Today marked another day in ‘weird searches’ I had one of those nights where you wake up and your half asleep mind starts dictating a chapter. It’s not the novel idea I have brewing for NaNoWriMo, which I really need to stick to so that I can finally put that one to bed - it's been outlined for more than a year... but I digress.
Strange things in my search history. We started out with the not unreasonable: what happens to your body as you drown? Stemmed off into the strangeness of dry drowning, but neither ended up being quiet the kill method I needed. Did I mention my late night character is a serial killer? No, well she is. Yes she, and she keeps insisting that she will never be caught.
Anyway drowning took me to poison gases, what different ones might look like once deployed and all the horrors of what they might do the body. Oh the images! Turn on safe-search guys! It was when I started looking into how one might acquire such things that I realized what I was doing. I’m definitely on some kind of watch list now. I use DuckDuckGo when I think of it, but I am of the mind that they are always watching. So, oh well.
In the end, it's always an interesting dive and I did get the information I needed. I know this will not be the last of my murderous searches so if you ever see a gofundme for bail, you know why. What are some of your strange searches? Death and dismemberment? Crimes and getaways?
I'm still not sure I ‘have it’ but my Excite synopsis is coming along. As I finished it, I was surprised at the rather huge realization I had about my own book. Sure I was super pleased to get good feedback from betas about character arc and pacing. But I drafted this one as I pants-ed my way through NaNoWriMo a few years back. At the time I wasn't thinking about any of that.
In edits I did make sure each POV character had a distinct voice and showed change, but I didn't realize HOW MUCH change from my MC until I wrote the last line of my synopsis. Now that I finally saw it I realize that it is what people have been responding too. *head desk*
I guess it's good to surprise yourself, and I guess it's good that I got there without thinking too hard. But I wish I could say ‘of course, I had it all worked out from the beginning.’ That is probably why I am a pants-er through and through. It all worked out in the end on this one, I just wish I could have gotten my muse to tell my brain about this wonderful revelation a bit sooner.
Back from my betas Excite is ready to be sent out to agents. I hadn't planned on this book doing really anything. I hadn't even really played with editing it until I offered to beta for another writer and they asked if I wanted to swap. It was the only thing of a similar length finished so I figured why not. Now my baby is ready to step into the world.
Sort of. I have to figure out synopsis writing and that feels monumental. I got the query letter down, and that felt easy compared to a synopsis. I have a draft, but shrinking the novel to just 600 or so words is proving just as hard as I imagined.
For better or worse (or impatient-ness) I have already queried a few agents who do not ask for a synopsis in the initial contact. It may come back to bite me if one responds quickly asking for one, but most I’ve chosen so far have timelines of 6+ weeks to hear anything back.
My next batch of queries will require that synopsis, but for now I’m happy to see a few ‘SENT’s on my agents list.
In June I took my first trip to Europe! I spent 6 days in Italy. Mostly in Rome but also a day in Venice and a drive down the Amalfi Coast to Pompeii with a stop in Positano to dip in the sea. It was hot, hotter than the forecast predicted but that didn't slow me down (much).
In school I did six years of Latin, so finally getting to see the site of the history was amazing. And while I’m not religious, I love to visit churches (temples, etc) for the art and history. Out of everything; the Vatican, the ancient buildings; the frozen in time city of Pompeii - what took me most by surprise and immediately threw inspiration my way was Venice. I wish I had planned more time there.
The canals were beautiful and I could have wandered the narrow streets for days. It was the ones that simply end in steps descending into the water that really struck me. Though I didn't visit during flooding season, the idea of that water rising up and the locals just going on with their daily lives moving through it left me with a character begging for a story.
Now I just have to figure out what she's up to
There are so many resources out there that it is hard to know where to start. Finding a course, or book, or even software that actually helps you write (rather than helps you procrastinate writing) is tough. But I have found a few that I really liked and felt like were helpful.
The very first stop for me, as is probably quite common, was NaNoWriMo. Write your 50k words in 30 days and you are a winner! With a novel! Well, sort of. Still those words have become manuscripts that are becoming novels, and short stories so all those Author Pep Talks and late night reaches of word count goals did help. And the forums there pointed me in the right direction to find even more help.
