ANNOUNCING: DRUGS. And fantasy short story “Rethana’s Tower” COVER ART!!!

Hello and Drugs

Hidey ho, neighborinos!

I am currently in the throes of severe lower back spasms resulting from trying to load my 30-lbs. toddler into her car seat last week. This is not an unusual attempt; generally, I’m used to doing it multiple every day. However, it seems that this one time I was not careful enough. Therefore, I am now under the influence of multiple prescription drugs and waiting for my doctor to call and tell me what she sees on my X-rays. BOOM.

So. Remember the drugs I mentioned? Yeah, I’m taking no responsibility for the content of this post. If you get attacked by invisible zombie spiders and killer watermelon clowns, it’s not my fault.

Umm…why am I here?

Oh yeah. Writing. Publishing. READ MY WORK AND TREMBLE O MORTAL. Also, give me your money.

Cover & Copy, Not To Be Confused with Duck & Cover (*quack*)

But you don’t have to shell out quite yet! First, take a gander at this cramazingness:

RethansTower_CVR_SML

Ha, ha, I said “gander.” *snort*

*ahem* That up there, my friends, is the cover art for my fantasy short story “Rethana’s Tower.” The art and design are by the wonderfully talented and wonderful-to-work-with Steven Novak. I couldn’t be more pleased. And, thanks to my friend Josh Unruh, I’ve got some spiffy copy to go with it:

Before the rumors of war and conscription by vengeful clerics destroyed her idyllic life in Rethana’s Surrender, Rethana Chosardal lived comfortably as a bellringer’s daughter. With dark times far behind her family and the darker times of future unknown to her, Rethana plays with the magical powers that are her birthright.

And like any willful girl with more power than sense, she gets up to mischief.

A nighttime intruder to her bell tower, intent on mischief of his own, has Rethana more than confident she can stop him. Not just stop him, but humiliate him. Like any proper mischief, though, it won’t be easy. After all, dodging her crotchety great-grandmother and nearly falling to her death aren’t exactly her idea of fun.

But without this one night of magical pranks, the events of Rethana’s Surrender and Rethana’s Trial might never have happened. Read the light-hearted tale that started it all during one moonlit, roguish climb up “Rethana’s Tower.”

My target date for publishing this baby is June 30th. I’ve never had to set myself my own publishing date before (remember that the last time I did this, I was still working with an indie publishing company), so I’m a wee bit skittish about this. But also excited! And bounce-off-the-walls-y! And high on meds! WHEEEEEEEE!

Climbing Rethana’s Tower

Erm…so, about this short story. If you go here, you’ll find out all about how Rethana’s universe (aka Legends of the Light-Walkers) came into existence. And if you visit that page and scroll down to “And What’s the Big Idea?” (I wanted to make that a page jump, but I’m too drugged-up to figure out how), you’ll find out how my short story “Rethana’s Tower” got its start.

So click the link and go read about that. Go on. I’ll wait. But you have to promise to come back.

There. Are you back?

Good.

Okay, so, in case you didn’t go read, here’s the short version: Rethana’s story started when I visited St. Annenkirche, a Lutheran church building in Annaberg-Buchholz, Germany. I climbed the belltower, heard the ginormous bell Anna, saw visions, and decided to write a novel (which later became Rethana’s Trial and Rethana’s Surrender).

“Rethana’s Tower” used to be the prologue to that novel. Then, I entered the fabulous, no-holds-barred School of Cutting the Prologue. I cheated and made it Chapter 1. Then, my trusty beta readers told me that it didn’t really fit with the rest of the story, and Chapter 2 would actually make a better Chapter 1.

“Are you hip to the jive? Can you dig what I’m layin’ down? I knew that you could. Slide me some skin, soul brother!”

Points to you if that made sense.

Thus, through many tears, I sliced off the original beginning of Rethana’s story and tucked it away for a better, brighter day.

Folks, that better, brighter day is almost HERE.

Former prologue, former Chapter 1, now full-fledged short story in its own right, “Rethana’s Tower” shall soon be available for your reading pleasure. I’ll let you know the moment you can get your grubby, ink-stained reader-paws on it.

In the meantime, do watch out for the watermelon clowns. They’re tricksy, and they don’t brush their teeth.

Harlan Ellison, Alan Dean Foster…and Courtney Cantrell

YEAH BABY.

