Poppycock To The Poppycockers


Sometimes I need a break from writing. So I take one. Of course, this goes against the one-size-fits-all advice of “you must always write everyday”. To use an old-skool word as my response to that: POPPYCOCK.

A friend found an old silverware box he wants to store his knitting needles in. He asked if we could trade art projects: I’d paint the box for him & he’d knit me about 300 miles of i-cord I need for a project.

I said yes. And I totally win on that trade. By a long shot.

His only criteria was that he’d like a spiral on the box, which was based on another super simple project I’d done before. I brainstormed, using what I know about his interests, to come up with a creative take on a spiral. I went with the tail of the Indian god Hanuman.

Here’s the project through its various stages:

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I think it turned out great. And, while I wasn’t really in a writing ~mood~ before starting this project, I now feel the itch to write. This process, which is definitely not writing, freed up something inside me so I can dive back into that world.

Making art as a reset works for me. Writing every day works for some people. But not all of us. Those “always” & “never” writing rules used to bug me. Not because I felt guilty for not following them, but because I get plain annoyed with didactic advice.

I won’t give any here. But I will say this: POPPYCOCK to the POPPYCOCKERS. As unique as we all are, it’s ridiculous to believe we all can (or even should) follow the same process.

K. Well, Hanuman’s done & he’s nudging me to get back to the words. Thanks to him, I’m ready to do just that.

Querying – Savvy Little Tip?


I sure do like some spreadsheets and charts

I’ve queried four manuscripts. As my craft developed, my stories moved closer towards marketable, and my aptitude for the actual querying process grew, the request rates slowly climbed.
1st queried manuscript = 2%
2nd queried manuscript = 3%
3rd queried manuscript = 7%
4th queried manuscript = 32% (so far)

That’s an unbelievable increase on the 4th one, like, BOOM. Even now, I’m floored by it.

The core of what writers must do is (we know, we know, we know) craft an amazing story. Solid hook. Identifiable conflict. Unique voice. Unforgettable characters. Consistent worldbuilding. Tight dialogue. Emotional resonance. [Insert a seemingly million other requirements here]. The writing has to be not just strong, but irresistible. And, let’s be honest, the story needs to possess the promise of $cha-ching$ flowing silently beneath the words.

The writing is the most important part, but it’s far from the only element we have to master. And every separate skillset only comes with practice. You know: effort, rejection, frustration, painfully starting over with a fresh manuscript, bringing the scars and callouses and wisdom into the process the next time. Trying again.

This time around, when preparing to query, I became conscious of something I’d been aware of, but never purposefully honed in on—the most common sample lengths agents ask for.
– 5 pages
– 10 pages
– 1 chapter
– 3 chapters
– 50 pages

This little lightbulb went off. Towards the end of my revisions, I focused on making sure those breaking points were loaded with as much tension as the narrative allowed at that point in the story. My goal: to (hopefully) leave the agent thirsty at the end of the sample, to spark that desire to request more pages. Which is the point.

We know to do this at chapter endings. But check this:

When querying, we need to treat the end of each of those sample lengths the same way we would a chapter ending.

For what they’re worth without context, examples of my breaking points:

5 pages

I sighed, and she pulled me closer to stain my cheek with what was left of her cherry-red lipstick.

“Katers demands I hang out with her tonight,” I said, pulling away. “She’ll tell me if I need to quasi-freak-out over this unholy union or totally Astro-freak-out.”

Olivia nudged me from behind, jangling my keys.

Gma pointed at me. “Check in with your daddy first.”

10 pages

I pretend-counted on my fingers. “If we’re including wicked stepsisters, crazy stalkers, and secret boyfriends, then that’s, oh, I’d say, four-point-five. Ish.”

Katers rushed towards me and grabbed my sleeves. “Boyfriend? Why is this the first your supposed best friend in all of creation is hearing about this love connection?”

Love. Ha.

1 chapter

The shadow in the greenhouse shrank to normal size, then the light went out. I grabbed my suitcase and rushed to the house, inside, up the stairs, and into the dark bedroom designated as mine. I peeked through the curtains. Axel Chicory, formerly known as Daddy, looked so inconsequential, a lone silhouette crossing the big lawn.

