Books. From Manuscript To Offer.

Books. How do they work? They’re like magnets, y’all.

I get asked at least twice a week how books work – how they go from being in a notebook or on a computer to getting onto a shelf (speaking to traditional publishing, of course – the process for self-pub is still one of great mystery to me.) I know I’ve written about this in the past, in particular when I talk about writer crazy here, when I talk about what being a novelist means here, and right after I got agented here, but this post will hopefully break it down into one, easy-to-digest guide. I’ll add to it or edit it later if any information is incomplete or, you know, WRONG.

Right. Onward!

IMPORTANT TERMS:

Acquisitions Committee: These are “the money people” at a publishing house. Once your book has passed second reads, it is sent to a board who will yay or nay the project based on any number of factors (how other authors in your genre are doing, the strength of your work, the state of the current market, etc.) Acqs boards (sometimes called editorial boards) usually consist of editors and marketing people (and raptors – clearly there are raptors) who will braintrust over your book to decide if it’s profitable to take you on as a debut. As most debuts never earn out to their advances, they’re essentially deciding if they think they can launch your career based on the work in front of them. You might not be profitable right out of the gate, but in the FUTURE, well . . . anything can happen. It’s the future. And the future is awesome.

Advance – The amount of money offered by a publisher to acquire a book (though not all pub houses offer advances.) Even if your book sells poorly, you don’t pay this back. It’s simply the purchase price for the book. Advances are often paid not in bulk but in chunks, like one third at signing (when the author signs on the dotted line to accept an offer), one third at edit acceptance (when the author completes her editor’s editorial requests,) and one third upon publication (the book hitting shelves.)

Agent or Literary Agent: An agent acts as your gateway into the publishing world. They submit your book to editors at publishing houses in hopes of striking a deal. Once there is an offer on your book, they negotiate on your behalf to get you the best deal possible. Later, after your book has sold, agents review contracts and royalty statements to ensure that your finances (and by proxy theirs) are in order. They are a sounding board and “first editor” of any work that’s going on submission. Legit agents will never ask for money to represent you – they take you on “for free” because they believe that your work will one day sell for buckets of money and they’ll get their cut later (most agents take anywhere from ten to twenty percent commission on any sales – ask the agent for their terms before you accept an offer of representation.) As agents work gratis until your book is bought, they tend to be highly selective with who they represent. It is worth noting that — just like everyone else — agents have tastes and specializations to consider. Before you query an agent, make sure they enjoy and/or specialize in your type of fiction. Some agents only want adult literature, for example, so querying them with your YA mystery is a waste of your time and theirs. Others might love paranormal romance, but have so many authors in their stables that write paranormal romance, they aren’t accepting new authors at this time. Research agents, make sure your work is a good match for what they like to represent, and when you do get around to querying, READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES AND FOLLOW THEM. Showing an agent that you have basic reading comprehension skills means your query won’t end up in the trash. If they only ask for a query letter, three pages, and a synopsis (and when they ask for three pages, they want your first three pages not some random snippet in the middle), send . . . a query letter, three pages, and a synopsis. Don’t send a full chapter thinking, “But you’ll really love the whole thing so just read it.” They have processes for a reason. As a novice writer, you’re probably not smarter than they are about the industry, so stop being a dink and do as you’re told. It’ll get you cool kid points in the long run.

Auction – If there are multiple houses interested in acquiring your work, it will likely go to auction. The auction is arranged and managed by your agent. Auctions do not necessarily mean a half a million dollars and a pony courtesy of your new editor, though. It might mean a moderate advance but a house ups your marketing budget. It might mean allowing your agent to sell international rights or tweaking the terms of audio book rights. The rules of the auction change from agent to agent (and greatly depend on how many people are involved in the bidding.) Rachelle Gardner does a great job explaining the whole crazy process on her blog. Check it out.

Debut – An author with no previous publishing credentials. Your first book.

Editor – Celestial beings who work their bums off to acquire your work. Once it is acquired, celestial beings who turn your ugly little baby into a bookshelf prom queen.

Exclusive – When an agent or editor is asking to be the ONLY person you consider for your book (whether that’s representation or doing rewrites and pre-offer edits). Agents do this less and less it seems, but some might still ask you for it. Think long and hard about any exclusive before you consent. The moment you agree, you are saying no one else can look at your work or touch it for X number of time. If an editor is offering to do a rewrite with you (essentially pro bono editing work) it might behoove you, but it depends on your circumstances. There are many fish in the publishing sea.

