the glamorous struggles of an aspiring author...

Friday, June 12, 2009

For shame!

I have not posted for a whole month!

Well, nothing much has happened on the writing front. I pulled the draft of Morrow Magi out of circulation after that disappointing partial request and subsequent rejection, and have been doing structural changes that are, of course, having a cascade effect on the whole thing. I've also been toying with a science fiction short story which might have some possibilities. I wish I did not tend toward clever twists at the end. As I get older, twists seem more like cheap shots than satisfying conclusions.

Along with archery, I've taken up fencing again! This time, epee SCA style instead of olympic. IT IS AWESOME. I got a little freaked at first because I forgot what it is like to have someone actually trying to kill you with a sword with a cork on the end, but I'm over that now. Hurts my thighs something awful, but my God does it feel good to stab at someone. All that repressed aggression... kaboom!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hey, the egg timer rang! Your 10,000 hours are up!

Hey, the egg timer rang! Your 10,000 hours are up!

So I finished Levitin's The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature and really l liked it so I gamely purchased his first book, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. It was wonderful. Really. Until I got to the part about 10,000 hours.

"... ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert -- in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over ten years."

For some reason I became irrationally irritated by this. Particularly since he mentioned "fiction writers" by profession...along with master criminals. Rather an interesting sensation to be grouped with master criminals.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Blame the name, Mame.

I have three characters in my book who are interestingly named. Griffin Bowen, which is meant to evoke adventure as well as mystery. Right rhythm, two beats, Griff-in, followed by two beats, Bow-en. A hero's name.

Then there are my dear villains.

The arch villain is named Murdock Bowen, Griffin's uncle, which begins with an unpleasant similarity to murder, and his character is certainly capable of killing.

The villainous partner in crime is named Erasmus Snood. I love the rhythm of Erasmus. Like the wobbly wheel on a shopping cart or the wear of an uneven heel, its the extra third syllable that makes it carry so much extra baggage. Then the final 's' of Erasmus slides in to the doorstop word of Snood, the double 'o' pitching a snooty slam. The whole thing is intended to imply a secretive nature accompanied by a superior attitude (which is comically misplaced).

I am tempted to write a Victorian novel just to use the girl's name Mehenatible!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Great Editing

Stacy Whitman, an editor late of Wizards of the Coast and Mirrorstone, will do critiques of the first 30 pages of your novel and your query letter. In my opinion, her work is detailed and insightful. She also teaches writing and it shows in her level of interest in plot and character mechanics. She specializes in fantasy and science fiction. Read all about her and her editing service at I think you will agree with me that we are lucky to have an editor with this much talent available to us writers.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What Every Agent Wants: The Perfect Rejection Form Letter

Yeah, I read the agent blogs. The way some people I know tune into American Idol, I tune into Query Shark, Nathan Bransford, and The Rejecter. And they all want one thing. For all of us aspiring writers to go away. I sympathize. I really do. But there is no need to be nasty about it. Repeat some clich├ęs about honey and lemons and oh, there are so many, take your pick.

The truth is, you have to find a way to reject something you don't want, and never want to see in your inbox again. If you are too rude, writers e-bomb, yeah, that's unpleasant. If you are too nice, they send you the whole manuscript with the first line changed and ask how you liked the re-write.

Where then is The Perfect Rejection Form Letter? Right here:

Dear [insert writer's name for that personal touch],

We at [insert your agency name here] read your submission with the utmost interest. Thank you for sending it to us. It has transformed our lives.

Clearly, your keen insight and original word choices distinguish you as a writer with great talent. It is with paramount regret that we feel unworthy to represent such a seminal work.

Indeed, it was only the thought of my poor ailing mother, who would be destitute without my support, that I did not immediately commit seppuku after reading your submission and realizing I would never be worthy to represent work of this calibre.

Yours in awe,

[insert your name here]

Plot Pivot

I'm afraid I'm still waffling around, but the basic plot line is that a minor German nobleman mortgages his property to go on crusade but unable to raise enough funds, so he marries a merchant's daughter, though he suspects the merchant is a Jew, and uses her dowry to finance the journey. The persecution of the Jews in Germany during the first crusade killed many and forced others to convert, so this is possible.

It is an inauspicious beginning to the relationship, as she is willful and not eager to be her father's pawn, and her new spouse is not interested in her other than producing an heir before leaving.

