Hearts Are Jerks – update

So far, my query process has included two rejections, one request for the first fifty pages (followed by a rejection), and one enthusiastic request for the full manuscript from someone I would love to work with. The full manuscript request ended in a revise-and-resubmit invitation, with a ton of valuable feedback — all of which is dead on.

I’ve hired my long-time trusted editor to go over it for me, side by side with the agent’s feedback, so that my own blind spots don’t get in my way.

Meanwhile, I’ve submitted two new stories to short story markets. I’m currently working on a manuscript edit for a client, and an editing workshop/seminar to add to my repertoire.

Oh, and: Per my last post, converting an existing manuscript directly from first person to third person doesn’t work. At least, it didn’t work at all in this case. But I’ve discovered what my hard science fiction project actually needs, and that’s a full rewrite and present tense. It’s got a new first chapter now and it feels right.

And we keep moving forward, one word at a time. ❤

Despite Excuses

I’m at a writing retreat called Despite Excuses, up along the California coast. One week, nine writers, an amazing view of the ocean, and words words words.

This retreat is called “Despite Excuses” because there will always be excuses, reasons to not write, other things that take priority or precedence. But we get together somewhere beautiful for a week and we write anyway.

We workshopped my next novel for an hour before dinner. I got great feedback and new ideas, and was proclaimed “ready to go and write this thing.”

I’ve tried to write this thing before. This novel’s been in my head since 2010. It’s the hard science fiction manuscript that brought me to LaunchPad. I have eight(ish) chapters of a draft, which I apparently wrote to bring myself to the realization that I was using the wrong point of view, and possibly starting at the wrong part of the story.

Today I’m converting those 14,000(ish) words from first to third person, to see what they feel like there. Then I’ll build on them. They might all stay, they might all go, but I need to look at my foundation to decide whether it fits the house I want to build.

A Few Observations About Space

I recently re-found these notes in a notebook I hadn’t opened in a while (okay, in an Evernote notebook folder, but still!), and thought they were worth copying here for posterity. For writing science fiction, they’re good to keep in mind.

These are observations from the STARSHIP CENTURY conference in 2013, but they still hold true.

Three things I learned at STARSHIP CENTURY:
1. There’s a big difference between what’s actually possible with right-now technology, and what’s possible given some major leap we haven’t made yet. The people who deal with the “major-leap”-possible believe fervently in that condition being met and their idea being possible, so it’s important to apply critical thinking and listen for those hand-waving moments.
Like the astronaut mining venture: all this is exactly right-now possible IF we presume an established base on the moon. Well, we haven’t established a base on the moon yet, so none of this is exactly right-now plausible.
Figuring out the composition of interstellar matter is right-now possible. Designing ships that run on electricity or nuclear fission is right-now possible. Designing ships that run on nuclear fusion is not right-now possible.
2. Light speed is FAST. Like, really fast. Like, at just 10% of the speed of light you’d orbit the earth in one second. At just 3.75% of the speed of light, a dust particle hitting the windshield would impact with the nuclear force of a hydrogen bomb.
[Which means I seriously have to recalculate my ship and its speed. I think I can use charged particles as a shield to deflect dust (“deflector” shields, go figure), but in right-now-technology hard science fiction, 85% light speed is just not practical or plausible.]
We can theoretically right-now see our way to about 5-7%, which with exhaust propulsion becomes about 10-14%, but that’s all.
3. Other stars are far. Like, REALLY FAR. An Astronomical Unit (1 AU) is 100 million miles — the distance from the sun to the earth. A light year is 64,000 AUs. The next nearest star to our sun, Alpha Centauri, is 15 light years away.
It’s unlikely that there are other stars between here and there. We’d have seen them by now. But there may be habitable planets and moons that are, at their closest, about that far. It’s much more realistic to surmise that the other “goldilocks planets” that support life in our galaxy, if there are any, are on about the same position on their spiral arms as we are on ours. That’s, as the Californians would say, hella far.

