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 I also entered it into the BookLife Prize, a contest from Publishers Weekly that considers unpublished and self-published books.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.

Holding Pattern

I’m still waiting to hear back on Finding Frances. I’m debating whether to follow up or not. I think part of me doesn’t want the possibility to be over, since I’m not submitting it anywhere else if this doesn’t pan out. Maybe I’ll follow up at the end of April if I haven’t heard by then. I probably shouldn’t seem uninterested. I don’t really know…

I mentioned earlier that I was taking a playwriting class this semester. I finished it up early and got good feedback from my instructor on the 10-minute play I finished and the shorter scene from a different play I haven’t written yet. She even said she hoped I’d write more drama over my little break (since I’m having to skip the fall semester). This has me sort of excited about possibilities and I checked with my playwright friend for how to submit plays for consideration for contests and production. I found one that my 10-minute would be perfect for (it deals with mental illness, which is the theme for the theater), so I’m planning make some revisions to it and submit it. 

Other than that, I’m wrapping up the semester. I have four more papers to write and I feel very swamped at the moment (technically one of the papers is a revision of a rough draft, but still). I also have to finish up revisions to my creative work, though I really only have one scene left to revise so that’s not too bad. And I’ve only got about three weeks left before it’s all over. Then I’ll be halfway through the MFA, which is cool. 

Oh, and there’s one more time-consuming thing coming up: I’m judging for two writing contests, one YA and one adult mainstream. Entries for both are due around the middle of May. Sigh. It’s rewarding but not easy.

Waiting on the Editor

I’ve heard nothing from the editor about Finding Frances. I don’t know what that means, because I expected to hear something sooner, but I don’t really feel like following up yet, so I’m leaving it. Hopefully she just hasn’t had a chance to take it to the senior editors yet. Or who knows—maybe the process takes a while. Me = clueless. 

This month has been really rough. For reasons that I would be hard-pressed to explain, I’ve decided to apply to an online MS in applied statistics program (okay, there is a reason—I want to get better at stats for my job). I have to take a semester off from the MFA because of insufficient vacation days for the next residency, so I plan to start the stats degree this summer and take classes in the fall, then switch back to the MFA for a year, then back to the stats degree. I know, I know—I might be crazy. Anyway, the application requires the GRE, which I took today. Studying for that thing has sucked up so much of my time, and I still was disappointed by my score. Such is life. 

I went to Starbucks immediately after the test and managed to write another annotation, though it took me hours. I still have to write 1 short paper, 1 3-5-page paper, and rewrite another short paper, all by Friday. My poor little brain. 

Finding Frances Update

Although I’m mostly lost in MFA work, I did get some news about Finding Frances this week. The editor who’s had it likes it and wants to take it to a senior editor. She told me she needed a synopsis and a summary, and I had to ask her what she meant by a summary. Then it turned out that she meant something different by “synopsis” than what I’ve always understood that to mean in the writing world, so it was good that I asked. Apparently, her synopsis is a very short summary of the story, somewhat like a blurb, except it hits all the major points including the beginning, middle, and end (rather than being a teaser like the back cover blurb). A summary is a longer-form version covering basically everything significant that happens in the story. I sent those to her Thursday and hope to hear back soon. If this doesn’t end up working out, I’m putting Finding Frances aside for good (at least until I have someone interested in another book). 

I did also get a rejection from an agent on Ugly, the first of those to come in. Kind of disappointing, but it would have been quite a surprise to get some good news on my first round of submissions. One agent and two editors still have it, anyway. I also realized that one of the agents I intended to submit to somehow got missed and I never sent it, so I may send that one off soon. 

That’s really all that’s going on in my writing world. 

Working and Waiting

Well, I missed posting something last week. I didn’t have the book I was reading finished yet and I was too worn out to write a post. I still don’t have much energy, so this one won’t be long, either. 

This semester is going to be intense. It started out that way because the first “month” was only 3 weeks and I was supposed to read five books and write four short papers in that time. I only made it through three of the books and half each of the other two, but I did manage to get the papers done. I’m playing catch-up this week. Then, I’m volunteering for five hours every Sunday at the writing lab of an area college, which takes a large chunk out of my weekend work time. 

