Writers of the Future Contest – Semi-Finalist

I think I might be in shock. I sent “One Last Moment of Silence” to the Writers of the Future Contest in December, hoping that I might make it to the honorable mentions list. Just checked my email, and… I’m a semi-finalist. One of only eleven semi-finalists. I’m so excited. I’ll be getting a personal critique from David Farland/Wolverton sometime in the near future, and look forward to seeing his thoughts on things so I know what I’m doing right/wrong for the next time I submit!

Fourth draft of Prayers to the Wind Complete

Finished up the 4th draft of Prayers to the Wind and sent it out to a round of beta readers with a deadline of March 30th, as I’d like to be able to send this out to the agent I spoke to at the Unicorn Writing Conference shortly. Now that I’m done with that, I think I’ll begin working on the second book again…

Unicorn Writer’s Conference

I attended a writing conference this past weekend. It wasn’t specifically fantasy-centric, but it was definitely a great place to network and talk to agents and editors. One of the coolest things they did was offer in-person one-on-one sessions (for an extra $40) with an agent or editor of your choice, to look over the first 40 pages of your manuscript and offer advice on what you needed to do to get an agent’s attention and get published. I chose an agent who stated that she was interested in fantasy, formatted my first three chapters according to their requirements, and sat back to wait.

This is the first time a professional has looked at my writing (I haven’t tried sending query letters since my first stab at this 8 years ago). I was extremely nervous. Apparently I didn’t need to be. She absolutely loved my first three chapters, the first thing she said was “OK… I have to know what happens next!” She also enjoyed my prose and said that she adored the idea of a “procedural ‘cop’ mystery in a fantasy setting.”She did give me some critiques, mostly concerning character voice, pacing (a very easy fix there) and world-building. Then she said that once I had fixed those, she wanted me to send her the whole novel. And she made me promise not to query anyone else.

This… is unbelievable. It feels like a dream. I realize that it’s only the very first step (it’s entirely possible that when she reads the whole thing she’ll decide it’s not for her), but it’s honestly everything I could have hoped for at this point. I’m sort of in shock. I spent the day today making notes on the world-building aspects which I hadn’t spelled out clearly enough in the text (didn’t exposition my magic system, conflicting cultural aspects, etc), and am hoping to have all that ironed out in the next few weeks so I can send her the complete manuscript and get her thoughts on it.

Originally I had planned this to be a five-book series in which each book could feasibly stand alone (sort of like Dresden Files), but she talked me down to a trilogy. Selling a five-book series would be next to impossible, she said, but a trilogy was definitely do-able. Thankfully this is easily remedied as I didn’t have much in the way of outlines for books 3-5, so I can cut #4 and roll 3 and 5 into one. So if you’re a debut author and thinking about querying, that’s something to keep in mind.

I also asked her whether we might face marketing issues given that my protagonists are bi and gay. She said that it was possible that some publishers might worry that they wouldn’t be able to market it and might ask me to change one of the main characters into a woman instead, but that she personally felt that there weren’t enough gay characters in fantasy and she had no issues with it. That’s a decision I might have to make down the line if anyone is actually interested, but I hope it never comes up. I don’t think I would be willing to make that change, even if it meant losing out on a potential book deal.

But that, of course, is counting dragons before they’re hatched. For now, I’m ecstatic that someone “in the industry” (who has sold books to TOR… TOR!) liked my writing enough to request the whole book. It gives me hope for my writing. Hope that I might actually make this dream into a reality.

Short stories and other news…

I’ve been attempting to write at least one short story a month lately, and have been relatively successful. This is a big step for me, as I’ve never felt that I was much good at short stories. Whenever I tried to write one, it wound up ballooning out into a massive epic or I couldn’t figure out how to end it, grew frustrated, and set it aside. Forcing myself to sit and write (and, most importantly, FINISH) one a month has been very challenging, but ultimately rewarding. I finally have some writing I can send out to various publications and hopefully get my name out there. As of now I’ve submitted two stories to paying publication companies, and am awaiting replies as I work on another short story along with revisions to Dark Captain and Prayers to the Wind. I’ll also be attending the Unicorn Writing Conference in March, which I am very excited about. I’ll have the chance to sit down with an agent and go over the first 40 pages of one of my manuscripts with her, so this will be an invaluable learning experience for me.

If none of these short stories sell, I believe I will begin putting them up on amazon for a dollar apiece while I continue working on other stories and revisions. But hopefully I’ll get an answer in the affirmative (or at least a personalized rejection) sometime in the near future.

Tragedy in my home state today…

As a fantasy author, I often have to think about horrible things. War, death, torture. I have to try to put myself into the position of the people affected by these tragedies; to empathize, to convey how they react in a believable way.

