Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Mortality

This is a little more personal of a blogpost but maybe some of you have experienced or will experience something akin to it. I don't know if it's part of getting older or the things life chucks at me lately but I'm painfully aware of my own mortality right now. There are only a few more decades, really, to be here and to do the things I want to do (if I get to live to a ripe, old age.) And when I look back at the past (and what a whirlwind that seems) I find more regret than joy. I hope this is a passing phase.

The realization that I won't get to do everything I'd like to do, that I probably won't hit certain benchmarks that society sets, and that I might see people dear to me pass on before I do - well, it's sobering.

When I think of writing, if I'm being optimistic, say I get a publishing deal within the next year - how many of my story ideas will actual come to fruition? What will never see the light of day? And if I publish, say, five to ten years from now, the number of possible stories to share dwindles more. I sat down with my story list recently and mercilessly struck out story ideas I didn't care passionately about. It relieved a lot of pressure. Then I thought good and hard about the ones I did feel passionate about, out of those which ones did I think others might enjoy most? Which were more original in their spin than others? Did I want to get stuck writing that series or do more of my standalone ideas?

Because there is that other factor too: life outside of writing. I'm analyzing my goals and dreams there as well. The day to day moments spent with the people I love have more meaning and I'd rather build up memories than possessions. I know of one event that will completely change my life and that is the loss of my husband. He has a life-threatening disease which has already begun to deteriorate his body. If you're reading this blogpost in the morning, I'm at the hospital waiting for him to get out surgery. I know he will go before I do, someday; I've known it since the day we married. I suppose one might get very depressed about it, and to be truthful, I have at times. On the other hand, possessing this knowledge also makes me appreciate him more and the time we spend together.

Health issues have struck me down frequently in the last year, bringing forward the realization that I'm not immortal and that in the back of my mind, in my youth, I did have that attitude. I'm not as quick as I used to be. My body is changing and I've needed to re-evaluate my lifestyle to accommodate the changes.

At times I feel more awake than ever before. Like the past was some kind of blurry dream (with the occasional nightmare.) Knowing one's mortality is both frightening and empowering. What we are, what we have, and what we leave behind, it's something to think long and deeply about.

Have you experienced the mantle of mortality in regards to your writing? What changes did you make because of it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Genre Identified #7: Hard Science Fiction

In short, hard science fiction is where modern day science and scientific understanding is used in a modern or futuristic setting. There are no fantastical trappings from pseudo science or science we wish was fact. Actual, concrete science is the name of the game. And sticking to straight facts increases the level of suspense in a hard science-fiction story.

For further reading on the definition:
Science Fiction Subgenres, Hard Science Fiction
Technology Review, The Best Hard Science Fiction Books of All Time
Mike Brotherton Hard SF Writer, Ten Issues for Hard Science Fiction
Goodreads, Popular Hard Science Fiction Books list
Hard Science Fiction website and forum website and forum

Hard Science Fiction tends to be a male dominated genre in both writers and readers. A personal observation I'd like to point out: most (not all) hard science fiction that I've read tends to balance the science and technology with sex as the counter-weight. And from a writerly perspective, hard science fiction is probably the one speculative genre where info-dumping is expected, though not to an excessive scale. The science and technological advancements are the heart of the story so to have characters deeply engrossed by these things is normal.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our Woes Aren’t So New…

…I found out while reading, and discovered this passage from a writer who lived around 600 years ago:

“But in fact, to tell you the truth, I myself have not yet made up mind whether or not to publish it at all. For the tastes of mortals are so various, the temperaments of some are so bitter, their minds so ungrateful, their judgments so preposterous that a person would do far better to follow his own bent and lead a merry life than to wear himself out trying to publish something useful or entertaining for an audience so finicky and ungrateful. Most people know nothing about learning and many despise it. Dummies reject as too hard whatever is not dumb. The literati look down their noses at anything not swarming with obsolete words. Some like only ancient authors; many like only their own writing. One person is so dour that he cannot abide jokes; another is so witless that he cannot stand anything witty. Some have so little nose for satire that they dread it the way someone bitten by a rabid dog fears water. Others are so changeable that their approval depends on whether they are sitting down or standing up.