Other than that, thing are quiet on the writing front. I’m waiting to hear from the editor on Finding Frances and on the editors and agents for Ugly. It’s been about 1.5 months on the first and almost 3 on the second, so I’m hoping to hear soon. 

MFA Residency Spring 2019

I got back Friday from the residency for the current semester, which has already gotten going. I’m scrambling to get my first annotation done today for the book I just finished this morning, which I’ll be reviewing next week. And of course I have loads of other things to work on, too… But it’s all good. 

I haven’t heard anything on any of the manuscripts I have out in the world, Finding Frances or Ugly, which is disappointing. 

But one of the things I’m doing for the MFA is a strand called professional writing, which involves learning how to query magazines and journals for shorter pieces. Now, I really could figure it out on my own because it’s not that different from querying on longer projects. But the main point is to really try to get something published. So I’m taking one of the stories I wrote last semester—the shorter one—and prepping it for submission. I’ve contacted my line editor so I should have it ready soon. It sure would be nice to get a publication credit.

The other strand I’m working on is the pedagogy one and for that I will be volunteering at the writing center at Bellevue College. That starts tomorrow after work. Supposedly, they get a lot of students in there with personal essays for transfer applications. Still, I’m hoping it helps me learn how to judge/grade papers faster, as that was something I always struggled with when teaching before. 

I’ve also expanded my platform a bit. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram, kvbooks on both. There’s nothing exciting there yet, but maybe that will change. One never knows…

Writing in 2018

2018 was a tough writing year in some ways, but also good. I had a bunch of rejections on Finding Frances, but I finally heard back from the editor I sent it to in September and she requested a full. This is the last shot for that book, but she sounded really interested in the sample she read, so I am hopeful. I should hear in the next few weeks. I’m sincerely hoping that even if it’s a no, she’ll give me some feedback on it. I’ll be setting it aside, but it would be good to have some pointers on what to try next, when I do decide to crack it open again.

I also spent a good portion of the year frantically working on Ugly, my 2017 NaNoWriMo book, trying to get it ready for the PNWA conference in September. I had several requests on it, which is pretty exciting since those were my first pitches on it (six pitches and six requests, including four fulls). The five I sent are all still out there (I skipped one of the agents because she doesn’t like something that appears in one of my other books, so she probably wouldn’t be a good fit for me). I didn’t send them until early November so I’m not expecting to hear anything for a bit. 

Also, of course, I spent half of the year on the MFA, which was great. I got two short stories done, both of which I’m happy with. One of them is going to be expanded a bit, but I like the short version and plan to enter it in some contests. I’m looking forward to the residency coming up and starting the next semester, especially the playwriting course (should be fun). I already made up my reading list and just need to get my faculty advisor to approve it or make her changes to it. This semester my mentor is Allison Amend. She’s written a few novels for adults. Still, I’m hoping to learn a lot from her, even if she isn’t focused on YA. 

I also judged for the mainstream category of the PNWA contest, which was a challenge and time-consuming, but also beneficial. It still took up most of May. I was bummed not to final in any of the categories I entered, but such is life. 

I was bummed not to do NaNoWriMo this year after a five-year successful run, but I had to prioritize the MFA. I may be able to do it 2019 because I won’t be doing the MFA that semester (I don’t have enough vacation so I have to wait until 2020 to start back).

Not directly writing-related but still significant to me, I also lost my favorite cat, Marvin, who would have been my muse if I’d had one. But I got a new little guy (Maddox) who’s actually a lot like Marvin. Not that he’s a replacement, but still. He’s affectionate but not overly so. 

Marvin made creepy by a Happy Light
My favorite picture of Marvin
Maddox posing for the camera by the window
The new guy, in a rare moment of calm

I suppose that’s it for 2018. I’m hoping 2019 has more actual good news in it than 2018 did, instead of just prospects. 

