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.

Can I Do This?

If you were lucky enough to be Liz Poole, a hotel night auditor named LurkerWithout, or an agent with incredible literary sense, you would have had the opportunity to read my manuscript JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. This is a manuscript where I explain why just because the protagonist is 15 years old doesn't make it a young adult novel. The thing is anything but a young adult novel. ...depending on how you wish to raise your children. If you're okay with intense amounts of violence, profanity, nudity, sex, and drugs, then perhaps this is a YA book. Otherwise, we'll just assume it's not.

I've mentioned that before, so why am I saying it again? Because now I am writing a young adult novel. More specifically, I'm writing a middle grade novel (for a younger audience than YA, if you don't know the difference). Things are going swimmingly. I've only been at it for a week and I'm about to hit the 20,000-word mark. That's progress! Things are going great!

Well...yes, but I'm starting to run into something the euphoria of being so prolific has to date kept at bay. I've never written for this audience before! I write hard, cruel adult content. How am I supposed to write for 10 year olds?!?! Here I am cruising along and they have THE HOBBIT and A WRINKLE IN TIME and HARRY POTTER to read. What is this? PRINCE OF CATS? It's nothing. It's tiny. It's not my market!

*pulls out hair*

Who would have thought that the hardest thing for me to write would be content for kids. You wouldn't think so until you try it. But once you try it, you're all ooohhh, now I see.

Like if I were to write Sesame Street, this is what you'd get:

Relax! (Go to it)

As previously mentioned, I participated in Sara Megibow's Writer's Digest webinar last week. She had a lot of good points and went over various features of her clients that caught her attention during the query process (all her clients except for one came through the slush pile). Not all the things she mentioned had to do with the author's writing. She mentioned repeatedly how impressed she was with Roni Loren's platform. Roni had started her blog before querying and had 50 followers with regular participation (replies counted in double digits, etc).

For aspiring authors who have not yet started establishing a platform or those of us *cough* me *cough* who can count responses on one hand, these kind of comments can cause some extreme anxiety. Half my twitter followers are spam bots! All my comments come from Ted Cross! Woe is me! Woe is ME!!!!


Stop. Breathe. Ask yourself a simple question: What matters most? The answer will ALWAYS be the same.

The writing.

Writing matters, folks. Sure we need to have a platform. Here I am blogging right now. And that's something to build up over time. But as you are working toward querying and then representation and then publishing, remember to keep your writing up front. There are plenty of things to stress about there (holy crap, this is shit! No one is ever going to want to read it!) that you don't need to pile on with worries that not enough people are commenting on your blog.

And if you want empirical proof, head over to Jane Kindred's blog/website. Jane just sold her epic fantasy in a three-book deal. Check out her followers. 14. Bam, I got her by one!

The writing always matters first.

A Tree is Just a Tree

Way back when, I meant to pursue a career in the United States military. At first I thought the navy and then found my place with the army. I was in an ROTC program, but because I had not started from the beginning, I was required to go to Camp Challenge (or basic camp). It's like boot camp but shorter and not as unpleasant depending your drill sergeants (my DIs did not hold to that latter fact and gave it to us as much as they could--still easier than trainees, but we lost a few people to medical because of hernias and the like).

Anyway, when I came home, I was unnerved by the changes. I loved nature. I loved going out to parks and climbing a tree and just basking in its wonder. But when I came home, trees and roads and become lines of fire and ambush zones and it all proved very difficult to unhook from.

I'm reminded of this because I've been pursuing publication for two years now (my first query was sent September 2009). And I draw closer to my goal, it's been harder to disassociate from that slog and I am competitive and like to win. No one likes to have the race end right before they get to the finish line. But that has required an emotional tax that is sometimes hard to pay. I am a writer is always followed by "Have you written anything I've heard of" and "Wow you must be rich" neither of which I can affirm.

Sometimes I feel that disconnection where I'm walking through the forest but the trees aren't trees and the roads aren't roads. Twitter isn't twitter and word counts aren't word counts. They're objectives and goals and requirements and all part of this grand social puppet show I've thrown myself into.

Today I'm feeling particularly zen. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was the delicious chicken chili I just had. Either way, today I see the trees for trees. I enjoy writing. I enjoy what I write. And while yes I do want an agent and to be professionally published, it's enough that I enjoy what I do.

Strangely, all the self-doubt and worry about not being good enough lessens when you're not so concerned with being published. If you're not obsessing about whether they love you, it's much easier to love yourself.


So I posted a three drafts of the query for JEHOVAH'S HITLIST (twice as primary posts and once as a response). I got some ingenious feedback from Elizabeth Poole following my third draft that took in it a whole new but slightly different direction. I am withholding the final draft until querying has passed and/or my brand spanking new agent says it's cool to post it.

Today I sent out the first query for this manuscript. Hello anxiety, my old friend. I haven't seen you for awhile. Welcome back.

Beginning Anew

I revised the wind sprint I wrote a few weeks ago into a MUCH better first chapter. There's a little too much there, but I'll pare that down during revision. The tone and the action are so much better. Less description of action and more action. I am incredibly pleased.

The thing is, today is the first day I've written in a week. Granted, it has been an incredibly stressful week at work, but not writing has exacerbated it. Once upon a time, I was able to go a few weeks without writing. Now it seems I can't go more than a day or two.

This is awesome in that I feel I've moved up a level in my abilities as a writer. But it's terrifying because it is having a genuine impact on my daily life. I wrote today over lunch and when I went back to the office, I was whistling a jaunty tune. I was in SUCH a great mood. A better mood than what was appropriate for having such a difficult work and eating lunch alone.

