Sunday, March 26, 2017

You guyz are pretty damn clever.

Why I thought I could confuse and confuddle you for very long I do not know.
Just when I thought I had the perfect contest prompt word that no one would ever guess, yup, along comes Lisa Bodenheim at 8:13am (let's just remember that's 73 MINUTES after the post went up) who guessed my secret, special, sure to bewilder prompt: forti.

So, the fourth prompt word is forti, brought to you by Megan V.

Are you keeping track?

Just to up the tormenting stakes, here's the prize for Contest #100

Some of  you have suggested some strange new twists to the contest but we're not going down that road. The loopier the rules, the loopier the results. It's like playing poker with weird wild cards. It doesn't test your skill so much as your luck, and frankly, I like to read good writing, not crazypants stuff. Although, some of your crazypants stuff has been damn fine work.

All this to say: the usual rules will apply. There's one judge (me). The contest will be open the usual amount of time, BUT it might take me longer to read and post the results.

As to WHEN it will open, that's not settled yet.

Fire away.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I can hear your yowls of protest even before this is posted

Clearly some of you have been nipping into the cooking sherry at breakfast; many suggestions have the whiff of spent decorum and what-the-hell, do-your-worst bravado. In other words, laying the gauntlet for  #100 to be the craziest contest EVER:

To wit:
Casey Karp 11:45am
But if you really wanted to make contest #100 special for the participants, "anthropomorphic" wouldn't be a bad choice.
Kate Higgins 11:56am
Can't do Hooptedoodle huh???
Oh, well something more mundane then;

I'll choose Casey Karp's "kippled"

(Oh geez, I just sounded like the sorting hat in "Harry Potter"!)

Timothy Lowe 6:21pm
Course, I think janet should throw us all a curveball and scramble the words. I know too many of you devious mo fos have already worked out half an entry.

There were some really good suggestions:

But the winner has to be: Megan V 8:50am
My vote goes with syndrome(from Hank's entry), if only because 1. I want to see how Reider's try to Forti that one and 2. Syndrome is the villain in The Incredibles.

You'll notice NONE of those good suggestion words appear in her comment. So, guess which word I picked and post it in the comment column here.)

PS And don't for a second think I didn't consider using this lovely comment as the prompt and asking "what happens next?":

IJ has decided sleep is for those who can't use milk like an upper. She's the infant equivalent of the college kid with a coffee IV and too-big ambitions. More milk, more Yertle, more snuggles. She looks like she's napping but I know better. She's just resting her jaw.

Did someone call fo yowling?

Friday, March 24, 2017

A new and diabolical way to torment you!

Nothing cheers me up faster than finding new and even more evil ways to torment writers. And the caption contest provided me with same! I feel MUCH better. (Yes, that sound you hear is a shark cackling madly)

First things first. Herewith the results (so to speak)

Brigid 9:11am
There is a tiny baby on my lap. She is wearing a sleeper covered in anthropomorphic milk and cookies, and making goat bleats so noisily that she keeps dropping her breakfast and getting outraged.

Brigid's new baby, Ilaria Jacqueline, makes me happy just being here in the world. For starters of course, she's got a J-name, and that makes her special. But I also like the idea of one more reader coming in to the world.  Of course, she won't be allowed to read this blog till she's 32 years old, but for right now it's just enough to know she's here, hearing great literature being read to her! (And by great literature I mean good books, NOT this blog!)

Casey Karp 12:11pm
fomerly feral feline

I love that phrase. It just falls off the tongue purrfectly!

Kitty 8:17am
Henry: “Ever wonder what it’s like
outside this apartment? How about
Pablo: “No. When she hauls out
the cat carrier, I
exit. I hide under her
on top of the frig. I
don’t ever want to
leave this sanctuary. {stretch} Not

No explanation required of why I love this one, right?

french sojoun 10:24am
Henry: "Hey Pablo, wanna play guess my sickness?"
Pablo: "No!"
Henry: "Damn U."
Pablo: "Seriously?"
Henry: "Fuk'n A."
Pablo: "That's classy."
Henry: "Ass O"
Pablo: "Tourette Syndrome!"
Henry: "Shit-E guess."
Pablo: "Grow up, Henry."
Henry: "Fuk'n I_diot."
Pablo: "Alright, I give up.
Henry: "Irritable Vowel Syndrome."
Pablo: "You wasted all my time for that? Now shut up and let me finish watching 'To Kill A Mockingbird'."
Henry: "You know they never do show you how, don't you?"

The only thing I would change about this is leaving out the last two lines.
Otherwise it's a pretty hilarious little story.

Donnaeve 11:18am
"This TV watching thing doesn't seem all that bad today."
"Huh? It's turned off, ya know."

This is exactly how I feel about TV and pretty much all media right now.

Casey Karp 3:46pm
A young man is reading on the bus, occasionally casting a lingering glance at the attractive member of his preferred sex seated next to him. Finally, he closes the book, and asks "Do you like Kipling?"

"I don't know," the AMoHPS replies, with an oh-so-cute look of befuddlement. "I've never kippled."
There are a million versions of this joke, but I've never heard this one and it cracked me up.
Some of the delight comes from the personal twist Casey put on it (AMoHPS)

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli 3:08pm
That dumb cat sitter thinks we're called Pablo and Henry. Won't even give us our fix.

Let's teach her a lesson. You knock the plant off the table and I'll spray the book.

Yeah, then she'll know who Iceberg and Slim are.

Somehow the two cats being named Iceberg and Slim just cracked me up.
Hooligan cats!

Ginger MollyMarilyn 4:50pm

The weird scene going on in my house right now: A platypus getting it on with a rabbit. Picture that for a second, it may be a small escape, alleviating your worries.

There's really nothing to say about this entry other than I'm still laughing.
Well, I guess I should say "I wish you'd gotten pictures!"

RosannaM 5:37pm
QOTKU's dictionary's definition of gaze.


Now, on to the new and diabolical way to torment you!
The prize for this contest is that the winning entry will provide the next prompt word for #100.
And I can hear you all shrieking and saying "oh my god, she IS going to pick Hooptedoodle, I knew it!"

But no. I'm going to let you choose your own adventure torment! From the entries above, pick the word that you think should be Word #4 for Contest #100.

Remember, a good prompt word is generally short, has more than one meaning, is not by definition pornographic or a swear word (although any word can take on those characteristics depending on context!)

Post your suggestions in the comment column. Include the entry writer with the word too, if you would.

Ready? Set? Go!
(I'm going to close the comments later today and tabulate the results so don't dawdle!)

Comments closed.
We now move to Round Two of the torment (tomorrow's blog post)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What are they thinking?

Pablo and Henry

I had one of those fierce days yesterday; the kind that leave me clutching a bourbon bottle and showing the cabbie my passport so he could see my address; no longer sure of my own name let alone where I lived.

Ah yes, a day of meetings and proposal revisions.

At 8:21pm I realized I had not even started a blog post, let alone written or revised one.
Writing a blog post was beyond my grasp at that point. Beyond by a country mile.

