Writing Thoughts: On Creator’s Block…

So, where do I stand with my writing? That is a tricky question to say the least. And I’m not sure where I want to start (literally and figuratively)

I say this because my head is being torn in three (maybe even four places).

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After I went to the writer’s conference a few weeks ago, I was deadset on changing my passion project trilogy to Young Adult. Young Adult is hot right now and my writing of my main character tended to fit that mold well. So, I jumped in and edited it to YA. It wasn’t all that difficult to do.

However, that edit caused me grief. I had to cut points of view characters that I truly loved. The story was about one character with five other main POV in book one alone. I had to cut 3 of those POV and one of them hurt my soul. I have always loved dark, anti-heroes and this one character was a sick bastard that was fun to write, but he didn’t fit my new audience (he was super creepy and sick, so not so good for teenagers!)

But that also meant three other characters in later books that I loved, one of them being a totally not reliable sky pirate. This character was so ridiculous, vain and swear-happy that I was totally bummed to have to cut. Add in two others that were so different as well, and I had the makings of a separate work.

And throw in working with a critique partner on my just finished completely separate novel and the very early stages of plotting the next one.

And that is where I am in my scatterbrained world…

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I really don’t know which to focus on. Changing to YA isn’t going to take me that long, but it isn’t going to take all that much to tie together my cut characters into a new story, just a few changes and few chapters to tie it all up. But which to do first?

I have a couple of critique partners and one is super hyped about the sky pirate work, but she is also working on my YA story (while I work on hers) and I don’t want to overwhelm her.

I guess my problem is that I think both books would work well separately. The YA book is obviously toward YA audience and the sky pirate toward adult. But the YA is, like I said, my passion project for years. However, I think the sky pirate one will pick up easily enough since its arc is interesting and the main POV is so enjoyable. I also obviously want all my books to ultimately succeed, I just need to find a way to make them all soar.

Which is why my head is near exploding with how to organize it all, good thing I do project management professionally…

The Writing Process: Querying & Rejection

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Since this subject is of recent interest to me, I wanted to dive deeper into what I think is the most difficult part of the publishing industry – Querying.

So the manuscript is done – at least as far as you can take it – and you want to move onto the next step, which is finding an agent or publisher. The next step is to write a query. The dreaded query letter is something that I don’t enjoy, or enjoy doing.

But let me step back a for a few here. Using my own experiences (limited as they are) a writer who is ready to query is only ready when the story is done. But that isn’t always true. You see, when you finish the story, you probably have to go back and re-edit the crap out of it. Most completed stories are nothing but a first draft. It needs polish, it needs substance. So it is important to remember that the time for querying is when the story is as good as you can make it.

The story is done, what next? Well this is where the suck comes in, it is time to research for agents. This isn’t all that difficult if you follow websites such as Writer’s Digest or QueryTracker. These sites give all sorts of good advice for searching for agents. No that isn’t the fun part, the fun part is actually going to the agent sites and seeing what they are looking for. And this is tedious if you are writing in a specific genre. It takes a ton of time to find a list of agents.

Yet, that isn’t the true suck – which is the art of writing the query itself. A query is the one page pitch to an agent discussing your work. You are so suped up by your work you can’t wait to tell everyone in the world about it, but then you have to sit down and write it out into three or four paragraphs without spoiling everything. What in the name of everything good is that? It is so hard to boil down a story, especially when you have so much to share with it. The same goes with the damn synopsis page.

All that said, it does take time and it can suck to do. But when your are done, you feel great. You feel enthusiastic, you feel excited that you are finally going to get that agent. It is a strange catharsis you feel when you press that send button. All that hard work, all that effort.

It all hinges on that SEND button.

Then reality comes to bite you in the backside. This industry is so subjective that 99 out of 100 agents are going to reject your story. Hell, those numbers are probably too low as it is. You get that gut-punch email in your inbox saying the agent is not the right one for it. And you feel nothing but pain, anger and devastation. You start to hate your writing, you want to burn everything around you, feel so defeated that you want to give it up and stop writing. Become something else.

But then the emotions all fade and you realize what the Hell were you thinking. It will happen some day, just gotta keep up with the process and move on. This rejection is the form of feedback you need to make your story better. To strengthen those first pages, to fix the voice of the story, alter the audience group. Makes you realize you still have work to do.

