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Posts Tagged ‘agents’

Not to send them. Not yet. This is, in my opinion, a really bad time of year to be sending queries anyway.

No, it’s time to start writing the query for THE BARD’S GIFT, which I hope to start querying in about six months. Yes, in my experience, it does take about that long to come up with a good query. Not solid work for six months of course. Writing the query, closing it, coming back to look at it with fresh eyes, several rounds of seeking feedback from critique partners. Queries are hard. (And I haven’t even started the dreaded synopsis, yet.)

Without further ado, here’s the current (and very preliminary) version of the query:

Sixteen-year-old Astrid keeps mostly to herself, amusing herself with the stories her grandmother used to tell. She’s too shy even to talk in front of the young man she secretly dreams of, Torolf. Then the Norse god of eloquence appears in Astrid’s dreams and forces her to drink from the Mead of Poetry. Suddenly, she’s compelled to tell her stories. In public. Even in front of Torolf.

 This has the unexpected benefit of allowing her to actually talk to Torolf–and find out that he’s interested in her, too. Things are looking up, until her father consults the seeress, who proclaims that Astrid’s gift for knowing the exactly right story to comfort, inspire, instruct, or warn is the key to leading her people from starvation in Greenland to a new future.

Astrid must sail to the part of the map labelled “Here be dragons”, while Torolf makes a hazardous voyage in the opposite direction, to Iceland, to supply the fledgling colony. Without his support, she has to learn to trust herself and her stories to keep her people from repeating past mistakes and hold off a take-over attempt that could doom their only chance.

 Ultimately, the new settlement will need both her stories and Torolf’s inventiveness. Astrid has to believe that Torolf will overcome all obstacles to find his way back to her.

THE BARD’S GIFT is an 80,000-word young adult alternate history. I have enclosed [whatever the agent wants].

Thank you for your time.

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Ack! I really generally dislike prologues–both as a reader and as a writer. Besides that, I’ve heard often enough that agents hate them, too. But even I have to admit that sometimes they’re necessary. Unfortunately, it looks like THE BARD’S GIFT is one of those times.

You see, there’s a speculative element in TBG that will be somewhat important to the ultimate resolution of the story. And that element–a particular creature–doesn’t turn up as early as I’d originally hoped. Not until about three-quarters of the way, through, in fact.

In my opinion, any unexpected element that will affect the ending needs to be introduced at latest before the half-way point. Otherwise, you risk the ending feeling like Deus ex Machina–something the characters haven’t really earned. That’s just not satisfying for the readers, generally.

But there just isn’t any way to introduce this creature/character much sooner because my POV characters don’t get into his territory before that. My solution, at least so far, is a prologue–just a short scene involving this character that hopefully also raises some tension, but mainly lets the reader know that he exists.

Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do.

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I’ve posted before about my difficulties with a particular story.

It started life as THE SHAMAN’S CURSE, my first completed novel (if you don’t count that thing I wrote in college). There really wasn’t much wrong with the story, but there was a lot wrong with my abilities as a writer and story-teller. So, I left it alone for a few years.

But I still really like those characters and that story. So, last year I rewrote a portion of that story as middle grade. It worked at least reasonably well. That version, MAGIC’S FOOL, still needed a little work, but I was pretty happy with it. And then, during WriteOnCon, I discovered that agents and editors don’t like stories that start off with thirteen-year-old protagonists. This was a problem because, for this story to work, I really couldn’t make him any younger. Drat. I had laid out several possible options for how I might proceed.

Well, last week, while I was trying to get THE BARD’S GIFT out of my head so I could start revisions on MAGE STORM, I sat down and as an exercise outlined the original novel. I have to say that was an eye-opener. It really highlighted some of the weaknesses in the original writing. I mean, I knew it, but it’s different when you see it in color-coded black and white, so to speak.

Anyway, my subconscious obviously kept playing around with the idea while I was working on other things. And then it forced me to sit down and type out a new outline. It’s the original, nearly-complete storyline with a couple of things left out that just really didn’t work well for a young adult story. Yes, it will be YA with a boy protagonist. The timeline is compressed from eight years (which was one of the weaknesses of the original story) to about two. And I like it.

There are a couple of things not clearly defined, but I’m a discovery writer; this is way more outline than I usually have at the beginning of a story. In fact, I’m sure that I’ll probably diverge from this outline at least once. That’s just what happens.

