Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Goals and Resolutions

2011 Goals and Resolutions

2011_goalsYep, it’s that time again to give myself ample opportunity to look back in one year’s time and beat myself up for completely missing my goals. So, in the spirit of knowing that I’ll most likely fail, I present my 2011 Goals and Resolutions.

To clarify a couple things: Goals are what I’m committing to. Resolutions is what I’m going to strive for. And note, by the time I publish this post, these may have gone out the window. I reserve the right to change them at any time.



  • Read 25 novels
  • Read 6 writing books
  • Publish 52 blog posts (I’ve written 100+ the last couple years so…)
  • Blogfests: Host one, participate in 12
  • Plan a 2nd draft of Dead Air.
  • Plan a revision of Dawn’s Rise
    The last two aren’t goals because I’m seriously questioning the marketability of these vs the amount of effort needed to fix them. But if I need a couple week “break” I might consider working on them
  • Keep participating in critique groups


  • Lose 20 lbs & stick with exercise plan, tendonitis willing
  • Watch way less TV
  • Take a family vacation
  • Keep on top of bills
  • Get the truck serviced
  • Avoid time-wasting distractions (like iPhone apps)


Writing Goals (To be completed by EOY)

  1. Publish Steam Palace (or exhaust all means).
    By “publish” I mean at least have someone express interest (have an offer).
  2. Acquire a literary agent.
    #1 is not necessarily contingent on this one.
  3. Complete the first draft of at least one of these:
    • The Immortals
      (I have 80K words already but I got stuck…need to outline whole novel and restart)
    • Girl World
      (I might write this as a script instead of a novel)
    • Steam Palace 2
      (I have the basic concept, need an outline)
  4. Completely new NaNoWriMo novel (unless contracted for paying work)
    This is in addition to goal #3 so my overall goal is 2 first drafts in 2011, one before and one during NaNo.
  5. Participate in 3 writing conferences and/or
    Participate in 3 writing workshops
  6. Create an “author web site” for myself

Writing Skill Goals

  • Deeper characters and POV
  • Faster revisions
  • Better villains (higher stakes, increased conflict)
  • More emotional content, more connection with the characters
  • Improve my critique skills (make people anticipate instead of dread my feedback)
  • “Stay Away From Toxic Relationships.” Oh wait…those make the best character conflicts. Nevermind.

There, is that enough? Pretty much all I really want to accomplish is Goal #1. Everything else would be nice but if I don’t publish Steam Palace (or have a lit agent I feel confident with) then I’m really going to have to reevaluate. And that’s not going to wait ‘til next December.

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010: My Year In Review

2010: My Year In Review

goodbye-2010-hello-2011There is one aspect of every job I’ve ever had that I hate the most: reviews. Whether once a year, twice a year, quarterly, weekly, heck—some places had daily “stand-up” meetings—they all had one thing in common: they were opportunities for me to see how poorly I was doing; a chance for me to browbeat myself into submission; and ultimately, of course, to be the avenue for my exit from those companies. Let me explain:




So why am I giving myself an annual review and posting it for the world to see? Why give myself an honest assessment of my successes and failures? I have no fucking clue. But here it goes.

Last years goals:


I want to know that this whole “writing career” thing is progressing…What I really want is to feel some measure of success by the End of the Year.
Before I answer this, let’s look at how I did vs. my other stated goals.

Resolutions (for reference, not for evaluation)

  1. Be a better father and husband. Spend more “quality time” with the family.
  2. Eat healthy and exercise. Get back to the gym and the pool.
  3. Stay focused on my writing and not get too distracted by blogging.
  4. Increase the amount of critiques I do.
  5. Clear all the clutter out of the house.
  6. Try to avoid disasters.

Goals (to be graded)

  1. Lose weight.
    RESULT: FAIL Actually gained ~5lbs this year
  2. Complete the current Steam Palace revision by April 1
    RESULT: MISS Completed Revision 2 on 6/22.
  3. Attract an agent and/or publisher for Steam Palace.
    RESULT: FAIL Made some contacts but have not actually queried.
  4. Get back into running (tendonitis permitting).
    RESULT: N/A, tendonitis as bad as ever :(
  5. Write a new book for NaNoWriMo.
    RESULT: SUCCESS Wrote Dead Air for NaNo. 55K words.
  6. Complete a draft of The Immortals.
    RESULT: FAIL Did nothing more than polish an excerpt for a blogfest.
  7. Go to at least one writer’s conference.
    RESULT: MISS Planned for Jan 20, 2011.
  8. Go to at least one convention where I can push my novel.
    RESULT: FAIL I kinda talked it up at
    Steamcon though.
  9. Take a vacation at some point.
    RESULT: FAIL Took a day off here and there.

