Friday, December 23, 2011
Symptoms of PLLD vary, but may include:
-Social media overload
-Desire to check your Amazon ranking several times a day
-Lack of desire to continue working on your new manuscript
-Inability to be witty when signing a book (especially for friends)
-Vague embarrassment when people rave about your book
-Vague embarrassment when you explain to a stranger that you’re a writer
-Vague embarrassment when you re-read your new book – and really enjoy it
Writing a book and getting it published requires an extraordinary amount of effort, focus, and care. Research suggests that PLLD could be a functional component of an author’s post-book release decision making process, supporting the notion that PLLD is a normal phenomenon experienced by authors in varying degrees, and most typically alternating with a sense of euphoria and delight. (See “Whiplash Effect.”)
There are many methods of coping, including strategies such as long trips to the Arctic or learning to read hieroglyphics, but it might be helpful to understand that these may not resolve the problem and could negatively impact the author’s long-term work strategy. So it’s best to avoid avoidance. Seek support from writer friends. Re-read every positive book review. Celebrate. You really are an author. Give yourself permission to be proud.
Then get back to work.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
For Gordon Mennenga’s Beginning the Novel course this past summer, we submitted our first fifty pages in advance. By the time the class gathered he’d read and evaluated them all. He’s wonderful; he may have saved my writing career.
But I felt sucker-punched when I read his comments scrawled across the top of my first page. They delivered a hard truth: You haven’t found your character’s voice. My first instinct was to scramble a defense. But but but…I’ve been working on this novel for many years now (many many years, in fact). I know how my character looks, what makes her tick, where she sleeps, what she eats, whom she loves, what she’s proud of. I even know her dreams. How could I not know her voice? This reaction was exacerbated by having once been utterly at one with the voice of an earlier character, the subject of six published mystery novels in the 1990s. I thought I understood voice.
But beneath it all I recognized the still, calm voice of truth. From the start I’d had trouble with how my new character expressed herself. She was too bland, too nice. Her voice didn’t flow easily, with the force of a real person. If I were honest with myself, deep down I’d known it all along.
I’ll never forget walking back to my room after that class in a sort of daze, a form of shock, and immediately hunkering down with the laptop. I was excited; I could feel I was on the edge of something big. Starting over in a new voice was like jumping off a cliff. Did I have the courage to make such a daring departure? My character’s “out there” voice had been lurking in the back of my mind, but I’d been ignoring it. I opened a document called New Voice and started typing. It came. She was there, ready and waiting.
How do you capture your character’s pure, authentic voice? I have a few ideas. But first you have to be honest enough with yourself to admit that you don’t have it, and that sort of honesty can be difficult. Ask yourself right now: are you certain your character grabs your reader and doesn’t let go? No excuses allowed; it won’t matter to the editor how many years you’ve been working on it. Do you have a “Call me Ishmael” power opening? Will something about your character linger in your reader’s mind? If not, you’d better fix it. You know the mantra: don’t give them a reason to reject your book.
Once you’ve decided to head into the fray, here are some tips for capturing your character’s voice:
Don’t be afraid to make your character different from you. Really different from you. In fact, the more different your character is from you, the more easily their voice will come. I hate offending people, so it was helpful to make my character the opposite of myself. My character is now so offensive to others, and so unconcerned about it, that it’s impossible to slip into a bland voice again. And writing with attitude is fun!
Get extreme. Look at Lady Gaga: she wants you to notice her, so she isn’t subtle. And it works! She’s met the Queen, for heaven’s sake! Yes, she’s good at what she does, but you’re probably good at what you do, too. You just need to get noticed to get published. So don’t be subtle. Go over the top. My current protagonist’s voice feels over the top to me, but I don’t think she would be to you. And you might remember her.
Go deep. The things that make a character memorable are often painful. Dig into the ugly truth of what makes him/her behave this way, talk this way, think this way. The kernel will probably be some sort of pain or loss. This may well come from your own experience, so it can be tough to go there. Discipline yourself for the sake of your craft, if you want a breakthrough onto a new level. Visit the hardest places to go within yourself, your toughest memories, most painful lessons. That’s where the power is. That zing you feel? You want your readers to feel that.
To illustrate, here are my before-and-after first lines.
Old voice: “They came for him at midnight.” This sentence isn’t bad, but it’s passive, distant, impersonal. It doesn’t tell you anything about either character. And the 449 pages that followed were rejected about a million times.
New voice: “Pepys calls me his Stormy Petrel.” This reveals a relationship, and something about each character. It’s active, and starts out talking about “me,” not “him;” it’s more immediate and direct. It has attitude, at least for the year 1670. I’ll let you know what happens.
Go for it! Jump off that cliff and open a new file. What have you got to lose? Nothing but a rejection.
Wishing you joyful writing,
Friday, December 2, 2011
Storm Petrel struck up a conversation with Ink Pot at a Montessori School Christmas play, and discovered they lived in the same neighborhood. The core of an enduring critique group was born.
That spring, Storm Petrel spotted an unusual “Niwot” listing on Folio’s nametag at a Pikes Peak Writers Conference. They too discovered that they lived in the same neighborhood, and the fledgling critique group enfolded another kindred spirit.
We met Nib at a writing conference when she lived in the Nebraska Sandhills. The resulting e-mail correspondence paved the way for our daily (sometimes multiple daily) e-mail progress reports. Over the years Ink Pot, Nib, and Folio in particular became famous for hosting a party at each conference. Agents, editors, and writers shared the joy of their common obsession and became friends.
