Category Archives: Research

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

NaNoWriMo 2013 Mid-Way Update.

This is a few days late. It was written on the 15th but I started to fall asleep at the keyboard before publishing (oops). I’ve gone through and updated some of the numbers to match the new publish date of the 17th.

We’re half-way through NaNoWriMo for those of you who are doing it with me. I’m a few hundred words behind pace (Update: I’ve since caught up), which is an achievement considering how quickly I got behind at the beginning of the month.
As I noted in my last blog update, this year’s NaNo is a real experiment for me, and it created some interesting challenges.
First: It’s a totally new story, not another book in the story that I’ve already written. As a result, my outline was sparse and my sense of characters very light. I’ve stated before that I’m an agile outliner, allowing for vast and sweeping changes to a relatively detailed outline. This time around the outline is a bare-bones skeleton, and I’m doing a fair bit more seat-of-the-pants than I’m used to. Revisions should be fun.
Second: It’s a historical urban fantasy in a relatively well-documented place, in a relatively well-documented period, with a protagonist from an incredibly well-documented family. Take all these knowns and start adding in fantasy elements of the secret-history type. It’s a bit of a nightmare and I spent the first week fact-checking everything. That certainly didn’t help my word-count. I’ve learned to let more go and use notes to myself to fill in details later.
Third: I’m writing in first person past tense. Past tense? Easy enough. First person? That was a hell of a learning curve. We speak and live our lives in first person all the time (unless you’re one of those twonks who refers to themselves in third person). It should be easy, but when you’re trying to write a compelling story from the perspective of a person that doesn’t exist outside of your head. Plus there’s a lot of I’s and Me’s and We’s in there and you can’t start every sentence with a first person pronoun or it gets old fast.
All told I’m feeling good about the story and making good time. I still struggle with First Person POV from time to time, and get lost in research over the smallest things (oh, this will just take a minute), but I’m learning, and making good progress.
I have another blog post that I’m working on for the end of the month covering all the various tools (such as Scrivener) and tricks (such as speech-to-text for notes) I’ve used this month, as my toolset is a bit different than the previous two years.
I want to give a shout out to my NaNo Writing Buddies who have already completed NaNo (well ahead of schedule):
Jason Cantrell: 90,913!
Angi Nicole: 63,975!
GypsyLuc: 61,622!
HeatherxMarie: 52,737!
Scarlett9284: 50,282!
And last but not least, my brother Cysec: with 50,355 words, and completed NaNo for the first time this year (and also early).

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Filed under deadlines, Discovery Writing, Learning, NaNoWriMo, Outline Writing, Research, Revision, Scrivener, Viewpoint, Word Count, World Building

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 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

Tropes and Cliches in (my) Writing.

Tonight was a pretty good night for writing.  I had a good two hours of dedicated writing time, headsets on, music playing.  Too bad most of it will have to be cut up and rewritten tomorrow.

You see, for the chapter I’m working on currently I only had one short sentence in my outline.  It didn’t exist in the last draft, but it’s very much needed in this one.  That’s right, it’s one of THOSE bits.  The between-the-action-character-relationship-building bits, which I apparently don’t outline that well.  So rather than spend most of my limited time this evening outlining it, I figured I’d take a stab at pantsing it.
When I work from an outline I tend to do a fair bit of research and digging to make sure I’m not getting so wrapped up in layered tropes of a particular genre or stereotyping.  When I’m discovery writing I just let it flow and worry about it afterwards.  
Well, after an hour and a half I took a quick break, then came back and re-read what I’d written.  The voice is fantastic, there’s a bit of humour in there that clicks with the character.  However, it follows a fairly typical trope and has strong potential to run itself in a direction destined for a good deal more.
Tropes are not bad per-se, some are quite enjoyable, but as a new and aspiring writer I’m trying desperately to avoid them.  Otherwise I’ll use them as crutches to cheat my way to the end of my book, which would somewhat defeat the purpose since this first book is meant primarily to be a learning experience.  (That’s not to say that if I’m happy with it I won’t try to solicit it to agents etc.)
So tomorrow it gets surgery.  I’m going to hammer out an outline for the chapter that’s more detailed than the one line I’ve got.  Hopefully I can preserve some of the tone and lose some of the “we’ve been here before and this should happen next” essence.  That’s not to say that more experienced and better hands at writing can’t pull off exactly that sort of trope and get away with it, making it feel fresh and funny and new.  I just don’t think I’m anywhere near there yet.
That said, I think I’ll snip it out and put it in a side document to look over later, to analyze how I got there and why the funny worked.  
Every word I write and every word I delete should teach me something.
– Grimm

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Filed under BookB, Discovery Writing, Learning, Outline Writing, Research, Revision, Tropes/Cliches, Voice

Not so productive.

Short and sweet, writing last night, today, and tonight has been dismal.  I’m having trouble staying focused and actually getting anything done.  I’ve done some edits and updates, written ~600 words about a bajillion times and then promptly deleted them, and generally done a lot of sighing.

I’ve put in about 5 hours dedicated writing time today and my overall word count is up about 200 words.  For a while there it was actually down a bit.

I’ll be putting in some more time this weekend, as I’ve been trying to do every day (and succeeding most of them), I just need to kick this funk.

The explanation is after the jump, if you’re tired of hearing me talk about things other than writing, this post ends here.

Bear with me.  Prince went back to the shelter yesterday, and me, being the big suck that I am (admittedly and wholeheartedly), well, I’ve been pretty down about it.

He went snarly snappy bananas at me a few times, and at my wife once or twice, in what a dog behaviourist and a separate trainer called “redirected aggression”.  When asked what we could do to correct the issue, they suggested seeking professional help and keeping him separated from our kids and cats.  They said the process of working out the root cause and correcting it would most likely take months.

