Monthly Archives: June 2012

Making my search roll…

Okay, so I’ve decided I need an agent. Now I just need to find one.

To the intertubes!

First stop is  AgentQuery, a database of literary agents. I like this site’s search interface, it stays fairly up to date, and it has a lot of basic info on the agents. I can get a nice initial pile of names by going here.

Then I get a bit more disorganized. Locus magazine has a listing of deals made every month, and sometimes I can glean a new name from here. In my online writers group there’s a thread devoted to talking about agents, so I pick through that. I chat with people at cons, and annoy my writing group. Eventually, I end up with a big list of possibilities.

Which means it’s time to start narrowing the list down.

Back to the interweb!

I grind my list through Preditors & Editors, an online guide that tries to let you know how reputable an agent is. Which lets me check for scammers and conflicts of interest. Generally not a big deal, but I’m paranoid enough to check.

Then I’m off to the Absolute Write agent forums and QueryTracker. Both of these give me more info on the agents, and I can start ranking them in a list depending on how cool they seem to me. What makes them cool? Having sales. Reping authors I’ve heard of. Being well established. Being an up and comer in a well established agency. And being open to submissions. That’s pretty important.

Okay, now I’ve got my big list o’agents. Partially ranked. I go through it again, reading the web pages of each. What kind of works are they looking for? Do I like what they’ve written about themselves? I adjust the rankings, and at the same time I comb their agencies listings for names I may have missed earlier and run them through the mill.

All of this gives me a nice long list of names, vaguely ranked. Next order of business– figuring out what each of these people want from me.

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The myth of writer’s block

So I’ve been thinking about what to blog about for the past few days, and since nothing really popped into my mind, I took that as a sign I should talk about writer’s block. Or, I should say, the myth of writer’s block, because writer’s block doesn’t exist.

You heard me.

“Buy Kelly,” you say, “There are plenty of times when I sit down to write and nothing happens. I’m uninspired. The muse has left.”

I say to that: blah blah blah. Professional writers don’t get writer’s block. You wanna know why? We’re self-aware enough to know that so-called “writer’s block” is a symptom of something else.

1. You made a wrong turn somewhere.  You’re plugging along on the work in progress, getting in your 1000 words a day, and then suddenly you hit a log jam. You don’t know what happens next. Or your trusty outline is suddenly, horribly wrong. Maybe characters are misbehaving. This is your subconscious telling you you’ve slipped up somewhere. Take a few days to think about what’s happened in your story and try to analyze where you’ve gone off the rails. Then go back, fix it, and move on. More than likely you’ll pick up steam again.

2. The internal editor is way too loud. She’s the one that tells you this is all wrong, do it all over, or better yet, stop working on this novel and start writing a whole new one! DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS BITCH. (Or maybe your internal editor’s a dude, in which case he’s a bastard. You still shouldn’t listen to him.) Plow through. Ignore the voice that says the work isn’t right. Hey, the work might not be stellar, but you can’t edit a blank page, and you have to finish something before you can sell it. If the words really aren’t coming, see number 1 or consider number 3.

3. The insecurity is getting in the way. Maybe you’re not making progress because you think–no, you know!–you’re a crappy writer and no one’s ever gonna wanna read your stuff, anyway. This is a sibling to the “this is all wrong” business of number 2. You need to find a way to tell your insecurity to take a hike long enough for you to get writing. I hate to tell you, but this feeling never really, truly goes away, but you need to power through it. Yes, in the beginning you won’t sell much and maybe your writing isn’t awesome. But the only way for it to get better is to keep writing and the only way to sell stuff is to keep submitting. It’s basically a cage match between Insecure Writer and Persistent Writer, and you know what? The professionals have figured out a way to stack the deck in Persistent Writer’s favor.


What about you guys? Have any other additions for the list? And how do you combat “writer’s block?”




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Hello from Kansas!

Hello from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel Writers Workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas.

Presumably by the time you’re reading this, I’ve arrived safely after a lovely drive across Missouri and spent yesterday doing some enjoyable and productive workshopping. But I’m writing this on Saturday night, because internet in the dorm here costs money, and I figured that would be a great excuse to not have it and therefore be even more productive.

This is a two-week workshop for unfinished novels–they say it works best if you have less than half the book done. At the time I applied, I had three and a third chapters. I sent four to be critiqued here. I’m now writing chapter seven. Out of, oh, forty or so (they’re short). And of course I’ve been making changes to the outline since I shipped it off a month ago.

Workshopping an unfinished book intrigued me, because I’d like to get to a point where I do more of the work up front and cut down on my revision time/number of drafts. (I used to be a pantser, now I’m a plotter.) I’m looking forward to fixing my book by moving stuff around on the outline instead of trying to rewrite huge swaths of scenes.

The best part is, I get to spend two whole weeks talking about writing with other writers! Perfect summer vacation. See you in mid-July.

