Thursday, November 11, 2010

Breathing and Book Clubs

We're having a breathless sort of week in my house. For months, my son has been struggling with his asthma and last week, a chest infection has sent him spiraling downward. This week alone has seen ten hours in doctors offices, one chest xray, seven prescription drugs to be taken daily, and at least ten breathing treatments a day (including throughout the night). And to top it off, my husband is away all week (a twice-yearly experience that always makes me want to send flowers to all single moms and military wives I know because these women deserve medals for doing it solo all the time).

Yesterday, we spent three hours at the doctor's office as our pediatrician did her best to keep us out of the hospital. I love love love our pediatrician, one of those fabulous doctors who takes the time to talk to you and never makes you feel like she's just thinking about the next patient she has to see.

After popping in to the exam room to check on our progress, Dr. B spied my copy of Sara Gruen's Ape House (loved it, by the way -- not as much as Water for Elephants, but only because WforE is one of my all time favorite books). We had a great chat about books and exchanged some recommendations. She also told me about the book club she belongs to. I must admit that as she was telling me about it, I felt like a high school wannabe, fairly desperate to join this group of cool kids.

A group of sisters created Buttery Books, a book club that does themed book club parties, complete with recipes, etc. You can check out their website here. I love their selection of books and the recipes and ideas are great. You can also contribute your own ideas and suggestions to their site.

If you go visit, I'd love to hear what you think.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Time Rewind*

I've never been a fan of daylight savings. It throws me off for days and I hate losing an hour of sleep, whether in reality or in theory. And it is safe to say that this year was the worst clock change ever.
At 5:00am on Sunday morning (or 6:00am, depending on which clock in my house you were looking at), I was awakened by a loud crash and the sound of breaking glass. I immediately sat up in bed, heart pounding and knees absolutely weak, thinking for sure that someone was breaking into the house. What freaked me out even more is that my husband didn't even move. I swear, that man could sleep through an air horn held to his head. I kicked him (literally) a few times and whispered "Did you hear that?" to which he replied "Huh?"

I jumped out of bed, realizing that the phone was in the other room, that my children were sleeping upstairs, and that I had nothing I could grab as a weapon. So, armed with the only heavy thing I could find -- a copy of Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" -- I crept out of the bedroom and into the living room. My husband finally got up and snuck up behind me, almost getting himself Manteled in the process. While the smart thing to do would have been to turn the light on (thereby surprising any possible intruder), we stumbled around in the dark trying to find who or what made the crash. And finally, we discovered what it was.

This:


Our Wall Clock

Apparently, my husband had come home from a work party late Saturday night after I was already asleep. He decided to change the clocks before retiring. He changed the wall clock and replaced it on the wall, but managed to miss the hanger on the back. It took approximately four hours of ticking for the clock to slide off the end of the nail.

Next year, I'm going to skip daylight savings all together and just keep my own time.

*This is a repost of a post I did back in March. Last night, I forbade my husband from touching our new clock.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Unh.

I had grand plans for November. I was going to start writing WIP2 (the month is a coincidence; I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo), finish another serial for the magazine, do a whole bunch of freelance work, start exercising, drink less, and eat better.

Um...fail fail fail fail fail fail.

First problem? TOO. MUCH. CANDY.

My son has a nut allergy, so we buy a mixed pack of candy that's safe for him and when he comes back from trick-or-treating ("guising" in British parlance, a term that I just love), we swap the off-limits stuff for the safe stuff. Which means we now have a big bowl of Butterfingers, Reese's, Snickers... all my favorites. I had two for breakfast. Plus one more with my third cup of tea. And a few afer lunch.

And speaking of lunch, that brings us to the second problem. I went to my husband's work place to get my flu shot and we decided to go to lunch after we got our jabs. We ended up at Babe's Old Fashioned Burgers. Big, drippy, loaded burger with a side of real onion rings and a large unsweet tea. Yummm... But now, unh.

I'll write tomorrow. And exercise. And eat better. But for now, I need a nap. Afer just one more Twix.

Friday, October 29, 2010

No Success Seems Big Enough

I opened my mailbox yesterday, pulled out a big envelope, and ripped it open to find this:


Which contains this:


It's the first part of my three-part serial "Continental Drift" starting in the 2 November issue of Woman's Weekly in the UK. My first thought was, of course, HOORAY! because people are reading my stories.

But my second thought was worry, followed by lots of self doubt. Why? Because they didn't mention the serial on the cover. Usually, when a new serial is starting, they flag it on the front, like in the upper right hand corner of this cover:



"Continental Drift" was one of those stories that didn't come together easily. In fact, I had to rewrite once for my satisfaction, and twice for the editor's. So the neurotic, insecure writer in me started to worry that it wasn't good enough to mention on the cover.

"Maybe the editors didn't like it enough," I said to my husband (who, to his credit, managed to keep a straight face rather than give me that you writers are crazy look I sometimes get.)

"They liked it enough to buy it," he reminded me. "Look, they described it as 'haunting'. That's good, right?"

"Um, yeah..." I said. But it didn't stop me from thinking that maybe they only bought it because they were desperate. Or because they felt sorry for me having rewritten it a couple of times.

I consider myself a confident, positive person. I don't doubt myself in other areas of my life -- I feel confident as a parent and as a partner. In my professional capacity as an editor and later, as a food scientist, I didn't worry about my abilities or my accomplishments. No, the doubt I experience seems to be limited to my existence as a writer. I think I will always doubt whether I have any talent, even when there is evidence that someone thinks I do.

But at least I'm not alone. In her post The More Things Change, Kiersten White shared how even when you find success, you don't always feel successful. I'm sure there are a lot of writers out there saying the same thing.

What about you? Are you more insecure as a writer than in other roles in your life? Why is that? Is it because writing is more personal? Makes us more vulnerable? Is it because success in writing is so public?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Because we can all use a laugh...

One of the big reasons I miss living in the UK... the BBC.

Enjoy

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cat Magnet

Seriously. I must be a cat magnet. Back in June, my son and daughter came running into the house screaming something about kittens and our shed. We went outside to discover, lo and behold, these little creatures:


A feral cat, part-Siamese by the looks of things, had a litter of kittens underneath our shed. My children were delighted, my husband and I less so. We were about to leave on a 3-week vacation. I had visions of the mother, driven by hunger since we wouldn't be there to feed her, abandoning these kittens. The image coming back to find a pile of dead kittens (worst case scenario) or the idea of these kittens growing up feral and then breeding more kittens (not much better case scenario) kept me up at night. Thus began a round of phone calls trying to find somewhere to take them so they could be adopted out.

Fortunately, two days before we were going to fly to Scotland, I found someone who would take them. The trick...we had to catch them first. By this point, the mother had done a good job of teaching the kittens to be afraid of us. After a whole day of stalking and capture attempts, we caught two. That night, the mother stole off with the remaining four. We took them to the Cat Lady (my kids' term), with my children crying bitterly the whole time.

Last week, we saw three of those same kittens behind the shed again. I don't know what happened to the fourth. Judging by the hissing and the speed with which they took off, I think the mother has done a pretty good job of making these kittens feral, too.

Two days ago, we heard crying out in front of our house. I opened the door to find a skinny little black and white cat. Unlike the kittens, he was sweet, well-groomed and affectionate. I figured he was lost and would find his way home again. Nope. Yesterday, he cried at my door all morning, so I finally put some food out. He wolfed it down so fast it brought tears to my eyes. In the afternoon, he was still hanging around so as soon as my children got off the bus, we proceeded to walk the two miles around our neighborhood trying to find his owner. The little cat followed us the whole time, plaintively meowing. No luck.

Then, we loaded him into the back of the car (with no cat carrier, I trapped him under the laundry basket weighed down with a couple of hand weights) and drove to the nearest vet to have him scanned, hoping he was microchipped. Nope. I asked the vet tech what we could do. She told me they could take him off our hands, but it would cost $200 for vaccinations and boarding. Yikes! She gave me a list of shelters and I bought a few cans of food and brought him home. He is now living on my porch while we figure out what to do.

