Next Round

Finally, at long last, the wait is over. It’s time for…

The next round of rejection. I mean querying.

I’ve spent the last couple months working on more edits for Daughters of Darkness (after several months of writing the book I’m now calling The Obsidian Pyramids), and I’m finally ready to send out the next round of submissions. My changes to the query were minimal, but I think it’s clearly stronger than the previous versions.

For anyone who’s curious, here’s the body of the query:

 

High Lady Iris LaRose always knew she would become one of the most influential women of the Dianic Empire – until her sister brought shame upon the entire family by harboring a failed assassin. After years of struggle to prove their love and commitment to the empire, Iris and her mother have nearly erased the family’s tainted past. Then Iris’s mother murders her daughter’s groom on the couple’s wedding day.

When Iris flees the scene, she’s accused of conspiracy by Empress Elena Flora, a woman with little sympathy left for the LaRose family. But Iris won’t believe that her mother is truly guilty – an imposter must be responsible. Faced with execution, Iris’s only option is to lie, claiming she can bring the imperial guard to her mother.

Her lie buys her just enough freedom to seek the hidden killer, but when answers prove difficult to find, she turns to the most unwelcome of allies: Violet Zino, a brash and charming pirate who can access the criminal underground.

As new assassinations threaten the stability of the empire, Iris and Violet uncover clues that lead them to a shadowy group called the Daughters of Darkness, women who plan to destroy the empire by replacing the empress with a saboteur. Now Iris must choose to risk her life and her freedom to save Elena Flora, or watch as the empire she loves crumbles.

DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, complete at 112,600 words, is high fantasy that will appeal to fans of The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks and The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, as it shares their adventurous tone and touch of irreverent humor.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

It’s a bit longer than I wanted – and quite a bit longer than the first draft – but I think this is the best possible version.

So I’m off to put together and send out those submissions. Then on to the initial reading of the first draft of The Obsidian Pyramids. No summer vacation for his writer.

Writing Ambitions

November will mark the ten year anniversary of the day I started writing The Doorway, the first novel I ever completed. I knew when I started it that I would never have a chance of getting it published – though I pretended that wasn’t the case as I wrote it. But I still had a great time writing it.

Over the years, I’ve become more and more serious about trying to get a book deal with one of the big publishers. It hasn’t gone like I’d hoped, but I’m working on it. I still enjoy writing, but I’ve found the rejection on my query submissions to be more painful than I’d like.

Recently, I came across an older blog post by one of my favorite authors, Mark Lawrence:

http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/writing-fail.html

Mark talks about failure in writing, and how difficult it is to become a successful author, especially at the level of a bestseller. His main point is that most writers will never reach the level of success they desire, and that writers should view anything they do as an accomplishment. You, if you’re a writer, shouldn’t allow yourself to fail, simply by not allowing yourself to feel like you’ve failed – no matter what.

This strikes me as wise, and good advice. And yet…

And yet I don’t believe I can ever view things this way. It just isn’t within my personality to think like that. I suppose that’s a weakness (and it really does lead to a lot of pain and disappointment), but it’s just how I operate.

I’m rather competitive and goal-oriented. I often set my goals high (too high?), but that’s how I motivate myself. I’m just not sure I can take the mentality that I’ve succeeded just by trying, just by writing, even if it’s the wise thing to do. Even if not doing so hurts me.

The best I can do, I think, is to believe that the rejections I get are more due to bad luck than my own failures, and keep going. Keep writing, keep submitting.

***

P.S. While Mark’s advised mentality may be good for writers, I would get eaten alive in my primary career if I adopted it.

P.P.S. If you haven’t read Mark Lawrence, and you like fantasy, I highly recommend Prince of Thorns. It’s a bit of a tough read for some people, but it’s worth it. It’s pretty unique within epic fantasy for it’s short length and consistent fast pace. The main character, Jorg Ancrath, is one of my favorite of all time – If you’ve read this, or do in the future, don’t judge me for that 🙂

How Many is Too Many?

The other day I saw a brief Twitter thread by one of the editors I follow (she works at Tor). She tweeted about the number of POV characters in a manuscript, and how it becomes difficult for the author to manage them all as the number increases – this is assuming third person limited, though she mentioned third person omniscient as a different issue. As an aside, I’ve never been a fan of the third person omniscient head-hopping style. Kids, don’t write this kind of perspective. Just say no.

Said editor says she worries when the author writes more than 4 POV characters. The main risk, she explained, is that it’s tough to differentiate between them. The reader should be able to identify the POV in any given scene by the narrative voice. This is challenging, and I personally think that many great novels exist where this just isn’t the case. But this is something that I strive for, and has been one of my main focuses for improvement over the last 3 books I’ve worked on.

