Back on my blog-ish

13 06 2010
Wow!  A full year has passed since I last chronicled my journey to the published land, and what a difference a year makes.  This time last year, I was still pursuing the pipe dream of publication by a traditional publisher.  I was querying literary agents, waiting for their responses with bated breath, and taking solace when the response wasn’t so bad.  Now here I am a year later on the verge of publishing my first book! 
 
Before you get too excited let me make a correction, by first book I mean my publishing company’s first book.  That’s right, peeps, in the space of twelve months I’ve gone from just another writer clamouring for someone’s attention, trying desperately to achieve publication, to a full-blown publisher myself!  That’s quite a leap even by my own high standards.  So what caused the cataclysmic shift, you ask?
 
It was really a combination of several motivating factors and one very serendipitous text message!  I’ve learned and grown so much over the past year.  It really is quite amazing to look back and see the progression.  And best of all, because of this crucial decision, ONE BLOOD, my debut novel about a two hundred year old curse from slavery that comes back to torment a contemporary cast of diverse characters unaware of their hidden connections, is only a year away!  Let the countdown begin!
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Important Announcement (www.pantheoncollective.com)

8 02 2010

Friends and Family,

Today I’m happy to make a very exciting announcement. In November of last year I joined forces with kindred writing spirits Stephanie Casher and James Lewis to create The Pantheon Collective! TPC is a independent publishing incubator that will be putting out my novel One Blood as well as novels from my two partners over the next twelve months. And you will get a front row seat to watch the whole process on our new website www.pantheoncollective.com -which is live NOW! I want to personally thank you very much for all your support over the years and ask for your continued support. Tune in daily to see how we will overcome the odds to launch our books and keep checking in for updates on our novels and other future projects.

Thanks!

Qwantu





Rejection # 16…You’re a Good Writer

11 06 2009

Allow me to re-introduce myself.

My life has completely transformed since I last blogged. In August of last year I was living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I have since moved back to the US after receiving the biggest promotion of my young career. Any time you move, it puts your life into upheaval, and I had to put One Blood down for a while to reaclimate myself to the US after 2 years living overseas. It’s amazing how far this book has traveled with me.

I began writing One Blood in January 2000. At the time I was living in Tallahassee, Fl. Since then I have moved overseas twice and all over the eastern seaboard from Philly to NJ. My professional career has blossomed. I’ve married and divorced.

Now it’s nine and a half years later. I’m a far cry from the 23 year old idealist who decided to write a book out of thin air. I’m more educated about the writing process, the editing process, and the publication process. I’ve poured countless hours into this project, honing my voice, ramping up the suspense, rounding out my characters. I can honestly say this book is as good as I can make it.

Now my fate lies in the hands of the agents, editors, publishers, sales and marketing folks, and booksellers. The best decision I made was not to self-publish. Self-publishing is an attractive option to many people, but I know I wouldn’t have put nearly as much into the story as I have if I could just pay someone to put my words in print.

So here we go again. I recently attended the Book Expo America conference in New York at then end of May. I pitched 6 agents and for the first time felt genuine excitment about my book. I attach for your reading pleasure, rejection # 16. I’m getting closer!!!

Dear Mr. Amaru:

Thank you for following up on our conversation at the Writer’s Digest Books Writers Conference. I recall that you categorized your manuscript as a supernatural thriller, and I wonder whether it could also be termed urban fiction. Without a brief bio, I can’t assume this is your first effort to find a publisher for your work. However, if that does happen to be the case, you might be well served by a reputable small publisher whom you can approach directly with a query or submission. Most independent publishers accept direct (unagented) queries, and while some might not have the cachet of a major adult trade publisher, they’re a good place to launch a writing career. With a book contract from a publisher, you can join the Authors Guild and obtain free legal advice, and of course you’d have no trouble getting an agent to negotiate your contract at that point.