International Rights – The short explanation: international rights dictate how your book gets in the hands of the rest of the world after it’s been purchased in the American market. Whether your publisher controls that or you and your agent control that depends on your deal. For example, if your publishing house only asked for North American rights, that means your agent can offer the book for distribution to European and Asian markets. These rights are purchased and mean more money in an author’s pocket.

Manuscript – Your draft of your book. A book in larvae form.

Offer – When a publishing house has decided to acquire your book, this is the “package” they offer you to get you to sign on the line. Initial offers are where you start. Counteroffers are offers given to try and beat out another house’s offer, etc.

Partial – When an agent likes your query letter enough to want to see a portion of your book. Sometimes it’s three chapters. Sometimes it’s more. They will tell you what they want. FOLLOW THEIR INSTRUCTIONS.

Royalties – The amount of money/percentages you make once you’ve earned out to your advance. An author gets a percentage of a book’s sales once the book’s advance has been met. This means if a book got a $20,000 advance, the book has to “earn out” that $20,000 before you see any royalty money.

Second Reads – An agent sends your book to an editor. Said editor loves the book and would like to purchase it one day. To get support for this, they go to what is called Second Reads. Second Reads is a group of people at the publishing house who will read your manuscript and weigh in on it. They essentially tell the editor what they see as the strengths and weaknesses of the work. If the strengths outweigh the weaknesses and the Second Reads panel gives it a resounding thumbs up, it will go to the raptors (aka Acquistions.)

Slushpile: The slushpile means you submitted a book or query letter as a general submission, as in the editor or agent didn’t specifically ask you for it and you’re throwing your hat in the ring along with the rest of the unknown scrubs (please note: I, too, was a slushpile scrub. I say this fondly because BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, HAVE THE TEE SHIRT.)

Submission or On Sub: When your book has been sent to editors and you are waiting to hear back from them. Also known as the fourth level of Hell.

Synopsis: Your book’s story compacted into two or three pages. It explains what happens over the course of the book and reveals all major characters and plot points.

Query or Query Letter: This is a one page letter you write to agents (usually – editors will sometimes be open to queries but most prefer you filter through a literary agent first) that tells the agent/editor what your book is about. It’s the first thing any agent sees of your work, so make sure it’s really, really shiny. Don’t use superfluous words. Watch spelling and punctuation. Clearly outline the plot and MAIN characters so they can really grasp what you’re peddling. The key here is surgical precision. As the ultimate goal of the query is to entice an agent to want to see your full manuscript, do not tell them you’re the next Stephen King because that’s a waste of words (and they’ve heard it a zillion times before.) Streamline the meat and potatoes of your story. You can include a brief “about you” paragraph at the end of the letter if you’re so inclined, but keep it pertinent to your potential writing career. They don’t care that you have a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from Innsmouth University. They WILL care if you have something that will help get the work bought, though, like previous publishing credits or a blog that gets 50,000 hits a day. Note: a great resource for query writing is Janet Reid’s Query Shark. You can learn a ton from this lady. Read the archives. It’s worth it.

THE PROCESS.

STEP ONE: Victory Through Prose. Write AND FINISH A Book.

I know, I know. You have six chapters that you’re sure are THE BEST six chapters in the history of history and everyone in the world should see them. You’ll send them to agents and editors and all of them will be so impressed with your writing that they’ll faint, puke on themselves, and give you buckets of money. They’ll beg to name their first child after you.

Only not.

If you’re an unknown (like me and most of my writer friends were) you’re going to be a slushpile kid. That means to be considered for publication, you need to complete the WHOLE BOOK first. Edit that WHOLE BOOK until it gleams. Give it to people who won’t tell you it’s awesome because they love you, but will tell you where it sucks, how it sucks, and what they think you can do to desuckify it. Then, after you drink a twelve pack of beer and avoid drowning in your I’M A TALENTLESS HACK tears, you put your nose to the grindstone, check your ego, and edit that sumbitch until it’s faaaaantastic.

STEP TWO: Grow A Thick Skin. Rejection Round One Cometh.

The book is written and polished and you’re shaking dat ass because you’ve accomplished something marvelous. It is now time to get yourself an agent. Research agents, research their guidelines. Write a KICK ASS query letter and email away. Don’t be a tool and send one email to six hundred agents. No one likes spam emails and this makes you look like a spammer. Mind you, it’s okay to query six hundred agents if you want (most agents don’t expect exclusives most of the time) but make sure you take the time to send individual emails to everyone. Oh, and make sure you address it to the right person? Sending a query over to Tom FatBottom that’s attentioned to Missy LovesPizza doesn’t look very good.

