Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Back From Retreat

I’m back from retreat at the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia. This was the view from my window in the early morning. Isn’t it gorgeous?


Glorious Mountain View

If you’re looking for an inexpensive location to get away to for “recharging” your writer’s batteries, I can’t recommend it enough. The Abbey built the retreat house specifically to lure people to the grounds, ostensibly for religious retreat, but not necessarily. My face-to-face critique group chose the Retreat House location primarily for writing.

One wonderful aspect of the Retreat House is a rule of respectful silence.

No talking is allowed at meals, no visitations are allowed in rooms, and guests are requested not to talk when meeting in the halls. In fact, it’s encouraged not even to meet the eyes of others or to nod or greet each other, as one aspect of retreat is meditation, and a simple acknowledgment of another’s presence could possibly interfere with his or her thoughts.

This silence created the perfect atmosphere for writing.

If that doesn’t excite you, the scenery might. Holy Cross Abbey is located in the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by mountains and hundreds of acres of pastureland. I spent a few afternoons soaking up the sunshine, banging away at the keyboard, listening to the cows low.

I sound like a commercial, don’t I? I can’t help it. I’ve had a fabulous week on retreat, and I’ve got all kinds of ideas kicking around in my head now. I can’t wait to get started.

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Capclave 2009

Capclave Dodo I’ll be at Capclave tomorrow, reading from Blood Soup.

Capclave is hosted by the Washington, DC Science Fiction Association and promotes short fiction. Their motto is: Where reading is not extinct!

The convention tends to be small and literary, but enjoys participation from big names in the field. This year’s Guest of Honor is Harry Turtledove.

I’ll be reading with other members of Broad Universe, including Jean Marie Ward, Roxanne Bland, Victoria Janssen and Diane Arrelle. We’ll be doing a “Rapid Fire Reading.” Each of us will read for ten minutes or less from out works.

And, we’ll have chocolate.

If you’re in the Washington Area around 1 p.m., please join us. I’d love to meet you.

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Blood Soup Available on Your Smart Phone!

Blood Soup by Kelly A. Harmon - Cover Flat

All Romance.com has partnered with Aldiko (an eBook reading application) to make their entire 10,000+ book-catalog available to Android Smart Phone users. (Here’s the entire Press Release at PR Web.)

The bottom line is: Smart Phone users can obtain stories via their phones without a computer, cables or subscription!

Which means, if you’re interested, you can purchase Blood Soup from pretty much anywhere you have a cell phone connection. (Blood Soup can be purchased here. )

I also recommend these titles from Eternal Press:

The Sea Wagon of Yan Tai by Steve Southard
Frenzy by Carole Johnstone
10:15 by Trent Kinsey.

If you like to “try before you buy,” Aldiko can hook you up. Download and install Aldiko and choose from thousands of books.

From the Gadgeteer Website: “Aldiko comes with Sun Tzu’s Art of War and H. G. Well’s The Invisible Man pre-loaded. However, you can browse and load any of the books available on Feedbooks right from the application. The site contains thousands of public domain and creative commons works.”

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

On Finding an Agent

Christina over at MiG Writers posted an excellent article yesterday about searching for an Agent. She calls it searching for your “Agent Mate.”

Nifty.

In a nutshell, Christine advises creating a chart of prospective agents, researching all about them by reading blogs, twittering, and attending conferences to meet and learn about them.

Her chart looks like this:

Agent Agency Books Repped Tidbits Date Subbed What was sent Response Comments

The chart process immediately appealed to my inner geek, especially because it’s dual purpose: it lines up the research and then acts as a contact record. (It also aligns nicely with the submission tracking chart I keep for all the stories and articles I send out. I can see myself adding this gem to my own Excel spreadsheet…)

I think Christina is right on the money when it comes to doing your research. But how do you find out the names of prospective agents?

Google is your friend…and there are tons of conferences you could go to find names, as suggested in Chritina’s article. But there are a number of Web resources containing most (if not all) the basic information you need. They provide the detailed information in a very short time–much faster, I think- than other sources.

