Living the Dream??

Hello out there, if anyone is still reading.

I apologize for how negligent I have been with my blog updates; I’ve had a lot going on. Actually a lot. I’m not just making that up.

But in the mean time, magic has happened and I’m super excited to announce that I am going to be published! I am looking at a June/July release date… so start saving those pennies! I hope to have links up soon for e-book and paperback purchases. I am looking for sci-fi reviewers to take a look, so if you’re interested, please message me and I’ll hook you up with a review copy. I plan to write a retrospective on how this came about, for those who have been following since the beginning… I just need a moment to collect my thoughts. Please leave any questions/comments below and I will try to address them in my next post!

Cat

The Timekeepers War– Final Edit Complete! (again)

Well, I’m sure some of you were starting to think it wasn’t going to happen (myself included)… but I finally completed the final edit of my novel, The Timekeepers’ War! Again.

Editing is really the hardest part of writing a book, I swear. I’d heard that before and I never believed it. But that’s because what I thought was editing was really proofreading. And the two are very, very different beasts. After I finished my behemoth of a first novel (it came in at 503 pages, and almost 147,000 words…) I gave copies to a few trusted people to read for consistency, grammar, spelling, and readability. They came back with lots of little changes. I went through TKW three or four times with suggestions from various people, making what changes I deemed necessary, and TA-DA! Final edit complete (pt. 1)

I was feeling pretty good about myself, as a first time author. I’d gotten some really great feedback from my beta readers, along with some constructive criticism that I was able to apply to make my novel the best that I could make it. I sent it out with quiet confidence to agents and publishers alike. And waited… and waited…

And then the rejections started to roll in. I did receive some interest though, which was encouraging. I had requests for the next 10 pages, the next 30 pages, the next 50 pages, and even a couple of requests for the whole novel. I must be doing something right, I thought. They want to see more! They must like it! But nothing panned out. Eventually, each of those requests for more ended in yet another rejection. I was heartbroken!

Two good things came of this process. One: I received some really great feedback from a small publisher who highlighted my strengths and went to the trouble of explaining exactly why The Timkeepers’ War wasn’t working for him. And suddenly, all those vague rejections started to make sense. I had a great story idea, I had likeable characters, I had an intriguing setting. But I needed to seriously work on my pacing if I wanted to sell this as a commercial novel. But I didn’t really know how to go about fixing that issue. I read a lot of long-winded fantasy and sci-fi, and I enjoy them. Pacing isn’t something I knew how to do, it isn’t something I look for in a book. It isn’t my style. But as a first time writer, you have to be able to market your work to a wider audience. And agents and publishers like to see action, they like pacy, they like movement, they like all these things I didn’t know how to deliver (and in many ways, felt I shouldn’t have to). But that brings us to good thing number Two:

I decided to hire a professional editor. One who specialized in SF and worked in the publishing industry. And it wasn’t cheap. But it was totally worth it. My editor echoed some of the feedback that I had already had regarding my strengths as a writer.  And he really, really drove home the point about my weaknesses. It was hard to read at times, but I had decided when I hired him that I would listen and learn from what he had to say. So I had to suck it up. And that can be very hard to do when you read “Boring! Get on with it!” and “I’m losing interest here” and “I’ve forgotten what this story is about now” and “I really want to throw this book at the wall!” written in the margins of your baby. Okay, so that last one never happened, but I that’s how I interpreted it.

But when I started going through some of the changes that he made, I got it. Slowly it dawned on me that my readers don’t need to know everything I know about my world and my characters. I’d spent so long envisioning them, and building a world to hold them, that I found my self rattling off inane details about everyone and everything in my novel. As the person building the world, these details were necessary to me. They helped me to visualize my world and my characters, and kept my environment consistent and believable. But what we need as writers is not the same as what our audience needs as readers. Lesson learned. I started cutting like a crazy person.

At first, this was difficult. But I saved all of those little scraps of imagery, unnecessary scenes and characters, and I told myself “They’ll still be here for me when I need them.” And as kept cutting, and rewriting, the process became cathartic. Sometimes less really is more, and I finally was able to see what this meant in relation to my own work. The middle of my book required extensive rewriting to deal with info dumps. I rewrote about 200 pages of text just to get the pace moving again after I had killed it dead and beaten it’s corpse like the proverbial horse.

And it didn’t always go smoothly. There were good days and bad days. Good months and bad months, really. The hardest part of editing like this is the urge to give up and move on to something new. I was so disheartened some days to be still working on the same book when I have so many ideas for my next projects. I have new projects started, waiting for me, calling out my name! I had thought The Timekeepers’ War was done, I had cut the strings and moved on. I felt stuck.

I started procrastinating. I started to fear finishing it, actually. I was afraid that I would go through all of this, only to find that my novel was still nonpunishable. That I would be a failure at the one thing I really wanted to do. That I would let down everyone who had believed in me and supported me up to this point. Even thinking about my novel started to make me feel anxious and depressed.