In the end, you will have that better story, but you will have to query all over again…

This is why the hardest part of becoming a published author is the Query Letter. Everything balances atop it like a trapeze artist, danger on all sides, but if you make it to the end, the audience will applaud like mad. The key is to remember that not every person has the makeup to be a trapeze artist, or the wherewithal to write a completed book.

Writer’s League of Texas 2017 Conference

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This upcoming weekend is the 2017 version of the Writer’s League of Texas Agents and Editors conference. A yearly event bringing professionals from the industry together.

For me, this is my first ever writing conference. I am both nervous and excited. When I first moved to Texas last year, I was amazed to find this writing group. People from all over the state are part of this group and I think it is an awesome way to bring aspiring authors together.

I am eager to learn what the craft/business sessions have to offer. I want to connect with other authors that are going through the same growing pains I am. To be able to meet others that have the same passions as I do will be a good thing for me.

Sure I will be there to pitch my stories to potential agents, but this whole weekend is more about learning and growth. I know I don’t know enough and this weekend will help me put some of those puzzle pieces together.

Look for a full recap of the weekend next week. If there are people going to this event, I would love to meet up!

The writing process: Developmental Edits pt. 1

typewriter-1144164-639x426It has been awhile since I have blogged about my actual writing. It isn’t because I haven’t been writing (I have, back off!) but more so I was waiting until I was done with what I was working on to comment. The last month or so, I have been doing a developmental edit on my fantasy series, in particular the first book Longinus Unbound. I will divide up this whole process into parts because there was a lot done to cover in one post.

Now, this process has been an interesting one. The reason I started a developmental edit was that I actually paid a professional (a pro agent and editor) to go over my manuscript with a viscous and critical eye. I found this gentlemen via the Writer’s Digest bootcamp I did back in October. And let me just say up front, this was worth the money!

I’m sure all you fine writers out there understand what a developmental edit is, but for those who don’t, basically it boils down to having a person who understands your genre very well read the manuscript and give honest critical feedback. Some of the things they touch on are line edits, setting, pace, tension, flow and overall feelings.

For me, this was important. Writing in SFF, the genre is pretty open, but also constricting in terms of setting, plots and systems. I had my original manuscript edited by a dear friend, but she doesn’t read this genre, so it was more of a line edit and grammar check. While incredibly helpful, I needed someone from the source who could tell me how much my writing sucked (he said it didn’t, so for that I am grateful!).

However, he was able to pick out the flaws of my writing, specifically the areas in which the book falls flat. Before I go into what I changed and why, I will say that after listening to him and reading his notes, the areas he wanted to see me work on were definitely in need of some editing/re-writing. Most of it revolved around my main POVs, mostly because they were written years ago. This gentlemen enjoyed my side characters more because their stories were better written, and this is because I added them later/recently with more flair and better writing.

First, my main female character Brynn, my main male character Finn and my second main female character Hunter all needed some changing. Brynn and Finn were too stereotypical heroes. Yes, they had flaws, but I didn’t make their flaws stick too long, derail them too much. They didn’t fester too much to give a bigger sense of urgency, sense of tension. Main characters need this to have a successful story.

Brynn was a stock princess character, a badass with magic and one that had the fortitude to go on the journey the plot needed. However, even though I made her a lesbian character (mainly because I use religion and this comes to the fore in the second and third books, not because I wanted to spice it up like a fanboy), Brynn wasn’t all that special, merely a vessel for the plot to move forward. Speaking with the editor, he pointed out that the protagonist needs some reason to go on the journey, mentally and physically and that readers want people to relate to. I had thought Brynn was this way, but I realized she was only partly there, she needed some oomph (however it is spelled). Since my setting contains major steampunk vibes, I decided to alter her from a typical princess to more of an outcast in her family – she is a gearhead, swears a ton, loves to learn about everything, skeptical of the magic she can use, not a true believer in the Church, trusts easily at the beginning and once betrayed, becomes a hardened character. I also changed the gradual reveal of her preference for women to be at the beginning, not as I had it when she first met Hunter. All of these changes made Brynn a robust character, flawed and capable, hopeful and sorrowful. She is the hero of my trilogy and she needed to be the strongest character I write (which I can say from later books, she certainly became one due to my writing getting better).