In may last finished MS, Daughters of Darkness, I went with 5 POV characters (eek!). This was the first time I wrote more than 3, and I was worried about this issue. When I started, I thought there was a significant chance I would have to cut one of those (her name is Talia Soren) – not cut her out of the book, I mean, just cut her perspective. But I think (I’m a little biased here guys) it worked out well, and the personal editor inside my head said I didn’t need to cut anyone. Still, 5 is a lot for a 112k word novel.

With current WIP, I originally decided on 5 again, but as I wrote through Act I, I started to wonder about one of those characters (her name is Maria Fonseca). And as it turns out, the day before I was supposed to write the first chapter from her POV, I saw these tweets. I revisited my thoughts about this character, and eventually decided it was best to use her strictly as a non-POV character. The MS is already getting longer than I wanted, and I didn’t feel like I had a clear narrative arc in store for her, so I think cutting her makes sense from many angles.

And it gets me down to the magic number of 4 POV’s! Yippee!

I think using more than 2 or 3 POV characters can add a lot to a novel in terms of range, but it is challenging to maintain the necessary differentiation. As I talked about in a post earlier, one of my preferred tricks is to focus on a different voice for each character by picking different tag words and phrases for each. For me, this mostly comes down to the different curses 🙂

Anyway, work on my current WIP continues at a steady but slow pace. I broke the 50k word barrier today, and right now I’m projecting a finished 1st draft of around 150k. Longer than I wanted, but I’m working toward making this story truly epic – this is meant to be the first book in a series (How many books planned for this series? I got no idea at this point. Lots, perhaps?). I’m hoping to finish the 1st draft before June, but we shall see…

Origin Story

So I just sent out a round of queries last Friday for my most recent novel, Daughters of Darkness (only 1 rejection so far!), and I’m gearing up for the next project, which I don’t have a title for yet. I still have a bunch of pre-writing to do, and I’m trying to cram it all in by the end of the month so I can start the first draft on Nov 1st – for NaNoWriMo, obviously.

But before I make my transition to the next project (or technically, back to the next project, since I interrupted my pre-writing to do some more edits on DoD before sending out more queries), I decided to write up a little story about how DoD came to be. I give you, the origin story…

Twas the year 2010. Or was it 2011? I can’t really remember, it was a few years ago and I’m getting old and things are a little fuzzy these days. Course, that might have something to do with all the whiskey I drink. Anyway…

I was living in Prospect Towers in Milwaukee. (Where I still live. But I left then came back). I’d written two very terrible books over the previous 2-3 years, and I was thinking about writing another. I tried messing around with a SF story about an incurable disease raging through the galaxy, and a small band of deserters from a war on a remote planet that carried the only treatment for the disease – and the best hope for developing a cure. But I kinda messed it up and I eventually set it aside.

Then I had a dream. I tend to dream in fantasies, like I’m playing the role of a fantasy hero in some kind of big role play (LARP, anyone?). Not always, but this time I did. I was the crown prince of a dead nation, visiting a different nation where no one really knew who I was or didn’t care. And that made me feel bad. I was supposed to be important, dammit!

I don’t really remember what happened in the dream, but afterward I thought it might be fun to write a story with a MC who would’ve become king if only his kingdom didn’t fall apart. I decided it would be torn apart by demons, and all the survivors would have to flee to a neighboring kingdom (or empire) as refugees. And then I wanted the MC to be a super awesome bad ass warrior, dedicating his life to the study of swordplay and martial arts (and maybe magic, too) in the hope that he would one day be able to revive his kingdom.

And then I decided to add an element to the story that I thought would be cool, something I hadn’t seen much of within epic fantasy – I wanted this kingdom/empire (the one the MC fled to, not his dead kingdom) to be a matriarchal society.

So then I figured the MC should have a lady counterpart, someone important that could be a thorn in his side and treat him like a silly peasant boy and make him feel all kinds of bad for losing his throne before he even had it.

I named the MC Ataris, and the woman, who was the empress’s daughter, Isis.

Back then, no one ever heard of a terrorist organization in the middle east with a name that matched the Egyptian goddess, so these names were totally fine at the time.

I put together a chapter by chapter outline, which I’d never done. I wrote the prologue.

I didn’t write the book.

Then I moved to LA.

Then I wrote a completely different book (adult high fantasy). Then made a really terrible attempt at a YA book.

Then I moved back to Milwaukee. I wrote an adult contemporary fantasy.

And then I wanted to return to the idea I had several years before. But… I realized if I was going to write a book with a matriarchal society, it was awfully dumb to make the MC a dude. In fact (I then thought), most of the characters should be women.

So I decided that Isis would be the MC. (Eventually her name became Isys, then Iris) She’s a sassy, sassy lady forced into a fight for her freedom (and her head!) as monsters and assassins converge on the capital of the empire.

