My Week: SCBWI, Queries & Even Some Chapters

The end of the week is here and the end of summer is coming. But while these things come to an end, I am still looking towards the future with optimism! My biggest news this week is I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). While at the conference in Austin, I learned that the New Adult genre is technically still considered young enough for me to be considered an SCBWI author. I am very excited that I finally took the plunge and joined a writers association, especially one with such a vibrant and exciting community as SCBWI. They have a conference every summer in Los Angeles which I have heard is great, so I definitely will look into attending that in 2016! At the very least, my query letter is looking much better since I can include SCBWI membership in my credentials!

I did send out a fair amount of query letters this week. Not a huge amount, but I stuck to my small goal of 2 per day. I am really liking that pace. I don’t get overwhelmed by querying, but the agents reached out to steadily adds up. Plus, by not sending out a huge inundation of queries, this gives me time to tweak my letter as I go and see how different variations ofΒ  it work. With that being said, I got a denial in my inbox this morning, so more fuel to the fire to succeed there!

As for writing, that is still rolling on quite slowly. That routine is the hardest to get back into. On Monday I was feeling under the weather and was still trying to write a chapter and the general feels were “I just can’t.” So I stopped mid chapter right before Mara was going to have a big block of dialogue. I was really glad I did that because the next day I came back and got at it and came out with really good text–certainly better than it would have been had I tried to write mid throbbing headache!

I hope everyone has a great last weekend of August! πŸ™‚

Reading, Writing and…Well, Who Needs Arithmetic Anyway? ;)

It may sound cliche, but I feel as if my best education in writing has come from the books I’ve read. In today’s MFA culture, sometimes the degree one has seems to count for more than practical experience. While a master’s degree in creative writing would certainly be valuable, I think its important not to discredit the hands on learning that books offer an author.

I have been reading since I was very young and it has always been my preferred escape rather than the sports or video games that my contemporaries engaged in. I don’t believe there has been a time in my life where I haven’t had a book I was currently reading. In college, my reading list became somewhat dictated by my English professors, but the point is, I kept reading.

Thus, in the back of my mind, I always wanted to write one of these stories like the ones I have devoured constantly. And, when the time came (after so much writer’s block!), I found it relatively easy to let the words flow and trust that they would fit themselves into at least decent construction of a novel.

I think this osmosis of writerly learning is best demonstrated by how I have navigated through writing a trilogy. Characters popped into the storyline and filled in little gaps, complicated the plot, and I had usually not premeditated their arrivals all that much. When I started writing Inductance, it was second nature to me to gloss back over some of the major events from Capacitance in the first chapter, to refresh readers (even though I personally let my eyes skim over these reminders in books that I read).

As well as giving one a sense of how stories are crafted, a lifetime of readership can provide the wealth of random and seemingly useless knowledge that a true writer will have accumulated in their gray matter. I can’t tell you how many times I have spouted off with some random fact or known the answer to a trivia question in a board game, and when questioned how I came by that knowledge my answer was, “from reading.”

So, if you’re a writer, don’t spend so much time trying to get your book on the shelves that you forget all the other titles alongside it. And even if you aren’t a writer, never underestimate the mind expanding nature of a good book. πŸ™‚

Colleen McCullough & Historical Fiction

Today I am actually in the office and on track with my blog to spotlight an inspirational/thought-provoking work of fiction or book I have read! Finally…first one in a long time! Usually, I glance over at my bookshelf for some inspiration and today my eyes fell on the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough. It is fitting to write about her as she passed away earlier this year, and I could and definitely will have more to say on her other works, but for now I want to stick to my personal favorites–her historical fiction seven book series fictionalizing ancient Rome from the time of Gaius Marius to Caesar Augustus.

First of all, it is important to mention that McCullough was an incredibly brilliant woman–she was a neurophysiological researcher at Yale who just happened to write beautiful novels in her spare time. Thus, the research and brains behind the undertaking of the fictionalization of such a huge chunk of history were formidable.

