Daily Update #34

So ….

What did Ferris Bueller say?   “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  I feel like that sometimes when if comes to writing, especially when I look at my blog and guiltily notice is has been almost two weeks since I posted.  Yes, I accept any and all beatings.  Anyway….

– I still have some submissions out.  I did nine through the first quarter, so on track for 36 for the year.  Not bad.  No acceptances yet and I did get a rejection just yesterday on a piece I really thought was going to make it.  I am still confused as to what the publishing world wants.  I recently read a professionally published piece that was beautifully written – lyrical, really.  Better than anything I’ve written.  But there was no story there.  It was description only.  I had to scratch my head at that.

Pilgrimage to Skara….  Well, I have been trying to agent it for over a year, so now I am going to proceed on my own.  It will take some time, but I am assembling my marketing strategy, getting a cover made, etc.  We’ll see what happens.  Work on Princess of the North proceeds, though slowly.  I still expect to finish before the year is over.

– I am the king of underperforming when it comes to word counts but last month, I went the other way.  I wrote a story about an old man and a young girl forming a father-daughter relationship which, at 5700 words, felt like it could have gone another 1500 or so.  Long story and one I will probably never place but it was fun to write.

– I finally started a Twitter account (feed on the right side here).  Social media is hard for us old guys to grasp.  But I picked up some followers I did not recognize right away.  Networking isn’t just about shaking hands anymore, is it?

– I watched the premiere season of Daredevil on Netflix this weekend.  It was pretty good; if a viewer liked Arrow on the CW, they’d probably like this.  It’s similar but bloodier.   You know, the major networks better pay attention.  Other TV show sources, like Netflix, AMC, CW, and FX are putting out a lot of high-quality programming.  ABC/NBC/CBS/Fox are not going to be able survive on the triad of reality TV, sitcoms, and cop/lawyer/hospital shows forever.  The demographic that watches that is going to die off or get bored.

– On that note, Avengers: Age of Utron is only a few weeks out.  If I were a fangirl, I would squeal with joy.  Okay, I’ll squeal anyway.

Anyway, that’s about all for my random ruminations today.  Be good, dear friends.

Daily Update #33

I haven't done one of these for a while, so I figured it was time.

– Regardless of some rumors to the contrary, I am still writing and still working on projects.  The other day, I spun out 2500 words on Princess of the North in just a few hours, and really without much trouble.  That just makes me want to work on it a little more.  I also wrote a 1400 words story on a mother waiting for some terrible news about her child and her mind goes into really dark places.  This has been a theme the last few years with me:  writing some really dark stuff involving parents and their children.  Guess it's just a phase.

– I still have Pilgrimage out with agents for query.  I have not given up – not even close – but so far, I have still have gotten nothing back but form rejections and non-responses.  I am going to give it a bit longer.

– This has been an up and down year for short story rejections.  On the one hand, with the major life events (house fire, leaving the military, etc.) I have still gotten 16 submissions out, with the first one not going out until 31 May.  So far, I haven't sold one.  This is a little disconcerting; since I started submitting my work way back in 2007, I was able to sell at least one piece a year, even if just for a pittance.  I might be breaking that trend this year.  Ouch.

– It is sometimes amazing just how much time one can spend in front of a computer.  I recently took a hiatus from a message board (unrelated to writing) that I frequented.  I suddenly have a lot more time on my hands, to do other things.  As I said, amazing.

– Have you been watching this season of The Walking Dead?  Just when I thought that show could not get any more grim, they found a way ….

Not a terrible much of an update.  I'll find something interesting to say next time.

Update on a Burnt House

So….

As I posted a while back, we had a house fire back at the end of January.  Reconstruction has been unbelievably slow, thanks to some less-than-helpful contractors.  But having said all that, things are looking up.  The electric wiring and the sheetrock texture both finished today, which were big steps.  Much of the remaining work is going to be done by yours truly, and his son.  In fact, we’ve been knocking some of those things out, piece by piece, and the house is almost livable.

