Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Comedy is to the Oscars as Genre Fiction is to Literary Awards

Watching that very funny musical/comedy number done by Will Farrell, John C. Reilly and Jack Black at the Oscars, it occurred to me that the way popular movies (not just comedies) get ignored at the Oscars, is similar to how genre fiction gets ignored by the literary so-called elite. Okay, there are exceptions some years at the Oscars, like Titanic, but generally most popular movies get ignored. Where were the nominations for Casino Royale this year?

The literary world holds even fewer exceptions. Stephen King winning Distinguished Contribution To American Letters at the National Book Awards is one. But the controvery caused by granting him that award proves my point. Genre fiction gets no respect. If you haven't read Stephen King's acceptance speech, you should.

Recognizing this parallel to the Oscars "comedies are excluded" number, I planned to do a tirade-type post complaining (once again) that genre fiction -- and the genres written by women for women in particular (e.g. romance, women's fiction, chick lit, cozy mysteries) -- "don't get no respect", but over the past 48 hours I mellowed and started to see things differently. In fact, I ended up changing my mind about the theme of this post all together. (And maybe growing a little in the process. Awwww. See? A character arc, even in my blog post. Am I a genre writer or what?)

So what caused my change of heart? I suppose what it boils down to is I'm glad we live in a world that still honors and supports creative pursuits not embraced by the mainstream. I'm glad that edgier, avante guard, experimental, controversial, slower paced, offensive to some, alternative art still gets produced/published/shown in galleries/recorded whatever. The world would be a very bland place if our only art and entertainment options were loved by all and hated by none.

And maybe mainstream entertainment doesn't need awards and critical praise. Work embraced by the mainstream gets other rewards -- public acclaim, money, fans. The creators of popular work get both the satisfaction of creating their art and of knowing that others enjoy it. I suppose we can let the non-mainstream folks take home the awards and glowing reviews.

Writers of literary fiction like to complain that genre fiction is taking up too many places in publication schedules, too much space on bookstore shelves, (ref. that ridiculous NYT column written by Maureen Dowd a few weeks go), but writers of literary fiction don't have much to complain about from where I sit. If publishers were only interested in money, they wouldn't publish any literary fiction. Hollywood, on the other hand, has all but stopped producing interesting/risky films such that an independent film industry had to step in to fill in the void. So far, the major publishing houses haven't followed suit. They haven't moved away from literary fiction just because Nora Roberts and Stephen King and Jennifer Weiner sell better, increasing the odds that debut writers writing in similar genres wil sell well, too.

And if it takes a somewhat snobbishly-biased reviewing and award system to support the "different" "riskier" books, the books less certain to sell well, maybe I'm all for it. I love literary fiction and would hate it if those reading choices were no longer readily available in my book store.

I only wish the system didn't have to turn its collective nose up, quite so obviously, at genre fiction.

But I don't think we writers of genre fiction should whine about this. (And this is coming from someone who has whined about it to her friends and family -- a lot.) Sure, the fiction I write is unlikely to ever get reviewed in the "best" places. My books will never be nominated for the Giller, or the Governor General's Award or the Booker. They won't be picked as Oprah books or be defended on Canada Reads. Even if my books become bestsellers (dare I dream?), I'm unlikely to get invited to speak at a PEN luncheon or do a reading at Harbourfront. If I join the Writers Union of Canada I'll probably get sneered at when I tell my fellow union members what I write. (This based on an author I know's experience at a union party at Margaret Atwood's house and another's experience at a Word on the Street event in Vancouver last year.)

But I'm starting to realize that the only problem with all this, is that I let it bother me.

Jack, Will, John. Take note. Your comedy work doesn't get much respect, but people love it. Love that.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Award goes to....

I just finished watching the Oscars. What a marathon...There were so many surprises - but all in all I was slightly bored. Maybe I wasn't terribly invested in many of the movies. usually Oscar Night is BIG deal for me. I am a shameless lover of the dresses and tears and the men who thank thier momma's. I loved that Little Miss Sunshine got best Screenplay -- proving that the small scenes and human truths and HUMOR! make just as compelling viewing as war movies. And Alan Arkin's speech was wonderful -- that the world has so embraced a movie shamlessly about hope and laughter says alot about the world's longing for more of such things. Loved it.

