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.

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S2

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Season 2 of The 100 on the CW via Netflix.

Brief Summary:

Picking up immediately after that cliffhanger ending of S1, S2 is all about the people of the Ark adjusting to the ground, and the 100 (those still alive…) stuck under Mount Weather. The mythos of this show is expanded exponentially in this season. Hundreds of people survived the apocalypse under the mountain and they use the blood of the Grounders to heal them using blood transfusions. Though it starts innocently enough, the people under the mountain want to use the blood of the 100. In S1, we are barely told much about the Grounders, but in this season, we learn so much more backstory. Clarke is torn by her decision in the S1 finale and doesn’t know what to do. The people on the Ark must come to learn their new surroundings. And Bellamy (who totally redeemed himself halfway through last season!) must be a secret agent in Mount Weather to save his people.

What Works:

The tension in this show is off the charts. Between the cruel torture of the 100 halfway through the season to Bellamy’s mission, to Clarke’s uneasy alliance with the Grounders, to the back and forth between the adults of the Ark, this show never has a dull moment.

The Grounder introduction and the Mount Weather people really opened the world of this show. There are nuances to each faction and the show could have played it simple and signified who the actual villains are, but there are so many shades of grey, that it was interesting to see what would happen next.

For the sake of redundancy, the fact that this show is willing to kill off annoying characters is awesome, even when they are one of the main players. That character (who shall remain nameless, though its not hard to guess who…) had little purpose in this season that it was good he was killed off quite early (though two episodes too late in my opinion).

John Murphy. Enough said. This guy is awesome as a character. From bit part villain of S1 to major POV, he is so good to watch on screen. A survivor to the core.

The double-crossing is amazing in this show. So much plot thickeners, tension-building and out of left-fielders. I loved it.

What Doesn’t Work:

Jaha’s return. I loved how he sacrificed himself in S1 for the sake of the Ark, but his return (and role in S3) truly was not my bag. I found myself saying “F*cking Jaha” every time I saw him on screen. But then again, that is the mark of a good character I guess. I just wish they could have used someone else for the role he plays.

The YA return in Mount Weather for spurts. I loved the Mount Weather plot, but there were times it was so teenage high school film style that it didn’t fit with the theme of the show. And Jasper’s instant falling in love with that girl was too YA for me. (But I liked Jasper later in the season)

Rating:

4.5 out of 5

While there is so much more going on in this season than the first, it wasn’t as strong. But that is only by mere decimal points. Season 2 was very good and thought-provoking, asking the difficult questions survival would entail. It set up the series for much more in the following seasons.

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S1

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Season 1 of The 100 on CW via Netflix. This was a second viewing (in a month) in anticipation of the 4th season being released (and to get my wife to watch it so I would shut up with my raving about this show…)

Brief Summary:

After the remnants of mankind escape nuclear destruction by forming a giant ark in space (truly, this spaceship is called the Ark), new rules must be enforced to ensure the survival of the species. So whenever a crime is committed, the person is floated – unless they are under 18 years old. The story picks up as the Ark is running out of air. So 100 18yr-old criminals are sent to Earth to determine if the ground is survivable. There are two plot arcs in this season – one on Earth and one on the Ark. And these are two completely different story-types – Earth = YA, Ark = A. But the lines get blurry. Lots of trials and tribulations happen to both parties and the season ends with the 100 realizing they are not alone on Earth.

What Works:

Episode 3 onward. Let me explain. The first two episodes start out super Young Adult style. Bunch of teenagers loose on Earth with no parents, straight Lord of the Flies. There is the obligatory Imagine Dragons song, the young vixen who rebels strips to her boy-briefs while two sex-crazed boys goggle, the older rebel boy wants to be in charge, the main character starts to develop the feels for the cool kid. All of that happens and though the first episode ends on a WTF moment that you don’t see coming, the show doesn’t shed that YA stuff until episode three when a semi-main character gets his throat cut by an unsuspecting character. From then on, this show goes dark with its themes and that works so well.

