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Creative Writing

Okay, I know I said I was only going to blog once a week, but I’m just too lazy to do anything else this late evening. The weather has been unusually good in Iceland this summer, and there was another T-shirt weather today. That kind of heat always makes me a little drowsy.

I’m extremely excited about starting school. I’ve changed my course selection three times already. I think I made the final change today. I decided that since I’m a mature woman now and know what I want, I wasn’t going to follow the cookie-cut way of taking classes. I’m only taking two classes with the rest of the first year students, and then I’m taking English Syntax (an optional class for second or third years) and Creative Writing (!!), which is meant for students in the master’s program!

I wrote to the teacher, explaining how much I already know about the subject, that I’ve written a full-length novel, that I’ve started the second one, that I’ve researched a lot about genre, styles, voice, rise and fall of tension, that I’ve read books on writing. I both emailed her and talked to her face-to-face (while buying course material from her for another course) and she sounded genuinely excited to have me join her class. For Creative Writing, we have; Holes, by Louis Sachar; On Writing, by Stephen King (I’ve heard so much about this one!); and Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein.

I decided to go my own way in course selections because the courses I’ve chosen will help me with my writing. It’s something I would never in a million years consider doing if I was starting uni for the first time at age 18. I realized that if it’s possible (and I’m so glad that it is!), I need to get the things I want out of this education, in the sequence that best fits me and my writing. Yay for being older and wiser!

I’m sure that all the courses will help with my writing, in some ways or another, but English Syntax, Creative Writing, How Language Works I (need it to be able to take the useful part II next term), Foundation Course in English for Foreign Languages: Methods (again, part I of II for next term), and English for Practical Purposes (mostly learning to speak well in English – there are a number of presentations throughout various courses during the studies), are the courses I really need to take right now.

The first-year courses I’m saving for Fall 2011 are: The Talking Animal (No, it’s not an MG kid-lit), British History and Culture, and Brit. Lit. I. All exciting, but all things that can wait 🙂

The courses scheduled for Spring 2011 are very exciting. I’m trying to get into a master’s class called “Fantasy”. Yeah, that’s right. We’ll read popular fantasy books and discuss. Dreamy-creamy fantasy course *pats course*. But yeah, it’s for master’s level, so I’m not sure I can get it. I sent the teacher an email today to see if I can get an exception.

I got my delivery from Amazon yesterday. In it were three self-publish books (hey, I had a gift certificate from mileage points) Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing ManualSelf-Publishing for Dummies, and Become a Real Self-Publisher, by Michael N. Marcus ,  The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan, and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. The problem is that I have so much to read before the classes start next week, and I need to revise the first five chapters of my manuscript. I have very little time to read my choice of books! I do like to read in bed, before going to sleep. I might do reviews on these once I’ve finished – you know, just for the fun of it 😉

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Derivative and Series

The Harry Potter Series

As many of you know, I’m writing a trilogy. It was supposed to be one book, but I realized early that I would never fit the whole thing into one book. I’m even wondering if I should write four books instead of three. I’m not so overly hung on advances if I’d get a deal, but the one thing I would absolutely insist on would be to keep the rights of all derivative works.

I’m not sure how common it is to negotiate the derivative rights, but according to Morris Rosenthal, it’s very common that authors loose those rights. In the section about Grant of Rights, he says:

“Here the author grants the publisher the right to publish the work, as protected by copyright law. For most authors this means the exclusive worldwide rights, including all derivative works, etc. While it’s not in the interests of the author to give up anything without negotiation, the publisher is frequently in a better position than the author to exploit these rights (such as publishing translations), which will result in further payments to the author. If the author believes the work is likely to become a smash TV hit or the next big Christmas toy, the derivative rights could be the plum of the book contract.”

Now, I’m not really thinking about Myrkvera action-heroes or stuff like that, but I want to be able to write more books in the fantasy land I created, even if the publisher doesn’t want to publish more. I want to use the characters, creatures, and towns. I also want to be able to put deleted scenes and such on my website after the series have been published. The thought of someone owning my creation in a way that denies me the right to play with it without the consent of a publishing house just scares me. Cut the advance, cut the marketing budget, but let me keep the rights to the derivative works.

Okay, I sort of lunged into that, but it wasn’t what I was going to write at all! This is what sometimes  happens when my fingers touch the magical keyboard. I meant to write about standalones in series. The Lord of the Rings are not standalone books. You have to read the first before you read the second. A month ago I thought my series would end up that way. I mean, I have four teenagers trapped in another world, and they don’t get home at the end of first book (I’m not really giving away any spoilers by saying this). How can that be a standalone book?