This has been an exhausting experience – physically and mentally – but I have come out of it with a new appreciation for just how complex a modern home is.  It is not just a matter of tying hammering nails into the right spots (though that certainly helps) but of planning things out and making sure all of the systems are working in together harmony.  A single mistake can undo days of work as you have to tear things out to make up for it.

What does any of this have to do with writing?  Nothing, other than give me a semi-valid excuse for why I haven’t gotten much new writing done this month.

I did get a whole slew of short story submissions out this month and besides 2013, this makes my best short story submission year (by number submitted) since 2009.  So that’s something.

Thoughts on the “No-Response = No” Policy

So in following up with my last post, I read a little more about the idea that some literary agents have the posted policy that no response means an implied rejection.  I honestly don’t have any issue with this policy, as long as it is stated outright at the beginning.  One the agents I referenced did say it explicitly in their submission instructions.  I think is fair; I knew what I was getting into.  But what about when there is no policy and you just don’t hear back?  Awkward.  I am reminded of this post I made last year where the venue (for short stories) just said, “Oh yeah, if you didn’t hear back, we didn’t want you.”  In both cases, it would be nice to know that going in.

Anyway, here are some older blog posts from literary agents on the pro and con side of a no-response policy.  Makes for interesting reading.

Limbo of Agency

So….

Pilgrimage has been out at agents for a bit now.  As is standard, I put it out to multiple agents – just as queries, mind you, since most of the agents I started with asked for samples vice the full manuscript.  I kicked it out there to see what would happen.  No expectations, just a first attempt.

Results have been mixed.  The first agent responded back with a polite rejection in 48 hours.  Fair enough.  Another responded back a few weeks later, with another declination.  One agent had a policy of “no response in two weeks means you should assume rejection.”  Again, since the standard was stated at the outset, that’s all good.  This means I have had a couple of responses which, if disappointing, were at least expected.

I also have two queries languishing.  Both had targeted response times (i.e., “we respond to queries within xx weeks”).  In both cases, I have exceeded the response times by at least 2 weeks and heard nothing.  This leads to uncertainty.  Did they receive my query?  Did they laugh and not bother to respond?  Did an intern forget to send the rejection?  Did they respond, mistype my email and assume I had received it?  Maybe they just haven’t gotten to it.  I understand that agents are busy, and that like anyone else, they don’t always meet response times.  Still, it is frustrating on the author’s end.

So I sent it out to another round of agents a week ago.  At one site, I kept getting my email kicked back, with a message stating that the agent’s server classified my submission as spam.  Even when I stripped out all attachments and went text only, same result.  I sent a very brief email to the agent (which got through), stating that I was having problems and that perhaps they were having some trouble on their end.  They responded, saying the message head been passed to their server administrator.  No further response, or invitation to re-submit my project.  Again, I get that they are busy.  Still felt like a unceremonious brush-off.

(Muse:  Are you not being oversensitive here?  You are the one trying to impress them, right?)

I dunno, I think that works both ways.  Aren’t agents supposed to put their best feet forward as well?  A good first impression should be everyone’s goal.  Perhaps I am mountain-izing my molehills and I am being over-sensitive.  I guess I just prefer the quick, terse, “No thanks,” so I can keep moving forward, instead of wondering what might be.

I read this entry on the blog Thoughts from a Literary Agent.  To sum up, it is another example of some ass-monkey making a fool of himself and torching the crap out of his career.  Ehh, as amusing as these things are, they aren’t really represenative.  But even this guy got a response.  I can’t seem to get that from all my queries and well, hell, I even followed their guidelines.

Yeah, I do scratch my head over these things.  A lot.

Ah well.

Neck Out, Ready to be Chopped

Well, I finally did it.

(Muse:  Learned to write?)

Not quite.  After finishing Pilgrimage and horsing it into a reasonable good shape, I started the submissions progress and began submitting to literary agents today.