Luckily those people who believed in and supported me, continued to do so. I was ready to throw in the towel on more than on occasion. But after a serious kick in the ass from my partner and biggest supporter, I realized that the only way I was going to fail all of these people, and fail myself, is if I stopped trying. I was going to quit because I was afraid to fail. That didn’t make sense. That didn’t even leave me a sliver of a chance to succeed. I’m no gambler, but those are some shitty odds. So I made myself do it.

And as I plowed through I realized that it’s a better novel now than it ever was. And what I considered my best before is sorely lacking compared to my best today. I have become a better writer for this process. And every time I have to do this in the future, I’m going to come out ahead. This is what it’s all about. Blood, sweat, and tears, no lie. Lots and lots of tears. It’s no cakewalk… no wonder so few people make it in the publishing game. Will I be one of them? Only time will tell. But I’ve learned so much in the process that, if nothing else, I can say that my attempt wasn’t a failure.

So the final result? I cut over 20,000 words from original text. I’m down to 127,191 words, down over 50 pages of info dense text. And I feel like a new person with a new and better book. I’m read to start all over again.

I will be looking for beta readers for this round, if anyone is interested in helping. Please send me a message.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review: Deliverance by James Dickey

I mostly intended to review science fiction and fantasy books on this blog, in keeping with the theme of my own novel. But I’m taking a break from SF for a bit, and I wanted to share my thoughts on this book with you.

I watched the movie, once upon a time, though I thought I knew what it was about and I thought it wouldn’t interest me. I was surprised to be wrong in both cases. And then surprised again when I discovered that Deliverance is a book as well as a movie, written in 1970 by one of America’s best known poets.

Or so they say. I don’t know much about American poets.

But after discovering that, despite its reputation, the movie was more about outdoor survival than cornholin’ hillbillies I decided to give this previously unknown (to me) American classic a try. And Dickey doesn’t disappoint!

I really liked this book, though I hovered between a three and four star rating. What had me leaning toward the three was the dialogue. All of the dialogue felt unnatural and forced, like watching old movies where every line is so thought out and perfect that you can’t imagine a person actually speaking that way. Even the use of colloquialism came off as contrived and stilted, and I had trouble picturing the characters as having a conversation. It was like they were speaking into a void, not playing off one another at all. And on top of that the narrative voice is inconsistent with the narrator’s speaking voice, which bothered me. Except for the usage of the word “I” to denote who was speaking, I would never have believed it was the same person. Perhaps this was done for stylistic reasons, but I felt it was awkward. This could be simply that I’m not sure what

This problem with dialogue is almost exacerbated by the pure and beautiful prose in between. Really, Dickey is a poet. He conjures stunning images with remarkable simplicity, and is well-able to evoke the spirit of that wild Georgian river and the fear and grandeur it inspires in four unskilled men who attempt to master it and themselves.

This is a very manly book—it is about men, and as near as I can tell (as a woman) it delivers a view of the world that is purely masculine. Indeed, the only appearances by women are like bookends to the story; they appear at the beginning and the end to offer contrast to the heart of the story. This didn’t offend me. It is interesting to see, actually, how little women and feminine imagery seemed to play in this text. Some reviewers have mentioned homoerotic undertones in Deliverance, and although I can see why they might interpret it that way, I felt it was something more than that (or less).

Ed, the narrator, and to a lesser degree, Drew and Bobby, idolize the über macho Lewis, whom they have followed into the wilds of southern Georgia. Lewis is the kind of man who doesn’t feel alive until his life is threatened—a disillusioned suburbanite who throws himself into thrill seeking hobbies to distract himself from his own mortality. Though the other men are mostly satisfied with their lives, Lewis’ need for adventure is contagious and they find themselves agreeing to a white water canoe trip that is completely out of their league.

The book is rife with comparisons between the men, physical and psychological, and most of this centres upon Ed’s idealization of Lewis’ masculinity and physical prowess. There is a sexualized kind of flavour to this idealization as well, though I felt it came out of Ed’s desire to be like Lewis rather than some repressed urge to sleep with him. Sure, Ed admires Lewis’ glistening thigh muscles a few times, but he does so through a lens of hero worship.

For Ed, this trip is about his own masculinity. He needs to prove to himself that he can be like Lewis, and when they get out there on the river, he needs to prove to himself that he can best nature. Nature is an interesting character in the book as well; the river plays as integral a role in the story as any of the four men. But Dickey keeps nature a nearly androgynous entity, and when he stray from this even nature becomes a masculine force. This is an odd departure from tradition in western literature, I think, especially for bodies of water which are nearly always described in feminine terms. Dickey’s nature is all crashing white water, sharp rocks, rigid cliff-faces, and roaring in the ears. It emasculates the group as surely as do the sodomizing hillbillies the book is so famous for.