Maybe I’m misunderstanding the whole concept of standalone books in a series. The way I understand it, it’s like the Harry Potter books. Harry goes to school in each book (except for the last one), follows the plot thread, completes the task at the end, and then goes back to the Dursley’s. They all have a solid ending. You don’t get the whole details and hints from the first books if you haven’t read them, but you generally get the idea if you start by reading The Goblet of Fire.

Then there are books like the House of Night series, where Zoey goes to a school for fledgling vampires. At the start of every single book after the first, Zoey lists up things that have happened in the past books and it irritates me so much. Possibly because I read the first five books in one sitting. Still, it bugged me. Will I have to do that to make my books standalones? I mean, who picks up a book in a middle of a series and reads it before reading book nr. 1?

Michelle Zink, author of Prophecy of the Sisters, wrote an article for WriteOnCon on the subject. She has the same kind of thoughts I’ve been having about ending each book. She even talks about Lord of the Rings and how her books had to be a continuation of the book before. Exactly like my musings.

She talks about how some readers send her an angry email because of an unsatisfied ending, even though many readers just take it as it is. She says she’s come to terms with it and it doesn’t bother her so much anymore. That gives me time to prepare and expect the expected, since she ended the article with this:

“And honestly? If I have to choose between giving a reader an ending that makes them go, “ Wow. Cool,” and one that makes them go, “WHAT?!”, I will take the latter every time. I guess you could say that with books – as in life – I will happily choose the mysterious and winding road over the straight and narrow path. Even if it means the occasional angry email.”

When I was at the conference, I kind of held my breath while I was reading that article. I thought she’d preach about how you have to have a satisfying ending to each novel in the series. I had no idea how to have such an ending (don’t get me wrong: it has an ending, a good one, but at the very end I leave the reader at a bit of a cliffy – nothing huge, but it left my editor wondering if she’d gotten the whole manuscript or if there was a chapter I’d left out). I was so relieved when I read what she wrote.

How cool is it to be able to learn from published authors?

Anyway, in case the future agent/publisher would prefer the House of Night style, I did weave important details from the first book into the first chapter of the second book (Book of White). It didn’t turn out too badly. It was fluent. It made sense. I’m going to keep it until I’ve made a final decision on how to deal with this matter.

One last note, completely unrelated: I pre-ordered a Kindle reader! I’m so excited, but I have no idea when I’ll get it. I also bought a leather case – that way it’ll be protected and have a booky feel to it when I flip it open to read.

I decided to purchase a Kindle because it costs so much to order a book from Amazon and have it shipped to Iceland. For a normal paperback costing $7, they’ll add roughly $8 dollars for shipping and handling. Then there’s 10% import tax, and 7% VAT (they’re considering raising it to 25% on books to try to get us out of the recession. Hello! Common sense here. Higher VAT = less buying). That makes one measly paperback a little under 18 dollars! If I buy more books in one shipping, I have to pay extra $4 for each book. Compare that to buying the same book for a final price of 5-6 dollars.

I bought a Kindle for $140 + roughly $8 for shipping and handling. 10% tax + 25% VAT (for electronic products) makes $204 the final price. I’m taking English (BA) at uni and there are a lot of old books to read (all of whom are free for Kindle!). This semester alone I have to read Jane Eyre (already read it – looooved it) and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. That’s $16 saved 🙂 There are even more old books to read next year.

It’ll pay off in no time 😉

Keep Writing!

As many of you know, I attended the WriteOnCon last week and learned heaps. There was one point that was made in at least two lectures that gave me a kick in the bum: Keep writing.

There were two articles in particular that spoke of this, Give Yourself Permission, by Molly O’Neill, and Keeping Your Chin up in the Face of Rejection, by Crystal Stranaghan. Crystal encourages writers to write their next piece while waiting for replies from queried agents. Molly encourages writers to give themselves permission to “…do what you need to protect yourself as a writer—to turn off the internet, or to stop reading blogs for awhile, or to avoid Twitter—and enable yourself to do that thing which writers must do—TO WRITE.”

