Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Double Agent

Ah the quandary of it, no one I do science with wants to hear about my novels, and none of my writing friends want to hear about my science.
It's gotten bad in the last few weeks. As I go through the process of figuring out how to make a query work, I'm excited about my writing. Admittedly, my science of late has been... slow. Dry. Dare I say it: boring. I don't usually get to this point in my research, but my adviser has been taking his sweet time giving me revision requests on my dissertation (I actually go through xboxes faster than he goes through chapters), and I haven't had new data for 18 months. It's not pretty. 
Now that I'm on the brink (and by on the brink, I mean I have another 23 miles to go in this marathon), I really want to talk to people. It's hard to draw a line down the middle of me and say: these friends who are also my colleagues, don't want to hear about how I got a partial request for my novel. Mostly they think my novel writing is an unfortunate phase that I'll grow out of when I graduate. All of us go through some crazed times when finishing, and they just think my crazies are more eccentric than other scientists they know.
And  so I don't tell them. All my coworkers don't know that I'm in the last chapters of my third novel (first drafts only, of course) in 18 months (hmm, a correlation to the lack of new data perhaps?). I'm walking around with this 310,000 word (yes that's all three) secret in my pocket.
I'm secret agent writer. Scientist by day, fantasy writer by night.

Ah well, I guess most people have hobbies they try to hide from the people they work with.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

So that's what they mean by all consuming...

I am currently in the land of Query. I know everyone who's read my blog knows that I'm in the process of querying for The Accidental Godmother right now. And while hunting around for more agents, I found an agent's blog that totally rocks. (That's BookEnds, LLC for those of you who don't hit the link) I've been reading through it, gleaning what I can from the pages, and I have to say it's definitely on par with the Query Shark. So I read through quite a bit of the blog then sent my query off. And then I started to worry. It seemed like she (Ms. Faust) really has her act together, and for a while I could just feel the form rejection letter would be sitting in my inbox when I got up in the morning (I query at night because I'm usually working on my dissertation or teaching or watching the wee one during the day).
After querying (an e query, with no sample pages mind you. It really doesn't get easier than that) I had a dream where I was painstakingly making pottery vases. I'd collect the clay, put it on the wheel, mold vases into existence. I sent my wet clay vases to a kiln, and while they were being fired, I went out and collected seeds and bugs that I then crushed into inks. When my vases were returned to me, I then painted the inside (the inside?!) of the vases with my query letter, carefully using all the calligraphy I've ever learned in an attempt to make them as beautiful (again, this is the inside of the vase) as possible. Then I cut out corks to fit the tops of the vases and stoppered them. Then, I drove with my car full of vases (it was an old style VW wagon from the seventies like my grandmother used to have) to the ocean (I currently live in New Mexico, but I recognized the bit of sea as being from the Mendocino coast line south of Albion), and I threw my beautiful, painstakingly rendered vases into the sea.
So, today, I'm not looking at querying anything or anybody. Clearly, I need a touch of a break from that. I'll work on EXILES, because I need to get that rough draft off my plate and move on to the next one: THE BETTER HALF.
Oh, and did I mention, I've never worked with clay before? and I can totally feel how my hands would be sore after throwing vases now. Well, I guess I can fly in my dreams to, so why not a little pottery.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A post from the past.

Here's a re-post. Yes I wrote it. Yes, it's all true. (and no, I'm not resting on my laurels here, I thought a little humor would brighten up my day).

