Friday, March 31, 2006

What a difference an agent makes

Instead of submitting Bad Company to publishers in proposal form (three chapters and a series synopsis), my agent and I have decided to submit the whole shebang, the full manuscript. She says that unless an author is well-established or the work is non-fiction, editors prefer to see an entire draft rather than just a proposal.

Which is a happy surprise to me, because in the world of the unagented author (which I inhabited for a decade), it's a struggle to get an editor to look at a full manuscript. There are several steps:
  1. Submit a query letter.
  2. If requested, send sample chapters.
  3. If requested, send full manuscript.
Response time for steps 1 and 2 take anywhere from a few days to several months. Response times for step 3 range from a few weeks to a couple of years. No, really.

Moreover, step 3 is exclusive to one editor. The business frowns on simultaneous submissions of full manuscripts, because if an editor goes to all that trouble to read your novel, only to discover that someone else has grabbed it, they'll be pissed.

New York may seem like a big city, but the editorial community is small and talks a lot. Supposedly you can be blacklisted for simultaneously submitting a manuscript, although this may be a myth designed to scare people into subjugation, like Santa Claus or Hell*.

Note the default assumption here: reading a submitted novel is a waste of their time.

But my agent can send all 534 double-spaced pages to as many editors as she wants, simultaneously, and then give them a deadline by which to make an offer. If we get more than one offer, it goes to auction, the ultimate writer's ego boost.

I'm still blown away by the power of an agent to put a big honkin' six-pound manuscript on an editor's desk without even being asked. What gall, my humble writer's reflex thinks. Don't you know these are busy, important people?

The thing is, these are busy, important people who are all seeking a book like Bad Company. For once, I've written something marketable--and I mean that in a good way.

New default assumption: reading my novel is something editors actually want to do (at least for a little while).

Upshot: With comments from my agent and two other readers, I'll spend April doing a third draft of Bad Company to submit to the Big Six fantasy publishers in a few weeks. More thoughts on that revision tomorrow.

*And like children and sinners, writers are better off playing it safe.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ever have one of those days

when you just don't feel like sharing?

Maybe it's the flying mildew (our carpets are finally being replaced a month after the Burst-Pipe Flood of Ought-Six), but today I feel petulant, resentful, frustrated, and jealous. And I'm getting a cold.

It's not easy for a pessimistic introvert to blog every day. The stuff inside isn't always pretty, and often doesn't want to show its face.

What makes you cranky today? Gripe your hearts out, babies!

UPDATE, 12:01 PM: OK, I just realized that was the kind of boring, self-indulgent entry that I hate about some blogs. While I'm at it, why don't I tell you about my sciatica pain and what I had for breakfast (fetal chickens--bwahaha! No Cult of Life in this house!)?

Oh poor me. My house is smelly. My nose is stuffy. My agent hasn't returned my e-mail. My dog ate one of the carpet installers. Boo-frickin'-hoo.

Utmost apologies for my lame attempt to seem complex. Fake whimsy to return tomorrow at our regularly scheduled time.

In the meantime, the Gripe Session is still open. Do your worst!

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Brief bite

Given all the posts about vampires and dogs lately, this seemed appropriate.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Research roadblock

In the second draft of Bad Company, I'm adding a few short scenes to flesh out some of the secondary characters, strengthen weak plot points, and add a bit of world-building. Ideally, every scene in a novel, film, or play should serve more than one purpose.

Anyway, during the first of these scenes, which I started writing Tuesday morning, my main character turns to one of these underdeveloped secondary characters, a man named Noah, and asks him something about his background.

Noah didn't reply. He just sat there, because I had no freakin' clue what the answer was.

So I stopped writing and spent two days researching Jamaica and specifically reggae music, trying to figure out where he fit in to his milieu. I wanted him to be typical of that era and place, but not stereotypical (although when dealing with deejays, everything is in stereo (<--ha! I kill me! But not quickly enough for my audience.)).

Now that I know more about Noah, I have to change his behavior not just in this new scene, but in a later, critical scene already written. My original outline planned to have all the vampires (except the heroine's squeeze) act with one accord on a particular life-or-death issue. My deeper understanding tells me that Noah would never go along with the others. He doesn't care what the outline says.

