Tuesday, January 31, 2006

tidbits

Rejection #4 showed up today. A very kind, polite form letter on 1/3 of a piece of paper.

I am starting to go through my manuscript ferociously in an attempt to cut down the word count without sacrificing voice or plot. It's 154,000 words. I know fantasy can get a little leeway on length, but this is too much for a first novel. Maybe I should have killed Rurak off--that would have cut out an entire subplot. I'm having a sneaking suspicion that rejections might be coming my way simply because of length. Or I'm paranoid. Could be both.

On a positive note, this is what I intended to write about today:

My dog, Sutter, is finally healed enough to resume long walks. The North Platte River bisects the town I live in and a concrete riverwalk follows it for about four miles. PArt of this loops around and connects to the park near my house and I usually walk the two mile loop daily. A large field and hill separate the loop from town, so once I leave the park, I can immerse myself in a tiny piece of wilderness. This is the wrong time of year for pelicans and I was not fortunate enough to see a great blue heron, but the Canadian geese were on the river and the mallards were sunning themselves on a sandbar and the mule deer watched us from a distance. They're familiar with us and know this particular dog won't chase them. Not for lack of wanting--Sutter would dearly love a romp like that--but because I won't let him.
I hunt deer. I like venison. But nature requires another kind of enjoyment as well. On the path I can stop and contemplate the grace of a deer's neck, the delicate legs, the wonder of a fawn. These things don't register when I'm looking through a scope.
The most wonderful part of walking Sutter long here is the simple solitude. I spend so much of my day with people--120 students, several other teachers, my husband, my daughter--that even a half an hour, stolen from the day on a patch of psedo-wilderness, is bliss.

From that walk, from the skirling calls of the geese and the brisk numbing wind on my face, I gather enough strength to come back and face another round of query letters, killing my darlings, and renewing my hope.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Just a thought

The fact that there is an award for Best Werewolf Romance leaves me . . . speechless.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Strikes I, II, & III

My first three rejection letters from agents arrived yesterday. Since I spent yesterday doing laundry and cleaning, I didn't check the mail until this morning. Lo and behold, there were three very familiar envelopes. My SASE's had come home to roost, all with bad news.

I will say, I an very impressed with the turn around time by these agencies. It's been less than ten days since I sent my material. Two agencies took only query letters, so I don't suppose it takes much time to read my four little paragraphs and say yes or no. (I would guess that no is an easier decision than yes, if it's anything like grading papers. It's easy to tell who just doesn't get the 'A'.) The third asked for a query, a synopsis and the 1st 50 pages. If I take the form letter at its word and he read the entire submission, then I am seriously impressed by the rejection speed.

I also received a handwirtten note on one of the rejections, informing me that his client list is very full, sorry. Amazing how that softens the blow a little--not the words, but that someone took the time to write them.

Onward and upward. Tomorrw: the district writing assessment cometh. (Can you hear me gagging?)

Friday, January 27, 2006

creativity vs. exposition

If you have a child in the public school system, you know about state standardized tests. In Texas, it's called the TAKS (and do not get me started on teaching and the TAKS in Texas, no matter the alliteration). In Wyoming, it's the PAWS (cute, no?). I'm sure every state has its own version.

Despite my very negative feelings for the TAKS test, I must, reluctantly, give Texas a few kudos. They are organized. Their state standards and expectations for students at each grade level are extremely clear and every teacher knows exactly what his or her students will be tested on in the spring. When changes happen in the test, the teachers know by October.

I point this out because it leads to my frustration with Wyoming's disorganization. Last year, there was no 7th grade writing test--a fact I appreciated, believe me. This year there will be one. No problem. I did this for five years in Texas. I can handle Wyoming. At least here, most of my students speak English as a first language. Then I saw the field test.

The guidelines I had been given for the 7th grade PAWS writing test said, "a literature response and an expository problem solution essay." I was doing fine until I saw their version of a 7th grade lit. response. The prompt contained an excerpt from a book followed by these directions:
Explain how the author's use of imagery contributes to the mood of the piece.

Um. Help?

