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Archive for the tag “Fiction”

Retro Writing: Hello Pen & Paper

Technology is your friend. Except, of course, when it isn’t. Who among us hasn’t succumbed to the seductive whisper of Facebook or Twitter when we’re supposed to be writing? The Internet is an incalculably valuable resource in all sorts of ways, but it can also be a hugely wasteful time-suck.

Author Alex M. Pruteanu ran into a different problem when he was writing his early books. Now working on a new novel, Alex has sworn off technology and reverted to pen-and-paper while he cranks out the first draft. The benefits have been surprising.

Please welcome Alex to Write Despite.

PruteanuProfileWhy have you opted for a low-tech approach in writing your new novel?

My new book (which is being read currently by—my unscientific count here—12 publishers, with at least 30+ rejections already in the bag) is called The Sun Eaters, and it would be considered “literary fiction.” It’s not a big book at all—only about 60K words—but I wrote it around my day job and life in general (dad, husband, cook, mixologist, part-time jazz drummer, thief, liar, etc.), so it took nearly two years of fairly consistent work. It’s been making the rounds (read: rejected) with both literary agents and publishers (indie and “biggies”) since June of 2014.

The Sun Eaters is a simple story set just-post WW II in an Eastern European country. The story follows two brothers (14 and 9) as they struggle to survive shortages of food, the brutal winter, and a new politically repressive ideology (communism.) It’s a happy-go-lucky book, as you can tell. But it does have a happy ending. Well, sort of.

After having written and published a novella and a collection of published short stories using all available technology at those times, I thought I’d do the same with The Sun Eaters. By the time I started writing it in 2012, “the cloud” was available as a storage option, so I decided to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, between constantly saving my in-progress manuscript in the cloud, on various laptops, thumb drives, and on a regular ol’ desktop, all to ensure the security of not losing my work, the novel became an additionally huge pain (outside of the regular ol’ pain of just writing it.)

Many times I’d forget to save the newest version on some device or other, so I’d end up with outdated versions on some devices and up-to-date versions on others. Keeping track of things like that cut into my available brainpower, all of which I needed to write my book. When I finished in 2014, I swore I would never ever use a computer for my writing, even short stories or flash.

I am now in the process of writing my second novel, which is tentatively called The Long, Oil-Stained Life of Rosetti. For this go-round, I’ve opted to write it all out by hand, with a #2 pencil, on lined legal pads. Writing by hand slows me down enough to allow me to truly cogitate about the material I’m committing to the paper and not just dump ideas that will later be cut. Now I don’t have to save ongoing manuscript drafts every day onto a dozen different devices. And what I also like about the “old-school” method of writing is that there exists a natural extra editing step when transfer the work, typing it onto a laptop.

How is the process of writing a second novel different than writing a debut?

I think every novel has its own life, its own path, and its own destiny. I think each book dictates to a writer how it should be written. My approach to writing the second one is much different from the first. Besides the whole paper-pencil thing, I’m more loose about working on it and don’t beat myself up at all if I don’t write for sometimes long periods (days or weeks even).

Also for this second book I’m doing something I’ve never done before: I’m writing down notes when I’m not working on it. Because the scope of this one is much greater than the first, I’m finding that I need to jot down on sticky notes ideas as they occur to me throughout the day. I’ve got a folder full of stickies that I often consult before sitting down at a writing session.

I’ve also learned a ton from having written a first novel. The most important thing has been: how to be in the thick of it, as I’m writing it, and still keep a general, subjective eye on the scope of the book. It’s hard for me to convey that—I’m not a teacher or professor and never have wanted to be one—but it’s just something that I can feel. I can feel myself being buried in the minutia of the words and individual ideas, yet somehow able to act like a deity of sorts—a god, really—and keep focus on the scope of the overall novel, as it’s coming together… as I’m weaving it. Does any of this make sense? If it doesn’t just know it’s not you, it’s me. But also know that I know what I’m doing, so buy the damn thing when (if it ever?) comes out. Ha.

Finally, something else that I’m doing differently on the second one: I am reading literature concurrently. With The Sun Eaters, I basically stopped reading anything literary or any type of fiction whatsoever. I found that I didn’t have the time or energy to devote to anything other than my daily life duties and writing the book (usually during very early mornings.)

But now with Rosetti, I’m not just finding that I’m inspired by reading fiction concurrent with my writing, I’m finding that I need to indeed read “big books” with “big themes.” So I’ve been gorging on novels like Bolano’s 2666 and Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost and Melville’s Moby Dick and Dostoevsky’s Demons and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and Cervantes’s Don Quixote.

