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1. Kristina Marie Darling: Poet Interview

Confession: I don’t really keep records on Poetic Asides, but I’m pretty sure Kristina Marie Darling has the record for most poet interviews in PA history.

Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling

If this is your first time hearing her name, Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over 20 books, which include Vow, Petrarchan, and Scorched Altar, all available from BlazeVOX Books.  Her writing has been recognized with fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation.  She was recently selected as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome.

Visit her online at http://kristinamariedarling.com.

It’s been fun watching her writing evolve over the years, and in Darling’s collection Scorched Altar: Selected Poems & Stories 2007-2014, it’s now possible to get a sampling of her writing from 12 different sources.

Here are a few of the pieces you will find:

*****

Recreating_Poetry_Revise_PoemsForget Revision, Learn How to Re-create Your Poems!

Do you find first drafts the easy part and revision kind of intimidating? If so, you’re not alone, and it’s common for writers to think the revision process is boring–but it doesn’t have to be!

In the 48-minute tutorial Re-Creating Poetry: How to Revise Poems, poets will learn how to go about re-creating their poems with the use of 7 revision filters that can help poets more effectively play with their poems after the first draft. Plus, it helps poets see how they make revision–gasp–fun!

Click to continue.

******

What are you currently up to?

I’m getting ready to leave for a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and couldn’t be more excited. I’ll spend my time there working on a new collection of erasure poems, which examines the egregious amount of gender violence in Shakespeare’s tragedies. The fragmented, elliptical poems ask reader to consider whether the literature we’ve inherited has normalized gender violence, since plays like Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello are so present within the public imagination.

Part critique, part excavation, the poems are intended to redirect the focus of scholarly and readerly attention. It is when we become conscious of underlying beliefs and assumptions in culture, and their roots, that change emerges as a real possibility.

scorched_altar_selected_poems_stories_kristina_marie_darlingScorched Altar is a collection of selected poems and stories published by BlazeVOX [books]. How did this collection come about?

That’s a great question. I initially contacted Geoffrey Gatza, the fabulous editor in charge of the press, to inquire about the possibility of a Selected Poems.

It turns out that Geoffrey had the same idea himself, and I simply e-mailed first. Since I had worked with BlazeVOX on numerous previous collections, I knew that my Selected Poems was in very good hands.

Was the process of selecting pieces from previous collections different than putting together a new collection?

When I compiled the poems from my previous collections for Scorched Altar, it was a much different process than working on a brand new collection. For me, writing a new poem or poetry book is an intuitive process, and I don’t reflect much on what I’m doing, at least in the drafting stage. If I allow myself to become too self-aware, that allows me to become self-critical, and then no writing gets done at all.

What I really enjoyed about the process of compiling Scorched Altar was that it prompted me to reflect on my body of work as a whole, to see patterns emerge from my writing over the past seven years, and to see progress and growth. The act of examining my poetry over the course of several years also helped me see what ideas, obsessions, and literary forms I returned to most frequently. And as a result, I came away from the process with many ideas for new projects, experiments, and poems that were completely different from anything I’d ever written before.

In many ways, the act of examining my body of work showed me what is possible within it.

Many of your pieces, especially in collections like Correspondence and Fortress, have a very visual element to how they’re arranged on the page. Do you ever perform these in readings? If so, do you have to explain how they’re set?

I think every poetry reading has some element of performance. Whether the poet shouts their poems, or sings them, or invites audience participation, I’m positive that all writers have a constructed persona, which is an extension of the work itself. With that in mind, I love performing my footnote poems at readings.

I typically read them in a completely flat, monotone voice, almost like the bad math professor that just about everyone had in college. I love seeing the audience lulled into a sense of comfort by the unexciting presentation of the work, only to be surprised by the wildly imaginative content.

You’re an active literary critic. Does this inform your writing? Help? Hinder?

I’m glad you asked about my reviewing and involvement with literary criticism. I love reviewing books, because it exposes me to poetry that is completely outside my comfort zone. This is great because it helps me question and interrogate what I normally do in my own writing. It pushes me to try new things and experiment more within my own practice. And it helps me see more clearly where my poems fit within the larger literary community.

The best thing about reviewing, though, is that it helps build relationships within publishing and writing. I’ve met friends, collaborators, and even mentors when working on reviews. And there’s nothing better than free books!

You’ve published 17 collections now. How do you keep the writing flame lit?

By reading and reviewing other poets. As long as you’re constantly being exposed to new ideas, literary forms, and aesthetics, you’ll always have something to write about.

I also run a small press, Noctuary Press, which has been great for my own creative practice. The press primarily publishes women’s writing that takes places across and beyond genre categories. Although I pride myself on my ability to question genre distinctions, reading submissions for the press has shown me the tremendous variety inherent in contemporary cross-genre writing by women. My work as editor has helped me see what’s possible within the hybrid forms I typically inhabit, and it’s a great deal more than I had initially envisioned.

One poet who no one knows but should–who is it?

Erin Bertram. She has several magnificent chapbooks out, including one from Kristy Bowen’s fabulous Dancing Girl Press. I’m just waiting for someone to realize that her first full-length book needs to be published (so I can buy it and read it!).

Who (or what) are you currently reading?

I’m very excited to check out Donna Stonecipher’s Model City and Dawn Lonsinger’s Whelm. I also just picked up Olena Kalytiak Davis’s newest collection, which I’ve been eagerly awaiting for quite some time.

And if you haven’t checked out Carl Adamshick’s Saint Friend, just published by McSweeney’s Books, then you sure are missing out. It’s a terrific collection, even better than his first book, Curses & Wishes.

And usually I ask for one piece of advice for poets, but we’ve done a few interviews together now. So instead, and this is probably still one piece of advice for poets, I’m going to ask you about your amazing organization and follow-up abilities, because you do a better job than most. Could you share how you stay organized and on task for writing, submitting, following up, etc.?

I’m probably going to out myself as a total nerd with this answer, but here goes:  Excel Spreadsheets. I keep track of everything (applications I’ve submitted, review copies sent, deadlines for applications) in a couple of gigantic spreadsheets.

If I could offer one piece of advice to poets, I’d say keep records of where you send your work, whether it’s review copies, applications, or poems. If you don’t remember where you sent something, then there’s no way you’ll ever be able to follow up with the decision maker.

And believe me, persistence pays off, especially in small press publishing.

*****

Robert Lee Brewer is the editor of Poet’s Market and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Check out these other poetic posts:

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2. Framing Your Memoir: 3 Parameters You Need to Know

Joan Didion’s award-winning memoir The Year of Magical Thinking begins, not ends, with death. It is the sudden loss of her husband that launches her into the “year of magical thinking.” The story starts the second her husband’s life ends, and at that very moment the first parameter of the story is (very tragically) set.

When attempting to translate a significant portion of your life’s story, it is crucial that you set limits early on and decide which portion of your life will prove to be the most colorful, provocative and representative of the story you wish to tell. If you don’t set limits early in the writing process, your story can easily get out of control, meander and become completely disorganized. A well-crafted memoir will encapsulate a specific story that fits somewhere within the larger framework of your life.


Paula-Balzer-featured-Z9358This post is an excerpt from literary agent Paula Balzer’s Writing and Selling Your Memoir. Balzer is the founder and owner of The Paula Balzer Agency. She represents writers of memoir, popular culture, journalism, and fiction, including Oscar-award-winning writer of Juno, Diablo Cody, author of NYT bestsellers Pledged and Quarterlife Crisis, Alexandra Robbins, American Idol judge Randy Jackson and author of cult classic Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Bobby Henderson. Purchase her book here.


Thankfully, not all memoirs are written under such dark circumstances (although if you are an avid reader of the genre, you know by now that a good number of them are). The sudden and dramatic death of Didion’s husband provided an obvious beginning to her story. But do all life stories have such clear starting and, for that matter, ending points? Unless your story begins when you received an unpleasant diagnosis, the day your spouse left, or—on the brighter side of things—when you won several hundred million dollars in the lottery, memoirs often start with more of a whimper than a bang. The same is true of endings. Some memoirs end with complete resolution, some leave us at a comfortable middle point, and others leave us hanging. How do you know when to end a story that might still be going on?

[Memoir or Novel? 8 Issues to Think About Before Writing Your Own Story]

Setting these kinds of parameters isn’t about blowing your reader away with a gripping first page or wrapping up a complicated memoir with a perfectly poetic ending. It’s about sorting out your story before you find yourself buried in so many details—memories, ideas, facts, tangents, anecdotes—that you can’t dig yourself out.

Without having a clear framework in mind before you begin your story, you risk losing sight of why you started writing your memoir in the first place.

1. Find Your Moment of Discovery.

How does a writer decide where to begin when a life story is so full of laughter, conversations, friendships, adventures, tragedies and day-to-day memories? Knowing how to literally begin telling a story is a huge challenge for any writer—whether your story opens the day you leapt out of an airplane, or starts more subtly, at the moment you began to realize that your marriage was over. With the latter example, do you start with a description of what you were thinking? Or maybe with the conversation you had with your husband when you woke up that day? Maybe that moment came while you were watching the clock, waiting for your husband to come home on your anniversary. Or maybe it was the morning he stopped asking you if you wanted a second cup of coffee.

As a memoirist, it’s important that you take a step back and recognize when your personal journey began. This is your moment of discovery, and it sets the first parameter of your memoir. I realize this sounds a bit grand, but I promise it’s not as dramatic as it seems, and thinking along these lines when planning your memoir will prove to be incredibly helpful.

The moment of discovery is the key moment signaling that the memoirist’s story has begun. In her memoir A Three Dog Life, Abigail Thomas recalls her own moment of discovery:

Monday, April 24, at nine forty at night, our doorman Pedro called me on the intercom. “Your dog is in the elevator,” he said. The world had just changed forever, and I think I knew it even then.

