New Year, More Writing

This past Christmas, in the haze of gift-wrap, bitter cold, and general exhaustion of the holidays, my dear boyfriend, a fellow writer, gifted me a book. In general, giving me a book is extremely thoughtful and loving. In his case, he went above and beyond because he gave me Jane Friedman’s “The Business of Being a Writer”.

I love Jane Friedman’s work and I hate the business aspect of writing though not for the reasons you might think. I don’t know shit about making a business in general and the idea of turning my writing into a business is intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t.

Publishing is a business and agents pay attention to what sells and what doesn’t. You writing, whether we want to admit it or not, is part of that business. New trends will dictate what sells, which turns agents’ attention for which books to look at, which determines the chances of your superb book making it big. Myself, like every other writer, knows this to be a fact. What I personally struggle with is developing a business plan or a brand that defines myself as an author and makes my writing stand out in the crowd.

Naturally, I suspect that many balk when the words “branding” and “business” come up with writing, but the more I thought about it, the more I found myself agreeing with Friedman’s views. Your writing is your brand. True, that your writing and therefore your brand will change over time as you develop as a writer, you will still retain your instinct and style and that is what people will recognize when they read your work.

As I laid in my bed, highlighting every sentence that was pure gold, I started to wonder what my brand was exactly and what people responded with. I looked back at old praise and reviews, both from my big projects and smaller ones, and what I discovered that a lot of people liked my work when I was torturing my characters and giving unexpected twists and turns. That’s great, but it’s not a lot to go on. Anyone can torture and give twists.

To grow as a writer, and to reach the level of writing that I want to be at, I need to write more. I need to read more. I need to experiment and explore elements that I love, hate, and am wholly indifferent to. By the end of January, I will have a business plan set up and ready to go. I may not have my brand yet, but I will have a plan.

Love, Loving, and Gone

Since I’ve started dating again, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into love, romance, and everything else that makes that 11 ounce organ in your chest beat like Keith Moon.

Sorry to be stating the obvious but people love love. There’s a reason why it’s got it’s own genre in the writing world. Writers write about it, poets wax poetic about it, and there’s more literature about it, condemning it, celebrating it, agonizing it, and analyzing it than any other subject in human history. Love is a many splendor thing and it is complicated as hell when it comes to writing it.

When I write romance or have my characters fall in love, I often struggle with how to let the reader know that these two characters are in fact totally in love. Does the audience know that they’re in love because they spend so much time together? Because they’re affectionate? Because they have a lot of sex? I freely admit that I’m a cynic and an asexual to boot. Me writing sex and overly romantic behavior is a struggle. I mock romance novels for fun and as for sex itself well, that part is self-explanatory. Still, it does raise a good question as to when we, the audience, identify when two people are in love. For most novels, it’s when they’re having sex. They feel comfortable enough to be completely naked and incredibly intimate with their SO. Again, as a cynic and an ace, sex isn’t the greatest indicator for me that two people are in love. If anything, it just shows that they find each other attractive enough to fuck. Love is more than physical attraction, I think we can all agree on. Love is patience and kindness, support, and pushing you to become a better person. But what is the threshold that all of us can point at and say, “Yes, they are in love!”

With shipping all it takes is one prolonged look and some soft music playing in the background before everyone puts on their shipping goggles and then fics and fan art pop up. Sometimes, they don’t even have to have any interaction, they could just be the only other two single people left in the series and people put them together because, hey, pair the spares. People ship characters because of one off sentences, a headcannon, a piece of fan art, or whatever. It doesn’t take a lot for people to just accept that those characters are in love. But is there a better way?

I’m not complaining that people write over the top romances that are sheer wish fulfillment. Those writers are providing a much needed service and everyone needs some wish fulfillment sooner or later. Rather, I want to know from you, the audience at which point you identify that a set of characters are in love. For me, personally, it’s when they are so enmeshed together that all it takes is one look and they have an entire plan figured out. Communication skills are essential, people. I love a couple that knows each other so well that they’re on the same wave-length.

