There Is No [Damn] Spoon


“Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.”

“What truth?”

“There is no spoon.”

“There is no spoon?”

“Then you’ll see it is not the spoon that bends; it is only yourself.”

Most of the time, it sure feels like there is a spoon to bend–a massive titanium spoon with a stubborn streak. And that sucker wants to remain as it is. Unbent. Then there are the times when said spoon seems to actually morph, bow, twist, and submit. But, according to Spoon Boy, it’s not the spoon which is bending; it is me.

Two more Pitch contests have come and gone. The stubborn spoons of 3-2-1 and Super Intern are still marvelously straight. I won’t toss them into the garbage disposal, though. Instead, I’ll tuck them away in my silverware drawer of attempts made.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, here are the current stats for contest entries, requests, and queries:

Contests –  Entered: 6     Outstanding: 1     Wins: 3     Losses: 2 [I can tie it up!]
Requests – Submitted: 5   Outstanding: 5
Queries –    Submitted: 3   Outstanding: 3

So, my calculations bring the total number of Outstanding opportunities to 9. [Please, double-check my math for me.] I do indeed believe these are “Outstanding Opportunities” in the best sense of the phrase.

The truth of the matter is that–in order to be successful in my writing endeavors–it is I who must bend.

Freeborn’s pitch has been tweaked and honed at every stage of feedback. The manuscript has gone through multiple revisions, 2 critique partners, and 6+ beta readers. I am anticipating feedback from the requesting agents with the possibilities of either “I want you!” or “Please revise & resubmit using my amazingly specific comments as a guide.” I refuse to accept the idea of form rejections.

After all, there is no damn spoon.

I am always a little wary of using ‘profanity’ in a post. Anywhere online, really. There are folks from early epochs of my life who [I’m sure] are appalled by my use of ANY profanity. We change over time. This is fact. Funny how folks from your past–people you never interact with anymore, people who have no authority over you–can still cast their heavy shadow over your life. I’m trying to shake it off. But sometimes I still feel like a kid caught smoking behind the barn.

Advertisements

Feedback: Super Intern Contest


I like that little checkmark!

The committed Erica Chapman finally sliced and hacked her way through all 30 randomly selected pitches & first 250 words in the Super Intern Contest. Being a lover o’ math & calculatory functions of a complex nature, I had to run some simple stats on the contest. Erica was gracious enough to clarify a few responses I couldn’t quite nail down as a Yes or a No.

Disclaimer #1: This is totally my own doing because, well, I wanted to.
Disclaimer #2: I interpreted each of Erica’s comments. Where she was ‘on the fence’ I either asked for a clarifying verdict, or took the overall tone of the feedback to polarize her comments into a Yes or a No.

Here are how things turned out:

70% “No, I wouldn’t read more”
30% “Yes, I would read more.”

I’m not sure how those numbers compare to the usual slush pile ratio, but those are the stats for this contest.

At least two of my online writerly friends also made the randomized cut. Of the two, 1 received a Yes, and the other received a No. The full details, entries, and comments can be found here: http://brenleedrake.blogspot.com/. For your onsite reading enjoyment, my entry and Comments are posted below.

Super Intern Contest – FREEBORN
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Word count: 79,000

Query letter:

Dear Mr./Mrs. Uber-Agent,

The Surgeon Generals are liars. The lives squirming inside the guts of Katia and the other clones aren’t parasites. They’re Freeborns.

The squirming in Katia’s gut means two things: she is infected with the dreaded parasite, and her boring life as a sixteen-year-old clone is over. Despite her precautions, the infection—which attacks regardless of gender or age—has implanted a living tumor inside her. Katia knows she should obey the Surgeon Generals and submit to their so-called treatment, but claustrophobia has a way of pushing her to do crazy things. Trapped, with nowhere to run, she accepts Adam’s offer of asylum in a safe house full of infected rebels.

As Katia’s stomach swells, she experiences feelings she has never known, discovers the truth about the life wriggling inside her, and joins the rebels in their insane plan to shift the power. The militant Doctors and assassin Candystripers are proficient at ending the little uprisings which threaten their illusion of peace. Only, they have never faced a threat like the plot Katia and Adam are involved in.

