Friday, January 29, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? Otra Día Más Sin Verte by Jon Secada
This is so bad but I found myself just laughing and laughing.
Why Men do not Write Advice Columns
I hope you can help me here. The other day, I set off for work leaving my husband Allan in the house watching the Raiders game as usual. I hadn't driven more than a mile down the road when the engine conked out and the car shuddered to a halt. I walked back home to get Allan’s help.
When I got home I couldn't believe my eyes. He was in our bedroom with the neighbor’s daughter. I am 45, my husband is 68, and the neighbor's daughter is 22. We have been married for ten years. When I confronted him, he broke down and admitted that they had been having an affair for the past six months. I told him to stop or I would leave him. He retired 14 years ago and he says he has been feeling increasingly depressed and worthless. I love him very much, but ever since I gave him the ultimatum he has become increasingly distant. He won't go to counseling and I'm afraid I can't get through to him anymore.
Can you please help?
A car stalling after being driven a short distance can be caused by a variety of faults with the engine. Start by checking that there is no debris in the fuel line. If it is clear, check the vacuum pipes and hoses on the intake manifold and also check all grounding wires. If none of these approaches solves the problem, it could be that the fuel pump itself is faulty, causing low delivery pressure to the injectors.
I hope this helps,
Thursday, January 28, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT by R.E.M
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should have heard the news by now. Apple had released its new tablet PC called the iPad. Think bigger, badder iTouch.
Just in case you just crawled out from under that rock, here’s a link to get you up to speed.
Most folks in the industry see the Apple announcement as a game changer—a company big enough and nimble enough to give Amazon a run for its money in terms of being the dominant player of eBooks.
As agents, the electronic rights playing field is literally shifting daily. (Ah, where did those sleepy days of just doing book deals go?)
One can imagine that The Goog will not be too far behind…
What this all means for the future is not entirely clear and I’m actually not going to speculate in this entry.
What I do want to say is this. This is the first time I’ve had to do a major shift in a negotiation literally mid-stream because of a news announcement.
In short, previously publishers have sold books to an entity like Amazon wholesale. In other words, the entity has bought a certain number of “books” in bulk at X discount. Then an entity like Amazon takes the ebooks and makes them available at a price they deem (which has been $9.99).
Apple’s announcement is changing the way publishers will be doing business moving forward. Instead of buying wholesale, Apple is saying “hey, we’ll simply be a portal for you to sell your books and we are going to ask for a 30% commission for the privilege. You get to keep the other 70% (with the main caveat that the eBook not be priced over $14.99)
On the heels of this news, Amazon announced a similar structure.
I see all of you are starting to do the math in your heads. Why should an author be stuck with a crappy 25% of net amounts received in this kind of deal?
Why do we need one lump catch-all royalty at all?
Some other random thoughts as I contemplate the massive changes publishing is going to undergo in the next five years.
1. eBooks are unreturnable. There would be no need for a publisher to hold a reserve against returns on that format. Language should be inserted in the contract addressing just that.
2. Will advances go the way of the dinosaurs? If so, what will become the main factor for choosing one “publisher” over another?
3. Will publishers finally update the royalty statement accounting periods? If eBook becomes primary format, there is no need to be 6 months behind (so as to account for returns according to publishers) in the generating of statements and the paying of royalties earned. There is no reason not to do this monthly.
And these are just a few things that immediately pop to mind…..
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE’S LIKE THE WIND by Patrick Swayze
Today I want to share some opening pages that are all about voice. Some authors have really distinctive voices and often the deciding factor is not whether the writing is good or not but whether the voice fits an agent’s taste.
For me, Gail Carriger’s SOULLESS is a perfect example. This is a really distinctive voice aptly demonstrated by the opening pages. It’s either going to be your cup of tea (pun intended as anyone who reads and loves Gail’s work will get the joke immediately) or it won’t.
It’s obviously fits in my teacup just fine.
Chapter One: In Which Parasols Prove Useful
Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening. Private balls were never more than middling amusements for spinsters, and Miss Tarabotti was not the kind of spinster who could garner even that much pleasure from the event. To put the pudding in the puff: she'd retreated to the library, her favorite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire.
She glared at the vampire.
For his part, the vampire seemed to feel their encounter had improved his ball experience immeasurably. For there she sat, without escort, in a low-necked ball gown.
In this particular case, what he didn't know could hurt him. For Miss Alexia had been born without a soul, which any decent vampire of good blooding knew made her a lady to avoid most assiduously.
Yet he moved towards her.
This would have been unsurprising with any non-vampire, for Miss Tarabotti generally kept her soulless state quite hush-hush. Miss Tarabotti wasn't undead, mind you. She was a living breathing human, just...lacking. But it was just too much of a bother to explain soullessness to the ill-informed masses. It was a moot point on most occasions anyhow. The members of the social circles she frequented never noticed she was missing anything. Miss Tarabotti seemed to them nothing more than a standard English prig, whose spinsterhood had been brought about by a combination of assertive personality, dark complexion, and overly strong facial features. Miss Tarabotti telling people she lacked a soul would cause general awkwardness at best. It was almost, though not quite, as embarrassing as having it known that her father was both Italian and dead.
Alexia was shocked to find, however, that this vampire appeared not to know the details of her character, and actually continued to approach her. The supernatural set always knew she had no soul. They kept detailed records of those born preternatural. People like Miss Tarabotti were dangerous: soullessness cancelled them out. As soon as they touched her: whoosh – they were no longer supernatural at all.
In this particular instance the vampire came darkly-shimmering out of the library shadows with feeding fangs ready, touched Miss Tarabotti, and was suddenly no longer darkly doing anything at all. Just standing there, the faint sounds of a stringed quartet in the background, foolishly fishing about with tongue for fangs unaccountably mislaid.
Miss Tarabotti, having escaped the jaws of that worst party-going evil – society matrons en masse – was most disgruntled to find herself under attack in her library sanctuary.
The vampire got over his foolish lack of fangs quickly enough. He reared away from Alexia and her unexpected effect on his supernatural state, knocking over a nearby tea trolley. Contact broken, his fangs reappeared once more. Clearly not the sharpest of tacks, he then dove forward from the neck like a serpent, going for another chomp.