So I hunted around for content and found the pet photos from last August.
There's nothing more restorative than a stern cat gaze (see what I did?) is there?

So, here are Pablo and Henry.
Tell us what they're thinking.

Post in the comment column of this blog post.
Comments are closed, results are posted!

I'll be under the duvet watching The Great British Baking Show purely for medicinal purposes.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Greenwich Mean Time minus HOW many?

Did I sabotage myself?

These past few months, I've been querying my MS with a modicum of success. Out of the 50 or so queries I sent out, I've received 15 full requests, and all but three (still pending) came back with the same rejection--"Love the voice, but didn't fall in love with the novel." I haven't really thought about a detail I mention in my query until I read your blog post on lackluster sales, in which you also talk about hands-on bookselling and touring. I'm not from the US. Never even visited. I live in a small European country and mentioned this in my query's bio section.

I know my writing's probably lacking since all these requests turned into rejections. But I'm wondering if one of the agents was on the fence about offering rep, saw that I'm not from the States, and that info tilted the decision into the dreaded rejection realm. I'm asking because my next MS is almost done (get published or die trying) and I want to know whether I should keep my whereabouts to myself for the next batch of queries. Do agents take that into account when making a decision?

I don't care if you live on Mars.
(but, if you do, query me NOW.)
If I see an address that is non-US the only thing I care about is if I can pay you, and making sure you understand we bill you for postage if we have to ship stuff to you.

However, you're anxious about this and no amount of "don't worry" from me will really assuage that.

On the next round of queries leave out your country of residence.
(Your email should also be a straight gmail address, not or or whatever your suffix is. FelixButtonweezer@Kale.Ka(rkoon)

You know what the real problem is though. You told me: I know my writing's probably lacking since all these requests turned into rejections.

Something about your novel isn't working. It might be the writing, but it may the lack of plot, or tension or pacing or character development. The plot might be,  at best,  a rehash of any Starsky and Hutch, or Dark Shadows episode, or worse 7 Magnificent Gladiators (which is possibly the worst movie ever made, but at midnight on Saturday is a howlfest of fun.)

Before you query, you might want to find a prickly-pear beta reader. Someone to tell you what's not working, and won't pull any punches. Not the easiest thing to see (and I'm the absolute worst at getting critiqued, let me tell ya) but if something is not working, better to find out now, before you query.

And I really hope you live in Andorra.
I've always wanted to go there.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

woop and wharf

A comment from Susan on yesterday's blog post prompted this one today.
"One of my favorite pieces of writing advice is from Elmore Leonard: Take out everything that sounds like writing. Here's an example "his gaze wandered to the television."

This gave me pause. Dialogue, character development, and descriptions are my strong suit, but I cannot for the life of me get a proper handle on action sentences like this, particularly when they're surrounding dialogue.

How would you propose a fix for this sentence, if it's not a throwaway line and the character had to look at the television for plot purposes?

Words are your tools. You have to know what they mean, and sometimes what you think they mean isn't right.  Gaze for example.

Gaze means to look intently, steadily. Thus a gaze by definition doesn't wander (ie move randomly.)

And "his gaze wandered to the television" is clunky. He looked at the television is better, or just the television blared.

What I drew from the query is that the writer did not know the difference between "gaze" and "look."

It's an easy mistake.

I have a couple words that I err on. You've all seen me write "woop and warf" which is not only not correct, it's really REALLY wrong.  Somehow I have woop and warf describing the weave of a rug in place of warp and weft. I have no idea how woop and warf got stuck in my mind, but it's taken some pretty pointed side-eye gazes (!!) from the readers here to flag that phrase as one I need to verify before hitting "publish" on a post.

"Reading the dictionary" is the punchline to more than one joke, but as a writer, reading the dictionary is actually a pretty good use of time.

Monday, March 20, 2017

6 Reasons you heard no

1. Grammar mistakes I haven't seen since 4th grade.
How you will avoid this: If you know you're weak in the fundamentals of sentence construction, take a class. Proper grammar is essential. You don't have to use it, but you have to know it. And if you use bad grammar it should be on porpoise. Like for a laugh. Or to make a point. Or to convey a character's voice.

2. The premise of the novel was so distasteful I wouldn't even want to know the writer, let alone work with him/her.
How you will avoid this:  Hard to say. You might run the idea past some readers and watch their reaction. Otherwise resign yourself to Lysol-scented replies.

3. You flat out told me you disregarded the query guidelines.
The problem isn't that you did so; I get queries every day that do. It's that you added "I don't have time to do this kind of folderol" which tells me you're impatient and convinced you're right about everything (including stuff you don't know anything about.) This bodes ill for your career path in a new industry. Make no mistake about it: being published is a job. Being a writer might be about art, but once you want to be published, it's a business. Would you hire a person who flat out told you the job application was beneath them?

How you will avoid this: if you don't follow the directions, keep it to yourself. If you think agents are witless, mercurial, and savage beasts, put here on this earth solely to torment writers, well you're right of course, but keep it out of your query. In other words, pretend to be a polite person I'd want to work with.

4. Misused words/homonyms
I literally stop reading your work if I see more than three of these in the pages you include with your query. I've ranted about this at length in other blog posts. No matter how good your story is, I can't read it if I'm frequently drawn out of the narrative by thinking "wait, she means alley here, not ally."

How you will avoid this: Have a beta reader who could double as a grammar velociraptor. Pay someone if you have to.  Spell czech Will Not Help You!

5. Pages are not compelling
Your pages need to entice me to read more. It doesn't have to be with some sort of wildly dramatic event, although that usually works pretty well. This is more like you create a world I want to see more of, a world I want to explore with you.  Dennis Lehane is a master of this.

How you will avoid this: study a novel that you love. When I say study, I mean close study, as in typing it out in its entirety or reading it aloud yourself.  Watch for how the writer entices you to read more. Then do that. All great artists learn from those who came before. What you're doing is the equivalent of art students sitting in museums re-creating the paintings of the great masters.

One of my favorite pieces of writing advice is from Elmore Leonard: Take out everything that sounds like writing.  Here's an example "his gaze wandered to the television."  

6. Your query was brilliant; your pages not so much.
A good query entices me to read the pages you include. Those pages have to be as good or BETTER than the query. I don't request a manuscript if the pages don't entice me, no matter how good the query is.

How you will avoid this part one: Have someone read your pages. If they ask to read more, you're on the right track. If they don't, you know you need to do some work.

How you will avoid this part two: don't ever send a prologue if it's markedly different in tone and voice from the book you describe in your query. It will just confuse me. Send it ONLY with a full manuscript request.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Do current events affect what editors buy?

In your years as QOTKU, have you see the tenor of publishing change as presidential administrations change? My agent told me last month that the fiction market has been tough — and she expects it to be tougher — because a lot of the folks in New York have taken a bit of a (possibly justified) apocalyptic view of things the last two months. I’ve seen the same in a lot of the twitter feeds and blogs I follow, and I wondered whether you’ve seen current events affect what editors buy. It sounds obvious, but given the lag time between idea conception and a book appearing on the shelves (and the much shorter attention span of the buying public), have you seen a consistent correlation between topics that are talked about and what gets bought?