Hearts / Jerks

HEARTS ARE JERKS is complete at 50,000 words and off to a handful of brave first-readers.  It’s about 10,000 short of where I’d like it to be, but I know I tend to write short and that there are things that need adding / embellishing / fleshing out. I even have a margin note that tells me so.

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Now I get to take a break from it, pretend it doesn’t exist for a while, and start outlining QUILLS 2, which doesn’t have a catchy working title yet, and also (because I have other things to do), I made progress on plotting a hard science fiction novel I’ve been trying to push into shape for years.

I’m really bad at pretending HEARTS ARE JERKS doesn’t exist. It’s going to be a great book. I’m proud of it. I’m looking forward to sending it off to agents. Soon!

Scariest House on the Block

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The author, in her Halloween splendor.

I won Halloween last night.

Let’s back up:

I used to hide from trick-or-treaters. Over the years, though, hiding from the doorbell on Halloween has become a big anxiety fest for me. For the last several years I’ve been away at conventions on Halloween, avoiding the whole question about whether I’d give out candy at home. This year, I found myself home alone on Halloween night, so I had a long think about what exactly triggers my anxiety. Once I narrowed it down to the doorbell, I knew what I could do. I could make the doorbell inaccessible. So I covered it with a sign:

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“If you are living, please knock. If undead, please ring bell.”

Then I realized I could avoid the door interaction entirely.

I didn’t dress up scary. I didn’t decorate the house. My last minute purchases were, literally, candy and a tissue box. I’ve had the wig since 2011. The purple and black velvet medieval-ish dress has been in my closet since 2002 or so. I’ve had the LED tealight “candles” since before we moved to this house, so they’re at least four years old. I took the tissues out of the box and wrapped it in black construction paper and then in a layer of lace (a tank top that was destined for the giveaway pile anyway). I stapled the lace to the top of the box. In the box, I put candy and the votive candle, so that some vague flickery orange light would come out of it.

I turned off all the lights in the house. My garage faces the street, and a walkway leads around the side of the house to the front door, which is in a recessed entrance, not visible from the street or the walkway. I turned on the outdoor light, stood on the walkway with the pouch in my hands . . . and waited. Because I was already outside, nobody had to ring the bell. Anxiety trigger: avoided.

But I hadn’t prepared. Nothing about my house said that anyone was home. You had to be looking down between the houses as you passed, or you’d miss me completely. And that, it turned out, was the best part.

That alone startled a few people, minding their business and then suddenly realizing someone was there. And when that someone didn’t move . . .

Groups of kids gathered at the foot of my driveway, debating whether I was real. From the street, with me mostly back-lit, and the glowing thing in my hands, they couldn’t tell. I didn’t move until they could see me clearly. I let them wonder and debate, and felt like an NPC in a Pathfinder game, listening while the players decided their next move. Would they take the risk and approach me, or would they decide I was too dangerous?

I honestly had no idea that I’d end up being so scary. I was going for “creepy statue,” not “scare the crap out of people,” but it just goes to show that sometimes less is more. The less description you give people, the more mystery, the more their imaginations fill in the blanks. And on misty Halloween nights in particular, imaginations go to some very dark places.

I scared an older group away. One of the boys said, “nuh uh, I’ve seen how this movie ends,” and dragged his group to keep moving.

At one point, from a group of about ten kids debating my scaryness from the street, a young high-pitched voice yelled, “Stop calling me a wussy!” It was really hard not to laugh. I was extra nice to the little ones in that group.

Another boy, about 13 years old, I’d guess, said: “Nope. That’s a trap.”

“It’s a person,” his mom said.

“Nope, it’s a trap. It isn’t real.” So I slowly lifted my arms, extending the bag forward. He screamed. Close to tears, voice trembling, he said, “Say something! I’m not coming any closer until you prove if you’re a person and say something!”

I wasn’t out there to traumatize anyone, so I chose to break character. I bent double with laughter and said, “You guys are cracking me up. That was awesome.” Tension broken, the two kids and the mom approached. I gave them extra praise because they’d been extra brave.

Two very little ones were terrified, digging in their heels as their parents tried to push them forward.