The Semester’s Wrapping Up

I’m in the final couple weeks of the first semester of the MFA, which is pretty exciting—almost 25% done. I took three “classes”—pedagogy (teaching English comp), elements of prose (basics), and the primary packet exchange (short papers on craft and creative writing). I finished the pedagogy one by sending in my reflective essay earlier this week and today I’m working on finishing up the final packet. For the last class, I have to read short stories by three other students and provide feedback on that, but of course I’m waiting on people to post them (I posted mine last weekend because I’m a big dork). I worked on two stories this semester. The first has turned into a 14,500-word novelette and the second is a 4500-word story (the shortest I’ve managed so far). I’m pretty happy with both, even though I know they’re not done.

The next semester starts in exactly a month and I’m already excited about it. The theme of the feedback I got this semester has been that I don’t go deep enough into my characters’ emotions so readers don’t get enough of a sense of who they really are. So I’ll be working on that more next semester, among other things. I also found out I’m going to get to do a secondary genre study of playwriting, focusing on 10-minute plays. I have to analyze several for three months and then I’ll write my own. I already know the basic premise of the one I’m going to write, though I need to come up with an ending for it. I’m looking forward to this because it will be sort of fun, but also it will help me develop dialogue, since that’s primarily what makes a play.

I’m still waiting to hear on my submissions of Ugly. It’s been less than a month, so I wouldn’t expect anything yet, but still. The waiting game sucks. It’s out with two editors and three agents right now. And Finding Frances is out with one last editor. I should hear within the month on that one. It’s the last gasp for it, at least in its present form.

No Review…

Another week without reading a new YA book, so I don’t have a review. I did reread (listen to, actually) All the Bright Places and still love that book. I should have something next week, as I’m reading a new one by Jenny Downham.

I also sent Ugly off to three agents and two editors. So we’ll see what happens.

I’m on my last month of the first semester of the MFA so it’s wrapping up, but I’m swamped. Next semester starts Jan 2 with the residency.

Weird Pitch and Ugly

Last weekend I went to the Emerald City Writers Conference, a local one run by the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America chapter (this is why I failed to post last week, which bums me out because I hadn’t missed a week since starting the blog). It was pretty good, though I had the weirdest pitch of my life. An editor from St. Martin’s Press seemed interested enough in Finding Frances but then when they called the end of the pitch, she said, “Whoop,” like there was nothing to be done. I guess she didn’t want it, but it was weird that she didn’t just tell me that. I met someone else who pitched the same editor and also had insufficient closure. We think maybe she was new to taking pitches or something. A couple days ago, I got another rejection on it for the last partial that was out. I don’t have any other queries out, so that one’s out of the running. I hit 219 rejections and I’m tired of it. Clearly it’s not good enough as it is now.

My real focus is on Ugly right now. I just now finished going through the latest draft to incorporate comments from three beta readers. And I’m ready to send it off to the editors and agents who asked for it. I’ve just got to write up the five query letters, which I’ll do in the next couple days. So I’ll get that one out into the world soon.

Of course my other focus is on the MFA. I’m about to finish the third month. I already got feedback on the end of my novelette Little Monsters, a story about the girl in “Now Would Be Good” when she was thirteen. My faculty mentor says that the plot and storyline work very well. But she wants more character development, more internal thoughts (which ties into character development), and for Sarah’s relationships with two of the secondary characters to be fleshed out more. It’s already 12,000 words and she thinks it needs to be longer… sigh. I am not good at the short form. I do have another short story that is 4000 words to share in one of my classes (that is the max acceptable length). Of course, this is a modified version of what will be the real story, which will be much longer because it will start three months before the current version starts.

I did find out that I’m going to be able to do an independent study on ten-minute plays next semester. I have to read and analyze fifteen plays over the first three months and then write one of my own for the last month. I’m looking forward to that because I think it will be fun. Not that I’m going to become a playwright or anything, but it will be a good exercise in both the short form and dialogue.

October Update

I don’t have a lot to report. I did get called for jury duty again, including on my birthday, which does not surprise me. I mean, it has been a whole year and a half since I last served, so when you have a biased random number generator, I can only expect it. Oh, and Friday as I was pulling out of a parking spot, I heard this series of plinks. And then I observed that my car was covered in bird shit. It got my back window, both driver side windows, the front passenger side window, and of course the windshield. Additionally, there were at least 25 white and brown spots on the roof of my car. Was there a time slip and a pterodactyl flew over my car? Seriously. My mom said it was probably a vendetta.

