Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Go away and let me write!

You always hear the stories of writers who sit down to write and don’t, because they let themselves be distracted.

I’m not one of those.

Instead, when I sit down to write, by gum, I write! 


(There’s always a however…)

I still get distracted. Unwillingly so.  No, I don’t want to be distracted. No, I don’t want to stop writing. Go away.

My distractions usually begin with, “Moooom…”  or “Honey..?”  or “Meow.”  And occasionally fire alarms.  Sometimes phone calls.  Other times, with “Zzzz….”  (usually when I can’t help it).

If the distraction is ignorable, I’ll ignore it.  But if I can’t, I grumble and acquiesce to whatever the distraction wants.  (Really?  Laundry? Now?)

Last November I took the whole month off the Day Job so I could be a professional author.  I sent the offspring to school, the co-parent to work and me and my laptop sat down and we wrote.  Sometimes for as long as six hours.  Oh, it was glorious!  I got so much wordage done.

But the Earth still turns and kids come home from school and the circadian rhythms ebb.  Sooner or later, I’ve got to stop what I’m doing, save my WIP and go make dinner.

You’d think by now the loinfruit would have figured out how to fend for themselves.

Alas, this year, no November off. I've gotta squeeze NaNoWriMo in between everything else, just like everyone else. 

So, y'all?  Go away and let me write!
Her Grace dreams of the day she can write full-time without being interrupted.  She's done it before and thoroughly relished it.

Monday, 28 October 2013

How to Stalk an Agent

You may start stalking agents at any time in your career, even before you've started a novel. Research is good.  DO NOT QUERY an agent until you have a complete, polished manuscript!  Here's a step-by-step guide to help you properly stalk an agent or fifty.

  1. Do not get weird and creepy. Be professional at all times.
  2. Make various contacts in the Industry. This is good for your career overall, and not just purely for the stalking of agents.
  3. Look up agents. Writer's Marketplace, Agent Query, Agent Tracker, word-of-mouth, Googling (unless you're a Bing girl, then Bing away).
  4. Make a list of agent names. Make a long list. The longer the better.  This shall hereafter be known as "The List".
  5. Organise The List. This is a preliminary organisation, as these agents will be moving up and down The List at a later date.  At the top should be those agents who are open to subs and who rep your genres.
  6. Time to stalk, author-style! Pick a couple of names and look up everything you can find about that agent. Pretty much all of them have web sites of varying sizes and qualities. Many of them have blogs, many of them Tweet. Stalk every single agent on your list who reps your genres. Get a sense of their personality, their professionalism, read their tips and suggestions.
  7. Stalk Janet Reid aka Miss Snark aka The Query Shark, even if she doesn't rep your genres, simply because she is full of wisdom. Now go glean.
  8. Find out what the agents like (SF, high-concept, YA, etc), what they're reading, what they want. Agents often advertise what they're currently looking for, often in interviews on various people's blogs. If you happen to come across an agent who is actively looking for something that sounds like your manuscript, move 'em up the list.
  9. Network. Ask appropriate questions about the craft/submitting to those agents who answer such questions. Several of them will. Browse through their blogs first to make sure they haven't already answered your question.  This is a good way of narrowing down particulars. (Frex, "As you rep Paranormal, do you find it a hard sell in today's market?" or "Is it better to query agents in batches of twenty or fifty?" "Should I include X in a query letter?")
  10. As you learn more about these agents, adjust their position on your list. Those who seem to be a better match for your CAREER (and not just this one project), move them towards the top.  Make copious notes explaining why they are where they are.
  11. Write practice queries with these agents in mind. You can get your queries critiqued in all sorts of places.  I recommend this, especially if you have no experience writing queries. At the very least, read those blogs that crit queries.  Queries are your agent pick-up lines.  You want the suave ones, not the cheesy ones.
  12. Come up with a list of Phone questions. These are the questions to ask an agent, should they call/email you to offer representation. This list can be tailored to each agent, if you wish. 
  13. If you've done your stalking correctly, you should find you will have trouble sorting the top ten agents into an order, because they are all just so good.  Just lump 'em all into "Top Ten".  When you are ready to query (with a complete and polished ms), send it out to all ten.