Which makes things more interesting, but less tidy. If his behavior changes in that scene, it has a ripple effect on the following scene, and so forth. Arrgh.

But interesting beats tidy any day in my book. You can tell by looking at my house.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Them's bitin' words

Today's New York Times ran an article on dog rescue (you can read it online for free for the next week), entitled "So You Think You Can Just Adopt a Dog?"

The article starts off with the tale of a woman and her two daughters who were turned down by the Humane Society in their efforts to adopt a dog. (Cue crying children.) They later adopted a dog from the county animal shelter, which apparently had less stringent adoption requirements.

Then the article proceeds to list the "hoops" prospective adopters must jump through to adopt a rescue dog: a multipage application (Gasp!), personal and veterinary references (oh my God!), interviews (No!), and a home visit (You want to what?!!). They compare it to the process of adopting a child.

I know people who have adopted children or are trying to, and the process doesn't take days--it takes months or years. The comparison, which I hear all the time, is an insult to those who have gone through this arduous process.

I spent two hours working on our application to adopt Meadow. One of the questions Greyhound Welfare asked was, "What would be the schedule for a typical day in the life of your dog?" Though time-consuming to answer, it forced me to think, "How will I fit this animal into my routine?" Especially for first-time dog owners, these are important questions to consider.

A dog is not a new piece of furniture. He or she is a living creature with physical and emotional needs. It's our job as temporary caretakers to ensure that the new home will be a permanent one. Rescue dogs have already had a difficult past; we want to know that their future will be better.

That being said, I believe rescue volunteers should remember that in any adoption, there are two parts to the equation: the animal and the adopter. Though the animal's welfare is our responsibility, we shouldn't forget the feelings of the people involved.

Most prospective adopters are well-meaning individuals who just want a nice pet, a companion to love and be loved by. They do not share our obsession with all aspects of animal care. They want their dog to be a member of the family, not a part-time job.

As Stuart Smalley would say, "And that's O-K."

With the families who adopt our fosters, I try to show compassion and understanding, and not make harsh judgments. I try to educate without lecturing. Perhaps my attitude is too laid-back, but I remember what it was like to be on the other end of the adoption process, wondering if every word I said was being dissected and analyzed.

That's all I have time for right now before going to work. Those of you who have adopted rescue dogs and/or cats, what are your feelings and experiences?

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Singular focus

Blogging might be light this week, as I'm going to spend most of my hours working hard on the Bad Company rewrites. My original plan was:
  1. finish BC Draft #2 by the end of the March
  2. write the first draft of Voice of Crow from April through June
  3. polish BC during July based on readers' comments
This plan would have given me a deliverable manuscript of Bad Company at the end of July. But my agent will be sending out the series proposal (outline and first three chapters) to several publishers this week, and if things go well (please please please), one of them might ask for a full manuscript.

That could be in as soon as a few weeks. It probably won't be, but I like to be prepared for the best, having learned from a previous mistake:

When I submitted my Aspect of Crow proposal to Luna, it took them seven months to make a decision (which is a bit on the fast side for the publishing world). During that time, did I finish the manuscript, so that if they bought it, I'd be ready for publication?

No. I told myself, "They might want me to change the story before they accept it, so it would be a waste of time to finish the book." But really, I just didn't want to jinx my chances. I was afraid. And we all know what happens when you operate from fear instead of hope.*

If I'd had Eyes of Crow even mostly finished, it would be coming out next month instead of in November (although I would have lost that cool Halloween/Day of the Dead connection).

Bottom line: I need to get something to my lovely, amazing readers ASAP so I can get feedback and make the necessary improvements. Just getting it to the stage where it won't embarrass me in front of these trusted folks will take several days.

Color me crackin'.


*You reelect bad Presidents.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

The triumphant return of Natalie T. Steppenwolf

Back in January, I sang a lamentation for my laptop, whose hard drive had crashed. I think the cause was a series of brief power outages/surges during a windstorm (we live on top of a hill and routinely receive gusts of 30 mph).

