Thursday, September 29, 2011

A slow down is coming

October 7th and 8th are rapidly approaching, and with them comes the James River Writers' Conference!  I'm so very, very excited about it.  At least, I would be if "very, very excited" meant the same as "kinda looking forward to it."  It's my first writers' conference, so I'm not 100% sure what to expect, but it's not my first conference.  Typically at these things I prove myself quite effective at picking the presenters who have crammed their agendas with Stuff I Already Know or Stuff That Sounds Interesting But Isn't.  I do have an opportunity to be rejected by another agent, which is very nearly exciting.  There will be several agents there, of course, but I've already been warned by Rachelle Gardner in her blog ( to avoid tackling them when they look to be in a hurry, and it's my experience that anybody I wish to speak with is either a) in a hurry, or b) already mobbed by the entire population of attendees in the Starbucks line. 

So.  All that said, now I can put my inner Eeyore away.  I actually am looking forward to it, in a guarded sort of way. 

Come to think of it, I was a lot more excited about the weekend event before I realized that the Monday after begins Dissertation Time once again.  My study foundered--or should it be floundered?  They both allude to a slowing down, but one includes a sinking as well.  Ah, well, whichever.  My study stopped and died an ugly death at the end of last year when everybody told me I couldn't survey the people I needed to survey.  That, and I ran out of money.  It's why I started writing creatively, honestly.  I'd always wanted to, and all of a sudden I had the time to do it. 

Now, though, I'm starting back up with a slightly altered research plan.  It should only take me a few months if I buckle down and work like a madman at it.  It's going to be interesting, switching back into academic style writing where adjectives are a bad, bad thing.  I'll get it done, though, one way or another. 

That said, unfortunately, you may see a bit of a slow down starting October 10.  I'll still have some time, of course.  After all, I have to give the survey takers some time to access and complete the survey.  Most of my time this winter, though--at least, the first half of it--will be spent going after the elusive title of Doctor King. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ooh, shiny....

One thing about writing fiction is that there are always so many things to write about.  Granted, not all story ideas make good books, at least not without addition of plot curvature and some character twists, but there really isn't any shortage of ideas out there.  My problem, in fact, is that I have too many right now for the time I have to write them. 

I had a new one present itself over the past few days.  It's not enough that I have yet more of the Matt and Crystal story to author, and that I have the Professor Kinder story to complete.  Now I also have a historical fiction I want to do.  This one was prompted by a strange enough set of circumstances that it's probably worth recording.

A couple of weekends ago we were presented with an excellent daytime activity.  Specifically, the Henricus Historical Park advertised their quadricentennial (yep, that's 400 years) anniversary.  That's a long time.  The celebration also brought free admission, and the gravy was the appearance of the Godspeed, a replica of the ship that was one of the three that brought English settlers to Virginia some thirteen years prior to the more famous voyage of the Mayflower.  We've--at least the American we--all heard of Jamestown, right?  The ill-fated settlement that didn't do so well?  All I remember being taught in American history class was that Jamestown was--ooh, look at the shiny colony up in Plymouth, Massachusetts!  You know, the one that housed Pilgrims wearing funny hats and Native Americans bringing turkeys and stuffing and green bean casserole to eat. 

Turns out there's a heckuva lot of interesting story there in Henricus and the surrounding area.  I started talking to the blacksmith, his craft a particular interest of mine, and asked him the question I already could answer for myself: did he use coal or charcoal back then?  I'm glad I asked, though, because a part of this Commonwealth's history I'd never glimpsed was spun into his response. 

Oh, he used charcoal, of course. A brief primer: charcoal is what you get from wood when you condense all the water out of it, usually through application of low heat over a matter of many hours.  It has the same burning properties as wood, but it's much, much lighter and more compact also.  Coal is largely the same thing, except that the organic material in it has been cooked in the ground for millions of years (or several thousands, if you believe the earth is only 6K years old.  Whichever).  Charcoal is easier to work with, but to produce it on a grand scale requires the decimation of acres upon acres of timberland.  At the time Henricus was founded, though, the coal reserves in what would become the United States hadn't been located, and who's going to ship coal across the ocean when you have a bazillion trees right outside the fort? 

I knew that. 

What I didn't know was that it didn't take the new colonists long, really, to open a metal foundry and really start building out the civilization here.  They jumped right to it, in fact, as you might expect them to.  And then they stopped--why? I wonder if they teach this in today's classrooms.  They sure didn't in mine.  In 1622 the Native Americans who were here decided they'd had about enough (justified or not, this was where the real story of Pocahontas was played out, and the relationship was--well, rocky, at best).  They rose up one day and massacred everybody.  Nearly everybody, anyway.  Well, not even that; the historians puff up as they proclaim "about one third to one fourth of the entire white population of Virginia was killed that day," while what they don't say is "about two thirds to three fourths of the entire white population of Virginia lived to tell the tale." 