Unfortunately, my son is asthmatic and is allergic to cats. This has not stopped my children from naming the cat Justin (??? -- we could understand it if he were a long-hair but ????) and begging us to keep him. My husband and I are debating as to whether we could take the chance that it won't affect my son's health, or whether it could stay as an outdoor cat (I worry about the major roads that run near our neighborhood, or about the summers when it is 100+ degrees).

[There's supposed to be a cute photo of Justin here but Blogger's messing with me. Again.]


Justin is currently outside, lounging on my sun chair. He is grooming Tuna Medley from his whiskers, oblivious to my desperate attempts to find him a loving home. Anyone near San Antonio in the market for a cute cat?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Getting random all up in my head

* The temperature has finally dropped here in San Antonio. Sort of. It is in the 50s at night, which makes me want to break out the gourds and autumn leaves to decorate. BUT, it is still climbing into the high 80s during the day. So putting out the autumn stuff just feels wrong.

* My son, after 8 years of food aversions and extremely picky eating, has finally turned a corner. We've had three months of Occupational Therapy to help with the food and sensory issues and I can't believe how well it's worked. Wednesday, he ate AN ENTIRE MCDONALD'S CHEESEBURGER! I almost wept. He's gained 4 pounds in three months (which is almost as much as he's gained in year). Last night, we all ate the same dinner (and it did not involve pizza). I hold out hope that I might actually start enjoying cooking again (which would be good, given that I am a chef).

* My daughter, now six, must have read some "Being an Effective Listener" text somewhere because she now rephrases EVERYTHING I say to her. Last night's exchange -- Me: I bought you some new dresses for school. DD: You mean you went to the store and picked out things for me to wear so I'll look nice for my teacher? She does this all the time. The technique is supposed to make a person feel validated and understood. It doesn't. It's driving me crazy.

* My husband's family has just had some potentially devestating news involving the big C. We're reeling from this and, in truth, it's all I can think about this week (hence, this weirdly random post). I lost my father to a horrible battle with cancer four years ago so I'm really struggling, trying to put those memories aside so that I can be positive and supportive for my husband. It's hard.

* Because of this family development, it looks like we are going to be travelling back to Scotland sooner than expected. Which means that I've had to put aside the novel and get to work on another serial to help pay for the trip. I just wrote the first chapter of my WIP on Tuesday and was starting to get my groove on, so...meh. I'm so not feeling the love for the serial right now, but it's got to happen.

I don't usually post personal stuff (especially a strange list of disconnected thoughts). Even now, it feels weird to put so much of myself out there, but my brain is whirling so much I can't think of anything else. And although I know I don't have to say this (because you are all warm, wonderful people who already do this), I'll just leave you with one more thought:
Cherish the people you love. No one knows what the future holds. Don't wait to share time with your family and friends. Share it now.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pantserfail

Remember when I said I was changing teams from Plotter to Pantser? Yeah, well, I lied. Boy, did I lie.

Because I'm guessing that Pansters don't make spreadsheets like this when working out their characters:


I don't know...maybe they do (hey pantsers -- do you?). But I'm fairly certain they don't do this:



This is a screen shot of the Storylines program from the Writer's Cafe software, which uses virtual index cards that you can move up, down, all around. You can have multiple plot lines. I use it for the main and subplots (blue and green) and to keep track of my "hit points" or important moments or ideas in the story (that's the red line), my relevant research (purple line), and emotions (orange lines). Key scene cards are blue and the acts are denoted by the black markers at the top.

What can I say? Try as I might, I couldn't work by the seat of my pants. I just like my spreadsheets and charts too darn much. I need them. I feel more comfortable when I have a road map for my journey. And after today, I feel more energy than fear, which is a good thing. So I'll hand back my temporary Pantser membership card. Thanks for having me! Maybe I'll join you again some other time.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Personality Type of your Character

I've been deep into researching my characters for my new project. Since my story explores the genetics of personality (in other words, which personality traits are inherited and which are more affected by environment), I've been spending a lot of time reading scientific journals, reviewing study data, and exploring psychological testing. I feel like I've been learning a new language.

In the course of researching, I came across a few web-based versions of the Myers-Briggs personality test (based on research by Karl Jung). This test breaks down personality into four main categories:
  1. Whether you get your energy from inside or outside sources (Extraverted or Introverted)
  2. How you taking in information (Sensing or iNtuitive )
  3. How you make decisions (Thinking or Feeling )
  4. How you operate on a day-to-day basis (Judging or Perceiving)
Based on these categories, there are 16 personality types. For example, ESTP means Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving and describes someone who is outgoing, perceptive, likes concrete problems to solve, and bases decisions more on logic than intuition.

I thought it would be interesting to take the test, answering the questions the way I thought my MC would answer. By reading the summary of her personality type, it gave me a little more parameters for her development. Although I would never develop a character based soley on this, but I did feel a bit more tuned into the psychology of my character (incidentally, she is IFSJ which means she is introverted, feeling, sensing and judging).

If you are interested in trying this out (either for yourself or your characters):
  • Similar Minds has a number of personality tests, including a short version of the test Jung here
  • The Personality Page, which has a lot of info, including career and relationship info relevant to the types. There's also a test, perhaps more complete than the free tests you can find) which is $5 per test.
  • A easy-to-use grid of learning styles based on the 16 types from SUNY Oswego here 
If you do give this a try for your characters, it would be great if you could stop back and report whether you found it useful.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Kingdom for a Mentor

In the past few weeks, I've seen a number of bloggers (self included) who have commented that they would pay an agent for career advice. If you watched the bidding for the agent meeting items in the Do the Write Thing for Nashville, it's pretty clear that people will pay a lot for some one on one time with an agent.

As writers, we are lucky that there are some great agent blogs out there to help us navigate through this increasingly-difficult industry. But what we're lacking is personal guidance. Yeah, we want to the agent to get us the book deal. But what we -- or at least, I -- want is an industry professional to help us decide what moves to make to help get that writing career.

There are a few reputable agents out there who do this, but not many. It does beg the question of how a writer would distinguish a 'real' agent from a predatory one. For myself, I would want advice from an active agent who has legitimate sales to good publishers, not someone who sets themselves up as an 'industry expert' even though there are no numbers to back up the claim.

But how would it work? How would an agent decide who to mentor? Would it work like a lawyer who accepts a case and charges by the hour (I think we're talking some big numbers too, like $200 per hour?) That puts us back into a new version of the query wars -- an application (complete with writing samples and a list of ideas) for consulting services. That would still leave people out in the cold, because you are looking at a whole new slush pile.

So what's in it for the agents? Many agents say they see queries for books/writers that they love but can't sell, so they have to pass (there's no money in it for them). But if they are earning income by helping a promising writer to develop their career, it could be a long-term payoff. The AAR says that agents cannot charge reading fees, but there is nothing in there to say that they can't charge consulting fees.

I'd love to hear your take on this. Would you pay an agent by the hour for some mentoring? How much would you be willing to pay?  Do you know of agents who do this? Or agents who've talked about this? If you have any links, put them in the comments and I'll include them here in the blog.

And in the absence of mentoring by an agent, we have turned to mentoring each other, which is one of the amazing things about this wonderful blogger world. If you haven't already, go check out The Bookshelf Muse's 1000 followers contest. She's offering to be a mentor!!!! 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blogfeast, San Antonio style

I hadn't planned on posting today but I found out about Angela McAllister's Food blogfest and just couldn't resist. Why don't you head over to Angela's and check out the other entries -- guaranteed to make you hungry!

But before you go, here's my own entry, taken from "La Luna," the serial short fiction that ran in Woman's Weekly in the UK from August 10-August 31. The story is about Serina, the chef/owner of a restaurant on San Antonio's Riverwalk.

Soon she was weeping over piles of chopped onions, though she smiled broadly and hummed “Celito Lindo” in absence of the mariachis. The pork simmered in its red chile sauce, raising a fragrant haze in the kitchen. She lost herself in the preparation, soaking the dried corn husks, roasting peppers, grating the potato-like jicama for the slaw.

