The Little Yesses

If you’re thinking about trying to get a book published, you need to get ready to hear the word no.  A lot.

I won’t bore you with the staggering statistics, but believe me when I tell you that no matter how great your manuscript is, you’re going to get a lot of rejections.  Every book does. Harry Potter did, and I bet the publishers who passed on that little project still wake up screaming every night about it.

You’ll get rejected by agents.  And if you persevere through the horrible odds and actually find one, you’ll move on to getting rejected by major publishers.  If you give up on the agent and submit to independent publishers instead, you’ll get even more rejections.

No.  Noes.  Lots of them.

If you’re not careful, you’ll get buried under an avalanche of noes.

So how will keep going through the months and years when all you’ll get is form replies that say, “Thank you for submitting; after careful consideration we’ve decided this project is not a good fit for us…”  and all its variations?  How will you cope with the astounding number of agents who won’t even give you that, leaving you to wonder if they even got your amazing submission at all?

The answer is the little yesses.

You’re waiting on the big yes.  The yes from the agent.  The yes from the publisher.  But along the way you can rack up some little ones.  Each little yes is a tiny boost for your flagging soul, a little kick that will keep you going through the tough times of no.

Some are tiny victories.  Likes for your blog posts.  Appreciative comments from blog readers.  Retweets on your pithy 140 word commentaries.  Likes for the Facebook author page you set up in a fit of optimism that’s long gone now in the dreary “no” slog.

Short stories are a great source of little yesses.  Write them.  Submit them to anthologies and magazines.  They’ll help you perfect your writing craft, and if you get the yes, they’ll give you something to put in the bio section on your next round of agent queries.  They’ll also elevate you from writer to author as soon as one is published, and that’s a huge yes.

Participate in Twitter pitch parties.  If an agent or publisher favorites your tweet, that’s an invitation to submit to them, and it’s also a little yes.

Get a partial request?  Yes!

Get a full request? Yes!

Even if they turn into noes eventually, these are the little yesses that will propel you forward.

If you quit too soon, you’ll never get the big yes.  Use the little ones to feed your soul’s engine, and keep rolling down the highway past the forests of no, over the potholes of no, through the traffic jams of no and onto the clear, smooth road that finally leads to…well, you know where.

rainbow-on-road

Planet Earth

This week we’ve been catching up on the BBC’s newest nature series, “Planet Earth II.”  If you watched the first series, you’ll remember it…the cinematography, the remote settings. This time around is no different.  It’s Must See TV, and this time I got to thinking about why.

It’s not the incredible camera work, catching animal behavior that’s never been filmed before.

It’s not the sweeping locations, or the cool “making of…” bit at the end of each episode where you get to watch the miserable producers and camera crews suffering for months in wet jungles or frozen mountainsides waiting for whatever they’re trying to film to saunter by and do something amazing.

No, what keeps you coming back are the stories.

Better than any nature show before it, Planet Earth is telling stories.

Here’s a great example.

This is a marine iguana.

iguana_marina_amblyrhynchus_cristatus_las_bachas_isla_santa_cruz_islas_galapagos_ecuador_2015-07-23_dd_27

Sort of cute in a reptile kind of way. These guys live on the Galapagos Islands in huge colonies, basking on rocks.  When it’s time to make more of them, they head inland and lay their eggs in the warm sand.  The babies hatch, and scramble up to the surface, where they instinctively head for the safety of the rocks.

But then there’s these assholes.

racer-snakes

Racer snakes.  They’re fast and deadly and they love munching on newly-hatched baby marine iguanas.

The faster the babies hatch and run, the more of these assholes show up, slithering into nasty constrictor bundles of snake through which pokes the pathetic little leg of an unfortunate baby iguana.

It’s pretty interesting, and if that was it, you’d say, “Oh, that was pretty interesting.”

But that’s not it.

Here’s how they do it.

They set the scene.

Adult iguanas basking on rocks.  Hatchlings making a run for it. Asshole snakes lining up for the buffet.  You watch a whole lot of baby iguanas turning into snake dinner.

Then there’s this one.

baby-iguana

Pretty cute, all clean and fresh in the world.  You’ve just watched about ten of his brothers and sisters live their entire lives in about two minutes…hatch, run, die.

But not this guy.  He’s special.  You can feel it.  You’ve been primed to feel it.

He takes off.  And the snakes are right there.

iguana-and-snake

They lunge and grab, but NO!  He escapes!  He powers out of the deadly grip and skitters away!  More snakes follow.  He runs! He jumps!  He flips around avoiding the jaws of death!

By the time he makes it to the edge of the rocky safe zone, you’re on your feet screaming, “Run, ye scaley bustert, RUN!”  (I’m not sure why you suddenly became Scottish during the show, but you did.  You do that sometimes.)