Writing is my heroine. And like a junkie, I think that's awesome.

The Known Unknowns

Between my own experiences in the industry and the years I've spent participating in various industry blogs (pubrants, the Bransford, etc.), I am not too worried about what will come after I get an agent and sell a book. Or at least, I feel like I have a pretty solid understanding of most aspects.

Except one. The next book. Sure agents talk about the challenges of a sophomore offering and the effort people put into it and the mistakes people make because of the pressure and blah blah blah. All fine and good. I can't speak to pressure until I'm feeling it and I can't feel the pressure of a sophomore book until I've published the freshman one.

What I don't know about the next book is the next book to the agent. I've heard so many conflict things and agents seem to rarely speak on that part of the process. I've heard proposal used as the nonfiction alternative to a query, but then I've also heard it as what a represented author sends his/her agent for new story ideas. And pardon me, but a proposal sounds like a query and by god, I never want to query again once I get an agent.

I've also seen some authors that send the agent an outline. An outline? I don't outline. I never outline. I took half a page of notes yesterday and that's HUGE. I'm a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. I write by the seat of my pants so much that there are holes in the seat of my pants from all the writing I do there. I can tell you the beginning (though it might change) and the ending (though it might change) and maybe a few ideas of the middle (though they might change). How the hell do you expect me to write an outline? That will destroy my process?!?!?!

So yeah, this is a known unknown. I get representation for, let's say, THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I already have two other novels that did not attract an agent. Given some blog posts, I think he or she might read them just as a matter of form and tell me if they can be revised to publishable quality or just need to be permanently shelved. But I'm also finishing a new wip right now and will have another one in a few months. What do I do with those?

And I even read once that an author would pitch a book to the agent before it's written and if the agent said no, the author might not even write the thing. I don't think I've ever written a book that was so much like my original proposal as it was when it was finished. Not writing it at all seems like a horrible presumption. And even if that's a good method, I write two novels a year. Can't I just write one of whatever I want and one that gets a thumbs up? I mean, some people take five years to write a book, so I can see why it might be important to figure out its saleability beforehand. I wrote THE TRIAD SOCIETY in three months (to the day1). I'll write ten novels in the time that other guy writes one, so can't I write the quirky thing that I love even if no one else will?

Some of this is probably exaggeration, but this really is the one topic I've never seen covered on any of the blogs I follow.

1 Actual writing time was less, as I started on May 25th and I took off most of June because I was working my ass off at my really real job. I finished the first draft on August 25th, though, and I think that's pretty awesome.

How to Kill Productivity

How to Kill Productivity in Five Easy Steps

Review your Twitter as you do often during the day.

Reply to an agent who you follow when she asks for feedback on whether saying "it was a close call but no thank you" was cruel or encouraging.

Suggest that it would be crushing at first, but over time would become exciting and encouraging.

Follow said response with a joke of "unless it's me, in which case you should say 'Yes, more please.'"

Check your email obsessively to see whether or not it really was you.


Next time you're listening to an audio medium (such as the radio or a podcast), listen to how the person speaks rather than just what they're saying. Much like "he said" as a dialogue signifier, there are certain sounds that go along with actual words that our brain just ignores. The inhalation at the beginning of a word or the exhalation at the end are prime components.

When you translate all this to an audio file, it offers representation to these various elements of speech. A sound wave spikes from volume and different mouth formations (the plosive, P, throws a blast of air against the mic--it's the fastest way to spike your sound chain). In addition to the word, though, you see little squiggles before and after someone speaking. Now, little squiggles can represent a lot of things. It's a light sound, like noise in the background or the chair squeaking or your throat clearing. When a person isn't speaking, you want their audio wave to be flat otherwise it can distract from other speakers.

First-time podcasters often make the mistake of silencing the squiggles that appear before or after someone speaks, assuming that it makes for a clearer file. When you listen to it, however, it actually sounds worse. We expect to here someone inhale and exhale. Not only that, the vocal chords are still vibrating at the end, mixed in with the inhalation, and it can sound like someone has stopped speaking in the middle of the word even though the word is technically finished.

This is called clipping. If you listen to a sound file where all the inhalation and exhalation is removed, the speakers sound like robots. We've developed social cues to tell others when we're going to speak, and as a listener, when those cues are missing, it just sounds like a bunch of words being mashed together rather than a conversation. The more seasoned you are at podcasting, the more annoying clipping can be (nails down a chalkboard, really).

I bring this up because I started reading THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I don't know why. I was struck by an overwhelming need to receive a full request from the partial that's out there. I wanted to make sure the three chapters that I sent are the best they can be. So I popped open my nook (I have a copy of the manuscript on there) and began reading with full confidence that I had knocked things out of the park. I received great feedback from beta readers, and I felt that I had really improved things before sending it on. I revised, I reread, I gave everything the thumbs up.

But you can miss things when you incorporate changes from multiple sources. Things blend together and even though you reread it, your brain might fill in holes with stuff that isn't there any more. Or you may change something and then change it again, not realizing that the second change doesn't quite fit.

I found three instances where the scene is clipped. I chopped stuff that had been too long, but now without any content, the transition doesn't make sense. It's not horrible. You can continue reading, but it's not smooth. It's clipped. And because this reading was spurred by a powerful need to succeed, my reaction is equally powerful. Oh no!!!1 Fingers crossed that the overall worth of the work survives the clipping.

As for you, give it a try next time you listen to DJs on the radio. You'll hear them breathing. It's a transitional sound that our brain recognizes even if we don't realize it. Make sure you have something similar in your writing after you edit.

1 OH NO!!!

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.

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.