When the meat was ready, she began making the tamales. She spread the fluffy corn masa on the softened husk, topping it with a large dollop of shredded pork, and rolling it together so the meat was enclosed like a prize within the package. She tied it shut with a strip of corn husk and started on the next. Though pyramids of tamales grew before her, it would take her another hour to finish them all. With the back of her hand, she brushed away a loose strand of hair and stretched her back, remembering the tamaladas at Christmas time, the traditional tamale-making party where her mother and aunts and grandmother would roll up their sleeves and make hundreds of tamales for the holidays. She smiled to think of the contests to see who could make the most, the laughter when someone was caught out for skimping on the filling or splitting a husk. In face of those memories, Serina’s kitchen seemed very empty, the only sound the rain pinging on the metal vent above the stove. She shoved the pang of loneliness away and continued her tasks, stopping only briefly to flick on the radio to drown out the silence.

The group arrived early, shaking the rain of jackets and umbrellas. Serina noted immediately the absence of any women in the party and chided herself for feeling relieved; she’d secretly feared Eric would bring a date. Once the guests were settled with their drinks, however, she almost wished for the presence of another woman to dilute their attentions. The men – some very young, some older, all charming – were quick to wink, touch her arm, even pat her hip as she walked by. To occupy their hands and thoughts, she quickly brought out the first course of squash soup with roasted corn and poblanos, crowned with a complicated nest of tortilla strips.

The wine began to flow and with each course – chile-fried Gulf oysters, mesquite-grilled prawns on jicama-mango slaw – the men grew louder and more effusive in their complements. At Eric’s pressing, she bent her own rule and joined them in a glass of Argentine Zinfandel, as red and rich as liquid rubies. When the tamales were unwrapped like gifts at Christmas, the men broke into applause and Serina finally fled to the kitchen, her face aflame and heart afire from pleasure of a meal so well appreciated.
What can I say? I love the food of San Antonio!

So now go check out Angela at Jaded Love Junkie and all the other entries. I'm going to do the same, but first I need some breakfast. All this food talk has made my stomach rumble.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Switching Teams

I had years to stew on my first novel, The Shadow Scribe. Decades actually. I would say that I had about 50% of it written in my head before I ever put it on paper. I knew the characters, the setting was crystal clear, the plot defined. I considered myself the ultimate plotter, with every chapter outlined before I ever started writing.
In contrast, my new idea is just that -- an idea. My plot diagram is complete (I use Aristotle’s Incline which I learned from Robert Ray’s The Weekend Novelist  but I also like the Screenplay Structure method) but when I try to outline it, I find myself writing things like “stuff happens here.”
I know that it is the kind of story that can only evolve as I write. Which means that I am about to have my first experience as a pantser. GASP! Some nights, I lay awake paralyzed by fear. What if I can't write it? What if it fizzles out?
But I also have moments of real optimism. I have no preconceived ideas of exactly how this story will go. I know my first novel is weaker because I could only imagine one way to write it. While I’m nervous about switching teams from plotter to pantser, I’m excited too.
There are lots of posts out there on plotters vs pantsers (like this excellent one by Roni at *Fiction Groupie*) so I’m not going to get into the definitions. But what I want to know is: Have you ever switched teams (plotter to pantser or pantser to plotter)? Do you ever wish you were one instead of the other?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Am I for real?

Last week, when I sat down with my son’s teacher to discuss the upcoming year, I mentioned that since I worked from home, I was available to help in the classroom if she ever needed it. “What do you do?” she asked. “I’m a writer,” I replied, cringing a little because I feel like I’m lying when I say this. Her eyes lit up. “Really? That’s excellent. We’re doing a whole unit on authors and writing right now! Maybe you could come talk to the class?” And even though I felt like a total fraud, I said I would.
Am I scared? Hell, yes.
Not only do I have to control twenty 3rd graders for thirty minutes, but I have to face that room full of nine-year-olds and act like I’ve got some reason for being there. I feel like I’ve got to prove to them and the teacher that I’m legit.
Sure, I’m a core contributor of fiction for a magazine and I do some non-fiction content development (and these things help pay the bills), but so far, the book thing hasn’t happened. And for some reason, I find it difficult to believe I’m a real writer in the world’s eyes because I don’t have the agent, the book deal, the name recognition. In fact, I've stopped mentioning that I'm working on a novel because I don't want to deal with the "When's your book being published?" issue.
So my question is this – when does a writer become a “real” writer? When you get paid for something? The first time you get something published? When you quit your job to write full time? When you make sacrifices so that you can write?
Do you tell people you are a writer? What's the reaction?
And on another note, if you have any suggestions for my 3rd grade debut next week, I’d love to hear them. I plan on showing a photo prompt, and then going around the room letting them take turns giving me characters, setting, problem (conflict), the events, and the solution. When we’re done, I’ll read their story back to them. Thoughts?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What to write, what to write...

I stressed a lot about what my next novel project would be. I have no shortage of ideas – actually, it’s just the opposite. My ideas run the gamut of genres, including YA, MG, historical, paranormal, women’s fiction, sci fi, and literary. And as we all know, some genres are a tougher sell than others.

Every agent and writer blog out there will warn you against writing to pursue a trend, or even to pursue publication. They all say that you should write the book that moves you and write the best version of it possible. Great advice, to be sure.

But I do think there is something to be said for picking your projects wisely. For instance, most editors and agents are saying that the vampires are played out. So would it be wise to start a vampire novel now, knowing that by the time you finish it, the market will have moved on? If that is what you are compelled to write, then do it. But don’t expect that professional success with that book will be easy (granted, nothing about this business is easy).

Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Marry for love, not money, but have the sense to fall in love with a rich man (or woman).” I think this applies to writing, too. If you want to be a professional writer, I think you must look at your projects pragmatically. All things being equal (meaning if you have three projects in mind that you are equally passionate about), you should pursue the project that has the most commercial viability. In the end, a book is a product and you want to produce a product people want to buy.

I write because I love to, but I also want to make a career out of it. So this is where the stress came in. I went round and round trying to decide which project had the most commercial promise. (I swear I would pay an agent right now to give me career advice on this subject!) I made pro and con lists, bored my husband stupid with endless speculation, traded countless emails with a writer friend, and lost a lot of sleep before finally coming to a conclusion.

In the end, passion for the story was the first criteria, and market was the second. I hated making the decision (I always second guess myself) but I feel good about it now. I can tell you I decided to pursue the literary fiction project, but beyond that I'll not say anything else about it yet. I'm not trying to be coy, just a little bit superstitious. Once I get past the research stage and into the writing, I'll be more comfortable talking about it.

Any thoughts on choosing a project based on commercial viability? Did you consider the markets when you started on a project?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Blame Game

As you may have read yesterday, I had a bit of a crisis where my editor came back and asked me to change the ending of one of my story segments. I spent a good part of the day pouting because it was one of the parts that I thought really worked.

But then I reminded myself that I am a professional writer, which means that I am NOT ALLOWED to fall back on that idea that if a reader doesn't think something works, then it must be the reader's fault. I'm sorry, but that thinking is for amateurs.

Let me repeat that, because I think it is a critical idea that separates good writers from bad:

If your reader doesn't understand something in your story, it is YOUR fault as the writer, not their fault as the reader.

If you reader doesn't think something works, it means you have failed to communicate motivation, action, something. Just to make things complicated, sometimes what a reader says doesn't work isn't always the problem. They just know something is wrong, but can't put their finger on it and may give vague feedback that doesn't always make sense. This is where having savvy critique partners (who are writers, not just readers) who can put it in the language of the craft is essential.

For example, a reader may say "I didn't like it when Jane jumped out of the car." What didn't your reader like? The action? The timing? What Jane said when she threw herself out? Your knee-jerk reaction might be "But I can't cut that scene! It's critical to the action!"