I’ve known for just over 48 hours, and I’m sure it hasn’t really sunk in yet. But, lack of sink-innage notwithstanding, I’m a-gonna blare it out to the world anyway:

Around Christmas of this year, I shall have a story in the SAME short story collection as HARLAN ELLISON and ALAN DEAN FOSTER.

As my friend Josh (who’s gonna have a story in the same collection) says,

“This is what we in the business call a pretty big deal.”

In case you’re unaware, dear inklings, Ellison and Foster both are so well-known in the sci-fi world, it would be downright silly for me to tell you about them here. Really that’s why God gave us Google and Wikipedia. Thus, if you go get Googwikified over these two gents, you’ll find out everything you need to know.

But. I’ll say this much: Ellison has been in the writing biz since the late 1950s, and Foster made me fall in love with him when I read his “Pip and Flinx” novels as a teen. If that gives you even a slight reference point for my excitement, we are good to go.

So! The short story collection in question is KINDLE ALL-STARS: RESISTANCE FRONT, the brainchile of one Bernard J. Schaffer.

Sometime around three months ago, Bernard put out an intarwebz call for short stories: He wanted to do a ground-breaking anthology to showcase independent authors in today’s e-media. The “resistance” aspect of the project refers to our collective determination no longer to let the traditional publishing model squelch our writerly voices. Bernard writes,

“Whole generations of authors have been lost to us because they could not penetrate the murky swamps of corporate publishing. I imagine all the works of art that we’ll never know of simply because the vicious cycle of query-letter, agent, synopsis, publisher, book-seller, and eventual consumer did not work out for that individual.

“When an industry coins a phrase like ‘Slush Pile’ to reflect their opinion of where your work belongs, you get a pretty clear idea of your place in their world.”

You might imagine, my darlings, that every word of this resonates with me. : ) Not only that, but the proceeds of the project all go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. These people find kidnapped kids and fight child porn. No question that I can get on board with that!

So. Longish story shortened, I finished up the short story I’d been working on and sent it in to Bernard. He sent it back with edits, and I had a mild freak-out while my writer self dealt with the knowledge that I’d not only sent my work to a total stranger, but now he was asking me to change it. And I mean change it. The dude wanted me to clip an entire thread from the story. And it was a thread I happened to like. Zoinks.

In the meantime, I found out that Ellison and Foster both had donated stories to the project. So now, if I got in, I’d be getting in with Ellison and Foster.

Have I mentioned that this is kind of a big deal?

Here I am, trying to edit and re-write a story, and the deal just keeps getting bigger and bigger. No pressure, right? I had to get over myself — no, really, I had to get over my fear. Why does it always come back to that?

Fear holds me back again and again. This time, it was fear of rejection…and maybe even a little fear of success. I have no idea where all of this might lead. But some possible future paths aren’t necessarily grand.

But I sucked it up, did my re-write, sent it back to Bernard — and waited. Ten days, y’all. I kept telling people it wouldn’t ruin my day if my story got rejected in the end…but that was only a half-truth. I wanted this bad. And during those 10 days, the fear kicked in again.

I rode it out. Did other stuff. Painted a crimson dragon. Published a whole magazine. You know, the usual. ; )

Then, two nights ago, the final participant announcements rolled in over Twitter, and I was on the list. Even better, Josh was on the list, too. Spider Robinson Wisdom ruled my personal celebration:

“Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased -— thus do we refute entropy.”

I love it when entropy takes one in the kisser.

For the record, applying Bernard’s feedback to my story was fun, once I got over myself. (Strangely enough, I’m wanting to paraphrase Pumbaa from The Lion King: “once I put my behind in my past”; but I don’t think it really applies here.) As I trimmed and re-wrote and copypasted, I saw a startling new shape emerge from the story…and it was a shape I very much appreciated.

It was the shape of a story that was better for the changing. Having an editor’s feedback made me a better writer for the story. Who’d a-thunk? ; )

My horror short “If This Were a Stephen King Story” will appear in Kindle All-Stars: Resistance Front in December 2011.

“Few projects slung my way, these days of electronic idiocy and bad writing, can perk me up and get the fireworks. This is one of the best, sweetest ideas I’ve heard in years. Nothing but the smiles of Success are due the project, the people putting it together, and the good kids who will benefit from every penny garnered. I am 100% and a bag of marmosets behind it!”
— Harlan Ellison.

