Friday, October 29, 2010

To Publish Again

It was about this time two years ago when I first ventured into publishing. Oh my God, I was going to be able to mix and mingle with professionals in the writing field. I should have paid closer attention when I got my edit back - that was my first interaction with a professional. I so wanted to learn from him. I was so excited. My edit, however, was far less than I hoped. Surely I wasn't that good a writer. Sure he did the editor thing, he caught when I switched the spelling of one of my minor characters. He found capitalization mistakes and verb goofs. All the things needed to make a error-free manuscript. But he never explained any of it. He never made any suggestions that might improve my skill or the story. There were also things he suggested I could see no sense in. Why should all my number-words be switched to number-figures? I even called him on that one. I asked what book he used to dictate his recommendations. Since he wasn't going to explain anything, I'd try to get the book and learn for myself. I just looked at that edited document for the first time since way back when. He commented only twenty-two times in the whole document and none of them was an explanation of anything. Bleh. Never, in all the books I've read, have I seen numbers rather than their words, other than in a math book that is. That really bothered me.

My next disappointment was when I started getting proofs. I spent a delightful hour or so on the phone talking to the two people who were supposed to be responsible for it all. They were the experts, and though I had a few preferences on fonts and such, I figured they knew what was best. What I had done was pick up the last book I'd read. I diligently counted five-character words across an average line and then the lines on that page, then I set my computer document margins and font size to get as close to those numbers as I could. That way, I would have a rough idea how many pages my book would have. It was all a visual thing for me. However, that all meant it would have to be resized to fit their requirements. Where I visualized a pocketbook sized book, they recommended the larger 6x9 size. Once again, they were the professionals. They knew what was best, surely. What did I know about book sizes? The first proof I got back was so incomplete. How could anyone release work with such glaring resizing misses???? Have they no pride in their work???

Then came the cover work. Completely out the window went my suggestion without even a mention. But once again they were the professionals, surely. They knew about cover art. I knew less than nothing. I do have a bit of an artistic eye and I tried my best to make sure the picture wasn't too busy behind the title. I tried to work with what they gave me but apparently there was only so much they could do. Then came the spine. Yes, this is book 1, and for this collection, an oval opal was the one connecting link for all three books. But do you think they could get that right??? I found them three images of an oval opal on line and sent them to use as an example. What did I get in return??? Something that looked like an oval piece of marble. I mean really, the opal with its sparkling center was important, but apparently they didn't have one they could use.

Yes, it was a disappointing, expensive learning experience, but it was a learning experience. I learned that I should have stood my ground and insisted on what I wanted, or at least a lot closer. They would have bowed to my desires, after all I was footing the bill. That book will have a second coming one day - maybe when I finish book 3, and I can publish them all together.

I was, however, able to pass on what I've learned to a close friend of my brother's who is also just publishing a book. His publisher recommended a different title. When I asked him about it, he told me the one he had wanted and why. It was important to the story. I told him to stick by his title and his publisher bowed to his desire. I'm all for suggestions. I really want what's best, but what's best isn't always what's easiest to do, to see, or to say.

Now - here I am again. After two years of making like a search light over dark and stormy seas, looking for someone to help me get another book out there. I scrutinize the websites of potential agents. I hover over various writing groups and blogs, watching for a mention. Occasionally, I send out a query, always trying to include everything they say they want. I don't send out mass queries; I want each one to be from me to the person I'm sending it to. There are thousands of places out there full of advice on how to write a query to hook the agent in the first sentence, but in my opinion, if my letter isn't good enough, neither is my query, and if my query isn't good enough, maybe I don't want to be working with that person in the first place - let it be their loss for not taking me on. Yes, I'm proud of my work, and I'm proud of who I am and who I have always been. I am me. This is my work. Take me or leave me and I will move on.

