Monday, March 30, 2009

Weekends Away From Writing and Resisting The Muse

I've mentioned here that I become so engrossed in the writing that I rarely take time to see friends. This weekend, I barely turned the computer on, and I'm quite proud of myself. It's essential to keep our feet on the ground, to claw our way out of our heads for a time, and I did this most successfully.

You've probably gathered (by the very omission of such things here and on my Twitter) that I don't much care for shopping, or chit-chat, or messing aimlessly about. I always seem to have something far more important to do than waste time on what I perceive as frivolous pursuits.

Part of this is because I'm getting much older. Time is beginning to grow shorter. No doubt you rarely think about rationing time, because it appears - for a lot of you - to be an endless resource, stretching so far into the future that there's no need to consider it. I'm of an age where I'm finally beginning to value it.

If I'm to be a published writer, I'll need a lot more books under my belt to prove I'm not a one-off. This means dedication to the craft, once and for all. I spent a lot of years working the 9-5 thing, raising kids (alone), then did some goofing around, travelling, chasing men, messing about on boats - like that, as we do when we're single. It's time to work for me now, to put all that experience into the writing. Tempus Fugit. Carpe Diem!

But...this weekend...well, it was lovely, spent with a couple of women friends, doing womanly things like mall-browsing, thrift-shopping, strolling, lunching at a restaurant beside the waters of Lake Ontario (still a bit frozen, but the sun was so warm we ate out on the deck). We collected a new puppy for a friend, and it did all the usual puppy things on the back seat. We reversed the car into a storm ditch, sideways, so that it teetered on two rocks over a couple of feet of water on the passenger side - my side. I had to crawl up into the driver's seat to get out - legs all awry and briefly strung over the steering wheel, before I emerged. You know, the usual weekend stuff.

And to think I usually spend my weekends hunched over the computer.

You may well ask why the car ended up semi-dangling over the tiny creek, but first appreciate that it needed a rescue vehicle, with serious lifting machinery, to get it out. In fact it was the puppy's performance in the back that distracted the driver. She was reversing, and then saw her ruined back seat upholstery. She was a bit upset at that. She was even more upset with the ditching.

If socializing weekends are all like this, I'll do more of them. I had no idea...

Perhaps you noticed, again, my postscript on Friday's blog, that I received a request for another partial of Hafan Deg. I responded that I believe the thirty-day exclusive on the full I sent out last week means no submissions, partial or otherwise, and I would be in touch when I know what's happening. I also took my three-chapter link to the MS down. Heather tells me that's probably not necessary. Does anyone know for sure?

There's a new, pretty face following me. My daughter, Sienna, became my 28th follower. She and her partner live in Australia, in a small piece of paradise on the north coast of New South Wales, pretty close to self-sufficient in their green way of life. They grow most of what they need, barter for the rest, provide sanctuary for injured or orphaned wild animals, and produce a wonderful magazine, Vegan Voice, which is dedicated to educating the world about the urgent need to end animal farming. (Sienna's editorials are a particularly delightful read.) I am very proud of her and I'm pleased to see her following me.

My other daughter, Kim, also follows me, but she admits to little time spent actually reading my posts. That's okay. I understand. It's just nice to know she's there as well. Of course, neither one of my sons follows me. Men!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Reliance On The Kindness of Writers

I was somewhat taken aback this last day or two, since I posted about the request for the full manuscript of Hafan Deg with the thirty-day exclusivity attached. So many of you congratulated me, encouraged me, shared this fragile snippet of hope as if it were your own. I know some of you are already at the same stage with your books, and it moves me to see how unstinting you are with your concern for me. I've said all of this before, but it's worth repeating how much it means - and how constantly amazed I am at your generosity. Thank you, again.

I am heavily involved in Strachan's Attic. The book was meant to be a revision, an update of the original MS, but I find I am re-writing great chunks, and it's taking far longer that I'd originally planned. I'm not complaining, because when I read the previous day's work the next morning, it's satisfying to see it taking on a fresh new life. Perhaps I should stop calling this an old book, and refer to it now as my new novel; certainly it retains the original idea, but the characters have completely changed - for the better, I hope.

