Thanks, Mike

It’s a journey, this writing business. It started when I was a child, when I took the stories from my head and put them on paper. Stories about characters that I saw on my family’s one small television. Or characters I read about in comic books. Or science fiction novels.

My brother-in-law was a great supporter. In college, I began an original fantasy novel about brothers who were separated and found their way back to each other. I guess my love of “buddy” stories, the modern day “bromance,” is deeply rooted in my soul. Mike (said bro-in-law) is also a writer. A creative soul. He taught me a lot about patience, and being true to yourself and your voice. I wish he was still writing.

I’d like to think the novel I just finished, The Heir of Time, is that original brother story, all grown up.

Then came love and marriage and work and family. It was a busy time and, like many others have, I lost my love of writing for a while. It was only after falling in love with Stargate SG-1 and the characters of Jack and Daniel that the muse awoke. And, thankfully, fanfiction had finally found its home on the newfangled thing called the Internet. I found friends and fans, and outlets for my stories. I grew as a writer, as a reader, and as a critiquer, and everyone who ever left a comment on one of my stories helped along the way.

Now I’m taking different steps on this path – steps that are harder, on steeper mountains with rocky, broken surfaces. I’m reaching out to find a handhold in the publishing world – a world with rules and regulations, with antique ideas and unclear requirements. The first steps are hard. Scary. Daunting. But I’m putting on my big-girl panties and getting on with it.

A writing friend pointed me in the direction of a local workshop taking place this weekend. It seems like an obvious handhold – a next step painted in neon orange and lit with blinking lights. It’s being presented by Chuck Sambuchino of Writers’ Digest, a man who knows a thing or two or a bazillion about publishing. I’m really thankful for kinfolit’s excitement, her support, and the chance to walk a little farther on this journey with a friend at my side.

Mr. Sambuchino offered a personal critique of attendees’ first query letter and I jumped at the chance. One-on-one advice from a professional? Yes, please, sign me up! Trying to write it brought me to hair-pulling frustration and my last blog post. Such a dilemma! Such contradictory advice posted on reputable on-line sites! It shouldn’t be a surprise that Mr. Sambuchino had some criticism, which, after my usual knee-jerk denial, I took to heart.

But, here’s the problem: after perusing Mr. Sambuchino’s blog site, where he shares query letters that actually led to literary representation, I’ve found that agents’ reactions to query letters are completely subjective and idiosyncratic. Four paragraphs. Five paragraphs. Begin with a single sentence that has a compelling hook. Forget the hook and tell your main character’s story in simple language. Talk about why you chose this particular agent. Explain your background and platform. Don’t waste time. Be funny. Don’t try to be funny or unique. Unique voices catch agents’ attention.

Hence the hair-pulling.

So, what have I decided? It all goes back to the advice my brother-in-law once gave me. I’ve decided to be myself. To trust my own voice. And, above all, not to play games trying to mind read literary agents.

I don’t think I can go wrong with that advice.

Thanks, Mike

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Where’s Tim the Enchanter When You Need Him?

Ah, the Query Letter.

To the writer, the skeleton key that opens the massive iron gates to the mysterious and fantastic Universe of the Printed Word. The single-spaced sheet of paper that, if the runes be carved properly and the ink simmered with the perfect pinch of sweat and blood, can be transformed into a message that spans continents, slips through the narrowest crack in a literary agent’s armor, and tickles the ear of the publishing sovereign.

The Writer-Penitent who seeks to enter the Halls of the Represented must make sure to follow each convention, to stay true to the decrees and directives of the Gatekeepers. The arrow ridden skeletons of those who raced ahead seeking entrance by stealth or bribery, heedless of sage advice, line the pathway. Dusty and mold-ridden, their bones lie upon the remnants of rotting manuscript pages dotted with the wicked smart-quote, typed in the fiendish Font of Not Times New Roman.

But, say the listeners, surely any true believer, any of the pious who can read and write can follow these formulae?

Students of this lore laugh at such a foolishly innocent question.

