Query Letter

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 23, 2009 -- 12:59 a.m.

I will toss up my query letter, just for kicks. I will probably run it through the queryshark or EE grinder when I'm finished with the revision.

Dear Agent X:

Godsplay is a completed 110,000-word high fantasy novel set in a world of gypsies, giants and dark gods. I’m querying you because....[Personalized stuff]

In Godsplay, godhood isn’t all about roses and virgin sacrifices. For the Creator Gods, a race of insane immortals trapped behind a wall of ice, divinity stopped being fun a long time ago. Believing that the other gods made a mistake when they designed mortals, the Creators decide to reshape the world in their own image. Step one: "Cleanse" all the other impure races. Step two: Repopulate with new and better breeds—twisted creatures out of any human’s worst nightmares.

The only one standing in their way is Rachell aehl-Darenn, the seventeen-year-old heir to a dying race of sorcerers. Her grandfather was once crown prince in the conquered land of Amor Dal, but Rachell can only find time to plot rebellion against the usurpers after she's slopped her father's pigs. All her life, Rachell’s been trying to prove that she's worthy of her grandfather's love, despite being a half-human bastard. But when the Creators’ twisted children invade her home, Rachell must stand side-by-side with the people she despises—even if that means serving the Emperor who enslaved her race. Because things are never simple when the Gods come out to play…

Enclosed is three-page synopsis [I have 3-page, 5-page and 8-page available] of Godsplay and an SASE. I was a newspaper reporter for several years and a newspaper editor for six months. I have a short piece slated to appear in Ender’s Friends (forthcoming), edited by Orson Scott Card.

Thank you for your time,

Jennifer McBride


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 22, 2009 -- 11:34 p.m.

I think I'm going to go a little easy on the blogging until the revision is done. Progress is too slow for my taste. So, now writing prompt today, sorry.

I wonder how agents decide what books they want to see with only a query in hand? I think it'd be really tough, especially since some good authors are notoriously bad query writers.

Struggling with writing your own queries and synopses? Try here.

RIP David Eddings

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 21, 2009 -- 3:37 a.m.

I didn't realize David Eddings had died until I logged into the SFWA web site. Eddings was one of my favorite authors when I was younger. I remember wandering into supermarkets and drooling over his covers--one of the few fantasy novels you could see on the shelves. I still re-read the Belgariad, which has an innocent charm I adore. Silk will always be one of my favorite characters, as will Belgarath, the scamp who somehow managed to become a wizard. The fact that he was a Pacific Northwest author made him even more precious to his northwest fans.

He brought inspiration and joy to millions of readers. You will be missed.

Links to the obit is here.

Blogroll drumroll

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 21, 2009 -- 12:13 a.m.

THE INTERN a recently-started blog by an anonymous slush slave, has now been added to the blogroll. Found her via Editorial Anonymous, who declares "Oh, I am newly in love."

Her introduction, from her blog page: "THE INTERN is the unpaid toiler on the publishing house floor, licking stamps, reading slush, and copy-editing your train-wreck of a manuscript (for free) because the 'real' copyeditor is down with the genital crabs. THE INTERN wears mismatched socks, clunky glasses, the same shirt she wears every day and jeans she found in the dumpster. No bra—bras are expensive, and THE INTERN is unpaid. THE INTERN sees all, hears all—the tense phone calls, the well-oiled editorial meetings at which your manuscript is used as a receptacle for pretzel crumbs, the wheeling, dealing, and long hours of apathy that make publishing publishing. THE INTERN knows everything about—your ambitions, your secret shames. She knows you pee in the shower. Basically, THE INTERN has you dialed. "

Sample post:

Hot tips fresh from the past 5-6 editorial and pub board meetings:

-Vampires are IN.
-"me"-related books are OUT. ("it isn't all about you any more! now it's about "us"!)
-Twelve-step book are IN
-superfoods are on their way OUT.
-simplicity and simple living are IN

Do the math people. We're looking for twelve-step programs to help vampires get over their narcissism, using a diet rich in white bread and peanut butter, while living in straw-bale houses.

