Saturday, September 25, 2010

So Close

I'm so close to being finished with volume one of the two-part series that I can smell the words "the end." In a way, it's sort of sad, leaving my main character for a while so I can beta then query the first book. Although I think it stands alone (emphasis on I think. We'll see what the Dawg Pack thinks), somehow I still feel it's one book not two. I find the concept of dividing a life slightly disturbing. Does that sound stupid or what?!

Speaking in terms of word count, a life that say spans fifty years would take a lot of words. Add that three score and seven Biblical thingy and Va-zoom! Multiply that fifty-year-old's life-words by 6.5. That's even more words. Are there limits on the number of words used in a novel? Sort of.

One agent won't look at a first-novel with less than 85,000 words or more than 110,000. Words count. (Pardon the pun.) Not all agents are that particular, but if even one would toss your work in the circular file over word count, then word count must be watched closely.

Some authors might disagree, even published authors, saying word count doesn't count as long as you submit quality work. I suppose there's some truth in that argument. In a perfect world, a good book is a good book no matter how many words appear between the words "chapter one" and "the end." However, the lack of perfection in this world is one of its most endearing characteristics.

Very few publishing houses accept unrepresented manuscripts. Why? Because their slush piles of "to read" became so tall it seemed there was no room for desks and copiers and the like. Today, in order to get the eye of a legitimate publisher, the piece must be represented. If a would-be author takes a peek at a site displaying the names of literary agents, it seems the world is filled with potential representation. However, that would-be author must be careful because not all who claim the title "agent" are true author representatives. Some are more interested in representing themselves and will charge innumerable "fees" to Mr./Ms. Would-Be while the now "represented" novel languishes on some dusty desk.

Just like any other industry based on dreams, there are people who choose to use the dreams of others to promote themselves, to pilfer a dollar at a time until dreams die and artists who might have had some measure of success with the right guidance toss their keyboards into whatever waterway is at hand. Dreams are like apples to some people, just something ripe for the picking. Writer beware.

How do I know this? Me? An unrepresented author? I've made it my business to know. How? Researching. Asking questions. Reading blogs. Talking to authors who are represented. Checking out on-line contracts. Searching who and what agents have represented in the past. What's their track record? The business end of writing. If the business end includes advice on word count, I listen. If the business end includes the requirements of certain legitimate agents, I comply. It's business, the business of dreams.

I'm not by nature a woman of business. I'm a little flighty and a lot disorganized. I often lose my car keys or can't remember exactly where I parked. My desk is riddled with papers, pens, and folders while my file cabinets are barren. I over-check and overeat. I'm a mess, but I've listened carefully to others. I'm a member of Absolute Write Water Cooler (one of the best writers' boards). I read comments. I check out threads that offer warnings issued from other authors.

In my life, I've been fooled. After all, I've been married three times: once to a cop, once to a criminal, and finally, to a psychologist so I could figure out why I married a cop and a criminal. That pretty much says it all. My dreams? Well, that's a different story. I treasure them, coddle them, nurture them. My work as a writer? Very much like children, my children, and I won't have my children misused. That's the truth of it.

I'll seek representation, but I'll be wary as we all should be. I'll keep asking questions and looking to the experience of others. When I query, I'll query agents who've had successes with books like my own. I'll make sure I've identified the genre correctly, and I'll make sure that the Dawg Pack has hounded the piece thoroughly before I send the first letter to a would-be agent.

There endeth the sermon for the day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Do writers get discouraged? You betcha. The need to write comes with a deep need for approval. I suppose that's true with plumbers or electricians or any profession, but practitioners of the arts seem to require more "ointment of appreciation" than do most. Yep! I'm guilty. I sometimes allow friends to read my work for the sole purpose of having someone, anyone, say, "Hey, you're pretty good at this."

One of the greatest compliments I ever received came from my sainted mother. After reading one of my partial manuscripts, she said, "It's like it was written by a real author." From some perspectives, a comment like that might be vaguely insulting; however, to hear it from one of my hardest critics? Well, I'll remember that moment for a long time. Compliments are part of the salve required to soothe the nerves of a would-be author, but there are more important things.

Constructive criticism from people the writer respects is like gold in the pocket. One of my betas (people who read and suggest revision to manuscripts) is tough, really tough. She doesn't sugarcoat anything. She doesn't pick and choose words to avoid wounded egos or injured psyches. She, to coin a tried yet true phrase, "tells it like it is." If a piece has problems, she's quick to point them out without the encumbrance of euphemistic terminology. "This sucks" are words she might use or perhaps, "I stopped reading here because it was terrible and I couldn't force myself to go on." Hard to hear? Again, yes, but each time I drag my deflated ego to the keyboard after one of her betas, my work gets better, so much so that even I can see the difference.

Difference. Improvement. Polish. These are all words that go toward publication. My few and far between moments of publication are partly due to the fact that I submit very little work to potential publishers, but without voracious betas, even those few moments would be non-existant. In very short order, I'll be sending part one of my two part series off to be beta-ed, and I'm hoping to recieve the hard-hitting, ego-splitting responses that usually come my way. Discouraging? Sometimes more so than others. Helpful? More often than not, and help is what every would-be writer needs. Criticism works toward strenghtening any piece of writing as long as the author learns the value of that criticism. The publishing climate is always stormy and the stronger the manuscript the easier it is for the good ship "Get-Me-An-Agent" to find safe harbor.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Love, Sex, and Writing

Okay. So I'm not so good when it comes to writing love scenes. It's not that I haven't had a few 'love scenes' of my own. After all, I've been married three times. (That, however, is truly another story.) It's just that I don't feel comfortable writing sex scenes. I realize there's a difference between sex and love, but somehow, one seems to follow the other. Mostly, I just fade to black since I can't write a scene where music swells and the reader sees a field of daffodils.

Maybe it's my fundamentalist upbringing or maybe it's simply not my forte. Either way, when the heroine falls in love, somethings got to give and usually, it's her. I'd be interested to know how other authors deal with this problem. I can write tender. Tender's not so hard, literally and figuratively. My characters brush a cheek with their fingertips. They stroke the hair of a weeping partner. They look deeply into someone else's eyes. I got the hang of tender long ago.

I can't write down and dirty, that pulsing thump-thump, that sweat beading on the forehead, that heat beating its drum between the thighs stuff. Just as if I were in middle-school again, that stuff makes me giggle. I feel a tinge of guilt, a flash of fear, and then the heat stops beating its drum and I'm left with characters unfulfilled. Bad for them and bad for my work.

Needless to say, my writer friends think of me as a prude. Maybe I am. Who knows? I, personally, don't think of myself that way. I'm a modern woman, albeit some of my ideas about how to live life run toward the archaic by 21st century, American standards. I've always thought a reader felt the burn from a hint more than from a club over the head. But let's face it, sex sells.

From Suzanne Summers stint on Three's Company down to Beau and Hope between the sheets on Days of Our Lives, most people in charge of television programming believe that without a few naked bodies, the modern viewer would flick channels faster than Elizabeth Taylor flipped Eddie Fisher for Richard Burton. To make that clearer to the younger crowd, just substitute Jessica Simpson or Paris Hilton and their personal flavor of the weeks for Liz and her paramours of the past. I'm afraid the written word is no different. One very famous writer in my circle of acquaintances wrote a wonderful historical novel. He sold it to an agent who subsequently sold it to a publisher. The editor wasn't happy with the work as my friend had written it. The editor asked for the infusion of a love story, complete with that hot-and-bothered love scene. My friend complied with the editor's request, as do all clever writers, and $3.5 mil later, my friend no longer spends his days as a teacher. He's usually on the golf course or writing the next tome.

I've read many steamy scenes in other authors' works. I've read steamy scenes in the books of yester-year. I've watched ... well, I've watched movies noted for those scenes, but I still get giggles, guilt, and gut-wrenching fear of my inadequacies as a writer. I'm hoping all good things come with practice, practice, and more practice. Who knows? Some day I might venture into the world of Anne Rampling/ Rice. It could happen. Right?