To a Literary Agent…

Dear (insert name),

Really you shouldn’t have bothered replying, certainly not after so long. I know you think you are doing the decent thing rather than keeping me hanging on. But I can assure you I have not exactly been waiting with bated breath all that time; I’d given up on any response months ago – ten weeks is about the limit. Life goes on, so many other things to get depressed or just irritated over. There is always the anxiety phase for about two months after a query submission, checking the inbox with squinted eyes, or only at a time when I can think I might handle it best (though there is never really a good time, but it should generally be on a week night). And then out of the blue in pops your email. Just as well I wasn’t having a good day anyway because that would have certainly spoiled it. Yes, your words were polite, measured, even well-wishing, and your reasons for not replying sooner perfectly understandable. But it comes across as sugaring a bitter pill. After such a long time it is doubly disappointing to get nothing better than what could be the same letter sent to the many others but with my name inserted.

I guess it feels better to get that query in-tray cleared.

So please, any other literary agents, don’t bother replying. Unless of course you are interested in my work.

You are welcome to comment here though.

 

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

Stranger Than Fiction?

At this time it feels like reality has overtaken anything fiction can credibly produce. A killer virus; world economies on the brink of a collapse not seen in anyone’s lifetime; liberal governments becoming authoritarian, while autocratic rulers seize their perfect opportunity for increasingly draconian measures. Could any speculative writer have seriously considered this scenario?

Well maybe I’m watching too much news that can seem to revel in the drama, if not totally ignoring the positives such as how communities have rallied round.

While out for my permitted hour’s exercise, there was something post-apocalyptic about the town. Bonfire smoke clouded the otherwise clear air. (Bonfires are more common these days.) A strange quietness and calm had descended. A serenity even, away from the town square, in the bright sun. Life slowed down.

Maybe the world needs to be broken apart before it can be reconstructed, goes one line of thinking; force change to save the planet.

But now, like surely many fiction writers, I face a dilemma. Do I try to keep on my original track – as patchy as it is – if only to be consistent? Or be influenced by such an important moment in history?

 

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

To Carry On

It’s usually a personal crisis that overwhelms the creative ability; world events hardly ever. But now we humans are facing devastation from a surprisingly effective enemy, borne of a pathogen far less harmful to its original and entirely innocent host species (most likely a bat). And now fear, suspicion and paranoia are themselves spreading like a virus. You only need to see reports from continental Europe to believe we’ve already arrived at the dystopian future envisioned by many an SF writer. Thus the drama of reality can make writing fiction feel redundant.

But I try to carry on.

Being a writer means writing even when you don’t feel like it, those days when the muse just isn’t there. Days when it really feels like hard work. But I admit it, I’m faltering; struggling to find inspiration; can’t get into the fiction writing mode.

Inspiration was no problem with my first novel. If anything I felt overwhelmed by ideas, tried to pack so many into the narrative it read like three stories juxtaposed. A bit of a mess, admittedly. The second was more disciplined but still convoluted. And beyond I saw the need to narrow down the focus, with fewer POVs.

Now on my fifth I did the ultimate reduction to a first person perspective. Unless you’ve had some incredible interesting life to draw from, there is no challenge comparable in creative writing. It takes a whole new level of self-discipline. And I’ve certainly been struggling with that. I’m sure it helps to plan the structure of your novel; I started with a scene from the end but no idea how I will get there.

I read and listen with despair those writer/novelists who say they start at a certain time each morning, write for 5, 6 hours or set themselves a goal of 1500 words. I will, as long as I live, never be like those writers. They are people I admire as an amateur cyclist would a tour champion.

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

In hope of an epiphany

The greatest fear of most creative writers is not commercial failure, it is failure to find the next big idea. I mean, you can fail just as I have, and even accept a project will never be a success. What keeps me going (writing) is the belief some epiphany or revelation is just round the corner – that sudden insight. Yes, it’s gotta be about… It’s the breakthrough that will get my name in lights. What I’m talking about is faith in my own creative ability, however irrational that may be.

Right now I am working on a novel about a man who suspects the world will end very soon, and is given the chance to stop it. Well that may not be the most original of ideas, I’ll grant you, so I need some unique twist on it. After all, it’s said there are only seven truly original stories.

Some may well call such faith in my creativity deluded if not over-confident, but it’s not anything like certainty. It is hope. And how many times I have concluded there will never be another novel, I’d rather not recount. Even this current one I will not feel like it can ever be finished until I get past the milestone of 50,000 words (which I’m so tantalizingly close to passing).

How difficult it must be for those whose livelihood depends on the next big idea, those who set themselves targets – yearly, monthly, daily. The pressure I can hardly imagine, which must take a special kind of self-discipline!

