The Pre-Taos/Post Taos Divide, or the Trouble with Trolls

So. I went to Paradise Lost. At least I think I did, because there are some vaguely hallucinogenic posts from around that time. I decided to go at the last moment largely on the strength of the attending pros, and this left me digging through stuff trying to find a story to take for critiquing purposes. The Poison of thy Flesh is in very early days and while I know the story, I haven’t written and layered the story. Besides, it’s what I’m taking to the Colorado workshop.

So, what to take to Paradise Lost? Well, how’s about The Winter the Troll Danced with Old Nick?

To be honest, the troll story didn’t get a lot of love out there, and in retrospect, that’s a good thing. It’s a very dense story with way too much going on, and not a solid single through line. It wanders a lot, like a pantser first draft. In my case, I had some ideas and I just threw them all down. So, there are some VERY clever bits (like how I get rid of the old school troll and some of the teen troll interplay), but there are also some cloudy bits, boring bits, and downright sadistic bits. It is a story that does not know itself.

I couldn’t have told you that at the time. I was trying to get the work produced under a deadline, before I knew that an agent invitation wasn’t get a book done by a certain time, but rather get a book done to the best of your ability, and send it along then. I was also much too enamored of my research, and wanted to show it off. AND I was still writing through glass at that time, watching my characters through a window, again a sign that I hadn’t spent enough time with the story.

So…before I went to Paradise Lost, I had already begun to make changes. I can see two stories in the piece worth salvaging: the story about the old school troll and Manuel, and the story about Grant and David. I’d like to use the frost elf love/hate thing somewhere down the line, and I’d still like Grant to be involved with Magdalene and the character formerly known as Astrid, but I still think that might be too complicated for one book. So…the pieces I gave to the Paradise Lost crew were just the Troll brothers pieces, and the rest will wait for its place patiently in line.

What kind of reaction did I get? I think most people felt hit with a tsunami. There was a couple of great comments: Whatever you do with this, maintain this kind of YA tone, and there’s so much that’s right about this that we’d be here all day talking about it, so I’m going to focus on what needs work. Yeah, I’d pay good money for comments like that. And I did. 😀

But here’s the take home wisdom. What I had there was probably two or three chapters. I introduced at least 4 complicated concepts and 10 characters in one chapter. I alluded to, but mostly confused readers on points, and one of Walter and Nancy’s cardinal rules is that detail should move the reader forward, not gum the reader up.

And as the critiquers and writers said all these things, Post Taos Catherine nodded her head like a bobble head poodle in your back window. So correct. So, the troll story, which was originally cracked out of another giant story, becomes narrower and deeper in scope yet again. And the writer that I am learns that in order for stories to be intimate, they need to be written under a microscope, not through a window.

It was a useful retreat. I’m thinking about going again, and checking out what it’s like while I’m well.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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