That Last Little Bit of Vaguery

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UPDATE 9/28: And that last little bit of vaguery has been solved! I have, at most, three more chapters and the epilogue, and then this draft is done! There’s a twitter hashtag I’ve come across #FinishUrBookFall which, I think, I might actually accomplish. I’ll be a month past my self-imposed deadline, but hey. It’s better than the six months of my last book.


According to the book’s outline, I’m at the final…well, I wouldn’t call it a hurdle, per say. More like, the final point of vaguery. See, past me had left it as a problem for future me, entirely certain that interim me would figure it out, but interim me forgot to even think about it and was far more interested in the stuff that was happening right now. And when none of the versions of me were looking, the problem’s answers…grew, and now I have slightly too many options, but none of them feel quite right. I know what I need, I know the end result, but so far, every version either feels pointlessly complicated or far too simple, and both ways lack satisfaction. I need that elegant “OH” moment, and I haven’t quite worked it out.

So, instead, I’m editing a novella while things are left to marinate.

However, once that final point of vagueness is finally laid to rest, the rest of this book should move smoothly along to end, since I’ve had the end mapped out and outlined and pre-written for months and months and months.

Note to self: next book, do not write in the outline “and then the characters figure things out [make it epic]” and leave it at that. It’s almost as bad as “and then the characters escape from certain death [tbd later].

A Month of Books: August

Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold: Reread! Because, for some reason, this time around, I’m reading the whole of the Vorkosigan Saga backward? The series is one of my comfort reads and, when I have no idea what to read next, I pick one up and start reading ’cause I know I’ll enjoy it. Every time through, I come away with new things to analyze. This time, it was plot structure.

The Writer’s Book of Doubt by Aidan Doyle: A bit of a cheat, I suppose, seeing that I haven’t finished it yet, so this semi-review will be truncated, but it’s so far been worth taking the extra time with. Most of the essays are based on blog posts, so tend to be short, but at the same time, since they’re based on concise blog posts, also have a lot of thoughts and information to unpack. And it’s a broad swathe of different topics relating to writing, self-doubt, and the parts (pleasant, unpleasant, and everything in between) of being a creative in a field that depends so much on audience interaction and how to make your way, ranging from hobbyist to professional. Though mostly geared toward writers, quite a bit of it, I think, is applicable to other art forms, so it might be worth a look for non-writers too. Highly recommended (and I haven’t even finished it yet!).

The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold: *squeeeee* More Penric and Des! I had no idea this released last month (I was a bit distracted) but it makes a wonderful surprise gift in the middle of August. As usual, the new installment of Penric and Desdemona is a joyful delight. Interestingly Pen swears a great deal in this one (true, he is having a very bad day) and he and Des get to go full-chaos-demon/sorcerer on a bunch of pirates–which is definitely the most chaos they’ve indulged in on-screen (I think), and it is glorious. On a writing-craft note, this is an excellent example of ramping-up complications. Every single time Pen has a plan, everything goes completely wrong and he ends up having to come up with another plan…which also goes wrong.

Heart of Fire by Bec McMaster: I’m on a romance-roll, it appears. Also, people with the name “McMaster”? Anyway, romance! And dragons! A combination I haven’t had much experience reading, but now I wonder…why have I not? This was a recommendation from a friend (whose reading tastes and my own often align) and I was not steered wrong! Honestly, a delight to read, Freyja and Rurik’s dialogue/banter is a blast, but most of all, they seem to be having so much fun. There’s an element here of play. Their banter is, often, funny to read, but they’re clearly enjoying themselves, and when the joke is at the other’s expense, it’s consensually at the other’s expense. I like my romances sweet or funny, and this one is both sweet and funny. Also, dragons. It’s interesting though that while the characters get their HEA, the end leaves much unresolved; the pair seem set up for another adventure together, and it’s heavily hinted that even though they have their HEA, they’re going to meet with conflict for their choice later…but the series is constructed as a romance series, meaning the next book will focus on a different couple. But I have downloaded the next so…

Firefly: The Unification War, Part One by Greg Pak, Dan McDaid, Marcelo Costa: Oh, hey, comic! I usually read comics/graphic novels in mass binges when the series is complete (or near completion), but in this case, it was sitting on the New Books shelf at my library and caught my eye. Amusing and entertaining, though I think, if I read any of these in future, I’ll watch the show just before so I can have the character/actor voices in my head. I think it’ll add another dimension.