And that's how you stalk an agent.

Everyone's methods vary. Feel free to add or amend in the comments.
Her Grace has been developing agent stalking methods, as modern technology makes it real easy. Just remember, do not get weird or creepy.

Friday, 25 October 2013


Debbie Ridpath Ohi knows all about it.
I won't be blogging as much during November due to NaNoWriMo.  I'll be spending lots of time loving and hating a novel.

If you're not NaNo-ing, what are you doing for November?  Comment and let me know.

There is one day I will be eating turkey.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Falling in Love: Bad Idea

Requited?  I wish.
When I was gloriously young, I fell in love with a boy, as many a fluttery young things does.  He was sweet, he was kind, he was gorgeous, we shared similar interests, he would talk to me.  I set my heart on him; someday we’d get married.

Alas, he did not feel the same way about me.   I simply didn’t make his heart sing, the way he made mine sing.   Also broke my heart when he got a high-school sweetheart (not me).

Still, we were good friends, because all those qualities of his for which I fell in love, also meant he’d be an excellent friend.  Thirty years on, we’re still friends.  Would he have made a wonderful husband and father?  Absolutely.  I see evidence of that all the time in how he treats the wife he met at university and their beautiful children.

I am comforted that I had chosen well.  He turned out to be a good husband for someone.  But would I have been the wife for him?  That is also an important question.  He had his chance.  He said no.  Le sigh.

So here I am again, vastly, deeply in love.

With an agent. 

I fell in love when researching agents in general.  She repped my genres, she had a strong worth ethic, she had a genuine interest in the improvement of all writers, her current clients spoke well of her, I liked how she did business, and I loved her long-term outlook. Got to meet her a couple of times at conventions and I liked her vibe.

Could she be the agent for me?  Quite likely.  But am I the client for her?  That’s the important question.

Pitched to her once.  She liked the sound of my novel, so she requested pages.  In the end, she said no to my project.   Later, I revisited the project and saw several reasons why she said no.  Oh, it was sooo not ready!  What was I thinking?  

That no of hers was a big favour for me. I have significantly revised that project and fixed everything I discovered wrong.  I have become a better writer because of it.  I wasn’t publishable then.  Maybe I am now.  (A few short story editors think so.)

When she turned down my previous project, she asked to see my next one.  I must have done something right the first time.  So I’m polishing my WIP and doing my best to make sure it’s sub-ready.  Then it’s off to see if she’ll love my work as much as I love hers.

While I daydream of a yes, I haven’t forgotten that the most likely answer is no.  She is queried widely and has to turn down lots of projects that go on to find other agents, publishers, success.   I might be imminently publishable, but I might not be the client for her.

So what’s a girl to do?  Prepare herself for a No.

I have committed a grievous sin by falling in love with a dream agent. Serious no-no in the industry.  Such dreams always end in tears.  

So I’m of playing the field and stalking other agents.  I see who my peeps sign with.  I peruse various blogs and occasionally lurk on Twitter.  I do my research. I ask other writers what they think of their agents.  (I don’t ask for a recommendation or anything like that. That’s just obnoxious.  However, I am open to someone volunteering that sort of thing.  At least, read my stuff first.)

Will I sub to Agent “I See Potential In You”?  Sure.  She wouldn’t have asked to see my next project if she didn’t think I had something. 

Shall I cry if she says no?  Yep. Big fat tears.

Then I shall wipe my eyes, put on my big girl panties and send queries out to Dream Agents #2, #3, #4, #5…

Even if she says no, this agent will always hold a special place in my heart professional network.  Not only was her original no a clandestine favour, her asking to see my next project may also have served me well. After her no, I could have turned around and sent my ms out to a whole bunch o’ agents before it was ready.  Her request to see my next project motivated me to work on that next project and not dwell on the current one.  I moved on.  I honed my craft. I dug in and worked hard.

So yeah. I’ll query her and I’ll dream of a yes.  Then again, with every agent I plan on querying, I will dream of a yes.

