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.

Quiet

I feel like it’s the calm before the storm. Things are ramping up to my MFA residency, in less than three weeks. There’s reading to do for the workshops, critiquing for the small critique group, and picking which excerpt I’m going to do at the reading (we have to read for 5 or 6 minutes in front of the other students). I’ve gotten most of the workshop readings done, finished critiquing today, and already picked out what to read. I also booked my hotel for the first night.

I’m pretty much ready. This is probably a good thing because it’s going to be intense, I imagine.

I did get my partial request on Finding Frances back this week. It was a no, but they did say my writing was “smooth and polished,” which was nice. That was my last outstanding query. And I guess I lied about not sending it out to more agents, because I already sent it to one. This one only takes exclusive queries, but they respond quickly (if interested, that is). I might look for some other ones that prefer exclusive queries after this one comes back before sending out a slew again.

I did repost the short story I wrote, “Now Would Be Good,” in case you’re interested in checking that out.

The only other notable thing is that I developed this weird inner ear problem that caused me to fall over from extreme dizziness, resulting in a day and a half of unplanned vacation, during which I read like crazy. Which was awesome.

Finally Done with Stuff

The past couple weeks have been about finishing things. My floor is finally done and I have the furniture back in place. It looks great. I’ve been able to start sitting downstairs at my table working again. It’s not hot enough yet for me to need to migrate to my Summer Room (the one with the portable AC). So I’ve been able to work on judging all my PNWA contest entries at the table, where I can spread out.

New floor with furniture

And I finished them, thank god. I finished writing up the critiques for all 12 of the 28-page entries, scored each section, and then went back and read over all the comments to make sure they weren’t mean. The batch I got this year was much harder to judge than last year’s batch. Some of them just weren’t very good. I did have some that were pretty good, though, which helped. But man, I haven’t gotten anything done this month except judging.

I’m so excited to get back to everything else. I got a beta read back on Ugly, so I want to work on implementing the needed changes. I’m going to apply for a mentorship program offered by the Western Washington SCBWI chapter. If I get selected, I’ll work one-on-one with a published author for six months. It’s $650, though they’re offering a scholarship for diverse applicants and I’m going to apply for that. I think gender nonconforming should count. They can decide if it doesn’t.

One other good thing that happened this past week is that I had a partial request (fifty pages) on Finding Frances. I have queries out with only three agents right now and I’m literally done submitting it. I’m not holding my breath, but it was still nice to get a request.

The Writing Life

It’s becoming clearer every day that the writing life is not one for the faint of heart. Finding Frances is out with 10 agents, probably all rejections I’ll never explicitly get. I think I’m done sending it out. It will just be a bonus for whatever agent picks up one of my other books. I just went through Ugly again for a nice solid draft. But it’s truly just a draft. I know there are problems with it. It needs more emotional depth. The subplots and aspects of the main character’s life need more development. And the problem is that I don’t really know how to do these things.

I’m also struggling to keep up with my reading schedule. I try to read two books a week—because you have to read widely in your genres or you can’t be a real writer, in my view. This is tough with a full-time job.

But still, it can be rewarding. Even though my draft of Ugly isn’t great, it’s good and that was nice to see. And I’ve written 6 books (just 3 YA), which is an accomplishment, even if they’re not all polished.

When I was in my 20s, I wrote a lot and even submitted my work to magazines. I once got a rejection where the editor said, “The author isn’t as funny as he thinks he is.” Ignoring the wrong pronoun, that still stung. It actually made me stop writing. I intended to start again at some point, but I thought I must just need more life experience. I knew I had the basic ability to write, but what I didn’t know was that that wasn’t enough. More life experience wouldn’t cut it. Writing is a craft. You have to constantly work on developing your skills. I’m sure there are writers who don’t really need more development—Stephen King, for instance—but most of us always have stuff to learn.

When I did decide to seriously write again, my motivation and plan seem hilarious now. I was very unhappy in my job and thought, “I’ll just write a novel for NaNoWriMo, spend some time polishing it, get it published and then in a couple years I’ll be able to quit my job.” Ha. That’s so not how things work. Many successful writers have to have other jobs (a lot supplement by teaching writing), and many work full-time jobs. So I don’t envision ever quitting my job. Which is okay because I finally got what is basically my dream job, when I transferred to a new department in December.

Anyway. I’ve got to work on one of the non-YA books, while I let Ugly steep a bit more. So I should get back to it.

Stasis

My writing life hasn’t been so rewarding lately. I’ve sent Finding Frances queries off to five more agents, but I have very little hope. This is largely because I entered the manuscript into several RWA (Romance Writers of America) contests. While the book isn’t really a romance, there is an important romance in there (the definition of the genre is a little fuzzy in YA). But I’ve gotten feedback from one the contests and they didn’t like it. And the thing is, I understood their criticisms. Some of the weaknesses they pointed out are things I’ve since learned about the craft. Basically, I need to rewrite it from scratch again and pay attention to word choice as well as dig deeper into the main character’s emotions. I’m going to hold off on this, however. I’ve already burned through almost all the agents out there so there’s no one left to query. Instead, I’ll just revisit it once one of my other books gets picked up.

