Sending Queries

My agent retired at the end of the year so I’m sending out queries again trying to find a new one. I had to give myself a pep talk in order to start a new round of querying. I know I’m in store for a lot of rejection. If I added up the number of agents I’ve queried since I started writing (35 years ago) I’d be in triple digits, easily. I really hate having to start this all over again. Hence, the pep talk. “If you want other people to enjoy your writing, Anna-Maria, you need to show it to them.” Why can’t agents and editors find me while I’m holed up in my writing cave? Shouldn’t my brilliance attract them, like magnets to iron ore? I’ve got three novels I’m querying on so I had to write three query letters. One is bad enough, but three? Ugh. Synopses and queries are my least favorite thing to write. Needed another pep talk. “Once you get these done, Anna-Maria, you can use them over and over… and over (thinking of all the rejections headed my way) with just minor tweaks to personalize the query letter.” Just grin and bear it and get it done. So I did. (Actually, they came together fairly smoothly. I stressed about nothing. Or else I’m finally getting better at writing these things. I’ve had a lot of practice, after all.) Next, I put together a list of agents. I had done some research on agents about a month ago, so I dug that out. Then I added some agents who had given me some... read more

Historical Research in the Future

I was going through some boxes of family stuff over the weekend. Most of it was legal documents and letters. Lots of letters. So many letters that I doubt I will ever read them all. But the one thing that came through very clearly in the ones I did read was a picture of the times. Casual references to popular songs, news items, things bought or made. They painted a picture for me. My great aunt talked of all the canned fruit she and her mother (my great grandmother) had just put up. This was in the 40s, during WWII. She mentioned that she wanted to put up some pears, too, but that they were too expensive. It would be interesting to look up the price of pears back then to see how much they cost, which I could probably find out with a bit of Google searching. Dad mentioned a new song he liked by Xavier Cugat. A note from my great grandmother worried about Dad being posted overseas during the war—”What could he have possibly learned in a month of training that would make him qualified to fight a war?” My great grandmother died before I was born, but I felt I got to know her a little bit through these letters. All of my letter reading made me wonder what people in the future will do to discover us since people don’t write letters anymore. How will great granddaughters learn about their ancestors? Blogs have kind of taken over from diary writing. How will these musings be preserved? Will descendents go through a box of old... read more

Too Complicated?

I saw the animated film “Epic” last Friday. The one review I saw said it was a bit complicated. Sometimes I wonder if I see the same movie as critics. The plot wasn’t complicated. In fact it was pretty straightforward. It had some depth and character growth and maybe that was the problem for the reviewer. It wasn’t shallow, one-dimensional. The characters were fun and the artwork was AMAZING. See it in 3-D. It’s an experience. I thank God that the computer is now a tool for the animator/artist. It allows the filmmakers to create scenes that couldn’t be done with hand animation. The drama created by the way the camera moves through a scene is all thanks to the computer. Plus the ability to create multiple crowd scene images also depends on the computer. The “complication” the computer allows the director to add to those scenes multiplies the emotion created by the images. I wonder if reviewers think a children’s movie has to be simple for the audience? They couldn’t be more wrong. Simple movies don’t become classics. Simple movies that lack dimensional characters and plots that matter to the characters, aren’t memorable. Epic is memorable because it offers emotional depth, characters you understand and empathize with, and imagery that takes your breath away. Go see... read more

Episodic Writing

I remember getting a comment back from an editor on one of my early stories that said my writing was episodic. I didn’t know exactly what was meant by that, but I knew it wasn’t good. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out what episodic meant. It meant there wasn’t enough character arc or story arc, and that the chapters were too neat, self-contained—like an episode. So I tried to correct that. I was more conscious of having arcs, of crafting scenes that built upon one another and of creating characters that pulled you through the story, which is good for a novel. I’ve recently read a novel, though, that is unapologetically episodic. In fact it doesn’t have chapters. It has episodes. The Human Division  was first released as three ebooks, and then several months later the hardback and audiobook were released. At the same time a new ebook came out with the complete book plus a couple of extra codas that the hardback and audiobook book had as extra features. I think the book needed to be episodic because of the way it was first released, which was similar to the way the stories were serialized in the paper. Think of the Sherlock Holmes stories. When I heard about this book I was curious to read it. I’m also a big John Scalzi fan. His book Redshirts is one of my all time favorites. I have to say I think it was very effective. It’s different from his other novels. It’s very much like a TV show, similar to Babylon 5 in structure. And while there aren’t... read more

