Friday, December 23, 2016

Stopped, starting

I wish I could say that rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. But there aren't any rumors. I stopped putting words into this white space, and no one noticed. Life moves on. Yet I felt a failure by not coming back around and writing something. I've learned so much in the past few months, but putting it all down here feels exhausting. 

I will say this though, I finished the novel before year's end like I planned. I didn't finish it before summer, or fall, but in this latest task I did not fall short. I met my quota of 90,000 words, even went a little over. Come 2017, I will have two unattached works to shop to agents and publishers, and it feels good to be able to say that. Interestingly enough, a random opportunity cropped up to put the already finished work in front of a person that reads for such goals. That was nice, to have been introduced to that person, and it was nice to check the file before I sent it, and discover that the novel to be sent is also close to 90k. I'm not on my way. I am still tinkering in the dark, but if ever anyone shines a light, they will see a rack of wrought works. 

The reason I am here is because I was writing down the second story idea I'd had in as many days. It was an interesting gestation, to put one novel away, to not be thinking about it in almost all instances of writing, then to feel other things come rushing in like ocean waves. The first I jotted down onto a notepad I've taken to using, a broad, star-ward science fiction story covered in multiple shorts. Like Silver Age, which I learned is pulp, and which I am working on making a serial from (I even have some people who have volunteered to voice act), but even less of a straight line. 

In the same way that idea is an evolution of something I tried years ago, so is this new, fantasy epic. I had some strenuous success re-writing one of my older novels, and in a similar vein, I will be re-imagining an older story that had decent bones. It won't have the same name, or many of the same characters, but some of the concepts ought to be recognizable to people who were with me in the beginning. It is exciting for me. A gift, even. I am very happy to be back at it. I love most facets of it, but this part is undeniably the most optimistic. Like watching a child grow.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The yolk of suppose

I've been on a bit of a break. Hiatus might be the better word. I imagined that fifty years ago, or a hundred fifty years ago, writing was different. Largely, writing was writing. Even if a poet wrote alone, just for herself, relatives who found her work later could rather easily publish those writings, and make livings off of posthumous efforts. Now, I have to acknowledge that in regards to being a writer, it doesn't quite do anymore to simply write. To say that I've been writing seems to count far less than successfully convincing others that I am a writer. It's an awful, tangled, convoluted mess.

I was inspired by an acquaintance who made some progress with her own struggles. Through her I learned a lot about comic books and the process for making them. We had largely talked about fiction but I discovered one of her many passions was graphic novels. She went around to conventions in the region, shook hands, did research, smiled, proved herself driven, did the work, and was accepted into an anthology. I was very happy for her, and very happy to know that there is a road. There are steps to take. Of course, what I am missing the most of is the conventions, the shaking hands. The smiling. I suppose if the universe speaks, it is on us to listen.

On that note, I am convinced that my query letter fell on deaf ears. There is something about the hollow rejection of a lack of reply that is particularly galling to me. Rejection is a part of life, after all. But there is a level of human affectation in the word no, or the eye contact that precedes a sad head shaking. I've been rejected in person without the word, and without the eye contact, and it is a stab to the center of a person when they go that far beneath notice. Sending submissions out into the aether and receiving no reply is the same. I can only assume that unanswered prayers feel very similarly. I did encounter something like advice on how to craft a query letter, so that is the next step. I'm supposing that is the next step.

In the mean time, I am still writing. Some ideas are less good. My own comic book idea, when I put some weight on it, crumbled through my fingers, and I didn't really lament at all. Another idea I had was smothered under the swirling doubt of "oh, that sounds just like..." The novel is up to chapter 19. The break started off strong, but some difficulties slowed my progress. Actually, they slow me still, and this is my attempt to generate locomotion. Decorating empty space with words, seeing how they stick, tearing them down and hanging up others.

