Category Archives: family

A Matter of Queries and Representation

What a week and a half it’s been!

I apologize in advance for any meandering, poor spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors you may find in this post. I don’t sleep well on a normal day (what is a normal day anyway?). The past 10 days my abilities to ward off restful sleep have been exceptional. This is a superpower you do NOT want.

Before I get into my big news (and it’s big, let me tell you, it’s BIG), let me give you a bit of background.

I don’t query randomly. Every single agent that I’ve ever queried is someone that I genuinely think would be a great fit for both my writing and, more importantly, me. That’s of course all based on the limited information I can gather by Googling, reading interviews, stalking on Twitter, and chatting them up.

There are a LOT of fantastic agents out there, of all stripes (and spots, and paisley, and I suppose houndstooth…).

That said, everything has to click in both directions. I have enough rejections from those same agents citing “wonderful writing/world building/characters/other words describing stories” but they just didn’t “make the connection” (or some variant thereof) to wallpaper my office and some surrounding surfaces.

They came fast and fairly consistently at first. I’d query, and then receive a rejection the next day or week.

I went back and rewrote my base query letter (I tweaked it a little for every agent). Responses went from generic forms to personalized responses (not all of them, but some). I even had a few requests for partial submissions.

Following that path I continue to tweak and tinker my query, all the while continuing to get further input on CROW’S BLOOD from my awesome Alpha/Beta Readers (including my wonderful wife, who put up with so MANY drafts) and Critique Partners (Colten,
Rachel, and Clare) and worked to make it better.

I entered CROW’S BLOOD in contests. You know the best part about contests? The community and support that comes out of them. They’re a fixed point. Everyone entering is (in theory) at the same point of their writing process and/or career as you are. They know what you’re going through, they’re doing it too.

Renee Ahdieh chose to mentor me in Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Wars. With her helpful pokes and prods I polished CROW’S BLOOD even further. Trimming out a few scenes that were so necessary in my head (I’d done so much world building to support them!) that weren’t actually needed in the book. She’s also a master at spotting my Shatner Commas and teaching me to identify them as well (I’ve removed 3 from this paragraph alone).

Last week I got wind of an agent I really liked reading my full… MY FULL!!! Excitement warred with dread. What if he didn’t like it? What if I didn’t stick the landing? I wanted to scream (politely) “If you find anything drastic, I’ll fix it!”. But I didn’t. Because I am a professional! (stop laughing!)

I waited, and slept poorly, and waited.

Thursday was a normal day (there’s that “normal” word again). Things teetered on the edge of going oh-so-perfectly and/or blowing up spectacularly at my day job. I was packing up to go home when my phone sounded the “email in the writing mailbox” notification (it doesn’t say that, but it is distinctive).

It was an Offer of Representation! He wanted to have “The Call”.

I hyperventilated for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life. I had an offer! From an agent!!! I remember thinking “Ok I need to get my head on straight before I reply so I don’t come off as a complete idiot…” I barely remember the drive home.

After dinner (I have no idea what, or if, I ate) I painstakingly crafted my reply. It took me 35 minutes to write and edit that email.

“I’d love to chat.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was about the level of awesome I was functioning at). We scheduled for the next morning.

The call was awesome. I acted like a complete noob while trying to be all professional and cool. The agent in question handled the situation like I was a sane and perfectly functioning adult.

He answered all of my questions and asked a few of his own (which I think/hope I answered).  I let him know I had some other Fulls out and needed a week to get those settled before I signed (because it’s the right thing to do), which he was completely cool with. We ended the call, and I sat there, stunned, for a good 30 minutes before reaching out to the other agents with my full.

Here we are, a week after that call. I’ve badgered several agents with questions and clarifications, and I’ve communicated and settled everything with each and every agent that had my full, a partial, or even a query. I won’t go into details on all of that here, they’re not the point.

Today, I’m proud/pleased/excited to say:

I am now represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency!

P.S. Leon said to save some of my celebratory antics for when we sell CROW’S BLOOD.
To which I say:
Leon, this is nothing. When that happens, the world won’t know what hit it!