The rebels plan to infect every man, woman, and child on the planet with the Freeborn parasite the leaders are seeking to destroy. Not only do they have the guts to do it, but they also have the means. Katia’s fear of tight places is nothing compared to her fear of what will happen to every clone in the world, herself included, if she and the other rebels should fail—or even more so if they actually succeed.

Freeborn is the 79,000 word YA Sci-Fi offspring of The Hunger Games and Contagion.

I am a writer, poet, and visual artist. With published short stories, articles, poetry, and illustrations, Freeborn is my second full-length novel. As I seek an agent, the concept for the sequel is in the works.

Thank you for considering Freeborn.

250-word excerpt:

Katia shuffled down the busy sidewalk, hunching over her cane. Mindful of the surveillance cameras, she periodically stopped to adjust the scarf securing her gray wig. Though her old lady disguise was fake, her Infection was real.

Every face that passed wore a government-issued prevention mask. The virus did not discriminate, but attacked regardless of gender or age. None were immune. Even though Katia had taken every precaution, the sickness had wormed its way into her blood. The parasite now squirmed in her gut.

A pair of Doctors brandishing chrome assault rifles blocked her direct route to the building. One tiny prick from their portable infection detector would immediately unravel her disguise. They often slammed the infected to the ground—just for kicks—before hauling them off to a quarantine center. That was their role: abuse their authority, mess with the rabble, keep the streets clear of the infected, and toy with them along the way.

Katia held her breath and shuffled behind the Doctors. Their voices turned towards her as she passed, but they didn’t address her as she mounted the steps to the ten-story structure. Like most corporate buildings, this one had been converted to housing to accommodate the rising population caused by the Infection.

The woman in Suite 940 was her last hope. While most people referred to the woman as a witch, she called herself Ilythia. Katia’s friend—one she almost trusted—had passed on the information; Ilythia possessed the ability to help the infected through the horrific final stages.

***********

COMMENTS

erica m. chapman said…
QUERY
I remember this. And I really liked it before. This is good. I really like this premise and the way you’ve set up everything in this. I’m confused as to why they would want to infect everyone with the parasite? Isn’t that a bad thing? You may want to make that more clear. Also, comparing your story to the Hunger Games is not something I would recommend. This is good. You have me intrigued.
250
This is intriguing. I like what you’re setting up. I get an idea of the surroundings and the world we’re in. Letting us in on the infection early on is a good idea. I would read more of this.

John Lucas Hargis said…
Thanks for hacking through all these pitches for us, Erica. You’re a gem.
1. Nix the Hunger Games reference. Done!
2. So, the ambiguity about ‘why’ the rebels would want to infect everyone: I thought that might be a perk-up moment in the Pitch to get the agent to want to find out. Guess not…lol FAIL!
So stoked that you’d read more. Gives me a happy face. See —> 🙂

erica m. chapman said…
My pleasure!! Ah, it’s always better to be more direct, I think. Just my opinion ;o) Glad i could help!

***********

The next phase of the contest entails 3 of the pitches being escalated for a 10-page critique. While I would love to receive that bonus prize to give Freeborn a little boost, I am already appreciative for the feedback on my first 250. I have been having success with the Pitch, but it is nice to finally get a bit of feedback on [at least the opening of!] the writing itself. It gives me hope. Much hope.

Too-Small Blanket


Note: My feet are a little bigger than that^

My mind may be shrinking. I hope not. All I know for sure is that it currently feels like a too-small blanket.

I remember this one winter night when I crashed at a friend’s place. The amazing party and afterglow were followed by folks hunkering down and sleeping it off ’til morning. The hosts were [are] the magnificently odd artist-types that I love. You know–they forego creatures comforts like ‘heat’ in the Ohio wintertime so they can live solely on the income from their artistic endeavors. Once again, amazing folk, extending hospitality. (Within a freezing cold midwest loft.)

Curled up in a recliner with an electric lap blanket wrapped around me, I had the best accomodations. But you can only sleep in the fetal position for so long. Enter: the effort to stretch out. Bad idea. That poor little 3′ square blanket was cranked up to High and giving all it had to give. It wasn’t the little guy’s fault that I was twice as tall as it was long. Cramping and kinked, the too-short blanket saved me from frost-bite and hypothermia. As long as I kept myself wound into a tightly wrapped ball, my core body temp remained above freezing. That too-short blanket was my savior.

