Wednesday, June 24, 2015

To Query or Not To Query - That Is The Question

potato eaters, van gogh, print
Van Gogh's "Potato Eaters" Print from NGA

Let's all take one moment to appreciate that high res images of some of the most awesome art collections in the world are available for free from the museums who own the artwork. Isn't that cool?

Now, back to writing. Lately I've been thinking about the quandary of when to query and when not to query. It's a very existential sort of question.

To Query

The thing is: if you're not querying, you aren't putting your book out there. If you aren't putting your book out there, there's no way you're going to get published. At first glance, it really feels that simple.

The only way you're going to find out for sure if your book is good enough and your query letter are good enough is to send out a few query-letter feelers.

Not to Query

The problem is that once you've queried your dream agent(s), and your dream agent(s) have rejected you, you're outa luck. And once you've queried your entire list of agents, you can either move on to less appropriate agents or you can give up on that book.

And if your query letter or first few pages aren't quite up to snuff (despite all your revisions and time and sweat and tears), you are going to be rejected. Over and over. And then you'll run out of options.

It is so incredibly easy to allow this back and forth thought process to stop you from querying altogether. Or to send you into a crippling spiral of doubt. Believe me, I know.

potato eaters, van gogh, painting
Van Gogh's "Potato Eaters" Painting from van Gogh Museum

My Sorta Solution - Five Queries at a Time

I've adopted the Five Query Rule. First I write. Then I revise. Then I write my query. Then I revise it. Then I go back and ask other people (my dear, patient critique partners, friends, and family) for input on all of the above. More revisions.

This takes forever. Now that I've spent forever, I obviously think I've got something good. 

So I send out five queries - to one or two of my most favorite agents and four or three I'd definitely like to work with. These agents represent my genre and age group and books that I think share some qualities with my book.

Then I sit back, try not to refresh my inbox five times every hour and wait to see what happens.

When I get zero requests, I halt the presses and go back. Maybe it's the query. I revise that and try five more.

That doesn't work? I take a breather and have another look at my manuscript and my query.

It Takes Forever

This process is frustrating because it takes forever. There are those few lucky souls who make it through in record time, but, so far as I understand, that's not most of us, and it's certainly not me.

So, right now, I'm writing a first draft of a book that I'm in love with. Then I'm going back and I'm revising my upper MG Fantasy, Dragon Lure, once again and I'm certainly taking another look at its query letter. And then I'm going to cross my fingers and hope. Because once you've done everything else, sometimes that's all you can do.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Cool June Day

Posting every Wednesday is kinda my thing, but this Wednesday I'm at a bit of a loss. I've been working away at my latest and greatest (which is a re-imagining of an older, much loved manuscript). Whether it's actually great has yet to be seen, but, hey, I can hope.

Most of my spare time goes to my writing. This week I also exchanged a few critiques and updated my resume for kicks and grins. I mean, really, I'm an exciting gal.

One of my favorite things on the internet is fun pictures, so this week that's what you're getting. I searched "cool photo" on Creative Commons, and ended up with a few good ones. Enjoy!

This cat isn't exactly cool, but she made me smile. And that's what's important, after all.

Cat staring you down
Photo by Jenny Downing

I believe this cat is asking what precisely you think you are looking at.

So, moving on.

These girls have popsicles and sunglasses. And swagger, I'm pretty sure. I mean, I've never had swagger a day in my life, so I might be misrepresenting it, but I'm pretty sure ....

cool kids with popsicles
Photo by Alison Benbow
To wrap things up, we've got a dog wearing shades.

one cool dog
Photo by Denis

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mad Max: Maybe I Should Watch It

I follow a few writing blogs and various internetty things. Some days I spend more time procrastinating on the internet than others. And then I feel guilty. But other days I learn fun stuff.

mad max car
Image from Rene Kisselbach

Mad Max on the Blogophere

I've read a few really interesting blog posts about Mad Max: Fury Road. Three to be exact. Two of them were from Chuck Wendig, and one was from a movie critic who got his 70-year-old mother-in-law to review the movie. She's both funny and insightful. I definitely recommend her post.

Mad Max Fury Road pixel art
Pixel art from Gwendal Uguen

A Mother-in-law's Review

I'll start off with the writing insight I gained from the 70-year-old's post. She says:
Old women were treated very respectfully in this film. I liked that too. They weren’t ridiculed at all, they played important and strong roles, nurturing yet powerful.
She also says, "The band kept things lively." An awesome, old-timey statement.

But back to her point about how older women were treated in this movie. You know, this isn't something I think about. I try to be respectful of my characters and not fall into stereotypes. I think about what races and orientations I have portrayed. I try to keep things varied.

