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.

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.

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.

Distraction

So, right now, I’m in the middle of having my entire ground floor tiled at my house. Every day, I come home to find my refrigerator in a new place. Friday I got home from work to discover it in the official refrigerator spot, even though the kitchen is only half-tiled (and not the half under the fridge). My cats are living in my bedroom now. This is all a huge distraction. Yeah, I’m going to go with that. That’s why I’m having trouble writing.

tiling in process

Uh-huh.

I’ve been working on the short story collection, specifically on the first story. This is the only one that comes before the one I previously posted on the site, “Now Would Be Good.” And it’s pretty much dragging. I’m about halfway through it. I had it all planned out, but now I’ve decided to remove one of the sources of conflict (because it told the wrong story), so I’ve got to make sure that there’s enough conflict in the new version.

I mentioned earlier that I revisited Ugly a few weeks ago to generate a new solid draft. But one that naturally still needs a lot of work. However, I gave it to a friend for a beta read and I’m hoping to get that back next Sunday since she’d already read about half of it by last Sunday. The feedback she casually gave me is already going to be helpful, so I have high hopes for the final feedback.

In strange news: in a couple weeks, I’m going to have portraits done for my websites. I need a better photo than the silly selfie I put up on my about me page. But this is going to be pure torture because I hate having my picture taken. I know “everybody” says that, but they don’t mean it. I actually, truly, genuinely, positively hate it. I almost always manage to look pissed off in pictures because I am pissed off. Since I’m doing something I hate. For your amusement, I’m including the picture off my work badge where I look… you guessed it.

work badge picture

Not enthused for a new job at all. I do wish I’d at least tried to smile or something. Anyway, my photographer has no idea of the challenge ahead.

Other than that, I’m in the middle of judging mainstream entries for the PNWA contest (a lot of work) and looking forward to the MFA residency, which is only two months away. I’m trying not to think about the fact that it will be July in Oklahoma and I’m going to immediately melt.

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.