Friday, November 27, 2009

An gives YA a thumbs up

This Turkey Day, I was thankful for coming across a young adult book that had me laughing, crying, and reading well into the night. 

Midnight Girl by Will Shetterly is about Cat Medianoche, whose father hosts a paranormal show, mother is dead, and grandma lives in the basement.  Every year on her Halloween birthday, before the separate parties for each side of her family, a mysterious costume appears.  This year, the mystery will be revealed.

Shetterly made this great YA urban fantasy available for free on Scribd, for $3.95 in several e-formats on Smashwords, and at Lulu in trade paperback and hardcover

If you're unfamiliar with his name, don't let Scribd and Lulu scare you off.  Shetterly's work has earned  a place on the International Reading Association’s 20 favorite books of US teenagers, Minnesota Book Award for Fantasy and Science Fiction, and finalist status for the World Fantasy Award.

While I'm in YA land, I know that I've mentioned City of Bones, book one of Cassandra Clare's Immortal Instruments, but did I tell you how much I enjoyed the series?  There is controversy about the author's history as a fan fiction writer that comes up enough that I feel compelled to mention it, but isn't so deep that I won't rec the books.  They're imaginative and fun with a heroine that I quickly came to care about and a leading "man" that I wish I were young enough to crush on. 

No worries about less-than-appropriate crushing with Kelley Armstrong's The Summoning, but I do appreciate the understated adventure poor Chloe finds herself in when meeting a ghost gets her diagnosed as schizophrenic.  Learning the truth about the group home she gets put in is one thing; getting out alive is something else entirely.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I don't know it all, but...

Other people's words often inspire me to write my own. With a scene half existing in my mind's eye, but not quiet clear enough, I opened up an ebook ARC I've been looking forward to reading. If I found any inspiration, it was to count the paragraphs of info dump (18), then to check the publisher while composing my complaint: Don't give me Dickens-like language unless you're going to give me his depth. Actually, since I've never read any Dickens that I wasn't forced to, don't give me either.

The publisher wasn't easy to find--no listing in the ARC itself, no declaration on the garish blog; more like a trail of cyber crumbs that lead to a new e-publisher with two books each under "Now Available," "Recently Released," and "Coming Soon." New doesn't have to equal bad. I was ready to stop checking out the book's background and go back to reading the book itself, hoping that beneath the painfully flowery prose, the promise of the premise would be fulfilled. (Now who's being painfully flowery?) But I stumbled upon one more bit of info: the author is one of the company's editors.


As a writer, I'm still floundering with a broken middle and won't pretend to be any kind of expert. As a reader, I say:
1. No one's going to tip you by the adjective. Less is more.
2. Write what you mean. While your metaphors drip with analogies, some things end up just not making sense.
3. There's only so unreliable your third person narrator can be. It ends up reading like I hold this thing to be true, and I will continue to hold it as true and cram it down your throat (in case you missed it during the initial info dump) as everything I write around it contradicts it.

Okay, unpublished writer to kinda-published author, having a guy who sort of works for you as your editor is like having your mom be your beta reader. Don't do it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Not taking helpful advice

I should be, at this moment, sneaking an illicit smoke before rushing into my Physical Anthropology class. Instead, I'm fighting with my body. Again. Since I've been absent more than I can stand already, I will win in time for American Identities. The struggle got me thinking of something my mom said just a few days ago as I lamented about the the pain I was in and the classes I was missing: "I don't know why you're even putting yourself through going back to school. Why don't you just stay home?"

It came from a place of love; she's the mother of a woman with a chronic illness--one I've managed very well by rejecting the steroids the docs would have me on, and by moderating my activity level. For all the great things about going to college, there has also been the painful reality of my flares increasing.

Why am I putting this in my writing blog? Because my answer to her question also applies to my writing: The benefits are worth the struggle. And it got me thinking about other advice that shouldn't be taken as well.

Someone recently suggested I change something about a group of people in a story I'd posted for critique because she couldn't relate to them. I had to fight down my knee jerk reaction to fix that. She wasn't supposed to relate to them. What she showed me, however accidentally, was my failure in showing how the main character is disconnected from them for much the same reason.

A better example comes from the experience of friend. She sent out several queries for her young adult novel, and got back some really good feedback--and some feedback from one agent saying that 85K was pushing the edge for YA and that she should scrap it and start over.


Anyone who's semi-actively followed this blog knows that YA isn't my thing, though that's changing slowly as I stumble upon (or have crammed down my literary throat) more and more YA that is good urban fantasy regardless of the intended age group. Of those, two seem thinner than the typical 85K plus I find in adult fiction. Even if I tend to read the exceptions, "pushing the edge" suggests the work needs to be trimmed not scrapped!

If, say, two out of three had given such advise, maybe the passive-aggressive message would have been, "You've got great story ideas here, but the delivery is all wrong." Don't just ignore the input coming at you; mine it for gems. But as it is, I think that agent's hidden advice was, "You've got talent enough for me to respond personally rather than shooting out a form letter, but I'm not really the person you should be wasting your time on."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Drive by post #1

Praise is a funny thing. I sat in my Pop Culture professors class today listening to how good a writer I am and thinking, "Who, me?" And I was wishing that he'd tell that to my Women in Global Perspectives professor. :-) But then, that was why I was in his office.

I'd decided to go back to college for American Studies because (1)I can't go back to my former career so I need to learn something else and (2) since I'm pretty anti-academia, I needed something that would good for my writing without being/leading to an English MFA. One look at my school's American Studies program and I was geared up for learning. Then one look at the syllabus and an hour in his class and I knew I wanted to teach it.

Exciting stuff. It might be more than exciting if I can stop denying the good and learn to make it better.

Meanwhile, I'm behind on NaNo, so I've gotta run.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For fun?

Even when I just do it for fun, I don't just do it for fun.

I realized that last night while IMing to a writing friend. I've had no time, as evidenced by the long gap between the last post and this. Like so many others, my family has been hit hard by the massive economic drop. In the years prior, I was a work-at-home and then a stay-at-home mom, and that had to change. My spirit was willing, but my use to employers was weak; there are too many people who have not been out of the work force for so long and who have the proper skills and/or degrees competing for the same jobs. I decided there would be no better time to return to college and get that degree.

Jumping in head first and late, I selected five classes for my 'add/drop' plate (one more than required for full time in case I didn't get one of the others), never realizing that they would all be reading (and most also writing) heavy. I'm having a horrible time balancing full time student with wife and mother, other things in my life are being neglected, yet I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month again this year.

My brother pushed a small (but still heavy and painful, damn it!) T.V. on my head when we were little and apparently the effects are just being seen now.

There are better reasons for me to do NaNo than insanity. It's tradition. I do it every year and fall short of the goal; why change now that I have good reason to fall short? It might actually force me into better time management skills. I love the feeling of community NaNo brings. And I haven't really written fiction since school started, and I miss it.

So I was chatting with my friend about NaNo and explained my big idea...See, with no plot or characters calling me into November, I'd decided to use pre-NaNo October to populate a city. I dedicated a spare notebook, and in between studies or riding on the train, I could jot down character ideas. At midnight, when Halloween becomes All Saints', I would sit and write for whatever character "has the most to say."

Why not? It's just for the joy of it and to get the creative juices flowing. But then came my "ah ha moment." Wouldn't it be fun to make a play on all the mystery books/movies that have a killer staging murders out of some hapless author's books? What if some psycho ill-casts all the characters into urban fantasy scenes? It sounds, to me, dumb and brilliant and a blast to write.

I went on about the legalities to my friend who said something like, "Who cares? It's just for fun. Don't worry about that until you're getting published."

Heh. I treat every story like it's going to get published, don't I? Is that a good thing? A sense of striving that will someday push me over from would-be novelist to novelist actual? Or is it part of the pressure that gets me hung up on poorly paced middles and unsatisfactory endings--so hung up that these things never quite get fixed in revision? Hmmm....

