Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Winner 2010

Yeah!  I did it!  I don't know what the monkey's for, but that's about what I feel like after having written 50,000 words this month.  If you check out my NaNoWriMo profile, you'll see that it says "Winner" now.

Now I can get on with life - do more blogging - start my Christmas shopping - kiss my wife.

If you'd like to see the first chapter, just click on my profile link above and click on "Novel Info".  If you'd like to read the 170+ pages, let me know and I just may share it with you.  But be aware that this is an unedited 1st draft.  It has mistakes.  It also has different styles throughout (not sure which one I'm going with yet).  It's got some pretty funny parts, though.

If you do read through it, I'll ask you (informally - too early for a full critique) what you liked about it so I'll know which parts to milk and how to fix the parts that don't work so well.  

It's been fun.  I'd recommend this exercise to anyone.  If you're a writer, consider starting a novel next November.

Going to bed soon,

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Conference Report - Who Was There - Part 1

As I continue my report on the NC Fall Writer's Conference I attended at the beginning of this month, I will introduce some of the people I met over the next week or so.

Before I begin the specific introductions, I'll attempt to describe in general who I saw.  Last week I spelled out five stages of the Aspiring Writer's Spectrum of Success.  By far, the vast majority of the participants were somewhere in the first three stages, and perhaps the beginnings of Stage 4.  There were a few published writers, quite a few more self-published authors, a lot of people who had finished products, and even more who were still working on their first book.  There was even one participant who hadn't started writing yet, but just loved reading.

I was a little disappointed in the seeming absence of Stage 4 and 5 writers - that is, the established writers and the famous writers.  Except for those who were listed as workshop leaders and panel participants, I didn't see some other particular NC authors I hoped to see.

In particular, I was holding out hope that the famous NC sci-fi writer, Orson Scott Card, would be there.  It would have been fun to meet him and talk with him in a informal setting.  But it was not to be.

Then again, now that I think of it, it makes sense that if a famous person is going to be there, they're going to be asked to cover a workshop or panel.

So, keep in mind - if you're planning on attending a writer's conference, check out the list of workshop leaders and panel participants.  If you don't see your favorite author listed, you're probably not going to see him or her at the conference.  Everyone else is going to be of the Stage 1 to Stage 3 variety (and a few beginning Stage 4s).

I was happy to meet a lot of good people.  Though they are not yet famous, everyone there had a story to tell - even the one participant who hadn't started writing yet.  Any one of these writers could be the next John Grisham or Isaac Asimov or Martha Stewart.

Once I wrap up NaNoWriMo, I'll come back and start with the introductions.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Aspiring Writer's Spectrum of Success

In my research, I see different paths to becoming a successful writer.  Though there is no one way to attain your dreams, all writers seem to fall into one of the following five categories.

1. BEGINNING WRITERS - these are people who know they want to write.  They have stories to tell, but they haven't written a lick beyond a fun short story here and there.  Or they may have several beginnings of novels, but nothing completed.

2. PRACTICED WRITERS - these people have an actual finished product.  They have finished a novel.  Or they have written scores of completed short stories.  Or volumes of poems.  They usually have a better understanding of what it takes to get published.  They are more likely to have edited their work, and have probably gotten close to writing their first million words.

3. PUBLISHED WRITERS - these people are published.  An editor has deemed their work worthy to be distributed to readers.  The writer actually receives money.  This includes self-published authors who are sufficiently acknowledged by the public.

4. ESTABLISHED WRITERS - these people are actually making a profit from writing.  They can quit their day job if they so desire.  They most likely have several books published and their works appear in several magazines.

5. FAMOUS WRITERS - these are the cream of the crop.  Almost everyone knows their names.  The books that they write will survive for centuries.

The number of people in each of these group is a reverse exponential function.  About 99% of all writers fall into the first bucket.  Then out of the 1% that make it past the first group, 99% are in the second group, and so on.  Making it from one stage to the next is a major achievement worthy of celebration.

I consider myself to be in Stage 2, and I'm working very hard to make it to Stage 3.  Everyone starts in Stage 1, and it can take a very long time to get to Stage 5.