I’ve made a little more progress on Ugly recently, but not as much as I should have. I’ve also worked on the short story collection. And I’ve been working on my other manuscripts a bit, too. Plodding along. I did also enter Ugly in a grant competition. I had to supply the first 10 pages and a 250-word synopsis. Man, was that synopsis frickin’ hard to write. Easily the hardest of all my books so far. Ugly’s not really about the plot, but all the little details of life, and that’s not stuff you put in a synopsis.

I have been taking a new writing class called The Art of the Personal Essay. I thought it might be good to learn a bit more about it so I can write more than reviews and boring writing updates on this blog. It’s been interesting and fun. I’ve written a couple of short pieces that were well-received. I’ll likely start posting things like that here periodically.

I’m getting closer to starting the MFA, which I’m pretty excited about. A little over three months and I’ll be in the Oklahoma City heat for the 10-day residency. The heat part—oh, joy. The rest should be great.

Shiny New Idea

I’m supposed to be working on my new YA book Ugly (plus the other one that’s under a pen name), but ask me if I’m doing either of these things.

Nope, I’m not. I mentioned being stuck a few weeks ago, and I sort of still am. But I replotted the pen name book and just need to get back to Ugly, but instead I’m working on some short stories. It’s the Shiny New Idea.

As I’ve mentioned, I wrote one called “Now Would Be Good” that’s about a girl in her junior year of high school. But now I want to do a whole series about her and I spent most of last Sunday at Starbucks with a friend plotting five other stories out. One’s about her in ninth grade and the others follow her from junior year through right before she goes to college. I’m pretty excited about these stories because I really like the premise of each of them. And they will naturally tie together.

I’m going to self-publish the collection. No one will buy it, but once I have a book published traditionally, there will already be another book for people who liked that one to buy. That’s the plan, anyway.

Speaking of traditional publishing, I haven’t had any more movement on Finding Frances. I do have several people at work reading it, which is a little weird. Hopefully they don’t hate it. Since they wanted to read it electronically, I designed a cover to go with it:

 

Finding Frances cover

So many people have read this book. I look at the acknowledgments section of other novels, and authors thank their one critique group and a handful of beta readers (if that many). I’ll never be able to thank everyone who’s helped along the way.

Sadie Speaks is still idle at the moment, too. I just don’t know what to do with that one. It’s difficult.

A couple weeks ago, I submitted “Now Would Be Good” to Cicada magazine. I recently found out that they’re going electronic only. I still prefer paper, but I don’t know any other markets for YA short fiction. So now that story’s out for a contest and a magazine. We’ll see what happens.

Stuck

I’ve been trying to write lately with very little success. I went to a writing workshop with Mary Buckham last Saturday, which was great, but I haven’t done any real writing. I’m not sure what the problem is, but I have distracted myself with other work, namely painting my kitchen cabinets. They do look good, though I did have a tiny bit of trouble rehanging them with the new hinges I got. I have to make a few adjustments with my recently-purchased Dremel and a sanding block. I forgot to take before pictures, but I found an old one from when I moved in.

Kitchen Cabinets Before
Before
Kitchen Cabinets After
After

Much better, eh?

Anyway, it’s not helping me get any writing done. I’m (theoretically) working on two books right now: my third YA, entitled Ugly, and one other I’m writing under a pen name. I’m stuck on both. My writing group met yesterday morning and gave me feedback on Chapter 4 of Ugly, so that’s progress, but I should actually be going through my complete draft for my second pass because I’ve replotted some things and need to add a lot of details. The other book has also been significantly replotted and there is quite a bit to do on it (even more replotting, too).

I have sent Finding Frances out to a few more agents, but I haven’t heard anything back except a No or two. Sometimes it’s hard to know if I should take the hint or keep trying. But I guess I’ll keep submitting because otherwise I would probably get depressed. It’s strange that the constant refrain of “No” doesn’t depress me, but I suppose I have the illusion of eventual success.

I haven’t even looked at Sadie Speaks in months. I’m still not sure what to do with that one. It’s like my group said yesterday as we wallowed in self-pity—writing is hard.

Writing Update

It’s been a little while since I bored you with an update about what’s going on with my writing.

I’m working away on the third book, whose working title is Ugly. This is the 80,000-word novel I wrote in 28 days in November for NaNoWriMo. I’m taking it through my writing group chapter by chapter and met with them yesterday to go over Chapter 3. I like it and feel like it’s going to end up being a pretty solid book, though it’s going to take a lot of work. The first draft is pretty rough, though there is definitely some good stuff in there.

