The We Sold A Trilogy Trilogy Part 2: AKA Part Eleven

K, time for some honesty.

The novel I just sold? My eleventh. The sequel to it will be my fifteenth. They weren’t all finished, and they certainly were not all revised and submitted, but all of them crossed that 50,000-word-mark that defines a novel.

I wrote a novel my freshman year of high school, in 1994. One. I wrote a very bad, very long book my senior year, in 1998. Two. I revised it over the next four years and sent it to Tor and Baen, the only houses with open sub calls, after my awesome dad copyedited the whole thing.

Revisions and all, Tor and Baen still rejected my second novel.

What part of 280,000 words, written by a teenager imitating Robert Jordan, wasn’t there to love? Srsly Tor.

I wrote Three in 2002, but it got mired. Four in 2004, which I revised and sent off. Twas roundly rejected. Started two in 2006 that both petered out quickly; I count them both together as Five. Six, in 2008, descended into a 225,000-word mire. Seven, completed in 2009, took four years to revise, then made the rounds and collected personal rejections from many places, including Tor, Harper Voyager, and my current agent. A small press is currently interested in it. Cool new soon.

WAIT, STAY HERE, NOT DONE.

GET SOME TEA. WE’LL BE A WHILE.

In 2010, I wrote Eight to re-do the 2008 mire… and ended up in another mire. In 2011, I wrote Nine, a prequel to pre-empt that… another mire.

(I was producing, submitting, and being crushed repeatedly by short story rejections by this point, too. In case you forgot that part.)

During 2013, I was sitting in a talk by the dorkily dashing Randy Henderson about long-term career planning. At the time I was struggling with Ten, yet another giant epic fantasy novel, a different mire than the last three mires, which had a million story threads and once it was done would take years to rewrite, and I thought…

Gasp. I should just write SHORT novels for a while.

Fifty, sixty thousand words takes a month to write in first draft. And a month to revise. Why was I breaking my brain over books three times, four times that length? I knew how to do short fiction, and all I had to do was expand those skills. What’s more, the problems in fifty thousand words would be proportionally smaller.

So then I wrote Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen in 2014. (My agent also rejected Twelve before she saw Eleven.) I just managed to finish Fourteen’s first draft earlier this year.

That’s a lot of words before I got decent pay for any of them. I’m glad I stuck it out, through tons and tons of rejection. I can only imagine how much more difficult that amount of rejection is for writers from marginalized groups, who put up with a level of BS and aggression I don’t.

Any craft has a “journeyman” period, in which a professional does quality work while still mastering the craft. A lot of good journeyman novels get published–Everything Is Illuminated, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Patternmaster–even The Name of the Wind, I think, could be defined as a journeyman piece. But very often in your journeyman period, your flaws still show through.

I think Four was a decent early journeyman piece. Had self-publishing been viable in 2004, I probably would have thrown it up on Amazon to see what happened. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m not putting down self-publishing. But I’ve seen a lot of journeyman writers, who have more raw talent than I did in 2004, write a flawed book with good parts, watch the rejections come in, get frustrated, and self-publish it. Self-pubbing is great if you can pour all your time into it, or if you write something niche enough to sell itself.

It’s not what you should do with your first (or fourth) decent, wide-appeal book because people rejected it. Chances are, if mainstream publishing didn’t want it, it’s not good enough to be a breakout self-pub hit. It’s more likely another journeyman piece.

When I look at all those failed novels, and those wrong turns, and everything I’m learned, I’m not mad at the publishing industry that rejected me, I’m mad at myself for taking so long to learn from my mistakes.

The We Sold A Trilogy Trilogy Part 1: Trilogy!!!!

We bought a zoo!! We sold a trilogy!!

So, I sold a trilogy of a space opera short novels to Tor.com, with, of course, the help of my amazing agent Sara Megibow and my awesome editor Beth Meacham. Film-related rights are with Kim Yau at Paradigm Agency.

AND OMG YOU GUYS IT’S REAL.

I have a LOT of stuff to blog about in regards to this book. Cuz I been trying to sell a book for a while, folks. So this blog post will have to be first… in a trilogy!

So, Part 1: The Idea!

Like most creative endeavors, this book came from one part inspiration, two parts practicality. I’ll speak on the inspiration here and the practicality in the next two blog posts.

Inspiration: sometime in 2013, the opening scene of a thing came into my head. A galactic empire falls. While celebrations sound outside, in the inner corridors of power, a single order rings out: Kill all the humans.

I loved this scene, and what it predicted: a chase scene novel, set in the wake of a devastating war that had BLOWN UP A LOT OF SPACESHIPS SWOOSH PSHOOM. The inner child, mostly interested in thingsblowinupinspace!!!1!!!!!, joined forces with the outer 36-year-old history-buff political skeptic. Violent revolutionaries, especially in the 20th century, don’t have a good track record once they get into office.

I wanted to write a story where the scrappy Rebellion acted less like action figures, and more like Bolsheviks.

(At first, when I didn’t have any story details but the opening scene, my working title was “Kill Luke Skywalker.”)

I knew the characters in this story would have to come from several groups: the refugees themselves, the soldiers confronting corrupt orders, and of course, the Han Solo/Mal Reynolds types, those petty crooks. What’s a space opera without a wretched hive of scum and villainy?

Shortly thereafter, Jaqi and Araskar, the smuggler and soldier I knew to be crucial to the story, found their voices. Jaqi would be young, out of her depth, but principled; Araskar would be struggling with combat trauma and drug addiction.

And by consequence, my galaxy moved away from Star Wars into its own place. It is populated not by aliens and humans, but by “crosses”–various species created by genetic tampering. Crosses were the underclass, and humans the “bluebloods.” Genocide and racial purity took on even more of a presence in the story.

In 2014, when I had the first few stabs at this space opera story, I showed it to my soon-to-be editor, Beth Meacham, at a writing conference. She encouraged me to finish it and send it to her, and keep it short for the Tor.com novella/short novel line. I ran all the way home (pretty much, guys) and finished a first draft, rewrote it to something decent in 2015, and off it went.

AND NOW YOU SHALL READ IT. In 2017.

TUNE IN NEXT BLOG for the story of how practicality played into this, and how I decided to write a teeny little space opera instead of the massive doorstopper fantasies I usually write…

Music Monday

Sometimes the universe is a harsh, cold, bitter place.

And sometimes you find out that Mavis Staples recorded a cover of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get To That,” on an album produced by Jeff Tweedy. And the world is a great place.

Music Monday (It’s Still Monday Somewhere!)

My band of a few years ago went through this failed democratization process. We all agreed that everyone would get a chance to present one song to everyone else each practice, and we would make a good faith effort to learn the songs.

Our drummer, out of some sadistic impulse, proposed Squeeze’s “Tempted” as the first democratized cover. It could have been the ten billion different chords, or it could have been the lines about toothbrushes and socks, or the way we kept inappropriately singing, “Tempted by the fruit of your brother…” to the point where our singer couldn’t remember the right words, but… it did not work out. The song has made me shudder every since.

Until I saw this low-fi, punky version by OK GO for the AV Club’s Undercover! Holy crap! I absolutely love this version! I love the sleepy vocals, the bare-bones instrumentation, even that weird synth in the chorus. Toothbrushes ho!

Cascade Writers Wraps Up Again!

Once again, I had a dizzyingly great weekend at Cascade Writers, the best little workshop in the Northwest.

This year, I taught FOUR, count em, FOUR things. I taught Dialogue & Pacing, both of which I’ve done before, and both of which could have used another hour to do some work. I also taught Making Your Weaknesses Work For You, which went pretty well, but I think I could use a different format for the next time I do it. This time I tried to do a whole “Find Your Process” exercise, and I should have gotten to the weaknesses sooner! I was roped by Matt Youngmark into helping teach Tense & Point of View, and ended up talking for a long time about progressive, perfect & simple tenses. That is important stuff, but I don’t know if anyone (beside me) really glories in it. BUT. IS IMPORTANT. Will blog about that soon, as well.

I had a couple of big realizations this year. (This is why I love CW. So many brain-wheels be turning.)

One realization came during my own Pacing workshop. Because I was, at the moment, teaching the VERY THING I needed to apply to my own book.

#dumbofeather

Another odd realization: I did some business which I’ll be able to brag about soon, and realized that I am actually starting what seems like a (gasp) writing career.  And… I’ve spent so long thinking of writing as the dominating force in my free time that… I’m not sure how to think about it as a job. I might, maybe, even achieve my (still far-off) goal of getting a decent second income out of it.

I can definitely treat it as a job. I’ve wrung an hour out of my free time for writing every day for years, so there’s that. On the other hand, I’m not a MAXIMIZING EARNING POTENTIAL GRAPH CHART GRAPH MUTUAL FUND guy. I write until something isn’t fun anymore; I move on to another project and come back and finish when the muse wants to. I’ve written a few commissioned & contracted works, and they always require a lot more head-scratching and soul-searching than the ones that spring forth, fully formed like Athena in metal word armor, from my brainpan.

This is a thought I am developing, and will blog on more. STAY THOU TUNED.

 

Toy Tuesday! Generation 2 Megatron

If you know me, you know I love Transformers. One of my favorite TF incarnations was the garish early 1990s Generation 2 line, which featured, among others, a green and purple camo Megatron.

UGLY AS HELL, right? Why do I love it so much? The cannon even says “Eat This, Autobots!”

Oh, 1990s.

(Most of Generation 2 was re-issued, recolored 80s toys, but apparently Hasbro ran into trouble at the notion of a kids’ toy that transformed into a gun. In America. Whaaaaa)

I probably love it so much because of the funky superviolent Generation 2 Marvel comic, which was, as licensed toy books go, pretty good and full of wonderfully blocky art.

Derek Yaniger, artist on the book, made that silly purple and green Megatron look like a real badass:

I’m not a hardcore collector. For one, I’m not a rich man, and so I will never be That Guy who completes any one run or finds rare variants. I do, though, try to collect & make dioramas of some of my favorite comics. So when I found this guy for less than half his retail price, I couldn’t help thinking about some delicious green & purple & an updated version of the toy. I rang my guy at Customs By Spoonman about making a one-of-a-kind toy, the kind of thing a collector would drool over. He acquiesced. A few months later, I now have my own green and purple Megatron.

DSC_0024 DSC_0025 DSC_0042 DSC_0043

EAT THAT, Autobots.

The toy itself, as evidenced by the low low price I paid (do NOT pay retail for that thing), is a mixture of some great die-cast parts & some terrible design. Spoonman fixed the floppy shoulder plates & did his best to fix the tank-treads on the back, which just sit in their metal housing & tend to fall out, rather than being removable. I’ve already had to re-glue the treads. His transformation is a nightmare I doubt I’ll recreate often. But on the shelf, he is oh so pretty. in his green and purple glory.

Cascade Writers Approaches!

Writing workshops.

We gotta talk about em, folks. Writers go to these things, and sometimes they come away inspired and ready to take on the world, and sometimes they come away discouraged and angry. Sometimes, I hate to say, a bad workshop can really break a talented writer.

If you aren’t familiar with the world of writing workshops, they last anywhere from a few days to a full summer. In the science fiction world, there are some prestigious, by-audition-only workshops: the Clarions, Viable Paradise, Taos Toolbox.  However, a new, or cash-strapped, writer is much more likely to attend a short open-enrollment workshop like my local events Chuckanut, Chanticleer, or, the little workshop-that-could I’ll discuss shortly, Cascade Writers.

(I think Cascade is a cut above 99% of local workshops, but I’m also on the board, BUT, I joined the board because it was a cut above… more in a moment on why.)

These things are meant to attract new writers who need some networking, some schmoozing, and help those writers push their writing, and subsequently their careers, up a little higher. It’s a chance to interact with agents, editors, and mentors. A good workshop can give you some incremental pushes. You might take a class that helps you identify your strengths or weaknesses, or meet critique partners. You might learn things about the agent-querying or self-pubbing process that help you get your stuff out there.

They can also be a major stumbling block. It doesn’t take much to be a successful writer invited to conferences (I, for instance, have about 20 short story sales, and only about 5 are truly prestigious), and someone with a platform could spread disinformation or outright colonialism.

(I know James’ blog post linked above is really long, but if you care about indigenous issues in fiction, you owe it to yourself to read the whole darn thing. It’s brilliant and incisive and says it all.)

One also needs to understand the culture of the workshop. Some workshops (like Chanticleer) cater mostly to self-publishing, while others cater to traditional publishing. Any person or workshop who adopts a favorable extreme is going to spread some bullshit; there is a right way to do self-pubbing, and a right way to do traditional publishing, and both are a ton of work. You want a workshop that promotes respectful dialogue, information about all publishing paths, diversity and inclusion for all people, and zero tolerance for harassment.

I began taking myself seriously as a writer when I attended a workshop: David Farland’s Outline workshop in 2004. There, I met Eric James Stone and joined his writing group. I am also a teacher, and I work mostly with a historically underserved minority. So I am pretty invested in making sure new writers, of diverse backgrounds, have a good workshop.

And hey, now’s where I tell you that I think Cascade Writers is the best damn new-to-intermediate-to-advanced workshop I’ve been involved with. I’ve been going, either as a pro or just an attendee, since its inception, but this last year, I joined the board. I’ll let you explore the website, but I’ll just say that, with everything I’ve detailed here, we all try to make this the most helpful, worth-your-dollar workshop for everyone. We have a few memberships left for our Tacoma workshop next weekend. Although all our critique sessions spots are taken, this membership will still get you a “flash edit” with one of our publishing pros and entrance to all the classes.

Oh and, uh… I met my agent and one of my editors there. So, here’s the other thing about writing workshops: sometimes, sometimes, when you’ve done your dues, (to be fair, I had submitted a bazillion short stories and novels before this)  they REALLY work.

AGENTIMUS MAXIMUS

SO THIS HAPPENED.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 8.40.38 AM

Okay, since the date isn’t there, it happened about 2 weeks ago, and we signed a couple of weeks before that. Still, LET’S ALL GET EXCITED ONE MORE TIME!

I’ve been sending out novels and short stories for publication since 1999, although I haven’t made a real serious effort with agents until recently. I sent out a monstrously high school novel around 2002, after a few years of revising; bounced; sent out a slightly better monster around 2005; bounced; got mired in longer and un-revisable projects in the following years and didn’t get another novel out to agents until 2014, then finished and sent off a couple MORE short novels in 2015-2016 aaaaaaand boom.

I previously worked at a literary agency for two years, slaving away over my boss’s slush and occasionally trying (note the lack of a successful completion verb) to sell the gems in the slush she didn’t want to invest in. So while I was familiar with the business, and while I could write a decent query & cover letter, it took quite a few years, lots and lots of rejected subs (including a few to Sara) and three novels to land the agent.

So. Big step. Chocolate eaten. Next step awaited.

 

Choosing Your Favorite Baby

Hey blog! Long time no see.

A couple of updates: BEHOLD MY EDITING & PROOFREADING SERVICES PAGE! I’ve been editing & proofreading for years–eight years, actually!–but I have never officially hung out my hat. Hat is hung. If you or someone you know needs mentoring, editing, proofing or just some guidance, hit me up.

Also, I’ve posted a few drafts from my current songwriting project to Soundcloud. Nutritious liquid lunch for the ears.

I did an interview at the most talented Rachel Swirsky’s blog.

I’m currently staring down the end of my most productive Saturday in ages. I ran! I wrote (a little) and I went out with the family and I painted a room. The productivity gods, they are with me.

Left with a couple of hours before bedtime, and the family running errands, I… don’t know what to work on! I have three, count em THREE big projects that I am excited about. One’s science fiction, one’s historical, and one’s fantasy. All are saleable, I think, to various editors or through self-pubbing.

And they all look so shiny. I am reminded of the time my grandmother took me to Toys R Us, showed me the shelves full of amazing Transformers & said “pick one.”

PICK ONE. HOW CAN I JUST PICK ONE. THEY’RE ALL SO SHINY.

What’s your criteria for picking a project?