And while Pan's Labyrinth got screwed in a couple of areas - it was great to see them win so many of the technical awards. Mexican filmmakers and artists have a lot of reason to be hungover and happy today...that's for sure. Scorses for Director was no surprise but I didn't think The Departed would take home Best Picture. I loved loved loved the songs from Dreamgirls - I thought that was amazing. And Al Gore--- funny guy and a man on a mission. Too Bad the US didn't see this side of him eight years ago.

Ellen Degenerous was okay -- pretty vanilla. I like Jon Stewert better. Ready for Helen Mirren, Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whittaker to fade away for a little while.

My guess - and I didn't see the movie but Notes On A Scandal probably deserved more than it got -- but again, I think it comes down to Maureen's theory about art by women for women...

But the real awards have to go to Mark Whalberg, Leo DeCaprio and Clive Owen and Cate Blanchett's dress -- wow!! WOW!! What eye-candy. Oh! And George Clooney's hair - so beautiful. Leo DeCaprio is seriously coming into his own and Clive Owen cleans up real pretty. But oh Marky-Mark...

However, that said -- it's award season for Romance Authors too. Lots of finalists getting announced in Feb and March. The RITA's, HOLT Medallion, Booksellers Best, Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice, Cataromance Reviewer's Choice just to name a few. And since this is my party and I can brag if I want to -- FAMILY AT STAKE won All About Romance's Best Series Book of 2006!!! And it's a finalist for Cataromance Reviewer's Choice Award for best Superromance of 2006!

However with the AAR award came a fairly damning question regarding the sad state of catagory romance this year. Either way - I'll take it and you can read all about it and my answer to that question at www.likesbooks.com. It's great website if you've never been there.

I'd love to hear what you guys think about the state of catagory romance...I know lots of you are writing it - but what did you think of it as readers? And of course feel free to wax poetic about Mark Whalberg or George Clooney's hair...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Storytelling Trumps Everything…

I and my fellow Drunk Writers have a few rants we enjoy when out for a night enjoying our beverages of choice.

My personal favorite, and one Molly and Maureen are bored to tears with, is great story telling trumps everything.
To me, specifically in books, great storytelling trumps clumsy or uninspired prose, clunky dialogue and even spelling mistakes.

I judge a couple of contests a year, and always find them interesting, partly to know what editors are receiving and partly to know what other authors are writing.

To me a contest entry works if the story engages me. Again, crazy simple, but we’ve talked about the many rules there seem to be out there. I judge other people’s work by my basic rule. Am I entertained while reading this?

Now I know this is a subjective thing. But I’ll read something that is polished to perfection, prose is lovely, not a comma misplaced, but the story itself is derivative, dull and the pacing is usually dead slow.
I’ll read something else where the story is fascinating, great characters, questions are raised and I’m dying to find out the answers, and I don’t care if there are a few spelling errors, misplaced commas, or anything else that doesn’t draw me from the story.
I’ll always give the better story the highest marks.
And then the list of winners comes out, and the dull, perfect prose story is on the list of finalists, and my fav - nowhere to be seen.

We should praise perfection, we should honor polished -- but at the expense of storytelling?

Is this why so many editors say they have little luck finding new authors on the contest circuit? I’m beginning to think so.

This isn’t meant as an insult to anyone who is finaling in contests. One of my critique partners has an excellent track record on the contest circuit, and her books are great examples of wonderful storytelling.

But I think of the amazing entries I’ve read that haven’t finaled, and I really hope those authors don’t get discouraged. Because sometimes great storytelling breaks rules, creates characters that stray from our idea of what’s acceptable in a hero or heroine, asks questions that aren’t easily answered and doesn’t immediately tell the reader everything that’s at stake for the protagonist.
Tough to judge in a first chapter contest.

And possibly great storytelling is polarizing. Some people will love it and others will hate it..