I’d start with:

www.agentquery.com

Agentquery.com allows you to search by genre or keyword, and provides detailed information about agents which match your query, including:

– what the agent is looking for
– often, what the agent is *not* looking for
– authors and books the agent represents
– upcoming sales of the agent
– much more

Agentquery.com also links to hundreds of agent’s and publisher’s blogs, as well as the blogs of a veritable who’s who in the publishing industry. You can’t go wrong by checking it out.

WritersNet.com is another place to search for agents. I don’t think the search or the results are as good as AgentQuery, but it has the added value of “how to find agent” articles in your face as you search.

The Association of Author’s Representatives. This is the definitive location for agent information. In order to join, agents must meet specific criteria. The advanced search is cumbersome, but once set up, can be saved for future use. Also contains information about what agents do.

Once you find the names of prospective agents, set up your spreadsheet and begin your research: read his or her blog, follow the agent (or the agency) on twitter.

I think Christina’s chart is excellent, but I’d modify it a bit…because, well, once I start a chart, I can’t help but collect as much information as I’m able. Here’s what mine would look like…

Agent Agency Books Repped Author Repped Rights Sold? Notes What Appeals to Me About This Agent?

A, B or C List? The D List Date Info Was Collected Date Subbed What was sent Response Comments

What I’ve changed:

Added: Author Repped. This is important to me as I get to know authors in the field. The author becomes an additional source of information about the agent’s style and method.

Added: Rights Sold? Has the agent sold foreign rights? Movie rights? Each of these kind of deals requires a level of knowledge or expertise. Obtaining an agent with this kind of track record could be good for your own career.

Changed: Tidbits to Notes.
Just a personal preference. Serves the same purpose.

Added: What Appeals to Me About This Agent? After you follow an agent’s blog or twitter post’s for a while, you’ll begin to know them a little better: their style, their proclivities, etc. Once armed with what you know about him or her…why do you desire their representation? What makes this agent stand out? Write it down here.

Added: A, B or C List? This is a means to categorize where this agent might fall into the hierarchy of your desired representation. It’s likely there are a lot of agents who meet the criteria you need. Based on what you know from your research, choose a first, second and third tier of agents to attempt representation with. This makes your search more focused, and possibly, more successful in getting the exact agent you want.

Added: The D List. A list of agents you’re never going to contact. Make a note in this column if you’ve learned something about an agent that turns you off: perhaps your styles don’t jive (you like email, he likes snail mail). You’ve done the research, you don’t want to delete the info.

Added: Date Information Collected. Information ages. What you’ve learned today may not be the case tomorrow. Add some date information so you know how timely your data is.

What’s Next?
Create your query package and send it to the “A” list. Find an agent? Great! If not, move on to your B list, then C, if necessary. You could also try D…but I’m willing to bet that between searching through A, B, and C, there may be some new agents representing authors. Do another search and start again.

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Preparing for a Self-Directed Writer’s Retreat

I talked to the Baltimore Chapter of the Maryland Writer’s Association a few months ago about “Getting the Most out of a Writer’s Workshop.”

Much of what I talked about related to instructor-led workshops. But what about “self-directed” workshops or retreats? No agenda exists for them, not even a boilerplate one can subscribe to.

So, how do you prepare?

(Or do you toss preparation to perdition and ignore planning?) Maybe your idea of the perfect writing retreat is to grab your laptop and just sit down and write…?

You could do that.

I agree that taking that approach might result in extraordinary verbiage…but what will you have accomplished other than obtaining the writing equivalent of a high score?

I think if you take a more focused approach: get your writing affairs in order and make some goals, you’ll enjoy a more satisfying experience. That’s what I do.