"I say!" said Alexia to the vampire. "We haven't even been introduced!"
Miss Tarabotti had never actually had a vampire try to bite her before. She knew one or two by reputation of course, and was friendly with Lord Akeldama. Who wasn't friendly with Lord Akeldama? But no vampire had ever actually attempted to feed on her.
So Alexia, who abhorred violence, was forced to grab the miscreant by his nostrils, a delicate and therefore painful area, and shove him away. He stumbled over the fallen tea trolley, lost his balance in a manner astonishingly graceless for a vampire, and fell to the floor. He landed right on top of a plate of treacle tart.
Miss Tarabotti was most distressed by this. She was particularly fond of treacle tart and had been looking forward to the consumption of that precise plateful. She picked up her parasol. (It was terribly de rigeur for her to be carrying a parasol at an evening ball, but Miss Tarabotti rarely went anywhere without it.) The parasol was a style all of her own devising: a black, frilly confection, with purple satin pansies sewn about, and buckshot in its silver tip.
She whacked the vampire right on top of the head with it as he tried to extract himself from his newly intimate relations with the tea trolley. The buckshot gave the parasol just enough heft to make a deliciously satisfying 'thunk.'
"Manners!" instructed Miss Tarabotti.
And since I don’t answer questions often but felt this one was particularly apropos to tonight’s blog entry, I’m making an exception.
A.L Sonnischsen asked:
So here's my question: when is it okay to let a character tell about him/herself? Why did this particular example not make you, as an agent, stop reading? Is it because it's so well-written? Or does an excellent writer know instinctively how much to tell (a little narrative to get an idea of the voice, but not too much)? Or, maybe I don't understand what telling vs. showing really is?
A.L. You have answered your own question. Telling vs Showing is all a matter of balance in the narrative. We need enough tell to orient the reader so we aren’t confused but then we need enough show so that whatever has been told about the character is revealed completely in the unfolding scene.
Gail does this marvelously in these opening pages. Paragraph 1 has a light touch of telling to set the scene. Then she leaps right into showing her spinster in a action. Five “paragraphs” later (as some are just one sentence long), Gail dips into quite a bit of telling but note she keeps her distinctive voice and all the info given is necessary for the rest of the scene to unfold.
That might be the biggest answer to your question. Only tell when it’s imperative to do so in order to move the story forward. Here Gail knows it’s imperative to explain a bit of Alexia’s soulless state. If she doesn’t, the reader might not understand why this vampire attack is such a surprise—in the context of this world she’s building.
When agents pass on sample pages becuase of too much telling to start, it's because the writer hasn't understood the importance of telling and when it's best to interject it.
And as an aside, isn’t Alexia captured absolutely perfectly on the cover?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nothing at the moment.
Back in 2007, I went out on submission with a YA novel from an established author. In fact, it was her fourth novel (but her first with me as her agent). It was an option book that her then publisher had declined to take on.
It’s a tough space for an author to be in.
But I loved the novel. It has two protagonists with the story told in revolving first person POVs. One character white; the other not.
A fact Walker Books did not shy away from on the cover.
A lot of publishers said PERFECT CHEMISTRY didn’t feel “big” enough. In retrospect, I could see where they were coming from because the novel is basically a romance—a retelling of West Side Story set in a contemporary Chicago High School.
But I think what those publishers forgot was how a great romance (well told) could really hook readers and sell like crazy.
And the opening pages are what sold me initially. For this blog entry, I'm giving you the opening pages of the novel itself as well as the opening pages for the first shift in POV to the other main narrator on page 6.
Everyone knows I’m perfect. My life is perfect. My clothes are perfect. Even my family is perfect. And although it’s a complete lie, I’ve worked my butt off to keep up the appearance that I have it all. The truth, if it were to come out, would destroy my entire picture-perfect image.
Standing in front of my bathroom mirror while the new Linkin Park CD blares from my stereo, I wipe away the third crooked line I’ve drawn beneath my eye. My hands are shaking, damn it. Starting senior year of high school and seeing my boyfriend after a summer apart shouldn’t be so nerve wracking, but I’ve gotten off to a disastrous start.
First, my curling iron sent up smoke signals and died. Then the button on my fave shirt popped off. Now, my liquid eyeliner decides it has a mind of its own. If I had any choice in the matter, I’d stay in my comfy bed and eat warm chocolate chip cookies all day.
“Brit, come down,” I faintly hear my mom yelling from the foyer.
My first instinct is to ignore her, but that never gets me anything but arguments, headaches and more yelling.
“I’ll be there in a sec,” I call down, hoping I can get this liquid eyeliner to go on straight and be done with it.
Finally getting it right, I toss the eyeliner tube on the counter, double and triple check myself in the mirror, turn off my stereo and hurry down the hallway.
My mom is standing at the bottom of our grand staircase, scanning my attire. I straighten. I know, I know. I’m eighteen and shouldn’t care what my mom thinks. But you haven’t lived in the Ellis house. My mom has anxiety. Not the kind easily controlled with little white pills. And when my mom is stressed, everyone living with her suffers. I think that’s why my dad goes to work before she gets up in the morning, so he doesn’t have to deal with, well, her.
“Hate the pants, love the belt,” Mom says, pointing her index finger at each item. “And that noise you call music was giving me a headache. Thank goodness it’s off.”
“Good morning to you, too, Mother,” I say before walking down the stairs and giving her a peck on the cheek. The smell of my mom’s strong perfume stings my nostrils the closer I get. She already looks like a million bucks in her Ralph Lauren Blue Label tennis dress. No one can point a finger and criticize her attire, that’s for sure.
“I bought your favorite muffin for the first day of school,” Mom says, pulling a bag out from behind her back.
“No, thanks,” I say, looking around for my sister. “Where’s Shelley?”
“In the kitchen.”
“Is her new caretaker here yet?”
“Her name is Baghda, and no. She’s coming in an hour.”
“Did you tell her wool irritates her skin? And that she pulls hair?” It’s better to avoid disasters than letting them happen on their own. Disasters in my house are about as pretty as a car wreck.
