Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Change is in the air

I love fall. I love how it smells, how it feels on my skin. Crisp and clean and cozy. I like the quality of the light, too-- sort of golden. The leaves start dropping and wider swaths of sunlight shine through. Then there's the eating. My birthday is in September, and so is the whippersnapper's. That means cake--for both of us. Then comes Halloween and the whippersnapper gets very very cute in a costume and strangers give him candy, and I eat it all. Last year he was a triceratops by request. This year he's going out on a limb and wants to be a stegosaurus. After October comes Thanksgiving, and there's nothing bad about that, providing you can take a nap afterward. Then it's just a cool slide toward Christmas.

With the start of Sierra's Autumn also comes a decision that I spent an inordinate amount of time making. I've decided to reduce my five-times-a-week blogging schedule. I love blogging so much and I love writing so much, but there are definitely days where blogging takes too much time and then I have nothing left over for stories. Also, I think there are days where my posts are hit or miss with you guys.

But things, they change. You can directly blame Anne Allen for tipping the scale in favor of this decision, who posted a beautiful and thoughtful post about "slow blogging" (think slow cooking). And then Roni at Fiction Groupie did it yesterday. And last week, Kristen Lippert-Martin talked about submarining. And Meghan Ward and I were talking about reducing my blogging frequency and it being fine. And it all just seemed to make sense, not the least because all these super smart, classy ladies were basically telling me to.

So, with that, my new blogging schedule will be:
  • Mondays
  • Wednesday words
  • Friday Google Reader Roundup
(I wouldn't leave you without your Roundup, would I? No way!)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chicken or the Egg?

The other night I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep. Naturally, this is when I get my best ideas. Genius ideas, absolutely startling pieces of thought the likes of which would cause instant envy-rage in the top echelon of Mensa. And then I usually fall asleep right after having the thought.

But the other night, I stayed awake long enough to think about the essence of a new story I'm writing. The essence of a story is that one or two sentence log line, or hook, or summation. It's the setup, conflict, and stakes all wrapped into one. Usually I have a hard time writing this succinct summation, but the other night it was crystal clear. It struck me that the essence of the story is often what we miss when we're off on tangents with dialogue or subplots or whatever. Or, more especially, when trying to sum up our story in a longer-format query pitch. Right? You with me? When you try to sum up your own novel, you often get bogged down. And when you flat out can't sum up the essence of your novel (after it's written), that's a warning sign that you don't understand the essence of your own story, or that it's weak.

I know you're thinking, Shyeah, who doesn't understand the essence of their own story? That's checkmark number one. Duh.

But it isn't. We all know that a well-crafted story, especially one fit for public consumption, is tricky to write-- that there are many twists and turns and dead ends before we reach the end. So what I'm saying is, sometimes understanding your story's essence is tricky. That being said, in order to weave together all the elements that make a story -- plot, character arc, dialogue, subplot, conflict--shouldn't you understand the essence of the story? An example using the age-old standby Star Wars. The essence is probably good vs. evil. But there's so much else to it, too. It'd be easy to get bogged down in the force, bounty hunters, and wookies.

Yet, I wonder, without the force, bounty hunters, and wookies, how can you get to the essence? You are probably thinking, But you don't need those particular elements--you can use anything around the essence of good vs. evil. Yes, you can--but not in Star Wars. See what I'm saying? You need both story parts and an understanding of your story's essence to put it all together. (In my opinion.)

For my own part, I find that starting with the essence is key for me, but I haven't always done that. Sometimes I've gone back with established characters and found the essence in the nuances.

I hope this made sense. What is your take on this? What do you start with?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • First and foremost, HUGE CONGRATS to Roni at Fiction Groupie for scoring an agent -- and a fantastic one, by all accounts, at that! I'm so thrilled for Roni, who is talented, wise, and savvy, and I wish her all successes!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are You Ready to Query?

Mes amies, I have for you today another infographic for your perusal. (Remember the one I did on plot.) This one gives you a handy chart for determining whether you're ready to query.

As always, please let me know if you have anything to add, or find any mistakes.

Update: SO SORRY for spacing out and not uploading the ACTUAL thing. This is, well...yes. Ahem. Here it is.
(click to make bigger -- or click here to download as a nice clean PDF [the way I intended it])

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday Word: Entitled

All over the tinterweb, I see sentences like this:

In a post, entitled "How to perform self-trepanation," Dr. Grody discusses his methods for drilling into his skull with only minimal blood spillage."

Or something similar.

The use of "entitled" here is incorrect. The post is titled, not entitled! Goodness me, Dr. Grody is entitled to do whatever he wants to his skull, but he sure as death and taxes isn't entitling his post anything.

This is correct: You are entitled to use grammar like a dog's chew toy, but you won't be respected for it.

Here are the correct ways to use entitled:
  • One has a right or claim to something
  • Give a title to something, but does not refer to the title itself. This is important because it's where all the confusion arises. Observe: Dr. Grody entitled his post four minutes after writing it.
  • Confer a title on a person. Example: "The Queen entitled Sierra Godfrey to all of the privileges that accompany fabulous people of her caliber."
Hope this helps. This is one of those tricky words that sneak up on you when you're tired and not looking. Beat it back with a baseball bat! Tell it you know the difference!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dancing with Cats and Writing on a Schedule

It turns out there are some similarities between cats and the writing process.

Last weekend I picked up my very old cat, Side Table, and cradled her. I danced with her and sang a song of my own making that had lyrics made of her name. "Side Table! Side Table!" I sang. We skipped around the room and danced and swayed and sang.

She was not at all pleased.

