An old problem rises from the dead

When I started writing novels, they rarely reached the end. Forget about editing, I couldn’t even finish. I lacked discipline, writing tools, direction and just general skill. I loved putting a new idea down, but I didn’t know how to bring that idea into fruition.

But I really wanted to.

What finally helped was

Practice. Just keep trying.

Dedication. Forcing myself to sit at that computer and write.

Planning. I could pants write everything. It just didn’t work. I had to have an ending in mind to work toward.

I still had a lot of starts, but I finally had some finishes too.

Problem was, they still weren’t very good. They meandered. They ran off track after plot bunnies. And the backstory… and once i realized this, well, it was discouraging and I found myself again with many starts and no finishes.

So I pushed myself.

Work-shopping. Letting my work get torn to shreds for the sake of making it better.

Outlining, hitting all the major plot points so I had a map to keep me on course

Researching good writing. Reading books and articles, going to conferences with successful writers.

Keeping a separate note file

Editing like hell when I finished a piece.

And hey, it worked. I started to produce work I was proud of. I was finishing one first draft a year. I was building up an arsenal of writing tools and I thought it was just gonna keep getting better.

But see, it’s happening again. I am stalling out. I am using all my tricks. Or trying to at least, but I’m on my forth work in progress that is just floundering right at the climax. What gives?

I know where it’s going. I have it all outlined. I am keeping my schedule, have all my reference material, I even have a network of talented writers to bounce ideas off of.

But these stories are not moving. I can start new stuff. I have new ideas. I can edit older work. I can write short stories. But my novels, my babies, they are just flopping in the mud whining that they don’t want to move.

So I am going to review the lessons I’ve learned. I’m going to read some books on craft. I’m going to brainstorm and I am going to shove these assholes out of the mud. And when I figure out what works, I will be back to report. I’ve done this before. I know I can do it now.

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To write a better query

Over the years I have gotten better as finishing, editing, submitting and polishing stories. But queries still get me. Writing them is just so damned hard for me. I had read everything there is to find, I have copied structures, edited like hell, gotten feedback, professional editing, rewritten and personalized and yet, no matter how I try, what I am left with seems completely soulless.

That is, what I recently realized, the actual problem.

Not that I can’t write an acceptable query. It’s just a professional cover letter for your book, for goodness sake, it doesn’t have to be art.

Except, well, it kinda does. No matter what advice you might get, I think all writers know that what makes their book special is the soul of the piece, so submitting a cold query letter fails to capture that soul and therefore, will not take in editors and agents with the magic the book possesses.

Most writers can’t really conjure that magic on demand, unfortunately, and yet we expect ourselves to produce perfect queries to entice others to read our book with out it. So, how do you capture the beautiful blood sweat and tears that you have sacrificed to create your novel in a short, professional cover letter, outlining the barest bones of your living breathing novel?

Well, if you have access to one, I suggest a bog witch. Usually they are quite adept at breathing life into inanimate objects. You can also summon the faeries, but that is only if you are desperate, because, quite honestly, they charge way too much (I personally don’t want to dance for eternity or trade my first born but I don’t judge your choices).

If neither of these options are for you, then I have some non-magical suggestions as well.

  1. Talk to a friend (or if you have no friends, make up one and talk to them. C’mon we all do it)

Record yourself. Talk about why you wrote this book, who you wrote it for, what your favorite parts are and a summary of what it is about. Let yourself get passionate about the project as your talking, and then listen over what you said. If you let yourself really get into it, there will be life in those words, and you may be able to spin a perfect query from them.

2. Write the back cover summary.

No, it’s not jumping the gun. It’s doing the same thing as writing a query except without the scary query pressure on you. What do you want the back of your book to say to readers when they pick it up someday. That is just about the same thing you would use to intrigue an agent or editor to read further.

3. Write a three line pitch

Boil that bad girl down to a hard, slab of… something hard. and small. Three lines. What is this book about? why do I care? Who are the major players?

There are aliens in Philadelphia. They are eating all the cheesesteaks. Butch Mighty and his sister, Locust, are the only ones who can stop them with their hoagie powers.

When you got it down to the bones of the story, start to add the details that make your writing unique.

