Thursday, February 28, 2008

Query me this:

Sam Kelson is startled to find a phrase from his nightmares carved into an old bone. His friends are convinced it leads to buried treasure, but when a sinister archaeologist reveals her desperate interest in the message, they suspect that more is at stake than pirate gold.

It is three hundred years after the last battle between good and evil. The Dark has awakened to an undefended world, and Sam and his friends are unwittingly drawn into the ancient conflict.

There is no wise old wizard, no magical portal, and no powerful item that will save the world. Just five kids who must overcome their skepticism, fears, and loss as they race to solve the mystery of the bone and the Dark summons its lieutenants to stop them.

The Turning Away is a 64,000-word middle-grade fantasy that explores loyalty, sacrifice, and blind courage.

[edited 4 March]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hulk crush

I've been struggling with writing a query letter for THE TURNING AWAY. How do you compress five characters, their fears and triumphs, the petty arguments of childhood, a languid Tidewater river, hope and despair and courage, a garage-built raft, rain and mist and sunshine, all of it into 50 words? Apart from the previous sentence, that is. Oh yes, and the epic battle between good and evil. That's in there, too.

Tighten! Condense! Tighter. Denser. Pare down. Find the bones of the story and throw away the useless ones. All those in your wrist? Superflous. Toes and ankles and even legs: probably don't need 'em. Just bones.

Tighter. Tighter. Dense good. Seth write tight prose. Seth succeed. Remove unnecessary words. Seth happy. Seth edit more tonight. Seth wonder why more books not written tight like this. Seth furrow brow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Swing and a Miss

Spent the weekend with my brother-in-law, in a long-overdue visit. He's a science teacher in Hickory, NC, an odd town that seems to be hovering like a see-saw between old - industrial - train tracks and stray dogs and stacks of pallets and coffee shop - art gallery - decent grocery store.

He's a gifted teacher: gifted with a love for education and a spark for talking with kids, which can't help but come through in his roles as teacher, coach, and (I suspect) role model. We should all be so lucky.

4 1/2 hours each way through a wasteland of the industrial mid-South. Evidently the per capita rate of truck parts stores and churches goes WAY up in some areas. Like 29 South. Luckily, iPod helped the trip go quick. Plus some tapes of Joseph Campbell's lectures on the origins of religion and myth that I picked up at the Book Fair. Research never stops, you just don't call it research. You call it living.

AND I just learned that my friend Fran Cannon Slayton, soon-to-be-published author and all around good person, is live and online.

One last thing. Driving through the rain wondering how far it was until the next bathroom, the following occurred to me. Trying to get published is like playing baseball in the dark. Here comes the pitch -- maybe! Better swing -- maybe! Oops, you missed. Swing again, miss again. Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss.

You start to wonder if there's even a pitcher at all. Maybe there ARE no balls coming your way. Swing and a miss. All you want to do is connect, to swat that thing into the night like a meteor. Swing and a miss. You start to lose faith. Lose hope. You wonder about your swinging technique. Maybe you need a different bat. Maybe you should bat left instead of right.

Swing and a miss.

Maybe you should stop swinging altogether. Accept the inevitable. Bow to the odds, which are very much against you.

Except you believe. You believe in the ball coming at you through the night, and you believe in that length of ash that's smooth and cold in your frustrated hands, and you believe in the swinging itself.

Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss.

Here's the thing: I think agents and publishers feel the same way except they're the ones pitching into the darkness. Wondering if there's a batter out there or if home plate is empty. The windup, the pitch, nothing. Pitch, nothing. But they keep believing. Pitch, nothing.

And then one day, ball meets bat and that thing is swatted right out of the park. You have to believe, that's all.

Friday, February 22, 2008

This concludes our test

Thank you, everyone. You may put away your heavy coats and ice scrapers. Sell your snow shovels; glue your firewood back into trees; plant crocuses. Crocii.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Envelope, Please

The night before a winter storm is like one long drumroll. And I'm not even in school anymore.

As ye sow...

"As ye sow so shall ye reap." Sounds very cool but every time I mutter it to myself I think of Emilio Estevez's reedy voice telling Jack Palance to "Reap it, Sheriff," and a small red hole appears in his forehead. In the 80s melodrama was cool.

Does that mean melodrama is no longer cool? Hardly; ask any middle-schooler. We're just canny and ironic about it now. That or we're no longer in middle school.