It is almost July! Still no job! Fuck everyone and everything! Burn it all!
Now that’s out of my system, it’s not all bad. I’ve had a couple of interviews, including a second one (although that company hasn’t contacted me yet; I plan to follow up on Monday but I suspect they went with someone else). I also actually DID get hired for a contract job in March, helping Alison Green of Ask A Manager get her pages and pages of December updates sorted.
I took the CompTIA test—AND PASSED IT! I’m Project+ certified! I don’t ever have to take that test again!
Burying the lede; Confluence has been sent to my two beta readers. I still have to do a hard copy edit, but I didn’t want to do that until I received some feedback, in case I have to move or delete anything. I haven’t even looked at it since I sent it. Instead, I had to study for the test.
Since I passed the test and don’t have to study for it anymore, the project activity list in my WBS (jargon, heh) looks like this:
– Conlang (depending on how extra I decide to be and how far I decide to take it, it could be just an artlang or a whole-ass separate thing). – Beta edits. – Hard copy edit. – Trailer: – Video edits. – Audio edits. – Assembly.
A note here: I know the first trailer was laughably amateurish, and the second wasn’t much better except for the fabulous voiceover. I’ve been watching a lot of professionally produced videos on Twitter and elsewhere and I noticed I’m seeing shots now instead of just content. Seriously, there’s nowhere to go from here but up!
– Back cover layout (I’ve got the front cover the way I want it). I can’t do this until I know for sure how many pages the paperback will have, because Amazon templates depend on page count. – Inside layout (easy; I already did it with Tunerville and all three books will be the same). – Set up pre-orders (if I can figure it out) and submit to KDP. – Paperback proofread. – Get a damn job so I can find another distributor because Amazon
I have a world compendium too, but I haven’t decided yet if that’s just for me or if it will be for you too.
I am so, so tired of job hunting, y’all. Even though working again will mean less hours in the day to write/produce, I think having my own space again will help a lot. The current situation is not good for my mental health, and that does affect my creativity. I’m hoping for a change of scenery far away from here, but we’ll have to see what we get.
I’m very anxious about what my betas will say. The extra outside edit with Tunerville has not happened this time. I just want to finish the story, but I want to give you the best version of it. I was hoping to have Confluence out and Book 3 started by now—between the CompTIA class and the Momergency, it’s just been crazy. (Once again, know the signs of a stroke; when in doubt, call 911 immediately.)
But I’ve begun to move into Book 3 headspace. So the machinery is ramping up again.
Although I’ve tried to make Confluence a self-contained story as much as I can, in the vein of The Empire Strikes Back, it’s still a middle bit. Obligatory plug: If you haven’t read Tunerville yet, get it here.
I’m excited about Book 3. I really am. It’s gonna be FUN.
Yep, I wrote a sequel. Yep, that’s the one I finished in December 2018. Yep, there will be one more.
Last year, I got into a discussion with some people who were reluctant to buy into book series because they’d previously been burned when a writer bailed and didn’t finish. I understand how frustrating it is to get invested in something that disappears (Firefly, anyone?), but traditional publishers will ditch a series if the first book doesn’t sell.
Since this is my enterprise, I’m free to plunge ahead regardless. I don’t know if anyone beyond my blog or my friends will read my current work. Even if that list is small, everyone on it deserves the best and most complete story I can give them.
With that in mind, I formally declare my intention to FINISH THE DAMN SERIES.
Now that Tunerville is out and you may have read it already, I want to talk a little bit about the characters in the context of diversity. If you have not read the book yet and would rather not know anything, you might want to bail on this post now.
If you haven’t read it yet, you can get Tunerville (and my story collection, The Shiny Folk) here. I’m not sure that Amazon is shipping physical books currently; due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re focusing on supplies. Paperbacks might have to wait. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get a free app here. It works on everything.
Consensus seems to be, rightfully, that lived experiences are best and most authentically portrayed by those who have lived them. The controversy around Jeanine Cummins’ recent novel American Dirt is a case in point. The linked article contains a quote from actress Eva Longoria, who points out:
“There’s a bidding war over this book, which means all the publishers wanted this book. And they wanted some sort of way in to a different community. The problem with that is that the publishing industry is 80% white, from agents to editors and publicists.”
I don’t think it’s impossible for a white, cisgender, straight author to write about a culture or identity to which they don’t belong. However, because the majority of white, cisgender, straight authors are divorced from anything other than our own experience (and this is by design in a white supremacist society), if we choose to, it falls on us to approach it carefully.
The LGBTQ characters and those of color in Tunerville function in the book’s close orbits admittedly without much friction. The Crew is inclusive; they coalesce around their shared interest in ghost hunting. Gabriel, who is black, is the one who started the Ghost Crew. His wife Ann-Marie is a law student. Josh’s new boyfriend Trevor is welcomed, his extreme disengagement the only eyebrow-raiser.
