Tag Archives: Novel

Getting There on My Own Time

I’m not the fastest thinker in the world. I need time to cook my thoughts, even if sometimes it takes weeks, or months, or years to find my answers. There is no hurrying the process.

Writing my pitch for my query letter has been like this. I chip away, a little at a time, gradually creating a more coherent, enticing product. Now and then, I impatiently check the oven to see if it is done. Still not there, but a little closer, maybe edible even. Small victories and trust that if I continue to follow the steps in the recipe, it will be ready soon enough.

For you seasoned query writers, a question: Do you write the synopsis before sending out your queries or wait to receive a request for one? Yes, that’s the impatient part of me asking. I fully expect the answer I don’t want to hear, but that’s okay, maybe I need it for motivation.

This week’s extracurricular activity: Query writing, oh the fun!

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Calling All Emerging Writers!

Umm, yes, please!  Free SF Writers Conference admission ($625), count me in.  And, you too. If you’re an “emerging writer” check out the scholarship submission details. Since it’s a shot in the dark, I don’t mind sharing the love. If you win, you owe me a firsthand account of the whole experience.

Here’s my “Why I Write” blurb I just spit out. One of my major rules for entering this kind of thing is to dive in head first, not overthink it, and see what happens…

Why I Write

I write because there are words inside me trying to get out. If I do not write them down, they swirl around my head, a chaotic mess. I write because each word that touches paper, or the pixels of a computer screen, lightens the weight I carry, letting me sleep at night. By letting my words out, I think more clearly, I connect more easily with the world around me. Writing is the home that roots me in the world outside my head.

I write in journals, notebooks, Word, Pages, WordPress, emails, text messages. When I do not write, I have the jitters of a sedentary athlete. I cannot think straight, my brain taps anxiously. Writing is a daily part of my existence. Sometimes, a day sneaks by too busy or too tired for my words. Those days feel off, terrible, somehow wasted.

Inexplicably, I went years without really writing.

As a child, I wrote all the time, half-finished stories read to friends and family, left abandoned in little piles of paper in all my drawers and special boxes decorated with ribbons and glitter. As a teenager, I wrote poetry, angst-ridden heaps of words about love and life traced in spiraling mazes around the edges of book covers. In college, I wrote passionately about human rights, true tales of torture, human trafficking, sweat shops, international relations.

Then, I graduated to write nothing, or at least what felt like nothing.

Years went by where all I wrote were the economic analysis reports required of my job. Ten plus pages a day left no room for creative writing, save for the occasional journal entry about homeless people in Berkeley or a string of words to inspire me later. Finally, came the year on the train, commuting from Sacramento to Berkeley, when boredom drove me to write again. Another half-finished story, a passing hobby for the train alone.  Those years left dark and jumbled spaces in my brain.

Finally, a shift in jobs, an inspiring book, the birth of a blog, and Nanowrimo all converged to motivate me to write again. I have not looked back. Words pour out daily, my therapy in a world that often makes my head hurt.  I write to cope, to live, to process, to escape, and most importantly, to dream. My words give me a space where life can be anything, where I can crawl away and live inside my head.  Perhaps most importantly, my words give me hope for a future where I write to live, not just live to write.

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D-O-N-E (For Now)

Oh man, if I could count the number of times I’ve said I was done with my book in the past 6 months, well, I guess I would feel like a liar. But, seriously, this time I mean it!

Six full times through on my own, seven readers, eight if you include myself. 69,536 words. 184 single spaced pages. D-O-N-E.

I’m not allowing myself to read it again right now.  I’m of the opinion I could make subtle changes to my words for centuries. I’m ready to ship this bad boy out and get started on something fresh, something new.

So, in the spirit of publicly decreed focus, here is my remaining to-do list:

1. Format the sucker. You know, double spaced, indents, all that fun crap I should have been doing from day one of Nanowrimo.  You live, you learn.

2. Write my generic query letter to be tweaked per agent. Oh yeah, and I guess write a synopsis too.

3. Enter my last line edits from my two superstar remaining readers.

4. Send the beast out, (starting with the 31 agents I compiled last May).

5. Wait, hope, wait, start something new.

There you have it, a plan, a little excitement, a little trepidation, a little self-doubt, a little self-congratulations. A little of everything really.

I know in reality, if it’s ever going to be read by a larger audience, it’s not done, it will have more editing, more rewriting as it moves through the various states of either traditional or self-publishing. But at least for today, it’s D-O-N-E.

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Why E-Publishing Calls My Name

Let’s be honest.  We all prefer traditional publishing.  You know, a real, hard copy of our books available in bookstores nationwide, worldwide even.  Just the idea of holding my book in my hands, tangible, validated by some credentialed person who does not know me, gives me that funny, excited feeling in my stomach, butterflies. However, I keep getting the same little message presented to me by the universe.