But it's not presidential administrations, it's broader than that. Or at least it was until this current administration became the only thing on anyone's hot topic list.

After 9/11 there was a real lag before we could pitch anything about 9/11. It was too raw for anything but serious non-fiction, and even that was a pretty tough sell.  I still remember weeping openly as I read the 9/11 Commission Report on the subway. Since this is NYC no one noticed, but I never took the book outside my apartment again.

I didn't consider anything that involved the assassination of president during the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency. Threats to his life increased three-fold compared to Bush 43, Clinton and Bush 41. I didn't want to be mentioned in the People article about where some nutcase got his ideas.

And we're certainly seeing a sea-change since November. There's no market for satire. Editors aren't looking for much of anything that's grim. There's enough grim (at least to their way of thinking) on the front page of the Times.

I think we're going to see an uptick in escapist fiction.

And I think we're going to see a lot of Resistance Fiction, as writers begin to talk about what this new zeitgeist feels like to them.

But the bottom line is you can NOT write for trends. Write the book you want to write. If it doesn't sell now, one thing I know for sure: markets turn.  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Publishing with an eye for maintaining a private identity

Pseudonyms! In the era of online white pages and easy doxxing I'd prefer to protect my real identity as much as possible. I've scoured the blog for hints at what the business side of pseudonyms looks like. You've mentioned that you can register copyright, open bank accounts, and receive 1099s to a business name. Are there any other business-side considerations, or is it just a matter of how to set up payment?

Alternatively, if you keep all of your finances/paychecks under your real name and just use the pseudonym on book jackets and social media, would this undermine the attempt at privacy? Meaning, are there any public record aspects to publishing that would connect the identities?

You're really talking apples and oranges here. Protecting your identity to preserve your privacy is easy if you never tell anyone anything other than your "nom de guerre" and the concomitant EIN.


Doxxing, which is malevolent, and often done by people with evil on their mind is a whole different ball game. Those people do things like trace your IP address, monitor where and when you post things (including comments) and use the information to harass you.

That's something no pseudonym or EIN will protect you from.

As for public records, there are a million ways someone can find you from a publishing deal. A publisher has your home address, if only to ship you books. And your local paper runs "local author does well; secures book contract" yadda yadda, and those stories are searchable. And if your agent and editor are calling you Felix, and your nom de guerre is Colin Smith, I guarantee you, someone will slip up at some point.

I don't want to make light of your security concerns. It's entirely possible you're dodging a stalker or ex-spouse who has made threats that should be taken seriously.

But, absent that kind of thing, most people simply won't care enough to stalk you or harass you.

I've had authors (particularly back in my pr days) who had to worry about stalkers, or travelled with security.  Basic precautions were the norm. Only once did we need the state police accompanying us to a signing. And of course, Mrs. Rosyln Carter was accompanied by a Secret Service detail, but that was again, just business as usual.

One of the leading writers in the crime field writes under a pen name. Everyone knew and no one cared for years. I can still remember getting a query from a writer who told me, quite proudly, that he knew Nom de Plume by his "real name."  I instantly rejected the querier as an asshat I didn't want to work with. The querier revealed himself to be someone who knew "secret" (it was hardly a secret) information and passed it along to a total stranger (me) in order to make himself look important.

Being a writer involves opening yourself to the public.If you want people to read your books, you must assume some of them will be curious about you. It comes with the territory.  Whether you want to venture into that territory is up to you.

Friday, March 17, 2017

I want to be an agent

I am  interested in becoming a literary agent. Though, I do not work in publishing and do not have the ability to at this moment. I live overseas for my husband's career. I have a love for children's books and would pursue repping authors/illustrators. I have my Bachelor's degree in English and my career work in finance. Is there any position I could obtain to help gain experience in this career field, specifically virtually? Should I just go for it, or put the dream on hold until we are located back in the U.S.?
The first question I ask when people say "I want to be a literary agent" is "what do you think literary agents do?"

It will come as no surprise to you, I'm sure, that people don't know.
Some years back there was a spate of eager beaver youngsters who hung out their shingles as agents cause they'd seen agents talking on Twitter and their jobs sounded fun. Cupcakes! Reading manuscripts! Terrifying writers! (oh wait, that last one was  just me.)

The first thing you need to find out is what literary agents do.
The ONLY way to do that is intern with an agency.
It's very hard to do that remotely.
Some agencies do have remote internships, but the ONLY thing you'll be doing most likely is reading.

And reading is about 5% of my job.

My job is selling, and then helping authors stay sold.
Which means that you better know how to cold call people.
And you better know how to pitch projects.
And you'd better know how to manage an author's expectations for when things go south.
And if you're really good at your job (which I hope you want to be) you'll know what to do when your author has four published books and editors aren't interested in looking at #5.

And you better know the market. If authors have to read 100 books in their category to be current, agents should have read 1000. And that's just before you walk in the door.

What do you know about book production? Do you know how illustrators are paid? How they split advances and royalties with writers? How do you introduce an illustrator? And to whom?

Agenting is not an entry level job.
There's no way to do it well unless you have some sort of background that will make editors take you seriously.

You can have the best project in the world, but if an editor doesn't open your email or return your call cause they don't have a clue who you are, you can't sell something.

And yes, it's gotten a LOT harder to get an editor's attention in the last ten years.

The one thing you should NOT do is "just go for it."
You don't know what you don't know and any author you sign will suffer for it.
If you want to be an agent, that fact alone will dissuade you because being an agent is about putting the writer first. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

How do I stay published with lackluster sales?

I am a published author (4 books published by major houses) and have a poor sales record. My agent has shopped my last two manuscripts without any offers or real interest from editors. Is it me, or is it my manuscripts? When editors are pitched books by authors with lackluster sales, is there any hope? Or would it be advisable to pitch the book under a pseudonym, as if I were a debut author?

The first rule of Real World of Publishing is this:
Selling a book is easy; Staying published isn't easy at all.

I repeat this to disbelieving interns and agents every single year. After they've been in the trenches for a couple years they slink into my office and  hiss "yanno, I thought you were just an old curmudgeon, but you really were right about that." Then we have a drink. Or ten.

But I digress.

Since I know your work, and like it, it's not your books.
It's your sales record.

A new name is only going to help you once, if that.

You are now at an important junction in your professional writing life.
How hard are you willing to work to stay published?
If you only want to write books and not do a lot of marketing, you're going to take a different path than if you want to stay published by a large publisher. Think of it as stepping down to the minor leagues to keep playing baseball, or retiring from the majors.

To keep playing in the majors you're going to need to build your market.

If you resent this, and think it's not fair, I don't fault you. It isn't fair. But fair plays no part in success. If life were fair, every child would be above average and health care would be free. [And Colin Smith's eldest daughter would be my live-in pastry chef while she attended the conservatory.]

