Monthly Archives: December 2010

That’s how it starts

“Auld lang syne” translates as “olden times” or “days gone by.” But I just found out that it’s also the Scots equivalent of “Once upon a time” (or, if you really want to stretch it, “In a galaxy far, far away”).

Last year, I spent New Year’s Eve with friends in Palm Springs. At some point, a list of resolutions made the rounds and I wrote, “Finish my novel.” I don’t know what happened to that piece of paper, if they burned it or laminated it or made it into an origami swan, but that may be the first (the only?) resolution I’ve ever kept.

This has been a magical year. I finished my book, got a wonderful agent, got a book deal. I couldn’t be more glad and grateful, and it feels very right that, when midnight rolls around, I will start the New Year singing, “Once upon a time.”

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Holiday post-mortem: Songs that don’t make me stabby

I actually don’t hate Christmas music. “Jingle Bell Rock” used to make me want to do murder, but I guess the brainwashing is complete because it’s grown on me in recent years. That said, I also like a hefty dose of melancholy with my holiday cheer. (Do I feel like dancing or drowning myself in the punchbowl? Hard to say.)

These are two favorites from this year’s Christmas playlist:

Winter Song by Ingrid Michaelson and Sarah Bareilles

All that I Want by The Weepies

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PAGE BLINDNESS: Choosing (and using) your readers wisely

Some writers like input at every phase of their projects. I tend to keep my work close until I really feel I’ve worked out the major issues. But at some point, I reach a state that I’ll call “page blindness.”

When you go page blind, you start to miss little mistakes and, more importantly, you know so much about your story that you miss what may be serious holes in your story. It all makes sense in your head, so you’re not noticing that it’s not on the page.

BEFORE: Choose your readers wisely

Because of page blindness, it’s essential to have a few good readers review your work before you send it out to agents. As excited as you may be to get your manuscript out there, do NOT skip this step.

GOOD READERS…
— Don’t have to be experts in your genre but should be able to appreciate it.
— Don’t have to be writers, but should be able to articulate what worked or didn’t work for them.
— Must be able to read and give feedback without their egos or their own styles getting in the way.

Fundamentally, good readers understand what you’re trying to accomplish and appreciate the qualities of your style. They can be honest but gentle. They can identify and discuss what did and didn’t work for them in a story.

Ah, but how do you find these magical readers?
Join local writing groups. Take workshops. Become part of a community of writers. Check out web sites like AbsoluteWrite.com and the local chapters of the SCBWI. I also recently saw on #kidlitchat on Twitter (another good resource) that someone had found her critique partner through Writercon.

AFTER: How to take notes with grace

You chose your readers wisely, now trust them. My readers, Michelle Chihara and Josh Kamensky (he guests on Josh Malbin’s blog here), happen to be talented writers, voracious readers, and great editors. I trust their knowledge, their skill, and the fact that they won’t beat me about the head and shoulders unnecessarily. Trusting them means that I have to listen to them even when I don’t like what I’m hearing.

Even for experienced writers, listening to notes can be difficult. Here’s the important thing to remember: You have all the power. You can decide which notes to take and which to disregard.
So…

–Don’t argue.
–Don’t get defensive.
–Don’t explain.

Your job is to nod, smile, write it down and then let it sit. I often find myself saying things like, “Interesting” or “I hadn’t thought of that” while, inside, I’m screaming, “No, no! You don’t understand my genius!” I’m usually glad I kept that thought to myself. (Also wise to keep to yourself: “They laughed at me at the academy!” and “You’ll be sorry. You’ll ALL be sorry.”)

It’s easier said than done, but ideally, you want to approach review and revision with curiosity and confidence. Stay open to possibilities that may better your work. Have faith in your ability to fix what’s broken. Trust your readers, then trust yourself.

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Agent Research Resources

You will quickly find that some agents make it easy to discover their likes and dislikes, while others prefer to remain shrouded in mystery. Here are a few of the sites that I found most helpful when researching and querying agents:

Literary Rambles Casey McCormick has assembled an invaluable collection of agent profiles and articles on querying.
Publisher’s Marketplace Not all deals are listed there, but it can give you a handle on what’s been selling recently and what genres an agent likes. I thought the small membership fee was worth it.
Agent Query Good articles (with a definite point-of-view) and good (if occasionally spotty) info on agent likes/dislikes and sales. There are other sites (like Query Tracker) that do the same thing, but I found AQ easiest to use.
Kristin Nelson Clear, vital information on query writing here. I also took Kristin’s science fiction and fantasy “webinar” through WritersDigest.com. The information was great and Kristin was very funny. The price included a pitch crit. (A bit controversial, I know, but I found it helpful. I got good notes from Kristin on my query and it gave me the courage to get out there and start submitting.)
Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents
AbsoluteWrite.com These forums are loaded with information on agents, querying, contracts, and cautionary tales. Keep your wits about you.

IMPORTANT: If you’re at the beginning of this process, please educate yourself on scams. Read up on Writer Beware and visit Preditors & Editors (currently being sued! oh my…).

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In which I give Baltimore the stink eye…

I like so few people that when one of them leaves town (for bloody Baltimore of all places), it completely wrecks me.

Gamynne Guillote and I have been friends since we were kids. She’s a brilliant artist/architect/bon vivant, one of my favorite co-conspirators and an ideal violet hour drinking companion.

When I found out that she was leaving Los Angeles for the East Coast, we decided to hang out as much as possible. What an incredibly stupid strategy. Now I’m going to miss her that much more.

GG and me at the October Mindshare event.

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Marvelous Items

I like to acquire beautiful objects. I know I should shed the trappings of this mortal world, but well… I’m very, very shallow.

Latest acquisition:

A winged scarab brooch made with a real beetle and a vintage Victorian mourning pin. Created by Michelle Harris of Once Lost Jewelry.

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What could be lonelier…

… than the first blog post?

It all feels very post-apocalyptic to me, like I’m that grizzled guy broadcasting from a bombed-out trailer park, playing ironic end-of-the-world type records, and saying things like, “If there’s anyone else out there on this godforsaken rock, keep the faith, you miserable bastards.”

Or maybe I’ve just been spending too much time with the Apocalypsies.

So, for my first blog post, I thought I’d share these cyberpunk goggles I got for Christmas, courtesy of Eric X.

Pouty fishface not included.

Keep the faith, you miserable bastards.

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