So, I guess I know what my next starting-from-scratch project will be, likely some time next year. Between now and then, I have to finish the revisions for MAGE STORM (I have a reader lined up who happens to be a great critique partner), revise BLOOD IS THICKER, possibly work on a couple of short stories, if I can squeeze them in, and then do the second and third drafts of THE BARD’S GIFT to have it ready for readers in January.

Looks like I’ll be busy for the foreseeable future, which is just how I like it.

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Just a (relatively) quick status update today.

Monday, I finished the first draft of THE BARD’S GIFT. Yay! I took longer with that than with any first draft since my first novel. Now it rests for a while before I go back for revisions. I have it slated to be read by my writing group in January.

It’s good I have something to celebrate because my chances of getting into the second round of the GUTGAA (Gearing Up to Get an Agent) agent pitch contest aren’t looking too good. That’s a disappointment, but with four anonymous judges making the picks, you just can’t ever tell what particular kinds of stories will appeal to them–just like with agents.

Meanwhile:

Yesterday, I went through and outlined the existing version of that first novel, THE SHAMAN’S CURSE, as a way to help me decide what direction I want to take with this story. That was a very interesting exercise and certainly exposed some of the weaknesses. It also proved to be a pretty good way to get the last story out of my head and clear it for the next. Whatever I do with this will be a rewrite, but I need to decide on audience first. After I play around with it some, I may just submit this to my writing group for some brainstorming.

Now, it’s time to get back to the revisions on my middle grade fantasy, MAGE STORM. I know exactly what I want to do, so once I get into it it shouldn’t take long. 

Then I think I’ll get to the revisions on BLOOD IS THICKER (paranormal romance). I might even squeeze in a couple of short stories that need some attention.

And then it’ll be time to go back to THE BARD’S GIFT.

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First, a little status.

I made it into the first round of the GUTGAA Agent Pitch! Yay! Man that was competitive–in the sense of being able to click on send really, really fast. Now it’s fingers crossed that I make it through to the second round.

Also, I’m within a chapter of writing “THE END” at the bottom of the first draft of THE BARD’S GIFT. Whew! TBG will be my ninth completed novel. (We won’t talk about the first three, okay? I’ve got to work on revisions of two others while TBG cools. And one has been tabled for the time being.) It still feels great to get to “THE END”–or even close to it.

Now to the main topic.

I’m currently contemplating the possibility of working up–and polishing–another version of the query for FIRE AND EARTH. Not a new version to replace the current one (version number seven), but a whole new and separate query. After all, you do it for resumes, rght?

See, FIRE AND EARTH has two point-0f-view characters. I’ve consciously written the query from Casora’s story but, if I’m honest, Tiaran has a strong story, too, even though he didn’t even show up until Chapter 5.

And now, as I research agents to query, I find that at least some are actively looking for boy stories. Well . . . but to get their attention I’d have to write another version of the query. And then the fact that Ti doesn’t come in until Chapter 5 could be a problem. He probably wouldn’t even be in the sample pages.

Hmm. Probably not. I’ll just wait until I get the revisions to MAGE STORM completed. That’s a legitimate boy story, with a single point-of-view character.

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If you’re here looking for my GUTGAA Pitch Polish entry, go here.

I’m within sight of finishing the first draft of my YA alternate history, THE BARD’S GIFT, probably next week. So it’s time to look up and start thinking about what I’ll work on next, while the first draft cools a bit.

I have plenty of choices. Revisions to MAGE STORM are certainly at the top of the list. I have another story in first draft that I need to get back to, BLOOD IS THICKER, the sequel to BLOOD WILL TELL. And there are a couple of short stories that I need to polish up. I have a pretty good idea what to do with all of those stories. And that’s certainly enough to keep me busy until I can go back to work on THE BARD’S GIFT.

But, even though I may not start working on it yet, there’s one more story I’ll at least be thinking about as I try to figure out what to do next. This story was my first completed novel (if you don’t count the thing I wrote in college–and I don’t). In that incarnation, as THE SHAMAN’S CURSE, I thought it was a mainstream fantasy. Now, that version has so many serious flaws, I’m not even going to try to list them here, but, in spite of those flaws, I still love the characters and the whole arc of the story (which was always intended to be a series).

