Archive for June, 2012

Seriously, sometimes in this business you just feel like you’re beating your head against a brick wall. It’s so hard to break in. But I’m nothing if not stubborn. I’ll keep banging on that wall just as long as I have to.

I’ve been querying FIRE AND EARTH–a story I love maybe more than any other I’ve written so far–since April. I’ve had three requests for partial, two of which are still out. But that represents only about a 10% request rate. Not bad, but hardly great. I’ve recently overhauled the query. Too soon to tell how well that’s going to turn out. On the other hand, if I choose to look at the glass as half-full, I had three requests on MAGE STORM in a little over a year and more than twice as many queries sent out. So, my current request rate is actually progress. (And nothing says that I can’t requery some of those agents with the revised query in four or five months. What’s the worst they could do? Reject me again? Been there, done that, survived.)

Recently, my mind has been going back to MAGE STORM. I still really, really like this one. I keep hearing that agents and editors are crying for middle grade boy adventures. Well, that’s what MAGE STORM is, darn it. I just may have to take another pass through this one, revamp the query, and send out some more queries. I’m half inclined to use this one for the Christmas in July contest. Hmm. I wonder if it’s allowed to submit more than one book to that contest. I might have to ask.

I did get “The Music Box” e-published, but it’s going to languish just the same as “Heart of Oak” and BLOOD WILL TELL unless I start figuring out this marketing thing. It’s out of my comfort zone, but that’s part of the whole point. I need to learn how. Skin in the game was supposed to force me to do that. That hasn’t been too successful so far. I may just have to force myself to schedule in some time for that exclusively in order to make this work.

I don’t really write enough short stories to make much progress on that front. I’ve only written one and an abandoned partial so far this year. I should try to write more, but novels are just so much more satisfying. On the short story front, I’ve got two out on submission. One has been out for 147 days and a response on the other should come back any day now, assuming the publication keeps to their stated response time.

I’m making good progress (not roller-coaster, nanowrimo type progress, but good steady headway) on THE BARD’S GIFT again. That actually feels great. I’ve got my two characters close enough to begin depending on each other. Now it’s time to drop the axe and separate them for awhile. Have to make your characters suffer. And I think the opening of this one is the very best first page I’ve ever written.

So, even though sometimes it feels like standing still, I really am making progress. Sometimes, you just have to stop and remind yourself of that. It makes banging on the wall a little easier.

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 “The Music Box” a romantic fantasy novella has now been e-published. It’s available on Smashwords, so far. Amazon and GoodReads to follow in a few days. The other sites, like Barnes and Noble will take a little longer as it works its way through Smashwords distribution process.


This is the third story I’ve e-published and I think I’m getting better at the formatting process. And possibly at cover art, too.

What’s next up? Well, that depends. I have another novelette, “Becoming Lioness”, that’s still out on submission–for 144 days now. If that comes back, it’s next up. Otherwise, I’m going to have to get back to work on the sequel to BLOOD WILL TELL. Probably after I finish the first draft of THE BARD’S GIFT.

I’m happily back at work on my YA alternate history, THE BARD’S GIFT. I had been stuck on how to get from Point A to Point B. A little time working on other things and bouncing a few ideas around with writer friends did the trick.

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Query letters are incredibly important and very hard. Your first introduction to an agent you hope will want to represent your work. As I struggle with revisions to my current query letter for FIRE AND EARTH, I thought I’d take a look at how it evolved. Fair warning, this is going to be a long post. And, at that, I’ve left out a couple of intermediate queries. There are currently six versions of this query on my hard drive.

This is what I started with back in November, five months before I actually started querying:

At seventeen, Casora has spent nearly all of her life either training to be a warrior or fighting in someone else’s battles. That’s the fate of anyone born with the mark of the berserker curse until they prove they can fight without losing control. The alternative to such discipline is exile for those who let the berserker out. 

Then her homeland is overrun by a fierce enemy and the young man she loves is killed in the retreat. This news reaches Casora just before she goes into battle. In grief and rage, she triggers the curse and goes berserk. When she comes back to herself, she’s filled with regret. Now she can never go back to help fight the invaders or even find out if her family is still alive. Instead, she becomes the leader of a band of teenage warriors with no options but to turn mercenary. They’re united by a hunger to avenge themselves on the marauders that destroyed the homes they can never return to. What she really wants is to find a cure for the curse and go home.

