Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Courage

"Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one’s courage." ~ Anais Nin

 To add another quote:

"Dreaming is easy. Making it come true is hard." ~ Me

My courage with regard to writing and seeking publication is waning, to the point I’m near paralyzed.

What is this fear?

I know how close I am to achieving my dream of a published novel. After eight years of working and dreaming, can I handle its end? Can I let it go and jump to a different one? Am I now so inflexible I am unable to embrace change?

It’s not the fear of failure, but of success that leaves me breathless. It’s the end of a dream, like the burning of a thread-bare blanket that’s kept me warm and safe for so long. Although I know it’s necessary, I’m left feeling exposed in a dark, dreary world with no sense of direction.

I don’t want this dream to end, so I hold on to this imperfect, incomplete manuscript as long as I can.

At the same time, I defy God’s will. He didn’t push me to learn the craft of writing, urge me to write the stories burning in my mind and encourage me to keep going when I longed to give up so I can screech to a halt so close to the finish.

There are other dreams to dream, he tells me, other goals to accomplish. This journey may end, but another one is waiting for me around the bend.

Other fears with regard to publishing poke at me. There’s still no guarantee it will ever be published, it could flop to the point the publisher will wave a hearty goodbye, or it could succeed beyond my expectations. Will I be able to market it the way it should, will I be able to keep readers happy with the subsequent books, and will I be able to conceive of other books beyond those currently in my head?

So many questions, and no answers.

Only by completing this final task of editing and submitting it to publishers will I find those answers.

I need not allow my fears to overwhelm me, but push forward in spite of them. I must grab hold of 1 Timothy 1:7 "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."

Tough my book may fail, I cannot not fail God, because I did what he asked. Everything else will happen exactly as it should.

Stealing Ideas

Did you know we can’t copyright ideas?

Some people have tried to change that, but luckily it hasn’t passed muster in the courts or the copyright office. So far.

Could you imagine if someone copyrighted the idea of boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back?  That would mean 99% of the writers out there would have to contact the copyright owner for permission to use the idea, and pay a hefty fee for that permission.

I stole an idea recently (I asked the stealee for permission first, so technically it’s not stealing).

She created a page on her website called In the Queue (one of the strangest spelled words out there).

In it she lists her works in progress along with book covers. I figured I needed to do something similar to help motivate me to continue working on my own WIPs.

Although I still need to create book covers for my WIPs (something I’m really looking forward to), my page is up and running HERE.

If you like it, you’re welcome to steal the idea. 

Writing Strengths and Weaknesses

Based on the comments Maria and Jessica made (so far) on my previous entry, I considered once again my writing strengths and weaknesses.

As far as the big stuff goes, dialogue is my definite strength. I could write it all day long. Often I have to remind myself to stop and add details. I’m not writing a script.

Hence my weakness: description. It’s a balance between adding too much and not enough, and I haven’t quite figured out that balance yet.

There’s also the audience to consider. In general, female readers appreciate the details, where as male writers prefer to focus on the action.

I wrote a story and posted it in my online portfolio. For a high-action scene I wrote a spate of short, snappy sentences.

One reviewer (male) loved it.

One reviewer (female) hated it.

I thought the stark difference between them both funny and intriguing. I understood then the sometimes polar difference of opinion with regard to readers.

For authors writing books both female and male readers will enjoy is tough indeed. The only way to discover if we succeed is by sales, or asking as many people of our target audience to read and critique our manuscripts.

Something I need to do.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?

Using Flashbacks

Several days ago, Becky Levine wrote an entry about the use of flashbacks. They need to be used sparingly, and determining if one is necessary can be difficult.

She reminded me of the only flashback I wrote, located in book two of my TIP (Trilogy In Progress).

I planned to give a little background before showing you the excerpt, but after reading it I changed my mind. I want it judged as is. Plus, I think you’ll understand Zephyr’s feelings in the first sentence, and why I felt the flashback worked.

How about you? Does it work?

Even after the door shut, Zephyr couldn’t muster the courage to look at Kallie. As soon as he laid eyes on her, he wouldn’t see the scared and likely angry grown woman, but the sweet, vivacious little girl he had known before the Center turned her into a killer.

He turned away as he remembered one day when she ran into his lab at the age of six. She squealed with joy as the bright, red-headed boy chased after her. She leapt into Zephyr’s outstretched arms and yelled, “Safe!”

