Saturday, August 30, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: August 23 – 29

Life news this week: 

  • The Book Things seem to have begun in earnest. Everyone who pre-ordered my book is reporting receiving copies already, because there wasn't a strict on-sale date or anything. So . . . next week is the official release date, but . . . my book is out!

  • And, dorkily enough, now you can get my autograph for your copy of the book if you want it. (PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY BUYING THIS. I'VE SENT OUT A BUNCH ALREADY.) It works like this: You order a bookplate, I sign it, and I send it to you. Then you peel the backing off and stick the adhesive bookplate on the inside of your book, so it's like I signed it! Way cheaper than sending whole books through the mail. Though if you are a friend of mine and you already know where I live, you probably know who you are and you can send me your book if you prefer that. :) You can get the bookplates via PayPal (you pay, I send) or send me cash to my PO box (it's on the site I linked above). Or, for eBooks. . . .

  • I joined Authorgraph. If you have an eBook copy, you can order an autograph here, and that's free for the electronic version.

  • I made a flier for y'all (well, you know, anyone) to use if you want to download/print out an info sheet you can give to librarians or people who might want to order the thing. It comes in Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF.

  • OKAY, and . . . PITCH WARS! Oh wow, I'm exhausted, but this is a lot of fun. I have a few faves but have not made my decision yet. You will get to hear about it next week.

  • In other news: My nephew is pulling himself up on furniture. OMG.

  • I got to meet Victor's girlfriend this past Sunday. Her name is Tia and she has a daughter named Faith. I got to hang out with them all and we made homemade pizza, played a board game, and drew pictures together. It was so great to meet them.

  • I ate at Pei Wei with Jeaux this week. We went to his house to watch America's Got Talent and The Legend of Korra, and also caught up on Night Vale.

Places featured: 

Reading progress:

  • Finished Clockwork by Philip Pullman. ★★
  • Currently reading Eyeshield 21 Volume 22 by Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murata.

New singing performances:

I actually tried to do a Whitney Houston song, belting and all.


New drawings:

Webcomic Negative One Issue 0485: "Cut Her Roots."

Webcomic So You Write Issue 39: "So Innocent."

New videos:

Shorter "Unboxing Video" for my writing channel:

Longer "WOW THE BOOKS ARE HERE" video for asexuality channel:


New photos:

My sister got her copy of
my book!
My hardbacks arrived.

Social media counts:

YouTube subscribers: 3,726 for swankivy (7 new this week), 373 for JulieSondra (2 new). Twitter followers: 538 for swankivy (4 new), 676 for JulieSondra (19 new). Facebook: 265 friends (no change) and 135 followers (3 new) for swankivy, 392 likes for JulieSondra (5 new), 48 likes for Negative One (no change), 80 likes for So You Write (1 new). Tumblr followers: 1,483 (8 new).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Don't Unfollow: the case for staying around after Pitch Wars

It's inevitable: when I participate in a contest, I get a bunch of new Twitter followers.

Then a little clump of them unfollow me after the event is over. Especially if I didn't pick them for whatever contest it was.

I think you shouldn't do that. It's not because I'm greedy for followers. Nor am I particularly hurt by it (because who wants someone following her if that person doesn't WANT to be a follower?). Why do I think you should keep following participants and mentors once the contest is over even if you just auto-followed for an event like Pitch Wars?

Let me tell you a few reasons.

  1. The Pitch Wars contests, and other contests like it, are community-building events just as much as they are agent-getting contests. They connect mentors and mentees, but they also connect participants to other participants and writers to other writers (no matter what stage of the game they're at). If you seriously were only following me because I'm involved with the contest but you would rather actively sever the connections you made once the people are no longer immediately useful to you, I think you may have jumped into this for the wrong reasons (or at least, maybe you aren't appropriately taking advantage of all the good reasons that exist). 

  1. I'm a double-agented author (meaning I have two agents, not that I am a double agent, haha) and one of my books sold. Meaning I have done some of the things that a lot of my writing-community followers WANT to do. And guess what? I like to give advice on how to do it. That's part of the reason I joined Pitch Wars last year and did it again this year; I just plain LIKE HELPING PEOPLE. So even if I don't pick you for the contest or you feel slighted somehow, remember that I will probably say something that will be useful to you in the future (and I'm sure I probably have said useful things in the past that you might wanna check out), and I tend to tweet those things and blog those things. I can help you indirectly even if I don't help you directly, and following me helps you keep aware of when I'm saying something you might want to use.

  1. Publishing is a much smaller world than you think. I'm not an agent or an editor, but I know agents and editors, and I also know many of the other mentors. If your reaction to, say, critical feedback or getting panned in a contest is to unfollow and shun me or resent me, it's likely I'll notice your disappearance (assuming we interacted at all) and I'll assume you can't take criticism. If anyone asks me about you, I'll probably tell them that. And if you did that last year with your mentor or potential mentor, we probably talked about you this year and warned each other away from offering you more opportunities. Nobody likes to support or work with ungrateful people who only stick around because they want something from you. You may be doing it because you feel vindictive and want to reject someone the way they rejected you, but might I remind you that we aren't necessarily saying we dislike your work if we matched someone else's better . . . we seriously can only pick one here, so as a mentor who received 100 submissions and is therefore about to disappoint 99 people, I really want y'all to understand that!