Now wait. And wait. Stare at your inbox forever. Refresh inbox a trillion times an hour.

Some agents get back fast. Others take two to three months. Some agents will flat out tell you if you’ve heard nothing from them in two months it’s a no so move on. There will likely be LOTS AND LOTS of rejections on the horizon – the trick is to not take them personally (and never, ever answer one with attitude – that’s career suicide.) This is a business, after all, and yeah, you took a year to write this book they should AT LEAST read it, but so did everyone else. I don’t remember where or when I read this, but for a point of reference? Irene Goodman (my agency) gets something like 40,000 query letters a year. My agent accepts one or two clients a year. Do that math.

STEP THREE: Rejoice! And Edit.

After partial manuscript requests and full manuscript requests and however long it took you to score your agent, you’ve got one, and the agent is as excited to represent you as you are to be represented. They have wonderful ideas for your career, you’re a special snowflake, blah-blah-blah, and OH, YEAH, CAN YOU DO THESE SMALLLLLL CHANGES. Said changes could potentially take you a while to complete. An agent will often times have tweaks and edits they want you to make before taking your work out on submission. Don’t argue. Unless it’s going to totally alter the work and make you hate it beyond belief, suck it up and do as you’re told. Your agent’s livelihood is selling books. If he or she doesn’t sell them, he or she might not have nice things like food and electricity so they probably know a thing or two about the industry. For the most part? Listen to the experts.

STEP FOUR: It’s Out of Your Hands.

Post your editing frenzy, the agent will take your book out when he or she deems it strategically smart. It’s sort of an industry “DUH” that August is when a lot of agents and editors step back from the biz to either vacation or catch-up on their backlog. Deals still happen, but not as frequently, so not a lot of things go out on submission in August. November and December can get a bit hazy, too, as holiday rushes and end of year budgets are a concern, so your book might sit for a couple months before it’s sent out to editors. Be cool. It’ll get there.

Now, depending on your agent, the book gets in the hands of the publishing houses one of two ways. Some agents have to essentially query editors like you queried your agent. They put together a mini-proposal so the editor will consider the work. Other agents basically say HEY I HAVE THIS and everyone green lights them to send it over without that proposal. At this point in the publishing process? The writer is uninvolved. That book is your agent’s problem, not yours. You’re officially on submission.

STEP FIVE: Wait. Waiting. Still Waiting.

Being on submission is a weird, weird thing, dudes. Sometimes, you’ll wait for six months to hear anything. Sometimes, it can take even longer for editors to send it to seconds or pass on it. Sometimes, you’ll hear in two or three weeks. The waiting can be agonizing AND unpredictable. Some people will wait forever for a deal, some will wait twelve minutes. There’s no way to know where you’re gonna fall. Whatever the case, wait as gracefully as you can (while losing your hair and clawing the walls and becoming a total freakazoid.)

A couple tips that got me through the horrendous wait (and I’ve been on both sides of the fence — waiting forever AND the whirlwind — so I know a thing or two about this): one, a “no” is a fast, easy way to clear an editor’s desk. They might not like writing rejection letters, but if a project’s not for them, passing on it frees them up to get to something else in their mammoth workload. If they’re NOT saying no and just staying quiet, it might mean they’re sitting on your manuscript and thinking about it or maybe waiting for the right time to bring it to second reads or acquisitions. Silence is not always a bad thing. The no is easy to do, guys. If they’ve read it and were going to reject it, they’d just reject it. Remember that.

Second tip? Write something else while you’re waiting. Stalking editors on social media programs or biting your fingernails to the quick in the interim does nothing for you. Concentrate on another project to keep yourself afloat. Writing is a great way to channel your angst about the wordless abyss that is being on submission. Also, writing’s what you supposedly want to do so, like, do it.

(Also, this should be something I shouldn’t have to say, but having had a ringside seat for this – don’t poke editors or agents on Twitter just to see if they’ve read your stuff. Don’t try to woo them or romance them by sucking up. And by all that is holy, if you have even a moment’s hesitation as to whether or not something is appropriate to say to an industry professional, DON’T SAY IT. ABORT MISSION. It’s okay to interact with publishing folks if they have a public profile, but be careful with it. Don’t cram yourself down their throats or they’ll remember you for THAT instead of the quality of your work. Chill, Honey Bunny. Just chill.)