“The Adventurous Princess” Review – A Failure of Fairytales

Once upon a time, a publisher reached out to a blogger and asked her to review a short collection of fairytales. She agreed but unlike the fairytales, the review did not end in Happily Ever After.

Originally, I had planned to divide the stories up and given them their own separate review. However, due to time constraints, I’ll just get right to it. The “Adventurous Princess and other Feminist Fairytales” is an example of what not to do with a fairytale retelling.

The stories we all know by heart. Cinderella is abused and wants to go to the ball, the Beast is cursed, Snow White’s jealous Stepmother tries to kill her, and the Little Mermaid falls in love with a person whom she can’t be with. These stories have survived throughout the years and through the years have been retold, redone, and re-imagined by creators both great and small. Barrow is no exception when it comes to fairytale remakes but what she does is remarkable. She misses the point completely about the soul of the story and instead of going with the actual moral, puts her own “feminist” spin on it. Her reasoning behind doing this? She “believed that the traditional fairytales I grew up with…don’t truly represent the society we live in” and “The heroes of these stories are usually either expressly or implicitly straight, white, young, able-bodied and conventionally beautiful.”

I do agree with her that the traditional fairytales don’t fully represent the society that we live in but when one remembers that they were created over a hundred years ago, it makes sense that somethings no longer hold up. Time change, social views get updated, and life goes on. You can’t be upset that a piece didn’t age well. What’s more is that her other complaints about the heroes are straight, white, young, able-bodied, and conventionally beautiful do have some weight but I should mention that most of the heroes don’t have a lot of detail to go with them. In “Cinderella”, we are told that the stepsisters are ‘beautiful and fair of face but vile and black of heart’. As for Cindy herself, we are told that she is ‘dusty and dirty’. We are not told what she looks like except that she is beautiful and as everyone knows beauty is in the eye of the beholder. She could have lovely blonde hair or kinky curls. Her eyes may be blue or a stunning green. There is no description to Cinderella. She is meant to fulfill what the reader thinks beauty is. The same thing can be said for her age. We don’t know how old she is. We don’t get much in the way of physical description in the traditional fairytales unless it’s important like the story of “The Girl Without Hands” or “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes” or the “Constant Tin Soldier”.

And as for not having able-bodied characters in fairytales, I’ve got some news for you. The “Girl Without Hands” doesn’t have any hands and the “Constant Tin Solider” is missing a leg! And they are the main characters of their stories and they are badass. The Girl Without Hands is too good for the devil to take and the Constant Tin Soldier goes through a harrowing journey to return to his love. True, there isn’t enough representation for disabled characters but to say that isn’t any is wiping away the characters that do bring representation.

The idea behind it, giving fairytales a modern update and fleshing out the characters, is noble but poorly executed. Barrows has attempted to merge the old school style of story telling with contemporary ideals and morals only to fail in both regards. The writing is dull and patronizing and neither Barrow nor her publisher know the intended audience.

As for the remake of the stories themselves, they are but a shadow of what they once were and this is largely due to Barrow’s attempt to bring in a
“feminist” and “modern” morals. The Princess and the Pea
was meant to poke fun at the ridiculous standards that the upper class held
upon themselves to prove their worth. Instead, we get an idiot prince who lacks a spine, a brain, or any sense of what he wants to do. Barrow’s Cinderella is weak and rather stupid in her tale rather than the woman who took risks and left her abusive family once she had her freedom. The Little Mermaid who’s entire story and moral is about unrequited love never tries to go after her love and learns that important lesson. The Sea Witch scares her off with some rather ham-fisted dialogue about loving who you are that mocks the reader’s intelligence. 

