Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Call

It is time. It has happened.


Let me preface this with a bit of background. I started querying when I was thirteen years old. One could say I was precocious. One could also say the book was terrible and I was out of my mind. But hey, I was a teenager with a dream and a terrible book.

Also, looking back, superbly queer with no frame of reference for the term. Regardless, I was trying. I continued trying. And trying. And trying. (There's a theme here). Last year, I got a call, it was an R&R. I was so hopeful this was my ticket. It was actually around this time last year even. Which is a bit funny. I half-shelved that project, spent November bleeding out a new book post-election and then devoted my time and energy to this new baby. Still, queries and fulls still lingered for the near-shelved project. It made a few contests even. I've made it into...four or five, curated pitch contests. Done the twitter pitches.

But did I get this call because of one?

Well, no. It was a cold query. (See? Querying is the bread and butter folks.) Anyhow. So I was in a peculiar position where I was actively querying Project 2 whilst waiting to hear back on the remnants of Project 1 and also starting to prep Project 3 for query should Project 2 not go anywhere. More than one full request took a year to get a reply. The average was about six months. See, it's a slow business. But I felt so close. I could feel myself just on the other side of that divide of unagented author to agented author.

I admit, despair hit me. I lost my job. I got incredibly ill pretty suddenly (and am now on the road to recovery). Then, the third week of October I felt...better. A lot better. I know part of it was coming out of a depressive episode. Part of it was that medication and time were finally doing their thing to heal my body.

An email appeared. I'd gotten to the point where I could judge based on the first five words whether it's a reject or not, but this one took me by complete surprise. I sat there, stunned, in awe of like three sentences and then I shouted for my roommate/partner in crime. I got up from my desk, rushed into her room and for a brief moment, I couldn't say anything.

And then I managed to say, "An agent wants a call." Now, these words had emerged from my lips once before, so I was skeptical. It could still be a just another R&R, I was pretty used to them by now. But a call was special. I was hopeful. Plus, I had a job interview the next day so it was already kind of a banner week for me.

I made the call. I heard the words. The first time she said it, the words were garbled a bit. I thought I knew what she'd said. But I totally didn't process it. At all. We talked and talked, and I felt myself getting excited and hopeful and then, clear as bell, she repeated it. "I'd like to officially offer you representation."

I was shaking. I, being a professional, told her I'd need some time to inform other agents of the offer and promised to talk again soon. And then I proceeded to call my family, my roommate and dance with my cat. He was unamused and bit me. It was fine. Admittedly, I'm still in shock. I'm still just processing that a day I've spent over a decade waiting for has come to pass. And I am so ready, so ready, to start the next stage of authordom. It's what I've been waiting for. I know the road ahead is still long. It's still going to be hard, but now I've got someone on my team fighting with me. Someone who can fight for my work, who believes in it. That's all I've ever wanted.

I am proud to say I've found my champion in Madelyn Burt of the Stonesong Agency.

My only question now is, what's next?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Plushidermy: Unicorn Head

So I saw one of those plush faux taxidermy unicorns at Target (heretoafter referred to as "plushidermy"), and I wanted one. Except in purple.

So I bought fabric (this is lightweight flannel) buttons, ribbon and thread and got to work!
First off, you can buy patterns already made up for plushidermy creatures of all sorts. I wasn't in love with any of them, and since I have a background in sculpture and toy design I was confident enough to draft my own pattern and move from there. I...sort of forgot to take photos of that process, but I plan to make another out of light canvas and I'll do that then. That said, if you can think three dimensionally and draft your own plushy pattern, have at!

I first sewed the head seams together up to the point of the ears, as I would need to fold those into the seam. You can see that stage on the left. It doesn't look like much, but you can see the seams are curved and I did the plaid blaze as an inset.

This wasn't too bad to sew together. My unicorn is pretty big, so the finer seam details were easier to navigate on the machine than something smaller would've been.

This is aluminum modelling wire.
 I made the ears with the plaid on the interior and sewed them into the head seams. However...the flopped. Which had my unicorn looking a bit too much like a donkey for my taste. Luckily, I had some aluminum modelling wire hanging around.

It's pretty thick, bends easily, cuts easily and is perfect for this application. I cut a length a little longer than the ears and threaded it through the seam. (See left) Then, I curled the ends in to round them off and was able to stand my ears up and mold them to shape after stuffing.

It was SOOO much easier. You could get a similar effect by adding some interfacing or thick felt into the ears. You're just looking to stiffen them up a bit.

The mane was next. I had a bunch of lace ribbon, ribbon and other trim odds and ends to use. I cut the lengths and laid them out along the spine, pinning as I went. There was no precise pattern here, I was just trying to get it to look aesthetically pleasing. I used purples, blacks, grey and white with different textures. I also added some larger ribbon to the mane later (hand stitched) to add more dimension to the unicorn's mane.

