Monthly Archives: February 2011

Writing on the iPad has proven to be…slow

So, I finished going through the first half of Murderous Requiem, using the iPad for editing, and that went pretty successfully.  But when it came time to start adding new material, I discovered that typing on the iPad virtual keyboard is a huge pain in the ass, when you’re typing more than a word or phrase here and there. 

Not only are the “keys” smaller than normal, forcing me to resort to two-finger (one on each hand) typing, but there’s a noticeable delay between when you touch a “key” and when the character appears on the screen.  I was trying to get a little added every night, over the past week or so, but when I opened the document in Word on my laptop this weekend and looked at the word count, I was horrified. 

In a week, I’d typed less than a thousand words. 

So I went back to typing on the laptop, and I’ve already written a couple thousand words since yesterday.  Not super fast, but lightning, compared to typing on the iPad. 

There were also some other annoyances.  Word, by default, changes two dashes into a proprietary long dash symbol that Microsoft uses.  It looks nice on the page, but I discovered, when I submitted to Dreamspinner Press, that they didn’t use the same type of dashes.  Theirs were called m-dashes.  I have no idea whether Microsoft’s are also considered to be m-dashes, but they’re not equivalent.  So I had to go through the proofs and accept replacement edits on every single one.  Additionally, Office HD on the iPad didn’t recognize Microsoft’s dashes.  They simply disappeared.  So I’ve now turned off that feature and just use double dashes, instead.  They’ll still have to be replaced of course, but I figured it would be easier to just avoid Microsoft’s proprietary characters.  (I’ve also turned off their “smart quotes,” which replace single and double quotes with ones that are curved to the left or right, depending upon placement in the sentence.  Unfortunately, Word often gets that wrong, so you end up with some bizarre looking quotes curving in the wrong direction.)

When I went back to Word on my laptop, I discovered, to my annoyance, that the dashes had reappeared.  But now they were side-by-side with double dashes.  So I have to go through the whole damned document again and correct that. 

So, overall, I still plan on using the iPad for proofing and editing.  But not for writing.

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Editing frenzy

Well, for me it’s a frenzy.  I edited Zack and Larry before submitting it for publication (of course), and went directly from that to editing both Seidhman and Murderous Requiem, at the same time. 

Murderous Requiem is, frankly, still a bit of a mess.  Since it’s only half done, and I’d written that half during NaNoWriMo, the quality of this first draft was…rough.  Very rough.  Was it good?  Well…parts of it were.  The rewrite helped.  But it will still require a lot of rewriting, when it’s finished.  I got through the chapters I’d written, and now I’m plowing ahead with the rest of it.  So far, the requiem isn’t very murderous.  At about halfway through, we have yet to have anything happen, apart from ominous foreshadowing.  It’s still entertaining, but the interest comes from the relationships our hero has with the other characters, and his rediscovering of a life he thought he’d left behind.

Seidhman, on the other hand, is getting close to the point where I’ll start sending it out.  My friend, Roxanne, handed a copy of the manuscript back to me with copious notes scribbled in the margins — good notes, for the most part, since she knows her history and is a writer, herself.  I don’t agree with everything she says (of course), and sometimes decyphering exactly what she’s saying can be a challenge, since her handwriting is…interesting.  But a lot of it’s worth considering.  So I’m about halfway through the manuscript now, using her notes as a guide.

A friend of a friend, who lives in Norway, gave the manuscript a read and said she loved it, and found it to have a very Scandinavian feel to it, which was tremendously encouraging.  She gave me some notes, as well, but they were mostly minor details, except for some matters of “You can’t get there from here,” which I’ll have to take into account.  When you don’t live in an area, you often don’t realize that what looks like a simple route on a map has a towering cliff or a raging river that you can’t cross, forcing you to pick a different route.

I also have a reader in Iceland going over the story, and since she’s an Icelandic historian, that’s nerve-wracking.  Hopefully, she won’t come back with, “Foolish American!  Don’t ever write anything about my country again!” 

So, I’m about halfway through the current draft and it’s getting pretty polished.  Depending upon what the woman from Iceland tells me, I will hopefully be able to have a final draft done by spring.  Then I have to make decisions about whether to send it to a publisher or to an agent.  An agent is preferrable, but these days they appear to demand that you already be published, before they’ll look at your work.  I also know of some publishers who might be good fits for the story.  But those are small press.  And considering how much of myself I’ve invested in this particular novel, I might want to aim at the bigger houses, to begin with.