  1. I personally like a lot of you and don't WANT to lose you. There's always a possibility I can give you advice, work with you on critique partnering, or just have fun together outside of the contest, and one way of making sure that happens if you want it to is to stay in touch. I love writers. And I'd hate to think you only love me back if you think I'm going to give you something. As an aside, I'm reluctant to follow people when I want something from them, because I worry they'll find my attention inappropriate, so I am actually more comfortable following (say) an editor at a publishing house AFTER I know they've already rejected me or aren't going to be pitched for my book. I didn't follow my agent until after she signed me, and I've sought out and followed some of the agents who rejected me when I was querying. I'd feel ultra weird about doing the opposite and only following someone while the hope was still alive.

I will say that if you need to/want to unfollow me for any reason, that's your right, and if you're extremely sensitive and can't deal with seeing my name on your feed if I don't pick you, I understand that happens. (Though you've picked a really bad profession in which to live with a thin skin.) I encourage any one of you who's interacted with me through this contest to contact me in whatever way you're comfortable (blog comments, private e-mails, tweets) should you need to talk about our interaction and how it can continue--especially if you disagree with my feedback or want to resolve any lingering doubts that make you consider unfollowing me.

I will admit I am a harsh critic sometimes (and some of the feedback I've drafted for this contest is going to have to get prettied up before I send it, because I've been a bit unforgiving at times), and if this is your first rodeo and my treatment of your material catches you off guard, I would much rather you open a dialogue with me than commit the social media equivalent of running away crying. What I say may or may not hurt you, but I can assure you it's drafted to help you, and I'm committed to doing that. I can't continue to do so if you decide it's best to just cut me off.

So, stick around, and let's enrich each other's lives and make each other better!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

News and more news

Hey y'all. I was just wondering something and maybe you folks who read this blog can help me out.

I sent a newsletter out to my 260+-ish subscribers list over the weekend. The newsletters are generally about publishing-related stuff going on for me, opportunities for the fans of my work, and a few personal life details. Since starting the newsletter in November, I've only sent to the list five times.

Sign up for the newsletter

See the last issue

My question to you is this: Since I send them out infrequently, they usually contain a LOT of stuff, and I wonder if that means my subscribers are unlikely to take it all in. Do you think it's better to send shorter, less packed newsletters more frequently, or do you think people appreciate getting letters sparingly but full of stuff?

This newsletter included this stuff:
That's, like, a LOT of content, right? People might theoretically be interested in some or most of it, but are they really going to click through and read it all if I dump it on them?

The interviews and mentions are going to heat up around the release of the book and I'd really like people to get a chance to read them, so maybe at least around release time I should make the newsletter a little more frequent? Maybe once a month from now on so I don't overwhelm people? I'm not sure.

Weigh in?

Monday, August 25, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 21: Writing Children



Today's question: Do any of your characters have children? How well do you write them/how comfortable do you feel writing them?

Oho! Yay, a question I can get excited about!

Well, obviously "how well do you write them" is a subjective question, and it's not something that an author can honestly answer themselves unless it's directly related to how comfortable you feel writing them or how much you like it or something.

Anyway, yes, some of my characters have children. As you Negative One webcomic readers know.

Negative One is probably the best example I have of writing children, actually, because one of the main storylines focuses on the parent-child relationship. Mommy Meri Lin tells her story all the way from pregnancy through parenting a toddler, and even though the situation is VERY unusual, a lot of the same things all parents go through are highlighted. (Baby Amanda has unexplained superpowers, which screws with the balance of power in the household; it's very difficult to parent a baby who can say "no" and really MEAN it if she wants to. You can't make her behave by putting her in the playpen. Not when she can fly out!)

Meri Lin Ling and her partner Fred Fisher do the best they can taking care of their daughter. And I do assume I do a decent job writing about this odd little family; I've been told on more than one occasion--by parents and non-parents alike--that it's surprising to learn I'm not a mother myself after reading such a story. Apparently I've attained a level of realism that makes it hard to imagine I'm not speaking from personal experience. (Of course, I'm HOPING they're not also assuming that I've taken care of a child with telekinetic powers . . . but assuming that no one has done that, I guess they are taking my word for it as to what it would be like. They don't have to do that for motherhood if they have been through it.)

So, Meri Lin and Fred are probably the most significant parents in my writings, and their baby starts telling her own narrative line at about age two; writing from a perspective that young is challenging, but I'm having fun with it. There are a few other parents in Negative One that deserve a mention too, though. . . .

Also in Negative One, Adele's parents have to deal with the difficult idea of their child leaving home and never coming back, so that was another challenging parent/child relationship I had to write. Thing is, Adele has a teacher who has fulfilled just as much of a parenthood role as her mother, and I would wholeheartedly say that adoptive parents--official or not--constitute parents as well. Tabitha was a good pseudo-mother to Adele in the ways that she could be while still being a good teacher. That was a much different dynamic than the Meri Lin/Fred story, of course, but beyond all the other weird stuff, Adele is also nineteen years old when the story starts, so parenting an adult is a different story. I'm not sure the question here wanted me to address adult children, but considering Adele is still very much a dependent of her parents in the story at the time it starts, I'd say it's worth mentioning.

Theresa from Negative One is also a mother, but her kids aren't in the story. What you DO see is her fanatical devotion to them. She no longer has custody of her children and she's doing everything she can to get them back, drafting her plan day and night and thinking of little else. She's very motherly toward the other children she encounters in the comic storyline, but she pushes them away a little because she knows herself and she knows how easy it would be to just let herself mother them when she needs to focus first and foremost on getting her own kids back. That's a rough position to be in. I also feature the mother character Mary Margaret Falconer (known as Miss Margaret), a divorced single mother with a bakery in New York City that she runs and operates pretty much on her own. She takes care of baby Ivy along with her daughter Charlotte (who's maybe a year older than Ivy). Miss Margaret's very good at reading what will satisfy and nurture children, and loves letting the kids help her run her bakery.