“Your dog is in the elevator.” After her doorman spoke these words, Abigail learned that her husband, who was out walking the dog, had been hit by a car and had sustained a traumatic brain injury. Her memoir is a moving and eloquent account of her life with a man who lives in the continual present. While I’m sure the author wishes she had never heard those words, it is her skill as a memoirist that enables her to recognize them as a moment of discovery. It was that sentence that signaled the beginning of her new life, as difficult as it may be.

What makes Thomas’ moment of discovery so astonishing is that it is such an incredible mixture of ordinary and bizarre. Although she had not yet learned about the accident, the situation immediately suggested to her that something was desperately wrong. Several connections must have been made in her mind at once for her to realize that this simple scenario—her dog returning home alone from his walk out on the city streets—was just the beginning of a tragic and dramatic story. She was able to trace the beginning of all the massive changes she was about to experience back to this one particular moment.

Not only does this moment of discovery provide the first parameter of her story, but it is also engaging, powerful and meaningful, and it draws the reader in right from the beginning.

2. Don’t Search for Something That Isn’t There.

Perhaps you’ve chosen to write about your bucolic upbringing in a small town in Iowa, where everyone loved each other. After winning a football scholarship, you became the town doctor, beloved by all, and you married your high school sweetheart and eventually had four kids who are even more wonderful and noble than you.

Sounds pretty picturesque, right? So should you start digging through your family files to see if you had any aunts who might have lived in the attic for a spell? Or ask around to see if you’re related to any devil worshippers or ax murders? Do you need to get arrested in order to make your memoir marketable?

No, no and no.

The parameters you set for your story may be very personal and subtle, or they may be big and unmistakable. But remember, this isn’t about drama; you just need to stay focused and work within the boundaries you’ve chosen. If you’ve decided that four years in the life of a small-town doctor will make for a great memoir, there is nothing wrong with opening your story with a scene from your waiting room. It doesn’t need to be the scene of a grisly accident. It just needs to fit the story you plan to write.

[Are you writing a memoir or an autobiography? Click here to learn the differences.]

3. Work With the End in Sight.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of memoir writing is knowing when to end your own story. Some memoirs will have natural endings, such as when a battle with a long illness ends, when a person leaves a difficult situation, after a particular decision is made, or even after a trip has ended. But when a situation is ongoing, how do you possibly decide when it is appropriate to end your own story? While it may seem counterintuitive to know how to conclude a book before you’ve truly gotten into the thick of things, I’m a firm believer that when writing a memoir it is best to work with the end in sight.

One of the biggest advantages to memoir writing is that you usually have access to most of the materials right up front, since the story is largely composed of your own memories. Because memoirists have the advantage of knowing everything they have to work with, you can start to envision where you would like your story to go and to plan how to reach that ending point.

I think it’s important to remember that the ending of a memoir means the ending of this particular story. With memoir writing, it is the author’s job to place this parameter appropriately in the story to give the reader closure. While the memoirist’s story may change the very next day, or maybe the following week, or several years from now, at some point a decision needs to be made about how much of the story is appropriate to relay in this book.


W7839In the middle of writing your memoir or thinking about writing it?

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So if your memoir cannot be wrapped up easily at an obvious point in time, try answering the following questions when making a plan to tie things up:

  • Is there an ongoing theme in my memoir that can come full circle in my ending? Is there a memory or event that I can use to demonstrate this?
  • Is there a specific age or year of my life I want to end with? (If so, be sure you know why—how does this play into your memoir as a whole?)
  • Was there a decision I made or an action I took at some point in my story that changed the direction of my life?
  • Was there an internal change that took place? An emotional response to something that happened that played a key role in my story?

As a memoirist, you face many considerations when writing your story: how to structure it, what events to include or leave out, what tone and voice you should employ, and more. But perhaps the most important considerations are the parameters for your memoir. Setting these parameters—making these decisions—before you sit down to type will ultimately save you time and will result in a story that is centered, focused and compelling to read.

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

brian-klems-2013


Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

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3. Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 299

I’ve been a bit careless today. You see, I took the day off (the kids got a snow day today), and I didn’t get my poem-prompt written this morning. However, I’ve still got a solid 30 minutes of writing time left, soooooo…

For this week’s prompt, write a careless poem. That’s right, a careless poem. It’s funny; I actually had this prompt planned out weeks in advance. Somehow, I must’ve known life was going imitate art–or vice versa.

*****

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

Publish your poetry!

Get the most trusted guide to publishing your poetry: the 2015 Poet’s Market!

Edited by Robert Lee Brewer, this edition of Poet’s Market includes articles on the craft of poetry, business of poetry, and promotion of poetry. Plus, interviews with poets and original contemporary poems. Oh yeah, and hundreds of poetry publishing opportunities, including book publishers, chapbook publishers, magazines, journals, online publications, contests, and so much more!

Click to continue.

*****

Here’s my attempt at a Careless Poem:

“Locks”
I forgot to lock the car
which means my mixtapes
are at risk
only no one listens to tapes
anymore & anyway
I meant mixdiscs
which few people even
listen to because they
can download their music
& no one listens to the same
stuff anymore anyway
& while I’m at it
I forgot to lock the gate
which means my backyard
is at risk
only no one plays outside
anymore & anyway
I forgot
to lock the doors to my house
which means my stuff & me
are at risk
only no one wants a box tv
or dvd player without hdmi
& I’m not
as valuable as I used to be
because who wants a worn out
father of five
who forgets to lock things up
*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

After writing today’s poem, he’s suddenly paranoid that he really did leave everything unlocked, but he’s reassured that he has nothing much of value for folks to take anyway.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Find more poetic posts here:

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4. New Literary Agent Alert: Amanda Leuck of Spencerhill Associates

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Amanda Leuck of Spencerhill Associates) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

 

amanda-leuck-literary-agent

 
About Amanda: Amanda Leuck started her career  in various facets of the media, including work on a TV talk show, at a fashion magazine, as a print journalist, and as an on-air traffic reporter. After graduating from New York University, Amanda went on to study literacy and literature at the post-graduate level. It was then that she developed a passion for the publishing industry. Amanda started at Spencerhill Associates as an editorial assistant, and was promoted to agent in August 2014. Her Twitter handle is @MandiLeone.

(Learn why “Keep Moving Forward” may be the best advice for writers everywhere.)

Amanda is seeking: strong, character-driven stories, written with an unforgettable voice. She’s looking for literary and commercial YA, new adult fiction, urban fantasy, and romance in all genres, including edgy romantic suspense, contemporary and paranormal with a fresh twist.

How to submit: Send all submissions to submission [at] spencerhillassociates.com. Send the query letter in the body of the email. Address the query to Amanda. Include the pitch, and information about past publishing credits in the letter. Attach a detailed synopsis, and attach the first three chapter in .doc, rtf or txt format to the email.

(How long should a synopsis be? Is shorter or longer better?)

2015-GLA-smallThe biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

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5. Are You a Born Storyteller?

wd0415_500I had a dear friend who had a gift for telling stories about her day. She’d launch into one, and suddenly everyone around her would hush up and lean in, knowing that whatever followed would be pure entertainment. A story of encountering a deer on the highway would involve interludes from the deer’s point of view. Strangers who factored into her tales would get nicknames and imagined backstories of their own. She could make even the most mundane parts of her day—and everyone else’s—seem interesting. She didn’t aspire to be a writer, but she was a born storyteller.

Why All Nonfiction Should Be Creative Nonfiction

The term creative nonfiction often brings to mind essays that read like poems, memoirs that read like novels, a lyrical way of interpreting the world around us. But the truth is that writing nonfiction—from blog posts to routine news reports to business guides—can (and should) be creative work. And the more creativity you bring to any piece, the better it’s likely to be received, whether your target reader is a friend, a website visitor, an editor or agent, or the public at large.

The March/April 2015 Writer’s Digest goes on sale today—and this issue delves into the creative sides of many types of nonfiction.

  • Learn seven ways to take a creative approach to any nonfiction book—whether you wish to write a self-help title, a historical retelling, a how-to guide, or something else entirely.
  • Get tips for finding the right voice for your essays, memoirs and other true-to-life works—and see how it’s that voice above all else that can make or break your writing.
  • Delve into our introduction to the nonfiction children’s market—where writers can earn a steady income by opening kids’ eyes to the world around them.
  • And find out what today’s literary agents and publishers are looking for in the increasingly popular narrative nonfiction genre—where books ranging from Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist to Susan Cain’s Quiet have been reinvigorating the bestseller lists.

Why Readers Love True Stories

“Narrative nonfiction has become more in-demand because it provides additional value; it’s entertaining and educational,” explains agent Laurie Abkemeier in our narrative nonfiction roundtable. “There are many forms of entertainment vying for our attention, and the ones that give us the highest return for our time and money investment are the ones that we gravitate toward.”

So give your readers that amazing return. The articles packed into this informative, diverse and boundary-pushing issue will show you how. Download the complete issue right now, order a print copy, or find it on your favorite newsstand through mid-April.

Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest Magazine
Follow me on Twitter @jessicastrawser

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6. Dorothy Parker’s Lessons in Self-Doubt

Ellen Meister author photo low resBY ELLEN MEISTER

When my adult writing students confess their struggles with self-doubt, they usually look panicked. I can’t possibly be a real writer, their eyes seem to say. I’m just never sure what I’m doing is right.

That’s when I explain that self-doubt is the fuel that drives us forward. Show me a writer with unshakable confidence, I tell them, and I’ll show you a lousy writer.

No one proves this more than Dorothy Parker. Though arguably the greatest literary wit of the twentieth century, she battled those demons of doubt every day.

In 1956, when interviewed by Paris Review and asked about the period in which she wrote poems, Parker replied, “My verses. I cannot say poems. Like everybody was then, I was following in the exquisite footsteps of Miss Millay, unhappily in my own horrible sneakers. My verses are no damn good. Let’s face it, honey, my verse is terribly dated—as anything once fashionable is dreadful now. I gave it up, knowing it wasn’t getting any better, but nobody seemed to notice my magnificent gesture.”