I’m going to sleep now.

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Filed under Agent, Alpha Readers, BookB, Critique, Ego, family, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Id, Motivation, Query, Research, Revision, Validation

Don’t Ever Stop!

So… This little thing called PitchWars happened. It’s what triggered this particular post, but it’s not what this post is about so I’ll cover it very briefly.

It’s a contest where writers submit their first ~250 words and a Query to the four mentors of their choice and hope to get selected. In short (because I’m rubbish at being brief) I was selected by the Awefantabulous Renee Ahdieh.

Renee is exactly what I want and more importantly need in a mentor. Her feedback has helped me add layers of depth to CROW’S BLOOD that I knew were missing, I just couldn’t see where. I’ve learned some of my pet phrases, identified some comma issues I have, and so much more, and I’ve exterminated them with prejudice.

Anyway!

Seven weeks later, our part in PitchWars wrapped on January 22nd as it went to the Agent Round. The first 250 words were posted with a 35 word pitch (here in case you’re interested), in hopes of Agents commenting and making requests.

It’s those requests that bring me to the point of this post. I had 0 requests. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Let me tell you a bit about how this little writer’s ego works: I’m a brash, cocky, confident bastard. Except when I’m not, which is often. The key is that I try not to let that side show to the world at large too much. The only person who sees that side of me most often (my wife) does a great job of propping me up so I can continue being the confident bastard that I am.

I’d be lying if I said getting zero requests didn’t sting. It cut pretty deep. Those are my words! Right there, with that zero looking me in the eye, I could have quit. Packed it all in and reclaimed my TV and video games. I could have given up the dream and driven my wonderful wife insane.

I could have listened to the mean voice in the back of my head that kept whispering “Zero, that’s how many people give a damn about your words. That’s what they’re worth. That’s what your worth. Give it up. Go home. Loser!

I’ve heard that voice before. That’s the voice that comes around any time I put myself out there, whether I’m public speaking, writing, tweeting, or posting on my blog. I don’t like that voice. I made the decision long ago not to listen to that voice. That voice is an asshole. The things it says aren’t true and are designed to cut us where it hurts the most. That voice is borne of fear.

We all have that voice. The difference between those who go on and those who fold isn’t a matter of skill, or worth, or ego. It’s a matter of will.

So here’s what I have to say, not only to those who didn’t get requests in PitchWars, but to those who have ever queried, or submitted, or done anything that brought around that voice:

Don’t. Ever. Stop.

Do what you love, whether it’s writing, drawing, dancing, singing, building life-size models of X-Wings out of Lego, whatever it is, as long as you love it (and it doesn’t hurt anything).

As for PitchWars… Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I’ve learned so much, and met so many wonderful, dedicated, and helpful people.

Until next time, I’m going to go write and revise, because that’s what I do, and I love doing it.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” – The Bene Gesserit

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Filed under Agent, BookB, Character, Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, family, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, MacBook Pro, Motivation, Pitch, Query, Revision, Twitter, Validation

What’s in a name?

…that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

– Romeo Montague to Juliet: Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare

Character names, book names, chapter names, pen names. They’re all malleable to one degree or another and there are choices and reasons for all of them. 
I started thinking on the topic tonight because of an article on io9.com about character names that should be banned for all time (of which I have used… none!).
Spiralling into the topic of names was so rough on my overworked brain that it almost derailed my revision session this evening. 
You see, I write under a pen name: Alexander C. Pierce or Alex C. Pierce. It’s not my real name, though Alexander and Pierce are my 2 middle names, which, when bookended by my first and last name sounds almost as awesomely pretentious as Benedict Cumberbatch (best name EVER!). I include the C. at this point because a Google Search on Alexander Pierce brings up such a HUGE list of results including convicts, authors of propaganda, and so much more, that I needed a bit of separation from what is apparently a very common name.
I use a pen name for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I have ideas and themes for stories that may be controversial that I don’t necessarily want to blow back on my family. Nothing too outrageous, but I’d rather not put other parties at risk. I also have a long standing tendency to NOT use my real name online (outside of work, though Facebook has ruined that to some degree… thanks family and friends!).
But the subject of names goes so much further, as the article on io9 aptly points out character names can play a big part in engaging or putting potential readers off, and they’re not exactly easy things to come up with. For a time I used a program called Everchanging Book of Names, which was great for secondary characters if you could figure out how to use it (it’s not that hard once you read the instructions). I’ve come to understand Scrivener itself has a name generator built in, which I haven’t used yet as my characters all have names at this point.
I couldn’t tell you where half the names of my characters come from, but I haven’t received any negative feedback on them yet (though I have heard some interesting thoughts on where I might have cooked some up). I only hope they’re not derivative of some other work that’s sitting in the back of my skull because I think they’re awesome! (the io9 article points out that might be a problem too).
As for chapter names and book names… I’m flexible with those and they tend to change on a fairly regular basis at this point in the process. From what I understand if I go and get published the publisher will have a say in it as well and I’m ok with that.
What are your thoughts on the use of pen names? How do you come up with names for things? Let me know!
– Alex
P.S. Chapter update for my Alpha Readers, I’ve dropped up to chapter 23 and I’m starting to get feedback from multiple people! Thanks!

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Character, Ego, family, Real Life™, Research, Scrivener

Revising Intensely

That’s not to say I’m revising the word “intensely” but my revisions of late have been picking up speed.

After the debacle that was the first week of my 3 week “vacation” I felt a little pressed for time in amongst the holidays and visiting with family. I did what any (in)sane writer would do, once I got the tiniest fraction of time I hunkered down, turned off the outside world (including updating my blog), and revised.

My Alpha Readers have ~32,000 words/14 Chapters revised (sometimes 3 or 4 times) at their disposal for feedback and they get more almost every day. It’s my hope that they’re still captivated by the story and ecstatic about being part of my “process”. So far the feedback I’ve been getting has really helped tighten some things and clean stuff up.

I do have one concern as I’m revising, I’m aiming for 90,000-95,000 words in the polished draft, but my word count, despite cutting aggressively, is going up as I flesh out some of the chapters that were mere skeletons before. It’s sitting at ~101,000 as of this blog post.

So I’ve formed a plan! A devious, dangerous, and cunning (read mundane and boring) plan!

  1. Finish this revision process, cutting and adding as “needed”.
  2. Get it to myself in a “new format” either print it out, throw it on a tablet. Really anything so I can take it to a different “space” and mark it up. My Alpha Readers will get it in various formats as well (electronic, if you want dead trees, be responsible for them yourself)
  3. Merge in changes/cuts/fixes.
  4. Find a Critique Partner or group of said individuals.
Number 4 is where it gets a little dicey, as that will involve not only having my work critiqued by someone who’s actually interested in doing so (scary), but also critiquing their work (terrifying). CPSeek.com should help with the whole “finding people” part, it’s the rest that bothers me.
What if I have several critique partners who don’t like my work? What if I don’t like theres?
I’m not good with confrontation.

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Filed under Discovery Writing, family, Real Life™, Revision, Word Count

Happy New Year 2013

For so many of us today is the first day of a new year, and a time for new beginnings and the putting away of old things. For some, it’s just Tuesday, and in some cases, it’s a Tuesday with a wicked headache and a desire to watch the world burn.

Every year many people make no resolution or plans for the coming year. I used to be one of those people, but I realized that there was no harm in making plans for the future and planning to have a future gives its own sort of hope and drive.

We do these things on January 1st, but it doesn’t have to be done on any particular day. You can make a resolution any hour of any day as long as you have the drive to stick to a commitment.

2 years ago at the end of February I resolved to get myself in better shape by going to the gym. I’d hit a plateau in getting healthier that changing my eating habits wouldn’t get past and I needed to kick things up a bit. 2 years into that resolution I’m still going to the gym at least 4 days a week and still improving (albeit slower than I would like). It wasn’t a New Years resolution, but it was a new ME resolution.

