Archive for August, 2016

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As an aspiring novelist— No, strike that. As a novelist who is aspiring to be published, I’m beginning to see how reaching my goal is something like achieving the speed of light. As one approaches success, one finds it becomes exponentially harder to keep moving forward.

Of course, for writers, the answer to the question of how to continually improve one’s craft is simply to keep writing. And I’m doing that. In fact I’m doing that this very moment. This blog is as valuable or more to me as it is for anyone who reads it and learns some tiny fragment of wisdom or gets a momentary smile. I’m also working hard on my third novel and have plans for several more. I have a loooooooong way to go before I am going to run into the issue of struggling against my own momentum.

No, what I’m talking about is actually getter my most recent book published. We move closer and closer to success by increments – some of them only measurable by highly sophisticated scientific instruments in some high-tech lab – but with each rejection, each bit of feedback from a contest judge, each new insight from a fellow query-trench commando – my daughter and I learn somthing which we can apply to our manuscript or our query to better entice an agent. But I fear the big easy fixes are all past, and the only improvements ahead are increasingly more subtle. Or more difficult.

We have run our first several chapters and query letter through countless beta readers, workshops, critique groups, and contests. We’re getting requests. But still no offers. I’m beginning to suspect if there us something wrong with our book, it is somewhere in the middle. One of the things that drives me so enthusiastically into many of these contests is that if we get in we can have our whole manuscript edited by a professional editor with a proven track record of success. Because we can not afford to pay a decent editor.

This is where a dedicated critique partner comes in.  He or she can be your personal editor, your cheerleader, and your writing partner all rolled into one.  If you can find a fellow writer who gets your writing (and whose writing you get), and with whom you get along, it is better than an editor.  For one, it is free.  Of course, you have to be willing to give as well as you get with regard to reading and critiquing your partner’s work, but as I’ve observed in the past, giving critiques is as good or better for you writing than receiving critiques.

So where do you find a critique partner?  Find your CP wherever fine writers are sold.  Or, less cheeky, fin them on Twitter, joining contests, querying, and looking for advice and tips just like you are.  Last week there was a #CPMatch Twitter party, and these happen all the time.  Sometimes writers host these parties, where you pitch your book on Twitter with the #CPMatch hashtag, and other writers seeking a CP will look for someone with a book that appeals to them.  Sometimes writers host these on their blogs and announce them on Twitter.  Or, you could just send out a call for writing partners through your own social network.  However you do it, be aware it may take several tries before you find a compatible partner.

Hey!  Just like dating!

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Edible Writer’s Blocks?

Posted: August 24, 2016 in Not Writing
Tags: , ,

Gummy LEGOs

Today I’m taking a break from my endless font of writing wisdom to share a fun project I did for my kids while they were on summer vacation. In a previous post I spoke about taking on another creative project as a way to deal with writer’s block.  Here’s what I did:

Home-made gummy LEGOs.

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I started by building a custom form in which to pour liquid silicone, which in turn became my candy mold.  This frame is just perfect for a standard one pound liquid silicone kit, available at hobby shops or on the Internet.

The individual LEGOs inside the frame represent the pieces of candy the mold will eventually make. Make sure you press down firmly on all the LEGOS to reduce gaps.

 

 

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The liquid silicon kit consists of two parts you mix right before you pour.  One part is white and the other part is blue, so you can see when everything is fully mixed.  If you see streaks, the silicon won’t harden properly.

TIPS: You only have about 30 minutes before the mix starts to set, so mix quickly.  I recommend using a bowl with  a round bottom and no corners, then transfer the mix to a second bowl to make sure it is completely streak-free.  It will have the consistence of spun honey.  I suggest you pour slowly from about a foot high to reduce bubbles.  Just pour into the center of the form and it will slowly spread out to fill the whole thing.

IMG_7322Once the silicon is in the form, tap it around the edges to dislodge any bubbles that may have formed.  Don’t worry about any bubbles on the surface; they won’t affect your mold. Let it dry for 24 hours.

IMG_7323When the mold is dry it will look exactly the same, but will be hard and rubbery to the touch.  Now it’s time to remove the LEGOs.

You will probably see some “flash” or thin little flaps where the silicon seeped between the LEGOs; you can just tear those off with your fingers.

 

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The silicon is food safe and very flexible, so you can bend it quite a lot to get the LEGOs out of the mold.  You’ll need to do this to get the candy out, too.  Notice that the mold is so perfect you can actually see the word “LEGO” stamped on each of the little studs.