It is clear that McCullough immersed herself in her subject. Not only are most of her facts historically accurate, but it was apparent she tried to interpret the character of the individuals through their actions left on the historical record. To great effect, in my opinion. It is surely difficult to convey a character that was a real living person and do that character justice despite the lack of written records, but McCullough does brilliantly. Through seven books following major historical characters, you find yourself as a reader coming to know these people well and caring about them intimately. This speaks for McCullough’s strength as a character creator in general.

While you are becoming immersed in the characters, you are learning history. This is the greatest achievement of historical fiction and why it can be so valuable to write it well and accessibly for the public. And why readers should give historical fiction a try. It’s a chance to broaden your knowledge and be entertained at the same time. McCullough puts forth a great effort to be accurate; each book is followed by a note explaining any deviations from the true path of history (she incorporates some historical rumors into fact for her stories), and why she chose to believe these rumors to be true. Usually her justifications make sense and show a lot of research behind them. She was an author who took her writing seriously.

After reading the series, I was so taken by the history of ancient Rome that I wanted to research it on my own and test McCullough’s factual reliability. I read biographies of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Caesar Augustus. I found myself getting bored while reading said biographies because I already knew all the material–McCullough had really stuck to the facts and portrayed them, while in an entertaining manner, in incredible detail!

In conclusion, historical fiction would be an interesting challenge as an author. Colleen McCullough has definitely inspired me in this regard because her books are both highly informative and very well written. I love history and research and it would be very rewarding to discover and bring back to life historical figures from the past as McCullough has done in her Masters of Rome series.

Writing for a “Dead” Market?

I’ll admit it, I’m writing dystopian. The first step is admitting you have a problem. While many people still thoroughly enjoy this genre, the market for it from a publisher’s perspective is (as far as I can tell) pretty dead. The number of denied queries I am amassing speaks to this fact. So what does a frustrated writer do in this situation?

First of all, it’s even more frustrating because I understand the situation completely. Knowing the principles of basic supply and demand as well as the way trends go, it makes total sense that savvy literary professionals such as agents and editors are not jumping at the chance to grab more titles that boast corollaries to the wildly popular (currently) Hunger Games and Divergent. Instead agents and editors want to snatch up the next big craze, which will certainly be in a totally different and unexpected genre.

So I get it. But I don’t want to stop writing the story I am trying to tell. I didn’t decide to write about Mara and Runey because I wanted to write the next Hunger Games. Despite what the genre may suggest, I am not writing for a trend. The story came to me and clamored to be told, so I am telling it, despite its marketability with literary professionals. I have read many articles and blog posts that say “shelve your dystopian/paranormal projects,” but I disagree. Personally, I don’t like to leave work unfinished. Especially something as near to my heart and soul as my writing. It would feel like more of a failure to shove Mara and Runey in a drawer than even if they never make it to the bookshelves.

Thus, the writing goes on. So does the querying. I have nowhere near exhausted my list of possibilities for getting published. Somewhere out there is surely an agent who will be as enthusiastic about my project as I am. I just have to be persistent until I find that person. Writing novels and querying is also good practice. Should this project end up shelved once it’s finished, at least I got the great experience of writing a trilogy and getting to know the professional side of the business. It will be great experience for my next book. πŸ™‚

There is hope when writing in a “dead” genre. One of my friends that I met at the Las Vegas conference wrote a paranormal romance novel (the same genre as the supposedly played out Twilight sensation), and she just landed a book deal with publication coming in 2016. Read about her story here: http://linkis.com/www.cmmccoy.com/blog/p4Ia8 . And if you’re writing in one of these hard to sell genres, I would love to hear your story/strategy! Above all, never give up on your self as a writer or your story.

What’s In A Name?

The names of characters in the books we read…they can stick with us, become household terms, and conjure specific images in one’s mind. Snape, Frodo, Othello, Gatsby…all names which, for most, relate back to the stories they came from. These memorable names have turned these fictional figments of an author’s mind to an almost independent entity in the minds of their readers.

