When Writers Write Much

My lovely client, Hayley, is a writer of adult speculative fiction. She is also one who writes much. Check out her list of 2018 publications and pieces up for different award nominations here.

“Stone writes with grit, passion, and indomitable energy. A helluva ride.” – Joseph Brassey, author of The Mongoliad and Skyfarer

An outlaw queen’s dangerous flesh magic brings a gentleman marshal into her debt. Together, the pair must take down an even deadlier gang to clear her name.

I’d encourage everyone to pay special attention to this weird Western, Make Me No Grave, which Hayley sold before we started to work together to Aethon Books, a new imprint that is blowing up the e- and audio- Science Fiction/Fantasy (SF/F) world.

It’s available in trade paperback, on Kindle, and on Audible via Amazon.


In addition to this newly published title, Hayley has written two prior novels, and a series of recent short stories and poems, the details about which are available on her blog post.

Here’s the beginning of a poem, “Results of Your Quiz: Which Survivor of the Trojan War Are You?”, and you’ll have to click to read the remainder.

In your bed, instead of a girl 
they will find the impression 
of a girl, your sheets soaked 
in sweat, a body-sized bruise 
left in the linens…

New Interview: Agent Spotlight with Literary Rambles

Natalie Aguirre, blogger at Literary Rambles, has been kind enough to include me for an agent spotlight, and is offering a query critique from me.

For the critique giveaway details and the remainder of the spotlight, see the link included.

4.  Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?

I’m—to be entirely honest—not an agent who is overly concerned with tropes or categories. The best stories transcend those categories, or break them apart, or bring something so captivating to them that you forget why you hated the trope in the first place.

I, simply, have a heart for remarkably told stories, and writing proportionate to those stories.

In my first round of agenting, certain writers that I signed did have a debut novel that editors found “too similar” to something on the market, or didn’t add anything to a niche “too flooded.” Fine! This is part of the risk, and the puzzle, and the hard work! It so happens that most went on to write novels that sold, and sold brilliantly, and (in one or two cases) debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. All those that sold have also built sustainable, ongoing careers, and this to me is the essential marker of any worthwhile success. To give a specific example: I never thought I’d love a novel about zombies…but signed a former client, now a USA Today bestseller, who wrote the most delicious literary zombie novel, which didn’t go on to publish but helped break her into serious publishing—and, boy, I still hope to this day she’ll have a chance to place it, when people don’t feel tired of zombies.

Novelists who know their craft I will sign and work with, over long periods of time, any day.

On Writing Memoirs: Short Reflection #1

I love a good memoir.

Memoirs run a wide gamut. They can be, on one end, very platform-based books–which means that the person who is writing them, either himself/herself or with the support of a talented ghost writer, has a significant marketing powerhouse to back them. The nature of this marketing powerhouse depends entirely on the type of figure we are discussing, but can involve the institutions to which they are affiliated and the public value of their name, developed over time, with money, public exposure, wide-scale impact made through programming or otherwise, etc.

Think Brittney Spears and Michelle Obama-esque figures.

On the entirely opposite end, memoirs can be books with a very high concept–written by an individual without a platform, but are still compelling in some kind of essential ‘hook.’ The story organically captivates the hearts of readers, especially in the realm of particular forms of experience. These experiences can be deeply personal, or professional, or somewhere in between (i.e., ‘how an addict heals from addiction,’ ‘how an orphaned girl discovers her family,’ or ‘how a businesswoman’s career takes off under impossible circumstances’).

In either case, the best memoirs operate from within something like a novel’s structure: because you are not telling about a subject but about a life, and are thus telling a story, for no life can be explained without the story of the life, there needs to be an organic arc that arises from within the memoir’s premise or concept. An organic start, middle, end; an organic tension or problem or arc-in-experience .

Non-platform-based memoirs need tight work at the structural level, to tighten and to frame the individual chapters and scenes that operate along the story’s “arc”–to not just tell a super linear/horizontal series of events, that reads more like a timeline than it does a story, but something more vertical in its nature. This might mean that you the actual manuscript for the memoir begins in the heart of the story, the heart of the experience, and in working forward, works to integrate the background and history of the start in this setting in layers.

In may seem silly, but I think it’s a requirement for writers of memoir to read literary agent Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel (and/or anything else that he’s written, especially with an eye toward the tools he gives to teach structure and craft).

It should be a relatively easy book to read and apply–where memoirs are not writing something fiction, they already have the key story elements: the main characters, and the setting. They should always work to identify what is the sort of plot-like mechanism in this (as this is what will drive the love of the memoir–readers’ investment in the writer, and the story, and the stakes, and the nature of what the writer discovers and learns and has to share), as well as build out scenes to have a stronger beginning, middle, and end around their key ‘tension points’ and ‘focal points.’

Besides this, I think it’s important to read memoirs, and to answer these questions: How is the story structured? How are the scenes structured? What does the writer do in each individual scene? Where do they start and end? What keeps your interest? When is essential historical information introduced, and how does a plot-like or tension-related movement develop from within the early parts of the story? How much is related to voice–how the writer speaks, in telling the story–and how much is related to concrete external events or triggers that shape what happens?

I am actively open to memoirs, and love them, and entrust this as round #1–over what I hope will be many rounds–of some thoughts on memoir-writing. I did not have the opportunity to represent one in my first round as an agent, and hope to discover something that I respond to and believe in this time around.

Editing Anecdote 1/?

Sometimes, editing is hard, tough, nitty gritty work―and there’s something about learning to write that is learned in a particular way through the process of craft-learning and -practicing.