When I put her down, she huffed off. And I thought, But Side Table! You're always asking to be cuddled. And now is when I had the time to cuddle you, and you didn't like it.

Side Table, you see, is incredibly annoying and wants my attention almost always (except when I gave it to her in the form of a frolic). I am, accordingly, almost always busy or not prepared to cuddle her (i.e. when I'm writing). As a result, Side Table gets few cuddles, and the one she got during the dance wasn't to her liking.

We're often told how we should write every day, no matter what. I have a lot of "no matter whats" -- days when my brain is pureed peas, or I'm so tired that I just don't have it in me to write. I know that if I force myself, I'll produce pureed peas, too. Even worse, my most creative periods are during the day while I'm working (luckily for my employer). My brain-mush time is at night after the whippersnapper is asleep and the Side Table has begun her irritating supplications. And of course, that's my writing time. That isn't to say that all I produce during that time is pureed peas. It just means I use what I can, because life is busy. And I want to write, while working full time and mothering a toddler. I just want to. And I'm going to. And I do.

I guess I always make time at night to write, whether I can or not. Having that time consistently is important. Using it is up to me. But if I take nights off, that's okay too. I tend to be too disciplined sometimes, and constantly have to remind myself that everything should be in moderation.

How do you handle this? Do you write on a schedule? Do you make yourself write every day no matter what? Do you have problems writing if you don't have a schedule? Do you dance with your cats in a manner that annoys them?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Censorship: DO NOT WANT

I don't often air my rage on this blog, but right now I'm as pissed as the cat in the picture.

You may have already heard about the Houston-area school that censored YA author Ellen Hopkins. If not, in a nutshell, she was originally invited to speak at a Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas, after prior good experience there and with the librarians. Of course she said yes. Then, one librarian decided she had an issue with Hopkin's book(s) and lobbied certain parents and the superintendent, who dis-invited her.

Read about her experience on her blog here. Read Publishers Weekly's discussion of it here.

And in case you need it spelled out, dis-inviting an author to speak is extremely poor manners, as well as CENSORSHIP.

Four other authors who were schedule to speak at Teen Lit Fest have withdrawn in support of Ellen, and I wanted to make sure we congratulate them on their effort, and support their very important decisions. Please go buy their books and visit their blogs (each of the links goes to their own blog posts about this issue):
Censorship sucks and guess what: you suck if you do it. And try reading the book before deciding against it. And when you open your fat mouth to say something isn't appropriate for teens to read, try censoring yourself first.

P.S. I don't believe for one second that the teens are suffering from the withdrawl of these authors at the Fest. "What about the children!" seems like a bit of a manipulative cry to me. The teens, in fact, are benefiting HUGELY from seeing people stand up to censorship in this way.

What are your thoughts on this issue? If you agree or disagree, I'd like to hear it in the comments.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Brandi Guthrie at Cursings and Musings gives 5 tips for avoiding negativity. And when your publishing dreams aren't going right, this is a handy list to have.
  • Again the Nemesis shows a glimmer of intelligence with this well-presented discussion of when to use different dialogue tags. (The Nemesis has been writing a lot of really good posts lately. He must have made a Dorian Gray-style deal with the devil. In an attic somewhere, there is a musty pile of rotten manuscript pages and blog posts.)
  • Nathan Bransford tackles the blog post of all blog post (and if anyone can tackle it, he can): How to write a novel.
  • Jessica Brooks, that coffelvnmom, offers us Thursdays with Snip, which is a post every Thursday written by her snippy alter ego. I kind of love that, in a schizophrenic kind of way. Snip's post this week has a roundup of contests.Go.
  • Andrew Karre at Carol Rhoda Books makes an excellent case for the advance-royalty-value case of publishers, and why Seth Godin gets under his skin. (For the record, Godin gets under my skin too for the same reasons Mr. Karre gives, as does every entrepreneurial person who claims his or her way is the way forward, and the "traditional" model of agents/editors as gatekeepers is dead. Whatevers.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Honing and Keeping On and Doing it Always

Mes amies, did you know I’m a genius? Yes, by age 4 -- no, it was age 3-- I was writing short stories and had started working on my first novel, and by age 5 getting published in most major literary magazines. When English class came, I taught the teacher. Oh-ho, yeah. When I was 13, I queried one agent and got her, and then four days later, a 7-figure publishing deal. When I was 14, my first novel was published, but I didn’t become a bestseller until the old age of 17 (horrors, I know, I’m hideously embarrassed about that). Basically, I've done everything sooner than you have, with more cleverness, and it took me no time at all while you’ve been toiling for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS and you still can’t get your %&$#@ing query right.

Actually, none of the above is true. And we congratulate those talented youngsters who are setting the world aflame -- and those incredibly clever people who twist words in such a way that you CRY when you read them because they’ve moved you so. Really. Those people are awesome and amazing and will change everything.

But most of us are not them. And you mustn't feel bad when they wave to you from the fast lane, while you’re still honing and honing and honing and your fingers are bleeding because of all that honing. Just keep on honing because you’re good too, just in a different way.

Look at it this way. You can either look at the luminaries from far, far away, from the basement where you sit, having not tried and having instead given up. Or you can join them on your own terms according to your utter normalcy.

You choose.

I know what I chose.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Word: Limerance

"Hezbollah" and "plum pudding" aren’t terms that are often used together.

I was playing the Wikipedia game the other day-- you know the one where you look up Hezbollah because your knowledge of Lebanese politics is equivalent to a pill-bug’s, and while you’re reading about Hezzie* you find another interesting link within the article and you click on that and before you know it, you’ve ended up at the entry for the plum pudding model of the atom. It happens. It’s a really funny game if you have a short attention span, but you do tend to veer off track a bit.

