Writing

NOW IN PRINT – The Woman Who Fell Through Time

NOW IN PRINT – The Woman Who Fell Through Time

It lives! Many people have been asking when there’ll be a paperback edition of “The Woman Who Fell Through Time”, and I’m happy to say that with the help of the incomparably generous Rodney V. Smith (cover) and the time and talent of Brienne E. Wright (interiors), the novel is now available to buy in book-shape!

Happy reading, and if you enjoyed it, please, please, please leave a review on GoodReads, Amazon, and on your personal social media. Thanks!

The Woman Who Fell Through Time

(Here There Be, September 2020)

#TimeTravel #KissingGirlsIsNice #LetsChangeHistory!

Armed with a newly minted university degree and a plane ticket to Paris, Jessie’s plan was to celebrate graduation in the City of Love, kissing as many drunk French girls (or boys, she’s not picky) as she can. Only, she never makes it. When her plane goes down mid-Atlantic she’s pulled from what should have been a watery grave by an intriguing British Naval Captain—in 1805!

Stuck in Regency-era England, Jessie is left with no choice but to enter into the services of the Captain’s sister as a lady’s companion. But she didn’t reckon on the sister being Margaret Goodenough, the world-famous authoress whose yet-to-be-completed novel was the first lesbian kiss in the history of British Literature.

And Jessie’s not just entranced by Margaret’s powerful words…

As their attraction grows, Jessie must tread the tenuous line between finding her own happiness in a world where she is alone, and accidentally changing the future of the queer rights movement. Is Jessie’s duty to preserve Margaret’s history-making book? Or to the happiness of its author, the woman she’s learning to love?

eBook is currently only available through Radish. Paperback available through Here There Be Publishing.

Amazon  Barnes & Noble Glad Day BookshopChapters Indigo The Book Depository GoodReadsRead The Novel On Radish Read An Excerpt On Wattpad

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WORDS FOR WRITERS – Do You Need That Prologue?

WORDS FOR WRITERS – Do You Need That Prologue?

 

Question: Do you agree with Brian Klems that agents don’t like prologues? Brian says only use one if it’s “out of time sequence,” which mine is (it’s also necessary to the story). He suggests, if a writer has a prologue, changing the name to “chapter one,” even if it’s out of time sequence. Would you agree? Thanks for your input.

My first thought regarding this advice is this:

Be wary of absolutes in an industry that is entirely subjective.

No one person speaks for all hundred thousand agents that exist.

In terms of actually writing your book, my craft-related advice would be this: I want you to ask yourself two questions.

#1 – What are you saying in this prologue that you can’t say anywhere else? Step back, and examine what information, exactly, you’re looking to convey to the reader within your prologue. Why does it have to exist? Why is this information necessary for the story?

#2 – In what way does this prologue enhance the overall experience the reader has with the story. This is harder to explain, so I’ll give you an example: in Adrienne Kress’s delightful MG novel “Alex and the Ironic Gentleman”, there is a prologue that establishes the fact of a historical event between two characters, the words as they were actually said, and the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes of the two participants.

This is important, because for the rest of the zany, episodic book, the characters are trying to track down their treasure, and they keep misrepresenting and misinterpreting the facts and the relationship between these historical characters. The readers know what really happened though, so every time it’s gotten wrong by the characters, the readers have a good giggle. It enhances the story.

Once you’ve nailed that down, then have a good long think. If your prologue – #1) conveys vital information to understanding the plot and character that can literally be put nowhere else in the narrative and #2) enhances the overall understanding/enjoyment/experience of the reader as they go through the book, then it’s necessary and you should keep it.

If it doesn’t do one of those things, then I would rethink where that other thing it does can be slipped into the narrative elsewhere, and ditch the prologue. If it does neither of those things, it’s likely not necessary, and again, you can ditch the prologue.

Now that you’ve decided whether your prologue is necessary at all, let’s move onto Brian’s advice about renaming it “Chapter One”.

Presumably, any agent who likes your pitch and wants to read either a partial or a full of your book, likes your book. Or at least the idea of the book they think you wrote. Also presumably, if they like your pitch, they’re willing to trust that you know how to tell your story the best way possible, and will therefore be fine with you having a prologue.

Any agent who passes on or stops reading your book simply because the first word in the manuscript is “Prologue” is likely someone who won’t be a good fit for you, anyway.

But it’s up to you to really prove in the narrative and storytelling that this prologue deserves to exist – because having a weak or unnecessary prologue on a book is pretty much assures that it’ll be passed on. (Not an absolute guarantee, but a very high percentage of likelihood.)

