Posts Tagged ‘submission’


For some writers, research is a necessary evil, something that simply needs to be done to keep from giving  inaccurate information to his or her readers. For me, probably due to the content I write about, research is a guilty pleasure~ a wonderful excuse to explore things I wouldn’t normally dare to.

For writing purposes, I’ve researched topics like mental and behavioral disorders, serial killers, drug withdrawal symptoms, vampire history, the process of death and dying (as well as embalming a body and the other duties of a mortician) and various physical and psychological illnesses, just to name a few. I know more about how a serial killer thinks, and the rate at which a human body decomposes than I ever wanted to know. Nothing, however, was more fascinating than the research I did on BDSM, or as most of us know it, kink.

In 2009, before I’d even heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, I had an idea for a vampire novel I wanted to write that had to do with kink. I imagined what it would be like if vampires treated humans as their personal slaves, trading doses of euphoria-inducing vampire venom for a limitless supply of human blood. In my mind, these vampires owned their humans and kept them like “pets.” Naturally, the customs of good old-fashioned S and M seemed like the perfect place to start, and I began my search for the local underworld of kink.

It wasn’t as easy to find as one might think. Kinksters don’t tend to advertise, apparently. I’d been searching for this community for several months when a friend of mine who knew about my quest for all things kinky, gave me a call and said she’d found the local kink community. I was thrilled.

I was stunned to find out that there were classes you could take, and that before I could attend one of their kink parties, I had to go through orientation. I had no idea it was so formal.  For fear of being exposed as a fraud, the first thing I needed was a “scene name.” A scene name is what you choose to go by among your fellow kinky peers. I chose the name Angel (as it turned out, the kinksters were perfectly okay with people who are just curious, who don’t wish to participate, and who just want to watch and ask questions, but I didn’t know that at the time, and thought I needed to be a believable kinkster.) So I started going to the classes once a week, and learned as much as can be learned  in a classroom setting about bondage, domination, submission, sadism, masochism, and the like.

Once I had familiarized myself with the lingo, the general rules, and had made friends with some of the kinksters, I was ready to start attending the kink parties. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do at one of these parties, so I asked a few friends of mine to go with me. They agreed to go to the orientation and attend the party with me afterwards… as my personal pets.

The friends I took as my slaves were two women and another guy. The women I named “Isis” and “Poetic Justice.” The guy I named “Winter” after a character in the book I was working on. I wore a suit and eyeliner. “Isis” was in a bustier with a frilly skirt and high heels. “Poetic Justice” was in piggy tails tied with red silk, a long overcoat, and hooker boots. The male, “Winter,” was in nothing more than a sheer pair of mesh boy-shorts (he had a thong on underneath so he wasn’t showing everything,) and one of those massive, cruel-looking metal dog collars that digs into the pets neck if they stray too far. We’d written various lines of my own poetry all over his body with a marker and I also put him in eyeliner. He wore no shoes.

I had leashes for each of my “pets,” and let me tell you, entering and exiting rooms is a lot harder than it looks when you’ve got three people on leashes… but we made it to the party. We were greeted by some of the folks I’d met at the classes, and I introduced my “pets” to them, though the pets aren’t allowed to speak without their master’s permission, and as pets, no one spoke to them without asking me first.

We went in and sat down. Well, I sat down and my “pets,” as per the custom, kneeled on the floor at my feet. We watched several floggings, saw a woman bound and suspended upside-down from the ceiling, and watched some very fascinating fire play on a nude woman. One of the friends I’d met in the community was there, and she was having the skin on her back punctured with colorful body “pins” to create a design that made it appear that she had wings. Another one of the kinksters I’d previously befriended was also there, and he wanted to give me a beating with a wicked-looking bamboo stick. After much hesitation, I finally agreed, after laying down my ground rules: no clothes come off, no hitting me below the waist, and start out soft!

I quickly tired of the bamboo stick, and realized with no surprise, that such exercises didn’t do much to excite me in the same ways it does some people. Fascinating as it the whole thing was visually, we all grew very tired pretty early on and left the party after just a couple of hours. I attended one more party after that before considering my research complete.

Although the world of kink had little to offer me in a personal way, I made some great friends, and learned many fascinating things that have continued to feed my writing. My few months in the BDSM community gave me years worth of material, and I used every bit of it in The White Room, and in Beautiful Monster, which will be released on September 1st, 2012.

Research is, if nothing else, a mind-opener. As it’s been in all cases, I quickly learned that the truth about kink is about as far from my pre-conceived notions as it can get. I was astounded to realize how few kinksters do this solely for sexually gratifying purposes. I was intrigued by the customs and the very proper protocol. I was relieved by the safety and sanitary measures that were observed in these practices, and I was amazed by the laid-back, welcoming attitude of the group. I gained a certain respect for kink that I never had before, and although I don’t go to the parties anymore, I still have a lot of friends from that time. The psychology and philosophy of these folks has given me many things to muse about, and for me, that’s the whole point. Sometimes, when we’re stuck, we just need something new to stir our creative minds. That’s what research does, and I absolutely love it.