Friday, July 8, 2016

That letter i

Some weeks ago I made a decision about the agent search, which was to swing for the fences. Recently, I was given cause to question that kind of mentality, but the thought hasn't yet fully formed. In the meantime, what came across my mind was to go after the agents of authors whom I admire. Beyond writing in similar genres, with similar (read: derivative) style, I felt like those agents would best understand the talent they represent, and be able to realize something comparable. 

This week I finally acted on that. Idle searching of the internet in a sweltering, morning parking lot revealed a name, and a search of the name revealed the title of an agency. A few clicks from there, and I was faced with their submission guidelines:

"Send us an unadorned, unaccompanied letter as your first step, whether paper or e-mail. If we're interested, we'll e-mail you an invitation to submit additional materials and instructions on how to do so."

I've gotten a lot of practice over the years writing letters, and getting rejected. I have a clearer and clearer idea of what I might say, and how I might say it in whatever context. In reading those lines was surprised. I wrote some novels after all, as a kind of practice, then I wrote another novel, then I re-wrote that novel. After all that I thought I might be able to use it as some sort of climbing tool, or shielding device, or identification card, something. Here, it's useless, unless I can write a letter that will stand out among all the other letters, enough to warrant a reply, and a positive one at that. It creates a startlingly dry chill, even in the bright blaze of summer. 

In other, less complex news, the writing continues. I stopped after chapter 10 to go over what I had done, and what I had planned to do, and how all of that had rolled out. Then I struck forward again, and I'm up to chapter 13. My notes and outline remain disjointed, in different physical locations and in various stages of disrepair. This time I have not used an electronic outline, and that has been very challenging. On the other hand, it has forced me to keep in mind what my narrative goals are, and that has kept the story in mind at almost all times. Barring head trauma, it might even work out better this way. 

So, the year is half done, and in regards to making this an occasion of networking, I can recall some successes and failures both. As always seems the case, there are some things that could work out, if the stars align correctly. It keeps happening, and I keep hoping, despite a steady diet of evidence that I should maybe be doing something else. I guess that means that so far, for whatever pratfalls, I remain mostly in tact. Or maybe that I was a little broken from the start. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A rest-room wall

I had two weeks off from work at the end of Spring semester, and I had it in mind to up the pace on the new project. It started off slowly, but eventually I made good on my goal, and churned out six chapters over the two-week period. It could've been more had I really applied myself, but it turns out chapter 10 was a good place to stop and reassess.

This is going much differently than the last fantasy novel, the last novel even. The unreliable narrator has been really interesting to work with. It was unwieldy at first, but then I recognized the possibilities of a story teller that has personality. The only thing about the technique so far that I do not like is how confining it is. Normally, I work with third person, and I like it because it helps to tell a more comprehensive story. Lots of angles from lots of characters, and it afforded me the opportunity to choose the best perches to tell the story from. With this first person idea, I only get the one angle, so the success or failure of the story, in terms of interest, has to come from that source, so I have to make sure that source is thoroughly good.

I'm also looking into map making at this very late stage. Normally, it's taboo for me to start talking about places and directions and landmarks without having a fuller understanding of where those sorts of things are. That's why chapter 10 was a good place to stop. There was a critical mass of places and directions and movement that to go much farther, it would be a detriment to the story. This, too, has been different because usually, I have a map, and I introduce characters to placing knowing how they relate to other locales. This time, I've had people moving about already, so now I can design a map that has a skeleton of needs that the story is providing. I can already tell you that I like the previous way best, but something I did learn from this method is that maps can have rough drafts, too, and that once I anchor the things I've canonized, I can rearrange the other details to my liking. Not sure how far that rabbit hole goes. 