However, finding those great names can be really difficult! If someone asked me what a big insecurity I have about my trilogy is, I would definitely say the characters’ names. Although the names of characters often becomes a moot point in the publishing process as editors and publishers usually opt to change the names, the names we as authors initially give our characters are all important. They set the scene. Give a title to the voices clamoring around in our head to be put on paper. And, sometimes, make us squirm uncomfortably every time we type the character name.

This little qualm of insecurity about characters names has haunted me before, and causes me to hesitate when a new character is due to be introduced. I want to get it right the first time, but, if I don’t, I almost always end up going back and changing it. For me, insecurity over names is mostly prevalent for secondary characters. I tend to try and name them too much to their characterization, so sometimes the names are overwrought. Conversely, with my main characters, I have already known who they are even before I started writing. The names Mara and Runey floated into my head with the image of the characters themselves on the day I first imagined the concept of Capacitance. Travers was a little more difficult and I questioned that decision for a long time, but ultimately I think it fits.

So, as Shakespeare once famously asked, what’s in a name? The answer–for authors, anyway–would be, quite lot of meaning. It’s the title we officially give these products of our creative imagination, it adds to the complexity and tone of our story, and it is how we resonate with the characters. However, just like Shakespeare’s rose, the depth and dimensions of the complexity of the character, make them just as interesting and compelling, no matter what name is ultimately decided upon. Happy Monday! πŸ™‚

Mixed Friday Feels

It’s Friday once again…this week, this month, this year have all flown by so quickly! While this week was not much progress as far as pages written, I consider it to be a very productive week as I am finally (finally!) getting out of vacation mode and back into the true swing of things.

I sent out a couple queries yesterday. That’s something I have not done in awhile, and it was done not a moment too soon. Today (just over lunch actually) I received an email from the agent who had requested my full MS at the beginning of the summer. I was sad, but not surprised, to learn that I will not be rounding out the summer by gaining representation from that particular agent. Thank goodness I got this denial today instead of yesterday. Instead of feeling too discouraged by it, I am focused on this new round of queries and energized by getting myself out there again.

Yesterday I also got the chapter of Resistance that had been holding me up finished. This was thanks to re-reading as I was stuck on a certain detail that I couldn’t remember what I had set up earlier in the story. When I went back and read, I found the piece I needed. Also good: this chapter was longer than five pages. I like to keep my chapters short (to make the book more addicting, i.e. “just one more chapter!”), but almost all of my chapters in Resistance were ending up being five pages long. Now that the story can flow more, I should get a few longer chapters to throw in the mix.

So all in all, it was a weird week, but a good week. I am feeling less burned out and hopefully that feeling continues to subside. I mentioned on my Facebook page that I am done posting sample chapters of Capacitance–for now! Show me some love on FB, and here on my blog and I’ll reveal more chapters. It’s up to you guys! πŸ™‚ I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Re-Reading: A Helpful Exercise

I think there are two schools of thought on going back and re-reading an in-progress manuscript. Some would say that it alters the natural flow of the story, while others would say that it can be a useful tool. I have never subscribed to one particular opinion or the other–not spending extensive time on re-reading, but gaining confidence every now and then by skimming back over a chapter.

However, this week, I must say I wholly believe it can be helpful to go back and read what you have written so far. Especially if you are feeling stuck or down on your confidence. Going back and revisiting the scenes you’ve created can be empowering–if you did it before, you can do it again. Plus, if you’re like me and have been taking big chunks of no-writing vacation time, it’s been awhile since you’ve written those first chapters! Revisiting refreshes the story line.

