The end of October

It's time to start a new book.

NaNoWriMo begins on Sunday, and the word is that some 150,000 adults and 35,000 kids and teens will be up for the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a mere 30 days (damn, that's a lot of zeroes in one sentence).  I've registered twice for this crazy thing, but I've never gotten around to actually doing it.  But I'm up for it this year.  The timing is perfect.  I need to work on something new so I don't have the energy to obsess over every rejection and wonder whether I should be writing at all.

I have a pretty concrete idea for the next novel, which, under normal circumstances, would be enough to get me started, but with a goal of 50K in a month's time, I'm going to have to flesh it out a bit more before I start writing.  So that's this weekend's project (in between giving out candy and watching horror movies).  I need a beginning, middle, and an end.  I've tried writing a novel before with no idea of where it was going, and it was a gigantic mess.  A little planning is good.

Speaking of candy and horror movies, it should be no surprise to anyone that Halloween is my favorite time of year. October in general, actually.  The leaves turning yellow and orange (God, I miss the view of the Credit River from the Burhamthorpe Road bridge where I grew up – someone email me a picture, please!), Thanksgiving, Halloween, the way the air smells as it turns from cool to cold... October is the best month ever.

And boy do I love Halloween.  Ghosts and ghouls and goblins, oh my!  My favorite horror writer is, obviously, Stephen King (and when I was younger, Clive Barker, who wrote the Books of Blood series).  Favorite horror books are IT, Pet Sematary, Thinner, Carrie, Salem's Lot, Misery, and Interview with a Vampire (by Anne Rice).

Favorite horror movies are The Exorcist (which gets my vote for Scariest Movie Ever), Carrie, Interview with a Vampire, Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Others, and The Silence of the Lambs (which could be classified as a thriller, but it's scary as hell, whatever the genre).  Oh, and Witchboard, a B-movie groaner that scared the shit out of me when I was 16.  I watched it alone one Saturday night when my parents were at the cottage for the weekend... so not a good idea. Don't play with a Ouija board, kids!  A Ouija board is not your friend!

What are your favorites?

And on that note...

Happy Halloween!


By the way, if you're dressing up this year, please try to do Halloween justice and be something evil.  I'm so tired of people – girls, especially – using Halloween as an excuse to pair a slutty outfit with some kind of animal ears.  Ladies, we have all year to dress like Playboy Bunnies (and I say this without malice or judgment – back in my club days, I rocked the midriff top, mini-skirt, and platform heels, as did most of my girlfriends).

But Halloween is special.  When else can you walk around in public with brain matter all over your face?  When else can you walk into a grocery store with ragged, bleeding stumps instead of arms, and have people smile at you appreciatively?

It's Halloween.  Go scare someone.

Are we breaking up?

As a rule I don't dis other writers, but I will say that nothing breaks my heart more as a reader than when a writer sells out.

I'm not talking about the fame or the fortune – I don't think it's selling out to want those things.  I'm referring to when a writer with a long list of wonderfully written, meticulously plotted books puts something out that, well... stinks.

One of my favorite novelists of all time (who shall remain nameless) put a book out last year I couldn't wait to buy.  After all, I'd read all nine of his books so far, and they're sitting on my shelves, well-worn and dog-eared.  All nine are crazy good.  His books are consistently character rich, with plots that bubble along merrily, and tight writing that disappears because the stories just take over.

Exactly the kind of book I hope to write.

So I rushed to the store to buy book number ten.  Though I was halfway through another book, I put that one aside to dig into the shiny new book by Mr. Favorite Author.  I even got ready for bed a full two hours early so I could read, uninterrupted and alone, under the covers while my husband watched TV downstairs.

Suffice to say, it was the biggest let down ever.  It was like reuniting with a secret lover – a hot, virile man you haven't seen in a year but with whom you have the best memories of the steamiest sex – only to find out he's gained fifty pounds and his "parts" no longer work.

The book was awful.

