Monday, April 29, 2013

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, patience, how long will that take?”*


 
This is a shout out to all you brave writers hailing from the query trenches. Life in query land is its own special hell. I know; I’m there myself (and it’s not my first trip). And since I’m currently in the trenches, I’ve been researching (former life as a researcher, so it sort of comes with the territory). My current objective is to find an agent, so I’ve been researching agents, what they do, what their routines are, who’s stirring the pot at Absolute Write and Query Tracker (both excellent resources, but should be taken with a grain of salt as the qualifications for joining sites like that is the ability to remember your password). What I’m seeing a lot of this time around are agents posting about what their day is like.

This is brilliant.

Mostly what I’m seeing is that agents work just as much as writers do. They keep the same hours that writers do. Work all day long, then come home and try to cram some words into a computer? Just replace words with read submissions, and that’s what agents are saying their days are like.  

I know, people are starting to wonder if I’m a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders here, but I’m always trying for perspective. What I’m seeing is that agents are unbelievably busy. Like when I was working 80 hour weeks, people would shake their head at me and ask me how I did it. I usually told them that I kept a list of impossible tasks and just didn’t feel comfortable without one on my plate.

And because agents are so busy, something else happens: we writers wait.

We wait to hear if our query is getting upgraded to a partial or a full. Once an agent has a partial, we wait to hear if it gets upgraded to a full. If it’s a full, we are waiting to hear if it’s going to be a rejection, a revise and resubmit, or the holy grail of querying: an offer. Oh that waiting is such torture.

And as the time stretches on, we writers start to think, “Well, if it’s taking this long, they must not like it.” Which leads to “If they don’t like it, then why are they just holding on to it? Can’t they just put me out of my misery with a rejection???”

I know how this feels. In the past, I may have felt like this myself *looks innocent*. But that’s not how it works. The reason for this misconception is that we’ve all read just enough success stories where the writer connected with an agent prior to sending a query. The agent then instantly requested a partial; upgraded to a full the next day, and two days later, the agent offered representation. These stories are just common enough for people to think that’s how it is.

I’m here to be the voice of reason. Most agents use a reading queue, so unless you were one of these writers who made a special connection before hand, you’re going to have to go through the reading queue.

As in, they read your query/partial/full when it floats to the top of their pile of work. This seems pretty reasonable from the outside, but when you’re the writer with your hopes tied to that little query letter, it just seems like a short slice of forever.

Sorry to be the one telling everyone that it's going to be more waiting. I really wish we could all have the instant gratification of instant responses, but try to remember that there are other writers just like you waiting for their query/partial/full to be read too. I know it’s hard to hear it. It’s painful to wait when you hope so hard, but just take a deep breath. And if you need a kick in the pants, go over and watch this skit on patience where Ed Grubberman gets a lesson in patience…

*hint, this is one of Ed Grubberman’s lines.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Wormtail is the key…


There’s been a lot of talk about strong characters lately, and I’ve been seeing some confusion about the word character. It has multiple meanings depending on how it’s used, and while I’m not the most qualified person to talk about this, I definitely feel like it’s time.

Character can mean an individual in a work of art. You can have characters in plays, books, paintings, etc.

Character can also mean a trait of a person. For instance to have strong character means that you have a strong morals, or you’re not afraid to do the right thing versus the easy thing.

You can also have a strong character in a book. This would be a character who has been defined so well that the reader knows exactly how they should behave. Strong characters make choices that impact their lives and the lives around them. Strong characters do things.

And here’s where things get screwy, you can have a strong character with weak character. I know, that line there looks a little crazy, but it’s true. Example: Wormtail.

Wormtail is the quintessential strong character with weak character. We know Wormtail, we know what he is capable of, and he makes choices that impact the world around him. His choice to frame Sirius has a major impact on the books, and Sirius’ life. That’s how he is a strong character.

But Wormtail has weak character. He’s not very good with right and wrong, and many of his choices are about doing what’s easy rather than what’s right. His moral compass doesn’t exactly point north, if you get my drift.

So yeah, try not to confuse the two. And internet, I wouldn’t mind if we could stop arguing about Bella Swan and whether she’s a strong character or has strong character. I don't have anything against those books, I'm just tired of people arguing over them. Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Conversations with Baby Jaguar


I have a young kid, and as you might have guessed, she’s up the phase where she is making up stories. She takes her toys around the house and they talk to each other. It’s absolutely adorable. That being said, there’s a recent trend in her games that I’ve also noticed from time to time in writing.

Of course, the young child’s version is really obvious what shouldn’t happen, but it crops up more subtly in other writing (including my own!).