Moving away from the comic and into the related old novel The House That Ivy Built, there are plenty of parents there too. Francis and Carl Fairchild are the parents of Nina, who is arguably the most significant character of the first book besides teenage Ivy herself. Nina's a very gifted seven-year-old with serious social problems, and her parents are in profound disagreement about how to handle it. Ivy develops a close relationship with Francis and a rather antagonistic one with Carl. Francis and Carl have two children--Nina and her older brother Jeremy--and later Francis has another baby and they name him Erik.

And on to a different universe: Bad Fairy.

Obviously, the mom of the protagonist is going to be significant. Delia's mom, Gena Morningstar, is really one of the only people who loves Delia unconditionally throughout her whole life. It's clear that she does not understand her daughter, but that she loves her . . . and that when she criticizes her, it's because it pains her so much that her child is being ostracized. Gena just wants people to like Delia. She knows how special she is and it's hard for her to watch her daughter being rejected. Like most parents, she also has trouble letting go when Delia decides to go off on her own, and she is profoundly confused and saddened by Delia's choices. The relationship between this mother and daughter is strained mightily when Delia has to go into hiding for fifteen years and they can't see each other. The follow-up of that was painful and joyous and difficult to write, and I do eventually write about the experience of losing a parent in this series. I think this highlights an interesting aspect of parenthood: it doesn't end when your child is an adult. The relationship changes and grows but the parents don't stop being parents.

My children's book, Joint Custody, is written from the point of view of an eleven-year-old, so of course his parents are in the picture. Bay Cassidy is dealing with having divorced parents, and I don't think his mom has a name in the story as such but his dad's name is Tom. We get to hear about their parenting practices through his eyes, mostly with regards to how they differ from each other and what he can get away with at his dad's house that he can't at his mom's, etc. We also get to hear about how his mom is dating and what Bay thinks of that. I highlight how they show their love and their concern, and so far that's about it.

Cassie in Finding Mulligan is seventeen, and her parents really only appear in the first and the last chapter. In both they're interested and protective of their daughter, but sort of distant because they are always giving more attention to her chronically ill sister, Haley. Her parents' way of paying attention to her was significant in how her mind formed and how her personality came out, but I mostly focus on Cassie herself, not the parents, so I feel like their characters aren't fully explored in the book.

And finally, my short story "Her Mother's Child" is from the point of view of a mother. She's nameless in the story, and struggles throughout with her relationship with her third daughter, Iris, who is about to have her sunday (which is sort of like an adulthood rite in their culture). The mother and daughter try to see eye to eye, with the mother trying to figure out how to parent a daughter she doesn't really understand and with whom she feels a rift has developed. Oddly enough, it's primarily about communication, but the mother is physically unable to speak in the story. The narration doesn't say why. This story was accepted for publication in Kaleidotrope but it won't be published until next year.

Interestingly, I have a story called "The Mother" and a story called "Mother's Day," and there's no actual moms in either one. :D (They're mentioned, but sometimes as symbols and sometimes as reflections, and the mom of the main character of "Mother's Day" died 400 years before he was born.) There's also quite a lot of discussion of Thomas's relationship with his mom in the story "Wind," but his mom is dead too. What's up with my stories of dead parents?

That's it for now!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: August 16 – 22

Life news this week: 
  • Well, I got over a hundred submissions for Pitch Wars. I will drown in submissions. I'm reading, but it's slow going!

  • People are getting notices that their copy of my book is shipping to them next week if they preordered on Amazon. Wow! That's a little scary!

  • There will be a Goodreads giveaway for my book starting next week! Five free copies are being given away by my publisher, so that's kinda cool. Sign up!

  • My nephew turned eight months old and he's crawling. WE HAVE A CRAWLER IN THE FAMILY. He's so dang cute!

  • I had dinner at Carrabba's with my mom on Sunday and slept over her house on Tuesday. It was fun--she fed me veggie burgers even!

  • I had a nice chat with my online friend Denise on the phone for the first time. We've known each other for like a couple years now but hadn't ever talked on the phone, so that changed on Sunday. I also spent some of Friday evening on the phone with Sarah. Such a phone geek.

  • I don't really talk about work very much. Well, work was heavy this week--we had to bust out a proposal quickly, and we got shortlisted on it the next day. They had also painted the office over the weekend so it's kind of a mess.

  • I ate at Panera with Jeaux this week. We went to his house to watch America's Got Talent. Had fun talking about Internet drama.
Places featured: 

  • The Asexual Agenda mentioned my YA Interrobang interview and my video Interview on A-Okay video last week.

Reading progress:

  • Finished Fairy Tales in Electri-City by Francesca Lia Block. ★★★
  • Currently reading Clockwork by Philip Pullman.

New singing performances:

I'm a big nerd and this week's karaoke is dedicated to critique partner, former mentee, and Pitch Wars mentor Whitney's amazing characters Ingrid and Lacie, 'cause it makes me think of them.

New drawings:

Webcomic Negative One Issue 0484: "Can You Say."

New videos:

No new videos, but there will be two next week!

New photos:

I didn't actually take any photos of interest this week. What a bum.

Social media counts:

YouTube subscribers: 3,719 for swankivy (32 new this week), 371 for JulieSondra (no change). Twitter followers: 534 for swankivy (no change), 657 for JulieSondra (36 new--yeah, it's all still Pitch Wars). Facebook: 265 friends (friended Victor's girlfriend Tia and two Pitch Wars mentor friends) and 132 followers (3 new) for swankivy, 387 likes for JulieSondra (1 new), 48 likes for Negative One (no change), 79 likes for So You Write (1 new). Tumblr followers: 1,475 (16 new).