Ataris is still in the story, but he’s only the 3rd or 4th most important character.

The other POV characters are Violet (a pirate), Talia (an imperial guard captain), and Elena (the empress). (side note: Iris is not the empress’s daughter as originally planned; they are political frenemies).

I just finished the fourth draft last week. I hope someday I can sell it to one of the big publishers, but the odds seem to be against such things. For now, though, it’s time to move on and work on the next thing.

The Next One

While I’m currently working on querying agents for Daughters of Darkness, I’ve also been spending some time pre-writing for my next project. I don’t have a working title for it yet, so for now I’m referring to it as either 12 Pyramids or Alaeric’s book (for the main character).

I did very little formal pre-writing for my earliest books, but with Daughters of Darkness, I took a far more in-depth approach. I even did a scene-by-scene outline for the first time ever.

I’m doing the same thing with this project, though I think the order of my approach is a bit different than last time around. In the first few weeks of working on 12 Pyramids, I did a fairly extensive brainstorm on the major characters, as well as a lot of the worldbuilding. It’s only the last few days I’ve started thinking about the plot.

So far, I’m finding it a bit of a struggle to come up with the major plot points. I already know the primary desires of each of the major characters, but fitting everything together is proving a challenge. I think it’s super critical that the plot contains rising tension – I gotta have interesting ways to raise the stakes throughout the book – but I also can’t start with stakes that are too low. This leaves a bit of a balancing act, one that I’m a little worried I won’t get right.

But fortunately I have almost 2 months before I plan to start writing the first draft. Gives me plenty of time for brainstorming while drunk (and some while I’m sober, too, I suppose).

My Quibble with Queries

 

In which I question the agent query process – or rather, my approach to it.

I used to think the agent querying process was a royal pain in the arse. I suppose I still do, but I’ve come around to thinking that I, like many other fledgling writers, stress out about writing queries too much. I’ve recently found myself worrying about whether I should have a bio, if I should talk about my non-writing-related education in the bio, if I should put the word count in the first paragraph or the last, if I should have comp titles, what should my comp titles be, is it okay to comp a best seller, am I supposed to italicize the comp titles OMG I’M FREAKING OUT.

So, deep breather. I should probably just chill out hope I can get some of the agents I query to start reading page 1. But my query still needs to accomplish its goal. This will be the third MS I’ve queried on, and hopefully I’ve improved in this area. There are lots and lots of resources on the web regarding query writing, but I’d say the most helpful bit of advice I’ve seen comes from agent Andrea Somberg:

The most important line from her post is:

“But what I really loved about the query was that her plot description created so many questions in my mind.”

And I’ve learned over the years that this sentiment is just as critical in the story itself, especially the opening pages. Plant questions in the readers mind, questions she desperately needs find answers for, and she’ll keep reading.

With that goal in mind, here’s the opening paragraph from the plot/blurb section of my query (note that this is still in draft form, and I may need to revise it further):

As she stands outside the doors to her wedding chapel, High Lady Isys LaRose watches helplessly as her groom is torn to pieces by magical blades. Horrified, she stares in disbelief at the murderer. Her mother.

The primary question I hope I’m planting in the readers mind is: why in the fucking hell did Isys’s mother murder her fiance?

Anyone who reads this, then moves onto the first page of my MS, will quickly discover that Isys’s mother was the one who pushed her into this marriage in the first place. Hopefully, that bit of knowledge will create even more intrigue for said reader.

And if I’ve done my job right, the following paragraphs in the query, and the first pages of the novel, will continue to build more questions.

So those are my main thoughts on queries. As a side note, yes, I’m very much aware that there’s a group of really bad, terrible people who are generally referred to by a name which sounds the same as my MC. I figure that if I’m lucky enough to sell this MS, I may have to changer her name. But Isys is a real name for a woman, and that’s how I think of her (I conceived of the character and the name years ago). And besides, if I changer her name, doesn’t that mean that the terrorists have won?

Number Two

The second draft of Daughters of Darkness is complete! Now for more work!

Not right now, I suppose. Summer is coming (actually it’s here now), it’s a holiday weekend, and it’s time for me to honor our veterans the only way I know how: by drinking nonstop until my liver gives out, or I have to go to work again, whichever comes first.

But the next step in my editing process is going to be something I’ve never tried before. I plan to read through each POV character’s chapters contiguously, looking for consistency of voice and other character traits. I’m going to try to ignore most other issues I see, except for grammatical errors and things like that, focusing on the details of each character.

I’m not really sure how long I expect draft #3 to take me, but I’m optimistic it will be much quicker than draft #2. I started the initial read-through in late March, and just finished the last fixes today. Two months is too long for this pass, as I’m hoping to start querying in late June. That’s been my goal since near the beginning, though I’m not super confident I’ll be able to do make that (soft) deadline anymore. Even after the next draft is done, I still need to do at least one more pass to deal with anything I let go this time around, and to give it some polish.