STEP SIX: Survive Second Reads, Acquistions. MORE REJECTION? WTF?

An editor decides they simply MUST have your work for themselves. They want to sweep it away to Vegas and make an honest book out of it. COOL! Your book will go from being on submission with that house to second reads wherein other editors (most of the time) also read your book and give their two cents on the project. Generally speaking, second reads must be in favor of the book for it to progress from here out. It’s great if the editor loves your book, but if other editors think it’s too flawed or simply don’t like it, it won’t go anywhere and the author and the editor must resign themselves to this not being an ideal match. HOWEVER. If the second reads consensus is WOO HA, MARRY THIS SUCKA! The book goes to acquisitions. Acquisitions will then do whatever it is raptors do and determine if the house is going to make an offer.

MEANWHILE! While all this craziness is going down on the publishing house side of things, your agent will take the news of a book going to second reads to other houses to try to stir up interest. They’ll tell the other editors with the project that they have strong interest. If an editor hasn’t read the book, they’ll likely prioritize it so they don’t miss out on something potentially awesome. If they’ve been sitting or waffling on it, they’ll make up their minds right around now. Going to second reads or acquisitions is a great way to launch a book from “quietly on submission” to FEEDING FRENZY. SHAAAARK. Lots of long-awaited answers come in at once. More rejection is likely, but so, too, are other editors falling in love with your book. Brace yourself. Shit just got REAL.

STEP SEVEN: Rejoice. Victory Is At Hand.

So, an offer comes in. Your book survived the editor, second reads, and acquisitions with its dignity intact. An initial offer is presented to your agent which means you will one day be on shelves. After your agent does his or her Victory Butt Wiggle and you hyperventilate into a bag and weep openly at your success, your agent will take the offer to the other houses still in play to shake out last minute answers. If the initial offer is the Last Man Standing, the agent will negotiate to tweak the deal, considering not only your advance but also royalties and some of those aforementioned marketing strategies and international/audio right things.

If, however, multiple houses want to offer, you’ll likely go to auction and that changes the dynamic. The offers will get better, though as I said before, not necessarily all on advance money. There might be other perks included and perks can make or break a debut. More advertising or marketing backing is never a bad thing as it could guarantee a more prominent position in a bookstore or on a website. Visibility is key! Your agent will consider the whole package each house offers before advising you where they think you should go.

—–

Hopefully this answers some questions and/or debunks some mystery about the publishing industry. There’s more to the process (like editorial notes and galleys and ARCs and what’s an ISBN and such) but I can tackle those at another time. If there are questions, drop them in comments. If I don’t have immediate answers, I’ll get them for you. I KNOW PEOPLE WHO KNOW PEOPLE, YO. I’m connected.)

The Art of Character.

An admission about my tastes: I’ll excuse a lackluster plot for a character I can fall in love with. This is how I justified reading Anita Blake books for years. I had a soft spot for one of her vampire characters (Asher) and would pretty much read any steaming horse pile Hamilton shoveled at me just to get snippets of my scarred love dumpling. To this day when I think about his angsty vampy self I sigh and my eyes glaze over, because Asher was and is one of my favorite characters.

There’s a handful of characters that stick out that much for me, and fortunately, not all of them are forced to keep their heads above a tide of fictional dribble like poor Asher. Julian from Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour comes to mind, as does Shadow from American Gods. I’ll never fall out of love with Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove, and Morgause from Mists of Avalon remains my all time favorite bitch. Pocket from Chris Moore’s Fool is far too lovable, and Death from Good Omens is just spectacular (and he has the added bonus of making appearances in a bunch of other Discworld novels). There’s more, of course, so many more, but those are a few examples of characters that ran away with my imagination. They came, they saw, they conquered, they linger.

The goal of any writer is to create characters that memorable, I think. Trying to pinpoint the magical recipe of awesome is difficult, though. Sometime back I issued myself a challenge: to see if there’s a formula to crafting a lovable character. Was there a checklist that’d help me construct something spectacular, and if so, could I mimic it? I pawed through my list of favorites and tried to pick out any common traits. Did they all have strong personalities? Were they funny? Were they smart? Did they smell good? WHY IN GOD’S NAME DID I LIKE THESE CHARACTERS ENOUGH THAT I CAN READ THE BOOK FORTY TIMES? The problem, of course, was that each one was so different, I could see no pattern at all. Sometimes the character was witty, sometimes tough, sometimes clever. Not all of them were even particularly likable people, as in if I met them in real life I’d probably want to punch them, but on the page they worked and without them the story would fall epically short.