So, in anticipation of such analytical questions, we are learning to recognize such things as imagery, theme, mood, etc. We are learning to write about them. I don't know how many people out there have much experience with 13-year-olds, but abstract thinking is not within reach for all of them. This has been a slow process, and I don't want to leave them thinking that the five-paragraph essay is good writing. It's not. Never has been. It's organized, and I've used it for a stepping stone because of that, but it isn't good writing. No voice, very repetative, kids have trouble with that anyway. Why exacerbate it?

So instead of learning the structure and leaving it at that, we're learning specific ways to step aoutside of the structure. Ways to write an essay, any essay, and still connect with the reader.

I've never considered myself very competative, but there is a part of me that has worked so hard to pull these kids into higher-level thinking, and they've worked so hard to follow along, and I want our writing scores to be through the roof. I want to stop running around seeing what other schools are doing andhave them come to me once in a while. Selfish? Yup. I want those state test readers to have their socks blown off. It's a nice, warm, vengeful feeling, especially since I've have not had one scrap if information fromt he state since that field test. I don't even have a date colser than "end of April". And I want my kids to succeed despite that.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

this strikes me as odd

All these folks out there are blogging. It's addictive. Reading them is addictive; writing them is addictive. It gets a bit strange though when I find blogs talking about other blogs I read. And then another blog talking about both those blogs. And both my blog entries today are blog-related.

Oh the insidious blogosphere.

I'm also impressed by the number of writers, agents and editors out there, anonomously blogging along. There is an immense network of publishing industry people connected by blogs.

I have refrained from posting comments on the blog of an agent I've queried. It feels weird. I'll just read until I hear a "no" or "Please send me some chapters."

Crying into my tea

Over the past 36 hours, I've sent two e-mail queries. Both agents are people who I would like to work with (at least, I think so, based on my impressions of their websites). Both stated that they preferred e-queries. Otherwise, I would have sent paper.

This morning, before classes started, I checked Miss Snark's blog, then Pub Rants. Both talk about unprofessional e-mail names. I'm getting the nervous shakes.

My personal e-mail (as opposed to my school one, which I didn't use because it has extreme spam filters and the tech fairy reads my e-mail) uses an old nickname. If you google my real name, you'll come up with many other people by the same name.

Google Saborra, the nickname, and you'll come up with this blog, the writing forum I moderate, my art gallery, a fantasy story that someone else wrote (I'm not the only one who uses this name), and many, many sites in Portuguese.

Today's wish and prayer: please, please let them at least read the query. I promise I will get a more professional e-mail address.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Florentina

Florentina D'Adano has never known absolute silence. Even in the dead of night, she hears the dreams of her family, of the maids, of the butler and footmen, spilling into her mind. It did not happen suddenly, though her sensitivity to the thoughts of others grew as she aged. She was fifteen when the family hired a new maid, a young woman with impeccable credentials. Easy for them to be spotless; they were false. Flor knew it quickly, but the woman was a good maid, attentive and gentle and smart enough to know when to prattle and when to be quiet, that she didn't think it mattered much.

She did not understand the strange whiffs of danger that seeped into her mind until it was almost too late. Flor walked into the kitchen, intent on snagging a biscuit left over from breakfast, while the maid was pouring out tea. She was also coating select cups with a milky substance. It took only a brush of her thoughts on Flor's mind for the poisoning to be evident.

"What are you doing?"

Like any good assassin, the maid had a weapon close at hand. It was a knife--if it had been a firearm, Flor's life would have been short. Flor first grabbed a pan and manged to deflect the first blow. She knew the second one was coming, but the blow was stronger than she thought and knocked the pan out of her grasp. She scrabbled for a weapon and her hand found the heavy cleaver. In the confusion, her first strike disabled the assassin's hand. Her second cut deep into the woman's neck. So close, soaked in the assassin's blood, Flor's mind reeled with the other's memories, knowledge and ideas. The reasons behind the poisoning came to the fore and Flor hacked desperately at the body, trying to destroy the thoughts, destroy the link.