There is something truly inspiring to me about books such as these. They are all huge projects with huge scope and huge reputations, and I find that comforting to my own work. These books offer different worlds for me to enter and spend time in, and when I come out of them, I’m ready to create my own, in my own novel. It’s quite inspiring to read this sort of work.

How long had you been writing before you published a piece?

 I started writing around age 14 (horribly) and the first thing I ever had published was a very short prose piece called Center St. 2B. It was published in a literary journal (now defunct) out of California, Penn., called Peer-Amid. I was 26 years old. Since then, I’ve been lucky to have some pretty decent success. I’ve published short stories in literary journals such as [PANK], Guernica Magazine, The Stockholm Literary Review of Literature, The Prague Revue, and many others.

Any advice for writers still working for their first “breakthroughs?”

Yes: work. Work, work, work. Don’t get online and say you’re working (#amwriting is the most preposterous hashtag, imo; the epitome of cognitive dissonance for a writer on Twitter using it), or lament you’re not working. Don’t surf through Facebook photos or Twitter feeds because you’re “blocked.” Work. (I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” That’s the biggest load of garbage.)

And stay persistent and focused. Looking at my overall acceptance-to-rejection numbers throughout my career, I’d say about 7% of my stories have been accepted by magazines or journals. That is HUGE. I am lucky. I’d be happy with 2%. I believe 2% is the “standard” acceptance rate for a writer. I’ve been very lucky.

As of now, The Sun Eaters has received at least two dozen literary agents’ rejections and at least 30+ publishers’ rejections. I will never give up trying to find a home for it. Every time a rejection comes in, my mission the next day is to research and find at least two potential publishers to send the book to. Currently I’m looking at foreign houses that tend to publish in the English language. The research is exhausting, but I have no other choice.

Learn more about Alex on Amazon.

Pulling Those Weeds

From Karen:

Writer Friends,

In this season of gardening, I think you’ll enjoy this thoughtful essay from Ann Mehl, business coach. Great advice, and very applicable to us!

http://www.annmehl.com/weeds/

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The Power of Faith, Family and Friends

From Karen:

Think you have trouble squeezing writing into your day? Try throwing five kids into the mix. Tamara Grantham does it, and her debut novel, Dreamthief, will be published on September 1, 2015. It’s a fantasy tale, full of elves, fairies and intrigue.

Tamara says the loving support of family and friends, and her own steadfast faith, have made it possible. Read on and be inspired. Please welcome Tamara to Write Despite!


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I started writing on September 1, 2010. I remember the date because it was a beautiful day. The leaves were beginning to change, the summer heat had cooled, and my son had started Kindergarten. I was at home with my two youngest, a 3-year-old girl and 1-year-old boy. I’d overcome the stresses of buying a new home in a new city, and my husband had started his 2nd year of residency. The past year had been pretty brutal. I was a small-town Texas girl transplanted to Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’d never lived so far away from home, and my husband’s 80-hour work weeks were a killer. Luckily, I was blessed to make some friends who were true kindred spirits.

One of these kindred spirits loaned me a book called Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George. It was a fun, creative story, not unlike the stories I’d created in my own imagination. In her bio, the author wrote that she’d written the book while raising two young children and one on the way.

I stewed on this information for a few days. How did she do it? I couldn’t even find five minutes to check my email. How had she done it? And if I were to write a book, what would it be about? Would it have magic? Romance? What would my characters look like? Where would the setting be?

I couldn’t leave all the information stuck in my head. I sat down and wrote a 10-page outline about a girl named Ivy who lived on a Texas farm. I called it Forbidden. The story was a mix of Anne of Green Gables meets Tess of the d’Urbevilles, with a little magic and romance thrown into the plot. It never got published, but I still have my hopes up.

After I wrote my outline, I was hooked on writing.

I finished the first draft of Forbidden a month later on October 1, 2010.

Oddly enough, I’ll publish my first book on September 1, 2015, five years to the day that I started writing.

My first published book was actually my fourth novel. Dreamthief started out as a question asked by my brother-in-law. He worked as a military policeman at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. Apparently, he’d pulled over quite a few people who were a little off. They also happened to display fairies and unicorns on their car’s bumpers. “Are people who read fantasy books and collect fairy stuff a little weird?” he had asked.

Hmm… Were they? And if they were, then why? These questions evolved into my book’s premise. What if they’ve really been to fairy world and can’t remember it? And what if their lost memories are causing their societal abnormalities and mental disorders? And if so, who would treat them? A half-elf who can remember both earth and fairy world? After that, I had a fresh new book to write. But I didn’t do it alone.

My husband was a huge influence on my writing. Every Christmas he bought me several books on writing. I read them all. Some of them I read twice. He read everything I wrote and gave me critical feedback. And for the most part he loved all my writing.

I queried agents for four years. I got some requests for pages, and even a few full manuscript requests. I attended writing conferences. At one conference I had all three agents request my book, but nothing came of it. After doing some research, I realized that my inability to snag an agent might not entirely be my fault.

The industry was changing.

Self-published and smaller press-released books were gaining steam. These authors were not taking a huge profit pay cut, and they were successful with their sales. I looked into several methods of publishing and found my dream publisher. Clean Teen Publishing did beautiful covers, they had a professional online presence, and most importantly, their authors were selling books.

I submitted Dreamthief, my novel about Olive Kennedy, a Fairy World psychologist, to two publishers. A day later, I had two manuscript requests. And the next day, I had two offers.

I signed with Crimson Tree Publishing, the adult imprint of Clean Teen Publishing, on November 8, 2014. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

I have so much in my life to be thankful for. I have two wonderful parents, two sisters and a brother who support and love me. I’ve been extremely blessed to have five beautiful children who fill my world with laughter.

I have a husband who also happens to be my best friend, who is stronger than me in so many ways, who supports his family and tries his hardest to give us the best life possible. I owe so much to him.

And lastly, I have a loving Heavenly Father. He is my savior and redeemer. He blessed me with the gift to write, but more importantly, the motivation to keep going when I feel like I can’t, and for that I will forever be grateful.

Connect with Tamara on Facebook and Twitter.

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Forget Me Not

(From Karen)

So, yes, I’m once again sharing a post from Women’s Fiction Writers. We should really pay them a royalty.

Like most writers, I struggle to stay organized and keep my lines from getting tangled when I’m working on a long piece of fiction—like my new novel. So many details, so many threads to remember and keep straight.

Outlines and notes help, but author Amy Sue Nathan relies on a handy method to index the issues.

Sometimes it’s the little tips that help a lot.

Read on

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Advice For a Monday Morning

good_advice_mutt–From Karen:

Okay, I’m sharing this image just because I love it. Welcome to a new week!

I’m sharing this post from one of our favorite blogs, Women’s Fiction Writers, because I think you’ll love it. Women’s Fiction Writers Blogstress Amy Sue Nathan has just published her second novel! Check it out and support a sister.

In this post, veteran author Cathy Lamb shares her publishing history and some unconventional advice. DEFINITELY worth a read.

An exerpt:

“Your packet out to agents, online or by snail mail, looks like this: Cover letter, one page. Twenty pages of your story. Synopsis, one page.

Send this packet out to ten agents at a time. Yes, I did say ten. Everything you hear or read, here or on Jupiter, will tell you to send your partial manuscript to one agent at a time. Don’t follow that rule either. As you can see, I don’t really like rules. Too confining, too dull.

Why submit to multiple agents at the same time? Many agents will never, ever respond to you or your pages. Other agents will take months to read it. With others, the rejection slips will come back so fast, you will think the agent didn’t even read your book. And, he may not have. He may not be taking on clients.

Want more mean truths?  An agent will read the first paragraph of your work, MAYBE the first page, of your book, before he tosses it if his attention is not grabbed. If he likes the first paragraph, he reads the first page, then the second page, then the third.

He knows QUICKLY if your book is something he can sell to a publishing house. They’re experienced, they’re smart, they’re efficient. Never forget: They are BURIED in manuscripts.”

The Camera Doesn’t Lie

From Karen:

Okay, so these aren’t the most flattering photos, but they are pretty darn funny.

They were shot during my reading and signing at Tolland Public Library in Connecticut last week.  Many thanks to Kate Farrish for organizing.

It was a lovely event, lots of nice readers (phew) and a lively discussion. Those of you contemplating your first reading/signing events should know this: People are really nice at these things. No kidding. They’re there because they’re interested in writing and stories…and in your work! Many know how difficult the process is and admire your persistence and dedication.

The audience also seems to know when you’re bluffing and when you’re speaking from the heart. I received a few comments afterwards on how much audience members appreciated my warm and candid comments. THAT was nice to hear.

Questions I received touched on my writing process, how I got the idea for this book, what I’m working on now (a new novel) and how tough it is to break into publishing today. I answered as best I could, no whitewashing, just telling it like is. And that was the most fun of all.

I’ve added captions to these photos, illustrating a little—just a little—of what was running through my mind…

Will anyone show up?

Will anyone show up?

Hope the hands make me look like I know what I'm talking about.

Hope the hands make me look like I know what I’m talking about.

They're nodding and smiling. Maybe I should say that again.

They’re nodding and smiling. Maybe I should say that again.

You're going to give me money?

You’re going to give me money?

Author, Author!

From Cathy

Last week I had the pleasure of attending two literary events celebrating new books by people I’m proud to call friends. They are both exceptional writers, and I was honored to have been asked to review at least parts of both of their books while they were being written. I’m even mentioned in their acknowledgements, which is so very sweet. (Although when I pointed this out to my teenage son, his only comment was, “But you realize the goal is to get your name on the front of the book, Mom, not in the back.” Alas, as they say, always an editor, never an author.)

Jenny Jackson, editor at Knopf and Doubleday, and author Katherine Heiny

Jenny Jackson, editor at Knopf and Doubleday, and author Katherine Heiny

In any case, Sunday, February 8 was the launch of Katherine Heiny’s Single, Carefree, Mellow at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC.

Katherine read from the story that hurled her into the literary world, “How to Give the Wrong Impression,” which was published in the New Yorker when she was only 25. After the reading, her editor, Jenny Jackson from Knopf/Doubleday, interviewed Katherine, asking all the key questions about her journey to publication, her work habits, her inspirations and roadblocks. It was an exciting, enlightening evening, and I was so glad to be a part of it.

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Book group loves Bright Coin Moon! That’s Kirsten on the far right.

Monday night I met with my beloved book group of a dozen years to gush over author Kirsten Lopresti’s young adult novel, Bright Coin Moon. We all agreed we were more than impressed by this gem of a book–lost in it to the point that we forgot it was written by one who actually walks among us, who lives close enough and is accessible enough to join us for salads and tequila chicken fettuccine at California Pizza Kitchen, and sign our books and answer our questions.

So add to these two books Karen Guzman’s lovely Homing Instincts, and you could say people are getting published all around me.

Am I happy for them?

Thrilled beyond words.

Am I jealous?

Yeah. A bit at least.

Am I feeling like I should throw in the towel because I haven’t accomplished this yet?

Quite the opposite.

Seeing that this can–and does–happen to wonderful, talented, deserving people is nothing short of…well, I would say, miraculous. But it’s more like a push from behind–or a grasp of the hand and a yank forward.

I’m not saying I’m as good a writer as them. I’m saying if I work hard I can be deserving of publication. I’m saying I shouldn’t expect it to not happen, but to just be bold enough to believe it might.

Scratch that.

Believe it will.

I’m trying. I hope one day to get there. I hope that for all of us.

Write well, everyone, and know that the promise of your words finding their way into the world is more than conceivable. If you’re putting in the work–every day–I have to believe it’s even pretty damned possible.

Guest Blog: Writing Tips from Author Kirsten Lopresti

Transparent_Christmas_Mistletoe_ClipartKirsten Lopresti, having just released her fab-tastic debut novel, Bright Coin Moon, offers up some tips for fitting writing into your holiday craziness. Please check out her website, and order a copy of Bright Coin Moon for yourself or any YA readers on your gift list. It’s a smart, funny, moving tale of a teenager caught up in her mother’s fake fortunetelling business, and her plan to become a Hollywood “Psychic to the Stars.”

Happy holidays, everyone!

How to Find Time to Write This Holiday Season

Kirsten Lopresti

Kirsten Lopresti

The holiday season is upon us, and if you are like me, your to-do list is sky high. So how do you find time to write? Here are five suggestions that might help you squeeze in a little more time.

  1. Make a plan. If you leave it up to chance that you will find some time to write each day, you probably won’t. Take a close look at your schedule. Can you write after dinner? During your lunch break? At your daughter’s dance class while you are waiting for her to come out? How do mornings work for you? Evenings? How do you realistically function with less sleep? Decide how much time you can give to your writing and exactly when you will do it. Try to stick to the same time each day if you can. If you make it a habit, it will become easier to sit down and begin.
  2. Give yourself permission to cut some corners with your holiday preparations. Shop online. Buy some cookies from the grocery store and attempt to pass them off as homemade. Splurge for a house cleaner if you have company coming. Do whatever it takes. You deserve some time to enjoy the season, too.
  3. Cut corners with your writing, too. It’s not an all or nothing thing. If you usually have an hour to devote to writing, during the holiday season you may only have half an hour. Accept this and go on.
  4. writing_letter_1207Don’t compete with others. This goes for your writing as well as for your holiday preparations. If your neighbor’s Elf on the Shelf gives surprise presents and bakes cookies and yours can’t manage to hang upside down from a new place each morning, try not to think too much about it. There are no set rules for holiday preparations. Make a priority list and write at the top, “Priority number 1: keeping my sanity.” All other priorities from two on down should bow to that one.
  5. If you’ve made a plan and a priority list and you still can’t find time to write right now, don’t beat yourself up. If you’ve seen the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you may remember the scene where Walter meets the photographer. He’s sitting on the hill, waiting for his opportunity to film the snow leopard, but when it finally appears, he doesn’t take the shot. When Walter asks him why, he replies, “Sometimes I don’t.” He then goes on to explain that he’d rather be in the moment sometimes, even if it means missing a really great picture. So if you need a few weeks off, take it. It could be that enjoying the holiday season is exactly what you need to be doing right now.

Networks and Breakthroughs

Nancy Young, author of Seeing Things, has published a variety of work in a range of genres. She was kind nice enough to share her publishing secrets with us. Please welcome Nancy to Write Despite!Seeing Things 200x300

Learn more about Nancy’s work

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Please tell us about your “breakthrough” publication—that first publication that felt really significant to you. (of course, goodness knows, they’re all significant!)

I’ve published in many genres over the years, but I think that having my novel Seeing Things accepted for publication made me feel that I’d arrived as a writer. I wrote the kind of book I want to read and can rarely find—one that has rounded characters, suspense, romance, humor, and a plot that I haven’t read before. The book goes beyond plot to explore the idea that we choose what we see—not just in the paranormal realm, but in all the realms of our lives. I spent a year crafting and polishing Seeing Things, tweaking chapter after chapter, incorporating suggestions from a dream team of writers. By the time I was ready to send that baby out into the world, it felt like I was sending a kid off to college.

How long had you been writing before you published a piece?

My first piece published in print was a short story that appeared in a junior high literary magazine! I think I was twelve.

What was you reaction upon learning your piece was accepted? Disbelief? Joy?

When I learned that Seeing Things had been accepted, I jumped up and down screaming, then ran around the house, totally alarming the family.  Our cat didn’t recover for days.

How do you go about trying to place your work? How do you choose markets?

That depends on what I’m writing. If I have a new poem or short story, I send it to an editor whose taste runs to what I’ve written. For instance, one editor might like political satire, while another publishes nature poetry. If I have a newspaper article about an author, I send it to local papers and to publishers for posting on their sites. If I have a play, I submit it to whatever group I’m aligned with at the moment. For this novel, I surveyed the requirements of various publishers, read articles on publishing, found publishers and imprints that matched the novel I’d written, and submitted the manuscript to two or three houses before the last one accepted it. I don’t think I consciously chose a market, but I now realize how vital knowing your market is.

Any advice for writers still working for their “breakthroughs?”

First, network. You can meet other writers and editors at various readings. Sometimes editors will hear a piece at an open mic and request it. Small presses are easier to break into that large ones. If you write romance, joining a chapter of the Romance Writers of America can prove very helpful.  Finally, pick an editor who deals with books like yours and learn to write the query letter, since an unsolicited manuscript generally winds up in a publisher’s slush pile.

 

Okay, this was fun

Karen’s official book launch was this Saturday–a quiet signing at Breakwater Books in Guilford, Connecticut.

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And damn it, I just had to be there.

I decided not to tell her I was coming, for two reasons: 1) I thought it would be fun to surprise her, and 2) If I had to back out at the last minute, I didn’t want to screw up her plans.

God bless my crazy friend who offered to tag along and ended up driving nearly the whole six hours from DC (I get a tad nervous in that NYC snarl, but she drives like a machine).

Much zaniness along the way, including a stop at the Pez Visitor Center. Yes, that’s the candy that pops out of the heads. Did you ever wonder what the World’s Largest Pez dispenser would look like? Wonder no more.

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So anyway, we finally made it to Connecticut and headed for Breakwater Books. Now keep in mind that, although Karen and I talk via electronics frequently, we hadn’t seen each other in person in EIGHT years.

So I walked in, and this happened:

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IMG_7278    FullSizeRenderFun, right? I thought so.

Karen invited us back to her lovely home afterward, and we all had breakfast with her husband and son the next morning, then hit the road before the snow started. Here we are outside the cafe at Lyman’s Orchard (a way cool farmer’s market store):

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The whole trip was way cool, and I’m so glad I was able to do it. This Saturday Karen will be giving her first reading in Mystic, CT. If you’re local (or if you’re into crazy road trips), go get a book signed and hear her read from Homing Instincts. You won’t be disappointed.

Congratulations, Karen! Hope to see you again before another eight years passes!

-Cathy

 

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