Query-Go-Round

When this year started, I promised myself I’d start querying my historical romance this summer.

Umm…that didn’t happen. I was too busy incorporating feedback from my writing group and fretting about, well, everything.

Then I said I’d query this fall for sure. October came and went. (Where did October go? I really want it back.)

Then I told myself I’d query before December—because everyone knows agents automatically discount December queries as half-baked Nano novels and if that’s true, I didn’t want that to happen to my story.

I started querying last week.

Delight or Terror. That is the Question.

And the last few days have been full of Exhilaration (A request? They like me, they really like me!), Despair (Form rejection? Form you!) Second-Guessing (No auto-reply? Maybe I should send again.), and now impatience as the holidays take their toll on the industry.

But that’s ok. I met my (oft-modified) personal goal for querying and know the novel is the best I can make it right now. And for that, I’m thankful.

What are you thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!
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Pen Names and Other Problems

So my name is not Bluestocking. Did I just blow your mind?

Blogging under an alias is something I started for a variety of reasons, including the fact that:

  • I was unpublished.
  • I was uncomfortable with labeling myself a writer.
  • I wasn’t sure if this whole blogging thing was for me.

All those things made sense back in February 2010 when I first started the blog. But now:

  • I am slowing getting publishing credits.
  • I’m growing more comfortable calling myself a writer.
  • I’m still blogging – less as an experiment and more for a platform.

So having a blogging alias is not so necessary any more. But I’m still using it. Why? Well, as I was telling my CP Lori M. Lee the other day, it’s complicated, and it mostly comes down to what I write: historical romance and speculative fiction. Two very different genres, with different expectations and readerships. It’s not so bad as say picture books and erotica, but the gulf between the two is still there.

Despite whatever level of success I attain in either area, these are the genres I see myself writing in for the long haul. Considering the prevailing wisdom out there about author branding and platform-building, I should have an author persona for each genre I write in. Some people like Kristen Lamb predict that pen names will eventually go away in the digital era, but for now, like a lot of other things in publishing, pen names are still around.

Since I have three stories either published or forthcoming under my own name (and two of those are specfic), it makes sense to put out my historical romance (if I ever do) under a pen name:

Historical Romances —> Pen name
Speculative Fiction —> Real name

So now the question is where does my blog fit in?

Now occasionally I will talk about my historical romance or my speculative projects on the blog, but to me, these distinctions don’t really matter since ultimately this is a blog about writing and writing-related things (putting aside the whole writing blogs are bad argument).

I used to think I’d figure it all out when I had to. But when it comes to blogging or any social media presence, it is important to have a strategy. I want to know how I will handle my online presence now even though it’s rather self-indulgent to assume I’ll succeed in any genre let alone both. At the same time, I don’t want to make a wrong choice at this early start of my career, and have it haunt me later on down the line.

I don’t know. But after blogging for over a year and a half, after putting together so many posts I’m proud of, losing this blog or starting over isn’t appealing.

I don’t have any easy answers here. I’m still Bluestocking for now. We’ll see how long that lasts.

What are your own thoughts/concerns about the pen name debate? Here are some other resources for you to peruse if you are considering a pen name:

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Etiquette versus Intentions

I’ve run into a bit of a dilemma.

One of the people I’ve have shared my novel with locally is convinced “I’m ready for publication” (her words). A good feeling, right?

Yes…and no.

When she sent me her feedback on my novel, she said she’d be happy to speak with her writing friends to get me some agent recommendations and referrals.

That was kind of her, but I wanted more information on who these people were before she did anything. So I simply thanked her for the feedback and waited until our next meeting a few days later so we could discuss it in person. That’s when I found out she had already started talking me up to her friends.

And I was upset. I didn’t know who these people were, what they wrote, who they were agented by. Since this woman doesn’t write commercial fiction, I question her evaluation of my work in the first place, and wondered if her contacts would even be relevant to me.

Her help, while generous of her to offer, rubbed me the wrong way. We went from her offering to contact people on my behalf to her doing so without bothering to secure my permission.

I explained to her my reservations, and naturally she was offended. Said that she was only trying help. Didn’t I know that networking is how things were done these days?

Ugg. Yes, I’m not an idiot.

But for me the problem was etiquette. She should have asked. I should have the opportunity to ask questions and have them answered as to whom she wanted to approach. It is my work, so ultimately, I should have a say in what she does on my behalf. Right?

However, she was so certain that because her intentions were good, that she was doing me a favor, I shouldn’t have a problem.

But I do. I’m really close to querying this novel again. I feel I am at a delicate place, and any step forward with this project needs to be deliberate and well thought out.

Because I’m half this woman’s age, because she’s been agented twice before (most recently the early 1990’s even though no publications resulted from these arrangements) she feels she’s qualified to dictate to me what I should do. I joined the writing group she was in for feedback – not a self-elected mentor. I also think part of my aggravation stems from her motherly “I know better” attitude. Drives me crazy since some of her info is way out of date for today’s marketplace.

She wants to help, and I’m grateful for it. But she also jumped the gun (since I’m still collecting feedback and making edits) and went over my head. She thinks my objections have to do with me being “afraid of success” when really my concerns stem from a breach in etiquette, trust, and respect of me and my work.