GenCon 2019!

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Back from GenCon!

It was good! Though next time, I think I’ll find a hotel rather than a truck-stop motel. The motel was good for a motel, but, erm, seemed designed for one-night stop-overs rather than four consecutive nights. Next time, hotel. With breakfast. Breakfast would be lovely.

ANYWAY! Volunteered at the Writer’s Symposium, which was exhausting but in a good way. Kept me busy and I was still able to go to pretty much all the panels and presentations that I’d wanted (and ended up going to a couple unexpected ones, and missing a few that I realized weren’t quite what I thought they were when I registered). Oh! And got all the books I’d brought for signing signed by some of my favorite authors, which was awesome.

Take-aways:

  • This very clever revision/editing trick I’m going to use from now on for multi-viewpoint novels. Break the novel down into the individual character arcs and read those sections chronologically. It had been suggested as a way to maintain character voice, but I know the current book has a problem with redundancy and repeating character goals when I’m shifting to a viewpoint that I’ve been out of for awhile. This might help me weed through that.
  • I have been doing my query letters wrong. Kind of. See, I’ve been so damn focused on the concern of making my last book look marketable. Finding comps. Making it less threatening. But then, during a panel that, oddly, had little to do with querying, both an author and an agent pointed out that the thing agents and editors want is the opposite. Yeah, making sure your book isn’t totally out there is good, but more important is highlighting why it’s different. Thus, I’m doing another query revision before I send out my next batch, though this is going to take some work. Switching my focus from similarity to difference has, so far, been difficult, but I’m trying to be a little looser/free-er with my comps and let more of me, the writer, into my exceedingly business-like query. Seriously, looking at it, I realize I sound so, so terrified with my extreme professionalism—no, I’m not going to be unprofessional now, but it’s okay, I realize, to pitch the book the same way I pitch the book in person, i.e. with a bit of humor.
  • That said, more and more, I’m thinking I might need to re-title “In Blood.” As is, it works, but at the same time, it’s not really… *makes hand gestures* …y’know. It doesn’t stand out.
  • What to do when that horrible question comes up, when you tell people you’re a writer, and they say, “Oh? Anything I might’ve heard of?” The ANSWER: pull a copy of your book out of you bag and leave them to read the back cover copy while you keep doing whatever it was you were doing before they interrupted. That is genius.
  • Authors can be accused of a sort of distributor favoritism. If they post on their site a link to purchase their book but from only one distributor, though their book is available from multiple, the other distributors can call foul. The advice had been to just remove everything and leave if up to your publisher to put links to distributors on their page, but I figure I’m pretty small potatoes at this point—and everything I have published so far are short stories—so I’ve instead updated my publications list to include links to anywhere and everywhere you could possibly purchase my work. The distributors (when there are multiple) are now listed alphabetically, not in any order of preference. In future, though, I plan to follow the advice of no links whatsoever, but that’s not for awhile yet.
  • Confirmation of a level-up moment. I’d gone to one of the read & critique workshops, where you read three minutes of your work and a panel of authors/editors/agents give feedback. While I was listening to everyone read, editor-brain was critting and doing its thing (’cause it seems I can’t frickin’ turn it off when in a critique circle), and then the panel gave their feedback and probably about two out of three times, they critiqued the same thing I would’ve critiqued. They also caught a whole lot else I didn’t, but it was good to realize that I leveled up.
  • One (super important) reason why that whole book length and word count thing is so popular as a reason why your book is rejected. It’s actually not that much of a concern—if someone loves your long book, so long as it’s not 600,000 words, it’s workable—BUT it’s quantifiable. If someone is looking for a way to say “no” because it’s not their taste, they can cite the word count as a reason and it can’t be argued with. And suddenly I’m like, OH. So…it’s not a personal failing? I haven’t failed as a writer?
  • Some valuable reminders about how to write a fight scene.
  • Those bookmarks were far more popular than I thought they’d be. Instead of a handful, next time, I need to bring, like, 100, maybe more. They were all gone overnight. We’ll see if there’s an uptick in website traffic…

If I think of more, I’ll add to this post.

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The tower of signed books!
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And free books!

Endgame Imminent!

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No, not that endgame.

New Book Endgame Screenshot

This endgame!

