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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Partly because it’s National Poetry Month and partly because a fan sent me some surprising poetry centered around unknown creatures, I give you a sample of the work of Jacob Gene Lenhardt of Menasha. This is not sweet or sentimental work, nor is it some sort of disguised sighting report. It is dark, a tad disturbing and I think it comes from some interior place that witnesses occasionally hint at but seldom know how to express. I found myself responding to these lines on a visceral level, and thought some of you might appreciate the chance to do so as well.

Poetry, I remind you again, is the most personal and subjective form of writing and not everyone’s cup of Starbuck’s. But if you’re game for a quick alternate look at the unknown, read on:

 Street Lantern
The snow apes that frequent our
mill-pond are losing their hair; it gets
caught in clumps when they
crawl under the barbwire
or gathers in the
basement drain during
spring floods. It’s because
of the shit I dump
in there to keep them
away or kill them off
but it only makes them
dumber and stronger
throwing up all over
and bleeding internally.
When I’m reading
my daughter a story at twilight
it gives me a stomach-ache
to see her eyes widen
over my shoulder
dancing with those
faint green lights;
I have to leave the room
to tell my mom
not to go out there
until the ship is gone.
Jacob Gene Lenhardt, by permission

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I love communicating with other authors, aspiring or established. Along with artists and Lhasa apsos they are my favorite people. But I recently received an email from a would-be author, of the kind that makes me say, “Oh, fudge,” and then go eat about a pound of said substance. The email was from a distant relative’s acquaintance who heard I’d had a few books traditionally published and wanted me to tell him how he could get his book traditionally published, too. I wish I knew!

 Well, actually I do know. Do a mountain of work and research to make sure your book is well-written, compelling and has an audience, and then do a lot more hard work and research to find agents or publishers who are looking for that type of book, and then do even more hard work and research to learn how to properly sell it to them. And don’t expect it to happen by next Tuesday. If it happens at all. 

I learned all this the hard way, and it entails far more than I could cram into one e-mail. Besides, I’m not necessarily worthy! Just having books published doesn’t make me anyone’s career expert or a fairy godmother even if I do like magic wands and pixie dust. And I’m still learning, meself.

 But luckily for him, me and everyone else, in the past three or four years many first-rate agents, writers, and publishers on the blogosphere and social media sites have created a cyber-university wherein anyone can earn a virtual doctorate in Book Authorology by absorbing all the amazing FREE advice and insights a humanoid brain can hold, plus so much more it will slop right out onto your Live to Write t-shirt! I cannot post loudly enough about what a valuable development this is for every aspiring writer. I surely wish it had been there ten years ago when I was beginning my own adventures with books. Its vastness, however, can be daunting. 

To get started, I told the emailer, mine the gemmy topics listed in the sidebar of top blog dog Nathan Bransford. Go deep. Then there are the perennially fresh and useful insights of agent Rachelle Gardner. I also subscribe to blogs like those of Victoria Mixon, Guide to Literary Agents and the crazy-useful Querytracker which puts powerful search-and-record tools at your callused fingertips. The esteemed pros at literary agencies such as Dystel and Goderich, including my own incredible agent, Jim McCarthy, also often take turns sharing their wisdom. All of these sites include favorite industry links that you may combine exponentially to create your own How to Succeed in Publishing and Subsume the Universe Manual.

What makes all of this even more helpful is the opportunity to get personal. Most

True Jedi Enlightenment

 sites have comment sections and/or community forums filled with posts from other intelligent folks. Also, search for and follow members of the huge writing community on Twitter and then interact in real time for true Jedi enlightenment. So many people are already doing this that I can’t believe everyone doesn’t know about the depth of the Web-Lit explosion, but the emails I receive – and I’m not even an agent or editor — from unaware beginners tell me they either have no clue or have failed to take full advantage. (Another came in while I was writing this!)

 I knew that this wasn’t what the nice and understandably hopeful e-mailer wanted to hear. What he – perhaps unconsciously — wanted me to say was, “Sure, even though I don’t know chickpeas about you or your book, let me set you right up!” It makes me feel bad that I haven’t the power to get anyone else’s book published, and that in turns makes me eat more fudge. And sooner or later I’ll end up on a reality show for obese writers called Pride and Fudge-udice, or The Biggest Wordsmith.

