Nanowrimo 2016: Are You Ready for an Adventure?

We are exactly one month out from November 1, which marks the start of the annual writing frenzy known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Like Bilbo, I will probably be running out the door without my literary handkerchief (i.e. no novel plan whatsoever) at 12:01.

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Started in 1999, Nanowrimo challenges participants to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Local chapters from around the world bring writers together regionally, both in real life and online, to assist them, motivate them, and inspire them.

This year I am Municipal Liaison along with Ema Timar for the South Jersey region. It’s always a lot of fun to plan events and help fellow writers. 50,000 words can seem daunting and overwhelming, but the goal of Nano isn’t to write a perfect novel. It’s to get the words down, establish a steady writing habit (1,667 words a day will get you there!), let you write with abandon and turn off the internal, nagging editor that will tell you that you suck, your writing is worthless, and how dare you end a sentence with a preposition?

I have been doing Nano since 2002 or 2003. I have only “won” once, in 2014. But I am okay with that. I always have more words on November 30 than I did on November 1 and isn’t that really the goal?

Nano is free (remember to sign up at the website when signups start shortly!) but there are cool items for sale to show your support. As a non-profit, Nano does depend on donations to help fund its writing programs. Not only can you chalk up some good karma, you can get cool swag if you do give!

So, join us! Get that novel out of your brain and onto paper (or screen).

Let go of your fears.

Create.

Let it flow through you into the world (and beyond)!

 

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K. M. Walton’s Surviving Query Quicksand

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This is a long overdue post from June. Training for a triathlon and then some unrelated medical issues forced this blog to go on the backburner for a few weeks. However, I’m excited about this write-up because it’s from the 2016 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference and K. M. Walton’s Surviving Query Quicksand presentation.

To backtrack slightly, I met K. M. several years ago at a social gathering for writers. Not too long afterwards I attended the release party for her debut YA novel, Cracked. Now, there’s this idea roaming around that writers are tortured, lonely souls, always in competition with each other and surrounded by constant backstabbing and jealousy. But let me tell you the truth. In my experience, most writers I’ve met have been amazing people who are kind, generous with their time and knowledge, and rooting for their fellow writers. K.M. is no exception. She’s vivacious, always willing to help, and is a major advocate and force behind the anti-bullying campaign.

Her query presentation at the conference was amazing and I’m afraid my post will not do it justice, but perhaps I can provide you with some helpful tips. K. M. had queried her novel over 128 times before finding an agent. But persistence pays off (assuming you’ve done your homework) and K.M. has been published by a major house and has released two more novels, and other writings, with her next contemporary YA novel, Ultimatum, to be released March 2017 (hint: her website has a timeline about her publishing journey).

Now, I have written a query letter for my YA novel. It wasn’t a bad query overall. I didn’t make any major mistakes and it got the job done. I got nibbles, but nothing more. After leaving this workshop, I realized I had some work to do (actually I had a lot of work to do on the novel in general, but jumping the gun on querying and send out your novel is another post).

Remember, the purpose of a query letter is to have an agent or publisher read your sample chapters and ask for me. So to keep it simple, here we go:

General Don’ts:

  • Do not include your life story
  • Remove all unnecessary tidbits (if you’re a medical professional writing a medical thriller, that’s relevant. Your love of golf when you’re querying a YA paranormal romance isn’t.)
  • Do not mention how much your mother/sister/brother loved it
  • Do not bribe (I guess this is a thing!) or offer disingenuous compliments
  • Do not overstate your accomplishments

General Do’s:

  • Tell about your project
  • Tell about you – what’s relevant
  • Write so that you capture your audience and they want more
  • Be professional. This is a business letter which represents you and your work. Don’t be cute.

Query format:

(NOTE: K.M. shared this format from Elana Johnson’s ebook FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL with permission)

  • Have a hook (sum up your novel in ONE sentence. Yes, you can do it. Propel the reader to want more.)
  • Provide setup (stick with the main character. Only introduce a second in full if necessary. This should be 3 – 5 sentences, about 75 – 100 words. Only include the most important details that build story or character)
  • Tell about the conflict (another 3 – 5 sentences; 50 – 100 words)
  • Then the consequence (what happens to the main character if he/she is not successful? What is the consequence?)
  • Everything else – your bio, publishing history – only include what is relevant. Word count, genre/subgenre, other similar books – but be careful here! Don’t say “This is the next Harry Potter!” Instead, try something like “I think fans of XX would like my book.”

Other tips:

  • Visit the agency website before you submit
  • Make sure you address an agent personally! (Dear Agent or Dear Sir or Madam is not going to fly)
  • Read and follow the submission guidelines (yes! yes! yes!)

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I know people read these blogs and articles and think, oh, what do they know? How could I possibly reduce my grand fantasy epic to one sentence, maybe two? I need pages to explain the plot and go into detail about all the characters! My book is special and I need space!

No, you don’t. Really.

Agents and publishers do not want to spend an hour reading your query (and they won’t). They want to know simply: what is your book about, what is the main conflict, what happens if the MC fails. Honestly and truly. If you cannot tell someone what your book is about (mind you, NOT the plot, but what it is about) in one to two sentences, you have some work to do. Think elevator pitch. Or conference pitch. Go on too long and your listener’s eyes will glaze over if they haven’t already stepped off. Or tried to get off at any floor. Or jumped out a window just to get away.

Capture them with a hook, an intriguing question. Grab their attention.

K. M. provides several links on her website (hint again) about where you can get more information on writing your query and getting feedback on it.

There are a ton of resources out there. Don’t think the rules don’t apply to you.

So please, even if you are self-publishing, do your homework. If you’re at a book-selling event, or trying to get a local bookstore to carry your book, you need to grab the attention of your audience. Have your “pitch” – your intriguing question ready.

Whether you’re selling to agents, publishers, readers, or bookstore owners, remember – reel them in. Make your query so memorable, so captivating, that they must know what happens!

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We’ve all been there…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: This Alien Shore, by C.S. Friedman

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Stay with me here for a moment. The first modern science fiction book I read, many moons ago, was Frank Herbert’s Dune. I believe I read it after having an ex-boyfriend insist I watch the 1984 movie. Despite the movie’s flaws, I was hooked. The reason I bring up Dune is because of how well it has aged, perhaps becoming even more relevant now than it was when it released. The technology doesn’t date the book and its themes are eternal (at least within the scope of human existence).

C.S. Friedman’s This Alien Shore is another book that has aged well. It was originally released in 1998. Almost 20 years in a time when technology is exponentially advancing. I’ve read books written at the same time or even after, where the technology has dated the book (there’s nothing like reading a book about the future, especially the near future, that refers to ‘data tapes’).

I’m not 100% sure of this, but Friedman seems almost prophetic in This Alien Shore. Humans live among the stars, but the earliest who went into space “suffer” from genetic mutations, as do their descendants, and are known as Variants. However, these variants have discovered the ability to travel through space via Ainniqs, portions of space that function like wormholes. But therein lies the danger as other living things reside in Ainniqs – creatures that feed on human souls and only special inpilots can navigate them safely – at a price.

This timely and almost prophetic theme of prejudice the Variants experience by Earth and its “untainted” humans is woved throughout the book. Some Variants hate all Terrans because of the way their ancestors were treated once they mutated (due to the spaceship drive used during the first space age, where travel was slow and dangerous). Others, like the Guerans, have traveled back to Earth to invite the Terrans to join their fellow humans in the expanding galaxy now available to them. Terrans have followed but many are not happy and cannot stand the Variants, looking at them as less than human, as monsters.

Also, humans are wired into the datasphere. Most have implants surgically provided at birth. At one point, the hacker Phoenix is walking through one of the stations, reminiscing about teenagers using programs that overlay what they see in real life with fantasy images, everything from dragons to porn. Humans love data, love the datasphere which provides “viddie” entertainment. Also, the hardware also helps regulate bodily functions, providing warnings when the body is distressed and dispensing medication for everything from headaches to more severe illnesses and emergencies. How close are we to this? How many companies are working to get us there?

Technology aside, This Alien Shore tells a great story, which involves a young girl Jamisia on the run after her space station is attacked and destroyed. Jamisia hears voices – but is she crazy? Have these other personalities invaded her head in order to take over her body, or are they parts of her own fragmented psyche? These voices do not just speak to her. Different personalities have different skills and knowledge. Jamisia is being pursued – by Earth Corporations, by the Guild (run by the Variants, who have a monopoly on space ainniq travel) and who knows who else. They want what is in her head. The problem is Jamisia has no clue what is in her head.

She meets up with the hacker, also known as a moddie, Phoenix, who is trying to track down the source of a dangerous virus known as Lucifer that has killed several of his hacker friends, as well as inpilots who travel the dangerous ainniqs. Jamisia and Phoenix join forces with Dr. Kio Masada, a Gueran hired by the Guild Prima to find out who unleashed the Lucifer on the Guild pilots and why.

Intrigue, adventure, danger as well as a satisfying but by no means predictable, ending.

My one writerly nitpick – a lot of passive voice and filtering. Characters do a lot of telling and filtering (“she felt fear”). This can break the fiction spell slightly especially when something exciting is happening, but I feel like there’s a veil between the action and me. A small nitpick and as writing expectations have certainly tightened over the past 18 years, one I am not going to count against the book. I recently read a Hugo-winning book from the late 80s or early 90s, where this was a major problem; however, the storytelling was still fantastic. A good story with relatable characters makes up for a lot!