While Chris’s impulse to help ghosts is laudable, it takes him a while to grasp the real meaning of the saying “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” The media attention around Chris drives Josh to remove himself from the Ghost Crew for his and Trevor’s safety. In a stinging diatribe, he serves Chris a blunt reminder of the latter’s selfishness — and his privilege:
“[…] just because you don’t hassle people for being who they are doesn’t mean everybody is so enlightened. You don’t have a clue. You can walk down the street holding somebody’s hand and nobody throws a beer bottle at you.”
An invisible hand clamped over Chris’s mouth. Neither Josh nor his last boyfriend, the other victim of that attack, had wanted to report it, lest they invite more harassment or scrutiny.
“Nobody objects to where you live,” Josh continued. “Nobody leaves nasty notes on your car. Nobody tells you, ‘You better keep away from my kids if you move in here.’” He choked on the last word. “You got what you wanted. I’m trying to have what I want. And I will not lose this relationship because of you.”
Chris faces a public shaming directly after this conversation. It’s a hard lesson for him. The tuner is a great leveler — a reminder that everybody dies. But the questions it raises bring out the tendency of people to judge and categorize. The ghosts of all demographics find themselves reduced to a novelty, their humanity the subject of endless debate.
The viewpoint in Tunerville remains grounded in that of the white, straight characters — Chris, Hannah, and Hector, with a brief sojourn into Dean’s head. Of these, only Dean could be considered marginalized; as an incorporated ghost, he’s well aware of the prejudice the newly resurrected face. He’s not only out of place but out of time.
I think she can understand that.
I wanted to make a point there about Chris’s self-indulgence beyond the longing that drove him to invent the tuner in the first place. He’s a creature of privilege whose ability to indulge his own desires without question has never been challenged. When it is, he bristles, but since he’s good at heart, I let him embrace the opportunity to widen his view, which is what we all should be doing.
ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW. Viruses have no nationality, y’all.
As a cishet white woman (who isn’t a ghost — yet), discrimination is not likely to affect me. Nobody is profiling me or trying to deport me. My only experience of marginalization is being female in a male-centric world and dyscalculic in a math-centered one. I don’t face death and abuse every time I walk out the door.
I couldn’t leave out people who aren’t like me entirely, because they exist, in my world and in Chris’s. When I wrote this book, I knew less than I do now, and I know less today than I will tomorrow. Every day is a chance to learn.
For now, staying in my lane felt like the safe choice and the most respectful one. I’d rather hear those stories from the people who lived them.
Book 2 will feature more Hannah. And lest you think I fridged Josh, he will return. I have plans for him.
At some point, I’ll have a job again and when I do, perhaps I’ll have enough money to do a Goodreads giveaway. They charge for that and it’s not cheap.
In the meantime, listen to the Toilet Paper Knight — stay home and stay safe!!
He’s not the hero we deserve, but he’s the one we need right now.
If you follow this blog, you probably know by now that I said “F*ck it,” and put Tunerville up on Amazon (see Buy Me! page). Someone posted a review already, and it was a good one. Thanks, mysterious internet reader!
I’ve learned a few things and probably have a lot more to learn. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
How to do various things in GIMP
GIMP is the freeware version of Adobe Photoshop. It probably has a different interface — I don’t know, since I can’t afford to even kiss the hem of Adobe’s garments. But the concepts of image manipulation are the same.
I found a wonderful image free for commercial use that really seemed to capture the book. I googled a zillion ways to make the lettering look good, and armed with a picture and some knowledge, I designed both an ebook and paperback cover.
The latter was a complete nightmare.
First, I had to figure out how to wrap the picture around the spine. When I thought I had it down, I made my cover, but I used the wrong template for the number of pages. The Amazon publishing platform rejected it twice before I figured that out. Yes, I had to start all over again. More than once.
But it turned out pretty good!
I was pretty impressed with the quality of the paper, too. It’s print-on-demand, so if you order a copy, they crank one out and send it to you. This means I do not have to ship them out of my mum’s garage.
When you do this, you have to do EVERYTHING by yourself
Although I ran the cover design by someone, I made it all alone. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing walks you through almost everything, but it can’t answer all questions. They have customer service. I called them once and they called me back. But my phone died temporarily, and I missed the call. Fortunately, I figured out the issue by myself.
Making the inside look good also took work. You can find folks on Fiverr and other e-lance platforms who will help you, but I didn’t have any money for that. I used their guidelines and a template and lots of advice from Derek Murphy at Creativeindie. Thanks, Derek!