Time to go fall in love, oh, a hundred times. QueryTracker and AgentQuery are my PlentyofFish and OKCupid.
Her Grace falls in love far too easily.  Such a quality is good in a Romance author. Her heart will always belong to That Boy, That Agent and Richard Armitage.
Gorgeous inside and out.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Back Up Your Work

This is your sporadic reminder to back up your work.  If you create or save anything on a computer,  make a copy and store it somewhere safe.  Make a couple of copies, keeping one nearby, and one off-site  (yahno, in case the house burns down).

If something happens to your computer and you don't have a backup, Very Bad Things will happen.  Puppies will die!  (Okay, maybe not, but you will curl up in a corner and cry for a very long time.  Result is the same.)
Her Grace has lost work in the past due to lack of backups.  She's learned her lesson.  She hopes you do as well, preferably the easy way.  One good place to keep a backup is in a fireproof safe on a well-guarded military base.  Should anything happen to that, there are worse things to worry about other than the state of your backup.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Read Widely

What do you like to read?  Fantasy?  Romance?  Chick Lit?
A book is a book is a book.
Love them all.

How often do you read another genre? 

What?!  You Don’t?  (Oh, my bleeding heart.) 

Be brave this week, go to the library and get a book in a genre you don’t usually read.  Yes, it may be a bit harder to read, but it will give you some spiritual nutrition you didn’t realise you were missing.

Read for enjoyment.  If not, read for analysis.  If you put the book down and don't finish it, ask yourself why.  If you find yourself saying, "Oh, I just didn't like it," what were the qualities you didn't like about it?

Read a book that you'd be embarrassed to be caught reading.  (It's okay. You can borrow a dust jacket from a book with your kind of street-cred.  Use said dust jacket to hide the book.)

My TBR pile this week contains:
  • Where Are You Now by Mary Higgins Clark.   This is a thriller.  I'm trying to learn the difference between mystery, thriller and suspense, as part of my MFA.
  • Manuscript found in Accra -and- Like the Flowing River, both by Paulo Coelho.  Both are literary novels.  However, they sport positive messages of the greatness of Humanity.  Not many literary novels do that.  If you dislike literary because of it's dark dismalness, give Paulo Coelho a try.
  • Timeless by Gail Carriger.  Yep, finishing off this delightful Steampunk series.
  • Beta-reading a few mates' novels.
Her Grace loves a good book. She is due to raid the New Aquisitions Shelf at work. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

NaNoWriMo teaches...

Not sure what you are?
Sienna North can help.
So, by all this outlining and pre-writing, am I defeating the spirit of NaNoWriMo?  After all, it was originally an exercise designed to get writers to push through a big barrier—namely, getting text down on a page.

A lot of apprentice writers (I refuse to call them “aspiring” writers; I myself am a journeyman) have a hard time with putting text down on a page, regardless of whether or not they’re pantsers or plotters.  (I’m a plotter.  I can't write by the seat of my pants.)

It’s because they don’t know what they’re supposed to write next.  Or sometimes, they think they know what’s supposed to be next (breathless, timeless, prose of great beauty!) and they fear that the next line they write will not meet that expectation. 

They’re right.  It won’t.

BUT… what they need to learn, what NaNoWriMo teaches them, what their mentors should be teaching them, is that it’s okay for your rough draft to be, well, rough.  Apprentice writers must allow this. Not enough of them do. Everyone’s rough drafts are rough.

Mine are rough.  I crank out my text and don’t look back until it’s down.

That’s another thing apprentice writers need to learn.  Get the text down and don’t look back.  Text needs to be down, no matter how rough.  You can’t edit a blank page.

Rough drafts are not the be-all and end-all of your creative process.  (Why do apprentices keep thinking that their first draft must be as brilliant as a last? C’mon, folks!)  They’re the start.  Then you go back and edit.

I edit all the time—though not as I go. That’s the kiss of doom, that is.

I’ll crank out a scene with no stupid back-and-forthing.  Get the stuff out.  Then I let it sit.  I go back later (on a particular schedule, and never during November) and do my editing passes.