Elixir Club

A University of Washington ‘claim-to-fame’ is that no matter where someone is on campus, they are always two minutes away from a coffee shop. As such, a caffeine habit is slowly trickling into place. My dining account is emptying. I get whipped cream on every order and it’s the equivalent of eating sugar by the spoonful out of the bag. It’s terrible for me, and unbelievably great for me at the same time, since around mid-October I told myself I could only get coffee if I did something productive while drinking it.

The cold season was rolling in, too, so at that point, it was pretty much survival.

That’s how I did a large chunk of my revisions: sitting in UW’s Suzzallo library, mocha clasped in both hands, and my manuscript open in front of me. I have to admit, I had never done a rework on this scale before…

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Take Breaks ! — Elixir Club

It’s my joy to introduce the lovely Zoe Mikuta, a writer of YA sci-fi, whom I’d encourage you to follow online. See her blog debut here (via Take Breaks ! — Elixir Club):

I love the little breakthroughs that pop up during the writing process. It’ll usually go like this for me: I’ll be sitting in front of my computer for an hour plus, staring at the same blank page, forgetting the near entirety of the English language. I hate that little type line that flashes, too, disappearing […]

Results: September’s Operation Awesome Pass or Pages Agent Panel

See my feedback here:

W’s Pass or Pages Feedback

This may help answer the question: What’s going on when an agent reads your query and pages?

Background:

I love the opportunity to participate in little contests or critiques of this form, and was grateful for the chance to review queries and pages for submissions of Young Adult Fairy Tales, Folktales, or Myths, retold with diverse characters.

The submissions were published on the Operation Awesome blog, and I’ve hyperlinked the entries here (entry one, two, three, four, five).

The translation to blog content didn’t capture all of my feedback, so I’ve also included a PDF version above. All writers submitted their queries and ten pages with the green light for critique.

On Human Emotion & Affectivity

A common weakness, in terms of the writing quality that appears in my slush pile, lies among writers who tell us about their character, world, and plot with its unfolding, inciting incidents–rather than show us. (One simple example: Jonathan recognized Mary’s sadness, and her sadness angered him, instead of, Mary’s eyelashes fluttered close, casting a net over her face, stripped thin of its light. Jonathan stood back, and grit his teeth as a flash of heat curled into his heart.)

Even those writers who aren’t writing an immediately commercial, cinematic novel–the writers most literary in commitment–have to build out scenes that, in their structure, organically grow out arcs of plot, tension, and character development; arcs that happen from within the story rather than happen to the story. A reader should not feel the author imposing upon the story that he or she is telling; should never be awakened to the structural dimensions of the novel by a feeling of breaking–that feeling of something natural and organic breaking because of an author’s structural choice.

One common dimension in which this happens is the emotional or affective one–the interior reactions and processes of the characters in any given story, and the affective content that colors their experience of reality, including all those events that happen to them. How many of the best scenes, the most important ones, rotate around profound experiences of anger, rage, grief, lust, sexual attraction, or love, among others? This interior drive or awakening to an object–to a goal, to another character, to an action–drives the human dimension in fiction and memoir; without this dimension, fiction and memoir could not do the work for which they are intended.

To study one’s own experience, and to observe the experiences of others, is one way by which the writer educates himself in the affect–what is it that happens, what is that we actually feel, when emotion awakens in us? How? From where? To what end? What is the difference between a healthy emotional life and one that is less healthy, disordered, traumatized? How do we sift through the differences in these experiences?

And how do we then use external triggers, events, and encounters–along with their parallel and corresponding interior reactions and processes–to develop our characters and shape the events that drive our plots? These are immense questions, and answers to them require formation on different levels: deeply abstract, structural tools, on one hand; the study of one’s own experience, and the search for correspondence (how do these tools, these categories, explain my own experience and emotional life?); and the study of others’ experiences, those experiences which are not ours in a causal sense–they did not happen to us–but which we can enter into by observation and, most importantly and epically, a deep empathy that can be learned, practiced, and tested.

One book that I would encourage all writers to pick up–it’s a little gem I discovered, once, via a friend, and which has revolutionized the way I edit and write–is J. Brennan Mullaney’s Authentic Love: Theory & Therapy. It’s a rare book of psychology, and unlike anything in the field that I’ve ever read (and, I guarantee you, I’ve read v. broadly). He provides a rare “structure” to the interior life of the human person, examining the emotional dimension by proposing a structure to the human heart–including those ways by which everything from objectively “neutral” external sense experience to deeply, subjectively “value-based” emotional experiences leave their imprints on different dimensions of our beings.

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My mom, Bożena, and me, in April 2011, a month before she passed away after years of ovarian cancer, liver failure, and internal bleeding.

This book answered questions about certain experiences of my own, including the depth of grief that overwhelmed my life following the death of my mom, in a way that I have never seen in another book–and, as a result, I encourage all writers to pick it up and to examine it, for a structural framework and conceptual language to aid their writing. As an agent, I–and I would hope this is a widespread commitment on behalf of readers, agents, and editors alike–look for fiction that expands my understanding of the world, challenges my assumptions as well as confirms them (fundamentally, challenges me to be open to all reality and all bodies of experience), and aids my understanding of my own person as well as others in my life.

You will be shocked by the book. Before applying it to your own writing, I encourage using it as a framework to process your own life. There is an obligation, to some extent, for novelists to be aware of and take responsibility for the degree to which their own experiences shape the first principles and worldview in their novels. Have we not all had the experience of being deeply broken by, formed by, healed by, shocked by a work of fiction–and an author’s capacity to forever mark us, in one way or another?

If you have a chance to read it, let me know–as I’d love to hear any and all thoughts.

Additionally (and these are books I will further explain in other posts, but writers eager to do their research shouldn’t hesitate), I would highly encourage Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly and, where romantic love, sexual love, relationships of that form, and marriage are concerned, Sue Johnson’s Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships and Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.