The dichotomy of the 100 and the people on the Ark (the parents and adults) are great. The Ark scenes are straight Sci-Fi and are very heavy. With the Ark dying, people need to be culled from it for the sake of the species. Those are questions that you normally don’t see on YA shows and I love it. The 100 on the ground are completely different. They all go back to our baser instincts as humans – survival. But varying degrees of it. Some characters want to do “whatever the hell they want” while others want to ensure they survive. It is a style of story that truly brings the viewer in deep.

Without going into spoilers, the introduction of other humans on the ground (called Grounders…come on its YA!) is excellent story-building and tension. The vixen character from above, sheds that stereotype when this happens and she becomes one of my favorite characters, as well as it creates the sibling tension of the older rebel brother.

Raven & Kane are such great layered characters. Though she gets so much better in later seasons, I loved Raven from the get. She was the kickass female without having to play to the stereotypes you would expect from YA. And Kane, holy crap what a character. He starts out the villain, turns good, then villain again, then again. He goes from hated to loved to hated. I love it!

The level of blood is great here. Even though they don’t go crazy this season with the gore, the show doesn’t shy away from it (mentioned above). This is important because a show like this needs violence.

What Doesn’t Work:

Clarke and Finn. I know  I know. Clarke is the main character – smart, leader, asskicker – but I find myself leaning toward other characters much more than her. The first season she is a strong character, but as the show moves on, I find myself caring less about her and more about the story. This is just my thoughts though. And Finn, ughhhh. He is annoying, but I can see why the intended audience would like him.

Abby Griffin. Clarke’s mother is a frustrating character (and trust me, she doesn’t get better). I mean she was April frickin O’neil from Ninja Turles II Secret of the Ooze, but in this show she flip flops her beliefs way too much for me.

Rating:

5 out 5.

I absolutely love this show! I was hooked from the end of episode 1, but it took until episode 3 to truly make me a fanboy. And upon second viewing, I love it even more.

A Conference RE-cap

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This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the 2017 Writer’s League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference held in Austin, TX. Let’s just say up front that my first writer’s conference was something – completely lacking a good set of words to describe it.

I went into the weekend not exactly knowing what to expect. And my expectations turned out to be true, both good and bad. Let me be frank, I didn’t think there wasn’t anything bad about the conference, but there were things that didn’t work for me.

The first day was all about focusing on our pitch. For those not in the writing world, a pitch is a way to describe our story to agents & editors. Humans do it everyday, we talk to friends about shows we watched, movies we saw, stories we read, food we ate. All of those are pitches. The basics are simple, or so we should think…

But pitching is not easy when you want someone to truly like your story enough to get it to a publisher. The first day was all about working on those pitches with members of the writing community and “experts.” I will say this, and this rings true about the industry as a whole, the advice given in these sessions are too broad and don’t work for everyone. For example, I chose to pitch my standalone story that I just finished as opposed to my trilogy. Why, I don’t really know, but it was the choice I made. And because I write in fantasy, these “experts” told us to build the setting into our pitches. Well that was counter to what I planned. So on day 2 when I had a one-on-one consultation with an agent, I took their advice. Well that backfired. The agent told me I should have led with the characters first. LIKE I ORIGINALLY PLANNED………

After being annoyed and let down that morning, the rest of the weekend went great. Saturday and Sunday were full of panels and short courses. Some of the panels had writers & agents discussing subjects. Personally, I felt these were not as strong as the short course classes. Those classes I actually learned something useful as opposed to how someone else got their dues.

Let me ask a question. How do you make hundreds of introverts even more uncomfortable? You have a mixer.

I jest with that, but it does have some truth to it. Most writers, I have found along my journey, tend to be a bit more introverted than extroverted. We live in our own worlds most of the time and aren’t always socially acceptable. So I thought it funny at this mixer because you can see all the wallflowers looking lost like the nerds at prom that don’t have dates.

I’d say the most important thing that happened this weekend was meeting a few fellow writers that I connected with. I even found a critique friend that is locale writing in the same genre as me. I think that makes the weekend a success overall.

Now that I have one of these in the bag, I have my work cut out for me if I want my stories to get published. This next coming year is going to be fun.

What I’ve watched: The Last Kingdom S1

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The Last Kingdom. A historical fantasy show on the BBC and Netflix. Based on the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwall, the first season is about the early days of England during the Saxon/Viking time.

