New Week, New Strategies

This week I am starting off with some new strategies for querying agents. Referring to my post on writing dystopian, I feel like it is going to be difficult to find the agent that is searching for that particular genre. However, they are out there, I just have to find them!

Today I googled “literary agent dystopian,” and got some hits. While I didn’t check out many links today, I did find an agent who loves dystopian worlds and immediately made out a query letter for her. I think this is a better strategy than I have had previously where I would search good agencies and then go to whatever agents were available there, regardless of whether they specifically said dystopian. I also plan to use this strategy with the New Adult category. Since that is a growing genre, surely I will be able to find agents specifically searching for it.

Another new strategy I am using quite frequently is the Writer’s Digest new literary agents spotlight. I am on the fence about new agents. For one, they have less experience than more established agents. However, they are more actively building their client base. For me, it’s definitely worth a shot. I am a young writer with little experience and if a similarly young agent wants to take a chance on me, I’ll take a chance on them. I will definitely be referring to the new literary agent spotlight list from now on. Not only for the agent information, but also because it leads me to other agencies to explore. For instance I clicked on a new agent profile, then linked to her agency website and from there ended up querying another agent and heading over to a new agency’s website that was listed in the bio of the agent I queried.

Using these new strategies, I am looking forward to heading into a productive week of querying and writing. Happy Monday!

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™‚

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™‚

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™‚

Chapter 8 & 9 Musings

Before I write these author responses to my posted chapters of Capacitance, I always go back and re-read the chapter for a refresh (it’s hard to remember what I wrote nearly two books ago!). When I went back and started reading Chapter 8, I didn’t get through the whole thing because there is a point that I really wanted to make in response to my saying that some people aren’t perceiving Mara as a likable character. In Chapter 8, we see Runey making an effort towards Mara (despite his own mental distress). Although she is standoffish towards him, he still sticks up for her with the other group members, then even in his own mind he finds her strengths behind her weaknesses. While Mara may not be the most likeable person in these first few chapters, Runey’s perceptiveness allows the reader to perhaps view her differently than their first impression. Not only does it shed light on the potential for connection (another “Capacitance” term reference!) between the two, but it also demonstrates how perceptive Runey is–Runey’s inner monologue helps build strengths for both characters.

Chapter 8 is all about people’s imperfections. Runey explores Mara’s flaws and finds the strength behind them, and then he betrays a weakness of his own. How can we blame Runey for taking Juleia into his room when he finds her in his dorm hall? Runey’s response lends a human element to his mission to get to Mara–to be human is to err, and Runey becomes more complex as he is not completely perfect. The imperfections continue in Runey and Juleia’s exchange in bed. Here we see why their relationship might not have been perfect even were it allowed to continue. Juleia harbors jealousy–a fact that is not new to their relations as Runey is well versed in dealing with it. Through this exchange the reader is invited to go back in time and imagine how Runey and Juleia were before the story began, and hopefully they begin to wonder if Juleia was truly good for Runey in the first place. The questions brought up by Chapter 8 are many that we as humans are familiar with, and as always, it is great to lend more humanity to one’s fictional characters.

Chapter 9 is a nice parallel to Chapter 8 as we see Mara thinking about Runey now instead of vice versa. It is easy to see the correlation and differences. Runey and Mara are both fascinated with the others’ physical appearance and physical imagery is what dominates their thought processes at this time. However, whereas Runey is having to train his mind to focus on Mara, Mara’s mind is wandering to thoughts of Runey of its own free will–much to her consternation. The differences continue as we compare Runey and Juleia–clearly two people who crave a relationship in their life–to Mara’s feelings on the matter. When she meets Langdon in the elevator, the scene drives home for the reader even more that Mara is not interested in dating and sees the whole business as trivial. Possibly the reader is anticipating that, given Mara’s viewpoint on love, Runey will have a hard time achieving his mission.