We saved nearly all of the crucial data, but my laptop needed a new brain. Or heart, or whatever organ corresponds to the hard drive (any guesses from the computer whizzes in the audience?).

Now Lappy is back, with a new name, as promised. She's slow, filthy, hot, and heavy, but she's mine.

Natalie, my sweet Natalie. I can't wait to reload all my music on you so we can Megashuffle our little hearts out. I don't mind how hard I have to hit the 'h' key to get it to work. I don't mind that your fan runs constantly, or that your network card is external and must be removed before placing you, lovingly, in your tote-bag.

The important thing is, we're together again. And that unlike that other laptop I borrowed (really, she meant nothing to me), you have a scroll pad and two Ctrl keys.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The good and the Bad, Part 2

(I wrote this post last night before getting feedback from one of my toughest readers, who thought it sounded just fine. So obviously my negative feelings stemmed from a combination of perfectionism and desensitization to the material. But I'll post it anyway, so you can see the haunting uncertainty that plagues every writer when it comes to evaluating one's own work.)

Wherein I continue discussing my initial impressions of Bad Company's first draft. Back to our regularly scheduled program...

My main concern is the artificiality of the voice in the first few chapters. This is a really common problem for beginnings--we don't yet know the character/narrator well enough to speak their voice clearly and distinctly, so it often comes out derivative or imitative of other works.

I don't even remember whether I knew that the protagonist was a former con artist when I wrote Page One back in July. All I had was a concept:
Young woman gets job with radio station where all the DJs happen to be vampires--vampires stuck forever (culturally, linguistically, and fashion-wise) in the time in which they were created, the time corresponding to the music they play.
I also had a general style (chick-lit) in mind. The novel became so much more than the original concept, I'm happy to say, but now I have to inject those first few chapters with the layers of style and meaning that the rest of the book holds.

Hard to do when you've read, rewritten, and polished that puppy* a hundred times to submit to a publisher. It's as if every word is etched in granite.

Maybe the whole thing should be rewritten from another approach.

Yeah, right. Not in this universe.

As I've said before, that's why beginnings are so scary.

*"Polishing the puppy" sounds vaguely lewd

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Vampire Physiology 101

When writing vampire novels, authors must figure out their creatures' powers and limitations. There are no hard-and-fast rules within the genre about "what makes a vampire a vampire," other than the need to drink blood to survive.

Depending on which series you read, you find vampires that:
  • tolerate sunlight (mine can't, not even indirectly)
  • eat regular food (mine can, but they don't enjoy it--"everything tastes British")
  • shapeshift (no)
  • retract their fangs (yes)
  • read people's minds (hah! like they think about anyone but themselves)
One contradictory set of facts seems almost universal in today's vampire fiction:
  • They have sex--lots of it, or the book doesn't sell.
  • They lack heartbeats, because they're dead.
Anyone who knows basic physiology or, say, has a human body of their own, knows this is impossible. A guy needs blood flow--and lots of it--to make things work. We're expected to believe that they function differently than humans in every way except sexually.

Rrrrriiiiight.

This discrepancy bothered me enough that I gave my vampires heartbeats and breaths--because hey, I wasn't about to make them celibate. Their body temperatures are lower than those of humans, except right after they drink, at which point they can climb into the mid-nineties Fahrenheit*.

My vampires grow less and less human as they "age," making life and un-death more of a continuum than an either/or.

But this creates other problems--if they're so human-like, then what makes them vampires? Am I just cherry-picking the monstrous traits I find appealing or convenient?

Such is the mental conversation every vampire author faces sooner or later. Me, I made it up as I went along, mutating aspects to fit the story's needs.

If that sounds sloppy and cavalier, don't worry. That's what rewrites are for!

While I'm at work today, feel free to discuss the mating habits, food preferences, and any other peculiarities of your favorite vamps.

*One of their nicknames for humans is "98.6er's".

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I'm a dork

Yesterday a few of you who either have RSS feeds or who happened by my blog around 10ish in the morning may have noticed that my author photo showed up on this blog not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES. No, I wasn't being incredibly self-absorbed, telling everyone:
Look!! Here's a picture of meeeeeeee!!
I was trying to upload it to Blogger so I could put it in my profile, but instead it published itself directly onto my blog. I quickly figured out what had happened and deleted it post-haste.