4. Have someone else tell you what your book is about

I’ve been trying to get someone to do this for me for years and haven’t managed to pull it off yet, but I strongly suspect it’s a great idea, if you can just get someone who’s really good at talking about books to read your book and talk about it with you. Or better yet, write to you about it.

5. Keep improving

I have had queries that worked for one agent and not another. I have had stories I thought were great get only rejections. I have gotten full requests on queries with typos (cringe, I know). My point is that i do not have the exact spell you need to create a query that makes everyone want your book. (Although I have heard this spell is buried somewhere in Neil Gaiman’s basement).  I also know some disgustingly talented and amazing writers who struggled in the query trenches for years and still had to find alternative routes to publication. Keep trying. Keep tweaking and you might find that magic combo of the right query to the right agent or editor who is right for your book.

And if you come across that spell, or the number for a great bog witch please hit me up.

Interview with Author D R Kinter

*Update: One Tuesday, April 16, 2019, Dan R Kinter passed away after a struggle with cancer. He left behind a legacy of love, support and non-stop jokes. Everyone who knew him had a great story to share about how Dan helped them and made them laugh. Please consider picking up a copy of The Bridges to support Dan’s family and enjoy the unique voice he left behind.
I met D R Kinter years ago in a workshop and was glad to continue working with him on our recently collaboration in Writers Block. He is our resident grammarian, joker and a well of knowledge on everything from weapons to rock and roll. His is not only an asset to Writers Block, he is a dear and supportive friend to everyone in the group and an all around great guy.
D R Kinter’s debut book The Bridges premiered in June 2018. It’s equal parts hilarious and horrifying in it’s look at a near future that seems almost inevitable and a unique cast of characters that come alive on the page.
I have been meaning to get back to interviews for a while so when Dan agreed to answer some questions for me, I was excited to pick his brain.
When would you say that you became a writer? Was it something you were born doing or something you came to at some point in your life?
I was born full of shit.
Early on, I could fabricate a story instantly if it would get me out of trouble. But what has driven me in adulthood has been, not just writing, but creating. I have actively pursued all media. An interest in film-making took hold in high school, followed by theater. While studying acting, I started writing and directing plays. I felt I had some talent with dialogue.
All this time, I was also  very engaged with music.
Finally, adulthood arrived and I went over to the dark side: Advertising. And there went 30 + years of applying creative solutions to business problems.
Retirement has allowed me to write what I want.
What sort of subjects interest you?
I consider myself a satirist. My subject matter seems to hover in the near-immediate future. I will scan the news, looking for something that sparks a question like, what if that was a little different?
I am a luddite at heart and try to take on technology whenever possible. I am also an atheist, yet feel compelled to write (mostly for myself) scenes that put atheism and theism into conflict.
What does your process look like?
Still in discovery. The Bridges began with me just getting some memories, characters and events on paper. It was a nonlinear process. I am working on The Bridges sequel, and due to some health issues, have been trying to write very sequentially. The two processes are quite different, yet in both  cases, the story has the helm.
What other jobs have you done in your life? Have they influenced your writing?
I have done everything from entry-level farm work to executive consulting. This body of experience has given me a very broad base of useless and arcane information with which to play fast and loose.
What did your publishing process look like?
First, there was the choice of submitting my work to traditional publishing or going independent. I chose the indie route. I’m not a very patient person. Fortunately, I was working with a writers’ group and was able to find a very good editor who acts as a publisher as well. Di Freeze at Freeze Time Publications. She guided me through the process of getting the book out to market.
Tell me about The Bridges. Why did you write this book.
It was a perfect storm of uncertain times and events that allowed me to knit a lot of disparate storytelling together.
What are some resources that have been valuable to you.
Books! Tennessee Williams. Shakespeare. Rex Stout. A.E. Van Vogt. Isaac Asimov. My wife, Linda, and my daughters.
We worked together on the Roanoke: Collection of Utter Speculation anthology. What is something that you took away from that project
It was a wonderful opportunity to use discipline and technique to craft a story within specific parameters, and still have fun. And I got to work with some great people, whose methods and sensibilities differed greatly from my own.
and ebook

Let the work sustain you

What is your goal? Your end game in your writing? You might be struggling to get an agent, get a contract, get five thousand sales. These things can be driving you forward, giving you purpose day to day.