I’ll know I’ll love probably love it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Writing is Hard

Okay, I started thinking about this post at 10:00 pm Sunday night after having spent a week of 10 hour days editing/revising my latest opus. I’d been determined to get it out the door to my agent before I went to bed Sunday night—wouldn’t it be cool if it was the first e-mail she saw Monday morning?—but bleary-eyed, lightheaded, barely able to think at 10:00 p.m., and feeling a little sick after consuming nothing but snacks (most of them healthy, but snacks nonetheless) all day, I conceded I needed one more day to finish. Feeling somewhat defeated, the title of this blog post popped into my head.

That writing is hard shouldn’t really be a big surprise, yet I think to many people it is. I mean, everyone writes, right? We all had to do it in school. Many of us do it in our non-writing day jobs. We all tell stories to each other in one way or another, so how hard could it be to actually write them down? I mean, it’s just about discipline, right?


Sure, discipline plays a big part of it. You need to get your ass in a chair, your fingers on a keyboard and just plow through it to some extent. That’s certainly the first very important step—the step most people never get through. But will that result in a great, well-written novel that readers (who don’t know you) won’t be able to put down? Possible, but not likely.

I guess I believe (because I’ve heard the stories), there are writers whose books just pour out of them. And I’ve had days like that. Days when my fingers can barely keep up with the story unfolding in my head.

But given all I’ve learned about the craft of writing (and I still feel like I’m scratching the surface, there), I also believe it’s highly unlikely that whatever pours out of me (or any writer) in that way will be the best work they can produce. Sure, sometimes it’s good enough. But can we really produce consistently great stories that way… I don’t think so.

So, we edit. We fine tune.

We critique each scene—does it do enough? We consider our characters’ motivations—are they clear enough, or conversely so obvious they’re trite or cliché. We consider the conflict and tension on every page—can we make it stronger? We critique other aspects of our storytelling—do turning points happen when they should? Are we repeating ideas? Are we beating some aspect of characterization to death such that the reader wants to yell, “We get it!” at the book? How’s the pacing? Is it gripping? Are the characters real or flat?

We critique our prose—have we made careful word choices, varied our sentence structure, trimmed redundancies and otherwise unnecessary words? Or conversely, have we over-edited to the point of removing all sense of voice and/or style from our work. Have we over or underused purposeful repetition, alliteration, similes, metaphors?

And this is just a short list of what we as writers do to make sure our final product is quality work.

Easy? I think not.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Slice of Life...

This conversation just happened between my husband and I:

Adam: Hey have you read Mick that Going to Bed Book?

Molly: Sure. (Sandra Boynton Going to Bed Board Book)

Adam: It doesn't make any sense!

Molly: (Relieved to finally be talking about this since it's been making me crazy for a year) I know!

Adam: They take a bath in one big tub (soap all over - scrub scrub scrub), brush their teeth, put on their pajamas and then go up to exercise!

Molly : They're going to get all sweaty before bed!

At that point we looked at each other, decided to skip dinner and go straight to the vodka that's been in our freezer for a million years. Drugs and booze are wasted on the youth.

It's been a good week here in romance writer land. Valentine's Day is like the promotional mother lode and this year I really hit the jackpot. I was a guest speaker at the Toronto Reference Library for the TPL's http://www.keeptorontoreading.ca/ campaign with Harlequin Editor Brenda Chin. Who, as always, gives good tips for what is happening at Harlequin. All Steeple Hill lines are acquiring - especially the Steeple Hill Historical line. Also submission guidelines have changed -- be sure to check the new and improved http://www.eharlequin.com/ website for all the new guidelines.

I gave a fun talk on what I've learned writing for Harlequin and I thought it a fitting blog post. So - here it is and Happy Belated Valentine's Day!

I’ve been writing for Harlequin for seven years. And I have wanted to write for Harlequin most of my life. And while the realities of a writer’s life - cold coffee, microwave popcorn and days upon days of questionable personal hygiene - are not particularly glamorous, they are highly fulfilling. Reading is easily one of my top five joys. It was one of my top three, but I’m a new mother so sleep has been climbing the charts. And being able to provide another person with the same comforting thrill that I have always appreciated lying back in my bed and opening a new book is truly a humbling experience. But, not always an easy one. Writing is not easy, no matter what you may believe and writing for the best selling genre is akin to walking a tight rope during an earthquake.

