Tuesday, November 17

The Man Who Sat Alone

Let me tell you the short story of a man who sits alone. This guy lived as one of the many characters in my book. But he did not make it past chapter five. The reason: I hated him. I did not even give him a name. But you shall know him as the man who sat alone (he does not even deserve title caps).

Anyway, all he did was sit alone; he did not get along with anyone. I placed him in a scene with the nicest people in my book in chapter two, and he pissed them off big time. I gave him a second chance in the third chapter and allowed him to correct his mistakes. But instead, he broke the heart of the funniest character ever in the book. As God, I gave him yet another chance to redeem himself.

In chapter four, I let him sit all alone in a corner so he could just exist without bothering anyone. And even in that secluded place, he managed to go out of his way to destroy the peace of everyone around him. By now, I knew what best to do.

So, in chapter five, I took out his heart and fed it to the dogs, and let the rest of my nicest characters feed on him. But they refused. Too much filth, they said. So, I had no choice but to transform the rest of his heartless body into a fat turkey, cut him up and deliver it to the poor and needy for Thanksgiving. At least now he can contribute to others.

But what about his soul? No worries. I gave it to Stephen King who has other plans for it in his next book. And now I can finally rest and continue with the rest of my writing career.

My next book? "The Dog Who Ate a Man With No Heart."

Tuesday, November 10

Die! Die! Die!

Last night, on the way home from the movies--and we were completely happy campers, singing in the car and loving life and blowing kisses to everyone we saw--we stopped at a railway crossing while the train approached. Hayden was excited to see the train and we wound down the window and said, "Look, Hayden! It's a train, and it's coming this way. Yay!" Yes, we were happy campers, until we felt a huge bump from behind. Apparently, the Mitsubish Lancer from behind had rolled off its brakes and hit my bumper.

Straightaway, the mood changed. I stepped out of my car, headed over to the Lancer and demanded to speak to the driver. The driver, a Polynesian lady with unattractive voice started to stammer. She started to tell me how minute the bump was and how she was on the phone because her sister was in the hospital in the ICU unit (whatever that was) and how her husband had called to see how her sister was doing and how she had accidentally let go of her brakes and how the car rolled and how it hit my car. I was fuming, though I bit my tongue. What in the world was she thinking? It is people like her that cause accidents on the freeway, making everyone late to work! It is people like her that cause long lines on the freeway!

Then the funniest thing happened. She came out of her car and showed me how she was bumped from behind a few days ago and how she did not even fix anything because she thought nothing of it. And this was when I began to mouth off at her. Jesus would not be proud of me and the devil was ready to embrace me and call me a good son. I asked her for her contact information and took pictures of the damage on my bumper. She begged me not to file a claim through her insurance; she would settle it with me privately. I said no problem and I told her to pay for everything, including a new bumper. I told her that my car was like my baby, and nobody messes with my baby!

I flipped her off and spat on her car. Oh, and did I mention that I kicked her tires? Well, I did. And some foreign languages began to surge out of my mouth that I thought I was speaking in tongues. I was cussing like the crazy old Mrs. Mombaza who lives two blocks from my house. She'd be proud of me. And here were my last words:

"Die! Die! Die! I hope you and your clan and your sister in the ICU and your husband and any child or children that you have and may have will die a horrible death. You will all seize to exist! You and your entire race on heaven and on earth will die, die, die! And I hope your car will explode and your mom--" I can't remember anything beyond this point. My wife had taken over the wheels and she was rubbing my back and singing me a sweet lullaby to calm me down. And I have to say, I feel the spirit again and I was all happy and taking deep breaths. I was ready to forgive. I even smiled.

I did not bother to look at the damage again and decided to look at it in the morning. My wife told me that all was well. The damage was no damage at all. No dent, no paint peeled. Only a minute, minute scratch. No one would notice. I believed her and went to bed.

Come this morning, I woke up with a smile. Had my breakfast and got ready to work. When I was in my garage, the first thing I checked was my car bumper. I squinted and saw nothing. There was a moment when I thought I had dreamed the entire ordeal. It was as if nothing had happened. Then, a sliver of light gave way to the small scratch that was there, and my heart fell like Satan and his armies eons ago.

And this was when I opened my mouth and screamed "Die! Die! Die!" and a host of other-worldly verbal expressions that would give the devil tears of pride and joy came out of my mouth like diarrhea. Secretly in my heart today, I prayed hard that the lady in the Lancer would die with her entire family and her clan and her race. I love a good revenge.

And if you think I am joking, bring it on! No one messes with my car!

