Tackling The Problem of the Agent Query Letter

I agree Charlie, I completely agree...There are no guarantees in the world of writing.

You may feel after completing that dream novel that you are standing in a packed football stadium ready to kick the field goal. And this should be an easy one! You already did the hard work bringing the ball this close down the field, right? That was those hours writing and outlining and planning until late in the morning. And in all of your dreams, this part of the writing career was easy. It always is. The field goal is right there!

The sad thing is that in reality the holder with the ball is a little bit like Lucy from Peanuts. Which makes you something akin to Charlie Brown.

Now before you lose hope with that analogy, let me remind you that Charlie Brown actually did get to kick the football once or twice. Granted, one of those times was in a TV special and he was invisible thanks to Snoopy and some happenstance magic. But that is how things sometimes work in the world of literature as well. Sometimes you need that bit of luck… or a dog with a magic wand.

The first step to achieving your dream, the field goal, is getting that agent. They are the gatekeepers to the big publishing houses. Here are some suggestions to consider before you start running up to the ball.

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The Writing Rule I Hate

Broken PencilI need to begin with Diane Rehm.

See, one of my little obsessions is The Diane Rehm Show and I listen to her about four to five hours a week. I even get the podcast, and when I am helping one of my children to fall asleep, usually I am listening to her take a caller on my phone’s headphones. And, to let you in on a secret, when I play “interview” in my mind she or Terry Gross are the ones asking the questions. I’m not the only person who does this, right? You are out someplace and suddenly an interview forms in your head. Before you know it, you are saying aloud: “Well, Diane, when I first came up with the idea…”

Okay, that might have been too much information. Moving on!

Anyway, a few years ago she had on a popular writer. I can’t remember who the author was, but this author’s ego was proudly on the march. You would’ve thought she had written the next Ulysses and to add to the size of her enlarging head a caller called her, praised her, talked about how much she loves her books and then asked her what her advice would be for a new writer.

The author replied that the golden rule of writing is “Write what you know.” She then went on to explain why this rule is so important and as I began to roll my eyes and prepared to finally turn off the episode, Diane did something utterly amazing.

The grand Mrs. Rehm interrupted the author and debated the author on that rule. She asked how could that be true. JK Rowling, for example, doesn’t know any wizards and has never been to Hogwarts or have magic (Yes, Diane referenced Harry Potter!). If Rowling only wrote what she knew we wouldn’t have that wonderful series, Diane argued.

If I was in the studio that day I would have given her a hug and a kiss. Continue reading

Our Dangerous Fixation With Genres

Revolutionary SnoopyThe writing world is full of factions.

Each of these factions, have their own heroes (or leaders), their own book clubs, their own book dealers, their own sites, their own rules, their own readers, etc.

Sometimes I like to imagine them as armies, each with their own distinct style and strengths and weaponry.

  • The romance army is nothing more than a collection of men with long flowing hair and amazing abs. There is a good chance that their swords might be a phallic thing though, consider yourself warned.
  • The paranormal army is made up of brooding men who may be vampires… or werewolves… or zombies… or ghosts. Whatever the case, they are dreamy.
  • In the YA ranks you will find confused teenagers with an overwhelming sense of destiny. They will be looking for something and once they find it, watch out.
  • Yes, the scifi army is full of little green men, but over the course of the battle we will all learn something about humanity back here at home.
  • And you do not want to see the horror army. Seriously, just turn and run!

The funny thing is that it is more than the publishers and bookstores that have latched on to the use of factions or, more accurately, genres to organize our art. We writers do it as well as so many of us proudly declare which army we fit into. Our people.

Twitter is full of writers that introduce themselves first by name and then by their genre. And the funny thing is when you search through their followers as well as those that they follow, they are also of the same genre. Their army, their rules…

Join us. Continue reading

I get James Joyce… Well, no, not really

James Joyce is the Mount Everest for English majors.  We don’t want to climb the damn mountain but if you want to be a real mountaineer, well, you have got to climb that damn mountain.

That is how I see James Joyce and his library of creations.

I heard it once argued that if it wasn’t for the demands of the English college classroom Joyce would not be in print today. I was initially stunned by that concept, but as the years progress I begin to believe it more and more.

He is not someone who people pick up for a little “light” reading, and his characters and plots are not exactly the most moving. Yet, what Joyce does have is incredible creativity on the page, with language, characterization and, of course, his influence on stream of consciousness as a writing style.

I don’t want anyone to think I am dismissing Joyce. Hardly, I think he should continue to be required reading for English majors and writers (especially those that want to do something artistic and new as compared to pulp everyday fiction which flood our bookstores each year).  He is the granddaddy of avant garde writing, especially around modern literature. I get all that… It’s just I find him… well… boring and frustrating.

Yes, if asked to describe Joyce I would probably use words like “influential” and “modern” and “avant garde,” but in my heart I would probably be screaming “too smart for his own good.” Continue reading