And We Go Back

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It’s been very quiet on the novel front (even though my muse has been very chatty on the sequel!), but that’s about to change. I’m ready to take another dive in the literary agent pool, despite the ever growing odds against me.

I spent the summer waiting for query responses that never came – the silence was deafening – and evaluating both my novel and query package. After another round of rejections, I can’t help but ask myself if some of the changes I made were doing more harm than good.

The last round of query packages included a new query letter and a full Chapter 1 rewrite in the novel. Both changes were prompted by several rounds of rejections. There’s only so many rejections you can take before you consider that maybe there’s something wrong with the product.

Prior to the changes, I was averaging about 75% actual responses and 25% no response to my query package. While it is gratifying to receive some sort of a response, the fact of the matter is they were all rejections.

After the changes, the stats changed significantly and not in a good way. In the last round of querying, less than half of the agents I queried responded. The rest offered nothing but silence. This was either a really bad stroke of luck or I need to rethink the tinkering I did on my novel.

Given the drastic change in statistics, I’m thinking it’s time to get back to basics. It’s obvious the rewritten first chapter isn’t grabbing agents’ attention (all that I queried requested the first chapter as part of the query package), so I’ll be scrapping the rewrite in favor of the original version.

After comparing the two this weekend, I can honestly say I like the original version better. It moves a bit slower, but it offers a stronger introduction to the lead character. Furthermore, it provides stronger contrast to the character she evolves into as the novel progresses.

As for the query letter, that’s where it gets a little tricky. I like my new query letter better than the original, yet it’s also part of the package that incited little or no response. So, now the question becomes, was it it the query letter, the rewritten first chapter, or both that turned off so many agents?

Yeah, that’s a sticky wicket.

I went back and read my original query letter and there’s a lot to like about it, but it’s not that exciting. The new query letter has a little more personality and leaves a little more room to personalize it for individual agents. The logical solution to pull the best elements of each and combine them into one new query letter. Yet, I’m left asking myself if that’s really necessary. The original letter has a great track record for getting responses – why mess with it?

If I’ve learned anything in this process, second-guessing yourself can be disastrous. I’ve believed from the start that my novel is something special and I can’t afford to lose that focus. The plan moving forward is to submit the original novel (as structured by me and my editor) and to utilize both query letters. As I research agents, I’ll decide which query letter might be the best fit for each agent on my list. Social media, blogs, and websites for prospective agents offer a lot of insight on personality and preferences.

I’ll consider this last round as yet another lesson learned. We’ll just add it to the lengthy list of things this process has taught me! Despite the constant failure, I remain optimistic. My novel will find its way into print – it’s just a matter of when.

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c.b.w. 2016

Poetic Strategy

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Last night, my husband asked me out of the blue, “How do you write your poetry?” Well, that’s a loaded question! It largely depends on what kind of poetry I’m writing.

My chosen forms of poetry are haiku, black out, and free verse. It’s no accident that each of the forms has a certain amount of freedom and spontaneity involved. I like the concept of having no idea what a poem is going to be until it is finished. Perhaps it’s my trust in my muse or maybe I just like to be surprised!

Haiku is the most structured form I write, but I ignore the 17-syllable rule completely. Instead, I favor the modern english language haiku where the focus is less on syllable count and more on capturing a moment (as per the Japanese tradition). I prefer to keep my haiku under 13 syllables, but it’s not a steadfast rule.

The appealing element of haiku for me is the focus on a singular moment. All I have to do is look up or conjure a memory of somewhere I’ve been and the words just come. Rarely, do I need more than a few minutes to compose a haiku and it’s always amazing to me that they come so fast.

Overthinking haiku almost diminishes the purpose of a form that is so rooted in Zen. It’s about being one with nature, a moment, or a feeling. If you think too hard, you miss the point.

Black out poetry is very similar. While Zen isn’t the central influence, the idea of singling a few words out of a page of text requires a little selective observation. They key is choosing just a few words that string together. Too many muddles the poem into a long piece of verse that doesn’t make sense. Or worse, the “poem” becomes an overwritten mess!  I liken it to a student highlighting an entire page of text instead of just the important sections!

You have to let go of the instinct to circle every single interesting word. In many ways, it’s a lesson in letting things go and making decisions without fear. Overthinking it makes it impossible to single out the words that work the best together.

For years, free verse was my chosen (non)form. The lack of rules made poetry seem far less daunting. To a certain extent, I still enjoy writing free verse. However, it does take me longer to compose than haiku or black out. The lack of rules is very liberating, but it also widens the field of inspiration and possibilities which can be overwhelming.