Or, like, me they could be driving you crazy.

I have been querying on and off for several years, with several different manuscripts. I have felt highs and lows. many many lows. Putting out twenty queries and getting nothing back at all. Getting rejections that came back almost as soon as I hit send. Waiting and waiting and waiting only for that two line rejection to come through half a year later.

It was my goal. What I was working for every day.

And, honestly, it sucked.

There is nothing wrong with querying, with wanting an agent, to get published, with having something that you are working toward, but when you set your sights on that mountain, it is easy to lose track of why you are doing it, and it is easy to feel like every day it doesn’t happen is a waste of time.

Then you spend you time analyzing why it’s not working. You didn’t write to the trends. You don’t have the right voice. You need to cut your word count down. You just are not good enough.

Then it sucks even more.

The last year has been strange for me. I started setting personal goals, against myself instead of career goals that I need other people to fulfill for me. I challenged myself to write short stories again. I pushed myself to edit several manuscripts. I queried, a little, and then I let things go. I got some good responses and some rejections. I said thank you for positive feedback even when it didn’t come with an offer.

I still got rejections. Plenty of rejections, and I will not say I didn’t care. But it didn’t crush me. Because when I get an agent, then what?

I need a publisher. and I get a publisher, then what?

I need a great book sales. I get a great sales and then what?

I mean, does it ever reach a point where now I am suddenly satisfied? Where i have suddenly hit that magical goal where I know I am validated in all this work I have done?

I mean, I  dunno. Maybe. I’ll let you know when I get there. If such a state does exist, it’s a long way off. To be completely honest, if I’m not happy with what I am doing now, with my work, then I don’t think I can ever be validated by someone else.

This past year I have been trying to hold off on the hard goals and make my day to day work of writing great shit my priority. It hasn’t always been easy but I’ve seen a big improvement in how I feel about what I do and where I am going.

My writing has gotten better. I’ve made awesome writing friends. I published a piece in an anthology. I’ve created some work I’m really proud of.

I am not THERE at whatever hard goal I arbitrarily set for myself as the pinnacle of success. Because I don’t think there is a pinnacle. There is no end point to this game. Never a place where you plant your flag and say, I’m done. I made it. Now I can enjoy my life and be happy.

Happiness is now, in the work you do. In knowing that everything will come when you no long need it to validate you. When the work you do is what sustains you, you know that you can keep going, no matter what.

An astounding debut! Our collection of Utter Speculation hit #2 on Amazon!

A year and a half ago when Writers Block conceived of writing an anthology together, we were just trying to have some fun. But as we got to work, as everyone turning in their first drafts, we realized that we also wanted this to be an awesome book

We worked so hard on this. There were many challenges, late nights, emails for miles. There were also a lot of laughs, friendships cemented in words and the support of our friends, family, peers and each other.

But we still never expected our little project would make it beyond kindle oblivion.

I don’t know how to convey the feeling I got when The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A collection of utter speculation hit the amazon chart for debut sci fi alternative history yesterday. I cannot describe how it felt to close out the day with it at number two, and number six for all sci fi alt history books.

Our little project that became something so important to all of us, went out into the world with a bang.

I am still reeling, but I want to thank every single person who supported this project, in whatever way. The messages I received yesterday was amazing. The people who shared links to our books. The people who actually bought it! Who reviewed it!

I am so grateful, humbled.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A collection of utter speculation is a best seller, guys!

holy crap!

ebook still isn’t linked to the paperback, but we’re on it.

Our book is real! The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A collection of utter speculation is available Now on Amazon

Paperback

and  ebook (they should be on the same link at some point)

are now available. This has been such a weird and fun and crazy and frustrating and overall awesome process that I could not have gotten through without my fellow authors, River Eno, D R Kinter, and Susan Tulio, obviously because we all collaborated on the book, but even more we had the fantastic cover design by Adam C Allingham, the original artwork illustrations by Patricia A Carlson, and the amazon editing and publishing experience of Di Freeze, who was the only one who knew what she was doing.

We also had the fantastic Tiffany Morris to help steer us and a lot of support from friends and family and fellow writers.

Here is my first book baby. guys. She had four parents and and she’s kinda short and quirky, but we all love her and we’re releasing her to the world.