It is rare that I find myself in such a position. I live a relatively charmed life, in that regard. But today I, and the rest of the world, have been reminded of just how shockingly evil and cruel the real world can sometimes be. 20 children, just… gone. I used to substitute teach for children in this age group. I keep remembering little moments… them reaching up for hugs as they left the classroom, giving me drawings, sitting and listening in rapt attention as I read stories to them. I can’t even begin to imagine how someone could destroy so much innocence, so much potential. It’s horrifying. It sounds like something that should be in a horror or fantasy novel, because honestly, how could a REAL person do something so unbelievably evil?

But it is real. It happened. There are no words to convey how heartbroken I am for the families experiencing loss and horror in Newtown, CT today. My heart goes out to them, and to anyone else who has been affected in any way by this. Please stay strong, and know that the thoughts of people across the world are with you today.

One Last Moment of Silence

I am notoriously bad at short stories. Whenever I have an idea for a short story, it balloons out into a novel, then into an epic saga spanning five books. Either that or I lose interest about two pages in and drop it in favor of something else. I’ve always wanted to write short fiction, especially since it is infinitely more marketable than novels. So after I finished Prayers to the Wind, I decided to really buckle down and force myself to write a short story.

At first, I planned on doing one featuring Suken to go along with his little series. but after playing with several ideas and discounting them all as cliche, I decided to take the project in a totally different direction.

Months ago I’d had a dream in which I was walking through an opulent castle filled with dancers, and a man pulled me into hiding to avoid a strange, clock-work creature of silver and gold that looked something like a spider made of metal. I wrote this down since it was such a neat mental image, and when I opened up my “short stories” folder (mostly full of half-starts and frustration) it leapt out at me as having potential.

I came up with a loose outline based on Dan Wells’ seven-point story structure, then realized that if I tried to set it in a modern setting (as was the original plan) that it left too many questions unanswered. So I time-traveled back to ancient Ireland, or a place so similar to it that it is nearly indistinguishable, and set the story back up there. It worked MUCH better, and after about a week I had a short story complete at 7,500 words – a record for shortness, for me.

Over the next week or so I’ll be editing this, then sending it out to a few publications and see if anyone bites. Even if no one does, I’m still pleased to have actually managed to write a story under 10k words.

National Novel writing Month Update #2 – Finished

First draft of Prayers to the Wind is officially complete, at just over 68k words. Came in WAY ahead of the National Novel Writers’ Month deadline. I have to admit that there’s something infinitely satisfying about seeing that bar graph under my stats tab with the bars almost all over the line indicating where you “should” be for the month.

Now that that’s done, I need to go and clean the entire house. I’ve been slacking on it since most of my time has been dedicated to writing, and I’m relatively certain that if I leave the huge stack of books on the living room table for one more day, Joe’s going to pull a Hulk.

National Novel writing Month Update #1 – halfway there!

I’ve been having a blast working on Prayers to the Wind for NaNoWriMo, and am happy to report that I’m 33k words in now. According to my outline, I’m a little more than halfway done. There are some things that are definitely going to need some tweaking after I finish, but I am VERY happy with this first draft so far. It’s something of a relief to work on a stand-alone book that doesn’t have 7 point of view characters…

I am optimistic about this work in regards to publishing. It’s fun, and the story’s good and easy for me to pitch. I’ll update again once the first draft is finished!

World Fantasy Convention 2012 – Convention Report

I have to admit, I was very worried about this trip. In addition to traveling outside of the country alone (which I’ve never done), I was worried that I would feel like an outsider, since I am as of yet unpublished. I’d sort of begun to look at this as a scouting mission… take a look around, go to panels and learn about things, and just basically get a feel for how the convention works.

I’m happy to say that my fears were mostly unfounded. The traveling wasn’t too bad (despite the fact that it was FREEZING up in Toronto all weekend). I only tried to pay with American money once. (Oops.) And the people in Canada definitely live up to the “nice” stereotype. Had a group of teenagers approach me at the bus station and offer directions. Don’t see that often in the states… not with teenagers, anyways.