Making it Easy for the Villian

I recently read Temple of a Thousand Faces. I really enjoyed the setting of Angkor Wat and the culture. The story takes place about a thousand years ago and is based on historical figures and events. The king of the Khmers narrowly escapes death by the conquering Cham king. The story follows four different sets of characters as the Khmer king rallies his people and plans a counterattack to retake his throne. I liked all the different characters and their stories, I liked learning about their beliefs, but ultimately, what made me lose interest was the fact that about 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the way into the book it started to bug me that things were just too easy for the villains. Everything fell their way and I realized that even though that made the villains a powerful threat to the protagonists, because the breaks all fell their way, it felt manipulative. Not much is known about what really happened all those years ago beyond that fact that the Cham king invaded and the Khmer king ultimately defeated him. Therefore, all the breaks happening for the villains in the novel were author manipulation. The villain needs to struggle a bit, too, not just the hero. Everything can’t go their way. When it does it makes the villain unrealistic. You want a proactive, smart villain, but at the same time, they can’t be a super-villain who wins every round. If they do, they become cardboard—a bwa-ha-ha villain. The Cham king wasn’t quite that bad but he did get all the breaks until the end. Villains needs to be strong, proactive,... read more

Setting Goals Part Three

I didn’t make my writing goals this week. I had wanted to rework the middle of my first PowerForce book to add some tension and up the life and death stakes. I only managed to get one scene reworked instead of the three I wanted to do. I guess some goals can be too ambitious. I’d forgotten how hard this type of writing is for me. The first PowerForce book Attack of the Dinomatrons has gone through several edits and it’s a pretty tight manuscript at this point. It’s so much easier to write a first draft. Or at least it is for me. I’m not constrained by things I’ve already done. But when I have to take apart a polished scene and only keep bits of it while adding new pieces, it’s like taking a jack hammer to a sculpture—It’s really hard to end up with something beautiful. It takes a lot of work and control to get that jackhammer to make refined shapes. It always takes me much longer to do this type of writing than a first draft. In the end I know it will be worth it. And I know eventually these changes will be seamless. But until it’s finished it’s tortuous. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just write it fresh. I have done that with other manuscripts but usually it’s because I want to change something major, like the tense or the POV. I only need to change three scenes in this story and maybe do some minor tweaking in others to maintain continuity. How hard can it be? Judging by... read more

The Art of Digging

  Sunday was another play date for Bo and his girlfriend, Sadie. They quickly resumed excavating their den in the dog run. I was impressed to see how Bo handled the accumulated dirt. When the pile got too high he stood on top of it and his back paws industriously kicked the pile of dirt so that it spread over a larger area. That let him continue excavating the den without the discard pile getting in the way. It never occurred to me that he would know to do that, but after thinking about it, animals that dig must have a system for it. Sadie seemed content to watch her man work, although occasionally she lent a paw. It was interesting to see them working and playing together. They invented a new game, which I called I’ve Got It and You Don’t. Sadie found one of Bo’s balls and started squeaking it. Bo immediately ran over and took it out of her mouth. She ran after him, grab the ball out of his mouth and high-tailed it out of there. Bo chased her, retrieved the ball and the game continued. I tried throwing a second ball into the mix but they ignored it. The game was getting the ball away from the other one. Eventually, I had to take the ball away as it started to get a little too aggressive for my furniture. But then they started it again with a leaf Bo picked up from the floor. They had knocked it off of my Christmas cactus during their rough housing. Sadie leaned over and took it away from... read more

Setting Goals – Report back

As I mentioned last week, three of my writing buddies and I have formed a writing support group. We’re setting goals each week and then checking in with each other. Last week I met my goals, but then I set very modest goals. They, on the other hand, set goals that would push them. Most of them either met their goals or came close to it. I’m wondering which is the best approach. Setting modest goals that I know I can reach or pushing myself by setting a more difficult goal(s)? My thought has always been to set something that I know I can do and then if I exceed it, that’s a bonus. But am I being too easy on myself? If I set a more difficult goal would I make it? I know if I didn’t I’d be hard on myself, so that can be counter-productive. But I’m thinking that maybe I’m being a bit too easy on myself. Maybe I should challenge myself more. This week I’ve set a higher goal. I’m going to rework the middle of a book to add more tension and action. I’ve known what I’ve wanted to do with it for some time. I just haven’t taken the time to do it because I’ve started a new first draft and that’s more fun to work on. Plus I’ve written two books since this one and it’s hard to get back into that world when it’s been three years since I last worked on it. I got some feedback from editors on it last year which had a common thread. They turned... read more