The research is ongoing, as I come up with some new aspect of World War II that I want to reflect. Browsing through the archives at various sites, I come across stories that engulf me so completely, even though they're not relevant to my book, that I can't tear myself away. Many, many people have offered their individual memories to these sites as a permanent record of that poignant time in history. Most of the writers, if they are still with us, are in their 80s or 90s now, relating things that must still cause strong emotions in them. Some are written by relatives, even grandchildren trying to connect to their own pasts. This is also a reminder to you to record your family history, to question aging relatives about their stories, otherwise it's lost forever.

I mention this because there is such a wealth of material out there for the writer interested in an earlier time. I've found enough story ideas from this one decade to write a hundred books. So many of these people in uniform were high school age, seventeen, eighteen years of age. Late in the war, boys joined the Navy at fourteen, easily getting away with the lie that they were older because no one questioned too deeply; the War Effort needed every able body it could get. It's emotional work, this book, although I suppose all our writing must be in different ways. If we didn't invest our own vulnerability in it, how convincing would it be?

There's a lot of stuff out there about literary agents - what they think, what they want, etc., but I don't think we ever tire of hearing about them. They're our greatest challenge, our Everest - sometimes, when we're feeling low, even our bete noire. I came across a discussion between four young agents at the Poets & Writers site which I found interesting enough to link here. They make a couple of points that I hadn't thought about, and it's a rewarding read. Perhaps you'll find it useful.

Have a great weekend, all you lovely, thoughtful, sensitive souls. If you must write, have a good weep over it, or a loud chuckle, love every word, and remind yourself how lucky you are to be writers.

POSTSCRIPT: Just received a request for another partial for Hafan Deg. This is new to me, so I wrote a polite response explaining the thirty day exclusive on the Full MS. I'm assuming I'm not meant to send partials during this time either. Anyone know for sure? In the meantime, I've removed the 3-chapter Link from here as well, to be fair. Hope someone out there is smarter than I feel right now...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Full Manuscript Request and Very Little Giddiness...

I don't know if you saw my postscript on Monday or not, but, after my positive thinking about that nice agent who asked for the partial, I was promptly asked for the FULL Hafan Deg manuscript! He also requested a thirty-day exclusive on it, and I'm happy with that.

Funny thing is, I'm not overwhelmed by this, and I thought I would be. I mean, I don't want to sound casual about it, but I am just so relaxed with this whole query process. If it happens, it happens. (Which is in keeping with my more or less Buddhist philosophy on life, anyway.) You'd think there would be anxiety, but I've so come to terms with the constant reminders of the time it can take to find an agent, that I'm not really expecting one yet. How practical and sensible is that? Anyway, one agent has Hafan Deg from start to finish, and I hope he enjoys it, but I'm also thinking that a partial is now being opened at another agency, mailed the week before, and I'm wondering if something might come of that, too. It would be uplifting to have to apologize to them that the full couldn't be released to them yet, right? Oh, optimistic fool!

When I first started querying, I was surprised at how easily I sent my snippets out. I enjoy the research, tweaking my little stats spreadsheet I've set up in XL, and updating my Query Tracker list. I figure I have a lot more names to add before the exercise is complete - if ever. The act of querying has become a sort of game, and quite fun.

Can you believe that after all this time, re-writing and re-writing, weeping over words, reading blogs that depressed or alarmed me, being warned about "agent" con artists, hearing about failing publishing companies, and that e-publishing is the wave of the future...all of this stress suddenly disappeared as soon as I let the book go? Well, it did.

Hafan Deg is on its own out there now, I hope safely, in professional hands, and I'm not experiencing that stab of pain felt when I handed a child over to school that very first day, and I thought I would.

We've all had it drummed into us online that it could take 30, 40, 50 or more queries before we get a nibble. Some never get a nibble. So I came into this expecting to wait quite a while, and it somehow released me to get on with writing Strachan's Attic. I honestly think this has been the saving grace. If you haven't already done it, start on that next book now. It will renew you.

So - Query Summary - 12 Pending, 1 Partial, 1 Full with exclusivity, and 5 Rejects.

And I'm just about as relaxed as I can be.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Writers' Questions - Don't Be Shy!

Over the past few months, since I started this blog, many of you have asked questions. Perhaps you awkwardly felt you should know the answers and even felt a bit embarrassed asking. I just wanted you to know that nothing you ask here can be considered inconsequential, because we've all been in the same boat at some point, and, no doubt, still have more to learn.