Brief Summary:

The show starts off in standard fantasy form: invaders coming to a walled castle. Battle ensues, badass father dies, son sees it happen, son tries to fight back, invaders take son as a slave, son becomes part of invader’s family, becomes adult. Through that set-up in the first dang episode, we get to Uthred, son of a Saxon but trained/loved as a Dane. Things happen to Uthred’s Dane family and he goes on a mission with his childhood friend Brida to kill those who killed his Dane family, while also regaining his lands from his actual father’s murderer. Elsewhere, the last kindgom (hence the name!) of Wessex is at war with the Danes. Uthred helps the king win, but the king dies and his brother Alfred takes over as king. King Alfred tries to make peace with the Danes, but more bloodshed happens and Uthred must totter back-and-forth between Saxon and Dane. When Uthred is given a title and a wife, Brida leaves him calling him a Saxon. She leaves to find Young Ragnar – the Dane’s surviving son from earlier in the season. More bloodshed happens, some political things too. Eventually the bad guys are killed and peace is had…sort of. Brida and Young Ragnar are slaves and Uthred is out to find them.

What works:

Though the plot is somewhat cliche and seen over and over, I like it here in the historical setting. This world is real, I mean most of it really happened. Though Uthred is a fictional character, many of the other characters are based on real-life people. It is a simple fictional story of one man, but the true history is very complex and interesting.

The action and cinematography for a TV show is movie level quality. There is a fight scene where one dude gets his ankles cut and I visibly cringed and then had to text my father to start watching this show. The acting and the casting are spot on and I think that the producers did a wonderful job of getting the dialogue right.

How can one not love a character who calls the main character “Assling”??? It is hilarious and grounding at the same time. (For those who don’t know, atheling is a Middle English term for prince or hero)

Because of the smash hit of Game of Thrones, most TV fantasies are going to be compared to it. In those terms, I think The Last Kingdom stands its ground nicely. Characters die all the time, especially when you get attached to them. The political schemes are not as deep as GoT, but they are definitely complex and interesting.

I loved how they added the location names – both in Old English and Modern English. It was a nice touch.

What doesn’t work:

The first season takes two books and puts them together, so about halfway through the season, there is a time jump and additional things added to the show. While most of it works, like Uthred’s wife and title, the addition of the Phantom Queen is somewhat sledgehammered in there. While I liked the Phantom Queen and her plot arc, it was too quick of an addition for me.

Though the show was short in terms of episodes, I felt they jumped around too much in terms of Uthred always going someplace else. He traveled so much in this show. But it was a small irritant.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5

I love this show. Everything from the production values to the story. It clicked on so many levels for me: history, fantasy, war, Old England, Vikings, humor, dreariness. I loved it all.

What I’ve watched: Halt & Catch Fire S3

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Halt & Catch Fire season three on AMC, via Netflix.

Brief Summary:

For those who haven’t watched this show before, it is all about the early days of computers and tech in the 80s. Season 1 is about reverse engineering an IBM by a small company. Season 2 is about the growth of a new online/software community and the start of one character’s huge business. Let’s meet the players: Joe is a smarmy, devilish, charming, lying, manipulating salesman that is the essence of cool. Cameron is the punk-rock, issues with authority, scatterbrained genius coder. Gordon is the nerdy, goofy, intelligent, odd engineer. Donna is the smart, business-oriented, leader, peace-maker. Donna and Gordon are married, yet they have marital issues. Joe and Cameron hooked up in season 1, now they hate each other.

Season three is all about Cameron and Donna’s company Mutiny moving from Texas to Silicon Valley in the mid 80s. The two of them struggle to make it work because of each other’s values and tendencies. Both need each other, but both are combustible. Donna wants to go public with the company and Cameron doesn’t want to loose her baby (business). Joe used a code created by Gordon in season 2 to start a virus protection service. Joe wanted Gordon to work with him, but Gordon turned him down and is now suing Joe. Joe is doing this whole zen thing and wants Gordon to get his due, but Gordon is stubborn. After all is said and done, the season ends four years later with the team getting back together to discuss the birth of the World Wide Web.