“They sit around in taverns and over their cups they pontificate about the talents of writers, condemning each author just as they please, pulling him down through his writings as if they had grabbed him by the hair, while they themselves are safe and out of harm’s way, as the saying goes, because these good men have their whole heads smooth-shaven so that there is not a single hair to grab on to.

“Furthermore, some are so ungrateful that, even though a work has given them great pleasure, they still do not like the author any better because of it. They are not unlike ill-mannered guests who, after they have been lavishly entertained at a splendid banquet, finally go home stuffed without saying a word of thanks to the host who invited them. Go on, now, and at your own expense provide a banquet for persons of such delicate palates and various tastes, who will remember and repay you with such gratitude!”
(Thomas More, Utopia, his letter to Peter Giles)

It seems subjectivity has always been with us and always will be.

I recently read a newsletter from a prominent author and writing teacher who said we need to dumb down our prose because the average reader struggles to understand anything difficult or beyond their limited vocabulary. That authors should be careful in what they write, to make sure they write clearly and leave little for any other interpretation than what they mean their writing to say.

That same day I pulled up an article by another prominent writer, who like most giving advice on this subject, emphatically urges authors not to dumb down their prose but to say true to their I.Q. That readers are smarter than we tend to think and will easily comprehend what we are trying to say.

I think there is a nugget of truth in both and that both are equally wrong. There are all kinds of readers out there, people of varying taste, I.Q., vocabulary, and need. When you publish a book, it’s free for anyone to read and once out of our hands and into theirs, it’s open to reader interpretation, no matter their limitations. Some people will understand your writing and connect with it. Others won’t. Authors have no control over this.

I think, instead, it’s important to know who you are writing for and to stay true to that audience. Don’t worry about everyone else who might pick up your book. If you wish to make a connection with a more intellectual crowd, write for them. If you wish to encourage people who don’t read as much or as well, write for them. Know your audience.

The same goes for what you write about and how you present your writing. Know what your target audience expects, likes, and needs. Write to those expectations. Certainly others will groan, complain, or just not get what your books is about or trying to say. Don’t stress about that.

I know that numbers are an important equation in the publishing game. I’ve seen this past week a handful of authors vent about reviews from readers who didn’t get their books or maybe didn’t even read them all the way through before passing judgment. These authors wanted and expected full stars for their work. I understand their frustrations but I also know that if you live each day to how many stars you get from any reviewer you’re going to get hurt or upset. The right audience will appreciate what you write. Others won’t. It’s as simple as that. Let the ignorant or bad reviews slide off your shoulders, or better yet, don’t go looking for them.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Guest Blogger Peter Burton on Why Adult Speculative Fiction Isn't Dead

Joyce has invited me to do a guest post here in Yesternight’s Voyage. I jumped at the opportunity. It is always a great vote of confidence when a fellow writer offers you a chance to guest on their blog.

Joyce had several options for the post; why adult speculative fiction is not dead, and who some of the great authors of speculative fiction are, to name a couple. To be honest, I can’t separate those two subjects, so this is going to be something of a hybrid.

Since the genre of speculative fiction could be pretty much perceived to cover all fiction ever written, it can get a bit confusing. Technically, Mark Twain’s Huck Finn is just as much speculative fiction as Frank Herbert’s Dune. So, for the sake of this post I’ll just stick to the basics of the genre; Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror. I realize that even those genres have been sliced and diced to death, but let’s keep it simple, shall we?

Why is speculative fiction not dead? Because it is the genre that covers some of the most basic needs in humanity. Our need to romanticize the past, Fantasy; our need to speculate on the future, Science Fiction; and our need to be scared, Horror.

That last bit may seem a bit silly to a few people, but it is the truth. We love to be scared and will go to great lengths to feed that fix. Just look at the lines for the rollercoasters, and all the scary rides at any amusement park. I’m not even going to mention base jumping, white water rafting, or bungee jumping. We like getting the bejesus scared out of us from time to time.

