M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Do Characters a Series Make?

My Book/Series Review ...
While waiting for my trade paperback of Beka, Bloodhound (or whatever the title is) to arrive, I decided to read Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small Series.  The series features Keladry of Mindelan, a young girl who decides to become a Lady Knight of Tortall after another girl [Alanna] opened up the possibilities of a female becoming a knight by masquerading as a boy.  The "powers-that-be" aren't any more accepting for Kel than Alanna, and Kel finds herself fighting the system after being put on probabation.  [Page]  To complicate things, she's a revolutionary -- championing the weak from the "entitled" nobility.

From what I've read, Pierce follows the series pattern of putting different characters into the same fantasy world.  Then, she writes short series about those main characters.  Above I give the bones (structure) of the story.  Pierce like any good writer puts the flesh on the bones.

Pierce limits this series to four middle-grade books about Kel's fight to be considered an equal.  Through the four books, the girl collects a group of friends -- human and animal -- who eventually help her defend Tortall against a necromancer who launches new semi-mechanical weapons [krakans] using the souls of peasant children.  Of course, Kel wins, but the books are a nice read.  I found the first two books a little slow (simplistic?) when Kel was a youngster ... but the "teenaged" books present real moral problems that Kel must solve.

[For those who wonder about the content differences between middle grade and young adult, the "teen" books feature a fair amount of kissing -- with a doomed romance when the realities of the adult world intrude.  The swearing is "Tortall-specific" and not much of it.]

So, what kept me reading?  A well-defined, sympathetic main character, even if she's a little too "goodie-two-shoes", who faces each challenge stoically.  Stubbornness is a two-edged fault at worst.  ...  Okay, I sat here for a couple minutes by the clock and can't think of another meaningful fault.  I should also note that Pierce surrounds with villains suitable for the age Kel is when she faces them ... and a host (if you count the sparrows) of secondary helpers.

So, my question on your "fan" books:  Do your remember the author more than the characters?  An example:  I'm always saying Harry Dresden instead of Jim Butcher.  [Something Butcher probably hates.]  On the other hand, I say Hamilton's vampires instead of Anita Blake.  [Yeah, I remember she has weres, fairies, and zombies as well as humans.]  I don't particularly care for their other series.  Then, there's Charlaine Harris, most of whose characters I enjoy reading about.

Web Notes ...
Rushed through my site-cleaning:  the email, comics, and other web stuff I check every morning.  It's the AM and almost time to do the lunch thing and bill-paying ... and I found myself rushing through the AW Water Cooler.  I'm reminded that this is probably a big mistake.  As an example of the extra-value on this writer's forum site,  AW is is featuring a Q&A with Kathleen Ortiz of  Lowenstein Associates.  The forum/feature lets members ask real agents question -- and get a real answer I hope.

I asked about agents for different types of manuscripts.  Ortiz said it was simplest when you query agencies with agents who handle all the genres you write in.

Writing Progress ...
I read four books over the week-end ... and added a couple agents/agencies to my agent list.
Trivia ...
Went to the bank Friday and discovered my driver's license had expired.  I guess I'm trying to ignore my age.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Uber Series of Many Books

The Read ...

Still on  Witch World by Andre Norton, the beginning of the many-booked Witch World series.  May seem presumptuous of me, but I sometimes wonder if any of my book manuscripts would a series make.  My middle grade stuff is written as stand-a-lones.  I really can't see them as fitting into a series though they are vaguely in the same world.  [My never-never California, as I think of it.]

Basically, Witch World lives!  Don't know how many books I've read in the Witch World series of the more than 30.   I know there's a stack of them on my bookshelves, but I do know there's an active fan base out there on the web --  Andre Norton sites -- complete with maps.

Outside of the fantasy genre, I don't know whether Norton is considered young adult or adult.  Given the short shrift the romance of Koris/Loyse  and Simon/Jaelithe got in Witch World, I'd say young adult, even though Simon and Jaelithe wake up in bed with each other in the next book in the series [Web of the Witch World].  --  Frankly, I don't think it matters.  People of all ages read the same fantasy books -- as long the world feels real.


Care to search for a science fiction/fantasy series or explore series that are similar to ones you have enjoyed in the past?  You might try SciFan  This compiled site has loads of info, even places where you might buy titles.  Their stated goal:
"For each writer, you'll find book listings in their reading order and books that belong to a common universe.  When available you'll also find links to dedicated sites, both official and made by fans.
We carefully keep track of new series releases. We also listed the biggest and most popular series"

[I found the site on one of the AW Water Cooler forums.  Can remember where or who mentioned it.  When I searched the forum I got a thread from 2005.]

