I only found out it died when I tried to open it again and it would not navigate, would not show all my comment bubbles, and when I attempted to navigate, I got that white-frozen-screen and it would not budge. Thankfully, the edits I made to the actual manuscript were still there, and I was able to print that without opening the file at all--but no comment bubbles. And it wouldn't copy or paste or anything to a new file. I freaked. I would have to key all the changes into a new file, and recreate all my comments. TWO WEEKS WORTH OF WORK--GONE!
All ended well. After about an hour of frustrated frenzy, I called Eric. He told me to send him the file and he'd see what he could do. Two hours later, he somehow--magically, as far as I'm concerned--found a way to save and resave the file COMPLETE WITH COMMENT BUBBLES! Twenty-eight years in IT might have been hell for him, but it saved my ass yesterday. He is, once again, my hero, and has, once again, earned the undying love I bear him. And the special treat I was making him anyway, but now gets to be reward for his efforts.
This just goes to show me that backing up isn't enough. From now on, I'm going to email myself the day's work every day. I know there are programs and storage sites and such, but emailing works. If I'd been doing that, I might have lost the weekend's work, but I wouldn't have potentially lost two weeks worth.
It's Monday, and that means there's a new post up on Heroines of Fantasy. Why I Wrote Searching for Slave Leia Last March, Sandra McDonald guest blogged for us, and that blog post sparked a story that sold to Lightspeed who is now sharing it with io9, and we at HoF could not be any prouder.
And speaking of HoF-inspired things, Karin has a guest up on her Eolyn blog inspired by our "women's roles" posts: The Role of Wife in Storytelling
To cheer myself up after a night of no sleep and a morning full of sneezles, I clicked through some of my reviews. Ah, how a stroked ego makes the itch more tolerable!
"...A Time Never Lived has everything a good epic fantasy should have...DeFino’s world is credible, well-built, and well thought out. It has the wonderful and all-too-rare qualities of several ecosystems, multiple cultures and languages, and a coherent series of shared myths across-cultures that makes the backstory have real depth..."
Sigh...that was a little piece of the one from Abyss and Apex last July. The shared myths I built into the backstory--the reviewer GOT IT! I was so afraid no one would. If you've read A Time Never Lived (or Finder!) leave me a review on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads. I've not done nearly as much soliciting of such things or marketing for this book that, by what I'm told, is even better than Finder. Between family life and the editing gig, I just don't have time! But that can't be an excuse. I have to make time as a writer, too, right?
And that reminds me of a decision I came to this past weekend--I want to do more on LJ than vent about my family and post links and comment on your pages. I used to post about the writing experience at least once a week. It's what we (mostly) ARE! It's what I should be sharing, what I WANT to be sharing. So--on Wednesday, there will be a post from the writer or editor's desk; and I already have something in mind.
It is Monday, however, and so I must point any of you who got this far in the direction of Heroines Of Fantasy. Karin is up with a chilling glimpse into October: The Eternal Return of the Vampire.
On his 74th birthday, a man got a gift certificate from his wife. The certificate paid for a visit to a medicine man living on a nearby reservation who was rumored to have a wonderful cure for erectile dysfunction. After being persuaded, he drove to the reservation, handed his ticket to the medicine man and wondered what he was in for. The old man handed a potion to him, and with a grip on his shoulder, warned, "This is a powerful medicine. You take only a teaspoonful, and then say, '1-2-3.' When you do, you will become more manly than you have ever been in your life, and you can perform as long as you want."
The man was encouraged. As he walked away, he turned and asked, "How do I stop the medicine from working?"
"Your partner must say '1-2-3-4,'" he responded, "but when she does, the medicine
will not work again until the next full moon."
He was very eager to see if it worked so he went home, showered, shaved, took a spoonful of the medicine, and then invited his wife to join him in the bedroom. When she came in, he took off his clothes and said, "1-2-3!" Immediately, he was the manliest of men. His wife was excited and began throwing off her clothes, and then she asked, "What was the 1-2-3 for?"
And that, boys and girls, is why we should never end our sentences with a preposition, because we could end up with a dangling participle.
(writerjenn informs me this is taken from "Tales Your English Teacher Never Told You." Thanks, Jenn!)
It feels like I'm crawling and, truly, I am. I move forward only to realize an earlier scene needs to be tweaked to go with what I just wrote, and then it turns out the new scene is actually wrong--because the tweakage done on that PRIOR scene changed things for the better. Back and forth, back and forth.
