The Second

While reading through the surveys, I was instantly struck by the following comment:

“It seems to me that Anna is your typical young woman. Her speech and “way about her” is that of many young women I run into on a daily basis…I also think that some of the dialogue is a little muddled and not interesting. Without reading more it is hard to say if this is the entire tone of speech or if the author has intended to make it that way because of the setting of the book…[f]rom just this small excerpt, I would have to say that young adults and teens today are much “edgier”…I don’t think you could go wrong with a more “raw” character. Anna’s intensity could be ratcheted up a notch!”

This is one of the best critiques I’ve seen so far. The survey-taker also mentions his teaching experience and that he finds the main character, Anna Ellins, relate-able because of the teenagers he teaches on a daily basis.

This immediately explains the well-thought, balanced comment from the above paragraph.

I applaud the teachers in our world for having this gift of criticism while bestowing a nod of approval. It’s a gift that very few are able to manage properly, and dole out accurately. Over the years, I have learned from teachers in many different settings but the ones who remain fresh in my memory are the ones who teach on this level of clear-sighted editing, with praise concluding. It’s a formula of breaking the twig and then gluing it back so that it’s a different shape.

I wonder how I could make Anna edgier? Should I give her a tattoo? Amp her rebellious spirit within her family’s compound? As the book progresses, Anna’s formal speech begins to dissipate and the Counsel takes notice and they…

Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 12:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

The First

I wrote a book called The Gardener and 200 agents rejected my submissions. There were kind-hearted comments and brutal critiques. Nothing in-between.

For the most part, I can handle criticism. Having survived college as an English major, my skin is pretty thick.

But the brutal critiques that arrived in my naïve mailbox? The one that made me cry and reach for a bottle of whiskey was definitely hard-core agency material. These guys probably had contracts with affluent and intelligent authors. My book fell far below the margin and landed in a short bus following a group of lemmings. I can’t imagine any other reason behind their cruelty when they commented that my submission was a complete waste of their time and I should consider not writing.

With blurry eyes and a tissue to my nose, I scrolled down my spreadsheet, found the name of the agency, and I dragged my trembling index finger across the screen to make sure I put the “x” in the column “rejected.” I hit the letter and then reconsidered. Backspace once, tap tap tap tap tap tap, and the word “f*cked” took the place of my innocent “x”. I wiped the tears from my eyes, hit save, and resumed writing my second book.

My favorite kind-hearted thought was definitely the one I received in July from an agency in Canada: “with persistence you could publish this but we just aren’t the right agency for this subject matter.”

I instantly felt bad because I figured it was my fault that I had mailed a query letter with 50-pages of my book to the wrong place. I licked my thumb and flipped through my Writer’s Bible (a.k.a. The 2005 Writer’s Market). I had read in a writer’s magazine that if a hopeful writer owned this book, they were guaranteed to find an agent to represent them.

I tend to believe what professionals tell me because I figure they have experience and knowledge. I had breathed in those words and I had believed.

I am also gullible to a fault.

I found the agency in my Writer’s Bible and read their advertisement. “Young adult. Science Fiction.“ Yep, yep. That was my book. I reread the Canadian comment and sipped my coffee. Well. Not much I could do about that. I remember slipping the comment sheet into my file folder and marking my spreadsheet in the rejection column. I slept soundly that night because I was still waiting for about 100 more replies.

Over the following months, I started to notice a trend when I read the comments from disinterested agents. Not a single person gave me any constructive criticism. I didn’t have anything to work with, nothing substantial, nothing that said “fix this, tweak that, get rid of this crazy bit of trash, and then you’ll have a book.”

When you’re close to a project and madly in love with it (and I am madly in love with my first book) you can’t see the errors. You can’t discern why agents use adjectives like “boring” “long-winded” and “awkward.” I reread my first book over and over again but even after having read it a gazillion times, I still couldn’t figure out what needed to be fixed.

Until now.

The swarm of surveys that has filled my inbox has been heartwarming, humbling, and, dare I say? Constructive.

To begin the New Year, I’d like to applaud the anonymous survey-taker who willingly wrote that the dialogue is stiff and then immediately, almost apologetically, wrote “but that is probably what you were trying to convey.”

Kind reader, you are correct. My aim was definitely to convey that the main character, Anna Ellins, is not comfortable. I remember those teenage years and I’d never go back.

Up until adolescence we conformed, for the most part, to the authority figures in our life. Then we hit this moment when we realize we have our own opinions, our own set of rules. This profound discovery alters our reality and we feel awkward. We yearn for easy days when we didn’t question everything but we hunger to grow up and find the answers.

After having read this astute survey, I went back and read the beginning. I stumbled over the formal dialogue. I realized it didn’t feel smooth. I started editing without realizing that my ring finger was hitting delete.

The Gardener is changing, evolving, moving forward, no longer standing still. Thank you, whoever you are, for opening my eyes.

Published in: on January 1, 2010 at 8:06 am  Leave a Comment  

The Idea

Will I ever publish? Is writing a book enough?