How Halo has made me a better Mom.
No, I'm not even kidding. Halo really has made me a better mom. I think I'm going to have to explain that a little bit.
See, in video games there are really two types: the kind where your character gets better through upgrades and leveling and what have you, and the kind where your character never gets any better. In the second type, the only thing that ever improves is your own personal skill at the game. You are ultimately the weakest link in this sort of gaming environment and to quote Yahtzee for a moment "They hurt us 'cause they love us." Yeah, it's hard, yeah sometimes you spend more time fragging hairy apes than you meant to, but you learn to be a better player or move on. With each death you learn about how to evaluate situations and make snap decisions (do I shoot the grunt in the head or the groin? should I hit the big dude first, or the dude who's closest to me first?). All these decisions have to be made in a split second or your character dies and you get to replay the scene all over again (not much fun).
And some of you may be asking yourselves how this has *anything* to do with raising children. Well let me tell you, when you're raising kids there are no upgrades, and there are no do overs. So, in light of this strict environment I'd like to propose these simple rules that have, over the past few months been honed to a fine edge (molecular even).
Baby rules from Halo
1. Know where the enemy is at all times. This quickly translates to diaper changing, especially as M becomes more adapt at deciding what she picks up. For some reason she has become fascinated with diapers. And, of course, her favorites to get a hold of are the ones full of poo. I'm not sure how she can tell, but rule number one of all diaper changing situations is know where the poo is (preferably out of the reach of the child).
2. Always be faster than your enemy. Translation: pick it up before the child does. If it's something she can have, hand it to her, but in case it isn't, just be in the habit of picking it up first. This is particularly helpful around cutlery and wineglasses.
3. Encourage confusion in the enemy. Translation: if the child is enthralled by a popping noise you learned how to make in junior high she might open her mouth and stare at you. For you rookies out there, that's a good time to insert the peas into your child's mouth.
4. Distractions are your best friend and worst enemy. Translation: don't become distracted by something anyone is doing unless it is your child. The second you aren't paying attention to your child is the moment she'll grab slimy dog food (preferably from the dogs lips, as my older sister did in her youth) and attempt to swallow it whole. On the other hand, if your kids in a terrible mood a little distraction goes a LONG way. Of course, in Halo, I use grenades as distractions... less useful around small children, but the premise is the same.
5. Team work is always more effective. In Halo, Ravenna and I team up for a crushing victory over the covenant when we need a little down time. Similarly, M stands little chance against our combined might. Though I'm not sure exactly which prophet she'd be, especially considering that all they do is whine and get carted around by mechanical things... oh, and they have english accents...Well, if she has to be one of the prophets, I'm going to go with Truth, he's the one with the great monologue.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I know better, so why am I an idiot?

I've been researching literary agents. Yes, I know I already have queries out, and yes I know that I shouldn't send to every agent in North America at once. Still, to have a real clue about the agent I'm attempting to woo with my query, I think it's only fair that I put a little leg work into it first. Besides, if my queries don't land any love, it's good to have a back up plan. That way I don't just sit around wallowing in self pity and doubt, I already know who I'm going to query next. It's unusually proactive of me, but  research is one of those things that I just do. Yet, there's this problem with researching literary agents.
I pull up their blog, and there they talk about the people they've signed, and they often have links to those author's blogs. Normally this is great, but then, like TV tropes, I find that I've been reading other writers' blogs all day without writing. And what's worse, I start to feel intimidated about writing, as though their successes diminish my ability. It's like reading these blogs erodes what little confidence I have about my own writing.
And I know better. I know that their success does not make it harder for me to have my own, so why do they scare me? Why does reading a great book always convince me that I'm the worst writer on the planet? And then I go back to writing, still convinced that my stuff is never going to sell and I'm never going to get an agent.
I guess one of the prerequisites for being a writer is to have a masochistic streak.
Well, I've got that covered.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I think that might be a stereotype

I read today that it might be considered a mark against me if people know I'm a scientist, at least when it comes to fiction writing. The theory behind it is that scientists tend not to be very good storytellers. And I've been seeing a lot of backlash against the scientist writer of late.
I don't think being a scientist makes a person a bad storyteller.  But being a scientist doesn't make a person a good storyteller. It makes them a scientist, but even I'll admit there are some habits of scientist that don't translate well into novelist.