Just the other day I found the website for a new publishing company. So new they only have a few authors under their belt. According to the website, they wanted any submissions to have been read by someone else - a luxury I can understand and advise others to get if at all possible, however, it is something I have been unable to indulge in much myself. Living in the wilderness has its drawbacks in that I know few people and not many of them read, fewer still could give me the help I needed from such a reading. "Yes, I like it." or "That's not my kind of story." Really isn't all that much help.

At any rate, since it was an important stipulation, I sent them an email asking about it and explaining some of my situation. I think he must have taken a look at some of my links, at any rate, his reply was very understanding and he asked that I submit a sample. Going back to the website, I sent in what was asked, and also according to the site, I could expect a reply in two to three weeks.

I prepared to sit back and wait my two weeks or so. I posted a note on Facebook announcing my submission and got lots of good luck wishes. That is so nice, you know. To know so many people are watching my progress through this writing sea I'm trying to navigate, and to know that they took a moment of their time to wish me luck.

Lo and behold!!! Only four days after my submission, he asked me for the full manuscript. Oh my God!!!! Am I really on this journey???? And I KNOW I'll be among the real professionals this time. Will he take me on for real??? We'll have to see. I'll be sure to keep you informed.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Passion and My Obsession - Part 2

As a bit of a recap of last week, To Reclaim the Throne, The Speed of Dreams, The Mystery of Planet Wer, What Future, Slave, The Trials of the Youngest Princess, and The Lord of the Land are the shorter of my books. They are not the shortest of my stories. ARE YOU BRAVE ENOUGH, ONLY YOU CAN SAY FOR SURE, is a collection of my shortest stories.

I have had a hard time finding the real definition of exactly what a short story is. How many pages or how many words seems to fluctuate and most of them are shorter than most of mine. So, for me, a short story is anything that takes a day, or two at the most, for me to read. Currently, I have eleven stories in this document ranging in length from six pages to a hundred and eleven pages.

Ninja's Love - 6 pages
Wings of Freedom - 8 pages
System Nautilus - 21 pages
Secrets of the Mind - 32 pages
The Forces of Darkness - 41 pages
Learn What Was Lost - 46 pages
The Box Opens - Living in a World of Silence - 47 pages
Follow a Dream - 47 pages
Sara's Diary - 56 pages
Arthur - 74 pages
From Out There - 111 pages

These stories are all dreams where the story was in it's entirety, or nearly so. They did not go into the document in the order listed here. The first was Follow a Dream, which the entire book is named after. The idea of grouping them together came about when I realized that many of them were stories about someone being brave in some manner and willing to go beyond the norm. Later, when still a few of the stories didn't really fit the bill, they were included anyway for lack of a better place to put them. Maybe someday someone will be interested in them, but until then, they are among the few short stories I like to read. I could write an entire post about these eleven stories so if any of you are interested, feel free to ask and I will. Your wish is my command and my greatest desire.

As some of you have already discovered, THE FORTUNES OF MAGIC is coming into being for you all on it's own blog, a chapter a week. I picked this book for a blog novel because the chapters are short. It is also my first experiment with first person. With no one to tell me the rules of first person, it was really quite fun weeding out actions that took place out of Liam's line of sight and of course thoughts not his own.

Like most of my stories, this one also started with a dream, that being the fight between Liam and his over-sized friends, and like in many of my dreams, some background information was known. This was not Earth. Liam's friends, though very human-like, were not human. And this society was really quite primitive by modern standards. Outside of that information, the story told itself. Every day of writing was every bit as much of an adventure as any of you are having reading it. I love it when a story does that. This book is 401 pages long (103,536 words)