In the meantime, I’m still fretting about Zack and Larry.  I should probably do a final draft of my still-untitled cyberpunk story, so I can have something else ready to put out there.  In the event Zack and Larry gets rejected, I’ll at least have something else to pin my hopes on.

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Zack and Larry is out the door!

I’ve submitted my novella, Zack and Larry Make a Porno, to Dreamspinner Press today!  If it gets published, this will be my first non-holiday story out there.  (Of course, The Meaning of Vengeance , doesn’t really feel like a “Christmas story,” in the sense most people think of it, but it was included in a Christmas/Holiday anthology, so it probably won’t get a lot of attention for the rest of the year.)

Preparing a manuscript for submission is always nerve-wracking.  Not only does the story itself have to be polished, but it has to be correctly formatted according to what the publisher wants.  Dreamspinner isn’t too difficult about that, but the manuscript must be in Times Roman, 12-point, with one-inch margins.  The hardest part, for my first submissions, last Fall, was figuring out how to put a header on the document which would put “Jamie Fessenden / Zack and Larry Make a Porno” on the top left of every page, and the page number on the top right.  It doesn’t seem too hard, now, but the first time I did it, it kept breaking.  Microsoft Word is far from intuitive.

Once the submission itself is prepared, you have to come up with a “short but complete story summary and/or synopsis.”  This is where I probably need some more coaching, because my story summaries are long.  For this 15k-word novella, my summary was two and a half pages.  Once upon a time, I gather that was expected, but I think writers tend to do shorter summaries, these days. 

So, you attach your story and your story summary to an e-mail, and then you have to write the dreaded Query Letter itself.

I’ve written a few successful queries, by now — successful, in that I was asked to submit the story, after the editor read my query — so I’m fairly confident, in that regard.  I just keep it short and to the point, making sure all of the important info is included.  They want to know what genre the story is, assurance that it has never been published elsewhere, and how long it is.  They also want two paragraphs describing the story and a brief list of your credentials, as a writer.  Here is the query I just sent to Dreamspinner:

February 13, 2011 

 
Dreamspinner Press LLC
Genre: First Time for Everything

Dear ,

I have a 15,400-word previously unpublished novella called “Zack and Larry Make a Porno,” which I would like to submit for inclusion in the First Time for Everything anthology.   The title is obviously a riff on the title of the popular Kevin Smith film, but the story is otherwise a completely original work.   (If the title presents a legal issue, I would of course be willing to change it.)   The story is a dramatic comedy.

Zack and Larry have been best friends since Middle School and are now comfortably rooming together in college.   But when Larry hears that other guys they know are getting paid a lot of money to have gay sex in videos, he convinces Zack that they could pick up some quick, easy cash by being in one of these films…together.

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If Zack thinks making a gay porn film with his best friend is disturbing, he is absolutely horrified when Larry proposes that they “rehearse” for the film, so they won’t be nervous, in front of the director.   As the two young men fumble their way through a checklist of sexual positions and acts, Zack finds himself seeing Larry in an entirely new light — a very sexy new light.   And possibly a romantic one, as well.   But does Larry feel the same?   Or is this all just for fun?

I’ve attached the entire manuscript in .doc format, along with a summary of the novella.

Previously, I’ve had two stories published through Dreamspinner Press.   My short story, “The Meaning of Vengeance,” and my long novella, “The Christmas Wager,” were both released this past December. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Of course, my contact info is included on the bottom. 

Now, we have yet to see whether this query is successful.  But it has everything that should be required for the editor to make a decision.  (Out of habit, I’ve blocked out the name the letter was addressed to, but the name of the editor is right on Dreamspinner’s submission page, if you’d care to look her up.)  This is the first time I’ve ever listed credentials in a query, since I hadn’t been published before submitting The Meaning of Vengeance and The Christmas Wager.  (Both queries were sent off within days of one another.)  If you don’t have any credentials, it’s best to just say nothing.  The editor isn’t interested in the fact that your mother loved your story, or that you feel being gay has given you insight into your characters.  (Yes, I did once say this in a query.  That one was not successful.  My defense is that I was young and stupid.)