Sadie Speaks is still currently being neglected as I don’t know what to do with it. It needs major work, but it feels like I need somebody else to tell me what to do with it. A couple of freelance editors have seen it, but they didn’t quite share my editorial vision so I didn’t really agree with their suggestions. So I’m going to have to figure it out on my own.

Finding Frances is still getting nowhere with agents and editors. It’s currently with one of each, but I pinged them both Monday because they’ve had it for 3 months. The editor got back to me to say she had received it and would only contact me if she was interested in more. The agent never responded. So I’m not exactly holding my breath on either of those. I’m pretty worn out with querying it and am not sure I’m going to summon the energy to try again.

In related news, I decided to do an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). I got accepted to both of the ones I applied to, but I decided to go with Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA and its concentration in Young Adult Fiction. I’m pretty excited about this. It starts in July. It’s a low-residency model, which means twice a year I have to go there for an intensive 10-day residency, where there are craft talks, I’ll meet with my faculty mentor for the semester, and I can mingle with other students. Then for the rest of the semester, I’ll send packets of writing in to my mentor, who will send back feedback. I also have to read a lot of books, as some of the writing is critical annotations of genre books or responses to craft books. I have to attend a residency before each of my four semesters and then go to the one immediately after my last semester to wrap things up.

Finally, in unrelated news, I started a new job at work. I’m no longer a software developer and am now a data scientist (my actual job title is Analytics Analyst, which is hilarious, and not deeply meaningful). I will leave you with a picture of my favorite parking space at work:

Parking space blocked by post

PNWA Conference

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d be attending the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s Annual Conference. It’s a regional conference, but it’s also well-organized and respected across the country. Many editors and agents based in New York and other places come out for it. It went really well this year. And it was nice to see all my writing friends, too. 🙂

Writers JourneyOn Thursday I did a master class with Christopher Vogler, who interpreted Joseph Campbell’s anthropological studies of mythology and stories into a pseudo-formula for writers many years ago. It eventually came out as a book called The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, which provides a solid structure framework called the Hero’s Journey, which writers can use to construct a satisfying story. There’s some controversy about the true universality of this story structure (some feminists claim it only applies to men’s stories, for instance). My opinion is that while it is not the only possible good story structure, it can be a useful guide for almost any story. But there are definitely other story structures out there. Regardless, his class was good—Vogler’s a good speaker and he’s very emotionally involved in stories and his work with them, which really draws in the audience.

Queen SugarThursday night, the keynote speaker was Natalie Baszile, author of Queen Sugar. I admit I hadn’t heard of this book, though I’ve bought it and intend to read it because it sounds good. Oprah even picked it up and made a TV show out of it, which is apparently quite good. I know a lot of people snootily look down on Oprah, but I think she generally has good taste in books. Anyway, Natalie’s talk was all about her journey to publication, which was… long. She peppered the speech with family stories, some of which were funny (the box of Louisiana delicacies that were shipped every year, only to arrive as a box of rotting meat) and some of which weren’t (her father growing up in Louisiana and experiencing the small-town embedded racism there).

Friday was all about pitching. I pitched a book I’m writing under a pen name to an editor and four agents and had good results. One of the agents had rejected Finding Frances two years ago so I asked if I could resend it and she said yes. On top of that, I had a request for the first 50 pages of Finding Frances from an editor at a large publisher. I’ll send it to the agent soon, but I’m going to wait until I hear back from the editor who’s already got it before sending it to the new editor.

Fearless WritingOn Saturday, I went to several different sessions, mostly about craft. One was on hooks and how important they are, especially at the end of scenes and chapters. I went to a session about writing nonfiction for kids, something I’ve thought about dipping my toes into. I went to another session on writing diversity, which had a bunch of great tips. Sunday I went to a session called Fearless Marketing, with Bill Kenower,  the guy who wrote the recently-released Fearless Writing. He’s a little intimidating because he’s excessively passionate about everything, but the session was good. One final nice thing about the conference is that most of the sessions are recorded, so I bought fifteen of them on CDs. Gives me something to do on the horrible drive to and from work.

Upcoming Conference

Starting this Thursday, I’m going to be at a writers* conference, run by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. It’s 3.5 intense days of talking to writers, learning about writing, and learning about the business of writing. I’ve been the last two years, as well, and this time I’m staying at the hotel, which is expensive but saves me the hassle of the hour on the road every day, a drive which is especially frustrating because said day runs early morning to 9:00 or 10:00 at night.

