Sunday, March 29, 2009

Those who CAN, teach...

...they just can't always find an agent.

One of the things that held me back from attending critique groups in the beginning of my writing was the idea that it made no sense for me to "learn" from other people who have not had any success getting their own work published.

Yes, I know, there are published authors at critique groups, probably quite a few. But let's face it, the majority of participants are not. At least, that is the case around me. And none of them are JK Rowling :).

I've made it my policy for a long time to never take advice from someone who does not have more experience/success than I do with something. I wouldn't take financial planning advice from someone who lives off credit cards, or parenting advice from someone with no kids. I take nutrition and exercise advice only from people who are more fit than I am. You get the idea.

But writing is different. Even someone who writes atrociously may spot a typo you've missed, or notice that you over-use the word "has." Or, maybe they write just as well as you do, but are in the same boat and despite obvious talent cannot find an agent or publisher.

I was lucky enough to attend a couple of writers conferences and learn from some real pros, like Bryan Davis. But I've learned just as much from my critique group that consists of not one single traditionally published author. Their insight has transformed much of my writing and helped me hone pieces that were ultimately bought by periodicals. They have offered tremendous advice on my novel-writing as well.

And I don't let my rejection letters stop me from helping my fellow writers. I was a teacher before I had kids and now I homeschool--so I love that I can use my teaching skills during this process. Writing has introduced me to a whole world of teaching and learning that I could never give up.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Death Metal at the Nerd Table

Yes, the analogy is back. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. (If you're new to my blog, you can go back here and read my original post about the nerd table.)

Let's see, I've done punkers and prom queens, and even ROTC...what's a good Eighties analogy without some death-rockin' headbangers?

A recent discussion started on a writers forum got me thinking about this. The topic was Christian horror. Sounds like an oxymoron, eh? But it's apparently a rising genre. It seems to encompass stories from those that raise "supernatural thriller" a few degrees to Nightmare on Elm Street with Christian heroes.

I must say this is intriguing.

I, personally, have never been able to watch slasher movies. I like creepy--think The Sixth Sense or even Silence of the Lambs--but that's about as scary as I want on-screen. I can, however read stuff I could never watch on a TV or movie screen. I've even written a couple of short stories that would qualify as dark fantasy. One may be considered mild horror, depending on your point of view I suppose. If I get any of them published, I'll be sure to let you know and you can judge for yourself.

This reminds me of high school so much, because as I've said before, I was an odd mix of punk-rocker and nerd. Well, there was another oddball like me in our geek group, who was a metal-head to the bone. I think it would curl his long hair if he knew I was using him in a warped high school cafeteria/Christian fiction genre analogy. (Actually, he went into the military--bye, bye, beloved locks....oh, I would have enjoyed watching that!)

The point is, there seems to be no bounds to the genres Christian themes can be worked into. Which means, no bounds to the stories we can write and the people we can reach. There's room at the nerd table even for the death rockers.

For the best list of subgenres I could find, not just fantasy, check out:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Review--"Havah" by Tosca Lee

I wrote my review of Tosca's first book, Demon: A Memoir, without taking time to think. I couldn't stop--I was overcome, much in the way Clay was, to get my thoughts on paper.

But with Havah, I found I needed to be a bit introspective first. I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, and I've been revisiting it ever since, pondering what I would write that could do it justice.

The story of Adam and Eve is always told like some kind of simplified tale, and we think of them as these awful people who disobeyed God and ruined the universe for the rest of us. "Yeah, she ate that fruit--she started it all!!" Even Adam said that.

But are we being fair?

Havah tells Eve's side of the story. It's not a justification of her actions by any means. If anything, you will realize the despair she must have felt. I mourned with her while I read this book. Not just because of the hardship she faced, suddenly thrust into a newly fallen world where the animals she had so loved were tearing the flesh from each other in attempt to survive. Or the sorrow of having one son brutally murder another--Cain was her son, and she loved him.

What struck the hardest was the intense regret she felt for losing a connection with her Adonai! Her Adonai, not just Adam's.

Eve's story is only a few paragraphs in the Old Testament, but her life lasted hundreds of years. She bore child afer child, and became the mother of all humans. She witnessed cities being built by her descendents, and lived with the knowledge that hundreds of people who were the children of her children of her children resided all around her.

I felt completely connected to Eve throughout the book, because, as I've mentioned before, Tosca Lee's characterization skills are wicked brilliant. She made me relive the joy of new motherhood in a way I had never felt before--imagine holding the very first baby ever born in your arms!

Eve's life must have been amazing. And Havah will give you a glimpe into what it may have been like for the first woman on earth, the one who started it all--both death and birth. She has taken the blame for thousands of years, and we all look back on that day with rebuke on our lips, but remember...