In other news, the networking is going poorly. Logistics can be hard, before all the smiling and hand shaking there is also the arrangements and scheduling. I've succeeded in saying yes several times, but have failed on following through, circling back around, asking again. It is so much easier to do nothing. I have a friend that is touring conventions now, with a goal to meet people and make contacts. I think about myself; I try to place myself in that situation and my body freezes at the prospect of touring booths and asking those leading questions. I watch a lot of interviews because I find people's histories and anecdotes very entertaining. In almost every case, successful types have horrible beginnings that help propel them into leaps of faith. I can admit to being awful afraid of jumping. But it does help to admit to such fears in a place where they might be read. As if having a fear no one is aware of and having a fear others might exploit changes the fear itself. 

Regardless, break time is over, and I am back at work.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fire light

Recently, I had the opportunity to do a podcast. It's still being edited, I'm told, but I will not fail to post the link here, and in other places when it's done. My first thought after finishing it was that I will be much less critical of other interviewees in the future. It was a new experience for me, having a conversation and imagining an audience. I didn't think I would feel such pressure to make sense, to answer the questions, to be persuasive and inviting. I wish I could do it over again. I wish I had followed a much earlier thought and jotted down some notes. As it was all I thought to have with me was water. That I learned from the artist talk I did back in Februrary, how quickly I become dehydrated when speaking. At least, I understand where you're coming from, Senator.

In other news, the fantasy novel has taken off. In the Wright brothers' sense. It's not touching the ground, but I don't know if anyone in the current era would quite call it flying yet. This process has been different from any other I've been involved with. I started writing before I was ready. My intention was just to feel things out, and much like a leash slipping through my fingers, things got out of hand. I had to track it down and put it back in its cage, and apologize to a bunch of neighbors. I wasn't lying. That type of thing normally doesn't happen. But I think I'm excited. I'm working with unreliable narrators (yes, plural) speaking on events retrospectively. That was a feel thing. It came to me, felt right, so I'm trying to pursue it, to the best of my current ability.

I'm going to say that I should be soon emailing people about the local book festival. Maybe typing it somewhere will help guilt me into actually doing it. Like usual, Spring was a distance away, and now it's here. I'm never ready for it. But I think that might be a large part of life, too. In a similar vein, the only steps I've taken toward securing an agent is developing a plan for how to decide between an agent I want to represent me, and an agent I do not. I think what I'll have to do is look at a bunch of different artists and styles and how their publishers present them, so I can say "I'd like representation to put me in that kind of position." That feels like the wrong way to go about it, but it's the best I got so far.

A friend told me a story, about a sibling of his writing a novel, and the slippage he noticed in the reading of it from chapter to chapter, parts where he found his confidence lowering in regards to whether or not the author knew certain things, had polished certain things, adding things at later points, in a foggier mindset. Sort of like the difference between putting a puzzle together while fully awake, in the daylight, versus just before going to bed with the lights down low. The friend paid me the compliment that he never had that feeling working on my stuff. It was gratifying because it made me feel like all the work that sometimes feels superfluous serves reason.

So, I'm still here, grasping around in the darkness. This one here feels like a corner piece, upper left. I sure hope I've guessed the correct shape of this thing.

Monday, April 4, 2016

It is not safe

I'm going to have to do something unpleasant to one of my characters. Well, that isn't entirely accurate, but I do have a lead on what has to happen next to improve the short story. It is a personal weakness of my craft that I struggle with writing less likable individuals. Evil, I can do, because I've always thought that evil depended almost entirely on perspective. One woman's trash, or treasure. Heroes can look a lot like villains depending the jersey the beholder is wearing. But for this story, for this character, to capture the perspective I am trying to highlight, I really need to make the narrator wrong-headed. Which is far afield of the person being unreliable. There can be some fun in unreliability. This will probably not be fun. And a particular weakness of mine is that I struggle moving forward with unpleasant tasks.

Maybe that's why there was significant movement on the next novel idea. I woke up at midnight a week or so ago, and things all began falling into place. I could understand the world better because the characters became clearer. A recent conversation identified me as a "character based" writer, as opposed to being plot driven. After that interchange, I thought for the rest of the day on the concept of how plot could ever be more important than the characters driving it, involved in it. I guess I know what a partisan politician feels like now. It came up again while I was watching a movie that recently won a number of academy trophies. I latched onto the characters, their conflicts and quirks, and thanked them for holding up what was objectively a plot that amounted to a series of unfortunate disasters. 