Wow, that was humbling. I got almost nothing “done” except NaNoWriMo. Of course back then I had no idea that Steam Palace revisions would take all year. However, I do have a few achievements to note that were not on my official “goal” sheet:

  • 107 blog posts in 2010 with 2 more planned (including this one)
  • Stuck with exercise plan
  • Completed 3rd revision and am on 4th revision of Steam Palace
  • Created new story concept called “Girl World”
  • Created concept for Steam Palace 2
  • Did clean out a lot of the clutter mentioned in Resolutions
  • Participated in ~35 blogfests and hosted one
  • Wrote ~7 Flash Fiction pieces
  • Hosted Eastside Writers Meetup Group for most of the year
  • Actively participated in 4 in-person critique groups overall
  • Avoided disasters (so far knock knock)

And now to address the “Main Goal” mentioned above.

To be honest, I think I’ve progressed in a huge way. I am so much more in touch with story structure, characters, conflict, goals, emotions, scene structure, style, POV, critique, everything. It’s become much easier to recognize good writing and knowing where the writing is weak. That’s what drove me crazy about NaNoWriMo this year…the knowledge that I was writing crap. But as far as Steam Palace, I do feel like I’m on the verge of publication…or at least a lot of polite rejections. So while I don’t feel like I have “succeeded”, I do feel like I’ve done everything I’m supposed to be doing. I have a solid, well-written manuscript that will be done by Jan. 20, 2011 come hell or high water (or any number of disasters).

So if I was my own boss (which I am), I’d give myself an overall passing grade. I think this coming year will be the real test, when I put myself on the line and submit my story. More details about 2011 in my next post.

So aside from missing most of my goals (which I expect anyways since I know that my plan is flexible to take advantage of opportunities/adjust to setbacks) I think I‘m doing well.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Revision: Sharpening Characters

Revision: Sharpening Characters

sharpen charOn my never-ending quest to revise Steam Palace, I’ve come across a particular set of feedback across most reviewers:

  1. I don’t care (enough) about your character(s)
  2. I don’t understand your character(s)

So lately I’ve been researching the issue. It seems like it comes down to two separate problems:

  1. Overall, I’m not showing my characters’ goals and motivations clearly, and/or readers don’t relate.
  2. In specific scenes, not providing insight into my characters’ mindset.

So how do I address these issues? The first thing is to make my character’s motivations and goals not only clearer, but much stronger. As I write, I always have a sense of what each character is after. A lot of us want to start with “ordinary” characters who are facing somewhat “ordinary” problems. The problem come when we send these characters on an adventure. Why? What stops them from just going back home? Why do they continue to press through even when things get tough or even impossible? Why don’t they fold like a house of cards?

The fact is that they are anything but ordinary. Characters are driven. They are the people we see in real life and say, “man, I wish I could be that guy.” “Isn’t she awesome?” Or, alternately, “I wish someone would run over that dude.” Characters are Heroes, they are larger-than-life. They are extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

So how does this apply to character revision? Should I give my character laser eyes and shoot him into space? No. But there are a couple things to consider.

  1. What are the Stakes? Are they big enough? What happens if your character loses?
  2. Can you increase the stakes? Make them more personal? What would your character die for? Is this the most important thing the character has ever wanted ever?
  3. Are your characters’ goals well-defined? Do they know what they want? Do you? Is what they want worth dying over?
  4. Can the reader relate to the character’s needs? Are they good, solid goals?
  5. Does the character have a life outside of the story that the reader can relate to?
  6. Do other characters care about your character? Does your character care about the other characters? Let’s feel the love.

Note that this applies both to Heroes and Villains, except for #6 where you should replace ‘care about’ with ‘hate’.

Now this doesn’t address of connecting with characters on a page-by-page basis. Here are some things I’m going to work through:

  1. Keep the characters’ goals and opposition up-front on every page. Think of a kid trying to get to a bowl of candy. They have eyes for nothing else. You character wants something in every situation, and struggles to achieve that goal. It’s either the candy or a diaper-wetting tantrum (or however your character handles setbacks). And remember, the goal is never, “learn the backstory.”
  2. Filter the scene through the POV character. If there’s nothing evocative about something in the scene, don’t mention it. React. Emote. Why does ever single word on each page matter?
  3. Dialogue is better than monologue. Especially if two or more characters are speaking at cross-purposes. Express inner dialogue when you can, but don’t overdo it.

