TagWren

A farewell to Phoenix

phoenix-200

Remember this cover? I love it. I actually love it so much that even though my original idea was something grittier–an old gull feather, gap-toothed and roughened, turning to flame–and even though the font suggested something other than a story about three kids living oh-so-briefly on the street together, I gave an enthusiastic yes as soon as I saw it. I have it framed and hanging over my desk, courtesy of my brother.

Phoenix was an experiment of a story. It was also an experiment in publishing for me. The number of markets for novelettes is…small. I tried Giganotosaurus and got a nice rejection with a try again note. (I did, because that was the year of two novelettes. Luckily The King’s Huntsman found a home there a few months later.) I sat around for a while, wondering what to do with it. Well, to be honest, it was less thinking and more putting it in the file of things that I don’t what to do with, because that’s how it goes sometimes.

I considered self-publishing it. (That’s where my cover idea came in.) I read up on it. I talked it over with Dear Spouse. I thought about it more. In my heart, I knew the answer. I was chicken. At that moment, it was easier to think about burying the story than it was to think about putting it into the world on my own.

Then Musa came along. It was new, it was e-book only, it was open to all sorts of stories, at all sorts of lengths. Their contract was available to read online, and it was easy to understand, and they provided covers and formatting and editing and split story profits 50/50. Given my status as chicken, and my dearth of options, I decided to submit it there.

I never thought of it as a young adult story, but it ended up in the hands of the YA editor at that time, and she provided me with a very persuasive argument for why it was. She agreed to a few amendments to the contract, I signed it, and Phoenix was birthed as an e-book. A very short one.

It’s a gamble working with brand new publishers. Don’t ever assume it isn’t. I submitted Phoenix because it was a novelette, the equivalent of a few days work for me. I signed the contract because I asked them to remove the clause that gave them right of first refusal on any related stories. See, Phoenix is kin to Wren and The Lost. Secret kin, kind of like the royal child raised far from the castle to avoid the violent intrigue within. I was happy to gamble with a novelette, but not with one of my novels.

The contract was for three years, and would have ended this May. Things have sped up. Musa closes on February 28. It happens, to many many presses of all kinds. When I signed my contract, I did so knowing that the odds were against them.

The odds were against Phoenix too. My sales goals were low. I was pleased to exceed them. I had a very small, very manageable experience of marketing an e-book. I learned a little about how to do that while working with my personality, which is not of the “BUY NOW, BUY BUY BUY” variety. I had an e-book with a beautiful design, and it taught me gratitude to the people who think about how a story is presented, who make an art of it.

It’s been good. And now it’s just about over. Phoenix is still available through all the various online vendors through the 28th. It’s on sale at Musa, 80% off, which I think brings it down to $0.40? After Saturday, the rights return to me. The cover returns to pixels. The story settles back into my files, resting among its Aware brethren. I don’t think it will stay there forever, but it will for now. I hope to someday have an Aware story collection, and Phoenix would certainly be part of it.

But for now, a pause. A passing.

Remember: The thing about stories is that they’ve got to have hope.

April update

More snow! Yes, for all my talk about how winter must end, it simply won’t. Yesterday I had the pleasure of a) having my teeth cleaned; b) doing my taxes; c) calling the IRS to clarify something I’d received conflicting information on, listening to the same thirty-second music loop for an hour, and then being hung up on; all while d) sleet pounded on the windows.

But we have frog eggs in a wading pool in the backyard, and the phoebes have returned to work on their dilapidated nest, and the daffodils are blooming, so I’m holding fast to my belief that warm days will come.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a novelette this weekend, one that was supposed to be a nice little short story. It isn’t. I’m finally feeling back in the writing groove (yay!). I’ve also been doing research for Crossroads. It’s been a very very long time since I’ve worked on any novel outside of the Aware world, and it’s taken me a while to switch tracks. It’s hard to believe I’ll ever have the same closeness with another set of characters that I have with Wren and Isis and Juno.

But I think Crossroads, which I keep trying to write as Crosswords (the story of a girl who trades her soul for a chance at winning the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament) (hey, wait a minute, that actually sounds like something fun to write…), will be something good. Blue Riley (Really it’s Sapphire Blue, but my mom was weird that way) has this determination to her that I love. And hiking boots, worn leather hiking boots, and bravery, and…well, I’m getting there. We’ll be friends yet. There are some sections of her story that I’m dying to write.

How I met my agent

Okay. There’s a short story here, and a long one. The short one goes like this. I wrote a novel. I wrote a query letter, which took slightly longer than writing a novel. I sent the letter out. I had some requests. I received an agent offer. I accepted.