I certainly can't claim to know the answers. A lot of my apparently silly questions I chose not to show to the world; I found the answers through Googling - there's a wealth of information out there. And my favorite blog for Everything You Wanted To Know About Writing is Anne Mini's Author! Author! I've put the link here for convenience, but it's permanently in the side bar too. The postings at her site are in the hundreds, and cover just about anything you think of. Don't wait until you've reached the point in your writing where you need to check something. Have a little wander through her archives to see if any of it applies to what you're doing now. It will probably save you a lot of re-writes.

Unless you've found an astute and helpful agent, dealt with an editor, made it through to the publishing process, it's difficult to know all the oddities associated with this business. Like anything else, we learn as we go along.

I am grateful for the amount of input I've had from followers of this blog. It's amazing to me just how much personal time writers put into helping fellow writers. We all want to succeed, but we also recognize that there's no need to guard ourselves from one another. A fellow writer at a writer's site I belong to just picked up an agent. Oh, my, how exciting was that to see her able to bow out of our little forum on "Finding an Agent"! We know how hard we work, how much of ourselves are poured into our manuscripts, how we wince at the rejections, and that we must learn to grin and bear it. We can only stand up and cheer for those of us who move forward to the next stage.

The kind of feedback and support we get from the blogs we follow are a modern wonder. In the olden days, before the internet, you were restricted to the input of just a few like souls, through writers' clubs, seminars, and retreats, and not all of us were able to take advantage of those, either. Don't ever be shy about your writer's confusion. It's happened, or is happening, to all of us.

I mentioned in my postscript on Friday that I received a second partial request. I promptly sent out another query. My Total Agent Query Standings are: 12 pending; 2 Partials under consideration; and 5 rejects.

POSTSCRIPT: One of my Partials has just asked for a thirty-day exclusive to read the whole manuscript. Oh, bliss...

See you on Wednesday.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring is Here!

All the little new things will be here soon - leaves on the trees, flowers, tiny birds, and new-born lambs. I love the Fall, but Spring is renewal time. For all of us, but especially for those of us who live in the Northern snow belt, this is the energizing season, when all of us are coming up with plans for ourselves - to re-do the living room, get the garden seeded, do some yard sale browsing. For the writer, it's to get the book finished, to get it edited, to get it published, dang it! I am full of optimism and energy. I hope this beautiful season brings you the same joy.

I shot off another query yesterday, to keep my percolating ones to a count of 12. Summary: 12 pending, 5 rejects, 1 partial out there. When I sent off that query yesterday, I mistakenly said I had pasted in 10 chapters (I wish!), instead of the suggested 10 pages, so I quickly sent a correction to them. This morning there was a response, and I thought it was bound to be one of those instant rejects, but it was "No Problem!" Such a generous response! Such an upbeat two words! Such an enthusiastic exclamation mark! Surely I can read something into this... As it's such a lovely day, I believe I will.

Of course, spare cash is always a problem, isn't it, for most of us? I was therefore delighted to receive this email yesterday. A Half-Million Dollars for helping someone out? My goodness, talk about perfect timing!

"Hi Dear,

l saw your profil and go through it and willing to contact you, I have to introduce myself for you, I am Mr.David Komu, the only son of late Chief and Mrs George Komu, I wish to request for your assistance in my efforts to procure the transfer of my inherited funds for investment ventures.

I have Five Million Dollars ($5.000,000.00) here in my name with one of the prime banks here and I will require for your assistance in receiving the transfer of the funds in your local bank account for investment purposes. As it is my desire to come over to your country to further my education
while you take goodcare of the investment, I will be very glad to give you 10% of the total sum for your co-operation.

I will be very appreciative if you can return to me with urgent dispatch to enable me advise you on the modalities.

I am waiting for your immediate response.

My Kind Regards!
Mr.David Komu

Please reply to me with this my private email."

Seriously, I'm amazed that this kind of stuff is still floating around. Do we all come across as total idiots, naive Westerners with no brains to speak of? I think it's that assumption that most offends me. Give me a slick, clever, intuitive con man any day, over the insulting ones.

