2015 in review

My friend and colleague Allie Drennan wrote up a post like this, and it got me to thinking. A lot of people have been talking about the year 2015 in qualitative ways, and for me… well, 2015 was nothing if not full of extremes.

The beginning of the year was grim, with me missing out on our family’s vacation in Whistler, BC. Being home alone for a week offered me a chance to write, but it also left me bumping around a house that had no laughing child and no smiling husband. The only good thing was my story “The Gaijin & The Butterfly” was published by Oriental Excess.

Later, in March, I got to go to Norwescon and take the panels seriously. Three fourths of my writers group were there with me, and we were organized. One of my writers group, James, even introduced me to an excellent writing opportunity. I was flying high and feeling invincible.

So, when I lost my job in April, you can imagine my surprise. I wandered in the weeds as I tried to find a job, only to be roundly neglected by everyone I applied with. Finally, it came down to a harsh truth. I had capped out on what I could do on paper, and if I ever wanted to get out of call centers, I was going to have to go back to school.

I published my book Bento Box in all of this excitement, and tried to learn more about the marketing side of writing. I wrote a short story, “Bits & Pieces,” and it was published by Luna Station.

I then took my planned trip to Wyoming. When I came back home, it was a matter of days before both Toby and I went to school.

School hit me like a load of bricks. I was a good student, but I wasn’t anticipating the amount of work it would be to do school. I fell behind in my classes a little and struggled to catch up. The last time I was in school, I didn’t have as many responsibilities as I have now. I still managed to churn out thirteen short stories over the course of the year. One is submitted to a contest, one is submitted to an anthology, and the rest are in stages of doneness before I figure out where to submit them.

A little ray of sunshine hit after I registered for winter quarter. Turns out, I had more credits from going to college as a high school senior than I thought I did. It was a bright spot in a month full of flooding and replacing our floors.

I passed my classes, which is probably better than I deserved after floundering as hard as I did. I learned a lot though, some directly from my classes and more indirectly.

The most important thing that I learned from 2015 is that I got comfortable. I stopped striving. I didn’t push my body; I didn’t push my mind. I just accepted that life was going to be as it was, and I was okay with that. As soon as I got to that point of acceptance, life turned a huge corner and my life shook down to its foundations. Now that I am striving for something again, things are going in the right direction, and while it’s hard, it’s good.

I also learned that if you have a small, dedicated group of people on your side, working towards similar goals and willing to trade help for help, you can get so much farther in life than trying to go it on your own. Support is vital to success, and the more support you have, the better off you are.

I learned a hard lesson this year. I also had Allie, who has been with me through this whole rough year, cheering me on and keeping me focused on the prize. We’ve been friends for over a decade but our friendship was strengthened this year quite a bit. We have plans to publish more stories, and to get our names out there. It’s good to have a shared dream; no one motivates you more than the person who is just as invested as you in the goal.

And now, on to 2016, and the challenges that await.

Milestones

After publishing my first book, I looked back and realized how much work went into it. Writing a novel is a long journey. What I didn’t realize is that to get from rough draft to finished work isn’t one leap, but a series of many steps.

For my second book, my husband suggested that I use milestones as a way to break up the long stretches.  Breaking a book down into its parts gives a much better scope of the deed. I didn’t agree with him immediately, but after finding a free project management software, I soon realized how much more I accomplished than I realized.

First, there’s pre-writing. Which is when a writer starts cooking up an idea for a book. Even pantsers (those who fly by the seat of their pants, rather than plot things out on paper) will start developing thoughts about their work before they put pen to paper. Next, there’s a rough draft, which is where the major story is fleshed out. Then, there’s editing the rough draft, which is a different depth of attention than what will be called for in later drafts. There can be an unlimited amount of drafts but generally around three to five is standard for practiced writers.

Let us not forget the humble chapter, which has become my default milestone. Finishing a chapter is generally only finishing a sliver of a novel, but there are definitive earmarks and a sense of completion when a chapter is done, which makes it a great place to checkbox.

I just finished the third draft of Bento Box. It has undergone major adaptations from the rough draft, including professional developmental editing. It’s now ready for a copy editor and then into formatting for sale.

I’m really excited. It’s been two and a half years in the making. I would work a full day at my job, come home, and work a few hours a night on my novel. It’s my best story yet, something that was fun even from the little short story I noodled up one day.

I think it’s safe to say that by June, Bento Box will be available!

