June 30, 2010

Westward Bound

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 5:21 pm

For the next few weeks, Suspense Your Disbelief is going to take a bit of a departure. Literally.

By the end of the month, we’ll be back for some very exciting Made It Moments, emerging writer Karyne Corum’s final Citizen’s Police Academy post, and possibly even some Big News on the writing front.

But right now, I’m headed west. As some of you may remember from last summer, I have family living on the west coast, and this year, instead of facing the trials of flying (kids who want to get out at 40,000 feet, planes re-routed without informing the passengers so that when we’re still at 40,000 feet an hour after we were supposed to have landed, I become convinced that everyone in the cockpit has died and we’re all going down as soon as the fuel runs out…you get the idea) we are going to drive.

We’re taking a nice, long 10 days about it, and hoping to really see some high points of the country. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long, long time. My not-so-secret hope is that the next time we do, I have the promise of a book in hand, so I can stop at independent bookstores along the way and say hello.

But for now, I’ve got my family, a 3 “room” tent for camping nights, and some pretty fantastic looking lodges booked. I’ll be checking in as often as possible and letting everybody know what it’s like to drive cross country with a couple of tots in tow, a husband who’s extremely happy with his new GPS equipped Android phone (I think that’s what it’s called)…and a dream.

Oh. And no DVD player.

June 27, 2010

Editors, and phone calls, and lunches, O my!

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 9:35 am

So, a few posts ago, I asked, What do we do next?

After my first submission “went south”, that is, (not a phrase I had ever heard or known to exist before) and there were no offers?

Why, we went on sub again, of course. Luckily, I had another manuscript just waiting, all ready in the wings.

Well, not precisely ALL ready. Even though, if you’ve been reading this series with anywhere near the stun-eyed, gape-mouthed, staring-at-a-road-wreck, struck-by-the-pain puzzlement with which I am writing it, I had already received another offer of representation for this manuscript. From quite a fine agent, I might add, who though new and green at the time, would go on to do big things in the industry.

But the agent I was currently signed with didn’t consider it quite so great as all that.

Some agents are great editors and some are fantastic salespeople. Just like some are sharks and some are hand-holders for their clients. If you get very, very lucky, you find an agent who is all of the above.

I have been lucky in that all three of my agents (wait–there are more?? Yes, but that’s not for this post) have been wonderful editors who have played a significant role in improving my work.

The agent I was working with at the time of my first sub found all sorts of things wrong with my first novel, which we were about to send out second.

I know, confusing. Even when every sordid detail is soldered into your (um, my) brain.

So I sat down to revise it. Most agents, even when they’re great editors, tend to point out problems and issues in the book, but less so suggest fixes. I don’t know if that’s so that the work remains the author’s or just because suggesting fixes is hard. It’s still the thing I’m least good at when editing a manuscript for a writing buddy.

In fact, my husband, and TBEITW, and a brand new writing buddy I’ve recently made are some of the few people I know who can suggest really workable fixes.

I can still remember my agent asking, “Do you live in a small town?” because I had gotten the flavor of the setting a bit off.

But finally, I did whip the novel into such shape that my agent deemed it ready for prime time, and she sent it out.

On a Thursday.

On Monday she called me at home at 9:30 am and said, “[Grande Dame of Publishing X] just called from a city bus.” Pause. “She couldn’t go to sleep till she finished your novel last night.”

June 17, 2010

Barack Obama & Why A Hyper-Linked Novel Might Not Be the Best Path To the Future

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:32 pm

Having been accused of being something of a Luddite myself (we don’t have TV, I don’t own a cell phone–yes, let me repeat, I don’t own a cell phone–and our kids have yet to sip from the pool of gaming devices) I have to say that Mr. Obama strikes me as positively progressive here.

Don’t get me wrong. Word processing lends a whole new level of magic to novel writing (not to mention revising). I love email, the way the net has widened my circle of friends-almost-family. And I love blogging for you.

But I agree with the article. We need balance. I want the next generation–and seven after that–to know what it is to lose itself in a nice, thick book. One that has actual heft to it, a weight in the hands. Novels that don’t contain embedded interviews et al just to make sure our interest is not lost.

A good story takes us away. A dozen links ground us firmly in the here and now as we navigate them. And sometimes the way to become wisest is to get good and lost.

June 16, 2010

Made It Moment: Carl Brookins

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 5:48 pm

Devils Island

I was very pleased when author Carl Brookins wrote me because I’ve long enjoyed his posts on listservs such as the great DorothyL. Carl always has an interesting, no-nonsense viewpoint, and his approach to making it in this business reflects the same. Plus, Carl’s Moment brings in some ways the best thing of all–an undiscovered body of work yet to read!

Carl Brookins

It’s an interesting question, Jenny.

I always knew I’d be a writer. Then I sold my first piece of writing. That was more than 60 years ago when I was in the seventh grade. I wrote a short story to submit to a pulp magazine that featured only western tales. I had never been west of the Missouri and had yet to discover Louis L’Amour or the other western writers, except for Jack London. But I did know the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Imagine my delight when the magazine sent me 50 cents for the story!

Writing, fiction and non-fiction has always been a major part of my life. In high school I discovered that writing essays was better for me than short answer or multiple-choice tests. Every job I’ve held since high school has included a writing component of larger or lesser degree.

