Sometimes I wish the internet never was invented. Too much like having your favorite bar in house, with your favorite barkeep who knows all your favorite drinks and plays all your favorite music, but nobody talks to you, and you're hanging around the big boys like a fourteen year old not quite realizing the dangers of the game. It's all about the cake and what you want with it.

That said, I'm still out of a job, the sockbooze is still not quite passable as vodka, and hey, it's 2 a.m. on a Sunday*. What better to do than write *another* novel?

* which means it's Monday. this whole a.m./p.m. thing just isn't workable for mainlanders, dude.

Note to self

Dear self,

I'll agree 3 books in 1 is a bargain, but next time you think that spending a week with a book of 840g sounds good, think of your body craptastic, and remind yourself it's no way to help your shoulder recover from saber season.

Rejection Rant

And then some; the subject is the nth iteration of the Famous Rejections, and the repeated remarks/comments they get.  It started out as some thoughtful responses, I swear.

Rejections build character!

Rejections build character?
Serious *snort* now!

I'm not averse to character building. I suspect that forced revisions and editing (AIIEE MUTILATION OY SHARP KNIVES CARVING THE FLESH FROM MY SOUL!) will be far more character building than an impersonal note from either editor or agent. I frown upon the idea that being denied something that you want and know you should have because you are worthy should be seen as character building, how the hell did those people ever get past their fifth birthday? That ever first no I had to swallow as a toddler prepared me well enough for: no, nyet, nope, nada, nix, nougat-balls, and just because, you figure it out.
It doesn't help finding it not fair (oy Calimero) that my genius is denied; it's not like I can wait until mommy leaves the house and sneak into the cupboard and take the cookie I so deserve.
An explanation would help making me bristle less at the no--we all have that same child still with us, and as everybody knows, some children are louder or more stubborn than others; I must confess to having a very headstrong and petulant child within, but I cope nowadays without pouting and stomping my feet and crying in public. But my character was built enough way back when to deal with an unexplained nope (mind you, not until I figured out that mommy notices cookies disappearing and it would do me no good ignoring that no). I'd like an explanation, but I can live without. But without explanation you don't have anything to build whatever with.
Now, if an agent would send me some flaring remark (what kind of drivel is this, you idiot, with which you disturb my most exalted thoughts?) I might not be happier, but at least I'd have something I could call character building.

I look at the digital stack of impersonal form rejections (stack, pfeh, let's not be overly dramatic: I only have like 9 or 10); I accept why these must be such, though I'm not fully convinced by the arguments (see later). But since I don't have to do that work, who am I to object? No is a no, and stomping my foot ain't gonna get me cookies.
Now, said digital stack of rejections first and foremost remind me I'm a storyteller, nay storyfinder. I can't look at them and not have Cow Watcher award those impersonal words voices, give them faces, and have them speak in a certain tone. When another incarnation of the List popped up on the Rejectionist's blog, I commented that at least those rejections are personal. My digital impersonal stack simply make me feel like a leper trying to sell skin lotion. Thank you but no thank you and have a nice day! Leper moves away from door, with difficulty negotiating the two small steps to the path, then the flagstones towards the street. Before reaching the next door, arm drops off... Oh no, whispers the lady in the next house, Quickly children, hide behind the couch. It's that leper from last year again!

But honestly, I was looking for a short explanation of my feelings when making that comment. What the stack really does is make me feel like a girl scout making her cookie-selling rounds and getting met by kindly smiling faces and a chipper: "Sorry! Not today!" and "Oh how awfully sorry, but I can't."
Brave Girl Scout will not be persuaded by a little adversity like that, but after wandering through many streets, she grows weary with the chipper folk. More and more she has to bite down on a slightly evil grin so as not to blurt out "You're awfully sorry, I know. Bye!" as soon as the door opens.
Surely there are better ways to use/lose time, she feels. It's such a lovely day, and if nobody wants these cookies, what's she trying to prove? But no, she's committed, she's hard working, she'll do this, the right way. So she soldiers on, no matter that her feet hurt.
But Girl Scout is also mere human, and hence prone to petulant inner monologue. She knows slinging cookies through people's front windows will not help the sales, but wouldn't it at least make her feel better? Her fingers are starting to hurt from knocking on doors and pressing doorbells, and pain is hard to bear if you cannot see its reason.
Being somewhat paranoid of nature, Girl Scouts ends up wondering if those chipper folk are all too kind to mention they bought cookies from another Girl Scout, and well, lovely as the cookies are, people have to think about health and diet and money these days. What she would not give for someone to say: "Oh no chocolate, I can't have any says the doc." At least then she would know that the cookie-selling-route-snatching-bitch-that-spoiled-her-day is only a figment of her dark side.