My mind is having a tough time wrapping around the things going on with Freeborn right now. It seems like, just yesterday, I was scribbling down those first few chapters. Now, after a small amount of well-placed effort, here are the current standings:

Freeborn Request Tally = 5
– 2 Agents with Full: Elana Roth, Michelle Witte
– 2 Agents with Partial: John Cusick, Tamar Rydzinski
– 1 Publisher with Partial: Month 9 Books
 
You never know how these things will turn out. All this really shows is that I intrigued these industry pros with my pitch. It says NOTHING about how the manuscript itself will be received. They could all stop reading at the second sentence and toss Freeborn into the “Dear Intern, Please send out my form rejection” pile.
 
Nevertheless, I continue to find myself bursting out in random fits of masculine, butch-like Squeeeeeees.
 
So what if my mind feels like a too-small blanket right now? I’ll take it. But I’m holding off on curling up into the fetal position. I’ll save that survival technique for the day the last rejection rolls in. No, scratch that! The thought is colder than a harsh Ohio winter. Instead, I’m gonna find a way to stretch this mind-blanket out. If all goes well, I’m gonna be needing an oversized quilt to keep me warm in the next stage of the process. Might as well get to yanking and pulling before it happens.

Connecting the Virtual Dots


A lot has been popping with Freeborn. I’ll reiterate this from previous posts: I have not submitted a single query via the usual channels yet. In fact, I didn’t complete my last round of polishing until 1:30 this morning. A month ago, my plan was to complete the final edit, and then begin querying on my self-imposed deadline of 6/16/2012.

Alas, that plan was tweaked a bit by some amazing opportunities which sprang up between the tightly laid cobblestones of my proposed path to publication. If you walk away with nothing else from this blog post, then I ask you to consider the weight and importance of being active online and being involved with the personalities you meet there. The partials I have received have stemmed from those virtual relationships.

I received TWO partial requests for Freeborn yesterday.

  1. Via the YaLitChat YALitChat Pitch Slam2 Contest – A request for the first 50 pages from agent Tamar Rydzinski of Laura Dail Literary Agency.
  2. Via the Month9Books Facebook page – A request for the first 5 chapters from publisher Month 9 Books.  

I originally heard about the YaLitChat Pitch Slam2 contest from a Twitter friend. To trace that lineage back even further, she & I were both involved in the #WVTP contest. Afterwards, a group of us continued to message one another, connect via Facebook, and celebrate/share/whine about our writing endeavors. If this connection had not been made and sustained, the Tweet announcing Pitch Slam2 would have scrolled along, getting buried in the rolling feed. Because we had connected with one another, I took notice of the Tweet and followed up on the opportunity.

Here is the form the request took. [Pay attention to the name of the Moderator. You will be seeing it again shortly…]

 Reply by Georgia McBride 
Tamar would like to see your first 50 pages! Congratulations! Please email us at membership@yalitchat.org for submission instructions!

I’ll try to keep the circuitry of the Month 9 Books motherboard as sorted as possible. While on YALitChat, the ‘Chat’ window bleeped at me. I joined in a conversation with Brenda Drake and Georgia McBride. Brenda and I had originally connected through her Brenda Drake Writes blog months ago, and then we connected again as she served as hostess-with-the-mostest for the #WVTP contest. Georgia is the founder of the YALitChat site [along with a ton of other endeavors!] and we connected there. A week ago, she took the time to thank me for being active and helpful in the PS2 conversations on the site.

In the midst of discussing a concern I had regarding a specific element in my pitch, Brenda asked if I had pitched to Month 9 books. I scribbled the info on a post-it to investigate later and continued chatting. Later, I discovered that M9B is yet another of Georgia’s many endeavors–and Brenda’s publisher. At the time, I had no idea of either connection.

I found M9B’s website and started my research. First of all, I loved the publisher’s tagline: Speculative fiction for teens and tweens…where nothing is as it seems. As always when researching agents and publishers, I delved further. I checked out every aspect of the company including the basics, what they are looking for, current titles & authors, and quality of the book covers. What I found particularly interesting were the Publishers Marketplace announcements on the ‘News’ tab: 2 & 3-book deals, auctions, and an expanding staff roster.