Since Beautiful Monster has been accepted for publication, my publisher has asked to see The White Room, which is the book I did the kink research for that was written previous to Beautiful Monster. The manuscript needs a lot of work and my goal is to have it ready by the end of this year. As I’m revising the book, I’m remembering all the things I learned about kink, and I’m grateful for the research I did on that topic. No, I don’t mind research a bit, and I look forward to doing more of it on more fascinating subjects in the future.

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Of the various steps a writer should take before handing his or her query letter or manuscript over to an agent or publishing house, probably the most important one is getting raw, honest feedback from a few trusted readers. These lucky folks are called Alpha and Beta readers.

An Alpha (Alpha meaning first) reader is the first person who gets to see your work. This person has the responsibility of stopping you from further embarrassment before anyone else gets to see it. The Alpha reader should therefore, in my opinion, be your strongest critic. This person must be wholly comfortable telling you what sucks about your manuscript and what doesn’t. An education in English and Grammar is also a plus.

In my case, my Alpha reader is Kim William-Justesen, author of My Brother the Dog, The Hey! Ranger series, and co-author of Love and Loathing. Kim acquired her MFA (Masters of Fine Arts in Writing) from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2003. Not to mention, she has been circulating throughout the literary world for a good number of years, so she kind of knows her stuff – and, as it should be, she is probably harder on me than anyone else.

Kim is really the only person who gets to see my work in its most unpolished and unrefined state. However, knowing that she will be reading it, I work hard to keep it clean and neat, and to follow the rules of writing fiction, which automatically puts me in better shape. A typical page that’s been critiqued by Kim usually comes back to me with plenty of issues. Unnecessary words are called into question, 90% of all adverbs are slashed, question marks indicate a characters inconsistent voice or behavior, and of course, misspellings, grammar issues, and improper English is marked. Not to leave out issues with paragraph breaks, timing, dialogue, too much exposition, tense shifts and logic flaws. The point is, at first sight, the returned pages are often intimidating and discouraging but this is probably the most important part of the process.

After the necessary changes are made, my wife Heather is next in line. Heather isn’t really an Alpha or a Beta reader really, but (even though I am her husband), she is honest with me. Heather has a keen eye for small details that often get overlooked by me (little things like a murder scene in which the victim falls the opposite direction he should have after having been struck by a pissed she-vampire!) This is Heather’s strength and it has come in handy many times.

After Heather, my manuscripts go to a few trusted friends. Some of them are writers and some of them are not… but all of them are avid readers who know why something does or doesn’t work. These are my Beta readers.

Beta readers are, in some ways, the most important of all, because they are not looking for grammar and spelling issues. They are literally sitting down with your book and reading it front to back, and giving an opinion of the overall feel of the story. And it’s amazing sometimes what a Beta reader might catch. For example, it was my sister who caught a major discrepancy in time while reading The White Room. Speaking of sisters, family will often want to read your work, and that is good. But keep in mind that often times, they are not going to be as forthright with you as someone who is unrelated to you. That being said, I have received quite a lot of good feedback from family and close friends. Still, for purposes of critique, I rely more heavily on people who didn’t change my diapers and see me through that nasty adolescent stage!

Having Beta readers is fun too, because you get to revisit your story with a new eyes, so to speak. Right now, my friends Tom and Sherrie are in possession of The White Room. Tom is freaking out about the spider in Gretchen’s hair (a scene I’d pretty much forgotten about) and I am cracking up because I can’t wait to see how he acts when he gets to the other spider scene (insert evil laugh here).

After a manuscript has been through several hands, professional and unprofessional alike, a writer can now submit his or her manuscript to an agent, editor, or publisher without fear of being rejected due to sloppy errors and lazy plot holes. Now, when you receive your rejection letter (and you will), you will have the confidence to continue submitting, knowing that no matter what anyone else says, your story is a good, strong one… and one day, the right person will see that.


     In September of 2010, I met my first literary agent at a writing conference in Salt Lake City.  She’d flown in from New York City to be on the panel and to meet new writers.  At that time, I was just more than half way finished with my first full-length novel, The White Room.

     This agent is maybe five feet tall, weighs perhaps ninety pounds wet, and is probably nearly ten years my junior.  I had no reason to be intimidated by her.  However, as we talked and she asked me more and more questions, I grew very anxious.  For the first time that I can recall, I broke out into a terrible and embarrassing sweat.  I was that nervous.  But she was very polite.  She asked me all about the story, the dynamics between the characters and how the story would end.  After trembling my way through the conversation, she did something every aspiring writer dreams of: she handed me her business card.  Then she said something every aspiring writer hopes to hear.  She said, “When you are finished, and if you are interested, I’d like you to send me the full manuscript.”

     “I’ll be finished by the end of November,” I said, and even as I spoke the words, I mentally kicked myself for having said them.  No way was I going to be finished that soon.

     “Don’t rush,” she said, “I want you to write a good story.  But if you can have it finished within the next six months, just send me the manuscript and your cover letter.  If it takes longer than six months, send a query letter as well, just to remind me who you are.”