So lest you think I'm some kind of attention-starved diva, rest assured that I'm merely a confused, clueless Blogger user who still can't make her profile picture look right in that tiny little thumbnail size.

If you want to see the new author photos, one of them is here. Another is on my home page here. I'm not sure which one Luna will put on the inside back cover of my novel. Whichever one they think will sell more books, I imagine.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The good and the Bad, Part 1

Yesterday I read my first draft of Bad Company all the way through in one day, finishing the last page just as my husband walked through the door. I held up a "Don't Speak!" hand, and he waited patiently as I tried to maintain the ending's emotional mood in my mind for a few more seconds. It's weird living with an author.

The first read-through of a new novel is by far my favorite stage of the process. It's the payoff for weeks of hard work, and though I know that somewhere down the road I'll come to hate it, for one day, I could revel in the feeling of "Wow, I wrote this. I rock."

(I link to old blog posts to illustrate the fact that history repeats itself with each project. If you're a writer and find yourself in one of these stages, rest assured, you're not alone.)

One of the things you look for in a first reading (other than which sections put you to sleep) is a balance of elements. For example:
  1. Does one part of the plot receive emphasis at the expense of others?
  2. Which characters are underdeveloped?
  3. Is the tone consistent throughout?
  4. How come we never found out what was behind that mysterious door in Chapter Six?
Answers:
  1. Oddly enough, the "bad company" of the title turned out to be the least intriguing of all the antagonists. On another level, the title refers to the characters themselves and whether they're bad company for each other. But one can't have subtext unless the text itself makes sense, so I should emphasis the dangerous corporation more consistently.
  2. A couple of the vampire DJs need to break out of their stereotypes. Does the hippie guy always have to be stoned? What if he were never stoned--wouldn't that be more interesting?
  3. It gets more serious as the story progresses. Personally, I like a blend of comedy and drama, but publishers may be confused as to how they would market it. (Try this phrase: "darkly humorous.")
  4. Um, because I forgot about it.
More insights tomorrow.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Welcome to the sweet, crunchy jungle

I'm spending all day today reading the first draft of Bad Company, to find out if it sucks, and if so, to figure out how I'd go about reducing its suckiness. They say that the first time you read your novel all the way through, it should be in one day, if possible, so that you can get an idea of how well the story flows.

So no time for a long blog post this morning. Enjoy this fun and educational link about animal cracker ecology.*


*This link is not totally random. Eyes of Crow is about people having magic according to their animal Guardian Spirit. Late one night last week I had an idea of incorporating animal crackers into my promotional campaign, perhaps as giveaways at a signing or book fair. Lots of authors give Hershey kisses, but sometimes people just want something soothing, something that takes them back to their childhood. Something like animal crackers.

But wait: are they cookies or are they crackers? And haven't we been here before?

And now this note is longer than the post it was originally attached to. You just never know what kind of out-of-the-box, no-holds-barred wackiness will occur here at Jeri Smith-Ready's curiously named blog, "Jeri Smith-Ready."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lazy Sunday

I think I'll take one day off a week from posting, and it might as well be Sunday. My stats show that fewer people read blogs on the weekends (they go out and have lives instead), and I'd hate to slow the productivity of America's workers by giving them three posts to read every Monday morning. The engine of capitalism must chug chug chug!

(I think it can I think it can I think it can)

But if you're a Sunday morning blog reader and nothing will ease your hangover besides a few fresh words from Yours Truly, let me know.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Napoli napalmed!

The SBs Google-bomb worked--their definition of Bill Napoli is now the #1 search result in Google.

Bow down before the power of Babes with Blogs!

Gotta go eat breakfast now before the migraine comes back.

Damn, too late.

UPDATE: I'm now the #6 result in a Google search for Bill Napoli. No idea how that happened, or how long it will last, but it even beats the feeling of pride I hold in being the #3 source for "squeaky deaky."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday forkery

It's like a throbbing toothache of the mind.
--Green Day, "Give Me Novacaine"
I'm coming down with a migraine, the kind that makes me wish someone would jab a needleful of morphine into the back of my skull (any volunteers?), so I'll just refer to you this, in case you were looking for something to do over the weekend with your friends and family.