Her brother, Donato, found her huddled in the corner of the kitchen, covered in blood and rocking. The body of the maid, now decapitated, lay in a smeared pool of deep red. A scandal of the highest order, but the D'adano's were a powerful family. Flor's protests of defense were further signs that her mind was unhinged. She quietly disappeared from public view, tucked into the Gravian Asylum for the Insane and Mentally Retarded.

Until the book starts, anyway.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Wanting

I've been looking up a lot of agents lately. There are quite a few who don't take fantasy at all. I'm fine with that. They have to read the submissions, so they might as well read what they enjoy.

I have some worries about the ones that do take fantasy. Quite a bit of the fantasy on the shelves is PG-13. Maybe the popularity of Harry Potter and Eregon has spawned so many new, young fantasy readers that it's a blossoming market. Or maybe my point of view on it is skewed because the people I end up sharing books with are all under 14.

My book is not PG-13. It has a strong dose of violence--and not the generalized battle field kind. There is an attempted rape scene. It contains overtones of incest (About this time, the little voice in the back of my head is screaming "Oh God, don't let my mother read this!"). If it were a movie, it would be rated R.

That being said, I worry if some agents will be put off by the content. Up until today, I was worried that most, if not all, would be. Then I ran across an agent who specifies "Dark Fantasy" in her list of represented genres. Jumping up and down would upset the dog, so I settled for an increased heart rate, read the website, and sent off an e-query.

I didn't e-query anyone else because paper seemed more real, somehow. More formal. But this agent said she preferred e-queries, so that's what I sent. At least if a rejection comes quickly, I can cross one more thing off my wait list below.

Only Tuesday

Today's word: reprobate--a person without on redeeming quality in their entire make up; someone thoroughly bad. I'm thinking Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist.

How is Tuesday? There are no flying frogs (terribly disappointing) and my back hurts.

the waiting game

I am an impatient patient person. I can teach 120 13-yr-olds, day after day, without losing my cool, but the waiting part of my life I suffer with less grace.
We've been waiting on several things over the past few months.

My husband applied for jobs at the nearby mines--they're strip mines and safer than the ones in Virginia--and a power plant. After three months, the mine sent us two "Thanks but no thanks" letters (Which was wierd because he only applied once). The plant turned him down for a laborer position, but he's still in the running for a welding position, so we're waiting on that.

We've been trying to start a baby. And it's been fun, trying. But the cycle of try and try and hope and disappointment gets hard to take the forth or fifth time around. At least that's something we can continue, ah, working on.

And then I sent my query letters into the postal system. I know not to expect any sort of reply for at least three weeks, and a month or more would be a more realistic expectation, so the apprehension isn't building too much. Yet.

I am not good at waiting. My brain does not accept pause (or mute) as a command and it doesn't like to put things on the back burner. So it alternates between hope--hope the husband gets the job, hope next month my period is late, hope that one of those far flung SASE's comes back with a request for a manuscript--and all sorts of fears. The little ones are the worst. All the little things I might have done wrongin my letters. All the little reasons the plant might not hire my hubby. All the little biological fears that form the word: infertile.

It is easy to say, "This too shall pass," or "Que sera sera." It is much harder to live as if I believe them.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Dark Roads

A little crabby.

I don't know how to post a picture in the blog yet, but you can see the pic I'm talking about if you view my profile.

Last June my parents, my daughter and I walked down to the beaches of Stellacoom, WA. Gray clouds misted over the islands and the retreating tide had left glossy wet rocks along the shore. My daughter grew up in the Texas panhandle and had never in her life seen the ocean. She is old enough to pretend that things like driftwood and crablets aren't interesting and young enough to secretly think they are. My mother found this tiny critter under a rock.

Later, we walked up the street, since the beach does not go all the way through, and waited for the ferry from Stellacoom to Anderson Island. The sun came out and glittered across the water as tug boats and tankers cross Puget Sound. We watched a man be arrested for illegal crabbing and saw cormadrants diving for fish.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Saga of Sutter

It occured to me today that I have overlooked mantioning someone very near and dear to my heart. My dog walked in and plunked his head, with attached lampshade, into my lap and onto my keyboard. Dear Sutter.