What works:

The drama!!! This show is oozing with drama. Each of these characters are really terrible people when you think about it. They lie to one another all day every day. Donna and Gordon argue as couples do, but they hide things from another. Donna and Cameron are like oil and water. And Joe, everyone hates Joe, but in reality he is trying to do the right thing in this season after some major f-ups in the previous seasons.

The power of women in this show is a breath of fresh air. This show is all about the women trying to be a business leader in the 80s where women were not. The show passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Donna and Cameron’s relationship is so complex and fractured.

I am not very knowledgeable about computers and all the ins and outs of tech, but this show doesn’t make me feel like an idiot. It does have tech speak throughout, but it isn’t so overwhelming that others like me can’t understand it. The tech is the McGuffin, not the whole point of the show. The characters are.

John Bosworth! Need I say more? The good ole boy from Texas is such an amazing character. He is funny, witty and just a blast whenever he is on screen.

I love Joe’s character too. He just bleeds cool. But he also has a heart of gold. And Gordon is such a doofus sometimes that he is a fun train-wreck to watch.

One thing that this show does do well is things going on in the time period. Joe is one of those characters that is the epitome of the 80s, at least in the first season. But one of his backstories is that he is into men and women. So when side characters make jokes about AIDS, Joe gets angry and scuttles deals. He also confronted the possibility of himself having it. I think this type of story-telling really strengthens this show. Same thing goes with Donna and Cameron’s business. Women in business was a new developing thing in that time and their struggle is amazing to watch and see grow.

What doesn’t work:

Cameron is such a frustrating character for me to like. My wife enjoys her, but I can’t, I just can’t. I get the whole genius thing, I do, but seriously her decision-making is such a hindrance. She just frustrates me, and I see that is the point of her character, but I don’t like it. I also don’t like the way the actress bulges her eyes out when Cameron is not happy with something. The eye thing doesn’t sell me.

Though I love the drama (stated 1st above) I just find it highly unlikely that nobody can tell the truth about things, especially husband and wife in Gordon and Donna. I get why they do it, but there are a few times I was like “what the hell???” One of them being when Joe admits to stealing from Gordon and he doesn’t tell Donna.

Ryan Ray. Oh man, what an annoying and pointless character. His constant whining and angry typing faces was awful. And then what he did to Joe and Gordon, then bounced out the way he did. Didn’t hit the heartstrings like I’m sure he was supposed to.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5

I love this show. It took me a few years to actually watch it (thanks wife!) and I am glad I have. I don’t usually enjoy total tech stuff, but this stuff grabs my attention. I love Joe and Gordon, even Donna, especially Bosworth. The vibe of the time is there and the show doesn’t skip any beats. Also, I’m glad they are ending it after this upcoming season because I like when shows know there is a story to tell and don’t keep it going for the sake of money. Can’t wait until season 4.

What I’ve Read: The Vampire Chronicles vol. 1

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Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice. The first three books of the Vampire Chronicles in one single bound tome. The reason for doing them as one review is simple: they are one big story in three separate books. I don’t view the three as individual works because they have a common theme across all three that tie them together, especially since The Vampire Lestat (the best of the three in my opinion!) ends on a cliffhanger that ends in The Queen of the Damned. This is a re-read for me, but I still love these books to no end.

Brief Summary:

For those living under a rock the last thirty years who either haven’t read or seen the movie Interview with the Vampire (one of two Tom Cruise movies I actually like, and we won’t even mention the atrocity that was Queen of the Damned…) starts the incredible journey of the anti-hero Lestat de Lioncourt, a two hundred year old vampire. IwtV is told in the pov of Louis, Lestat’s fledgling, in present day San Francisco (1970s). Louis tells his story of meeting Lestat and becoming a vampire in the late 1700s and how his tragic life of immortality unfolds. The Vampire Lestat takes the villain of the first book, Lestat, and puts his story front and center. Lestat, tells how he came to be – something he never told to Louis – and how his life was full of heartbreak and history of vampires. It was a turn of events having Lestat as pov and showed how the ancient race of bloodsuckers grew from an evil spirit to the vampire in present day. Now, TVL starts with Lestat coming alive again, and this time wanting to tell his story to the world in order to start a war between the good mortals and the evil vampires. He goes about this by creating a rock star persona. He is set to have a concert to show himself to the world. It is at the concert where he is attacked by others of his kind but is mysteriously saved. Leading into The Queen of the Damned, we learn that Lestat’s music roused the sleeping form of the first vampire. Frozen in a statue form for six thousand years, she comes from her sleep to make examples of the world of mortals, using Lestat as her angel of death. Other old vampires meet and learn the truth of their history and in the end the Queen is defeated.

