Friday, December 11, 2009

AFW seeks same...

It is a real risk putting a title like that up there on a blog. I don't even know what that might mean in the singles columns, but for me it means 'Adult Fiction Writer seeks same for meaningful relationship.'

These past few months, I have been extremely fortunate to find some great blogs that have helped and entertained me. As I was looking through the blogs that I follow, I noticed that almost every single one is written by a YA or MG author. I have absolutely nothing against YA/MG -- in fact, I love it. I have no intention of abandoning those blogs that have come to be an important part of my day. But I need to find some blogs covering my own genre, specifically commercial fiction. Yeah, I need to get some friends my own age, so to speak.

If you know of a great blog written by a commercial fiction writer, please leave it in the comment section. I'd be very grateful!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The plot thickens

I am not registered for NaNo, which is awful, mainly because I hate that something is going on and I'm not participating in it. But I know my limitations. When I write, I write fast. An average day for me is 2000-3000 words, so I wasn't worried about the word count. My main reason for not doing NaNo is that I am just starting on a new project and I haven't plotted it out yet. For me, that's like having a car and no road. I just can't write like I want to if I don't know where I'm going.

It is fascinating to me how different writers are when it comes to writing. I am in awe of those people that say "I just started with a sentence (or idea or character or line of dialog) and went from there." I just can't do that. I have to give myself an outline. I mull over the concept, work out the issues, develop the characters -- all in my head -- to start. And then I sit down and write a bare-bones chapter outline. This, of course, changes over the drafts. In THE SHADOW SCRIBE (currently out in query-land), I started with 13 chapters and by the fourth draft, had 24 chapters.  But I have to know the basic "This happens, then this, then this, and then finally this."

I have a book that I really like (for varying reasons) called 'The Weekend Novelist' by Robert Ray. It gives you a full plan for how to write a novel in a year. I didn't follow the plan. But I did find the chapters on plotting very interesting, particularly the bit on Aristotle's Incline. I'm not sure how I got through a college creative writing degree without ever hearing of it before, particularly as it is darn basic. If you haven't heard of it (which makes me feel a little better), it breaks the plot down into three acts and delineates the opening scene, plot point 1, midpoint, plot point 2, catharsis and wrap up. A very visual break down of a basic plot blue print. It just worked for me to think of it like that at the early stages.

Just do you develop your plot? Before you start? All in one go? As you go? Or are you a 'plot-what-plot-I-just-let-the-story-take-me' writer?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Little tiny squee

I said I wasn't going to do this but I can't stop myself. I'm only doing it because I know there are only a few people looking at this blog (hello to you!).

I started the submission process last week. I've spent lots of time researching agents and whittled it down to my top 50. Last Monday, I sent queries to the top 10, with a plan to send 10 a week, giving me a chance to amend my query, synopsis, etc. if I needed to.

Within 3 days, I had three rejections (1 personal, 2 form), 1 partial request (from one of the 'uber-agents' I never expected to hear back from) and 1 full request!


I know it can all go terribly wrong from here. Up to now, the query process can be 'I don't like/rep your idea' which stings, but doesn't impugn your writing per se. But from the partial/full stage, it could be 'I liked your idea, but your execution...not so much.'


It's nice to have that little lift in thinking that maybe, just maybe, this could happen.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What do you do to clear your mind?

It is a stressful time and not for the right reasons. I had thought that these first weeks of October would be extremely stressful because I would be revising to my fourth (and hopefully final) draft and then sending it off for the first round of queries.

Not the case. I trying to finish up a number of freelance writing jobs, which started as one but turned into three, which is good from a money point of view, but not from a time point of view.  I also have taken a part-time job, with thoughts that it would be an easy, fairly low-brain-usage activity, only to find that my organizationally-obsessed brain will not permit me to have a low-brain kind of job and I have turned it into an exercise in over-thinking as only I can. I have not had time to work on query letters at all, let alone the revision (which is OK, I guess, as my readers have not gotten back to me). My ears feel stuffy all the time, which is a sign that my blood pressure is rising.

