Wednesday, June 30, 2010

There's SOMETHING Out There

People have asked me a lot of good questions today:

1. What do you think you're doing?
2. Are you sure you're finished?
3. Why are you sitting there wearing headphones that are attached to nothing? (Sadly, I hadn't realized that they weren't attached to anything and hadn't even remembered I was wearing them. I felt weird when it was pointed out to me, like I'd just discovered I was one of those people who wears tin foil hats to ward off alien thought-reading.)

My least favorite, however, was a jovial
4. What are you doing for the rest of your life?

It was followed by an invitation to do something asinine that would only take the rest of my life if I was assassinated immediately following it. Although it (I can't even remember what it was, that's how lame it was) was so stupid that I might have come up with a way to kill myself just to end the activity.

But the reason I didn't like the question wasn't that I knew it would be followed by a bad suggestion that I would have to respond to with a fake smile and a lot of begging off. I didn't like it because of the sickening little thrill of uncertainty that hit me as soon as I heard it. Like I'd forgotten to do something, but the something wasn't turning off the iron or feeding the cat. The something - the SOMETHING - was like I'd forgotten to be born in the right century, or forgotten to set my alarm on the day I was supposed to launch into space. The SOMETHING was huge, squeezing my throat so it was hard to breathe or swallow, and I didn't even know what it was.

That feeling only lasted a moment, and then I was all "that's so sweet, but I can't make it on account of my cat's hamster's appendectomy surgery" or something. I forget. So now I'm huddled around a box of Reece's Pieces, frantically banging away at my keyboard, trying to turn a muddled little story into SOMETHING. Can an armful of words turn into SOMETHING? Heck ya, they can. Just see my last post.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tweets that Brightened our Day

Apparently Susan Orlean was ruminating on a book that had gotten into her head and refused to leave, tweeted about it with the simple yet profound hashtag #booksthatchangedmyworld, and opened a font into which readers everywhere could gush.

I live in Alaska. I'm four hours behind New York City and an hour behind Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. So when I woke up, hours after Ms. Orlean's tweet, I had screens and screens of amazing, interesting and revelatory tweets to read through. I loved that she did not tag this "books that changed my life" or "books that changed the world", which would likely have been a smaller, more repetitive list and possibly would have resulted in flares of self-righteous hostility. And also, titles like that would have had nothing to do with the singular effect a harmless-looking book might have on an individual.

No. #booksthatchangedmyworld was the perfect tag for, in some ways, the most personal, idiosyncratic and subjective of pastimes (or lifestayles, if you prefer).

The first book I listed was Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown. I have a hardback 1984 edition, the jacket long since lost. It is signed by Robin McKinley, but the inscription wishes the best to my older brother, and another inscription indicates that my grandmother gave it to my older brother in 1986 (sshhhhh - don't tell him). I love this book. I love Aerin, the gawky, determined heroine. I love Gonturan, her sword, and Talat, her reformed war horse. I love her adoring but puzzled father, her beautiful, selfish rival Galanna and her complicated and distant mentor (and then some) Luthe.

I gobbled up The Blue Sword, the sequel to The Hero and the Crown. It is a fine book, but did not affect me so profoundly. And I loved Sunshine, which is mostly unrelated except for the author (and which has just come out in paperback dressed in a dramatic new cover), and has affected me in other ways.

I read this book still, a couple of times a year, slipping through the simple elegance of the writing into a world of stone castles, sleeping dragons and huts full of axe handles. The Hero and the Crown did not change my life. I have not attempted to proof myself against dragon's fire or charged into battle on the broad back of a stallion. Hell, I haven't ridden a horse in years. Likely, this book hasn't changed the world either except to make it a little richer, a little more lovely. But as soon as I saw that hashtag repeating after an eclectic mix of classics and epic love stories and tales of tragedy, I knew what my first #booksthatchangedmyworld would be.