He makes it.

That one little iguana makes it to safety.

Now I know that scene is not actually following one single iguana.  I know the editing crews spliced together all the most dramatic escapes to show us this heroic run, this one little guy who beat incredible odds to find his family (who mostly seem to be just sitting there on the rocks watching this go down and doing nothing to help, because adult marine iguanas are apparently assholes too).

But it makes a great story.

It has all the elements, and answers all the questions you should be able to ask of a story.

Who is the main character?  Little iguana guy.

What does he want?  To reach the safety of the rocks and his uncaring iguana parents.

Why can’t he have it?  Bunch of slithering assholes.

What if he doesn’t get it?

Um, this:

planet-earth-ii

The folks at the BBC are tremendous at getting footage of animals in their habitats doing  animal things.

But their triumph is how they tell the story.

And that’s where I leave you for today.  Gotta go back downstairs and find out if that mama Snow Leopard turns out okay.

A letter to the president-elect.

Dear Mr. Trump,

Last night your dream came true.

Congratulations on your victory.

Now it’s time to prove you’re worthy of being called the leader of the free world.

You have no excuses.  You don’t face an opposing congress who will stymie your every move.  If you want to get something done, it’s going to happen.

You have four years. So what are you going to do?

The people of the rust belt, the corn belt, the bible belt…these people voted for you in droves because they believe that you’ll make their lives better.  Time to show us how you’ll do that.

Time to show us that you really do respect women like you say you do.

Time to show that you’re the president for all of America, not just the white people.

Time to release your tax returns so the American people know to whom their president is financially beholden.

Time to show our children that although you ran on a platform of fear and resentment,  you can harness those energies toward a positive change for all Americans.

My father always says that “conservative” used to stand for “conservation.”  Republicans were once the champions of our national parks and environmental protections.  Somehow over the course of his generation that concept was lost.  Are you the president to bring it back?

And when you repeal the Affordable Care Act, which will surely be on your Day One agenda, what will you replace it with?  I am a cancer survivor who is two decades away from Medicare coverage.  How will you reassure me that if my cancer comes back, I won’t lose everything I’ve worked my whole life saving in order to pay for my treatment?  Will you revoke the protection I’ve had from medical discrimination through no fault of my own, or will you find a way to give all Americans access to decent health care?

America was built on the concept of religious freedom.  This doesn’t just mean your religion.  Or mine.  Or any one person’s beliefs.  Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.  Church and state are separate.  Are you strong enough to stand by that concept and not cave to the zealots who would pretend that all Americans are Christians? If not, then how are you any better than those who would impose Sharia Law on their own countries?

You have said you want to increase our military force to combat the terrorist threats against western countries.  Do you really think that will make us safer?  Can you bomb a people into not hating us anymore?

Generations of politicians have lied to us.  They say what they need to say to get elected, then they spend their political tenure using their positions to line their own pockets.  Are you any different?  Does your wealth make you less likely to sell yourself or does it make you even greedier than those who have gone before you?  Can a man who was born a millionaire ever truly represent the working people who elected him?

I don’t expect you to answer all these questions right away, Mr. Trump.

But the whole world is watching.  You have four years.

Four years to show that you’re not a racist.

Four years to show that you’re not a misogynist.

Four years to show that immigrants like your wife can have a safe life in America, unmolested by the fear-mongers who terrorize anyone in a head covering.

Four years to prove to the watching world that you’re not just a reality television star, but a president, a deserving leader of the land of the free.

Your dream has come true.

But for the first time in your life, it’s not about you anymore.

You will have to become more than you have ever been.  More than you have ever dreamed.

In service to our great nation, become better.

And in four years we will look back on your term of office and see if this frightening experiment, this challenge to the establishment, has been a triumph of the working class or the destruction of freedom’s shining hope.

The stakes are high and we are afraid.

Good luck, Mr. Trump. I did not vote for you, but you will be the president of my country. You will represent me, Wendy Vogel: veterinarian, author, cancer survivor, wife and daughter.

Do not embarrass me.

Do not endanger my life or my health.

Do not make your presidency a horrible, humiliating mistake.

You have four years.

 

 

 

Instant Mastery

Writers are an odd bunch.  It takes a lot of ego to create a story, write it out, and expect total strangers to plunk down their hard-earned cash for the privilege of reading it.

At the same time we are often crippled by self-doubt, requiring massive affirmation from our agents, our editors, our families and our fans, constantly assuring us that we don’t completely suck.  The highs and lows of this continuous cycle of doubt and ego are part of the reason why we have a reputation for being unsettled.