Because we were each at a different mile marker along the writer’s journey, we were equipped to help one another in unforeseen ways. Storm Petrel had been multi-published and her wisdom and willingness to share lessons learned has proven invaluable to her sisters. Now, Storm Petrel is not only putting the finishing touches on a carefully wrought, 17th century prequel to her Plumtree mystery series (Unsolicited, Unbound, Unprintable, Untitled, Unsigned, and Uncatalogued), an imaginative world of legendary libraries and nobility of spirit, she mentors high school students through the sometimes daunting and always complicated process of successfully applying to the colleges of their dreams. (Just so you know, Folio put all the generous adjectives and compliments in this paragraph!)
Ink Pot was a literary writer who had been published in poetry journals. She apprenticed herself to commercial writing with a vigor that intensified over the years until she was writing a novel and a several screenplays in a single year—this in addition to being Mother of the Year in everybody’s book. She won nearly every prize offered in regional writing contests, and over her long apprenticeship has experienced all the agony and ecstasy an aspiring writer could know. As she acquired more and more expertise in the craft, she began to teach, first her sisters and then at conferences. Now she edits and presents courses regularly. Ink Pot is also known for delivering magical soup and sustenance of all kinds when her sisters hit rough spots along the way.
For more than a decade Folio had been getting up at ungodly hours of the morning to write by the time we met. She would rise daily at three-thirty or four to write for a couple of hours before heading off to run one of Colorado’s hottest architectural firms. Folio already had several works in her drawer, having served a long apprenticeship to fiction writing. She possesses a naturally effortless writing style that everyone just wants to keep reading forever. If you’ve read her first novel, Soliloquy, you understand. Folio is, like Ink Pot, an extremely detail-oriented editor and a topnotch brainstormer, and recently celebrated publication of Fogg in the Cockpit, a collaborative non-fiction effort between Folio and her husband. Folio came up with the titles for all of Storm Petrel’s books after the first, including the unifying title theme.
Nib was cranking out chapters of an ambitious novel with great determination at the counter of her family’s feed store in Hyannis, Nebraska when we met. She is our action-packed, hot-topic thriller writer and has also served a long and fruitful apprenticeship to the craft. Several eventful years only served to make her more dedicated and prolific, and since publication of Ashes of the Red Heifer she has already turned out and sold Sacred Balance, what we hope will be the first novel in a long-lived series. Despite her demanding work as manager of a cool non-profit in Arizona, she manages to turn out ideas and pages constantly, a real powerhouse.
Ink Pot, Folio and Nib have volunteered tirelessly at local writers conferences for many years, and are now famous in their own right for the generosity of their service. Storm Petrel’s modesty and gentle tenacity inspires all. Sisters of the Quill. Sisters of the heart.
Storm Petrel (with generous contributions from Folio, Nib and Ink Pot)
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
While in the midst of unpacking, I realized yet again that our bedroom bookcase was absolutely stuffed, and my bedside table already moaned beneath two piles of books stacked to the edge of the lampshade. I put away my suitcase and wandered into our office. Nope, that bookcase was also full, as was the one in the hallway, and there were even three unread books on the coffee table in the living room. I shrugged and headed back to the bedroom, where I stacked the new books between my dresser and chair.
Then I wondered how many inches of unread books I really had.
For a true picture I would need to include the unread books on my Kindle as well as the ten or twelve books tucked here and there on the bookcase. Oh, and then there’s the thirty-some odd books I have noted on my Goodreads “to-read” list – books I know I want to read but haven’t yet purchased. Could I count those? Should I? My husband has a stack of books that he’ll eventually share with me, and there’s usually at least a few books stashed beneath the Christmas tree as well as those three on the coffee table.
Hmmm. Forty-four inches beside the dresser, approximately twelve inches on the bookcase, seventeen inches on the bedside table, and on my Kindle I’d estimate at least twenty-five inches. My husband has to have more than twenty inches, and…
…books, book, BOOKS!
How many inches do you have?
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Occassionally good news arrives. I record acceptances and requests for fulls, etc. More often my work is praised but not a fit, close but not there, doesn't fit with the exact needs at this time...Writers know this drill.
The one change I’ve recently made to my attitude about it was inspired by Sister Folio. Instead of typing in Rejected
My sisters inspire me every day. In uncountable ways.
Someday I’ll be published to a wide audience and I’ll be able to use these spread sheets to demonstrate to other aspiring writers that it takes hard and focused work and unending perseverance. I am grateful for my gifts. That includes the small ones and the greatest ones: Folio, Nib, and Storm Petrel.
Love and gratitude spilling from the Inkpot.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
I treated it like any other publication of flash fiction.
I posted the links to the two stories. The only difference between advertising for this and my last G-rated flash fiction publication was a pseudonym. Not meant to hide from writers I know but to hide from readers I don’t know.
Response to the post: virtual silence. No doubt many writers had their notification dump right into their JUNK/SPAM files (X-rated was in the subject line after all), some must have burned with disdain and deleted it faster than a rabbit….
A few women feigned neutrality, were embarrassed, or refused to go see such a thing on line. I did get four male responses to the story. Three complimentary…”va va voom” “didn’t know you had it in ya” sorts of responses. One a suspiciously grateful one.
I won’t name the responder who asked “paper or plastic?” You had to have read one of the stories to know what plastic he referenced. Coincidentally, yesterday after posting about the explicit pieces, I HAD gone to the grocery store and HAD asked for paper bags for the first time in ages.
I understand. Truly, I understand. I even blush. The stories were far from tame, but what the heck, I’m an adult and followed the rules: no animals or children or violence. Was it a mistake to bring attention to that particular genre of the many genres I write? Maybe. Who’s lining up to judge me? Who is now wishing they hadn’t deleted that posted announcement? Smile.
