Posts by rlfryar

Hi, there. I'm an author living in the Arkansas River Valley in west Arkansas, not far from the Ozark National Forest. I write adult fantasy about mountains with souls, trees with hearts, and the natural world is never that far removed from my writing.

Counting Pumpkins

Yesterday, my son toured the snake-infested part of the garden. (Note: We don’t exactly know the number of snakes in there. Just that there are snakes.) He came back unscathed, with a glowing report.

There are eight pie-pumpkins out there.

To which I grinned, and reminded him, “Don’t count your pumpkins before you pick them.”

Still, it’s a celebration. He’s been struggling to grow this variety for three years now. This spring, he almost despaired because the plants weren’t producing female flowers, only males. He has worked hard to cultivate those plants, and to see him happy about his success can only give me happiness too. All of them could fail. We both know that. It’s happened before. But for now, yes. There are eight pie-pumpkins out there.

I saw some writing scuttlebutt surrounding a tweet this weekend, and it made me think about celebrations, defeat, and generally how a writer should conduct themselves while querying. Is it appropriate to celebrate small victories, like a request, in public? Should that be kept to a private group? Should the writer not celebrate at all except by themselves in private with a few critique partners? And the converse of that? Should a writer post when they get a rejection? Is that seen as a form of whining? Should they hide their rejections and celebrations in case other people are watching?

As with a garden, a full request isn’t much more than saying something about the query and pages worked. In short, the seed came up. It germinated. Now there’s a pumpkin on the vine and it looks promising. That doesn’t mean you’ll harvest that pumpkin. So, can you brag about it? Sure. Absolutely. Can you say nothing except in private to your friends and CPs? Yeah! Do that. Can you tell no one and keep it all to yourself, hiding those pumpkins in the weeds? You bet.

You do you. There will be people who won’t like that. They’ll remind you to not count your pumpkins before you pick them. But don’t think they aren’t happy for you.

This writer is.

 

 

The Restorative Power of Fun (Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously)

So…it’s hot outside. So hot.

Summer finally showed up in his shorts and shades, and he brought the high pressure beach umbrella with him. This means that short of a hurricane, we will get no rain for the next three months.

I’m used to this. I usually deal with it by getting most of my hair cut off and hiding inside in dark, cool places and pretending it’s snowing outside. I suffer from reverse SAD every year. This is my way of coping.

But this year, we’ve got the garden. For whatever reason, I felt it necessary to plant roughly two dozen tomato plants, and as it’s not raining, I’m watering every day. And when you have a coon-skin cap on your head in 100F sauna, it’s not pleasant.

I’d held off cutting my own hair because it’s layered. I was scared. I’m not great working in front of a mirror. What if I do something horrible and I end up with a big bald spot on my head? I’ll look like a mangey dog! People will laugh at me! I’ll laugh at me!

Well, I did it this weekend.

Yep. I cut my own hair.

While I don’t have a bald spot, there’s a gorgeous patch in the back that I definitely cut too close. My bangs are really short. They are uneven. Some places my hair goes one way. Some places it goes another. It’s so me. It’s cool. It’s comfortable. Hats are stylish if I have to go out. Who the heck cares what I look like?

That got me thinking about how many things we don’t do because we are scared of what we might look like. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. It keeps us from doing things we’ll regret. But there are times when it’s just good to cut loose (or cut your hair) because life is too short not to laugh at yourself and go on.

Don’t take yourself so seriously that you never do something stupid once in a while. Sometimes, like a bad haircut, it’s the fun you didn’t know you needed.

 

My World is Watering

Another week. Another long spate of a quiet inbox. And I’ve never been busier in my writing life than I am right now.

It’s easy to get discouraged when things are slow on the query front. Maybe you are getting skipped in the inbox. Maybe the agent closed to queries to catch up in June, and you queried right before then, so you know it’s going to be August before you hear anything. Maybe your friends are getting requests, rep, or rejections and you start poking your inbox to make sure it isn’t broken. It feels like you’ve hit the doldrums and you’ll never get out.