With the confidence that M9B would make a perfect fit for Freeborn & its author, I followed a link to their Facebook Page and submitted my query. Within five minutes, I received this response in the form of a Comment:

Month9Books, LLC. I’ll bite. I’m looking for straight-up sci-fi. Please send first 5 chapters to submissions@month9books.com. Please polish and make sure the world-building is solid.

One more dot to throw in here to increase the connectivity a hundred-fold: Georgia is represented by the illustrious, aforementioned Tamar Rydzinski.

Is your mind scrambled? It took me a few takes to trace all the circuits.

So, what’s the point of this post? Other than the fact that I’m geeking out over a pair of requests on the same day?

Make and sustain meaningful online connections with others who share your passion.

Yeah, I know. It’s common sense and it has been said before. Maybe I have nothing to offer except a reiteration of the obvious. I’m totally okay with that, because I am seeing the importance of the simple truth being played out in my own experience. Don’t underestimate the power of seemingly ‘simple’ advice–and virtual relationships.

Forget the Zombie Apocalypse. Prepare for F-DAY!


Image

As writers, we write stuff. [Genius, I know!]

Sometimes that stuff hits a chord and resonates with a reader. I’m not talking about the “Oh, I really like that story” or “You should be a real writer” kind of resonance. I’m thinking of something a little deeper, a bit more personal–the kind of connection that happens when a story actually zings inside the reader.

There have been many instances of writers ‘foretelling’ the future. Sci-Fi is good for this. Authors like Isaac Asimov created fictional events, technology, and gadgetry which seemed far-fetched and ludicrous at the time. I remember [bits and pieces of] Fahrenheit 451 from High School. I can turn my head away from this laptop screen and see something in my very own home that seems eerily similar to Ray Bradbury’s wall TV concept. 

There have been a slew of zombie movies and books hitting the market for years now. [For the record, the campy 1950’s setting of the movie Fido is my all-time favorite.] Sometimes the zombies are really fast and nimble, other times they are slow and clunky (but still eat your face anyway). Apparently, In Miami, the Zombies prefer to dine au naturalle.

And so the Zombie Apocalypse Begins.

Do I really believe in a soon-coming day when Zombies will roam the land? Ummm, no. What I do believe is this: the story in that link is kinda creepy. Not because it has a coked-up killer in it, but because–one day–somebody’s book is going to get it right. We’re going to wake up and find that the world as we once knew it is gone.

It could be real-life (real-death?) zombies, an alien spacecraft hovering over Paris, animals with the ability to talk, some chap in S. America who suddenly reveals he can fly under his own volition, a near-earth asteroid scorching the ozone, or a little girl who can predict the lottery with 100% accuracy. And, chances are, someone will already have written a story about it before it ever happened.

My novel, Freeborn, has some of the basic sci-fi elements necessary to make it believable: technology that has evolved from where it is now to where it might be heading, socio-economic dynamics as they may look in the future if we remain on our current trek, realistic interactions between characters in a world based on these changes.

Thankfully (because I wouldn’t be much of a writer if it didn’t),  Freeborn also incorporates fresh concepts that have never been explored in the genre. Plenty of these are sprinkled throughout the narrative, but everything hinges on that one key hook which–to my knowledge–has never been explored in the same way in previous novels.

Clones have been done–yes. Infection by viruses has been done–no brainer. But, when the virus infecting the clones causes spontaneous pregnancies to occur–regardless of the clone’s sex–well, haven’t seen that one until I put it down on paper myself.

Once-fictional-now-real technology exists. Folks wrote about zombies and then some naked guy kept munching his victim’s face even though the cops shot him–over and over. I’m not saying dudes are going to start having spontaneous babies. I’m just saying: if it ever does happen, you heard it here first.

So how will you know what to do when you wake up as a victim of the spontaneous pregnancy apocalypse? What should you do when Freeborn Day (F-Day) becomes a reality?

You must begin by clicking “Like” on FREEBORN’s Facebook Page. Today!
Don’t wait until it’s too late!

And, once it’s published, you need to buy the book (of course!)

It’s the only way to be prepared when F-Day hits.

[You know, if it ever comes…]

Full Manuscript Request: FREEBORN


Image

Understatement: I’m excited about this.
Disclaimer: I am stretching this post out to include a Twitter-teach along the way.