Beginning writers have an even stranger affliction, and it’s one I’ve seen a hundred times in my writing group (and also in my mirror).  I call it, “Expecting Instant Mastery.”

So here’s what happens.

We write something.  A story, a novel, a screenplay, whatever.  We tinker with it a bit, “editing” as best we can.

And it’s perfect.

We ask for feedback, and if we’re very lucky, we get some honest critique.

And we learn it isn’t perfect.

This is hard to hear.  Like someone telling you that your adorable pink infant, whom you spent nine months incubating inside your skin on top of your squished bladder, actually looks like Winston Churchill.  Because they do…all babies look like him.  It’s just a fact.  Go ahead.  Find a picture of him.  I’ll wait.

Yep.  Churchill.

Anyway, we’re shocked by the news that this story, this novel, this first attempt at putting words on a page isn’t ready for the New York Times list.

We expected our first effort to be perfect.

Why do we do this?  If we were taking up any other avocation…golf or bowling, or learning to speak Spanish, we would expect to spend months or years being terrible at it before we got good.  If you go to Paint Nite, where you drink wine and follow a teacher in the front of the room, trying to replicate his painting on your canvas, you don’t honestly think your “Silhouette of Tree in the Sunset” is going to hang on a museum wall.  You know it’s going to look like it was painted by a monkey on a trampoline, and that’s okay.  You’re not a trained painter.

But with writing?  Nope.  That first novel, that first story…they’re flawless.  Every single word a glittering gem.

Look, here’s a really nice painting.  Maybe you’ve seen it before.

sistine

Yeah, that one.

Do you think this was his first one?  Do you really think that this masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel, was the first time Michelangelo picked up a brush?

Of course not.  We’ve never seen his first attempt with a paintbrush.  He must have painted countless versions of “Silhouette of Tree in the Sunset” over and over, painting over each one until they got less and less suck, and eventually started to be decent.

He practiced. He learned his craft.

But not us.  No, not us writers.

It’s because we’re readers, and good writers make it look so easy.  All we see on the bookstore shelves are the final, rewritten, edited versions of their work.  We read these stories, these novels and we say, “Well of course I can do that.”

And we can.  Just not very well at first.

But we read, so we think we can write.  Which is akin to saying, “Well, I’ve been eating food my whole life. So I’m sure I’m a master chef.  Just hand me that knife.  Now which is the sharp side?”

Or, “I’ve always lived in a house.  I work in a building.  I know what walls and floors and stuff are all about.  So hand me those blueprints and a hammer, because I will certainly be a master builder this first time I grab a nail.”

Ridiculous, of course, but it’s what we do as writers.

There probably are a few out there, writers whose first attempts really were excellent.  And if you’re an newer writer, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, and I’m one of them.”

Maybe you are.

I wasn’t.

But I learned.

I’m still learning.

I’ve surrounded myself with the best support team I can find to help me get better, and I think I’m improving, one word at a time.

So all you new writers out there banging away at your first novel, your first story, take heart.  It might not turn out to be the flawless, sparkling jewel you imagine.  But it will be a start.  A first attempt, which can lead to a second, and a third.  And maybe, eventually, to something that belongs on the ceiling of a chapel, adored by millions.

Meanwhile, hand me that pair of scissors.  I’ve had hair almost my whole life.  How hard can it be?

A fun little story for Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Here’s a story I wrote for a convention anthology last year.  Tonight seemed like the perfect night to share it.

moon-sleep-children

Transformation

 

It started on the full moon.

The first thing I noticed was the difference in my teeth.  You don’t really think about it unless something changes, but if there’s one place on your body that feels the tiniest modification, it’s the inside of your mouth.  I remember looking up at the moon, huge and round, just cresting the treetops.  My tongue probed the difference.  A change in the sharpness.  A change in the shape.

It only lasted a few hours, and by the next morning I didn’t notice it anymore.  I forgot all about it for a month, busy as I was with my life and family.

The next full moon it returned.

That strange, different feeling in my mouth.

This time it was accompanied by a weird, prickly sensation on the back of my neck.  All the hairs stood up, and a cold chill raced down my spine.

The night was overcast, but whenever that glorious full moon peeked through a break in the clouds, I felt it.  It called to me.  I longed to reach up and caress its pockmarked surface.

It made me feel…hungry.

I still lived with my parents then, and my father noticed.  I saw him exchanging worried looks with my mother, but neither one said anything.  They went about their business like nothing was wrong, but I felt their fear.

They knew something.

I wouldn’t beg for answers.  Whatever was happening to me, I could handle it.  It was only a few nights each month.

But it got worse with every rising moon.

