Monday, May 31, 2010

High-Octane Noveling in June

For the record, I think I might be a little crazy. See, a week or so again I was reading a blog post by my friend, The Watery Tart, and in her post she mentioned participating in a June version of the National Novel Writing Month’s 50,000-words-in-30-days challenge sponsored by her writing group. I responded with a comment saying that it sounded like fun, and a few back-and-forths later, I was committed to the challenge.

Now I’ll admit it. I’m a self-confessed NaNo junkie. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past seven years, and loved pretty much every minute of it. But still… Twice in one year… And with everything else going on in my life right now… This is maybe not the smartest idea I’ve had.

But I’ve also been in a pretty bad writing funk lately. I still sit my butt down in the chair every single day and write, as I’ve done for the past six-plus years. But there’s been no joy in it, and the thought of that high-octane, quantity-over-quality, fast-as-my-fingers-can-fly-across-the-keys style of writing, well, it’s awfully compelling. Besides, I've had this idea tossing around in my head and...

So I’m going to go for it. Yes, I have a novel revision I want to start. Yes, I have the Fresh Blood contest to promote. Yes, I have a synopsis to finish and a novel to submit. And no, my work schedule isn’t going to suddenly going to give me huge buckets full of free time. But I’ve learned with this whole writing thing, sometimes you just have to go with it.

I still planning on promoting the contest (please see: And Then There Were Three), and I’ll be damned if I don’t finish that synopsis and start submitting that novel, although the starting the revision process for the next novel might just have to wait until July. But I can fit in 50,000 words in 30 days. After all, it’s all about that can-do attitude, right?

So if anyone else is interested in coming along for the ride, please feel free to check out the BuNoWriMo group on Facebook. It’s a great group of people, we’re starting tomorrow, and it’s going to be a wild ride.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fresh Blood and Dark Pages

As some of you might already know, a few days ago I found out that I’m officially in the top three in the Fresh Blood contest, the prize of which is a publishing contract with both Leisure Horror (paperback) and ChiZine Publications (limited hardcover run).

Advancing this far in the contest has been a wonderful surprise. Making the final three, this is perhaps the first time I’ve seen even the glimmer of a possibility of making it to the end. But to do that, I need to ask for your help.

This month’s round is the “scary scene” round, so if you go to their website, you can read scenes from each of the three remaining novels. You can also still see the postings from the other months including first chapters, cover copy, and author bios. Just arrow down to the bottom of the page where the contest is broken down month by month. Plus you can also see comments the judges have made on each of the novels over the months. Voting information is at the bottom of the page.

The quick how-to for voting is this: send votes to freshblood@chizinepub.com. In the email’s subject line put “Fresh Blood Vote: Heart of the City.” (**Votes without this in the subject line will not be counted). One vote is allowed per unique email address. And while I really appreciate your vote, if you visit the contest site and decide you'd rather vote for one of the other two novels, I will absolutely understand.

I know so many of you have already sent in votes over the past few months and I want you all to know how very much I appreciate it. I don’t take a single one of your votes for granted.



On a second note, I wanted to take a minute to mention that Blade Red Press’s Dark Pages anthology (which contains my short story, “Neptune’s Garden”) is now available through Amazon. I just got my contributor’s copy today and it looks absolutely beautiful. Edited by Brenton Tomlinson, the anthology includes authors from all over the world.

On a personal note, I know the amount of work the editorial staff took with me to make my story the best story it could be, so I have no doubt that this is a top-notch anthology, and I’m proud to be a part of this wonderful book.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mayday! Mayday! We Have a Plothole!

Wait a minute--this isn’t the novel I was planning on revising next.

That’s what I said to myself all of five minutes ago, after opening up the rough draft of one of my novels. And it’s true. Editing that particular manuscript was about as far down on my list of priorities as it gets.

Up until about half an hour ago, I’d had it all planned out. First, I was going to complete one final wave of revisions on my mainstream novel and then begin the querying process in the hopes of leveraging my win in this year’s Family Circle fiction contest to attract an agent for that book. Then I wanted to dig into the edit of my urban fantasy novel, the one that’s been wallowing for years, neglected, on my hard drive. I’d decided that now was the time to dust it off and work on it because it would fit in perfectly with what’s hot in the market today.