If I can’t get an agent, at least e-publish and put it out there.

A coworker friend is married to a writer who just finished a non-fiction book.  They live in a local university community and are friends with people that are both published and publishers.  Instead of querying agents, her husband plans to simply e-publish and hope he can build an audience before approaching or being approached by the necessary people.  His strategy is not unusual.  I read about authors almost daily that e-published, found readers, then published traditionally.

Then, of course, there are all the agent blogs that criticize e-publishing.  A few try to suggest it’s a viable option for some, but the undertone is always condescending, like it is still some kind of vanity press.  My friend pointed out that of course they feel this way, e-publishing diminishes the value of an agent.  Numbers speak to publishers for themselves.  This recent Forbes article sums up the indie publishing debate quite nicely.

Still, I would be thrilled to have an agent fighting for my book.  I’m planning to query the little list of agents I assembled in the spring, thirty some-odd people that represent successful works similar to mine.  But, when I reach the end of that list, rejection rite of passage likely complete, I will be left with the choice to e-publish and put it out there, so perhaps, some people who like it will find it in the sea of other novice, e-published authors.

If you have e-published, how did you decide to price your work?  What platform(s) did you choose?  With what success?  I’m inclined to charge just a dollar or give it away for free, because really, my goal is not so much to make money, but rather to begin the foundation for a lifelong career.  Other books will follow.  I know this is a debated topic, so I am curious to hear your thoughts.

Of course, the goal is this, but maybe in the beginning, it’s better to start somewhere than nowhere at all? (And, yes, this is a recycled pic from my leftover pile of summer reading I wish I had time for!)

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How do you really feel about your writing?

I’m halfway through rereading my book.  I’m moving slowly because life has taken back over. Teaching, family, friends, my smelly dog.  While the pace is frustrating, I’m trying to relax and just accept that it will all happen with time.  This is my first book.  The hurry is self-created.

R-E-L-A-X.

A couple questions keep resurfacing, that I am very curious to know how others feel.  The first, do you ever really love your writing?  I want honest answers.  It won’t sound arrogant to me to hear yes, or self-depricating to hear no, I’m just curious because I bounce all over the place, even within the same piece.  While I love to write, I’m not sure I love what I write.

Some days I think it’s good, others I recognize I still have room to grow.  Probably, it is some mixture of both good and need for growth, I get that.  I just wonder whether writers commonly like their own work or continue to be critical of it even after they finish.  Other than reading for flow and mistakes, I’m done with this book.  I want to move on, I feel like I will do better with a fresh story.

To be clear, I’m by no means saying my story is bad or that I’m giving up on it, I just don’t know if it’s unusual to feel so mixed about my writing.  I’m proud I did it, I think it’s readable, I like the plot, I just know I’ll also get better as I go.  I’ve decided that if I can’t get an agent/publisher, which I know is highly possible, I want to e-publish just to share it, to put it out there, to help me grow.

So, here are my questions for writers:

How have you felt about your writing when you’ve finished?  Confident, unsure, both?

What e-publishing communities have you enjoyed the most?  I spent some time on smashwords and amazon today.  Not sure what’s the best option, although as usual, I’m a couple steps ahead of myself because I still need to finish and at least submit it to some agents for the ritualistic rite of passage.

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You Like Me, I’ll Like You Back!

Shameless plug time– like me on my writing Facebook page and I’ll return the favor wherever you direct me.  Gearing up to send out my queries in the next couple months, I am reminded of a conversation I had with David Henry Sterry of the Book Doctors.  He underlined the importance of developing a writing platform before contacting agents and a Facebook page was one of his biggest recommendations.  So, if you don’t have one, get one, and I’ll like you too!

Thanks and Happy Sunday.

Sharing is caring! (Pretty please…)

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Query Secrets: Knowing Your Characters at the End of Your Book

In fourth and fifth grade, when we want to add on to something someone else has already said, we begin with sentence starters like, “I’d like to piggyback off what so-and-so said,” or “I concur with so-and-so because…”  In the same spirit of properly acknowledging other people’s thoughts, today I would like to piggyback off what Descent Into Slushland shared recently about the importance of knowing your characters when writing your query.

Basically, he suggests that writing a good query hinges on knowing your characters instead of attempting to outline the plot.  He has some great points and examples, so instead of trying to recapture his ideas, I recommend clicking the link above and reading his post yourself. Interestingly, his points inspired me to make a list of the characteristics of my two main characters, Kristen and Jake.  We all think we know our characters, but sometimes we need check-ins to keep ourselves honest, or at least I do.

What I discovered was actually amazing.  I found a small hole in my book that I was able to fill with an additional short chapter, adding another 1,000 words to my word count in the process and helping to create a fuller understanding of my characters and their relationship with each other. Sure, I outlined my characters before I began my book, but they changed through my writing, creating slightly different people than the ones I started with.  Instead of tweaking those original descriptions, I just kept my evolving ideas of who they were in my head, which ended up leaving a gap between who I thought they were and who I wrote they were.