Just remember what the Oracle told Neo: There is no fork spoon.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Spammity Spam

My Spam of the Week is rather intriguing. It promises

sevenfold redemption

which, as the author of a novel about the possible redemption of the Devil, I couldn't resist. The e-mail's interior, however, confused me:
some popular it's williams , cityscape.
may crack on canterelle some slavic, try rejoinder ! backward the maul a sect be shingle it uk.
be belgium , plantain may apparatus.
or society be corrode on adduceit's bowline in polyphemus or kneecap.
but then again, I never really did understand poetry.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Only you can prevent Bill Napoli

Normally I try to stay away from politics these days, not because I worry about offending people, but because that's not the purpose of this blog and because frankly, it totally hoovers my energy. One day I hope to get Seething in the Wilderness up and running, as soon as my Redi-Klone arrives from Acme.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the mission, should you choose to accept it.

You're probably all aware that the South Dakota legislature has passed a bill banning abortion even in the case of rape and incest. What you may not have heard yet are the remarks of State Senator Bill Napoli, on what kind of rape victim might qualify for an abortion:
A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.
I have no comment on his remarks, due to the fact that they struck me speechless. But it's good to know that I, as a non-virgin (sorry, Mom!), won't be messed up, physically and psychologically, in the event of a brutal sexual assault.

So the gals at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels (SBs for short) decided to do to Bill Napoli what columnist Dan Savage did to PA Senator Rick Santorum, which was to redefine his name to mean, er, something nasty.

The SBs are using a Google bomb, which simply involves having tons of sites linking to a desired page using specific anchor text, so that when someone types Bill Napoli into Google's search engine, the page with this new definition comes up.

At last count on Blogsnow, the SB Bill Napoli page was the eighth most-linked-to page on all of the Internets.

I encourage all bloggers reading this to join us in spreading the word about just how vile Bill Napoli and his type really are. Simply link to this page:

http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/billnapoli/

using the words "Bill Napoli" (without the quote marks) as your anchor text. "Anchor text," if you don't know (and I didn't until just now), is the term for the words you highlight before you click on the "make link" button.

BTW, it doesn't really help to type it several times; I only did it for humorous effect. However, I plan to cross-post on Seething in the Wilderness momentarily, to double the fun.

The most $%@!# time of the year

What's in the boooooox?
--Brad Pitt, Se7en
It just arrived, delivered to my doorstep because it wouldn't fit in our mailbox down the lane. The postal carrier gave a malicious grin, as if she knew. Those government types, all the same. Her jackboots clinked on the walkway as she returned to her truck.

But how could she know? Usually a box from amazon.com holds a plethora of delights--books, CDs, DVDs--whoopee, that's entertainment!

Not today. Today the box holds:

the new version of TurboTax

If you live in the Northeast, that moaning sound wafting along on the south wind is me discovering how much we owe this year. Chris and I are both self-employed, which means, in this nation that professes to love the entrepreneur, we get to pay twice the payroll taxes.

At least in '05 we were smart and paid estimated federal taxes for the first three quarters. But it's never enough--after all, someone's got to pay for Alaskan bridges to nowhere.

So what's in the box? Insolvency, that's what. But it's better than the severed head of Gwyneth Paltrow*.

UPDATE, 2 PM: I was wrong! Not only were its contents better than the severed head of Gwyneth Paltrow, they were better than TurboTax:
  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, which I talked about in the comments here
  • Goddess of the Rose, by the lovely and talented PC Cast
  • Meat Puppets II by the Meat Puppets (duh)
Now I can listen to the Pups while doing my taxes, just as soon as that other box arrives.

*If you've never seen the final scene of Se7en performed by stuffed animals, watch it now.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The pen is longer than the sword

(This post's title just made me realize the importance of proper space bar usage.)

(Wow, I've never started off a post with parentheses before. Not a good sign.)

(Hey, wouldn't The Space Bar be a great name for a writer's hangout?)


