Week 3 2016- Ducking the Blizzard

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I am stuck in a conversation with the universe’s oldest trickster. That’s where my revisions are at the moment. Chapter 25, the critical turning point. It’s about 250 words of text, and it’s stymied me into something like a catatonic state.

A small dusting of snow caused work to let out early on Friday. North of us got squashed by an apocalyptic blizzard.  Anything frozen sends everyone in my neck of the woods into a frenzy. One flake of snow and everyone is off to get milk and bread and hole up until clear skies and temperatures break forty.  It would have been, in normal circumstances, a great weekend to light and fire and just write. That’s not what happened.

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New York – A Blizzard

Every time I sat down to write, gibberish came out. Absolute gibberish. I could not for the life of me construct an active coherent sentence. I know exactly what my book needs, but somehow my fingers touching the keyboards are not doing the job. I am in writer’s limbo. And it’s making me grouchy.

I am just going to blame it on the blizzard ignoring us, as blizzards are wont to do this far south of Hell. It’s either too cold with no snow or too hot with no rain. I can abide freezing if there’s snow outside, enough that no one can get to my house and I can have a fire, coffee in the day, and a good beer at night. I am an oddball that requires total solitude to really write. I don’t know what that is. I wish I could get over it, and simply be rude, and ignore all my visitors be they family, friend, or lost soul. Instead, I cook for them. Clean. Play games with them. Share the pug with them. And there were many guests, family, and friends this weekend. So less writing. IMG_0299

For the last four days of this week Janet Reid was ill and right in the path of that terrible blizzard. No blog. My, we the Reiders, are so worried.  Many of us started perusing other blogs from inside our little community. I read a few dozen, and I found some great stuff. I was particularly drawn to Lucie Witt’s Post on Editing as this is where I live right now. Another post I found most interesting belonged to Donna Everhart about reading being part of a writer’s job. I feel guilty both when I read (because I love it so much) and when I don’t read (because I should be). I can’t win.

However, discovering these new blogs  enriched the week, and tempered my editing angst with some new knowledge, a little solace, and more than a bit of inspiration. In fact, I will go out on a limb and recommend exploring other blogs when you’re feeling stuck or uninspired. There are some truly remarkable voices out there.

 

Putting Away The Past

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Frankie with her Christmas present

I took down the Christmas tree today. It’s like putting away my past. Every year since my daughter was born, I have obtained two ornaments- one with the year on it and one that is associated with some memory or other of that year. It was a pug ornament this year, a standard baby’s 1st Christmas the year my Kate was born. She is a December baby. We have been on our own since she was a baby, just the two of us in a crazy world.

Books and stories helped us survive, and the mundane pace of everyday life faded into great adventure. It is all there on our tree every year. There are Harry Potter ornaments, ballet slippers, Mickey Mouse, snow globes, etc- a recounting of the years.

All the petty things that life threw at us were countered by dragons that could be slain (The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien), a boy raised by a sorceress to slay an evil god (The Belgariad by David Eddings), a boy kept in cupboard under the stairs who was really a wizard (Harry Potter by JK Rowling), a genius boy used by his government to wipe out an entire alien species (Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card),a little hobbit entrusted to overcome temptation and destroy a great evil (Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien), wardrobes with whole worlds within (The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis), journeys back in time with vivid descriptions of the Dark Ages (The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis), witnessing the building of Canterbury Cathedral through imagination blending with history (Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet), and hundreds of great tales on pages of black and white. How the world expands when we read and when we write.

My daughter is traveling back from spending New Years in New York City. In May, she will graduate from college and plans to move to New York to find and follow her dreams and make her own stories. I think 2016 will feature some sort of NYC ornament. Of course, it is impossible to know what will happen next. Still, it is time to put away the past and look forward. Always, there will be more stories to tell, to read, and to live. Each year I spend here in this time and place will yield another ornament with its own tale to tell. So until next year, the past is put in its place.

 

 

Scary Movies and Herbal Tea

 

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Frankie awaiting scary Movie

Writing today involved revisiting chapter 8 of my WUS (Work under submission). I rewrote it between the beta reader period of my book and submitting it. I am in the middle of an R&R (revise and resubmit), and this was part of trying to do that. There is a continuity problem in chapter 25 which relates back to chapter 8. My brain is all jumbled today so I have not fully repaired the issue in chapter 25. I suppose the holiday has taken its toll, but there are still hours of dark to go. I need to clear my brain.