“Growing up, I had access to all the books I wanted to read, and they made my life. This is a project to benefit kids who have nothing. I can think of no better cause.”
— Alan Dean Foster

This really swings my verge, y’all. : )

How My Bachelor’s in Writing Didn’t Prepare Me for Writerhood

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”

~Henry Ford

In December 1999, I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in English/Writing and thought I knew everything I needed to know about writing books.

Why, yes — I am waiting for your laughter to subside.

Okay, okay, calm yourselves, please. What do you think this is, a late-night comedy club?

Sheesh.

😉

Idealist Writer Changes World — Details at 11

So. Here I am, 22 years old with all of three-and-a-half years of higher education under my belt. I’m off to former East Germany as soon as possible. I shall change the world one relationship at a time and write books while I do it. I am Tawanda, Queen of the Amazons. Hear me roar.

For my senior project, I’d completed a Monster Epic Fantasy Novel (aka MEFaN), which I’ve previously mentioned here. My profs approved it. Their praise wasn’t exactly glowing, but it was shiny, at least. I thought my novel was ready to shop to publishers.

Um. No.

If you click through, you’ll see that the MEFaN in question was a first draft. I’d heard my creative writing prof mention such hideous things as re-write and edit and multiple drafts

— but I was 22 and brilliant. What need I with multiple drafts?

*sigh*

Ow, My Aching Ego

I learned. I learned that I was good for a 22-year-old straight outta college. I learned that I was not as good as what editing, rewriting, and plain ol’ life experience could make me. I learned that my profs’ shiny-almost-glowing praise was for how far I’d come by then.

But good grades, I finally realized, were not the final measurement of my skills. I realized that my writing degree was my starting point. My writing degree prepared me to begin.

And I’ve spent the last 14 years doing the work.

But here’s what my degree did not prepare me for.

Money, Money, Money

As part of my general education in college, I was required to take an economics class. I ended up in a course called Free Enterprise System.

Sadly, this had nothing to do with liberated starships.

Sadly, I learned exactly two things in this course:

  1. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Booya.
  2. When one member of the project team doesn’t do his job, the economics prof doesn’t care that the rest of the team does theirs. Everybody gets penalized a letter grade because of the one lazy slob.
  3. Yay teamwork! I love teamwork!

Also sadly, I was not required to take any courses in personal finance (i.e. how-to-budget, etc.) or in finances for writers.

So, years later, when the husband and I got into serious trouble over self-employment taxes, my reaction was as follows:


 

 

 

 

 

 

Doing Homework

Let me be clear: I blame no one for this but myself.

I shoulda done my homework. After all, there is such a thing as thinking for oneself.

In the meantime, I’ve figured things out a little. I now understand things about withholding. I now understand that calculating my taxes myself is a rather dumb thing for me to do (especially when my info conflicts with that of the IRS). I now know to keep track of expenses like the ones listed in this article.

The business-sensible thing for me to do with this post would be to provide you with a list of such resources as that one. But I’m not writing this to be business-sensible.

I’m writing this to emphasize that even after getting our educations — whether that’s at the collegiate level or simply through life experience and trial-and-error — we writers still have to do our homework.

Yeah, we gotta research stuff for our writing. We read novels, articles, and papers. We drive to remote locations to get the feel and flavor of a place or to take pictures for cover art. We interview people. We visit museums. We sit in coffee shops, pondering and muttering to ourselves.

But we also have to research for our business.

It might be the most important thing I’ve learned about writing since graduation:

Writing is a business.

And the writer is CEO, VP, treasurer, secretary, and go-fer.

And this is every writer. Not just the self-published ones.

Writers, we must learn to think of ourselves this way.

If somebody had taught me this in college and forced me to sit down and learn the non-creative, non-artsy, non-inspiring, soul-sucking side of writing, it could’ve saved me a lot of trouble. And a lot of heartache.

So, do your homework, writers. Nobody’s gonna make you learn this stuff. You’ve gotta take responsibility (do as I say, not as I do) and do your research.

And for the love of all that’s good, true, and writerly in this world, keep track of your gas mileage.

__________________________

What financial education did you get along the way?

What’s been your experience with self-employment?

What’s been your experience thinking of yourself as a business — or not thinking of yourself that way?

If you’re more into the business side than the creative writing side, what one thing do you think writers need to be aware of?

The Grooming Habits of Agents

Or: A Brief History of My Journey to Indie Authordom

Photo by Julie V. Photography


Once upon a two-years-ago, I met a real live acquisitions editor.