*my little name for Hezbollah

The other day I played it (although I didn't start with Hezbollah. No! Give me some credit. I started with Pol Pot) and clicked until I found this delightful word, limerance. Limerance, a word coined by psychologist Dorothy Tenov refers to a mad state of lust or infatuation. We all know it. It’s that period of time when you don’t care about anything in the whole world except the object of your limerance, and you’re absolutely consumed by loving them more and more and more. You know when you have limerance, because you can’t stop thinking of the person and you’re pretty much willing to drop everything and fly half way across the world to them if needs be, even if it means losing your job,your house, and -- uh oh --your spouse in the process. Limerance is that mad, mad state where the intensity of a relationship is deepest, and you will overlook anything your sweetheart does because you don’t care and you want them and you must have them and you can’t imagine anything better than them, ever, in the history of time.

Limerance is a problem if you’re not free to love the object of your intense affection. I believe limerance is what makes otherwise tied people do things like cheat and leave their spouses. Basically, it’s what makes you lose your mind, which is not great if you don’t have a mind free to lose.

In a story, limerance is key. Long-term relationships never stay in the limerance stage; they progress to love, which then levels out into a deeper love and friendship. But limerance is addictive, I think. Someone dear to me used to admit that it was the limerance she craved with men--but she didn’t really care for the long term and would frequently break up with them after limerance faded. Rarely do we get to see those long term stages in a story. Limerance is what makes us read, actually. It’s what makes tension, and what makes two characters sizzle. Limerance is fleeting; we live it through the characters we read about.

Can you think of any famous characters in literature or on film whose limerance was fabulous to follow? Or, tell me of your own experience with limerance. Have you had it? Hopefully not with Hezzie or Pol Pot?

The painting is Il Bacio by Francesco Hayez, taken from the Italian Wikipedia entry for limerance. No, I don't read Italian. But I like that Italian Wikipedia had this for limerance whereas English Wikipedia has nothing. Nothing like a little Italian limerance, no?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

5 Places I Run

When the tinterwebs really took off, I was sucked right into the slipstream without a single glance backward. That's because I relish communicating with others, something that has guided everything I do in every medium before or since. It started with a local bulletin board service -- mostly populated with kids my age (when I was just out of high school). We dialed in on our awesome modems. I think I was on a DOS machine -- YES. In fact, here's how old school I am: I discovered how to telnet to a bulletin board service using a DOS prompt from a computer at school, so I could be online during breaks between classes. Telnetting was a way of connecting to a site via ISP address (I think -- I can't even remember).

Addicted? Why, yes. Thank you for asking.

Anyway. Times have changed. I'm no stranger to internet forums, web sites, message boards, twitter, whatevs. These days, here are the places I run around.

1. Facebook.
I never MySpaced or Beboed or any of that,mostly because I couldn't stand the noisy (and fugly) interface. Make it simple, and I'm there. Join me on Facebook if you haven't. I love you on Facebook.

2. Twitter.
I love Twitter like I love cupcakes, and that's saying a lot. It's one giant worldwide chatroom, limited by what you can say, which makes it beautiful as far as I'm concerned. I have to say, Twitter is my MOST favorite medium and I have made amazing connections off of Twitter. I ADORE you on Twitter. Absolutely freaking love love love. It all happens on Twitter.

3. Blogs
Blog comments are my primary stomping grounds within the writerly blogosphere. If you're really slick, you'll have cross-blog conversations with people -- I've seen many do it, plus I do it. Not purposefully. But because we're a collective of like-minded peeps.

4. Blip.
I just discovered Blip.fm which is basically a way for me to list and play all the songs I love and you can subscribe to it. A kind of DJ Twitter, if you will. I am so addicted. I've always wanted to DJ. When you want to hear what I like, tune into me. I blip every day.

5. Goodreads.
For years, I kept a spreadsheet listing what I read and when. Then came web sites that were useful, like Goodreads, which does that for you. Better, it shares your recommendations with friends. Love! It! My cousins and I share books this way. You can share with me, too. Connect with me on Goodreads and let's share the book love.


Where do you run? Tell me in the comments. I rely on you to keep me up to date with the latest and best things. (I mean for God's sake, I telnetted! I'm ancient!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Sandwich Story

Mr. Sierra enjoys sandwiches. A lot. Luckily, he is not one of those annoying men who think "Would you like a sandwich?" is the sexiest thing a woman can say to him.

"I'm glad you're not all about women who bring you sandwiches," I told him recently.

"No," he agreed. "But I do like a sandwich. All I ask is that if you're getting one for yourself, you get one for me, too."

"Of course," I said.

"You didn't once. I remember exactly when it was. Three years ago," he said.

I stopped and looked at him. He repeated it. "Three years ago. I still hold it against you."

"You hold a sandwich against me from three years ago?" I asked.

"Yes. What happened was..." He launched into the story, but I remembered it. What happened was that we had friends in from out of town and we picked up sandwiches from Mr. Sierra's favorite deli for lunch. Mr. Sierra claims that I called him and said we were picking up sandwiches, and that he asked me to pick one up for him, and that I said okay.

I don't remember this. And besides, I was a new mother at the time. Our whippersnapper was just a few months old. I couldn't be expected to remember sandwich requests. Unfortunately, there was no sandwich waiting for Mr. Sierra when he got home. Worse, he'd been slavering over the idea of a sandwich waiting for him at home all day, apparently.