I need to figure out Skype. I have the opportunity to participate in a podcast, and I raised my hand without imagining at all how I might be lending my voice to the enterprise. They say look before you leap, but there's no advice on what to do if one leaps first. Certainly, it wouldn't help anything if one looked after. I say if you haven't looked by the time you've leaped, don't bother afterwards. You might ruin the moment. So, anyway. Technology. I saw a video of a robot that can roll up vertical surfaces. I believe machines have become more terrifying than zombies. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Receipt received, repeat

I received the first email about agent-finding. I say first because at the bottom was a thoughtful "let me know when you're ready for more." This first email has a scroll bar. I'll confess that I haven't looked at it as hard as I could have, but that stops this week. I'd been waiting on it, and using that lack as an excuse, but now that it's here I am working on not looking for another reason to avoid doing something I assume will be very unpleasant.

And I couldn't even say why it is, really. From a distance, it's very simple. Agents are just people in the business of making connections, and for the sake of proficiency, they tend to make their trade specific kinds of connections. Literary agents tend to work with certain kinds of work, and certain kinds of authors. I just have to find my type, based on their record, which is generally public information. When I say it like that, it's easy. It's over there, on the other side of the room, harmless.

And yet... 

In other news, I am getting good feedback on the short story, which I can only relate to my understanding of the realities of child birth. It didn't come out the way I imagined in my mind, but I'm still mostly happy for the process. Moving away from contemporary imaginings, and into science fiction, now I need to engineer some improvements. I think that's the goal his week, if this week has a goal. Sights on the 4th draft of the short story, and conjuring an outline for a plan of attack regarding finding an agent. 

Also, I received a review on my first book that I think classifies as negative. I was informed by a friend who happened to be passing through the webspace, and told me about it. I was pretty thrilled. I think my feelings were supposed to be hurt, but the person went through the trouble to jot down notes every 30 pages, and then post all of that online. He still even gave me 2 stars. In subsequent weeks, I learned that this person is a habitual reviewer, so nothing less should be expected, but I found myself pleased that someone had picked over my work with such dedication. Thinking back, I think that's just about all I've ever asked for. 

It would be really useful if I turned out to be impervious to criticism. I think it will soon be time to face the next firing squad.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The point points

I'm back to writing again, and the positive feelings and negative ones are mixing well together. I feel good in a vague sort of way, as if letting the words lie on paper lightens my spirit. I feel more energetic and excitable. Activity and smiles come easier. And I feel bad, right this moment between the first and second draft where I doubt the project's purpose, or my ability to execute it. It seems like a great idea to delete it and never mention it again to anyone. It isn't necessarily surprising, but I had forgotten that particular side effect of the first drafting. It's complete, and yet it is in its roughest possible state of completeness. No one can fault a sculptor for the look of a rough block of material, but after they've worked on it for awhile, if it still looks like nothing, doubt isn't far behind the confusion.

But, I'm back to writing again. Since finishing the sci-fi novel rewrite, I've been on a bit of an involuntary hiatus. One of those times when one gets distracted, but it just so happens to coincide with a break so it becomes less suspicious, so later when it's become pervasive, it can be a little disconcerting. Truth be told, while I've had the idea in the works for months, it was the idea of a couple friends getting together to share work monthly that finally roused me from sloth. I was lost in my own head to wonder why I hadn't been asked to partake, then I wondered if I could even have something new to present on a monthly basis. Then I thought that even if I could, getting to 12 still started with 1. Motivation is strange.