Consider the recent success story of J. K. Rowling.  She started at Stage 1 as a Beginning Writer like the rest of us.  She pursued education to help refine her talent.  After a divorce, she went through poverty and during that time she was able to put together her first novel: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  She officially hit Stage 2 in 1995 at the age of 30.

Next came the lengthy process of trying to get the novel published.  Even though her talent was noticed quickly, she was rejected by twelve major publishing houses before Bloomsbury took her on.  They published her book and she officially entered Stage 3 in 1997.

That first Harry Potter Book was received quickly.  It won all kinds of awards.  Scholastic published it over here in the US.  She wrote the next three sequels in quick succession.  I don't know exactly when, but sometime between 1997 and 2000, she entered Stage 4, meaning she was making enough money on writing alone.

But even then - who knew about Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling beyond avid book readers?  Sure, she was hitting the New York Bestselling Children's books list like crazy, but how many names of the New York Bestsellers list do you recognize today?  It wasn't until 2000 or 2001 - after she had published the fourth Harry Potter Book - that she made it into the mainstream - Stage 5.  That's when people who don't read books started reading her books.  And boy, did she hit big!  The rest is history, and I'm going to see Part 1 of the 7th movie sometime in the next few days.

So, there you have it - the Aspiring Writer's Spectrum of Success.  After you figure out what stage you fit in today, what are you going to do to get to the next stage?

I wish you luck and I hope to see you with me in Stage 5 in the near future!


NaNoWriMo - Week #3

Yeah!  I survived week #3 of NaNoWriMo!  I wrote 15,000 words this week, bringing the grand total to 40,000 words.

This week was very difficult - with a little writer's block and just getting tired.  With a big marathon today, I was able to get where I need to be.

Next week, I plan to write 6,000 words before I leave for turkey-day.  Then 4,000 words to finish out the next week.  And then I'll be done!

I'm going to sleep now - catch you later.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Conference Report - My Meeting With an Agent

Tonight I'll give details on my meeting with agent Daniel Lazar.

Overall, it was a good experience.

To set the stage a little, up to now, my biggest frustration has been sending query packages to publishers, only to receive rejection letters that say, "We don't want it, but good luck placing it elsewhere."  The letters never give advice on how to improve my query package.

Well, Dan gave me the long-sought-out valuable advice I've been looking for.  I had to pay $150 for the service, but it was mostly worth it.  He showed me what was missing in my query letter.  He also gave advice on fixing the first chapter.  He also answered general questions I asked concerning the writer/agent relationship.

Like I said last week, when I walked into the room, all my nervousness mysteriously went away.  When I saw Dan, I knew right away that he was human, like me.  He wasn't a mysterious god-like intimidating gatekeeper bent on destroying my dreams.


The room was set up like speed-dating.  There were six to eight tables laid out - some for other Manuscript Mart sessions and others for the Critique Service.  At first I was concerned that the room would get too loud, but that didn't happen.  I could hear Dan just fine and vice-versa.

So, I shook hands with Dan; said I was glad to meet him; and was prepared to give my three-sentence verbal pitch, but that never happened.  He had already read my query letter and first chapter.

After a little small talk, he dove into what I sent.  Immediately I could tell that he would not be picking me up as a client.  After a few seconds of disappointment, I got over it and listened to the advice he had to give.

In the query letter, he pointed out one thing (hopefully implying the rest of the letter was fine).  My letter looked something like this: <my info in header> <date> <Dan Lazar's info> "Dear Mr. Lazar:" <Three sentence intro to my book> <a quick sentence stating the number of words in the novel and the style of the novel> <a short paragraph asking for the opportunity to send the entire manuscript> <a short paragraph listing my very few credits> <a last paragraph thanking him for his time> "Sincerely," <signature>.

The one thing he pointed out that my book intro needed more information.  This is what I had written:

"Thomlin Hywater is trapped on the prison planet Justice.  He wants to escape and exact revenge.  However, when he discovers the <minor spoiler alert>."

He said simply, "We need more info on the character.  Who is he?  What is he like?"  He pointed out that there was lots of white on the bottom of my page, and I had room to add more.


