Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

Simply put, a fantastic ghost story. Like a horror film from the 80s updated and put in novel form.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • 3rd person omniscient works only if you stay out of characters’ individual perspectives. Say what happens, and report what they think, but as an outsider
  • Tragedy for a minor character has more impact if we spend some time with them first, however little, to see how they act normally
  • Remember that characters only know what they see, and that can mislead them sometimes. That’s okay. Let them be wrong when they should be wrong, so that when they’re right it’ll feel like triumph.

1493 by Charles C. Mann

Revelatory. Mann’s 1491 opened my eyes to the many civilizations that existed in the Americas before Columbus landed. 1493 has shown me just how much of our current world was created in the aftermath of his voyages.

Three of the many, many things I learned:

  • The lynchpin of the global trade of American silver for Chinese porcelain and silks was the Philippines. That’s where Spanish traders first ran into Chinese junks, in the early sixteenth century.
  • One theory for the causes of the Little Ice Age: the sudden reforestation of the Americas from the millions of native inhabitants that died out from European diseases.
  • China is the world’s largest producer of sweet potatoes, and the second-largest producer of maize. Both crops are native to the Americas.

Patience

Sent the novel out to my first pick agent this weekend. I know it’ll most likely be rejected — it’s my first real stab at a query letter — but I’ve got to start somewhere.

Also got back another rejection of one of the stories I’ve been circulating. I didn’t waste any time worrying about it, though. I picked another market, and sent it right back out.

While waiting for rejections, I’m rewriting one of the stories I wrote last month. The feedback I got on it was positive, but in fixing the problems the reviewers pointed out, I discovered a different story sitting under the one I was writing.

Same characters, same themes, but a different plot.

I have a feeling this version will turn out much better than the first two, but the only way to find out is to write it 🙂

On the Google Anti-Diversity Memo

It’s horseshit.

From its title (“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”) to its claims that its author is the only human capable of rational thought without bias, to its assertion that modern feminist critique only exists because Communism failed, it’s filled with faulty logic and flawed arguments that wouldn’t have held water in any of the philosophy classes I took as a freshman.

It’s clearly a document meant to inflame, to incite, and most definitely not to encourage the kind of discussion the author claims over and over again to want to facilitate.

Let me be clear:

  • The gender pay gap is real. Its size varies across countries and industries, but it exists.
  • Studies of group decision-making show that those with a variation in viewpoints — particularly along gender lines — do better than those that lack such diversity.
  • Bias against women is long-standing in the technological fields, and should be combatted by any means necessary.
  • Feminism goes back a hell of a lot further than communism.
  • Claims of universal values for Left and Right ignore the historical context in which those labels arose, and how fluid the beliefs of the groups assigned those labels have been over time.
  • Affirmative-action programs are not “illegal discrimination”
  • Political correctness is the name commentators on the Right have given to an age-old phenomenon: politeness. Certain beliefs or expressions are always considered beyond the pale. Those expressions change over time. The recent trend in Western society has been to push insults of race or gender beyond the pale. This is not a new thing, it is not a new form of authoritarianism, it is not a symptom of a Fascist Left. It’s civilization. Rude people have always faced censure, and rightly so.
  • Finally, insisting that others are biased, while you are “biased” towards intellect and reason, is absurd. It’s a classic male power move. It denies your opponents any semblance of reason or thought. It’s dehumanizing. And it’s horseshit.

Writer’s Coffeehouse Notes, Aug 2017

Attended the Writer’s Coffeehouse at Mysterious Galaxy yesterday. As always, I came away with lots of great advice 🙂

Many thanks to Jonathan Maberry for running these, and to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting!

My Notes from the Coffeehouse

Dangerous to be a one-trick pony; if you put something out that doesn’t succeed, don’t take it personally, instead ask what you can do that will sell

Sometimes you have to pick one idea over another because it’ll be easier to sell

Negativity never helps. Da Vinci Code got slammed by so many people, and yet it was responsible for thrillers becoming the dominant genre on the bestseller lists (which they still are)

Lot of business discussions happen at comic-con, behind the scenes; he had meetings with agents, game devs, editors, etc.

If you have a published work in a genre, post on fb page and ask around about getting on a panel at one of these cons

Science people can be a big draw at these events

Got to get involved in these things, put yourself out there, to have these opportunities happen

Henry: started out with small cons, like ComicFest and ConDor, volunteered to put together panels, those smaller cons always need help, another author gave contact info for comiccon organizers, he did the same thing there, volunteered to put together panels, etc

One thing about moderating: try to come up with questions they haven’t had asked before, avoid the “where do you get your ideas?”, try to ask things that get into the personality of the panelists

Other writer noticed Henry asks questions that gets debate flowing among the panelists; respectful, but not all agreeing with each other

Henry: can write in a closet, but might not ever become popular, takes energy and work to get the connections and opportunities for a career in publishing

Suggestion: if you’re in a writing group, hold fake panels; have one person moderate, two or more be fake panelists, others watch and rotate; it’s great practice for later

Some writers will ask questions of the audience to get comfortable at signings

Handle interviews by focusing on what’s fun about it for you; the fun will show and the audience will love it

More practice: get group together, have one person go up and answer the same question over and over again in different ways

If you get on a panel, bring something to share out at the end

La jolla writer’s conference coming up
Southern california writer’s conference coming up

Good advice: a pitch is telling someone how to sell your book

Maberry: writer’s conferences made him fall in live with writing again, would not be a fiction writer without them

Queries: never make absurd claims (this will be as big as harry potter!), or slam other books (this is so much better than harry potter!)

