Let’s talk resonance.
Kathryn brought up a good point in the comments on that last post, Loving in the time of cholera. I was ranting about not introducing a pivotal character too late in your story, and she wanted to know: “When is too late too late?”. . .
Read the full essay on Pulp Rag.
I try to stay up on the literary blogosphere. I read Twitter (never thought I would, but I do find a lot of links there). I check out posts on writing and querying and publishing. And I notice a remarkable thing—not a recent thing—but a stunning thing, when you think about the logic.
Far more people are interested in selling novels than in writing them.
This is like far more people being interested in opening restaurants than in learning how to cook. What do you suppose they’d see in this opportunity? The chance to manage staff? To brush lint off a maitre’d’s coat? To supervise kitchen cleaning? To eat?
That last one can’t be it. It takes a miniscule fraction of the effort to go to a restaurant and buy a really good meal that it does to open one and find a way to sell that meal without having to cook it.
It’s like being far more interested in becoming professional contractors than in learning how to build. Professional contractors get paid lots of money. I personally have paid a surprise $20,000 bill my contractor just found lying around. (And before you ask, yes, it was for my house!) They get paid LOTS of money, even out here in the sticks. Of course, they also spend a fortune on Worker’s Comp and liability insurance, not to mention actual salaries for their carpenters. But it looks heck of good on the books. And they get to be known as as: Jefe.
It’s like being far more interested in becoming a politician than in learning how to write laws, how to negotiate reasonably for what you want, how to work cooperatively with others, how to present a united front, how to act like an professional in your professional capacity. . .Okay, well, that analogy’s going nowhere fast.
Give it some thought, people. I know you’re inundated on all sides with tweets and blog posts and marketing advice about how you need to be out there hustling your platform like a fiend because You. Are. The. Next. Blockbuster. And wouldn’t it suck if your chance was just lying around being stepped over in the driveway and you never knew? (You picture J.K.Rowling in that Edinburgh coffee shop saying, “Aw, to hell with this bug-eyed twerp. I’m going to a movie.”)
So I’m going to do the best I can to steer you in the right direction, which is toward the advice agents keep giving that, it seems, somebody keeps not taking. I know you guys all take it. I know that about you. But I also know you like reading this stuff and fantasizing about how it’s going to be when taking it someday pays off:
Toughen your hide with Miss Snark, still relevant two and a half years after she closed shop and headed for Tahiti with George.
Check out the section on A Query Letter at Bookends, LLC. They also have a post on wordcount, which frankly seems to shoot a bit high to me (80,000 words at 250 words/page is 320 pages, and I don’t see a lot of 320-page first novels—my first agent told me years ago publishers like something in the 200-250-page range, which is 50,000-62,500). But it’s worth reading to get a general idea of comparing different genres.
Go to Kristin Nelson’s Pub Rants blog, scroll down, and read the Agenting 101 series. Then read the Queries: An Inside Scoop section below that.
If that’s not enough, read Scott Eagan’s You’ve Got 30 Seconds—Convince Me post.
And don’t forget Jonathon Lyons’ No Duh post!
Janet Reid and Rachelle Gardner blog regularly on their lives as literary agents and how not to get on their bad sides, repeating the same old stuff patiently over and over so we can all get on the bus. I like Rachelle because she’s fairly new to the game and hustling her weight in gold. I like Janet because she’s mouthy.
Folks like Noah Lukeman for his free ebook How to Write a Great Query Letter, although I have to say his photo kind of creeps me out. He looks like my dad saying dourly, “I AM smiling.”
You all already know Nathan and his This Week in Publishing series, not to mention that classic post, which I’m certain he got more hits on than any other: Everything You Need to Know About Writing a Novel, in 1000 Words.
And, finally, join Agent Query. It’ll give you something to read while you’re waiting to hear back from all those agents and stonewalling on your writing.
I have this writer friend whom I love to death, but the guy has dislexia like nobody’s business, plus he doesn’t think of himself as an intellectual. He’s great if one of you has to climb a drainpipe to break into an upstairs apartment in the middle of a blistering hot summer afternoon. Ask me how I know. . .
