June 27, 2004

Query Letter

Ahhh, the query letter. Source of much confusion and frustration.

People get worked up over how hard this seems, but really, if you sell the book, this is just the beginning. Everyone you talk to, every place that want details on your book is going to want you to keep it short.

The query is just a selling tool -- think of it as a movie trailer. Just enough to grab. And yes, really do try to keep it under one page.

Whatever you do, don't ignore 1 inch margins all around in the effort to fit as much as possible on the page.

Generally what you need in a query letter is only this:

Dear Editor (call if you don't know their name and make sure you spell it right!)

I have written a science fiction/fantasy/mystery/romance/etc (pick one -- and it better be one that this editor publishes) novel of xx,xxxx words. (Word count shows them if fits their required range. A science fiction novel falls around 100,000. Mysteries and Romances are often much shorter.)

One SHORT paragraph about what the novel is about. Mine for ALIEN TASTE was "Ukiah Oregon never had a normal life. Raised by wolves, adopted by a lesbian couple, and trained to be a private investigator, he now works in Pittsburgh finding lost people. He and his partner, Max Bennett, are called in on a multiple homicide to help find a kidnap victim and find themselves at the center of an war between two alien forces."

If you have published anything, add that into the letter. Also if you have some special skill set that suits this genre like working for NASA for SF, or ex-cop for mystery.

Everyone will want the first three chapters.

Chapter One shows how well you hook the reader. Most people looking through the bookstore will pick up a book from an unknown writer and read the first page. It needs to hook them in enough to get them to buy the book.

Chapter two and three are indications that you are developing the story in an interesting matter. It shows how you handle pacing and unfold a story in a manner that is pleasing and understandable. It also shows that chapter one wasn't a fluke.

They say "first three chapters" but usually what they mean is "first 50-60 pages" which is often three chapters. If you're one of those people that have short or massive chapters, just send them the chapters that fall within that range. Ie, if chapter six starts on page 49 and ends at page 57, then send up to and including chapter six. If chapter one is 70 pages, then just send chapter one.

Posted by wen at 09:01 AM

June 09, 2004

Discussion on Set up and Snippet

When I start a novel, I know the threads I want in the novel. In T2, the threads are the "oni" dragon, the tengu, the lost colonist, and the elfin political system. Because each thread at the beginning of the book lack the relational material, the initial order of these threads aren't highly important. Usually I start by writing little islands of story.

My initial set of scenes ran something like this:

A. Dragon Attacks
B. Tinker dreams of lost colonist
C. Tinker discovers someone stole her equipment (to keep focus off building gate)
D. Riki kidnaps Tinker to show her something. He takes her to his village where she meets charming tengu children.
E. Tinker is digging through her grandfather's things and comes across evidence that Lain's sister, one of the colonist, is her mother and goes storming off to confront her.

This run of scenes takes me about 10,000 words into the novel before I realize a couple of things. The first that the robbery doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The second is that I'm scattering the elements to widely. I've lost any way to move from one element to the next in an order that seems to make the order logical instead of random.

I tweak it then to this:

A. Tinker notices black willow and the dragon attacks
B. Tinker dreams of lost colonist
C. Wounded by the dragon, Tinker suffers mothering from Windwolf's staff and decides to go visit Lain, her real mother figure
D. The black willow has been transported to Lain's house. Tinker now has to deal with it.
E. Tinker finds info on her mother while trying to find way to keep black willow refrigerated.
F. Dragon unleashes the black willow and Riki saves Tinker from black willow
G. Tinker meets the charming tengu children.
H. Riki tells sob story of tengu and asks for protection. Tinker delays answer.

This is all good, but I've lost the elves. And why the delay in answering? Because I need time in the plot before dealing with them. I need to introduce elves before moving to this point. Also the tengu have nothing that Tinker needs, and her last contact with them was with them on the other side. Argh. I loose track of where I'm going in the story and jump ahead. Where DO I want to go? I decide to focus on the mess in Turtle Creek.