Conclusion: there is no cheat sheet way of making a “Character Keeper”. Dang it.

So I’m left wondering how to make something stick with a reader. I know it’ll be different for everyone because it’s a taste thing. Some people will want “cool”, some people will want funny or hyper intelligent and socially awkward. As a writer looking at a 35,000 word work in progress, though, I’d be curious to know who sticks with you and why? What was it that drew you into a character and kept you, or was it the amalgam of the character’s parts? I know when I write I tend to adopt a character here and there, essentially choosing them as my favorite and I think it shows when I do, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to everyone else loving them as much as I do.

So, help a writer out and get a nerdy character discussion going. What characters do you love/love to hate? Which ones will always be on your shelf, and which ones will you always champion? Share with the class, folks!

Against All Odds.

Did I make you think of Phil Collins? I bet I made you think of Phil Collins.  Ha!  Joke’s on you!  I’m not writing about Phil Collins /suckers/.

When asked as a little amoeba Hillary what I wanted to be when I grew up, I think I’ve always said a writer.  There were phases of veterinarian (but mom pointed out I’d have to put cute fuzzy animals to sleep and that depressed the crap out of me), doctor (way too much school involved and I didn’t want to give a six-year-old goblin a shot) and coroner (it was my way of dealing with my disdain for my fellow man, stop judging me) but I always came back to “I wanna be an author!” in the end.  Writing’s been something I’ve always loved doing, something I’ve done since I was a wee little Hillary watching my grandmother henpecking on her old fashioned typewriter, and it felt right.  From the time I won a short story contest in fifth grade, to a writing award against hundreds of other students at a summer program called PCC, I knew.  And lo it was that the heavens spoke unto me and said “HILLARY, THIS IS WHAT YOU SHALL DO, GO FORTH AND PLAY WITH YOUR IMAGINARY FRIENDS ON PAPER.”

Kay, heaven.  Whatevs homie.

Slight problem with this whole “being an author” plan, though.  A few problems, actually.  The first?  Is it’s not the  glamorous lifestyle of mocha-chinos and flashy cars people think it is.  The ugly reality is only two percent of writers make it on their own paycheck, which includes authors.  Unless you’re James Patterson (one out of every seventeen books sold in the US is one of his titles, that lucky SOB) you don’t make a ton of cash.  It’s extra money you shouldn’t count on at best, and incremental after the initial pay out.

The second problem is once your book is bought, it will rarely sell to its advance, so don’t expect the incremental royalties to come rolling in to save you.  I think I read an author blog last month where the woman said it took two years for her to see any royalty money from her debut novel going onto shelves, and she’d beat the odds.  She became a mid-list author after that, meaning she’d get on the extended NY Times bestseller list with her various releases, but even then after taxes, moneys sent to her agent, and all other expenditures associated with getting the book into print, she made approximately 40,000 bucks on her writing that year.  She can stay at home and make it on her writing?  But not to excess.

The final problem is, of course, people don’t read as much as they used to.  This isn’t a surprise, but at least with the presence of Kindles and other E-Readers people can find a reason to get back into reading if they fell off the path.  I will say I’ve felt a lot of warm fuzzies hearing people talking about books they’ve picked up recently, so not all is lost, but hearing that a lot of kids today just can’t get through a whole book is disheartening.  (I’d digress and talk about the study that says Sesame Street’s thirty second blips of information before wandering off to something else is responsible for short attention spans, but it’s sort of unrelated.)

So yes.  Being an author is a long, ugly road but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying, nor does it mean the stories will stop coming.  Just today I found out my agent liked my new manuscript, The Legacy.  It’s the first solo project I’ve handed over to her, so I’m encouraged that she “loved it”.  We’ll see what kind of editing it’ll need, and what she thinks needs to change.  Perhaps that will warrant its own write up in a few weeks!

Writing Hath Destroyed My Reading.

