Writing

Battling the Monday Monster

IMG_0149After a weekend of conquering both query letters and a synopsis, writing an entry for a flash fiction contest (write a story in 100 words or less), and some productive editing, the real world returned as it does and kicked me in the ass. Yes, Monday and the dreaded day job came and mightily pooed on me.

I really should just get rid of my television. It does nothing to improve the state of being that is Monday. It’s impossible to tell the news from the shows. And when I get home from work, it’s all just the news. I feel a responsibility to be informed, but let me tell you, that will not happen watching the news, and it won’t matter which channel you are tuned to. It’s all garbage. Best to turn that television off until season six of Game of Thrones.

More often now I find myself feeling like some alien-invaded body. During the day when I’m stuck in traffic, sitting at my desk writing code, or in a meeting discussing solutions to this or that problem, I feel a sense of non-being, almost if I’ve become a damned to being one of Screwtape’s decimal points for all eternity  (You have read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, yes?)

My daughter moved back to college this weekend. It’s her senior year. She won’t be moving back in with me. That’s still nagging at me. Money is tight. It always is, always has been.  So it’s off to the day job, five days a week most of the time. That’s the reality of writing. It won’t often provide a living all on its own. It’s an art and for me it’s a need. As much as my life requires oxygen, it requires me to spin these tales.

The thing I look forward to the most all day long is retiring to my little office as the sun goes down, lighting candles, going under my headphones, and disappearing into worlds of my own making. There where all manner of frightful beasts stalk and reign, I disappear in a world more gloriously real than any Monday morning traffic jam, design meeting, or whatever the latest news story is being touted to distract us from the real horrors of this world. Here I confront those demons that taunt all of us.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process one does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss will stare back at you.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Once I emerge from my revelry of spinning words into tales, I take to my bed with a book in hand. This week I am reading Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaimon’s Good Omens, Hollow City (the latest in Ransom Rigg’s Peculiar Children), and Citizens of London by Lynne Olson which is a historical account of Americans living in London as World War II broke out.

In Good Omens, a book about an angel and demon trying to prevent the apocalypse, the demon, Crawley (he’s thinking of changing his name) says that demons don’t have nearly the imagination of man and so there really isn’t much for them to do. Humans think of far more horrible things to do to one another than a demon ever could.  He’s rather glum about it. I’m kind of with poor old demonic Crawley on that point. I doubt we have demons to blame for crappy Mondays. It’s like Simon said in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. “Maybe it’s just us.”  I would rather there were dragons to slay, magic rings to fling into fiery mountains, or swords to pull out of stones to awaken a savior king. So I write and I read so on Tuesday I can do that whole day job thing once more.

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While Waiting To Take a Bath

So I do not believIMG_0151e I have been banned from the publishing industry. In fact, I think that despite myself, that my trip to New York to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference was well worth the money, sleep deprivation, and steady attack of nerves. I won’t say my pitch was perfect but good enough to get a fair number of requests for pages and one full request from well-respected agencies I would not otherwise have access to. I am excited so now I am going to take a bath. I rarely take enough time to do the bath thing- it’s usually a shower in a hurry. Sometimes I forget to take off my clothes. I am still so surprised that they come off. But that’s another story.

So I guess the real work begins. I must now write a 2 page synopsis (gulp and I’d rather face a fire-breathing, garlic eating dragon), compose a much improved query letter (I hope), and do one last intense edit of my 487 page manuscript.  I would like to give a big thanks to Janet Reid (Janet Reid’s blog) and her wonderful seminar on the query letter at the Writer’s Digest Conference.  I really needed this. I can write a lovely 150,000 word manuscript, but that 100-200 word query letter…well, like I said in my last post, I was crap at. Let’s hope I am much improved. On we go…until next time

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There’s a Chance This Could Be Whiskey

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So I finished a 150,000 word book, finished it. It took seven years of late nights, long weekends, giving up sleep, drinking ridiculous amounts of coffee, and not nearly enough whiskey. It is the first of seven books in my series Idylls of Alleysiande. And I am not talking a first draft. I think this baby went through at least 106 revisions.