You can choose to rename the prologue “Chapter One” if you like – it might help to avoid knee-jerk rejections from any agent who has negative opinions of prologues, or at least keep the negative association of prologues out of their heads as then engage with your manuscript for the first time.

But likewise, it may also seem disingenuous and tricksy if it’s clearly a prologue that isn’t labelled as such, or if you sign with that agent and provide the full manuscript later, and the chapters are relabelled.

So, I put a third question to you:

#3) Is it actually “Chapter One”?

A lot of people think that just because a section of the story is told out of order, out of time, or out of reality, and that chapter is first, it has to be a prologue. But if it’s necessary and if it enhances the reader’s understanding of the narrative, and it’s still part of the same sequence of events that make up the narrative (even if it is not in order within that sequence)… that’s part of the novel.

This one is also hard to explain, so another example:

In my book Triptych, I kill the main love interest in the first paragraph and then spend the rest of the novel in the years prior to the moment that bullet leaves the barrel of the gun so you understand the full scope of the tragedy that his death is. And that also effects the reader’s understanding of the book because every time the character does something you love or makes you happy, it’s tinged with this grief and sorrow of knowing that he’s already dead.

That he’ll die. That it’s both about to happen and already happened. Just like looking back on the memory of a loved one who has passed–it’s both happy, because the moment was a happy one, and weighted by grief, because that person is gone forever.

It changes the emotional framework from which the reader engages with the narrative.

It’s still a part of the sequence of events of the novel, and so it’s a “Chapter One”, not a Prologue.

              In summary:

Ask yourself these three questions when polishing your manuscript, to make sure that your narrative is as strong as it can be and if, in the end, you decide to include a prologue, that prologue is vital, necessary, and useful to the reader experience of the manuscript. And if it’s not – scrap it in order to make sure your book is the strongest version of itself.

*

Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS posts here or ASK ME HERE.

 

 

 

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WORDS FOR WRITERS – Narrative Conflict

WORDS FOR WRITERS – Narrative Conflict

Stories are, fundamentally, all about conflicts.

In most stories, your Protagonist wants something – to change a rule in the government, to avenge a death of a loved one, to hook up with the cutie from band practice, to dispel a witch’s curse – and your Antagonist usually wants something that is in direct opposition of the Protagonists’ want. And if there’s no Antagonist (be it a person or society), then there’s something else standing in the Protagonist’s way.

From those opposing wants come the Narrative Conflict. And from Narrative Conflict comes plot.

In generally, there are seven kinds of Narrative Conflict. When deciding what the conflict of your story is going to be – that is, what is going to drive the plot – the strongest stories often feature multiple kinds of conflict, which has the Protagonist in opposition not only with a specific Antagonist, but also usually with some internalized pressure, and some societal issue.

I hope these are helpful in your quest to create a complex and realistic set of conflicts for your protagonist to overcome or succumb to. Best of luck!

Internal Conflicts

Person vs. Self

This is a story about someone struggling with something within themselves – either genetic, or cultural and internalized – which gets in the way of something they want, or a desire.

May focus on topics/issues around:

-Gender & Sex
-Morals & Taboos
-Truth & Lying about/to oneself
-body dysmorphia
-Ambition & drive
-Desire & Lust

Example: “Cinderella Boy” by Kristina Meister

Person vs. Society / Institution

This is a story about someone struggling with truths, beliefs, customs and taboos imparted to and internalized by the protagonist by an outside organization, such as a church/religion, school system, military complex, etc.

May focus on topics/issues around:

-the ability to declare oneself a person and believing it / not being recognized as a person under the law
-the truth of one’s own gender and/ or sex
-Struggling to overcome internalized prejudices, fears, and ‘truths’ of a state propaganda

Example: “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison

Person vs. Machine/Technology

This is a story about someone struggling with their personal relationship with technology, or is a piece of technology themselves struggling with their own personhood.

May focus on topics/issues around:

-Is a robot a person? Can they declare themselves a person? Do they have thoughts and feelings, emotions and desires?
-The dangers of technological dependence
-The pervasiveness of technology in everyday life
-How technology gets in the way of or improves personal relationships

Example: “A.I.” (film)

Person vs. Faith/Religion/The God(s)

This is a story about someone struggling with their own personal belief, religion, and faith. In these stories, God(s) may or may not actually be real, but the focus is on the self and the spark of one’s own connection to the divine.

