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The Blog of Anya Harker

Plotto: The Door that Locks

February 15th, 2012

So… I thought it was about time I posted a little ditty of mine up here. Most of what I’m writing at present is tied up in projects and what-have-you, but this was a quick one off from a weekly contest on the Tin House blog. Didn’t win, but I loved the piece enough to share it!

It’s a flash fiction piece, under 500 words.

Female protagonist finds that the knob and lock on the door of a hotel bedroom are in disrepair; the lock apparently locks itself, and the knob will not turn.

Time. I’m running out of time.

Bolted. Locked. No matter what I do, the door remains firmly stuck and there’s nothing I can do to open it. Believe me, my torn fingernails are a testament to my efforts. So much for the manicure I finally indulged in.

Outside my small prison masquerading as a hotel room, the scent of freesias wafts through the open window on the tropical breeze. In the distance, the soft sound of bird calls reach my ears and somewhere beyond that are the legions of guests who have come to witness this day. Unfortunately for me, those people known as my friends and family are on the far side of the resort and I could scream myself hoarse and no one would come running. On what should be the biggest day of my life, I’m utterly alone and not by choice.

Why hasn’t anyone come for me? Hasn’t anyone noticed I’m missing? Or is everyone so busy that not even the bride’s absence is noted?

My hair is in disarray and I don’t want to think of the three foot rip in my dress — the one that took me six months to save up enough money to even put a down payment on the damn thing. The faux-diamond tiara I coveted is now in pieces, thrown across the room in a fit of anger. Countless bobby pins litter the floor in a semi-circle around the door, bent in every direction when they failed to provide escape. One end of the metal prong that once belonged to the tiara is bent into an unrecognizable shape after being used, with no success, to jimmy the lock.

The fairy tale princess has been transformed back into Cinderella long before her time was set to expire.

My hand is bleeding from pounding on the door, trying to catch the attention of someone who may happen to walk outside my door. I’m still in this cursed room with a blood stain marring the pure white dress. Maybe it’s a good thing no one can see me now. I look like a zombie bride from hell, not the pristine woman everyone expects. I wonder what the guests will think… what Kevin will think. Will he come running for me or will he accept my absence with silent resignation? I don’t bother to wipe the tears from my face as the drip from my chin and onto my dress. It’s already ruined.

And somewhere, in the distance, a clock chimes one.

Critiques… It Gets Easier

February 4th, 2012

I have to say, at the start of this journey, critiques were hard to take. Honestly, I think it’s hard to hear “hey, this sucks” (though, hopefully told a bit nicer than that!). It’s something you’ve put your heart and soul into and something you’ve been living with for a very long time. Looking at the calendar, I have been living with this current novel in some form or another for about ten years now. It’s only within the past six months that I stopped putting it off and actually did something about writing it.

So yes, I’m protective of my baby.

The last time I wrote about critiques, it was hard to get the first major one from someone I really trusted — but after some licking of the wounds and letting the dust settle, I took an objective look and realised there was a LOT good there in what I was told. So I edited and moved on.

Now as I have my little critique group formed, when I get comments or line edits, I can’t wait to open them and start going through. I’ve finally realised that it’s not a reflection on ME — it’s just my friends making my work even better. They’re removed from it and know when things need to be tightened up and smoothed out.

Critiques? Bring ‘em on! All I ask: don’t send them at midnight or so — because it’s hard to go to bed. It’s like knowing there’s a present under the tree that you can’t WAIT to open — but you have to wait until Christmas Morning.

So, since I’ve now gotten a handle on critiques, someone tell me when rejection letters get easier?

A Bit of Perspective

January 17th, 2012

Last week I began my semester-long internship at InkWell Management. Let me tell you, it’s been amazing so far. Promise it’s not a conflict of interest as I’m not planning on querying InkWell until I’m done with my internship (unless they give me permission to do so this semester). Also, yes, going into publishing is something I’m interested in beyond just getting published. I guess you could say I want to work both sides of the aisle. ;^)

Hey — if I can use my legal career and be an agent (or at a publishing house) by day and do my authoress thing by night? I will be thrilled. But career aspirations are not for this post. XD

In any case, last week was spent wading through the slush pile and I was given several manuscripts to read as well! Which, I must say, was much more interesting than my law reading! Note to self, reading on my iPad is SO much easier than on my mac.