Anyhow, I finished writing a book. If you ever wrote a book, then you know what a huge thing this is – unless you happen to be James Patterson or Brad Thor and finish writing a book every week or so. Honestly, I don’t know how some authors do it. So I took a deep breath and formatted the manuscript carefully, made 10 copies neatly bound for carefully chosen beta readers (the greatest things ever). For the most part, I did not know these beta readers well at all. I wanted honest feedback, and I got it. Along with some very astute suggestions, and a few grammatical edits, I was rewarded with people who really enjoyed the story. So now, I feel ready to seek an agent, and thereby get this book published.

So I am off to New York City for the Writer’s Digest Conference. First of all, I am crap at writing a query so it will be handy to get some professional guidance in that regard. Secondly, I will get to pitch my book to as many agents as I can talk to in a one hour period. I make a great first impression…I think. Well, I will either get a couple of agents to look at my book or possibly get banned from the entire New York publishing scene in a single day. It will be interesting to see how this weekend goes. I am nervous and I keep reading blogs about pitching to agent, and they all tell me not to be nervous. So, yeah, there’s a chance there will be whiskey in my coffee cup this weekend.

To be continued…..

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Here There Be Monsters

Dragon“Fairy Tales don’t tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy Tales tell children that dragons can be killed”  Criminal Minds paraphrasing of GK Chesterton

I am not the biggest Criminal Minds fan nor do I read gobs of GK Chesterton but this quote has been sticking in my mind recently.I remember the first time I read Tolkien. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit told Gandalf the wizard that he thought an attack by dragons might be good for his fellow hobbits. He did not mean it maliciously. He meant that it might wake them up, stir them into their better selves. I sometimes think the same thing when I turn on the news. I think, you know, an attack by dragons right now might be just the thing to pull our collective heads out of our backsides. But I don’t mean it anymore than Bilbo Baggins did when he said it. I write to defy my despair in hope that maybe, one day, the evil dragons can be killed or at least caged and kept away from us. In my stories, I can face the dragon.

Each day some new horror will raise its head and ask us to please “come and see”.  We look. We do nothing. Our humanity fades. Something tantamount to a demon army is marching across the Middle East beheading and defiling everyone who holds any slightly different view than the demon. You would think that would unite most of the world. You would think we could all agree that people who behead babies are not very nice people. In fact, shouldn’t we be well beyond the point of tolerating any beheading? Medieval terrorists with iPhones – it sounds like bad science fiction.

In the Dark Ages, when people wandered across the ruins that were once Rome, I wonder what they must have thought. Ignorance kept them from their history so they could not even envision the thriving civilization that preceded them. Too few were taught how Rome rose and fell in on itself.  Revisionists are doing their best to separate you and I from our history. Most of us don’t know to fear the Dark Ages, but it would not take as much as you think for those times to repeat. Imagine a sickly child happening upon the  remains of Notre Dame or Windsor Castle and only wondering if there were food or if shelter could be had in those ruins. Imagine a woman hiding by the shore and seeing the statue of liberty sinking in the harbor, its torch barely visible above the tide. Neither the child or the woman will know any of our names, not yours, mine, not any kings or presidents. They will be as in the Dark Ages a thousand years ago, hungry, ignorant, and afraid. They won’t know to blame us.

  Children are taught lies baked in half-truths, the media spins reality to suit a diabolical totalitarian mind-control ideology, and people believe the propaganda their favorite celebrities spew at them. They like it because it keeps them from seeing the world on fire as Nero once more plays his symphony and encases them in an invisible prison. They can comfortably argue that it is ok to rip a baby from its mother’s womb and tear its little body to pieces as long as it is for science. They may know the Nazis were bad, but they won’t hear you when you tell them the Nazis made that same argument. They may say that the cartoonist that was shot to death had it coming. He knew these people were violent. Why provoke them?   There is no marker on their life map that tells them “Here There Be Monsters”. So although they may walk right past those monsters every day, they never see them.  They are surrounded by forces pointing them away from the real monsters. Most of the time its the monsters themselves, those proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing pointing them away from the truth so they believe as long as they say the right things and don’t cause trouble, someone else will slay the dragon.

Perhaps this is why I write post-apocalyptic fantasy…in hopes it never comes to pass.

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The Dread Synopsis

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I want to play video games. Or anything besides what I must do. I must write a 2-3 page synopsis of my 150,000 word manuscript. Apparently, this causes me to have that dark condition called writer’s block. I mean I can write this blog. None of my 5-6 readers are going to deny me representation based on my clumsy summarization of my life’s work. Do you suppose Stephen King has this much trouble writing a synopsis? I bet his publisher doesn’t make him do them anymore. If only I were so talented.So far I have written all of one sentence.