Bobby coasts through to survival, but never manages to reclaim what he lost during the rape—it is suggested that he was a lesser man to begin with, and he is certainly diminished in the end, so much so that Ed cannot even look him in the eye again when they return to the city. Lewis, too, is reduced by the trip, though it is the river that bests him, not the men.

Ed’s reclamation of his own manhood comes as he climbs the rock face to the top of the gorge to face the gunman. Although he manages to kill his rival, it is really the climb itself that is representative of Ed’s growth, and which symbolizes the change in him. What is interesting is that climbing the cliff is one of the most sexualized scenes in the text, akin to the rape, as if by climbing the cliff Ed is taking something from nature which it does not want to give. When Ed looks down upon the river, from halfway up the cliff wall, he imagines he can see his own face in the rocks below—he has made nature his own, and he will survive because of it.

This is definitely a book I would recommend to people with an interest in the outdoors. I think it’s likely necessary to the enjoyment of the text. Dickey’s writing feels very true to the experience of being far from civilization, he seems to understand the vulnerability of man in nature. But I’m not sure it’s a thing that you can understand if you’ve never been there yourself. Not that you have to be flying down a gorge in a canoe to understand the power of nature, and it is easy to imagine that kind of fear without doing it oneself. Yet I can see how the subtlety of Dickey’s prose—particularly in Ed’s more reflective moods—might be lost on someone who hasn’t spent a night in the woods. Dickey believes in that power, even in the calmness of a moonlit campsite on the edge of a tranquil stretch of water. And I do too.

Collaborative Writing Opportunity for SF Lovers

Hi, all!

I just discovered a wonderful blog, and I wanted to share. If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, but don’t have the time, or have a ton of great ideas and can’t find a way to bring them all together, you might want to check out The Stone Soup Novelist.

This blog is dedicated to writing a science fiction novel with the collaboration of as many SF readers and writers who are willing to share their ideas. Check out “The Story” page for some background on the backbone idea, and then start brainstorming!

Of course, there is no guarantee that your ideas will be used in the final product. The author is using a voting system to decide which ideas are best. Even if you don’t have an idea to share, you can still vote for your favourites. But don’t be shy! The more ideas are posted, the more conversation will be generated, and the more interesting the end work will be. I think this is a great idea, and I will be contributing. I think the more people who get involved, the better the novel will be (and I’m sure the Stone Soup Novelist would agree).

So if you have a few minutes to spare, jump in and start tossing some ideas around. This is a great opportunity for all of you creative people who are looking for an outlet. Focus that energy!

Band-Aid Approach?

It’s official.

I have been rejected.

It seems I was tempting fate with yesterday’s post. No less than three hours after I put it out there, I got my first rejection. A form rejection! Or so I assume, as this little note was more than vaguely familiar to me from my internet wanderings. Disgruntled authors everywhere have posted almost verbatim rejection examples:

Hello S.C. Jensen,

Thank you for sharing The Timekeepers War with us.

We have carefully considered your submission. I’m afraid that we are not enthusiastic enough about your query to pursue it further. Because of changes in the marketplace we are taking on few clients right now, and as such have to be very selective about the projects we do sign.

Thanks again for thinking of us and we wish you the very best of luck in finding a home for your work.

Sincerely,

Some Agent

Now, my initial feeling was one of disbelief. Really? They “carefully considered [my] submission” in four days, two of which were on the weekend? Every agency I’ve queried stated turn around times of 6-8 weeks (including this one). Four days is pretty impressive. I’m a little suspicious that I didn’t just get shunted into the trash pile after some intern decided she didn’t like the look of my margin formatting.

I also don’t want to set myself up for even greater disappointment in the long run. Still, it’s hard to just lay down and take it. It’s the artists’ age-old battle between ego and common sense, I guess. But if I’m going to do my peers (past, present, and future) any justice, I really have no choice but to put my guns behind my ego. It’s waaaay to early in the game to let common sense get a foothold. I might be forced to quite writing and get a “real job”. Balls to that.

Let’s not get carried away. Some agent has rejected me. There is nothing to do but learn from the experience, right? I figure I might as well share it, too. There is little enough concrete information for new writers out there. If my aim is to discuss my personal experience with trying to get a first novel published I can’t shy away from the icky bits, can I?

As for the experience of rejection itself, right now I’m simply trying to decide whether or not the form letter is a better or worse way to receive a rejection. I’m kind of on the fence about it.

On one hand, it’s impersonal. If there were specific reasons given for said agent rejecting my query, it might feel a little more real than it does right now. It would have been harder, but also more helpful, to receive a rejection that showed some evidence that the intern/agent actually looked at the sample chapters. I would actually be thrilled to receive a rejection letter that contained some real, constructive criticism.