I started making resolutions after a long hiatus last January 1st. Succeeding in the gym and changing from the 104kg (230lb) blob that I was to the 69kg (152lb) man that I see in the mirror convinced me that I could do things when I set my mind to it.

January 1st 2012 I resolved to write a novel from start to finish. I’ve wanted to be a writer (or a master thief) since I was a child and it certainly seemed like an attainable goal. I did it. Crow’s Blood is currently in revision at 103,000 words and it’s been a blast.

This year I’m getting a little more detailed in my resolutions, but I will still strive to meet every one.

First and foremost, the writerly side of things.

I do not resolve to get an agent or get published in 2013. That will happen when it happens and I won’t let its lack stop me from writing and working my hardest to improve my craft.

I resolve to:

  • Write good stories. Be they short or long, I will write them to the best of my ability.
  • Work out how to get the humour and wit into my stories that I find so effortless in conversation. For some reason it disappears when I’m following a plot.
  • Get better at revision, because right now it’s kicking my ass and making me feel that my writing is all manner of suck.
  • Revise Crow’s Blood (BookB) enough to get it out to some Critique Partners, who’s advice I will use to better my craft.
  • Work better with my Alpha Readers. They’re doing this for me and getting little more than gratitude in return. Make it easier for them.
  • Refine my Pitch, Synopsis and Queries and the processes that generate them.
  • Submit Queries to Agents and learn from each rejection.
  • Write at least two more Zero-Draft books in 2013.
  • Read more. I’ve broadened the genres and catagories that I read in 2012, I’m going to do MORE of that in 2013.

Now on the personal side of things.
I resolve to:

  • Continue trying to be the best Husband and Father that I can be. I’m far from perfect and I’ll never be perfect, but I can always try to be better.
  • Continue to advance and put out the best work I can at my day job. Something has to pay the bills until I have a few best-sellers under my belt 😉
  • Be a good friend. I know this writing thing I’m doing has isolated me a bit from the people I used to hang out with and talk to every day. I want to keep those connections alive and some of them are in pretty bad shape.
  • Eat even better than I did in 2012. It helps that every time I’ve gotten into junk food over the holidays I’ve felt truly dreadful afterwards.
  • Push myself even further in the gym. Not only do I want to work harder, I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can and doing it right.
  • Face at least one fear and overcome it. I don’t know what this is yet, whether it will be writing related or otherwise, but I will overcome at least one fear I have in 2013.
  • Watch lots of movies!
  • Have fun!
That’s about it. It’s an extensive list in a public place. 2013? Bring it on.

P.S. I’ve updated the Movie List with last night’s movies.

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Filed under Agent, Alpha Readers, BookB, Ego, family, Genre, Id, Learning, Motivation, Pitch, Real Life™

Surviving the Holidays

Well, I’m here. That means I survived. If you’re reading this, then you too are a survivor. Congratulations!

The holidays, regardless of which ones you celebrate or why you celebrate them, are about tradition and bringing families together. Anyone who survives that dangerous mix deserves their due credit.
I didn’t do it alone, my wife and children helped me through it all with a continuous flow of joy and rich foods. My wife is an artist with food and confection at a level that I strive for with words.
I’d have to say the hardest part of the whole holiday ordeal was not writing. It’s not that I didn’t write or revise at all, but it certainly wasn’t to the schedule I’ve grown used to. It kept leaving me with a nagging sense that I was being lazy and leaving things undone.
I’m revising now, which means I’m learning a LOT about my bad habits and just how horrible and clunky some of my prose can be. 
I’ve got this fantastic thing I do, which likely comes from my personal speech patterns, where I use more complicated words when simple will do. I don’t seem to let it creep into dialog, which is a good sign that I’m not overpowering my character voices.
I’m enjoying the experience so far. Granted, I’ve only revised 6 chapters in to a ~50 chapter manuscript,  but some of them needed serious surgery. I’m talking the “hit it repeatedly with an ax until it stops moving” kind of surgery. Messy, somewhat painful, but necessary. 
I’ve started to receive feedback from my Alpha Readers on some of what they have so far and it’s been invaluable. It’s really quite amazing how much some of them pick up on. I probably drive them batty with how I’m dropping, revising, and re-dropping the same chapters to them on Dropbox, and I’m trying to clean up that process so they’ll have a frame of reference when I give them updated revisions.
I still aim to push it out to some Critique Partners over at CPSeek.com and on Twitter by end of January. The timeline from that to Agent Query Submission will have to be more flexible depending on feedback at that level.
This writing thing is a lot of work. It’s a good thing I enjoy it.