I was once A READER.  We’re talking hardcore Olympic level “digest a book every other day or third day” scale reader.  And now I’m not.  Don’t get me wrong, I still read, but not nearly as much as I used to, nor as much as I’d like.  I still love books, still love stories and worlds pieced together through a well told tale.  The problem is, I became A Writer.  See, I have this phobia of inadvertently lifting material from things I read and putting it into my own work.  I don’t do it consciously, but one time a very long time ago, I finished reading a book I loved and promptly went to sit down and write.  I got this “FIT OF BRILLIANCE” and produced a chapter I thought was epic, awesome, and wonderful.  It took the third re-read to see that I’d literally just reworded and spit out a huge theme from the book I’d just read.  I freaked out, deleted my chapter, and probably hyperventilated into a cat.

Since that time, I’ve not been able to mix reading and writing.  Between every major writing project, I have this stack of books I want to get through, but  I never get as far with them as I intend.  I end up picking up two or three, plow through them, and then get back to my computer, plunking away at a manuscript of some sort and going on hiatus.  I usually make my “between writing project” choices based upon which one Lauren beat me over the head with most recently (see:  Mira Grant’s Feed and Stephen King’s The Dome).  Joe Abercrombie was supposed to be in that last mix, but then the Lydie story came around, and I had to put him on the back burner despite a few wonderfully engaging first chapters.

Now, there are certain authors I’ll take a forced break from writing for.  Christopher Moore is one, Stephen King is one, Neil Gaiman is one.  They drop a book, I drop my project and sit down to read, getting my swerve on with someone else’s prose.  I used to do that with Laurell K Hamilton (she was my popcorn fic-chick guilty pleasure, stop judging me) but then I moved away from her as I noticed a few too many orgies and very little plot.  The point is, I’ll make exceptions for things I love, but it takes a lot to break me away from my projects.

I’m sort of hoping one of these days I’ll be able to balance the reading and the writing. I  miss being a bookworm.  I used to be one of those people that when folks started book-talk, I’d contribute a lot.  Now I find myself listening more than talking, and that actually bothers me quite a bit.  I think mayhaps I’m going to break my own rule soon and settle down with some Abercrombie and a cup of coffee.

So, got any good books I should check out?

 

 

Writing Geekery.

I got a huge reminder of how small the writing world is today, and I figured I’d share it considering how many of my friends are aspiring authors (or at the very least writing dabblers). There’s a site every potential author will use at some point in their journey called Query Tracker. QT is one of the best databases out there for finding a literary agent. You can look up by agency, by agent name, or by genre. Considering Publisher’s Marketplace is 20 bucks a month for a subscription fee and this thing is free? Yeah, it’s a wonderful tool. If you’re writing a book or planning on writing a book, I’d suggest you get chummy with QT real quick.

Anyway, on QT there’s a comments field for people to exchange important information about the lit agencies they’ve talked to. Some comments are favorable, some are not, but everything is very above the boards and respectful. After I signed with Miriam, I hopped back over there to see what folks had to say about her. A lot of people were stating they’d queried her and were closing out after a month of no response. I chimed in to say Lauren and I had a very odd road to representation in that we were bounced from Miriam to Barbara Poelle and back to Miriam again, but that a month is nowhere near enough time to say that it’s a definitive “no”.

My comment was met with a response from another new client of Miriam’s who’d signed with her this summer. She agreed with me on the wait time, offered a congrats, and we parted ways.

Now, some months back, Lauren had a SQUEE AGENT post up at her site. A woman we didn’t know chimed in named Sarah Bromley just saying congrats and that she’d recently signed with Miriam, too – like a month and a half before we did. I sort of put one and one together and figured out that the person who responded to my comment on QT was also the woman who answered Lauren, and I was pretty sure she didn’t necessarily know Lauren was my writing partner on Nin. So last night I sucked it up and emailed her and flat out asked “Was that you”. Come to find out, yes it was, and we’ve emailed a few times this morning. Miriam doesn’t take a lot of new clients, apparently, and the thing that really sticks out with Sarah and us is that we were slush pile finds. Kinda cool, huh?

It’s great to hear how things are going for Sarah. She’s slightly ahead of our curve – that month and a half, two month padding means we’re exactly where she was a little while ago. She had some really supportive things to say, most of it the expected “your hair will fall out but stick with it” stuff, but it’s still awesome to talk to someone who experienced it first hand just a few weeks back. From what I can tell her own book is progressing nicely so far, and I wish her nothing but the best with it. I hope to hear OMG YIPPEE screams from her neck of the woods soon.

