Notes from @Scalzi on Writing / Querying

John Scalzi did an AMA on Reddit yesterday, so I took the opportunity to ask a me-specific question:

So the key here for any author, regardless of stature, is the ability to keep going. It doesn’t matter what you did before, it matters what you’re going to do next. Lack of success isn’t the universe saying ‘no.’ It’s the universe saying ‘not yet.’ Write on!

Thank you, Amelia! More Helpful Free Author Tools

I got a lovely note from Barbara Lincoln, a librarian in Salt Lake City last Thursday, who writes:

Good Afternoon Mr. Allen, I would just like to say a quick word of thanks!

As a youth services librarian and educator, I’ve been running a fun writers workshop for 12-15 year olds and thought you might enjoy hearing that we were able to get some great use out of your writers’ interest links lists before the self-quarantine and social distancing. We were even able to use some of this information for our most recent group project!

Thanks so much for sharing! I hope you don’t mind, but one of our youngest, Amelia has also asked me if I could share an article that she and her mother found together on writing basics for young writers, which includes a great breakdown of potential writing careers, education options and essential skills, self-publishing, book proposals, the editing process, etc. I’ve included it below if you’d like to review! We noticed you don’t have this one listed yet, but Amelia was actually the one to bring up that this could be something you might like to include for other young writers who could also be coming across your information and have an interest in becoming a published author someday, like Amelia!

If you find you are able to use this one, would you please let me know? We’re meeting tomorrow virtually, and I would absolutely love to surprise Amelia if you’re able to do so – I’m hoping to keep spirits up in light of what’s happening across the country right now, and I think it would make her day to know she was able to ‘pay it forward’ and maybe even show her mother her contribution if it ends up being included!

Thanks again for all your help here Jackson,

Barbara Lincoln

Thank you, Ms. Lincoln – this was a welcome message to receive.

I’m happy to say that I loved the idea and included Amelia’s contribution on the Free Author Tools Page, with credit. Now it’s up there to help other authors, too! Thank you, Amelia!

Information like this is absolutely essential for other authors since learning how to write for a living is a challenge for anyone at any age. I love that I’m able to help the young authors of SLCCN and thanks to kind people like them, I’m able to pass along more helpful author-related info.

Thank you again! You made my day.


Mesh – Forging and Shaping

As promised, Mesh has gone through another round of edits and now it’s ready for presentation to new lit agents. The changes made to Mesh and the process of these edits reminded of something: forging and shaping steel into a sword. Watch this cool video, and then I’ll explain what I mean:

What you may have noticed at 3:37 of the video is how the blacksmith had to go back again and again to heat, shape, re-heat, and re-shape the steel until the design matched his expectations. Sure, there were plenty of times where he could have said ‘done, good enough.’

However the blacksmith has his standards, and when it comes to writing I have mine. Yes, I thought Mesh was done before, but when it was obvious there were things that could be better, I have no choice. I have to go back and re-shape the material, especially if I expect my ‘blade’ to survive the battle.

Forging and shaping Mesh has other benefits: the feedback received now shows Mesh is a high-MG/low-YA novel, not just a YA novel as previously thought. I wasn’t aware that there was such a strong distinction, but there is and it means life-or-death to an agent query. (Click here to read more about why that matters)

So in a nutshell, Mesh is ready for viewing (again). I sincerely hope that the book is ready for the next phase of the journey, but I have to be ready to go back to the forge if it’s not. Thumbs up!


Sci-Friday #61 – 40 Behind-the-Scenes Photos of Star Wars

I’m sorry I missed Sci-Friday last week; crunching away at re-drafting Mesh to make it even better. To make up for it, here are some awesome photos you’ve probably never seen from the production of Star Wars. And there are some here that *I’ve* never seen before. Enjoy – have a great weekend!

40 photos from the making of the STAR WARS Saga (1999-2005). May the Fourth Be With You!

Your Fear? It’s Called Cleithrophobia

Taking a break from editing draft 1.8 of Mesh. Nearly done, but I’m not going to lie: this writing game is work. Like, serious work. For the moment, let’s talk about something else: that fear you and I are both fighting our way through. It’s the fear of being stuck, and it’s called Cleithrophobia.

I want to discuss it because I’m feeling it more every day, and based on the news happening in the world, so is everyone else. It starts every afternoon, around one or two, the sweet promise of morning is gone and we’re not quite satisfied with the progress we made today. The sun passes its zenith and the sky turns a faded denim blue.

You were going to get farther, the voice whispers. You were supposed to do more. Maybe if you check the news again, someone will have a solution. Maybe a new email has arrived, solving all your problems. The stress builds up in a ball just below your rib cage. You’re stuck, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

You try to block it out, but the fear is always there. It’s compounded by the fact that your eyes are on the horizon, watching or waiting for something bad to happen. You know you’ve prepared as best you can, but it may not be enough. You’re stuck. You’re trapped here. You must wait it out. But the waiting grinds at your nerves.

Did I do enough? the voice in my head whispers. Did I try hard enough? What if I could have done something else? What if there was something I should be doing while you were waiting but I didn’t know to do it? You didn’t see the solution, you didn’t ask the right person, you weren’t watching close enough.

