Showing posts with label launching the novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label launching the novel. Show all posts

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Defense of Shrinking Violets

violet flowers
Violet Flowers by nondesigner59

I happen to like violets, violas and pansies.  They're sweet, unimposing, simple flowers.  Last year I found them growing all over the landscaping immediately in front of the house, seeded from violas I'd had on the front porch two summers before.  This spring I spied a third-generation patch growing in the middle of the lawn and took pains to rescue it from the lawnmower.  The original violas lasted from the end of May to October 2011. 

If properly cared for these can be hearty little plants, audaciously standing tall amidst a garden of bigger, bolder blooms. But they will shrink if they're not watered enough, or if it's too darned hot.  Or if a gardener decides that they are nothing but pretty weeds.  The phrase "shrinking violet" must come from this, and it's no surprise that I've seen it on writing blogs.  "This is no time to be a shrinking violet" someone wrote once in relation to "getting out there" in the publishing world, to relentlessly pursue agents and attend conferences, tweet like there's no tomorrow and blog until your fingers bleed.

I know it's meant to be taken lightly, but there are times when I resent this metaphor.  I cannot help but detect an implication that "shrinking" is cowardice or even laziness, a failure to act.  Simply, I am not and never have been a flashy person.  I cringe at the idea of crowds and loud places, and those things stress and tire me out easily.  It isn't quite fear, but the way I was made.  My energy simply cannot stretch that far, therefore, I've learned in the last few years how best to use the energy I have: writing my novels, steadily querying agents, slowing down on the things that tie my brain in knots. 

2nd generation violas, 2012.

I sympathize with the violet and the pansy, because I often feel that I'm a cluster of little insignificant flowers in a garden full of more impressive specimens. The snowdrop boldly pops up through the snow, wasting little time as spring comes on.  The poenies spread out their arms and legs and take up as much space as possible.  The poppies are red and rich.  The roses - oh, the roses! - open in their intricate splay of petals and smell like heaven, drawing the human eye towards it like a perfect sunset in the garden.  The clematis shows off its climbing skills.  The four-o'-clocks demonstrate their punctuality.  With marigolds, impatiens and cosmos, lilies and vines, flowering shrubs and bleeding hearts, the attention seems to be everywhere else.  Sometimes it seems downright Sisyphean to try to be anything other than what I am, a viola working a thriving quietly in my own special bit of earth. 

That does not mean that I'm shrinking.  Right now, I'm still waiting on agent responses to my recent batch of queries... and have received many "thanks-but-no-thanks" form letters.  If I was shrinking, I wouldn't be preparing to do it again in a few months time.  I keep reminding myself that an agent out there also likes violets; I simply haven't found him or her yet. 

I hope to be like the vagabond violas I find year after year in the garden and the lawn: shrinking down, but coming back time after time.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Words by Daniel Smith

I've spent the last month diving back into the sequel of my novel.  In so doing, I've had little brain space for tweets and blogs - I'm sure you understand what that's like.  The nature of the sequel is/will be quite different from its predecessor, as well, and I've had to acquaint myself with a totally different narrative personality (male and intense, as opposed to female and a bit naive) and backstory.  It is an intricate process not only familiarizing myself with the new voice but building the vector, or plot line, on which the novel will be going.  It's like juggling.  Or trying to pat your head while rubbing your stomach.

The hard part isn't so much writing from the point of view of a man, mercurial and deeply wounded, but keeping the outside world (and my worry over my place in that world) decidedly OUT of my writing.  Reading Jeanne Kisacky's post on "What Not to Think About When Your Writing" on Writer Unboxed this weekend definitely helped me on that score: don't think about your life; don't think about the industry.  She says "the fastest way to end creativity and lose the tenuous hold you might have on the gorgeous will-o-the-wisp which is your perfectly told story: think about the state of the industry and how it is all crashing down (in some form or another) while you write."  Yup.  Been there.  Done that.  Not pretty. 

It is difficult to ignore the fact that my first novel is still on submission and that I'm still waiting for someone (anyone!) to request a partial manuscript.  (Come on!  Just one!  Please!  Do you ever get to the point where you think you're annoying God with all of your prayers?)  Logic would dictate - hey, should you be writing the sequel before the first novel is, you know, "out there"?  Logic is wrong.  Writing, in fact, has very little to do with logic or common sense or whatever it is.  The fact is, I've long come to terms with the fact that this story demands to be told: Dorian's story and Sive's story.  This is my vector, and I know it's right,  even if the outside world makes me want to "cry havoc" or curl up in a ball under my desk. 