The Saga of the Editor Search, Part 2

…continued from previous post

Unexpected Turn

When I sent my inquiry letter to my referral of a referral of a referral of a referral, I knew things were getting out of hand. I had solid leads. An editor from Seattle asked for 2 chapters. I had a ballpark estimate from Tammy. Then, I got another suggestion. Leigh came in towards the end of my search, recommended by a fellow writer IIRC. She was local, and in a fun turn of events, had taught a class I’d attended a couple of years prior… an editing class, as it were. I remember thinking that I’d be excited to have her as an editor. I didn’t want to let that be the reason I decided to do it, though. I sent her an inquiry letter, like everyone else.

She got back to me relatively quickly, and wanted to meet by the end of the week. I thought, that was a good argument for a local editor. You can have face-to-face meetings when it mattered. We met and exchanged pleasantries. Then we got down to cases. She was professional. She was focused. She edited speculative fiction. Her rates are per hour, and she said it wouldn’t exceed 30 hours to do what I was asking. At it’s most expensive, she came in about $100 more for the project than Tammy, but what that $100 gets me is face to face meetings, an opportunity to ask questions after her report, and a speculative fiction editor.

When I asked Tammy if she edited speculative fiction, she answered, “Not often.. but isn’t that better, that I can ask questions that a genre editor wouldn’t even consider?”

My personal answer to that question is no. It is the voice of experience; it was purchased at the expense of $400 and a trunk novel that will probably not see the light of day.

When I went out to coffee with Leigh, I had a vibe that I could work with her, that she would be tough on me but only to improve my novel.

 

Conclusions

I believe I summed up my experience to a fellow writer nicely when I said, “I can’t believe I’m going to pay this woman a grand to tell me how much my novel sucks.”

Yes, I do struggle with feeling like I am throwing good money after bad. Despite the fact that I learned a lot and seriously improved my writing with my initial experience with a professional editor, because that novel isn’t online, bringing in revenue, it feels… well, like a failure. Doubtless there are several optimists out there who would argue that it’s not a failure if it got me to publish my third novel. When my third novel is up online, perhaps I will feel differently.

I’m also paying *more* than the first time… but developmental editing is expensive. Having price shopped around, I would definitely say what I’m paying is industry average. Not long after signing with Leigh, I found an article that talked about “What does it cost to self-publish?” Four authors were asked, and the only one who paid a significant amount on editing is the only one I’d heard of.

When I asked my husband what he thought of paying this much for editing my book, his answer was, “Well, do you want to be a writer, or do you need to be a writer?”

Lastly, I’ll just say that there are other ways to do this – other ways to get editing, other ways to get your book published. I’m just sharing what I went through because I had to make sense of my experience anyway, may as well share it too.

Full Disclosure – The Saga of the Editor Search

Writing a book is hard. First you slug through a rough draft, then you give it to beta readers, and see what they say. Then you (hopefully) find a writer’s group, and give your New And Improved draft a roll. But now who do you give it to? You’ve reached the end of your resources. And you know the book isn’t the best it can be.

Chances are, if you’re avid about your manuscript becoming a book, you’ve read about editors. You know that you need one, but you’re not sure why. What do editors do? How do they do it? The rest seems shrouded in mystery.

I jumped into the pool, head first, looking penetrate the mystery surrounding editors. I found out that there are multiple kinds of editing, generally from the broad demands of the developmental editor, to the fine detail work of a proofreader. For my purposes, I felt that a full blown developmental edit was what I needed. I’m going to share with you what I experienced.

 

The Backstory

I worked with an editor for Best Served Cold, my first ‘trunk’ novel. I met her through her husband, who was my co-worker. She taught me a lot about how to improve my writing, and we enjoyed a good relationship during the course of the project. However, her specialty for editing was memoirs, which I didn’t think to ask and she didn’t think to mention. She did a great job editing my urban fantasy, but there were things she absolutely did not understand because she wasn’t a fan of the genre. When it came time for me to decide what to do for a developmental editor the next time, I decided I would shop around and find someone who was better suited towards my stories.

 

The Search

My previous editor essentially fell in my lap. I didn’t expect lightning to strike twice, so I had to go out and hunt. Where to look? Lots of people have websites, but that’s definitely a needle in a haystack mentality. My search started with LinkedIn, unexpectedly. I received an email from them about something unrelated, but I thought to myself, “Of course!”

I emailed a developmental editor from San Francisco. Tammy had it all. A website, a great LinkedIn profile, I was excited. I emailed two more editors as well.

