Going for the Goal

My wife’s in Arkansas for the next few weeks, visiting her mother for her annual pay-off-the-guilt-from-moving-to-California visit.

Normally, this is a time I tell myself I’m going to get a lot of writing done, hermit-in-the-woods style, but instead end up staring at the keyboard, trying to dig up inspiration.

So this time, I’m setting goals. Daily, weekly, and monthly goals:

  • Final-pass edit one chapter in the first novel every day.
  • Write a draft of a new short story every week.
  • Critique two stories submitted to litreactor (the online writer’s workshop) every week.
  • Find a new agent to query every week.
  • Polish and submit a new story to a new market every month.

I’ve decided to go with submitting the first novel to agents. However, I’ve also joined Publisher’s Marketplace, so I can be selective about which agents I query. Less of a shotgun approach, and more of a laser.

I’m hoping the explicit, bite-sized goals will keep me focused. Who knows? They might become new habits.

Best Book Forward?

At the Writer’s Coffeehouse this weekend, another writer asked what they should do when they have four novels, all finished, each in a different genre, that they want to pitch to agents. Should they target each book’s query to a different agent? Should they mention they have other novels when querying one of them?

The answer — which surprised me — was no to both.

Don’t mention the other novels when first querying. Save that for later, if they want to talk more.

And instead of sending out queries based on the book, pick the agents you’d like to represent you, and send them the book you think has the greatest commercial potential.

Agents will want to represent everything you have. But by querying with the book that will likely sell the best, it’ll be easier for them to imagine selling your book to a publisher, which will increase your chances of convincing them to represent you.

So now I’m confronted with the question: have I been editing the wrong book?

A frustrating question to have, when I’m only one editing pass away from being totally done. And I’ve already written the synopsis. And the query letter. And have agents picked out.

But maybe I’d be querying the wrong book? Of the three, I think my most recent one’s the strongest draft. The second one’s the best story, though, and my beta readers’ favorite. The first one is, of course, the only one that’s actually done, in the sense of being a final draft.

So which one do I query with?

The End is Near

Novel edits are coming along faster than I thought. Might actually get them all done by the end of the month 🙂

It’s weird to see the novel being reshaped under my editing scalpel. I can feel the book getting better, little by little: its characters more consistent, the world more fully realized, the pacing tighter.

I’m remembering my plans for a follow-on book, and looking forward to writing it. Can editing a novel make you excited to write the sequel?

Cranking Through

Managed to whittle the list of editing passes from twelve to twenty and now back to thirteen.

Which means I didn’t finish them by the end of March, like I wanted.

I *did* finish the biggest of the changes, though: giving each chapter to either the male or the female protagonist, swapping evenly between the two, and filling out her narrative arc so that her storyline has equal weight.

The changes I have left are much smaller: revising character appearances, adding touches to scene descriptions, and making sure everything is consistent.

Still, I’m setting weekly goals, aiming for three editing passes done each week. At that rate, I’ll be finished with the edits in early May :/

Much later than I’d like, but I tell myself that’s better than not doing them, or worse yet, continuing to tweak and edit for a year or more.

Everyone Gets a Pass

My original plan for editing the first novel turned out to be…rather naive.

I thought it would be enough to fix the female protagonist’s plotline, then make a few description tweaks, and be done.

Instead, I’m looking at making a dozen or more editing passes over the novel, each one picking out a thing to fix and make consistent through the book.

I’ve had to change character appearances, character names, city names, backstory, world history…nearly every element needs to be tweaked one way or another to line up better with what I think the novel should be.

So I’m keeping a running list of things to fix as I go, jotting them down as I find them. That way I can focus on just one editing task at a time, getting one thing right all the way through the book before going back to the beginning and starting on the next fix.

My goal was to have these edits done by the end of the month (for a total of three months of editing), so I could spend the next three months editing my second novel. But we’re a third of the way through March, and, well…my list keeps growing.

Still, I’ll push on. I’m finding I still like this novel, still like the characters. I want to do them justice, give them the best book I can. So I’ll keep working through the list, till the list is done.

Average

There’s a video making the rounds on Facebook that claims to show how the “average American” views the Trump inauguration.

It’s shows a lone white male, surrounded by flag art, talking about how we liberals should suck it up, and that real Americans, like him, are happy Trump won.

This video pisses me off for several reasons.

First, the guy being interviewed isn’t one of the “real Americans” he claims to represent. He’s an artist, not a coal miner. He profits off of the people he wants to speak for, but he’s not one of them.

Second, the whole idea that “average Americans” are just like this guy, and all happy about Trump, is a lie. It’s code, code that only white, uneducated males are real Americans, and everyone else should sit down and shut up.

What would a video wanting to accurately show an average American be like?

Most Americans are female. So we have to swap the dude for a woman.

Most Americans live in liberal, coastal areas. So now we have to move the woman speaking out of the implied RustBelt setting and to one of the coasts. Maybe New York, maybe California.

Most Americans do think of themselves as white, so she can be white and still be “average.”

But uneducated? Not this woman. She’s got her high school diploma, and taken some college classes. She probably has an associate’s degree, which she’s used to get a better job.

So we have a white, working-class but educated, woman living on the coasts.

She’s probably Democratic. She probably voted for Hilary. She’s likely in favor of the ACA, and the protections it provides for her access to women’s health care.

It’s the exact opposite of what the video portrays, which is why it ticks me off so much.