Thursday, November 5

What's in a Query?

Writers from all over the world, listen up! Now that you've finished your first novel and have popped your champaignes and danced around your bedroom celebrating the premature achievement of your novel's completion, it's time to sit back down and face reality. I know it really feels good to know that you've finally dotted your last period and can call yourself an author, but believe me, your journey as a writer has just begun. The grueling process of editing is awaiting you at the threshold of success (or failure, whichever applies).

My editing process took 3 years. Yup, you heard me. THREE YEARS! My first revision added 20,000 words to my manuscript, increasing my word count from a meager 70,000 to 90,000. My second revision slashed 10,000 words from my manuscript, and my third revision got it down to 75,000. And that was when I felt good. Then there was the polishing process in which I had to read my manuscript so many times till I was basically skipping pages near the end. I dotted the I's and crossed the T's, corrected grammatical errors, and made sure my characters were coherent. I mean, there was a time when one of my main characters suddenly had a different name halfway through the novel. And there was another time when a dead character actually came to life without my knowing in one chapter and died again for the rest of the novel. Creepy? Well, it happens.

And once the editing process is done, it's time to query. Writing the query letter is an art by itself. Within one page, you must hook your reader and sell your manuscript. It's not about your story, it's about how to tell people about your story. In other words, don't worry about whether or not your story is good enough. Instead, worry about how you relay your story within one page to an agent. So here's the basic, fail-proof formula to writing a stellar query:
  1. Address your agent by first or last name, and not Sir or Ma'am.
  2. Go straight to your hook, which is a summary of your book in not more than 4 small paragraphs. If you can fit everything in 2 paragraphs, you'll make your agent happier. Don't worry about giving out the ending or minute details. Just a rough frame of what your book is about. That's all. Simple, right? Not really. Most writers have the tendency to go on and on about their book, which is a direct dive to Failureville. Basically, introduce your characters, their conflicts, and what they need to do to resolve it. That's it.
  3. State your word count and genre. Well, this is pretty flexible. Some writers don't even have to define the genre of their book. Not necessary. This is because in today's publishing industry, the agents really don't care what genre you say your book is. Ultimately, the publishers decide. So you may think your book is sci-fi, but in the end, it is published as horror. This is because it is really hard to define a book's genre nowadays. About word count, just make sure you don't give your agent a heart attack by giving your first novel a 90,000 or 120,000 word count. That will guarantee a form rejection. Just know that the requirement word count of a novel is around 75,000 to 80,000, no more, no less. And if your novel, no matter how stellar you think it is, is over that limit, it's time to trim the fat from the bacon. Go back to your editing process and do what you have to do.
  4. Tell the agent a little about yourself. Don't overdo this. Mention your writing achievements if you have any. And completing your English 101 paper is not one of them. And if you don't have any, just tell the agent which school you graduated from, what you do and so on. Make it three sentences or a short paragraph.
  5. End your query with a thank you and mention that it is part of a multiple submission. This will cause the agent to act faster on your query if it is good because there is competition.

So that's it. And just to illustrate, I will include my initial query for my debut novel below. I welcome suggestions, criticism, and hate mail. So here goes:

Dear Adam:

Housekeeper, Eleanor Rose, is witty, gentle, hardworking, and a remarkable cook. To the people of Amalga, she’s a petite old lady who wouldn’t even hurt a fly. And to the Cunninghams, she’s the perfect housekeeper—at least until they found her holding a bloody knife next to the dead body of Katherine Cunningham, her employer’s 12-year-old daughter.

When Eleanor is arrested, Vincent Lee, a young journalist, is assigned to cover her story. His research leads to a startling discovery: This is not the first time Eleanor is arrested for the death of a child. In fact, Eleanor was found guilty for the murder of her only son thirty-nine years ago. He was twelve when he died.

Through his interviews with Eleanor within the confines of the penitentiary’s visiting hall, Vincent finds the truth hard to digest. Nothing is what it seems. Behind Eleanor’s actions is a painful secret that, if revealed, would challenge the moral obligation of every mother to her child. It would give love a new meaning.

And now Vincent will have to make one important decision: to run the story and defy what he believes is right, or to sacrifice his career and protect the one thing that will also give him a second chance in life.

The Housekeeper's Son, a 75,000 word work of literary fiction, explores the power and vulnerability of a mother's love for her child. I am a corporate writer in the nutraceutical industry and a graduate of Utah State University where I received my Master of Arts in Communication. This query is part of a multiple submission.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

Christopher Loke