I knew this from the first chapter, sensed it as I read through the stilted dialogue and clich├ęd phrases.  Yet I plodded ahead anyway, figuring it would improve.  I mean, it's him.  Of course it'll get better.  He's never let me down before.

But as I lay there in bed, gritting my teeth at the long info dumps and the predictable twists and turns, turning the pages faster and faster in the hopes I'd get through it quicker (and who hasn't been there before, ladies?), I had to face facts.

It wasn't working.  The book was terrible, as if he'd submitted a first draft because he was up against a looming deadline and it was impossible to give the book the extra two revisions it needed.  As if the publisher had said, "Don't worry about it, Mr. Author Whose Recognizable Name Will Sell A Few Hundred Thousand Copies Even If The Book Is Shit, just give us what you have.  We have to get it out there.  Don't worry, we'll give it a quick polish. It's good enough."

But it wasn't good enough.  Not nearly.

And I gotta wonder, did Mr. Favorite Author know that?  Did he know his last book sucked?  And if so, what was he thinking?

As a writer, I'd be heartbroken.  Never would I want to see something with my name on it that wasn't the best it could absolutely be.  Maybe I'm a perfectionist, maybe I'm anal, and maybe I'm unrealistic, but I can't imagine working on future books any less hard than I did on the first two.

And as a reader, I'm just plain sad.  I'll still buy his next book – because hey, everyone's had a bad experience in bed before, it doesn't mean the relationship's over – but if the next one's not up to par, then I think we're done.  I can't afford to buy crappy books.  Nobody can these days.

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, and I want my money back.

Guest Blogger: The Six Stages of Rejection by Larry Buege, Writer

As I find myself dipping my toes into the waters of the Sea of Rejection—which are cold, deep, and filled with monsters—my friend Larry posted this to my Facebook. He's allowed me to repost it here, so that I can come back to it time and time again to remind myself what this really all about. Thank you, Larry!

Perhaps it would help if I shared what I have learned during my rejection years.  Hopefully, it will help you progress down the six stages of rejection.  I know it would have made my journey less arduous had someone guided me down the rejection path.

Stage One (Euphoria):
The manuscript is now complete and has received rave reviews from family members.  Countless hours have been spent sifting through agent listings in the most current Writer’s Market.  Web sites have been closely scrutinized and the pros and cons of each agency meticulously logged.  Finally, the candidates are narrowed down to ten prestigious agencies.  Query letters with sample chapters are sent by registered mail for overnight delivery.  While awaiting the expected response, a set of interview questions is compiled.

Stage Two (Denial):
Rejection letters begin to accumulate in the mailbox.  This cannot be! Surely there is a mistake.  Envelopes must have been inadvertently switched in the mailroom by some incompetent minion on minimum wage.  It is only a matter of time before the phone will ring and an apologetic agent will beg for forgiveness.  The apology will be magnanimously accepted.  Anyone can make an honest mistake.

Stage Three (Bitterness):
The last of the rejection letters have arrived.  Most are addressed to “Dear Author.”  A few have a name penciled in. Surely the agents must know the rejections letters would be recognized for what they are – impersonal form letters sent to countless authors across the nation.  They could have at least spelled the name right.  And did they really think Larry was a nickname for Loretta?  All that information was available on my website if they had taken the time to research who they were rejecting.

Stage Four (Vengeance):
More queries have been sent, and more rejections have been received.  The rejection notices are painstakingly placed in a scrapbook by chronological order.  It is only a matter of time before someone discovers the manuscript’s true literary value.  Then the agents responsible for the rejection notices will be contacted and their noses ignominiously rubbed into their literary incompetence.  The mere thought of this vindication provides a bit of personal satisfaction.

