Rachel Fikes

Sh*t Happens

Forrest Gump had it right. Shit happens. I won’t have any problem completing edits for draft three this month. In fact, I’m almost done now. Then what’s the problem, you ask?

Money, or rather, the lack thereof.

Believe me, this is not a rant or a pity party about how poor I am. When I got out of the Army at the end of 2013 as a captain, I was under the false impression that with an M.A., I’d easily find a job. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For nine months I applied and searched, and nothing. Finally, when I moved up to New York at the end of October, I landed a job at Victoria’s Secret, working retail at $9 an hour; oh how the mighty had fallen. Suffice it to say, living on my credit cards for almost a year didn’t do me any favors. Unlike many of my friends, I had been lucky previously, and graduated with my bachelor’s degree debt free, completely funded by scholarships I busted my ass for in high school. The Army paid for my graduate degree. But living on credit cards for that long, with a mortgage to pay, well, I racked up a significant amount of debt. Now, I work as an ESL teacher for Education First, which I love, but $15 an hour just isn’t cutting it for my editorial needs.

I can’t hire my editors for another line edit (3 cents per word at 112k words, damn me for choosing such a wordy genre) until I come up with some major dough. That’s not a hit against my editors. They are fantastic, and their rate is below the industry price. I put so much stock in what they say, I refuse to venture into the query process until I have their final okay. I’m sure you’re saying, but Rachel, surely your third draft is fine, and you can start the query process without your editors. The thing is, I don’t want to. My manuscript wouldn’t be 10% of what it is today, had it not been for Rebekah and Lindsay’s critical input. I need to feel 1000% confident with my book baby before I start pitching. Without their final stamp of approval, that just isn’t the case.

Does every debut writer need an editor? Absolutely not. But I’ve tried to query without an editor’s input before on BOA, and it only ended in heartache. In truth, the book was crap, but it wouldn’t have been had I hired Author Crash Course. Some debut writers don’t need editors, but that’s not the case with me. When I dive into the query trenches, an agonizing journey that can take months or even years, I need my editors by my side.

So what’s next?

I’ll be working doubles the next couple of months (really the next year to pay off all my debt) and hiring Author Crash Course for edits this December. Yeah, this isn’t the deadline I originally wanted, but the way I see it, this gives me three more months to make my manuscript really shine. The push of my deadline does put a damper on my goals for this year, but at the same time, I’ve heard both my editors say writers are exactly where they need to be in their writing process. Often, debut writers are so excited about their new draft, they query too soon and get mass rejected. Been there, done that. The literary agents, publishing houses, and readers will still be in full swing next year—let’s just hope the market for adult fantasy is too.

Until next time,

RF

 

No Rest for the Wicked

We took a mini vacation this week and met up with some dear friends in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Though it was projected to rain all week, it’s been nothing but clear, blue skies and warm sun rays.

I printed off my book baby, grabbed some red pens and have enjoyed the salty breeze as I polish and edit draft three. There’s something so enchanting about the crash of the waves, the chirping of seagulls, the smell of buttery coconut lotion, and the tiny granules of sand sticking to my sunscreen-drenched feet as I dive deeper into StellaVerum.

A change of scenery was exactly what I needed.

I find myself chuckling as I comb through chapters, my husband, shooting me looks of, “okay weirdo.” But I feel the fact that I’m laughing at my characters and their dialogue is only a good thing, or even a great thing, no matter how coocoo I look. If I’m laughing, surely my readers will too.

That’s all for today. Just thought I’d check in. Where is y’alls favorite place to edit?

Until next time,

-RF

 

 

Content edits complete!

I’ve been writing from morning to midnight, on weekends and during breaks from work, powering through the toughest part of my revisions for draft three. I just finished writing a new ending and epilogue and now, as of today, am done with the bulk of major content edits!

I’ve learned I work well by setting daily goals rewarded with positive reinforcement. As the day progresses, every goal I hit (chapters at this point), I reward myself, i.g., a cup of coffee or browsing social media for five minutes. The small breaks help clear and reset my brain, so when I dive into the next chapter, I’m ready to go.

So what’s next?

