The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Taking The Mudbow Sisters to Publishers

dwarf woman

I’m revisiting The Mudbow Sisters, my “Sons of Katie Elder with Dwarves” novel, by sending my query to publishers instead of agents this time. That’s how I got Merm-8 first published, and I miss having a book on the shelves. There are people who do read my work. My wife knows someone who read it because she looks for books by local authors.

There aren’t as many publishers as agents who take direct, unsolicited submissions so this won’t take long. Most of them have some excluding factor, like being only Christian or only romance, neither of which my book is. And you can tell by the quality of the book covers where they sit on the vanity press spectrum.

As I make my new queries, I realize one of the problems I’m running into is that it’s so unlike anything else on the shelf, now or in the past. It’s a story about four dwarf women. When have you ever seen fantasy dwarf culture portrayed in any medium? They don’t even show it in Lord of the Rings, the quintessential epic fantasy where dwarves originated. Oh, they show dwarves (male dwarves) but they never go to their homeland and show their family lives or architecture or culture.

Past that, it’s not about four dwarf women on an epic fantasy quest. It’s a close-to-home “rite of passage” story closer in plot to Little Women or The Outsiders or The Royal Tenenbaums without the twee or quirk. But it’s not “file the serial numbers off Terms of Endearment”. There are real characters in here–rough, tough, hard as stone, twice as craggy dwarves. Products of a defined culture and upbringing.

So when the publisher asks me to “name three to five other books published in the past half-decade that are similar to yours”, I am scraping the bottom of the 99-cent bin. The setup sounds like tear-jerker family drama, but I’ve transplanted the cast of characters from The Hobbit. Two great tastes that taste great together? Well, I think so. But no one else has made the recipe.

Maybe that’s the reason I didn’t try very hard to get it published. I mean, I certainly didn’t shirk. I combed through all the agents that rep “fantasy”, but got fewer bites than I ever had before. Was it because no one writes about dwarves, much less women dwarves? Maybe. Was it because it was a bit on the short side (85,000 words) and most fantasies are epics? Maybe. Was it because it was 2019 and everything was a garbage fire? Maybe.

So yeah, I don’t exactly follow the trends of literature. But all the writing advice says not to. As soon as you cater to one trend, it fades and another takes its place. I just need to wait until small bearded woman hop on board and I’ll be riding that gravy train.

Angrily Jealous

jealousy babies

So Lindsay Ellis, who I’ve talked about before, just announced that she sold a book, a fiction book, and it’ll be published in 2020. I should be happy about that. One of my favorite YouTubers, who makes insightful and thought-provoking analyses of nostalgic films and film theory, has a book coming out. And instead of being happy, I find myself being angry and insanely jealous. Why?

I know it wasn’t like it was easy for her. She says it took ten years to get the book published. I’ve been doing this since 2006. I’ve written a half-dozen novels, collected rejections. Did she get this just because she’s got semi-celebrity status? Do I have to get a Hugo nomination just to get something in a bookstore? I can’t tell if I’m angry because A) you apparently have to put so much work into a book only the workaholics can do it, the ones who make writing their fulltime job with no safety net or B) I’m just unlucky (or bad at writing).

Of course, I know all these are completely irrational. I should be happy for her. I should be happy for me because I’ll get to read a book by her. But then seeing all these congratulations from people on Twitter (big names like John Scalzi and Hank Green) makes me angrily jealous.

I’m the bad guy.

The Year in Writing

depressed writer

This has not been a great year for writing.  I finished Defender and started sending out the queries.  Only two agents bit.  The rest never responded or sent rejections.  This is my third novel I’ve written with intent for publication and again, no one was interested.  I know most novelists don’t get their first novel published.  A lot don’t get their second.  But three novels with ~93 rejections a piece?  I am doing something seriously wrong.

Art is one of those things where no one can tell you what you’re doing wrong.  When you put together a bunch of ingredients that don’t work together, no one can tell you how to fix it, just that it doesn’t taste good.  I am very frustrated.  Like toeing the line of whether to give up or not.  I feel like an alcoholic wondering if it’s worth it to stay sober.

Not a single acceptance for any of my short stories this year either.  I only completed one new one this year, but still, my backlog should still garner attention.  But again, no, it’s not to be.  I’m paying $50 for my subscription to my online submission tracker, and didn’t make a dime.  When no one says “yes” to you all year, it can be very disheartening.  Like, what am I doing this for if no one wants to read it?  I should be improving with experience, not getting worse.  At one point, I had a 17% acceptance rate.  Now?  It’s 0%.