I'm also not sure how this happened, but when coming to the drafting of this story, I was able to ask the question of whether or not another person could read it and give me their thoughts. And I was able to ask it, in earnest, several times. I was able to ask it so many times that I thought I had asked the same person more than once. I think back to a time in college when I asked the question, and the other person was still trying to become my friend. It's different now, and I'm not quite sure yet exactly how. I'm thankful to have people to bounce things off of, so maybe this networking thing is working better than I thought.

Speaking of that, I found another author at my publisher who was praised for producing a "non typical" take on the supernatural framework. So now I'm in a review swap situation. I'm looking forward to talking with and getting to know yet another author. However, I am not sure if I signed up for this because I wanted to avoid the work ahead at finding an agent.

But self diagnosis aside. I'm back to writing.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Part II

I've had a couple friends ask me how things went.

"You did an awesome job... you were natural and engaging. From experience you know that's a lot with that age group."

"You did an excellent job. The students really enjoyed your talk."

This is what I'm told, and I guess nothing particularly disastrous happened. I arrived on campus on time, but between locating the front office, signing in, waiting for someone to walk me to the right location, all I had time to do was greet my contact, and walk into a room with a large group of restless teenagers who suddenly decided they would all stare at me.

Going in, I had planned to show them the next books in the series. I took them, thinking it would be a great opportunity for marketing, to talk to them about the first book, and then be able to physically show them that the series continued, what the covers looked like, the words therein, etc. In practice, the books stayed in my bag. I was alone on a makeshift stage that creaked when I first stepped onto it, behind a tiny podium with an impotent tail of an electrical plug dangling down, the other end connecting to a fixture bereft of a microphone. I hadn't anticipated there would be so many people. The school bought 60 books, and I still didn't think it through.

In retrospect, I said some things that I might not have had I some time to think things through, but there was no time. I talked about my book, my process, I answered the questions I had been given, and then I opened the forum for Q&A. I didn't even realize how many questions were being asked until we had to cut things short. I signed some books for about ten minutes. This, following the portion where a table of food was exposed to the teeming press. I was reminded of some of the scenes from the first Jurassic Park, a movie most of the children there hadn't seen, and yet emulated so fiercely. And then I had to go, because it was the middle of the day, at a school, so there were classes. I found myself in the parking lot walking toward my car wondering if all of it had actually happened, or if maybe I had imagined it.

I have a visitor's sticky badge bearing my name, stuck to the envelope housing my compensation for the talk. And that's what it says: author's talk, right next to the bounty of my efforts. I have to update my resume, with that, and other things.

I am so very happy that the bottom didn't fall out from under me.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Part I

I found myself awake at 5:30 this morning, lying next to Nervousness. Tomorrow is the author talk at a local high school. All last week I had wondered if maybe I had grown socially, if my stage fright of years, which led me to speak in front of audiences and then afterward remember little of what I said. No, was the whisper, I'm still here.

I got an email with some questions that would likely be asked, and that was a great comfort for two reasons. One, it means that they will likely ask questions, which indicates at least some level of interest. I won't be sitting in front of a group of people who were forced to stare at me. Secondly, I know what some of the questions at least will be. I am very focused on doing a good job, being insightful, which is to say helpful, for the sake of these young people. I think I have an idea of where they are sitting, and I don't want to be the latest in a long list of unhelpful adults.

Still, even though I am hours removed from that quiet moment in the dark, I find myself hyper sensitive. All of my clothes suddenly seem wrong. My hair, my shoes. But at least the feeling of unpreparedness are far enough removed that I can look at them objectively, analyze them thoughtfully. I do not want to fail, simply put.

So this will be something new, in multiple senses. I will post again after I've passed through to the other side. Hopefully whole.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A N.Y. thing

Been awhile since I updated this, and as usual I have no excuses. It's also been awhile since I wrote consistently, but that's going to be changing soon, as well.