For those of you hungry for a bit more blood and gore than that, here’s the long story.

I started sending out query letters to agents for Wren in September. The unfortunate truth is that I would happily, HAPPILY, write an entire epic novel about earthworms, in iambic pentameter, rather than write and send query letters. I’m not supposed to confess such things in public, but everyone gets to air one dirty secret, right?

I started sending out emails in mid-September. Between then and the end of October, I probably could count the total number of letters I sent on my fingers. Yes, I was that productive. In my defense, I did develop an extensive list of agents I could query, which required hours of watching pages load really really slowly on Computersaurus Rex.

One thing I didn’t realize, until much later in the fall, was that most of those few emails never reached anyone. For some magical reason, my first few rounds of queries were gobbled up by the gremlins living in agent inboxes. Had I known, it might have made for a less lonely, non-responsive fall.

So, I procrastinated. I developed new hobbies. I considered becoming the Emily Dickinson of my time and publishing nothing. I thought about what colors I would paint the walls next summer. Then I decided to send out more letters. I’d send out lots and lots of queries! I’d be the very model of a modern query letter sender.

You know what happened? Two words. Hurricane Sandy.

Yes, Nature herself came along and told me not to bother agents. It was something of a relief. I could wait some more.

Here’s what happens when you wait. Before the storm, you have a list of agents, some of them starred. One of those starred agents has a stated preference for “character-driven fantasy”, which seems good, and you like her first name, which maybe isn’t the best reason to query someone, but hey, there it is. Even more important, you get that whole double-yolked egg feel about her, which is something your whimsical brain tells you not to ignore. You figure you’ll send her a letter as soon as things settle down.

Then you discover that agent was nearly washed away by Sandy and appears to be leaving agenting.

Okay, by then it’s Thanksgiving. What better time to get serious about sending letters than deep in the heart of the holiday season and after a devastating storm? I start to send queries. I’m moderately determined at this point.

On one of my trips to Query Tracker, I stumble across a surprising tidbit of information–the displaced agent, Alice Speilburg, has relocated far away from the ocean, and has opened her own agency.

I sent her a query on December 2. She wrote back three days later with a request for the full manuscript. I sent it. Six days after that she told me she loved it. We talked for a while. I liked her a lot. She had smart answers to my questions. In my heart, I was pretty sure she was the one I wanted to work with.

So, even while other agents were reading it and I was waiting until my deadline to respond, I was thinking I knew the answer. A few days before my deadline, I sent her a list of questions. One of her responses, just the way she said something, sealed the deal for me. I said yes.

And that is the entire story of how I met my agent. If you’d like to know more about Alice, please stop by on Monday. I’ll be posting an interview with her, and she’ll be open to questions in the comments during the afternoon.

Who am I?

I’ve been rereading The Lost recently. I’m working on a completely different project, one that requires a bit of planning, so I’m only writing a chapter or so a day. In my spare time, I’m playing with The Lost and figuring out how to rearrange it. I have a massive revision in mind, one involving structure, not story.

It’s fun to read it again after so much time away. It’s impossible not to compare it with Wren. They cover some of the same territory, but from such different angles, and with very different POV characters.

Wren lives in a world of near constant mental stimulation. Isis doesn’t, not in the same way. Isis feels her way through the world, literally. She’s very tactile. She’s also frightened of people, of touch, which leaves her at odds with her nature. It’s a fun friction to work with in a story. One of my favorite scenes involves just the brushing of pinkies across a table.

That friction…I couldn’t have explained it when I was writing it. I approach things a little more clinically now than I did then, but I still tend to feel my way through a story. Afterward, that’s when I identify those necessary threads and figure out how to pull them taut. Until then I try to sit in the character’s skin the same way I sit in my own. Efficient? No. Messy? Yes. Surprising? Almost always.

A little news

Just a little something to go with the solstice and the general lack of total apocalypse today. Wren–knife-wielding, mind-reading, girl-loving Wren–has an agent. I suppose it would be more correct to say that I now have an agent, but that feels funny to me. So we’ll say the honor is Wren’s today.

I’m excited about this new partnership. Once I’ve had a chance for the idea of it to settle in a bit, I’ll tell more. I expect I’ll be scarce for the next few days to a week as I spend time with family, and compress a year’s worth of baking into a weekend.

In the meantime, I wish you all the blessings of warmth and love. May there be joy coming for you. May you look up into a night sky full of stars. May you have peace.

Already?

