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Book Review: Rock Your Revisions

Great resource

At the recommendation of an agent I grabbed a digital copy of Cathy Yardley’s “Rock Your Revisions.” Starting in on my sixth draft it seemed like a good idea to see what I could learn from an established author. I am undertaking a major revision this time, so any help would be appreciated.

It’s a short book with solid and easily digestible advice. After that I decided to jump right in to my latest revision starting with what is called a Scene Chart. I won’t go into exactly what that means as I’d rather not give away Cathy’s work for free. In simple terms its a method to dissect your novel on a scene level in order to find the big problems.

Well, within a few scenes I could already tell how powerful of a tool it was going to be. Using her method I could instantly tell why I scene wasn’t working. Not only that, I could see exactly what I would need to do to fix it. I’m working through my novel now, seeing what scenes are good structurally, which ones will need some major work, and most importantly which ones will need to go.

A major advantage to this method is that I now won’t be wasting my time noodling paragraphs, sentences, and conversations to the point of perfection only to end up tossing the entire scene. With a Scene Chart I’ll be able to double check my work to be certain its the tightest the plot can be; that no scene is out of place.

And at $2.99 you can’t really go wrong.

Next, I’ll talk about her book “Write Every Day” helped me get over my slump. Three words, face your fears.

Art of the Pitch: Sell Yourself

Since I’ve started down the road of pitching my book I’ve learned a few things. And within the past few months I’ve had a realization. There are two halves to pitching a book to an agent or editor.

What’s the first-half?

Well that’s selling them on your book. Which I’m sure we all knew. This is your opportunity to get them excited about your idea. Here you want to know your work inside and out. Develop different ways to describe it to others. Tailor it to different types of people. Not everyone is drawn to the same thing. But if you’re able to hook them with one bit, they’ll be more likely to follow you on the rest.

What’s the second-half?

Selling them on you. It is a part of the equation we often forget about. You may think I’m off base, but consider your favorite author. Not only do you know their body of work, but you probably follow them on social media. You’re obsessed with what they’re up to and want to know more about them. John Green of “The Fault In Our Stars” has a huge following on YouTube and a great personality.

And this great personality helps his agent, manager, and publisher sell books.

This is similar to George R. R. Martin. Certainly his work speaks for itself in depth, creativity, and character. It can stand on its own. But people still flock to his Live Journal page to check in for updates. He interacts with his fans and builds a dialogue with them.

Take a moment some time and read through Patrick Rothfuss’ blog and twitter.

So then how do you sell yourself during a pitch?

By being you. No one else can be you, but YOU! And who you are has been needled into the very fabric of your book. When an agent or editor can get a sense of you they’ll also be able to get a sense of how you write. So when you’re ready to type up that query letter you need to follow Rule 1 — follow the query guidelines. But find ways to interject a bit of who you are within those guidelines. Let them get a sense of YOU!

Recently a close writing friend of mind stepped out of the usual query formula — the very professional and serious tone. She found ways to stay within the guidelines but also inserted a large portion of her personality into the query. And the response was incredible, and opened a door. By being herself, by being human and personable, she found success.

My last bit of advice, and where I’ve had the most success, is to go to conventions and workshops. Meet agents and editors face-to-face. This is your chance to really let them see who you are. Sell them on your book idea, and sell them on you.

Be bold, be awesome, be you.

Atlanta Writing Workshop Wrapup

Finally got some time to sit down and talk about my thoughts on the Atlanta Writing Workshop.

A few of my WC friends and I attended the workshop with no real expectations. One of the major draws, for me, was a chance to pitch in front of some agents — more on that in a bit. Now, it did cost extra to pitch and extra per agent. I was apprehensive at first. But after  looking over the attendees made it seem like a good deal, so I picked two that fit my genre.

I’ll be honest, having to pay to pitch some agents at a workshop felt a bit like being taken advantage of. But, looking at it now, I believe it’s a way to offset the cost of the one-day workshop. I imagine these agents had their flights taken care of as well as their rooms. With that being the case, I would imagine the cost for the single day event would be close to $500 a person.

There was a ton of information packed into a single day and all lead by Chuck Sambuchino, editor of Guide to Literary Agents. He’s a great presenter and knows how to keep the pace moving.

That said, I really felt like I knew most of what he talked about already. Not because I’m some big hotshot, but because I’ve been at this long enough. I’ve been to enough workshops and conventions to know the information. Of course that doesn’t mean it was bad for everyone. Take me from four years ago and this workshop would have been a wealth of knowledge.

Of the panels, one stuck out to me the most. Chuck read out loud the first page of anonymously submitted manuscripts. Six agents listened and read along. Whenever an agent reached a point that they’d stop reading they’d raise their hand. Once three agents had raised a hand Chuck would stop reading all together. Afterward the agents would say exactly why they would have stopped reading. It was fascinating to get to hear their thoughts. You could tell (and it was almost said this way) that they read A LOT. Because of this they don’t want any confusion on the first page and there has to be something there that makes them want to turn the page.

Overly wrought descriptions, out.

Lots of dialect in the dialogue, out.

