Sunday, August 23, 2015

Why I Wanted an Agent

Following up on my previous post announcing I had signed with an agent, I wanted to explain why I decided to go the agent route.  This is a question a lot of beginning writers struggle with, including myself, and I don't think it gets addressed enough.

I know over the past 18 months I certainly read everything I could find, and there wasn't a whole lot out there. A lot of people seem to assume an agent is a necessary part of the publication process, and some people reject the whole system and want to make it work on their own.

Neither of these positions is wrong--it all depends on the individual temperament and talent of the writer in question. Context is key here. So is making a knowledgeable decision.

It seems to me that the basic problem with these two possibilities--and one of the reasons writers going through the submissions process can wind up feeling simultaneously defeated, confused, and disgruntled--is that a lot of the literature out there in books and online confidently positions these two paths as mutually exclusive.

But they're not, at least not necessarily, and certainly not in the beginning.

My plan of attack was agents first, then direct to editors/publishers second, and self-publication third. Not because this last was the least or worst option, but because the first and second were the better options for me.


Because I want someone experienced in the industry who will go to bat for me and knows her way around contracts; I want an experienced editor who can tell me what's not working in my book so I can fix it; I want a copy editor to go through my manuscript and check for continuity errors, make sure my worldbuilding is consistent, and ensure I haven't made some glaring science error that will make me look idiotic in print; I want an art department who will commission a professional artist to create a cover image, and place that original artwork within the collage of other items that make up a great cover; I want a marketing budget, however small it may be for a first-time author, and marketers who understand their industry, who know where to send ARCs, where to place ad-buys, where and when and whom to target.

And, let's be honest, I want the credibility conferred by a publisher's stamp on the spine of my books. We all have our favorite publishers, and we all know when we see their mark on the spine of a book that we're looking at quality work. I want readers to have that same confidence when they seem my book on the shelf.

Now let's be honest: I can do all of these things myself, or hire someone freelance to do them for me--except for that last one.  This is the argument many people make in favor of self-publication, and they're not wrong--I can do all those things.  And you can find examples of writers who have successfully done them, and no doubt every year a few more will make it work.  This is wonderful: it's good for readers, it's good for the writers in question, and it's good for the industry as a whole.

But it's also not for everyone.  For one thing, doing all those tasks is a lot of work. Hours and hours and hours. Plus it's a significant financial investment. If you want quality and credibility, there's always going to be an associated cost. Some clever people find ways to get around the financial cost, but it still takes time.  And time is what I don't have.

I have a six month old son. I have a full time job. I have a part-time job. After 7 years teaching university courses, I am also returning to graduate school as a full time student. And I'm working on revising one manuscript and drafting a new project.

I don't have time to be agent, editor, copy editor, artist, art director, marketer, and publisher on top of all those other hats I'm wearing. Even if I did have time to do all those things, there's an additional reason why I wouldn't want to: I'm not experienced at them. I'm sure I could learn the ropes as I went along, and several years from now might even know some valuable things.

Experience is a wonderful teacher.

But in the meantime, while I gain that experience, the books I want to share with readers now might very well be languishing due to my own incompetence or inexperience at any of the above roles I'm forcing myself to fill. And it only takes one misstep to doom a book; the chain of publication is only as strong as its weakest link.

So yes, I want that chain to be strong. I want to stand on the shoulders of giants.

And I want to preserve my sanity.

That's why I wanted an agent.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

That Big News

Yesterday, I promised that I would be able to share big news soon.

It arrived sooner than I expected, and I am able to share it today.

I have signed with an agent!

And not just any agent: I've signed with Julie Crisp, former editorial director at Pan Macmillan’s Tor imprint.  She's worked with some of the best in the business, including Ann Cleeves, Peter F. Hamilton, China Mieville, and Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Here's the official press release, via The Bookseller.

The manuscript she's representing at the moment is At Close of Day, a near-future crossover thriller that "explores the lengths that society will go to in order to find a cure for humanity’s greatest threat – death."