I’m gearing up to go on retreat in October with my face-to-face critique group. I’ve no doubt I’ll spend some time with them while we’re away for the week (we haven’t discussed how much), but I believe we’ll be spending the bulk of our time away together…alone.  And I plan to use that time to target projects to get off my desk and submit to various markets. I’ve no doubt in doing so that I’ll manage satisfactory, if not a veritable high score, of word count along the way.

Discounting everything about the retreat except my writing (What should I take? What should I wear? What should I bring? Etc.) these are the things I’m doing to prepare:

1 – Cleaning Up My Writing Files – Both Paper and Electronic

I create a new electronic file for each article, story or chapter I’m working on almost every time I open it. There’s a reason for this: I might change something so drastically that “track changes” can’t revert. Keeping the old file allows me to do that. Or, the file may be corrupted as I carry it around on my thumb drive – I’ll have the previous file for retrieval.

Mostly, I maintain a separate file so that I can see how the word count grows each time I work on it. But those files tend to multiply rapidly…often in the wrong directory as I go from desktop to jump drive to laptop. They need some cleaning up.

My paper files aren’t so bad, but I have many projects running all the time: so there are lots of pieces floating around. Likewise, there are usually scraps of “story ideas” laying about: prints from science journals which caught my eye, something torn from a newspaper, lots of scribbled notes, etc.

I’ll be spending several hours putting it all away. And then I’ll be dusting off the desk and pushing the chair “just so” under it.

Why do this?

When I was younger and still lived with my parents, my Mom encouraged the family to clean the house top to bottom before we left for vacation. Everything had to be in its place: toys away, clothes washed and hung, floors vacuumed and swept. I hated it. We often cleaned until the minute we packed up the car to leave. Mom insisted there was no better feeling than coming home to a clean house to relax in after an exhausting vacation.

Mom was so right. (Are you reading this, Mom? You were right!)

When I get home from retreat, everything will be spic and span, files and research will be where I can find them, and my desk will be free of clutter to distract me from the writing momentum I hope to achieve while away.

2 – Evaluating Everything on my Writing Plate

My “writing plate” consists of everything I’ve ever started writing that hasn’t been sold yet. Big plate.

It includes the novel I’m shopping and the two novels I’m currently writing. It also includes a bunch of short stories that are languishing for whatever reason: plot holes, lack of market to send it to, forgotten about, not enough time to finish, etc. I also have some files of “vignettes” I started writing: scenes with wildly interesting characters or stories that petered out after the initial torrent of words spewed onto the page. Some are a mere sentence long; others, a few thousand words. And then, there’s the idea file: hundreds just laying there waiting to be written.

Lets not talk about non-fiction items.

I’m reviewing each article/fiction item/idea and evaluating what needs to be done to it in order for it to be marketable, and making a list of those items to work on while on retreat. There are several things I’m contemplating as I evaluate:

* How close is the piece to completion?
* If it’s complete, why is this piece still on the plate and not out making its rounds?
* What will it take to finish?
* Does it only need polishing? How long will that take?
* Does the item require more research before writing can continue?

Sadly, I have several stories that are finished and critiqued by my critique group. They only need the groups’ comments incorporated before sending out. These will be the top items on my list to complete.

(This would probably be a good time for me to make a “Master List” of all my files, along with notes of what needs to be done and how soon I think they can be completed. I should probably keep this kind of list up to date as I write…but I’m usually too busy writing to bother with the details… If I find time, I’ll probably do this while I’m evaluating.)

3 – Ranking the List

After reviewing all the items in my files, I’ll rank them in importance against my criteria (Should you feel compelled to try this insanely detailed system yourself, your criteria will likely be different, according to your goals). Items with the highest number of points at this stage will be put at the top of my list.

Below is my arbitrary point system. A story can meet multiple examples below and thus leap to the head of the pack with a very high score.