I’d let my mother talk me into attending an Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. Conference at a hotel in south OKC. Introvert and publishing world n00b that I was, I required a lot of convincing. The carrot that got me was Mama’s offer to pay for the whole thing. So, off I went to the writers’ conference.

After I got over myself, I had fun. Some neat people talked to me, so I tagged along with them all three days of the conference. One of them had published a few novels with a Christian publishing company, and he introduced me to his acquisitions editor.

My face was all polite smiles and wittiness. Inside, I was thinking,

“Hmm. Acquisitions editor? Foot in door? Is this it?!?”

Eventually, during a break between lectures, there was a little circle of conversation at the hotel coffee shop. I don’t recall how it happened, but something I said about my in-progress novel led to this editor’s turning to me and asking, “So, Courtney, what is your book about?”

Inside, I said, “Um.”

Back Story

Before the conference, I’d signed up to pitch my epic high fantasy novel Triad to one of the agents who’d be at the conference. Now, I had with me a carefully crafted cover letter and the painstakingly polished first three chapters of said high fantasy novel.

I had not come to this conference prepared to talk to anyone about my Christian fantasy novel, Colors of Deception, which was then in first draft stage.

Fast-Forward

So, when Acquisitions Editor Attached To Christian Publisher asked me what my in-progress novel was about, I had about half a second to come up with a pitch.

Inside, I thought, “Um.”

And then, I thought, “This IS it!!!

Outside, I said, “My novel’s about a group of Christian college students who are being stalked by demons.”

To which Editor Attached To Christian Publisher replied, “I’d like to see that.” And she gave me her business card.

Outside, I said, “Great! I can have the first three chapters ready for you in a few weeks.”

Inside, I said,


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happened Next

Not long after that conference — and with manic re-writing in-between — I sent Benevolent Acquisitions Editor an email, asking in what form she’d like the first three chapters. She replied with instructions to mail her a hard copy.

I did that.

I waited two months.

Then, I received her email thanking me for my submission and stating that my story was not what her publisher was looking for at this time.


 

 

 

 

 

Turning the Beat Around

I felt crushed. Beaten. I didn’t understand. Why would she show such interest in my story, if it wasn’t the kind of story her publisher was interested in? Why did she get my hopes up like that? Shouldn’t she know better than to treat a fragile, sensitive writer’s heart this way?!

Of course, with hindsight and a bit more education about the publishing world, I now understand it was nothing personal. Either my writing style wasn’t what she was looking for, or my story really wasn’t the kind of story her company was interested in, after all.

Of course, the notion that my writing was, at that point, simply not good enough is completely preposterous.

*ahem*

Anyway, by now it was fall of ’09, so I made an early resolution: 2010 would be The Year I Found An Agent.

A flurry of agent-y research ensued. There was intense poring-over of submission guidelines. There was much flipping through of novels to see which authors credited their agents. By February 2010, I’d compiled a database of 35 agents, their preferences, their guidelines, their faves, their published authors, their grooming habits, and their agencies. All I needed was to re-visit my query letter, perfect it, and start sending it out.

If You Need Something Done Right…

Then, in March 2010, my friend Aaron approached me about founding a non-profit organization to support the arts. How he talked me into it and how The Consortium came to be is another story and shall be told another time…

…but the end of the matter is that instead of getting an agent, I got an indie publisher. I got a published novel. Colors of Deception, that story about Christian college students stalked by demons, is in the hands of readers who, by all reports, are enjoying the heck out of it.

Maybe I coulda been traditionally published. Instead, I’m indie published. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

________________________

My most darlingest inklings! Are you agent-hunting? What’s your process?

Are you querying? What’s your greatest query letter challenge?

How do you deal with rejection letters from editors or agents?

If you’ve gone indie or self-pub — what was the legacy-pub straw that broke your writing camel’s back?

Let’s talk. : )

5 What-To-Dos When Your Novel Is Too Long

1st draft of high fantasy novel. 200,000 words = NO

 We novelists slam headfirst into this particular wall all the time: Finish first draft, sit back with sigh of contentment. Languidly reach for mouse or mousepad, click “wordcount” in the dropdown menu of whatever word processor suits our fancy.

Sit back once more. This time with the horrid sensation of paralyzing shock.

As far as we’re concerned, the story is finished. It is complete as is. Major alterations would destroy the beautiful statue we’ve worked so long to carve out of that rough-edged block of marble called Idea.

