I have one day, three hours actually, to finish my Fairwood Writer's submission. The novel excerpt? Jah, done and done. No problem, chapter 2 didn't have any serious editing problems that I saw. But, here's the barbed hook, I have to submit it with a synopsis of not more than 1000 words.
This SHOULDN'T be a problem. I actually used an outline to write Mageborn Mechanic. I have it, it hits most of the plot points and emotional points accurately. It's only slightly too long and slightly too Mark-shorthand (some of the notes only make sense if you know who the Knights or the Unfettered are, for example). I SHOULDN'T be having a bloody nightmare of a problem cutting and rewriting it down for submission.
But I am.
I tried twice last night to write an interesting summary of the plot. The first attempt was 1400 words. The second attempt was as dry as a saltine.
I have looked at the online references Norwescon directed writing workshop members to (the same as last year's links). They give conflicting advice. One link says it should sound like the back copy of a paperback. BUT when I tried that last year, I was raked over the coals for it. The 'helpful' feedback being that it read more like a query letter and less like a synopsis. If I had hair, I'd pull it out.
I'm going to start from scratch tonight. I have, with frelling bus commutes, maybe 3 hours of writing time tonight. In the end, if I can't trim it, I don't know...is it better to just not submit the synopsis, the worst they can say is 'there wasn't a synopsis', or do I send out one too long and suffer the slings and arrows, etc?
I seriously need to find a synopsis-writing class.
I'm beginning my first edits of The Mageborn Mechanic and I'm noticing things I did well and things that I can improve. (so far, so good)
One thing I'm going to have to balance is how quickly to reveal info about the plot and characters and conflicts therein. Mageborn Mechanic is a much faster-paced novel than anything I've written, I was basically trying to write a YA thriller with magic in it. As a result, I ended up -in the first draft, at least- revealing a lot of inner conflict of the protagonist very early.
I haven't decided if this is a bad thing or a good thing (thrillers can't sit around, layering in backstories...so far as I can tell, I could be wrong there, too). But when I compare it to a slower-paced novel, like Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, I see how he reveals things more slowly.
I think the slow method works better. But I like slower-paced novels and that is SO not what this book is like. So what I'm going to do in my second draft is tease instead of tell.
Instead of stating what my character's conflict with another character is, I'm going to leave it unsaid and have their actions and dialog show it, with just a hint of the why.
Teasing turns pages. Teasing involves the reader.
Now you don't want to go too far, as with anything, you can tease your readers too much. Sometimes they just want to know what's going on, why he hates her, who the bad guys are (and if they are really bad). What I don't need to tease about is motivations, those need to be clear. I need always be showing or telling the reader what's at stake and why Simon is running from this group or that.
Thrillers seem to tease via revelations, one after the other, leading to climax. They tease via questions that are not answered when they're posed. I guess I'll see how well that worked once I get my readers involved
This week I’m going to be pretty heads-down on editing the first few chapters of The Mageborn Mechanic. The reason? The Fairwood Writer’s workshop at Norwescon 35 (http://www.norwescon.org/things-to-do/program/writers-workshop/)
For those of you living in the Pacific Northwest, or willing and able to make a trip to Seattle in April, this is one of the best writer’s workshops for the money. It’s not for the faint of heart or this of skin, I’ll be frank there. The critiques are all done by professional writers and there are things to be learned if you are willing to put yourself out there.
So, that’s what I’m doing these next three days, editing the first few chapters of The Mageborn Mechanic for submission. But if you don’t have a novel written and ready for submission, you can also submit short stories for critiquing, up to three, I think.
This is a good gut check for anyone serious about writing. If you can find it in yourself to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous critiquing, get back up again, digest the suggestions and incorporate the ones you agree with…then you’re going to make it.
The submissions guidelines go on about how you need to submit polished work, the best you can do. I don’t know about you but that always hits me in my self-confidential region. But, we all have to believe in our work. If we don’t, no one else will. So, find something you can believe in and submit it by the 30th.
Good luck to us all.
Onward Christian Soldiers
I’m a long (LONG) time Baen Books reader and I damn near cut my teeth on David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series, so I’ve been reading military science fiction since the ‘good old days’. Knox’s Irregulars is a worthy addition to the genre, not just because of the solid military action but because of the worldbuilding and the unique take on theology in war.