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Sometimes people assume that "Julie" is a shortened form of "Julia," but it isn't; "Julie" is my legal name. I never liked when people shortened it to just one syllable--calling me "Jul" (though I guess it's prettier if you figure it sounds like "Jewel")--but my mom does that all the time. (I don't think I ever expressed that I don't really like it. I think I just don't like names that contain long letter U, and the short version emphasizes it.)

My sister grew up as Pattie, but decided in the summer before fifth grade that she wanted to be Patricia, and after some bumps, we learned to call her that. What's funny is now we mostly just call her P. My sister Lindsay gets called L a lot. You probably don't want to know some of the hilarious things Sister L has come up with to call us.

In the first book I wrote when I was fourteen, the protagonist didn't like being called by a shortened form of her name. Her full first name was Cristabel but her brother called her Crissi and she hated it so much that it became a running gag for him to call her that all the time. The next protagonist I had was named Skyler and people called her Sky sometimes but she didn't hate that. My next protagonist was Ivy and nobody really calls her any nicknames except when they're goofily making it longer. She was actually originally named Amanda by her mother (but her mother didn't raise her and her given name was unknown so she got another one later). Her mother doesn't like nicknames and steadfastly refused to call her anything but the full three-syllable name. Her father does the opposite.

Cassandra, protagonist of Finding Mulligan, goes by Cassie. She flirts with the idea of making people call her Cassandra when she goes to college but it never happens. Delia, protagonist of Bad Fairy, doesn't have any nicknames. (You'd better not call her anything cute. And no, it is not short for Cordelia.) She uses a variety of different names later in life, but she doesn't have a problem with her given one. Nick, protagonist of Stupid Questions, never suggests his full name might be Nicholas, and I wonder if maybe it isn't. I have several friends whose full first names sound like they're short for some other common name, so I could imagine someone naming their kid just Nick. (His last name is Harris, and "Nicholas Harris" sounds like too much of the same sound at the end.) And Bay from my unfinished novel Joint Custody has a very good reason for going by "Bay." You would too if your parents named you Bainbridge.

Authors usually handle this pretty well in their books--the fact that people usually have formal names and then names their loved ones call them. If everyone calls a character by a formal name that has a natural shortened form, I always wonder why that is. Changing and shortening each other's names is a symbol of intimacy and familiarity, and I love seeing it in books; it's a nice shortcut to show us history and affection, and also to show lack of it if necessary.

There are always exceptions, of course--like my character Meri Lin who doesn't like to use shortened nicknames for others because she didn't like having a short name and eventually had it legally changed to incorporate more syllables; she was born just Lin. But she calls her partner Fred Fred instead of Frederick because that's what he wants to be called--and even though he loves nicknames, he knows how she feels about her name and calls her Meri Lin as requested. It highlights respect, in the same way my first protagonist's brother repeatedly calling her Crissi highlighted typical sibling rivalry. What characters call each other can tell you so much without saying much of anything.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nerdy Analysis: MY PITCH WARS INBOX!


Oh, you're not a nerd? Get out!

Seriously though, there's some nerdy stuff coming. With math, data, and graphs! RUN!

So Pitch Wars has completed its submission round and now we mentors are frantically digging through our submissions. Some more frantically than others.

Because you see, some of us got kind of a lot of submissions. Like, for instance, yours truly.

I received 101 submissions.

(Technically 103, but two of them were for Young Adult manuscripts, and I was not allowed to take Young Adult. I am a New Adult and Adult mentor only!)

I've only read a small percentage of my inbox--about 15%--and I'm going to chug through it this week. But since I've read very little of it, I can't really offer you any meaningful reflections on what I'm thinking. What I CAN offer you is statistics. Lots of statistics! So . . . let's start with category. How many Adult and how many New Adult did I get?

Of course, Adult dominated. New Adult is just getting off the ground, and not as many people write it.

Now here's one I'm not too enthusiastic about doing, but people were talking about it/asking about it a little because there was a perception that guys are severely underrepresented in this contest, both amongst the mentors and amongst the entrants. I mostly have name data to go on and to guess someone's gender based on traditionally male or female names, I have to make assumptions, and I also can't reliably tell who among them, despite the name, might identify as a non-binary gender. But I took my best guess, and this is how it broke down if I had to guess the balance between male and female in the contest (based on my inbox):

Yep. It's a female-dominated contest. (I think we all know that publishing is pretty dominated by women, and yet lots of books by male authors get published, so. . . .)

Moving on to something else! What about . . . genre? What kind of genre breakdown did I see in my box? (You can click these charts to see them better if they're too small or the blog configuration gets in the way.)

I don't think anyone's surprised that the mentor who asked for science fiction and fantasy got a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Are you?

I'm just surprised romance is that high.

As you can see if the chart is visible to you, ten people chose "other." Some of them did so even though their category was technically there, but it looks like they just wanted to be more specific. The "Other" category included one Experimental Fiction, one Christian, one Upmarket Women's Fiction, two Urban Fantasy, one Historical Paranormal, two Women's Fiction, one Mythic Retelling, and one Dystopian Paranormal.

What else, you might be saying . . . what else nerdy can you show me? Well, how about word count?

As you'd expect, nearly all the submissions are between 70,000 words and 100,000 words. It drops off sharply after 100K, but yeah, I did have two over 150,000. One person didn't include their word count and they're the question mark at the end. I also did get several novels under 60K which is weird to me for adults (most of them were not New Adult), and one was under 50K.

I'm super surprised I didn't get the biggest books in the contest, though. I did say in my bio that I LIKE long books, and yet the other mentors got the 200,000+-word tomes! Wow!

