Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year, everyone! A new year brings new opportunities to move your career and life forward, to improve those areas that need improvement, to try something new. So, start making your new year's resolutions, but keep them realistic. Set goals you have a chance of achieving with hard work and persistence. Don't set so many goals that you get overwhelmed. Resolutions within reason are much more successful and fulfilling than resolutions you'll drop before February.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and successful 2008. See you in the new year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Christmas is past and New Year's is just around the corner. This means free time to write! Unfortunately, my free time coincides with everyone else taking a vacation. Which means I have to wait until the middle of next week to contact anyone I need to talk to about one thing or another. The writing continues, but I won't know if I need to create my own lyrics for a scene in a book for a while. I'll just have to write the scene with the lyrics I'd like to use, then see if I can get permission to use them in the finished product. If not, I'll have to pretend to be a lyricist and come up with something that will work just as well.

I'm pretty much spending the week in a holding pattern of sorts. Querying anyone this week would be a bad idea. The people I need to talk to about requesting permission to use those lyrics are out of the office until next Wednesday. I need to get in contact with a couple of people about possible jobs, but not until after the first of the year. I need to try to get guidelines for a magazine, but not this week. This is probably the worst week of the year to do anything business-related.


This is what I get for having vacation time at the same time as everyone else. After a few days of family, too much sugar, and ignoring the proposal I need to work on, I'm ready to face the business side of writing again. While I wait for the people I need to contact to get back from their vacations, I have plenty to do. There's still that proposal to work on, a book I need to finish critiquing, and some writing that's calling my name.

You gotta love this business. Even when things slow down, there's still something you can do.

Monday, December 24, 2007

YA Novel Trends

In the process of writing a book proposal, I read a ton of descriptions of young adult novels. I came across three or four with male main characters who can fly, as many or more with female main characters who talk to their dead mothers as they try to deal with life, and countless books that involve the characters having sex with boyfriends/girlfriends/random people. Then there were the books about suicidal characters, a few told from the perspectives of characters in mental hospitals, and a couple of books with main characters in search of family members they may or may not have met.

Needless to say, I no longer worry about my books being too much like other books. I've been hearing for years that there are no new ideas, only new ways to present them. That has become more evident than ever by researching YA novels. The one thing I didn't find were the books I needed to compare mine to. I must be looking in the wrong places, but I'm not sure where to look. I don't have time to read the entire YA section at the local library, so I've been reading descriptions on Amazon. Wow. I'm amazed that so many things that should be in books for people who are at least thirty get published in YA novels. I admit, I'm conservative. But some of the things teens are exposed to in books are just plain disturbing.

So many people talk about the huge number of problems teens have and the things they face every day. Yet the literature produced for these kids is enough to cause problems. Instead of making it so realistic it exacerbates the problem, authors should write fiction that encourages and uplifts and shows that not all teens are on drugs, suicidal, incapable of getting along with their families, or sleeping around. That's not to say we need books full of perfect people who never have any problems. Realistically flawed characters that the reader can identify with are essential. The other essential (at least in my mind) is giving the characters hope. Show their lives improving. Let teens see that they can change their lives. If we give them a reason to hope, they might handle life better and not have as many problems.

The other thing to keep in mind is that not all teens are messed up. There are a lot of well-adjusted, happy teenagers in this world. Unfortunately, that's not reflected in fiction. Teens look for a way to identify with the characters in books they read. If all they read are messed up characters but they themselves aren't messed up, it's possible they'll begin to think there's something wrong with them. There's nothing wrong with being happy and well-adjusted. That's actually the ideal. Talking to parents and having a good relationship is what I consider normal. My sister and I have always had a good relationship with our mother, unlike the characters in the books we read. We talk to her about nearly everything, and when we have a problem we know we can go to her to get good advice. We can go to our father as well. It was that way even when we were teens. Our friends had the same kind of experience with their own parents. Novels should reflect that, since they supposedly reflect real life.