The New Moon floated directly above him, but its magic had already run its course.

I let the curtains fall closed between us, then locked my bedroom door.

3 chapters

Setting my journal in the grass, I focused on the other book. Plain, black cover. Not the unnamable blue-black of the night sky. Truly boring black. I hooked my finger under the cover’s edge, half-expecting the wind to pick up or a meteorite to land in the orchard when I opened it.

But nothing happened.

So I turned the first blank page.

And then another.

Until I found words.

This journal belongs to:
PIPPOPOTAMUS

I jettisoned the book and jumped up, smacking at my bare legs where the blasted thing touched them.

50 pages

The Heart of Joven.

Gpa had the young whiz-kid architect design the house around it. Ten sycamores planted by my Great-Gma decades earlier. Her hands began the grafting, and Gpa’s continued shaping it when she joined the stars. Axel and I had even touched and whispered to it. Four generations of the Chicory family recorded in the growth rings of a single being who had outlived two generations already.

The third was too busy to love on the tree. The fourth was too scared of screwing it up. Also, too wounded by the mere sight of it to look at it a nanosecond longer.

Among the million things we need to nail as writers-seeking-to-become-traditionally-pubbed-authors, this little piece is a secret weapon. I mean, it’s not a magic bullet. Nothing is. But it’s the savvy thing to do, a special tool to add to the toolbox we’re slowly filling. I believe it played a part—even if a small one—in that ridiculously unbelievable request rate. (Still reeling!)

We all need every hint, trick, key, and password we can get our hands on. Yes? I hope this one maybe helps you.

Invisible Ink! Yesss this manuscript garnered A LOT of requests in its 5 weeks in the trenches. And, maybe, perhaps, it has even gone beyond simple requests. 😉 Pretttty sure there will be another EXCITING post late next week…

Querying In A Surreal Sort Of Way


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Something strange & beautiful has happened.

A lot of you, who know I’m “agented”, have asked about recent events & whatnot. And, I assume, agents could be swinging by to do a bit of sleuthing. *proffers tray of hors d’oeuvres* *uncorks wine*

Maybe we should start here: Publishing is a quirky kind of land. No two authors’ journeys are the same. There are certain boundaries & cornerstones, but there’s a lot of room to dance & frolic inside those borders.

As succinctly as I can explain where I’m at right now:
– The amazing Louise Fury is continuing to represent and submit my novel, Phreak Show.
– With her blessing (and a glowing reference upon request!) I’m seeking representation for If Found Return to Astropop & future manuscripts.

Weird, right? Maybe? Idk, it feels right for me & my stories & writing career.

It’s not a development I ever dreamed of happening. At the same time, it feels completely natural. I mean, this is the experience I’m experiencing, which makes it perfect & exciting. So here I am wandering through this magically surreal land where I’m on sub but also back in the query trenches. Strange indeed!

What I’m finding is, man, I’ve learned a lot of stuff (desperately want forward momentum, but there’s serenity in the process.

I’ve always been a fan of the unconventional. I’m a risk taker when it counts and rarely regret following my intuition. And I feel strongly that now is the time to find a champion for Astro & future books in the same vein. (There may be a recent post nearby about this exact thing…)

So, yes, I’m querying again. And the initial response to those first queries has been overwhelmingly positive. (Mindbogglingly so!) Exactly as I hoped for & believed. We’ll see how things play out. I must confess, I’m already imagining the amazing story this is going to make—one I’ll share at future conferences, etc. 😀

If anyone with a vested interest is curious about the details, please ask. And seriously, agents, Louise is approachable for agent-to-agent conversations. (And, for the record, I’m A-OKAY with you reaching out to me if Astropop’s premise interests you. https://lucashargis.com/if-found-return-to-astropop/ *winks forever*)

LET’S DO THIS

*skips across Publishing’s beautiful, bizarro landscape*

Scaredy Cat Writers


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I think writers share a lot of common fears.

