The Wrong Type of Crazy

If you haven't been following the story from the beginning, here's the summary. In 2009 I challenged myself: finish a novel or give up writing. I had way too many starts and way way way too few finishes. So this was it. I had a new job. I had a long commute with dedicated writing time. Get it done or give it up.

Happily, I did finish a novel (BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE), two in fact (WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING [which has since been renamed WITH A CROOKED CROWN]), and my pursuit of professional publication began in earnest. I wrote novels, queries, synopses, thank you letters, blog posts, twitter tweets, and so on and so forth. I took this seriously and knuckled down so I could endure rejection and enjoy success. Well, benchmarks I consider success as the professional publication part remains elusive. Still, full requests and the like are pretty thrilling. I've met some cool authors along the way and cool agents too. I've learned a hell of a lot and tried to teach a little, too.

One thing I've learned about the other people in this craft is that we share a lot of similarities in terms of emotional states, emotional stresses, emotional sensitivity in the like. While I will not limit this to authors but would go so far as to apply it to so many artists, creative types seem to have an increased level of empathy. You might hear this as soft-skinned or over-reacting or being a pussy. Whatever. We feel pain at 11 when the meter should only go up to 10. And not only our own, but others too. We empathize because we we explore how people work. It's how we create characters. We watch people. We measure what they do and how they act. We contrast what people say versus what they do and we find the inconsistencies. We explore motivations, watch lies (to themselves or to others), and let the drama play out because all of it is life's story that we want to twist and retell in our own way.

Problem is, this empathy isn't just a switch that turned on when we decided we wanted to write. It's been there forever and there was no explaining why the overly sensitive five year old was freaking out about something that seemed so minor to his parents because someday he was going to be a writer.

I think that's why so many artists are messed up emotionally. They've been running at 11 their entire lives and that is going to create neuroses. It is that damage that allows us to find pathos and tell an amazing story, to plumb the depths of broken life and show the heart one has to endure such hardship.

It also allows for a lot of self-doubt. What if I'm not broken correctly? I often write about a character that has to do the right thing at his own expense, or a person that puts duty before self. It applies order and logic to the chaos, but what if rather than painting with such amazing lines, I should be creating form from chaos. Paint outside the lines and make it amazing. What if how I endured years of being at 11 isn't what's necessary to be great at what I want to do? Don't be crisp and clean. Be loud and hectic. Put our guitar up to the speaker and hear all that feedback and find the music in it.

I'm broken wrong. I broke and taped it back together when I should have just enjoyed the two different pieces separately.

Oh my!

I've been sick, which has left me a lot of time not writing and a lot of time thinking of what I've done in the last three years. The feedback I've received. The success and the failures. The successes of friends who are going on to great things while I'm essentially still in the square I was three years ago. Maybe they're broken right and I'm broken wrong. Wouldn't that be a bitch.

On an up-note, I'm getting better, which means I've started writing again. When I write I have less time for self-doubt. But I also have a partial with an agent and that always ratchets my self-doubt up to about a 15. Especially since she didn't like the full I gave her (which I thought was a stronger novel). I've piled so much onto this accomplishment and every time it doesn't work out, I start finding all the different ways why I'm not good enough. Because I live life at 11. That's how I do.

The Good, the Bad, and the Stuffing

So I have decided that rejections that offer praise first actually sting more than just flat rejection. "This is a great story with strong writing, but I didn't fall in love with it" says to me "Damn you were close, but it just didn't click with me" which stings SO MUCH MORE than just a straight "This isn't for me." (Granted, by the time an agent has requested pages, a "this isn't for me" response doesn't work because you'd have to wonder how they couldn't figure that out by the query.)

I am not one of those people that take solace in coming in second. That just means you won at losing. (Extreme, and probably hyperbolic, but you get my point, yeah? I want to win.) Knowing I was SO CLOSE bums me out more than if I hadn't come close at all. I think this may come from a childhood of choking at sports when it really mattered. Or not. I don't know.

But this is not all self-created doom and gloom. Two agents I greatly respect have used pretty much those exact words. Strong writing. Great story. One loved the world building more than the other, but they also read different stories so I'm not sweating that. This is wicked awesome confidence inspiring bolstering supder-dupertude. I've got the tools. I've got the talent. I just need some ghosts to, an agent that clicks with the stories I tell.

