Friday, July 31, 2009

A Note About Language

So, with the memorial service over and my melancholy hopefully shelved for awhile, I'm back to work on the 1794 vampire story. One thing I've noticed while working on this story (and oddly enough, more so than when working on the ancient Greek ones) is how careful one has to be when using language in a period piece.

For example, I wanted to write that the main character's gaze "was riveted to" something. Then I wondered, when did they start calling them rivets? And earlier, I wanted to use the phrase "pass the baton" but then couldn't be sure that anyone was running relay races in London at that time period.

In both instances it was easier to change the phrasing than to find out one way or another whether either would be anachronistic. But it does bring home the point that one must be constantly aware of one's use of language. Things that we take for granted - "riveted," "electric," etc, - are relatively recent additions to the general language, and can throw a more savvy reader out of the story if the writer isn't careful.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Query Letters

Recently I was emailing back and forth with an old friend from high school, filling him in on my writing adventures. And among the things he asked me was "Was there any trick to getting published?"

My first thought was "no" but then I thought, "Well, sort of. Define trick."

So I think I will start the first of my less-rambling blog segments, the Tuesday Tip, wherein I will share my personal experiences so far in the crazy world of writing and publishing. I hope you all will chime in with your own experiences as well!

So, query letters. The key thing with query letters is: don't give them an excuse to dismiss you out of hand.

DO YOUR RESEARCH. Find out if the person or company you are querying has query guidelines. (They are nearly guaranteed to have some form of submission guidelines, which may or may not extend to the query format they prefer.) This will usually be in with their submission guidelines on their website. Also, take some time to read up on what industry professionals are looking for in a good query. As well as looking through "Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript", you should read agent and author blogs and websites to see what the latest industry trends are.

FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. Seriously. Not following the guidelines doesn't make you look like someone who is a trendsetter or a free thinker or a rebel. It makes you look like someone who is either too lazy, arrogant, ignorant, or stupid to follow instructions. This does not bode well for a professional relationship. And if you send an attachment when they specifically request the text to be pasted into the body of the email, your query may very well be deleted without even being read.

INCLUDE EVERYTHING THEY ASK FOR. This means that if they ask for a query letter, a synopsis, and an author bio along with the story, don't just send a query letter and your story.

KEEP IT SIMPLE. Your query letter should be short and to the point. Don't include anything that isn't absolutely essential AND relevant. I try to keep mine to roughly half a page of letter text if I were to print it in letter format.

BE PROFESSIONAL. It doesn't matter if this is your very first query or if you are doing it on a lark. Be professional. Be courteous, be concise, be on-task, and for goodness' sake PROOFREAD AND EDIT your query!

Below is the standard format of query letter that I use for short stories.


Attached is my short story, [STORY NAME] ([WORD COUNT] words) which I hope you will consider for your upcoming anthology [ANTHOLOGY NAME]. In this story, [ONE-TO-TWO-SENTENCE SUMMARY]. This story has not been previously published.


Thank you for considering [STORY NAME]. Please let me know if there is any further assistance I can provide. I look forward to hearing from you.


Mercy Loomis

Author Bio: Mercy Loomis graduated from college one class short of an accidental certificate in Folklore. She has a BA in Psychology, but don’t hold that against her. Her favorite pastimes include practicing Urban Krav Maga, playing Rock Band, and studying ancient history. She and her husband live near Madison, Wisconsin."

I have started including the author bio in all my submissions to save time, since so many asked for one. We'll cover author bios in an upcoming Tuesday Tip.

Yes, this query is kind of boring. But you know what? The STORY is the part that's supposed to be exciting. The query lets you know (in order): the reason for the email/letter (story submission for X anthology, in this case), the pertinent information about the story (word count, what it's about, and whether it's been published before), my credentials (which aren't as important as you might think), and the fact that I can at least pretend to be a professional. There is nothing there to distract the recipient from my summary, which is hopefully good enough to get them to take a look at the story. We'll cover summaries in a future Tip too.