I want to solve this problem, you scream in your head.

So does everyone else, the angry little man answers.

What if I miss out, we scream. There must something else we can do. Something. Anything!

But what, the voice whispers back? Where will you go? What will you do?

I could do this. I could try that!

Look, the voice grumbles back. You’ve got a lifeboat. Stay there. It’s all you can do.

The nightmare is there, just outside your door. So real that your dreams are filled Godzilla-sized monsters blocks from your house. You can see them, but no one else can. You want to scream, to run, to point, to warn. But it doesn’t matter. The only person who can see the monsters is you, and no one will believe you.

The thing about Cleithrophobia is that it’s not just about being physically trapped, it’s about being trapped in situations. You feel stressed because you want to leave the situation, but there’s nothing to be done about it. All you can do is wait, and hope. Try different techniques to combat your stress, or process your feelings. Some people try therapy, others need medication, still others use philosophy. But one thing you can’t do, what none of us can do, is get away. There’s no escape. We’re all in this for the duration.

All you can do is wait, and hope. If you can relate, you should know that you aren’t alone. I don’t know what to do either, and it scares me to death.



Great Moments in Storytelling: King Kong

Thanks to COVID, I’m hacking through my library again, and it gives me the opportunity to talk about great moments in storytelling. Today’s masterclass comes from fifteen years ago: Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. When Peter Jackson originally planned to make King Kong, no studio was prepared to let him try. Instead, he made a trilogy of movies called ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ leveraging time, technology, and success to come back and re-make the classic movie for a new century.

On paper, that might sound like a bad idea. After all, the 1976 King Kong was beyond ridiculous. What made Jackson think he could make it a success? The answer, in one word: story.

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It’s Tough Being an Outlier

It's Tough Being an OutlierI was reading an article about social media and disinformation on the Atlantic. It made me realize that one of my challenges is that being an outlier is tough. Much harder than it used to be. Thanks to the weaponization of information in our post-truth civilization, telling my story is going to be a lot harder than it would be even ten years ago.

It gets worse the more you dig into it. I want to remain a private person, period. I’m not the only person who feels this way, check out this article about Jesse Eisenberg. He makes no bones about his desire for privacy and the emotional minefield of public interviews.

I also think this why Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, has no interest in publicity. Some creative people are simply happier when they’re left alone. I think I am one of them.

The question simply is, what is going to happen to me if Mesh goes big? That’s something I think a lot about. I’ve been cultivating my social media over the past several years in preparation for that moment. What scares me is how fast it could get away from me, despite my best intentions. Or worse yet, doesn’t because no one wants to read what I’ve written.

What I don’t want is to become the target of an online fight. I’m afraid of things like cancel culture. But how do I navigate those fears without giving up on my dreams? I’m studying others, figuring out what works for them, as I ponder all of these questions. Right now, I need to get back to Mesh, but wanted to jot these notes down while i was thinking of them.


Rejection Teaches You More Than Acceptance

I was informed today that Mesh was removed from one of the competitions I entered the manuscript into. It’s disappointing, of course, but the silver lining is that I got some insightful feedback from the readers. It’s certainly true that rejection can teach you more than acceptance ever could. Those notes give me fresh motivation to complete this version of the draft and re-double my efforts to get Mesh into the hands of readers.

So what did they think? Here’s the highlights from their feedback:

“Mesh benefits first and foremost from a very marketable setup that feels as if it could cater to a large and very devoted fan base for young adult fiction … That being said, the story does a nice job with plot, particularly when it comes to the activeness of Roman as a protagonist in his efforts to escape from his home. … Additionally, the pages find plenty of fun and original details to implement throughout the narrative, especially with aspects such as the Mesh that links the various students and the exoskeleton that allows Roman to walk.”

I always have a moment when someone professional gives me frank, objective feedback. There’s that dreaded moment, the one where you’re waiting for them to say “Sorry, this has to start all over again.” I’m happy to say that Coverfly didn’t say that to me. In the world of writing, that’s a huge hurdle to cross and I want to make sure I celebrate that victory with you.

Now of course, they had some suggestions on how to improve the story, and I’ll be including them in this upcoming draft. The main thing that I take from this is that Mesh is still moving forward, and people see big things ahead. I’ll take five minutes for a happy dance, and then it’s back to work.


Picture of what an elliptical machine may look like

So one thing I haven’t talked about up until now is how I stay healthy. I know that asking an author for fitness tips is like asking a squirrel to do brain surgery, but it’s still important. We’re all mammals and being creative is no excuse to be fat. So that said, how does a socially-anxious introvert get fit? Let’s take a moment to talk about it.

To begin with, all my exercise tips are based on what I have found works for me. Got it? No ‘one simple trick,’ no ‘lose 30 lbs in 30 days’ programs. I’ve tried them all, and they all suck. Want to know what does work for me? It’s easy:

I stop looking at fitness as a problem to be solved, and instead look at it as something to be curious about. Look at it look a system to be hacked. Take all the judgement out of the equation, and just look at physical fitness and health by themselves. What do I want? What have I tried? What have I learned? What works? What doesn’t? Continue reading