And just when you thought I must be done . . . NOPE.

Pitch Wars twins! Which mentors did I share the MOST submissions with?

Jami Nord is my supreme Pitch Wars twin, with 30 submissions in common. Just behind Jami are Amy Reichert and Natasha Neagle. Despite being my mentee last year, Whitney wasn't even in the top five. We actually have somewhat different taste in books.

Okay, okay, that's all the nerdery I have for you right now. Please tell me if you want me to analyze anything else!

Or don't, so I can get through my submissions faster. ;)

Monday, August 18, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 20: Character Interactions



Today's question: What are your favorite character interactions to write? (Arguments? Love scenes? Brawls?)

I guess that's kind of an unclear question. I like to relay character interactions through dialogue, but I'm unsure of whether this question is asking me to pinpoint a particular KIND of interaction I like to portray? I guess so.

I think my favorite conversations between characters are the ones where two people who know each other very well help each other through an identity crisis or moral dilemma. I love having one character gently lead another--while providing moral support--to a conclusion that they're both satisfied with. Usually there are tears. Sometimes there's anger. And there's almost always a hug in there somewhere.

I've written this happening between mothers and daughters; between best friends; between significant others; between teachers and students. I especially like reversals, where the character who usually needs counseling becomes the counselor instead. I also kinda enjoy it when two very close characters are mildly verbally abusive to one another--some people probably think that's weird, but I love it when two people know each other well enough to insult each other and further underscore their unconditional love.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: August 9 – August 15

Life news this week: 
  • Pitch Wars has opened for submissions! Here is the submission site if you're planning to enter with a completed manuscript.
  • My book's hardcover copies arrived at the warehouse so my copies will be coming to me very soon!
  • I posted a ton of new reviews again on Goodreads on my author account, and I became the #4 top reviewer of the week. You can add my Goodreads account if you haven't already.
  • Book club this week was a lot of fun--got more time to talk to people and there were more members there. The book we'd read was Field of Blood by Denise Mina. Some people liked it and some people didn't.
  • My friend Victor officially has a girlfriend and I'm ridiculously happy for him.
  • I ate at Moe's with Jeaux this week. We went to his house to watch America's Got Talent and Legend of Korra. Had fun talking about Internet drama.
Places featured: 
  • I was mentioned in Georgia Political Review, but I never spoke to anyone there. They just lifted quotes from me and others and republished them.
  • We had a Pitch Wars–related "Ask the Mentors!" event to answer entrants' questions before submissions opened, and afterwards, Mentor Dan posted this overview, which mentions me and how apparently I am hilarious.
  • I was interviewed about my book by Brian from Everything's A-Okay video, and the cute little video is here.

Reading progress:

  • Finished Captain Underpants #10 by Dav Pilkey. ★★★
  • Currently reading Fairy Tales in Electri-City by Francesca Lia Block.

New singing performances:

"Borderline" by Madonna

New drawings:

Webcomic Negative One Issue 0483: "About Being Strong."

New videos:

Not made by me, but I was interviewed by Brian from AOkayVideo about my upcoming book:

New photos:

My editor tweeted this--copies are in at the warehouse!
Got to eat one of my favorite Graze snacks.

And since the 15th has come and gone, here are my monthly haircut comparison photos, so you can see how my hair's growing.

2/15/14 back
8/15/14 back
2/15/14 front
8/15/14 front

Social media counts:

YouTube subscribers: 3,687 for swankivy (12 new this week), 371 for JulieSondra (1 new). Twitter followers: 534 for swankivy (no change), 621 for JulieSondra (61 new--yeah, it's all Pitch Wars again). Facebook: 262 friends (no change) and 129 followers (no change) for swankivy, 386 likes for JulieSondra (1 new), 48 likes for Negative One (no change), 78 likes for So You Write (1 new). Tumblr followers: 1,459 (8 new).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Pitch Wars process!

If the response on Twitter is any indication, some of y'all who are participating in Pitch Wars want to know my decision-making process for my mentee choices. Well, wonder no more!

At the end of the day, most of us are going to want to go with something that doesn't need too much work--we have a limited amount of time to get you in shape, you know!--and ideally, we'll also want something we personally like since we'll have to put a lot of our time into it. For free, you know.

I got a lot of submissions last year, so I'm expecting a lot of submissions this year, and if the preliminary entries before the final submission deadline are any indication, I am going to be buried. So I wanted to come up with a system that will help me avoid having to read entries more than once if I am not going to be working with them, and what better way to do that than a nerdy table?

Writing QualityErrorsTrajectoryDetailPersonalTotal

Here's my query table. As I read the queries, I'm giving them 0 to 5 points on each of these categories, with 25 points possible. High points is good, low points is not good.

I'm considering each of these categories equally.