These are the four lessons I've learned writing for Harlequin:

1. You must have one eye on the news, a thumb near the pulse of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century, the ever bleeding soul of an optimistic poet and the skin of a Komodo Dragon.
While Harlequin provides an outlet for readers of any kind of romantic fantasy, the readers of the novels I write are looking not just for that pure Calgon Take Me Away experience, but they want a story and characters truly grounded in modern times, dealing with and finding joy and suffering from all the things that we experience. War, death, parenthood, addiction, education, crime, friendships, family, love, loss and sex.

Those critics that scoff at the genre don’t understand what reading these books provide - it’s a way to suffer and commiserate and ache along with a character, but as there all too often isn’t in real life, you’re guaranteed a happy ending.

Now, the skin of a dragon comes in handy in surviving those places where entertainment and commerce mix. Namely in dealing with print runs, editors, agents and critics. Getting published once is not a golden ticket, it’s an invitation to try harder, to work faster, deal with rejection better and think outside the box.

2. Friends and family particularly your husband must have a sense of humor because they will at some point be in a book. Change the names to protect yourself at family dinners, but when Aunt Gladys talks about when she got her breast caught in the mammogram machine and the fire department had to come and get her out - take notes.

Everyone always asks me where do I get my ideas. And frankly, here’s the truth. I steal them. I steal them from the people I overhear on the streetcar, from the news, from my friends, family, fans, from real life and from my imagination. The world is a really fertile place if you’re looking for seeds.

3. Sex may sell - but it's not easy to write on deadline. I've got a year old baby - teething and tormenting the dog with a hockey stick his father thought would be a great idea. I've had about six hours of sleep and 30 cups of coffee - so my stomach hurts. I'm not sure when I showered last much less actually touched my husband and today? I've got to write a sex scene. So - you may ask - how do I actually write the sex scene? I wait until my husband comes home and pour myself a big glass of wine and remember what life was like when I was nineteen.

4. The High’s are High, the Low’s are low and the Ruts are DEEP -

Every writer I know is an introvert. I had to get seriously juiced up on coffee just to be able to stand here today because trust me - I would much rather be home in my sweatpants in front of the computer. If they made a zoo of professions - that would be the writer’s natural habitat. Hair a mess, sweat pants, four coffee cups and plates on top of stacks of books and papers on top of a desk that hasn’t seen daylight since it was set up. But getting out of that mindset is truly rewarding. Hemingway? Wrote in the morning and in the afternoon he went out to fill his well.
And perhaps drinking to excess and big game hunting isn’t your idea of well filling - but writer’s can’t work in a vacuum. If we’re writing about life - we’d better do a bit of living it.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

More advice

A funny thing has happened to me over the past couple of years. I’ve always loved writing, but could never really understand what exactly it was about it that made me tick. I now understand it. It’s storytelling. Pretty straightforward and simple answer that should be pretty obvious, but hey, sometimes these things take a while to get through my skull.

What came of that knowledge is a love for all story telling, books, movies, TV, any and all forms that tell a great story, and a need to understand how.

How did they make that so compelling that I forgot to critique and just sat back and enjoyed.

This takes up 80% of Drunk writer talk, Molly, Maureen and I discussing our favourite books/TV/movies and trying to understand what made them great. And what made things not work, because sometimes more light bulbs go off when you figure out where the storyteller went wrong.

Something I’m sure a lot of writers do on a regular basis. You learn to see your own work in a critical light, but others as well, and I can’t shut down that internal editor.

But the great things about these discussions, is that as many times as we agree, we also disagree. Again, nothing earth shattering here, either.

What I’ve figured out, is what I like best in storytelling. The elements that make me excited. Bringing this back to what my fellow drunk writers have blogged about this week. There is so much advice out there, and a lot of it good, and a lot based on what others love in story telling. Hell, we’ve given enough out on this blog.

But the crux is, I didn’t really learn what works best for me, until I sat down and really analyzed what I loved about the books, moves and TV shows that enthralled me. Me. This is really personal to each writer. Knowing what I loved, I could apply it to my work, even if it went against the general rules of writing we hear so much about.
In many ways, this is how I’ve found my voice, and will hopefully create stories that are unique to me.