It was a pretty simple straight stitch down the spine, you can also see I added some ruffle trim to the base area where the horn was going, just for some more texture and fun. This is something you can do on ANY plushidermy pattern. Really, adding trim, patches and texture will help make it your own creation.

Here's my little friend all stitched up! Inside out first, and then outside in. The eyes aren't in yet, but you can see the structure of the seams I used to give the head shape. One thing I did learn in this process was that the flannel has more stretch than I liked for a more architectural head (hence why I plan to make another with light canvas, less stretch) You do want to think about your materials. But I love how soft she is and while she has flaws, I'm super happy with her as a first try.

Time for stuffing! I used the harder poly-fil (again, I wish I'd gone with squisher here to compliment the stretch of the fabric but...live and learn.) I got her mostly stuffed and added the eyes, the thick purple ribbon and embroidered on a mouth and added depth with nostrils. That was done with a doll needle and strong thread. It's literally just a large pair of stitches drawn the plush in. The horn is on there as well.

I followed this tutorial by BeeZeeArt for the horn. It's super simple.

Next up, I added some support to the neck with a ring of cardboard. Foam board would be better, but cardboard works here. I the closed up the hole.

She looks pretty good, right? Not done yet!

The next question was, how do I hang her? She was too heavy to hang on her own, so I whipped up a base. I shaped it like a floral ring, using foamboard and covered it with plaid and black flannel. I then stuffed it. I used the clear thumbtacks to pre-poke holes into the foam board and the stitched it all down by hand. After that, I added a pretty ruffle to camouflage the edges I didn't like and then it was time to put the head onto the board!

I used ribbon to do that. Which, pre-planning would have helped me here too. I ended up cutting slits in the cardboard and the foamcore, and then used a thick ribbon to stitch unicorn head to base. I put a ribbon loop in the seam of the plaid cover and then hung the whole thing on the wall.

There were a lot of things I would have done a bit differently (hello, pre-planning) but I learned a lot while I worked and remembered a lot while I worked. I'm really looking forward to my next unicorn head. And maybe a dragon...

Cheers! And if you have any questions, feel free to post a comment below. I hope to make a more step by step tutorial on my next unicorn.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Once More Into the Fray

Last year, I made the plunge for the first time into #PitchWars and all it's glory. While I didn't make it in, the experience was a good one. So I'm back! I have a solid query letter, a CP'd MS and a sort of okay synopsis to start with. My battle plan is set.

The Book: SCOUTS HONORS YA SF Thriller

While I was a MG hopeful last year, this year I'm YA. The book I'm hoping will bring me Victory is SCOUT'S HONOR. SCOUT'S follows Dinah, a Girl Scout in a future where the United States has fallen to a dictator and the Scouts have become a worldwide military force for resistance. She's prepared to do whatever ever it takes to rescue her mother and maybe she'll overthrow a government along the way.

With new friends and a budding romance with fellow Scout Eddy (Edwina) Stonetree, Dinah has most of the tools she'll need to get the job done.

These kids follow the Scout's code of honor and sisterhood, willing to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of the world.

Dinah is the one driving her own destiny. She chose the path in front of her, and she isn't about to let anyone get in her way.

A Note:
I wrote much of this book after the election while watching all of the West Wing and Phineas and Ferb. So...if you like those things, you'll probably gel with the book.

(GIF because I love Danny. I love him.)

Who shall fall into the shadows of Dinah's Schemes with me? 

I'm looking for someone who can help me catch plot holes, see things I've overlooked. I usually need some help fleshing things out a bit. I like my stories lean and I can be a bit sparser than necessary. I can take critique and I like doing the work. I mean, sure, line edits aren't the most fun thing ever, but the results always make me happy. I know I can miss emotional beats and perhaps some of my gooey romancey scenes may need more gooey. 

(The Firestorm girls from 2D were of great inspiration to me)

About Me:

As a writer I'm more a pantser than a plotter though I'm an occasional hybrid of two. I have a cat named Loki (he bites). When not writing I read, play video games (Right now it's Fallout 4), make art and bake things. 

I was recently appointed with my dear friend Sophia to run the Literary Track at Steampunk Symposium starting next year. We're very excited.

I grew up on Queen, Evanescence and Garth Brooks. These days, I'm still a Queen fan, but country music and I have parted ways--though my recent obsession with the Decemberists tells me that folk music and I aren't done. 

I love historical TV shows so yes I rewatch Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Murdoch Mysteries, Penny Dreadful... There's a theme there. If it's fantasy, I've probably watched it, no matter how bad and I have a secret terrible addiction for Disney channel movies. I have watched the West Wing about four times and while writing this book attempted to find as many Girl Scout related films and shows as possible and discovered...there are not many.

