Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Statistics: Queries Received vs. Offers Of Representation

Here are some interesting, if not exactly uplifting, statistics from agent Suzie Townsend regarding # of queries vs. # of offers she made.

Basically, of 5.530 writers who queried her within ten and a half months (a staggering number in itself, IMO, seeing as it's approximately 18 queries per day), she offered representation to sixteen. Which is probably quite a lot for a single agent, but put into more numbers means she was willing to take on 0.2% of all people who queried her.


Why on Earth do I believe that my novel is even close to good enough to get into those 0.2%?!

After an initial panic attack, accompanied with loss of all hope and the five-minute consumption of two bars of milk chocolate, I realized there are several not-to-be-overlooked factors that gave me back hope.

First of all, just because one agent doesn't like your material, doesn't mean another won't. There are a lot of agents out there, and if I've given it my all, and my book is supposed to make it into the published world, I will find the right agent for it sooner or later.

Secondly,  I define when I've given it my all. I can call it quits if I don't snag an agent after the tenth revision. Or the twentieth. Or the fiftieth. It's up to me when I bury my pulishing hopes for my book. Of course, making it the best it can be for the first round of querying is the best thing to do. But sometimes a little time and distance, or an agent who read a partial or even the full ms but then said "sorry, not for me" can add a new perspective, make me see ways to improve again. And again. Until I know for myself that this story is never going to be found on a shelf in a bookstore with a legitimate publisher's brand on the cover, I can keep going.
(On a side-note: I don't mean to say I'd send my fiftieth revision to the same agent I've sent it to the other 49 times! That's why I send out queries a few at a time. Staggering the queries is the key, so that when you get good feedback or the inspiration faery hits you over the head with her idea-stick, you still have enough agents to send your new version to up your sleeve.)

Thirdly, if not this book, then maybe my next one will make it. Since I mostly write for the enjoyment of writing, creating worlds, developing characters, there's always going to be a next book for me. Even if it's only a new one every two years, even if I currently only have one to shop around.

There will always be a next book. And my writing will improve with every one. So chances are good that one of my stories will wow an agent and/or an editor one day.

Still, it's a good thing there aren't any exact numbers to be had on that chance. For now, I'm content with doing what I enjoy most.


Monday, December 27, 2010

A $20 Bill - Value Of Our Lives

What a beautiful post to remind us that we are always worth the same - priceless - in God's eyes, no matter how low we've fallen, how worthless we seem to ourselves. He loves us, unconditionally, unequivocally, completely.

Thank You for that!

Karel Novosad

Saturday, December 25, 2010

White Christmas

We're having a beautiful white Christmas! The first I can truly remember. And it's not just a little powder dusting, either.

Our back yard this morning

The town of Backnang, where I grew up

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What Rudolf Can Teach Us

Everybody knows Rudolf the red-nosed Reindeer's story. Here's a very short summary.

Rudolf was different. The other reindeer laughed at his glowing red nose and didn't take him seriously. Until one day Santa spotted Rudolf, and recognized this reindeer's potential as guiding-light for his sleigh, and Rudolf was granted the great pleasure of being Santa's top dog - err, deer. From then on the other reindeer loved Rudolf. And he did go down in history.

What does this little story show us? 

There are many ways to be different in life. Being eccentric, having same-sex tendencies, walking around barefoot even in winter, talking to trees, not wanting to be rich, not shaving, doing extreme-sports, not wanting children... basically anything that varies from the norm. But what exactly is the norm? To me, 'the norm' is a very fluid concept. And the best thing about it: you can define it for yourself. It doesn't matter what others' versions of the norm are. So long as you like and know the strengths of your red-glowing nose (there are always good things about being different, and not just because the world would be boring otherwise) you can enjoy it. 

Your difference can make you shine - if you let it. It makes you an individual, makes you stand out from the norm. You are wonderful, you are beautiful, you are awesome. The others will catch on to your awesomeness sooner or later. As Santa and then the 'normal' reindeer did with Rudolf's. Just don't try to hide it. Santa would never have discovered Rudolf if he'd smudged dirt over his nose. You are worth being loved both in spite and because of your differences. They make you you. And knowing who you are is cause for a celebration, because so many people these days are lost in their lives, trapped by the confinements and demands of society. 

Define your own demands for your life. Define your own norms. Stay true to them. Then you'll be free of them. And happy. 

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In It For The Long Wait

Well, that was easy enough. In response to my email about being unable to grant her an exclusive at this time (see previous post), Ms. Agent #2 asked me to send it anyway, so long as I let her know when/if I receive an offer, and not to make a decision until I do so. 

I agreed, of course, and sent her the first three chapters immediately. Now all that's left for me to do is wait. Good thing I have my master thesis and my next work-in-progress to keep me occupied, or else I'd probably chew my nails down to the quick. 

