Sunday, March 29, 2009

On my writing front

Ever tried writing out of your comfort zone? Tricky business, that stuff. When what you are dealing with is the fantastic, bending reality is part of the fun. Creating something that isn't quite like anything else is amazing. But a few moments of genius in an otherwise forgettable scene doesn't make a good piece, no matter the size. It all has to work just so... and if you aren't comfortable with something, you play it safe. You hide. You start telling.

I've found several scenes in my novel that revert to this because of the discomfort with where my characters ended up. I held back. I only see that fact now because of a few people who pointed out some problems with a single scene. I'm going to have to go back through and do another rewrite, but I don't mind.

I'll have to move things around in my day to find the time, though. I've let this lay for so long that I'm already near the end of another one. I can't always write more than one at a time, depends on which I'm more interested in on any given day. I can't seem to give them the full attention they seem to need, so maybe just revisions of current scenes that are problem areas and trimming narration. Either way, I'll figure it out.

Peace and love.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sending Out Queries

I queried a few agents today and a publisher. I'm thinking it's going to be a no-go on all accounts, but here's hoping I'm wrong. I'm probably not wrong, though. Rejection comes with the territory. I'm used to the idea of it and have no problem being told no. If I couldn't hear the word no, I'd be in the wrong business. Fortunately for me, I take rejection with a grain of salt, sure in the knowledge of... oh who am I kidding? I'm not sure of shit. All I know is I've written books and I need someone to publish or represent them. But that is like looking for a needle in a haystack... and this is one big ass haystack!

Now, I know I'm not the Next Great American Author. I know I'm not the best there ever was. Not even close. I'm only just, after writing for nearly fourteen years, getting around to publishing... or hoping to. Until a few months ago, no one had ever even read anything I've written. Those who have read my works have made comments ranging from "This is fantastic! I loved every second of it." to "You were born to write. A natural. Don't let anyone tell you different." to "Sheesh, what is this junk?" and "Why do you write that way?" Opinions vary, I guess. But... It would suck to find out all that time I spent writing was for nothing. But it wasn't, really. My life isn't focused on publishing. I'm a writer, not a publisher. My business is words... their business is the printed page. I'm going to focus on what I do. But being a writer also means you have to sell what you write, if you want it to do anything more than collect cyber-dust on your hard drive, that is.

So, how to sell it? I have to make it sound good. I have to make them want to represent me. How? Well, I'll be damned if I know. I've spent a lot of time at Writers Digest Forums trying to find out how, though. It's helping, or at least it seems to be. If you come by, I'm registered as ecoll, drop me a line to say hi and tell me where you know me from (I might just think you're a cyber-stalker if you don't). The people of the forum are wonderful and range from authors with multiple published works to new authors looking for guidance. No one is mean-spirited about what they say, although some have a sarcastically-funny nature, they mean well. I've gotten more help there than anywhere else. Made some friends as well. I highly reccomend the forum and website. Good stuff, good people, good advice... who wouldn't reccomend it?

Querying agents can be daunting and I'm seriously procrastinating. I've queried three agents and one publisher... and that is it. I think I might still be a little afraid of the entire endeavor. And rightly so. How am I supposed to know what agents and publishers want? What are they looking for, exactly? Their guidelines give basic answers, but nothing specific.

To find out more about an agent, I like to look at the books they have represented. It gives me a slightly better feel of what they like. They tend to only take books they like... after all, who would attach their name to a crappy project, right? I wouldn't. If I thought my book was crap, I wouldn't be trying to sell it. I'm my own worst ciritc, but I don't think they're crap. I'm just not sure if they're any good. Does that make any sense? Probably not, knowing me but oh well...

I like the process though. Finding an agent or publisher, that is. It's interesting and I'm loving going through and reading all the information I find on Query Tracker, Preditors and Editors and of course, the person in question's own web page. It helps. If they have a blog, I read a bit of it too, just to get a feel for the person. I don't want to work with an ass-hole. Does anyone? Anyhow, my kids are home from school, so for now... peace and love, y'all.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Joys of Parenthood

Children. Kids. Rugrats.