It sounds like I'm complaining. Strangely, I'm not. I'm actually intrigued. This pantsing thing is a much different beast than it was during those days when I wrote in oblivious bliss. Back then, I'd writeandwriteandwriteandwrite, only to come to the end where all those loose threads needed tying up, loose ends that there was NO WAY to weave together, and then I'd knot this to that, tuck that frayed edge under the hem (don't worry--no one will notice. Ha!) and believe it worked.
Of course, it didn't. I know that now. I didn't then.
After trying to plot and outline The Shadows One Walks several times, it became obvious that this one was going to require a different method. It required pantsing. I was a bit reluctant, but so far, it has worked out really well. I'm thrilled with the story, and how it's turning out, even with that back and forth thing.
While writing Beyond the Gate, Finder, and A Time Never Lived, I knew the lay of the land. I knew all my plot points and character arcs and how much denouement would come after the big climax. Pantsing is like going into the woods without a trail map and following whatever path strikes your fancy. Aside from a very general arc and the final destination, I have no real map, and I'm having a blast trailblazing. (Look at that--a weaving metaphor AND hiking, all in one post!)
I think this method is working for me now because I have a better grasp of this whole writing thing these days. I'm aware of all those threads that will need tying up, and my brain is keeping track of them, planning for them. Because there is no outline, my brain is also free to play with them in a way it wouldn't if the path was already laid out. It's harder in some ways, more freeing in others. It's a fun experiment, and still has the potential to go very, very wrong! With Beyond the Gate in last edits, and not coming out until September of 2013, I have plenty of time to experiment with The Shadows One Walks. And, as you know Bob, when it stops being fun, what's the point? Because no one gets rich writing. Well, almost no one.
Happy Weekending All!
I never want to be one of those writers who let those who supported her through the "beforetimes" fall by the wayside when the triumphs start overtaking her life. I am busy. Really busy. I'm currently editing three books for Hadley Rille Books, and just finished beta-reading for another of our authors. I'm awaiting edits on Beyond the Gate, and writing The Shadows One Walks. All this simultaneously; and throw my family into the mix for good measure. I am lucky enough to have the sort of life that allows me to do all this. I honor and appreciate that every day.
That's why I spent the time reading what YOU have to say today--because I honor and appreciate all of you, too. I am blessed, truly, because it's not just in this venue that you touch my life. You email me words of love and support. You send me handmade bags, feathers, shiny things, fairy cakes, CDs and books and any other little thing that makes you think of me. You write me poems. You read my books. For all the love I get from you lot, the least I can do is respond as best as I can to your posts--to show you I'm listening, and that this is not a one-sided world existing only online.
So thank you--all of you. Modesty may be for suckers, but I am humbled by how much you mean to me, and, apparently, how much I mean to you.
Over the years, I've collected many shiny bits and pieces from all of you. I'm sure you've seen me comment, "I'm putting that on my writerly wall of wisdom." By that I meant I would print it up and stick it to my corkboard beside my desk.
The corkboard got mighty crowded.
What's a SparkleQueenBogwitch to do with so much wisdom and no more space? Hmmm...she IS a writer. She DOES have countless blank books she collects along with shiny objects. She does have scissors and tape and...
Mine doesn't have the nifty button or flap, but that's the color and shape. It's a Graeham Owens journal, handmade paper. I kind of went nuts a few years ago when I came across an outlet store selling out of the stuff. Like the writer/crow I am, I saw all the pretty paper and had to have it. Of course, I didn't DO anything with it. And now I have.
All of your quotes, quotes I've found elsewhere, pictures, faces, any little inspirational do-dad I had pinned to my corkboard is now in my Inspiration Journal. It makes me immensely happy.
Today in Heroines of Fantasy, my darling Mark Nelson is up. His first novel (my first official, solo edit!) will be out in June of this year. I'm as excited about his book as I am about my own. His subject oh HoF--series fiction, When Is Enough, Enough? The convo's already started. Come on in and add to it.
(And please let me know if you have any trouble accessing or posting. There have been issues we're attempting to resolve.)
Lastly, I had to share this, because you all might not be as ferociously geeky about words (not you, sallymn, you're even geekier!) you are nonetheless pretty fierce. Ye Olde Debunking <--go there. You will thank me, I promise.
I live by moments these days; I suppose it's only logical that my story does too.