"I can't believe you hold a sandwich against me from three years ago," I said when he was finished ranting about the injustice.

"I really wanted that sandwich," he said.

I posted the three-year old sandwich grudge on Facebook and it got 50 comments from friends and family. Clearly it had sparked a nerve.

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to hold your grudge against me, against you," I said. "You should have at least told me."

Mr. Sierra and I eventually agreed to forget the three-year old sandwich and move on. We're good like that. And that is good, because today is our seventh wedding anniversary. Happy Anniversary, Mr. Sierra. We're having sandwiches for dinner tonight. (Or tomorrow night, since I took some frozen salmon out of the freezer last night to thaw, and I wouldn't want it to sit.)

It's silly things like this that make it into stories. It's begging to be written in. The only problem is that it's so silly that it's almost improbable. Who holds sandwiches from three years ago against their wives?

Any inane things like this drive your fiction?

P.S. Mr. Sierra does not normally read this blog. He also does not like being called "Mr. Sierra." However, women who blog generally like to pick cute names for our husbands, and since this blog is mine about me, that is his name.

P.P.S. Did I say Happy Anniversary?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Google Reader Roundup - Friday 13th edition!

  • You probably know how much I love infographics. Here is one on social networking for 2010 that I found fascinating. I love these things. This one is clever, cute, and amusing.
  • Jessica Lemmon has a funny note about writers and their robes in film---with examples why we might not want to emulate them.
  • Roni at Fiction Groupie has some excellent query tips for us, fresh from an RWA Queryfest that she attended with lots of agents. Good stuff here.
  • It pains me in the extreme to list anything my nemesis has done, but his Snarketing for Marketing post was really quite good. And by "quite good" I mean it didn't make me projectile vomit as his posts usually do. I conveniently forgot that it was he who wrote it and just assumed that someone else far cleverer wrote it and he stole it and took credit. After all, that seemed more in line with his reptilian self.
  • Allison Winn Scotch talks about self-plagiarism, something I worry about a lot actually. It's the act of repeating your same characters and story lines in each novel.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Working at Home

I recently was given the extreme privilege of working at home 3-4 days out of the week. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I mean it was every full-time day jobbing writer’s dream. Twitter and blogs in the morning with no one to look over my shoulder! Utter relaxation and quiet! No having to pack a lunch! A huge savings in gas and bridge toll!

But as with everything, there’s a downside to the pros.

You get to sit in your polar bear print jammies.
The positive: Yes, this is beyond fun. Even though I take the whippersnapper to preschool in the morning, which necessitates pants not covered in polar bear print (although I have considered delivering him in them), I come home and change back into the polar bear print jammies. Oh yes I do.

The downside: I am sitting in polar bear print jammies most of the day. This means that there is a certain element of solvenliness and inactivity that goes on. If I were in the office, I’d be dressed and I’d be holding my back a lot straighter, and probably being much more careful not to emit rude sounds.

You get silence in which to do your work.
The positive: This means I get a crap load of work done in a shorter amount of time-- no coworkers to bother me, no conversations to eavesdrop on.

The downside: I miss out on office banter, like the discussion about mocking up a fake $1000 parking ticket and putting it on our boss’s car. When I departed from my office last week, I said “See you next week!” and I realized that a) I don’t have to see them all for a week, but b) I don’t get to see them for a week.

You get to slough off a bit.
The positive: I don’t allow myself to watch television or play video games because I know I would spiral down a black hole of slacking, but I do certainly do lots of other things on my computer. Twitter, Blip, Facebook, reading news, and of course reading blogs. I do this a lot more than I would in the office, I admit. I don't do it all the time, but it's nice to know I can without anyone shoulder surfing.

The downside: I’m sloughing off. This isn’t good, I know it in the depths of my heart, and it means that I should probably work extra hard to make up for it-- if I don't want it to catch up with me or have my work at home days revoked.

I don't have to commute through bad weather.
The positive: I get to be warm and cozy inside when it’s crappy and cold and rainy outside. This is a frequent thing where I live. Yes, it's the Bay Area, and yes it’s August, but as Mark Twain said, “The summer I spent in San Francisco was the coldest winter of my life.” He wasn’t kidding. My house faces west and we’re near the Bay so we get a thick marine layer coating of fog, which usually doesn’t burn off until 3 pm. Then it rolls in again at 5 pm. So that’s two hours of wan sunlight at best. I’m not complaining. I like it. It allows me to be cozy and cuddle with my cats and a cup of tea and my laptop.

The downside: There’s no downside to that.

I stay out of office politics.
The positive: I'm not part of the angst that goes on, or the complaining or sniping about other employees, or the management, or how crappy our jobs are, or any number of common employee gripes.

The downside: I'm probably the target of my coworker's rage, and a bunch of crap is probably said about me behind my back. But there's a positive to this-- they'd probably say it anyway, and hey, I'm not there to hear it!

Do you work from home? What are your strategies for staying focused and connected? What are your downfalls?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wednesday Word: Trepanning

This week's Word is one of my favorites, but it's not often that one gets to use it. Trepanning, after all, refers to something very specific. I asked Mr. Sierra if he knew what it meant.

"What? No," he said. He looked suspicious, as though my asking was some kind of set up. And he'd be right to be suspicious.

"You know. It means to drill a hole in one's head," I said. "People used to do it all the time."

He fixed me with a Look that I have come to find some familiarity with. "No. No, I can honestly say I did not know what trepanning is, or why anyone might want to do it."

"To relieve pressure, of course!" I said. "Or to mark your fellow tribe-mates."