SO CLOSE! It's time to finish in first place. Let's get on that.

...after lunch. Chicken and stuffing. Nom nom nom nom!!!


The scenes I have the most trouble writing are men posturing. I blame fantasy for this. It is one of the most used scenes in classic fantasy when two alpha males begin barking at each other and bumping chests. It also reads like the stereotypical nerd living in his parents' basement writing the hero he wishes he was taking revenge on the people that picked on him in school.

I don't live in anyone's basement, and none of my characters are representative of a person I wish I was (or think I am). They are their own selves. Chest thumping is what stalled THE 7TH SACRIFICE for the second time and I wrote another such scene this morning in my current wip. It's a necessary tension in the plot and will factor in later, but...

...but I don't like posturing. At all. It feels juvenile. Worse, it feels amateurish. I am the hero and I'm a badass therefore I am better than everyone. Did you smudge my pumas? I will have satisfaction, sir! Throw wine in face, punch to the stomach, draw swords, epic duel. Honor maintained.

What? Dude. Chill out. No grown adult is as quick to temper as a fantasy hero is. You don't need to browbeat everyone into supplication. If you're confident and skilled, your own regard is all that matters. Let the guy scuff your pumas. Throw an urchin a copper piece for a quick polish and be on your merry.

It's incredibly difficult to write because no matter how I approach it, I don't like that kind of thing, so I'll never think I've done good enough. I'll leave it there for now, but who knows whether it'll even survive my second draft.

POV to the FACE!

Elizabeth Poole was talking about having double first person in her current WIP. Meaning, she has two main characters and each of them narrate their part of the story from a first-person POV. I warned against this as a style that required IMMENSE precision. If you do not perfectly nail this kind of writing, it's a disaster. There is no "average" double first person. You get it or you don't.

So of course, I then start wondering if there is anything I could write as double-first person. Certainly THE RED SOCK SOCIETY will have two main characters, Klara and Otwald. Could I do that?

I went over all my stories and no, no there's nothing I'm writing or have queued that would benefit from this POV structure. (If I were writing an enhanced ebook, it would be an interesting experience to change font and color to denote a change in character POV, but that's a ways off and I still don't have anything that would benefit.)

I don't write in first person POV. Ever. It's the most overused POV in the industry, in my opinion. Which made me wonder, can I write it? I can't think of any story I have that would be better for being in first person, but is that because I think it's inferior to third person? Maybe I should try and see if I can hack it.

So, I decided to use the manuscript that is going to be so out there anyway, first person can't screw it up WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? Having written that little bit yesterday, I think it'll actually be better in tone in first person.

And that's when my mind dropped the gauntlet. You want to try something hard? You want to break out of the mold and try something radical? You can't do double-first person but you can...

WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? begins as a first person POV and shifts (in such a way that the reader understands the shift) to second person POV. Second person POV is a recipe for failure, but I'm going to work it like Sarah Palin at a Tea Party rally.

I'm even contemplating an illusory choose-your-own ending, but that will take a LOT of work in the composition department for what I have in mind. We'll see if this makes for a super awesome story or just a gimmick. I don't do gimmicks, so if it's a distraction, it gets the boot. But if it works, hot damn this is going to be fun.

50,000 words

If not for a dead battery, I would have passed 50,000 words yesterday in my WIP. I instead passed it this morning. Making a similar comment on Twitter yesterday, I pondered why I put so much stock in 50,000 words. Certainly it doesn't represent the end point of the manuscript nor the midpoint. I have never written a 100,000 word manuscript coming under or over that mark. I wouldn't have to do with NaNo because I do not participate. So what then?

And then I remembered why. Before--and before I mean when I would try to write but never finish--no matter how good a story was, no matter how clearly I could visualize it, no matter how much work I put into it, I would always quit before passing 50,000 words. The closest I ever came was with CAUSE AND CONVICTION, the first book of the Third World. That topped out just over 40,000 words. Then I wrote BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE and hit 110,000 words. Since that first success, I have been able to work to completion on any novel that passes 10,000 words (with the exception of THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE, which I will be doing over once I finish JEHOVAH'S HITLIST).