So THE INTERN earns her place on the Jenn's World cast of gods. And the peasants rejoiced. Yaaay.

(Sorry, I'm probably the only one who Played Might & Magic, World of Xeen.)

Not Revision

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 20, 2009 -- 2:58 a.m.

To close out the week, I'm going to actually have a blog post that doesn't involve revision in any way shape or form except that I put the final touched on my still way-too-long prologue and am more or less putting it aside. No wonder it took me five years to write that thing!

Would you be turned off by a long prologue if the writing is good? How long is too long? How much connection should it have to the ensuing story.

Re-reading my last draft, I'm disappointed at bits that seemed to get "lost" somewhere in between drafts. I swear I had elegant paragraphs of character description that somehow just vanished. Were they all in my head in the first place or did I trim them because I was concerned about length? Sigh.

The book I'm reading on Revision was published in 1989 and it's funny to read about the author advocating for the use of computers. Honestly, I'm amazed if anyone still handwrites novels. I couldn't read my own writing if I tried. Go them, I'm not denegrating styles, but wow, it'd be so hard to organize and deal with it.

Though without an attempt to hand write my novel, I'd never have invented a "Sa'hana." I was trying to handwrite a novel because I wanted to force myself to stop revising. I have this tendancy to look back and finetune when I'm afraid of moving forward, and I figured with handwriting I wouldn't dink around the whole time. So I wrote in the morning and at night while I worked on a job searching other days and decided to start out my novel with a bang--Rachell's Sa'hana. But the scene felt really overdramatic/unbelievable, even for a society used to magic, and so when I wanted to start writing it again, I shifted the scene to the grandfather. Who wouldn't have existed without the handwritten copy either when I realized that someone needed to be involved in the Sa'hana--a character who looked down on Rachell for her half-blood status but loved her anyway. I don't know if the handwriting had anything to do with it or not, but there it is.

Wish I could find that damn notebook. Not only does it have the first draft, but it also has my maps, lists of the character's ages, a historical timeline, a short glossary, and the twenty-seven runes sketched out with their meanings, along with six or seven bindings. Since I misplaced the books two moves ago, I've had to make up new names (I wonder what Cien's name was in the draft?) but I'd like to have the runes at least, rather than having to come up with them all over again.

That was more about revision than I meant to write about. What I meant to write about is: will computers replace writers, GASP!!!

Writer Beware blog did an interesting entry on a guy who's the "most published author" on Amazon with over 100,000 titles (not books) available. How does he do it? Apparently he hires a bunch of computer programmers to data search on a specific topic and put it together in a POD book. To quote the blogger, Victoria Strauss:

"Ah, but what's creative? Not romance novels, apparently. Per the New York Times article linked in above, Parker 'is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. "I’ve already set it up," he said. "There are only so many body parts."' (A reductive statement that, no doubt, will infuriate romance writers everywhere.) What's next? Computer-generated SF novels with stock aliens? Algorithm-created crime dramas with hard-boiled dialog swiped from the movies? Robo-poetry to populate a hundred Poetry.coms?"

Okay, so I don't think HAL will replace fiction writers, but in some ways, movie writers in particular seem to have only artificial intelligence. How many scrapped-up remakes and hero's journey clones have you seen and thought "a computer could do that." Or my kid, a dog, can of soup, etc.

I wouldn't worry. There will always be a place for human intuition and creativity. Computers are more a threat to readership than writership. After all, how many of us will bother reading the next Ernest Hemingway where there are blogs to search and porn to download? Even a devoted bookworm like myself might prefer hopping into a virtual reality capsule.

I swear, I'll stop talking about revision next week!


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 18, 2009 -- 5:09 p.m.

Oddly enough, the new prologue is only two pages longer than the old prologue. Though Word's word count puts it at 1,300 words bigger. Huh. It probably is better now. I still like the old one.

More Revision

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 18, 2009 -- 2:37 p.m.