I started writing A Time Never Lived on February 15, 2010, finished the actual creation of new words on August 5th, 2011. Since then, I've been in revisions (both for ATNL and BTG) and then editing for my and other HRB manuscripts. No. New. Words. Since last August.
Sometime around January, when the frenzy of getting books out to reviewers and printers and all that fun publishing-end-of-things stuff, I realized that I'd not written anything new since summer. My face looked like this: 0_o Family life did not help. I had so much to do!! But the more time passed, the louder that whisper in the back of my brain said, "Don't let this go too long! You'll end up one of them."
Them. Those writers who end up, for good or ill, so bogged down in the publishing end of things that the writing gets put on ye ole back burner. I read a blog post by none other than George Martin a short while back, lamenting this very thing. It happens to all of us. Or could. The longer it sits back there, the colder it gets--or if it's on a warmer, eventually evaporates.
I wanted to finish Beyond the Gate. It was worthy of finishing, and turned out far better than I ever hoped it would. Publishable, not just good enough to satisfy my writerly sense of justice. (And is currently slated for spring/summer 2013 by HRB. Huzzah!) But then I did finish it, on March 1st, and still didn't start writing new words. Ok, ok, it's only been about a month, but for me to procrastinate that long is insane. I've never gone more than two days between projects, and those usually weekend days that I don't write anyway. Sure I've had some family chaos--but that never stopped me before. Sure I had other writerly things demanding my attention--but that never stopped me before either.
I came face to face with my FEAR. "Can I do this, still? Have I lost the ability?"
On April 2, 2012, I started The Shadows One Walks. I took it slow. I gave myself the time and space I needed to let all that good writerly stuff come oozing back. If I wrote for an hour and lost it, I didn't beat myself up with, "But you're supposed to write at least three hours!!!" I listened to my brain, and gave it a rest when it said it had enough.
The characters, the storyline, the little bits and pieces I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to find? Pshaw! They came tiptoeing back, cautiously and happily. The threads I was afraid would slip out of my fingers before I realized they'd dropped, so far, have not eluded me. Today, sitting in my skychair with my coffee and thinking about TSOW, a little snippet of detail I'd been mulling over for days just...appeared. That's what happens when I let my brain work its backdoor dealings while I'm not really paying attention. It usually ends up in a little basket, bow and all, on my doorstep when I open it up again.
I may look back on this post in a few weeks and laugh at myself; but if I've learned anything these last weeks with my son and his chaos, it's that I have to take life moment by moment. THIS is a good moment. I will take it, cherish it, and let it last as long as it will. Thank you, universe. More please?
As it often happens, these things fall nicely into place. Editing done, A Time Never Lived already off into the world, a good book club book to read, Beyond the Gate just about finished, a new story to dive into, and this message left in Facebook:
Hi Boggy*, it's Patches* ;) I just wanted to say I saw you wrote your book so for Christmas I got it for Corinne and she loves it! It is now being passed through SMS** and NMHS** through all their friends! Thank you!
--at least in writerworld, life is good.
Life is not so good in kitty-world. My little Lucy is once again ill. The vet has no idea what's wrong with her. She spontaneously bleeds internally, and we don't know it until days after. At least, that's his guess. He really doesn't know. Without lots of testing that she probably wouldn't survive (she's all of six pounds) all we can do is treat her when it happens. My poor girl.
Karin is up over on Heroines of Fantasy--a fascinating post about magical systems and their "rules" and boundaries--or do they have them at all? Promises to be another great discussion. Come on over and tell us what you have to say about it!
I have a Forgotten English Word, but I'll save it for tomorrow!
*GS camp names. I'm Boggy. Patches is the camp nurse.
**the local middle school and high school
What am I talking about? All right vs. alright. One of those is NOT correct. Alright is not a word any traditional dictionary recognizes. Common usage dictionaries, however, have begun to recognize it; it even has a slightly different meaning than all right. According to Grammar Girl (my go-to grammar page) who herself quotes American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style:
“The figures are all right.” When you use “all right” as two words, the sentence means “the figures are all accurate.” When you write “The figures are alright,” with “alright” as one word, this source explains that the sentence means “the figures are satisfactory.”
The same dictionary also says that alright "has never been accepted as a standard."
Like all together (meaning: collectively) and altogether (entirely), all ready (prepared) and already (previosly), all right and alright are going to move together and apart at the same time.