That would partially explain why adult speculative fiction is still alive and well, but I don’t think it’s the entire reason. No genre can continue without great stories, and great stories come from great authors. Even if their status happens to be a one hit wonder. Both Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker fall into that category, as far as the general public goes, yet Dracula and Frankenstein are still read, and the fodder of pop culture media to this very day. Steven King is the long term superstar of the horror brand of speculative fiction.

How many people do you know who don’t know King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, or Merlin? There is some speculation that those people might have come from actual historic persons, but the truth is, the story as we know it is Fantasy. How does that fit into today, you may ask? Look at the number of adults who devoured J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Although not of the Sword and Sorcery brand, it is undeniably Fantasy.

Science Fiction is, and has pretty much always been something of a juggernaut under the speculative fiction umbrella. The ongoing popularity of Jules Verne’s works, such as The Time Machine and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, right up to The afore mentioned Dune is proof enough of that. If that isn’t enough, we didn’t even mention the works of Isaac Asimov, or the recently departed great Ray Bradbury. These two giants of the genre have achieved legendary status, and I’ve no doubt their work will live on for millennia to come.

So far we have only touch the big three in speculative fiction, and I think we’ve made a pretty good case that the genre as a whole is still alive and kicking. If not then consider the popularity New York Times bestselling authors under the new sub-genres of SF such as Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake series (Paranormal Urban Fantasy), and Lisa Myers’s Twilight series (Paranormal Romance). Both of which are clearly adult in nature.

Yes. I would say it is more than safe to say Speculative Fiction is alive as a viable market, and will be for many years to come… if not indefinitely.

Thanks for giving me a chance to mouth off on your blog, Joyce. I am more than grateful for the opportunity. And as usual;

Later Gang.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Saturday Link Special #15

Have some time to read? Great! There were a lot of good blogposts out there this past week so let's get right to it.

Here's A Genre I Didn't Think Of! by Agent Kristin Nelson
The Good Seed III by Agent Donald Maass
When Bad Books Happen to Good Writers by Agent Sarah LaPolla
You Have a Request Or You Get “THE CALL” – Now What? by Agent Scott Egan
Passive Vs. Active Voice - A Little Grammar For Tuesday by Agent Scott Egan
How To Influence Editors in a Way That 90% of Other Writers Don’t by Jane Friedman
The Faux Editor - Will You Walk Into My Parlour? Said the Spider to the Fly by Ciara Ballintyne
Five signs you’re about to land an agent: observations from a freelance editor by The Intern
7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel (& How To Avoid Them) by James Scott Bell
The Ultimate Guide to Pitch Writing by Jami Gold
An Author’s Guide to Fan Fiction by Jami Gold
An Online Presence by Beth Revis
How to Respond to Negative Reviews by Beth Revis
Nonlinear Storytelling by Patricia C. Wrede
The Slow Blog Manifesto…and 8 Reasons Why Slow Blogging Will Help Your Career, Your Love Life, and Protect You From Angry Elephants by Anne R. Allen
Describing Your Characters by Inkfish7
Speculative Fiction by Jenny Kaczorowski
Reading Others to Hone Your Writing by Imran Siddiq
Gorebags! The New SpecFic Party Favor! by E.F. Jace

And for more inspiring stories of awesome people who recently signed on with agents:
The Obnoxiously Long Story of How I Got an Offer by Stephanie Diaz
See also: Getting the Call: Stephanie Diaz from It’s In the Details blog
R.C. and the Terrible/Wonderful, No-Good/Very-Rad Day by R.C. Lewis
See also: On Contests, and Being a Sneaky Agent from Jennifer Represents…

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Get Me My Sword, The Fight is On!

Last week my daughter struggled with some new math problems. In trying to help her, I pulled out the math manipulatives, talked through a couple of strategies, and worked through some of the problems with her. For some reason, she didn't want to use any of them. She was frustrated but refused to take any of the simple advice I'd given. The homework session drew out three times as long as it needed to. When I ran out of ideas she got mad at me for not solving her problem. That's when I pointed out that she'd created the problem by not accepting the simple strategies and that she could have finished her homework quickly if she had. In the end, she got over her stubbornness and found taking the simple route worked best.