What works:

First and foremost I must say that the way the books are written are sheer perfection. I personally hate first person point of view. I can’t get into it and have put down countless books because of it. But something about the way Ms. Rice writes, I can’t fathom putting these down. I love the lyric poetry of Louis and Lestat in terms of how they contemplate their long existence. I didn’t feel put off by the first person pov, but instead, actually felt part of their world.

Interview with the Vampire starts off strong and never falters. I love Louis’ melancholy and transformation over the years by Lestat and Claudia. But what truly sets me apart in these stories is the character of Lestat. Lestat, the anti-hero, the brat prince is just such a wonderful literary character that I wish there were more like him. Deep, brooding, funny, over the top, moral, witty, clever, devious, and many other words don’t do him justice. He is such a great character that the reader can’t help but want to know him. He does things that just make sense in the scheme of things. Like he was meant to do them and it is right for it to happen.

The way the vampires are depicted are a brilliant turn from the form at the time Ms. Rice wrote the books. It was all about the victims and vampires were the devil. Well, in these books, the portrayal of the immortal blooddrinkers was such a great turn of heel that more authors began to do so, creating this genre of vampires. These vampires were no longer just demons who sucked the blood of mortals, they were beings with deep thoughts, emotions, and dreams. Even the side characters that were antagonists were deeply flawed, only to see the world of immortality shake them up.

I loved how the “dark gift” was a highly sexualized thing. I always imagined (prior to reading and seeing the movie) that the vampire taking the blood of someone was like a sexual encounter. Yes it was implied in the Dracula movies and whatnot, but these books truly encapsulate how erotic this endeavor was.

Another note on Lestat that truly brings these books alive is the fact that he is an unreliable pov. He goes to great length to tell the reader he loves to act, loves to embellish, loves to add flair. So you never truly know if that is how things “happened” or if it was altered. It also makes the conflicting personalities of IwtV and TVL not truly known or made up. I love that as a reader.

I seriously wish I knew how Ms. Rice was able to create a story like this and tell it in the form of dialogue the entire way through the first book and into the second. In IwtV, Louis is telling his story to the reporter, but ninety percent of the story is Louis talking with brief interludes in the present interview. It is exquisite storytelling. I don’t know how Ms. Rice was able to make the dialogue not only flow well and sound good to the ear, but also to convey all the emotions of the story. Pure perfection.

What doesn’t work:

As can be assumed with a history-style telling, there are sections in all three books that just drag on. Louis and Lestat telling something and they just keep describing their feelings about things did tend to drag sometimes. But this was not enough to make the read a slog.

In The Queen of the Damned, Lestat leaves the pov for shorter third person versions of the days leading to his concert. While it was interesting to see other povs, it distracted by changing the tone of the book. Also, some these sections were too much backstory (I’m thinking Daniel the reporter). I didn’t care for some of the chapters of one off characters like Baby Jenks. Wasn’t necessary in my opinion, seemed like filler to me.

In all, I think The Queen of the Damned could have been better served as added to The Vampire Lestat and been one book. Mentioned above, the addition of other characters was nice, but not needed in my opinion. I think they could have done away with it all and melded the books together. Or at least do a ton more in the third book. I felt like the third book was just somewhat of a tagalong. I like it, don’t get me wrong, but if it didn’t connect directly to TVL, I probably wouldn’t have had the interest.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5.

Because the third book is a bit underwhelming, I can’t give a perfect score. But I will be clear, The Vampire Lestat is one of the best dark fantasy novels written in the last thirty years. Lestat is one of the best protagonists out there and I love reading his story over and over.