I was going to suggest that we all, as many as possible, email him back and lead him on, as it were. I found a wonderful English site some years back, where this chap kept up tanatalizing online correspondence with several similar writers for months, representing himself to them as a vicar, a baronet, a professor, and so on. The stuff he posted was some of the funniest I've read. Of course, finally the naughty crooks realized what was happening to them. If I can find the "vicar's" post, I'll put it up sometime.

Take a break from the writing this weekend and go out and enjoy this new season. It's still cold here, but that's just the last of Nature's little jokes. Pretend it's really warm.

POSTSCRIPT: That nice agent just asked for three-chapters!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Writing and Other People's Memories

I revealed my work on Strachan's Attic to my WAF ACW (Women's Air Force, Aircraftwoman) of World War II on Monday night. I was on the phone with her for over an hour, getting answers to odd little details that I'd never find online. She was utterly delighted that I'm doing this, seeing that - despite my totally different plot - I am more or less telling her story, and the stories of so many others from that time. I learned so much, and I'm glad I followed up with her. People want to explain their lives, even if parts of it are painful. I am indebted to her, my darling big sister.

As I was turning off the computer on Monday night, I took a quick look at my inbox and - lo, and behold! - I got a request for a partial from an agent! It was such a positive-sounding email, that I'm quite dizzy. The only odd thing, I think, is that she wants the chapters, bio and synopsis mailed to her. Perhaps the agency doesn't want its computers tied up with a big download. Do any of you know about this? I can understand it for the whole manuscript, but a few chapters aren't so huge. Please don't think I'm complaining - I would have rented a homing pigeon to deliver the package if they'd asked.

So I spent a great deal of time yesterday printing-off all the pages (slow printer), and I'm afraid I didn't even post my art blog yesterday (although I doubt anyone really noticed, and Squeakie Stone, featured on Monday, deserves all the exposure he can get).

I'll be heading off to the post office soon, and that's a first with mailed submissions from Brighton. Oh, and do you realize that it's impossible to send that SASE that agents need to return the material? Self-addressed envelope, sure, but Canadian stamps are useless for mailing from the States, so I'll enclose an international money order. Oh, and who says they'll want to return the material? Oh, I know - be practical - a partial is only a partial...

I remind you again, if you're at all interested, that both my novels are available to read at another weblink. I am offering it to some of my regular followers (you know who you are), so email me if you want to know what happens next with either book. Oh, and my thanks to Casey for her generous time in critiquing Strachan's first three chapters. She came up with some interesting and useful points. I haven't had time lately to look at other writers' excerpts, so I'm quite moved that she was so unselfish.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy the Writer With Dust Bunnies Under the Bed

I completed Chapter 6 of Strachan's Attic last night, or a new total of 16,850 words. You know I'm involved in re-writing this MS, but this last section is going slowly because most of it's new. I didn't intend to stray far from the original plot, but things have happened that I couldn't control, and new characters popped up, new situations arose. I just sit back to see what's going to happen next, honestly. I work furiously at this stage, typing very quickly, and then - the next day - I re-read and adjust things - several times, in fact.

I've left poor Hafan Deg far behind, which is a bit rude, because I should get more queries out for it. I'm still sitting at 12 submissions pending, and 5 rejects. As it's been a couple of weeks since the last query, things feel as if they are stagnating.

During this writing "frenzy" (can we call it that?), I still wash the dishes, and keep my kitchen clean, but I don't vacuum, dust, or clean the bathroom as promptly as some might. My house will be spotless after the writing spasm is over. Whether I clean today or tomorrow, it will still be there.

So, for those of you who work full time, out of the house, I want to congratulate you on how much you get done with your writing. When you are at home, I guess you've long ago learned to get off that chair when there is something totally useless on TV, to snatch some time with your computers. Your hours are precious, and shouldn't be wasted.

I've freelanced for years, working from home, and kept the number of hours (and my income, of course) to about five hours of paid work a day. This freed up a lot of time for painting or writing, or whatever creative stuff I was into at the time. With my kids no longer at home, it's just me and my cats, and I can now work on my stuff anytime I feel like it - at midnight, dawn, or whenever.

When I did work full time, I would write at the office during lulls in the day (and during my lunch hour). I had an amazing and supportive boss, and, as long as I was there for the crazy periods, he allowed me some leeway during the dead ones.

