Saturday, March 3, 2007

A Writer's Goals

My Goals as a Writer
I know I said yesterday's post was the last for the week, but after writing a bit more today on the short story I'm working on, I had the sudden urge to examine my goals as an author. What is it that I want to accomplish?

My goals may actually be unique to me. You see, like everyone else, I want to build a solid, successful writing career and make money as an author so that I don't have to do anything but write. I want to become successful enough that I can send a finished novel off t my agent and have her send it to my publisher, with the assumption that it'll probably be accepted. Or even sell the idea to a publisher before I write the novel. I don't care if I make a fortune, or become a household name, but I want to be successful and have writing be my career.

But there's more to it than that, and I don't know if I've ver mentioned it on here before. I want to write comic books. I don't intend to ever give up writing novels, not by any means. But one of the things I really want to do is have a run of Superman or Green Lantern under my belt. I want my novels to get me noticed by the editors at DC.

Is that strange? I mean, I love what I'm doing writing my novels, and I want to succeed as a novelist. But a large part of the reason for that is that I want to be noticed, and be considered credible, when I approach DC Comics with an idea for a multi-issue story arc of one of my favorite characters. Or even an idea for a totally new creation, or a graphic novel adaptation of one of my novels.

Is it likely? Not really, although it's not out of the realm of possibility these days. Lots of creators and writers from outside the comic genre are being asked to work in comic books lately. Orson Scott Card, Raymond Feist, Richard Donner.

So yes, I want to be a successful novelist. I want people to love my books. I want teens and young adults around the world to wait with unprecedented impatience for my next novel. But in addition, I want to have my name in my favorite comic books as writer.

Just more evidence of my eternal geekhood.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Something new to interfere with my writing.
I really depise cold weather. You see, I live in a little old house (built around the turn of the last century), and it's drafty an has its share of problems. One of these problems is the plumbing.

I don't have a basement, just a crawlspace, and it's drafty and not heated. For the past several years, when we get a serious cold snap, my pipes freeze. So last year I decided to do something about it. Because most of my pipes busted last year, I ripped out all the old copper and galvanized piping and replaced my entire plumbing system, by myself, with PVC. One reason is that I know how to work with PVC; I can repair it myself. Another is that parts for PVC piping are much cheaper. After I replaced my entire system with PVC, I insulated the pipes with snap-on insulation. According to the guy at the home store, that would keep them from freezing.

It didn't.

So for the past week and a half, I've been tracing down multiple leaks and cracked pipes, trying to find them all and repair them. Thankfully, because I replaced with PVC, it only cost me about $60 in materials and the time it took me, rather than several hundred to a plumber. But it's irritating. And I'm kicking myself, because in addition to the insulation, I had planned to put these heat strips on the pipes that are guaranteed to keep them above freezing. I bought the strips, but never got around to installing them. Ugh.

So I've gotten very little work done in the past several weeks. I've been working on a short story for the Writers of the Future contest, but I haven't gotten very far yet, and I'm not feeling that confident about my ability to work in short formats. I did get my marked up pages back on book 2, and have completed all the revisions that I want to do for now. But that was easy; there wasn't really that much to it.

Still no word back from my agent. For about two weeks now, my first book has been in the hands of three major publishers. It'll be a while before I hear anything, but I check my e-mail daily hoping to hear from my agent. Nothing so far, though, and we most likely won't be submitting anywhere else until we hear back from these three.

So there's my last update for the week. I'll be spending the weekend doing quite a bit of writing, so maybe I'll have some new insights to post soon. In the meantime, check out another site that I post on quite a bit. is run by several pro authors in the scifi and fantasy genre, names like Katherine Kerr, Carol Berg, Kate Elliot, and many others. The site has areas to post questions for the various authors as well as a section on "Writing My First Novel" where you can post questions, concerns, look for hints and tips, get encouragement, etc. I'm not affiliated with this site, but I post there and get/give tips and insight there. If you're interested in what I have had to say there, or what other budding authors are up to, it's a good resource. I post there under the name ehjones.

And if anybody has any good links to other author resources and websites, send them my way! I'm always looking for other writers, pro and amateur alike, to talk to.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Wow, that didn't take long at all

And my blog from MySpace is officially and completely copied over to Blogger! Yay!

So if you're reading this, and you want to get a handle on who I am, what I'm doing, and what I've accomplished so far, go back and read my old blogs. The details of my work on my first novel, my surprising success in finding an agent, and my first very close call with getting published are all there for your enjoyment (and possibly ridicule, but I'm OK with that).

And new posts will be coming at a rate of 3 to 7 per week (depending on whether there is any news to report). So if you find what you read here interesting, keep checking back! Favorite me! Tell your friends! And please, leave me comments... I want to create a forum, a community of friends who are as interested in what I have to say as I am in what they have to say.
MySpace blogs from Aug. 15 and 17, 2006

Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2006 12:18PM

How it All Began

Hello and welcome to my first attempt at blogging!
What you will find here may be fascinating, it may be boring, but it will certainly be... ummm... typed.

I'm a single father in the southern Indiana area. One of my lifelong goals has been to become a successful writer, but I've never been able to fulfill that dream. I suppose that's due in large part to the fact that, after I left college, I never really wrote anything again. Ever. That's all changed over the past few months, though. I've re-acquired the creative bug.

It all started when I had this little idea for a short story starring my son. I was going to write it just for him, figuring he'd get a kick out of reading a story where he was the hero. This was nearly a year ago, mind you. I wrote the introductory passage, and it was a nice little beginning of what I thought would be a fun read for a twelve year old child. But then life, work, and parenting troubles intruded, and I lost track of what I'd been doing with the story. In fact, I lost all the copies, even electronic, that I had of this wonderful story beginning.

Fast forward to spring of 2006. Those parental troubles I mentioned before? Yeah, they were still around. Basically, my kid was driving me nuts. He was refusing to do his schoolwork, lazing around, giving a LOT of attitude, getting in trouble at school, and basically being a typical angsty teen. At twelve. Ugh. It's pretty much accepted as fact by his teachers that my son is very, very bright, with the potential to finish at the head of the class in whatever he does. But it's also fact that he's lazy, doesn't like to do any kind of work or activity that he doesn't enjoy, has a temper, and generally acts like the world owes him a pass. With a lot of hard work, mostly on my part, I managed to shove him through the last few weeks of sixth grade with marks that got him promoted to seventh. Barely. And in June, he went off to stay with his mother for the summer, as usual.

So I suddenly conceived a bright notion. I'd re-work the story I'd been writing for him before. I'd change the character, who I'd initially written as kind of a happy-go-lucky kid with just a few problems in school, to a not-quite-troubled-but-almost teen that was more in line with the reality of what we were going through. And I started from scratch. I sat down one day in early June and started writing a story outline. It quickly grew into a novel outline, and by the end of the week, I had an entire book, thirteen chapters and a prologue, mapped out in outline form. This was something I'd never done before. My earlier failures at writing a novel, the ones that caused me to abandon my dream, consisted of me sitting at a keyboard and typing sixty pages or so and having the story get away from me so badly that I just tossed it all and started over. I must have done that a hundred times in the early 90's as I tried to live my dream. But this was different, a new (to me) way of writing. So, using my outline as a reference, I started writing. And writing. And writing. For the most part, except for some minor tweaks and changes here and there, I stayed true to the outline, and that's been my saving grace. Instead of having the story go off in directions I didn't want it to after sixty or so pages, I've written 75,000 words of a 90,000 word novel in just over two months. I've had a little assistance in the editing process, but for the most part it's mainly been correcting typos and instances where I've called a character by another character's name. (That happens more often than you might think, by the way.)

The biggest change to come out of this process, though, is that the story evolved from it's original purpose. Yes, I still want my son to read it and perhaps use it to gain some insight into his own life, and the story is still about him and for him. But I've got the itch now. I want this published, and with the reception I've been getting from the few people I've allowed to read it thus far, I think I have a good shot at it.
Just two more chapters and I'll be finished and ready to start the final editing. And once that's done, it's time to officially submit to a few agents!

Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006 9:40AM

Where I Stand
82,787 words, according to MS Word. That's where I stand. Now, I know that actually equates to about 70,000 words in the way that publishers count them (no words under 3 characters are counted, and many common words with more letters are excluded as well) (and a big oopsie edit added in: I was SOOOOO wrong about how publishers count words! My 82K words was actually over 100K by their method!). Why am I so concerned about the word count? Well, at first, I was concerned that I was going to come in under 80,000 words, which most agents and publishers would consider a novella. Many publishers are unwilling to consider this, what they consider shorter fiction, no matter how good the story might be. Most agents I've queried have requested that a fantasy novel be no less than 80,000 and no more than 130,000 words. Now that I've passed the 80,000 word minimum, my concern is that I'll overshoot the 130,000 mark by a great deal. As it turns out, I still have quite a bit of story left to tell before I can join my ending (already written) to the rest of the book.

Now, all that being said, it still comes down to story and writing style. I can't really define my style, or tell you who to read to get an idea of how I write. (What you're reading now? Yeah, that's not how I write.) All I can tell you is that I've had my two editors (who I count with a grain of salt because they're related to me) and several friends, acquaintences, and even one stranger, read selected sections of this novel, and so far it's been received with unanimous praise and requests to read the finished work. There's been the usual pointing out of typos and even the occasional suggestion on tightening something up or fleshing something out, but overall, there've been no suggestions for major changes or even re-wording. So apparently my writing style is one that some find pleasant.

As for where I am now in the story, well, last night I finished the rough draft on a chapter that really seemed to be tough for me, but I think it turned out pretty well. It's not the most action packed sequence in the book, but it's definitely the one where the most different things are going on all at the same time. It's kind of a three-tiered chase sequence that ends with two of the three parties joining together, and a jailbreak at the end. It's hard to explain without giving some details about plot, which I'm doing my best to avoid yet. Someday soon I'll post a basic synopsis, but I won't give away the end or any of the twists I've put in. Suffice it to say, this chapter really kicked me in the butt, but now that it's written, I'm more than pleased with how it turned out. Not only does it have moments of suspense, humor, and action, but it moves the story to where it needs to go next and reunites my two primary characters, who have been separated throughout almost the entire text so far.

Oh, yeah, and I caught myself again last night calling one character by another's name. That seems to be my own little personal pitfall. If this book ever gets published, I hope to God that whoever edits the thing looks closely for that!

Tomorrow, I plan on posting a little snippet about my life and what's been going on. I was going to forgo things like that, but I finally realized that it's a big part of the process. So if you're not interested in hearing my personal problems, skip tomorrow's entry.

MySpace Blogs from Aug. 17 2006-Sept. 5 2006

Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006 3:28PM

And the other shoe drops.

Well, this is going to qualify as one of those obstacles to writing, so I suppose it deserves a late afternoon update. I am a PC technician who works for a company that is contracted by a local government agency to provide all of their technical support and computer management/operations needs. As of today, my company has announced that our client will not be exercising their option to extend our current contract through the end of the year, and our company chose not to put in a bid for the next contract. The client has selected a new vendor who will be taking over all operations on the first of October. This means, essentially, that unless I am offered a job by the new vendor, then I will be released from my employment in the place where I have worked for the past five and a half years.

Not that this wasn't somewhat expected. It's a very political environment, and it's been obvious to us all for quite some time that this axe was going to fall. I've been looking for a new job for almost a year, but the market in this area is remarkably dry for my chosen field, and I am unable to consider relocation. And aside from all of that, I LIKE my job, I like my clients, and they are rather fond of me as well.

And so, we have as of today embarked on the process of trying to transition a two-thousand-plus-user operation from one vendor to another in a bare 45 days. It's going to be a monumental task just on the PC/Operations side (my area of responsibility), not to mention for the networking and system security side of things.

One good thing, though. If I am not offered a job by the new vendor, then I essentially get a severance package that will keep me in paychecks until almost the first of the year. If that event occurs, I suppose I'll try to look at it as a two and a half month vacation.

Anybody want to lay odds on whether or not I can sell a manuscript in four and a half months? LOL, I'll be betting not, if that tells you anything.

Friday, Aug. 18, 2006 4:44PM

About the Author
Random facts about yours truly:
My name is Eric Jones.

I graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1991.

I've been writing as a hobby since I was 9 years old, but I haven't made a serious attempt at becoming a professional since shortly after my son was born. Say, 1995 or so.

I've been an avid reader since the age of 4, and read my first full-length novel (The Hobbit) at the age of 6. From that day forward, I was hooked, a true fantasy junkie.

I'm ashamed to say that my favorite novel is Battlefield Earth, despite the fact that the alleged author was a total nutjob.

I was divorced in 1995 and became the custodial parent of my then 1-year-old son.

My son, Hal, lives with me 10 months out of the year and spends summers with his mother.

I'm a college dropout after multiple attempts. First try, I was a screwup. Second try, I tried to do too much at once and ended up dropping out to get a real job and take care of family. Third try, I was a single dad and couldn't hack the responsibilities of college and parenthood. I know, I know, other people do it, but I couldn't. College took a back seat, and I ended up dropping out yet again. I'll probably try again when I'm 60 and graduate just in time to go on social security.

My favorite author of all time is Piers Anthony. I haven't loved all of his books, but I've loved enough of them to form an opinion of his genius.

I'm terrified of spiders.

Monday, Aug. 21, 2006 3:18PM

Unproductive Weekend
Didn't really accomplish much this weekend. My son had a friend over Saturday night, and they kept me up til all hours playing PS2 and being loud, so I didn't get much writing done. I did transfer everything I had written so far from my spiral notebook into my PC, but I didn't get much new material written. Sunday was laundry and lawn mowing day, so there wasn't much done in the daylight hours, but I stayed up late and got some work done. As for the word count, I'm just over 90,000 words at last count, and there's a lot more left to do.

I thought I'd talk a little bit about the technique I'm using to organize and create this novel. It's something relatively new for me, but it's the technique I'll be using from here on out, that's for sure.

In the old days, when I was trying to write novellas and short stories, I'd sit down at the keyboard and just start typing. I thought this was they way to do it. It seemed to work well enough for short stories and poetry, but for anything longer, it always seemed to bomb. If you've ever heard a writer talk about how a story got away from them and started going places they didn't want it to go, that pretty much describes my experiences. I would end up with a secondary character taking over the story, or I'd have what I thought was a brilliant idea and add it to the story, only to find that it wasn't so brilliant and didn't work with what I had planned in my head.

This time, I've changed my technique completely. To begin, I wrote a little snipped of story, something that flowed well and gave me ideas for where I wanted to go with it. Then, I sat down with pen and paper and began an outline of the story from beginning to end. This may not be possible for future books; I was lucky in that I had the story complete in my mind before I started the outline. So my outline consisted of a chapter by chapter synopsis of literally everything I had planned to put in the book. Every action sequence, every major story beat, every major character. This process took me a week.

After the outline was finished, I sat down again with a fresh composition notebook and a new pen and started writing, following the outline fairly religiously. There were a few tweaks here and there, but for the most part, I followed the outline point for point, simply turning outline to prose. But I got to a certain point and I realized I didn't have a map of all my characters and an outline of their personalities and whatnot. So I sat down to do that. One of the major changes in the book came from it, actually. One of the secondary lead characters ended up changing gender, which added a new subplot and bit of interest to the story. Later on, I realized the need to add another character and make some slight changes to yet another subplot. This just illustrates that the outline I created wasn't set in stone, but rather was a very fluid and mutable tool. And, thanks to the outline, those brilliant ideas could be checked against the later chapters that hadn't yet been written, just to make sure they really were brilliant.

After I finished writing the first four chapters, basically what amounts to the 50-60 page sample you send with a query, I sat down at the keyboard and typed it up. It wasn't a direct, word-for-word process here, either. The typed pages were essentially my second draft, with wording changes, passages and sections flip-flopped to make them work better, and even a little snippet thrown in from scratch here and there. The main thing that writing by hand before typing did for me, though, was to slow me down a bit. I never had a chance to get ahead of myself, because I write a LOT slower than I type. Anyway, I gave these typed pages to my two editors, and went back to my notebook to write some more. The pages were given back to me a few days later with a remarkable amount of red ink on them. As it turns out, typos you make yourself are completely and totally invisible until looked at by another person and outlined in red! There were also a few suggestions for expanding passages, which suggested that I was going too fast. I knew what was supposed to happen, but I wasn't making it clear enough in some spots. But for the most part, the pages were well received.