I can't pick a favorite book, but if asked what book shaped me as a writer? Well, that's probably a tie between Bram Stoker's Dracula and The Time City by Diana Wynne Jones.

Check out the rest of the blog hop here!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Pitch Wars 1st Page Workshop Applied

So, I was one of those people that won a 1st page critique and mine is actually up now. It's sort of an odd process. You don't know it's going up/gone up so you just sort of check every day to see if it's yours. Well, day 15 came and there mine was!

Day 15 (Part 1)

I actually wasn't familiar with Summer, so I didn't really know what to expect out of the critique. I thought it was fair, though I didn't entirely agree with some points (and folks, you'll always find some things you don't necessarily agree with in a critique), a few things did stick with me.

I made some changes and my first 500 words now look like this:

Without the tiny silver star around my neck, I felt naked. It had been a comfortable weight. Reassurance that no matter how far apart we were, there was some small part of my mother still with me.

The only thing that mattered now was Mom. Papa might forgive me for that. He certainly wasn’t going to be happy about me smuggling myself into the US just to get myself arrested. If there’d been a better way to get myself into the US penitentiary database, I would have taken it. But there wasn’t. All the computer engineering badges in the Girl Scout repertoire weren’t enough to crack a closed system from the outside. I know, I’d tried.

So here I was, in a dingy bunker underneath the old Library of Congress. Washington D.C. was a warren of tunnels, dotted with bunkers like this one. It was a lot like my urban survival patch exam, except there were more people with me. The chatter of nervous excitement wasn’t as comforting as I’d have liked.

I sat down in front of the cracked mirror and started braiding my hair as tight to my scalp as possible. I lifted the wig from its stand, tugging into place, adjusting the scalp line and pressing the edge against my skin until it blended in precisely. I couldn’t quite help wrinkling my nose at the blonde—it just wasn’t my color, but the less than natural shade of lavender my hair was typically would be a dead giveaway I had bio-enhancements.

I picked up my makeup brush, tinting my eyebrows and eyelashes. By the time I was done, I looked like any other “ideal” All-American Girl. I opened the contact case and slipped the micro camera lenses into my eyes. The heads up display activated moments later, my regular start up windows floating in front my eyes thought invisible to the rest of the world. A start wheel noted the camera sync to my internal computer. It would stream back to HQ and send to a few hundred journalists before they could stop us.

I swallowed a wave of nausea. You’re doing the right thing.

I’m doing the right thing.

I took a deep breath and pulled up my mom’s photo, focusing on her face. “I’m coming, Mom. I’m coming.”


My stomach was in knots. I clenched my teeth together and pushed back the swell of nausea. Everyone here knew what they were getting into. I hadn’t been smuggled into the country just to back out now. It was too late for that when I stepped out of the bunker to join the march.

The early morning chill clouded my breath in front of my face.

“You okay, Rebecca?” Christian asked. A fellow Scout, he’d been part of the half-dozen or so of us smuggled in on assignment. Of course, his was an official assignment, whereas mine was…not. When everything went to hell in the US, it was teenagers that fought the longest. As it turns out, kids who’ve been taught about compassion, loyalty and wilderness skills make for fierce resistance against tyranny. 

So it's not SUPER different. But the pacing has been changed and made some clarifications. Honestly, some of the things she noted were things I'd added in due to comments from a prior beta reader and hadn't been 100% comfortable with. But, I'm rather happy with how this is now. It may go through some further tweaks, but I thought it might be helpful for you to see both the critique and how the advice was applied. 


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Ephemeral Antagonist: Conflict in Narrative

The most common narrative conflict we see in fiction today is what is know as Person Vs. Person. You have your protagonist working with/against your antagonist and the two play off one another creating the narrative conflict throughout the arc. This generally ends with one or more deaths/incarcerations what have you.

But there are other forms of narrative conflict that don't involve an antagonist.

There's the old standby Person Vs. Nature, which is generally exemplified by books like Hatchet and short stories like To Start a Fire (which I read in Middle-School and still haunts me to this day). For those of you not familiar with the term. It's generally a protagonist thrown up against the elements. So a blizzard or a scorching desert. It's a person vs. the jaguar stalking them through the night. (Though there are personified examples of person vs. animal where the animal definitely feels like a definitive antagonist).

We also have Person Vs. Self, Person Vs. Society, and others. They important thing is that it's a protagonist thrown up against something/someone. So, to simplify this:

Conflict =  the Protagonist VS. Something/Someone

That's it. That's conflict. Now, the truth is, not all fiction utilizes the antagonist as a person or a beast, or monster. Some fiction works quite well without an antagonist. It utilizes some other sort of conflict to get the job done. 

I tend to steer away from centralized antagonists in my work. Not consciously, mind you. While my stories do tend to have a villain, that character may not actually be the antagonist of the story or they may not have much of a presence within the story. There's nothing precisely wrong with that. There are going to be misdirects, on occasion, when it comes to identifying the root of your story's conflict. 