Read the full essay on Pulp Rag.
I’ve got my statues against the sky.
—Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary
I’ve got a confession to make. When I wrote the last post, I was trying to write a basic review of plotting. I don’t know what happened.
It was Friday. . .
Read the full essay on Pulp Rag.
Let’s call this Blow Your Mind Monday and look at ways to approach your Work In Progress from mind-bending perspectives. Keep in mind that the more creative you are with brainstorming, the more time and daydreaming and investment you put into knowing your characters and what happens to them both inside and outside your manuscript, the more unique and interesting your novel will be. When agents say, “Send us something fresh!” this is what they mean.
Here are two terrific adaptations from Hamlet’s transcendental suicide speech, still a classic after five hundred years:
Patrick Stewart asks, “A B, or not a B?” for Sesame Street, in full Elizabethan gear.
A Klingon on a dark street delivers the same soliquoy with passion and sincerity.
Study these with care. How do the different adaptations emphasize different aspects of the speech? What do you get out of these versions that you haven’t gotten out of previous versions? How does each unusual angle highlight something in Hamlet’s situation and character that standard interpretations don’t? Finally, can you make a character discuss their doom with this kind of insightful clarity? (Of course not. But you can get a lot better if you pay close attention to how it’s done.) Note how Shakespeare keeps the entire discussion firmly rooted in vivid details!
Here’s a fascinating look at extrapolating a new story from an old favorite. Notice the tie-ins to the old plot and surprising but inevitable perspective on known plot elements. Can you approach your story from a completely different angle? From the angle of a minor character with their own story going on? Remember Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Note how giving other characters their own storylines adds to the wealth of subtle, telling detail in your protagonist’s story.
And from a recommendation by Maud Newton, here’s a study of metaphor showing we actually do think in imagistic association. If you translate all the common cliches and metaphors you can think of into vivid, concrete terms, how can you apply what you discover to your characters and their behavior?
Blow your own mind like a wad of bubble gum. (If you wind up scraping it off your nose, you went too far.)
We’ve started off with character. As it should be! Now let’s review the basics of storytelling. . .
Read the full essay on Pulp Rag.
Acceptance/Rejection. Two sides of the very same coin. Welcome to the publishing world.
Please note: Not, “Welcome to the writing world!”
Publishing—Writing. Writing—Publishing. Two different words. Two different activities. Two different universes.
There is one guaranteed way to avoid literary rejection, and that is not to seek literary acceptance. It’s easy, simple, and honorable. Since we’re all writing for our own sakes anyway, there is nothing on earth more straight-forward than producing the work you want to produce and going directly on to further adventures.
My son has five hard-bound 200-page chapter books on his shelf that I’ve written for him every Winter Solstice for the past five years. There’ll be another one this year.
Why aren’t I out there peddling those babies to agents? Are they not well-written? Are they not designed properly for their audience? Do I not think anyone but my son would ever love them? (Which he does—he re-reads them in their entirety every few months.)
No. They’re great books! We all enjoy them, almost as much as we enjoy blowing the minds of his friends’ parents when they see them. Someday I might even think about selling them. (Okay, one of them is with a children’s literary agent right now, but I keep forgetting.) But the purpose of writing them was to give my son terrific reading material, and when I’d achieved my purpose. . .guess what? I went directly on to further adventures.
You know why? Because I know a secret. I know how little publishing authors really get paid.
So when you’re clutching your chest and staggering across the room with that rejection letter crumpled in your hand, remember—you got yourself into this game. You can get yourself out again. And if you decide to stay, take to heart the advice of the professionals you will be dealing with about how this game is played:
Dealing with Rejection, by Gabrielle Harbowy of Dragon Moon Press in San Francisco, lists seven points to consider when staring dumbstruck and heartbroken at that rejection letter you just got out of your mailbox. She also lists most of the following links, which I will reproduce for you below in case you skip that part at the bottom of her post—a common and dastardly habit of blog-readers the world over—because they really are that important and she really did track these down herself:
In Dealing with Silence and Rejection, witer/director Earl Newton responds to the letter you want to write, crying abjectly, “But why. . .?”