On another note, both agents 'passed' the Preditors and Editors check with flying colors. I did some research on them before I queried them, of course, and they seem reputable and trustworthy. P&E is a great site for confirming that impression. Unfortunately, it seems P&E is currently being sued, though it isn't specified on the site what exactly for, just that somebody wasn't happy about P&E giving out information they'd prefer to keep hidden from writers. Theoretically, that can only be one of the preditors, right? But you never know. There are, after all, a lot of shades of gray between black and white, and I definitely can't claim to know what's going on there. So I'll just say that I hope P&E will not have to close down as a result of this prosecution.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Another Request - Exclusive Submission

So this morning I mailed off the partial submission an agent requested last week, complete with SASE and hopefully enough US stamps for it to arrive back here sooner or later. My awesomely wonderful distant US relatives whom I met on Sunday brought me a whole stash of forever-stamps, no charge. THANK you!

And the best of luck to you, my first three chapters. Make me proud. 

Other than sending off the partial, my day wasn't good. It wasn't bad exactly, it was just one of those why-bother days. Why bother taking an umbrella when cars sloshing through the street are just going to spray you from beneath? Why bother trying for the umpteenth time to make light of the same social network analysis software that has been nya-nya-nya-ing you for the past three days? Why bother eating yummy food you can't taste and which hurts your throat on the way down? 

And then, this evening, half an hour ago, I get another email. From another agent. Who wants another first-three-chapters submission. This time via email.

Squeeeeeee! Now I'm definitely...

There is a... well, not a catch, exactly. More of a snag. This agent requested a three-week exclusive. Obviously, now that I sent my material to another agent just today, I can't grant her that. But I don't want to begin a possible agent-author relationship with a lie by telling her this is an exclusive, either. I also don't want to not send her my material. In fact, I want to send it to her very badly. 

A classic dilemma. One I couldn't solve without more information. 

Once again I turned on my trusty googlopedia (incidentally, how did people deal without the internet and stay sane?), and surfed the net for advice on this kind of situation. There's quite a lot, since I'm not the only one this has happened to (not that I'd expected that). 

Here's the suggestion I liked most and used, a little altered, to answer Ms. Agent #2:

"Other agents are currently reading the proposal and another is reading the manuscript, so I'm unable to grant an exclusive at this time. I'll be happy to send the material on to you anyway, and should I receive an offer, I'll contact you before making any decision."

I hope she says, 'sure, I'll look at it anyway'. Mainly, though, I'm extremely grateful. Another submission request in one and a half weeks! This means I'm on the right track, that my query's getting agents' attention. 

And I know that my novel matches - nay, surpasses - the query and will find somebody who'll want to represent it. Even if it's neither of these two agents. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pantsers And Plotters

The following topic has been coming up a lot in author and blogs lately: what is it better to be as an author, a pantser or a plotter? Is one or the other easier/harder? Pros and cons of the two? I've evolved into sort of a mix, which is why I thought I'd blog about this subject a bit.

J.K. Rowling's Plot Outline OOTP
A plotter is an author who draws up an outline, jots down information about characters, story line, world building and plot. A plotter is basically somebody who knows a little or a lot about his/her story, before actually beginning the writing process. From what I’ve read, J.K. Rowling is a plotter – which, I think, is clearly visible in the wonderful story arch she creates throughout her Harry Potter series.
Here's a guide to plotting like J.K. Rowling

A pantser is an author who just starts writing based only on a single idea about plot, character or world building, without a clue about plot, characters and their development past this initial idea – these develop as the author delves further into the story, flying by the seat of his/her pants. Ergo, pantser. Apparently, Stephen King is a pantser. Since I haven’t read any of his books, I can’t really judge whether this is noticeable or not.

I used to be a complete pantser. I’d get an idea in my head, and would have to write about it. Hundreds of pages developed from there; wonderful characters, intriguing worlds, twisted plots – that usually ended up petering out and disappearing in the Quicksand of No Solutions.

Even with the first (and so far only) book I’ve finished, I started with nothing but an idea for the world and a possible character in it. The plot developed quickly, spreading off in several different story arcs, with characters introducing themselves left and right. By somewhere around 100.000 words, I had about five plot threads, twenty ‘important’ characters, and – once again – no solution to the problems.

My love for the main characters and the world I’d created, and the effort already invested in this project, stopped me from abandoning it. I vowed that I would finish this story, even if it was the last one I ever wrote. And believe me, there were times when I was ready to take another vow to never to start writing again once this was done.

Because I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I had been – no clue, meant no solution, which meant to ‘The End’ – I sat down and thought about what I had so far, what I wanted to happen on a grand scale (world), and how I wanted my characters to develop. I wrote these things down, then brainstormed possible plots to get where I wanted to go. And, surprisingly, wonderfully, several story threads suddenly fell into place, as if that was how they were meant to be all along.