The plot is pretty straightforward, good guys verses bad guys. And that’s ok. The bad guys in this book are semi-Islamic extremists who slaughter the moderates in their own government and promptly invade their infidel neighbors. The ‘infidel neighbors’ are a smallish colony of Calvinist Christian colonists who purchased some land from the original settlers and had the audacity to build a successful, technological society. The good guys are outnumbered, pushed aside and war in all its ugliness ensues. The protagonist, Randal Knox, is son of the Prime Minister, groomed to succeed him but he rejected that life to enlist and rise to the heady rank of Corporal in the infantry. When the invasion hits, he’s trapped deep behind the front lines and ends up organizing a partisan force to harass the bad guys and ultimately play a pivotal role in ending the war. It’s Red Dawn meets Starship Troopers.
The book is polished and professional. It really would fit in magnificently in the Baen roster, and who knows, maybe it will some day. The military details are authentic, which makes sense since Mr. Bush was Airborne Infantry. The tech is functional, the powered armor feels a bit like John Ringo’s but with a little less ‘fantasy tech’. You get the feeling that these suits could be made and used sometime this century. There is a cost for every victory, which is something a lot of military sci-fi seems to miss. Logistics matter, civilians suffer as well as the partisans. Good guys die, bad guys win, though the ending is satisfying enough.
A few criticisms: The final partisan raid seems almost too easy, though not without cost. I’m having a hard time picturing partisans raiding, say, Rommel’s Headquarters at Pontcarre in June 1944. So the success of the main characters there at the end feels a little…off, but not disastrously Deux Ex Machina-esque. The characters feel real, with a couple of exceptions. Jeni Cho seems to have some sort of ‘most favored character’ status in this book. I wanted someone to smack her but no one ever does. The female romantic interest, Ariane Mireault, is a bit of load. She also feels cold and is the only character I considered preachy in the book. There is a real lack of sexual tension in the book. In fact, that’s one of the only things that didn’t feel authentic. I realize these are all first or second generation religious pilgrims (or Pilgrims, if you prefer) but the main characters seem to have their libido turned off. Ariane has a bastard child (using the word advisedly) but seems oddly sexless on the page. For a group of soldiers, from my experience, this lack of ‘earthiness’ seems to be the only whitewashed part of the book. I think the ‘spiciest’ thing to happen in the book is a kiss. For some, this is a bug for others, it’s a feature.
Ok, let’s get into the ‘controversial’ part of this book. The good guys are Christian. This is basically a group of Revived Swiss-style Calvinists who fled Earth looking for religious freedom in the stars. They settle on this planet, make a successful colony and end up fighting for their lives. This is not C.S. Lewis allegory here, this culture wears its Christian bona fides openly. Christian theology is part of their everyday life and conversation. For a lot of readers, this is going to feel a little weird. Actually, I think that it works. It’s almost an examination of an alien culture (and let’s be honest, this kind of open Christianity is alien to a lot of sci-fi readers). Taken in that spirit, it’s difficult to be offended by anything here, at least for me. This culture is Christian, the book says. I shrug and say ‘ok’. It works in another way, as well. It has a theme of rejecting hate while opposing evil. That’s rare, in real life and in fiction. It reminds me a bit of Quo Vadis, in that way. Again, religion is part of everyone’s daily life, so there’s not a lot of attempts to convert characters or the reader. There are no Ayn Randian diatribes pushing the author’s worldview. Faith is part of what keeps the characters together and even serves for redemption for one character but it never feels oppressive. It reminds me a lot of Gordon Dickson’s ‘Soldier, Ask Not’, especially the novella (which won the Hugo for best short story in 1965). In that vein, this book firmly belongs in the sci-fi pantheon.
Final verdict, this is a solid Sci-Fi novel with an interesting culture. I recommend buying it. So far, it’s only available as an ebook (http://www.amazon.com/Knoxs-Irregulars-J-Wesley-Bush/dp/1466487046/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1). At 2.99, it’s even more attractive.
I’m looking forward to the author’s next book.
I was going to do a short blog about some edits and submissions I did last night. But life has intervened, as it often does. More important things have happened since last night.
Anne MacCaffrey has died following a stroke.
It is hard to emphasize how important to me her books have been. Mrs MacCaffrey was one of the first writers I devoured. I hit her Pern series right at the sweet spot of twelve or so, when I was so receptive to dreams and wonder. And her stories about boys and girls and dragons were just perfect for someone just coming off Lloyd Alexander, Tolkien and Lewis. I was eight when the White Dragon was published. It was waiting for me, still new-ish on the library book shelves. I still remember the Michael Whelan cover, how skeletal and tiny the dragon looked. Something that needed protection, not something to be feared like Smaug.
It was her ‘Masterharpers of Pern’ series that lived in my head the most*. Dragondrums most of all. It was YA before there really was YA or maybe it kicked that genre off. All I know was the coming of age stories in those three books spoke to me, inspired me.