Writing Quality: This basically means I'm looking at whether the writing itself is smooth. If the sentences feel like they flow and the language is easy to read and easy to understand.
  • 5 points: Masterfully written, no awkward sentences, easy to follow.
  • 4 points: Adequate writing, though language could be improved.
  • 3 points: Unclear sometimes, makes its point, but feels awkward.
  • 2 points: Frequent clarity issues, poor sentence transitions, feels overworked.
  • 1 point:  Reads like author struggles with language.
  • 0 points: Language is garbled, can't understand the content.
Errors: This sounds like it'd be a subcategory of the above, but I consider it separately. A person can still write passable sentences and yet have a bunch of errors in them, and because I tend to focus on sentences and punctuation and technical editing when I'm helping with a manuscript, these two are very important to me. I need people to have high scores in these, because if they have low scores I'll end up doing a LOT of homework, and I'd like to avoid that if possible. Errors could be spelling problems, typos, misused punctuation, or incorrect homophones, and I'm looking at grammar too (but I'm okay with slang or informal usage).
  • 5 points: No errors; author clearly knows how to spell, punctuate, use correct grammar.
  • 4 points: One or more errors, but might be an isolated incident.
  • 3 points: The errors are clearly the norm rather than an occasional glitch.
  • 2 points: Frequent errors.
  • 1 point:  A catastrophic number of errors.
  • 0 points: Author fails third grade English.
Trajectory: Super big deal in queries. I want my queries to set up the characters and situation, tell me how it escalates or complicates, give me some stakes, and make me understand and care about what happens to their characters. In other words, this is the Big Query Points category: if your query DOES WHAT IT'S SUPPOSED TO DO, it gets a high score here. If it rambles about your character's world or their past too much for the context needed, gives extremely vague stakes, or distracts me with themes and messages instead of telling me WHAT HAPPENS, it gets a low score.
  • 5 points: Perfect setup of characters, conflicts, and stakes, gets me invested.
  • 4 points: Might be a little murky, but still strong telling me the story and why I care.
  • 3 points: Gets a little lost or doesn't have a clear presentation/vague stakes.
  • 2 points: The story isn't at all clear; it's characters that do stuff.
  • 1 point:  The author says nothing or almost nothing about the book, or says so in a way I can't access.
  • 0 points: Isn't actually a query letter--does something else instead of telling me about the book.
Detail: I put this in because I typed it so often last year: you need the right level of detail. And this isn't a mathematical formula; what's appropriate varies depending on your manuscript and your genre. But in a query, I want broad strokes, with still enough detail to get a feeling about what your book is like. I want about the level of detail that would be on the back of your paperback book when it's published. And sometimes a query can lack detail but still be too long; I see vagueness like "she'll lose everything" instead of WHAT she'll lose.
  • 5 points: The level of detail feels perfect; I'm not overwhelmed with detail, but not left wondering anything vital.
  • 4 points: The level of detail is either too much or too little, but it's fixable--might need to ask the author to answer X question in the query or to delete X rambling.
  • 3 points: The query needs a whole extra paragraph or needs a whole paragraph deleted.
  • 2 points: Misses the mark by a noticeable margin--significantly too much or too little.
  • 1 point:  Author is treating the query letter like either an elevator pitch (way too little) or a comprehensive synopsis (way too much--may tell the ending).
  • 0 points: Spends the entire letter talking about something other than the book, such as their own publishing credentials, their experience, why they wrote the book, or why they think it will sell.
Personal: And everyone's favorite: the personal. This is the section where I rate my connection to the material. This does not necessarily mean that I'm rating whether it's a genre I tend to like or whether the subject matter is my favorite; it means I'm rating whether I have a personal connection with the idea. That's way more likely to happen for books in my preferred genres (science fiction/fantasy), but you will not necessarily get a lower score if you're outside that. Personal connection plays a part in everything from your agent to the acquiring editor at your publisher, so I consider this section really important.
  • 5 points: I'm in love, marry me.
  • 4 points: I like it--I could dig this, it's neat.
  • 3 points: I could definitely see myself reading it for fun.
  • 2 points: Really not my usual thing--wouldn't check it out of the library.
  • 1 point:  A subject, genre, or character I'd avoid on purpose.
  • 0 points: You offended me or pissed me off.
And that's it for the queries! Now, some mentors say they give preference to the pages. I'm not one of them. I will at least peek at your pages even if I hate your query--I really will!--but a bad query and decent pages will still make me not want to work with you. A query, for an agent, is often the only thing they'll see, and I don't want to write it for you or take it completely apart. So, while the query doesn't have to necessarily be as good as the pages, I want it to be really good. I am giving scores on the query that are equal to the scores on the pages, and will be taking both into consideration for my final decision. If I love the pages but dislike the query, I'll give you a very high personal score to counteract.

Let's look at what my (slightly different) table for the pages looks like:

Writing Sample:
Writing QualityErrorsCharacterEffective IntroPersonalTotal

Writing Quality: The five-point scale is the same as above.

Errors: The five-point scale is the same as above. Yes, I will give you a 4 starting with ONE error. I am a horrible witch. I'm not kidding. Don't sub to me if you can't handle it.

Character: I am a huge character writer, character reader, and character, uh, mentory person. I will connect to character more than anything else in your book, and this is extremely important to me, so I am looking at it as a grading category here.
  • 5 points: Immediate understanding of who your characters are and what they're about, with natural personality reveal and good dialogue. Bonus if I want to hang out with them.
  • 4 points: I like your characters and their execution. I get a good feel for who they are and why.
  • 3 points: There's not a full connection here--maybe I'm watching from a distance, but the characters are still on display and interacting somewhat competently.
  • 2 points: The characters are just there being puppeted, or don't feel authentic, or give us no information about themselves as they act.
  • 1 point:  The characters are caricatures and feel wooden. One dimension and everyone talks alike.
  • 0 points: There is no feel for character at all and there's no story-relevant reason for it.
Effective Intro: This is where you get the Big Writing Sample Points. DOES YOUR BEGINNING DO WHAT IT'S SUPPOSED TO DO? I need to know you can handle one of the toughest parts of the book: the opening. And I don't want to rewrite it for you or tell you to start somewhere else. This is it. So if your story's intro gets me invested immediately and doesn't stand there behaving like required reading, you've done what you came to do.
  • 5 points: You got me fully invested and reading the entire first chapter. You found the right balance between action, character, and background detail to pull me right in.
  • 4 points: You probably have some awkward details about the characters' pasts or current problem, or spent too much time telling me an aside about your fantasy world, but it's quite readable and I read the whole first chapter.
  • 3 points: You had an uneven beginning, halting your opening to tell me things or having nothing really important happening. I feel like you started in the wrong place. I may or may not read the whole first chapter.
  • 2 points: You aren't ready--you've figured out your details, but not how to tell the story. You haven't figured out yet where your story starts and you're frequently interrupting your action to fill me in, posing your characters awkwardly to make them drop exposition, or rambling about something I'm not invested enough to care about. I didn't finish your pages.
  • 1 point:  You aren't ready--I can't even follow the action or figure out who's who, and the confusion isn't a consequence of an experimental writing style (because that would get me invested even if I didn't know what was going on).
  • 0 points: You apparently turned in a first draft and/or have no idea how to pull readers into a story. You haven't realized yet that readers don't have to humor you; they don't have to be here, so they're not going to wait until it gets good.
Personal: Same five-point scale as the query.