No damn good? I beg to differ. Dorothy Parker’s poetry still resonates with freshness and wit. Even her darkest verses, such as Resumé, have legions of modern fans.

But her self-deprecation didn’t stop there. In a 1945 telegram to her publisher at Viking she wrote: ALL I HAVE IS A PILE OF PAPER COVERED WITH WRONG WORDS. CAN ONLY KEEP AT IT AND HOPE TO HEAVEN TO GET IT DONE. DONT KNOW WHY IT IS SO TERRIBLY DIFFICULT OR I SO TERRIBLY INCOMPETENT.

The telegram referred to an introduction she had agreed to write for a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work. And it followed on the heels of an even more painful period of inertia, as she had been unable to fulfill her contract to write a novel. This was a lifelong thorn in her heart. Parker wanted desperately to write a novel, but couldn’t seem to get out of her own way. Her perfectionism may have been the culprit, as she was a relentless self-editor. In that same Paris Review interview she explained that it took her six months to write a short story, saying, “I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”

Clearly, she found the process more filled with despair than joy. It’s no wonder then, that she offered up the following advice: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

If that gives you pause, consider an even more famous quote from Parker: “I hate writing, I love having written.” Even if your feelings aren’t quite that extreme, the message is clear—the doubt isn’t going anywhere, so you may as well put away the panic and get to work.


 

Ellen Meister is a novelist, essayist, public speaker and creative writing instructor at Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY). She runs a popular Dorothy Parker page on Facebook that has almost150,000 followers.

Her fifth novel, Dorothy Parker Drank Here, is in stores now. To connect with Ellen, visit ellenmeister.com, and for daily quotes from Dorothy Parker, follow her Facebook page.

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7. Your Mom’s Unexpected Story

Your mom is in poor health and you spend extra time at her apartment taking care of her. While getting her out of bed and into her chair one day, she thanks you for all your help. Then she says that she needs to tell you a story about her past, one that you don’t know, and one that will change everything.

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

writing-promptsWant more creative writing prompts?

Pick up a copy of A Year of Writing Prompts: 365 Story Ideas for Honing Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block. There’s a prompt for every day of the year and you can start on any day.

Order now from our shop.

 

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8. How to Find and Keep a Literary Agent — Agent One-on-One Boot Camp (With Critiques) Starts March 25

How do you hook an agent right away, keep them hooked, and make the most of your new publishing relationship? In this Boot Camp starting March 23, 2015, “How to Find and Keep a Literary Agent,” you’ll learn how to get a literary agent’s attention through a great submission, and also how to navigate the process of working successfully with an agent. You’ll also work with an agent online (the instructing agents are from Sandra Dijkstra Literary) to review and refine your all-important query letter and the first 5 pages of your novel. As always, seats in the boot camp are limited, and many WD camps sell out — so consider signing up sooner rather than later. The March 23 camp is a great opportunity to get professional feedback on your writing.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 10.00.49 PM

 

This Boot Camp will cover a range of important questions:

— What keeps an agent reading? What makes writing jump off the page?
— What are the most common Chapter 1 mistakes that make them stop reviewing your submission?
— What are the steps you need to give your query and manuscript the best possible shot?
— What are the turn-on’s and turn-offs when it comes to queries?
— How do agents make judgment calls?
— And much more.

With real-life examples of queries that do and don’t work, you will learn how you can refine your own query letter and get an agent to request your novel.The world of literary agencies can be an intimidating place. You’ll be lead through the inner-workings of finding the perfect literary agent, working with an agent and how to get the most out of your relationship. See what a day in the life of an agent looks like, and get tips about how to find your perfect author-agent match that will result in a successful partnership.

The best part is that you’ll be working directly with a knowledgeable and experienced agent, who will provide feedback specific to your work. (Sign up for the boot camp here.)

Here’s how it works:

On March 23, you will gain access to a special 60-minute online tutorial presented by agents at the Dijkstra Literary Agency. It will explain the submission process of submitting to an agent, what they find appealing in a query letter and what an author-agent relationship looks like from the inside. You will also be notified by email which agent you’ll be working with Monday afternoon.

From 11:00 am to 1:00 pm (PT) on both March 24 and March 25, instructors will be available to answer questions and provide additional feedback via the Writer’s Digest University message boards. Only registered students can access these boards. You’ll also be able to ask question of your fellow students. Feel free to share your work and gain support from your peers.

After listening to the presentation and participating in the discussion sessions, you’ll be able to revise your query & first 5 double-spaced pages as necessary. Then, you’ll email those pages directly to Jill Marr, Elise Capron, Thao Le, Jessica Watterson, or Roz Foster, by the end of the day on Thursday, March 26. They will spend 15 days reviewing their assigned critiques and providing feedback as to what works and what doesn’t.

Please note that any one of the instructing agents may ask for additional pages if the initial submission shows serious promise. (Sign up for the boot camp here.)

In addition to feedback from instructing agents, attendees will also receive:

— Download of “An Agent’s Tips on Story Structures that Sell,” an on-demand webinar by Andrea Hurst
1-year subscription to the WritersMarket.com literary agent database

PLEASE NOTE: No Additional discounts are available. All sales are final. If you have a preferred agent you would like to work with, please notify WDU after registering.

RECAP ON DATES:

Monday, March 23 – Access to Tutorial
March 24 and March 25 – Blackboard Discussion 11 am to 1 pm (PT)
Thursday, March 26 – Materials due to agents
April 9 – All critiqued materials due back to attendees

About the Instructors:

ELISE CAPRON is an acquiring agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She also manages the SDLA office and works closely with Sandra Dijkstra on author development and management. She is most interested in serious, character-driven literary fiction and well-written narrative non-fiction (particularly serious history with a good story).

A graduate of Emerson College, Elise holds a BFA in Writing, Literature and Publishing, and served on the editorial staff of the Emerson Review for several years. She interned at Harcourt and the Dijkstra Agency before joining the agency full-time in late 2003.

Elise is interested in fiction that has unforgettable writing, a terrific narrative voice/tone, and memorable characters. She loves novels with an unusual or eccentric edge and is drawn to stories she has never heard before. She aims to work with writers who are getting their work published regularly in magazines and who have a realistic sense of the market and their audience. Some of Elise’s recent and soon-to-be-published fiction titles include Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning (Riverhead) andHow to Escape from a Leper Colony (Graywolf); Courtney Brkic’s The First Rule of Swimming(Little, Brown); Rachel Toor’s On The Road to Find Out (FSG); Jonathon Keats’ The Book of the Unknown (Random House); Rikki Ducornet’s Netsuke (Coffee House Press); Maureen McHugh’sAfter the Apocalypse(Small Beer Press), which was picked as a “Top 10 Best of the Year” byPublishers Weekly; Ali Liebegott’s The IHOP Papers (Carroll & Graf); Peter Plate’sSoon the Rest Will Fall (Seven Stories Press); and more.

On the non-fiction front, Elise is looking for fascinating true stories told in a compelling way. Currently, Elise is especially interested in working with up-and-coming scholars (particularly historians) who are looking to transition from the academic market to a trade readership. Some of Elise’s recent and soon-to-be-published non-fiction titles include Jack Shuler’s The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose (Public Affairs) andBlood and Bone: Truth and Reconciliation in a Southern Town (University of South Carolina Press); Leo Braudy’s Haunted; Jane Vandenburgh’s The Wrong Dog Dream: A True Romance (Counterpoint); Jonathon Keats’ Forged: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age (Oxford University Press); Cynthia Barnett’s Blue Is the New Green: An American Water Ethic(Beacon); Billy Smith’s Ship of Death: The Voyage That Changed the Atlantic World (Yale); and more.

Please note that Elise is specifically not interested in: fantasy, young-adult/middle-grade, picture books, romance, sci-fi, business books, cookbooks, poetry, religious/spiritual books, screenplays, or self-help. And while she is interested in narrative non-fiction, please note that she takes on very little memoir.

JILL MARR is an acquiring agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

She graduated from San Diego State University with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in History. She has a strong Internet and media background and nearly 15 years of publishing experience. She wrote features and ads forPages, the literary magazine for people who love books, and continues to write book ads for publishing houses, magazine pieces, and promotional features for television.

After writing ad copy and features for published books for years, she knows how to find the “hook” and sell it.

Jill is interested in commercial fiction, with an emphasis on mysteries, thrillers, romantic suspense and horror, women’s commercial fiction and historical fiction. She is also looking for non-fiction by authors who are getting their work published regularly and who have a realistic sense of the market and their audience. Jill is looking for non-fiction projects in the areas of history, sports, politics, current events, self-help, cookbooks, memoir, health & nutrition, pop culture, humor and music.

Some of Jill’s recent and soon-to-be-published non-fiction includes the Travel Channel’s Nick Groff’s Chasing Spirits (NAL); Maybe We’ll Have You Back (Skyhorse) by actor Fred Stoller; Get Over It (Seal Press) by Christina Pesoli; Doulas A. Wissing’s Funding Our Enemy(Prometheus Books); Why We Love Serial Killers (Skyhorse) by Scott Bonn;America’s Greatest “Failing” School(Nation Books) by journalist Kristina Rizga; Don’t Lick the Minivan (Skyhorse) by Leanne Shirtliffe; William Jones’More Than the Dream: The Untold Story of the March on Washington (Norton);Rocking the Pink(Seal Press) by singer-songwriter Laura Roppé; Stop Reading Baby Books (Skyhorse) by JJ Keith;Drunks: America’s Search for Sobriety by Christopher Finan; andArgyle Armada: Life with America’s Top Pro Cycling Team (VeloPress) by Mark Johnson.