Despite it being mostly free, to do it right still cost me money
Sure, I could have just published an ebook for nothing on Amazon and raked in my tiny royalties. But I wanted to do a paperback, since the more formats you have, the more readers you can reach. To do that, I had to get an ISBN, or International Standard Book Number.
If you don’t know what that is, it’s the identifier distributors, booksellers, libraries, etc. use to identify and find your book. Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t require one for ebooks, but you need one for a physical book, even print-on-demand. While Amazon will give you one for free, it’s limited. You can only use that ISBN on their platform.
Bowker has a monopoly on ISBNs and is the only place you can get them in the U.S. No, it’s not super cheap. If you buy one, it’s $125. If you buy ten, it’s $295. The more you buy, the cheaper the unit price for each number. As you can imagine, publishers get them in bulk.
I bought ten so I could use one for the ebook and one for the paperback. This means the numbers belong to me, not Amazon, forever. And I have eight more for future editions or anything else I want to crank out. They never expire, but I cannot reuse any of them.
Of course, this cost money that I couldn’t really spare. Here’s hoping I can make it back in sales.
Speaking of sales…
I don’t know jack about marketing
I made a dumb AF book trailer (seriously, it’s hilariously stupid) and a friend who has a Roku channel that plays old horror B-movies and other assorted weird stuff offered to play it. He said they have 20,000 viewers. Hey, one of them might buy it. You never know.
Here’s the trailer. Someday I’m going to look back on this and cringe. Probably tomorrow.
Besides trailers, you have to talk up your book on social media. You have to make an author page at Goodreads (I did). You have to solicit reviews, because if you don’t have any, Amazon will think you suck and yank you. That’s the part that freaks me out a little, approaching people I don’t know and asking them to read my crap.
Someone posted a 4-star review at Amazon and I was elated (thank you!). Before that, the poor thing was alone, naked, and afraid.
If you don’t have a website or a blog or any kind of following, it’s going to be a lot harder to sell books. I advise writers, even traditionally published ones, to get on the damn internet and create a social media presence. It’s important not only to post but to engage with followers. Follow people back (check them out first, obviously), like and retweet/share, connect with industry folks.
This isn’t what I wanted, but it’s what I needed
I wrote the sequel to this book a year ago. But since then, I’ve been stuck. Part of that had to do with the endless, agonizing job hunt and the major decision to sell out and move. I didn’t want to do it with Amazon, either, but using my own ISBNs gives me a little more flexibility.
I’ve spent so much time getting this to the book I wanted it to be, but I found myself re-editing after writing the sequel. Now the story is fixed and I can move on and quit mucking with it. Plus, since things are awful right now, it gave me a much-needed boost of self-esteem. I DID something, y’all.
If you’re thinking about publishing a book this way, I would definitely do the following:
1. Read as much as you can about it. I’ll share some links that helped me.
2. Let go of your expectations. You’re very unlikely to get famous this way. If you’re entrepreneurial, you might make a little money.
3. Make sure you have a great product. Don’t just slap your trunk novel up. Choose your best work.
4. Do not let a book out into the wild without getting another person, preferably a professional editor, to look it over. You’re competing with professionally produced books.
5. If you can afford it, hire a cover designer. It was a no-go for me, unfortunately. I just did the best I could.
Would I have preferred traditional publishing? Yes. Am I still going after it? Of course, with something else. But I did it, and you can read it now, and that’s the most important thing.
Writers get stuck in creative ruts, just like any other artist. The best way to jump-start your brain is to do something new. You can experiment with form or a different point of view. You can try a new genre. Or you can make up a language!
So you know I’ve finished Book 2 in The Trilogy That No One Wants. The first book, Tunerville, is a contemporary fantasy that involves ghosts. I don’t want to spoil (just in case), but I’ve taken my character a little further than his backyard.
I mentioned in the marshmallow post (I need more of those) that I was creating a conlang. Did I confuse you? Do you have questions? I shall answer them.
Conlang is short for constructed language, one in which phonology, grammar, and vocabulary have been created rather than developing naturally.
Famous examples include auxiliary conlangs (auxlangs) like Esperanto and Lingua Franca Nova. Most people consider artistic languages (artlangs) created for fictional universes, such as Dothraki and Valryian (Game of Thrones), Klingon (Star Trek), and the various languages J. R. R. Tolkien created, around which he wrote The Lord of the Rings, as the typical conlang.
A priori languages aren’t based on any others. Most artistic languages fall under this category, as do auxlangs. A posteriori languages, like mine, are borrowed from or based on existing tongues.
How in hell do you do this?
I started with some typos from my music friends chat room that weirdly resembled Scottish Gaelic (no, really) and based the structure on Welsh. The latter has very little in the way of exceptions to its pronunciation and grammar rules, unlike English. I don’t speak it, but I looked into it before a trip to Wales, and it’s not that difficult.