An older boy in a gruesome bloody wolf mask, the tallest in a group of about fifteen brave kids, said “Trick or treat!” and added under his breath, “Please not a trick. Please not a trick.”

But as a rule, after I said “Happy Halloween” and gave them candy — that is, after I spoke and moved — most of them relaxed, laughed, and were excited to tell me all about how scared they’d been. And the parents all complimented me as well, saying mine was the best house in the neighborhood. That surprised me, since other houses decorated more or did fancier things. It also made me extremely proud.

And, as always, it ties back to writing. There’s a tendency among novice writers to over-explain the gore and horror, especially in relation to the rest of the narrative, to make sure the reader gets the image loud and clear. This is an insecure way to write, because it means you don’t trust the reader to “get it.” The solution isn’t to spell it out more plainly, it’s  to manipulate the reader’s mind more. Letting the experiencer bring their own fears, anxieties, and perceptions to a situation makes it more powerful for them than drawing a complete picture, because if the picture is too complete there aren’t blanks for them to fill in. It’s not a conscious thing; it’s a result of us all being products of our experiences. But when you know that, you can play with it and twist it to your advantage.

I broke the Halloween script. I took away the preparation. I took away the doorbell. I took away what they expected from a trick-or-treat interaction. Some of them enjoyed it. Some of them took longer to adapt to it. Some of them were paralyzed by it. All of them were invested. All of them felt the endorphin rush of relief once they realized they were safe.

All of them will remember it.

Mile Marker 10

Ten years ago today — September 23, 2006 — was my last day at my last desk job. Ten years ago today, I became a full-time freelance editor.

In the last ten years, I’ve:

  • Edited about 80 novels, for at least 5 different publishers, written by new authors, major award winners, and nyt bestsellers
  • Read about 800 novel queries and submissions
  • Published 6 anthologies
  • Read about 3000 short story queries and submissions
  • Sold 14 short stories
  • Sold 2 novels of my own
  • Been a managing editor, a submissions editor, an acquisitions editor, a copyeditor, a proofreader, a special guest, an attending professional, a panelist, a lecturer, an apprentice, and a mentor
  • Been interviewed by 14 magazines and podcasts
  • Attended 5 workshops and retreats
  • Got a wikipedia page
  • Served on award juries 7 times
  • Acquired the first works of about a dozen great new writers
  • Acquired works that have won major awards
  • Met my heroes
  • Made countless deep and precious friendships and connections

Would I take a “desk job” again? Absolutely. I’d take one tomorrow, for the right desk and the right job. Am I supporting myself financially with writing and editing? No. Not really. But when I feel down about that, I look at that list above. No one goes into publishing to get rich quick. We knew ten years ago that getting established would be a long, long tail. I’m immensely grateful that I have the privilege to follow words rather than money. I promise to continue making the most of it.

Of The Essence, In the Flesh

 

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The author, with her precioussssss 

So. Last weekend at CanCon, I got to meet my book. As anyone present can attest, I could not stop hugging my book. 🙂

Yes, that’s a hardcover, with a book jacket and everything! It’s also in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook. I will be selling the print copies, signed, from this site…eventually. I won’t put ordering info up until I have a box of them safely in my hands. This one? This one is mine!

Here’s a sampling of what people are saying so far:

  • “Harbowy[‘s] ability to create realistic portrayals of otherworldly lives is astounding.” -Lambda Literary
  • “Harbowy writes with the precision of an editor, and the sensibility and passion of a writer.” -Leah Petersen, author of the Physics of Falling series
  • “Can’t describe the radness of Gabrielle Harbowy’s Of the Essence in 140 characters. You’re gonna have to hear it to understand.” -Angela Dawe, voice actor; narrator of Of the Essence

Despite Excuses

This is my second full day back from the Despite Excuses Writing Retreat up near Fort Bragg, CA. I can still hear the sea if I close my eyes and listen hard enough.

It’s called Despite Excuses because we all have excuses not to write. We all have lives and responsibilities and day jobs and things. Despite Excuses is about writing even though Real Life happens, rather than waiting for Real Life to agree to leave us alone for a while. If we wait for that, we’ll be waiting a long time.

