Publisher vs Agent: Grudge Match

Just kidding, there’s no grudge.

In my last post I alluded to having a decision to make regarding the fate of my novel, since it is now fully back in my hands after the rights were returned to me by the previous almost-publisher. And that decision is one I suspect a lot of writers can relate to: do I submit it to publishers directly, or do I query agents to represent me?

The vast majority of writers I know out there in social media land deal directly with publishers. I believe they do this for a couple of reasons, chief among them being that they write some pretty far out stuff. Many of my writer friends specialize in extreme horror, bizarro, splatterpunk, etc.—which can be a bit of a niche market. And that seems to be one of the biggest questions I have to ask myself when it comes time for me to make the decision: is my novel marketable enough for an agent to want to take it on?

Initially, I shied away from querying agents. I felt my book was just not a good fit for the types of books I saw agents selling to publishers. Not because it’s a crime book, but because it’s not a typical crime book—there is a detective in the story, but he’s not the protagonist, and there’s no mystery to be solved. It’s a story about (mostly) bad people doing (mostly) bad things. It’s also chock full of profanity and violence—I suppose you could call it “gritty”. But now, as I’ve revised and revised, and honed and rewritten parts of it, it’s starting to resemble something a little more marketable. I mean, it’s still violent, and the first use of the “f” word happens halfway down the first page, but it has…a different “vibe”, as the kids call it. Now I’m starting to believe that it’s marketable because it does resemble more mainstream books, but it’s different enough to stand out from the pack. Hopefully. *fingers crossed*

Now, for the uninitiated, there’s something you should know: querying agents is a grueling process. I looked into it when I first starting submitting the novel to publishers. If you’ve been writing and submitting for any amount of time, you’re probably used (or getting used) to rejection, which is good because if you decide to query literary agents, you will probably be rejected A LOT.

There are pros and cons to either path I choose, and I guess the biggest is that submitting to a publisher is a lot of work that and agent could help with, but of course an agent will need to be compensated, to the tune of approximately 20%. From where I sit currently, that seems more than fair to gain access to their knowledge and help. But it all comes down to each individual, so of course your mileage may vary.

I’m sure there are other writers out there wrestling with this (or maybe who have just wrestled with it), and I’d love to hear which way you’re leaning. I’ll update you when I do make my decision, and keep you posted as rejections pile up—the one sure thing whichever way I go.

Proof of Life Post

I’ve never liked it when I read someone’s blog and the first thing the blogger says is “Sorry I haven’t posted in so long.” I always think, Don’t apologize! Life happens, it can be a lot. Post when you can.

So I won’t apologize, but…It’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted anything, so I thought I’d put out a “proof of life” post, so to speak. For the few devoted BOJ readers out there who may actually wonder what I’ve been up to, let me catch you up:

I’m still working on the novel that was returned to me by my (former) publisher. To recap, I had changed the book to be strictly from the protagonist’s POV—at my (former) editor’s request—but have reintegrated two other character’s POVs, for two reasons: the book was super short, and it changed the tone of the book too much for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely sped up the pacing. If I ever write a more straight ahead, pulse-pounding thriller, I believe that’s the approach I’d take. But that’s the thing—this book isn’t a straight ahead, pulse-pounding thriller. I’d like to think it has its fair share of suspense, but it’s…odd. Offbeat, let’s say. Many of the characters are not exceptionally bright, make poor choices, and provide some levity to the otherwise dark plot. I would never consider myself to be in his league, but the book was heavily inspired by many of Elmore Leonard’s books, particularly books like The Switch and Swag.

I’m also adding some extra scenes for a romantic relationship that is really only mentioned in passing in the book, plus background on another character. As it stands, the book barely clears the 60k word mark, and I’d like to see if I can get it closer to 70k, which is pretty much the standard for crime novels. Once I’m finished revising and rewriting, I’ll have a big choice to make as to how to proceed—but I’ll save that for my next post (which I promise will be sooner than the next six months).