 

 

 

5116d71e40a34aea4af05689e7ac03d5Now the candy.  I use one small (3 oz.) package of Jello, any flavor (not sugar-free), plus two of the small packets of unflavored gelatin (these typically come four to a box).  I also include corn syrup, like Karo (clear, not dark). Here’s the recipe:

In a half cup of COLD water, stir in a quarter cup of corn syrup until it is completely dissolved.  In a sauce pan add all of the gelatin and Jello to the water, and mix with a spatula until it is completely dissolved.  This make take some time.  If you don’t so this, the candy won’t come out clear.  Next, heat the mix on medium low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning.  You will probably have some foam on the top, which you can skim off if you’re REALLY patient.  But here’s another way to get rid of it:

Pour the mix into a tall glass and let it sit over night.  Once hard, you can wiggle the giant gummy glob out of the glass and cut off the foamy part with a knife.

Now you can reheat this mixture either in a saucepan on medium low or in the microwave (about 30-45 seconds).  To get it into the mold, you may have suIMG_7328ccess pouring it (if you have the right kind of container to pour from). I ended up making a mess.  I tried using a straw with my finger blocking the top end and dribbling it in, but in the end I used an eye-dropper.  Try to fill just exactly to the top.  Next take the flat LEGO base-plate you used to build the form, and brush on a little bit of vegetable oil.  Then you can use it as a cover (the studs will fit perfectly in the mold’s holes).  This will make the candy “functional” so they can be stacked just like real LEGOs.  Be aware that if you over-fill, you will get over-spill, like I did.

Let this sit for a few hours — I found putting it in the refrigerator made it way easier to get the candy out.

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(This is what happens if you overfill!)

Enjoy the blocky fruits of your labor.  Now you have something fun to munch on (and play with) while you go back to your writing!

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In just the last few hundred words of our work in progress, THE LAST FAERIE GODMOTHER, my daughter and I moved our heroes and our story from modern day America (with fairy-tale creatures) to Northern Ireland in 1507 (chock full of faeries).

From a writer’s standpoint, this is like waking up on Mars.  Without a spacesuit.

How did people talk?  I don’t mean just how to write an Irish accent, but what words do they use?  Many, many turns of phrase we take for granted when writing modern dialogue didn’t exist 500 years ago.  And things had different names.  Not to mention, they had an entire vocabulary of words for objects and activities that no longer exist today.  They had different greetings, different common expressions, different superstitions.  And they surely talked about other things than we do today.

What did people wear?  Believe it or not, there are not a great deal of books with pictures or descriptions of what average people wore in Ireland in the 16th century.  I know; I’ve looked.  I can tell you what nobility or soldiers wore in England in the early 16th century, but that doesn’t quite work, does it?  I’ve read that the Irish of that time wore yellow, since the association of green with Ireland is a much more modern occurrence.  But I need slightly more detail to describe what my characters are wearing than “yellow.”

What did they eat?  What was their daily routine?  How did they travel?  Where did they sleep?  How did they treat strangers?  What did a house look like?  A castle?  A dungeon?  What did they buy and what did they make themselves?  Where did they get money?  What did a market look like?

I was so excited when we finally got to this much-anticipated point in our book.  This is the “inciting incident” that sets up the whole rest of the book, in which our heroes must pass for natives and figure out a way to get home to the present.  But as my fingers hovered over the keys, itching to write the next scene, I found I could not make them type.  I don’t know where I am!  I can’t describe anything, write any dialogue, or even understand what my characters should see upon waking up.

Gah!  It’s like being a virgin writer all over again, except without the benefit of that cocky naivete that lets you just bully your way through a story despite your utter ignorance.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: virginity [in a writer] is overrated.

 

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There’s been a be it of a debate over at my critique group.  This isn’t the first time this has happened.  Our long-standing debate has been a kind of a glass-half full/glass half-empty philosophical conundrum for as long as I have been a member (three years).

The feature in question is the Hook Queue, in which members can enter the first 1,000 words of their story and get feedback.  This sounds great on paper, and in practice many, many members like it.  I don’t happen to be one of them.

See, here’s the thing.  The whole critique group is based on a credit system; you have to critique the work of others to earn the credits you need to spend in order to submit your own work.  It creates motivation and an atmosphere where giving critiques is as valuable or more valuable than receiving them.  Which is actually true.

The Hook Queue is a little different.  Entering into the Hook Queue costs you 3 credits, but you can earn them back by critting 10 other hook submissions.  Here’s how the queue is described:

This queue is a little bit special. Here the critter is playing the role of an underpaid editor searching for that special perfect snowflake of a manuscript amongst a pile of hopefuls.