     I went downstairs, not really understanding the weight of what had happened.  My mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen (Mimi) was sitting on a sofa in the lobby (we were at a hotel by the airport).  When she asked me how it went, I told her placidly that I guessed it had gone okay.  As I told her the details of my conversation with the agent, she became ecstatic.  “Do you realize what this means?” she said.  I replied that no, I really didn’t.  “It means she asked you to send your entire manuscript!  And you can send it ‘requested material!'”

     I went home that night and plowed into the story with everything I had.  For the next two months, I did nothing but write.  I wrote sometimes for twelve hours straight.  I didn’t eat.  I didn’t go out with friends.  I didn’t do anything outside The White Room.  I even called in sick to work on several occasions to write. 

     I finished the first draft of the manuscript on October 24th, 2010.  With the help of Kim, I’d been revising and polishing quite a bit as I went along, but I still needed to do a full read-through and incorporate more revisions.  That took just over a month, and by the seventh of December, Kim and I were standing in line at the post office, manuscript in hand.

     We got into my car after mailing it off.  I looked at Kim and I remember saying to her, “It’s going to kill me if she doesn’t take it, you know that, don’t you?” 

     I’d promised myself I wouldn’t get too excited.  I was fully aware of the odds.  To meet one agent, one time, on your first book, and being taken by that agent… well, that’s a lot of lightning to strike in same place at once.  I knew this.  So I wasn’t going to get my hopes up… but a funny thing happens when you’ve finished a novel and sent it out to an agent that has expressed interest in you:  you get your hopes up.  Despite the odds, despite the plethora of rejection letters every writer is wise to expect, you get your hopes up. 

      “It won’t kill you,” Kim said, “this is just part of the game.  If she says no, you’ll send it to someone else.  And if they say no, you’ll send it out again.  I hate to tell you this, but writing the book is the easy part.”

     For the first month or so after sending the manuscript off, I was fine.  By week seven, I was a mess.  According to the website, it takes four to eight weeks for the agents to respond to manuscripts sent Requested Material.  Despite my efforts, I was obsessed with whether or not the agent had read it and whether she loved it or hated it.  Then I began obsessing over whether or not it even made it to her.

     In the meantime, Kim and I began a joint project we’re currently calling An Evil Heart.  This new book was the only thing that distracted me from the imagined fate of The White Room.  It makes no sense to write a book, send it off and wait.  Most agents require sole viewing rights to your manuscript, which means you can’t print off a hundred copies of your book and send each one to a different agent to further increase your chances of snagging someone’s attention.  Well, you could do this, but it is considered unethical and unprofessional, so I surmised that with me being so new to the game, I would be wise to play by the rules.  Since this agent had personally requested my manuscript, I figured she deserved that much from me.

     But here’s the hard part about that.  As of tomorrow, this agent will have had The White Room for three full months.  If I get an e-mail, a phone call, or a letter in the mail saying, “Thanks, but… well, this sucks,” that’s three months the book could have been circulating among other agents who might be interested in the story as well.  I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bother me just a little bit.

     On the plus side, I did receive an e-mail from the agent on February 8th saying that due to the holidays, she was behind schedule and thanks for understanding.  I guess that’s something.  But again… that was a month ago.

     Truth is, I don’t know if I’m tough enough for this.  I’m not saying I will quit if the agents passes on The White Room, but I am saying that, despite my efforts otherwise, it will not be easy for me to accept.  I went into this business full knowing I was in for a lot of waiting and a lot of rejection.  I thought I could handle it.  But what if I can’t?  The waiting alone just floors me some days and I am continually astounded by the wide range of emotions this whole thing invokes.  It’s exhausting is what it is. 

     There are days I think I’ll be okay if she says no to me.  After all, there are thousands of agents out there, not to mention, I have about a hundred more books to write before I die.  But then there are the other days when I am sure that if she says no, especially after all this time, I will implode on myself and lose faith in my writing… and never dare put myself through this again.

     But this is part of the game.  This is how it works, and I know of only one thing that alleviates the agony: keep writing.  Write your ass off and start dreaming of the next storyline, the next agent… the next novel.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  I’ve decided that I need to understand the difference between the things I can control, and the things I can’t.

     This is what I can control:  I can keep writing and I can write damned good if I want to.  I can continue to search for the next great storyline and I can learn and improve the skills I need to execute it beautifully.  I can present myself accordingly and hopefully garner a reputation as professional if not a marketable writer. I can understand how this business works and continue to send my work to agent after agent after agent if I have to…

   And here’s what I can’t control:  I can’t control who publishes any of my work or when.  I can’t control what anyone thinks of my style, my content or my talent.  I can’t control the market, nor can I accurately predict what’s hot and what will sell.  In short, I can’t control the world or anyone in it.

     But, despite the agent’s silence, I am at peace now.  I’ve decided that I’m not in the results business.  It’s up to me to do the footwork and write the books, and write them well.  But it’s up to the agents, the universe, whoever… to control the results.  I can’t control any of that.  All I can do is write and be good at it, and that’s okay.  The writing of the story is the real joy of this process.  That is a fact I nearly forgot.  So I don’t need to think about my manuscripts once they’re in the mail.  It’s not my business anymore.  All I can do is… keep writing…

     So I’m gonna.