A. Windwolf teaches magic to Tinker.
B. Tinker uses search lights to flash Morse code into the discontinuity and gets reply.
C. Prince True Flame arrives
D. Windwolf warns of his ex-girlfriend is coming

Which makes me start thinking - how does Tinker save the colonist? After thinking about it for a while, I realized my biggest impasse in the story was that I was having trouble dealing with the colonists being ON the planet. If they're still in space, everything changes.

A. Tinker is fishing for data at Turtle Creek and finds kappa. Riki shows up to talk - identifies the kappa - but ex-girlfriend disrupts the conversation.
B. Tinker arrives in deep space with colonist

This takes me up to 30,000 words but now I'm starting to need to order things.

A. Tinker notices black willow and the dragon attacks
B. Tinker dreams of lost colonist, Windwolf makes first mention of coming elves
C. Wounded by the dragon, Tinker suffers mothering from Windwolf's staff and decides to go visit Lain, her real mother figure
D. The black willow has been transported to Lain's house. Tinker now has to deal with it.
E. Windwolf gives more info on coming elves and promises to teach magic.
F. Tinker and Windwolf discover that Turtle Creek is growing
G. Windwolf teaches magic - call fire.
H. Tinker is digging through her grandfather's things while trying to find way to keep black willow refrigerated and comes across evidence that Lain's sister, one of the colonist, is her mother and goes storming off to confront her.
I. Dragon unleashes the black willow. Tinker calls fire and sets building on fire. Riki saves Tinker from black willow and fire.
J. Riki explains the nature of dragons - WOW, I forgot I needed that.
E. Prince True Flame arrives - elves in force, tengu NOW need Tinker's protection.
F. Windwolf warns of his ex-girlfriend is coming
G. Show that the elves are in force, pass important info to Oilcan
H. Tinker is fishing for data at Turtle Creek and finds kappa. Riki shows up to talk - identifies the kappa - but ex-girlfriend disrupts the conversation
I. Dragon surfaces - Tinker now needs the tengu to translate.
J. Tinker meets charming tengu children -- discussion on the tengu/tinker alliance.
K. Tinker uses search lights to flash Morse code into the discontinuity and gets reply.
L. Dragons help Tinker to get to space over the dragon world.
M. Tinker arrives in deep space with colonist

Yeah! I now have the first third of the book plotted and mostly written and in a logical order. Of course, it missing all the "Tinker left for Lain's" and "Tinker arrives from the enclave" kind of sentences that make the scenes appear that they're all linked together.
Sunlight shafted through the discontinuity in rays of blue. Mists raising off the chill, drifted in banks of blue and existed momentarily as white before burning away in the summer heat.

Tinker scanned the camera over the valley, watching the screen on her workpad instead of looking through the eyepiece. In one window, the video feed showed the thermal picture, and in other windows, programs reduced the images into mathematical models.

"Something wrong, domi?" Pony asked.

She realized that she had made a slight noise a moment before. "Oh - this here - this looks like our gate. See, the ironwood ring and here is the ramp over the threshold."

"It is laying on its side?"

"Yes. The current probably toppled it, though I'm not sure what is causing the current. It might be simple" - her Elvish failed her. Did they have a word for convection? "Heat rises and cold falls. Basic science. It's what makes the winds blow. I think this is the same thing on a micro-scale - like a pot boiling."

"Why not like a pond freezing?"

"I don't know. Perhaps because there's a pool of magic below this, heating the bottom but its loosing massive amounts of energy before it hits the surface - thus the reason for the cold."

"Hmm."
She left the camera on the tripod, feeding data into her workpad, and moved on to the next experiment.
"Pony, do you see this point here? It is right where the gate is lying. Can you shoot this arrow to that point?"

"With the line and weight attached?"

"Yes."

"I think I can."

The arrow soared straight and true as if it had nothing weighing it down, nor trailing behind. The reel whizzed as the line snaked out after the arrow, the numbers on the meter blurring as they counted up the feet. The arrow struck the heart of the blue above the gate, appearing on her screen as a dot of red heat compared to the artic cold of the land. The reel fell quiet and the line ran taunt out into the discontinuity.

She clicked on her mouse and meter feed its number into the computer: 100 yards.

"What is the arrow for?"

"I'm trying to see how deep the discontinuity runs. I figure it is deepest at the gate." The reel started to click out as arrow sank out of sight.

