While blogging, one of my joys has been making friends. Over the years and despite the miles, someone on the other side of the world can become a real friend, in the truest sense of the term. Once such friend is Michael Dellert. We’ve beta-read and edited for each other, chatted on twitter, and mercilessly teased each other to bits. If you ask me, he’s as real as any friend in my ‘real’ life.
He’s here to take over my blog for today and the next Tuesday, and share some of his wisdom on writing (I’ve highlighted the stuff I like in blue!). Take it away, Michael!
Before I start, I just want to say a big thank you to Damyanti for having me here on The Daily (W)rite. I’ve been a fan-boy of her work since I met her in the blogosphere last year, and it’s an honor to be featured here. And that, as they say, is burying the lead, and a prime example of what I wanted to talk about today: Starting Your Novel.
Back on my own blog, I’ve been walking my readers through my own thirteen week process for writing a novel. It took seven weeks just to get us to the official kick-off of the#13WeekNovel Challenge. Why? Because one doesn’t jump out of bed one day and decide to run a marathon. One has to practice, prepare, and most importantly, train. Writing a novel is no different. One has to set time aside, cut down hours at the office, bribe one’s partner to do the yard-work, and buy the kids enough video games to keep them in their rooms until they go off to university. One has to limber up, with writing exercises every day, and study the field by reading every day.
But if you’ve done all those things already, you’re now faced with the problem of starting your novel. You know you want to write one, but heck if you know what the silly thing is going to be about. No problem. No special equipment needed. You just need the desire to write. Leonard Bishop, author of Down All Your Streets, The Butchers, and The Everlasting, once famously said, “Writing begets writing.” And he’s right. So, even if you don’t yet have a seed of an idea, let’s get started.
Write about something unusual you saw yesterday.
Write about the first time you did something.
Try to imagine how your parents met.
Write about the worst date you ever had.
Write about something you love to do.
Describe the view from your window.
Write a letter to a friend (sending it is optional; feel free to write the forbidden).
Imagine what your life would be like if it were perfect.
Summarize the plot of your favorite novel or movie (it doesn’t matter if you get it exactly right).
Write the words to as many Broadway (or Beatles or Elvis or Bollywood) songs as you can remember.
This is the list of writing prompts I keep on my desk as “jump-starts” to keep me from wasting my time when I sit down to write. If I come to the desk completely cold in the morning, with nothing new on the horizon and no idea what to write about (and it does happen, far too often), I pick off the first thing on the list and get started. I follow it as far as it wants to lead me, then move on to the second thing, and then the third, and so on. In thirty years, I’ve never gotten as far as number 10. Why? Because somewhere in those ten writing prompts is the seed of a story idea. Could it be a novel? Could it be your novel? Try them and find out.
But beware “The Saboteur.” We’ll talk about Him next week!
Michael E. Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He currently works as an independent freelancer. He is the author of the fantasy fiction novella, Hedge King in Winter: First Tale in the Matter of Manred, now available from Amazon for print and Kindle, and from Barnes & Noble for Nook, and will soon be announcing the release of his next work, A Merchant’s Tale: The Second Tale in the Matter of Manred. He lives in the Greater New York City area.
What about you? Do you have a novel-in-progress or just one that you always wanted to write? What do You do to get yourself started when the writing juices just aren’t flowing? Finished a novel and have tips for those who want to do the same? Do you have questions for Michael? Have at it in the comments!
Please join Daily (w)rite on its Facebook Page in case you would like to be heard by this community. If you liked this post, you can have biweekly posts delivered to your inbox: click the Follow button in the sidebar. (I’ll move to my own domain soon, and haven’t ever thought of creating a mailing list, so I’m counting on everyone who wants to stay in touch to subscribe to this blog via email!)
Today is IWSG day: Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaughfor organizing and hosting theInsecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) every month! Go to the site to see the other participants. In this group we writers share tips, self-doubt, insecurities, and of course, discuss the act of writing. If you’re a writer and a blogger, go join rightaway!
