica Cameron

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To celebrate, Erica Cameron has stopped by with an amazing guest post 
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Photo by Lani Woodland
Erica Cameron knew that writing was her passion when she turned a picture book into a mystery novella as a teen. That piece wasn’t her best work, but it got her an A. After college, she used her degree in Psychology and Creative Writing to shape a story about a dreamworld. Then a chance encounter at a rooftop party in Tribeca made her dream career a reality.

Erica is many things but most notably the following: writer, reader, editor, dancer, choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for romance, Florida resident, and quasi-recluse. She loves the beach but hates the heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvador Dali and Venetian Carnival masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon d├ęcor pieces, and a desire to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know, whatever works.

Her debut novel SING SWEET NIGHTINGALE releases March 4, 2014 from Spencer Hill Press. It is the first book in The Dream War Saga.

Erica is represented by Danielle Chiotti at Upstart Crow Literary. However, for subrights inquiries on SING SWEET NIGHTINGALE, contact Rebecca Mancini at Rights Mix. Regarding publicity for The Dream War Saga, contact Cindy Thomas at cthomas {@} spencerhillcontemporary {.} com.

To contact Erica, try:
Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads
Tumblr  |  Pinterest  |  Google+  |  The Mystical Demystified

Revising From Draft to Finished Copy:
Lucky #13
by Erica Cameron

         Looking back on the whole process of writing and revising my debut novel, Sing Sweet Nightingale, I might have been in a slightly masochistic mood when I thought, “Yeah, it’d be a great idea to have a narrator who made a vow of silence!”

         Here’s how it started.

         My best friend is also an author. Her name is Lani Woodland and she lives in southern California. One day in summer 2010, she called me and told me that her sister had decided to put together an anthology of paranormal YA short stories.
         “Do you have anything you can submit?” she asked.
         “Come on,” I said. “You know me and short. I don’t do short!” (This is true. I am not very good at keeping things simple and brief)
         “So write one!” Lani said, as though it was that easy.
         “When’s the deadline?” I asked.
         “Two weeks.”

         Right. So there I was with two weeks and no story. Or even any ideas. But it seemed like fun, so I told Lani I would try and I’d let her know if I came up with anything.

         I worked at Borders at the time as a supervisor and had an opening shift one day. Opening the store meant getting there at seven to let the inventory team and the cleaners in and then locking myself in a tiny room in the back of the building so that I could do the cash count and deposit for the day. Usually, while I did this, I listened to my iPod on shuffle to help keep me awake (because I am so not a morning person). On this particular morning, two songs played pretty much back-to-back: “Creation Lake” by Silversun Pickups and “Mariella” by Kate Nash.
         The chorus of “Creation Lake” repeats over and over “There are twenty-four parts in a day that divides me from you,” and so my half-asleep brain decided to ask, “What about the twenty-fifth part?” I grabbed a sticky note and wrote the question down and kept counting. And then “Mariella” started playing. The song is essentially a story about a girl named Mariella who decided not to speak anymore, starts wearing only dark colors, abandons her friends, and is yet perfectly content with her choices and her life. I listened to it and started wondering what would make a person seriously consider silence a viable or attractive option.

         Those two questions combined in my head to create a world that only appeared at the very end of the day and a girl who’d taken a vow of silence. When I started writing, I didn’t know if the world would end up being a beautiful place or a terrifying one or if the people who lived there would be kind or manipulative and evil. I figured it out as the characters appeared on the page and within a few days I had a short story entirely from Mariella’s point of view. It clocked in at just over 19,000 words. Which is actually a novella if you follow the classification guidelines for the Hugo Award. Like I may have mentioned before (and as is probably obvious with this post), I’m not fantastic at the whole “short” thing. I called the story SING, SWEET NIGHTINGALE and submitted it to Lani’s sister.

         And that was the first step in what would become a three-year editorial process.

         The version of the short story that was accepted into the anthology started like this:

         When I was younger, I thought they were just dreams. I thought he was a friend who only came out to play when I fell asleep. But then he started leaving things behind and I had irrefutable proof that he was more than imaginary.
         At first, they were little things which only had significance to me, trinkets he let me play with when we met. As I got older, the gifts became increasingly elaborate and they appeared at all times of day and everywhere I went. Sometimes they were dresses, jewelry, books, or figurines, and sometimes he left things I could barely describe. Carvings of animals not even the ancient Greeks had created or flowers so beautiful they put roses to shame. My favorites, though, were the ones that seemed to be sculpted representations of a single thought or feeling, a message telling me how much he loved me. Those and my nightingales.