But this novel... the novel I just opened... my seriously flawed science fiction novel... the novel I am finding myself now seriously wanting to dive into next... well, this novel was not even in my long-range forecast.

I wrote this particular novel during National Novel Writing Month in 2008. It was one of my more ambitious NaNo projects, and also one of my more extreme writing-without-a-roadmap endeavors. I remember starting that year with three entirely unconnected images and the knowledge that I wanted to write a novel around them.

I did manage to do it, winding up the month with over 75,000 words and a novel that felt as if it had come out of nowhere. It was probably one of my most enjoyable, inspired months of writing. But come December 1st, I also realized that I probably had an unsalvageable manuscript.

Why?

Because you could fly a 747 through the plot holes (and that might be a gentle assessment).

Now, one of the great things about participating in National Novel Writing Month each year is that if that year’s novel sucks, I can trunk it without guilt. So I filed away the hard copy of my novel, buried the electronic copy deep in my Writing files, and wrote off that manuscript as a learning experience.

Still, every now and again I’m drawn back to it. I couldn’t say exactly why, except that I keep feeling like there’s something there. And I’m realizing I still have passion for that novel: for the characters and settings, for the whole damn concept. Because, as unsalvageable as I’ve deemed it, it’s also, in some strange way, my favorite of all the NaNo novels I’ve written. I know that doesn’t make a lick of sense, but there it is.

So though it might feel like chasing a whim, I think I’m going to trust my instincts and go for it. I don’t know how I’m going to approach it yet. I don’t know how I’m going to even begin to figure out how to make the story make sense. I don’t even know if it’s possible.

What’s the worst that can happen though? That at the end of the process I’ll still have an unsalvageable manuscript? I can live with that. Because on the flip side, well, you never know…

So let me ask you this: Have you ever salvaged something you’d originally deemed unsalvageable? Do you tend to trust your “writing” instincts even when they go against your common sense? Have you ever loved a project enough to pursue it even when you thought it was futile?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

And Then There Were Three!

A little while ago I received word that I am officially in the Top 3 in the ChiZine/Rue Morgue/Leisure Books Fresh Blood Contest, so a big THANK YOU to everyone who sent in a vote for me. This month saw the elimination of Jonathan Janz's The Sorrows, which looks to be a fabulous book and one that, no doubt, will find a home soon.

Making the Top 3 feels a little (okay, a lot) surreal for me. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I never dreamed of making it this far, or if it’s seeing other contestants get eliminated one by one while I’m still here. Or maybe it’s that I’m now realizing that I have a one in three chance at a pretty major publishing contract for a novel that, quite honestly, I fully intended to trunk without ever submitting.

So for those of you who haven’t been following along with my journey in the contest, the judging criteria for the contest finals changes month to month. Back in December, when they notified me that I’d been chosen as one of ten finalists, I was asked to submit a series of materials including an author biography, potential back cover copy, an introduction to the evil thing in the book, and my creepiest scene. This month, the judging criteria was the scariest/creepiest/most atmospheric scene.

I struggled with what scene to submit for this round. I didn’t want to submit my opening scene--although it was probably my first choice--because readers would already get to see that scene in my first chapter, which was the criteria in the first round of judging. I also didn’t want to submit a scene too close to the book’s climax for fear of giving away too much of the ending. I also struggled because, while the book is horrific, I can’t say that it’s meant to be scary.

So I expected to take some hits from the judges this round.

I did take hits, too, and that’s okay. Not only is it part of the contest--they warned us at the very start that it would be brutal and at times it has been--but it’s all part of this business of writing. As writers, we have to be able to take criticism if we hope to succeed, and we have to develop a thick skin. I’m okay with that. Hey, whatever it takes, right? Besides, two of the judges ended their comments by saying that they’d been left wanting to read more, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.

I do have to admit that this was the only round of judging that made me wish I could respond to the judges, just to be able to explain that some of the things would make sense in the context of the book (in particular, the mention of a prophylactic, as well as the fact that the lightning storm indeed was integral to the plot of the book and not just that old dark-and-stormy-night plot device--I promise!). That, and that I really, genuinely hear you when you’re telling me my title sucks and I will be more than happy to change it, and wish I could change it this very instant, but it is out of my hands until the contest is over, lol.