These regulations are not listed out in black and white, boldly lettered over every portal. Even in those few, well-guarded entries that proudly display their incantations, one halting error made by the Writer-Penitent can release the Kraken of Rejection.

The mere thought of undertaking this quest can chill the most ardent heart, can cause the steadiest pen to stutter. “Perhaps self-publishing,” the fearful acolyte whispers, alone before the towering gates that seem to be forever slammed in his face.

And yet, amidst the carnage, wading through shredded 20 lb. laser-printed paper floods, brow unbeaten beneath her helm of rusted confidence, one more comes to do battle for entry. She will throw her skills against the chains and bars, forge her tens of thousands of words into a single, sharp sentence that will slide between the tumblers of the Great Lock. She will avoid the Trapdoor of Triteness and the Cleavers of Cleverness, while balancing on the tightrope over the Chasm of Showing Not Telling.

One single page. One chance. One try.

It is a daunting and terrifying feat even to one who has already created new worlds and breathed life into sympathetic and multi-faceted characters. Let us wish her well.

“What is your name?”

“My name is AUTHOR.”

“What is your quest?”

“To be published.”

“What is your favorite color?”

“Um… red. No, blue!”

SPROING

“You’ve Finished the First Draft, Now What?”

My first answer was dance. Yes. I danced. All around the kitchen, up the stairs, through the dining room, and then on the sidewalk outside the Ashton Diner where I met my friend and cheerleader, Michelle, and then later in the gym locker room. I danced. I laughed. I shouted in glee.

After five years from first thought to ‘THE END,’ I deserved to dance, even with two left feet and all of the grace God gave a goose. Heck, as a certain Princess Bride once said to her Wesley, “If you like, I can fly!!!”

My second answer was to back it up. On my computer. On a flash drive. On the cloud. Then print it, mail it, and shove it in a drawer for safekeeping. Done. Good.

After that it was time to make copies so that my first readers, loyal fan-fiction buddies, and those who have no choice but to read and give comments (like my daughter) for their critiques.

There might have been some celebratory wine drinking between two and three. And after four.

This is huge. Gigantic. From my first notion, from a dream I had of a man struggling through a snowstorm towards a red glass castle, to my first notes dictated to my daughter on a long car ride from Florida, to my 2012 NaNoWriMo victory that helped me get the story straight in my head, it has been a long, frustrating, exhilarating journey. There have been flat tires. Medical issues that have stolen my energy. Sinking depression that has swallowed up my confidence. The ups and downs of a moody creative type turned into vast mountains and deadly swamps that my little furry feet could only conquer with the helpful hands of friends and relatives.

Along the way, I hurried back to fan fiction many times. It was a way to center myself. To remind myself that, yes, I could so write. I could plot. I could develop character. I could do it and people would not hate it. There are a few stories hanging out there, unfinished, even now. I’ll finish them. I’ll put my very best into them, just like I did my novel. Why? Because all of my readers deserve it. They deserve great characterizations, dialogue that echoes perfectly, and plots that make sense. They deserve my time and attention just as much as those hopeful future readers of my original fiction do.

Why?

Because people are people and readers are readers. There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about being a writer or reader of fan fiction, no matter who pretends there is. We read. We write. The same people who pick up the latest Patterson or Bujold will also pick up a fan zine or a web story and get enjoyment there.

So, after my house is cleaned (thank you my poor, dusty husband!) and after my fan fics are polished up and posted, then what?

Then I will write my Query Letter – a one page letter which brings more trepidation and dread than knowing I have many more books in Matthias’ series to finish. Then I will attend a Writers’ Conference, find an agent, and get my words into my readers’ hands. Somehow. Some way.

I didn’t write this so that it could sit on my shelf as a paperweight.

Is it going to be easy? Well, why should it be? Nothing about this journey has been easy, so I’m not expecting that now. But my skin must be thickened, and my heart must be steadied against all criticism, harsh words, nasty reviews, and rejection. I have a wonderful passel of friends to pat me on the head, give me another glass of wine, and shove me back into the fight when things go badly. Thank God.

On to the next mountain, Samwise! Where are those dratted eagles when you need them?