So you really impress me, managing to produce as much as you do, and still hold down full time work. I follow your blogs. I know how difficult it is. Bravo!

The dust bunnies aren't actually multiplying under the bed. I clean them out every week or so, but I'm not hung up on them. Don't come to my house if you have allergies. My daughter does, so I have to spend hours before she arrives, vacuuming, vacuuming - cat fur, mostly.

And so I write (or paint) with no guilt about the cleaning. If it really bugs me, I do it. But only after I've completed a certain amount of the creative work.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What Manuscripts Are Stashed In Your Drawer?

Electra inspired today's posting. She commented on Wednesday's All Those Lovely Blogs, saying she has been writing, aimlessly, for over twenty years. Ah, how well I understand, Electra.

It set me wondering about the rest of you. It makes sense that most of you are writers, otherwise why would you be interested in the specifics of a writer's blog? Are you hanging about because you hope a bit of the passion will rub off on you? Well, I think you already have the passion, but it simply needs re-kindling (pardon the pun).

Are you hiding secrets in your drawer, or locked somewhere on your hard drive? I have many manuscripts still tucked away: a couple of plays, several short stories, many poems, the first ten chapters of yet a third novel started some years ago. If I wanted to resurrect them, they would all have to be retyped, because they were done before I owned a computer. Yep, that long - even before I owned that first funny little Mac.

My sister began writing a novel years ago, and heaven only knows what happened to it, as she certainly didn't publish it. My friend up the street asked me to read a manuscript (from the 40s, we think), that turned up in some items he bought at a house sale. Someone's baby forgotten in a drawer.

When we are involved in the process, we become obsessed with our work, knowing we are writers and that we must express ourselves. We show the results of hours of work to close friends, family members, submit to a contest or a publisher. It's exciting for a while, and then...Life takes over. Our kids come first, husband looks bored, Mom hasn't been well, and we put our writing on the back burner. The little spark goes out. We will always be writers, yes? We can come back to our art whenever we like, can't we? And suddenly twenty years has passed. It happened to Electra. It happened to me.

So my plea to you today is for you to pull out all your writings (or - lucky you - open that Word file) and re-read each and every one. You'll probably get goose-bumps here and there at the sheer quality of the work. Did you really write that? How could you not do something with it?

I think that a lot of you are hanging around this blog sniffing the air, checking on whether you just might see something that stirs you to get back to the writing. I'm here to tell you to do it. I'm stirring you.

During the time I was painting, and not writing, I watched a lot of TV featuring interviews with writers, both famous and not so famous, who would tell the stories of their working days, where they found their muse, how they structured their days to write. I loved those programs, and sought them out, but they always left me feeling a bit sad, because I knew I could, with work and a certain amount of serendipity, be that published writer talking about MY passion. If I hadn't started my art blog, I wouldn't have gone back to my writing, I know. It stimulated the writer in me. It turned on the spark again.

I want you - those of you who are not writing - to stop and re-think the stuff in your drawer. Sit down and sort through it, decide what things can be re-worked, edited, re-vamped - because NOW you know how it should go; NOW you know why the protagonist must do the thing she will do; NOW you know why this time it will be perfect!

You comment and I love it, but I'm telling you to stop sniffing around and GET BACK TO IT! It's time.

And dear Electra kindly featured me on her own self-motivating blog. Thank you Electra. She's now in my sidebar, so I can keep an eye on her. See Electra-Roughdraft.Blogspot.

Okay, what are you waiting for? Go open that drawer!

Oh, but please still squeeze in a moment to keep commenting here. I need that.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

All Those Lovely Blogs

I've been blog-browsing this morning - just aimlessly looking, checking them out, clicking to follow here and there, posting a comment. I don't know what I'd do without them. When you lock yourself away, hermit-like, letting the phone click over to messages, rather than answering it, you need to make contact at some point, or go a bit mad, eventually.