I got the idea for THE GUARDIAN from a PlayStation game my husband was playing at the time. Final Fantasy VIII had, I think, a very nice story line, though the only resemblance between the game and my story is the fact that memories had to be sacrificed to make room for the magic. The list of spells also came from the game, though I took a little leeway here with spelling and some descriptions. I also standardized some of the spell ranges, and by the second part of the book, resemblance to the game was even less. Quite by accident, mercenaries for hire was a legitimate job and volunteers to become guardians came from these ranks. Like in the game, these special people fought monsters, so in my book I had to create monsters too. One of my many odd dreams supplied the adversary. Not unlike the movie Starship Troopers, the bug was that enemy though it was far more ant-like. Ultimately, five different dream scenes were molded into the body of this story. The ant enemy, a small ferret-like creature that accompanies Reed throughout the story, providing a bit of animal cuteness. A helicopter pilot who discovers a sample of a new evolution of bug, the identity of Reed's closest companion, and the xenobiologist who supplies needed information to Reed about the bugs. And of course there is the dream that fueled this story. A bug queen wanted to study the enemy, and the only thing she could think of to do was create one of her own. She hatched a human baby. Yeah that was an interesting dream. I love the way I think. My husband teases me about what movies we watch. He doesn't want to make my dream any weirder. haha This book is 442 pages long (117,297 words)

As many of you may already know, and for those of you who don't, KING BY RIGHT OF BLOOD AND MIGHT, my one published book, is the first of a planned collection of three. They are not however a series. They take place in the three different major sections of our country, the east coast, the mid west, and the west coast. In this world, the mountain ranges are capped with glaciers and are all but impassable. TO BECOME WHOLE IN LAND AND IN SOUL is book 2. For this story, I decided to do a little gene splicing and see what would happen if today's scientists, in their infant wisdom wanted to create the ultimate soldier by mixing the genes of humans and wolves. What my imagination birthed was humans with many strengths of wolves, and wolves with many of the weaknesses of men. Both, however, were stronger than their root stock. The experiment didn't work out as planned. The wolf half of the experiment was largely ignored; they were there only for their DNA. The human half all died by the age of 12 or 13 - puberty. What the scientists, in their infinite ignorance refused to see was that the human-wolf hybrids needed each other to survive.

Over the ice age that set the stage for these books, these people learned to live like humans and hunt like wolves - they learned to survive and prosper though not all that well. Somewhere along the line they rescued a human girl and welcomed her into their clan. She, however wasn't happy so she ran away back to the world of humans. It is her son the book follows as he struggles to make it as a handicapped human in a world of little mercy. His handicap, like all of his kind, none of whom he has ever met, is the inability to speak. Though he was quite intelligent, stringing words together was impossible. That is until his companion found him. This book is 507 pages long (142,584 words)

This brings me to my biggest book of all. THE MAKING OF A MAGE-KING is a single story that fell into three parts all by itself. Like Lord of the Rings, if I had my druthers, it would be published in a single volume, but I can't find a publisher who will take on the task and agents won't touch it with a ten-foot pole. That doesn't mean I don't keep trying.

This is another story that wrote itself. It took control of my dreams like none others have. Throughout the writing of this book, I was plagued with bits and pieces of dream scenes, and since they all seemed to fit well into the story, why not. My character began to have serious problems sleeping at night. Each short dream was like a piece of a puzzle where the whole picture wasn't known. I allowed this to enhance his confusion and drive him forward. I love this story. I hope you get to read it someday and follow Sean as he goes from the average high school boy to the strongest mage-king in generations.

That's the extent of my completed manuscripts. All of them are in need of polishing. I'm still learning this writing skill, and though I have poured out hundreds of pages of writing, though I can tell a pretty good story and though I have a fertile imagination, the skill of writing to be published is still something to be attained for me. Wish me luck. I will conquer this mountain.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Passion and My Obsession

To many people, I have mentioned the many different books I've written. I sometimes wonder if they believe me. Mostly because all the people I talk to, at most, have two or three. Even if those with more published books than I have, don't seem to have as many finished manuscripts. Am I bragging? I'm not trying to. I'm just trying to understand. What is it that I did different than these other writers? I know one big thing, I'm certain they all spent more time socializing - 'developing their platform', as I've been told needs to be done years in advance of publishing their work.