I still have those books, I sought them out when I started my library. I don’t have all the Pern books, but the first six, Dragonflight up through Dragondrums, those are the special ones to me, still covered in magic.
Some people are dismissive of the Pern series. I’ve heard them called ‘horsey’ books. (dragons = horses, I suppose) My wife found the first book dated and hard to get into. Other readers looked at the sheer number of Pern books and Pern tie-ins and accused her of just ‘cashing in’ or being lazy, just filling in gaps and riding the dragon pony for as long as she could. I doubt that. Sure, not all the books were as good as the first six, no one strikes gold every time. But I suspect she got trapped by her own success. I’m sure her publishers wanted more and more Pern stuff, a known quantity with an established reader base. No doubt it was hard for her to break away from her success and do other things.
But she did. Her Crystal Singer series was different, still MacCaffrey, still with her stamp upon it. She had a rich history of collaborations, as well. Many of which I read.
I enjoyed her books so much that her blurb on a book would compel me to at least give the author a try. She must have read voraciously because I can’t tell you how many books I picked up because of her.
Death comes to all people, I know but the world has a little less sparkle in it now. Thank you Anne, you will be missed.
*Dragonsinger, Dragonsong and Dragondrums
Sorry for the silence yesterday. Kindle Fire has shipped but sometimes things still get busy at work.
I've been battle a little writer depression. Money is tight and it looks like I'm not going to be able to get Smooth Running edited the way I'd like. I'll see if I can find someone else's eyes to go over it with a fine-toothed comb but I'm not going to have time or money to get a pro to help out. I'm also concerned about getting the book up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in time for the Holidays. Obviously, Thanksgiving isn't going to happen and I'm skeptical about Christmas as well.
So, that's been dragging me this past...couple of weeks. I guess World Fantasy Con took some of the wind out of my sails. I felt like a fraud, like I didn't belong. An unpublished wannabe. I, like Darcy, feel ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers.
But enough of that. Because I have art! Shiny, hopefully attractive cover art for Smooth Running. I am going to work hard to get it up and available for purchase by Christmas.
Got another rejection letter today. Not my favorite way to start the morning but, hey, at least it's Friday. This was mostly a form letter but there was one specific quibble and it wasn't the kind I'd want to see (like, 'this was good but the POV needs work'. That would be gold). No, this one included a reminder/request/rebuke to use the standard manuscript format.
My sins on this submission? I think I used Arial font instead of Courier (which is a font I really don't like. Hurts my eyes to read.) and I didn't include my address in a block at the top. Did my submission get rejected for these sins? Possibly. Possibly not. The story may not have been up to scratch or it may not be what they're looking for. (see yesterday's post. Possibly frequently).
So. Minimize your chances of rejection by doing everything you possibly can to make things easier. One of the simplest is find their guidelines for submission and follow them literally to the letter. The fun part? Every market can have different submission guidelines. Which means, you may end up formatting your manuscript several different ways, once for each magazine or publisher you submit to.
Ah well, that's the gig. No point in further fussing about it.
One of the most common manuscript formats, used by Asimov's among others, is the Shunn Standard Manuscript Format. Take a look at it here: http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html
One thing you can do is to create a template in MS Word that includes all of the setting outlined here: Courier Font (hiss), 12 point, double spaced, 1" margins, etc... Then you can save that custom font, write the story in a format pleasing to you and then simply select all (control A for Windows users) and apply that custom style. Boom. Formatting is done.
Again, there are a lot of reasons you can get rejected. Failing to follow directions is one that you, the writer can avoid. Learn from me: write better stuff and format it according to the publsiher's
Computer problems last night, took hours trying to fix. I think the battery is about shot in that laptop. That's my best guess. I hope it holds, I really can't afford to buy another computer right now.
I received another rejection, this time for a flash fiction piece. I'm disappointed, of course, but not shocked. I'm still trying to get my head around flash fiction as a format. I guess the same could be said about my short stories, none of them have sold yet, either :)
Managing discouragement -in other words, growing a thicker skin- is an important part of being a writer. The reasons for rejection are leigon but they are rarely personal. Sometimes, they aren't even related to the quality of the work, so far as I can tell.
Then there is the normal shocks of life that come to everyone, writer or not: money problems, job problems, relationship problems. It can be tempting to forget writing. To accept that you're not good enough. To stop trying. To curl up with a book or a movie instead of staying up and trying to rewrite something for the sixth time.