Even having ‘won’ NaNo a couple times, feeling like I could reliably finish things (of any length) was still a mystery. I stumbled onto Holly Lisle's site (https://hollyswritingclasses.com) and onto her free flash fiction course. In just a few weeks I had 8 shorts that just kept multiplying and became my first self-published collections. Her forums are great and everyone on them is so helpful. It is a great writers community.
I wasn't in a place to be able to purchase her bigger courses so i kept poking around. I had been on Coursera.org for other things and found a neat set of courses presented by Wesleyan University (https://www.coursera.org/specializations/creative-writing). I’ll admit I found some of the lecturers more engaging than others but the prompts were interesting and helpful all around.
The most surprising, and the most fun, course I’ve done was also in Coursera, it is a screenwriting course (https://www.coursera.org/learn/script-writing/). It teaches the format for screenplays but also the 3 act structure and great dialog. The best part of this one though was that it was a close group for peer review. It was required to review others work and to get feedback on your own, even with the completely free version! I got some amazing notes on my story and learned a lot about the process by reading others first drafts.
If you are searching for knowledge I definitely recommend checking out some of these places, I don't get anything for posting the links so I have no reason to over-sell them. What are your favorite online (or print) resources? Drop links in the comments, I love to keep learning!
I am waiting at the edge of my seat at the airport as I finish rereading the first two novels in a trilogy that is going to release the final installment while I am on vacation. I’ve already preordered it so it will be waiting in my kindle for me to read on my return flight. I am not one to be patient with books. I am a slow reader - probably with some level of undiagnosed dyslexia (thanks school for never noticing because I was an otherwise good student) so rereading books in general is something usually only saved for my all time favorites (The Phantom Tollbooth, Einstein's Dreams, Princess Bride, Harry Potter*) but when I have to wait long periods I need to catch back up.
Which leads to me usually not reading anything in a series until they are all released. *Harry Potter being the exception. I was the magical generation who had to wait for each book release to find out what happened next. And I spent an entire summer wondering and worrying what it might mean if Harry was indeed a horcrux. I feel like I’ve put my time in waiting wise.
Still I picked this one up as an Amazon First read without realizing it was a trilogy until I was 75% through it and thoroughly involved in the world. When I hit ‘the end’ in the second installment I nearly threw my kindle. It was a rather dirty (IMO - not explicit just mean) cliffhanger to leave us waiting another 13 months on. Now I am there again, but with the promise that my wait is only a week this time. It makes me wonder though if this is the reason why I only write stand-alone pieces.
It’s a see-saw between, why don't I just do it better (not knocking what I'm reading, besides the cliffhanger) and why bother if that’s not what I like? Are you a re-reader? Do you love serials or stand-alones? Reading them? Writing them? I know it's popular, but is it only popular because it's popular? I guess I just have to wait for the final installment and see if the payoff was worth the wait.
Sometimes the blank page dares you to start anything and sometimes inspiration just gets dropped right in your lap. When I'm not writing I train horses and teach riding lessons. Most of my students are young children just starting out. With the slow beginning work often comes lots of chatter. The kids like to tell me about anything and everything while I try to get a word in about their position as we head down the trails. Some of them hardly even stop to take a breath.
Their rambling runs the gamut from a stream of consciousness recap of their day at school. Class is boring... a boy threw a spoon at me at lunch... we had a substitute so we got to watch a movie. I do my best to steer the conversation back to our lesson, but it doesn't always work right away. Others drop some oversharing bombshells. So and so doesn't live with us anymore because Mommy stopped loving him... I only have random cash because Mom was sleeping and the money box is under her bed... I did have a brother but my sister never got to meet him. [for the sake of my students privacy some of these are made up, although all fit with the type of stories I get – I wouldn't be surprised to hear any of these.]
They always cut off right near the most interesting parts to go on another tangent and you cant ask a seven year old for elaboration. But I file away some of those strange details, they make for excellent scenario builders. A few have even made it into stories already. The best fiction is that which sits closely to reality.
What surprising places do you find your plot bunnies? Are they nesting with mine just outside our riding ring?
I have always kept my involvement with writing - and being a writer- on the internet. It's not that I don't tell people that I write - I do. But I don't have an in person writing group or crit group or anything. I went to a Thank God it's Over NaNo party last year and the small turnout left me feeling like the internet was where I belong. That and the ever present social anxiety (yay!).