In contrast, all I did was write. I had stories to tell - tales to spin, and when I wasn't spinning a tale, I was reading through it, just to make sure it said what I wanted it to say. It was very important to me that actions and scenes were as clear as I could make them. As I've covered in an earlier post, I made many mistakes in the mechanics of writing, mistakes I'm now trying to iron out. I don't know that I'll ever iron all the kinks out - I'm thinking part of it is simply my way of telling my story - my voice, if you will.

Anyway, for those of you who might be curious, I thought I'd tell you a little about the books I've written. Many years ago, long before I even thought I'd be a writer, I decided to write a story in an open notebook. The job I had at the time required a fifteen minute break in the morning and afternoon and a half hour break for lunch. Not one to twiddle my thumbs during these breaks, I wrote in my notebook. During the course of various moves out here, that notebook got lost, but I tried to recreate it from memory, with slightly less magic. I'm not all that happy with the result, but TO RECLAIM THE THRONE is 212 pages long as of today (that's 58,728 words).

Many of my stories started with one of my rather vivid dreams. One such dream was a young man gazing across a wide valley. In the center of that valley was a dome, and littered all across the horizon was hundreds if not thousands of Star Wars-type ships of all sizes - he was taking pictures of it all - he was so happy - he wanted a beer, and then suddenly it all exploded into action and the young man that was me had to run for his own ship - a ship he spoke to as if it was another person, like you see in the movies sometimes. That was the dream - for the book, I had to come up with names and reasons for what he was seeing and why he was so happy. Then I had to figure out what might happen next. It was really an interesting journey, both for my character and for me. THE SPEED OF DREAMS ended up being 254 pages long (67,699 words).

THE MYSTERY OF PLANET WER also started with a dream, but this dream was an ending. The scene was a loving couple hugging each other tenderly while standing in front of a house-less fireplace and chimney. That was the picture, but along with it came some information. He was a werwolf and she was blind. She was also the only person on the planet who could end the quarantine. Now, I must confess, another influence for this book was a cartoon I used to enjoy. One of the crewmen was also a werwolf. As long as he was off planet he couldn't be anything but a werwolf, but as soon as he was home, he could be human and change at will. This werwolf, and mine, wasn't the monster from the movies, though that didn't mean that he couldn't be very dangerous in his wolf form. Well, now I had a main character. All I had to do was introduce him to the love of his life and figure out what the quarantine was and how to end it. I had so much fun with the wer-people as they worked their way through the mystery of their roots, which of course tied them to the native creatures of the planet. As you might guess, this story did not take place on Earth. It is 254 pages long (69,324 words)

WHAT FUTURE, SLAVE did not start with a dream. Instead I wanted to experiment with the concept of slavery as it should have been handled, not the way it was handled in our history. No, in my book slaves were every bit as important as livestock and treated much the same. As we all know, not all animals are treated well, and the same is true with slaves in my book, but that's not what the story is about. The story is about a girl, a slave, who's father was a free man, and though he acknowledged her as his daughter, he refused to free her. The story is wrapped around the reason for that action. Why couldn't her father free her? Why could none of the women in her bloodline be freed? Why did all the women in her bloodline die the moment they gave birth to a girl-child? All questions that get answered in the book, but I warn you, though it has a good ending, it doesn't have a happy ending. This book is 268 pages long (75,531 words)

THE TRIALS OF THE YOUNGEST PRINCESS was my first attempt at writing about a girl. I sculpted the girl after myself somewhat. I was shy when I was little and yet very independent, and interested in things most girls really weren't, like riding horses. When I was little, I dreamed of inheriting the family ranch and running a riding camp for city kids, where I could teach them to love horses and the country as much as I did. That concept, coupled with my liking of the medieval society of kings etc., I decided that my little girl would be the youngest of several children of a beloved royal family. Like me, she would be the black sheep of the family, though not overtly so. So, now I had a character, what to do with her? All powerful people, no matter how loved, have enemies, and of course, little girls doing things no self-respecting royal daughter would be caught dead doing, meant that she wasn't where she was expected to be when the royal family was brought low. Now, she was forced to become the best in the land at something she should never have been interested in in the first place in order to make the murderer of her family pay for his crimes. This one is 285 pages (81,581 words)

