Thursday, November 16, 2017

Either, or

"I want them to be great writers."

I'm not sure why I jumped at that, but I did, as if I didn't need, or want, to hear anything else. Thinking back, there wasn't an ounce of pause in me, not a mote of modesty to wonder at my inability to help with that, or to wonder just how far I had to go to be great myself. Today I start a new job with that as my mission statement.

Some years back, a bunch actually, my mentor told me about his lament at discovering the distinction between "a writer who teaches" and a "teacher who writes," and how he had looked up in recent days and discovered that he had become the latter, and the former, his goal, had gotten away from him who knows when. Like a lot of my lessons, I recall thinking to myself, "well, I don't want that to happen to me." So far, it hasn't.

Speaking of things that haven't been happening. NaNoSubMo is tanking. I started research only yesterday about publishing and submitting and agents. I learned that August is known as the Dead Month, and is a industry-wide period where most gate keepers take vacations. That was interesting enough. I also began the slow, slow process of combing through agent entries, looking for what I have no idea. The right smiling face or a write-up. Everything I've read so far seems to imply that step 1 is accruing a list of agents that are looking for manuscript(s) like mine, and step 2 is develop submission packets to the letter for each. Step 3 is send them all. Non-discriminatory submission, big small near far. I cannot help but think of the Last Starfighter. Spinning in a frenzy shooting in all directions, and then the panicked calm, the nothing and the waiting and the hoping.

And to counter that, as always, the writing is going well. I'm still in the brainstorming phase, linking together concepts and ideas and researching the tactile aspects of what I'll be writing about, what the characters will see, how those things will affect the story, and where the story will be able to go as a result. I have a soft date with a friend to let her poke holes in what I've got set up, a safety check before I actually put weight on things to make sure nothing falls through. After that, I think I will be just about ready to commit to a chapter, and then another. These stages are familiar, these steps, even though they are a little different every time. As per usual, these realizations led me to decide I had learned something about myself. I tried out my knowledge on a friend, to which they say "I could've told you that."

So, there are some things that I am hesitant to be sure about. I have a certain disdain for arrogance, and I think it's foolish to assume that one knows anything. And then there are things that move me to action prior to even a whisper of thought. I jaunt, and before I know it I'm somewhere else.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

I digress

I think I need to go camping.

Let me back up.

The submission is done. That one is. Going in, I thought that I would wash my mind of the stress, distract myself after all the triple checking and document attaching with trying to start and then to finish the next story. It is November after all, and I've avoided NaNoWriMo every year someone has asked. I was either in the middle of something, or just finished something else. I finished the submission process November 1, so it only made sense.

Except they only allowed one novel per author. I had worked on sharpening three. One fell out because they didn't want that kind of story, and another because, well, there was only one hole and I had two pegs. Instead of feeling like I was ready to move on, I felt like the task wasn't done. I finally looked up the Atlanta Writer's Conference details, and learned how many weeks I was late. They have agents, from publishers most people have heard of. And they have a finite number of slots for people to sit down and have their work critiqued. Every last slot of every last editor was full. I realized then what a lot of people already knew: getting in the door is very important and even more difficult. Never mind the money. So, I did some nodding, and made a little promise to myself not to be late next year. I thought up NaNoSubMo (the Sub is for Submission) with the intent to find homes for the other two novels I wasn't doing anything with.

That stalled when I walked face first into another story. It was one of those really obvious, low hanging kinds of situations. A haystack of needles in a forest. Or something. I talked with a friend about it, because it was through observing him that the idea occurred to me. The people in my life are kind. I got nothing but encouragement. I was with this friend to pick his brain about something else, is the irony. He's an outdoorsman and off-roader and possessor of other word salad titles, and I've known for a while that my next book has survivalist elements. There will be camping and climbing and scrounging. Squatting outdoors and filtering rain water. I cannot express to you how far the real life me is from such ideas. And I wanted to keep it that way. But the mentor I mention a lot in this space gave me the advice to write what I know, and I've found it to be true that when two authors describe pulling on a rope, the one that has actually used their back and felt the bite on their palms has a deeper reservoir to pull from. So, if I want to know what it's like to track game over land, then...