One interesting (to me) thing that happened was that my timeline from outline to first and second draft was slipping. As an example, I ended up with four characters who were trying to chase down two others to save them, but the two others had a four week head start. Geography and the laws of physics couldn't reconcile this. But, the four week head start was required for other parts of the story to make sense. I realized at that point that I didn't have a map of the world (the one this story takes place on, at least). So I sat down and tried to figure out how to draw a map so that the pursuing party could take a different route and gain four weeks in the chase. And I was able to do it, by coming up with a reason as to why the first party would have taken an overland route when there was a perfectly good, and far shorter, water route that would cut that much time off their journey. And when I came up with the map to fit these new facts, amazingly, much of my timeline now suddenly fit together beautifully with no extra tweaks needed!

Ain't it amazing how these things work out?

And from then on it was rinse and repeat for the next ten chapters, bringing me to about where I am now. There have been some additions and subtractions to the story, but for the most part, what I've written is pretty much what I outlined almost three months ago.

And that's why I'll be using this technique for everything I want to write from now on, from short story to epic novel. This way of doing things has been what's made it possible for me to get as far as I have.

Sorry if I'm boring anyone with this. I know that what seems interesting to me might be nails on the chalkboard to other people, and I also know that I can be remarkably long winded. It's hard to guage how these posts are being received, as I haven't received any comments posted yet. Fear not, the excitement is about to appear, as I begin the process of submitting formal queries and sample chapters to agents. And then, of course, the excitement will vanish as I wait the interminable weeks and/or months for the many rejection letters (and hopefully a couple of acceptance letters!) that are bound to flow in.

Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006 11:16AM

Getting Frustrated

I'm almost there. I'm so close I can taste it. I'm at 98,000 words, 264 typed and double spaced 8 1/2x11 pages, 16 and a half whirlwind chapters, and I know where the story needs to go. I just can't get it there easily. Some of the things I outlined took more space than I thought they would. And this last bit that I just finished writing was HARD, much more so than it should have been. I kept having to back up and re-write. It was a tense scene involving a cave in, a sword fight, and a lot of tension. But no matter what I did, it either seemed to rush or drag. I tried trimming it down to the bare essentials of the story, and it seemed rushed. I added some more dialogue, descriptions of surroundings, and descriptions of the events as they were occurring, and it seemed to drag. It took me 5 re-writes to finally strike a balance, but it's taken me nearly 3 days just to get this one chapter written in first draft. Now I have my characters where I want them, and they're on their way to the climactic final battle (which I've already written), but there is one major story beat I have to hit, which isn't panning out as I'd hoped but is VERY IMPORTANT to the story, and one minor subplot that's going well but will require some minor re-writes to earlier chapters because it almost feels thrown in at this point. And that was a very long but surprisingly close to grammatically correct sentence I just wrote.

UGH! It's frustrating being this close and having this many problems! To make this work, I'm going to have to add another half a chapter before the climax, AND another five or six thousand words in earlier chapters to make this minor plot point make sense. And it has to make sense, because it figures into the second and third books rather prominently, although still a subplot and not a main plotline.

I'll get it. I'll probably finish up tonight, go back and do a little tweaking here and there, and then print up a couple of copies to hand to my editors. Also, by this Friday I'll be mailing off six copies of the first four chapters with synopses and query letters to six agents. I've thoroughly researched agents online and through several other resources, and chosen a dozen that handle this type of project, are actively seeking new projects, are open to new writers, and have successfully sold novels I've either heard of or heard of the author. These six are my first official foray into the submission world.

Wish me luck!

PS- If anyone has any pointers on getting seen and noticed by agents and editors, feel free to let me know.
And, if anyone wants to read the first few chapters that I feel are ready for public consumption, just to give me a critique and opinion of my style, I'd certainly appreciate it.
And finally, if there are any established authors out there who'd be willing to read my work and give me an honest blurb about it, I'd be more than willing to drop a copy in the mail to you. Just to make sure it's something you might read on your own, I'll tell you that it's a fantasy/fiction novel geared toward teens to young adults (up to my age and older... I'm young, right?). I'm posting another blog entry today with the semi-blurb I wrote while organizing my thoughts for writing the query letter. Check it out, and if you want to see the finished product, let me know!

Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006 1:06PM

Here's the blurb for my novel:

Hal is a bright young slacker who's having trouble both in school and in his personal life. He is remarkably short-sighted when it comes to taking care of his responsibilities, preferring to spend his time and effort playing video games, reading, or wandering in his grandparents' woods. By the middle of his last semester of seventh grade, it's beginning to look like he's going to be held back despite his exceptional mind, and his father, Eric, is at his wits' end. But the final straw, in Eric's eyes, is when Hal gets suspended for fighting with the school bully. At a loss for what to do to help his beleaguered son, Eric considers private school, counseling, even boot camps.

But then Hal discovers a strange house in his grandparents' woods that wasn't there before. With hardly any warning, he is pulled out of his own world and dropped into a strange new realm of magic, monsters, and dragons, and the race begins to find his way home. Little does he know that his father has been pulled into this strange world behind him. Can Hal defeat the Great Dragon and save the world of Canellin from certain destruction? Can Eric find Hal in time to save him from his own impetuous actions? Can the two find their way home, now that they've been recruited by... the Gatehouse?

So, is that suitably melodramatic?

Sunday, Aug. 27, 2006 12:55AM


105,294 words, 18 chapters, prologue and epilogue, and I'M DONE!!

Well, sort of done. The first six chapters are final draft, the rest still needs editing and possibly some re-writes and expanding some passages. But as for the main story, it's all down on paper. It's printing out right this minute on my laser printer to go to my editors. As for my queries, I sent off six of them Friday afternoon. All of the agents I submitted to promise replies to every snail-mail query within three weeks to six months. I've got all my fingers and toes crossed that I'll hear back good news soon.

My work's not done yet. The editing and re-writes haven't taken long for the ones I've done so far, but I have twice as much to edit now as I've done so far through the entire process. I think I'm probably looking at two, maybe three weeks more work and I'll have something I consider final draft. Hopefully just in time to hear back from an agent or two as to whether they want to see the full manuscript!

After I finish my editing, I need a break. I'll probably take a week or so off from writing before starting the outline for book two. And then it's back to the grind again!

Wish me luck, everybody!

Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006 10:37AM

It's coming along!

Well, I'm deeply into the editing process, and it's going great guns. I've been marking up a copy I made for myself to show typos and mark passages that need work. I've marked four passages so far that need to be re-written due to changes made later in the book that aren't reflected earlier on, but I was expecting that. They're things I changed but never went back and corrected in the earlier chapters, and the re-writes won't take long on those at all. I've also been told by one of my editors who has finished her work already that there is a character in there that could be expanded further. I've looked it over, and I'm considering it, but I'm not sure yet. It wouldn't be that hard to do, but it'll add length to the book and I'm not sure it's necessary.

There is one thing that I could REALLY use some help on. There's a section in there where one of the heroes is on a sea voyage, and the captain of the ship is teaching him how to use a sextant. Never having held a sextant, much less used one, I'm not entirely sure I got it right. I looked some info up on the Internet, but couldn't find anything that described the actual measuring process, just how to use the measurements. I'm also not 100% sure that my description of how to plot your location using the stars is accurate, though I know it's fairly close. So if there's anyone out there who is familiar with celestial navigation and use of a sextant, I'd greatly appreciate having someone go over the text for me and point out any errors. Re-writing it to be correct won't take much time at all, I just don't know what correct is for sure!

Other than that, it's going great, and I'm excited. I'm getting great reviews from the few people who have read sections so far. If there's anyone reading this who would like to read the manuscript, let me know! I'm always concerned about bias, so I'm looking for people to give me fair, honest critiques. I can take constructive criticism, I promise! So just give me a yell!

Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006 9:44AM

So a couple of weeks ago, I opened my case of RC and found that one of the cans had a gold top, while the rest were silver. I almost ignored it, but I noticed on the side of the can an advertisement for the "Jeep Top Down Summer". Turns out, the can was a free entry to the last game of the season for our local Frontier League baseball team. Not only that, those who had the cans were given a raffle ticket for a chance to win one of 2 brand new Jeep Wranglers. So I saved the can and went to the game last night.