One of my new year’s resolutions was to get back to reading more, and I’ve done good at keeping that one! The last book I finished was Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, and let me tell you, that book is awesome. If you’re not a horror fan you might be unprepared for some of the gore and horrific acts in the book, but in my opinion its worth checking out anyway. It’s about a world where a virus has rendered animal meat fatal to humans, and the majority of the world’s governments have adapted to legal, industrialized cannibalism. All the slaughterhouses that used to be for beef and pork are now processing “special” meat. The language in the book is so precise, the word choice so careful, that it manipulates you in ways you don’t understand until you finish it. The last couple pages (and especially the last line) are like a punch to the gut. Absolutely incredible.

I’m hoping to finish edits on my book in the next week or two, and then I have to decide what to make my new Work In Progress. If you’re out there writing/rewriting/editing too, keep it up!

Almost Published to Unpublished, Just Like That

So, last week I got some news about my debut novel that was due to be published by an indie publisher in Colorado. My editor decided to resign from the publishing company, and they said they simply had no other editors with room on their plate to take on another project. The publisher sent me a document returning the book rights to me and wished me luck.

Well, shit.

I’m really curious if anyone else has stories about something like this happening to them. So many thoughts have gone through my head! To quickly recap my experience with the publisher:

My manuscript was accepted for publication. I signed a contract and an editor was assigned to me (or vice versa?). Aside from a brief introductory email, I heard nothing from the editor for a very long time. When I did finally hear from them, they said they needed to withdraw as my editor due to health issues.

My new editor suggested revising my book in a way that would greatly change the feel of the book (taking out any other POVs but the protagonist’s). I said I was open to making the changes to see how it would work, but I worried the end result would be a very short book (it was already barely novel length to begin with). I was told not to worry about it, we could deal with word count later on down the line. I made the changes and sent the revised draft, only to get an email back saying, essentially, “Whoa, this is way too short. Maybe consider adding some additional POVs.” That was an extremely frustrating email to get, however I did have some pretty good ideas about how to reincorporate other characters’ POVs in a different way than I had in the original version of the book. I was pretty close to getting started on that new version when I got the email that I was basically being dropped from the publisher’s roster.

Did they just not like where the revisions were going and decided they had a good excuse to cut me loose? Did the editor tell them on the way out that the book didn’t have the promise they may have thought? Were they really just that swamped that they couldn’t agree to take on a book that still had at least one more revision to go through before it was ready?

I’ll never know for sure. A lot of potential for self-doubt there. Good thing all us writers are so confident in what we’re doing not to worry about stuff like that, am I right? Sure.

So, I’m going to go ahead and start that revision I had been brainstorming and when it’s done I’ll see what I have. Back to the drawing board for the most part. Sorry my first post in months is to complain, but if I figured if anyone could understand the frustration, it’s some of you out there. If you have any horror stories from a publisher, I’d like to hear them so I know I’m not alone.

One quick note on the reading front, I’m almost finished with Jordan Harper’s debut novel, She Rides Shotgun. It hits the ground running and doesn’t really let up. No flowery prose, no excessive descriptions, just a down to business crime thriller that I will be shocked not to see adapted into a film someday. Check it out!

Oh, The People You’ll Meet

For the last half of April I found myself doing something I haven’t done in quite some time: assuming the Clark Griswold role in an honest to goodness family vacation. I loaded up the wife and child, and we drove over 1,500 miles (one way!) to the Pacific Northwest. We went whale watching in Puget Sound (north of Seattle), went to several beach towns in Oregon and Washington, then took the scenic route home. But this isn’t a vacation post. It’s still (pretty much) about writing—but that’s not to say I won’t force you to look at some of my vacation photos along the way.

A gray whale having some fun in Puget Sound, WA

There was some writing advice I heard once. I think it was Chuck Palahniuk, but it could’ve been Craig Clevenger (I’m pretty sure I read it at the fantastic website Lit Reactor, regardless). Someone asked what advice they would offer to young writers, their definition of young being late teens to early-to-mid twenties. Their advice? Travel. Go places, have experiences. Keep writing, obviously, but get out there and just do stuff. Ride a motorcycle across the US. Backpack through Europe, as cliché as that sounds. Whatever you can afford to do (in terms of both cash and time), get out and do it while you’re still young and have nothing holding you down. The experiences you have, and the people you encounter, will inform your writing for the rest of your life.