Friday, August 7, 2009

untitled. don't even read it.

...As a writer having fun with story, I understand doing what you want because you want to.

....As a fangirl sort of hoping that the last book in a series will literally be the last, that the engaging author will let go of characters that managed to hold interest for two and a half out of three books, and perhaps come up with something that will hold interest again....As that fangirl, I'm thinking that if you didn't write the great and rousing speeches in Braveheart, The Two Towers, or Independence Day, let's not pretend you did.

...If you must, and you choose to twist a phrase in tribute, just quote. It makes it clear that you are honoring a classic and keeps grumpy fans from writing stupid blog posts like this one when they should be finishing your book.

Fell deeds await... Now for Wrath... Now for Ruin... and the Red Dawn...

There's a good one.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

not giving up the ghost yet

If I'm still at it a year from now with nothing to show but not-quite-ready manuscripts, I'm packing it in.

I'm dealing with a lot, internally and externally, and it's taking its tole on my Work in Progress (WiP). Plus I've had the weight of the above statement pressing on me. Thinking that the self-imposed deadline was in September, I decided that I could turn it all around. There are a few mandatory events for August, but otherwise, it would be a month of getting over June and July and prep for school. With a little negotiation with the family, I could get in an hour or so of daily "finish the revisions or die" time.

Then I went looking for the actual "packing it in" date and discovered it wasn't in September after all. August 13th. Frak. I could do the smart thing...recognize that my heads been churning out bits of story and proclaim that I will not go silently into the night...or...something. But a funny thing happened on the way to psyching myself up get this work done...

My husband spends a lot of time in Treks in Sci-Fi (yes, he is the uber geek to my geek). Leaving out the details that have nothing to do with this post, that means I spend a lot of time hearing about stories that I am neither writing nor reading. And while I was filled with angst over revisions, he was having the time of his life over a new character based on Han Solo (you know...if Han had been a Romulan). The fun was infectious. Before I knew it, I'd reimagined Han as a woman in an urban fantasy setting. The next thing I knew, I was world building and having a blast!

Yeah, I'd been right that I would never have a writing career if I continued to create lovely "half books" that fizzled out just past the middle (which is, technically, better than lovely first chapters so I've made progress). But I'm also not getting the desired career by transforming a once beloved story into my own literary hell. So August is going to be my fun writing month.

Totally fun. No freaking out over the hoped for career. No WiP angst. No fear of what anyone might think of my choices of characters or plot or inspiration.

Go me! And if you've had any of the same hang ups, maybe you should try it, too.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How do you get a publisher to listen?

I'm in a mood. More than a mood. I'm battling depression with City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and strategic internet reading. The latter lead me to Ain't That a Shame, a fantastic blog post by Justine Larbalestier about why the U.S. arc of her book novel has a white girl on the cover though the story is about a black girl. If you don't follow any other link I give you (though, of course, I hope you do), please follow that one.

While reading the responses, I kept reminding myself that I *am* in a mood and should appreciate how many people commented in appreciation of the post, rather than keeping an eye out for those who don't get it (um, and ask questions about my psyche and what it means that I was so pleased when Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden did get it--but that's a whole other post that will never be written). What gave me pause was a response of an entirely different nature:

Thank you, Justine. Well said.

But Bloomsbury is not off the hook. One needs only look at how they “screwed” over the author of an earlier book (by “burying” the book upon release) to know there is a systemic issue at that house regarding books featuring an ethnic protagonist. And when properly embarrassed (outed for their behavior), continued to bury the book but began heavily promoting the a new book which featured a white protagonist on the cover. I thought things would improve when the marketing person left. Now it seems they hired a twin to replace her.

This is a business. We get that. And I applaud you for taking a difficult stand. But you are right – the only way for us to make a statement is to exercise economic clout.
That means I can’t buy this book – or a subsequent paperback, nor can I recommend it. I’m a writer – but also an affluent mother (read “book buyer) with college bound kids who are sick of being ignored. The damage is already done.

The local city paper recently ran an article about my family and reading. We often buy two copies of a book – one for each daughter. African American book buyers are not as “invisible” as Bloomsbury would have people believe.

If Bloomsbury releases the book without the original cover, the games over for many of us. I don’t advocate protesting you as an author (or any author) – but Bloomsbury as a publisher in general for it’s sustained and continued stupidity in the sales and marketing arena.

Will this help? My immediate thought is that if others follow this woman's example, the publisher will dump the author for low sales, not rethink it's obnoxious policies. Worse, it might not just harm this author, but every author who's main character is a person of color if they jump to the wrong conclusion for the bad sales.

Yet, I don't have a better solution. A write-in campaign? Someone spending the time and money for an exhaustive poll of all American high schoolers to discover how many of them read for pleasure and, of them, how many care what color the protagonist is and/or will only pick up a book with a white girl on the cover? Those ideas don't sound any better, but at least they aren't an accidental attack on the author.

Any suggestions? (And I'm nosy--anyone know what book Bloomsbury buried in the past?)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I am almost....

...but not a professional writer's group.

I was deleting something on my Facebook invites page because it's an event that'll take place six hours from here (assuming one doesn't hit traffic) and I don't have a car. But it was sent by Anton Strout, so I took a peek anyway. There's going to be a multiple-author signing at the Borders Express in Paramus, New Jersey on August 1st. Strout, Jackie Kessler, S.C. Butler, Barbara Campbell, Laura Anne Gilman, and Joshua Palmatier. If you live nearby, or can get there, check 'em out!

Meanwhile, thinking that was a brilliant idea, I clicked on their link for the League of Reluctant Adults. The first thing I noticed as I tried to discover the identities of the 18 paranormal romance and urban fantasy authors who make up the group was that I'm already a member. Not one of the authors, of course! But some time in the past, I apparently agreed to be one of the fans they're gathering about the group. What a wasted resource! Sure, it's totally my fault I had accepted an invite to join and then, among the several dozen invites I accept or reject each week, forgot about it, but still! With a full 18 members, that's minimal work from each a month to remind old fans of their books and sling them over (by osmosis, almost) to the other writers.

Judging books by their covers (yes, I'm shameless), I'll be checking out Seanan McGuire, Diana Rowland, Kelly Medig, and J.F. Lewis. The site also reminds me that Jaye Wells is on my TBR list. Check out the blog, and if you're already familiar with these authors, gimme the skinny on their books.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Advice for Published Authors on Reviews

Somewhere along the line as would-be-authors, writers learn that not everyone is going to like our work. Mostly, it has nothing to do with the work itself: though they're grouped together, some people who like sci-fi don't care much for fantasy and vice versa; sci-fi/fantasy readers often don't care for romance, none of the above are known to like literary fiction. Sometimes it feels more personal than that.

Alice Hoffman made the New York Times Books section when she responded to such a review by tweeting that "Reberta Silman in The Boston Globe is a moron." Reading the article, first in my mind was, Good thing Anne Rice didn't have Twitter back in the day. Five years later and that is what makes me think of Anne Rice.

Dear authors, don't make this short list (granted, there are a few others) longer.

There's an old show biz adage that states 'All publicity is good publicity.' A children's book publisher (blast it, I didn't bookmark the link to share) recently explained how even bad reviews end up being good reviews. Shoppers in real world stores tend to remember the book being mentioned, but not exactly what was said; they'll buy the book and decide for themselves whether they like it or not.

So is the author supposed to keep quiet no matter what a reviewer says? Well, no. Showing appreciation for a positive review might make sure that future books get featured by the reviewer, though granted that's more likely to work with blogs than newspapers. And with fangirls like me giving our opinions on books along with professional reviewers, no one could fault you if someone went a little overboard and you made a correction (just note: "The pacing was slow" is not overboard, "She clearly knows nothing about the subject" is).