For the safety of my children, and because Prince needs someone better equipped to help him, he’s gone back to the shelter, where they’re arranging to transfer him to a training and rescue organization where they can focus on his redirected aggression and help him be ready for a forever home.

Some of you who know me personally probably understand how much giving him up has hurt me.  Sure we only had him in our home for 8 days, but in the process of training him and spending dedicated time with him, I couldn’t help but bond with him.  Still, you’d think having Prince snarl, growl, and lunge at various parts of my body, teeth bared and snapping would temper some of that, but I can’t help but feel that the failure and fault lies with me, at least some of it.

In the 8 days he was here, he learned to walk nicely on a leash, make eye contact on command, sit, lie down (most of the time), come (most of the time), and leave it (some of the time).  He learned to stay out of the kitchen during mealtimes and not beg, and would lay near our other dog just outside the door while we ate.

Despite being told that he had a serious aggression issue with cats, it turned out he was actually quite frightened by them and would back away and cower when Mal approached or stood in a doorway (which was never planned, we had a slow introduction strategy we were keeping with, but Mal is a tricky cat and his curiosity about the new addition could not be sated fast enough).

He’s so intelligent, and most of the time so gentle and simply lovely to be with that it hurt all of us to bring him back.  But when it comes to my family, I have to put safety and reason ahead of emotion.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it hurt much less.

So I’ve taken to trying to work through it and keep myself distracted.  I ran 7.5KM last night, getting faster as I went, setting both new speed records for myself and a new distance record (I normally stop at 5KM as a rule, it’s just supposed to be my cardio, I’m not working towards a half-marathon or anything).

Today I dug into distractions as much as I could:  Doing more research for my books (both of them this time) and working on some things for my eldest daughter’s hockey team, and constantly throwing away writing work that just felt broken and kept going off in the wrong direction.

Throughout both days I’ve thrown myself at Mal and Sadie to the point where I think Sadie might actually be avoiding me and Mal won’t leave me alone.

I also stuffed myself full of rich chocolate confections, which felt like a good idea at the time, less so now.

Anyway, my apologies for spilling all that here, but that’s part of what this blog is about, my dreams and aspirations of becoming a professional writer and all the things that help and hinder them (admittedly, most of it is self-inflicted).

I’ll be digging more into the writing side of things again shortly.

I think I have some chocolate cheesecake in the fridge that I haven’t eaten…


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Filed under BookB, family, Health/Fitness, jump, Real Life™, Research

*YAAAAAAAWN* I’m on vacation.

Ok, so, that was uncalled for.  It’s been a tiring week, what with the new dog drama and all.

I’ve done some writing, not much that was “new” though (and by “new” I mean newly written or rewritten for this draft).  Mostly, I’ve taken the feedback from my Alpha Readers and gone over some of the other points in the draft, tweaking a few things here and there, trying to make it a little less clunky.

I’ve just been, ahem, dogging it lately.  The feedback has been a great help though and tomorrow night I intend to get back into some of the “new” stuff.

I also spent a fair bit of time this afternoon digging through some of my research documents that I used to world build and looking on the Tubes to fill in some of the blanks.  Nothing that will be spelled out specifically in the book, but you have to have rules.

Dog/Real Life™ stuff after the jump!

For those of you who missed it, we have a new four-legged companion in our house, and I’ve taken the week off to try and train him into something resembling a dog.

Getting Prince into our home was pretty tricky, you see, he is a 1 year old shelter dog with some serious cat issues (which I’ve pointed out with our planned methods of resolution previously).  Due to those issues, the shelter wouldn’t simply let us adopt him, so he’s here on foster.  Essentially, our house is considered a “room” at Animal Services, that’s geographically at a different location and just happens to contain the dog.

He’s a good dog all in all.  He’s about 27kg (~60lb) of bottled energy that doesn’t seem to realize how big he is.  He’s very friendly, and can be very very affectionate.  He’s also adorable, intelligent, and a clown.

He has absolutely NO manners when it comes to people, their things, other dogs, cats, their hearing, or their olfactory senses.

At 1 year old, he’s an adolescent.  Having been an adolescent male myself, I understand that there’s a lot of posturing and acting tough involved, especially when you’re scared out of your boots (not that I would put him in boots, but you get the point).  He’s LOUD.

Prince barked at the cats incessantly when he saw, heard, or smelled them.  We’ve made some progress there, now he just goes bananas if he sees them within a certain distance.  The cats on the other hand seem to have no problem ensuring that he keeps his distance on the few occasions they’ve met.

He barks at people’s automatic garage doors.

He barks at any other dog who doesn’t simply stand still while he approaches head on (a no-no for dogs) and tries to sniff them from the wrong end to the right end.

We’ve made some good progress though.  He’s reasonably decent to walk on a leash (solo or with our older dog), it’s only taken a few days to reduce his “Don’t mind me, I’m just going to rip your arm out of its socket by going this way” reflexes to a nominal level.  It all goes a bit to hell when the whole family is along though, he gets too bouncy and anxious.

I’ve got another week to try and settle things down and to see if we can sort out the cat issues and some of the craziness that ensues randomly on walks.  The cats were here first, and they are a key part of our family.  As much as I’d love to add this dog to our home permanently, I need to make sure that our existing family can continue existing safely and with some modicum of normalcy (without having to shuffle bodies between rooms securely all the time etc.).

Either way, at the end of the 2 week foster period, I intend for the dog to be the best possible dog I can shape him into, whether it’s as part of our family, or in preparation to join someone else.

All quirks and issues aside, I do find myself loving the damnable beast.


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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, family, jump, Learning, Real Life™, Research, Revision, Story Elements