I wrote down the key points, twists and turns that would take me to ‘The End’, then continued writing. When I was done, I had >140.000 words, meaning it took me only 40k to finish once I’d ‘plotted’; most of which was at least usable in its basic form, whereas a lot of the first 100k I had to erase completely – I mean, several whole story threads weren’t relevant anymore.

This made me realize something. Pantsing is great to get things started. But it’ll only get me so far. And it means a lot of work for me once the first draft is complete, because a lot of things that seemed important to me in the beginning, simply isn’t necessary.

Which is why, with the new novel I’ve started and intend to finish (again because I love the world and adore my characters), I wrote out the baddy’s intentions, the heros’ hopes and dreams, relationships and trials, as well as the world’s premises. Within these boundaries, the plot almost played out by itself, and I wrote it down, too. So I knew a lot about my characters, world and plot before I actually started writing – and I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to write along the plot already mapped out in front of me.

I did make sure of one thing while jotting down the plot: I didn’t make it too detailed, but kept to the basics, the bones if you will, of the story. This way it doesn’t get boring – and things aren’t set in stone, which is important for me, too. I enjoy it when my characters surprise me, or events happen that I hadn’t foreseen, things I have to deal with in a way that will keep me going in the general direction I’m heading in.

I once compared writing a novel to making a new friend; now I’m comparing it to life itself: it’s nice to know what you’re headed towards (i.e. your goals and dreams in life), but exciting not to know the path you’re going to take to get there.

So, basically, a healthy mix between pantsing and plotting is best for me.

What about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

First Submission Request, Panic Attacks, And Fate

I am totally, completely, utterly ecstatic. I feel like I've won a billion dollars, been proposed to by the love of my life and was granted a lifetime supply of weight-reducing Milka chocolates - all on the same day.

An agent has asked for a partial submission! *squeeeeeeee*

Friday night, I got an email answer to one of my queries (the one from before the first person POV version), asking for a snail mail with my material. I walked on air the whole weekend, while frantically (finally) perfecting the requested three-page synopsis and formatting my first three chapters according to AgentQuery's formatting tips.

On Monday after work, I printed out the pages and floated to the post office to get one honking large envelope that would also hold a smaller, yet still big enough for my material to be sent back in, SASE. I also asked for American stamps to put on aforementioned SASE.

And my floating feet grew cold and reconnected with the ground in a resounding thump.

Doh. American stamps aren't to be had at a German post office. The nice clerk behind the counter informed me they can only offer some sort of online-system, which sounded extremely complicated and a lot of work for the recipient, i.e. the agent I want to make it as easy for as possible. So I need simple stamps, not some fancy rigamaroo that confuses the heck out of users and will frustrate Ms Agent, making her turn the unread pages into Christmas confetti - if she even gets and/or accepts them.

I went home, got behind the computer and did some research. Turns out even finding somewhere online to send foreign stamps to you at a decent price is, well, impossible. AgentQuery suggests http://www.usps.com/, which was the only source that looked reputabel, capable and fairly cheap - but they don't send things internationally anymore (I'll email AgentQuery about that). I'm no slouch when it comes to using the computer and online stuff, but the UPS page boldly showed me my limits in that area. When I finally closed that site I wasn't even sure which way was up or down. I tried calling a UPS subsidiary in the area, but of course by then it was rather late, and they weren't open anymore.

So there I was, ready to hyperventilate, when another doh-worthy thought hit me. On Sunday, this coming Sunday, the in-five-days Sunday, I'm meeting relatives of mine, who are - and this affirms again my strong belief in fate and that we are in the right places at the right times if we let God guide us - Americans, coming to Europe for the holidays.

I immediately shot them a desperate email, begging them to bring a legion of stamps for me (more than I need now, just in case/hopefully I find myself in the same situation again in the near future). Being the wonderful people they are, they answered in the affirmative a few hours later.

Returning me to my blissful state of gravity-defiance.

Merry Christmas to me!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Query Revision, First Person POV

I went through another round of query revisions today. I changed something major by writing the whole thing in first person point of view. I have no idea whether that's usual or particularly accepted. Right now I think it's the best one I've come up with so far, but I'm holding my horses. Two rejections in as many days in response to my last revision has dampened my mood a tiny bit. A 'mosquito testicle' bit, as a true Swabian would say. I want to let my enthusiasm cool down enough so that reason can have a say in the mix before I send it out to more agents.