One thing that I needed to change was less badass characters and more human characters. My main party was all badasses. Making Brynn less open to using her magic helped that, but changing Finn was the key to that success. I completely removed him as a POV character, giving his scenes to his sister Hunter and some to Brynn. This allowed me to make Finn complex. He had a rough backstory, but instead of having the reader be in his mind, I took that out of view. The readers now have to put the puzzle of Finn’s contradicting emotions together from the views of others. It made him easier to write this time around. Finn is a heroic character, but he was betrayed in the past, banished from his army life, and the chosen of the magical Longinus blade. While it was originally fun to write how the power of the blade takes over Finn, it was even more interesting to have other characters view his change, because it makes Finn more unstable, his actions less expected. Finn, the drawn character, the deep character, the open, yet closed off character, all comes out now because we aren’t in his mind.

Hunter wasn’t changed all that much, but one thing I did alter was making her be more secretive with her knowledge. A true believer in the Church, Hunter’s arc was always to follow the religious aspect, but being a lesbian contradicted her beliefs. I added Hunter to the story way after the original manuscript was written so I had more opportunity to create and develop Hunter as a complex person who was struggling with the choice of belief vs her heart’s desire (in this case Brynn). But by making her be a manipulator of others – especially Finn – puts Hunter into even further shades of grey characterwise. Hunter has clairvoyance, almost like Min from WoT, and I brought that to the fore in this new edit. She uses people to get what she wants, as opposed to just being able to see what others are thinking. And this manipulation has cost her, it makes other characters harsher on her, makes her more deplorable and less honorable than she previously was. This helps create not just tension among the main party, but also makes her difficult choice of religion vs love even that more difficult for her.

One of the biggest changes to the characters in this book was the combination of what was once book 1 and book 2 of a four part series. I melded those books together to create one book and now a trilogy. The new book is called The Fallen Unbound (a combination of the two titles). I will go into more detail on the combination, but for this part, I now have my Ashe character back in book 1.

Ashe, a teenage street urchin, is one of my favorite characters. In this book, she doesn’t interact with the other characters but very very briefly, but she plays an important role in the rest of the series. The reason I love Ashe so much is that she is a commoner, a person without skill (minus being a street rat, which come on, is a heroic thing in itself!), someone who doesn’t understand the greater world around her. She is a character that the readers can relate to easily enough. I enjoy Ashe, I love writing her and it made me happy to bring her back in the first book, instead of her being in the second book.

The editor thought my three side characters, Marcard, Evander and Darko, were all more interesting than my main party. These guys were different in many ways and had lived completely different lives, while also being entertaining. Marcard is a military man, straightforward and to the punch. He didn’t change all that much, but I highlighted his loyalty conundrum even more in these new edits, while also making him more gruff. Evander is a sick bastard with devious thoughts. He is really the villain of the whole series and I made him even more the bad guy. In what was book 2, he becomes quite powerful, but in the first book, he kinda disappeared after a while because he was in captivity. So in this new edit, he escapes and does what he did in that book 2. He becomes even more an asshole and darker as a character. Darko didn’t shift much, but I did make him a little bit more conflicted on his choices.

Overall, the characters were some of the biggest changes I had to make with this edit. They needed polishing, needed more complexity, needed more secrets, more distractions, more tension. And I think I accomplished that pretty well with this first round of new edits. I know there is more to be done with them, but that will come soon enough.

The next post will bring up the other changes I made regarding setting, religion and magic.

Thoughts on writing: A whole new world…

dsc_6051Last year I finished writing my fantasy series after a decade of toil. It isn’t published yet (goal of the year!) but I have moved on from it for the time being- for the most part that is. I still have plans of doing some edits and like I said, it is my goal of 2017 to get this thing either published or on the road to publishing, whether it is traditional markets (preferred) or self-published.

That said, I have stepped away from that world I had spent so much time in. I wandered and meandered my way through that world for ten years and created some lasting memories with the setting and the characters that I will never forget. But it was time to step away for a bit and see what else there is out there. Although, I know I will be going back to that world shortly when I do some hack-n-slash with a broadsword to it, but that is a post for another day…

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This leads me to where I am currently. The world is called the Crystalium and it is governed by a Godking that breathes energy into the Crystal of Life. From the Crystal of Life come the 11 Crystals of Power and each crystal is kept in the protection of the 11 Queendoms. Only women can use magic, aside from the Godking, that comes from runes created from the shards of the crystals of power. The Godking only has twenty-five years of service to the Crystal of Life before he dies and the duty must pass on to one of his sons from the realms of the Crystals of Power. The current Godking only has one month left of service and his chosen heir has been murdered, this is where the story begins.

