Not Quite Ready for March

Not a lot has happened since the release of Finding Frances, but the official release party is coming up in less than three weeks, so I’m planning for that. It should be interesting and I have no idea how many people are going to show up. I’ve picked a couple of very short readings to do and need to practice them, but it shouldn’t be difficult. I also need to write my little history of the book story and my thank yous out so I don’t forget anyone. I’m supposed to be sending out the invites today, and I haven’t even written them yet. Something for this evening…

This is going to be a busy month in general. There’s the release party, and I have to write the first draft of my 15-20 page thesis paper. My biggest concern is that I’m not actually sure that my premise is true; if it isn’t, it will be a problem if I can’t figure out something else to write about quickly. I also am going to be teaching a one-hour class on the role of relationships in character development at the end of the month. There is a lot of preparation to do on that one.

Yesterday I spent most of the day updating Ugly with some cleanup edits (instead of working on my March activities like I should have) and resent it to an agent that had requested a full and then left that agency before getting back to me on it. I’m hoping she will like it. It would be so nice to finally get through that stupid barrier. Still, I need to start sending it out in earnest again. I’ll send some queries out some evening this week.

Lastly, regarding Finding Frances, according to Amazon, only about 8 copies have been purchased. So it would be great if you’re reading this if you might consider buying it, if you haven’t already. 🙂 And if you have read it, it would be so helpful to me if you'd leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

First Post-Release Post

I feel like I should write a post for today since Finding Frances finally came out this week, on Monday. But in some ways it’s been a little anti-climactic. Nothing has really changed from my perspective. I know people have bought it, but I have no way of knowing how many, and I don’t have any reviews yet, so it’s all invisible. I think I can get a rough estimate of the number of books sold on Amazon with a week delay or so, so maybe I’ll get my first clue next week.

Still, it is kind of cool to no longer be a ”pre-published” author. All that work finally paid off. And man, was it a lot of work… Now I’m planning for the release party on March 21st.

Outside of regularly remembering I’m a published author now, I’m focused on the MFA and Ugly. One of the things I’m doing is a professional writing minor, and through that I’m getting some feedback on my Ugly query and the first two chapters. My instructor told me that the two chapters were maybe a little slow and that they didn’t hint at what the book is really about, instead making it seem like the main character just has normal teen problems. So I wrote a new short scene to start the book off, to be put at the beginning of Chapter 1. I’m waiting on feedback on that, but if she likes it, I will start querying again. Right now I have no queries out and only four few partials/fulls (sent in November). But I just figured out that one of the agents who had requested a full changed agencies after requesting it but before responding to it. So now I have to do some followup work on that one. I emailed the original agency, but I’ll probably have to requery the original agent at her new agency. I also followed up with another full I sent in November. So hopefully I’ll hear something soon on both of those.

The other minor I’m doing on the MFA is pedagogy. So I’m going to be observing a class in March and then teaching a one-hour workshop on the use of relationships in character-building. Both are with a former instructor who’s really nice, so I hope it goes well. I’m still developing the workshop, though I have the exercises ready. Now I just have to score books to find good examples…

Busy, busy.

Heading Home

Time for a somewhat rambly post.

Yesterday my third MFA residency wrapped up. It was a good ten days, but now I’m sitting at the Oklahoma City airport waiting on my already-delayed flight. And there’s three more hours for it to be delayed even more. It’s likely snowing in Seattle so I’m really hoping that I get in and home okay. I can’t wait to see my kitties.

On the writing front, it seems like everything is focused on promotion for Finding Frances right now. One of the classes I’m taking this semester is “Professional Writing,” which is going to basically be the instructor helping me figure out how to promote Finding Frances and how to sell Ugly. I’m supposed to be figuring out possible venues for my release party. I was hoping to have it at Barnes and Noble in Issaquah, but I’m not sure they’ll work with my publisher. So I’ve got to find some backup locations. And I’m also trying to find ways to get reviews. In other promotion efforts, I signed up for a blog tour starting release day and running for four weeks (a “book blast” where they’ll put info on my book on several blogs). I also signed up for a review tour, also four weeks, where I’m supposed to get reviews. I have no idea if these will really give me a return on the money I put in, but I have to try something.

The other extra class I’m taking this semester is in pedagogy of creative writing. I am supposed to observe a class and also teach one before the end of the semester. So I have to figure out what to teach on. I’m a little nervous about this—it should be on some element of craft, but the field is wide open. I did ponder doing one on outlining at various stages of the writing process. I’m not sure if that would count.

