Query Trenches : How to Stay In It

Think of it like a game.

That’s an idea.

Hey, I’m literally not a pro (yet) but if you realize certain rules that are more likely to make you successful, such as “Proofing (again) is part of the game” or, “Pitching is part of the game” or ,”Promoting and marketing is part of the game” and if you know you want to be in the game….well…..

 

Then you’ll do it.

 

Or at least gamers will.
And I’m sure a very high portion of writers are gamers.

 

And, c’mon, great gamers are special people who will do a lot of things they don’t like in order to get better at said game.
And, c’mon some more, doing it right involves a lot of “out of your comfort / out of your feel-good” zone.

 

Anyway, after everything I’ve done while still not feeling done, that’s my tip of the week:

Think of it like a game to master, more than a matter of identity, or survival, or something else that might be too serious to succeed.
Publishing is another tough industry, but seeing it as a game to master makes the purposefulness fun, more than draining.

“Make Me a Character!”

I mean this as kindly as I may, but this is a two-sided demand.  I’ve heard it a few times, and it’s not offensive, but it is a little demanding.

And I’ll say that there are at least two themes within the personality of the folks who have said this to me.  Maybe three.

 

  1. They’re strong personalities. I’ve never, ever had this said by a person who thinks to prioritize seeming meek.
  2. I don’t often see them walking around with a book.  This is not to say they don’t read — in fact I know the opposite to be true with the folks I’m thinking of.  I’ve just never seen them carrying the sweet soft comforts of a book’s cover between their fingertips.  Except my sister. And that’s when she’s going to the beach.
  3. (This one’s a maybe) They believe I’m really going to book it.

I remember the first time this demand was said, I was carrying around something like 300+ loose pages belonging to my manuscript for my first big book DISJUNCTURE. This was a long time ago, and it feels like a galaxy that was far away, but it was really this one, and just a different time.  I met up with an old colleague for a night of dranks, she introduced me as “Eric, he’s very literate” and when she found out I didn’t have my laptop in my bag, but instead a strange amount of homemade pages, there it was.

“I’m a character, right?”

“Uh, no?”

“MAKE ME A CHARACTER!”

“You are a character.”

“I MEAN IN YOUR BOOK!”

That’s a paraphrase for how the conversation went, because alcohol was involved. And like I said, this isn’t bad, and as a person, I still appreciate and respect this gal.

With my latest manuscript…well I think/believe that with many writers there’s an incubation period and an “OMGerd lemme share!” period.  The incubation part is important for self-feedback, before you get the feedback of alpha and beta readers. But then you share, and you might find that everyone has different opinions, and different things that they love/like/don’t really like, which I think is good.  But this can sometimes happen. It’s happened with Bahamut more than 3 times in the last month.

“MAKE ME A CHARACTER!”

You know, the bad part of this double-sided demand is that it’s usually made after a book is past its first draft, because we’re in that beta-reader phase. If your book is tightly plotted and fast-paced…do you know how inconvenient it is to introduce a new character? I think that just maybe this introduces a couple of reasons why the people who make this demand don’t have “Reader” at the forefront of their descriptors? Because they should 1) want to read the book, specifically they have no idea if I’m going to George R R Martin them with a terrible twist or ending. And people might not like that.  But also 2) If you appreciate the pacing of a story, you’ll understand that it’s not only extra work on me, its author, but also extra work on the reader to have to spend extra time looking for some stranger in the pages.

I guess in a way, most of us want to read for ourselves in the pages. And in all sincerity, I think it’s flattering that closely-minded folks, my adoptive kin-oh-the-Earth want to read about themselves directly. I think it means they believe in what I’m doing, that it should lead to fun and more, and hey, that’s flattering.

And of course, like I said, I’m sure most writers take real-world inspiration from imaginary and real-life people. We all make constructs, no? I just think it’s less double-sided, and maybe even more realistic to live as a person who’s in some way inspiring. I guess I can be demanding too, because for me it’s more like, hey, I see you kin-oh-the-earth. Keep making me take notice, and if I deserve to be a writer of many books, you’re bound to get in one, eventually.