So when trying to figure out what beginnings work best for me, or what character arcs, or plot developments, pacing, prose, I read the books I loved and pulled out all the common elements and came up with a blueprint that was remarkably similar to the kind of book I wanted to write.

There’s a big difference between wanting to write a certain type of book and actually managing to write it, but I have something to work towards. I also know I couldn’t have figured this out if I hadn’t at least a couple of books under my belt, but again, some people catch on much faster.

But it helped a lot, and it was kind of fun to do.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Advice—Sifting the Good from the Bad

These days, there’s a lot of advice out there for aspiring authors. This is one of the best (and I’m going to argue, potentially the worst) things about the internet, on-line loops, list-serves, blogs, conferences, writers’ groups, workshops etc.

Molly’s great talk and blog on beginnings—particularly her point that if you believe all the advice you’ve heard about how NOT to start a book, it would be impossible to start one at all—combined with me extolling the virtues of reading industry blogs last week, spurred me to think about how hard it can be, for newbie writers in particular, to sift the good advice from the bad.

And newbie probably isn’t the right word. And it’s a totally subjective thing, anyway. I think some people who decide write educate themselves quickly (Sinead) and stop being newbie writers within the first year, even if it takes them another ten to get published (but it’s not going to take Sinead that long). Others are still newbies after publishing their tenth book. (No names mentioned here, but definitely NOT Molly.)

My point is, a newbie in the context I mean here, is anyone who gets confused/overwhelmed by conflicting advice. She/he hears advice and lacks the filters or experience to decide whether it ends up in the good advice or bad advice bin.

And there’s a LOT of bad advice out there. A LOT. And to complicate things, what I consider bad advice, others—at least the person offering it—considers good advice. So what’s a writer to do?

For me it goes back to what I’ve said on this blog before. You have to decide what kind of career you want. What kind of a writer you want to be. Then knowing that, you’ve already got your first filter. Does this make sense for the type of career I want. Does the person offering the advice have the kind of career I want? Write the type of books I write?

But even then, each successful author’s story is a little different. For example, some will say get a great agent first. That is, never submit to editors without an agent because then if you get rejected, agents won’t touch your project because it’s already been shopped. On the opposite side of the advice wall, others will insist it’s much easier to get a publishing contract than literary representation, so you should submit to editors and once you have a contract in hand, call your top five dream agents and choose one then.

I know people who’ve been successful both ways, but personally, in sifting through this particular instance of conflicting advice, I thought about what kind of career I wanted, what kind of publisher I wanted (did they even look at unagented submissions), how many years ago the authors offering the advice first sold and who they sold to. Also what other circumstances may have come into play—like what the market was doing at the time, how they met their editor if they did the editor-first route etc. After applying those filters it was clear for me. I took the get an agent advice.

Another thing it’s important to remember when reading advice is that there are no absolutes. Nothing in writing is black or white. (Except maybe paper and ink?) Diana Peterfreund has a great series of articles on “Good Advice Gone Bad” I wish I had written. They basically all make the point that if you take any piece of advice too literally, you’re probably making a mistake. The articles are indexed at the side of her blog. Check them out.

So when you hear/read some advice (including what I’m writing now, LOL) the first thing to consider is who’s giving the advice? Check out their books, their website, other things they’ve said. There are (in my not-always-as-humble-as-it-should-be opinion) some real idiots out there on the loops offering up their “wisdom” to the masses. And I’m sure there are people out there who think we drunk writers are idiots. (They’re wrong. At least about Sinead and Molly.)

It's also important to understand the reasons behind any particular piece of advice. Don't just accept it as a "rule". I think this is particularly true with advice on craft. I mean, of course you can have a flashback in a book. Lots of great books have flashbacks. But I think it’s important to understand why Jenny Crusie and many others think they are a very bad idea. She’s smart and her reasons make sense—but that doesn’t mean that, after knowing those reasons and thinking about your particular book, that a flashback won’t be the very best way to tell your particular story. Just be honest with yourself.

