Looking to the Future, and Preparing to Duck

There’s a point in querying when you look at the agent’s guidelines, and you look at your manuscript, and you start doing math in your head. If literary agent is on a train leaving Boston at 3:17 and rejects three and a half manuscripts every ten minutes, in what city will she rip open a hernia laughing at your audacity? If literary assistant is from Nebraska, and you mention the Huskers three times in your query, will he read quickly enough to award perceived affinity points before he realizes you meant the Concrete Canoe team, and don’t know anything about football?

And–my personal favorite–if Guidelines request X number of pages, where exactly are you abandoning your characters?

So far as I can tell, there are three possible answers to this question.

Don’t worry.

You’ll loose plenty of sleep regardless.

1.) Holy shit, I thought this thing was finished. I am going back to revise.

2.) One good stopping point is too short. The next one is too long.

or…

3.) Gee, I wonder if there’s a specific protocol for sending humorous penis descriptions to a respected publishing professional.

Maybe that last one is just me.

It’s not an erotic scene by any stretch. My character arrives on scene naked and incredibly intoxicated.

And I love the scene. I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

But those moral restraints society has worked so hard to imbue me with tend to suggest there might be some form of etiquette involved… Somewhere.

Here is the scene I couldn’t read out loud in the company break room.

And a quiche, because a non-sexy breakfast food is an excellent way to take the awkward out of… awkward!

Is quiche platonic enough? I mean… well, it doesn’t have any holes.

At any rate, the most popular numbers of pages to request seem to be 5 pages… 10 pages… and CUE THE NUDITY!!!

This Is Not A Chatroom

Recently, one of my most favorite-est online writers’ communities added a new feature. (It’s for members, so I won’t add a direct link, but since basic membership is free, click on through, sign up, and take a look around.)

It is not a chat room.

Okay… well, it’s a chat room. Except the general idea isn’t to chat about your work. Oh, no. This is a chat room that’s not a chat room. It’s a come in, greet your fellow writers, and get to work room. Sort of a working quietly on your own in the presence of others room. Study hall for writers. The expectation is that you will study.

The rules are: NO CHATTING! You come in, state your goals, and get to work. Sometimes, there are word sprints. Sometimes there are tiny little bits of info about what you’re working on. But there is NO CHATTING.

And–believe it or not–it’s working fairly well for me.

I’ve mastered the fine art of emoji-only greetings, and showing up.

I do pretty well, when I know people are expecting me to be somewhere, and expecting me to work.

Now, admittedly, the internet is a broad and wonderful place, and it has tabs, so I won’t swear there’s no “research” going on in the background, but by and large, I’ve been moving forward through the magic of peer pressure.

Togetherness–such as it is–is working. And if I were in a real-life work space, it would work the same way. Very quiet–so you don’t bother anyone else–and moving forward, because other people are there, and it’s one of the few places where people actually care whether you write a novel or not. No one is going to tell you you should quit and become an insurance agent, for instance.

I’m still fiddling with website efficiency here. Do you feel all optimized? No? Well, I’m playing balance function with resources. I’m going to have to look around and see what I can live without, or what I can smooth out, because I’m not running all that smoothly.

Look, I Found A Chance To Win A Trip To Japan

So, I found–a little late, there are three days until the deadline, including today–a short story contest in which the prize includes a trip to Japan. Here’s the link to the story in Wired: https://www.wired.com/beyond-the-beyond/2017/06/seat-14c-jets-future/

And here’s the link to the contest, itself: http://www.seat14c.com

I’m not sure if I’m going to get something written in three days, but I’d love to see somebody I know win.

And I would like whichever brilliant friend does win to take me with them on their trip to Japan.

Besides, if I do win, I would truly enjoy knowing that I beat out each and every talented one of you. That would mean a lot to me.

So, get writing, people!