         It was interesting and weird and dramatic, but even when it had been accepted to the anthology I felt as though something was missing. 
         Demonstrating Mariella’s silence and her extreme emotional and mental distance from the real world without alienating readers and making them dislike her too much was hellaciously hard. Even though I loved the concept of the story (and absolutely adored Hudson as soon as he stepped on to the page), I didn’t understand Mariella. Not in the way I need to understand a character in order to write them effectively. Trying to get a better handle on Mari, I decided to write the same story from Hudson’s perspective. It’s moments like this that make me believe in fate. I turned this second version of the story into the anthology’s editor and, after she read it, she emailed me back and said, “Erica, this needs to be a novel. Put these two perspectives together—alternate them—and make this a book.” As frustrating as it was (I’d finally managed to write a short story and someone was telling me to make it longer?!) I decided to follow her advice. So in November of 2011, I sat down and NaNo’d the first draft of the novel. Version 1 of started like this:

         Sleeping is the best part of my day. Everything goes slowly downhill from there. Waking up, searching for new music, faking my way through school, studying useless information for hours, suffering through dinner. The only thing I look forward is the buildup of anticipation before it’s finally time to go to sleep.
         Can you imagine living like that? What kind of life that would be? I can tell you right now.
         It’s no life at all.
         That’s why I’m trying so hard to make sure I spend the rest of my life asleep. Who wouldn’t if they had a choice between Paradise and Swallow’s Grove?

         Mariella was still coming across as too, well… bitchy, honestly. I wanted her to be distant and disconnected, but she wasn’t a bad person. Somehow, though, I still couldn’t get a handle on how to keep the necessary parts—her silence, her devotion to Orane, her (edited for spoiler content)—without making readers seriously dislike her.
         Somehow—and I’m still not sure at all how this happened—I entered a RWA writing contest for unpublished authors with this book and won first place. But I still wasn’t satisfied with how the book was working, so I reworked it a lot. The revised second draft of the book is the one that I sent to my future editors at Spencer Hill, Danielle Ellison and Patricia Riley, when they requested to read the full manuscript. Version 2.8 (yes, really; for some reason version 2 went through various permutations) of the book started like this:

         Choices are kind of like breathing. Everyone does it every day, but they usually don’t think about it until something makes them. If you stopped, though—breathing or choosing—you’d suffocate and die. Some choices merely decide whether or not you’re going to be five minutes late to an appointment. Others change the course of your life. Sometimes choices are easily accepted by the world around us, but sometimes a choice has to be defended. Sometimes, if you really believe in the choice you’ve made, you also have to choose to stand by your decision and remind people of humanity’s one birthright: Free will.
         Almost four years ago I made the second kind of choice. Almost four years ago I promised the man I love my silence and I haven’t broken that promise once.
         I didn’t think keeping the promise would prove difficult. By my fourteenth birthday the rose colored glasses had fallen off and I saw the truth behind humanity’s plagues and wars: we are the cause of all our worst pain. Still, I never expected people would care one way or the other that I’d stopped speaking. It dawned on me pretty quickly that I was wrong.
         Everyone assumed I suffered some head injury or traumatic emotional crisis. People asked questions, wondering what happened, but keeping the truth a secret is one of the reasons I took this vow of silence in the first place. The man I love… well, he isn’t like anyone else I’ve ever met. He lives in a world most people don’t even know exists and he can only visit me in my dreams. Even if the existence of this dreamworld wasn’t a secret, I still wouldn’t have told anyone about my love. Who would believe me? They would have thought I was crazy instead of just eccentric and thrown me in a psych ward instead of taunting me like a guard at Buckingham Palace.

         Better, yes? She’s not quite as bitter in this version. More determined. Which is good! That’s what I wanted her to be. Because Mari is that. Determined and strong and loyal to a fault. She’s not angry or bitter. Often sad, yes, but not bitter. Yet even this still wasn’t quite right.  
         Before I signed the contract with Spencer Hill in July 2012, I talked to Danielle and Patricia about where they saw the edits going and what they pictured for the world as a whole. They really seemed to get what I was going for and I knew I’d be in good hands. This was what I’d been waiting for—someone with strong editorial skills to come in and point out the flaws and ask the right questions and point me down the path I couldn’t seem to find myself.

         I didn’t get my first edit letter from Danielle and Patricia until February of 2013, but that doesn’t mean the book just sat there until then. After several emails and Skype calls, they asked me to do two different revisions. The first one took out a subplot that (to be honest) I am SO GLAD we removed. I can’t even imagine continuing the series with that line in place. It would have driven me up a wall and off a cliff. So I revised. And that was a pretty heavy revision. I turned it in and they said “Great! Now we want you to look at Mari because, really, she’s entirely unsympathetic.” Actually, I think they may have flat-out called her a bitch. So I still hadn’t received my first official edit letter and here I was revising. Again. Whee!

         What I ended up with was version 6 of Sing. It opened with a chapter from Mariella’s POV and these were the first two paragraphs:

         Most people know words can hurt, but they probably aren’t aware silence can inflict just as much pain. I wish I could say I was one of them. I haven’t spoken in four years and every word I haven’t uttered hurts my parents more than yelling at them would. Every minute of my silence is like another dose of a slow-working poison that’s leeching the color and the joy out of their life. But I’ve made a promise that means even more to me than their suffering. To keep my promise and to minimize the damage I do, I’ve distanced myself from them. From everything.
         It’s entirely possible to walk through the world as you would a dream. It takes a lot of practice and the ability to separate part of your mind from reality, but it’s possible. What surprised me once I mastered this art is that it gives the world a quiet sort of splendor, almost like an impressionist painting.