I spent most of my year writing Disney Princess fan fiction.  After concentrating so hard on writing to be published, I needed something that wasn’t so pressurizing.  For Defender, I spent a lot of time agonizing over what scenes to cut, which characters to axe, whether the plot followed, whether people liked the characters.  Lots of critique analysis and contemplating what the right move is.  Now I don’t worry about that.  But the story got out of hand and ended up being 195,000 words.  Which I expected — it’s a fan fiction serial like Gatecrash — but I didn’t need this much time taken up with it.

Yet, I must finish it.  Writers finish things.  And I wouldn’t want to have a whole year of my life wasted on something no one would see.  Not even for free online.  The problem is I had promised myself to write more publishable stuff, and I didn’t.  I’d rather finish it than write a next novel, because I know I’ll get immediate feedback.

It’s not like I avoided the short stories.  But like I said, I only finished one, although a handful of others are still in process.  However, I keep running into the same problem.  Critiquers keep saying the same thing — “I don’t get what it’s about”.  One story’s supposed to be humorous metafiction.  Another’s supposed to be light-hearted fantasy.  Another’s a horror story about psychotic kids.  This is supposed to be evolving as an author, but I can’t seem to get characters, plot, and setting into the same bowl in the right proportions.

I don’t even know what I want to write next.  I could write my ski romance that I’ve been pre-writing for more than four years.  I’ve finished my “research” into other skiing romance books.  And most of all, I want to write it to make my wife happy.  But I don’t know how to write a romance.  And I still don’t have a… I don’t know what to call it.  A hook?  A catch?  An angle?  The thing that makes the book special.  That distinguishes it from other books and makes it a book I’d want to write.

Unlike my second choice, which is a quest story about a naga going to pursue the boy she met as a kid, who she thinks is in trouble.  I don’t know much about snakes, but the scrappy girl on a hero’s journey in a fantasy setting — I’m more in love with that idea than a ski romance, which is not my usual forte (as you can probably guess).

So there it is.  An empty past, a dawdling present, and a shaky future.  Just about any other job, there’s someone who every once in a while pats you on the back and says “good job”.  Not in writing though.  A whole year without a fragment of praise or acknowledgement or progress for my hard work?  Makes me wonder if it’s worth it.  Part of the reason I started writing was because A) it was something I was halfway good at and B) I wanted to feel productive with my life.  I wanted to make something that would last, that could affect a wide number of people.  But if no one’s interested in opening the door, if I’m moving backwards or de-evolving, am I just wasting time?

Musa Publishing Shuts Down

musa publishing logo

So Musa, where Merm-8 has been published, is shutting its doors.  They announced it via email to its authors today that, at the end of the month, all links will be pulled from buying sites and rights are reversed back to us.

So in six short months I go from achieving my dream of being a published author back to the beginning.  I won’t have a book to show off and say “yes, I’m in the marketplace”.  I can’t point people to an Amazon page or promote on Twitter or anything.  I’ll be back to where I started.

I don’t blame Musa at all for this.  No anger.  They’ve been good and straightforward with me.  I’ve questioned some of their decisions and marketing choices, but nothing but love.  I thought they were doing fine, because they had hired/promoted a bunch of new people last year, so I thought the company was moving up.

The executives said that they hadn’t been accepting any profits from the venture for four years.  They’ve put it all into promotion and company-building.  This is why I couldn’t be an entrepreneur.  I can’t imaging working so hard on something and seeing no reward from it.  Much less for four years. Imagine how the people around them must have been affected. You’d have to really love the industry you’re in for that kind of commitment.  I hope they all find better lives out there.

But where does that leave me?  Well, I guess it’s back to the query list.  No reason to let a good book go to waste.  I’ll probably start going directly publishers again.  I think there was one site where I had some moderate success.  I might try them again if I find the e-mail.  After that?  Anybody’s guess.

FYI: If you’ve been putting off a purchase, now is definitely the time.

The Book Club

book club cartoon women

My wife is a member of a neighborhood book club. Which is not, as you might think, a thinly veiled excuse to drink wine and complain about their husbands. It is, however, mostly filled with snacks and conversations. Most of which aren’t relevant to the book. They’re usual fare isn’t usually book clubby books — books with heavy subjects but entertaining stories like The Help or The Fault in Our Stars.  This month, it was Merm-8.