A Quick Assessment and Other Themes

So, taking a step back, and looking at where I am in my novel… at last count, my main character was about to confess that she may not have… exactly… uhm… killed the person everyone assumes she killed. Actually, he might be alive and well, and fidgeting around in her basement, reading sports magazines, and eating Cracker Jack. (Or whatever the interplanetary, non-sports oriented version of that is.)

The character she is talking to keeps bouncing back and forth between being about eight (shut up, it’s fiction) and sixteen (with stops at every station in between). I’m fairly sure there’s probably a minimum acceptable age at which to have the you know that guy I was supposed to kill? Didn’t. Conversation. So, I’m thinking he’ll probably wind up closer to sixteen, although maybe a little younger.

Definitely a re-write it couple of chapters.

I’m also stumbling into questions of theme, and what the hell is this story really about?

Aliens from outer space.

Some of them are blue.

Some of them look like you.

I always hated theme in high school. It was the part where you took a perfectly good story about aliens from outer space, and then announced, but it’s actually about world peace and puberty. Rorschach for English majors.

Hey, but you’re the one showing me all the dirty pictures.

I spent a lot of time looking for themes, and the ones I found were never the “right” ones.

Then again, if I’m writing the book, how could I possibly be wrong about the themes? Well, don’t worry. Someone’s bound to find a way sooner or later.

IWSG: Pet Peeves in Reading, Writing, and Editing

 

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts for the August 2 posting of the IWSG are Christine Rains, Dolarah @ Book Lover, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Yvonne Ventresca, and LG Keltner!

A couple days ago, I was talking about formal language. No, not written language. The spoken variety. The kind where there’s a correct and an incorrect pronunciation for everything, and mostly… you have to learn it in a butt-in-chair, take notes while the blow-hard speaks kind of way. Not the reading after a long day at work way. There’s a street not far from here, with one of those thoroughly anglicized names that a 19th century planner picked because it fits his system.
And wouldn’t you know… a friend of mine dared to pronounce it the way it’s been pronounced ever since the railroad scratched a line on the map–the way 100 out of 100 dentists in my neck of the woods would pronounce it–and some pretentious ex-local chose to correct her. It’s saw-teee-o, dah-ling.
Now, I happen to know the ex-local in question pretty well. And her Spanish sucks. Like in the sense of mine is abysmal (never took a class in my life), and I’m still horrified by hers.
It’s saw-teee-o, dah-ling.
Oh, yes, you know I’m thinking about voice, now. I’m pretty sure every writer I know is hung up on voice. Maybe every person I know, although a lot of them wouldn’t phrase it that way.  Do I sound too… (what? everybody has one. You know. rural. urban. ethnic. bland.) Do I sound smart enough? Educated enough? Pretty enough? Do I sound like a human being, or like an aging recording of a dusty academic?
Should I go back to day one and re-learn the pronunciation of every word I’ve ever read, but not heard?
There’s a lot of philosophy in language. A lot of philosophy in voice.
Do you translate the dirty parts with glee? Or do you assume the people who are smart enough to understand already know? Do you feel the need to protect the common man from the gutter-world of “sucked off?”
And once you know your own world view–mine happens to be that “smart” is for everybody, regardless of whether they happened to be born in Cambridge and educated at great expense–how do you express that in your writing?
August 2 Question: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?
The pronoun I’m a big stickler for is “who.” Not who vs. whom. I’m pretty much good with whom being archaic, but the thing where people use “that” instead of “who”  to refer to human beings, animals, and sentient garden rakes? The (living, thinking character) that whatever…. Ugh. I mean, the accusative case is tricky (Okay, yeah. I’m just saying that to annoy the Latinists among us.) but just about anyone should be able to tell whether they’re talking about a human being or a cinder block.

Comparing Yourself To Others (A Beginners’ Guide)

I get a whole lot of advice that says not to compare myself to others.

In general, the advice also includes some kind of admonition that the only person you should compare yourself to is you. And something that’s meant to be consoling, but which could almost certainly be said for anything from an infant’s first crayon scratches to Shakespeare. You are where you are.

I don’t believe a word of it.