This world is completely different from the world of the Dies Irae that I just left. What is amazing about the SFF genre is that each story can be set in a different world, whereas contemporary works must be in the real world. I enjoy these other worlds with different rules and peoples. The world of the Dies Irae was one of religion and history based from the real world. The world of the Crystalium is nothing of that. Its God is the Crystal of Life and the Crystals of Power. The histories are stark changes from one another. Their peoples are different and the Queendoms of the Crystalium are detailed and as different from one another as the two worlds are.

The thing that separates the worlds are its people and places. Within the Dies Irae, it was based on our world, but far into the future. An event happened that caused the world to be altered and the people who rose from the ashes were reshaped by their religion and the gift of magic. These people are like us, they live in a world of steam and magic, so there are definitely steampunk attributes. But I also wanted to show this world as a gritty and dark place that our world can be. The people are real, they are dark beings with inner demons and the world they inhabit, though can be saved, is a dark place. Magic can sustain them, but there is also mistrust of its users. Science once destroyed this world and people are wary of anything relating to advanced science. There are wraiths, demons and the ascension of spirits from the underworld, but it is the people who drive this story. Each character has some sort of darkness within them, though others hide it better than the rest.

In the Crystalium, the world isn’t as dark, though I can’t steer away from a little darkness…The Crystal Queens are as different from one another as the crystals themselves. The range of personalities in human-kind fits a broad spectrum of strengths and weaknesses, and these are brought out by the Crystals of Power. My three main protagonists couldn’t be more different, but none of them are as dark and brooding as the world of the Dies Irae. I wanted to keep this story and its characters grounded, but they also have this strength of a strict magic system with consequences and outcomes. Though there is still war and death, the scope of this story is fairly narrow  (hence only 3 POVs vs the Dies Irae’s 18).

As a writer, it is the best part of the job: creating these worlds. With SFF books, to make the world work, you need to be detailed about the people and the places within it. That is where the creativity becomes paramount. Though fun, it is also time-consuming and arduous. I bring this up because leaving the world of the Dies Irae for the Crystalium has been a task that I find interesting and strange. The Dies Irae was an old friend at this point. I knew the people, I knew the places, their histories, I mean I was in that world for ten years. I just recently entered the Crystalium and introduced myself to it. It is exciting to see where the journey takes me.

The writing process: The Query(ing) game

typewriter-1144164-639x426The Query – the dreaded next step from actually writing the story, manuscript, novel to getting it to the masses for consumption. To be able to share your story with the world, you have to first get it into the hands of someone in the industry who could make it happen. It is a difficult step for an author, especially new authors.

Whether you want to have your finished work published via traditional markets, e-books, Print on Demand or in journals/magazines, you need to Query. Querying can come in the form of a letter to an agent or publisher, but it is basically a pitch of your story to someone who has no idea what you have written. As many authors soon come to find out, it is harder to do a proper query than it is to write the book or story. And the pitch is not a step-by-step covering of your plot, it is a hook to grab the reader’s attention so they become interested in your book. The hook is nearly similar to what you would commonly see on the book jacket – it is the few sentences that either interest you or make you put it down.

For myself, it was a long arduous learning curve that I am still trying to master. When I first wrote my original book, my Query was shock full of mistakes. And those mistakes still carried over to the contemporary thriller, but where my fantasy failed, my thriller succeeded and I chalk that up to the market and genre. The point is, what works for one, does not work for another – and that goes especially true for agents.

Agents are people and they have their own tastes and wants. As an author, I forget that from time to time when I get a rejection or don’t hear anything. Agents have to be interested in the story, otherwise they are just wasting their time, which is as important to them as it is to you.

The same goes for the Query letter itself. I have gone to workshops and done webinars and bootcamps and learned one thing – everyone’s idea of a good query letter is different. Some agents want and expect one style, while another says something different. It is a difficult path to travel for authors because we think it should be easy since we wrote a full story – but we are wrong more often than not. While many agents follow a similar pattern, it is really pertinent to tailor each Query to the specific agent or publisher (even though most publishers want agent submissions, not unsolicited). It is good to have a stock letter, but to alter it each time with different tweaks to meet the agent’s needs/wants. It is good to have a solid few points to touch on from the plot, but make it fluid enough to alter if needed.

