Wednesday, September 26, 2007


So I've been rethinking Nanowrimo this year. I was going to not participate, but lately I've been having more than normal attacks of story ideas. Two of those ideas have manifested in full blown synopsi. And one of those feels just complete enough to make a 50,000 word story.

So I'm waffling. I admit it.

I blame the last four years. Especially that last three of those, when I dove into Nano by September and never looked back. It *feels* like story writing time, because November is close.

What to do. What to do? I might put off making any decision until the end of October. Who knows? Or I might just take the dive October 1st, sign up, and commit.

At least I have a week to give it some thought.

I hate my reader thiiiiiiis much

Exploder has been crashing repeatedly when I try to post, and iCab gets into a loop of continuous info dump so that the average typing speed becomes about one letter every 2-3 seconds. Hence the infrequent posting. I'm expecting this to crash at any moment.

Or maybe not.

Anyway, OryCon 29 is coming up and as writer's workshop coordinator (or workshop fool, which may be a more accurate description) I've had the opportunity to watch the submission process from eager beginning to its black demise. Here are some observations that may be helpful, or may be simply suitable to inspire a sense of professional superiority in pro-minded individuals.

"I was terribly disappointed. I got almost no comments on my content and about ten pages of formatting information. Since then I've published in (X and X) magazines."
Gee, I was at that critique and that's not how I remember it, but who am I? This seems to be a classic case of not listening. This person may very well be turning out good prose, hence the publishing credits (which were both paying markets, btw) however it's really hard to go from good to amazing when you can't listen to comments. The hyperbole doesn't help--she didn't get even ten pages total of comments much less ten on formatting. There was plenty of room for improvement in the manuscript, including the formatting. But more on formatting later ...
Comments from anyone, whether they're a professional, fellow writer trying to break into the business, or helpful buddy are always a mixed bag. A great resume' does not make a great critiquer, unfortunately. Still, if that person wasn't impressed (and maybe couldn't say much more than stuff about your formatting) then something is falling flat. If you can't see it for yourself, then try to get a second and third and fourth opinion. If those other opinions are all about the excited enthusiasm and spewing about the perfection of your vision, then feel free to pat yourself on the back for writing the next international classic (or for finding the perfect audience or providing sufficient bribery or blackmail for this result.) It stinks to get a poor critique, but you gotta get what you can from it. Poor critiques require more advanced listening, reading between the lines, and before you decide that it was totally worthless (and some of them are) you need to take a healthy dose of objectivity. Sometimes you can do that all by yourself, but be careful. It's better to get another reader involved, hopefully one with a good skill set, and get at the truth that way.

Dear Cover Letter Reader--I have no idea what to say so I'll take a guess without looking at the big picture.
What's a cover letter's job? Sometimes it's easier to figure that out by looking at your entire submission package in the context of who is getting it. I'll use a writer's workshop novel package as an example. The package consists of a cover letter, a 500 word synopsis and a 7500 word chunk of novel. Logically we can deduce that the cover letter is an introduction. But then what? A key is to try not to double up on information. Another key is to not include extraneous information.
A good cover letter will include who you are, contact information, and date. Unearthing manuscripts from a haphazardly stacked pile is an exercise in surprises--giving the editor a chance to place your manuscript should it become misplaced is key.
A good cover letter will include pertinent information about your experience. Editors (or in this case pros reading your manuscript) want to know where you're at in your career. They want to know if you're just starting out, if you're in it for the long haul, get a sense of how prolific you might be in the case of novels (it's not inappropriate to mention if you've got other works in the works and what stage they're at) and if you've taken any major steps for self-improvement (degrees, Clarion, etc.) Be sensitive to the pro's pov as much as you can. They get no real information from 'I've been writing since I've been three years old.' Well, me too. I learned to write my name at three. They don't really get a sense of your quality or stick-with-it if you say you started writing seriously in high school, or in college. So what are they looking for? I majored in journalism (or English) in college. I have published work in non-paying markets from 1985 onward. If you're submitting for publication you may want to keep out information about the high school poetry chapbook unless you're close to high school age but if you're submitting to a workshop you have more freedom since you're not trying to sell your work. In a workshop you're trying to give the pro perspective so they can critique in context. For example, looking at it from the other side, if I'm critiquing something I want to know if I can say 'you slipped into passive voice during this action scene which slowed it down' and let it go or whether I need to explain what passive voice is. I'd like to know if I can boldly say, "this character was so unsympathetic I was ready to stop reading by page three" or if I should gentle it down--not leave out information, but get more technical and not assume that the writer is going to understand that I'm having a specific issue with the story, not with the writer or the prose or their worthiness to publish. With advanced writers you can use shorthand without coming across as brutal, taking a five minute explanation about a character's flaws, actions and inner dialogue and how that made me feel like they were a worthless whiner and pare it down to "this character whined too much. I wanted more protagging."
In short, a cover letter needs to give useful information, and in the case of a professional submission to a paying market, not too much information about amateurish stuff so you don't come across as an amateur. It doesn't need a description of the plot (handled in the synopsis) or a hook (handled on the first page of your manuscript) or how many margaritas you drank as research for this piece. Shorter is better, but include all the necessary parts.