Speaking of horses: I just watched Black Beauty for like the twentieth time. I still cry like a newborn feeling the sting of the doctor's hand on its bum. The book is one of the first ones I remember my dad reading to me and my brother that didn't have pictures in it. Through the eyes of a horse we see humanity at its best and at its worst. It had a great influence on me concerning my handling of animals. Thank you, Miss Anna Sewell, for adding such a gem to horsey novels and a gentle reminder to treat others as we would like to be treated. 

Now, on to something not very writing-related for a change. But I'm excited and need to vent. And possibly rant, but only a little.

Okay, rant first.

My car's a goner, most likely. I took it for its bi-annual check-up for the vehicle inspection sticker, without which it's not allowed on German roads. Guess what? Head lights and tail pipe need to be replaced, which would cost about 800€. My parents (whom the car belongs to) are contemplating whether it's worth paying for repairs - again. It seems this car needs repairs done at a yearly average rate of about 2000€. Can you say lemon?

My parents basically left it to me because they don't need it anymore. I don't necessarily need it right now, either. I take trains and busses or walk most of the time anyway, because it's cheaper and I can read. It's just nice-to-have when going on trips. I might need it when I start a job (when and wherever that may be), but once I have a job (hopefully by February or March next year) I can afford a car of my own anyway. If we're honest, it's not really worth repairing it again for the sake of two or three months... That, of course, is rationality speaking. *sigh* Emotionally, I feel a little blue when thinking about not getting Smartie back. I liked driving it, it's small and weird-looking and convertible, and it carried me faithfully from A to B over many years. But I guess a change is in order here, too. I'll welcome it; it has come at the right time.

So, not so much of a rant after all. Just nostalgia bringing a tear to my eye.

The other exciting thing is: I have a job interview tomorrow. I plan on blowing their minds with my awesomeness. (If he read this, Barney Stinson would be proud.)
Wish me luck. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Moving On In Querying

After waiting fruitlessly (and with realistic expectations, so I'm only a teensy tad disappointed) for a couple of months for word of the QueryShark on my query, I revised it, added a hopefully interesting blurb (though now, a day later, I'm not so sure it's not just confusing *sigh*),  and mailed five more queries of my first novel to prospective agents yesterday.

No answers so far. ;-)

I would have sent it out to more than five, but several agents are on a hiatus till January and not accepting queries at present. Which is probably a good thing, since now I haven't wasted all my possibilities just yet.

As of yet, I have only sent queries to agents who request a query letter and the first one to five pages or the first chapter of the ms. Those agents who also want a synopsis are cooling their bytes on my TBC (to be contacted) Excel-list.

The reason for this is that I haven't finished a single synopsis I've started. Summing up a 97k word novel on two pages is hard. Writing a synopsis is every writer's dread (I've read - and now have (badly) rhymed), but what makes this even more difficult is the different kinds of synopses the agents prefer. One wants a 2-page synopsis, another wants 500 words, the next 2000 words or 5 pages. Basically, for every agent who wants a synopsis, you end up writing a whole new summary of your story.

My plan is to write up three of these dreaded compendiums over the holidays: a very detailed one of approximately five pages, one between two and three pages, and a one-pager - which is hardly more than the query letter itself, but has to reveal how it all ends. Self-appointed deadline is December 31st.

Deadline for next outgoing query wave: January 9th.

I'm juggling a lot of deadlines lately, some self-appointed, others not. Obligatory and first priority is my master thesis, which has to be delivered by January 31st. The obligatory presentation of the accompanying six-week project I worked on is scheduled for January 25th. A self-inflicted obligatory deadline was NaNoWriMo, which I managed successfully a couple of days early. Then there are the synopsis and new query deadlines I mentioned above, both completely self-appointed but also completely personal and therefore just as important, or maybe even more so.

The biggest looming deadline at the end of the year, is, as always, Christmas. Or rather, buying Christmas presents for loved ones. Since my bank account is currently stuck on starvation-mode, I decided to make instead of buy. I have great ideas about what to make, but am lacking time as seriously as I'm lacking money. I suppose, in the end, it will come down to a healthy mix of a little bought and a little made.

Fascinating, really, how Christmas always takes everybody by surprise.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Vid: So You Want To Write A Novel

Oh lord. Talk about delusional

Best line: "I have a gun in my car. I'm going to get it now."
Good idea. End his and everybody else's suffering before it has even begun. 


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NaNo Winner And My New Daily Word-Count Goal

I did it!

Last weekend, between strolls through the Christmas Market and a bout of ice scating, I wrote the six thousand words that carried me valiantly over the finish line of 50k.

To be honest, those six thousand words are probably not worth the bytes they're saved on. A lot of rambling and not much plot development went into those scenes. But I'm confident that I'll be able to use at least one or two paragraphs when revising - as soon as I finish my master thesis which from now on has top priority. My pleasure writing must step down until the end of January.