Take a deep breath before you respond to a negative review. Then take a few more. Maybe call up a friend to vent instead of doing on the internet where it can last forever. F.O.R.E.V.E.R. Screen shots, my friends. You can't necessarily delete even the things that allow you to delete. Let it go. Or offer it up--appropriately--to fans who won't let it go. Whereas Alice Hoffman tweeted name calling and the number of her reviewer (inappropriate, though Silman's e-mail is at the end of her reviews so giving that isn't bad), spec. fic. romance author Anne Aquirre tweeted a negative Amazon review without blasting the critic or telling her fans to do so. A few gave their own comments, creating a short discussion. We'll never know if anyone buys the book as a result, but at least it's not a situation that leaves readers talking about the high strung author rather than her books.

And that's the thing. We may or may not take what reviewers write to heart, but any personal opinion the reader forms about the writer isn't going away quickly or easily. Don't show your crazy or over-the-top side in public unless you want to own it.

ETA: In 2006 a Swedish reviewer slammed a book that was never written. That, dear authors, you could respond to freely!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A little laugh

I know I've been MIA. Worse, I've got an MIA post half done. Summer's taken over my life. So this is me, peeking in and adding a funny that's started making the rounds...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Don't throw me under their bus.

I'm having one of those nights. Ill, it's been way more than I could do to handle half of what I needed to get done today. And when I'd declared enough, I went to the particular pain that is my work in progress. Don't get me wrong. I still believe in the story and love the narrator. But understand that the story was conceived years ago, gestated on an elephant's time clock, and was "played with" for about as long while I started to get my shit together in order start taking my would-be career seriously. I'm ready to be done.

It's like that period of pregnancy, especially if the babe is past the due date, in which mother is ready to dig the thing out with a spoon. She loves her little bundle of joy and doesn't mean to call it "the thing", but enough is friggin' enough.

I needed to get a little encouragement from my peeps, and one just happened to be online. She shared a link with me...A Raspberry to Ranters. Adorable babe, I wrote back. And I wonder who provoked the post. It may not have been this particular rant, wrote my peep who sent another link, but it was certainly one like it. The Talent Killers: How literary agents are destroying literature, and what publishers can do to stop them.

It's a fairly long essay on why agents suck. But, of course, that alone wouldn't bother me much. I would consider it unfair as not all (probably not most, but it's not like I've personally made the rounds) agents suck. Some don't acknowledge that they've received your submission, demand exclusivity, and blow a vein if the writer has the nerve to contact them to find out if they've indeed received the submission. At least, so I've read. And there are tons of other things that writers have vented about that I'm not going to list.

From the outside looking in, barely sticking my toes in the water, it's a crappy system on this end. Your heart and soul goes into this story, much time and labor goes into revising it (or time, labor, bitching about wanting to get on to the new stories blossoming in your head and reading posts that in no way speed up the revisions). You learn everything you can about the submission process, do all you can to draw inside the lines because, realistically, you're auditioning for someone that you then have to pay (?!!!?), and maybe you still get rejected because, though the guidelines called for urban fantasy, the agent really wanted a futuristic pirate paranormal romance. Oh, and they send you a generic form letter, so you think it's just because no matter how you hone your craft, you suck.

I get being sick of the system. If it weren't for the fact that I can see the other side, I wouldn't buy into it either (you know, the side where every third person wants to write a book, half of them actually go though with it, and 9 out of 10 produce prose so lame that the mind goes numb with the first few pages; yes, if I were an editor, I'd like to have agents sift through the worst of it before I had to read it, too). I get it, but...

I can tell you why your desk is piling up with flimsy bits of vampire
literature, fantasy, romance, detective stories and the kind of first-draft
bubble gum that used to be called chick-lit but is now shuffled in with other
women’s writing in order to give it heft—although as far as you can see, neither
the quality nor the subject matter has improved—which you are required to
somehow turn into publishable books. It is because the vast majority of literary
agents do not, in fact, have any interest in literature. They are only
interested in jackpots.

Seriously? Your first book didn't sell, you can't find an agent for your literary brilliance, and you want to toss genre writers under the bus with the rejecting agents? How dare they write stories that people actually want to read! It can't be art if it's enjoyable.

Within the first couple of comments, the obvious was said (self-publish!), so why am I bothering with this silliness? Damned if I know. Maybe because she has gall to write in the comments that she's thinking about self-publishing but can't find an editor. I guess Google doesn't work in her universe? People through out Western civilization need, pay rent or mortgage, silly things like that. Independent editors, being a subgroup of people, do things like make websites so you can find them. (Why look, half a thought and three seconds of typing and I've found a group that claims to have worked with Maya Angelou and Jorge Luis Borges among many others.)

Maybe it's because she's just wrong. Forget the great, artistically crafted genre fiction among the pulp (which is worthy and enjoyable in it's own right, thanks just the same). She not only sites Mark Twain among her literary greats (he who said, "Literature is something everyone wants to have read, but no one wants to read.") but Margaret Atwood who's literature isn't mind numbing, but her best works are spec. fic. that she calls literature so academics will still consider them "important."

Or hell, maybe I'm just falling into her trap and giving her some of the free advertising she'll need when she does self-publish. Yeah, that's likely it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It's not *all* about the books.

Granted The Witches of Eastwick was a book before it was a movie, but had I not peeked at Wiki, I may have never known that. Either way, it's coming to TV as an ABC series. I'm not sure that I see how they can keep the story going week after week, but I'd thought the same thing about The Dead Zone - The Complete First Season and ended up loving it.

The Witches aren't the only thing making me excited for the Fall season. When I was a kid, the streets cleared when it was time for V - The Original TV Miniseries. OK, yeah, that was before TiVo, but still! The Trailer gives me tingles!

But wait, there's more!

Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake is coming to cable (or satellite or whatever) next year. Personally, I like to pretend that the series stopped with book 9 so don't expect me to go promo crazy....But with plenty of necromancing and slaying in the early books, I have high hopes for this movie.

And slaying on the big screen with none of the camp (or the Joss) of the original or the Scoobie Gang goodness of the series (or Joss), will be Buffy. Fan reaction has been almost unanimously, "Seriously, WTF?!" I'm trying to reserve my judgment. I loved the series all the more for its dark turns, so maybe slaying that way from the start will hit the spot. Or maybe the magic was in Joss Whedon, and starting over without him will spell disaster. Only time will tell.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A FanGirl Goes Wild

This isn't new news, but others like me who aren't into fanfic may not have caught wind of it. I'm writing about it now for your education and because it's popped into my mind every once in a while since I read about it, always coupled with the thought: "Dude, seriously?"

A fan of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series wrote a fanfic. But Russet Noon isn't the run of the mill slash fiction that I imagine (since I haven't looked) keeps the series alive in certain corners of the interwebs. The author of this novel length story didn't just post it for other fans to enjoy; she tried to sell it. Copyright infringement, you scream. Ah, but it's not because:

Writers and readers all over the net have opened their eyes to the truth: authors sell their fanfiction and get away with it. Sure, published authors play a safe game around copyright laws and change the names and circumstances of their characters around just enough to claim they've created a new character. Yet, in the end, every single author out there weaves their stories around archetypes that have existed since humans started telling stories in caves and around fires.

Ask anyone in Hollywood. Every story you see in movies and books is a recycled formula where authors merely plug in characters with different identities and histories. No author truly creates characters. The characters already exist in the archetypal world that Jung, Freud and Joseph Campbell have described in their books. The author is a medium who channels these characters. The origin of all characters is the Shared Mind, the only mind that truly exists. Our minds are all one single ocean of shared memories, fantasies, dreams, nightmares and visions.

She's not a thief because we're all thieves. Silly me. All this time I've been toiling away trying to bring my own characters to life and tell my own stories when I could have stolen borrowed Kelley Armstrong's or Patricia Briggs', changed a few minor details, and gotten paid.

