This is my fourth year of participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. (It also marks the fourth anniversary of this website, since being able to post weekly updates, as well as having a complete professional profile for the Write-a-thon, was an added incentive for setting up my own author site.) As mentioned in the goals section of my Write-a-thon page, I would have preferred to be drafting something new during the next six weeks, since it’s easier to get a real sense of accomplishment when you can count words or chapters written, but finishing the final edits for She-Wolf has to be my priority this summer.
I’ve often talked about finding the editing phase very enjoyable (and even downright addictive!), especially the fine tweaking and polishing that goes into getting the language just right. But one difficulty with this stage of the writing process (for me, in any case) is that it can be very hard to accurately estimate how long those kinds of edits will take. When you carefully work through a chapter and think you’re happy with it, only to spot a number of additional things you want to change when you come back to it a week later, it makes it hard to set deadlines.
No doubt part of that is due to being afflicted with chronic perfectionism, but I can’t discount the fact that being in a slightly different frame of mind when you pick something up can help you to see it in a different light. For instance, I’ve found that looking at a manuscript not only in print, but in actual book form, helps even more with shifting fully into ‘reader mode’. Continue reading
I recently learned about this feature documentary about Ursula K. Le Guin and the fundraiser that the filmmaker, Arwen Curry, is currently running through Kickstarter. It looks like a wonderful project, and Arwen Curry has been filming and working closely with Le Guin for a number of years; the film is scheduled to come out in 2017. The project has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, but to get the funds from the grant released, the producers have to raise the balance of their budget, which is $200,000. While they set their initial Kickstarter goal for $80,000, they’ve already doubled that, and with two more weeks to go, it looks like there’s a good chance they’ll get the full amount and then be able to focus entirely on finishing the film — I’ve got my fingers crossed that they’ll make it!
As anyone who knows me (or who’s read much on this site) is well aware, Le Guin is both my favorite author and my greatest inspiration as a writer. It may seem that I go on about her a bit much, but it’s hard to put into words the significance of the epiphany I had when I first discovered her work. As I mention in my bio here, it was because of her that I learned that there was such a thing as social science fiction, and realized that all these story ideas I had running around in my head fit perfectly into that subgenre. (And one could argue that much of my fantasy is essentially social SF with a fantasy-type setting and a few other elements that give it that fantasy feel instead.)
Because Le Guin writes both SF and fantasy and a wide variety of other things — including poems, essays, plays, contemporary fiction, and children’s picture books — she also provided an example of the kind of writer I want to be, since I’m interested in writing many things and wouldn’t want to be pigeon-holed into any category. And as soon as I was old enough to fully appreciate the brilliance of her style, it also contributed to inspiring me to strive toward that level of mastery as a writer. Continue reading
When it comes to television, I’m pretty much a PBS addict, but I do occasionally watch other channels. One of my guilty pleasures is watching TLC, since I like some of the programs having to do with fashion, like the makeover shows and shows about wedding dresses. (I’ve become a fan of the designer, Pnina Tornai — some of her dresses are amazing! — and I named Crea’s cousin in How to Steal a Demigod ‘Penina’ as an homage to her.) On one episode of Say Yes to the Dress, the sales consultant’s reaction to a comment made by a member of the bride-to-be’s entourage is hilarious. People can certainly say odd things when criticizing a dress and saying what it reminds them of (or describing what they think the dress should look like), and in this case the odd objection caused the poor consultant to look both confused and exasperated and exclaim, “What does that even mean?!” The way she drew out the word ‘mean’ for maximum effect made it particularly funny, and also made the phrase and her intonation stick in my mind.
So I’ve been buried in copy edits for the first two volumes of In the Shadow of the She-Wolf, and it never ceases to amaze me how little things can sneak through in a manuscript that’s been picked over and edited many times. Some of those sneaky proofreading errors are fairly understandable, such as a replacement of one word with a similar one that’s still a real word with a correct spelling. My writing buddy whom I sent an ARC to caught one of those — ‘pouring’ in place of ‘poring’, when it means going over something in detail. (Like copy edits!) Since I normally pride myself on my copy editing skills (and the first agent who read a full manuscript of mine commented on how clean that manuscript was), it’s still embarrassing, but it’s not as if that’s a word most of us think about very often. Much worse — and I have no idea why it wasn’t corrected earlier — was the replacement of the word ‘series’ with ‘serious.’ Three other people (in addition to myself) read that, and not a single one of us caught it? Seriously? 😉
I’ve come to the conclusion that even the most picky readers (who can be very scathing in their criticism!) sometimes get caught up in the story or are focusing on one aspect of the writing more than another, and miss things that should be obvious. As I mentioned before, some of the little bugs that make me cringe are repetitive things, like the same word appearing three or four times in a paragraph or two when it could be reworded to avoid that repetition, or using the same speech tag or a very similar description of someone’s expression only a few paragraphs apart, even if those things might not really bother a reader who is caught up in the story. Even more embarrassing is when you come across a sentence or phrase — which might have been intended as a poetic metaphor or a creative way of capturing a feeling, or might just have been something which should have been simple yet didn’t come out that way — and realize you’ve been skimming over it because it seems to capture the gist of what you intended. But when you take a good hard look at what the words on the page actually say, you find yourself thinking, “What does that even mean???!!!”