...with that one mistake her life was changed for eternity, too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Competing for Last Place

So, I've sent off some more queries. That is such a strange feeling. Sending off all my hopes and dreams in an email or a 9x12 envelope, knowing that my heart and soul will most likely be replied to with a form letter. Amazingly, I've already recieved three replies, and I just sent the email ones last night. Rejections of course, but that's ok. I've decided to make this a quest to collect them.

Someone (I really wish I could remember who) told me she had been in a critique group where the members competed to see who could get the most rejection letters. Sounds a little backwards, so if you're not a writer let me explain--if you're not getting rejections, it means you're not sending queries. That simple. Even the biggest, baddest books out there were snubbed by someone behind an agent's or editor's desk. All successful books sales are preceded by a string of rejections. There are those few exceptions, but they are more rare than...well, sorry, can't think of a cheesy analogy right now.

Anyway, I've decided, to get myself sending more of those queries, to aim for getting as many rejections as I can. I may lose at this, of course, by getting an acceptance before I reach my goal. That would make me last place in the race for failure. Either way, I win :).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Feeling Peevish...

I went to Blockbuster tonight to rent a movie. When I came home I asked my husband if he could see the image of Edward Cullen burned on my pupils. There was nowhere to turn to get away from Twilight images! Posters covered every wall and the TV monitors were all running trailers for that wretched movie. Even in the check-out line I could not escape--surrounded by a wall of sugary snacks, I stood hopeful that the onslaught was over, only to turn my head and glimpse a whole rack of candy packs with Bella Swan's face and "Twilight" written across the bottom.

It took everything I had to not run screaming from the store before paying for my rental.

Am I jealous? Well, sure. I wrote a YA fantasy that I would love to see become a huge success. Do I want young girls swooning over Gregor? Yes, but he's a great guy, not a jerky, blood-thirsty undead. I do NOT, however, want those girls carrying around a Gregor doll. (Yeah, I saw an Edward Cullen doll at Borders one day. Ick.)

Ok, I know I'm going to have readers who love the Twilight series. I actually already do. (You know who you are, and I totally do not hold it against you!!) Maybe I'm digging my own grave here. But, I'm just over it. I admit Harry Potter was everywhere--maybe it didn't bug me so much because I love those books and movies.

Yeah, yeah. I get it. It's all personal preference. Whatever. My blog :).

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Punker at the Nerd Conference

I have spent the last several weeks in eager anticipation of the Florida Christian Writers Conference. The conference is over now--I attended for only one day as my schedule didn't allow for the entire event. But I knew, from my experience last year, just one day can be invaluable.

This year proved as enlightening as last year. But in a very different way.

Last year, I sat mostly through classes that taught about the writing craft. Bryan Davis leads a teen track on fiction writing, and I learned a tremendous amount in a mere two hours. It completely transformed my first chapters. I also took classes from agents and editors who shed light on life on the other side of the publishing desk. I made friends, and left with a sense of total belonging in the writing world.

This year, I sat in the Saturday morning session of Randall Ingermanson's marketing class. Lots of good info in that. I will definitely be revamping my website a bit now :). I took no real classes on craft--not because I don't believe I have room to grow, but rather because I have continuing resources that provide that and I wanted opportunities to meet agents and editors.

I chose classes that I thought would help me understand what agents and editors want. Well, those classes did, but not in the way I expected them to.

What I learned is that there is basically little to no room for YA fantasy in the Christian market. I knew that was true to a certain level, but the conference reinforced it. I learned also, that I don't fit in with the typical Christian fiction writer. Don't get me wrong--everyone was very nice. But everything was geared to traditional Christian writing--Bible studies, romance, etc. Even the class I took on gritty writing, was actually focused on writing strong characters, not books with edgy content.

I had the opportunity to have my first chapter read by one agent and one editor. I will not say who they are. The editor loved my chapter, but her particular publishing house is not acquiring YA fantasy right now. Her comments did, however, boost my confidence and reaffirm that my work is at a publishable level.

The agent who reviewed my chapter said it was well-written, but her comments basically boiled down to "change it from a fantasy to a teen romance." I'm quite sure she was trying to direct me to write what sells, but had I the least bit of interest in teen romance I would have written that in the first place. She also said my story had "no spiritual value."

Alas, I was the punker sitting at the nerd table again. These are people I share a soul with, but I felt seriously like an odd duck.

So, I have come to the conclusion I need to separate my two personas. I love writing personal essays--have I mentioned I've sold SEVEN so far?--and I can continue to do that in the Christian market for sure. God even confirmed that for me, I believe--when I got home I was welcomed by two checks in the mail for the last three essays I sold! Yeah, we went out to dinner last night :).

But, I'm shifting my book queries to the secular market. After all, my novels are stories, and don't deal directly with Christianity. I happen to like authors like C.S. Lewis who write their novels for the sake of story. His message runs deep to those who see it, but nowhere does he even mention Christianity.

So, here I am again--standing between the two tables. I am who I am, folks.