Stage Five (Depression):
The rejection notices continue to accumulate but are now loosely stuffed into the rejection scrapbook.  It is obvious the editors and agents are not even offering the proper courtesy of reviewing the proffered material.  They have no interest in unpublished authors.  Fame and fortune is viewed as a wistful dream.  Cold Turkey will never be published, and the world will never discover how the Yoopers repulsed the President’s preemptive strike against Michigan’s Upper Peninsula using the classic technique of shock and Awe.  Super Mensa will never make it to bookstore shelves.  Will Anastasia Petrova’s preternaturally high I.Q. be any match against an evil illegal-arms dealer’s vast financial empire?  Will she ever get her baby back?  Despondency settles in, and the word processor is ignored for weeks at a time.  Abandoning the writing career is seriously considered.

Stage Six (Acceptance):
Finally there is an epiphany.  Fame and fortune is no longer relevant.  Query letters are still submitted to agents only because that is what writers do.  The rejection notices are perfunctorily logged on spreadsheets to keep track of queried agents – nothing more.  The writing process has now become a totally adequate reward. Words are placed on paper.  Paragraphs are molded into stories.  Literary works, unread except by the closest of friends, begin to accumulate on the bookshelf.  There are no further thoughts of forsaking the seductive call of the word processor.  Writing has become the reason for living.  The companionship the computer will provide in life’s waning years is viewed with anticipation, not regret.  For now it is known that old writers never die – their muse just fades away.

May I have your attention, please.

Apparently there are a lot of things I could do to try and publicize this blog, but I don't want to.  If a perfect stranger comes across my blog (which happens once in a blue moon), that's cool, but the only folks I desire to keep informed of my writing trials and tribulations are my family and friends.

In other words, YOU.

(And if you're on my Facebook but we've never met in real life, then you still fall into the Friend category. Deal with it.)

So I'm pretty sure you guys are reading, but if it's not too much trouble, would you post a comment so I know you stopped by?  Comments inspire me! Comments let me know that I didn't spend an hour writing on my pretty little blog, complete with girly butterfly picture, for nothing.  I know some of you non-writers mentioned feeling intimidated by the writers who post witty comments here, but seriously, we writers don't care.  If you make a typo or grammatical error in your comment, we don't – and won't – judge you.  (At least not to your face. Possibly behind your back.)

I kid, I kid.  There is no judgment here.  I'm the one striving for fame and fortune (or at the very least, a small advance from a reputable publisher, and a book jacket cover that doesn't look cheesy).  The only person who gets darts thrown at her on this blog is ME.

I would just like to know who's poking around here.  And yeah, I'm gonna call you Top Lurkers out.  We've known each other a long time, people.  You are part of my inner circle.  You don't start commenting, I'm gonna start dishing secrets right here.  And save the juiciest ones for my next book.

By the way, if you don't recognize yourself in the list below and you're reading this blog post right now, you get a gold star.  (Metaphorically speaking, of course. Gold stars have gone up in price this year and we're still in recession.)  Thanks for the feedback and keep it coming. It means a lot.

Otherwise, may I present...

JENNY'S TOP LURKERS OF 2009 WHO DON'T POST COMMENTS:

The guy who sleeps next to me (most nights, anyway), who missed BOTH anniversaries this week.  (You might not think you're in the doghouse, but you are, even after our fabulous high-class dinner at WD.)

The girl who shopped my ass off last week and encouraged me to buy everything from Lulus to knee high boots to a sweater dress.  (Okay, admittedly, this one's flimsy, since I now look fabulous.)

The girl who went on a really bad date the other night with Torpedo Tongue Guy, who made me call her to fake a family emergency so she could get away.  (All right, this one's a little flimsy, too, since I really enjoyed making that call and have tighter abs now from all the hysterical laughing.)

The woman whose Siamese cat weighs an unbelievable 20 pounds, who really came to visit my kittens last month, and not me.  (The kittens do not miss you. I swear they don't.)

You know who you are.

And yep, I'm calling you out.  Because as any blogger knows, it's LONELY to post if nobody comments, and your comments would be especially welcome. I would love to know you're reading, even if all you do is say hi.

I couldn't – and wouldn't – do this crazy thing without you. And you know damn well I'm not talking about the blog.

Love you guys.