"I'll just be over here," he said, and promptly went to the closet to get a hat, presumably to protect his pate from trepanning attempts. Which was silly. Silly.

Those of you who have read Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (and if you haven't, you really should) will remember that the skull in the beginning of the book was trepanned. I should add at this juncture that trepanned and trepan aren't really words. The correct usage includes trepanation and trephining, according to Wikipedia, but then again, usage doesn't seem to be a big concern with this word.

I think I like the word because it refers to something so odd: to drill a sizable hole in one's skull. While you're still alive. Usually while you're conscious. Apparently it's an ancient art, practiced for centuries and usually among people who were conscious. Oh yes, the beauty of trepanation is in the execution -- er ah, perhaps that's a bad word. I mean, the trick is to drill without any pain. Um, okay. Whatevs. You can count me out, man. (Say that in the style of Hudson from Aliens.)

Trepanning was apparently performed for medical or mystical purposes. Or, if you're demented, it was a recreational art. In fact, supposedly the founder of the International Trepanation Advocacy Group trepanned himself.

Probably, it's best to use trapanation/trepanning in context as a bit of an exaggeration when talking about headaches.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Interview with Literary Agent Weronika Janczuk

We have a special and unprecedented treat today: an interview with new literary agent Weronika Janczuk at D4EO Literary. Weronika made the announcement of her new job last Tuesday along with what she represents and by Friday, she was already inundated with queries and connections and followers and all kinds of other good things.

Me: Let’s start with an easy (but telling, yes, telling) one. What are some of your favorite books and authors?

Weronika: This is the worst question to ask a writer and agent*, but let me give it a shot! In terms of authors, I love Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, Johanna Lindsey, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, Frank Herbert, Howard Norman, Ian McEwan, Stieg Larrson, Steven D. Leavitt, Stephen J. Dubner, Paulo Coelho, Jenna Blum, and so, so many more.

Favorite books include THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruis Zafon, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, EAST by Edith Pattou, PRIDE & PREJUDICE by Jane Austen, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, and many others.

*Note from Sierra: CRIPES! Right out of the gate I have asked a terrible question! Gaaahh! Let's hope it gets better.


Me: Now for the query questions. What are some things in queries you like to see?

Weronika: I appreciate it when queries are brief and concise—one page is the standard, but half-page queries are oftentimes more effective.

There should be a very clear hook, too, to the query letter, that one or two sentences that explain the entire story.

To be honest, I rarely read through the entire query. I scan for the title, the genre, and the word count, and then only if I love the writing or am intrigued enough by the story do I go back and double-check to make sure that it’s a concept I would want to work with, if the entire novel delivered.

Me: What are some of the most common problems you see in the first 20 pages of a fiction partial?

Weronika:
  • too much background information; too many references to the past, to something that “had happened”
  • the story starting in a wrong or awkward spot, such as the character waking up, eating, attending school, thinking, etc.; all of these things are boring—give the reader/agent something that creates tension, whether it’s an explicit event or something internal
  • the writing doesn’t hold up (it becomes clear that the first few pages were edited but the rest start becoming long-winded, etc.)
Otherwise, it’s just a matter of my interest not holding up or not connecting with the manuscript as much as I need to in order to seriously consider it.


Me: Do you have a system for dealing with slush yet?


Weronika: At this point, I read queries as they come in, as often as possible—it’s my goal to be an agent that responds to queries and manuscripts quickly, since I know that, as a writer too, this waiting period is most intensive. I’m sure that, as my client list and responsibilities grow, the waiting period will be longer. Right now the longest a writer has had to wait is half a day or so on queries, a day or so on manuscripts.

I request partials for the manuscripts whose set of pages I like and fulls for those I love. I read the partials first, then move on to fulls. In most instances I don’t make it through the entire manuscript—I stop feeling connected to the character, the manuscript falls apart, the proposal isn’t as cohesive as it should be, etc., so I reject.


Me: What is your philosophy for guiding an author’s career?

Weronika:
I definitely consider myself a career and editorial agent—someone who wants to work with writers for years to come and someone who will help revise and rewrite projects in order to make them as best as possible before starting to submit. I don’t see any benefit to a different relationship, especially if a writer’s goal is to continue improving upon his or her relationship. It’s entirely a process, and consistency is key to that process.


Me: Do you like to see writing credentials when an author pitches you?

Weronika:
For fiction, it’s not necessary. I still need to love the writing.

For non-fiction (with the exception of memoir), absolutely. Proposals these days require more and more intensive platforms, and I’m not going to consider anything that doesn’t have the immediate potential to sell copies.


Me: Let’s pretend you read a query and sample pages from a writer. You write a rejection letter and say that although the writing quality and idea is good, you just don’t connect with the prose enough to consider representation. Can you tell us what that means?

Weronika: It could mean a few things—it could mean that the writing is poor or mediocre, something that I wouldn’t consider at all, or it could mean exactly that: it’s writing that I like, possibly, but don’t fall in love with. It’s good writing syndrome: when I read good writing, I connect with it, I don’t want to stop reading it.


Me: You rep women’s fiction, but you’re not interested in chick lit. A lot of us who write witty women’s fiction hope this is the new term for chick lit. and that chick lit to you is something disgusting that we would never consider writing anyway. Can you elucidate for us?

Weronika: I’m all for witty women’s fiction—and, yes, it is the growing new term for chick lit. I don’t represent ‘chick lit,’ per se, because for many writers it still means very poorly written, non-genuine attempts at portraying the lives of women; when I worked with agents who represent the genre, we passed on chick lit way too often to invest time in what it means.


Me: What’s the best way to submit to you?