Progress ...
Finally finished the editing/revising of There Be Demons ... the second time this month ... and I've the feeling I'll be revising it yet again.  Guess I'm loopy about given my characters a chance at their place in the sun ... rather than shoving them in a "trunk".

Dare I think I'll get some new material into Voices next week?  Or, will I try to outline subsequent books featuring Britt and Cahal?  Makes me wonder what other writers think/do about their characters?

 Trivia ... 
Killed time at the Farmer's Market where I met a writer friend standing in line for real ice cream.  Old man ate most of the scoop [pistachio nut] since I was saving room for lunch -- hot sour soup and Chinese egg rolls.  Yummm, one of my favorites which I can't make because we'd eat it for a month.

Sorry, didn't get this posted yesterday.  I was finishing my Demons revision and running around.  Like the fridge was empty of "good" stuff. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Series Start-Ups

The Read ...

Book series are nothing new in fiction.  Mystery writers have been doing them for decades -- have even tried to kill off their characters ala Conan Doyle.  Other writers, especially fantasy writers, often do serial stories set in the same world but with different characters though series can be based on single characters or set of buddies.  Whatever, that's the background thinking when I pulled Andre Norton's Witch World off my shelves.  Imagine my surprise that my Ace paperback was copyrighted in 1963, one of those shortie ones that cost 60 cents.

 Witch World is about Simon Tregarth's escape from our world to one more suitable to his warrior sentiments via the Siege Perilous from King Arthur's court.  He lands in Estcarp, a matriarchy of mages (Witches is too weak a term for me.) who are beseiged by three different enemies -- two presenting in-sync cultural menaces and the mechanical Kolder, who offer a different kind of danger.  I'm about 2/3s the way through the book, and Tregarth is still gathering allies for the end-fight with the Kolder.

So what does a 1963 book read like?  I don't know if the opening paragraph would hack it today.  "The rain was a slantwise curtain across the dingy street, washing soot from city walls, the taste of it metallic on the lips of the tall, thin man who walked with a loping stride close to the buildings, watching the mouths of doorways, the gaps of alleys with a narrow-eyed intentness."

The paragraph hooked me.  What's a guy doing out in the rain watching the alleys?  The problem is the reading level.  That's one sentence there with a "to-be" verb.  I realize you guys are readers ... but how easy did you find the sentence to follow.  Do you think the average high school kid would read it comfortably?

The book itself is organized in a series of interlocking novellas (novellettes?), introducing new characters and involving old ones and making me wonder if the stories first appeared in magazines.  While Norton is telling a story slightly more than showing the characters in action, each of the characters are presented facing a clear and present danger which ends with them facing a new problem/difficulty.  --  Nothing like being led by the nose past your bedtime reading a book you know the ending of.
Progress ...
Revising away, high ho ... and still wondering about submitting to editors.  (Britt)  Groaning to myself about all the research needed -- even after you get the darn thing written.  Then, you hit an agent who wants a 250 word synopsis????  (We won't talk about agents who like a personlized query.)

Conclusion:  You better darn well know what your book is about.  It's something like using your pitch to focus your book -- before you market it.  If you can't write a sentence and two-paragraph summary of your story, you may not have a story.  Just a bunch of words.  I wonder if that's what I'm afraid of and not admitting it to myself.

Trivia ...
Errands, errands, and more errands.  Can't even go out to lunch because we're still eating the onion soup.  Hopefully, it'll be gone today.

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Easier Contest

See Contest Information Below:

My Book Review ...   

Found Glass Houses by  Rachel Caine, the first book in the Morganville vampire series, in a used book store, it's face pointed out to entice potential buyers.  Since I'd seen it on the New York Times best seller lists ... and I've been exploring series, I thought I'd pick it up.  The Morganville vampire series is up to 9 volumes if I remember right ... I may misremember sin I got caught up reading the sample chapters on the Rachel Caine site.  [It's almost midnight, and I'm not going back to the site to check.]   

At first, I thought the writing was somewhat unfocused and wishie-washie ... but after a chapter, I decided the tentative narrative style fit the viewpoint character.  Even with an unsure MC, Caine lays on the action until the tension's tight. Lots happens in each chapter, and the information is parceled out so you hardly realize it's being given to you.  In case you missed it, no info dumps or tons of back story.

The book starts off with nasty college hazing/bullying scenes and the danger tightens for the first third of the book until the main character (MC) learns the town is run by vampires.  The second third gives more character and danger details plus the info the vampires are searching for a book which the MC, then, searches for and finds.  The last third starts off with the underage MC parent's giving her an ultimatum to return home -- but the real conflict comes from a vampire attack to retrieve the book.  The ending comes in true series form by posing more questions than it answers.

Verdict:  Still debating on whether to put it on the trade pile or read more in the series.