Habit 1: Jargon.
It turns out that all people really want to belong to a club. We all want to feel like we belong. Scientists are not immune to this, and so they've taken to dividing themselves from the other scientists. In their own little groups they make up codes and passwords that describe secret things of importance to their little group. They draft a whole new language of jargon. And they like *big* words. Why say water when you can say dihydrogen monoxide?  Salt becomes sodium chloride. Diamonds become hexagonaly close packed carbon. But the scary thing is Jargon is in all of us. Jargon lurks around us all, and must be fought at every turn, because jargon is just one of the many forms of the real evil: euphemisms. and if you don't believe euphemisms are evil, go listen to George Carlin's skit on euphemisms.

Habit 2: Isolation
It takes a long time to become a scientist. I've been a scientist for a long time now, but I still don't have my PhD. I've been working on getting that particular bit for over a decade (if you include the undergrad time). Things have changed a lot in that time. I've spent years where I was little better than a slave. I had to work for 20 hours a week teaching, 20 hours a week on research, and I was expected to carry a full class load. I stopped listening to radio and going to concerts. I don't really know what the hot bands are right now. I've got some guesses because itunes tells me. I stopped going to the movies. I didn't read a novel for almost three years (Why did I ever think that was mentally healthy?). I stopped watching TV. Almost all the scientists I know don't have TV. When would they watch?
So imagine if you rarely read popular fiction, occasionally read newspapers, didn't listen to a lot of radio and didn't watch TV. Yeah, you'd probably lose touch too. I'm currently in pop culture rehab, for those concerned.

Habit 3: Multitasking
Considering the time crunch everyone is under, it makes sense that people like to multitask. Who wants to do one time consuming task when they could get two in same task. And that's where a lot of early science fiction comes in. A lot of early writers of science fiction viewed the genre as a convenient way to learn a little science while getting a small shot of entertainment. So for a while there, scientist writers used science fiction to write somewhat entertaining textbooks. Yeah. Ouch.

What I find interesting is that all writers suffer from these habits. But I admit that even I don't like to read about the gory details of orbital mechanics, and I can do those calculations. I'm much more interested in the story. It's the good part.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I love Do Overs

So, the day, the very day, I make the decision to start a blog based on my second life as a writer when all my training has been in science, I get a letter I'd stopped watching for almost 5 months ago.
When I first queried for The Accidental Godmother, I'd done my research (yes, I am a research scientist by training, I can't help it sometimes, you should see me when I'm looking into buying electronics...). I'd made sure everything was in order. I reread the address about fifteen times to be sure I typed it in correctly (oh, yeah, I'm dyslexic too). I agonized over the query letter and the synopsis, and by the time I actually hit the submit button I needed a stiff shot of scotch (highlands, no rocks, thanks).
And then nothing.
Then the agency website went dark. No new postings, nothing. I've literally been to ghost towns with more change (I did my field course work in Nevada).
No rejection letter, nothing. The projected time for query response came and went, and I decided that my very first attempt had ended in rejection. I even sent a followup, still no response.
I decided to retool my query, work some more on my first five pages, and submit to other people.
Then today I get a letter saying things went wonky in August, and if I wanted to I could resubmit.
Did I want to resubmit?  It's like a No was magically turned back into a Maybe.
Pure Awesome.

To start it off

As many of you know, I'm not one for openness on the internet. What can I say, I was raised by a secretive Cobol programmer who worked for a bank. That means I'm not shy just cautious, suspicious, and not inclined to use my real name (it's only paranoia if they aren't actually out to get you). But here it is, The Real Deal.
It's oddly similar to taking a shower out in the desert, great views, but sort of all exposed.
And the reason I've decided to start blogging all out in the open and exposed is that I've written a novel--actually my third, but the others are not exactly publishable--and it's time to crawl out from the rock I've been writing under and see what the real world is like.

The title that brought this recluse to the surface is THE ACCIDENTAL GODMOTHER, a YA fantasy novel with a strong female lead. 

Now someone might ask "Why did a scientist write a YA fantasy novel?" and there's only one answer: I had to! It was rattling around in my head keeping me awake at night. I needed to get it out of my head before it started interrupting my other work. But then, like potato chips, I needed to write another one, and another one. Now I don't know if I can stop, but I know I don't want to. Ever. I am a writer.