How do you get your readers to connect with your characters?

PS. On the image above, let me suggest an edit. The balloon should read, “A conflicted Disney Princess on every page.” Then they won’t just teach reading comprehension, but maybe writing skills as well.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Father Figure

The Father Figure

father figureI’ve noticed a thematic element in most of the fiction I write—the absence of a “Father Figure.” Now this doesn’t reflect my life…my mom and dad stayed together and he lived to a ripe old age of 75. So why write stories with a missing father figure? In fact, even in my stories where there is a father, there is no mother. So I’m left with 2 cases: single-parent or orphaned characters. Is there something of literary value in writing characters with fractured families?

I think maybe there’s an inherent conflict. There’s a sense of loss, of deep pain, of something missing in their lives. These characters are incomplete. There’s a need to reconnect, to rebuild their broken families by bringing new people into their lives. Another thing is that without exception, every single one of these characters is single (only two are even dating someone at the start of the story) and have no children (that they know about).

So this brings up a couple issues. Is this good literary fodder to explore or am I just stuck in a rut? Is there something about the Father Figure that I struggle with or avoid? Is this a character type I should explore more? Just for fun I dumped out most of my Main Characters with their parent and home status. While I’m at it I dumped out the number of siblings. Not many bros in there…I can relate to that (2 sisters). Hmm…also just noticed that when they have siblings, the Main Character is the youngest. I was a middle child. (Technically Viola is a few minutes younger than Sophia but that doesn’t count).

So that leaves me a few interesting possibilities to explore in future works:

  • Main Characters who are married and/or parents
  • Main Characters with younger siblings
  • Main Characters with both parents alive and well

Main Characters without fathers

Dawn Anami, Dawn’s Rise
Father died one week after her birth, identity hidden from her.
No father figure growing up
Mother died ~10 years ago, now an orphan living with aunt.
0 siblings

Sophia Stratton, Steam Palace
Father died 7 years ago
Mother is dying.
Lives with sister.
2 sisters, brother died in childhood before her birth

Jake, The Immortals
Father died before birth, identity unknown.
No father figure growing up
Story starts with mother’s death, now an orphan.
Potentially 1 brother he’s never met

Archie Magnuson, Dead Air
Father died  6 years ago
Mother ill, he is her live-in caretaker.
Casually dating a girl.
1 sister

Grett Hawk, Girl World
Biological parents unknown
No father figure growing up
Childhood foster mother died ~10 years ago, now has another.
Lives in a fraternal group home
15 “foster” sisters, no known blood siblings

Main Characters with Fathers

Alex Ross, 30 Days
Father still alive and kicking.
Mother not mentioned, out of picture.
Lives with girlfriend.
1 brother

Mary of Archa, Wild Mary’s Way
Father alive and kicking
Mother died ~12 years earlier
Leaves home at start of story.
0 siblings

So you can see I’ve left a trail of death and mayhem in constructing these characters. Note that tons of my supporting characters have fathers, brothers, sisters, children, etc, so this is really just about the main character.

What kind of family structures do you find yourself writing?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Writing Query Letters

Writing Query Letters

Bar-complaint_001Apparently there’s some kind of “tradition” floating about the publishing industry called the “Query Letter”. The Query Letter is a concise one-page description of your work and about you. It can include elements such as a teaser, a short paragraph about the book, and an author’s credits. I’m not going to pretend I know diddly squat about writing them here. All I know is that they’re a stepping stone, the first step to publication. It must entice a potential agent just enough to get them to read a synopsis or even the whole book.

But like lipstick on a pig, not every agent will love your query, no matter how well-written the query (or the book) is. It’s just something to get you into the door, to distinguish you from the 100 other queries that agent has received that day. (It’s not a job I’d envy). The ironic thing is that the best authors may not write the best queries, and vice-versa. Yes, I keep telling myself that. Actually a bad query just sucks.

Here’s the only real piece of advice I have. I think queries should represent the book. Put the most heartfelt part of your story into the query and go with it. Let your self show. Oh, and try to avoid grammatical and spelling errors.

So what do you do when you think you’re ready to query? Here are 3 sites I recommend posting your query on for feedback:

Agent Query Connect
Query Tracker Forums
The Public Query Slushpile

With that said, here’s the latest query for Steam Palace. Comments encouraged.

December 6, 2010

Agent Name
City, State, Zip

Dear Ms. Super-Duper Agent,

After meeting your Evil Twin, you might just wonder which one you are.

