Posts Tagged ‘agents’

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MFA or not?

April 13, 2015

Today I tried my best to study as a writer: I read a book about sentence construction, pulled out my highlighter, and did my best to discover the secrets of a sentence. Then, I fell asleep.

There are times when I lament the fact that I grew up in a world where MFA’s did not exist. If they did, I certainly was unaware, clueless about the world of fine arts. It wasn’t until after I’d worked in Boston, then founded my own business, and finally wrote my own companion piece that I realized people go to school to learn how to write. By that time, I had three kids under the age of five and going back to school was not an option. So, I read. I read and I read and I read. Then I went to a workshop and then another. I began to study blogs and authors’ websites. I went to more workshops. I began to edit and critique and finally, to teach.

The book on sentence structure wasn’t necessarily boring, but for me, I realized the best way to learn and improve my own writing was by reading other books within my genre. I studied books that I loved and even those I didn’t. I rewrote authors’ sentences, plagiarizing their rhythm, not to copy into my own work but to learn. And I did.

Not everyone needs an MFA. As the cliché goes—we all have our own path, a journey to follow. As a non-MFA graduate, I know that I’ll always be studying the craft of writing, forever a student. And, I’m okay with that. It’s a fabulous way to grow.

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Heart in Books

October 15, 2014

The story of my heart began and finished on a road trip to Taos, a writing oasis where I often work for short periods of time. Before this particular trip, I was pitching a bad manuscript and playing around with new starts for my next book. It was fall, and I wasn’t sure which project to begin so decided to ‘write some up’, a phrase I stole from a friend.

 

Julie, who commutes an hour to work, raises two kids, and knits beautiful sweaters in all her free time, told me that when she begins a project, she ‘knits some up’ and begins 4-5 different swatches to help her decide which piece to do. What? I’ve tried knitting. It’s not easy. My pieces look like distorted little mats of yarn, resembling nothing; while Julie’s foot-long ensembles are gorgeous, not that I’m comparing. However, once she decides which piece she likes best; she unravels the others. What?

 

Surely she could use them for something, I said. She shook her head, laughing at me as if I knew nothing. “It’s part of my process,” Julie said. I can’t tell what yarn feels right, blends together, or looks best until I see enough of it to know.”

 

“And it doesn’t bother you—tossing the remainder?”

 

“Not at all,” she said. “They’ve served their purpose—without them, I wouldn’t know.”

 

And like that, I got it.

 

As a writer, I do the exact same thing. I write, and I toss. I write, and I toss. I write, and I toss. Back when I was a beginner, this was no easy task, and in fact, I couldn’t do it. Rejections do serve a purpose. They make you look at your writing and your journey closely with a critical eye. After a number of rejections, I began a ‘dump’ file on my computer, and when I’d written lovely, witty, AND brilliant sections that sadly needed to leave the page, I stuffed them in a file—just in case I wanted to use them again some day. Or not.

 

Before leaving for Taos, I’d written up a few starts, new story ideas to sample, still unsure which one to tackle. After driving about three hours, one of my closest and oldest friends called. Unusual. When I answered, she was hysterical. Her sister had discovered that her young teen daughter was cutting. Cath had no kids herself, and her sister and parents lived 1800 miles away, but they were a close family. We talked. She felt better. And then I remembered her dad. We’d grown up together, and her dad was a tough, kind-hearted SOB; determined, right, and very, very religious. I asked if he knew. He did. Apparently he was praying for his granddaughter and was also, praying with her, over her head, almost speaking in tongues. I hung up and couldn’t get the vision out of my head. There was a story in there somewhere.

 

I stopped for lunch and checked my emails. A different friend had sent me a link to a Rolling Stones article about a rash of suicides in Minnesota; the district of the Tea Party conservative and religious representative, Michele Bachmann. The article’s cover shot showed teenagers holding candles at a vigil. In total, nine gay teens had committed suicide.