Is this the only way to do a query? No. Are there other things you can include? Yes. (A personal note, such as why you are submitting to this particular agent/editor/publisher, can be very effective when done well.) But this format has netted me five short story sales in less than four months, so feel free to use it as a template for your own queries if you aren't sure what to say.

For novel queries, I use a slightly longer version. Substitute "editor" for "agent" as necessary:



[NOVEL TITLE] is a [GENRE] novel that is [WORD COUNT] words long. [MENTION ANY ATTACHMENTS/INCLUSIONS IF THERE ARE ANY.] I am currently querying yourself and one other agent. [OR This is not a simultaneous query.]



Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. Please let me know if there is any further information I can provide. I look forward to hearing from you.


Mercy Loomis


Query guidelines vary a lot more for agents and editors, so make sure you are including everything they ask for, and nothing that they haven't. Fortunately most agents and editors seem to have very clear guidelines.

Some people prefer to start with the personal note. I prefer to start with the novel, because in my mind the novel is the important part.

Now, I haven't sold my novel yet, but I have gotten requests for a partial, which I take to mean that my novel query letter does not completely suck. Take from it what you will.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Bad with the Good

Just when you think you've got things figured, Life throws you a curve ball.

For those of you wondering, I was already running behind on my word count goal. I had resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to get the current story done on time.

This afternoon I received word that my cousin had died this morning. He's only 4 years older than me, 36 years old. He was the closest thing I had to a brother, and one of my favorite people in the whole world.

I am in absolute shock, down to my core. Seemed like I hit anger and denial and grief all at once. I can't imagine that he's gone - my brain just won't wrap around the concept.

After a good long cry, I spent some time outside. It was a beautiful day - sunny but with big fluffy white clouds, not too hot, not too humid, and wonderfully breezy. I sat on the ground in the shade of a tree and dug my fingers through the grass until I touched the earth. I closed my eyes and centered, connected with the world around me, reconnected with the larger All and knew the peace that comes with it.

And then a mosquito reminded me that pain is part of being alive.

I know that part of my heart is forever broken. But death is part of life, pain is part of living. I'm alive. He's not. And even though it seems like the world can't possibly be the same beautiful place it was yesterday when he was still alive, I know it is. The world goes on. Life goes on. It's just us individuals that stop. And as callous as that sounds, I take comfort in it.

I know that the funeral is going to be one of the worst experiences of my life. That I'm still somewhat in shock, and the true pain of his loss still hasn't hit yet. That for months (if not years) to come I will find myself crying for seemingly no reason, that things which once did not distress me will call the pain to mind and I'll have to wrestle with it all over again. That one of the few people on this planet who truly understood me, who was friend and brother and co-conspirator and soulmate, is gone from me, and never again in this life will I see his smile or hear his laugh.

And yet, I know that life goes on. That it is no shame or betrayal to admit that this too shall pass. And that some day I will face it again, and some day it will be my turn to pass from this life.

I love this life, and this world. I'll take the pain. But I don't have to like it.

Hug someone you love today.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Word Goal Achieved

So I managed to get to 3500 words yesterday. It took me three hours longer than I hoped (although there was a break in there to walk the dog), but I did it. That leaves at least 6500 words to do in the next three days, and I have a job interview tomorrow morning, doggie obedience class tonight, and a birthday part tomorrow night, and dinner plans on Saturday.


Write my ass off today, write my ass off tomorrow, write my ass off Saturday. And then think up a plot for the 10k+ story I want to write next week.

Tune in on Monday to see if I managed to pull this off. ;)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Two More Sales and an Update

Just a quick update.

As usual, things are not going quite according to plan. I haven't worked on the long project at all, except for research. (I've done a good bit of that lately though.) I am now working on a longer short story which I hope to have done by the end of the week, but I'm running behind word-count-wise, so we'll see. It's not due until the end of the month, but I'm hoping to do two 10k+ stories by then. I work so much better when I have a deadline. 1600 words into it, and I should have at least another 4 hours today to work. Ideally I'd like to have 3500 words done by the end of today.

