Chuck Wendig’s Random Cocktail Flash Fiction Challenge: Cherry Blossum

Author Chuck Wendig of TerribleMinds put out a Flash Fiction Challenge for this week. Go to this random cocktail generator, take the title of the drink, and make it the title of your very short story. Go!

I got the Cherry Blossum, a brandy-based drink, and ended up with this short piece of 544 words. Here it is in its entirety:

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Cherry Blossum

Jakob turned the delicate white hand over, his own grease-stained fingers leaving smudges on the porcelain finish. The fingernails looked all but real in the flickering factory floor lighting over his work station. On the fine wrist was the small black and pink stamp, branding this as a Sakura model S14 – an older geishabot. Must be obsolete by now.

 

He bagged and stamped the hand and sent it down the line.

 

The right knee joint, flawless, came next. Then the other hand, containing a small crack across the back side. He marked the damage on a yellow tag and sent the hand on. Perhaps that bit could be recycled.

 

Something lingered in the air. A spiced yet floral smell hung over Jakob’s table. It must have been the geishabot. He sniffed his own hands: sweet, cinnamon-like, powdery, and something green like springtime. Then the smell of burnt plastic from down the line took over and he crinkled his nose. The bot’s wrists must have been laced with the scent. Built in, most likely.

 

There was the back side of the faceplate then, a kind of smooth mask from this side. He hated handling the faces most of all. For a moment, Jakob pictured himself holding it up to his own face, this perfect doll’s mask that was like a miniature of his own features (though these bots’ faces were delicate, gently rounded, and fine where his own face was made up of a series of roughly hewn rectangles). With a small shudder he turned the faceplate over.

 

At first, it appeared flawless to Jakob. An eyeless but beautiful face with a small, narrow nose and delicate flower petal lips. It was lovely. It was perfection. Then he saw it: the tiniest warped spot just below the right eye. It was a small air bubble trapped beneath the uppermost layer of plastic finish. It looked like a small tear, frozen in time. Jakob breathed out through his mouth and bagged it up with a yellow tag.

 

When the end-of-shift bell rang, Jakob stood and wiped his hands on his apron. Hanging his things over the back of his chair, he reached over to turn out his light, forgetting that the bulb had been dead for days. The foreman said he would have to wait for a new one – they didn’t have any just now.

 

Jakob hummed a tuneless song as he walked through the misty almost-rain of the late evening. Neon signs flared and glowed in the particulate water drops that hovered in the air. The air around him declared halos of Girls! and Beer! and XXX. He turned left down a narrow alley and entered an unmarked green metal door. Sitting down at the glowing white and silver bar.

 

“You want company again tonight, mister? We got some brand new bots in from Suzaku. Real pretty girls.” The barmaid gave him a languid smile and stretched her dark, slender arm across the bar top toward Jakob.

 

“No thanks, Brandy. Not tonight. Just a drink,” he sighed and pulled his own hand back to his lap.

 

“Suit yourself.” She shrugged and went back to polishing a glass. “What’ll it be?”

 

“The usual.”

 

The spiced lily perfume that hung in the air made his nose twitch.

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Query Letters 101: Your Query Letter

You may think you have an entire synopsis to impress an agent but really, you have one sentence. A great query letter is about so much more than a convincing synopsis of your manuscript. It’s about relating, conversing, understanding, and grabbing an agent’s attention.

  • No less than 250 words, no more than 700. Aim for about 400.
  • Don’t try to be cute and use weird paper or fonts. Stick with Arial, Cambria, or Times in 10 or 12 point font.
  • Use paragraphs! Don’t stick everything in one huge chunk of text. You’ll scare agents.
  • Personalize your letter! This sets good letters apart from great letters. While each one of your query letters is going to be 97% the exact same as the last, 3% of that should be personalized for each new agent you send it to. Show agents that you’ve put in the time and effort to get to know their tastes before querying them.
    • Always address each letter to the agent by name
    • Use one or two sentences to tell them why they are the right match for you.
      • “I noticed that you represent Gregg Olsen’s YA series ENVY. Because of this, I really think you’ll also enjoy my dark, psychological, YA thriller.”
      • “I had to query a fellow journalism woman!”
      • “I love that your nieces and nephews play such a huge role in your literary career. I hope one day, they’ll get a chance to read my novel.”
      • “I read your blog post titled ‘Be the Evel Knievel of Writing’ and it inspired me to finish my manuscript with a non-linear story structure.”
      • “I read your interview on Day-By-Day Writer and felt compelled to send you my query for _____.”
  • Use your letter to embody everything about your writing. Keep your voice and tone consistent but remain professional.
    Focus on the project you are currently pitching, even if you have been previously published. There is a place to talk about previous publications! Don’t worry. PITCH ONLY ONE MANUSCRIPT PER LETTER.
  • Be specific about plot details but don’t give everything away. You want to leave the agent wanting more so he will request your full manuscript!
  • Optional: Include the first five pages of your manuscript copied and pasted into the e-mail after the closing signoff. NO ATTACHMENTS. Some agents say not to include these pages, some do not specify. But there is always the chance that she will find herself just reading the pages anyway.
  • No e-mail blasts. It is unprofessional, lazy, and not personalized.
  • If another agent or publisher has referred you to an agent, mention it in your letter.
  • Query Letter Must Haves:
    • Personalized salutation, Personalized tidbit about agent, Title, Genre, Word count, Protagonist name, Description of protagonist, Setting, Inciting incident, Villain, Protagonist’s quest/purpose, Protagonist’s goal, Your Bio, Author’s credits (optional), Your name, Where you can be found online
  • Know your genre, type of project, and age group.