Some of Jill’s new and upcoming fiction includes Bloodman and American Woman (Thomas & Mercer) by Robert Pobi; Reckless Disregard(Seven Stories Press) by Robert Rotstein; Three Souls (HarperCollins) by Janie Chang;Madam(Plume) by Cari Lynne and Kellie Martin; The Cordell Logan thriller series (The Permanent Press) by David Freed; Benefit of the Doubt (Tor/Forge) by Neal Griffin; Garbo’s Last Stand (Entranced) by Jon Miller; The Crossroads thriller series (Thomas & Mercer) by Eyre Price; The Dog Year (Berkley) by Ann Garvin; The Change Your Name Store (Sky Pony Press) by Leanne Shirliffe; and the Jaden Terrell series that includes the Shamus Award nomineeRacing the Devil and A Cup Full of Midnight (The Permanent Press).

Please note that Jill is specificallynot interested in:YA, children’s books, sci-fi, romance or anything involving unicorns.

ROZ FOSTER is an acquiring agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She works from New York.

She has a B.A. in English Literature from UC San Diego, studied philosophy for a year at the University of Sheffield, U.K., and earned her M.A. in English, with an emphasis in composition & rhetoric and creative writing, from Portland State University. At PSU, she taught writing in exchange for tuition. She’s been learning French since 2009.

Roz spent over five years as a qualitative researcher in high-tech consumer products marketing. In 2008, she co-founded a web design company for which she provided non-profit organizations with audience-focused market research, project planning, and digital design. She joined SDLA in 2013.

Roz is interested in non-fiction in the areas of cultural studies, sociology, business, history, politics, current affairs, science and design. She looks for driven, narrative storytelling and sharp concepts that have the potential to transcend their primary audience. She’s also interested in literary and commercial fiction, literary YA with crossover potential for the adult market, and literary sci-fi. In fiction, she looks for a resonant, lively voice; rich, irresistible language; characters with compelling development arcs; and a mastery of dramatic structure. Across the board, she’s looking for books that make her feel like the author is tuned into a rising revolution — cultural, political, literary, or what not — that’s about to burst on the scene.

Please note that Roz is specifically not interested in: sports, cookbooks, screenplays, poetry, romance, fantasy, or children’s books.

THAO LE joined the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency in 2011. She handles finances and select contracts and is also an agent.

Thao is looking for adult sci-fi/fantasy/horror, NA (new adult), YA (young adult), and MG (middle grade). She enjoys both gritty, dark narratives and fantastically quirky stories. She is also looking for light-hearted, funny, and moving contemporary YAs with a raw, authentic teen voice. She’s particularly drawn to memorable characters, smart-mouthed dialogue, strong plots, and tight writing. Her favorite books are ones that reimagine familiar tales and tropes in a completely fresh new way and she has a soft spot for multicultural stories and lush settings.

Recent sales include: Katherine Harbour’s fantasy THORN JACK (Harper Voyager), Lisa Freeman’s surf YA novel HONEY GIRL (Sky Pony Press), IPPY Award-winning S.K. Falls’ new adult novel ONE LAST SONG (Forever Yours), James Kendley’s paranormal thriller THE DROWNING GOD (Harper Voyager Impulse), Wendy Spinale’s steampunk Peter Pan retelling EVERLAND (Scholastic), and Kathryn Tanquary’s middle grade fantasy THE NIGHT PARADE (Sourcebooks).

Thao is not looking for: biographies, business books, cookbooks, memoirs, picture books, poetry, religious/spiritual books, screenplays, self-help, short stories, or travel books.

JESSICA WATTERSON graduated from the University of California at Irvine with a degree in Sociocultural Anthropology and English. Jessica has made books a serious part of her life for many years. Jessica is most interested in all subgenres of adult and new adult romance, and women’s fiction. She is looking for heartfelt and unique romance that will instantly draw a reader in and keep them hooked.

 

(Sign up for the boot camp here.)

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9. WD Poetic Form Challenge: Paradelle

First poetic form challenge of 2015, and it’s a doozy! This time, we’ll be tackling the paradelle. Click here to check out how to write a paradelle.

This crazy form created by Billy Collins started as a joke, but it’s target audience (poets!) are gluttons for punishment and a real poetic challenge. And, well, these WD Poetic Form Challenges are supposed to be a challenge too, right? Just remember: I didn’t create this form.

So start writing them and sharing here on the blog (this specific post) for a chance to be published in Writer’s Digest magazine–as part of the Poetic Asides column. (Note: You have to log in to the site to post comments/poems; creating an account is free.)

Here’s how the challenge works:

  • Challenge is free. No entry fee.
  • The winner (and sometimes a runner-up or two) will be featured in a future edition of Writer’s Digest magazine as part of the Poetic Asides column.
  • Deadline 11:59 p.m. (Atlanta, GA time) on March 15, 2015.
  • Poets can enter as many paradelles as they wish. The more “work” you make for me the better, but remember: I’m judging on quality, not quantity.
  • All poems should be previously unpublished. If you have a specific question about your specific situation, just send me an e-mail at robert.brewer@fwcommunity.com. Or just write a new paradelle.
  • I will only consider paradelles shared in the comments below. It gets too confusing for me to check other posts, go to other blogs, etc.
  • Speaking of posting, if this is your first time, your comment may not appear immediately. However, it should appear within a day (or 3–if shared on the weekend). So just hang tight, and it should appear eventually. If not, send me an e-mail at the address above.
  • Please include your name as you would like it to appear in print. If you don’t, I’ll be forced to use your user/screen name, which might be something like HaikuPrincess007 or MrLineBreaker. WD has a healthy circulation, so make it easy for me to get your byline correct.
  • Finally–and most importantly–be sure to have fun!

******

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

Publish your poetry!

Get the most trusted guide to publishing your poetry: the 2015 Poet’s Market!

Edited by Robert Lee Brewer, this edition of Poet’s Market includes articles on the craft of poetry, business of poetry, and promotion of poetry. Plus, interviews with poets and original contemporary poems. Oh yeah, and hundreds of poetry publishing opportunities, including book publishers, chapbook publishers, magazines, journals, online publications, contests, and so much more!

Click to continue.

*****

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Find more poetic posts here:

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10. Your Story 65: Submit Now!

Prompt: Write a short story, of 750 words or fewer, based on the prompt below:

Love gets him into more trouble than hate ever could.

You can be funny, poignant, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

Use the submission form below OR email your submission directly to yourstorycontest@fwmedia.com with the subject “Your Story #65.”

IMPORTANT: If you experience trouble with the submission form, please email your submission directly to yourstorycontest@fwmedia.com within the body of your email (no attachments, please).

Unfortunately, we cannot respond to every entry we receive, due to volume. No confirmation emails will be sent out to confirm receipt of submission. But be assured all submissions received before entry deadline are considered carefully. Official Rules

Entry Deadline: April 13, 2015

[contact-form-7]

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11. Literary Agent Sound Off: Query Letter Basics

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 11.04.09 PMBelow find a collection of helpful quotes from literary agents regarding how to write & submit a query letter. 12 reps chime in with helpful advice.

(This post excerpted from the new writing guide Get a Literary Agent, which you can find wherever books are sold, in person or online, including the WD Shop.)

———————-

Queries are business letters. Agenting is business. Publishing is business. I try to be nice and friendly and funny and all, but the bottom line is that I expect those with whom I work to be professional and take what they’re doing seriously.
—Linda Epstein (Jennifer De Chiara Literary)

The best query letters convey the tone of the book.
—Mollie Glick (Foundry Literary + Media)

I dislike it when a query letter focuses too much on the author’s bio and doesn’t tell me what the book is about. Make sure you include essential story details.
—Shira Hoffman (McIntosh & Otis, Inc.)

First, take heart—agents really will read a great query. For queries, here’s a secret: Any agent will read a well-researched, personal query. Show the agent that you know a little about the list that she pours so much time and care into. You can do this by stating something such as, ‘I’m writing to you because I loved Book X and I know that you represent Writer Z.’ Then write a smart, focused query.
—Lindsay Edgecombe (Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency)

I’m sure it has been said before but the best queries are the ones that are pitched to agents who share your sensibilities. Don’t pitch an agent who specializes in science fiction a book about financial markets, and vice versa. Also, avoid the term ‘fiction novel.’
—Melissa Flashman (Trident Media Group)

I love a query that reads like the back of a book cover. Also, I do encourage all writers to treat their query as a job interview. Be professional. Be concise.
—Nicole Resciniti (The Seymour Agency)

Spell-check your letter. Follow all the agent’s directions for submitting a query.
—Dawn Dowdle (Blue Ridge Literary Agency)

Being able to really articulate what you want to say in a short query is difficult yet extremely important. We need to see something that jumps out at us as different, passionate, and expressive. On a daily basis, our team reads and considers several submissions, so it is those ideas that promise change and innovation that catch our eye.
—Jan Miller (Dupree/Miller & Associates)

The silliest mistake I see in a submission (and I see it surprisingly often) is an unprofessional query letter. I’ve received queries for ‘Dear Editor,’ ‘Dear Agent,’ ‘Dear Publisher,’ as well as e-mail queries that are addressed to ten different agents together. I wonder if people really think someone will want to work with you if you can’t be bothered to get their name right. A little homework and a professional letter that provides all the information we request in our submissions guidelines on our website is the best way to showcase your work and send the message that you will be pleasant to work with.
—Jacqueline Flynn (Joelle Delbourgo Associates)

Query letters do need a voice. Some voice. Your voice. You can tell when a writer is a natural, and can convey simple ideas and plot summary without being boring or giving away too much.
—Elana Roth (Red Tree Literary)

Avoid a sentence such as ‘This is my third (or fourth, or fifth, or sixth) unpublished novel, so I am clearly very dedicated and hardworking…’
—Alex Glass (Glass Literary)

Watch those typos, folks! We do notice.
—Peter McGuigan (Foundry Literary + Media)

Ever since I started taking electronic submissions, I’ve found that many people don’t put the care into query letters that they would have in a hardcopy submission. It’s as if they see an electronic query letter more as another random e-mail than a professional introduction to their work. So I’m seeing the disturbing, ‘Hey, I’ve got this manuscript I think is right up your alley. Can I send it?’ sort of letters. Writers should think of the query as they would a cover letter that goes along with a résumé. You wouldn’t dash that off carelessly (or CC it to everyone in the field, another common mistake), so don’t do it with query letters.
—Lucienne Diver (The Knight Agency)

*************

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

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12. WD Poetic Form Challenge: Gogyohka Winner

Thank you to everyone who submitted a gogyohka! I’ve been sitting on the winner and already have the erasure winner ready too (look for that next week).