- from the Inkpot
Monday, October 24, 2011
I read something the other day and I just had to share it. I picked this up from a Desert Sleuths’ newsletter and that writer picked it up from Ira Glass. He’s the interesting and wildly successful guy who does “This American Life” on NPR. If you’ve ever listened to his show, you can hear him speak these words:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative
work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you
make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has
potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you
into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work
disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they
quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work
went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have
this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through
this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this
phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing
you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so
that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going
through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and
your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone
I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way
Did I mention he’s wildly successful? And yet, he admits that he, like the rest of us, was riddled with doubts. He didn’t start off being great. He worked at it. Worked really hard.
I find this encouraging and inspirational and disappointing all at the same time. It means I can’t quit. I’m not as good as my hero-writers and suspect I’ll never rise to their level. I’d like to settle for “good enough.”
I really liked school and was a pretty good student. I knew exactly what was expected to get the A and when I’d accomplished that, I couldn’t go any higher. (This was in ancient times before weighted grades and advance placement.) I knew when I could quit working.
Mr. Glass’s quote tells me I can never stop trying to be a better writer. That’s daunting. But he also tells me that hard work will pay off. I will improve over time. And so, thank you, Mr. Glass for giving me the proverbial homework for the rest of my life.
How about you? Does Ira Glass’s quote inspire or exhaust you?
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Barnes & Noble "Crossroads Commons"
2999 Pearl Street, Boulder CO
Richard and Janet Fogg will sign Fogg in the Cockpit
Laura E. Reeve will sign The Major Ariane Kedros Novels
Esri Allbritten will sign Chihuahua of the Baskervilles
If you shop at B&N during the benefit period, a portion of what you spend goes to PPW. It costs you nothing extra, and you can use your B&N member discount. So we hope you'll join us at the signing, but if you can't make it please consider shopping at BN.com/bookfairs between November 12th and 17th, and reference bookfair number #10553048.
For more info about this bookfair and the list of authors signing at five Colorado Barnes & Noble locations, visit: pikespeakwriters.com/html/book_signings.html.
Hope to see you at the bookfair!
Friday, October 7, 2011
Ever have the feeling the universe is trying to stuff something into your big, fat, ugly head? Maybe it’s not so much a “woo-woo” experience as it is your inner mind focusing on something before it tells your everyday mind about it. Sort of like I kept seeing pregnant women right before I decided I wanted to have a baby. (And what was I thinking then?) I don’t like subliminal messages from myself. I rely on my normal shallow nature to protect me from deep emotion.
This week, Cricket McRea, author of the Home Crafting Mystery series, posted a blog about Splat. http://tinyurl.com/43dshyl This is a technique for discovering the inner workings of your own mind so you can plumb the depths of your fear and anxiety to create more complex and interesting characters.
Now doesn’t that sound like fun?
Less than a month ago, at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Conference, I attended a three-hour workshop given by romantic suspense writer and amazing writing coach, Laura Baker, of Story Magic fame. The workshop was entitled The Fearless Writer: Discovering Your Story. Among the eye-opening and light bulb-illuminating tidbits in this workshop, Laura walked us through a bit of psychoanalysis all in the name of finding a good story. Talk about stepping out of my six inch deep comfort zone.
At the most basic, The Fearless Writer course is about discovering what made you begin writing. Before you learned you couldn’t write because you didn’t know about stimulus and response and point of view and voice and character arcs and turning points, what gave you the passion to tell the story inside of you?
Before we can answer this question, we have to go through a series of exercises, dredging up all the good, bad and ugly we’ve squirreled away throughout our lives and find out what our purpose is in storytelling. Like cats, some of us are particularly good and burying our, ahem, “unpleasantness.” And like Methuselah, some of us have enough years on our bones to have accumulated a lot of said “unpleasantness.”
Laura had us look at stories and characters we found easiest to write and those we couldn’t complete. Using our own life experiences, we drew links to our stories and can then discover what our strengths are as writers. The exercises took the pain and joy in our past and associated that emotional gunk (that’s my technical term) with our stories to find themes we return to.
I’m not about to tell you all the personal dysfunction I discovered in just three hours of this workshop. It’s embarrassing how much of my therapy has been worked out in the pages of my books. But it makes for some particularly flawed characters with lots of growth potential. Obviously, Laura’s workshop is way more involved than what I’ve plastered here and I urge you to check it out. www.fearlesswriter.com
When I fearlessly and foolishly decided I wanted to be a writer, no one told me I was going to have to pull out all the nasty little bugs hiding in the dark recesses of my brain. Like spiders in my house, I’m way happier if I don’t see them. I’m not all that into self awareness, we shallow people shy away from that. I have honed the art of denial until I’m a true master. And now the dagnabbed universe is banging me on the head with a sledgehammer and telling me to dig deeper. Fine, okay, I’m not stupid, I get the message. But if I have to cry to write this next book, somebody is going to be in trouble.
What about you? Do you enjoy the process of baring your soul, even in disguise, in your work?
Friday, September 23, 2011
As a thunderstorm grumbled through, I fear my (somewhat colorful) language provided a poignant counter-tempo to the growling overhead. Then, after a particularly virulent crash from on high, I laughed.
The jerk-savant who created the malware or virus, whatever the heck it was, wanted my rage. Well, I hate to break it to you sweetheart, but if you happen to read this, my anger was short lived. Instead, as the growling storm swept past our home and a rainbow crested over the eastern plains, I found myself pitying you. Someday, when you look back on your life, and your child gazes at you with adoring eyes, what story will you relate? How can you ever explain this part of your life? Worse yet, what happens much later, when the end of your life is near?