Now, back to "...ten pages about my formatting."
The last time I helped someone with their formatting it took six pages of explanation. I kid you not. Not on how to do it--that was clearly outlined on the submission guidelines along with a .pdf example. But on how to fix the piece of I-don't-know-what-they-were-thinking workmanship they handed in as their submission. I kid you not! It seems that even the extensive precautions I took didn't prevent me from having to deal with very badly formatted manuscripts.
And why should an editor care? It's all about the content, right?
Readability. An editor's eyes are precious. They've chosen fonts and line spacing to accommodate their vision and not following those guidelines is a slap in the face. It says I care more about having this come in under ten pages by using ten point font than your vision.
Space to write. An editor needs room to write in comments, when they're inspired to do so (which is rare) and both the editor and typesetter, should you be so lucky as to have your work accepted, need scribbling room for editing and typesetting stuff.
Ability to estimate. An editor prefers to see how many pages there are and have a good idea of how much room it will take up in the magazine. They do this through word count as well, but word count doesn't always accurately measure room on a magazine page or thickness of the book because writing styles and word choices differ. The page length is another tool they like to use, and that's useless or misleading if you've used 1.5 line spacing or a font that they're not used to estimating with, for example.
Certainty of placement. An editor needs to know absolutely where a paragraph starts and ends, where there's a scene break, a new chapter, etc. without having to think. The problem with email-style paragraphing with no indentation and a double return after paragraphs is that it looks like stream-of-consciousness meets a monstrosity of scene breaks every paragraph (but missing the # sign that helps them determine that yes, this is a scene break.) Other style changes are even worse. Whenever a writer breaks out of standard format the editor has to adapt to that style, and I'm going to guarantee right now that the editor doesn't want to adapt. You can argue if you want that everyone is used to reading such and such a style. Personally, I prefer not to argue with someone I'm trying to sell work to, or someone I'm trying to gain a good opinion from.

Having done this job for several years, I sometimes wish that everyone in INK could take on this job for at least a year, preferably two, to help put the whole professional submission thing into perspective for them. I've often heard editors wish aloud that writers would take on an editorial job or slush pile reading, even if it's informally and just a short while. This is why. It's the experience of seeing other people's mistakes that help you figure out what to do with your submission, much more than being told what to do and what not to do.

Any takers?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Off, Off, and Away!

It felt good to get the submission sent away. It felt good to know I did a good job going over it until I was happy with both it and the synopsis. However, I'm scared as hell at having sent it without having any readers look at it before hand. It's a good exercise for me to see how on track my instincts are about my work, but it's still unsettling.

I am very curious about how it will be received by the pros. I have questions about it, which is a good thing to into a workshop with, and hopefully I'll have a completed draft at my back when I sit down with them to discuss the excerpt. That will make their comments more applicable, if the draft is finished. It's hard to say how close I am to the end of the story from what I have already written, since it took a couple of left turns during the first writing and lots of it will be scrapped. If I had to guess, I'd say I'm a third of the way finished, which means I'll be condensing the 50,000 words down to about 30,000, since I'm projecting a 100,000 word limit to the story. That's a lot of chopping, but considering I just chopped 4000 words off the excerpt I sent, I think I can do it.

Oh, and btw: Heya, Kami! I emailed you my Orycon writers workshop submission this morning. I know you are having difficulties with your email, so if you did or didn't get it, or if you just wanna say "hi!" you can leave me a comment to this post.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Lost in Edits

I've been neck deep in edits and loving every minute of it. Between judging the romance contest, which is heavy on critique notes and reworking my Inkwell Cult excerpt and its synopsis, I haven't done much new writing. Except in my head.