But is there any merit to the "author's" metaphysical claims? Maybe. While it seems more likely that people writing in the same genre will have similarities due to drawing on the same source material, maybe each time we read something and think "oh, that's just like what so-and-so put in her book" it's because both writers dipped into the same spring in the universal unconscious.

Yet, I can't help but note that she didn't create her own characters and offer to share them with folks of like mind...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Whine with My Cheese

Actually, I get to pimp books while I whine. What could be better?

I'd long thought of writing a story from the omega's point of view rather than the alpha's--that is from the weakest member of the group's pov rather than the leader's. When I focused on epic fantasy, I thought I would feature the sidekick who would change and grow yet not be the hero who saves the world. In urban fantasy, I imagined a story told by the lowest shifter in the pecking order who sees everything but is largely ignored.

So was excited (in that, "Great book, but damn, I wish I'd stop thinking about writing these things and actually do it before every old idea I have is done by someone else first" kind of way) when I started reading Kitty an the Midnight Hour and discovered she was just such a character. Kitty's a werewolf--yeah, ha ha--but don't let the humor fool you. After the brutal attack that changed Kitty, she was stuck with a pack lead by a brutal alpha pair. It's been years since the book debuted, but I vividly remember how I cringed and couldn't decide what was worse: what she suffered through or the fact that she took it. She had two sustaining things in her life--a good friend and job as a radio D.J. When the pack's alpha male tried to take the latter away, Kitty stuck up for herself and got on the path from victim to victor.

Each book was better than the last with character growth and more revealed not just about lycanthrops, but vampires as well. I *almost* missed out on book 4 having somehow convinced myself that I'd read it. Certain things had drastically changed in the opening of book 5, though, so I went back and devoured the story. Kitty came full circle, and with a vengeance.

That's where my whining came in. Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand isn't bad, but that's not exactly a glowing recommendation. How do I describe it without giving spoilers? Let's say it's a good idea gone a bit cheesy. By the time the steaks rose to an emotional high, my response was, "So what? Whatever." There were definitely some interesting things in the story. Sooner or later, series like this tend to take on the question of who's really a monster, and this book did it well. And when we got a peek of some of what's out there besides vampires and lycanthropes that actually made me tingle. Otherwise, it was like the comic relief episode in a serious show.

You know...horrible murders, more powerful that last demons combined enemy, and an oncoming apocalypse for the poor, hunky hunters of Supernatural leads an episode featuring a six foot tall, depressed teddy bear and bullied nine year old who gets his by canneling Zod a la Superman. Kneel before Todd! Only it's not so brilliant in the book.

I started asking a question that I know the answer to. How do you know when you've got a hit? Of course, you don't know. As writers we doubt our work when the stories are great. We cling to bad ideas, or good ideas with bad execution. And there's no way to know which is which except by trusting others who may also be wrong.

My story has gotten a few fans before it's ready to be seen by agents. What if those are the only fans it ever gets? What if the agents hate it? Worse...what if an agent loves it and convinces an editor who gets his publishing house to give me a fat advance, but then the book comes out and everyone declares it the worst book since what they thought was the worst book possible and... Yeah, I was panting by this point, lost in my own newbie hell.

I got over it. Mostly. Even better, when I went to mark this off as 'read' in my litte virtual bookshelf, I saw reviews from a whole lot of people who also thought that book 5 was good-but-not-Carrie-Vaughn-good and they say that book six rocks. I'll be getting that soon as I can. If you haven't tried the series, check 'em out!

Kitty and the Midnight Hour
Kitty Goes to Washington
Kitty Takes a Holiday
Kitty and the Silver Bullet
Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand
Kitty Raises Hell

Friday, May 15, 2009

How frustrated am I?

I was deep into a, I was writing alone so a monologue? Well, at least it wasn't a tirade on genre. See, I want to start reviewing urban fantasy (and close enough paranormal romance) series, and I'd decided to start by looking at "the old guard" of the genre. In the middle of it, my browser exploded, the autosave that looked like it was working hadn't been, and..well, there were a host of problems that my head is still spinning from.

While I recover, does anyone out there want to discuss urban fantasy and paranormal romance in general?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Book Pimpin'

Yeah, I've got Jay-Z's Big Pimpin' on my mental soundtrack while I write this. Hey, if I don't listen to the lyrics, it sounds great! But on to the point...

The fabu AztecLady wrote,

An author with ten titles under her belt or more will already have built at
least a small core following which will build up, and prompt sales of the older
titles as the new ones pick speed.

But the newbie author who has one book coming out one year and another the
year after? How does s/he keep her name out there so that, when that second book
hits the shelf, people actually remember that they were waiting for it?

Let me go backwards a bit with a personal example. Months ago, browsing through a bookstore, I decided I'd get a sure bet and a new author. There are a ton of authors that I haven't yet tried so how did I pick? Devon Monk's Magic to the Bone had a plug by Patricia Briggs on the front cover. I'm not sure what got me to read that original Briggs book, but it was like literary crack: I had to get another fix. Sometimes the authors' plugs leave you wondering, once you're done, if they've read the same book, but I was willing to take the chance.

As an aside, I could see the end coming from the earliest pages and knew it was going to piss me off to high hell. But it was a good book, nonetheless. Since you probably don't have that same particular neurosis (seriously, I'm over the top about this certain thing), if you're a genre fan, you should check it out.

There are a bunch of things I knew I'd do if --wait, power of attraction--that I will do when published: send copies to reviewers, do a signing at the local spec. fic. indie bookstore, maybe book a reading at the local library branch, get my friends across the country (oh, and lovely online buddies in OZ, Canada, and the U.K.) to order copies from their local stores, and actively push the blog.

Monk did something I hadn't thought of: she joined better known authors at Deadline Dames. I've seen other writers group together, of course. I catch Ann Aguirre posts over at Something Wicked and occasionally end up reading something good by someone else. When I get around to checking LiveJournal, I watch the Fangs, Fur, & Fey community (and I see as I go to grab the link that Monk is there, too) mostly with an eye on joining when the time comes...

This is how it worked for me: got the book, enjoyed it (even with my reaction to the ending), forgot about it other than thinking that I do need to tell others to enjoy it. Toni Andrews friended me out of the blue.* I followed a link of hers to Deadline Dames, saw that Monk's second book will be out soon, and immediately started itching to get my hands on it. Once there, I realized I've read many of the books (Keri Arthur's Destiny Kills is by my bed waiting to be read and Tempting Evil, already read, is inches away from me as I type) and am familiar with *most* of the names. Now, I'm practically bouncing in my seat to get three books by new-to-me authors, two books by authors I've read but hadn't been thinking about, and the next Monk book.

Of course, not every reader will think like that, but many will. That's a lot of marketing for the price of a shared blog.

*This friending thing is brilliant. I followed an author and a reviewer to Facebook. My earliest activity there was clicking on a 'friend request', thinking, "Who the hell is this?" and following the link to an author whose request I then accepted. I've bought several books from this and greatly expanded by TBR list. Since they're on my flist, every time I catch one of their updates, I think either "I love his/her writing" or "I've gotta remember to get his/her book."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Money, money, money...

I've got books on the brain. I've decided that it isn't particularly helpful to write about the latest book in a series--I'm too uptight about giving spoilers to those who haven't read the earlier books so I'll end up posting the same thing that annoys me in other places. "If you like the first two books, you'll like this one, too." Really? You felt I would never guess that on my own?

While I've been working out which series and just how to go about this, I ran across L. Viehl's post on what a writer really makes. There's actually a lot of information there that should be looked at with more care* (such as her lack of promotion--great for her, but since I want to read your new urban fantasy or paranormal book, don't follow her lead), but in keeping with the title of the entry, what I'm interested in is how her $40,484 earned in royalties dwindled down to just over $27,000 in net earnings and $0 in actual earnings.

