What We Remember

Monday, May 30, 2011

3 Chiming In
Time to make my traditional Memorial Day post:

I come from a family where military service is common.

My paternal grandfather was in the Army; WWII - Africa, where he survived a sniper attack. The sniper was trained to shoot at night by targeting cigarette glow, assuming the cig would be in someone's mouth. My grandfather happened to be holding his in his hand, which is what was hit.

My maternal great uncle was a Marine; WWII; Okinawa - 18 years old and he lost his leg above the knee because he threw his body on top of a grenade to save his friends. It cost him a kidney and he came home full of shrapnel. He only made it home at all because a general in the area thought he was a dead man and gave up his seat on the chopper so he wouldn't die there. He had horror stories of Naha City of the most literal kind.

His brother was Army Corps. of Engineers; Korea - they built what needed to be built when and where it needed to built whether it was possible or not.

My father tried to join every branch, but the combination of color blindness and flat feet excluded him. His brother was Navy.

My maternal grandfather was one that worked for the guys making the equipment at General Dynamics; Ft. Worth. (I have a piece of the original test model for the chimp capsule he helped design the insulation for. They called it a "space sandwich.)

My paternal grandmother was an Army WAC; WWII.

And most recently, my cousin did 3 tours in Iraq with the Marines.

Thankfully they all survived their service. Others didn't, and today marks the time we honor that as well as the reasons those who didn't make it back died. It's easy to say Freedom isn't Free, but their sacrifice deserve more than that. There are as many reasons as there are fallen soldiers, but I'll focus on the big 10.

1. It's thanks to the men and women who serve that you don't have to hold your church services or Seders in darkened basements, and you can take out your prayer rug and bow to the east. That whatever icons are important to your religion can be displayed with pride instead of hidden in fear or made a source of shame. Thanks to them, Christmas trees and menorahs can be lit bright in the window and those who participate in the Festival of Color can enjoy their day. No one's forced to eat during Ramadan for fear of being discovered. You can wear a head scarf, but can't be forced to sew a Star-of-David on your coat. That's freedom of religion.

It's thanks to the men and women who serve that our news comes from different outlets and different angles and isn't stamped "Approved Government News". We don't have someone looming over our shoulders to make sure we don't find out what's going on in another part of the world or cleaning up opinions of our leaders. We don't notices telling us not to worry about hurricane season or flooding because our leaders took care of that problem or warning us to ignore "propaganda" that exposes short comings that could impact the public. And you don't have to register every moment on line so someone knows where you look and what you say. That's freedom of the press.

It's thanks to the men and women who serve that we can gather together in peaceful protest and shout with a louder voice than we'd able to use on our own. We can get attention directed to the people who have no voice of their own at all and keep the spotlight on those trying to hide things that shouldn't be covered up. That's freedom of assembly.

It's thanks to the men and women who serve that you know who represents you in government and that you know where they stand on what issue. You can get together with like minded individuals and bring your wants and needs to them, and if they don't act the way you think they should, you can tell them your vote's going elsewhere in the next election. That's your right to petition.

2. Even though most of us will never have to use a weapon to defend our home, family or person, the men and women who serve do so to make sure that the right is there if you need it. That's the right to bear arms.

3. Those who serve do so to ensure that your home is your home and not a convenient place to park the local reserves. You have a right to a locked door that can't be breached because a person in uniform wants to use or abuse your property, family or person. That's the right not to quarter.

4. Those who serve do so to ensure you have a right to what's yours and a right to tell others that what's yours is none of their business. You have a right to security and privacy in your own home, and a right to keep what belongs to you in whatever legal manner you choose inside your own space. That's the right of no illegal search and seizure.

5. Those who serve do so to ensure your right to keep your mouth shut. Government officials can't force or coerce you to say you've done something wrong, nor can they put those words in your mouth. They don't have the right to write your confession and have you sign it or take what's yours just because they want it. They have to compensate you. That's the right not to self-incriminate.