I can tell my query is going to be a lot stronger as a result of this reflection too, although I still refuse to give it my full energy until I finish my final read of my book, (here is my pitch as it stands now).  I guess what Descent into Slushland helped me realize is that written check-ins with your characters throughout your writing are important, not just in the beginning or middle.  Of all the advice I have read on query writing, this has been most useful for the way my own brain works. Thanks Descent!

I wanted to share how informal and quick these check-ins can be. Instead of agonizing over finding beautiful words or painting an entire picture, I just typed in a stream-of-consciousness, errors and all.  What I discovered was a small hole in my book and a good foundation on which to base my query.

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Big Girl Writing Advice Needed: The End, Again.

Sitting in the little cramped attic bedroom of our ocean house, watching out over the waves from a slanted window, I’ve finished my book, again.  When I say finished, I mean I have read it all the way through, adding to it here and there, helping it grow by another 8,000 words, better developing characters, trimming superfluous passages, you get the picture.  It now stands proudly at 67,350 words, hopefully enough to be a short novel, (although, with any luck, it might grow some more as I revisit my rewrites to make sure everything flows).

So, here is my big girl writing question– do I need to reread the entire thing again or just all the highlighted sections where I made changes or added words?

I know everyone has different writing styles, but it really helps to hear what others do as I work my way through the completion of my first book, (which is all still new territory for me).  I really want it to be the best work I’m capable of in this moment, but I also dread rereading the whole darn thing again for what would be the fourth time, imagining myself stuck in reshaping and reshaping for eternity.

Advice?

Please and thanks.

No real time for mermaids, or my less-than-stellar drawings of them, until Expecting Happiness is finished.

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Mermaidspiration

Staring into the turquoise waters off Kauai, our catamaran bouncing over the waves, I imagined a mermaid swimming alongside us.  She was beautiful but also frightening.  Seducing men, and maybe some women, to follow her beneath the surface.  It was then I decided to attempt my first fantasy story, a dark siren tale of two worlds, one on land, one beneath icy, deep waters.  Not Little Mermaid, or Splash, or anything of the sort.  Something more hypnotic, dangerous.

Nearly a week later, looking out at the Oregon coast, my imagination has already crafted these worlds and its two central characters, notes scribbled throughout pages and pages of my little purple notebook.  The mermaid, above, and a young man, soon to be missing to the human world, just another kid swallowed by the Pacific Northwest, little flyers posted in the towns, asking if anyone has seen him, assuming he ran away or got lost camping, like the others.

What I have learned during recent months, while finishing up Expecting Happiness, is that I have to strike while the iron is hot.  Stories come and go from my mind and in order for them to come to fruition I have to get to work immediately.  I was already researching a mainstream, realistic fiction project with a different twist on the tormented world of human trafficking.  I had it roughly outlined, but then time passed while I finished my first book and now mermaids sound more appealing.

So, even as I finish that last read through my recent rewrites and prepare to send out queries, I’m also writing about mermaids.  I fear that if I wait, this idea will be swallowed up by another.  Besides, staring out at the crashing waves beyond my window, inspiration abounds.  I just wish Expecting Happiness would finish itself, because writing is the fun part, editing/revising, not so much.  I’ll leave you with a small peak at my dark mermaid.

***

He had watched her every night for nearly a week, unable to take his eyes off her as she swam, naked in the icy ocean.  From the cover of his driftwood structure, he peered out at her, squinting to focus on her smooth skin beneath the moonlight.  The first night, he thought she was a figment of his imagination, the result of shifting light beneath the fast moving clouds.  However, each evening after he put out his campfire and retreated to the make-shift shelter, she returned.

Some nights, he could see her better than others, depending on the moon.  Tonight, the moon was full, its light cascading over the sand, bouncing back toward the sky, a dull glow.  The stars shone bright above the beach, unobscured in a rare, cloudless moment.  Carefully, he pulled himself through the opening of his crude shelter, cautious not to knock over the paddles to his kayak, worried that any noise might scare her back into the water.

He was still uncertain where she came from.  She always appeared from nowhere, as though she climbed out of the sea.  He figured she must be camping up the way, his own small bay the calmest spot to swim.  Even so, he would not get in that water without his kayak, the roiling waves and icy cold too much for most strong swimmers.  He had watched more than one surfer paddle out in a full wet suit just to be pummeled by the waves and head back in.

Still, there she was, naked, riding in on the waves, diving beneath the breaks, emerging with her long, dark hair clinging to her breasts.  She was child-like in her play, alternating between the water and the shore, chasing the waves in and out.  He thought he heard her laughing as she ran, at first quiet like a whisper, then howling, alive and wild.