Another recurring remark/sentiment is the one that states it's a rite of passage. I find that one even more disturbing. At least a tribal rite of passage has rules for the ceremony that are clear, or I should say, that clearly state what they're about. In preparation for your rite you won't be told you need to show courage during your test, and then dropped unprepared into a pit with a hungry lion. No, you'll be well warned that you'll have to fight a hungry lion to show courage. To say those two things are the same would be showing a lack of intelligence, or of common sense.

A comment in Bransford's post on the list mentioned that every failure is a step towards success:
a reminder each time, that you are a submitting writer ever one step closer to your goal.
I'm not quite sure how to interpret that. Failure can teach you many things, but failure itself is not getting yourself any closer to whatever goal you've set. And without a teacher, a mentor, a direction or even a glimmer of an idea what causes the failure, how can you learn? Or should I cherish impersonal form rejections for another reason? Is this person perhaps hinting at the greatest secret in the publishing industry there is: might there be some wizard, some AI out there, that counts my form rejections, and if I reach the right number without blowing a fuse or letting slip a petulant remark, the doors of heaven will open and I will be taken up amongst the Angels of the Art?
Well... Crap on the Holy Cow. If only someone would have told me that years ago...

Bransford gives his reasons for finding fault with such lists; I'm slightly disappointed that all remarks and comments in whatever blog on the subject so rarely point out that comparing those rejections with current ones is comparing apples with pears. Why will nobody of our shepherds say out loud: those rejections have nothing to do with how the business is run nowadays. Why not slap down comments like "rite of passage" and "character building" like the fluff they are? Instead their silence only reconfirms the mantra: queries are the pain you must suffer, the ablutions you must do before being deemed worthy to the inner circle of the craft. So, write some more, it's good for your character, it's good for your soul.
You know, carrots are also good for you, but I'm no donkey, and I know when I'm strung along.

Those dear shepherds of the wannabe-writer masses pussyfoot about while they'll write page after page of detailed and thoughtful advice on queries. However, they won't say that the business has changed over the years, that their business has changed along with it, and that while they would love to find the next great artist writer they won't get his books sold. Perhaps even worse, that while they would love to find the next great artist writer, they no longer look for him.
Craft, they mutter, you must learn the craft. But it's not craft, it's not the potter forging beautiful dishes. The publishing industry is about factories copying the design and cranking out as many they can. Nay, it's not craft you must learn, it's industry. It's neither good or bad, but it is what it is and I feel more should be said about it.

Craft? Piffle. And this does not come from my frustration as querying wannabe-writer, but as reader. There's good stuff being written, but in the field of SF/Fantasy I haven't seen the likes of great storytelling like LeGuin's, or Zelazny's yet. Doubt we'll ever see something like him again and this makes me sad; I'll steer clear of questioning they would have broken through nowadays (which is like trying to argue whether aliens will like us or kill us when they come). No, honestly, I'd rather buy and read the next Zelazny than get my own stuff published. The system isn't broken because you need to rack up piles of form rejections, the system is broken because it fails to mention time and again it's first and foremost about selling copy nowadays, and less and less and even less chances are taken. It's sensible, logical, but not quite talked about as much as how it is about style and voice and craft.

