ITSW, querying, writing

Exciting News!!!

I’ve been sitting on this news for a few weeks because I wanted to make absolutely certain it was Official(TM), but but BUT:


Rainbows! Rainbows for everyone!
I am proud to be represented by Kurestin Armada of PS Literary Agency.

I still can’t quite believe those words. Honestly, any time the words “my agent” comes out of my mouth, I have to stop and giggle. Yes, giggle. I’m still a little how the f— did this happen?? but I know the answer to that.

And it goes a little like this:

I started writing The Impossible Contract in June of last year and finished a massive rewrite and subsequent rounds of edits sometime in March. I let it cool, then sent it to my first round of betas in April, and after hearing back from them and tweaking, sent out my first round of queries. The first round were all rejections, so I thoroughly revised my query and tried again.

Suddenly, I was no longer getting form rejections. I received a full request a few weeks in with my new query, then a partial, then another full. I was over the moon, even after a rejection on the partial, because finally I was making progress.

At this point, I started to mentally pack it in. This novel had done its job in getting me that much closer to my goal. Maybe the next one would be it. I still had a few fulls out, but then, what were the chances?

Fast forward to July 18th. I had quit my full-time job the day before because of a hundred different reasons. I was out late playing D&D, and normally I would have come home and gone straight to bed, but instead I idly checked my email. Oh, an email from an agent. Probably another rejection –

I had to read that email three times before the words registered. She wanted to set up a call for the next day. And then I cried. And then I made my wife read it to make sure I understood it correctly. I had. So I cried some more.

Needless to say I didn’t sleep that night.

Needless to say I convinced myself a hundred different ways that this couldn’t be The Call. That this was Something Else Entirely and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I was dreaming. Hallucinating. Had I even read that email right??

But it was The Call and it happened and, even zombiefied from lack of sleep and way too much caffeine, I managed not to scare her off. She liked my book and she liked my characters and she got the story and then I expressed my gratitude by grilling her. Hah! But she still offered rep.

It was the hardest thing not to accept right then and there because I liked her agency and knew she personally was a good fit, but I still had fulls out to other agents. The responsible thing was to give them a chance.

I withdrew from the agents who only had partials, because I didn’t think they’d have the time, and then nudged the ones with fulls. They bowed out, citing time restraints, and I was secretly relieved because in the intervening days I had already made my decision.

So there you have it! This is only the beginning – an agent by no means guarantees publication, even when they do their best and are as awesome as mine – and I have a lot of work ahead.

What’s next? Well, writing something new because this next step can take a while. Also going around and thanking every single one of my betas profusely, thanking my friends for supporting me, thanking my family for encouraging me, and thanking the public library for providing countless air-conditioned hours of writing time.

Query Stats on TIC for those counting numbers:
Total queries: 30
Rejections: 25
Partial Requests: 3
Full Requests: 4
Offers of Rep: 1
Prior Queried Manuscripts: 2
How I’m feeling:


helpful tips, ITSW, writing

On Wordcounts and Madness

You know those little aha! moments when a problem you’ve been struggling with suddenly becomes clear? And then you can’t understand why it was such a problem originally?

I received a passing comment on my writing while I was querying TIC that at first frustrated me. I’d mentioned my word count to another writing friend – 130k – and she’d responded with concern.

Isn’t that a bit… high?

What? No – if anything it could be longer. But her comment wiggled in my mind, refusing to leave. I had done my due-diligence and researched word count ranges… once or twice. Back in the day. I recalled that 130k was acceptable. Just look that those fantasy tomes bricking the shelves. Besides, my novel couldn’t be too long. My writing style was to add layers and layers upon the thin skeleton of a first draft – rewriting, tweaking, fleshing out, never concerned about too much.

I googled what the acceptable ranges were not so much to prove her wrong, but to make myself feel better (never a good sign). The results were consistent: again and again and again, 120k was quoted at the limit, and 130k was right out.

There are exceptions, of course. Life wouldn’t be interesting without exceptions. Did I consider TIC an exception? …for a while, yes. (Palm, meet forehead.)

Then another passing comment popped my bubble. My writing was overburdened, said the email. I failed to parse this, handed my first ten pages to my wife, and said: can you show me how this is overburdened?

And my wife, with her phd and her years of tight, frivolous scientific writing honed by the unmerciful hand of her PI, easily removed 200 words. When I reread those pages, nothing was missing. I understood.

We writers get caught up in our words and our worlds. We can see the room our MC is standing in and we’re convinced that the reader must also see it as we do – down to the color of the curtains. Fantasy writers especially are prone to over description. But are those curtains important? Unless the MC’s planning to rip them off the rod and make a dress out of them, no.