I have three. My oldest son, Dakota, is a sweet, good boy with a lot of anger problems. He is an introvert, much like myself, but he got his father's explosive temper. Not a good combination. Not a bad one either, though. He's highly intelligent. His teachers have shown me (on a silly chart graph, as if I were too stupid to understand the difference between above mark and below) how high his reading ability is. In school, they will only let him try up to a fifth grade level. At home, he reads at a college level. I don't interfere with my kids trying to read. If they want to read, then by George, they freaking will! I try to help my son with his anger issues. Being bipolar, I feel like I should understand. He refuses to listen to what I have to say, complaining that I just don't get it. The problem is, though, that he won't listen to his father either. So, where does that leave me? In the lurch, with all the others stuck in the happy nation I like to call "Clueless Parentton". He's only nine, but I'm afraid that my son is slowly rolling toward that avenue no one wants to see their kid on. And what can I do to stop it? Nothing. Not a damned thing.

My daughter, Savannah, is an 8 year old drama queen. Everything is the end of the world. Everything makes her cry. Everything is all because no one wants her to have anything or any fun and we're just mean, mean, mean! I'm sorry, but my eight year old daughter is not going to be dropped off at the movies with her little "boyfriend" and left with no adult supervision. Not going to happen. Not when you hear about 11 year old girls having babies on the news. In fact, when I was having my daughter, there was an 11 or 12 year old who came in the hospital. Her water had broken a week before her c-section was scheduled. She was screaming at the top of her lungs "I WANT TO GO HOME TO MY MOMMY!!!" 11 years old. Screaming for her mommy. About to become a mommy herself. Oh, huh-huh-hell no. Not my daughter. No way, not happening, not while I draw breath into my lungs.

My youngest son, 6 year old Nicholas, brought home his last report card, which was covered in a happy little note saying that he has difficulty paying attention, can't focus for more than 3-5 minutes on a subject, making noises, actions with his hands. I admit, I got angry. My son is very boisterous, very imaginative. He certainly CAN focus on a task; he does it ALL the time at home. I have no problem with my child having a vivid imagination. I have no problem with him wanting to use his imagination to occupy himself when he has finished his work ahead of everyone else. His grades are excellent, yet she claims he is "not preforming on grade level". How can a child receive high 90's in all his subjects, but not be on grade level? Sounds a trifle bull-shitty to me.

Okay, so I don't have perfect kids. I don't expect them to be perfect. How could I? I started having kids when I was 16 years old and stopped when I was almost nineteen. Yeah. I had a kid a year. I was the mother of three before I was twenty. Soooo??? What have I done wrong? Nothing, exactly. I just didn't know what I was doing. No one does, their first time around. Unfortunately, all of my times at the "mother-board" (sorry, small attempt at humor) occured at about the same time as my first go around. There is only two and a half years between my oldest son and youngest, with a daughter thrown in between. I was a kid and yeah, I screwed up. A lot. All new mother's do. But now, I have a child who has been thrown off the bus for destruction of property, a daughter who thinks she just isn't anything unless she can show her tummy off a bit and another son who crawls along the floor chasing fuzz when he should be doing math worksheets. And guess what? I still don't have a clue. I don't know what to do because no matter how old they get, I will still not have any experience. Each year brings new and exciting worry because I just haven't been there yet. If I had a baby, along with the other three, the baby might have a chance at having an experienced mother. Might. Know why?

Because no matter how many kids you have, you'll never be an expert. All three of my children are intelligent and have ample opportunity to become decent adults that actually contribute to society. I'm afraid, though, that one or all of them will end up like me and my husband. I quit school to have a baby; my husband quit to support it. He's a coal miner, but with the economy, he's laid-off for the moment. Not sure when he will get the chance to go back. I have no college education, I've stayed home and taken care of kids since I was 16. I've worked, but only for two and a half years at a restaurant. My dream was to be an author. It still is. I have three completed novels that I'm too scared to try and publish, forty or more short stories and several novellas that I'm also too scared to try and publish. I keep telling myself that I'm not scared, but in truth I am. I've had more than a few people tell me that I'm a wonderful writer (people other than my family... family doesn't count) and I just can't bring myself to try. But, I also have three children who depend on me. They look to me to make their lives better.