And that's GOT to be an interesting tale, doesn't it?

That's what's bugging me.  I've been reading several books, one a so-so fantasy story about an actor named Will who gets himself and his party into scrapes in some mystical land (the main character is so unerringly stupid that it gets as old as a day of back to back Three Stooges shows) and a compilation of shorts about warriors.  Now, though, I've purchased and begun a book titled Martin's Hundred, and it's interesting how the author of that book makes non-fiction read as enjoyably as fiction.  If only the writers of textbooks would stoop to learning that craft--but that's a gripe for another day. 

Anyway, I've now got yet another project on my hands.  Yay me! 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spending time at OPB

I find myself these days spending more and more time over at OPB--you know, Other Peoples' Blogs.  In part, it's interesting to note that generally everybody else is more or less in the same game as I am.  We're at different points along the track, to be certain, and sometimes on entirely different tracks with all the various genres out there, but it's still all the same game with write, write, write, revise, revise, revise, and then hope and pray that somebody else out there buys the book. 

The agents' blogs I follow provide an interesting counterpoint to that melody.  They're the gatekeepers, as it were, preventing us writers' jobs from being too easy.  A particularly enjoyable post came to my e-mail this morning:  First of all, I love Ms. Gardner's blog; if you're an aspiring or a current writer and you haven't subscribed to it and read her "how to" posts, you're missing out.  This morning's post, though, was particularly timely.  She offers writers a few thoughts in terms of how to--or how not to, anyway--approach agents and editors at a conference, and it happens that I'll be at a conference in a bit less than two weeks.  At the conference, the knowledge that I shouldn't tackle an agent who is in a hurry to get somewhere in order to present a query in person will, I'm sure, be quite helpful. 

Also, I learned from Ms. Gardner that it will boost an agent's ego if I mention that I've read her blog, that boost coming just in time for her to, in turn, crush my ego with rejection.  See?  The things I learn from an agent's blog are just--awesome. is another excellent blog I just found and subscribed to.  The post this morning is particularly beautiful; it's a blog post about a blog post.  If you're reading about it here, that means you're reading a blog post about a blog post about a blog post.  About writing.  That makes me happy; hopefully the same for you? 

This one in particular, though, addresses a couple of topics that are dear to me.  The first is the "purpose behind the blog."  Mr. Williams brings up a criticism regarding writers' blogs; apparently some think that we're all wasting our time blogging because the only people who read writing blogs are other writers.  His response: "What Wendy doesn’t understand is this: A good writing blog is an extension of that writer’s purpose in life:  To write."  Precisely.  I'm not here to sell my book(s).  I'm not here to gain a huge followership and get extraordinarily wealthy from the revenue obtained from side-pane ads for various commercial products I've never used anyway.  I'm here to write.  I enjoy writing.  I like to write.  Yes, I write stories, but sometimes it's more fun to just sit and write about writing. 

The other part of Williams's blog, though, was a guest post by Anne Allen.  I think it was a guest post, anyway; the description of musical blogging chairs just flat-out confused me.  Regardless, I went in expecting to be irritated; here was another bit of writing about how we shouldn't publish till we're ready, and I assumed at first that she'd be preaching the gospel of editing perfection, just like everybody else. 

But no.

Ms. Allen's point, quite a valid one if you ask me (and yes, I know you didn't), was that you shouldn't publish until you're ready to deal with rejection--rejection that, in this case, comes in the form of readers' and reviewers' comments.  What caught my eye was that she quoted the man, the literary god, who is the very reason I'm writing today: "But Isaac Asimov once observed that writers fall into two groups: 'those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.'" 

It's true.  A writer, especially a novelist who's put hundreds or thousands of hours into breathing life into a story from his or her head, puts a piece of Self out there when he or she publishes.  The writer has to, then, be willing to accept that not everyone is going to find as much artistry in the work as (s)he does. 

All valid points today, and all from other peoples' blogs. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Classroom activities

I received a few more rejection e-mails today, but they're nothing special so I see no need to keep repeating them.  One, though, was from the guy I was really hoping to connect with, my first choice of all the dozens I've sent out.  Ah, well. 

I'm enjoying the writing class I'm taking.  Writers' Village University ( has a free class you can take, and it's had me thinking quite a bit.  Today's assignment is on points of view; it's an activity I've gotten into on my own, in fact.  "Take a past writing and then tell it from a different point of view."  It's fun, and it's tougher than it seems at first.  You can't just change the pronouns, as the course mentor already pointed out and I'd found out when I switched from 3rd to 1st in Undercover Truths. 

I really enjoyed finding out that I made Honorable Mention in last week's contest in the class, though.  It was an OK writing, I thought.  I'd put it together quickly, and a bit late, because I'd procrastinated. 