Last night I watched the special episode of Sherlock. You know Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman? That did not clear my head because it was simply brilliant. I couldn’t stop thinking about it  to start thinking about my own work. The principle writers, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, are magnificent in their adaptation and creation. Gatiss has done a great deal of writing for stage and screen in the sci-fi arena so I have immense admiration for the man. One of my projects is a screenplay of that general genre. I wish I could pick his brains for an afternoon, but the British frown on kidnapping almost as much as we silly Americans do. Even for art’s sake.

The Sherlock writers are true to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original text while adapting these tales to modern day London flawlessly. The series is perfection. Gatiss also plays the part of Mycroft Holmes with impeccable precision and humor. If you have not watched the Sherlock series, stop what you’re doing, fire up Netflix, and cancel all engagements for the next 36 hours. That will leave you at least 8 hours sleepy time. It’s just that good.

However, if you are trying to be a good little writer, forget I ever said anything. Instead, if like me, your brain has gone bye-bye, try reading a book. I did that and it didn’t work though dear Patrick Lee (Ghost Country – 3rd book in Breach trilogy)  did his best to shake me out of my verbal paralysis.

Now, I am going to try an old stand-by that has worked in the past. A scary movie and herbal tea. Not a slasher film. I don’t want to be nauseous. I want to be scared witless. You see that causes an adrenaline rush. And I suppose that is why it works. I don’t want to go to sleep after. So I write to escape whatever boogie man has been shoved into my psyche so that I can eventually sleep. Temper that with herbal tea to keep me calm, and most times, this works like a charm. We will see if this works come tomorrow.

 

 

A Zombie’s Hunt for an Awesome Agent

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By day, I am a zombie. At least that is what my colleagues at work would have you believe. I don’t actually devour brains or anything, just very large amounts of coffee. My dread day job is as a software engineer for my local school district. It’s a living, and I suppose even the undead must make a living. Due to my nocturnal writing activities, I do tend to have that sickly yellow glow of the recently departed when I arrive at my day job each morning.

I would love nothing more than to be able to write for the rest of my life minus the dreaded day job. However, the day job is the reality for most writers. Those few writers able to live off nothing but their craft are rare and the exception, and even among them, lots are doing editorial work, copywriting, and other less glamorous things on the side to keep food on the table.

For me and probably for you, it’s writing when you should be sleeping or eating or taking a bath. It’s time away from friends and telling yourself that one day there will be time for all that. But now it’s the book. You just have to finish. Then you must get an agent. Then there’s the next book and doing whatever comes after you get an agent. I will have to get back to you on that one. I am still hunting.

On the artistic side, writing is the greatest thing ever. On the business end, it’s kind of dangerous. I have learned recently that you can be punished with kale (you do read Janet Reid’s Blog right?). If you are a writer, you must follow this blog. It will save you so much pain and possibly keep you from being exiled to Carkoon where you will be cursed to dwell among kale plants forever.

Like I said writing is dangerous because it  also powerful, even for unknown entities like myself. I learned a long time ago that writing could get me in trouble.

In fifth grade, I wrote an essay comparing my teacher, a nun, to Queen Mary (aka Bloody Mary). The sister punished the entire class for something one kid, not me, did. I found this quite as offensive as whacking someone’s head off in a pique. As Bloody Mary learned too late, going around beheading people will eventually cause someone else to behead you. I pointed this out in what I thought to be a most clever essay.    I was called to the principal’s office.  Sister Mary Margaret would scare the devil himself. Almost forty years later, I still shudder at the memory. I learned two things.  One, writing is powerful. Shakespeare got it right when he said the pen is mightier than the sword.   Two, do not compare a nun to a tyrant.

I do not think an agent or publisher will rap my knuckles the way Sister Mary Margaret did, but my knuckles recovered by the next day. Now the stakes are much higher. For one thing, publishing is a slow process and I am no longer young. I don’t want to be one of those posthumous authors. Even Papa Tolkien did not live to see how influential his work became. And according to a book I read recently, The Harbinger, the world is going to hell in a handbag next Sunday, September 13th. So that is bound to slow down this process.  What do agents do during an apocalypse?

I do not want to self-publish. That will not get me on that bookshelf where I want to be. I want an agent, and not just any old agent. I want a good agent. I need someone to guide me though the landmines of the business.

Writing is an art, but publishing is a business.  I need someone to keep me out of the grown up principal’s office (the super secret agent blacklist that Janet swears does not exist because she’s an agent and she has to say that). Just this week, Janet Reid’s blog addressed two very real pitfalls, the bankrupt publisher and the impatient writer. The right agent can help you avoid the unstable publisher to some extent, and the patient writer can reap the benefits of the right agent thus getting them in with that exact right publisher.  The impatient writer, however, will likely be a long time resident among the kale plants in Carkoon.

