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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Second Response: Quick and Painless

Well, that was probably just about as fast as I imagine a query can die. It took less time for this agent to turn me down than it did for me to research their particular interests and preferences. Even so, this just means I’m on to the next one.

(15 minutes from query sent to query killed)

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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First Response: DOA

So, I had absolutely no expectations that my first query response would be the one that sold the book. I might have hoped for a request for more chapters, but I’m a realist. If anything, I think this is the nicest and most convincingly non-form letter response that I’ve seen. Not that this means it wasn’t a form letter response. It just reads rather nicely so I’m choosing to believe it wasn’t.

When I was sending out queries for my fantasy manuscript, I received a similar response in that the story just didn’t fit the agent’s wishlist. This particular agent does list both YA and Steampunk as areas of interest, but may not have an interest in YA Steampunk. Or may prefer Offworld Steampunk, or older age-group YA, or non-American Steampunk. The genre lends itself to a lot of different areas, so who knows. Not every fish likes the same sort of worm, you know?

Of course, there is always the chance that this response is a blow off and that the content of the sample is what failed to interest the agent. If you want to keep your sanity, however, it is best to not read more into the response than is truly there. Agents can (and should) be brutally honest about quality. There is no point in sparing my feelings if the writing is bad, so I can only assume that they would say exactly that.

Anyway, I have a list with another agent at the top, so I will be sending out another query today – keeping my total to three in the wind at a time.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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It’s Only Been a Week

Or 8 days. Whatever.

I honestly don’t expect to hear back from any of the agents I queried for at least another week. I am neither tense nor anxious about it. In fact, I have found a few more great leads on potential agents, so I can count disinterested parties as simply opening up room to send out another query. This is truly my favorite part about the entire process. Granted, it is the furthest I’ve gotten in the process, but even so I do enjoy it best. Things are out of my hands and beyond my control and I can do something else for a moment.

Speaking of which:

I’m leaving for Louisville next weekend to attend Wonderfest. This is my first convention/expo/nerdpalooza of any sort and I’m really quite excited. I’m not a huge fan of roadtrips, but some good friends, good fun, and all-around geekery may be just what I need to reset myself. The Iron Modeler looks especially fun: Eight 3-person teams are given a “base item” (could be a kit, could be a random item), a big pile of parts, greeblies and assorted castaway household items, and 4 hours to build the best model they can out of what they’ve got.

Then, the weekend after we get home, we’re hosting a Dead Celebrity party which will be amazing and, most likely, terribly embarrassing for most everyone. I love costume parties and I always push the envelope as far as possible. So, yeah, I’m definitely dressing up as David Carradine. At time of death. I’m not spelling it out any more than that.

So until I hear anything from any agents, consider me relaxed and enjoying the weather.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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My Grandmother’s Stories, II

“I remember the doll my cousins and I played with at our maternal grand parents’ home.  Mother and her sisters learned to sew at an early age.  They made their clothing and with the leftover scraps made doll clothes, also quilt patches and rag rugs.  There was only one doll left by the time my cousins and I arrived on the “scene,” and it had a fabulous wardrobe.  There was also a doll size three drawer dresser and hump back trunk for storage.  That doll was dressed for all occasions church, trips, parties and anywhere else our imagination took us.  Unfortunately, she didn’t have a head.  The china head had been broken and someone had patched the hole so the stuffings didn’t run out.  Lack of a head didn’t slow down her social life one bit, we hardly missed it except when there was a matching bonnet for one of the many dresses.”

This is a story I wish I’d heard when grandma was still around.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Grandma's Stories

 

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3, 2, 1…Submit.

I just sent off the first three query letters for THE COALSLIDES. It isn’t advisable, I think, to send too many queries out at once because an agent may ask for an exclusive look at your manuscript. If that happens and you agree (you will), then you may be forced to say no to any other agents who reply afterward. My fantasy manuscript sat exclusively with one agent for nearly six months. If I had sent out 25 queries, I could potentially (not likely) have had to turn down 25 requests to see the rest of the manuscript.

