Word Clouds

Oh yeah…

I had forgotten all about the cool Wordle tool until a visitor recently commented on this old post with Capritare’s word cloud: https://johnlucashargis.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/novel-word-cloud/

That made me think, I never created one for Freeborn.

So I did.


And, I also got all curious about what the rough draft of Phreak Show would look like.

I scratched that itch, too.


So there you have it; two of my novels in their visual nutshells.

What do yours look like?

Excerpt: Freeborn

It’s been a while since I posted an excerpt. I figured, Why the hell not?
[Hopefully, the administration still gives me my hard-earned diploma even though I used that dirty, little word.]

From Chapter 2:

Katia interrupted. “Hold on. What the hell kind of name is Mom?Or Adam even? I’ve met a hundred other Katias, Gastons, and all the normal names. Mom and Adam aren’t on the list.”

Adam grinned.

“Mom—Nana—will explain all that. She likes telling the story.”

Before she could object, Adam reentered docent mode. “Now, as I was saying before being so rudely interrupted by Katia-2198-04, these are the private quarters.”

He pointed out his own room, Gaston’s, and those belonging to the other residents. Twelve in all. Only one remained vacant. He explained that the fifth floor contained the rec room and lounge areas where the clones spent most of their time. Katia, aching for a hit of Ambrosia, asked to skip that part of the tour. Adam shrugged, and they descended one story to the third floor. It was laid out the same as the fourth, except the exam room was subdivided into four separate dwellings.

Inside one of them, a wrinkly old man rubbed lotion on his stomach. While the skin stretched taut across it, the rest of him sagged with age. A pair of the infected exited their adjacent rooms. They were identical in appearance down to every last detail: hairline, lush lips, posture, bundled parasites cradled in their arms. The longer Katia looked, the more their subtle differences stood out. One was a man, the other a woman.

Adam explained. “They’re the only clones I’ve ever seen who actually look alike. Usually there’s no issue telling clones apart. That pair is from a batch of duodectuplets. We only have two of the twelve. Some experiment the Surgeons tried with one of the crops. They played around with creating six males and six females with 98% identical genes. The one on the left is Dash-C. Dash-J is on the right.”

Katia kept staring. Not so much at the clone-copies, as at the squirming blankets in their arms. Perhaps there was something to the whole safehouse thing. The parasites were rumored to kill their victims, but this pair of previously infected clones looked alive and well. They even seemed to be doting on the living tumors.

FREEBORN Opening Excerpt

After a slew of revisions using input from both sides of my brain, CPs, betas, and even a pair of agents, this is the [current] opening for FREEBORN.


Katia shuffled down the busy sidewalk in her geriatric shoes. Shoulders and sharp elbows rocked the old woman as the mindless clones around her scurried to some appointment or another. The pulse in Katia’s temples thumped four times faster than the clacking of her copper cane. Wary of the surveillance cameras, even in the crowd, she slowed to a stop and adjusted the scarf securing her gray wig. Though her granny disguise was fake, her Infection was all too real.

Every face that passed wore a government-issued prevention mask. Every set of eyes above those masks posed a threat to Katia’s dangerous ruse. Even though she had taken every precaution—done every prescribed step to prevent it—the dreaded sickness had wormed its way into her blood. Red-hot fear and a hungry, deadly parasite now squirmed together in her gut.

She chanced a peek at the pair of militant Doctors blocking her direct route to the building. Their chrome assault rifles glinted in the sun like surgical blades. Katia had seen the Doctors in action many times: kicking the infected, mocking them, toying with the victims before dragging them kicking and begging to a quarantine center. A single prick from one of the detectors clipped to their belts would immediately unravel her disguise.

Her status would instantly downgrade from a harmless, healthy clone to a diseased punching bag.

Katia hunched extra low. Her lungs burned with stale, recycled breath as she worked her way through the masses and shambled along behind the Doctors. Their gruff laughter bounced off her humped back as she passed. Caught up in some dirty joke, they paid no mind to the rickety, old granny mounting the steps to the ten-story structure.

The woman in Suite 940 held Katia’s last scrap of hope. While the pirate forums referred to the woman as a witch, Katia didn’t believe in such things. The mysterious Ilythia, supposedly, possessed the secret knowledge needed to help the infected survive the horrific final stages of the Infection. With the world slathered in deception, it could be a trap. But Katia’s symptoms intensified with every passing day. Her stomach was already visibly swollen with the bastard parasite eating her alive from the inside out. Soon, she would no longer be able to hide her sickness from the ever-watching eyes.