Woah! Stop right there! I should not follow the writer community on the internet for a while? That got me thinking. Since I started looking for information on how to submit, etc. I’ve spent every spare moment on the internet to learn, make connections, and build an online platform. We’re talking months! But to stop all that and just write? Of course I can do that, and I should! I’m starting university in two weeks and I feel time slipping away. I suddenly realized that I don’t have time to hang out on the internet anymore. I don’t have to twitter – I don’t want to twitter. I love blogging, but it takes so long to think of a topic, write, link, edit, find a good picture, read, re-read, re-re-read, etc. that it’s taking away some serious writing time. I want to build an online presence, but I also need to write. How can I balance both?

I didn’t follow the WriteOnCon in exact order. In the former part of the days I did, but since each day ended at night here, I usually missed the last two events. So I finally watched the live workshop with Daisy Whitney about Building an Online Presence yesterday, and there I got my answer. She talks about how you don’t have to take part in every social media on the internet. If you don’t like to tweet – then don’t tweet. If you don’t like blogging – then don’t blog. So I decided that I’m going to blog and follow a few discussion forums, and then build my Facebook account later, since I really like Facebook.

Then there was the question of how often I should blog. It takes up to an hour to put together a blog and try to make it as perfect as I can. Daisy says that it’s okay to blog just once a week, as long as you’re consistent. That means blogging the same day of the week, every week. That way, the readers know when to expect material from you. The people following you won’t stop reading just because you don’t blog as often.

So I’ve decided to blog once a week, at least until I’ve finished the first draft of the second book. I haven’t decided which day that should be, it depends on my uni-schedule, but this will be my entry for this week.

Today alone, I’ve managed to ignore the internet (until now, but my brain is fried), and I’ve finished 7,000 words of the first book. Okay, 3,000 of those were already written, so technically that’s 4,000 words today. Not bad! I’ve also finished outlining the book, but after I outlined it, I went back to writing, and I felt a little constricted because of the outline. It was stifling my creativity. So I’m going to use another advice of Molly’s: Give yourself permission to stray from your outline.

So I have the outline, but I feel like I need to fill in the blanks, and I can never come up with something if that’s what I feel I need to do to prolong the chapter. That’s why I’m going to use the outline as points and just write the story as it wants to be written. That’s what I did with Book of Black and it turned out awesome.

What am I doing with Book of Black, now that I’ve started on Book of White? I found critique partners! While they read the manuscript and comment, I use my time to write the second novel. I finally let go of my fears and sent the manuscript to three different people, four if you count a friend of mine who isn’t a writer. Can someone steal it, or parts of it? Sure! But I have various versions of the manuscript printed at home, the first five pages and query up on a forum, and on my blog, and I’ve sent the manuscript to more than one person, so they’d be able to back me up if something gets stolen.

I realized after WriteOnCon that my manuscript isn’t nearly ready. I got an auto-rejection from agent Natalie M. Fischer because the manuscript was 110,000 words long (she was commenting on query entries live at WOC), and it taught me that many of the rejections I’ve gotten might be auto-rejections because of the word count (and because the query synopsis was terrible! I have a new and shiny one ready for the next agent I query – when the manuscript has been revised). Natalie says YA manuscripts should be 90,000 words, +5,000 at the most. Some manuscripts can be longer, but they need to be exceptional, so it’s hard to get past the query stage. My critique partners are going to point out things that can be cut/edited.

There are also other things that need to be fixed: Character depth, dialog, and such. I also need to list the tension points and see if they’re working as intended. And then I learned that I probably shouldn’t have made a universal query letter for all the agents I queried. I should have personalized each one (more than just write the name of said agency). I can send many at a time, as long as they’re personalized and don’t feel like form-queries. Apparently form-queries are one sure way of getting form-rejections.

The Perfect Query Formula

Jodi Meadows, Author of The Newsoul Trilogy

As many of you know, I’m attending WriteOnCon for the next two days, an online conference for free, packed with lectures, prizes, and critiques. I read Jodi Meadows advice on query writing, and I have to say that most useful material on query writing I’ve ever seen.

Here is the copied formula:

KNOWING WHAT TO INCLUDE:

If you don’t already know how to format a query letter, get thee to Google. This post isn’t about what font you use. This post is about how to show the extreme awesomeness of your story.

Beginning a query description can be really intimidating! To get started, answer the following questions:

1. Who is the protagonist and what is their goal? (Motivation.)

2. What is keeping the protag from achieving that goal? (Conflict.)

3. How will the protagonist overcome this problem? (Plot.)

4. What happens if the protagonist fails/what choice does the protagonist have to make? (Stakes, and why the reader should care.)

