I don’t have time to write a full book review today, but I’m feeling antsy about things so here I am.
I’ve been re-familiarizing myself with The Steel Armada before I send the first chapter off to my writing friend, and… woof. I didn’t realize I hadn’t actually done any physical edits for draft #3 on that chapter yet. There’s a lot of description and pacing issues, things that need fleshed out or better explained that I just haven’t managed to do yet.
So now the question is, do I hammer that out this weekend before I send it to her, or do I send it as is and wait to get her feedback before I make further changes?
Also, I was really confused about some discrepancies between copies of my manuscript, and so booted up the old Mac to look at the originals… So I’m typing away at Starbucks on my old computer. It’s sort of nostalgic. I have to say I do like this keyboard more; it feels better and more responsive against my fingertips. But, it’s also got about 10 years of wear to make it so… cozy.
Anyway, what should I do? A part of me just wants to dive in and make the changes. But, the rest of me figures I ought to let her see it the way it is and make sure that her feedback matches my own concerns, else I could be making changes for the wrong reasons, or just making the wrong changes.
It’s been a quiet week spent reading for Book Club. I just finished The Paper Magician last night, but won’t be posting the review until next Thursday, after our meeting. But, at least you have that to look forward to!
What I’ve really been focused on this week is research for The Steel Armada. Now, this is the first time I’ve ever actually done full blown research for a book. I’ve done some quick Googling on the spot to get clarity on an issue or scene, but I’ve never sat down with a text and taken notes and built up details and the world from there.
I had my first study session on Monday. For the first time in a long time, I took the manuscript out into the wild (Governor’s Cup, a local coffee shop downtown) and put in my earbuds to bring the din of espresso machines and conversations down to the comforting bustle of business.
It was a nice hour spent pouring over Sailing Ships. As previously mentioned, that book is a gold mine of info, but it’s actually a little advanced for me. It’s giving me terminology and diagrams, but it doesn’t really explain what the various parts of the ships do. So, I know where the mizzen is a on a ship, but I don’t know what function it serves.
So, my research is leading to more research. Which is awesome! I’m taking notes, learning new things, and letting those things further develop the world. And when the world develops so do the characters who live in it.
But, I want to talk a little about research in general, in terms of writing fiction.
Those of us who took any Creative Writing courses have heard the “tried and true” advice spoken with finality: Write What You Know.
…Yeah. About that…
Funny thing for Speculative Fiction authors is that this advice falls flat. I’m writing about a desiccated planet and the small fraction of humanity that survived on a flying armada of steel ships above it. I don’t exactly know what that’s like.
But, I know what it’s like to be a seventeen year old girl falling in love with her best friend. I know what it’s like to lose your father figure. And I know what it’s like to demand more from the people and the world around you.
And anything I don’t know, like the architecture of rigged ships, I can research.
Which is really the most important thing I’ve learned so far. Speculative Fiction authors can still write what they know, they just have to know a lot about a ton of different things. The key to great world building is developing the small details that lend your world credibility. Yes, there’s much in Fantasy and even Science Fiction that is made up of things we can never truly know before we set out to write them. But, I can learn as much as I can about the things that are real, or based on reality.
Do giant sailed ships made of steel fly through the air? No. But, those ships of my creation can follow the look and feel of wooden rigged ships from human history. And the more I know about that, the more realistic I can make the ships of my creation.
Now, I’m not saying I’m going to be an expert of fully rigged ships after this book is finished. And I doubt I’ll ever try my hand at sailing even the smallest of sailed craft. That actually sounds terrifying to me. But, I will be able to name the parts of a ship with clarity and confidence.
Watch out Jeopardy! I’ll wreck that ship category when the time comes!
(See what I did there? Wreck? Ship? Hah!)
Another big research topic I’ll be doing soon is Aeroponics versus Hydroponics. These people have food, both plant-based and livestock, which means they grow crops. How? What’s their nutrition like? Their livestock’s nutrition? These are questions that need answered.
Not because they’re vital to the plot. They aren’t. At no point does a potentially under-nourished cow play a critical role in freeing this society from its oppressors. But, if I can lay the foundation of my own understanding, I can address any questions that might come up.
For instance, now that I think about it, goats are a far more believable protein source than cows. They’re way more versatile eaters and take up less space, while providing milk, cheese, meat, and hide.
