Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back in the Saddle (or perhaps I should say, 'Back in the chair, in-front of the screen')

Yes, I am alive. ;-)

It's been a helluva long time since my last post, I know! In fact, I think my last post was a post saying that I would be blogging regularly, right? Look how that worked out... :-P

Let's get into it:

I've submitted the manuscript for Betrayal's Shadow (2nd draft, 105+k words) twice, and been rejected both times. The first time was to Ronald Irwin, one of the only agents I know about in South Africa, and he sent the manuscript off to a new eBook imprint operating under Random House Struik (Random House's SA operation). In retrospect, the manuscript just didn't fit there, so I completely understand why it was rejected. Here's an excerpt from the email:

"Dear Dave,

many thanks for offering us the chance to consider your manuscript which I've had a chance to discuss with our publisher. We've decided, unfortunately to decline it. We've published just five books this year and need to wait and see how they do before publishing any more full-length works. In addition, as one of the first five novels was a fantasy epic itself, we're unwilling to try another one at this stage. We're likely to give priroty to shorter works next year, which will be less expensive to edit and produce.

I wish you luck in placing your work with another publisher, and I think you'll be better off with one with global marketing reach rather than our tiny operation at this stage."


So, not too bad, right? Sure, I was a bit down when I read it, but after having a couple of hours to think about it, I realized that it was by no means a You-Can't-Write-For-Shit-Rather-Go-And-Sell-Hotdogs rejection letter. It made perfect sense, even basically said that I waited a bit too long (which I did, for sure, just ask Ron) and helped me to make up my mind to try a bigger publisher.

So, next, I thought, "Well, Bud, before you can try a bigger publisher you need to try and get an agent who has been in the SFF game for a while now, a person who's got all the right contacts and who works hard for his / her authors. The first name that sprang to mind was, of course, John Jarrold. I get almost daily updates on the kind of stuff John and his agency are doing for their clients (for example, Rod Rees, author of The Demi-Monde saga, has already got 10 rights-deals), and I also didn't need to jump through hoops to submit my work to John. So I went ahead and sent off the MS. I got a rejection, of course, but it was an awesome rejection - a rejection that fired me up and motivated me even more. Here it is in full:


"Dear Dave

As promised, I have now read your material. I can see the imagination and intelligence at work here, and I enjoyed it, but I can’t honestly say I loved it. After fifteen years in publishing before setting up the agency, I'm all too aware how difficult it is to get a publisher interested in a new writer, so I feel that I do have to love my clients' work - personally and professionally - to do the best possible job. If I don't feel that strongly, I'm the wrong agent. Publishing is a notoriously subjective business, and every new author needs both an agent and an editor who do love their work. It's hellishly difficult getting the bookselling chains to take a new novelist seriously, so that initial enthusiasm is vital. If an author’s prose doesn’t set me on fire, first and foremost, I say no, as do editors in this situation.

Most UK editors see around thirty books every week and only take on one or two debut novels over an entire year.

The entry level for a new novelist now is 'special', not 'good'. This is partially because sales and marketing directors have so much more power than they did a dozen years ago. If they don't believe they will be able to sell a first novel into W H Smiths and the rest of the bookselling trade in numbers, they'll block the editor from acquiring it in many companies. A senior editor told me a few weeks ago that even if he loved an author's writing, he wouldn't make an offer until the book that was submitted to him was 100% right for the market - he has just acquired an author whose previous four novels he (and everyone else in London) had turned down despite liking them a great deal. Thus, I have to believe the writers I take on are truly wonderful, or it's pointless submitting them. There is nothing specific I can point at, I just wasn’t thinking WOW, which is what I look for. Another agent may feel differently, of course. So often, it's about unquantifiable gut reaction and the pricking of your thumbs.

FYI, I've taken on about forty writers as clients and turned down well over 8,000, so far...I know it can be as difficult to get an agent as it is to be taken on by a publisher. You just have to keep plugging away.

All best wishes."


Why did it fire me up, motivate the hell out of me? Well, John Jarrold didn't think it was a load of crap, that's why! :-D Also, his reasons make complete sense - just think of the plethora of awesome work out there at the moment and you'll agree. It's exactly as John said: The entry level for a new novelist now is 'special', not 'good'. And until the next draft of Betrayal's Shadow is 'special', I won't be submitting it. I'll continue working on a couple of other projects, sure, but Betrayal's Shadow 1.3 is going to be a helluva lot closer to special than it currently is.