Let me explain a few things. First of all, you are not Neo, saving mankind from evil. I know that’s hard to accept, but trust me, you’re not a hero, and soon I hope you realize how you can fruitfully spend your time, efforts, and your undoubted brilliance. There’s so much to be accomplished in this world, and instead you choose to lurk in the sewer. I hope the stench soon drives you out and you find not only a new life, but some way to make amends, to ask forgiveness. I realize that is optimistic, but you see, writers have to be optimistic. We work in an incredibly tough profession, where rejection is the norm.
Ah, but those hours I lost playing your game. I’d planned on drafting and sending out six to eight queries, and instead, accomplished nothing. But here is my gift to you, along with this blog. I give you those hours I lost, to claim as your own. That way, since I give them to you freely, you cannot take any pleasure in thinking that you took them from me.
I’ve already delivered the computer to a geek to have your thumbprint removed. Poof! It shall be gone. Now, I’ll write my queries and spend time outside, enjoying the kiss of fall weather and high skies. I’ll consider my next chapter and that brings me great joy. Oh, and I might spend another moment or two pitying you, but I should caution you about that pity. You see, over the decades speculative fiction writers have predicted the future with an alarming rate of success, and I don’t foresee joy in your future, or any true satisfaction. Alas for you. Alas for a lost day.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
One of several workshops I attended stood out because it addressed head-on a difficulty I’ve been having with the beginning of my book. Sara Megibow (from the Nelson Literary Agency) taught a workshop entitled:
Bang! Zoom! Pow! Those First 30 Pages and Why They are so Important and How to Make Them POP.
I’ve been to many similarly titled workshops and have found most impart the same information. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to have it all reinforced again -- especially in light of the feedback I’ve been receiving about my book, Mu Shu Mac-N-Cheese. It works extremely well except the very beginning.
My query letter is effective; I’m usually asked to send full manuscripts. My voice, I’m told, is courageous and works well with the characters and storyline. I’ve even been told by agents that it is a marketable, commercial novel. So what about the beginning is holding it back from earning representation in this tough market?
I have a lot in my first chapter, clearly too much. Mario Puzo got away with it, and one agent suggested I study the beginning of The Godfather. Puzo detailed the back-story of the various characters who sought the aid of the powerful Godfather. The lesson seemed to be that I needed to give the reader more to latch onto about the motivation of the few characters I introduce in the beginning of the book. I was also advised that my voice was so strong that it “overwhelmed the narrative.” That was more difficult to decipher. My critique groups helped me interpret this. I have a rather unusual way with language sometimes. Maybe it is the poet in me. Maybe it is my twisted sense of metaphor. Maybe I try too hard to have an atypical approach to word play. I think it is all of the above.
Back to Sara’s helpful advice. She explained four things that automatically earn rejections from their agency.
1) Data dump
2) Work not written with genre requirements
3) Awkward dialogue
4) Weak character or voice
Great advice. But none of these seemed to address the dissatisfaction over MY beginning. I’d pretty much pounded out the above common problems working over the years with my critique partners and taking a long detour writing screenplays.
Then Sara talked about what makes a beginning POP. First:
She emphasized that the inciting incident shouldn’t be in a prologue, and, in fact, “mainstream fiction shouldn’t even have a prologue.” My book is mainstream women’s fiction and the story takes place twenty years after my Midwest-raised protagonist marries into a traditional and dominating Chinese family. In the PROLOGUE, my protagonist meets her future husband on the dance floor, beginning the dance of their marriage. It’s only one page long. One page. One page! ONE page!!! It sets up the marriage! Right?
It seems I’ve started my book with one of those gnarly, dreaded darlings. And that I should work the information in, as needed, later in the book. Ironically, I taught a workshop at the conference about back-story in its various forms and specifically about writing flashbacks. I warned against flashbacks that come too early. Guess I’ll have to review my own notes.
Chop off my prologue, and luckily I still have a strong inciting incident. That is not the problem. Sara’s last observation about beginnings that POP was less straight forward than items of craft and as elusive as voice.
AN EFFORTLESS READ
We’ve all experienced it. We open a book and force our way through the first few pages, slogging along, debating whether or not to take more of our precious time to unravel a tangle of too many ideas, dense prose, flowery overkill, or a mess of complicated sentences. Hers was not a surprising suggestion. But somehow, the way she stated it became an aha moment for me. I and my critique partners know my book so well that we don’t recognize the introduction of too many conflicts, each on the heel of the other, and the story promise with too many angles. The morass of too-tight writing.
I cared too much about getting it right, about dragging the reader in with so many questions to be answered, and not one spare word. I’ve over edited the beginning of Mu Shu Mac-N-Cheese to the point of being dense compared to the rest of the book that manages to breathe. It wouldn’t be too far off to call the beginning constipated while the rest is…well… smooth moving.
I now have a plan of attack. Not an easy plan, especially for this freelance editor who usually deals with tightening chubby prose. But what in a writing career is easy? I am going to make my entire book breathe.
Make it an effortless read.
Thank you Sara.
From the InkPot
Friday, September 9, 2011
Friday, September 2, 2011
Others came tantilizingly close to grabbing it up, loved the writing, the characters, the storyline, the premise…but…something was not quite connecting. When it comes to editing, it's pretty hard to work with a vague feeling.
Today, in contrast, I feel I have something more to work with. The new plan: after brushing up the last two chapters I wrote on my new one…I’ll put it aside and go back to Mu Shu, do a read and summary, and try to figure out how to make each chapter "swell under its own crescendo." That is the writing life: Figure out the Fix. Thank you Barbara Poelle of Irene Goodman Literary Agency.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Fogg in the Cockpit was released on July 28, 2011.