But, if you haven’t noticed by now, the research spiral can be a dangerous thing. I think it’s why I’ve avoided it so far. Because questions only lead to more questions, and I have a tendency to want them all answered.
Let me tell you now, that is not necessary. You don’t have to answer every single question. Because ultimately you just need enough truth to wrinkle out any doubt from your manuscript.
Of course, it’s not a bad thing to do too much research. You just have to recognize when to rein it in and bring your focus back to what really matters: the manuscript.
So, I’m spending a lot of time doing research this round of edits. But, I still feel hopeful about an August finish. I think this round of edits will go by faster because there’s a lot of content creation happening. That’s way more interesting than going through line for line and reworking things.
But, all this content creation means I’ll probably have to do a fourth draft, to clean up the lines I’ve added in order to flesh everything out. Bummer. I still want to have all of that done by August.
I’m going to need an endless supply of coffee and snacks.
So, for the first time, in such a long time, I’m posting a “Craft Discussion” post! But first, a confession.
Yesterday, on my ten minute break, a certain famous author with whom I am obsessed tweeted that his literary agent is accepting queries for the first time in years. Several things happened in a very small space of time.
I squealed. I admit it, shamelessly. The opportunity to share my work with one of the best agents in my genre opened up, and I squealed.
Then I read the blog post, outlining the submission requirements. I soon convinced myself that I must write a query letter for Vessels.
I then worked for another two hours, trying not to puke from excitement/nerves.
Then I dashed through the minimum requirements of my homework in order to research and draft my first query letter.
So, I did it. I wrote a query letter for Vessels, which is now going under the title The Steel Armada. I spent the remainder of the evening giddy with the sheer weight of it all. I wrote a query letter! Me! It’s so… professional! And, given the examples I used as a template, and general feedback so far, it’s not a bad query letter.
All that’s left are some tweaks to the hooks, and to slim down my author bio, and I feel good about the letter. But, this agency also wants the first five pages of the manuscript. Initially, this was not a problem. I just finished the first round of edits on the first four chapters, so these pages are pristine and ready to rock.
Then I pasted them into the same space as my letter and read them in the vacuum that would be an email to a person I don’t know from Adam.
And suddenly this new outlook on my novel appeared, and it crushed me. All of the things that my gut said weren’t working became glaring, and stupid omissions. How could I not use such and such words to describe this? This part here doesn’t fit in with the rest. This is awkward. I hate this. Add in the occasional, that’s not bad, and my first five pages were suddenly a daunting workload to be combed over and perfected.
Which leads me to my real conundrum: I cannot, in good conscience, submit The Steel Armada, when I know it still needs so much work. The submission deadline is February 14th, and at first I had myself convinced that I could get most of the manuscript up to snuff by then.
Now, I’m not so sure.
With school and work, I’m not at all confident that I can make the necessary edits in so short a time. I could get maybe half of it done, and get the other half done while I wait for a response. And really, as much as I know I’m a good writer and that my story is good, it takes ages to get a literary agent. I know I’m not snagging this one right out of the gate. So maybe getting all these tweaks done before someone might ask to see more shouldn’t be such a concern.
But, it feels unfair. If they did ask to see more, I’d only be wasting their time, and shooting myself in the foot. The last thing I want is to present a product that isn’t the best possible representation of my chops as a writer.
So, I’m undecided. I still like the query, and I might just send it as a sort of “Fuck it”. Shrug of the shoulders and a silent plea to the writing gods as I click the intimidating “Send” button. But, I’m hesitant, now that the high of writing the thing has faded.
But, what I really wanted to say is that, if you haven’t written a query letter before, do it! Even if you have no intentions of sending it to anyone anytime soon. Write it. It forces you to boil down your book into the briefest descriptions, and makes you look at your work much more objectively than you might otherwise.
I spent quite a bit of time editing The Steel Armada, and though I knew there was something lacking, it wasn’t until I looked at the novel as a submission that I could hone in on the real problems. Because of this exercise in querying, my novel is going to be that much stronger.
So, in closing, I don’t know if I’ll be querying any agents anytime soon. But I’m glad I took the time to write a query letter and to consider, quite seriously, submitting The Steel Armada. The experience has been most instructive.
If you have experience, thoughts, or advice for my Query Quandary, please feel free to share them!
Anyway, I’ll talk at you all soon. Hopefully Monday, if I can manage to finish Castle in the Air by then. For now, I’m off to do homework, as usual.