Yep, after three years—and many words—I am finally approaching the current novel’s endgame (and, if you can read the file name at the top of the document, I still don’t even have a working title for it). I have, roughly, this chapter (helpfully titled “CHAPTER IT ALL GOES TO HELL” which follows “CHAPTER THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY” and will likely be followed by “CHAPTER A LESSON IN POOR DECISION MAKING”), the fallout of this chapter, then MC 1 has his eureka! moment, runs off and gets captured by the killer. MC 2 and MC 3 deduct then rush off to save MC 1 from certain death.

Things happen. People may or may not die.

This is then followed by wrap-up/epilogue chapters that may (or may not) sow the seeds of a possible sequel. It…depends. On variables.

Anyway! At this point, the book is clocking in at the nice round number of 150,486 words (which is…a lot). Guesstimating, there’s probably about 20,000 words left to go, give or take a few thousand.

Then…

*ominous thunder rolls*

Revisions.

Thesis! Thesis!

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Theeeeeesis. All 208 216 pages of it. I can practically spit and hit my graduation date at this point (July 1st! July 1st!). All I have left to do now is print off multiple copies of this monster on fancy thesis paper and ship the lot off to Maine for binding.

I’ve ordered my flat hat, my shapeless gown with the little tags on the sleeves, my tassel, and my hood (the school colors are a nice deep blue and golden-yellow; the visual artist in me, though, wishes the collar color was something complimentary rather than MFA brown).

I still have my graduation presentation and graduate reading* but that won’t be till the last week of June. It’s a weird feeling, though an uncomfortably familiar one. Well, it’s not nearly as bad as it was following my undergrad graduation. After undergrad, I had nothing in the way of direction. My degree also wasn’t one of those stepping-stone ones that leads to employment, nor was it one that lead directly to higher ed.

This time around, I’m still stuck with that awful question of “now what?” (and the awareness that, with the exception of one brief week last December, I’ve never worked full time) but now I have more plates spinning. I have short stories to send out on their rounds, I have a novel I’m currently querying, I have another that’s about 30,000 words to the end (this sounds like a lot, I realize, but the novel is shaping up to be about 160k-170k and it’s in the homestretch now). Still short on the whole full-time employment thing, but I can work on that. I feel less directionless. Still have no idea how I’m getting to where I’m going, but my current end-goal is a little clearer, and at least I’ve got a pretty good grasp of where to put my foot for the next step.

Well, mostly. 

I realize as I’m approaching the end of this post that I never did say what the thesis is. As Stonecoast is a creative writing program, it’s a collection of creative work produced while I’ve been working toward my degree. I gave myself the challenge of only drawing from work created while enrolled in the program and, though I’d originally applied intending to work on novel-length projects (specially, the unnamed high fantasy one), it’s ended up as a short story collection.**

I mean, I did work on the novel these past two years, but I realized as I was entering my final semester that submitting the novel as my thesis would be impractical (oh, god, the sheer size of it! The current thesis is a solid 60k, the novel is 140k and still growing! Not only would the paper and printing cost a fortune, but the shipping? At that weight? Eek). It would also be unfair: to myself, to my thesis adviser, to my second reader, but also to the novel, seeing that it isn’t done and I know it’s going to change in revisions. I wanted to submit something polished, but also something that could showcase my breadth of skill.

Thus, short(er) fiction.

In retrospect, I now understand why workshops prefer short fiction. There’s a certain kind of experimental freedom you have in a short story collection, whereas a novel does sort of lock you in to a particular narrative style, voice, tone, and so on. With a short story collection, you can do more “showing off.”

EDIT 5/11: Now on the fancy paper! They’ve been wrapped with paper ribbons and put in boxes, and the only thing left is to ship ’em to Maine. Six copies. That was A LOT of printing. And with only one little snafu with the margins on the signature page; I count myself exceedingly lucky. The format is notoriously tricky.

 


*  They’re like the program’s equivalent of defending your thesis, but since it’s a creative writing Master’s, there isn’t a whole lot to defend. In a way, you already do that in the preface explaining your work, your approach, why you did what you did and chose what pieces you chose, and the thematic and structural elements of the work on a whole.
**  Well, three short stories, two novelettes, and one flash, and a large bibliography.

Be A Farmer

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Commence rant.

Okay, so. There’s this contest that I routinely submit to, and while said contest shall remain nameless, you can probably figure out which I’m talking about through context, but since this rant isn’t about the contest, it’s in regards to something else tangentially related, there shall be no names named.