25 points Anything currently under a deadline, including self-imposed deadlines.
20 points All my completed, critiqued stories.
15 points Anything that’s almost done. Items that only need dedicated time at the computer to polish up.
15 points Any item in my “work in progress” directory that’s been there more than 12 months.
15 points Any non-fiction item – complete at 1500 words or less – for which the research is already done.
10 points Vignettes, story starters and scenes of 1000 words or more. (These may need additional evaluation later, to see if an actual story or plot emerges. For now, if I anticipate there may be time to work on any of these items while I’m gone, I’ll add them to the list.)
5 points Story ideas that might be worth tackling if there’s time.

Once everything is evaluated and ranked, I’ll return to my file cabinet and get any research or critiques which accompany the pieces and set them aside to take with me. Now will be a good time to make sure I pack any reference books I might need. (Of course I’ll take a good dictionary and thesaurus, but maybe my story set in ancient China will require me to pack the history book I was reading which inspired the tale…I’ll get that now and put it with the other items I plan to take.)

4 – Reviewing Market Lists (or: Modifying the Ranks)
There are many Web sites and newsletters which specialize in listing markets which are open to submissions. These are usually broken down by category, genre or closing date. I check several regularly: Ralan, Duotrope’s Digest, SpecFicWorld’s Market Database, to see if there are new or emerging markets than those I regularly submit to.

If any market looks interesting, I’ll review my list again and look for potential matches. I’ll add the points below to existing work and then re-rank the list, if necessary.

10 points Add to a story which might be a match for a market currently open to submissions.
15 points As above, if the market has a tight deadline.

The existence of an open market will allow me to focus even more on finishing an item.

5 – Making Sure All Completed Items are Out for Submission
While I’m doing all this record keeping, I’ll be updating my Submissions List: a spreadsheet of items I’ve got circulating to various markets. It’s an invaluable resource for me: I can see, among other things, what pieces are out and how long they’ve been at a particular market.

It’s also a nag.

A quick glance shows me which items have sat too long at particular markets, or (rats!) which pieces have been rejected – or whose rights have reverted back to me – and should have been submitted the day I got them back.

Ideally, those items shouldn’t have been left sitting, but sometimes I ignore the “business end” of being an author so that I can spend more time writing. So, before I leave, I’ll query, or resubmit, all those languishing items.

This isn’t a deal breaker. If I don’ manage to get this far, I’ll still go on retreat. But if I can manage it, all the better. How nice it would be to return not only to a clean desk, but a check in the mailbox!

So, that’s my plan. If I work hard enough before I go, I’ll have a roadmap for success (my weighted-list of projects to complete while I’m gone), a pristine work space to return to, and possibly an acceptance (or check!) in the mailbox as well.

As detailed as it sounds, I don’t intend to work the plan “no matter what.” Perhaps my muse will strike and I’ll work on (and one hopes, complete!) something new and exciting while I’m on retreat. If that happens, all the better. The prep work is still valuable…and puts me in the proper frame of mind for writing.

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Going on Retreat

Holy Cross Abbey GroundsI’m going on a writing retreat in October.

I got the confirmation card in the mail yesterday, reserving my room at the Holy Cross Abbey. All I need to do to firm up the reservation is send a postcard back, letting them know when I’ll be arriving. Will it be for dinner, or not?

I can’t wait to go. Two other members of my face-to-face critique group will be going as well. We’ll each have a private room, but we’ll be able to meet at any time to hold critique sessions (if we want). This is a retreat of our making, not one set up by the abbey, and we’ll be the ones to set the rules.

The only thing we’ll not be able to do is chat over dinner. Dinner at the abbey is a silent affair. No talking aloud. (In fact, this edict may mean no communication at all throughout the meal. I intend to find out: I’m going to use that time for studying how a silent meal is undertaken by monks…the experience will prove invaluable…for perhaps my next work-in-progress.)

Another thing I want to do is attend Vigils, a mass at 3:30 a.m. In fact, I’d like to spend an entire day attending all masses: Vigils, Lauds (7:00 a.m.), Mid-Day Prayer (2:00 p.m.) Vespers (5:30 p.m.) and Compline (7:00 p.m.) — just to have done it, of course. (Imagine the experience gained for writing!) But I think my writing will suffer…or at the very least, accomplishing my goals for the week may suffer.