“Yes. And yes. I gave your sister an earful this morning, Brittany. If she keeps acting up, we’ll find ourselves out of another caretaker.”
I walk into the kitchen, not wanting to hear my mother go on and on about her theories of why Shelley lashes out. Shelley is sitting at the table in her wheelchair, busily eating her specially blended food because, even at the age of twenty, my sister doesn’t have the ability to chew and swallow like people without her physical limitations. As usual, the food has found its way onto her chin, lips and cheeks.
“Hey, Shell-bell,” I say, leaning over her and wiping her face with a napkin. “It’s the first day of school. Wish me luck.”
Shelley holds jerky arms out and gives me a lopsided smile. I love that smile.
“You want to give me a hug?” I ask her, knowing she does. The doctors always tell us the more interaction Shelley gets the better off she’ll be.
Shelley looks up, signaling the word for yes. I fold myself in her arms, careful to keep her hands away from my hair. I have no clue why, lately, she’s fixated on pulling hair. Is it the texture she craves?
When I straighten, my mom gasps. It sounds to me like a referee’s whistle, halting my life. “Brit, you can’t go to school like that.”
She shakes her head and sighs in frustration. “Look at your shirt.”
Glancing down, I see a large wet spot on the front of my white Calvin Klein shirt. Oops. Shelley’s drool. One look at my sister’s drawn face tells me what she can’t easily put into words. Shelley is sorry. Shelley didn’t mean to mess up my outfit.
“It’s no biggie,” I tell her, although in the back on my mind I know it screws up my ‘perfect’ look.
Frowning, my mom wets a paper towel at the sink and dabs at the spot. It makes me feel like a two-year-old.
“Go upstairs and change.”
“Mom, it was just peaches,” I say, treading carefully so this doesn’t turn into a full blown yelling match. The last thing I want to do is make my sister feel bad.
And skipping several pages now and going to the next chapter….
“Get up, Alex.”
I scowl at my little brother and bury my head under my pillow. Since I share a room with my eleven and fifteen-year-old brothers, there’s no escape except the little privacy a lone pillow can give.
“Leave me alone, Luis,” I say roughly through the pillow. “No estés chingando.”
“I’m not fuckin’ with you. Mamá told me to wake you so you won’t be late for school.”
Senior year. I should be proud I’ll be the first family member in the Fuentes household to graduate high school. But after graduation, real life will start. College is just a dream. Senior year for me is like a retirement party for a sixty-five-year-old. You know you can do more, but everyone expects you to quit.
“I’m all dressed in my new clothes,” Luis’ proud but muffled voice comes through the pillow. “The nenas won’t be able to resist this Latino stud.”
“Good for you,” I mumble.
“Mamá said I should pour this pitcher of water on you if you don’t get up.”
Was privacy too much to ask for? I take my pillow and chuck it across the room. It’s a direct hit. The water splashes all over him.
“Culero!” he screams at me. “These are the only new clothes I got.”
A fit of laughter is coming from the bedroom door. Carlos, my other brother, is laughing like a frickin’ hyena. That is, until Luis jumps him. I watch the fight spiral out of control as my younger brothers punch and kick each other.
They’re good fighters I think proudly as I watch them duke it out. But as the oldest male in the house, it’s my duty to break it up. I grab the collar of Carlos’ shirt, but trip on Luis’ leg and land on the floor with them.
Before I can regain my balance, icy cold water is poured on my back. Turning quickly, I catch mi′amá dousing us all, a bucket poised in her fist above us.
“Get up,” she orders, her fiery attitude out in full force.
“Shit, Ma,” Carlos says, standing.
Our ma takes what’s left in her bucket, sticks her fingers in the icy water, and flicks the liquid in Carlos’ face.
Luis laughs and before he knows it, he gets flicked with water as well. Will they ever learn?
“Any more attitude, Luis?” she asks.
“No, ma’am,” Luis says, standing as straight as a soldier.
“You have any more filthy words to come out of that boca of yours, Carlos?” She dips her hand in the water as a warning.
“No, ma’am,” echoes soldier number two.
“And what about you, Alejandro?” Her eyes narrow into slits as she focuses on me.
“What? I was tryin’ to break it up,” I say innocently, giving her the you-can’t-resist-me smile.
She flicks water in my face. “That’s for not breaking it up sooner. Now get dressed, all of you, and come eat breakfast before school.”
So much for the you-can’t-resist-me smile. “You know you love us,” I call after her as she leaves our room.
Monday, January 25, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? RESPECT by Aretha Franklin
(I'll admit I did pop her on just to write this entry.)
In order to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, I blogged about three terrific African-American authors and suggested that folks might want to check them out and even potentially buy an African-American author to honor the day.
One commentator admonished me with “there's an unspoken implication that readers only need to think about books by black authors on a particular day, kind of like Black History Month.”
I actually don’t disagree; however, I still would have recommended some great AA authors on MLK day regardless of the unspoken implication that they might “need” the extra help by highlighting them on a special day.
Why? Because publishing, sadly, is not color-blind and despite some big AA break-out authors, books by people of color are not published equally.
It’s the truth.
And now I’ll explain.
First off, I want to point to yet another recent controversy spawned by the Publisher Bloomsbury Children’s. They didn’t quite learn their lesson the first time around with the cover fiasco involving the novel LIAR. They had to do it again with a debut novel called MAGIC UNDER GLASS.
Maybe I should assume that in this case they thought any publicity was good publicity because really, are they this inept?
Notwithstanding this recent issue, in general when you browse the bookstore fiction shelves and there are people depicted on the cover, how often are they non-white?
Perhaps iconic images for all books are the way to go….
But here’s another case in point. Let’s go back to my author, Kim Reid, and her debut memoir NO PLACE SAFE—which is an amazing read by the way.
This is a memoir. Logically speaking, where do you think this book ought to be shelved in bookstores?
Gee, I don’t know. Maybe it should be shelved in memoir—say next to Mr. Frey who might have been better represented in fiction? Or, how about in the same section that houses THE GLASS CASTLE or EAT PRAY LOVE—both of which are memoir books.
Nope. Barnes & Noble shelved this book in African-American studies.
