Thursday, February 17, 2011
First you run out food, then fuel.
When the dream's new and all you can think about is the journey, it's not something you consider. Others might mention it as an aside or caution; they tell you horror stories about how the lower circle is what the old sailors meant when they talked about people dropping off the edge of the earth. Down there, emptiness becomes a living, breathing thing, a monster that thrives on the cold and doesn't abide outsiders in its territory.
But you don't listen. The warnings drone like white noise just below the glow of your own ambition, in a place that's too warm to understand the nature of cold. You fancy yourself an explorer, like the Vikings in stories you loved as a kid. You haven't figured out yet, that you're headed into a place where the world is upside down.
Reality butchers the dream with wind honed sharper than any knife. What little heat remains in your body melts the weapon of its own destruction so there's no proof of any outside force, only your own folly. You've gone beyond cold to where time itself slows down in the absence of sound and motion and where you traverse an alien landscape made without color. You can't even see your own skin to remind yourself its not as monochrome as everything else.
Your heart wants to break when the decision comes to turn back, but it's frozen solid. If you let it break, it'll shatter beyond reparation.
So close to the goal, you can taste it. Considering it's the Antarctic, you can see it on a clear day. The only thing you can't do is reach it.
Someone gets the bright idea to crack open a case or two of whiskey and use the bottles for wick-lamps and small stoves, and for a while there, you have your own Southern Lights burning on the ice. Your ramshackle base camp looks like something out of a kid's adventure story with blue-white lights popping up like ghosts guarding a treasure cache.
One of the men pours a bottle out and lights it on the ice. Why not, you wonder- there's nothing else to do.
The flame catches along these tiny little spider veins and branches out in every direction. It doesn't last long, because the whisky burns fast, but it's enough for you to realize you've set ice on fire and it isn't even cracking. That kids' story in your head hops to another one you heard when you were young, back to those stories about Vikings and the ships that went places no one else dared go.
Viking hell was frozen solid.
Now you start to understand. Being so close to the goal... it's torment. You've somehow left the mortal world and ended up in Purgatory, on the outer edge of madness. You're Sisyphus and the journey's your stone.
The fires go all night, as one after another of your companions take a turn burning the ice, but not you. You know better than to disturb the things a human mind can't comprehend; you know to wait it out because the places beyond don't keep those who know enough to realize they've crossed the border. When your chance comes, you'll be one of those who makes it out.
You don't grumble or complain when you pack up your things, and turn back. It's a tense morning while the others argue about what to take and what to leave. They say it's a waste to abandon the liquor, but you speak up, finally. You say it's best to leave it for what it was intended. It's meant for those who reach the end, so they can celebrate, and none of you are going on. It's bad luck to take it back.
"Bad luck" turns out to be the magic phrase that gets the others moving, and you wonder if they realized where you'd ended up, too. The quiet returns, and soon the only sound is the whoosh from your skis as you put hell behind you.
It actually makes you smile beneath your layered scarves and mask, where no one else can see it. You left them a little heat... maybe that'll count for something in the long run.
But... that doesn't mean I can't play with clip art, google images, and my photo-edit software. I've been in a mood to post a lot this week, so I thought I'd add another one to the list and let you in on how I approach making my totally-fake, wishful-thinking covers that would go on my books if it was up to me.
This one you've seen before, if you've read this blog for a while:
It's a fair reflection of the tone of the book, I think. There's the MC with her back turned to the darkened woods, inside a tunnel, with that spot of light at her hand. Arclight is literally about a world divided into light and darkness, so it fits. Even the girl's expression is perfect.
You may not be able to tell what it is in the tiny picture, but she's got the title "Premeditated" branded onto her arm in raised lettering. The guy beside her has the inverse branded into his, so they fit together like a macabre "best friends" set. Creepy, but perfect.
Wolf-Killer is obviously going for a "Little Red Riding Hood" parallel, and ideally, the title would be a scrimshaw on a bone knife held in front of her face, but there was no way to do that without drawing it off by hand, and... I was lazy.
This is how I see Blue:
It's a ghost story set around a tween boy, his little sister, and the entire community that exists on their street that no one can see other than her. I guess you'd call it a "boy book" because the boy's the main character, but I hope any kid could enjoy a story about finding your voice in a world that doesn't always want to listen. Even real kids can feel like ghosts from time to time.
And then there's Tamga:
It's totally different from any of the others. I like the semi-tribal motif and the tattoo-like birds. It took me a while to settle on a title for this one, and I previously had it tagged "Totem", but knew that wasn't the right connotation for the story. Someone suggested I look up Tamga instead, and it fits. This is a contemporary boy's story, but with a tiny bit of fantastic adventure dealing with the finding of an artifact.
