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My Two Projects

So what am I working on? Since starting this blog I’ve been fairly vague. Talking about queries and partials and never anything about what I am actually writing. I feel it’s important to share a little info about my two projects:

Coal Belly

This is the finished manuscript I am currently shopping. (The one with three partials currently out in the ether) It sits at 133k words. Which is kinda in that new-writer danger zone. (Most publishers won’t accept over 120k words for a new writer.) Coal Belly is a speculative title set on the fictional, river covered, world of Vale. It’s probably easier to post my query letter since it’s a good synopsis of what is happening:

Rumors whisper from the corners of the city: the world is breaking. Mountains swallow distant towns. Strange creatures prowl the ridges.

Captain Erasmus Hale can’t be bothered with the rumors. Broke, cheated, and facing repossession of his riverboat, the Transcendent; Hale accepts the offer of a mysterious stranger for a dangerous late-season trip upriver… unaware of the danger he’ll place upon himself, his passengers, his crew, and his boat.

Torrenting is changing the world. Its practitioners bend reality: lighting lamps, heating steam engines, and smelting iron without the need for fuel. And yet student torrenter Lisette Wakefield struggles with even the most basic fundamentals. When an old professor offers to send her north to a distant campus she agrees, and embarking on a journey that will change her life forever.

Beset by enemies on all sides, and with rumors of revolution brewing, the mood among the rivermen in Commonwealth’s Flotilla is tense. Gunny Cooper Rueben is a loyal, yet his ironclad loyalties are shattered. After a drunken mistake, he is betrayed by his country, sold into slavery, and forced to serve as a groom for a brilliant young torrenter.

Coal Belly (133,000 words) is a swashbuckling adventure set during an age of industry that tells the story of a shattering world, and the passengers and crew of an old riverboat steaming headlong toward its breaking. It’s Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself meets Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi: high adventure, a bit of romance, and a little magic.

And… that is why I’m always posting pictures of riverboats. I’ll keep you updated as I keep getting responses from agents.


The Stars Were Right

Stars is my new project while I shop Coal Belly – I’m about a third done with my rough draft. It currently hovers around 36k words and is always growing. It is weird fiction heavily influenced by my appreciation for the works of H.P. Lovecraft and China Miéville and movies from my childhood. With Stars I’m trying to avoid the fantasy tropes while keeping it chock full of the fantastical stuff that makes weird fiction so great: strange races, interesting locals, unique cultures, dusty tomes, gigantic monsters, and death cults. You know, the fun stuff.

It centered around this quote from H.P. Lovecraft’s “Call of Cuthulu:”

When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, They could not live.

The plot is told from the perspective of Waldo “Wal” Bell, a caravan master leading caravans between the frontier city of Syringa and the multilevel megalopolis of Lovat. Fresh from a finishing recent cargo delivery for the importer Wilem, Black & Bright, Wal is arrested and accused of murdering two close friends.

All signs seem to point to him, though Wal is adamant he didn’t commit the murders. When the cops refuse to listen Wal makes a daring escape from his holding cell. Running from the law, he seeks to unravel the mystery and find out who is really killing his friends and how it’s all connected to him.

Short description, it’s the Fugitive if it was directed by Guillermo del Toro and art directed by WETA.

So those are my two projects. The things that occupy my free evenings and weekends and keep me up at night. I figured covering them in at least a basic level will help make sense of this whole journey so as you follow this blog. Hopefully this will be of interest and if you are writing something you’ll be able to learn from both my mistakes and my victories as I continue this journey.

Partials

I have had requests for partials from three different agents over the last few weeks. Huzzah! Hooray! Huge news! Exciting, and overwhelming, and stress inducing, and, and, and, and…

A million thoughts swim though my head: How mistakes are in there I didn’t catch? Should I have paid an editor? What if they hate it? Is 50 pages enough? Did I do enough to hook a reader into wanting more? These sort of things eat at me, makes me doubt myself, and doubt my work, and if I really let it get to me I’d freeze. I’d never finish. I would never have gotten a requests for partials. I’d never be done.

There’s a quote from Voltaire I strive to live by, “perfect is the enemy of done.” It’s 100% true. I could keep working on that sentence, that paragraph, that chapter. I could work it and rework it and then I’d have another sentence, paragraph or chapter to work and rework. it becomes cyclical. I can’t tell you how many times I have written and re-written parts of my manuscript and – if I’m being honest about it – I didn’t improve anything.

Eventually you need to get your work out there. Circulate it, let it be what it is. Not everyone will love it, but if no one sees your creation you’ve robbed them of the chance to love it.

Three partials: I count that as a win.

Reduction

My first rounds of submissions were to agents who took only query letters and accepted them over email. (I discovered agents usingquerytracker.com and agentquery.com – both of which are excellent resources.) There’s a lot of agents in the market that will take queries this way, but a greater number of agents want a lot more things – items beyond the query letter – cheif among them is the synopsis.

So I spent a better part of my weekend working on the synopses for Coal Belly. Synopses. Not one but two of them, a long one which was about 2000 words and 10 pages double spaced and a much shorter one which is 2 pages single spaced and around 800 words. The challenge of taking 130k words and reducing them to 2000 words was difficult, however, the smaller one, stripping it down even further to 2 pages was one of the more difficult things I have done in this whole process. Stripping away the flourishes and focusing on the structure, but still trying to maintain pace and hooking the reader. Tough.

I learned a lot.

Now… to send it out.

Rejections

Sent out another wave of query letters a few days ago. Some egregious number, something like forty-five. That brings the total count (according to my handy query spreadsheet) up to eighty-five query letters sent. Eighty-five. Wow. Eighty-five people reading my words and debating whether or not they want to represent me.

Okay that’s not totally true. Technically it’s not eighty-five anymore. I have received twenty-four rejections.

Twenty-four.

Seems like a lot, hell, feels like a lot, but from what I read it’s fairly typical. I’ve seen authors, talk about forty rejections, sometimes fifty, and I know I’ll be there. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the rejected.

It happens. I do my best not to take it personally and I move on. I’ll keep sending out the letters, I’ll keep opening my email, and I’ll keep reading the rejections.

I would forever be a manuscript-ist and never a novelist if I didn’t put my work out in the marketplace. Eventually someone will be interested, and eventually I’ll published.

I know it.

Besides, I promised myself I’m going to buy myself something nice if I can get to 100 rejections.