What if this thing NEVER happens:
– complete that first manuscript
– nail a damn query letter
– compose a decent synopsis
– sign with an agent
– score a book deal
– write full time
– win an award
– hit a bestseller list
– finish another manuscript ever ever ever
– etc

What if this thing DOES happen:
– end up with a bad agent
– accept a lowball offer out of desperation
– give away too many rights in one whack
– lose my creative soul in the process
– can’t make a deadline
– go broke and die of starvation
– the publisher folds
– only sell, like, 10 copies
– receive nothing but horrible reviews
– lose my mind
– etc

And I know some fears are more personal to each of us.

I’m fearful of a lot of those universal things. Right now, I also have a particular fear of a very specific kind. I have an uber-clear idea of the type of book—my brand, I guess—I want to write, what I want to put out in the world. And that is: amazingly written YA. (Duh!) Drilling down further: amazingly written, quirky YA. And to add one more layer, amazingly written, quirky YA featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists.

Right now (as in RIGHT NOW) there seems to be a ?hunger? for that type of book. I saw evidence of it on editors’ and reviewers’ year-end lists. It was threaded all through the most recent #MSWL. I catch hints from publishing peeps. I’ve read some outstanding examples of it (Grasshopper Jungle, I’ll Give You the Sun) & see others in deal announcements and (promising!) books scheduled to hit shelves any day now (Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Seriously, have you read the first chapter that’s up RIGHT NOW? Do it.).

Here’s my twofold fear: like paranormal romance, dystopian, [insert past trend here], I’m going to miss the window. The craving will be satiated & it will go away. Honestly, how many of a certain type of book can the market hold? Publishers must “balance” their lists. Even if it could sustain more, a sense of familiarity & boredom sets in & acquisition shifts toward a fresher thing. And a second part to this, which feels even more personal: as amazing as the books mentioned above are, I want amazingly written, quirky YA featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists, which is written by LBGTQ+ authors.

Maybe that niche is just too damn small?

Or maybe there are some AMAZING books with those attributes I don’t know of. Maybe they’ve already been purchased, are going through copyedits right now, and I’ll discover them soon. Maybe I have completely no idea of how any of the authors writing LGBTQ+ protagonists identify. There’s perennial favorite David Levithan, of course. Who am I missing? Help me.

Great books are great books. No doubt. I’m so thankful that the ones that exist do indeed exist! The teens and adults reading them deserve them. And maybe I don’t have the chops to create an amazingly written, quirky YA featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists. But, damn, maybe I do. Maybe I already have that completed manuscript. Maybe the one I’m working on right now is yet another one.

But what if the entry window closes before I find out? How many phenomenal PNRs, or books-that-happened-to-have-vampires, or dystopians missed their window? How many ridiculously original works will never become published books because they didn’t make the cut-off? Because the timing was against them? Because the market was already saturated? Because it was time to move on? We’ll never know.

So, yeah, I have those big, universal fears shared by a lot of (most?) writers seeking traditional publishing. But I also, just like you, have another set of fears probably particular to a subset of writers, and even fears that are mine and mine alone.

Sadly, this post is more about what I’m scared of than providing a fix for those fears. I’m definitely interested in your thoughts.

Do you know of any new amazingly written, quirky YA featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists, which are actually written by LBGTQ+ authors? TELL ME. PLEASE!

Forget my personal fear for a minute. What’s yours? What’s that specific ~thing~ that makes you fret & sweat when it comes to your own writing, hopes & publishing goals?

Spill your scaredy cat guts in the comments and let me know. Maybe by naming them, we can do something about them.

Confessions of a Gay White Dude #WeNeedDiverseBooks


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So I’m 27k into the first draft of my current manuscript: Gaydreaming. And I’m encountering some real-time (and welcome) struggles and challenges as I go.