The bright glow compelled me to prowl, leaving the safety of my home and family to wander alone in the woods.  The trees looked darker on these nights, their leafy canopy pressing down on my changing form.

Three months after that first full moon, I made the transformation completely.

As the night sky came alive with insects, drawn as I was to the golden orb in the sky, I threw back my head and howled.  Nothing in my life could have prepared me for the depth of that howl.  It came from inside me, from some black corner of my soul, and enveloped me in the rightness of the sound.

My body shook with agony and pleasure.  I felt alive, more alive than at any other moment in all my days.  My limbs changed, my posture and my countenance transforming in the strength of that magnificent, terrible howl.

When I finally stopped, gasping for air, I looked down at my new form and shuddered.

I was a beast.

I had taken on a new form, and even in the fluttering confusion of the transformation, I knew I was dangerous.

My own family wasn’t safe when I changed.  The overpowering hunger filled me.  I wanted to kill, not for food, but for the dark, visceral pleasure of killing. It was my new nature.

The first time I hunted in the body of the beast I was clumsy.  Rage boiled just under the surface of my consciousness and I bolted through the woods, crashing over fallen trees and splashing through fast-running streams.  I didn’t make a kill that night, but the exhilaration of the hunt thrilled me.  Hot blood rushed through my veins, consuming me with fierce, maddened joy.

The next morning I awoke in the middle of a meadow, bare trees waving in a chill autumn wind.  The rage, the hunger, the pain and pleasure were gone.  I was just me again, cold and alone.

I didn’t return to tell my family goodbye.  They knew.  From the first moment my eyes were drawn to that resplendent  full moon, they knew what I would become.

Shifter.

Wolfman.

Most feared of all wolves, most hated of all men.

I’ve kept to the fringes of society all these years, though the desire to return to civilization is strong.  I miss the community of a loving family.  Loneliness crushes my soul.  And most of the month I have control of my body and my hunger.  On the moonless nights, I could live safely among my own kind.

But when the full moon rises, I cannot withstand its pull.

I throw back my head and howl into its golden light and watch my familiar body transform into the most feared hunter of all, the most dangerous predator ever to stalk the woods.

My face shortens.

My teeth grow square and flat.

My spine straightens and my hips extend.

My paws lengthen into dexterous fingers that itch for the cold steel of a weapon.

I am the greatest killer the world has ever known.  And nothing in the forest is safe when the wereman howls.

 

When Do You Write?

I’m asked that question all the time.

As a full time veterinarian, my work hours are…let’s say, flexible.  My last appointment might be at 5:40, but I might not get home ’till eight on any given night.  True emergencies, and “emergencies” (client: “Gee, Doc, he’s been throwing up for six days straight…I think he’s really sick.” me: “I agree.  He was ‘really sick’ five days ago.  I’ve been here waiting for you all week. But now I’ll just go ahead and cancel my dinner plans, so…all right then.”).  I also have a husband who likes to see me now and then, a house and yard to take care of, and usually a marathon or bike ride to train for.

Everyone’s busy.

So when do I write?

The easy answer is: I write on the evenings my husband is at the restaurant.  He’s out at least one night a week, and sometimes four, so I get some good blocks of time to sit and make words happen.

But the real answer is: All the time.

I write on my bike rides, thinking about troublesome plot points as the miles whiz past.

I write in line at the grocery.

I write in bed at night when the house is dark and quiet except for the purring of the cats who make blankets unnecessary.

The actual words only pour out when I’m sitting here in front of the keyboard, but a writer is always writing.  Noticing.  Considering.  Invisible people are constantly whispering in my brain if I’m not doing something that drowns them out.

If you know any writers, you know the look.  We get really into our own heads.  It’s not that we’re tuning you out, it’s just that our book worlds are as real to us as the tangible world is to you.  Sometimes we wander out of this world and into our own.  Sometimes we get stuck there.

So if you’re talking to a writer and they don’t hear you right away, don’t be offended.  You aren’t the only one talking to them even if you’re the only person you can see.

When do I write?

I’m writing right now.

Future Worlds!

A few months ago my publisher Future House had the great idea of putting together an anthology featuring short stories by their sci-fi authors.  The idea is to cross-pollinate our fans and share our worlds with more readers. They asked me to write a short story set in the Horizon Alpha world, and of course I couldn’t say no.

High Wire takes place in the early days, just after the transports crash land at what will become Eden base.  Do you remember the first time you saw a T-rex?  Shiro does.

Check it out, tell your friends, and enjoy a little more time on Tau Ceti e.

Available here on Amazon.

Future Worlds: A Science Fiction Anthology by [Dayton, Cameron, Darling, Michael, Garrett, Jared, Healy, Mark R., Russell, Josi, Vogel, D.W.]