However, I can also say that going through the slush pile has been a bit of a wake-up call for me as an author.

I’ve sent out a couple of test balloons over the course of the past couple of weeks to try out my query. Learned what I was doing wrong, mind, but that doesn’t make the rejections sting any less either. Yet as I’ve been going through the slush pile and pressing send on the rejection letters it really sank in just how subjective this business really is. For me, the literary fiction isn’t my cup of tea — after reading cases all day long, I want to get lost in a book… not have to read and figure out what I’m reading. But, again, personal choice. Just as I have things that aren’t my favourite, so too do the agents I’m reading for. Doesn’t mean that my rejections mean I’m doing a bad job — just that, even with all my research, I hit agents who don’t like my premise.

Which is totally okay.

Seeing the submissions inbox pile up? Yeah, I see how many submissions agents get day after day — and if it doesn’t strike your fancy, you hit next. There’s only so many hours in the day and you can’t go for anything that doesn’t grab you and won’t let you go until you’re at the end and still wanting more.

So yes, after one week the internship I’ve gained a lot of perspective on the other side and what the agents go through.

Doesn’t mean the rejections won’t hurt when they come, however — but it still gives a bit of perspective from the agent side to the writer side.

What’s My Genre?

January 3rd, 2012

As I get ready to start the submission to agent process in the next couple of months, I realized I hit a bit of a stumbling block: genre! Yes, I know when that magical time comes that I have an agent and an editor they will know best where to file my book — but at the same time, I need to have some idea of what my genre is for when I query agents. I don’t want to be THAT PERSON who queries 500 agents blindly without knowing what genres they do and don’t represent. I’ve done my research, baby.

However, that still leaves me with the question of what in tarnation do I call this thing? Fantasy? Paranormal Romance? Urban Fantasy? It’s So Good It Doesn’t NEED A Genre? Well… maybe not so much with the last one. Ahem.

The problem is, my book has a lot of elements of ALL those genres.

I’ve read on a lot of sites that, right now, paranormal and dystopian are a hard sell. Well, don’t care that much about dystopian as that’s not what I’m writing. However, I don’t know if I’d classify a book about magic and sorcerers as paranormal — it’s more of a fantasy book. BUT! on the other hand — my book does have romantic elements in it as one of the main plotlines… which doesn’t exactly follow fantasy either in my experience.

I also realize that calling it a paranormal fantasy romance would make me look like a right idiot trying to throw the manuscript and all the genres at the wall and hoping something would stick.

Tonight I was doing some reading over at the Query Tracker Forums and I came across a few interesting threads regarding genre — namely, one I hadn’t thought of: Urban Fantasy. I always had a preconceived notion that urban fantasy was the gritty fantasy set in the middle of a city… like, something that would be set in Harlem, NYC. Reading this thread, however, gave me a whole new appreciation for this genre.

In general, it seems like “paranormal” is generally applied to paranormal romances. Those are stories where the plot revolves around the failure or success of a relationship, so the conflicts and complications come from the interpersonal dynamics between the main characters. Urban fantasies can definitely have romantic elements, but in those stories, the main characters are generally teamed up and working together to overcome some outside obstacle bigger than their relationship.

An easy way to think of the difference is to ask yourself, “Are my main characters opposed and working hard to get together, or are they together and working hard to face an outside opposition?” — LisaAnn

I think I’m in love with this litmus test.

Urban Fantasy does have that little requirement of having a contemporary, real-world, urban setting (as opposed to Fantasy’s wholly imagined landscape), but I think most of us tend to have a sort of real-world setting… even if that real-world is imagined. Hm… a bit of a double-edged sword there, isn’t it? Don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call LORD OF THE RINGS an urban fantasy novel, but I know I’d call THE FEVER SERIES (by Karen Marie Moning) a UF.

Looking at my plot, yes there are romantic elements in it — but in the end they’ll be working together to face an outside opponent. The romantic elements aren’t all there is to the story. A large part? Yeah, I’d say so — but the ultimate end is defeating the bad guy rather than the romance elements of “together-break-up-together-break-up-together-forever”… thing.