What happens? I don't know yet. I'm not even sure if the lovely couple will actually get together at the end. At one point I had considered having her husband return from the crusade with a holy relic in his mailed fist, sit at the great table, beg her to bury him with honor and fall silent. She opens his visor to find him horribly dead, eaten away with leprosy. I do like that.

But then some dashing somebody would have to be in the wings the whole time and not sure who that could be, but if she is at home the whole crusade, then a plot must be afoot... something that involves her merchant father with the debacle in Venice, and a whole lot of unladylike behavior on her part to smuggle her family out of the way, or protect that heir she produced, or something. She can stay home I suppose, but I refuse to write the damn thing if I can't write about medieval Venice.

Hugo Awards 2009 Finalists

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Morrow; Atlantic UK)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; HarperVoyager UK)
Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)

Way to go Neil!!

2009 Arthur C. Clarke Award finalists

Song of Time, Ian R. MacLeod (PS Publishing)The Quiet War, Paul McAuley (Gollancz)House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz)Anathem, Neal Stephenson (Atlantic)The Margarets, Sheri S. Tepper (Gollancz)Martin Martin's on the Other Side, Mark Wernham (Jonathan Cape)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A choice is made

On the historical front, I was all set to go 4th crusade and started my research in a serious way. Now, the 4th one was after the 3rd (funny how that works) where Richard the Lionheart was holding sway and making friends with Saladin. Lots of English in that one. No official involvement by Britain or France in the 4th one because they were too busy fighting each other. But the appeal of the 4th crusade was Venice. Did I mention I was once an Economist. Trade practices make me salivate. And here is Venice in all her glory, poised to become the greatest trading center of the world and the undisputed queen of the Mediterranean because of this baldly muricurial crusade. Dishy, right?

My mind slipped off the nooks and crannies of the history books like an oil slick on glass.

I can't quite figure out why. I even picked up Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade by Nicole Galland, a decent read, by the way, but to no avail.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Going historical, thats historical, not hysterical...yet

So, I've been blabbing, as usual, and getting allot of feedback. Based on this unscientifically selected sample of friends, family, acquaintances and service professionals who cannot politely escape my queries, my next project will be .... a historical romance.

But here is the thing. I love history. Every two years or so I zoom in on one historical period and read everything I can about it. So now I have way, way too many options.

I know, Tudor England has been hot for awhile, but it is so done. Henry and all his wives, Liz and all her lovers, if she really had any at all. It is a really good time to write about: all those plots and factions fighting over money, sex, power and religion. Sweet. But again, so done.

What time period do you think will be the next hottie? Crusades? the repentant Hospitalier, The Children's Crusade... tragic slave girl, too dark, maybe... The Rump... now there is a name with possibilities, throw in a Roundhead decapitation or two, a highwayman... defaming the defamed King John, or King Richard III, or King Stephen... oi, how is a girl to decide?

Thursday, February 26, 2009


The muse just zipped in to dump a new idea to peruse on my desk. Surprised she could still find it under all that ... crap...

Still this one is original: aliens abduct the wicked witch of the west and return to earth 50 years later as missionaries of Oz.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Agent Write

I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with the term “Agent Write” for THE PERFECT AGENT, but I like it. It beats TPA, anyway, and it has the right mysterious overtones, like Agent 007, or even the deadly connotations of Agent Orange. I have been hunting for Agent Write for a while now. And just recently, I found out how terrified I am of her.

I’ve been told that you shouldn’t get in to a business relationship with anyone you would not marry. I take this to mean if you don’t trust the person enough to give them the keys to your house and let them change the baby’s diapers: don’t sign the papers.

I have personal experience to back this claim. In the ‘90s when I ran a computer programming business, I ended up with more work than I could handle alone. I was also pregnant, and more than a little worried about handling work and a new baby without a backup. I went into a partnership with someone I would never have married. It was convenient; it was expedient; it was as wrong as a one night stand in Pittsburg.

So here I am, years later, manuscript burning a hole in my laptop, casting a jaundiced eye over the directories, working the blogs, surfing the net, and then it happened: I found my Agent Write.

She is a working woman and mother, like me, with the same kind of screwy career and superfluous degrees necessitated by meeting family commitments. I’ve read half of the books on her list of published titles and the other half could have just fallen off my dresser. We could be sisters, but the best is yet to come, she says she actually prefers to represent YA fantasy!