So I need to clear my mind. I used to play solitaire on the computer. Then I moved into computer puzzle games like Jewel Quest and Ancient Wonders of the World. I would download a different 60 minute demo  everyday. It bogged up my laptop something terrible and drove my husband crazy. And now my latest thing, Poker. Texas Hold'em actually, on one of those Play-for-Fun websites (no real money -- WAY too dangerous for my obsessive little brain). I've gotten to be pretty good at it, but just good enough to let me win large quantities of chips, only to turn around and lose them again. But that is OK, because the point is that it lets me switch my brain off. Which is what I need these days.

So how do you clear your mind?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Shameless Self-Congratulatory Notes

I honestly intend to turn this into a legitimate blog someday, and someday soon, Gods of Time willing. It will have a purpose other than me babbling on about how I write and what goes on in my little writer's brain.

But not today. Today I'm going to do my little happy dance, wordstyle.

Today I found out my WIP was commended in the Yeovil Literary Prize competition, judged by wonderful best-selling author Katie Fforde (if you like British chick lit, you'll LOVE Katie Fforde, so definitely check her out). It's not a huge competition, but I think fairly respectable (like all things British). Out of 299 entries, I came out in the top 20 (list was alphabetical, dammit, so I don't know exactly where, except that I'm between six and twenty). Hooray!

AND this week, one of my short stories will be published in Woman's Weekly, a UK mag with circulation of 350,000. This is the same magazine that published another of my short stories (back in 2006 -- I am not a prolific short story writer).

Will either of these things get me a book deal? Of course not. But I'm just hoping these credits might help lift me to the top, if not out, of the slush pile. And if nothing else, it was some validation for my WIP that I was sorely needing.

So this is a good week!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Impatience is not a virtue

I must admit that I have a little problem. When I am expecting to receive some news or response to an important message, I check my email over and over. and over. and over and over and over and over and over. I do it even though I know it is a Saturday and said email is coming a business that is closed on weekends. I do it first thing in the morning and late at night, even though said email is coming from a different time zone where everyone is sleeping. I do it even though I checked it ten minutes ago. It's an illness, really.

This is going on now. I entered the beginning of my WIP in a writing competition (which I will name in a later post) and their website states 'Results will be posted here in September.' The trick is that they didn't say WHEN in September, which means I am checking the website several times a day. This instance is particularly trying for me as the website where you can check on the status of your entry originally listed my WIP as 'Not Shortlisted.' (This prompted my very first post on this blog.) But when I checked back last week out of curiousity, my entry now is listed as 'Work Commended.' What's up with that? As they have not announced the winner yet, I am not making any assumptions, good or bad. But it is killing me. I am trying to control myself but it is very VERY difficult.

This OCD checking for the results does not bode well for my querying experience. I may have to resort to restraints and intravenous margaritas to stop myself from refreshing my inbox every three minutes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On to the next stage

State of Mind? Resigned. Every word I look at, I think 'This is terrible! This is total dross!' But I'm thinking it is as good as it is going to get.

Where's my WIP? At the printer, having three copies made. One for me, one for a new reader, and one for my mother (who I can always count on to give me her honest opinion, whether it hurts or not).

Today I'll send out the third draft to two readers (see above). My new reader is an editor (of textbooks) and a real book lover. I'm hoping she can give me a fresh new opinion, particularly as I've done some heavy rewriting. My mother will also read it. Next week will see me sitting on my bed reading each and every page of my third draft out loud. I heard chapter 1 read out loud a week ago at a critique group and found it very helpful for picking up echo words, bad rhthyms, and the like.

I will also be polishing my synopsis. No joke -- I have no fewer than 17 different versions of the synopsis on my computer. I have conducted an obscene amount of research on writing the perfect synopsis and just last week, saw the best post I've ever seen on how to write one here. If you are looking for guidance, go check it out.

I will also start getting my query letters ready. I've researched agents (of course, hours, HOURS of research) and I've compiled a list of my top targets. I'll send out to the first 10 and wait to see what kind of response I get. That way, if they have feedback (please please please) I can make a change before sending to the next round.

I'm hoping that by then I'll have feedback from my readers and can make changes to the final (again, please please please) draft.

Goal: First 10 query letters out by October 12.
Truth: I am going to struggle with not sending the queries out before I make my revisions. I KNOW that is a bad idea. MUST BE STRONG! I may compromise and send the queries that don't require the first five pages. We'll see.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How much do you know about a book before you read it?