And here we are--on that cusp of change! We are witnessing the evolution* of a word! It is, this very moment in time, in flux. It's accepted, and yet not accepted. Used, and yet corrected.
See? Cool, huh?
And now that it has it's own fledgling definition instead of the erroneous interchangeable spelling, it can be used incorrectly even IF acceptably. Being the benevolent Bogwitch that I am, I'm going to give you a very easy way to know when to use which word, should you choose to fly in the face of tradition and embrace this new word/definition born of an old error: If you can separate the words in a sentence, you want all right. Taking the example from above:
The figures are all right/alright
If you mean the figures are correct, separate the two words. Does it work? All the figures are right.
Yup! But if you mean, they're adequate, doing the same split doesn't give the same meaning, so you'd use alright.
(BTW--the same trick can be applied to all together/altogether and all ready/already.)
Me?? Sigh...I have to say that right now, I'm in the "it's not a word" camp. If I'm writing or editing, I'll use all right, and if I need it to mean adequate, I'll use adequate or another such appropriate word. Time will come that even I, the anal editor, will have to accept defeat. I can LOVE language evolution* without embracing it!
*evolution as in the shift and change and adapting. I have a problem (who? Me? Anal word-person that I am?? Nah!) using the word evolution when it comes to language, because evolution implies, by its most common definition, going from less complex to more. In fact, language tends to go the opposite way. We humans like to streamline things, make them easier to say, to understand--which is how grammar and spelling came to be standardized, after all. But that's a different subject, and I'm splitting hairs.
Maslow's Four Stages of Learning:
Laura Mixon gave a lecture at VPX* about the stages of competence we writers pass through. At the time, I had no idea it was inspired by Abraham Maslow's Four Stages of Learning. Then, I only knew it resonated with the things I had learned, and gave me hope for the future of my writing. Brought down to the most basic points, it goes like this:
Stage 1: unconscious incompetence--you are unaware that you don't know something.
Stage 2: conscious incompetence--you become aware of your incompetence but don't have the skills to do anything about it.
Stage 3: conscious competence--you have developed the skills to combat your former incompetence, but you still have to think about it.
Stage 4: unconscious competence--the skill has become second nature, and you can do it almost without thinking about it. (But you can't necessarily teach it--that has been expanded to a stage 5 since Maslow's original theory, but that's another post entirely.)
This basic understanding of how we learn things has been, and can be applied to just about anything. I think, as writers, we can all see how it fits into writing. We start our writing lives blissfully scribbling our hearts out, oblivious to the fact that we pretty much suck. Oh, we've a flair for words, for story--but the execution of those skills (pun intended) leaves those poor souls we foist our stories upon fumbling for reactions that won't crush our tender, newborn-writer souls. But at some point, a less tactful person will say, "Dude, this is awful," and then go on to explain why, if we're lucky. Very, very lucky--though it won't feel like it at the time. Our souls whither, our bubbles pop. We have crossed the border between stage 1 and stage 2.
Now we are conscious of our suckitude. Some will learn. Some will quit. Some will find a way to mend their bubbles and crawl back into them. Of those who choose to learn, some will find stage two exciting and challenging; others will find it frustrating and difficult. Near the end of this stage, more will quit. Those who don't will gradually find themselves having to think less about what they're doing. They're moving into stage 3. Plotting isn't quite as difficult. Grammar mistakes are made, but addressed in revisions--sometimes laboriously and over several drafts. Handwavery is seen for what it is. We struggle, but we don't give up, because we know we can do this. Some writers will stay in this level of conscious competence a long time. It's a fairly comfortable place, especially if you have writing peers who give you great feedback. In this stage, success and joy can be achieved, and often is.
Then comes stage 4. It happens sometime when you're not really noticing. The blissful joy you used to write with in stage 1 returns. You can break even the most taboo rules of writing effectively, because you know them that well. It's muscle memory of a different kind.
Unconscious competence doesn't mean you'll never tell when you should show. It doesn't mean a lazy adverb won't slip in. It certainly doesn't mean you won't struggle with plot now and again. What it means is that you've reached a place in your writing life where joy and skill coexist. Sometimes joy will mess with the skill, sometimes skill will upset the joy, but all in all, they get along quite well.
So where are you, do you think?
Be honest. Keep in mind the motto of this blog page. Modesty is for suckers!
There are many things to think of.
There is so much story."