6. Those who serve do so to ensure that you aren't shuffled off in the middle of the night never to be seen or heard from again. They make sure that you get a trial where your voice can be heard and your face can be seen, where friends or enemies can speak on your behalf and where your fate is decided by those of your own station rather than an arbitrary decision by someone in authority. That's your right to trial by jury.

7. Those who serve do so to ensure that rights to trial don't only apply to criminal cases. They make sure that your property and business gets a chance to make their case in court with facts to support your side being presented. That's your right to civil trial by jury.

8. Those who serve do so to make sure that no official body throws a child in jail for life for stealing a meal or beats someone to death in the street as punishment. They ensure that the perpetrator of a crime is the sole recipient of the punishment, and that his/her children and spouse aren't jailed as well. They ensure that torture isn't a penalty assigned by the court and that no force to engage in the practice has the right to operate. That's your right not to have cruel and unusual punishment.

9. Those who serve do so to ensure fancy words and regulations don't outsmart common sense. That's your right retain rights not specifically listed.

10. Those who serve do so to ensure the republic remembers that it's made of many parts and that those parts have rights, too. They ensure the states remember that they are made of many people and that those people have rights, too. No right of one entity can exclude another from its rights. That's the right of state and person.


Most people know about the Bill of Rights, few can tell you what they say beyond "Pleading the 5th" or freedom of press/religion. But every one of those rights was bought and paid for with blood of men and women who died believing they were worth protecting for their families and children and friends and strangers. Every right and privilege you overlook is a death in vain because you can't exercise rights you don't know you have.

Those red stripes aren't just representative of the colonies that started this country; they're a tribute to the blood spilled to birth it and used as the ink to write the contract with its citizens.

Remember those who gave more than their fair share to make sure your got yours, and remember the gift they gave you. They don't deserve to be forgotten.

Happy Memorial Day.

How long from Idea to Novel?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

3 Chiming In
As I sit here doing revisions on Arclight (read: procrastinate), I started thinking of blog post material (Yes, I'll get back to the ABC's... eventually.) So, to continue on with the current dance fest from getting an agent, I thought I'd tell you something about the process that surprised me.

Every single agent I spoke with asked me the same question: Where did you get the idea for the novel?

It's a generic and obvious question, but it was still one I never considered being asked. (I don't know why; I stopped trying to make sense out of my brain a long time ago. Life's happier that way.)

They also all had very near the same reaction to my answer - surprise.

You see, I wrote Arclight when I was 17 (18?).

Way back when I had just gotten my very first computer, this idea bloomed that I wanted to be a screenwriter. So, shiny new computer on desk and screenwriting software in the optical drive, I hammered out four screenplays. (Three and 1/2 but I won't tell if you won't.)

Untouchable was a contemporary soft sci-fi story about people on the run from a gov't agency because they had all been bio-engineered as poison carriers. They could make people sick or even kill with a touch. The organization's crowning achievement was a little girl meant to be the "perfect" assassin, so the only one of the test subject who had yet to "trigger" (become lethal) ran with her. They got picked up on the highway by a trucker who thought they were running from an abusive father and taken to his friend who ran a battered women's shelter. The other subjects committed mass suicide rather than allow themselves to be used as weapons and the agency was left with no option but to pursue this little girl cross country.

Kat Burglars; Inc. was a sort Alias meets Heathers with a cast of characters who had names which were all variations on "Katherine". Katherine, Kitty, Katie, Kate and Katya. They were a mod squad sort of group who had been retired and were having to come back together after the death of one of their members put their current assumed lives in danger. It was what I think Charlie's Angels would be if it was a more serious story rather than slapstick.

Echo, which I swear I'm going to novelize one of these days, was another contemporary sci-fi, but based around time travel. It was also a murder mystery and ghost story unlike any you've ever seen. I'm being vague on purpose, because I don't want to give the twists away if I do get to novelize it... maybe NaNo this year.

And then there was Ouroboros, the screenplay that would become Arclight.

