Sunday, January 23, 2011

Been Traveling

So, I got nothin' for ya right now.  My non-writing career is going gangbusters and I've been traveling a lot.  I just wanted to let you know that even though I haven't had to time to write much on this blog or anyone else's, I am lurking.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Love the Query Goblin!!

If you haven't already heard, blog buddy J.J. DeBenedictis has a new thing going: The Query Goblin.  You can submit you query and she will re-write it for you!  Or you can do what I do, which is pretend to be the Query Shark and provide your own analysis and suggestions in the comments.

I don't know what it is about these query workshops, but I just can't get enough of them!

Friday, January 14, 2011

That's It! I'm Writing a Vampire Story!

What is it with these things?  I mean, I hated Twilight.  I'm sick to death of seeing YA Vampire novels oozing out of bookstore walls - wasn't this trend supposed to be over by now?  And yet...  I love True Blood.  I loved Forever Knight.  I loved Interview with a Vampire.  I even loved Underworld.  And right now I'm reading the second in The Strain trilogy (conceived and co-written by Guillermo Del Toro, who also directed the surprisingly good Blade II).   And seriously, I could go on and on - my Nook library is disgustingly fang-infested.

Much has in fact been written on what makes Vampires stories are so appealing.  The difficulty there is that they aren't actually a genre.  Vampires are more like a motif that appears across genres, and the variety is pretty astonishing.  Compare the hyper-sexualized non-sentient vampires in Larry Niven's Sci Fi classic Ringworld to the biological evil in the thriller The Strain to the politics and romance in the Sookie Stackhouse novels.  Paranormal romance may be the most popular nesting ground on the modern Vampire, but he is hardly confined there.  The appeal is likewise different depending on what kind of vampires we're talking about, and what that genre's target market is.

If I were to write a vampire story, I would write one aimed directly at people like me: educated middle-aged women.  The protagonists would be adults and would not waste time whining about the unfairness of it all.  They would have awesome shame-free sex.  They would be concerned about maintaining careers and incomes and so forth in the face of obvious logistical problems.  They would be concerned about the realities of extreme age differences.  They would be concerned about the long-term future, since they could reasonably expect to be alive to see it.  They would consider the questions of immortality and morality with the wisdom of experience.

I know I know, there are already fifty such titles out there, right?  Well good!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dusting Off Old WIPs

This week I decided to go back and re-read the three variously-incomplete novels I started over the last couple of years.  It feels sort of like archeology, finding the foundations but not the buildings.  Likewise, it's so clear in retrospect which parts were strong and which were weak.  I like them at least as much now as I did when I started them, and I'm tempted to start work on them again, but they also feel like history - the characters like ghosts.  It's very strange.  I wonder if people ever do dust off old WIPS and finish them, let alone publish them.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Admit That You've Done This

Practiced writing queries for books you haven't finished.  C'mon, you've done it, right?  Or something like it?

Well, OK, maybe it's just me.  But I think it's actually practical exercise.

Some time ago I realized one of my ongoing challenges is keeping my novel attempts focused; I often can't easily describe my WIPs because, frankly, the deeper I get into them, the less I understand what they're really about.  (That's bad, but at least I'm honest with myself and not pretending that my stories are just too complex and important to be trivialized into an elevator pitch.)  This also means I've had a lot of trouble finishing novels; how does one satisfactorily end a story with no coherent object?

Meanwhile, I've noticed that the kind of novels I like best are devoted to solving a single central problem, introduced on the first page and tied up on the last.

I've also read a lot of what agents have to say about queries: that good queries present the protagonist, the problem, and the stakes; that they demonstrate a compelling voice and style; that they do this in about 250 words.

So I've been trying to think about my WIPS in these terms.  If I can identify a single problem, I can identify which parts of the story are extraneous.  If I can describe the stakes in a single sentence, I can tell if they are high enough.  If I can refine the style for 250 words, I can test the rest against that standard.

Maybe there's another word for this: extract?  treatment?  I dunno, and it doesn't matter what it's called.  It's helped me more than outlines or synopses.  What do you do to keep your WIPs on track?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why Do You Want to be Published?

It's a valid question.  A good one to start the year off with.

Trying to write a novel is a little like trying to lose a hundred pounds.  It's really hard work with no guarantee of success and certainly no guarantee you'll be happy with the outcome, but most of us take it for granted that it's obviously worth it.

But wanting to get your novel published is a little like wanting to be a fashion model.  It seems glamorous, but it's hard work, the competition is outrageous, it requires constant self-promotion, constant rejection, and only a tiny percentage can make a living at it.  Yet again, most of us take it for granted that it's obviously worth it.

So I ask again, why do you want to be published?  My personal philosophy of life is that happiness is the only goal. Be happy, make happy, spread happy. So for me, this question is a strategic one.  Will being published make me happy?  Or will it only make me happy if I can make money, or only if I get the validation of traditional hard-cover print publishing?  Do I need to read a hundred positive reviews from strangers, or just make my kids proud?  Is their pride in my publishing a book more valuable to me than their happiness in spending time with me?

You can see how the question matters.  How self-publishing might be the best answer for some, and how spending thousands on workshops, free-lance editors, and travel to pitch fests is reasonable for others.  Why after they get deals, some authors spend their entire advances and all their time promoting their book while others just keep writing.

This blogosphere is full of people telling each other what they should and shouldn't do, but it's all bullshit when ultimately, we all want different things in the end.  We need to understand our own motivations as well as we understand our characters'.

As for me, right now, I don't care that much about being published.  Sure, I've fantasized about telling people I'm a novelist at my high school reunion next year, but that's about as far as it goes.  Right now, I just want to create a novel I'm proud of for it's own attributes.  It's an odd realization, given how interested I am in the publishing industry, but there you have it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010, 2011

I think it's useful to keep prior successes in mind as one starts new endeavors.  I think it's as important to analyze what we we've done right as what we've done wrong, and to step back and recognize trajectories.  To wit:

2010 was a truly pivotal year.  People all over realized that times were not going to just get better on their own.  Shells of complacency broke and their denizens emerged to re-discover their voice, their free will, their power.

I want to congratulate every person out there who made a positive change last year.  To everyone who started a new career, a new business, or went back to school.  To everyone who moved to a new place, bought a house, or expanded their family.  To everyone who promoted their books, their work, their beliefs, or themselves.  To everyone who kept their nerve and worked their asses off to improve their own lives and the lives of others.  To everyone who didn't give in to fear, who didn't decide to wait out the uncertainty...

Happy New Year!  May 2011 reward you for your courage.