In truth, he had not emerged from the structure the previous nights because she scared him.  The freedom of her body, the rawness of her loud laughter, almost animal-like.  Eventually, she would disappear, leaving him aching to touch her cold skin…

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Scenery Writing: More Help From the Internet

“Sometimes you may find it useful to let your characters huddle in the wings without you preparing for their roles, improvising dialogue, while you set the stage for their appearance.    Imagine yourself the set designer for a play or for the movie version of the story you are working on.”

-Anne Lamott, bird by bird


I was a strange child.  By fifth or sixth grade, I was attempting to read Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Dickens, in addition to more predictable childhood favorites like R.L. Stine and Madeleine L’Engle. What I remember most about those classic authors was the detail with which they described almost every scene.  Even my adult eyes now sometimes grow impatient when met with that much description.

One of my theories about why these authors included such long descriptions of space was because the world was a different place when they wrote.  Mass media did not exist.  People’s prior knowledge of places beyond the familiar was much more limited.  Today you mention practically any major city around the globe and mental images abound, helping to catch the reader up to speed without the necessity of a two-page Steinbeck description of Salinas.

However, I also recognize that good writing needs to put you in the setting, so that you can see, smell, feel the place where the characters exist.  Admittedly, I have a tendency to glance over this aspect of writing, more fixated on the inner workings of my characters and the actual action of the plot/dialogue than taking the time to carefully establish scenery.  I blame this on being part of an impatient generation that is bombarded by imagery in fast-paced entertainment.

So, of my own accord, I am going back into each chapter and making sure I created scenery that provides enough detail, inspired in part by those same great writers that sometimes make me impatient.  Today I took myself back to the Gare d’Austerlitz train station in Paris.  As I imagined all of the sights, sounds, smells, etc., I began googling for inspiration.  Funny how six seconds on YouTube can evoke such strong memories.  I am now aching to hear the anxious clicking of that departure board again in real life.

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Writing Inspiration from Google Maps

Google Maps Street View is one of my favorite tools as a writer.  When I set out to write Expecting Happiness, I first asked myself what kind of book I was in the mood to read.  My answer, something involving a travel adventure, so I set to work creating characters that wanted to leave behind their boring lives and hit the open road, (real stretch of the imagination, right?).  Of course, I ended up taking them places I had been before, because writing about places I had never actually seen felt daunting.

However, I quickly realized that my fuzzy memories left holes in the pictures of these destinations, and the characters’ personalities also started to take them places within these cities that I never visited.  My solution?  Google Maps Street View.  Now, I do not pretend to be the first writer with this clever idea, but it is one of my favorite tricks to help me understand the layout of a city and visualize its scenery.  If you haven’t checked it out before, you should give it a shot.  You never know what sort of inspiration you’ll find.

My male protagonist wanted to run in Paris, but what would he see?  What parks on the list of places to jog in Paris might he visit?

I needed a place for my female protagonist’s cousin to live in Nuremberg.  What do the suburbs a couple of stops past the Hitler rally grounds look like?

Hmm, I wonder if I could find my dorm room while studying abroad in Burgos, Spain… Okay, this trick also gets me sidetracked.

Alright, if my female protagonist wanted to walk to a school in the Sarrià-St. Gervasi neighborhood of Barcelona, what would she see along the way?

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How did you pick your writing tagline?

I get that for some of you writers out there, your genre is pretty darn obvious.  You write romance, or scifi, or horror.  But what about the rest of us, just writing books about life?  What do we call it?

I’m not self-important enough to claim that I write literary fiction, maybe someday, but not there yet.  Neither is my work popular enough to call it popular fiction, (heck, I’m not even published, so much for popular).  And, I hate the term chick-lit, because really, why alienate half the planet with that label?

Labels, labels, labels.  I like what John Updike said, “The category of ‘literary fiction’ has sprung up recently to torment people like me who just set out to write books, and if anybody wanted to read them, terrific, the more the merrier. But now, no, I’m a genre writer of a sort. I write literary fiction, which is like spy fiction or chick lit.”
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So, I guess that leaves me somewhere in the range of contemporary, modern, commercial, or mainstream fiction.  But, which one is it?  Aren’t they all the same thing?  Today I received advice from a young literary agent whose weekly blog posts I really enjoy.  She suggested I create a new tagline on this page, something that better describes my writing.  While I agree with her, I have trouble picking the right words.  Somehow calling myself a writer of contemporary fiction does not say very much. Writer of modern adventures, perhaps?  Even that may be promising a thriller instead of just a story about life.  If you write in the sphere of literary or contemporary fiction, how did you decide to label yourself?
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Even Powell’s blue “literature” room is a catchall for the books that do not fall under the traditional genre umbrellas. But, how does calling something literature describe it?

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