Cannon Beach, OR as seen from Ecola State Park

Now, the irony for me personally is that I read this advice when I was well into my 30’s, with a spouse and a full time job. Backpacking through Europe was not in the cards for me. I still took the advice to heart, however, and whenever I can I try to get out and do things if an opportunity presents itself. So when we were planning our route home from Washington and realized we could drive through Yellowstone National Park, it was a no-brainer. It was the first time for both my wife and I, and I was downright giddy as we made our way toward the park’s entrance.

One of the last places to stop before entering the park proper is a little cluster of shops and stores (and bathrooms!) that looks almost like a little town out of the old west. We decided to be the ultimate tourists and stop to peruse the shops. After all, how does anyone know you went to Yellowstone if you don’t have Official Yellowstone Merchandise to prove it?

I entered a store and started browsing the shirts, hats, magnets, etc. looking for just the right item that spoke to me. While I shopped, I heard customers being rung up by a particularly friendly cashier. He was probably in his mid 60’s, not too tall, a little scruff on his face, and about half a dozen different bracelets on his left wrist. He was incredibly polite, and just the right amount of conversational—he knew how to time his chit chat with customers, and wrap it up just as the transaction was over.

As I laid my items down, he greeted me with the same kind words I’d become accustomed to hearing during my time in the store. After exchanging pleasantries, the cashier volunteered information I hadn’t heard him tell anyone else: he is a full time RV’er, and he criss-crosses his way across the country year round until Yellowstone starts to see warmer weather, then he starts his part-time job as cashier through the end of the summer. I met the gentleman on his third day back, as it turned out. He told me this was his fifth summer working the store, and he thought it might be his last. He said he was ready for a change, and would probably put down stakes somewhere else next summer. I found this truly fascinating, and would’ve asked him tons of questions if I could have, but instead I bid him a pleasant summer and wished him luck in next year’s adventure.

Couldn’t help but think of this movie while talking to him

I told my wife about the encounter, and I have not stopped thinking about the man since. The things he’s seen, both before and after he began traveling full time. The circumstances that led to him making the decision to do it in the first place. Why on earth he was just so darn friendly. Will he be a character in a future story or book of mine? Probably not, if for no other reason than that I just don’t know enough about him. Will a character be based in part on him? Quite possibly. In just the few minutes I spent talking (listening, more like) to him, his personality—his aura, if you will—made such an impact that I’d be surprised if I didn’t call on that memory in the Yellowstone gift shop at some point in the future.

A bison chilling at Yellowstone

So I guess my unwarranted writing advice—or is it just life advice?—is the same as I recalled above. Get out and do things. Have experiences, meet people. I know it isn’t always easy, especially if you’re not a young whippersnapper. Hell, my last vacation of any kind was seven years ago, so believe me when I say I get it. But do it anyway, because you never know what might happen or who you might meet, and no matter what happens it’s worth the effort.

Another whale (or is it the same one?) says goodbye and thanks for reading!

I Got a Writing Gig!

To anyone who follows this blog (something I naturally recommend all of you do), I may have been sounding like a broken record lately. For the past several posts, I mention at some point how I haven’t been very productive lately—not writing much, I need to get busy with my writing projects, woe is me, etc. You can imagine my surprise when, a couple weeks ago, I applied for—and was offered—a recurring writing gig. Paid, no less!

Let me backtrack for a minute. Way back in the days of yore (aka the 90s) I got into pro wrestling. Like, really into it. I had a circle of friends who were into it, and we’d get together to watch the monthly pay-per-views, sometimes even the weekly shows, and just had an all around blast. I even wrote once about my fondness for pro wrestling on this very blog (read that here).