And what, gentle readers, were yours?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Impudent Hatchlings Strike Again

The Impudent Hatchlings have formed a mob and attacked. Relentlessly. Maybe I'm out of practice at fending them off, or the repellent I've been using for most of the last year has finally lost its efficacy. I really don't know.

I do know that I'm being pulled in multiple directions in REAL LIFE, and being pushed into strange and unique worlds inside my head. Don't worry, it's not a clinical problem. They're just ideas and I know that they are just ideas, and that's why I'm allowed to remain on the streets (not literally - as I write this I am inside of a home that the bank lets me stay in).

I'm querying a manuscript which, of course, I thought was quite good (not to mention done) when I sent it out, but now I'm a hand-wringing, lip-chewing mess. If you haven't ever gone to war or lived through a plane crash a la LOST and want to find out what you're made of, try querying a novel. It's enlightening, to say the least.

I'm also revising a short story with the intention of submitting it, waiting on another ss that's been short-listed for over a month and in a holding pattern for an ss that was accepted for an anthology, for which I don't yet know the publication details. Also, I've outlined a sequel to the ms being queried and am somewhere in the middle of a rewrite for a partially-written ms in a genre I have been having some trouble with (It's a romance for God's sake and, if you look at my last post, you'll see that I don't do well with romance. Oh wait, that's fiction and totally not at all based on my own "issues").

But all that's neither here nor there. The mob, the swarm, the murder, the flock which has descended upon me is none of those things. It's a batch of other people and places, a YA novel I conceived of six months ago but never got sufficiently enthusiastic about, a very short story of the horror genre, and another short story that blinks in and out of my head like some kind of strobe that I can't ever quite focus on. I'm beginning to feel a bit Harrison Bergeron with the mental interruptions programmed for maximum inefficiency.

Anyway, what great ideas or submerged pods of notions are after you these days, and do you think you can tame them?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Absolute Write June Blog Chain - Let a Player Play

June’s AbsoluteWrite Blog Chain prompt was to post a scene that describes or defines your main character’s attitude. Callista Shea is a combat-trained Fire Witch trapped in an office job. This scene, from my urban fantasy HUNTING IN THE DARK, where she has been asked by her friend Minerva to watch over Minerva’s flower shop, illustrates her peculiar way of dealing with men. I hope you enjoy.

WARNING: This scene contains profanity, and incompetence.

Please check out this month's other fabulous participants:
Aimee Laine:
Lyra Jean:
Fokker Aeroplanbau:
Alpha Echo:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Review! Laura Bickle's EMBERS

EMBERS puts the urban back in urban fantasy. Anya Kalinczyk is unusual for an urban fantasy protagonist in that she has a regular job. Well, non-fantastical anyway. She's an arson investigator for the Detroit Fire Department, and subject to bureaucratic tropes, office politics and municipal cutbacks. She's also a Lantern, a medium psychically linked to fire and able to consume and extinguish malicious spirits.

Anya is strong, competent and dedicated. She's also vulnerable and terribly alone. Her elemental familiar, Sparky, is a salamander. He watches over her in his own charming way, but is also one of the reasons she has avoided intimacy with humans.

In the course of investigating strange arsons and working with a crew of ghost hunters, throughout a troubled and depressed Motor City, Anya discovers that something wicked her way comes. In the days leading up to Devil's Night, the fires are just a harbinger of possible greater destruction, which Anya races to uncover, facing increasingly difficult obstacles.

Anya is a complex character, drawn to things she cannot have, and pushed into performing acts she does not like because of her power. The city is described in excellent detail, becoming a character itself, and the supporting cast is strong.

The book is a little uneven, and the end felt almost hasty. But, overall, a good, grown-up urban fantasy. Unusually, I was at times more intrigued by the mundane aspects of Anya's occupation than the fantastical aspects of the world the author built. But in a good way. RECOMMENDED.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What Ails Ya?