I had a moment of complete and absolute DUH. And then I got to work.

Everywhere I saw a word or a phrase or a sentence that wasn’t absolutely necessary. It might help set the mood – but so did the sentence before it. Or it might explain more about the world – but was that necessary to the plot? I asked each word if it served the story and if it didn’t – chop, chop.

From cutting mostly words and phrases (and rephrasing so it’s tighter), I’m down 7k. I didn’t think it would be possible. Now, it’s a game. How much can I cut on this page?

5k words to go!

goals, ITSW, writing

What’s to Come

Ever since committing whole-heartedly to being a writer, I’ve taken the time every six months or so to sit down and plan out what I’m going to do next. This keeps me committed, keeps me on schedule, helps me practice hitting deadlines, and reminds me that new projects should always be just around the corner.

As we head into June, I find myself at one of those junctures. It is time – again – to plan out the next few months and to shape where I would like to go. Now that The Impossible Contract is – mostly – done and I have to wait for my second round of queries to go through, I need something else to focus on.

Unfortunately, at least for June, I can’t stray too far. I still have to wait for beta feedback and be ready to make a few last minute edits. When it comes to writing, I’ve tried multitasking on multiple projects and it just doesn’t work.

My solution is actually pretty simple: I won’t stray far. Instead, I’ll play with this short story that has to do with some events that happen off screen in the middle of the book. It’ll be fun and it’ll keep me writing and it shouldn’t be longer than 15k – perfect for a month.

But after that…

Well, July brings Camp NaNoWriMo, which is ideal timing for the start of a new WIP. 30 days and 50k words should give me a pretty good idea of whether or not this next story is workable. Considering I don’t think this story will be longer than 80k – it’s YA, after all – a 50k word draft zero is ideal. I’ve learned that I frequently have to add a lot more to my first draft, which seems to be the opposite of most writers’ processes.

In August, I’ll cool down with some edits and/or research. For TIC, I did draft zero in one big, two month & 80k burst, then I took a month and shored up the research I’d begun while writing. I can see myself doing something similar, even though this new WIP (OIBM) shouldn’t need as much research.

Then September  onwards – rewrite rewrite rewrite. Depending on where I am in the rest of my life (my job might be changing, we might be moving, there might be some other big changes), I’ll set mini goals for those months. I’m not even going to try to set them now, though, since life is quite volatile at the moment.

Ideally, I’ll be done with the first major rewrite by December. If I follow remotely the same trajectory as TIC, then January-February will be the last of my edits before I round up some betas.

But that’s more than six months out, so I’ll reevaluate at that point. As much as I love TIC, I’m really looking forward to starting a new project.

helpful tips, ITSW, whimsical

On Wearing Black in the Desert

One of my beta readers recently asked about the black tents one of the cultures in The Impossible Contract use in the middle of a Sahara-like desert. The question reminded me about the wholly counterintuitive use of black fabric in extreme heat and how, paradoxically, black fabric is actually superior to white in a handful of small, but incredibly important, ways.

Yes, the color black absorbs more heat than white, and white reflects more heat than black. But according to a study done in 1980, Why Do Bedouins Wear Black Robes in Hot Deserts?, there is a lot more going on than that. One very brave volunteer donned both a full white robe and an equivalent black one and stood for 30 minutes facing the sun at midday in the desert. The temperature ranged from a moderate 95F to a more intense 115F. Talk about dedication!

The results were surprising: according to the article, “the amount of heat gained by a Bedouin exposed to the hot desert is the same whether he wears a black or a white robe. The additional heat absorbed by the black robe was lost before it reached the skin.”

But why is that? Another scientific study done prior to the let’s-make-an-undergrad-stand-for-an-extended-period-of-time-in-the-desert experiment measured how various colors and types of bird plumage released or trapped heat. In 1978, Walsberg, Campbell, & King examined what happened when black or white plumage was fluffed up or flattened down when introduced to heat. To make their study even more interesting, they also varied the wind speed.

What they found was that while fluffed, white plumage let the most heat escape when there was no wind, when there was any sort of modest wind, black fluffed plumage fared much better.

The reason for this somewhat surprising discovery is actually at the beginning of this post: white reflects heat the best. That means from the sun, yes, but also from your own body. So all that heat you’re putting off just gets reflected back at you when you wear white. Black absorbs the heat from both the sun and your body, and as long as the fabric is loose enough for wind to get through, that heat radiates outwards instead of inwards and gets swept away.

Convection only sweetens the deal: in drawing heat away from the body, black fabric encourages more air flow. This works equally well for tents. The black then absorbs any heat from the bodies beneath it while creating a nice, gentle breeze. Ideally.