The double-l in Welsh does not have an equivalent sound in English. It’s hissed a little bit — put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and say “L”. Similarly, a conlang that isn’t based on your native language can lack sounds common to yours or contain some yours doesn’t. If you decide that your fictional speakers aren’t human, it definitely will.
My conlang doesn’t have a name currently because I’m still trying to think up place names for its setting. All the phonemes are in place (unless I change them later), and I’ve left out a couple of letters, so it’s not a carbon copy of either Welsh or English. As for syntax, it’s still a bit iffy yet.
Writer Kristin Kieffer points out in this blog post (see Tip #2) that all the things you think about when worldbuilding will apply to your conlang. A future civilization that grows food exclusively via hydroponics probably wouldn’t have a word for plow. A culture who loves elaborate ritual will have long phrases and lots of modifiers.
David J. Peterson has a great book for conlangers called The Art of Language Invention. Another fantastic resource is Mark Rosenfelder’s The Language Construction Kit. I’ve dropped a companion web page below in links. Both are available at Amazon; the Kindle edition of Mark’s book is the full text.
There’s a program called Vulgar that will create a language for you; I’ve held off, but I might end up using it as an assist because making up root words and all their derivations is harrrrrrd.
Why in hell would you do this?
Tons of reasons. Creators of auxlangs generally intend them to be used by real-world speakers. For example, Esperanto was developed to facilitate international communication. Codes are also conlangs; they provide ways of shortening or encrypting language to obscure communication (cryptography), make it faster (shorthand) or make it understandable when speaking isn’t possible (semaphore). They also let people tell machines what to do (computer languages).
Artlangs can lend depth to fictional worlds. For the television adaptation of Game of Thrones, David J. Peterson created the Dothraki and Valyrian languages off the basics in George R.R. Martin’s books.
And for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, they wanted the antagonists to have a full-blown language, so Klingon was developed by Marc Okrand from a few words James Doohan (Scotty) improvised during the original series. It’s comprehensive enough for Treknerds to actually speak it.
As with any kind of research or backstory, you’re better off using it judiciously rather than doing huge expository dumps and risking what I sometimes call the Jean Auel effect (bless her!). Her Earth’s Children series, which began with the Clan of the Cave Bear, had page upon page upon page of explanation of the food, clothing, toolmaking, etc. in the daily life of her prehistoric characters. I personally enjoyed it, but it can bog a story down.
Interestingly, Auel managed to come up with a highly developed sign language for her Neanderthal characters, which authenticated them according to the known research at the time of writing. Novelist Anthony Burgess and anthropologist Desmond Morris collaborated similarly for the largely non-verbal 1981 pre-historic film Quest for Fire.
While this performed splendidly for those works, some writers and critics don’t find a comprehensive conlang necessary for immersion in a fantasy world and claim it can even be distracting. Perhaps, but if you do decide to include it, it should have more consistency than just random gibberish. A smattering of words and phrases can be enough, although that doesn’t count as a true conlang.
Stephen King’s characters in The Dark Tower spoke a dual dialect known as Low Speech, Mid-World’s common tongue, and High Speech, a ritualized and formal language only used by gunslingers. While King didn’t take the trouble to create a whole language, the lexicon enhances the setting quite well. We know we’re not in Keystone Earth (our world) when people are talking both in the ka-tet’s present and Roland’s past.
High Speech also has an alphabet, in a font called Hoefler Text Ornaments Regular, which you can download. If I were to write “Hello my name is Elizabeth” in High Speech, it would look like this:
You don’t have to go this far, although I might because, while complicated, worldbuilding is also FUN.
Will my conlang become a full-blown, usable tongue? Eh, who knows? I’ve never done this before, so it’s a challenge. I’m proud of myself for getting this far. I even invented words for cardinal and ordinal numbers that actually build on themselves and make sense. If nothing else, it forces me to think about setting in a new way, an excellent writing exercise regardless.
If you’re interested in reading more about conlanging, here are a few links.
I started re-reading IT and I’m in despair over how poor my writing is in comparison to Stephen King’s. I know I shouldn’t do that; IT was his thirteenth novel and Tunerville is only my fourth, so I don’t have as much practice as he did when he wrote it. But it’s so hard not to, especially now that I can read books and see the mechanics that went into writing them.
Mel Gibson allegedly said about directing, “I can’t watch movies anymore. I can see the strings.” Yeah, mentally ill or not, Mel kind of sucks, but this quote illustrates very well the phenomenon that happens when you begin to see how your craft actually works.
I feel exactly like that now–I can not only see the elements that make up the whole, I can understand WHY they don’t or do work. It’s akin to watching figure skating before and after I learned to skate.
Tara Lipinski, 1998 Winter Olympics. This is a combination triple loop jump followed by a double loop. Very difficult.