In the year of Twig Crisdean’s birth, almost all the infants born to the Muddy people were slaughtered. It is Twig’s thirteenth year and time for the hundred and forty-four Plague Year survivors to be initiated at the largest Muddy Gathering in history.

So this is a solid beginning. Perhaps by this weekend I will have an entire synopsis written. I mean, I do know what happens in my book. I did write the thing. It’s too late for coffee and a work night so whiskey is just a bad idea. Maybe I’ll read some Stephen King. That usually causes me to wake up about 4 AM and turn on all the lights in the house. I won’t be able to go back to sleep so I will have to write. Only I find this synopsis business more frightening than all the horrors that apparently populate the state of Maine. Oh well. One step at a time.

Writing

Coffee and Candles

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On schedule, Brad Thor has another book out just in time for my yearly beach trip. I wonder how he does it, producing a fast-paced thriller every single year. For the past seven years, I have been writing the first book of my fantasy series. Shadowed Castles is finally complete, and I have begun the process of looking for an agent and a publisher.. Yes, my book is a bit longer than Thor’s wonderful thrillers, but it took me seven years of waking at 4 AM, drinking coffee by candlelight and wandering far away from this world into the nether reaches of my imagination. Now, it is a habit, but this process of sending the book into the world is alien to me. I suppose that is what all these early mornings are really about though. Why lose what amounts to years of sleep if not to share these tales with the world?

I don’t suppose I will ever be quite so prolific as Brad Thor although I do hope to outpace George RR Martin. As I have been researching agents, I have noticed that they all seem to be looking for the next [insert name of the hottest author in your genre here]. I worry this will be a terrible shortcoming for me. I am not the next anyone. I am the first me. On weekends, days where I don’t have to show up at the office, I will often transfer my butt from my little candlelit office to the neighborhood bookstore so that I will continue writing. Daylight distracts me but being surrounded by books inspires me. I read mounds of them. I love thumbing through the shelves, and of course, I can’t wait to find my book there.

I still look for my cousin’s books. Elizabeth Musser’s Swan House still does very well after more than a decade. She writes historical fiction for the Christian market. She’s eloquent and her style is so well-refined. She lives in France. I wonder if that helps? My father’s book Waldo Chicken Wakes the Dead is harder to find now. He published outside of the gigantic New York publishers, but he is often compared to Terry Pratchett. His book is better than its sales. He writes about a cartoonist who solves crimes with the help of his cartoon characters, a giant and pompous walrus named Waldo and the chicken that roosts on the walrus’s head. Yes, it is hilarious but thrilling. Check it out. You can still get copy on Amazon. It’s a really fun read. Both my father and my cousin, Elizabeth have warned me about the various land mines that is the publishing industry.

For all those like me, hoping to find you a spot on one of the shelves of bookstores all over the country and perhaps the world, it’s best just to write your book. Finish it. Make it the story you want it to be. Tell your story. Then worry about selling it. Last year, my cousin, Elizabeth, graciously introduced me to her agents, but my book, at the time, was not in its best possible state. First lesson, don’t try to sell your book until it is really finished. A lot of agents will do editing, but at that point, it should just be polishing to prepare you project for the appropriate publisher.

I suppose the best way to get an agent is to have your successful writer cousin introduce you to her agent, but I find that may not be the best fit. My cousin and I write in entirely different genres. Her agency, a very good one especially if you want to sell internationally, does not really do fantasy. So I began to search for someone that would be a good fit for me, knowing that I am a pretty tough match. Even for a writer, I am weird, and that’s about the nicest way anyone would say it.

The second best way to find an agent is to go to writer’s conferences. After that, The Writer’s Market is your friend and so is google. I made a list of agents, then I reviewed their submission policies, reviewed their client list, read some from the client lists, and I narrowed the list to a reasonable dozen or so. I then began to search for the agents of my favorite authors in the genres. None of them are not taking on new clients, sigh, and so I took to my list. I spent four weeks writing the perfect query letter for the first one. Personalize those queries. Do not spam out your query letters. This is a job application. I spent another two weeks brooding over it, and then two weeks ago, I sent out my first query letter, No word yet but this morning with my coffee and candlelight, I am preparing my second query and making a list of upcoming writer’s conferences. Maybe I’ll see you there.