Today I just want to share this wonderful guide to getting published in magazines by Windy Lynn Harris the tips editor at The Review Review, put together by Kristen McQuinn.
This is really the most comprehensive article I’ve ever seen on the subject, and one I hope my fellow-writers would find useful.
What magazines have you submitted to, recently? Where did you publish in 2015? How do you plan to make 2016 better? Are you part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) ? What would you like to see more of on Daily (w)rite ?
If you’ve just arrived, welcome! Stay on and have a cuppa– we’re a friendly bunch here. And you can be sure I’ll find ways to support you if you drop in a comment and become a friend.
Please join Daily (w)rite on its Facebook Page in case you would like to be heard by this community. If you liked this post, you can have biweekly posts delivered to your inbox: click the Subscription button in the sidebar. Read the post linked below. If you’re a writer, you might want to save it to your bokmarks!
The bimonthly meetings of the AZ Historical Novel Society are always interesting and informative. At lest, I have always found them to be so. The meeting this month, though, was especially awesome this time. Windy Lynn Harris, an editor at The Review Review and prolific author herself (she has 80+ short stories and essays published), was our guest speaker. It is possible that there has been a cooler speaker in recent months, but I’ll be damned if I could tell you who it was. Windy was amazing! You should check out her website.
I was away for a while, traveling with the Book Council Singapore to the New Delhi World Book Fair 2016 as a featured author with four others: Conoor Kripalani, Nur-el-Hudaa Jaffar, Kamaladevi Aravindhan, and Susanna Goho-Quek. More about that here, and I’m grateful to the Book Council represented in Delhi by Kenneth Quek and Celine Chow for the brilliant opportunity to interact with editors, publishers, school kids and teachers. Book-lovers, all of them.
This is what they needed: In honor of an upcoming Valentine’s Day, we want you to write about love lost or found. Share the highs and lows that only matters of the heart can bring. As such, our question for this month is just that: “When have you lost or found love?”
Love knows no boundaries, so when i think of lost loves I think of two women: they weren’t my biological moms, but in losing them, I lost my loves. One of them was my aunt Namita Ghosh, who helped bring me up, had the voice of a songbird, and the fierce protectiveness of a she-bear. She remained a spinster, and at her death-bed, learning to let her go was one of the profoundest experiences of my life. The other one was my mother in law, Anuradha Biswas, joy, positivity and kindness personified, who we lost untimely to a random accident.
Both their deaths affected me. Both blocked my writing for months, if not years. But in recent times, I’ve found a way to a measure of their love: by loving those who have no reason or cause to love me. It is true that opening your heart to compassion gives you more peace and fulfillment than any other activity or emotion. I still haven’t been able to give of myself to the point that giving hurts, but I hope to get there some day. After all, isn’t that part of what love is all about?
Which brings us to the second part of my Delhi trip, at the Project Whynonprofit, set up by Anouradha Bakshi. I’ve written about her before, hereand here. What I’ve lost of my family in the past years, I think Project Why is now helping me find, in terms of love, joy, positivity, songs, laughter. Above are some pictures of my Dehli trip, where I taught spoken English to the teachers, most of them halting speakers of the language. They laughed at me and with me, followed vocal exercises and learned to breathe, and finished it off with an afternoon of stories, song and laughter. More details about these remarkable teachers, here.
My Valentines this year are all the kids, teachers, staff and the inimitable founder of Project Why,Anouradha Bakshi, who has done so much for so many and never asked for a thing in return. For more details on this excellent organization check their Facebook page and website.
What about you? What loves have you lost? Have you ever found your way back to them? How did you do it?
To those new to this: The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge is basically about blogging 26 days in April, based on the 26 letters of the alphabet. To know why this challenge can transform your blog for the better, read this!
Welcome to the seventh annual A to Z Blogging Challenge!
Please read and follow the sign-up instructions outlined below so you sign onto the list correctly!
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 4 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day.
1. The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. We recommend short posts, turn off Word Verification, and visit five blogs (or more) a day beginning with the one after yours on the list.
