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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Toe in the door and hoping for more

Posted by Dave on June 5, 2010

Well, I’ve sent out query letters to five agents on my list so far.  Three rejections, one hasn’t responded yet, and one asked for the first thirty pages.  Wait, what was that?  Oh yeah.  One asked for the first thirty pages!  (Trumpets blaring, fireworks going off in the background, bells ringing from steeples across the land, etc…)  I would have posted this sooner, but I just recently came out of the shock-induced coma this caused.  After all, it was my first time.

The feeling I had when I saw the request for pages is hard to describe.  Obviously, I was relieved when I didn’t see “after careful consideration,” “I’m afraid,” or “unfortunately” anywhere on the page.  Then came a brief surge of excitement, quickly tamped down by thoughts of “Okay, I got their attention.  Now what?” 

Well, now it’s a waiting game.  Actually, most sources say to keep querying the other agents on your list, even after one has requested to see part or all of the manuscript.  But I’m taking it a little slow this first time.  Dipping my toe in the pool, so to speak.  While I’m hoping for a positive response (and worldwide acclaim as the next great American fantasy writer….hey, a guy can dream, right?), I also don’t want to get so caught up in the process as to lose all sense of perspective.  Just because an agent has asked to see part of the manuscript, doesn’t mean it’s a given they’ll like it.  Even if this one takes the next step and requests the full manuscript, there is still the possibility of rejection.  It’s all part of this great game called writing.  Thousands upon thousands of hopefuls, vying for a relative handful of spots on bookstore shelves, competing against established authors that have a reputation for sales to support them. 

I do want to take a moment to thank those few that have read the book and offered their suggestions, or pointed out mistakes.  I wrote it, and I’ve looked at it a thousand times, but I still miss things simply because my brain automatically fills in the missing parts as I read it.  It’s frustrating, but I know why it happens, and I appreciate the people who have pointed out where something is wrong.  Now it’s time to get back to work on the next book while I wait for the response.  (Maybe that will keep me from checking my hotmail account every half hour.  Nah, probably not.)

So, keep your fingers (toes, eyes, whatever) crossed for me as I wait to hear back from this agent. 

Catch you next time,
Dave

“I’m arguing with a telepathic bird on another planet about whether or not a human chameleon is my girlfriend.  I think my weird-o-meter is broken.”
Quote from Jason Bennett in Jaben’s Rift.

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Feedback Fun (Pt 2)

Posted by Dave on May 16, 2010

Okay, I’m back, with apologies to you, the reader. 

For the last few weeks, I’ve been elbow-deep in editing, polishing up the query letter, and putting together a list of agents.  Final count for Jaben’s Rift is 109,137 words, a drop of 16,158 words, or almost 13%.  Some of it hurt, but I think JR is better for it. I did end up dropping the prologue that I posted in my last entry.  Although I liked it, it really wasn’t serving a purpose that I couldn’t accomplish in the main text of the book.  Just another example of “killing the darlings” (see the April 4th post).  Now the book jumps right into Jason’s dilemma from the get go.  We’ll see how that works out.

But now, the editing is done, and the initial volley of queries has been fired off.  Two have already come back as rejections, but c’est la vie, right?  Most agents will reject over ninety percent of what is sent to them.  I just appreciate the prompt response from the agents, even if it was a rejection.  Some never reply at all if they don’t like your work, so you hang in limbo, sometimes for weeks.  Hopefully, I’ll land in that lucky ten percent before I go through my whole list.  If not, maybe I’ll do better on the next one.  Either way, I’m not going to stop writing.

Now, back to the feedback thing.  In part one, I addressed the writer’s side of feedback.  Now I’d like to look at the reviewer’s side. 

The most difficult material to review honestly is that of a friend or family member.  There’s no problem if the writing is truly good, but what if it’s not?  How do you tell someone you care about that their material isn’t the best you’ve ever read?  On the one hand, you want to help them improve and reach their goals, but on the other hand, what if your honesty hurts their feelings?  Only you know how they will respond to complete honesty.  If you don’t think they’ll appreciate total candor, and they insist you tell them what you think of their stuff, let me offer this.  Find something, anything, that you do like about the material and emphasize that, while trying to minimize critical comments.  They’ll hear enough of those from other sources.  Also, even if you think you’re the next Jeff Foxworthy or Sinbad, don’t make jokes about your friend’s or relative’s writing ambitions, especially when you’re both with other people, even if you are just kidding around with them.  They may laugh with you, but only they know how important their writing is to them.  Innocent jokes can sometimes hurt worse than blunt honesty.