P.S.  You don't need a Google account to post a comment. Select "Anonymous".  Just be sure to leave your name (or secret nickname, if I gave you one).  Mom, if you need technical support, you have a trained computer tech expert living in your basement.  Or, Tim will help.  (Oh, oops, did I just say Mom? Readers, she's not the one who went out with Torpedo Tongue guy.  That would be gross... awww man, I'm now getting a visual I soooo didn't want!)

P.P.S.  If you guys don't start commenting and I find out you were reading, consider yourself warned.  I got dirt on all of you. Insert evil laugh here.

What's a query letter?

My cousin asked me this question on Facebook, and it occurred to me that maybe I haven't been very clear on what, exactly, a query letter is.

Ahem.  (Picture me standing up straight and speaking in my best professional presenter's voice.)

A query is a letter you write to a literary agent in the hopes that your concise, witty description of the book you've spent more than a year slaving over will entice him enough to request the manuscript.

You will send this letter via email or snail mail, depending on the agent's preference.  You will not forget to personalize the letter to include the agent's name, spelled correctly.  Nor will you forget to include a self-addressed stamped envelope (if querying by regular mail) for the agent's convenience, should the agent be so crazy as to reject you.

Once the letter is sent, you pray that the agent will love the premise of your story and ask to read the manuscript in its entirety.  Which, since he's not crazy, he will.

You will then send him the manuscript pronto (properly formatted using Times New Roman or Courier New 12-point font double-spaced with one-inch margins, with your name, the title, and the page number at the top of every sheet, hard copy or electronic, whatever he prefers) hoping he'll fall in love with the book and agree to take you on as a client.

Once the contract is signed, the agent will shop your book to all the publishing houses in New York City, generating a bidding war amongst the top five, because yes, your book is just that good.

Which will then result in the sale of the book for hundreds of thousands of dollars, allowing your spouse to quit his day job so the two of you can buy a villa in Tuscany.

Then, while you're leisurely writing the next fabulous novel (in your backyard, surrounded by grapes and olives which are lovingly cared for by your gardener, Benito, whose perfect abs make you crave chocolate because you're married) your book will generate incredible sales in every bookstore in the world, inevitably catching the attention of Hollywood.

A big wig movie production company will then option your book for few hundred thousand more, allowing you to buy a bigger villa in Tuscany (and another Benito).

And, since the movie will star Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston, you'll become even more famous, and your next book will sell for a cool seven figures.

In sixty years, after more than thirty bestselling novels, you will die peacefully surrounded by your children, grandchildren, housekeeper, chef, chauffeur, personal massage therapist, and the two Benitos, knowing you've made your mark on the world and that there's a special place in heaven for brilliant fiction writers.

That's the idea, anyway.

In reality...

A query is a story-hyping, excitement-generating, typo-free one-page letter full of exceptional, original prose that you send to an Awesome Literary Agent Who's Never Heard Of You, who'll glance at it for ten seconds, then send you a soul-sucking, self-esteem crushing rejection letter that rips your dream of being a published novelist to shreds, sending you head first into a depression you can't get out of for days.

In a nutshell.

(I got my first rejection today.  It's possible my explanation is a bit off.)

First query, first rejection

I sent out my first query today at 1:33 pm. Nausea notwithstanding, it felt pretty damned good to finally "get in the game."

I received my first rejection at 3:31 pm.

Thank you, Ms. Agent, for ripping the band aid off quick.

May all rejections be this speedy.

The End

CREEP is finished.  For real this time.  A total of five drafts.  Word count down to a lean, mean 106,400.  I could fiddle with it some more... in fact, I'm kind of itching to do one more draft (because hey, what if I missed something in the past 14 months that would suddenly pop out in Draft #6? And yes, I'm being sarcastic), but I know it doesn't need it. It's as good as I can get it.  Any changes I make at this point are marginal and essentially pointless.

It's ready.

And right there lies the problem.  I don't want it be.