Now I am going to switch gears entirely for one final train of thought–Mara in her lab. People have asked me how I make the lab scene sound so convincing and wonder if I have taken science classes or spent time in a lab myself. While I am very flattered that my prose comes off so convincingly, I must say that my best preparation for writing these scenes was from watching a lot of movies, reading a lot of books, and perhaps a Biochemistry 110 class during my college years (although the associated lab was much below Mara’s standards!). Imagination came into play as well. Writing science fiction, a writer has a certain amount of license. While I didn’t want my story to be too “tech-y” or futuristic, I did want it to contain some speculative elements. Thus we have slide drives, DNA sequencing programs, etc. Perhaps why this sounds so “convincing” is because the technology is not too outlandish, and I try not to lose readers by launching into an epic exposition bit where I explain the history, implementation, and meaning of all devices used. Last note: I nearly passed out writing the sequence where Mara draws her own blood. LOL. But seriously, I do not do well around needles/blood/hospitals in general. A fact which kept me out of the fascinating field of medicine, but allowed me to pursue writing instead. πŸ™‚ Book review coming tomorrow, stay tuned!

Current Progress: #amwriting #amediting

Things have been going as per usual in my writerly life this week–a little progress, a little frustration. Editing Inductance has been my main focus. As I noted last week, the first ten chapters were a little rough around the edges, but now that I am in the thick of things, it is all sounding very good. Shockingly, I do better with a lot of action and tight suspenseful scenes, even though these are the hardest for me to write! Ironically, I enjoy the characters’ relationships with each other and especially the romance aspect of the story, but these sectors are where I see the most need for editing. I suppose this problem arises from the simple fact that–in all actuality–human emotions and relationships are more complex than an action-y, main characters being chased and escaping from danger type of scene. Thus, as opposed to the tight, driving action of the prose, when I am writing emotional scenes or internal dilemma, those sentences tend to get longer and more complex, and need more editorial attention.

On the whole, however, editing has been a very painless process. In fact, it has bolstered my self-confidence! As I am editing along and find myself not wanting to stop because I want to stay immersed in the story, I feel a great sense of pride–I even have myself (the author) hooked on the story! Pride and a sense of accomplishment are great sensations to feel in the author’s cruel world of agent denials and constant self-doubt. The only thing about Inductance which gives me trepidation is the word count–78,000 words is a little slim, compared to Capacitance which stood at 89,000 words. I feel great about the way the story arcs and finds its own sort of resolution and set up for the next novel, but the word count still makes me a little nervous. Perhaps I need to explore the idea of inserting another storyline somewhere in the novel. I have some ideas–for instance one my secondary characters from the first book has not shown her face in the second book. Characters have talked about her, but she is not present. I can’t decide if that’s something I should take up and insert to create a higher word count. However, I had in the back of my mind thought about bringing her back in a certain way in the third book which I think would be very effective. Hopefully, once I get through the initial edit and have the full sense of a straight read through the story I might have a better idea of what to insert.

The final note of progress (which is also a note of frustration) which I have to report this week is that I officially started Resistance! While I had composed the first sentence already, this week I went ahead, swallowed my procrastination and wrote the first chapter. And I absolutely love the way it came out! Now I need to continue this sense of trust in myself and go on to the next chapter. Procrastination still rules as yet, however. For my series, it is more like having to write two first chapters since I have two main characters; each of their individual situations must be initially presented to the reader and that makes things a little more challenging. A jumping off point for the entire novel is always a very delicate and difficult thing to construct. I finally have a free weekend ahead of me though, so I intend to make use of it in true writer’s fashion and get some more words on that page! I hope everyone has a very lovely weekend and I will post Chapter 7 of Capacitance on Monday! πŸ™‚

World Building: A Daunting Task

As I move into my third manuscript (more thoughts on progress tomorrow), world building is on my mind. My characters have moved out of their initial setting, into the world beyond–thus, by default the world is getting bigger and more complex. When I started out writing Capacitance, I, of course, knew much more about the world my characters live in than the reader did (or even than some of the characters themselves knew!). Some people who read my story found this frustrating. I may have spoken about this in a post before, but it is worth mentioning here again; the reactions some readers have to the slow introduction to the world of Mara and Runey. They want to know it all from the beginning–the why, the how, the who… However, inundation is simply overwhelming to the reader. My answer to those readers who wanted answers and specifics and even an entire history of how the world came about is, “Be patient.”