Summer is like that in the garden, too. My life has become getting up earlier than usual because it’s already 80F at 8 AM, pulling on rubber boots (against ticks, mosquitoes, and bumblebees up my shorts), and heading out into the garden with the hose. It’s mind-numbing. Except when a bee goes up my shorts. Then it’s very exciting for a minute or two. But mostly it’s moving from one plant to the next, counting out how long the hose has to run to supply the two gallons a day that my tomato plants are demanding in this heat. But you know what all that watering is doing? It’s taking my mind off other concerns. It’s necessary work, and leaves me no time to fret about anything else.

That’s what being busy during query season does for me. I’m revising my next project and drafting two more. I’m not paying attention to where I am in someone else’s inbox. They’ll get to me when they get to me. I’ve got my own garden to take care of.

If you are feeling the strain of listening to the inbox crickets, and you aren’t working on another project, may I suggest some “watering”? Writer In Motion is coming up. Try some flash fiction. Not got another novel in development? What about some craft book exercises or writing prompts? Too stressed to write? What about offering up some positivity passes for other writers? How about a Beta read for a friend? Find something to do in your writing garden and see if it helps.

It’s The Great Pumpkin! Uh, Story

I’ve been neglecting my blog lately. I’ve written a few things for it, but with the world on fire, they didn’t seem particularly important at the time. But today I want to talk about querying and giant pumpkins.

My son is really into pumpkins. He’s been into them since he was a kid and saw his first pumpkin patch. When he found out he could actually grow them, he was ecstatic. I should have realized we were going to have a giant at some point when cucumber beetles, vine borers, squash bugs, inadequate rainfall, and the backbreaking labor of dealing with clay soil did not deter him.

Last year, he grew his first Atlantic Giant. Now, we’re not completely insane yet. We haven’t yet mortgaged the house for a single seed of a champion pumpkin. But after pouring over every library resource, watching videos from very old farmers in Mississippi who know what they are talking about when they talk vine borers, he charged into this year with great enthusiasm and dedication.

And what do you know? We’ve got a giant out there in the garden. Oh, it’s only about fifty pounds right now. But you can actually watch this thing grow from day to day. It gets fed ritual offerings of fertilizer. We’ve been out in masks, hunting the stores for the specific micronutrient mix it needs for optimal growth.  He cut up his own baby blanket (yes, I let him!) to make covers to protect his pumpkins from the sun so they would continue to grow. I fully expect him to sing them to sleep soon.

Every day is a new chance for disaster. He came in terrified one morning. One of the fruits had a side split. We almost panicked. We made a mad rush to the literature to see if we could save it. A week and a half of sterile bandage changes later, it looks like it’s going to make it. It set back it’s growth, and it will never hit the size it should have. Its chance is gone. But he learned a lot.

Oh, and as of last night, he’s officially having pumpkin nightmares.

So, what do giant pumpkins have to do with querying? Aside from the nightmares.

Well, growing a giant pumpkin is stressful. Anyone who has grown squash in the southern US knows pumpkins are hard. Our summer daylight hours aren’t good for producing big pumpkins. The pests are out of this world, and we often have two generations of them to battle. Late frosts mean starting early can come back to haunt you. It rains all spring. It roasts all summer. It’s almost the worst place in the world to grow winter squash. No one expects anything to come out of it, and there are a lot of naysayers to remind you every day that nothing will come of it.

It’s so much work. The learning curve is steep. There’s a lot of luck involved in success, sure. But what’s really important? Knowing what the soil needs. Knowing what the vine needs. Burying that vine for protection. Cutting off female flowers that don’t have the right stem orientation. Training the vines. Pruning the vines. Fertilizing. Watering, watering, more watering.

That takes dedication. The pumpkin takes up my son’s whole day. He’s out there first thing in the morning to inspect. He’s out there in the middle of the day to water if needed. He’s out there every afternoon with a jar of soapy water, catching bugs. He’s out there every evening, inspecting leaves, checking blossom ends, checking stems, carefully moving the pumpkin a little every day so it won’t grow over its own vine.

It takes courage. EVERYTHING could go wrong with one split. It almost did. We saved that fruit. But it is no longer on track to achieve its potential. That’s it. No fair for it this year. That means we have one more chance to make it big with the largest of the crop, and I don’t know if the backup variety is going to make in time. We’ve got extras, but it takes that one fruit to really grow to make a year worthwhile.

That sounds a lot like querying a manuscript to me. Many writers start out from a position of writing for fun. Then, they get it in their heads that they could actually publish something. They grow a good story, but not a great one. But they keep learning. They don’t let their background get in the way of what they want in life. They go for it, knowing the odds aren’t good.