I read this earlier this morning. The Book Thief, by Mark Zusak. Death had just given away a huge plot point, and that was his excuse for it. It got me thinking (uh-oh) and I realized he is absolutely right. It's not about the big booming, softly sighing, gut-wrenching finish, but all that leads up to it that makes a story great. The coolest plot twist in the world isn't going to atone for a mediocre build-up. And while a great build-up attached to an otherwise lackluster ending sucks royally, at least the author has entertained long enough to pull the reader to that ending. Of course, the reader might never pick up a book by that author again, but that's another post entirely.
We've all heard the term "muddy middle." It's that part of the story not the beginning we're all excited about writing, not the ending we all can't wait to get to, it's that middle part that has to tie the fun beginning to the exciting end. For some, it's the hardest part, and now I understand why many hit that wall: Getting a reader hooked is hard, Keeping them hooked is harder.
I've picked up books because the opening hook is fantastic, only to give up on it thirty pages in. Maintaining the momentum is crucial, no matter how difficult it is to one-up your beginning. We can't all get away with giving up our big finishes the way Death (and Mark Zusak) can. It has to fit. It has to be part of that build-up, or it comes off as contrived. How ever we do it, we have to make our middles as fabulous, more fabulous than the bookends of our stories. That's how we keep readers who cheat and read the end of the book first. (You know I'm looking at you.) Like Death says, it's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest and astound.
What about you? Can you forgive a so-so story for a big-boom ending? Vice-versa? What's the hardest part for you to write? Beginning, middle, or end?
I will admit, I was hiding from my family. I love them, but a week in close company with the lot of them is draining. I needed those last lungfuls of sea air. I needed some quiet to absorb all I could of that vast love of mine before heading home. I stood at the railing, face to the sun and the briny wind--bliss. Dolphins everywhere. I even saw a few jumping! So cool. And, of course, my brain bubbled.
I'd been thinking of, dreaming of, pondering over the revisions of the week prior all week, getting lots of good things settled into place. One still niggled at me, but I was confident I'd be able to smooth it over once home. The sea + peace + dolphins = inspiration. I had it! In a five line snippet of dialog between two characters, that niggling detail fell into place. I, of course, had no pen on me, only the book I'd been reading. I didn't trust my memory; it's horrid. I went into the bar and asked the elderly barman if I could borrow his pen. He looked at me as if I were a mean-spirited dwarf asking for his firstborn in exchange for gold spun into straw.
"I swear, I won't leave this spot!"
He handed it over. I scribbled my lines of dialog on a cocktail napkin, chills skittering all over my skin, and handed the pen back to him with a breathless, "Thank you!" He looked at me again as if I were that dwarf, only this time I'd danced a jig, too...naked. I went back out to the railing, happy as could be...
...and another bit of dialog hit me. A perfect bit that went with the last. CURSES!!! I couldn't ask the dwarf-hater for his pen again. I went into the snack bar instead. An elderly gentleman, could have been his TWIN, was happy to hand his pen over. I scribbled away. He watched me with a little boy's wonder. When I was done, I handed his pen back.
"You had all that in your head." asked he.
I told him I'm a writer, and that I just got hit with a bit of story that had been giving me trouble.
"A writer," he said. "Like, books?"
Yep. A writer. Like books.
Again, that look of wonder. I was no longer the mean-spirited dwarf stealing firstborns and dancing naked jigs. I was something like Santa, or a unicorn; a being people heard about but never really saw in the flesh. The woman at the next register said, "Yeah? Cool. That's cool."
It was just one of those faboo moments I wanted to share.
Kitty is doing fine. Eating, purring, snuggling. I lovez her.
Since Eric announced it on Facebook, I figure I can share the news here--I will be editing three books (besides my own!) for Hadley Rille Books for the 2012 publishing year. The first was a joint acceptance by me, Eric and Kim Vandervort. It is my pleasure to say I'll be editor on Heather McDougal's Songs for a Machine Age. The second author I'll be working with is Jennifer Wylie, on her YA fantasy novel, Broken Aro. This book was submitted during our June/July submission period, and was the first book I accepted on my own. I'm very excited about both novels.
The last book is one I only accepted last night, so I'm not going to name names just yet. Another novel I'm super-jazzed about. I'll give you a little hint--POETS!!!