When the problem is verbalized by a writer, it becomes clearer. "I don't think you've clearly shown Jane's motivation to jump out the car." Suddenly, you know how to fix the problem -- no, wait -- you know how to make your story BETTER. Your reader was right.

Remember, this is not the blame game. You cannot blame the reader for your mistakes as a writer.

The good news is that if you can accept this truth, it shows that you are a good enough writer to identify and fix your issues.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A cry for help

Remember how I mentioned that I blog because I want to find critique partners and beta readers? (I promised to do a post on that when I my WIP was closer to that stage.)

Remember how I posted on the importance of cliffhanger endings in a serial?

Yeah, those two things just came crashing together.

I just got the word on my latest serial from the editor: they love the writing, but don't like the ending of part 1 and want me to change it.

I don't quite agree with the assessment but recognize that the editor knows her market best and therefore will do as they request. Trouble is, I'm having a bit of trouble breaking away from what I've written and seeing it in a fresh light.

So, I'm desperate for a critique partner like RIGHT NOW.

The story is written for a British woman's magazine, target audience of 30-60 year old women. There are three parts, around 11 pages each. I am seeking someone with experience in writing (and of course, reading) women's fiction to read it and give me some feedback that might help me think in a new direction. I was hoping for feedback fairly quickly.

As this is on spec for a publication, I am unable to post it. I have, however, added a new tab that has one of my shorter pieces (The Way to a Man's Heart -- 1700 words) that ran in the same magazine a few years back. Take a look... if you like my style and might be willing to help me out with some feedback on the new piece, drop me an email and we can discuss the details further. I will be happy to return the favor sometime (I am a former editor and have critiqued quite a bit).

Thanks!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Commenting on Comments

It's official. I've doubled my follower count in four days. Now I'm feeling performance anxiety!

There are several posts on comments today (go see Jenn's at Unedited or Elana's), which tells me this is a subject that people think about A LOT.  I've been thinking about it too and I decided it is best for me to be upfront and honest about how I deal with comments on my blog, so that everyone understands how I work.

I read EVERY single comment I get on my blog. Twice actually. I get them in my email inbox and I look at my blog (way too often). Frankly, my self-esteem is tied a little too closely to how many comments I get. If I don't get any, I shrivel a little bit and wonder why no one likes me. If I get a lot, I feel like making an Oscar speech (You like me! You really really like me!).

I don't email responses to commenters. I know that maybe I should but I spend too much time on email and blogging as it is (at the cost of writing) so I have to draw the line somewhere. I don't respond to every single comment I get. I don't expect every blogger to respond to my comments. To be honest, I find the long lists of individual replies can get a bit tedious for both the readers and the writer and it feels a littled forced to me.

I try to leave general responses at intervals in the comments so people know I'm around. And I sometimes respond to individuals if what they've said needs a response. I do try to visit and comment on the blog of anyone who comments at mine.

I have made one change to my process, though. Up until today, I didn't list my email on my profile. I do now. Sometimes, I'll read a post on someone's blog and it makes me want to have a deeper, non-public conversation, like by email. Usually, I lack the guts to reach out and contact the person (afraid of rejection I guess? Or I feel like I'm crossing a line?) If you ever want to discuss anything with me -- like writing or querying (especially stuff like rejection which I don't really talk about on a public blog even though I have LOTS of experience with it), please email me. That's why I'm here.

Comments? Do commenting expectations stress you out as a blogger? Have you ever stopped following a blog because you felt abandoned in the comments section?

Monday, September 6, 2010

So I opened my inbox and found...

When we last left our hero, she had 56 followers. She opened her inbox and found it flooded with comments from lovely new blog friends. And when she returned to her blog, found she had 108 followers!!!

And that's about as much writing about myself in the third person as I can stomach.

That's right. In three days, I have gained 52 new followers. And it is all thanks to the fantastic KarenG at Coming Down the Mountain. Karen, thank you so much for hosting the Blog BBQ. I've got so many great new followers and I am now following lots of new interesting blogs. I'm sure I speak for everyone reading this when I say you have done us all a great favor by helping us connect.

I'm working through my new list of friends and promise to visit everyone who's joined me here. It may take a little while but I'll get there.

So, wow. 108. That means I'm going to have to step up my game here. More regular postings. And maybe even a contest to celebrate. More details soon.

I am in awe of people (like the incomparable Elana Johnson) who have hundreds and even thousands of followers. I must admit, I don't aspire to this. I know that for people writing YA, blogging is an essential tool for connecting with readers. I don't write YA and therefore I honestly don't think blogging will help me connect with thousands of potential readers (some, yes, but not to the level of YA).

I blog for a few very specific reasons. At first, I blogged because I thought I was supposed to. And then I blogged because I got a little obsessed by it. And now, I'm blogging because I've met some great people and want to form relationships with other writerly types. One of my main goals for blogging is to find some good crit partners and beta readers (a post on that is definitely in the works). I'm also about to start a new project and I think blogging about my process as I go may help me to crystalize my thinking.

Think back to when you started blogging. What were your reasons for blogging? Have they changed since you started? This isn't a rhetorical question...I'm genuinely curious.

Anyway, thanks for joining me. And keep watching this space for contest details...

Friday, September 3, 2010

When we last left our hero...

Endings are important. This is a universal truth, right? But I'm going to step out a limb and say that the how your chapters end is more important than how your book ends. Why? Because while the end of your book impacts how the readers think about your book in total, it is how your chapters end that will keep your readers reading.

As novelists, we all want to write the book that has the reader saying over the watercooler, "I was up reading until 4 in the morning! I just couldn't put it down!"

My day job is writing serial fiction for a woman's magazine. Each story is three or four parts, 3800 words each. Each part must end in a way that makes the reader want to come back for more. The stakes are high here. The reader has to be so drawn in that they will think about it all week, go to the store, and shell out a few more bucks for the next issue so they can read what happens next.

The cliffhanger (named for the 1930s episodic movies where the hero was literally dangling from a cliff when the credits went down -- check out the Wiki link here) is so important for serials that I write the endings first. When I pitch a new idea to the editor, it is the overall story and the part endings that I pitch. Because if the endings don't work, the serial won't either.

This is a valuable technique for novelists. Every chapter needs to end in a way that makes the reader want to turn the page. Unfortunately, I learned this too late for my last project, where I structured that novel so that each chapter ended when my MC was going to bed. Looking back now, I see that was just an invitation for the reader to put down the book at the end of a chapter. The last thing you want is for your reader to say, "Nothing exciting is happening now, so this is a good spot for me to stop reading."

You don't have to leave your characters dangling off a cliff at the end of each chapter. Not every cliffhanger is mortal peril. It can end with a choice, a question, the prelude to a fight...anything has your reader wondering -- or even better, DEMANDING -- to know what happens next.

And that's why endings are..wait... excuse me a minute, there's an email in my inbox. I don't believe it! It's...



















What does our hero find? Tune in next blog post to find out!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Word Paint Blogfest

I haven't participated in a blogfest in a long time, but I was really drawn to Dawn Ember's Word Paint blogfest. The following is an excerpt from my current serial-in-progress "Continental Drift," a story where a recently-widowed woman drives across country to reconnect with a group of friends from college.

I stopped the car at a small sign announcing the continental divide and learned I was standing on the line that marked where the rainfall would drain – to the west it drained to the Pacific, to the east, the Atlantic. So now if I cried, my tears would be going to a different ocean. I decided right then and there that Pacific was salty enough without my contribution, so I would permit no more to fall.


When I got back into the car, I found myself refreshed, able to keep driving despite how many miles I’d done. The setting sun painted the sky with a wash of reds, purples and golds. Watching it through the massive windscreen, I felt as though I was sitting in a movie theatre seeing it on the big screen, though I doubted film could ever capture those colours.

I drove until chips of stars blazed across the indigo sky. And though it felt like a betrayal of the beautiful state to sleep in some generic hotel chain, it was the only thing I could find. The commonness of the hotel was excused, however, when I enjoyed my morning coffee while looking at the blushing mesas.

