This was a story originally created for a competition. But it also came from a very wacky idea I had had several years previously.
The concept was, how would First Contact happen? And so I hit upon a very strange way to do it.
Because TV is more important to many of us than we would care to admit, the idea was a simple one.
My aliens would have to originally contact us on television. And, even better, it would have to be via the medium of fiction. But what would be the best means of doing this? After all, TV shows are cancelled all the time.
And then I hit upon the more or less perfect answer.
And so the idea was born – my aliens would make contact with us via the soaps.
My Aliens: the Characters
The characters are not of this earth, of course. The only two who really get names are Chaz and Katherinemma. Katherinemma got her name because Alyssa Milano had (at the time) recently named her daughter Elizabella. So K got her name as a kind of homage to that.
And Chaz, of course, was the most typical and obvious male soap star name we could think of.
Some of my favorite parts of this story are how the action zooms from the strangers thinking about contacting Earth to the stars getting here. And then, of course, they have to get to Area 51 (because, reasons). And, of course, the daytime Emmy awards.
No good soap opera would ever be complete without a dramatic scene with a slap. No good story about celebrities would ever be complete without some crazed fan screaming about having her idol’s baby. And no good science fiction yarn would ever be complete without something with tentacles.
Fortunately, the story has all of that.
It also has what, I feel, is perhaps the funniest ending line I have ever written.
All My Aliens is probably a K when you get right down to it.
Here are three things you can do if you have received a rejection from an agent or a publisher.
1) Mourn. Yes, mourn! It kinda hurts so allow yourself to feel hurt. But! Put a time limit on that. As in a week. Then consider yourself done with mourning what was.
2) Stick it in a drawer for three months, minimum. Let it go and move onto other things (another good reason to work on a lot of stuff at once).
3) After the magical three months (or more) have elapsed, take out the file and the rejection slip.
Consider a few objective things: (a) was it the wrong genre for that publisher? Then be more careful next time and keep track of which publisher accepts which kinds of works. (b) was it not submitted correctly? Then take the time to do submissions right. Do they want an attachment? Then send one next time. Do they want just the pitch and three chapters? Then send that. Do they just want the pitch? Then only send that. You get the idea. (c) Did you submit to more than one publisher when this one said they didn’t like that? Then don’t do that again.
Also consider subjective things: (a) did they not understand what your story is about? Then you need to work on your pitch/blurb. A writers’ group is a great place to do that. (b) did they say they had trouble getting through your story? Then you need to edit that sucker. Never mind if you already did. Edit again. And consider working with a pro editor. They are pricey but that is for a good reason. If you absolutely cannot afford a professional editor, then you need to hack away at your work yourself. So determine whether scenes or characters can be combined, as a start. Go back to beta feedback (you did work with beta readers, right?) and figure out what you hand waved away and work on what they told you to do. Because they were probably at least partly right. (c) did they say it just wasn’t for them? Then figure out why. Maybe they got three other moose detective stories before yours. Or maybe they’re closing the imprint you queried to. Maybe they’re just swamped.
Most importantly, keep the fires burning. Keep works in five categories:
Idea stage. You’re just kicking this one around.
Outlining stage. If you don’t outline, then consider this the ‘serious ideas’ stage.
I’ve found it helps to consider some scenes. Not to write them. You may even want to role play them. And consider, e. g. when, say, a main character named Jennifer reveals she’s a zombie (or whatever your story is about), then there has to be some time before where the other characters think she’s a normal person. Hence that scene doesn’t come at the very beginning.
And I am suggesting a middle or even ending scene like this and not the start because I think it puts less pressure on me (your mileage may vary).
Hence the idea is to consider dependencies. I also will use a kind of (it’s not the official ‘snowflake method‘) starburst method where I will take a legal pad and write a major character’s name (or what the character is if I don’t have a name yet, e. g. the cab driver) and circle it. Just write it in the middle of the sheet. Then draw spokes coming from the circle, as many as you like, and write more character names in circles, on the other ends of the spokes. Then, along the spokes themselves, write the connections. Not every character needs to connect to all of the others.
So in the example, Jennifer the zombie might connect to a cab driver because he picks her up after a concert. Some of those connections might turn into scenes, some of them might become back story. Or they might be scuttled. There’s no need to write absolutely everything.
Now we have Jennifer at a concert. Maybe she’s performing. And so we can work backwards a little, to determine a bit about her life or even when she became a zombie (maybe it was during music school).