Of course, you read another blog and they say that urban fantasy is something dark and gritty — like how I initially pictured Urban Fantasy to be. *throws up hands*

Maybe it is time to throw a bunch of things at the wall and see what sticks.

Well, it’s December 31st and in a few hours I’ll be heading off to the theatre to perform in yet another New Year’s Eve concert. I’ve been a part of these NYE concerts for so many years, it seems odd to contemplate a New Year’s where I won’t play “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and ring in the New Year’s with actors I’ve known for more than a decade.

And yet, who knows where I’ll be next year?

This year has been such a roller-coaster of emotions for me, and I really don’t know where to start looking at what shaped me this past year. I’m embarking on a new and (I will admit) terrifying journey into the world of publishing. Yes, it’s scary to think of putting yourself and your work out there in the hopes an agent will like it and your writing and sign you on. My manuscript is going through edits with my wonderful critique group and my query letter is sitting, polished, in dropbox and waiting to be sent out.

Yes, it’s scary as all hell.

While I’ve been home, I’ve come across a few things I wrote in high school (ugh!) and even books I made as a child. I’ve been writing my entire life and honing my craft as I’ve gone from picture books in elementary school to fanfiction in high school and college — and it’s time I followed my heart and went back to my creative lifestyle. It’s where I’m truly happiest.

Since I decided to push myself to really make a go of writing, I’ve managed to complete a short story, an entire novel, plot out several more, and be asked to participate in an upcoming eZine launch. I’ve been invited to write for Bleeding Cool on several occasions, and will be one of the bloggers in an upcoming YA Blog to be launched in the new year. Let no one say that, when I finally set my mind to something, I go at it with both guns blazing.

Thus, as this year ends, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few thank yous to the friends who have helped me through these past six months to find where I need to be.

So first of all, the biggest thank you in the world goes to my bestie, Kris. I don’t know where I’d be without her, and I certainly know she’s the one who has pushed me to finish this draft and will make sure I don’t chicken out and not submit this thing to agents when the time comes.

Then there are my two Danas — same spelling; different pronunciation. One who is my guinea pig for reading and I’ve left completely in the dark; the other who I have talked and talked to in order to figure out what direction my plot is going in.

And then a huge thank you to my pro-friends: Aimee, Jules, and Jesi — who let me ramble on and are there to talk me down off the ledge and offer such wonderful advice. ♥ And a special thanks to Mr. Tony Lee — who introduced me to so many amazing people in London and also has always been there with a witty remark or kind word of encouragement.

To my critiquers: Erin, Alexa, Nuri, and Jate. ♥ Your suggestions are invaluable.

But most of all — thanks to you guys. My friends and family with all of your support, it means the world to me. To those of you who I’m just getting to know thanks to QT or other corners of the internets, welcome. Thank you… for everything. (And I’m sure I’ve probably left someone out, but that’s what I get for writing this after a 4+ hour rehearsal. So if I forgot you? I’m sorry. ♥)

When the clock strikes midnight, 2012 will be upon us. May those of us who are struggling to get noticed and find our niche in the publishing industry find everything we’ve wanted in the upcoming months.

Happy New Year!

Internship Ho!

December 21st, 2011

Well, I have a brilliant piece of news — though I’m sure most of you have already heard about it already. ;^)

I’m at a literary agency! ……. Sorta.

I don’t have an agent yet (alas). The querying process will begin in the new year and I’m not afraid to admit I’m scared for that whole process to begin. *wibble* It’s going to be harrowing, nail-biting, and most likely test the limits of my (already tenuous) sanity.

However!

In January, I start with InkWell management as an intern in the agency. I’m so bloody excited, I keep jumping up and down, flailing like Kermit the Frog. It’s unpaid but they’re going to work on getting me a travel stipend which will definitely help a lot. I found the internship on the wonderful www.bookjobs.com and the description says they have a high success rate of placing interns in the industry. So here’s hoping I can do the whole “pub-industry by day; writer by night”… thing!

For the time being, however, I get to wait for January to come around so I can get started! And, y’know, start learning about the agency side of things!

The fact that it’s a synopsis, that’s what’s hard!