That's the short version. The slightly longer explanation is that ACoD involves neuroscience, hacking, artificial intelligence, cyber warfare, a scientist on the run for her life, and online gaming, and it was inspired by the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

I'm thrilled to be working with Julie on bringing this exciting project to the public. Her editorial background working with some of the biggest names in genre means a tremendous opportunity to bring the best possible book to readers everywhere.

I can't wait to be able to share this with you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


A quick note to say that there's big news on the writing front, but I can't explain any more than that right now.  I really really want to, and it's really really exciting--I'm just waiting on all the ink to dry, so look for that announcement soon.

Other news, which I can share, is that I'm working on a new YA manuscript. I don't want to give too much away, but I'll say that it's set in a recognizable, not-too-distant future and explores the question of how society adapts as our megacities drown in rising sea waters. There's drugs and black market organs and sex slavery and spearguns, among other things.

I can't wait to be able to share more on this one, but it's still working itself out on the page.

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 4, 2014

My Writing Process (Blog Tour)

I was invited to this blog tour by friend and and writer of wonders Chris Kammerud (@cuvols).  For a good introduction to his work, check out his short story The Blue Wonder published in Strange Horizons.

In turn, I'm inviting Kaitlyn Sage Patterson (@ksagepatterson) and L. A. Whitehead.

1) What are you working on?

At the moment, I'm preparing the second draft of a near-future science fiction novel. The plan is to begin submitting it soon.  Previously (in April), I started a sequel to a young adult novel I've written, but I couldn't get any traction on it and life is looming, so I'm taking the more practical path of polishing what I have and seeing what I can do with it before I tackle a (fourth) new book.

2) How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?

This is an interesting question, because it's not something I've really concerned myself with before.  To date, I've finished three complete novels, the second of which I've submitted and the third I'm currently working on for submissions.  The first novel, an epic fantasy, will be rewritten at a later date.  It explores issues of sex and race in ways that a lot of fantasy ignores, and women--whom much of fantasy under-represents--are the fulcrum points around which the novel operates.

The other thing this novel does differently is it largely eschews the Euro-centric world of fantasy and uses geography, plants, animals, cultural mores, and more from the pre and post-contact Americas.  The other two books are a young adult historical fantasy, set in Iceland in 1898, and a near future sci-fi thriller, set in the 2030s.  The Icelandic book asks what cost we're willing to pay for progress, and in some way this theme is echoed in the sci-fi novel: that book asks what we would be willing to sacrifice in order to end death.  These themes are perhaps not so different from some other work in the genre, which is where my settings (Iceland, 1898; France and New Zealand, 2034) and characters (black, female researcher; elderly, Jewish widow; unschooled crofter enrolled in an exclusive private school) take precedent.  There are also a lot of issues of class and social order, because for better or worse these are hugely important ways that others judge us, and unfortunately by which many of us judge ourselves.  Which leads to...

3) Why do you write what you do?

I write what I find interesting on a conceptual level and moving on an emotional level. I like characters with complex motivations who have to make hard choices, between a wrong and a lesser wrong, and then have to live with the consequences--because not only is this more compelling in fiction, but it's more true to the lives we all face.  Granted, in fiction those choices are often more dire, or have larger consequences, but rarely do we ever face important decisions where the "right" answer is clear and the results from choosing it positive and immediate.  I'm also interested in lesser heard voices: women, minorities, children, indigenous peoples... I have occasionally (and shamelessly) borrowed myths and legends from non-Biblical, non-Greco/Roman, non-Nordic traditions simply because those are overly represented and overly familiar in Western tradition, whereas there remains a vast sea of under-explored, under-appreciated treasures from the many peoples of the world.