My blogs rarely reflect what I had for dinner last night, or the books I've been reading (which is an odd one, I admit), or what I did on the weekend, or how I feel about relationships. That stuff ends up in my novels. I can't seem to lightly blog - I mean why would anyone really care? But looking around, seeing all of you happily chatting about this, that, and the other, blissfully unconcerned with how pertinent it is to the particular blog, I am a bit awed, really. It reminds me of schooldays when all the girls were chattering about girl-things, but I couldn't think of anything worth saying. They were all so good at it, while I was a bit - let's face it - boring. I was often too much inside my head, especially in my early teens. I got better at the lighter touch as I discovered boys. Suddenly clothes were important, shoes were powerful, hair was crucial - all those things I'd had no interest in earlier, and suddenly I was chit-chatting.

It all came home to me yesterday, how bottled up I've been, when a friend from down the road popped in with some art magazines, and a little box he wants decorated. I astonished myself by how much I talked! Poor man, sitting there, not even being offered a cup of coffee while I waffled on. I was conversation-starved. When he finally stood up to leave, I was a bit taken aback. Oh, no, I wasn't finished yet - I hadn't told him about...

Mind you, he did his share of talking too; he's not a wimpy man, and knows when to take the helm conversationally, but I certainly hogged a lot of it.

So it reminded me to take more time off, away from the novel, and just be myself. The whole world does not revolve around my desk and computer, after all, but it does sometimes feel like it. I've been doing quite a lot of writing, as you'll see by the word count of Strachan, but I'm going to forcibly take a break. I'm going to try, at least.

Dear Kylie, at EtsyVeg, interviewed me for their blog and it was featured today. Of course, it mainly concerns the art side of me, but I thought you might find it interesting. You can find it here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Living Our Characters, and Maya Angelou

This gray, wet weather (and now it's trying to snow!) is influencing my blog today; in fact, I tried briefly to pretend it was Saturday and not write my post. A lot of my thoughts are deep in the Strachan novel, and it's hard to pluck myself away from that, to speak of day-to-day things. Like Strachan, I am being influenced by my own writing, living vicariously through my characters. I do shrug it off to watch TV, where a certain amount of concentration is required (but not much), but in all other activities, the character of Celia from Strachan's Attic travels everywhere with me. I'm trying to hang on to her unique, more reserved, voice from the 40s. Like a method actor, I am inside her head a lot through my day, not dismissing her easily for fear of losing her, which would involve "finding" her all over again. I'll get past this, as the book progresses, but right now I am a bit Celia-obsessed.

All fiction, we know, can be somewhat autobiographical. It's almost impossible for our own experiences and beliefs not to thread their way into our characters. Having pointed that out, Celia is loosely based on someone in my family, whose anecdotes when I was a child always enthralled me. She is elderly now, of course, and I see her rarely (we live in separate countries), but she lived much of the life I attribute to Celia. I would interview her, ask her many, many questions, but it would probably be painful, and I don't even know how to admit to her that I am writing this, stealing her story, as it were. She told me some time back that she still loved her young WWII airman as much today as then, and that rarely a day goes by that she doesn't think about him. This was what triggered the novel.

As the book moves forward, as I gain more confidence, I'll approach her, but I haven't quite reached that stage yet.

For my one or two supportive readers, incidentally, I'm happy to provide a link to Chapter Four, and that same link, in turn, will lead to the rest of the chapters as I finish them.

It was International Women's Day yesterday, borne of Russian imperatives generations ago, but pertinent today. I thought I'd show you a piece written by Maya Angelou, which you've undoubtedly seen before, but is worth reproducing here. It's light enough to get you going for the day, without preaching. For the guys looking, I'm sorry, but it won't hurt you to see what women think about.


enough money within her control to move out
and rent a place of her own,
even if she never wants to or needs to...

something perfect to wear if the employer,
or date of her dreams wants to see her in an hour...

a youth she's content to leave behind...

a past juicy enough that she's looking forward to
retelling it in her old age...

a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra...

one friend who always makes her laugh...and one who lets her cry...

a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family...

eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems,
and a recipe for a meal
that will make her guests feel honored...

a feeling of control over her destiny...

how to fall in love without losing herself...

how to quit a job,
break up with a lover,
and confront a friend without
ruining the friendship...

when to try harder...and when to walk away...

that she can't change the length of her calves,
the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents...

that her childhood may not have been perfect...but it's over...

what she would and wouldn't do for love...

how to live alone...even if she doesn't like it...

whom she can trust,
whom she can't,
and why she shouldn't take it personally...

where to go...
be it to her best friend's kitchen table,
or a charming inn in the woods,
when her soul needs soothing...

what she can and can't accomplish in a day...
a month...and a year.