Web Comments ...    
Kevin Hearne talks about alpha readers, beta readers, and editors -- both agent and publishers -- on his blog.  He presents the process his books take, a process that underlines that writing isn't the isolated activity of the garret artist stereotype.

In his words:  "Nobody writes perfect, golden prose on their first draft. Or even their second or third. I could be wrong...but I doubt it."  His position:  they get help, lots of it.

Progress ...  
I don't think Voices wants an ending, aka none. 

I keep revising Britt ... Worse thing I've been finding is redundancies ... where I say the same thing twice.  You know the bit, first a tell the reader "it" ... and then, show "it".  Or, vice versa.  --  And, yes, I do make other goof-ups.  Just talk to my critiquer.

Queries:  I think I'm revving up and sending queries for Emma again.  The three queries that are still outstanding come "due" in June.  Since I'll be gone a good share of July, I better get some queries out ... in case any agents reject me fast. ... How's that for a positive attitude?

Choosing agents to query is always a major research project.  Trying to find an agent who's inclinations fit the territory you like to write in is the problem.  At the moment, I'm researching agents who represent ... adult, young adult, and middle grade (though Emma is basically a tween).  While the list is shorter than for YA and/or MG, there are quite a few of them.  [Believe it or not.]

Why all three?  Well, now that I'm revising Britt ... I think I'll go back and see what Mariah looks like when I'm finished. ...  Then, there are the other 2 plus 2-halves-possible- novels drafted, a total of five books if I could whip them into shape.  Guess most writers would lock them in a trunk and throw away the key.  My reading on series ... with more in line ... is making me rethink.

Hey, I spent months of my life writing the pieces and I like the characters.  Even more, I like the world I created where I explore the issues of genetic drift and technological change.  It's a challenge to try to turn them into books -- even unpublished ones.

I'm sure I'll be looking at Emma again if she gets rejected enough.

No, I don't know what I'd do if an agent actually offered me a contract ... beside go into shock. 

The New Contest:

Went to three bookstores over the weekend.  Traded away about four feet of paperbacks.  Brought back about a foot of new stuff ... including a vampire series of all things.  [Not the Morganville vampires.]  How long will it take me to read them at a rate of two books a week?   

Prize:  Will draw from the best quess-timents for a boxed set of Philip Pullman's Compass series -- His Dark Materials. (lightly used)  Would make a nice gift even if you aren't interested in reading it.  Think of summer reading programs for kids interested in fantasy.

Only three requirements for entrants:
1)  Have to live in US.
2)  Have to mention on your blog that I'm running the contest.  (Tweeting would be nice but not required.)
3)  Leave a comment here with your guess on how long it'd take me to read the foot high pile of books I just bought ... and have sitting on my dining room table.

I'll draw from the closest mathematical guesses on June 1st for the prize..

Friday, May 21, 2010

Splicing Multiple Viewpoints

The Read ...   How many viewpoints make a novel?  My unscientific guess:  two characters max plus a hint of villain in the prologue.

Finished Kay Hooper's Blood Sins, about a cult leader who misuses his talents, and I knew who he was before I was half-way through the book.  How?  Well, Hooper has this talent for giving us multiple viewpoints in each chapter -- including the villain.  Talk about talent!  Makes me wonder if the next book I read will seem shallow in comparison since I won't know ... explicitly ... what the other important characters are thinking.

Must mention that Hooper weaves the characters experiences into a linear story line that doesn't back track or repeat itself.  There was something of an info dump towards the end when the good guys were organizing to neutralize the bad guy.  Guess you can absolve it by calling the chapters a strategy session.  Hooper even added a complication in the last few pages that could have let the villain go free ... but didn't because of a great twist which came from within the motivations of the characters we met along the way.

Multiple viewpoints don't seem popular on the web.  Some even express "fear of head-hopping".  While I agree jumping from one character's viewpoint to another's within a couple paragraphs gets confusing, I really do find books with more than one viewpoint more rewarding.  What's more, I think is was more common in commercial fiction in the 70s and 80s -- when I was seriously writing -- and the change is stylistic.

Could it be that fewer viewpoints mean easier-to-write books?  Makes me wonder since my first fantasy opus of some 400,000+ words (Mariah) indulges often has two viewpoints in a chapter.

Progress ...  Emma is just sitting there because I'm trying to figure out what kind of focus to put on my agent search.  I know I have to glean agent possibilities into a pile of middle grade and young adult fantasy enthusiasts.  Simple enough to do with AgentQuery and Query Tracker ... plus the blogs I read, especially Casey McCormick and Chuck Sambuchino.