As an avid traveler for the past decade, I've become very interested in food and drink and architecture and culture that is unfamiliar to me.  It's frequently assumed that such explorations represent an exoticization or orientalization of other cultures, but I think this is an easy label and can be a misguided one.  It's not the "other" that is fascinating, it's our shared humanness; in new arts and musics and foods and beliefs we may see strangeness, it is true, but it only seems strange when in those other people we also see ourselves.  This is not always the case, but by focusing on characters who love and hurt and despair and laugh and everything else, we see not the painted mask but instead the beating heart.  This is my hope, anyway.

4) How does your writing process work?

I look at it as having 2 stages: generation and revision.  The first works best for me when it is 5-6 days a week in solid blocks of time: 3-5 hours.  Anything less, and I'm only just getting started; anything more, and my brain starts to feel mushy.  At that rate, uninterrupted, I can usually average 3,000 words a day of new matieral. Not all of it is good, however, so there's the second stage of revision.  This goes both more quickly and more slowly, because I like to do multiple drafts. Big picture, wholesale changes are an entirely different matter than line edits and original phrasing and tone and rhythm.  From experience, I know that if I try to do both, I'll overlook the forest for the trees: I'll focus on the lines, and the holistic problems with plot or character or something else will be forgotten.

So perhaps there are actually three stages: generation, revision, and editing.  When I have the chance to work full time, or near full time, steps two and three can each compliment step one, though not at the same time, because steps  two and three are very different processes than step one, and feel like they require different parts of the brain.  My eyes get tired before my brain does when editing, but it's the exact opposite when creating new content.

I'm not one of those people who has to have everything exact: the right chair, or right coffee, or right music, or whatever.  But it does help having a schedule.  Nothing keeps me from writing quite like having an uncertain and unreliable schedule; I need those blocks of time, I need the regularity and reliability--and it helps with motivation if I have someone waiting on me to produce something.  I like reading chapters to my wife at the end of writing days, because it is very useful hearing them aloud and it helps create a sense of expectation that keeps me from slacking off.  I shouldn't have to need that external pressure, but there it is anyway.  It definitely helps keep me on track.

For further insights into the writing process, check out

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Reading Update 07 June 2014

A few words on the 13 books I've finished since my last update.

The Enchantress by Michael Scott
This was a fun, light ending to a fun, light series. I was satisfied with how the six-book saga wound up. If you liked the previous books, you'll like this one.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
I liked this book a lot.  It's not quite as impactful as the first, as the novelty has worn off and we're clearly being guided toward a third book, but it is just as tense and gloomy and dark as the first, and I'm eagerly awaiting the third.

This is a bowdlerized version of a longer autobiography, pared down for children to read.  It's simple but harrowing.

Find Me by Romily Bernard
This is a good, fast-paced YA hacker novel with a great female protagonist and several interesting plot lines.  I'm glad to know there will be follow-up starring Wick.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I would have liked this book better if I hadn't had such high expectations from it being the *it* book a couple summers ago.  As it was, I liked the book, but not until about halfway through when the slightly predictable plot twist occurs.  A very fun read with complex characters.

This was a great exploration of PTSD from the point of view of a child whose father is shipped off to fight in WWI.  Boyne captures the emotional swings of an entire family to show us the real costs of war without ever falling prey to sentimentality.

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner
This was a disappointing book, especially because I so enjoyed his first series, the Maze Runner trilogy.  I could never quite get into the story or the characters.

This was a fun middle grade retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story, from his perspective.  Don't expect anything like the book Wicked, but it's easy to fall into this story.

More Than This by Patrick Ness
This was an excellent book: tense, with complex, moving characters, and a compelling plot line. I recommend this book.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
If, like me, you've been putting this one off because the uninspiring cover art or the so-so title, shame on us both.  This was a superb book, my favorite new read in a long while.  It's very dark, very tense, very bloody--and Lawrence somehow convinces us to care deeply about a despicable protagonist.  This book sucked me in like no other in the past few months.  Highly recommended.