My series is not a hard science fiction or a high fantasy. It is soft science fiction, speculative and a little dystopian. Thus, there are differences between the world of my characters and the world we live in today, but there are also many similarities. This makes it tempting for readers to want to ask how did we get there from here (being the present day). I love the fact that my work and the world the characters live in may bring up these kinds of deep questions. Any SF or Fantasy book whose fictional worlds can cause a reader to question or think deeply about the world they actually live in is, in my opinion, doing a fantastic service to the world of literature. However, how much of the reader’s questions we as authors will answer is a tricky line to tread. How much do we reveal without inundating readers while still satisfying their curiosity?

The answer, for me, lies in a micro to macro approach to the characters and their world. Capacitance starts on the micro level; readers meet the main characters on their campus and don’t know much else at first. As the story progresses, readers learn factors about the larger scheme of things bit by bit. I wanted Capacitance to be mainly about getting to know and connecting to the characters. It isn’t until the end of the novel that the reader really begins to see the true scope of the world. The word ‘capacitance’ means the potential for energy, and the first novel is all about building the spring board that is character development.

Inductance springs the characters off into the world. The second installment was much more about world building. ‘Inductance’ means the flow of energy, and in book 2 the characters are moving out into the world and becoming involved in more action. It was a real struggle for me to make this shift into less character developing and more wold developing. Some of the best world building I did was off the page. Sitting down and taking notes about your world can be a very helpful exercise. Many of these thoughts will never reach the MS page–in fact, many of them shouldn’t–this exercise is more about becoming familiar with your world. That way when you write about it, you have command of your subject. You know things about your world that no one else does. You have secrets, and you’ll keep many of them. The point is to not be didactic in your story. Let the characters make discoveries, let details come out naturally, let nothing be forced.

I am now on the third MS in the series and I am sure that all the questions the more impatient readers had in the first book have still not been answered–maybe they never will be! However, world building remains on my mind as each book goes a little bit deeper into it all. Getting deeper into my world means more serious character development, more new places to be described, more serious themes to face. I’ll leave off on that note as it provides a great segue into what I will be posting about tomorrow. πŸ™‚ Happy Thursday!

Dealing With Dialogue + Chapter 6 Thoughts

Every week when I post a sample chapter I go back and re-read it. Every time I do this, I learn something new about the chapter and think a little deeper about my process as a writer. My initial thoughts from Chapter 6–aside from the impression that I need to go back and weed out some adverbs!–was that the dialogue stuck out to me in this chapter.

Chapter 6 was one of the first chapters that is heavy on the dialogue. We have Runey, Elba, Vance and Mara together for one of the first times and I am just starting to give them their voices. Traditionally, I have always found dialogue a little challenging. If you have even skimmed some of my former blog posts, you will know that I find exposition very compelling, so it is hard for me to break from that and let the characters–literally–speak for themselves. Since I wrote a lot of critical essays in my English literature major in college, I was constantly writing pages of solid prose with no dialogue involved. Thus, dialogue did not come easy to me. I say this in the past tense, because after completing two manuscripts, this is simply not true anymore. While I do love my exposition, my characters’ conversations are easily implemented as well. So this is one area of improvement I have seen in myself as a writer since I composed Chapter 6 of Capacitance.

One other area that I have seen improvement is that my characters’ voices are perhaps a little bit cleaner now. It is a fine balance between giving each character a genuine voice and excluding some of the filler words which are natural in spoken conversation, but can be distracting in a written work. I am talking here about Elba’s “Um”s, Vance’s “Well, you know”s and things like that. We say them all the time in normal conversation, but the characters in a story don’t necessarily need to. As the story goes on, I do clean some of that up. I leave bits like that in if I think it really adds to the voice or the situation, but I think these fillers got a little overboard in Chapter 6.

