Monday, Monday

Do you think-write out your disappointments? I do. Here’s a therapeutic piece I wrote to get over something I experienced about a year ago. I wasn’t ready to admit to it at the time. I’m over it now, so it’s time to share. It’s entitled, Monday, Monday because that was the day I received the call.

"Restart Button" offered by U.S. Sec...
“Restart Button” offered by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland March 6, 2009. Department photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Sometimes I need a restart button. Not like the one Hillary Clinton gave to the Russian Foreign Minister in 2009–preferably something less “nuke the world”-ish. Just let me crawl under my desk and sob. I feel really worthless. I know I’m not, but rational thought isn’t prevailing at the moment.

“I received a call from a representative who wanted me to consider his publishing company for my book. Consider? Uh, yeah, I’ll consider! The question I asked was: “Well, what does that mean?” (Yeah, great question, amateur.)

“Let me backtrack just a tad. I did submit my book to this publisher, but not really of my own volition. It is, in fact, the only publishing company I’ve submitted anything to. You see, I was told I was being too much of a perfectionist in crafting my queries to specific agents I’d researched. But then I kind of sent my manuscript to show I was not being picky (which means, yes, I’m OCD and I just went the other extreme on a dare). I didn’t really expect anything to come of it. I am so, so naive.

“After the call from the publishing company, I phoned one of my best friends and had a meltdown over the phone. On the surface, I was so elated that it was positive feedback! Beneath that, I knew it was just an offer to vanity publish. (I’d read the fine print of this company’s procedures.) Then I messaged a self-pubbed writer. His was historical fiction, so I didn’t think his experience would really be the same as mine. He replied, “I was ‘taken by them too’.” *Cue the shoulder slump*

“I’m supposed to put this under my belt and continue on, right? I’m supposed to view this as a profitable learning experience. I just need a blanket I can hide under for a few decades. I think I’ll be okay by then.

“I know I’m overreacting. And I keep asking myself, Why am I letting this affect me? It’s not like a doled out the cash (which isn’t really a testament to my business savvy as much as the realization that I don’t have it to dole out). It’s not like I got burned. But it hurts, and I just need to acknowledge that.

“After collecting my shattered ego, I emailed the company, stating I wanted to look into other options. I’ve become calm about it, though I’m not over crying about it inside. And it’s a good thing that this happened. This is a clear indication I’m not ready on so many levels. I have a lot to learn.”

Have you ever had something like this happen to you–something that wasn’t bad, exactly, but disappointing all the same?

“I’d Like to Order a Mystery, a Side of Romance, and Add a Pinch of Sarcasm, Please” Writing What You Like To Read

Part 5 of The Fan Fiction Experiment

Never bet your money on another man’s game.

– Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Every reader has a different expectation when he/she opens a book. You can wind up in a losing game of chasing the trend if you try to write based on what you think others want to read…this week. Besides, the best stories are often the ones where the writers penned what their own inner readers craved.

Fanfiction can help you learn to write what your inner reader wants to read. It lets you test out your literary concoctions on a random sampling of readers—one that doesn’t have any impetus to support garbled writing or purple prosaic slop just because it’s you. You get to find out if what interests you interests others. Sometimes that means tearing out all the back story and the family connections in an adventure. It might be a fun study for you as a writer, and you should delve into the back story for yourself, but imagine picking it up off the shelf. Would you like having to wade through the four info-dump paragraphs that introduce every character? Not likely.

James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault and 2nd ...
James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault and 2nd Earl of Arran (Photo credit: lisby1)

I’m a Jane Austen-ophile, but I’m not a British aristocracy buff. There is a rare sect of Austenites that congregates for the pure pleasure of touting genealogical trivia. Some of them believe a long, meandering family tree belongs in the introduction of a regency fanfic. Now, if I have to know and recall to memory Sir Pimpleton Snigglebothum’s entire progeny, I will shelf that fic pronto. But I didn’t consider this when I first entered the Austen fandoms. I spent hours trying to get a grip on the difference between a duke and an earl, and which family house claimed which lands and what their links to the crown were–all to come up with a decent set of fake family names and titles so I could begin the actual story. You will not find that story online. It was duller to read than it was to write, if that’s possible. My point is, I wasted my time fulfilling other readers’ expectations, when I should’ve been writing what I enjoyed.