At its inception, Ouroboros (the name of the spaceship where the story was set) was a space opera built around the conceit that aliens exists and had been cooperating with humans for decades while the general population was unaware. There were twin space stations - one in the desert (Gaia) and one on the moon (Luna). The people who lived on Luna had never been on earth and had a sort of inborn prejudice against "EB's" or the "Earth Bound". It was very much not a YA story, with all the characters being adults, and ironically the character who knew the most in Ouroboros became the girl who knows nothing in Arclight. I *loved* this story; I even wrote two sequels, the second of which has sadly disappeared from existence as far as I can tell.

I even designed the aliens and their culture and their socio-economic climate, and about a dozen other things that normal 17-18 year old girls weren't doing.

Then the reality of having people in the family who needed constant care set in. I put the screenplays (and the horrendous 130 some-odd page MG story I'd written) away and decided they were dreams rather than reality.

Fast forward a few years to 2007-2008 when I wrote a vampire novel. I didn't know vampires had hit HUGE. I didn't even know Twilight was about vampires until the first movie spots aired. I've had a softspot for vampires since I was a kid, so it was only natural that my first "real" book be about bloodsuckers.

I polished, I queried, I got numerous requests. I even did a revise/resubmit, but realized that 1 - the market was bloated and 2 - my heart wasn't in it the way it should have been. So, I scrapped vampires and thought "Ah ha! No one's writing zombies..."

I hammered out a bit of what would become Arclight and let someone see the opening. They said "This sounds like The Forest of Hands and Teeth".

I was crushed. I had just starting hearing that there was a new zombie book due to come out soon, but I refused to read it for fear of being influenced by it.

It was very tempting to just pack it in and give up there. But then I remembered those screenplays I had stuck in the metaphorical drawer way back when. I located (on floppy disk, no less) the files I had saved, bought a floppy reader to plug into my computer and discovered that I had lost very little data to storage for so long. After transferring every floppy file I could find, I began strip-mining bits of Ouroboros and bits of the zombie book and melding them together into what would become Arclight. Which leaves me with a darkish and pleasantly creepy sci-fi story for Young Adults.

So, how long does it take to go from Idea to Novel? If my idea was a child it would be a moody teenager about now. :-P

The vampire book took less than three months.

And that, my friends, is the point. There is no answer to that question other than the one specific to the book you're currently writing. Ouroboros took me maybe a week. The zombie book was into about it's second or third month when I shifted gears. The mash-up took about a year, if I remove the six months life butted in and I didn't write a word.

(I do believe this may be the world record for saying "it depends".)

Agented!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

44 Chiming In
Last night I accepted Suzie Townsend's (Fine Print Lit.) offer of representation. She's sending me actual stuff to read and sign, so I'm taking that as official enough to make a blog post.

Now we dance, yes?



Okay, enough of that. People are watching! (Seriously, the things some people do in public...)

For those of you who are interested, here's the timeline:

4/21


I sent out queries (Stupidly, I might add, as it was right before Easter, but of course I missed that detail.) Those of you who read this blog will probably be surprised to know that it wasn't Premeditated I queried, but Arclight. I decided to go with the one that had series potential first.

4/23


Suzie asked for the full manuscript, which I sent, and I got an email stating that it would probably be 60 days before I heard back because she's got a lot to read. It sounds awful, but that's like a hiccup in publishing years.

4/28

I get an email saying she'd checked out Arclight on a break and she was loving it.

5/14

Suzie, who is officially the awesomest agent alive for giving feedback to someone she didn't even rep, said she had some thoughts on Arclight. She sent me FOUR PAGES!

5/16

Suzie says she's been stuck in the world of Arclight all weekend and asks if she can call me. (This didn't require much thought on my part, but it did look something like this post from Teherah Mafi. Just substitute "call" for "full request".)

5/17

THE CALL!!!!!!!!

Suzie called. I answered. I hopefully did not sound like an idiot.