We also go forward with the plot. Where does the cab driver take her? Maybe he takes her home. Or maybe he takes her to wherever she reveals she’s a zombie. Or maybe he kidnaps her. She might even make him her victim.
Consider where you want her story to begin. With her schooling? When she became a zombie? Right before she gets into that cab?
Consider where you want her story to end. With her revelation? Or with people accepting her new condition? With them killing her? Or with her striking back?
Hence you also ask questions (and you can have your friends ask you questions if you like, such as how she got zombified or whatever).
It’s not perfect; you still need transitions, but it works.
The original image was a dreamy almost black and white, very shades of gray type of image. It was a wooden pathway into the woods, bending and seemingly with no ending.
The narrator is never named. She talks about her grandmother’s death from smoking, and her father’s from a transport accident. She mentions aliens and flying. Hence the time must be the future, and perhaps it is a rather deep future versus right now.
And then the narrator talks about making art. As she describes her process, the reader begins to understand that the narrator has screwed something up royally. Whether there has been an explosion or a fire, it hardly seems to matter. Because all that matters is that (spoiler alert), the narrator numbers among the dead.
The only character is the unnamed narrator, although she refers to her father and her grandmother.
This story is odd and dreamy and probably a little too spiritual for regular consumption. Also, there is just no way it could ever get a sequel or the like. Could I take it off Wattpad and submit it to an anthology? I suppose I could but, frankly, I do not think it stands as one of my better works. The piece is old and the seams do show. Still, it is an interesting premise, and perhaps I should rework it one of these days.
How was fourth quarter 2020 for writing? So I spent fourth quarter 2020 working on NaNoWriMo. So this was either planning, or writing, or editing. The end of 2020 could not come fast enough.
Fourth Quarter 2020 Posted Works
First of all, I worked on the November 2020 NaNo novel. So this was planning and preparation, plus some research in October. Then of course in November I wrote like the wind! And finally in December, I wrapped up more of the storyline and edited a bit. The book clocked in at a bit over 65,000 words.
Then on Wattpad I posted on the WattNaNo profile and nowhere else.
I also got some professional accolades, and have a good 10 articles published in Enterpreneur magazine. So of course this is huge for my career!
Also, I have written over two and a half million words (fan fiction and wholly original fiction combined). So right now my stats on Wattpad for wholly original works are as follows:
Dinosaurs – 323 reads, 9 comments
How to NaNoWriMo – 22,775 reads, 308 comments
My Favorite Things (like kibble) – 972 reads, 133 comments
The Obolonk Murders Trilogy – so this one is all about a tripartite society. But who’s killing the aliens?
The Enigman Cave – can we find life on another planet and not screw it up? You know, like we do everything else?
The Real Hub of the Universe Trilogy – so the aliens who live among us in the 1870s and 1880s are at war. But why is that?
Mettle – so it’s all about how society goes to hell in a hand basket when the metals of the periodic table start to disappear. But then what?
Time Addicts – No One is Safe – so this one is all about what happens in the future when time travel becomes possible via narcotic.
Time Addicts – Nothing is Permanent – this is the second in this trilogy. What happens when time is tampered with and manipulated in all sorts of ways? It’s the ultimate in gaslighting, for one thing.
Time Addicts – Everything is Up For Grabs – coming in 2021!
So, for this year’s NaNoWriMo, I wrote the second novel in the Time Addicts/Obolonks universe. A lot of this year has been spent on the plot for it. At this point in time, it’s just about time to start editing it. I have called this one Time Addicts – Nothing is Permanent.
Fourth Quarter 2020 Queries and Submissions
So here’s how that is been going during fourth quarter 2020.
As of fourth quarter 2020, the following are still in the running for publishing (I withdrew some and didn’t resubmit because … 2020):
A Thousand One Stories
Soul Rentals ‘R’ Us
I Used to Be Happy
Who Do We Blame for This?
All Other Statuses
So be sure to see the Stats section for some details on any query statuses for fourth quarter 2020 which were not in progress.