David Hewson wrote a great post explaining the money involved in quoting song lyrics. Some of my best work has been done in just-for-fun gaming forums where I've built chapters around songs that perfectly fit the scenes. I haven't done this with projects I meant to publish because I wasn't sure just what was involved in getting permission. Thank goodness for bowing to ignorance!

One line from the Rolling Stones' Street Fighting Man? If I recall correctly they wanted a couple of thousand pounds. Dylan didn't come much cheaper. Some artists simply refuse to allow their work to be quoted in any way at all. Others settle for a few hundred pounds. In all the permissions cost me some £3,500 or so for that book - and they excluded North America. So if the work had been published in the US I would have had to pay all over again.

I'll keep my soundtracks for personal inspiration, thanks kindly.

*Real quick, why put off talking about Viehl's lack of promotion until later? When it can be nutshelled.

I’ve never had a 100K first print run. I don’t do book signings and I don’t order massive amounts of my own books from certain bookstores (I don’t even know which bookstores are the magic ones from whom the Times gets their sales data.) I do very little in the way of promotions for my books; for this one I gave away some ARCs, sent some author copies to readers and reviewers, and that was about it. I haven’t attended any conference since 2003. To my knowledge there was no marketing campaign for this book; I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it (as a high midlist author I probably don’t rate a marketing campaign yet.) I know they did some blog ads for the previous book in the series, but I never saw anything online about this particular book. No one offered to get me on the Times list, either, but then I was never told who to bribe, beg or otherwise convince to fix the list (I don’t think there is anyone who really does that, but you never know.)

Despite my lack of secret handshakes and massive first print runs, in July 2008 my novel Twilight Fall debuted on the Times mm list at #19

Nutshell: having never read a Lynn Viehl book, I immediately recognized the name as someone [whose work] I have to buy. Putting out a new book is almost all she has to do for advertisement; her fans will handle the rest. We noobs--those who need the info as opposed to the reader who's merely curious or the published author who either knows or is getting a crash course-can't afford to be so passive about sales. (Yeah, but don't go bribing anyone, either.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Unblocking: to self-publish or not to self-publish?

For me, the answer is simple for now: self-publishing isn't my dream.

My parents took me to see Star Wars before I could read and I knew right then that I wanted to tell stories like that. Then there was the first grade and the letters started to mean something in the books whose pictures I'd stared at. Sometime around puberty, I knew that my destiny was to be published by Tor. As an adult, I can't even begin to recall which favorite author made my adolescent imagination got for Tor rather than ..::shrugs::..Ace or whomever. I no longer hang my hopes on a particular imprint, but I am too new to taking the process seriously to drop my dream of being traditionally published for a goal of being published by any means necessary. I'll finish revising, revise again, submit my query packages and receive my rejections as expected.

But why get rejected? Why send the words you sweated over to people who will hold your hopes in their hands for months and might reject it because you had a passive sentence in the query, which they won't mention if they can be bothered to send you a quick, "It's not for me"?

Hopefully, you're writing because you love to. If you don't get real enjoyment from seeing your characters come to life on the page and turning an idea into a story, why are you torturing yourself with all the hard work along the way? Love is the first part, but it's not the only part or you wouldn't be worrying about publishing one way or the other.

1. It's nice to be paid. Advances are good; this does not mean that we should ignore small presses that may not be able to afford them, but don't sell your work short, either.

2. It's good to be recognized for your work. If you've set fingers to keyboard and finished--hell, even started--a work of fiction, I hereby declare you a writer. Tell your friends if you like. I'm afraid that the publishing industry isn't going to accept you as an author if you pay someone to print your book. That seems completely unfair you've written a good book that you know is being rejected for being "not commercial enough". Why should your art have to be commercial?

It's also completely realistic considering that anyone with the cash can self-publish. Have I complained enough about the issues with my manuscript? I can pay for a publishing package and have my book in print right now, complete with the red text reading "this is unclear; revise" and "then this happens."

3. Because of the sweat and tears we to put into our words, we tend to think of them as golden. Sometimes we're wrong. It's good to have an editor to point out that the three page description of the room that is only in the book for the one scene kills the pacing. It's nice to have a copyeditor to catch that we wrote 'diety' ten times when we meant 'deity'. (::wink::)

That goes along with #2. Publishing companies offer a standard of quality, from bookbinding to editing that readers have come to expect. If we even manage to get our hands on your book, people like me will report all across the internet about the pages coming loose and the awkward phrasing. We don't hate you, it's just what we do.

4. And how are you going to get that book into our hands? Bookstores won't order your self-published work until a paying customer requests it, so it won't be on the shelves for browsers to pick up. Newspapers and magazines won't list it with the new releases, nor will they review it. With all that free publicity lost, there's a good chance that even if your book is as good as you think it is, the rest of us will never know.

If you want to self-publish because you’ve sent your manuscript to a few (or half a dozen) agents and have nothing to show but form rejections, take a step back. Have you followed all the submission guidelines for each submission package? (Know the agent’s name if it’s going to a specific agent, did not send the same query/synopsis/10 pages for the Irene Goodman Agency to the Rappaport Agency that wants query/synopsis/5 pages or the Bradford Agency that wants a synopsis/3 chapters?) There are no typos and you’ve included everything else you should?

What about the story itself? OK, your mom thinks that Nora Roberts and Stephen King have nothing on you, but have you shown it to someone who (a) knows what they’re doing and (b) is more interested in seeing the work be all it can be than in stroking your ego or sparing your feelings?

If all your ducks are in a row yet every door seems closed to you, maybe it is time to open your own by self-publishing. Christopher Paolini’s mom thought his writing was all that so they self-published and took it on the road. Long hours, not a lot of pay off…until there was. Maybe they would have saved themselves a lot of gas money if they had gone the traditional route first. Or maybe a few dozen agents/editors would have said, “Robert Jordan meets David Eddings with just a touch of Weis and Hickman, just like the last hundred and fifty fantasy novels to cross my desk. Don’t call us and we won’t call you.”

There are lots of reasons other than a book’s quality for publishing houses to pass. Religious fiction might be a large niche, but it’s certainly a niche market. And when the novel in question is New Age with a just a hint of a plot to get the author’s spiritual ideas across? No wonder publishers originally passed on The Celestine Prophecy.

I’d never considered the market for middle-class, African-American, bi-sexual coming-of-age stories; apparently, neither did the publishers who rejected E. Lynn Harris’s Invisible Life.

As I wrote in Writers, Unblock!, the list of self-published books that made it can go on for quite some time. We still need to be realistic, though. For every rich best-selling author who has gone the traditional route, there are hundreds in the mid-list who are lucky just to pay the rent or mortgage. And there are thousands more who never get to quit their day jobs. The chances of making it are much lower for the self-published. If that’s the way you want to go, take your time researching just what you’re getting into.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sick of Fail

I'm supposed to be writing a more in depth post about self-publishing before diving back into fiction (I stopped putting up with blockage and pushed through that bit of dialogue). What I'm actually doing is feeling guilty that I have not taken down my beloved Amazon carousel widget. Can I condemn Amazon's "de-ranking" of adult (i.e. gay/lesbian/transgender) titles while keeping that on my blog? I mean, it's to promote the authors and it's cute. It's not really supporting Amazon, is it? Surely, it doesn't make me a hypocrite?

You're right. I'll take it down.

But what do I do instead? I'm all for retuning to indie booksellers, but there's a catch. Pandemonium --the fantastic indie sci-f/fantasy/horror store--introduced me to Roger Zelazny and otherwise made my youth a better time than it would have been without them. As my life is now, however, they are well out of my way and the cost of this special trip is more than standard shipping. Now double that since, even on the days in which I want to run away and join the circus, I will eventually return home.