Here it is, my paragraph about procrastinating over writing a paragraph:

I’d been putting off the writing assignment for too long, I decided after glancing yet again at the clock on my computer screen. Was it fear of what I might discover in myself, or worry that I might not be able to accomplish it successfully that had made me procrastinate? No matter, I thought as I drank in more of the bold, earthy liquid—no, not just a cup of coffee; it was liquid strength to me. I looked once again at the picture of Silby on the Lesson Two Sample page, eyes focusing and unfocusing repeatedly as I gathered my inspiration. My hands reached for the keys, index fingers feeling once again for the little nubs at the bottom of the F and the J—their keys, their home. The room was completely silent, all of the smart people in my family still languishing under their covers. My left hand left its home row to return the cup to my lips, but it paused as I inhaled rather than drank the coffee, the heady aroma trying to awaken my neurons all on its own. For the final time I looked around the room, noticing the nearby couch beckoning me for a nap while the farther door to my bedroom called me to return and the even more distant vision of writing success raised its voice in protest. I began to write.

Now, off to play the point of view game, and then I get to do some real work.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Can writing be taught?

I used to say yes, writing can be taught.  I've taken firm stances, by the way, that nearly everything can be taught, because I've seen it done.  Leadership, for example, can be taught.  Some people point out that leadership uses characteristics that are inherent in the person, but I respond that those traits make leadership easier, but are not necessary.  Leadership, like most things, can be taught, I say. 

It makes sense if you think about it.  I am, after all, a teacher.  Why wouldn't I consider everything teachable? 

Today I'm near to agreeing that maybe the folks who claim writing is unteachable may be right, at least as far as some people go.  I received this e-mail today from a colleague who is otherwise extremely professional and great to work with:

Hello Stephen,

Previously; I petition your help in completing a contract for [redacted]. Most of the information had been sent. However, they are still in need of a letter (see #1 below). Could you please comprise a letter including the information that is still needed?


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Trying something a little bit creative... though writing novels isn't creative enough.  A friend talked me into a photography challenge this weekend, the rules of which are that you must photograph one thing from several different angles.  Being a writer, of course, I can't do it without telling a story, so here's my attempt at storytelling with fewer words and more pictures. 

We all--or at least most--go through life looking for love.  Sometimes we look for it in all the wrong places, as an old country song reminded us way back when, but no matter where we seek it we usually end up finding it. We're just wired that way, I guess.

Oh, look--here it is.

Sometimes it looks simple, and sometimes when we run across it Love stands monolithically, towering above us, a many-splendored thing:

Sometimes it looks kinda backwards to us.
Sometimes it seems pretty basic as we look down at it.
Sometimes Love just looks all caddy-wompas, backward and angled all wrong.
Sometimes we're at the wrong spot in our lives and can barely even tell it's there.
Sometimes it doesn't even look like Love at all.
And sometimes the angle of life is so off that Love looks like just another stick.
Often we don't even see Love for Love.  Sometimes we just see it by looking at others.

Alrightee, there's my ode to Love through pictures.  Kinda sappy, and kinda dorky, but I enjoyed it.  Hope you did, too. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

On becoming a Writer

After reading all sorts of books now on the craft as well as the business of writing, there's one thing that is indelibly inked on my understanding: nobody's born a writer.  There are those who claim to have been so, but generally that claim counts as one of their works of fiction.

It hit me hard this morning as I was showering.  You see, writing is like math.

I could hear the heads exploding from where I sit, and I'm pretty sure I just caused every great literary figure to roll over in his or her grave, which could easily have caused an earthquake in Britain.   That's OK (as long as you're not British, anyway).  I'll say it again, and stand by my statement.  Writing is like math.

You see, I went home last night pretty proud of myself; I had once again proven myself to be a "job creator" (the fancy term that the politicos are bouncing back and forth like a beach ball these days).  A few months ago I identified a problem: fewer than 50% of our applicants were passing the math part of the entrance exam.  There already was an anemic (and optional) study/review session.  I wrote a new curriculum for it, beefed it up to run longer and twice a week, and made it mandatory for all applicants.  The program has been wildly successful at helping a large number of our applicants become students, and I've been mostly pleased with the result.  The "mostly" qualifier comes from the fact that I now have a large number of students in my College Mathematics class who know enough math to pass a test but aren't quite prepared for a college level treatment of the subject, but that's a challenge for another day.  In the meantime, the program is a success and so I hired somebody to replace me in running it.  Yay! 

It's not rocket science, so to speak.  The students don't have to do LaGrangians, or transform any equations of motion into Hilbert space, or even perform multiple integrations over partial solution sets or any of the other giblets of the mathematical repast.  No, we're talking arithmetic.  My review sessions are geared toward people who crumple into sobbing messes when asked to calculate the sum of one-half and one-third.

