Monday, July 30, 2012

Another Month

It's the end of another month, and that means it's time to fire off some more queries for Parallel Lives.

When I sent out my first batch of queries in April, I admit that I sent one to an agent who was:

  1. Notoriously fast
  2. Known to always responds
  3. Unlikely to represent me

It's important to note that I was not wasting her time. She represents my genre, and I would have been happy to have her as an agent if things had broken that way. But she works with a small, exclusive list, primarily of previously-published authors. While she takes on new clients, she doesn't take many. I figured it was a win-win: if she really liked it, great; if not, there's my baptism by fire. I thought it was important to experience rejection early, start hardening the proverbial skin. Five hours later, I had my first rejection, and that was good. It didn't really hurt, not at all.

Tougher was the rejection I got on Mother. Write. (Repeat.). Tougher, because it was public; tougher, because I got to see what the agent thought about it. Which is to say, not much. It hurt much more than a 'Dear author, thanks for you submission, but I'm not going to represent you, good luck', but it was also instructive, and got me on the query revision bandwagon.

Tougher than that, though, was what came in two weeks ago: my first rejection on a full. It came with a nice note, a very pleasant note, but it was obviously not what I wanted to see. This was one of the top agents on my list, someone I thought (and still think) I'd love to work with. The note was nice, but it wasn't a 'consider fixing this, this, and this, send it back, and we'll see.'

My reaction wasn't quite what I expected. I thought it would be a gut punch, like the time I got a call at work informing me that a close friend had been killed in a car accident. That was a gut punch moment, a 'you'd better sit down' moment, the sort of thing you read about in books but hopefully never have to experience. This rejection hurt, yes, it was a disappointment, but it was not a gut punch. I put a pretty good face on it, and moved on, but I think it may have worked its way into my brain and manifested itself in some of my negativity over the last two weeks of posting here.

So, there's still a full out there, with a fantastic agent, which will hit the three-month mark on Wednesday. There are still seven unanswered queries hanging around agent inboxes, and in the next few days they will be joined by another batch. One of them will hit the right person at the right time. As Bob Dylan said, "the only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keeping on like a bird that flew".

Enjoy the week. And thanks, Nancy, for the awards! I'll really think about doing them, really!

Friday, July 27, 2012


If someone doesn't like your book and gives you a crappy review, it doesn't make them a bully. Even if they resort to personal insult and load up on the snark.

If an author responds to your review with comments of their own, they're not a bully. Even if they resort to personal insult and load up on the snark.

Not every disagreement is bullying. Not every insult is bullying. Not everyone making 'mean' comments is a bully.

Stop throwing the word around. Stop using it as a way to stake some imagined moral high ground. Stop trying to use it like it's a bullet-proof vest. You do a disservice to the real victims of real bullying. Learn the difference.


On another news flashie note, big congratulations are in order to Cassie Mae and Donna Hosie for landing agents, and to Otin, who announced not one, but two book deals recently! Congrats! Sorry if I missed any other big news this week, I've been in blog scanning mode rather than serious reading. Have a great weekend, all.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Authors Behaving Badly

"What happens to me is that I seize upon an issue in the news—the issue is the moral/philosophical, political/intellectual equivalent of a cheeseburger with everything on it; but for the duration of my interest in it, all my other interests are consumed by it, and whatever appetites and capacities I may have had for detachment and reflection are suddenly subordinate to this cheeseburger in my life!"--John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

There's a thread over at Absolute Write that could be titled 'Authors Behaving Badly.' I want to look away, but God help me, I can't, I'm drawn to it like a moth to a streetlamp. I read it and follow links to the sordid underbelly of author behavior. In the last couple of weeks, I've seen one author liken bad reviews (from fellow authors only; they seem to be okay coming from readers) to bad behavior that must be 'punished'. He responded to a two-star review of his book (and it was actually pretty positive, for a two-star review) by giving her one star, without even reading her book. We've seen two or more authors band together and form a website designed to unmask so-called gangs of Goodreads bully reviewers who are apparently conspiring to humiliate writers; and, also from the world of Goodreads, there was a meltdown of epic proportions this very weekend, with the author outing himself as seriously unstable at best, and potentially dangerous at worst. In his case, he tried to disguise the real issue—revenge over a relationship gone sour—with a diatribe against book reviewers.

And me? I read it all. I don't have a Goodreads account, yet I waded through GR blog posts and hundreds of comments over two days. I couldn't help myself. Like John Wheelwright in A Prayer for Owen Meany, I found my cheeseburger and couldn't stop eating it.

I don't feel good about this, either for what it says about me (and the hundreds of AW'ers who take an almost-unhealthy pleasure in these meltdowns) or about the authors in question, who respond to any sort of negativity with a stomp reflex. I'm going to try to stay away from it in the future. Really, I am.