But they learn. They study the craft. Better than that, they study the shelves. They read what’s being published. They work on perfecting their vision—not writing what’s already on the shelves, but writing to the shelf. What they want to read. What they want to bring to the reader. They pay attention to markets, not because they are afraid, but because they want to succeed in that climate.

They do something writerly every day. That’s not always writing. They may be reading. They may be studying craft. They may be providing critiques or Beta reads as they cultivate good feedback partners for their work.

Even when things seem hopeless, they send queries. They feel bad when they have to shelve a project. They patch up a story, but like with that stunted pumpkin, they can accept that not every story is going to be a champion. They love it anyway. It taught them so much. And whatever happens, they keep going. They know the best story they have to offer may not be enough.

But that’s okay.

The querying writer and the giant pumpkin grower both know—there’s always next year.

 

What Comes Next

I did something I wasn’t planning to do last week. I pitched Tree Gods in DVPit.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely planned to pitch. Just not this early. I’d planned to wait until June. No specific reason for June, except maybe it was far enough away from March to sound good. But I jumped off the bridge, and now I’ve got to go swimming.

On top of that, I submitted my ghost story, Flipping, for ReviseResub’s April contest this year. THAT was not on my to-do list at all. But I’ve had some agent interest in it—again, me and my pitch-happy trigger finger—and it’s just too much fun to let it sit when it could be out there getting ready to query. Once again, I jumped into the deep end.

That means it’s time to get ready to go under a number of times. It’s time to face…rejection.

I’m not going to talk a lot about the psychological and emotional aspect of rejection. It hurts. It hurts a lot. First thing I do after a rejection that stings is go for a walk. I need to get out. And then I need chocolate. But after that…what happens?

Well, then it’s time to stick with the plan. Acceptance is the exception rather than the rule. It makes sense to know what you will do if one thing doesn’t work out and you need to do something different.

For Tree Gods, I had already sent it (mid-April) for targeted Beta feedback. I sent a letter with each copy of the manuscript detailing exactly what I wanted that reader to look at. That story is very close to the vision I have for it. In addition to that, I started revising the series from first draft to second draft. I probably won’t do more than that, but having the first fifty pages of every book in my series polished, the synopses all proofed and ready for editorial eyes, and a clear, overarching vision for the whole quartet is something that will make me feel good about those books. Tree Gods is ready to head out into the query world.

While Tree Gods is out there, I have another story in development and drafting. Always be writing the next thing.

Flipping is another case. Flipping is at a different stage of development. It’s not embryonic, but it’s definitely a younger story. For Flipping, I have already scheduled one CP to look at it, and am actively looking for more readers. Additionally, I have begun looking for comps—because apparently paranormal romance is a thing, but paranormal romcoms are not that common. Is that something I will have to change to sell the book or something that will make it stand out? I don’t know yet. Time to read more ghost stories.

Having a plan is what helps me deal with rejection. The sadness and unhappiness are hard. They last longer than I’d like. But what helps me to get past the emotional reaction is moving on, having a plan I can preemptively set in motion to keep me working toward my goals and not wondering what comes next.

I don’t like uncertainty when it comes to rejection. There’s enough of that in hoping for a good outcome, thanks!

Reading Paydirt

 

I have had the most abysmal start to my reading year. I bought a bunch of recommended reads, hoping to at last add some new fantasy books to my Best-Books-Ever shelf, and so far, I haven’t had any winners. In fact, at least two of the books I had the highest hopes for might just need to leave and find new homes.

But this month I hit paydirt.

Despondent with my reads so far, I decided to break my famine by choosing an author I love. I read both Good Omens (LOVED) and The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Good). But in between that, I picked up three books that are destined to make it onto the Best-Books-Ever Shelf

I don’t name books I put in my give-away pile. The simply didn’t resonate with me, but might resonate with another reader. But when I find books I absolutely love, I have to share them!

The first one is Perdido Street Station, China Mieville. This is an older book (2000), but one that might not have been on my radar if I hadn’t been looking for things that were not quite one genre or another. This is almost epic fantasy in a steampunk world, and I am loving it. It is such a refreshing change from traditional epic fantasy, and I am following it so well, I want to mine the book for techniques I can use to make my own epic fantasy more approachable. Also, one very funny thing about this book—the pages are like nothing I’ve read lately. The feel is almost newsprint. I can’t wait to pick up this book to read because I like to touch those pages.