Since I don’t write with an outline, re-reading was especially helpful for me as I work to get back in the flow. When I wrote Capacitance, I was writing a chapter a day quite steadily, thus the structure of my story was easy to keep fresh in my mind. I would frame chapter by chapter, knowing innately where the storyΒ  had been as I improvised, so to speak, on where it would be led. I started Resistance over a month ago, so the segue from chapter to chapter is much more disjointed. Going back and re-reading helped with this as I try to get back on a more rigorous writing schedule. During the course of the re-read, I also uncovered a fact about the story which I had been needing to double check to proceed with writing.

All in all, the re-read was empowering and helpful. It reminded me that I am a good writer as well as refreshing some facts I need to keep at the top of my mind to continue the story.

Battling Burnout

I must admit, I am suffering some burnout lately. Since being a writer is an intrinsic part of my nature as an individual, it is hard not to let personal stresses affect the artistic side of me as well. When I get down, my confidence gets weak and it’s easy for old insecurities and habits to take over. Chapters loom way too large in my mind and seem so daunting that the words never make it to the page. My story feels like it is becoming repetitive in the plot buildup. Questions of what should happen next in the story? Am I making the right plot move? give way to the ultimate decision to sit and think on it longer. Thus words are trapped in my mind, leaving me feeling lazy and unfulfilled, compounding the stress I already am experiencing.

On top of this, I have not been putting myself out there in the querying world as much as I should. Part of it has been due to travels, but also a part of it is this same burnout. Denials do affect me–as much as I say they don’t! It’s more of a subtle, underlying effect that builds up and eats away at confidence in my novel. Lately, I haven’t even gotten any denials. And I still haven’t heard back from the agent who requested my full. This strange silence is ominous, and also has taken my focus off of contacting agents.

I know I need to hone in and start getting my focus back and beat burnout. I need to start making querying goals for myself and meet them. I will start small and build up so that I don’t get overwhelmed. Re-reading my work has always been a confidence booster for me, so I will go back and read the eight chapters of Resistance that are finished so far. That should hopefully not only give me confidence in my storytelling, but also spark some confidence in the trajectory of the plot line. Once I get in the flow of producing chapters and continuing work to get myself out there with agents, I know I will feel better. I’m learning that as an author, not only will seasons create slumps, but personal stress will reduce output. What’s an artist without a melancholy stage, I suppose?

Stay tuned tomorrow for a special blog tour post and a chance to win an Amazon gift card, sponsored by Inklings Literary Agency! πŸ™‚

Updates in Life and Writing

Hello all! I have been gone for quite an extensive amount of time as I was on my family vacation to Colorado. It was a great time and my Dad, Uncle and I ended up summiting nine 14ers (mountains over 14,000 ft. high!). While I did not get any writing done during the trip as my time was spent either climbing, eating or sleeping, the trip was great for meditative purposes. Being in Colorado was also interesting for exploring more of my setting. This is a fact that I tried to make rather subtle in the books, but the setting is based on a post-apocalyptic Denver area. I have always loved Colorado and the mountains, so I wanted my book to be set here in this MidWest/Rocky Mountain region. I don’t digress down this line of thought often as I like readers to engage with the characters rather than the history of their setting. However, I like to think that the Midwest would be the obvious place for a post-apocalyptic world to be set in–a major world crisis or war would wipe out the coastal metropolises, thus people who survived would be centrally located. This is about as far as I will go right now on that line of thought as I do want the history and what happened to create the world Mara and Runey live in now to maintain an aura of mystery so readers can ask and fill in their own questions.

While my thoughts on the trail didn’t focus specifically on Resistance itself, now that I am back I feel like some ideas and themes have really settled themselves in for me. Taking a break from the story was definitely a good thing; as I have mentioned, it has gotten very dark and getting away from that for a bit was good mental relief. However, I would be lying if I didn’t say this book is causing a lot of pressure for me. Resistance is the last book in the trilogy and i feel like there are a lot of loose ends to tie up in a powerful, elegant and gripping way. This is a trifecta that is hard to achieve. However, by setting the scene of the first few chapters as so dark and heavy, I think I have done the first step in giving the right tone for an elegant yet gripping finish. Now I just need to get back in the swing of writing! This is my first year of being a serious author, and I have learned a lot so far. One of the most important things I have learned is that I am definitely going to be a writer who has “seasons.” There will be times of the year (summer!) where I don’t get as much written, and I need to accept this. It doesn’t make me a better or worse author and it doesn’t make me lazy. Finding a balance between life and writing is a delicate process and I am gradually learning to realize that my winter page output is simply going to be more than that of my summer output.