But, life happens, as it is wont to do, and gradually the circle of friends drifted apart. Add to that a significant other who wasn’t too into wrestling if it wasn’t a social affair, and a general decline in the wrestling product available to me (WWE), and eventually wrestling was no longer something I watched. It was just a fond memory from the old glory days of youth. But then, about a year or so ago, a new coworker started who was into wrestling. We got to talking, and it didn’t take long for me to be bitten by the bug again. Pro wrestling is going through a bit of a resurgence, and there’s never been a better time to be a fan (I’ll save the “you all should give pro wrestling a chance” schpiel). Plus, with the internet and streaming, it’s never been easier to watch a variety of wrestling promotions—you’re not limited to the WWE Universe (which is what they consider it, akin to Marvel) anymore.

I tell you all that to tell you this. A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing Facebook when I happened upon an ad for a page I follow, called The Signature Spot. The ad said they were looking for contributors to write a piece or two a month, and it was a paying gig. I reread it a second time, and thought it over. I had been whining about not being productive with my (fiction) writing, and here was a chance to get paid to write about a topic I enjoyed a great deal. It seemed a win-win, so I went ahead and sent in my resume.

Wheeler Yuta tries to choke out Jon Moxley on the 04/08/22 episode of AEW Rampage

I got the gig, and my first piece went live on Friday! If you’re so inclined, you can read it here. It’s a bit of alternative history, wondering how things could’ve gone differently if a certain wrestler hadn’t left the company he was in for WWE. I’m currently working on my second piece now, so it might be a little early to comment, but I will say this: between having an assignment, a deadline, and getting paid, I feel productive with my writing for the first time in a long time. Plus, The Signature Spot has pretty impressive reach, so knowing a pretty good amount of eyes are seeing what I’m writing is really rewarding. In the long term, I’m hoping this also gets me used to writing regularly again. Gotta get back into that habit!

I guess part of the reason for this post was just so I could brag into the void that I got a paid writing gig, but also I just thought maybe some of you out there (voidians? voidiots?) might like to see that if you keep your eyes open there might be opportunities that present themselves, even if it’s not something you ever thought you’d see yourself doing. Who knows, it might be just what you needed.

A little joke for the fellow old folks

Let Me Tell You About the Most Valuable Book I Own

A quick disclaimer: this isn’t a story of me finding a first edition copy of The Great Gatsby or Moby Dick tucked away in my parents’ attic, or stumbling upon a rare, out of print pressing of a Stephen King book at a garage sale. This is a more personal story.

If you’ve followed the saga (by which I mean my last post) of my struggles to be productive and actually get off my butt and write, you know that I’ve been trying to kick myself in the pants and get motivated to mostly no avail. I am still making some progress, though (yay!). A couple weeks ago I was reading over what I have so far in my current WIP, and was hung up on a character name—I was unhappy with the name of my antagonist, and even more unhappy with my attempts at renaming him. Then I was struck by an idea: I’ll name him after a character in one of my friend Mike’s books.

The last book Mike published.

Mike was a good friend of mine, and the lead vocalist for the first band I was ever in. He was smart, funny, weird, and incredibly creative. As friends sometimes do, we drifted apart after the band broke up, but reconnected some years later on social media. To my amazement, just as I was thinking that I should start taking my writing more seriously, I discovered that in the time since I’d spoken to him last, Mike had gotten a job as a high school English teacher—which is commendable and impressive enough in its own right—but he had also been steadily writing (and publishing!) short stories and novels under his full name, Michael Louis Calvillo. When we were in the band and hanging out all the time, he never talked about writing that I can remember. Neither did I, for that matter. We were both in our early 20s, having fun in a band, and had a wealth of other interests. But when I saw the list of books he’d published, I wasn’t all that surprised. He was far too creative a person—he had to have an outlet for all that creativity, and once the writing bug bit him, it bit hard. Unfortunately, Mike passed away in 2012 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. I remember how surprised I was at just how hard his passing hit me. And how hard it still hits me, for that matter, but I digress.