Problem?  Mariah is adult ... maybe even double if not triple "x".  Maybe the prequel/book could be turned into a young adult, but none of the others could.  Kerry (aka Austel's Idiot) may be an adolescent in the third book but she's attracting the attention of grown men because of her magical powers ... then, in the fourth book after she comes of age, she's in a threesome ... which is acceptable in her society since her grandmother (Mariah) was also in the threesome as an adolescent.  Maybe the prequel isn't a young adult after all.

Bottom line ... I think I have to find a fantasy agent who does adult, young adult, and middle grade.  Maybe I could squeak by with an adult fantasy agent and a youth one from the same agency.  Maybe I could just give up -- but that sort of isn't in my character.

I can just hear the howls.  My innocent little pitch ... about a girl [Emma] who ventures into Faery with her worse enemy to rescue a missing hobgoblin ... hooks an agent  Then, I'd throw foul-mouthed Britt at him/her, and the agent will say it needs massive revision (clean up).  Voices?  It's about ghosts, but stylistically, it's closer to literary than commercial.  Then, Mariah and Kerry?

Another problem ...  I like the books and haven't made up my mind that getting published is all that important -- even though you're watching me reach for the brass ring.

Voices ... pottering along and even have the evil/bad ghost delineated from the good ghosts.

Trivia ...  Rushed the afternoon errands because the skies turned black.  Didn't worry about snow though.  The daffodils are dead -- so the odds of a snowstorm happening would make me a millionaire.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Series Fatigue

The Read ...  Have you ever suffered from series fatigue -- as a reader ... or writer?  

There are a number of authors I gave up on when once I bought every new title.  Patricia Cornwall, the best selling mystery writer, is one that quickly comes to mind.  Thousands of people still buy her new books, but I gave up on on Kay Scarpetta several years ago as she wallowed in the same personal problems for several books.  Another example from the net: seems like a lot of Laurell K Hamilton's fans got upset when Anita Blake started "gang banging".

Readers can get tired of series for any number of reasons, but how do authors overcome fatigue with the series they write -- besides setting up another one with different characters? 

That asked, I pulled Kay Hooper's Blood Sins out of the to read pile ... where it's been sitting for awhile.  Kay Hooper books occupy a good two feet high stack on the messy bookshelf, maybe more.  Some of the later titles are stuck in just any old where.  And the book sat, partly because I was afraid to read it.  --  I'm a third of the way through and hooked.

One of the reasons I think Hooper has stayed engrossing is that she's created a world ... and then, populated it with different people.  Sort of like started a new series, but not quite.  Characters from earlier books, especially Noah Bishop of the FBI Special Crimes Unit and his wife, Miranda, keep appearing in subsequent books in roles of various sizes and importance.

Also, instead of concentrating on a long series of books featuring one character, Hooper arranges her books in a series of trilogies.  The result:  a reader returns to a familiar world but meets different people along the way.  I think the format keeps the anticipation for a new story sharp.  [Yeah, I know I let the book sit after I bought it, but I still have loads of interesting books I should read ... without buying or trading for new ones.]

Blog Notes ... Eric, a publisher salesperson at Pimp My Novel, woke me up with a blog on writing effective queries.  It's well worth the click to go there ... though it gives similar info agents repeat often on their blogs

I've long considered agents salespeople, so it was nice to see my prejudices reinforced.  Also, a little disheartening.  I rather avoid salespeople -- for you know, the penny pinching thing.

Incidentally, I just learned he joined Twitter (and yes, I'm following).

Progress ...  Am fighting to fill outlined chapters of Voices with scenes rather than tell the readers what should be happening.  Got a whole 500 words saved last night.  We won't mention how many I deleted.

Gave myself an exercise to see how many critique comments I could eliminate from There Be Demons ... before my critique partner for the book pointed out my blind sports.

New Book?  Had this terrific image [while providing my muse with his morning lap] of one of the characters from a short story dancing around her new apartment after she finished unpacking and setting wards ... when a spirit appeared and bitched about being sealed into the place.  Guess I'll set up a new file.  Problem:  it's an adult novel.

Trivia ...  Demonstrated my psychic abilities last night.  The old man was rumpling plastic in the next room, and I asked him for a piece of peanut brittle without looking away from the computer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What Keeps You Reading?

The Read ... An anonymous person, standing in line in front of me, hooked me into reading a new, if ponderous, author.  Her arms were filled with Raymond E. Feist books, an author I'd never heard of even though I used to read lots of sword and sorcery fantasy.  After listening to her glow about her find, I went back  to see if anything used was left in the stacks.  The one used book I found was Talon of the Silver Hawk.  -- Through most of the book, I wondered why the heck I was reading the book.

Feist offers a standard story line:  a youth survives the massacre of his village/people, is rescued, and then, sets about revenging his people.  Talon of the Silver Hawk is the how he is trained and seeks his revenge.  Of course, the story isn't as simple as that.  His rescuers just happen to be the agents of a coalition of mages who seek to overcome an evil group whose agents destroyed the boy's people.  In this case, it's a journey through familiar territory, but still an enjoyable read.