I managed to get two pitch sessions. At PNWA, the sessions are kind of a mad house, quite different from ones I’ve done at other conferences. Here, you are in a room with 150 other people for an hour. Agents and editors sit behind a line of tables at the back of the room. And you line up in front of the one you want to pitch next, get four minutes with them when it’s your turn, and move on to the next line. Depending on the popularity of the people you want to pitch, you usually get two to four pitches done. It all sounds a little intimidating, but I actually have found it’s not. Most of the agents are nice, even if they say no. Still, it’s helpful to have a pitch semi-memorized so you don’t have to read off something. I’m meeting with a friend this evening to practice.

However, I have a dilemma. I can’t decide what to pitch. I feel like I should wait on feedback from the other people on Finding Frances before querying/pitching anyone else. Maybe I’ll get more feedback. I ended up sending the revised manuscript to the agent who said she’d take a second look. (Though the more time passes, the more I’m thinking I should have figured out more things to change…). I was originally planning to pitch Sadie Speaks, however, I just sent that to a freelance developmental editor and she came back with recommendations that I change almost everything. Now, I’m not going to, but many of her points do require some serious reworking. The other option is to pitch a romance I’m writing under my pen name, but I’m only halfway done with the third draft on that one, and that won’t be the final draft, for sure. One thing that is also different about this pitching is that they don’t have a rule that you have to have the manuscript ready to send—you can wait weeks or months to send it. So I could do either.

So, quandary. I guess I’ll prepare two pitches and practice them with my friend tonight and fly by the seat of my pants on Friday, pitch day.

 

* Okay, I admit I never know if that should be “writers’”, “writers”, or even “writer’s.” It drives me crazy, the not knowing.

Mitigated Rejection

So, a couple weeks ago I had full manuscripts (Finding Frances) out with two agents and one editor. I got a rejection back from one of the agents last week. It was a no. However, she was nice enough to give me a lot of feedback, which is the first time any agent has done this. And she read the whole thing (!). She said she enjoyed the book quite a lot and was very complimentary of my writing ability. She pointed out a few specific weak areas of the book, which was really helpful because some of them are things no one else has noticed before. She also said she was sure I have a future as a writer and didn’t even recommend craft books or classes—instead she reminded me that it’s a subjective business and pointed me to the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents Blog. This is all nice, because a month or so ago, I was feeling like giving up. It’s a hard business and you need pretty thick skin. The weird thing is that I’m not thick skinned at all, but I have sort of developed it in the writing world. Critique groups are good training for this. Sharing something you’ve written is a really personal thing.

The Art of Character book coverAnother nice thing that happened that same day is that one of my former writing instructors offered to do a critique of a chapter or story of mine, all because I recommended a book on character that he ended up using in his summer writing class. It’s really popular with his students and he felt like he owed me a favor. I’m not sure he does, but I’ll probably take him up on that. I’ve got a short story I’m working on, which I may post here eventually. If you’re curious, the book is The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV by David Corbett.

Then, I emailed the original agent back to thank her, and she responded that she’d be willing to take another look if I address the issues she raised. So that is very awesome.

At this point, I still have my fingers crossed because Finding Frances is also still out with another agent and an editor, so there’s plenty of hope. And of course, even more promising is having the list of recommended changes from the original agent to work on. I was planning to only address them when I’ve heard back from the others, but now I’m thinking I should go ahead and make the changes. Either way, I should be hearing from the editor soon, but don’t know about the other agent.

Point of View and Editing

I originally wrote my first book in third person (“She went to the store”) but recently decided it would be better in first (“I went to the store”). So I converted the whole book, which was a ton of work and not nearly as easy as it sounds. It isn’t as simple as changing some pronouns. Certainly, that’s a large part of it, but it also requires looking at perspective. I wrote in third person limited, which means that I only wrote from the perspective of the narrator, the main character. The book only revealed what she could know, how she thought, and so on. But there’s another element even in third person, and that’s how the novel is written in terms of closeness to the narrator (how much the reader gets into their head). With close, in particular, you wouldn’t say something like, “She ran her hand through her blonde hair,” because it’s kind of weird for her to be thinking about the color of her hair. With more distance it would seem less weird. In my case, it was pretty close, which makes it quite similar to first person (and requires fewer changes). But there were still some things that needed changing.

I naturally had someone read through it after I made all the changes because I knew I would have missed some, and there were some funny mistakes that my reader caught. I thought I’d share them here for your amusement.

  • “…then I realized she’d have to pay for it all myself.”
  • “I chewed on her thumbnails…”
  • “I forced herself to nod.”
  • “I bit her lip…”
  • “Then she remembered what I’d been thinking about before and my stomach lurched.”
  • “I stopped and leaned on her knees …”
  • “…this was not helping me to clear her head at all.”
  • “I concentrated on her feet and looking at my surroundings.”
  • “I didn’t really know why I couldn’t get herself to start doing my homework.”
  • “…when I extricated herself…”

Anyway, I thought some of these were pretty funny. Maybe you did, too.