The convention itself was definitely an experience. For starters, I wasn’t expecting them to hand us all giant bags full of books after we got our badges. Most of the books are new releases by relatively unknown authors, so I’m very excited to give them a look. Wound up shipping them all back home, since by the end of the weekend I had 25 pounds of books, and there was no WAY I was fitting all that in my carry-on luggage. I attended a great many panels and learned a lot about many aspects of the industry and literary concepts, which was what I was hoping for in that department. Also got to meet Mercedes Lackey, whose books I have been reading since I was in Middle School. “The Elvenbane” by she and Andre Norton was one of my favorite books growing up, and Ms. Lackey was very excited to see my battered hardcover when I brought it to her to be signed.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as networking, since I don’t really have a finished product to shop around as of yet. I mostly viewed this as a chance to chat with people and try to make friends. Thankfully I’m pretty out-going so I didn’t have too much trouble. The ladies from Broad Universe in particular were very welcoming, especially Brenda Carre and Julia Dvorin. I had moments when I felt like I was on the outside looking in, but for the most part it was a joy to be able to sit and talk with so many wonderful, creative people. I wound up sitting in the hotel lobby for a good two hours chatting with Courtney Schafer on Friday about the agents, editors and the process of getting published. I haven’t had a chance to read her books yet, but I am looking forward to checking them out as soon as I can. The Saturday night book release parties were… interesting. I had been on the fence about going, but someone I respect deeply advised me to go, so I gathered my courage and did so. It was very crowded, very hot, and there was a LOT of booze. I did manage to chat with a few people, most notably Christian Klaver, who I had a wonderful conversation with about martial arts and how it can be utilized in speculative fiction.

I managed to meet up with Patrick Rothfuss for a brief interview which will be going up on Open the Fridge in the near future (just waiting on a few images and then I’ll be sending it off to my editor). Pat’s a very smart, funny man and it was great to be able to chat with him, even if it was in a professional capacity. (His voicemail message is hilarious.) Also spoke with Brandon Sanderson a couple times, though he was ridiculously busy so I tried not to bother him too much. As always, he was personable and ridiculously dedicated to his fans. About a year ago I posted on an AskReddit thread saying that I’d like to live in the world of “Way of Kings,” and he replied that he’d put me in the next book as a cameo. When I ran into him at the autograph signing on Friday night he enthusiastically told me what he had planned in that regard, much to my delight.

So, overall, I’d call this “scouting mission” a resounding success. I think the biggest takeaway for me was the autograph session. There were HUNDREDS of authors signing there on Friday night. I walked around and I thought to myself, “If they can all do this… I can, too.” I seemed to have gotten myself into the mindset that if the Big Four publishers rejected my books, I’d have no chance at getting published (outside of Amazon, anyway). The autograph signing opened my eyes to a huge world of smaller publishers which, for some reason, I’d blinded myself to.

I can do this. At the risk of sounding narcissistic, I AM good enough. In the meantime… back to work on Prayers to the Wind and a couple short stories (hopefully).

Concept Art Commission, Writing Group and NaNoWriMo

Been awhile since I updated, so this will be a big one.

First, an update on revisions. I’ve been very busy working on the second draft (and third, more on this later) of The Dark Captain. There are many little things that need to be re-written and altered, I am currently 3 chapters into Part Three of the novel.

I am simultaneously working on the third draft (because I am clearly insane). The reason for this (other than insanity) is that I’ve finally found a writing group. There are only three of us so far, all unpublished fantasy authors, and we meet via Skype once a week. Sadly in-person meetings are outside of the realm of possibility given that we live in Connecticut, Arizona and Sweden. After each meeting I have been doing minor revisions to each chapter based on their input. It’s been an extremely rewarding experience so far, and I look forward to each meeting. If all goes as planned, I will be doing one final revision after this one and then I will begin querying agents and publishers. I’m really liking how the story is shaping up and growing tighter with each successive revision.

In addition to the second and third draft work, I will be participating in National Novel Writing Month. (Did I mention I was insane?) The plan is to FINISH Prayers to the Wind by the end of November. I have completely re-worked the outline to tighten up the plot and keep it to a manageable length, so hopefully by the end of the month I’ll have a complete stand-alone novel featuring Suken to revise then shop around. If you’re so inclined, you can follow my progress here.

Speaking of Suken… Time to talk about the concept art commission. This was much more fun than revisions, mainly because I got to pay someone and watch THEM do all the work. I contacted Ben McSweeney last month asking if he were open to commissions, expecting a reply in the negative. I was shocked and more than a little ecstatic when he replied that yes, he was available to do a concept art sketch of one of my characters. I gave him a choice between two and he elected to draw Suken Anisaria (he liked his hat. I mean really, who wouldn’t? It’s a glorious hat). I’ll have to wait until later to put it up here, as I’m having issues with image uploading. Suffice it to say that it came out amazing, he really managed to capture Suken’s personality and I couldn’t be more pleased. Having the artwork hanging up next to my desk is wonderful incentive for me to buckle down on Prayers to the Wind.

Last but not least, I will be attending the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto in two weeks. I’m a bit nervous about it since I won’t know anyone there and I really have no idea what to expect, but I’m hoping to make some connections and learn from some of the panelists they’ve got lined up. You can expect a full report on the convention when I return home.