With A Time Never Lived on my plate (because even though I'll have a "real" editor on it, I'm just that anal) as well as Songs for a Machine Age, Broken Aro, and POETS!!! I'm going to be one busy writer/editor. I couldn't be more thrilled. As I said to my son this morning, it's not everyone who gets to do exactly what she wants to be doing, and I sure am grateful I get to be one of them.
That and which--a challenge to writers everywhere. Reading submissions these last two months has really driven the fact home for me. I have only read TWO submissions this entire two month submission period that were not that/which challenged. So, after a long absence from these pages, I give you:
THE BOGWITCHY GUIDE TO THAT AND WHICH
THAT is a restrictive clause, part of a sentence you can't get rid of without changing the meaning, because it RESTRICTS some other part of the sentence. For example:
Mice that don't like cheese will never fit in with mouse society.
It doesn't matter whether or not this statement is true; what does matter is the THAT DON'T LIKE CHEESE cannot be taken out of the sentence without losing all meaning. It's a restrictive clause. Without that clause, the sentence says that no mice will ever fit into mouse society. WITH the clause, it's only those unfavorably disposed to cheese that won't.
WHICH is a non-restrictive clause, part of a sentence that can be left out (not which can be left out!) without changing the meaning. Non-restrictive clauses require a comma, or commas. It's an easy indicator. Restrictive clauses don't usually require commas.
The building, which stood on the corner of 1st and Grandview, was demolished in the Great Mouse Rebellion.
WHICH STOOD ON THE CORNER OF 1ST AND GRANDVIEW is the non-restrictive clause. It is an added bit of information that can be removed without actually changing the meaning of the sentence. And there is your biggest clue--if you can take out the clause without changing the general meaning of the sentence, use which.
The above is an example of a non-restrictive clause plonked down in the middle of a sentence. The ones tagged on to the end get a little trickier.
The building was demolished in the Great Mouse Rebellion, which was not a happy event for anyone.
With the comma + which, the above sentence says that the building was destroyed, and that its destruction was not a happy event for anyone.
Take out the comma in the above example, and now you need THAT:
The building was demolished in the Great Mouse Rebellion that was not a happy event for anyone.
--and the meaning of the sentence changes. It says that the Great Mouse Rebellion was the unhappy event.
See the difference?
The most insidious that/which challenge I have seen so often used lately is a misguided comma followed by an equally misguided WHICH.
They sat on the swing near the fountain, which stood surrounded by tall trees, like a miniature forest in the city center.
Why is WHICH wrong in this sentence? There are commas! But if you take out that clause, the sentence says that the swing near the fountain was like a miniature forest in the city center, not the tall trees. The sentence doesn't make sense. The sentence can indeed be rearranged to make that clause non-restrictive:
They sat on the swing near the fountain, which stood surrounded by tall trees like a miniature forest in the city center.
Or it could be written as a restrictive clause:
They sat on the swing near the fountain that stood surrounded by tall trees like a miniature forest in the city center.
Meh--I don't like either sentence. Each one gives a slightly different meaning, but clear enough and close enough to evoke the same image. Each is grammatically correct, but wordy. And that brings me to my last point--that and which tend to be filler words. I don't like filler words. They're the ones I end up delete-delete-deleting when I edit. They're words we lean on when connecting thought to image, image to thought. Even when used correctly, paragraph after paragraph of that and which bog a story down.
Like adverbs, I prefer to use that and which (especially which--it always sounds awkward to my inner-ear)sparingly. They're necessary. They're beneficial. They can do the job when called for; just be aware of how often you do the calling.
Big presses do many things small presses can't--like give big advances, have books in every chain across the country, organize book tours and otherwise extensive marketing. They have teams of artists, copy editors, interns, etc. Small presses have their small teams of editors, writers and sometimes artists who work more for love than money or fame--BUT we can do a lot that big presses can't. We can give authors a chance.
I've gotten some really great query letters, requested the manuscripts, only to discover that all the greatness was indeed in the query letter. Helpful Hint from the Bogwitch: Don't polish those first ten pages and that query to gleaming glory only to have the rest of it fade into a grammatical nightmare complete with plot holes you could fly a dragon through. Getting those first pages read might feel great, but it is not going to result in an offer to publish.
Being a small press editor with dozens of queries a month rather than hundreds, I can give feedback to these writers, show them what worked for me and what didn't. I've given a grammar lesson or two. (I've come to realize that fewer know the difference between that and which than I ever imagined possible!) I've written a personal rejection for each author I've turned down, and hopefully given them at least something to take away from the experience.