I’ll make that my next milestone goal, I guess. The form rejection feels a little like a milestone, itself. At least it’s some proof to myself that I’m actually doing this. I’ve actually written a novel. I’ve actually put together an author’s query. I’ve actually submitted it to real literary agents. These are big steps, and I know that a lot of writers never even make it to their first rejection. In a way, this is confirmation that I am an author.

Maybe I’ll print it off. Frame it. After I find someone to represent me, that is.

Although a part of me really truly believed that the first agent to read the first five pages of my manuscript would want to sign me immediately, the rest of me knew this was coming. Still, it sucks. But I’m moving on!

Phil gave me an encouraging perspective on the whole thing yesterday, though. He told me that since someone will want to publish me, every rejection letter I receive is taking me one step closer to finding that someone. I’m not sure that his theory stands up to statistical analysis, but I like the sound of it. It totally supports my current egocentric writers-survival-tactic.

What about you? Is there anyone else out there with similar experiences? Horror stories? Success stories? Let me know in the comments section. We writers have to stick together and help each other out, right?

Either that, or we’re supposed to live like hermits and tear each other apart on the internet. I can never remember.

Fear and Loathing…

The artists’ bread and butter, right?

That and alcoholism, depression, and the inevitable night-terrors…

Well, let me just tell you that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Ya, okay. Fine. It sounds shitty when I put it like that. But I’m not the only weirdo out there who read William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, and Hunter S. Thompson and felt inspired instead of horrified. Right? Please tell me there are others other there!

Never mind then.

Regardless of one’s aspirations, for those of us who are new to the writing profession (or new to trying to be professional about it), there is something wholly soul-crushing about these first steps into realm of writerdom. The great cliched emotional roller-coaster of first novels, query letters, submissions and rejections is something impossible to understand without having been there yourself. Really. I thought I knew, until I submitted my first query letter, what that fear would be like. I really did.

But the truth is, until you do it, you don’t know. That looming cloud of impending doom that settles over you once your story–your baby–is out there, a veritable child in the woods… It is so unimaginable that there’s really no point in trying to describe it. You either know or you don’t. And now I know.

I haven’t even gotten my first rejection letter yet.

Right now, I almost feel like rejection would be a welcome, concrete island in this void of “unknown”. Almost. Except really, rejection will crush me. I know it will. I try to pretend that it won’t, but it will.

I have had my manuscript out to my beta-readers, those poor unsuspecting family members and friends who suddenly found themselves in the unhappy position of having to bullshit me for the sake of my fragile “artist” ego. They all came through for me. I have been able to sustain my self-delusion just a little bit longer.

Still. I vacillate, daily, between the two inevitable extremes: “This is going to be the next big SF bestseller, bitches, move the fuck over!” and “How did this POS ever escape my brain and manifest itself on the electronic page before me?!?”

You know what I mean. Some of you.

The point is, the waiting is the worst. Even if the next couple of months have nothing for me but rejection after rejection, at least then I’ll have something to go on. I can decide that the problem is my query letter, or those first five pages, or something else… anything! Anything except my baby.

In the meantime, I’m distracting myself with another attempt at writing some short fiction. I have just submitted my folk-inspired ghost story “Dreaming in Red” to Strange Horizons. And I’m working on another for submission… somewhere else.

Wish me luck, and I’ll keep you posted. Well, I’ll keep you posted whether you wish me luck or not. The onus is on you to check in on me. Drop me a word of encouragement in the comments below. Please! I’d love to hear from anyone who has gone through this before, regardless of the outcome. Also, those who just want to cheer me on. I could use it. Really, I could.

Here it is.

Here I am. Welcome to Sarah Does Sci-Fi. This is the place where curious acquaintances and casual voyeurs can take a peek into the life of myself, S.C. Jensen. According to my profile, I am a writer and artist living in the Middle-of-Nowhere, SK. And this is mostly true.

I am a writer, and sometimes I’m an artist–I enjoy photography, drawing, watercolour, oil and pastel painting on a purely amateur level–and I do live in the Middle-of-Nowhere. My Middle-of-Nowhere happens to be in Northern Saskatchewan, though I am aware that other Nowheres do exist.

I should admit now, though,  in case some of you will later feel betrayed; this blog has some ulterior motives. Namely, to create some kind of public profile for myself… It has come to my attention that one can’t really be considered a writer these days without some kind of blog attesting to and violently reiterating the fact. Therefore, I plan to use SDSF to vent some of my ideas on, and struggles with, being a writer. Possibly also to review books that I am reading, or movies that I am watching, and generally speaking to the art of storytelling.

I’ll leave it up to to reader to decide whether or not I am qualified.

In any case, if you’ve made it this far, I’ll thank you for your interest. Please let me know if you have questions or comments, or if there is something you would like to see here.