This was a much more involved process than I would have believed.  I read an absolute ton of information on the process, polled author friends, read back over my copies of Writer’s Digest, and maybe forty or fifty examples of successful query letters.  E. L. Wagner (see links) was particularly helpful and offered up some good advice.  It’s amazing that despite all the conventional wisdom on what a query letter should look like, there are an infinite number of variables that go into it.  How do you know you gave yourself the best chance?  Hell, I have already gone back over what I sent out and started second-guessing myself.  Not that I misspelled a bunch of stuff or anything but minor stuff, like whether I should have put the word count towards the front instead of after the elevator pitch, or whether I should have said, “Dear Agent:” or “To Agent:” or “Attention Agent:”  Sounds silly but this is brought on by reading all these shades of query letters out there.  I am reminded of the old saying:  A man with one watch knows the time, but a man with two watches is never sure.  I am not sure.

I admit it:  this process left me shaking and a little nervous.  I don’t believe I was this nervous when I did my first short-story submission.  I’m not sure why.  Really What’s the worst that could happen?

(Muse:  The agents could use your letter and manuscript as an example of what not to do?  Set fire to your dreams and urinate on the ashes?)

Yeah the more I think about this, the more unsettled I am going to be.  But what’s done is done and I need to have a little optimism.  It’s the hands of fate now – fate, and some agents who I hope are having a good day and like my work.  And assuming I am offered nothing but polite rejections, this is not the end of journey for Pilgrimage.

We shall see.

Daily Update #32

Ugh, what an unbelievable couple of weeks.  Our house, sequestered on our wondrous acreage in the southwestern desert, caught fire.  The personal property damage was not very extensive but the damage to the house itself is bad.  It will take about six months to get repaired and Mrs. Axe is having to deal with being in a strange temporary house without me there.  Three more months to retirement.

Anyway:

– Progress on Pilgrimage has been slow due to the events mentioned above.  Heh, every time I think I am going to get it together, something happens.  I’ll keep at it.

– I now have two stories that are held for final decision by their respective magazines.  Neither are pro-paying mags but both are venues in good esteem, that I’ve been trying to pierce for some time.  Good steps, we’ll see what happens from here.

– While traveling recently, I read Brandon Sanderson’s latest, Steelheart.  It was okay.  I give it to Sanderson:  he is an absolute ace at creating glum, dystopian worlds with a very desperate climate.  His execution, though …

– With the rash of super hero movies coming out, I thought this blog entry about the five worst Avengers ever was kind of amusing.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t read anything else on this site, so …. yeah, I take no responsibility for your wanderings.)  It is a shame we will have an Ant Man movie before a Wonder Woman movie – or as another site put it, before we can have a superhero movie with “Woman” in the name, we have to have a movie about a character most famous for being a woman beater.  Can you tell I don’t like Ant Man?

– A few months back, Apex Magazine ran a contest for a 250-word spec fiction tale related to Christmas.  Figuring, “What the hell,” I whipped up a quick tale.  I did not win, obviously, so here is what I entered:

Another Year
The candy cane did not object when it was dumped from the box into a heap with its insensate kin.
It did not protest when the woman hung it from the tree branch.  The scents of pine sap and the burnt ozone of cheap electric lights swamped its senses but the cane told itself, “Patience.”
It did not lash out when the cat, malicious beast that it was, batted the cane loose from the branch.  Claws scored its surface and the cane’s mute rage swelled.  But the cane endured, and the child chased the cat away, returning the cane to the branch.  The cane told itself, “Just wait.”
Then at last, its time came.  The child came to the tree and pointed.  “Mommy, can I have a candy cane?”
The woman nodded.  The child walked around the tree, eyes roaming across the selections.  The cane shrieked in the vaults of its mind.  “I’m here!  Take me!”
The child reached out.  The cane trembled in anticipation – then shuddered as the child plucked up another, one of plain sugar and corn syrup.  “I want this one.”
The cane sighed.  It did not move as the tree withered and faded.  It did not object as the woman replaced it in the box, along with its mindless brethren.  The dark spirit within, waiting to be unleashed into the body of an innocent, was patient.  Christmas would come again.
The box lid closed.  The candy cane told itself, “Next year.”
And it waited.

Not bad, eh?

Ah well.  Thanks dear friends for allowing me to vomit my latest ramblings.