Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Introducing Vix

I'm about to begin writing my third novel, which will be known here as Vix. I've been outlining, brainstorming and researching for a while now. I've profiled my characters and developed my setting. (By the way, my setting is THE PLANET VENUS!)

Original Image
And I've made an important realization about my previous book, Safira. I think it lacked energy. I focused a lot on character development, and this is probably why I love the characters in that book so much. However, the plot could have been more exciting. The plot in that book was driven strictly by the characters. The setting had no hand in anything that happened, and there wasn't anything close to deus ex machina or even coincidence. Perhaps all that book needs is a healthy dose of serendipity.

Needless to say, I don't intend to write another plotfully lazy book. I've thought a lot about the plot of Vix, and I've even broken the book into three "acts". This is how Suzanne Collins writes her books. I figured it couldn't hurt to imitate her. Yesterday I outlined the first act. My Excel spreadsheet includes all of the following information:
  • Short description of the scene
  • Setting
  • What exposition is required to understand this scene?
  • How do I want the reader to feel during this scene?
  • How will I accomplish this feeling?
  • Which characters are present in this scene?
  • What is each character's goal?
  • Do they succeed or fail?
I have a few empty cells to fill in tomorrow. And on Friday, I begin writing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My sister's cat is a meme!

So a while ago my husband showed me this meme of a cat:

I sent that meme to my sister because she has a cat who seriously likes her Fancy Feast. Today I got a link to this:

That is my sister's cat! It's not a real meme, just one of those make-your-own things, but I'm falling off my chair laughing about this.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Still Learning About Genre

I think it's safe to say at this point that my second novel did not succeed to attract an agent. The majority of agents I queried have responded, and while some were surprisingly complimentary about the premise, etc., nobody really bit. It's been difficult for me to understand this novel's failure since I love it so much. I thought about the characters long after I finished it. Not to flatter myself, but it was like the first time I read Harry Potter. In both cases, the characters stuck with me. And they're still with me, but I'm trying to slowly push them characters aside because the reality that I won't be writing the rest of their story in sequels - at least not now - is painful.

One of my stranger guesses as to why Safira failed is that agents may be less receptive to new work in the summer. I had suspicions about this early on in querying because the agents who did get back to me took much longer than they took to respond to queries for my first novel. I queried my first novel last December, and within 2 weeks I had most of my responses. This summer, agents often took longer than the response times they posted on their websites. I understand why they're taking longer - vacation, kids, etc. - but I wouldn't have believed they're actually less receptive to new work until Kristin Nelson discussed it on her blog. So add this to my list of growing query advice:
Query when it's cold.
Another reason I think my book may have been rejected is that it fails to conform to genre. I struggled a lot at first to determine whether Safira's story was an adult or young adult book. You can read about that struggle here. I went back and forth because my protagonist was 17/18 years old - right on the line - and while she did grow into her own identity in the novel (1 point for YA), the book was also adult in some ways:
  1. The story is told in 3rd person. I love the flexibility of 3rd person, but it's been out of fashion with the YA crowd for several years.
  2. Not only is it in 3rd person, it's also 3rd person limited, and I shift around a lot. At various points in the novel, my narrator is looking over the shoulders of my villain, my heroine, and at least two other characters. I love all that shifting because I like getting a complete picture of what's happening. However, I am an adult,  and I wonder if when I was a teenager, I would have struggled to identify with so many characters.
  3. My book is character driven, and according to Writing Great Books for Young Adults, which I recently checked out of the library, YA books are plot-driven. This is another topic that book-lovers could argue about until the cows come home, but the author of Writing Great Books was right. Of course, highly developed characters are desirable in YA as they are in adult fiction, but in YA, plot is the driving force, whereas character is often the driving force in adult books. In Safira's story, her development as a person drives the story forward more than the plot does, and I'm afraid a lot of teenagers would interpret the story as boring for that reason.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that now that I know more about YA and how to write it, I intend to do better next time. I've got a really good idea, and I've already begun to draft early chapters. This book is going to take a lot of research, but it may just be the one that succeeds. For Safira, she's going on the shelf now, but unlike Mina, she isn't staying there. I intend to revise that book, pushing it more toward the norm for YA, and maybe even querying it again in a year or so.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How to Seduce a Writer (my version)

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I only found this little piece of cuteness by Neil Gaiman this morning. I found it thanks to reading the comments on Nathan Bransford's blog.