Yes, you read this correctly.
And go find the AA Studies section in your local BN store. See what other titles are there. That’s like shelving A MILLION LITTLE PIECES under drug addiction and nowhere else.
Yep. This despite the fact that Booklist called it a gripping memoir, “Part mystery thriller, part coming-of-age story, and part civil-rights history.”
Shelving like that can kill a book.
So I don’t care what my suggestion implies on MLK day, I’m darn well going to highlight Kim’s fantastic memoir and I’m going to do it again here by giving you the opening pages--especially since we've been talking about opening pages that grabbed an agent's attention. If this doesn’t compel you to buy it, well, I’m not sure what will.
The summer before I started high school, two boys went missing and a few days later, turned up dead. They were found by a mother and son looking for aluminum cans alongside a quiet wooded road. It was already ninety degrees at noon, even with an overcast sky, because it was the end of July in Atlanta, Georgia, which I imagine is similar to the heat in hell, except with humidity. The mother thought she saw an animal at the bottom of a steep embankment that started its descent just a couple of feet from the road. The combination of heat and damp created a smell that frightened her. Something about the odor must have told her it wasn’t an animal at all, must have made her call her young child to her lest he discover the source. They left off the search for discarded cans and walked to a gas station where the mother called her husband, and he called the police.
The boys were friends, one about to celebrate his fifteenth birthday, the other had just turned thirteen, same age as I at the time. One went missing four days after the first, but they were both found on the same day, not two hundred feet apart in a ravine just off Niskey Lake Road. The two detectives first on the scene, responding to a signal forty-eight (person dead), noted in their report that either side of the road was bordered by trees, like most streets were in Atlanta at the time. Loblolly pine, white oaks and the occasional stray dogwood that played unwitting hosts for the creeping kudzu vines that threatened to take them over completely. The officers also noted that the woods and ravines lining both sides of the road were “used as a dumping ground for trash.” This was where they found the first body. A vine growing from a nearby tree had already wrapped itself around the boy’s neck, unaware that his last breath had been stolen from him days ago.
While making notes of how the child’s body lay among other thrown-away items littering the road’s shoulder, the detectives caught an odor on a small hot breeze coming from the north. Being detectives, they knew the smell immediately and it led them to the second boy’s body. At the time, no one knew the boys were friends because the police didn’t know who they were. By the time school started, only one boy had been positively identified. More than a year would pass before a name could be given to his friend.
It wasn’t much more than a blip in the news – two black boys being killed in Atlanta in 1979 didn’t get much news coverage. The only reason I knew what I did was because my mother, an investigator with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office at the time, told me to be a little more careful. She said it was probably just a coincidence, but just as likely not, that the boys were close in age, black and found in the same wooded area.
Warning me to be a little more careful because those boys were killed was a waste of words. By my thirteenth summer, I’d learned to be nothing but careful, whether I wanted to or not. I couldn’t help but think like a cop. Even though they were my favorite, I rarely drank frozen Cokes because I avoided going into the convenience stores where they were sold (an off-duty cop still in uniform is a sitting duck if she walks in during a robbery). At restaurants, I never sat with my back to the door (you need to be aware of everyone who comes in and out, and know your entry and exit points). I always tried to carry myself like I wasn’t scared of shit (even if you are, don’t let them know or they have you). My friends called me Narc.
Ma told me about the boys while we got ready for work, sharing her bathroom mirror. I combed my hair while I studied her use of blush – the sucking in of cheeks to find the bones, the blowing of the brush to prevent over-application. This girly part of her never seemed to go with the other part, the other woman – the one who, as a uniformed officer, carried a .38-caliber service revolver in her thick leather holster, along with other things difficult to associate with a woman, especially a mother: handcuffs, nightstick, and the now illegal blackjack – solid metal covered in leather for handling an uncooperative perpetrator, or bad guy as I called them. Perpetrator filled my mouth in an uncomfortable way.
My use of cosmetics was limited to tinted lip-gloss and a brush to tame my thick and unruly eyebrows. But I watched her anyway, filing away the technique for the time she’d let me use real make-up to turn my face into something that resembled hers.
Friday, January 22, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? SNOW by Loreena McKennitt
As I mentioned on yesterday’s blog, both Kate and I wanted the attendees to hear some openings that worked, so we brought in the opening 2 pages from clients we had signed.
And today, I’m going to share those openings with you.
First up, the opening 2 pages from Janice Hardy’s THE SHIFTER. HarperCollins published this debut novel in September 2009. New authors often have to revise before publication but these were the original opening two pages when I saw the submission. They did not change for publication.
Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken. With chickens, you just grab a hen, stuff her in a sack and make your escape. But for eggs, you have to stick your hand under a sleeping chicken. Chickens don’t like this. They wake all spooked and start pecking holes in your arm, or your face, if it’s close. And they squawk something terrible.
The trick is to wake the chicken first, then go for the eggs. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure this out.
“Good morning little hen,” I sang softly. The chicken blinked awake and cocked her head at me. She didn’t get to squawking, just flapped her wings a bit as I lifted her off the nest, and she’d settle down once I tucked her under my arm. I’d overheard that trick from a couple of boys I’d unloaded fish with last week.
A voice came from beside me. “Don’t move.”
Two words I didn’t want to hear with someone else’s chicken under my arm.
I froze. The chicken didn’t. Her scaly feet flailed toward the eggs that should have been my breakfast. I looked up at a cute night guard not much older than me, perhaps sixteen. The night was more humid than usual, but a slight breeze blew his sand-pale hair. A soldier’s cut, but a month or two grown out.
Stay calm, stay alert. As Grannyma used to say, if you’re caught with the cake, you might as well offer them a piece. Not sure how that applied to chickens though.
“Join me for breakfast when your shift ends?” I asked. Sunrise was two hours away.
He smiled, but aimed his rapier at my chest anyway. Was nice to have a handsome boy smile at me in the moonlight, but his was a sad, sorry-only-doing-my-job smile. I’d learned to tell the difference between smiles a lot faster than I’d figured out the egg thing.
“So, Heclar,” he said over his shoulder, “you do have a thief. Guess I was wrong.”