Weronika: Send a query letter and the first ten pages of the manuscript, whether fiction or non-fiction, in the body of an email to weronika@d4eo.com; put QUERY in the subject line.


Me: If I were you, I’d be excited about every good writer that comes across my desk and eager to sign them. But I would know that I must show restraint. (Difficult.) How are you handling this exciting start as an agent? Any secret voodoo spells you’ve cast on bad queriers, or advice you’ve gotten from other agents (like stow a bottle of vodka in your bottom desk drawer)?

Weronika: Luckily, I’m a very, very picky reader, so it’s harder to get excited about something than it is to be too excited about many projects. This start is one of the reasons I’m reading so quickly—I want to find something I love, offer representation immediately, and roll with it. Thankfully I knew a few writers that I could contact, and some good news is brewing.

Otherwise, the only piece of advice is to be very critical—the publishing industry today is tougher, especially with this economy, and so editors look for agents who love their projects and books that are as strong as possible.


Me: Have you enjoyed any high-powered lunches yet? What did you eat?

Weronika: I’m going to my first one on Tuesday—not sure where yet. Editor’s choice.


Me: Will you be at any upcoming conferences where people can meet/pitch you?

Weronika: A post of mine on plot and pacing goes up during WriteOnCon next week. I will also be at the Backspace Author-Agent Seminar in November; there aren’t any pitch sessions but I’ll be critiquing queries and pages, perhaps speaking on a panel or two. I’ll also be adding to conferences to that list, of course, as time goes on. There’s a calendar on my website.


Me: Finally, I must tell you that anyone I interview automatically becomes my BFF. I hope that is all right.

Weronika: Will do. Thanks again for this opportunity, BFF. :-)


Oh MY. Isn't Weronika the best? And as you can see, I recovered magnificently from the first terrible question, and have gained a new BFF. Thanks for your time, Weronika, and I wish you every success in signing a stellar list of new authors!

Here's info on how to submit to Weronika.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Contest Winner and Other News

Thanks to everyone who entered my Spectacular Character Contest, in which I asked you how you would describe one of Spain's football players, Carles Puyol. The responses were hilarious. Although we did not quite get to the 30 unique entries, the effort was excellent and so the prize will be a $25 Amazon gift certificate anyway.

Also hilarious was the smack talk that Elizabeth Ryann and Linda Grimes engaged in on the blog and on Twitter. You must follow and read these ladies, because they are so funny.

So, how did people describe poor Puyol? Well, I'm sorry to say, most of us felt he was on the simian side with a dash of machismo. I'm sure Mr. Puyol is a very nice guy. Certainly he is a hardworking, dedicated, and passionate football player and I like to see that level of commitment in anyone.

That being said, there was really a clear winner in the contest.

Swooping in at the last hour, saving his hand to the last to best Linda and Elizabeth, was Lt. Cccyxx with his description, which has poor Puyol looking like a cross between three, um, well, have a look for yourself:

“I shall create an army of unstoppable warriors to conquer the Earth and enslave all of mankind,” the mad scientist cackled maniacally. “I know that sounds horribly trite and clichéd, but trust me, my plan is like nothing before imagined.

“First, you see, I will use as my prototype the lead singer from Men Without Hats.

“Yes, yes, that’s good. `Pop Goes The World’ indeed. But something’s missing. He needs more aggression. A bit more bulk. Perhaps more blind hatred. I will add in a dose of Mel Gibson.

“Hmm, definitely on the right track. But still needs some more crazy, especially in the eyes. A pinch of Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden should do it.”

“And to top it all off, I shall give him the mane of a lion. The Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz, that is.

“Now, if my experiment succeeds, this unstoppable killer will begin cloning himself and soon the world will be at my feet. If it fails, well, I’m not quite sure…the fucker will probably turn into a soccer player from Spain or something.”

Well done, Lt.!! And well played, sir! That took some thought, and some serious stomach to look at that HEINOUS BEYOND BELIEF photo of Chest Hair Dickinson. And you turn out to be right, Puyol is a cross between all those guys. Congratulations! I shall email you regarding your prize.

Now for some other news. Tomorrow I have a very special treat for you -- an interview with literary agent Weronika Janczuk! You will love. LOVE.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • My spectacular character contest is still open for entries...GET IN THERE! What are you waiting for! This is a golden workshop opportunity and we will all learn how to describe odd-looking people! But we need MORE people to describe odd people! Go! Go! (Ends August 8. Amazon gift card for the winner.)
  • California struck down the ban on marriage rights to gay couples this week (thank you!). Janet Reid has the most succinct comments about it I've seen (incidentally I happen to agree with her 100%). I'm including this because I think it's so important for people to see a practicing Catholic voice outrage over the denial of civil rights to people, because there is a perception that Catholics are all against gay marriage. You couldn't be more wrong.
  • Moonrat gives us a rundown of publishing options. Note that she starts off her post thusly: "The other day, I received a sad email from a reader who has decided to go the route of self-publishing. " Sad e-mail. Sad. That is telling, folks.
  • Linda Grimes tells us what her smultronställe is --a special, beautiful spot of happiness. Very nice. Everyone should be grateful that Linda's spot didn't involve her G. That is, it's fine if it does...but we don't want to hear about it. I mean, unless she wants to write porn. Look, just be glad her post is sweet, yes? She's really a bad ass.
  • You're following along with Roni and Julie Cross at Fiction Groupie's absolutely EPIC contest, right? In particular, if you want to know how to run a contest, LOOK AT WHAT THEY'RE DOING. No other way, peeps. It's pretty good.(And enter it, too, yes?)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

4 Tools for Reducing Paper Use

Today's post is going to be instructivus. (That is Latin for "instructive and helpful to YOU." Obviously.)