Although your work is not quite what I’m seeking, I’d be happy to send you a list of a few small publishers that you might research further for exact submission guidelines and then contact directly. I can do that if you let me know which handful of categories might fit your novel, such as paranormal, thriller (you’ve mentioned), urban fiction, etc. I won’t be able to give you an exhaustive list of publishers to consider, but perhaps it would be a start. I should point out that if you’re determined to sell this book through an agent, you should not contact publishers on your own.

If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll assume you have an offer from another agent. I sincerely hope that will be the case. You’re a good writer.

“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.”

~Herm Albright





Rejections 13, 14, and 15

9 08 2008

The last two months since the Book Expo have really gone by in a blur. The writing/ publishing process continues to amaze and educate me. I have commented in previous blogs that seeking out and being rejected by agents forces a writer to truly evaluate the readiness of their project. I have believed my book to be “finished” at least five times over the past two years only to learn that this could not be farther from the truth.

A few people have read my book during it’s various phases of completion. The last two were Anita Diggs, a manuscript editor, and my good friend – fellow scribe Stephanie Casher. Anita reviewed the book in May and Stephanie reviewed it in June. I have already commented on Anita’s review in a prior blog. In this blog I wanted to comment on Stephanie’s review and how much each review in their own ways have opened my eyes to the issues in my story and the possibilities that have opened.

Stephanie, in addition to reading the book, also took it upon herself to edit as well (she’s the best!). She really went above and beyond the call of duty and I am forever in her debt. What Stephanie’s and Anita’s reviews have in common is regarding the antagonist of my story. Both of them mention the fact that his actions throughout the story were difficult to believe.

As the writer, I really had a hard time hearing this critique because I felt my villain was perfectly crafted, 3 dimensional, and despicable. Then I realized that they agreed with me. The problem was motivational. The reader didn’t buy his motivations.

During the writer’s conference, I had the opportunity to attend three workshops that have helped me understand this issue much better – Fire in Fiction, Plotting a Novel They Can’t Put Down, and Revising a Novel They Can’t Put Down.

In Fire in Fiction, superagent Donald Maas discussed overcoming reader barriers in science-based or supernatural thrillers. He mentioned the need for the writer to overcome reader resistance in a slow, sure, patient manner. He also described strategies to make settings “live” through the characters who inhabit them. Then he discussed “voice”. Writer’s hear this all the time, how an author has a unique voice. Voice is nothing more than how you speak through your characters. Do you use short punchy sentences, long compound sentences, or a combination of the two. Does this voice work with the type of story you are telling?

Donald Maas was one of my early rejections and he rejected the novel at that time because he didn’t get into my characters and he thought my sentences were too long. My voice didn’t match the tone of a page-turning thriller.

In PNTCPD, writer James Scott Bell described the LOCK system for plotting a novel.

L – LEAD
O – Objective
C – Confrontation
K – Knock-Out

He had a lot of useful advice such as, “A plot is two dogs and one bone.” I love that! He described the three types of lead characters: The positive lead (hero), the negative lead (attractive through power), and the anti-hero (has his own moral code). His number 1 rule for lead characters is NO WIMPS!

In terms of OBJECTIVE, the lead must want something badly, something that is essential to his/her well being. There are 2 kinds of objectives – to get something or to get away from something.

Confrontation drives the plot and here is where we get into what I needed to learn. The opposition character has to be stronger than the lead and three dimensional, meaning, justified in their actions and sympathetic (at least to themselves). He also speaks of confrontation as the adhesive of the story which explains why these two opponents must fight until the end.

The knock-out is the big finish and there are 5 types: The lead wins, the lead loses, the lead wins but loses, the lead loses but wins, or an ambiguous ending.

My takeaway from James linked to Anita and Stephanie’s critiques. I needed to amp up my confrontation!

In RNTCPD, James described the types of problems writers encounter as they revise their stories. You’ve got the slow opening, flat lead, or weak opposition. Here I encountered that my novel suffered from slow opening.

With each rejection, my novel gets stronger and better. I will leave you with my very first query letter for my novel written back in 2006 and my current query letter. You tell me which book you want to read!