Eighteen-year-old Prince Tiaran is the youngest and least of the princes of a neighboring country. He’ll never be the warrior his two bigger and older half-brothers are, and they take every opportunity to remind him of it. When the raiders turn to attack his country, Tiaran knows he must take part in the fighting, but no one will take him seriously. His brothers exploit his desperation and gullibility to send him off on what they think is a wild goose chase.

Tiaran is on the wrong side of the walls when the capital city is besieged. Casora rescues him from certain death. Tiaran, by default the leader of the resistance, must rely on Casora to help him become the warrior he needs to be to save his kingdom. In helping him, she discovers knowledge that might help to manage her curse.

It’s just possible that they may be the answer to each others’ prayers.

Well, you shouldn’t expect the first one to be good. For one thing, there’s way too much back story.

By April, when I actually started querying, I’d brought it down to this:

Now that she’s lost it and gone berserk, seventeen-year-old Casora is doubly cursed and there’s no going back.

Born with the mark of the berserker, she’s been sent away to learn war craft. Those skills are no use when her home is invaded while she’s far away. She turns mercenary, leading a band of teenage warriors looking for the chance to avenge themselves on the marauders.

What she really wants is to find a cure for the curse so she can go home. When she prays for an answer, she’s told to rescue the youngest prince to find what she needs.

Tiaran, third prince of a neighboring kingdom, is considered more a scholar than a warrior, but he’s determined to fight for his home. When the raiders attack, he’s trapped on the wrong side of the city walls. Casora and her band are sent to rescue him. With the capital city now besieged, there’s no option but to keep him with them and teach him to be a warrior.

But Tiaran has something to teach them, too. It’s just possible that Tiaran and Casora may be the answer to each others’ prayers.

This query actually got a couple of partial requests, but then there was a long drought with nothing but straight rejections. My request rate was only about ten percent, so it was time for a revision. Version 4:

Born with the mark of the berserker, seventeen-year-old Casora has been sent away to learn war craft. When her native land is invaded, she’s not there to do the one thing she’s been prepared for all her life–to use those skills to protect her family and home. Learning that the young man she loves was killed in the fighting is the final straw. She releases her curse and goes berserk.

Now she’s doubly cursed, because she can never go home to find out what happened to her family. With no way to help the ones she cares most about, Casora turns mercenary, leading a band of teenage warriors looking for the chance to avenge themselves on the marauders. She prays for a way to cure the curse and gets a mystifying answer: rescue the youngest prince to find what she needs.

Tiaran, third prince of a neighboring kingdom, is considered more a scholar than a warrior, but he’s determined to fight for his home. When the raiders attack, he’s trapped on the wrong side of the city walls. Casora and her band are sent to rescue him. With the capital city now besieged, there’s no option but to keep him with them and teach him to be a warrior.

But Tiaran has something to teach them, too. It’s just possible that Tiaran and Casora may be the answer to each others’ prayers.

This query got sent out to half a dozen agents. The responses weren’t encouraging. But, I’d gotten a few positive responses on a pitch contest (more like an elevator pitch than a full on query pitch) that had a slightly different approach.

Start revising again. At every step along this process, I’ve sought other opinions on my query. I got a really good one, here and discovered that there’s still too much back story.

The next version is at least pared down to just Casora and Tiaran. Agents can find out about the mercenary band in the synopsis. Plus, have you noticed one line that stayed the same in all versions? Something about being the answer to each others’ prayers? It may just be time to kill that little darling, too.

The new query will look something like this (no guarantees it won’t be revised again . . . and again.):

When her country is invaded, seventeen-year-old Casora loses her battle against her berserker curse. Being a berserker turns her into a ferocious warrior, but that’s no help to her family when she must be exiled as a danger to everyone around her. She turns mercenary while searching for a way to tame the berserker so she can return home. Being sent to rescue Prince Tiaran gives her hope.

No matter how hard he tries, Tiaran will never be the kind of warrior his brothers are, but he still feels compelled to fight to defend his homeland. When the raiders attack, he’s trapped on the wrong side of the city walls. Rescued by Casora from his first disastrous battle, he learns from her that there’s more than one way to be a warrior.

