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Archive for March, 2014

Last week saw receipt of another rejection. It’s getting really old. Usually I try to get another query off within a couple days after that “Thanks, but no thanks,” missive, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it this time. I’ve gone back and re-evaluated my tagline, my short and long summaries, my synopsis and all the other creative aspects of presenting my novel I can think of. I like all of them. It’s taken me a couple years of tweaking, but I finally have a group of PR blurbs about my novel that I’m happy with. And I’m pretty confident that the novel itself is decent. I’ve had several beta readers – ranging from an English teacher to a sci-fi fandom legend – pour through it and give me comments. All of them gave it a thumb’s up. And, in general, I’ve never been told I’m a bad writer. So I was at a loss as to why I just can’t crack the door into actual publishing. It took me a while, because evaluating yourself is such a hard task even under the simplest of conditions, but I finally found what the problem is:

My query letter stinks.

Some of you might be arguing that the query letter is probably the most important part of the presentation of your work, and you would be right. But twenty-five years of professional office administration makes it really difficult for me to put a “creative” spin in what is technically a cover letter. All those years as an office schmuck saw me working with accountants, insurance brokers and attorneys, and letters were meant to be voice neutral, matter-of-fact, information delivery systems. My query letter is exactly that, which means it’s doomed from the start.

You can go on the Internet and do a search for “how to write a query letter,” and come up with about seven million hits. Most of them repeat the same basic ideas: learn about who you’re querying; tell them why you want to work with them specifically; give them a quickie paragraph about your novel; tell them a little about yourself and your experience; keep it short and professional. I can follow that layout in my sleep (and probably have, literally, on some of my jobs), as it’s a very common format for just about any professional cover letter. The challenge lies in keeping it professional while also making it a real grab-their-eyeballs-hoo-gods-I-have-to-read-this presentation.

That’s where the office schmuck and the creative genius become Clash of the Titans. So far the office schmuck has retained control over the query letter, and until that fortress can be breached, I fear my novel is doomed to languish on a computer drive in Purgatory for untold ages.

But the office schmuck doesn’t have dominion here….

So, here’s the query letter I’d love to send if I could ever actually break those bonds of formality:

Dear ÜberAgent/Publisher:

Pick me. Yeah, you read that right – just pick me. You won’t regret it. Why? Because I’m awesome, that’s why. Because I actually know how to write. You may look at that screenwriting thing on my resume and not want to take me seriously, because for some reason so many in publishing look down upon the lowly screenwriter as second class. But I had one of the best writing teachers on the planet while at film school, and he taught me a whole lot more than just formatting; he taught me about characters, and pacing, and plot points, and points of view, and voice. He taught me how to ad tension to a scene with the simplest, most subtle of devices, and that good drama isn’t about the obvious choices. He taught me how to take what is essentially a short story and turn it into an epic experience. He took a raw recruit and turned her into a special ops soldier who can handle anything thrown at her.

And, yeah, I’m a middle-aged fat broad, too. What of it? I’m a writer, not a beauty contestant. Like my words or don’t like them, but leave my face out of it. And, besides, we Baby Boomers make up the largest generation in America. We’re more likely to be financially stable, be college graduates, and spend more of our time and money at home. Most importantly, we read. A LOT. We like books. Any shape, any size, any topic. We devour them like sharks in chum. But they had better be well-written because we grew up with the likes of Frank Herbert’s Dune and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. [1] On TV we had Star Trek and The Twilight Zone[2], while at the movies we sat glued in our seats watching Psycho, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Easy Rider and In the Heat of the Night.[3]

We don’t want sparkly vampires or brooding werewolves or lots of angst-ridden teens fighting the Evil Empire. We want rich, adult characters in realistic worlds where the accepted norms of today’s society are challenged and commented upon. Give us spooky and creepy, not gory and senseless; haunting and powerful, instead of predictive and forgettable; emotional and colorful, rather than angry and grey. Give us Space Opera and Fantasy and Thrillers and Mysteries. Give us something good to read and we’ll fill your coffers with gold.

No, I don’t know all that much about “Social Media” because my phone and computer are tools, not a lifestyle choice. But I do have teenage nieces, which gives me genius level access by default. I understand what a deadline is, that editors aren’t making changes because they hate me personally, and that I won’t be an instant New York Times Bestseller (if ever). I’m a professional adult who accepts personal responsibility, insists on fairness and honesty, and holds my word as my bond. Any certificate of achievement I ever received was because I damn well earned it by beating the (metaphorical) pants off everyone else, so I know how to win with humility and lose gracefully. My school papers were graded in red ink, peanut butter was on the lunch menu, I rode my bike without a helmet and played with click-clacks.