If you’re an Icelandic historian — or you happen to be a Viking — you might mention that, for a book about his Vikings.  But mostly the editor just wants to hear if you’ve been published before.  In this case, it might seem strange to list my previous Dreamspinner credentials.  After all, the editor I’m submitting to was involved in the publication of those two stories.  But Dreamspinner has expanded considerably over the past six months — the list of writers on their site seems to have doubled!  I’m not sure the editor will remember me.  Besides, it’s requested in their submission guidelines. 

Now, I get to wait.  In agony.  Although it would probably be more productive to work on something else, instead of just sitting around fretting.  This particular anthology will be out in June, so I can’t suffer for too long.  One of my biggest concerns, as I noted in the letter, is the title.  Parody law covers things like that, but I’m not sure if it will disturb the editor or not. 

In the meantime, I have that cyberpunk story that’s nearly ready to go out.  It just needs a little tweaking to make it feel a bit more futuristic and “tech-y.”  But for now, I’m going to get back to Murderous Requiem, the occult murder mystery I started for NaNoWriMo.  I only made it to 27k-words, and it’s a bit weird, in terms of pacing.  I’m not sure “murder mystery” is the proper categorization for it, since the first murder isn’t going to occur until about halfway through the novel.  But I still think it’s interesting, so I’m working on tightening up the rather slow and dull first chapter.  Then we’ll see how the rest of it goes.

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Sex and the YA Novel

I currently have four YA novels in various states of completion, three of which I expect to be prepping for submission over the next six months or so.  The question, of course, is where to submit them?  There are, thankfully, YA publishers now who don’t consider the mere fact that the main character is gay to be cause for rejecting the book as unsuitable for teens.  Many people in the country would disagree, but I’m not going to send the novels to them.  They can read what they like.

Several publishers have sprung up in the past few years, specifically dedicated to providing novels with gay protagonists.  This is terrific, and could certainly be a boon for me, since I no longer write anything without gay protagonists.  But there’s one little catch: 

Sex. 

Oh, wait, that wasn’t nearly sinister enough.  Let’s try that again:

Sexxxxxxxxxxxxx……

One particular publisher that’s begun to make a name for itself has a strict “No underage sex” policy.  While this certainly sounds good, on the surface — underage sex is bad, right? — it doesn’t just mean no adults having sex with minors.  It means no minors having sex with each other.  At all.  (Because, of course, we all know that would never happen, in real life.)

It certainly means I can’t submit any of my YA novels to this publisher.  Not that any of them are porn aimed at teenagers, or porn depicting teens engaged in sex.  Since I’m sure you’re now thinking, Methinks he doth protest too much (because you’re a lot like Hamlet), I offer the most sexually explicit passage from  Seidhman as exhibit A.  The characters are probably about fourteen and fifteen, at this point — I forget, exactly, without going over my timeline.  (They grow up during the course of the novel.)  At this point in the story, my two heroes have been apart for two years, and they were just beginning to realize that they were falling for each other, before they were separated.  In the intervening time, they have, of course, both discovered masturbation.  Now, they finally have a moment together in a hot spring on the farm. 

Prepare to be shocked:

They wasted little time. As soon as they were out of their clothing, Thorbrand grabbed Kol and drew him close, kissing him with a passion that left no doubt as to his desire. He hadn’t outgrown it, as Kol had feared. The moment their lips touched, Kol felt happier than he could ever have imagined. His hands caressed Thorbrand’s strong back, already becoming slick with sweat, and suddenly his feet flew up, as Thorbrand scooped him up in his arms and carried him to the wooden benches.
“We can’t do this in the pool,” the older boy said, grinning, his hand sliding down between Kol’s legs and cupping his erection.
No, Kol thought, the spirit won’t like it, if we make a mess in his pool.
And then he ceased to think at all, lost in his explorations of the body he’d been fantasizing about for so long, the solid muscles of Thorbrand’s stomach a thousand times more wonderful than his fantasies had ever been. And even more incredibly, Thorbrand’s hands and mouth slid over Kol’s torso with an insatiable hunger, as if he, too, had been longing for this forever.

Okay, so reading that now, I’m thinking it needs a bit of a rewrite, to forcibly extract some cliches I no longer use, and Thorbrand should probably act a bit less like he’s done this before, but…yes, they’re definitely having sex.  Still, that’s the end of the scene.  Fade to black.  It doesn’t get any raunchier than that.  Yet this would be cause for the book to be rejected by this one particular house.