I couldn't help but think, from this situation, of times I'd been stubborn in regards to some simple point of writing, querying, or publishing. I also knew other writers who behaved exactly as my daughter did, by asking a question and then belligerently refusing to accept the answer. We all get that way sometimes. We don't want to switch the way we're climbing the mountain for another path, even if it's easier. We fixate on stupid, little things. We don't want to start over, rewrite, or change a bad habit.

Writing and publishing isn't a stagnate process, it requires growth and change. It's the journey that counts, right? We will encounter new ways of doing things since industry standards alter all the time. Digging in our heels and griping at other people won't solve anything. Blaming someone else for our petty vices only spouts hot air. For example: So we grew up with typing two spaces between sentences and now everyone's saying use only one. It takes less time to train yourself to the new model than it does to write a tirade about it.

A few years ago a beta reader pointed out a problem in one of my manuscripts. Critiques often sting but this particular piece of advice rankled for some reason. I thought he was daft in not recognizing and understanding all my carefully crafted clues (I know, unreasonable idiotic moment on my part.) I shrugged his comment off and continued with my revisions. The story later went through a couple of other beta readers, who pointed out other problems. In fixing those I found I needed to do a major reconstruct on the entire story and by so doing, realized that first beta reader's bothersome comment was actually brilliant. He had shown me the door to a major reconstruct I didn't know I needed until later. I wish now I had taken the time to really think about his comment before. I could have saved myself substantial time and trouble.

Despite all the advice to develop a tough skin and be professional, we writers are usually the opposite. We pout, take tantrums, cry, mock, brag, debate, laugh, and do crazy things. (The smart ones keep these reactions private.) Our first instinct is to pull up our defenses and charge at a supposed threat. We prance up on a huge black horse, armor spiky and shiny, countenance fierce, and in our loudest and scariest voice challenge the rock in our path. We can yell, stab, stomp, and threaten all we want, that rock isn't going away or changing shape.

When something hits us hard, step away from it. Calm down. Sleep on it. Take time to think about it from every angle. Instead of assuming someone’s out to get you, consider the possibility that they want to help you or that a particular method might work better. It may take hours or years to accept it. I’m not saying that all advice is right or that you need to do whatever anyone tells you to do. Don’t blow on your battle horn and try to mass raging hordes to your cause. Fickle creatures, those raging hordes. They’re more likely to raise an eyebrow and ask “What’s the big deal?” when you issue the call. Why? Because you’re declaring war on all uses of the word “was” OR Sans Serif vs. Times New Roman OR “I need twelve pages of backstory in the beginning of the manuscript so the reader understands where my heroine is coming from.” Petty vices.

What insignificant things have you gotten hung up on in the past or might be struggling with right now?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Interview with Precy Larkins, Newly Represented!

My Photo
Precy Larkins is a mother by day, a dreamer by night, and a writer in between. She grew up in the Philippines, a country steeped in superstitions and rumors of enchanted beings roaming the woods. She now lives in Utah, where she occasionally hunts for fairies, with her husband and three kids. When she’s not teaching her preschooler how to tie his shoelaces, she writes stories that transport her to unexplored places. Precy maintains a blog and a Twitter account, where her friends know her affectionately by her nickname, Cherie. Her Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy novel, HIDDEN, is a story of a girl battling demons in her head only to find out they are real. With dark magick and soul-suckers on the loose, and a boy who can’t be trusted, she must use her visions to survive the world hidden beyond her own.

J.A.: How long have you been writing? What are your favorite genres to write?

P.L.: The first time I penned a book-length novel was four years ago. I’ve been writing on and off since—short stories, unfinished mss, and my current ms that got me my agent. I usually stay within the speculative fiction genre, specifically fantasy and paranormal. Oh, and I write YA and MG. I’m too much of a kid at heart to indulge in Adult Fiction all the time.

J.A.: What are your favorite genres to read? Which books have had the greatest impact on you?

P.L. While I do read books that are in the genre I write, I have a more diverse taste when it comes to reading. A memoir that won’t let me put the book down? Bring it on! Nonfiction science books with quirky humor? Yes, please! I also love to read horror and thrillers.