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler
This is Handler doing what she does best: telling compromising stories with hilarity and her signature debonair disregard. A very funny book.

I've been a fan of Pollan for awhile now, but kept putting this book off, I'm sorry to say.  It's excellent, insightful, and should be required reading for everyone who eats food.  Presumably, that includes you..

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
The sequel to Prince of Thorns, this book was equally as tense and dark and compelling.  We keep a similar pattern--cutting back and forth between present and past storylines--all of which are gripping.  Jorg is a little softened here, his bravado tempered somewhat with pain and perhaps a little wisdom.  But he's still the Jorg who wrung out our sympathy and admiration and disgust in the first book. Also highly recommended.

Until next time,

Happy Reading

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Finished Reading - 22 April - Catching Up

Once again I let a little too much time lapse between updates.  I've been really busy with a new job, and haven't had as much time to read lately, so I've only got 10 books to show for the last 6 weeks.

As with my last catching up post, I'll offer short microreviews for each.

Lirael (The Abhorsen Trilogy) by Garth Nix.
This book, like the first in the trilogy, Sabriel, was a delight to read.  The world of these books feels so comfortable and real, as though you're visiting a place you once knew that has been lost to memory.  Lirael is a great book in its own right, but is not quite on par with the excellent Sabriel.  Still, I very much enjoyed it, and am looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.  I recommend this title.

Looking for Alaska by John Green
A great book.  I didn't expect to like it as much as I did, particularly after reading The Fault in Our Stars (who could top that book?), but John Green is a master at facing head-on the darkness that a lot of teens experience, and he does it in a way that is honest and unforgiving and completely genuine.  Highly recommended.

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive) by Brandon Sanderson
Another very good book that is slightly over-shadowed by its prequel. All the risky elements I loved about the first book in the series, The Way of Kings, are still here--interludes, interior artwork, very original and alien worldbuilding, and a scope that is beyond epic--and we still follow the same main characters from book one.  I liked that this book was more about Shallan, but Kaladin's storyline was not as interesting and the book's ending left me a little disappointed.  Still, this is a recommended title.

The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy
I picked up this book after reading a NYTimes Magazine article on the 87 year old author that really caught my fancy. I can see why the book is still a bestseller 50 years later, and it's mostly stood the test of time.  It actually reminded me a lot, in both pleasant and not so pleasant ways, of reading Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano.  I liked this book, but it did little else for me.

Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis
This book was fascinating in many ways, and I was happy to write a review of it for Strange Horizons. As I wrote there, this is part tongue-in-cheek noir detective story, part ontological examination of the foundations of reality, ever so slightly and amusingly absurd, and dripping with lush, weird descriptions.  It won't be for every reader, but some will find it as wonderful as I did.  I recommend this title.

The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma
I read this book because it was given to me by my new boss, who really likes Robin Sharma (he attends his retreats every year).  As I wrote in my Goodreads review, this book basically takes all the favorite tricks of pushy evangelists--saying your first name way too often, grandiose but vague promises, unnecessarily withholding "important" information that is the "key" to "unlocking" something, encouraging the status quo by telling people to always do their best no matter what their position in life is--and then combines it with very poor writing.  For even my low expectations, this was a very disappointing book.

Halftime: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance by Bob Buford
Another book given to me by my new boss.  Despite being outside both target audiences (businesspeople and Christians), I still found it interesting and engaging, with lots of useful lessons.  Buford is a good writer, and if he's only interested in a certain segment of the population, that's his prerogative. I ended up liking this book, despite its being heavy-handed.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Another book given to me by my new boss, and the best self-improvement book I've read. Carnegie clearly knows what he's talking about, and practices what he preaches. Plus his narrative approach is refreshing after the overload of superlatives and unlocked secrets found among contemporary writers of these types of books.  I recommend this title (and, as of this writing, it's only $2.99 on Kindle).