And all that gives me a unique and rich perspective that will give you a product you’ll be proud to promote.

So, yeah, pick me. It’ll be the best decision you’ll make all year.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

[1] http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/18.Best_Books_of_the_Decade_1960_s

[2] http://classic-tv.com/60s-shows/

[3] http://www.digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/movie-pages/movie_60s.html

 

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Southern California had another of its standard issue wake up calls this morning: a 4.4 earthquake that hit about 6:25am local time. I didn’t notice it myself, partly because we’re about eighty miles from the reported epicenter, but mostly because I was stone cold asleep at the time. Or maybe I’ve just lived in SoCal too long and have become way too blasé about the ground rumbling beneath my feet. Whatever the reason, it did make me think that maybe it is time to shake things up around here, just not in the same way Mother Nature may have in mind.

I started this blog in October of 2009 (“The Middle Ages ain’t what they used to be…”). It was meant to be a release valve and a way to get my writing chops back into some semblance of order. I never really thought about anybody else paying attention to what I might have to say. I didn’t even expect my own family to bother, since they had heard me mumble so much over the years about wanting to be a writer, and watched me never really do anything about it. But not only did my family start following me, and then friends, but over the months so did a wondrous select few of strangers from across the planet. While my subscribers are not nearly approaching the numbers many other Internet sites and blogs claim, I am still agog.

And since this will be my 100th entry, I thought it appropriate to open things up to review. I’m not one for change simply for change’s sake, but I do believe that you have to periodically examine the who, what, where, why and how’s of your life to make sure things are still on track. To help me out with that evaluation, I’d like your honest opinions, constructive criticisms and heartfelt pleas for sanity (not that the latter will really do you any good…). Below are some questions I have to get you started, but feel free to riff on the theme.

  1)        Why did you subscribe to my blog?

  2)        If you’re not a subscriber, why the hell not???

  3)        Do you read every entry? Why/Why Not?

  4)        Is it really true what they say about men with big feet?

  5)        What do you like most/least about what I do here?

  6)        What do you think about the layout?

  7)        Should I include a picture of me?

  8)        What do you want to see more/less of?

  9)        Should I organize entries into categories?

10)        Was Flight MH370 taken by aliens or J.J. Abrams?

11)         Should I send a thank you to every new subscriber? (I’m not exactly clear on a lot of Netiquette issues, so help is really needed in this area.)

12)         Is there a topic I haven’t touched on that you would like me to?

13)         Is there a topic I’ve ranted too much about?

14)         Should the blog become more focused on a particular topic? (i.e., just writing, or mental health, or middle-age, etc.)

15)         What’s your favorite color?

16)         Should I even keep doing this blog?

Okay, let me have it. And thanks. I think…

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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The last couple weeks were pretty busy for me. We spent a week camping in the wilds of Arizona for one of our SCA events, which meant the week before was planning, packing, shopping and swearing, while the week after meant sleeping, unpacking, cleaning and more swearing. Like a lot of long-time historical re-enactors, we don’t necessarily camp so much as we move: full period tent with porch, four-poster bed, lights, nightstands, kitchen, etc., etc. It’s quite a bit to deal with and invariably leads to the desperate, tired discussion of why-the-hell-are-we-doing-this-again as we go into our sixth hour of set-up.

While most of the time we do manage to settle in and appreciate what we have, this latest adventure proved to us the real value of our encampment. Saturday of the event had been projected to deliver a little rain over the course of the day, so we were prepared for some damp. That morning gave us a bit of a thunder burst and left the hard packed desert ground wondering what to do with all that wet stuff. The event staff quickly deployed straw to soak up the worst of it and the clouds were intermittent through the rest of the afternoon. All the dust from the previous days was washed out of the air and it was nice and cool. We enjoyed our afternoon, had chicken noodle soup for dinner and were looking forward to a successful evening as part of the event’s Moonlight Madness on Merchant Row.

The deluge hit right in the middle of that. And by deluge, I mean build your boat now ‘cause if this goes on any longer, you’ll be floating away regardless. Not too concerned despite the watery force, we closed up shop and retreated to the main tent. The rain kept coming. We discovered the porch over the main door – not exactly to spec because of a set-up glitch and a week’s worth of wind – was dribbling rain down right into the middle of our exit. A small puddle developed there, but we were mostly able to step over it – right onto the soaking tarp and carpets that made up the floor of our merchant area under the porch. Further investigation found that the road in front of our tent was featuring Viking longship races instead of the usual pedestrian traffic.