Now, if you’re a writer, let me gently suggest that you not ask relatives or friends to review your work unless you are completely willing to accept constructive criticism without taking it personally or letting it affect your relationships.  Editors, agents, and online or in-person critique groups will give you the feedback you need to improve your work, and you can get mad at them if you want without jeopardizing friendships or family relations.  And as I mentioned in the first part of Feedback Fun, the feedback you get from family or friends, unless they’re also in the writing biz, may not be the most accurate or insightful, even if they’re really trying to help. 

Although we all love our own writing, we’re hardly the best judges of whether or not it’s publishable, and the people who care about us don’t really want to tell us our material needs some work (and sometimes that’s being polite).  Do you really want to put people you care about in the uncomfortable position of having to break that news to you in case it’s not good enough yet?  And be honest with yourself.  How will you feel if your significant other tells you your story isn’t that good?  Hmm?  Unless you’re sure you’d be okay with it, hold off and let them have some of the first copies once it’s published.  Then you can joke about your less-than-perfect first drafts over a congratulatory toast.

Enough for today.  Have a good one.
Dave

 There are three kinds of people in the world: Those who can do math, and those who can’t.

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For your entertainment…

Posted by Dave on April 19, 2010

Okay, so I didn’t get a chance to write the second part of Feedback Fun. Instead, here is the prologue of the book I’m currently editing. I hope you enjoy it.

Prologue

The ancient structure crouched in the middle of the Scottish woods. For centuries, it had waited…

The sound of crunching leaves broke the late afternoon stillness as a solitary figure pushed through the tangle of brush toward the building. Mesmerized by his discovery, Jason Bennett brushed off assaults by brambles and vines battling to hold their hard-won territory. The teenager stopped as a particularly stubborn bramble won a skirmish with his shirtsleeve, a victory heralded by a loud rip.

“Oh, man!” He scowled at the suntanned skin peaking through the hole in his new shirt. Mom’s gonna kill me, he thought.

With a sharp jerk, he freed his shirtsleeve and forged ahead. A few more steps brought him to the entrance. He eyed what was left of the door lying beside the building, almost obscured by weeds and grass, then looked at the gaping maw where it had hung. His gaze slowly traveled around the crumbling edges of the opening. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea. Almost before the thought could register, he stepped inside.

Overhead, the roof had fallen in at several spots, speckling the dirty floor with rubble-strewn patches of sunlight. Vines and creepers covered portions of the walls, and a large section of one wall in the front room had collapsed. The musty smell of mold and decaying leaves hung heavy in the air. He kicked a clod of dirt, watching it disintegrate as it hit the wall. It was just an overgrown ruin, similar to the old, decrepit shacks he had seen back home, the only difference being that this one was made of stone instead of wood.

He explored a few of the rooms but found nothing except more dirt and dead leaves. It was beginning to get dark so he decided to head back to his great uncle’s house. As he was turning to leave, the lengthening shadows revealed a glow coming from somewhere deeper inside the building.

Intrigued, he went in search of the source of the light, the approaching dusk forgotten for the moment. He followed the flickering radiance to a room that appeared to have weathered the passage of time better than the others. The light came from a doorway on the other side of the room. It looked like it opened to the outside, although he would have sworn he was in the middle of the building.

Maybe there’s a courtyard or something like that, he thought. The light might be coming from something out there. Ignoring the small voice of caution in the back of his mind, he stepped through the door.

The light disappeared. The building was empty once more.

***

Something has changed. The being raised its head as a ripple in the ether disturbed its self-contemplation. Was it time? For centuries the being had waited, sometimes watching the interaction between the points of light and darkness that traversed the flowing colors of the vista before it. At other times, it would turn its attention inward, pondering its own existence for decades at a time.

Now, another moved along a dark thread toward the intricate ballet the being had observed for so long. Yet this new addition was neither light nor dark. It shifted between one end of the spectrum and the other, a rainbow condensed into a single point of existence.

A whispering echo broke the silence. “So, he has found the way at last.”

The being knew it was not supposed to interact with the dancers, and for the most part, it had observed the Covenant. It remembered how easily the points of light now twirling before it could be extinguished. But now it reached out and, ever so slightly, shifted the end of the dark thread upon which the newcomer traveled. The others will not know, it thought.

“And so it begins. A new song for the dance.”