This is my 6th YA novel, and with all of them, representing the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender flavors has been an important aspect for me. Because of my own experience and life and goals, you see. I mean, I’m kinda queer. (Okay, okay, fine…I’m way gay.) I was married for a whole lot of years and have two amazing, phenomenal kids. I’m now with my partner of 4+ years in a state that’s still currently on the wrong side of history. I live in and understand a lot of the nuances of the LGBTQIA community and culture. What I don’t understand, I seek to. So, the orientation thing—I can comfortably speak on it & write about it.

I grew up in NC, admittedly as a not-like-the-rest-of-us-closeted-artistic-weirdo. To be sure. Still, I’m a white dude who started life in a microscopic, closed-off-to-the-world NC town. Later, I joined the Army, then my nomadic self kept me moving around a lot. Seven states. Multiple cities & towns in some of those. I’ve lived in random places and enjoyed a ton of experiences. I’ve met amazing people all over who greatly opened up my worldview and augmented my micro-town upbringing. All that to say, I’m comfortable writing about queer characters and experiences.

In some of my previous books, I also chose to dip my toes into racial & cultural diversity. (Apologies in advance. The word conscious is probably going to appear a lot in this post.) At the outset of this current manuscript, back in my meticulous plotting stage, I made a conscious effort to give this facet of diversity the same attention I’ve always given gender identity and orientation.

Right away, I knew that choice would start with a setting, a real-life geographical region which inherently possesses a diverse population. That would give me a strong, natural starting point I could (hopefully) build a cast and their stories from. I knew I wanted this story set in NC. Because home. But the one-stoplight-99%-white village I lived in until 4th grade wasn’t really gonna cut it! So I went a-researching for the most diverse metropolitan area in the state.

CITY DATA at http://www.city-data.com/  hooked me up.

The site contains a wealth of stats of all sorts, interactive maps, tables, and charts. Seriously, play around with it and see what it can do. So, Gaydreaming is set on the edge of the Research Triangle Park. For thematic reasons in the novel, I slid the setting to the southern edge of this diverse region, to a sort of limboland between Raleigh and Durham. (Perhaps fictionalized a ~little~ and given the regional name Umstead. I AM, after all, a writer.) Using the City Data info, I created my characters to accurately represent the population in this geographic area.

The base characters were in place! The basic foundation for a diverse cast was laid!

Then the more difficult part came. A million tweets and articles and conversations all swirled inside me: things to avoid, things that must be handled gingerly. In random order—just some of the snippets from personal experience and informal, online education—here are a few cautions and goals that are still thrumming through the process. It’s far from the exhaustive list. Maybe not even the most important items. But it’s a snapshot of some of the Post-its stuck to my mental walls.

  • FFS, don’t compare skin-tone to food. This link, If White Characters Were Described like People of Color in Literature, proves the point perfectly: http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/if-white-characters-were-described-like-people-of-color-in-l#.xwMBQdv1D
  • Hell! Avoid mentioning skin-tone or any non-essential appearance markers altogether! But then, my brain fights back, will the diversity be clear enough? Not feel glazed over? Then it swings to: well only mention such things if it matters to the POV character. Which, again, circles back to difficult. Would my pair of MCs, teens who grew up in a diverse community & are themselves POC, even make note of such things in their stories? Would they even notice?
  • An old lesson bubbled up: an article I read years ago about the crutch/stereotype/plot device of the “magical negro.” (If you don’t know what this refers to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro) I confess, completely unconsciously, I created a character that was too close to fitting that mold a few novels and years back. Not exactly all the way, maybe only 33%, but that felt like too much. I’ve since revised that character. Because I learned, and I revisited my own characterization from way back then. There’s no risk of this particular error in my current WIP, but it’s still one of the Post-its. (And, maybe, you can add it to yours? Just in case.)
  • (FEAR INTERJECTION POST-IT: What if I ruin this? What if I get everything wrong? Screw it all up? Make bad decisions? F%&k s#*t up in this attempt?! Maybe I should just stick to the stuff, the experiences, I know firsthand. Maybe I should stick to gay, white characters, who grew up cowering in the closet. But the entire cast can’t fit that description…This story is so much more than that. Ugh ahhhhhh…)
  • Not making my characters diverse just to be “diverse”, but because representation is important. Because readers are important. Because we all have stories to tell. Because we’re all made of emotions, and wishes, and hopes, and fears, and dreams. Because even fiction, or maybe especially fiction, should echo and mirror and trump reality. Because #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Like I said, this is only a portion of the massively long list I’m consciously balancing. Beyond the struggle, though, I believe I’ve also (possibly?) found some creative solutions, ways to portray a cast of diverse, well-rounded characters without tumbling into the pitfalls. (God. I’m going to be honest here. This feels like doing jumping jacks naked in front of all of you. I’m not sure about any of this. But I’m damn sure giving it a go.)