So in 2018, my querying stats were:
68 submissions of 19 stories
Acceptances: 4, 5.88%
In Progress-Under Consideration: 3, 4.41% (so these don’t seem to have panned out)
In Progress: 10, 14.71%
Rejected-Personal: 14, 20.59%
Rejected-Form: 24, 35.29%
Ghosted: 13 (so these were submissions where I never found out what happened), 19.12%
So in 2019 my querying stats were:
23 submissions of 11 stories (so 6 submissions carry over from 2018)
Acceptances: 4, 17.39%
In Progress-Under Consideration: 0, 0%
In Progress: 11 (so this includes 2 holdovers from 2018), 47.83%
Rejected-Personal: 4, 17.39%
Rejected-Form: 3, 13.04%
Ghosted: 1 (so these are submissions where I never found out what happened), 4.35%
So in 2020 my querying stats so far are:
37 submissions of 12 stories (so 9 submissions carry over from 2019)
Acceptances: 3, 8.11%
In Progress-Under Consideration: 0, 0%
In Progress: 7, 18.92%
Rejected-Personal: 12, 32.43%
Rejected-Form: 4, 10.81%
Ghosted: 11 (so these are submissions where I never found out what happened), 29.73%
It can be pretty discouraging and hard to go on when nothing new comes up which is positive. It was a huge lift when Killing Us Softly and Darkness Into Light got acceptances!
This Quarter’s Productivity Killers
So it’s work, what else? I am working on a ton of things and so much of that is also writing. Hence, it can sometimes burn me out. Because fourth quarter 2020 will not be the end of that!
So thanks to the fine folks at Canva, there’s a new holiday image and I’ve got to say I really love it.
Plus I was getting a little tired of reusing the older holiday post. Hence here’s something new which I hope will be a lot more timeless.
Because the year is drawing to a close, I get a bit pensive. So I often wonder if the year worked out all right. Did I accomplish everything I had wanted to? What were my obstacles? And how did I try to overcome them? That is, if I tried to at all ….
In addition, this is when I start to look forward to the following year. Some of this is in terms of resolutions. And some of this is in terms of goal making. Because I am working on becoming a more regular writer, many of these goals center around writing. But also around its ancillary activities. Because editing, proofreading, beta reading (both for me, and for me to do for others), and promotions are also important.
A writer, if they are at all serious, will have to do all of these things. And by the way, that is even true of big time famous authors. They have to accept editing. And they have to promote their works. Plus we all need to work on our craft. None of us are perfect.
So without further ado, here are some possible goals for next year.
Next Year’s Goals (More or Less)
Goals come in a few flavors.
So in 2018, one great goal worked out beautifully. It was to write every day, every other month. Now, sometimes that was a bit difficult to do. There were some days when I just plain didn’t want to write something on top of everything else. But the discipline, I feel, was good for me. So that’s one goal.
Dovetailing with this goal was writing short works during the off months. This I did a lot of although not enough. It came in mighty handy during my most tired days to already have a draft, and just need to polish and type it. Hence I need to do that more.
Another goal from 2018 was to use the off months to promote. This one did not work out quite so well. Life was busy and I was tired. And I was suffering from some wicked imposter syndrome on top of everything else. Hence I will need to work harder to promote. Fortunately, this blog is a part of my promotional efforts.
Yet another goal from 2018 was to query my unpublished works. And again, my adherence to that goal was kind of spotty. So I will need to do better in that area. It may help to get the whole process more organized. And I have been trying to do just that. In addition, I need to know when to throw in the towel and instead pull the trigger on self-publishing. For some works, that might be the best or even the only place to get them out there.
A related goal is to really learn as much about self-publishing as I can, from the top down. This also ties in with promotions, to understand how to best promote my work and get it in front of the biggest audiences. It might be in the form of giveaways, swag, conferences, conventions, or something else.
Finally, writing is a community and that means we need to have each others’ backs. While Facebook has splintered badly in that area, Twitter is still a good place. Following and participating in author hashtags like #AuthorConfession or #OneLineWed already help. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve got over 1,000 Twitter followers. That is a tipping point in Twitter, I’ve noticed. In general, an account starts to get people following for the sake of following. However, one thing I need to work on is if I can shunt some of the accounts I’m following to lists instead, and then unfollow. Because if the number of people I’m following stays below the number of people who are following me, it should help to bolster my influence.
I realize this was a bit of a heavy topic for the holidays. Are you looking forward to next year? Are you planning, or just winging it?
Aging happens to all of us, even if we die young. And much like children experience various developmental stages, our aging has some stages, too. However, in order to avoid repeating myself, let’s throw out a caveat here and only look at age forty and up.
For most people in their forties, this decade is a good place to be. Any children are often out of the house or are just about to be. Perimenopause has started for most women. And while that can sometimes be challenging, it’s a signal of things to come. Work can be at or near its zenith in terms of pay and responsibilities. And the house might even be paid for by this time, or close to it.