I have always considered myself a "cat person." I was raised by amother who is a "cat person" and my sister is not just a "cat person" but catty, at times (especially after half a bottle of red wine). Though I have a soft spot for most four-legged critters, cats were my favorite. Then the hubby turned out to be allergic.

Much as I loved my pesky cats, I love my husband more, so the cats were given to friends and for over a year, we lived in a petless home. There were advantages. No litterbox to clean. No arrangements for care when we needed to be gone. No heart stopping nights when the little pirates didn't come back. No little paws attacking my crocheting. It was . . . nice.

A few weeks after buying our first home, I made a mistake. A dreadful mistake. I visited the animal shelter. "Just to look," I told myself. "Just to see what they have. We have a yard now. We could think about getting a dog. Not today. It's December and there's a foot of snow on the ground, but I'll look."

It must be a rule of nature. Dogs in the animal shelter have the saddest eyes. And one big mutt leaned into me through his cage, adoring brown eyes looking up at me, ears almost standing, but not quite as he begged for a scratch. He had me right then, I just didn'tknow it.

I resisted Sutter that cold December day, but the next April, at the shelter's open house, there was Sutter again, playing basketball. His long tail had been docked (due to a tumor), but he was in fine condition. Once again, he wiggled on up and leaned in for a scratch. I gave my husband my own best puppy eyes. "Please, can we have this one?"

Oh yes.

Sutter was dumped on one of the million acre ranches in this area. He was attacked by either coyotes or the ranch's own dogs. I don't know if he won the fight, or just outran it, but other than a few scars on his head and agression toward other large dogs, he's fine. Since he's a big boy, about 70 pounds, I assume that he outgrew his first home and they didn't have the intelligence or heart ot take him to the shelter (it is a no-kill shelter here).

He's a mutt and he's beautiful. But what about that lampshade comment? We often take him to my parent's house. It's in the country and there is a lot of room to run and a lot of rabbits to run after. He's the only dog I've seen who can GAIN on a rabbit on flat ground. I'm sure that Christmas morning, he found a rabbit and was doing his best to catch it when some barbed wire got in the way.

I had just stepped out of the shower when my sister told me to come up because there was a "problem with my dog". My sister is not fond of dogs. She has been referred to as the "Dog Grinch" in some circles. I thought that he was getting underfoot in the kitchen. He was, but that wasn't the problem. A massive laceration across his upper thigh had caused the skin of that leg to hang down around his ankles. It looked like someone had tried to skin my dog's leg.

My father, my husband and I spent Christmas morning int he vet's office, holding Sutter down while the vet sewed him up again. He's much better now. He is putting weight on the leg and there is only one area of scab still left. He won't stop licking it, hence the lampshade.

Ah, but he's quite a dog, to make such a cat-person into a dog-person. Even the Dog Grinch was caught slipping him hot dog bits while he lay wounded and recovering Christmas evening.

Parental units from Lower Hades

A while ago, Readers Digest published an article about teachers which had two interesting and unique ideas in it. One was that, amazingly enough, most teachers are competent, enjoy working with kids and know their sublect matter. They aren't lazy, ignorant or in it for the money (Anyone who has supported a family on a teacher's salary could tell you the last one). The other point made, one that I had never seen in print but suspected was true, was that the majority of people who leave teaching do not leave because of students or for better pay. They leave be cause they are sick and tired of dealing with psycho-parents.

Having had a few run-ins with this breed, I agree, though I might add administrators to my list as well.

There are many sub-species of psycho-parent. Some show up for conferences either high or drunk. This is fine if they're a happy drunk and it gives So much insight to any problems the kid is having. Others wait until the last day of the quarter, then call and lambast the teacher because they didn't know their li'l darlin' was failing (Gee, I post grades every week and they're avalaible online--and since you e-mailed me, you must have internet access).

But by far the most annoying form of psycho-parent is the one who has a preconcieved (often inflated) view of her child's abilities. This is matched by a strong notion of exactly what grade said child should receive. As noted before, grades are very avaliable. This woman sits at her computer, zealously studying the assigned grades, and the moment one of her son's grades fall below an 89.5, thus shifting from an A to a B, she calls. Or e-mails. Or both.