She offered representation, so I went and emailed all of the other agents who either had fulls, partials or queries. I ended up with an avalanche of requests and a few who backed out because they couldn't read it within a week. (FYI, the week before BEA is not the best time to ask agents to read quickly...)

For the next week, I talked by email with agents and spoke to them on the phone, and in the end... there was no contest. Suzie was the best choice for me. Which leads me to:

5/24

I accepted Suzie's offer of representation! I'm officially agented.

YAY!!!!

So, all in all, not a bad run from query to offer to acceptance. Just a few days over a month.

Now, we dance. Again.



(All right, that's enough. Knock it off so I can go back to revising already!)

7 Query/Agent Myths I Can Officially Bust

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

14 Chiming In
Since it is functionally impossible for me to concentrate at the moment, I thought I might do a little post on "Those Things" we're all told when we get ready to query (or, even from the time we decide to write an actual book). These are those "known facts" facts that somehow even people who know nothing about writing a book (other than they're fairly certain words are involved) will rattle off like a Pavlovian bark the instant someone mentions hoping to make a go of writing.

#1 - Only those with connections can hope to get an agent's attention. The rest of us are out of luck.

I live on the backside of beyond in a town no one has heard of (unless you're a fan of obscure movie facts and know what mid-80's film was shot here that I might have been an extra in while wearing footie PJ's and toting a pillow...) I have NO contacts. Until four years ago, I had NO internet access. I'd tried, once, to get an email account using a public computer at the library in slightly less minuscule town where I used to live. (If you watch Lifetime movies of the week, that town you will have heard of.) I started from scratch, armed only with Google.

#2 - Agents don't actually read anything they're sent; they just hit auto-reject. (Assuming they can be bothered to reply at all.)

They read. Some skim; some devour, but they definitely read. I've gotten personalized rejections that were obvious cut and paste jobs (not complaining), and those that were a few paragraphs of what the agent in question did and didn't think worked. The first agent who offered representation sent me pages of notes and suggestions on plot elements and pacing; her clients, (whom I may or may not be forum stalking at AW) say she's even more devoted to the people she reps. So yeah, agents read.

#3 - No agent wants to take a risk on a new writer

All writers are new at some point, which means that every one of their agents took a risk on them. I haven't had a single response with the words "Not interested in writers not already published.

#4 - If you don't have a million followers / Twitter friends / people who like you, you can forget catching an agent's attention. (Likewise: If you haven't self-published and sold 100K copies, then no one likes you.)

*looks at follower count*
*falls in floor laughing*

Unless Blogger's hiding a few zeroes from the total, I have around 200 followers as of this post. I can't even say for certain they all like me. :-P

#5 - Never use a pen name.


*snerk*

I'm fairly sure I've mentioned this, but "Josin" is a modified nick name, and not my legal name. It came from my teenage dream of being a screenwriter and having people tell me that obviously female names could make things a harder sell. My legal name is that pesky "L" in the middle of the URL up there. What little on-line presence I have has been done under my pen name, so it would be silly for me not to include it.

#6 - Agents all have some kind of God-complex and like to dash writers' dreams

When I sent out emails yesterday to inform those agents still considering my MS, every responder that didn't say they were bumping the MS up in their reading queue to see if it was something they'd like to consider offered congratulations and a very polite bow out. Some of those responses were more excited that the read requests themselves.

One agent in particular asked who the offering agent was. When I told her, she answered back again - relieved - because she had wanted to make sure the agent wasn't a scam artist. (Quick turnaround on a read can be a red flag.) She said, had the agent been one of the bad ones, she'd have swooped in, but felt better bowing out knowing that the agent was legit and I'd be okay.

Agents love books, so by extension, they love the people who write books. They really do try to help as many as possible.

#7 - There are no magic words to make an agent read your MS.

*places tongue firmly in cheek*

"I have an offer of representation" seems to work pretty well, to me :-P

Riding the Query - Go - Round; Three Weeks In

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

36 Chiming In
As of this morning, I have an official offer of representation from a real agent-type-person. No details yet, but I'll share ASAP.