I've also gotten some really terrible query letters. Letters poorly crafted, grammatically challenged, and addressed to Sir/Madam. Being a small house getting dozens rather than hundreds of queries, we can read them anyway. I received a query I've dubbed WORST QUERY OF ALL TIME! But it had one element so different from everything else I've read that I requested the manuscript anyway. I opened the file without much hope of even a diamond in the rough, and discovered not just a faceted diamond ready to mount in a setting, but true beauty. The writing in the query did NOT reflect the writing in the novel. I've only read a few pages so far--though I'm dying to devour this one!--so we'll see if it carries through. The point is, just about anyone but small press would have read two lines of that query (if they got past the wrong salutation*) and form rejected. We, being a small press, were able to take the time to read past what we know to be the hardest part of writing a novel, and beyond.
*Ah, those query letters directed to names that don't exist in Hadley Rille Books, or to Sir/Madam. I have to say, I always thought it was small and petty for editors and agents to reject on that reason alone, but I also have new-found respect for them too. I am currently swamped with reading--happily so! But swamped. I imagine when one is getting several dozen a week instead of a handful, there has to be a first cut delineation. A letter addressed to the wrong person could well be that first cut.
When you're querying a publishing company or agent with the work you've toiled over, why would you not then take the time to find out who you're addressing? You want this person to SEE YOU, and yet you don't see them. Hadley Rille has an "About" page that lists all the staff and what they do. It's not hard to figure out that Eric Reynolds is our editor-in-chief, that Terri-Lynne DeFino and Kim Vandervort are the fantasy editors. That these authors did not take the time doesn't sit well with me; but it wouldn't be an automatic rejection as it could well be in a bigger house or agency.
The last point I'll make is this--small presses can give writers not quite ready for big press world a shot. There are some good stories out there that, with a bit more work, can be great. Small press editors, because we work with maybe four authors a year rather than dozens, can nurse one of those really good stories to greatness. The novel I accepted isn't perfect, by any means. It needs another revision that includes a major shift in the sequence of events that lead up to the climax. A bigger press might have passed even if they thought it had potential. They're just too busy to handhold. But I loved the story. No, I didn't love it. I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVED it. I knew just what it needed to make it shine, so I accepted it. I am so excited about this novel, I just got chills writing those last couple of lines.
Small press world isn't for everyone, as I've said over and over again. For some, it's just too much work without enough payoff. For others, it's a stepping stone to bigger things. For me, it's a world of possibilities otherwise ignored.
I've been writing this rising action and climax for months now; it usually doesn't take me this long. All the crazy stuff of life got in the way, scrambled the brain, tore at the creativity, and all along I've been saying to myself, "It'll all come together in the end. Have faith!" But I didn't. Or at least, I doubted. I stressed over details I really shouldn't have stressed over, and that became part of the scramble.
On Saturday morning, I had that moment: that scalp-prickling sensation squiggling warm through my whole body moment. I was reading the prior day's work over breakfast, and--Shazam!--clarity! The last bit my more practical, faithful self knew would make itself known was just there as if it had been all along; as of course it was.
I don't know that I'll ever be able to just write happily along, trusting that inner sense to come through in the end. It seems a bit of hubris to believe so, even for someone whose motto is "Modesty is for suckers." I'll still stress a little, go back and forth, write notes, take guesses. Maybe that's all part of the process. Maybe I just need to trust myself a bit more. One thing I know for sure is that I wouldn't trade that moment for anything.
Epiphany: the writerly drug-of-choice. There has to be some perk to this whole gig, right?
Have you had that moment? Or are you still waiting for it?
So, here's my teaser, from A Time Never Lived:
The crushing throng separated Sully from Atili. Roared frenzy drowned out his cries. Pushing, shoving, cursing his way after the cart that took Cesilee away, he lost it too. Sully let himself get swept with the crowd; they would lead him to her.
The fire he had seen as a curl of smoke over the village flickered ahead, dancing high above the heads still milling between him and the cart that he could see, now, just there. The throng betwen it and the fire slowed its progress. Sully shouldered his way through, won ground only to be dragged back. Bumped and buffeted by bodies all around him, not even the Churn had exhausted him so much. He stumbled.
If you fall, you die, Sulman.
Now it's your turn! Leave a teaser in comments, no more than ten lines from a WIP, please. I am all sparkly with anticipation!