Etiquette versus (admittedly good) Intentions.

Who is right? Am I blowing this out of proportion?
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Description and Your Characters’ Lens

I’m in what I think is the final round of revisions for my historical romance. I’ve said this before, but hopefully, it’s true this time.

I’ve been incorporating feedback from my critique partners, trying to eradicate nefarious narrative distance, and have found a group of local writers to serve as betas as I get closer and closer to the finish line (the finish line in this scenario is the querying phase).

One thing that came up after my betas read the first section of my novel was the need for more physical description of place and character – something both my CPs alluded to as well. Admittedly, description is tough for me – I find long passages of description boring as a reader and tend to keep the description in my own writing as concise and functional as possible. Especially in my historical romance, where many details are the result of conjecture despite the research I’ve done. Basically I’m terrified of getting my wrists slapped by a history buff for any assumptions I’ve made about the time period.

This is complicated by the fact that my heroine is already well versed in my story’s setting, so it doesn’t make sense for her to spend her “stage time” waxing on about the castle where she lives, the people she interacts with. They just are to her. Familiar. Taken for granted. A given.

But to my hero (and newcomer to this world), these things are worth mentioning as he takes in the sights and sounds and passes judgment on them.

Therefore I’ve created a rule for myself: In a character’s POV, the description is going to emphasize primarily new information.

Character ——> New Information

So, in my story, my characters will be focusing on different things in their POV scenes:

Heroine —-> hero and his men
(since she is already familiar with the setting)

Hero ——-> heroine and setting
(since he is already familiar with his men)

What’s left over is context, exposition, backstory. As well as character’s thoughts, emotion, and physical markers of emotion, which to me is different from physical descriptions of characters and setting — the type of description I’m focusing on for this post.

Unlike a story in first-person, where all the information must reach the reader through one perspective, in dual-POV stories (like most romances published today) the choice of what is described, when, and by whom, can not only move the story forward but speak to character as well.

As I revise and look for places to reduce narrative distance and add description, I’m trying to keep in mind the notion that my characters will be more aware of others’ actions and their surroundings, and place less importance on their own actions:

Therefore, when I’m writing a scene from my hero’s POV, he might acknowledge the fact he smiles to some comment another character makes and leave it at that. But when the heroine smiles, he’ll pass judgment on that action, no matter how slight. Does her lip curl up? Can he see her teeth? Does it remind him of the kiss they shared the scene before?

Not only does this help me vary physical cues, but enhances my hero’s perspective (and by extension his character) and give me an opportunity to flesh out parts of my novel that need more description.

This is a subtle shift, but an important one for someone like me who tends to let the reader’s imagination do the heavy lifting in terms of fully visualizing scenes.

What ways do you use your characters’ lens to pass on information to the reader?

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Things I Never Knew about My Writing

I’ve returned my attention to my historical romance novel, polishing it up so I can share it with a batch of new readers in my local writing group. One thing I’ve been paying a lot of attention to is Narrative Distance.

I’ve also been combing through my critique partners’ notes on my novel. I read their comments when they were finished with each section but never got around to making all the changes until now.

And it was shocking to find the same things popping up again and again.

For example:

  • I drop words. All the time. Especially pronouns and articles. My husband often catches these for me, but he doesn’t read every single version of everything I write. Maybe he should…
  • I rarely use commas after introductory clauses. Although there are some cases where a comma isn’t needed, for the most part you should include it. The Purdue Online Writing Lab has a great resource on this.
  • I have a problem with near words like where/were and think/thing. There’s probably more of them, but they are tricky for my brain at least to catch.
  • I am wordy. This is partly because I’m writing a historical, and partly because of all the years I wrote academic and technical papers. I’m working on it. Admitting the problem is the first step in getting better. Check out Kim Blank’s Wordiness, Wordiness, Wordiness List  and ensure your work is as lean as possible.
  • I use adverbs as crutches. I’ve blogged about this before, and I’ve gotten better. But I still use “finally” a lot. I’ve started to train myself to avoid it, with mixed results.
  • I recycle the same reactions over and over again. He sighed. She frowned. He grit his teeth. She cursed. You get the idea. I need to sit down and brainstorm other reactions and sprinkle them throughout the manuscript. The Emotion Thesaurus from The Bookshelf Muse will be indispensable for this process.
  • I still do a lot of telling, especially when it comes to emotions. Often I’m just not delving deep enough as to what my character think/feels and instead rely on shallow markers. Although Show and Tell is a topic worthy of it’s own post, here are some links to some resources: Janice Hardy’s You’re So Emotional, Kidlit.com’s What “Show, Don’t Tell” Really Means, and Adventures in Children’s Publishing’s Deciding When to Show and When to Tell.

This past week, I also ran across a great post on Ten Steps to a Clean Submission by editor Theresa Stevens. A must read if you are getting twitchy about querying.

And just this morning, Janice Hardy posted Five Ways to Kick Writing Up a Notch with some great tips anyone can do to polish up their prose.

So, what are your common writing mistakes? What have you had to teach yourself not to do?

Happy writing!
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