On the other hand, Thorbrand does touch Kol’s erection.  Considering the fact that Cory Doctorow upset some readers, when his 16-year-old protagonist fondled his girlfriend’s breast in Little Brother — and that book was nominated for a Hugo — I’m sure Kol’s erection could cause an enormous hullaballoo somewhere among YA readers (or, more likely, their parents).  For some reason that makes no sense to me, penises disturb people far more than breasts do, even though many heterosexual men find breasts to be the most erotic part of a woman’s body.  But that’s a discussion for another blog, I guess.  The more important issue, perhaps, is that they are fourteen and fifteen years old. 

It boggles my mind that any adult could seriously not realize that their fourteen-year-old is masturbating.  Oh, sure, it’s conceivable that this isn’t happening, but likely?  No.  Even with no education whatsoever — and assuming he has absolutely no friends with information to impart to him on the subject — a boy this age will be experiencing erections and possibly nocturnal emissions.  Did we learn nothing from Jurassic ParkNature always finds a way.  Teens will figure it out. 

But of course, there is no convincing many people of that.  And those people put a lot of energy into making sure any books that try to educate teens about sex, or merely acknowledge that teen characters are having sex, sometimes using aphrodisiacs as meloid beetle for this purpose.

So, perhaps that publisher is wise to avoid the controversy.  And you might wonder why I really care.  Certainly, you might wonder why I can’t “tone it down” a bit more.  Why can’t I just get rid of Kol’s erection?  (Ouch!)  Well, perhaps I could.  I could omit the line, or rephrase it as “Thorbrand slid his hand down to Kol’s crotch.”  But if I did that, it would be because I’ve decided the scene needs a rewrite, and it works better without mentioning erections.  It would probably not be for the purposes of “toning it down.” 

Why?  It’s not because I consider myself to be brilliant, and everything I produce of such high artistic quality that it shouldn’t ever be edited.  It’s because I believe that, as a society, we have a responsibility to young people.  Not just to keep them safe, as children, but also to help them transition into adulthood.  And we can’t do that by refusing to talk to them about the issues they’ll be facing, as they grow up.  And if they’re boys, one of the things they’ll be facing is erections. 

So, in addition to dealing with other issues teens might face, such as suicide, religion, taking responsibility for yourself, becoming a leader, facing down Viking raiders…my books must also deal openly and honestly with sex.  In particular, gay sex, since there are now a number of books out there dealing with straight sex.

Of course, the story still comes first.  Seidhman is a story about a young boy becoming a sorceror in Iceland.  It’s not a sex manual.  (I’ll leave that to the kids smuggling Playboy into school in their backpacks.)  But it’s hard to write scenes in which two boys with the hots for each other are snuggled up under the furs at night and not coming up with something to occupy their time.  I don’t need to describe these moments in explicit detail, as I might in an adult novel, but to pretend they wouldn’t happen seems disingenuous.

Still, not everything in life is sex, sex, sex.  Teens do think about other things.  Occasionally.   Additionally, there are plenty of adult books that avoid sex scenes, so it would be overkill to insist that all, or even most, YA novels contain mentions of sex.  It depends upon the demands of the story.  In the GLBT community, we are also having to fight the misconception that being gay is all about sex, rather than love.  So there should be YA novels — and adult novels — out there that show people that gay men and women are capable of love and romance, without having to hop in the sack (or hot spring). 

Ultimately, I can’t fault a publisher for not wanting to publish anything with sex in it, and I can’t fault a writer for not including sex in their novels.  I’m simply defending those of us who believe teens deserve honest depictions of what it’s like to be teens, without everything being sanitized and watered down. 

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Apparently, Epithets are Bad

I don’t mean calling someone insulting names.  I just mean coming up with things to call your characters, apart from their names and “he” or “she.”  Let’s take a passage from my new story, Zack and Larry Make a Porno, altered slightly:

“Will you stop acting like my goddamned mother?” he said with a groan.  “I can make my own decisions, you know.”
“Like that time you did a handstand on your skateboard, down Harriman Hill Road?”
“I was eleven.”
“Or that time you let me shoot a tin can off your head with a BB gun?”
He gave him a lopsided grin.  “That was your idea, you have  always been about the BBs
“I know,” he admitted.  “But you were still dumb enough to let me do it.”  He had been a cocky little shit with that BB gun.  It never occurred to him that it was possible he could miss.  He had just stood there, trusting him completely, and fortunately his aim had been good. 
“I knew you’d never hurt me,” he said with a shrug, as though friendship alone had kept him from shooting his eye out. 