They drew 11 names after every inning for the raffle. The names had to match up with the raffle tickets, and those names were the semi-finalists for the jeeps. The moment of excitement came when they called Eric Holmes, or something like that. Yeah. That's not me. Close, but no cigar. My son was sure I'd misheard, though. Even after I verified for him that I was NOT one of the 99 semi-finalists, he insisted on sitting there with my raffle ticket in hand, hoping they'd call my number. They weren't even calling raffle numbers by then... the 99 were given nametags numbered 1-99, and those were the numbers they were drawing from. But try to explain this to a 13 year old who's absolutely certain that it's his father's big moment, and should be the one to win the jeep!! LOL

Anyway, after the game, I went home and stayed up late on my editing. I've finished my own read-through and marked up my manuscript pretty thoroughly, and have made almost half of the corrections in the computer (including one re-write) that I marked. Unless one of the other passages that needs a re-write kicks me in the pants, I should be finished within the next day or two. Unfortunately, one of my editors is dragging her heels and hasn't even had a chance to start working on it. So I'm still looking at a week or two before I can sit down with them and go over the changes THEY suggest (which will probably coincide with the ones I've already made). I'm getting all impatient, even though I know it'll be months before I get any replies, provided I get any, asking to see the manuscript.

So, an exciting night, a fun baseball game (our team won... they're a game away from clinching the wild card for the playoffs), and a productive late night editing. Hopefully book 2 goes as well as this one has!

Friday, Sept. 1, 2006 11:15AM

I've done my part.

My editing is now finished, and I have what I consider to be the second or third draft of the completed manuscript. Second, because it's the second draft since the manuscript was completed. Third, because I edited the earlier chapters several times as I was writing, so most of the book has been edited three or even four times.

Special thanks to the anonymous messager who sent me the link to Nova Online's explanation of how to take measurements with a sextant, and how to navigate using a sextant. It was EXCELLENT, both simple and informative, and allowed me to correct my passage involving navigation with just a couple of minor tweaks.

I've been waiting for my editors to have a moment to sit down with me and go over what they've been given with me, so we can see if my changes were the same as theirs (most probably were) and so that I can see what they think I should change that I haven't already. I'm hoping to have that opportunity this weekend. If we can do it Saturday, I'm confident I can have the next draft completed by the end of the holiday weekend. Fingers crossed!

I have expanded the initial query mailing now to include a total of 13 agents in the hopes of receiving at least a couple of hopeful replies. If nothing else, I'd like for at least a couple of them to want to read the full manuscript. I figure if they read the manuscript, I have a 50/50 shot of being offered representation. And according to all the market studies I've read, it's about a 50/50 shot of being published if you find an agent. Now I just need to polish the text to make sure what I send to any agents that want to read it is clear, entertaining, and the best work I can put forward.

I've given PDF copies of the book to several friends of a friend (people I don't know personally), and am hoping to hear back unbiased opinions very soon. I also repeat the same offer I've made on here, if anyone wants to read my work, please, feel free to contact me. I'd like to get as many outside opinions as I can before sending the full manuscript off.

Here's the text of my query letter:

There are many worlds beyond our own. Worlds filled with magic, mystical creatures, and danger.

Hal is a bright young slacker who's having trouble both in school and in his personal life. He is remarkably short-sighted when it comes to taking care of his responsibilities, preferring to spend his time and effort playing video games, reading, or wandering in his grandparents' woods. By the middle of his last semester of seventh grade, it's beginning to look like he's going to be held back despite his exceptional mind, and his father, Eric, is at his wits' end. But the final straw comes when Hal is suspended for fighting with the school bully. At a loss for what to do to help his troubled son, Eric considers private school, counseling, and even boot camps. But then Hal discovers a house in the forest that wasn't there before, and without warning, he is pulled out of his own world and dropped into a strange new realm of magic, monsters, and dragons. The only way home is a dangerous quest to save the kingdom of Canellin from an evil dragon whose sole purpose is to destroy all human life. Little does Hal know that his father has been pulled into this strange world behind him. What happens next is a thrilling tale of adventure, betrayal, and personal growth, as Hal learns that to live is to strive, and his father learns that sometimes you have to trust in those you love to do the right thing.

This 106,000 word novel is aimed toward the young adult market. The resurgence in popularity of this genre is evident by the success of such works as the Pendragon series, the Chronicles of Narnia, and the Artemis Fowl books. This book shares similarities with these, but is unique in tone and plot. There are four books planned for this series, with the possibility of more beyond the initial offering. The format of the series allows for almost limitless possibilities. The novels could touch on anything from swords and sorcery to super heroes to science fiction.

I have been a fan and avid reader of fantasy and science fiction from a very early age, but this is my first attempt at publication. The characters in this novel are based on my own life experiences raising my son as a single parent. What would happen if a normal father and son were thrown into a world unlike anything theyd ever imagined? This novel attempts to answer that question. The novel is complete and ready for publication, and I am currently working on the second book in the series.

Enclosed you will find a synopsis and the first sixty pages of The Gatehouse: The Door to Canellin for your review. These materials are disposable copy. I have also enclosed a SASE for your convenience. Please let me know if you are interested in reading the full text of The Gatehouse: The Door to Canellin.

Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006 10:08AM

Writing a synopsis SUCKS

I've sent queries off to another batch of agents, bringing my grand total to 25. It's difficult enough trying to tailor every query letter to the agent, so that they'll know you've researched them and that you believe your manuscript would be a good fit with them. But every agent has different submission guidelines to keep track of. This guy wants the query, one page synopsis, and first 5 pages. That guy wants the query and a chapter by chapter synopsis. And this other one wants the query, 1 to 5 page synopsis, and the first 50-60 pages. It takes me several hours just to set up the letters and print the right documents to send!

Writing a synopsis isn't as easy as I'd thought it would be. I now have three of them. One is my 1-page synopsis, not very detailed but just giving an overview of the beginning, middle, and end of my manuscript. It's pretty similar to the book jacket synopsis you read before you buy a book, except it includes the ending. It's HARD boiling down nearly 110,000 words into a one-page blurb! The second one is not as difficult, the 3 page synopsis. It allows for a little expansion and more detail so you can hit on the high points and still make it sound exciting, interesting, and fresh. I call this my 'book report' version. I think my 1-page synopsis is better, but the 3-page carries much more detail. The last one, though, the chapter by chapter, is horrible. The guidelines insist that your chapter by chapter synopsis be no more than ten pages. But I have 18 chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue. That means I only have a couple of paragraphs per chapter, even less if it's double spaced as they usually request. This synopsis is supposed to hit ALL of the highlights of the novel in that tiny amount of space! It ends up being dry, and I think very boring, reading. Reading over my chapter by chapter synopsis doesn't even make ME want to read my novel! Thank god most agents don't want that much. Most of them wanted the one page synopsis.

Oh, and back to the manuscript editing. I've completed the content editing and now have my novel exactly where I want it to be as far as story and flow. All that's left now is a once-over to make sure there are no typos or glaring grammatical errors and I'll consider it polished and ready to be published. In other words, I'm essentially finished. Now it's all down to the waiting. I hate waiting. I'm taking just this week off from this process, and then I'm starting on book 2. I've gotten so into the habit of this being what I do with all my free time that I don't know what to do with myself otherwise.

MySpace Blog from Sept.6 2006-Oct. 14 2006

(There were no posts between Oct. 14 and Dec. 11)

Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2006 11:52AM

Lucky news!

Well, not really related to the publishing efforts, and probably not interesting to most. It's another one of those things that affects me, personally, and thus affects the amount of time I have to work on my writing. I found out today that they made a mistake in explaining to us here at work about the severance package or "supplemental assistance pay". We were originally told that we had to apply for unemployment immediately upon leaving the company, and that for 10 weeks, our employer would pay us the difference between our current salaries and what the unemployment office paid. That would put us losing almost half our income just as Christmas rolled around. This is not entirely correct.

What will actually happen is, we will have 10 weeks' pay deposited for us in an account. Once we start our unemployment, we'll receive a check from our former employer for the difference in salaries. BUT, it's not limited to ten weeks, it's drawn out of the EQUIVALENT of ten weeks that's in that account. In other words, just to use round numbers, let's say they put in $5000 ($500 a week) for me, and my unemployment is $300 a week. My former employer will send me $200 a week to make up the difference until all $5000 is gone. That makes my $5K last 25 weeks instead of 10.