  • UPDATE: I (thankfully!) stumbled upon the Writing With Color Tumblr http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/ WOW. Great info & dos/don’ts from a PoC’s perspective. Multiple moderators answer writerly questions and provide positive examples & guidance. This is a beautiful resource, which is, I believe, the reason it exists. I’m soaking up every drop.
  • Character names can help, right? First names, surnames. This obviously has to be handled carefully, too. Because stereotypes can slip in. Just to make it harder on myself, because of the real-life stats for fictional Umstead, a lot of families are culturally blended. It’s an international region. Still, I believe carefully chosen names can help in a subtle way.
  • There’s one kid in the friend group who is an aspiring chef. His family owns a restaurant/hangout place the characters frequent. I don’t know if this is going to work (because I haven’t gotten there in the draft yet) but Adrian’s character study says he likes to expand his skills and dish repertoire and asks for family recipes from the other characters. IDK? Maybe? That might be another subtle way to introduce the characters’ cultural backgrounds without being overt? (I’m trying here, guys. REALLY trying!)
  • Along the way, even in this first draft, I’m giving things a shot. Experimenting, I guess. (Insert that conscious word again.) I include a bit of description or characterization that’s hopefully just enough but not too much. I weigh it, take it out, put it back in, tweak it. All this will get edited again and again (and again), but I want even the initial draft to be carefully beautiful in how representation is handled. Not just for the queer or POC characters, but for every.single.character.

The point in me sharing any of this (because, seriously, it’s scary as hell) is to show that I’m trying, that I’m being conscious of my writing & characterization choices. I’m genuinely making an attempt. This story would be (get this) easier if I just didn’t worry about this aspect, right? But I do to care about it. I want to do these characters justice. I must.

So, yeah, my anguished junk’s laid bare. And, at this point, I have no idea if this attempt will be a success or a complete and utter failure. I’m hoping, expecting, for the first outcome in that list.

In case it’s not clear enough, my struggle with writing with diversity in mind begins and ends with a single word: conscious. But I guess a similar word, conscience, is in there , too: the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.

*stops doing naked jumping jacks*
*hopes something in these confessions helps somebody else, too*

Intelligent People Stay Up Later?


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I am, by nature, a night owl.

I can do the early morning thing, go to work, make stuff happen, even write in the a.m. if I force it to be so. But night, the witching hour, that’s when I thrive & the magic happens.

According to this article, IQ average and sleeping patterns are most definitely related.

http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/night-owls-creative-intelligent/686025/

I guess I’ll believe the study. All I know is that something special awakens inside me when the stars are out.

Who are my fellow night owls? (Who may not read this until nightfall. :D)

Writerly Thoughts – Starting Tomorrow via @tangynt


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One of my writer compadres shared this in an online group earlier this week. It could be a New Year kinda commitment, but I feel like now is a great time to share & think on these thoughts. The holiday season, after all, is a time to be thankful, celebrate, splash in nostalgia, and also look ahead.

With Leatrice McKinney’s full permission, please enjoy her writerly thoughts.

Starting tomorrow, I’m gonna take it easy on myself.

I’m not gonna think about the negative aspects of the industry or how I really feel about my WIP right now.

I’m not gonna focus on what I didn’t accomplish this year or where I wish my career was, but instead look at how far I’ve come and count my progress for the true difference it’s made in my life and my craft.

I’m not gonna compare myself to other writers. I don’t know what moats they’ve crossed to get to where they are or what waits for them on their journey. I’ve got my own path to follow.