Yesterday, I spent 6 hours monitoring a Twitter feed. Brendra Drake, along with a a couple other hosts, organized the Writer’s Voice Twitter Party. The full rules for the contest can be found here: http://brenleedrake.blogspot.com/

[I’m going to pop in the bracket explanations for those of you who are still working on your Twitter savvy. I know you’re out there. Don’t be embarrassed. I’ll help you. 😉 ]

The contest involved tweeting a pitch for a novel using the imposed 140 character limit.
[A Tweet is simply a post–similar to a Facebook update. If you don’t know what that is…oh my…]

The hashtag #WVTP was crucial to the contest to feed the tweets into the correct stream where agents would be lurking.
[A hashtag is simply a label. Hashtags serve as funnels to carry updates from anyone using them into a common folder. By searching for a hashtag, you can see the Tweets of others with similar interests.]

So, out of techie world, and back to the experience itself.

The timeframe for the contest was 12-6pm. Literary Agents trolled the stream during that window. Aspiring authors submitted their pitches in hope of having one of the agents ask to see the manuscript. Basically, it served as a way to get the idea of a book in front of many agents at once instead of sending tedious, individual query letters.

At noon, the #WVTP stream exploded as authors began submitting their pitches. It was insane. Trying to read each pitch was difficult because so many were flooding in. The screen kept scrolling as the new entries stacked on top of the previous ones. The hashtag was used so much in such a short amount of time that it began ‘trending’. [In other words, it became popular since so many Twitterers were using it.]

That’s when the steady influx of SPAM messages added to the melee: “enhance your penis size”, “can this be real”, “I can’t believe they let me post this”, “come see what everyone else is seeing”, “make 10k a week from home”. The nude avatars and constant posting of the SPAM started as a novelty, became an annoyance, and then pretty much made the pitch-reading impossible.

Enter: http://www.tweetdeck.com/beta. [Oh no, more brackets…TweetDeck is a secondary program that can be downloaded free. It serves as a dashboard for your personal Twitter feed and is outstanding for organizing tweets from users all over the world into easy-to-read columns. It’s like a digital filing system for all your Tweet interests.] TweetDeck contains a filtering function. With a few keystrokes, the file extensions for all the SPAMmers’ links could be weeded out of the feed. Voila! Back to only pitches and agent/host comments.

Then the fun began.

I pitched both FREEBORN and CAPRITARE when agents were present on the feed. No bites. So I started rewriting the tweet-pitches to focus on different aspects of each story. You know: put more hooks in the water, try different bait. My reworked pitches for FREEBORN took on many forms by zeroing in on different elements: Katia, Adam, their relationship, the Surgeon Generals, the clones, The Candystripers, the mission to overthrow the government, gender issues, the virus, spontaneous pregnancies, etc.

Still, no bites.

Then, fifteen minutes before the contest was to end, Agent John M Cusik http://johnmcusick.wordpress.com/ pointed out he was looking for Young Adult novels. Now, the vast majority of the pitches were for YA. Only, we couldn’t spare the characters to include those two little letters. I reworked the pitch [again] and sent this one blazing into the feed:

YA The Surgeon Generals are liars. The lives squirming inside Katia and the other clones aren’t parasites. They’re bastard Freeborns. #WVTP

I waited. Then a Direct Message [not a mass Tweet, but a message sent directly from one user to another] popped up in its column on my TweetDeck. Here’s what it said:

Yo yo, send me that. #WVTP

Sweet! So, John and I chatted a few direct messages back and forth. Apparently, he didn’t know it was YA until that Tweet. Also, he noted that sometimes persistence is the key. It damn sure was!

I have already received my instructions on how to bypass the slush pile and send the full manuscript for FREEBORN directly to an agent who asked for it. This is a great opportunity. I have not even queried FREEBORN yet, so the Twitter Party was it’s first foray into the larger world of publishing professionals.

Understatement: I’m excited about this.

FREEBORN: Facebook Page


Just like his older brother before him, FREEBORN now has his own Facebook Page.

Stop by and give it a “Like”. It costs absolutely nothing, and you can watch the little tyke as he grows up and makes his way to market.

In the novel, the Infection is viral. It’s hard to imagine that a Facebook Page for an [as-of-yet] unpublished book could be as well—but hey—an author’s gotta have dreams ya know.