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Friday, July 29, 2005

From the Mouth of My Babe

At 5:50 this morning, somehow I hear Tax Deduction The Elder walk into the bedroom and take a seat on the floor. Now understand that my bedroom floor is covered with piles of laundry I meant to tackle yesterday. (Note to self: DO LAUNDRY.) Not wanting my firstborn to sit next to dirty socks, I cracked open an eyelid and saw the time. Sleepily, I called his name.

"What're you doing, hon? You don't have to sit on the floor. Come here."

Next to me, Loving Husband groans. He'd just seen the time, too. We'd been working on the whole "Up and At 'Em Before Six" thing, to no avail; the goal is to have our offspring either stay in bed or play quietly by themselves until 6 A.M. "Crap," mutters LH, hiding his head under the pillows.

(You're probably thinking, It's just ten minutes early. Let me tell you, when you're going on more than four years without a good night of sleep, every second counts.)

Tax Deduction The Elder gives me a big hug and tells me that he had "a good nap."

Loving Husband suggests that TDTE go potty. Our son thinks this is a fine idea. He hands me his Cookie Monster and his little blue teddy, telling me, "Here, Mommy. You can sleep with Cookie and Teddy." This brings a smile to my face. Then he adds, "And when I come back, you can give them to me."

So Loving Husband and I snag another twenty seconds of sleep. TDTE, done with his morning business, comes back and crawls into bed with us. We have a family hug, which is a fabulous way to start the day. TDTE tells us about his dreams (much bashing of monster heads, etcetera). Suddenly, he looks at the clock, then gets right in my face. With an eager look, he announces, "Mommy, it's six o'clock. It's time to get up!"

Who needs alarm clocks?


Jackie's Submission Report
One short story has made a "final reading pool"; I should be hearing the final status soon. (Cool!) Another scored a form rejection. ((shrug)) Already sent that one out to another market.

Something that I've finally learned is that it's not just about writing well; it's about targeting your editors. Sounds obvious, no? What one editor at one magazine hates, another editor at another magazine loves. So, for any writers out there, don't get discouraged if you get form rejections. Keep sending them out. And if you actually get feedback from an editor about what specifically didn't work for him or her, so much the better.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hovering on the Edge of the Fence

So I've been an associate editor for Wild Child Publishing for a few days now, and I've already reviewed three science-fiction submissions. Being on this side of the fence is a bit odd; as a writer, I want to see other writers published. But now, as an editor of speculative fiction, I cannot simply wave my magic wand and type "Bibbity bobbity boo" and accept every story that finds its way into my inbox. (Although, admittedly, it would be uber cool to have a magic wand.)

What I can do, though, is strive to be the sort of editor whom I always hope to come across when I submit my work for publication. So I will do my best to reply to all submissions within one week, and to give personal, detailed feedback for each story. This is my goal, and I hope to every writing deity out there that I can achieve it. Stop laughing. I'm serious--I will do everything I can to give meaningful feedback to every author who sends work my way.

(Wonder what I'll do when I get my first "I HATE YOU AND YOU'RE STUPID FOR NOT PUBLISHING ME" message? Besides blog it, I mean.)

Meanwhile, back in the Hall of Writing, I have five short stories currently circulating. Just heard tonight that one of them passed an initial reading round -- woo-hoo! Waiting to see if I get the Official Good Word or not. Also, the editor of Byzarium let me know that she would be sending me a contract later this week. Yowza, I didn't make it up; another short story really did get accepted for publication! Happy dance!

Book Buzz of the Day
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by some chick across the pond. Any book that generates such excitement and a love of reading in kids and adults deserves applause. Thank you, J.K. You've given me hope that not everyone out there will shrug off books and say, "I'll wait for the movie."

Resource of the Day
The Zen Pen. This new venture, launched by former Realms of Fantasy slush editor Carina Gonzalez, is awesome. Not an opinion, folks; this is fact. The Zen Pen is a service for serious writers. I won't kid you: Carina's damned serious about telling you like it is. Her review of my short story didn't pull any punches. Serious ouches, but all of them well-intentioned...and very astute. It was one of the best critiques I've ever gotten, period. No sugar coating here, so this service ain't for those who need to have their egos stoked. If your story isn't working, and you don't know why, get thee to The Zen Pen. (See the list at right for the link.)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Catching Up, Part Two

Making this quick, while the Tax Deductions are still napping. This has been a whirlwind week. In short:

A short story (slipstream/fantasy-horror) has been accepted for publication at Byzarium for the September issue.