Two weeks until the artist talk at a local high school. I don't know what to expect, and I think that's okay. I believe the point is to use it as a learning experience, gather what information I can and then draw conclusions after the dust clears. I was also told about a writing workshop in the area, where people pay non-trivial amounts of money to sit in on various sessions with professionals in the industry, and pay moderately less money to even pitch to an agent. I'm considering how much such an experience is worth to me, never having had it previously. Sometimes I guess one has to make decisions in the midst of the sandstorm.

Navigating these things has been confusing and strange. So far as I can tell, there are a variety of doors a person can use for an in. "It isn't what you know, but who you know." This most visible methodology works out for a lot of individuals who find themselves connected to or connecting with the right person. It's a normal emotion, not to trust someone who isn't known, because ultimately it's all about investments, which is to say gambling. Agents, companies, entities wield a certain amount of influence and resources, and their goals are to further their agendas, most usually revolving around making more money. Taking in a book that will sell is a good thing, but who knows the future? The fallback of trust is convenient and safe and typical. Without that, it falls on the author to figure out some other way to impress the editors responsible for accepting material. I've personally also heard of authors working at publishers first, and working their way into that trust. I've also heard of authors spending decades submitting until their work finds the right person behind the right desk.

So in terms of networking and tenacity, respectively, I think I continue to fail. But there are those resolutions. I didn't so much say them as feel them, and I know what I have to do to fulfill them. I may not end up shelling out money I don't necessarily have for the workshop, but the other resources I've come across, I will use. I am always of the mind that if a writer is not writing, they are not working. Maybe that was true 30 years ago. Now, it seems like part of the job is the meeting and greeting. I'm sure there are also other aspects I'm missing, other things that went into the careers of writers I see who are further along than me. And of course everyone's recipe for success is going to be a little different.

So, on the horizon are the children's book concept I've failed at for 2 years, the next short story, which I'm pretty excited about, and this networking thing. I call it a thing because I still don't know what to make of it. However, I can say that I have more people in my life now who continuously ask me how it's going, and that feels really nice. Like a forgetful person is, I am increasingly more amazed at the number of things I allow to fall by the wayside. Picking them up later, "what is this doing on the floor?" Though, I am keenly aware that if I allow myself to fail, I will always remember how I didn't try hard enough.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Full of pauses and nothings

When I sat down to commit to the sci fi novel rewrite, I did so somewhat purely. And by that I mean I had no plan for where I would submit it, how, why, etc. The story wasn't strong enough, I felt, primarily, so thinking about places to send it was moot. But I did assume that once I was done, I would have somewhere to submit it.

I finished the rewrite. It fell 5,000 words short of my initial goal of 90,000, but even then it is still almost half again as long as the other books I have out in the aether mingling on virtual shelves. I felt good about that fact. I felt good about a lot of things, especially the new ideas that started flowing after I had this project out of the way. When I sat down to finally look for publishers to submit my work to, my eyes were opened again.

According to this website, the landscape has changed. Some places, known for years for producing entire series of door-stop novels, are only taking short stories, for the foreseeable future, it seems. Other places still insist a book isn't a book if it isn't 100,000 words. Right off the bat my search revealed that my novel was too long for some places, and too short for others. It was perplexing, because up to this point I had been indirectly informed that my writing was too brief, or rather, lacked word count. My search continues to this day, but I'd be lying if it hasn't become distracted.

I assumed some companies are working shorter in response to the tablet age, where everything is immediate, and expectations have grown faster. I wouldn't necessarily disagree, that for most longer novels, a good quarter of it is stuffy filler. I decided that if push came to shove, my book ranged from 5,000 too heavy or too light, but beyond that I would be guilty of scathing away too much for things to make sense or padding the book to reach a quota. And like I said, I came to this in an effort to write a great novel, and the words I included are more or less the words I think should be present.

Which is not to say that I think it's perfect. I deeply agree with the premise of editing, and have seen all my published works improved by the process. But to get edited, a book needs to be accepted, and to get accepted, it seems like there have to be a certain number of words met. So here I am. It's possible I may have leapt before I looked.