2. Blogs must be on an open platform – no Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. – and comments enabled. Please make it easy for visitors to comment on your blog.
3. To streamline legitimate blogs from advertisement blogs, the Co-Hosts will be visiting each blog on this list throughout the Challenge. Once the Challenge begins, blogs showing no activity or those that miss five days in a row will be removed.
4. Please note your Blog Name and Number in all correspondences. Remember that as blogs are removed, your number WILL change.
5. There are categories for those looking for like-minded blogs. Select ONE category code and enter it after your blog’s title/name. The code applies to your blog, not your theme for the Challenge and is purely optional. See the first few blogs on the list for examples. However, if your blog has adult content, you MUST mark it (AC) or it will be removed from the list. Codes are as follows:
7. For contact: Follow us on our Facebook Page!
Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter hashtag is #AtoZChallengeand Twitter id is @AprilA2Z.
We’ll hold Twitter chats on Thursdays at the tag #azchat starting Feb 18, 2016, 9.00 PM EST. Please follow the Twitter and Facebook handles, and the hashtags in order to keep up with the conversation.
So, blog friends old and new, A to Z Challenge veterans and non, what are you waiting for? Sign up NOW at this link!! This challenge transformed my blog; it could transform yours. Questions, doubts, comments? Scroll below to toss ’em at me!
Today, it is my pleasure to welcome John Haggerty, an author I admire, and one of the founding editors of the Forge Literary Magazine. He’s given very useful, practical advice for those starting on the writing life, and submitting to literary magazines. I’ve highlighted some of it for you in blue.
What led you to write fiction? What are your preoccupations as a writer?
I was one of those geeky kids who liked reading better than sports. The more I read, the more amazing the act of writing seemed to me to be—that writers were able to invent entire worlds, filled with people that nobody else had ever met. So of course I wanted to be a writer. For the longest time I had terminal writer’s block. But now, finally, here I am.
As far as my preoccupations go, I seem to keep coming back to the ideas of power and delusion. Power is such an interesting thing—not so much in its more obvious manifestations like politics and money, but in the smaller, subtler ways it manifests in our daily lives. The use of power damages us in ways that are often very difficult to perceive—power is as dangerous to the person who wields it as the one who is subject to it. Delusion is equally interesting. Having watched my mind for a while now, I have an enormous respect for my ability to lie to myself—to paint my motives as completely pure when they rarely are, to see circumstances as simple and certain when they are anything but. It seems to me that we walk around in a fog of alternating self-congratulation and self-condemnation all the time, and rarely, if ever, see things as they truly are. The good news, I guess, is that it gives me plenty of things to write about.
2. What books/ stories have you recently read that you would recommend to the readers of Daily (w)rite, and why?
Bad Behavior – Mary Gaitskill:She is so good at getting to really uncomfortable places in human interactions, the awkward, the disturbing, the frightening—she renders these situations with such deftness and grace.
Laidlaw – William McIlvanney: McIlvanney was one of those really psychologically acute writers who can lay open the complexities of a character without seeming overbearing or didactic. Sort of like Dostoyevsky meets Ross MacDonald in Scotland.
Stoner – John Williams:I am not the most subtle of writers. I enjoy big plots, big writing and, of course, jokes. So I really like reading authors who can do more with less. The basic outlines of Stoner—an English professor who struggles with his career and an unhappy marriage—sounds as though it could be tremendously dull, but I found it riveting and ultimately very moving. Williams can do so much with small, quiet scenes.
3. Tell us about your journey to find an agent for your novel.
I guess the short story is that it wasn’t easy. I was pretty naïve going into the process. I had a reasonably good publishing resume, and I flattered myself that my book, Calamity Springs, wasn’t terrible. But the publishing industry is a difficult place these days. Readership is decreasing, and and the big publishers are retrenching and taking long, hard looks at every title they consider buying.