Little Michel tried to grab her ankle and pull her down, but Zephyr held Kallie out of reach. She giggled.

“Sorry, Michel,” Zephyr said, “but she called ‘safe.’”

Jutting out his chin and the very definition of quiet confidence Michel quipped, “You have to come down sometime.”

The boy then sauntered outside as if he no longer wanted to play this silly game, but Zephyr knew he only went around the corner to catch Kallie as she left the lab.

By the smile and gleam in her eye, she knew it too.

“Thanks for saving me,” she said. She kissed his cheek before he let her down.

Zephyr watched as Kallie fled the lab. She ran barely fast enough to remain out of Michel’s grasp. Their taunts and laughter echoed through the hallway as the chase continued.

“I can’t save you this time,” Zephyr whispered as he rubbed his cheek where Kallie had planted that kiss so many years ago.

From the Mind of an Editor

For writers to succeed, they must dig deep into minds foreign to their own.

The reader wants to feel the pain of a nine-year old boy who loses his family in an instant of fire, understand the turmoil of a emotionally scarred woman forced to trust a man who toppled a building and killed many of her friends, and yes, feel some empathy for a sadist who seeks to control people’s lives because he cannot control his own.

Whether or not I succeeded with the above characters, time will tell.

This sensitivity to others is crucial in finding an agent or publisher. I could complain and lament how they’re against me every time I receive a rejection slip, or just when I think a publisher will accept my genre, I read the words: "no science fiction" or "not accepting new clients at this time."

It’s a conspiracy, I tell ya!

I’m not writing and editing my manuscripts like I should. I’m "wasting" my time catching up on reading, and writing entries in this blog. 

One book I picked up again after reading it once about five years ago is "The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers" by Betsy Lerner.

I wanted to read it again, because I need to re-learn what life is like for an editor. If you thought writing wears a person out, try being an editor.

But that’s Part II of the book. The first part, Betsy describes six types of writers:

  1. The Ambivalent Writer
  2. The Natural
  3. The Wicked Child
  4. The Self-Promoter
  5. The Neurotic
  6. Touching Fire

I’m not revealing the kind of writer I am. You’ll have to guess. Ha! I tell ya, it’s quite illuminating. Yet Betsy describes writers and editors with compassion, irony and humor. You won’t feel preached at or torn down if you see yourself described in her pages.

Writers, in general, are a self-absorbed lot. It’s part of being a writer, I think. We wrap so much of who we are in every word we pen or type, they become our children. It’s no wonder when an article or book is rejected, we take it personal.

Publishing is a business. Editors and agents stand between the writer and the reader, making sure they give the readers what they want. That means having to reject manuscripts that don’t meet their standards of writing, genre or storyline. 

We could see each rejection as another nail in our writing career coffin, or use it as an opportunity to improve our manuscript — and our approach to publishers and agents.

I need to squelch my ego, and write my query letters and proposals with the eye of an over-worked editor who’s looking for that one gem in a mountain of manuscripts and query letters. That means following their guidelines as closely as I can, and write my queries with understanding and empathy — in as few words as possible. Their time is no less precious than mine.

Another desire of an editor is a writer who heeds an editor’s advice (although there is always room for debate). 

Writers sometimes see harsh critiques the same way as telling a parent their child is ugly. When I think like this I remember a piece of advice I read a few years back. I wish I remembered who wrote it and where so I could give proper appreciation. Because I’m going off memory, it’s paraphrased:

"When an editor tears apart your writing — your baby — you see a person grabbing the little one and slashing it with a knife. Your first instinct is to rescue the child and attack the person who dared try to destroy what you created. That’s not it at all. An editor is merely taking your child in his or her arms to give it a bath, put on a clean diaper, and dress it up to make it more presentable."

Premio Dardos Award & Proximade Award

This (sometimes) humble blog has been given TWO blog awards!

The first is the Premio Dardos Award, from WordVessel by Cathy Bryant

What is the Premio Dardos Award? Premio Dardos means “prize darts” in Spanish. It is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing.

Here are some rules to be followed if you choose to participate in passing this blog award on to others:

• First, accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and link to her blog.

• Second pass the award to another 15 blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

Here are my choices (in no particular order), which I picked on the above qualifications and from the blogs I follow:

Amy Deardon

LK Hunsaker

Karla Kassebaum

Jessica Thomas

Misty Marquardt

Brandon Barr

Billy Coffey

Becky Levine

Unfortunately, since I’m relatively new to this blogging scene, I can only come up with eight.