Several more hours driving brought me to Arizona, where beautiful painted cliffs rose just inside the state line. I prepared myself for more beauty but I soon passed beyond the painted cliffs into the desert proper. The Arizona desert was not what I expected. At first, the stark beauty was breathtaking, all sharp silhouettes and shades of earth that designers covet. But after an hour, my senses rebelled. I was raised among the green trees and gentle slopes of the northeast. The desert landscape was too alien. Hard white skies stretched above, shimmers rose from the endless grey road, and heat transmitted through the roof, the windows and up from the ground through the car until I felt like I was in an oven. All those things went supernova in my head until a razor-sharp headache pierced the centre of my brain.

The drive went on for hours until I could stand it no more. I finally pulled into the car park of a motor lodge, a throwback to the Fifties when Americans thought of road travel as fun and wanted to take their time getting somewhere. When I stepped out of my mobile living room, the heat was so fierce that the inside of my nose burned, my mouth went dry, and my sandals sank half an inch into the molten blacktop. I was clearly a fool to enter Arizona in August.

Drifting in a heat-induced haze, I soon found myself in a room that reeked of dusty potpourri but was as cold as a refrigerator. After downing three glasses of lukewarm water, I pulled the roadmap from my bag and spread it on the bed. The country was bisected by a grid of folds so worn that the paper was cobweb thin. I uncapped a black fibre pen and methodically started colouring in Arizona, making it black from edge to edge. I decided right then and there that if I ever do the cross-country drive again, I would find some route that did not include this state. When I ventured out to dinner at the diner across the car park, my breath came short and my shirt was instantly damp where it touched my skin. But the sky was lit up with a sunset of mythical proportions and I forgave Arizona briefly for its evil summer.


If you haven't seen this blogest yet, go check out Dawn's blog and follow the links to the other entries. And if you are participating in the blogfest, my plan is to visit you all over the weekend. I can't wait to read your Word Paintings!

Friday, August 13, 2010

But you knew that

I'm in the process of working on my latest serial for Woman's Weekly. In "Continental Drift" a young woman who lost her husband a year ago drives from New York to Los Angeles to reconnect with a group of friends from college. I found writing Part 1 easy - the words just seemed to flow as she drove through the southern US and worried about starting her life over. Part 2 was trickier as I found it difficult to introduce the old relationships in enough detail to stay within the word count (I've got 3800 words per part).

When I finished part 2, I did something I've never done -- I sent the first draft of parts 1 and 2 to the fiction editor for her feedback. Usually, I finish all the parts and do a final polish (I wouldn't call them final drafts because I know there may be revisions). But this time, I felt I needed to hear from the editor that things were working.

While I was waiting for her feedback, I tried to work on part 3. And it just wasn't happening. The words wouldn't come easily and the words that did come were the wrong ones. I told myself it was because I was hot and tired (our A/C packed it in on Monday and for two days and nights it was 91 degrees in my house), because the kids were hot and tired and cranky, because I was too busy following WriteOnCon (great experience!).

I got the feedback this morning. The editor wrote that the writing was "exquisite" (I tell you, that wonderful woman is what keeps me writing some days!) but that the plot was "unfocused." This is not what I wanted to hear, of course, but it wasn't surprising. In fact, it was obvious.

Part 3 wasn't working because I hadn't established a clear plot through 1 and 2. And I knew it. I didn't want to admit it, but I knew it. Otherwise, I wouldn't have felt the need to send it in early. I wouldn't have had trouble finishing it. I had a hunch and, if you read what Jen at Unedited said about hunches today, you know what that means.

So has this happened to you? Have you suspected something and then your betas/critiquers/readers called you out on it?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What do I do with this?

Seriously. This is not a rhetorical question... What do I do with this information?

My new four-part serial short story "La Luna" began in Woman's Weekly (a UK magazine) this week. As I posted last Friday, the editor wrote about it in her Editor's Letter, which I didn't see until yesterday when I received my contributor's copies. Here's what she wrote:



So... OMG! (and I don't use that expression lightly, because, honestly, I just can't pull it off.) Seriously, this magazine has a circulation of 350,000 every week and a readership of 570,000. So even if only half the readers take a look at the contents page, that means almost a quarter of a million people just read my name and really nice comments about my story.

Now aside from the fact that this gives my ego a boost it could really use after all the rejections that come from querying a novel, there has got to be some way this can work in my favor, right?

I've posted this on my web site (if you haven't already checked it, go ahead and look -- I've got a stat counter and it makes my day when I get visitors). But I'd love to hear from you marketing experts if there is something else I should do to with this development. Should I mention it in my query letter? Include a hardcopy of this page when I send out paper copies? Hire a skywriter to reproduce it in vapor? Get over myself because it's not that big of a deal?

I'd love to get any suggestions people have. Remember, there's no such thing as a bad idea! Thank you in advance for your help.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What are you waiting for?

We all know that writing is all about waiting: waiting for feedback, waiting for agents to respond, waiting for editors to respond. I'm used to waiting, but I'm not very good at it. I seethe and suffer inside. And though I know it is counterproductive, I lose sleep, I lose concentration, I lose my mind.

And these days, it seems all I am doing -- in every aspect of my life -- is waiting. So I'm going to vent a little into the ether.

Things I'm Waiting For:
  • Response from agent with full manuscript.
  • Response from agents with partials.
  • Response from agent queried with a referral.
  • Responses to THREE job applications.
  • Mortgage refinancing paperwork.
  • Go-ahead from hubby (who manages our finances) to attend Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference
  • The school year to start so I can get some real work done.
  • Cooler weather
  • Apology from hotel after disastrous spa weekend
  • Shoes I ordered from Ebay
  • Return call from body shop about the huge dent made by non-note-leaving driver in Old Navy parking lot
Yeah, feels like a lot.

So how about you? Anything you are waiting for that's driving you nuts? Come, join me!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Feel Good Friday

I received an email from the fiction editor, Gaynor Davies, at Woman's Weekly. My four-part serial "La Luna" hits the UK newsstands next week (10 August issue) which is exciting enough. But Gaynor also told me that the editor is mentioning my serial in the Editor's Letter that appears on the Contents page! Gaynor didn't tell me what the editor wrote but said "I'm sure you'll be pleased with what she says" and went on to thank me for a "lovely" story.

Yay!

And then she went on to inquire about the progress of my next serial. Um... I better get to work!

How about you? Any good news or happy feelings you'd like to share?

Friday, July 23, 2010

You have to have a goal. Do you have a goal?

I'm just about breaking my arm from patting myself on the back today. And the reason? I wrote 1000 words today. Now, this normally would not be a huge accomplishment for me. On a good day, I'll knock out 3000 words. But I haven't had many good days lately. In fact, I've barely written a word in six weeks.

I have several reasons (excuses) for this. The primary one is that my kids are home for the summer (seriously, 11 weeks for summer vacation??? Give me the UK system any old day -- 6 weeks!). This is a big problem for me as I am a bit of a prima donna when it comes to my writing time. I need a good hour to faff about before getting my game face on and then I'll write for a solid three or four hours. I cannot do that with the Prince of Dinosaurs and the Drama Queen dancing about. Even sticking a movie on buys me only two hours and that means they're finished just as I'm deep into my zone.

The second is that I'm still querying, which is really breaking me down. I am not patient and I am not an optimist. It is a debilitating process for me.

And the other reason is that I don't have a goal. Strangely enough, it isn't enough that I have an editor ready to cut me a check when I finish my current serial. Without hard dates to work toward, I flounder.

Things have to change.

So here are my goals (because posting them here means I've got witnesses):

  • I am committing to finishing my current serial by August 15.
  • If I finish a second serial by September 1 (and that's a big if), I will use half of that payment to attend a conference this fall.
  • I will get my new WIP underway starting September 1, with the goal of finishing my first draft in November.
This means I need to cut through the paralysis that querying seems to put me in, work out some new writing practices that let me work in less than ideal conditions, and actually start writing again. And I need to get my gameplan together.