Then again, becoming a writer is like that.  Those of you who haven't studied physics and thus are probably wondering what the gibberish in my previous paragraph meant can take comfort in my similar confusion in reading higher-level essays on literary goodness.  The Hemingways and the Franzens of the world pretty much own that higher plane to which nearly none of us will ever rise.  In fact, if the literary world were like the scientific world in its naming of processes, we'd have the Hemingway transform, and the Faulkner transition, and perhaps we'd do a Franzenian in incorporating a certain style of ending. 

Luckily, literary folks aren't that silly.  But I digress.

The problem with successful commercial writing is that it doesn't look like literary genius at work.  It's a page of elegantly-done algebra instead of a solution to the Reimann Hypothesis.  That's the problem, though--it looks easy.  We're all scared of math (I use "all" in a kind of non-all-encompassing, extremely sloppy sense), but hey, that writing stuff only requires a subject, a verb, and sometimes an object, and so anybody can do it!

Not so fast there, Bucky....

One of the cleverer things I've done in my math review class is to start and end with the mantra that, I believe, is most responsible for the success of the sessions.  "Math is not a spectator sport," I'll say, gritting my teeth slightly over the grand cliche, and then I describe their homework.  They can't learn math from watching me, I explain.  They can only learn it by doing it.  I tell them to go home and work every problem in the book once on a sheet of paper (yeah, it actually takes three or four, but paper's cheap these days).  Then they have to set that paper aside and work every problem in the book once again.  Then, to be truly successful, they have to set that other paper aside also and work every problem in the book once again.  There's a psychological study I read some time ago that I can't find anymore to reference that says if you do something once you might learn it; do it twice and you're more likely to learn it; do it thrice and you're an expert.  Or--well, something like that, anyway.  It works, dammit.  I've now got the student success track record to prove it.

That, though, is what created the blinding flash of the obvious I encountered this morning.  Writing is like math.  Do it once, you might learn it.  Do it twice--yeah, you get it, right?  My own work is like that.  The first novel started out really horribad, but it got better toward the end, and a ton of revision and editing has made it....  Well, it's a novel.  The second novel is, I think, much better, but still hasn't had the revision process performed on it.  In the meantime I've been working on other projects, including writing the first novella and starting another.  I also started writing an entry to the Writers Digest fantasy fiction contest, but I couldn't get it to work right and there's no reason to pay an entry fee for something that's just flat not good enough to win.

Maybe my first two novels are okay, but not the greatest?  I'm not sure.  While I continue querying, I'm going to keep writing, though, and I have a very interesting idea for my third.  Maybe it'll be the proverbial charm.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Interesting tidbit

Well, I wasn't planning on doing anything businessy today.  First, it's the 10th anniversary of 9/11, an event that somehow speaks to a need for quiet reflection, and second, I didn't get a damn word written in my novella yesterday, what with all the businessy stuff I did then.  Today was a day for writing. 

So much for plans.

I have 20 new agents to query listed in my high-speed low-drag (the general way they taught us to say "damn good" at West Point) Excel database.  The pump is primed.  But when to send?  If I send today, odds are good that a grumpy Monday morning coffee-deficient agent will push a "send this crap to the slush pile" button without really reading it, I suspect.  That's why I decided to hold off till Monday afternoon, and I figured I'd wait till then to spruce up my query letter and outline, too.

But no.  In a sideways manner, I found yet another option for my publishing efforts.

I asked a question in a large Facebook group about publishers.  I'd gone through last night, see, and added the big-name publishers to another sheet in my workbook on the off chance that I decide to submit to them directly.  All of the publishers that I was finding, though, said that they don't allow simultaneous submissions.  They also said that it takes 6-9 months or so to hear back from them.  Playing by that rule, then, means a several-year wait just to get a few nos.

That was when I got a wild hair and asked this book group how the publishers would ever know if you made simultaneous submissions anyway.  Do they get together over lunch on Wednesdays and compare names?  Do they send each other a list of the "thanks but no thanks" letters they send out?  I doubt it.

Got some interesting responses.  One person said that the publishers don't like simultaneous submissions, but that you should do them anyway, and just be honest when/if one of them picks up your work.  One lady said that multiple submissions was like walking into a bar and announcing that I'd like to sleep with every woman in the place--but she added that it wouldn't work because the publishers (who are, I presume, the women in this metaphor) are all asleep at the bar.  Now, the metaphor is kind of broken; I've never seen all the women at a bar asleep, and what I was actually asking about is more like secretly giving every woman in the bar a wink and your number.  Nobody will know that you're out after every one of them, right?

OK, well--bad sexual references aside, I was surprised when somebody in the group stuck up for publishers and actually mentioned one.  I checked it out, and she runs a small press that is actually kind of decent to writers.  Thus, the one bit of businessy business I did today.  I queried my first publisher.


Now, back to my coffee.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to get published?