My single piece of advice about it would be that personal connections seem much more effective than cold queries. The majority of my full manuscript requests came from agents with whom I had some previous connection. This means going to conferences, socializing and schmoozing, all of the things that we writers tend not to be very good at. It’s not impossible to get an agent with a cold query, but it is harder.
4. Your stories have been widely published, been shortlisted for, and won various awards. To an aspiring writer submitting to magazines, what would be your advice?
Whenever people ask me for inspirational writing quotes, I trot out Virginia Woolf: “The world is indifferent to your art.” People often find this deflating, but I think it’s perversely inspirational, if only because of its painful truth. Let’s face it—nobody would really care if I quit writing tomorrow. In fact, my wife might even be relieved.So if you are writing to become rich or famous or to make people love you, it is extremely likely that you will end up bitter and disappointed. If you are writing for vague, fictional audiences in your head—editors, agents, publishers, the hungry public—your work will be shallow and self-conscious. I find that if I start with an assumption of my insignificance and I still want to write, things work out much better, both artistically and, uh, spiritually, for want of a better word.
For more concrete advice on how to get published, submitting, and submitting a lot, is the only answer.After a story exceeds a certain level of quality, getting accepted is basically a random process. Good stories get rejected all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with their quality—they are too long or short, they didn’t fit thematically with other stories in the issue, the slush pile reader was hungover and in a bad mood that day—the whole process feels like playing roulette a lot of the time. And when we are faced with a random process, the only solution is to repeat it until we get the results we want.
Having said that, there are a lot of stories kicking around out there that are flawed in some way. The trick is to know the difference between a story that needs work and one that just needs to find the right venue. If you send it out 20 times and get only first-tier form rejections, it might be an indication that the piece needs more work. If you are getting the encouraging “submit again” rejections and personal rejections, odds are greater that you will be able to place it somewhere eventually.
It was my wife’s idea originally, and to be honest, I couldn’t believe she suggested it. In fact, when she said that we ought to start a literary journal, my exact words were, “Are you insane?” But after she explained her thought process to me, it started to make a lot of sense. We belong to an amazing online writers group, the Fiction Forge. We mentioned the idea to some of the other Forgers, and they were really enthusiastic. So here we are.
There are so many talented writers in the world, and I thought if we could just get a few more of them noticed, it would really be a wonderful thing. We also want to pay writers, because writing is hard work. Of course, we’re all writers too, so we don’t have a whole lot of money to spare, but we pay what we can. We’ve successfully solicited and published established authors likeJanice Gallowayand Nona Caspers, and stories to come are from names like Kevin Barry. Our hope is to match that quality by reading anonymous submissions from the slush.
6. Are you more comfortable with writing short fiction or a novel? In your opinion, how are the two different?
In spite of the fact that I have worked mostly in short fiction, I think I am more naturally drawn to the novel. A novel gives you the space to stretch out and expand on things in a way that short fiction doesn’t–the characters can be deeper, the themes more nuanced. That said, really great short fiction is miraculous. The ways in which, say, Raymond Carver or Flannery O’Connor could bring moments to such crystalline, vivid life in only a few thousand words, it’s an amazing thing. I still write short stories and flashes—it’s nice to take a break from a novel every once in a while—but I see myself concentrating more on longer stuff in the future.
7. You have a truly gifted comic voice. What makes good comedy—a good comic short story, novel, or play?
Thank you. This is always such a difficult question. Humor is one of those things that doesn’t bear a lot of inspection. Nothing kills a joke faster than poking at it too much. I think the old formula is that the best jokes are truths expressed in an unexpected way, and I guess that’s as good a starting point as anything else. These days, I’m trying to add compassion in as well. Everybody has something about themselves that they don’t want the world to look at too hard, and it can be terribly tempting to ferret out people’s little flaws and foibles and wave them around for the derisive amusement of the audience. But those kinds of jokes are cheap and cruel, and I’m trying to stay away from that sort of thing these days. Then again, if I see some pompous, narcissistic bully out there (and we certainly have no shortage of them these days), or a ridiculous idea accepted as fact, I feel it’s my duty as a writer to mock them. OK, I’m not giving up the cheap shots completely, just trying to be more judicious in where they are deployed.