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By the time you read this, I will be on vacation, eating seafood and typing on my laptop while I stare at the ocean.  Jeez, that sounds fun.  I can’t wait until I’m actually doing that and not just typing about doing it.   Er, anyway, not having had time to work up a regular post, I offer up this exchange between my brother and I (because I promised him I would), although it comes about a week too late. Pretend it’s the 17th.  It’s time travel blogging!

Jeff: Ask your blog readers if any of them are still hung over from Bloomsday.
Me: I’m not asking them that.
Jeff: I’m not the only one who celebrates that holiday.
Me: By ‘celebrate’ do you mean drinking out of your special June 16th coffee mug?
Jeff: Come on.  I want to see how many of them get it.
Me: You mean without Googling it?  You have to specify because the internet is full of shameless cheaters. And porn.
Jeff: Ask them how you get Gorgonzola stains out of a t-shirt.
Me: With lemon soap.  HaHa!  See, I can play this game too.
Jeff: You haven’t read the book.
Me: Go away.

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Having decided to go for an agent first…. Wait, are you guys all reminiscing about bookstores? And libraries?

Ok, forget agents for a bit.

Seward Elementary had the first library that I remember. It was half-hidden between the cafeteria and the gym, its doors tucked into little alcoves . Open them up, and there was this high-ceilinged room crammed with books. That set a precedent for me- books are only properly stored when they are densely packed into old, almost secret rooms.

The public library in near by Winnebago used to be in the Town Hall. An old building that squatted on the half-deserted main street of my little mid-western town. I would walk past bricked over windows and through an unmarked door into a dim, open space. Straight ahead of me, on the old stage, was the library. Shelves and shelves of books, like frozen actors waiting for me to read their lines.

My bookstores and libraries got boring as I got older. Not that I didn’t love hitting the Waldenbooks in the mall, birthday money tight in hand, or wandering through the nicely lit stacks of the new Winnebago Public library that finally got built. But they just didn’t fit my dreams of a proper book labyrinth.

Then I went off to college.

In campus town there used to be a place called Acres of Books. That name promises so much, doesn’t it? The street level shop was a little thing, crammed full of new books and novelties. And stairs. Stairs that led up to the old apartments over the store, bedrooms and living rooms and kitchens that had been transformed into a warren of rooms lined with book shelves. The SF and fantasy section had been an old den once, with a fireplace and wood paneling. It looked like something out of Scooby-Doo, and it was great.

Great, but not perfect. No, the gold-standard of book castles was just a few blocks away.

The stacks.

The University of Illinois has libraries scattered around the campus- the little paper-backed stuffed rooms hidden beneath the dorms (guess where I worked as an undergrad),  the underground undergrad (long story), and on and on. The big one, though, is the graduate library, a brick monster that sits in the middle of the campus. Its public spaces are big rooms with painted murals and high ceilings, and huge halls that lead to all the department libraries with their separate collections. In its center though, hidden behind the bulwark of the main desk, is the stacks.

Oh the stacks- dimly lit, narrow corridors that thread through millions of books. Tight, winding stairs. Cages that line the sides, occasionally containing a professor or a forgotten grad student. Dusty windows that look out onto mysterious, inaccessible courtyards.  Frosted glass floors, lights glowing softly beneath. The ancient pneumatic tubes. Q-bound books big enough to kill you if they slipped from their shelves as you wandered by.

That, my friends, is how it’s done.

When I moved back to Urbana-Champaign, the stacks were one of the first places I went, just to pay my respects. That building, that giant, dusty catacomb of books, is the hidden heart of this community.

Which means it is a proper library.





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There’s just something about your first time

Oddly enough, I don’t really remember my first time in a book store. You’d think that would be a momentous occasion for me–I grew up in the country without a lot of money, so a trip to someplace that was big enough to have a bookstore should have made an impression on me. But it didn’t.

Actually, that’s a lie. I have great memories about Library Limited in St. Louis. I’m not sure it exists anymore, and I’m sure it wasn’t the first bookstore I was ever in, but I spent hours there during college. Instead of plain sections marked off by different shelves, their sections were in different rooms. Here’s the mystery room. Here’s the horror nook. Upstairs is the fantasy niche. They played classical music. It was a fabulous bookstore.

But when I think of that “oh wow look at all the books” moment, I think about the Carrollton library. Like I said, I grew up in the country, but a few weeks before my 10th birthday we moved to town. Now, this wasn’t a huge adjustment–the place only had 2500 people–but what did change for me was accessibility. I could play at my friend’s houses, walk to school, and that summer I got my first library card. I don’t remember what the card looked like–frankly, I’m not sure once I got my card I needed it to check out books. Sally Smith was the head librarian and she ran that place with a tight efficiency.  No one would dare try to check out a book if they didn’t have a card. She would know. She would know even if she weren’t at work that day.

