Revision: Wanna See How the Sausage Is Made?

DIY Book Covers, Fiction Template #17

Cover Design based on DIY Book Covers Fiction Template #17

I love the freedom of the first draft. The only thing I love more is revising the ever-living bleep out of the first draft. Today, I’d like to share the revision the first paragraph of my surreal short story, MIXED MEDIA. Originally titled REPRODUCTION, I wrote the first draft in 2008. The first draft is full of gory detail, bombast, and sins against English. I’ve chosen three examples of the first paragraph to illustrate my revision process. Now, let’s make some sausage!

Here is an exerpt from June 12, 2008:

My name is Mario Santa Maria.  On Tuesday I walked into a museum where all of the paintings were black.  In the bright foyer of the visiting exhibit, natural light fell upon black canvas after black canvas, making the uniform paint gleam and reflect dark rectangles on the honey-golden floor freshly buffed.  I read the names of the works:  “Surreal Forest,”  “Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street),” “Submissive Ocean.”  Each canvas was a straight hung, edge-on-edge perfect patch of night set flush to the walls, and none of them more colorful than a square or rectangle of deep-space pitch.   The brochure describing the exhibit extolled the sensuous representation of Nature, and how each painting (various media) had captured the essence of light and life.  I chuffed a bit under my breath.  What a statement, to fill an entire gallery with such a nihilistic representation on modern life or modern Nature!  It was, I decided, a gutsy if artless venture.

I warned you about the bombast and the sins, no? This paragraph is an Ouroboros, choking on  its own tail. I’ve gone beyond overboard with adjectives. The floor is not just “freshly buffed,” but also “honey-golden.” The paintings aren’t just on the wall, they are “straight hung,” “set flush,” and (ouch, this hurts!) “edge-on-edge perfect patch of night.” I think we all get it that paintings in a museum are hung in an orderly fashion upon the walls. Almost none of that description was necessary, and I may as well take a stick and poke it in the reader’s eyes: “You! Know what? Paintings hang on walls!” I used the word “chuffed,” because Steven King used it in a book; which book, I no longer recall. It’s a fine word, but overbearing and pompous in this paragraph. This paragraph is a “gutsy if artless venture!”

It was also the pinnacle of my ability at the time that I wrote in in 2008. I’d been writing three years, and for the equivalent of a literary toddler, it isn’t bad. Another thing that’s not bad is that I knew I wasn’t ready to publish, and I put the story aside,  took several writing workshops, studied, wrote tons more, completed my first and second novels, and then (then!) came back to revise.

Here is an excerpt from May 5, 2014:

My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, I walked into a museum where all of the paintings were black. I walked the perimeter, pausing to read the names of the works: Surreal Forest, Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street), Submissive Ocean. Each canvas was a straight hung, perfect patch of night set flush to the walls. The exhibit placard extolled the sensuous representation of Nature, how the paintings captured the modern essence of life. It was gutsy, if artless, to fill an entire gallery with such a nihilism.

This is better. I cut entire swathes of needless description from the paragraph. I kept the first sentence and maintain that simple phrase was always the exact right opening for the story. I replaced the awkward double-quotes around painting names with uber-swank italics. I got rid of “chuffed.” I’ll have you know I actually, sadly struggled with that decision. “Chuffed” is a good word, not oft used. I wanted to bring it back. Or get it started, like a party. I cut it, though, and that was the right decision. Writing is funny, because as a writer, you fall in love with the strange bits you are pretty sure no one else will ever love. You really believe those bloated phrases like “straight hung, perfect patch of night” are simply misunderstood, and if people had sense (SENSE!) they would know what was good for them and LOVE it. Luckily, I have an editor. Her name is Jacinda Little. She doesn’t let me get away with atrocities against my readers. I sent her the version from May 5 for her to edit. I think you’ll agree that with her input, the opening paragraph turns into something that doesn’t make you want to gouge out your own eyes.