But more than that, I hate the implication that other people, who aren’t white, or male, or uneducated, are somehow lesser citizens.

I hate the smug superiority the video reinforces. It’s the refuge of bullies and cowards, of people looking to blame someone else for their situation.

I understand that it’s hard to make a living without a college degree. I understand it’s difficult to change careers when the factory you depended on shuts down. I understand you don’t want to move to a strange town to chase a new job.

But if I could offer some advice to them: suck it up.

Because you had their chance. You made fun of guys like me all through school. You ditched classes and slacked off on your studies. You didn’t go to college, didn’t think it was something “real men” did.

You rule out taking on all kinds of jobs, from nursing to teaching to customer service, as “women’s work”. So your wife or your girlfriend has to support you, while you wait for the Industrial Age to roll back through town.

It’s not happening. No one is coming to save you: not Trump, not Pence, not Paul Ryan. They want your votes, but they aren’t going to help you one bit.

You’re going to have to do it on your own.

And it’s your own fault. You voted to cut the ladder of economic advancement out from under yourself and everyone else.

I sympathize with you, but I don’t feel sorry for you.

You’re a crybaby, whining about the good times that have passed you by.

You’re lazy, unwilling to do the work to make something better of yourself.

And you’re a coward, afraid to join the ranks of those who have their own business, who have to justify their existence through service to others in the marketplace.

You’re an un-American burden on the country, and I can only hope the next four years open your eyes to how your pride and the Republican party have deceived you.

Editing as Worldbuilding

We’re here! Made it into San Diego last week, despite freezing rain (Flagstaff), gusty winds (most of New Mexico), and fog (Cuyamaca Mountains).

No, we’re not unpacked yet. Yes, I unpacked the books first 🙂

So, back to work. And also back to writing.

I’ve decided to do another editing pass on the first novel. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about writing in just the last few months, and I’d like to apply what I’ve learned to it, see if it makes it better.

I’d also like to go back and fill in a lot of the worldbuilding details I left vague in the first two drafts. Flesh out character backgrounds, city histories, etc. I don’t want to add a huge info-dump to the book, but I do want to make sure everything holds together better, the various pieces of book matching up to make a more powerful whole.

And after thinking through the plot more, I’m really not satisfied with the way I’ve handled the female protagonist. That’s part of why I need to flesh out the character backgrounds, specifically hers. I realized her character arc is muted, a victim of me being unsure who I wanted to be the protagonist in the first draft.

She deserves better, so I’m going to pull out her conflicts and struggles into its own storyline, an independent path to follow while she also contributes to the central plot. I think it’ll make the book stronger, and the ending more compelling.

Some of these changes will be dialog or description tweaks. Some of this will probably end up being major surgery. But I’ve got to try.

Wish me luck.

Idle Hands

No writing this week. The novel’s done (for now), so I’ve been focused on the upcoming move, getting everything boxed and labeled and loaded. 

It’s like having our lives flash frozen, to be thawed on arrival in California.

Not having a writing project to work on is, as ever, weird. It’s as if school exams have been canceled, but just for me: I feel like I should be studying, but I’m not. Because I don’t have to.

Not that my brain has noticed. Woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for another story. I think it’s a flash fiction piece, but there might be more there. Have to write it and find out.

It’ll have to wait its turn, though. Behind the move, and the novel edits, and the short story edits, and querying agents, and the…ye gods, I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Excuse me, I need to go write.

There are No Sides. Just the Truth.

Dear U.S. Media: Please stop reporting both sides.

I know you want to appear impartial. I know you want to be trusted.

But here’s the thing: by reporting ‘sides’ instead of facts, you reinforce the idea that having sides is legitimate. Instead of pushing both sides to acknowledge the truth, you let their opinions stand.

The result? Neither side trusts you. Because you’re no longer digging for the truth, you’re just a parrot, repeating what you’ve been told.

This idea that you need to repeat both sides is itself a political one. It goes back to the days of President Nixon, when his staff used the threat of the loss of FCC licenses to get tv news organizations to spend more time giving the President’s “side” of things. Instead of just sticking to facts.

I know, I know. You think the “truth is in the middle.”

But that’s false.

There was no middle ground between Saddam Hussein having nukes or not.

There’s no middle ground about where President Obama was born.

And there will be no middle ground about the lies a President Trump will tell.

So please, stop pretending to be impartial.

The facts aren’t impartial. The facts always support one side over another.

It’s time you started supporting them.

Going Home

Thank the gods 2016 is over.

I think it’s been a rough year for many people. My rough 2016 actually stretches all the way back to fall 2015, when my wife and I upped stakes and moved back to the mid-south to take care of her mother.

The stress of that time — her mother’s health, the terrible condition of the house we bought, the shock of discovering that all traces of the friendly South we’d once known were gone — almost undid us. We felt abandoned, hated by our neighbors and resented by her family.

Things improved when we were able to tread water enough to reconnect with our friends, plug back into the community of accepting nerds and geeks we’d missed.

But the presidential campaign, culminating in the election of a liar, a swindler, and a bigot, convinced us that nothing could make up for the fact that we don’t belong here. And never will.

So we’re moving back to California.

Back to a state that takes life seriously, and so passed the most restrictive gun control laws in the country.

A state that takes liberty seriously enough to want to offer it to refugees from a horrible civil war.

A state that knows the pursuit of happiness means respecting the many diverse ways that its citizens go about it.

I can’t wait to be back home.