I've been juggling NaNo, thesis and applications this past month, along with various social and sporting activities, and it's exhausting. Something has to go, or something in me will give. For now, thesis and applications are more important. *sigh*

Which is not to say I won't write at all. But I've limited my daily goal to 100 words, mostly to keep in touch and feel with my story. No pressure, though. For now, other writing must come first.

Good thing I enjoy the typing aspect of writing in itself a lot. I love to feel my fingers dance over the keys, the soft clicking sounds they make. I find it soothing. So even though I'm limiting my pleasure writing, I'm not forgoeing the pleasure of writing, or rather typing.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Countering The Info Dump

So, there you are, with a blank screen-sheet of paper in front of you and a shiny new idea whizzing through your creative synapses, and the ideas for this world and story come pouring forth in endlessly detailed descriptions which, by the time you read through them the second time, you realize are not important to the present scenes and developments.

Especially in the beginning of a story, I find it very hard to limit myself to facts and information important only to the present action of the story.

For example, if our hero is fighting his dragon nemesis, the interesting things to know might be the dragon's size, length of teeth, thickness of hide, and the hero’s quickness and cunning. The reader will at this moment not appreciate excessive descriptions of the dragon’s home cave, the hero’s religious affiliation, or, heaven forbid, the kind of tea he enjoyed for breakfast that morning – unless it causes him to be sick at the exact moment he would have dealt the death blow with his mighty sword.

Great stories give only as much information as needed for the reader to understand the present scene, don’t repeat information unnecessarily unless making a point, and assume that the reader remembers what s/he read in the chapter before. It wasn’t always like this; I just have to think of the beginning of The Hobbit, where Tolkien describes in minute detail the pipe-smoking habits of hobbits, which doesn’t in any way further the actual plot of the story, and to be honest made me put the book away never to be picked up again. Talk about ‘info dump’, which is the term for unloading unneeded information on the reader.

Not that I, as a writer, have never fallen into its deep, dark trap. Far from it. When writing, I’ve often found it difficult to decide how much information is needed in a scene; how much I’ve already explained or can explain later, how much I’ve hinted at and will this be enough for the reader to understand what’s going on, whether I need to get this piece of information out there earlier in the story to get a bigger surprise or aha effect.

Two things help me handle this plight. First, I nowadays write down details about world building, character information and plot development in a notebook before I sit down to begin writing the actual story. This way, I get my own initial impulse to info-dump out of the way, and won’t forget the little details that seem so important when I first think of them. Also, I then have a loose frame in which to have fun with my worlds, scenes and characters, and can more easily determine whether a tangent I’m drifting off on will be beneficial to the story or not.

The second thing I do is that I compare my novel to a new friend, whom I get to know better with every encounter. I don’t need to know everything about this person, stat. In fact, I don’t want to know everything right away - personally, I find it rather annoying when somebody I've just met unloads his/her deepest secrets, highest dreams or darkest worries one me. 

You cover the basics, test the shallow waters, before allowing yourself to dive into the murky depths of a new acquaintance. The longer you know somebody, the better you get to know him/her. That, I think, is a good comparison to the relationship book-to-reader. All the reader needs to know and understand is why the hero re/acts the way s/he does during the scene being read. In some cases, even, the reader does not need to know everything, for example at times when the protagonist doesn't know everything either...

So, that's how I counter my info-dumping tendencies. I'm sure there are many other ways, but these two are the ones I've found work best for me.

I still do it while writing a first draft, though not as excessively. And that's okay - it's what first drafts are for. Get the story written down, then worry about perfecting it. I just find it helpful to get my initial dumping-urge out of the way, because then I can actually dive into the story head-on and not worry about whether I'll remember that my hero is allergic to camomile tea fifty thousand words from now.

Edited to add: An info dump can be well done, as shown in The Artful Infodump.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Knowing What You Want

This is a great post by Michael Hyatt, about overcoming bad habits. He lists possible alternatives one can focus on instead of ones habits. I have one more to add, one that I think heads them all:

Know what you want instead of knowing what you don't want.

We all know what we don't want. We don't want to get lung cancer, we don't want to get fat, we don't want to be poor, we don't want to raise our kids the way our parents raised us, we don't want to be outcasts of society, we don't want to argue... the list is long of things we don't want. We especially don't want to worry all the time. When we do this, we make ourselves the biggest obstacle to overcome.

The trick is to figure out what we want instead, and to visualize it as best as possible. I started doing this actively about a year ago.

For example, I told myself the following:

1. I want to enjoy my body - so I started rock climbing, which is a lot of fun for me.
The result: I lost approximately 10 pounds within 9 or 10 months and my backaches are a thing of the past.

2. I want my body to be free of toxins and unnecessary hormones even in old age - so I started eating mostly organic food, and stopped taking the pill.
The result: I have no more headaches or stomach cramps.