May focus on topics/issues around:

-Loss of faith
-Discovering and confronting hypocrisy in one’s religion or one’s family/friends
-The juxtaposition of personal desires with community rules
-Leaving or entering a religion

Example: “Abide With me” by Elizabeth Strout

External Conflicts

Person vs. Person

This is a story about someone struggling in direct opposition of someone else, with conflicting aims and desires.

May focus on topics/issues around:

-competitions (sports, games, arts, etc.)
-love rivals
-heroes and villains

Example: “Face/Off” (Film)

Person vs. Society / Institution

This is a story about someone struggling with their place in society, what that society expects of them, and their sense of self and worth as dictated by that society.

May focus on topics/issues around:

-expectations and hegemony (example: The Dead Poet’s Society)
-bad/wrong social structure
-Class War
-Gender War
-Rights and Privileges (declaring who is ‘human’ and a ‘person’ under the law)
-Wanting the wrong/right thing according to outside forces

Example: “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

Person vs. Nature

This is a story about someone struggling with surviving or overcoming a natural disaster, a hostile environment, abandonment/self-isolation in a hostile natural setting, or finding ways to adapt to/work with an unfamiliar natural setting.

May focus on topics/issues around:

– environmentalism/climate change
– survival
-agriculture
-natural disasters (hurricane, drought, flood, apocalyptic natural event, etc.)
-doomsday prepping
-finding oneself/communing with nature

Example: “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George

Person vs. Machine/Technology

This is a story about someone struggling with technology that is pervasive and may be a direct threat or aide to their desires.

May focus on topics/issues around:

-Technology as a direct physical threat to health, happiness or life
-Using technology to help you get what you want
-Technology as a shortcut or cheat

Example: “The Terminator” (film)

Person vs. The Supernatural

This is a story about someone directly, and usually physically struggling with supernatural entities and forces.

May focus on topics/issues around:

-Faith and belief
-Protecting family/friends
-Self worth and self sacrifice
-the personhood of an Othered being
-Life after death

Example: “Supernatural” (TV Show)

Person vs. Fate/Destiny/The Gods

This is a story about someone struggling with or dealing with physical, emotional, or mental threats from  real entitles that are considered gods, or the direct manifestation of some outside force that controls the course of their life.

May focus on topics/issues around:

-self-determination/fate/destiny
-supernatural intervention/deus ex machina (both for the protagonist’s good, and/or against the protagonist)
-faith and religion when the people you worship are real
-enslavement or forced obedience

Example: “The Odyssey” by Homer

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WORDS FOR WRITERS – Leaving an Agent

WORDS FOR WRITERS – Leaving an Agent

While I’ve spoken at length on how to get an agent, something I haven’t discussed is how to leave one when your relationship isn’t working out any more.

I’m not talking about ragequitting  because you got told off for bad behavior, or because your book isn’t selling, or because you weren’t an instant and critical success. I’m talking about having a big, long, honest think about whether your relationship with your current agent is still a good one that’s serving your books and your career, and deciding that no, this agent is not longer (or never was) a good fit.

I’ve had two agents in my decade-long writing career, and last month, I just parted ways from my second one.

It’s a scary thing to do, because (at least in my case) it made me feel like a failure as a writer.

I have to keep reminding myself that walking away from a relationship that’s not working isn’t failure — it’s selfcare.

The truth is, in a way it’s you who is employing the agent. It’s not the other way around, even if you have to query them to take you on as a client. It’s a percentage derived from your royalties -therefore your work – that they pay their bills with. So they should be serving your career and your work.

(I mean, but not in a subservient way. Obviously, you signed with them because you trust their advice and guidance, which you should always discuss if you disagree with. It’s still a professional relationship; you’re not the boss of your agent any more than they’re the boss of you.)

And if your agent isn’t serving you or your work, then they’re getting in the way of it.

It’s as simple as that.

So where did I go wrong?

After the unexpected success of “Triptych”, which I published with a small press with no agent, I sent around my second book to a few agents on the hope that someone would want me now. My first agent was one of three that I had phone calls with, but the only one who made an unconditional offer. He wanted me immediately, and he wanted to sign me right away, so I said “yes” right away instead of thinking it over and digging a little deeper into his communication style, his aspirations for my career, or what his other clients had to say about him.

Why?

Because I wanted an agent so bad. I thought it would make my career. And no one had told me “It’s better to have no agent than the wrong one.”

There were a few warning bells going off in my head when I signed with him, but I ignored them, because AGENT! That made me a real writer, right?