The important thing is that I'm writing and learning how to handle this purgatorial agent search.  In a few years time, I'll look back on this as just part of my education.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Taking the Fermata

Adventures in Logophilia, No. 207:


In music, a fermata is a pause on a note or a rest - its length determined by the conductor or the musician, usually to close a piece.  This bird's eye symbol is known as an extended rest.  It is from the Italian verb fermare, meaning "to stop."

Extended Rest
Extended Rest by Mike Corpus

I began the morning with another insightful post from Writer Unboxed, written by Barbara O'Neal on "Boundaries and Burnout." She reminds us about the importance of resting in the midst of our work, allowing ourselves to play, our minds to wander and relax.  There is a lot of pressure out there for writers to write-write-write, amping up word counts and producing book after book after book.  Which is one reason I shy away from (well-intenioned) Twitter advice these days - they tell me that once I've begun sending query letters to agents on my novel, I need to dive RIGHT AWAY into a new project.  There is a sense of immediacy in this world - to WASTE NO TIME, to be the early bird catching that worm, or a tireless writer, with stories pouring out right and left.  As if story-dehydration, or burn-out, is no real problem.  But it's been a good four months since I began the querying journey, and the second novel has informed me that on no certain terms will he (yes, he) be rushed.  Am I a failure for listening to the needs of this novel?  Am I using it an excuse to "goof off"?

No.  I'm not goofing off.  I'm resting.  Believe me, I am forming the internal structure of novel no. 2 and asking deep (and sometimes difficult) questions about the direction this story will go.  I don't call that idleness.  Also, I've taken the time to absorb novels - particularly those in my own genre - to identify passages that move me, taking notes, articulating to myself why this or that works or doesn't work.  I allow myself to get swept away in soundtrack music to chase the daydream of what my novel could be.  (By the way, if you've never heard Two Steps from Hell, you're missing out: awesome movie trailer soundtrack music, not heavy metal.)  In this case, work is play.

But rest is more than simply allowing a story to incubate and letting it cook on its own.  Resting in everyday life is helpful with the writing aspect of it.  For example, I hate going to the Y.  I hate exercising.  The idea of making an appointment with a piece of equipment in a noisy building full of sweaty (sometimes loud) people doesn't always appeal, even if the elliptical is a cardio wonder machine.  Walking quietly and at my own pace is restful and healthy - a sort of exercise that is not a shock to the system, but a sustained movement that helps the thinking process.  I've started learning yoga, as well, because it's an interesting balance of endurance and rest - clearing the mind as well as folding and flexing the body.

In the midst of this fermata, I read and walk, brainstorm, make plans to plant a little indoor garden using eggshells (and figuring out how to hollow out an egg and poke drain holes in the bottom without the thing breaking apart).  I sleep in on Saturdays and enjoy it.  I'm clearing out my older no-longer-me clothes from my wardrobe and investing in red heels, changing my hair style, trying new recipes, playing with the cat, watching the occasional Dickensian mini-series, reading what I've never read before, getting swept up in spring fever.  In this time, I feel that my wings are growing and extending, not shrinking.  So instead of freaking out because I didn't meet a word-count quota or have gone "no where" with this novel, I am breathing deeply and feeling my way forward.  There is no need to feel any guilt or panic because there is no deadline.  There is no one breathing down my neck.  There is just the story and getting to know him better everyday, forming a friendship with this living thing that will be with me for the next 2-3 years. 

So here I am, still coming down from osana.  I'll stay here until it's time to get up again. 


Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 190:


This word is in my lexicon because I like unusual, archaic things.  If you're an American, like myself, you've probably not heard or seen this word outside of classic British literature.  Thole is Scottish verb meaning to endure (a thing) without complaint, to tolerate something unpleasant or difficult.  

I am in this unknown period that is seeking an agent.  I probably will be for some time.  The process has been overwhelming and far from easy.  When you send what you assume to be your best impression of your novel (in the query) and no one shows any interest in it whatsoever, it cuts you deep to your soul.  No matter how many times you can defend the agents for their difficult job sorting through a slush pile of queries, you cannot help but feel yourself lose energy, lose faith in yourself, and begin to doubt the merit of your writing.  It simply is the way of things.  I felt this in the days when I was hoping for graduate school; rejections felt like a door slamming in my face.  