I would dance, but sadly, it would look like this:




mixed with this:






Only with less stylish clothes.

G is for...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

3 Chiming In
G is for Genre -- Do you write sci-fi? Romance? Fantasy? Contemporary? This is a question you need to ask yourself, and it's one you have to be able to answer with some degree of certainty. If you don't know where your book fits, then you won't know what its competition is. If you know its competition, then that should give you an idea of where your book fits in the market. At some point, someone is going to ask you to answer this question, and it's not something you can shrug off and let someone else figure out.

G is for Galleys -- Think of them as last minute proof copies of your book. At this point, everything should be ready to go, but you want to look over things one more time to make sure there aren't any glaring errors. Glaring error, in this case, meaning your MC underwent gender reassignment without your permission or that Tokyo is now in China for some inexplicable reason. This is NOT the time to decide you want to rewrite "that scene" in chapter four.

G is for Green -- Which is more eco-friendly - paper books or e-books? You'd think e-books, right? Well, the answer is actually... "maybe". While e-readers don't require paper (beyond the packaging they come in...), they do create tech-waste, which isn't at all eco-friendly. And since, like most tech, they're designed with obsolesce in mind, you can bet that, at some point, that e-reader on your night stand is going to be landing in a landfill somewhere.

G is for Green -- the other kind. While money may not be your primary motivation behind seeking publication, I think most people would agree that it's not a bad goal. The commercial viability of your novel (or book, if you write non-fic) is something to consider when deciding on a publishing path.

G is for Google that sh-- STUFF! (I was gonna say stuff, Mom, honest!) -- Seriously, Google is a great first step for seeking information, and it's basic enough that it can keep you from slipping into some serious rookie faux pas. Google agents. Google publishers. Google the places you write about. Google famous people. Google is a verb now; use it accordingly.

G is for Goosebumps -- something you will get when an agent says they like your writing and then asks if they can call you. Don't panic; this is not a rash and it's highly unlikely that you are allergic to the agent in question. Back away from the Benadryl.

G is for good, giddy, giggles, and goals --

Good enough is not a four letter word, but it can be much worse. If you're on a first draft, then, yes, you can get away with "good enough" to just get the story out of your head. But, when you get to the point that you're editing, never let yourself fall into the "good enough" trap by comparing your work to that of others who you find inferior, despite their published status. Maybe your "good enough" really is better than their book, but settling that way should never be good enough for you, yourself. Give it your best, or you might as well delete your book right now.

When you get compliments on your writing, don't get too giddy. Getting giddy often leads to a flare up in the idea that something;s "good enough" when it can, in fact, be better. Compliments are nice, but success is better. Don't flatter yourself into complacency.

It's okay to laugh at yourself and your lousy writing. Celebrate the cheesy dialogue. Glory in the cliched set-up. Get the Giggles, then use the endorphin boost to power through and fix it all.

Goals are great. Words/day. Chapters/week. Etc...etc...etc.... However, they're only great so long as they help you. Once they become a burden rather than a tool, you might need to reevaluate your system. Just because something worked yesterday or for your last project doesn't mean it still applies today.


Next time, H is for Heroes, Heroines, and Homophones...

Riding the Query - Go - Round; Two weeks in.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

8 Chiming In
I'm looking like this about now.



That is all.

F is for...

Monday, May 2, 2011

3 Chiming In


F is for First pages
-- First page, first paragraph, first word - they're all essential. More so than a random page in the story, in fact. If James Bowie were drawing his famous line in the sand across your book, the first page is where it would be. That's where you stand or fall when it comes to attracting readers. The cover may get them to pick your book up; the blurb on the back may get them open it, but the first words in which you introduce your world and your MC (and your plot if you can make the hat trick) is your shot to hook their attention and make them read the whole thing.

F is for Fresh voice -- No matter the era in which your book is set, it shouldn't read like Jane Austen wrote it. Or James Joyce. Or Charles Dickens. Or any of the other "classics" you read in high school (or at least watched the moves for). Times change, and readers change with them. One of the easiest ways to lose a reader is for the voice of the character not to be one they can relate to.