But it’s the weekend, and I’m getting thirsty, so I’ll deal with all that come Tuesday. Bottoms up…

The Voices in My Head

Or rather, the voices on the pages of my MS. Which came from my head. That I can still hear.

Editing! That’s what I’m still doing with my current project, Daughters of Darkness. What I’ve been doing since late March, and will still be doing through…late June, perhaps? Maybe mid June if I’m industrious enough.

Editing a first draft involves fixing/improving a lot of different things, from big to small. I think that (for me) getting the character voices just right is one of the trickiest parts. In my earlier projects, I didn’t really worry too much about character voices, but these days, this is one of my biggest focuses. I also think it’s one of the aspects of writing long-form fiction that I’ve improved upon the most over the years.

When I first started concentrating on giving each major character her own unique voice, back in my 3rd MS, The Book of Terrors, I only worried about each how each person sounded when speaking (i.e. dialogue). But now I’m rather focused on also giving the narration a strong voice that belongs to the POV character for each scene.

I have 5 POV characters in this MS, so I consider it a fair challenge to make sure every everyone’s voice is unique and entertaining, without being annoying or sounding stupid. This is especially tough to do while writing the first draft, since I switch back and forth between different POV characters the whole time. I think that for this project, one of my final passes may include reading each character’s chapters contiguously – even though it means reading the book totally out of order – to check for consistency/continuity of voice.

To help in this process, I’ve learned (or made up?) some tricks for distinguishing each character voice. I like to pick certain aspects of voice that are specific to each:

  • Sentence length/structure
  • Common filler words/phrases (well, like, you know, etc.) that the character uses more than others
  • Common ways of referring to others (My guard character tends to refer to others by their last names, and my lady pirate likes to call other women “lass”)
  • Unusual ways of speaking, e.g. my warrior dude character almost never uses contractions
  • Swears/curses

The swearing is obviously the most important aspect. For the most part, each of my characters has her own set of swears, though they share some in common, depending on shared backgrounds/religious beliefs.

I usually come up with some of these identifying characteristics while I’m writing the first draft, so I have to go back and reconcile the voices for everyone while editing. And in some instances, I find that I’ve overdone someone’s voice while I was searching for it. That part (finding the voice by overdoing it) is usually fun, but it means I have to go back and smooth some of that out. This is proving to be especially true of my warrior dude in this MS.

So it looks I’m going to be more nitpicky about hammering down each voice for this project than I have in the past, which means more work (boo!), but I think it will be worth it in the end.

 

Just the Beginning

After just over 5 months and about 115,000 words, the first draft of Daughters of Darkness is complete!

I found the experience of writing this draft different from my previous manuscripts. Most of the time, I’ll struggle to keep a good pace going early on, but as I near the end, I’ll finish strong, usually averaging a lot more words per day over the last 10-20% of the book than the first 80-90%. In this case, though, I pushed forward faster than normal through the first 70% of the book, but slowed down quite a bit after that.

The main reason is that as I neared the end of Act II, I got a bad feeling about a couple of the plot threads, and I stressed out for awhile, unsure what to do about it. As I talked about in an earlier post, I did far more outlining in this project than I’ve ever done before, and I thought I had all the subplots mapped out nicely. But when I got to a particular part in the story, I started to think what I had planned was going to come off as contrived, messy, and wrong for the characters.

In the end, I decided to cut out a pair of subplots. Or maybe I should say I cut them short. Because of this, the draft ended up shorter than I expected – I had a target of 125,000 words, and I usually overshoot. At the time, I was worried about the decision I was making, and I think that slowed down my progress going forward. As I look back on it now, though, I’m pretty sure I did the right thing.

But now the real work begins.

I’ve always enjoyed writing more than revising. For me, writing is something like 75% play and 25% work, whereas revising is more like the reverse, 25/75. Still, I figure I’ll (mostly) enjoy working to make this MS super awesome.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing this book, though somewhat less after I reached that sticking point. Not every character came out as I expected, but I think some of them ended up better than I’d originally hoped. I don’t know what will come of this project (statistically speaking, almost certainly nothing), but it’s still been a cool experience.

Tweet-cap of DoD So Far

Last night I finished chapter 24 of my current manuscript, Daughters of Darkness (working title). I’m about 84k words in, and I’m targeting 120k-125k as the length of the first draft.

After a writing session, I frequently tweet about what I just wrote, making silly little comments on the subject of the scene. I thought it might be fun to go back and recap those tweets here in one post. I’m not putting all of them in here – just selected tweets – but I think this is more than half.

Here they are: