Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August Rejection Roundup

Wow, is it September already tomorrow? Where did August go?

Actually, August was a pretty good month, all-in-all, even though it's still quiet. I finally got word back on an tween novel from a superstar agent; though she declined, she really liked it and offered some ideas on how to revise it and asked to see other material (which I took advantage of). The very next day, I got an email from a publisher on the same MS saying they were very excited about it and suggested only one very minor revision and would I be interested in revising and resending? You bet I would! Also, sent in two novels to fantastic agent who loved a PB I'd sent.

Not a lot of new subs out (only 3), but the ratio of personal positive rejections to forms is very good (3 personals:4 forms), so I'm pretty happy about that. Here be les numéros:

Total manuscripts out: 54
Unique PB titles: 24
> New subs this month: 3
Unique MG/YA titles: 2
> New subs this month: 0

Total rejections: 7
Form/No response means "No": 4
Personal: 3
> Positive: 3
> Negative: 0
* meaning anything that directly references my submission by more than title

Total manuscript requests: 3
Partials: 0
Fulls: 3

Offers: 0
PB: 0
Novel: 0

Mood Meter (on a scale of -5 to +5 with -5 being downright rotten and +5 being ecstatic): 3.7

Change from last month: +1.2

Even though August was a quiet month (everyone still getting over the summer conference schedule and back-to-school), the positive feedback more than made up for it.





Hope to be back next month with good news.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On Being a Good Storyteller – Luck and Perseverance? Instinct? Gift? Or Skill?

There’s an old saw that posits, “Stick a million monkeys in front of a million typewriters for a million years and they’ll type every book in the Library of Congress.” Every book, huh? Does that include every single revision of every book? Because I’ve written about a million revisions of each of my own stories. Multiply that by the 130 million books already published and you’ve got 10e6 x 130*10e6 or about 130 trillion possible books and their revisions. (Of course, if you disregard all the ones Sarah Palin hasn't banned - they can't be that good if she thinks they're okay - then the number of good books is probably closer to 100 trillion.)

It’s got me thinking about what it takes to be a good storyteller, if maybe it’s just chance and persistence, that if you work long enough at it, a good story will eventually be produced. Because, yeah, sometimes I do feel like little more than a monkey, picking away for hours at my unworthy manuscripts. Obsessing over one particular word or phrase. Correcting misspellings. Inserting commas and colons and removing misappropriated apostrophes. And that’s not even talking about any major structural edits.

Persistence? Okay, I got that. Patience, too.

Luck... well, if it’s like flipping a coin, then there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.

Okay, but what if you don’t have a million monkeys and a million typewriters and a million years to write a good book. What then? The answer to that question haunts me.

Many others before me have talked about our natural proclivity to tell stories. It’s part of our social DNA and is woven into our evolutionary fabric as human beings. But does that mean anyone can be a good storyteller? And if so, what’s keeping each one of us from doing so? Societal blinders? Self-censorship? The third grade teacher who told you lacked the skills to write a decent obituary? I don’t feel like an instinctive writer. In fact, if I had to pay for every letter I typed and retyped, I’d be in as much debt as Bill Gates is worth.

Maybe it’s a gift. Maybe you either got it or you don’t got it. Honestly, though? I don’t even want to go there. I don’t like thinking that there’s nothing I can do to control whether I can write a good story. Outside of renting a few million monkeys and typewriters, that is. No, I can accept that for some people, writing comes naturally, but I refuse to believe the rest of us are just flapping our gums in the wind.

So that leaves skill as the last resort of the determined storyteller. Well, I can deal with that. Skill is just something you acquire by dedicating yourself to becoming better at something. I once asked an old buddy of mine who had this amazing ability to run a pool table— that’s how he made his living— what it took to be a good pool player, and he told me, “Skill, simple as that.”

“Yeah, but what exactly is this thing, skill?” I asked.

“Dude, skill is nothing more than luck, perseverance and instinct. Oh, and you have to have been born with it.”

Great. Anyone know where I can rack up a million monkeys?


What do you think? What does it take to be a good storyteller?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Spoiler, Spoiling, Spoiled - On Mockingjay and Why I'm Becoming a Hermit

No, this isn't a post about conjugating the verb "spoil." It's about that tiny minority of people who lack even an ounce of self-control or common decency that they just have to go out in public to discuss Katniss and Peeta and... and...

Aargghhh! I haven't even read the book and already I know what happened!

So, Mockingjay hit the streets two days ago and by early yesterday morning I was getting tweets and reading blogs where people were literally spilling spoilers without so much as a flashing SPOILER ALERT! signal you could see from a mile away. Nothing. Just, "Blah blah blah, Katniss this, blah blah blah, and then that happened." What? Are you serious? Come on people! Get a room.

I have unfriended, unlinked, unconnected, unfollowed and unwhatever about a half dozen people for unwelcome spoilage.

People, people, people... *shakes head* Don't you realize not everyone has the time to read a book within hours of its launch?