I was more than a little disappointed when I read this article, How to go Paperless. I think was hoping to find some real digital alternatives to using paper rather than just "get a scanner."

So naturally I'm going to tell you. Granted, the paperless article tells you how to get rid of paper you already have -- but shoot, I know how to do that. It's called a recycle bin. Over the past two years, I have gone almost completely paperless in my personal and professional life. Here are the tools I used to do it.

Google Docs.
You have to have a gmail account I think, but who cares, they're free. What I love about Google Docs is that you can type up notes or even a document, or upload an existing Word, PPT, or Excel file to it. This is great if you're at work and want to commit that elusive scene to paper but know it'll be hours before you get home, and then you'll be brain dead by that time, anyway. Open up Google Docs and voila. Also, it tends to be better than notes because you have it one place. Even better, you can share your Google Doc with others. I use it for a lot of things like blog post drafting, scenes, and other notes.

To-do web sites.
Sites like Remember the Milk and Backpack It organize your lists and ideas. Most of these are free and usually have synchronized apps for your smart phone.

Online checking and bill pay.
This has resulted in a huge reduction in paper. My credit card, checking account, utility, cell, and tv and internet bills all come electronically, reducing the incredible waste created by envelopes and other inserts these things come up--but also the storage issue. I like to keep my stuff organized in a file cabinet, but that necessitates shredding checking account statements after a few years, which is a supremely annoying task. But if you get your checking account online account set up, chances are they store your statements in PDF form for you online, and let you access them there. That is huge! Same with my credit card statements. I love this. This has reduced a huge amount of paper.

One Note
Windows and Microsoft Office users get this great program, One Note, which is a free-form way to store notes, pictures, web sites, or anything else you need. I can't recommend this enough and it's endless in the levels or organization--in a good way. I use it for a variety of things, but mostly for items that I don't know how to store anywhere else.

Have anything to add?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wednesday Word: FECK er, ah I mean Feckless

HEY! You, over there! YES YOU. There is still time to enter my spectacular character contest, which ends August 8! August 8 is in 5 short days so hurrying is of the essence, of you hurrying! Also, Linda G and Elizabeth Ryann have been extremely obnoxious (something I thought only myself capable of) about them winning. Show them up! Get on in there! Win a $25 Amazon gift certificate!


For today's Wednesday Word, I'm mining yet again the Annual Wednesday Word Suggestion Drive (which is really open all year and you can still contribute to!). This week honors go to Molly C (aka Salamicat on Twitter) for her word feckless.

I used to think feckless meant reckless, which is terribly pathetic of me. I mean, I don't go around thinking pack means the same as lack, or tuck means the same as f-- well, you get the picture. So it was a pleasure to set myself straight and find that feckless means ineffective, incompetent, futile. Excellent, said I! This is a perfect word to apply to a great many people things! (Oh, let's start with my nemesis, shall we?) From feckless leadership to feckless clerk at the store to feckless cats.

But its meaning is not the best thing about this word, NO! The most exciting is that is comes from the old Scots word feck, which originated from effect - less. Now, in today's Scotland, feck is certainly not used to mean effectless. No, mes amies! It is used in place of its cousin with the u! (See how I am trying to be ladylike by not writing it out.)

In Ireland, feck is also commonly used in place of its nastier cousin. Feck has the added bonus of not actually meaning f*ck (<-- ladylike), and this well-known fact is what gets it thrown about with abandon. "But I'm not swearing, you fecking fecker!" I'm rather afraid that I have been known to say such things, more than once. (<-- Not ladylike. But feck is allowed, so slightly ladylike.)

So there you have it mes amies, Molly's word feckless is actually rooted in one of my most favorite words ever. (Remember that I follow a Scottish football team and therefore I hear a great deal of terribly unladylike things from fellow supporters who are male. But as we have just agreed, feck is not unladylike, so.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Drawing Blog Readers

Monkey-toes “Tawna” Fenske is blogging about blogging this week and yesterday’s post was about drawing readers to her blog, and how her readership has grown exponentially over the past 6 months. Tawna is way funny and it’s pretty obvious why her readership has grown: we want to read more funny.

There are tons of posts on how to get more readers and they all generally follow the same formula of:
  • have interesting content
  • blog on a schedule
  • ask questions of the readers and give information
My blog visitor statistics reveal that it’s mostly me checking my blog. My readership really doesn’t grow and it’s pretty steady at 40 views a day. Of those 40, on average 4 of you comment. (And I worship you for it. Really. If I were a dog, I would lick your toes). It’s easy for me to fall into a pattern of thinking that blog readers and comments are what makes the blog go around (when in fact my blog only wants another fifth of Jack). It doesn’t.

I blog because I can’t shut myself up, really.

The fact that anyone reads this at all, including myself, is pretty exciting. Nonetheless, it is slightly worrisome that my readership hasn’t grown. Who are you secretive readers, those other 35 of you? Some of you read in Google Reader as part of your day (I lick your toes, too). Some of you are people searching for silverfish (that post still gets the most hits). Some of you are Google bots. Some of you are me. Whatever the case, I thank you heartily.

So what to do? Well, I went about this scientifically. I looked at which posts had gathered the most comments and response. First, it is worth saying that I really only started getting readers and comments last October; Jessica and CKHB and my friend Meghan were my early commenters and took pity. I heartily heart them for being charitable. Part of the reason I had so few is that I made it impossibly hard for people to comment; I used a dumb blog design that wouldn’t scroll down so you could actually click submit. Once I removed that and word verification and any other comment- prevention devices, things got a lot easier. So my true blogoversary should obvs be in like, December. :) Another reason is that I didn't know one must share the love and make other bloggy friends.