As a parent, I have a responsability to my children, to guide them and teach them everything they need to know to care for themselves as adults. I don't think it's wrong for them to have chores and be taught how to cook. My youngest son, in fact, won't eat scrambled eggs unless my daughter is the one to cook them. He says hers taste better than mine. At least she will be able to cook for herself when she's grown and makes a home for herself. But, I also have to make sure they do the things they are supposed to do. Like their school work. If they want to go to college, they have to make the grades and behave themselves. They have to get into college. But telling a nine year old that he needs to try harder is like telling a man who can't hear that he needs to listen a little better. It's useless. And I'm lost. I don't know what to do. And for some reason, I don't think I ever will. Kids are like opinions. They're all different.

I suppose I'll just have to hope for the best and do what I can. Isn't that what we parents all do? Try our hardest and just hope it comes out okay? I'll have to settle for that because it's the only thing I can do. Just keep trying.

Peace and love, y'all.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Beware the Bad Boys

As a writer, especially a "new" or "unpublished" writer, it can be hard to determine which agents or publishers are legitimate and which are scams. There are quite a few that, while they may look great, sound great, act great are usually just cons in publishers clothing (or agents clothing, depending on the scam). How to know who's the real deal? Well, there are hundreds of thousands of websites devoted to telling you just that. I'm not going to tell you it's easy. It isn't.

The most reliable source of information on a publisher is, of course, Amazon. If you go to a publishing house's website and they claim credit for, in example, author Mr. Dean Koontz's novel, The Door to December, go to Amazon and search for the book. While some novels will be published by more than one house (Mr. Stephen King's "The Shining" has been published several times by different houses), you will find ALL of them on Amazon. (Good Reads is another good place to search for books a publisher claims to have sold) The good thing about these websites is that they offer all the information you need to know. If you go to and search out "The Door to December" by Dean Koontz, you'll get back results for every publishing house that has it in print. If above said publisher who claims to have sold it is not listed, then THEY DID NOT SELL IT!! I conducted a search on Amazon just so I could report this correctly to you. Koontz's "The Door to December" gets 49 results on Amazon, though not all listings in these results are Koontz's work, most were. Clicking on each one of these results will tell you this book was published by Signet books in 1985 (and other dates), authored by Dean Koontz (AKA Richard Paige), gives information on the product such as an ISBN, paperback, hardback, date published etc. If a publishing house claims books they didn't sell, my advice to you is run away as fast as you can.

If, however, the publishing house is listed for Mr. Koontz's work, you still probably need to look elsewhere. Larger publishing houses won't usually take work from an author with no agent. That doesn't mean small presses won't take it, though. The term "small press" has nothing to do with how reputable a publishing company is. It just means they work on a smaller scale and usually only publishing a few titles a year. This can actually be a good thing.

Some of the other websites you can read and use to your advantage while you are separating the wheat from the chaff are: Preditors and Editors , Writer Beware , The AAR , among many, many others. I AM NOT vouching for all the information found on these sites, but I use them myself, if that tells you anything. As I have yet to publish, that may not mean a whole lot, but there you go.

Now, agents are a different matter altogether. There are literally hundreds of thousands of scam artists, with only a few thousand true agents. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? It isn't. Imagine a small town. Now imagine a large country. Large country= cons and scam artists, Small town= literary agents. Now which sounds like a lot? The same websites listed above also list agents (Actually, the AAR lists nothing BUT agents) and can be a help no matter what you are seeking. The articles on these sites are informative, they don't ask for money or membership, although it is an option (the membership part, not the money part), and in fact, Writer Beware states very clearly that they DO NOT accept donations. Why would they offer free information such as this? Because too many aspiring authors have been duped by the bad boys that are giving publishing a bad rap. One it doesn't deserve.

If you still want to publish your book after reading the articles on these websites, then go ahead and start looking. There is no time like the present. Procrastination doesn't sell books anymore than I do. What are you waiting for? Go get 'em, tiger.