AND

I am the new science fiction and fantasy editor for Wild Child Publishing.

That whoop for joy you're hearing is me.

Also got a rejection or two on other short pieces, but who cares about that? I'm finally getting a chance to edit -- professionally -- in the genre that I love. Three cheers for speculative fiction!


URGENT: Deidre Knight Impersonator

There are some disturbed people out there. Check out the following URL to read how someone out there impersonated literary agent Deidre Knight in an attempt to either scam authors out of their money or to discredit Ms. Knight: http://knightagency.blogspot.com/2005/07/extremely-important-warning-regarding.html

Monday, July 18, 2005

Remembering Pain

Writers write about what they know, or so the saying goes. Of course, the joy of writing fiction is that it's all make-believe, so I don't have to know too much. Just a little bit of knowledge goes a long way (and can make one rather dangerous, but I digress.) More than book-smarts, to me, is real-world experience; that is, literally experiencing something directly.

Now, I don't recommend that mystery and crime authors take up serial killing or dying just to get their arms around the experience. (See above about writing fiction and make-believe.) Elmo sings a song about using one's imagination, and it holds true for adults as well as children: you can go anywhere and do anything in your imagination. So imagine big. But it's important to ground your imagination in reality. Readers will be willing to suspend disbelief, but only for so long. You have to meet them halfway. Tell them the sky is pink, but do so by showing it clearly through your words.

What I'm finding as I do more writing is that as I experience something particularly painful, I have a tendency to file away the feeling even as I'm experiencing it.

Case in point: I was stung by a bee when I was 21. I was ambling around the house barefoot, not really looking down at the carpet to see if there was, you know, shards of glass or dog poop or dying bees loitering around. Sure enough, I stepped on said dying bee. Holy crap, did that hurt. I'd never experienced such sharp, unforgiving pain before. (This was way, way before I went through the joys of back labor.) I remember sitting on the floor, clasping my foot, tears streaming down my face...and thinking about how much it hurt, and what it felt like, and how I needed to remember the feeling. Seriously. (As for back labor, within two weeks of giving birth the first time, I had blissfully forgotten the extreme agony that nearly caused me to break Loving Husband's hand as I held it in a death-grip. I think this is God's way of ensuring that mothers agree to have more than one child.)

Another example. Yesterday, Loving Husband, the Tax Deductions and I took a road trip to visit my grandmother. One of the things that really sucks about seeing your loved ones old, fragile, ready to break, is that you may recall vividly how strong they were when they (and you) were younger. My grandmother was an imposing force of a woman. The unquestioned matriarch on that side of the family, she was unapologetic as her opinions became law, no matter how others may have objected. I love my grandmother dearly. To me, she will always be an unstoppable power who pinches pennies and dictates how things should be done. So it is especially jarring to compare that image, firmly locked in my mind, to that of the woman she is now: 89, unable to walk or be self-sufficient, shrunken in her wheelchair. Grandma doesn't really talk anymore, but she did wind up throwing a koosh-type ball with Tax Deduction the Elder for a few minutes. And the joy on her face was breathtaking. My son performed a mitzvah yesterday, and I'm proud of him for giving my grandmother such pleasure. On the long ride home, I tried to understand my feelings--not just the emotional maelstrom, but the physical sensation of contemplating age and, ultimately, death. I felt a tingling, heavy sensation in my shoulders, back and chest, and I realized that I was feeling my heart hurt for my Grandmother Who Was.

I've heard it said that we remember pain and discomfort far easier than joy and happiness. In my case, I think that I actively try to remember the bad to get a handle on those emotions when I write about my characters. As for joy and happiness, well, those are easy to remember. All I have to do is look at my Tax Deductions playing (and not beating each other up for the moment), or at Loving Husband, who says this about our family, no matter what: "It's all good."

And it is--even the painful parts.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Mmmm, Lunch

Loving Husband, the Tax Deductions and I went to a zoo today, and I don't mean the local toy store during free play. It was a 40-minute drive, give or take, and it took us right into God's Land. That's right: farm country. I'd never seen fields of corn other than in the movie Signs. Whoa. And to think that I felt short before seeing row upon row of green stalks. There were also various authentic country cafes, an honest-to-goodness tavern, and, of course, the local tattoo/piecring parlor. And, you know, farms.

The zoo itself was awesome. About half of the residents walked, waddled, and flew freely amongst the humans. Peacocks, peahens, and peachicks strutted; ducks bobbed, unidentifiable birds (at least, according to this misplaced New Yorker) took aim as they passed overhead. Tortoises, llamas, tigers, lions, bobcats, an ostrich, a zebra, goats, pigs, sheep, bears...and all up close and personal. Truly an amazing experience to be only about a foot away from powerful, looming creatures (who are probably pissed as all hell to be in cages and on exhibit).

And it smelled, well, like a zoo. And, of course, it was hot and humid. Imagine the ripe stink of animal, plus various turds scattered here and there like throw pillows, and human sweat. Yummy-licious. There was another distinctive odor, though: fear. Mine.

Yeah, I know, the big animals were all in cages. Cages with what looked like dental floss for bars, but still, cages. The most dangerous sign we came across was by the llamas, zebra, deer, mountain goats, and ostrich (yup, all tucked into the same pen): WARNING: SPITTING ZONE. All I could hear in my head was Robin Williams, a la Genie of the Lamp, telling Aladdin, "Careful, they spit." Nothing to be afraid of. Well, except maybe for the few yellowjackets buzzing around. Still, nothing to blog about.

Except for when we got to the leopard.

A beautiful, exotic creature. A cat. Gorgeous. Disdainful of me. What's not to like?

Tax Deduction the Elder thought the leopard was uber cool. So he gets up close. Said leopard is still safely tucked behind flimsy-looking bars, so no worries, right?

The cat's head snapped up when TDTE got close, and it made eye contact. And I swear that I heard its salivary glands go ballistic. TDTE loped around the cage...and the leopard paced him, never breaking eye contact. It had a distinct "Pass the ketchup" look about it.

In that moment, All That Is Maternal kicked in, and I suggested to my precious four year old that we go look at the bears. Heck, how dangerous could they be? They sleep for something like three months at a pop, right? As I bundled him off to see Yogi, the leopard shot me a look. I don't speak fluent Feline, but even I can recognize disappointment. Especially when it's in the form of a growl. Eek.

There've been times when I've felt like a million bucks. There've been times when I've felt like complete crap. This was the first time in my life that I ever felt like food.


Book Buzz of the Day
It's Saturday, July 16, 2005, and you know what that means, kids. We all get our hands on the Half-Blood Prince. Personally, my money's on Mr. Weasley, Ron's dad, being the titular character. Why the hell not? I think this book's only about a million pages, so I should be done with it before TDTE goes to college.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Swing and a Miss

Time to play "Where Are They Today?" Today's focus: the various agents with various partials of my various novels. Let's hear it for variety!

First, the GAN.

When we last checked on the status of this contemporary fantasy, we were waiting to hear from Agents 5, 8, 13, and 14. So where are they today?

Agent 5: Still no feedback on the second revision, which the agent received toward the end of April.

Agent 8: Still no word on the full, which the agent orignally received November 2004.

Agent 13: After more than 15 weeks with the partial, a form-letter rejection.

Agent 14: After three weeks with the partial, the agent sent the following rejection:

I have now had a chance to look over the material you sent, and I'm afraid it doesn't sound quite right for me. With the market being so competitive, it is only with unreserved enthusiasm that we feel comfortable taking on new projects. I trust another agent will think otherwise. In any case, I wish you the best of success, and thank you again for the chance to consider your work.

* * *

So chalk one up for lack of suitable enthusiasm.

But there's still hope for the faithful! In the past week, joining the ranks are...

Agent 15, requesting the first 50 pages. After a major epiphany, I had just revised the first 50 pages, killing more than 3,000 words, deleting one scene, bludgeoning extraneous description, and so forth. Now the first 50 pages end perfectly at the close of chapter 4...right in the thick of things plot-wise. Feeling good, Billy Ray.

Agent 16, requesting the first 30 pages. With said epiphany, the first 30 pages now end perfectly at the close of chapter 2. All the main players have been introduced, ending with a tie-in to the action-packed prologue...and, God willing, written well enough for the Agent to want more, more, more.

Of course, karma being what it is, today I also found an SASE in the mailbox. Biting back a groan, I opened it to find...my own query letter to Agent X (who didn't make it past the query stage). Handwritten at the bottom of my query was a brief note, saying that the GAN "didn't sound like it was for" this agent. Feh. I'm all for saving trees, but really, sending back my own query is just tacky.

Now, CHARLES.
In the past few weeks, three agents with the work have all said "go away." Well, actually, they didn't say that at all. They were all personalized rejections, which was considerate and somewhat helpful. One, in particular, gave a detailed explanation where the story went astray for that agent. This was very beneficial. Of course, it still sucks that they all rejected it. But every bit of feedback is useful. The partial is still with four agents, and the full with one. And, to make it interesting, Agent 16 above also handles chick lit. Maybe the planets are starting to line up...

Still, feeling positive. I have this pang in my gut that says I'll get an offer by the end of August. Then again, that could just be a hunger pain. Look at that, I've spent my lunch hour blogging instead of eating. Off to grab a sandwich, then back to work.

Happy Thursday, all!


Television Buzz of the Day
Battlestar Galactica, The SciFi Channel, 10 pm ET, Friday July 15. Woot! There are only 12 makes of Cylons, and we know about four of them. I'm betting that at least one more model gets outted this season.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Catching Up

So approximately a million things have happened during the past week. London bombings and possible (okay, probable) high-level leaks that led to the uncovering of a CIA agent and Darfur atrocities and continued terrorism in Iraq aside...I got published.

Huh. You know, somehow that doesn't quite measure up, all things considered. So let's take a moment to contemplate the continued evils that plague the world. Heck, let's make it a full minute. That's okay; I can wait. (Heaven knows it's taken me a week to update this blog.)

In sum: Bad things suck.

Okay, onto the good. I got published! My poem, "Casanova's Villanelle," now appears on WildChild Publishing! (And I swear, Loving Husband, this poem ain't about you.)

And...WildChild Publishing also accepted a short story for publication, to appear next month! Stay tuned for "The Compromise!"

Some not so hot stuff, too: I finally got a rejection from Agent 13 (I think it's 13; heck, I have to reread "The GAN: A Love Story" from last month to keep everything straight). More than 15 weeks for the Agent to consider the partial, and all I got was a lousy form letter. Well, to be fair, as form letters go, it really was quite tasteful. Letterhead, and everything. Still, a rejection, with no reason why. Crap.

Also got a few stories rejected from magazines. Double crap.

That's okay. Whatever doesn't kill me is all fodder for new stories. Remember, kids: To a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and to a writer, everything looks like material. So be nice to a writer today.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Meanwhile, Back at the Hall of Justice

There's always a person looking to make an easy buck or two off of the innocent, the unaware, and the willfully stupid. This is probably true in most industry and business ventures. Publishing is no different, alas. Writers--especially those uninitiated newbies trying to land an agent or a publishing deal on their first book--fall into this "can be bilked for their children's college fund" category.

Scammers abound, posing as agents, book editors, and publishers. So what's a writer to do? Three things:

Research. The best way to stay on top of who's scamming whom is to check out the various resources available online, free of charge. For example:

Preditors and Editors. Headed by writer and editor Dave Kuzminski, this is one of the best sources available to writers. Not only does it list agents and book publishers, it also mentions those that are "not recommended," which indicates, among other things, businesses that charge upfront fees or have an editing business linked with their agency or publisher (thus a conflict of interest).

Writer Beware, SFWA. Run by A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss, this voluntary group is affiliated with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, yet is useful for writers of all genres. It lists, among other things, Alerts for Writers, which focuses on specifc scammers and their current activities.

Bewares and Background Check, Absolute Write Water Cooler. The name speaks for itself. Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware serves as the moderator of this forum.

And here you thought that homework ended when you tucked your diploma into a drawer. Nuh uh. Do your research, camper. You won't be sorry.

Learn. "I'll never be roped in by a scammer. I'm way too smart for that." I'm sure you are. But keep in mind that scammers prey on those who don't know any better. They secure your trust, gush over your work...and drain your hard-earned money from your banking account. The rule of thumb is that money flows to the writer; if you do business with a so-called literary agent who demands upfront fees, run away. Quickly.

So even if you get a fabulous offer from, say, Publish America or Stylus Literary, do your homework...and take those lessons to heart. You will not be the exception that proves everyone wrong. Your writing career will not flourish under the attentions of a scammer, no matter how sweet the scammer's words.

Speak out. Okay, you didn't listen to Jackie, and you signed on with a known scammer. Here it is, a year later, and the scam agent still hasn't submitted your precious novel, or the scam publisher hasn't done anything with your manuscript other than use it as a booster seat for his toddler. You were screwed out of your money, your time, and your dream. There's nothing left to do now other than drink yourself into a stupor, right?

Wrong. Speak out. Go to sites like those I mention above and share your story of woe. Maybe it's too late for you and that first novel. But it's not too late for others. Karma counts, folks. Spread the word: Writers don't let writers get scammed.

Besides, justice can still occur. Really. Example: Martha Ivery, publisher of Press-TIGE Publishing Co. Inc, also known as Kelly O'Donnell of Kelly O'Donnell Literary Agency Inc. As literary agent O'Donnell, she would tell her author clients that Press-TIGE would publish the book...for extraordinary fees. Shockingly, most books never saw publication, and the money wasn't returned to her clients. But justice prevailed. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss, on June 3, Martha Ivery was charged with the following felonies: mail fraud, bankruptcy fraud and fraud in connection with an access device. If convicted, she'll face up to 20 years in prison and will have to pay a $250,000 fine. For details, read the article from today's Times Union. Congratulations, Ann and Victoria. You did good.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Happy Birthday, Babies

T'was a huge weekend. My Tax Deduction the Younger turned 2, and my Tax Deduction the Elder is turning 4, so we threw a joint birthday party on Sunday. Seven children running around, diapers and under garments optional, screaming like banshees. Seven adults, watching, dazed, as their Precious Joys morphed into Holy Terrors. In other words, it was Miller Time. Or, in my case, Smirnoff Triple Ice Time.

Lots of good, clean fun, thanks to the kiddie pools. Tax Deduction the Younger (TDTY) does a mean cannonball, and Tax Deduction the Elder (TDTE) practiced his belly slides into the water. No broken bones, no blood, no trips to the ER. Say it with me: a huge success.

How do you bribe a group of children (ages 2 - 5) to settle down? Promise them ice-cream cake. And, note, when you promise said cake, you should make sure that it's already out of the freezer and soft enough to cut and serve. (Did you know that children under 6 have very little patience when their parents are busy hacking through a solid block of tasty ice-cream goodness?) TDTE and TDTY blew out their candles, cake was served, and the sugar rush began in earnest. Did I mention Miller Time?

The Ritual of Opening the Gifts was terrific, and a group project. Shockingly, said group of Children Under Six Years have little patience for watching their peers open gifts that are just begging to be opened, played with, and smashed into a million pieces. I have to admit, I was thrilled that TDTE loved his new Jedi Lightsabers that Loving Husband and I bought him. But then he didn't want to open the other present we had for him, because that meant putting down the weapon and losing it to his eager, grabby peers.

"Tax Deduction," I said, "put down your lightsaber and open your last gift."

"No!"

"Don't you want another present?" I asked, certain that I had him at that one.

"No! I don't want another present!"

((blink)) "Tax Deduction, don't you know that all children want presents?"

"I want to punch the bad guys' heads off!" ((SWISH goes the light saber))

Note to self: Giving a weapon to a four year old for his birthday is one of the stupidest things you could do, but you will be the coolest parent on earth. At least, until you have to take away said weapon to avoid possible decapitation.


Book Buzz of the Day
Marvel: 1602 by Neil Gaiman. Okay, I'm not buzzing this because it's written by my god of writing. I'm buzzing it because my god of writing is a freakin' genius. This is a brilliant book, and as a bonus it's beautifully illustrated. If you have ever read a Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, or X-Men title, pick up this hardcover graphic novel. You won't be sorry.


Jackie's Submission Update
Gah, this is a depressing business. Let's see. In no particular order:

Agent rejections: One, on the partial of the GAN. Crap.

Agent requests: One, asking for the first 100 pages of CHARLES. Hooray!

Editor rejections on short stories: Two. One, a horror story, was "creative," but the editor decided to pass. At least he invited me to submit new material, which is always better than a request to never contact the editor again. The other, a YA fantasy, was, er, too trite for the editor. Crap.

Editor requests for a rewrite: One. This is for a story that I know in my heart is a good one...and this particular editor agrees. She thinks that the story is either too long, or possibly too short, but it doesn't work as is, although the ending she adores and the overall premise she loves. So she said I could consider this a "quasi-commission" and asked for a rewrite. Hey, you betcha! ((rubbing hands over the possibility of a pro-rate sale))

Sales: None. Crap.

Number of other authors I know who received an offer of agent representaiton in the last week: Three. And I'm happy for all of them, and bitterly jealous and ready to throw myself off a high ledge. Except I have this thing about heights. Maybe I'll just trip down the porch steps and call it a day.