8. Tell us about the Forge Fiction Anthology. What can a reader expect to find?
One of the things we do at the Fiction Forge is to stage periodic writing exercises, weekends where we try to write as many flashes as possible, or my personal favorite, something we call Team Intrepid, in which we post twenty random writing prompts and then try to write a story in an hour using every one of the prompts in the order given. It’s crazy stuff, but it’s amazing how often the germ of something good comes of these things, and how often those pieces go on to publication. The Fiction Forge is chock full of really accomplished writers. The members have a really wide array of styles, from gritty realism to surrealism, beautiful poetic language and spare, punchy prose.The stories in the anthology reflect this. There is tremendous variety, and every single piece is excellent. I’m very excited about it.
John Haggerty’s work has appeared most recently in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Nimrod, Salon, and The Pinch. He is a member of the online writers’ collective The Fiction Forge, and one of the founding editors of Forge Literary Magazine.
Do you have questions for John ? Are you querying a book, or submitting to literary mags? Are you considering submitting to the Forge Literary magazine? Any other burning questions about the writing life, submitting and getting stories rejected or published? Have at it in the comments–John would be answering questions!
I have often written stories based on visual writing prompts and phrases, but this is an incredible treasure. I lost a good hour yesterday to this Egyptian collection.
Lately, I find that the visual inspires the literal in me like nothing else. I’ve become a fan of Pinterest and Instagram, because sometimes pieces of flash fiction come to me in a flash. Nostalgia can be a big source of inspiration.
What inspires you? Do you ever get lost in old pictures, albums, books?
Do you look at pictures and wonder at the stories behind them? Can you link me to interesting pictures that I could use as writing prompts?
As part of my ongoing guest post series in this blog, a few weeks ago we heard from Roy Keysey, an established author.
Today, for the first interview of 2016, it is my pleasure to welcome Maria Vicente, Associate Agent with the P.S. Literary Agency. She’s given very useful, practical advice for those querying their novels. I’ve highlighted some of it for you in blue.
How and why did you become a literary agent?
I was enrolled in a post-grad publishing program when I decided to look for a remote internship to help me learn more about the publishing industry. I had a literary-themed blog at the time, and I followed quite a few publishing people on Twitter, even though I was only a student, and I applied for an internship opportunity with a literary agent I really admired. I was Bree Ogden’s intern for a little over a year, and I learned invaluable agenting lessons from her about agenting. I took on a second internship at P.S. Literary Agency, where it so happened that they were looking to bring on a new agent. I’ve been an Associate Agent at PSLA for about two years now. I learned a lot about being an agent during my internships, and loved how the job incorporated all different elements of book publishing. I get to work from home, almost always on my own schedule, and help writers make their book dreams come true.
2. You represent YA, and have an extensive wishlist. What sort of stories have you picked up lately, and why?
When it comes to YA, my interests usually go in one of two directions: Contemporary with an excellent, authentic voice or speculative fiction with literary prose and beautiful world-building. I like the element of truth in every contemporary YA story, but I also love being swept away by something magical. I’m still looking for YA stories all over the map: contemporary, horror, light fantasy and science fiction, magical realism, and even thriller and mysteries. You can view my entire wishlist here, if you’re interested.
3. You seek non-fiction submissions as well, a category in which agents look for “experts” in their fields, with a platform. How would you describe a good platform?
Platform is different for every writer. What’s most important when it comes to nonfiction is that you are known for the subject you’re writing about and you can prove that you have an audience for this topic. For some writers, this could mean great social media stats and blog hits. For others, this means that you have a steady schedule of lectures, conferences and that you’ve appeared numerous times in various publications.
4. What do you look for in a Query Letter and Synopsis? What resources would you recommend to an author attempting to write these?