Investment, by thriller writer Joe Konrath, lists eight things to do rather than write that letter to Earl Newton.
In The Art of Reading Rejection Letters, literary agent Nathan Bransford suggests some good might come of taking a hard look at that rejection letter (assuming it’s not a form rejection, which of course could mean anything), along with a reminder that agents aren’t “STUPID. Most of the time.”
Why It’s Hard to Tell the Whole Truth, by literary agent Rachelle Gardner, admits the ugly, secret truth behind the agent’s end of the dreaded rejection letter.
Finally, I’ve written a post on rejection, myself, which I let Laverne Daley re-post on her site for freelance writers, Words Into Print, and which I will direct you to here because Laverne has been immensely generous to me with her professional advice, and you all should be reading her: Handing Rejection.
You’re going to notice a common theme running through these articles: agents are not editors. They do not get paid to tell you how to make your manuscript publishable. And they don’t have time to do it free because they have—what do you know?—real paying jobs that eat up all their time. I’m not going to get your work published for you, and an agent is not going to tell you how to fix your story.
I can’t tell you how vital this distinction is in the game, friends: agents are not editors.
You’re going to get along a whole lot better with them both now that you know.
Let’s talk about sympathetic and unsympathetic characters.
Unsympathetic characters can be summed up in one word: boring. . .
Read the full essay on Pulp Rag.
I’m going to institute a new regular feature on this blog called: Linking to. Every week, I’ll find some blog of interest to fiction writers and talk a bit about it for your edification and entertainment.
I’m starting with pretty much my all-time favorite writing blog, which isn’t even for prose writers. It’s for screenplay writers. But I am telling you, this guy knows his onions:
Mystery Man On Film
Unfortunately, a month or so ago he stopped adding to this blog and moved to a new blog, which is fancier and has some heavy-duty (pretty attractive, actually) graphic shenanigans. It also has some fascinating stuff, but not as much yet:
But, fortunately, that means this first Linking to post gets to give you two links for the price of one!
Go to Mystery Man On Film and check out his Best Of posts. Holy shit. When I first stumbled on him, I blew a whole Sunday alone (my only writing time) reading these. I had to write to him and say, “Thank you for making me blow my entire writing day reading your stuff.” He wrote back a couple of weeks later, and he was heck of polite! Now I follow him on Twitter.
But why should novel and short story writers read up on how to write a movie? What does screenwriting have to do with fiction?
Read what he has to say about character development. He’s got one post on Mystery Man On Film about why character arc is a load of malarkey and another on Mystery Man about what he calls “reverse character arc.” Read what he has to say about “Sex in Screenwriting” on Mystery Man. I almost never agree to edit sex in my clients’ work, and he knows why.
Read what he has to say about storytelling structure. He takes apart three different movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark on Mystery Man On Film and both the new Farenheit 451 and the non-made Moneyball on Mystery Man, explaining exactly why scenes should be designed one way and not another.
Read what he has to say about exposition in context in his piece on Raiders on Mystery Man On Film. Read it again. Now read it AGAIN.
You ever wonder where I learn the stuff I know?
From people like Mystery Man.
“You are the most assertively confused individual I have ever seen in my life.”
—Adrienne Uphoff to her husband Jeff, personal conversation
Character. It’s the only reason anybody ever writes anything. . .
Read the full essay on Pulp Rag.
MILLLICENT G. DILLON, the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles, has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb.
BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan.
LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth.
SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway.
STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited his second novel, Memory of Water and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water.
ANIA VESENNY is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights.
TERISA GREEN is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with her to develop a new speculative fiction series.
CHRIS RYAN drew acclaim from the New Yorker for the hook to his novel Heliophobia. He is the author of poetry collection The Bible of Animal Feet from Farfalla Press. I edited Ryan’s debut novel The Ishmael Blade and worked with him to develop Heliophobia and his work-in-progress Pogue.
JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with her to develop and edit her memoir of reconciling her liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland.
In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.