Confusion as to who the main character is, out.

It’s kind of scary how even the littlest of things could cause them to stop reading. But what that means is you really need to make that first page shine.

Now the highlight for me were the two pitches I took a part in. I didn’t memorize my query, one-page synopsis, or anything like that. Instead I trusted in myself to know the material so that I could easily just talk about it and be excited about it. Honestly, I think that paid off. When I pitched informally at JordanCon in front of Brandon Sanderson and Harriet McDougal I had a little speech memorized. I basically sounded like a salesman.

This time I went in without pressure on myself and just had a good time.

Both agents gave me a lot of good information and feedback. They’ve also helped me identify some areas that I’ve been struggling with since I started pitching the book. Right now I’ve straddled YA and MG. With their help I’ve been able to pick a direction and focus.

Funny though is that one agent reps MG and the other YA. What does that mean for me? I now get to have two different MSS. This should be quite the challenge, but I’m up for it.

In my next blog update I plan on talking about a theory I have on pitching books. So far my informal thoughts seem to be holding up. And by that I mean any kind of rigorous scientific study is unnecessary, as my thoughts are full proof!

Trust me.

It’s Been Too Long

Don’t worry. I have stuff coming. Just you wait…

Weekends are tough

One of the hardest parts of the 30 Days of Flash challenge are the weekends. Things do not fail to prevent me from getting time to write. But I won’t let that stop me from completing 30 pieces of flash fiction over the coming weeks. My goal with this challenge is really to get used to writing every day, provided life doesn’t get in the way.

Life will always get in the way.

And I think that’s OK. Many times we writers can berate ourselves if we miss a single day. I don’t think that’s a healthy attitude to be honest. Realize that sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control and then move on. You can very easily fall into a spiral and stop writing because of it.

So let’s move on and get back to these stories, shall we?

Top Ten Favorite Screen Characters

I normally don’t do these kinds of things. But when Christa Wojciechowski tagged me to talk about my top ten favorite on screen characters, I couldn’t resist. So let’s do this!

1. Hoban Washburne — Firfly/Serenity

A leaf on the wind

Wash!

Alan Tudyk brought to life one of Joss Whedon’s best written characters. Who couldn’t fall in love with one of the best pilots in the verse?

2. Nathan Young — Misfits

I loved to hate him, but grew to like him as a character on TV. Had he been anyone I’d known in real life, I would have punched him in the face. Robert Sheehan did an amazing job with this character and I was sad when he left the show. Viva La Barry!

3. Maximus Decimus Meridius — Gladiator

Are you not entertained!

This was the first movie that really made me fall in love with film. And it was this character has stuck with me for years. Determined but still noble. He could have controlled Rome, but just wanted to be left alone to tend his farm. Amazing stuff.

4. Madmartigan — Willow

Brash and cocky but with the skill to back it up. Just like Willow said, “He is great!” One of Val Kilmer’s best roles in my opinion.

5. Beatrix Kiddo — Kill Bill

Good lord I can’t get enough of her awesomeness. Uma Thurman brought real depth to this character, that on the surface looks shallow. Seeing her breakdown in the aftermath of her revenge killing of Bill solidified her as one of my top characters of all time.

6. Mystery Men

Sure, I’m cheating here. But how could I choose between any of these characters? They are all incredible and need to be taken as a team to truly appreciate them as individuals. Though if I had to choose, I’d go with Mr. Furious.

7. Antonio Salieri — Amadeus

OK, I think maybe a part of me is just choosing great performances. But at the same time Salieri is so complex of a character you can’t help but be drawn in to him. His battle with God over his love/hatred for Mozart tears at you. I can’t get enough of it.

8. Bruce Wayne/Batman (1989) — Batman

This is my Batman. Keaton did what few others have been able to pull off when donning the cowl. He showed just has crazy Bruce Wayne is. That behind the mask was a man just as twisted and messed up as the people he fought against. I’d love to see someone capture that again.

9. Liz Lemon — 30 RockThere's no party like a Lemon Party

She embodies the quirkiness and oddity that I love in myself and my wife. Who couldn’t fall in love with this character?

10. Captain America — MCU

A real American Hero

People that know me well are probably surprised to see him this low on the list. But I’m a little hipstery when it comes to this character, as I loved him before he was cool (Read the Ultimates series which a lot of the movies are based on). What draws me to him is his unwavering resolve. He’s a true patriot, fighting for the rights of the people, not fighting for the rights of the government. You’ll see what I mean when Civil War hits theaters in the next year or so.

These are my top ten favorite screen characters. I supposed to tag ten more people but I don’t really have the kind of people to tag for something like this. But, if you read this and want to participate go right ahead! Link your page to my comments below and I’ll come check it out.

Mirror Memories

“Next,” I called out.

The line shuffled along, each person with a package under their arm and their face buried in a smartphone. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But I missed interacting with the customer. Everyone had such interesting stories about where they were sending their package. These days the most I could muster would be a grunt and a swipe of their card.

“Good afternoon, sir.” I gave the man a broad smile, hoping this one would be different.

“Yeah.” He clacked away at a text message.