Hey, that’s my book.

And to tell the truth, I’m disappointed in myself for not exploiting the opportunity as much as I could’ve/should’ve. For some reason, I just didn’t feel very writerly that day (or week). Been running for no reward. I had been drinking the night before, so my energy wasn’t up. Plus these were all women from the neighborhood, and this was a fairly male-audienced book (rated R for naked mermaid boobs). When you’re not talking to a core audience, you can’t expect a warm reception.

Plus, book club had already been delayed because of Christmas, and no one had read it at the time. Just one person was finished when it was supposed to be. I don’t blame them, it’s outside their genre. They were pretty much obligated to read it because one of their member’s husbands wrote it. Even I’d balk at that.

After I’d put the kids to bed, I came down and we started talking. I didn’t ask as many questions as I should have. It was an opportunity to get real live feedback, but I feel like I squandered it. Maybe it’s because I considered the book finished, and wasn’t really looking for feedback on it. Plus, so far down the line, I see the flaws in the piece, and know I’ve written better stuff since then, so it feels like an empty victory.

All that was asked by myself or others were generic questions. But like I said, not a book clubby book. Like my wife, they also found the relationship with Stitch and Gene more interesting than the plot with the mermaid. Also, where did you come up with the names, what was your favorite part, stuff like that. I hope they got something out of it, maybe a little bit of the creative process. Also had to clear up that the mermaid is not based on my wife, despite that the book’s dedicated to her and the mermaid has red hair.

Would I do it again? Yes, I think so. It’s too valuable not to find out how people are reacting. Maybe I should bake a cake for them, so I don’t feel so nervous.

Guest Post: Always Striving by Daniel Ausema

Turnabout is fair play.  If you read my guest post on his blog, now welcome Daniel’s article about persistence.

Always Striving

When I hosted Eric’s post on my blog last week, one line jumped out at me: “But it’s also important to know if you don’t stretch your limits, you won’t get better.” That encapsulates my approach to writing (and everything) as well as just about any one sentence could. So I wanted to riff on that for a bit.

A big part of my background is in experiential education. We would create experiences for kids that pushed them in one way or another. And if an activity felt too easy, we always told them that they could choose to make it more difficult. The bigger the challenge (usually), the bigger the reward. Climbing a rock wall too easy? Go for the harder route or limit which color holds you let yourself use. Solving a brainteaser group problem not hard enough? Blindfold half your team. Crossing a webbed bridge up in the rafters of the university gym doesn’t get your fear reflexes going? Try crossing while balancing on just one side of the bridge or switching back and forth without stepping down in the middle—and don’t touch those safety lines.

We had an expression, “Challenge by choice,” and kids were never forced to do something too far beyond what they believed they could do. But for those who were ready, there were always ways to bump it up a notch.

I take that same philosophy to my writing. Not needlessly—I don’t randomly choose to type out my next story with one arm in a fake sling or throw in artificial obstacles. But I do approach each story as a challenge to try something new.

When I first started writing the Spire City episodes, my middle child was a newborn, and my wife was just going back to work. So part of the challenge was simply finding the time and space to write in the middle of taking care of my children.

Some of the other things I did, though, was to take inspiration from some other sources that hadn’t typically been a part of my writing. The TV-show influence is clear in the wording we use: seasons and episodes—and initially I even called my scene breaks commercial breaks, just for keeping my mind in that groove. It was never, to be clear, that I imagined I was writing for a TV show. I always intended the episodes to be read. I love words, love to arrange them just so to evoke the images I want. So don’t imagine that I only wrote these stories in prose because I couldn’t afford to make a TV show or movie. But I did try to see TV episodes from a writer’s angle and take what I could from their approach and apply it to a written story, transformed as it must be.

And the influence isn’t probably obvious to readers, but I looked closely at the TV show Firefly to figure out why it inspires so much devotion among fans. One effect of that is that Spire City is an ensemble story. I have a tendency, I’m well aware of, of writing stories about loners. They wander through strange and evocative settings and face their trials alone, whether there are people around them or not. So it was a healthy challenge for me to create a group of outcasts and not just a single protagonist. Their struggle is a communal one, and the focus varies from episode to episode among the different characters.