So that's where you come in. I'd like to find some crit partners for my new WIP. I know that my first novel suffered for not having the right kind of readers and that is a mistake I will not repeat this time around. So if you or someone you know is interested in forming a new group, please let me know in the comments (or send me an email). This WIP is commercial fiction, although I am comfortable working with writers of other genres. I'm happy to provide some writing samples so we can see if we're suited (obvs, it won't be from the WIP because I haven't written it yet!). I'll be ready to start exchanging chapters in September.

And the next thing, can you recommend some good conferences this fall? Location is not important (I'm in Texas). I'm looking for some exposure to other writers as well as editors and agents, whether through pitch sessions, workshops or informal opportunities. I'm thinking Backspace in NYC in November, but I'm open to any suggestions.

Thanks very much to anyone who can help me out on either of these suggestions. And, bonus points to anyone who can identify which movie my blog post title came from.

And thanks for reading this. I know I've been absent for a while and it feels good to be back.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The things we shouldn't do as adults

As a woman of a certain age, contemplating a certain major birthday coming up next year, I'm painfully aware of how things don't work quite the same as they used to.

Like clothes. Honestly, get out of the junior section. Those clothes just aren't made for women with hips.

Like my body. I'm not going to say anything here because it is too depressing that I'm already starting to notice this.

Like recreation and entertainment. Over the weekend, we took our kids to a minor league baseball game with the boy scouts. We were having a great time -- we ate popcorn, we drank $6 beers, the kids tried to catch foul balls. And we were really amused when one of the fathers was asked to participate in the bat race in the middle of the 6th. Do you remember bat races? That's when you stand a bat up on the ground, put your head on the top of it, spin around it ten times, and then try to run in a straight line. All very funny.

So the time came and our man stepped out onto the field in front of a crowd of 6000. He and another man (also of our age group) completed their spins and headed for third. Except our friend veered to the left, fell down and hit the fence in front of the dugout, striking his head on the fence post. The crowd thought this was hilarious. When he rejoined our group, this man was seeing double and his whole left arm was numb and tingling.

We found out today that after they game, they went to the emergency room because he was having major trouble moving. After xrays, a CT scan and an MRI, they diagnosed a fracture of his C6 verterbrae. He will be in a neck brace for the next 6-8 weeks and may be facing surgery. All for a silly bat race.

So note for the future: leave kids' games to the kids.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Can you say 'Genre' with a British accent?

The majority of advice I've seen on how to decide what genre you write in is to look at the shelves in a bookstore or library and see where your book would fit. Generally, I think that's pretty clear advice.

Right up until today. I just got back from the library in the small Scottish town where I am staying on vacation. And the shelving system completely threw me off. Here were the categories for fiction:
  • Family Saga (large sweeping romances and ???)
  • Modern Woman (mostly chick lit, but also narrative memoir, misery memoirs, some romance, some historical -- got a bit confusing)
  • Modern Man (lad lit? Crime, suspense, thriller -- lots of crossover)
  • Crime (duh, yeah, can't get confused here)
  • Adventure (covered both suspense and thrillers)
  • Unknown (this is paranormal and included both fiction and non-fiction)
  • Teen (YA, graphic novels)
  • Sci Fi (this included fantasy)
  • Romance (strictly Mills and Boon, which is the UK version of Harlequin - think small paperback)
  • General Fiction (historical, literary, classics)
I had to ask the librarian how they decided where to put things if it crossed over (such as a YA book about vampires, which incidently were in Unknown, not Teen). She told me that it often came down to who was shelving the book. If there were two copies of a book, they would split them and put one in each area. So something like Michael Crichton would go in both Modern Man and Adventure. Anything they had trouble identifying went into General Fiction (the leftover section, if you will).

Based on these categories, where would you put your book?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Inspiration

My novel THE SHADOW SCRIBE began as a short story in a "Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy" course I completed in my senior year of college (and to be honest, I'm surprised I earned an A in that course because my short story was neither science fiction nor fantasy). It was the story of a woman who started telling a story in her sleep. Because it had a strong historical element, I set the story in Boston, which was the most historical city I knew at the time.

Shortly after I graduated, I packed up my wordprocessor (one of those crossover Smith Corona typewriters that had a 3 1/4" floppy drive) and went to Scotland on a 6-month student visa, intending to really live. And then write all about it. In six months, I never wrote a word. But what I did do was meet the man who would someday become my husband. I knew right away he was "the one" and he must have had similar feelings (even if he wouldn't admit it) because he brought me home to meet his parents. He grew up in a small village outside Edinburgh. We took the train to the town and walked to his house.

And we came to this:


Which opened to this:


Which finally led to this:


That's right. That's the house my new boyfriend brought me to. An absolutely gorgeous Georgian house in the Scottish countryside. Actually, I'm in that house at the moment, eighteen years later. I'm in the room on the second floor on the right end.

Walking into the house for the first time, I was not only completely intimidated, but I was totally in love. With the house. OK, the guy too. But as an American, I'd never encountered a place like it. And it was someone's house. Home, actually. Two parents, five kids, pets, antiques, piles of laundry, squabbles, and stuffed to the brim with knick knacks and more love than I'd encountered anywhere. Christmas at the house was amazing, as was our wedding reception.

I started having fantasies -- and serious discussions -- with my husband about maybe buying the house someday when his parents retired. Talk about an amazing place for kids to grow up (acres of gardens, woods, and a canal at the bottom of the property) and none of the siblings could stand the thought of it not staying in the family. But given the UK housing market, it is unlikely we could ever afford it. Still, it was fun to dream about.

But I also started thinking about how strange it would be to move in and change a place that everyone had known for 25 years. How could we redo the kitchen? Or dare to move the couch there?

As I had these thoughts, the writer's side of my brain suddenly came alive.

Inspiration!!!

That short story that I wrote so long ago sprung back to life. Boston? Hah! I had a historical location to rival no other. And the subplots of a woman moving into her husband's childhood home -- fertile ground for a writer! 

So what's my point, other than showing off the pictures of my lovely little vacation spot? (Just to rub it in, here's the view from my bedroom:


and a view of the town, including the ruined palace and the 750-year-old church:


My point is that you never know what will inspire, and ultimately, result in a finished project. Writers talk a lot about writing what you know. But I think it is infinitely more important to write what ignites you. THE SHADOW SCRIBE took on a whole new life when I was inspired by this house. Maybe four pages remain of my original short story, but there are literally hundreds of pages that are intimately tied to this house and how I feel about it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to dreaming of where I might move the couch if the house is ever mine.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is this seat taken?

I am about to embark on a 16-hour overnight journey with my husband and two children. And, of course, I am all stressed out. I've spent hours on the Continental website trying to sort out the seating, hoping that we might have a little extra room for my kids to stretch out and get some sleep (I have already accepted that I will get no sleep at all). At the moment, my kids and I are in one row -- 14 A, B and C. And my husband is in14 F, same row but by the window, separated from us by two strangers. I've already explained to him that we will be playing Rock-Paper-Scissors to see who gets to ride in the quiet seat.

It is no surprise that last night I dreamt about flying. And agents (because I have those kinds of dreams all the time). I dreamt that I won with Rock and was sitting quietly by the window while my husband dealt with Goldfish crackers and coloring books. And who sat down next to me? Janet Reid. And I was too terrified to say a word. I spent the entire trip debating whether I should volunteer that I wrote a book, because I didn't want to be one of those people. She was so cool that I didn't want to come across as uncool.

But Janet was REALLY nice. And very funny, just as you would expect. She drank a lot of gin. And shared my kids' goldfish crackers.

I woke up before I decided whether to mention my book or not. And now, in the waking world, I am kicking myself for missing an opportunity.

This just proves how blurred the line between imagination and reality can get for writers.

And what about you? Do you dream about your book? About agents?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Breaking the Habit

They say it takes fifteen days to make or break a habit. That is what I've been doing -- breaking the blogging habit. I haven't posted to this blog in 15 days. And I've done very little in the way of commenting on others, although I do go through my Google Reader every day. Why?