In a world swimming in mechohorses and dirigible aivies, where the former New England colonies created a British-style monarchy, a newborn twin is stolen. Sophia is raised in a noble house and provided every advantage, while her unknown twin Viola suffers crippling poverty. A score and three years later when they first meet, Sophia is destitute; her family name and lands a victim of an unfortunate dispute with the King. Meanwhile, to Sophia’s horror, her doppelgänger Viola lives a rich, vile life off the profits of sin.

To restore her family name and ‘save’ her newfound sister from an ignominious fate, Sophia enters Viola’s dark world of the Steam Palace, a floating den of iniquity built upon a derelict barge. When Sophia’s rebuff of the Duke—Viola’s secret lover—leads to an imminent invasion the monarchy, Sophia wonders which is truly the ‘Evil’ twin. She must unite with wretched Viola to protect their families before their steam-powered enemy exterminates their hated race…Americans.

STEAM PALACE, a Steampunk Adventure, is complete at 120,000 words. I have completed a Creative Writing certificate course at the University of Washington, completed Holly Lisle’s “How To Revise Your Novel” online course, and I co-host a local critique group.

Thank you for your consideration.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Every New Beginning…

…Comes From Some Other Beginning’s End

Seneca the Younger
Semisonic, “Closing Time”

GWT_logo_final_clr_hiresNaNoWriMo is over. Let me say a couple more things to add to Monday’s analysis. I really don’t think I’m good at writing Mystery. Furthermore, I don’t think I’ll be writing mystery again. And this is why:
In my last post, I wrote this observation:

  • Falling in love with my characters. I have a tendency to fall in love with certain types of characters (mostly female) and then they start to take over the story because I just want to write about them and give them larger roles than they probably deserve.

Then this thought struck me. Why not just write a story with all female characters? Then I could not worry about it.


Within an hour, I have an entire world, characters, settings, conflicts, everything. It just avalanched out of control. Imagine an isolated planet far in the backwater of the galaxy. The original settlers had a small problem…a faulty Y chromosome cause most infants to be born girls. For countless generations, they’ve formed a highly structured matriarchal society with wars and walled cities. Now zoom in on one city, a high school, a girl, someone immersed in their world’s struggle for survival as males grow scarcer every generation. (Okay, yeah, it would be kewl to be a dude in this scenario, but I’m not trying to write a mantasy here).

One day, our heroine meets a boy her age…practically the only boy her age in her entire city of ~100K…and things explode from there.

I wanted a short story. But my ideas are never small. I don’t know where this idea is going. Right now I’m working on a “journal” concept, that my Heroine is writing assignments for a school writing project, therefore she’s “required” to include backstory in her journal (see I how squeeze that in?).  I’m hoping a few of those could be stand-alone stories. I’m feeling about ten times more energy about this story than I ever felt about the mystery. While it was a nice break to write a contemporary story, I need to stop kidding myself. I’m a science fiction writer, I always have been, and I always will be.

I am going to try to write this with YA in mind. She’s 16 in earth years, and has serious concerns about her life. She’s been slotted to be a warrior, but has never tasted combat. She’s not into the dating scene, but new emotions will surface once she meets the boy. So it’s a coming-of-age in an insane world full of cutthroat bitches and man-hungry hostiles who will stop at nothing to steal your city’s man supply. (It’s really not a mantasy, I swear! The men are treated like prized pigs.).

Oh, and one last thing. My heroine has a cloudy past. The beginning of this mystery (hey, Mystery!) will be revealed one day in science class when she discovers that she’s neither XX nor a feminized XY with a faulty SRY gene. She’s OO. WTF?

I call this concept, “Girl World.”

But I have this small teensy tiny problem. Remember good old Steam Palace? That 120K word tome set in an alternate New England where Sophia Stratton has to defend her country from the mad Reichland Emperor? Well, in a fit of insanity, I signed up for the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC January 20-22. That includes an agent session where I can pitch my book to tons of agents. Do you know what that means?

Steam Palace and my query letter must be completely finished and in manuscript format by January 20. Holy shit. What about Girl World? What about Christmas? I am really in the deep doo-doo now.

So from NaNoWriMo’s end comes a new beginning, but I haven’t even finished my last new beginning. I better get paid for all this. Fortunately airfare is dirt-cheap ($220 round-trip SEA-NYC) and I found a coupon code for the convention so I paid even less than the early-bird rate.

So wish me luck, I’m going to need it.