I like Lee Ann's term for revising to plant clues and things. "Rearranging the mantle." That's a good one.

Anyway, the next step of revision I do is I retype just about everything. I open a new document side-by-side with my old one, or in another window, read a few pages, and then type up what happened. Often, I use the same words, but often I discover there's something even better.

The blessings of computers over typewriters is that we can go back and change things. While that's all well and good for minor changes, for major changes, I need to get my juices going and re-typing a draft helps me do that.

Right now, I'm remembering why it took so long for me to write the book in the first place. This prologue is the most difficult thing I've ever written. I was urged to slow it down and take all the time I need, but is anyone really going to put up with a 23 page prologue in the first book of a series? That's like 6,000 words before you get to the opening! There was a reason I shoved most of the scenes to flashbacks instead of trotting them out in real time.

That's the other thing about doing multiple drafts and saving them in multiple documents. If I don't like it, I can always go back to the version I had before. I probably will. Just because this prologue's better doesn't mean it's more salable.

On the plus side, I'm not going to hand a prologue in as my first set of pages/chapters to any agents/publishers anyway. So it really doesn't matter, right? If my editor wants me to slash it down, I give her the old version. Bulk it up? New.

If you haven't watched the Empires series, produced by PBS, it's up on hulu and I think it's well worth watching for any fantasy writers. I just finished watching the series on the Medici. Not only was it wonderfully produced (though I wished from time to time, that it would give more detail) but you can find a lot of political intrigue and conflict that can be fertile inspiration for your stories. For example, who'd have known that the works of Boticelli, Leornardo, Michaelangelo, etc. had so much political importance. I would like to write a story like Colleen McCullough's masters of Rome series set in the Italian Renassaince. However, I wonder, again, if it'd be salable? Especially since a lot of the main characters would, in this day and age, be registerred sex offenders for cavorting with their NAMBLA-age apprentices...

Michaelangelo in particular fascinates me. He was one of those crazy, difficult to work with geniuses who I empathize with myself since I too fall a little short in the social skills catagory from time to time.

And there's something about Renassaince paintings that I haven't seen matched. Compared to them, most other paintings look like they were formed out of cheap, colored plastic. I just love the art, the politics and the power of the mind unleashed in that age. So many interesting moments, from Da Vinci and Michaelangelo's fight over the block of marble that would become the statue of David to the birth of the Inquisition. I will write the story one day, I think, even if it molders in a basement closet. It's too powerful an age to ignore.

It makes you really understand Mussolini. Italy had the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and yet it is nowhere near as prominent. You can understand where a mad dream to return to power could really take hold when your history so outshines your present. Nothing against present Italy, of course! I plan to visit there as soon as I scrape up the money. But it's hard to compete with such a fervent, powerful history.


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 17, 2009 -- 11:46 a.m.

Today, the stalling ends and the revision begins.

The first thing I'm going to do is make a chronological list of major things I know need changing. I don't know if other authors do this, but I make notes about my story about things I need to go back and change as I go along. The funny thing about writing is it never stops. Your ideas never stop developing. Your characters never stop evolving. And there's nothing like writing a novel to force you to find new facets of your story, world and characters.

That necessarily means going back and dropping 'hints' about what's going to happen. Or going back and reworking your magic system. Or just realizing that you need to repeat variations of the same imagery over and over to have a certain resonance.

So as I was writings, I made a two-page list of everything I wanted to change, from color's of a character's eyes to names to major plot holes that need solving. Of course, ideas don't occur in natural order, that's be too easy. So I think of something I need to fix in both the prologue and the middle of the story at the same time. And I don't want to go back and change things, because for all I know, by the end of the novel, I'll need to throw the entire scene out anyway, so why bother?

But that means I'm left with a list of semi-obtuse words like "bread baking" "spider feast" and "he burned his parents." Obviously, they only make sense to me at the moment. Hopefully they make sense to me--some of them are a little too cryptic shorthand, particularly the ones I came up with at 3 a.m. due to some messed up dream.