Beauty and the Beast is par for the course but in this case, Beauty has a
cane. I’m torn on this because I don’t know whether not mentioning Beauty’s
cane is meant to show that being disabled is no big deal but she did dedicate a
line to show that Cinderella is old and suffers from ageism so why not explain
how Beauty got her cane? If you didn’t have Barrow’s illustrations, you would
have never known that Beauty was disabled or that Cinderella was black, or
about half the reasons she wanted to make fairytales more inclusive.

At the end of the day, Barrow’s characters are as lifeless as the paper they
lie on. Her writing does not know whether it wants to pander to young children or appeal to teen or young adults so, it alienates all three. The dialogue is too modern to fit in with her attempt to mimic Anderson or the Brothers Grimm’s iconic style. I wouldn’t call this work empowering to women or feminist. Rather, I would say an attempt was made in good faith but if you need to stick on the cover of your book that it is “feminist” then you have failed. It is pandering to a new generation of women, LGBT+, and minorities who are once again fighting to save and expand their rights. They along with everyone else deserves a fairytale that they can see themselves in but they will not find it in Barrow’s novel. 

“The Adventurous Princess” Review – A Failure of Fairytales

Once upon a time, a publisher reached out to a blogger and asked her to review a short collection of fairytales. She agreed but unlike the fairytales, the review did not end in Happily Ever After.

If there’s one thing that you must know about me, it’s the fact that I love fairytales. The adventure, the romance, the struggle between good and evil! I love it all. They are a fascinating part of our culture and a reflection of our morals. Which is why I was pretty psyched to have a chance to review “The Adventurous Princess and Other Feminist Fairytales”. The idea of some of the most beloved fairytales of all time getting a 21st century spin immediately appealed to me.

Some background information before we begin, the stories in this book are plucked from Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, Charles Perrault, and a legend that’s been passed for centuries and doesn’t have a true author to claim to. Many of these stories were put to paper roughly two hundred years ago but they were kept alive by oral tradition for centuries.

Since it’s oral tradition, the stories have shifted and changed to reflect the culture, ideas, and qualities of the time. Things have been cut out or removed depending on the speaker but one thing always stayed the same: the moral. The purpose of a fairytale was to give a moral in a way that was easy for people to remember.

Author Erin-Claire Barrows, an Australian writer and illustrator, has decided to put her spin on these well-loved stories in her book, “The Adventurous Princess and Other Feminist FairyTales”.  The stories she has chosen are as follows: The Princess and the Pea, Cinderella, The Swan Maiden, Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince, Snow White, Allerleirauh, the Goose Girl, The Little Mermaid.

Because each story has been revised to fit with modern times, I will be doing a mini review for each one and then an overall review of the collection.

Without further delay, let’s begin!

The Princess and the Pea

We start off the story with an upset King and Queen who are worried about their son, the Prince. They are given no names. The King and Queen want their son to focus on warfare, the state of affairs within the kingdom, and taxes. They are fine with adventure but as long as it’s for a goal. The Prince doesn’t really care about any of that and prefers to “play his lute while imagining the lands beyond the sea and the strange creatures that might live there” or “write a story about it”.

Honestly, I can’t say that I blame the King or Queen for being upset with their son. A ruler should know about what wars are being waged, the state the kingdom is in, and taxes. The Prince is totally checked out and I can’t root for him as a protagonist when he’s neglecting his duties.

Eventually, the titular princess shows up. She’s soaking wet from the storm and needs a place to stay. The King and Queen let her stay, have dinner with them, and show her to her bedroom. The Prince explains to the unnamed princess about the pea under the mattress scheme. The princess finds it ridiculous and instead of sleeping, she stays up with the Prince all night telling him her adventures. The Princess encourages the Prince to go and have his own adventures but instead he laments, “Oh no, I couldn’t. I have to stay here and practice all manner of dull and princely things.”

Ah, yes, the dull and princely things that go into running a country. How tragic for our hero. I don’t like the Prince. Not everyone wants to be royalty but his parents are cool with him going on adventures and in a land wherein dragons do exist and there are people in danger, I don’t see why he hasn’t tried to go out and do it or why he’s so reluctant to know how to keep his kingdom running smoothly.