I don’t do well with roommates or housemates, but somehow I managed to get along with almost everybody in a ten-person house for a week. “No introvert-shaming” was a big rule and that helped a lot. If someone needed time to themselves, to write or nap or spend some time in nature, there was nothing wrong with that.

I tried out my Rejectomancy and Other Myths exercise on the group. This is a modification of my Rejectomancy presentation from a couple of years ago, expanded to include other myths and “truisms” about publishing. We had a nice mixed group of new writers and veterans, so the input was great and people learned a lot from it.

With a lot of teachers and parents in attendance, I also had the opportunity to crowdsource some ideas and inspiration for my YA novel-in-progress. I’m stuck at the point where kids experience the brunt of other kids’ meanness, and I’m out of touch with the techniques teens use to make each other’s lives miserable these days. We didn’t have mobile phones when I was in high school, so harassment has changed a lot since my day. We had to pass notes…uphill, both ways, in the snow, while fending off bears.

(Minor aside: I did see a mobile phone when I was in high school. It was a giant lunchbox with a brick of a handset attached to it. But it would be about fifteen years from that point until I had my own mobile phone. That phone was a brick of a handset, too, but it was a sleek brick, at least.)

I fell about 750 words short of my writing goal for the retreat, but toward the end I made the executive decision that spending time with people was more important than spending time writing; experiences are writing fodder, and I needed the inspiration more than the wordcount. I can make wordcount at home; I can’t stretch out on my back in a hot tub at home and gaze up at the Milky Way, oohing at the streaks of meteors across the sky.

In short, if you have a chance to drop everything, go to the coast, and write…take it. Despite excuses.

 

Revision Purgatory

Revision Purgatory is a much better place than Revision Hell. I’m fortunate to be working with an editor who has a great developmental eye and a lot of patience for “what if we…” emails, so I’m definitely not in hell. If I were in Revision Heaven, I could just wave my hand and say “Let it be done,” and lo, it would be all done. So I’m definitely not there, either. But Purgatory is a good place to be. It’s neutral, it’s not distracting, there are no loud parties. Just a few loud cats, but that’s my own fault.

The down side of working from home is that every afternoon my office mates start yelling at me about how hungry they are, several hours before the cafeteria opens for dinner. They also walk across my keyboard and try to rename my characters with their feet.

Anyway. I’m about two-thirds through the big, substantial edits on my Pathfinder novel. I still have to go back and brush up a few things, but I’m trying to focus on the big picture first. I’m pleased with the shape it’s taking. Zae, Keren, and Appleslayer are a lot of fun to write, and I’ve had enough of a break from this story that I can see it with fresh eyes now. I’ve written a whole separate novel since I turned this one in, and having that extra experience at this is also helping me now.

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This sign (on Route 580 in Oakland), is my measure of how deeply into this novel I am, in my own head. If I read this out of the corner of my eye as “Zae and Coliseum” as I’m driving past, I know I’m thinking about the story.

There’s not much to say from Revision Purgatory. It’s hard to update when my updates would essentially be things like “this scene you know nothing about? it now happens after this other scene you know nothing about, and I have to find another reason for them to be doing the thing I can’t tell you so that this other thing I don’t want to spoil can happen.”

I took yesterday off to visit the SF Maker Faire, which was a lot of fun and a needed break, and was also inspiring on a tinkering / creating / inventing-weird-stuff level, which of course is a perfect thing to get me into Zae’s world.

Zae’s world, as it happens, is an interesting place to visit. Check out some of the other Pathfinder Tales novels while I polish this one up. I’m looking forward to sharing more of her story with you!

Margin Note of the Day

The margin notes I leave for myself are more blunt and less kind than the margin notes I leave for other people, but I do still try to be nice to myself. Today’s example:

Regarding the protagonist’s name: Her dad changed his own name legally the moment he was eighteen, against his parents’ wishes. Is that a person who would give his child a blatantly odd first name? Without a good reason, it doesn’t feel authentic. Supply good reason, or it’s back to the baby name books.