Another thing to remember with craft advice: there are many, many ways to say roughly the same things. Three act plotting, four act plotting, hero’s journey, heroine’s journey (all loosely the same thing); inciting incident, put your hero up a tree, first point of conflict (all loosely the same thing); turning points, plot points, reversals; black moment, climax; GMC, conflict, tension; outlining, storyboarding… And two great books on writing (McKee's Story and the Browne & King book on editing) both use the term "beats" and mean something completely different.

There are as many ways to think about writing as there are writers writing who enjoy writing about writing. (Phew!)

Don’t get bogged down in the vocabulary or conflicting advice. Learn what you can, figure out what works for you and then JUST DO IT. (Am I going to get sued by Nike now?)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Some talk on beginnings...

I gave a workshop on Saturday at the Toronto Romance Writers on Great Beginnings. And I thought I would sort of hit the highlights of that workshop in this blog and then I promise to have more comprehensive notes on my website sometime before Mick goes to college.

First, I think and have always thought and probably will always think that the beginning of the novel is the hardest part of the novel writing process. There is so much resting on those first few pages. Not only do you have to introduce theme and character and plot and goals and motivations and be funny or scary or suspenseful or clever, but you also have to do all those things so that the reader can't tell you're doing it-- very difficult.

I have been a reader far longer than I have been a writer and if there is one thing I've learned as a READER it's that the best storytelling happens outside of expectation - when I can't see it coming. And I think RWA and all helpful rules and guidelines we pick up at the numerous workshops conferences and on line courses CREATE expectation. If we are all following "the rules" we're all writing the same book!

I think we need to step back from those small nit picky guidelines and rules that we've been taught and remember that good storytelling is about engaging the reader with questions. Books become page turners because the reader is dying to know the answers to questions that the writer controls and manipulates. It's really very simple - at the beginning of our books we want our readers to be asking PLOT questions - what is going to happen next? and CHARACTER questions - who are these people? and BACKSTORY questions why are they behaving this way?

The more specific the questions and the more immediate the question the better. Will she get the promotion? Will he get out alive? Will he speak up for himself? Will she leave her husband? Will she kill her husband? Will she make out with the cute guy at the bar? Will she get out of bed?

The goal is to make every question -- even the silly or frivolous fraught with tension and stakes. Remember the great Jenny Cruise book when the heroine is on the phone with her friend and trying to get that frozen brownie out of the pan -- it's a life or death battle for that brownie. If you are showing your character late for work and she's NEVER late for work and she's an aggressive woman with control issues - that morning commute has to be akin to the Battle of Hastings.

All too often books start with conversations - where in one character tells the other character what they already know for the readers benefit - but it's all about all the things going wrong and what's happened since Dad died/they lost their job/they got divorced/their husband cheated on them etc... there's no tension there. There's information - but I'm not asking questions because the writer is answering them before I can ask them. In two words - no conflict.

Now - some of those rules we've all been told - don't show ordinary world, start with a hook, the hero and heroine must meet in the first chapter, show don't tell, start with action and dialogue. And even more the list I have created for myself over the years of things I don't want to do in my books - you know, bob dialogue, repetition of theme, conflict and goal, lazy writing, misleading my reader - those rules become TOOLS for creating those reader questions and conflict.

I think one of the problems I have with a lot of romances these days is that many writers are lazy on the small scenes - the scenes that lead us to love scenes or black moments, or moments of change or groveling or happy ever after - and the key is to make those scenes as important as those big scenes by, again controlling reader questions. If every scene has to be important and a scene that the reader is DYING to read whether they know it or not - it is doubly true for that opening scene.

So look at those rules you've been told and figure out which of them are tools you can use to jumpstart your opener - to get those reader's hooked and asking questions. Because that's what good storytelling does and that's what we're trying to do - tell great stories.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The many, many things I do to procrastinate

I would like to nominate myself as the queen of procrastination. I believe I deserve it, especially after the past two weeks.

Here is a list of what I do to avoid writing…

1) read industry blogs. All of them… the list Maureen gave us on Wed, I read them all. Regularly. I tell myself it’s to keep up with the industry, but I read them when I should be working..