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, dialog, dropbox, family, Feedback, Learning, Motivation, Real Life™, Revision, Twitter

Acknowledgement Problems

I read a blog post recently stating that Authors should keep their acknowledgements in their books short and concise. It got me thinking (not that I’m in a position to start thinking about an Acknowledgements Page yet but bear with me). I don’t know about every other aspiring writer but I have a strong need for good information, external validation, and support. How on earth would I pare down the massive list of everyone who’s given me a little (or big) push, or some really key piece of information that inspired or helped me limp through this process called writing?

Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Offline, my main support comes from my lovely wife. She allows me the time to write, which is a pretty big consideration, we have a 3 year old that keeps us busy and a 13 year old in Rep Hockey, so she’s sacrificing her alone-time with me. She also props me up when I have my little personal crises and think that I suck and shouldn’t bother. All in, it probably helps that my writing keeps me out of her hair and makes me far less grumpy on the whole.
We just passed our 16th anniversary together, as I’m only 33 you can do the math and figure out that we’re Highschool sweethearts. I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s a light in my life and a strong foundation I can always turn to.
For information, like most, I tend to go online and I devour anything I can find on the subject of writing. I’m like a writing zombie constantly in search of other people’s brains. There’s a lot of great stuff out there if you look, books, blogs, podcasts, and Twitter people (Tweeple?).

You know what I’ve found along the way? An awful lot of contradiction with a strong core of consistency. Most of that seems to come from the fact that there are really very few keys to becoming a successful and accomplished writer. The rest of it is a matter of personal style and what works for the individual.
It appears the key points to being a halfway decent and possibly successful writer are as follows (in no particular order after the first):
  • Write every day.
  • Finish what you start.
  • Allow yourself to suck (on the first draft at least).
  • Read often (and in the genre you write for).
  • Have a story to tell.
  • Revise (and revise, and revise, and revise, and revise)!
  • Persevere
Other elements such as outlining/architecting vs. pantsing/discovery writing, character vs plot, etc. are all up for debate (on the whole). I myself strongly believe in a combination in both cases. 
I outline my plot and story arcs heavily while allowing both to change drastically if “discovery” strikes or something feels flat. 
When it comes to scenes and characters I have to “write myself” into them, which is most definitely a “discovery writer” thing to do.
Prose, grammar, and spelling are all things to be cleaned and touched up in revision as far as I’m concerned. Yes, I have some inspired moments while writing the first draft, and some of them may even make it into the final manuscript, but I won’t know that until I get there.
That’s what I’ve got so far, and it’s by no means clean or polished and certainly up for debate. Like everything to do with writing, I’m learning as I go. Without the people that I meet online, or the podcasts and blogs that I follow with their myriad of tips and helpful information I wouldn’t be nearly as far along as I am.
It will likely take several more books to streamline and work it out for myself, and that’s a good thing, because it lends to my whole solution to the “Acknowledgements” problem: Write and publish enough books to cover everyone. It’s going to take at least 20-30 books.
– Grimm
P.S. I was originally going to list and link some of the blogs and Twitter folks that I follow but I’ve decided against it in this particular post, as many of the tips and information comes from multiple sources and it would just be a mess. Instead I’m looking to add a people/links bar to the already overcrowded right hand bar once I clean some stuff up.

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Filed under BookB, Character, Discovery Writing, family, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Outline Writing, Real Life™, Story Elements, Twitter, Validation