What I do believe is that if you are going to compare yourself to others, it should be in a very specific way. I don’t, for instance think “I want to write like Shakespeare” is a healthy goal. It’s too big, too general… it’s something that eliminates your own style in the process. Wanting to be someone else isn’t achievable. But if you break it into specific elements you admire, some of it might be. “I should use the word thou more.” well, that’s achievable. (I’m not sure it’s advisable, but you can achieve it, if you want.)

I’m not being humble, here: It’s not where I am that tells me the heights that are out there. Or what’ necessary to succeed. Or where I could improve. Or how far I have to go. It’s looking at others.

And then, you sort out the things that are pure, dumb luck–the lightning strikes–from the things that are hard work. The things you’re willing to work for from the things you’re not. What can you have? What do you want badly enough?

I used to go out and shoot a few baskets, now and then. Now, let’s be honest. I was not good. And–I’m five foot zero and a half–so I’m never gonna be good. Not in any global comparison, anyway. If I’m comparing to Michael Jordan, that’s an impossible, lightning strike goal. He’s taller than me, prettier than me, and has better legs than me. But if I compare to Mike Miller down the street–you know, the guy who spends time with his kids, and gets some exercise, and has fun–well, I could do that. I’d be happier doing that.

And I dance. I can rattle off lists of the greats in this that and the other form, and shiver with awe for all of them. But on a personal level, I connect more with Ray Bolger than with Baryshnikov, and long-term… I want the social connections and longevity and fun of Frankie Manning more than then the elegance of Maria Tallchief.

I lucked out a lot more, when it comes to writing. More of the stroke of luck talent than I have for other pursuits. I’m probably capable of walking out on a professional court at some point. Some of that is lightning strike stuff, and some of it is hard work. I am where I am… but this is where I want to go. Not just one professional writer, but the collective, group of them. Professional-level writing all the way. The get up at three in the morning on a weekend and write crowd. The going places crowd.

What catches my eye when I read this book or that book, and am I willing to do the work to get there?

The Things That Matter

So, Doctor Who is regenerating, again, and this time, he’s regenerating into a woman. (She’s regenerating from a man? Something.) For those of us who were paying attention, it isn’t a surprise. (I’ve only seen the replacement playing the mother of a murdered child, and damn, I hope it doesn’t get that gloomy.)(Also, I was kinda rooting for Tilda Swinton. Ignore me.)

A lot of strong feelings about who plays a mostly asexual, 900 year old time-traveling alien in a children’s show. And, honestly, I’m not sure how much of it comes from people who actually watch the show, and how much is from outsiders. The Doctor could pretty much be played by a sentient mitten without changing the show.

So, the question is: Which parts of a particular character cannot be changed without changing the central core of the story?

It’s a tough question, because the answer changes from character to character, and most of the time, nobody cares enough to ask.

You couldn’t, for instance, change the character of Elizabeth Bennett into a man because the whole book is about women not having security because they were not able to own property. If she’s a man, she just inherits the farm. Problem solved. You also couldn’t turn her into a 20th century typist. Because, once again, she inherits the farm, and problem solved.

Why does Bridget Jones come across as being so much more vapid than the original? Because she doesn’t have any problems that couldn’t be solved by her pulling her own damn shit together. **cough** Twentieth Century Typist **cough**

You probably could turn Elizabeth Bennett into a Lesbian, though. Lack of legal standing=lack of stability=lack of ability to wind up with the person she really loves. Oh, yeah. There’s a problem.

And my own characters…

It’s a little on the patchy side. You could change this gender, maybe. But not that one. Careers are more solid, in general. She has to be a monarch. A fishmonger just wouldn’t be the same story. He has to be a former soldier, although it’s anybody’s guess what he’s been doing after the war. They have to be from opposite sides of the war, and they have to come from completely different cultures.

It’s probably going to help to separate out the MUSTS from the “just felt like its.”

So, what traits do your characters absolutely need? Which could be changed?