2) computer games. I am really, really good at solitaire, freecell and spider solitaire. It takes serious practice to get this good.

3) Other author blogs.. some great, some where the author blathers on at great length about their cats urinary habits, or their dog’s nose hairs, or God help me, an in depth analysis of their favorite day time soap opera. Reading these once is excusable, but I go back on a semi-regular basis for more punishment..

4) Gossip blogs. This one I type with a smile. Love them, have no plans to give them up. Especially Lainey Gossip.. try it, become addicted…like me.

5) Bestseller lists. I look at them too, even though I don’t learn a lot from them.

6) And then I recheck blogs in case something new got added.

If I stopped procrastinating I could write twice as much. And yet, can’t seem to work up enough discipline to stop. It’s a sickness, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only sick one out there.

How do you procrastinate? Anything interested I missed. I’m always looking for new ways not to write…

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Agents Who Blog

Any readers of this blog who know me at all, know I believe that, with very few exceptions, if you want a career in mainstream publishing, you need a good agent first. (The main exception in the non-vanity print publishing world is if you're targeting Harlequin -- but even there, while an agent won't necessarily get you more money or better terms on your first few contracts, a good agent who understands HQ can really help you grow your career with them.)

This in itself is another topic, but today I wanted to talk about one way to help you land an agent if you don't have one — reading agent blogs.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Reading and commenting on agent blogs isn't going to get you signed up with an agent, per se. And I think it's ridiculous to think that sucking up to agents on their blogs would in anyway increase your chances of getting signed. Let's all repeat together. It's about the writing. (AND It's about the agent’s personal tastes and preferences and what they're looking for.)

That said, one of the best ways, in my opinion, to increase your chances of signing with a good agent, is to improve your knowledge of the industry, and if you don’t have the bucks to attend a whack of conferences, agent blogs are a GREAT way to learn about the industry.

Whether it's Miss Snark ranting about nitwits (while swilling gin and lusting over George Clooney), Kristen Nelson picking apart contract clauses, The Knight Agency offering frequent chats with their authors, or Rachel Vater publicly culling her query pile and exposing the plot devices which have become most cliché, there’s a wealth of information on these blogs. Plus, they’re often entertaining. Who knew so many agents could write? (Well, I did… Deidre Knight is an author as well as an agent… So is Donald Maass (under a pseudonym), but I digress.)

As great as AgentBlogLand can be, it’s not all roses. Lately, there’s been a disturbing trend on one blog I read for some anonymous commenter to attack the agent, agents in general and some of the authors who frequently comment there. Crazy! What is the point of this? But knowing that such people exist, is in itself educational, if depressing.

Educate yourself. Go wild.

Here are some spots to do it.

Miss Snark
The Knight Agency
Deidre Knight (this is her author page, but she talks about the industry a lot)
Nephele Tempest
Kristen Nelson
Jennifer Jackson
Rachel Vater
Lori Perkins
Jessica Faust
Jenny Rappaport
Dystel & Goderich Literary Management
The Rejecter
Jet Reid Literary
Nadia Cornier
Nathan Bransford

Know of any other agents who blog? Let us know. We'll get a list going in our sidebar. I sure wish there'd been more agents blogging when I was looking, but even now that I have an agent, I find so much information on these blogs.

Oh, and it's not a blog. But just in case you don't know the #1 best place to go on the web if you're looking for an agent... Go to www.agentquery.com

Monday, February 05, 2007


This blog is in the interest of full disclosure -- an effort to prove no matter where we are in our career, process or life underneath it all we are all the same -- slightly ridiculous and prone to hyperbole.

This fantasy blog is brought on by two things.

Reason 1. I had made a comment to my critique group that when I walk my dog I envision and actually act out the phone call Ihave with my agent when she calls to tell me "to sit down because I have great news." and after I said this Maureen laughed and said -- what until I tell you what I do -- but then she NEVER SAID!! Maybe if I totally embarrass myself she'll do the same...