However, if you can think of someone – or more – that deserves this award, please add it as a comment, and I’ll update my list. Thanks!

My thanks to Cathy again for giving my blog the Proximidade Award:

"This blog invests and believes in the Proximity – nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

Again, since I’m new around here, please see the list above.

My thanks to Cathy for the awards, and to the above bloggers for teaching me about themselves, the craft of writing, and the importance of keeping faith in Christ. They deserve the awards, so if you haven’t visited them yet, please do!

Tomorrow: From the Mind of an Editor

A Small Mea Culpa, and More on Researching.

When we spill our words on an internet page, we risk offending someone, or proving our ignorance on a specific subject. With a blog, we many times know right away if we made a boo-boo.

I knew even as I typed my previous entry, I may not have been entirely correct in my assessment. After all, I don’t have a publisher or agent, and as such have yet to see my book on any bookshelf.

I still have much to learn in this publishing game.

The best part is when someone comes along to learn me a thing or two. Misty kindly showed me the error of my judgment by commenting in my last entry. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. 

It makes me want to turn my blog over to someone who actually knows something. Ha!

So, with that out of the way, let’s hope I can offer something better with this entry.

When researching agents and publishers, I use multiple resources. Picking one and sticking with it will not guarantee the publishers listed are reputable. These lists are so large, the compilers can’t track all of them all of the time, although overall they do an excellent job.

It’s similar to journalists checking out multiple (at least three) sources before they write an article.

I frequent the following websites:

Writersmarket.com. A yearly subscription costs the same as the book at $44.95. If that’s too steep, they offer a monthly subscription at $5.99. Right now they’re offering a 7-day free trial. I prefer the website, because it’s updated more frequently. If an address, phone number, or name of an editor changes, or if a company goes under, the listing is changed. You can also search with multiple criteria such as by state, if they have a website, and if they will accept — for example — science fiction and religious, but not westerns. It sure beats flipping through 1,000+ pages of a book. The website has other features such as bookmarking listings, and keeping track of manuscript submissions and query letters.

Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. Kara suggested in entry "I Found it . . . Not" to search books in my genre and make note of the publishers. Amazon allows searching by publisher, so I can count how many books they’ve published. I check the books’ rankings as well. If they’re consistently low numbers, then the books are selling well. It helps to compare the numbers side-to-side with Barnes and Noble. For researching agents, Kara also suggested reading the acknowledgments, because the author often thanks their agent by name. Both websites have a "Look Inside" feature for many of their books.

Writer Beware Blogs: This blog writes about potential scams and dubious practices of agents and publishers. A definite must-read, because it not only shows what companies to avoid, but gives examples of what to look for when researching publishers and agents.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has a lot of resources available to writers including a Writer Beware page.

Do you know of any websites and other resources for researching publishers and agents?

Will You be My Publisher? Next!

As a writer seeking publication, if I am to gain the positive attention to an agent or editor, the first five pages — at least — must be flawless.

I think the same holds true for agents and publishers. 

Writers shouldn’t merely want to be published, but to choose the best publisher and/or agent best suited for their wordy children. It’s a partnership.

I certainly won’t give my manuscript to just anyone with literary credentials. When I peruse a potential publisher’s website, I study the professional look of the site, if it’s easy to read and navigate, and what books they’ve published.

If the books show sub-standard covers such as the use of clipart (and I could show you some doozies), and poorly described back-cover copy, I hop to the next publisher on my list.

Most important is how well-written the site is, and if there are any grammar or spelling mistakes.

One publisher I looked at contained a spelling error on the first page (I kid you not). In another publisher’s submission page, I found an error a few paragraphs before they described their dedication to thorough editing.

This from people who stress the importance of an error-free submission.

I don’t care if the publisher is a larger house or a smaller one; their website must be flawless. In fact, I think it’s more crucial for a smaller publisher, because writers prefer the larger houses — as do most readers. Like it or not, there’s a stigma attached to smaller publishing houses just as there is with self-published writers. Therefore, smaller houses need to present themselves as above average to get people’s attention. 

These publishers are likely reputable and could be a good fit for my manuscript.

However, if they can’t take special care of their website, how can I be certain they will take special care of me and my novels?

Next!

Tomorrow: What else to look for in a publisher.