Ugh, Pictures

Okay, I’m going to have to do something I’ve been dreading since I wrote my biography: I’m going to have to have a professional picture made. I hate, hate, hate having pictures made. I am not photogenic at all. But pictures of me from my medieval wedding are just not going to cut it anymore. So, after we get back from vacation–and I scrape up some cash–I’m going to have to go have my picture made.

Speaking of pictures, I’m bumming because there’s no picture to go with my short story. Yeah, it’s just a short story, but I think it doesn’t look very interesting sitting there on Amazon without a picture. I’ve found one I like on Shutterstock (it’s $19, which means I’d have to sell 53 copies of my story to recoup the cost), and another on deviantART (I’ve got a message into the artist to see what it would cost to buy). It’s rather hard to find a picture of a dragon which is not evil-looking, much less gold.

Advice for Young Writers

On the NaNoWriMo forums, a 15-year-old writer asked for a critique of his work. I went into specifics, then offered some advice, which I think is good for any new writer, but especially someone who is young and who is looking forward to a possible career as a writer.

I wrote my first “book” (okay, it was about 20 pages) when I was in 6th grade. Here I am now, 31 years old, and I have a book written and I’m trying to get it published. I actually wrote most of a book in college. And when I look at it now, ten years later, I see how badly it sucked, LOL. Looking back on my early writing, I see some broad truths:

Life experience helps you as a writer. I sometimes surprise myself by the things that show up in my writing; things you’ve studied, people you know… it all ends up in your writing, one way or another. The more things you’ve studied and the more people you’ve met, the better your writing gets. So know, as you get older, your writing will only get better!

Secondly, read, read, read. The more you read, the better your writing will get. One, you absorb vocabulary and sentence structure as you read, which will help you as a new writer. Secondly, you can see what does and doesn’t work. I think I learned how to kill off good, interesting characters by reading “Harry Potter.” Sometimes you have to build up a character just to kill him off.

Try reading a book critically. I did this recently with “Twilight.” Yeah, it’s easy for people to joke about the fact that it sucks, but most people can’t cite why. Make sure you can enumerate all the reasons why something sucks or doesn’t suck.

And not everything about “Twilight” sucks. I could have taken a black marker to the fourth book and edited huge chunks out of it, but I actually thought Stephanie Meyer did a really good job of building the tension at the end of the book. I liked the fact that Bella made arrangements to save her daughter in the even that she and Edward died. Picking up passports, getting together cash, planning clothing–all of these things built up tension and a sense of dread and inevitable doom.

I liked it so well, in fact, I did something very similar in the end of my third book–my people spend time preparing for their deaths. And that’s something that I like to emphasize in my writing: I want my readers to be emotionally-involved in the story. I want them biting their nails with worry that someone is going to die. You can only accomplish this by having really developed characters that readers love (even if they love to hate them). I want people begging to know if Anselm and Kalyn get together in the second book; you can only accomplish this by making them and their relationship realistic.

When you write, think about making your reader emotionally involved. I think books like that are not only good reads, but they’re books you keep coming back to.

I would also add a rule that one of my English professors taught us: in life, you only get three exclamation points. Use them wisely.

Rejections

A few rejections are still trickling in from queries I sent out over a month ago.

Here’s an inspiring story, though, of a hobby inventor who, at age 84, finally got a company to pick up his invention.

I hope I’m not going to be 84 before I get published, though.

I am doing one last read-through of my book, checking the proof copy for any remaining typos and grammatical errors. My husband also insisted that I redo the gun part, because it didn’t think it was accurate. After that, though, I’m going directly to publishers.

But a part of me is thinking one last-ditch attempt with agents. I still have some I haven’t tried yet. But looking at my list of 27 rejections (or no responses), I’m feeling like throwing all caution to the wind and doing stuff with my query letter that, technically, you’re not supposed to do (I don’t think). When people ask me what my book is about, I have trouble coming up with a short answer, and I usually just resort to saying “Jewish vampires.” And people get immediately interested. I’ve had a number of people say, “I don’t care for vampires, but I think I’d try that.” And I don’t think I disappoint; a friend who says she doesn’t like vampires either broke down and read it and is now begging me to send her chapters of the second book in installments.