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The book that brought Asperger's syndrome into the mainstream when it was released back in 2004. This is a great book with an utterly convincing narrator, and his atypical observations and interpretations help us not only understand a little of what people with Asperger's go through, but they also help us see ourselves in surprising new ways.  Highly recommended.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Finished Reading 10 March 2014 - Catching Up

It's been a little while since I've updated my reading list, and in that time I've finished 16 more books.

To catch up I'll skip my usual short reviews and just give you links, a few words of description, and my rating.  Micro-reviews, in other words.

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 written and illustrated by David Petersen
Great artwork, a good story.  Like a darker, illustrated Brian Jacques. I enjoyed it, but wanted more story.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
The book that launched Doctorow's career as a novelist. Worth the praise it receives.  Highly enjoyable, quirky, sarcastic, satiric.  Joe Haldeman meets Robert J. Sawyer for the next generation.

Despair by Vladimir Nabokov, revised English edition
Not quite as brilliantly creepy as Lolita, but Nabokov's trademark lush, beautiful English is present.  Not a plot-driven story, but an exploration of character and self-delusion.  Engaging, but not captivating.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Smartly written YA book about a disfigured and often reviled boy, August. Just when I thought it was getting too much, Palacio wisely shifted gears and expanded the story with more viewpoints. Think Rudy goes to private school.

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
A great follow-up to The Lies of Locke Lamora, if not quite as tightly plotted as the first book. Locke and Jean take a meandering journey that somehow manages to always be fascinating and thrilling. Once again listened to the audio version, brilliantly narrated by the wonderful Michael Page.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Quiet and introspective, like Ishiguro's other novels.  I liked it, but wasn't head over heels like so many others. I suspect much of the buzz in the SFF community is because it's Ishiguro dipping into their backyard, not because the book itself is that great.  I preferred The Remains of the Day.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
My second foray into Discworld, after The Colour of Magic (which I previously reviewed here).  I liked this book better.  Reads much less like a Douglas Adams derivative, and Discworld feels more fully realized.  A really funny book.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Loved this book. Go read it now.  Seriously.

The City of Ember: Deluxe Edition by Jeanne DuPrau
A timeless tale.  Great use of archetypal characters and symbols, mixed with a very original idea of a damp, cool city mismanaged by corrupt politicians and surrounded by darkness.  And the lights are going out.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
A novel of poems describing a young girl's experience of fleeing the fall of Saigon and growing up a refugee in the American south.  Deep, moving, and a great use of form.

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
The damsel-in-distress tale is flipped in this plot-driven story which nonetheless manages some great characterization.  A cut above the second book, The Crown of Embers (which I previously reviewed here).  The last (and best) book in a very good trilogy.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett
A YA historical fantasy from Pratchett about a "tosher," a boy who makes a living collecting things that wash down into the Dickensian sewers of 19th C London.  Speaking of  Dickens, he makes an appearance, as does Sweeney Todd, Benjamin Disraeli, Robert Peel, and a host of other notable figures.  A very enjoyable, always fun adventure story.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
A surprisingly good addition to the over-saturated YA vampire market. Black provides a refreshing and interesting twist on vampire stories, though it does still fall into the YA female protagonist cliche of the girl fighting against her feelings for the bad boy.  Still, a very creepy book in the best of ways.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.
Very imaginative use of found photographs to craft a tense, scary story.  Loved the idea for form, and found the concept of "loops" and "peculiars" very fascinating.  The book got off to a slow start, and it wasn't until halfway through that the protagonist became interesting for me, but around that point the book fell into place and started really working.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver is in my opinion one of the greatest living American novelists, but she's often overlooked because her favorite themes of environmentalism and the quiet desperation of women's lives are themselves often overlooked.  This isn't her best book, but an average showing from Kingsolver is still a very good book by any metric.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Based on the true story of a gorilla who lived most of his life in an enclosure in the middle of a mall, and told from the gorilla's perspective, this short novel has a lot of heart. Recommended for young readers and adults alike.