Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chalk It Up To Operator Error

Well, I experienced my first rejection letter today for Dark Mountain Mean. The funny thing is, it is my own fault. I queried two agents late Tuesday night (ok, it was actually Wednesday morning). I queried Jennifer Jackson at Maass Agency and Daniel Lazar at Writer's House. As I had their letters up, I went over them with my wife, I listened to some Pandora, checked out some writing blogs, etc. One of the blogs I had left comments on was Steve Laube's blog. He had responded directly to me and my wife and I had been discussing him.

I sent the letters off after my wife helped me edit them for clarity and consiceness. So, today I received a letter from Mr. Barr, the assistant for Daniel Lazar saying that Mr. Lazar felt that my project was not a good fit for their list. As I looked, I noted that I had actually queried "Dear Mr. Laube" which was just a disaster! I am sure even if my project were a "fit" for their agency, I would have been rejected. Heck, I would reject me!

The good news is that I have learned a valuable lesson. I am glad there are literally dozens of more agents to whom I can query. And perhaps this was a good thing. Maybe God has another agent out there that is a better fit. I am still excited. I got my first rejection! That is still something.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Value of Time

As I dug up some of my short stories and dusted them off this week, I discovered a unique lesson.  Time changes perspective.  What once had been an interesting story seems now to be a self-important and overly introspective narrative.  What once had seemed to be a unique and intriguing premise is now over-done and cliche.  And, no matter how often you update or change which word processor you use, it is important to print out every piece you write.

When we write, it is a journey that many times reflects where we are in our lives.  I know that is true with me. One of my earliest stories, "Forest Conversation," was originally written when I was a sophomore in high school.  I had edited it several times over a decade or more. Once, I took a one-day writing seminar taught by a local editor from a magazine based in Oklahoma City.  I submitted the story and received some group critique and some helpful advice.   I molded it some more.

Now, I read it again for the first time in over five years...I don't like the story anymore.  It is stale, too self-involved, whiny even.  I have decided to change it again.  Its metamorphosis will include another character.  It is a first-person narrative and I will keep that point of view, but I want to make it more of a father-son story.  That was its spirit, anyway.  Its theme is closely related to the habits and activities that we pass on to our family.

The same was true of several other stories I dug up.  I saw raw potential.  I recognized my voice, my pacing, my unique way of wording things.  I liked most of what I saw.  But things had changed.  I have changed.  I am older, hopefully wiser and I have a different perspective.  My understanding of the way to tell a tale, to spin a yarn has broadened, become more sophisticated and informed.  This, naturally, impacts the writing. 

I understand that this process cannot be drawn out indefinitely.  At some point I have to publish these creations.  At some point I have to submit my babies. But for the meantime, this lesson reminds me that I am unfinished.  I am constantly growing in my abilities and my understanding.  God is constantly working on me.  I am so glad God is a patient God.  I am a patient author as well, but just like me, my writing has a judgement day.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Well, task number one down.  So far, as of 7:34 pm central standard time, twenty seven good folks have downloaded my first self-published short story, "Sweet Tea."  Of course, I am elated.  I am looking forward to putting three more stories up soon. 

Also, I am anticipating some feedback (ratings and reviews) for the story.  The key to getting Smashwords to work for me is to get more people interested in my writing.  As far as that goes, I don't know what there is NOT to like.  Of course, I am biased. 

I plan on submitting different types of stories with different themes.  I will prepare a post about them as soon as I have them published.

With the task of getting the first story on Smashwords, the next task will be to get the other three stories ready for print.  That means, I have to find them first.  Oh, I have two of them completely written, but I cannot seem to find them.  Not on my hard drive, not on any thumb drives I have scrounged up so far, and I am having a problem finding my writing file that has the hard copies. 

Alas, I anticipate locating them tonight and beginning the process of editing, re-typing them, formatting them and getting them up on Smashwords.  One is a crime/comedy, one is a literary nostalgia piece and the other is western.  Like I said, I just need to clean them up a bit, dust them off and get them ready. 

