Choosing the Right Picture

This blog is going quiet for a couple of weeks for obvious reasons. Not that Thailand celebrates Christmas, but our family does, as do the 7+ relatives/friends here to visit.

I should be back on January 3rd. Until then, enjoy this undoctored screenshot of, and meditate on the importance of choosing the right picture to go with your words.

Figuring Out Query Letters

Every aspiring author, at some point, wishes someone would tell us how to do query letters right. Just tell me what to write, and I'll write it!


But it's not that simple. For one thing, there is no Right Way to write a query. There are, however, a hundred wrong ways that agents see over and over. One of the best ways to learn, then, is to read other query letters -- hundreds of them, good and bad -- until something clicks and you get a sense for what works.

What? You thought it would be easy?

To help, here's a list of places where you can do exactly that. Many of these links provide free critiques -- both peer and professional. For most the wait is long, if your letter gets chosen at all. But the real value of these sites is not getting comments on your own letter. It's in learning from, and critiquing, the mistakes of others. Read enough of these, and you may actually figure out the answer to "How do I write a good query letter?"

Even if you can't put it in words.
Know any good places I missed? Share them in the comments!

Overthinking Dr. Seuss

I read a lot of Dr. Seuss (9 kids will do that to you), to the point where I've caught myself thinking about the story behind the story, wondering if the good doctor ever considered these angles.

What do you mean I'm over-analyzing?

The Zax -- Evolution or Cruel Experiment?
"Never budge! That's my rule. Never budge in the least! Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I'll stay here, not budging! I can and I will if it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!" 

A North-going Zax and a South-going Zax bump into each other during their long, seemingly pointless journeys, each stubbornly refusing to step aside for the other.

Are there more of these creatures? And are these the first to ever run into each other on their (presumably, magnetically perfect) paths? This appears to be a potential evolutionary problem.

Or is it intentional. One mentions a South-going school. Is there some genetic scientist who has trained them and set them on colliding paths, just to see what they would do?

The Sneetches -- The Economy of Beach Bums
Then, when every last cent
Of their money was spent,
The Fix-it-Up Chappie packed up
And he went.

And he laughed as he drove
In his car up the beach,
"They never will learn.
No. You can't teach a Sneetch."

Plain-belly Sneetches live oppressed by their star-bearing brethren. Until a con man convinces them to change their stars back and forth, taking all their money and leaving the Sneetches poor and confused.

But where did they get this money? In the entire book, the Sneetches have neither homes nor jobs nor clothes (it's cool, they're birds). Maybe their economy is just never shown, or maybe they are the world's most successful beach bums, spending vast welfare checks only on marshmallows and frankfurters.

The Sleep Book -- A Message from Big Brother
We have a machine in a plexiglass dome
Which listens and looks into everyone's home.
And whenever it sees a new sleeper go flop,
It jiggles and lets a new Biggel-Ball drop. 

From one perspective, the Sleep Book is about the bedtime and sleep behaviors of various creatures as the countryside goes to bed.

From another, it's subtle propoganda composed by a totalitarian regime. The message? "Everything is fine. All are sleeping peacefully, except you. We know."

Five Stages of the Science-Fiction Author

STAGE 1: Idea
I'll write a book about time travel! Nobody's done that well yet.

STAGE 2: World-building
I wonder if I should relate the history of the war between Morlocks and Ferengis here or in chapter 2. Oh, I know! I'll add a prologue!

STAGE 3: Characterization
Let's see... I've got the absent-minded professor vs. the mad scientist. Oo! And how about an android struggling to understand human emotions. Screw it, I'll just do an ensemble cast. What should I name the Asian character?

STAGE 4: Craft
How many l's are in "mellifluously"? Never mind. I'll just say "dulcet-like".

STAGE 5: Career
I wonder how many Nebulas you have to buy before they just give you the Hugo?

The Real Reason I Outline

I'm nearing the end of The Great Air Pirates YA Revision of 2010, and I discovered something. For years now, I thought I outlined because I'm an obsessive compulsive planner. And I am. But the real reason I outline, as it turns, is because when I draft I'm a wimp.

See, in Air Pirates there's this character that dies. I mean, a lot of characters die, but there's this one in particular. I really liked this character, but as long as they live, the protagonist has no motivation for change. Not a very interesting story.

So I killed the character in the outline. It was easy. Just a quick sentence: "So-and-so dies. Protagonist goes nuts." No problem.

But when I got to that spot in the draft, I froze. Did they really HAVE to die? Did I have to write the words that killed them? I didn't want to do it, and I was sad when it was done. But I did it because I outlined it that way, and I couldn't think of a better solution (also I didn't want to re-outline half the book just to accommodate the suddenly-living character).

That was in the first draft. Then the means of this character's death had to change for the YA version, and I had to kill them AGAIN. It took me like an hour just to type the words that made it real, and if I hadn't planned it, I wouldn't have done it.

So there you go. I don't outline because I'm afraid to wing it. I outline because, if I didn't, my characters would just win all the time. While that's lots of fun for me (I do like my characters), anyone I swindled into reading it would get bored fast. And since my characters can't pay me, I guess that makes my choice easy.

The Dragon was the Best Part

It's important to choose your protagonist carefully. In general, they should be the character whose choices and actions move the plot forward. If the protagonist is also the narrator, they should be present for most, if not all, of the key events.

Sleeping Beauty, for example, is not the best choice. She doesn't make a lot of decisions, and she misses all the good parts. Pretty much her whole story is like this:

Sleeping Beauty (from Aurora's Point of View)

I was born today. Don't remember much. I think Mommy was there, some scary people, and -- Oo! Sparkly!

[Time passes.]

So after 16 years of being sheltered by my godmothers, I finally met somebody. And he's HOT! I can't wait to tell the old girls I'm getting married and they don't have to take care of me anymore. Wonder if Sir Hotty will let me talk to other people...

Okay, so my godmothers have been lying to me for, like, ever. I can't marry Hotty McHandsome cuz I'm already engaged. Screw that, I'm outta here.

Hey, a needle. OW!

Not sure what happened. I ran away, cut my finger, and then...Sir Hotty was making out with me? (Still don't know his name, btw). Turns out I was engaged to him the whole time. Oh well, works for me.