Oh, I know how to get published.  Well, sort of.  Let's say, for the time being, that I'm aware of the tasks involved and how to get from there to here.  What's tough is getting an agent who can sell your book to say yes. 

The thing that's vexing me now is how best to go about this when I have multiple works.  My book is ready to publish, I think, once it gets all those things that are traditionally done by--well, by traditional publishers.  Things, that is, like beautiful cover art, an ISBN, a final run through copy editing and proofreading, etc.  My novella is in its final stages before getting there as well, having had many of the beta readers chime in.  It'll take me the rest of the weekend to redo the parts that need redoing, and then I'll need to go through all the tasks I know need to happen in order to be self-published.  Tasks, that is, like beautiful cover art, an ISBN, a final run through editing and proofreading, etc. 

Then it's on to Book 2, in each case.  Book 2 in the novel realm has been written but not revised.  Book 2 in the novella realm is in the process of being drafted, but I can easily finish it in a weekend. 

I've never felt this strategy-less, though.  The novella piece is pretty straightforward, but the novel part is entirely reliant on luck: keep sending it out till somebody says yes, and then wait till somebody else (a publisher) says yes to them.  That's not a strategy; that's a roulette wheel. 

I asked the question in one of my Facebook groups: "I've sent queries to about 30 agents, and have received rejections back from 12 to date. There are those who say to persevere, persevere, persevere; keep trying, keep trying, keep trying. At what point do I say screw it and self publish?"

Got a lot of responses to that.  Some said "Bah, 30 queries--come talk to us when you've had real effort."  Others said "Bah, 12 agents--come talk to us when you've had real rejection."  They were both right, of course; most authors, including many now-famous ones, worked through dozens or hundreds of rejections to get there.  

Others offered more or less direct response to the question.  My favorite response was, "Now."  OK, jump out and self publish now.  I get that.  But I still want some of the bennies that come from traditional publishing, including a spot on B&N's bookshelf and the ability to become a card carrying member of SFWA, and I don't want to chance ruining that.  Some of the most detailed, and I think smartest, advice came from Valerie Douglas, author of Nike's Wings: "Right now several Indie authors have gotten contracts with NY publishers based on their work with e-books. So you can follow a dual path, build an on-line presence and a market as you query. That's something you can use when you approach an agent/publisher. And don't restrict yourself to agents, try the publishers, or smaller presses. You have choices now..."  Good point.  Others chimed in that they, personally, had had success with agents and publishers once they could claim that they'd sold X copies of their works in indie format.  

Good advice, all.  Time, I guess, to start exercising the marketing plan writing muscles. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Four days off

Days like today are just plain long. 

On the other hand, because I made today kind of long, I can now take the next four days off.  Yes, I get two days for the weekend, but I also am taking Monday and Tuesday off as a vacation.  "Staycation" has become the popular name, but I don't care.  I'm gonna sit in my pajamas for most of it, doing nothing I don't want to do.  Writing will probably get done, but other stuff probably won't.

Time to start....

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

More on rejection

Wow, it's been a week since I received a rejection notice from an agent.  I must be slowing down. 

A friend on Facebook introduced me to the site over the weekend.  I know that I should stand on my own work's merits, confident in its quality, certain that each rejection merely serves as another stone on the pathway to the eventual success that I'll achieve.  Doesn't work that way, though.  It's really quite easy, I'm finding, to grow bored or depressed--or both--with the process. 

It's good, then, to be able to read over the rejections that others have received, and the site I was shown provides that goodness in spades.  Somebody actually told William Faulkner, "Good God, I can’t publish this!" 

Grisham and Irving Stone were both, according to the site, rejected by agents 16 times.  Dune, by Frank Herbert, was rejected 20 times.  One of my favorite childhood stories, A Wrinkle in Time, by 26.  Gone With The Wind, 38.  The Princess Diaries, 17.  The Help, 60. 

The author of Lady Chatterley's Lover was told, "for your own sake do not publish this book."

Ms. Rowling took 5 years to find a publisher for our friend, Harry Potter.  

What the grand tales of rejection don't talk about is how the efforts changed over time.  Take The Help, for instance.  Were all 60 rejections based off the same query letter, or did Ms. Stockett send out the first few query letters, get smacked in the face with a bunch of no's, and then revise it as I have mine?  Probably the latter; I don't know of a single successful author who doesn't revise his or her own work, but it may in truth be a case where the first query letter was as good as she could make it and thus it was what she kept sending out.  I don't know; that's never part of the success story. 

Speaking of success stories--I need to go revise my letter.  Need more rejections if I'm ever going to get a yes. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

To build a web site

Building a web site is harder than it sounds.  Technically, it's no harder than, say, writing a paragraph.  HTML has its own little set of grammar-like rules to follow, instructions that the browser interprets just as a reader interprets a semicolon or a question mark.  Then there are the non-grammatical standards; in writing, you can form every sentence in the same noun-verb-object structure, but you shouldn't.  In HTML, you can write it as one long line of text, but you shouldn't

I know the rules.  I've taught both crafts at the introductory level. 