Neil Gaiman on Seducing a Writer

I wanted to add to the Honorable Mr. Gaiman's advice by sharing a snippet of my own successful story of "seduction". I'm also sharing my story because it involves online dating, and I want to combat the stigma of online dating only being for people who are socially backwards. I feel no shame in telling this story. You know why? Because whatever teeny tiny bit of embarrassment may be associated with the method, the result of my online dating experience eclipsed that embarrassment a million-fold:

Here's the story:

Since I'm introverted and a wary of pretty much every person on the planet, I knew when I moved to LA that I wasn't just going to meet a guy and fall in love. So at my mother's urging, I joined e-Harmony. That very first day, I found my husband. He'd been waiting for me a bit longer, but I lucked out. And indeed, I found him. I liked how happy he looked in his pictures and he sounded so interesting in his profile. As soon as I found him, I initiated communication, which means that I sent him a set of five pre-written multiple choice questions.

And then I waited.

Here's the thing. I didn't want my face just floating around on the internet, so I had set up my account so that nobody could see pictures of me until we had agreed to communicate with each other. Before he answered my questions, Derek couldn't see me at all. The blank profile picture frustrated him, so he ignored me for a few days until he got bored or something, then he answered my questions sort of half-heartedly and shot them back. At this point, my pictures became available to him and . . . let's just say, he became much more motivated.

We shot questions and answers back and forth for a while, then sent each other long emails, then exchanged phone numbers. I wanted us each to have the other's number, and I told him, "Whoever has the most courage can call first." He called me five minutes later. We met on a Sunday afternoon for coffee. After that date, we saw each other again on Tuesday, then Thursday, then Friday. By Friday, I was sold, and I cancelled my e-Harmony subscription. Derek and I got married two years later. You can see some of the pictures from our intimate wedding in Hawaii above.

I would never deign to question the Great Gaiman, but apparently there is more than one way to seduce a writer :-)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mars Rover Landing Party!

As practically everyone knows, the Mars Rover Curiosity AKA the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landed safely on the surface of Mars Sunday night. This is a big deal for NASA, JPL, the US, humankind . . . and me!

It's a big deal for me because my husband works for JPL and he worked on MSL. Back in November, when the rover launched out of Cape Canaveral, Derek and I got up early in the morning to watch. It was exciting, watching it fly off into space. Of course, it was also a bit nerve-wracking. So much work and money had gone into that project. It had a long journey to Mars and a difficult, never-tried-before landing that involved a parachute and a hovering crane.

Eight months later, on Sunday, August 5, 2012, around 10:30PM PDT, the rover landed. Its landing was tricky. Curiosity arrived at the planet's atmosphere going about 7,500 miles per hour. For a reference point, consider that a Boeing 757 (that's the single-aisle airplane that's common for cross-country flights) has a cruising speed of 530 miles per hour. My mind can hardly grasp a speed like 7,500 miles per hour. But that's how fast the rover was going. Between the time it reached the atmosphere and the time it landed, it had to slow down to nothing. Not only that, but it had to use a parachute to slow down, then it used a hovering sky crane to lower itself gently to the surface. Honestly, the more you know about the landing operation, the more stressful it is - and the more shocking it is that the whole process went off without a hitch.

Since Derek worked on the project, we got to go to a landing party at Cal Tech. The party was great. We ate little snack boxes of fruit and cheese and drank bottles of "Martian Water". We sat with two of our friends, one of whom worked on the camera that took the first pictures after the rover's landing. Before the official NASA broadcast began, they showed little videos about the "7 Minutes of Terror" (as if anyone there needed to be more terrified). I had heard Wil Wheaton did a video about the landing with JPL. I was hoping they would show it, but they didn't. At least not after I arrived. You can watch it here, though.

