Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Halfway through

Geez, it's the end of June already. I round out the half-year mark with a rejection for poor "Never Be Alone"; despite my tepid fondness for it, I think it's time to retire it permanently. The editor gave me some good feedback which is probably accurate, but which doesn't make me want to pursue another rewrite.

June was okay. I didn't get much done, although I did rewrite an old story FUGGETYFUG I need to hack it down RIGHT NOW to 4k words and SUB IT before midnight! I can't believe I forgot!

Um, anyway, I rewrote an old story in June and I've half-written a new story. I sold a flash story to Bards & Sages Quarterly. I got some rejections that disheartened me enough that I'm considering retiring everything I've ever written and growing hot peppers as a hobby instead. There would be less heartbreak, since nothing much kills peppers and I have a head start with nine huge cayenne plants out back.

I have zero novels out right now, zero novellas, and only three stories. Right now I'm feeling so paralyzed at my inability to judge my own work that I'm incapable of sending anything out--not a query letter, not a manuscript, not anything. I guess this is probably a good time to ask for beta readers for chapter one of The Weredeer. You don't have to commit to the whole thing, just the first chapter. I'm pretty sure it starts too slow. If you're interested, drop me an email at kateshaw123 [at] gmail [dot] com and you will have my eternal gratitude.

Now I have to go chop down that stupid "Cult of the Butterfly" story to 4k words. Since it's squatting there like a toad at 6,300 words, I don't anticipate having much fun.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

All the bloodsuckers love me

I've got two days to read one book so I can keep on track for the 50-books-in-2009 thing. I think I can do it! I've stacked nine books on my bedside table to inspire me, although I expect one of the cats will knock the pile over in the middle of the night. I finished The Mislaid Magician today, by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, and enjoyed it very much; in fact, I think it's better than the second book in that series.

I picked about a quart of blackberries and raspberries this morning. Yes, raspberries! I didn't even know they grew wild around here! I found a big thicket of them Friday when I went hiking a new trail at Clear Creek. I love raspberries! Finding the thicket was worth all the bajillions of chigger bites I now have all over my legs. I wore Deep Woods Off today; ticks and mosquitoes I deal with as part of summer, but chigger bites are little itch machines, and it literally takes weeks for them to stop itching. Also, I react very strongly to bug bites of any kind, so I don't so much have bites on my legs as big red welts. That itch. A lot.

Incidentally, here's what I do with the blackberries (and raspberries!) I pick in the summer. After many abortive attempts at cobblers, I no longer try. Instead, I put all the berries in a big pot and set the pot on to simmer very low; don't add anything, stir occasionally. After twenty minutes or so (more or less depending on how runny you want them and how many berries you started with), take the stewed berries off the heat. Serve hot over chocolate ice cream! My sister-in-law taught me that recipe and it's perfect.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lie to me

Argh, Catherine J. Gardner tagged me! It burns, it burns!

"Sometimes you can learn more about a person by what they don’t tell you. Sometimes you can learn a lot from the things they just make up. If you are tagged with this Meme, lie to me. Then tag 7 other folks (one for each deadly sin) and hope they can lie."

Pride: What is your biggest contribution to the world?

When I was only four years old, I invented Beethoven. I was something of a prodigy-prodigy.

Envy: What do your coworkers wish they had which is yours?

My salary. Because I am the dean of, um, the math department, oh yes.

Gluttony: What did you eat last night?

Las Vegas. Raw.

Lust: What really lights your fire?

Las Vegas. Raw.

Anger: What is the last thing that really pissed you off?

Angry? I am never angry. I am eternally serene.

Greed: Name something you keep from others.

Fort Knox. It's in my basement. Sometimes I go down and polish the gold.

Sloth: What's the laziest thing you've ever done?

Las Vegas. Raw.

I tag Jeremy D. Brooks because maybe he'll update his blog if I tag him, and, um, Alan W. Davidson because I don't think anyone's tagged him with this one yet. And five other people who want to do it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Would you like words with that?

I spent my entire lunch hour writing, which I used to do all the time. I still don't have a title for the story, and it's not typed up at all (I'm writing it longhand), but I think I'm probably about 2,500 words in and roughly halfway through. It started out a little dark, but nothing Kristof the weredeer is in can stay too dark for long. But since the climax of the story is going to take place in a battle where basically everyone gets slaughtered, I figure it'll get dark again.

It's wonderful to be writing something that's flowing so smoothly. That hasn't happened since The Taste of Magic last fall. I don't think this story is my best ever or anything, but it's not bad and I'm having fun with it. "Having fun" is a very important part of the writing process, but one which is easily forgotten.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is it Wednesday again already?

As introduced by Catherine J. Gardner, it's Work-in-Progress Wednesday! And I actually did some writing today!

Actually, I did some writing yesterday too. Yesterday I finished the rough draft rewrite of "Cult of the Butterfly," which is too long and horrible but at least it's done (again). I was going to start fixing it and chopping big chunks out of it today, but instead I started work on a new Kristof Hart short story (Kristof, of course, being the weredeer of The Weredeer). I'm having a blast with it and wrote about 1,500 words today--I haven't typed it up so it may not be quite that much, but maybe it's a little more. Anyway, Kristof is a main character but not the viewpoint character, which is an interesting challenge. I don't have a title for it yet, but I'm sure to come up with something awful by the time it's done.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reviews ahoy!

Tangent Online just relaunched! It's a review site for speculative short fiction. Right now they're mostly just reviewing the big print magazines, but they've got plans to expand that. I did skim through to see what issues they've reviewed of various smaller magazines (*ahem* of course I wasn't looking for any of my stories, that would be silly) but I didn't notice any that I have personally read. Since right now they're only reviewing print magazines, which can be pricey or slow to arrive if you order an issue, it's a good way to get a feel for the kinds of stories a particular magazine publishes so you know whether to submit there (or subscribe).

Insert complete change of subject here. We're having corn on the cob with supper, and I gave my mostly-eaten cob to my cat Vincent. Vincent loves corn on the cob. He's finishing off the kernels I didn't eat, and of course getting them all over the floor. He's so cute when he's not deciding the living room carpet is a giant litterbox.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The troubling state of the mystery novel

I used to read mysteries all the time. For many years, in fact, I read almost nothing but mysteries. Some of my favorite authors were Joan Hess, Susan Conant, Robert Bernard, Marian Babson, C.L. Grace, and of course Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. But I also read crappy mysteries by less-than-great writers, mostly because I discovered the genre in my early 20s (rather than growing up steeped in it like fantasy) and for a while couldn't get enough of it.

Now every time I pick up a mystery, I find it hard to get through even a few chapters. I can't tell you how sick I am of the gimmick every mystery now has to have: this one's about a sleuth who QUILTS, this one's a sleuth who LOVES FERRETS, this one owns a COFFEE SHOP, this one has her own RADIO SHOW. Whatever happened to letting the characters be intrinsically interesting without a gimmick to hook in the yoga enthusiasts or cooks or doll collectors?

And those hooks don't work anyway, because the mysteries are as paint-by-numbered as any Harlequin. I like cozy mysteries, the kind with an amateur sleuth who stumbles across a murder by accident and feels compelled to investigate. Lately, every mystery I've picked up has followed this precise plot:

The main character is a spunky 30-ish woman, independent and single and quirky (see the gimmick, usually splashed all over the cover: 'A Ferret Fancier Mystery' or whatever). During the course of a normal day at the quilting bee/ferret fancier club/coffee shop/radio station, the MC discovers a body in an unlikely place, killed in an unlikely way. The police are called in, and MC is questioned by an antagonistic police detective. MC and Cop instantly hate each other, but MC is forced to admit that she finds Cop ruggedly handsome, but she would rather die than let him know. He is a world-weary man who has seen too much of the bad things people do, and he's sworn off women because of his horrible ex-wife. MC is incensed when she realizes Cop suspects she is the murderer, and she decides to prove him wrong by finding the real killer (and/or the murderer was a fellow quilting enthusiast, ferret fancier, etc. or a rival in some way relating to the gimmick and MC suspects her insider knowledge of quilting/ferrets/whatever will help her find the killer after Cop refuses to acknowledge that she could help him). During most of the book, MC pokes her nose into ludicrously dangerous/improbable/socially awkward situations and manages to extract information the police can't get through ordinary methods. Cop is furious at her meddling and threatens to arrest her if she doesn't stop, but of course she is made of sterner stuff than that and just goes right on meddling (in sequels, Cop will occasionally make good on his threat to arrest her, but he lets her go again once he thinks she's learned her lesson--and at that point, I always quit reading the series if MC doesn't dump him right then and there). Using an obscure piece of trivia only known to quilters/ferret fanciers/etc., MC guesses who the murderer is but not why he/she committed the murder ("It has to be Jane--she's the only one who would know that silver-tipped Montana ferrets are deathly allergic to peanuts"). MC eventually discovers the Awful Truth behind the murder, and is at that point in such danger that Cop insists on becoming her personal bodyguard until the killer is caught. MC and Cop soon discover that they are madly attracted to each other, although they do not usually have sex until the sequel (and even then they're probably interrupted by another murder before they get very far). Against Cop's orders, MC plans a trap for the killer that takes place at the quilt judging at the state fair/the ferret show/etc. While MC is in terrible danger, she outwits the killer and is saved at the last second by Cop, who only pretended he wasn't going to help her out and was secretly moving in with his men all along.

Good writing and fun characters can make this plot work, but there's precious little of both around these days. Setting takes the place of good writing, and gimmicks take the place of fun characters. If anyone knows of any good cozy mysteries being published now that don't follow the guidelines above, please please please let me know!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Read faster!

If I'm going to keep on target for the read 50 books in 2009, I need to get to 25 books by the end of the month. So I thought that reading all weekend would be a better use of my time than writing.

Well, I thought it was a pretty good excuse for not finishing "Cult of the Butterfly."

Anyway, I read Foundling by D.M. Cornish, which was good--amazing worldbuilding, likable main character, interesting plot--but frustrating because it's just the setup for the sequel. I was going to download the sequel to my ereader, but of course it's not available as an ebook. Since I'm not that into the book, I doubt I'll buy the sequel anytime soon, or ever, so the publisher just lost a sale. Idiots.

Now I'm reading Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson, and I wish I'd known ahead of time about its little point-of-view problem. I have seen this so often: first one POV, then a section break to start the second main character's POV, and then the author seems to think it's okay to just wobble between the two POVs after that without section breaks. I'm not sure I'll continue reading, since every time the POV changes without warning I'm jerked out of the story, which I don't find especially interesting anyway.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Finish Friday. Not Finnish Friday, though.

In a blatant attempt to occupy all possible outlets for non-writing activities, I've purchased and am downloading ten episodes of Ghost Hunters (the "scariest episodes" compilation, newly released), which is taking forever and tying up most of my computer's brain, plus I plugged in my ereader to recharge it (if you don't use it for a few weeks the battery drops dead and has to be reanimated). And since it's Friday afternoon there's nothing on TV worth watching. Thus I am working on "Cult of the Butterfly."

Well, sort of working on it. In fits and starts. When I get stuck, I go to the original file and do a little copy and paste action. The result is going to be really bad, but I'll get it done today. Unless, of course, I finish downloading those Ghost Hunter episodes first.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sugar! It's what's for breakfast!

I've been feeling shaky and blood-sugar-bottomed-out all day, and finally (duh) figured out that it was due to the Coke I had with breakfast. I've been trying to cut soft drinks out of my diet entirely, so have been slugging down unsweet tea instead all week--until this morning. Ugh. Bleah. I'm going to have to run out and get a big chunk of meat or something to keep me from crashing this afternoon.

But it's about to storm again (thunder, and it's getting dark!), and guy-who-looks-just-like-Alex is actually right outside the office working with a math tutor and looking more than ever like Alex, and I have tomorrow off work and plan to spend it hiking in Clear Creek (in the morning, before it gets too hot) and writing (finishing the rewrite of "Cult of the Butterfly"). So if I can keep from fainting or bursting into hysterical tears due to low blood sugar, this'll be a good afternoon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Storms and Ghosts

I think we're sort of stuck in Storm Mode here in East Tennessee. It started storming last night about 6:30 (big scary tornado-heavy storms), cleared up for a while, poured rain heavy enough at 4am that it woke me up, and has been storming with varying degrees of thunderiness for the entire day. Combined with my more-or-less solid diet of Ghost Hunters (Netflix, Hulu, reruns, and the new season episodes of GH and Ghost Hunters International tonight and last night), I think I'm going to have to write a ghost story pretty soon. It'll take place in a storm, of course.

Actually, last week I did write a little flash story that's sort of about ghosts. It's called "Voices" and I sent it out already, but I'm thinking it might be a good candidate to expand into a longer story. Maybe when it comes back I'll look at it again.

Catherine J. Gardner posted about WIP Wednesday earlier. My WIP-o-meter is set at ZERO. Well, okay, I did get a little bit of work done on "Cult of the Butterfly" today, but I was hoping to have finished it by now--I mean, it's not like I'm writing it totally from scratch, since I'm just rewriting an old story. I'll finish it Friday, I guess. Finish Friday!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Writing is not an extreme sport

My life is so boring. I should take up an extreme sport just so I have something to blog about. I always did want to learn how to hang-glide, although I expect it's very expensive.

Maybe alligator wrestling would be a better option. Then I'd be paid to do it. But I'm such a wimp I can't even shear sheep because I'm afraid I might nick one; I certainly wouldn't be the right person to jump in a ring and attempt to whup an alligator. Also it might eat me.

Any other extreme sport I can think of requires, you know, a lot of physical effort. I'm a low-impact sort of person. I think I'll just see how high I can get my Wordtwist score for June.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Same old story

Fictitious Force finally up and closed, not to anyone's surprise. Pfft.

Ralan's has a new magazine listed called Emerald Tales, and the theme for their first issue is "Follow the Butterflies." I was trying to come up with an idea for that last night when I realized I already have a story that fits the theme perfectly. It's a SF story called "Cult of the Butterfly." Unfortunately, it's also one of the first stories I wrote when I started writing short and it kind of sucks. I started rewriting it last year but didn't get too far, but now I have a reason to keep going. For one thing, the issue deadline is July 1!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

novellas and goals

I can't believe we're already halfway through June. It's unreal. It's like, dude, life is, like, going on around me! Dude! We're almost halfway through 2009!

I did finish revisions to "Never Be Alone" last night. That's the super-long SF story that reached the WOTF semi-finals (ages ago), got interest from one or two pro market editors, but ultimately never found a home. I sent it to Panverse last night, which is a new market focusing on novellas. To get it ready for them, I had to add a few thousand words. At first I wasn't sure I could add anything to an already long story--I thought it would either start to feel padded or try to turn into a novel--but it all came together beautifully. The scenes I added filled some gaps in characterization and plot, including one tiny paragraph that as far as I'm concerned made the entire story 100% better. Even if Panverse doesn't want it, I'm happy with it now in a way I wasn't before.

Since I'm bored and not feeling very good today, I've decided to look at my 2009 writing resolutions and see how I'm doing. Bleah.

land an agent--HAHAHAHA
sell a novel--HAHAHAHA
sell a novel to a major publisher (i.e. one which will get my books on shelves)--HAHAHAHAHA
sell at least four short stories--HAHAoh wait. I already did this.
sell a story to a SFWA pro market--HAHAHA it would help if I'd subbed to any
write at least six short stories (flash doesn't count)--I've written two so far; neither have sold
write at least two novels--I've written one so far

There was one other, to finish writing White Rose, but I've decided not to bother with that one. I have too many real projects going on to bother with one that was never anything but an exercise in writing badly. I'm already an expert at writing badly; I don't really need the practice.

Friday, June 12, 2009

It's a short story trailer!

Success! I'm not super pleased with the pixellation of the text, but it's readable. Here's my short story trailer for "Sand-Skin Man," 31 seconds of pure heart-stopping entertainment. Or something. I'm just glad I got it to work. Now I have to do one for Jack of All Trades.

The music for the short story trailer is by J. Marie Anderson, who has some truly awesome stuff available if you're looking for music for your own trailer. I used Audacity to edit the music and the 30-day free trial version of Vegas Movie Studio for the trailer itself.

Let me know if the pixellation is as crappy as it looks on my connection; it doesn't show like that in the original, so I don't know if it's something I did or if it's a failing in YouTube.

I guess the whine-free zone stopped here.

My story "Orcs and Trolls" is up at Every Day Fiction! It's a fun little story, or at least I think so.

I'm glad it was posted today, since it eased the sting a little of the form reject for my requested partial. So far for that book I've sent out--holy crap--21 queries (six of them the new and improved query) and received 12 form rejects, 7 non-responses, and 2 partial requests that ended in form rejects. Since most agents request pages along with the query (and the two partial requests came from agents who don't), I suspect the problem at this point isn't my query but my writing.

So I'm not really sure what to do. I work hard at this, and while I know I'm not very good at evaluating my own work, I'm pretty sure I don't suck completely. I also know that "not sucking" is not going to pop me to the top of any agent's list. I just didn't expect such across-the-board disinterest in what I consider my most accessible manuscript. (I mean, it doesn't have any weredeer in it and it's not written in the style of a 1920s British murder mystery like the other two projects I'm pimping right now.)

I dunno. I'm starting to suspect that all my books must be flawed in some basic and irredeemable fashion that I'm incapable of seeing. It certainly seems clear that The Taste of Magic isn't going to interest any agents and there are only about four SF/F publishers left that still accept non-agented material.

Why yes, I am feeling bitter and discouraged right now. How did you guess?

I'll work on getting back into the whine-free zone tomorrow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Books! More books! More!

I got my Amazon order today--well, except for one book shipped separately that the idiots at the post office seem to have lost. I look forward to tearing into someone over this tomorrow; me and the local post office flunkies are not friends.

But I got books today! Eight books, two of which are gifts: one for my brother, another for my nephew, but the rest are mine, mine, mine! Here's what I have stacked next to the bed now:

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson
Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring
Heartwood by Barbara Campbell
The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
The Mislaid Magician by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Foundling by D.M. Cornish

I think I'm going to start with Foundling. If you've read it and it sucks, please don't tell me until, um, Monday. I should have it finished by then.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Trailer trash woes

I spent several hours last night trying to make a book trailer for Jack of All Trades. I got it done, but I'm not happy with it. Finally I realized it wasn't me (at least, probably), but rather the limitations of ultra-crappy Microsoft Movie Maker. Tonight--or tomorrow night, more likely, since I work late tonight--I'll dig around and find a good open-source program to use instead. Any suggestions?

Even with MMM, though, I can tell this trailer-making is an addictive activity. I don't want to release the JOAT trailer until the book's available (because, you know, I expect there'll be so much interest in my trailer), so I'll do another one for a short story to show off in the meantime. I just wish I didn't have this stupid thing called work to get in the way of making trailers!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why I should always listen to my online buddies

Remember a few weeks ago, when I grumped about my tweet story about Sleeping Beauty not being SF/F enough for Thaumatrope? And everyone said, "Oh, write a real story about it"? Well, I did, and Bards and Sages Quarterly just accepted it for their January 2010 issue!

It's called "Leafing Beauty." I am so freaking excited about this sale. Thanks, y'all!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Up to date

Yesterday I piled up all the notebooks I had sitting around, went through them, and made sure that everything I'd written in them was transcribed. Five notebooks had big chunks of writing that I'd never typed, for four different projects. I got it all typed even though it took hours, hours that I could have spent watching Hot Pursuit police chases on TV and eating ice cream. But I'm dedicated, so I typed instead.

So now White Rose, Little Sparrow, Stag in Ruin, and the new still-untitled project are all up to date. I really like Little Sparrow and I'd like to get back into it--but while I was typing up the last little bit I'd written, I could feel myself writing the plot into a corner. I definitely need to sit down and figure out exactly what I want to do with that one. I think it needs an outline. I've been working without outlines lately, but every project is different.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Holy crap! It's the internet!

I read about the Internet Mapping Project over at Boing Boing a few days ago, and of course I had to print a blank map. I spent several glorious hours yesterday drawing the Internet. I'll be sending the original to the Internet Mapping Project, but I wanted to save a copy for myself so I scanned it. Here it is:

I know, you can't really see it in that picture. So I put a giant version on my website at http://kcshaw.net/internetmap.html. I warn you, it's a humongous .gif. ETA: Hey, I just realized if you click the picture above, it embiggens! I've probably just used up all my blogspot picture space with that one.

Totally changing the subject now. I saw guy-who-looks-just-like-Alex at work today! I hadn't seen him for months and was starting to worry he'd dropped out, but no, he's still in school and doing well. I'm so glad!

I rewrote the query for The Weredeer this afternoon. I still want to tinker with it, but it's about ten billion times better than it was. Next step: fix the appallingly bad synopsis for The Weredeer.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cover art for Jack of All Trades!

The cover for Jack of All Trades is finalized and I can show it to everyone! I've got it up on my website, but here's the front and back version. I absolutely love the artwork, which is by Richard Svensson. We're getting close to a release date!

I should get the printed proofs soon. This is fun!

It's also time to start thinking about promotion, so if anyone has any ideas, please pass them along. I'd especially love suggestions on good places to send a copy for review, since most of the books I buy are ones I've seen reviewed in various blogs. I've had especially good luck with reviews I've read at Fantasy Debut--I've discovered lots of great new authors there. Any other suggestions?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Too much work for lunch

I opened up my old Weredeer query over lunch (which I'm still at, natch) to see how much work it needed. Reading Carrie Harris, Query Ninja's query critiques has inspired me.

Alas, now that I know a little more about what makes a query good, I'm horrified to find that not only is my Weredeer query not good, it's possibly the worst query ever written that is not actually written by someone semi-literate. It's so bad it doesn't even make me want to read the book, and presumably I find weredeer intrinsically interesting.

But I can fix it! The query's a too-long explanation of what happens in the first part of the book, which has to go. Instead, I need to figure out the key hook and focus on that. Um.

What makes this book special? Hell if I know. Kristof can turn into a deer, yes, but that's not really, you know, enough to get most people to pick up a book. The core theme of the book, I think, is Kristof's friendship with Gabe, who has basically nothing in common with him--not species, not background, not sexual orientation, not nothin. And yet they forge a strong friendship that gets them both into huge amounts of trouble while they're trying to help each other out.

Does that sound like a hook? Can I actually say something like "The Weredeer explores the bonds of friendship between two men from different worlds" with a straight face? Hmm. I'll work on it.

(Also, someone just microwaved something that smells like poo with broccoli. It's in a little plastic tray, which means she probably spent three bucks on it at least. My ham sandwich and Sun Chips cost me almost nothing and they smell like food that hasn't yet been through a digestive tract.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It's a great big world out there...

And I've hardly seen any of it.

visited 18 states (36%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or Like this? try: Google Share

visited 6 states (2.66%)
Create your own visited map of The World or Like this? try: Mapped Web

Feeling the itch to travel, probably because the main character in my new project just hit the road in fantasyland.