So after I have both scores, I put you in a list. A ranked list. Each person who subs to me has a score next to them on my ranked list (e.g., 17/11) and the total of those two numbers will determine where they fall (but I'll be able to see how their query compares with their pages). Last year, I had trouble remembering why I put someone where I did in my ranked list, so now, not only can I assign them a score, but I can jump back to their entry and see what I liked and didn't like about it just by glancing at a number. Obviously some people will have the same numerical score, so when that happens it's just going to be a gut feeling thing (or I might give preference to people who had higher Trajectory scores in the query or higher Effective Intro scores in the pages).

Also, if I'm torn at the end, I can remember without a lot of rereading what each writer's strength is and how they compare.

I wonder if I'll find any 25/25 entries?

Will it be you?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

No, I don't want to write your idea


Okay, so if you're a writer and you've been doing this for some time, maybe you've noticed that people like to give you ideas. Sometimes they pitch them to you in relaxed ways, like telling you something weird about their life and adding "maybe you'd like to write a book about that!" and laughing good-naturedly when you say thanks but no thanks.

Sometimes you get the people who say they can't write but they thought up this cool plot, and they proceed to tell you about a half-formed idea they have that was probably derived from a movie they saw recently. Sometimes you get people who want you to write about their lives because they believe their personal struggles with addiction, illness, or being bullied in school would make a huge, hard-hitting bestseller (though I am not downplaying the importance of these issues; I'm just saying that unless you have a platform or are a celebrity, it's unlikely a publisher would want to buy that, and it's unlikely anyone who doesn't know you would stampede to purchase it).

And sometimes they just want you to put them in your fiction book because they're such a character.

And the thing is, these folks believe they are doing us a favor. Giving us "ideas."

Ideas. Well, let me tell you about ideas.

By and large, lack of ideas is NOT the problem for writers. When we say we have writer's block (if we get that), we're generally not saying "I just can't think of anything to write about!" We're saying we're struggling with the execution of one of our ideas, usually. And not to sound ungrateful, but the ideas these often well-meaning folks drop upon us are rarely usable or particularly original. Usually, they're not incredibly invested in my writing about their idea and don't mind that I gracefully decline. But what really steams me is that when this happens to me, occasionally I have to deal with a horrible rant from someone who feels entitled to my time and attention and reacts with fury that I would dare to pass up such genius. I'm not kidding! This has happened to me, as a person who writes a lot, identifies as a writer everywhere I exist online, and writes about writing.

One time, a particularly horrible person contacted me on a social site and began rambling somewhat incoherently in his first message. He was attempting to compliment me by saying he could tell I was an intellectual sort who could be trusted with his amazing idea, and then--after several sentences building up how groundbreaking and TOTALLY TRUE it was--he said he had revealed a government conspiracy that no one has ever thought about, which is that apparently we pay for land but nobody knows where that money goes. He smugly described this as "the biggest dirty secret keeping society ignorant and locked into material slavery"--actual quote--and his e-mail of unclear purpose petered out with a few rambles about how the sun is going to give us all cancer and he believes vegetarians like us are superior to others.

Oddly enough, he also told me he objects to my publishing goals because paper kills trees, feeds consumerism with the end product, and forces us into a life of endless slavery. (I'm not exaggerating. A quote: "We are victims, and it's how the world stays corrupt, by forcing us into a life that demands we continue the evil tradition of keeping people fixated on greed of material possessions.") He used to write poetry but now only writes "educational science material."

Understandably confused as to why he was sharing this with me (as he hadn't yet revealed that he supposedly wanted me to write about it), I told him his question about WHERE DOES THE MONEY FOR LAND GO??? was really naïve and I didn't believe he'd uncovered a scandal. This was (part of) his reply:

I brought up the "land" conversation, because you are a writer. I thought you might like a fresh idea to point you in a new direction. You failed to see it for what it really was though. Everything you currently know about paying for land is just what you "think", it's not what actually is. If you were able to turn this into a story (investigative reporting or just a good fictional story even) I think it has grounds for national interest. The government is a scam! It does not work at all, and it functions like a con-artist that tricks people out of their hard earned money just so it can keep the scam going. It would be nice if we could expose it, on a very large scale. 

Here is my reply in all its glory.

I'm sorry, were you under the impression that I am a) a reporter or b) looking for writing ideas? I am not.

The whole "I'm so sorry you can't see that my revolutionary idea is world-shaking and transformative" trope is extremely tired. I don't know where you got the idea that it'd be appropriate to suggest that a novelist (who writes FICTION) would *appreciate* your conspiracy theory and jump at the chance to run with your (presumably, NONfiction) idea. I am not looking for unsolicited writing ideas, and ranting about how the man is keeping us down and taxation is slavery is not hard-hitting subject matter even if I were.