Writing for teens is a big responsibility, one that shouldn't be taken lightly. The words we write can have a profound effect on the readers. As YA authors, we need to take care to ensure that effect is a good one. Instead of writing only about the less savory side of life, write about the good side as well.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Back to the rewrite....

I'm in the middle of revisions and drawing a complete blank on any topics of interest. I could go on and on about the difficulties of taking a "telling" paragraph and turning it into a "showing" scene. I could discuss the proper use of dialogue indicators and when it's okay not to use them. I could even write about avoiding repetitive use of words and phrases (like "I could"). But I'll be nice and not bore anyone with the tedious details of my rewrite process.

I'll try to have a more interesting post Monday. Everyone have a wonderful weekend and enjoy the Christmas cookies.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Queries and Rejection

For the longest time I wondered how to tell what was getting my work rejected. I had a sneaking suspicion it was my query letter, but no way to know for sure. After 3 versions of the query for one novel and fifteen rejections from agents, I decided to rework the query again. I sent out another round of the newest incarnation of the query (personalized for each agent, of course) and the two I've heard back from have been requests for chapters. I think it was definitely my query killing my chances. If I knew what worked and what didn't for query letters, I'd definitely share it here. All I know is that keeping your plot summary exciting and succinct, trimming all excess from the letter, and being professional worked for me. Of course, all of that is subjective. I thought my first three versions of the query met those requirements. Apparently, I was wrong. The fourth version is my best yet and seems to be working since I'm getting requests instead of form rejections.

About those rejections... Yes, it's disappointing to hear time and again that an agent doesn't want to represent your work. It's unbelievably frustrating to have no clue why. But form rejections are a way of life for a writer, and perfectly understandable. Agents and editors are busy people and don't have time to write personal rejections every time. A lot of times, the agent or editor never even sees the query. Assistants and interns are the first line of defense, guarding their employer's time and rejecting what they think the agent or editor wouldn't like. With form letters, it's impossible to know if the person you sent the query to ever actually saw it. The best bet with form rejections is to not read anything into them. They just mean "no." If you get a lot of them, reevaluate what you've been submitting. Maybe your query needs a little tweaking or you first chapters could use improvement. Maybe you've just been sending to places that aren't quite the right fit. Once you've done everything you can to insure success (including researching the markets), try querying again.

Personal rejections are a little different. If they give you a reason why your work was rejected, give it some serious thought. If they give you suggestions for improving the manuscript, give it serious consideration. Keep in mind that even these suggestions can be subjective. I've come across writers who received conflicting advice in personal rejections. If several people tell you the same thing, that's a good indication you should listen. If only one person says it, keep it in mind; maybe it's useful to you, maybe it's not. But unless the suggestion makes absolutely no sense at all, it's best not to completely disregard it.

Now, I'm off to critique. Happy writing!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm beginning to understand how crazy the life of a beginning writer can be. Between submissions, requesting guidelines, sending out queries, researching markets, and the actual writing it quickly turns into a full-time job. Since I belong to critique groups, I also get to practice my editing skills. That's a very good thing since I'm looking for paying editing/proofreading work. Job-seeking just adds to the chaos of my life right now. Add in the normal craziness of the holiday season, and I'm happily busy. It's so great to feel like my career is moving forward! It's slow progress with many obstacles along the way, but it is progress.

Those who think the life of a writer is a laid-back easy one should try to become a successful writer. The point I'm at now has taken seven years of trial and error, countless rejections that helped me develop a thick skin, reading a ton of information on writing and editing, and learning where to look for markets. I've had days when I thought the idea of freelancing was an unreachable goal. I've even had days that I considered giving up writing completely. But writing is a huge part of who I am. I can't give it up any more that I could give up my right arm (I'm right-handed). I always come back, occasionally wondering if I'm insane for putting myself through the grueling ordeal of trying to get published. I'm still working on that one, but I do have a short story getting published in late March, and I'm coming up with more ideas for work to send out to magazines and online publications. Within the last week, I've come across two leads on editing jobs that I'm actually qualified for. It's very frustrating to know you can do the work, yet get told you're not qualified because you don't have a college degree. These two job leads, however, leave me believing I really can find an editing job.