Here’s the cover for White Sky, the first volume of In the Shadow of the She-Wolf. The cover was ready some time ago, and it’s the final copy edits that have ended up taking more time than I’d anticipated. I’m rather surprised at how many little things I’ve found that I want to tweak in a manuscript that has already been pored over countless times, over a span of many years. (Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, considering how much of a perfectionist I am!) 😮
One thing that’s made it tricky is trying to approach the edits as if the book were written by someone else, and putting on that last polish — clearing up spots that could be even smoother or clarifying small details — without trying to change the author’s style. Repeatedly trying to update the manuscript to match the growth and evolution of my style is what put me in danger of spending my entire life writing and rewriting the same book in the first place(!), so there had to be a place to draw a line. To find that balance, I’m certainly trying to make the book the best it can be, but I’m also endeavoring to respect the younger version of myself who wrote it. As I once mentioned here, I believe you have to look at it like an artist who can show off their paintings and remark that some were done in their blue phase or their abstract phase — which they’ve moved on from — and still be proud of those paintings and the way they reflect that stage of their journey as an artist. Continue reading
It’s become common for literary agents to use a ‘no response means no’ policy in which they only reply to queries that interest them and no longer send out rejections in response to all the other queries they receive. (So if you’re one of those writers who aspires to wallpaper a room with rejection slips, you’re really out of luck now — even with the switch to email over snail mail you could still print them and stick them on the wall, but if you don’t even get anything back . . . Well, let’s just say you’ll have to find something else to decorate that room with.) 😉
The serious issue, of course, is that most writers find this lack of response adds to their stress level for a number of obvious reasons. It can make you feel as if you’re sending your carefully prepared submissions out into a void, and you can’t necessarily be certain that your query was rejected; there are always cases where someone receives a request for materials six months or more after they queried. (Heck, there’ve even been cases where someone got a request after so much time that the manuscript had already been picked up by another agent and published!) So it makes it harder to get a sense of where you are in the process and how many of your queries are truly outstanding versus those that have probably been rejected. (But maybe not.) And unless the agent has an online submission form that confirms receipt, there’s also that nagging question of whether one’s query might have been lost or gotten trapped in an overzealous spam filter.
I’m pretty sure most writers really don’t like this policy — and would choose a definite rejection over uncertainty — but I’ve noticed that when the subject comes up, many people insist that it’s perfectly reasonable, and are quick to point out that of course all good literary agents must devote most of their time to their clients, while they don’t owe queriers anything at all. Although those things are very true, I don’t believe ‘no response means no’ is a necessary evil we should blithely accept. Furthermore, all the emphasis on the need to be thick-skinned shouldn’t stop us from being sympathetic to writers who find the process exasperating. Neither should we refrain from engaging in conversations about whether there might actually be ways to improve the situation. So while it’s not my aim to ruffle any feathers, and I won’t say that ‘non-respondence’ is necessarily a sloppy or unprofessional practice (as some people will suggest), I will say that I think there are other ways to manage the situation that are more professional as well as more considerate. Continue reading
I thought I would share the laundry list of reasons for choosing to undertake the publication of my three-volume SF novel, In the Shadow of the She-Wolf. Though some aspects of the situation I found myself in with this book are probably uncommon, I’m sure the issues I’ve considered here may strike a chord with many other authors. Some of those issues relate to market-related challenges, others are mostly personal, and some are a combination of both.
There are at least two things that make the situation surrounding publication of She-Wolf unusual. The first is the amount of time I’ve spent working on this story; I’ve been pulling this book out and rewriting it on and off throughout my entire adult life — ever since I wrote the first sparse draft during my last year in high school — and that affects both my relationship with the novel and how much patience I have for the process at this point. The second is that I’m one of the owners and editors of a small press. Although I started the press last year with a couple of my siblings (and we’re beginning by publishing several of our father’s books as we learn the ropes), it is a bona fide independent press that will hopefully publish the works of many authors over many years.
While it was in the back of my mind that it would make it easier if I chose to go that way at some point, the business was definitely not created for the purpose of publishing my own books. So in a sense, having our press publish this novel is a hybrid between being published by a small press and self-publishing, making it like becoming a hybrid of a hybrid. (Maybe that’s a ‘double hybrid’? Or a ‘hybrid squared’?) In any case, it also means I’ve already started to acquire a bit of experience in book publishing, and I’m not doing it on my own. Continue reading
There’s been a lot of talk about hybrid authors in the last few years, and I’ve noticed that a number of authors who’ve had real success with their traditionally published works have also chosen that option, as well as writers who are just starting out. A hybrid author, for anyone who’s not familiar with the term, is one who has some books published traditionally — i.e. by a major publisher that only works with agented authors — and also self-publishes some of their work. (It doesn’t mean a wicked fairy turned the writer into a Toyota Prius.) 😉
It’s certainly always been my plan to pursue traditional publication for all of my novels. Maximizing the exposure as well as the recognition for every book is very important to me. (It also matters when it comes to things like the chance of being nominated for major awards.) But around the same time that I started seeing frequent references to the hybrid author concept, I also discovered — from perusing writers’ forums, blogs, and other online resources about writing — that the traditional route to publishing has become even more uncertain. After all the years of being told by countless people that if you’ve written a really good book, it will definitely sell, it was a big blow to find out that it isn’t necessarily true. The reality is that no matter how good a book is, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find an agent who wants to represent it. This is because an agent may honestly love your manuscript but decline to take it on if they don’t feel it’s commercially viable enough to sell to the publishers — and the big publishers have become extra cautious for purely economic reasons.