We were together for… I think about a year? Maybe a bit more? And it was… not good. I didn’t like how he spoke to me. I didn’t like where he tried to get me to steer my book in rewrites (it was a mess). I sent him a different book and he dismissed it as “victorian romance trash” when it was neither Victorian, Romance, nor Trash. When I was being emotionally traumatized, and viciously and violently harassed by horrible stalker, he shrugged it off and sent me this:

 When I was being emotionally traumatized and viciously and violently harassed by horrible stalker, he basically just shrugged it off and sent me this:

Like, WTF man. When your client tells you she’s scared and she’s being harassed,  and threatened with real violence, you listen and you do something about it.

I eventually found out that he never even read “Triptych”, even though he kept saying “why can’t you just write me another book like Triptych?” I kept pitching him books like “Triptych” and he kept brushing them aside because they weren’t like what he thought “Triptych” was, not what it actually was, It was so frustrating that I would jam my face into a pillow and scream.

He even failed to show up to be my plus one when “Triptych” was nominated for a major award – I flew to NYC (in a thunderstorm I may add!) to walk this red carpet, and he couldn’t even bother to take the half hour train ride to the venue.

The only time I ever met him in real life was for a brunch while I was down for the awards, and it was like the worst first date in the history of terrible romcoms. If I could have, I would have been texting my BFF under the table to rush into the resto and announce that my mother was in a coma or something just so I could escape. He looked me in the eyes and said what more or less amounted to: “Shut up, little girl, and write what I tell you.”

The minute I left the restaurant, I burst into tears.

I knew I had made a mistake in signing with him, and I knew that I was going to have to fire him in order to have the career I wanted, and to be able to write the books I wanted. And that was scary, because I was worried that I would never get an agent again. I felt like I’d screwed up everything by making the wrong choice. It felt like I was giving up on my dreams.

I see now that what I was really doing was taking steps to help those dreams thrive. But I’m not gonna lie, I cried for days after that weekend.

Clearly I had not learned my lesson, because I promptly made the same mistake a second time. Like…

Immediately.

Still sobbing, I went to the Javits Centre for BookExpo. Hovering miserably beside the editor for “Triptych” while she schmoozed, a woman I’d never met before offered me a tissue. We spoke a little, and I learned that by luck, she was one of the three agents I had spoken to on the phone previous to selecting Agent #1. She was very nice, and very consoling, and listened attentively while I poured out my story, and my worries, and my snot.

A week or so later, when she nabbed my number from my editor called me to tell me that she’d love to rep me after I’d made the clean break from Agent #1, it seemed like a no-brainer.

So once again, I said “yes” to the first person who offered instead of taking a step back and really thinking about whether we would be a good fit.

I didn’t compare the kinds of books I wanted to write to the kind of books she had a past record placing well.  We didn’t have as thorough a conversation about my career and what future books would be as I would have liked, and I now realize I should have had. I didn’t bother to find out whether she ‘got’ what it is that I do.

(I know that, now, in the world of Twitter and Instagram, blogs, websites and #MSWL and #pitchmad and all these amazing way to connect with agents on social media, it seems crazy that I could not realize that these agents weren’t for me, really, but you have to understand that I started looking for agents fifteen years ago, when the only real way to figure out who agents were was to read Publishers Weekly, Publishers Marketplace, and get the big old directory of agent’s addresses, genre specialties, and submission preferences from the bookstore once a year. When I started querying, you had to send in paper copies of the book through the mail.)

Regretfully, after working with Agent #2 for seven years, I’ve learned that I don’t actually write what she thinks I write, and I don’t know how to write what she knows how to sell. My works err more on the side of Literary Magic Realism, which is not at all the far more mainstream spaceships-and-lasers scifi and wizards-and-swords fantasy that she’s very good at selling.

Agent #2 didn’t ever seem to quite “get” what my books were, and therefore (at least to my mind) was framing them as something they were not as she was shopping them to editors and publishing houses. And thus submitting them to the wrong people in the wrong places. Which always leads to rejections. How could it not?

That she sold “The Accidental Turn Series” and “The Skylark’s Saga” at all are down to the acquiring editor hearing Agent #2 talk about “The Untold Tale” in a keynote speech and approach her. The publisher sought out my agent and said “I want those”. And while I’m happy with the end result of working with that indie press, especially with how my editor there made the books leaps and bounds better, it felt like a let down to still be publishing with small indies after my debut novel wracked up so much critical acclaim.

