Thursday, December 31, 2009

Enter 2010

I'm not a New Year's Resolutions type.  If I need to change something in my life, why wait 'til January 1st?  I do, however, think the turnover is a nice time to take stock.

What got done this year?  What still needs to get done?

I can tell you one thing.  On January 1, 2009, I had no idea I'd finish the year with a completed novel, let alone thoughts of getting it published.

This year, I wrote Fingerprints and slowly started educating myself on the publication process.  Things shifted into high-gear (and high-reality) when I joined Authonomy and then AgentQuery Connect.

Now I know more than I realized I didn't know before.  I've got a decent query letter ready to go out (I hope), a solid synopsis ... and, oh yeah, there's already a promising partial out there.  (Everybody, cross your fingers, please.)

What will 2010 bring?  No telling, really.  But I can hope for an agent and more progress on the road to publication.  Maybe entering ABNA (or maybe not).  Definitely finishing the sequel to Fingerprints.

There's always my day job, too.  Getting more kids to learn math and hate it a little less, if I can help it.

I hope the new year brings lots of good things for all of us ... May we all have the energy we need to get the work done!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Drawing the Line

As a writer, where is the line between self-confidence and self-delusion?

We must have some confidence in our work.  If we don't, why should anyone else?  If we want to be published, we need to "sell" it to an agent, a publisher, and ultimately the public.

Feedback shouldn't necessarily lead directly to changes (see previous post).  Sometimes we need to stand by what we wrote and the way we wrote it.  Sometimes we won't take a suggestion, but it leads us to another idea that we run with.  All good things.

When do we cross that line to thinking our book is the best ever, and nothing anyone says gets through our thick skull?

How much harder is it to be realistic when much of your feedback comes from people with ulterior motives?  Maybe other authors who want to engage in mutual back-scratching.  Maybe friends and family who see everything you do through those wretched pink spectacles.  (Note the sorry attempt at avoiding cliché.)

If we refuse to believe it when someone tells us our book needs major work, will we ever get the message?  Won't agents hit Auto-Reject, and we'll never know why?  What will it do to us to spend years failing to publish the greatest masterpiece of all time?

Where do we find the balance between humility and confidence?

(I think it's safe to say the balance is way off when one refers to their novel using a gender-specific pronoun.)

What do we do when our own blindness is the cause of our failure?

POD, I guess.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Author's Skin

It's got to be thick.  I'm thinking rhinoceros-like.  Maybe even armor-plated.  Constructive criticism can sting the ego, but it's a gift.  It gives you another perspective and forces you to make tough decisions that hopefully make your work better.

Unfortunately, some authors seem to be allergic to criticism of any kind.  They go into literary anaphylactic shock at the first hint of it.  I've got bad news, kids.  If you think my feedback is rough, wait 'til you come up against agents and editors that won't even read as much as I did.

Here are some of my ideas of appropriate and inappropriate responses.  Take note - considering feedback does not necessarily mean making changes.

Feedback: "This part is confusing."
Appropriate Reaction:  Assuming this person is within my target audience and thus has the requisite background knowledge, I'd better check that part.  Is something obvious to me because it's in my head, but it's not coming across clearly on the page?
Inappropriate Reaction:  This person obviously has no idea what they're talking about.  It's all there in black and white.  How can they miss it?

Feedback: "This formatting choice is distracting."
Appropriate Reaction:  Uh-oh.  Last thing I want is for my readers to be distracted by something like format.  Why did I choose to use italics/bold/double-quotes/single-quotes here?  Can my purpose be served by something less obtrusive?  It's only one person's opinion, so I'll keep this as a note to myself.  If others comment on it, I might want to rethink it.
Inappropriate ReactionThis is what makes me distinctive.  I don't want to look like every other book.  If they think my use of reverse-indentation is hard to read, then they're just missing out on my genius.

Feedback: "I had a hard time getting into this."
Appropriate Reaction:  Yikes.  Is this person part of my target audience?  If so, I need to figure out why I'm not drawing them in.  If not, I should still consider my hooks and pacing, because it'd be nice to have broader appeal.
Inappropriate Reaction:  How dare they attack the product of my blood, sweat, and tears?!  Everyone else who's ever read this (i.e., all my friends and family) say it's the greatest thing since [insert name of favorite author here].  This person is clearly just mean-spirited and jealous of my massive talent, because otherwise, they wouldn't be able to drag themselves away from my pièce de résistance.