No matter what kind of poem I’m writing, I employ one simple strategy: trust my muse. I don’t try to force anything or rack my brain trying to write the perfect poem. The words always come if I just breathe and trust myself to find them.

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c.b.w. 2016

OMG. I Wrote Fanfic!

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Every writer has a skeleton in the closet. Bad poetry, failed attempts at short stories, journal entries that should never see the light of day – you know, the stuff that seemed good at the time, but now lies forgotten in a file or a shelf somewhere.

This is the writing that makes you cringe when you see it, but don’t be too quick to chuck in the trash. This is also the writing that had to happen in order to become the writer you are today.

In my case, I have journals filled with page after page of poetry (some good, some not), spirals of horrible short stories (definitely not my thing), and journal entries from a writing group I no longer attend, (prompt based writing is a little distracting for me). I learned something from every piece of writing I’ve ever done. Even the horrible, awful, bad stuff served its purpose in that I learned what not to do!

These physical reminders of my writing past sit on a shelf next to my desk. They remind me of where I’ve been and where I want to go. For that reason, I treasure them even if I pray no one ever reads them!

I thought I had all evidence of my writing past collected neatly in one place, but I was wrong. It turns out I had a little skeleton in my closet  that I totally forgot about and its out there for everyone to see.

The process of revisiting some old writing (See Getting All Nostalgic), lead me to a fansite for The Office called More Than That. It’s a fanfic site that specializes in fanfic for the characters Jim and Pam, but also includes fan created stories for The Office as a whole. The moderator of this site reached out and asked for message board posts I did for the show years ago.

I remember visiting the site often to read fanfic when the show aired, so I already had a username and password. When I signed in and clicked on My Account, I was shocked to see that I had written several pieces of fanfic. I totally and completely forgot that I had indulged in the sappy, fan obsessed practice of writing fanfic.

OMG. *slaps hand on forehead*

I did it all – fluff, angst, and romantic sappiness. Everything an obsessed shipper could ever want for fictional characters. I was afraid to click on the stories. Who knows what I had done or what they were about!

It turns out they aren’t half bad. The writer in me today wants to fix them, but they will remain as is. Part of me can’t believe I wrote fanfic, but the rest understands my muse was trying to tell me something a long time ago. This is where writing fiction became a reality to me. This is where I learned I could do it if I really tried.

At first, I was embarrassed to discover I had been a fanfic writer, but then I realized I had no reason to be. Fanfic is an art form. Many of the writers on More Than That are incredibly talented and I love reading their work. It isn’t easy to create new stories for well-known characters. There’s a fine line between challenging characters with new scenarios, while also maintaining the established canon of the character’s personality.

I may focus my attention on non-fanfic writing these days, but I am well aware that fanfic is one of the reasons I was brave enough to write not one, but two novels. I proudly acknowledge my fanfic skeleton!

Writing is writing, no matter what the genre. Tap those keys or scribble with that pen. Your muse is waiting.

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p.s. Here they are in all their glory:

More Than That: scrantonbranch’s stories

c.b.w. 2016

A Weird Writing Dilemma

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For the last few days, I’ve been busy pulling some really old writing files, (see Getting All Nostalgic for the reason why). Some of the files I had to track down date back a full decade! The fact that I even found them was truly astonishing (thank goodness for an archaic laptop that didn’t succumb to a virus), but it turns out that was only a fraction of the battle that was ahead.

First, ten-year-old files don’t like transferring to updated versions of software. Especially when those old files are part of a program that basically no longer exists. Back in the day, I was still playing around on a PC. PCs often came with a free abbreviated version of Word called Microsoft Works. Almost every post I wrote for my threads on The Office message boards was drafted in this program.

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I’ve since evolved to a Mac in which I run the full Microsoft Office software. It turns out none of the files I pulled off my old PC would open on my Mac. Ugh. Are you kidding me? After a few minutes of crafty thinking, I realized I could probably upload the files to google docs on the off chance they would magically convert to that format.

I was close! Google Docs prompted me to convert my files using CloudConvert. I didn’t have to download anything, but rather my files could be converted to .docx in the magical realm known as the cloud. Once converted they were sent back to my google docs account all shiny and new. From there, I downloaded them to a USB.

Voila! My files opened and all my hard work was saved. There are some formatting issues, but the text is all there and that is what matters!

This is when I thought the hard part was over. Silly, silly me. The hard part began when I opened those files and started reading. Ten years is a long time in the life and evolution of a writer. I’ve come a long way since then and its almost painful to see words I so badly want to fix.