I don't know how to tell anyone how to get published. But I have had a lifetime of rejection and I might be able to help other writers deal with it.
1. Do the work. That means, write as best you can. Proofread, catch all the typos you are able to see. Learn how to form sentences and paragraphs. Study great writers of the past and the present. Write from your heart, write the things you love, not what people tell you is hot.
2. Try again. Send your work out. As soon as you get a reject, while the sinking feeling is in your chest, while the stinging pain is still alive, send that manuscript somewhere else. Duotrope.com is the best resource I've found for finding markets. Ideally, you've picked out all the pro markets for your book or short story. When you get rejected by one, immediately send it out again.
3. It's not about you. If you've done the work, written as best as you can, if you used complete sentences and punctuated the way Strunk and White said...then it's not about you. It's about THEM. What they were looking for, what their mood was, what their personal tastes are. You're not likely to get a Hunter S. Thompson rejection letter strewn with expletitives and insults. No one has time anymore. So it's not personal. That doesn't mean THEY are stupid or wrong, either. It just was the wrong story for the wrong market or for the wrong person. See step 2, try again.
4. Write something you love. If you get rejected after writing something you were 'supposed' to write, this is critical. But you should be writing what you love all along. Don't try to be literary if you don't like literary fiction. Don't write mysteries if you don't love mysteries. Write a poem, create a bad ass character and have him/her kick some righteous ass, write something for yourself. Reward yourself. Remind yourself that you love writing. Then, send it out. Who knows?
5. There are no consequences for failing except the ones you put on yourself. This may not apply to full-time writers. But I suspect, even for them, they can't afford to think about consequences when they write or submit. So you submittted a story or novel and it got turned down. Big deal. No one is going to curse your name and automatically throw your next work in the trash as soon as they see your by line. You didn't waste your time, no time spent writing honestly and the best you could is wasted. You wrote. You learned. You will get better. You tried, you failed. Big deal. See point 2, try again.
6. Write something upbeat. It can be cathartic to immediately write something dark and emo. Do it if you have to but immediately CHOOSE to write something brighter right afterwards. Optimism is a choice, it doesn't come naturally to everyone. It can be a bold choice, a revolutionary choice. A happy ending isn't a cliche, it is defiance. Defy your failure, defy your mood, defy your pain. Write the world the way it should be, not the way it is. What you write can affect your mood just as surely as the other way around.
Well, that's all I have for now. I hope it helps.
I used to have a great memory. I mean, just amazing. I ruled at trivia contests. I think I still hold a 'Quiz Bowl' record at my old high school. Which is kind of cool. I like to think of my brain as being a huge CD player, with one heck of a random play feature. But now I'm older. I have more stuff in my head and it gets lost sometimes.
That's a long way of saying that I need to write down my brilliant ideas before they shuffle off into the background again.
That's how last night's story got written, accidentally. I was SUPPOSED to be doing nothing but reading a friend's manuscript. But, during a break, I got to thinking. I had a couple of rejections this week, one of which I had high hopes for. As with most writers, I suspect, I was skating the edge of depression and trying to analyze my own work, trying to figure out where I am lacking.
And a memory came back to me, via my random play feature. The smell of something cold.
It struck me, so I jotted the phrase down and a few sentences to go along with it , describing how you can learn to smell 'coldness' on things.
That lead to another paragraph. Then another. Then an assassin*.
The next thing I knew, I had a story. A sad, doomed bit of tragedy. It was different from my usual sci-fi and fantasy work but it was still very much my voice, I think. (I hope?)
I looked at it. Read it over. I didn't see any glaring errors. So, I sent it out, into the great void of magazine editors. Oddest thing.
So, write down your story ideas. Just...be
*Why an assassin? I don't know. I guess I'm drawn to life-or-death struggles. I guess I could have made it a mother-in-law but then I'd be a very different kind of writer.
Just a quick note. I got a rejection back from Clarkesworld. (Man, they were fast. They said no but they said it quickly. For that I'm grateful). I'm not sure where that story should end up but I'll send it out again this week.
I finished another short story, Baby Sitting and I'm sending it out to my critique group. I enjoyed writing it and the world that exists around it. If it goes over well, I may write more in that milieu.
I'm also inching closer to the one month mark. I said I wasn't going to do any editing on Mageborn Mechanic until a month had gone by. I'm guessing around Thanksgiving, I'll be able to pull it out and give it a read-through.
All that aside, I still have a friend's novel to get through and critique so I'll be doing that tonight and tomorrow.
I'm a lightly-published author with several novels completed and I hope to have them up on Amazon shortly.
|Mark Andrew Edwards||