So I was supposed to write a review this week, but I didn’t finish the book I’m reading, so it will have to wait until next week. Instead, I’m going to share with you something interesting I ran across on Goodreads. Goodreads has this feature called Similar authors. If you go to my author page, you can find the link Similar authors under my books. I was curious what they would say.
Apparently I am most similar to William Shakespeare.
Under him are a bunch of authors, including several award-winning ones.
Somehow, I feel like their conclusion is a bit questionable. What it probably means, most likely, is that Shakespeare’s works are the most commonly read among all my readers—so I guess my readers are a bit more highbrow than I am.
This won’t be a very exciting post. Not a lot to report. Like everyone else, I’m stuck in lockdown, going stir crazy. I usually do most of my writing at Starbucks, so it’s been a challenge to learn to work at home. Especially when I’m working from home for my day job, too. I just sit in the same chair from 7 am to 8 or 9 pm, swapping out computers at about 3:30. One nice thing that is helping me not go crazy is that some of my writing friends and I meet on Zoom every day and chat and do writing sprints. It helps to talk to other people.
What I’m most busy with is my thesis (specifically the 15-20 page paper about a craft element in novels). I had to totally rewrite (well, reorganize) it this weekend. It’s due a week from Friday so I’ve only got one weekend after this one to finish it. It isn’t the final final version, since I can still work on it during next semester, but I don’t want to have too much to do on it.
I’m also working on planning out the final-to-be-written Sarah story, which will be the second-to-last in the collection. I’m using a method outlined in the book Story Genius (pictured here), but I signed up for the Story Genius Workshop, which is a self-paced online class that walks you through everything step-by-step. There are videos explaining everything, and then long worksheets to fill out. They also have the option to pay extra for a coach, someone who will give you feedback on every step. I applied for that and am waiting to hear how much it costs. We’ll see if I do it. One interesting thing about this process is that it is going to require me to change some things in the earlier story, especially the long first one.
I’ve also got Ugly out with a bunch of agents, though nobody’s biting. I keep getting form letter rejections. The gatekeepers hate me.
This post was supposed to be about my book launch party, a month and a half after actual release, which was supposed to be yesterday. I sent an eVite and had about 30 people planning to come. However, because COVID-19 is really bad in Seattle, I felt obligated (and selfish enough worrying about attendance) to postpone it indefinitely (because who the heck knows when this mess is going to be resolved). In that vein, here is a hilarious (and sort of depressing) cartoon I found, which I was going to share in my report about the party, but will instead share in the face of cancellation.
Sad but true, really.
In a way, this might be a blessing because I am so overwhelmed by my thesis right now that getting most of a day back is helpful. I have until April 24th to finish the second draft of my extended annotation, a 15-20 page paper. The first draft is due March 27th. And I am scrambling (already). Here is a stack of all the books I’m looking at for this paper (another book and numerous articles I’ve read electronically not shown).
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.
So, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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…
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.