Fear jabbed her insides as she approached the GeneTag scanner. ID cards, fingerprints, and retina scans were obsolete. This new technology now guarded entry to any building. Katia thought the method suspicious. Stupid, really. With the airborne virus so contagious, why had the idiots in the skyscrapers designed an ID system that required removal of the protective masks?

She slid hers off.

A couple exited the building, swinging wide around the threat of her exposed face. Katia stuck out her tongue and confronted the polished steel panel inset in the wall. Her ragged, fake-old-lady reflection disappeared as the door slid upward and out of sight, revealing the angry mechanized armature. It was like a cyborg’s arm severed from its body, all the flesh boiled away. Clinical and demanding. Rods, hinges and tubing with a singular, selfish mission: to prick.

The hoses plumped, and the hydraulic arm emerged from the wall. Bent at the elbow, wrist maneuvering into position, it aimed itself at Katia’s open mouth like a cobra ready to strike. But it didn’t have a pair of fangs; it only had one—a four inch needle looming shiny and sharp.

Katia squeezed her eyes shut to brace against the coming pain. With a sickening pop she couldn’t get used to, the needle plunged into her tongue. Pain erupted. Hot serum injected. Tangy. Bittersweet. Like molten glass flooding her mouth. The siphon engaged, reversing the flow, and the syringe sucked its rancid fluid back out.

Sirens blared. Strobes flashed.

Infection Detected! Infection Detected! Infection Detected!

I’m Just a Bill

I am quite thrilled to say that the agent/publisher response to my third novel, FREEBORN, has been far and away better than for my first two novels. That tells me I am learning more of what it takes to grab and hold their attention through pitching and actual writing craft.

That last statement sounds like agents & publishers are my market, my audience. They are not. The buying public is.

But agents are pivotal in the process of getting my words to that market. Agents are partners and advocates. They’re often called gatekeepers–those who hold the keys to the magic portal through which a manuscript must pass in order to become a book. (I’ve noticed some agents don’t like that term for some reason???)

That thought dredges up a random song from the depths of my lyric-infested head. An old Schoolhouse Rock tune. Sing its catchy educational glory with me.

I’m just a bill.
Yes, I’m only a bill.
And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.
Well, it’s a long, long journey
To the capital city.
It’s a long, long wait
While I’m sitting in committee,
But I know I’ll be a law someday
At least I hope and pray that I will,
But today I am still just a bill.

In this sense, I suppose agents are a lot like Congress. My manuscript will remain just a bill until an agent decides it is worthy to become a law.

Since I’m having more fun than you can imagine with this analogy…I suppose that would make the head of each agency the Senate. Even if Congresswoman Agent likes my manuscript, she will have to pass it through Senator Agency Head for a second approval. If all is a go, then my lowly manuscript will be on its way to becoming a full-fledged book.

It’s a long, long wait while I’m sitting in committee.

Then there is President Publisher towering over the paperwork with a veto stamp in hand. My poor little bill can get rubber-stamped, kicked back, and remain an unrealized idea. Damn bureaucracy!

Like Bill, I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.

I know I’ll be an author someday
At least I hope and pray that I will,
But today I am still just a bill.


With complete contrition for getting this song stuck in your head for at least a day, here is the YouTube link to help you dig out the earworm.

Be sure to check out all the Grammar Rock subgenre of videos, too. Chalk it up as “an online writing course”.

What is it about Schoolhouse Rock? I just dig it. Yes, part of it is the artwork, but mainly it’s the songs. Let me tell you about one of my favorite musicians. Mike Doughty. He is solo now, but I was initially introduced to him when his old band Soul Coughing opened for Dave Matthews waaaaay back there in the past. My frinds hate him: his voice, anunciation, music–all of it. Too bad. Suck it up. BTW, he has a remake of Schoolhouse Rock’s “Three is a Magic Number”. When I’m feeling capricious, I can put that song on and just watch the shoulders tense as eyes roll with disdain in there sockets. Not that I would ever be capricious…