Maya Angelou

Friday, March 6, 2009

No Further Rejections

So I still have 12 queries pending and 5 rejections. This means I've sent no queries out all week. I'd like to think the active queries are in the "Interesting..Take A Closer Look" pile, but they could be in the "When You Get A Minute, Send A Form Rejection" pile, and nobody has yet found that minute to do it. Perhaps I'll fire off a couple of queries today, just to keep my hand in.

I was reading a blog this morning that suggested that literary fiction was a sort of no-go area right now. We all know the kinds of genres that are being picked up, which is no surprise considering how hot this is in the movie world, but I still feel there is room for the quiet little story, the one where the hero or heroine is not particularly beautiful or heroic. I'm thinking of stories like "About Schmidt", or "The Visitor", both about understated, introverted men. Some of us prefer this kind of writing, this kind of film, and I believe there is still a market for it. However, as the blog pointed out, if you don't buy such a book yourself, you're part of the problem. The other writing sells. Perhaps all of us quiet little readers, with our penchant for quiet tales, and the possible tendency to simple living, use our libraries. So that's that.

It's that 'blah' time of the year here. It's gray and threatening rain, but it's the warmest we've been since last fall - around 15 Celsius (about 58 Fahrenheit) and tantalizing us with the promise of Glorious Spring. Of course, the snow - now dirty and horrible - is still piled up at the edges of the gardens because it can't quite melt away. There are sweet flowers trying to poke up under there, I know, but we can't see them yet. In Australia, you don't have this sense of anticipation, of course, because the seasons seem to barely change, although the temperature does. I missed this a lot when I lived there, and try not to complain now I'm here. Weather should never be predictable or boring.

You'll have gathered from today's post that I'm in an odd reflective mood, perhaps influenced by the overcast skies outside, but also something to do with where I am with my writing.

I explained to you that a lot of my creative process occurs when I am NOT at the keyboard. Well, that's where I am with Strachan's Attic right now. There's a lot of pondering about what to say when, whether to say it or not. This part of the book is the area undergoing reconstruction and will be a slow one for a while. Once I'm through this phase, I should pick up the original thread and speed up for a while.

Have you looked at Strachan at all? I've had one or two comments, but feel a bit dejected in not hearing more. I know it's just a teaser, the first three chapters, but I hope you can get a sense of the book, otherwise I'm doing something totally wrong. But then I admit that I haven't spent a lot of time online reading other people's extracts lately, so I guess I understand. We all have so much to read when we open our computers. I'm getting more and more resilient to the 'just open one more link' compulsion each day, and I've reduced the number of browsing hours hugely. Perhaps you're exerting the same control. But if you could just take a minute...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Self-Publishing Revisited, PAGE Counts?

A few posts back, I wrote about self-publishing, expressing my own view that conventional publishing is preferable for the serious writer. Well, I came across an article that takes a totally different approach, and I felt it was only fair to share the link with you as we need to be open-minded in this changing world, and I'd hate to think (as if I had that kind of influence!) that I'd deterred some of you from self-publishing when you might forge ahead because of it. Here's the article at Writer's Digest. Perhaps you'll leave your comment for me. I'm interested in what you think about it.

I've been a little tired of late, and I know it's caused by too much immersion in the writing process. At present I'm researching aspects of WWII, as it applies to the RAF Bomber Command in Britain. It's a fascinating read, all of it, but you get caught up in individual stories and photographs and it leads you away from the original point of the research. Looking at the those lovely young men, ready to fly out on their next mission, uncertain if they'll return, I am struck by how very young they were. It's true today, of course, with so many young people at war, and I am selfishly relieved that my own sons have been spared such involvement.

All of this has added to this weariness, which is not physical. It comes from a deep emotional pull into those bygone lives, a draining process. I am a product of the so-called Protest Generation. We thought we were actually making a difference back then. Yet still we are at war. Call us naive, over-optimistic, stoned, we had a sense that the world could know peace. So much for that.