Oh, and just one more thing; research, research, research. You can never, EVER, do enough research on a person or establishment that you are considering. After all, these people are reading your heartfelt work. Make sure they are worthy, okay? Peace and love, y'all.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

So, You Have a Big Idea

That's how it usually starts, anyway. You have an idea, want to make it... something. What? Would it be a better book or movie? Short-story, perhaps? Poem? Right now, what is it? Just an idea, right? What do you want it to be?

These are all questions we ask ourselves at some point in the initial creative process, but let's start with the idea. First, you have to decide what to do with it. Once you've chosen your format or "media" I think it's called, could be wrong there, where to start. Where do you feel like starting? That's the bigger question. Too many people think you have to start at the beginning. Not true. You have something in your head. Say you have the perfect ending. Okay then, write the damned ending first. Sometimes, it's better to know the ending first, to have it down already. That way, it's easier to build a good beginning place. Once you've written whatever niggling idea was in the back of your head, then you build off the idea. Simple, right? Pfft.

If you think so, let's take a look. We'll start with the most basic layout of a story. The Beginning, The Middle, and The End.

Where you begin the actual story (not writing it, but where the tale begins) depends on how your story ends and, of course, what it's about. Three things to remember:

  1. Your opener must be nearly as good as your climax. By that, I mean the very first thing people read must be damn good. It can be as simple a thing as an argument, but it has to be a very good argument. This is your time to shine and make casual browsers actual readers, so give it your best go. You don't have to have a fistfight between big, brawny men to make it good, but it has to be important. Better yet, it has to be the perfect lead-in.
  2. Your beginning has be where your story starts. Anything before this point is irrelevant. (In other words, we don't have to go through the birthing process of Mary's ten kids to show that she has them. Having all of them call her "Mom" is sufficient. If, however, the births are a major part of the story, describe one and implicate the rest as happening before or after, but don't go into it. Repeating counts even here too.) Anything after this point can cause confusion in a reader.
  3. Never make your beginning better than the climax/ending. (A lot of writers end just after the climax.) It's like a knot, in a way. Your beginning is a good lead, the story wraps around, the climax shoots through and loops around, and the end ties it all up nicely.
Now, with that in mind, I'm going to let you in on something. I've forgotten every single one of these "things to remember about your beginning" a time or two. Nothing is set in stone, but they are something to keep in mind. Just as what I'm going to say about the middle is not set in stone, but they are things to remember.

The middle is where you have to keep the attention of your readers. This can be tough because not only do you need to keep their attention with action (not gunfights or swordplay, but normal actions that are interesting for one reason or another), you have to give them information about they characters (they have to care about your heroes and hate your villains, whatever they may be, too), and you have to, listen now because it is important, build toward something. Your middle must be going some where. Doesn't matter where, but it has to move along. So, the things your middle should do are:
  1. Keep the story going. There doesn't have to be a ghost or bad guy around every corner, although I've read books exactly like that (Funny how I never re-read them, but hey), but they have to be doing something. If your character's are doing something mundane and every day, fine, but make them think, talk, something! Give the scene purpose. It has to make sense in the story, it has to be important. If it's not, it doesn't need to be there.
  2. Give information. Let the readers get to know your character's better. I'm not saying the beginning doesn't give information, because it does. The middle is where the most information is found, though. You find out that Mary hates the color red on Chapter 6, rather than Chapter 1, and if we found out in Chapter 1, we don't find out exactly why until Chapter 6. We know she does, but it doesn't tie in until it needs to. That adds to the "building towards something" too.
  3. Build toward your climax and end. This, I think, is most important. There isn't a story without it telling about one specific thing. You are building toward the end. That is why you have chosen to write a story/screenplay/novel in the first place, right? You want your reader to know the circumstances under which this specific event happened. So, tell them about it. Better yet, let your characters tell them about it.
And now we come to where we want to be. The climax and end, right? This is the whole point of the story, where everything makes sense and comes together, where the characters defeat the bad guy (or die, either one), and everyone comes away happy, right?