My biggest insecurity about voice is that I am not going to differentiate it enough between characters and they will all end up sounding the same. It is a huge challenge to attempt to have one’s own voice as a writer and then have to balance the individual voices of all the characters in the novel. I think specifically Elba’s and Vance’s voices are two places I need to watch in Capacitance because I have a sneaking suspicion they may change just a bit as the book goes on, simply because I became more comfortable and in tune with them as characters. However, that’s another round of edits for another day as I am still knee deep in the initial edit of Inductance. With that being said, I am back to editing!

From #AmWriting to #AmEditing : The In-Between Manuscript Process

It’s been a little over a week since I finished up Inductance, but it seems like much longer! So much has happened since then, with my travels to Austin getting into the editing process. Being in between books is a strange and rather uncomfortable place for me now–I am used to always writing and filling parts of my day with putting words on the page. However, I think it is very important for me to take a little breath before I start writing the final book in the trilogy, Resistance.

The first reason for this is, I would like to have a bit more of an idea where the story is going and how it will get there. Right now, I have the first chapter planned out and maybe (maybe) ideas for the second chapter. Ultimately, I know where the story is going to end. However I am not sure how that will come about. As I work through the editing process, I hope to find inspiration for the final installation of my trilogy and have a better grasp of where it is all going. As a pantser writer, though, I don’t need too much direction before I begin!

Already, I feel the compulsion to begin Resistance. I think this is how one knows that the writer’s block and the insecurity and questioning whether you are really good enough to do this has passed. I am now a writer, it is part of my life and essential to my being. When I don’t write (as I haven’t this week) I feel the day lagging by as if some element is missing. So, it won’t be long, I’m sure before I am diving into the writing of my third manuscript. In fact, I already have the first line ready to go. Since it contains no spoilers, here it is: “The house was a beautiful glass prison.” With any luck, you are now asking, “Whose house?” “Why would a home be a prison?” and maybe you’re even intrigued by the conflicting imagery of an institution of confinement (a prison) made out of fragile glass. I’ve not had much luck with first pages before, but I think for once I am more than happy with this opening line. Hopefully the rest of the page, the rest of the chapter, the rest of the novel itself flows out with such confidence.

Until I let that stream of words flow, I am engaged in navigating the rocky waters of the editing process. The first ten chapters of Inductance were ROUGH. My goodness. I couldn’t even get into line by line editing them for content on the page. So much needs to be changed and refined. Refinement is the main issue here–at first I was just writing to write, to get into the characters and the narrative voice of another book. While it is kind of frustrating to look back and see so much work that needs to be done, I know that the reward will be worth it. I know the problems that the MS has presented and now I need to really get in touch with my characters and go back and give them the refined depth they deserve. All the concepts are right there on the page–they are just a little messier than I would prefer! However, I am happy to say that after Chapter 10, I have found everything much more pleasing. It is so crazy that even after having written one full book, it still took me some time with the second to get back into my true narrative voice. This is one reason I won’t be waiting too long to start Resistance; I need to keep the narrative voice fresh.

I hope all my readers in the U.S. have a fun and safe holiday weekend! I will be posting a fresh chapter of Capacitance on Monday! πŸ™‚

Writer’s League of Texas Conference #WLT2015

I just returned from my fabulous weekend in Austin–I seriously could not have had a better experience at this conference! I would definitely recommend this conference to any author because of its professionalism and awesome selection of agents. πŸ™‚