Now, I make more than $500 a week, so the amount that will be put in my account will be more. Unemployment is also more than $300 a week for me, so that changes the numbers as well. But when you do the math basing it on my salary and what I'll qualify for in unemployment, it comes out to 21 weeks pay. Another cool thing, BTW, is there's the possibility of a retention bonus from my current employer for staying through the end of the contract. They're nervous about that, since so many have already jumped ship right in the middle of transition. So there's another couple grand, cash up front. This all means, basically, if I draw unemployment for that long, I'll still be getting paid my current salary through the second week in February, AND I'll have a couple grand to blow on Christmas (or a new laptop for me hehehe)!!!

Vacation!!! LOL

My bet is, I can finish book two and have a VERY good start on book three in that amount of time. If I'm VERY lucky (OK, so it's not likely I will be, but a guy can dream) I'll have sold the first book by then! So hey, I guess it does have a bit to do with the publishing effort after all!

*sigh* Yeah, I know, nice dream. Chances are, I'll find a job within the first 8 to 10 weeks, in which case I'll stop getting the assistance pay altogether. But a 21 week vacation, with the checks still coming in? Sounds like a dream job to me. What this really does for me is make me not stress out so much about the fact that the new vendor that's coming in is one that I'm not really fond of, personally, at least not the management. I'm pretty sure they're not going to offer me a position within their new structure, so I'll definitely have to find something else.

And do I feel bad about mooching off my company, or the unemployment office, for so long? A friend of mine actually asked me that. He and his wife are DINKs(Double Income, No Kids), don't really have a clue about how a single parent has to live. He's the kind of guy who asks if I want to hit a bar on a Thursday night, and doesn't get it when I say no, it's a school night, I can't get out. LOL So, do I feel guilty? Not a chance! I've given almost six years of my life to this employer, not counting unpaid overtime and just altogether being treated like crap. I work for a company that, nationwide, has over 120,000 employees. I'm just a number, and not a very big one. The way I see it, they can afford to pay me for my trouble. And unemployment? I've been paying into unemployment insurance for almost ten years without having drawn any. That's what it's for. Yeah, I'll be trying to find a job, and I hope I do it quickly. But no, I won't have a bit of guilt drawing my unemployment checks till I find work. I've been paying other people's unemployment for ten years, after all, and I don't ask them to feel guilty or ashamed. ;-)

Friday, Sept. 8, 2006 11:09AM

Quicker than I expected

Well, I'm really rather surprised. I have sent out quite a few submission partials over the last couple of weeks, figuring it'd be at the earliest five or six weeks before I received my first rejection letter. This week, several of the queries I sent out were through e-mail submissions, and I figured I'd hear back from them first. And I was right.

I got my first response from an agent Wednesday, just hours after I'd sent the query. I sent to (an agent I won't name yet) a query letter, synopsis, and 14 sample pages from chapter four of my novel. And not only did I get a response within hours, the response was a request to read the full manuscript!!

Now, I've researched all the agents I sent to on Preditors and Editors, AAR, Writer Beware, and various other places on the WWW. They're all listed as reputable editors, worthy of sending your work to. I've also made sure that they not only handle the kind of work I've done, but that they have recent sales of this kind of work. I was surprised by the quick response, and that prompted me to research this company even more. Everything I've found about them says they do good work. Some of the clients on their client list are SF/F writers I recognize, and even some books I recognize, and they have multiple sales of the genre this year. They do handle new authors regularly. It all sounds very good. The agent that responded to me is a relatively new one with their firm, but not THAT new, so I think it's definitely a good sign!

The only thing that worried me was that they requested an exclusive reading of my novel, but that's pretty much standard, and I don't blame them. It would be unfair to them to spend three or four weeks evaluating a novel and deciding to represent it, only to find that the author had found representation elsewhere. So I replied that I was prepared to give them an exclusive for up to five weeks, after which if there was no agreement with them, I would be free to send my manuscript elsewhere. The agent agreed, and so she'll be exclusively reading my work for the next five weeks. (Not counting partials I've already sent out... none of which are more than 65 pages.)

So, how about that? Hopefully, even if this agent doesn't decide to represent me, I'll be given some further critiquing or at least a little insight on how to make the novel work better! I've been jumping up and down since I got the letter! LOL

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006 3:13PM

OK, I've sent my manuscript off to the agent for a five week reading. But I need to ask a question here of the folks who have been out there doing this for a while. It's something I'm not really sure of, and it may be one of those silly things that screws me up in this process.

The agent asked me to send a bio along with my submission. Now, I would assume that the bio would be information about your qualifications as a writer, previous writing credits, etc. The problem is, I don't have any of those! Other than a brief major in college, I have no qualifications in creative writing. I have no previous published work, no college degree, have attended no writers' conferences, no awards, zilch.

So, that being the case, what should I have put in my bio? What is it that agents want to see? I settled for sending along a little "About the Author" blurb, the kind of thing you read in the back of a book, but I just don't think that's what was requested. Anybody have any input on this?

Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006 8:06PM

Damn! I just spent twenty minutes typing a blog, and MySpace ate it before posting it.

I'm not going into as much detail this time.

I've been offered representation by Laurie McLean of the Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency. They are a small agency located in San Francisco. They also run the San Francisco Writer's Conference. They represent very little SF/F, but Laurie handles that primarily. I was taken aback by the quick response to my query, and the quick response to my manuscript, having expected a much longer wait. I was concerned Laurie might not have actually read my novel. She allayed my fears rather quickly. She was familiar with the book and the characters, and was able to point to parts of the manuscript that she especially liked and parts that might need work. She attributed her quick response to providence. She explained that a day or two before I sent my submission, she had been speaking with an editor about what types of things he was looking for. The editor listed young adult fantasy fiction geared toward boys... which my book fits. This was why she requested my manuscript so quickly. After reading it, she decided that whether the editor wanted it or not, she wanted to represent it.

I've done a fair bit of research on the agency, and have found that almost everyone who has anything to say about them is filled with praise. The only exceptions are a few people who weren't offered representation, and while they have valid concerns, they're not anything that would bother me too much.

So anyway. I got a good feeling from my conversation with Laurie. She seems competent and informed, and also seems quite excited about my novel and what she might be able to accomplish with it. I kept my ears open for any of the telltale signs that an agent is playing with you, and none were present. I have a couple more questions to ask her about their contract, and if she answers them to my satisfaction, I'm going to sign with them.

Yeah. I'm still in shock.

Anybody out there who's still reading my manuscript, I'm still very interested in your feedback. Just because I have probably found an agent doesn't mean I can't still make my book better... and my subsequent books as well!

Saturday, Sept. 16, 2006 9:34AM

It's official

I have an agent. I signed the agency agreement with Larsen-Pomada. My manuscript is currently in the hands of an editor who is actively in acquisition mode, which is an unusually lucky place to be. That means it's being read NOW as opposed to in several weeks when the editor gets around to it.

I'm new to all this, so I'm not entirely sure what this might mean for me, but Laurie assures me that it's a good thing. It could mean that I could have an answer (rejection or sale) within a couple of weeks, which is far sooner than I would have hoped. If it's rejected, subsequent submissions will probably take quite a bit longer; this is a special case, an editor who actively sought her out for new manuscripts and was excited by her pitch about mine.

I'm not getting my hopes up. I figure at best I have a 50/50 shot of being accepted on this go-round, and even that's probably overly optimistic. If it were to be accepted, it'd have to be some kind of record. June to September, from starting the outline to manuscript sale? LOL How often does that happen?!

Still, it's a first novel, a previously unpublished author with no writing credits to his name. It's easy to keep a level head when I look back and realize all the people out there who have been doing this far longer than me, and haven't made a sale yet. Doesn't keep me from being optimistic and hopeful, but I am definitely realistic about what the chances are this soon out of the gate. I'm just ecstatic that I have an agent, so I can settle down to the business of writing book 2 and leave to her the business of finding someone to sell them to. ;-)

Friday, Sept. 22, 2006 9:14AM

Out of Work Author

Well, not quite yet, but soon. Just thought I'd let everyone know that the vendor who is taking over PC support at our site has elected not to offer me a position. In fact, they've only offered a job to one of the people here, who is kind of a necessity because he handles the very specialized mainframe systems. So, next Friday I'll get my final bonus check, the following Friday I'll get my final paycheck, and then I'll be relying on unemployment and supplemental pay from my current employer to get through finding a new job. Like I said before, I have 5 months to find a job, so I'm not all that concerned. I'm actually pretty happy how things have turned out. Now I have to train the new guy in how to do my job, at least the parts that aren't self-explanatory. I've got a busy week coming. But hey, after next Friday, I don't have to spend a total of an hour and a half in my car every day. :-D

On a different note, I know I haven't posted any blogs lately about my novel or what's going on with it. That's because there hasn't been anything concrete to report, although there's been a little motion. Keep your fingers crossed for me, and I'll have some news up here within a week.

Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006 1:45PM


Well, there's been a reason I haven't posted much over the last week or so. My novel was in the hands of Lyron Bennet, an associate editor at Sourcebooks for their new children's imprint. He loved the book, and so did his senior editor. I had a conference call with him and my agent last Friday in which I pitched the book, and two of the subsequent books in the series, and he was very excited about all three. He prepared a pitch for his acquisitions committee, which was scheduled for Wednesday of this week, and I didn't want to post any news about that until it had happened. I especially didn't want to get my hopes up.

Unfortunately, I just got the news today that the committee decided to pass on the book. They feel that the novel is too similar to one specific series out there, the Pendragon books, and while the tone and style are much different, they wanted something further distanced from things that might already be available from larger publishers. I'm told that Mr. Bennett argued my case for some time, pitching my book strongly as worthy competition for the Pendragon series, but they still elected to pass.

SOOOOO close. Undaunted, my agent is preparing a list of large publishing houses to submit to, and we'll skip past the almost-serendipitous miracle that we've missed out on and move back to the more traditional avenues of sending manuscripts and waiting interminably for them to be read. In the meantime, I need to decide if I want to concentrate more on revising book 1, or go ahead and get to work on finishing book 2. Or both. Between that, and the need to find a new job, things are going to be pretty busy for a while.

PS-- Yes, I'm disappointed. I'd hoped for the miracle here, who wouldn't? But as for why I'm not completely crushed after getting so close, Sourcebooks was THE FIRST PUBLISHER TO SEE MY MANUSCRIPT, PERIOD!! To have gotten THIS close on the first step out of the gate has been in and of itself a minor miracle, and then the reason they pass ISN'T because they don't like the story or the writing, but because someone else has already done something in a similar vein... well, it actually gives me a bit of hope and tells me maybe I'm pursuing the right business here.

Friday, Sept. 29, 2006 11:54AM

What a surreal day

I'm sitting here at work, at my remarkably clean desk, with a total sense of unreality. It's my last day. I've been working in the same place for almost six years now, and suddenly I'm faced with never coming back to this desk again, or answering this phone, or working at this computer. My co-workers and I are passing out contact information to each other to make sure we can keep in touch. My clients have all called or e-mailed to express various levels of disbelief, sadness, and outrage that I wasn't offered a position with the new vendor.

Little do they know that had I been offered such a position, I would have likely turned it down. Part of it is just that I feel it's time to move on. I don't feel that I'd be a good fit with the new company, and I don't feel the new company will be a boon to the clients here. But another part of it is simply the fact that I need some time off, and facing the challenges that are going to be hitting in the first few months under the new vendor doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. And the final part... the part that's the scariest... is that I'm ready to try something new. I want to concentrate on my newly rekindled love of the written word, and try to make a life of it.

Don't get me wrong... I'm no idiot. I am fully aware that 99% of the people who want to make a living as writers are unable to eke out even half of what I make a year as a computer technician. I'll certainly be looking for work before my severance package runs out. But I think a month or two off while I work on polishing my existing novel and finish up the second installment will be beneficial. And after coming so close to the miracle scenario, I actually feel a renewed sense of determination that I'll make it, and soon.

I have an idea for either a new novel, or some serialized short stories. It's a drastic departure from the Gatehouse series that I've been working on, which I absolutely refuse to abandon, but now that it's in my head I want to flesh it out and at least make some notes on it. I'm seriously considering doing it as short stories, maybe try and get them published so that I'll have some writing credits to my name. I'm also considering entering some short story or novel competitions... it's nice to be able to put "award winning author" before your name.

So as I sit here, with nothing to do, my desk cleaned out, my boxes packed, and tearful clients all wanting to take me to lunch on my last day, the only thing I can really wrap my brain around is the thought that after I lock up here tonight, I can get to my pen and paper and start the work that I truly want to be doing. It's a hard thing to leave a place you've considered home for as long as this place has been mine, but it's time, and I'll be better for it in the end.

Friday, Oct. 6, 2006 10:31AM

Well, here we go, I've been book tagged. The instructions are simple, and here they are:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 4 sentences on your MySpace Blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.
6. Tag five people

I thought I'd make it interesting. I'm going to play twice. I'm posting the passage from the book nearest to me, AND I'm posting a passage from my own book. So, if any of you wannabe authors like me out there want to add to the assignment with an excerpt from your own work, I'd love to see it! Here are my excerpts, and below them you'll find my tag list.

Dragonquest, by Anne McCaffrey:

There was no mark on her finger, but a red blotch appeared on the paper.
The smith chuckled raspingly.
"No harm in that stuff. It merely reacts to the acidity of your skin."

And my second post, from The Gatehouse: The Door to Canellin by E.H. Jones:

"He might be able to do magic here, but he's still just a kid. He's just a little boy that's never had to be scared of monsters or dragons or men with swords in his entire life. He's just a kid, and he shouldn't have to do this alone." Ryan shook his head, emotion welling up inside him.

Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006 1:28PM

Revise, revise, revise!

Well, I'm getting deeply involved in some revisions that my agent asked for, and I'm finding it slower going than I'd hoped. Not because I'm having writer's block, or because I don't know what the revisions need to be. It's because I seem to be busier now than I was when I was working!

Let me break it down for you. I've always been kind of a slob. My house is not only a wreck because of that, but because I've been doing a full one-man remodeling job on my house for over 2 years now. So in the two weeks I've been off work, I've been spending a lot of time trying to get my house cleaned up and liveable. I could stand the mess when I was only at home and awake for three or four hours a day at most. I'm now at my house and awake for around sixteen hours a day, and I can't take the mess, and the stacks of stored junk all over the place, and the unfinished projects, etc. Problem is, I'm a slow, unmotivated cleaner! But I'm getting things done, and that feels good.

Second, my son has been having some problems in school. Not with his test scores or understanding of the material, but with his attitude and willingness to do homework. One of the reasons I'm not that hot to find a job right now is that I'm hoping to be able to concentrate a lot of time and energy on getting him back on the right track. I've been volunteering at his school the past couple of weeks, meeting with his teachers, and then basically spending several hours a night working with him to get his homework caught up.

And finally, I've been dead sick for the past six days. Literally down and out. Bad flu, awful cough, congestion. I'm just now getting over it, but I've lost my voice. I've pretty much been asleep, drugged on Nyquil, for an entire week.

And finally, getting all the paperwork handled for my separation benefit and unemployment benefits has turned out to be something that takes about two hours a day.

So all these things are keeping me from getting my revisions worked out. Flimsy excuses? Yes. Real impediments? Yes. I've just got to find a way to work myself around them. I'm devoting the entire coming week to writing while my son is at school, 8am to 3pm. Scheduling my writing is going to be tough, because that's not how I've worked on this project so far. I've kind of just done it on the fly, every chance I could get to sit down and write. Now I'm having to schedule specific time to do it. But one way or another, I intend to have the book completely revised and delivered to my agent within the next two weeks. I hate the fact that I'm the one holding things back at the moment, keeping submissions from being made!

So... wish me luck, everyone!

MySpace Blogs from Dec. 11 2006-Feb. 24 2007

Monday, Dec. 11, 2006 7:42PM

Well, I've been MIA as far as MySpace is concerned for the past two months. Anybody miss me? It's been a rough couple of months, to be honest. I finished my revisions and sent them to my agent, but when I went back and read over them myself, I realized something. I didn't like the book anymore! The flow was all chopped to pieces, the book had gained 25 pages, and it just didn't feel right to me. I MUCH preferred the original version. Don't get me wrong, I liked the plot threads I added to flesh out one of the characters, and I believe the major scened that I added was well done. It just didn't feel right as a whole anymore. I'd killed all the magic in my story.

So, I arranged a conference call with my agent, and was gratified (and marginally horrified) to hear that she felt exactly the same way. We discussed the problem in depth, and she gave me some tips and ideas to try. I'm not happy with some of her ideas, and very happy with others. For one thing, she wants me to remove a plot thread that I think is very important, and very dramatic, something that was planned from the first inkling I had for the book. But she had some excellent insight for me into where the flow had been corrupted, and how to get it back without losing the new scenes. So I'll give it a shot.