I nearly sprain an index finger in my rush to open a fresh email window. Finally the damn thing opens. I paste in her email address in the “to:” field and the cursor blinks at me expectantly in the top left-hand corner. My fingers rest, properly curled, wrists suspended ergonomically, and… nothing happens. This is like that nightmare I get where I try to deliver a speech and no sound comes out comes out of my mouth. A half hour of staring at the screen and my fingers twitch. The keys cling to my fingers, sweat making them tacky. A quote prints itself as if it’s expecting me to say something pithy, winning and utterly irresistible.

It’s too much. With shaking fingers, I close the email window. Microsoft Exchange prompts me to save my single quote email as a draft. I agree thankfully, and worship Bill Gates for a fleeting moment for an otherwise useless feature I have never dreamed of needing before.

Friday, February 20, 2009

old stuff....

Ashely ground the end of her ponytail between her teeth as she stood, feet shoulders-width apart, knees bent, and field hockey stick at the ready. Her eyes targeted the opposing team’s captain, staring her down. Her own team captain, Amber, was signaling other girls on Ashely’s team, the Pimplico Pullets.
Slap! The ball was in play with a tight back-pass to Megan, who dribbled it up field, careful not to block it with her body, looking for an opportunity to pass. Ashley plotted an intercept course. A yellow-shirted girl from the opposing team, The Lovettsville Zephyrs, was pressuring Megan hard, forcing Megan to bring her stick in closer to her body. Erika pulled ahead, clearing the way for Megan’s charge. Kelly stayed open and parallel to Megan.
“She’s jamming you! Pass to me, Megan!” Kelly called.
Megan tried to pass, but the Zephyr player stripped the ball from her with slashing blow that left Megan limping and the ball bouncing across the rough grass to a waiting Zephyr player. Ashely bore down on the ball, charging through the receiving Zephyr. Ashley pivoted with the ball and stormed down the field.
“Ashley!” Yelled Kelly, panting up from behind, “Pass to me!”
Erika pulled level with Ashley.
“Hit me,” Erika called, “I’m open!”
Yellow shirts stood ringed around the Zephyr goal, sticks raised, still Ashley plowed on alone, powering her way into the striking circle.
With a sound like a pistol shot, Ashley smacked the ball in to the net for the goal. She slid over the turf with the momentum of her rush. The Zephyr goalie flung herself across the gap, missing the ball, but pinning Ashley’s left leg under the goalie’s stick with the full force and weight of her fall.
Ashley screamed in pain. It was the first game of the season and the Pimplico Pullets’ top scorer was out of the game.
Ashley was re-running that play in her head next Tuesday at practice while she sat with her blue, knee-high cast propped up on the bleachers. The pages of her open algebra textbook fluttered in the breeze beside her. Amber walked off the field, pulling two bottles of water off the table as she walked toward Ashley.
“Tough break.” She said, handing Ashley one of the bottles.
“Thanks, I’ve got one.” Ashley said, holding up a half-empty bottle of water. She and Amber used to be best friends before Amber got promoted to captain. Ashley thought that if Amber tried to pull any of that big-sister-mentor-crap on her like Ashley did on the junior players, she might puke.
“Did the doctor say how long you will be out?” Amber said. She sat next to Ashley, but a few benches higher. Her eyes were on her teammates as they practiced.
“6 to 8 weeks. It’s a fractured tibia.” Ashley answered, trying to keep the disappointment out of her voice.
“I had one of those. It hurt for weeks after the cast came off. Do you remember?” asked Amber.
“Yeah, I remember you fell when we were skiing,” said Ashley. “You limped around for a month after that.”
“And the season is only 8 weeks long, Ashley.” Amber stated firmly.
Here it comes, thought Ashley. Amber slowly stepped down the bleachers, pausing for effect.
“I’m recommending to Coach Jones that Becky take your place on the team for the rest of the season. She doesn’t score like you do,” Amber said, then she took a swig of water and shot over her shoulder, “but at least she plays with the team.”
Ashley watched Amber stalk on to the field and talk to the coach. She saw the coach glance at her and nod to Amber. Ashley’s heart sank.
“Does your cast hurt, honey?” Ashley’s mother asked when she came to pick her up from practice and looked at her daughter’s red rimmed eyes.
“No.” Ashley shrugged, “It itches a little.”
“The doctor said it might do that,” Ashley’s mother said.
Ashley fell silent.
“You know,” Ashley’s mother continued brightly, “I think this might be for the best, dear. You take field hockey too seriously. Now that you don’t have to go to practice any more, you can have more time to do other things. Won’t that be fun?”
“Like what, Mom?” Ashley exploded, “Watch reruns? Play with my dolls? I’m going to go to practice, Mom. If you don’t want to bring me home, I’ll walk!”
“I was thinking more of you doing your homework, young lady!” snapped Ashley’s mother, “You need good grades as well as field hockey to get a scholarship to college, and now you see you can’t count on field hockey!”
Ashley cried.
“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.” Her mother said. “But you just have to make the best of it. When life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade.”
“I’m still going to practice,” Ashley grumbled. She hated it when her mother said that stupid thing about lemons.
“And I’m still going to pick you up,” Ashley’s mother sighed, “walking 4 miles home on crutches with a cast up to your knee! I bet you would, too.”
When Ashley walked gingerly on to the practice field without her cast four weeks later, Coach Jones handed her the red shirt of the second string team. That was the team Becky came from to take Ashley’s place. The “red shirts” weren’t good enough to play in the real games. Red shirts just came to practice and hoped for a break. Ashley had never worn a red shirt in her life. She glanced at Amber and thought she would die of shame.
“Remember,” Coach Jones said as Ashley tied on the shirt, “your leg is still healing. You’ve been in a cast for over a month. Don’t expect those muscles to act like they used to. Stay in the backfield. Take it easy. Come out when you get tired.”
Ashley took up a defensive position on the far side of the field. Her face was burning as red as her shirt. She could hear Amber laughing at her. Amber hit the ball forward in the opening rush, jamming red shirted Paula, who was always wrong footed, for an easy steal by Melissa. Ashley had seen it all before. Now Melissa would take it in to the striking circle, pass to Kelly for the goal. It was like clockwork. Ashley sidled closer to Paula.
“Paula,” she whispered.
“What?” Paula flinched defensively, “I can’t help it. Amber is too good.”
“I’ve watched you play over the last month. You are as good as she is. Are you ready to prove it?” Ashley asked.
“What?” Paula asked again, disbelief on her face.
“Amber is right-handed,” Ashley explained, “so she always pulls left. I noticed it while I was on the bench for weeks. Put your stick far out to the left, and back-pass it to me.”
“What is a back-pass?” Paula asked.
Ashley showed her.
“Ready?” Ashley asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Paula said, “this time, she’s mine.”
Amber hit the ball at Paula, like before, but this time, Paula tapped it back to Ashley, who caught it and shouted, “Heads up, Julia!”
Julia caught Ashley’s pass and charged forward with Paula right beside her for a goal.
All the red shirts cheered!
After practice, Coach Jones came over to talk to Ashley.
“Great job out there today, Ashley.” She said, “You really got those girls to play their best, and didn’t try to go it alone. Those are the kind of qualities I look for in a team captain. The season is almost over now, but let’s talk about it for next year.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lack of Stats

