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Tag Archives: Steampunk

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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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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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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Beta Readers, Beta Reading

As is probably common with most writers, I have not had the best success in finding willing and able beta readers. More often, I can find willing people who are not exactly able. Well, able to actually ever offer up feedback anyway. It is a boon to find someone who can or will take the time to read a work in progress. It is, unfortunately, far worse when the best you get from that person is, ‘I liked it’ or, worst case scenario, you never hear from them again.

I am not too proud to mention that my mother (yes, my mother) has been my most effective beta reader for the purpose of pure editing over content editing. She is my mother, so I tend to fear that her lack of plot or story input is based in uterine muscle memory rather than a critical eye. Even so, she has the keenest eye for grammar and sentence structure that I could ask for. So good, in fact, that I don’t look for other beta readers in that area. What I hope for is a reader that can give me feedback about character development, plot momentum, setting, background, and all of the other various and sundry elements that are far less clinical and far more esoteric.

Jami Gold offered a pretty clear illustration on beta readers in her blog. The point she made that resounded most with me is this: If I want quality beta readers, I’d probably better start offering myself up for some beta reading as well. I had a dear friend who is an accomplished short story author ask me to beta read for her first full length, YA novel. Within two chapters, I confessed that it was getting in the way of my writing and I wouldn’t be dependable. Well, that is no longer an excuse. With three completed manuscripts in the editing process, I can safely allow myself to read now.

So, here it is: Writers, I am willing and able to be your beta reader. I confess, my tastes are limited to Steampunk, science fiction, fantasy, essays, and various YA genres. Anything else may find a hard time maintaining my attention, but I am willing to offer up brutal and constructive criticism if it means I might be able to call on you later. Feel free to contact me here and we can work out something based on your timeline.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Prologue Problems

I recently had a feedback coffee date with a couple of beta readers for my Untitled Steampunk novel. For the most part, there were no great concerns and only a few small points that needed addressed. One of which was how appropriate the use of Rapture in conversation is in a novel taking place in 1878. I’m sticking to my guns on this one not because I’m certain it’s the best use of the phrase, but because the Rapture has become culturally relevant even to young adult readers and I think it will have much more impact than the lead characters joking about transcendence.

At any rate, the other big idea I walked away with was the possibility of incorporating a prologue. See, the main story line includes massive golems crafted of technology and alchemy and put to work at the Orthodox Temples. While golems only appear a couple times in the story, they are a major driving factor behind the actions the main characters take. What my beta readers brought up was how little information about these golems is actually shared with the reader. It hadn’t even occurred to me that there might be more interest in a golem backstory.

Certainly I could sprinkle bits and pieces of golem history throughout the novel without interrupting the flow, but could a prologue better serve to provide this information and completely avoid any risk of reading as last minute thoughts poked into the story line? So I walked away from our meeting with the idea that yes, indeed, a prologue will best serve me. However, being who I am, I decided to do a little Googling to see how prologues are generally received.

From Foremost Press, I found this:

“A prologue is used mainly for two reasons.

1. To outline the backstory quickly and economically, saving the author from having to resort to flashbacks or ruses such as conversations or memories to explain the background to the reader. This is commonly done in science fiction and fantasy to show why a certain quest is being undertaken or what will happen in the future. The prologue is a better option than a first chapter bogged down in detail.

2. To hook the reader and provide the story question right up front, giving them a reason to keep turning the pages to find out the answer. Quite often the prologue relates to a scene near the end of the story, and the story itself then shows what has led up to this moment. When is this justified? Perhaps when you want to introduce your characters in a more leisurely fashion, and your reader’s experience with ‘meeting’ them will be enhanced by some sort of foreshadowing of what is to come.”

And from Writing-World.com, this:

“Any workplace has a list of dos and don’ts; the prologue is no exception. Here are some:

-The prologue should always be an integral part of the novel, written in the same spirit and style. Otherwise it’s a personal preface rather than an opening chapter.

-The prologue should read like a short story in every aspect, except for its ending. Rather than resolving all conflict, the end should leave the reader intrigued. Any conflict created in the prologue, however, must be resolved somewhere along the plot.

-The prologue should start with a strong and intriguing hook as if it were the only beginning of the novel. This does not exempt Chapter One from beginning with an equally strong and intriguing hook.

-The prologue must stand out from the body of the novel in at least one fashion: the time of the events (which should be stated both in the prologue and in the first chapter), the POV character, and so on. The reader should feel a distinct switch in his mind when he begins reading Chapter One. And just as important, he should never experience the same switch again within the novel. For example, if the difference between the prologue and Chapter One is an interval of five years, you may not fast-forward time again within the novel.”

Beyond that, there were blogs like this one from Pens and Swords that really makes a person second guess any inclusion of a prologue:

“Another pitfall that writers fall into is turning the prologue into a dumping ground for backstory on the world. I did this myself with Maiden and the origin of Saestra Karanok. Instead of weaving the depth and richness of the world into the story, the writer crams it all into the beginning and promptly forgets it. Prologues set an expectation for the reader that the information revealed will have significant relevance later on in the story. Fail to do this and you let the reader down.”

So more than anything, I am now convinced that I’m going to have to pay extra attention to creating this prologue so that it isn’t just a dumping place for information I didn’t have the foresight to include the first time around. Sometimes I wonder if my compulsive need to Google isn’t as self-destructive as other people’s need to WebMD every occasional symptom and consequently blow seasonal allergies into a migrating calcified fetus.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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