Rancher Heclar strutted into view, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the chicken trying to peck me—ruffled, sharp beaked, and beady eyed. He harrumphed and set his fists against his hips. “I told you crocodiles weren’t getting them.”
“I’m no chicken thief,” I said quickly.
“Then what’s that?” The night guard flicked his rapier tip toward the chicken and smiled again. Friendlier this time, but his deep brown eyes had twitched when he bent his wrist.
“A chicken.” I blew a stray feather off my chin and peered closer. His knuckles were white from too tight a grip on so light a weapon. That had to mean joint pain, maybe even knuckleburn, though he was far too young for it. The painful joint infection usually hit older dockworkers. I guess that’s why he had a crummy job guarding chickens instead of aristocrats. My luck hadn’t been too great either.
“Look,” I said, “I wasn’t going to steal her. She was blocking the eggs.”
The night guard nodded like he understood and turned to Heclar. “She’s just hungry. Maybe you could let her go with a warning?”
“Arrest her you idiot! She’ll get fed in Dorsta.”
Dorsta? I gulped. “Listen, two eggs for breakfast is hardly worth prison—”
“Thieves belong in prison!”
From Kate Schafer Testerman:
This is the opening page (or so) from Julia Karr's XVI, which will be published by Speak (Puffin) in Spring 2011. Here is Julia's website and I actually blogged her original query letter just a few weeks ago.
“Nina, look.” Sandy jabbed me in the ribs.
I glanced up at the AV screen expecting to see the latest vert of back to school fashion for sixteens.
“No, there.” Sandy jerked my arm, bringing my attention to the doorway.
Four guys approached us, lurching and swaying through the moving express. They sat across the aisle, immediately crowding together in a knot. A low buzz of unintelligible words, accompanied by the occasional rowdy snort, rose from their cluster.
“They’re eighteen,” she whispered. “I bet it’s that one’s birthday.”
By the way he kept admiring the tattoo on his wrist and fingering the band-aid behind his ear, I knew she was right. I involuntarily touched my own GPS. The tiny grain-sized pellet imbedded beneath the skin barely registered on my fingertips. What would it be like to be able to go some place where no one could track you?
Before my thoughts went any further down that path, Sandy said, “They’re going into the city to celebrate. I wish—”
“No, you don’t.” My stomach turned at the thought of eighteenth celebrations. I’d heard all about them, particularly the Angel affair. I quickly blocked the images from my mind.
Sandy “humphed” back into the seat, crossing her arms over her chest. “Those stories aren’t true. They’re made up to scare us. Guys wouldn’t do stuff like that. I mean, look at them…” She leaned towards me conspiratorially, but I saw her peeking at the boys from under her bangs. “Someone that cute could never do those kinds of things.”
One of them, not the birthday boy, noticed us. He ogled Sandy the way I’d seen her stepdad do when he thought no one was watching. I grabbed her wrist and thrust it toward him, showing the absence of the obligatory XVI tattoo. He shrugged and turned back to his friends.
“Hey!” She pulled her arm away from me. “He was going to talk to me.”
“It’s not talk he wants. Sandy, those stories aren’t all made up. Ginnie said that ever since they started the tattooing, girls aren’t safe. She thinks that—”
“Yeah, well, your mom doesn’t trust anything the government does.”
She was right. Ginnie didn’t talk much about her views on the Governing Council, but when she did, there was no mistaking that she loathed them.
Sandy snatched a retractable zine chip from the rack on the back of the seat in front of her. She let go and it snapped back in place. She grabbed another, doing the same thing. If she’d reached for a third, I would’ve stopped her. Sometimes I felt more like Sandy’s mother than her best friend.
Her mood suddenly changed, which it often does thank goodness. “Scoot over,” she said. “We’re almost to that big farm and I want to see the cows. Can you believe people used to eat meat? Makes me want to puke just thinking about it.”
Sandy’s almost as crazy about cows as she is about boys. And, she’s never mad at me for too long. I’m sure that’s how come we’ve stayed best friends.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? PAPERBACK WRITER by The Beatles
(I’m not even kidding! Strange coincidences on what is actually playing when I’m writing up my blog entry.)
So how did it go last night? Well. I think. Somebody who attended might actually want to chime in here.
Here’s what we did:
1. We began the evening with our customary warning. That we are going to be bluntly honest but we will also try and be encouraging and helpful. Also, if anyone decided they didn’t want their piece read, they could opt out at any time. No one took us up on that offer. That always surprises me.
2. Once we did the disclaimer, we jumped right in to reading the pages. We had one of the workshop organizers, Denise, do the reading aloud of the entry. Kate and I followed along with the copy we had. I can’t just be read aloud to. I need to see it on paper or on screen and read along with it. As Denise read, if we would have stopped reading, Kate and I spoke up and said “stop.” Then explained why.
I actually don’t know how many 2-page entries we were able to get to in the 2-hour segment we allotted for the workshop. I think we did around 20. Here’s the general breakdown:
--out of the 20 we read, Kate and I would have asked for sample pages from just 1 of the projects read. That’s actually pretty good! I have done this workshop where I wouldn’t have asked for any. And what was really interesting is that everyone in the room knew it while it was being read. The audience’s attention was caught and engaged. You could tell by the reaction. People leaned forward in their chairs a little while listening. They reacted when it was funny. People just paid closer attention. So the workshop attendees sensed it just as we did. Fascinating. You folks know more than you think you do.
--of the 19 we would have passed on, I’d say that for at least 12 of those, we did not reach the second page before we would have stopped. For some of those 12, we knew by the second paragraph that the project wasn’t going to work for us. Reasons for that? Level of the writing wasn’t where it needed to be yet.
Some interesting things to note.
1. Kate and I had one entry that was read to the second page before we stopped the reader. But when we did say stop, it was at the same time. We both said that something was off about the entry and it was hard to put our finger on the why of it. It wasn’t because the writing was bad or anything like that. It was because we didn’t feel engaged in the story unfolding. Hard to give feedback on such a vague reaction but it’s often true. There is nothing technically wrong with the piece. It’s just not something that makes us read on.