Nothing.

Crickets.

I went to another website, the Pacific Northwest Editors Guild. (Which, is a great resource, by the way.) I emailed three people off of that.

Nothing.

I went to a website called Thumbtack, and put in a request. (I do not recommend Thumbtack, and you’ll find out why in a minute.)

And then, Tammy wrote me back! She was professional and well spoken and I liked her immediately. I started talking to her about my book. Which lead to…

The Money and the Manuscript

Tammy and I had a long conversation over email. She wanted to know what I was looking for, and then she dropped the hammer. Edits would cost $3,000!

My heart sank. I think I may have even felt dizzy. I certainly felt overwhelmed. How did other indie authors do it?

I sent Tammy my first chapter. She saw that my book wasn’t in too bad of shape, and worked with me to reduce the cost of her estimate. She was planning to do my book soup-to-nuts, from developmental edit through proofreads. She scaled way back, and kindly offered to do my job for $1000. It was twice as much as I budgeted, but a third of her original offer. I thought we could work a deal.

Meanwhile, I was suddenly inundated with replies! Jordan emailed me back, to tell me his schedule was full until July, and he would charge $1400. Another editor emailed me back to introduce herself and ask for a sample chapter. I discovered the Thumbtack website had offers, all of which routed to an email address I forgot to check. I had five offers from Thumbtack, and the first one began with, “Dear Tona,” which helped me determine the quality of the website. The rates for the editors were posted hourly and $10 cheaper than the other editors I had talked to, but there were obvious reasons why. Another editor said that he sent writers to Hollywood. It was snake oil and smoke. I was not sorry to abandon that attempt.

I asked my ex-editor if she had any references. She told me to try the college. I emailed the college, and Samantha emailed me in response. She told me she edited books for $500, but she was not a genre fiction editor. Privately I had a good cry, but I soldiered on.

..to be continued…

Where’d the microfiction go?

Currently, I’m working on several projects. Projects are lovely, because they allow you to be creative in many ways at once. They are also soul-sucking, energy-draining anxiety machines, and the worst part is you know that accepting them was your idea.

Here’s my current project list –

Whatcom Writes – I am writing a short story of approx. 5000 words for a book that will celebrate local authors. All proceeds will go to Northwest Youth, a charity dedicated to helping at risk youth. The piece I’m writing is called “Nitpix,” and it’s an urban fantasy about three teenagers on their way to a huge summer concert and getting into a car accident in the middle of nowhere.

Tokyo Yakuza – This project is a Kickstarter project, and I’m a contributing author. The year is 2020, Tokyo is hosting the Olympics, and in an alternate history, the Yakuza are an authority to themselves. My piece is called “The Gaijin and the Butterfly,” and is about a half-Japanese, half white soldier whose daughter has been kidnapped by the Yakuza, and he intends to get her back.

Bento Box – A novel about identity that brings gender confusion to a whole new height. Set in Seattle in the year 2291, a young con artist is forced to use her skills at identity theft to bring in a vigilante who has targeted her boss. She never expected that she’d have to take the vigilante’s place!

I’m still working on the synopsis, but I’m still working on the story so they’re both in development. I’m editing my work, and I have an editor that I will pass the story off to, with luck in January. Writing a book is slow work since I have a full time day job, but I’m enjoying the hell out of this story and can’t wait to share it with people!

Bastions of Earth – A working title for a story still in pre-production. It’s written in the same universe as Bento, but this is the story of a colony world learning how to manage with old prejudices and new soil.

The Adventures of Locke Kiger – a serial adventure set in the same world as The Corsican. This will consist of swashbucklin’ adventures in space.

The Guide to a Happier LifeWherein Tina tries her hand at editing a novel. Probably not before January 2015.

 

So, if anyone’s been wondering where I got off to or why I don’t post little microfictions anymore, it’s due to my prodigious workload. I’m not going anywhere, I just haven’t had the chance to show my blog any love lately.

Return

Sunrise

Well, I’m back.

First, thank you for all of you who enjoyed my microfiction experiment. I’m definitely doing more microfiction in the future. However, it takes a lot even to create a little fiction short like I was, and coming up with many tiny ideas proved to be a lot more work than expected. It’s kind of like getting a kitten. No one ever imagines how much energy and time a tiny warm ball of fuzz is going to take up, until you get one.

And I was getting a kitten a week.