It's incumbent on you to SHOW editors that those lackluster sales are a thing of the past.
You build a mailing list. You build a robust public presence. You have articles in other outlets
that build your name recognition.

Lackluster sales plague 85% of the published authors. If you want to get out of that crowd and stay published, it's doable. It's just YOU have to do it.

Generally you'll start with a marketing plan plan (oops!).  Marketing is not something you need to devote an hour a day to for five years. 10-20 minutes a day will work just fine. The trick is consistency.

One of the most successful writers I've ever met is J.A.Jance. She worked her way to the top of her category, and right on to the NYT Bestseller List through her own indomitable efforts. I have the utmost admiration and respect for her. She was a relentless networker.

My very favorite JA Jance story takes place on one of her  book tours in Portland. I casually mentioned a new Barnes and Noble was opening at the Tanasbourne Mall in a week or so. Well! Nothing would do but that we trekked out there, knocked on the door, introduced her (well, me too) and inquired if they had her most current book. Well, yes they did, and sign she did, and thus when the store opened to the public, autographed copies of her book were on hand.

I saw the tour book she kept. It had the name of what seemed like every bookstore up and down the I-5 corridor, the name of the manager, the book buyer, the event planner. She knew EVERYONE. And those bookstore people knew her too.

Now, that kind of hands-on bookselling and touring doesn't take place much any more. The networking is largely on social media. BUT there's no substitute for personal contact, and if you've visited the 50 bookstores nearest your house, introduced yourself as a local author, picked an indie to be your home store (the one you direct people to for signed copies etc) you're well on your way to jumpstarting your career. No, it's not writing. It's not plotting. It's not making sure your characters are three dimensional. But it IS as necessary to a writing career as a terrific novel.

The only question now is, do you want to do this?
Or rather, I know you don't want to do this, cause hardly anyone does, but are you WILLING to do this to keep your career from ending?

It's a tough question that requires some real soul searching.
No one can answer it for you.
No one can guarantee the results.
And it's not failure to decide you want to spend your time and creative energy doing things a different way now. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Too much of a good thing

Please help me NOT SCREW UP.

After the better part of a year of querying, I have reached the revise and resubmit stage with an agent who talked with me on the phone about the revisions she wants, and exchanged several e-mails with me about it. I just sent off the final, and am now waiting to hear.

Now for the problem. Just before the R&R happened for Project #1 (a comic mystery), I had just sent out the first queries for Project #2 (topical upmarket women's fiction). I don't want to ruin what may be my only actual chance at representation for #1, but I also don't want to wait on #2. Is it okay to resume querying on #2 while I wait? It feels like bad form, but I'm really excited about #2.

Yes, it's ok to query your second project while you wait for Agent Brilliant to read your revisions.

It is NOT bad form.

This is your career and you must keep it moving forward.

What would be bad form would be to sign with another agent for Project TUWF without letting Agent Brilliant know you have interest on another project or are even at the talking stage with an agent for something else.

In other words, if you get requests for fulls on TUWF, you give Brilliant a heads up.  Something akin to I've been querying a second project and have had several requests to read the fulls. I just wanted to keep you posted on this since you've got the full for Comic Mystery.  Yours very truly WriterProlific.

Any agent who expects you to sit on your paws and wait for her to reply has a severely warped view of her own importance.

That said, she is investing time in you and that should be treated with respect.

Bottom line: be straightforward and polite. That's never bad form.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Critiquing an agent's pitch letter

I just signed with an agent (hallelujah!) who is fairly young and new to the business. He sent me a draft of his pitch to editors. The book is a thriller, and to my eye the pitch draft needs work. It doesn’t capture the tone or excitement of the book (and I told him so; he was quite receptive to my feedback).

But here’s my question. Is there any comparison to be made between the query letters/pitches that authors send to prospective agents (over which we massively obsess) and the pitches that agents send to editors at publishing houses? I don’t want to fault my guy on not writing a proper pitch, if the rules are quite different for agents.

I find it fascinating that your agent sent you a draft of the pitch letter.
I'm not sure I've ever done that.
And if an author suggested revisions for anything other than a flat out mistake (for example, I spelled his/her name wrong, or misquoted the word count) I'd probably suggest the author needed a new agent.

Prickly about my writing much? Yes, I am. I know it, I confess it freely, and I don't apologize for it.

When young and starting-out agents here at The Reef were drafting their pitch letters I helped them revise. We never sent it to the author as far as I can remember.

But, your agent did send, and you made suggestions and now you think he can't pitch very well.

There is one very big difference between a query letter from an author to an agent and a pitch letter from an agent to an editor.  When I pitch editors, I'm almost never cold calling.  They know me, or my list, or at least, the agency where I work.  Thus they're MUCH more likely to read the pages and see if the writing grabs them, and use the pitch letter just for category and word count, plus author info (for example, is this a debut, does the author have pub credits other than a novel.)

I strongly STRONGLY urge you not to micromanage your agent.  Almost no one responds well to that, and agents tend to skew heavily toward entrepreneur, self-starters, self-motivators, and that group responds even more poorly than the average bear to micromanaging.

There are things you're entitled to know: where you book has been pitched, who has it on submission, any comments the editors make in reply.  That's NOT micro-managing to ask for that.

Micromanaging is asking to vet the pitch letter, or worse: making lists of imprints and publishers and asking why your book wasn't sent there.

I'm sure you'll have questions about this.
Fire away!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sending thank yous to agents who passed

I'm getting some nice rejections while I'm querying to find an agent for my Victorian ghost novel. I wrote a thank you notes to the last two agents who said No and then wondered if I was just wasting my time, and theirs. How do you feel about getting a thank you if you've sent an author a quick or thoughtful rejection? 

It's never wrong to say thank you according to the Deportment Enforcer at Miss Blanche's School for Sharks.

I think the reason you hear "don't respond to rejections" is two-fold. Some people's idea of "thank you" involves "I'll show you, SharkForBrains, and boy you'll be sorry you passed on the next JeffSomers/LairdBarron/Patrick Lee."

That's not a thank you so much as it is a Bronx cheer, and frankly I can do without that at 3 in the morning which is when they tend to roll in.

The other reason is that it's one more email when my fiercest goal (today and every day for the last two months) is to get my inbox under 300.

I will say that responding to a form letter is not required even by such etiquette stalwarts as the always-correct, always-gracious Miss Blanche. A polite, short thank you to a personal reply is never a waste of time.   If anything it's a reminder that most people who get in touch with me are thoughtful, eager writers who just want me to read their work carefully.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

New Pens!

If you've been camping out here for any length of time at all, you know I love pens with a passion. The search for Just The Right Pen is a quest of Epic Endurance.

Or should I say WAS a quest.

I may have found the perfect pen.**

I know, it's early days, they've only been here for a week or so, and the perfect pen must stand the test of time.

But I like the feel. I like the colors. I love the container they come in! And I really love the price. My next favorite pen is somewhere around $30 a pop so I'm terrified of losing it. These were $9 for twelve pens.