  1.   Edit the scene so it makes sense internally.
  2.  Edit the scene so it makes sense in the overall arc.  (This involves reading the whole novel, making notes as I read, then going back, reviewing notes, and then making changes. Can't do it on the fly.)
  3.  Stylistic edits—tic words, weasel words, filter words, rhythm and pacing.
  4. Grammar and spell Czech.  Always the last pass, never before.  It’s a waste of time to do a grammar pass on a scene that may be axed entirely.

So yes, I do a whole lot of outlining and pre-writing and organising and dreaming and creating scene placeholders in yWriter before 1 Nov. 

But NaNoWriMo taught me that.  It taught me what kind of writer I am (a plotter, not a pantser).  It taught me I can crank out 50K of text in a month. (Heck, I can do it in fifteen days, now!)

NaNoWriMo gave me a challenge. Write 50K in a month.  I had to figure out how I can best accomplish that. 

That’s what every NaNo writer needs to do.

So, gonna give it a try?

Monday, 14 October 2013


And when I fall off,
it will be into another world.

You know what makes a story really REALLY good for me?  The fact that characters go to extremes.   No Quiet Novels for me. Nosiree!

Characters who are pushed to their limits.  Life-and-death situations (either figurative or literal).  Their lives changing irrevocably (or at least the threat, if they Don’t Do Something Right Now!!)  The destruction of the world around them (figurative or literal). Characters making the Hard Choices.  Characters failing to make the hard choices and having everything go Charlie Foxtrot.

I like to see characters faced with a choice, where both of them are gonna result in Very Bad Consequences.   (Ah, sweet dilemma!)

For me, the beginning of a good novel involves the earth shattering for the characters.  The end of a good novel involves the characters dealing with the consequences to my satisfaction.

This stuff is intriguing.

Yes, even in frothy Regency romances.

Humans are extreme characters.  Just look at all the World Records people make’n’break every year.  Look at our sporting pursuits, our court cases, our facebook pages.  There is nothing tepid or half-way about Humanity.

Why should our stories be any different?

Friday, 11 October 2013

Secret to winning NaNoWriMo

The biggest secret to winning NaNoWriMo is preparation.  Okay, plus Butt-In-Chair (BIC), getting the wordage out.

If you’ve ever found yourself on Nov 1 (or Nov 7, or 14 or 29), staring at a keyboard, you may benefit by a bit of preparation.

If you’re a successful pantser who wins NaNoWriMo every year, this advice is not for you.  If you’re an unsuccessful pantser, who spends far too much time staring at a blank page before typing, “Uh, I don’t know what to write next?”, maybe you should reconsider your strategy.

Writers who win NaNo year after year know planning is key to their success.

And no, planning your novel in advance is not cheating.

 Lots. Of. Others. Agree.  With. Me.

You can do as much planning, plotting, arcing, characterising, structuring as you want before 1 Nov.   Or as little.   Plan out enough stuff so you have an idea about what you want to write.

You want enough planning to give you the answer to the question: “What happens next?”   

The biggest roadblock to getting text down is not knowing where you're going.

This is how it works:  You write your opening, possibly the hardest thing to write in a NaNovel.  You write until the scene is exhausted. 

“What happens next?”   Our Heroine meets Our Hero and they clash.
“What happens next?”   Miscommunication.  Bring in Trusty Sidekick.
“What happens next?”  Bad Guy has his day in pursuit of his evil plans.

As long as you can answer “What happens next?” you will flow along rather well.

If you ask, “What happens next?” and your answer is, “Um…?”  You need more planning.

This is how I plan a NaNovel (or any novel, really):

  1.  Form my plot backbone.  What’s my main dilemma? Who are the main characters this affects?
  2. Define the vertebrae:  What is the Resolution?  (I always come up with this first, or my novels fizzle instead of sizzle.)  What are the obstacles that prevent this resolution from resolving?   How does Our Heroine solve these obstacles?
  3. Musculature.   Break down events leading to resolution into scenes.   Sometimes I work forward, sometimes I work backward.  Backward is good.   Z happened, because Y happened, because X happened, etc. Causality. 