The opening hook starts with a small problem:   "He waited."  One sentence, but the next paragraph was dense with images which let you know the boy was on a vision quest for his adult name.  Once he has he adult name, he returns to find his village under an attack that destroys every one except him. 

The writing is dense and ponderous in its movement forward.  One random example:  "Fate spared him for a reason," said Robert.  "Or at least, I'm trying to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity.  He's ... got something.  I think had this tragedy not befallen his people, he would have grown up to be simply another young Orosini man, a husband and father, warrior when the need arose, farmer, hunter, and fisherman.  He would have taught his son the ways of his ancestors and died of old age satisfied at his lot."

To me this is belaboring the obvious [and I would have cut it from my own manuscript].  The book is filled with similar pages.  Yet, Feist drew me on and I finished the book, all 400+ dense words.  But then, I have an anthropological bias, and Feist tickled it well.

So, what'll keep you reading ... in spite of ...?????

[In case you were wondering, turns out Raymond E. Feist is the New York Times and Times of London best  selling author who writes about the world of Midkemia.] 

Progress ... Spent the weekend revising There Be Demons.  While I cut 100 words of one chapter and 50 from another, my blind spots remain.  I can't find any major problems.  Time for the super-critiquer to make her appearance.

Tonight, I swear, I'm going to finish a third-written chapter of Voices.  Five or more (?) empty except for notes chapter headings wait for me to supply some scenes.

Trivia ...  Thinking I need to drag my bum hip onto the sidewalk and make it walk at least a half a mile.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Another Soft Hook?

The Read ... I chose a Southern cozy, was supposed to add another example of a soft hook from my to-read pile: Elizabeth Lyn Casey's Sew Deadly.  Only when I read it,  I considered the opening a "hard hook":
"She wasn't entirely sure whether it was the pull of the mahogany sewing box in the window or a much-needed respite from the endless barrage of curious glances, but either way, Elkin Antiques and Collectibles seemed as good a place as any for a momentary escape."

The opening sentence/paragraph was wordy ... but indicated a need for escape ... a hard hook to me.   A good example of a minor problem needing a solution that leads into the greater problem of the book.

I settled back to immerse myself in a Southern town full of wacky characters and a murder to solve.  The murder happened with the police chasing the wrong suspect -- the newcomer librarian who escaped into the antique shop to avoid the curiosity of the townspeople as a matter of fact.  Only problem:  While the librarian had been decently drawn, the people around her seemed more like cardboard cut-outs -- even the love interest seemed a cliche of the quiet, shy type of guy.  I kept reading for the puzzle which contained some nice twists but give me a Charlaine Harris mystery any day, even *shudder* Teagarden.  Sew Deadly is on the trade pile, as is its sequel.

Sour Grapes? ... Still looking at the Nashville Relief auction [Link for fun stuff] and grumbling about getting squeezed out of my bid at the last minute.  But, there's another story lurking in the bids:  how interested [desparate?] writers are to get an agent's attention.  The personal critiques are going for hundreds of bucks ... probably about the same amount as going to a writer's conference if you have to travel -- only you get a guarantee of a 25,30,50 page critique and sometimes a personal phone call.

Maybe I should have bid $300. after all.  Nah, I'm not that desperate ... yet ...  Nah, I'm just too cheap.  Anyway, the local food bank can use some extra money too.

Progress ... or is that avoidance?  Have done nothing with Voices all week.  Have revised chapters of Demons and submitted a chapter for critiquing.

Have re-read the ending of Emma without finding much to change.  Maybe, I should start submitting it.

Then, I opened Vengeance (the prequel to Dark Solstice) and started revising the novellaManaged to chop about 100 words out of it (mostly adverbs and "to be" forms) -- even though its under consideration, having made the first reader's cut.

Vengeance might be trying to tell me something about pacing.  Once back when I wrote non-fiction regularly, I did sell occasional pieces of fiction.  Thinking back on it, I remembered noticing that the pieces I sold sort of galloped along without lagging on any particular character or situation.  My short non-fiction did the same thing.  Vengeance moves -- even though I used some archaic constructions/wording.  [Hey, its high fantasy with SF undertones (the influence of genetic drift on a society.)]

Is it obvious I'm getting antsy about submitting again. ... I do have two flash fiction pieces that might find a home. ... dilemma continued ... 

What do you do when you think you should be submitting something to someone ... and maybe have nothing to submit?