A trilogy I was working on last year had elements of different narrative conflicts with no unifying antagonist, and I was having some trouble sorting out why, as I'd plotted the damn things. It only later occurred to me while writing book three, that the antagonist had been a steady presence all along. I just hadn't put two and two together. Now, that said, that still wasn't the driving conflict.

The best example of another author who does what I call an "ephemeral antagonist" is JK Rowling with Voldemort. He is a felt presence throughout the series. His agents are everywhere, his name on the lips of those still around convinced he's gone for good. He's a cloud over the proceedings. No one can deny he's the series antagonist, but conflict isn't always driven by his hand directly. It's generally a consequence of his presence, but not necessarily because of direct actions he may have taken. 

I generally feel that antagonists can be the "Man behind the curtain". Pulling strings, always present, but on screen for a short amount of time while still maintaining maximum impact. Because of this, conflict tends to feel more self-driven on the part of the protagonist. You can get away with false leads and even pseudo-antagonists that mask your main villain's purpose. It's not just about conflict driving the story at this point.

We talk about plot driven stories VS. character driven stories frequently, and we should. But you also need to ask yourself, what kind of conflict is driving this story? The underlying thread should remain the same through the story and it should boil down to a single concept.

If I boiled down that trilogy I talked about earlier, it'd be pretty simple. The protagonist really just wants her father to be proud of her. That's her overriding desire, the conflict is that he's dead and that's never going to happen so she keeps striving higher and higher. The other conflicts are secondary to that goal. So the conflict at the center of it, is not with the antagonist really, but with Self. This is a common thing to see within YA narratives really, as they tend to be about Growth regardless of genre. So while you may have these characters going through all of these things, their core conflict is going to be Self and on occasion Society with villains thrown in to give you something to focus rage on.

Figure out what your core conflict is, that thing driving you character forward, and then build your narrative arc from that. This is why many people will tell you to start your story near or at your inciting incident, as this is what the conflict comes from. It's going to inform everything else that happens, and will be reflected in the ending of the book. If you can do that, your resolution is going to feel a lot stronger, more earned.

Don't be afraid of not having an personified antagonist in your story. Not every story is going to have a mustache-twirling villain to focus on. Sometimes, it's just the wind howling outside the window. It's the crushing weight of an immovable force. Conflict is core to narrative. So if you're struggling with your story, go back to the conflict.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Let's Get Tense

So, you know how when you start a story and you pick your POV? You settle comfortably (or realize half-way through draft one that you're in the wrong one) and that is that. Sometimes you might have a multiple POV or alternating POVs.

What about tense? Sure, there's present, past and future tense and they all have their place in writing. I for one, am sick of novels that give me the prologue/intro in past tense and then dunk me into present tense for the rest of the book (especially in first person). The sensation is very similar to being doused in cold water. Shock. It's a difficult tense/POV combo to do well and without it sounding intrusive or repetitive. There are maybe three authors I've read where I didn't even realize they'd done it until it was pointed out.

That's how how well it was done. A POV/tense combo should be a backdrop. It shouldn't get in the way of the story your telling, but be the tapestry into which the story is woven. If it stands out, people are going to notice. This is one of those fundamental issues you'll probably hurdle early on in your writing.

But what about more delicate matters of tense? That's right, I'm going to talk about intentionally switching tense in a story for effect.

I had a writing professor in college who saw that I had done this very thing, noted it and told me to keep doing it. It's something you may have to fight a bit over, and it has to be used sparingly. But tense is something that can really showcase a narrator, other characters, settings, etc.

For Example:

The castle's gloom stretched across the valley. 

The castle's gloom stretches across the valley. 

The castle's gloom will always stretch across the valley. 

So, in past tense this implies that perhaps this gloom is gone. Present tense implies it's a constant, something that is and always will be. Future tense also gives this implication, though using more words and has a bit more clarification for a reader who may be briefly confused by a tense change.

That said, they might not be at all.

This works for character traits as well.

My sister might be the most frustrating person I knew, but I wasn’t about to leave her alone in a graveyard crying.

My sister might be the most frustrating person I know, but I wasn’t about to leave her alone in a graveyard crying.

See that? Knew becomes Know and now the reader gets the feeling that this is state of permanence. It lends something the voice of the character. A bit of world-weariness even. Know has more impact that Knew in this context. Technically, yes, you are switching tense within the sentence, but this is also first person. A narrator's voice may not always be perfectly grammatically correct.

A narrator's voice may not always be perfectly grammatically correct. 

I thought that needed to be repeated. In all, changing tenses is a tool that you can use when shaping your narrative. Use it well, and sparingly, and you can deepen the reader's understanding of your characters, settings, and themes.