Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately focus on family portraits...

1) Family portraits are a fake moment in time of the best versions of ourselves. We are dressed nicely. We are smiling. We look happy.

2) Hanging family portraits in your own home is odd to me. You know what you look like. You know what your spouse looks like. You know what your kids look like.

3) Those portraits are really there as a passive-aggressive way to make other people look at them and compliment you and / or your family.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

In any case, I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of the new acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

OK, big fat confession time. I didn't know the origin of the word "blog." Yeah, really. Apparently it comes from the phrase "web log," being shortened. 'Cause really, it takes so freakin' long to say "web log."

A brief history of the evolution, courtesy of Wikipedia:

The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, "blog," was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog in April or May 1999. Shortly thereafter, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used "blog" as both a noun and verb ("to blog," meaning "to edit one's weblog or to post to one's weblog") and devised the term "blogger" in connection with Pyra Labs' Blogger product, leading to the popularization of the terms.

So 'fess up. Did you know that's where we got "blog?" Can you think of a better name? How about self-talker... or stalker? No... that's not quite what I want...

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Meg Eden On That Folder Full Of Rejections

If there's one thing that many aspiring writers have few clues about, it's the submission process. There are good reasons for that; authors aren't exactly encouraged to talk in detail about our own submission experiences, and - just like agent hunting - everyone's story is different. I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to
answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series - Submission Hell - It's True. Yes, it's the SHIT.

Today's guest for the SHIT is Meg Eden, whose work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest is forthcoming from California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Lit.

How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?

As soon as I became serious about writing (around freshman year of high school) I started sending my writing out for publication. I'm the kind of person who doesn't read instruction manuals and learns with my hands: I have to just jump right in. I started submitting to literary magazines and agents --I don't think I really researched much on how to do it, I just did it. The most research I did really was grab a copy of The Writer’s Guide from my library, take pictures of the listings for agents that might like my novel, and then I sent it off to them. When I sent my first novel out, I had some experience having minor publications in lit mags that I was able to put in my query letter. I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning (especially w/ lit mags—I remember one place was like “You spelled Philippines wrong”). I look back at my old query letter, and there’s a lot I’d fix. But I’m proud of myself too—I threw myself out there, and I did get my first agent my junior year of high school, which I think is pretty cool.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

When I got my agent, I thought that that was the end of my “hard” journey, that I’d found my “happily ever after”, but that wasn't the case. My agent was really great, and I was so lucky to have her. She became a vital mentor, hand-wrote notes all over my novel, and carefully edited it with me for several drafts to make it stronger. She believed in me, and I still have the letter the head agent of the agency wrote to me when it was accepted, that my agent spoke highly of me. If I hadn’t gotten my agent then, I don’t know where I’d be as a writer, and I know it’s done wonders for my confidence.

We got an editor who wanted my book, but she couldn't convince the house. I had that agent for about five years, and no sale. I guess I was surprised to learn that just because you have an agent doesn't mean a book will sell, and that it can be such a long process. Initially, my goal was to have that novel published before graduation. Ha! As if I had any control over the process. ☺ That’s what I learned—that very little is in my control when it comes to publication. All that is in my control is to submit, so I submit like crazy.

Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?

When I had an agent and she sent my book to editors, she told me who she was sending to and asked if I was alright with that, and I was like, sure! I think if I was still working with an agent, I would probably research the editors more, and get a sense of if they’d be a good fit for my work, or what it might be like to work with them. It's really important to have good chemistry with your editor--it's like a marriage in a way. You have to work together on so many different levels for a long period of time. So any way of getting an idea of if you could work with them I think is really good.

However, like I said, I broke it off with my agent when we weren't really getting anywhere, and I wanted to go in a different direction. I like having the control over the submission process. I’m a go-getter and I’ve really enjoyed being my own “agent” in a sense. In that situation, I’ve done a lot of research, directly querying small press editors and getting a sense of who might be a good fit for my work. I enjoy this because I really know who I'm choosing and feel really happy with the editor I'm working with now. I like that the power's in my hands now, so I can submit where and when I want. I think when I had an agent I felt like I was a princess in a tower, waiting powerlessly for my prince to come. Now, I feel like I have a little more control and awareness over the process.

What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?

I honestly have no estimate on that. Some people replied quickly, most took a really long time. I really try to distract myself after getting something sent out, either by sending out more things and/or working on something new. I find when I keep myself busy, every acceptance letter is an exciting surprise. ☺

What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?