I just need to write a bunch of good books, first.

No big deal, right?

Writing Process: Trailblazer vs Architects

I am right around the bend of my newest novel draft.

As in, I’m right towards the end.

I’ve learned a lot about pacing from my first attempt to get a book traditionally published. Even though I think, and know, in my gut how I feel about it (it’s an epic story) I know my first draft of my first full length novel had a lot of young-writer mistakes.  (This is different compared to the trimmed down/macheted version that exists today.)

A lot of the descriptions, and ways, and focal points, and pacing were, to put ’em simply: n00b.

Hints: You do not need to carry on with your character’s commute, unless it’s really, really relevant to later.   Subtle foreshadowing represents masterful writing, because it shows that the writer isn’t indulgent, but tightly paced and well-planned.

You don’t need to exposit the good and the bad of an MC. Just the importants.

We’re in an overly sexualized world, to the point that we’re desensitized. Talking about doodoo may actually be more effective than talking about hooking up, or incentives towards hooking up. (That’s not a literal tip that I practice, as much as a point.)

Keep it under 100.  That is, keep it under 100k words.  If you get a request when you’re querying for something that’s over 120,000 words, your premise is gold, and your query letter is too. But you’re writing better be more valuable than a diamond, cause (I think) 60k words is a tightly paced novel’s length.  So do you really need to sell two books at once? Do, you, really?

 

So this, and more, is being carried into Bahamut, which I’ve decided to finish before my life probably gets more….typical.  Bahamut is a story about a music composer who realizes that there’s a lot more to the industry than gigs, contracts, results and fanfare. It’s ambiguous in terms of what’s going on (there’re two strong possibilities, and you either have to blame the MC, or blame a really, really screwed up universe) and I’m not at the point where I should elaborate more than that but,

I’m at the fun* part where the ish hits the fan, and it’s everywhere.  That part where if I’m doing my job well, I’m smacking the reader with “Behold! Thy nostrils are filled with the wafts of fan-poop!” and, it’s fun. It’s probably the most fun part of writing.

Well,

I read a writing post on reddit (as dorks will do) that was titled “Are you a gardener or are you an architect”.   As you can probably guess from the headline itself, the idea is that architects tightly plan everything from blueprints, and freak out if things go out of whack from their original plans. They’re outliners.  The other group, gardeners, just let stuff grow wild.

I’ve got two responses to that:

  1. Who the heck said gardeners just let stuff grow wild? Clearly, whoever wrote that isn’t a gardener. Gardening involves planning. You can have a blueprint for your garden. I get the idea, but, there had to be a better metaphor. Trailblazer, maybe, I feel like that gets the idea across. Let’s go with that.
  2. Almost every time someone gives me an “either/or” dichotomous paradigm, I wanna Zoidberg them with “why not both?”

I don’t write unless I know how it ends.  I understands this baffles a great many writers who are incredibly successful.  But this also invites what Stephen King says in On Writing, and in interviews what he calls as “The notebook” aka one of the worst things a writer can do. His argument seems to be that a notebook has no filter, so you fill it with good ideas, and bad ideas, and then that runs the danger of turning into a writer’s diarrhea.

(Oh dear, maybe I am taking my poop point too seriously.)

His argument is, that when you think about, and process, your mind will retain all the better ideas, and what results won’t be unfiltered, fettered garbage.

King, btw, is almost pure trailblazer in terms of his writing process. He’s one of the types who say they’re baffled when he hears a writer knows the ending, or even the last word of their work before they put their finger to a keyboard, or pen to paper, etc.

But why not both?

I had 2 outlines for Bahamut, and both have very, very similar major plot points. I could get into why, but what was going on in my life isn’t important.

What is important is, after Disjuncture, I saw the necessity and grew the balls to go off course.  From my own outline.  I wanted to tell myself that all of this ish is imaginary and, what’s going off course, from an imaginary course, anyway?