For August, I’ll be polishing and honing, cracking down on any passive voice, checking for typos, grammar issues (not my forte), and really working on the flow of dialogue and sentence structure. I’ll be spending days in each of my main character’s heads, making sure what they say and do, fits their voice and desires. This is such a fun part of the process because everything I need is there, I’m just painting in the tiny details and flourishes that make my writing, well, me.

At the end of August, I’ll be submitting this baby back to my badass editors at Author Crash Course for round three edits. Keep your fingers crossed they love Ezrah’s new voice and like my changes so I’ll be one step closer to submitting this bad boy to literary agents.

What stage are you guys at for your WIP?

Happy writing!

P.S. Guzzling Electric Unicorn Coffee from Bones Coffee Company as I type and it’s sooooooooooooo damn good! I love Fruity Pebbles and this is the guilt-free coffee version. It came in today, as though they knew, I needed to celebrate my progress. Plus, they also have tons of other flavors I can’t wait to try. Coffee fiends rejoice!

-RF

THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR HARD WORK. -TE

Stressed about all of my edits, this past week I decided to work (for actual money) partial days, half teaching, half writing. I’m so glad I did. Now that I’ve found Ezrah, I’m soaring through chapters, painting in the intricate details and I’m stoked it’s all coming together. I’ve set a goal to finish draft three by mid-August and if I keep going at this rate, I’m sure I’ll have no problem reaching it.

A question I get all the time is, how do I stay motivated? The answer is quite simple for me, though it may sound eccentric to you. I’ve created a world I love and characters I want to spend time with. To be honest? I prefer my world to reality. The way I see it is that my characters, Ezrah, Orban, Asher, and Incertus have important stories to tell. What kind of person would I be, if I gave up on them? By writing between classes, on weekends and on holidays, (Hubs is awesome, never complains), I give them the dedication they deserve. I get chills thinking about one day, being able to share them with you. I want you to adore them, root for them and make them part of your life.

I just finished The Queen of the Tearling Trilogy, recommended by my editors, and when I read the final page, I was devastated. Not about the ending, Johansen ended her trilogy beautifully. I mourned the loss of no longer being in the Tearling and spending time with Kelsea and Mace, Father Tyler and Hellcat and Barty. I want my readers to feel the same way when they finish The StellaVerum Saga. I wish a truly hellish book hangover for all my readers (cue evil laugh). For what is pleasure, without pain?

How do y’all stay motivated?

Until next time,

Happy writing!

-RF

“To write is human, to edit is divine.” -SK

After a meeting with my fabulous editors at Author Crash Course on July 12th, I’ve been hard at work on draft three. When I started writing this book last November, I was in such a hurry to get the story out of my head. I couldn’t wait to start querying. Geez, I’m so glad I pumped the brakes. I was proud of the first draft I submitted to my editors, ecstatic about the second, and now, I’m completely confident the third time will be the charm. As my editors say, writers can always dig deeper.

For this revision, I’m taking my time with each chapter, jotting down notes where I can amp up the story and flesh out the characters even more. I want to make sure that for every single chapter (there are 60), my readers can see, taste, smell, feel and hear the world of StellaVerum.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that I was on a mission to find Ezrah, my protagonist, this month. I found her and then some. I trashed the first chapter and gave her a makeover, of which my editors loved. I know exactly where I’m going with Ezrah and can’t wait for y’all to meet her. I also pitched a pretty fricking cool plot twist of which they gave me the green light. I’m stoked!

For this week’s post, I thought I’d share my writing space with you. It isn’t much but it sure beats writing on an upside-down cardboard box in a closet like I did with my second novel in Afghanistan. After each chapter I complete, I grab the weights and do some quick exercises and squats, usually jamming out to Gaelic Storm. Sometimes after a particularly badass scene, I’ll grab a cup of coffee and dance throughout the house, frolicking about with Zowie like I’m Michael Flatley in Lord of the Dance. 

That’s all for today, folks. But before I leave, take notice of where my desk sits. Why is it against the wall, you ask?

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

 

 

 

Rachel Fikes

SUFFUSION: THE SCORE (EEKK!!)