Anyway, so the first thing I'll do is organize the list so as I revise, I'll be able to check off changes as I make them.

Unfortunately, I'm sure there will be a second list I'll create after I revise the first time. Who was it that said "art is never finished, only abandoned?" Ah yes, Leonardo Di Vinci. Thank you, google.

Speaking of which, have you seen Microsoft's 'Bing' ads? They make me laugh because they make google sound so overly complicated and then they have almost the same screen, same system. I tried running a search with both engines and they all looked pretty much the same.

P.S. Gosh, I love Pandora. I have a Supreme Beings of Leisure station now and I love it for writing, along with my Enya station. One of my favorite bands, though hard to find anything by them. The problem is some times there's too much similarity. I tried an All-American Rejects Station and all the songs sounded exactly the same.

P.P.S. Hate to see Pub Rants' post that editors aren't looking for epic fantasy. If I get published, it'll be an example of how you don't have to chase the bandwagon as it rolls away without your manuscript, trying to jump aboard. Better to be the trend then follow it.

Ten Commandments

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 16, 2009 -- 2:56 p.m.

I somehow missed Nathan Bransford's ten commandments for a happy writer. It's worth reading if you haven't yet, and re-reading if you have.

The revision continues to be put off. I might just have to call this week 'recovering from vacation' and try to hit the stacks next week.

Writing Prompt #7

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 15, 2009 -- 11:37 P.M.

Well, I'm back from my vacation to Issaquah, WA! That means that it's time for another writing prompt. But first, a status update:

I saw my younger brother graduate from high school. I also saw my father for the first time since he was tentatively diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

It was very difficult. I heard things were bad but not that bad. It hurt me to watch my dad shuffle slowly down the stairs. He says that he has a hard time keeping his balance because he can't feel his feet. I never thought about how important the nerves on the soles of our feet are, because without that pressure feedback, walking can be a bit of a guessing game.

All in all, I think he's handling things all very well. Much better than I would. It made me a little queasy to look at his MRI, complete with skull and eyeballs (strange, but I think I could have recognized his bone structure even if I hadn't known what I was looking at.), but he thought it was cool. He said it's good to see the lesions in his brain, which look like little fireflies on the brain scans, because he knows it's not all a made up disease in his head.

Anyway, my natural response is to run and hide from my emotions and go play video games. I hate to see anyone I love in pain. If I ever get a chance to dedicate a book to anyone, it will be to my mom and dad because they're so courageous.

Anyway, I took a two week break from writing and it's hard to get back into the groove. No rhythm. I haven't done jack squat.

I'll do better when I cheer up. I think I'll get to the acceptance stage about my father soon.

It's amazing how helpful posting my novel online for a critique group has been. Not only does it change the formatting, which helps me get a new perspective, but I can tell when things are moving too slow way easier when I break a scene down into 1000-word chunks. Just about everything I've posted can be chopped down to keep the pace up. Anyway, it'll be ten times better once I put it through its paces.

Mostly that makes me groan because it means I still have half a book to write once I do the cutting. And I think the random stableboy is going to have to go back in to address the male/female balance. If there's space.

Wonder if I should edit the blog posts when I get published? Should I let my readers know I go back and forth on things? Most authors seem to project this aura of infallibility. It probably helps them sell books. All the authors I've met are human, all the books I've read have mistakes--from typos to major errors (like the same guy dying twice in one series--whoops!) and I think it's okay. Serious fans might have a problem with the nice wallpaper being peeled back to reveal the roach-covered wood though, so I'll have to think about it.

On the other hand, maybe so many authors' freaky self-confidence is the reason so many people think they can become best-selling millionaire writers without working at it, so maybe I'm doing a service by bursting the "it's so easy" bubble. Read about how hard Jim Butcher struggled before he found a publisher. That'll make your confidence shake a little, because if it wasn't easy for a future #1 NYT bestseller...

It also proves how important connections are in the professional publishing world. So make them, and don't screw them up once you have them.

We'll now get back to your regularly scheduled writing prompt.