3. I want to finish a book - so I made a plan, sat down and wrote.
The result: I got to write The End on a manuscript and now have something to query with.

4. I want to enjoy (meeting new) people (something the prospect of always gave me a stomach ache) - this one wasn't so easy, and often still isn't. But I figured out it's easier if it's not important what others think of you. And the way to achieve that is, basically, the next point:

5. I want to feel worth something to myself - so every day I repeat my mantra: "I take the most interesting, beautiful and valuable person into my heart – myself." The hardest thing about that 'excercise' is admitting that you are, in fact, worth everything you could ever want for yourself. You deserve it, just because you want it (if you want it for the right reasons).
The result (of the last two): I've become more outgoing, I don't blush as easily, I can voice my opinions, I have opinions of my own, and I know what I want for my future, not some future somebody else envisions for me.

Basically, I've made my strengths, dreams and fun my priority, not my weaknesses, vices and other people's opinions. It doesn't make me ignorant of them, not by a long shot, but they've become less important and so lose some of their hold over me.

It is freedom, pure and simple.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Medieval Christmas Market - Squeeeeeee

I'm so excited!

Yesterday was the first day of the annual Medieval Christmas Market in my town, Esslingen - which, with its winding cobbled streets and squares, six-hundred year old timbered houses and the castle-like fortification overlooking the whole city from a nearby hill, is the perfect setting for such a festival.

Four weeks of knights, jesters, frivolous musicians, performers, fire artists, lords, ladies, peasants, herb women, blacksmiths, cobblers, furriers, armorers, glassblowers, cooks, bakers, taverns, leather workers, fletchers and chandlers - all in medieval garb and speaking in words which would be music to any accidentally present (as in whoops-my-time-machine-actually-worked accidentally) medieval ears.

Not to forget the wooden Ferris Wheel, axe-and-arrow games, the public baths (oh yes!), hot spiced wine, cannabis bread and the torch procession up to the "castle" two nights before Christmas Eve.

And all of this for the low low price of several layers off the soles of your shoes, depending on how often you go there and tread those cobbled streets of historic fun. Since I live only two minutes away from the nearest 'portal' into history, I'm going to be there a LOT. I also plan on taking my beautiful string-tied linen gown with the wide sleeves I bought last year out to mingle with other medieval haute couture. As soon as I've upgraded my language to a lady's vocabulary. Then again, a wench's vernacular might do just as well.

Here are a few pics to illustrate better what all my excitement is about:





Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NaNoWriMo Progress and Pros & Cons

Woot! I'm at 40.700 words and have seven days to go, which makes an average of 1400 words per day I have to get through. My plan was to write four-hundred words per weekday, and at least five-thousand words per weekend. By that calculation I’d manage approximately 52k by the end of November. I’m lagging a tad behind, but not by much.

Surprising, considering I only really had time on weekends and am trying to write good prose as well as a lot of words. People in the writing biz seem to be divided on the NaNo concept for this very reason. A lot of authors, agents and editors say the as-many-words-in-a-month plan isn’t very productive quality-wise, because the only important factor of NaNo is quantity.

I completely understand agents who are apprehensive about the coming months, when some (or, apparently, quite a lot of) authors of NaNo stories query them with their first, unrevised drafts. From the author’s, or rather the manuscript’s point of view, that’d be like conducting a caesarean four months into the pregnancy – that poor baby would have no chance of survival. In this scenario, the agent would be the doctor trying to tell hundreds of soon-to-be mothers that they’ll have to keep that bun in the oven a little while longer before they can even begin to cuddle with it and nurse it to maturity.

Okay, bad comparison; writing a novel isn’t usually a life-or-death matter (but wouldn't that be a fun premise for a novel?!). Just trying to point out where I see that NaNo has its drawbacks concerning quality. Which is why I tweaked the concept and added my own personal goal to the NaNo-premise: manage at least 35k while doing my best to make it a viable first part of a first draft. Because, if all goes well, I think this story has publishing potential. Ergo, I don’t want to ruin my delight in writing it by just slapping out as many words as possible and making it odious and taking the fun out of revisions because it is so terrible.

This is where I see the NaNo-concept as helpful – it got me seriously started on this project. Judging by my outline (and, yes, word count), I’m almost halfway through (I estimated approximately 90k for this novel). And even though a lot of it is still filler – stuff I know I’ll have to revise – the most important scenes are well-written and pose the fundamental groundwork on which the novel will be built further.