I can’t give you these answers, but I can help you learn how to turn them into a clear, kick-butt query.

So simple, right? You can read the rest of the post here. She also talks about filling in the blanks, what should be in every sentence of the first paragraph, the story world/conflict in second, and choices and more implications in the third.

My latest query, with the aid of WriteOnCon critiques, is not far off. The first paragraph is a little different, though, and I’ll look into that. There’s also lots more interesting things she reveals about the art of writing query letters.

Amazing Conference!

WriteOnCon is just amazing! We managed to crash the server, so it’s down for the moment, but I’ve been smiling all day while reading/watching lectures, meeting people and doing and receiving critiques. I may have possibly found a second person to critique my manuscript, and I’m going to badger a third, too. I’m also taking notes, although the content will probably be up after the conference, but I like having my own notes. There are all sorts of professionals taking part in this, agents, editors, illustrators, published authors. There’s a new lecture every hour, and in between I have fun critiquing.

And best of all? It’s free! And I can wear my pajamas, although I’m not wearing them now since I had to go out earlier, but I could! If online conferences are this cool, I can’t imagine what the real thing is like.

This is the first time this is held, but they’re going to do it every year. It’s amazing what a few aspiring authors can do when they get together. And I love how the industry people are eager to participate – they can’t be getting paid for it since the girls hosting the conference aren’t charging. The contest awards are amazing, and I’m getting great critiques on my stuff. Who knows, maybe some professional will critique as well.

Sorry for the gushing, I swear I’m not getting anything free out of it, it’s just me being excited. I just didn’t realize this was going to be so much fun. I even got my husband to take the kids out after kindergarten so that I can focus on this.

Book of Black

Image by Cindy Eric for the BewitchedMind.net site

I’m finally revealing the title of my book: Book of Black. I’ve named the series: The Son of Black, but I’m still wondering if I should change that. Maybe The Eva Jones Series (Protagonist), The Ruby Series (hard for me to pronounce the American r, so maybe not), The Mira Fir Series (name of the land), The Myrkvera Series (Featuring race in the book)…

The second book is Book of White and the third book is Book of Grey. I think I might write more books in this story world, but they’d be a different series.

I’ve also decided to post the first scene of the book. I’ve already done this in the WriteOnCon conference for critique. Feel free to critique here if you want to. Be as brutal as you like – I can take it.

Book of Black – Chapter 1

“Stand still, Eva!” Laura fussed, trying to pin my brown hair up in an elegant way after tying a yucky mustard-colored satin scarf around my neck. She held three bobby pins between her lips while she talked. “I still can’t believe you’re going on a date with Richard Hark. Did you see the looks on the McKinney’ faces when I told them? And I swear Sarah Forester was jealous. Poor thing. Her ugly daughter will never get a decent date.”

“It’s not a date, Laura, and Jennifer isn’t ugly,” I said and puffed out a breath when she finally stepped back to look at my silly new outfit. The khakis had a zipper on the side and the hips were much too wide, the ketchup colored shirt, and the shiny black shoes with the buckles on the sides were already hurting my heels. To top it off, the bobby pins were pushing painfully against my skull.

“Nonsense. I have never seen worse skin condition, and she’s much too tall and bony to attract men. Sixteen year old girls should be petite, and have curves, like you. That’s much more feminine.” She removed the bobby pins from her mouth and I cringed when she stuck one of them in my hair.  “And even if you’re just going to Highfield Park on a school assignment, it could still be a date,” she continued. “I’m sure he would have made more effort to do the project in town if he really didn’t want you at Highfield Manor.”

I shook my head and cast my eyes at the ceiling.

“Sarah Forester’s daughter can’t get a single date while my foster daughter got the date of the year. Just think! In a couple of years you’ll live at his mansion as Mrs. Hark, with your children, and I can have tea with his aunt.”

I huffed and slipped past her, into the living room.

Stephen and Laura Smith’s eleven-year-old real daughter, Ella, had been shouting for her mother’s attention all evening. For once, Laura didn’t give in to her demands; she was too busy fussing over her new favorite foster daughter.

Stephen sat in his recliner. Laura had forced him to wear his finest suit and tie, instead of his usual tank top and boxers. He sighed and turned up the ESPN as I passed him.