Trivia ...  another funeral today ... Sorry, it's a memorial service.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hard Hook, Soft Hook

The Read ... presented a different opening hook than the ones I've found in more recent books -- a soft hook.  I think I mentioned I found a used copy of Dorothy Gilman's Kaleidoscope published back in 2002 [maybe her last published book].  Now, I never cared much for her Mrs. Pollifax spy character but read the first The Clairvoyant Countess (Madame Karitska) several times.  [My favorite book of hers is The Nun in the Closet.]

More important, Ms. Gilman was chosen as this year's Grand Master (2010) at the Edgar Awards.  All in all, I'd say this is an author to pay attention to.  That said, I must say, Gilman's books don't fit the mold of the books I've been buying lately.

The hook feels passive when compared to current openings.  "Madame Karitska, leaving the shabby brownstone on Eighth Street, gave only a cursory glance at the sign in the first-floor window that read MADAME KARITSKA, READINGS.  It was ironic, she thought as she stepped into the bright noon sunshine, how a talent that had earned her whippings as a child, and for which she had never before accepted money, had led her so firmly to this street a year ago, and to this brownstone, to place the sign in the window that at last admitted her gift of clairvoyance."

A lot of info was packed in there, but I wonder if a working editor would sharpen the old red pencil and trim/change the opening paragraph.

More important than the opening hook being softer is the fact the structure of the whole book differs.  Today, publishing blogs from all sectors mention story arcs.  Imagine a covered esplanade with arches letting in the sunshine leading you from one point to another.

Gilman works with entwined threads of vignettes of Madame Karitska's clients, some pertinent to the continuing story and some one time happenings.  I often felt like Gilman was trailing a number of red herrings behind her.  Teasing the reader to guess which vignette adds pertinent plot info and which just adds color to the skein. 

I wonder if the book could still be published -- even though I enjoyed it immensely.  No danger made the reader care about the main character.  No plot offered a great puzzle to solve.  Indeed, Karitska is mostly a passive observer -- though she does get her ankle kicked by one of the villains in the book when he is arrested.  Karitska supplies the information, and the police solve the crimes.  The book, in this sense, almost feels like real life.

Progress ... Have been working on motivations.  Ye New Critiquer faulted me [rightly] for being too obtuse.  Now I've been going back and revising ... mostly beginning chapters.  For Kaffy Anne [Voices of Ghost Creek], I've been foreshadowing her ability to sense ghosts.  For Britt [There Be Demons], I've been adding more indications about what she wants to happen [and ain't].

For Emma, her expectations of bad luck are delivered right in the first chapter without anyone telling me I need to do more.

Trivia ... Bid for a critique on Nashville Relief.  Someone bid $5.00 higher minutes before midnight ended the auction.  I think I was asleep.  ...  Little green demon's saying:  Now you can keep your charity closer to home.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spoiled Expectations?

The Read ... almost wasn't a read due to spoiled expectations.  Picked up Allyson James' Stormwalker  with high expectations without looking at it because the Dark Wyrm  http://tinyurl.com/2eacf3o gave it a thumbs up.  Then, I opened the first page to the not-so-hook:  "It was already dark by the time I zoomed out of the mountains, heading east toward the desserts, and the town of Magellan."  So?  Not until that last third of page two did what I consider a real hook appeared -- nasty mama.  All in all, the first chapter was stuffed with back story which almost made me throw it on the trade pile.

[My infernal, internal editor would have started the book somewhere in the middle of Chapter 1.] 

Beginning with Chapter 2, I found the book well constructed with two interesting story arcs:  1) the book's arc about finding a missing young woman and 2) a possible series arc about controlling nasty-goddess mama.   First third introduces an appealing cast of characters while dealing with the discovery of a dead body.  Second third complicates the situations of the first third highlighted by a hard-hitting surprise about the love-interest.  Third third gave a very nice resolution with the main character growing up a bit.  -- If only I could do it half so well.  [I still think my openings are better than this one, especially after my new critiquer tore into Britt.]

Web Notes ... 1st Turning Point caught my attention the longest among the blogs again with a post by Judith Laik on Promo Primer for the Unpublished.  Lots of good basic info which I'm mostly ignoring.  Primer for the Unpublished  I definitely need to go back and study it.

If you haven't noticed, you might check out the Nashville Relief Auction:  http://dothewritethingfornashville.blogspot.com

Janet Reid offered a critique that I drooled over, but it was already up to $750 when I first looked at it.  Personally, I'd love to pay Janet Reid to rip apart even a part of one of my manuscripts.  I do have a bid in, but it sure is hard to find it among all the good offers.  Check them out.  You can find many offers of professional critiques by authors and agents -- if you're ready for them.

Progress ...  Squeezing in revising first three chapters of Britt while working on Voices.

Trivia ...  The sun shown for Mother's Day ... and there were lots more vendors at the Farmer's Market.  [A good snickerdoodles!]  Also found a Dorothy Gilmore book, used, at the lunch-coffee-bookstore.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Self-Publishing or a New Strategy for Marketing?