And they almost match my spiffy new box of paper clips.

Honestly, given the problems of this world, someone who can be happy with pens and paperclips probably needs mental health assistance, but I'm gonna just be happy with my stuff here in a quiet little corner of the world.

What's making you happy these days?**

**Staedtler tiplus fineliner
**Ilaria Jacqueline!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The purple prose eater in my email program

I recently sent a query to an agent, and when I hit send, I realized I forgot to include the manuscript pages listed as a requirement. (So much for making sure of things...) I re-sent the query, carefully re-copying all the necessary pieces into Notepad and into the new email, to prevent weird formatting issues. With all the right pieces in, I added a line at the top that said the earlier email had an error in it. I hit send.

The entire email text (except for those pesky manuscript pages) turned purple.

I'm not sure of the etiquette here. Do I... send again? I am not sure how to prevent this fresh error. It's never happened before. Do I cross my fingers and pray it's somehow not purple on the agent's end? Make a sacrifice to any query-deities?

I bet you turned purple too.
This is the kind of thing that drives even the most self-controlled authors into a frenzy.

Well, fret not.
Truthfully, if an email shows up in a weird color, I chalk it up to the email gods and read it anyway. If it's got promise, I might copy and paste into a word .doc to adjust the color.

In other words, it's not auto-reject when there's a formatting issue.

That said, you DO want to try to get it right. One do-over is ok, but if I got three emails from you for the same query, I'd start wondering.

A trick to avoid those gremlins lurking by the send button:

Save your queries in Draft mode for an hour or a day.
Go back and double check before hitting send. You'll be amazed what you'll missing pages.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A novel question

[A reader] commented about 'fiction novel' and it made me think about a comment I'd gotten.

'Don't say novel, use manuscript. Agents freak out when you call it a novel and it hasn't been published.'

I had not heard or seen this anywhere. What do you think?
I think who ever told you that is an idiot.
Well, either an idiot or more likely parroting some numbskull agent who's too busy trying to feel important to actually dispense useful information like why "safety deposit box" is always wrong, and joint accounting is a tool of the Devil.

Let me be clear:

It's a novel when you're writing it.
It's a novel when you're revising it.
It's a novel when you're tearing out your hair, trunking it, and never speaking of it again.
It's STILL a novel when you dust it off ten years later, give it to your agent and she sells it for a gazillion dollars.

It's in manuscript form some of that time.
But it's always a novel, unless it's non-fiction or a memoir.

In other words, whether something is a novel is based on CONTENT not publication status.

And anyone who tries to make you feel stupid for saying novel instead of manuscript has entirely too much time on her hands, and should come to my office for refresher course in Agenting 101.


Thursday, March 09, 2017

So, should you query a young agent?

This is a screen shot of the upcoming New York Times bestseller list for the week of March 19, 2017

#1 is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  Her agent is Brooks Sherman at The Bent Agency

#2 is Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth. Her agent is Joanna Volpe at New Leaf Literary

#10 is Frostblood by Elly Blake. Her agent is Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary.

I was privileged to meet each of these fiercely talented, ferociously effective agents at the start of their careers.

Back before anyone knew them.
Back before editors recognized their names.
Back when they answered queries overnight because what they had to offer was speed, rather than sales.

They built careers that have earned the respect of the entire publishing industry.

To see all three represented on this list is a moment I will never ever forget. It is a moment of indescribable joy.

Your takeaway from this: there are young agents out there who are hungry and hardworking. You'd be nuts to overlook them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Queries don't have to be perfect but...

Many novels have a phrase on the cover that says "a name here novel".

Examples: a Sam Dryden novel; an Avery Cates novel.

When you write a query letter and tell me your book is like a thriller similar to those by Sam Dryden, or crime noir like the talented Avery Cates I laugh so hard I blow coffee out my nose.

Unless you intend to be hilarious, this is NOT the reaction you want to your query.

I thought it was obvious these are the names of characters. You can tell who the author is; that's the OTHER name on the book. When you look on Amazon, the author is the name that's preceded by "by."

If you didn't know that, now you do.

This is a mistake of carelessness. It's a huge warning sign. My goal is to work with writers who err on the other side of care: they slave over every word. I'd rather have authors from whom I have to wrest pages as they wail "it's not done! it's not done!" than authors who throw pages at me saying "here, make sure I didn't confuse The Light Brigade with ConEdison. They're both in New Jersey, right?"

There's a reason for this. When I know you are meticulous, I don't assume the innovative things you do are wrong.

Query letters don't have to be perfect, but they really shouldn't have careless mistakes.

Another version of this blog post appeared in March 2009

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

How query letters illuminated the New Political Landscape for me

WARNING: this blog post is on a political topic (just in case you want to avoid that topic these days)

Every once in a while someone comes along with a flashy new idea about how to revolutionize, streamline, or otherwise improve how writers contact agents. These new ideas are often wrapped in attractive language like "more efficient"  "less time needed" and "better results."

One thing the purveyors of these new plans have in common is they are not agents. Almost as often they're not people who ever worked in publishing. Sometimes they're not even writers.

And to my way of thinking they're trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

Now, I grant that if you are a writer, you may have some quarrels with how the query system works. My position that it's not broken is certainly subject to debate and/or disagreement.

But I think one thing we can agree on is that it really helps to know how the query system functions before you try to improve it.

Which brings me to my new understanding of the new president.
As many of you know, I was in despair at the results of this election.
To me it felt like a repudiation of competence.
I understand intellectually that people voted one way for a myriad of reasons and those reasons are just as valid as mine were for voting the other way.

But now it's clear at least to me that the guiding principal is Everything That Happened Before was Bad, and thus We Must Change/Fix it.

Except no one in this administration has ever served in government. Not locally. Not nationally. And that's viewed as a positive thing. Just like those Query Fixers who think the system is broken because they didn't get the results they wanted.

Each of you reading this blog post is good at something. Something you've spent years learning to do, and are now probably pretty darn good at. It might be your paying job. It might be something you do as a hobby.  To my way of thinking, those of you who are happily married after 25 years should list  marriage as one of your skills.

Now imagine someone who has never done your job, or your hobby, or ever been married is now in charge and tells you things are going to change. Things are going to Improve. Except they don't know anything about your job or your hobby or been married.

If you want to drain the swamp, it's good to have a contractor who knows the difference between an alligator and a cypress log.

Which brings me to a book I'm looking forward to reading: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters by Tom Nichols. 

I welcome your comments on this, and of course, you're free to disagree with me.

Your comment  MUST be civil to other commenters or your comment will be deleted. I don't care what you say to me  but I prefer to engage with people who can frame their position rationally. Comments such as "you're wrong plus your query wears army boots" are not disagreement so much as diatribe. Offer up an opinion backed by facts or reason and I'm glad to listen.

Fire away.