"Why does it matter how deep it is?"

Tinker shrugged. "Because I don't know what else to do at the moment. I'm just fiddling around, poking at it until something comes to me."

"Will not the current effect this measurement?"

"Oh, damn." She muttered in English, and then dropped back to low Elvish. "Yes, it will. I'll have to measure the drift and correct the measurements."
#
This wasn't going to work. There was no way to know what was drift and what was the weighted end sinking. There might not even be drift at the heart of the gate, so she would be making blind assumptions.

The winch started to reel in the line. It came loose and quick at first and then jerked and line went taunt.

"Well, I'll be damned."

"Domi?"

"Something is caught on the line. I didn't think anything would be solid enough to catch on the line."

"The line is solid."

"Yes, it is." She gasped as implications dawned on her. "Pony, you're a genius. The line is solid."

"I can not be that smart, domi, because I do not understand why that excites you."

"Well, it is an important observation. An object from this reality stays in this reality even after sinking into the discontinuity."

"How is this important?"

"I do not know, but it is something I did not know before."

"Ah. I see."

The object appeared on the thermal scan, an oddly shaped mass of slightly lighter blue. By the naked eye, she could make out a boil of disturbance beyond the where the line cut into the earth, creating a sharp v-shaped wake.

"It is big, whatever it is."

Pony unsheathed his sword.

"I doubt if it is anything living." Tinker backed up regardless. Gods knows what she was dragged in from between realities. "It is at zero - zero" she had to teach Pony English or learn more Elvish. "It is frozen. And if it is hooked on our line, from our reality, it is probably something that came from here. A tree, an animal that stumbled into --"

The thing hit shore. For a moment she thought it a large turtle, and then line kept reeling, rolling it. Long fingered webbed hands and a vaguely human-looking face heaved out of the earth, rimmed with frost.

"Oh gods!" She leapt back.

The reel protested the sudden heavy load as the frozen body hit solid earth, the line going taunted, then vibrating and suddenly snapping. Pony stamped down on one of the stiff arms, trapping it against the shore so it couldn't slide down into the liquid earth.

"I think it is dead." He had the sword at its throat just in case.

"Get it out." She kept her distance. The sekasha hauled it out a few feet and then let it drop, backing away.

The creature was half her size, had turtle shell but long scaly limbs, webbed feet and hands. Long straight black hair fringed a bare, depressed spot on a human-like head, and its face a weird cross of a chubby monkey and a turtle. It wore a harness of leather with various pointy things that could be weapons attached to it.

Pony pricked the creature with his sword, eyed the wound. "It does not bleed. It is indeed frozen."

"Okay. It is probably safe to assume that it will stay dead, even if it thaws out."

"An elf would." Pony sheathed his sword.

"What do you think it is?" Tinker asked.

"It's a kappa." A voice called from above them.

(turn, look up, pull weapons)
Riki perched branches of the ironwood, high overhead. He ducked back, behind the trunk.

"Wait, don't fire." Tinker shouted. "Riki! Riki, what the hell is this?"

"I told you." He peered out around the trunk. "It's a kappa. Ugly little brats aren't they? In Japan, it's believed that they get their great strength from water in that brain depression and if you can trick them into bowing and spilling out the water, they have to return to the water realm to regain their strength."

"It's a oni? Or an animal?"

"That's a blurred line with the oni. I think you would call it oni - they're fairly clever in a homicidal way. The greater bloods made them by mixing animals with lesser bloods, just like Tomtom did with Chiyo. Legend has it that they used monkeys and turtles - a pretty sick mix if you ask me."

"I didn't see any while we were making the gate."

"There aren't any in Pittsburgh. They're fairly clever in a homicidal way, but not in the way of passing for human long enough to cross the globe."

"So you're saying it came through the gate?"
"The oni use them for special ops; they're strong swimmers and wrestlers."

Tinker look back into the discontinuity, the slow drift of blue mist. What were the oni up to? Were they just testing these strange waters to see where they led - or were they trying to salvage the gate?

Then again, was Riki telling the truth that there were no kappa in Pittsburgh?

"What are you doing here, Riki?"