Submit and write more! I submit poems and short stories to literary magazines all the time. I try to have at least 100 things out at a time. This means I'm not sitting around, waiting for news, but get nicely surprised now and then with replies. It also gives me a chance to get more acceptances--I've checked it, and for litmag submissions I get about 1 in 10 accepted. So if I submit 100 things, I'll probably get about 10 acceptances. It's easier to send out those small things than books, so it's a nice balance. I try to have one fiction manuscript out in the world at a time (sometimes—rarely—two), one poetry manuscript, and some individual pieces out at magazines. It takes a long time for editors and agents to get through all their submissions—they have quite a bit to get through, and want to treat each submission with respect—so I find this way, I can use that time to let my work sit while I work on something else. It also lets me switch between projects, giving my fiction a “break” sometimes to focus on poetry, and vice versa. So I guess I’m saying it can help both my bio and my creative stamina.

If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?

I'm very used to rejections. I keep a folder of them on my computer, and have a physical folder from when people still sent out paper submissions. My Submittable account currently has 758 rejections in it (and this isn’t of course including hard copy, email and other submission manager rejections).

That novel my agent worked with still hasn’t found a home, and my debut novel “Post-High School Reality Quest” is technically the thirteenth novel that I’ve written. I’ve sent out several of the others and none of them have found a home yet. Many of them need some massive re-hauling (remember, I started sending out in high school). I don’t know off the top of my head how many rejection letters PHSRQ got, but it must be at least 20 or so I’d imagine. I’ve had a few existential crises over my rejections, but try to distract myself by sending something new out, binge watching some Downton Abbey or Degrassi, and/or getting a pep talk from my husband, who says I’m a great writer and I need to get over myself and keep writing ☺  

If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s?

I LOVE getting feedback--that's the jackpot! An editor's feedback is great because it means they want the book, and they want to make it better. Depending on the beta reader, this can be the case as well, but beta readers aren't invested in the same way editors are--editors are tied to the book as well, they want it to succeed. I think realizing this is really helpful for taking the feedback to heart.

My editor asked me to cut one of my characters out of my novel—and being a character-driven writer, he might as well have asked me to saw my arm off and give it to him! It was the most emotionally challenging thing anyone’s asked me to do, but my husband reminded me that for my editor to take the time to talk to me about these edits (we had several phone calls about this) and to want to work with me to make the novel stronger means he really cares about the book and wants it to be the best it can be. I cut out the character, and I can proudly say “Post-High School Reality Quest” is so much stronger for it. I’m so grateful to my editor for asking me to do such a hard thing. It’s made me grow as a writer, and helped me open up to new ideas for my work, even seemingly inconceivable ideas like cutting out my beloved characters ☺

When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?

I got an email a couple days after sending my book to Bob (from California Coldblood). Maybe I’m exaggerating, maybe it was a week, but seriously--he read it in a crazy short amount of time. Then he called so we could talk about it more. He said he loved it, and I could tell how excited he was about my book: not just by how quickly he responded, but also in his tone. I realized in that moment even if Bob’s the only person who ever reads this book, it’s been a success. I knew right then that “Post-High School Reality Quest” would be in good hands, being with CCB, and that Bob’s passion for it would make it shine.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Writer, Writer, Pants On Fire Podcast March Roundup Plus Mindy's Best (And Worst) Writing Advice

Publishing can be overwhelming, and for the most part new writers are dropped into the ocean of the business without a lot of idea of what to expect. Agents are there for you, but sometimes you have questions about the most basic of things that maybe you don't want to bother them with (bother them, they don't mind).

Still, knowing is half the battle, and being a new writer often feels like an all-out war against ignorance. I came up with a new weapon for aspiring and newly published authors alike, and introduced it earlier this month.

The Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast - where I interview a published author once a week with questions about their publishing journey, writing process, and careers - has been going well, and I've had quite a few listeners reach out to let me know that it's helped them.

I thought I'd take the last Monday of each month to roundup the episodes, with a little recap.

Enjoy this episode, and please, consider donating to support the show if you're able. If you don't like the idea of recurring monthly support, you can make a one-time donation - it's greatly appreciated!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

I am seeking representation for Power Surge, a complete, 78,000 word YA novel that blends elements of contemporary fantasy with missing word? of dark/psychological thriller and literary fiction. (The Darkest Part of the Forest meets Sharp Objects). It takes readers on an action-packed yet emotional adventure as 17-year-old Erin Evanstar, a recovering cutter, is plunged into a reality full of reality full oops, got a repeat in there of monsters that want to eat her.