As for my first chapter, (which you can read here), he gave three main observations.

A) My writing is energetic.  He said that it's clear that I want to get to the action.  However:
B) I went so fast that I failed to set the stage.  Where exactly are the two brothers?  What does the space station look like?
C) But at the same time, at around page two, you can see Thomlin get lost in his thoughts.  It's meant to fill in the reader, like (as Dan called it) a brain-dump.  However, in a real life conversation, no one would be able to think that much in such a short amount of time.  It basically stops the action.

At first, I think I got a little defensive.  Dan kept harping on how much he wanted to know about the space station.  But the truth of the matter is, I don't really care about the space station.  It's simply where Thomlin lives.  The planet Justice is what the book's all about - and I describe the heck out of that place.  We're only on the space station in Chapter 1 and we never go back.  Chapter 1 just explains how he gets to Chapter 2, where the fun stuff begins.

But then I realized - if a publisher/agent doesn't like Chapter 1, they're not going to read Chapter 2 or 3, etc.  In other words, if Chapter 1 starts on that dang space station, then I had better care about that dang space station!


In other words, Dan told me exactly what I needed to hear.  With this in mind, my plan is to do an edit (my fourth draft) of Chapter 1, and possibly all the way through Chapter 3, and then send some packages to more agents around February.

I then asked Dan if he looked at my synopsis.  (Synopsis = a 600-word summary of the plot, complete with spoilers, plot-twists, etc.)  He said, "Oh - I almost never look at those.  They're as painful to read as I bet they're painful to write."  Some agents look at synopses, but it sounds like a lot of them want to read the actual manuscript excerpts.


About this time in our discussion, he told me that he doesn't do science fiction, so there would be no way that he could represent me.  I asked if there were other agents at his agency (Writer's House) that did science fiction.  (Remember that I said I would go for a referral?)  He said - yes, they do some science fiction.  However, the woman he was thinking of would not represent my book, as she does more paranormal science fiction.  I wasn't sure if he was giving me the "no one would touch this" treatment, but he looked sincere.  I asked a couple of follow-up questions and learned:



7. EVEN IF AN AGENT DOES SCI-FI, THE AGENT MAY STILL SPECIALIZE - THAT IS, ONE MAY DO SPACE OPERAS, ONE MAY DO PARANORMAL, ONE MAY DO ONLY HARD SCI-FI, ETC.  (An agent will be brutally honest and tell me if they don't do my kind of stuff.  I can cut down on query letter submissions and time spent if I specifically target agents that I think do my stuff.)

Even though Dan doesn't do sci-fi, he impressed me with his knowledge of Asimov, Clarke, Robert Jordan, Babylon 5, and Deep Space Nine.  Are all agents this well rounded and well-read?

I asked a few more questions. 

How long does it take to get published?  Depends on the author/luck/etc.  Even if an author gets published, he doesn't succeed until enough books sell.

Does the agent help sell the book after it's published?  Generally, the agent doesn't do this, but will often give good advice on what tactics the author can use to sell more books.  Also, the publisher will most likely provide a lot of help in the selling arena.

Dan also provided two sources I can use to look up agents online:


Then that was pretty much the interview.

Did I get my full $150 worth?  I could look at it this way:  $50 got me the opportunity to talk with a real life agent.  Another $50 got me a real criticism of my submission packet.  The last $50 got me a chance to be picked up by an agent (or get a referral). 

My only complaint is that of the choices provided, there were no sci-fi agents for me to talk to.  Even if I wrote the perfect submission packet, it appears that none of the then-available agents did my stuff, nor did they know anyone who did my stuff.  So, I didn't really have a chance to be picked up or get a referral.

But then again, I may find that Dan Lazar's suggestions may be exactly what I need to add the edge that will get me noticed.  If this happens, then the whole $150 I paid would have been more than worth it.

Would I do it again?

For a second-time experience, I would only do this if I could speak with a sci-fi agent.  I learned a lot the first go-around with Dan, and a second go-around would not add much more info unless it comes with a real chance of being picked up by an agent.