After that, Agent #2 read (or, I assumed she read) and declined to represent two other books I’d written, immediately. Another book, she half-heatedly shopped and then pulled it back and shelved it after about half a year. She waved away even more ideas I pitched to her for development, or suggested major changes to the ideas I brought to her that I thought were not at all in the spirit of the books or my oeuvre. At that point, it was clear that we were not sympatico, and likely never had been.

waited until I had finished out my contracts with the indie publisher for “Accidental Turn” and “Skylark”, and for some personal life stuff to get sorted, and then parted ways with Agent #2 last month.

While I was very upset, and very angry at myself that I had to leave an agent a second time, I was very happy (dare I say, relieved) that I had finally done it. I had known I needed to leave Agent #2 for, gosh, years.

Part of what held me back was I didn’t want to endanger my six-book contract with the indie press.

But a lot of it was also my fear that if I left this agent, I would never get another. That I had screwed up again. That I was a failure. Again.

But you have to – have to – remember:

No agent is better than the wrong agent.

And:

An agent who isn’t advancing your career is standing in the way of it.

So how do you leave an agent?

It’s not difficult at all to split with an agent, no matter how nerve-wracking and heartbreaking it is.  There’s no real trouble to it because all good and legitimate agents will have a “time to part ways”/”sunset” clause in the original contract you sign with them. (It’s a red flag if they don’t!)

So the first thing you want to do is read that clause very carefully, and follow the steps outlined in it.

In my case(s), I a polite email stating that I wanted to invoke that clause, and end our relationship. I laid out the reasons why, and luckily, Agent #2 agreed. (Agent #1 was more of a sulky pill about it, but that’s part of the reason I left. His professionalism left a lot to be desired). Then I sent a certified letter in the mail stating the same this I said in the email, for legal purposes.

And that’s it. That’s all it took.

(Why had I agonized over this for literal years? You know why.)

In both cases, the agents just emailed back something that more or less amounted to” “Okay, yup, got it.” Because I believe both of them knew that it wasn’t working any more, too.

Agent #2 mentioned that she’d been sorta feeling like it was time for us to split anyway, so it was good to know that we were at least on the same page about that one thing, if not much else. And there’s no hard feelings between us, as far as I’m aware.

When I left the first agent I asked for a list of everyone he’d submitted my books to, so I knew who’d already rejected them when it came time to shop it around again. My second agent had already provided that on my request for the book we’d shopped years ago when we pulled it, so I didn’t need to ask her for that. It’s always a good thing to have – a list of everyone who’s already seen which books and why they said no.

Nothing stayed with Agent #1, as he had placed nothing. The books that Agent #2 placed will continue to be managed by her – and she’ll still get her cut of my royalties from those books, because she is still working for those books – but she has no claims to anything I write and/or profit from in the future.

And now that I am agent-less, the whole process starts all over for me again.

I have to write a totally new book, polish it, and query it around, just like anyone else.

I have the advantage of being able to claim nine published novels and a handful of nice awards to my name at this point, though. And I author friends whose agents I am familiar with through them, so I can decide more easily if I want to query them, or perhaps even arrange to have a chat with them before hand, if their amenable. Hopefully that makes this process a bit less entrenched and nerve-wracking.

And I’m a far more mature storyteller now too – I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t sign with an agent until I know we really click.

And of course, now-a-days there’s that robust and useful social media culture around publishing as well, which will give me the chance to scope out the people I want to query.

Do I think I’m going to get another agent? I’m hopeful. But I’m trying not to get too hopeful. I do so much want to be a career writer, and it’s been nine years since my debut, so I’m hoping maybe my next book will push me over into earning enough money to do so.

How am I feeling right now?

Some days I cry and feel like if I had just worked harder, if I had just been better, I wouldn’t have failed so badly at finding the right agent – which is silly capitalist nonsense because how can working harder have anything to do with incompatible client/agent relationships? Sometimes I beat myself up for being a two-time loser.  Sometimes I decide that I’m going to quit writing once and for all, because I’m obviously not cut out for it.

But sometimes I really do believe that third time will be the charm. Sometimes, I remember that I’m not beholden to those Agents and what they think I should be writing vs. what I want to be writing, and it feels like a hundred pounds has been lifted off my chest. Sometimes I laugh about it. Sometimes I work on my New Agent Excel Sheet and dream big “overnight success after ten years of hard slog” dreams.

But most of the time, I just remind myself that I did the right thing. I took the right step, even though it was scary, because taking that step means that I’m helping my dream to thrive.

And that the wrong agent was always standing in the way of the right one — whoever that turns out to be.

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JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – Leaving an Agent
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