Now, I’ve been prowling this contest’s forum board looking for updates ’cause I was one of those fools who submitted via paper and post rather than online submission form ’cause tradition and what have you. Due to that choice, I’m waiting for the results to go live on the site, since I likely won’t get a rejection notice.

Anyway. While on this forum, I stumbled on a thread, and while reading this thread, I’d come across this little tidbit of advice that set me to boiling:

That you NEED to win this contest if you want to make a career in writing speculative fiction, specifically in the sci-fi and fantasy spectrum. That if you’re involved in that community, you truly must believe that this is the only way.

And I call bullshit.

See, I fell for that same very attractive line of reasoning. For easily three years, I submitted nowhere else, because I was entirely convinced that the only way to make it in my field was to win that contest. And because I was submitting something to someone, I also managed to convince myself that I was on top of things and doing everything I could to start building toward publication. And then, after awhile and so many rejections later, it became so easy to just… stop. Stop submitting, stop putting things out there, stop hitting submit buttons.

And that piece of advice, at least to me, looked very much like a variation of the same pit I’d managed to dig myself into. If we’re just going with numbers, the likelihood of winning that contest is pretty slim, not because a writer isn’t “good enough” for it, but because there are just. so. many. submissions. We’re talking thousands. Out of those thousands, there can be only three winners. Of course, there’s various ranks of winning beneath those (finalists, semi-finalists, honorable mentions, and so on) but it’s still only three for final publication, and as I’ve been reminded countless times, publishers don’t care how many honorable mentions you’ve had. Because winning that contest isn’t always just about getting the credit; it’s also about winning the opportunity to connect with people in the industry and a chance at name recognition.

It’s said that there are many paths to publication. This is true, but I also wish to introduce a secondary metaphor: be a farmer. 

If you plant only one seed for one tree in your vast plot of land, banking on the hope that that one seed not only takes, but flourishes, there’s a great risk there of stagnation.

There’s a chance you’ll be submitting for years to one market, and placing all your bets on one editor/slush reader clicking with what you write. Or (and this has also been advice on the boards) change what you write to fit what they like. And that… strikes me as so problematic, especially for a contest that is designed for those just starting their publishing journey*. This is a choice, but not the only choice. 

And it’s not constrained to just this contest. I’d once come across someone who was convinced the only way to publish a book was with a particular imprint of a particular Big 5 publisher, and because of that, submitted nowhere else, not even to agents. I’ve met people who insist the only way to publish a novel is to get a short story published in a pro-level market, and maybe win an award or two. I’ve met people who insist the opposite, that short stories are a waste of time and the only chance of success—big, career-making success—is to sell a book. This is still the equivalent of planting your one seed and hoping it sprouts.

Or you can go scatter-shot. Throw as many seeds as you can. Of course be strategic about it; don’t go throwing seeds on concrete and be pissed when nothing happens. But the more seeds you’ve planted, the greater the possibility that something will grow, something will flower, and when you have trees with fruit, there’s a chance that some of those fallen apples will yield more seeds.

And maybe that first tree is the one that makes your career. Maybe that first tree is the one that leads to so many opportunities. But maybe it’s the fourth tree or the eighth tree or the fifteenth. And maybe while you’re pruning and tending tree number ten, tree number one had a growth spurt when you weren’t looking. Maybe multiple trees start flowering all at once and you feel like you’ve hit gold. Maybe only one flowers, but it’s enough to start you on your path**.

I also find that being a farmer about my submissions allows me to spread my attentions (read, obsessions) and hopes, so that when I do get that inevitable rejection, it becomes a shrug-and-keep-going thing, instead of a world-ending-all-my-dreams-are-dust thing. If that one tree isn’t growing the way I’d hoped, or that batch of seeds didn’t take, that’s okay.

I have other trees to tend.


*  This is not wrong. I want to point out this isn’t a wrong approach, and can be (and is) perfectly legitimate. When writing for hire or for existing IPs, being flexible is often a bonus, as your writing might have to adapt for the desires and needs of the IP’s readership.
**  Paths which, from my observations, are rarely straight, rarely well-maintained, having multiple branching forks that can take you down unexpected detours and to new destinations, and they never look like anyone else’s. Maybe the metaphor should be less “path,” like garden path or forest path or bike trail, and more like “wading waist-deep in swamp water.”