Chris Baty @ Wed, 2010-03-31 13:46
Welcome to another installment of "I Sold My NaNoWriMo Novel!" For today's Q&A I talked with Rachael Herron, who's debut NaNo novel How to Knit a Love Song was published by HarperCollins this month. Yay, Rachael!
Firstly (and I'm so sorry to make you do this), could you give us a one-sentence overview of the plot for How To Knit A Love Song?
Abigail intends to turn an unexpected windfall into a knitting shop and spend her days spinning and purling, but she's not welcomed by Cade, the sheep rancher who views the city girl as an unwanted interloperand when the past Abigail thought she left behind comes calling, she'll have to trust her handsome adversary with much more than just her heart.
You wrote the first draft of How To Knit A Love Song for NaNoWriMo 2006. How is the novel that HarperCollins is publishing this week different than the version you first penned four and a half years ago? How many months (or years) of revision did it take you to feel truly finished with your book?
It's astonishingly similar, in many respects. The first half, in particular, has been revised of course, but retains its original idea and shape. It kind of blows my mind that when I sat down that November first, thinking that I would just have fun with this crazy idea of a knitter and a sheep rancher, wrangling over land and love, that those ideas would come to be a real book, on real bookshelves. Of course, it took a long time for it all to come together. I put it away at the end of November at just over 50,000 words. The next spring I pulled it out and added about 15,000 words to finish it. I started sending it out to agents, and in fall, my new agent and I worked together to add the suspense subplot which now weaves through the book, which added another 20,000 words. So it was more than a year after NaNoWriMo before the book was complete enough to sell (and then there were editor revisions which followed, but those were thrilling, I thought!).
How much planning did you do before sitting down to start writing on November 1?
I started by jotting down about thirty plot points on note cards. I thought that would get me through me thirty days, which was completely dead wrong, since by day seven, the story had spiraled out of my control and the cards were no longer good for anything but setting my coffee cup on. I learned that November that I'm a pantser, not a plotter (meaning I really write by the seat of my pants, rather than plotting things out meticulously, which can be both a blessing and a curse). But the crazy things that happened because I had no idea what to do nextlike when Abigail spontaneously buys a couple of alpacas and doesn't know what do with themare some of my favorite parts, and that's one of the best things about NaNoWriMo: what it forces your brain to come up with out of sheer unadulterated panic.
You write in the Romance genre, which is a very popular one for NaNoWriMo authors. Why do you think Romance and NaNoWriMo go so well together?
Romance authors as a group tend to be very driven and highly intelligent, and because of that, I think they've recognized that NaNoWriMo is a great way to harness energy. As Sarah Wendell said about romance, "It’s a 50-plus-year-old industry comprised mostly of women writers operating their own businesses and producing a genre about women’s self-actualization, pursuit of autonomy, and acquisition of sexual agency for an audience made mostly of women, who buy over $1.4 billion dollars worth of books a year." That's more than the mystery and science fiction genres put together! And romance writers are always looking for ways to write better, faster, and more productively -- NaNoWriMo fits that bill. It's a fun, difficult challenge that forces writers to rise to their best.
Do you have any tips specifically for Romance writers looking to find an agent and publisher for their NaNoWriMo manuscripts?
Tip #1: The best tip ever for romance writers: Get thee to your nearest Romance Writers of America meeting! Stat! There isn't a single better or more helpful professional writing group out there, in my opinion, and the writers involved will help you in every step of your writing process. Tip #2: Agentquery.com -- it's a great, free site that sorts agents by the genre they're looking for. It also tells you how to write a query, and exactly what each agent is looking for (partial manuscript, synopsis only, etc.). Tip #3: Don't believe anyone if they tell you you have to know someone in the industry. Sure, it's helpful, but people still make it through the slushpile. I did.
What advice do you have for folks who are feeling a little overwhelmed by the rigors of novel editing?
Oh, no, I'm not sure! I'm always editing! Editing is overwhelming, yes, but I find first drafts even more difficult and painful -- the last few Novembers found me scratching at posts and chewing glass because it's so hard to see such horrible words landing SPLAT on the page like that. Editing, oh, what a wonderful thing. Just think about how nice it is, to move big chunks of writing around, to change small words, to make everything pretty. My biggest tip is to have your manuscript in one file, and have another file titled CUTS. Feel free to move whole passages into your CUTS file, with the entire intention of someday fishing them out again and reusing them (you most likely never will but pretend that's not true -- it's a lovely lie). It's completely liberating, since I can't make myself delete anything.
If NaNoWriMo were a knitting project, what would it be? Trellis stitch shawl collar cardigan? Battle leggings? Something else?
Really, Chris? Trellis stitch shawl collar cardigan? How did you come up with that? I actually had to look that up, because I knew I'd never seen one, and it's HARD to stump me with the knitting. Here it is: http://www.knittingonthenet.com/patterns/sweshawlcard.htm and I am now filled with an unholy desire to make it, and to update it to make it fashionable. Now, THAT would be a great NaNoWriMo project. Good job! I am impressed.
You totally didn't answer the question.
Busted. First, we're going to assume that you already know about NaKniSweMo. (You did, right? Tell me you did. It's huge. Many people take part in both in November. I've done it myself.) But since I routinely knit sweaters in less than a month, that's not challenging, therefore I will not pretend that it's MY NaNoWriMo knitting project. If NaNoWriMo were a knitting project for ME, it would have to be something I'd always dreamed of knitting but never really thought I could (they way people feel about novel writing).
Okay. Truth now. It would be Alice Starmore's Golden Gate from her book Pacific Coast Highway, which is completely out of print, and when it can be found, starts at about $250. It's a densely cabled sweater, and the motion of the cables echo the sway of the iconic bridge, and when knitted in dark red wool, you can almost smell the salt water and hear the fog horns. It's my Someday Sweater. One day, I will own that pattern, and I will make that sweater.
Oh, yes. I will.
You had to make me to go there. (Heavy breathing.)
Rachael Herron received her MFA in writing from Mills College, and has been knitting since she was five years old. It's more than a hobby; it's a way of life. Rachael blogs at Yarn-a-Go-Go and lives with her better half in Oakland, California, where they have four cats, three dogs, three spinning wheels, and more instruments than they can count. She is a proud member of the San Francisco Area Romance Writers of America and she is struggling to learn the ukulele.