Rays of sunlight are shining through the clouds. Life is good, and hopefully will only get better.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Crazy Days

Wow, this has been quite a week and it's only Monday. Er, make that Tuesday, since it's after midnight. As of last Friday, I was waiting to hear from an agent, a literary journal, a contest, and a publisher (about a job). By shortly after lunch today, I was down to waiting on the literary journal and the contest. The publisher wants me to contact them again in January after things settle down a little from the holidays and the agent rejected my partial. It was a very nice rejection, but still disappointing. Of course, me being the writer seeking publication that I am, I sent off queries to three more agents this afternoon. So I'm back to waiting. And waiting. I think half my life is spent waiting. Don't worry, I use the time constructively (most days, anyway). I critiqued a few chapters for a fellow writer today and I plan to get the rest of the chapters done tomorrow. I did a little work on my own writing. And yes, I followed the advice of many people: I ate some chocolate. Boy, does that help when you're in a nerve-wracking holding pattern like I am at the moment.

The good news in all of this is that I'm getting a great lesson in patience. Not the easiest thing in the world to learn, but necessary. I'm also getting creative about crafty-type items since Christmas is coming. I have to come up with presents somehow, and homemade is great since I'm still trying to find that elusive paying writing gig.

Have a great week, everyone, and check back in a day or two. There'll be a new post to entertain you.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Write What You Know?

One of the most popular pieces of advice given to writers is: Write what you know.

My question to you is this: Are we supposed to take this advice literally?

I seriously doubt it. If we only wrote what we already know, we’d have very limited options for characters and plots. We’d never grow as writers (or people) because we’d never step outside our knowledge base to learn new things to write in new areas. In my case, I’d have some very strange characters and, quite possibly, some strange stories as well. My knowledge of people and the world is colored by autism. Everything I know has been processed through an autistic brain and there’s a good chance the initial perceptions would be considered weird by a “normal” person. I know this affects my writing. I’ve been known to give characters inappropriate responses to situations; dialogue that sounds perfectly natural to me sounds stilted or formal to others; and I’ve asked many times how people would react in a certain situation because I have no clue.

If I only wrote what I already know, my writing wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as the instructions on a box of toothpicks (yes, there is such a thing). My characters would fall flat because the emotional response wouldn’t be what most people expect; the dialogue wouldn’t always make sense to anyone else, though another autistic might get it; and there would be huge, seemingly random leaps in logic. It would be an editor’s nightmare.

So I research, I ask questions, I make up what sounds like a normal person. But I don’t already know these things when I start. I’ve written two autistic main characters based on what I know. It’s freeing to write an autistic and the way they perceive the world because it shows others how I perceive it. Unfortunately, to make it comprehensible for the non-autistic world, I have to tone down the autism during the rewrite.

Back to the original question: Should you literally write what you know?

Yes, by all means use the knowledge and experiences stored in your brain. But don’t limit yourself to that. Instead of just writing what you already know, try to follow this piece of advice: Write what you can learn.

Monday, December 3, 2007


This has been a really long four days, but I managed to revise my YA manuscript (which turned out to need more work than I thought). Now I just need an agent and a publisher. Someday, I'll make it to publication with a novel! I'm too determined to see my work in print to give up. Of course, I'll keep improving my writing as I seek publication. I don't think a writer ever gets to the point where there's nothing left for them to learn or improve. But that's half the fun. The other half is the writing. Oh, how I miss the creative process of working on something new! But I go through that every time I'm working on revisions. Tomorrow, I'll be creative. For now, I plan to chill out and relax after revising an entire novel in a weekend. I don't recommend an adventure like that for the faint of heart. Trust me, I didn't think I've ever get it done.

On to the difficult (haha) task of relaxing!