So, keep in mind if you venture into publishing, it is a very, very small community and names are bound to pop up multiple times in multiple places. The person you briefly encounter on QT one day might end up randomly popping up on another blog another day. Also, if you get the chance go check Sarah’s site out, do it. She’s got some great blog posts over there with lots of information. She’s part of a blog chain that’s pretty impressive, too. I bet you could spend a day just clicking links and reading.

As I will be Turkifying tomorrow, there likely won’t be a blog post, so please make sure you have a wonderful Gobbler day, everyone! Happy, happy!

And There’s A Creepy Doll . . .

That always follows you. Good morning, from me and Jonathan Coulton, whose song inspired today’s blog post. Actually, no it didn’t. I just like the song. Today’s blog post is definitely about Laren. Who’s Laren you say? THANK YOU FOR ASKING!

Laren was my imaginary best friend. Being an only child can be a lonely affair. You spend a lot of time with no one to punch, no one to blame for your fuck ups, and no one to force feed shit and worm mud pies to. As such you’re required to invent your own friends to abuse, though I’m now conjuring images of a smaller version of Hillary beating the crap out of a Cabbage Patch Kid and screaming “DO YOU WANT ANOTHER LYLE BAILEY, DO YOU WANT ANOTHER?!”. (Note, I remember the name of my first Cabbage Patch Kid, but not important things like whether or not I took my medicine this morning. Psycho much? Why yes, thank you).

Now, to be clear, Laren didn’t start out as an imaginary friend. She was a creepy doll first.


I don’t know how I got her, but she was an enormous yarn-haired Goliath with a painted face and a cheap looking dress. As far as the doll community goes, she ranked somewhere between streetwalker and lunch lady. My memories of her are a little vague, but in my defense I was four when I had her (mind you, my mother would claim I was 16, but she’s a liar and SHUT UP). Anyway, I remember Laren’s gorgeous yellow locks sticking out of her head in every direction, and that eerie clown smile that would never fade no matter how many smelt I tried to give her at breakfast.**

Mom says I adored Laren, to the point I took her everywhere. She inevitably started smelling like a cross between old people farts and Cheetos after a while, but I didn’t care. It was MY bad stink. I made it, I was proud of it, and damn it all, Laren was my homegirl. My parents, trying to protect their noses from my four year old form of terrorism, decided it was time to make Laren “go away”. See, while Laren existed, no other doll would do. They’d done the typical parental thing of trying to bribe me with newer dolls, but they apparently weren’t scary or offensive enough for me, and I’d cling to Laren with something akin to desperation. My mother, feeling guilted by the small thing in front of her crying over her doll, would attempt to patch Laren up by washing her or washing her dress or spraying her with whatever the early 80’s version of Febreeze was, which was probably Glade in an ozone-destroying aerosol can. It’d work for a while, but then the day came when no amount of washing or perfuming was going to do. Laren was so bad she offended the dogs. I don’t know who got the unenviable task of getting Laren out of my grubby little hands and into the trash, but someone did a snatch and grab and tossed Laren into a Rubbermaid outside of my grandparents house. Her feet poked out of the side, awaiting her long, final journey to the dump in my grandfather’s Cadillac. My tiny psychic powers (or perhaps the odor trails coming from outside of the house instead of to my immediate right) told me something terrible had just occurred in West Bridgewater. I stumbled around in a frenzy, looking for my precious Laren, likely quoting emo soliloquies from Hamlet as I searched for my best bud.

Aaaand then I promptly found her in the trash. I dug her out, brought her back into the house, and commenced playing with her like nothing had happened. My parents resorted to guerrilla warfare tactics to nuke the doll after that, and eventually, much to my chagrin, Laren was buried under Giants stadium, her remains forever lost to time. That may have been Jimmy Hoffa, but in my world it’s the same as what happened to Laren. Left to grieve for my odoriferous best pal, I did what any only child in my place would do: I started talking to myself, claiming it was Laren. Cause yeah, in retrospect, that’s not at all crazy.

Laren stayed with me for a good long while. I’d try to give you an approximate age that she finally left me – it may have been in Mrs. Cullens kindergarten class when I realized other small beings like myself actually existed, and damn it why can’t I use the green handled scissors instead of the stupid plain righty scissors – but the truth is, I don’t think she ever left me. I think she’s why I write to this day. A cast of characters is much like a passel of imaginary friends that only I can hear. Sometimes they kiss, sometimes they fight. Sometimes they stab deer and offer deer guts up to Satan in a really fucked up ritual. It’s all the same as playing with your imaginary best friend when you’re five, isn’t it? The stories just get bigger in theme, and darker. There’s more swearing, you’ve introduced fucking into the mix, but the fact is . . . if I wanna make someone eat a worm and shit mud pie, all I gotta do is sit at my desk and start writing. And BAM! Just like that Laren’s back, 28 years later.