LORD OF THE LAND was another story that started with a dream. The scene was three young men dressed as soldiers coming into an inn. The innkeeper sees the king's men and as a retired soldier himself and loyal to the king, he'll feed and house them for a night. It was raining and miserable outside and the young soldiers looked much worse for the wear. One of them was wounded. Of course, it was the wounded one who became my main character. Who was he? Why was he here? Why were the three of them dressed in the uniform of soldiers they were too young to wear? All questions answered as he journeys through his life, trying to find peace and happiness only to have a past he can't escape rip his happiness away. Only then does he face the fact that he can't escape his past, he must face it head on and make things right. This story too has a less than happy ending, though a good one, I think. This book ended up being 316 pages long (88,790 words)

That's half of them. I'll continue telling you about my books next week. I hope you like the workings of my mind. Every story is a problem to be solved, a puzzle to be put together, or taken apart as the case may be. I'm always having these dreams and I have a folder full of scenes. Each one the seed of a new book or a scene in one started from another such dream.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Publishing my Book

Some of you might be curious about my publishing tale. Well, here it is. I live 60 to 80 miles from the nearest civilization, and I didn't have internet at the time. Running to the post office with query letters was an unwieldy task at the best of times. Please excuse me for a shameless plug here but I've started a blog about my life. Have a look. You'll see what I mean.

My next option was to make some phone calls. I had this fat book that listed contact information for just about any kind of publishing a person might want to do, so I made the run up to the post office with a stack of queries to likely publishing houses. Most of them vanished. Some were returned having been mailed to the wrong person or the address had changed. As I recall, out of 20 some odd letters, only 2 were returned with some type of reply - rejected. My cool book was outdated by 2 or 3 years. I had no idea things were so liquid in the publishing industry. I next decided to call some of those places where my letters had vanished, to see what if anything was happening. They all now required an agent - a detail not included in my book or something that had changed since it was published. My window for mailing anything was closing fast so I turned to the phone book. There are a few publishing houses in Anchorage, but I quickly learned that none of them published fiction. Of course there was a printing company that could handle it, but I knew nothing about printing up a book. Nothing at all. Lo and behold, AuthorHouse had a phone number in my phone book so I gave them a call, and they sent me an application - EXPENSIVE!!! WAY beyond my budget. My dream was effectively squashed. I didn't know of any other options.

A few years ago, my mother died and the family wealth, which I knew nothing about, was divided among me and my siblings. Suddenly, my dream of publishing had new life. If my husband could buy a new f***ing boat, I could publish a book - the price was about the same.

The first thing was to get it edited. Gleefully I copied my book onto a disk (I had to search for a CD cover) and fired it off to them through work - that was in August and it didn't get finished before I was done with work for the season, so I had to figure another way to get the edits back so I could work on it. The man who flies our fuel out every winter sometimes flies over on his way to other deliveries so I asked him if they would mind my giving AuthorHouse their email address. Would they please copy my book onto another disk and airdrop it to me? Bless their hearts, they did. Airdrops cost somewhere around fifty dollars I think, but it was worth it to me.

We left here shortly before Christmas to spend the winter in Fairbanks with my son and his family so I could have internet and thus accomplish the rest of the task in a few months rather than a few years. As I recall, every step took 2 weeks each, give or take a day or two, and by the end of April, I had a book. Hind-sight tells me I could have done it through them cheaper, but hind-sight is like that. I still learned a lot from the process and now that I have internet, I've learned a lot more. Yes, I will probably self-publish again, but I'll continue to search for an agent. Because of where I live, selling books from my trunk isn't possible.

Since then (2008) I've sold over 100 books myself and I've gotten a few royalty checks. My biggest one was $85 but most of them were single-figure checks - one book here, two books there - and there were whole stretches where I got no check at all. For the last year and a half, I've advertised on Twitter and Facebook, and I've had some luck there. My fan base is growing slowly, and the reviews for my book are all good. And since I didn't ask for some of them, they must be true. Another shameless plug here, but I invite you to read them. KING BY RIGHT OF BLOOD AND MIGHT on Amazon - there's a link over on the right. I can only hope you'll buy a copy.