I can’t say there was ONE specific book that had the greatest impact on me as a person, or me as a writer. I’ve always loved reading, and it’s really a culmination of my reading experiences—the emotions I felt, the stories I cherished, and the truths I discovered through books all affected me in many ways.

J.A.: Aside from writing, what do you love to do?

P.L.: I love to draw. And play games with my family (board games, card games, even video games.)

J.A.: What can you tell us about your new agent and the process of signing on with her?

P.L.: My lovely and fabulous agent is Ms. Julia A. Weber of J. A. Weber Literaturagentur GmbH. She’s based in Germany and the UK, but she takes clients from the US as well. I absolutely adore her. Because she lives in a different continent, we’ve subsisted on an email correspondence. Oh, and Twitter, too. It took her 4 days to offer me rep—yes, she was THAT fast! The day I sent her my query, she asked for a partial within two hours. The next day, she emailed me asking for the full. Three days later, my heart stopped when I saw her email that started with: It is my pleasure to tell you…

After much squeeing and running around, muttering, “What do I do? What do I do next?”, I emailed my soon-to-be-published friend Bethany Crandell and basically yelled at her to help me! She responded quickly with very helpful info and a list of questions reserved for when you get The Call. Only in my case, it was The Email. So I asked the questions, and my agent got back to me promptly with excellent answers. Then I had to ask for time to notify the other agents I’ve already queried, or had my full submissions.

Ten days later, I was giddy when I sent Ms. Weber an email telling her I accept her offer of representation. It’s been great since.

J.A.: May we see your agent-winning query letter?

P.L.: Sure! It’s not perfect, but it got the job done. :)

Sixteen-year-old Layla Cadwell is losing her mind. Again.

The first time she lost it, she nearly drowned reaching for the blue lady she saw in the river. Years later, branded Freak Extraordinaire by her peers, Layla’s learned to keep her visions to herself. But when her father dies in her arms, murdered by a soul-sucking shadow-witch, Layla lands a stint in the psych ward. Because there’s no such thing as monsters, see.

After too many kumbaya-inducing meds, the memory of her father’s death becomes fuzzy. Mom, fearing Layla’s relapse on the upcoming death anniversary, takes the family to a distant town for the summer. But despite the relocation and anti-psychotic pills, Layla sees monstrous creatures prowling the woods nearby, and the blue water lady reappears to haunt her—this time begging for help.

As the visions intensify, Layla uses them to unearth the town’s secret of hidden people enchanting the woods. The phantom blue lady turns out to be her great-grandmother, whose soul’s been trapped in the shadow-witch’s dark magick. The same witch who killed her dad for revenge. And Layla is next in line. It’s a family feud, paranormal-style.

Or…maybe it’s all in her mind. But the local hottie believes Layla, though his trustworthiness factor is down to zero. Rumor has it he turned his exes loony-bin mad with just a kiss. Major relationship killer, right? When his eyes shift to resemble the witch’s gold-rimmed ones, Layla knows he’s trouble, though her heart tells her otherwise.

As the witch closes in, Layla must trust her visions to survive the world hidden beyond her own. A YA Contemporary Fantasy, HIDDEN is complete at 76,000 words.

J.A.: How long did you query before finding your agent? 

P.L.: About 6 weeks. Hidden is the first book I’ve ever queried. I was prepared for the long haul of querying, so imagine my surprise at landing my agent so quickly. I sent out about 40 queries in all. When I started querying at the end of March, most agents were coming back from the Bologna Book Fair so I only sent out a few, mostly to test my query (which was still in its early stage). Lots of waiting ensued. In the meantime, I worked and reworked my query with the help of friends and critique from a writing forum, Agent Query Connect. Anytime someone would tell me it was great, I would send out a few. My first two responses were form rejections, but the third one was a full request.

I didn’t stop working on my query. My gut told me it wasn’t quite right yet.  I also had to deal with spam issues—some of my query emails did not go through when I sent them. I knew this because I was supposed to get an auto-reply from the agent’s email, but never did. This is why you’ll need to do your research. Some agent websites will specify that they have an auto-responder. If you don’t get an auto-reply letting you know your email went through, then try again.