Try perusing fanfic stories in a fandom for one of your favorite novels. Many fanfic writers will attempt to write in the style of the author. Reading through these attempts will help you develop an eye for the original author’s methods and tricks. Does the author sum up large periods of time in a sentence or two? Does the author use flashbacks to keep the story moving? What narrating perspective is employed? Are the descriptions highly detailed? Is the story peppered with sentence fragments? Focus on what intrigues you about the way the author wrote that great story—what pulls you in—and implement it in your own fiction.

barsetshire 2: barchester towers
barsetshire 2: barchester towers (Photo credit: cdrummbks)

In the stories I crave, the author goes off on tangents and philosophizes in a way that endears me to the characters. Shortcomings are introduced from a perspective that lets me laugh sympathetically with the characters, not at them. They will reach the inevitable rock and hard place and leave me emotionally torn because I’m sympathizing to some degree with both sides. I find this scenario in many of Anthony Trollope’s novels. He was a master at creating reader sympathy for his characters. I also admire Elizabeth Gaskell’s understanding portrayal of those with conflicting views in works like Wives and Daughters and North and South.

What story-telling methods do you like best, and which authors satisfy the appetite of your inner reader?

Next up: Help for Wordophiles

(Disclaimer: My inner reader likes to read my opinions and pretend those opinions are clever. I’m pretty certain that’s why I’m posting this series.)

Whoo Hoo! Go, Failure!

You won’t ever succeed until you have continually failed.

This was the advice I was given about sending out my queries for Dragonfly Prince. Isn’t it encouraging? It’s no wonder I’ve been hitting disillusionment hard. I think it’s also because I’ve been reading fine print. Stuff like,

“In publishing your book, it is necessary, to the extent that any rights apply, that you waive any and all foreseeable inconveniences to Filmore Paukits Publishing, Inc., including but not limited to digital rights, moral rights, your right to any specific point of view, your right to any values you might hold dear, your right to think, your right to breathe, etc., where at all advantageous to the marketing philosophies of our company.”

I realize that the point of a Grant of Rights has to do with advertising. Specifically, it allows marketing to present my book in a way that’s considered the most appealing. Still, it has me thinking about the rights I might be asked to give up. I want to have a say in what the cover illustrates. I want to know my work retains the spirit I wrote it in. I want to have the ability to keep someone from editing out an aspect that, to me, is crucial to the story, replacing analytical content with sensational nihility that I’ll regret until my dying day. I’m not talking about editing; I am concerned about bias and censoring. It’s wrong to take an artist’s work and conform it to current views – which change – and stymie the author’s true views – which should remain the author’s prerogative to change.

I think publishers nowadays are squeamish. And they should be. It’s a tough market. No book company wants to make decisions right now that might negatively impact its reputation. That’s why a good literary agent is important. If I’m going to make the effort of catching a publishing company’s attention, I want to do it well and efficiently, while being aware of what I’m getting into.

I’ve sent out four queries. Yes, four. When I find an agent that piques my interest, I read everything I can find about her. (Yes, four ‘hers.’) I make a list of her literary interests, quirks and good qualities. I read over her book deals. I weigh in the things I don’t care for. I ask myself, “Do I think I could work with this agent? Is she too (I go through many adjectives here)?” I’m basically investing in a relationship before I’ve composed the letter! I have to stop kidding myself. This is called finding any excuse to drag my feet. I can’t become callous to rejection if I don’t make the effort to be rejected!

I think the beauty of this whole endeavor is: I’m living in a time when there isn’t any avenue of book publishing that I can’t explore on my own. I need to give this agent search my best effort and be patient. At this point the only thing that’s holding me back is me.

This *is* the Manuscript You Were Looking For

After looking over client lists of agents to get a taste of what literary agencies are endorsing, I’m thinking it’s time I learned the Jedi mind trick. Have you read some authors’ bios lately?

Initial. Initial. Smarmy was terminally ill from the age of two, which explains much of the philosophical trauma he endured as a child. In his teens, he established his own business, ‘Nightshade Window Treatments,’ from which a friendly cult began, dedicated to educating others about the advantages of poisonous vegetation. A part-time volunteer for the Association for the Beautification of Carnivorous Reptiles, he paints abstract portraits on crocodile teeth to help raise funds and awareness. He has a pet platypus that travels with him to book signings because ‘Curby’ won’t sleep unless he’s wrapped in Smarmy’s silk scarf. Smarmy always wears this scarf; it marks his triumph over his 14-year addiction to Ace of Base.

Okay, I would love to read this in a real bio. My own will include my short stint as a bad fortune-teller and my award for being the worst slob at camp. But I can’t compete. Padawan training, you are my only hope.