But I do love the process of editing. I love twisting the story around, moving whole sections forward or back, cutting superfluous scenes, picking out the best parts of description and dialogue and ending up with something I can be proud of. It's the best part of writing for me, because the end result is something I'm glad I did and not something that I know is going to take lots of work to get close to my vision of the story. The edited piece is my vision of the story, the new and improved vision, and I sit back with real satisfaction at a job well done. I can spend hours editing, and I have the past few days, whereas I tend to burn out of blue-screen writing after just an hour or two.

Editing is my thing, no question. But that means I have to have something to edit, so I need to be good and keep up with my daily blue-screen writing in conjunction with editing and synopsis writing, and not let those more enjoyable parts of the craft take the place of the foundation writing.

So at some point today, I'm determined to get my three pages in. And then more editing! Woo hoo! I have another 40,000 words of Inkwell to get through and then I'll be daily writing it to the end. I want a rough draft finished by Orycon. I've already started practicing my pitches for it, both the one liner, the shorter summary and the longer detailed. It helps having the short synopsis to go off of, but I definitely need practice talking it out. I need to hit the right tone of conversational but focused. Not an easy thing for me when speaking without notes. But that's what practice is for.

Say, INKers, we should get together closer to Orycon for pitching practice. Sound like fun? Of course, getting together for any reason sounds fun at this point! I miss my INK friends!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I'm Bad, I'm Bad, You Know It

And just a day after my rant about not having any stories finished and needing to set goals, I start a new story.

But it's not my fault! It's not!

It's the dream's fault. It was all eerie and cool, filled with characters and settings and even a plot! How could I resist! I mean, ready made story, just begging to be put on paper. Opening paragraph and everything. Narrator's voice, conflict, really awesome antagonist, I was doomed! Doomed I say!

I wrote six pages this morning and I'll probably go back for more. Heck, might even be dragging the typewriter along so I can write more on this during the camping trip. I just want to write enough to capture the creepiness of it all before the dream completely fades.

Too bad it isn't closer to Nano. This would have been my Nano story, I think. But no way I'm a waiting a month and a half to write it. I'm writing it now, hot dammit!

I haven't forgotten Inkwell Cult, though. I'll sit down and finish the first edit today and take a hard copy to do one more read through on the trip. In between writing pages on The English Boy.

All I can say is, why now? And WOO HOO!

Damned, this would have made a good writers workshop submission. Sigh. Next year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


This happens periodically, and each time I'm not any better equipped to cope. I just have to ride the wave out.

I'm overbooked. Writer's workshop for OryCon 29 is needing more and more attention. I'm still working my 3-4 days a week at the store. I have a bunch of pictures to take for Rory's book, and an important portrait to help make happen. And then I have my regular house stuff, and the garden needs to be put to bed in stages or I'll never get it done in time and have a serious mess in spring to deal with. All this, plus we're going on vacation in just barely over two weeks.

Which means I've written only a paragraph here and a sentence there this past stretch. It's especially frustrating because I'm so inspired right now. That leads to weird dreams.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to write some tomorrow evening. Keeping my fingers crossed.


I'm very glad I'm working on this writers workshop submission. Even when I'm drowning in crap, not sleeping at night, and genuinely wishing this week were over already. It's all teaching me lots of useful things about how I work, how I don't work, and how so not ready I am to be submitting yet.

But I'm not throwing in the towel. At least, not until Thursday, which is my deadline since we're going out of town.

It's frustrating that I have so many stories (I mean, for submitting 7500 words, I have six potential stories to use) but have none of them even close to submission quality. I know that hasn't been my goal this year, but it does so me that I need to get a couple more things finished and start working on second drafts to the nano stories to get them to the proper lengths. I think after I finally get something submitted (only the muse knows what that might be at this point), I'll be taking time to seriously address the stories I have in the works and readdress my goals. We're getting close to the end of the year, and since this was the year for working on middles, I need to start choosing things that are well into the middles to start working up endings so I can start the editing process.

That gives me three nano stories (The 8th Day, Inkwell Cult, and Phantoms) and two current wips (Mummy Case and Warrior Storm). All of them need firmer direction (can everyone say 'synopsis'?) and the first three need complete rewrites.

Which will leave Faith of the Four, Rome in Egypt, Edan Ro, and Bishop Takes Queen by the wayside, except those I could work up with some direction and pull out when I'm feeling the need for something new, which happens every couple of months.