But my query letter does not come right out and say “Jewish vampires,” although I label Micah as Jewish (and, if you’re paying attention, you’ll know that he’s a vampire, so, obviously, he’s a Jewish vampire). But maybe that’s too sutble for the 60 seconds an agent spends reading a query letter.

So how’s this for attention-grabbing?

Vampires. They’ve been done to death, right? (And more than once, obviously.) But what if they were gun-toting Jewish vampires living in Tennessee?

Why are they in Tennessee? Because, during the War, they worked on the atomic bomb at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Then they decided Tennessee was a rather pleasant place, and they chose to stay.

Why are some of them Jewish? Because they were born that way.

Why are they toting guns? Because there’s a new type of vampire on the loose, seemingly intent on killing all of them and their human servants.

“Accepted” follows the small group of vampires and humans in Tennessee. Kalyn is a star student in her junior class, a cheerleader, and just sixteen when she takes her place as an adult among the vampires’ human servants. She is placed in the care and tutelage of Anselm—a man she has been crazy about most of her life. He is an 800-year-old vampire who is introverted, perfectionist, and rather fond of Monty Python. Under normal circumstances, the only excitement in his life comes from his adopted brother, Micah, who is his Odd Couple opposite: lighthearted, disorganized, and irreverently Jewish.

But when Anselm rescues one of the strange new vampires from being murdered by his own kind, he, Micah and Kalyn lose their perfect, quiet lives, and become their peoples’ sole defenders on the front line of an emerging war.

“Accepted”  is an urban fantasy novel of approximately 110,000 words.

 

YA Writing Smackdown

I stumbled across this article today: Writing Young Adult Fiction, which details, briefly, some of the upsides and downsides to writing YA. I had no idea that the turnaround for a sequel was 6 months. That’s a crazy amount of time to write a book. It took me a year to write my first book, and that doesn’t include several of the more minor edits and letting people read it and give me feedback. It makes me have a bit more sympathy for Stephanie Meyer’s fourth book, Breaking Dawn, which needed some heavy editing. I always write more than I need, and I pare down unnecessary dialogue, scenes and chapters in editing. If she only had 6 months or so to write and edit it, I can see how she didn’t have time to go back through it and cut out all the boring, useless crap.

Speaking of books, I’ll be honest: I’m tired of querying agents. Last count was 26 or 27 queried. I’ve read books that are worse than mine and I think, “If someone will publish this, surely I can get published.” So my new tactic is to start querying publishers directly. It usually takes them 6-12 months to respond, which is a drag, but let’s face it: I’ve been querying agents almost that long. If I had started out with querying publishers, I might have heard something by now.

But first I have to do one last, last edit. I printed another proof copy a month or so ago, and my husband recently read it with editing pen in hand. He had a number of suggestions (nay, commands) to make my gun usage more accurate. (In fact, we spent an hour or so one day going over it; I drew him a picture of the terrain, and he showed me ammo and got out his sniper rifle for me to examine.) So I need to edit that part and I need to read through one more time and make my own corrections. Then, once I make the changes on the computer, I’ll be ready to print and mail.

While I’m waiting to hear back from someone, I can be working on my second book. I’m more than halfway through the first writing. I should be ready to make my first proof copy in 6 months or less. That way, if a publisher comes back and says, “We’ll take it, and we want to make it YA, so give us that sequel in 6 months,” I’ll be ahead of the game on sequels and maybe I won’t put out something crappy.

It’s Starting to Come Together

Hey, look, I do know where my blog is, and how to post.

I have had several other projects going on that have kept me busy the past week. First, I finally motivated to doing some serious house cleaning, which has turned into rearranging the living room and buying more bookcases. I still have a lot of work to do to get everything the way I want it, but I’m liking the changes.

Are you stuck with your writing? Is your general creativity at a low ebb? Rearrange the room where you do most of your creative work. Even if you don’t add or subtract anything, stirring up your things seems to stir up ideas.