Here’s the final revision to the opening paragraph, from June 1, 2014, nearly four years after the first draft was penned:

My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, all of the paintings at Vos Museum were black. The works in the visiting gallery had names like Surreal Forest, Submissive Ocean, and Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street). Their placards extolled the sensuous representation of Nature. The nihilism was gutsy, and I wondered why there hadn’t been a bigger media splash.

Ahhh, isn’t that better? There are specific details to ground you in the scene, both the painting names and the name of the museum. I no longer try and painfully describe that paintings hang on walls (!). I also finally tell you why the fact that this is gusty matters to Mario or to you, the reader: no one else has noticed or mentioned that there is an exhibit of paintings that are just black canvases. It immediately gives you the interesting fact that Mario alone is remarking upon this particular phenomenon. I’ve also clued you in that Mario is in the museum on a day when most grown-ups are working, and possibly you wonder what’s up with that, which would be great, because a reader with a question is a reader who keeps reading to find the answer. Perhaps I could have come up with shorter names for the paintings. I think they’re clever, and Jacinda didn’t object, so they stay. I hope we can agree that the removal of “chuffed” improves this paragraph.

May your sausage making be guided by an excellent editor!





Story Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?

You can read MIXED MEDIA for free (PDF), or purchase it on Amazon (5.0 out of 5 stars). If you enjoy the story, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my newsletter.


My newsletter is an event!

Reading the Bee Leaves

It is August. In January, I’d planned to have my book to my editor by July. It is not at the editor; it is not even complete.

If this book is a baby, then this is a breach birth. Everything is coming out backwards. My work in progress is the first in a series, but I didn’t realize it needed to be written until I had already completed the draft for the second book. That was inconvenient, but not as gut-wrenching as getting to the end of the first draft of my WIP and realizing that it is faulty.

Over the course of July, I found it harder and harder to work on my WIP. The more I wrote, the more confused I got. I started taking naps instead of writing. If you are ever me, and suddenly find you want to nap instead writing, I want you-who-is-me to know that means something is wrong. R-O-N-G, wrong.

So I stopped.

I stopped writing. I tried on the idea of not finishing my WIP, of having hours of time not dedicated to what I only half-jokingly call my “second job.” I even announced it to a couple of people, but I knew it was no use. I can’t decide to stop writing any more than a woman can decide half-way through birthing her child to just stop. The story’s coming out, one way or another.

Last weekend, I was panicked that I was stuck writing a stillborn book, depressed at the idea of all the wasted time I’d already spent working on it, and anxious to figure some way out of the mess. I also had a week’s worth of laundry to do. I took my heavy laundry basket and my heavy thoughts and went out to the garage. I opened the door to let in the sunlight, and started loading the washer as if filling it would stopper the wellspring of my dismay. It was then that I heard it.

A buzzing noise.

I focused on the sound, following my curiosity across the garage. It was a bumble bee. He was trying to fly into the opening of an air tool, but he couldn’t fit because he was holding a leaf. All six of his buzzy-bee legs were clutched around the tiniest, green leaf. He did not give up just because the path seemed insurmountable. He just kept banging his head and holding his leaf. I went to get Mr. Aniko, saying, “Have you ever seen a bee do that?” No, he hadn’t. And he pointed out that the bee had dropped several leaves on the workbench. They were not whole leaves, but sections that he had apparently cut –  somehow, improbably cut – and transported back to the power tool in our garage.

Maybe the bee had a purpose. Maybe he was just crazy. All I know is that by taking that pause, by allowing my focus to drift away from my problems with the novel, I had freed myself from the panic and doubt. So the novel wasn’t working? If the bee can keep trying different sized leaves, why couldn’t I just… try a different approach? Introduce a straw character earlier, give her meaning. Cut out the rambling (but fun!) scenes of people getting drunk on something purple. Take a break to plan what is missing and organize what is left to do.