However, for some people, this is the age bracket when early-onset Alzheimer’s begins.
Going beyond the forties means more wear and tear on all bodies. By this time, most women are fully menopausal, although on rare occasions a woman in her fifties becomes pregnant. However, if she does decided to keep her child, she and her child have increased risks of problems.
For people who had children while in their thirties, this decade means sending them to college (and paying for it). Or it can mean getting them married (and possibly paying for that) or starting to work. Furthermore, not every child can afford to leave home and so people in their fifties may find they are still living with their kids. In addition, many people become grandparents during this decade.
This is also a decade to catch up on retirement savings and begin to assess options.
While 65 was once the standard retirement age, that’s no longer the case. For people in more sedentary jobs, they might continue to work throughout this decade. In the United States, Social Security rewards you the longer you stay in the work force, so some people may try to make it through the decade.
Parents can often become grandparents in this decade, if they haven’t already. And their children may start to become a lot more financially independent. That’s a good thing, as people in their sixties need to think about the future even more. And it’s the decade when people start to (more often) become the target of scam artists. In addition, widows comprise about one-third of all persons aged 65 and older.
However, if you make it past 45, life expectancy for both genders is in the eighties. Hence if you are in a couple, and you’re still together, you may even be during much of this decade. The differences in life expectancy for both sexes flatten out.
For people who have grandchildren, they are often grown or almost grown by now. And pretty much everyone in this age group should at least be thinking about help with the basics of life, everything from navigating stairs to running errands or doing chores.
Aging to the Nineties and Beyond
It’s hard to say if the incidence of Alzheimer’s goes down. Some studies seem to support this although in all fairness, the sample size is understandably smaller. Hence if the doubling incidence continues, that would mean virtually everyone in this age group would be showing at least a few symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, cancer is uncommon as a cause of death. However, even more people become widowed by now. And it might even be the second time that they have become widows or widowers.
Some people become great-grandparents during this decade (or during the previous one), although that depends a lot on a group’s age(s) at becoming parents. Very few people live alone or independently by now.
Is there an upper limit to how long we can live? That’s probably not something we can prove, at least not now. However, the oldest-ever confirmed individual was Jeanne Calment, who died when she was 122 and a half.
Aging: Some Takeaways
Beyond dry statistics about life expectancy, disease prevalence, and widowhood, aging can bring with it grace, or wisdom, or bitterness. All of these are choices, and many more, for your aging characters. Because not every interesting character is young, you know.
Consider beta readers and editors – what’s the difference? Does it matter which one you use to help with your manuscript?
Beta readers are people who read over your work. They evaluate it before it gets anywhere near a publisher. They might read for typos, spelling errors, grammatical issues, and punctuation problems, but that is not a very good way to work with them.
Beta Readers and Continuity Checks
Instead, you want them to help you with flow and continuity. If your main character is female and 5’2″ and has a chihuahua on page 4, then she should still be female, 5’2″, and the owner of a chihuahua on page 204, unless there is some on-page reason why she isn’t. E. g.:
They are transgender, and successfully transitioned (with or without surgery) to male. Or the character no longer identifies as female or male.
The character had a growth spurt and is taller, or has osteoporosis, and became shorter. Or maybe her legs were amputated (sorry, character!).
She gave away the chihuahua, or it ran away, etc.
The last thing you want is for your beta reader to wonder where the chihuahua went, particularly if the little dog isn’t a big part of the story.
Good beta readers are in the demographics of the people you’re trying to reach with your novel. They like your genre or at least are willing to read in it and offer feedback. They don’t tear you a new one when they don’t like something, but they are also unafraid to tell you if something isn’t working for them.
Some Questions to Ask Them
Are the characters believable? Are they distinguishable?
Do you think the situations are plausible?
Are there good descriptions for the scenes? Can you picture yourself where the characters are?
Do the transitions work?
Are the conflicts plausible?
Is the conclusion a satisfying one?
Also ask about genre-specific issues, such as whether your mystery was too easy or difficult to solve, if your horror story was scary enough, if the technobabble in your science fiction novel was credible, etc.
The best way to get a beta reader is to be one! Offer a trade with another indie. Usually this work is done for free. So be kind, and either recommend your beta reader friend or at least donate a little something to one of their three favorite charities.
Editors are more professional than beta readers and are generally people you hire. They will do copy editing, where they check for typos, etc., although there should be a last pass by a proofreader before publishing, no matter what.