While you might not notice a difference in most of the United States, maybe next time you take a sojourn through the Sahara or Death Valley, you should try wearing black.

book reviews, ITSW, writing


In gearing up for my next project, I’ve been brainstorming what I’m going to research, how I’m going to research it, and in what format I want to share that research here. Because it’s going to be all magical girls, all the time, it’ll be a lot of fun – I’m planning to binge watch most of the classic anime series and I’ve been scouring the online world for anything with hints of magical girlness in the book world. From what I’ve seen – so far at least – there isn’t much.

Granted, this could mean that there simply is no market, but I’m willing to bet my time (and possibly sanity) that that is not, in fact, the case.

But as I mused over these things, I realized I’d never shared any of my preliminary research for my current, actually done, novel here. Partially because I was so involved with the process at the time, but also partially because I didn’t think anyone would actually be interested.

Then I thought – I was interested. Surely there might be other people, too.

So I’m going to do a short little series delving into the background of my current novel, The Impossible Contract, the research, and what all came together to make it more than just a tromp through some sandy places.

When the idea for this story first popped into my head, I knew it was going to be set in a desert much like our modern day Sahara. Although I currently live in a bona fide desert, it doesn’t quite have the range of extremes that the Sahara does. That’s when I knew I’d need to read some first hand accounts of what it’s like not only surviving, but thriving, in that kind of environment.

Little did I know the size of the rabbit hole I was about to fall into.

The Sahara and its people and disparate cultures are absolutely fascinating subjects. It is the endless dunes that come to mind when you merely think the word, and it is rocks and wind and mountains and oases, wells and flies and camels and deep underground aquifers, gods and demons and unnamable madness.

But it’s also, you know, everyday people living their lives.

I read more than a dozen books on the Sahara alone, but to start you off, I’d recommend these in particular:

Men of Salt by Michael Benanav
This is a first-hand account of travel with a salt caravan from a western perspective. It’s absolutely fascinating and a great way to introduce yourself to the region, if you don’t previously have any knowledge or experience. Since it’s an outsider’s perspective – and a tourist’s at that – it doesn’t get into the nitty gritty of cultural details and makes some assumptions, but it’s a quick, fun read and I found with follow-up research that most of it was spot on.

Skeletons on the Zahara by Dean King

Also an absolutely fascinating account of shipwrecked Americans adrift in the Sahara. This novel is based on a true story in the early 19th century and was especially interesting to read right after Men of Salt, because so little has changed. While the story suffers from both an overabundance of minutiae and the problematic outsider viewpoint, it shows a lot more of the everyday culture and just what it takes to survive in the Sahara.

Sahara: A Natural History by Marq de Villiers & Sheila Hirtle

This book. This book. If you want an overview of the Sahara – its history, its cultures, its geography – then you should read this. This book made me absolutely fall in love with the Sahara. It made me wish I’d majored in something other than Classics. It’s certainly not perfect, but I think it accomplished what it set out to do, which is to really make you understand just how complex the Sahara is. And how recent! The great, empty expanse of sand as we know it is only a few thousand years old – the ancient Egyptians certainly experienced it much differently than we do now.

Altogether, it was more than enough to make me wonder why there aren’t more stories set in deserts. And then I might have gone on a reading binge of what novels I could find that met that criteria. But that comes later.

ITSW, querying


I.E.: the brief reprieve that comes between large projects.

It’s an interesting time when you’ve just finished one big project, but you can’t quite start the next one. Part of this is because I’ve come to learn that when I need to query, I can’t be focused on another story. I’ve tried that before and I always end up working on that new and shiny story instead of putting my energy into querying.

Querying takes a surprising amount of time. You’d think you could just write up your generic query letter, maybe a full on synopsis, and send that out to any agent you find interesting – and that’s what I did when I first started querying, way back in the day. But I’ve learned that that method is: a) a waste of your time, and b) a waste of their time. As someone who has seen the sheer volume of queries that arrive in an agent’s mailbox on a daily basis, the last thing I want to do is waste their time with fantasy when all they rep is sci-fi.

You have to research the agents, look at their clients, their web presence, and everything else to see if they’re a good fit. Sometimes this is easy, especially when they’re explicit about what they want on their bios. Sometimes, it’s not so easy, and you can lose an hour (or two [or three]) simply trying to figure out if an agent is a good fit. Then there’s crafting the query itself – yes, you can use a catch-all query letter and hope for the best, or you can tailor them to the specific agent. And again – having seen what fills up an agent’s mailbox, sometimes just taking that extra time to not only follow the submission requirements, but also make it obvious you’ve actually looked at that agent and know who they are, can make a reeeaally big difference.