Therefore, last year about this time, I started a rewrite, this time as middle grade. I called it MAGIC’S FOOL and had even started the sequel, MAGIC’S APPRENTICE. The original story had to be changed, of course. Some elements had to be dropped and in order to tell a complete story in about half the length I had to choose a different central conflict. I like the results and was planning on going back for another round of revisions and then polish it up.

That was until WriteOnCon, where I found out that agents and editors don’t want stories with main characters betweeen twelve and fourteen years old. Bummer. My main character in MAGIC’S FOOL was thirteen. (He had started out as fifteen in THE SHAMAN’S CURSE.)

So now, I have to go back to the drawing board and decide what to do with this story. It’s not an easy choice, like MAGE STORM, in which I can easily change or delete a couple of elements and make the protagonist younger, say around eleven. Thirteen was already pushing the limits on just how young this character can credibly be.

So, as far as I can see right now, my choices are:

  1. “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead.” Just ignore this age limit or maybe delete the one or two references to the protagonists age and go ahead with it as it is. This feels a little like trying to swim upstream (even more than is normally the case).
  2. Keep the story as it is now (more or less) and just make the main character a bit older. Go back to fifteen as he was in the original. To do this credibly, the story would have to be expanded by about half again as much (from around 50,000 words to somewhere around 75,000 words). There are things I could expand. There are also a couple of subplots that could easily be added–and which would add depth to the overall plot. I’d be betting that agents and editors really mean it when they say they want boy YA stories.
  3. And the third possibility would be to go back to the original story line and central conflict. I’d still have to rewrite it, of course. That would actually be better and easier than trying to revise it. This version has what may be a more satisfying central conflict. That’s a draw, frankly. Now, I could still go two ways with this. I could still try to make it YA. There really aren’t any plot elements that are inappropriate for YA, although I might handle one of them a bit differently. Or I could just leave that alone and let it be a mainstream (adult, but not in a sexy way) story.

I’ll be giving this some thought as I work on the other revisions I’ve got stacked up.

 

 

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Well, since I completely forgot to even try to enter the Pitch Polish portion of Gearing Up to Get an Agent, I did the next best thing and signed up for the blog hop. Actually, this may work out just as well.

My revisions to MAGE STORM have been delayed. (I’m withing smelling distance of “The End on my WIP, and I’m not going to slow down now.) Therefore, by default, I’ve chosen my other completed work, FIRE AND EARTH, for the pitch polish. 

Query:

Thanks for the feedback so far. Here’s a revised version:

Seventeen-year-old Casora loses her battle against the berserker curse she was born with when her country is invaded. The curse turns her into an unstoppable warrior, but that’s no use to her people when she must be exiled for the ferocious temper that goes along with it. She turns mercenary while searching for a way to tame the berserker and go home. Hope comes in an unexpected form when she’s sent to rescue the scholarly Prince Tiaran from the same marauders that vanquished her home. 

The rescue leaves them stranded on the wrong side of the city walls by the besieging army. Now they–and Casora’s mercenary band–are the only ones in a position to stop the invaders. With Tiaran’s special knowledge of the enemy, they devise a plan to stop their common enemy by taking out the warrior-king who seems bent on conquering their world.

 A battle against the odds isn’t the only thing Casora has to deal with. It’s become much more personal than defeating the enemy or freeing her people. Tiaran is the only one who’s ever called her curse a blessing or been able to calm her berserker rage. If she has a prayer of finding the serenity to conquer her curse, Casora must decide if she can believe that there’s any future for a battle-scarred warrior and a prince.

FIRE AND EARTH is a 77,000-word young adult fantasy. Readers who liked Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING will enjoy FIRE AND EARTH.

Thank you for your time.

When her country is invaded, seventeen-year-old Casora loses her battle against the berserker curse she was born with. The curse turns her into an unstoppable warrior, but that’s no use to her family when she must be exiled for the ferocious temper that goes along with it. She turns mercenary while searching for a way to tame the berserker. Hope comes in an unexpected form when she’s sent to rescue the scholarly Prince Tiaran.

The rescue leaves them stranded on the wrong side of the city walls by the besieging army. Now they–and Casora’s mercenary band–are the only ones in a position to stop the invaders. Casora teaches Tiaran how to fight. His special knowledge of the enemy allows them to devise a plan that just might work.