2. Many of the NOs were because the writer started with one of the following:
--starting the story in the wrong place
--opening with a scene that was just too mundane (like a person waking up in the morning)
--action scenes that weren’t going to play a part later in the story. In other words, writers have been told to grab our attention right away but they weren't given any other guidance on how to effectively do that. Starting with a huge action scene and then on page 2 having the reader realize that it was just a dream is not very effective. Also, the action scene has to be integral to the central conflict of the story. Otherwise, it doesn’t serve a purpose. A great action opening is only going to take you so far if it's not connected to the plot.
So remember, action with a purpose….
After about 8 entries were read, I stopped the session and took the temperature of the room. How was everyone doing? Had we destroyed any dreams forever because that’s not what we wanted to do. Should we continue?
Everyone wanted us to push on so we did.
We also wanted the attendees to hear some openings that worked, so both Kate and I brought in the opening 2 pages from clients we had signed.
We thought that would be a nice change of pace from the carnage. Grin. Not to mention it might help demonstrate when writing works.
There it is in a nutshell.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? SOLITARY MAN by Chris Isaak
Tonight, along with Agent Kate Schafer Testerman, I’m speaking at the Smiley library for our local chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). The workshop is full so if you're local, you won't be able to just pop in.
Kate and I are going to do the two pages workshop. This is the class where participants bring the opening 2 pages of their manuscript. We pretend that we are sitting in our office reading the slush pile. If we would have stopped reading, we say “stop” and then we explain why.
I always do this workshop with much trepidation. You got to be ready for brutal honesty. It’s so not for the faint of heart. There’s a big difference between getting a rejection letter by email versus being told so at point blank—regardless of how nice or helpful we try to be when being so bluntly honest. And that is our goal tonight. Encouraging, helpful, but not pulling the punch.
A lot of what we’ll hear tonight will be from writers who aren’t quite ready for agent time. That’s not to say that these writers won’t ever be—just that they haven’t reached the spot yet. The only reason I continue to do this workshop is that I get tons of emails from participants afterwards that tell me how helpful it was. I’m always stunned. Really? I think it would just be painful but okay.
They say it was tough and it took time for them to process but in the end, they wanted to hear what wasn’t working rather than continue on without knowing why.
That’s valid. Still, I think I might be more nervous than the writers who will be there! Okay, maybe not but I’m going to run a close second.
And speaking of this workshop, I’ll be doing it at the Backspace Conference which is coming up at the end of may. There are two weeks left for the general public to register so if you are interested, you might want to check it out.
Monday, January 18, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? PRIDE (IN THE NAME OF LOVE) by U2
In honor of MLK, why don’t you buy a novel today from an African-American author.
I’ve got three Denver writers I’d like to suggest to help you do just that.
Kim Reid’s NO PLACE SAFE
Carleen Brice’s ORANGE, MINT, & HONEY
Elyse Singleton’s THIS SIDE OF THE SKY
Friday, January 15, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? OPERATOR by Jim Croce
(listening to some of Dad’s favs)
One of the reasons why I approached this query letter a little differently than previous discussions was to show blog readers that a variety of approaches in a pitch blurb can work.
There isn’t just one way to write that paragraph and have it work. I know y’all want the silver bullet that will assure your query letter the attention it deserves but as you can see from the list of comments left on yesterday’s entry, readers had different opinions on which one worked best for them.
And in actuality, both are good, strong pitches—but in different ways. So let me talk about that.
When I wrote my pitch paragraph, I remember that I didn’t have Gail’s original query handy. She resent it to me later so that I could have it on file. Since time was of the essence for the submission, I went ahead and created my paragraph from scratch.
Usually I take the author’s original query pitch as the genesis—the jumping off point for creating my pitch. That way I’m doing a blending of the author’s tone and approach with my own. I didn’t have that for this letter and I wanted to point that out.
For me, I wish I had the line “It is a romantic romp through the streets of Victorian London, from high society to the steam punk laboratories of Frankenstein-like scientists” for my letter. I think it’s the perfect sentence to establish the tone.
Alas… I didn’t so I went to my fall back (which a commenter pointed out) which was to describe the inciting incident that starts the novel. This also has the added benefit of allowing me to describe the world without having to do a lot of telling.
“When avowed spinster Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attacked by a vampire at a private ball, she’s simply appalled. No vampire worth his salt would ever jeopardize his rank in society by attacking her so vulgarly in a public place.”
Without my saying so, the reader gets immediately that vampires are accepted and simply a part of the society in this world. An attack at a ball would be an oddity. See what I’m doing here?
Then I jump into back story because the key to understanding this novel is Alexia’s unique character element of being soulless.
“Not to mention, every vampire knows that she's soulless and therefore contact with her will negate all supernatural ability. Poof! No more immortality. Vampires know to avoid her like the plague.”
This allows me to highlight even more why this vampire attack is strange.
Now in Gail’s query, she starts with Alexia’s soulless state—which also works.
“Alexia Tarabotti was born without a soul. This affliction could be considered a good thing, for in England those with too much soul can be turned into vampires, werewolves, or ghosts.”
She’s setting up how the world works. Then she hits on the conflict.
“Unfortunately, when unregistered vampires start to mysteriously appear in London, everyone thinks she's to blame, including the Queen's official investigator, Lord Maccon.”
Ah, folks think Alexia is responsible. That’s a problem. Notice that Gail didn’t really explain why Alexia’s soulless state is an issue (because it negates the supernatural). I, however, did in my pitch because I thought that info would be key to understanding the world. On the flip side, I didn’t mention in my pitch that Alexia is presumed to be to blame (and looking back, I should have).
Now Gail tackles the light tone and sets up for some romantic tension in next line:
“In such a situation, what's a young lady to do but grab her parasol and find out what's really going on? Of course Lord Maccon might object, but Alexia doesn't give a fig for the opinion of a werewolf, or does she?”
Gail does a great job of lightly eluding to a possible romantic entangle. I didn’t touch on that at all in my pitch—mainly because I wanted this manuscript be seen as steampunk fantasy—even though it leans paranormal romance a bit. I focused solely on Alexia for that reason. I only wanted to tease the editor enough to be intrigued and read on. My wrap up keeps the storyline deliberately vague.