This week I got one form letter (Dear Author, eh gadz) rejection to a cold query. This is far preferable to the cone of silence.  After doing some further research on this agent, I dodged a bullet. We would not have been a good fit, and that agent-author relationship is vital to a writer’s career.  It’s a dangerous business and finding myself on a bookshelf with old Papa Tolkien will take an agent who walks on the wild side. Dear Lord, I pray such an agent exists.

The First Cut

IMG_0099I remember back in my childhood, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Rod Stewart lamenting that ‘the first cut is the deepest‘. Over the weekend I sent out a whole slew of queries, partials, and some with my dreaded synopsis  for my book, Shadowed Castles all in hopes of landing that coveted agent.

Today I received my first rejection. It was polite but most definitely a form letter. I am not devastated as this was for a cold query to an agent at ICM Partners. It was a long shot. Also, this agent only judged my work from a very short query letter. Several agents have requested my work in part or full so this is not the end all, but perhaps the beginning of a long string of politely worded rejections. I sent out a lot of queries.

Thank you for thinking to query me with your project. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like a good fit for my list at this time. Again, thank you, and best of luck finding an agent.

While this is not something I was hoping for, it beats the latest industry trend of simply ignoring query letters from writers whom the agent is not interested in. I still have to send out the full requests, and for those and any other full requests I may receive, a rejection will hurt much more. The scary thing about these rejections, I am told, is that once an agent rejects your work, then that whole agency rejects your work and you may not submit to them again. They will just ignore you if you do. At least, that is what I am told.

In order to keep rejections down to a minimum when we get to the high stakes round, partial and full requests, I am going to put my whole manuscript, all 32 chapters through one last set of edits. I have had three people that I trust edit for me, but I still find the unbearable errors of sentence structure (should there have been a comma there?), tense, spelling (there instead of their– you know the kind of errors spell check doesn’t pick up), repetitive words (did I really just use the word huge in three sentences in a row?), out of control adverbs (I like adverbs rather a lot), and inconsistency in voice.

It will be less sleep for me as I do my 1500 words plus a chapter or two of edits each night, but it will be worth it. Because the truth is, the first cut is not the deepest. It’s the many cuts, the sting of rejection after rejection that mauls and tears at your spirit. I would rather not suffer those slings and arrows if there is a way to avoid it.

Courting Silence and Rejection

IMG_0144Well, there’s no more putting it off. It is time to send off all the partial and full requests I acquired at the Writer’s Digest Conference. Also, on much advice, it is time to send out a butt load of queries to agents who skipped this conference.  I feel somewhat better about my query ability thanks to Janet Ried (Janet Reid’s Amazing Blog for Writer’s) . However, I can’t help feel, despite my finely crafted query letter, painstakingly brilliant synopsis, and a fully edited manuscript that I am in for a world of silence and rejection.

In Janet’s blog post on Tuesday, August 19th, she enumerated my specific fears about the whole query process and what will become of me if I screw it up. True, she was answering some question about the difference between YA and Adult. Heck, Janet has never heard of me. But the list in that blog were my actual fears. She mentioned being exiled to Carkoon where I would have to dwell among kale plants forever. I have an irrational fear of kale, and I do believe that kale is a legitimate punishment agents will inflict on unworthy writers. She also mentioned this Super Secret Agent blacklist thing that sounds pretty legit to me. Well, then she claimed none of the horrible things she mentioned would happen. I really wish I believed her.

I do understand that rejection and silence is part of the process a writer must go through, but that doesn’t make this any easier. Even J.K. Rowling was rejected 16 times. Maybe it was 18. (And boy do those agents/publishers feel silly now). So it happens to even really terrific writers. I accept that, and I am going to share all my humbling rejection with those readers who accidentally stumble upon this blog and wonder how they got here.

If you are reading this and have never actually met me before, I don’t mean to alarm you, but the minions of Hell know who you are and are inflicting this blog on you as a preview to other torments they have devised. Wait until you get to the Monday morning, no coffee torment. It’s truly diabolical.

In this first round, the opportunities for rejection, silence, or positive response will come from:

  1. 4 unsolicited queries with no sample pages
  2. 8 unsolicited queries with synopsis and sample pages per submission guidelines
  3. 5 partial requests from conference

I will be doing this in a dozen or so queries (according to submission guidelines) at a time. In a place where demonic minions did not tread, eventually I will get an offer of representation, or many, and will have something useful to share with other aspiring writers. In the meantime, try not to laugh too hard at my plight. Now, it is past my bedtime and I must retreat from reality once more.

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.