The Novella Form

Happy Monday!

I was going to write about the spark for A Sunset Finish, but I decided to wait until July when more people might have read it. For those of you new to the site, I did blog about the two main characters on my old blog, Stephanie and Bruce. Please check them out! A Sunset Finish is now out at Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon but it’s cheapest at Jupiter Gardens. And you can get it absolutely FREE from me if you enter my Photo Flare Contest this month! Do I have enough links in this first paragraph yet?

Thanks to all of you who have read it already! I’ve really enjoyed the comments I received. One reader said, “I did not see that coming!” and for those of you living in the Burque my sister has recognized some of the places that inspired it, most notably her text of “Please tell me that’s the old Robertson’s Violin Shop on Lomas.” That’s certainly what the instrument repair shop is inspired by though the one in the book is in a different location as well as other changes.

Thanks to those who have asked questions of the editors from The Colored Lens! There is still time to get some in. I’ll be closing the comment area tomorrow. Their first post answering the questions will be on June 26th. Their latest issue came out last night!! So I’ll be sending the first five questioners their free copy when I’m done with this post. Check out the cover…it’s beautiful.

Today’s post is actually about the form of the novella. I’m surprised that though the media talks about our shortening attention span as a society, popular books are becoming longer and longer. Wouldn’t we have all been happier if book five of the Harry Potter series had been shortened to Dumbledore handing Harry his prophesy and saying, “Listen to this and then smash it”? We would’ve been spared so many atrocities like Rowling taking Sirius Black from a helpful, sane adult and turning him into an annoying emo teen, making it almost a relief when he dies. Twilight would’ve been a novella if only an editor had taken out every time Bella thought Cullen was beautiful. Both these stories had a lot of filler and would’ve been made more eloquent by reduction.

Truman Capote was not afraid of brevity. One of my favorite stories ever is his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It even crossed over into movies, though the movie misses the point of much of the story. But print publishers have been reluctant to embrace the novella. Maybe the number of pages is not worth the printing cost? And agents don’t often back novellas, which I’ll come back to as a plus.

The market embracing the novella the most is the e-book industry, and I think it’s booming right now, particularly in the romance genre. When I finished “A Sunset Finish” I tried to sell it to short fiction e-zines who accepted speculative novellas. I think I was off target. It doesn’t quite fit into the feel of any of the e-zines. Fortunately, one of the editors (at The Colored Lens actually) took the time to tell me my story was too repetitive. After I mopped up the tears and took scissors to my story, I did research on novella publishers. There are twenty-six book publishers listed on Duotrope who pay professional royalties for novellas. But I didn’t find Jupiter Gardens on Duotrope; I actually found it at I had it narrowed down to two publishers who were actively looking for interracial romances and chose to send it to Jupiter Gardens first because they state in their guidelines that they will never ask authors to add more sex to a book. And they never did!

Another benefit of writing novellas is you don’t need an agent. Getting published is a loooooong process, especially if you have to submit your story to a hundred agents to get one interested and then she has to submit it to one hundred editors to get one interested. I’m not saying agents are bad. I’m saying it’s a great feeling to accomplish something in a relatively quick amount of time. I finished A Sunset Finish in October of 2012 and it was published in June 2013. It seems the speed of lightning for the publishing industry.

If you’re interested in more thoughts on writing novellas, head over to He’s writing a public journal on the process of his latest novella. There’s always good stuff over there.

Have a great writing week and come back Thursday for an actual review and Friday to post your word count. As a side note, I’m doing a guest post at J.W. Alden’s blog this week on Wednesday. It’s about building religions in fantasy worlds. I’ll post the link on Wednesday. Please check it out!


Why did this Book get Published: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?

This is a subject I will be returning to occasionally in my book reviews— sort of like a mini-series without being consecutive. The premise is how did these books even make it out of the slush pile when they break so many rules? I’m not intending to bash anyone: I honestly want to know the answer, and maybe some of you can help me. So let’s get started.

In January, my middle child was quite ill and missed a lot of school. I decided to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with her to help pass the time and ease the discomfort. Harry Potter is a series I actually started reading when my first child was born—a couple of years before I took up writing. I forgot about my anniversary the year Goblet of Fire came out because it came out a night or two before and I hadn’t finished it yet. Despite being out of town when Order of the Phoenix came out, I still went to the midnight release for it. I went to all the subsequent midnight releases as well as several of the midnight showings of the movies. You can say I’m a fan of Harry Potter.

I hadn’t read Sorcerer’s Stone in several years, so you can imagine how surprised I was to find it riddled with adverbs. Holy Hannah. If I ever wrote that many adverbs, my crit group would wash my mouth out with soap. Let’s see a few:

First sentence of the book: Mr. And Mrs. Dursley, of number 4, Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Still on the first page: He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck although he did have a very large mustache.

Still on the first page: Mrs. Dursley was thin and blond and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful…

From the next two pages:

Mr. Dursley hummed as he picked out his most boring tie for work, and Mrs. Dursley gossiped away happily

…he couldn’t help noticing that there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about.

…standing quite close by. They were whispering excitedly together.

…this was probably some silly stunt— these people were obviously collecting something…

I count 13 adverbs in the first three pages. I think there are tons more adjectives which is something else writers are supposed to do without. Essentially, we are supposed to stick to verbs and nouns in our art form. Sooo, how did this make it out of the slush pile? Did that editor not know the adverb/adjective rule?

And did anyone talk to J.K. Rowling about POV? The first chapter is in an omniscient POV, but then it sort of narrows down into Harry’s POV. Except when it seems inconvenient like at the first Quiditch match. The beginning of the chapter is about how nervous Harry is from a close third person POV and then we back way out through the announcements of Lee Jordan and land at Hermione so we can see her light Snape on fire. Is that legal?

I think one of the keys to JK Rowling’s success is her voice, and, honestly, her use of adverbs adds to the voice. And the POV changes are not something I noticed until I became aware of them as a writer myself. Maybe she gets away with it through smoke and mirrors by starting innocently with a sports announcement and boom: now it’s Hermione.

But still, it makes me sigh in frustration as my crit group tells me I use too many verbs with ING. Maybe the larger lesson here is at some point you have to let go and not worry if you’ve used more than one adverb in your chapter and exactly how many adjectives are there? Do you have too many “was’s” and verbs ending in ING? J.K. Rowling got published with 13 adverbs in her first three pages. Maybe you can too.