And I've started already: as I mentioned in a post way back, I wrote 115+k words on various Fantasy manuscripts before I settled and began (and finished) writing Betrayal's Shadow, and two nights past I was going through the, looking for something -a new angle, if you will, of that little light that always motivates as it goes off in the mind- that I could read through, edit, and then carry on with. I found a piece - 8k+ words; a prologue and a full chapter. I've been going through it (started Chapter 2 this evening), and I already feel that fire, that drive. You see, I've got an entire novel in my head already (and enough info and thoughts for at least a trilogy), and now I can really experiment, change things up, throw everything in a blender, focus more and research more and have more fun. In fact, the story I actually wanted to tell is gaining even more detail and substance. :-)

So, getting a rejection letter isn't at all a bad thing - it's definately helped me to focus even more and to be even more excited. :-) Betrayal's Shadow will see print one day, that's a fact; and when it does, it's gonna knock your socks off!

Cheers to awesome rejection letters! :-)

Be EPIC!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Finally - I'm Back

So, I didn't post as regularly as I said I'd be posting, I know. :-( The thing is, the only way I have to connect to the internet now is through my phone, and since I'm doing that on a pre-paid basis, if there's no money, there's no new posts.

Anyway, what's been happening? Well, I've completed the second draft of the novel, written the synopsis and cover letter, and the whole package is with an editor right now in hard-copy as well as electronic format. Now the wait begins!

I haven't been writing much lately - I've wanted to get started on Book 2, but I just can't seem to get the right kick-off; since Book 1 ends with a (sort of) cliffhanger, Book 2 really has to open strong, so I'm stressing a bit about it. I also wanted to get started with the Urban Fantasy that's been knocking around in my head for years, but that's also been slow.

Other than that, I've started reviewing again - one review a week (or, as pre-paid internet connections allow), and I've been reading some awesome stuff. :-)

Anyway, just a quick update to let you know I'm still alive and kicking. :-)

Be EPIC!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Upheval

So, I've decided (and these were some insanely difficult decisions) to stop reviewing at the SFF blog, at least for the foreseeable future.

Basically, I'm having a personal meltdown, but I won't bore you with the details. This blog will carry on, because I'll still be writing - in fact, I'll be posting more regularly than I have.

I'm about half-way with the second draft of the still-without-title novel, and while I was visiting my parents in Australia I rewrote and edited some short stories to get them ready for submission; I submitted Bloodheat to Weird Tales and Angelsong to Analog and I should be hearing back from them (hopefully with a yea and not a nay) in around five weeks.

I'm pushing to have the novel ready by the end of this month, as I've got some pretty cool interest in it - from here in SA as well as the US, and I've confirmed with two agents that I can submit the novel to them when it's ready. So hold thumbs for all of that, will you? :)

Anyhow, for all those out there who have an idea for a story and want some advice on how to begin, read this post at Magical Worlds by Fantasy Author David B Coe - very good advice! :)

Be EPIC!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Revisions and Realizations

Yep, I've been revising and editing, revising editing, for a while now. I'm not sick of the novel just yet, but I am getting there. :) Revising is awesome, though!

I've written a completely new first chapter, have taken out a battle that was an absolute pain and didn't actually do anything -well, not in terms of the body count, nor the explanation for the battle- I've introduced a new female character (the religious leader in the world I've created), and now I'm re-introducing the non-human character.

I've also realized -and it was one of those "Aw FUCK" moments- that my novel is nowhere near to being good enough to submit. So I won't be submitting it to Angry Robot Books in March.

I've been reading plenty of excellent fiction, lately, (The Mall by SL Grey, Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk, The Emerald Storm by Michael Sullivan) and I've resigned myself to understanding that I haven't done enough to actually make the story, the world and the characters, really come alive.

My characters need only small tweaks here and there, and that won't be a problem. The world, though... Suffice it to say that it's a bit empty. There's a lot more detail that I have to put in, ranging from everything to days of the week, army ranks and composition, calendars, etc. etc. etc.

And earlier today, while I was agonizing over how to replace the battle with something not as big but as useful, I started getting another avalanche of ideas. Basically, I figured out what needs to be changed (i.e. rewritten completely)so that the story has that extra spice that will go a longer way to making it something worth submitting. As things stand now, I'll just be embarrassing myself.

So I'm going to push ahead with the revisions and edits and complete the 3rd draft. Once I'm done with that I'm going to start writing the Urban Fantasy that's been floating in my head for years. I think a break from writing Epic Fantasy will do me good.

I'm slightly (fuck that, make it hectically) pissed off with myself - I probably wouldn't have gotten these ideas if I had given enough thought to the story before I started actually writing the book. But I'm glad it happened now - realizing that the novel needed plenty more work after I'd sent it off would have been extremely painful! :(

Anyway, hoping you're all good!
Be EPIC!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Chosen One: Has it been done to death?

I ask this question because of a post I just read on Sam Sykes' website, in which he and N. K. Jemisin offer their opinions on the very-Fantasy trope of The Chosen One. It's well worth a read and I highly reccomend it for all writers out there who are thinking about using a Chosen One as a character in their work - read it here.