 

My brother was gay. He told me so in an airport parking lot when I was 20-years-old. Ten years my senior, Kirk lived and worked in Portland, and during college I took advantage of $29 deals to fly as a student and visit. It was how we got to know each other as adults. Because I was clueless about his sexuality and my parents had not wanted me to know when I was younger, Kirk chose to tell me in the airport parking lot. His words went something like this:

 

“I just stopped at the pet store on my way here but the mice have already escaped. They’re somewhere in the car, but we need to find them, because I can’t leave my new boa constrictor with nothing to eat. He lives in the bathroom and will thrash around the medicine cabinet if we don’t, and we’re leaving for the coast in an hour to stay at a cabin with my boyfriend and his two kids.”

 

Wait. Wait. Wait.

 

Did he just say a boa constrictor lived in his only bathroom—the one I shared?

 

Wait. Wait.

 

I had to get in a car with two loose mice? Not happening.

 

Wait.

 

Did he say we were going to the coast with his boyfriend and his kids?

 

I stopped and didn’t speak. I didn’t know where to begin. It was quintessential Kirk.

Fortunately, Kirk found the mice without my assistance; he removed the snake whenever I used the bathroom, and we did go to the coast. His boyfriend was awesome, and so were his kids. Two years later Kirk told me he had HIV and two years later, he died.

I read the Rolling Stones article with tears streaming down my face. My brother was brave, one of the many gay men who’d died from AIDS in the early 1990s. Twenty-five years later, kids were still struggling with sexual identity, religious rights and wrongs, and suicide? Enough already. My mind reeled for the rest of the trip.

Because both magic and trauma happen in threes, when I got to the Mabel Dodge House there was a message from my mom. My cousin had died. I didn’t know my cousin well; she was much older and an alcoholic who’d had a rough life full of secrets. Her brother was the last living relative on my dad’s immediate side of the family. Because my dad had recently and suddenly died, I couldn’t ask him about all his family unknowns. I was tired of secrets, and even though ‘recently died’ actually meant that my dad had been gone a year and a half already, I missed him.

The three messages proved to be a trifecta of sorts, and I began to ‘write some up.’

For Taos, it was cold. The sun had dipped under heavy clouds, and rain fell. I’d brought all the wrong clothes, but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t stop writing. I wrote for three days, never seeing the sun. The setting played with my mood, as it does in all stories, and gave me its own gift.

In the beginning, UNDONE was a different book. In fact, it was titled VOICES, told by Lily who battled voices in her head, depression, hundreds of secrets, and suicidal tendencies, in addition to everything else. It was WAY too depressing. I worked on it for months and finally pitched it to a few agents. Rejected. Reworked, workshopped, and pitched it again; resulting in lots of interest but ultimately more rejection.

Struggling with knowing what was wrong, I applied to two advanced writing workshops, one taught by Mat Johnson and the other, Nova Ren Suma. Accepted to both, I applied for a grant and attended both. They were nothing short of extraordinary, exactly what I needed to start something new and more importantly, to complete UNDONE. I headed back to Taos to find what Mat insisted needed to be found in every scene: the heart of the story, and under Nova’s direction, I found the book of my heart on every page.

Again, Taos was cool and cloudy, even for August. It didn’t matter. I wrote. I ate. I wrote some more, and I got it.

For months, I’d been plagued with questions about what was wrong with my book: what was it missing, why had agents asked for fulls and then turned it down, how does one know when it’s REALLY done? I asked everyone: mentors, friends, and other writers. Of course, no one had the answer that I needed. But at 11:55 p.m. on August 12, I sat on my tiny twin bed at the Mabel Dodge House, and I knew. Aside from my own minor edits and agent/editor critiques; it was ready and right and beautiful.

I’d found the story of my heart and the heart in every scene.

The odd thing is, now I don’t mind so much what happens to UNDONE; maybe an agent or two will be interested, maybe an editor will want it, maybe I’ll self-publish, maybe I’ll read it to the cat.

But it’s done; mine and complete.

 

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WRITEONCON

August 12, 2014

If you write for kids and teens and want to take your writing to a new level—check out WriteOnCon: a fantastic FREE on-line conference, held every August. Did I say free? Yes, indeedy.