“Which means that this is no society vampire and since no vampires can be made without the proper paperwork, this vampire is a rogue. No simpering miss, Alexia is delighted to try to find out the particulars but she just may get more than she bargained for.”
Now rereading this, I probably should have phrased that second line “this is a rogue vampire.” Oh well, I’m not perfect. Grin.
As for the last line “If the author Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel during her lifetime, SOULLESS would have been it,” I included it because that’s exactly how this novel struck me.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies had not been released yet. I didn’t know a thing about that novel and how successful it would be, but Austen stuff has been hot for a while and since this had that feel, I wanted to highlight it as a selling point. Thus the last line.
It worked! And anybody who reads SOULLESS knows exactly what I’m talking about.
So there you have it—anatomy of two pitch blurbs.
TGIF! I’m out.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? POEMS, PRAYERS, & PROMISES by John Denver
For this entry, I thought I would do a different spin on annotating the query letter. Gail had a unique situation when she sent me her email. She already had an editor interested in the novel, which rather give her letter a leg up.
She contacted me specifically because several years prior, I had looked at an earlier novel from her. I hadn’t offered rep but I had given her a revision letter. She ended up scrapping that novel altogether but she kept my letter and decided I was the first agent she would contact with this editor interest.
So here’s her letter in the original form.
Dear Ms. Nelson:
XXXX editor is interested in publishing my 81,000 word paranormal novel, SOULLESS, and I am seeking representation. It is a romantic romp through the streets of Victorian London, from high society to the steam punk laboratories of Frankenstein-like scientists.
Alexia Tarabotti was born without a soul. This affliction could be considered a good thing, for in England those with too much soul can be turned into vampires, werewolves, or ghosts. Unfortunately, when unregistered vampires start to mysteriously appear in London, everyone thinks she's to blame, including the Queen's official investigator, Lord Maccon. In such a situation, what's a young lady to do but grab her parasol and find out what's really going on? Of course Lord Maccon might object, but Alexia doesn't give a fig for the opinion of a werewolf, or does she?
My previous professional sales include various shorts stories and two mid-grade readers through Harcourt Education. I can be reached by email at XXXXX or phone at XXXX if you would like to see the manuscript. I understand you are very busy, and am grateful for your time and attention.
Now I thought I would share the pitch blurb I created when I contacted editors about the project.
When avowed spinster Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attacked by a vampire at a private ball, she’s simply appalled. No vampire worth his salt would ever jeopardize his rank in society by attacking her so vulgarly in a public place. Not to mention, every vampire knows that she's soulless and therefore contact with her will negate all supernatural ability. Poof! No more immortality. Vampires know to avoid her like the plague.
Which means that this is no society vampire and since no vampires can be made without the proper paperwork, this vampire is a rogue. No simpering miss, Alexia is delighted to try to find out the particulars but she just may get more than she bargained for.
If the author Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel during her lifetime, SOULLESS would have been it.
Instead of my doing all the work, I’m going to let you folks take first shot at it.
What’s different about these two pitches?
In looking at both in retrospect, I think each have different strengths. What do you like from Gail’s pitch that didn’t make it into mine and maybe should have? Vice Versa?
Give me your thoughts and I’ll talk more about this tomorrow.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
STATUS: As you can imagine, since I’ve been out of the office pretty much since December 18, I’m a little behind on work. Sorry for the blog lapse.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? DECEMBER, 1963 (OH WHAT A NIGHT) by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
As we launch the new year, I imagine that many a blog reader is getting back into the query game. What better time than to tackle another successful client’s original query and what caught my interest.
Maybe it will shed a little light on how you can tackle your own query letter as you jump into your agent search.
Next up is Megan Crewe—a lovely Canadian writer whose debut GIVE UP THE GHOST hit shelves last fall.
In fun news, Holt Children’s has been doing some great co-op in Barnes & Noble. I shot this pic while on holiday. Funny enough, you can see two of my authors prominently displayed on the main shelf in the YA section of BN. Gotta love that.
But this entry is really about Megan’s debut—a YA with a really different paranormal element that is worth picking up. In my mind, not every YA needs to be an angsty romance. I really enjoy stories that delve into the darker side of being a teen and learning that revenge never can take the place of human compassion—which is what our narrator comes to understand in GIVE UP THE GHOST.
I have to say that Megan’s query immediately caught my attention as she had a whole different take on utilizing ghosts that I’ve never seen before. Besides, I like complex narrators. It’s not what is hitting the NYT list right now but I still find these stories super compelling.
Original query without annotation:
Dear Ms. Nelson:
I am seeking representation for my completed 62,000 word young adult novel, IN MEMORY OF.
Sixteen-year-old Cass McKenna would take the company of the dead over the living any day. Unlike her high school classmates, the dead don't lie or judge, and they're way less scary than Danielle, the best-bud-turned-backstabber who kicked Cass to the bottom of the social ladder in seventh grade. Since then, Cass has styled herself as an avenger. Using the secrets her ghostly friends stumble across, she exposes her fellow students' deceits and knocks the poseurs down a peg.
When Tim Reed, the student council V.P., asks Cass to chat with his recently-deceased mom, her instinct is to laugh in his face. But Tim's part of Danielle's crowd. He can give Cass dirt the dead don't know. Intent on revenge, Cass offers to trade her spirit-detecting skills for his information. She isn't counting on chasing a ghost who would rather hide than speak to her, facing the explosive intervention of an angry student, or discovering that Tim's actually an okay guy. Then Tim sinks into a suicidal depression, and Cass has to choose: run back to the safety of the dead, or risk everything to stop Tim from becoming a ghost himself.
Told in Cass' distinctive voice, at turns sarcastic and sensitive, IN MEMORY OF will appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld and Annette Curtis Klause.
My short fiction has appeared in Brutarian Quarterly and On Spec. I maintain the Toronto Speculative Fiction Writers Group, and I've worked with children and teens as a recreational programmer and behavioral therapist for several years.
Thank you for your time.
Now the query with my comments:
Dear Ms. Nelson:
I am seeking representation for my completed 62,000 word young adult novel, IN MEMORY OF.