That’s all to say: querying takes a lot of time. It takes focus and research and effort. The same exact things a new novel would demand. With a fulltime job, I simply cannot do both simultaneously. I’m not complaining – I can pay my bills! – but it does leave me in a liminal state, teetering between projects.

I want to move forward, start research on the next one, but I also want to give this one the time and energy it deserves. I feel like I’m just on the edge, so very ready to take the next step. Nobody likes querying, nobody likes waiting, but it’s still necessary.

In the meantime, during all those moments where I would usually squeeze in some writing, I’d better get back to reading. I am woefully behind.

ITSW, WIP, writing


Is the final draft done yet?: YES

Current page count: 209/209

Shots of whiskey: 1

Current problems with the manuscript: there’s probably something left to fix in the beginning or middle or what have you but it’s small and inconsequential and what I’m trying to say is THIS IS DONE



It’s done! It’s been almost exactly nine months of working and writing and rewriting and editing and it’s done! Three drafts. Countless words and hours and minutes and days. Final wordcount: 128,121 which is perfect, I envisioned this originally as somewhere between 125-130k and 128 is perfect. I can add some and I can cut some and it will still be the right length.


Well, even though I am calling this my Final Draft, technically this is Final Draft 1 or First Beta Version. What this means is that the story is pretty much set in stone and I have gone through and fixed continuity and typos and grammar and tightened and lengthened and done everything I can to make this the Best Draft Possible before someone else sees it. There are still errors – oh boy how there are still errors – but at this point my nose has been so close to this work for so long that I am mostly blind to them.

That’s where my betas come in. I have a few good friends who I’ll have read this (hot) mess and get back to me on what works, what doesn’t, what makes sense, what doesn’t, etc. Ideally, small tweaks will happen after that and I’ll have the Query Version, which is the draft of the novel that will get sent out to agents. All sorts of things can happen at that point and since I’ve never gotten beyond the initial querying process, I’m not going to speculate on them now.

Over the course of the next two months, my betas will read and get back to me and I will edit and write so. many. query. letters. Seriously, query letters are usually less than 300 words and yet they can take a full month to write.

After two months – or after I’ve queried to exhaustion – I will pick up a new project and run with it. I already have an idea of what I’m going to work on next, but I shan’t allow myself excitement yet. I need that excitement to drive me through the next step of this process, because querying is the hardest thing for me.



– wait, absolutely wrong reference.



ITSW, whimsical, WIP, writing

WIP Check-In: The Final Draft and Final Countdown, Day 1

I have a week left until my wholly self-imposed deadline of April 1st to finish this final draft of my WIP. I’m a month late already and April Fool’s Day just seems to be an appropriate time to send this beast to my beta readers.

There is an awful lot of restructuring and rewriting to do in these final days and pages, so to keep myself motivated and accountable, I’m going to check in here and update my progress.

Is the final draft done yet?: NO

Current page count: 177/206

Shots of whiskey: 1

Current problems with the manuscript: too much suspicion, not enough relief and surprise.


Other things unrelated to said final draft:

I’m officially doing a second “season” of the Cactopodes tumblr, rather conveniently starting April 2nd. What started as a place to deposit photos of local cacti, namely saguaros, which are all quite individual in nature, quickly devolved into a lovecraftian nightmare about four wayward scientists who got lost in the stygian wasteland of the Sonoran desert.

It’s really quite silly and more of an excuse to be ridiculous – and it is a perfect project to work on once I get this final draft done and out the door. I want to keep writing – it’s never good to take a long break, at least not for me – but I also don’t want to start a new story when I’m trying to query this one. I’ve learned I can’t query and write something entirely new at the same time – it just doesn’t work.

So instead, I’m going to go with nameless, octopoid horrors.

ITSW, WIP, writing

First Draft = Done!

I wrote the last word of the first draft this morning. It felt… oddly anticlimactic. But it’s done. Every scene is in there, from the very beginning to the very end. Unlike draft zero, which was basically a 130 page outline. This is cleaner, more polished. Almost – but not quite – there.

I have a few scenes in mind that I know I’ll need to tweak/rewrite completely, but I’m going to let this baby rest for a day or two. And even then, I will only work on the outline, synopsis, and query for the next two weeks / until March. That kind of work forces me to take a biiiig step back from the novel and really see the whole picture, which will be indispensable when I dig into the nitty gritty.

My plan is to have polished draft one into a presentable draft two by Mid-March, but it may be closer to April at this point. I both hate it and am wickedly curious what my betas will think – I simply have no idea. I’m just too close to it right now.

I guess it’s time to start brainstorming a better title than In the Sand Wastes