Still, there's a difference between an essay that might have earned an A in my ENG101 class and the prose that Hemingway crafted.  I've seen some clever site design produced by students in the CMP401 (Intro to Web Design) class, but the same differentiation applies there. 

The hardest thing about the craft of web design is the same thing that's the hardest about the craft of writing: determining what's great.  Clearly, merely following the rules doesn't make it great.  It's said that a publisher told Mr. Heller that he wouldn't be successful with Catch-22, one of my favorite books of all time, because, "I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say…Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level."  Other great authors have been told their work is garbage; such stories are sadly quite numerous. 

It's in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

Back to the web design: admittedly, I took the easy way out with the web site yesterday.  I certainly had no desire to start from scratch!  Thus, I pulled up a Google window for free web site templates and clicked on buttons till I found one that was a) truly free for commercial applications, and b) looked kind of like what I wanted.  I downloaded the one I found, and then spent the next few hours editing HTML, adding text, formatting pictures to be the right size, and so on.  FTP'd (hell, if Google can be a verb, why not FTP?) it up to the server, and viola!  Complete web site, done in a few hours with no software other than Notepad and Firefox.  All thanks to my friends at Google and 

I posted it to Facebook for all the world (at least, all my friends) to see, and predictably, the first comment I got was, "Very amateur for the design. Writing, as always is very good. Design blows."  Well, rain on my parade and call me doofus. 

Just as in writing, though, you have to take all feedback with a grain of salt.  While I was bandaging the exit wound from that one, I also linked the new site into a group I've been active with, the Indie Author Group.  These folks are actually doing what I want to do, for the most part, so their feedback was particularly valuable to me.  It was also mostly positive.  They gave me some great ideas and suggestions for going forward. 

I'm just glad I didn't quit and walk away from the site after the first bit of negative feedback.  That also applies to--yeah, you get it, I'm sure.  Time for a new metaphor? 

Monday, September 5, 2011

The businessy end of the business

Once upon a time I loved doing web site design.  I wasn't really a pro at it, but I was an IT contractor and an IT instructor, and so I got into web site design to expand my horizons.  It was really enjoyable, and I got pretty good at it.  Once I'd done it a while, I found that I liked doing web site design.  Once I'd done it a while longer, I found that I tolerated doing web site design. 

I haven't done it in a long time.  Now, I find that looking at HTML code feels like someone is sandpapering my eyeballs. 

I only mention this now because I'm done with the draft of the novella I plan to publish, and am looking forward to getting on to the next one, but now, in between creative thrusts, I need to take a few moments away from writing to attend to business.  One of those is the task I've been putting off for months--getting a proper web site up and running.  Oh, I have a web space.  It's ugly.  There's a picture of my dog on it, and that's the most attractive thing on the page. 

I downloaded a free site template that doesn't appear to have any anti-commercial language in the terms of use, and so now all I need to do (*trumpet fanfare*) is edit a little HTML.  Only I hate doing it. 

There are countless little things an author has to do to make money, from what I read.  It makes sense; there are countless little things any entrepreneur needs to do to make money, and writing for money is just another business venture when it comes to those things--the businessy end of the business.  Set up an account, set up a LLC, set up a web site, set up accounts at the various partners with whom you'll be working, etc.--t's all necessary.  And for someone who gets off on creative exercises, it's all boring. 

There comes a time in any business when stuff like this--the creation and upkeep of a web site, for instance--is best outsourced to professionals.  If an entrepreneur makes money by doing anything other than editing HTML, then he's wasting his time editing HTML, frankly.  But that time doesn't come until the business actually has some money to pay said professionals for their work, and right now my business doesn't. 

So, back I go merrily skipping through text in Notepad, revising that famous index.html to make the template look like I want it to. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Transformation and the new story

I read somewhere that there are some authors who put out 100,000-word novels every few months.  I'm sure there are.  Hell, I could do that if I had time, but I don't.

Think about it.  On a good day where I work my day job for 10-12 hours and then come home and write, I'll put out 1-2K words.  On a day when I don't work my day job, if I haven't explicitly taken it off (as I did yesterday), there's just no way I won't hit 6-8K words in a day.  No way.  If I could do it full-time for a month, that's minimum of 6K words per day, 30 days, for a total of 180K words.  That's a novel per month, if you don't consider revising time or publicity time or anything else. 

The other good thing about my writing is that I'm finding that the more of it I do, the better the first draft becomes.  It's not perfect, certainly, and probably won't ever be.  But read back through my first few blog entries when you have time; what I wrote back then was total and absolute crap.  I listened, I read, I asked, and I got better.  Now, it's just mostly crap.  In the writing class I'm taking online right now, I put together a short piece in about 30 minutes, and it survived with very few edits.