Don’t take pot shots at other books or series

Round the word count to the nearest 5,000. No need to give the exact word count

Most novels, they don’t want more than 100,000 words, because of the extra printing costs for a book of that size

Important to know the right length for your genre; epic fantasy tilts long (150K), westerns tilt short (65K)

DON’T QUERY UNTIL THE NOVEL IS COMPLETE AND POLISHED

Henry: timing of query and font doesn’t matter so much

Maberry: disagree; when you’re querying, getting this stuff right separates you out from amateurs

Maberry: prefers verbal queries; lots of writers’ conferences, find which ones your target agents are going to

Don’t listen to the myth that agents who have sold X numbers of Y genre are no longer looking for more; it’s bunk; you want the agents that are known for selling your genre

Intern here from march fourth publishing house, she confirms everything (and suggests checking them out!)

Pitching in person: the agents there might not be right for you, but it’s good practice, hones your skills, and the agents that are there often come prepared with other agents they can recommend; if nothing else you can get feedback on the pitch

Keep in mind: the agents are just as nervous about this as you are

Jim Butcher: queried jennifer jackson and rejected by her, then met her at a conference, and she agreed to pick him up

Verbal pitches: don’t necessarily have to be pitching a finished book

#mswishlist twitter tag where editors and agents tweet about what they’re looking for

ALWAYS HAVE BUSINESS CARDS WITH YOU AND PUT YOUR FACE ON IT SO THEY CAN REMEMBER YOU

When doing verbal pitch, do not read your pitch, or stick to a script; pitch to the agent, change how you talk about it based on how they react to what you say

Elements of a good pitch: hook them, give them a sense of characters and the stakes, link it to other books and explain why people will want to read it (best to connect it to what you like as a reader, and show how other readers also like that thing)

Another good exercise: take a book you know, and pitch it to your writing group, see if you can get to the essential points

Don’t land too hard on the market piece, becomes too much of a sales pitch; connect it to readers who are real people, and yourself as a writer and someone you want them to want to work with for years

Pitch practice: genre, subgenre, demographic, main character’s name, and a crisis

Don’t think in terms of good or bad for your own writing. Think of “publishable” and “not yet publishable.” Take the latter parts and change what needs to be changed in order to make it publishable.

 

First Novel Done!

It’s done!

Finished the final editing pass for the last few chapters of my first novel early this week.

So now it’s time to build a list of agents to look at, and start querying.

I’ve been going to Publisher’s Marketplace every morning, researching another agent to add to the list. This weekend I’ll pick one, get my query letter in order for them, and send it off.

It’ll feel good to get the book out there. Even if every agent rejects it. True, the rejections will hurt…but there’s no way to get published without getting some.

And, now that the first book’s done, I can turn my attention to the second novel I wrote, and start putting together an editing plan for it. There’s also the short stories I wrote over the last month to edit (one may need a complete rewrite).

So much to do, and thank goodness!

Beyond the Editing Wall

Only four chapters left in the final editing pass for the novel.

Four chapters.

I’ll be done early next week. Thank the gods.

Then it’ll be time to gather a list of agents to send it out to, polish up my query letter, and start emailing the thing out.

It’s been…two years? almost three?…since I started work on it. And soon, very soon, I’ll finally have a finished version to send.

So, what have I learned? What lessons will I apply to the next book?

  • Definitely break up your editing passes. Trying to fix every problem you see as you see it will only lead to a mess.
  • Don’t be afraid to edit the story. Your first take on the story — not just the words, but what happens and why — doesn’t have to be the last one.
  • You’ve got time to get it right. Take as many editing passes as you need. No one has to see it until it’s ready.

Wrapping Up a Month of New Writing Habits

Wife made it back from Arkansas on Tuesday (huzzah!), so my hermit-writing time is coming to a close.

Overall, I think having the weekly goals really helped me. While I didn’t hit them all (mumble mumble agent-search), I hit enough of them to build up a writing rhythm, and got a lot done.

All told, I’ve:

  • written two new short stories, and have started a third
  • circulated three previously-written stories
  • completed final-pass editing of all but the last quarter of my first novel
  • reviewed nine submissions by litreactor peeps

I’d like to keep up some of my new habits. I think the litreactor reviews help me to see similar problems in my own fiction, and practice fixing them. I also think the chapter-a-day editing is the only way I can get detailed editing passes done.

I like writing a new short story every week, but at some point I’m going to need to work on editing them all into shape, so I can submit them. So I’ll keep that one for perhaps the next week or two, then settle into editing what I’ve got.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Another classic that I just never got around to reading before.

And it’s deservedly a classic. Dickens absolutely skewers the ruling classes of three societies: his native England, pre-Revolutionary France, and the post-Revolutionary Terror. The snarky political commentary makes his dips into melodrama excusable.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • You can write in the third-person POV without insight into any characters’ thoughts or feelings at all, only their actions and words.
  • Admitting that there is a narrator telling the story (while standing outside of it) gives you a chance to comment on the action, not just tell it.
  • Even if readers can anticipate a turn in the story, if the characters don’t know it’s on its way, you can generate tension just in putting off the moment that that event happens.

Scorecard: Third Week

Third and final week. How’d I do?

  • Edit one chapter a day: Check. Whew.
  • Write a new short story: Check! Last week’s story is up on litreactor for feedback. Newest story will be going up as soon as I have the points.
  • Critique two stories: Check and check.
  • Find a new potential agent for querying: Dropped.
  • Polish and submit a new story each month: Still on track. Got some good feedback on “Wednesday” from the fine folks at litreactor. I’ll revise it this weekend, and should have it ready for submitting by the end of the month.