Every time I begin a new project, I try something new. So as season shifts to season, my goals become higher still, my ambition to create an engaging story that stays with readers becomes even bigger. The narrative strands twist and mature, and the stakes become higher and more poignant.

Will I succeed in making Spire City everything I hope it to be? Who can say, but the challenge of trying to reach that will make it a better, stronger story, one that reaches out to readers and drags them into the trials and dangers of its steampunk world of chained singers and giant beetles, mad science and deadly infections. And as the famous quote goes, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, / Or what’s a heaven for?” (Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto”).

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Daniel Ausema is the creator of the steampunk-fantasy serial fiction project Spire City. The second bundle of season 1 episodes (“Epidemic”) releases on October 17, and Season Two: Pursued begins serialization on November 28. He has also written a novella for the shared world project The Darkside Codex (also published by Musa) and has had short stories and poems published in many magazines and anthologies. He lives in Colorado, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

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Targeted by a deadly infection, these outcasts band together to uncover the truth and to fight back.

Spire City is home to mighty machines of steam power and clockwork, and giant beetles pull picturesque carriages over cobbled streets, but there is a darker secret behind these wonders. A deadly infection, created by a mad scientist, is spreading through the city, targeting the poor and powerless, turning them slowly into animals. A group of those infected by the serum join together to survive, to trick the wealthy out of their money, and to fight back.

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Buy Epidemic or any of Daniel Ausema’s Musa works

Looking for Mermaids

pastel mermaid

When I started thinking about promotions for Merm-8 (now in fine stores and outlets).  I wanted to do a blog tour.  Basically, that means doing guest posts on various blogs.  I came up with a ton of good topics, but the places to put them seem to be as sparse as cuttlefish*.

I thought there’d be more websites about mermaids.  There were when I was younger.  But when I Google, most of the results are for commercial sites that are for things named after mermaids, like models and hotels and cleaning products and… seafood restaurants.

So I’m putting it out there.  If you can help me find some sites about mermaids that weren’t last updated in 2012, I’d be much obliged.  Otherwise, I can always post them here, but I’d just be shouting into the wind.  Need to spread the love.

Or sites that feature new authors would be good too.  I’m willing to bet there are more of them out there, sites that like to promote new books.  I haven’t searched for those yet.  But if you’re an early adopter, a referral would be most appreciated.

*I have no idea if cuttlefish are sparse, but it sounded good in my head.

Merm-8 Is Released

merm-8 book cover musa publishing

What’s that? You say you have nothing to read? Well, here’s something that might catch your fancy.

Why, yes, this is my book. Merm-8 is a book that you can purchase and also buy. It’s mostly used for entertainment, but if you have some bytes on your flash memory drive that need feeling, then this will absolutely keep them occupied with important ones and zeroes.

But say you do want to use it for its intended purpose. What would you find if you open the book? Well, many of the same words and letters you’re used to. Just in a different order. But if you read the words in that order, they form a narrative that describes a linear time frame.

But what’s in that linear time frame? A series of events, involving characters and settings that, according to the Many Worlds theory, have already happened. Future events such as these could affect you in the future.

Oh, you want a summary. Here you go…

The Earth is almost completely covered with water. Most of the population has been driven out to corporate-owned Seaplexes — artificial islands glutted with poverty, commercialism, and organized crime. 

Gene is a freelancer with a ship, hustling salvage and smuggling jobs — artificial islands glutted with poverty, commercialism, and organized crime. He’s traveled everywhere with his AI companion, Stitch, and never seen anything more majestic than a barnacle-covered whale. Until an honest-to-god mermaid gets stuck in his ship’s exhaust port. 

Although intrigued by her beauty, he doesn’t need another “crewman” cramping his style. He smuggles her to Carl Rance, an old scientist friend, who discovers how her biology works, her origins, and if there are more of her. 

But when rumors of sinking ships start surfacing, Gene has to dive into a world of more than just mermaids — a deviant geneticist, the sea-faring mafia, a silver ship with a rogue AI, and a secret that, in the wrong hands, could destroy the remainder of mankind.

Good enough for you? Still want to read? Then patronize this fine establishment to partake of its wares. Patronize it, I say!

And thank you to everyone who helped me along this road. Now I can tell people I do have a book out. I’m a published author!

Does this mean I don’t have to blog anymore?