Also in the works: I have begun re-reading my next manuscript to get myself in the framework of the story again.  I had put it down for almost two years and haven't worked on it.  Strange though, I have found myself thinking about the characters, the plot and the circumstances surrounding the events in the novel almost constantly.  Things keep cropping up to remind me that I still have a story to finish there.  It is a good story and I can't wait for it all to unfold. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Short Story Published on Smashwords

WEEK ONE--Continued
My first short story "Sweet Tea (or the Revenge of Barnard)" is now available for FREE on Smashwords at .  I will eventually put the link up on my sidebar under Smashwords Publications.  I intend to only publish my short stories here.  It is available now for Apple users via Stanza and online.  I haven't checked Kindle yet.  Soon, it will also be on Amazon and available to Sony readers.
The idea is to develop a platform of readers interested in my work via publishing free short stories on Smashwords, Amazon, and the other e-book platforms.  Please tell your friends.  It is easy to download them from by following my link above.  Just pass it on to your friends.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the process of publishing my short story was getting an ISBN number.  That just made it feel so real.  The least satisfying part was designing the cover.  It seemed silly to me to even have a cover.  I think I am going to standardize my covers by coming up with a representative graphic (probably an infinite symbol) for all my novels with the title in the same font.  I will design it on Adobe Illustrator and turn it into a JPEG image.  I designed the current one on Paint.  Pretty simple and pathetic, really.  But, it's a short story.

I am distributing my query letter for Dark Mountain Mean to friends and family to get some feedback.  So far, the feedback has been encouraging.  I will make some small changes and begin the process this weekend.

I will continue to update this blog twice a week.  That is my plan for now.  If you have downloaded my short story, please leave a review and leave a comment here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Finding An Agent

So I finally finished the rough draft for Dark Mountain Mean.  I am now working on my query letters and am searching for agents.  I am looking for an agent to represent me, not necessarily my manuscript.  This manuscript is just the first one I have completed.  As an author, I am more than the sum of one manuscript.  This will be important as I search for an agent that fits my skill set.

I want to chronicle my journey from rough draft through querying, waiting on responses from agents to beginning a new manuscript. Actually, the process of working on the next project(s) has already begun in my head.  I have over 30,000 words written already and a chapter outline for another novel.  I also have about 12,000 words written (mostly junk--it was an aborted NaNoWriMo project) of another germination of an idea for an epic fantasy novel.  I also have another great idea that I want to expand on for another fantasy world for which I am excited to start writing a synopsis, character biographies, and a chapter outline.  It feels like a trilogy, several hundreds of thousand words.

And then there is five years' worth of research I did for a historical novel I want to write about Aaron Burr and Blennerhasset Island in West Virginia.  Oh, and about a half-dozen short stories that I want to self-publish to develop a platform and a readership.  So much work to do, so little time (and discipline, evidently).

And while we are on the subject of time, let me just say, I want to spend more time here on this blog.  And that is why I am going to use this as a place to chronicle my journey.  I am starting here, the end of my third edit of my first complete manuscript, Dark Mountain Mean.

 Week One:
 Discovered I wasn't finished editing.  When I found that some agents were requesting the first 5 to 10 pages (one wanted 50!) of my novel, I panicked.  I re-read the first 50 pages and removed about 50 words, clarified two passages and found one glaring typo (EGADS! I thought I had gotten them all!). 

I found four agencies that fit my personality.  Among the many books I have read about the craft of writing over the last thirty years (I've been doing this too long) I have read two books that were written by agents.  These books have helped me tremendously in my writing journey.  I had even used one for a writing curriculum for my teenager we homeschooled.  Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Blockbuster Novel are very different, despite being similarly named, but both were excellent and I can highly recommend them.  Working with Maas or Zuckerman as agents would be incredible.

I read the agent bios, looked at their client lists, viewed their recent sales and checked out their submission guidelines.  It struck me how different agents require different indicators of value.  The one clear similarity was the query letter.  I am doing my best to craft a letter that sparks interest in my story.  I am trying to be as creative within the formula for the query as possible. 

One image I am keeping in my mind is that scene from A River Runs Through It where Paul and Norman's father is teaching Norman how to write.  Norman brings him his assignment and dad marks it up and says, "Half as long."  He repeats the exercise three times.  It is fun and challenging to treat three paragraphs with so much attention. 

One final observation:  I noted that some agencies had more than one agent that might work.  I tried my best to determine which agent would work best.  In one instance I struggled with the idea that it might be better to query first the agent that was "actively seeking new clients" rather than the hoary-headed principle with which I felt an affinity.  Time will tell if my decision was a good one.