It's not about writing, and it's not about craft, but about whether you can carry a platform. Will you go out and talk and do things having nothing to do with writing, and everything with selling? Will you humor fans? Do you understand what makes this business tick? Will your title sell enough within a short amount of time (and too short an amount of time to make a success of most of those writers mentioned in those lists), to make it worth it? I was just about wondering whether it might come to big boops being assets in getting published, but then this happened making it all too clear what the industry is about. Oh laugh at it, mock it, sure, but me, I'm laughing green, because I understand quite well who this particular joke is on, and illustrates so well why I'd better give up now. It's not about writing, it's about the person. And instead of giving me hope and courage, strengthen me in the idea that I simply must have an agent, simply must have an editor, simply must have a publisher, to do this the right way, they make me question if this is the right way. I'd like to get famous and rich overnight just like the next person, or whatever approximation I could ever dream of befalling me, but I'm not sure I want to pay the price. I just want to tell my stories, whether the world will buy them in masses, or not buy them at all. Just like proving courage and being chucked to lions or doing it the other way around, there's a difference between editing geared to making a manuscript into a better novel, or into a more salable novel. It is what it is, but is it what I want?

One of those things that makes me bristle when the shepherds speak of queries is the advice to personalize. I get that when thanking people when you do get published, you name the people that have helped you, whether they were paid for it or not. It's only polite, and makes perfectly sense. Just like writing a story is more than stringing words into sentences, jobs done with heart and good effort are more than something you can pay for with money.
I also understand the need to get a name right, the genre, and perhaps the preferences too. But why should I agonize over personalizing what should be an objective polite request to a stranger, while the addressed is perfectly aware that whatever I say is just a sugar-coating ploy. Something small, like "I like your blog!" or "loved that book you sold" in my weird head always get said in that immortalized tone of: I can see Russia from my house! Surely such fake sentiment will not help my book getting published? Couldn't we just go all out then and turn this show into America's Next Bestselling Author?
Another test of my character then perhaps: can I lie and fake interest in their person even if they promise their response (being 90% to 99% of the time the negative kind) will be an impersonal form rejection?

It annoys me and then some. I'm not a great people's person. Especially when strangers are involved. I pick and fuss over my words, lay awake at night wondering about certain glances, certain expressions I noticed. I HATE making telephone calls if it's my business, but I'll call to wherever if my job demands it, no problem, and I'll be polite and outgoing and not such a bad people's person but it's mostly FAKE. Why do I need to pretend to like strangers if they do not show me the courtesy they expect from me? N.B.: only a third of my rejections use my name in the response. And that simple little effort, an objective polite courtesy asked and returned, makes me feel less like a leper or a Girl Scout who can't get rid of her sodden cookies.

So all in all I'm wondering hard and deep now, reminded of the promise I made myself over Dreams of Cold Stone. I'll wait till summer and then we'll see...


Especially the latest changes still need much polishing before I'm noting it down as [completed] in my WIP wordcount list, but I officially declare Tiger of Opal as a complete first draft. Saving it as v.1.0 and doing a quick victory lap in my study.

Excellent, I think this deserves some alone time in the tub with Paks.

Verbose Off!

I was going to blog about very interesting stuff, like my confrontation in the Waterstone's in Brussels with !even more categories! fragmenting the landscape, but I find myself losing time by being logorrhoeic in MCN's comments and I still need to finish that first draft of Tiger so I can finally move it up from v.0.x to v.1.0 and feel all good about myself and channel all my verbosity into the second UTA novel.

But in short: for SF+F+H (and SF/F spin-offs) Waterstone's had shelf-space of about 12m (I think, I'm very bad at judging distances. In my defence: I'm short and short legs ≠ 1 yard/meter, and half the time line of sight is hampered by taller things. Shelf-height is about 1,5m since I know I'm facing the top shelf directly). Now they've added about a meter for dark romance, but impacted the 12m for SF/F/H with a meter for *memory crapping out but insert a label for vampire à la Laurell K. Hamilton*. Does adding categories really help sales? Is it logical to keep Dark Romance in the Fantasy vicinity? I feel they're already acceding to the point that Dark Romance readers don't give a crap about SF/F by making a separate category. Wouldn't it be better to put Dark romance with Normal Romance? Do they have Normal Romance in Waterstone's? I honestly can't remember but if not, a Dark side version wouldn't make sense at all. Will check it out in a next visit and someday answer these questions.

For now it's Verbosity Off!

SF/F Contest over at Guide to Literary Agents

The focus of the fifth Dear Lucky Agent contest over at a Guide to Literary Agents is Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and there's a critique by Roseanne Wells from Marianne Strong Literary Agency to be won. Running from the 12th till the 26th of May.

So there, I'm game!