Well, I can still tell I’m coming around the bend.  There are certain major plot points that I know to reach, and every day my head seems to be winding towards a new, less twisted, straighter course towards said point. And I put that down, and now, today, I know I’m about to reach that end. Plus, I’m enjoying the scenery. But I still have a mental map.

It’s just developed enough that I know that I can skip C. Or maybe combine B and D and make that C. But I’m still going to end up at J, even if it’s really L.

K?

I think the idea is, not to self-identify if your process is outline based, or trailblazed, as much as appreciate the virtues and weaknesses of both, and try and make the best of both styles. What works for King almost definitely won’t work nearly as well for another, but any writer almost certainly have a lot to learn from the guy.

He taught me to grow some balls enough to try and take shortcuts from my outline. Yes, sometimes shortcuts mean you might get lost, and may actually make things worse and longer, but they’re also fun, they’re more experimental, and I’d like to believe that those writers who know what they’re doing, rarely, if ever, get themselves lost in the sauce.

How to Know If You’re a Writer

Public, private, published, or hidden horde cache of words

If there’s a part of your brain where this applies to you, and it doesn’t shut up unless you put the time in,

Then congrats.  You’re one of those.

Spiders Can Fly Using Electricity

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/the-electric-flight-of-spiders/564437/

Take-aways:

Spiders don’t just walk or need to float.

Spiders have other ways of getting on a boat.

Spiders are right now in the air.

They’re coming to land in your hair.

Image result for flying spider

Crap.

My grandmother passed away on the 19th.  It knocked me on my butt, especially after being there in the hospital when they called TOD.

Yes, it’s incredibly personal.  Yes, it changes a lot in life, and it fell on me to do a lot for her services.

But I did. I knew she was really loved, but her service ended up being huge.

I’m getting back into gear to do my best at the right things. I know that’s what she’d have respected, what she would have wanted, and that that’s the best way to honor her.

Just, if you’re lucky enough to have a beloved elder in your life still, make them know it. I know this is obvious, but it’s one of those things that’s hard to say, or do enough.  Trust me, while people respond to grief in all sorts of different ways….major changes can really take the wind from your sails. They can always happen.

This one was and is: tough.

Take a Machete To It: Lessons From Gardening

So, I’ve mentioned on the home page that I’ve gotten into gardening this year.  And I love it.  You still mess with plots.  You create actual life (sort of), and you nurture it, and you’re rewarded with better air, maybe some food, something beautiful, and you’ll feel smart.

There are people out there who know that writers need work, and that writers need to live their lives.  You can not be a 24/7 keyboard jockey and expect perfect manuscripts.  For me, living life well and thinking about it deeply is the key to destroying writer’s block.

Well, I’ll wager that gardening is perfect work for most writers.  Let’s put the money thing aside, and just focus on the labor aspect, because I’m confident it synergized with edits I’ve made on my biggest and best manuscript so far.  And here’s why:

  1. Meditative.   It DOESN’T take all your mental energy to make life with dirt.  Maybe there’re parts where you have to concentrate, but compared to some of the money-making positions I’ve worked, from being an excel jockey to bartending in the weeds, it lets your mind wander.
  2. Biology.  Because biology.  Humans were meant to enjoy the color green, dang it.  The exercise involved, the daylight you’ll absorb, and even certain bacteria in the dirt that you’ll inhale all trigger one thing: a flood of monoamines — especially serotonin.  And that keeps us happy, and thinking.  They just did another study verifying that depressed brains age faster, and the corollary of that is, brains that feel good live harder.
  3. Dishapwine.  If you want to turn a hole into a garden, you have to keep at it regularly.  And it gets easier. And I got a bigger take-away than just the green that I was expecting.

I’ve got to imagine that new writers, so often, put too much in their first drafts.  I also know that new gardeners might put too much in the dirt.  Hey, when seeds are 50 cents, it’s tempting to GROW ALL THE THINGS.

But that means you’re going to need to thin plants (or do what I keep doing, and give them to neighbors.)   The act of thinning is an act of editing.  You have to choose the strongest that you’ll let survive.  You have to get a little merciless, and decide which seedlings won’t make it (or again, are going next door.)   You have to accept that sometimes, to get your roots strongest, you’ve got to kill your darlings.