Finally I had to accept that if I was going to put out bigger pieces of fiction, I had to set aside my diversion. It would be nice to say that I could just turn 180 degrees from a short piece to a long piece, but each piece takes up a slice of consciousness, and they all dig in equally as hard. That’s why I haven’t been blogging for weeks now. I just could not bring myself to produce.

Wonderful things have been happening beyond the blogosphere, however. I have found myself in a small, elite cadre of women writers, and we are critiquing each other’s work. Having found an echo chamber, let me tell you how priceless it is. I have been in four local writer’s groups, and each one was more dismal than the last. One almost seemed like a fit, but at the end of the day, I am an elitist snob and they weren’t up to my unreasonable standards.

Now, I’m surrounded by like minded, brutal, hungry writers, and I’m loving it. They challenge me, they provide me with awesome, useful feedback, and we all share what we’ve learned about the industry.

The most validating moment for this month happened after this month’s writing group meeting. A gentleman came out for a cigarette. The space we’d overtaken was apparently the smoke break area for several nearby restaurants. We tried to give him space while still enjoying the last lingering moments of our group session. When we started our goodbyes, the guy introduced himself as Sam Hill. We all had our laughs, which he was good-natured about. He then admitted he was a writer too. He told us he thought we had some really great ideas that he found helpful even as he eavesdropped. Our group had it’s first follower. It was magic.

I’ve also been duel wielding a novel and a serial, which would work better if I had more time. I’m laying fresh word count for Tin Can Sailors, and editing my rough draft of Bento Box. It’s hard to sharecrop two incredible stories, but one is for a publisher who wants my stuff done by this winter, and the other is getting bumped because it is deadline free.

I now understand how it takes George R.R. Martin so long to get a frigging book out. Of course, if I had a TV deal, I’d have more excuses to be so late, but the year isn’t over yet.

microfiction

Image

“Sir.” Tayaka walked in without knocking. “It’s time.”

The older man looked up. His hair was as white as a dove’s wing, thick and soft and styled perfectly. The noise he made hearing the announcement seemed frozen between derision and disbelief. “What do you mean?”

He speared Tayaka with a look indicating that anything less than the birth of the Eraba Rata would be rewarded with execution.

Today, Tayaka would live. “Mantambie delivered him in the village.”

A snowy eyebrow arched. “You’re certain?”

Tayaka was no fool. “Sir, I verified the pedigree.”

Kenoi nodded approvingly. “Wait a week before making the offer. Let the difficulty of their position hit home. The process will flow more smoothly.”

Tayaka nodded. He did not bother to mention that the paperwork was ready, and that the offer had been designed by Kenoi over six years ago. Preparation was key, and there was nothing more powerful than paper, save the pen that would sign it.

A week later, Tayaka found himself in the slums of Laterre, a village filled with noise and dirt and desperation. The people flowed together, too busy with their personal complaints to notice that they were rubbing shoulders with different colors, different creeds. Everything receded to the needs demanding to be met. Food, clothing, clean water, everyone required them, but only those who deserved them would earn them.

Tayaka knocked on the door, flanked by two large men whose names he mistook.

The bolt slid back, allowing those inside to see who knocked. “Hello?”

Tayaka spoke. “Mr. and Mrs. Daisuke?”

“We can’t talk. We have a new child, and…” Mr. Daisuke spoke with the voice filled with exhaustion and excuse.

“That is exactly what I am here about.” Tayaka said, with his perfect hair and salesman smile. “I would like to make you an offer that no other can have.”

Mr. Daisuke was too tired to consider the problems with his approach. He opened the door and blinked in surprise when he saw not one, but three Hideaki standing on his doorstep.

“What is happening?” Mrs. Daisuke asked, warily, from the other room. She held a sleeping child to her bosom.

“Please, allow me to explain.” Tayaka said, briskly. “See, it seems you have given birth to Eraba Rata, the Chosen One.”

The look Mrs. Daisuke gave her son was pure delight mixed with hope, but Mr. Daisuke looked terrified and sad. A practical man.

“You understand, the Eraba Rata is such an important resource..” Tayaka trailed off dramatically. “I can’t leave him here, when we can offer him such a better life.”

Mr. Daisuke looked relieved, but Mrs. Daisuke looked horrified. She blurted, “He is meant to stop the likes of you!”

Tayaka wore a hurt expression. “We are offering you a chance to save your son, Mrs. Daisuke. We know where you live. Do you think it would be better for us to see your son as an asset, or as a threat?”