Example:

“Hello, I’m Horsey!”
“Hi! I’m Horsey too!”
“But you’re Baby Jaguar!”
“Oh, you’re right. I am Baby Jaguar.”

If I were to name this trope it would be Identity Crisis Solved Because I Said So! Or Once Spoken It’s True. In my fiction it tends to crop up when I’ve lost track of how I’m giving information and I decide someone needs to know something. So I have someone tell the MC (hold out on this for the biggest drama: “Luke, I am your…” You get the hint). The problem is that when I’m drafting, sometimes *I* didn’t know that’s what they were until I had a character say it. That means that everything that’s been said or done so far has to be retooled to account for this new piece of information.

More specifically, the character who had the information should act like they know the information. For instance—I know this is pretty old school, but stick with me—in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Christian Slater’s character is a real twit. And when he divulges the information that *Spoiler alert* he is Robin’s brother, it makes sense that he was a complete twit up until that point.

Now, having said all that, I’d put this as a revising tip. First drafts are almost impossible, so just write the story, fill it with Once Spoken It’s True, but then go back through and make sure that people are acting like they have this information all along. It’s not as hard as you think, but it’ll help. I promise. No really, it’ll help.

So what about you? Are you a Once Spoken It’s True writer? I am. I’m terrible that way (my first drafts are comparable to a hot mess with a personality disorder).

Monday, April 22, 2013

A PSA to Writers or OMG! MY BOOK IS SO AWESOME LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT IT!!!!!!!!!



Writing is definitely one of those processes where you have to watch yourself because the crazies are just around the corner. I just blabbed for nearly twenty minutes on the mechanics of sky ships in my WIP. I mean really? Really?

Okay, so on the plus side that means I’m super excited, but on the down side, it’s clear I’ve moved straight from “This is hard!” to “OMG, let me tell you every detail about my novel and why it’s so freaking clever!”

But Rena, you ask, why is that a problem? Right, well this is generally a problem because I usually pay attention to how I’m holding the attention of people I’m talking too, but when I’m excited about something, that skill goes away. I can’t see their eyes glaze over as I talk about using blasting caps to start the engine (totally legitimate) in a society without reliable electricity and batteries. They don’t care that my favorite cure for a dull scene is to have someone shoot someone else (not even out of character, mind). I can’t tell that they aren’t interested in my word count.

That’s because talking about a book that exists only in your head or your hard drive is not something you can have in common with anyone else (except writers and a few betas). No really, if you dreamed it up, those victims listening to you blather on about your WIP really have no point of reference. Which sort of means it’s almost rude to talk about your lovely novel.

On the flip side, your WIP is probably consuming your life, eating every second of everyday. I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m writing a new piece, everything reminds me of my WIP. Driving down the road and a car’s exhaust drowns my car in fumes and I think “Oh, shoot, did I give that engine belching burnt oil enough description? I could add smell… wait, would it smell the same as refined oil in the suburbs? I’ll have to look that up.”

When I'm totally obsessed with my WIP, I know it’s time to watch what I say. It’s not the end of the world to talk someone’s ear off, but trust me, it’s all about you, not them. Every conversation should be a give and take.

PSA over. Now get back to writing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Not the usual thing: Mind of Mirror

I don't usually pimp things like Kickstarter projects, mostly because I never find out about them in time, or it's for something that EVERYONE else has already heard about.  Well, let me tell you, you haven't heard about this one yet.

This kickstarter campaign is for an album combined with a graphic novel called Mind of Mirrors. I'm a big fan of Dan and Leland, and I don't go off the crazy-fan-girl-deep-end very often. Dan and Leland's music was the reason I finished one of my novels. Hell, it's the reason I started the novel. I thought I'd run dry. I thought I'd run out. But the song picked me up and pulled me through. Music is powerful like that. But I never would have heard of Dan and Leland if it weren't for the fact that I met them a long time ago.

I went to high school with these amazing musicians. So I knew to go looking for their incredible music. You probably didn't go to the same high school (and seriously, if you did, say Hi! it's been ages!), so I thought I'd let you all know about these awesome musicians I met through accidents of fate and biology.

As writers, we are often looking for just that perfect song to encapsulate a character or a scene, and let me tell you these guys do that. Sample some of their music here. And seriously guys, go back their campaign here. It's going to be awesome; you want to be part of this. 


Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing is hard, but it’s better with a friend




Do you ever feel like a broken record when you talk about writing to non-writers? You complain about how publishing is slow and their eyes glaze over? You talk about how you have your fingers crossed and a month later they ask how things are going and you say “the same”?

