by Sandy Cabada
If you are in search of an experienced and successful writer to help you reel in that dreaded second or third draft, Liza Palmer is your girl. Palmer has five bestselling novels under her belt and her sixth “Girl Before a Mirror,” will be out on January 5, 2015. Her first novel, “Conversations with the Fat Girl” was optioned by HBO and became an international bestseller its first week in publication, as well as hitting Number 1 on the Fiction Heatseekers List in the UK the week before the book debuted. Her fifth novel “Nowhere but Home” bestowed Palmer with the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction in 2013. Palmer also earned two Emmy nominations for writing for the first season of VH1’s Pop Up Video.
If anyone knows how to turn a rough draft into a polished finished draft, it is Liza. Lucky for us, she will be taking time out of her busy schedule to teach a Book Revision class this Sunday, September 21, where she will share her secret methods for how to plan for a painless and highly productive editing session. She will even give students individual feedback on their books in this small class session. We are very privileged to have Liza!
She took some time to share some novel writing and revision tips and what to expect on her upcoming class.
1. How much of your own experiences do you draw on when writing your novels?
I heard a great quote I always refer back to that said, “books aren’t us, they’re of us.” As much as we try to point to a certain experience or person in our lives while writing, it’s actually way deeper than that. Books, poems, screenplays and short stories usually know what they’re about before we do. We string together some plot and then right in the middle we realize. . .oh shit. THAT’S what this is about? Our subconscious has a way of burrowing into our books whether we like it or not.
2. You’ve written and published six novels and are working on your seventh. How are you able to finish so many books? What advice do you have for writers who are struggling to finish their first book?
Unfortunately (fortunately?) writing = sanity, and not writing. . . well. . . it’s not pretty. I’ve realized that I’m happiest, most balanced and calmest when I’m either hatching a story or writing. As I get older, I’ve learned to have several irons in the fire at once – and have come to find out that this is what yields the happiest, healthiest me. Not all mental/emotional eggs in one story basket, so to speak.
The best advice I ever got was from David Ebershoff. A page a day. That’s all. Keep a calendar where you can see it and mark a big X when you’ve written just one page that day. Chances are, you’ll write more than just the page. But some days, you’ll grind and crawl to that goal. And if you miss a day, you will have to look at that empty box on your calendar for that whole month. If you do this for just one full year you’ll have a workable first draft.
3. You seem to write a lot about that “imperfect heroine.” Do you think flaws are what make a character interesting?
A perfect character, to me, is boring. Flaws and layers, nooks and crannies are what make characters interesting. Give me Hamlet. Give me Amy Dunne. Give me Coriolanus. Give me Maria Wyeth. Give me Bridget Jones. It’s the layers that make these characters endlessly compelling and readable. Just like in life, I think we learn from our mistakes more than anything else. So a flaw is a spark. It gets things going. Of course all of this understanding seems to hiccup when we speak about ourselves and our own imperfections. We love layers and flaws in our characters, but what about our own? We have to learn to see the beauty in them.
4.Your novel “Conversations With the Fat Girl” was optioned by HBO. Why do you think that book is appealing for TV?
I think a lot of people can identify with that feeling of not fitting in, especially in one’s 20s. It’s about figuring out who you are, what you have to offer and the seemingly unending quest to be perfect/lovable.
The book focuses on a friendship that has run its course and I think everyone can identify with that, as well. Two friends who only have a shared history to talk about and the cruel realization that, as they grow older, they don’t really know who their friend is becoming and whether or not they would have chosen this person as they are now. Like fine china, their friendship is just trotted out at parties. . . barely functional anymore.
5. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers who want to get their novels published?
WRITE. WRITE. WRITE.
And don’t abandon your voice. Yes, every story has been told, all that you have to differentiate yourself is how you tell it. Don’t give up on yourself before you even start.
Why you? Why NOT you?
6. You are going to be teaching a class on the dreaded book revision. Can you give us a preview of what you plan to cover?
For me, the second draft is all about remembering why I was compelled to tell that story in the first place–why I started, the big picture. I’ve made it through the swamps of the first draft and now, I can tell you minutiae about every scene and character and how I finally broke that one plot thread. And then someone will ask, “What’s your book about?” and I’ll just. . . “huh?” (quietly sobbing, she slides down wall.)
The second draft is about excavation and connecting the dots. Pulling the plot threads taut and connecting them to that original big idea. This draft is about chipping away and revealing the next layer. I’ll show you how to make sure that each chapter builds and connects, that every beat links to the next.
We’ll make sure that your characters are unique. Do those two characters need to be morphed into just one? Did you fall in love with that secondary character and now find them more interesting than your hero? Can you tell the difference between your characters when they speak? Are all your characters there to serve the narrative or are they there because they’re one of your darlings?
The second draft is also where our writer kinks are illuminated. Do we need to go through and take out all the “justs?” Is everyone arching eyebrows? It is where we look for any repetition, logistical errors and major plot holes. The second draft is where the book becomes a symphony – all the movable parts finally coming together.
Thank you so much, Liza for such an informative interview! Don’t miss her class Book Revision: Writing a Seamless Second Draft this Sunday, September 21!