TITLE: Deal with it
TYPE: Character

We've all had moments in our life when we've grieved. If your characters don't have something to grieve about, or at least feel some kind of intense emotion about (like seeing the results of their dad's m.s.), there's probably something wrong with your book.

Now you've probably read the Conan-style heroic fantasy where the black-clad bad guy slaughters an entire village or a hapless underling ("Apology accepted, Captain Needa") or the hero's sister/mother/father/kitten. And it was just the cutest, fuzziest kitten a barbarian war-dawg could ever possess.

And you know what the hero's version of therapy is? Kicking villainish butt, that's what. If my brother turns out to be in league with Dr. Evil, whatever, I'm a buff hero who barely has the brains to point a chainsaw in the right direction, so I accept it and move on.


One of my favorite things about the Wheel of Time series was Rand's flashbacks after he is tortured in the box. As a sexual assault survivor, I know some things about nasty flashbacks and his claustrophobia. His weakness and added descent into madness made absolute sense to me. The all powerful Dragon needs a safety blanket to hug when life gets to that hard moment in life.

So that example's not exactly about grief, but it's certainly about intense emotion. And there are other moments when Rand chivalrously grieves over all the women he's harmed. Realistic, I think, even if one does want to say "you gotta break a few eggs to make a souffle, dude." Which is probably what Robert Jordan himself was thinking.

What about your own hero or heroine? Have you taken opportunities to show a hero dealing with strong emotions? Has she or he ever been through the five stages of grief? If you've forgotten, in order, they are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Often, heroes in books only through anger and acceptance. They shed a single tear over the burned ruins of their home village and move on to some self-righteous killin'.

Can you use denial in your story? Bargaining? Depression? I think the only time I've ever seen bargaining in the sci-fi/fantasy genre is in Stephen Donaldson's series, so if you can pull bargaining off, you might be doing something semi-unique.

Now's the tricky part: can you write intense emotion without making it melodramatic?

That's something I struggle with, especially with male characters. In real life, grief can be unmanly, and I've been told there's nothing like a crying hero to drive male readers running from the heels. I will go to just about any lengths not to deal with intense emotional scenes. I have to bring myself to the point of self-flagellating to write them. Part of the difficulty, at least for emotional male scenes, stems from the fact I was sexually assault. I have to fight my semi-subconscious belief that men couldn't possibly be real people with real emotions, otherwise this one particular paragon of male virtue couldn't have hurt me and violated me so deeply.

I think the best advice about writing emotion is that nobody likes a hero who wallows. Keep it short and sweet. Angsty adolescent heroes are a bit of a fad right now, but it's not necessary something that needs to be brought out by long soliloquies about the bitterness of life just to prove how sensitive your character is. A lot of emotion doesn't need to be directly written because we've all been there and we can paint the details in our own minds. And there's nothing like a hero who's trying to keep a stiff upper lip to win a reader's sympathy.

Again, to draw on Wheel of Time examples: Rand, while reading Moiraine's note, is moved to tears. We don't need an internal monologue telling us why. Robert Jordan paints the picture with a few guilty phrases and his denial that he's crying.

Or Perrin when he loses his family. He doesn't go crazy with his grief until Faile holds him. So much emotion in such a short space. I think Jordan is a master of characterization and world creation, which is why we all loved him even when we loved to complain about him.

(And speaking of great authors being human, remember when Perrin is talking to Min in book three and says he's never had a sister? And then his sister dies in The Shadow Returns? Whoops. There's another one where Birgitte swears to Elayne and calls her daughter-heir and LATER says she thinks Elayne's lying about being daughter-heir of Andor. Actually, given the extensive world Jordan's created, I think it's incredible how few continuity errors there are in his books. He must have kept the fattest stack of notes ever.)

Anyway, this week, try to put characters and the tough emotions together in at least one scene. Keep it short. Keep it strong. And put yourself in your character's place. What would you feel like if you were in the same position? Chances are, your hero would react similarly because we're all human. Or elvish. Or whatever.