Monday, March 06, 2017

FINAL contest results

This was a really interesting array of entries this week!
I didn't get a LOT of them. Either I'm getting stupid (well, ok, I'm not ruling that out) or you guyz are getting more elliptical.  I'd say there were at least ten entries that I didn't quite understand. Usually it's only two or three.  I've noted some (not all.)

But onward!
Herewith the preliminary results.

Final results later today (Monday 3/6) NOW LISTED BELOW

The Steve Forti Award for innovative use of prompt words
Nate Wilson 8:36pm
Colin, hi. Bit late on this, but I don't care. (Your testy mien doesn't scare me.) Since you made sure I'm paired with him, I wanted you to know Seth and I captured a stellar array of specimens during our first spores training. I'm aware you're strictly interested in exotics, but you should know we collected all of them -- chimp, edelweiss, urchin, derris, ewe, llama, xenops, marten, and stag -- entirely on our own in 5 minutes. How many is that, 9? 9. Yet you've never topped 7.


P.S. I've reported this tot
al as Victoria, not as Tory.

And of course, there's another hidden message too. Do you see it?

Homage to Get Smart!
Claire Bobrow 9:20am

Kregger 12:20pm

Homage to all those vintage TV shows!
RosannaM 12:01pm

I don't quite understand this one, and I'm kinda glad cause I have the feeling it's Stephen King level creepy.
Michael Seese 11:00am

I didn't quite get these either, but I have a feeling if I did, I'd love them.
Lennon Faris 1:44pm

Scott Sloan 3:56pm

flashfriday 8:03pm

These cracked me up completely
Sharyn Ekbergh 11:59am

Just Jan 7:32am

Here are the finalists
Cecilia Ortiz Luna 12:03pm
I showed you my Copenhagen
Thanked me with a kiss
You did. Profusely

We danced to 99 Luftballons
Flattered me. Made love to me
You did. Languorously

Never felt this way before, you said
Married me after three weeks
You did. Breathtakingly

Your citizenship granted
Started treating me like rubbish
You did. Unfailingly

With sarcasm, artful jeers
Told me I’ve outlived my usefulness
You did. Cruelly

Despair, humiliation
Ignited my Viking blood
You did. Maximally

I planned like Hamlet
Waited hours for you to succumb
You did. Eventually

Nobody fucks with Gertrud
Learned that lesson well
You did. Posthumously
This is just gorgeous.
It's a story.
It's got rhythm and style to die for.
This is perfect in every way I can think of.

Amy Schaefer 12:25pm
78 flashes on the screen. I look away.

Grandpa wrote in flawless copperplate. The jewel-like shape of the letters arrested me; once I deciphered them, I became a willing prisoner of the written word.

smartly-dressed woman sits down. She glances at my shabby suit.
“Journalist,” I say.
She nods. “Community foundation.”


That’s me.

I rise; we exchange a nod. No words. Not that it could matter anymore.

The Justice
Agent scans my ID chip. “Maximum reeducation.”

The court system is efficient nowadays.

The guard shoves me along. I close my eyes, remembering my letters while I still can.

Of course this sends chills down my spine. This story is elegantly understated and all the more chilling because of it.  Honestly, you guyz scare me with the worlds you create!

Amy Johnson 12:56pm
Dear Janet and All,

I’m writing to confess and say goodbye.

I’ve misrepresented myself here.

Several years ago, I located this group of smart, talented writers and a shark with a gentle side.

I never commented.

Last year, however, I malfunctioned and entered a 100-word-maximum story contest.

After that, I couldn’t stop.

I entered more contests.

I participated in discussions.

But every time I post in the comments section, I lie.

I must stop.

I’m not wired for lying.

I sense I’m approaching a meltdown.

So, I bid you all farewell and confess: I am a robot.



Of course, this just cracked me up completely. I love the malfunctioned and entered a contest line. 

Timothy Lowe 1:03pm
Our time machines are all broken.

11:59:59. The digits are well known. They stare at us from dusty corners of darkened rooms. Dim axioms in the underground, they’re posted above caverns where hollow serpents sleep, their sides slit open, frozen in their migration.

The Old Age lies littered everywhere. In cracked streets, ankle deep in glitter, crumpled party favors and noisemakers wait for an uncoming moment.

They did this - the smart machines. The ones we commanded, in our great unknowing, to unwind the gods.

Now dead things, unblinking, reminders of a gentler time.

We call it 1999.
Our time machines are all broken is one of my favorite lines now. 
"Unwind the gods" is another.

And honestly, this is an AMAZING use of the prompt 99.

Melanie Sue Bowles
I’d always been a tomboy. Grandma disapproved. “Act like a lady,” she’d say, dispensing opinions like a penny gumball machine.

I liked ladies, just didn’t want to be one. My first boyfriend was rough around the edges and a bit of a smarty-pants. Grandma wasn’t pleased. “Go ahead and date the bad boys,” she said, “but marry a gentleman. Proper ladies marry gentlemen.”

Now, that nug
get of advice served me well. But not in the way Grandma intended. 99 more injections to transition into a gentleman, the sort any lady would want. Grandma? Stupefied to the max. Me? Happy.

"Dispensing opinions like a penny gumball machine" should be on my business cards. 
I love the idea of this story. I love the execution. 

Angel Lanphere
I had hoped she'd be smart enough to die naturally but we weren't that lucky.

“Max...well,” she rasped as her eyes slid open to find me at the foot of the bed. She gripped the bed rail, her familiar eyes darted in search of escape. She knew why I was here and who sent me.

She pawed for the Nurse Call button, tubes and wires tangling but it was no use.

I sat beside her now, shakily brushing her hair aside.

“Goodbye Kat-....Agent 99,” I said and kissed her briefly before snuffing out what remained of us both.

I love the mystery of what's unsaid here. And that first line is a true grabber.

No one is so proud as the number 9.

9 is a gentlenumber, the digit maximal, above all others.

I hate the number 9.

It's the smartass number, abused on price tags, unused on microwaves.

It got an indecent act named after me—that was all 9's idea. And all talk, anyway. We never did anything. I certainly didn't.

Worst of all, 9 stole my glyph. Flipped it around and started strutting around town like it was fucking prime.

Well I'm not going to take it anymore.

I say it's time for a change.

I say we switch to octal.

I love stories about math. 
I love math.
I'm utterly convinced that the reason people hate math is cause they had terrible math teachers. Math is so beautiful and pure, everyone should love it.  It's one of the very few true things in this world. 

So of course, I love this story. And it's beautifully written. Plus I had to look up octal. I like having to look things up (don't go crazy putting in weird words, it only works if it's the PERFECT word and I have to look it up.)

I think this might be the best list of finalists I've seen in a good long time. Brilliant work by all of you. Of course, that made it very hard to pick a winner.  I thought about drawing a name from a hat, but that seemed unfair.  And I thought about trying to decide between something that made me laugh, or shiver.

In the end I chose the two stories that did not require any outside knowledge to understand. They will be evergreen (something we love in publishing.)

It's as arbitrary a choice as any of the others, but I thought it was less subjective than choosing something based solely on my reaction to it.