Honestly, until I sat down to actually write one, I thought this would be the easiest part of the journey. In my infant days as a writer, I assumed the hard part was going to be getting the 75,000 words down on paper and not giving up halfway through. Then when I hit my stride and was writing anywhere between 5-8k a day, I found that it was the (forgive the term) easy part of the whole process. As I sit in B&N helping a friend of mine plot her novel I realize that plotting is something I love to do and comes fairly easily to me as well. I’m at a point now where I look at a picture and can craft a story around it.

This is, however, more of a curse than a blessing. It’d be fine if I wasn’t trying to balance school on top of writing (or as I think my parents would rather hear me say “balancing writing on top of school”), but right now I don’t have time to plot out fourteen different ideas! But I digress.

While I let my novel sit and percolate in my brain for a while before I begin the hardcore edits, I thought I’d use the time to work on my query letter and synopsis. Even the dreaded query letter wasn’t horrible to write… once the idea came to me. Several drafts later, it’s in a drawer waiting to be used and I’m happy with it.

Finals are starting now and I’m turning to the synopsis as a study break… or so I thought. The deeper I get into this, the more I’m realizing it’s turning into more work than the take-homes themselves! How do you take something that’s 75k and parse it down into only 3-5 paragraphs? One of my professors suggested that I make them five veeerrrryyyy lllloooooonnnnngggg ppppaaaarrraaagggrrraaappphhhsss (in his words) but I don’t think an agent is going to like getting three thousand word paragraphs. ;^)

So that is my goal at some point… to get my SECRET PROJECT down to a measly 3-5 paragraphs. It’s not going to be easy, and there will probably be a lot of crying coming from my corner of the world that has nothing to do with law finals. Hopefully, once it’s done, I’ll have cracked the magic secret of writing the perfect synopsis.

More likely, I’ll be sitting in a corner, rocking, and wondering how on earth I got this done in the first place.

Pros and Cons of Navel Gazing

December 3rd, 2011

Navel Gazing: Excessive introspection,
self-absorption, or concentration on a single issue.

Sure, we all hit this point when we’re writing when you know that AMAZING scene is coming up soon and you can’t wait to reach it. It’s not such a bad thing to skip ahead to write that amazing scene because you’ll come back to where you were later. Right?

… Right…?

Well, as I (and I’m sure many of you have figured out) skipping ahead is a very dangerous habit to get into. Why you may ask? Well, I’m about to tell you… from my own personal experience of course. Again, personal experience. If it works for you, then scroll on by this.

This blog is thanks to Alexa, by the way.

1. You’ll only write your favorite scenes. This is probably the most dangerous of all the reasons navel gazing is so very, very bad. When you keep jumping ahead to write your favorite scenes, you’re going to wind up having a set of scenes that mean almost nothing because you’re missing everything in between. They may be amazing scenes, but without the rest of the novel, you won’t have anything.

2. Continuity. This figures into point number one, actually. When you have a series of scenes, you run the risk of not having everything flow together when you finally come around to writing those hated scenes. Sure, you (hopefully, in any case) have an outline you’re working with but what author hasn’t had something completely unexpected suddenly happen with your characters and suddenly it’s damage control as your characters decide to go in a direction that’s completely different than what you already had planned.

Face it. We’ve all been there.

3. Those scenes? Yeah. Those scenes. If you hated them because you skipped them, how is it going to feel when you have to write EVERY HATED SCENE EVER. And? I have a feeling your audience is going to tell it was like pulling teeth to write those scenes too.

Am I saying you should never skip ahead? No, of course not. Looking at my first draft, I had several scenes plotted out in my head and I even had the ending of this book finished when I was at the half-way point. Sometimes you do have to go where the muse takes you and write what you need to write that day. But on the other hand, it’s a dangerous habit to fall into as well. You run the risk of having to write things over and over and over again if characters screw up your well-made plans or having to write a bunch of scenes you don’t like all at once.

Instead, may I suggest a few alternatives?

1. Just Write it: Yep. Advice number one is to muscle through what you don’t like and just (to quote Earl) “git ‘er done”. Besides, when you get through the scene you’re not looking forward to writing, you’ll have a scene you want to write waiting for you as a reward.