I just got a new chair for my workspace, and I'm very excited. Admittedly, I haven't yet assembled it and it is obnoxiously ugly. I'm shorter than the average woman, and most office furniture is made with the average person in mind, so I'll take what I can get. Anything to alleviate the Knot of Fury that lives above my right shoulder blade.

I also got a new bulletin board so that I can gratuitously rip pages out of first edition books and hang them like trophies tack up inspirational artwork and writing mantras.

Once I get my new curtains hung, my little work space will be, as Goldilocks said, just right, sucka. At least, I think that was her.

So, in a tribute to home work spaces, I give you: OSHA. I know, awesome, right? This blog is down with all the hip, urban trends. Actually, they have some good tips on setting up a healthy workspace, and most writers I know at least occasionally complain about aches, pains, migraines, numbness, nose bleeds, night sweats, and difficulty urinating. Some of it might even be related to their work space.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Think That I Shall Never Be, as Tiny-Handed as a Carny

A piece of advice often given to new writers is "write what you know". Some people take this seriously and end up writing 200,000 word-long novels about people waking up, showering, going to work, coming home, writing a book about what they know, going to sleep...repeat. Others tell extraordinary tales of heroics, survival, outrageous but true conspiracies or inexplicably hilarious events.

I'm considering writing about carnies. Traditionally defined as "people employed by the carnival", they are now known in popular culture as circus folk who smell like cabbage and have freakishly small hands. Urban Dictionary adds that they are generally not clean and will exchange alcohol for friendship. Austin Powers and UD are incorrect, my fine feathered friends. How do I know this, you ask? How could a seemingly educated, genteel personage *snicker* of only slightly-diminutive stature possibly know what lurks in the heart of a carny? Because I have seen what walks the candied apple-core strewn fairgrounds after the gates squeak closed and the clock tolls midnight, my dearies. I have been, and some small (not the hands, though) part of me always will be, a carny.

I will allow you a moment to administer your smelling salts and catch your breath.
All better?

So, I'm going to write what I know. I think I'll aim for a short story of the horror genre. Because, my goodness, the theme just throws itself in that direction, does it not? I, myself, did not witness or experience much horror, except in the meager accommodations, illegally low wages, and occasional sunstroke. Oh, and the food handling. My Gods, the food handling.

So dearies, what dank, dark secret knowledge or talent might you be hiding?

Query Stat Update

Yes, this is late. Yes, I promised it to you days ago, but I'm a "fiction writer", so...shame on you.

The Excuse: we had what I believe is referred to as "good weather" which required me to bask in the sun's vitamin D-giving glory and suffer copious mosquito bites. It's Alaska. Nothing's free.

Queries Sent: 10
Full MS Requests: 3
Partial MS Requests: 1
Rejections: 5

Agents are quick this time of year.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened...

I opted out of my countdown yesterday, which I suppose it's my prerogative to do. It actually wasn't intentional, despite the premature launch that removed the need for a countdown. What actually happened was this:

1. The neighbors sold their house. Their house was (is still, but they no longer own it) very near to ours. They have apparently invited every contractor in the United States, Canada and Russia (I can't see it from here, but that's because the trees are too tall) to work on it, round the clock. Thus, with all the hammering and power tool whining and the one very ominous destructive crashing sound, I have had some trouble focusing.
2. My better half has been out of town for a few days, leaving me to the monumental task of single parenting the spastic monkey who pretends to be our offspring. Just this morning he tackled me (he's two, but almost as big as me) and declared himself a "monkey, monkey, monkey" while bashing his head against my sternum and calling it a hug.
3. I've been trying to figure out self-employment tax law while:
3a. Obsessively minding my batch of queries
3b. Performing CPR on an old short story - I finally had to hand the corpse off to the experts
3c. Researching Japanese myths and the Ainu people

But, since I'm not the sentimental type, I'm not going to continue counting down toward something that has already occurred. Onward and upward! Or, at the very least, away.

I will update the query stats tomorrow.