I’m not gonna pull out my phone to check my email every five minutes, essentially LOOKING for rejection. It and acceptance will come on their own, my refresh button will not speed up or slow down the process.

I’m not gonna give my self-doubt an inch of room to try and grow. As a matter of fact, that mofo’s got to find somewhere else to set up shop entirely. GTFO.

I’m gonna celebrate my accomplishments, because—contrary to how I feel sometimes—they are there, and they are numerous.

I’m gonna celebrate my friends and colleagues’ successes. We’re in this together, and one writer’s advancement is NOT another writer’s hindrance.

I’m gonna focus on the love and acceptance from the people in my life who support me and what I do.

I’m gonna allow myself to feel victorious in the fact that I’m still moving forward.

If you understand, feel any of this, agree, or simply want to encourage her in this commitment, please give a Twitter shout out to @tangynt and let her know. You can also slide on over to her website: http://tangynt.wix.com/elle.

Pain, Patience and OWWW CRAP OWWW


Today was the (quasi)final tattoo session for my Phreak Show character sleeve.

Here’s how things looked going into the session:

This project has taken precisely one year, 12 sessions, 36-ish hours in the chair, $#### (plus a trade of a mounted human skull fragment).

Out of the dozen sessions, this one, the background, was by far the worst. The needles pierced & chewed the entire length of my arm. The sheer amount of skin area made it rough. Pain. From wrist to shoulder. Front, back, sides. If my poor, fragile skin didn’t have ink yet, it got some.

Some owww-shit-owww sections got hit today. Hard.

You know that sliver of skin between your elbow bones? The one that twangs and hurts like mad when you bang it against a sadist object? The “funny bone” it’s called… Yeah. Not even close to funny. Like ridiculously not funny. When the artist was inking it, a nerve zinged all the way to my hand and made my pinkie & ring finger involuntarily twitch & jerk. This was weird. Painful & weird.

Another spot of excruciating pain: the underside of my arm, near my armpit. WOWZER. That amount of pain should be illegal. Prophetically, that’s where Niko the Prince of Torture is located. Haha, Nico. Ha. Ha.

At one point, after 2 hours of suckfest pain, my whole body was shaking. I tried to stop it, but it was doing that thing like when you’re shivering from the cold and can’t stop. I’m pretty sure my body was protesting, as loudly as it knew how, for me to stop traumatizing it in such an evil manner.

Joe, my tat artist, ripped the needles through my skin. “You sick of me yet?”

“Can’t.talk,” I squeezed through my chattering teeth. “Too.busy.screaming.inside.”

He laughed. I cried. (Almost). I tried to ascend to my happy place & soldiered on. Like a trooper and whatnot. I’d come too far to quit partway through the final tattoo. Even though it hurt like infiinte hell. <—possible exaggeration. Eventually, Joe stopped hammering my tender, Irish flesh. I shook off the grog & stood on quaking legs to check out his handiwork.

One final-final session is scheduled for May just to make sure everything looks crisp & ~finished~ after a few months. Perfection, ya know? That last-pass edit of compulsive tweaking. But it’s close enough to call this the final draft.

Phreak Show is officially  a “manuscript” and not a “book” at this point. Still, being the hopeful chap that I am, I may have already imagined myself at a signing, modeling the sleeve, readers hunting down their favorites on my arm, agreeing with the image or explaining how they pictured the characters differently.

Silly, right? Maybe narcissistic like, “Oh, hey, yeah, check out my rad tats!” Idk. Yeah. Whatevs.  I’m cool with that.

The concept, the characters, the finished story, a phenomenal agent for said story—even the sleeve itself—all started off as dreams. And those dreams, after much patience and owww-shit-owww pain, all came to pass.

And, optimistic, tatted writer-boy that I am, I know the day will come when I roll up my shirt sleeve with a smile to reveal the sleeve underneath.

“Oh yeah! I’d love to a pose for a pic with you, dear reader. But first, let’s put this temporary tat of Twiggy on you. Where do you want her?”