 So that I may avoid such a fate, I encouraged this potentially best-selling author to delve into all the wonderful things mentioned above, and then come back with specific questions I still might not be able to answer. I haven’t heard back, so either he is unhappy OR he has become one with the online writing world and is even now empowering his own path to publication. I do hope he chose the latter.

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Because I adore all things gnomish — especially after having spent a year writing a YA novel about a warrior gnome’s quest to follow his beloved across the US even though he is too short to drive — I’m pretty excited about Chuck Sambuchino’s new book, When Garden Gnomes Attack.

I am even more excited that it is going to be featured in the upcoming issue of Reader’s Digest. I am taking this as an implicit promise that this venerable publication will next feature  werewolves, and then perhaps (in turn) faeries, goatmen, mothmen, Bigfoot, hellhounds and ogres. Considering that these subjects are my bread and nectar, bringing gnomes to the forefront of public consciousness bodes very well for me and for other writers of Strange. Chuck Sambuchino, I salute you!

Besides, I own a few garden gnomes myself (although Oskar, hero of my novel The Kobold finds them ghoulish) and several times I swear I have seen the one holding the sharp spade twitch a bit when the dog or I walked past.

For the record and for comparison between the garden variety gnome and the real thing, my reference drawing of Oskar the Kobold is below. His story is complete and available, in case anyone wonders.

Oskar, the Kobold, a warrior gnome in America

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Whee, win prizes! Get critiques, free books and maybe an agent who will fall in love with your 50-word Best Last Sentence Ever! What’s not to love ? Contests are generally good for all involved, but before I will spend my valuable writing time to come up with a decent entry, I think hard about certain criteria.

For instace, this blog post will help qualify me to  enter Guide to Literary Agents Fourth Dear Lucky Agent Contest for Middle Grade and YA books http://bit.ly/99cnKG

What made me decide this particular contest was worthy? Here are those aforementioned criteria:
1. It is run by a reputable website (love GLA)
2. The prize, a ten-page agent crit, is worth my time and effort
3. I have a finished product (MG fantasy novel) that is ready for some professional feedback
4. Entry requirements – 2 links and 150-200 words – are not too onerous
5. It has been a while since the last one I entered
6. My entry suits the guidelines – in this case, must be a completed MG or YA novel.

There is also an element of networking in any well-structured contest that attracts me, as well, and I am glad to help promote a blog that I use and enjoy.

There. I’m now officially entered, and may the best teen protagonist prevail!

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As an artist and recovering overachiever, I always try to offer something original in the Christmas cards I send every year. And since becoming embroiled in the mystery of unknown animal sightings — especially the canine and lupine variety — cryptid forms often sneak into my yearly greetings. I am still working on this year’s, but here are a few ghost cards of Christmases past:

My fave so far; sort of a Native American influence wedded to the Noel carol:

Then there is the photographic approach, requiring cooperative family. This was taken about three years ago and my hair is weirder than the beast…

And finally, crossing the species divide, I had to use a drawing to depict this guy as he will NOT stand still for a photo

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Unintentional Writing Tips

If your gift is crochet, better to make a great doily than a lousy parachute.

You know you are obsessed with the craft of writing when random quotes all seem to apply to your work-in-progress. Here’s a baker’s dozen from one crazed, revelatory evening with my thesaurus of quotations:

1. “By labor fire is got out of a stone” – Dutch proverb: Exactly describes the process of my novel revision.

2. “To really know someone is to have loved and hated him in turn” – Marcel Jouhandeau: = recipe for a believable character?

3. “The mind of man is more intuitive than logical, and comprehends more than it can coordinate.” – Vauvenargues: So THAT’S why my plot structure sucks!

4. “Pour not water on a drowning mouse.” – T. Fuller: Dear agent, I know you meant well with that query rejection, but…

5. “Little by little does the trick.” Aesop: 500 words/day WILL a novel make, given enough days.