My initial short list included nearly 50 poems, so it was crazy competitive (like usual). But I did cut it down to one winner and 10 finalists. This time around Marian O’Brien Paul won for her poem “Parsing Autumn,” which was actually a gogyohka chain.

Here’s the winning Gogyohka:

Parsing Autumn, by Marian O’Brien Paul

In our courtyard
two locust trees
one drenching us
with gold
before the other

Slate-gray lake
lounging
beneath the sky
mirror image:
a selfie

On the ground
a dead squirrel
its tail still bushy
body curled
as if sleeping

Pumpkins piled
into mounds
at markets
promising pies
Jack-O’Lanterns

*****

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

Publish your poetry!

Get the most trusted guide to publishing your poetry: the 2015 Poet’s Market!

Edited by Robert Lee Brewer, this edition of Poet’s Market includes articles on the craft of poetry, business of poetry, and promotion of poetry. Plus, interviews with poets and original contemporary poems. Oh yeah, and hundreds of poetry publishing opportunities, including book publishers, chapbook publishers, magazines, journals, online publications, contests, and so much more!

Click to continue.

*****

Here is the Top 10 list:

  1. “Parsing Autumn,” by Marian O’Brien Paul
  2. “Two Big Herons on a Little Pond,” by William Preston
  3. “Lump,” by Marie Elena Good
  4. “(When I misplace),” by drnurit
  5. “Envy,” by J. Lynn Sheridan
  6. “Dying Embers,” by Tracy Davidson
  7. “Landlord,” by Jessica Cummins
  8. “(the moon),” by James Brush
  9. “Trouble in Paradise,” by Daniel Roessler
  10. “lost,” by Nancy Posey

Congratulations to Marian and everyone in the Top 10! And thank you to everyone who took the time to participate and comment on each others’ poems.

As mentioned above, an announcement on the erasure challenge is coming soon. In the meantime, watch for the next poetic form and poetic form challenge.

Also, be sure to read through all the comments from the gogyohka challenge. Click to continue.

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

He loves reading and writing the various poetic forms and can’t wait for the next April Poem-A-Day Challenge (not far away now).

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Find more poetic posts here:

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13. Snow Shovelling Showdown

You’re outside shoveling your own driveway when you decide, as a kind gesture, to shovel your neighbor’s driveway too. Just then a group of teenagers with shovels show up and threaten you, claiming that this is “their turf.” What do you do?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

writing-promptsWant more creative writing prompts?

Pick up a copy of A Year of Writing Prompts: 365 Story Ideas for Honing Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block. There’s a prompt for every day of the year and you can start on any day.

Order now from our shop.

 

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14. The Utility (and Trappings) of the Novel Outline

I’ve been selling books for more than fifteen years and learning to write novels even longer. Of all the author readings and Q&A sessions I’ve hosted (and attended), one of the most common questions among beginning writers, even curious readers, is this: Do you start with an outline?

You’ve heard the pros and cons. An outline helps organize your thoughts and prevents you from spinning your wheels and traveling down dead-end storylines. The flipside, of course, is that constructing an outline boxes you in and limits the possibility of discovery, which is the most creative and rewarding part of writing.

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 9.10.17 PM   Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 9.09.58 PM

Column by Jamie Kornegay, author of SOIL, to be released March 10,
2015, from Simon & Schuster. The book, a combination of literary suspense
and Southern gothic, was called “gripping” and “haunting” by Kirkus Reviews.
He lives in the Mississippi Delta, where he runs an independent bookstore,
Turnrow Book Co. Connect with him on Twitter — @JamieKornegay.

 

First, it’s important to note that there are no ironclad rules to novel writing. Every writer works differently and stumbles upon his or her preferred method through trial and error. The novel, rather than writing advisers, should tell you what it needs.

The traditional term paper outline, with its Roman numerals and letters, is helpful to organize a finite amount of information, but a novel is more amorphous. I couldn’t begin to collect a novel’s potential in an outline, though I certainly understand the impulse. There’s something terrifying about the blank page and its stark white emptiness. What could you put there that anyone would want to read?

It’s only natural that a writer would wish to escape such a daunting task. If an outline is a way to get the paper dirty, then go for it. Just remember that those first scratchings are exploration. Don’t lock yourself into a story that you haven’t discovered through hard work. The wheel-spinning and dead ends and wasted time are part of discovering what your book is about, and if you bypass that, you’re opting for ease and convenience over depth of storytelling. Nothing worthwhile comes easy.

After the spark of an idea, the fuel for your story is character. If you don’t yet know the character as intimately as you know your best friends, then how can you decide what that character will do when matched with the conflicts of the novel?

While imagining your characters, you will naturally develop scenes and storylines and bits of history. Once these begin to accumulate, then you have something to attach to an outline. For me, an outline is an expression of the novel’s structure, which gradually reveals itself, like hacking a totem out of simple log.

My first published novel, Soil, began like many other books – with a single image. I was driving past flooded farmland and saw a stump sticking out of the muck. For a fleeting moment, I thought it was a corpse. What if it had been? That would be a nightmare to deal with. I began to imagine a landowner happening upon the body, growing scared and paranoid.  He might worry about becoming a suspect. What if he didn’t tell anyone, just got rid of it? How would he cover it up completely, taking every precaution so that no trace of it would be discovered? This kind of morbid daydreaming is the stuff of novels.

I reasoned out creative answers to my own tough questions. I slowly began to understand the main character, his motivations and obsessions. I wrote wasted pages and dead ends galore. Eventually I found the right path. I could feel the story gaining traction as new characters arrived and ideas poured forth. It was time to make the outline.

I kept my outline informal, intuitive. I used the outline almost like flypaper to trap scenes and ideas that were coming quicker than words, as my characters were finally alive and could make their own decisions about the story.

The outline helped me negotiate the tricky framework of Soil, which is told somewhat out of sequence. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the book. The structure came out of a desire to maintain that initial sense of mystery I felt after discovering the “body” in the field, all the hows and whys and the slow discovery of my characters’ secrets and motivations.

The novel is divided into five sections comprised of several chapters each. Each section opens with a strange, hopefully compelling episode, and then goes back in time to reveal how the characters reached this point. I thought this looping effect generated a nice suspense, and it also informed the deeper themes of Soil, specifically the cycles of nature and our inevitable return to the earth. If I did my job right, then the complicated structure should not present a stumbling block to the reader. It took careful planning, and my own specially designed outline.

The book I’m currently working on has a linear structure, told over the course of a week. Each chapter is a day, and understanding that from the outset allows me to work out of sequence easily, depending of what inspiration strikes me or what I find during my day-to-day life to steal and apply to the novel.

Just remember that an outline shouldn’t decide the story, your characters do that. An outline is where you string up the pieces to see the big picture and make your novel is a coherent whole.

 

This guest column is a supplement to the
“Breaking In” (debut authors) feature of this author
in Writer’s Digest magazine. Are you a subscriber
yet? If not, get a discounted one-year sub here.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

 

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15. Dentist Disaster

You go in for a rather complex dental procedure and the dentist has to put you under in order to complete it. When you wake up, though, you are no longer in the dentist office. You are on a train with a briefcase handcuffed to your wrist. Just as you are soaking in this situation, a man walks in with a gun and points it at you. What happens?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

writing-promptsWant more creative writing prompts?

Pick up a copy of A Year of Writing Prompts: 365 Story Ideas for Honing Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block. There’s a prompt for every day of the year and you can start on any day.

Order now from our shop.

 

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16. 2014 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Results

The 2014 November PAD (Poem-A-Day) Chapbook Challenge results are in, and I can’t wait to share the winner. I always shoot for Groundhog Day to make the big announcement, but I don’t always hit that mark. The only reason I’m a day off this time around is that the competition was so fierce.

A little more than 100 chapbook manuscripts were entered, and many of them would’ve been in the running as a finalist in previous years. It made for great reading, but it also made for great anxiety in figuring out finalists–let alone a winner!

*****

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

Publish your poetry!

Get the most trusted guide to publishing your poetry: the 2015 Poet’s Market!

Edited by Robert Lee Brewer, this edition of Poet’s Market includes articles on the craft of poetry, business of poetry, and promotion of poetry. Plus, interviews with poets and original contemporary poems. Oh yeah, and hundreds of poetry publishing opportunities, including book publishers, chapbook publishers, magazines, journals, online publications, contests, and so much more!

Click to continue.

*****

It was tough to pick a winner, but pick a winner I did: A Good Passion, by Barbara Young.

Congratulations, Barbara!

Here are a few poems from A Good Passion:

“About the Language and Inevitable Death,” by Barbara Young

Once upon a time
and this is before you
or I or your mother or
the dry disappearing women
who live under bridges
were born, words –some
words– had different meanings
than today’s.
Night, for instance.
And Alone.     Alone, alone
could fill all the space between all the yellow cities
on the map with
hollow, a hollow more empty than the echo
of the emptiest of moved from homes, dust
where the dresser was, a penny, half a toothpick.
But we use ancestors’ words
to name the things we know. And call the yellow
night sky black. And say he died
and went to hell.

 

“Jericho Road,” by Barbara Young

Blind Bartimaus, they called him
before the miracle.

What was he, to himself, after?
I lost weight once.

Never in my own mind, though.
Gained back more.

And never became that person,
revised, either. Tell me

Blind man, about the aftermath
of your miracle.

 

“XX,” by Barbara Young

A kiss
so sweet I
hit
repeat

*****

Again, congratulations, Barbara!

But wait! There’s more!