For example, in my story, I have an LGBTQ main character while also discussing a different take on religion in the future. In my basic letter, I don’t mention either because I know what type of hot topics those can become. But as I research different agents, I will add those parts if they mention they are drawn to that particular thing or if they want to see different perspectives. It is all about playing to the wants of an agent, but also not lying about your storyline. Not all agents request a Synopsis (another difficult piece to do for authors – keeping it one page, come on, that is super hard for us wordsmiths!), but that doesn’t mean you should exclude those things in the Synopsis. The Query and the Synopsis are two different animals and though I might not mention sexuality or religion in every Query, they are both in my Synopsis because they are integral to the overall plot.

With all that said, I am still trying to find representation for my novels. I have four completed books that are ready for the next step and it is up to me to persevere to get them to see the light of day. The query process might eventually be longer than it took me to actually write the books, but that is where a writer becomes an author.

Rejection is part of the game and you have to not take it personal. At first, I took it personal whenever I received a rejection, but I was younger and new to the process. Now, I look at it as part of the overall process. Querying is like taking a piece of you and putting it out there, it can be shot down and it does hurt, but like all things, to succeed, you have to push through. I know that there is someone out there who will fall in love with what I have written and it is up to me to find that person. If it takes me 1000 rejections to find that one who will take me to the next step, I will continue on (hopefully it doesn’t take that long!) with gusto and determination. That is the great thing about writing, it allows you to pour your heart on the page and let others into your world. I wouldn’t want to waste all that time I spent on writing it to just let it sit there and not be seen because a few people didn’t connect with it.

Interestingly enough, the day before writing this post, I participated in a Twitter pitch for my series. At first I thought it was even more difficult to condense the query down to 140 characters, but after the first few, it seemed easier for some strange reason. Social Media has changed the game, even from 2007 when I started the process. It has opened up new avenues for writers, created a larger community for us to get out there. I love it and truly enjoy interacting with others like me, other dreamers.

Dream on my friends and don’t give up on those dreams. I know I won’t. One day, the Dies Irae will be available for Fantasy Readers.

Saying Goodbye – on finishing the series

farewell-1531953-639x488Just this past weekend, I put the final touches on the Phoenix Rebirth, the last book of the Dies Irae Cycle. Let me just say that when I wrote the epilogue chapter, it gave me all the feels. I had waited to write this chapter until I did many rounds of edits because I knew that it was going to hit me that it was done.

I first conceived the story for the first book in 2005 and started writing it while still being a college kid. I knew what I wanted this first book to be, but I didn’t have the greatest plan of how I wanted the entire series to go. It wasn’t until 2014 that I knew what direction the series would go and how I wanted it to end. It was around that time when I added Hunter as a character and her love story with Brynn. It was when I changed the overall story and the setting. I would call that my turning point – the burning grow within me to actually sit down and write.

It is nearly the end of 2016 and I can say that I am proud with, not only the story, but my enthusiasm for the project. I had to re-write the first book and I also had part of book two written before said turning point, but in the past two years, I have written nearly three full books (2 in this year alone!). And that is an amazing feat to accomplish. Writing isn’t easy, but because I had a great story to tell, it wasn’t all that hard. I would churn out a chapter of 3,000 words+ in a day when I was on my game. Overall, my four books are 481,000 words with 16 Points of View characters – 14 of which have at least five or more chapters in their arc.

I know I am not done with the world of the Dies Irae because I am going full out in trying to find an agent or publisher (or self-publish if those don’t pan out) because I want to share my work with the world – whether it goes to small or large audiences. With that will come more edits, but for the time being, I know my story is done and that makes me somewhat sad. I spent many years with these characters and it is like my wife said, it is like saying goodbye to old friends.

So I saved that last chapter until I felt ready to say goodbye. Letting go of Brynn, Finn, Ashe and Hunter was an emotional moment. Those four characters were good friends, trusted allies and exceptional individuals. It saddens me to know that I am leaving them where they belong in their journeys, but I know they pushed me to tell their stories. That last chapter was tough to write, but I ended on a high note (while also setting up future stories with their descendants!) with them, especially Brynn and Hunter, whose love was not only amazing, but also tinged with tragedy.

With those final words between Brynn and Hunter now written, I can finally say goodbye to them and know that they are where they ought to be. As for me, I am meeting all new friends for the next journey in a new and different world.