At the time Lipinski performed this program, her elements made no sense to me. I could not see a jump coming and had no idea what it even was until she did it and the commentator remarked on it. Watching a figure skating program then was an experience in surprises—stroke stroke BOOM! stroke stroke BOOM!
After fifteen years of skating myself, I can see the jump setup. I notice many more technical details that I didn’t before, such as whether the edge is good, shorted rotations, etc. I can even tell if someone jumping is likely to fall (sometimes they manage to save it when I think they can’t, so I’m not totally accurate). Even if I can’t perform all the elements Lipinski did, I recognize them. I can watch the jump and know with at least some certainty whether the judges will mark it as well executed.
Of course, you don’t have to be a skater to know these things. If you have a keen eye for observation and have been watching for many years, it’s possible to understand and analyze a sport with great accuracy. Many people who enjoy American football have never played it, but they can look at the formation during a game on TV and tell you exactly what’s about to happen.
Doing an activity, however, provides you with a deeper understanding of its execution. That doesn’t make you an expert unless you’ve put in the hours and practice to become one. However, it does give you just enough information to be dangerous…
…to your self-esteem.
Writing is, in its nature, a solitary activity. You must enter the cavern of your mind and search for treasures there, then haul them out and attempt to convey them–and the quest for them–in a way that resonates with the reader, so he or she will buy your work.
But one man’s treasure is another’s trash. And a clumsy attempt at presentation will sell no merchandise. In your solitude, you can lose your objectivity regarding the quality of your presentation. When you run into a master’s-level piece, you may feel your work is just a sad little flea market tchotchke.
We know it’s all too easy to measure ourselves against others, and we shouldn’t. A quote attributed to David B. Schlosser has been going around on the internet lately:
Easier said than done when you’re confronted with the exquisite reality of a more seasoned writer’s technique. It’s enough to make you swear off writing. Hell, it’s enough to make you want to quit reading.
Since we are artists and we must create or die, we have to use these moments not as cudgels with which to beat ourselves, but as tools to sharpen our ability. You simply cannot write effectively if you don’t read.
But Elizabeth, you say, reading in an analytical manner spoils the story for me. Yes, it can. However, you will not know if the jump is good unless you watch it. I “headit” when I’m reading, and yes, it can spoil a poorly executed story–all my attention is on how I would fix this sentence or that phrase or what was this idiot thinking that is not how a semi-colon works.
But I can still pick up books and lose myself completely before I remember I’m actually reading and not crawling around inside another person’s head in a land far, far away. A skilled writer can employ these techniques so well that a reader will remain unaware of them.
Book’s so good the kid doesn’t even notice he’s stuck in a damn attic all night.
Pay attention to the techniques you see–do they work? Why? Why not? If you’ve read the book before and you don’t remember how the author used them, go back and read it again. This time, watch and learn.
Sometimes we can’t see what isn’t working. We’re too close. In that case, we can put our work in front of another person’s eyes. Beta readers and writing groups can provide helpful feedback.
If you have the money, consider hiring a professional editor to give you an in-depth analysis. Work can change; it can be improved. Someone with industry experience can help you not only make your story better but in the process, help you become a better writer.
I decided to pursue professional editing for Tunerville. I have little money; this is going to hurt financially, but I’ve reached an impasse. After countless rejections and two with the same critique, it’s time to admit I might need some help.
It feels a bit like I’m sending my baby off to war. Maybe I’ll find I just need more time and more practice before I get there. Maybe this will actually help me get the book published. I will not know until I give it a chance.
Don’t dwell on YOU when you read for analysis or solicit feedback. Think about your WORK and if the techniques you see can help it or not. Your personality and self-esteem are not the focus here. This isn’t therapy; it’s called improving your craft.
If you need help, ask for it. And be nice to yourself. You probably don’t suck as much as you think.
It happens from time to time in communication. We all have the occasional typo. But if you write professionally, you need to make sure you use the proper word. This means PROOFREADING. Spellcheck doesn’t know everything. It will skip over words spelled correctly.
And if you use Autocorrect in either your word processor or your tablet, you must beware of substitutions. We ALL know that one.
Irrespective (see what I did there) of what you might have heard, irregardlessis a double negative and cancels itself out. Say regardless instead. A manager at an old job used the incorrect form all the time, and I used to laugh at him secretly. He was a tremendous bully and customers hated him, so I don’t feel badly about it. You may laugh at him too.
This isn’t even a word. It appears more often in spoken discourse, but I’ve seen it written too. It’s jewelry. Spelled jewellery, if you’re British or learned British English.
That vs. who
That refers to objects, groups, or animals; who refers to people. That doesn’t technically violate grammar rules, but since people aren’t objects, who is the correct form. Example:
“I know the culprits that trashed the cemetery, Buffy,” Giles said.