I ask myself these two imperative questions day after day…even now, after having written my first unpublished book almost five years ago.

Although I love my first book and I have a great passion for writing, I often wonder if I should simply put the dream away and be more realistic with my future. But I can’t abandon my true self and with this realization, I am reaching out to the public for a more well-rounded opinion.

On this blog you will find the beginning of my first book, as well as a survey that asks (BEGS!) for your feedback. My hope is to find out why my first book received a flagging, dismal response from the publishing world.

Every day I will take one survey and post its contents on my blog. For 365 days I will take your thoughts to heart and share them with every person who visits my blog.

I have written, I have stumbled, I have had longer days and nights by following this dream–be a part of this journey and let’s watch it unfold together. Who knows? Maybe by the end of this blog in 2011, enough people will have come forward with their honest critique that this author will finally be able to close this chapter of her life.

The blog and daily appearance of public critique will begin January 1, 2010 but that doesn’t mean you can’t read the excerpt and take the survey today. I welcome your thoughts before the New Year begins!

Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 11:41 am  Comments (1)  

Summary and Excerpt

Summary of The Gardener

In a world unlike our own but very much on our planet, fifteen year old Anna Ellins has to find out the cause of death for her fellow classmates who are chosen to be Gardeners. While living in a society ruled by an authoritative Counsel, Anna must reveal the secrets of her chosen occupation as a Gardener in order to survive the ramifications of nuclear war and to solve a labyrinthine mystery that could save her entire community.

We follow Anna through her personal and physical journey, revealing a rebellious heart that questions her strict and formal society. Through Anna, we find that the human spirit is able to prevail and emerge with all of the unique traits of independence, survival and free-thinking…no matter what society dictates. This story questions our current abuse of the environment, the idea of nature versus nurture, and the psychological twists and turns of the science fiction genre.

The Gardener

by Christiana Kapsner

“Did you get your journal?” Mother asked.
“Yes, I got my journal,” I said, already bored with the idea of keeping a journal before my first word was written.
“Don’t take that tone with me, young Gardener,” she replied sternly. “That’s an important part of your job.”
“Yeah, yeah.”
I started walking away.
“You get back right now or your Father is going to hear about this!”
With a loud sigh, I returned to the compound kitchen and folded my arms across my chest.
“What?” I said irritably. “I got my journal. Take it easy, Mother.”
Her eyes dilated and her nostrils flared.
Land and soil, she looked ready to burst.
I felt pleased. All these years I’d been reprimanded, disciplined. All these years of preparation and Mother knew she was losing me to the Occupation and she could do nothing about it. A sense of assertive pride welled inside me.
“Your Father and I will be placing the first two entries. Don’t forget that or else the Counsel will—well—there will be severe consequences for you. Understand?”
A softness swept over her face as she held her hand out, gesturing for my journal.
Seriously? Would the Counsel punish me if Mother and Father didn’t include their entries?
“Okay,” I said reluctantly. I handed her the journal. I didn’t want to find out what would happen if I resisted.

Year 15:
Today I read the entries from Mother and Father. Why should Mother and Father begin my journal? I should be first. It’s my right as a Gardener.
To tell you the truth, Father’s entry did mean something to me. We spent a lot of time drawing together. He would watch me draw fields of wheat and flowers of red. We would laugh because those things don’t exist anymore.