However for a first-time experience, I'd certainly do it over again.  If you have a completed manuscript and you're getting rejection letters, then by all means, pay a couple hundred bucks for this opportunity.  You'll learn a lot - especially if the agent you talk with happens to be Dan Lazar.

Stay tuned - more to come next week on this conference.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Week #2

I'm happy to report a successful week #2 of NaNoWriMo.  I met my goal of 15,000 words this week, and now I'm up to 25,000.  That's about 90 pages, and 7 chapters of good old Melvyn humor.

Now I'll rest until Monday, and start another 15,000-word week.

If you're doing the NaNo, then send me your name so I can add you as a buddy.  (I have no one now. :( )

Happy writing!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Writer's Conference - The Day After Report

I did it!  I went to the NCWN Fall Conference.   I learned a lot.  I'm exhausted.  It was worth every dollar I spent (well - except for perhaps $30).

I promised a full report once I got home, but there's just so much to report.  I'm going to have to break it up into a few separate blog entries as I absorb what I learned over the next month or so.

For today you get the quick recap.

I woke up early.  I drove to Charlotte.  This weird guy with purple headlights wouldn't leave me alone on the highway.  I think I finally lost him around Statesville.

I found a parking spot.  I found the hotel.  It took me awhile to find the lobby.  The building is one of those triangle designs like that famous building next to Times Square.  And there weren't any signs that said: "Lobby upstairs - take the escalator to get there."  Before I went up the escalator, I was literally in the hotel, but I couldn't find it!

Then I found the place to sign in.  The breakfast panel discussion had already started.  I was surrounded by about 100 people I didn't know.  And they all looked like introverts like me.  I had all these business cards to hand out, but I didn't know how to do it.

I went to my first workshop (a future separate blog entry) about promoting yourself.  I gave out my first business card - to the presenter.  She gave me kudos for stepping out of my comfort zone.

I felt like everyone was avoiding me.  During the break I went to the exhibitor tables.  Those people were happy to talk to me.  One publisher asked me to send a query package to him.  I'll have to look him up.

Next came the second workshop about critique groups (another future blog entry).  I was too nervous to listen - as my Manuscript Mart was coming at 11:30.  My hands were shaking, which is funny - as I've never had stage fright since elementary school when I learned that my desire to perform usually outweighed any nervousness I had.

At 11:30, I left the workshop and met with Dan Lazar, an agent from Writer's House.  When I saw him, my nervousness went away, mostly.  It stayed with me enough for me to say a few random things, but in all it was a good experience talking with him (another blog entry).

When that was over, I think I relaxed enough to enjoy the rest of the day.  I went back into the second workshop when they were talking about what destroys critique groups.  Afterward, I gave my business card to the presenters and asked them a couple of questions.

Next came lunch.  That's when I started talking with other authors and getting to know them.  That's another blog entry or two where I'll describe the people I met.  Any one of them could be the next John Grisham / T. S. Eliott / etc.

During lunch, Georgann Eubanks gave an awesome overview of some NC history related to literary people.  After her presentation, she took us on a tour of Charlotte to talk some more about literary history in that area.

But before the tour, she signed books.  There was momentary confusion as we writers were trying to figure out where she went.  We didn't want to be left behind.  After ten minutes of aimless wandering, we learned that she was behind the table signing books.  Funny!

While waiting, I met my first sci-fi/fantasy writer (more on him later).  When he met me, he said, "Another genre writer!"  I was excited, and we ended up talking to each other a lot.  It turns out that we sci-fi writers are a minority among writers.  In fact, I was amazed at how many writers there were working on projects related to North Carolina.  I guess people like to write about "real" things.  No wonder most people were trying to avoid me!

During the tour, we stopped at Charlotte's ImaginON.  That place is a literary dream for children.  In front of this library, there's a little playground area featuring a set of old style typewriter keys stuck in the ground.  (This playground also happens to be a few feet away from the high voltage blue line - funny!)

We kicked the kids off the playground to take a group picture on the typewriter keys.  I took the "X" key to sit on.  While there, I yelled to the kids looking at us, "Read more books!"  My colleagues laughed.  One of them said, "Tell your mom to buy our books!"