Since the novel is called GIVE UP THE GHOST, it’s obvious that Holt Children’s and Megan decided to change the title. There were too many other novels with the title Giving Up The Ghost so we truncated a bit to make it stand out.
Sixteen-year-old Cass McKenna would take the company of the dead over the living any day. Unlike her high school classmates, the dead don't lie or judge, and they're way less scary than Danielle, the best-bud-turned-backstabber who kicked Cass to the bottom of the social ladder in seventh grade. The opening of this query is simply back story. In order to understand the hook, we need to know the previous history of the narrator Cass in order to have a context. Since then, Cass has styled herself as an avenger. Using the secrets her ghostly friends stumble across, she exposes her fellow students' deceits and knocks the poseurs down a peg.
Call me a rebel but I love the idea of knocking down the poseurs a peg or two. Wasn’t that always the secret fantasy of any teen who was an outsider to the status quo? But the main thing that caught my attention here is the idea of using ghosts as a secret army of spies. If ghosts can be anywhere, of course they would see/hear all the dirt and be able to report it. That’s brilliant. Of course that’s how a person who can see ghosts would actually use them. Such a twist on the whole ghost story idea. This had my attention immediately.
When Tim Reed, the student council V.P., asks Cass to chat with his recently-deceased mom, her instinct is to laugh in his face. But Tim's part of Danielle's crowd. He can give Cass dirt the dead don't know. Ah, we aren’t suger-coating Cass’s initial motivation. I like novels that are honest. Intent on revenge, Cass offers to trade her spirit-detecting skills for his information. She isn't counting on chasing a ghost who would rather hide than speak to her, facing the explosive intervention of an angry student, or discovering that Tim's actually an okay guy. And here’s the redemption. If Cass is lumping all other teens into one clique fitting mold as they do her—does that make her any better? I’m thinking this novel is about Cass realizing that. Then Tim sinks into a suicidal depression, and Cass has to choose: run back to the safety of the dead, or risk everything to stop Tim from becoming a ghost himself. Such a clincher here. Cass has been living with the dead in the form of ghosts. What does she risk if she reconnects with the living? Something she is going to have to do if she overcomes her stereotype of Tim, learn compassion, and perhaps keep him from joining the ghosts that surround her. I’m so interested!
Told in Cass' distinctive voice, at turns sarcastic and sensitive, IN MEMORY OF will appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld and Annette Curtis Klause. Excellent comparison. It shows that Megan understands her novel’s place in the market. Notice she doesn’t say her novel is as good as these huge successes—just that the voice will appeal to the fans who enjoy these two other authors.
My short fiction has appeared in Brutarian Quarterly and On Spec. I maintain the Toronto Speculative Fiction Writers Group, and I've worked with children and teens as a recreational programmer and behavioral therapist for several years. Relevant bio but she doesn’t have too much background in writing so she keeps it short and sweet. Fiction can stand on its own so bio is helpful but blog readers need to know that a lack of background is not a deal breaker; however, she does have experience with teens and makes sure to include that. That never hurts.
Thank you for your time. I always appreciate a thank you here.
All in all a really strong query. She uses back story and character insight (both things I highlight in my Query Pitch online blog workshop (see left side bar) to build a great pitch around her hook.
Monday, January 11, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? GLAD TIDINGS by Van Morrison
While I was out, I saw an article in Publishers Weekly that mentioned that Kirkus might be bought so the review journal could continue publishing.
I have to say this warms my heart—even though they gave one of my books an only so-so review last week. Big smile here.
I do think that online review sites will gain in prominence and I’m certainly not against that, but I do think there is value in a long-standing, revered review journal continuing. It’s going to take some more years for the online sites to gain the same prominence with booksellers and librarians that Kirkus already has in place.
A strong Kirkus review can create an automatic buy for libraries. I can’t name an online site that does the same—yet.
Come back and stay this time Kirkus.
Friday, January 08, 2010
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? JACKSON By Johnny Cash
(My dad’s favorite artist.)
James Carl E--
May 9, 1936-January 5, 2010
Dad, I just wanted to say thank you…
--for taking me to the library every Sunday afternoon without fail the whole time I was growing up. My passion for books began there.
--for teaching me how to sail and for all the weekends we did just that together.
--for not saying that I was crazy when I quit my job, gave up tenure, moved halfway across the country without a job prospect in sight. You just said, “you only get one life; do what makes you happy.” Well, it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and your support made it possible.
--for living with cancer and going blind with grace, dignity, and never a complaint. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do the same but you’ve shown me how.
--for asking me to bring, of all things, your iPod shuffle to the hospital because darn it, you really needed to know how that audio book ended. And people wonder where I get that from so I want them to know that I am successful because you taught me to do my passion and it was through you that I found just that in books.
--for tolerating my football commentating so you could “see” the game but heck, that Auburn-Northwestern bowl game with its wild finish was so worth it. I’ll never forget sharing that with you.
I feel incredibly blessed that I was able to say all these things and more.
I miss you already. Rest in Peace
Monday, January 04, 2010
What’s playing on the iPod right now? SPIRAL by John Coltrane
Welcome back! I swear. That holiday break is never quite long enough. I could happily go another week of just lounging around, doing some post-holiday shopping sales, and reading just for fun.
I’ve returned from the holidays to a desk that is completely obscured by piles of mail. I’ve been working on that most of today and I’m only halfway through the stacks.
I’ve also returned to see 360 emails in my inbox—and this is my email inbox—not our general query emailbox. Yikes.
Speaking of, we did the holiday autoreply for the whole time we were on break and all queries were deleted. If you want to query us, now is the time to send it—although I would recommend holding off until next week. Invariably on our first day back, we get several hundred queries in one day as everyone resends who got the autoreply. By next week, we should be caught back up.
And speaking of queries, just a little rant to start the new year. I’m thinking that if you sent us a query between Dec. 18 and Jan. 4 and you began your query with the words “I’m an avid reader of your blog,” it was definitely non-effective. After all, if you were an avid reader of the blog, you would have known that we were closed and not accepting queries until January. Something to keep in mind for next year…
Hope y’all had a great holiday. Here’s to a new year of good ranting.