I closed down several open queries on Finding Frances that were over 100 days old so I’m pretty much done with that one. There is still a partial out, but I don’t expect anything to come of it. I guess I need to rewrite it, but I’m just going to ignore it for the time being because it’s never going to be the book that gets me an agent.

I have three people beta reading Ugly right now, including a Scottish friend so she can check for authenticity in the Scotland chapters. I’m hoping to get the other two back this week so I can start implementing changes. I told the editors and agents in the middle of September that it would be about a month before I could send it, so I’m going to be late. But I’m targeting the end of the month. I can work fast, assuming the required changes aren’t massive. I figure 6 weeks instead of 4 isn’t terrible.

The MFA is going well. This semester is over half over and I’m barreling toward the spring semester and the January residency. I’m working of revisions on two short stories. One is called “Little Monsters” and it’s the first in the timeline of the series that “Now Would Be Good” is in (it’s quite a bit before—she’s just started 8th grade—so I am pretty sure I’m going to include it as a bonus at the end). Then I wrote another one that’s going to be the last in that timeline, with her going off to college. That one is for one of my classes and is supposed to be no more than 4000 words. It’s really hard for me to keep things that short. I’ve got a scene I wrote for it (the first scene) that I’m going to throw out for the class, but then for real I’m going to add it back in and then add some more scenes, so it will ultimately be a very different story.

PNWA 2018 and Ugly

This weekend was the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s annual conference. I only went for three of the four days because I couldn’t spare the vacation, but it still went really well. Friday day was all about the pitching of Ugly (my first time with this one). I did two 90-minute pitch blocks (tiring) and pitched two editors and four agents, getting requests from all of them. I even more or less memorized my pitch—all 6 sentences of it. Yay me. Both the editors requested fulls and two of the agents did, too, with the other two requesting partials. This was a really good result. I told all of them that I needed about another month to get it ready, so now I have to scramble to make that happen.

Friday night was a panel session with Donald Maass, Dori Hillstead Butler, Christopher Vogler, Cat Rambo, and Chris Fox, with rapid-fire questions from moderator Robert Dugoni. One of my favorite moments was when Maass told us about the bad poetry he wrote as a student and how one of his teachers begged him to just “think of the reader.” We got to here about when they first knew they wanted to become writers, what their first writing jobs were, when they first knew they could make a career of writing, what they like best and least about being a writer, and more. Then Friday night was capped off with this monstrosity (which I couldn’t finish):

Giant Banana Split

Saturday I went to a few sessions, glad the pitching was over. But then I ended up pitching Finding Frances to an editor at a session I was at (I was impressed by my boldness) and she asked to see it. I sent that query off later that afternoon.

Sunday is a short day at the conference. I attended just one session, called “How to Strengthen Your Novel Plot by Implementing Movie Structure.” Since this semester in the MFA I am focusing on plot and structure, this one seemed appropriate.

So in summary, I have Finding Frances with an editor (I also have two partials out with agents from previous queries), have to get Ugly whipped into shape in a month, and then have to send it off to six different people. On top of that, I have deadlines for the MFA for the next three Fridays, so this will be quite a month. Busy, busy, busy.

Things

I’ve been working away for my MFA courses. I’ve read 7 novels, 5 craft books, and 2 nonfiction titles related to YA literature (plus most of a collection of Chekhov stories and chapters from other books) since getting back on July 15th. That’s kind of crazy. I’ve written three short papers and mapped out 3 of the novels to help understand their structure. I temporarily dropped out of one of my writing groups because it just takes too much time that I could be working. Overall, I seem to be off to a good start. I also made it through revision of Ugly. I need to go through it again before I have a new, solid draft, but I should be able to do that over the next few weeks.