Anyone can post into this queue but you must have extremely thick skin. The queue is meant to give you an indication of how good your hook is and where editors might stop reading, and more importantly, why.

The theory is that you should run though these quickly (you are timed) and when you feel like stopping, make a short note explaining why at that spot.  It is quite a contrast to the regular story queues we use for chapters, in which additional points are awarded to critters for making more verbose critiques.

The Hook Queue is only open one week per month.  And after each one the debates roll out anew.  Some people (myself included) want more detailed comments on these all-important opening pages of our story, not a cold brush-off.  We want to know what is working so we can make more of that.  But the entire concept of the Hook Queue is that members are asked to pretend they are editors or agents, when mostly likely none of them actually are.  Critters are only guessing at what an editor is looking for.  These people are writers themselves — an entirely different breed.

The people in favor of this method like to point out (according to everything they “know” to be true about slush readers) that they are all just looking for reasons to reject your manuscript.  One member went so far as to suggest they already have all the clients they need and the slush pile is their lowest priority, so in order to get home to their families they slam through it — just like the Hook Queue is designed.

I’m here to tell you it just ain’t so.

The editors, agents, and slush readers I’ve spoken to (quite a few) express their love of their work.  They can’t wait to find the next great book that takes their breath away, and they invite anybody with an Internet machine to send them their manuscript. But don’t take my word for it.  The other day I ran across an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on Reddit, being conducted by a slush reader for a New York literary agent.  He answered questions for hours revealing, among other things, that he does it for no pay because he simply loves books, and would rather read a good story than watch television.  Here are a few of his comments/answers:

Most agents will read nearly 100% of all queries and probably something close to that in full requests. What the readers like me are doing is helping to level them out. We’re making sure that good stuff gets noticed quick, because the agent is racing to find new talent before someone else scoops them up. And we’re leveling the agent out when they fall in love with a book that may have some serious flaws. Trust me when I say this – Agents and readers alike want desperately to be in love with your writing and your story. We live for it. Look at it less as gate-keeping and more as trying to find the gold nuggets in the sifting pan faster because there’s only one giant pan and a thousand gold-hungry sharks swimming in it. More eyes is better than less.

 

A good slush reader has to be aligned with the agents interests. The agent wants to find great writing and great/talented authors to sign. Slush readers that are just looking for reasons to hate things last about as long as critique partners who like to tell you how horrible you are at writing (maybe a week?). Now, we sure may get a bad rep for pointing out things that we feel are flaws (especially when the writer doesn’t agree) but I can tell you that what we present is opinion and sometimes Agents ignore their slush readers completely and go with their gut and sign authors they simply love.

 

Anytime a [slush] reader likes a work, it’s good for the author and the agent alike. A reader helps the agent have a pulse on what the “average joe” reads and likes. It gives the agent a more rounded opinion of the work. It can help the agent overcome a gut reaction or objection, and it can point out a flaw that the agent didn’t see.

So, if you are in the query trenches right now, desparing because you think the keepers of the keys to your publishing kingdom only have eyes for your mistakes, buck up.  The people you’re querying want to love your book.  As this slush reader said, “There are exactly 1000 things pulling the attention of an agent at any one moment. If you can keep them from caring about anything but reading the next sentence, you’ll have an agent by tomorrow morning.”

Now, I just need to wade back into the debate and convince everyone that our Hook Queue has got it’s head on backwards.

PitchWars-Logo

This is the big one, kids.  The gold standard of pitch contests, and one of the longest-running. There are something like 130 mentor teams participating this year, broken into four age categories: Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult and Adult. The contest runs from today through November 9.

But what is it?

Oh! I didn’t see you there, under that rock.  Okay.  PitchWars is a contest for writers with complete manuscripts and a polished query letter. You choose four mentors or mentor teams (a lot of those this year) and submit your first chapter, query, and contact info. Over the course of the next three weeks, those mentors will review all of their entries and request additional materials from those writers whose manuscripts they like. And by “like” I mean they feel like they can connect to the story and the author, and can offer concrete advice for revising the entire manuscript to agent readiness. These are experienced people — slush readers, professional editors, published authors. Many of them are past PitchWars winners.

Then, for the next two months, the chosen mentees will be in constant communication with their mentors, frantically revising their manuscripts and query letters according to their mentors’ advice.  Then, during the first week of November, these revised pitches and manuscripts will be showcased for participating agents.  There are over 60 of those, this year.  The goal, of course, is for an agent to sign you.  That happened to over 50 people last year, and over 200 in the 4-year history of PitchWars.

Do you have a manuscript you are ready to query?  If so, and you want to enter, the details are here.  When you are ready, the entry form is here.

Good luck!