My muse stomped all over my lap/chest during my cat-and-coffee sessions the last couple days as I wondered about marketing books ...  Self-publishing isn't my bag.  (Too much work.  Hey, people, you have to be the whole publishing house ... in spite of the promises of vanity presses.)  Self-publishing can be the way to go, but most people don't have the skill set ... or inclination ... to make a success of it.  The problem:  there're no neat boxes.  Authors, irregardless of their publishers, must promote their books whether they want to or not  -- if they want to sell more than 10 copies -- so they become a de facto part of the marketing department even if the department ignores them.

Why these thoughts?  My brain is  revolving around what e-publisher I should submit Mariah to next, now that I withdrew it from the place that had it almost a year and didn't reply to my status queries.  

If I manage to sell something/anything, I'm expecting the publisher to have a marketing template of some sort to help me help them market my "minimum opus".  Question:  If you can't trust a publisher to answer your legitimate questions, how can you trust them to help you make your book a success.  [It's a test, sort of like comparing the vanity press ads in the New York Times Book Reviews with the ads by major publishers.  Which do you think is more effective?]

Then, on my blog roll Deborah Schneider on 1st Turning Point mentions the Expresso Book Machine, a POD publishing deal that lets book stores print a copy of a title as needed.  Link.  Fast service for the customer.  Low upfront costs for the book store.  My mind ran riot with the possibilities with the first thought was self-publishers gained a way to more easily get their books into stores.

Then, with my brain [or the cat] jumping all over the placem I kept thinking of writers who go with e-publishers.  Why are they mostly limited to Amazon.com and their publisher sites?  What if lots of books stores had an POD center, and e-authors formed alliances around the country to get their group's authors into regional stores.  The logistics would be interesting to say the least ... but I love the possibilities.  Maybe, it might increase the cash flow of independent book stores.

The Read ...  Now for something different, Sandra Dallas' Whiter than Snow.  Dallas is a Colorado writer who has a fascination with Rocky Mountain gold mining towns.  (She also wrote Prayers for Sale.)  I think the books fall into the category of woman's fiction and explore the nature of hardship and healing.  Even her books not set in the Rockies explore those themes.

This is a best-selling author ... but forget action packed chapters.  Dallas  tells her tale with a chapter devoted to each of the characters involved in the tragedy as she explores the ways of the heart.  The hooks are magnificent:
1)  Opening sentence:  "No one knew what triggered the Swandyke avalanche that began at exactly 4:10 P. M. on April 20, 1920."
2) Last sentence of the first chapter:  "Four of the children survived."

Progress ... Am dithering.  Maybe to some effect.  Got the last chapter of Emma rewritten and overcame my inclination for having her flip her grandmother off.  [Not a nice thing for a tween to do.]

Still am managing to revise a couple chapters of Kaffy Anne a week ... in spite of everything.  Seem to have a fetish about characters with black curly hair though.  [Mine isn't ...  wasn't, even when I was young.]

Mariah's on the front burner again, but I don't know what I'm going to do.  Someone with any sense would call Dark Solstice a trunk-novel and shelve her.

Trivia ... Have become a part of an ill friend's transportation network.  Seems like there are more cruel diseases out there now days than when I was a kid ... or are people just living longer with them?

PS.  Seems I'm spending a lot more time watching my retirement portfolio after yesterday.  Fortunately, the anemic thing wasn't drained too badly.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Resisting the Query Itch

Queries ...  Queries ...  Of course, I've been studying how to write effective queries ...  I've got the query itch.  With three manuscripts in the hopper, I want to query.  Long to query.  --  So, I have every unpublished, unagented writer's problem (with a completed manuscript).  To query or not to query.

Last week, I thought writing a hooking query was my major problem.  After listening to a couple critique partners, I'm worried more about whether my manuscripts are up to snuff.  (Britt and Emma)

Writing an effective query seems simple enough.  Here, I'll give the "stage" to my guru-in-chief, Janet Reid ... an agent who doesn't represent what I write (dang it).  Here's the link to her guidelines:  http://tinyurl.com/2djd38m

Every other, agent I remember repeats Reid's theme ... if not the specifics. Agent Rachelle Gardner , a very nice person I've met thanks to the Northern Colorado Writers and who also doesn't represent what I write, offers some pointed comments on why an agent wouldn't want to bite on your wonderful, maybe glorious query.  http://tinyurl.com/28z76hm  [Though yesterday, Reid did extend a fin offering a temptation to query even if you think your manuscript is inappropriate.]

