Friday, December 31, 2010

Rain for the new year

Here we are careening into 2011. This year flew by with frightening speed.

Last year I made a huge list of resolutions that I didn't keep and don't even want to look at. I did learn a lot in 2010, though. I learned that if you stop writing short stories, you stop selling them (funny how that works out). I learned that I have a huge capacity to read other people's books, especially if it means I don't have to work on mine. And I've learned that I like writing novellas and can even sell them occasionally.

So this year I wrote one novel and two novellas--technically two novels and a novella, but the romance book is so short I'm counting it as a novella (and I still have 5k to add to it, today I hope). I wrote zero short stories. Coincidentally, I sold one novel and two novellas this year, and zero short stories.

Next year, hm. Frankly, I'm tired of being in a holding pattern at this stage of my career. I'm going to see if I can kick things into gear by going completely commercial. I've already started that with my ignoble experiment of the romance book--still untitled; if I can sell it to Harlequin, that's a good, solid sale to mention to agents when I query. Maybe it's not what I ordinarily write, but it'll prove that my writing is at a professional level. I also hope to finish the MG book I started this year, Christopher Kaplan, since MG sells pretty well and I might be able to find a good home for it (or interest an agent). And I also want to finish the mystery novel I started at the end of November. I'm reading a lot of mysteries lately and the genre is pretty hot. I was going to give my mystery book fantasy elements, but I dropped that in favor of pure, unadulterated commercialism.

Yes, I'm a sell-out. Or trying to be, anyway.

My two-week vacation is almost over, but it's been really good for me. I feel less stressed than I have in a long, long time. In 2011 I'm going to have to make some hard decisions about my day job. For various reasons I won't bore you with, I'm very frustrated with it and I'm wondering if it's time to move on. Of course it's a terrible time to try to change jobs, but I've got a weirdly specific skillset now and if the right opening pops up, I'll probably apply. Or maybe not--there's a possibility that things may change at work for the better since we have a new branch campus opening this fall (hopefully) and I'm the logical person to move up into the new position that will have to be created for it.

Anyway, so, I guess my resolutions for 2011 are:

lose weight and get in shape (that one's always on the list)
join a fencing group
write at least one novel and one novella
write a few short stories, because I really like selling them
stop carrying stress from work into my off-hours, because it's not worth it and makes me sound whiny on my blog
Keep up better with my online friends
Sell out, yo

That's fairly reasonable, I hope. Happy new year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The math is always grim

Here are some depressing numbers about agents, taken from my own records. With extra math!

I keep careful track of all the agent queries I send so I won't accidentally send the same project to the same agent twice. I give all agents about four months to respond, at which point I mark them down as nonresponders (and of course change that if any responses trickle in late). Back in July I brought the table up to date and indicated that the overall nonresponse rate was almost precisely 1/3--that is, 22 out of 65 agents had never responded one way or another to my queries.

That was before I started querying for Trickster Society. Keep in mind that I never re-query a nonresponder, and I'm also cautious about the agents I do query. I research them all carefully and make sure they're open for queries, that they're interested in the genre I'm querying, and that they don't have a reputation for not responding.

Even so, according to my records my nonresponder rate is now up to 42%. Jeez louise, that's getting perilously close to half of all agents who aren't even professional or courteous enough to hit reply and type "Not for me, thanks."

And don't even try to whine that you're too busy to respond, agents. If you're that busy, you have no business being open to queries.

I really hate the agent-querying side of writing. The only thing more depressing is the small-publisher-querying side of writing, because once you're to that point it means that A) all the agents have said no (or not responded) and B) all the big commercial publishers who take non-agented work (all four of them) have said no too.

Yup, I've got the after-holidays, mid-winter, too-many-hyphens blues.

EDIT: I rechecked my figures and the actual nonresponse rate is 36%. Please subtract 6% of the bitchiness from this post.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Yes, okay, most of the major midwinter/solstice holidays are over, but I've been sick with the Cold from Hell and my interest in blogging is at an all-time low. I hope your holidays were/are fantastic, and with the new year looming and the holiday baking mostly behind us all, we can look forward to a future wherein we will all be trim, athletic, efficient, and successful!

As I say, I've had a terrible cold. I got a sore throat two Thursdays ago, which ripened into a snotfest of a cold which then migrated as secondary infections in my chest, sinuses, and ears. I'm still dealing with that. My poor mom has caught a milder version of my cold which is really taking hold with her now, and I still sound worse than she does.