The journey to publication of this WWII military history book about my husband’s father, Captain Howard Fogg, seemed long and arduous. Was our journey abnormally difficult or fairly typical? I just don't know. What I do know is that I kept records of the query, rejection, and contract process, and thought I would share that information so you can judge for yourself.
My husband (Richard) and I began to work on this book in late 2004, and over the next two years we did a great deal of research and wrote text to interweave with the text from Howard’s diary and other document excerpts. We completed the first, 60,000 word manuscript draft in early 2007. We were so excited! Now it was time to send out queries!
1st Query: 03/24/07 to Talbot Fortune Agency – rejected
2nd Query: 04/02/07 to Dystel & Goderich Literary Management – rejected
3rd Query: 05/07/07 to Stackpole Books – no response
4th Query: 07/30/07 to Potomac Books – rejected
5th Query: 05/08/08 to University Press of New England – rejected
6th Query: 05/08/08 to Naval Institute Press – rejected
7th Query: 05/11/08 to Carlton Publishing Group – no response
8th Query: 05/11/08 to Burford Books
06/12/08 – Burford requested sample chapters
06/20/08 – sent sample chapters
06/21/08 – declined
9th Query: 05/11/08 to Westholme Publishing – no response
10th Query: 05/11/08 to Camroc Press
05/13/08 – Camroc requested sample chapters
06/20/08 – Camroc requested full manuscript
07/03/08 – declined and suggested we try a university press
11th Query: 05/18/08 to W.W. Norton & Company – no response
12th Query: 05/28/08 to Skyhorse Publishing – rejected
13th Query: 05/29/08 to Hellgate Press: No response for 21 months
14th Query: 05/30/08 to Schiffer Publishing – rejected
15th Query: 07/08/08 to Utah State University Press
07/09/08 – USU requested 2 copies of full manuscript
07/10/08 – mailed 2 copies - USU acknowledged receipt of manuscripts via email – no further response
16th Query: 7/25/08 to University Press of Kentucky – rejected
17th Re-query: 11/21/08 to Stackpole (referral from one of their authors) – rejected
18th Query: 03/09/09 to University of Oklahoma Press (referral from one of their authors)
03/16/09 – requested full
No further response despite several follow-up emails
Demoralized, we decided, “The hell with it, we’ll self-publish!”
Over the summer I read Lulu’s guidelines, registered with them, and requested an ISBN. Then we decided to try a couple of additional queries, but if we had no offer by the end of the year we would self-publish. This was our last salvo, so to speak.
19th Query: 05/01/09 to FPP Aviation
05/03/09 – requested full manuscript
05/05/09 – sent full manuscript
Who said silence is golden?
20th Query: December 29, 2009 to Norlights Press – rejected
21st Query: January 3, 2010 to Casemate Publishers
Back to the 19th Query that we sent 05/01/09 – 9-1/2 months later…
02/18/10 – email re: wants to make an offer
02/23/10 – met with publisher, received verbal contract offer, contract to follow
03/27/10 – we sent follow-up email re: status of contract – No response
Then everything happened at once.
03/29/10: Received charming response to 10th query we sent 21 months previously. In summary, our query and sample chapters had been misplaced during a move. Hellgate requested a full manuscript which we sent 03/30/10.
03/31/10: Received an email from Casemate (21st query) expressing interest. “We would be very interested to discuss this project further as we feel this is a very interesting story and perspective on the war.”
04/06/10: Casemate scheduled a conference call with us.
04/08/10: Received a verbal offer from Casemate contingent upon increasing word count from 60,000 to at least 75,000. (Minimum 75,000, maximum 125,000 words.)
04/09/10: Sent additional material to Casemate to show that we could, indeed, increase the word count.
04/13/10: Sent even more additional material.
04/13/10: Received an offer from Hellgate Press, the one that misplaced our query for 21 months.
Now what? Casemate was interested but we had a bird in the hand. Two, if you counted FPP, though we were now skeptical about them.
04/15/10: We let Hellgate know that we had an offer from Casemate. The Hellgate editor was terrific. He assured us his offer would remain while we decided who to go with. He complimented Casemate, said they were a great press and much larger than his. Could offer a color insert whereas he couldn’t.
Stewed and debated the pros and cons of the offers.
04/21/10: Let Casemate know that we had an offer from Hellgate.
Paranoia reigned. No word from Casemate.
05/13/10: Sent follow-up email to Casemate, inquiring about status of offer.
05/14/10: Casemate scheduled conference call to review contract terms.
05/25/10: Back to the 19th Query, FPP. Still no response to our follow-up emails or a voice mail, so we sent a letter and email withdrawing our manuscript.
05/25/10: Let Hellgate know that we were going to accept Casemate’s offer.
06/16/10: Still no contract draft from Casemate, sent follow-up email.
06/20/10: Sent additional material to Casemate with estimated new word count.
07/08/10: Still no contract draft from Casemate, sent follow-up email.
We were now considering going back to Hellgate.
07/26/10: Phoned Casemate and left a message re status of contract.
07/28/10: Casemate phoned us, explained the delay, and reinforced their interest in the manuscript. Reviewed terms, deadlines, and estimated publication date. They would need the bulked up manuscript by 11/01/10. Yikes! Could we have one more month, until 11/30/10?
09/01/10: Received contract. Deadline for submittal 11/01/10. Wait! What happened to 11/30/10!? Oh well, we can do it!
09/03/10: Mailed signed contract to Casemate! Time for champagne!
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
I've just returned from two glorious weeks at the University of Iowa Writing Festival in Iowa City. It's always a little like drinking through a fire hose; as usual a great deal of useful information on writing was exchanged. I have a fun and useful tip to share.
