The Great Agent Hunt is Underway

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve queried 13 literary agents about my ghost hunter novel. To date, I’ve heard back from four of them. Three were the all-to-familiear “dear author” email — this-project-is-not-right-for-us, etc. However, one did send a request for the full manuscript, which I sent out the same day. I’ll take that batting average.

As Mur Lafferty said in a recent podcast, rejections are part of the writer’s job. If you’re not getting rejections, you’re neglecting your work. I’m not going to say that I really enjoyed finding a rejection email in my inbox first thing this morning, but I’ve received enough so that I can feel disappointed for a few minutes, sigh, note the response in the spreadsheet I use to track submissions, and move on. I’d like to start by querying at least 20 agents, so I have more to send out.

How many rejections have you received lately? How do you deal with them? Get the conversation rolling in the comments.

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Nebula Award Nominees Announced

Nebula Awards

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America have announced the nominees for the 2013 Nebula Awards. If you’re a regular listener to Escape Pod and/or Podcastle, you’ll recognize a lot of names on the list — Saladin Ahmed, Tina Connolly, N.K. Jemisin, Caitlín R. Kiernan, etc. Nancy Kress’s After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, which currently resides in my pile of books to read, is nominated for best novella.

Even better, if you’d like to check some of these out, Galleycat has made links to free samples available. This is some of the best spec fic work done in 2012. Enjoy!

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Writing Critique Groups: This is For You

These are excellent questions for anyone critiquing a book or story to use, whether you’re a beta reader for a novel or the members of a critique group. I’m going to send them to the members of my group before we get together next week. Thanks to Gabrielle Harbowy for posting this.

Are there any parts where it felt like it dragged / you got bored / wanted to put it down?

Are there any parts where you weren’t sure what was happening?

Do the characters feel well-rounded and human? Are there any characters you especially like or don’t like? Did any characters seem especially flat, dull, or lacking in distinctiveness, who shouldn’t have been?

Were there any characters or places with names so similar that you had a hard time telling them apart?

Does the world feel well-rounded and realistic enough for you to imagine it as you read?

At any point, does a character do something that feels like it’s impossible, implausible, or against their nature?

How would you describe what this book is about to someone else, in one sentence? (This is a great one for making sure that the most important elements are coming through with appropriate weight for the reader. If what they think your book is about isn’t what you think your book is about, that’s really good to know.)

Did the plot climax and resolution take too long / resolve too easily / seem implausible / let you down?

Was the plot / resolution predictable? Did it surprise you? At what point did you know what was going to happen?

via Getting Meaningful Feedback.

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Micro Short Story: A Dungeons & Dragons Christmas Story

This is a new story that I whipped up yesterday, for your holiday reading pleasure.

A Dungeons & Dragons Christmas Story

The situation looked hopeless. I was surrounded on all sides by a snarling horde. I had no magic spells left, and I carried no sword, not even a dagger. My hard-fought-for treasures were in jeopardy. Trying my best to think despite the sound of what must have been some kind of singing, I glanced to my left. To my dismay, I found the aisle blocked. To my right, three members of the horde bore down on me with fully-loaded wagons. The realization sank in that I would be trapped in this strange land, never to return to my home.

Suddenly, a voice sounded from above, distracting my adversaries, and a small opening appeared in the crowd. Seizing my treasures, I summoned my last ounce of strength and all of my 14 points of Dexterity, charging through the space before it could close again. Relief swarmed over me as I saw, standing mere yards away, one who would grant passage out of this land to my treasures and me. She was a quiet young maiden who methodically examined my belongings, nodded, and handed me a piece of parchment. I offered my thanks, shoved the parchment inside my robe, and made great haste to my transport. Once there, I breathed deeply and rose my eyes to the heavens, thankful for my narrow escape.

And that’s how I got out of Wegmans on the day before Christmas Eve.

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Bless the Beasts and the Children

Like so many millions of others, I feel heartsick about the horrible events of December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut. It’s impossible to understand how someone could be evil enough to shoot a six year-old once, let alone multiple times. The children and the adults who died trying to protect them are true angels. I hope their families and friends can eventually find peace, and they are all in my prayers.

This song has been running through my head for the last day or so. My sister had this record when we were kids, and I think it’s a fitting sentiment, one that so many of us are feeling right now. The slideshow is heart-melting. Words, particularly my words, are a poor tribute to those whose lives were stolen on Friday. I hope you’ll find that images and music do it better.


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The Importance of Backing Up

Hard disk photo by walknboston. Used under a Creative Commons attribution 3.0 license.

I’m going to state this up front for emphasis: Back up your important files.

Repeat with me: Back up your important files.

The last time I posted here was on November 2. Two days after that, I left for a business trip to St. Louis. Two days after that, I used my laptop while waiting in the St. Louis airport for my flight home. The next morning, the laptop wouldn’t boot up. I brought it to the experts who informed me that my hard drive was, in the parlance of the characters on Battlestar Galactica, “fracked.” Dead. Extinct. No more. Late. Lamented. You get the idea.

When was my last complete backup of my files, you may ask? Many, many months ago. I am alleged to be an intelligent human being, but I had no recent backups of some pretty important files, among them:

  • The most recent draft of my ghost hunter novel
  • The ebook files ofPurgatory
  • Some financial records, including receipts from this year’s conventions

Fortunately, a few beta readers had the ghost hunter novel, I’ll be able to re-create the convention receipts from credit card statements, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to recover the ebook files from CreateSpace. If worse comes to worse, I’ll have to rebuild them. This will be a huge pain in the butt, but if I want to submit the book to more book bloggers, I’ll have to do it.