Anyway, this is what I do when I need to step back from the actual writing part of writing. It actually helps me with things like theme and concept. I'm pretty sure I've said it before, but the 1st pages of each one of these are behind the tabs at the top of the page, if you want to take a peek.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Why yes, that is me with my hair Photoshopped pink. (And yes, I look rather miserable, but it's not because I detest pink. I was rather violently ill when I snapped this pic.) Apparently, I also rather like saying rather. I guess pink hair made me British.
My hair is hot pink for very good reason: Writer solidarity! Yay!
The ladies over at this fine blog got a bit of a surprise when their cover came back with the MC decked out with a pink do. Rather than cry in the mire of writerly woes, they decided to rock the pink. A few of their followers and blogger-buddies have joined them, by photoshopping their own hair in shades of pink, so I decided to see how I'd look with a new dye-job. Strangely enough, I think I like it...
Monday, February 14, 2011
So, in honor of those who need no fancy toys or video games to "find" something to entertain themselves:
Today I want to dance a dream
Open a window and ride on the rain
To catch a butterfly and fly to Saturn
And waltz on the rings in a star dust gown.
Today I want to munch a dream
Dive off my spoon and splash in my bowl
To brave sugary currents on chocolaty rings
And swim with marshmallow bears.
Today I want to gaze a dream
Slide down a rainbow and run through the sun
To fall with the snow in a balloon made of ice
And bounce on thundering clouds.
Today I want to dare a dream
Go on adventures in far away places
To spin on my globe and meet friends where it stops
And see things that I’ve never seen.
Today I want to play a dream
Visit a dream-house and drive my doll’s car
To swim with my fish in his big shiny bowl
And grow in my garden of flowers
Today I want to draw a dream
Climb on my pencil and gallop away
To paint all my fingers and all of my toes
And splash in watercolor puddles.
Tonight I want to dream a dream
Fly among stars with a cape made of wind
To wander and wonder in a colorful place
And play with my friends until dawn
Copyright -- Josin L. McQuein -- 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
When I talk about the near miss from my early query days, and the emails I sent out to editors for the big publishers, which resulted in requests from 2 of the "Big Six", Sphynx is who and what I'm referring to. He's the star of a picture book series I wrote when I was a teenager - one that was sadly not ready to be queried when I did it.
But, I'm not willing to give up on the little guy yet. He's tenacious, you see, and he'd never let me live it down. (He can't help it - before he was a purple-winged griffin, he was my seal point Manx, Katana :-P ) His story is no longer in rhyme, and at some point, hopefully, Sphynx will get his moment in the spotlight. (It's been 2-3 years since baby boy was on the query-go-round.)
I thought I'd show you some of the process I went through when creating this little guy and the world in which he lives.
Sphynx lives in a place called Maripu. I don't really remember where that came from other than it sounded like caribou and kids seem to find that a giggle-worthy word. There are several inhabitants of this place, but for Sphynx, the important ones are:
The House Turtle that totes his home around on its shell (and often gets lost so said house is never easy to find)
And "The Baker", which is the human Sphynx lives with.
The Baker, who is married, is a befuddled old man who can't tell the difference between a cook book and a magic book, so he consequently ends up as more of an incompetent wizard than a cake maker. He's as likely to have his dinner attack when he tries to conjure up some calamari as he is to get it onto plates.
(This picture is extremely rough - in the literal. It's concept art, and you can see the page crinkles at the top and the torn-off bottom, right corner.)
As you can see, Sphynx is a bit of a dreamer.
This is another concept piece where I was toying with those braided columns on either side as a unifying look for the pages. (Hey, I was a teenager. I thought I was supposed to draw the pictures, okay? I had no Internet access to tell me different back then.)
He's adventurous, and likes to explore the outside world... so long as the door's unlocked and he can get back inside.
And he's absolutely fearless in the face of imaginary enemies and bubble-monsters who attack from the cooking pot.
Anyway, the point of this long, silly, and somewhat self-indulgent post is to let others see my baby in the light of day. Hopefully, he'll get a life in print, but if not, my favorite little guy will at least have been seen by all of you.
I'm curious as to what you non-editor types think of Sphynx, and his associated players.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
So, we're all familiar with the nervous jolt that comes from putting ourselves out there, right? We write our hearts out, whittle our opuses down to those less than 300 word blurbs and send them off. Maybe they strike a chord with agents, maybe they don't. It's subjective, and all that...
I'm in a slightly different boat at the moment.
Some of you may remember the post I put up about my YA Contemporary WIP "Premeditated" and how it was one of the queries featured on Query Shark. I'd subbed the query to LaShark to see if the unconventional structure was off-putting or intriguing. She voted for intriguing.