Finally, I did contact the agency who had requested my full manuscript. Their submission guidelines said to do this if two months had passed without a response after a manuscript request. I have heard that you aren’t supposed to be too hasty with follow-up as it takes agents a long time to get through their piles of slush, so I was very glad the agency website had such specific guidelines about when to touch base. I haven’t gotten a response yet, so the waiting continues! Some things in my personal life are starting to come together for me, so I am hoping the agent hunt can be another thing falling into place! Wish me luck! πŸ™‚

Friday Updates

I am a little ashamed of this edition of Friday updates as it is not as successful a report as I would like to convey! Once again I am struggling with the pressure to write very quickly but still attending to my other obligations. Nonetheless, I am trying not to judge myself on the lack of chapters written (in the meantime wondering why I set these goals for myself when I know they probably won’t happen).

I wanted to get Resistance done through Chapter 10 by the end of this week as I leave for Colorado tomorrow. It was a rather achievable goal as it required me to write one chapter per day for each day of this work week (my usual pace). However, things got hectic, as I fully knew they would. I had social obligations pop up, an out of town appointment yesterday, and general French Bulldog disasters most days. Plus, I still haven’t packed for my trip (a usual procrastination). Resistance sits calmly waiting for me to pick up and write Chapter 8, and with the to-do list I have for today I’ll be lucky if I get even that done.

All that being said, I still feel good about the manuscript. It is very dark this time around and thus it is harder to submerge myself in the material. The characters are going through some experiences that are hard to write about, but their emotions after these experiences have happened are even harder to convey. I don’t want to stereotype their reactions, or worse (in my opinion) archetype their reactions. I want these characters to be genuine and authentic; while there is, to some extent, an archetypal element in all forms of human behavior, it is important to know about it but still deviate from it in some way that is unique and speaks to your characters. That has been a struggle, but a rewarding one as it forces me to think deeply about the characters as a whole. This third book has a very different feel; I wanted it to be purposefully disorienting both to give the readers a sense of how much Runey and Mara are going through and also to give the book a sense of desperation and urgency. Throughout the trilogy the threat has been veiled and that veil has been sliding off slowly but surely throughout the series–now it has been yanked off to reveal the horrible things it was covering before. It’s a hard thing to deal with as a writer. Gravity and urgency makes for a difficult balance to maintain. And that, friends, is the best I can do to explain myself and lake of prolific-ness with this MS.

Agent updates: Nothing really new to report. I am hearing back from a few queries in the form of denials. The agent who requested my full manuscript has not gotten back to me yet and we are nearing the two month mark in which either she promised to respond and if not I am supposed to drop her a line reminding her. This deadline makes me both nervous and excited. What if I email her only to find out she never got the manuscript as it went to spam or whatnot and thus I have to wait another two months after re-submitting?? Lots of “what-ifs”! I continue to have nothing but great things to say about the agents I met at the WLT Conference. One of them dropped me a quick line to say he got my query and would respond again soon (unheard of!). And another emailed me to say the work wasn’t for him, but he would pass it on to someone in his agency who he thought might be a better fit. So impressed! They are actually real people, you guys! πŸ™‚ Once I get back from vacation, I plan to start another round of querying. I want to try and challenge myself to write one query per day, every weekday. Let’s see if that goal goes by the way of my finishing Chapter 10 this week goal…haha.

I hope everyone has a great weekend! I am going to try and see if I can be technologically savvy enough to set up an automated post for Chapter 10 on Monday. I apologize in advance if I am not bright enough to figure that out. Adios!