We all know the first few pages are crucial to keep the agent or editor reading, so I signed up for the week-long course, "Beginning the Novel." The tone of the workshops tends to be literary rather than commercial, so our wonderful workshop professor, Gordon Mennenga of Coe College, apologized for coming dangerously close to being formulaic before sharing this. He'd gone into a bookstore, the classic Prairie Lights (Iowa City's Tattered Cover), and picked up all of the bestselling and otherwise successful novels of the past year or two. Each of them had all of the following on the first two pages (brace yourself!):
a sentence containing three commas
a one-word sentence
food (the universal ritual)
body fluid--sweat, blood, tears, urine
reference to sex or death
something sinful or painful
a physical feature
a personality trait
mention of nature
anything with a brand name
body part or parts
metaphor, each of which saves five pages of description
city, state or street
He had us go through our first two pages and check off how many of these we had included. Most of us had two or three; one of us had ten or so (way to go Alan!). As far as evoking sensations in the reader, we realized we were writing at about 1/10 power. You might enjoy going through your first two pages and seeing how many you instinctively included...and then add the rest! You can always take them out again if it feels too much, or too contrived, but it's a useful exercise in writing vividly with all the senses.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
In my own books, I've mixed it up. I've used a single 3rd person POV in an entire book, 3rd person alternating (every other chapter) between two characters, and a more complicated method of three POVs - two of them 3rd person protagonists and one 1st person serial killer.
I tend to have a personal theme running through my books that is essentially: "The bad guy is a misunderstood good guy." That requires that I paint skin-crawling, dangerous bad guys that have motivations that can be understood and even sympathetic to the good guy and reader by the end. This is particularly tough to pull off with a character that kills, but being deep inside the antagonist and slowly revealing the cause of his/her behavior is easier to pull off using very deep 3rd person or 1st person. It is a challenge, for sure, the reason I didn't attempt it until my forth book.
If we decide to change Points of View within a scene, each change in POV needs to be handled so deftly that it is a huge challenge (or more simply handled with a drop down as a signal) Rarely can a writer pull off abrupt changes in POV with no signal.
Omniscent is still used, as is 2nd person and present and future tense; but they often fall into the experimental category now rather than popular fiction. I frequently catch slips of POV in popular fiction, but in the context of deep 3rd person POV it is often ignored, forgiven, or missed by readers (unless they are also writers or editors who are trained to flag the slips - you should see me putting sticky notes into novels - sometimes it is a curse to be an editor) It isn't a cardinal sin, just head-bouncing if done frequently. And editors give less leeway to new writers - thus my seeming obsession over it.
In the spirit of "exceptions proving rules," if you'd like to see every writing guideline broken in an amazing, magnetic and shocking way, capturing even the Pulitzer Prize, take a luxury dip into TINKERS by Paul Harding. If I tried my entire life, I couldn't do what he did. I believe devoted writers, on the other hand, could do something off the beaten track after 100% mastering the more accessible POVs. A strong writing voice would carry the reader over the waves of atypical craft - not because it is easy to read, but because it is poetry to the heart. TINKERS may have still worked and had a wider readership if Harding had stayed within today's expectations. We can't know for sure.
Do you have any favorite books that break POV "rules" successfully?
I'd love to hear about them - Inkpot
Friday, July 1, 2011
Despite working full-time I used to regularly register for classes to study all sorts of things: how to ride a motorcycle, throw and fire clay pottery, knitting, beginning ballet, and though raised in Colorado, rock-climbing and mountaineering. I climbed two dozen Fourteeners, some dangerous, some not. In the midst of all that I also decided to write a novel, high-fantasy, no less. I completed that first draft oh so many years ago, and back to Lifelong Learning I went to learn how to get published.
How to get published; now there’s a challenge. Semi-annual writer’s conferences soon usurped Lifelong Learning classes and critique meetings decorated my calendar. Writing, writing, writing and new, cherished friends. And so the years passed.
Would I have ever met such dear friends, my sisters and brothers of the quill, without penning that first manuscript and attending that class? The odds are poor and quite sad to contemplate.
What of that book on the shelf, with my name on the spine? And soon there will be another, penned with my dear husband. Oh my. Yes, oh my.
Writing books. All those hours of anguish and hope, of deliberation and delight. All those words. All those worlds.
Time well spent, don’t you think?
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Last time I wrote about planting our literary seeds, weeding, and harvesting. Today I ponder tools, secrets, and tricks for turning our produce into an enjoyable meal.
Equipment is important. It’s almost impossible to cook or write without the proper tools. Cutting boards, knives, and woks are a few of the tools necessary to prepare vegetable stir-fries. For writers it’s not only about the laptop. It’s about collecting the skills essential to our craft. Taking classes, attending workshops, reading books on writing, finding a good writing coach or critique group.
It’s best if we weigh carefully the flavors we work with. Our choice of genres can be thought of as our garden’s herbs and spices. Mix too many genres and we’ve got confusing flavors. Hybrid genres are one thing. A post apocalyptic fantasy thriller that takes place in the Wild Wild West with SF and romantic elements will taste like some of the confusion foods that try to pass as fusion foods. Know what we are writing and write it boldly.
Just as gardeners and cooks approach produce differently, each writer has a unique style and brings to his work different strengths. Some focus on plot and some excel at developing characters. Some are all about the beauty of the sentence. Even thin or unwieldy plots can sell well if the writing is brilliant, just as one chef’s simple, local offerings can succeed as can the creations of another who focuses on complex and exotic ingredients.