Anyway, on a personal note, still out of work, still not that hot to find a job, but starting to feel the need. I guess I'm going to have to really pick up the pace soon and find some way to make some money before my unemployment runs out.

Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007 1:37 AM

So I've been pretty lazy about keeping up my blog lately, and for those of you who enjoy reading it, I'm sorry about that. Things have been very busy for me in some ways the past few months, and very un-busy (ie, boring) in others.

My last blog tells you about the revisions I did on my first novel, and how much I hated them when I read them over. Well, I spent the entire month of December working on the problem (after spending all of November doing the revisions in the first place), and I finally got it to a point where I loved the story again. And, what's more important, I figured out what it was that was keeping me from revising well in the first place. I'm going to explain it here, because it really illustrates how finicky a person's mind can be when doing this kind of thing.

When I wrote this novel, my main characters were Eric (me) and Hal (my son). The novel was written specifically for my son, about my son, and as such is very close to my heart. However, one of the suggested (read: demanded) changes that not only my agent, but the editor at Sourcebooks, came up with was a name change for the two main characters. You see, my first name is Eric, and my middle name is Hal. Therefore, according to my agent and verified by the editor that almost bought the book, no agent will buy it if those two character names are set in stone. I had to be willing to change the names. So my son and I discussed it, and we picked new names for our characters. Ryan (me) and Wes (my son).
And then, I began the process of revising. And as I've already mentioned, it was hard, and the finished product was... less than pleasing.

Why, you ask? Because I don't care about Ryan and Wes. Not even a little bit. In my mind, the heroes of the book were Eric and Hal. Ryan and Wes were just these guys that got tossed in at the last minute.

So, why does that matter? The characters are the same. Their personalities didn't change, nor did their actions throughout the book. And yet I found it incredibly difficult to write dialogue, actions, emotions, anything at all for Ryan and Wes, and still make it believable.

My solution was simple, in the end. I changed Ryan and Wes back to Eric and Hal. I then worked on revising my revisions, and lo and behold, it all came together. I was able to see the flaws in the story's flow and pacing, and the emotions of the characters began to jump out at me again. I was finally able to feel my story. So I made my revisions, read through the book a few times to make sure everything worked, and then did a find and replace (ain't word processors great?) and changed the names to Ryan and Wes. Sent the book off to my agent, who sent back a very short list of easily managed typo corrections, and bam! It was finished.

It's strange how something so tiny can make such a huge difference in my ability to write a story, but there it is. After I figured all this out, I went back and looked over the work I'd done on book 2 and realized a lot of it wasn't going as well as I wanted, either. I tossed out 2/3 of what I'd written, changed the names to Eric and Hal, and started writing again. And after a month, I'm 40,000 words into what I plan on being an 80,000-90,000 word sequel.

So let that be a lesson to all the other hopefuls out there, like me. If you're stumbling, look closely. There may be something as simple as a name holding you back from having a solid connection with your characters. And no matter whether you KNOW it's something that has to be changed if it's ever going to get published, do what you have to do to make the story work for you. You can always go back and change it after you've got the story down the way you want it.

Thursday, Feb. 6, 2007 11:47AM

OK, last night I posted a blog detailing one of the big problems I had with revising my first novel. But I almost forgot to mention something funny that happened as a result of all the name changing back and forth that I did!

There exist several copies of my first book that I printed up for family as Christmas presents. It was a rush job, thrown together at the last minute. And the only finished version of the story I had ready at the time was the original first draft, before I'd done any of those major revisions. Problem is, the only copy of it I could find had the names Ryan and Wes that I'd used find and replace to change, and I wanted them to read it with the names Eric and Hal. No biggie, right? I just did the old find replace again, match case, match whole words, and Wes becomes Hal, Ryan becomes Eric, and I'm finished.

Except that the first time I'd changed the names, I had made a slight mistake. I didn't match case, and I didn't match whole words when I replaced Hal with Wes. So after I had these printed up, my brother's reading the book, and he calls me up on the phone to ask... what's a wesl?

Umm... excuse me?

In the book, suddenly this castle that the heroes spend some time in has a Great Wesl. He thought maybe it was a word he was unfamiliar with. It took me a few minutes to figure out where I'd screwed up. The castle has a great HALL. Hal had been replaced with Wes in that word. And in fact, in several places throughout the book when a character happens to be walking down a hallway, it's a wesl.

And it's not just hall that took a hit. There are several more lines that come out ridiculously funny because of this exact mistake. Another is a spot where several characters pass through a guard station. As they approach, the guard says, "West and identify yourself!" instead of halt.

So after everything I said last night about doing whatever you have to do to make sure you can write your story, I have to add this caveat: BE CAREFUL! If you write something a certain way intending to change it for the final version, especially with something like the find and replace function in your word processor, do it with extreme caution. Those mistakes don't exist in the copies I sent to my agent, thank god, but they very easily could have. And they pull you out of the story when they appear. And if an editor is reading your book, considering it for publication, the last thing you want is for something, anything at all, to pull them out of the story.

Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007 3:35PM

I'm at a serious standstill. You see, as I mentioned before, I threw away a lot of the text I'd written previously for my second book. I then went back to outline and started fleshing some things out, and am now back past the point where I tossed so much out before.

However, there was a major subplot that was supposed to come in right about where I am in the writing. I've been working on it for the past few days, and it's just NOT WORKING. Not just that I can't get the ideas I had onto paper, but the subplot itself doesn't work with how I see the final draft of the book. So I've tossed it out, too.

Unfortunately, that leaves me with a HUGE void right in the middle of my novel. I could move on and go with the stuff that IS working, but then I don't have enough material for over, say, 60K words, and the book feels incomplete. So I'm wracking my brain with how to expand earlier sections, or expand what I've got left to write, OR come up something to replace what I got rid of. And ya' know what? I got nothin'.

So, for the first time since I got back into writing heavily almost a year ago, I'm blocked. It's going to take some serious slogging to get past this. So what I'm going to do is write the end, and then work toward the point where I'm stalled.

This is my last post for the week, most likely. I need to spend the next few days re-vamping my outline and working backwards to bring it all together. Once I get past this, I'll post some (hopefully) insightful comments about my methods for defeating the evil monster known as writer's block!

Saturday, Feb. 10, 2007 9:22PM

Writer's block is no match for me! And I'll tell you what, when I get past it, I REALLY get past it. I've always been a fast writer, averaging around two to four thousand words a day when I'm on a decent groove. But it all came to me last night, and I sat down and worked out the final points of my outline, bringing everything together and working out all the details. I sat down today, and wrote pretty much solid from 10AM to 9:30 at night, breaking only for a couple of meals, and I'm blasting through it. I've put together a solid 8,000 words, and have the rest of my novel mapped out from here to the end. If I can keep this groove (and I'm not stopping now, just taking a break to post this blog), I'll have a finished first draft of an 80,000 word novel by the end of the week.

Now, that's not to say I'll be finished, not by any means. First draft means just that. I'll then print out a copy of the book and pore through it for grammatical errors, misspellings, poor word choices, etc. I'll also read for content and make sure the story flows the way I want it to. Then I'll pass the book off to my faithful proofreaders (sister, brother, son, and sister) and start cracking the whip to get them to give me marked up pages ASAP. Once I've gone through their notes and made any changes they might suggest that seem relevant, it'll be off to my agent to have her read through and give me a professional opinion. If all goes well, she should have my final draft in her hands by the end of the month. And assuming she gets her suggestions back to me within a week or so, and assuming the editing goes better than it did in my last novel, she should be able to start adding the second book to her pitches shortly after that.

Wish me luck, everyone!

Friday, Feb. 16, 2007 10:12 PM

Finished! Finito! QED! 30!
The first draft of The Gatehouse, Book 2: The Door to Justice is finished!
One draft down, five or ten to go! I just finished typing the last word earlier tonight, printed it out, and I've spent the last couple of hours poring over it with a fine toothed comb and a red pen. I'm about a third of the way through the first once-over, and have made some notes, but there's not much in the first half of the book that I think will need to be changed. There's some stuff in the last half that will need some tweaking, but that's to be expected. I just hope I don't end up screwing up and adding too much length to the book.