I have, of course, picked a few other chapbooks to recognize as well. While I could list more than a dozen that gave A Good Passion a run for its money, here are the Top 5 chapbooks, including the winner:

  1. A Good Passion, by Barbara Young
  2. A Nest of Shadormas, by William Preston
  3. The Staircase Before You, by Jess(i)e Marino
  4. Lives Other Than Our Own, by James Von Hendy
  5. 1991 Winter, by Marilyn Braendeholm

Congratulations to all the finalists! And to everyone who entered!

I often receive notes of success from poets who’ve entered these challenges and found success with their poems–both individually and as collections–elsewhere. I expect great things from the poems and collections submitted this year!

And remember: the 2015 April PAD Challenge is just around the corner!

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

He enjoyed the 2014 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, and he is looking forward to the 2015 April PAD Challenge!

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Find more poetic posts here:

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17. Brad Meltzer: Bonus WD Interview Outtakes

If you’re a history buff, you might know Brad Meltzer from the two History channel shows he’s hosted: “Decoded” (an investigation of unsolved mysteries and conspiracy theories) and “Lost History” (a search for missing artifacts). If you read suspense, perhaps you know him for his legal thrillers (Meltzer has a law degree and was once an intern on Capitol Hill), or for his Culper Ring Series of secrets and symbols in Washington, D.C. (the latest, The President’s Shadow, is due out this June). If you’re a parent, it may be the Ordinary People Change the World picture book series that comes to mind (he released four in 2014, including No. 1 bestseller I Am Amelia Earhart, and his  latest, I Am Jackie Robinson, hit shelves in January), or his inspirational collections Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter. Or perhaps you’re a fan of his comics, inspiring TED Talks, the old WB teen drama “Jack & Bobby” he co-created, or even just his popular Twitter feed.

But no matter what you know Brad Meltzer from, if you’ve seen any of his work, you know Brad Meltzer. It’s his passion that’s the calling card of everything he writes, and he pours himself into his work with geek-level enthusiasm, an unassuming likability and good humor.

In the March/April 2015 Writer’s Digest, Meltzer talked with WD about jumping fences to greener pastures, keeping yourself hungry and never letting anyone tell you no. Here, in these online exclusive outtakes, find out more about how he adds authentic details to his stories, and what can be learned from his favorite character of all time.

You’re known for your meticulous, on-scene research. When you go on those sorts of fact-finding missions, how do you soak in that experience—what’s your method? I’m assuming if access is limited you don’t want to have to email someone and say, “Wait, was that door on the left, or on the right?”
I don’t mind [following up] for the tiny, tiny details. In fact, today I emailed someone at the National Archives and said, “I forget, does your hallway have that marble wainscoting on it or not?” And it’s such a dumb little detail, but to me it’s the most vital little detail, because you don’t want to get that one wrong.

I think I’m very good at the full-on experience of how it feels there. I just have a really good memory for what I see. I will jot down things like carpet color and paint color and things that strike me, but it’s hard to describe [what I’m really looking for]. It’s like the Supreme Court definition of pornography: I know it when I see it. And when I’m researching, I just know it when I see it. Most of the time I don’t even know what I’m looking for.

If I knew what I was looking for, I’d know before I got there. But so many times, you go for a world that interests you, and then you find something else that makes you go, Oh, that’s interesting. I think the better use of research is getting to know people and talking to people where they develop a trust and tell you their greatest story. If you go in there and you’re the only one and you know what you want to write and you just want to write it, then why bother them? But you’re there and taking their time because they have something amazing to share with you, and as a writer, all you’re doing is trying to look through someone else’s eyes. So stop and take a look. You can ask them later about how the door opens and closes.

I remember for [my first novel], we were on the final final edits, and I called [the Supreme Court administration] and said, “Key question,” and they were like, “Yes!” and I was like, “On Page 1 of my very first published novel: Does the front door of the Supreme Court push open or pull out?” So yes, I’ll go do that, but that to me is not the use of [on-site research] time. Especially today with Google and things like that you can get half the things you want. People just post everything about their workplace these days.

Is there anything you’ve really wanted to do research-wise that you haven’t been able to crack yet?
No—there’s nothing I’ve gone after that I haven’t been able to … Well, that’s not true. The only place I physically couldn’t get into is Camp David, but I wound up getting a couple of amazing never-to-be-named sources who walked me through it. And I feel like if you put me in it today, I could walk around like I knew the place. But it’s all done through people’s descriptions. I was never able to physically get in there.

But I’ll tell you the hardest one of all was Disney World. I [wrote about] the secret tunnels under Disney World. And I’ve researched the White House, and the Supreme Court, and the United States Capital, but Disney World keeps its secrets better than all of those combined.

I don’t know what that says about America …
I’ll tell you why. It’s because people in the government are there for a short amount of time and then they leave. Disney people are there for life. And they are not ruining their life. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it, and scary.

I love the interactive format of your “Lost History” show, the idea of inviting the audience in. Do you ever foresee being able to do something like that with a book?
It’s funny, in a strange way I already do. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, sometimes I’ll just say, “OK, people, what’s the best kiss you ever had taste like?” To me that’s just a fascinating way to kind of ask your friends—because the community that is there, I know this group, and they know my sense of humor and they’ll be sending me stuff all day.

I don’t think you can ever focus group a book, I don’t believe in that. There’s this famous story, I think it was in The New York Times years ago, and it said they tried to focus group art. And they asked people what kind of art they liked, and people said they liked beautiful sunsets, and they put a sunset in, and they said they liked famous people, so they put George Washington in, and they said they liked animals, so they put him on a horse, and by the focus group that should be the greatest piece of art ever, and of course it’s just like Elvis on velvet. So you can’t focus group art, you have to tell your own story. But I think the closest we come now is just when you’re looking for that detail.

You hinted that your next book will be a stand-alone.
Yeah, but I do want to do another series—I got the series bug! I’ve realized …

My favorite character in all of fiction is Batman. To me Batman is the best character because he’s thousands upon thousands of pages have been spent by writers and artists honing him into this finely tuned character that you know exactly what he is supposed to do on every page. If someone said, “Batman lifted up his mask and had a big smile on his face and was so happy,” you’d say, “That’s not Batman.” You’d know he would never do that. And it took me a long time to realize that the only reason that happens—this is so obvious, but I’m just not that smart—is because people took that time to keep filing away. He’s not that person in the first story, but the pieces are there. It’s just a matter of someone taking the time [through the series] and figuring them all out in the same direction. And when you do I just think the reward is so great, and you can get into that character in a way that you can’t with a character that you’ve only met for a year. It’s like comparing the first year of dating someone with year 10. There’s great plusses and great minuses but the depth is so much deeper if you take your time.

For the complete WD Interview with Brad Meltzer, don’t miss the March/April 2015 Writer’s Digest, available for instant download or preorder in the Writer’s Digest Shop.

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18. New Literary Agent Alert: Sarah Nagel of Writers House

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Sarah Nagel of Writers House) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

 

sarah-nagel-literary-agent

 

About Sarah: Sarah Nagel joined Writers House in 2011 to work with Senior Vice President, Merrilee Heifetz and is now actively building her own client list. Previously, Sarah was a media lawyer in London and graduated with two separate degrees in English Language and Literature, and Law. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahNagel14.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

She is seeking: Sarah is looking for psychological thrillers (those that mess with your head rather than high speed cross-country chases), horror, mystery, suspense and literary fiction. Sarah is especially interested in strong character-driven fiction and stories that explore the dynamics of a dysfunctional family unit / relationships. Sarah also represents realistic Young Adult and Middle Grade with a hint of magical realism. On the nonfiction side, Sarah is interested in medical ethics, true crime, humor books and memoir with a distinctive narrative voice with a universal resonance. Sarah is not looking for straight sci-fi, high fantasy, romance or picture books.

How to submit: “I accept e-mail queries and will usually respond within 4-6 weeks. Please submit your query, including the first ten (10) pages of your manuscript pasted into the body of the e-mail (no attachments please!), to snagel [at] writershouse.com with “QUERY FOR SARAH NAGEL: [TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT]” in the subject line. Please do not query multiple Writers House agents simultaneously.”

(Can you re-query an agent after she’s rejected you in the past?)

 

2015-GLA-smallThe biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Add a Comment
19. Comment on Letter to a Lost Loved One by percy jackson

hi this is my first prompt so feel free 2 criticise.(btw my name is rafay i am 11 years old)

it was 5 millenia ago that it happened , this place , this time , this life
O how i miss those two , my daughter Altheia…her art,her wisdom. it was all copmparable with the godess Athena… in fact better.
My son Demitrius, he was nine… 5 days away from his tenth birthday.
he was such a good strong boy, always making his Mama proud.
he had A future ahead of him.
BEING THE KING OF LIBYA AHEAD OF HIM.
my daughter O her sculptures were the finest in all of Greece!
but that , thats all over now beacause Hera killed them
KILLED THEM. just beacause Zeus the king of all the gods prefered marrying me.
none of it was my fault all hers.
she deserves to rot in tarturas NOT ME!
I remember that day… demetrius was in my lap and Altheia at my side i was telling the story of Heracles
when the palace doors flung open and that little pregnant goldfish Hera came in with a long staff
and she smashed it on the ground and the lifeless bodies of my beautiful children laid at my feet
and hera walked towards me and screamed
this will be a lesson to you for marrying my husband
and everything blacked out
and when i woke up i was in tartarus and i looked at myself
i was a monster my nails had become long talons
my eyes were glowing red i had long leathery wings with spikes all over
and she turned me into the monster world calls Lamia
and i would like too tell my children who might have reincarnated or might be in elisium
that they should stay strong and know mama is watching them
but what am i going to do?
one word
REVENGE.

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20. Comment on Letter to a Lost Loved One by Reaper

And now for the one in the spirit but not the letter of the prompt. I’m sure I will upset some people with this one, but I gotta be me.

Oh Captain My Captain

You were in my life but I was not in yours. Not beyond that basic connection we all share anyway. Why has it taken me so long to speak to you, to speak of you? Because you were one of my heroes. You were one of the giants treading the world with an I don’t give a shit attitude and a devil may care smile. Then you did the thing I have never been able to forgive. You made yourself into a coward when you had it all.