Editors can also check for continuity, but they will mainly read with the audience in mind. They are a good enhancement to the work of a beta reader, and are a good idea before you send your work out for querying.
The best way to get an editor is to do some research. Ask people you know are published. After all, an editor no longer has to live in the same city or country as you (but you will do best with someone who is a native speaker of the language your book is in). Work with the editor on a sample chapter. Do you get along? Are his or her suggestions reasonable? Are they slow?
And if you are absolutely, utterly stuck for funds, try a local college or university. You might be able to get an English major to help you, but be aware they probably won’t have experience and they may not be the best fit. But they may be all you’ve got.
And make sure to have a written agreement with them! This is a sample copyediting contract, and it’s pretty good. Be sure to change the contract to indicate the laws of your state apply!
Starting can be fraught with stress and worry. You can, at times, wonder if what you’re doing is worthwhile at all. But don’t worry; it is.
One year I created a kind of web. I had the main character and put her name in a circle on paper. Then I drew a bunch of lines radiating out. I connected her to other characters and then, on the lines, wrote why they connected – whatever it was (and she didn’t have to connect to everyone, of course). That got me to start creating scenes, and I ordered them. Some ended up just being little scenelets. I did this with all of the major characters and eliminated redundancies. Once I had the order down, I started to think about transitions between scenes.
Points of View
This web concept worked very well for a story with one main character. For The Real Hub of the Universe series, Ceilidh was always the center of things and everything would happen from her point of view. If she did not directly witness something, she would have to read about it or learn about it in some other fashion. Sometimes this meant that another character would have to have a conversation with her.
For a piece with multiple points of view, the process can differ. This time, the web is more like a series of intersecting rings. How do characters relate? What do they see, feel, and hear, touch and taste? Who do they know, or like, or despise? What are their goals? What are their prejudices? With Mettle, there are nine separate points of view, although some of them (like Eleanor’s) aren’t the focus too often. Instead, characters with more “screen time”, such as Nell, Craig, and Elise, had to do more of the heavy lifting. One thing which helped a great deal (and it was serendipity, I swear!) was that one of the major plot points concerned lessons which the middle schooler characters had not yet had. Therefore, a part of the exposition became teaching them. As they were taught, so was the reader.
This is one of the reasons why so many television programs kick off with someone moving or getting a new job, or the start of a relationship. Newness is appealing, yes, but it’s also because that gives an expository “out”. If everyone in the book or TV show knows how high Niagara Falls is, then they won’t need to bother talking about it. But if one character does not know, then the audience or reader learns this piece of information at the same time that the ignorant character does. That’s ignorant in terms of “not knowing” rather than being dumb, FYI.
Starting a Piece: Some Takeaways
If you’re still having a hard time starting, recognize that it can also be a species of writer’s block. But if the stress is really bad, you can always write about it.
The physical world can inspire, whether it’s the Appalachian Trail, or your bedroom, or the Himalayas. And while not everyone can live in Paris or visit Yosemite National Park, we can all be inspired by our own personal universes. Moreover, if your world can inspire you, then your readers can come along for the ride.
The Great Indoors
So consider The Chronicles of Narnia. Why? Because the means of traveling to a magical world is via a common ordinary wardrobe. And how about Alice in Wonderland? Lewis Carroll told his story about a lot of things Alice Liddell already knew, such as chair legs and a deck of cards.
So from your desk to your computer or chair, what can you really see when you look closely? Also, go beyond the somewhat common idea of a computer sucking someone into cyberspace. It’s not a bad idea; it’s just been done a lot. Maybe your character is buried by paper. Or they end up in the vacuum cleaner. Attics and cellars can seem very frightening. What about the walls, or the ceiling?
The Physical World Includes The Great Outdoors
And then we get to the outside. So what do we see? Carroll saw hedgehogs, dormice, and rabbits. We can also see plants, of course. Are they large and menacing, or small and fragrant? And what about natural structures or scenery, such as mountains, rivers, lakes, and canyons?
Part of The Wizard of Oz takes place in an apple orchard. It’s easy to see how and why L. Frank Baum imagined trees talking and even throwing fruit. How about imagining how a certain structure came to be? We all know (or at least we should) that craters come from falling meteors or even comet strikes. But what if a crater exists because a spaceship landed there? A structure like Stonehenge can also inspire.
Get outside and take stock of your surroundings. They may inspire more than you think.