So, this is a great intro. It's well written with good comp titles that help illustrate the niche for his genre-crossing book. Usually I say to put the hook first, not the specs, but you do a good job here of introducing a complex concept that might have an agent muddling before they get to this bit. I say adjust the little boo-boo's here and keep it.

Half-Elven twins with superpowers, pixies, sharpshooting nuns and bloodthirsty demons populate the stories Erin’s Grandpa loves telling. When Erin stops taking her ADHD meds and antidepressants I would just simplify this as "meds." Also, why did she stop? at the end of her senior year, she starts seeing creatures from Grandpa’s stories. At first, she thinks they’re hallucinations, but José, her best friend and long-time crush, sees them too. As Erin finds herself drawn deeper into the disturbing world of the need the? demon hunting, she is forced to face her inner-demons: she hasn’t fully overcome her cutting addiction and has very little control over her temper. While she struggles to defeat mental illness, her demon stalker, and the ever-present threat of expulsion from high school, Erin discovers that fighting literal demons is quite therapeutic.

I think this is good but it's also very broad. All we have here is a world and a vaguely defined struggle. What's the goal? Who is this demon stalker? Why her? Who is the "bad guy?" What's the main conflict? Why is she hunting the demons in the first place? If she hasn't overcome cutting, why go off the meds?

Erin’s struggles with anxiety, depression and ADHD are drawn from my own experiences. She controls her inner demons by battling literal ones. I write stories. I was the second place winner of Women on Writing’s Winter 2016 Flash Fiction Contest. My short fiction has been published in Helios Quarterly, Secrets of the Goat People, Centropic Oracle,  Dark Magic: Witches, Hackers and Robots, Youth Imagination and Spaceports & Spidersilk. I have a story forthcoming from Ability Maine’s Breath and Shadow.

Good bio with your pub creds, but right now you've almost got more words about yourself in this query than you do about the book. Answer some of the questions that I'm asking. Basically - what makes this book different from any other fantasy wide world demon hunter? The mental illness angle? Cool. So tie them together more concretely. Why is this therapeutic for her? Is she too drawn to it? What's the deal with Jose? Is he worried about her involvement with this? What's his opinion on it? Is her going there with her? You don't have to answer all these questions in a query, but you do need to address some. Right now the query raises more questions than it does pique interest.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: DONE DIRT CHEAP by Sarah Nicole Lemon

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Tourmaline doesn't have the normal life of a teenager. Her dad is the head of a notorious biker gang, the Wardens, that - even though she's convinced they do nothing but good - the cops take a serious interest in. Even though she's planning on going to college in the fall, she's spending the summer trying to figure out how to smuggle comfy socks to her mom in prison - and she wouldn't even be there if Tourmaline hadn't made the phone call that got her arrested.

Virginia can't claim normal either. She's been working for the questionable lawyer who got her mom off since she was fifteen - her services being accepted for a cash payment her mom couldn't make. Virginia knows how to maneuver people to get what she needs. And now her boss wants her to befriend Tourmaline Harris to find out what's really going on with the Wardens. Because if they're running drugs, he wants to run them out of the business and take it over himself.

Both girls have had it rough, and neither knows how to have a real friend - until they meet each other.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.


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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

I have to admit that I'm not very good at eating crow. In that vein, I've got a fun one today. While the origin story I found is somewhat dubious, it's just interesting enough that I wanted to share it with you. 

Supposedly, the phrase "to eat crow," meaning something disagreeable a person faces after they are caught in the wrong (like er... apologizing?) has its roots in the last days of the War of 1812. At that time there was an armistice in effect along the banks of the Niagra River, and during such periods the members of each garrison often went hunting in order to fill the larders. 

During one such hunting trip that proved fruitless, an enterprising Yankee solider cross the river to the British side in search of larger game. Finding nothing, he took a shot at a passing crow. While the bird fell, it also brought the Yankee to the attention of a British officer, who came upon the enemy soldier while he was reloading. The Brit was unarmed, so instead of threatening the Yank he feigned friendliness and amazement at such a great shot and asked to see the gun that had brought down the crow.

The hapless Yank handed it over, and the Brit turned the gun on him, berated him for trespassing and then made him take a bite of raw crow to drive the lesson home. The Brit then returned the gun (whatever else you can say about them, the British have excellent manners) and the Yank in turn aimed it at him and made him finish off the meal.

The incident became public knowledge when the British soldier came to the Yankee garrison the next day to demand that the foot solider be punished for breaking the armistice. When the soldier was brought before his Captain and asked if he'd ever seen the Englishman before he replied, "Why yes, we dined together yesterday."

Is it true? I don't know, but it makes a good story.

And that's almost better, right?