The agents I sent my queries to were found at http://www.writersmarket.com/ where I was able to search specifically for agents listing Steampunk as a genre of interest. Of the five results, I excluded the magazine and the agency that did not have an entry at Predators & Editors. Three was exactly how many queries I wanted to start with, so I didn’t need to expand my search to all YA or MG agents, or urban fiction, sci fi, or whatever else I thought might apply. The search feature isn’t amazing anyway – there are, in fact, other agents in search of Steampunk that do not turn up under this search.

Two of the agents required a query letter, synopsis (included as part of my query), and the first 5 pages. The third required the first 20 pages. In almost every case for e-queries, you will be asked to copy and paste everything into the body of the email. Nobody wants to open 100 attachments every day and put their computer at risk for countless bugs, viruses, or bogeymen.

Within a minute of submitting each of the queries, an automated response popped up in my email. The first read:

Thank you for querying me! This is an automatic email letting you know I
received your query; I’ll respond as soon as I am able.

If you received this email in error, don’t worry. I regularly check for
emails that my automated service mislabels, so I will respond to your
non-query email shortly.

The second:

Thank you for submitting your work to ******* Agency. We do answer all queries so we appreciate your patience awaiting our reply.

And the third:

Thank you for your email.

If this is a query, consider it received.

There really isn’t much to say about the automated responses that would have any bearing on how things may turn out, but I promised to share the entirety of the experience with you, so there you have it. As things progress, I’ll let you know.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Question of a Query

I’ve decided, given the advice of some trusted friends, to go ahead with my Steampunk manuscript, tentatively titled The Coalslides. The query letters will start their migration from my home to agents on Monday. We’ll see if the word count becomes an issue at some point, but I am pointedly choosing to ignore that possibility for now.

Because this is the best and worst part of writing, I’ll do my best to share the experience with you wholesale. I’ll leave out the names of agents or publishing houses, but I’ll share whatever responses I get as they come in. For now, understanding that changes may be required, here is the query letter I will begin with:

Dear [insert agent’s name],

The summer of 1878 beat hot and oppressive on St. Louis and Oscar Tumblety and his friends were looking for adventure. They found it in the The Coalslides, the sprawling undercity deep beneath the city. The Lamplighters and Tunnelflushers , a stolen automaton, a band of dangerous ruffians, and the strange waterworks quickly become an adventure more exciting and perilous than the trio could have imagined. Oscar learns truths about himself and secrets about the post-war state of the nation among the mysteries of the Coalslides.

Oscar recognizes Billy Lemp’s wild streak and utter fearlessness. He sees Constance Scott for her sharp wit and rational mind as well as her strength and speed. What he doesn’t see is his own invaluable contributions to the close-knit group.  The trio sets off to hunt down a Golem stolen from the old Orthodox clerics and discover a plot that threatens to destroy the tenuous peace they’ve found in skulking the city’s alleys and rooftops all summer. To survive and thwart the shadowy men set on upsetting the delicate recovery of United States, Oscar discovers the strengths his friends had always known he possessed.

I’m an unpublished writer seeking an agent to foster my manuscript through the publication process. In an effort to begin building a community with interest in the novel, I have started a blog at https://tobiaswrites.wordpress.com and tweet as @tobiaswrites as well. While my background is in Anthropology and Higher Education, I have been an avid Steampunk reader for more than a decade. As an American Steampunk/alternate history tale, I would describe The Coalslides as a YA compliment to Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series.

Thank you for the opportunity to share this story with you. The manuscript is available for your reading and is 43,504 words in its entirety. 

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Middle Grade, Young Adult, Confused Gen Xer

Yesterday was a big day for me. I completed all the edits on my Untitled Steampunk (yes, I know) and considered it ready to shop to agents. It’s been about a year since I last shopped out my Blood of a Godkiller manuscript to agents and I’m ready to get back to actively trying to sell a book. The elation, the pride, the self-satisfaction. I had a solid, worthy manuscript on hand.

For about 10 minutes.