I have a love/hate relationship with blogging. I love the sense of community it provides, since writing can be a lonely business. I love reading what other writers have to say. I love hearing that I am not alone in the query wars. But I hate what blogging has done to my productivity and my state of mind.

Last spring, I was finishing the first draft of my WIP. It wasn't uncommon for me to write 3000 words a day.  I was dedicated to writing. I had a schedule and I kept it. I felt like a writer.

This spring, while I've been in the throes of querying, I've also been writing short stories for a magazine. Someone was actually paying me to write. And yet my productivity sucked. Seriously sucked. I had an editor waiting for material and yet it seemed like half my day was eaten up by reading and commenting on blogs, writing my own posts, and (this is the pathetic part) watching my stats and waiting for comments and then getting depressed by when I didn't get them.

Now I know that blogging is not supposed to be validation, just like I know I shouldn't take rejections personally. But I don't care who you are... everyone wants to feel liked and important. We want to feel like we are good at what we do. But when you're getting a lot of "Thanks for the query...but no." in your inbox, and when you are making the blogging effort and not getting results, it is hard not to let it get to you.

I get over-focused on things. And in this case, it was blogging. There are so many posts on how you should blog, how to build your following, how to be a good follower, how to be a good blog host, what to say, what not to say. I was trying to do it all. But some days, it just frustrated me to the point of paralysis.

So I made the decision to take a big step back. And it worked. On Monday, I finished my serial ("La Luna" will begin in Woman's Weekly on August 10) and sent in a nice invoice for it. Today, I got approval for another serial. I'm feeling like a writer again.

I'm not giving up completely on blogging. I will post occassionally, I will try to comment to any comments I receive, I will read all the blogs I follow, I will comment when I feel moved to do so (although this won't be as often because I mainly use the Google Reader which makes commenting harder). When I start my next book in September, I will start to look for a critique group. But for me, I have to remember that I am a writer first and everything else must bow to that.

What about you? Do you ever feel this way? Can we be forgiven for forsaking blogging?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How many queries does it take to get representation?

I'll admit I'm a numbers geek. I find statistics comforting. Recently, I put up a post about Persistence versus Denial, asking how many rejections a writer should get before giving up. And I had the most visitors I've had since I started blogging. The number of hits and the comments tell me that I'm not the only one looking for some hard numbers.

Because I am also a research geek, I've done some searching. And I've got some numbers for you. QueryTracker has a page listing their success stories. And on this page, they have links to interviews with writers who have gotten representation. Many of these writers have revealed how many queries they sent before getting their agent. I went through and tabulated the numbers from the last 30 interviews (where the writer answered that question). So here it is, sorted alphabetically by genre...

90      COMMERCIAL
118    FANTASY
46      FANTASY
4       FANTASY
20     HISTORICAL
50     LITERARY
60     MG
60     MG
53     MG
59     MYSTERY
40     PARANORMAL
30     ROMANCE
40     ROMANCE
25     ROMANCE
45     YA
47     YA
100   YA
26     YA
60     YA
102   YA
32     YA
50     YA
39     YA
106   YA
150   YA
20     YA
32     YA
75     YA
96     YA
24     YA SF

And since I admit to being a stats geek, let's break it down.

The average: 57 -- This means the average writer gets 57 rejections before getting an offer of representation
The minimum: 4 -- OK, I'm totally jealous, but really want to read that book.
The maximum: 150 -- Actually, this writer admitted it was between 150 and 200! Talk about perseverance!
The mode: 60 -- The most often recurring number.
The median: 47.5 -- The middle of the road, throwing out the highs and lows.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I feel SO MUCH BETTER!

Monday, May 24, 2010

I'm a Cover Girl!

OK, not really. But sorta!



The woman on this cover is not me, but Darcy Bussell, British ballerina. But see that little banner on the upper right hand corner? The "Compelling Mystery Serial" that starts today? That's me!

I'm in the depths of querying my novel (and have been for months) and we all know that means rejections. So I must take my joy and successes where I can. 350,000 people will be reading this magazine and maybe my story.

So.... yay!

Now I have to get back to working on the next serial. And framing the cover to put on my wall. It will make a nice change from the rejection letters.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do computers make for better writers?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to be a writer, you had to dust off your typewriter and stock up on ribbon and correction fluid. Or, even more arcane, pens and paper. It took physical, not just mental, effort to complete a manuscript, edit it, and then RETYPE or rewrite the entire thing. And then you had to physically mail it places.

We all know that the advent of computers and email accounts means that it is so much easier to be a writer. Write something once and boom, you can save it, edit it, and email it to every inbox out there. It's making for more writers.

But does the computer make for better writers?

I'm sitting at my desk working on part 2 of my latest serial. (OK, I was. Now I'm writing this. Must stop letting myself be distracted by Blogger.) As I wrote a paragraph, I decided the second sentence worked better as the last so I clicked and dragged it in to place. MUCH better. And that got me thinking...if I had been typing or handwriting my work, would I have made that change, scribbling in the margin or ripping the page out of the typewriter and starting fresh? Would I have kept going, making a note to fix it the next time through? Would I have forgotten about it? What if I changed my mind and wanted to move it back?

I write exclusively in Word, with the exception of crooked fragments written in a bedside notebook in the middle of the night. I can't compose on paper because I am a better writer for having a fluid medium with which to write. I try not to edit as I go, but for me, composing is a dynamic process. I write things down as they flow and then sit back and reorder them so that they work.

My computer makes me a better writer. I honestly don't know if I could complete a novel if I didn't have the technology.

What about you? Do you compose on the computer or long hand? If you use technology, do you think you would still be the writer you are if you had to use paper or a typewriter?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Persistence versus Denial

First of all -- 50 followers!! Woo-hoo! Thank you all for visiting. It's great to have you here.
I was recently reading a blog comment where someone wrote they had just received their 100th rejection. My first thought was "Maybe that person isn't a good writer and should just get the hint and give up already." But that thought was quickly followed by admiration of the persistence that writer showed.

How many queries do you send, how many rejections do you get before you give up? When is it dedication and tenancity, and when is it just not facing facts that it's not going to happen?

Janet Reid says to query widely, to query every agent that represents your genre. After all, you are searching  for someone who loves your work, a very subjective task. Poll fifty people and you'll get fifty different favorite books. So if you query 100 agents of the 750 agents in NYC alone, you're only hitting 13% of the agents. Doesn't sound quite so desperate when you think of it that way.

But then again, others get representation after querying 10 or 20 agents. Is their writing that much better? Did they just get lucky? You hear stories of sucess after of rejections, but how many bestselling authors own up to getting rejected by 100 agents before securing representation?

I don't have an answer to this and I'd love to hear some opinions. How far do you go? How many rejections do you get before you give up? Have you heard stories of someone securing representation and getting a book deal after high numbers of rejections?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Flirty Blogfest