As a proper Englishman and a learned fellow, he would never say this.
“I know the culprits who trashed the cemetery, Buffy,” Giles said.
Remember, Autocorrect and Spellcheck are great tools, but neither is a substitute for editing. If you can, ask someone else to look at your article. Or set it aside for a while and go back to it. Print it out and look at it on paper–your eye doesn’t see the same thing on screen in the same way.
So, the weekend of November 5 and 6, I went to my first writing conference ever, the ShowMe Writers MasterClass. Put on by the Columbia chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild and Mizzou Publishing, it took place at the University of Missouri.
It wasn’t Worldcon or anything, but I live within driving distance, so I went for it. (And got lost — thank the universe I allowed extra travel time!)
The conference attendees ranged from college-aged folks all the way through senior citizens (for some reason, I noticed a LOT of seniors). Some were published, either self or small press; many were not. Everyone I spoke to was very nice–each of us had the same goal, to improve our work and get it published.
Chuck is funny, knowledgeable, and confident. He knows how to keep a Q&A session moving. If he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he doesn’t bullshit you; he says so. You got it wrong? He’ll let you know bluntly but respectfully. He talks very fast, so you have to pay attention. And trust me, you don’t want to miss a thing.
He’ll probably kill me for posting this, but he also moves fast, so it was hard to catch a better pic of him.
Like shooting wildlife. BAM!
Photo: Elizabeth West
Listening to Chuck talk about traditional publishing, I realized I’m on track to get there eventually (I hope). That was a good feeling.
Mary is also a delightful person and she loves helping other writers. She peppered her talks and lessons with a sharp humor; we laughed as much as we learned.
I know she looks serious here, but trust me.
Photo: Elizabeth West
Recently, an agent I queried re Tunerville requested a full manuscript and sadly, they rejected it. BUT–I received a critique, which is the gold standard of rejections. Agents have so much to read they rarely bother to tell you why you were rejected, but this one was very specific regarding what worked and what didn’t. It was so nice and kind that I sent a thank-you email.
Mary told me that if I’m getting those kinds of rejections, I’m very close to publication. I hope she’s right; I don’t want to give up on Tunerville just yet. It pains me to move on from a book when I have expansive plans for sequels, etc.
However, we writers know it’s best to keep working. When that call comes, the question will arise: “What else are you working on?” And we need to have an answer ready!
The conference broke writers into tracks inspired by famous Missouri writers:
Mark Twain (fiction)
Laura Ingalls Wilder (creative non-fiction)
Maya Angelou (poetry)
Tennessee Williams (play/screenplay writing)
Each track had sessions pertaining to marketing, craft, and mentoring so we got the most relevant information for our categories. As much as it pained me to miss the screenwriting stuff (a thing in which I have interest), limited time and concurrent scheduling kept me from it.
I also would have liked to attend the visual storytelling session, led by presenter Cole Closser, a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award nominee whose art has a really cool 1940s vintage vibe. Because a story is a story–but again, I had to pick between him and something else. Eeny meeny miney mo.
The mentoring sessions with some of their featured experts were set up as either one-on-one, which cost extra, or in small groups of the first six people to arrive. During the character building session, which comprised an analysis of character elements in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, I think I hit on ways to fix Tunerville. That was probably one of the most valuable bits of the conference for me. Thanks to Gordon Sauer for lending his expertise.
You can also use these gatherings to network with other writers or even agents. ShowMe Writers Masterclass also offered a pitchfest, which is an activity where writers can actually spend a few minutes with a real, live agent and tell him/her about their book (pitching it–this is like a mini-query, but in person). See the link for more information.
This also cost extra, and none of the featured agents represented my work, so I skipped it. But I did get to chat a bit with one of them at their table and took the agency’s business card, because who knows?
Things I Learned from the Masterclass
Aside from the craft and marketing stuff.
You should know your preferred category of writing before you go. You should really know your category anyway.
The website said to dress with comfort in mind, but don’t be a slob. If you’re meeting with an agent during a pitchfest, you’ll need to convey a professional image–no ratty shirts and holey jeans. You will cover some ground during these things, so WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES.
Take notes! Lots of them! Don’t rely on your memory. Our programs had a space for this–I used the handouts and a notebook. I intended to use my computer, but lugging it around the first day sucked, so I just wrote them.
Register early, as you can often get a discount on lodging through the conference. I had to wait to book a hotel and ended up at Howard Johnson’s, which wasn’t too bad and economical.
Don’t be afraid to engage with presenters and instructors. Talk to them at their tables. Give them some love! Ask lots of questions–your purpose here is to learn as much as you can.