Then it watched as the rainbow point of light approached the end of the dark thread…

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One down…

Posted by Dave on April 4, 2010

Happy April, everyone, and Happy Easter. I hope your Easter Sunday is going (or went) wonderfully, and I hope you pulled more April Fool’s pranks than you fell for. Due to schedules and weather, I only made it to the track one time this past week again. But, I did make three and a half miles this time. That’s a half mile more than last week. I might try to get there this afternoon, but I’ve got to mow the lawn for the first time in 2010 first. I’ll see how I feel after that.
My son and I planted a tree in the front yard yesterday in honor of Arbor Day. He got it from his elementary school. We’ll see if it survives the treatment of a rambunctious fourth grader and his definitely-not-a-green-thumb father.
I finished the first edit of Jaben’s Rift Friday night. From a starting word count of 125,295, I trimmed 7,178 words, bringing the new word count down to 118,117. Not bad considering I was focusing mainly on the little stuff I mentioned in my last post. It’s a really good feeling, getting through the first edit. I know there’s more polishing to be done, but each time through is a step closer (hopefully) toward publication.
Now it’s time to go back through the manuscript again and “kill the darlings.” (No, not my children!) When a writer kills the darlings, it means they go back and get rid of all of those witty little phrases, passages, and such that they were so proud of when they wrote them, but that really don’t add anything to the story. I mean, they seemed like a good idea at the time, but when you read the story, they don’t really do anything except make the author feel clever.
I did find at least one place where I think I need to do a little rearranging on the manuscript. I realized that, at least in this first book, I had a tendency to bring up a question for the reader to ponder, but then I turn right around and answer it too soon. I need to move some stuff around so that my readers have time to wonder what’s going on before I let them know.
Another thing I noticed is that my writing toward the end of the book took a lot less editing for the little things than the first half. I mentioned in my first post that it took me six years to write the first half and a year to write the second half. During that time I was also studying the craft of writing and reading as many books as I could on the subject. I was pleased to see that it looked like at least a small percentage of what I read sank in. We’ll see how the editing goes on the next one once I get to that point.
Okay, just about time to eat Easter dinner. Have a great week!

Dave

My doctor thinks I may have a split personality, but we don’t think so.

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How do you do it?

Posted by Dave on February 28, 2010

What is fiction?  How do you write it?  I’ve had people ask me how I come up with ideas for stories.  They tell me they could never do it.  To which I politely reply, “Baloney.” 

Coming up with a story idea is the easiest thing in the world.  Fiction, at it’s most basic definition, is simply asking the question “What if…” and then answering it.  In fact, you probably do it all the time without even knowing it.  When we have indigestion and we wonder, what if I’d had the fish instead of the steak?  When we see someone stopped on the side of the road.  What if that would have been me?  When we see something on the news that happened somewhere else.  What if that had happened here? 

When we go through the hypothetical scenarios in our heads answering that “what if,” that’s fiction.  It may not be the most gripping or epic tale (What if I’d had the fish instead of the steak?  I wouldn’t have indigestion now.  The End.  You can add “And they all lived happily ever after” if you like.), but it’s a story nonetheless.  The author just puts it on paper instead of leaving it bouncing around in his or her head.

That’s all fiction is, the answer to a “what if.”  How many of these “what ifs” do you recognize? 

  • What if a hobbit found a magic ring? 
  • What if the only person who could help catch a serial killer was a cannibal?
  • What if an ordinary boy found out he was actually a wizard? 
  • What if a vampire fell in love with a human? 
  • What if aliens invaded earth? 
  • What if our entire existence was nothing more than a computer program?
  • What if a giant shark went on a rampage?
  • What if an ordinary man found out what the world would have been like if he’d never been born? 

These are all “what if” question and answers.  The fiction writer just takes them to extremes and fills in all of the details, and then asks “what if” again and again.

Even when you say “I wish,” that’s really just a “what if” with a ready made answer.  For example, “I wish I had someone to do this work for me,” is really “what if I had someone to do this work for me?  Then I could go to the beach (or gym, or on a bike ride, etc…).  I would get a raise.  I would get a promotion.  I wouldn’t be so stressed.”  All of the reasons for saying “I wish ‘X’ would happen” are really the answers to the question “What if ‘X’ happened?”  In other words, a story.  A fiction writer just adds more “what ifs”.

So, let’s run with it for a moment.  What if I had someone to do my work for me?  What if that someone happened to be a gnome?  What if I was the only one who could see him?  What if he had a tendency to pass gas at the worst possible moments?  What if one of his greatest joys in life was to play practical jokes on my co-workers?  What if he thought one particular co-worker was the perfect person for me even though I can’t stand them?  What if he really, really hated my boss?  See?

The trick to being successful at writing fiction is twofold.  First, you have to be able to tell the story in a way that makes people interested in reading it.  Creating characters, building plots, describing places and things, all in a way that brings the story to life for your reader and makes them want to read more.  Second, you have to be able to write it down according to the basic rules of grammar (most of the time).  Fortunately, both of these things can be learned.  There are scores of books about writing fiction.  There are workshops and online writing groups that can help you improve your story telling and writing skills.  (And really, you can hire someone to take care of the second one anyway if you really want to and you don’t mind paying them.)

Well, okay, there is one more ingredient to throw into the mix.  (Sorry.  My bad.)  The difference between the successful writer and the frustrated one is the drive, discipline, and passion to master the craft of writing and the art of storytelling, coupled with the refusal to accept defeat. 