Loads of authors, agents, and editors participate in the conference, and if you register (for free); you can participate in interactive sessions. If time is an issue, download interviews, articles, and read transcripts from panel discussions on your own time. This is why we LOVE the internet!

Writing conferences play an important role for a serious writer. If you’re not able to attend a conference in person, check out what’s online. Besides offering valuable information about the industry, WriteOnCon offers networking opportunities and new ideas.

This year’s  on-line (free) conference is August 26-27.

You don’t have anything to lose by checking it out. Remember– it’s free! Free, free, free, I tell you!

Website: www.writeoncon.com

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Pitch Checklist

October 21, 2013

I’m soon sending agents queries for my YA manuscript. It’s a daunting process. Am I ready? Is it good enough? Will someone like it? My answer to all of the above is YES. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from wishing upon a star.

Here’s a checklist for the query letter:

-catchy (but not corny) opening

-simple yet sophisticated sentence structure

-strong voice

-brief synopsis

-book comparison and word count

-correct spelling and grammar

-professional credentials

-thank you

As for my manuscript, my checklist included:

-unique voice

-character growth

-plot development

-mystery and intrigue

-opening hook

-strong climax

-developed subplots

-edit and revision (like 200 times!)

Wish me luck!

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Platform

March 2, 2013

 

If you’ve attended a writer’s conference, you’ve no doubt heard the word, platform, tossed around like popcorn at a movie theater.

So, what is a platform?

In short, a platform is your resume. It is a concise and powerful stand about you. What makes you worthy of writing this particular book? In addition to a list of accomplishments and credentials, a platform can include passion. Why gives you the drive to write this book?

It’s best to include your platform in the last paragraph of your query. However, be careful that your platform does not include too much information. For example, do not mention the fact that you are a parent and your kids loved your book, or that your mother thought it would become the next Newberry. On the other hand, if you are writing a story about animals and happen to be a vet, that would be worth mentioning. If you volunteer at a zoo, include that information as well. If you’ve won a contest or been published, certainly include those credentials.

How are you an expert in this topic or genre and what writing experience do you have? Answer that, and you’ll have your platform.

 

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What do you do when an agent wants to see more?

September 9, 2012

You query. You get lots of requests from agents who want to see more of your work. What to do?

First, congratulate yourself. Seriously. This doesn’t always happen. Even previously published authors can get turned down. So, if more than one agent comes sniffing at your door, pat yourself on the back. Something has gone right. It might be your query, it might be your first chapter, or it could be the whole dang package. Just celebrate.

Second, rank the agents that have asked for more of your work. Who is your number one choice? It’s important to realize that  you do have some say in the matter. Choose your top two agents and send them an email telling them you have other agents requesting material (but only say this if it is true, never lie). Hopefully, you’ll hear from the agents quickly and can set up a phone conversation. Prepare for the talk just like you would a professional interview. Make a list of questions and be ready to talk about yourself and your writing. The phone conversation can be telling. You’ll either hit it off, or you won’t. From there, you can make a decision and decide who you want to represent your work.

Sadly, the agents who’ve requested more information may say no. This happens. Don’t break every pencil in the house. You had a nibble, and that alone is worth something.

Keep at it. Keep at it. Keep at it.

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Conference Time

March 18, 2012

If you’re thinking of attending a writer’s conference this summer, now’s the time to register. Although writing workshops occur year-round, the majority take place during the heat of the year.

How does one decide which conferences are worthy of attending? I’ve made a checklist to help narrow your search.

-Find conferences in your area. This will help cut travel costs and support your

local community.

-Look for a workshop specific to your genre. For example, there’s a huge

“Thrillerfest” in New York City. If you write for children, the national SCBWI

conference is held the first week of August in Los Angeles. A Christian

Conference for writers is held in February. There’s something for everyone.

-Research where your favorite agents, editors, and authors are speaking. This is

your chance to meet them.

-Ask other writers for recommendations.

-Remember: a conference is not a vacation. Be prepared to work!

Google away and jump in. If you are serious about improving your writing or getting published, a workshop is essential.