Which one of you has been submitting my short stories to lit mags?

This morning, a prominent literary journal rejected a short story of mine.
This should be a bummer, but it’s not, because I have absolutely NO memory of ever submitting it to them. None. So one of you is probably sending my stuff out, right? (If so, thank you.)
Just kidding — not sleeping for a couple of years has done a number on my memory. That story probably sat in their slush pile for a loooong time.
Anyhow, strangely, the rejection was a pleasant surprise:
“Oh, I sent something out? Go me! Oh, it was literary fiction? I’m fancy!”
And actually there’s an unexpected bonus here: I have a finished short story to submit to a journal today. If I look deep enough into my email’s sent folder, I might even have a pre-written cover letter to go with it.

What I’m doing now: a month of revisions

I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but better late than never: Hey readers! At the end of November, I finally finished the first draft of the final book in the Resistance trilogy.

First draft of third book, Star Wars crawl edition.

A photo posted by A.J. O'Connell (@annjoc) on

It’s been a long time coming. The second book, The Eagle & The Arrow, was released just around the time I found out I was pregnant with my son. After that, I slowed down in the creativity department.

(I’d always assumed that pregnancy would be a time of quiet reflection and creativity for me. Yeah, no. It turns out that I, personally, cannot gestate a baby and a novel at the same time.)

Anyhow, now that the baby is no longer a baby, but a toddler, my third book is nearly finished. But it’s a draft, and my editor asked to see it by the end of this month. (Which is something I remembered at the end of last month.) So my big job this month is to revise that sucker, a set number of pages a time, through the month of February. I started this project February 2, and am more than halfway through with the revision. I’ve been doing it after work, and during nap times, and although sometimes it’s the very last thing I want to be doing after dinner, I’m amazed at how quickly this revision is moving along.

This is only the first step, though. I still need to read through the first and second books to make sure this book — written more than 10 years after Beware the Hawk was written and four years after the second one was written — makes sense. I’m dreading that part because I like reading my writing as much as most people like listening to recordings of their own voices.

 

This scene is terrible, and I’m not writing it.

fantasy shopping

Wizard shopping. Yaaaaay.

There’s a scene I have to write, but I’ve been dreading it.

It’s the kind of scene I hate reading, but it’s also seemed like the sort of scene I needed to write in order to connect important plot points.
Here’s the breakdown of what needs to happen: It’s a fantasy novel. A character needs warm clothes to go on to his next plot point. So he has to go shopping, but shopping would be a big deal for this particular character, so I have to address this. I can’t just skip it and say “he went shopping.”
But I do not want to write it. I’ve danced around writing it. I’ve brainstormed it. I’ve made little diagrams for it. When I wrote out the story beats for it, I wrote “make this scene FUN!” next to its bullet, as if writing an exclamation point on my outline would make this scene any more interesting. But no, it’s still a stupid scene. Just thinking of writing it makes me tired.

It’s not that I hate shopping. I like shopping. I like it a lot. I went shopping today, in fact. But shopping in fantasy settings? Eh. Those scenes have always seemed stilted and dull to me (yes, even the ones that take place in Diagon Alley).
I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because reading shopping and actually shopping are two very different experiences. Or maybe it’s because in a fantasy world, shopping often looks nothing like shopping in real life, so the author flounders around, trying to make up something plausible; A character walks into a tailor shop (is that even a thing?) and orders robes or is measured for clothes or whatever, and there’s a lot of stilted olde-timey fantasy talk, and if nothing happens to move the plot along, you can skim right over it.
Anyhow, If I’m bored by the very idea of writing this scene, why bother? Won’t the reader be bored by it as well?
So I decided something.

I’m just not going to write it.

My character doesn’t want to go shopping. I don’t want him to go shopping. So he’s not going. He can either freeze for a few chapters or he can steal something to wear and we can all move on with our lives.
It’s fine. He’s fictional. If he freezes, no one will actually get hurt. And even better, no one will be bored.

 

 

photo credit: Cauldrons, All Sizes via photopin (license)

Writing about wanting to be Han Solo at The Mary Sue

Last week The Mary Sue published an essay that my friend and fellow VBP author Tamela Ritter wrote about our feelings for Han Solo. Neither one of us had a crush on him, exactly: I wanted to be him. Tammy wanted to be his best friend.

And the response has been amazing.

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Our feelings about Han were a little confusing when we were kids, because we both grew up at a time when “oh, girls just like Star Wars because they think Han/Luke/Lando is hot” because you know, girls are only supposed to like girl things and when we were growing up, Star Wars was considered a boy thing.

Anyhow, this was a piece we wrote together for an anthology, Golden Fleece Press’s The Fandom Universe… A Galaxy Far, Far, Away

Tammy emailed me in May to tell me submissions were due at the end of October, and I said, hey, that’s cool. We have six months to work on this. And then we forgot all about it until the end of October. (We ended up writing our essay in a weekend. It was the weekend of my brother’s birthday, in fact. I was making edits on my phone while my husband drove us to my brother’s house for a family party.)

Despite the rush, I was thrilled with the end product. I love writing with Tammy; she has a very poetic style, and when we work together, my prose becomes 20 percent more literary. The essay was accepted by Golden Fleece, but I really wanted to get it out there for as many people — women especially — to see as possible.

The Mary Sue had published one of my essays before, so I thought what the hell. Why not pitch it? The response has been incredible.