When I learned this, I realized that having the hybrid option out there — and knowing that it has become more respectable and more widely accepted — is the ace in the hole. By that I don’t mean something secret that you’re holding back, but something you can fall back on if things don’t go as planned, especially when you’re undertaking a risky venture. And it’s a backup plan that makes all that uncertainty less nerve-wracking, because it means that if you’re unable to sell a book you really have confidence in — perhaps only because the agents or editors are too worried that it may not have broad commercial appeal — it doesn’t have to be relegated to the proverbial trunk after all. Continue reading
I’m excited to report that the first issue of the anthology, Straeon, edited by M. David Blake, has finally been released. It includes my novelette, “Rains of Craifa, Figure 1 – Girl with Shavlas”. (Just in case you’re wondering, a novelette is a long short story between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Another FYI — while the following discussion relates what inspired the story and discusses several facets of the theme, it doesn’t include any spoilers. ;))
This is a story I wrote a number of years ago (like many of my writing projects), and it was originally entitled “Rainy Season”. The title was changed because — not surprisingly — that one has already been used numerous times. It’s also a positive change since I like how the new one adds a little extra to the story by providing a hint about what happens afterwards. Also, although some of my own titles are simple, I actually have a fondness for long, elaborate titles, both because they are so distinctive and because they may be quite poetic as well. (A couple of memorable examples I often think of are Delany’s “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones” and “Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand”; Harlan Ellison has also had quite a few very long and very unique titles that are pretty tough to forget.)
Naturally one of the advantages to pulling out a story after having not looked at it for some time is that it helps you view it objectively. (As I get older I seem to find it easier to do that even if the manuscript in question has only sat for a couple of months . . . I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not! ;)) Being objective also helps make one more aware of things like symbolism. When my sister was studying Literary Criticism for her MA in English and showed me some of her assignments, I confess we laughed over how the serious critics often dissect a story in such depth that the resulting analysis seems absurdly elaborate (and sometimes rather far-fetched). The ‘lit crit’ folks would probably have a field day with this particular story, as there are many layers of symbolism and many ways in which all the elements tie together. Continue reading
After delving into loglines and discussing what I’ve learned about them (here and here), I thought I would try illustrating how one can use a logline as the foundation for constructing a query. One problem we often see when writers first attempt a query is that they throw in everything but the kitchen sink — names of numerous characters, places, and objects, an entire paragraph of back story, a long synopsis-y description of the plot that tries to bring in all the secondary plot lines, etc..
The key is finding the central plot line and choosing the most significant elements to focus on, and then developing that enough to make it both clear and intriguing, without trying to include and explain everything. What makes this far more difficult than it sounds is that when you’re looking at your own story, which you know so well, it’s hard to stand back and see it objectively enough to break it all down into something so brief. Naturally, you think all of it is important (otherwise you wouldn’t have written all those words). 😉
This is why starting with a logline, in which you’ve already pared the story down to that essential kernel at the heart of it, can be helpful. So I’m going to walk through the process here, in the hopes that this may make the task easier for anyone who’s having a hard time wrestling with the big bad query beast. Continue reading
Last year I did a blog post about contests and about composing pitches or ‘loglines’. In that discussion I summarized what I’d learned from my research about loglines, and illustrated how they may be of different lengths and levels of development, depending on what’s required. Now I’m digging a little deeper to explore how to write more effective loglines and also how to use them as a tool for looking objectively at a novel — which, among other things, can make it far easier to tackle writing a query letter and a synopsis.
While revisiting the subject of loglines due to the upcoming Baker’s Dozen auction at Miss Snark’s First Victim, I’ve learned some new things that I feel have given me a greater insight into what makes a compelling logline that will grab a reader’s attention. This is mostly thanks to Holly Bodger, aka ‘The Logline Guru’. In the past few years Holly has imparted her wisdom about loglines at MSFV, both generously offering her comments on all the logline critique rounds and sharing her thoughts in a number of posts about the problems she sees in the participants’ entries.
In her basic guidelines for composing a logline, Holly gives this formula: “When [MAIN CHARACTER] [INCITING INCIDENT], he [CONFLICT]. And if he doesn’t [GOAL] he will [CONSEQUENCES].” While this exact order may not be what works best for every story, Holly also stresses that “loglines are stronger when they come in the order that has the greatest effect“. In any case, the capitalized components all need to be included. And in critiquing loglines it sometimes seems that the best advice is to suggest that the writer go back to the drawing board and use that formula to figure out exactly what those components are in their own book. Continue reading