Entering the first 200 words of the first Barynn book now.


I've got one or two hours work left to finish the first complete English draft of Tiger. Too bad I now have an appointment in Brussels, a meeting tonight for the club, and a test on that social law course tomorrow.

Sometimes it would be so handy to be able to freeze time just for a bit, or jump back a while. Or clone yourself. Stupid life always interfering when I can miss the annoyance like a damned toothache *grumble*

Lika whoa.

Finally finished with all sorts of non-writing related crap (read: course on personnel law, information folders for fencing club), and looked at Tiger, scissors, hammer and chisel at hand. I gave the parts that need deleting a quick glance and started thinking about what information bits absolutely need to stay, and how I can recycle them. And like WHOA do I know how it's going to look. I just love it when...

Quick placeholder notes added to the text, because first I need to dash out for some quick groceries. Nothing helps fleshing out scenes like fighting over melons.

PS: You've got a dirty mind.

Yes, you.

You know who you are.

To hell in a basket

I wake up and find this waiting for me: *drool* and YAY!

So I scurry over to Amazon, jump hoops (no, don't need no software with my mp3 because I don't use *i* or MS shit for my music KTHX) and then come to that moment where my hate for Amazon is confirmed and I realize Trent has his moments as an ass:

We are sorry...
    We could not process your order. The sale of MP3 Downloads is currently available only to US customers located in the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.
*headdesk* always apologizing aren't they? I hate them because I want this, but hate them more when they make me lose my time. They can read where I am from my IP addy, they can sluice me ads related to whatever is in the cookiebox, but still they let me add stuff to my basket of which I will only be averted that I can not have it delivered to Belgium when I jump the actual buy hoops. What's up with that?

Furthermore, half the time the apology arrives not because A) the store limits shipping to a certain territory, or B) law (or copyright) restrictions. I've had it happen that I could not order an item (from cool rpg dice to books) through Amazon from a certain storefront, and when fed up with Amazon's antics and switching to the store's own online presence found that there was no restriction at all. What's up with that? Is it quirky programming in Amazon's database, or an intentional skewing (skewering?) policy?

EDIT 12th May: and now there's an iTune link too. And I don't do iTune. Ah well, let's just wait for summer...

Rant on order and queries

The part of query guidelines that always gets my brains turned inside out is when the demand is made to indicate the market. How am I supposed to know the market? I'm even loath to consider it part of my job as writer. When I can put a stamp on my manuscript, like "science fantasy" or something along those lines, I'm already humongously content with myself.

I don't wake up with the need to fill a certain niche, not even when it's a hot niche. I get ideas for stories, not ideas for things to sell. My brain soaks up words and then spits them out in some sort of order, mainly to the Cow Watcher's beat.

I know that this attitude (is it merely an attitude?) hurts my work's saleability tremendously, I know. It sucks. I get that a lot of writers have this ability or skill (or aptitude?) to take a story idea and then spin it in a totally different direction if that's where the market is going. I even picture it working like that for me in a handful of years. Okay, more like both handfuls with perhaps some help from the feet. See, there's a long list of projects I have been dragging along since ... ever, and I can't concentrate on new stuff until at least one of those dungeon-crawling monsters is out.

Why? Don't you know that every writer has The One that stays in the drawer for years but comes haunting? Or don't you get new ideas for new stories then?

That's the sad part: aaaaaall the time. But the Dungeon-Crawlers are vicious beasts, and Cow Watcher won't let me forget. Can't really blame the sucker, because CW and the DCs share the dark recesses. But whenever I seriously work on something new, it's like having John Cleese's BBC Announcer stuck in my head. "We interrupt this programme..." or "And now for something completely different." Come to think of it, a disproportionate amount of criticism voiced by the Inners sounds like Monty Python. Another favourite is the "Oh, get on with it already!"(1)

