One Writer in Search of A CP (Or, How I Stopped Minding and Learned to say Fark It) Monday, Apr 14 2014 

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My crit group dissolved a couple years ago. It happens. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again. But you need to have readers if you wants ta be a writer. I have a good friend who is agented and getting her stuff published and she’s read both WIPs, and she’s absolutely worth her weight in hardback books. I feel it’s important, however, to have several critique partners and beta readers if you are serious about a) finding an agent and b) getting published via said agent.

So recently I posted on a Tumblr site that offers writers a chance to find critique partners for works in progress (WIP). Within about a week, I had three emails. I sent two myself – one got NO response (RUDE) and the other got a very nice and polite decline because s/he felt s/he had enough CPs in his/her life. Fair enough. We wished each other luck and went on our ways. 

I’m not far in and this is already a learning experience. First of all, I wish I had gone back and re-read my own post carefully. I have two WIPs and I mentioned something along the lines of, “I think a British CP would be great” since one of the books is an alternate history that deals with English history and the other is partially set in England. People thought I meant that I ONLY wanted British CPs. What I really meant was, I’m open to whomever, but someone familiar with English history and literature would be great but it’s not a deal breaker if you’re not. And the emails I got ALL said something along the lines of, “I’m not English but…” And that’s 100% fine. My bad for not being clear.

I should mention, this feels a lot like online dating. I wanted to get to know the person emailing me before I just jumped into bed with them…er, I mean….sent them my work. Two of the responders did include lots of useful information – why they’d emailed me, what they think they bring to the table as far as critiquing my work especially, stuff like that. Those two and I went back and forth a couple of times then I sent them both the first 30 pages of both WIPs.

I had reservations about the third CP volunteer. I was never clear about why s/he was interested in either of my manuscripts. S/he also wasn’t interested in swapping manuscripts, just wanted a go at mine. So I don’t know exactly what s/he writes. Or reads. S/he gave me exactly one book read recently, which doesn’t give me a sense of what s/he normally reads and therefore knows the conventions of. Despite my reservations, I ended up sending 30 pages of both WIPs and it was about a day before I got a response.

I was pretty specific that I don’t want harsh criticism, yet the first sentence of the response was basically, “I know you don’t want harsh criticism, but <insert harsh criticism here.>” S/he tore up the first book and didn’t want to read more, and liked the second enough to read the rest.

I’m no stranger to criticism of my work. Especially that first book, which I liken to anchovies: not everybody likes anchovies. It’s not like potato chips. LOTS of people like potato chips. That is not a potato chip book. I’m fine with that. But I do like to understand where the criticism is coming from. So in my reply, I said, “Thanks for the prompt reply. I’m not surprised at your response to Book A. I will say that I really like this book. I’m curious, do you read or write in [the genres I read and write] becasue I didn’t get the sense that you did. Are these really genres you’re interested in working with?” Because if this person is a big fan of, say, military science fiction, or middle grade contemporary, s/he is not the audience for my books. S/he had been pretty vague on preferences so I wanted a clearer picture of the critiquer. I thought it was a fair question, but I haven’t heard a peep back.

I doth offend.

And because I am me, there’s some part of me that is all indignant. Like, just say, “Sorry, this isn’t going to be a good fit. Good luck!” But then, I wasn’t feeling great about the potential partnership anyway so really, I don’t mind. It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t mind.

You need a dragon hide to be a writer, to be sure, but you should also not be a dick.

I’ll keep you posted on my CP search.

B*$@! stole my story (not really) Friday, Mar 28 2014 

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I was driving home from work yesterday and for the first time in a couple of weeks, I didn’t have any podcasts to listen to. So I flipped on NPR and was happy to catch the book review…until I heard the book review. “Russell begins with this Philip K. Dickian premise and enthusiastically runs with it. What if sleep were a commodity? And what if we could barter with it? Slumber Corps has found a band-aid for the crisis in “sleep donations,” where sound sleep is extracted from a willing donor, and then transfused into an insomniac. Just like giving blood, it’s done out of a van.”

I almost ran off the road.

THAT’S MY STORY!!!!

No, I’m not accusing Karen Russell of plagiarism. Unless she, like…plagiarized my brain… The thing is, for YEARS I’ve been thinking about writing a story that is eerily, scarily, creepily similar to this. I just never got off my tail and wrote the darn thing. And now she has and she’s getting reviewed on NPR and I’m not and waah wahh.