Tiaran has something to teach Casora, too. He’s the only one who’s ever been able to calm her berserker rage. The only one who has ever called her curse a blessing. Together, they may be able to shake off the expectations of others and find a future neither of them ever dared dream of. First, though, they have to stop the marauders from destroying everything in their path or there won’t be any place for that future to unfold.

That’s it for now. I have query fatigue.



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Father’s Day

Well, I blogged about Mom on Mother’s Day. I suppose I should give Dad equal time. It’s not that I don’t want to. In some way, Dad is a harder topic for me because, well, he’s not here anymore. Dad died in 1999.

This is a photo of Dad long before I knew him. (I came along late and by surprise.) He was in the Air Force, only back then, it was still called the Army Air Corps. He was a B-17 pilot. Dad never talked much about that. He’d talk about life on the base and about his crew. He’d talk about some of the missions they flew after the war–dropping supplies into Holland, for example. But he never talked much about the actual war. I guess he had that in common with a lot of World War II vets.

This photo is actually probably older. Mom and Dad probably right around the time of their marriage in. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was taken in Tulsa, where they were married. It’s no place I recognize around here. Of course, many things have changed in the intervening years.

A lot of the photos of Dad are framed and hanging in the hallway. Without going through a major redecoration, about the only other photo I have handy is from their fiftieth wedding anniversary. That’s me in green. Not a current photo; remember, Dad died in 1999.

Dad was one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. Not, unfortunately, a virtue I inherited. He could also drive me right up a wall with it. Once I could drive, I never went shopping with Dad again. Totally different philosophies of shopping. He had to go everywhere first and then go back and buy what he’d seen at the first or second place he went to. I’m a much more directed shopper.

He was not the person you necessarily wanted to turn to for help with homework, either, being a strong proponent of the Socratic method. He always thought if you figured it out for yourself, it’d stick better. He might have been right, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating. And yet, some of those times are the ones I think of most fondly, now.

There never seemed to be anything he couldn’t do, though. He did most of the work around this house. In his day, we rarely needed to call anyone to fix anything. If something broke, I always took it to Dad.

Of course, Dad’s catch phrase was “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” And could I tell some stories about things “done right” that were very hard to change, later. When, years later, I had the kitchen window replaced, the men who came out to remove the old jalousie window and put in a new garden window had to resort the their sawzall to get the old one out. Three inch nails every six inches. That was my dad.

I learned a lot from him. Somedays, I wish he’d felt it more important to teach me some of the things he knew about maintaining this old house. That’d come in handy now. But Dad was from a different generation and didn’t think I needed to know how to snake a drain. Wrong!

Miss you, Dad.

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It’s amazing the power a simple request has–as in a partial or full request for a manuscript. I swear a request makes me feel like I’ve lost 30 pounds. For a little while, I can float.

I’ve had a few, now, on various projects. They always make me feel the same. I got one yesterday from the Pitch Slam over on YALitChat. So did a fellow member of the Pied Pipers. Another Pied Piper actually got an agent (from a different contest, not Pitch Slam). It can happen.

For the most part, we send our queries out into the void. Often we never hear back at all. In the subjective nature of the business–and given the difficulty of drafting a really good query–the most common response is “No, thank you.” But we keep sending those queries out because one of them, sometime, is going to be the one that works, the one that gets us an agent and one giant step further along in this process.

And that’s what makes requests so wonderful, because every once in a while, the response is “Please send more.” And maybe this will be the one. One of them, sooner or later, will be the one that says “Yes.” And it’s very nice to float in that maybe-this-time space for a while.

Hurray for requests.

Now, back to writing.


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As I work my way toward completing the revisions to “The Music Box”, I have to start thinking about the next step: a cover. I’m not in a position to pay for a cover designer–at least not yet–so this is something else I have to do for myself. Hopefully, I’m getting better at it.

The cover is critically important. It’s the first impression a reader has of the book. A poor cover understandably makes them question the quality of the work inside. You can see my first two covers over in the sidebar.

The cover for “Heart of Oak” is based on a photo of mine. No issues about copyright, there. But it’s not a great cover. It’s busy and, besides that, it just looks like a blob in gray scale. Most e-readers are black and white. I hadn’t learned to take that into consideration when I did that cover. At some point, I’m going to have to redo it.

The cover for BLOOD WILL TELL is better. It’s based off of a couple of very old engravings. It works well in gray scale, but there’s still something about it. Maybe it’s the background. At some point, I’ll have to redo it, too.