The location for the conference was amazing; Austin is a wonderful city and the conference was held at the downtown Hyatt. This made it easy to sight see during down time as many shops, bars and restaurants were within walking distance. However, there was not much downtime because the weekend was packed full of action for writers at the conference! Friday afternoon kicked off with genre meetings where writers of the same genre got together and had a Q&A session with published genre authors. This was a great way to get acquainted with fellow attendees and hear what they were working on. My favorite part of Friday was the evening cocktail reception–and, no, not just because of the wine! Rather, this informal gathering was set up for conference goers to meet the agents and editors that were present. All the agents and editors that were featured in the program WERE present at this cocktail reception, AND they were willing to talk and be pitched to by writers. After attending the Las Vegas conference, I realize how great and important this was. In Vegas, agents were never present during the informal times; they were either hearing pitches, teaching a session, or even hiding in their rooms. The agents at WLT2015 were always there and willing to listen to writers, even though authors were veritably swarming the poor agents! Thanks to this well facilitated reception, by Friday night I already had an agent request pages of my work.

Saturday, I ran into rather the same problem that I had at the Las Vegas conference–most of the sessions and workshops presented information I already was aware of. Thus, the Saturday sessions were more about listening to variations on a common theme. Most sessions were geared towards the business side, and I (once again) went a little heavy on those, but I think it is important to see agents in action, telling you their opinions. It makes them seem like more of human beings and less of heartless entities of rejection. The best part about Saturday were the pitch sessions. Each conference attendee could have two sessions, so I got the chance to pitch to two agents, both of whom were interested in my project and asked to see pages. The first agent I pitched toΒ  was extremely nice and–although he wasn’t sure if he would be taking on a New Adult project–still wanted me to send him material that he would pass on to someone else in his agency who would lean more towards that. My second pitch was great because the agent took a great deal of effort to give me some very helpful tips for getting my pitch down into one line–she then said when I had that one line, I should send it to her along with pages. I thought that was a great opportunity as it gives me the opportunity to prove to her that I took her advice to heart and worked at it. However, possibly my most valuable agent experience was when I ran into an agent from the agency who requested my full manuscript a few weeks ago. I met this other agent by the elevator and casually mentioned that her boss had requested my full manuscript. She was super nice and said she would give Miriam (agent I’m on submission to) a nudge and tell her she had met me.

The best session of the weekend was on Sunday morning when I went to a first page workshop. I absolutely LOVED the advice that was given during that session. The session leader led us through several very successful first pages and pointed out some key elements of writing a good first page. If you have been reading my blog, you know that the first page/chapter of Capacitance has been a struggle, so this class was great for me and has inspired me to maybe give my first page another try before sending it out to more agents. Add to this the fact that even though most of the agents were trying to get to the airport, but they still stopped by the luncheon for last minute connections, and you have the perfect end to a great weekend.

In conclusion, this conference was great and I did learn a few words of advice that I will pass on to fellow writers who might be considering a conference. First of all (and this is most important), DON’T BE NERVOUS when pitching to agents!! Your words come out stilted, you forget things, and–worst of all–you don’t seem sure about yourself or your story. Agents are, at the end of the day, just people and they are nothing to be scared of. If they like you, they are more willing to like your work, so keep it on even ground when talking to them–trust me, they will appreciate it after a day of endless stammers and groveling from the majority of authors. Second, let the experience give you confidence, but don’t let it go to your head. Chances are at a conference, if you have a manuscript finished, you will get asked for material. Yes, that is thrilling, but it doesn’t mean you’ve “made it.” I made that mistake last conference–everyone asked for pages, so I came home with this enormous boost of confidence. However, from my (albeit limited) experience, if you are taking the effort to be at a conference, agents see you are one step ahead of the query slush pile, and thus, they will put you one step ahead and ask for pages almost by default. No matter what, when an agent asks you for pages, you should feel good, but don’t let it get to your head! Finally, don’t feel obligated to go to all of the sessions–this isn’t high school! If something doesn’t appeal to you, or even if you just need a nap, then by all means go take a break. You won’t burn out that way and you will be fresh and ready to make new connections. Now that you have all this advice, keep the Writer’s League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference in mind for next year! πŸ™‚