In my frustration, I unplugged myself from the etherworld and ventured out of my cave for a visit to the local library. Surely my fellow book lovers would have the common sense to keep their comments to themselves. But no. As soon as I walked in, I overheard the two children's book librarians whispering to each other: "...psst, pssst passt Hunger Games psst pssst psssst..."

I thought maybe a stroll in the park might be in order. Within minutes I encountered a fellow sunshine worshipper. I was a little leary to see that she was reading Collins' book, but she was alone and seemed to be keeping her comments to herself. Suddenly, she yells out, "Noooo! Not that!"

I ran from the park in abject terror with my hands over my ears before I could hear more.

The dog park was even worse. I wanted to yell at them to "Leash it!"

The grocery store produce section turned out to be a total spoiler-zone.

I couldn't even escape hearing bits and pieces in that last great bastion of the unread He-man, Home Depot.

Is there no sanctuary for the poor soul who cannot get to a book in less than a month after its launch? I envy those of you who can find the time to read for six hours straight (spoiled spoiler brats!). I can't even remember the last time I sat down and read a book cover to cover, with the possible exception of picturebooks. And even then I've frequently stopped in the middle of one because life interrupted. And those of you who read from 8PM to 2AM, sorry, but sleep is too precious a commodity. I also value my interactions with my family too much than to sequester myself from them.

Hold on a sec....

Oh, god! No! My son just walked in carrying around my copy of Mockingjay! And it looks like he's on the last few pages!

I wonder if I can I can keep him from talking about it for the next four weeks. Anyone know how long duct tape sticks to skin?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Little Bunny Foo Foo: An Example of Good Intentions, but Poor Editorial Advice

Most of you are familiar with the children's poem, the one where a mischievous rabbit abuses a tribe of supposedly innocent field mice whilst on his way to whatever unknown and undocumented nefarious woodland activities little bunny foo foos engage in:

Little Bunny Foo Foo
Skipping through the forest
Scooping up the field mice
And bopping them on the head

The story starts off well enough. The main character is introduced early and the conflict is clearly established. The tension begins to build when the antagonist intervenes:

Down came the Good Fairy, and she said:
"Little Bunny Foo Foo I don't want to see you
Scooping up the field mice and bopping
them on the head.
I'll give you three more days, and if you don't
behave, I'll turn you into a Goon."


The tension rises to fever pitch as Little Bunny Foo Foo continues his abusive ways for two more days, apparently entirely undeterred by the fairy's threats (though we can only guess at this, as there's no internal dialogue to help us understand our MC better).

But then, having run out of time, what does our deliciously naughty protagonist do? Defies the Fates, of course, leaving that meddlesome G. Fairy with no choice but to turn our poor defenseless friend into a goon (which, by the way, wiktionary defines as "a thug." I mean, isn't that a bit redundant?). Anyway, the point is, that's how the story ends, all just so we can say (go on, I know you wanna do it):

"Hare today, goon tomorrow."

But, really, is there anyone else who thinks this is just gratuitous word-play at the expense of good story development? Don't you feel cheated? Didn't you want LBFF to just bop that obnoxious fairy do-gooder on the head and shut her up once and for all? And maybe those field mice deserved it. Ever think of that? Hey, maybe they liked it! Maybe they asked the darn bunny to bop them. He was set up! And we'll never know if money exchanged hands because, well, the story ended too soon.


My grandfather, rest his soul, thought it wise to provide his own editorial touch when he recounted the tale to me many years ago. A former boxer-turned-Baptist minister, he was, paradoxically, probably one of the gentlest men I ever met (he preferred to let my grandmother carry out the fire and brimstone activities), but despite his good intentions, his version of the story was even worse than the established one.

First, he had the fairy threatening to turn our MC into a broomstick. Er, say what?

Then, LBFF actually becomes reformed just before the witch's - excuse me, the fairy's - spell can take hold. His story ends with the bunny patting the field mice on the head. Blech. How perfectly bland.

I never knew the real ending until I came across an old dusty record of it when I had my own children to tell it to. Imagine how cheated I felt, all because my beloved g-pa thought I wouldn't be able to handle fluffy Foo Foo getting turned into a "thug."

But perhaps my biggest argument against any of the established and nontraditional versions is that they all lack one thing: Sequel Potential.

Really. I mean, think about it. What if LBFF set a trap for G. Fairy? He captures her and makes her do his bidding, magically bopping all the field mice in the entire world, not just the forest, so he can concentrate on further developing his evil plans to take over the world? Hey, who wouldn't like to see their favorite evil politician bopped on the head by a rabid rabbit?

And think of the possibilities! Book Two has LBFF and G. Fairy teaming up against their will as they struggle not to be bopped by mutant field mice in a televised game for the entertainment of the priviledge few. Call it Mockingmice.

And the third book? I don't know. Maybe something with vampires, perhaps.

The point is, whoever came up with "Hare today, goon tomorrow," wasn't looking at the big picture.