I have two more sales to report. My short story "The Princess and Peony" will be appearing in Circlet Press's "Like a Thorn" anthology, which should be coming out in mid August. And my short story "When in Rome" should be appearing in Ravenous Romance's upcoming Threesomes anthology. More on that one when I have it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

And The Winner Is...

Project number 1!

So, here's The Plan (TM):
I start serious work on project 1 today. I can still work on other stuff - research, world-building for project 4 or plotting for project 3 - but I have to get writing done on something every weekday. That means either I'm writing on project 1, project 2, or doing a short story. But preferably working on project 1.

That gives me some leeway for when I get stuck on project 1 or inspired by something else, but I'm still getting results. As long as I am moving forward with something, eventually they will get done. I cannot start a short story and let it sit unfinished - and since I normally write short stories with a specific market in mind already, that shouldn't be too much of a problem. Ideally I would like to get at least 500 words a day done on one of the two long projects regardless of any other work, short story or plotting or what have you.

On a related note, I started re-reading my novel again last night, kind of prepping for starting in on project 1. Got about halfway through. I made a few very minor changes (I think that's part of how you know when you're done, you're down to only changing a word here, a phrase there, and mostly the changes you are making are cosmetic anyway) but I did find one extra word, where I had obviously changed a sentence previously and left a "he" in an odd spot instead of deleting it. How many times have I read over that part and missed that??? Ugh! Plus I found a few places where the underlining included the space after the end of the underlined sentence. I thought I caught all of those the last time. Bah! Double Bah! (Note - if you do a "find/replace" to change double spaces to single spaces, it will turn all of the spaces that come after underlined sentences into underlined spaces, even if the double-space at the end wasn't underlined.)

Errors aside, I'm really happy with how it turned out. Yes, there are still things I could do to it - there were a number of changes I didn't make that I could have. And I'm sure my future editor will have changes to make as well. But overall I'm happy. And I had a moment there, just for a second, where I could see a scene as if I hadn't written it, as if I were reading it for the first time. And I went "whoa, this is actually pretty cool."

And that was a damn good feeling.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I am a Big Huge Slacker

So this post is all about me slacking off.

Granted, it's a holiday weekend, and also granted, I spent a good chunk of one day this week helping a friend move. And I did get the one short story done (finally) and sent off, and another one that got rejected turned around. (One of the best rejection letters I've gotten so far, too.) And I had two job interviews.

But, all in all, I've slacked off.

I haven't been writing. I haven't even been doing research, not that doing research is an excuse.

My brain keeps bouncing around between three or four projects, and won't settle on any one of them. Which is totally my fault, because if I were being a disciplined writer I would just sit down with one of them and start working on it, regardless of how I felt about doing so.

Truth to tell, especially with first draft, the work you do when you are dragging each word kicking and screaming out of your head is just as good as the work you do when you're totally inspired and write for eight hours straight. It's just that the latter is a whole lot more fun than the former, and I find it somewhat more productive volume-wise also. But even on a bad day there is no reason why I can't hit my average of 500 words an hour.

Project 1 is historical and probably requires more research, but I've been ignoring all the books I got from the library, and frankly I know enough for work on the first draft. It also needs some plot work in the second half. Project 2 has the best plot development so far, but it needs more world-building - maybe. It may not, and I just think it does. That one will probably be the easiest to work on. Project three needs a plot. Actually, preferably several plots, and some more characters too. Project 4 is really just pure world-building, because I already have several short stories I want to do with it, but the world-building is going to be a lot of work. It's fun work, but hard, and I have a hard time getting started on it. Or getting back to it, rather. And I keep wanting to do it all up like a role-playing game, and then I get distracted with trying to figure out the rule system...

When I finished working on my novel, I fully expected to start work on the prequel, which is Project 1. But I've been having so much fun with the short stories, and I've come up with such fun ideas, that it's hard to go back to that mindset. I mean, I do miss the main character, but the variety is awfully nice.

So I think my goal for this weekend is to definitively decide on a project to start on Monday. I'll let you know which one wins.