“Gardener Ellins, please wait for me.”
I turned around and waited for Gardener Moore, a fellow student in the Gardening Unit. She walked serenely toward me, her dark blue headpiece neat and crisp around her head. I ran a finger across the stitching of mine, checking to make sure it was perfectly even.
“How are you, Gardener Moore?” I asked as she approached, feeling awkward that I had to greet another Gardener but protocol demanded our formal speech. After all these years, I still feel strange and I don’t know why.
“I am well, thank you. Did you finish your lab report from yesterday’s experiment?”
“I did.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”
“We can combine our answers once we’ve reached the classroom.”
“Yes. Teacher would prefer that,” I said. “I was, however, confused with the properties I found in the formula on soil distribution.”
She nodded. “Yes, yes, I know what you mean. I was prepared for a purely alkaline result but something about the pH balance threw that theory to the stillness.”
“Indeed. Teacher won’t be pleased that we have an incomplete testing.”
We arrived at the Learning Center with the other Gardeners from our unit. We filed into the room, Teacher standing at the front. I slipped behind my desk and placed my hands against my heart as the other Gardeners did the same. In silence, Teacher walked between the aisles and inspected our uniforms. When she returned to the front of the room, we began our pledge. “For my Country, I serve as a Gardener, my employment to the State. For man, I conserve the use of energy and the level of personal waste for the betterment of living. To the Counsel, I pledge my Being. In return, the Counsel unites our efforts. As One, we conquer all evil.”
We sat and folded our hands on our desks.
“First, Gardener Unit One, we will be meeting Gardener Unit Two. Both Units will be combined and until Year 19, you are considered Gardener Unit Three-Eight-twenty-two. Please write that down. Three-Eight-twenty-two.”
I entered the four digit number into my palm pilot, barely able to contain my surprise. We were going to meet other Gardeners!
I glanced around. Everyone looked surprised too.
“Second. All of you received your journals yesterday. Your Mother and Father must have their entries included no later than this evening. No excuses. All of you are aware that your individual journals are absolutely private once your parents have written their entries. The Counsel will collect the annual journal at the end of each year. They will be sealed within your personal vault until you‘re thirty. I realize we’ve gone over this already. However, this particular protocol is–yes, Gardener Devant?”
I glanced at Gardener Devant. She had risen and bowed.
“May I question a comment?”
“You may.”
“My Mother and Father are absent for Parenting Guidance Classes. They won’t return until tomorrow.”
“Approach my desk, Gardener Devant.”
I fidgeted with my palm-pen. If I looked up, I would be chastised. I thought about the journal I would give to the Counsel. It didn’t seem fair that we had to turn our thoughts in to the Counsel and never see them again until we turned thirty.
I was suddenly glad that I had thought to keep a secret journal that no one else would ever see.
I heard rough whispers from Teacher, quiet pleas from Gardener Devant and then “very well Gardener. You may speak with the Counsel at 2 p.m.”
She shuffled back to her desk and I raised my eyes. Her cheeks were red but her mouth was serene. I felt her anger.
“This protocol is imperative,” Teacher continued. “The Counsel realizes that the Occupation chosen for you at birth, that being the Gardener, is a dangerous undertaking. Your journal is completely private to ensure that your every thought will be recorded. You are unique. You are the only Occupation given this privilege. Do not waste it.” She clasped her hands behind her back. “Gardener Winson, collect the lab reports. Unit Two will arrive in five minutes.”
I handed my lab report to Gardener Moore so she could put our reports together. I quickly gestured with my left hand. She looked at me confused. I gestured again. She shook her head. I tried once more and glanced down at my hand. Oops. I had just told her she was dumb. I switched to my index finger and pinky “we aren‘t done.” She gestured back “there’s nothing we can do.”
Sadly, our lab report, even combined, was incomplete because neither of us could figure out the formula. The results were something we didn’t understand.
“Your lab reports will be scored within two days,” Teacher said. “And now,” she said in a quiet voice. “Please honor Gardener Unit Two with proper decorum.”
Everyone stood and bowed as a single line of Gardeners began to ease into the Learning Center. Out of respect, we kept our eyes lowered but I could still see the hemline of female Gardeners’ smocks and the cuffs of male trousers.
“Greet your fellows,” Teacher commanded.
I raised my eyes and looked into the faces of youth much like my own.
Blue headpieces for everyone. Blue clothing for females, green for males. I didn’t know what to expect but there didn’t seem to be anything different about this unit.
“Gardener Unit Two, you are officially melded with Unit One. From this moment on, all of you are Unit Three-Eight-twenty-two. Everyone meet at the circle in two minutes.”
My unit, my original Gardening Unit, moved as one.
I felt a strange anger. I was curious about these people but at the same time, the other Gardeners were intruding.
Without speaking, we started walking to an adjoining room where a large black circle, painted on the floor, waited for us. We had been meeting at this circle for as long as I could remember…if someone told me that we had been meeting since I was born, I would believe them. All of us had turned fifteen this year and I could remember turning five with this same group, at this very circle. And now we were supposed to talk to another Gardening Unit in our circle?
“Even though all of you are Unit Three-Eight-twenty-two, please sit in a Unit One-Unit Two pattern. This way, if you are originally from Unit One, your left and right neighbor should be from Unit Two. Quickly now!” Teacher said with urgency.
We shuffled into place around the circle and sat accordingly.
“Questions may begin,” Teacher said, spreading her hands to encompass everyone in the circle.
“Why were we separated?” A foreign Gardener asked.
“Academic ability,” Teacher answered.
“Why are we combined now?” Gardener Devant questioned.
“To improve your social ties.”
“Are we changing lab partners or can we keep the one we’ve always had?” A brown-eyed Gardener from Unit Two asked.
“Every lab will be with a different partner until Year 19.”
There were groans and murmurs from everyone.
“If this displeases you,” Teacher said with a warning in her voice, “the questions may cease.”
Silence fell.
I wanted to ask the one question that might be punishable.
I wrestled with it for a moment. I had gotten into trouble with the Counsel because of my questions.
I eyed the other Gardeners.
Well, it was now or never.
“You say we were separated because of academic ability but our Creed states that no one is better than another. Who determines our ability if we were separated before our abilities were formed?”
A Gardener to my left gasped. Another Gardener clasped her hands tightly together.
Teacher frowned. “Gardener Ellins. That’s quite enough. The Counsel determines your ability according to the neurological readings that determine your Occupation at birth. This question deserves no other explanation.”
I looked into Teacher’s eyes and found disapproval but I couldn’t look away. For a brief moment, I had also seen fear.

Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment