Querying: Almost as Fun as Childbirth

I’ve started querying agents again.

I feel a little like those purple minions from Despicable me 2.minion

I sent out a handful of queries last fall which resulted in a delightful collage of form rejection letters which left me feeling a little battered and bruised. die hard

I know some writers love this. They’re like, “Dude, I got another rejection letter. It means I’m real writer!” If you suffer this delusion, excellent! You’ve found a way of framing rejection positively. Stop reading now. I don’t want to ruin that because I wish I had the same Pollyanna attitude as you.pollyana

I, however, think that’s a big fat pile of poo. Anyone can get a rejection letter. Anyone. If my gerbils could hit the send button on an email, they too could get a rejection letter.

Those of you who contend it’s evidence that you’re putting yourself out there and taking a risk as a writer—that I’ll subscribe to. I need to submit, but I’ve come to associate querying with pain. Did you know that the part of the brain that processes pain is the same part that processes rejection? Indeed. Rejection is painful. So right now, I feel like I’m nine months pregnant. I need to get this baby out of me (aka my manuscript), but the only way to do that is to go through twelve hours of the worst pain known to man. Unfortunately, there are no epidurals for rejections.

I'm smiling because the guy behind me is the anesthetist.

I’m smiling because the guy behind me is the anesthetist.

Hey, and as I write this, the first rejection came in, just a couple hours after I sent the query. It was a personal note, which I always appreciate. She’s not interested in YA sci-fi. Deep breath. Move on.

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How to Start Your First Book

Back in November when I was at ComicCon, promoting the Manitoba Writer’s Guild, I encountered a lot of new writers and pre-writers (those that want to write, but haven’t started yet). One question came at me over and over. “How do I start?”

Today I’m here to tell you, in very simple terms, how to start.

1.  Write one paragraph describing what your story is about. Just one paragraph, so you know where you’re headed. Keep it simple and open.hiroshima

Three genius brothers stumble upon a means of time travel and accidentally transport themselves to Hiroshima, Japan on July 31, 1945. They have a week before the bomb is dropped to figure out how to get themselves back home.

This paragraph helps you to anchor yourself and keep your story on track. It gives us a loose structure. We know we need three brothers. We know our setting—initially the present and then World War II Japan.

 2.  Decide on a protagonist—your lead character. You will tell the story from their point of view (POV). Notice that the word “character” is not plural. You want to tell the story from five different perspectives? Too bad. This is your first book. My children are pianists—they started with Hot Cross Buns, not Bach’s Piano Concerto #7 and so you start with one protagonist.

But how do you choose? Which time travel brother should be my protagonist? My protagonist should be the character that undergoes the most change. The change could be physical, emotional, spiritual, ideological.

For my time travel boys I’m going to choose the youngest of the three. He’s arrogant, thinks he’s smarter than his brothers, and risks their lives and the time-space continuum when he ventures out on his own. The other brothers will be secondary characters.

3.  What is your inciting incident? The inciting incident is the event that sparks the rest of your story. It’s the kick that gets the ball rolling. It doesn’t have to be a big kick, just one change that will, in the end, change your protagonist’s life. In the hunger games it was “the reaping.” In Twilight it was Bella moving in with her dad. In The Fault in Our Stars it was Hazel going to the support group. In Pride and Prejudice it was Mr. Bingley moving into town.

hiroshima 2In my time travel story the brothers get into a big fight and one of them gets shoved and trips over wires, short circuiting their experiment. Sparks fly and the next thing they know they’re in Japan.

4. Decide if you’re going to tell the story in first person or third person. In first person POV the story is told as though it’s your story. I tripped over the wires. I got transported back in time. First person is limiting in that the story has to be limited to what that person can personally know. He can’t know that his older brothers are scheming against him in the next room. Though it can be limiting, first person draws the reader directly into the head of the main character and gives the reader intimacy and a tighter bond with the protagonist. 

In third person the story is told from an outside POV. He tripped over the wires. He got transported back in time. Though, as a narrator, you could make yourself all-knowing, I still recommend sticking close to your protagonist so your reader can bond with him.

Now start writing. You know where your story begins. You know who you’re writing about. You know your setting. You know your main character and some of your secondary characters. You know who is telling your story.

Griff Karaplis got suspended for cloning the frog he was supposed to be dissecting in biology class. No great loss. His older brothers, Cal and Nate, had been stuck at home since they hacked into the Homeland Security main frame from the school computer lab and implicated Principal Skinner’s cat in a terrorist plot…

This is your rough draft. Don’t worry about Grammar and chapters and if your characters change part-way through. Just write. My first book has been through at least twenty drafts. This is not to discourage you, only to give yourself permission not to nit-pick. Set aside some time every week to write. Keep going and don’t give up.

Any questions? Leave a comment below.

For more on writing visit my children’s writers blog at www.vastimaginations.wordpress.com

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The First Kill is Always the Hardest

The First Kill is Always the Hardest

I still remember the first time I killed someone.death scene 2

Three years ago I was riding in my van on the way to the grocery store and the thought streaked through my mind. What if Mr. X died? My initial response: No! I didn’t want him to die. I liked him. I’d criticized other writers for being too sympathetic toward their characters. Now, here I was, doing the same thing 

death scene 4The thoughts persisted. And I resisted. The more I thought about it, though, the more a necessity it became. By the time I finished loading the groceries into my van, I was plotting his demise. death scene 1

It’s unpleasant to annihilate someone you care about. He’d been with me for two books and I was rather attached—and so was my protagonist. The scene happened to come over Christmas. I put off writing it. I already knew how he was going die, but the act of sitting down and doing it—writing out every detail, watching it through my protagonists eyes, suffering with him and her—was daunting. I decided it was best saved for after the holidays.death scene 3

So, three days after Christmas, I sat down with my computer and a box of tissues and pounded out the scene I’d been dreading. I wept, sobbed, accumulated a pile of waded tissues. I blubbered like sane people cry over real people who pass on. And then, he was gone. We held him as he died. We buried him—my protagonist and I.

I did what I had to do and the story is better for it.

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The Novel that Changed Me

Last week, after six months of labour, I finished my eighth novel. I took a couple days to glory in a finished product, I took my family out to dinner, I took a deep breath. This novel was a difficult journey–blistering emotionally.

There were times I thought I couldn’t finish, that I just couldn’t be in this woman’s head anymore. Every scene was a hand over hand battle to pull myself up a cliff, not because I didn’t have a passion for it, but because of what it took out of me.

They say you have to bleed for your writing. I bled for this one. This novel changed me.

After the rejoicing over finishing ends, I always go through a low time. I miss the characters, I no longer get to spend my days with. I begin to consider the amount of editing I have ahead of me to get my manuscript in good enough shape to even show my mother.

But, before I had even finished that manuscript my mind was drifting and asking the question, “What next?”

I have a dozen ideas in my futures folder, but really, the choice was easy–or hard, however you want to look at it. It’s the story I had in my head before I started novel number eight back in May. It’s the story I don’t want to write.

So I’m sketching out my characters. Getting to know these new friends I’ll spend the next few months with. And I realize–as hard as this is–so many rejections, so many set-backs, so much to learn–I love to write. I will write even if I’m the only one who ever reads it. Words are my dance steps, my paint, my piano.

Do You Have a Story Inside You?

I spent a couIMG-20130703-00930ple years in the “writer’s closet.” I didn’t tell anyone, besides family, that I was writing. As soon as I finally “came out,” I started having people confide in me that they too have dreamt of writing a book and that they too have a story that they’d like to tell. 

My answer is always the same. Do it! Writing has brought me an immense amount of joy (heartache too, but that’s a topic for another day). Why wouldn’t I want everyone to give it a try? If you’ve ever been whisked away by a book, transported IMG_4644somewhere new, felt the adrenaline rush of new adventure, those feelings are dwarfed by the thrill of writing your own story.

The best way to start is to—well, start. Grab a sheet of paper. Open a new Word document. Pick a time when you can have an hour of solitude and just start writing. No, I don’t advise taking a class first or reading through umpteen books on writing first. If you would like to write, then begin putting words on paper. Tolkien began the Lord of the Rings series on a whim with these words scribbled on a sheet of paper: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Write your first word, then your first sentence. Move on to paragraphs, then to pages. Don’t scrutinize. Don’t edit. Write. There is no magical way to begin. Remember:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” –Lao Tzu

Many of you will discover you don’t like it. It’s not for you. But, many of you will discover the joy of writing. And if you like it, want to continue, and improve your craft talk to me. I can help you get started. But for today—write your first sentence and let your adventure begin.

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Falling in Love…With a Book

What is that thing? That thing some books do.

You know what I mean. You can’t put your finger on it. It goes beyond beautiful prose, engaging characters, and fascinating plot lines. It’s the difference between liking a book and prideLOVING a book. That thing that gets your heart racing, adrenaline surging, arms shaking as you hold it to your nose at three in the morning. That thing that make you want to flip to page one and start again as soon as you read the last page. 

 I just finished a book I really liked. I’d recommend it to anyone, but it didn’t have “that thing.” So it made me wonder—what is it? IMG_4104

Is it a connection with the main character? Is it that sense that I’m walking in their shoes, feeling every breath, step, and ache. That somehow I’m a part of them and they’re a part of me. And from now on there will always be that connection.

Is it a setting that makes me feel like I’ve been whisked away? When I look up from the pages I’m disappointed to see that I’m still in my living room. A place so vivid, I can fool myself into believing I’ve really been there.

pride2Is it a plot that keeps my heart pummelling my intercostals with every chase, every revelation, every kiss?

Is it the opportunity to fall in love? What Mr. Darcy has been doing to women for two centuries.

Very few books occupy this spot for me. I’ve liked a lot of books, but only loved a few. Last Christmas, Kate Morton’s, The Forgotten Garden so unnerved me that I was unable to write for three days. I didn’t wantforgotten the book to end and I couldn’t get the tale out of my head enough to make space for my own stories. It was, actually, kind of frightening.

            What books have done “that thing” for you? Which characters have become part of you? Which have you fallen in love with? I’d love to see your comments below.

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Let There Be Light

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This is a beginning. Not the beginning. Hopefully, a big bang and not an implosive blip.

This is a chronicle of an, optimistically titled, pre-published author.

This is a Venn diagram intersection of writing, faith, and family.

This is a door. More like a rabbit hole.

Fall with me.