That is all.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Review! - Suzanne McLeod's The Sweet Scent of Blood

“Genevieve Taylor is a sidhe – one of the noble fae – and she’s unusual even in a London where celebrity vampires, eccentric goblins and scheming lesser fae mix freely with humanity…” from the book back of The Sweet Scent of Blood.

Genny Taylor works for, uncovering magic and spells and, when required, breaking them. When a celebrity vampire is accused of killing his human lover, and the vampire’s human father beseeches Genny to help him prove his son’s innocence, she’s sucked into a murky web of conspiracy.

Debut author Suzanne McLeod does a sterling job of showcasing an alternate history London, where paranormals and magic are the norm, and she does it with original twists and without overbearing exposition. This book moves quickly as Genny is swept up in the competing schemes of both the powerful and the power-hungry. She is both a pawn and a resourceful player of the game. This book is not for the faint of heart. It’s at times violent, bloody and darkly sensual, but those elements are well-balanced with strong characters, and Genny’s pragmatism and valiant struggle both to uncover the truth and control her own dark impulses.

While I had some trouble getting through the first few pages and sometimes felt that information was withheld a few moments too long, I could not put this book down until I got to the very last suspenseful, satisfying word. The Cold Kiss of Death, the next book in Suzanne’s Spellcrackers series, is on my wish list. If you cannot wait, I believe it's already been released in the UK.

Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

MS#3 - Six (What We Talk About When We Talk About Querying)

When aspiring writers talk about querying, they talk about the critiques they've received, and the difficulty of balancing voice with plot revelation inside of a tiny word count box. They talk about the agents they've hand-picked and, if those don't work out, they talk about papering the whole world with their query on the off chance that a hitherto unknown agent will see it and come calling.

They secretly dream of being woken by a phone call from Dream Agent #1 and overtly fear utter, desolate silence, even from the agents who say they respond to every query. They stalk their email accounts, sure that their internet provider has done something to slow down the connection. Or they refuse to check their email more than once a week, terrified of finding it devoid of response.

What they don't talk about is how to actually send the query out. The agents kind of cover it, in tweets and on their blogs. They'll have helpful, occasional posts about what they want to see in queries, from the requirements to the preferences. Sometimes they'll showcase the query that sealed the deal between themselves and a new client. And agents will talk about what they don't want to see: no contact information, insults, anyone else's name or nobody's name in the greeting, descriptions of the author's body, material goods not obviously related to the query.

So what do you need to know before you actually send the query off? You need to know that your eyes are your enemy and your mouth is your friend. Or maybe it's your ears that are your friend. Read your query aloud and without distractions. Are you repeating the same word or phrase? Is there an awkward sentence or transition? Did you accidentally write the phrase "magic poop" instead of "magic pool"? (that typo literally haunts me)

Here's how you email out (note: not write) a query:
1. Get plenty of sleep, and have a supply of your favorite (legal) upper on hand.
2. Shut out all outside distraction. Send your kid to the kennel and your dog to the sitter. :)
3. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.
4. Double-check your preferred agents' websites or, if they don't have them, their postings on professional sites. Make sure they are open for queries. Use the correct email address (if they want it sent to an assistant or general box, follow the direction).
5. If you alter a template for each agent, make sure you alter each detail. Things like client references, attachments/inclusions (5 pgs, 10 pgs, synopsis, no synopsis).
6. Save all the emails in draft form and walk away.
7. Return the next day to review for accuracy. How many hours/months/years have you spent on your manuscript? Isn't the query worth a second review?
8. Wait around for a few minutes to make sure the email went through.
9. If you're the prayin' type, now's the time.

Also, Submission Stats Update:
Queries Sent: 10
Full MS Requests: 2
Partial MS Requests: 1
Rejections: _

Monday, June 7, 2010

MS#3 - Seven (in which I condemn the synopsis)

My goal for last week was to complete my long- and short-form synopses. These are the tantalizing tinctures containing all the major points, conflicts and characters of the story. In 2 pages. HAHA HHAHAHAHAHHA. But seriously, folks. Producing a synopsis, even a long one, is a mind-bendingly arduous process. It's so difficult that literary agents have trouble even discussing it.

But, it's valuable. I discovered the massive absence of conflict in a prior manuscript as I attempted to cobble together the synopsis. Point to synopsis.

So, I'm nearly done, just have to polish my one-pager, and I can send my query off to the remainder of my first wave of agents. So far, I've been pleasantly surprised at the responses, though I only have a few out. The stats, as of 4:00 PM AKST, are:

Queries Sent: 4
Full MS Requests: 1
Partial MS Requests: 1
Rejections: 0

Sunday, June 6, 2010

MS#3 - Eight (in which I express much shock)

As those of you who check my blog hourly (what's up stalkers friends?) know, last night I sent out my first partial wave of queries to literary agents. Not my first ever, but that is a long and boring story.

This afternoon, while I was basking in the sun with one eye on my two year-old and the other on the steady stream of small aircraft whisking tourists off to remote fishing camps, my buh-berry pinged me. And what, dear readers, did it say? Why, I had a response from an agent...and not one of those auto-replies to confirm receipt. No, it was a living, breathing response. A request, in fact, for a full manuscript.

So, for those of you keeping count at home, todays stats are:
Queries sent: 4
MS Requests: 1
Rejections: 0

Of course, that response was hellaciously fast, and the rejections and non-responses are sure to catch up, but I'm pleased for the moment. Hopefully the agent will be as well.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

MS#3 - Nine (and some premature launch issues)

The good news is that I have had a short story accepted for publication (details to follow when I've finished reviewing the contract) and another that made it through two rounds and is now short-listed. Nice. Big thanks to my critique group.

The scary news is that the launch date of the search for an agent for my newest novel has been moved up. In fact, Query #1 has left the building, folks. And another couple are fueled up and ready to go. *gulp*

I'm going to wait until my mind is fresh to review my synopses (intentionally plural) one last time before I send out the remainder to a small batch of sterling, hand-picked agents. But manuscript #3 has gone live. I'm going to continue the countdown anyway, since it will probably take me that long to double-check every last detail and move the queries from draft box to outbox.

Now the waiting begins.

Friday, June 4, 2010

MS#3 - Ten

The Impudent Hatchling that is my WIP (work in progress) has rolled onto its back. Another few days and it will be showing me its throat. For I shall by then have dominated it. Hopefully. I'm nearly at the end of my last edit. Basically just looking for any remaining mistakes and tightening it a bit. Must Should Must finish the synopsis this weekend, and then: Let the Queryin' Begin!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

MS#3: Countdown to Going Live

She was sweating. Sweat beaded on her forehead and ran, stinging, into her eyes. Absently Without a conscious thought, she wiped it away. She kept going. Her wrists hurt. Her left leg had gone numb. Something moved in her peripheral vision, some hungry beast hunting in the twilight, or maybe a filament (That’s not the right word. You know the right word. Think, brain, think.) figment of her imagination. It was a toss-up as to which was more likely. The screen grew fuzzy, the small bones of her neck creaked and rubbed together when she leaned forward.

So, I’m revising a completed manuscript. Frantically revising it, apparently. I usually slow down at the end of a piece, spinning in my chair, surfing blog waves, and generally dithering a good deal before I get to the “the end” part. I don’t even write “the end” at the end, as if it’s too much trouble. After 80,000-90,000 words, who cares about two more little words?

I need to do a few more things, like pull my outline into a slightly more atmospheric synopsis. Then I’ll copy it and wring every last drop of superfluity out of it until it reveals a sleek, breakneck little cousin that lives and breathes on a single page (single-spaced). Have to spell check the query and read it aloud for stowaway typos and awkward wording.

And then…then I’m off to the races.