Some little brain worm burrowed itself into my grey matter within moments of giving myself an internalized huzzah. The completed manuscript is 43,504 words. Prior to really getting involved in writing this story, I reread some of the books I read growing up. I needed a little experiential instruction on the YA format, so I read these familiar stories with a different eye. I looked more closely at character development, pacing, and content. I even looked at word counts. I felt confident. So where had this insatiable brainworm come from and why was it siphoning off this newfound confidence with such gusto?

Careful dissection of the nefarious beast revealed two things. First, is this manuscript intended to be YA (Young Adult) or MG (Middle Grade)? Second, does the admittedly sparse word count greatly affect which category this manuscript can be considered for? See, I’m not overly familiar with the MG classification as I had intended this story to fall into YA. Now that I wasn’t so certain, I had to do a little research.

According to Colleen Lindsay at the swivet, my manuscript falls just shy of expectations at the lowest end of YA (45k) and just over the highest end for MG (40k). Okay, that isn’t entirely disconcerting. It is acceptable to have some variation, I’m sure.
Well, then I read at www.fromthemixedupfiles.com that  YA generally starts around 55k words. Even so, they still classify MG as topping out around 40k, so there must be some shady grey area where anything between the two resides.

Naturally word count is hardly the defining factor in classifying a book. The writer at The Mixed-Up Files and Michelle Schusterman at YA Highway take a closer look at content as the dividing factor. Subject matter, naturally tops the list. The overarching theme in my Untitled Steampunk manuscript is self-discovery which, in both cases, seems to best fit into the MG category. However, being an American Steampunk tale, there are issues of ethnicity, class, and politics that are largely linked to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Someone dies. So, unfortunately, I fear that this particular designation is a bit murky as well.
Romance is quite disparate in MG and YA. In MG it would typically involve hand-holding and maybe a first kiss. In YA it can go so far as intercourse and could potentially deal with such subjects as rape and abandonment. Well, I’m not much for romance as a reader or, really, as a writer. Even so, I did include an unspoken adoration between two of the three protagonists. As it is neither central to the theme nor important to the story, it never progresses beyond furtive glances, lingering touches, and the like. So, does this mean it falls squarely within MG?

Finally, and most easily adjusted to suit my needs, is intended readership. While an 8 year-old would not be put off reading about a 13 year-old, it might be less likely that a 13 year-old would read about an 8 year-old protagonist. At present, my protagonists are 11, 11, and 12. Technically, that would place the book into the MG category. If I (or an agent or publisher) felt more keenly that the book should fall into the YA category, I could probably push the characters into the 13 and 14 range, but not much further. I wrote them to be independent and worldly and they are self-sufficient with little interaction with their parents. If I push the 1878 setting to 1880, I may have to change some of the historically accurate names and realign the timeline in reference to events, but I don’t think the characters would be forced to change much. It had always been my intention to give them more responsibility, freedom, and capability than might be expected of children.

So, yeah. I am somewhat deflated in comparison to my brief joy at having completed edits because it seems more work may need to be done. “More work” could include adding another 30-40k words if I decide the manuscript does not easily fit into the YA category.

I think I’ll go ahead and put together a query letter and let the responses I receive determine how much more work I may need to put into it, if any.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Editing, but with Cats.

“Your inexpert use of tense and foreshadowing are indicative of your wanton disregard for traditional formatting.”

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Goodbye, Max.

“Maurice Sendak, the children’s author and illustrator best known for the 1963 classic “Where the Wild Things Are,” is dead at age 83” (here).

As a child, I had very few heroes. Not because there weren’t any out there, but because I never really grasped the concept of hero worship. An avid reader, I was well aware that heroes were the stuff of make believe. Sure, people have heroic moments. They rush into burning buildings to save strangers, step boldly between an attacker and his victim, adopt children and pets and charitable causes. But all of this seemed so temporal. There weren’t really people out there that put all of their energy into making the world a better place. I grew up as a child in the military. Even understanding the sacrifices that soldiers make, I was too close to them to think them heroes. I saw the very human side to these men and women as well. And really, isn’t that what makes a hero in a child’s mind? They’re something above and beyond the general mediocrity of ourselves.

