Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Day is This?

I used to go the library to do my research. Now I use the internet, like most everybody. It makes life a little more complicated, because you have to be careful of your source. Previously, if your information came from a book, you could be fairly certain the information was accurate. These days, anybody can put something on the internet and claim it's a fact. There's nobody checking to be sure of that.

There's something else missing from too many websites: a timestamp. For instance:

Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of a smartcar on the streets of Omaha. I came home to look them up – okay, I'm looking for a new car, but I didn't say all my research was for my stories. Anyway, the first website I came to was somebody's blog, where I learned that smartcars are made by Mercedes, but they aren't available in the US because they don't fit Mercedes' image of luxury here. Huh? I kind of figure Omaha is a few years behind the rest of the US, not ahead. I looked all over that page, looking for some clue when that page was published, but couldn't find anything.

Since then, I've discovered that smartcars have been sold in the US for 2 years. There's even a dealership in Omaha, so I guess maybe we aren't far behind the rest of the US. But if I hadn't actually SEEN a smartcar on the street, that first webpage would have misled me.

Webpages have misled me before. I submitted to a publisher based on their submissions guidelines. There was no date on those guidelines, but it's pretty normal, so I didn't let that dissuade me. I waited for a response. And I waited. And waited. Well past what they said their turn around time was, I queried to see if they'd ever received my submission. Then I waited. And waited. Still no answer. I don't know if this publisher is still in business or not. Nothing ever changed on their website that I noticed. Based on this, I really feel that even agents and publishing houses need to put a timestamp on their webpages, even if nothing changes. How hard can it be to add the line, "This information good as of {date}"? And then – if nothing changes before then – have the webmaster change the date every January?

Writing is full of enough frustration without adding that we never hear back from people we had no clue had gone out of business.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Move Along

One of the pieces of advice given to (new) writers is to not stop writing just because you got a piece done. As you look for a home for that short, or novel, or whatever, you start a new one. And then another. You keep working.

It can be frustrating. In my case, I have 5 shorts out looking for a home, another 11 ready to go out into the world, 9 in various stages of rewrite, and some 2 dozen waiting to be drafted. Of course, some stories never sell, or don't sell right away. One of the shorts that's in the 'waiting' stack has already visited all the obvious markets. Maybe it will find a home someday. Maybe I will have to chalk that one up as a learning experience, part of me 'paying my dues', and give it a home in the back of a drawer.

It's the same with novels, I suppose. My first novel has been trying to find a home for a couple years. My second is in the polish stage, so now as I look for an agent for the first, I'm also starting to consider the possibility of sending a query for my second book.

Meanwhile, I keep drafting, re-writing and polishing. I can't just stop. Maybe I'm still learning, and that's why things haven't started to sell yet. If I gave up, I'd never get there.

I can't be a quitter. See you next week. Trudy

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Only the Best

I was reading newsletters this morning, sorting through contests, calls for submissions, market listings and so on. As I looked for the ones that might interest me, I was struck by how many of these listings flatly stated, "Send us your best work."

Okay, if I were going to follow those instructions literally, each of these places would only get one piece of work from me, they would all get the same piece, and they wouldn't get it until after I died … or at least gave up writing completely. 'Best' by definition can only be applied to one.

Surely that isn't what they meant. I think what they probably mean is that whatever piece of work I send them should be the best piece of work I can make it.

That's almost insulting. I work hard at writing. I review grammar rules, study the craft, carefully consider my options when I'm rewriting a piece. Any time I send in a submission, the piece IS the best I can make it at that time.

Of course, I'm not the only one sending submissions. Maybe others aren't as careful as I am. Maybe they haven't learned as much about the craft as I have, and they are still making mistakes I have learned not to make. And, maybe I'm still making mistakes that I haven't yet learned not to make.

One thing I have learned is to be careful which word I use and how I phrase what I want to say. It is so easy to have a sentence or phrase say something that isn't exactly what I wanted. I know better than to say that I have two pieces of work, each of which is my 'best'. Each of them are the best I can make them at the time.

So make your best effort with each of your stories. Be careful what you say. I'll be back next week. Trudy

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What Comes First?

There's an old paradox that one hears from time to time: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I'm sure you've all heard it. I kind of found myself in that type of situation this week.

I have this pair of characters who come around and tease me with hints of some of their exploits from time to time. With the new year, they told me they once found a body in the trunk of a burning car, right here in Omaha. I know the fire department did find a body in the trunk of a burning car, a couple decades ago, and I thought that might make an interesting mystery for them to solve.

I don't normally write mysteries. These characters are not normally sleuths. It was an interesting idea, but I needed a reason for the dead body to be in the trunk. Actually, I needed a reason for the body to be dead. And that's where I got stuck. I needed this person to be a person, and their life should give me some clue about the motive for their death. But none of that was coming to me. All I got from the characters was snickers and, "We had to figure it out, so now you can."

I've started reading a handbook for mystery writers, hoping it would at least list types of murder motives, stuff like that. It hasn't yet. If I'm still over my head after I read that, I'll have to see if I can't get some answers from fire investigators, homicide detectives, and crime lab technicians. I still know a few of those, though not necessarily the ones who investigated the burning car I heard about.

Mysteries are like that old question. Without a character history, you won't have a motive for the crime. Without a motive, this particular crime would not be committed. Think of me this week, out there chasing chickens and hunting eggs. Trudy

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Looking Forward

Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

In my personal life, I'm looking at 'retiring' from my day job, which means a lot more time available to write, even if I do need to take on some freelance work to bring in a little cash. Now, since I am, so far, unpublished, this could be daunting. Why should I think I will be able to sell anything in the future?

Well, first, hope springs eternal.

Second, my efforts to send out my work have really picked up. I used to send out something every fourth or fifth month. I don't know if I was afraid of success or of failure, but I wasn't making much effort to experience either one. In 2009, I submitted short stories 13 times, which averages out to more than once a month. Quite a step up for me when I have limited amounts of time to devote to this pursuit.

Third, as I've been saying in my query letters, the reactions of editors to my work has been improving. I used to get form rejections. Of the last four rejections I've gotten, three were personalized, and two have included invites to submit something else. The only thing better than that would be a sale!

Everybody SAYS the start of a new year is a chance to move toward what you really want out of life. That's probably why people make New Year's Resolutions. But changing what you are doing means forming new habits, and habits take time. So much easier to fall back into the old habits.

But I don't need to make new habits. I just need to continue what I've already been doing; perfecting my craft, and sending out my efforts. And in a week or two, I'll have more time to devote to that. Lucky me.

A writer needs to write, and keep writing, and then follow through. I'm looking forward to 2010, with all the promise it shows. I hope 2010 is a great year for you, also. See you next week. Trudy