Now, when I pass 50,000 words, it's a reminder that this isn't a fantasy. It isn't a dream. There are no excuses. This is what I do and I can see it through to the end. It's an incredibly satisfying accomplishment, one I have now accomplished four times in the last 20 months.

So, yay for 50,000 words!

Humility Has Its Limits

My routine on a writing week and a reading week are pretty similar. Spend an hour on the commuter rail either reading or writing. Spend 20 minutes on the subway reading. (Writing on the subway is very difficult, and I do it very infrequently). While I have a number of samples and one novel on my nook I still need to finish, I opted for this week to take a book off my bookshelf that I never finished.

Really, I only got a couple pages in and put it down. Having bought CORDELIA'S HONOR for the first time when I bought this other title, I switched to that and then promptly read Bujold's entire catalogue. Clearly it got left behind. But I'm back, aware of what I didn't like and trying to soldier past to get to the meat of the story.

The book fell open at one point and I saw the acknowledgments. I decided to give them a read. Ever since Nathan Bransford posted a link to another agent's blogpost saying that it was dangerous for writers not to include their agents and editors in the acknowledgments (and their assistants!), I look to see if they are included.

Thus, I've been reading a lot of acknowledgments lately. And while agents and editors do always appear, I've noticed another trend: over–self-deprication. It's one thing to acknowledge the people who made your work better. I certainly do. But it's another thing entirely to spend a page enumerating all the different ways you suck as an author. If you are incapable of forming coherent paragraphs, crafting related scenes, or in any other way forming a story that is capable of moving from beginning to end without other people performing life-saving surgery, what the fuck are you doing writing a book? No wonder editors never have any time. They take incoherent pieces of shit and rework them into books. Or so these acknowledgments would have me believe.

Humility has its limits, people. At some point you stop sound modest and start sounding lucky. You're lucky that a bunch of people took pity on your ineptitude and let you leech off their talent while still slapping your name on the front cover. Do you have talent? Do you have skill? These are not things to be embarrassed by. Did they make your work better? Give them the credit they've earned. But don't tell me, your reader, that you aren't any good. If you aren't, I'll return your book and go find someone more worthwhile.

And as an aspiring writer, this is even more frustrating. What the hell, people? Look at all these talentless hacks getting multiple books published. I wouldn't have thought them talentless hacks, but then I read their acknowledgments page and they told me so. It simultaneously offends me that talentless hacks are getting multi-book deals while I'm still getting rejected AND kicks me in the junk because talentless hacks are getting multi-book deals while I'm still getting rejected. You'd rather spend all that time working with a talentless hack than me?

Unless, of course, they aren't talentless hacks, in which case they really need to chill out on the acknowledgments page.

The Satisfaction of Success

I am a success!

What? Did I get an agent? No. Did I get an offer of publication from a major publishing house? No. Did I get a date with Rosario Dawson? No.

Yet I am still a success. I have not accomplished any of the above professional goals (and if I never accomplish that third one, it'll probably go a lot smoother with my wife), but I have done the thing I perhaps love the most. I finished a novel.

This feeling right here, the mix of excitement and euphoria, is the big pay off for me. It's not the completion of the first draft. That's just a step in the road. It's finishing the revision where I feel confident enough in the manuscript that I can send it to other people to read. Of all the works that I have finished (and even JEHOVAH'S HITLIST, which isn't complete), I felt THE TRIAD SOCIETY was my weakest offering. One of the reasons I continued on to JH instead of TTS was because I was unenthusiastic about he ms. That extra time helped a lot, though, and I realized a lot of my mistakes. I tweaked here and fixed there and made one massive change (Herman to Annelie) that made all the difference in the world.

I just took something mediocre and made it great. ...or at least better. Good enough that I'm happy with it, feel it's representative of my talent. I have accomplished my main goal. That is a great feeling.

So whether my current partial leads to a full and (fingers crossed) leads to representation, it's not as important as what I've done write now. I wrote a novel from start to end, and I think it's good. I hope you get the chance to read it, and that you enjoy it too.