“What can I do for you today?” I plastered on my best smile that started quickly began to slip into a sneer.

“Yeah… just… uh… need to send this here.” He plopped the package in front of me and tapped the shipping label without looking up from his phone.

I resisted the urge to slap the black brick from his hand and send him home crying. Instead, I gave my postal shirt a quick tug and began to process his package.

Ugh, of course.

“I’m sorry, sir. But there isn’t enough postage here for this sized package.”

“Uh huh.”

“Sir. Excuse me, sir. Hello? You need more stamps for me to send this.”

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

My fists crumpled the edges of the manila envelope. Everything in me wanted to toss it across the room and make him fetch it like a dog. Instead I pushed it back across the counter until it bumped into his belly. “More postage,” I said.

“What?” he snapped his head up. “Oh, sorry. Yeah I’ll get that. Sorry.”

I bet you are.

“Next.”

An elderly woman approached, her tiny fingers wringing around bony knuckles. Internally I sighed with relief. For once I may have a normal conversation with someone. An ordinary interaction with another human being.

“Yes ma’am, how may I help you today?”

“I have a package waiting for me.” Her voice barely broke over the sounds of phones dinging and chirping.

“Wonderful. Something from your grandchildren?” I beamed an actual smile toward her.

“No. From my husband.”

My smiled turned to a grin. “I imagine it’s a wonderful gift then. It arrived today?” I turned to my computer, ready to take her information.

“No.” She lowered her head.

“Don’t worry. Not a problem. When should it have arrived then?”

“1954.”

My fingers paused over the keys of my keyboard. “That may be a challenge. Um, I’m not entirely certain we may still have it.” I wasn’t entirely certain this branch was open that long ago. I spread my hands out on the counter. I hadn’t noticed before, how lost she looked behind her glassy eyes. I looked into the crow to see if perhaps she’d become separated from a caretaker. Again I was met with nothing but the tops of people’s heads. “Ma’am.” I leaned down to see if I could catch her down turned gaze.  “Ma’am I don’t believe we would have kept something for that long.”

“Please, please you must have it. He said it would be here.” Her voice broke.

“I’m sure he did. But it’s been a long time. A very long time. Perhaps if you’d be so kind…”

“No!” Her hand slapped the table. That gathered the crowds attention. Several phones popped up, ready to record a crazy lady at the post office. “It’s here. It has to be here!”

“Yes, yes. I’ll go check. Just one moment.” I raised my hands to placate her and went back into the receiving area. What was I doing, giving this old woman hope? I ran my hand through my hair, wondering how long I should stand in the back and pretend to look for her package.

Glenn, one of our sorters passed me. I don’t know what caused me to speak out. Curiosity maybe? I took a hold of his arm to get his attention. “Glenn, do we have an area of stuff we’ve kept for a few years?”

“Yeah, if it’s large enough or slated to be delivered on a certain date we’ll hold onto things.”

“But, for decades.”

He whistled. “That’s a tall order, that one. Couldn’t hurt to check though.” He pointed toward the back between two racks of packages. “Head back there and through the door behind those racks. You may find what you’re looking for there.”

“Thanks.”

To this day I’m not sure why I tried looking for it. I didn’t even know her name or where it was going to or coming from. But my feet pulled me forward. A naked bulb greeted me as I entered the room. It’s crackling sound as it popped into life sound like a taunt. I ran my hand over dust covered boxes. Pulling out my reading glasses I tried my best to read the faded words in the dim light. I was close to giving up, when a brown paper covered object tied down with string caught my eye. It stood propped against the brick wall, looking nearly 5 feet tall but only several inches thick. It called to me somewhere in my gut, telling me to check it.

I lifted it off the wall, feeling its heft. I wrapped my hand around the edges of the item and pulled. My hand slipped, tearing the paper and snapping the string. The bulky item thudded back to the floor, Fearing I’d broken it, I leaned it against the wall and prepared to go get Glenn for help.

A flash of light caught my eye. Curiosity gripped me, urging me to remove more of the paper.

I obliged.

Before me stood a full length mirror; it’s golden frame intricately carved with vines and flowers. The beauty of its craftsmanship stole my breath away. But when I looked into the mirror my body froze.

In the reflection was a meadow of the greenest green. Pockets of wild flowers rolled along the tall grass. In the distance, atop a hill rested a lone willow tree. A couple sat below the tree, eating a picnic. And I felt their happiness. Their joy. Pure and boundless. It seeped into my very bones, pushing away the endless lines of sad people with their faces buried into their smartphones. Gone were the grunts of patrons and half heard remarks.

I was happy.

The woman by the tree looked toward me, and deep down I knew her. Knew that even though I could see her by the tree, she now waited at my counter. Waited for me to return this wonderful memory to her.

Tearing myself away from the images, I did my best to re-wrap the mirror. Catching Glenn, I had him haul it to the front of the store. The look on the woman’s face recalled my time in front of the mirror. She thanked me and thanked me, tears welling up in her eyes.

As the door closed behind them I turned back to the line, with the boundless joy still in my heart.

“Next.”

#30DaysofFlash

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