I thought "Great! When the MS is ready to go, then I'll have something that can grab agents' attention! Woo Hoo!" There was much confetti tossing in my head (as real confetti tossing tends to get my laptop gummy).
Then something (wonderfully) strange happened: I got a read request. Without querying.
I thought "This is cool!" (Yes, my thoughts are usually marked by overuse of parentheses and exclamation points; you get used to it.)
The requests keep coming, including interest from an editor. At least one of the agents in question is someone I hadn't thought about querying before. (I do the obligatory Googlefu on the ones I don't recognize by name.)
Now, I'm in the place where I know people are intrigued (so there's no excusing a "no" as lack of interest... *meep*...) and I feel like I'm on a deadline to get the changes finished before their interest wanes. (*double meep*)
I still haven't queried it (It's getting a face lift because one of the background characters slapped me upside the head and told me I was an idiot for the way I resolved her storyline.) And................ (*deep breath*) Premeditated was my "back up" WIP that I intended to finish after Arclight.
It's nerve-wracking and terrifying and (surprisingly) still awesome. I may even be freaking out just a little.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
To that end, I did a (hopefully) Silverstein-ish bit of silliness. It was fun, and I may make a habit of posting similar little ficlets.
Who slid, and slid, and slid, and slid.
He slid down the stairs, and on out the door,
Crossed his front lawn, and then slid some more.
He slid down to Main Street, past the stop sign,
Passed Maple and Elmwood, still doing fine.
But between going zoom, and practicing loops,
He thought about something that made him say, "Oops".
It was a biggish big deal, like some kid mistakes -
When building his slider, he didn't build brakes.
So Livingston's sliding with no way to stop.
He's seen the world's bottom, right up to its top.
He's seen mountains and oceans, a city called Gnome,
And hopes someday soon he can slide his way home.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Vanity publishing = an American Idol cattle call
You get a stadium with 30,000 hopefuls who parade in and do what they think is their best.
- Some seem confused.
- Some are off-key.
- Some bring props and just want to hang out with the judges.
- Some are monumentally tone deaf.
- Most are in an "okay" middle ground where they can carry a tune, if they're singing along in a car, but they're not at a level someone would pay to hear.
- A precious few are so talented, they make your soul bleed out your eyes for the privilege of hearing them.
Now, imagine that someone was recording every single track used to audition with the intent of throwing them up into an "American Idol Sound Store" at the end of the audition so the listening audience could purchase the ones they want for 99cents a pop.
Sounds cool, right? All those unknowns with a huge audience, and they're all - technically - American Idol Recording Artists. But here's the catch... there are 30,000 of them. PER CITY.
We see less than 100 people on each episode of the audition shows, and of those less than half are someone you'd want to listen to without threat to your home or person involved. 20-30 make the cut to go on and *maybe* make it to the actual show.
They're an auditory slush pile.
You might dive into the AI Sound Store with high hopes, struggling to find that one gem you know is buried in the list, but after hearing the same 6, garbled, off-key songs mutilated in new and horrifying ways, what are the chances you're going to spend anymore time (or money) looking deeper?
THAT's the vanity publishing the public sees.
Your book may be life-changing and beautiful and full of prose that could melt marble with its magnificence, but after the 17th rehash/mash-up/blatant rip-off of [insert best seller with new character names] and the 32nd fantasy novel that reads like a prescription catalog threw up on Tolkein, and the 29th volume of poetry a 2nd grader could tell is terrible... no one wants to read any further to find your amazing story.
It doesn't matter that YOU are great. It matters that THEIR experience with vanity published books wasn't. Potential readers will assume that you fall into the majority, not the exceptions.
Generally, commercial books that are backed by a publisher meet certain standards before being published. The reputation of that publisher speaks for their books just like the reputation of vanity publishers speaks for theirs.
Yes, the guy in the chicken suit playing the backward accordion on stilts and whichever hopeful wins at the end of the show both performed on American Idol, but it's not enough just to show up for the cattle call.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Something strange is afoot! The sky has turned an angry red, thunder rumbles overhead, and a nasty mix of rain, sleet, snow and just plain yelch is coming down. We've got wind blowing ice across the road, all the freezing rain we've had falling since the early hours is turning the roads into black ice....
In short, it feels like the beginning of a story.
Seriously. I look out the front door this morning, and after being blown back into my house by a frigid gust of wind, I changed tactics and peeked out the window. The street was deserted and frozen over. The only sound was the weather, and there was this odd glow where the streetlights were refracting in interesting ways through the precipitation.
(Which reminds me - Hello, Nature? You seem to be turned around. This is Texas, Sweetie, we don't do frigid. kthxbai.)
And THUNDERSNOW! Nothing's stranger than thundersnow!
There's a perfect setting for a creepy dystopian right outside my house.