When morning comes, the Princess fakes her bad night’s sleep and the Queen and King are overjoyed at it. They deem her worthy to wed the Prince and welcome her into the family! But there’s a twist. The Princess explains that her family has their own standard when it comes to princes and the Prince has not gone on enough adventures to qualify for her hand in marriage. The King and Queen do acknowledge that the Prince hasn’t done anything adventurous.

She refuses marriage to the Prince and rides off while the Prince decides to finally go on an adventure to parts unknown without a goal in mind.

My Thoughts

I don’t have the slightest clue as to why I’m supposed to root for the Prince or sympathize with him. He doesn’t care about his duties as a ruler and finds the whole idea of running his own kingdom to be dull. The Prince himself is equally dull having about as much of a personality as a single cell organism. The only things I do know about him is that he likes to imagine and play the lute which does not a personality make. Other than that, he makes no effort to take control of his own destiny or to change his life even though the means to do so are right in front of him.

His parents attempts to engage with him and show him the adventures of others is pitiable. They’re making an effort to try to get him to see that there is a very exciting world out there but alas, our flat Prince doesn’t really care about anything. Their push to have him marry a real princess feels less like trying to force him into marriage and more like a desperate attempt to make sure that the kingdom falls into safe hands since the Prince has no interest in it.

This tale isn’t modern, diverse, or feminist in any way with the sole exception of a black princess who shows up, tells a couple of stories, and then immediately moves on. The characters are boring, the plot is nonexistent, and for a fairytale, it’s got the basic tell tale marks but doesn’t do anything with it.

The original Princess and the Pea was about a prince who wanted to marry a true princess but didn’t know how to tell which one was a “true” princess. That’s when the pea comes into play because surely, going by all princess standards, a real princess would be able to feel it. The Prince gets an unexpected guest and although she doesn’t look like one, the woman proclaims herself to be a princess. He puts her to the test and to his surprise, she passes it! They marry and live happily ever after.

The moral of the story has been taken into different directions but I believe that the overall moral of the Princess and the Pea is actually a subtle jab at the lengths that royal families and other noble branches go to in order to prove that they are the real thing. Considering Anderson’s stance on the upper class and his own upbringing plagued by poverty, I would say that this is a fair assessment.

Comparing the two stories, the original and Barrow’s take on it, I would say the original is more modern than the remake. Making fun of the upper class has never gone out of style. There are still plenty of people who will whip out their ancestry charts and bloodlines to show who they are related to and how that makes them important.

The single upside to the story are the illustrations. They are beautiful but they aren’t enough to save the story. What’s more, if it weren’t for the illustrations, you wouldn’t have even known that the titular princess is black. She could have been Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, or Polka Dot.

I understand the need and want to make a more diverse story to appeal to a wider audience, but the Princess and the Pea falls flat. There’s not enough character development for anyone, there’s not a single piece of dialogue or humor that’s great, and I still find myself questioning why I should care about the Prince, the protagonist of the story, at all. Overall, if there was a story here, I didn’t feel it.

The Perks of Research

No one like wasting their time. I don’t know a single person who starts their day hoping to waste their time. That being said, I don’t know why writers who after pouring their heart and soul into a novel, that may have taken years to complete, would fire off the first query letter that they’ve written to the first agent that they’ve found.

Research is important. Polishing rough drafts is important. Editing query letters and synopsis is important.

There is not one stage of the writing process whether it is plotting or sending off queries that is more important than another. But where most writers can get through the plotting, the writing, and the querying stage fine by themselves or with groups, there feels like a severe lack of emphasis on finding that perfect agent. For some, there is this idea that if they polish their manuscript and nail the query letter, that they can get any agent they want.

This could not be farther from the truth.