After the tour, it was time for the third workshop (you guessed it - another separate blog entry) about creating a good website.

By then I was business card handing-out pro.  I was already getting exhausted and it was only 4:30 PM.  I had to rest.  I sat down and ended up sitting with two authors who self-published (yet another separate blog entry).

Then came the faculty readings.  I listened to Suzanne Adair read the first chapter of one of her Revolutionary War novels - very interesting stuff.  Jessie Carty read some poetry from her collections "The Wait of Atom" and "At the A&P Meridiem".  She laughed at her own decision to chose playful titles that people can't spell.  Then Julie Fenderburk and Maureen Ryan Griffin read some poetry as well.  I don't do well listening to poetry, so I was surprised not to be bored.

Happy hour came next, where I talked with a few more people and handed out business cards left and right.  Some people said, "Okay - thanks," as if they didn't know what to do with it.  I got back quite a few business cards.  Funny thing about happy hour: everyone had to pay for their own drinks.  I don't drink, but I learned after the fact that "happy hour" means you pay for drinks at reduced prices.  A soda would have cost me $4, so I'd hate to see the regular price.

Next came the dinner banquet.  I sat at the same table as Margaret Bauer of the North Carolina Literary Review.  When she heard I did science fiction, she got excited and said I should submit a story.  She also talked me into buying a copy of their science fiction issue from 2001.  At the reduced price she was offering, it was a good deal to get all the information contained in that magazine.  I also talked with someone else who I'll mention in a later blog entry.

At the banquet, Cathy Smith Bowers (NC Poet Laureate) read some poetry and told stories about poetry.  It was good stuff.  She decided to go with the humorous stuff.

The night finished off with an open mic session.  I can't believe I actually signed up.  In the morning, I said "Heck no!"  Then around lunch, when the announcer said, "There are still slots," I told myself, "If there are still slots, I'll sign up."  There were still slots, and I signed up.

They split us into two separate rooms.  We speakers had 5 minutes each to read excerpts of our work.  Everyone of us had something to say.  Some of us were better than others in delivering, but there was definitely no trash and drivel.  I went with comedy - reading my IRC blog entry from last month.  It was a hit and got lots of clapping.  A person before me gave a very well rehearsed performance of an entertaining dragon poem (he claims it's a poem for people who hate poetry).  We went between funny readings and very serious readings that take the listener's heart and stomps it on the ground.

Then one person said something that nicely summarized my experience at the conference.  He had recently left his job to write full time, and he said, "These are my people," talking about all the other writers at the conference.  We all have something to say.  We are all at different stages of our writing career, but we're all trying our best to do what we love the most:  Write, write, and more write.

Then I left the conference.  I learned a lot.  On the way home, I turned the radio off so I could absorb everything I learned.  I realized that I'll be spending the next few months fully absorbing it all.  Now I'm exhausted.

Till later - happy writing.

P.S.  If you're ever driving downtown, don't use the "Yeti" voice setting on your GPS.  It doesn't help at all.  Whenever the Yeti said, "Uh ugy-uh hewgug-ug uh" it was because he was fussing at me for missing my turn.  Also, at random points during my trip, it would yell, "Uggh!"  I guess that kept me awake.  But for my next trip, I'm going back to the British chick's voice.

NaNoWriMo Update

The first week of NaNoWriMo is over, and it was a smashing success for me.  I'm now at 10,145 words - just a tad bit ahead of my schedule.  This completes three chapters.

In Chapter 1, Conner Rosen is propositioned to join the Time Sleuths.  In Chapter 2, he considers the proposition.  In Chapter 3, after we see how deep in the throes of depression he's in, he finally decides to take the case.

Tomorrow I'll start Chapter 4, where he actually begins the first case.

If you'd like to follow my progress, or if you'd like to read Chapter 1, click here, and then click on "Novel Info" to see Chapter 1.  (Keep in mind this is a first draft - we're not allowed to edit - just get words down on paper.) 

This next week, the goal is to write 15,000, which will put me at the 25,000 mark (halfway).

I wish luck to anyone else out there NaNoWriMing.