I’ve never planned my novels in advance; never written an outline. To me that would take some special talent I can barely comprehend. There have been times when it seemed there was no way forward; classic writer’s bock. A bit like depression, when you struggle to envisage things ever resolving – life being okay.

But even in the darkest hour there is always the prospect of light.

 

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

 

 

 

http://www.adriankyte.com/

 

The Three Novel Problem

Four words writers fear most from a potential reader: So what’s it about?

If someone were to ask me to summarize a novel, one I have been spending the last 3+ years committed to, I’d like to think I wouldn’t disappoint them. Surely not if I had my synopsis written down, all agent-submission prepared. And yet, responding to a question about themes, or deeper meanings, well, I’d be struggling. The same would apply with my last two novels. But at least I would be in good company, for that is what acclaimed novelist Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem) was tasked to do by a reporter; questions about his fiction sourced from a Chinese mid-grade school text book. He got them all wrong. In his defence he responded: “I don’t begin with some conceit in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.” As a multi-million selling author his work, of course, has been well analysed.

Since, it’s fair to say, my work hasn’t been I can produce most any answer and sound convincing. So my sympathy goes out to Cixin Liu. Much of creative writing operates on a subconscious level. For me, it’s about progressing the story, making it interesting and entertaining. And just good. Maybe some big issue of the day influences my protagonist’s actions and dialogue or even the story arc. But to suppose there is some profound plan behind the plot, or intentional allegory, is to ascribe a level of awareness beyond anything I’ve managed to attain.

My problem now has been unearthing the central themes and deeper meanings of my novel to pitch in a submission. I could say it’s about the nature of time, of memory; sentience; lost love; obsession; displacement; isolation; loneliness; the dangers of technology, of power; the need to find a greater purpose; sacrifice. I’d be tempted to say: it’s about all the things that matter in contemporary life transposed into a future universe. For all that would achieve.

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Rejection and Beyond

One good thing about rejection: it focuses the mind. Makes you realise how much getting published matters.

After three years of writing, rewriting, and rethinking, I submitted my novel to an agent. And then soon regretted it, but none so much as now. Yet another revision was needed. The synopsis was, frankly, badly written. I’d made the mistake of setting myself a deadline (to send it off just before my holiday). Deadlines are dangerous!

It was not that the agent left a critique – they rarely give feedback, but said he had to completely love a book to take it on. Not a high bar to clear? Well of course it always is. Confronted with hundreds of submissions a month I’d be rejecting all too readily, probably much of what ends up being traditionally published to great success. Even if all was in my chosen SF genre.

My rejection happened after more than 3 months since submitting it. Really, by then I’d reconciled myself to the fact that it would not be accepted. Then I saw the email had appeared, and I must admit to being afraid to read it for a while; a prepare-yourself-to-be-stung moment. But after so much time, to receive a short rejection borders on insulting. Maybe it got left in a must reject folder with a time-code, and he thought leaving it this late would lessen the blow. No it doesn’t! Ten weeks has previously been the longest wait, and they said they had been giving it careful consideration.

But it’s never a bad thing to have to go back to a previous (apparently) finished work after a few months, even in a state of despondency. You see it with completely fresh and certainly more critical eyes; whereas before, you’re still emotionally caught up in that grand literary project. Hardly surprising after over 3 years of it.

Still, I learned not set myself a deadline for the next submission. Just keep on with the next grand project.

Links to my published fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Ready to Submit?

A few weeks ago I sent off my first submission query for Worlds Apart. It felt like I had already procrastinated way too long. Now reading over the email, mistakes glare back at me – silly errors: a misplaced apostrophe, even a missing word! Great first impression(!) How could I not have noticed? And the MS still needed more work.

Then there was the dreaded synopsis.

Surely, I believed, I’d developed some skill over the years for summarizing a 100,000 words-plus novel in a thousand or less. But if you read Synopsis Hell! you’ll see why I struggle. My latest experience: discovering how to write a synopsis really badly. That is, simply document each significant event using bullet points. But hang on, I thought, what constitutes significant?

I was lost. Lost like a small child in a dense forest. It became overwhelming.

I can honestly say that writing a synopsis in under a thousand words is more of a challenge than writing the novel itself. I used the present tense because I don’t feel I’ve succeeded. Instead I have created the ultimate spoiler, gutted my novel into convoluted description void of any narrative arc or theme. And yet I managed a coherent blurb-style precis with relative ease. Problem is, most literary agents aren’t interested in those.

So it feels like I have fallen at the first hurdle. The vast majority of agents surely don’t have the time, and therefore patience, to read beyond that first impression.

I only hope I’m wrong.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

The Function of Fiction

…is to make my life better.