While I will try to keep out of those threads (or at least not follow the links all over the blogosphere), I'm not done with this topic. There are a lot of issues to explore wrapped up in this. It's just not firm enough in my mind right now for me to really state where I'm at, except that I really need to stop reading these threads. Only now, I can't--I have some research to do.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Enough Already

Earlier in the week I started working on today's post, which was going to be about some of the anger and stupidity floating around between authors and reviewers, because it seems like there's been, as Pink Floyd said, "A lot of it about", especially in the last two weeks.

And then I came downstairs this morning, put on my coffee, and before I've even had the chance to drink a cup, I see this headline on my homepage:
14 Dead After Shooting during 'Dark Knight' Screening in Aurora, Colorado
And I've got nothing to say about anything right now, except my heart goes out to the victims and their families, to everyone in the theater at the time, and to the family and friends of the person or people who committed this disgusting and horrific act.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Musical Monday: Rain

It's funny how a thing like drought can occur. Back in April, after a short burst of very warm, dry weather, we got two, three weeks of frequent rain such that I wasn't able to cut the grass until it was almost too high for the mower. By June we're watching films and seeing pictures of wildfires across the country, and here in July, it suddenly occurs to me that we haven't seen a decent rain in my little corner of the world in about a month. Yesterday morning I awoke to find we had a brief rain that cooled things off very nicely, and in the afternoon, while I was at Writer's Circle, we had a brief, heavy rain that left a rainbow like the one on Bonnee Crawford's blog header.

I'm not a rain guy, normally, but we could use a little more (it's supposed to get hot again today). And you can never go wrong with the Beatles, and this song just always sounded so interesting.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Confession: Inner Space Interview

"I was sitting here...replaying the incident over in my head when I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity."--Jules Winnfield

Man, this is going to sound weird. You're all going to think I'm a total nut job, as if my anti-techno rants don't already have you thinking that way. But what the heck.

Many professional athletes today practice 'visualizing'. It can be something as simple as picturing themselves victorious, or can be far more complex. A relief pitcher might see himself coming into the game in the ninth inning with two outs, runners on the corners, and the BIG KAHUNA at the plate. He'll envision the sequence, pitch by pitch, of getting the guy out. A goalie might see the opposing team on the power play. He follows imaginary pucks as the other team works it from D to D, from high to low, tries to go for the back-door play. A quarterback sees the blitz on third and long and is prepared to hit his hot receiver. You get the idea.

When I was a kid I'd 'visualize' all the time, only back then we called it 'imagining.' A favorite at a certain age was pretending the street was lava. I'd balance on the curb, and I'd see the road, not as solid black pavement, but as a viscous, bubbling red-and-yellow river that would burn me to a cinder if I so much as dipped a toe in it. I also saw myself hitting the grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning or scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in game 7 (overtime, of course; after scoring to tie the game in the last minute, too). Nothing unusual in any of this for a kid, I suppose.

I still imagine, and, as just about everyone who visits here is some kind of writer, I imagine you do, too. Only now, the dreams have changed. Now I visualize myself at author events, standing in front of an enraptured audience while I read an excerpt from my latest masterpiece. I have conversations with agents and editors, or get interviewd on something like Off the Page. Totally dorky, I know, and rather embarrassing to admit it, but visualizing positive results supposedly works for some people (honestly, it can be a good way to psyche yourself up or motivate yourself). Athletes use it both to calm down and prepare for any situation that might arise in a game. For me, it's always been more of a fun little fantasy, though I do think about the questions I'll ask and the answers I'll give when I get THE CALL from Dream Agent, even though I know I'll end up a fumbling, stuttering mess, with my face as red and hot as the lava I used to visualize in the street, and I'll forget half of what I wanted to say or ask.

Like I said, it's kind of dorky. But sometimes it pays off.

Yesterday I had to run some errands in town. It's a ten-minute drive there, a ten-minute drive home, and, given that this is tourist season, a twenty minute search for a parking space. Driving time is great for imagining visualizing, and yesterday was no exception. While drove I had an Inner Space Interviews/talk about the awfully-titled Barton's Women, and one of those great moments of clarity happened.

In the interview, I was talking about what the book was about—not a simple plot summary, but what it's really about, the real theme of the work. As the words unspooled in my head, as imaginary me talked about a book the real, unagented, unpublished me hasn't really finished yet, everything became crystal clear. Future me totally nailed it. Better still, the Inner Space Interview segued very naturally into a piece that I knew had to go in the manuscript itself. Good thing I was on my way home at the time. When I got home I ran straight to my desk, popped my headphones on, turned up the music and got down to writing.