But even with all these considerations floating around in the back of my mind I never thought specifically about how older women can fall into categories instead of having unique characters. You've got your malicious witch type who is working (and lurking) against your protagonist. You've got your crazy mystic who pops in to tell you something mysterious that only makes sense in hindsight. Sweet, batty grandma. And I'm sure other stereotypes as well. The point is that it's easy to fall into these stereotypes unless you consider each character: their goals, motivations, feelings, backgrounds, etc.

This review was a good reminder to step out of the shoes of my intended audience and really take a good look at my book. Especially my characters. Because it'd be cool to have somebody read my book and say, "I like that she treated --- respectfully." Whoever --- might be.

Another take-away: It's sad that she found it noteworthy that Mad Mad: Fury Road treated old women respectfully and didn't ridicule them.

Mad Max Fury Road poster, NYC
Photo by Robert S

Chuck It, Max

Then comes Chuck Wendig's commentary.

First was his Game of Thrones vs. Mad Max post. Chuck Wendig's position is that nothing in writing should be ruled out. People should be able to not-read (or read) whatever they want. But authors shouldn't ever have to say, "No. I can't write about that. That's off-limits."

However, if you are going to do something horrific, there had damn well better be a very important, character-building/plot-essential reason for that horrific act. (And, of course, an author should decide what he/she is not comfortable writing about.) He specifically looked at how Mad Max and Game of Thrones treat both women and, more specifically, sexual assault.

He argued that Mad Max: Fury Road used the horrific situation of the women in this world as a obstacle that allowed them to show their strengths and rebel against anyone who considered them objects rather than people.

And then he argued that, especially in its most recent controversial scene, Game of Thrones took the lazy way out and, even more offensively, used a woman's assault purely as a means to motivate a male character. Allowing this woman's suffering to be a lazy plot device rather than allowing her to be a person in her own right who suffers and (hopefully) overcomes.

I thought it was a really interesting article.

Then comes his post on how Mad Max not only defied a ton of the conventional wisdoms about writing, but it successfully blew them out of the water. And aren't we all jealous?

Furiosa pixel art, mad max
Pixel art from Gwendal Uguen

An Awesome Quote:

I'll end with one last quote from the very entertaining 70-year-old lady:
One thing I can say for the new Mad Max, Mad Max Fury Road, is that it didn’t put me to sleep. I usually find a few moments to nod off during movies now that I’m older, but Mad Max Fury Road kept me wide awake the whole time. And I like the new guy, Tom Hardy. Mel Gibson was always so grubby. I don’t like grubby.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Letting Yourself Get It Wrong

painting on a wet afternoon
Don't know why. Really liked this photo with my feets in it.

A few weeks ago, I went to one of those paint and drink things - where there's an instructor up front who shows a group of inexperienced artists, out for a night on the town, how to do a specific painting. Booze may be involved if one so desires. I was more excited by the little packet of M&Ms they gave out than the drinks you had to buy, but that's me. Chocolate wins out over pretty much everything - and free chocolate, well, that just makes my day.

delicious rainbow
Photo by Robyn Lee
Mmmmm. Chocolate.....

A co-worker had to back out of his tickets for the night, and he gave them to me. It was fun. Since I'm more experienced on the art front than their usual clientele I took some liberties with the painting design - which was a sort of abstract pale pinkish purple background with a multi-colored flower up front. Nice but a bit bland for my tastes. You can see above how I turned it into an African sunset with a pretty yellow/red flower up front (at least I think of it as African - I'm not sure how African it actually is).

African sunset painting
A phone photo from the event itself!

However, what I really wanted to talk about was the little speech the instructor gave before we all started painting. She had us put our hand on our canvas (corny, I know) and repeat after her. I don't remember everything, but a few of the things we all had to say were:

  • I will not say, 'Mine sucks.'
  • I will not say, 'I can't do this.'
  • I will not say, 'Can you do mine for me?'

There was a whole group of people there, some of whom had never painted a canvas in their lives. Her message comes down to this: The first person you've got to convince you can do it is yourself.

That's the thing about all sorts of artistic endeavors (including writing). You have to convince yourself that you can do it. You have to let yourself make mistakes and not only say that it's okay but decide that you'll forgive yourself for those mistakes and try to learn from them.

sunset painting
Here's my painting before I added the tree and flower.

And, like the last point, you can't give up. Because if you give up and either let someone else finish for you or don't finish at all, you don't get that sense of accomplishment. That sense of "Yeah, this may not look like it was done by a professional, but it's mine, and I'm proud of myself. I did it!"

That sense of accomplishment is pretty awesome. No matter what the actual results. And if you keep on trying and keep on getting a few more things right each time, who knows. You might just become a published author. At least, that's what I'm hoping.