Even with Tiaran’s plan, the odds will be against them, but the situation becomes still more complicated for Casora. Now it’s more personal than defeating the enemy or freeing her people. Tiaran is the only one who’s ever called her curse a blessing or been able to calm her berserker rage. If she has a prayer of finding the serenity to conquer her curse, Casora must decide if she can believe that there’s any future for a battle-scarred warrior and a prince. 

FIRE AND EARTH is a 77,000-word young adult fantasy. Readers who liked Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING will enjoy FIRE AND EARTH. 

Thank you for your time.

First 150 words (more or less):

Casora stepped into the practice circle and grinned as she saluted her opponent. The sword was not her best weapon, but the chance to spar with Marcian was too good to pass up. The only sanctioned time they could touch at all was during such training duels. Oh, they could hold hands occasionally, but anything more would have to wait until they’d completed their required service in the war band known as the Deathless.

Of course, there wouldn’t be much chance to touch in a sword match, either. On the other hand, if she disarmed him, he could turn it into a wrestling match. He’d win, of course. Her speed and agility wouldn’t be much use against his size and strength in that kind of fight, but there’d be plenty of touching. Every inch of her skin tingled just at the thought.

Marcian returned her salute and took up his stance, giving her the first move.

Okay, so that’s 156 words. I went to the end of the sentence.

Bring on the critiques and I’ll return the favor.

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Well, I only have a couple more days of indecision. On Friday, the next phase of Gearing Up to Get an Agent starts up. Time to try to get my query in for the Pitch Polish part of the event. And I have to decide which story to send in.

I’m currently querying FIRE AND EARTH, a young adult fantasy.

When her country is invaded, seventeen-year-old Casora loses her battle against the berserker curse she was born with. The curse turns her into an unstoppable warrior, but that’s no use to her family when she must be exiled for the ferocious temper that goes along with it. She turns mercenary while searching for a way to tame the berserker. Hope comes in an unexpected form when she’s sent to rescue the scholarly Prince Tiaran.

The rescue leaves them stranded on the wrong side of the city walls by the besieging army. Now they–and Casora’s mercenary band–are the only ones in a position to stop the invaders. Casora teaches Tiaran how to fight. His special knowledge of the enemy allows them to devise a plan that just might work.

Even with Tiaran’s plan, the odds will be against them, but the situation becomes still more complicated for Casora. Now it’s more personal than defeating the enemy or freeing her people. Tiaran is the only one who’s ever called her curse a blessing or been able to calm her berserker rage. If she has a prayer of finding the serenity to conquer her curse, Casora must decide if she can believe that there’s any future for a battle-scarred warrior and a prince.

But I’m also making some revisions to MAGE STORM, a middle grade fantasy, and getting ready to start querying that one again.

Rell doesn’t want magic. He doesn’t dream of being a hero or a mage out of old legends. Certainly not a mage, after they all incinerated each other at the end of the Great Mage War. He’d just like not to be in his big brother’s shadow for a change. Someone should have reminded Rell to be careful what he wished for.

Mage storms, composed of the ashes of the wizards killed in the War, are the scourge of his world. The embers that fall like rain burn and destroy everything they touch. When he’s caught out in one, Rell is struck by a strange blue cinder that infects him with magic. That’s when the real trouble starts.

His father expects Rell to bring back the useful magic Da remembers from before the war. Rell wants to make his father proud, but his magic responds more to his emotions than his will. He can’t figure out how to make it do what he wants and the frustration only brings out one of its most dangerous aspects: fire.

Blowing apart the cave his family uses to shelter from the mage storms makes it clear that he’s never going to figure this out by himself. The next thing that blows up may be Rell himself, if he can’t find a better way to learn than trial and error. Turns out he’s not the only one–and not every solution to their problem is what it appears to be.

So what do you think? These aren’t posted for critiques at this time. That’s next week.

On another front. I think I’m within sight of typing the end on the first draft of my YA alternate history, THE BARD’S GIFT. Realistically, that one won’t be ready to start querying probably until next summer. But it’ll still feel good to type THE END again. It always does.

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This is a day early, but, well, Sundays and Wednesdays are my usual posting schedule and this way it’ll be up earlier than it would be if I waited until tomorrow to post it.

Mini bio:

Professionally, I’ve been a financial analyst and a visual basic programmer. I also have a paralegal certificate, although I’ve never worked in that field. It’s anybody’s guess what I’ll be when I grow up.