But back to my WIP. I hit the internet to look up Mike’s books and see if any of his characters had names I’d like to use. I didn’t find any, but I did find something a bit troubling: almost all his books have gone out of print. Of the 7 novels and short story collections he published, only 3 are still available for purchase. They had all been published by small, independent publishers, and as is sometimes the case with indie publishers, all but one of them has gone out of business. I’m not sure how to explain what happened next.

Something came over me then. A sudden sense of desperation—paranoia even. See, the books of Mike’s that I’ve read were ebooks, and those were no longer available either, and of the three still with physical copies available, they were in extremely limited quantities. It felt almost like his legacy was vanishing before my very eyes. I HAD to buy one, to have and hold in my hands. Of the three, one of them seemed like the one, out of all his books, that Mike was most proud of. It was his second novel, about two couples struggling with addiction—one to heroin, one to eating human flesh—titled As Fate Would Have It (a prolonged love letter). When I saw there was a hardcover edition of AFWHI for sale, I jumped on it without a moment’s hesitation. It took a little while because the seller was located in the UK, but Saturday I found it on my doorstep.

It was listed as used, but to call it in “like new” condition would be an understatement. The spine even made that satisfying crackling sound when I opened the book. And I neglected to mention the best part: it’s signed.

It may seem silly, but having this book in my possession means a lot. I’m looking forward to reading it and refreshing my memory of just what a wild, far out imagination my friend had. There are three people I consider the biggest influences on me as a writer, and it goes without saying that Mike is one of the three. I’m hoping having a little piece of his writing legacy around helps change my mindset and makes me want to write again.

I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to books (and most other things, but that’s another story). I’m not hugely sentimental about books, and I’ve never had a massive collection. After a fairly ugly split with my first wife, I had to leave a lot of things behind, including most of my book collection. I did, however, box up the small collection of books that meant something to me—the first few Stephen King books my parents bought me when I was first getting into him as a kid (another of my Three Great Influences), a handful of my favorite paperbacks from other writers I admire (namely Elmore Leonard and Scott Smith), and various books on the craft of writing (especially Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer, which I will never stop recommending). I now have
As Fate Would Have It (a prolonged love letter), and I believe that may just trump them all.

I’d love to hear about any books you own that mean a lot to you, or the book you’re on the hunt for, the one you just have to have. What’s the most valuable book you own?

And one last thing: I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a link directing you to Mike’s amazon page. As I said, only three books are available for purchase, but I can guarantee you that any of the three will give you an odd (and I do mean ODD), captivating thrill ride like no other. The man was truly one of a kind.

Sorry about the terrible picture quality

Of Struggles, Failures, and Redemption (Hopefully)

I’ve never really been sure how many people actually “follow” my blog. The number of followers on the homepage, while not fabricated, is the number wordpress came up with by counting my Twitter followers as followers of my blog as well. I appreciate the effort of trying to make me look more popular than I really am, but I know 2800+ people are not reading my blog. I say all of that to say this:

If you’re one of the few who does follow me and read each new post as it’s published—and a heartfelt thanks for that, by the way—you may be wondering how NaNoWriMo turned out for me. Or maybe, judging by the radio silence on here since the second week of October, you’ve already put the pieces together. In short, it did not end well. After that last naïvely optimistic post about getting back on track and hitting the 50k word mark by the end of the month, I hit some more roadblocks: one physical (Covid), one mental. December came and went, and now here we are, three weeks into January and although my physical state has improved, I’m still struggling to get over the mental hurdle and get writing again.

I’ve managed to at least look at my current WIP and give the 5k or so words that are there some tweaking, and I’ve had some good ideas to make the story more interesting, but I haven’t done any writing of real substance since November, and that was brief. But then, scrolling on Twitter while successfully procrastinating (not to brag, but I’m pretty good at it), I saw a tweet that provided a glimmer of hope.

If you’re asking yourself who the heck Josh Stolberg is (and you very well may), here’s his abbreviated bio on Twitter: “Writer of such Oscar bait as Piranha 3D, Jigsaw, Sorority Row, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Spiral & the upcoming Saw X. Director. Photographer.”