I’m typing this on a new laptop (the one with the dead hard drive was, as the computer tech said, old enough to start kindergarten.) I imported my most recent backup, but it was not nearly current enough. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m backing up my stuff.

Have you backed up your important files in the last week? If not, do it today. Seriously.

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10 Things I Love (and Hate) About Autumn

Halloween is over, and we’re in that uneasy period between the warm days of Indian summer and the frantic pace of the holiday season. I’m sitting in a Panera Bread restaurant not far from my office. The sky is an ugly gray, it’s raining out (whether the leftovers from Hurricane Sandy or a new weather system, I can’t tell), the temperature has taken a decided turn downward, and it’s just kind of … blah. This seems like the perfect time to focus on the positive. And the negative.

Herewith, 10 things I like about autumn:

  1. Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes.
  2. Football. My New York Giants are kickin’ butt.
  3. The change in the leaves. Some people may not consider upstate New York to be the coolest place to pitch your tent, but withhold judgment until you’ve driven through the Adirondack Mountains during the fall.
  4. No humidity.
  5. Halloween. Alas, my children are grown now, but some of my fondest memories are of eating their Halloween candy when they weren’t looking.
  6. Syracuse University Orange basketball returns! We’re ranked number nine in preseason polls.
  7. In a couple of weeks, I won’t have to feel weird when I catch myself humming a Christmas song.
  8. Turkey. Yes, you can eat turkey anytime of year, but it just tastes better in November. I’m pretty sure scientists have proven this.
  9. I get to start wearing my favorite sweatshirts again.
  10. Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.

Not to be outdone, here are 10 things I don’t like about fall:

  1. It’s not summer anymore.
  2. Very soon, I will have to start using an ice scraper on my car each day.
  3. Soon after that, I will have to start using a snow brush on my car each day.
  4. Soon after that, I may have snow up to my hips in my driveway.
  5. Baseball season’s over.
  6. The Giants traditionally swoon in November.
  7. Election campaign commercials are still on TV. I am fascinated with politics, but the people who produce negative campaign ads should be forced to spend 14 consecutive days after the election doing nothing but watching and listening to their work. That might scratch the surface of suitable punishment.
  8. Those of us blessed with a modicum of common sense understand that it’s too cold to wear shorts. Not everyone has chosen to read that memo.
  9. The sun rises later and sets earlier.
  10. Next summer’s convention season and annual reunion with my college buddies feels like an awfully long time away.

What’s on your lists?

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Hurricane Sandy Relief Donations

Our neighbors in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey have had their worlds turned upside-down. If you’d like to learn more and donate a couple of bucks, just click on the widget below.

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10 Books You Should Read About Elections

Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey - 3D Icons

Illustration by DonkeyHotey

I saw something on TV the other day about there being an election next month. That kind of came from out of nowhere, didn’t it? You’d think somebody would have run a commercial on TV. How am I supposed to make up my mind about Candidate A without an ad telling me that he’s a socialist scumbag who wants to double my taxes, give free Cocoa Puffs to the undeserving poor, send housewarming gifts to new illegal aliens, and outlaw churches? How can I make a decision about Candidate B if a scary-sounding guy doesn’t warn me that he wants to post law enforcement officers in my bedroom, force poor people to sell spare parts of their bodies to survive, dump buckets of money on rich people, and is a bit less liberal than the Taliban on women’s rights issues?

Actually, I saw those ads on every TV at the gym I go to. Over. And. Over. And. Over.

Nevertheless, despite their less attractive elements, U.S. election campaigns hold a definite fascination for many of us. Sometimes, they become the subjects of good books, both fiction and non-fiction. In the spirit of the season, I hereby give you a list of good books about the U.S. electoral process. I’ve linked to their listings on Amazon.com, though you might have better luck with a couple of the older titles in libraries and used bookstores. In no particular order:

The Last Hurrah. Politics in the pre-internet, pre-TV days, when Irish politicians in big cities got votes by attending wakes and candidates relied on newspapers for character assassination of the other side. A compelling read.

Primary Colors. A rather thinly-veiled fictional account of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for the presidency. John Travolta starred in the film version.

Game Change. A history of the 2008 presidential election campaign, written by reporters with inside access to all of the major candidates. HBO released a film version earlier this year that focused almost entirely on the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket, but the book is far more comprehensive.

Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72. Hunter S. Thompson. Nixon. McGovern. Need I say more? This was the last campaign in which the Iowa caucuses did not play a major part.

Convention. I read this back in high school. A suspenseful novel about the days when the national political conventions actually picked the candidates.

All the President’s Men. Richard Nixon wins 49 states in the Electoral College and sows the seeds of his own downfall. One of the great detective stories of our time.

1876. The late Gore Vidal’s novel about America’s centennial year and a stolen presidential election.

Angels & Demons. Okay, this one’s about the election of a pope, not a U.S. president, and I know that a lot of people have issues with Dan Brown’s writing. Still, it’s a page-turner.

Too Close To Call. Jeffrey Toobin’s account of the biggest electoral debacle in modern American history — the 2000 presidential election. This story still raises blood pressures on both sides of the political spectrum.

The Making of the President 1960. A modern classic of U.S. political literature. The 1960 campaign brought U.S. presidential politics into the television age. For better or worse, it’s never been the same since.

So there you have it — my list of top 10 election-related books. Do you have any favorites that I left out? Any that are on my list that you don’t think belong? List your nominees in the comments.

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Happy Birthday, Paul

One of America’s greatest living songwriters turned 71 on Saturday. Happy belated birthday, Paul Simon. I hope you have many more years of music ahead of you.

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