Anyway here are my most popular posts and what I have learned by examining them:

Writing-related posts:
  • Quick Edits in Nov 09 has a list of those pesky words you're supposed to search for and destroy. Many more were added in the comments.
Things that I made that you liked a lot:

Posts that humiliated or otherwise made you feel sorry for me:
  • Trolls in November 2009 complained that I never get any.
  • Awards in December 09, my first and last blog award because I couldn't stand choosing. (I think you liked my anguish.)
  • A different Monday in Feb 10 which was about a very sad thing. That not only got lots of comments with condolences but also some very kind emails sent to me. Very kind.
  • My April Fool's joke about an agent reading my blog and offering me a 7 figure advance without seeing a manuscript got lots of laughs. (But I'm crying, you know that right?)

And the posts that got the most comments were all Word Up Wednesdays:

So what can we learn from this? Well, you like it when I list stuff out. You like it when I make cute things for you in Photoshop. You are sympathetic when I share awful stories about myself. And you love my Word Ups, which garnered the most comments of any of other posts.

I think my mission is clear here. I'll be awful, make lots of things in Photoshop, and keep doing Word Up Wednesdays. I look forward to many fruitful blog posts!


*Drawing hands thanks to http://burningraindesign.com

Monday, August 2, 2010

Things that Scare the Crap Out of Me

Psssst! Don't forget to enter my Spectacular Character Description Contest! There are some great entries so far but you need to get in there too! Win a $25 Amazon certificate!


Julie Dao, whom I love and have the privilege of critiquing with, did a post back in March called "books the scare the crap out of me" and quite frankly I don't know how I missed that post at the time. Her excerpts scared the crap out of ME! In particular was her description of the great book The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which I'm reading right now because of Julie's post. This book is fantastic and SUPER creepy. I am going to reprint the excerpt Julie posted because it is so creeptacular that it was what made me want to read the book (Julie said that scene gave her the heebie jeebies for a week; it did me too!) (pp. 227-228):
My eyes closed almost as soon as he left the car, and when I opened them again I found I was curled up on the empty seat like a child, with my long cotton skirt pulled over my ankles. Someone was sitting on the opposite bench reading a newspaper... I couldn't see anything of his upper body or face.

... The man's legs were crossed, and he wore immaculate black suit trousers and fine black silk socks... there was something wrong with those shoes, or with the feet they contained, although I couldn't understand what made me feel this. I thought that a strange man shouldn't have come in while I was sleeping - there was something unpleasant about that, too, and I hoped he had not been watching me sleep...

The man behind the newspaper was so still that I began to tremble in spite of myself. After a while I realized what was frightening me.

I had been awake for many long minutes by now, but during all the time I had been watching and listening, he had not turned a single page of his newspaper.

Now, I am a big scaredy cat when it comes to scary movies. I find scary things so unpleasant that I have been known to shake. I watched The Exorcist in fast-forward because I couldn’t stand it when I was a kid. Even non-scary things scare me. Remember that movie The Dark Crystal? My uncle took me to see it when I was a kid and I had to “use the bathroom” during a dark and scary scene. And the Blair Witch movie? Shook in my seat and focused on the popcorn in my lap. I’ll only watch scary movies now if they’re old and if there’s potential to laugh at them for being so bad (like Halloween).

However, reading scary stories is another thing altogether. I LOVE THEM. And it’s easy too-- any kind of scary tension is enough to set me on edge.

The best scary stories for me are ones that have a twist so hideously heinous that it not only scares me, but appalls me. One of my favorite books is one I picked up years ago when I was a teenager called Alfred Hitchcock's Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do On TV, part two. I still have this, but I got it used, and alas, it and its companions are out of print. If you ever find this in a used book shop, GET IT. (There was also one called Stories that Scare Even Me by Hitchcock). In the copy I have, the best story is one called The October Game by Ray Bradbury, and ooooh the last line still gives me shivers:

“Then.... some idiot turned on the lights.”

I think that’s all I even need to say.

Another book that scared the beejeezus out of me was HG Well’s The Time Machine. Wells was a fantastic writer and I’ve read most of his stuff, but man those Morlocks gave me the creeps like nothing else. I had to put the book down several times. Note that the movie Morlocks did NOT scare me....well, that’s a lie since I didn’t see them. I wouldn’t watch it. The book had done enough.

Stephen King’s The Langoliers also sticks out in my mind as hideously scary -- I have repressed most of it now but I recall really feeling shaky over the whole running from some unknown creep that was going to eat them. Of course, the clown in It was hideous and frightening. The trick is not to reveal what the dark evil is too soon in a story because once you do, it’s not as interesting. Dean Koontz’ The Watchers, one of my most favorite books scared the crap out of me at first because you didn’t know what was chasing the protag, and that was bad, bad, bad.

Here’s a list of what works to scare me. Admittedly, it doesn’t take much. But here you go:

  • Drawing out the tension
  • Not revealing the bad thing until the last minute
  • Ghosts
  • Hideous engineered beasts that are cobbled together like the orc-things in LOTR
  • Sarah Palin
  • Anything unseen (ala Blaire Witch)
  • Twisted or appallingly dark punchlines, anything that is a perversion of the natural order (see the Ray Bradbury story I mentioned above).
  • Anything that wants to eat people
What are your favorite scary stories? What gives you the creeps in a story?