Should you wish to write fiction, there are plenty of "average Joe is somehow partial to dirty political secrets he must expose for the good of mankind" and "government is infiltrated by malevolent poopheads who are trying to destroy the country" thriller novels out there. Should you instead wish to share your "the government is a scam" revelation with the world in bald conspiracy nut format, there are plenty of vanity publishers who have no content restrictions and would be happy to publish a raving manifesto (at your cost, of course).

But I must say I don't appreciate this extremely transparent suggestion of yours that you only shared your "eff the man" sentiments in the hopes that I would surely wish to write about them. Nor do I appreciate your false disappointment over my supposedly limited visionary ability. I've had my share of "too bad you can't see what you're missing" conversations (though admittedly most of them are responses to my rejection of a different sort), and yours is nothing new.

It's a little sad that you've assigned me a myopic outlook because I'm a writer who isn't jazzed at the idea of writing a "you can't trust THE SYSTEM" book from your ideas to EXPOSE THE FAT CATS, but there's not much I can do about it except hope you'll find more effective ways of communicating with others (leaving out condescending platitudes about their responsibility to recognize your never-before-seen investigative genius), and call this conversation unworthy of my time.
If you don't want to get an e-mail like that from me, do me a favor and don't tell me I should write your groundbreaking idea for you. But if you're reading this, I doubt you needed to be told. ;)

Monday, August 11, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 19: Favorite Minor Character



Today's question: Favorite minor character that decided to shove themself into the spotlight and why!

Minor characters. Minor characters. Well, I don't have too many great answers for this. My minor characters haven't stolen the spotlight too often. They're pretty well behaved. But I can discuss a few.

In Bad Fairy, the original version of the story didn't include much interaction with the other students in Delia's fairy school. When I rewrote it as a trilogy, there were quite a few more connections with other people, and so I expanded some characters' roles and ended up with some pretty significant relationships. Fiona was mentioned in the original version, but all she was was a throwaway line about being someone Delia could come close to calling her friend. Fiona's definitely a friend in the new version of Bad Fairy, but she didn't really do much time in the spotlight. I also have a character from the far future of Bad Fairy who wasn't even planned to begin with, but he ended up being essential to how the novel turned out. I don't know how long it will take for people to understand the significance of this, but Marshall wasn't planned. ;)

In Finding Mulligan, I again don't have spotlight-stealing characters, especially not minor ones. I can't think of anyone who fits that description for Joint Custody, either. And in Stupid Questions, I guess there aren't really any characters that developed more richly than I expected them to. So many of my novels have tiny casts, so everybody's important and not many people are minor.

In The House That Ivy Built and Negative One, I definitely had some folks start as a brainfart and become important people. Weaver was one of those in the original book. Hard to imagine the series without that guy! In the webcomic, the kind-hearted homeless caretaker, Theresa, wasn't originally intended to be fully developed as a character, but she was a great addition; she just never dreamed of stealing any spotlights. Maybe a good character for spotlight-stealing would be this obscure character:

Ahh look, it's Shelshay, the fan favorite. Shelshay was in all of six issues of my comic (and it's almost up to five hundred issues, so that should give you some perspective). And yet, in the polls for favorite characters, Shelshay got more votes than certain major characters. She sure made an impression for the short time she was on stage. I think that might have been because she was incredibly quirky and said very odd things sometimes, and since Negative One is almost never funny, people welcomed the comic relief.

Too bad she can't be in the story anymore. Good luck stealing the spotlight from way over where you are, Shelshay. (I'd better not say that too loudly. She'll find a way.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: August 2 – August 8

Life news this week: 

  • Pitch Wars has begun! Well, the preliminary stuff, anyway. Mentors have posted their wish lists. I'm on the blog hop. 
  • Did some editing on my new short story and finally decided it's more or less done. Also I'm currently calling it "That Story about Fortune Cookie Girl." Charming, eh? I submitted it somewhere on Sunday, to a magazine that not only takes stories this long BUT likes stuff that criticizes tropes and rises above genre. Well, maybe they'll like it. 
  • I posted a ton of new reviews this week on Goodreads and had a ball because, well, I was reviewing books I read more than ten years ago and I got to the part where I got to review every Animorphs book. Did 'em all in two days. :) 
  • I wrote a few pieces/answered a few sets of questions for upcoming pieces that will be featured around my book release. If anyone reading this wants to do a piece about my asexuality book on a blog somewhere around the first week of September, tell me! 
  • Redecorated my apartment for Lughasadh this week, finally. (I was late.) Now my apartment looks appropriately late-summery. 
  • I ate at New York's Best Pizza with Jeaux this week. We went to his house to watch America's Got Talent and listen to Night Vale.
Places featured: 

Reading progress:

  • Finished Field of Blood by Denise Mina. ★★★
  • Currently reading Captain Underpants #10 by Dav Pilkey.

New singing performances:

Recorded "Light Surrounding You" by Evermore.

New drawings:

Webcomic Negative One Issue 0481: "Don't Like the Words."

New videos:

Not made by me, but I was in this one for Pitch Wars:

New photos:

In bed reading, eating Pop Rocks. Nerd!

Social media counts:

YouTube subscribers: 3,675 for swankivy (31 new this week), 370 for JulieSondra (3 new). Twitter followers: 534 for swankivy (2 new), 560 for JulieSondra (69 new--yeah, it's pretty much all Pitch Wars). Facebook: 262 friends (no change) and 129 followers (1 new) for swankivy, 385 likes for JulieSondra (3 new), 48 likes for Negative One (no change), 77 likes for So You Write (3 new). Tumblr followers: 1,451 (5 new).