Writing, like gardening, is all about hidden secrets. Seeds are the most obvious and miraculous secrets. But there are countless other garden secrets. Sure, a zucchini plant can net enough fruit to feed 100 armies, but if plucked at the just the right time, the blooms can be used to make one of the best appetizers in the world, stuffed squash blossoms. In a writing career and in each of our books (regardless of genre) there are hidden mysteries. The secret is to find and share them.
We grow veggies to eat them. It’s important, then, to do them justice, but not too much justice. Cooking them too long turns them into paste. Some of us writers cook our books so long we never consider our work finished. Sometimes we fear failure; sometimes we fear success; sometimes we hesitate to start a new project. If we are aware of our fears, we may be less likely to overcook our produce.
On the other hand, there are those of us who don’t let the sauces simmer long enough to meld the flavors. We whip through a draft or two then send our books off, false hope in the mail. Tomato sauce doesn’t belong on noodles unless it’s had a good long time to simmer the flavors to Italian perfection. We’re better off considering five drafts half simmered.
We could layer in discussion about our lives as the soil we start with, fertilizers that inspire our words, bad-habit weed barriers, and selling our produce in the farmer’s market. But metaphors are like truffle shavings, too much of a good thing overwhelms.
Words are food for thought. We grow them so we and others can enjoy them.
The clouds are cooperating. Inkpot wishes you good gardening and good eating! Bon Appetite!
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
A plot is like the garden map; if we throw seeds randomly the result is a confusing mess. Subplots are like carrots; if we have too many of them, it’s as if we’ve planted seeds too closely. The row is so tightly packed that no carrot can grow to its potential. Plots need room to breathe.
We find the perfect spot to plant our strawberries, radishes and scallions. We space the seeds just so. But darn it if the neighbor didn’t plant a fast growing Ausstree Willow that sucks the water right out of our bed and throws shade on our nascent plants all but ten minutes of each day. Likewise, the shade of negativity can stunt the growth of stories, even those begun with the best seed. There will always be interruptions and backslides but we needn’t pout. Maybe the neighbor would be willing to trim his tree or help us dig out a new bed on the other side of the yard. It serves us well, in gardening and in writing, to seek and accept support from others. If we surround ourselves with sunshine, the veggies and fruit will thrive.
You’ve got to edit. And edit. And edit. Enough said.
How should we look at our bruised fruit? With admiration! Do you want taste or shiny wax? Good characters are like bruised fruit. The imperfect ones often taste sweeter and are full of authentic flavor.
Unlike farmers competing with their 1,000+ pound pumpkins, we writers compliment and even combine our crops; my zucchini, her parsley and garlic, his onions and tomatoes and your eggplant mix to make an unbeatable ratatouille. That’s what critique groups and involvement in the greater writing community are all about. It’s in our best interest to cooperate rather than compete.
Writing and gardening are emotional roller coasters. There are exquisite highs (a bumper crop of jalapenos) and agonizing lows (that damn rabbit ate the strawberries). Expect them. Celebrate them both as forward movement. Even a rejection gets you one step closer to publication, as long as you listen to the reason you were rejected.
Next time we can talk about my favorite subject (as a foodie and food writer): cooking up our crops.
Publication and sharing our bounty is the purpose of planting our garden. Go grow some cucumbers and a ton of fans!
Inkpot wishes you good gardening!
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Let’s try that again.
Hello, my name is Folio, and I belong to two critique groups. I love them both. Benefit from both. Why two? Because they're different. Yet some writers wonder whether they should even belong to one, let alone two.
I credit my friends in my first group (Uff Da!), with pushing me up the mountain. Or perhaps we linked hands and climbed the Fourteener together. We met at a class on How to Get Published, so we were all ambitious and at somewhat similar levels of experience. This proved invaluable. While there’s certainly an appeal to joining a group with members that have far more experience, consider whether that makes the slope a bit slippery. You might be an amazing talent, but if you’re trudging up the hill and don’t even know what to carry in your backpack, have to be guided every step of the way, it could be frustrating for everyone. Some groups I’m aware of require an “audition” before an invitation to join for exactly this reason.
Uff Da Cum Laude meets monthly, exchanges pages at one meeting and critiques them at the next. We’re friends, supporters, and cheerleaders. We love good stories. We’ve been through the battles of trying to get published and some of us have. Once, disaster visited. A man I’ll call Big Bad John asked if he could join our group. What an arrogant, unhappy person. He was loud, uber ambitious, and voiced the opinion that kindness had no place in critique. He preferred the slash and burn method. Didn’t care if there was blood on the trees.
After that first meeting our “old” members privately critiqued him as a potential member, and we disinvited him. Because of John we closed our group. That one encounter taught us how important it is to learn if you’re a fit for your critique group, and vice versa. I want critique and I’m pretty tough and resilient, but who needs deforestation? Not me. John apparently thought he did. I hope he found a group that shared his goals and preferences.
Enter my second group, the Sisters of the Quill. Oh sisters, was I ever flattered to be approached at a writer’s conference by an incredibly gracious author, Storm Petrel. She introduced herself, noted that we were from the same small town (displayed on our nametags). She belonged to a critique group with only a few members. Would I like to join them, try a meeting or two? Would I!?
That was many years ago and these days we meet weekly to work and critique. And to enjoy our friendship! Camaraderie is good in this solitary profession of ours. We have one long-distance member, and several years ago we began reporting our progress on a regular basis, sometimes daily, via email. We’ve found that one sister’s success can be celebrated, shared by all, as can coping with angst. Then every once in a while we meet for an all day or multi-day retreat. Talk about fun! We brainstorm and work hard, pound out plot points and eat wonderful food.