Sometimes I’ll conceive A (Inciting Incident), then I’ll conceive Z (HEA) and work my way between the two.  I’ll make my notes about what happens in each scene.  Each scene accomplishes at least one thing to forward the plot, and develop character.  Sometimes more.  The whole novel gets worked out from start to finish.  Every scene is planned.  Arcs are drawn.  Notes taken.  All that’s left is to populate the scenes with words.

That’s what November’s for.

I open my outlined structure in yWriter and open the first scene.  My notes tell me what needs to happen.  I’ve spent the night before dreaming the scene on the stage of my mind, blocking characters, rehearsing dialogue, etc.

Before I type, “Once upon a time…” my book is pretty much written. All I have to do is jot down the words.  And that’s the easy part.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

What the Heck is Supertext?

Short def:  Stuff everyone collectively knows.
Clark Kent's got supertext.

Long def (as required by MFA faculty):  In genre fiction, supertext is the body of information that belongs to that genre.  It is the collective set of rules or conditions or elements that help define that genre.  The more you know about the supertext, the easier it may be to understand any given novel within that genre.  Likewise, the more you know about the supertext, maybe you’ll look at a fresh element in a genre novel and refuse to suspend your disbelief.

Supertexts are living, changing things, dependent on their body of works.  The more elements that are used in more novels, the stronger the supertext becomes.

So, how's it work?

Gonna pick on vampires, as they seem to be in the public conscience of late.  (Vampire fiction is usually a subset of Fantasy, Horror and sometimes Science Fiction.)

So… stuff everyone generally knows about vampires:  they suck blood. They’re afraid of sunlight. They’re undead (or some variant of Not Human).  They’re strong. They’re hypnotic. They have long “lives”.  Sometimes they can turn into bats and fly.

You don’t need all of these elements to define a vampire.  You only need enough to invoke the supertext in a story.

Fr'ex: someone writes a story and says, “This undead character fears sunlight.  At night they turn into a bat.”  You, dear reader, are going to say, “Yup. Vampire.”

Fr'ex2: someone writes a story and says, “This character is a vampire.”  You, dear reader, know there’s gonna be a bit of exsanguination going on.

And that’s roughly how it works.  An author doesn't need to completely invent a new creature from scratch.  They can simply tap into the supertext and go from there.  Even add a few unique twists to make it theirs.

However, if you do go about tinkering with elements of the supertext, it’s gotta make sense within the context.

So.  Edward vs. Lestat.  Sparkly vampires vs N’Orleans undead.   Both are afraid of sunlight.  That element satisfies their vampiric supertextual definition.  Whereas Lestat’s rendered to barbeque upon contact with the gentle rays of good old Sol, Edward turns into a disco ball (or a New Adult at his first Mardi Gras ball).  Both good reasons to avoid the sun.

Some skeptics scoff at the thought of sparkly vampires.   But most people accept it.  They can suspend their disbelief, even though no other mythos features vampires that sparkle (unless you consider bursting into flames a form of ‘sparkling’).

So, why are so many readers saying, “Sparkly vampires. Cool”?   Because Meyer has tapped into another supertext—Fantasy creatures.

In the Fantasy supertext, various supernatural creatures sparkle and shine--namely, fairies.  Think Tinkerbell from Peter Pan.  Think Cherlindria’s fairies in Willow.  Think any kiddie show featuring friendly pixies and elves and wizards etc. (I can think of about four, as I have a plethora of little girls in my life.)

Supernatural sparkly beings is not a new concept. Deep down in our little tutu-wearing, wand-carrying little girly subconsciences, we know this.  That’s why we’re okay with Edward looking like he’s rolled around in K-mart’s teenage makeup section.  Oh yeah, and he drinks blood.

That’s your supertext at work.
In pursuit of higher learning, Her Grace is indulging in relatively useless bits of elemental analysis.  Can't call yourself a grad student without involving a bit of intellectual wankery.

Monday, 7 October 2013

If You Like a Book, Tell Someone

Read anything good lately?