“Ohmygod, I still can’t believe you’re getting outa here with dreamy-creamy Richard,” Lucy gushed and grabbed my shoulders. She smelled of cigarettes and I wrinkled my nose at the stench. Her shaved head had Laura in a fit only a week ago. “God, Eva, if you and he start dating for real, I’ll have to kill you.”

“We won’t,” I half growled. Stephen’s football game was so loud that it hurt my ears. “I don’t even like him, so just leave it.”

“He’s here!” Anna, the self-appointed lookout, called from the hallway.

Lucy’s heavy boots thumped loudly as she ran across to the living room window and pulled the curtains wide apart to see.

The news of Richard’s arrival suddenly made it hard to breathe. I rummaged through the shopping bag and grabbed my toothbrush before stumbling through the living room and into the bedroom. Ella stuck her tongue out at me as I passed, but I ignored her. I shoved the toothbrush into the bulging new bag, with all my new non-secondhand clothes, hauled it off my bed, and hurried into the hallway.

I pushed my way through the crowd by the door and knocked Ella, who was now too curious to keep up her attention seeking, to the wall.

“Your school bag!” Lucy called from behind.

I turned and retrieved my brand-new, weighty school bag, nearly tripping over Anna.

“Hey, relax girl!” Anna said and helped me stand up straight, which was uncharacteristic for her. The two other foster daughters in the house, Lucy and Anna, were loud, rowdy and rude. Laura made no attempt to discipline them and Stephen simply didn’t care.

“Eva!” Laura urged with her nasal New Jersey accent, fidgeting by the door in her new outfit. It was, supposedly, a very fancy two-piece set, but I thought it made her look twenty years older. Of course, most of the women Laura dreamed of socializing with were at least twenty years older. Elizabeth Hark, Richard’s aunt and guardian, was the head of the charity committee that Laura had joined and Laura was always eager to impress her.

I pushed onwards and finally reached the door. My throat felt swollen. I was getting lightheaded from the stuffy air and the excitement and noise around me filled my head.

“Wait,” Laura said, putting a hand out in front of her. “It would be more appropriate to let him knock first. You should be ready, but not too ready.”

Yeah, right. She would have encouraged me to have sex with him if she wasn’t afraid of public opinion on teen pregnancy.

Then Laura looked over the crowd in the hallway. “Everybody, go into the living room!” she commanded and dusted everyone away with her fingertips.

I stood alone in the hallway when the knock came. I swallowed loudly and a drop of sweat ran from my neck and under my collar. Not good.

Laura hurried past me to open the door, bumping into me on the way so hard that I dropped my bags. One of them landed on my toes. “Welcome, Mr. Hark,” she said formally, bending one knee behind the other in a deep bow.

I groaned and pushed the throbbing toe against the calf of my other foot.

“Thank you,” Richard said with his British accent, flashing his irresistible smile. He wore the usual black pants and white shirt. He looked past Laura and caught sight of me. I quickly turned and put on my brand-new coat to hide my warm cheeks.

“Would you like to come in for some tea and biscuits?” Laura asked, her voice unnaturally drawled. I was tempted to mention that Laura never drank tea, only coffee in bucket-loads.

Richard looked at me again with his perfect, amber, almond-shaped eyes. I shook my head a little. He smiled and his white teeth and flaxen hair contrasted perfectly with his tanned skin. I actually sighed out loud and could have kicked myself.

“Thank you for the offer, Mrs. Smith,” he said. Laura gasped at the sound of her surname. “But we’re in a bit of a hurry. It’s a long drive from Bernardsville. Perhaps another time?”

Another time? Laura was going to take that literally and tell all of her friends that her foster daughter was having a second date with Mr. Hark. But, for now, she took it with a broad smile and finally stepped out of the way. Before I could reach for my bags, Richard had already stepped in and picked them up for me.

“Yours?” he asked, lifting the bags slightly. He was so tall that I had to look up to see his face.

“Yes,” I said in my tongue-tied stupor. A grin slipped onto my disobedient lips.

He smiled back and led the way outside. As he passed Laura, she put a hand over her heart and sighed.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before following.

As soon as I stepped on the front porch, I heard a rustling behind me. I turned and saw them, all of them, pushing each other in the doorway to get a better view. Even Stephen stuck his head out from the living room to get a look.

After giving my foster family the evil eye, I turned to follow Richard but stopped yet again at the sight of the car. It was a black limousine with silver hubcaps and trim. Across the road I saw the Foresters glancing from behind their curtain, Jennifer’s face covered in green face mask, and Cliff McKinney stood in his driveway with his mouth hanging open.