I’ll likely read this book to see how she’s done our idea. But the moral of the story is, kids, story ideas are a dime a dozen and it doesn’t mean anything until you DO something with that idea.

I’ve heard well-known authors talk about being approached by “fans” who say things like, “I’ll sell you my idea for a great book. It’ll make you a million bucks but I just don’t have the time.” Surprisingly, none of them seems to want to take anyone up on this arrangement. Once, Mur Lafferty on her blog for I Should Be Writing posted story ideas for a month or something. Her point was that ideas don’t mean squat when it comes to stories. It’s the finished book that means something. 

Writers are hilariously paranoid about people stealing their ideas. I participate in pitch contests on Twitter where you tweet your book pitch and agents can request materials. I’ve seen several tweets along the lines of, “Post my story here so someone can steal it? Uh, no thanks.”

Maybe I should write my own version of the sleep story, THEN read Russell’s book and compare. Hmm…

I know I’m not the only writer this has happened to.  

Follow me on Twitter Monday, Mar 10 2014 

I’m on twitter and I make the tweets. Follow me @thwritingspider.

In the Can Monday, Mar 10 2014 

“In the can” is a film term, I believe, for a movie that has been completed. I have two book manuscripts in the can. And I’m going to tell you what’s up with them.

The first is now called “Divine Interventions” (formerly titled a couple of stupid things. I’m terrible at naming things, except for children I reckon since I like my kids’ names). It is what I would’ve called in grad school a postmodern novel. Today it might be called a mashup. The plot goes something like this: Ariadne wants to be a Muse, but the Muses don’t want to add to their number. So Ariadne has to convince the gods that she’s worthy and to do that, she’s going to inspire a human woman to literary greatness. There are elements of Greek and Eygyptian mythology, fairy tale, steampunk, and urban fantasy. It’s funny. (It’s supposed to be funny and we’re all funny in our own minds, so how should I know if it’s funny?)

I’ve queried perhaps three dozen agents with this. I’ve gotten several partial requests and one or two fulls and all agents have declined. The replies are varied – some are form rejections, some are more specific. I will be the first to say these things about Divine Interventions:

- It’s anchovies in a field of potato chips. Lots of people like potato chips. Not as many like anchovies.This book is anchovies and I have to find an agent that likes my anchovies.

-It’s kind of a smarty-pants book. I don’t know how to say this without sounding mean. So I will just say, I think you have to be kind of smart to “get” this book.

-As my first book, it has a special place in my heart and I love it so I might be the only one who ever loves it.

I plan to continue querying it but I think I’m going to try the New Adult angle instead of Adult.

Book number two is called “Daughter of Light.” It is a  young adult fantasy/alternate history. It’s about a young woman who learns she can do a special kind of magic and she’s recruited by a covert department of the British government to defeat Otto Hitler, who is taking over Europe with an army of reanimated corpses.

I’ve only queried a handful of agents with this one, really because of time constraints. Twins take up a lot of time. But I’m hopeful, more hopeful than with the other book, because it’s more potato chips than anchovies. I am making a list of agents to query now, and hope to start that process in the next couple of weeks.

And I’m researching a new book, a new adult urban fantasy. That’s all I really have to say about it.

Spider and Boot on a Road Trip Tuesday, Mar 4 2014 

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I have a very specific memory of hearing Simon & Garfunkel for the first time. My dad and I were in the den and he Bridge Over Troubled Water on the record player. I was perhaps four and kept laughing at the name “Garfunkel.” And my dad shooshed me. “Just listen,” he said.

And I did. For the last thirty-odd years, I’ve been listening to Simon & Garfunkel, and Paul Simon’s solo work.

I got my sister, Boot, hooked on the music I listened to in college – Dave Matthews, 10,000 Maniacs, Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows, and Sarah MacLachlan – as well as Paul Simon. We are both fans of his, and of his son, Harper.

We saw Simon & Garfunkel on the Old Friends tour a few years back when it stopped in Cleveland. We were terribly late for the show – it took almost an hour to get a parking spot, then another hour to get inside, get t-shirts, and find our seats. Then twenty minutes to try to remove via glare the people who took our seats, with no help from our Benjamin Button-looking usher. Then when some people further up the aisle offered us two seats, the woman sitting next to me SANG ALL THE SONGS off key. Concert fail.