I thought it would be fun to participate in Critique_This_WIP's Flirty Blogfest. My entry comes from Woman Overboard, my chick-lit WIP (which, in all honesty, has been IP for a long time). The MC, Junia, is on a cruise, trying to change her patterns of falling for bad men.
       I took off my shoes and slid my feet into the turquoise pool. The water was warm, and the ripples I created threw lights all around. It was hypnotic. For a moment, I did nothing but watch the glowing water. I reached into my bag and took out the pack of paper that I always carried for origami emergencies. I folded a little duck and released it across the pool. As it rocked on the waves, I folded another and sent it on its way. Before long, there were six little ducks serenely floating on the now-still water.
      “You're going to block the filter with those.”
     A voice in the dark made me jump so high I almost fell in. I looked around and saw a man in a staff uniform moving toward me. I was about to apologize when I saw him give me the up-and-down, lingering for a moment on my cleavage, which he had a good view of from his position above me. I deliberately gave him the up-and-down. What I saw was worth looking at. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair that curled up just a bit where it brushed his white collar. His blue eyes matched the glowing water and he watched me with a slightly arrogant smile. I knew his type. There was something about the glint in his eye that told me he was used to women checking him out.
     “I'll retrieve them.”
     “Even that one?” he asked, pointing to one at the middle of the pool.
     “Even if I have to swim for it.”
     “In that?" he nodded at the satin skirt I'd hiked up around my knees.
     “No, I guess I'll just have to take it off.” I held his gaze.
     “Now there's an idea,” he said with a different glint in his eye. He sat down on a deck chair and held out his hand. “I'm Max.”
     “My name is Junia,” I said. When I took his hand, warmth shot up my arm and through my body. I swear the water around my legs almost started boiling. But there was no way I was going to show him that. I quickly folded a boat and launched it toward the flock.
     “Neat trick,” he said.
     “Origami.”
     “You're welcome. Will you make me one?”
     I studied him for a moment, trying to decide what to make. I took a sheet and carefully, willing my hands to be steady as rocks, folded and refolded it. I handed the shark to him, which he took with a smile.
     “And what about you?” he asked.
     Again, I studied him silently before starting on another sheet. It took quite a few steps plus another sheet of paper; he watched me without speaking. I plucked my little boat out of the water and added the new figure before holding it up. He took one look at the man holding the spear and burst out laughing before falling back on the lounge chair, hand to chest as though he'd been speared himself.
     “Are you trying to tell me something?” he asked, propping himself up on one elbow. He looked gorgeous. Must resist!
     “Not at all,” I said sweetly. “Now if you'll excuse me,” I said, standing up and gathering my skirt in my hands, “I have some waterfowl to retrieve.”
     “Allow me,” Max said, and in one move, was off the lounger and dove into the pool, shoes and all. He surfaced, gathering the bobbing birds carefully while treading water. He swam back to the edge and held them up to me.
     “You know,” he said, shaking the water from his thick hair and chiselled cheekbones, “there aren't many women who could get me to jump in a pool with all my clothes on.” He stood up and his white shirt clung to him, showing a stomach a six-pack would be jealous of.
     “That's me,” I said with a coolness that belied the heat I felt inside. “Junia Wetherby, manipulator of men and paper.” With that, I turned and walked away from the pool, leaving him laughing in the cool, blue water.

Friday, May 14, 2010

All in my control

Happy Friday!

On Saturday, we are supposed to go on a boy scout campout. So, of course, it is absolutely throwing down the rain here in San Antonio. Serious rain. Like 4 inches in the past two hours and now many of the roads in our area are flooded and impassable. I am SO not sleeping in a tent on the ground tomorrow night.

A few days ago, I sent off part one of the serial I am writing on spec for a British woman's magazine. I heard back from the fiction editor saying that she and the editor-in-chief loved it. They enjoyed it so much in fact, that they asked if I could make it four parts, instead of three. I, of course, said YES! And then went back to my synopsis and said hmmmm...

The trick with serials is that each part must end on a cliffhanger note. After all, you've got to hook the reader enough to make them remember your story and want to shell out the cover price next week and the week after to see what happens. So making my story a four-parter is not just about expanding the story, but doing it in a way that gives a new cliff hanger at the right time (3800 words per part).

As I sat at my computer trying to figure out where the story could go, I found smiling. What was that feeling creeping over me? I barely recognized it. In my six months of revision, I hadn't experienced it in a while. And then I remembered -- it was that gleeful, god-like feeling of creating a world, characters, breathing life into them, making them do what I want them to do, putting them in horrible or wonderful situations and seeing how they deal with it.

Writers are given a special gift -- the ability to control things. In a corporate time management workshop I attended years ago, we were told "You can control everything except for two things: time and other people." As a writer, I get to control just that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some lives to play with.

And you? Do you get that feeling of power when you write?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Five Questions, Five answers

Laurel at Laurel's Leaves tagged me to give Five Answers to Five Questions. I've seen this meme around a lot recently and I'm glad Laurel tagged me because I'd already been thinking how I would answer. The 'five years from now' question really has me wondering because I never end up where I thinking I'm going to.

What were you doing five years ago?

  • Settling into our new house in Leeds, England
  • Watching both my stepmother and my mother-in-law battle breast cancer (and win)
  • Trying to convince the paediatrician that my son’s food aversions were not ‘just a phase’
  • Writing The Shadow Scribe with some purpose for the first time
  • Setting up a music program at a Mommy and Me-type group

 Where would you like to be five years from now?
  • Writing for a living, whether as a published author or a freelancer, so that I can be there for my children when needed and still contribute financially to my family’s future. And of course, do what I love.
  • Taking a family trip of a lifetime to Africa
  • Supporting my children as they move into middle school and high school
  • Traveling to Japan for several weeks on my own
  • Getting a higher writing degree (MFA, MA, PhD?) so I can teach writing

 What's on your To-Do list today?
  • Pilates
  • Work on part two of my serial
  • Make an appointment at the spa to finally use my gift certificates from November
  • Take my daughter for testing to see if she skips kindergarten
  • Water the flower beds

 What snacks do you enjoy?
  • Guacamole and chips
  • Nutty chewy granola bars
  • Life cereal
  • Popcorn
  • Frozen raw cookie dough chunks

 What five things would you do if you were a billionaire? (I'd actually do these if I were a millionaire)
  • Fly first class. I’ve had enough of international flights in coach with two kids.
  • Buy up land in cities and suburbs and put it in trust so we have green spaces, not half-empty strip malls.
  • Have homes near all of family members (UK and US) so that visiting becomes easier
  • Give vast amounts of money to research into Autism, mesothelioma, and breast cancer
  • Set up/donate to existing foundations for bringing the arts (music, art, theatre, and of course, writing) back into schools.

I suppose I should tag others now. I personally like tags and awards, but worry that if I tag or award others, they'll be all like "I don't have time for this stuff!" So let me know in the comments -- how do you feel about tags and awards? Do they make blogging fun or is it just one more thing you don't have time for?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Story Idea Generators

While The Shadow Scribe is out on query, I need to move on and keep writing. I know I should start the next Big One, but I just can't bring myself to do it yet. I started a long post on why that is, but it was too heavy for a Tuesday, so we'll save it for another day.

Instead, I'm moving on to some short stories. I am lucky to have a relationship with a weekly British woman's magazine that publishes short stories. Woman's Weekly have published two of my stories (2006, 2009) and part one of my first serial will hit the newsstand next week (serials run 3-4 parts of 3800 words each). (If you want to see some excerpts, head on over to my website.) WW recently OK'd another serial idea  so I just sent the first part for their approval. As I wait for word from the editor (yes, one more reason to refresh my inbox 30 times an hour), I need something quick to distract me.

But the question is "Where to Start?" Most of my short story ideas just come out of the blue but sometimes, like this week, I needed a jumping off point. When that happens, I turn to a story idea generator. At first, I was skeptical of the generators, which randomly pair up character, conflict and setting. Some go as far as adding themes, beginnings and endings. Results can be cliched, strange, or just plain nonsense. But for me, the results make me think.

A few months back, I used Cally Taylor's short story generator and it gave me: a business man, a playground, regains consciousness. Naturally that begs the question of what a businessman is doing in a playground. A pedofile? A devoted father? A developer looking at tearing it down and building condos? After musing on that for a moment, the idea for "Know Thyself," my first three part serial was born.

This weekend, I turned to the Seventh Sanctum Quick Story Idea generator. While some of these combinations were way too out there for me (lighthearted tragedy about an unbalanced princess?), I kept seeing the character of "ethical smuggler." It gave me a story idea - hopefully perfect for a 2000 word short for the magazine - that will be my project for the next few days.

The nice thing about short stories is that they give more immediate gratification. I know I won't be editing my story for months at a time. I know that if the magazine rejects it, I've only wasted a few days, not years of my life. And they pay. So I get to feel like my writing is contributing a little to my family.

And you? Have you used any story generators or writing prompt sites, whether for novel ideas or short stories? Do you ever distract yourself from your WIP by writing shorter works?