Besides that, my faculty mentor is looking at the writing I’m planning to use for my thesis (I don’t have to produce any new creative writing this semester since I’ve done it all already) and I have to write five short papers and one big one, 15-20 pages.

That’s what I’m looking forward to this semester. I’ll be busy, but it should be good.

Release Date

Finding Frances Book CoverSo, I finally got my release date for Finding Frances (!). It is:

Monday, February 3, 2020

I’d hoped it would come out before the end of this year so I could enter it in a contest through PNWA, but this is fine (I’ll have to wait until 2021 to enter it).

Other than that, there’s not much news. I’ve got my MFA residency coming up in January, and I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be my third semester.

I’m working on finishing up the Now Would Be Good collection about my character Sarah, which I’ve now decided is going to be a novel in parts rather than a short story collection. Each part will just have its own arc, in addition to the whole book having one.

My critique partner is almost through Sadie Speaks, so I may pick that one back up and revise it.

I’m still shopping Ugly around, without much luck. I’m a little irritated about that one—I’m not getting as many bites as I think I should. They all say they want something different (which this story is) but it seems like they really just want the same thing as always. Frustrating.

A Release Date Is Coming

I made the last edits I’ll make on Finding Frances and my editor sent it off for formatting. Once I get that back, I’ll approve it and then I think I’ll finally get a release date.

One of my critique partners did a full read of Ugly and gave me a few recommendations. I’ve implemented two of the three I plan to deal with before submitting to the agents and editors who requested it at PNWA and ECWC. Just need to do the last one…

Another critique partner is working her way through Sadie Speaks a few chapters at a time. That book needs quite a bit of revising, but she’s giving me some good guidelines for doing it.

I’m still working on the “Now Would Be Good” story collection that I’m going to submit for my MFA thesis. My critique group is going through the last story I’ve written. I need to plan out the next (last) story, or maybe the last two if necessary—I can’t decide.

That’s pretty much what’s going on right now.

Ugly Updates

I don’t have much of an update right now, except I found out that Ugly is a semifinalist in the BookLife Prize. This is a contest for self-published and unpublished manuscripts. You can see the public entries (you don't have to display your book/review) at the contest listing page. The funny thing is that all the others have book covers and mine’s just a gray box. I keep wondering if I should put something up there, but I don’t know what that would be. I’m not going to pay someone to make a cover.

I’ve also got a friend doing another read of Ugly to see if I need some “light moments” (as an agent suggested I might), and to help me find good spots for them if so. Once it’s ready, I’ll send it to the agents who asked for it at PNWA.

I’m looking forward to starting the third semester of the MFA in January, but other than that, my writing world is quiet because all my time is going to the statistics class I’m taking (or more specifically, suffering greatly from).

How Not to Be a Writing Contest Judge

I got feedback from the PNWA literary contest I entered early this year. I entered four categories this year (young adult, romance, short story, and short nonfiction). It was interesting. For the most part the feedback was generally positive (and in some cases like one judge for Ugly, really positive). But one of my judges for Ugly was atrocious. Bad enough that I’m going to share what they said to show what you should never do as a writing contest judge. Fortunately I have pretty thick skin when it comes to critiques of my writing. And for context, what they judged was a one-page double-spaced synopsis of the overall story and the first 27 pages of the book.

I’m going to start with their comments about mechanics:

The author might consider using stronger verbs instead of all the adverbs. Start chapter headings midway down the page. If this is a modern story, phones don’t dial.

Strong verbs don’t have anything to do with mechanics—it’s grammar, industry practices, etc. Second, the industry standard for chapter headings is 1/3 of the way down the page not halfway. And third, talk about picking nits. That’s what editors are for.

In their comments about my synopsis/plot, they said:

Good job of placing main character names in all caps and the title. Just because a girl doesn’t wear make-up doesn’t make her ugly. The author might try a different approach for bullying. Is she a nerd perhaps? Some people are beautiful without make-up. I suggest a better title.

Uh… I was bullied for being ugly and fat. Maybe the reader should tell all teenagers not to be mean about people’s looks? I don’t really know what to say. And in Oklahoma, it would be very hard for a girl to be considered beautiful without makeup. Things may be different in the Pacific Northwest, but that’s not where the book is set.

In the viewpoint section, they just commented that I stayed in the right point of view. Woot.

In the characterization section they said:

The author might try using a character plan to round out their characters before writing the story. They can be found on the internet. The reader doesn’t identify with the protagonist nor cares because the character doesn’t sound realistic.

To tell someone something “can be found on the internet” without pointing them to something specific is actually pretty insulting.