Last night, my first chapter was read in a writers' critique group. The result was not pretty. At the risk sounding like one of those writers who blames the reader's lack of understanding on the reader rather than the writer, I do think that this was less a problem with the chapter itself and more because I didn't give the readers ANY framework before we began. I said 'This is the first chapter of my novel, which is commercial fiction' and then the reading began. At the end, the first comment was "I didn't know where you were going with this." Consensus ensued. At the end of all comments, I gave a quick blurb of the book (like what I would put on jacket copy). Suddenly, there were smiles and nods. They could picture it, they liked it. The foreshadowing made sense, what I was building up made sense.

This made me realize that as a reader, I NEVER read a book without knowing something about it. I either look at a review, or at the very least, the inside flap or cover copy. If it is a recommendation, there is always a brief description. Does anyone just pick up a book, open it and start reading?

A reader needs some sense of where the journey is going to take them. One reader last night said "I didn't know whether this was horror or romance." Big difference. Imagine you are traveling: how disoriented would you be if you didn't know whether your plane was heading to Africa or Amsterdam (both very nice places, but requiring very different mindsets).

The trick, of course, is how much information to put out there. Enough to get the cerebral juices flowing but not enough to spoil the story. I once read in a great post (have to try to find it so I can link to it here) that when you write a novel, you need three synopses. You should have a synopsis that is 1-2 pages (for queries -- think of it as a detailed map), 1-2 paragraphs (also for queries and where a bit more info is needed -- sort of like driving directions from the internet), and 1-2 sentences (for telling someone -- like pointing a tourist in the right direction). Great advice.

So now I'm off to fix some things from last night (see, I know my writing is not perfect and that I will always learn something from a critique, whether or not I agree with it). And then I'll get started with my maps.

Have a great writing day!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Digitizing is not all bad...

There has been a great deal of press about Google's plan to digitize every book. (Read something about it here). Obviously, there are some seriously ticked-off copyright holders who don't want their hard work given away for free online (and rightly so) but I have to applaud part of the plan, whether that makes me popular or not.

In the course of researching my novel, I have been looking for some obscure information, the kind you don't find in the average history books. So I turned to the Internet (natch) and found some of my best sources courtesy of Google digitized books.

Most notably, I came upon an amazing gem of a book published (in its third edition) in 1828. The copyright has long since expired on Domestic Duties: Or, Instructions to Young Married Ladies on the Management of their Households and the Regulation of their Conduct in the Various Relations and Duties of Married Life by Mrs. William Parkes and no doubt there are only a handful of original copies still in existence in the world. I guess there isn't much call for it anymore and will likely only be accessed by writers of historical novels and thick dissertations about the subjugation of woman in early 19th century England. But still, what a shame it would be if this book just crumbled away to nothing, unloved and unneeded on a shelf of the NY Public Library.

How could we lose a book that includes such nuggets of wisdom as:

"The mistress of a family has the power of being the spring of its movements and the regulator of its habits. Exerting this properly, she sees around her everyone obedient to the laws of order and regularity"

(Subjugated, my eye!)

Thanks to Google's efforts, we have it for all times and I for one am grateful.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm starting to read like an agent!

Those of you who know me at all know that I am a compulsive researcher. If I have to do anything more serious than go to the dentist, I will spend hours, if not days, researching my task (OK, I'd do that for finding a dentist as well). So now that I am preparing to query agents with my first novel, I have spent months researching agents, reading their blogs, googling what makes a perfect query, ideal synopsis, and compelling first five pages. (For those of you not familiar with publishing, that's all you get to hook an agent and a publisher).

I recently started reading a currently 'hot' book. I was looking forward to reading it, not only because the title was intriguing and it features heavily in the bookstores these days, but because it falls under the same genre as my little work in progress. And do you know what happened? I started to read like an agent.