I queried intermittently throughout the month of April and the first week of May. My agent, Ms. Weber, got back to me so fast that some of the agents I had newly queried didn’t even have time to see my original query. A lot of them missed the notices I sent out about getting an offer of representation (so I ended up with emails long after the deadline from agents saying they were sorry they missed the opportunity). So here are my stats (I finally got it figured out):

40 queries sent
3 fulls requested before my agent offered representation (including my agent)
6 more fulls requested after I sent out notices of offer of rep
12 no response
5 passes because they saw the notices too late
14 query rejections

It’s true, you know. It only takes one to love your work.

J.A.: What advice would you give to those who are actively querying or getting ready to query?

P.L.: I’ve already mentioned some tips in my previous answer. But here they are again, plus a few more:

~Do your research when querying agents. Know their submission guidelines and follow them.
~Keep on working on your query. There’s always going to be room for improvement.
~Watch out for spam filter issues. This goes hand in hand with researching your agents. Some websites will let you know that they have an auto-response system in place. Others will tell you their turnaround time, and if you don’t get a response as soon as that time is up, most likely your query email went down Spamtown. So go send your query again.
~Another great way to track down the queries you’ve sent is to use Query Tracker. Some of the QT members will post their stats, and from that info, you can see where the agent is at with the slushpile. Just don’t get too obsessive. There’s no hard-and-fast rule with how agents sort their query pile.
~This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: BE POLITE. ALWAYS. If you get rejections, please do NOT take it personally. Just take a deep breath and move on. It’s not the end of the world.
~ Be very, very patient. Querying takes time. Agents are people, too, and they have busy, busy lives. Like you.
~Query widely. People have different tastes. Just because one agent didn’t care for your concept doesn’t mean another one out there won’t care for it either. You won’t know until you take the plunge. Be brave.

J.A.: What have you learned from writing and querying that you didn’t know before?

P.L.: That no matter how you prep yourself for querying and putting your work out there, that no matter how much you tell yourself you’re a big girl and can take the rejections with a smile, you will fail. You will be sad when you see that form rejection. You will squeal and dance around when you get a request. Your heart will beat so hard you’ll think you’re on the verge of a cardiac arrest when you send out that first full manuscript submission. You will worry and bite your nails as you refresh your email every ten seconds. You won’t be able to help feeling all these emotions. Even when you tell yourself again and again that you would never do all of these things.

J.A.: How important were your beta readers/critique partners?

P.L.: Very important! (Shout out to A. M. Supinger, my crit partner!) I valued their feedback, but at the same time, I also kept my vision for my book in check. Their comments made me think. Their critiques made me see my work in a different angle—something I would never have seen by myself. It also helps to have them proofread and spot my typos.

J.A.: What are you most excited to experience in the whole agenting process?

P.L.: My agent asked me in an early “getting-to-know-you” email what I expected from an author-agent relationship, which is a fantastic question, by the way. I think it’s good to know what our expectations are and to voice them out so that there is an understanding between the two parties. My answer was this: I view it as partnership. There has to be communication on both sides. It’s almost like a marriage, I guess. You have to trust each other, trust that they will work on their end while you work on your end.

Ms. Weber has been nothing but amazing! She’s excellent with communicating what she needs from me or what are the things I should know. She’s always open to questions and encourages me to voice out whatever concerns I have. At the same time, we’ve developed this camaraderie over Twitter—so much fun! This relationship has gotten off to a very good start, and I’m excited to embark on this collaboration with her. You see, having an agent represent you is not a short-term deal. We’re in it for the long haul. So it’s very important you find someone you can work with easily because you’re not only going to be dealing with them with one project, but your lifelong career of writing and future books as well.

Thank you, Precy. (I have to get used to calling you that now!) Some of us don't think much about looking for an agent overseas and it's good to know there are agents who take submissions for the U.S. Your story has evolved since I last saw it and it sounds great! We're wishing you a lot of luck as you start this next phase in your writing career. And for anyone reading this interview, definitely check out Precy's blog. She's in my spotlighted blog list and she's a very sweet person. Get to know her.