No matter how unfair it is that stigma will taint my memory of you. My father taught me that suicide is the coward’s way out. Every religion tells me it is the one unforgivable sin. I know I overstate but most of them say it at least conditionally. That was who you became to me. You were a giant and became your own unruly David. How could you do that to yourself? You had so much to live for. How could you do that to us? You brought us so much joy and now we had to mourn you. How the hell could you do that to me? I needed men like you in the world.

A quirky entertainer. An actor who openly gamed? I don’t mean played video games, now every actor does that but you were the first big name to admit he table topped! You gave me hope for the world, for humanity, for everyone who was different. Then you took it away in a moment of shameful weakness. I will never forgive you. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe I don’t need to.

I don’t understand your battles. I know, and looking back I see how much pain there was inside. A desperate man battling the same fights we all must endure. How much harder was it for you with such a sensitive soul? How heavy did it weigh on you that we all looked to you for a laugh, to help us escape our every day pains when all you wanted to do was heal yourself? You tried, but still you were our golden calf, our doorway to a different place. I know you tried and I wonder if maybe we had just let you if things could have been different.

You gave us so much and we could not even give you privacy. You overcame your addictions, more than once, and yet you tried to stay healthy. How hard was it for you when you were warring with the feelings that finally overtook you and we splashed it on the internet and ate it up. In the middle of your struggle you had to pause and reassure us that you had not started using again. Time you could have been using to heal and we just weighed you down.

I cannot forgive the act but I can focus on your legacy. Nobody can replace you but I can live my life to bring entertainment to others as you did. I hope that is a fitting tribute. I hope that can help make those religions wrong and let you rest in peace. I hope you can forgive yourself.

I hope because it is all I have and there is less of it in the world without you. Thank you for everything you gave us.

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21. New Literary Agent Alert: Caitie Flum of Liza Dawson Associates

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Caitie Flum of Liza Dawson Associates) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 12.08.21 AM

 

About Caitie: Caitie Flum joined Liza Dawson Associates in July 2014 as assistant and audio rights manager. She graduated from Hofstra University in 2009 with a BA in English with a concentration in publishing studies. Caitie interned at Hachette Book Group and Writers House. She was an Editorial Assistant then Coordinator for Bookspan, where she worked on several clubs including the Book-of-the-Month Club, The Good Cook, and the Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club. She is taking on her own clients in 2015. Caitie grew up in Ohio where she developed her love of reading everything she could get her hands on. She lives in New Jersey with her husband where, in her free time, she can be found cooking, reading, going to the theater, or intensely playing board games.

(Hear a dozen agents explain exactly what they want to see the slush pile. See if your work is a match.)

Caitie is seeking: Commercial and upmarket fiction with great characters and superb writing, especially historical fiction, mysteries/thrillers of all kinds, magical realism, and book club fiction.

“In historical fiction, I would love to see unusual perspectives and stories told in a unique way. I am eager for police procedurals, cozy mysteries, psychological thrillers, and amateur sleuths, especially those with series potential. I love book club/women’s fiction that shows characters that have made the hard or unpredictable choice or are funny yet poignant stories. Please send me books of all these genres that have diversity!

“I am looking for Young Adult and New Adult projects, particularly romance, historical fiction, mysteries and thrillers, and contemporary books with diverse characters.

“In nonfiction, I am looking for memoirs that make people look at the world differently, narrative nonfiction that’s impossible to put down, books on pop culture, theater, current events, women’s issues, and humor.

“I am not looking for science fiction, fantasy, westerns, military fiction, self-help, science, middle grade, or picture books.”


How to submit to Caitie: Email your query in the body of the e-mail to querycaitie [at] lizadawsonassociates.com.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

 

2015-GLA-smallThe biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Add a Comment
22. Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction — Jan. 22 Webinar (With Critique) by Agent Jennifer Laughran

Middle Grade books are generally defined as being books for children aged 8-12…. and at the moment, these books are hot-hot-hot. From the commercial successes of titles like DIARY OF A WIMPY KID and Rick Riordan’s LIGHTNING THIEF saga, to more “literary” award-winning fare, it seems most publishers are seeking the next great Middle Grade success story. But middle grade is also a tough category to write for. Much of what appears in the slush pile is cheesy or derivative, or just lacks “spark.” So what makes a great Middle Grade novel? What is selling? What are agents and editors looking for? And how can you make your book stand out and shine?

In this live webinar, “Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction,” instructor and literary agent Jennifer Laughran (of Andrea Brown Literary) will talk about what’s happening in the exciting Middle Grade market, as well as examine some recently published titles to see what they got right. She’ll also talk revision tips and tricks to help you take your work-in-progress to the next level. It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes.

Screen shot 2014-08-09 at 5.15.20 PM U9476

 

ABOUT THE CRITIQUE

All registrants are invited to submit EITHER the query letter OR the first 500 words of their complete / work-in-progress middle grade novel for critique. All submissions are guaranteed a written critique by literary agent Jennifer Laughran. Jennifer reserves the right to request more writing from attendees by e-mail following the event, if she deems the writing excellent.

Please Note: Even if you can’t attend the live webinar, registering for this live version will enable you to receive the On Demand webinar and a personal critique of your material. Purchasing the On Demand version after the live event will not include a critique.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

— What’s selling in Middle Grade… and what just isn’t.
— The all-important “Hook”, and what “High Concept” looks like
— Finding the elusive Middle Grade Voice
— Common mistakes of Middle Grade submissions
— Overused beginnings and clichés that can drag down a work
— How to polish your work and stand out from the slush pile
— What “core curriculum” guidelines for schools might mean for your book. Sign up for the webinar here.

INSTRUCTOR

Jennifer Laughran is a senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, the oldest children’s-only agency in the US. Before she joined the agency in 2008, she spent about a decade as a children’s book buyer and event coordinator for various successful bookstores. Her many years of experience in the children’s book field have made her one of the top kid’s book agents working today. She reps picture books through YA, but has a particular love for Middle Grade novels — the warmer and funnier the better. Clients include Daniel Pinkwater, Kate Messner, Jo Whittemore, Linda Urban, and many debut authors whose names you’ll know soon!

Sign up for the Jan 22 webinar here.

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23. How to Write A Plausible Character – 3 Key Tips

There are many elements writers need to pay close attention to when creating a fictional world. There’s setting, plot, pacing, voice, imagery and so on. Everything is important, everything counts. That said, one of my favorite places to focus my writing attention is on my characters.

How do your create a good character? Well, the short answer is that she has to be believable. I tell my students and the people I mentor that this means a fictional character has to closely resemble a living person.


Anne Leigh Parrish, 1

WhatIsFoundWhatIsLost_CoverThis guest post is by Anne Leigh Parrish, author of What is Found, What is Lost. Her debut story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home (Press 53, 2011) won a silver medal in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Her second collection, Our Love Could Light The World, (She Writes Press, 2013) is a Kirkus Reviews recommended Indie title, and a finalist in both the International Book Awards and the Best Book Awards. She is the fiction editor for the online literary magazine Eclectica. She lives in Seattle.


Keep in mind, a character doesn’t have to be nice, or moral, or a pillar of the community. Decent people with no flaws or vices don’t usually make for the most interesting reading. But nor can a character be all bad, with no redeeming traits. In other words, a character has to possess one essential element: complexity.

I don’t mean to suggest that a character should be hard to read (in fact, you don’t want them to be), or super mysterious, or generally murky and unclear. You want the reader to know what makes your person tick, what gets them up in the morning and what wakes them up at night. Your reader needs to know what your character wants, what he’s afraid of losing and willing to fight for.

Motivation

Once you know what motivates your character, you can flesh her out, so to speak. Keeping with emotional or psychological aspects of personality, think about what makes your person feel guilty, or embarrassed, angry, even terrified. Your plot will bring out these reactions, so it’s important that your character react accordingly. A wooden character who feels nothing isn’t going to cut it, I’m afraid. On the other hand, a character that goes to pieces all the time can be just as dull – unless, for example, he uses his melt-downs as a way to manipulate those around him.

[Here are 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters]

Aesthetics

Now let’s move on to the physical person. The obvious question is, what does she look like? Some authors tend to give a lot of details to the reader – height, hair color, eye color, and so on, but that’s never worked for me. When I read a short story or a novel, I like to fill in the missing pieces for myself, because this keeps me engaged and interested. Keeping that in mind, I give only one or two items the reader can hang an image on – a crooked nose, a missing tooth, a small red mark on one cheek, bitten down-finger nails, a limp, a tendency to slump, mumble, laugh at sudden moments – the list is pretty long, if not endless. The important thing is to mention whatever handful of traits you’ve chosen strategically throughout the piece, sort of as reminders about the person. Someone he’s meeting for lunch can think to herself, there’s that gappy smile again, the one that made me fall for him in the first place, or, I wish I didn’t love that gappy smile so much.

Idiosyncrasy

Along with psychology and the physical reality of a fictional character are gestures or habits. Maybe these come out under stress. Maybe they’re a sign of happiness, or anticipation. I love those characters of mine who convey what they’re feeling by doing something we’ve seen them do before – like biting a lip, or twirling a strand of hair. The first time this happens, of course, you need to tell the reader what’s up. If a long period of time passes before the next gesture, and the reader hasn’t yet had a chance to see this has a habit, you’ll need to remind them. Sally always pulled her hair when she lied, or When Davie got an idea, he leaned forward and snapped the fingers of his right hand. I think it’s gestures like these, almost more than any other aspect of a fictional character, that really brings someone to life.

In sum, a fictional character must resemble a living person. Figure out what makes her tick, what he wants and is willing to fight for. Give readers a few solid physical details, and let them fill in the blanks for themselves. Lastly, endow your person with some habits and gestures that will appear more than once, and suggest an emotional state or experience.

Happy writing!