The really brought it home to me that I don't in fact have a Chosen One in my novel. I also didn't actually plan to have or not have a Chosen One-type character. Reading Sam and Nora's opinions really made me realize this - and now I've begun to actually pat myself on the back. :) Lemme explain:

I've not a particularly intensive writer, i.e. I don't actually sit and plan everything up the wazoo, deeply think about the characters and what the believe or how they think, and I also don't think about the 'themes' that I may or may not want to deal with. I find it incredibly difficult to do this, to be honest, and if I'm more honest I guess I gotta say that I'm terrified of trying to do it. I can't even actually say that my writing process is more malleable, changeable, since I rightly don't have a clue (having only written one novel, so far). I can say that I'm breaking rules in my novel (which I've also said before).

When I originally had the idea for this novel -around 2003 / 2004- there were two brothers, twins, a civil war, an extinct race (who were the only people who could wield magic) and not much else. Now that I've finished the first book, one brother has survived, there's no civil war, and magic is back. The closest thing I've got to a Chosen One is an Emperor who has issues, and my main POV character buggers off midway through the book. There's also a prostitute (no other way to say it, no matter what title she has in the book, a kid who could do magic, except the people who could teach him have been mutilated in such a way as to make teaching him impossible, and another woman who has to deal with her own issues while also being the empire's religious leader. I won't even mention Alun - he sneaked his way in, the upstart. :P Thinking about it more, I don't have one character that the story actually revolves around, and now, I'm pretty proud of that. :)

Whether the choices I've made actually pay off or hold up is something I'll leave to the readers who may eventually read this book, but I already know that some people won't agree with me - that's a given, and a necessary given, at that. I wouldn't have it any other way. :)

So I pose the question (and the challenge, I guess) to you: does the story you want to tell / write actually need a Chosen One-type character? Is the Chosen One actually needed at all? And if your tale needs a Chosen One, are you using him / her / it in the way that they usually are used - to resolve the story, save the world, get the girl, etc? I guess the challenge is *not* doing that. :)

Be EPIC!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hilaroius and Excellent Advice from an Editor

I just had to share this with you! :-)



Awesome, love it! :-) Even through his utter, deadpan seriousness Lee still manages to crack me up, but he does give good advice (he should be able to - being an editor at Angry Robot Books). :-)

Anyway, busy with re-writes (hoping to finish Chapter 3 this weekend), so I'm off.

Be EPIC!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Untitled - First Draft - 19 Jan 2011

I finished just before four this morning. :-)

Last night I was writing a review for Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire and as is won't to happen with reviews of books I really enjoyed (and this book ranks as one of The Best Books I've Ever Read), the review went over 1000 words. Also, as is won't to happen, it pissed me off. ;) I mean, I could have written those 1000+ words in the WIP, right? Anyway, so after I finished writing the review I hopped in and out of the bath (which is an achievement for me, since I usually read about 2 chapters of the book I'm busy with, making the bath last around 20min to half an hour), made some coffee, and sat down to start writing.

I was starting Chapter 26, and about ten minutes after I started I realized that I was going to finish writing the novel. (this was between half-past 9 and twenty to 10 last night).

So, fired up, three swallows of coffee down, I launched into it. Six and a half hours later (I still can't actually believe that I wrote consistently for that amount of time - it might, though, explain why my back remains curved in such a strange way, ;) ) I wrote the last line, consisting of four words. Then I took a deep breath, sat back, and pistoned my fists into the air.

Zorro (our youngest Pekingese) snapped his head toward me and gave me a wide-eyed stare that said, "Doooood, it's very early in the morning and you're freaking me outttttt!" and all I could do was look at him and smile. I just didn't have the energy to get up and give him a hug. :)

And then I got into bed and slept the sleep of the satisfied and victorious. Now, though, the rest of the work is waiting for me. Starting today I'm going to be reading through it, just reading and making notes (I've got a cool eReader) to prepare myself for the absolutely necessary and inevitable re-writes. (And writing a suitable synopsis, and then a query letter!)

I hear some of you saying, "Take a break, you deserve it, relax!" but the thing is, I can't. You see, I want to start submitting this novel in March, and to do that I need to complete the re-writes and the editing by then. My work is by no means done. And I'm under absolutely no illusions that this book will be published (maybe ten years from now when I've learned much, much more and can fix all the *fucking terrible* sections) - it is, after all, my first novel, and first novels are rarely good enough to see the light of day. But I do want to get it out there so that, hopefully, an agent or an editor might be able to give me at least *a* reason why they don't want to accept it; not only will that help me to fix up this novel but it'll also help me to not make the same mistake again. That is, after all, the reason we call these things 'drafts' before they go out into the world. You don't tape up a leaky pipe, your replace the damn thing with something better. Repeat Ad Infinitum.