It wasn’t until much later that I adjusted my idea of hero worship to include people that were as human and mortal as I, but had made amazing accomplishments happen despite adversity. Maurice Sendak was one of those heroes. He was surrounded by death and mortality as a child, part of a family that was decimated by the Holocaust. He spent nearly all of his life hiding his sexuality and his partner of 50 years from his family. He grew to dislike people, to see the world as a weary and sad place, and to want nothing more than solitude. From the outside, he seems like a manic depressive curmudgeon with the unlikely skill to create indelible art.

I think, perhaps, that this is what makes a hero. Despite himself, he created things that we and countless generations after us will remember fondly. And he didn’t just lock them away out of spite. He shared them with the most impressionable of us. Maybe what makes a hero isn’t the news-ready smile and platitudes of morality and self-sacrifice. Maybe what makes a hero is surviving despite the life you were given and leaving a mark that will outlast you. Maybe a hero is defined by his flaws.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Perdido Street Station

“The polymorphous four-way wooing became fraught and competitive. Stroking, touching, arousing. Each moth in turn spiralled moonward, drunk on lust. It would split the seal on a gland hidden under its tail and exude a cloud of empathic musk.” China Miéville, Perdido Street Station

The first I’d heard of China Miéville was when I’d found by accident and voraciously devoured King Rat. It was Miéville’s first novel and I was enthralled. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this was before the Nook. I tried to remind myself to read more of his work, but prior to ebooks shopping for books tended to be more chance than planned. I was a faithful used book shopper, so the titles I picked up were limited to what I found. The good thing is, I still have a good paperback copy of King Rat that I will likely re-read soon. Don’t get me wrong, I love real, truly physical books. It just wasn’t as easy to follow up when it required a trip to the bookstore as it is now that I can look it up the moment I finish one.

At any rate, the release of his latest, Railsea, put his name back out into the æther. It tickled some dusty trapdoor buried beneath the old and mildewed cardboard boxes of my memory. So, naturally, I went to Google to solve the problem of my malformed memories.

Almost the moment Google spat out its many and varied responses, the rusted hinges of my locked away memories flew wide and scattered motes of dust and cobweb elsewhere in my sadly misused brainpan. Oh yes. I remember him now.

China Miéville is this sexy, left-wing, British Socialist usually counted among the New Weird. I spent a good few moments with his image search results before getting back to whatever it was I had googled for in the first place.

Rather than go straight for his latest release, I decided to stick with his own patterns of growth and publication. I had already read his first novel, so why not move on to his second. Perdido Street Station was quickly purchased and on hand for my leisure. A leisure that I put all else aside for.

This novel is not for the casual skimmer. If you find yourself skipping paragraphs of descriptive narrative to the next bit of dialogue, this is not for you. If you require that every element of a new and fantastic world be carefully described and explained with context, you can move on. In fact, if you require that a person, beast, or amalgamation of both be described so fully as to paint a picture for you, you need not stop here. Miéville draws Bas-Lag with both fat and fine pointed brushes, but leaves the sentient bits for you to design according to your needs. Most people/creatures are given a fair enough assessment that you can place them in your brain-movie without exacerbating any existing strains or fractures. Some are so indescribably beyond reference that any image of it limited only to the artistry of your own grey matter.

The city. The city-state of New Crobuzon is where the intricate details are laid out. If you’re familiar with Ankh-Morpork or Lankhmar, you know exactly what I mean. If you aren’t, you probably don’t. I don’t even know that I can explain it without watering it down with insulting low-brow comparisons. Just know that Miéville knows grit and grime and urban sprawl and social dysfunction and architectural discord and decay like no other. I wanted to move into New Crobuzon just so that I could complain about it.

If you are a fan of fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, steampunk, or anything that skirts the mainstream, you will enjoy this book. No, enjoy isn’t even fair. You will eat this book with your fingers and face and suck the juices from its pages.

Next up for me, keeping a narrow eye on his own growth and progression, comes The Scar.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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