Backward Word Sprints

I started running backward word sprints a while ago. I’m not sure what else to call it. I set a timer, and focus, and then, when my attention wanders, I hit the timer, and write down how long I’ve been at it. The timer goes up instead of down, and the goal is minutes of focus instead of words. (I’m revising, so words would be a little tough.)

I wound up with 32 minutes and 52 seconds over my lunch hour, which is as coherent a chunk of time as I’ve ever managed to come up with.

It also leaves me with the feeling that I’m getting something done.

Trackable, concrete progress.

Something to write down in my notebook to prove I’m not just sitting around breathing air.

A lot of the time, I do feel like I’m just lollygagging around. I write–but is there progress? Am I any closer to where I want to be than I was, when I sat down?

When I’m writing, I have words to log. Yes, moving toward a finished draft. But revising? I’ve never really gotten the hang of that. I have a process, of course. It’s a good process. (I bought it off a stranger on the internet, and it’s turned out to be one of the best purchases I ever made.) But that new-words feeling? Well, that’s just for new words.

One of my characters did something really out there, today. I don’t know what corner of my subconscious that came from, but he wound up punching another character. One I had considered sacrosanct. Guess not.

And I’ve reached the point that I’m rejoicing over words cut. Hey, that means I have space for my characters to punch each other in. (Yes, I’m down to the dangerous end of too many words.)

 

Your New Terrifying Thought of the Day

I found a new and improved querying phobia, the other day, and since I can’t get the thought out of my mind, I figured the rest of you should suffer, too. Maybe I’m dense, but I hadn’t even thought of this one, before.

This one’s from Janet Reid’s blog–she’s a literary agent, and she blogs, and you should read her blog, even if you’re only slightly considering traditional publishing–and here’s the dark and terrifying quote:

“You should also remember that if I love your work, and sign you as a client, all my OTHER clients will be skulking around your blog to learn about you.”–Janet Reid.

Oh, good. That’s not terrifying at all, because I am perfectly normal. All my friends are perfectly normal. And we certainly did not throw a party for our imaginary friends a couple years back. Also… pay no attention to any posts about standing in the rain with a camera trying to photograph lightning; rampant insecurities; desired marriages based on “some men can cook”; vacuum cleaners or other electronics with names; or skulls or other human remains.

I don’t know how that got there.

So… there’s the idea. You know that writer? The one that made me query this person in the first place? The one where I explain the agent by saying ___________’s agent? (As in, They’ll probably laugh until they pass out, but they’re ________’s agent, so I at least want to try?) That client?

Yup.

That seems to say they’re inviting themselves over for dinner.

Don’t forget they’re vegetarian, and they have some food allergies. (I’ll send you a list.)

Not just my place. They’re going over to visit you, too.

I’ll be hiding as a puddle of melted Karen over in the corner. You get your own disguise.

 

Unsagging My Middle

No, not my middle. My Story’s middle. I have a character who needs to get from point A to point B in a hurry, but the middle third of my book is starting to look more like the Lord of the Rings than something thoroughly modern, and written by someone who **ahem** doesn’t particularly care for dual person verbs.

There are a few things that need to happen on this trip, but not a lot. It’s not an epic journey, and it’s certainly not the whole point of the story. Just enough that I can’t skip over it and just say “And when he arrived, he took a bath.”

And the whole thing has to be very, very sleek, because I’m running out of spare word count.

As if it didn’t have to be sleek, anyway.

There was a lot of sag to the book, when I started my revision. I’m not sure if I’m talking about words and plot lines that I never should have written in the first place, or if they were… necessary explorations that have now served their purpose. They don’t fit in with the plot, and most of them can’t fit in with the plot.

I’ll save some of them for the next book, and throw out the rest.

I keep coming up with things that could–and maybe should–go in the book, though. A plot card here, a paragraph there.

I have plot cards in an envelope. Counted out and color coded according to available word count. If I run out of cards before I run out of plot, I’m in trouble.

So, how about it? Any plot de-sagging tips I should hear?