My 2009 goals including finishing everything I had started. I believe it was around March that I realized I wouldn’t reach that goal…not while continuing to start several new projects this year. And although I’m already mulling over a piece I want to write once I arrive at the Abbey, I’m going to see how much of a dent I can put into my 2009 goals.

More about goals later. I’ve got a post card to fill out and return…and decisions to make: what shall I take? When shall I leave? What do I hope to accomplish?

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

I Have a Book Trailer!



I have a book trailer!

I don’t know why, but YouTube appears to have turned down the volume. You may need to turn it up when you view it.

The cover art (from which I stole the skull for the video) was done by Amanda Kelsey. The music, entitled, “Exciting Trailer,” was composed by Kevin McLeod.

Please let me know what you think!

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Remembering 9/11

September 11 2001 - Plane hitting World Trade Center It’s raining today.

Heavy, wind-blown curtains of rain snarl traffic, run ankle deep in the parking lot, and deliver a good soaking no matter how large an umbrella one carries.

Despite the cliche, I can’t help thinking the sky weeps for the atrocities carried out on 9/11/2001. The inauspicious weather mirrors my mood. It serves as a potent reminder.

Today I remember.

I remember those who died, and those who died fighting — saving and attempting to save those lives.

I honor those who continue to fight, and thank you for all that you do.

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Do You Like Free Fiction?

Cover of Blood Soup by Kelly A. Harmon

I’m giving it away!

I’m holding two contests as part of the launch of my novella, Blood Soup, on September 8th. Here are the rules:

Contest 1 – Getting Viral on Twitter

1) Optional: Follow me on twitter: @kellyaharmon. You don’t have to follow me to win…but I hope you’ll consider doing so. Of course, following me on twitter means you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the start time of this contest…and the second contest, as soon as they start.

2) Tuesday morning (September 8th) I’ll tweet about the launch with the location of where to buy the book. Re-tweet the information with the hash #BloodSoup. Abbreviate if you have to, but don’t omit the hash or the link.

3) The first person to re-tweet with the required info wins a free e-copy of Blood Soup.  I’ll also give out free copies to the 25th, 50th, 100th…and the last person to re-tweet the information on Tuesday.

Periodically through the day, I’ll do a search on #BloodSoup to tally up the tweets. I’ll announce winners as they happen.

Contest 2 – A Chance to Win Additional Fiction

1) Buy a copy of Blood Soup.

2) Follow me on twitter: @kellyaharmon.

3) Wait for me to announce a page number, line, and location of a specific word in the line…and then email me and tell me what the word is. For example, I may tweet: “What is the 6th word on line 10 of page 27?”

If you’re the first person to let me know via email, I’ll send you a print (or electronic, if you prefer) copy of either Black Dragon, White Dragon or Triangulation: Dark Glass (your choice) …two anthologies which contain short fiction I’ve written. I plan to give away at least five winners…more if I’m able to do so.

Spread the word! I want to give away lots of fiction!

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

In a Frenzy!

Cover of

I’m reading a fantastic book (a novella) by Carole Johnstone right now and I wanted to share. It’s called, Frenzy, and I can’t put it down. I plan to have a little Q&A with the author when I’m done, so look for that soon! Here’s the information:

Frenzy

Caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea…

Eight men wake up to find themselves on a life raft in the middle of an ocean. They are stranded and alone, with no memory of how they got there, and no idea if help is coming.

But they are not completely alone. As hours become days, as water rations dwindle and tempers fray, there stirs a threat more deadly than either sharks or each other.

There is a shadow in the abyss beneath their feet. Watching. Waiting. Stalking eight men lost and adrift above the deepest trench in the world…

Available in e-book format from Eternal Press
Available in print paperback from Amazon
ISBN: e-book: 978-1-926704-38-8; print: 978-1-926704-46-3
Visit the author’s website