For the record, I'm only mildly exaggerating.

Good luck in the publishing industry, kids.  See you around.

[ETA: Eight months after I posted this, Pete Morin blogged about rhinoceros hide.  Check it out.]


Monday, December 14, 2009

Query Blues with a Christmas Twist

Anyone who's made an attempt to get published knows about the dreaded query letter.  Your first thought is, "What goes into it?  What are the rules?"  The more you research, the more you find that every agent's rules will contradict someone else's.

Someone got clever with this for a song contest.  Check out the post at Janet Reid's blog.

I feel better knowing I'm not alone.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Story Behind the Cover

When it comes to visual arts, I'm not talented.  My siblings are.  My sister, in her brilliance, designed the cover image.  The thumbprint is obviously connected to the title Fingerprints.  (The story behind that is ... another story.)

The rest of the design reflects the following excerpt from the book:

Beyond a grassy slope, a vast city stretched before us.  Many of the central buildings reached at least twenty stories, the architecture like nothing I’d ever seen.  Yet the most prominent feature was a clear line running down the middle near us, like a wide luminescent street.  There was no doubt it was more than the main drag; it was a literal division of the city.

To the right, the buildings were beyond modern, yet somehow organic, twisting and flowing in ways that made me wonder how they could be structurally sound.  The colors were varied and subtle, tints of orange blending into pinks, then lavenders and blues.  On the left, the buildings were equally beautiful, yet sleek and efficient, with sharp angles and clean lines.  That entire side of the city gleamed bright with white and silver, completely unlike the flowing colors of the other.

Not a literal interpretation, obviously, but I like the symbolism.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

RANDOM: Musings on Celebrity

I had this thought ages ago.  Might as well document it for posterity.

Every time I go to the grocery store and see tabloid headlines about so-and-so breaking up with what's-his-name, I wonder why I'm supposed to care.  Every time I see fans gushing and going into hysterics over the hottie-du-jour, I wonder if they think of him as a human being.

Celebrities are like the popular people in high school.  I have the same "outsider" perspective on both, since I'm not famous, nor was I popular in high school.

(I'll pause while you recover from the shock.)

While I wasn't popular, I was friends with some people who were, and I observed the behavior of others.  This was easy to do for a quiet, shy person such as myself.

(Okay, I'll give you another minute.  I know, these revelations are earth-shattering.)

Bottom line: Some of the kindest people I knew back then were some of the most popular.  Some of the social high-rankers were jerks.  Scum of the earth.  I could only hope they'd either grow out of it, or crash and burn when reality hit.

Their popularity had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of their character.  Their popularity told me nothing about whether they were worth knowing.  It only gave them a wider audience.

Same goes for celebrities.  I don't care about Jennifer Aniston's love life any more than I cared about the head cheerleader's.  And if I ever ran into the latest piece of guy-candy, I wouldn't go to pieces any more than I did if some cute guy said two words to me in high school.

(Okay, when cute guys acknowledged my existence, I'm pretty sure my heart rate skyrocketed.  The point is, I didn't show it ... I hope.)

So in my perfect world (which I'll run someday), people will be treated as people, regardless of social status.

Now, off I go to the grocery store.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Subconscious Metaphor

When I wrote Fingerprints, I had certain things in mind.  Certain characters had vivid personalities from the beginning, and I knew the general story I wanted to tell.  Some symbolism was consciously incorporated.

Then a colleague pointed out a a metaphor that I was not thinking about when I wrote it.  Not consciously, anyway.  Thinking about it, though, it had to be subconscious on some level, because it was so obvious.

Teks and Tuits.  The hearing and the Deaf.  Two worlds that some believe to be mutually exclusive.

It had to be subconscious, because I see the pull between those worlds every day.  Hard-of-hearing kids, especially ... so often stuck in a tug-of-war.  Like listening to music and using spoken English?  Too hearing.  Can't understand what people are saying at a noisy party?  Too deaf.

Can't they be both?

So maybe the story can be a metaphor for a lot of things, groups and labels that the all-knowing "THEY" decide can't coincide.

And as I think Raina would say, "Screw that.  Watch me blur the line."