So, here we are. At the beginning of NaNoSubMo, and I'm already not doing what I decided to be doing. If I'm being honest, I don't know the first thing about finding publishers. I know that I have found some in the past, and they come in many different flavors, at varying levels of quality. What I don't know is how to find the ones I need to be looking for. I know what I want. I ever know what I don't want. So I guess this will be another one of those journeys, marked by scrapes on the palms and sore elbows from all the falling.

I really hope this isn't what actual hunting is like.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Am for now

Tomorrow is the first day of the open submission period I've been aiming at with all the recent refinements and edits. Honestly, I finished the last, latest read-through a week early. Early morning head aches and close-faced line reading made for some dizzying moments. I felt better and worse about everything at the same time. I took a couple days off and went back through the submission guidelines again. Last year they got over 1200 entries, and 300 were rejected because the authors failed to follow instructions. Recent events prompted me to go through some extreme measures to ensure I wouldn't be in that unfortunate group.

A one-sentence summary and a synopsis no longer than two, double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font pages. At first, I thought I had three books to send, then I read how they don't want young adult. Then I did some heavy deliberation on what young adult fiction is and how the term is defined. What clinched it, I think, is that when I went to write a sentence to summarize the book, or a synopsis to concisely detail its qualities, I kept coming back to the phrase "coming of age." I couldn't betray the story by trying to wedge it into a box any more than I could do the work a disservice by mislabeling it. I was also a little surprised at how easy the summaries and synopses came. I had a moment where I thought it was going to be a painful hurdle, was going to be difficult (after all, I freeze up at the thought of the elevator pitch), and then in the next moment the sentences were coming to me. I also thought it would be difficult because I could remember the last time I stopped to seriously make some submissions. Things were harder then.

I worked on them yesterday, the sentences the synopses, in the morning. I set them down and circled back at lunch, when I looked over them again, and fiddled with the diction, the cadence, the punctuation. I peeked one more time before bed, and I got up today to rinse and repeat. Sometime in the night a west coast writer friend traded some thoughts with me. I lamented the idea that synopses seem, on principle, to be a kind of deflowering, an unveiling of all the discovery and nuance. I once heard a story of a young woman auditioning to be an exotic dancer. A shady man in a shady office told her to disrobe completely while checking his fantasy team's scoring. He explained in matter of fact terms to her horrified face that he had to sample the goods before he could put them on display. My west coast friend opined that there could be some mystery, that it needed to be alluring in its own way, even as it revealed everything the story was. I woke up with that on my mind and went back to work.

I feel confident that I have done my due diligence. And because I so often feel that way, I have come to really despise luck, on a fundamental level. I rather prefer the control of direct input and output. I pull the lever, the door opens. But that just isn't how it works with the kinds of opportunity people dream about. We work, and we work, and we work, all the while hoping that it would result in something commensurate. That we can tabulate the bitter alchemy of how much sweat, and how much blood, is equivalent to a mote of success. Sometimes it is very difficult to be satisfied that we tried our best, yet still fell flat on our faces for reasons outside of our control. I met a person recently who admitted that she had done very little work, that she had an agent waiting, and that she just couldn't commit to putting words down.

I caught up with another friend, too, local, but I still never see her. She's a dreamer, like so many of the people I get along with are dreamers, and in the time since we last saw each other she had earned some mentors in her field, and definitive numbers for what she had to achieve to get to where she wanted to go. I was really happy for her. I was also really happy for myself, relieved to remember that I had those kinds of people still in my life. Another item that had to go into the submission package was a paragraph about me, the author. I didn't mention it, but dredging up who I was made me remember who I came from, and how my parents and I don't talk about my stories, or my dreams. Haven't for years. And maybe there's something to unpack in all of that, but in every way, I want nothing more than to abandon that on the nearest flat surface and distract myself with things I can control.

I want to go, so badly, and have no idea where I'm headed.