Plus, that won't help me convince you lovely people to support my favorite (and not so favorite) authors. I'm not saying that you're lazy, but it is easier to click a link and buy the book you want than to go out of your way or keep a list on you just in case you happen by the bookstore.

Borders and Barnes & Noble are online, but aren't they part of the mega-store culture as Amazon that put indies at risk even before the economy tanked? Yeah, after my long and previously happy relationship with Amazon, it's a little late to worry about that.

Or maybe there is no too late. Maybe there are only actions and consequences. In February, Amazon started blocking a title or two for being "adult" products or material. (Note, those of you who aren't going to click the link, that the title in question is a memoir, not erotica or even romance.) The creators complained, but most of us never heard of the problem, so Amazon felt free to "de-rank" hundreds of books, mostly with gay/lesbian/transgender themes. Mark Probst's book, for instance, is a young adult title. People noticed. The Internet practically hummed with all the entries on Amazonfail.

"It was a glitch!" announced Amazon. What? Nothing to do with adult content? Or not a glitch, as reps told some, and about sales rather than censorship. Apparently the idea was to make it so that if you searched for something like "Harry Potter", you wouldn't end up with something like "Harry Does Patty", get offended and end up not buying anything. That, of course, still doesn't explain why LGBT titles (even the children's book with the two daddy penguins) were de-ranked but most (and I admit that some were) flat out heterosexual porn wasn't.

They did it because they thought they could get away with it, and I'm afraid any mega-seller I turn to will do the same. So what now?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Writers, unblock!

I've been a living, semi-breathing Mucinex commercial recently. That isn't a very good excuse for not updating, unfortunately, since I wasn't sick when the entry was due. At the time, I suffered from a lesser recognized form of block where the writer has too many ideas. My head overflowed to the point where I could not settle on one thing and go with it. And, of course, all that excess pushed out the simple thought to write it all down for the days when I come up with zip.

Stupid block.

Unblocking in that case would have been stepping up and having the sense to (a) pick something and (b) take notes on the rest for later.

I'm having the same problem in reverse with fiction. In the middle of revisions, I came upon a bit of dialogue that has me stuck. But like many people who lack the wisdom to give up on the dream of being among the handful out of tens of thousands who "make it", I don't write because I want to; I write because I have to. While two characters from my Work in Progress are stuck between words, new characters are being born, old characters are pointing out what was missing from their original stories, and entire chapters are being written on the pages in my mind.

Thank goodness for MicroSoft OneNote. All these would-be rabbit holes are mapped and waiting for a more appropriate time to be addressed.

There's another form of block that's been on my mind recently. The creator of Queryfail has moved from defending that educational snark fest to plugging anything against Agentfail, which if you somehow managed to miss it, was the official writer reaction. It was angsty, true. But among the silly ("You agents should be responding to my brilliant prose instead of blogging and tweeting!") were some valid points ("If you don't want us e-mailing a dozen times to find out if you've gotten the query, let us know you got the friggin' query!"). Why acknowledge the valid when you don't have to?

The tweet that got me babbling at you read: The Guardian UK on Agentfail Day: Venomous, sad & desperate: Link (Hey, I didn't say it - THEY did.) Though the words venomous, sad, and desperate were indeed in the text, that's not quite how the writer was describing the whole thing. More interesting than the twisting of words was the link at the end of the article for "beating the system". What? We shouldn't anonymously air angry at agents laundry in public; we should self-publish!

It's an idea for some. Those of us who have puttered around the outer fringes of publishing know that self-publishing is the kiss of death. People in the industry won't take you seriously; maybe you've written a great piece of work that just wasn't commercial enough for a traditional house, but more likely, in their minds at least, your work wasn't good enough to get an agent. Readers will hesitate for the same reason, plus the fear that the binding won't even hold up with use.

And yet...Is it possible to own a television in the U.S. and to have not heard about the new ABC show "In The Motherhood"? The publishers Melinda Roberts took her book to told her it wouldn't appeal to mainstream audiences. Somehow, it still got her a show of her own and a spot on Oprah. I recall hearing that Chicken Soup For The Soul had been rejected hundreds of times before the author self-published it, and how much of a mega-seller is that? The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans was rejected, but word of mouth from the mere 20 copies he self-published was so great that Simon & Schuster bought the rights for a reported $4.2 million! (Imagine the faces of the rejecting agents upon learning they missed out on 15% of that.)

The list goes on. Sadly, no matter how long a list I make, the fact remains that an even smaller percentage of self-published authors than those who go the traditional route will make a living off their work, let alone millions. Yet there are reasons for why it's worth thinking about. More babble on the subject to come!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Internet is Eating My Brain...

....Or at least my time.

I woke up, got the girl off to school, and worked on revisions. Proud of my progress, I didn't think about how taking a little break might derail me for hours. I peeked in at my personal journal's 'friend list' and saw that Will Shetterly (a literary hero from my youth, World Fantasy Award nominee with Gospel of the Knife) had reactivated his account. That didn't exactly surprise me; I've joked that I could almost make a drinking game out of his dumping and reinstating his account. The shocker was that I let myself get sucked back into RaceFail 09.

Since it's there for the skimming (though a link page that had no "Mely is wrong" slant might be better, this one serves well enough), I can explain my thoughts without a recap. Everybody was wrong. Yes, darlings, those words sum up my thoughts and the explanation.

Even the people who right (which each "group" was at one time or another) managed to argue long enough to be wrong. What could have been (in another time and place, perhaps with different participants) an important conversation about race Sf/F between fans and industry professionals very quickly turned to Epic Fail. And it just won't stop.

Instead of cringing and backing away, I checked the links dating back to the last time I cringed and backed away. The Author Shit List sent me into a whole different tangent. "The Nielson Haydens were unfairly misjudged; I'll read more Tor as soon as they publish something I want to read." I've been meaning to read Elizabeth Bear for years. Guess I'll add the book that helped set off this firestorm to my list. Bull and Shetterly are mostly misunderstood...I'd only heard of three of the next six on the list, and one of three I knew only from RaceFail. Since I've got Stross's Accelerando on my desk waiting to be read, I was glad that his great sin was mainly intelligent commentary with a stupid quip about trolls. That makes for guilt free reading.

So I started to think it might all be guilt free for those of us not on the "you're evil if you don't agree with everything we say" side until my mind stumbled on Orson Scott Card. Years ago, and for writing other than was linked, I decided that I couldn't maintain my self respect and generate royalties for him. This was a quiet decision, just between my husband and I--at least my part was quiet; he practically crowed, as he showed me Card's literary spitting on everything I believed in and we fools who dare believe. I no longer have the link, but the one provided offers reason enough....

That's why I checked out the Ellison link. I read very little of H.E.'s work, but I appreciate the altered state it always leaves me in.

Gawd Damn. I'd not stuck my nose into what someone had referred to as "the Connie Willis scandal" because I'd assumed it was something dumb--she got mad at a fan maybe, or drank too much at the con. You know, something small that was no one else's business. Before I knew it, I was backtracking for firsthand accounts of what happened...

To the writer that I am: The manuscript wasn't rewriting itself while you followed paths to nowhere. You know better.

To the author I hope to become: Don't ever do that shit. Any of it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Soundtrack Revisions?

Whenever I hear anything off the Violent Femmes debut album, I'm sixteen again, just for a little bit. "Blister in the Sun" in particular brings me back to summer days spent with my friends, screaming lyrics out in a buddy's garage.

Tori Amos's album, "Little Earthquakes", isn't actually about multiple generations of a psychic Franco-American family struggling with their powers while the world teeters on the brink of catastrophic war, but you wouldn't know that by me. The CD was on such heavy rotation while I read Julian May's Intervention (out of print again, but worth getting used) that hearing one of the songs brings certain scenes or characters right into my mind.