This is tough for anyone who is doing something new, working with a lot, and excited about it.   But I don’t think America is in an age where people want to read your 200k word first draft.  I don’t think every story needs a HAPPY ending.  I do know, every story’s important characters need to bloom, or get out.

This is what gardening teaches, too.

So I’ve got a manuscript with so, much potential.  I know this deep down in my soul, just like a panda knows it likes shoots and leaves.  And this relates to how any plot has potential, because before I could get to work growing, I had to clear it.  (Let’s just say, when I moved in, the place had a scummy, dismal vibe.)  I needed to take an actual machete to the overgrowth before I could even get that dirt fertile. As a result, the machete’s become my favorite tool, and that’s not because I’ve got a sword fetish.  It’s because machetes are dang useful, and the destruction they’re capable of can make needed room.

So again, if you’re an aspiring writer, if you’re looking for something to do that isn’t writing, but’ll bear some transferable elements to your writing, try gardening.   Try potted plants.  Grow some basil and enjoy how much better they’ll make your eggs.  Get good at it, and I’d bet dollars to beans it’ll make you a better writer, too.

One month later: borage, tomatoes, kale, lime tree, squash, lettuce, basil, parsley, oregano, beans, POPCORN, beets, honeysuckle, yarrow, larkspur, dandelions, marigolds, cosmos, and it’s all alive.

Agents Aren’t Gatekeepers

And if especially you’re a writer who believes or feels they are, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Here’s why:

I’m approaching that time where I get to anticipate calling myself an old fart, so when the term ‘gatekeeping’ was first getting thrown around I had to double-check what people meant. And honestly, I liked it.

It references behaviors which are exclusionary towards group inclusion.

(At times, it’s also a very loaded way of saying “discretion”)

The word rang a bell, it sang out with every time I’ve been at work and encountered b.s. that really, seemed in place in order for someone’s progress to be hindered. Impractically.

These things happen. I’ve worked enough jobs to know these things are possible no matter where you are.  There are also places where you need filters. I don’t want to get into how Greek life in colleges involve gatekeeping by nature. I don’t. It’s just cool to be aware of when people are being exclusionary, and why.

And maybe it’s because of where I come from, but every time I hear that word, the background of my mind also yells “KEEPER OF THE GATE!” like some Monty Python heckler.

(I can’t help it. Life is funny.)

Alright, so remember that thing I said?

About how “gatekeeping” can be a very loaded way of saying “discretion”?

Great. Because here’s an embittered message I think most agents will get through the course of their careers:

I’m lucky enough to live with a non-fiction agent, and I can tell you something I see first-hand:

These people are busy. These people aren’t foreign to stress.  These people, especially when they’re good, are SWAMPED.  (In fact, if an agent were to read this right now, I suspect there’s a good chance they’ll be like “Wait, what’s SWAMPED, should I be familiar with it?” because I said it in caps.)

That’s because these people need to rep to eat. I’m not the best pro, but that’s got to be a good thing.

Because it means they want your book to be good. They want their time spent slogging their slush, requesting partials and fulls, and going through that, to be time well spent. Maybe authors can say they want it more, but that’s a dumb discussion.

What isn’t dumb is knowing that agents want to rep good stuff.

I’ve been playing a query game for a small while. I can assert it is a roller coaster, if roller coasters took a minimum of three weeks to reach some sort of a climax. (Ok, actually yes, that works.  Querying is a roller coaster where you’re going up so high, so goddamn high, so goddamn slowly, that after a point you forget what’s happening and then everything either levels off, or goes wheee, or you let yourself quit the ride.)

I have to say this, because when you query, and when you get passes, theres a whole spectrum of emotions authors might feel. You can be one of those big babies who go through all the stages of grief (although my opinion? Maybe you put too many eggs in one basket.)
You could be elated, because non-replies are sometimes the worst replies.
Or you could take it like you’re being REJECTED, and, if you send a dumb message, acting on that, well you might be like the writer who inspired the above tweet.