It's not like I didn't know what Barton's Women is about—I've known from very early on in the writing process, but I also know I was missing something, the 'what's it all about' was not entirely there. I was circling around it like a mosquito coming in for a landing, and I had most of it, but I didn't have all of it, and I think that's part of what led to my desperate call for a WiP Whip. The manuscript grew bigger and bigger because I was trying to write myself into something, because I was searching for that one element that eluded me. Kind of funny that I found it through daydreaming (err, visualization), but maybe not: I've been making a revising run on Barton's Women these last two weeks, which has engaged the planning/plotting/active thought part of my brain. Sometimes, the way to find something is to stop looking for it. My Inner Space Interview shifted me back into Discovery Mode, and I found what was missing. We'll see what happens today when I try to reshape the sloppy mass of clay I threw out on paper yesterday, heh heh.

And now that creepy confession time is over, here's a bit of fun from someone else with an active imagination, Rachel Bloom. An appropriate tune for a Friday, since she definitely mocks Rebecca Black's Friday just a little bit. Oh, and if you're familiar with some of Ms. Bloom's other work, this one is mostly safe for work, family, children, etc. Visit her other songs at your own risk. Have a great weekend, all.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Musical Monday: Gonna Get Over You

It's another one of those days.

Allergies woke me up at 3 this morning, and kept me up. I tried to work up a blog post, but my head is fuzzy and I can't quite wrap my brain around anything today, so I'll thank Carrie Butler for the tag and Bonnee Crawford for the award and leave you with some peppy music from Sara Bareilles.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Give The People What They Want

Ahh, The Kinks must have had a "Low Budget" for videos when they filmed that one....

Several weeks ago, a bit of a hubbub broke out on Absolute Write concerning author Elle Lothlorien, who brazenly flouts the 'never respond to a bad review' convention by, well, responding to bad reviews. She takes a 'customer service' approach to bad reviews by responding, apologizing, sometimes explaining, and telling people how to get their money back if they're not satisfied.

Ms. Lothlorien also flouts another standard of writing, which is, once released, a book is carved in stone. After learning that readers of her book, Sleeping Beauty, were divided into two camps, a la Twilights Team Edward and Team Jacob, she produced an alternative version of her book in which the heroine chose the other guy. The details are explained in a lengthy post here. This, I guess, is the beauty of e-books: they're a hell of a lot easier to revise than the printed version.

Maybe you think Ms. Lothlorien is a pioneer eager to embrace the new technology and all the possibilities it offers. Maybe you think she's a cynic, out to wring as much money out of her books as possible by offering alternatives. Maybe you don't think anything. Personally, this bothers me a bit. The way I see it, if I'm satisfied with my book when it goes to publication (and I damn well better be, or why am I publishing it at all?), then that's the way it is. I subscribe to 'carved in stone' notion. You want to provide new content for loyal readers as some promotion? Fine, write a short story using your characters, or polish up an excised chapter and release it just for them. I'd do that. Change the end? No, thanks. But that's me, and that's her, and if she wants to mess around with the ending because a bunch of readers like one love interest better than another, I suppose that's up to her.

I'm reminded of this by an article, Your E-book Is Reading You that was linked on AW earlier this week. The summary of it is that the makers of e-readers are using all kinds of data-capture techniques to learn about readers. Now, this is a good thing, in general, but I can't help but feel like we're opening a big ass can of worms, and some of it, quite frankly, makes me uncomfortable. If you've been paying attention to me, you're not surprised at this fact. I'm not anti-technology, exactly, but I am very cautious about it.

Data doesn't just include basic demographic information about who is buying what. To quote the article:
The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books.Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.

Okaaaay, this bugs me out on a privacy level. I'm not a tinfoil hat wearing, anti-government nut job, but I get uncomfortable with some of this stuff. It's a bit of an invasion of privacy, but then again, I'm sure my cable company knows what channels I prefer, and my ISP knows where my favorite websites are and who I'm in most frequent contact with via e-mail. For now, we have assurances that e-reader data is being pooled, that they're not looking at individuals. But how are they using this information?

Pinpointing the moment when readers get bored could also help publishers create splashier digital editions by adding a video, a Web link or other multimedia features, Mr. Hilt (NOTE: Hilt is Barnes & Noble's VP of e-books) says. Publishers might be able to determine when interest in a fiction series is flagging if readers who bought and finished the first two books quickly suddenly slow down or quit reading later books in the series.

"The bigger trend we're trying to unearth is where are those drop-offs in certain kinds of books, and what can we do with publishers to prevent that?" Mr. Hilt says. "If we can help authors create even better books than they create today, it's a win for everybody."

Further along in the article we get this:
Some publishers are already beginning to market test books digitally, before releasing a print edition. Earlier this year, Sourcebooks, which publishes 250 titles a year, began experimenting with a new model of serial, online publishing. Sourcebooks has released early online editions for half a dozen titles, ranging from romance to young adult to nonfiction books, and has solicited questions and suggestions from readers. Eventually, readers' feedback will be incorporated into the print version.