My Work in Progress has been years in the making. I'd been working on a story that was important to me, but wasn't going anywhere. I had the main character and the idea, but idea does not equal plot. Then things came together, like they sometimes will in writing. I'd started fleshing out secondary and lesser characters in hopes of creating story from conflicting motivations. One of them insisted (in that way that is not schizophrenia) that he deserved attention. Low and behold, I'd already started telling his story in bits and pieces, I just hadn't known it belonged to him. When his theme song popped into my head, I knew that I knew this guy.

As important as knowing him, was being able to find him again.

Sometimes I suffered from writer's block. OK, I felt blocked a lot. Other times, I succumbed to the imaginary pressure from being surrounded by romance and paranormal romance writers. Was there a place in urban fantasy for my non-female driven work? Quinn got put on the back burner as I explored stories that didn't mean much to me but might mean something to one of the many editors seeking the next kick-ass heroine. I'd lose the feel of him. A play through (or five) of his song, though, and I was back in his head space.

Considering all that, plus that I've discussed the use of music while writing in various forums, I have no idea why it took a post over at Something Wicked to get me to expand Quinn's theme song into a full soundtrack. I have yet to write with the playlist, but it's already helped to block out the dozens of distractions that tend to suck me right out of my story and send me down various rabbit holes.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Blue Diablo by Ann Aquirre

Eighteen months ago, Corine Solomon crossed the border and wound up in Mexico City, fleeing her past, her lover, and her “gift.” Corine, a handler, can touch something and now its history—and sometimes, its future. Using her ability, she can find missing persons—and that’s why people never stop trying to find her. People like her ex, Chance.

Chance, whose uncanny luck has led him to her doorstep, needs her help. Someone dear to them both has gone missing in Laredo, Texas, and the only hope of finding her is through Corine’s gift. But their search may prove dangerous as the trail leads them into a strange, dark world of demons and sorcerers, ghosts and witchcraft, zombies---and black magic….
~from the back cover.
The morning after finishing Blue Diablo’s advanced reader copy, I lay in bed wondering how I could explain more than the blub does without leaking spoilers. I could note how the first four pages are in present tense, like an odd holdover from Aguirre’s sci-fi series, only to suddenly move to past-tense for the last page and a half of the first chapter and ever after. Of course, this is the ARC, so that may not still be the case for the actual print run. Even if it is, it only takes you out of the story a little; I was in the middle of the second chapter before I thought, “Wait. Huh?”

I could tell, I thought, about how the heroine has an enjoyable personality with the sort of self-esteem issues that we get a little tired of in our friends but put up with. That’s when it hit me: not only did Corine’s thoughts and fears remind me of real life conversations, everything from those issues to the description of her looks, down to what she wore—in the text, not the obligatory sexed up cover-- reminded me so much of one of my best friends that I wanted to post a picture. (Don’t worry, D. I won’t do that to you; not only do I know it would be wrong, but also you’re scary when you’re mad.)

Aguirre managed to create a character who really could be one of us. Her power isn’t so bizarrely out there. I attended an intuition workshop that included psychometry. Each participant handled objects much like Corine goes—granted, with far less success and none of the price our heroine has to pay. She’s kick ass without being able to kick everybody’s ass; in a combat situation, she’s better armed with a cell phone ready to call 911 than with a gun, but she’s no damsel in distress waiting for the big strong men to come rescue her.

What would you do if you gathered all your courage and moved to a brand new place to escape the relationship that had almost gotten you killed? And if the ex who could still make your knees go weak tracked you down looking for help on something even more dangerous than what you had left behind? Pre-order Ann Aguirre’s Blue Diablo, due out on April 7, 2009, to read what Corine Solomon does when it happens to her.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rethinking #Queryfail

When I posted about #Queryfail, I said that it was snarky but educational. Some just settled on snarky. You can read about the fallout here (expand comments) and here.

So I started to think, "Did the snark outweigh the benefits? Should the agents and editors who participated be ashamed of themselves?" My simple answer is, "No."

I mean no disrespect to those who think this was mean and unprofessional--they're entitled to their opinions, and I don't even think them wrong, even if my opinion doesn't fall along the same lines. I just keep coming back to the fact that #Queryfail gave us--the newbs who will always be newbs if we don't learn how to be navigate this hurdle--information that we're not getting anywhere else.

Another look at the Tweets I reposted:

Three paragraphs, no plot, no hook, and lots of "me, me, me, look how wonderful I am! The writer should have known better. Even the questionable query advice available online gives the basic clues. Yet, in the heat of writing and thinking about selling your story, it could easily end up you're too focused on selling yourself. You can bet your advance that we'll all be checking to make sure we haven't lost the hook and plot in our bids to get agents to "pick me".

"What if everything you knew to be true, turned out not to be true? What if it were, in fact, false?" Wow, a first sentence #queryfail. {That could have been me. I started out writing my pitch like a movie ad, too.} Like I wrote, that could have been me, and it was more writers than the one qf I quoted. Because we don't know any better. In advice on how to write a query, I must have missed that doing this is an auto fail and I've seen it again and again from myself and others. I got clued in by a fellow would-be (who got it from an agent). There are a lot of other newbs out there who don't have groups or partners who are now clued in, too.

Please consider my erotic novel 4 publication.I have attached the synopsis & complete manuscript as per you submission guidlines. OK, yes, the editor in question could have gotten this information across by writing "Don't txt-tlk in your queries and spellcheck!" Most of us already know that. Maybe some of us will remember that spellcheck won't catch the dropped 'r' on 'your' and have a second pair of eyes check our work before sending it out.

It would be lovely of the contributors to #Queryfail to reword the more unique entries so writers don't discover from Tweets why they've been rejected, maybe even before the rejection letter reaches them, or end up feeling humiliated even if no one else knows who they are. But it would also be lovely for us newbs to keep getting the info that might keep us from auto rejection.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The First #Queryfail Day

I had a wonderful surprise waiting on Twitter yesterday, but let me give a little background first.

An age or so ago, I decided to stop dreaming about becoming an author and to start working toward it. This meant an end to major fantasies--like accepting an Oscar from my novel turned screenplay that the studio couldn't imagine anyone writing but me--and and end to minor fantasies--like finding an agent for a manuscript that might never be ready to send out.

I focused on finishing the story most important to me. Then, with a few missteps like putting it aside to focus calls for submission, I went into revision mode. This was working just fine until The Amazon Breakthrough contest came around again. The first year, I couldn't even think of submitting anything. But now I had working manuscript, half revised. Surely, I could get the other half ready in time if the judges showed any interest.

At worst, I thought, the manuscript would be tied up in the judging process when I really wanted to send it out the old fashion way to agents. At best, it would make it through several stages and I'd have something to put in the credentials section of my query letters since school anthologies (with titles I don't even remember, no less) don't count. Who am I kidding? At best, my book is even better than I believe and I'd win the publishing contract.

First, I'd have to write that pitch, though. I sat in front of a blank screen, turning words over in my mind, until two experienced query writers from the writing group came to my rescue. They talked me through the process, corrected the worst of my silliness, and helped me breathe through a minor panic attack. Am I all set to go? Not at all. But they laid the foundation that might keep my work from being featured in some future #Queryfail Day.

Agents and editors on Twitter took the time to write about the queries they were rejecting (with a few that were accepted) and to explain why. Yes, it seems mean. How much would it suck to discover your work has been rejected while others got a giggle over it, even though they don't know who you are? But knowing why you got a "thanks, but no thanks" will keep you from making the same mistakes while educating the rest of us along the way.