F is for Framing -- and I don't mean the frame we all know you're waiting to stick your first dust jacket into. (It's sitting empty on the desk next to the one for your first contract, or is that just me?) How is your story structured? Is a story within a story? Is it linear? Does it hopscotch around twenty different time periods? Framing a story is like framing a house ... make sure it's plumb or things are going to slide. Then the foundation will crack. Then the doors between areas won't work the way they're supposed to.

F is for Freakin' Friggin' Frakin' F-bombs
-- My usual, personal variation is actually 'frick'. It's a safe bet that were I to change it up and shorten that to four letters, nothing world-ending would happen, but why tempt fate? Just kidding - although I can't quite figure out how one would pronounce 'frck'. It looks a bit like one of those "Artist formerly known as..." names.

All of that is a lot of space-wasting for me to say this: Characters can curse, even if you don't. Characters don't have to curse, even if you do. The character, while a product of your imagination, is not you. Therefore, there is no need for them to speak like you if it isn't in character for them to do so. While it may sound natural for me to say 'frick', or for my 12 year-old girl character to do the same, were my character a 29 year-old Marine in combat, it would be... um... strange.

Cursing is fine in YA. (If you don't believe that, listen to your average high school kid). Like anything, it shouldn't be for the sake of "startle factor", but if your kid has a mouth, then he has a mouth. Really the only genres where it would get you instant rejections or even funny looks would be MG or picture books.

F is for Flashback -- Long ago, in a memory far, far away... Once up on a thing that happened before the story starts... When I was your age, you little whipper-snapper. Stories don't exist in a vacuum, and sometimes it's necessary to show what came before. If you can't do this through dialogue, then it's likely you'll need a flashback scene. They're not evil, but they can be tricky. Try and keep them clearly defined so the reader can tell which time period they're in. And, like anything else, make sure you really need the scene.

F is for fans, famous, forgettable and finished.

Fans are great. We all want them, right? Fans mean repeat business for sequels. YAY! However, fans also bring with them: Fan Expectations, Fan Favorites, Fan Art, Fan Fiction, and Fan groups/boards. All that writing you used to do for yourself, just got a lot more complicated. Now, you have the means to know that 62.9% of your readers want the heroine to choose the guy you intended to lose the tug-o-war. That toss-away character from chapters 7 and 19? She's got her own Yahoo group and her quirky style has unintentionally struck a cord with your core reader group... maybe you shouldn't kill her of after all. Did you know that two of your main characters were secretly engaging in an affair off the page? Did you know they were both of your male MC's? No? Well the fanficcers did... welcome to slash-fic. Fans change the game in ways you may not have thought about.

If you're writing to get Famous, then - yes, I'm laughing at you. Fame through writing is a slow crawl toward a very distant horizon. And you have weights on your legs. And it's a desert. And you have no water. And that buzzard over there's been tracking you for two days. Sure, you might find an oasis or some nice guy in an Army Jeep might give you a lift, but mostly... it's a desert and you're out of water. Aside from Stephen King, JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer and James Patterson, who have been on the TV in the last week, name me three writers you'd know on sight in a crowd. You may end up a known name, but I'm not sure I'd equate that with fame.

Forgettable is one of the worst words starting with F for a writer. If you don't stand out, if your book isn't distinct, if the characters don't sparkle (figuratively, in most cases) then you're going to find it difficult to build a following. That means it will be difficult to convince people that book 2 is worth their time and money. On the flip side, throw one mega-tantrum on-line and no one will ever forget you. Ever.

Finished is a great feeling. It's that moment you think you might want to do a handspring or twelve like Gomez Addams (hopefully followed by the moment you remember you weren't a gymnast and would rather not break both wrists and a leg or two). Finished is the moment of accomplishment.

Next time - G is for genre, galleys, green (as in eco-friendly, not cash :-P )