But the wordcount generator tells us the awful truth: Our manuscript is 10,000…30,000…50,000 (…100,000? *ahem*) words too long. In today’s economy and with the ever tightening belts in the publishing industry, there no way anybody’s gonna publish this behemoth until we trim the fat.

“But,” we wail, “the story is what it is! How are we supposed to trim anything when there’s nothing to trim?”

Nobody said it would be easy. Writing the story wasn’t easy; trimming it won’t be, either. But here are a few suggestions that will at least get the process started.

5 Ways To Trim Your Novel’s Wordcount

1. Change your thinking
Here are the sad, unavoidable facts of reality, my dears: First drafts are drafts. They are not the be-all, end-all of noveling. Finishing a first draft is a great accomplishment, for certain — but the work doesn’t stop there.

That lovely statue I mentioned before? It’s got rough edges that you’ve overlooked (on purpose). It’s got odd lumps in peculiar places. Its face isn’t nearly as well-defined as it could be. When you type “The End,” the story might feel finished, and it might feel perfect. I hate to break it to you, but it is neither.

When we writers finish a first draft, our story needs us to work on it some more. The sooner we wrap our minds around this fact, the sooner we can start getting that wordcount down to something manageable.

2. Get beta readers.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You gotta get you beta readers. We writers are chronically unable to view our work objectively — especially when it comes to trimming it down! Forest-For-the-Trees Syndrome strikes again.

You can’t see the forest of Necessary Trimming, because you’ve got your writerly nose shoved up against the bark of the nearest tree. And that, sadly, is where the writerly nose generally stays from start to finish. We need somebody outside to look at our story and identify excess branches and superfluous shrubbery.

Writing can be lonely work, but we can’t do it alone. That’s a paradox I’ll save for another post…but maybe you get the picture anyway.

3. Edit for simplicity.
I grew up in Germany and went to German schools. Do you know anything about the German language? Without turning this into a grammar lesson, I’ll tell you this: One of the peculiarities of German is that the verb often comes at the end of the sentence. The result of this can be (and often is) long, convoluted sentences nested within more long, convoluted sentences. By the time you get to the action verb, you’ve forgotten who was doing the action and why — so you have to go back and re-read the whole paragraph.

And that’s the main language I was taught to write it. Did I develop some tenacious sentence-nesting habits? You bet yer patootie I did.

I had to break that habit. I had to simplify. I had to break up long sentences into two or three sentences. I had to replace flowery phrasing with straightforward description. I had to choose simple action verbs over the ones that sounded high-falutin’.

Simplify. I promise, your story will thank you — and your readers will too.

4. Get rid of adverbs.
Okay, brief grammar lesson this time. And yes, I am keeping this very simple, and my explanation here is not complete. But I don’t want to put people to sleep, so the purists are gonna have to deal with the incompleteness of my instruction.

Adjectives describe nouns. Blue, hot, solid, wet, and shiny are adjectives.

Adverbs describe verbs. In point #2, I used the phrase “view objectively.” Here, “objectively” describes the how of “view.” Other examples of adverbs are: lustily, happily, worriedly, and sideways.

“I got a new bike for my birthday!” she said happily.

Okay, so she said it “happily.” What does that look like on her? Don’t tell me she said it happily; instead, tell me that her eyes are wide, her smile is huge, and her teeth glisten in the sunlight like tiny bottlecaps.

Yes! Make it a hideous description, if that’s what it takes. I’ll read anything, just get rid of that clunky, boring, milquetoast adverb!

“But wait,” you say. “Wouldn’t adding description actually increase my wordcount?”

Well, yeah. Probably. But adverbs weaken your sentences, and overusing them will make your novel unreadable. I’m picking on adverbs because they’re a bad habit and because this is my list and I can.

5. When all else fails, re-write.
This one’s kind of self-explanatory. If you’ve trimmed and trimmed and trimmed, and the novel is still too long, it might be time for a complete re-write.

Yeah, I know. I hate even thinking those words, much less typing them and putting them where people can see. But sometimes, it’s the only choice we have. Maybe the story took off in the wrong direction in Chapter 2. Maybe there’s a side character who needs to be cut. Maybe there’s a side character who’s supposed to be the main character. Maybe the climax should’ve happened five chapters before it did.

Whatever it is, a re-write might fix it — and fix it well enough that your wordcount “magically” decreases (ahhhh, adverbs) by whatever percentage you require.
_____________________

So, there are my five ideas for trimming the fat!

What do you do when your novel’s too long?

Care to challenge me on the adverb thing? Let’s talk!