I had a great weekend, despite the driving. Bonus; a chat room friend lives close by, so we got together for dinner and went to see Doctor Strange with her friends and her husband (it was awesome! Go see it!).
If you’ve never attended a event like this, I highly recommend it. Google writing conferences in your area; you’re bound to find some. Get out of your cave and mix and mingle.
Every writer has a different method. There is no one way to crank out a book. Some people approach it in a straightforward manner like they’re on a mission, and others meander about like they have no idea where they’re going. I can’t speak for anyone but me, so today I’ll attempt to answer my friend’s question in a bit more depth.
Yes, but it depends on the book
I wrote Rose’s Hostage in a mostly linear fashion, from the beginning to the end. The fanfic that inspired it was written the same way.
Tunerville, on the other hand, not so much. I started with a rough idea of plot and wrote scenes out of sequence as I went, much the way a movie is filmed. If my mind was on a certain section of the book, that’s the one I worked on. Then at the end, I edited it together and smoothed out the transitions.
Secret Book is definitely out of sequence. I have a complete outline. I also have two main protagonists, who have separate lives before they meet. I’ve done a lot of Protagonist 2, and now I’m working on Protagonist 1 and some of the scenes they appear in together.
A clue? Sorry, this is all you’re getting. Muwahaha!
Actually, their lines should converge slightly before you get to the heart, but I screwed up and I don’t feel like drawing it again. And I ended up writing an ending scene before I was ready, to discharge some of the bruises I had when the Universe socked me right in the feels (didn’t work, BTW).
Yes, and it’s more efficient
I mentioned the outline. Some writers avoid these, because they feel an outline locks them into a set path for the book. That makes sense. But I see it as a fluid thing, something I can change as I go, that keeps me on track. The only book you can’t edit is the one that is printed and on the shelf. And since I haven’t published any of them yet, anything goes!
It took me about six months to write Rose’s Hostage, but that was mostly because I was learning how to tie the story together as I went. It took another five to edit it into a cohesive narrative, again thanks to the learning curve.
Conversely, I finished the first draft of Tunerville using NaNoWriMo 2012 in a month, not counting the bits I already had.
No, because I still think it through in the same way
Sometimes it starts with a plot, and sometimes it starts with a concept.
Rose’s Hostage: plot (bank robber takes hostage and keeps her; serial killer turns vigilante to find them)
Tunerville: concept (man invents remote control that tunes up ghosts)
Secret Book: title (no really, I had the title first and nothing else)
No matter what I start with, I make notes. Lots and lots of brainstorming notes. Pages of them. Secret Book started with the title, and later I attached a different idea to it. Then even later, I thought of something else that married well with the original idea, and off we went.
Notes happen throughout the writing process, too. I make character lists, notes on settings (this is especially true for Rose’s Hostage because I want to make Detectives Pierce and Rossberger series characters if I can), and anything else I might think of.
Especially troublesome when you think of it at nearly four a.m.
No, because no matter what the preliminaries are, I still have to sit down and write it
I use music geared toward the mood of the book to help me write. Only instrumental—no songs, because then I’m tempted to sing along, and I can’t concentrate when the music has lyrics. But whether I’m listening to Ludovico Einaudi (Secret Book), Hans Zimmer (Tunerville and Rose’s Hostage), or Beethoven (because he’s awesome), my butt still has to be in that chair and my fingers must be engaged with the keyboard.
Incidentally, it is Beethoven’s 244th birthday today. Happy birthday!
There is no other way to write a book. Chuck Wendig in his book 500 Ways to Tell a Better Story points out that while the old saw states that everybody has a novel in them, lucky for us writers, most of them can’t be arsed to drag it out. (I’ve paraphrased a bit there.) You simply cannot do it without actually doing it.
One thing my friend hit on without actually saying it is this: every time I write something, I learn something. I would add that every time I read something, I learn also. From plowing through a self-published bag of rat droppings and seeing mistakes I shouldn’t make, to consuming the exquisitely rendered prose of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling, every book contains a lesson for the writer.
I can only hope that someday mine will hold value for someone else, but that won’t happen if I don’t actually do the work. So I’m doing it.
If you do not get this book and read it immediately, I will disown you.
Many think of period literature as nineteenth-century or earlier, but writing something set within living memory is even more fraught with danger. If I get it wrong, there will be no shortage of people eager to point it out. Below, in no particular order, are some of the things I have to consider in writing a book set in the 1960s and 1970s (with excursions into the 1950s).
Gadgets. It was harder for people to do things back then without the technology we have today. Watch some old television shows and notice plot points that would never work now that everyone has a smartphone.
Someone gets hopelessly lost (usually in the desert because the show was shot near Los Angeles), and they either die or there is a frantic search to find them before it’s too late.