Seriously though, I am grateful for this opportunity and I am grateful for those of you who’ve helped me to get this far in the competition. There are and have been some wonderful novels competing and I am honored that my novel is counted among them.

And with the newest results, voting opens again for the contest. I’ll be posting more on it in a day or so, but if you’re stopping by and would be kind enough to support my novel (that with the oft-maligned title, Heart of the City) with a vote, you can find this month’s contest information here. And if, while visiting, you find that there’s a different novel you’d like to cast a vote for, I understand and thank you anyway for supporting this great contest.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Knowing the Short Story Markets on a Writer's Budget

Know your markets. It’s one of the cardinal rules for anyone seeking short story publication, right? Open up the guidelines for just about any magazine and they'll say the same thing: please be familiar with our magazine and the kinds of work we publish, before submitting.

And on the surface, that seems simple enough. Buy the magazine, read through it, see if it’s a match in style and content to the kinds of work that you do…all of which would be simple enough for one magazine and one short story.

But how about for a prolific short story writer? Personally, I tend to like to have at least 15 to 20 short stories submitted at any given time. That’s a lot of magazines to buy and read. And, let’s face it, that’s a lot of money that I don’t exactly have. Are you with me? I’ll bet if you’re a short story writer, you are indeed.

So what’s a short story writer to do? Take out a second mortgage…or just go with submitting blind, the big no-no of short fiction submissions?

As someone who’s encountered this particular obstacle in my years as a short story writer, I do have a few ideas about that…

It's an Internet World

First off, remember that with the internet, it’s a different world now. Many online markets, including wonderful professional and semi-pro markets such as Strange Horizons and Abyss and Apex are free to read online. Even subscription-based online magazines such as Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show often offer a few sample stories or a teaser of the current issue’s stories in order to entice subscribers. The teasers, while not complete stories, are often enough to give you a fairly good idea of the magazine’s flavor and to help you judge whether or not your own fiction would be a potential match for the publication.

Many print magazines, too, now have websites for promotional purposes. Check out those websites, and many (such as Weird Tales) have stories posted right on their websites for anyone to read. Every now and again you’ll even find that true for a serial anthology.

But what if there isn’t anything available online?

Not to fret.

There's always the bookstores

Visit your local bookstore. The large bookstores have excellent magazine sections, and as a former department manager in a Barnes & Noble, I can assure you that they don’t object to your spending an afternoon there. One of the reasons customers are encouraged to spend large chunks of time perusing books and magazines--and yes, even reading those without buying them--is that the stores make good money from their in-house caf├ęs. And let's face it, the longer you stay, the more likely you are to buy that cappuccino and that slice of oh-so-yummy lemon pound cake. So don’t be afraid to pick up a stack of literary magazines and find a comfy chair so that you can spend the afternoon reading. Just be respectful of the magazines and don’t ruin them for someone who might actually want to buy them.

And while you’re in the bookstore, hit the anthology section. There are usually a few shelves in each fiction section (general literature, sci-fi/fantasy, etc.) devoted to anthologies. So if you're interested in submitting to a serial anthology such as Writers of the Future or Polyphony, you can often find earlier editions to read through right there at the bookstore.

Before you leave the anthology section, be sure to pick up a few of the Year’s Best anthologies to read through. Those short stories came from somewhere and are not only a good example of a story from the particular magazine that originally published it, but also a good example of a truly notable story.

So if you do have a little bit of money to spend, why not spend it on one of these Year’s Best anthologies because you’ll be able to research the types of stories published by multiple magazines for the price of a single book. And chances are good that the book will be an excellent read, besides.

And then there's the library

Don’t forget your local library. Libraries are excellent resources. Not only can you check out those Year’s Best anthologies but many magazines put out Best of anthologies every few years.

In addition, these days many libraries are linked together as chains, and if any library in the chain has a book, you can have it transferred to your own local library to pick up there. Ask if your library has an online system where you can search for and request books right there online and receive a phone call when they’re ready for you to come pick up.