So, why can't I concentrate on new stuff? Simple: Cow Watcher won't let me be. Even at night I wake up with CW whispering to me: KILL KING MARGOR AND THAT SOLVES THAT NO?, or, THE HORSES COME ALIVE TO THE ROAR OF THUNDER (I know: wtf, right?), or, THE PROBLEM YOU HAVE WITH CYBERPUNK INVOLVING ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCES AND ALIENS IS THAT BOTH SERVE AS HOLY GRAIL AND NO STORY CAN HAVE 2 HOLY GRAILS (like, dude! Let me sleep already!),
And then there's those moments I really hate: WHY DOESN'T HE KILL HER WHEN HE HAS THE CHANCE?, with Cow Watcher laughing at little imbecile me, shaking its head and making me want to weep because it is sooooooo obvious a plot problem that undermines any inkling of logic, which I totally glossed over in the months if not years, the gazillion times I've gone over the draft to add, rewrite, reshuffle, and if I can't figure out a reason why Evil Guy doesn't kill the Heroine that one singular moment he can, I'll have to rewrite like 700 pages. And then I'm set for a night of no sleep and a lot of tossing about.

Most of those whispers get scribbled down by the light of my mobile or simply in the dark, and end up looking sort of looking like this:

And all my notes are like that. Some scribbled, some typed, some with little pictures or very expressive exclamation marks. Some not legible at all come morning (writing in the dark can do that), others don't make sense in first light (or ever). But they make sense to Cow Watcher, and I keep them about as talismans against the powers of the Master of the Dungeon-Crawlers.

No, order and categories get my brains twisted inside out alright. For years I've been trying to compile a Companion to the Barynn project, first to keep track of names and dates but then also of affiliations and alliances and historical background, and even there I break my teeth on categorization. I have a deep-rooted problem with categories. I understand why some people find them more important than others, going from economic ease to finding yourself at the short end of an -ism. But I don't *get* them. It's weird, because categories are simply a stronger form than labels, and I use labels all the time. It's like having all these little labels lying about, but all the boxes are missing. I guess that psych test test(2) that detected schizoid tendencies wasn't that far off the bat, hmm?

It works something like this:
Let's say, you have this nice box with 24 colour pencils and after using them with fervour and panache, you need to put them back into the box. And since parental units always complain about order and discipline, let's try to put them in some order (see, already compromising here and not saying: exactly as they were. We're not super-extra-rigid on discipline and order, okay?)

So, "easy" you think, right?

From white, over yellow, over orange, to red, purple, blue, to finally black. D'oh, where do I put my greens?

Okay, start over.

From white, to yellow, over orange to red, to brown, and... Green?

Zeus! Don't try this at home, you'll be at it all night!

The most helpful invention would be a 3D box for colour pencils. Multi-layered matrix of colours. Seriously, I would be drowning in my own tears.

(1) I blame the lonesome mornings spent at my father's, when everybody was still asleep and simply had to entertain myself (from somewhere 6am till 10am) with VCR or a commodore64. Lots of mornings were spent with the Holy Grail. Lots. Obviously too many lots.
(2) as in, helping out a friend's brother who was devising a test for his university thesis in psychology, so a test of a test


I came back from a busy weekend to find my feeddemon overflowing (135 posts to read? Are you crazy? Don't you people have a life?), so I had to kill some blogs I was following.
Part of the deluge however are the NIN teasers on the How To Destroy Angels project, which sounds like yumyum and more. Can't wait till summer.

On the 1st I met up in Planckendael zoo with ex-colleagues. We had a pick-nick the other visitors were jealous off, caught up with each other's lives, and discussed and laughed about the miserable state of Belgian politics. Since the party was mixed French and Dutch-speaking, hilarious scenes ensued when we started yelling at each other. I was actually pretty glad to see the shocked and horrified reactions of the nameless masses around us, when part of the group was lagging behind and I yelled (in Flemish): "Always the same with those Walloons, always have to wait for them lazy asses!"

The day after I had another tournament. In the elimination I came up against the same woman that whooped my ass during the Championships but this time I kept my cool and managed to use my superior tactics. I conquered her, but then came up to someone who's been in the top 3 for years and years and years. I did my best, but the dying went quickly. I ended up 6th (of 11).
The problem with senior women's saber is that mid-list hurdle: the group is quite small, and the top of the group are those women who have years of experience and youth going for them, and the difference between lower half and upper half is actually quite extreme. But I'll get them, slowly but certainly.

Also, I applied for a job that seems invented just for me, so cross your fingers!

Today I hope to finish some of the document I'm preparing for the club, so I can finally turn my attention to Tiger again and clean that mess up.