Like many writers, music is the butter to my bread that nourishes my inspiration and feeds my creative soul. Now, I’m not talking about that margarine-two-molecules-away-from-plastic crap that flies won’t even touch. Good music is like authentic, salty-sweet, melt-in-your-mouth creamy, churned-with-love from a happy cow in Ireland, butter. Whether it’s powering me through some tumultuous battle scenes or pulling me through some deep-seated emotional drama, I devour music almost as much as coffee. Almost. So, you can imagine my delight when my gifted Brazilian student Sergio Martoni offered to compose a score for my WIP. He read SUFFUSION twice before carefully crafting these beautiful movements. Guys! Sergio is so fricking talented (and humble, I might add).

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Sergio Martoni.  I’m truly honored and so thankful you composed this for SUFFUSION. I can’t wait to share your overture with the world!

 

Sergio Martoni

Growing up in Cambuci, a neighborhood in São Paulo, Brazil, heavily influenced by Italian heritage and traditions, Sergio’s love for music bloomed at a young age. He started studying piano at the age of five and earned a B.A. in Classical Piano at Lins de Vasconcelos School of Music. He also received a B.S. in Civil Engineering and an MBA.

He’s an engineer by trade, but he’s never stopped playing the piano. Sergio especially loves playing in concerts with opera singers and has worked at the Sculpture Brazilian Museum – MUBE as a Music Coordinator for many years. He’s also the Music Coordinator at the Engineering Institute.

Every Friday at noon, he plays the pipe organ at Santa Catarina Chapel’s Concert Luncheon. He just finished his first score for the book SUFFUSION by (yours truly) and hopes you enjoy his overture.

004 (3)

Click on the audio link below to enjoy his masterpiece!

P.S. I’m listening to it as I write this–14:17 is my jam.

-RF

 

Finding Ezrah

The dreaded editorial letter came in on Sunday. Good news, I don’t have to rewrite half of my book again. Author Crash Course liked my revisions and loved my world building. But unfortunately, my manuscript still isn’t query-worthy yet. The reason? My protagonist Ezrah isn’t three dimensional. Feck! Like I said to my editors, being told you have a flat character, especially the most important figure in your book, is like having carrion crows rip your heart into itty bitty pieces. I may have cried a little. Okay, maybe a lot. My editors connected with my other characters: Incertus, Orban, and Asher (they really adored him and even compared him to Jon Snow), though all of them need a little more fleshing out too. But my beloved Ezrah? They just weren’t impressed. She needs a lot of work.

So, July’s primary focus will be on finding Ezrah. I need to illustrate what her interior and exterior motives are through her actions. I need to show her dark and twisty past. Her mistakes and fears and vulnerabilities. I need my readers to WANT to be invested in her, so they keep turning pages. My novel’s premise started with the idea of Ezrah. She’s my baby, and I love her. I just need to describe her in a way so that my readers adore her as much as I do.  It doesn’t matter how fantastic my plot is or how unique my world is. If my readers aren’t invested in my characters, they have no reason to keep reading. That’s a death sentence for any book.

What obstacles are you guys working through now? How many revisions are you on? Leave a comment or drop me a line. I promise you aren’t in this alone.

Until next week—happy writing,

-RF

 

Rachel Fikes

The Chronicles of Nausea

Y’all! The room is spinning, and my hands are shaking so badly I can hardly type. Today is the day I get back my in-line notes from Author Crash Course. I turned in my manuscript a month ago, and it’s been the longest breath I’ve ever held. I had to make huge revisions during my last round, i.e., killing off half my characters and rewriting the second half of the book, so now, I really don’t know what to expect.

All I know is—I’m fricking terrified.

So…to keep my mind off the inevitable, I have a class today with one of my favorite German students, and after that, I’ll be taking a little boat ride on the Hudson River with some friends. Chances are, neither activity is really going to keep me completely distracted, but at least I won’t be home, guzzling gallons of coffee and pacing around my laptop like a mad woman.

On a side note, today is the first of July. Do you know what that means? It’s time to jot down some goals. I have a huge, old-school calendar on my desk and at the beginning of each month, I make a new plan. Writing down goals has helped me stay on track, and since my calendar sits by my work laptop, it serves as a constant reminder of what I should be working towards. There is something so satisfying about striking through goals I accomplish.