Much of this information came from an excellent class I took on LitReactor.com taught by the brilliant and lovely Bree Ogden. If you want more, sign up for some classes there!! There’s another Art of the Query Letter class coming up in February.

Check out the previous parts of the Query Letters 101 series:

Research and Glossary

Letters and Agents

Query Letters 101: Research and Glossary

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Research is Your Best Weapon

Care about your writing and your project enough to learn as much about the industry as possible. Being prepared, researching agents, and knowing the jargon is going to give you a huge leg up.

  • “Big Six” (Now the “Big 5” as Random House and Penguin have merged) – The six largest publishers: Random House, Penguin Group, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Macmillan
  • Commission – The amount an agent receives for their services. Agents typically receive a commission of 15% for all domestic sales and 20% for foreign sales. Agents only receive commission on works they sell, and thus aren’t paid unless the author is paid.
  • Exclusivity – When an unpublished author gives an agent an “exclusive” look at their manuscript, usually for a period of time. This means the author cannot then send their manuscript to another agent during that time period.
  • Genre fiction – A blanket term that refers to books with certain familiar settings and plot conventions. Genres include romance, science fiction, mystery and suspense, westerns, etc.
  • Partial – A partial manuscript. When an agent likes a query they may ask to see a certain number of pages or chapters. If they don’t specify, just send 50 pages.
  • Royalties – The amount an author receives on every net copy sold of their book (see “net sales”).
  • **TWO TERMS THAT YOU WANT TO USE VERY CAREFULLY: Author and Book. You are not an author until you are published. Until that point in your career, you are a writer. You have not written a book or a novel until you are published. Until that point in your career, you have written a manuscript.
  • Key agencies: know the reputable agencies. Check websites such as querytracker, absolutewrite, literaryrambles, and agentquery to read up on the good and the bad agencies.
  • Contracts and Rights: You can’t know all of the different types of contracts because every agency and publisher will be a little different. But know the overall norms of contracts and rights. Such as: how much percentage is normal for agents to take on your advance, what a typical advance from a publisher is, what the royalties on a paperback, hardcover, or e-book are…etc. This will help you to avoid pitfalls. It will help you avoid agencies or publisher out to take advantage of you. You can find a lot of advice on publishing contracts on the web.
  • Comparative Book Titles: It’s good to know other published books that are similar to yours. This will help you accurately categorize your manuscript. Also, by knowing the popularity and success of these comp titles, you can adjust your publishing expectations.
  • This is a fantastic glossary of publishing terms. http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/08/book-publishing-glossary.html

From Query Letter to Sale (In an Ideal World)

Your manuscript MUST be completed (unless you are writing nonfiction) and have gone through as much editing as is possible. You may have sent it through one or more beta readings. You may have even paid a substantive or line editor to go over your manuscript.

You will send out approximately 80 bazillion query letters to appropriate agents. Steel yourself.

An agent(s) will express interest and request a full or partial manuscript. She will love your book and offer to sign you. It’s possible that multiple agents will request your manuscript at roughly the same time; a good agent will give you appropriate time to consider which agent/agency to accept an offer from.

A good agent will keep frequent contact with you, probably via a phone or Skype call. This is a serious relationship so be sure it is the right one. Be sure they are going to fulfill all of your professional needs.

An agent will give you ample time to look over a contract and should be able to answer any questions you have about it.

Check out the other parts of the Query Letters 101 Series:

Letters and Agents

Your Query Letter

Query Letters 101: Letters and Agents

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Tonight I’m teaching a small workshop to me writing group called Query Letters 101. I suspect most of you will not be there, which is really a shame. I have every intention of dropping some serious knowledge this evening. Lucky for you, my lovely readers, I’m going to spend a few posts talking about literary agents and query letters. I hope it helps!

Many of you may know this already so I’m going to try and hit the important points quickly so I don’t bore anyone. You’re obviously reading this because you know that this is an important tool to publishing. If you’re interested in pursuing the traditional publishing route (agent, publishing house, book) then this is a skill you’re going to need to polish as much as your manuscript.

