Sunday, December 23, 2012

Flash Fiction: Good-bye

On December 28th, 2005 my mother passed away from Metastatic Melanoma. In the weeks following I wrote a very short essay to try and put my hands around the grief that comes from losing a loved one. Eventually that morphed into this flash story about moving on. Which I am publishing here just in time for Christmas. 

In Memory of BRB 
May 14, 1951 - December 28, 2005 

Since she's been gone, life has moved on. You suppose that is to be expected. But it's still strange how normal things can seem without her. You thought you would struggle more, that the change would be catastrophic, but the reality is not what you imagined.
It isn't that you don't miss her. That would be impossible. Too many things bring her to mind. Bombshells you call them. Seeing her chair without her in it. Picking up the phone to call then remembering she isn't there to answer it. Finding one of her notes tucked away in a drawer.
Sweetheart, I love you with all my heart.
It is a slow pull, this grief. It tugs tears from you at unexpected moments. But you fear moving beyond those tears, afraid it may mean moving beyond memory.
Friends call you several times a week. Always the same exchange.
“How are you doing?”
“I'm fine. And you?”
You smile and laugh and go to work because life does move on and you must move with it.
In the quiet moments you realize you aren't doing well and you don't know how to fix it.
You dream of her. The first you think you've had of her since she left. The details are already fading when you wake. Your face is wet, eyes hot and salty. Whatever happened in that dream it broke your heart.
You think you were in those last days, when words fled her besieged mind and all that was left was that sidelong glance and mischievous smile.
What did she see when she looked at you? Something that made her smile when all you felt like was crying. What joke did she hear, what story did she remember that made her grin so wide and innocent?
In your dream, she laughed and danced. You tried to take her hand, but she was already a step beyond you.
You stuffed your hands in your pockets, sullen because you could not keep up. She circled back, moving like water around you.
“Some day you will look back and laugh.”
“At this?” You were cross, just as you had been during the final days.
“At all of it.” She smiled. “And then, I think, I will see you again.”
As if you were the one going away.
You nodded, reluctant. “Okay. Some day we'll laugh about this.”
She danced away, wearing that dress you bought her for when she was clean again. For when she could say survivor and not just fighter. Wearing the dress that you still have hanging in the closet.
The night after she passed on, you opened a bottle of wine and drank a toast and ate the chocolate you had bought her for Christmas. You looked at pictures you had from younger days. In all of them she smiled and you smiled back because the grief had not yet taken hold.
Now the silence has set in, louder than any noise.
You dull the pain with whatever you can - vodka, music, sleep – and you wait.
Some day there will be laughing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tools for Selling Your Novel: The One Sentence Logline/Super-short Pitch

Loglines are sometimes frowned upon when mentioned in connection with Novels. When I tried to get feedback on a logline a few months ago I was told "They aren't useful because you can't use them in a query so we tend to be apathetic toward them."

Ah. Yes. Well, there's more to selling a novel than writing a query letter.  

The One Sentence Logline is basically a pitching tool. It's the thing you rely on when someone says "Oh, you're writing a book? What's it about?" It doesn't matter if that someone is your great-aunt Matilda or an agent you bumped into at a writing conference. The last thing you want to be doing is groping around for an explanation of what your book is about. (And we've all been there, right? "Well, see. There's this girl. And she's magic and live in Ireland. Only it's not called Ireland, it's called Eire because the British never succeeded in invading in the 1600s. And she's lonely and then she finds out that her dad is in trouble and she wants to help him...." And then it gets really messy.) 

Also, if you're a writer who has been on Twitter with any frequency over the past year you've probably run across a Twitter Pitching contest or two. (This goes ten-fold for YA writers who frequent agent blogs.) 

The Twitter Pitch is even worse than the One Sentence Pitch because whatever sentence you come up with has to fit in about 132 characters. I know. MADNESS! But useful madness. 

Here are a couple I used during #pitmad a few months ago. 

A young magic-handler desperate to find her Da confronts conspiracy, murder and forbidden magic under the streets of 1888 London. 

With a brutal serial killer loose in London and a werewolf as her ally, Keira Fennel will save her Da or die trying. 

Keira Fennel didn't plan to run away or put her trust in a stranger, but Da's in danger and death nor magic will keep her from him. 

I had a few others, but they were multi-sentence pitches so I'll save them for the post on Three Sentence Loglines. 

"Well, that's cute," you say. "But I don't intend to enter any pitch contests and I certainly don't have the money to go to a writing conference and hobnob with agents. What good will this do me?"

If there's one vital ingredient to selling something it's KNOWING YOUR PRODUCT. It's no different when we're talking about a novel. And distilling the 400+ pages of your book into one concise sentence, one through line that will tell anyone the heart of your story, is immensely useful. Especially if you use it as a building block for other tools to pitch and sell your novel. (More on this later.) 

Holly Lisle even recommends finding the logline as part of of the editing process. Before you even cut the first word, find the logline. It's the heart of your project. The statement you can hold each chapter up to and say "How does this fit with the theme/heart of my book?"

"Okay," you say. "I might be able to use that. But how do I write a logline?"

With great difficulty. Hah. There's no perfect way to tell you how to find that single sentence summary of your story, but here is a great template (courtesy of Authoress courtesy of Holly Bodger).


Notice that she suggests two sentences there. But for this structure, one will usually work as well. Write a logline for your book based on that structure, then start playing with it.
Try and make it as effective as possible in the fewest number of words.
Try putting the goal and consequences first.
Use active words. (Verbs are your friend.)
Assign an adjective to your MC (plucky or reluctant or young or... you get the point).
SAVE EVERY VERSION. (I have a journal I use for brainstorming these. It goes through many pages just to get one usable logline.) 
Consider how to pitch the story as a romance. A thriller. An action-adventure.