So, now I’m working on the cover for “The Music Box”. Actually, I’ve been working on this for a while, but none of my ideas have worked out. Let’s face it, a picture of a music box is pretty boring.

I think, however, that I may have finally hit on something that will work. This is still very much a work in process. The color is less than half done–and may change without warning. There’s a lot of clean up needed. Unfinished Cover for "The Music Box"This will give you an idea what it might look like.



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Wow. Got right to work writing and almost forgot to blog. Oops.

Well, I’m still in the middle (almost exactly) of my revisions to “The Music Box”. Some of that is fixing problems with the story, but a lot of it is adding back in world building details that I’d either deleted or left out trying to make it fit into a more publishable length.

I think I’ve managed to spread out that info dump problem I mentioned in my last post. Let’s see what you think. Here’s the first page or so:

Liri paced across her darkened room. Everyone else was sensibly napping during the hottest part of the day, but there wasn’t anything Liri wanted less than to fall asleep. She didn’t even dare lie down for fear she’d doze off and have the same nightmare again.

As his sister, Liri had been the one to help prepare Eralan’s body for burial. She’d wanted to spare his widow and she was very glad she had. Jenae didn’t need to see that. Liri had seen all of his wounds and the other marks, enough to know the truth. Eralan’s had not been a clean warrior’s death on the battlefield. He’d been tortured to death. And now, scenes of what Eralan must have endured haunted Liri’s dreams.

She needed movement, more than she could get in this confined space. Sometimes when she danced, she could lose herself in the music and shut out everything else. She couldn’t dance here, though. She’d be sure to waken someone. There was a quiet spot out in the garden where she wouldn’t disturb anyone.

Liri picked up her music box and padded silently down the corridor. The box had been her brother’s last gift to her, less than a sevenday before his death. Odd that it should be her greatest comfort now. For a moment, she stroked the smooth, inlaid wood, feeling its texture. It must have been an expensive gift, because it undeniably had a touch of magic bound within it. One side of Liri’s mouth quirked up. Eralan had joked that the music box was supposed to help her find her true love and she’d laughed at him for his naïveté.

Falling in love was not something to be desired for a princess. Liri wouldn’t be allowed to choose her husband, after all. Her marriage would be used to formalize some alliance for her father. When that day came, even falling in love with her own husband would be a risk. Their mother’s fate proved that. Love was a weakness that other players of the Game could exploit.

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This subject comes up because it’s something I’m dealing with right now. I’m in the middle of revisions to “The Music Box” in preparation to e-publish it. One of the major changes I’m making is to put back and actually expand certain aspects of the world-building that I had purged (not quite completely, as the critiques proved) when trying to cut this story down to a (traditionally) publishable length. There just aren’t a lot of markets out there for novellas.

So, now that I’m going to e-publish it instead, I’m working those details back in. Right now, a big lump of this kind of detail is located in the first scene. That’s okay for this stage of the process. Just like in a first draft, sometimes it’s necessary to just get it out on paper–or at least on the computer screen. The important thing is to make sure it doesn’t stay there. Too much world building up front keeps the reader from really connecting with the characters and slows the story down too much.

My goal for feeding in world building is “learn as you go”. In other words, the reader should find out about these details when they become relevant. Of course, for some things that are going to be really important in the story, it’s sometimes also necessary to foreshadow a bit.

My standard for this is Lois McMaster Bujold’s THE CURSE OF CHALLION. (I love this book, by the way.) In the first six paragraphs, the reader discovers that Caz has or has held a rank higher than his apparent current status, that there are something like the knightly orders in this world, that the world is likely to be medieval-esque, and a little bit about the religious system. All from Caz’s interaction with a group of riders. And with that, the reader has enough information to go on with. By the end of that first scene, the reader will also be introduced to the concept of death magic, which seems almost like an interesting aside at this point, but will turn out to be very important later in the story. But all of it just flows naturally from Caz’s actions, reactions, and thoughts.

That’s what I’m striving for in this and every story. So, as I go through the revisions, I’m on the look out for places where I can feed that info dump from the beginning into the story in smaller bites right where it fits naturally. I’ve already found a place to show a bit of the political game that is the basis for a lot of one character’s motivations rather than just tell about it.

In the end, the goal is to leave only that bit of information that is really needed in that first scene and to make it look seamless. Not quite as easy as it sounds.

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