About dialogue/internal narrative, they said:

There isn’t much dialogue and it’s short. The author might try to distinguish characters by habits, certain phrases used, etc. Most of the story is internal narrative which is good, but could use improvement also. If the main character was molested, the author might consider her thoughts on it and how she feels. Is she afraid of boys or men? If she thinks she’s gay the author might have her gaze at other girls in the locker room or wear boy clothes. Something to show the reader what is going on with her.

Is she afraid of boys or men? No. If she thinks she’s gay… have her gaze at other girls (she’s not actually gay, as it turns out) or wear boy clothes (she wears nothing but jeans, unisex t-shirts, and Converse or Vans). If the book has little dialogue and little action (mentioned below) and lots of internal narrative, what is that internal narrative doing other than telling the reader what is going on with her? It’s normal for different readers to contradict each other, but it’s not acceptable for one reader to contradict him- or herself, especially when they’re supposed to be doing a close reading.

On conflict/tension/pacing:

The author talks about tension and conflict, but the reader doesn’t see it. It’s more empty words. The pace is also slow.

I am confused by this comment. Are they saying I stopped the story and wrote, “Hey man, reader, that right there was some tension!” I used the word ”conflict” twice in the entire manuscript (not in the selection they had) and never used “tension.” And “more empty words”? That’s just tacky.

They completely skipped the hooks/transitions and the setting/description sections. Then for voice, they said:

The voice could be stronger for YA and more action.

Generic much? And action has nothing to do with voice.

In the final category, which is meant to be the one section that the reader can be subjective in giving their opinion of the overall appeal of the story to the intended audience, they said:

I don’t believe a YA would find this story interesting. It lacks action and the characters aren’t well-defined.

Nobody in the genre would refer to “a YA”—they’re called teens, last I checked. It’s obvious this person got roped into judging a genre they have no understanding of. Just my great luck to get this one.

Seriously. What a jerk. This was not worth my 35 bucks.

PNWA Conference, 2019 Edition

Last weekend I was at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s annual conference, which is why I didn’t manage a post. It was good—I attended several informative sessions and keynotes. I also pitched some agents and editors and had several requests for Ugly, though one of them asked me a question that had me all flustered. She wanted to know about the plot and I still struggle to talk about that. I know it has one, but explaining it is always so difficult for me—I get stuck in the details and things like theme. And one of them who was really interested in the story asked me if there were light moments, because she said tough stories like that need them. And I realized not really—it’s positive at the end, but it’s fairly depressed (that’s the word one of the judges used in response to my entry in the literary contest, and I think it fits, unfortunately).  So now I think I need to rework it some. Just not sure how much…

This writing thing sure is difficult.

In a possibly bizarre move on my part, I decided to become a sponsor for the PNWA literary contest short story category (YA was taken). This means I cover the prizes in the category and in return get a few perks, including being featured on this page (mine isn’t there yet but should be soon) and getting a free conference admission and the opportunity to mix with the agents and editors in smaller settings at the conference (not sure how much traction I’ll get there with my inferior social skills…).

Also, I have some ideas for improving the contest and based on my experiences as a multi-time entrant AND my new position as a sponsor, I plan to propose them and see what happens.

Edits In

I got my edits back from my editor at Wild Rose Press Friday. It was interesting, because there really weren’t that many things (she told me it was a very clean manuscript). It turns out I use the word ’t-shirt’ a lot—and their convention is to write it ’T-shirt’. So she changed that in each instance. And she did not approve of my many ellipses, so she removed most of those. And they don’t allow you to have more than one sentence-terminating punctuation mark, so I had to change a handful of ?!’s too just ?’s. I also overused the word ‘smile’ (there were 111 instances of ‘smile,’ ‘smiles,’ and ‘smiled,’ plus 25 of ‘smiling’) and had to rephrase my way out of more than half of them. They also have a specific convention they follow for texts, which I had done differently. (They do them in italics surrounded by em-dashes, like —wassup—) But that was really it. I went through it Friday night and yesterday and did a quick final read through this morning, and sent it back to her. So things should proceed reasonably quickly now. I’m hoping I’ll have a release date soon. 

Other than that, I’m currently working on the last part of my book in parts (it used to be a collection of short stories, but I decided to not require them to stand entirely on their own, because they’re all about the same girl, anyway.). This is the book that the short story I’ve posted on this site, “Now Would Be Good,” will be a part of (though I’m going to have to rework that part a bit). I’ll have that done and somewhat polished by the end of the year, which means when I start the spring semester of my MFA, I will have all the raw material of my thesis. I’ll get feedback on that part and the end of the last one, and then I’ll be ready to start putting everything together as an actual thesis. I’m really hoping to get it mostly ready in that semester so that the fourth semester will be easy. 