This is nearly incoherent.  We have no idea who’s saying or doing what.  Obviously, something more is needed to distinguish one character from another.  Since one character is named Zack and the other is named Larry, we could try using their names:

“Will you stop acting like my goddamned mother?” Larry said with a groan.  “I can make my own decisions, you know.”
“Like that time you did a handstand on your skateboard, down Harriman Hill Road?”
“I was eleven.”
“Or that time you let me shoot a tin can off your head with a BB gun?”
Larry gave Zack a lopsided grin.  “That was your idea.”
“I know,” Zack admitted.  “But you were still dumb enough to let me do it.”  Zack had been a cocky little shit with that BB gun.  It never occurred to Zack that it was possible Zack could miss.  Larry had just stood there, trusting Zack completely, and fortunately Zack’s aim had been good. 
“I knew you’d never hurt me,” Larry said with a shrug, as though friendship alone had kept Zack from shooting Larry’s eye out. 

This is certainly better.  But it gets a little weird in the middle.  Obviously, using “he” or other pronouns would be a good idea, in at least some of those places.

Now, here’s where I’ve been going wrong, according to a recent review I got on The Christmas Wager, as well as my editors and several people who have critiqued my stories.  Since I have a tendency towards making one character tall and blond or redheaded, and the other shorter and dark-haired (I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve been doing this since I was writing as a teenager), I’m prone to using hair color to distinguish between the characters:

“Will you stop acting like my goddamned mother?” Larry said with a groan.  “I can make my own decisions, you know.”
“Like that time you did a handstand on your skateboard, down Harriman Hill Road?”
“I was eleven.”
“Or that time you let me shoot a tin can off your head with a BB gun?”
Larry gave the dark-haired boy a lopsided grin.  “That was your idea.”
“I know,” Zack admitted.  “But you were still dumb enough to let me do it.”  Zack had been a cocky little shit with that BB gun.  It never occurred to him that it was possible he could miss.  Larry had just stood there, trusting him completely, and fortunately his aim had been good. 
“I knew you’d never hurt me,” the blond said with a shrug, as though friendship alone had kept Zack from shooting his eye out. 

Now, this seems perfectly readable to me, and since there are only two main characters, I don’t find it hard to remember which one is blond and which one has dark hair.  I know I’m not the only writer who does this, because one of my earliest writing memories is the girl in my High School class who was upset that the editor of our school writing magazine had accidentally changed “the tow-headed boy” to “the tw0-headed boy” in one of her stories. 

But alas, my readers seem to hate it.  Even when I’ve suggested alternate epithets, such as “the jock” or “the peasant boy” (in a fantasy novel), it’s met with a lukewarm response. 

So, after hearing the criticism a number of times, I’ve had to acknowledge that epithets irritate people, even though I myself don’t find them irritating.  And to that end, I’m now going through my stories with a fine-toothed comb to eliminate them, or at least drastically reduce them.

Here, in case you’re curious, is the final draft of that scene:

“Will you stop acting like my goddamned mother?” Larry said with a groan.  “I can make my own decisions, you know.”
“Like that time you did a handstand on your skateboard, down Harriman Hill Road?”
“I was eleven.”
“Or that time you let me shoot a tin can off your head with a BB gun?”
Larry gave him a lopsided grin.  “That was your idea.”
“I know,” Zack admitted.  “But you were still dumb enough to let me do it.”  Zack had been a cocky little shit with that BB gun.  It never occurred to him that it was possible he could miss.  Larry had just stood there, trusting him completely, and fortunately Zack’s aim had been good. 
“I knew you’d never hurt me,” Larry said with a shrug, as though friendship alone had kept Zack from shooting his eye out. 

NOTE:  That anecdote is based upon a real incident.  When I was a teenager, and not the super-genius I am now, I let my best friend, Phillip, shoot a soda can off my head with his BB gun.  Fortunately, his aim was good, and I still have both my eyes.

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