Not every agent is going to want your manuscript. I say this not to be mean or rude but to speak the truth. There are agents who will not want your manuscript because it may not be something that they actively or are currently looking to represent. Agents who work in New Adult or Adult don’t want Children centered books. Why waste their time and yours by querying to someone that will give you an automatic rejection letter? Newsflash! No one likes sending out a rejection letter! Not a single agent does. They don’t like handing out rejection, they want to send out those beautiful “Yes, I would love to represent you” emails that every writer dreams about.

This is why research is important. There feels like there is this huge misconception about agents and how they pick which projects they want to pursue – that agents live in this ivory tower where occasionally they grace writers with their heavenly presence. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Agents know what they want, what they can sell, and what the market is demanding. Look at it this way: Would you rather have an agent that can sell your book or not?

When an agent says that they handle certain genres and not others, it’s because they’ve got the experience and connections to make your book soar. They are passionate at what they do and they don’t want to waste their time or yours struggling to sell a book that they either don’t know the market for or have the knowledge to make it stand out in the market.

To help yourself make your book sell to an agent, and this is the only time I will ever say this, in this highly specific context, but stalk the agent. Go through their Twitter feed, find their page on Publisher’s Marketplace, see if they’ve got a #MSWL, and if they’re on the Association of Author Representatives. It’s not like a writer has to guess what an agent is interested in. They will quite plainly tell anyone who will listen what they want to see in a book or what they aren’t interested in.

A Middle Grade agent wants Middle Grade Books. A Murder-Mystery agent wants murder mystery. A Romance agent wants romance.

It’s not hard to figure out. Granted, there are agents who are looking for quirky and off-beat books and that’s harder to define and give examples of but generally speaking, if you look on the agent’s page, you will find what they’re looking for and what they can sell and have previously sold in the past. Being a writer is hard and there’s already a heavy workload attached to the title but not researching agents can be the death knell of your book. While wasting time with agents who are simply not interested, you could have been querying the right ones who would leap at the chance to represent you.

Treat yourself to an hour’s worth of research. An hour of your irreplaceable time to find an agent who will want to spend their irreplaceable time with your manuscript and you.

Is PitMad Dead?

During this last #PitMad event, over 100 thousand tweets flooded Twitter with pitches, discussions, and vows to help out new and experienced writers find their perfect pitch and get noticed by agents.

There were successes and failures and whether you got noticed or not, one thing is for certain, you left with a better understanding of PitMad than you did coming in. I want to say that it’s completely okay to feel disheartened by any lack of success. PitMad is a mixture of timing, retweets, and luck that the right agent sees your pitch.

While there have been great pitches this time, I couldn’t help but notice that the overwhelming likes in the most popular tweets came from not agents or editors but from people who, as far as I could tell, didn’t have a stake in writing or had a firm grasp on what PitMad was. For a new writer, it can be crushing to see the likes of a tweet soar in the five hundred range while they get a few from less than reputable publishing houses or none at all!

Any writer who Googles PitMad can find the rules and that’s to say nothing of the dozens of writers on twitter who repeated them en masse, there is a rampant disregard for the process of PitMad and what it is meant to accomplish. As PitMad comes around, it will be trending and this will lead to people, either curious or wanting to participate, who will like or heart tweets that they find interesting and give false hope to writers who are working hard to get their work out there.

For example, one of the most popular tweets that came out this round was by @AuthorKAnthony who pitched, “After a serial killer rescues a small child who’s been lost in the woods for days, he marries her mother and puts his murderous ways on hold to raise a family. The only problem is the little girl saw the bones of his victims out there, and she’s growing up. #PitMad #A #LF“. His tweet gained 429 retweets and 221 likes. Only 4 of those likes came from an agent or a publishing house. The rest, as I could find, were either other writers or accounts that had nothing to do with writing.

Writer @ajvanbelle, pitched, “#PitMad #A #SF 150 yrs from now, a little girl notices a boy living on the streets. She feeds him, teaches him, and eventually loves him. 35 yrs later, the girl is a criminal wanted by the interstellar military, and the boy is the veteran soldier sent to terminate her.” She was able to get a solid 229 retweets and 100 likes. Again, only 2 likes came from a publishing house or editor.