There’s still a long way to go. The important thing is that I understand where the characters are leading me. This may not be an easy birth, but I have faith that it will result in exactly the book that is meant to be written.

In honor of that bee and his leaves, I give you Just Like Honey:

Just Like Honey, Jesus and Mary Chain


If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my newsletter!  

I adore and reply to comments!


My friend and fellow Emissary of the Strange, Jonathan (@crimnos) tagged me to participate in #luckyseven. The rules of the #luckyseven are simple:

  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines or sentences – as they are!!
  • Tag 7 other people to do the same

This is my first tag as a blogger and an awesome chance to show off seven sentences from some works. I selected from three works, all of them at different stages of editing. What I discovered is that the more I edit, the shorter and more coherent my sentences get. For my third selection, I’ll show you seven sentences before and after one round of editing. There be dragons in the unedited version! Bad sentences, with a hint of unintentional plagiarism. See if you can spot the phrase that rightfully belongs to another, very awesome author – and note that I get rid of it in the first pass revision!

As for my seven tagged individuals, many of these are folks from the #WIP500. I do not know all of them well, but they are actively writing and pursuing the perfect sentence. I’d love to see what they’re up to!

  • Sandra Dehelen @dehelen
  • J Aric Keith @sirkeystone
  • Rob Sharkey Pruneda @sharkbaitwrites
  • Mari Biella @maribiealla1
  • Angie Richmond @write_me_happy
  • Wakefield Mahon @wakefieldmahon
  • Hunter Shea @huntershea1

Stolen Climates

Stolen Climates is a published work and in its final state.

They sat in silence, both of them looking at Linnae. She had wrapped her doll’s head with a blanket. One eye looked out, the lid drooped in sly knowledge.

“Are you feeling up to happy hour?” Malcolm asked.

“I’m already there,” Genny said.

“Maybe tomorrow we could ask Olivia to watch Laney for a little while, spend a little time just the two of us.”

“I’m not leaving my daughter with that creepy witch.”

Goat Song for a Joshua Tree

GSfaJT has been through several edits, but not formally sent to an editor (yet).

I crouch to relieve myself in the blue bin. Death has his hands on my ankles. His thumb joints rub my Achilles tendon.

I scream.

My voice echoes around and around in my concrete box, ringing like chimes as it shatters my glass self. I am less than what I was. I am an animal, a caged animal.

Raw, Unedited WIP “Fluffy”

Fluffy is absolutely unedited. Here’s a glimpse of what I suffer through when I write the first draft:

She froze; from the room came the papery abuse of shopping bags being hurled onto the bed. The television was tuned to a dead channel, hissing and hissing at the ringing phone jangling from the nightstand. Cold air poured from around the seams of the door, tendrils of unnatural frigidity unrelated to the intense heat of the cranked-up heater. Kirin’s fingers found the cardkey. She clicked shut her purse. It coincided with the thump of a gunshot muffled by a pillow.

Kirin bolted.

First Revision WIP  “Fluffy”

She froze, one hand in her purse. From inside the room came the papery abuse of shopping bags being hurled onto the bed. Cold air poured from the seams of the door, tendrils of unnatural frigidity. There! In a side pocket she felt the smooth plastic of her card key, the one thing she couldn’t afford to leave behind. Kirin clicked shut her purse. It coincided with the thump of a gunshot muffled by a pillow.

Kirin bolted.

Please follow my writing friends, and hop on over to Jonathan’s site, Shaggin’ the Muse to check out his #luckyseven!

Happy Friday!


If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my newsletter!  

I adore and reply to comments!

Aniko Around the Interwebs

A few weeks ago, I gave in and set up a Twitter account. I proceeded to wonder what in the world I would say, who I would follow, who would follow me. It was a weekday, and it was time to get ready for work, so I left my writing desk. I forgot about Twitter. Then someone (his name begins with ‘Paul’ and ends with ‘Dail’) found my abandoned Twitter account. Just like that I had a follower. Very cool! I, Aniko Carmean, have actually even tweeted. Twice!