6. “Alternatives, & particularly desirable alternatives, grow only on imaginary trees.” – S. Bellow: And thus, I write fantasy.

7. “It’s absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” O. Wilde: Substitute “books” for “people.”

8. “Men perish because they cannot join the beginning with the end.” – Alcmaeon: Substitute “books” for “men.”

9. “The man who suspects his own tediousness is yet to be born.” – T.B.Aldrich: I definitely need more beta readers.

10. “By the husk you may guess at the nut.” T. Fuller: Truly, let the pros do your cover.

11. “He that is everywhere is nowhere.” T. Fuller: FOCUS!

12. “Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death.” – Pascal: Let the protagonist lounge, and the Story Mortician will come a-knocking.

13. “Never fall out with  your bread and butter.” – English Proverb: This either means don’t eat toast over your laptop, or take care switching genres. Equally useful!

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My Evening Adventuress costume

Me as "Evening Adventuress"

Steampunk costumes are glorious things. My own effort was not contest-worthy (though I still had fun wearing it), but I was blown-like-a-zeppelin-in-a-hurricane away by the grand prize winners; a wheelchair tricked out  with everything from a dangling faux gaslight to a metal-tubing cupholder, and a man with a wooden cabinet backpack that had moving gears, Tesla lights, and an array of other steamish objects too vast to describe here.

My quick take-aways from the weekend:

Victorian-era clothing looks great on every age group, with the possible exception of corsets worn as sole top. A corset-fail pictorial would have been horrendously easy to document.

Most SF/F fans believe Bigfoot is also SF/F, judging by the Mystery Animal Panel.

Autographing tables really should be located someplace near the attendees.

Girl Genius is a funny and top class comic.

Panelists in the know mentioned Tobias Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi and Catherynne M. Valente  as some of their fave, upcoming novelists. My Amazon wishlist runneth over.

Concensus from the 2012 Apocalypse panel I sat on was that the big change will be a spiritual transformation rather than an all out Armageddon as in the movie. Whew! I can drive again without checking for yawning sinkholes to Hell every two minutes. And does this mean anyone can be Pope in 2012?

It is possible to go an entire weekend eating nothing but Con Suite and Green Room food. And those who do, really appreciate it.

With the exception of one argumentative dealer, SF/F people are the nicest and most mannerly of crowds. Maybe it’s because we have so much practice at keeping our monsters in our heads where they belong.

windycon 007

WindyCon36 attendees

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My Necravenomicon Wings

My Necravenomicon Wings

I’m not a costume person. I had a bad costume-fail for my second grade class Halloween party and never quite recovered. I have always blamed my mother.

She had this thrifty notion that my costume should also be able to double as pajamas, so she had my grandma whip up a baggy bodysuit out of tiger-print flannel, complete with an eared cap that tied under my chin. The really egregious part was that she had forgotten to buy a mask or costume makeup, so she drew jagged stripes all over my face with her bright red lipstick. Altogether, I looked like Freddie Krueger had gotten hold of the neighborhood cat.

My classmates were grossed out. Worse yet, my two best friends, Mary and Leslie, were dressed like little dolls as Little Bo Peep and a fairy princess, respectively. My boyfriend  of the week, Larry Vorba, said Leslie was pretty but I was not. And the lipstick smelled like my mother’s saliva. I pretty much swore off elaborate costumes forever.

Then came WindyCon’s Steampunk-themed con, happening this Nov. 13-15. I’m on two panels and have a book signing — how could I not wear a costume? Besides, Steampunk is Victorian+fantasy+cool, Neil-Gaimanesque imagery. Irresistible. I decided to forget the tiger suit debacle and bought a hat and corset. I then set about creating a fantasy gadget “jet-pack” and attached it to some post-Halloween sale wings from Walgreen’s. I’m aiming for a gothy Victorian Tinkerbell look.

Here is a shot of the wing ensemble, and I’m also rigging up a big pocketwatch/brooch combination and will be carrying a transformed old book. I also have a very short ruffled skirt and tall black boots. And the only lipstick on my face will be between  my nose and chin where it belongs.