The second is Hollow Kingdom, Kira Jane Buxton. This is my first woman author going on my best-of-the-best shelf this year! I don’t usually like dystopian fiction, but I loved the non-human MC, the frequent inclusions of poetry composed by animals from elephants to trees, and the ending of the story actually gave me chills. Spectacular. Going on my shelf as a perfect example of how the darkest things in the world, when told with humor, actually have a greater impact than dark things told with doom and gloom.

The third is The Overstory, Richard Powers. I have cried more with this book than any other. Every line is a sword. It has a powerful heart-story that builds in the way that trees grow. Literary fiction isn’t always something I like, but this has such a magical quality to it, that I find myself wanting to slow down as I read, simply to savor the journeys of each unique character and how they come together like the trees make up the forest, individuals that are, in fact, one great organism. This one is going on my shelf as inspiration for all the nature magic I love to write. Also, it takes the cake for excellent characterization for multiple MCs. Through getting to know each person through their own story first, the author makes you feel like you know each strand of the web as it is woven.

So that’s my book round up for this month. I have another pile waiting for me to read soon!

A Time to Wait

Broken

 

Fog clings to the trees thick as spiderwebs

Dew-drenched,

Like the one I passed on my morning walk

Hanging desperately in the branches,

Shot through with holes

Some monster punched in the night,

And the occupant,

Unmoved,

Watches over the wreck of a dream

Because dreams can be rebuilt

When the fog lifts.

 

R. Lee Fryar

 

I like to think this is a hopeful poem. I wrote it back in the fall, when I was dealing with my first major setback in my publishing journey, and I resurrected it today to think about it. Because it’s a damned foggy day, and has been for a few weeks.

The verse is essentially what I saw that morning as I walked through the trees after a hard rain, surveying the orb weavers. Some of them were already at work repairing, but most of them were sitting patiently, waiting for things to dry out and brighten before they got to work again.

I’m guilty maybe more than I’d like to be of being an eternal optimist. I work hard. I’m not scared of setbacks. I’m not scared of things that knock me down for years. I’ve been through them before. But I’m also guilty of getting up from the ground before I’ve had time to process what happened to me.

There’s a time to rebuild dreams. There’s a time to wait, let the world dry out, let the dew drip off the ruins, a time to plan what comes next.

Right now, it’s a good time to wait. There’s a lot going on in the world—and not just the world at large, but the publishing world, my local world, my story world as well. Patience isn’t something I’m known for—unless it’s being patient with a cat, a frightened dog, or a story that just is taking time to come to a boil—but it’s something I’m trying to cultivate.

Here’s to rebuilding when the fog lifts.

Writing In the Time of Quarantine

So last weekend, I started coughing. Normally, I wouldn’t be worried.

I’m allergic to some pollen, and as I’d been sleeping with the windows open, and there was a fine film of yellow over everything in the room. I felt fine. I believed nothing much was wrong with me. Well, three days later, still coughing, now feverish, I had to go down to the triage center where the doctor in hazmat checked me out, and tested me for a few things (Not COVID—there were not enough tests). This was last Monday. That evening I got my results. It was the flu. So I’ve been home recovering ever since.

I’ve been writing, reading, revising—all at a fairly normal pace for me. I’m home most of the time, so hours behind a laptop or working in my fantasy worlds is my usual work. My children are homeschooled, and have been since they were in kindergarten. They are sixteen now. They know the drill. We’ve not had school this week because I was sick, but they’ve amused themselves by writing, reading books, watching documentaries, and working outside, getting the garden ready for this year’s pumpkins and watermelons. In short, everything is perfectly normal.

Except it’s not. Nothing about this is normal.

Some people have been posting their goals of being more productive writing as they are spending more time at home. That may be you. It may not be. We all must find our own ways to adjust.

Give yourself grace. Remember this isn’t normal. We shouldn’t expect to feel normal, act normal, or accept a new normal any time soon. We all need to take the time we need to find our best mental space where we can be productive and creative.

Dark Times, Bright Words

 

This weekend, I developed a cough and a fever. Therefore, after a doctor’s visit today, I’m under home quarantine. I thought I might have less to do, being both sick and confined.