I still have queries out on Ugly, plus one partial. I had another partial out, but it came back a no. She gave me some actual feedback, some positive and some more critical, which will be useful if I hear the same things from other people. The main critical point was that she didn’t always understand Nic’s motivation and choices. I don’t plan to change those, but it might be important for me to clarify her reasoning. 

Moving Along

I don’t even remember why I missed posting last week. I think I was studying for the math class I just finished. I took the final for it yesterday. This was just a precursor—a review class—of what’s to come in August, when I’m starting the real classes. It’s going to be tough, but I’m hoping it’s worth it to my money-making career. 

As far as writing goes, I’m waiting on edits from my editor for Finding Frances. She should have them to me by the 29th, if not sooner. Then I’ll have 30 days to follow her suggestions (whatever they are; I have no idea what to expect). Apparently after that, things move fairly quickly. I’m hoping the book’s out by November. 

I’ve also got two partial requests out on Ugly, which is good, even though I’ve gotten about fifteen rejections. 

Success!

The waiting is over. I signed a contract with Wild Rose Press for Finding Frances on Monday. I don’t have many details at this stage, but I did have to submit some information for the cover designer, as well as the blurb, tag line, dedication and more. My next step is getting the final manuscript to my editor. I never heard back from Pearl Jam, which is a bummer, but not the end of the world. I’ll just have to go with my own made-up lyrics. 

And Waiting Some More

Right now the biggest thing going on is I’m waiting to hear about Finding Frances. It’s been with the senior editor for two weeks, and the editor I’ve been talking to said it should take no more than three. So hopefully I’ll find out this week if they’re interested in publishing it. I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it it they want to publish it. 

I’m on my break from the MFA now, not going to be back until January. I’m going to finishing the collection of stories about Sarah, as there’s just one left to write (and four to revise…). 

The other thing I’ve been focused on is getting Ugly out to quite a few agents, hoping that one of them will be interested. I also entered it into the BookLife Prize, a contest from Publishers Weekly that considers unpublished and self-published books. It received 9 out of 10 points and I got a really nice report back from them (they read the whole thing and give you some feedback). I’m including it here:

Plot: This story has many subplots that weave together seamlessly, with the most poignant being Nic’s struggle to identify her gender and sexuality. Things come to a swift, yet satisfying, conclusion.

Prose/Style: Vincent’s prose is straightforward and clear. Her talent shines as she develops Nic’s voice throughout the novel; Nic is unafraid and unforgettable

Originality: Nic is not your average teenage narrator. Her cynicism and honesty make even the most basic observations feel refreshing.

Character Development: Vincent’s characters are well-developed and in tune with their emotions. The story’s protagonist, Nicole “Nic” Summers, is surrounded by a cast of complex family members, friends, and frenemies.

Blurb: Readers will rally behind fifteen-year-old Nic Summers as she navigates the pitfalls of adolescence in this moving and timely YA novel.

The BookLife Prize

Progress for Now

I finished up my second semester of the MFA. Now that’s on hold until January, when I can start the third semester (stupid work vacation policy…). It was a good semester, where I got a lot of work done (I’ve done 36 of the 45 total short papers I have to do in my first three semesters) and some good creative work, as well. I’m still working on the short story collection about Sarah. I got one story completed and about two-thirds of the next one done. I’m working on finishing the second one. Then there is one more to write, and I’ll have drafts of all six stories. I expect to get this done during my semester off. 

This week, I finished up judging for the two contests I judged for this year. Judging is mentally exhausting. I sort of want to just lie down and sleep for a week now. 

Something I’m excited to get back to is the Ugly manuscript. I had one rejection from an agent, but the other agent and the two editors haven’t responded (since November), so I’m assuming those are no’s, as well. So I’m free to make the rest of the edits my last reader recommended. Then I’ll start sending it out en masse. 

In other news, I heard back from the editor who has Finding Frances. She’s waiting on a report from a reader (she has to send an official reader’s report to the senior editor and I guess this person has been slow in getting to it). So it’s still in the running. I also made a little progress in getting the permission for the lyrics I need in the book—I have spent hours researching how to get this permission with no success—then someone pointed out I should just contact the band’s fan club. I did this and they told me they forwarded the email to the appropriate person. Of course, I haven’t heard back in the several days since then, but it’s progress. And I still have a solution even if I don’t get the rights—I wrote “song lyrics” for a made-up song and use that in the appropriate places in an alternative manuscript. It’s just that the real band has much better lyrics. 

More waiting. The publishing industry is slow.