From top left, clockwise: Derek and I celebrating after the landing, live feed of the EDL (Entry Descent & Landing) team from the ops room, ISS flying overhead (below the "T" in "Party", Derek and I at the landing party, cute water bottles that came in our snack boxes
While we were waiting for the official broadcast to begin, something cool happened: the International Space Station (ISS) flew right overhead! I would have mistaken it for an airplane if I was alone, but given that I was surrounded by a bunch of NASA scientists, one guy ran up to the microphone and pointed it out. The whole crowd clapped as it flew overhead. According to one of my friends, the ISS circles the planet every 90 minutes, but all kinds of things interfere with our ability to see it that often, so Sunday night was a rare treat.

Everything got really exciting once the NASA broadcast began. The cameras were in the ops room, which I've seen in person, but I've never seen it full of people. And the rest . . . well, you don't need to hear it from me. At least a thousand different news sites have covered it. (The best information is at MSL's page on JPL's website.) The rover landed perfectly, everyone was relieved, the whole crowd in the ops room and at the Cal Tech party cheered and congratulated each other. Derek was getting so many excited text messages from friends that he couldn't keep up with them all. The first pictures came back from the rover only minutes after the landing. I love the one where the rover is looking at its own shadow in the Martian sunset. It's kind of like it's saying, "Look, Mom, I'm here!"

After the Cal Tech event ended, we went to a nearby pub. It was 11PM on a Sunday night and there was standing room only. I couldn't believe it. I'm not big on crowds like that, so I hid outside until one of our brave friends pushed her way through the crowd and ordered drinks. Her gumption paid off when two of the tables behind her spontaneously vacated. We sat down, I ordered a slice of pie, and everything was well with the world :-)

Being in the pub that night was one of the coolest experiences ever. It was filled to the brim with scientists who were all celebrating a momentous collaborative achievement. Everyone congratulated each other, and everyone clapped whenever a new image from the rover popped up on TV. You know how bars usually have their TVs tuned to various sporting events? Well, on Sunday night, every TV was showing the NASA channel. How awesome is that?

The whole event still feels like a dream. For eight months we've been silently (and sometimes not so silently) worrying about MSL's landing. It's such a relief that the mission has so far been a success, and it's been surreal to see how much enthusiasm everybody is showing for JPL. People I know are actually memes. Agents in my twitter feed are talking about watching the landing (yes, the thought of offering to get them an inside tour in exchange for signing me crossed my mind, but no, I'm not going to do it). MSL has its own twitter account, and some its tweets are surprisingly dirty ("Gale Crater I am in you"?) Even The Oatmeal made a spoof about the first landing picture! I love how much credit all the JPLers are getting for their work. Of course, they deserve every bit of it :-)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Breathtakingly Beautiful

Watch this full-screen and in the dark if possible. For the record, I am staunchly opposed to the captivity of whale sharks and manta rays, both of whom are featured in this video. There are no tanks large enough to keep those animals in a fashion that is humane (this applies even more so to orcas, dolphins and other pinnipeds).

However, even though I may be reinforcing the captivity of these animals by showing this video, I would feel greedy not sharing it. This video was part of my early inspiration for Safira, and it continues to inspire me today.

Querying Advice from A Published Author

If you're reading this years or even months from now, you may not know it, but I only released this blog into the world two days ago. Before then (for TWO YEARS before then) the blog was private. I did this by telling Blogger than I wanted to "authorize" readers - and then I only authorized myself. Not even my husband ever read my entries. But if I want to be an author, I'll need the courage to expose my thought to the world. Making the blog public is practice.

Something Strange and Deadly
Speaking of blogs, one to which I subscribe is that of author Susan Dennard. She wrote a great series of blog posts on how she got her agent. Most debut authors write posts like this, but unfortunately, too many that I've read come across as braggy rather than helpful. Susan Dennard's are very helpful, so much so that I'm going to post links to each of them below. I learned a lot from reading these. For my next book, I'm going to try to do everything she did and more, if possible.

Susan Dennard's Blog Posts on Querying:

How I Got My Agent (Part 1: The Parts of a Good Query)

How I Got My Agent (Part 2: The Prep)

How I Got My Agent (Part 3: Query Submissions)

How I Got My Agent (Part 4: The Calls)