If you stick with it, something will click. (It might take a few tries, it might take dozens.) Stick with it.
This will be one of the most important tools you can use to sell your novel.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Every now and then I find myself saying "I love pretty much everything about writing except for *insert dreaded thing here*." Usually that "dreaded thing" has to do with selling a project. 

FREX: I hate research markets.
I hate finding new markets.
I hate writing log-lines.
I hate writing query letters.
I hate writing synopsis.

I think you get my drift.

Yesterday I was working on a synopsis for The Steampunk Novel. I'd written one a few months ago and it sucked. I mean, it was okay, but with the recent revisions it needed changes and I'd thought from the start it seemed a little bit long so I figured I'd grit my teeth and write a new one. With much complaining. Because, you know, I hate writing a synopsis.

As I worked on it this little thing in the back of my brain started to ponder my dislike of this part of the process. It reminded me I'd done a similar round of teeth-gnashing and complaining both when writing a log-line and while trying to draft a query letter. Why was that?

I told the little thing to shut up. I was busy.
I finished the synopsis - totally and completely certain that it sucked in a very unpleasant way - and took a break to eat dinner. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Trying to write anything while hungry and tired is probably not one's best idea.) I got something to eat. Spent some time with my family, then came back to the synopsis.

Amazement of amazements, it didn't suck. It needed a few tweaks (which I made) but it was nowhere near as horrible as I had thought whilst writing it.

And then something clicked.
My hatred of log-lines/synopsis/query letters/market research grew out of a very quiet sense of fear.
Sure, there was the fear that all my hard work writing The Steampunk Novel would be lost if I didn't have a killer query with which to pitch it. The fear that the synopsis would not reflect the really interesting aspects or voice of the book. But beyond that was a deeper, more personal fear.

Suppose the query worked? Suppose I got a request for a partial?*** Suppose an agent read my first chapters/150 pages/whatever and DIDN'T LIKE THE WRITING? What if my wordcraft was bad? What if the thing I'd loved so much and put so much energy into... sucked?

I've spent four years trying to get over the idea that what I write isn't worth much. Four years focused on practicing my craft in the hopes that I would get better. That I would gain confidence. That I would get good at writing.

Along the way I'd conquered a series of things that I "hated". (Finishing stories. Editing stories. Finding a market. Dealing with rejections. And so on.) One by one I'd put them behind me until the only things that stood between me and selling my novel (well, finding representation for my novel and THEN selling it) were the query letter and synopsis.

I hated them. I doubted my ability to make the book sound interesting. I doubted my ability to be succinct.
I doubted the value of the story I had told. I doubted my ability to tell a story, period.

That, you see, was the whole problem. Doubt.
The gut-wrenching, mouth-drying, palm-sweating fear that after all this time I still wouldn't be any good at this thing that I love so much.

And that's when I realized I don't have to "hate" any of it. All of that angst and blather about "hating " was just a smoke screen for my insecurity. And there was only one thing to do. 


I wrote a lot of short stories before I discovered Write 1, Sub 1 and used that as an excuse to start sending things out. I started a lot (A LOT!) of novels before I found NaNoWriMo and used that as an excuse to write the first draft of The Steampunk Novel. The only thing that changed between the short stories I wrote and shelved and the ones I submitted was that I submitted them anyway. Even when I was CERTAIN they sucked. (And the ones I thought sucked the most, sold the fastest.)

The only thing that changed between the dozens (yes, dozens) of novels I started and never got past the first 50 pages and the two that I've finished is that I didn't stop when I thought the book sucked. And then I went back and fixed the parts that weren't good. Even when I was CERTAIN it was a waste of time.

So, my (very long) piece of advice for today is: DO IT ANYWAY.
Whatever that writing related thing is that you "hate" (drafting/editing/querying/outlining/writing)... DO IT ANYWAY. 


*** Which, incidentally, I have. So much for thinking my query letters are shite.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Goals 2013

About this time last year I posted my goals for 2012.

1: To finish and submit Gaslyte - the novel-in-progress I've been working on since 2008 - by the end of the year.

2: To finish and submit at least one longer length project - 15k or more - by the end of the year.

3: To polish and submit the handful of stories I wrote this year but have languished in my pile of "to edit" projects.

4: To write a minimum of 15k per month.

I can safely say I've failed at all of those. (Well, there's a sliver of hope for #1 still. Maybe.)  

Here's what I did accomplish this year.

The Spider-Thief and the Sorcerer

The Collections Agent
Happy After All
In the Cool of the Day

I also made serious revisions to The Steampunk Novel that have brought me to the brink of querying it. (See? There's still hope.) And in June and August I wrote nearly 40k words (combined). It has been a productive year. It has not been productive in the way that I envisioned it. And that's okay.

But I'm back in that same spot; asking myself "What do I want to accomplish next year?" After much thought (and too much coffee) my goals for 2013 look like this.

1: Find an Agent Who Can Sell The Steampunk Novel
2: Finish the Novellas I started This Year but HAVEN'T FINISHED
3: Write another Novel or Two
4: Sell my Short Stories

Notice how open-ended those are? Last year I tried making specific goals, laying out a plan of attack, and I did very little that I set out to do. (Again. It was a productive year, but not in the way I had planned.) This year I'll try something new and different. And, most importantly, I will not do what I did this year which was to waste time on personal lamentation about how I wasn't meeting those goals. 

Here's to a fresh start! And, hopefully, a fresh attitude.