“A bit over the top, I know,” Richard said as he put the bags into the trunk. “But there are four of us, a driver and a chaperone, so it’s either the train or this. The train doesn’t take us the whole way.”

“Chaperone?”

“Aunt Elizabeth insisted,” he said, as if that would explain everything.

He opened the door for me and I awkwardly made my way into the car. I had only seen the inside of a limousine in movies. As soon as I had looked over the interior (dark wood with silver trim and black seats), my eyes stopped abruptly at the sight of Ian Murphy, spread over the length of one seat, flipping through some game cards, and at the sight of Meg, Richard’s twin sister, quickly turning her head to watch the horrible scene by the Smiths’s doorway, her long, flaxen hair whipping at the movement.

My heart stopped. This was the first time vicious and evil Meg would notice me, and what a way to be noticed. This was too good for her to ignore. Jennifer Forester, the closest thing I had to a friend, was still suffering from Meg’s latest sport. Meg had somehow broken into her locker and filled it with cotton and cheap skin care bottles. The hallway was full of kids when Jennifer opened it and the stuff came pouring out. She couldn’t connect it to Meg, but it was obvious by the evil smirk on Meg’s face that she’d done it. I could almost swear that Jennifer’s face was perma-blushed after that.

I briefly wondered what kind of bullying Meg would come up with for me. A pang of anxiety punched my stomach as my invisibility slipped away. I felt sick.

“Is that your family?” Meg asked, a hint of malice in her voice. Her British accent was more Americanized than Richard’s. She wore tailored blue jeans and a lined pink hoodie, an outfit Ella would die for.

“Foster family,” I answered quietly. I exhaled slowly and covered my face with my hands after I securely buckled myself into the seat. My shaky hands relaxed a little but were replaced by a wave of dizziness when I felt Richard sit beside me.

I risked a glance at him. His eyes swept over the interior of the car, careful not to look outside the window.

I noticed a small woman sitting primly on Richard’s other side. I hadn’t noticed her when I came in. She wore a pressed black suit, and her dark hair was pulled back in a bun. I assumed that was the chaperone.

I cleared my throat and looked back at Richard. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered weakly and fidgeted with my sleeve.

“It’s all right,” Richard said kindly, smiling down at me.

The car finally started moving. I slowly pulled off the uncomfortable, ugly scarf that pressed against my throat and made it hard for me to breathe. Once the scarf was gone, however, I discovered that breathing normally became no less of a challenge.

“I thought we might start on the project now,” Richard said. He scanned my face for a response. When I managed to give him a forced smile, he picked up his laptop from a drawer underneath the seat. “We won’t have all day tomorrow; Aunt Elizabeth wants me to meet friends of hers.”

“All right,” I blurted.

Richard looked down at me, and the heat in my cheeks spread through my body. “Do I make you uncomfortable, Eva?” he asked.

“I’m just embarrassed about my foster family,” I said after a little silence. “Laura, my foster mom, is over the top sometimes.”

“Ah,” Richard said. “Isn’t that the norm, though?” His beautiful lips pulled up at the corners as he arched an eyebrow.

“The norm?” I asked, not following him at all. No other family was like the Smiths, certainly no family that Richard had met.

“Yes, whenever I take a girl out on a date, their families go out of their way to make me feel welcome.”

“Perhaps,” I said slowly, forcing sudden pangs of jealousy out of my heart. “But we’re not going out on a date.”

“No, we’re not,” he chuckled and smiled. It wasn’t a sort of offensive, as-if chuckle, it was a conversational chuckle. I relaxed a bit.

Ian sat up in his seat and looked at Meg, his eyes wide in his bright face. “Should we do that, too, Meg?”

“Date?” Meg asked, looking at Ian as if he was something disgusting stuck under her nice designer sneakers.

“Eh, I mean work on the project,” Ian said, blushing heavy crimson. Ian was one of those unfortunate boys who was constantly bullied at school. He wore his weird combination of polo shirt and baggy pants with countless pockets. He also wore his usual water-combed-to-the-side hairdo. He was only fourteen, but he was too smart for his age and shared classes with my year.

“No,” Meg answered curtly and turned up the volume of the music video playing on TV. The bass thumped rhythmically against my back.

“Megan, please,” Richard said.

Meg sighed heavily before turning the music down a little, giving her brother an “are-you-satisfied” kind of look.