But Christmas was lovely here, particularly since we had our first white Christmas in years and years--an inch on the ground Christmas morning, and another couple of inches overnight last night, and they're also calling for a few more inches of snow this afternoon and evening! That sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that it melts very fast here so by morning we'll still just have maybe two on the ground. Even so, this has been the snowiest winter I can remember in decades--and we usually get all our snow in late January/early February.

I haven't done any writing all week, partly because I've been in bed surrounded by crumpled tissues, partly because of the madness preceding Christmas, partly because hey, it's my vacation. I'm looking forward to getting back in the swing of things, though. I still need to add 5,000 words to my untitled romance and 5,000 words to my steampunk Goldielocks novella--but more about both tomorrow, I suppose. Right now I have to get ready to go to a memorial service, assuming we can get out of the driveway to get there.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The manly dog scarf

Here it is, the very short scarf I made for my uncle out of the fluffy puppy fur he saved from his dog Jack. If I'd started this project before December, I could have spun up a bunch more of the fur into yarn and made him a decently long scarf. Don't tell him I slacked off. I'll just quietly let him believe I used up all the fur.

Anyway, the scarf is actually a good length for him to put around his neck and button the ends under his coat. That's what I tell myself, anyway. It's very soft and warm, and I used the same pattern I used last year for the neighbor whose scarf I made out of his dog's fur. I feel so typecast. The result is an attractive, manly scarf that was really, really super easy to knit. I didn't do any kind of edging because I didn't want it to look too frou-frou and anyway I ran out of yarn.

Here's the pattern, for those of you who might be interested. I used size 10 needles and I guess the yarn is around worsted weight. I rarely bother to check the gauge on my handspun unless I'm making something that absolutely requires it.

Manly Scarf

CO 20 sts
2 rows seed st
K P K, K2 P2 across, K P K
K P K, P2 K2 across, K P K
K P K, P2 K2 across, K P K
K P K, K2 P2 across, K P K
rep until almost out of yarn
2 rows seed st
cast off

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lest I forget again

I have a little half-slip of papers that's been kicking around for years, and I keep losing it. I found it again just now and will immortalize it on the internet:

1 qt 3% Peroxide
1/4 cup baking soda
1 tsp liquid soap (Ivory)
Bathe in mixture for 10 min. Rinse with water.

In other words, if you have a dog, and the dog gets skunked, this is how you get rid of the smell.

Ice Day

Ice day isn't as fun as snow day. We had some freezing rain overnight, which means this morning the roads (and trees, and houses, and power lines) were glazed over with ice. Fortunately I was off work today anyway (and my college wasn't even closed, just on a two-hour delay) and also fortunately, the temperature has already warmed up above freezing and the ice is melting fast.

Tomorrow's my last day at work before I get a two-week holiday! Of course I have to work ten hours--we've extended the testing center hours to make up for being closed Monday--but it shouldn't be too stressful and then I can recharge for the remainder of the year. I have a lot I want to finish up before 2011, mostly revisions. My main goal is to have the still-untitled romance finished and ready to sub in January. I also want to do the rewrites of The Trickster Society (I've already started and it's going to turn into a major rewrite, I think).

The hard part is keeping to a writing schedule while I'm off work. Structure helps me stay productive. NaNoWriMo helped me a lot this year, just by getting me back into the rhythm of writing every single day. Now I need to make sure I stick with it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow Day!

We had a snow day today! We didn't get a whole lot of snow where I live--maybe an inch and a half, most of it melted off already--but Knoxville got two or even three inches. I work at a state college and it was closed today!

So being more or less housebound with a free day off, what do you think I did? If you guessed 'nothing,' you're right!

Okay, so it's not even four o'clock and I did read and review a book. I also went out with Mom for lunch and did some minor Christmas shopping (the main roads are safe enough, but the back roads are still treacherous). Tonight I plan to work on my uncle's puppy-fur scarf. That leaves me several hours where I can write.

So I need to pry myself away from the internet and other people's books and the big outside world and get some work done. I'm editing the still-untitled romance, which does not fill me with excitement.

Friday, December 10, 2010

No one noticed my makeover

This has been a nightmare of a week at work. Seriously. I won't go into details since they're boring to everyone but me and have nothing to do with writing or reading. I'll just say that the first three days of this week were an unremitting series of small humiliations and defeats. Monday night I was so grim when I got home that Mom asked if I'd received a rejection. She knows me well.

I was off yesterday, thank goodness. What I mostly wanted to do was curl up and lick my wounds. Instead I decided that dammit I will not take this shit lying down. I need to stop apologizing to the universe for being alive. That means not just sticking up for myself at work when people try to walk all over me, but treating myself properly the rest of the time too.