Instead, I find I’m busier this Monday than last week! Writing, yes, brainstorming with other writers, talking with family and friends, contacting people where I work, planning out two to three weeks worth of food, laundry, etc. for the household, all while trying not to cough up a lung. You’d think I’d have time to put “get blog post done” on that list, but…

So, I thought this week I’d talk about a book I’m reading and how it’s affecting me.

I’m not going to name the book. This is my policy: I don’t like to name books or authors when I critique. My own tastes are so eclectic, and I feel that my judgement is so subjective, it won’t be all that helpful in specifics, but it’s interesting to me to look at a book, see how it affects me, and why it matters.

The book this time is a really good book by an amazingly talented author. It’s been a long time since I read prose that’s this poetic and pointed. Every image is as vivid as if it were raked across my corneas. And that’s a problem because the content is killing me.

This may be one series that I can’t finish due to the absolutely brilliant way the author tells the story. We talk sometimes in the community about censorship and about trigger warnings. In general, I’m not a fan of either. I believe that writers should write the stories they have to tell, write them as well as they can, and write them to the best of their ability, using Betas, sensitivity readers, and as much reading in their genre by own voices authors as possible. I think that’s wise; I think that’s good.

However, this is the second time I’ve been absolutely broadsided by content, and when that happens, it causes me to rethink how I phrase and write certain things in my story. The content this time was the physical abuse of a child in a truly horrifying way to “teach her” a lesson. The first time was the graphic description of animal abuse in a poem that caused me to be terrified to pick up another modern poetry anthology. In so many ways, the more pointed and beautiful the craft, the more painful it is to read things that hurt: spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

I will try to finish this book. The prose is worth studying. I certainly don’t have any problems with the author writing the story they had to tell as beautifully and brightly as they could. But, for me, it serves as a warning to use my gift for words with care. What I write has the power to hurt, to heal, to wound, to repair. I need to be cautious with my prose. I need to make sure I elevate the beautiful as much as the disgusting, to paint the wonderful as well as the wretched.

This is a dark time we live in. It’s going to get darker before it gets lighter. And if I can use bright words to dispel the darkness, I want to do that.

 

Crossroads…again

Crossroads in life are challenging places. It seems like I’ve spent a lot of time at this particular crossroads in the last year.

After parting with my first agent, I chose to sign with another agent who had originally offered on my first manuscript. I spent some time deciding whether that was a good choice for me to make, and ultimately decided it was a chance that I needed to give myself and my manuscript. But sometimes the choices I make don’t always work out. After working through edits to another manuscript, I sent them back, and got the notice yesterday that my agent felt it was best for us to go our separate ways.

This time it was easier in some respects. Although it was painful, differences in vision are not always things that can be worked out. It’s much better to find that out earlier rather than later. Although it was painful, ultimately, I have to believe it’s for the best.

It’s another crossroads for me; another place to decide where I would like to do next. I’ve spent most of the last six months either editing, revising, or waiting, hoping that I would have a chance to move on to the next stage.

So, what now?

First, there will be a period of recovery. Even when a decision brings a measure of relief along with pain, it’s still tough. I need to work through it, remember I am strong, dedicated, and unafraid to keep working toward finding the right champion for my work. It’s pretty discouraging. I really did hope this time would be the one that would work out. It didn’t. I’m thankful to have good writing friends to lean on at this time. Writing community is really the best thing ever, and I treasure it.

Secondly, I will probably spend some time thinking and deciding what I’d like to do next. I’ve been reading through my completed series and falling deeply in love again. It’s a vision I believe in, and one I’d like to develop. I’ve found myself alternately exhilarated and terrified by what I’ve created. It’s like a powerful painting that just rocks me back on my heels because it connects to something deep in my soul that is screaming to be heard. That’s not a feeling I’m willing to ignore. But it’s also a scary one. I feel it takes great courage to be authentic, and I’ll need some time to nurture that courage before I query it again.

Thirdly, I want to take some time to do what I do best—write. Just write. Full steam ahead, playing with stories, getting to know more characters, more worlds, more magic. This is my happy spot, where I believe what I know in my heart, imagine what I barely dare to dream, and where I feel safe to be myself—my whole, weird, wonderful self—boldly and freely. What better place in the world could I be than there?

Moving forward will happen. When it’s time, I’ll find my path.