Kinda interesting to think about, really.

So tell me, did you have an imaginary friend? And if so, whatever happened to them?

((* An aside. My grandmother was half Welsh, and as such, she ate fish in the morning for breakfast, as Welshies are wont to do. So I’d wake up every morning to a house that reeked of fish, and you know what? I couldn’t have been happier about it. I’d sit down at the kitchen table and eat those fishy little bastards Gram hucked at my plate. Up ’til the day she died she claimed it’s why I’m as smart as I am. Yep. You guys got Booberry, I got fish with bones still intact. And I loved every minute of it. Life’s a beautiful thing.))

The Writer’s Moral Dilemma.

I’m sure the topic of “whether or not to keep your art comfortable for everyone” has been done to death, and there’s a pretty clear divide between the two camps. You’re going to have people who write to entertain themselves first, and fans are welcome to tag along for the ride but know that if you find something offensive in the material . . . well, it wasn’t written for you in the first place so there’s the door. Don’t let it hit you on the ass on the way out. The other camp says there’s this thing called “social responsibility”, and that philosophy simply states you wouldn’t have an art career without your fans, so be careful of their sensibilities and don’t alienate them with your themes, descriptions, or language.

I’m still trying to decide what camp I fall into. When we wrote Awakenings, we had a single curse word in 92,000 words, and it was on the mild side – “bitch”. The target audience is youngish (only around 13 or 14), and I think we kept it clean specifically not to offend the shit out of parents. The Legacy has a bit more language to it, maybe a dozen or so curse words total, and only one F-bomb in 70,000 words. Its target audience is older, maybe 16 or 17. The teenagers I know (ahem, was) swear a lot more than what I’ve put down on paper, but I’ve toned it down because I don’t want the cursing to overshadow the dialogue. It isn’t so much a fear of censor that made me clean it up, but more I find it unnecessary in the overall scheme.

Now I’m writing an adult fiction book. Not only am I monkeying around with a character who borders on Jenga Kid Crazy, I’m pissing on Christian mythos by making Lucifer not only a nice guy, but one who has a portrait of the archangel Michael in his office and wears a crucifix. I’m not specifically doing this to incite anyone, but I’m sure it’ll get someone’s panties in a bunch, and I can’t say I blame them. The devil’s supposed to be the most hideous embodiment of evil, and here I have him with a soft voice, soft hands, and a love of God and all things divine. The manuscript also addresses witchcraft, abortion, has a relatively explicit sex scene, and A WHOLE LOTTA SWEARING.

Why am I doing these things? Not for attention, but because my story dictates it. Lydie and Ichabod are cambion – half demon children born to a mortal mother and Lucifer. Because they were twins, neither child inherited its rightful due of power. Therefore, now that the two of them are adults, Lydie is trying to murder Ichabod so she can get the whole inheritance instead of half. Thematically this is not a cheery plot, and the inclusion of demonic lineage pretty much dictates some darker workings.

I’m a little torn thinking about the manuscript in that this is probably the most “in your face” thing I’ve ever put down on the page. I’m not embarrassed by it so much as concerned that people reading it will be put off by how blunt my writing can be. Some things in the story are just plain fucked up, and to this point, I haven’t shied away from talking about them. I’ve toyed with the idea of softening everything up and “fading to black” when some of the really brutal aspects of the story present themselves, but I feel that it’s less because of my responsibility to my readers and more because I wimped out and fear everyone hating me. Don’t like that idea t’all. No one wants to be labeled a wimp. I also have a legitimate (I think, anyway) fear that the story will go tepid instead of having an edgy punch should I start treading all careful-like.

All in all I think I’m leaning more towards the “write the story you’re meant to write and hope people go along with you, and if they don’t oh well” camp than I am the “keep it sanitary” camp. I suppose if my agent tells me it’s career suicide to write uncomfortable prose I’ll rethink my stance, but for now Lydie’s going to stay messed up and dark. I really doubt anyone reading a book jacket that’s describing two cambion fighting to the death to become the anti-christ (wittingly or not) is going to go into the book expecting rainbows and unicorns.

Time will tell if I’m being stupid or not!