I had a lot planned for this weekend but didn’t manage to get as much as I’d hoped done because the worst thing happened Friday night. I came home from Starbucks and found Marvin dead. This has never happened to me before, as with all my other cats, they were sick (and suffering) enough to need to be euthanized. Even though it came up sort of unexpectedly a couple times, I still had a chance to prepare. But Marvin had been his happy self up to the last time I saw him alive. He slept curled up by my feet the night before and took his morning medicine like a champ.

It looked fairly peaceful. I’m pretty sure he just lay down and didn’t wake back up. He had a heart murmur, was on 3 medications, and was 14. But still. Finding him like that was horrible. I ended up wrapping him up in a couple of towels and taking him to the emergency vet, where I paid for a private cremation. I’ve never done that before, but this guy was so special to me that I decided to put his ashes in a wind chime designed for that purpose. I’ll hang it on my deck.

Then, in what was probably a highly unusual move, I went and adopted a new cat Saturday. I figured, I was going to get one eventually, anyway, and it would distract me now. It worked. I went to my favorite shelter and got their only FIV+ cat—a seal point Siamese. He’s very friendly and the listing warned that he was very loud. He is a little loud, but it’s not as bad as I thought it might be. He’s just very open about what he feels and thinks that everyone should know. His name at the shelter was Sparkles, which—just no. So I renamed him Maddox, sticking with the M-theme. Currently I’ve got Maddox locked in the room over my garage because that’s where I sleep in the summer (it has the AC) and Marlowe locked in the upstairs bedroom, though I’ve been letting each of them out into the rest of the house in turns.

Here are the requisite pictures. My favorite of Marvin, because he looks dangerous but was actually super-nice:

Dangerous Marvin

The last one I took of him, chillin’ on the couch on a hot day:

Marvin chillin on the couch

And of course, the new guy, Maddox:

Maddox the cat

I’ll get some better pictures of him later. See that dark spot on his back? He had a benign mass removed in June and they shaved the area, and that’s the color the fur grew back in, rather than the lighter color it should have. Weird. They say it might lighten back up, though there’s no guarantee.

Back to Real Life

The rest of the MFA residency was really good. It was a bit of a shock to the system to return to Seattle. I got home after 10pm and to work the next day at 7:30am. Apparently I needed some kind of break because I was dragging until I took a day off Thursday.

While I was at the residency, I finalized my semester plan and the list of 20 books I’m supposed to read this semester. As far as craft goes, I’m focusing on plot and structure, which is good because I struggle with that. I also decided to do a pedagogy elective so I’ll be learning to teach composition (a retirement plan). I’ll share the book list with you in case you’re curious:

  • Chekhov, Anton, Pevear, Richard, translator, and Volokhonsky, Larissa, translator. Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov (2000).
  • Gaitskill, Mary. Bad Behavior: Stories (1988).
  • Munro, Alice. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose (1978).
  • Paley, Grace. The Collected Stories (1994).
  • Fitch, Janet. White Oleander (1999).
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day (1989).
  • Angel, Ann, editor. Things I’ll Never Say (2015).
  • Bauman, Beth Ann. Jersey Angel (2012).
  • Blume, Judy. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (1970).
  • Blume, Judy. Forever… (1975).
  • Blume, Judy. Tiger Eyes (1981).
  • Dessen, Sarah. Just Listen (2008).
  • Downham, Jenny. You Against Me (2011).
  • Green, John. Looking for Alaska (2006).
  • Hoffmann, Kerry Cohen. Easy (2007).
  • Lockhart, E. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (2009).
  • Lockhart, E. Dramarama (2007).
  • Niven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places (2015).
  • O’Neill, Louise. The Surface Breaks: a reimagining of The Little Mermaid (2018).
  • Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park (2013).

About half of them I’ve already read, though I’ll still have to reread those to get some thoughts on craft out of them. I’ve already reread Eleanor & Park because it’s awesome and it had to be the one I went to first. I wrote my first short paper on the first scene of that book, discussing how it works as a strong opening. Now I just need to come up with a topic for the second one…

Fall 2018 books
Precariously balanced…

This is going to be a long 2.5 years for me. But it will be good, I’m sure of it. The only thing is I’m worried I may not be able to keep up the weekly blog posts. So if it gets a little quieter here, you’ll know why.