My point being that the first draft won’t be perfect even if I put quality over quantity, but at least NaNo got me started on it effectively and efficiently. That, to me, is the beauty of NaNoWriMo.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Structuring Stimulus And Reactions

If you've ever wondered how two write the reaction process to something, this post on Ilona Andrews' blog is a treasure trove of golden wisdom. Ilona states that our reactions happen in stages, with the reactions taking the least time and effort coming first. Meaning that physical reactions come before those that require thinking about.

Her example:

Stimulus: flame of a candle.
Stage one – involuntary response.  We jerk our hand away.   It takes almost no time for our body to process it and it happens immediately.  This is usually a purely “muscular” response.
Stage two – brain processes pain and comes with a simplest mental response.  We yell, “Ow!”
Stage three – brain recognizes the stupidity of touching the candle by forming appropriate thoughts.
Stage four – we vocalize.  “Who the hell put this candle right here?”

Now I'm itching to go through my WIP and check whether I structure such situations like this instinctively (oh, wouldn't that be nice), in some occasions, or not at all.

At least I can actively apply this golden wisdom on my future writing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Multi-Book Deals & Keeping Your Series Fresh

Interesting post by Alan Rinzler, on multi-book deals and how to keep your protagonist interesting to readers throughout a series.

Theoretically, the ms I'm shopping around right now could easily be made into a series. Except, for now, I'm sucked dry concerning that world. I've started on something else, something new and exciting in which the possibilities seem endless and I'm giddy with anticipation of my next words - that New World syndrome, I guess. Maybe, at some point, I'll go back to the Old World and enjoy it again.

At the moment, I'm not sure what I'd do, if I'd get offered a multi-book contract for the 'Old World' book.
Getting a contract: Huzzah!
Having to write more in the Old World: Meh!

Just spitballing here, of course; I'm not actually worried about this. Just going through all the possibilities. Dreaming.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. 

Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dos And Don’ts When Writing A Query

Great summary post on the Guide to Literary Agents blog:

  1. An entertaining but polite and professional tone
  2. Multiple forms of contact information
  3. Proof that you have researched and hand-picked an agent. (If you’ve got a connection, were referred by a client or met the agent at a conference, make sure to point that out early in your letter.)
  4. Especially for nonfiction: An author bio that demonstrates your platform and why you’re the right author for this project
  5. A quick, catchy hook or “elevator pitch”
  6. Making a case for the book’s built-in audience
  7. Especially for nonfiction: Showing why your expertise and media contacts make you the best author for your project

  1. Asking what the agent can do for you, rather than demonstrating what you can do for him/her
  2. Asking for a phone call or in person meeting before the agent has requested one
  3. Querying for multiple projects at the same time
  4. Listing personal information unrelated to your book
  5. Giving references from people outside the publishing industry (such as saying your writers group, your congregants, or your mother’s next door neighbor’s cockerspaniel loved your book)
  6. Comparing your book to a commonly-quoted bestseller
  7. Making broad claims that you can’t back up
  8. A pitch for an incomplete novels. (It’s OK to query with an unfinished nonfiction project, as long as you’ve written a proposal, but novels should be finished before you start contacting agents.)
  9. Overly familiar, aggressive, or incorrect salutations

Monday, November 8, 2010

Breaking The Power Of Myth

Great (and funny) advice from Chuck Wendig, things I’ve found to be true and have to work on myself but never put into words:

There is no Muse.
You are not slave to your inspiration, to some mystical ‘Muse’. “You do not work for the Muse. She works for you. Chain her to the pole and make her dance.” For this, you have to sit down, and write.

There is no Writer’s Block.
The feeling of being blocked isn’t restricted to writers. Again, start doing the work. By just making stuff up – which is the most awesome way! “You combat one lie with another: the glorious lie of fiction.”

There is no Perfect Draft.
“The perfect draft is a myth. […] You should accept that “This Sucks” is part of your novel’s life cycle. It will get better as long as you let it get better. […] don’t expect your first draft to be the one that blows everybody’s socks into the sky, either.
Put the perfect draft out of your mind.
It sucks now. Which is why you’re going to keep working to fix it.”

Summed up, the major point Wendig makes is this:
Don’t let liberally bandied-about myths keep you from finishing your manuscript! Don't waste time listening to others.

Sit down and WRITE!

I’ve quoted Yoda before, but I'm itching to do so again:

Do. Or do not. There is no ‘try’.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

NaNo Genre Poll

Interesting poll on Nathan Branford's blog, to figure out popular genres being written in NaNoWriMo.

So far, it doesn't seem to be very different from last year's results.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween Aftermath... muahahahahaaaa

No. After displaying their true natures for one night... 

Wicked Witch of the Purple-Fest, a.k.a. me

...they simply slipped into their guise of well-behaved human citizens again.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Ritual for achieving my Writing-Zen

About a month ago, I wrote a post about my zen-zone and trying to find the right ritual to get started with writing for me. Today, a blog post by Allison Winn Scotch made me think about this again, and I realized I already have a ritual, even if it doesn't seem like one at first glance (at least to me).