Once school got out for the summer my cousin drove me to the library, and pushing open the swinging doors for the first time was amazing. Up to that point I had only had access to the school library, which had a two-book minimum and limited options. Once I signed my name and got my card I picked out ten books. I remember that exactly. Ten books. I struggled to put them on the counter and waited to be checked out.

Sally: You do realize, don’t you Kelly, that you don’t get to keep these books?

Me: Yes, Ma’am.

Sally: And you realize they’re due in two weeks?

Me: Yes, Ma’am.

Sally: And if you don’t bring them back you have to pay a fine on each book?

Me: Yes Ma’am.

Sally. Okay.

She stamped the due date on all the books, the whole time giving me a skeptical look. I was a scruffy kid that she’d never laid eyes on before; I’m sure she thought she’d never see any of those books again. I brought them back the next week. I rode my blue bike with tassels on the handlebars and a basket on the front to do it. What books didn’t fit in the basket I balanced on my thigh, holding them steady with one hand while steering with the other.

Sally: You read all these books?

Me: Yes, Ma’am.

Sally: You know where the rest are at.

When I put ten new books on the counter, she smiled at me. Over the years we became friends as only a librarian can with their patrons they know well. She’s point out books I’d like, hold a new release back for me, suggest that I help a younger kid learn to love reading. One summer she gave me a job. My parents were instrumental in instilling my love of reading, but the librarian in my hometown did her part to cement that love into my bones.


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My first big bookstore

Jaleigh’s post yesterday reminded me about my first big bookstore, the Bookstop in downtown Houston.

Before it opened in the mid/late 80s, we had a small bookstore in a nearby strip mall, and Waldenbooks and B. Dalton at the mall. The Bookstop, built in a former 1939 Art Deco movie theater, with the seats replaced by bookshelves so the whole thing was sloped downward towards one end, was huge in comparison. My brother and I loved browsing the science fiction section, which our small local store didn’t have much of.

Bookstop, by Susan Batterman on flickr
The newsstand is in front of the screen. Credit: Susan Batterman on flickr

I had to google the store to remember the name, and learned that it closed in 2009 after about 25 years, and reopened as a larger Barnes & Noble in a different location.

I commented yesterday that bookstores will probably always be around, but smaller. Our Borders closed (the building is now a liquor store), so we have a B&N and a used book store downtown. Possibly a few other smaller used book stores that I don’t know about.

Of course, since most of the books I buy these days are ebooks, from stores with larger selections than I could have imagined back then, I shouldn’t complain too much. I want bookstores to stick around for browsing, writing in the coffee shop, and so I can see a book with my name on it on the shelf someday. But I don’t actually buy books there anywhere near as much as I used to. The girl who went to the movie theater bookstore for the first time would be shocked.


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This is a whole good news/bad news post.  The good news is that my first novel, The Howling Delve, is coming to e-readers for the first time on August 28th of this year.  This makes me happy because the novel has been out of print for some time, so it will be nice to see it available again.

The bad news? The paperback versions of Unbroken Chain and Mistshore are going out of print, so pretty much all my novels (with the exception of Mistshore in the Waterdeep omnibus) will only be available in ebook format.  My forthcoming novel, Spider and Stone, will also be an ebook-only release.

It makes sense in a lot of ways.  Print publishing is suffering, and ebooks and e-readers are popular.  I know all of this in my head.

In my heart, though, I’m remembering the first time I got to hold a copy of The Howling Delve in my hands, flip through the pages, inhale the book scent, and think to myself, holy crap, I wrote all of these words!  Look at the pretty words!  Picturing that scene with my Nook just doesn’t have the same sparkle.

I’m going to miss the sparkle.

So, for the folks who’ve asked me how I feel about ebooks and print books and the future of publishing, I’ll say that I don’t know what the future holds, but I (desperately) wish we could have print and electronic, and it would break my heart to lose the brick-and-mortar stores because some of my best memories happened at or near a bookstore.  On my first date with Tim, we ended up outside Borders drinking coffee.  I sucked all the oxygen out of a bookstore the first time I saw The Howling Delve on the shelf.  Bookstores are my comfort spaces.

Still, whether they are ink on a page or text on a screen, the words will still be pretty.

Unless you see some that aren’t.  Just ignore those.


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And now…

Let us celebrate the successful launch of our new blog in the only way appropriate.

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A con friend of mine–not the prison kind, the convention kind–just had her book come out!

Nightshifted is an urban fantasy by Cassie Alexander. It’s about a nurse, Edie Spence,  who just started working the night shift at Y4– the secret ward hidden below County Hospital where the patients are different. And as one might imagine, when your patient panel is full of vampires, werwolves and zombies, life can get very complicated, very fast.

It’s a great debut novel, and being a RN herself, Cassie’s descriptions of the medical procedures didn’t make my physician wife roll her eyes. So if you would like a little Grey’s Anatomy mixed in with your urban fantasy, check it out.

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by | June 15, 2012 · 11:44 am