The two winners are  
Rkeelan and Cecilia Ortiz Luna 

if you'll both email me with your mailing address, I'll send you a prize.  

Great work here this week! Thanks to all who took the time to write and enter. I liked reading your work very much!

Friday, March 03, 2017

Contest #99

I'm reliably informed that this is the 99th flash fiction contest. (That number excludes contests that involved stacking books to make sentences, or anything involved with photos.)

99 is such a great number.
For me, it will always be the number associated with Maxwell Smart's sidekick: Agent 99.
In honor of #99, let's have a writing contest!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: max/Maximus is ok, but agent/argument is not

4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.

Contest opens: Saturday 3/4/17, 8:53am

Contest closes: Sunday, 3/5/17, 9am

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's
an .xls spread sheet here

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!


Nope, too late, contest closed at 9!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

What counts as a substantial revision?

What counts as a substantial revision?

I have recently made changes to a work I'm querying that included working with an editor who writes in my genre, cutting about 11K words, increasing the pace, clarifying stakes, etc. so a pretty big rewrite, but it's still fundamentally the same story, albeit shinier. I received a few rejections on this book that specified that if I were to revise the agent would be willing to look at it again. How much needs to change before an agent considers it revised? Is the best approach just to reach out detailing the changes and ask if the agents are still interested?
Generally if an agent says they'll take another look, they've also said something else. Hopefully they've given you a sense of what needs to be changed: stakes, pacing, tension, the ending unfolds too quickly, your characters are all named Gertrude.

If you've fixed those things, it's a substantial revision.

If you haven't it's not.

The question then becomes how do you know if you've fixed them. What you did is exactly the right way to find out: get another set of eyeballs on your manuscript.  It doesn't have to be a paid editor but it should be someone who knows a thing or two about good storytelling and knows if you've fixed the stakes, pacing, tension and denouement.  You're on your own with the name thing of course.

But the real trick on revisions is not doing just what the agent suggested.  It's taking what the agent suggested and thinking about what ELSE needs to be revised if those things are off.

Nothing drives me crazier than having someone say "Hey, I fixed those five things you talked about" and clearly not having thought that those five things also lead to six, seven, twenty four and ten squared minus two.

Revising is where the real writing comes out.
It gets harder to revise well the more familiar you are with your work.

I can tell you one thing for sure: substantial revision takes a while.  Like months.

So if you've revised then gotten fresh eyes, then let the ms lie fallow for a time, THEN gone back and really looked at what you've got, then you just might be substantially ready to resubmit.

Any questions?

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Resubs when an agent has changed agencies

Last year I queried Agent X, but ended up withdrawing the query when I embarked on a substantial revision. Agent X responded that they were going to request the manuscript, and asked to be informed when it became available.

While I revised, the agent changed agencies.

New manuscript in hand, I reached out to Agent X to ask if they were still interested. (I know you've said before to assume that the agent IS still interested, but due to the agency change the email chain was broken and I didn't want to send what might be considered an unsolicited attachment). I pasted in the original email chain and sent it to the agent's regular email address.

My conundrum: Agent X has separate query and contact email addresses. Should I have emailed the query address instead? How long I should wait for a reply before trying again at the query email address in case the email ended up in a spam filter? (Should I even do so? The new agency is a No Response Means No agency, but this wasn't technically a query, was it?)

You could actually be talking about me here since this is exactly what happened when I moved to New Leaf last summer. And yes that was a query.

Given the agent has expressed interest already, sending it to the direct email is probably the best choice. However, if you don't hear back, sending a query, mentioning her/his previous interest is a good Plan B.

If you don't hear back in a reasonable amount of time (60 days) chalk it up to changed circumstances and move ahead with your submission list.

Here's what you don't know: when an agent moves agencies sometimes the things s/he is looking to acquire also change. What I acquire here at New Leaf isn't based entirely on what I want. We also look at what the agency as a whole wants to add to our quiver, AND who else here is doing books in categories I'm also working in.  In other words, Agent X might have a different set of acquisition parameters now.

What that means: QUERY WIDELY with this spiffy new manuscript. It's incumbent upon Agent X to reply to you in some sort of fashion or s/he's going to be out of luck when Agent NimbleToes signs and sells your work. And given I know your work, that's not some sort of pipe dream.

Monday, February 27, 2017

FINAL Contest results

I was pried out of NYC by a fierce band of desert writers who forced me, FORCED I tell ya, to come to the sun and lovely light air of Phoenix, Arizona and talk with them about effective query letters. Since the paramedics were not called, nor were the gendarmes, it probably wasn't as fun as they'd all hoped.  I, however, did have a great time. Writers are so tasty!

The contest results are a day late because I was watching the Oscars, and I can't read your lovely work and watch TV at the same time.  And I was glad I watched till the end! Zounds! Seeing that guy snatch the envelope from Warren Beatty's hand, and hold the Moonlight card up in front of Beatty's face was so funny I first thought it was a part of the program.  (I'm really glad I don't work at Price Waterhouse this morning!)

Herewith the results:

Here are the words I had to look up (I always like those!)
awlwort: Kathy Joyce 4:17pm
millicarat: Rkeelan 11:23pm

Special recognition for a great sentence
Same Ghost 8:44pm
Her eyes are chilled hunger.

Deliciously amorphous
Marie McKay 12:49pm

Not quite a story but gloriosky the writing is utterly compelling
Barbara Lund 12:51pm

Not quite a story, but I loved them!

PAH 12:58pm
delicartoons 1:34pm

The Steve Forti Award for dexterous use of prompt words:

Steve Forti 12:59pm
benign. A wistful smile

These entries really made me smile
Amanda Wade 1:28pm
Kate Higgins 2:36pm
Sherry Howard 4:41pm

I'm pretty sure these are terrific,  but I didn't quite get them
Megan V 4:12pm
flashfriday 6:57pm

Here are the entries that made the final cut

Timothy Lowe 12:54pm
Hands pinned, face broken, I was sent to the doctor. His lens could summon God from stone. Peering down through a single blue eye, he went to work.

He was a precise psychiatrist, prying into my insides, spilling my guts. Finding out what made me tick.

I was a hard case. He went in with some intricate tools, removed my problematic parts, jettisoning them like trash. He almost got my insides to align. Awaiting the final gear, I dared to hope.

But then a wealthier customer arrived. I was deserted. Laid open. Bare.

I still blame him.

Stupid fucking Rolex.

I love the twist here. We of course are expecting this is about a person, and the devious use of psychiatrist reassures us we are on the right track. And "finding out what makes me tick"-what a perfect example of using our expectations against us.

This is brilliant and clever story telling. Damn fine writing.

Richelle Elberg 1:30pm

They huddled under the mesquite throughout the blue sky hours. Third day. Cross the desert at night, sleep days. Nearly there now; border agents shouted in the distance.
Jets passed overhead, chem trails stretching and shifting and pointing the way. A murder of crows cawed and swooped. Fear gnawed, acid rose in his throat.
“Tonight?” the girl asked.
He didn’t respond.
“I don’t mean to pry.”
“You didn’t have to come.”
“Where else would I go?”
“Back to Indiana.”
“I’ll go with you.”
She was silent for a time.
“How will we cross the wall?”
“Other illegals, Americans, will help.”