Last month a neighboring town had a ‘Bookfest’ local writers and writers groups gathered to share and sell and promote. Cool, I thought I could go wander around and see what's out there. I wouldn't have to interact if I wasn't up to it.
Then I saw that the local writers workshop had a booth. They were offering free 10 min sessions of editing. Now I had a dilemma, I could really use a copy editors eyes on my Nth draft to see how far off I was. That meant sitting down and talking to someone- about my writing no less.
I bit the bullet and signed up for a time slot. They were super friendly and seemed genuinely interested in my work and where I was in the process. I couldn't spit out much of an answer. Online I can stop and think and find some confidence to say that I write - I have a few flash collections self-pubbed and have been ghosting writing successfully for about a year now. But did any of the come out of my mouth? Nope. something like -’ well um, I've got this draft. I had a beta reader- they liked it?’ fumbled off my lips. Great.
I was able to sit patiently as the editor marked up my first chapter (not as badly as I had feared!) and gave me some feedback. Another staff member asked how I felt getting feedback (positive or negative) I didn't have much of a reply to that either. Realistically - I am a horse person. We literally pay people to judge us. Feedback - no problem. But that was all locked in my introvert brain until about ten minutes after I left the table.
So wonderful PVWW people, if you happen to read this I really appreciate your editing and one-sided conversation, even if I was fairly unable to add anything to it. All in all, I would love to be the type who wants to convene around a table every month or so and share pages, but that life's just not for me. Thank god for the internet where I can collect writing buddies and keep conversations on the page where I can actually make my brain work.
Finding someone to beta read your work is not as easy as it sounds. Sure people will read it but finding people who can and will give thoughtful, helpful feedback can be tougher. Writing groups are great and all over he internet. You don't even have to leave Facebook if you don't want to. Join some groups and interact. The more active you are the quicker you will get to know other members and the quicker they will get to know you. No one likes when the person who just joined's first post is asking for something. Don't be that guy.
Once you have some people on board be sure to be specific about what you want to get out of this. Do you have a very clean late draft and just need a final run through or is it fresh off the fingers and you are looking for plot help? Do you want/need grammar edits now? Do you usually have trouble with dialog? The more you know about your pitfalls the better. As a beta reader I love to get specific directions and I am learning to give them too.
When you have a set of questions be sure to include a couple 'whats your favorite....?' it can be hard getting back a manuscript with all critical comments, but that is hat sticks out to people. Without direction they will likely point out flaws to you assuming you know whats good. Give them a little hint and you will get a good idea of what a reader likes. It may or may not be the same as what stands out to you.
Finally, and my biggest mistake, give a timeline. Make it a reasonable one, but be sure to ask people to read/critique within some kind of deadline. Without this you manuscript can end up in review limbo where you don't know if they are just reading slow, getting busy at work or have lost interest. Then you don't know if or how often you should check in and if you're like me write the hopes of feedback from that person off. I you have a deadline it sets a limit. Either you get the feedback by then or it gives a built in check-point.
Overall, being on both ends of beta reading is a great experience as long as everyone goes in knowing what is expected. Whether you're the reader or the writer ask questions, set time lines, and be open to whatever the story or comments bring!
As my beta readers finish up with Excite (my 2017 NaNo Novel) I am overwhelmed with their thoughtful and positive feedback. I hadn't looked at this one all that much after banging it out in November. Aside from tidying up some grammar and POV issues and adding one additional chapter I kind of decided on a whim to send it out when I did a reading exchange.
I am actually finding it is much cleaner than I thought. I haven't touched anything yet as I still wait for one person to finish the last few chapters but I have some ideas to tweak some minor things then I may send it out once more to a couple readers for specific things. One is a police officer that I’m hoping will read for procedure accuracy- which will be great to get some ‘real knowledge’ in there.
The other thing that the positivity is making me consider is going a traditional route with this one. I had slated it to self pub and cross my fingers but now I am looking at putting together a query letter for it! It is hard to map in a genre so that will be a bit difficult but I think it will be worth it. Even if I end up getting a pile of rejections it will be a new experience so that’s always good, right?
Anyone have good tips on query letters? Especially of genre-fluid novels? Leave them in the comments!