Richard thinned his lips and focused back on the computer.

To compare Richard and Meg with me would be like comparing roses with weeds. I looked as normal as Richard and Meg looked paranormal. My dull, dark brown hair reached just past my shoulders; my skin was pale from a lack of sun; my eyes were a boring shade of blue and I was much too short to make anything I wore look nice. Not pretty, not ugly, just normal.

The positive thing about being so normal was that I didn’t stand out in any way. I blended in with the crowd and flew under Meg’s radar, so she hadn’t given me a hard time in the past.

The not-so-positive thing about being so normal was that I flew right under Richard’s radar as well. Before today, he hadn’t even known my name.

I unzipped my schoolbag to retrieve one of the history books I’d found at the library. As I did, a piece of paper flew out and landed on the floor. On the note were scattered unfamiliar things such as Eva loves Richard and Eva Jones-Hark, colorful hearts and flowers. To my horror, I saw Meg staring at it. I quickly snatched up the note and shoved it back into my schoolbag, feeling the edges of it bend in the process. Fortunately, Richard was ferociously typing and watching the screen, so I let myself hope that he hadn’t seen it.

Meg didn’t say anything, but she kept giving me evil little smirks during the whole trip while I tried to concentrate on the project. Of course, I wasn’t any help at all since I kept waiting for Meg to say something about the stupid note. By the end of the drive, I was sick with nerves.

Free Online Conference

Okay, I’m putting my musings about self-publishing on ice for a bit. Yes, I’ll study it, but I want to see if I can get trade-published first.

I joined WriteOnCon yesterday. I signed up on the forum, and I’m now an attendee at the free online conference on August 10-12th 2010. There are over 1400 people “attending”, and I’ll be able to post my query letter, first five pages, and first 250 words, first thing Monday morning. Then I’ll possibly get critiques from fellow writers, and possibly publishers/agents/other trade people too. I already have some critiques on my practice critique of first five pages (you need to register on the forum to see it).

I’m also having fun writing critiques for others. I already wrote four yesterday and another four today. I leave the query critiques alone for now, because I don’t feel too comfortable advising people on that since I’m not a 100% comfortable with query letter writing. I think the conference will be exciting. I can post questions for professionals, there will be rewards, and I’ll meet other writers, and maybe make friendships or find critique buddies there.

I’ll also join The Muse Online Writers Conference in October. That’s also free, but it lasts a whole week. They have workshops that I’d like to check out. More on that later.

Self-Publishing

I have taken time off from submitting, since my twins are on vacation. Their vacation ends next Monday, which means that I’ll get back to business until Uni starts. That means three weeks of writing.

I’ve done a lot of thinking since the start of the vacation and I’ve decided to look into self-publishing before submitting to more agents (or any publishers). I really like the idea of it, and if I decide to do it, I’m doing it properly. I already have three self-publish books ordered from Amazon; Become a Real Self-Publisher, by Michael N. Marcus, a fellow She Writes member (even though he’s a male), it has great reviews and he’s got a lot of experience; Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, by Dan Poynter, this has great reviews as well; and of course Self-Publishing for Dummies, by Jason R. Rich, because I love the Dummies books.

Why am I considering this? Because the books advice how best to set up your own publishing company, and I like the idea of that. I wouldn’t use any of the companies who do the work for the authors (Lulu, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, etc.). That means I’d have to deal with all sorts of stuff, like accounting, but it shouldn’t be undo-able, especially if I set up the company in Iceland and do business from here (got to love the internet). I’d have to find a printer in the USA, as well as a distributor (since it would cost too much to have the books printed here and then sent individually to the USA — or I’d have to look into it anyway). The rest I can do online!

I know it’s a huge gamble, but I do have business education and I have tons of interest and enthusiasm. It also means that I can publish whatever I want, and don’t have to rely on having the right material at the right time for the right agent/publisher who’s only looking for one specific thing for his/her list. I read somewhere that less than 1 out of every 100.000 manuscripts is considered good, the rest is junk. To me, that either means that the rest of the manuscripts look like something written by grade-schoolers, or it isn’t the entire truth (that they’re rejecting a lot of good manuscripts because of trends, risks, etc.), or they just have really, really narrow tastes. I’m guessing the second, that there are many great manuscripts being rejected because they were not sent on the exact right time.