I spent most of this weekend researching methods of book marketing and promotion. There are so many opportunities, both online and offline, that it quickly became clear that I can't do everything. My schedule is crammed enough trying to write two books a year, so I'll have to make some careful decisions about how I spend my time, money, and energy.

One of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, has invented a gadget called the LongPen, which allows her to sign books remotely. This past weekend she held a video conference in London with fans at a bookstore in New York City.

It's great that authors like Atwood will now be able to "travel" anywhere to sign books (um, never mind the fact that the LongPen didn't actually work during its debut). But I fear that this bit of technology will do for authors what Blackberrys and cell phones have done to business people: keep them tethered to their work at all times.

If it costs Atwood nothing to appear at a booksigning in East Diddlysquat, then what's to stop her publicist from asking her to do a signing every single day, year in and year out? How will she justify turning down an appearance? She no longer has the excuse, "It's too far to travel." Yet even for a remote signing she must look and act her best, which is exhausting for even the most extroverted of writers.

Booksignings are important for authors, not because they result in a lot of direct sales, because usually they don't. The key reason for an author to do a signing is to build relationships with booksellers, those hard-working, intelligent, blindingly gorgeous people who hold a novel's success in their strong yet sensuous hands.

However, a crappy turnout at a formal signing makes booksellers feel bad. Another option is the "drive-by" or "stock" signing. Basically, the author drops in, autographs all of the store's copies of her book, and takes awhile getting to know the people who work there (who are invariably, in case I didn't mention it before, sharp as tacks and crawl-over-glass beautiful).

If the author is smart, she brings doughnuts. If the bookseller is smart, she places the autographed copies face-out with stickers that say "Signed by the Author." Everyone's happy.

So my current plan is to only do one or two "event" signings--one here in my hometown and one in my college town of Villanova (Go 'Cats!)--and then spend several days as a doughnut-pushing, autograph-scrawling, all-around friendly kinda gal, doing stock signings at every bookstore I can find.

At least, the ones who don't see me coming first.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Three dog nights

And days.

If you check the sidebar, you'll note that we have two fosters now. How did this happen? I ask myself the same question, as I wade through a sea of fur-drenched beasts.

Sunshine is a nine-year-old Belgian Shepherd mix who ended up in a shelter after running away from home. Her owners came to pick her up but didn't want to pay the SPCA boarding fee for the nights she had stayed there, so they just signed her over to the shelter.

Pardon my Anglo-Saxon, but can you believe that shit? We live in such a disposable society that a dog who has given nine years of life and love can be tossed out like an old chair. Less than a decade ago she was a wee ball of black fluff, probably adored and cooed over. Now she's garbage, somebody else's problem.

Because she was a senior dog and the shelter knew that no one was looking for her, she went right to the top of the PTS list.

And folks, in animal rescue, PTS doesn't exactly stand for Party 'Til Sunup.

It's rare that our organization will tell us, hey, this dog will die if it doesn't get a foster. Actually, this is the only time I can remember that happening. Because I have a soft spot for seniors and black animals,* I offered to take her.

After all, Brutus has become one of the family in everything but name, and older dogs are usually calm and cause little problem. From what I've heard, senior fosters and adoptees are just so grateful to have a home where they're wanted, they behave beautifully.

I was right. Though it was tough the first couple of days to manage the dynamics of three dogs (which officially counts as a "pack"), especially with a burst pipe in the basement that cut our living area nearly in half, everyone seems happy now.

I figured Sunshine would be with us a very long time, if not forever. After all, she's old, large, and black--three major strikes against any rescue dog. But she already has a very nice lady interested in adopting her, and she may go to a new home as early as next week. Keep your fingers crossed for this lovely old girl. I'll keep you posted.


*and, let's be totally honest, because two days before I drove past a similar-looking dog lying by the side of the highway that had been hit by a car. Like everyone else, I didn't stop, even though I could have done so safely. It was probably already dead, but what if it weren't, or what if I could have kept it from dying alone? I felt like an asshole, and this is my way of making up for it. So I'm no angel, 'kay? Just karmically aware.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Beaming

Heard from my editor yesterday on the Voice of Crow proposal. Let's just say (blowing on fingertips like they were smoking guns) exclamation points were involved.