So, let's look at the climax and end. What purpose do they serve? I already told you. The whole point of the story in the first place. This is where you want to take your readers. Be it the end of the world, a new marriage, going off to college or the discovery of some unknown power within, this is what we've been waiting for. So, what do we need to do here? For starters, we have to tell about what happened and give a why. The why doesn't have to be a good reason, but the character doing this thing (the bad guy aka the antagonist) has to believe wholeheartedly in it. They must think that they are right. If they don't, then you have a bad guy you could possibly save and that's a whole different ballgame. If you want to save bad guys, be a therapist in a federal prison. If you want to tell a story, be on one side. The bad guys are the bad guys and the good guys are the good guys. End of story. The purpose is to defeat the bad guy, kill him, send him to prison, make him no longer a threat. This happens, amazingly, in the climax, near the end. Go figure! Anyway... three things the climax/end must do.
  1. Come to the point of the story. Without this, there's no story anyway.
  2. Tie-in all loose ends in the storyline. Everything has to fit nicely, even in a series, there are still separate stories. Each tale comes to an end before the next begins. They may all be related to a bigger tale, but they can stand alone too.
  3. Be hopeful. This doesn't mean no one can die. You can kill people, but their deaths must serve a purpose. Kill the main character, as long as their death means something to those left behind.
So, there you have it. It may seem basic, but that's really all you need. As long as you have a beginning, a middle, and an end, you have a story. It might not be the next great American novel, but it's yours. Right? It's your big idea. Now, go write it how you want to write it. Start in the middle, start at the end, or at the beginning, hell I don't care. Get that big idea down. For now, though... Peace and love, y'all.


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Perfect Face

One thing all readers want to know is what the character looks like. They want to see a face with each name. It can be hard for a writer to be able to describe a face. Many use pictures of actors and actresses, famous singers and what-not to help them visualize. Some go through magazines, tearing off one model's eyes, another one's nose, a torso here, a set of legs there; Frankenstein from scraps of paper.

Personally, I use Face Maker. It's a nifty, free, online game that lets you "draw" a face that looks a lot like a police sketch. You can print the faces out and label them for your notes, save them as a file on your computer, and publish them for other users to see if you are just playing around. It's fun and I have had better success in seeing my characters using it than tearing up magazine ads or looking at celebrities. The rest of the body is relatively easy to describe. The face though, it takes some work at times. Especially if you've just described Elvis to a T.


It gives a person the freedom to make the face look exactly how they want in just a few minutes when they could look through magazines for days without finding the exact lip shape they want etc. I like using it, printing out my faces and coloring them with colored pencils. I get the face I want, the coloring of hair I want (or very close to), the exact shade of eyes and it makes description easier. Having that visual stimuli can help pull you out of a tricky situation when you just can't describe that one thing. Some writers don't need it, but I bet almost all would love to have that exact face they want in a picture. For those of us who can't draw worth a damn, Face Maker is neat. For now, peace and love, y'all.


On Writing And Rejection

The life of a writer has to be the most interesting of any a person could have. Not a single moment is ever boring. A person can sit for hours working on a book and write not a single word down. So much of the real work goes on inside the head. A story can be written in minutes, just by thinking. Any particular thing is cause for our imaginations to be sparked: a bee buzzing annoyingly in your ear, a flash of headlights through the nearest window, a person walking by you have never seen before. Any (and sometimes all) of these things can send a writer's imagination into a frenzy and before you know it, the story is written. Or, so it seems.

The downside to that is that the imagination can work too much or not enough. Once, I was in the middle of typing out a story when I got a phone call. I'd been thinking about this story for three weeks, but just because the phone rang and brought me out of the world I was making, it was gone. Just like that, the tale was lost in the recesses of my mind's trash can. It happens a lot. The perfect idea comes in the car or the dentist office and you never remember it again. Then, there are always the ideas that come and, after getting half-way through, you realize that you just saw this on a re-run of X-Files last week, so out the window that goes. Then, there are the ideas. The ones that stick and won't go away, no matter what. And once you start writing, you can't stop. That's the ideas that end up being novels. Some are good, some are bad; no writer can claim consistently good writing and if they do, they lie, they lie, they lie!