Well, that's my story. Before I got internet, I churned out 20+ books of all lengths from 5 pages to over 1000 pages (page count as if it were a pocket book). Since I got internet, I've done little but editing. I wasn't educated in writing and I hated English in school. Even my college didn't offer much of a writing course but I had to take something and poetry simply made no sense to me.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

September Writing Contest Winner from Ambitious Writers, Goodreads

September's contest was poetry. Many of the girls at Ambitious Writers are prolific poets, but this month Amani won the contest. Well deserved Kudos to her.


Rooted To The Grave - by Amani

Taken by force
Lives stolen away
They can't find peace
Memories of death encircle them
Root them to their graves
They wonder "Why me? What had I done?"
But no answers come
They see the others
Those they know will soon join them
"Don't follow!" They warn
But their voices are nothing
Whispers on the wind
The warning is lost
Screams drown out their cries
A new soul has joined them in the afterlife
They gather together
Tears on their cheeks
For the newcomer
Another story untold
And the remembrance of life
A breath in the lungs
The heart beating yet again
Fuels them with envy
"Why me?!" They scream as loud as they can
Silence fills the air
And they are unable to let go
Needing the answer (Why me?!)
To set them free

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Labor of Writing

For much of the last month, I have been editing what I have written over the last ten-plus years. I have over a dozen manuscripts to work on, so I have my work cut out for me. Over the last year or so I have learned what many of my writing weaknesses are. Through combing the internet for knowledgeable writers willing to share their knowledge, and also through participation in a writing contest where feedback is the greatest asset, I have compiled a list of my writing weaknesses.

At first, all I had was my computer's spell checker with it's little explanation to go by. Truth be told, I learned quite a bit from that, but some things were still a mystery.

Passive sentences were my greatest weakness. Not only did I not know what they were exactly, I didn't know how to fix them. Upon occasion I managed to make a few alterations that made my computer happy, but I really didn't know what I was doing. It was more hit and miss than anything else. Now I know what a passive sentence is; it is the action coming before the act-ee in a sentence. When writing fiction especially, we need to know who or what is doing the action first.

Another thing I've done is starting a sentence with 'it'. Not such a huge crime unless 'it' isn't readily identifiable. Nothing pulls your reader out of the story-line faster than having to look up what 'it' was. That also goes for using 'it' in the middle of a sentence. Always make sure 'it' is easily understood or reword your sentence.

Overusing certain words like 'was' and 'that' are another thing I have problems with. I recently heard a recommendation saying if 'was' was on a page more than two or three times, the story risked being dull. Frankly, this one I'm still sorting out. I mean, how do you explain something that took place in the past, without using 'was'? The scene I'm angsting over involved one character telling another character about his past. Information he needs to know. Information I can totally see him asking about, so it's not something I can just leave out. Ah well, we'll see. Maybe an editor can sort it out for me. I really look forward to working with an editor. I hope to learn from the experience.

So that's what I'm doing with much of my time. Word searching for 'that', 'it', the passive sentence markers like 'is', 'are', 'am', 'was', 'were', 'being', 'has been', 'have been', 'had been', 'will be', followed by a past participle. And on top of it all, rather than telling you what the character is feeling, adding thought as a window into their life.

Which of course brings me to my most recent lesson. How to show as opposed to telling by using thought and the visible markers of emotion - tears, shaking hands, blushing, pulsing veins, body language of all sorts, as well as thoughts, to clue us in on how a character is feeling. Watch the people around you. They do all manner of things to broadcast their feelings.

My current project is over a thousand pages and believe it or not but all the above fixes cut words. This book may never be less than a thousand pages - I'd have to cut over a hundred and fifty pages to accomplish that, but it's already a one-piece trilogy so I have high hopes for it.