Reason 2. And this is really awful -- I had this amazing dream last night that bad guys (not sure who they were) were after me -- going so far as to send me video on my phone that they had been in my grandmother's house while she slept and that they knew where my daughter (don't have a daughter) was and should I not give them what they wanted (not sure what that was) both Oma and the little girl would be in trouble. ( I saw a lot of movies this weekend) And coming to my aid -- Daniel Craig!! Delicious - fantastic dream. And then in a wonderful suprise twist -- we start making out! EVEN BETTER! WONDERFUL DREAM! But then as things are getting interesting I realize I've been on the run for days and I could really use a shower -- so then this delicious sex dream turns into an awful STRESS DREAM. And I woke up realizing I couldn't ask for a better example of how my fantasies are in serious jeopardy thanks to reality.

I have a single title project that has been rejected by the finest publishing houses in North America. Rejected with totally unhelpful and contradictory rejection letters ("loved the writing!" "The writing just wasn't strong enough") sighting reasons as vague as "just didn't do it for me!" or "I really like this I just don't know what to do with it!"

I love this business. Really love it.

But the other day I get an off hand email from my agent saying that an editor who had liked the book and had asked for revisions had passed the book up to the buying editor. Let the fantasies BEGIN!! There I am walking along the beaches imagining when that phone call from my agent will come -- a tuesday? Perhaps during nap time? No, probably while I'm feeding Mick and it will be on a Friday. Or Thursday. Either way I won't have showered for a while and I'll be in yoga pants.

I act out my part and my agent's part -- attempting her Western New York accent without much success. I imagine how much money we will be talking about - how many bills I can pay off and the kind of house we will buy. Even when I'm being realiztic I imagine calling my student loan creditors and telling them that I am coming out of hiding with my hands up and cash to give (maybe they are the bad guys in the dream).

But at some point -- around Ashbridges Bay the ridiculous winter wind freezing off my nose I face up to the truth -- this is no guarantee. In fact I imagine I've been rejected more in this stage than any other. It feels more perilous -- more difficult -- the odds even less in my favor. And I return home back in reality - which is you can never tell in this business. You can never tell.

This is not a post asking for pats or encouragment -- what I am asking is YOU DO THIS TOO, RIGHT? talk to yourself? act out the scene? I am not alone, right?

More discussion of fantasy life -- I've decided Mark Wahlberg is going to be my template for every romance hero from now on. He is something else.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Process – And where does it fit in

You can tell where all of the drunk writers are in their books by our blog posts this week.

Molly has just finished a book(minor revisions aside), Maureen is nearing the end of hers and I’m waist deep in the first draft of mine.

Usually in the first draft I try and shut out everything except writing the story. I don’t edit as I go along, I have an outline I use, but I veer from it often.
Before I write a word, I tend to mull over my ideas. I liken it to coffee percolating. It takes a couple of months before I really have a handle on story arc, who the characters are, and very roughly, what happens. I usually know the beginning and the ending pretty well, but the rest gets sorted out as I write that first draft.

But the truth is, as much as I think I have worked out before I sit down to write, it’s never enough. I’ve tried expanding the planning stage, detailed, scene by scene outlines, but that failed me, and left me scrambling to put a book back together.

But I have learned a ton in the past year. McKee, conferences, story structure, character arc, it’s all there in my head and while I think I apply some of it as I write that first draft, I know I don’t apply all of it.

So what I’m going to do this time is finish the draft, sit back and analyze it. Scene by scene. Does each scene move the story along, subplots, are they well spaced throughout the book and do they relate back to the main plot? Do my characters show multiple facets of their personalities?

I’ve actually never done this before and I’m excited to try it. Sit down and write a brief description of each scene, does it serve the main plot, a subplot, or both? Does it move the story forward, or just repeat information the reader already knows? Are the character’s expectations shifted, or reversed? Is there a gradual, logical buildup to each turning point, but done so in an unexpected way?

I might end up bashing my head into a wall, but I know asking these questions before I had a rough draft would have left me shaking and quivering with fear before I sat down to write anything.

This way, I have something to start with. But it also may horribly backfire and I may have a ton of that rough draft to completely re-write.

It’s a gamble.

How does it work for everyone else? Do you plan before you write anything, after a certain draft, or at all? Would love to hear about other people’s process and what works for them.
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