This entry knocked my socks off. 
Do you see the twist here?

Colin Smith 1:44pm

Sky Blue: My marriage dreams; My new eye color.
Sap Green: Her read of me; My eye shadow.
Jet Black: Her new BMW; My new hair.
Red Oak: The J.P.’s office desk where I signed my life away; The town where I had a pharmacist design a way out.
Desert Sands: Hotel where our bodies lay; Place where her body lies.
Cheap Rye: Her shoe color; My last breakfast in poverty.
Morning Shadow: Song covered by The Pancakes, playing when she left; Covered by theatrical pancake before I left.
Vengeance Red: Color of her purse where she keeps her passport.

This is a perfect example of a story told by what's not said.

Mark Ellis 1:51pm
The ink-jet printer slid flyers into a bin, each warm page gnawing against the thread of hope for Robert’s return after ten days overdue in the high desert.
They’d called off the search, and now only scrubby towns and cold blue sky would be Stef’s companions as she sought the man she’d argued with, and swore she never wanted to see again if he skipped their anniversary for another backpacking trek.
Prying herself off the counter at Mailboxes USA, she resisted the impulse to dial best friend Millie, who had her own problems, and had been strangely unsupportive of late.
I love the ending of this story.
So much unsaid, yet, we know, don't we, what's happened.
Lovely writing.

Galen Surlak 2:21pm
Unexpectedly, God sits next to me on a jet. He says nothing, but I’m sure it’s Him. Out of the blue, I ask, “Hate to pry, but are you God?”


He raises two fingers. “You get two questions.”


“Yes. One left.”

I hesitate. What should I ask?

“Try writing down those that gnaw at you.”

I do. I question evil, the future, heaven, hell and more. Ten minutes later, for giggles, I add one more to the massive list: What should I have for desert?

“Dessert has two S’s” he says.

“You sure?”

He nods and then vanishes.

This is an old joke but it's never outdated.
It always makes me laugh.

Nate Wilson 8:43pm

"He sprayed you?"

"With one of those new Jango Fett--sorry, new-fangled jet power washers. Called me impure."

"You should've reported him."

"I did. That's why he chopped down spry moose. My spruce. From my daughter's memorial garden. He said it defiled his yard."


"Prejudice brings out people's shoe trades. Er, true shades."

"Yet, if it's his house..."

"I know. And he had me wino saver. Sign a waiver. When I rented the place from the affluent buck. Dammit. Abluent f--"

"I get it. So, you're here to lodge another complaint?"

"What? No. Biz hottie's in try monk."

 Honest to godiva, the talent here is a little frightening. This is just fucking brilliant. 

I'm travelling Monday night (red-eye back to NYC) so the final results will be sometime Tuesday when I have regained my wits. 

It's 9:14pm on Tuesday so you know it took me 24 hours to travel and regain my wits. I now remember why I promised myself no more red-eye flights. Egad! A couple small children on the flight said exactly what I was thinking "waaaaaaah!"

But, enough wailing, back to the contest!

Clearly Nate Wilson must be recognized. His entry was utterly brilliant and most of you agreed with that. You'd probably riot if he was robbed of the prize.

But I also want to recognize Richelle Elberg 1:30pm. Her entry made me realize (for the first time) that a wall locks us IN as much as it locks anyone else out. Much like Nietzsche's oft quoted
"And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."

So, this week we have two winners: The Impossibly Deft Nate Wilson, and the Illuminating Richelle Elberg.

Congrats to you both for outstanding entries in a highly competitive field!

If you'll email me with your mailing addresses, and what you like to read I'll try to find a prize worthy of your talents!

And thanks to all who took the time to write entries.  I'm continually amazed and awed at the breadth of talent in this group of writers. 

yes, I have stuffed animals in my office.

I found this fine fellow last week, homeless and rather forlorn.

Naturally, I seized him with sharkly alacrity and walked around the office asking if he belonged to anyone.

Each person I asked called him by name, and then stared at me with a rather perplexed look.

I paid it no mind, perplexity follows me around like a hungry remora. I held the beast, and petted the fur. It was actually very soothing.

Finally, one of the minions took pity on me.

"Sharkforbrains, you're stroking that spider's butt," she said, and then dove into the supply closet and locked the door behind her.

What the everloving octopuzzle is this??
This is CLEARLY an octopus.
I am a shark. I know an octopus when I see it.  Or when it approaches me with homicide on its mind.

But no.

This is not an octopus.

This is the spider from Harry Potter.
Aragog. Not Octogog.

The people here at New Leaf instantly knew Aragog because they're all Harry Potter fans, and they've seen the Harry Potter movies multiple times.

I've never seen a Harry Potter movie (oh wait, yes I have, but I don't remember much of it) and I when I see eight legs I think octopus not arachnid.

What does this mean for you?  As a writer, you bring a certain amount of knowledge to your work. You know things and thus can't see that the spider you know is Aragog could be seen as an octopus by someone else.

The problem is when you invest all your characters with the same  knowledge, cultural experience, and expectations that you have, you don't have diverse characters. Diversity is much more than skin color and religion or sexual preference. You don't create diversity by giving someone a different color or religion or sexual preference. You create diverse characters by showing the different ways they see and experience the world.

One of the games I like to play when I walk around New York City is wondering what person from another time would recognize or understand if they were walking with me. Someone from 1940 would certainly recognize a car. What about someone from 1740?  Would they recognize what  a bicycle is for? How to operate it? How about something simple like a whisk? A plastic spatula?

Freshen your eyes. What wouldn't you know if you'd never seen Harry Potter?  For one thing, you'd know an octopus when you see it.

(contest results tomorrow. I was watching the Oscars, not reading the entries.  Well...I was reading the entries, then realized I couldn't do both at the same time!)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sharks in the Desert Writing contest

Yes I have been pried out of New York City.
Yes, this is so rare as to be noteworthy.
Yes, a shark is gamboling about in a freshwater swimming pool.
Yes, there are innocent, unwary writers coming to see her.

What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing! It's all going to be lots and lots of fun!
(For ME!)
(That sound you hear is diabolical shark laughter and jaw chomping!)

To distract you from the carnage about to unfold, let's have a writing contest!

 The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: pry/ Grand Old Opry is ok, but pry/osprey is not

4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again.  It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!"  This is grounds for disqualification.

8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.

Contest opens: 2/25/17 10am (Eastern Shark Time)

Contest closes: 2/26/17 10am (Eastern Shark Time

If you're wondering what day and time it is in NYC right now: click here.

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!

GO!!! (SORRRY, I'm late!!!  I meant to turn on comments but forgot! Thankfully, I was reminded at the conference!)

Rats! Too Late! Contest closed!