I hope she’s the oldest in the a big family.

Coming Tuesday 2/26! Four stories by Four Authors.

With four genres: romance, fantasy, horror, and fictional realism, we think there is something for everyone. The members of Writers Block, DR Kinter, River Eno, Susan Tulio and LCW Allingham (ah! that’s me!!)  have put together their first anthology.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A Collection of Utter Speculation

CRO
This message, carved into a tree, was the only clue to the fate of the colonists on Roanoke Island. For centuries, stories have circulated, theories were explored. But to this day, no one is really sure what happened to those first English settlers in the Americas.

These stories may offer a clue:

– A road trip through dystopian United States brings adventure and danger, and perhaps answers about the mysterious disappearance of the settlers.
– Gods of different worlds converge but their people may not blend as well as they do.
– A history teacher’s quest to liven up her lessons leads to a startling discovery about love, roots and the fate of the missing colonists.
– A young mother thrust into leadership struggles to establish peace between the English and the Natives of Roanoke. But a greater threat lurks in the dark forests that may consume them all.

Four stories from four authors, all exploring the fate of the missing colonists. Are any of them the answer to the greatest mystery of the United States?

Probably not.

So mark your calendars for Tuesday if you want a paperback or ebook copy! Link will go live at midnight!

We made a thing!

The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A collection of utter speculation will soon be available on Amazon! Its a collection of four short stories by four authors with different idea of what happened to the lost colonists of the first English colony in America.

Its long been a dream of mine to collaborate on a short story collection with other writers and last year when some awesome writers and I formed an online writing group, we were able to start making this dream something real.

But I had no idea how much work would be involved! We spent months writing our pieces, editing each others work, and rewriting. And that was the easy part.

With the help of an awesome editor and an amazing sensitivity editor, we are just about ready to release this baby to the world. Featuring original artwork for each story, The Lost Colony of Roanoke has taken a village to deliver, but the things we’ve learned have been invaluable and we are all so excited.

Writing through a sagging middle

I don’t know why I haven’t learned, because it happens EVERY TIME. I go strong and then I hit the midway point of the book. Loose ends start flying in every direction, I’m not getting to the climax fast enough, there are things that have to happen that aren’t ready to happen yet. I want to rush, I don’t know where to go.

And I generally decide the whole books sucks.

At this point I start to lose the momentum that has been pushing me steadily through the first hundred pages and maybe pick up a new show to start binging on Netflix rather than writing at night.

It the death of the book.

I might pick it  back up again, I might peck out a few more chapters from time to time, but if I let that initial momentum die, then it is more likely that the manuscript will languish on my hard drive than reach the end.

I am aware of this and in the past I’ve buckled down and pushed ahead when it’s a book I have made some great progress on. The thing about momentum is that it’s a lot easier to smash through a wall if you come at it running from a mile away, than if stop you stand in front of it for a while, kicking at it.

I’m currently hating a new story. Well, i don’t hate it. I just don’t like where it’s at right now. I had it well mapped out and its meandering too long in the early stages when there is so much more to come. If I go backwards and start editing now, it’s never going to happen, but the idea of forging ahead it daunting, because it’s already so long and we’re hardly half way.

I have a day or two left to get back to it with some momentum. I’ve been balking. I’ve been watching Future Man.

The truth is, I don’t know if the effort of pushing through this saggy middle is going to be worth it. I might reach the end and it still doesn’t work. I might not know how to fix the problems when all is said and done.

Or

or

The loose ends could tie themselves up. The end might wrap itself up sooner than expected. A book acts like a living thing. It makes it’s own decisions, it carves it’s own paths, and a writer is just the scribe that charts the progress.

I really won’t know until I reach the end.

I’ve lost my excitement for this story, but I’ve lost my excitement for my dog too when she shredded my sofa in the fifteen minutes I left her home alone. It doesn’t mean I don’t love her. It doesn’t mean she hasn’t redeemed herself a hundred times. Books at the same.

So the best thing I can do is to keep going. Use the remains of my momentum to crash through that wall, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time. Learning to do this, consistently, no matter how difficult is what makes you an author and now just a dreamer.

Keep writing, friends. I look forward to seeing your books on my shelves.