It is not the end of summer, it is not the end of summer…

As those of you who like to read bios may have noted, I am a homeschooling parent. I don’t talk about it here because my children’s lives feel private to me, and because homeschooling is really a topic that deserves a blog of its own. In a nutshell: we’re secular homeschoolers, we do so because it is the right choice for our children at this time, and yes, I was also homeschooled as a child (until the age of twelve).

In practical terms, it means that my life changes in significant ways once September arrives. I pushed to finish Wren with good reason, and I’m very relieved to say I did it. That’s not to suggest there won’t be any changes to it from this point on, but the bulk of the work is complete, it’s been read or being read by the people who read for me, and I’m on to new things.

It also means that right at this moment, I’m a little adrift. I sit down at the computer and wonder what to do. It’s hard to pull your head out of something as comprehensive as a novel. I’ve started work on tailoring The Lost to match the new material in Wren, and I’ve got a short story that needs a few things added before it can go out, but I’m still in Wren a bit. Just like the summer, I’m not quite ready for it to be over.

Tomorrow “The King’s Huntsman” will be out at Giganotosaurus. I’ll post something here about the story then, along with a link. If you haven’t read anything at Giganotosaurus before, please check it out. It’s one of my favorite online venues, and I’m excited to have Huntsman there.

Almost there

I should be finished with my latest pass through Wren later today. Everything is finally in the right place, more or less. It was a great shaggy mass of a story to work, kind of like oatmeal bread dough, wet and sticky and hard to shape. The good news is that it now looks and reads more or less the way it should.

My difficulty in working on Wren had everything to do with my process, and what happens when I don’t follow it. I wrote The Lost in the space of a couple months. I wrote its unnamed successor in a similar time frame. Working like that means the story is constantly in my head, and I sort through plot details on a daily basis, making changes as I go.

I wrote Wren off and on over eighteen months. Too many breaks, too much time in which to lose plot and character threads. It’s been an adventure sorting it all out.

Were my process different, were I someone who started with a detailed outline, for example, it likely would have been a different experience. But minds work in their own ways. Mine does better working out details as I write, rather than plotting it out in advance. Same process, whether with novels, short stories, or, long ago, college papers. The act of writing allows my mind to make connections that would be a struggle otherwise.

Anyway, one or two more revision passes and Wren will be done!

What then? I wrote a short story this weekend. I have a handful more waiting for my time. I have the short story that will not die waiting for me to take it out and despair over it again. And with Wren complete, it will be time to revise The Lost (the stories overlap), something I’m eager to do.

A walk

I spent the day walking. After a week of tying myself in knots over a bit of Wren that I couldn’t work out, it seemed to make more sense to get away from the computer and enjoy life for a bit.

We all went to Bartholomew’s Cobble. It’s nowhere near home, and it’s full of wonderful rocks, and beautiful ferns, and there were butterflies, and something that looked very much like a luna moth caterpillar, and a great blue heron that obliging croaked at us as he flew over.

It was also hot. Very hot, and humid, and I had a water bottle that smelled suspiciously like death, and just to smile made me break out in a sweat. It was wonderful, all of it, aside from the grim reaper’s water bottle. Best of all, during the car ride home I took a deep breath and thought things through, and now I know what I need to do.

That’s how writing seems to work for me. It can go swimmingly for weeks, but eventually there’s a snag. Sometimes it’s caused by a plot that’s missing details, or a character that isn’t settled. This time it was my fault. I thought too much about audience, and not enough about honesty. I needed the fresh, albeit steamy, air to clear my head. Now I just need solitude.

Almost

Almost finished.

No, I didn’t actually do half of the things I meant to do this week, but I managed the most important one. Wren is done. Mostly. I need to go back and adjust a few things. I need to squirrel away and read the whole thing out loud to the cat (because she’s in the room, not because I’m looking for her opinion; her tastes run to slightly racier fare).

Then it will be ready for my patient readers, and I will be able to move on.

If it wouldn’t take roughly six hours to do so, I’d insert a picture of fireworks here.

Sprinting through

I’m going to be a little scarce for the next few days. There’s only one week this year when I am not with my children the vast majority of the time, and this is it. I’ve made a pretty unattainable list of goals for myself. We’ll see what actually gets done. If nothing else, I should have Wren ready to send out to my readers by next Monday (yay!). One of those unattainable goals is to come up with a real name for the story, but we know how I am with titles. (Incidentally, both stories mentioned in that post sold, questionable titles and all.)

I’m leaving comments open here today, in case anyone wants to share some goals. Preferably writing, though if you really want to talk about your master plumber’s license, go for it. I’m going to be in and out, so if it takes a while for your comment to come through moderation, don’t despair. It’ll happen.

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