With a dazzling display of "gut" statistics, i.e., I have no stats at all, I am going to spin my analysis of what readers will want in the upcoming months. (Did I mention my degree is in economics and I suffer from a compulsive need to analyze?)

With the increase in unemployment (those stats I have), I predict a correlating increase in the supply of manuscripts. Most of them will be ill-advised attempts but, some will undoubtedly be brilliant. For those in the brilliant category, I predict these categories will be in demand:

1. Self-help (as in how to get a job, keep a job, start a business, make millions of dollars with an at home business, etc. Lots of money to be made here.)
2. How to (change a light bulb so you don't have to pay an electrician to do it for you)
3. Biography (people who endured hardship and lived to thank their deity of choice, Shackleton, you are the man)

1. Fantasy/Horror (the more gory and over the top, the better)
2. Thrillers/Mysteries (exotic locations, clothing optional)
3. Romance (from steamy to morally edifying, lots of money to be made here)

That's my take.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Must I really must drag myself outside and into the snow and slush? No way! I'll blog instead.

In my quest to support all the other YA fantasy writers in the world by buying and reading their books, I finished The Book of Time I & II written by the French author Guillaume Prevost a couple of nights ago. Though billed as YA, the books are light weight and read more like middle grade. The action is quick, the vocabulary is 4th to 5th grade level and the character development is negligible. Despite the "Carmen Sandiego"-style visits in history, I still enjoyed the books.

I could not help but be taken aback by how similar the plot premise is to mine. Not that I have Griffin hopping from one century to the next, but the search for the protagonist's missing parents is familiar, as is the time travel element. Is it something in the water?