Now, I'll tell you a secret in case you didn't read Rachelle's post.  You can write the most glorious query in the world.  If the agent you send it do doesn't represent the genre of the book or hates horses (or whatever), you'll get a form rejection.  Sounds self-evident, but from the agent blogs -- inappropriate submissions happen all too often.  Maybe incompetent submissions more often. 

[I now have only three queries out there -- for Emma.  The rejections should more or less land by June -- one's one of those "if you don't hear from us, it's a rejection." types.  I don't see why if agents can automatically acknowledge the receipt of a query -- they couldn't sent an automatic "Your project isn't for us".

The Read ... Well, I now know what all the comment was about when I finally got to the end of Changes by Jim Butcher.  No spoilers here.  I'll just say the action gallops along to the end with a little rumination about doing the right thing.  A lot of loose ends were tied up ... but huge dangling questions left Dresden simmering.  My disappointment, Mab didn't appear at the end to tell Dresden what she thought about her new Winter Knight's adventure.

One thing I noticed in this book, Butcher is still promoting the Codex Alera series.  I don't know what it's doing nationally, but I don't think it's doing too well where I live.  Two used book stores didn't take the two books I had in trade.  (I more or less just skimmed the books.)  The Friends of the Library gets them to do whatever with.

Trivia ... Pat Stoltey, a friend from the Northern Colorado Writers, gifted me with a BFF Blogger award.  Only I don't know what to do with it.  Maybe, I'll have to go to the office after the chiropractor's to find out.  Must thank her though.  Her mention got me a couple new followers, I think.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Queries and Changes

Progress ... The queries in the back of my mind jumped to the front over the weekend -- like it's time to refine my approach to queries.  Spent a whole evening sorting through the stale queries I had hanging out there.  (About six for three books.)  By the time I organized them, cleaned them up and set up a new tracking system, I had three left ... one for a book submission which I'll probably withdraw. 

Actually, I'm thinking of not sending out anymore queries for a while.  Found a new critique partner (I hope.) who caught stuff my other valiant critiquers hadn't.  (Believe me, they found plenty wrong.)  -- Guess I don't have the craft stuff firmly internalized yet.

One thing, I'll be pickier about who I send my queries to.  No more general fantasy agents.  Now, I'm looking for agents who do both middle grade and young adult with a strong interest in fantasy (not necessarily just paranormal).  It narrows my options so I really do need to limit the number of queries I send out there,or I'd quickly exhaust the possibilities.

If you are looking for some in-depth info about agents -- beyond the summaries at Agent Query and Query Tracker (etc), you might look at Casey McCormick's blog Literary Rambles.   Click Here.

Of course, there's Publisher's Marketplace too, but they charge.  I'm still an amateur and don't feel I can justify the cost.

Sterling Reading Advice ... The Sunday New York Times Magazine had an interview with Charlaine Harris, "Once Bitten" where she gives her take on vampires.  I liked her writing advice: "For any writers at all, read everything you can and then put your butt in the chair and write.  That's all there is to it."

I really wish it were so.  All I can think of is the joke about the guy who wrote a class paper:  "Pop pop, poppity pop pop ..."

The Read ...  Jim Butcher keeps moving Harry Dresden from one disaster to another conflagration.  Old and new characters appear ... giving him a smidgen of help while digging him deeper into a hole.   As usual, I love the way he depicts characters through their actions and dialog.  His vampire-hired assassins are a hoot in the way he gets the dialog to indicate their weird mental processes.  I don't know if Butcher was a student of Edward Sapir or Benjamin Whorf, but ...  [I'll reserve that discussion for when I find myself among a bunch of anthropologists.]

Did I mention the action?  During the transition (about half way through) from setting up the problem facing Dresden to delaying Dresden so can't reach the villains in time to prevent his daughter's sacrifice -- he's being chased by these weird  assassins, mentioned above, who fire bomb his basement apartment.  The problem:  Dresden is faced with the problem of saving his cat and the elderly people who occupy the other apartments in the burning building -- with the hurt/broken(?) back he had retreated to his apartment to treat.  By the time he rescues the elderly occupants and gets taken to a safe-house, Dresden is treated for his back only to face a different assassin.  --  All in about 20 pages or so.

Thought I'd just throw in a couple lines, out of context, that had me laughing out loud.
1)  "Wizards don't giggle," I said, hardly able to speak.  "This is a cackling."  [Note the adverb and to-be word, anyone?]
2)  Sanya's eyes danced, though his face was sober.  "You are a drug dealer (pizza).  To tiny fairies.  Shame."

I've noticed another interesting difference in this book -- rather long, for Butcher, existential commentaries about religion, values, change, and other important stuff I don't remember in the previous books.

Trivia ... Went to the Farmer's Market in the cold.  Bought all sorts of good stuff -- kettle corn, snickerdoodles, apple strudel.  Hey, I didn't say healthy.