But first I have to finish this damned submission packet. And with Faith of the Four falling apart before my very eyes, that leaves me working with something I'm not done any preparation for. Inkwell Cult is in the wings, since it has the closest thing to a synopsis already, but if that starts dissolving, I'm in serious trouble.

Damned procrastination streak. Well, better noticed now than when it really counts, as in making $$ counts.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Moved On.


Our Vancouver NaNo friend Squeaks, has moved on, away from the Pacific Northwest area and away from the Ink & Paper small publishing company he helped form in the Portland area. As of last week, according to the web site, he has gone back to Utah to "be close to his family and his religion."

Okay. Whatever that means.

Anyway, several of the imprints of Ink & Paper seem to be very happy of their new-found freedom and of the change, making me think things may not have ended well. If I remember correctly at last year's NaNo get-together at Olive Garden in Vancouver, Squeaks graciously sent out an offer toward any and all Vancouver area NaNo-ers to bring in their finished NaNo project, personally guaranteeing the MSs would be read and commented on free of charge. I, for one, aren't going to count on that still being the case but then again, I didn't plan on taking him up on the offer anyway. My preferred written genre isn't anything they would ever be interested in which were, according to several editors I talked to last year, mostly 'happy,' uplifting themes of hope and salvation included within the SF genre.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Champing at the Bit

It's only been twelve hours since I finished the first half of the front yard, sans grass seed, and I'm already eying the last and smaller half. My back is sore, my shoulders are tight from overuse, and my palms are sore with hard callouses, and I can't wait to get the pick ax back in my hand and start digging away at the next chunk of gravel filled yard.

I'm an addict. Somebody stop me.

Or better yet, come help me! I have extra shovels! Lots of dirt to move! Enough grass seed for another lawn! And a tree I want to buy! Yes Yes Yes! I just can't stop! It's like I don't remember the back-breaking labor of digging up packed gravel, or how the gravel dust forms a layer between the gravel and soil that turns into cement after the rain, or how frustrating it is to have to stop every other shovelful of dirt to move hunks of rock out of the way . . . or I just don't care because the end result is so worth it all the aching pain, gritty sweat, and teeth-gnashing frustration.

Sure you don't want to come help me?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


I feel like I'm being very naught.

Signet is now at just under 14,000 words. The King's Breed is at a little over 10,000 words.

Progress on Masks--zippety do dah, zippity-yay!

My lame excuse is that I really want to hear from my readers before I proceed with the edit. After all, their insights will definitely inspire me, and will certainly change things about. Why fuss with it twice or three times when I can fuss with it just once?

Sounds reasonable to me.

But the real reason is that I love writing first drafts, and I get to play with two at once. Yippee! Bad me!

You know that time I mentioned writing and discipline and all that? Well, um, do as I say, not as I do.

Woo hoo!

Synopsising Again

I've been working on my synopsis for Faith of the Four and One. I have it keyed into the computer now where I can shift lines and delete words and still keep the original intact until I have the final completed.

I've gotten down from three full pages to just over two pages, but I'm still holding at 760 words. That means I have to shave off another 260 words. I'm sure I can, since the current draft is just a tightening of the plot, not of the synopsis itself.

I'm still not happy with the tone, though. I does read much less like a bad romance story, which the first short draft sounded like, but it still doesn't quite capture the essence of the plot's impact on the world around the characters. And, sadly, Liliane still reads like a bad romance heroine, all sighs and confusion and letting the big strong men take the lead. She needs to grow a stiffer backbone earlier in the story, and I need to show that growth earlier in the synopsis.

But I'm happy with my progress, considering this is just the third time I've worked with the synopsis. I think two more times and I might have it. And then I can get on to editing the excerpt, which will be a whole nother beast. The beginning, I've decided, just has to go. Needs a completely new beginning, something that shows Liliane off as thoughtful, yet fearful, but still resilient and daring, with just a hint of innocence and naivete.

That's going to be a fun rewrite, I think.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Slugging the Rewrite.

I worked on a new short story today; the rewriting part of work so you'll have to excuse my big, fat UGH! How is it a story can start off so full of bitter promise and end up wandering the mucky shores of confusion? I have no idea where the story was headed now or what I was trying to say, other than by rereading the original MS that I wisely printed out (twice!) before mangling the electronic version, but that's part of the point of the rewrite...right? To cull the pointless words taking up space and clarify what's left into poetic prose?

Maybe something like that. Anyway, it's a gardening tale about lonliness and slugs. Not sure how those two come together (especially now!) but I know there's a story in there somewhere.