Now, this is how publishing currently works. I write a book. Along the way, I have crit partners and beta readers, who provide me invaluable feedback and help me shape my book. Then there's an agent, and, finally, the editorial team. By the time the book is ready for publishing, a lot of people have weighed in and had a hand in shaping the final product. I'm cool with that. What Sourcebooks is doing, really, is extending the beta reading a little further. Is there any harm in this? Again, maybe not. I don't know how they get back to that author--probably someone collates the data and gives it to the editor, who in turn communicates this to the author. It's no different, I guess, than test screening movies or TV programs. Still, as this sort of thing gets bigger, it starts to make me more uncomfortable. I can argue with an editor. My impression is that most editors, if you can justify why you don't want to make a change they suggest, will say, "Okay, fine" and let it go. But how can you argue against 250, 300 people? Finally, though, we get to this point:

Few publishers have taken the experiment as far as Coliloquy, a digital publishing company that was created earlier this year ….Coliloquy's digital books, which are available on Kindle, Nook and Android e-readers, have a "choose-your-own-adventure"-style format, allowing readers to customize characters and plot lines. The company's engineers aggregate and pool the data gleaned from readers' selections and send it to the authors, who can adjust story lines in their next books to reflect popular choices.

And now you've lost me. The article goes on to relate how one author planned to write a character out of her book, until data told her that almost 30% of readers preferred him to the other two romantic interests. So she changed it.

I have nothing I can say to this. It boggles my mind. It makes me angry, to be honest, and it makes me worry about the future of writing. What happened to telling YOUR story, the way YOU want to tell it? If we're getting to this point, why have authors at all?

There's a really good chance I'm making a huge mountain out of a very small molehill, except I don't think that's the case. Watch television, where we're glutted with pseudo-reality shows that all look the same, because that's what people want. Go to the movies, where we see the same exploding car chases, superhero tales, and teen sex flicks (all in super-glorious 3-D) because that's what people want. Yes, publishing is a business, and businesses have to make money, so we do get a lot of trendiness in fiction (not to mention the latest celebrity tell-all, cookbook, parenting tips), but it's also a lot easier to find things that are radically different, things that are unique, that have a fresh perspective, in a bookstore than it is in the movies or on TV.

At least, it was.

Sorry for the rant. I am very, very interested in what you all have to say on this topic. Tell me. And have a nice weekend.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Monday Musing

I knew something seemed familiar about Friday's post. Not the feeling (although, sadly, that is too familiar a feeling). No, just now I found that I had given another post the title of 'Ugh' several months ago. Oops.

Blogger continues to bug me. I have three people who's blogs I just cannot follow. They just drop off. Maybe their blog addresses are teflon-coated or something. And then there's the interface just to type this posting up. Even though I'm putting in spaces between paragraphs, I'm almost certainly going to have to go and insert code for line breaks after I'm finished. My wife does tech work and sets up a lot of WordPress sites and swears by it. I, on the other hand, swear at blogger.

Compounding Friday's lack of sleep: One of my best friends for years and years got married this weekend (actually, he got married the weekend before; they did a very small ceremony then and had the big party Saturday). We drove 5+ hours on Friday to go to his house for a weekend of revelry. Sleep deprivation feels a lot better when it's for the right reasons!

This morning, as I was musing over the wedding, I thought to myself about my friend's new wife, "She's a great girl." That got me thinking about one of the last things I wrote in my Writer's Circle three weeks ago (life has been very, very busy since then). The prompt was a piece from The Great Gatsby, describing the arrival and general scene at Gatsby's parties, and it struck a nerve. Here is what I wrote then (NOTE: VERY unedited and raw):

"Why is it that there are boys, and there are men, but there only seem to be girls? Up until age 18 or 19, maybe even 20, we draw a distinction for males: "He's just a boy," we say, in dismissal of one's talents or experience. But somewhere in that age, a line is crossed. "That Robert Tate has turned out to be a fine young man." And lines like this always seem to be delivered with the chin tucked and the chest inflated, for maximum resonance, like a displaying prairie chicken. "Yes, he is a fine, young man."

But try this: "Roberta Tate is a beautiful girl." Roberta could be six or sixteen, twenty-six or sixty, for all we know. If we don't know Roberta, or if she's not standing before us with her beauty fully on display, all we have to go on is the speaker's tone of voice."

Back to the now: My friend's new wife is my age, somewhere in her mid-forties, and here I am, thinking, "She's a great girl." She's a woman!

I'm probably just poking at a molehill here, and I don't quite have the mental dexterity today to take this any further. It's just one of those things that make me go, "hmm."