Last week, we made the five hour drive from Kentucky to Chicago to see Paul Simon and Sting in concert together.We got off 65 according to my iPhone maps app and just as my sister said, “I need to stop for a drink and gas,” we drove into Gary, which I then referred to as “Scary, Indiana,” for the rest of the trip. I’ve never seen such a run-down ghost shell of a city as that. It was sad. In an effort to not repeat our previous concert disaster, we arrived at the hotel at 2:30, changed clothes, had a drink at the hotel bar, went to dinner at 5:30, and were in our seats at 7:15 for the 8:00 show.

It was a bucket list concert for me. I love the music of both these guys and the show didn’t disappoint. I had a hard time keeping myself together when they performed “Bridge Over Troubled Water” because that song reminds me of my dad, and the lyrics are what I imagine him saying to the world – when you’re down and out, feeling small, when friends just can’t be found, I will comfort you. I had my cousin sing this song at my dad’s memorial service last fall, too.

Of course, if you’ve ever been to a concert/play/show/movie with me, you know that I am doomed to reap bad audience karma. I think I must have booed Shakespeare or thrown rotten cabbage at Eurpides’ players because I always manage to sit near the people who are drunk, texting, partially deaf, or just plain obnoxious. For this concert, the couple in front of me was horrible. He was on his cell phone texting or on Facebook for the first twenty or so minutes of the concert. She was completely slopopotomus drunk, waving her arms around and seat-dancing. Besides that…a good experience.

We ate dinner at Lou Malnati’s, which took a while to find since I thought the hotel concierge was saying “Lumenati’s.” The next morning we ate breakfast at Yolk which reminded me of some of my own hometown’s delish breakfast establishments.

 

The Spider on Social Media Tuesday, Feb 18 2014 

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Obviously I have a blog. I also make Tweets on the Twitter (@thwritingspider – follow me!). (And I have a Facebook page but that’s really just for me, Sara, not as the Writing Spider and it’s how I keep up with all my really lovely friends.

I love social media. I really do. I love reading funny things and being introduced to interesting concepts, books, people and suchlike. I love Facebook for seeing what my friends are doing and thinking, pictures of their wee bairns and dogs and new houses.  

I’m having a little problem with Twitter though. To a certain extent I have the same problem with this blog and that is, I want to build an audience for my writing. It’s what all the cool kids are doing and this might be my one shot in life to be a cool kid, right? But I’m not getting as big an audience as I wish. I know part of that is my inconsistent posting schedule.  

That’s another side note. Social media sometimes makes me feel like I’m back in fifth grade. Examples: seeing on Facebook that I didn’t get invited to this party or that dinner. The fact that I CANNOT seem to a) get more than 120 followers on Twitter or b) KEEP 118 followers on Twitter. And realizing some cool person has unfollowed me on Twitter. All of a sudden I’m back on the playground wondering why everybody hates me.

Ok, that’s a little bit of a hyperbole. But I’m betting you catch my drift, at least a little bit.

My Twitter plan is to follow agents, publishers and writers, as well as a few friends. Twitter is a weird world. You read other people’s stuff but since you don’t “know” them, you might not respond to their tweets. You don’t want to be that rando Twitter stalker person. You don’t want to tweet too much, or too little. Sometimes I follow agents to whom I wish to sent my work and then I feel weird about continuing to follow them after they’ve declined it.

So I’m re-committing myself to blogging. Which will automatically post on Twitter. We’ll see where that gets us.

On Writing With Babies Thursday, Jan 30 2014 

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This is not news to anybody.

Three months into this parenting thing and I’m chomping at the bit to get my writing schedule back on track. And also my exercise schedule. I have completely unrealistic expectations about what I should look like now that Double Trouble has arrived, and trying to carve out time for much of anything is difficult. Here are the things I’m thinking about:

It’s much easier to watch TV while feeding them than it is to, say, read a book. Because obvs I have to hold and feed two babies at the same time. Also watching TV is oddly comforting to me these days. Perhaps its the noise? I don’t know.

I have to do these things in my day: sleep, shower, fix my face and hair, eat foodstuffs, don clothes, wake/soothe/change/love on babies according to the schedule we have with them, which they do not always follow because development and also babies, go to work because that bacon isn’t going to bring itself home, hang out some with pater familias, and let the ferrets out to play.

These are things I *could* do in a day but don’t contribute to the downfall of The Things: exercise (at the gym, or in the living room), write, read, clean the house, do some laundry. On weekends I tend to take naps and make things to store in the freezer to eat during the week.*

I feel guilty for not writing, and for not exercising and sometimes for not being more aggressive with my sleep schedule - I’d rather hang out with Husband and snuggle babies. 