So we secured everything as best we could, got the stuff off the ground we didn’t want to get wet, and went back inside. Hubby fired up the propane heater, I fixed us hot chocolate and we lounged under the canopy of our bed listening to the rain pound us from outside. When we purchased our tent, we made sure to get the heavier grade canvas with the UV protection and water resistance, so while we did have some other minor water intrusions due to seam leakage or wicking through a grommet down a pole, those happened during the hardest of the rain and didn’t cause anything but a conversation point.

The real problem came a little later. There’s something about cool air, rain and the nearest privy being fifty yards away across a raging river that turns an otherwise deep-sleep worthy night into Baby Bladders R Us. I won’t go into details, but I’m thankful for my husband’s outstanding MacGyvering to get us through that. The portable tent privy has now jumped to the top of the build list. Yup, one more thing to pack, but some things just have to be done.

We were able to get through that adventure because we had planned ahead for various contingencies. There are some things – like rope and a good multi-tool – that always go camping with us, whether or not we actually have plans for them. Good preparation is invaluable to making it through any situation and allowed us to survive the desert’s watery assault with little difficulty. If one were to extrapolate along the logical course, good preparation would be just as invaluable to writing projects. Of course, one would have to be logical to start with…

Despite my anal-retentive, perfectionistic, obsessive-compulsive organizing in just about every other aspect of my life, my writing is an attention-deficit schizophrenic with oppositional defiance disorder and issues of self-worth. No matter how vague or meticulous my planning may be, what eventually comes out on the page is rarely even in the same ballpark. I was one of those kids that would write my paper and then do the outline for English class, because every time I tried to do it the other “proper” way, the final product wasn’t close enough even for a game of hand grenades.

And that’s why I became a “pantser.” I don’t plan much of anything beyond the initial setup for a story. Sometimes I have a vague idea of where things might be going, and occasionally they actually do end up there. But most of the time, it’s anybody’s guess. There are writers out there that plan their works to the nth degree – Jim Butcher supposedly had his entire series of Harry Dresden novels outlined before the first one was even published, and is actually (mostly) sticking to those outlines – and there are writers (like Stephen King) who just sit down and start writing. Most writers are somewhere in between and it doesn’t matter where you fall on the organizational hierarchy. File under whatever works.

There are some things that we all should thoroughly plan: disaster preparedness, camping trips, fire drills, etc. And then there are those things that can just be left to their own devices, like love and writing. You might never know where you’ll end up, but it’ll be a hell of a ride.

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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On December 17, 2010 Muhammad Al Bouazizi, an unemployed college graduate trying to make ends meet as a street vendor, became so fed up with the harassment and corruption of local Tunisian officials that he set himself aflame in protest.

 Mohamed_Bouazizi

(Photo courtesy of InterOccupy.net)

He died eighteen days later, never knowing he was the catalyst of change that swept across the Middle East and became known as the Arab Spring. The Guardian has a very cool graphic timeline you can visit here for more details.

Protests in Valenzuela began in early February in response to the alleged attempted rape of a female student, and grew to include complaints about the record inflation and shortages of basic food items.

Valenzuela students protest

(Photo courtesy of BBC/Reuters)

The government has responded by imposing a media blackout and using lethal force during some protests, while claiming the United States is conspiring to bring them down. So far, the situation has no clear end in sight.

The people took to the streets in Ukraine after their government sided with Russia over a trade deal with the European Union. Complaints of corruption and human rights violations quickly became included.

protestors in Kiev

(Photo courtesy of Stuff.Co.NZ/Reuters)

After weeks of dogged demonstrations, President Viktor Yanukovych and many of his cronies fled Kiev, which allowed the opposition to take a majority in parliament and restore the 2004 constitution. Despite being a sovereign nation, President Vladimir Putin of Russia ordered troops into the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine under the guise of “protecting the Russian minority.” That crisis is still developing, Russia at loggerheads with most of the Western world.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, our media gives more time to troublesome and annoying “celebrities” than offering any real insight to what’s going on in the world.

celebrity montage

It’s all smoke and mirrors, people.

“There are none so blind as those that will not see.”

English Proverb

It’s time to open our eyes. Then it’s time to open our mouths. There’s still a chance to change things without resorting to the extremes our international brethren felt forced into. Pay attention, do your research, vote in state and local elections. We can be silent no more.

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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