Larry Vorba, whereever you are, this one’s for you.

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I just finished my 11th (to be) published non-fiction book, and the good news is that I didn’t have to make an index for it.

The bad news is that I didn’t have to make an index for it.

My Strange Wisconsin index

My Strange Wisconsin index

My dirty little secret: I like making indexes. The old way. With a pencil and index cards. I know there are software programs for this, but I agree with the Chicago Manual of Style when it states that a computer-made index “cannot in any way substitute for a real index prepared with the aid of human intelligence.” (Thankfully, degrees of human intelligence are evidently not an issue.)

The crux of it is that indexing requires a sifting process to decide exactly what is pertinent to the subject at hand, and that process is at least partly subjective . If a book is about strange creatures, “phantom pigs” is probably a pertinent entry, but its exact  location in the obscure Welsh hamlet of Pentrefoelas may not be considered index-worthy. At least I didn’t think so when I prepared the index for Hunting the American Werewolf. A software program set for  proper nouns might have beeped to differ.

Besides, I find the process relaxing. You get the galley in the mail and look at how the pages have shaken out and how the designer has arranged things. That’s always enlightening. Then starting at page one, you write the words you choose on the indexcards, alphabetizing each. And don’t forget the page numbers.  Several packs of cards will be required for most books targeted above kindergarten level. And that Chicago Manual of Style will be invaluable for the picky parts.

Along the way you pick out any lingering typos that can still be fixed without disrupting design flow. A favorite beverage and snack is mandatory. The only tedious part is the data entry after you reach The End, but you could also enter as you go.

I’ve done this for five books — the others provided professional indexers at their cost — and this last one is part of a series with detailed chapter entries up front. But an index is normally a lovely and necessary thing to any researcher (or purchasing librarian — I’ve been one), and in my opinion no NF book should suffer the indignity of an indexless rear end.

I will add that I would never sign a contract for a book that required ME to pony up for a professional indexer. It would be like paying someone else to pet my dog or do my crossword puzzles. Genre NF advances are meager enough as it is.

And in the end, literally, a non-fiction tome without an index is just, er, book-naked.

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Are you still sleeping with the light on after reading Iowa mega-author Brad Steiger’s Shadow Worldbook by the Steigers, about spirit parasites and such lurking on the other side of the veil? Or are you just looking for some comfort and hope amid the fears of this near-Apocalyptic world? If your answer was affirmative in either case, you may wish to check out one or both of  Steiger’s recently released antidotes for gloom, Beyond Shadow World (Anomalist Books) and Real Miracles, Divine Intervention and Feats of Incredible Survival, co-authored with Sherry Hansen Steiger (Visible Ink Press).

book by the Steigers

When I ripped open the manila envelope and found my copy of Beyond Shadow World, I steeled myself for a deeper,  scarier look at the Other Side. Au contraire! I was pleased to be treated to an account of Steiger’s personal spiritual journey. The book is all about preparing one’s self for positive spirit helpers and experiences, and includes sojourns into the lives of others who have made crucial but unearthly connections along their intended paths. I was especially intrigued by the stories of Arkansan Al Kiessig, who has a knack for finding interdimensional portals, and New Age music pioneer Iasos, who hears and translates the heavenly choir. And Steiger doesn’t want anyone to swallow any of his information just on faith; he exhorts readers to examine every idea carefully. Always a prudent idea!

Real Miracles is an amplification of the Miracles series the husband/wife team has been co-writing for many years. It runs the gamut from amazing escapes from natural disasters to after death experiences. Some will give you the willies…a man escaping from an alligator after it chomped and swallowed his arm…and some, like the tiniest baby ever to survive at 9.97 ounces, will warm the cockles of the most  jaded heart. Even a heart too jaded for cockles.

I should mention for sake of full disclosure that Brad and Sherry are friends of mine. And it’s nice to have friends who write books so fabulous I would recommend them regardless. But both these books radiate the warmth and careful storytelling that is the Steiger hallmark, and will strike a celestial chord in anyone looking for an uplifting read.

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