Most libraries also carry an assortment of magazines for you to read in-house. And if the magazine you want is something they don’t carry, ask. Though most libraries have limited budgets, they’ll often be happy to order something different upon request. And the upside to this is not only are you able to read the publication for free but you’ll be helping out the publication--particularly if it’s a small press--if the library takes out a subscription to them.

Share, share, share.

Another way to cut down on the expense of knowing your markets is to share with other writers. If you have a writing group that consists of folks who write in similar genres, perhaps each of you could buy a different magazine and then swap amongst yourselves.

Some magazines even offer discounts for writers interested in submitting, so be sure to check out their websites before you purchase.

Other ways to research

If all else fails, do your research other ways. Many editors have blogs that you can follow, where they offer little tips and insights into their likes and dislikes. Sometimes, even better, you can find the blogs of slush readers, who often share very helpful statistics and are willing to interact with followers of their blog to answer questions about likes and dislikes, etc. The websites of most magazines have links right to these blogs if you take the time to look.

Sites like Ralan’s Webstravaganza (a great market listing site) and Duotrope also showcase interviews with magazine editors, which contain invaluable information.

Themed Anthologies

And last but not least, many themed anthologies are one-time-only affairs, so while you might be able to research what that particular editor has an affinity for, you won’t actually be able to read a sample of the publication because there just isn’t one.

Remember, it's an investment

Ultimately, there are ways to know your markets without spending a lot of money. It still involves work, of course, and reading takes up quite a bit of time, but it’s worth it for several reasons. For one, by knowing your markets you will increase your chance of submission success many times over. It will also be appreciated by editors who waste an awful lot of time on stories that are blatantly wrong for their publication, submitted by authors who have never read a single story in the magazine. Knowing your market is definitely an investment in your own writing success.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Blog Jog Day!

Thank you for stopping by my blog. I’m a published short story writer making the transition to aspiring novelist and my blog is a chronicle of my journey, part personal experience and part information-sharing. Please explore all this Blog has to offer, then jog on over to The Orbs of Wonder. If you would like to visit a different Blog in the jog, go to Blog Jog Day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Fresh Blood - One Week and Counting

So one week from tomorrow I'll find out if I progressed through to the next round of the Fresh Blood contest sponsored by Dorchester Publishing/Chizine Publications/Rue Morgue Magazine. Although I have no expectations, it's also pretty exciting to realize that next week I might be one of only three novelists remaining in the competition. That would mean a one in three chance at that publishing contract.

I don't know what it is about those one in three odds--I mean the one in four odds were pretty damn good, too--but it just feels, well, different somehow. More real, even though that doesn't really make any sense.

So I've spent my last few weeks dutifully trying to drum up enthusiasm for the contest and votes for my novel. And the contest has been a good thing in other ways because it's encouraged me to reconnect with people I'd lost touch with, and has resulted in new connections and friendships with some great writers. It's also prompted me to get that long-wanted blog up and running and led me to some new blogging friends, too. It's also forced me to keep focused and always moving forward, despite my life being a little chaotic these days, and that's a good, needed thing.

So, you know it's coming, right?

I wanted to ask for your support in the contest. This means a lot to me, and as the last eliminated contestant was eliminated by a margin of FIVE votes, I know that every vote counts.

If you would take a minute to check out the contest, I'd greatly appreciate it. You can click here to visit the contest website. There you can read more about the books competing, including the first chapters, cover copy, brief author biographies, as well as the judges’ comments for each round of the finals.

For the short voting how-to: Please email votes to: freshblood@chizinepub.com. The email’s subject line should read: Fresh Blood Vote -- Heart of the city

**One vote per unique email address is allowed, and votes without the book’s title information in the subject line won’t be counted. Voting for this round ends May 14th at Midnight EST.

You can also read more about my novel and my journey in the contest in a previous blog post: Fresh Blood? Who me?

And of course, if you check out the website and find an entry that's better to your liking, I will, of course, understand completely and still appreciate your support of this great contest.

Thank you all for being so supportive of my newbie blogging efforts as well as for your support in this contest. Hugs to you all.

Lisa