A query letter is your introduction, your first impression, your cover letter that presents you to a literary agent. Your literary agent is your best tool for getting your book sold to a publisher. He or she represents you, pushes for your best interests, sells you and your work, and should help you negotiate contracts. When it comes to traditional publishing, an agent is going to be your best friend. So you want to make a good first impression with your new best friend, right? Right. That’s your query letter.

Literary agents receive hundreds of query letters every week, most of which – it’s just a numbers game – they are going to reject. Filtering through all of these letters is only one part of the job that agents have to do, so they can only budget so much time for this task. You need to grab their attention immediately and be interesting enough to hold it. This is going to be the job of the first sentence or, if you are very lucky, the first paragraph of your query letter.

You need to do some research and some thinking before you decide who to send your query letter to and this will also shape the kind of letter you’re going to write. What genre does your novel fall into? Sci-fi? YA? Literary fiction? Make sure the agent(s) you’re querying represent the genre(s) you write. Additionally, make sure your agent(s) of choice is currently accepting queries. Otherwise you’re wasting your time!

An agent should ALWAYS: talk with you via Skype or phone or even in person, be head over heels in love with your work, champion your project, be honest and forthright about their previous sales records. An agent should NEVER: charge you for their services (a 15%-20% royalty upon sale of your project is normal; an up-front payment is not normal in the industry and a red flag that something is probably wrong)

Check out the other parts of the Query Letters 101 Series:

Research and Glossary

Your Query Letter

New Year, Old Novel

publishing-book-open

My main project at the moment is completing the manuscript for “Dark of the Wood,” an urban fantasy story inspired by Little Red Riding Hood. It sounds weird, but I promise you it works. Anyway, I have a mental timeline for getting this project done and then setting it free into the world of agents and publishers.

January 31: I will have the first draft of the novel completed.

March 31: I will have the second draft of the novel completed (possibly after some beta reading).

May 31: I will have the third and final draft of the novel completed.

June 1: I will begin querying agents (I have my query letter written and polished already).

Forever(?): I will keep querying agents and annoying people and working my butt off to sell this book.

Why? Because I believe in it. I like it. I think it’s funny and dark and well-written and highly marketable. But, more importantly, I have to believe in my work because if I don’t – who else will?

Believe in yourself. Believe in what you’re doing. Work and rewrite and drive yourself crazy and talk to friends and other writers and edit and polish and BELIEVE. The hardest part about writing is just doing the darn work. So if you’re writing – you’re already succeeding.

Cleaning House

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My husband and I are moving. Today. In fact, as you read this queued post, we are probably beginning to unload furniture from the truck and into our new place.

I’m excited. There’s a spare bedroom that’s going to become my office so I finally have a place of my own to work in private. The birds will get more space and sunshine and we gain lots of closets and my husband’s commute to work will be easier. Lots of perks to be had!

But the old apartment. Ah, the old place. How it haunts. Looms. Menaces. It is full of boxes and suitcases and dust and more than a few recently-discovered spiders in long-ignored storage areas. Eugh. As exciting as the new place is, we know we must deal with the state of the old one.  As we’ve been packing and organizing and throwing things out, my husband and I have both suffered from the Urge to Clean.

I want so badly to vacuum every corner. sweep up every dust bunny, mop every inch of flooring – but I’ve stopped myself. It sounds like a pretty stupid idea, not cleaning when the urge strikes, but it’s going to make sense in a moment, I promise.

Now, when I went to culinary school (I bet you didn’t know I’m a trained pastry chef, did you?), I was taught by my favorite Chef Instructor, “Clean as you go – that’s my motto” and in many aspects of life (cooking, especially), it has served me well. But I’ve discovered two places that this cheerful little rhyme is actually hurtful: writing and moving house.

When writing a first draft (we’ll talk about Shitty First Drafts in a blog post soon, don’t worry), the urge to edit and change and tweak and perfect as you go affects most of us. We dawdle over a passage or spend an hour re-working a bit of dialogue. Well, don’t. Just write. Get the damn thing over with and in the meantime – leave it alone!

In the same way that it will better serve my husband and I to first get everything out of the apartment and then come through and clean it, so too does it make more sense to finish an entire rough first draft of a story or novel and then come back through and edit it. Don’t make more work for yourself – write now, edit later. Trust me, those edits will still be there when you come back to them later.

Stephen King’s Rules for Writing

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Like many writers who’ve been honing their craft for years, author Stephen King has some rules for writing. In a 2013 interview with The Atlantic, he gives his 20 rules for success and explains why an opening line might be the most important thing you ever write.

But that’s another post for another day.

His love of writing shines through in this list. He talks about how writing should make you happy and come from within, how you should write for yourself instead of a theoretical audience somewhere.

For those interested, I’ve included his 20 rules below:

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that arenot the story.”

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”

6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”

12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”

14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”

15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”