I queried just over 50 agents and I’ve gotten 18 rejections. I don’t know if I should see it as my story idea being bad, it’s only 18 people. The rest either won’t reply to their queries, or some might be considering. But even so, if I self-publish, I get to keep all my rights and decide for myself what to include in the books and what not. I’d possibly get less exposure (unless I become really good and clever at the advertising bit, which is the part I’m kind of looking forward to), I’d probably also sell fewer books, but I’d get better paid for each book sold. There are so many more advantages, and the disadvantages seem to be only the extra work and the risk (and possibly some snobbery against self-published authors). The extra work I can do, the snobbery is due to lessen with the increase in self-publishing, and the risk? Well, it’s time to take some.

I wouldn’t be thinking about this if I didn’t believe so strongly in my trilogy. Sure, I’ll have to change it a bit, make it into more chapters, cut out some things (again, what I’ve been considering over the past months), and then have another editor read over it for it to be 100% publishable. I’ll also have to try to find a trustworthy critique group, although I’m really scared to do so (always afraid of people taking my stuff as their own – maybe that’s newbie thinking, but it’s how I feel).

So far I’ve connected self-publishing with non-fiction books, but I’m sure there are also self-published fiction authors out there.

So, what will I do if those remaining agents contact me? Probably champ at the bit! But I’m keeping a very open mind to the self-publishing and I’m going to study it well during my first semester of Uni. Then I’m going to write the second book before publishing the first. And after the trilogy, well, I have loads more ideas, both for the USA market and the Icelandic one.

What can I say? I once wrote a Severus Snape fiction and couldn’t find a decent Snape site to host it (at the time), so I created one that is still running 6 years later, even through I had no idea how to do it to begin with. I suppose this is a similar scenario, only on a larger scale with more costs and more risks.

Question: How do you trust critique groups enough to let them see your manuscripts? Where’s the best place to find a critique group with people who aren’t afraid to say their opinions (YA fantasy/adventure)?

Icelandic Goals

Since I don’t have time to blog this week (I’m going on a little trip), I’ll just throw slap video on your screen. It’s an Icelandic football (soccer) team doing goal-dances. I don’t like to watch sports, but this had me laughing.

Here’s also Krummavisur, very old Icelandic folk song sung in a very cool way by a German band called In Extermo. The singer sings in Icelandic, with a heavy German accent, but kudos for doing it anyway.

Aaaand…here’s the original music, if interested. Hearing it always reminds me of vikings.

The Second Book

Goodness! Having the boys at home for their summer vacation is draining every ounce of energy from my mind. I meant to blog more often, but whenever I get a break, I just want to sleep or lie on the sofa and stare at the ceiling. Three year olds are loud, energetic, and attention suckers. I do hope you’ll forgive me if my blogs seem a bit detached. Two more weeks to go…which means a month to go for Uni. Yup, that’s right: I’m leaving a well paid job to go back to University in hope of pursuing my dream of becoming an author.

Since I’ve already had a two week break from the querying and writing, I’ve been re-thinking things a little. When the boys go to kindergarten again, I’ll have two weeks until Uni starts (majoring in English this time, already have a bachelor’s in marketing and administration). I could do what I was doing two weeks before the boys had their vacation: sit at the computer and read articles etc. and keep dreaming, or I could start writing the second book of the series. I think I’ll go with the latter.

I’m both curious to see how the second book unravels, and I also think it’s important to start writing it so that a) I can say that I’m already well on my way with the second book if I do get an agent interested, b) writing is fun and it’s important to use the little time I have left to cram in as much writing as I can (I wrote the first manuscript in a month, so I should be able to get at least half of the book done in two weeks), and c) if I can’t get a deal, I will feel more optimistic about e-publishing, because I’ve already started on the second book.

There’s one other thing I haven’t considered much, and that is to query publishers. There are many writers who query publishers first and then find an agent if they find an interested publisher. The other way would be more ideal, since the agent can negotiate the deal, but I think it would probably be easier to find an agent if you already have a contract ready to be signed from a publisher. Once I’m back at Uni, I’ll probably spend some time compiling a list of publishers — ones who consider unsolicited material. There’s the problem, really, and the main reason writers try to get an agent first: not all publishers will consider manuscripts if the writers have no agent. This has put some unfair shift of work on the agents. Now it is they who have to sieve through the query letters, which seems more logical work for the publishers.

Anyway, as soon as the boys are back at kindergarten, I’ll sit down and draft the second book. I already have readers related to me who are waiting for the continuum.