So, I’ve had many “made it” moments. One occurred when a piece I wrote on driving safety was published, without a word being changed, in the Triple A magazine. Another occurred when my first script for a televisions series I later produced was accepted for production. I knew I’d “made it” again when an international magazine aimed at professional broadcasters accepted my article on the founding and development of the tiny public television station in Fargo, North Dakota, a station I headed at the time.

My fiction writing career began when I made it as the author of “Inner Passages,” my first sailing adventure story, from Top Publications and again with my latest in that series, “Devils Island.” That novel is particularly satisfying because it represents the evolution of perhaps my strongest character, Mary Whitney, a bright, resourceful woman of charm and grace, with the athletic and mental skills to deal with her powerful but deranged ex-husband.

But you know, I’ll have the satisfaction again of having made it this far with the publication of my next novel or short story, or article. I’m a work in progress and I’m having a lot of fun getting there.

I’ve had many jobs, all related in some way to public communication. They include highway safety, public television, cable television and higher education. I love writing and almost everything that goes with it, including revising! I live in a suburb of the Twin Cities of Minnesota with my wife, a retired publisher. I’m a member of Sisters In Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers, and Minnesota Crime Wave.

June 10, 2010

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 7:38 pm

Or, not so regularly scheduled.

After all, I haven’t delved into backstory (mine) in some time.

But there’s so much interest in what I call alternative routes to publication–a la Karen McQuestion–that I figured I might as well discuss a few more of the points along my ongoing journey.

So, I’d signed with my first agent, and I still remember her saying, “OK, we have time for one good round before the summer slowdown.”

It was May.

My first–only it was really my second; I’d been querying with two different manuscripts–novel went out to five editors as the end of June loomed.

And I sat back and waited to be told I was going to be published.

Didn’t happen. We got one semi-informative pass, which said that the pace of the novel flagged a little in the middle.

Back then I still believed that if a book was good, it would be bought, and if it wasn’t bought, then it must be at least flawed.

I remember I was part of a writing group then, whose best effect was to introduce me to The Best Editor in the World. TBEITW is still one of my dearest writing buddies, and I would never send a ms out into the world without her reading it and showing me not only where I’ve gone wrong but often, how to fix it.

So I brought the ms to her, and gave her this pace flagging issue, and sure enough she pinpointed what could be responsible.

To be brief, it involved the fact that a dead body was found in the middle of the book, when really it should be a penultimate moment kind of thing.

How hard could it be to move a dead body around in a plot?

A heckuva lot harder than it is to move one in real life. (I think.)

Oh, did I tear that baby apart. And oh, did I suffer over every infinitesimal scene change that rippled throughout every subsequent page, necessitating basically, a total rewrite.

But when it was done! The heavens opened. The angels sang.

HOW could I have let the previous, flawed, ugly, disgusting ms out on submission? How could my agent have wanted to represent that piece of dreck? Of COURSE it didn’t sell. THIS was the novel it wanted to be. The novel it NEEDED to be.

Come September, we went to four more houses with the new, improved (read: rejection-proof) version.

And didn’t get so much as a semi-informative pass out of anyone.

“I’ve had submissions before that went south,” my agent said in a worried tone.

So, what did we do then?

Stay tuned…

June 9, 2010

Made It Moment: Karen McQuestion

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:49 am

A Scattered Life I’ve been following author Karen McQuestion’s (great name, right?)journey avidly. I first became aware of Karen through Joe Konrath’s blog. Joe talks about his move away from mainstream publishing and to Kindle and Amazon’s new publishing arm, Amazon Encore. He’s at the forefront of a movement that could eliminate  part of the publishing chain, putting the author at one end and the distributor at the other. Karen had never been published traditionally and thus didn’t have Joe’s following when she began doing the same thing. Could she possibly succeed? As you will see below, her results have surpassed all expectations, making Karen also a pioneer in this brave new world of book creation.

As a writer I felt I’d “made it” when I got a complimentary email from a woman I’d never met.

My story is like so many others. Being a writer was a lifelong dream of mine, but I didn’t approach it seriously until my three kids were all in school. Once the youngest went off to kindergarten, I kept a disciplined writing schedule, attended critique groups and workshops, and over the next seven years managed to write five novels, none of which were ever published.

When I discovered that manuscripts could be self-published as e-books on Amazon’s Kindle, I was intrigued by the idea. Initially, I uploaded two of my books, just to see how it went. I had no expectations, so when they started selling, I was thrilled. Still, without feedback, I didn’t know if anyone liked them, or even read them, for that matter.

A few weeks later, I got an email from a woman named Kimberly who lived in Las Vegas. The subject heading said, “YOU ARE HILARIOUS!!!!” Her email was as enthusiastic as her heading, and just as full of exclamation points. She loved my books, and wanted to know if I had others. I was overjoyed. I printed her email and read it over and over again, then made my husband read it (he was happy for me, but not nearly as emotional about it).

This was a turning point. Hearing that a complete stranger connected with my stories convinced me to upload my other books.

Since that day, I’ve heard from other readers, gotten some terrific reviews, and sold thousands of e-books. One of my novels, A Scattered Life, was optioned for film and will be published in paperback by AmazonEncore this coming August. There have been many validating moments, but Kimberly’s email was the first of these, and I still get a thrill thinking about it.

Karen McQuestion’s essays have appeared in Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. She is the author of six books self-published on Amazon’s Kindle, one of which, A Scattered Life, caught the attention of an L.A. based production company and became the first self-published Kindle book to be optioned for film. It will be published by AmazonEncore, Amazon’s new publishing division, on August 10, 2010. McQuestion lives with her family in Hartland, Wisconsin.

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