I have to say it’s working for me. Just a day after moving the living room around (not where I do my writing, but it’s the first room you see when you come into the house, and you can’t go anywhere in the house without passing through it, so it’s logistically important), I have come tantalizingly close to writing the end of my third book. I’ve had the epilogue written, so I knew, more or less, who survives and who dies, but I had no idea how any of my characters get to that point.

But yesterday a plot started forming in my head, and I began writing some of the scenes which will lead to the grand finale. I was crying and shooting characters in the back of the head in a mass suicide. It was fabulous! I don’t think I’ve written anything good unless I’ve made myself cry or laugh.

Need help motivating to clean your house up or rearrange? I recommend Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. I read this book in college and it completely changed the way I look at stuff. When I need a kick in the pants, I re-read it, then go through my house, tossing stuff or giving it away.
The show Hoarders is also pretty motivating to cleaning up. I watched the first episode and immediately went out and swept off our front porch (something it’s needed since the fall!)

Getting Honestly Published

Here is some information for people who are trying to get published, or are seriously considering it.

Thumbs Down Agency List – The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) website maintains this list of known scammer agencies (it’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start). They also provide a list of things a reputable agency will not do (i.e. charge you an upfront fee for representation).

Here is an informal survey of sci-fi and fantasy writers and the average advance they receive when they sell a book, and how many sell a book with and without an agent. (I’ll throw in a spoiler: people with agents tend to receive, on average, higher advances.

Writer Beware: Learning the Ropes – How best to research the agent/publishing market in order to avoid being scammed.

Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Book Publishers – A list of publishers–large and small, print and electronic, novel and magazine–who publish these genres. You will probably do better financially with a large publisher, but you’re probably more likely to get a response from a small publisher. Of course you need to be prepared to do a lot of your own marketing (or get an agent that is serious about handling that), but you will probably need to do more with a small publisher.

On a lot of publishers’ websites, you will have to do some serious digging to find out if they accept queries direct from authors. And before you get your hopes up, a lot of publishers won’t accept from an unagented author (especially true of large publishers; less true of small ones).

Writing Exercise: Horrible Opening Lines

This is a fun writing exercise, just because it begs for ridiculousness.

Starting with the opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night…” and write 1-2 pages opening either a short story or a novel. You may turn out a humorous spoof of a murder mystery, or you may turn out something awesomely legitimate (although if that happens, I suggest you change the opening line!).

Of course, you could generate a bunch of drivel, but that’s okay too. Every author has a lot of crap writing in them. You have to sift through the coal to find the diamond. Some authors even advocate purposefully writing drivel in order to use up a lot of it (although you will never exhaust it all), so it becomes easier to find the diamonds.

And sometimes when you try to write drivel–when you give yourself permission to be craptastic–when you have no limits, no preconceived notions, no goals–something wonderful pours out.

When I decided to enter National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2009, I was committed to the idea of writing a cheesy, bodice-ripping romance novel just for shits-and-giggles. The next thing I knew, I wanted it to be a cheesy, bodice-ripping romance novel with vampires in it. And right after that, I decided to resurrect some of the characters and some of the plot line from the novel I had started in college, but never finished (thank God, though, I didn’t go back and read the original; I started completely fresh. I’ve since re-read it, and it was craptastic).

The next thing I knew, I had a story pouring out that wasn’t cheesy or bodice-ripping and, actually, seemed pretty damn good. I’ve since done a heavy revision and a grammatical revision of the entire book, along with revisions in spots, and I’m ecstatically happy about what I’ve turned out. (A friend recently read my proof and she said she really liked it–to the point she was staying up late because she couldn’t put it down–and she really, really doesn’t like vampires or anything to do with vampires; that makes me feel that I’ve done a good job.)

I’ve lost track of the number of people who want to be writers but never actually write anything. Talking about writing, dreaming about writing, can be very fun, but it won’t get a book written. You’ve got to write.
Laurell K. Hamilton

So what are you waiting for? Start writing your cliché drivel and see what happens!