GPS, baby. Not only can you use it to find your way home, you can track people with it too. I had to remember this for Rose’s Hostage and had the bank robber ditch Libby’s phone so the cops couldn’t track her.
A character has to find a pay phone to call someone and warn them of danger. They can’t find one, so all hell breaks loose.
Everyone has a cell, and this would only work if they were in the damn woods or locked in a stone basement with no signal.
The world was introduced to a lot of new technologies in the mid to late twentieth century. What they used at the time was considered current to them. Their reactions to a new gadget, one we might laugh at, would be pretty much the same as ours.
It’s the latest thing! We should get one for the office!
Slang. British and American slang at the time is devilishly hard to replicate. Though the most obvious catchphrases are easy to suss out, I keep running into things that I know aren’t right but I haven’t figured out yet.
Since the only thing I can remember from the 1960s is the moon landing and the 1970s were all kid stuff for me, I shall have to pick the brains of older relatives and friends who weren’t so square (see, there’s one) back in the day. In a first draft, I get round this by typing NNNNN in place of something or CHECK so I can go back and find it again.
Details of daily life. I didn’t grow up in Britain, so checking this part will require a lot of googling and perhaps some interviewing. I did get some post-war reminiscences from some of the very nice English people who were staying at my B&B in Cardiff, and yes, those are going in the book.
Even though I was a kid, I do remember quite a bit from the 1970s in America. I grew up in a middle-class home, and our experience was pretty typical. I remember certain food products, full-service gas stations, the energy crisis, etc.
Clothing. I already did some research for this in London when I visited the Fabric and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Road. I remember people wore a lot of knitwear in the 1970s. I’ve still had to do some googling. It slipped my mind how butt-ugly some of the clothes were back then.
Politics and world events. While most of Secret Book isn’t concerned with these things, it lends more authenticity to have people mention them. The Vietnam War was a hot-button topic, for example. And American Character in particular would remember the Kennedy assassination in 1963; my real-life friends who are old enough to recall it still talk about it on November 22.
You might wonder why I chose the 1970s as the present-day setting for the book, but all I can tell you right now is that I have two main reasons:
I’m trying to avoid the internet.
The decade was very avant-garde, and it was all about being yourself and what you are, the Me Decade, etc. This will make sense when I can talk more about it.
People still wrote letters in the 1960s and 1970s, and you could smoke on airplanes. So, writing in a different period takes a lot of thinking and reconsidering. It’s like time travel, only without the TARDIS.
I have 45,059 words written on Secret Book. It will definitely hit the 50K mark before NaNoWriMo ends, but I am nowhere near finished. That’s okay; the goal was to get my ass in gear on this first draft, and it’s working, for the most part.
This is a thing today.
I decided to go whole hog and put Brit Character’s POV scenes in UK English, spellings and all, so I changed the Word language settings for those bits. It’s fun to deliberately type in US English and watch the program (programme!) change it. So far I’ve got very few errors, though I keep forgetting the u in flavour, colour, parlour, honour, and the like. Also, the word woollies is in the UK English spellchecker and that amused me to no end. (Yes, the book does have that word in it.)
I find it highly annoying that the pronunciation link says the word in an American accent.
I still have a lot to do on American Character (okay, most of her stuff, actually). So I’ll be writing on this for a while. Then I have more research to do, so I can authenticate everything and fill it out a little more. My word count will be huge, but that’s what editing is for.
I’ve begun revising some old work that will fit into the Rose’s Hostage sequel. It’s painful to see how labored and idiotic it was. The actual scenes themselves aren’t bad, and what I already did will save me a ton of research. It’s the writing itself that makes me cringe.
Right now, I’m mostly changing names and tweaking references. I’ll go back and excise all the purple prose when I fit it in.
I’m also starting to think about the other novel–in fact, I think more about it than I do about this one, sometimes. I like to make playlists for writing sessions that are specific to each work. With this one, I went to my dusty record collection and found an old orchestral thing I used to use as background music when I played restaurant as a child. It’s perfect. AND IT WAS ON AMAZON.
Man, my parents had so many crazy old records. We grew up listening to stuff from the 1950s and 1960s, everything from “La Bamba” to Mancini. I credit them for sparking my obsession with soundtrack music. When you’re sitting there coloring listening to Bernstein’s The Ten Commandments and Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, how can you not love it?
Speaking of the ‘rents, they celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary on Saturday, July 19 (which was also Benedict Cumberbatch’s birthday. Happy birthday!).
Congratulations, Mom and Dad! I’d post an awesome picture, but I want to stay alive a little longer.
While I go attempt to organize myself for the evening, I’d like you to take a look at this Business Insider article. It distills some great advice from Stephen King from his memoir/advice tome, On Writing. Every author should have this book on his/her shelf.