Query 2006:

“You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” Malcolm X once said this about America and this insight forms the backbone of my novel One Blood. This novel was written in the tradition of such seminal polarizing works as Native Son, Invisible Man, and Beloved. Although we have progressed as a society since Malcolm X spoke and Wright, Ellison, and Morrison wrote their master works; racism, lies, greed, and murder still persist in this country. America is a broken home, disrupted by division and paralyzed by ignorance. America needs to wake up and move from denial to acceptance to solutions. Publishing my novel One Blood is a definite part of that solution. But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. One Blood (163,000 words) tastes like a well paced supernatural suspense novel that will appeal to fans of contemporary bestselling authors like Dan Brown, Michael Connelly, Stephen King, and Tananarive Due because it contains the best elements of suspense, mystery, horror, and drama.

With its rich tapestry, complex history, and natural vulnerability (as evidenced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita), the tragically beautiful state of Louisiana forms the perfect backdrop for this suspenseful tale of Revenge, Revelation and Revolution. It has been said that life often presents us with a choice of evils, rather than of goods. One Blood presents the reader with two men who are products of two very different environments. The first man is an impoverished African-American orphan turned gang banger (Lincoln Baker) sent to prison for life without parole at the age of seventeen after a brutal gang war dubbed The Simmons Park Massacre in which his best friend Kristopher, son of a racist Louisiana Senator, is killed in the crossfire. Over the course of the next ten years locked up inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Lincoln discovers a family he never knew existed and learns that one man is responsible for his father’s death, his mother’s exile, and all of his life’s suffering—the ex-Senator and now current Governor of Louisiana (Randy Richard). Randy Richard has yet to overcome two significant tragedies. In addition to his only son’s murder at the hands of gangs, his father, a Grand Wizard of Louisiana’s most violent chapter of the Klu Klux Klan, was brutally murdered by a group of black militants. Ten years after his son’s violent demise, his teenage daughter is kidnapped and the ransom calls for the immediate release of Lincoln Baker. On the morning of Lincoln’s release, an explosive cocktail of racism, vengeance, serendipity, fate, and truth detonates throughout Louisiana. The tremors are devastating for a diverse cast of characters all linked by the Simmons Park Massacre. When the dust settles, the ending is as unexpected as it is illuminating.

Growing up in Lake Charles, LA, I had the opportunity to witness former KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke’s meteoric rise to political power and observe how he almost became Governor. I always wondered what would have happened had he won the office, and Bad Blood is in large part a result of my curiosity. It allowed me to examine and combine American/Louisiana history, politics, prison, and psychology into a blender and produce a novel that is sure to provoke controversy, discussion, and even a bit of fear. I certainly appreciate your time and eagerly welcome your expert opinion, or a request to submit my entire manuscript.

Sincerely yours,

Qwantu Amaru

Updated Query:

Dear Agent Name:

In my first novel of supernatural suspense, ONE BLOOD (90,000 words), the Governor of Louisiana must confront his belief in a two hundred year old curse after his daughter is kidnapped on her eighteenth birthday. And a lifer at the Louisiana State Penitentiary becomes an unlikely protagonist while confronting his belief in his reasons for kidnapping the Governor’s daughter.

Growing up in Louisiana during the nineties, I witnessed former KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke’s meteoric rise to political power. I always wondered what would have happened had he been elected Governor. ONE BLOOD is in large part a result of that curiosity.

ONE BLOOD can be described as the book Stephen King and Richard Wright might have written had they collaborated. It examines the power of suggestion and how belief has the power to destroy as well as empower. I appreciate your time and eagerly welcome your expert opinion, or a request to submit my entire manuscript.
Sincerely yours,

Qwantu Amaru

“Oh, great reviews are the worst. They mislead you more than the bad ones, because they only fuel your ego. Then you only want another one, like potato chips or something, and the best thing you get is fat and bloated. I’d rather just refuse, thanks.”

-Chazz Palminteri