There have been so many shares, and so many comments from other women who wanted to be Han, or from women who wanted to be Luke, from guys who wanted to be Leia. There have been comments from kids of all genders who grew up with a crush on Han, or on Mon Mothma, or on Yoda, even. I’ve seen people in my own Facebook timeline sharing the article, not knowing that I was one of the writers. It’s been a little weird, seeing my own words quoted at me in my timeline – especially since wanting to be Han Solo (even if I didn’t really know that’s what I wanted at the time) was a central part of my childhood. Not a lot of people knew that I pretended to be a pilot in my childhood bedroom as a kid, and it’s odd to think that so many people have read that about me now.

But it’s also kind of amazing. If this is the only thing I’ve written that ever goes even a little bit viral, I’ll be happy with that.

Will I see the new movie? Probably not for a while. (It’s the holidays and I’d have to get a babysitter and being an adult is occasionally no fun when it comes to midnight film releases.) But I might watch all my VHS tapes of the old ones.

Living from one deadline to the next, and why it’s time for me to start blogging again

A lot’s been going on lately and when I say “a lot,” I mean woah, I’ve had a lot of deadlines lately.

I’ve been quiet over here, mostly because I’ve been writing my words elsewhere. I used to write about pop culture here — now I pitch those ideas to The Mary Sue, The Establishment and whomever else will have me. I used to write about books here  — now I contribute to Book Riot.  I used to write my thoughts here, but now I don’t have as much time as I used to because I’m working a freelance copywriter.

Doing client work on a dank day.

A photo posted by A.J. O'Connell (@annjoc) on

That’s a pretty interesting gig. I work from home and write for a living, about all sorts of things and for several different companies. In some ways, it’s a lot like being a reporter. In others, it’s very very different. That’s probably worth a blog post, because it took me a long time to develop the language I needed to describe the work I was doing.

The upshot of all of this is that my business has been growing, which has been excellent, but I’ve also had less time to write my own fiction, and even less time to blog here, so of course, it’s the blog that’s losing out.

Recently, though, my brain’s been feeling kind of full. Not full of essay material, or fiction, or anything useful. It’s just… full. And I think this might be because I haven’t had time to sit and think, or to journal, about the work I’m doing. I’ve been working, and researching, and writing and momming (that’s another story) but I haven’t taken any time to organize those thoughts. I’ve just been living from one deadline to the next.

I also heard in a podcast (I’ve been listening to lots of these lately) that many authors are turning their blogs into Now sections, or rather sections detailing what those writers are doing right now. Which sounds like journaling to me. And which also brings blogging back to its roots. The earliest blogs were journals.

I’m going to try that here. Journaling and talking about work always helps me to focus. I can’t always be driving myself to work, and sometimes I need to stop and sit and think in order to be productive, but I’m always forgetting that.

So hello again, blog. Let’s do this.

 

From today until Thanksgiving, ‘Final Statements’ is free on Amazon

finalstatementsHello everyone!

Thanksgiving is coming up in the U.S., and to celebrate, I’m offering my short story, Final Statements for free on Amazon, from today until Wednesday, the day when we will all be cooking, traveling, or frantically screaming that company is coming and why isn’t this house clean already.

Just go to the link for the free short story. (It is an e-book, so you will need a reader or an app to read it.)

After all, Thanksgiving is a family holiday, and Final Statements is a story about family. Maybe not a great family, but hey, let’s celebrate all families.

 

Scary author tasks: Asking for reviews

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“Excuse me, if you like me, can please you tell everyone how awesome I am? If not, you have my permission to punch me in the face.”

Asking a book blogger to review your novel is a little like approaching a stranger on the street and saying: “Excuse me, if you like me, can please you tell everyone how awesome I am? If not, you have my permission to punch me in the face.”

Okay. Maybe that’s a little melodramatic, but that’s what it feels like to me. And it’s that time again: book review request time.

Every couple of months, I sit down with a spreadsheet and a copy of the Book Reviewer Yellow Pages, take a deep breath, remind myself that it’s too early in the day to start drinking, and start writing emails.

When I put it like that, it  doesn’t sound that difficult, but it is. It’s one of my most demanding tasks as an author, both physically and emotionally.

Physically demanding, because I like to send out several requests in a day, but the requests can never be one mass request. That would be disrespectful.
Every blogger has her own review guidelines, and those review guidelines have to be respected. So if I’m sending out 12 emails to 12 bloggers, I’m typing an individualized email to each, trying to follow their instructors to the letter. (Sometimes bloggers will slip something crazy into their guidelines, like a math problem, or a random phrase, just to make sure authors are paying attention and following directions.) Then there are typos. I worry about typos, and when I fret about them, I create more of them, so each email takes a while.

Emotionally demanding, because basically, I’m spending a lot of time and effort to very politely ask a stranger to give me what could be a horrible review.
Asking people for opinions is a gamble. It’s hard to say “Here, I wrote this thing. Please, tell everyone on the Internet what you think of it.”
Part of the reason it’s so difficult is because I start writing the bad review I expect to get in my head as I’m writing my request to the reviewer. I have to be careful to not write disclaimers or apologizes for the work into the request. I also have to be careful to avoid false bravado.

It’s not my favorite task, but my fears are often unjustified. Many of the reviewers who have responded to my requests have been kind (the insane review guidelines are just so that they are not overwhelmed by authors who mass email them) and have given me wonderful reviews.

But here’s the thing: word of mouth is still the best way to sell a book that doesn’t have the publicity of say, Go Set A Watchman. And on the Internet, book blogs are word of mouth. So if you want to be read, requesting reviews from people with an audience in your genres, you must ask for reviews.

And sometimes, you will get punched in the face. (And remember, you gave that person permission to punch you in the face, so don’t complain about it!) But sometimes, the book blogger will turn around and tell everyone within earshot that you are awesome.

 photo credit: 40+117 Sucka Punch! via photopin (license)