Most fiction writers will run into a hundred walls before they find one with a door.  Some will give up.  Some will take criticism of their work personally and decide they can’t do it.  The ones that succeed are the ones that refuse to give up, no matter how many bricks from those walls fall on their heads.  They never stop trying to improve, and they never stop believing that somewhere, someday, they’ll find that door.

Here’s a little something I wrote a couple of years ago about the fiction writer.  I hope you like it.

Creator of worlds…

The fiction writer is a creator of worlds and a purveyor of dreams.
In his mind he sees things that no one has ever seen before, experiences events never before witnessed, for until he has dreamed them, they have not yet begun to exist.
With her words she brings her visions into our world, into the hearts and minds of those souls who pore over every sentence and every paragraph of her creation.  Each letter is an atom in that newly born world, each word a molecule, each sentence an object to be touched and examined and remembered.
With every person who reads, no–experiences–the creation of the writer, the vision expands.  Each reader sees this new world in a different way, no way in error, but each different, as if an alternate universe were being created for that world every time someone new reads the writer’s words for the first time.
And whether the reader approves or disapproves of what they have read, they too are changed forever by it. Perhaps a great deal, or perhaps minutely, but changed nonetheless, for the writer’s words have now become part of the reader’s being. They have been tucked away among the cells and neurons of the reader, giving birth to new thoughts and ideas that are sometimes discarded as meaningless daydreams…
…and yet sometimes change the world of the reader forever.

Become a fiction writer and change people’s worlds. 

Update: 
Well, the next book is now over 8,300 words, which means so far I’ve been able to maintain the pace I’ve set for myself.  Two more weeks and I’ll pull the first one back out of the virtual mothballs and start editing.

I’ve also added a couple of pages to the blog. 

“Ahead of the curve” will introduce new authors that you may not hear about for a while.  I’ll be adding them as I find them.

“For prospective authors (of any genre)” will discuss and review books on writing and creating fiction.

 Catch ya later.  Write on!

Dave

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In the beginning…

Posted by Dave on February 24, 2010

Well, I finished my first fantasy novel, Jaben’s Rift this week (or From a Far Land if JR turns into a two parter).  Just over 125,000 words B.E. (Before Editing).  I’ve been working on it for seven years.  It took me six years to write the first half, and a year to write the second.  Right now it’s sitting in virtual limbo as I let it simmer for two or three weeks before pulling it back out to take the editing clippers (scissors, axe, chainsaw, jackhammer, whatever it takes) to it. 

It’s a rather odd feeling, knowing that it’s finally done.  (Well, at least the first draft.)  There’s a definite sense of satisfaction in the fact that I actually made it to the end.  On the other hand, there is also an undercurrent of trepidation.  Now I have to show it to someone else.  What if no one likes it?  At this point it’s hard for me to be objective.  I’ve read, re-read, changed, poked, and prodded it so much that I’m almost tired of looking at it.  But, like they say, if you don’t try, you’ll never know.  A feeling I didn’t expect was a sense of loss.  If I don’t write a sequel to it, I have to say goodbye to these characters that I’ve come to know so well.  Weird.

When I started it, our kids were seven and three, and for a couple of years in there I was working two jobs.  I didn’t have a lot of time (and sometimes not a lot of energy or drive) for writing.  Well the kids are a little older now, I’m working one job, and we just bought our first laptop so that I’m not restricted on where I work (i.e. I can go in the bedroom and close the door).  I’m hoping the next one won’t take quite so long.  I have numerous thoughts for future novels, both in the fantasy and sci-fi genres, as well as others, so there’s no lack of ideas.

I thought I would go ahead and start this blog so other hopeful authors might be able to observe my journey, and maybe even learn from my mistakes.  I’m hoping I don’t make any mistakes, of course, but I am a realist.  The intention is to update the blog at least once a week.  (More if anything significant happens…or if I’m just feeling lonely, hehe)   I’ll be letting you know what I’m doing regarding my first book, and where I’m at with the next one.   Over the years I’ve also read a number of books on the art of writing.  I’ll give you my take on some of those as well.  Plus, if I just feel the need to rant a little, or share something with you that I found interesting, I’ll do that too.

My target goal for the next book will be to average (*deep breath*) at least 500 words per day.  There.  I said it.  Now it’s out there for the world to see.  (What have I done??)  Right now I’m sitting at a little over 5,500 words.  That output would have me finishing the first draft sometime this fall, depending on how long it ends up being.

So, now that novel #1 is waiting for editing, my next step for Jaben’s Rift is to start putting together a query letter for agents and/or publishers.  I won’t be sending it out until the book (and the query) is as good as I can make it, though.  If and when I get a positive reply, I’ll post the query here in case anyone wants to see what worked for me.

Okay, that’s enough for one day.  Take care and write on.

Dave

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