The responses to his tweet were more enthusiastic than he expected, so Stolberg later tweeted that he would create a Google doc and share the login info with anyone who wanted to log their daily word count along with him. Just comment on the tweet (click here to go straight to it), and he’ll DM you the login info. I’m hoping this might be the thing to kick me in the butt and get me going again, because I’ll tell you what…once you’re in a rut, getting out is h-a-r-d hard. And like a lot of problems, the only real road block is me.

So tell me, you wonderful writerly warriors (I’ll work on the alliteration), if you started NanoWriMo, how did it go? Did you finish the project, and are you currently editing away like mad? And equally important, if you’ve ever found yourself unable or unwilling to write, what ultimately motivated you to start back up?

As for me, here’s hoping the writer of Piranha 3D will do the trick. Happy writing, folks!

Six (Six Six)Super Spookytime Suggestions!

Hey all! Decided to change things up a little, since next week I’ll (hopefully) be cranking out astronomical word counts for the start of NaNoWriMo. Until then, seeing as how it’s the las week of October, I’d be remiss if I didn’t toss out some horror recommendations if you’re not sure what to watch to keep you in the scary spirit. I’m listing the poster/thumbnail , with a very brief review underneath. I consider these all to be worth your time, but I’ve organized them from least favorite to favorite. Here we go:

The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It (HBO Max)

You pretty much know what you’re getting with The Conjuring movies by now, so you probably already know if you’ll like this one or not. Kudos to the writers for shaking up the formula a little bit, as this one earns my favorite critique: “It’s fine.”

Halloween Kills (Theaters/Peacock)

Another where you pretty much know what to expect going in, the biggest variable in a lot of the Halloween movies is whether or not they’ll cut the mustard for horror fans. Again, this movie is fine. There was a lot of dialogue that I found downright atrocious, but the action and gore made up for that in the long run.

Censor (Hulu)

A very solid and very original horror film out of the UK about a film censor who starts to lose her grip on reality (or does she?). It’s short, it will mess with your head, and it has an overall look/style that makes it stand out. Can’t wait to see what the folks behind this one do next.

Saint Maud (Hulu)

Another striking film debut about someone questioning reality, Saint Maud walks the line between horror and slow burn psychological thriller, but I’m not concerned with splitting hairs—it’s close enough for me. Another film that’s very short, what I liked most about it is the way it built tension and unease, and a final scene I absolutely adored.

Midnight Mass (Netflix)

You’ve probably heard about this one, the third Netflix limited series from the apparent reigning champion of horror right now, Mike Flanagan. His take on The Haunting of Hill House was nearly a masterpiece as far as I was concerned, but The Haunting of Bly Manor didn’t really do it for me. So where does Midnight Mass stand? I’d put it between the two, closer to Hill House. It meanders and drags in places, but I’d say it mostly lives up to the hype.

30 Coins [30 Monedas] (HBO Max)

30 Coins has been out for a while, but I’m just getting around to watching it now and whoa…this show is something. I’m actually only three episodes in, but that’s enough to know that (barring a truly dismal ending) this show is head and shoulders above much of the horror out right now. A tale about a mysterious priest, Judas, and a collection of coins (guess how many?) that could end Christianity. The first episode alone got three genuine “WTF”s from me, which is quite a special achievement.

There you have it, hopefully something to keep you spooked for the remainder of the month. Be safe, have fun, and Happy Halloween!

Sonder, or: Everyone Has a Story

NaNoWriMo in T minus 10 days and counting…those of you participating, are you ready? Personally, I’m *almost* right where I want to be on November 1st. I want to be prepared, but not too prepared. I like having a little wiggle room in my plot and my outline, because one thing a lot of you may already know: your characters can surprise you. Your story may take on twists and turns you never thought about until you sit down and get into the nitty gritty.

Speaking of characters, there’s a word I discovered a few years ago. It’s one of my favorite words: sonder.


n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Cool, right? And do you see the correlation to characters? I hope it’s clear, but if it’s not it basically boils down to this: characters are people (they should be, anyway). They have backstories, motives, flaws, etc. that make them relatable, and relatable characters are what it’s all about!