Agents: How to Cut Your Slush Piles in Half

Maybe the title is a tad hyperbolic. Nevertheless, there is a useable nugget of truth here. I promise.
Sometimes, a writer has to take a chance on a query letter. I have tried a few things–nothing outlandish–but perhaps a little out of the tried-and-true norm. I know, I know. Gimmicks are almost always an instant turn off. I haven’t used dancing baby videos or written a query as though one of my characters was doing the pitching.  Confession: after a conversation regarding what makes Freeborn unique, I did use this subject line for a few queries:
Query – FREEBORN – YA Sci-Fi (With pregnant dudes? What!?)‏
Yeah, well, I recovered from that moment of lunacy.
Sometimes, writers don’t feel like they’re taking a chance; it just happens. An example of this is querying agents who may/may not rep the genre the writer is submitting. I thoroughly research each agent before querying: agency sites, interviews, twitter, random internet searches, client lists. No matter how in-depth this fact-finding mission, it is often hard to discern exactly what an agent is looking for. Some have a very quiet e-presence, while others throw themselves out there loud and proud.
When in doubt, I send the query out.
Much love to the agents who spell out their wants/likes/dislikes in crystal clear terms. Unfortunately for the slew of querying writers, there are plenty of agent profiles which merely provide the wide-open, vague “YA/MG” market with no specific genres noted. With these agents, I will take a chance and send a query anyway.
***Note to agents with vague ‘What I’m Interested In’ declarations: Want to cut the number of ‘Not Right For Me Queries’? Give us details of what IS right for you.***
Both you and your interns will thank me for it.
One of my best rejection letters came from an agent who simply listed the “YA/MG” market. This rejection is inserted below. With the Dear John opening address, it starts off sounding like my girl back home is breaking up with me while I’m crawling around in muddy, wartime trenches. After that, there are amazing statements every writer likes to hear. But then it hits–the dreaded asshole-of-a-word–however.
Dear John,
Thank you for your query. I thought this was a really creepy, interesting concept and that you executed it very well. The writing was super compelling and the pace was great. However, I’m afraid that I don’t do all that much with Sci-Fi, as I’m not a big sci-fi reader and don’t feel I know the market well enough. I wish you all the best and encourage you to submit your query to other agencies. Thank you for thinking of me!
Agent with Vague Profile
Let’s recap the key terms and play-by-play reactions:
“really creepy, interesting concept” – [Yay! It’s not a form letter! Perfect compliment. That’s my brand.]
“you executed it very well” – [:: Heart flutter :: We’re off to a great start here.]
“writing was super compelling” – [Wow! This is going really well! This agent ‘gets it’. :: heart rate increases ::]
“the pace was great” – [I agree. And thank you. I worked hard to make sure of it. Where is this email leading…? :: heart skips a beat ::]
– “However” – [F#^k!!! :: heart shrivels and dies ::]
After the however, my eyes glazed over. My blood pressure rose. My finger instinctually slid over the mousepad and selected the “Move To: Rejections” icon. Fantastic. Agent read at least part of my sample chapter, liked it, but rejected it.
I double-checked the agency website and online info for the agent. Yep. Just as I suspected. Vague market with no genres listed. Don’t get me wrong. I am very appreciative of the customized letter and feedback. I understand that the effort was a gift and took time for the agent to compose. The agent could have simply form-rejected Freeborn since my submission was not in a genre s/he represents. However…

Two More Publisher Requests


So many creative possibilities to draw from for a post today. It’s funny though. When a health concern pops up, everything else turns into scatter noise on the radar. Yes, I’m nervous about something. Yes, I am being intentionally vague. This is a public blog, not a private journal.

Now that I have gotten that out of my system…

I have two new full requests for Freeborn to announce!
– Jo Fletcher books upgraded from 3 chapters to a Full
– Entangled Publishing requested a full via Brenda Drake’s ‘Entangle an Editor’ contest

That’s as much excitement as I can muster at the moment. Stay tuned, though. I’ll be back on track soon enough.

Update: Another Request!


Here are the *new* current stats for contest entries, requests, and queries. [Accurate as of 4:00pm]

Contests –  Entered: 6     Outstanding: 1      Wins: 3               Losses: 2 [I can tie it up!]
Requests – Submitted: 6   Outstanding: 6
Queries –    Submitted: 3   Outstanding: 2   Requests:      Rejections: 0