Fellow PitMad participant , @Ctanz731, was on fire with her pitch of, “It’s been 11 years since their last kiss. His wheelchair—new. His smirk—the same. Her heart—still melts for those kind eyes. As they uncover the truth about the night he was paralyzed by his father’s hands, a dark secret threatens to douse their rekindled flame. #PitMad #CR #A” but astoundingly out of the 552 retweets and 209 likes, only 1 like came from an agent.

With the lack of genuine responses from agents and an influx of likes from non-agents, it might feel like #PitMad is maybe #DeadInTheWater. But I don’t think that this is the case. Where there are failures to abide by the rules, as usual there are those proud few who can say with their heads held high, “I GOT AN AGENT!”

In the cut throat world of publishing, agents have to be selective of what projects take on. This means rejection for many of us until we, with the right query and timing, find the agent that is meant for us. I do contend that there has to be a better, more efficient, way to see the actual results of PitMad without crawling through the likes of non-agents.

Writing Mistakes to Avoid

When I first decided that I was going to be a writer, I was starry-eyed. I thought that it would be so easy to write a book, get published, and then of course, who wouldn’t want to interview me and offer my a nice juicy contract to turn my book into a movie or television series?

Ah, ignorance was bliss.

I had no idea what I was doing, what I should have been doing, and what I should have avoided. But that comes with naivety and starting out anything new. I’ve said this a million times and I will say it again: Writing is hard. It’s more than hard, it’s enraging, it makes people feel like they’re going crazy, and it can bring about the strongest feelings of despair and depression. The hardships often outweigh the successes and yet, every day another person decides that they’re going to pick up a pen and write a book. Likely, they will make the same damn mistakes that I did. To save fellow writers from my blunders, here is a handy little list on mistakes to avoid when writing.

  • Do Six Rewrites & Revisions

Nothing is perfect the first time around. Your first draft will always be messy and filled with errors. What felt like a great scene when writing it, may feel unnecessary or worse, derailing the flow of your book. Treat yourself to reviewing your work and picking out the errors.

  • Have a Beta Reader

As the author, you are blind to how the audience will react to your story. What you feel is a good heart-wrenching scene may turn out to be a bland and uninspiring paragraph of forced feelings and blase writing. A beta reader is someone who can give your book a decent once over.

  • Do An In-depth Research Review of Agents

Agents get swamped with thousands of queries each day. Due to the high volume that they receive, they will close themselves to queries. Your query will not be read and trashed. The same thing goes for if you do not adhere to their query rules. If an agent asks for three chapters, do not send them the entire book. Your query will find it’s home in the trash.

  • Workshop Your Query

Your query is the first thing that an agent will read about your book. It has to be the best query that you will ever write. It needs to capture the essence of your book, wow your dream agent, and land you the book deal that you’ve always wanted.

From mistakes, you grow as a person and as a writer. That’s important but that doesn’t meant that there are some mistakes that you have to suffer from.

From the Author – First or Third?

For the past few months, I’ve been working on a new book called Death Becomes Him. It’s a YA LGBT+ novel. Normally, I always stick to third person when writing. It’s what I grew up with and if I’m being completely honest, I can’t stand first person. I find it hard to actually root for the main character when I can see all of their thoughts and what triggers them to act.

Characters are naturally flawed and their thoughts and actions can often lead to moments of it being harsher in hindsight. This mainly comes from the writer not handling delicate topics right or going off on their own tangents. I understand that the thought process can be anything but linear but to me, in my humble opinion, it screws up the story. I want to focus on the characters and the plot, not the hero’s opinion on how uncool it is to smoke weed.

Personally, I find that the third person point of view is better in terms of story-telling. You can see more, you don’t have to worry about the strain of what your character does know or doesn’t. You simply have a lot more freedom. But what do you guys think? What is the superior story-telling method? First person or Third?