I've spent so much time fantasizing about getting to this point that, now that I'm here, I feel... frozen.  I've tried so hard for the past year to focus on the story and the writing and the craft behind it all.  But now that I'm finally faced with the marketing aspect of it, I'm choking.

Choking, guys. C H O K I N G.

The query letter is written.  It's gone through six drafts and been looked at by 4 different people whose opinions I trust (writers and non-writers).  I think the query's good.  I've researched agents and have the first 50 all lined up in my meticulously organized, color-coded Excel spreadsheet.  Other than the synopsis, which I can finish in the next couple of days, there's no reason to not start querying.  I've even set up a separate email address so that when the rejections come in, they don't ping to my BlackBerry when I'm having an otherwise perfectly good day.

I am ready.

Except that I'm not.  Not really.  Not even close.

I don't want to find out that I'm not any good.  For the past two years since I decided to write "seriously" (whatever the hell that means), I've been operating under the delusion that I'm a good writer with great potential.  I needed to tell myself that in order to get myself to write every day.  But am I ready to find out that I'm not, in fact, good at all?

Blah blah blah, you say.  Shut the fuck up and query already, is what you're thinking. Enough with these pity party posts.  And you know what, it's okay to think that – if I was reading this stupid post, I'd be thinking it, too.  Hell, I'd be saying it.  Ask my friends.  I'm the bluntest chick there is.

But get used to it.  This phase of my "chasing publication" endeavor is not going to be rainbows and roses.  It's going to be HELL, and every writer who's been through it knows that all you can do is sludge through it with lots of chocolate.

And yes, I have every intention of posting all my rejections here.  Don't you worry about that.  This blog is about to get interesting.  For you, anyway. (It might be kinda painful for me, but you can't deny it won't be downright titillating for you!)

On a happier note, I registered for NaNoWriMo.  That's short for National Novel Writing Month, which is every November.  Never heard of it?  Neither had I, until I started writing again.  But believe it or not, thousands of writers participate in this challenge.  The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  That translates to 1,666 words per day, which is higher than my usual quota, but totally doable.  And the perfect distraction to the Circle of Hell I'm about to enter with querying.  I definitely need a shiny new story and a crazy high word count goal to keep my mind occupied so I don't keep refreshing my inbox every ten minutes. Y ou don't win anything for achieving the 50K goal, except, of course, the satisfaction of having written a good chunk of a novel in only a month's time.

So, my friends, as my perky first grade teacher would say whenever we left the classroom, "And away we go!"

I've lost that loving feeling

After a year of belonging to two different writing groups and taking various writing classes, I've started to become more focused on what other people think of my writing, rather than the writing itself.  Gone are the mornings when I'm jumping out of bed, eager to write the next chapter.  Now I spend my mornings biting my nails, wondering what feedback awaits me in my inbox.

Of course I know that constructive criticism is integral to improving my craft.  Every opinion I got, I asked for.  But I'm burned out.  I've received so many widely differing opinions on my work, I've begun to question whether there's anything in there anybody actually likes.

I'm also tired of critiquing.  I'm tired of having to analyze why something doesn't work.  I miss reading for entertainment.  I miss reading for escape.

I've forgotten what it's like get excited when a story takes a direction that surprises me, when a character says something unexpected, when fictional places on paper begin to feel three-dimensional and real.  This goes for both reading and writing.  Once upon a time, I used read and write for pleasure, simply because it felt fucking good.  Now it's all become a chore.

It's not fun anymore.

Next week I'll be sending out queries for Creep.  I can't control what agents will think of it, but I do know that in a few days – after five full drafts – I will cease to touch another word in that manuscript.  I will declare it complete.

If signing with an agent becomes dependent on making further revisions (if I'm lucky enough to even interest an agent), I'll be happy to apply any and all feedback that makes the book stronger.  But God knows I've asked enough writers what they think. It's time to put it out there and see what happens.  The book is good enough, or it's not... but either way, I am so done with it.

To keep my sanity while in Query Hell, I'm going to start the next novel.  And try to remind myself that, for the next little while anyway, the only opinion that matters is my own.