Or how you’re writing this one scene and IT JUST DOESN’T WORK and you want to pull your hair out and take a sledgehammer to your computer?

Or you managed to write 200 words today and you feel like a complete failure for going so slow?

There's only one other kind of person out there who will understand you: another writer.  Writing is hard. It's a kind of hard that makes you weep with joy and laugh as everything burns down before your eyes (not exactly the mark of the sane, if you catch my drift). I’ve mentioned in the past that every time I start in on a new part of the project I think “Oh crap, this is the hard part.”

Nope, it’s all hard, but I’ve already talked about that. Today I want to tell you all that you shouldn’t go this road alone. I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work. I tried to go it alone because I was going to be that special person who managed to make it without all of the trouble that everyone else went through. I queried before I had CPs. No really, you can stop laughing, it's embarrassing enough as it is. 

The reason I tried to go it alone was because something terrible happened to me: I got burned. I tried on CPs, and they were mean, they lashed out, they hated on me. And not like a little bit. And worse, plenty took my critiques and did not even attempt to return the favor. Then I got feed back that would curl the eyebrows of the most battle worn writer.

So there I was, pouring my little writer heart out, and I was getting burned at every occassion. So I decided I didn't need CPs. If the world was full of twits who couldn't be bothered to reciprocate, then I didn't need them either. Maybe other people found their crit partners of awesome, but it was clear I wasn't going to be one of them. 

So I went it alone. 

Let me just say that it is lonely and terrifying being alone and at the mercy of publishing. Every email is THE ONE until you open it and it isn't. It was hard to be the only person standing in the cold ocean asking politely if the ocean would like to read my novel. Because that's what trying to get published feels like: you, alone in the breakers trying to get one of them to slow down enough to read your book. You think, Oh, I'll stand really big for this one. I won't let it hurt when it crashes over me. This one will stop. It will! And then there you are, seaweed in your mouth and trying to stand up like you meant to go down in the drink.

It sucked. And I thought I was doing something wrong, because all around me, I saw people with book deals, and awesome crit partneres and besties, and "I GOT AN AGENT!" It was me. I was the one who had a problem. It was my writing that was terrible, and it felt like I was the only one.

Then I started this blog, and stuff started to get better. I met other people who weren't screaming from the rooftops about their agent (and if you have an agent, or are even in the process of screaming about one, that's so wonderful and congratulations! It's such a big step), or their book deals (same as the agent thing). I met other writers who were struggling through a first draft that was determined to kill them, and then there were even more writers who had a draft, had revised it, had queried it and come to the sad conclusion that they had an unsaleable book. They were all around me, standing in the waves with me, and I'd never seen them because I hadn't put myself out there to find them. 

I put my hand out for cps again. I got burned by some, but then I started to find CPs who were really nice and wonderful. Some of them worked out, some of them didn't (so many reasons), but now I have some of the most amazing CPs in the world. More importantly, I've made friends. People who are just trying to make it past the next breaker. 

Don't go it alone. I know that it's hard to connect with people, and there are plenty of potential writers out there who are looking to take advantage of well meaning writers. Don't let this stop you. You need the support, you need the people who nod sagely when you complain that you've been writing for months and you're still in ACT I of your novel that was supposed to be written in two days! Only other writers will know this pain. Find them. Make friends. If you're just starting out, know that you will get burned, and it's not personal. Sometimes people aren't ready for the give and take of a friendship. You don't owe them anything, so move on and find people worth spending your time with. 

And know that things won't always work out. There are tons of reasons, and I mean tons. Sometimes it’s you. Sometimes you get a CP who is interested in having praise laid at her feet, not being instructed in where commas go and the fact that no one needs another shape shifting teenager story where the MC is just trying to “fit in.” (I’m so sorry if you’re writing a shape shifting teenager story where the MC is just trying to “fit in”, but now you know not to pitch it like that.) Sometimes it’s you who isn’t ready for the give and take. Maybe you don’t have time to read other people’s work (hint, if you don’t have time to read other people’s work,  you don’t really have time to grow as a writer, so you might want to look at your priorities). Sometimes it doesn’t work out because you just lost a job and now have to move and they needed help yesterday, and you can read for them in a month. 

But know that there are other people who will understand. They will work out. And you need writing friends and CPs and betas. NEED.  I would go insane without mine. They are invaluable. But I would have given up looking based on some of my first experiences, don’t do that. 



It’s dangerous to go alone: Here, take this:   <========{}---@    (it’s supposed to be a sword, but I suck at emoticons)