I wasn't five pages into it when I started grumbling. And my grumbling went something like this: "How did this author ever get an agent? Look how wordy it is. No conflict in the prologue, nothing that makes me want to read beyond these first six pages." So then I moved on to Chapter 1. And I started channelling an agent again. I was looking for something compelling and didn't find it. Here we have the protagonist. On the first page of Chapter 1, she is standing in a high pressure situation. So what does the author do? She doesn't build on the tension, she doesn't let us feel her agony. She spends the next TWO PAGES giving us backstory. Then, we finally get into the situation, she gives us dry academic stuff, full of 'see how smart I am' information. By page 4, I was done.

Form rejection.

Now, I know it is highly unlikely that any of the agents that I am following (Janet, Rachel, Nathan, Jennifer, Jenny, Kristin, and many others...) are going to be reading my humble little blog but I just want them to know I'm listening and I'm learning. And I am OH SO GRATEFUL. It is because of their knowledge, their generosity with their time, that I have learned how important it is to get those first five pages right, not just for the agent but for the reader as well.

I might go back and try to finish up 'that book', but then again, I might not. So many books, so little time.

Hee hee hee...I love this job

My eyes are crossed, my ears are ringing and my shoulders are stiff. I've been revising for about four hours now and I think it is time to get up and stretch. But I can't, because I can't make myself stop. I've finished revising (third draft, but not for good because I don't know if I'll ever really finish revising until the darn thing is printed *touching wood*) through chapter 9 and I want to keep going!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And the horses are in the starting gate...

Have you been to a horse race before? There is a moment when the horses are led to the starting gate. Some walk in placidly, some jump in, some seem to refuse point blank and have to be forced in. Once they are in, they skitter about and the tension is palpable. I feel like one of those horses.

Tomorrow, I will start my concerted effort on Draft 3. I have been dying to get at it for weeks but having the kids at home, visitors, and other things have stopped me from doing any more than little edits here and there.

I am jumpy. I am nervous. I am excited. I am scared.

Let me at it.

I may not win the race. But I am certainly going to finish.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Giving in to the inevitable...

It was going to happen. We all knew it; some knew it before others. It was only a matter of time before I started to blog. Like I really need something else to distract me from what I should really be doing, which is writing. A book. Not a blog. But I'll chalk it up as the first step to building 'my platform'. For those of you who don't know the oh-so-complicated world of publishing a novel, your platform is your presence out in the book-buying world. Ideally, you'll have a flashy website that thousands visit every week, thereby giving you your potential buyers of your novel. At the barest minimum, you have a blog. So here we go.

Today has been a day of a little high and a little low. I sold 'Spa Break' to Woman's Weekly, a woman's mag in the UK, the same one that published my other short story 'The Way to a Man's Heart' back in 2006 (not exactly prolific am I?). The money is minimal (but I'm not in it for the big bucks anyway) and it is hardly a prestigious literary publication. But it is read by 350,000 people each week and it is rather competitive from a writer's perspective. So I'm not complaining. Actually, I'm pretty chuffed! One more thing to put on my writer's resume.

As for the little low, I found out today that neither of my novels-in-progress were shortlisted for the Yeovil Literary Prize. Well, shoot.

WOMAN OVERBOARD was a long shot, I know that. It is far from polished (and VERY far from finished) and I really shouldn't have wasted the entry fee submitting it. But I figured I'd put it out there as it was chick lit and the contest was judged by Katie Fforde who writes great chick lit. After all, what if something in it just resonated for her? Sometimes that is all it takes. Clearly not the case here though. S'okay. I'll get over it.

But I am a bit disappointed that NIGHT WORDS (or HERALDSGREEN HOUSE or UPON THE SHADOWED PAGE or whatever it is I'm calling my WIP this week -- another post on that very soon) didn't even make it to the short list. However, after discussing the second draft with four of my readers over the past weeks, I know that the first six chapters are not the strongest of the book. And I also think that my synopsis is not as good as I can make it. And that is what this contest was judging (I sent the first 15,000 words). So if I wasn't motivated to fix the first quarter of the book before this news, I certainly am now. Truly, I am STOKED for fixing the book. I can't wait to get stuck in to the third draft because I know that I can make it better, thanks to the great advice of my fantabulous readers.

Highs and lows. I think this blog will be mostly about the highs and lows of this process. The writing, the feedback, the editing, the submitting, the rejections, the rejections, the rejections, and with any luck, the ultimate high of getting this silly little novel of mine published.

Thanks for joining me on the journey.