The semester ended Fri. at 1 P.M. At 1:05, the science teacher received a message from this woman. "My son turned in ten points of extra credit yesterday and I haven't had time to check the computer, but I need to know if this brought his grade up."

A similar message was received by the reading teacher. By some stroke of luck, I missed it. The woman's usual MO is to wait until I am home, cuddled up with my hubby, watching a good, gory movie, and then she will call. Thank God of caller ID, and now, call rejection.

I wish I could create the comments for report cards. The ones that say, "Your son recieved the grade he earned. He's a good kid, but not a genius. Deal with it."

I feel bad for the son.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Crossed signals

Dark Roads
My body seems to think I want the flu. It's terribly wrong--what I want is an agent, and possible a space heater. My office is in the basement. This wouldn't be a problem, except that the thermastat is in the upstairs hallway. When we fire up the pellet stove, everything warms up nicely, except my study, which starts reaching sub-freezing.

I'm also thinking that it's time to take the Christmas tree down.

For those of you who write, want to write, dream of writing, I would like to suggest two spots:
www.writersbbs.com It's a free site where writers can talk, post work and critique each other.

The other is www.misssnark.blogspot.com She is a literary agent and has some excellent advice for writers. She's also entertaining as all get out.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Gross them out!

Dark Roads

Eight, count 'em, eight, variations of the query letter, synopsis and/or sample chapters/pages were flung into the blue yesterday afternoon. Follwing was the dread and letdown of having worked intensly on a good letter and synopsis and now wondering if I messed up royally. I had the strangest cases of the nerves.

What if I put the wrong query letter in an envelope? What if agent A gets a letter for agent B? Ack!

On a teaching note, My students are watching Supersize Me! as a finale to their nutrition unit in science. We just got to the McVomit scene. Excellent educational television. I love the chorus of "EWWWWW."

As for writing, my sequal is started and I'm hooked enough that I spend my exercise time in the gym working out scenes. *Pause* No pun intended on that. The protagonist is Florentina D'Adano. She can read minds, a situation that sends her to the asylum for a good chunk of her life.
Secondary character: Shanahan Quincy, manufacturer, mobster, murderer. I love this guy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dark Roads

Dark Roads

What a year--I can't believe that I've ignored this for so long. Now that I've actually started reading blogs, I decided I should stop neglecting this one. I might not get to it daily, but I can sure try.

I've recently finished my novel, which I was so stuck on a year ago. It come in at just over 154,000 word. It's a hefty piece of work, no mistake. A few minutes a go, I finished addressing queries to 10 agents/agencies. It's a strange feeling. A little like watching you child go off to her first dance--excitement, trepidation, all wrapped up in that horrible tension that comes just before a very important job interview.

I've been listening to Jimmy Buffett to colm myself down, but it isn't working. It's pretty back when Jimmy can't work out the kinks in my life. A good hour of Jimmy usually works better than any anti-depressant or a weekend away. Maybe I need to add a margarita to the mix, but golly, I can't hold my liquor worth beans. It's pathetic.

I teach 7th grade English. Grammar and Composition--heavier on the composition. We are currently learning to analyze writing. Poetry. I used to be joking when I would say "I went into teaching to torture young minds." Now it's true.

I'm in charge of an intensive study hall group (Affectionately known as JAIL--juvenile alternatives in learning). One part of the class specifies that once the class period starts, they can't leave the room. That means, they must bring everything in with them. In the five minutes between the start of school bells and start of class bells, I reminded the whole room to get everything they needed. Ten minutes later, a girl needs to go to the bathroom. If I hadn't just watched her talk with her friends in the hall for 15 minutes, I might have let her go, but as far as I could tell, she should have gone then, instead of waiting until class started. She didn't tell me it was a feminine problem. That's kind of an automatic pass. I didn't discover the emergency until after she left the room (at the end of class) and the next class came in to find a big bloody smear on the chair.

I've had meth dealers, gang members, kids with relatives who murdered people, but this was a first.