But... as much as it hurts now,  there will be a door somewhere in this long corridor of agents that will be open, and will someday stay opened.  Until then, my job is to rewrite my query letter (many times if necessary), to listen to feed back about weak spots in the novel's plot, to do what I can to stay moving.  It's non-specific stuff.  It feels half the time like I am not doing anything useful at all.  But I'm going to thole it anyway.  There is always hope - with each draft, with each nugget of wisdom from colleagues out there in the world.  If I didn't believe my novel was something beautiful I wanted desperately to share with the world, I wouldn't be here.  I'd have given up long ago.

climbing by sara kallado

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 189:


A hub is the center part of a wheel, rotating on or with the axle, the spokes radiating outward from it.  From this object comes the over-arching macrocosm: the effective, productive, bustling center of an activity, a network or particular region.  Example: New York City is often described as the hub for the publishing industry - so it is no wonder that so many (though definitely not all) literary agents operate from such a place.

The Wheel [77%]
The London Eye by Brian Robertson

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 176:


Folly is the lack of good sense, understanding or adequate foresight; an act of foolishness, or more specifically, a costly undertaking which results in embarrassing or ludicrous ruin.  This word is Middle English, which means it was borrowed from the Old French word folie, meaning "madness." (Oxford Dictionaries.)

0 The Fool
The Fool, as seen on a tarot card, is about to fall step off the edge of a cliff.

I actually don't believe folly is all that bad - it is the state you start out in when embarking on a journey.  I've learned that I am still the fool when it comes to this trying-to-get-an-agent business.  The important thing is to realize that blunders will be made.  I will trip and fall several times.  I will have to go back and rewrite that one chapter I thought was perfect.  I will write stupid tweets and worry about what people are thinking, if anything at all.  Folly is a learning curve; I've learned that the Fool on the tarot card is represented as a perpetual youth... and aren't we all?  I don't mean perpetually young, but constantly learning.  How else can we learn but through trying and stumbling and getting scraped up... and picking ourselves up again?  

Embrace the fool.  He's really not that bad.  Or fatal.  Or stupid.  He just has convictions about things that haven't been (but need to be) tested.  He doesn't watch where he's going, but he'll soon learn his lesson.  I'd like to see him after he picks himself from tumbling off that cliff, dusting himself off, examining his bruises and looking up to see where he came from. "Well, that was dumb," he might say, "but I don't regret a moment of it."  

So... write like a fool to write better.  Laugh at yourself.  Move on.  Harbor no regrets.  I think I can handle that.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Something New (j)

I begin February with a question - obvious, yet compelling - that has been hanging over me for a while now.  What exactly is a novel?  

This is the 143rd word of my logophiliac adventures:

A novel is a fictional prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.  The word comes from the Italian term novella storia , for "new story." (Novella being the feminine of novello and the Latin word novellus for "new".) The word was also utilized from Middle English to the eighteenth century in the sense of "a novelty, a piece of news, from the Old French word novelle.  This gives way to the adjective use of novel which means interestingly new or unusual.

But what should this "newness" look like?  The novel has become an incredibly versatile literary vehicle since Daniel Defoe, Charlotte Smith and Jane Austen gave it a solid form at the end of the eighteenth century.  When I first set out to create my own novels, I thought of the form as a long, extended story of someone's journey... like a good Dickensian bildungsroman (a coming of age novel like David Copperfield or Nicholas Nickleby).  Since then I've realized that the newness is not just a matter of introducing and following new characters and exploring a new setting, but in the way we tell our stories: non-linear, in braided narratives, from an unusual character's point of view, in the present tense, in the second person, in an otherwise impossible situation, etc.  Novels are experiments for testing new angles in story telling, and even if the story itself might be similar to something that's been read before, the telling makes it new.

Personal example. I finished a novel last year and have embarked on a sequel.  Granted, there is a certain amount of uncertainty that comes with such a decision - after all, I'm waiting to hear back from agents, and there is no guarantee that any one will want to represent it, or to publish it.  Whether or not it was the wise decision to go ahead with the sequel, I've found some pretty good reasons to do it.  

1.) Novel #1 (let's call it W1), isn't actually finished in the sense that it has not gone through the publishing process - has not encountered agents or editors.  When it is, somewhere down the line, accepted by a publishing company, there will be more changes to be made.  It is simply the way the process works.

2.) At this point, not knowing what those changes will be a year, two, five or ten years from now, I know there is room for improvement.  Writing the sequel (W2) will open up new doors and help me address questions that I couldn't answer (or even think to ask) about my characters in the first novel - a challenge in many ways.  How? 