Now as a writer, I fight hard against that inevitable feeling of "I'm awesome" since it comes with a set of blinkers that make it even harder to evaluate my work. But there is absolutely no need for me to be embarrassed of my accomplishments.

Here's the progression, and I bet I'm not alone in this kind of thinking: When I sell a story, I don't congratulate myself, I point out--to myself and others--that it's just a small magazine, not a pro sale. If I sell to a pro market, I'm quick to acknowledge that it's probably just a fluke, that most of my sales are just to small markets. When I sell a book, I say it's just a small press and the book won't actually be in stores. And one day when I do have a book accepted by a large commercial publisher, I can hear myself saying, "Well, it's just a fantasy/romance/mystery story," as if the only real books are whatever genre I haven't had published.

I'm going to stop this self-denigration now. I know I have a lot of hill left to climb in my writing career, but I'm proud of everything I've had published. I'm thrilled silly that The Weredeer has found a good home, and I believe in all the stories and books I still have in the works.

So to commemorate my new badass self, I went and got a drastic haircut yesterday: from long, floppy hair to short and bouncy(ish), and I threw away the ugly slacks I keep wearing to work even though they make me feel like a defeated old lady. Today I walked into work with an attitude of "I'm here to chew bubblegum and proctor tests, and I'm all out of bubblegum." I all but whistled the Dirty Harry theme.

And no one even noticed I'd had my hair cut. Dammit.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The POC Reading Challenge!

Last year I took the "read 50 books in 2010" challenge, with an added challenge of at least ten of those books being small-press published. Since starting Skunk Cat Book Reviews last fall, my reading has increased considerably. I stopped counting at 50 books and 10 small press books, but I met both goals easily this year. I estimate I'll have reached around 100 books read by the end of the year, with around 15 of them small-press published.

So what will I do next year? Where do I need to branch out?

Well, I'm going to take the POC Reading Challenge in 2011. My goal will be level 4, to read 10-15 books by and/or about people of color, although I'm going to try and read more than that. I'm looking forward to finding some new authors!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sit n' Spin

I actually sat down with my spinning wheel tonight, for the first time since early spring. I usually only spin during the winter. When it's warm out, I don't want to sit still for several hours with a lapful of wool.

I finished up a bobbin of gorgeous hand-dyed bamboo silk that I should have finished months and months ago, and which I'm planning to knit into something for myself eventually. I still have another 8-oz skein to spin up, though, and it's slippery. I switched to spinning more Jack fluff--Jack being my uncle's dog, and the fluff being his shed puppy undercoat that I asked my uncle to save several years ago. Last year I spun a bunch of it up for him, but he decided he wanted something made of it so I need to finish the spinning and make him something--probably a scarf which will be 10 million percent too hot for him ever to wear. I have a kerchief I made from my old dog Jasper's fur (Jasper was a Newfoundland with beautiful soft black fur) plied with purple mohair, and even though it's filet crocheted and therefore not very dense, it's still too warm to wear.

And you thought I was boring when I talked about writing!

I watched the new Karate Kid movie while I spun (you know, the one that was titled Kung Fu Kid everywhere except in America, home of the stupid). That's a sweet movie. Tomorrow Mom said I should spin some more while we watch The Forbidden Kingdom with Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Then Monday we can watch Kung Fu Panda while I spin. My uncle's scarf will be made with love and kung fu movies.

I am covered in puppy fur.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I need more hours in the day

The end of the semester is kicking my butt. I've been blaming NaNoWriMo for my time management issues this past month, but yesterday I didn't write a word and I still wasn't able to do more than check my email a few times. Today was almost as bad. We're nearly to finals week and the students are driving me even more insane than usual.

Yesterday the power went out briefly across campus, which kicked the servers offline, which meant all the students taking computerized tests (most of them) lost their work. I know I shouldn't complain since I only proctor the tests, not take them myself, but it was just one of a billion horrible little things that happened yesterday. I felt like I was stung to death by gnats. The last straw was the girl who came in to take her nursing final and we couldn't get the password to work. I was nearly in tears, she was nearly in tears. It was terrible. I had one of those 'Calgon take me away' moments where I wanted to just walk out, get in my car, and drive away into a better life.

I may be a little stressed out right now.

I did get some writing done today, to my surprise, mostly over lunch. I've also wasted the last couple of hours reading an awesome mystery--I'll probably review it tomorrow, although I have to work tomorrow (I'm usually off Thursday) so I might not get around to it. What I do know is that I plan to take a hot shower right now and go to bed early.

No wait, I have to do laundry first, and I'm going to have to iron those gray slacks for work tomorrow. *weeps brokenly*