In other words, I'm pushing it on word count again. See, I made a mistake on the first book, I think I mentioned it in an earlier blog. Not really a mistake, I guess, since I only used the number of words I needed to to tell the story I wanted. I ended up, after all my revisions, with a 114,000 word novel, down from the original 125,000 words. (That's MS Word's tally. Figuring it up like publishers often do, 250 words a page at 12 point courier font, it comes closer to 150,000 words.) This for a book that's aiming at middle grade readers. That means it's kind of long. My agent assures me that if a publisher likes the book, it won't matter how long it is, and my earlier close call backs her up. But it still makes me nervous about my chances.

Well, here I am finishing up book two, which I had planned to be around 80,000 words. And I came pretty close to that mark. 75,000 words by Microsoft's tally, almost 90,000 by the standard industry tally. But I feel like there were some passages that might have been rushed at the end, and need to be expanded. I also feel like there's a character in there that will really appeal to the target audience, but he doesn't get enough face time. So I need to add a few scenes. If I expand all the things I felt were rushed, AND add more scenes for this character, I may end up pushing the 100K mark again. That's something I want to avoid. I don't want the publishers who see these two books together to get the idea that I'm a "wordy" author. Although apparently I am.

Anyway, I'm not really all that concerned or obsessing about it. I've already looked at the idea of splitting book one in half. It reads really well that way, with a complete story in each half of the book, and comes out at exactly the word length for my target. My agent isn't very receptive to that idea; she says that publishers will want to see the entire story, plot, and subplot resolved in one book, since I'm an unproven, unpublished author. But if it comes down to it, I can make book one easily turn into two separate books, the perfect length, and make them read like they were always meant to be that way. They almost do that now. I just need to watch my word count for book two, and not let myself get carried away.

So, anyway, my next step is to finish marking up my manuscript, and then hand it over to a couple of proofreaders and see what they make of it. I'll be cracking the whip to get them to finish within the next week, and then it's time to send it off to my agent for her opinion. I'm very excited about the process of finishing this up. It'll look very good for me if my agent can say to potential publishers, "Oh, yeah, he's finished the first two books in the series already, and is redy to start on the third."

So, wish me luck! I hope to have some news to report on the submission front very soon!

Sunday, Feb. 18, 2007 8:35PM

Anybody have any job leads for an out of work computer techncian/wannabe writer?

I'm only moderately serious. It's getting along about the time where I need to find work. Only about 7 weeks of unemployment left.

On a positive note, I just sent my resume in on a job listing here in the town where I live. It's a PC tech support job, and I meet the qualifications exactly. It's through a temp agency, but it's a temp to perm job, and it pays right at what I used to make. Plus, it's only a couple of miles from my home. Wish me luck!

OK, I'm going to repeat a question I sent out in my bulletin. I'm searching for a graphic artist that wants to add to his or her portfolio and do me a favor at the same time. I'm looking to get the Gatehouse website off the ground, and I need some good artwork for it. And I admit, I'm completely inept when it comes to creating the kind of artwork I want. I can't pay for the work, obviously, but I am hoping to find someone who likes the subject matter (fantasy, magic, dragons) enough to find the project enticing. What I want is someone to illustrate three or four scenes from my novel, and allow me the right to put them up on the website. The artist would, of course, keep all rights to the work... all I want is to be allowed to decorate the Gatehouse homepage with them for the time being. Full credit will be given to the artist. I know, I know, I'm asking a lot, but hey, I figured it couldn't hurt to take a shot.

Thursday, Feb. 22, 11:19PM

My son brought something to my attention after reading my second book. He pointed out that neither of my books have chapter titles, and that's something he likes to see. I never really paid much attention to it when reading, but I thought it over and figured it might be fun to try and boil down the many things that happen in a chapter to a few memorable words.

As I've done at every step of the whole writing process, I turned to the Internet's huge online writing support community for help. However, unlike my attempts to find remedies for writer's block or tips on tightening prose, I found the Internet to be completely dry when it comes to helpful hints on naming your chapters. I may not have been using the right search methods, but I came up empty.

Not to be deterred, I decided to come up with my own guidelines for naming the chapters of my novels. I came up with the following important factors that a chapter title must have:
1. The title must have something to do with the events that occur within the chapter.
2. The title must have the same emotional feel as the events in the chapter. For instance, if your focus in the chapter is very serious or deep, don't go with a humorous chapter title or vice versa. If you have both serious aspects and humorous aspects to a chapter, then I guess your title should be seriously humorous.
3. The title must be simple and easy to read. Under no circumstances should a title be a full sentence. Unless, of course, a full sentence suits the chapter better, or a complicated obscure quote catches your fancy and fits.
4. The title must entice the reader to want to know how it relates. The last thing I want is for the reader to look at the chapter title, read the chapter, and go, "What the...?" Unless, of course, that's the effect I'm going for.
5. The title doesn't necessarily have to relate to the main event in the chapter. You are often better served by focusing on a lesser event. Then again, a chapter titled "Where's the beef?" in which the heroes fight a tremendous, pages-long battle with the villain, but are later served chicken for dinner when they asked for roast beef... well, that would just be silly.

Okay, so my guidelines kind of suck. I was flying solo here!
And so, without further adieu, the tables of contents for my first two novels!

The Gatehouse
Book 1: The Door to Canellin
Chapter 1: Enter the Hero
Chapter 2: Amazing Discoveries
Chapter 3: Of Wizards and Doorways
Chapter 4: A Father's Anger
Chapter 5: Finding the Words
Chapter 6: The Hero's Resolve
Chapter 7: The Great Stone Caper
Chapter 8: Riding the Maelstrom
Chapter 9: A New Addition
Chapter 10: The Dragon's Thrall
Chapter 11: Long Arm of the Law
Chapter 12: Jailbreak
Chapter 13: Getting Reacquainted
Chapter 14: The Villain Strikes
Chapter 15: The Crystal Cavern
Chapter 16: The Prodigal Son
Chapter 17: Dragon's Ascent
Chapter 18: Homecoming

Book 2: The Door to Justice
Chapter 1: All in the Family
Chapter 2: Recent History Lessons
Chapter 3: Reunions
Chapter 4: A Wolf in the Fold
Chapter 5: Trading Places
Chapter 6: Memories
Chapter 7: An Unexpected Ally
Chapter 8: Debacle
Chapter 9: The Best Laid Plans
Chapter 10: Reckless Behavior (or Incorrigible Behavior)
Chapter 11: Growing Suspicions (or Suspicions Confirmed) (or Atrocities) (or Confirming Suspicions)
Chapter 12: Daring Rescues
Chapter 13: Duplicity
Chapter 14: A Death in the Family
Chapter 15: Little Demons and Giant Robots
Chapter 16: Fallen Heroes

Well, what do you think? Make you want to read the books?

Saturday, Feb. 24, 2007 11:39PM

Evolution of a series
Sometimes, new ideas intrude on your plans, and you just have to explore them. These ideas sometimes turn out to be crap, but sometimes they turn out to be too tempting to let go of.

And that happened to me tonight. I had planned out The Gatehouse series at five books, with the possibility for more down the road. But I had a brainstorm today, which led to a re-evaluation tonight. The Gatehouse is almost designed to cross genre. The first book is a semi-epic fantasy in a sword and sorcery world. The second book is a superhero romp with plenty of action, humor, and a cast of... lots and lots. Then the third, fourth, and fifth books were intended to go into the larger aspects of the story and culminate in a back-to-the-beginning finale. However, in doing that, I've only explored two of the possible genre available to me. The more I thought about it, the more that seemed to be a waste. What about horror? What about sci-fi? What about fantasy in a modern setting? What about supernatural thrillers, ghost stories, or any of the multitude of other settings available?

And then my brainstorm linked itself to one that I'd had earlier this week. A minor (VERY minor) character from the first book had the potential to become a recurring villain, but there was no way to fit it into the 5-book plan I'd had. But why was I so set on this 5-book plan? Or even a 6, or 7-book plan? There are hundreds, thousands of possibilities that can be explored. Why set everythig in stone so soon?

So book three, four, and five have now, in my mind, become books third to last, second to last, and last, because there are too many possibilities in between that I may decide to explore in the future. Book three, the new book three, will be a gothic horror novel with lots of magic, monsters, and danger. Book four may or may not be a sci-fi novel, I haven't decided yet. And book five, well, I am now refusing to allow myself to plan that far ahead. Book five may be the previous book three, or I may decide to explore another genre. Who knows? Stories evolve as you write them. So do novels, no matter how much you outline. So why not series as well?