At least I look for a novel to make me feel better. But maybe of late my demands have become unreasonable. Should its purpose be to solve my problems, to find answers to unresolved (if not unresolvable) issues?

A good story is no longer enough. Now it’s difficult to find a book to fill that void; reading the blurb, the first few pages, or even the reviews may only give a clue in my search. Just as well, then, I’m not a literary agent!

So my own work should be aiming for such an exemplary standard, right? The only problem is, if you use your novel for laying out a psychological fix it can come across as indulgent. It shouldn’t be therapy. But that’s how it can feel. There’s only the hope that others will relate to the protagonist’s issues. Of course sometimes that happens – and you’re on to a winner! Some of my most inspired writing has come from a dark place.

I’ve never been sure if fiction should always have a function beyond entertainment. If its enjoyable then that’s a lot; humorous or just fun – it’s a big achievement by the author!

Yet I can’t seem to pin down the ultimate value of fiction. In a novel you can be in another person’s shoes – they don’t have to be the hero or even relatable – and understand their thoughts and feelings in a way that’s usually only hinted at in movies. A novel gives you knowledge interwoven in the narrative rather than merely dry facts; though so much of mainstream [so-called] Science Fiction has steered away from the scientific, of late. Well maybe that’s fine if it’s entertaining, if it makes you feel better.

Since I am writing the kind of books I like to read it’s impossible to be sure if I am writing for anyone other than myself.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

Can you try too hard?

To not give maximum effort goes against conventional wisdom. To try your best, fail, and try again, and only give up when there’s nothing left – maybe at the point of death. But what does that mean in the process? Perhaps it means living with an obsession, letting it rule your life if not your time; shaping you into someone who, while viewing yourself as focused on a goal, is seen by others as self-isolating, or maybe even selfish (or likewise self+ words). Anyone who is trying to make it as a successful writer will understand this single-minded drive. It is your life’s purpose, everything you do, hear, read and experience in whatever way can surely feed The Writer, influencing all future creative endeavours.

But how about simply letting go?

I tend to obsess about things as a matter of course. Often trivial, it might be something I’ve lost: such as a door key I was certain had to be somewhere nearby in the house, or that pocket radio I lost in my back garden. And then only recently when for no particular reason glancing down on the ivy-covered end of lawn just behind that chair I last remembered seeing it on, there it was! So obvious – its little white plastic case and headphones in tact. But surely I’d already looked there? Had looked everywhere else; had put way too much time and effort into finding this old radio I could easily live without. The same kind of thing happened with the key: only after I’d finally resigned myself to not finding it, even got another one cut, suddenly – of course it had to be there!

So perhaps you can focus too hard or too narrowly on a goal.

Trying for perfection was what ultimately put me off art: the painting/drawing was never finished. The same is near enough true for my novels. And also thinking I’d never put enough work into selling them to an agent, despite that in-depth synopsis and overall summary and theme, expounding my grand scale ambition and inspiration behind it all; how what they’re getting is the complete package – the novel, me and the irrefutable potential therein. I mean, how could they possibly reject me after all that?

I don’t want to make an argument for being careless or mediocre (though so much mediocrity has been successful) or not giving your best. I just think there’s something to be said for taking a step back and seeing it’s not so vitally important; or just getting away from it, maybe when the work is becoming frustrating. Easier said than done though, from my experience! But that is accepted advice in the creative stage of writing – ideas often coming when you’re not trying to think them up.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

When and where to finish

At the start the thought of reaching 100,000+ words seemed like the equivalent of scaling one of the higher Himalayan mountains; a mind-boggling feat that was best not contemplated. Just one step at a time. A slow journey for me with so many distractions if not setbacks. But no excuses, because no one asked me to do this. So if I failed it was only me to be disappointed.

To extend the mountain analogy (perhaps to excess): I mostly seemed to be wading through low clouds and finding myself lost. But occasionally they would clear to reveal a landscape that while unfamiliar had features I could pick out, which combined to be something meaningful. Then finally reaching what seemed like the top but under a misty haze, though still seeing way below and feeling I could go no farther. Still, the happy relief of a load removed and a kind of jadedness from struggling my way through the difficult bits (of which there were many) impaired any perception of reality. So it’s better leaving time to recover before coming back down. Before attempting that second draft.

It’s not uncommon to write a third or fourth draft. Somehow details are missed, inconsistencies. (Funny how glaringly obvious errors have escaped my attention even after 3-4 read-throughs!) I’ve been accused of writing disjointed chapters, so am careful now to keep everything tied into as tight a narrative as the story allows. But there’s always the chance of some fundamental flaw which makes that impossible. Too early to tell. This is still the time to have – faith. Meanwhile: take a break of at least a month, maybe another project, and then face the sobering reality of how this latest novel fails.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)