"I need to talk to you."

"Talk? Talk about what? How can I even trust anything that comes out of that lying mouth of yours?"

"Damn, you owe it to me to at least talk to me."

"How do you figure that?"

"I pulled that dragon off you."

"Domi!" Stormsong shoved Tinker suddenly behind her and activated her shields with a shout. At the movement, Riki jerked back out of sight. A second later, a bullet struck the tree truck where Riki had been standing, ricchocette, and struck Stormsong's shield.

(scramble to pull weapons - Pony into defense, other offense)

"Hold! Hold!" Came a shout in Elvish.

"Show yourself." Tinker shouted.

Sekasha merged out of the shadows, their wyvern armor and tattoos the black of the Stone Clan. Five in all - a (unit), the back two acting as blades, which meant they had a (noble) traveling with them. They halted some twenty feet off, tense and watchful.

Only after a full minute of tense silence did the (noble) step into the clearing.

The domi was short for an elf, several inches shorter than her shekasha, but willowy graceful as any other high caste female Tinker had ever seen. She wore an emerald green underdress and an overdress with a forest of wildly branching trees over it. Her hair was gathered into elaborate braids, dark and rich as otter fur, twined with emerald ribbons and white flowers. Two small gleaming orbs circled around her, like tiny planets caught in her gravity.
Tinker felt hard bitter resentfulness at this perfect stranger who had to be Jewel Tear of the stone clan.

"Put your weapons," the domi called. "We are not your enemy."

"You fired on us!" Tinker snapped.

Jewel Tear motioned and one of the blades bowed curtly.

"I fired on a tengu in the tree," the blade said. "I did not see you. Forgiveness."

Stormsong made a noise of disgust in the back of her throat. "He would not have fired on an enemy without release of his domi."

"Patience," Pony whispered. "Is there is another of their (unit) nearby?"

"I can not tell."

Tinker doubted an apology would come from her. "What are you doing here?"

"I arrived by gossamer this morning," Jewel Tear picked her way gracefully toward her. Despite the sweltering heat and her long gown, there was no sweat on her creamy white skin. "Prince General True Flame asked me to see what I can do to correct this mess you Wind Clan made of this place. You're Windwolf domi, are you not? What was your name? Twinkle? Twitter?"

"Tinker."

Posted by wen at 12:15 PM

June 08, 2004

What to wear to a Book Expo

Julie Czerneda wrote this at her newsgroup on sff.net in a thread titled "Dressing for a Pro Event like Book Expo." I thought this was really useful info, so I asked Julie if I could repost it here.

I've had a few inquiries ... so I thought I'd best post something.

If you are attending to see the booths etc., anything goes. Most will be
wearing casual summer/casual office stuff. Khaki pants, shirts, sweaters.
The wandering crowd is mainly booksellers, bookbuyers, and librarians in
vacation mode. Most know to expect extremes of airconditioning.

Those working at the booths are usually either in costume, company t-shirts,
or office casual to dressy. Costumes? From teddy bears to flapper dresses,
depending on the titles they are promoting that day. You will find senior
management from the various publishing houses showing up in "just left the
office" suits. Or "just left the house" casual.

Authors, especially those with titles being promoted? My own observation
from past years is that you want to stand out from the wandering crowd. They
are trying to spot you, after all. So are publishers. Wear something that
shows your personality, but will let you mingle without worrying about who
might step on your feet. Don't be afraid to be dressier or unusual. Be a
walking billboard -- so long as you do it in a way that permits someone to
stand with you and talk without feeling the need for distance ;-) You are
royalty at this event. (or visiting zoo beasts, your call) The key is
to believe it yourself. Then anything will work for you.

Laura Anne Gilman - author and ex-Executive Editor of Roc - added:

Wear comfortable shoes!

Really.

Not just shoes that feel good when you put them on, or shoes that feel good
an hour later, but shoes that will support you for hours upon hours of slow-walking,
standing, strolling, etc. On, mind you (unless Canada's different from
the American version) thinly carpeted concrete underfoot.