I have also joined BookBlogs and GoodReads. I realize now that I have lived a life that was nearly off the grid up until I decided to publish my novel. How interesting that my most introverted habit (writing) is the catalyst for all these extraverted digital excursions.

In my last post, I set myself a deadline to finish incorporating my copyeditor’s suggestions into STOLEN CLIMATES. I met my deadline, finishing the edit before lunch. And it wasn’t even a late lunch!

I also wrote my acknowledgments and the author bio. Nothing comes into being through the efforts of only one person, and it felt really good to be at the stage in the novel’s lifecycle where I could compile and write my thank yous. The author bio was fun, too. I took some advice I read and included a link to my blog as well as a note asking readers to review the book if they liked it.  That isn’t tacky, is it?

this isn't me, but what is that mechanical arm on the windshield?I love rainy days. Living in an area suffering from the century’s worst drought, I almost forgot how wonderful it is to hear rain falling on the roof. I wondered what those weird things were on the windshield of my car, you know those black rubbery arms that get in the way when you try and use the gunky, blue water at the gas station to clean off the accumulation of four months of dust? At one point during the summer it was so dry, when my Doberman ran across the yard, she would raise a cloud of dust behind her. We still took showers. Don’t worry, things weren’t as bad as all that, although I was dismayed when my plumber suggested we turn up the pressure at the street to increase flow into the house. Given that farmers are going to be denied their water rights if rain doesn’t come, it seemed just shy of negligent to suggest that we use more water, especially when we had no complaints about the pressure. I haven’t washed my car in months, and it shows. My front yard  turned brown, then started to blow away because I refused to water a non-native, non-drought-resistant lawn. Xeriscaping is in my future.

But it’s raining now, has been all weekend, so there was no work done in the yard. Everything will get done in its own time. Setbacks befall everyone, hell, they befall all of Nature. Times aren’t always easy, not all days are honey-sweet. If this summer is proof of anything, though, it’s that even the worst drought ends.

May your December be bright!


If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my newsletter!  

I adore and reply to comments!

Earning It

I am mistress of procrastination. Madam of the misspent minute. I am a writer who has had the edits for my novel sitting here for a month. They are good edits, worthy of incorporating into the book, and I am thankful to have them. Yet in the past few, blissfully obligation-free days, I have tried almost anything to avoid editing.

I did most of my Christmas shopping on Amazon, and told myself it was to save money with the Black Friday deals. I have walked the dogs in the rain, and told myself it was to prevent them from bothering me when I sat down to edit. I have let a sip of wine become a glass,  become an evening watching movies. I have gone out in search of the perfect jasmine green tea, despite the fact I cannot read the Chinese, Japanese, or Korean on any of the packaging. I have taken naps. Long naps. Hour devouring naps. I have walked the dogs, again. I went back to Amazon and started looking for new welcome mats because, well, it’s hard to edit knowing that the Texas sun has had its way with the welcome mats and left them brittle and faded. I logged onto my non-writer Facebook profile for the first time in months. I visited etsy, to do more holiday shopping (no deals there, too bad). I did the laundry. I painted my nails. I swept the floors. I drifted over to other writers’ blogs and left comments. I have opened this post and started typing.

I am on page 155 of 259.

you earned this!

My youngest nephew, who was here for Thanksgiving, brought along a golden Buddha statue for me. The Buddha was a gift given to his father, and I will be returning it when we make the pilgrimage to their home for Christmas, but for now Buddha is keeping me company. When I asked my four-year old nephew why he brought me a Buddha, he said, “You have earned this!”

I’m earning it now, Jazzy, I promise.  I intend to finish this final revision by the end of Sunday, 12.04.11. Send me luck, links to cute welcome mats, and any hints you have on where to find the best jasmine green tea!


If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my newsletter!  

I adore and reply to comments!