Goals for July:

  1. Complete revisions on SUFFUSION (Keep your fingers crossed this isn’t another dumpster-draft).
  2. Polish query letter and send to my editors
  3. Polish synopsis and send to my editors
  4. Finish reading A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
  5. Read SIGHTWITCH
  6. Lose 4lbs (I still haven’t dropped the weight I gained on our honeymoon in Ireland last October).

It’s time for class, so I’m going to head out. But before I leave, tell me, what are y’all (I’m sorry grammar police; I’m a native Texan and just can’t kick this contraction) putting on your monthly goal list? Is there anything you do to de-stress when you’re waiting to hear back on big projects? Drop me a line or comment below and let me know!

Cheers,

-RF

Rachel Fikes

train tracks

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I know I can.

I read a dropkick-to-the-chest statistic the other day. Less than .6% of people who write a book ever get published. Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! With information out like that, it’s easy for a writer to lose hope. How does one continue with the madness of writing with the odds not in their favor? Quite simply, you have to believe in yourself. Yeah, I know. It sounds cliché. But it’s a cliché for a reason. Whether or not you succeed is entirely up to you. It all starts with your mindset.

When I was a kid, almost every morning before we climbed onto the school bus, my mom used to read to us (my two brothers and two sisters), loads and loads of books. One of my favorites was THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. For those of you who haven’t read this book, you should. I know, I know. It’s a children’s book. Nonetheless,  it teaches a valuable lesson about being optimistic and having a positive attitude that even an adult can benefit from. The engine that prevails keeps telling himself, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” It’s a mantra I’ve carried with me all the way from childhood to adulthood, and it’s helped me get through some pretty dark times.

Is it easy staying positive and believing in yourself? Not in the slightest. Some days, I feel like that little engine, trying to power up some tracks that scale the side of Mt. Everest. I read a brilliant book and immediately wish my writing was better. I see all of these authors ten years younger than me, getting massive book deals. Don’t get me wrong. I’m ecstatic for their success. But it’s hard not to compare. Even today, right before writing this post, I received a lackluster beta reader review. They didn’t hate my book but they sure as hell didn’t love it either. I poured my heart and soul into this manuscript and downright sobbed during some heartbreaking scenes, yet they didn’t manage to shed a tear.

I know the only way for me to power up and overcome this mountain of doubt is lessening the load. I have to toss off the baggage that’s holding me back. Forget about the negative reviews, the naysayers who proclaim I’ll never make it, and the vast accomplishments of other writers. What separated these successful authors from the 99.4% who didn’t make it?  They never gave up. And neither will I.

Whether you’re a writer trying to break into the publishing industry or you’re following another Herculean dream, just remember—if you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, well, you can’t and you won’t.

As for me? I know I can.

Mountain view

 

The Journey Begins

Good afternoon folks,

My fingers itch, my breathing is shallow, and there’s a tightness in my chest. No, I’m not having a heart attack, but this is my first blog. I’m nervous. Why you may ask? Although I’ve enjoyed writing stories the past twenty years, they are, in fact, all fiction. I’ve never felt I had a lot to say via a blog, and even if I did, who would really care?

A couple of days ago, while stalking my favorite Query Shark, I found a post that said fiction writers need a website. I’ll admit. I was hesitant at first. Okay, no. I’m still apprehensive. I’m a hermit at heart and the idea of people seeing my raw thoughts and emotions terrifies me. But, alas, isn’t that what all writers do? Writing is subjective after all. No matter how beautifully you write, there will always be that critic, slamming you down. So I figured, why the hell not? This will be good practice.

Here I am. Feeling naked and exposed. Following a childhood dream. I’ve taken many detours and twenty years to get to this cozy hermit cave where I write. I’ve been writing for a long time and most of it has sucked. But with constant practice and pushing forward, I’ve managed to suck less. For the first time in my life, I feel like this new manuscript doesn’t suck at all; that may change when I get my notes back from ACC.

Here’s a toast, (I’m holding up my cup of coffee because I’m teaching today), to writers who keep writing, pushing through the suck, until they finally get published.

Like Joe Konrath said, “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up: published.”

coffee