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While it would be easy to go in and make all sorts of improvements, herein lies the problem: Do I really want to alter something that so many readers have already enjoyed? The whole point of this nostalgic project was to find a new online home for message board posts that currently are no longer available, (the message board is now defunct). The reader who requested them loved them they way they were and so did many other readers.

As a writer, I find myself in an odd place. I know I could rewrite those posts and make them better in terms of style, flow, and organization. At the same time, I don’t want to mess with something that is a perfect snapshot of a wonderful time in my life where I was rediscovering myself as writer. Nor do I want to mess with what is a perfect preservation of fandom memories for readers and myself.

Ultimately, I decided to do limited revisions. One of my trademark flaws is leaving out entire words because my brain moves faster than my typing fingers. I’m doing my best to fill in the missing words. I’m also fixing punctuation issues such as commas, semicolons, and hyphens to help with reading flow. Other than that, I’m leaving the original posts as original as I can. It’s painful, but I think it’s the right think to do considering their newfound purpose.

I never thought I’d find myself in this position, but I suppose this is how published novelists feel about their work. There really is no such thing as a final draft, but sometimes you just have to let things go.

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c.b.w. 2016

Getting All Nostalgic

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Nostalgia seems to be the theme of my life this week. Between restoring vintage Barbie dolls and sewing with vintage fabric, an email popped up in my inbox from an old acquaintance. She was a reader of some writing I did a long time ago and wanted to know if she could post it on her website. It sounds simple enough, but the story behind the writing it is somewhat unconventional.

Years ago, I was part of an online fan community for the television show The Office (U.S.). Under the screen name “scrantonbranch” I played on various threads of a message board for episode discussion, trivia, and general geeking out over a show we all loved, (loved is actually not a strong enough word for how we felt about the show – it was soul consuming passion).

theoffice

Part of what made The Office so special was the relationship between Jim and Pam. After the jaw dropping events of the Season 2 finale, I became full-blown obsessed with these characters. As an outlet for this obsession, I started writing incredibly detailed analyses of every episode on threads that became known as The Pam Dichotomy and The Jim Paradox.

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Oh, this moment! The fandom collective nearly exploded from excitement.

Throughout Seasons 3 and 4, I analyzed every word, facial tic, and story development of Jim and Pam. My threads gained quite a following and incited some amazing discussion and fan camaraderie. At one point I was getting upwards of 1000 hits a day. The threads were so popular, I found myself surrounded by fans at the 2007 Office Convention, (as an introvert, I was mortified, but also completely and totally blown away).

By the time Season 5 rolled around, Jim and Pam (or JAM) were together and there wasn’t much left to analyze (until Season 9, but the community was long gone by then). I stopped writing the threads by the end of 2008. I still watched the show like rabid fan, but there was no longer a need for the PD and JP (that’s what we called my threads for short).

It was sad to let it go, but at the same time I was ready to move on to something new. I always valued the entire experience because it got me writing again after a really long dry spell. It’s why I’m here on this blog, why I wrote two novels, and why I started writing poetry again. It’s actually pretty amazing how one TV show could inspire so much and have such a lasting impact on someone.

So here we are in 2016. It’s been eight years since I wrote the PD And JP. The Office stopped airing in 2013 (I won’t get into how devastating it was to watch it all end), and the message board community was taken offline. All good things come to an end, right? Life had moved on so far, far away from the PD and JP, I’d all but forgotten about it.

Then, that email showed up. I recognized the screen name immediately as one of my old PD/JP readers. She now runs a fanfic/JAM fansite that was around when the show aired (I was a frequent visitor of the site, too!). In the email, she asked if it was possible to repost the writing I did for the PD and JP as it is no longer available online. I was shocked that anyone even cared about either of my threads after such a long time. Of course, I said yes … as soon as I find the writing.

I’m in the process of trying to find all my old files. I’ve gone through three laptops since I started writing both threads back in 2006, so they could be hidden in a number of places. There is an online archive that did a snapshot of the old message boards, so I’m hoping I can salvage some of the original posts.

I’ve managed to locate about half of my original posts, which is pretty good considering how much time has passed. I never thought to save my posts in an organized fashion because I never thought I’d need them again. Boy, was I wrong!

So why does all this matter? I’ve learned a few really important things:

  • Save your writing! All of it. Save every file and keep it organized
  • What you write is important. Regardless of what it is, it matters. Even if its something that seems stupid (like analyzing a TV show to a ridiculous degree) it pushes you forward in the writing process.
  • Readers are out there and they are loyal. Keep writing for those people and remember how important they are to you as a writer.

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c.b.w. 2016