But let me point out why I think going “ooh, gatekeeping!” is an abuse of the term:

meet one of the O.G.’s of gatekeeping.

Image result for asgard gatekeeper

That’s right. Idris El-I mean, muh-fuggin Heimdall.

You uh, you notice anything interesting about that image?

I do.

Heimdall doesn’t have to like you. Heimdall is more concerned with if you respect his sword, than if you guys get along. Heimdall doesn’t need you to eat. Heimdall needs you to buzz off.

That’s a gatekeeper.

This doesn’t correspond to good agents.  If you feel like an agent is being too much like a sensitivity reader well, maybe that’s on you, or that specific agent, I don’t know. But they’re not all like that. No matter what you write, I’ve got to believe if it’s good, there’s someone who’s willing to help themselves, by helping you rep it.

It’s a partnership.

Gatekeepers only want partners in gatekeeping.  And that’s some stupid garbage logic to be applying to publishing, so I’m not going to humor it.

Maybe I’m going to put the rest of my leg in my mouth by believing this, but you know what I see an agent much more like?

Image result for friendly usher

Ok? They’re not going to do all your work for you. But they might help you figure out where you can sit your butt down.  Ushers NEED you to want to sit down to make their living. It’s ridiculous if ushers are going to bully you, they just want to see your ticket.

And, authors, that ticket, comes in the form of good writing, a platform, and not being a nut.

 

Hey, I’ve been fortunate enough in my query game to draw requests for my MS more than once. I’ve been on the ride. I’ve also been passed. It happens, it’s a burgeoning sense of hope that makes you take a good long look in the mirror and evaluate what you’re really doing.

And from that I’ve realized this: maybe I can make a ticket, and just haven’t found my seat. (Yes I know that’s corny, but bear with me.)

Broadway logic helps here, a lot.  Knowing ushers won’t seat anyone without a ticket helps, and that you have to be in their section. And they have to want to work that section. They have to know the chairs available, and know if your ticket works by them.

This works because, who gets angry when an usher says sorry? Who tries to dominate ushers? If anything, that relationship’s got to be more symbiotic, where everyone appreciates what everyone’s trying to do.

And, if anything, appreciable writers keep working to write that golden ticket.

Awesome Science #7

Above: the color of a galaxy through our eyes, vs the ACTUAL colors of the galaxy with no light filtered. (Hydrogen = red. We’d be able to see a lot less if our eyes were big enough to absorb the big red waves H emits on a cosmic scale.)

 

 

Other great stuff:

Researchers in India are currently experimenting with nanomotors which can map, track, and even force cell motility using magnetism. This has interesting advantages over chemical, surgical (and sonic?) techniques we already use, and can even mess with DNA via gene silencing. Implications with everything from general research, to cancer treatments, to gene modification.  No small fry.

Image result for nanomotors

 

 

American researchers just came up with a new compound that can probably rebuild tooth enamel at the molecular level.
(Knew holding out on my dentist was a good idea.)

 

 

AI has helped researchers invent a new type of metallic glass, and they’re saying its machine learning helped them make this breakthrough 200x faster.

Image result for machine learning

 

 

Last one: a method of creation that I made up and have been using in a work-in-progress has just been transferred from science fiction, into reality.

illustration of two atoms

(Wait a year and a half more, and Sophia will probably have a book out praising it.)

 

Edit: I WAS RIGHT.

 

I’ll say it again and again: anyone who writes science fiction and wants its science to be realistic but futuristic….well, some things still are just a matter of time.

Suggestions from the back of my head to its front:

Maybe read War of the Worlds for a sci-fi appreciation of what-was (and language that’ll turn your tongue into a roller coaster track in a fun way.)

Check out the tech in the Starship Troopers novel again, and ask again how much of it’s untested today.

Or maybe, enjoy you some star trek, while looking up show facts on your mobile.

 

Meanwhile, never underestimate how much butt dedicated humans can kick. We make nifty things.