I’d been looking forward to the date all week.  It was the office’s annual Christmas party, a grand event at the end of January that had no Christmas theme to speak of.  That was fitting, though.  Normal companies hold more or less well-appointed get-togethers with participants sipping fermented fruit juices to suit their taste preference or their appearance, whichever is more important.  Mine, though, held an absurd ball at an absurd time of the year at which everyone got absurdly intoxicated and did absurd skits and talent shows starring absurdly untalented people.  Hey, it was fun.  

That night was more than just the annual event, though.  I’d finally split from my shrewish wife the previous year, and for months had held myself above the question of who might take her place.  It was a stupid question.  Everyone at work hated her; every time she dropped by my work it became a dark land of toil and dread.  They all had cheered when I announced the separation.  No one would take that place, not ever.

In the name of pleasing, and perhaps impressing a bit, my fellows, I’d asked the prettiest woman I knew to accompany me to the ball.  It wasn’t meant for romance; I assumed we both knew that.  I was only hoping to generate some oohs, and maybe also some ahs.  

The night finally arrived, the week prior moving far too slowly for me.  I drove across town and picked up the eye candy that would spend the evening perched on my arm.  Then I drove back across town and paraded in, met of course by all of the oohs and ahs for which I could have ever wished.  I didn’t drink much at all; alcohol wasn’t necessary for intoxication that evening.  

Absurd ball, and absurd activities, and absurd numbers of oohs and ahs and parading and—stuff—all done, I drove my friend home.  I walked her to her door.  I smiled and thanked her for one of the grandest evenings of my life to that point.  And then she surprised me.  “Let’s go dancing,” she said.  She had a friend who didn’t go out much, and she knew I hadn’t been out much, and wouldn’t it be grand, she asked, if we could all go out some?

Of course I agreed.  Who would turn down a night of dancing with a good friend and beautiful woman?

Then she introduced me to her friend, and the night’s color changed.  My friend went from the prettiest woman I knew to the second prettiest woman I knew, just like that.  We danced that night, my friend’s friend and I.  We danced swing, and later we danced Latin.  We danced into each other’s hearts, and then suddenly we were a couple.  My friend’s friend has been my best friend, and later my wife, ever since. 

After edits:

I’d been looking forward to the date all week. It was the office’s annual Christmas party, a grand event at the end of January that had no Christmas theme to speak of. That was fitting. Normal companies hold more or less well-appointed get-togethers with participants sipping fermented fruit juices to suit their taste preference or their appearance, whichever is more important. Mine, though, held an absurd ball at an absurd time of the year at which everyone got absurdly intoxicated and did absurd skits and talent shows starring absurdly untalented people. Hey, it was fun.

That night was more than just the annual event, though. I’d finally split from my shrewish wife the previous year, and for months had held myself above the question of who might take her place. It was a stupid question. Everyone at work hated her; every time she dropped by my work it became a dark land of toil and dread. They all had cheered when I announced the separation. No one would take that place, not ever.

In the name of pleasing, and perhaps impressing, my fellows, I’d asked the prettiest woman I knew to accompany me to the ball. It wasn’t meant for romance; I assumed we both knew that. I only hoped to generate some oohs, and maybe also some ahs.

The night finally arrived, the week prior moving far too slowly for me. I drove across town and picked up the eye candy that would spend the evening perched on my arm. I drove back across town, sauntered into the hotel, and paraded us into the ball room, met of course by all of the oohs and ahs for which I could have ever wished. I didn’t drink much at all; alcohol wasn’t necessary for intoxication that evening.

Absurd ball, and absurd activities, and absurd amount of oohs and ahs and parading all done, I drove my friend home. I walked her to her door. I smiled and thanked her for one of the grandest evenings of my life to that point. And then she surprised me.

“Let’s go dancing,” she said. She had a friend who didn’t go out much, and she knew I hadn’t been out much, and wouldn’t it be grand, she asked, if we could all go out some?

Of course I agreed. Who would turn down a night of dancing with a good friend and beautiful woman?

Then she introduced me to her friend, and the night’s color changed. My friend went from being the prettiest woman I knew to the second prettiest woman I knew, just like that. We danced that night, my friend’s friend and I. We danced swing, and later we danced Latin. We danced into each other’s hearts, and then suddenly we were a couple.

See the difference?  It's still a transformation of crap to not-crap, but there's a lot less transformation to be had along the way.  I'm doing better, which means I can write more and more.

That said, I finished the short I was working on.  It's 17K words; once I'm done uncrappifying it, it should be about the same length.  I'm really quite happy.  I set out to write a science fiction genre short story that had some back story for the novel.  What I ended up with was all that and more--a statement on the political system we have today, and farther.  I'm pleased, and can't wait for the review process to be done so I can self-pub it. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A day mostly off

Sometimes it's good to let the muse out of your head for a bit, I guess.  Despite my desire to finish my novella this weekend, I ended up investing the time far more wisely in some good family time together. 