Stuff Stolen from Other People

Eric at Pimp My Novel retweeted this blog post that has a great quote:

“An absolutely necessary part of a writer’s equipment, almost as necessary as talent, is the ability to stand up under punishment, both the punishment the world hands out and the punishment he inflicts on himself.” – Irwin Shaw

I'll try to keep that in mind next time the query process is thunder punching me in the junk.

Le R. at The Rejectionist posted a You Tube video sent to her by Maine Character. You will find value in what it has to say, so I repost it here for your edification.


I love revision. My love for revision is inversely equivalent to my love for writing queries. When I get into a groove on revising, the words to "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof change to "Revision," and I hear the chorus shouting it over and over in my head.

I'm 1/3 of the way through TTS, and I am in such a good mood. Why? Well for one, if I'm revising, that means I have a finished manuscript. It always feels good to finish a novel. But more importantly, I'm taking what is most assuredly a crappy draft and making it awesome. I'm still concerned there might be too much world building in the first two chapters, but I just finished chapter 11 and am totally jazzed. I've really tightened a lot of stuff that was loose before and the whole progression of events is solid. I'm enjoying this story as a reader not just a writer, and that's always a good sign. Really, I think it's the best sign. If you would sit down and read your work for the sake of reading it, then you've written something you truly enjoy for its own merits and not just the obligatory sense of accomplishment.

And not to toot my own horn, but that first chapter I wrote where Otwald first goes to the Triad Society? Holy hell, that was some good world building. I'm mean, damn fine. Sometimes I really do feel like I have the skill to not only succeed at all this, but to be awesome at it.

Fingers crossed that holds true for when this goes out to beta readers. LurkerWithout didn't like WANTED, and I value his opinion as a reader. He reads a billion books a month, so if he likes it, that carries weight with me.

Query Doldrums

I've pretty much known what was wrong with THE TRIAD SOCIETY since I finished the first draft of the manuscript. It's taken all this time to articulate what's wrong with it, but there is a reason I did not launch immediately back into revision. There was something seriously wrong. I knew it. And I needed to be able to say what it was before I started revising.

The setting sucks. You would think this to be a hard thing to have happen given I'm writing TTS in the same setting as WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING. I've already built the setting, how could it suck? Well, for starters, that book isn't published. It's written but there's nothing to say it'll ever see the light of day. So here I am writing another story assuming that WCONH has already been read? Ridiculous. Not that I did that too much because TTS is set on the opposite side of the Crescent Sea. It's a pre-steampunk society. Very different from Andaria in the east.

But that wasn't all. There were scenes from my original concept of the story that never made it into the finished draft but should have. Perhaps not where I thought they'd go, but they need to be in there. The pacing is too fast and too many things happen in convenient successive order and all these things could happen anywhere because I haven't given any consideration to the setting and how it would affect people's decisions.

In summation? It's pale. It's a pale representation of a story that should be flush with depth and description.

I've started noting specific instances that I made a mistake and how to correct them. I'm getting exciting about the story again because I think I can fix it and make it awesome and people will love it and that would be awesome. WHEEEE! When I get excited, I start thinking of what comes next in the process. I thought it would be fun (and helpful) if I wrote a query for THE TRIAD SOCIETY and through it up here for criticism. Certainly it would be good to get a few drafts under my belt before I start the process in earnest. (And yes, I'm aware of the query forums on Nathan Bransford's boards but have had mixed results with the comments posted in response.)

So I began to craft my query. I've already done one (terrible) query for this manuscript, so perhaps I could build off that failure. ...god I hate querying. All that excitement over getting back to this ms has totally evaporated. I hate writing queries. I am so ridiculously bad at it. The male hero rescues the princess? Really? That's the trite you want to send in buster? Well no, that's not really story. Sure sounds like the story. It's more nuanced than that. Nuanced my ass, you just wrote a rescue the princess damsel in distress story. Get out of here hack.

Sigh. Another reason I want an agent who I will work with for a long time? As soon as I get one, I never want to query again. Ever.

So no, no query for TTS today. It's for the best. I would not want to violate rule number 1 (only work on one ms at a time and don't switch until the first draft is complete). Still, I was excited for a little bit.