Other than that, what Julie said. Mind your grooming. Keep a packet of
breath mints handy, just in case. Make sure you have up-to-date business
cards with you. And have fun! Expos are the best source of neat freebie
books in the world. *grin*

Julie notes:

Watch your time. I'd rather be talking to folks at booths than
standing for 30 minutes in a lineup for a signed bestseller -- not to
mention the booths are thus likely less busy.

Julie then added:

I almost forgot. Another aspect. Authorial conduct. No big deal, but some
hints.

Have business cards. Bring covers/bookmarks. That sort of thing. (just not
manuscripts!) While the focus of those at the booths is to promote existing
books, editors are typically there as well. Thus, you have access in one
place to pretty well everyone who looks for authors, and those editors will
expect to be approached. (Trust me, they couldn't stop it if they wanted to,
and they don't.)

Be professional. Don't hesitate to find out who is an editor and talk to
that person, particularly if the books at the booth are like yours. Pick
times when they aren't busy. Back off if there is someone attending the show
waiting for that editor's attention. The wandering crowd comes first. That
doesn't mean you can't circle back and pounce. Make an appointment for later
that day, if the conversation turns promising. There's a great deal of
business goes on at those silly little tables over tea. How serious? I've
sold books at every Book Expo I've attended. I'm not saying that's what
happens to everyone, but I am saying that decision makers are there.

Think in terms of a job fair, where you want to make a first impression that
shows you know at least something of the business, you have something to
offer, and you'll be that reliable "here next year" kind of author.

Get names.

Get names.

Get names.

I'm not kidding. If there's anything you can take away with you, it's the
right contact person's name and info. Even if the editor you should talk to
isn't coming, there should be someone at the booth who knows that person.

It's not a convention, as we know it in the genre. The people walking around
are the ones who can bring your work to the attention of readers. The people
standing around are the ones who can publish your work. It's fun, don't get
me wrong. There are parties and giveaways galore. But it's "game face" time
for pretty well everyone there. Don't be shy.

Enjoy!

Julie

(Who once put posters for her publisher in the various men's rooms
because an event wasn't listed in the program.)

Posted by wen at 07:33 AM

June 07, 2004

Busy busy busy

I've been very busy as of late. At the beginning of May we decided to clean out the attic, garage, basement and walk in closets. When we moved in, Alien Taste had just come out and I was trying to write Tainted Trails. Everything was left exactly where the movers put the boxes.

There was a small mountain of boxes in the garage from when we moved in which unfortunately gotten moldy. In the process of digging through them, I caught a nasty cold that took like two weeks to get rid of. Two dumpsters later, and we feel much better about the house. (Look, space!)

I have DOG WARRIOR page proofs currently that I'm working on, and just finished reading over TINKER for the paperback version. I also did a short writing article on cross genre. I NEED to finish up the short story that's due
at the end of the month -- busy busy busy.

My son actually went off and did his first sleep over camp with his fourth
grade. I'm so proud that he lasted out the four days -- I really expected
to have to come pick him up. He said he had lots of fun.

Misc. news -- they tell me that ALIEN TASTE will be appearing in book stores
in Russia this month. YEAH! I can't wait to see how that came out. I'm
also on pins and needles to see how the audio version works out.

Of course, FAIRE TALES is out in bookstores that Russell did with Martin
Greenberg as book packager. My B&N has it under Martin's name. My story
is WYVERN which set in the world of TINKER.

Things are going well for T2 but I still don't have a title for it. Although,
after Shrek 2, I'm tempted to run with Tinker 2. (hmmm, Tinker Squared)

::mad waving::

Posted by wen at 11:23 AM

Teenage Writer

A teenage writer asked this question on the now defunct Young Writers: Speculative Fiction Forum.

This is something that's been weighing on my mind a bit lately. I recently turned 19, and while I realize that's far from ancient, I'm coming to the end of my teen years. I've been writing seriously since I was eleven- and though I haven't accomplished much of merit, I just wonder...how long do I have left as a "young" writer? ... When am I going to have to give up the claim of "young writer"? 21? 25? Does it really matter? Whether or not it does, it's just something I've been thinking of lately.

Having been there, and done that, I answered:

I started to write in fourth grade. I started to submit short stories to magazines in high school. At one point I had a deadline of getting my first novel published by the time I was 21, which seemed ancient to me. Sigh, my first novel came out when I was 38.