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

brian-klems-2013


Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

 

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24. How 5 Great Writers Got Started on Their First Books

While working on my book Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, I found that even for the best writers in the world, getting started can be the hardest part. Here’s how 5 great authors found what they needed to get started on their very first novels…

(16 things to do prior to sending your work out to agents & editors.)

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 7.22.09 PM Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 7.21.56 PM

Column by Sarah Stodola, author of PROCESS: THE WRITING LIVES OF GREAT AUTHORS. She has contributed to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Daily Beast, and Awl, as well as Condé Nast Traveler and Slate, among others publications. She founded the literary journal Me Three and served as an adjunct scholar for Lapham’s Quarterly. Sarah is currently the editorial director of Strolby.

 

1. Toni Morrison

The Spark: A Writing Group

Morrison was a 35-year-old professor at Howard University when she joined a writing group just for fun. It soon became clear that she couldn’t remain in the group unless she actually wrote something, so she began toying with a story based on an African American girl she remembered from elementary school, who had proclaimed her wish to have blue eyes. Not too long after, Morrison divorced and moved to Syracuse, where she had few friends. To pass the time, she brought the story from her writing group back out and began expanding it into a novel. Five years after she started, Morrison had completed The Bluest Eye.

2. David Foster Wallace

The Spark: A Comment by his Girlfriend

A college girlfriend mentioned to Wallace one night that she’d rather be a character in a book than a real person. The comment hit Wallace, and he found himself turning it over and over in his mind, trying to figure out exactly what she’d meant by it. He pondered the difference between a fictional character and a real-life person, and how language could play a part in shaping our understanding of both. The idea became the catalyst for a story that developed over the course of Wallace’s final year at Amherst College into The Broom of the System, a novel about a woman who doesn’t believe in her own reality. Wallace turned the novel in as his senior thesis and a couple years later, it was published.

3. Zadie Smith

The Spark: The Turn of the Millennium

Fully anticipating a career in academia, the 20-year-old Zadie Smith nevertheless set out to write a novel about a man who comes out of the 20th century in a positive way. She worked on what eventually became White Teeth during her last couple of years at Cambridge University (“when everybody else was getting drunk,” she told The Rumpus in an interview), finishing most of it before she graduated. She showed it to a trusted group of five or so friends periodically along the way, readers she says were crucial in the development of the book. Like Wallace, Smith’s first novel came out when she was just 24.

(Excellent Tips on Writing a Query Letter.)

4. Ernest Hemingway

The Spark: A Trip to Spain

After stints as both a newspaper reporter in Kansas City and Red Cross ambulance driver in wartime Italy, Hemingway returned home just long enough to get married and gather his thoughts. Then he moved to Paris, where his fiction ambitions began in earnest. He showed promise, but nothing more, until a fateful trip to Spain with friends to take in the bullfights. The idea for The Sun Also Rises came to him and he got started before the group even began the return leg of the journey; indeed, the characters in the novel were based closely on those friends who had joined Hemingway on that particular trip. The novel spewed forth—Hemingway claimed to have averaged 2,000 words per day while working on the first draft—and he finished it in well under a year.

5. Joan Didion

The Spark: A Newspaper Blurb

A young Didion came across a newspaper article while working at Vogue in New York City and feeling homesick for her native California. It was a mere blurb about a man charged with killing his farm’s foreman in the Carolinas, but the image stuck. She relocated it to California and turned it into the seminal scene for a novel, which she worked on at night in a sublet Upper West Side apartment. With half the book written, she sent it off to publishers, the lucky 13th of which accepted it and paid her a small advance to write the last half. Run, River came out with Didion was 28 years old.

 

Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Add a Comment
25. Get Your First 10 Pages Critiqued by an Agent — Next Agent One-on-One Boot Camp Starts Feb. 20, 2015

As many writers know, agents and editors won’t give your work more than ten pages or so to make an impact. If you haven’t got them hooked by then, it’s a safe bet you won’t be asked for more material. Make sure you’ve got the kind of opening they’re looking for! In this invaluable weekend event, you’ll get to work with an agent online to review and refine the first ten pages of your novel. You’ll learn what keeps an agent reading, what are the most common mistakes that make them stop, and the steps you need to take to correct them. The best part is that you’ll be working directly with an agent, who will provide feedback specific to your work.

It’s all part of the recurring popular Agent One-on-One Boot Camp called “Your First 10 Pages.” Sign up by the end of the day, Feb. 20, 2015. It’s taught by the agents at Talcott Notch Literary.

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Here’s how it works:

On Friday morning, Feb. 20, you will gain access to a special 60-minute online tutorial presented by agent and editor Paula Munier. It will help you clarify what you should be looking for in your work. You will also be notified by email which agent you’ll be working with on Friday. (All times noted are Eastern Time).

After listening to the presentation, you’ll spend Friday evening revising your first ten pages as necessary, given the guidelines provided in the presentation, and you’ll email those pages directly to Paula or one of four additional agents from Talcott Notch Literary, including Gina Panettieri, Rachael Dugas, and Jessica Negron, by Saturday morning at 10:00 AM (ET). They will spend all day Saturday reviewing their assigned pages and providing feedback as to what works and what doesn’t. (Sign up for the boot camp here.)

All pages with notes will be returned to participants by the next Saturday (Feb 28). Throughout the next 36 hours, you’ll work to revise your pages based on the agent’s specific feedback. From 1:00 to 4:00 PM on March 1st, Paula, Gina, Rachael, and Saba will be available to answer questions and provide additional feedback via the Writer’s Digest University message boards. Only registered students can access these boards. You’ll also be able to ask question of your fellow students. Feel free to share your work and gain support from your peers.

By 10:00 PM (ET) Sunday night on March 1st, you’ll return your final revised pages to your assigned agent for review. They will spend the next week reading the revised submissions assigned to them, and will provide a final brief one-or-two sentence critique of your progress no later than March 8th. Please note that any one of them may ask for additional pages if the initial submission shows serious promise.

*Please note that all attendees should have the first 10 pages of their novel finished and ready to submit to the agent prior to the beginning of the event. (Sign up for the boot camp here.)

In addition to feedback from Paula, Gina, Rachael, or Saba, attendees will also receive:

— A download of “An Agent’s Tips on Story Structures that Sell,” an on-demand webinar by Andrea Hurst
— 1-year subscription to the WritersMarket.com literary agent database

All sales are final. No additional discounts can be applied.

About the Agents:

Gina Panettieri is President of Talcott Notch Literary Services, and has worked as an agent for more than 20 years. She currently represents a full range of adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction, with an emphasis in fiction on YA, MG, mystery, fantasy, women’s fiction, horror and paranormal. In nonfiction, she is particularly seeking memoir, business, cooking, health and fitness, pop science, medicine, true crime and current events. Some of her clients include Nancy Holzner, author of the new Deadtown urban fantasy series from Berkley/Ace Science Fiction, Annabella Bloom, author of the Wild and Wanton edition romance hybrid classics Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights (Adams Media), Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of the bestselling and multi-award winning adoption book, The Connected Child (McGraw-Hill), and author and media personality, Dr. Seth Meyers. She currently represents an eclectic range of writers, encompassing everyone from a former head of Security and Intelligence for NATO Europe, to CEOs of major corporations and Deans of major medical schools, to stay-at-home writer moms and amazingly talented teens. Gina speaks at many conferences and writing events throughout the country on the subjects of securing an agent and getting published. Her agency website is talcottnotch.net

Paula Munier, Senior Literary Agent & Content Strategist at Talcott Notch Literary, has broad experience creating and marketing exceptional content in all formats across all markets for such media giants as Disney, Gannett, Greenspun Media Group, and Quayside. She began her career as a journalist, and along the way added editor, acquisitions specialist, digital content manager, and publishing executive to her repertoire. Before joining Talcott Notch, she served as the Director of Innovation and Acquisitions for Adams Media, a division of F&W Media, where she headed up the acquisitions team responsible for creating, curating, and producing both fiction and nonfiction for print, ebook, eshort, and direct-to-ebook formats. (Sign up for the boot camp here.)

Although she represents all kinds of projects, right now she’s looking for crime fiction, women’s fiction, romance, New Adult, YA, and middle grade fiction, as well as nonfiction in the areas of pop culture, health & wellness, cooking, self-help, pop psych, New Age, inspirational, technology, science, and writing. As a new agent she’s making her first deals now, including the New Adult trilogy, The Registry by Shannon Stoker, which sold for six figures to HarperCollins. She’s also just sold mystery, thriller, and self-help. Paula is very involved with the mystery community, having served four terms as President of the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America as well as on the MWA board. (She’s currently VP of that organization.) She’s also served as both co-chair and Agents and Editors chair on the New England Crime Bake committee for seven years and counting. And she’s an active member of Sisters in Crime.

Saba Sulaiman is the newest member of Talcott Notch Literary Services. She joined the team after working as an editorial intern at Sourcebooks, where she worked primarily on their romance line. She holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MA from the University of Chicago, where she studied modern Persian literature. She’s looking primarily to build her Middle Grade and Young Adult lists, and is particularly interested in contemporary realistic stories. She’s also actively seeking category romance (all subgenres except paranormal), literary, upmarket, and commercial fiction, tightly plotted, character-driven psychological thrillers, and cozy mysteries à la Agatha Christie.

Rachael Dugas joined Talcott Notch Literary in 2011. During her tenure as associate agent, Rachael has judged contests and attended conferences in New York and beyond, working with groups such as Writer’s Digest, ASJA, YA Lit Chat, the National Publicity Summit, and the Hampton Roads Writers. Recent sales include titles in young adult and romance to imprints at Hachette, Perseus, and Month 9 Books. Rachael is a former Sourcebooks editorial intern and a proud Ithaca College graduate. She welcomes fiction submissions in the following categories: YA, MG, women’s fiction, contemporary and historical romance, historical fiction, and general commercial fiction. Her non-fiction wishlist includes memoir with an amazing voice and cookbooks or performing arts-related books with outstanding platforms.

Sign up for the boot camp here.

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