It's taken me almost a year to write this novel - I started writing it on the 24th of February 2010. There were times that I despaired of ever finishing it, and plenty of times that I thought of starting from scratch, just deleting everything. But I ignored that (I've become exceedingly good at switching off the Editor in my brain while I'm Writing) and pounded through it and finished it.

If you're reading this and writing your first novel, then please, listen to me: FINISH IT. I fucked around for almost a decade, jumping from project to project; when I collected everything I'd written, Fantasy-wise, in one document, I discovered that I'd written over 115K, and that very nearly broke me - I had enough raw words for a full-length novel but *hadn't finished a damned thing*, so I had, to be honest, fuckall to show for it. Sure, this novel wouldn't have existed without what I'd previously written, and I know that, but here I am, 1 year from being 30, when I could have written and completed my first novel when I was 21 / 22. I don't have any regrets, though - I'm pretty sure that I would never have been able to write this novel back at the wet-behind-the-ears age. There was plenty that I had to go through to be able to let all the characters in this book live, as they did, while I was writing this novel.

But seriously, when you start writing a novel, finish it. Pound through the crap sections as if you're armed with mjolnir itself, and you'll be forcing yourself to write better. By the time you reach the end, you'll be able to look back and say to yourself that you are damned proud of what you've accomplished and that you've learned absolutely bucket-loads of what will help you to be the best damned writer you know. And friends, you *have* to believe that. You *must*. If you don't, you've put a gun to your head and have placed your finger on the hair-trigger. :)

But I need to get ready to go to work, so I'll stop blabbing (wish I could sleep, but work pays the bills that keeps me sitting on the couch that gives me a place to write that gave me the laptop on which I write that gave me the money to buy books that I loved so much I wanted to write my own stories, etc. etc. etc.), and leave you with a cool post I saw last night that will definitely come in handy for me when I start working on the synopsis and query letter for the novel: check it out. :-)

Be EPIC!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The End Approaches and I'm Scared

It's been a while since my last post, but with good reason. :-) I'm almost done with the novel and can say with all honesty (and heart-pounding dread, which I'll get into later) and joy that I'll be write the last words sometime next week. :-)

Now, I'm sure you're thinking, "Dread? Why dread?"

Well, I'm not exactly sure, to be honest. I think it has something to do with actually being on the verge of finishing something that I've poured myself into for almost a year. I started writing (seriously writing, not playing around or starting and stopping) this novel on the 24th of February 2010; I participated in a writing course that really helped me and showed me that I *could* do this and also cemented the fact that I *love* doing this; and my girlfriend had to hear me say countless times, "I'm struggling, I just can't focus"... And now it's almost done.

And not only that, I'm terrified about the ending. This is (definitely now) the first book in a trilogy (I hear your sighs of "Another trilogy?!") and even though I know what the last scene entails, I'm scared that I won't know what to write when I get to that last paragraph. My God. The Last Paragraph. O.o

And then I wonder, did Stephen King go through something similar when he was about to finish his first novel? Did Robert Jordan? Did MD Lachlan or Jon Sprunk or Patrick Rothfuss or George RR Martin? Is this fear, this rising anxiety normal? Or am I just being an absolute idiot?

What, exactly, is there for me to be afraid of? Still not sure, although I think I may have an answer for myself in a couple of years, or after I'm published and have a backlist on the shelves. Who knows, perhaps that fear never leaves. I find myself hoping that it doesn't, though. You see, this, writing a novel and being practically finished with it, being on the verge of achieving what I've been chasing for so bloody long, is absolutely *massive* for me. I probably wont be the same gut I am now when I finish the novel next week. I'll have achieved one of my dreams and that is so monumental, so *huge* that it scares me.

I know for a fact that I'm going to celebrate, though. :-) I'm going to drink and be merry and bsk in my own victory, but until then, I guess I'll just knuckle down and make sure that I don't step in front of a bus or trip and break my neck... ;-)

One last thing from me (until the Post of Posts next week):

Myself and two good friends, fellow writers Lood Du Plessis and Jani Grey have started something new and exciting: Writers in Training. :-) It's a blog that will focus on us talking about writing, what we've learned and what our individual process is - hopefully we'll help someone out there who is also an aspiring author. :-) We launched the blog on Sunday, and on Monday Lood kicked things off by introducing himself via a self-interview. My post when up today. :-)

If you know of someone struggling with writing and looking for advice and help along the journey, please let them know about our endeavour - you can find us on Twitter here, on Facebook here, and here's a direct link to the blog. :-)

Catch you all next week,
Be EPIC!

Oh, and the next chapter (mine) of Crumbling Ruins will be written this weekend, as will a Star Wars Expanded Universe FanFic story; I'll post it here as soon as it's done. :-)