Bad writing comes with the territory. Sometimes, it just sucks and no amount of revising can fix it. The best writers in the industry are capable of writing crap. Once you can admit that your writing isn't perfect, that you aren't the new millennium's William Shakespeare, then you are half-way to being professional. Many amateurs make the mistake of thinking that their book is THE BEST book ever written and any publisher would be IGNORANT not to take it on.

Unfortunately, too many professional writers take rejection personally. It isn't. I've never had any publisher contact me only to say "We won't be taking this piece because you are just too young to write a book about the elderly." It won't happen. Three quarters of rejections are sent out because amateurs have:

  1. Sent an unsolicited manuscript
  2. Sent a genre fiction query to a publisher who does not handle that particular genre
  3. Sent a query or manuscript to a major publisher who only accepts such things from an agent
  4. Sent ill formatted work
  5. Did not follow specific publisher guidelines

It may be hard to find out exactly what a publisher wants, and my advice will always be :ASK THEM! I was once told by one publishing company that no question from an author was ever trivial or silly. They would rather you ask questions and be specific than have unwanted garbage on their desk. Answering an e-mail or short note about what their specific preferences are is a lot quicker and easier than sifting through a bunch of crap. As a matter of fact, they won't sift through a bunch of crap. They will look at your cover-letter first. If you didn't send one, immediate file thirteen material. They will go no further. If you send a cover-letter, they will look for a professional attitude, spelling, and grammar as well as something to pique their interest. It had better be one damn-good cover-letter. (The contents of a query and cover-letter will be in later posts, for those who are interested. ) Remember, you have to sell your book to them. They aren't buying, you don't get published. It's as simple as that.

A big problem I had for a long time was a fear of trying to publish. I wrote for fourteen years without even thinking about publishing at all. I didn't want it, didn't need it. Then, I got curious about it and started looking into it. I've come a long way since then, and I have yet to publish any work, but I am thinking of actively pursuing it. Seriously thinking. I've gone as far as to send out a few queries and have had, amazingly enough, some wonderful feedback. I've had no offers, but in the publishing world, a hand-written response with a few comments from the editor who read it is a rarity for rejections. I'm no expert, but I'm learning as much as I can. I'm getting there. I'd like to be comfortable with the publishing part before actively seeking it. I'm almost there. Almost.

Even so, I found rejection a very bitter pill to take once I had sent out a query or two. I did get some good, and much appreciated, feedback from the small presses I've contacted. The form letters stung, and very much so. The first few were tough on me and after the tenth, I wanted to give up. I had been happy before, writing merely for my own love of writing. Then it hit me. It's a simple enough thing, but it's still true.

For the writer, it is art. For the publisher, it's business. Just business. They want to make money. Assuming you have any honesty with yourself, you want to be published because you want money, too. You may long to see your name in print, but if you are trying to publish, you would like to make some money from it. Am I right? I know I am. So, I had to stop thinking of my art as art during my half-assed attempt at finding a publisher. I am selling my book. If they don't want, they don't take.

If, however, you manage to catch their attention with your cover-letter, they will move on to read the sample chapters, if you sent them (and only do if asked for in their guidelines). They look at the title page first. Not having one may be forgivable, especially if the ms (manuscript) is formatted correctly. If the ms is not formatted correctly, it's a no go again. They do things the way they do things because it works. They have been publishing for a very long time and have always done it this way. They have to look for the things that make their lives easier because they just don't have the time to develop a professional author from a talented amateur. Publishers are busy. They have authors who they DO want to publish to deal with, go over revisions, discuss contracts and rights and everything else with. They need professionalism from unpublished authors. It doesn't have to be exactly perfect. A typo every hundred pages isn't going to get your work thrown out, but it has to be good. It has to read easily, be original, and be easy to publish, especially from an unpublished, unagented author. Make them work as little as possible, entertain them, and give them a sellable book all in one, all while being professional and concise?

Your chances go up. That's it. There's no guarentee. Your timing may be off. If that kind of book isn't selling so well, they will probably pass on it. But, if it's got a chance of selling, they might just ask to read the complete manuscript. Maybe. There are other aspects of it that, as of right now with no publishing experience under my belt, that I don't understand yet. Once I do, I'll write about it just so you'll know too. But for right now, I'm done. Peace and love, y'all.