I need to start writing in bed: sitting with my back against the wall, a pillow on my lap, my laptop on the pillow, a cup of hot tea and some chocolate within reach. I need to be warm and cozy, able to snuggle into comfort - then I'll snuggle right into creativity. 

Of course, I can't sit like that for hours on end and not have back spasms afterwards (not even my rock-climbing enhanced spine of steel can handle that), so I move it to the desk after about an hour. By that time I'm deeply in my writing-zen, though (or I'll never be that day), so that teeny interruption makes no difference. 

And just in case you're wondering: Yes, I'm sitting in bed right now. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My journey to Life, Health, and Confidence.

Rachelle Gardner wrote a wonderful blog post about needing to take care of your body’s needs concerning rest, exercise and nutrition, to function at your highest level. It struck a cord with me because I changed just those aspects of my life about a year ago. It got me thinking about the hows and the whys that made me change, and the results, which I'm very happy about.

(Be warned: this is going to get a tad spiritual. ;-))

I believe that we are souls first, and human beings second. To me, the body is the vessel for the soul to experience life. Ergo, if the body and its energies are restricted, so are our experiences. Why then should I limit my body wantonly and willingly with too little sleep, a modicum of exercise and an unhealthy diet? I’ve found that the healthier and fitter I am, the more I can enjoy the things I do, no matter what that might be.

Of course, this didn’t all happen in one day. It was a gradual process of change, one I didn’t realize was taking place at first – which makes me even happier and more appreciative about it now.

Until about a year ago, I used to be the little grey mouse, the wallflower that spoke only when spoken to, or voiced her opinion only when asked. I never thought much of myself, never saw myself as equal to most people. To my mind, everybody was always better than me in anything and everything. I never even allowed myself to believe in me. In my dreams, because others told me or might possibly tell me that they were unachievable.

It started with me finding a sport I really enjoy: rock climbing. There’s a small indoor rock climbing facility and a climbing group at my university, free for students. We meet up twice a week and burn ourselves out to our heart’s content. The thing with rock climbing is, that it’s not just about strength or agility (though that does play a big role) – it’s all about your mind set; about courage, grit, and imitating that little engine that thought it could. Or, as Yoda so perfectly put it: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I’ve never experienced anything in my life that is so dependent on my faith in myself and my abilities than rock climbing. If I stand at the bottom of a difficult route I’ve managed to get to the top of before, and say “I’m so tired today, this is going to be hard”, then guess what? It is hard, and ninety-nine out of a hundred times, I’ll fall. If, on the other hand, I say to myself (and feel it, just saying it is not enough when you feel the opposite) ”I’m so tired today, but I know I can do this” then I make it. I might grit my teeth and grunt with every move, but I will not even think about giving up and letting go until I’m at the top. That thought will never cross my mind. There is no place or time for doubt. Honestly. It does work like that. Took me twenty-four years to realize, to understand, to comprehend, that what my parents were always telling me about optimism and belief is a thousand percent true. And I think that now I understand it better than they ever did.

Of course, the regular twice-to-three-times-a-week rock climbing also made me fitter. I have more strength, more stamina, and no more back aches. When I have to run to the train, I’m not winded; when I lift heavy things, I don’t worry about back spasms.

This is also aided by more sleep (at least seven hours a night, not just six or even five-and-a-half) and healthier food. Not so much a healthier diet (I still couldn't live without a daily chocolate-fix, cheese, the occasional burger and fries, butter, cheese, white bread, meat, and did I mention cheese?!), but really the food. I buy mostly organically grown/produced foods. These are more expensive than ‘normal’ food, and I’m a student living on a student’s budget, so I had to prioritize. But what it boils down to is the choice between spending a few hours every weekend at a loud and crowded club, and eating food that won’t build up chemicals in my body that will haunt me in later years. For me, once I felt this to be true, the decision was a no-brainer. (Not that giving up going to the clubs regularly was much of a sacrifice for me. ;-))

The results are very noticeable. I've lost about 12 pounds of weight. My hair isn't as greasy, I have no more acne. I don't feel tired and overwhelmed all the time. Heat or cold don’t bother me as much.

All this has also helped me a lot with my confidence when dealing with other people. Today, I know that others can only belittle me if I belittle myself. That I am equal to all. That I’m allowed to believe in my dreams. That I won’t fall off the face of the Earth if I don’t listen to other peoples’ well-meant but not-fitting-for-me advice.

Now I like who I am. I can run. I can leap. I can dance. I can try new things. I can enjoy life; because it is mine, not somebody else’s opinionated version of what it should be.

I like what I can do, because I know I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to.

I don’t try.
I do.