At the end of the day, I mostly just like to sit in the living room by myself (and ferrets) with wine and the television.

And don’t think Pater Familias isn’t helping or something. He is. And he’s in nursing school, too. He’s incredibly supportive and we are working all this stuff out pretty well, I think.

I’m not asking for answers or anything, just thinking about this. If you’re a writer with kids, you probably know from whence I come.

I have managed to read a whole entire book for this new book club I’m in which I feel great about – I’m excited to be in a book club. I’ve been in two before – one was good in terms of the books they read but there were like…40 people who may or may not show up so I never knew more than one or two people at a meeting. Plus, the person who brought me to that book club did something crappy to me and I stopped hanging out with her. 

The other book club – I only went once and the book was Middlesex (which is really good, and I recommend it often). I had highlighted it and written all these notes because I was so stoked to talk about it but then (SPOILER ALERT?) the rest of the group was like, “OH. MY. GOD. GROSS they’re brother and sister and they got married and ewwww let’s talk about stupid non-book-related stuff.” So…I did not go back.

 

*THE MOST HELPFUL THING EVER.

What I’m Reading Now Wednesday, Jan 22 2014 

Besides all the parenting books I’ve been reading lately in order to effectively raise Thing One and Thing Two so that they do not end up overtired, maladjusted or selfish, I have joined a book club. Our first book is The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve not read any of her other books so this was an introduction to her work for me. (Don’t read this post if you don’t want spoilers. I don’t know if I’m going to spill the beans or not but let’s be on the safe side – go read something else if you’re vehemently anti-spoily.)

I’m about 3/4 of the way through the book and I’m enjoying it pretty well. My Kindle version includes Oprah’s annotations which are short and fairly obvious – she’s not blowing my mind with insight, but that’s ok.

The issue I’m thinking of while I read it is that the book is written by a white woman and she writes from two perspectives: the slave and the slave owner. I’m thinking of how I feel about a modern white woman writing about the 19th century slave experience. There are appropriately and predictably horrifying moments in the story – Handful’s stint in the work house on the treadmill comes to mind (although the author avoids getting too graphic by fading to black then switching narrators before coming back to Handful after she’s been fetched from the work house). But sometimes it feels like a white woman who’s read a lot of history and “knows” about slavery from a fairly specific (read: white) perspective so that the text ends up feeling like there’s just too much distance between the author and her subjects.

I heard a snippet of an interview with Sue Monk Kidd where she said race continues to be an important issue for her. It should be. It should be for all of us. But her book seems to lack the momentum to dig in deeper to the issue and challenge the reader to reconsider a new perspective.

I like the book, don’t get me wrong, but if reading was as easy as “like” or “dislike” we wouldn’t be here reading this blog, would we? I’ll continue to think about it and get back to you if I have different feelings.

 

Oh…hai… Saturday, Dec 28 2013 

Halllooooo there, Dear Readers! Thanks for sticking with me! I have a lot to tell you about so let’s get to it.

1. I had babies. Identical win boys whom I will refer to as Bean and Bug. After eight months of seeeerrrious sciatica and other discomforts, Bug was bigger and had more fluid in utero than Bean, and the doctors set me up to be induced on October 22. After eight hours of pitocin, I was having such minor contractions that I finally told the doctor I was open to consider a c-section because I really wanted to meet my kids. Bean was born at 7:01 and weighed 4 lbs 12 oz and Bug came along at 7:02, 6 lbs 9 oz. Bug ended up in the NICU for five days to strengthen his lungs and beyond that, both are healthy and awesome. There’s so much more to say about this whole experience but I’ll save that for a later post.

2. We lost my dad. When the boys were about 1 1/2 weeks old, at the beginning of November, my dad passed away at 71 after a 14-year-long battle with cancer. We had decided to stop all invasive treatments and let him go. My dad is the kindest, warmest person I have ever known. We thank heaven that we’ve had the twins to focus on during this first holiday season without him. Knowing he got to meet his grandsons before he went is a small comfort.

3. In August, I sent my manuscript for Daughter of Light to an agent. I’m always happy to get full requests so keep your fingers crossed.

4. I’ve been reading, but mostly parenting books. I did start the latest Game of Thrones book, and I read Divergent, which I will review in a later post.

I hope you had a really nice Thanksgiving and a great Christmas, and here’s to a lovely New Year.

Query Contest Thursday, Jul 25 2013 

I entered a pitch contest. You can read all the entries and comment on them if you like here.

I’m not tellin’ which is mine.

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