She did make two comments that were very helpful:
  • Too much backstory in the first chapter
  • Don't forget who the main character is
It'll take me a few tries to find the right balance between bewildering new readers by including not enough backstory, and boring, well, everyone else, and probably new readers, too, by including too much backstory.

The challenge is, I have to recreate a whole fantasy world and review the events of Eyes of Crow, all while keeping up with the current action. Events occur quickly at the beginning of VOC (why wait to start tormenting my characters?), and too much backstory can slow things down. On the other hand, readers need to feel oriented before they can buy into the story.

For that reason, I've set aside several readers to read Voice who haven't read Eyes first. (I haven't literally set them aside; they can lead their lives more or less freely until September.) That way, I can tell where I've screwed up, sequel-wise.

As for my editor's second point: I've introduced a few new characters, one of which has his own POV. It'd be easy to focus on the new guy and his issues, but I need to keep the main focus on Rhia, since she is, after all, the Voice of Crow. Everyone else's plot needs to contribute to hers. That's why they call them "subplots."

Anyway, it's nice to get positive feedback from an editor. She even said, 'This book seems like it will be just as powerful as Eyes of Crow."

Which is totally cool, because I didn't even know she thought EOC was powerful. I mean, she said she enjoyed it, but editors pretty much have to say that to keep authors from jumping off bridges before the final manuscript is in.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Outlines: hoop or help?

I was going to post about the process of writing an outline, since I just turned in the outline and first chapter of Voice of Crow. But thriller writer JA Konrath blogged it for me. Nice guy, huh?

A big "What he said" applies to almost his entire post. Our processes differ mostly in the specifics of the outline's form. I don't list the players for each chapter/scene; heck, I don't even know exactly where the chapters break.

I describe the events and try to impart a sense of their emotional and thematic significance. My editor wants to know not just "What happens next?" but also
  • "What does it mean to the characters?"
  • "How do these events contribute to the overall theme?"
  • "Who wants to order Thai for lunch?"
As I mentioned in a comment to Joe's post, each publisher wants a different length, style, and focus for an outline. I know an author whose editor wanted to know only the basics: Who, when, and which planet?

One might be tempted to interpret a request for a detailed outline as some kind of vote of nonconfidence: we don't trust you to write a good story, so tell us exactly what happens and if we like it, we'll show our approval in the form of a nice little checky-poo.

But it's not like that at all. I think publishers ask for outlines for two main reasons, both of which are meant to help the author:
  1. Like high school English teachers who ask for a term paper outline a month before the paper's due, they want to make sure you're not putting off the novel until the last minute (not that I EVER did that with a term paper or, say, changed my topic the day before it was due).
  2. They want to help you keep the story on track, which is to say, keep it from sucking.
For instance, the first draft of my VOC proposal called for a real downer ending. My editor didn't say, "Dude, you're bumming me out, show me the happy," but she asked some pointed questions about why the heroine would let certain events occur without putting up more of a fight. I realized her concerns were spot-on, worked to create a more coherent plot, and ended up with a much more satisfying story, one I'm actually excited to begin writing.

As in, right...now.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Black power

A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.
--Groucho Marx
Did you know that black cats are least likely to be adopted? What is wrong with people? Are Americans still living in the Dark Ages? Don't answer that.

Here are the top ten reasons to Adopt a Black Cat.

I bring this up today in honor of my own black cat, my best friend, my soul sister, who turns 15 years old today. Her name and face shall remain secret to protect her identity (the paparazzi make her cranky).

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Spam of the week

Our regular Thursday installment of funky funky Spam comes a bit early, since Blogger wouldn't let me post the image I wanted to use for today's post.

You know what I have to say to that?

fix sweaty ampersand!!

in bimodal it's hellbender not fugal.
a liable ! eyeful it marry, ! conifer and wiseacre the brighton try sept or concurring it's heiress.

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This Side of Salvation

This Side of Salvation, Jeri's new contemporary YA novel!

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“A smart, well-rounded, and unpredictable tale...bringing to light issues of belief versus free will, spirit versus body, and family versus self.” —Booklist, **Starred Review**

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Shattered

"Shattered," a Shade novella!

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Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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