Image of just Because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.
The first quote about character I could think of.

I’ve seen other writers suggest doing things like interviewing their characters to learn more about them, but that always seemed…a little corny to me, I guess, although I wouldn’t be surprised if I still try it someday. But the other day I stumbled upon a different suggestion that ties into the notion of sonder—switch protagonists. It makes you look at your story from a little different angle, and makes you think about other characters that you may have been neglecting when it comes to fleshing them out and making them more interesting. I usually try to be thorough when it comes to fleshing out my antagonists, but I’ll admit I can forget about side characters sometimes.

The suggestion to switch protagonists comes from Scott Myers’s great Go Into the Story column on The Blacklist website. (Side note: do you all look to screenwriting resources for writing tips, too? Granted, the format is different, but most of the storytelling tips apply to novelists and writers of short stories as well. Myers’s column if a treasure trove of helpful advice, and I can’t recommend the YouTube channel Lessons from the Screenplay highly enough. Also almost any book on screenwriting by Syd Field). So, give it a shot, let me know what you think!

I’m also open to suggestions, what tricks to you have for making sure your characters are lifelike, three dimensional people that readers can relate to?

Writing Residencies: Who’s Done Them?

So here we are, three and a half weeks until November and the kickoff to NaNoWriMo. If you’re participating, are you ready? If it were beginning tomorrow I’d be in okay shape to start on my project, but I’m really trying to get everything laid out storywise so that when the time comes I can just write (and write and write and write).

Thinking about how much writing I hope to be doing in November got me thinking about something I had investigated a little at one point in time, but forgot about—writing residencies. As a writer with far too little time to dedicate to writing (as I assume many of you are, as well), writing residencies sound almost too good to be true. You expect me to believe that, if selected, I can go off to a (usually) remote location, surrounded by other writers/artists, and I’m expected to just…write? Like, that’s it? What every writer dreams of? What’s the catch?

This looks beautiful and tranquil, but there is a 100% chance I would send my laptop plummeting to the ground below.

Well, as I (a complete novice to the world of residencies) see it, there are two “catches”. First, the odds do not seem to be in your (or my) favor. It’s unclear just how many applications these organizations get for residency, but in many cases they only accept one to two dozen writers a year for their programs. That being said, you’ll never get into the residency you don’t apply for, right?

Second, and what I consider to be a slightly larger issue, is money. Most (though not all) residency programs have an application fee—although most that I’ve researched are fairly modest, in the $20-40 range. *Game show announcer voice* BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! There are other costs to consider as well. For example, travel. Almost none of the programs cover travel to their location. So, for example, if you live in, say, California, and get accepted into a residency in Florida…then it’s time to flex those Hotwire muscles. Other things to consider include: feeding yourself while you’re there, how you’ll get around should you want to leave the grounds, and, in some cases, the nightly fee. That’s right, some residencies charge nightly just like a hotel or Airbnb. And that’s all assuming you’re able to get time off work (paid vacation time, if you’re lucky), as residencies vary from 1-2 weeks up to a few months.

However—and I cannot stress this enough—every residency program is different. YOU HAVE TO DO YOUR RESEARCH! Some cover meals, but not travel. Some give you a stipend for food and expenses for the duration of your stay. Some have no application fee. Some even give you access to a car so you can see the sights while you’re there! It’s a lot like finding a publisher or an agent: you just have to find the one(s) that are the right fit for you. But if you find one that fits your life, and you get accepted … man, oh man, does it ever seem like utopia.

The Porches Retreat, in rural Virginia.

The vast majority of information I’m giving you was found in this article from The Write Life. It’s over a year old, but the links are still good. You’ll just have to visit the sites for their most updated information. I myself have their list narrowed down to about 10 or so that make sense for me. Most of them don’t accept applications again until early next year, but there are a couple coming up soon, so I have to get cracking! As for you all, have any of you ever been accepted into a residency program? Was it everything you’d hoped it would be?

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