I have to admit, though, that you guys have more advantages than I did. When I was growing up, I had a broken IBM electric typewriter and had to beg for paper because it was so expensive. (Back in the time before office copiers and computer printers, a ream of paper was ten times the cost it is today.) I had no way to contact other young writers and not a clue how to reach out to professional writers. My school offered one creative writing course and we focused only one week on short stories and didn't mention anything on how to write a novel. One reason I mentor the ALPHA workshop is because I would have killed for an opportunity for advance writing courses.

Writing is hard. I know that when I was young I thought since I could put a sentence together, I should be able to easily write something that could sell. I have discovered, however, that writing is like a professional sport -- you need to practice hard for years to get it to the point when the major leagues pick you up. On the other hand, you have many advantages I never had. You have computers. You have spell checkers and grammar checkers. You have the Internet. You have places like this. Giving yourself a time limit or being impatient about the speed of being published is a dangerous thing. I know that I was horribly hurt when I hit 21 and hadn't sold -- and yet, looking back, that "deadline" was artificial and arbitrary. I was so disappointed that I stop writing for a long time -- if I hadn't been upset and kept writing, I might have published as much as ten years sooner.

Posted by wen at 11:13 AM

On Characters

A member of Forward Motion asked: What makes a good character, one that is interesting to read.

I took this to mean "want makes a strong, memorable" character.

I have found that characters that are done in bold strokes are the best.

Not to say over the top, so goody goody or straight evil with greased mustache to twirl.

I went to dinner at convention with a herd of 15 people. We took up one long table. I knew everyone except a woman sitting way at the other end. There was something about her, the snide sense of humor, her laugh, the way she look that had me pointing down to the other end of the table saying "WHO IS SHE?" When compared to her, everyone else at the table faded to background.

That is what you want in a character. Someone that stamps themselves into the reader's mind of "this is who I am" so deeply that they can say "yes, they will do this act in the book" or "no, they won't do that" or "this line of dialogue was spoken from x."

One has to admit that Buffy the vampire slayer had a cast of good strong characters. The ones that were too weak got weeded out. The ones that were great got moved to Angel. There's Buffy with the "hey, I'm the slayer, I'm kick ass, and no one is doing shit in my town without me closing them down." There's Spike, the vampire that reluctantly turns good and happily sneers at everyone else.

Guard against wishy-washy characters. Yes, they are out there, but they're hard to write well. Start with strong bold statements about your character.

The important thing to keep your character from going cardboard is to make sure that you mix. No one is black and white, so your characters should have good and bad qualities. Heroes should have failings. Villains should have good qualities. And shade these qualities. The hero can be brave -- to a point. It is their fear that makes them real. It is getting around their fear that makes them heroes.

Posted by wen at 11:07 AM

In the Ether

On Forward Motion, a new member complained that her favorite author was always beating her to the punch -- publishing characters and plots that seem much like her own works in the progress.

This is my answer to her complaint:

Actually sf writer has noticed this and call it "In the Ether." For some strange reason, vast number of stranger will come up with the same idea at the same time. One sf editor tells a tale of getting three short stories about talking x-mas trees in one week. My first novel I worked on was cool and novel -- the government experiments on college students and their children develop physic powers. In a bloody move, the government kills the parents and gather all the kids into a camp which the kids burn down in their escape move. Totally different right? (okay, now it isn't.) FOUR YEARS later, Stephen King came out with Fire Starter.

The thing is that this was all before the internet and I lived 1000 miles from him so there was no way that he could have stole the idea off of me.

Unless you've been posting your stuff on the Internet (HUGELY BAD IDEA) or live next door to your author, you're merely tapping into whatever causing everyone to think of the same idea at the same time. It could be blockbuster movies had a throw away line. A hit tv show didn't develop one cool idea. Subliminal images in commercials. Who knows. But its fairly well known by anyone that writes seriously that unless your ideas are really really OUT there, someone else probably will think of it too. This is when speed and quality of writing manners. The person who gets done first, and done best will be considered the original and everyone else will be copying.

Posted by wen at 10:57 AM