3.) I've always wanted W2 to be it's own novel, with its own set of eccentricities, patterns and nuances - not just an expansion of W1.  I decided that W2 would be from a different character's point of view.  The narrative main character in W1 is a young woman (let's call her S) trying to decide whether or not to take vows in a quasi-monastic order.  The narrative main character in W2 is her romantic interest, a man who at 126 years old doesn't age and has a caustic, jaded personality (let's call him D).  D is going to be a challenge because his perspective is at a completely different angle from what I'm used to.  In this way, learning about the inner workings of D in W2 will help me to see S in a new light (from his eyes) and apply that newness to the revisions for W1.

4.)   I have ideas for a W3 and a possible W4 as well, although nothing is set in stone.  If they do emerge, they will be their own novels, as well; W3 being made of journal entries from both D and S, and W4 from the point of view of a character who has not yet been born.  Whether or not these ideas will ever come about, they're already bearing fruit in my daily experiments, and that fruit is in W1 and W2. 

5.)  There is no way to lose with this model (disorganized-jumble-of-ideas is more like it).  Yes, my dreams and prayers right now are bent on getting W1 published. And though there's a chance (as with every creative endeavor) that it won't catch the attention of an agent or a publisher, the story is still mine and it is worth writing.  

Worst case scenario: W1 and W2 aren't published, and I embark on a completely different project (oh yes, I have one), which is eventually published.  Once established in the business, I can go back to W1 and W2, improve them and try again.  It might take ten or fifteen years, but even this brood of brain children are worth that wait.  It may feel like a defeat at first, but with the right amount of audacity and devotion, this can be turned into an opportunity.  Look at Stephen King and the years it took to flesh out The Dark Tower and to re-release The Stand in its truest edition.  (Many.)  Time is not an adequate excuse to stop the experiment.  If we can't be "novel" or versatile with the strange ebbs and flows of the publishing industry in addition to our own creative challenges, we might not make it.  That is my theory, anyway, but a hopeful one.

Today, Sarah Callender wrote for Writer Unboxed in a similar vein "The Writer as an Inventor," which I found to be helpful and encouraging.  She emphasizes adopting the habits and mind-sets of inventors to better craft our stories through passionate curiosity, obsessive focus, loyalty to our project, to embrace a healthy balance of fear and foolishness, among other things. 

As inventor-creators, we strive to answer pressing questions about ourselves... even if we don't know how to ask those questions, they're still worth striving for, reinventing and examining in new angles, through different lenses (telescope, microscope - whatever is required) until we know.  It's by no means an exact science, but writing is novel... and it's our job to make sure it always will be.  I think we're up for that challenge.

Friday, December 7, 2012

AIL Day 87: mettlesome

Day 87?  Really?  Today's adventure in logophilia is


Mettlesome is an adjective that means "full of vigor and stamina, spirited," and obviously "to have mettle".  I remember stumbling across this word and thinking of it's homonym "meddlesome", which implies mischief or sabotage.  Mettle on the other hand means courageousness, endurance, vigor of strength and temperament.  Imagine how glad I was to discover this was a virtue! 

This trying-to-find-an-agent-and-build-an-online-voice thing is quite the test of my mettle - or, more metaphorically speaking, testing the mettle and metal (iron?) that is in my personality and reinforces me when life seems to take me nowhere or backwards fast.  I spent the last two weeks combing through and revising my novel once again - not because I'm a masochist but to make sure this novel is the absolute best work I can offer.  I will be sending out another query (via snail-mail... or "hard mail" as they call it in my novel) next week, hoping of course, but also looking ahead to the next agent, the next set of materials I must prepare.  I'm learning to bounce back, to continue work on the sequel of this newly finished brain-child, to challenge myself in the physical art of making envelopes and other paper-goods for Christmas presents, to steam puddings and bake cookies, to build up that mettle and metal for the next day, the next week, the next month.  This winter won't be a dormant period, but it will be a waiting period, a testing period, and I must remind myself that there will be a Spring, even if the Winter is long and hard.  Thanks all of you for coming with me!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Launching the Novel (j)

Here goes... I emailed my novel to the first agent on my list today, so wish me luck that this process is off to a kind start.  We are in for a winter of waiting and writing.  From what I've gathered, it will more than likely take a long, long time to find an agent 1.) willing to look at the manuscript, 2.) willing to represent it, 3.) able to publish it.  This is an exercise in patience, not futility. 

I'll let you know how I'm feeling about it later on! Keep writing, I've heard.  Keep writing.  This should be a no-brainer in any situation, but it has become my mantra.  I'm clinging to it like a lifeline, all limbs, fingers and toes.  Thanks for clinging with me.


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