         This version didn’t last long. In fact, this was the last time I edited the book before I got my first official edit letter from Danielle and Patricia at Spencer Hill Press. That letter was thirty pages long and essentially meant one thing: I had to rewrite the book.

         There may have been (okay, fine…there were definitely) tears.

         But I did it. I sat down with the core concepts of the book, threw out a lot of other things, rethought the way the world worked, and started at the beginning.

         With Mariella still leading the book, I decided to open with the dreamworld instead. This is what I came up with:

         I grip the horse’s mane tight and urge her faster.
         Already outpacing the wind blowing across the lake, now she becomes a streak of lightning, her hooves cracking against the ground like thunderbolts. I rise and fall with each stride knowing that as impossibly fast as we’re flying, as hard as I’m pushing her, as synchronized as we are tonight, it’s not enough.
         Orane is about to catch up with me.
         “Is that the best you can do?” he shouts as he passes me. His chestnut stallion flies past my white mare, Orane kicking him to even greater speeds.
         Grinding my teeth, I grip my mare’s sides between my knees and lean down across her neck, pressing myself against her and trying to match her movements, predict her strides. I thought the shortcut through the lavender field would give me the edge I need, but Orane is better. And this is his world. He created it. No matter how much time I’ve spent here over the past ten years, I won’t ever know this place like he does. And Orane never lets me win.

         So much better, but still not where the book should start. Mariella was finally cooperating and I’d found a balance for her character that worked! Yay! But something was still missing. I went back and rewrote the beginning. Again. And again. I think I went through four different possible chapter ones at this point. All of them, suddenly, from Hudson’s point of view. Hudson took over the first chapter position in version 8 of the book and he stayed in that spot through the end of the revision process. The novel was officially finalized on version number 13 (lucky 13!) and it now begins like this:

         I hate this park. Wouldn’t ever come here again if J.R. didn’t like it so much.
         My little brother is running circles around himself on the path a few feet ahead, his arms out like an airplane. My gaze jumps from him to the red oaks on either side. There are too many shadowy hiding places between those trees. I know. I’ve used them before.
         Lifting my hand to the olive-branch wreath pendant I got from Calease, I take a deep breath, calming myself like she taught me. In four, hold four, out four. Repeat. Under my calloused thumb, I can feel the bumps and ridges of the glass leaves. I focus on the soft, white, otherworldly glow surrounding it and turn toward my brother.
         I drop my pendant as soon as I look up. J.R. is nowhere in sight.
         Heart pounding, I scan the path. There’s no one here.
         He doesn’t respond. My hands clench. Despite the warm spring air, I’m chilled.

         So there it is from beginning to end. And that’s just looking at pieces of chapter one! If I tried to explain the many and various ways the rest of the book has changed since the very first draft of this book, it would probably be about the length of my book. Despite the fact that the book changed ENTIRELY from what it started out as, Mariella is still the one part/character that changed the most. In fact, out of the entire book, the thing that changed the least was the title. All my editors did to that was remove the comma. ;)

Erica, thank you so much for letting us in on your creative process!
I really enjoyed seeing how the first chapter progressed and changed over the course of thirteen drafts. The revision process is one that intimidates me the most as a fellow writer, and to do it thirteen times!! Kudos to you!

O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Erica Cameron
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press

Mariella Teagen hasn't spoken a word in four years.

She pledged her voice to Orane, the man she loves—someone she only sees in her dreams. Each night, she escapes to Paradise, the world Orane created for her, and she sings for him. Mariella never believed she could stay in Paradise longer than a night, but two weeks before her eighteenth birthday, Orane hints that she may be able to stay forever.

Hudson Vincent made a pledge to never fight again.

Calease, the creature who created his dream world, swore that giving up violence would protect Hudson. But when his vow caused the death of his little brother, Hudson turned his grief on Calease and destroyed the dream world. The battle left him with new abilities and disturbing visions of a silent girl in grave danger—Mariella.

Now, Hudson is fighting to save Mariella's life while she fights to give it away. And he must find a way to show her Orane’s true intentions before she is lost to Paradise forever.


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  1. Wow! I can't even imagine the work! I'm so glad you stuck with it though!

    1. Thank you! It was definitely a TON of work. I'm lucky my agent and my editors are so wonderfully patient. Otherwise, I probably would have lost it somewhere in the middle of all that! ;)

  2. Wow--thanks so much for sharing your journey with us. It was amazing to see all the different first chapter versions that you went through. Congrats on your release, Erica. Your book sounds amazing!

    1. Thanks, Mindy!! It was QUITE a journey but now that I've hit the end it's amazing. <3

  3. Can't wait to read the book! Looks very interesting from the cover!

  4. Like the cover & it sounds really good! :) Thanks for the giveaway!

    1. I love the cover! Jeremy West did such a fantastic job! :D

  5. Neat! A silent narrator sounds like a huge pain to write, but I'm glad you did, because now I get to read it! Thanks for sharing about the edits and writing process, all that stuff is super interesting to me :)

    1. She was REALLY COMPLICATED. As you can probably see. But it was worth it in the end! Hope you enjoy the book if you get a chance to read it! :)


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