Here are some examples from the three whose Tweets I follow:

1. Three paragraphs, no plot, no hook, and lots of "me, me, me, look how wonderful I am!" {Remember, the point is to sell the book.}

2. "What if everything you knew to be true, turned out not to be true? What if it were, in fact, false?" Wow, a first sentence #queryfail. {That could have been me. I started out writing my pitch like a movie ad, too.}

3. "Easily the boldest novel so far written in this fresh century of ours." Sure it is! And I'm dating Angelina Jolie... {I stand corrected. The point is to sell the story.}

4. Amputee porn. No, really. Just stop. {::shudder::}

5. Please consider my erotic novel 4 publication.I have attached the synopsis & complete manuscript as per you submission guidlines. {Really? You txt-tlked your hopeful editor to be? And explained the attachments--what?--in case she forgot her guidelines?}

6. I understand that my synopsis needs some work but I am not so great at marketing myself.

7. "A joyous and memorable journey that is both humorous and enjoyable."

8. "My book is differentiated from Twilight because the vampires have wings, and are half-breed angels."

9. fantasy romance query about a nun?...

10. A photo of author in full BDSM dress in body of query email. Yes, I got that.

It wasn't all failed queries and snarky education. The contributors also gave examples of what they accepted, but the 140 characters allowed on Twitter is too short to be of much use to us struggling neebies. For advice on how to do it the right way, check out agent Nathan Bransford's Query Letter Mad Lib, Anatomy of a Good Query Letter, and Anatomy of a Good Query Letter 2. Also see Jessica Faust's Personal Tastes and Holiday Critiques #1 (you can find subsequent Holiday Critiques by scrolling down to the "newer" link).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Speaking of Writers' Groups

If you're just coming to A Writer's Block, or have been one of the four supporters all along but have forgotten, this is the blog of a would-be-novelist on her way to making it or failing miserably. My babbling about books isn't just filler; writer's are grown from readers and seeing how others make the page come alive (or fail to, in our own estimation) can teach us more about the art than any "how to."

My first writing group consisted of best friends inspired by The Dead Poets’ Society. We were teenage girls who loved words and stories and each other. While I didn't know near as much as I do now to apply to the group, The Weird Writer's Society managed to do more than ego stroke. Sure, we were encouraging, but we were also honest about what we thought worked and didn't work.

Sometimes, that's all you need. I can see that with 20/20 hindsight, looking back to when I let an older poet coax me into showing my work. He was kind. He was also professionally published (as opposed to my poems and articles that found themselves in school publications) and offered critiques I wasn't yet ready for.

Fast forward to just a few years ago. I had the beginnings of more novel than I could count, all without a middle--or even a fourth chapter--let alone an ending. I'd dubbed myself the Queen of the First Chapter, so isolated in my writing that I didn't realize there were hundreds, maybe thousands, vying for the title. Then I discovered Kelley Armstrong's Stolen, second in the Women of the Underworld series. I loved it so much that I pestered my husband into reading it. He loved it so much that he bought all the books to date and dragged me to the web site.

The Online Writer's Group--a members’ only section of the site--almost intimidated me too much to join. But I was ready to relinquish my title and opening membership was on a trial basis, so I could quietly slink away if I discovered the group to be too much for me.

What I found was writers of various "levels", all working improve their own and one another's writing. Some of it was so good that I couldn't immediately see why it needed critiques at all. I knew, of course, that it wasn't easy to break into publishing; I didn't get yet how polished a piece needed to before an agent or editor would give it the time to discover how good a story it was. And other pieces were so bad that I marveled that the writers were brave enough to post them alongside the others. These submissions were neither ignored nor ripped apart. The writers, with full respect for their efforts, were shown the issues with their work.

I'd found a place were I could safely learn and grow in my craft.

The best advice that I never received as a would-be-novelist is to find a good writers’ group. They won't fill your head with how great your works is, as friends and family sometimes will, while ignoring every flaw that an editor will spot right before sticking your story under the slush pile. (If they do, let them know what you need. Then, if the members aren't in a place where they can help you, start looking for a new group.) Yet they are still encouraging (if, once you can step back enough to look objectively at your work and what's been said, you feel that they are more attacking than critiquing, find another group).

In learning to critique others, we learn a great deal about our own writing. It doesn't hurt that, along the way, we end up with the kind of support system we'll never find by sitting alone staring at the screen.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Speaking of Howard....

I'd written that Kassandra's half of Seaborn read like a YA book with chapter's missing...

I have avoided reading Saltwater Witch for fear that (not knowing where it falls chronologically), it might give me spoilers.

And, I have just discovered that this is actually the missing chapters that got shoehorned into Seaborn as backstory. So you can read it first and dig all cool artwork!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Seaborn and Night Shift

I'm late, I know. My paltry excuse is that I'd planned my next post to be a "review" of Seaborn by Chris Howard and Night Shift by Lilith Saintcrow--two books connected only by my reading them at the same time. In my mind, I toyed with titles like, "Two OK Tastes That Taste OK Together."

To be fair, half of Seaborn is much more than OK. Half of the book follows Corina, a California college student possessed by a seaborn sorcerer. (The book lends itself to alliteration--it's not all my fault!) I didn't know it when Tez's Review prompted me to put Seaborn at the top of my TBR list, but Corina's story is exactly what I've been missing since keeping up with new urban fantasy and close-enough paranormal romance has distanced me from Charles de Lint's back list and old favorites like The Borderland books. She's an interesting heroine with a story I really feel. Howard's on Boskone's 'Men Writing Women' panel tomorrow and Corina makes me sorry I'm going to miss it.

Then there's the other half of the book. Kassandra is a Seaborn royal, exiled to the surface because her grandfather, King Thasaleos, is a murdering son of a bitch. His being such a jerk is the only thing that keeps me from wishing literary harm on Kassandra; I want him to get his in the end so she needs to live long enough to do it. Despite a promising beginning, her story reads like a young adult novel that I did not sign up for. Worse, there are chapters missing--a whole book's worth (that might explain why her dialogue is so tediously stiff) that gets shoehorned in as a few paragraphs of backstory.

It's entirely possible that no one else would be bothered by the narrative mode(s) of the novel. Third person omniscient exists even if it's mostly more "third person limited with multiple characters." In fact, this is mostly that until suddenly we jump heads just long enough for my teeth to itch. In Corina's story, with another consciousness sharing her body, that actually makes sense. In Kassandra's, it's one more reason for me to push through to the end so I can reread the book, skipping her chapters.

And that brings me to Night Shift. I'll usually read one book at a time, but I found myself finishing Corina chapters and thinking, "Well Night Shift is going to have to go back to the library so I'd better read that now."

Working for the Devil grabbed me with its title and its back cover blurb held on until I bought it. I loved the worldbuilding and writing. Unfortunately, if I don't really like Howard's Kassandra, I hated WftD's narrator, Dante Valentine. The feisty, kick-ass woman that books of this type can't do without became bitchy and obnoxious in the form of Dante Valentine. I couldn't stand her, couldn't stand her friends, and couldn't accept that a demon was the only likable character in the novel. Yet, the writing was so damned good that I went back for book two.

I polled the fans, learned that Dante was no better in the third book, and put away my Saintcrow cravings....until I heard about Night Shift. Jill Kismet is a Hunter, trained to walk on the nightside and take down demons and other creatures that make the city streets unsafe for humans. She's already running on empty when five cops are ripped apart and the police need her help more than ever.

There is no doubt in my mind that Lilith Saintcrow will someday make my short list of favorite authors, but "this is not that day." Kismet's setting has the same lovely dark grittiness as Valentine's with a more likable narrator. The upside is that I don't find myself pulling for the bad guys in this book. The downside is that the story doesn't suck me in, and more likable does not translate into loving Kismet.

Flashbacks of Kismet's dead mentor both spice up and slow down the narrative is they explain why the Hunter is so deeply damaged. The hunt for the killer is OK. The possible love interest is OK. It's all just...OK. I keep reading because (1) Saintcrow has a way with descriptions that makes me want to see what else she'll describe, and (2) I need to get to the end in case the next book is the one where all of her impressive talents come together in a story that I won't want to miss.