2. why is it hated? Take a step back and look at the scene and try to figure out why you dislike it. Is it because something bad happens to the Main Character and you don’t want to make their life miserable? Or is it because the scene is an info dump and doesn’t have much action? Perhaps the reason you don’t want to write the scene is because there’s something wrong with the scene itself and it’s your muse’s way of telling you “DON’T DO IT!”. Like I said up above, if it feels like you hated writing the scene, chances are your audience will know you disliked it.

Jumping around isn’t a bad thing to do… so long as it happens in moderation.

And if you still want to jump around, navel gaze and stare at the shiny object in the corner to the exclusion of all else? Well, just let me know. I have a prodding stick with your name on it!

Peer Feedback: Yea or Nay?

November 25th, 2011

I’m curious about something: peer feedback… By people you don’t know.

I know most of us have a group of closely trusted friends we use as our critique group: those who we can trust to keep quiet about what we’re working on when we don’t want our amazing and awesome ideas to get out and have someone pull the proverbial rug out from under us and steal said precious idea.

I am, by my nature, a suspicious person. I was the one in grade school who always covered my answers, afraid someone was looking over my shoulder. I get uncomfortable even now when someone looks at my computer screen a little too long in my local B&N.

Yet, as I work on revisions and start turning my attention to the next step in the whole process, I’m starting to think more about getting feedback from my peers. Recently, I came across an awesome site/forum that (among other discussion areas) has a place for peer review.

note: what I’m about to discuss isn’t a reflection on any of the writing/author/whatever sites out there. It’s my being curious and posing a question to you all.

One of the areas of the website that has me intrigued is the section for Query feedback. There’s a part of me that really wants to post my query (when I get there, of course — I’m not quite there yet. But those who know me know that I research and prepare waaaaay before I need things) on the site and get some feedback. The writing and revising of the novel itself isn’t so bad — but as I’ve never written a query before, I find I’m worried about the tone and the format of the letter as, if it isn’t any good I’ve burned a bridge with an agent and can’t requery with the same project unless it’s greatly revised.

But on the other hand… I’m worried about tipping my hand with what I’m working on as well because the forums aren’t locked down at all. Being the law student who has done a LOT of copyright law, I know the ins and outs. I know my words are copyrightable but ideas aren’t.

Thus my conundrum: post and get feedback and risk someone sniping it OR don’t post and go at it wholly alone. Or, the third option, that there’s an unwritten rule amongst writers that you just don’t steal another author’s idea. I honestly don’t know. I know my own moral code leans to the third, but I also know not everyone would feel as I do.

And thus I ask: what would you do?

First Draft: Completed

November 21st, 2011

Well, my dear friends and lovely readers, I’m happy to announce that last night I finished my first draft of the Secret Project(tm). I need to go back and tighten up the opening sections to jive with a critique I got, but for all intents and purposes I have a completed first draft!!

*kermit flail ZOMG!!!*

Ahem. Now, where was I? Right. I finished my first draft. I’ve been writing for years, beginning my career with fanfiction and finally moving to write my own things. However, in all my years of writing, never have I completed anything of this magnitude. First draft came in at 73,000 words.

I have to say, this is quite possibly one of the most amazing feelings ever. I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling yet (and I know I’m probably annoying my roommate… and several of my closest friends… and my bestie) with all of my bouncing around. It’s just… I hit the closing sentence of the book, hit the period and realised I have done it. I finally sat down and did what so many people have said they’ll do (write a novel) and I actually did it.

My roommate said it perfectly: Writing is about having more than good ideas. Writing is about having good ideas AND being able to sit your butt in the chair and actually write them down.

Last night’s Simpsons episode (23×06; The Book Job) nailed this perfectly.


Lisa on Writing

I’m hoping that’s going to embed when I post this. If it didn’t, click the link (it’s a flickr video). I apologise that the audio isn’t quite synced, but you get the idea. It was a quick cutting-job. ;^)

But the point is this: writing is about putting your butt in the chair and getting words on the paper.

The next step is one I’m looking forward to: the editing process. I can’t wait to sit down and tear things apart and put it back together in the right order and make it even better than the last draft. Then once this has gone through several edits… then comes the scary proposition of beginning to query agents. *GULP* But that’s still down the road and I’m going to ignore that bit for the present.

Not to mention… figure out what the next book is going to be.

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