As you might gather, we’re supportive but at the same time aggressive, about getting published, that is! “What iffing” is sought out and appreciated. If something doesn’t work we say so, then it’s up to the sister to decide if she agrees. Or not. During this journey we've truly become sisters, in every best sense of the word. Such a treasure.
I know a few writers who think their voice will be massaged to a homogenized mush if they run their words through critique. I think it could happen. So remember that every comment should be filtered by you. After all, how many times have you started reading a bestseller and found it wasn't worth turning the pages? Opinions really do vary. So remember to be open, to really LISTEN to the comments about your work, and THEN decide whether to edit. At the same time, if you're not interested in changing and learning, and argue about every suggested improvement, then why bother with critique?
I hope you’re as blessed as I am with your friends in critique. In both of my groups what started as nervous meetings of strangers flourished, grew tall and strong, and now reach steadfastly for the quill or pen or keyboard.
Uff Da! SOTQ!
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
But there’s help! The other night I was reading an enjoyable book called The Happiness Project. In it, author Gretchen Rubin discusses her own second-guessing paralysis.
On pp 77-78 of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin explains that along the way to her immensely successful New York Times bestseller, many people gave her advice. One friend suggested she change the title; another recommended she emphasize different aspects of her life such as conflict with her mother. When she protested she had no conflict with her mother, he harrumphed that she was in denial.
With each suggestion she worried: was her tone wrong? Was she wrong to talk about her own experience so much? Perhaps the answer was yes, and yet… “I didn’t want to be the novelist who spent so much time rewriting his first sentence that he never wrote his second.” Gretchen decided that if she wanted to accomplish anything, she needed to push ahead without constantly second-guessing herself. She needed to "Be Gretchen." And there I was, holding her beautiful and worthwhile book, now in reach-the-masses paperback, in my hands.
Possibly because I had just read about Gretchen’s experience, I felt much more relaxed about heading back into my jello elephant of a novel yesterday for one more go-round. And something wonderful happened: a new idea took off and made magic. At least I felt that way, though I’ve heard that a chemical released in the brain during creative bursts gives that euphoric sensation of having created something special…
Oh no! There I go again, second-guessing. Today I will choose again to “Be Storm Petrel” and push ahead with my own vision of the project, and encourage you to do the same.
Thank you, Gretchen Rubin!
- Storm Petrel
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Is it just me or do lots of writers focus on the bad and underplay the good? How many times do you have to hear, “I loved your book!” to counter the one furrow-browed reader who says she thought the love scene was not very tender. Never mind that you wrote that scene to illustrate how wrong the relationship was in the first place. Now you are convinced your whole book is an example of what every writer should not do.
The agent can say they like your style or that you have talent and the full manuscript you sent isn’t right for them but they’d love to see anything else you have. You don’t see the offer to send another story, you see “You couldn’t write an application for a grocery store discount card. You have bad hair, could stand to lose some weight and your feet stink.” And when I say you, I mean me.
I delay celebration. A publisher sent me an offer… in writing. It looks pretty darned official. As with dear Folio and her husband when the publisher accepted the book but seemed to take forever to send the contract, I refuse to break out the champagne or go for a celebratory dinner until my name is on the dotted line. Underneath the logical, accountant brain of mine lurks a superstitious mind. I’m afraid if I rejoice too soon, the bottom will drop out and I’ll be disappointed beyond repair.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of writers who sold books only to have their editor leave the house and the book is dropped. Do you suppose one of the writer’s friends threw them a party with a multi-layered chocolate cake and that somehow jinxed the deal? Think what would happen if, for instance, my husband took me out for steak and lobster and we toasted the deal with the publisher, and then, for some reason, I never got the contract.
Just what WOULD happen? I’d have had a nice evening, a terrific meal and feel special and successful. I’d feel awful if the contract didn’t materialize. On the other hand, if I don’t celebrate the offer and the contract doesn’t happen I’d just feel awful, without the feel-good evening.
But just in case, contract first, champagne later.
What are your writing superstitions?
Saturday, April 23, 2011
It takes patience to write a book. One-word-at-a-time patience. Not everyone can crank out a novel in three months, certainly not without a team such as James Patterson employs. Okay, so I do have a team of three – me, myself, and I – and none of us are particularly speedy. For a new book I’d say think more along the lines of eighteen months, minimum. I haven’t truly tested that theory though, as I haven’t written a “new” book with a contract deadline hanging, sharp and sword-like, above my head, so I think two years is probably more accurate.
Ah yes, mustn't forget the requisite patience needed to research agents and publishers to make certain they’re appropriate for your book, to track every query, dates sent, and the response or lack of same, since so many agents and editors are now letting a non-response speak for them. Hurry up and wait.
Finally though, success! An offer’s been made! But patience is needed yet again. Actually, patience multiplied times six months, waiting for the actual contract to arrive. Are we there yet?
Didn’t think I’d need an extraordinary amount of patience during the editing process. Wrong! Near the end, suddenly the editor wanted eight more pages, or to delete twelve. Our choice. Sigh. Can you be patient and hyperventilate at the same time? Let me assure you, you can. Scrambling for eight more pages of material while remaining patient made for an exhausting week.
Edits are done, galley proof complete. Yay! But wait, there’s more. Now you need even more patience! You’re tapping your toe in anticipation of the happy event, of the day a heavy box arrives in a nice little brown truck. You’re watching the clock, waiting for the minute when you’ll tear apart strapping tape and cardboard to reveal hidden treasure. But guess what? Until that moment you need to find the patience (and discipline) to keep working! It’s time to blog, to read and research, to update marketing materials and paint your house, to set up signings and speaking engagements, and most importantly, to write, write, write, while you wait, wait, wait for months, and weeks, and days…
Are you mind-bogglingly virtuous, too? -- Folio