When was the last time you read a good book, a really good book?  You loved it, didn’t you?  So, who did you tell about it?

If you’re answer was, “Um…. ?” then you’re doing a good book a disservice.   For every great book you read and don’t tell another soul about it, little puppies die.*

Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective forms of marketing there is.  One of the best things about it is that this form of marketing favours the truly good books (and not just the ones with advertising money or agendas behind them).  If someone tells you, “hey, this book is good” (and you trust their opinion), chances are, you’ll enjoy it too.  Take a chance and read the book.

This is how the really good self-pubbed books get about.  Works for trad pubs as well.

Likewise, rate books on the various systems you’re on.  The catalogue of the library I work for features a book-rating system of five stars (no comments).  Any book I enjoy, I’ll rate. (Then again, if I thought it was terrible, I’ll also rate it accordingly.) 

Amazon, GoodReads, your own blog and more. Use ‘em.  Rate books.  Tell us about the books you enjoyed.  If a book in your TBR pile  more than proves its worth, please, please, please, let us know.  

Consider this: is that book in your TBR pile because someone told you about it?  Share the love.

I’ve fallen in love with books I would never have looked at once, if someone hadn’t told me about it.  I’ve made recommendations to Librarians for book purchases because someone recommended a book.  I read it and I loved it.

That’s what word-of-mouth does.  It gets the best books into many hands.

What books have you read recently that you’d recommend?   Comment below.

*At least all dogs go to heaven, so it’s not a complete tragedy.  But still.  Killing puppies!

Friday, 4 October 2013

One month to NaNoWriMo

Ready for NaNoWriMo?  28 more days.

For the past two years I've taken November off to pursue the beauty of full-time authorhood.  Alas, I'm now out of Long Service Leave and will have to crank out my 1666 words a day in between the Day Job and the family.

Things I learned from NaNoWriMo

1. I can crank out large draft.
2. I like being a an author.
3. I can't pants.
4. People respect you more when you're writing for a "purpose".
5. Plenty of excuses to get together with other writers and do writing stuff.  En masse.
6. Office of Letters and Light put out some really nifty swag.
7. You can win NaNoWriMo if you have a plan.
8. Backups are your friend.
9. Solid, quantifiable progress.  And witnesses.
10. Proof to oneself that you can achieve a seemingly massive goal.
11. You learn a lot about yourself when you push yourself to the limit.

So, who's giving it a go this year?
Her Grace has won NaNoWriMo nearly every year she's attempted it.  To her satisfaction, she's discovered that 50K is not an undoable word limit.  In fact, it get easier every year.  This year, she's planning on winning despite the Day Job.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Do Not Fear Genre Fiction.

If you are a literary reader, do not fear genre fiction

Lit and Life will read genre fiction.

At first, it may seem shallow and trite to read if you’re not used to it.   Genre novels are meant to be readily accessible.  Doesn’t mean they lack substance. 

Genre fiction tends to be plot-driven.  It’s about stuff happening.  This will be the primary motivational force.  This plot will often function within a worldbuilding frame, thus giving rise to a “genre” category (ie, Western, or Romance or Science Fiction, etc).  Certain elements and supertext will be present, thus “uncluttering” the text and allowing the plot to unfold at a certain pace.

Plot-driven fiction will have a certain rhythm in the plot beats or “events”.  Slow plots tend to bore genre readers, as they’re more interested in “what happens next”, and not necessarily “here we are”.

Consider genre fiction a kind of “mystery”.  You’re given a few very important clues as to your characters and their dilemma. Then let the plot unfold, noting the character’s impact on how this unfolding takes place.  Characters will have motivations and goals.  Plot tension comes when the characters are thwarted in achieving these goals.  Select elements of their character will be revealed along the way as they encounter the plot and how they react to it.  Does the character receive satisfaction at the end of the plot, or did they have to compromise?

More on genre fiction categories.  Meanwhile...

Oh, Tom Gauld.  You understand.
Her Grace is fond of genre fiction of all kinds (not just Romance). Yes, it's all about the jet packs. They're awesome.