I like when query letters, and even synopses, are simple. These things don’t need to be flashy to get an agent’s attention. It’s important to get the core concept of the story across, and this is done by using clear language and keeping the plot overview to a minimum. I have a ton of blog posts on my website that might help writers put together a query letter and/or synopsis. You can read all my querying posts hereand check out my article on synopsis writing:What You Need to Include in Your Synopsis.
5. What is the one thing you are tired of seeing in queries?
I really dislike it when writers tell me what their story is not. Sometimes a query letter will tear down a published book, or an entire genre, and it’s very unprofessional—and quite mean. You don’t need to brag to me that there are no vampires in your story. I don’t care about what’s not in your story—just tell me what it’s about.
6. Tell us about “Ask Mar.” How can folks with a question get in touch?
Ask Mar is a blog post series on my website. Every few weeks, I answer a batch of questions submitted by readers that cover various publishing and writing topics. Anyone can submit a question by filling out the anonymous contact form here: Ask Mar. I used to occasionally host #askagent sessions on Twitter, and I still do sometimes, but having this series on the blog allows me to provide much longer answers to some really great questions. Sometimes 140 characters just isn’t long enough!
7. What are the dos and don’ts of pitching to an agent at a conference?
I think the most important thing is to try to remain calm and remember that the agents you’re approaching are human just like you. There’s no need to be nervous! Pretend you’re going out for coffee with a friend and telling them what you’re writing a book about. It really can be that simple!
8. What qualities do you look for in a prospective client, other than a good story and writing? What would be a deal-breaker?
I always schedule a call with a writer to make sure we’re a good fit before offering representation on a project. It’s important to me that the writer agrees with the vision I have for the book and any changes I think are necessary for the current draft. I like signing new clients who have a good idea of the type of books they want to write and who’ve planned their writing career. Writers should always be working on something new, so I’ll usually ask about the most recent work-in-progress to make sure that’s also something I’d be interested in representing. The only big deal-breaker I can think of, aside from us just not having good chemistry, would be if I saw something troubling on a social media profile or website. I don’t want to work with someone who isn’t professional at all times—even during the querying stage.
9. Will you be at any upcoming writers’ events, festivals, or conferences where writers are about to meet/pitch you?
I will be attending the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference in April 2016. I have a few workshops and panels planned, and I will also be listening to pitches over the weekend.
10. What are you reading right now? Which books from 2014-15 would you recommend?
I just started a current client’s new manuscript, and since it’s the holidays, I am planning to re-read the Harry Potter series for fun before a new year of new books begins! As for book recommendations, these were some of my favourites over the past two years: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs (who is one of my clients), Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire, Witches of America by Alex Mar, and Through the Woods by Emily Carroll.
Maria Vicente is an associate literary agent at P.S. Literary Agency, providing support to her clients through all stages of the writing and publication process. Maria is dedicated to managing authors’ literary brands for the duration of their careers. Her reading preferences vary across categories and genres, which is reflected in her client list. She is actively looking for young adult, middle grade, illustrated picture books, literary fiction with a touch of genre, and nonfiction projects in the pop culture, design, and lifestyle categories. She has affinities for literary prose, strong character development, original storytelling formats, and anything geeky. You can find on her on twitter: @msmariavicente and on Instagram: mar.vicente
I would like to urge everyone to go visit Maria’s blog, and also drop your burning ‘agent questions’ in the comments here!
I love the comments and interaction this blog gets, and today I’d like to catch on to the tail-end of the International Blog Delurking Week that traditionally takes place in the first full week of January, and is an opportunity for bloggers to find out who reads their blog since, as Melissathe founder of this event says, “there is a huge discrepancy between the number of readers in actuality and the number of readers I actually know are reading. Or a tongue-twister like that.” Participation is easy: If you want to delurk, add a comment to this blog post. That’s it!
Do you have questions for Maria? Are you querying a book, and would like an agent’s advice on how to make it work better? Would you like to join the publishing industry in another capacity (intern, agent, editor) and want an agent to tell you how to go about it? Have you been lurking, or would like to find out who your lurkers are? Have at it in the comments!