May I just remind you guys of a little thing that I had overlooked myself at the beginning of this blogging process. The number of pages you've written is irrelevant. Depending on the size of the font (which, it's recommended, should be 12 pt Courier or Times New Roman) the number of pages will vary. The only thing that matters is the word count, which you can find in "Tools" in your Word program. I mention this here today because I think there are some of you who don't know this. Thought this might be helpful.

Never hang back from asking a question that you feel is a tad silly - that you figure everyone knows, except you. I Googled a lot to get answers to dumb questions, and mostly got the answers. But we're all friends here, and need to support each other. If you still haven't received a satisfactory answer, comment here. I'm not for one minute suggesting that I know everything, on the contrary, but I know many of my readers are really smart. Someone will know the answer.

Monday, March 2, 2009

First Novels in First Person? And Martha Moody

I've decided to leave Strachan's Attic in first person for the time being. As the 1940s secondary character is in third, it seems to alleviate confusion.

I went on the hunt for some good first novels in first person. One of my all-time favorites is "Best Friends" by Martha Moody. (Of course, you'll think of many others.) Incidentally, this was a first novel at over 125,000 words! I was so impressed with this (I didn't know the 90k-first-novel rule when I originally read it) that I emailed her to ask how difficult it was for her to find that first agent. I doubted I'd hear back, as I was sure Ms. Moody had better things to do with her time, including, probably, work on her fourth novel, but I had to ask the question. Well, writers are, on the whole, very generous people, who are comfortable enough to share; Ms Moody got back to me almost immediately, with her right shoulder recovering from surgery, writing with her left hand. That's dedication to the craft! Here's what she said (I corrected her poor lefthand typoes):
Wrote about 30 agents, 9 query letters. No one wanted to look at it. Eventually the wife of my poetry professor in college recommended me to an agent, who read the whole thing and took it. Use any connections. Be persistent. Length for me wasn’t a problem. I tried to make MS irresistable, otherwise it would be resisted and I got lucky.
So, to sum up, if you're a special talent, like Martha, and if the Gods are in a really good mood, you could bend the rules.

And, of course, if Hafan Deg were to sell first, Strachan will be a second novel. Problem solved.

As I've been posting at this blog, I've been moving through a sort of writing class. Not 101, because I was always pretty confident about the basic writing, but there have been so many other things that I've learned. Perhaps I could have Googled my questions and more or less satisfied myself, but getting feedback here for some of my frustrations has been invaluable. I felt, from the beginning, that this blog would be hugely helpful, and it has been, for me - and perhaps for you. The major thing was completing the work. Without your eyes out there, watching, checking that I'm on target, perhaps I wouldn't have finished Hafan Deg by now, nor would I have restarted Strachan's Attic. You are my conscience, my own little cheerleading squad, and I appreciate all of you.

I goofed off this weekend, in case you noticed the Stagnant Word Count. I returned to Real Life, with people who spoke almost entirely in the First Person, who used lots of adverbs, adjectives, and with dialogue that waffled on, with great swadges of back story tossed in - all quite unnecessary to the forward movement of the action. I absolutely loved it. Real life, hmm? I'll have to do it more often.

Since I last posted, I've received two more rejections, one of which was instant - barely time for someone to read the subject line. So here's how it stands in the Submission Stats Diary today: Submissions Pending 12, Rejections 5. Will take advice from you on this, meeting you all in the middle, and submit one query for every rejection, so that the Pendings will remain at twelve.

I found the following sweet farewell at Query Tracker yesterday. It's uplifting to see something like this, and I wanted to share it:

I’ve signed with an agent, and just wanted to say goodbye and share a few thoughts. Many of you have been on QueryTracker as long as I have. So here are my stats: 1 year, 34 queries (2 editors, 32 agents), 5 no responses, 21 rejections, 3 partials, and 5 fulls, to get 1 offer of representation. And the craziest thing is that this agent originally rejected this ms almost a year ago saying she loved it, but didn’t have time for a brand new author. So, timing, luck, and perseverance win again! Good luck to all of you. Never, never give up the dream!

Quotes to Consider

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, Either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing." ~Benjamin Franklin

"Well behaved women rarely make history."~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”~William G.T. Shedd (1820-1894), theologian, teacher, pastor

"It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." ~Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945), 32nd U.S. president

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), essayist, poet, philosopher

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." ~Mark Twain

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
~ Wayne Gretzky