Imagining stories and writing have always been an important part of my life. It’s one I’ve finally gotten to spend a significant amount of time on while I care for my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.

Questions:

  • Where do you write?

Currently, at my desk in one corner of my bedroom. I have plans eventually to set up a real office space, but can’t do it just yet.

  • Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?

Hah! I cleaned off my desk and actually dusted and polished it last week or the answer to this question would have been different. Right now, there’s a pewter unicorn figurine in that spot.

 

 

  • Favorite time to write?

Hmm. I write on and off all day, but my most productive time is probably late afternoon or early evening.

  • Drink of choice while writing?

Usually water or tea in the morning.

  • When writing, do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

Complete silence? Where do you find that? And would you want it if you could find it? I think complete silence is a little bit creepy. Usually, I have the tv on as a kind of general background noise. Sometimes, I’ll play instrumental music while doing revisions.

  • What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?

Ah, long story. Let’s see. About two and a half years ago, there was a trigger challenge on Hatrack River Writers Workshop. The trigger was “slave to the flame”. I wrote a fable about a little dragon who outmaneuvered his larger tormentors by learning to breathe fire, but then I didn’t quite know what to do with the fable. (It had an unhappy ending by the way, partly because I couldn’t do anything else in the space allowed for the challenge. Everybody hated that ending. And a lot of readers didn’t really like the fable quality, either.) So, I wrote a framing story about a girl who had the gift of telling the right story for any occasion. I submitted that to a few places without any success. Some readers thought it felt like the beginning of something (a common complaint about my short stories) and I had some ideas about what else might happen to that girl and how she came to be in that position in the first place. So, now I’m writing a young adult alternate history. That original story will be near the end, though. Not the beginning.

Interestingly, to me at least, the manuscript I’m about to revise (a middle grade fantasy) also grew out of a trigger challenge on Hatrack River. The trigger for that one was “Cinders of the Great War”. Maybe I should do more of the challenges.  

  • What’s your most valuable writing tip?

Never give up. Never surrender. There’s going to be plenty of rejection and disappointment along this road. You’ve got to believe in your own writing and your own stories, even when nobody else does. Perseverance is the only way to succeed.

Oh, and find a great critique group. (I have two.)

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As I launch into another revision of MAGE STORM, I’m moved to think about middles. Every part of a story has its own issues.

It can be hard to know where to start a story. In the middle of the action? Just before? Enough before the action starts to give the reader a sense of the world you’ve built? Each has its plusses and minuses.

Endings, I’ve never had too much of a problem with. They seem to follow naturally out of the story for me. Of course, you’ve got to make that climax work or the payoff won’t be very satisfying.

Middles, though. I think every writer at some point or another has a problem with the middle of a story. And that’s one of the problems with MAGE STORM. It took reading a mostly unrelated post during WriteOnCon to make me realize it. Just one of those epiphany moments that sometimes happen.

Yes, there’s a problem. The middle advances the story and moves things along toward the climax. The problem is that there are about four or five chapters in which my main character is mostly inactive. He’s not trying to do anything–well, except stay alive. What he does even makes sense. It’s just not interesting enough. 

I knew there was a problem with those chapters the last time I read through it. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I tried to solve it by cutting it down, making it shorter. That’s not a bad thing, but it didn’t get to the core of the problem. The real problem is that I have to give my protagonist something to do, even if it’s futile. Even if it’s counter-productive. He’s got to be acting, not reacting.

That’s the main thing I’ll be addressing in this revision, but it’s not all I’ll be doing.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, something else I learned at WriteOnCon was that there’s little to no market for stories with thirteen- to fourteen-year-old protagonists. While I never explicitly mention Rell’s age in the story, there are several things that make it clear that he’s going through puberty–and therefore right in this no-man’s-land age range. So, I’ll be cutting those references (voice changing, growth spurts, unprovoked emotional outbursts) and adjusting his relationship to one of his friends who happens to be a girl, ratcheting down the level of interest and the angst over how to approach it.

The third thing I’m going to do is to look critically at some of the scenes and see where I can apply a little help from The Emotion Thesaurus. This dandy little book is a great reference for showing the outward and inward signs of emotions.

That’s the plan for MAGE STORM. Once the revision is done, it’ll be back to querying this one again. It’s a story I really love. Plus, I’m itching to tell the sequels, too.

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