The day went sort of like this.  First, I got up and sat over the computer and drank coffee for an hour (my typical morning exercise).  Then we went to the optometrist for Jessa's eye appointment.  Then, script in hand, I took Heide to a late lunch at our favorite BBQ place.  That done, we drove across the street to the movie theater and watched The Help.  A trip to the grocery store came next, during which I bought the stuff to make a nice fish dinner.  After taking all the bags home, I cooked, all the while wishing that I had been the one to write the book the movie we'd just watched was based on--never mind the fact that it was rejected sixty times.  Now, dinner well eaten, I sit thinking of an early bedtime. 

I did receive the copy I'd ordered of Editors on Editing today.  It's a good book; I read a chunk of it while Jessa was in getting her eyes dilated and then measured.  It contains a series of short essays on all sorts of editorial topics, and reading it gives a great insight on what the guys on "that side of the desk" are looking for.  Yes, it's nearly twenty years old, as one of Amazon's reviewers pointed out.  Certainly, many aspects of the publishing industry have changed.  I'd like to think, though, that many of the basics are still there.  For instance, an agent or editor still has to be hooked by your query letter for you to stand a chance of being called.  The book goes over that, and also touches on the techniques and theory used by editors, what editors are looking for when you come face to face with them at workshops, the differences between editing SF and Romance and the other genres, etc.  I haven't read it entirely yet, but I intend to. 

Overall, then, a very useful day, despite not having written a single word of prose.  Except, of course, this. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Five dollars and nineteen cents

Being a professional, I like to send things in a professional manner.  I've always believed that some people take documents they receive more seriously when they arrive stuffed inside a Priority, Express, Superfancy, or other special delivery type of envelope.  Given that I can utter the previous two statements with a completely straight face, then, I'm sending the snail mail queries through the USPS's priority mail service, at least till I get tired of it. 

So, five dollars and nineteen cents is what each query costs.  The USPS flat rate priority envelope costs $4.75 online, and the stamp for the SASE costs $.44.  Yes, there's a cost for printing and for gas to drop it off, but for the time being let me live in my minimalist dream.  Each snail mail rejection costs me five dollars and nineteen cents. 

Today I received my first rejection from the second email batch I sent out, by the way.  It was from one of the re-queried houses, giving that agency the dubious distinction of having rejected me twice in less time than half of my first-queried agencies have taken to reject me once. 

Gotta love this business, don't you? 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Errors, mistakes, and more errrors.

Gaaaa.  I wish I were perfect.  On second thought, that's unrealistic.  I wish I weren't expected to be perfect. 

I sent out eight new queries yesterday and this morning.  Seven of them went sailing out from my e-mail address yesterday evening, three of those following a suggestion from my good friends at BookEnds, LLC, to query another (applicable) agent at the same agency after a rejection.  Of the five rejections, three came from agencies where other agents advertised a desire to see fantasy works too, so they got their own line in my spreadsheet.  Four new agencies, then, and three sort-of-re-queries.  Then, this morning, I queried the agent who had advertised that she was opening her window today.  Total queries, then: eight.  Total effective queries: seven, since one was bounced right back as undeliverable (that's OK; it was the agency I felt a little iffy toward anyway due to really funky formatting on their web site).

I didn't send the same query letter I'd sent last time, of course.  My query letter is on version 3 at this point.  Actually, it's on 3.5.  I re-read v3 this morning as I was pasting it into the e-mail and found a problem.  Turns out all seven e-mails I'd sent out last night had requested the agent to reply via my cell (with number included), or e-mail (with address listed), or address (with reference to the address at the top of the letter).  Problem is I'd written the letter to go out via snail mail, and thus the return address was at the top.  When I pasted it into an e-mail, though, I left that stuff out and started the letter with "Dear Ms. Agent:"  *sigh*  Version 3.5, the one that went out today, didn't give the agent the option for responding via mail (since none of them will do it, anyway, without a SASE).

My own fault.  I'd spent a lot of time revising the "pitch" paragraph from v2 to v3, because that's what I believe the agent is most interested in.  I'd taken out what I thought was the last bit of fluff (though I'm sure I'll see more next time I read it), streamlined the sentence structure a bit, and collapsed the two paragraphs into a single one.  I think it's a really good paragraph.  I'd also spent a little bit of time revising the "bio" paragraph, adding a few words about who I am personally, and taking out what I had thought (probably incorrectly) was a decent tongue-in-cheek reference to writing fiction versus the nearly fiction that I sometimes write for work. 

I just didn't really look at the last paragraph.  Why should I?  It's a basic "I look forward to hearing from you at..." missive.  *sigh*

So, v3.5 is now active.  Pobody's nerfect, and all that stuff.